Monday, December 23, 2013

It's Perfect!

So I've been looking for a while. Knowing what I wanted, digging through retail sites, wasting far too much time on Am@zon and e-b@y trying to find what I knew existed in my head and must SOMEHOW, SOMEWHERE exist in real life. I could see it in my mind's eye. I knew it had to be out there and I was determined to find it.

What was it for which I was searching, you ask?
Why, the perfect family ornament, of course.

I was going crazy... crazy enough to start thinking about making my own. Really. Like I have the time or the energy or the resources to start ANOTHER project this month. Heh. Like I have the time to sit and search for hours, googling key word after key word. Oh, whatEVER.

In my defense, I think the 10,000 viewings of Despicable Me
has turned my logic skills to mush this month.
In my defense of the said 10,000 viewings,
it's the only thing that distracts Mei Mei completely
and totally from her pain and activity limitations.
There. I feel better. All those disclaimers and explanations....
Apparently, sleep deprivation messes with my ability to be succinct, too.

I slapped myself out of my delirium and put the word out to my very-connected F@cebook friends.Yes, I harnessed the power of social media for my own gain. Dude. I'm so 2013.

I knew it had to be something like this one, which I found the year after Li'l Empress came home. You know, back when we thought (ha!) we might be done building up our gang's population. I do love it. After all, it is perfect for our folk-art style decor but it's dated wrongly (she came home in 2008 and it's dated 2009). But it had to be different. And again, so far that different existed in my head but I was looking for it in "hard copy."

So, on the advice of several of those friends,
I turned to Etsy. I mean really. What CAN'T you find at Etsy?

Just a few clicks is all it took. A link here and a link there.

I found it. It's perfect. And I love it.

This is The Gang's un-officially official Forever Family ornament.

2013. The year that The Gang is {finally} all here. Home. Forever.

The Gang's All Here. And it's literally "set in stone."

And I love it.

If you like it, go check out Rosi's Place.
Tell her The Gang's Momma sent you. Check out all the beautiful stone work.
I'm certain you will find at least one or two things you will love.

Why don't you head over there now and look.
Come on back and leave me a comment about your faves!

For my friends who prefer to support businesses
that are run by adoption-hearted folks,
I'm thrilled to tell you that Rosi has two beautiful
children adopted internationally.

**(I was not paid or given any discount for the review of this product.
I simply am happy with my purchase and wish to share a great resource with you all.
And I might still be a little delirious, as I'm hearing minions in my head almost daily now.
And yes, I'm very aware that this is a lot of fuss and bother about a little ornament.
Again. I'm a tad delirious. Go with it. It's working for me for now.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Moments. {two weeks}

It turns out, I was right in feeling {unprepared} for all that the last two weeks have held for this gang. Until you've lived through something like this, there's really no way you can fully prepare for the experience. EVEN if you have the most awesome support network of "been there done that" mommas sharing their experiences and advice. EVEN if you have an amazing crowd of friends and family praying you through and supporting you practically and emotionally. Which, I am so grateful to say, I do. But still. {unprepared} I was.

I'm not gonna lie. These last two weeks since Mei Mei's surgery have been hard. The day of the surgery, frankly, was likely the easiest of the days that we had while IN the hospital. (We waited. She slept. And oddly, I only felt momentary flashes of nervous anxiety over her care or well-being. SO. SO. grateful for that.)

And just this past Saturday we finally experienced the easiest day-into-overnight since we returned home from our four day stay. In between those good days, we've crammed all kinds of hard moments. Sleepless nights. Night terrors. Temper tantrums. Pain management gone awry. Lost patience. Ugly behavior. And not all of it was Mei Mei.

But in between those good days, we've also crammed a lot of really great moments. Those are the moments on which I am (sometimes hourly) choosing to focus. Those are the moments that the Lord uses to swing my eyes back to HIM and HIS perfect plan for Mei Mei. For our family. It's an act of discipline, this choosing to focus. Especially at this time of year.

Mei Mei got the honor of placing the first ornament
on her first-ever Christmas tree. Yes, I cried.
I could (and am sorely tempted to) stress over the anger and aggression that comes bubbling up out of her in those difficult moments. I could keep looking at that "holiday To Do list" that isn't getting smaller any time soon and despair of ever finishing it in time. I could sink into the flashing moments of Mommy-guilt and inadequacy, wallowing in the fear that I'm not meeting the needs of the other gang members, in the every day and in the fervor of the holiday. I could, I could, I could. And really, I've struggled NOT to.

But then there are these other moments. These moments when HE comes to me and whispers to my heart. Snippets of Scripture memorized as a child. Refrains of songs and hymns buried deep in my heart. I've said it before but it bears repeating. In these moments, I am so incredibly grateful for parents who trained me in The Word. Who taught me to seek His face in good and in bad moments. Who encouraged me and lived out the example that joy comes NOT in the circumstances but in the confidence and security of being HIS CHOSEN CHILD. It has carried me well in these last two weeks.

First cookie decorating party ever! Not sure how much icing went on the cookies.
Last year, only 3 of our kids were home for this tradition.
This year, The Gang was ALL here. Yes, I cried.
I am convinced, in all of these moments, both hard and healing, that the prayers of the Body of Christ carried us. I am convinced that His Word is powerful and full of Truth that rises above the difficult moments. I am convinced, now more than ever, that HE HAS CHOSEN ME for this time. For this child. For even in those moments where I feel like I'm failing miserably at all of it, He speaks to me. In those moments when I wonder if my inadequate and all-too human response to my daughter's broken-ness is doing more damage than good, He offers me HIS response.

It's those moments when I get the second wind to go just a little deeper into her heart. It's those moments when I get a fresh fire to escort her to the healing He has for her. Those moments, even the hardest of moments, I remember that they are just that: moments. By definition, moments (both hard and exultant) are fleeting. He is not. He holds those moments. Each and every one of them.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


today we are heading to a local children's hospital for the first in what will hopefully be just a couple repair procedures for our little mei mei.

it's a pretty big repair. big surgery. big changes.

i'm feeling quite unprepared for what all of this means.

when we left for china to meet mei mei, i had charts, graphs, lists, and calendars filled out, crossed off, and in process. every t was crossed. every i was dotted.

this afternoon, i'm still not sure who's getting whom where and when while i'm at the hospital and the boss is in and out of the office and the house.

when we left for china, i had meals labeled and frozen, groceries purchased, and all the school lunch supplies stockpiled.

this afternoon, i'm pretty sure there's not enough drink pouches in the pantry and the jury is still out on whether or not the milk in the fridge will last past wednesday.

when we left for china, i had laundry totally caught up and every one knew what day was "their" laundry day.

heh. who am i kidding? my laundry system has been out of whack since we returned from china.

when we left for china, i had an itinerary from the agency. i knew what day we'd meet mei mei. i knew what day we'd finalize the adoption. i knew what day we'd tour and when we'd travel on to guangzhou.

today, all i am sure of is we are checking in to the hospital before 6 p.m. surgery begins around 10 a.m. monday morning. the unknown of all the other moments surrounding those two points is starting to freak me out.

and really, that's the core, right there. the unknowns. that's the stuff for which i really feel so unprepared.

from the moment we enter that building, we are facing the beginning of a brand new normal. for us. for mei mei.

all weekend long, really for weeks now, i've been reminding myself that my prepared-ness, or distinct lack thereof, is not really all that important.

what's really important is that i worship THE ONE who holds it all in HIS hands. that HE is never caught unprepared.

and that's enough preparation for me.

it has to be.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Christmas Shopping at the Mall

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
the $6 shelled out for a Minnie Mouse camera
at our very first-ever visit to the Disney store is absolutely money well-spent!

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
it was kinda amazing that I didn't even BLINK at the idea
of shelling out that $6. Not even once.
I have SERIOUSLY softened with age.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
in order to get anything done on your gargantuan To Do List,
it is vital to have a plan of attack.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
with a feisty two-year old, it is vital
to expect to have that plan shot to you-know-where.
In a matter of minutes.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
it is necessary to have a kind answer
to the inquiries of well-meaning strangers:
"Yes, dear grandmother, I do have my hands full with THIS one.
As I do with all of 5 of her siblings.
Put all 6 of them together and I am happily and insanely overwhelmed."

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
a very petite Chinese girl strutting through the mall
with her hands shoved into the pockets of her purple cargos
is quite possibly the CUTEST! SIGHT! EVER!
(This was validated by the many passers-by who voiced this over and over.)

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
watching that little one dancing to the Christmas music
WITH her hands shoved in her pocket
while singing at the top of her lungs is HI.LARE.EEEE.USSSSS!

And again, I'm shocked at how I've softened with age.
I likely would have totally "sssshhushed" my other kids when I was a younger mom.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
and contrary to popular belief (and by popular, I might just mean mine)
Chik-Fil-A waffle fries do NOT make every thing better
for a hungry, almost-tired two-year old.
Worked pretty good for me though.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
being unsnapped from one's stroller and allowed to walk
with her hands in her pockets again, DOES, apparently, make it all better.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
someone should remind the "mall Santa" to look up to the upper level
above his big fancy Santa couch, to say hello to his constituents.
As opposed to looking up, startled by the raucous shouts of "HI! HI! HI!"
from a certain little curious constituent.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
raucous shouts of "HI! HI! HI!" echo quite nicely to the ear
of said little constituent.
Which makes her repeat it. Again. And again. And again.
Through. The. Whole. Mall.
Double Heh.

When Christmas shopping at the mall,
a tired two-year old being forced to "snap back in" to her stroller
for transport out to the car is unpleasant for all to see. And hear.

When Christmas shopping at the mall is all done,
an OVER tired two-year old who drops her dolly
in the car 7 minutes from home has the magical ability
to make that 7 minutes stretch into 77 minutes.

Finally, when Christmas shopping at the mall,
anything productive that you do accomplish from that aforementioned
gargantuan To Do List must be treated as a BIG! HUGE! EXTRA! BONUS!
to the fact that you made it there and back
without losing a shoe, a water cup,
a dolly, a hair bow, or your sanity.

And THAT, my momma friends, deserves a celebration.
Or, if you are old like me, a nap.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Several weeks after we moved into this house, The Boss (who was very excited to have our first ever 2-car garage) felt the need to label our wall-mounted garage door openers.

Pretty self-explanatory but I'm still not entirely sure why The Boss felt the need for the marking. I mean, I'm pretty sure even in the midst of this Gang's craziest chaos, we could likely remember which opener works for which door.

I will say that I can empathize. I am a huge fan of labeling. It's just that I prefer to keep my labeling for things like oats, lentils, and all the different baking chips I store in my pantry. And I prefer my handy-dandy Dymo Letra Tag QX50. (It's awesome! I can change font size AND weight, use white OR clear labels, and so much! more!) But I digress....

Anyhoo, apparently Shaggy has long felt that the labeling system for our wall-mounted garage door openers was lacking something. And apparently, now that he's a full-fledged adult {ahem, snicker, snort!}, he felt it was time to remedy that lack.

I love that kid!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Need (Her) Nap

"Bah, Bah" she mumbles as she sleepily grabs her dolly and sighs while I lift her in my arms. The first two fingers of her left hand find their way into her mouth and she fumbles at the sleeve covering my magic left arm. She fusses and vocalizes her displeasure at not being able to reach my bare skin and I soothe her while I climb the stairs to her room.

We say "Nigh Nigh" to the neighborhood out the front window and shut the shades "together." I turn on the humidifier and shut the bedroom door with a little "help" from my girl. Together, we cross the room and settle down into the creaky old glider-rocker. Her efforts to get at my bare left arm renew and I soothe her again while I push up the sleeve as best I can. This long-sleeve season is NOT her friend.

As soon as she has free access to the kryptonite that is my left arm, she snuggles into the crook of my arm, She lays full length across my midriff and rubs her cheek in the soft crook of my elbow contentedly while starting her "snuggle hum." Those two fingers are getting quite a work-out and after finding her perfect spot, the little feet at the other end start to wiggle.

"Okay, Mei Mei, let's pray. Dear Jesus ("Jee-yah"), thank you for today ("day"). Thank you for .... Amen. (happy grunting ensues)."

"Mei Mei, now that we are done praying, it's time for you to be quiet and go to sleep."


In a matter of seconds, those little feet are rubbing up against my right shoulder. She's quite agile and attempts to stick her toes in my hair. By this time, I have already begun to sing our rotation of "night night" songs and hymns and she's joining along in her (also) off-key snuggle hum again. As she settles into the crook of my arm and her breathing slows, I turn to humming these songs. The rotation of songs is almost always the same. I know it's not the greatest attachment parenting practice, but lately I've taken to humming with my eyes closed and my head resting back to avoid the eye contact that will spark attempts at conversation. Because, as we've learned the hard way, CONVERSE she will! (Plus, I'm exhausted. Like 45-year-old momma chasing a 2-year-old exhausted.)

Several rounds of "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Loves Me," "It is Well," and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" later, her snuggle hum has subsided and sweet sleep has taken over my girl. She's still. And quiet. Oh, so blessedly quite. It's a beautiful thing, watching her drift to sleep out of the peeks that I allow myself as her weight relaxes in my arms. I love holding her while she relinquishes all her grasps at control. All her super-human efforts to communicate and Tell! Me! what she's thinking. All her energies of creating elaborate playtime scenarios and her invitations to her dolls and toys to join the fun. It's no wonder she falls asleep so hard and deep.

This daily nap-time routine has become a cherished break in my day. And not just for the obvious "Mommy needs the break" relief that washes over me at 1 p.m. every afternoon. (You all can "Amen!" me here, I know you all get!) I know that the resulting sleep is so good for her. Her two-year old self needs the rest, physically and mentally. It's hard work being a super busy toddler with  big world to explore. Nap time gives her the rest her body needs.

But the sleep that comes on the heels of this little routine of ours is, in my mind, almost a secondary benefit. The routine itself is just as necessary to this little one as is the actual sleep that follows. The connecting and anchoring that happens with the same-ness of this daily touch point does as much, if not more, to refresh and renew her spirit. And mine... The predictability of the walk up the stairs, the routine of the gentle rocking and my (off-key) singing. This routine is a tangible keystone in her (still) new life whereby she is granted a safe place to re-charge after the long mornings of making sense of this world into which she's been plunked with no warning and no preparation. She needs it.

I need it.

I need the stop in my day that makes me REMEMBER that she needs more of me. She needs me differently than my other kids did at this age and stage. Than they do now. She needs the reinforcement of external routines that speak to her loudly of our perseverance. Our commitment to her. The "forever-ness" of it all. She craves the consistency and the structure that moments like this routine provide to her. I see what unpredictability produces in her. And sometimes, it is not pretty. It sparks a grasping for control. An anxious stealing of attention, no matter how negative. A screeching stranglehold on the security that we are trying to lay as her foundation.

I've noticed that when I don't STOP, when I don't use that routine together as fully what it can be for her, I'm short-circuiting myself and my efforts to re-wire my girl for family (vs. institution). I'm cutting myself off from the opportunity for success. I need that time to re-focus on compassionate responses and facilitating healing. Holding her, singing over her and rocking her in my arms - that routine that (most days!) makes me fall in love with her all over again. And that? That makes me ready to move mountains to get this girl all that she needs to thrive and build on in the process of becoming all God has intended her to be.

I need her nap.

Friday, October 18, 2013

6 Months of "ALL HERE!"

I'm still here. So much to say and so little time to say it all. But this week, we're celebrating another fun milestone. Mei Mei has been home with her gang for 6 months, as of tomorrow morning. Having The Gang really finally be "all here" after years of longing for our girls and months of waiting for her specifically to make it home has been more of an adjustment than we anticipated. Not in bad ways but sheesh, the calendar is HOPPIN' on a daily basis and I'm regularly amazed at the juggling of all things "mommy administration" that I'm learning. So many things have fallen through the cracks, things that I never missed before. It's been humbling and annoying too. But we are getting a good groove and I feel quite content most days with the routine we've settled into around here. Most days. {Snort}

As for Mei Mei, I'm happy to report that her adjustment has been almost seamless. It's like she was just primed and ready to become the missing little puzzle piece around here. She's settled in with a great big happy sigh and barely a blip in some of the ways that we anticipated struggle or bumpy roads. In these last 6 months, Mei Mei's also been cleared of all possible anomalies that often come with her presenting diagnosis. She's made HUGE strides in language - in fact, she is trying new words daily and we are regularly astounded by how "conversational" she is becoming. Her personality is BLOOMING. She has a very mischievous sense of humor and surprises us with how intelligent her "people skills" are. She's displaying all kinds of signs of very healthy attachment, and her confidence in our love for her and her place in our home is so much fun to watch. We've been able to drop her off to the nursery at church and at my Women's Bible Study consistently for several weeks now and she barely bats an eye. In fact, last week, before I was even ready to walk out, she was blowing me kisses and saying, "Bye! Bye!" She's a great sleeper and we're working on helping her be a good eater. Still can't get her to touch vegetables. Of any kind. Ever. Except potatoes. But we've got some fruits that she consistently likes, so that's big too.

The Boss has been busy getting together all the supporting documentation for our 6-month post placement report, after my 2-hour meeting with the social worker last week. I know lots of folks complain about the meetings but I have to say, I had fun tracking our progress out loud and seeing the journey from the social worker's viewpoints. Admittedly, it was also fun to spend the morning talking with an adult and not repeating myself a hundred times about leaving the cupboards closed and "please don't unstack the diapers." :)

Here's one of the pics that is required for the report - and sadly, one of the only that exists of all 8 of The Gang together. We're working on a family picture sitting with my friend, Marie, who always gets amazing shots of my kids. Which JUST reminded me, I still haven't submitted my order for Mei Mei's 2-year pictures that we had done back in JULY. OH, UGH. I'm so behind in so many things. I'll share those soon, too. Once I get the order placed, that is :)  AND if I remember, I'll share Dr. D's senior picture, cap and gown and all, with you too!  But for now, here we are - 6 months into this Gang of Eight! We're rarely "all here!" at the same time unless we're sleeping. So this was kinda monumental.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Managing the Seasonal Wardrobe Project

I'm so excited that fall is finally here. The smell of pumpkin spice coffee is on the breezes flowing through our house this week, soothing the clutter and mess that changing out the seasonal clothing always ruffles up. It's a several-days process here, what with 6 kids and all. Because of that, I (long ago!) streamlined the job to a twice a year change-out.  We lump Spring/Summer together and Fall/Winter are paired. It means waiting a tad longer into the start of the school year for "new clothes" but with our early years of home-schooling, I never developed the "school shopping" habit of late summer anyway. With this system, I'm only buying clothing as it is needed, and not in one fell swoop unless there's a special occasion like a wedding or such. That change of focus has saved us a ton of money over the years. (aaaand, BONUS! I get to pitch all the "Back to School" flyers that flood the mailbox beginning in mid-July!)

This year, I'm enjoying the fact that at least 2 of the 6 kids are quite capable of pulling out all their summer gear, trying on the prospective fall clothing and making up a list of their "needs" for me without too much coaxing and prodding. Two of them need me to pretty much do the whole project FOR them. And the other 2 tend to wear the same "uniform" of shorts, jeans, and tees all year around. Which in and of itself presents a whole 'nuther project that I'm putting off till, well, when I have to face their closets in search of something for family photos.

Even saying that, " photos" is enough to make me cringe... anyone else get that? Coordinating dates for 8 of us plus one photographer friend. Coordinating clothing so that we at least look like we INTENDED to be photographed together. Coordinating the clothing so that we don't clash and maybe even, well, coordinate. OY. Sigh.

Oh, wait. Where was I? Fall clothes. Oh yeah.  I know I'm not the only momma who dreads this project. And I've had enough younger mommas ask how I manage it without breaking the bank each year that I figured it would be blog-worthy. So I'm posting these pics from our fall clothing project and sharing some organizing tips that I've picked up along the way of managing this task for my gang. AND I'm hoping to hold myself a little accountable to get it done and cleared off my To Do list by the end of the week. Anyone with me on that one?!

 There are pockets of the unfinished project all over
the house, upstairs and downstairs.
Normally, this stresses me out. But this year,
I'm drinking my Pumpkin Spice coffee and breathing through it.

Each kid has a Fall/Winter bin in their size, and a Spring/Summer bin. When the weather turns cooler, I have them haul their two bins up from storage and begin the process of weeding out the summer pieces. Generally speaking, we make three piles: return to storage, discard, and donate. In Baby BlueEyes' case, anything that is too small (or will be too small by next summer), immediately goes either to discard or donate. He's our last boy-o and there's no need to return things to storage for him. (YAY!) For the girls and the bigger boys, the "return to storage" pile can only be things that they KNOW they can wear again next year OR things that they know will not go out of "style" by the time the younger sibs get to them. I'm always excited when my "discard" and "donate" piles are big enough to fill a garbage bag or two. Truthfully, if I could pare things down to just one bin per size, holding both seasons of clothing alternately, I would. But these darned kids keep growing and those bigger clothes just don't work that way.

Having a well organized and labeled system for our clothing storage has been a lifesaver for me. I used to store them in whatever plastic bags and/or cardboard boxes that I could salvage but that got messy and pricey, too. Investing in these heavy plastic totes has really allowed us to protect the majority of stored clothing from dry rot, moisture damage, and other environmental issues.Therefore, we're saving money. And I'm all about THAT! Living in three different homes with three different storage spaces, I learned that lesson the hard way one too many times.

At this house, the bins are all stacked and stored in the basement.
An occasional hurricane forces my hand to purge and sort more judiciously than
the twice-yearly projects require.

As you can imagine, as Mei Mei is outgrowing her clothing (yay, she's gained about 4.5 lbs since April!), I'm trying to be pretty quick about passing it on and moving it out. It's a great feeling and I'm surprised at myself - I'm not even feeling sentimental about clearing things out. In fact, by the end of this week, I hope to have nothing smaller than 18 month clothing left in the bins and I'm excited by that!

When the summer clothes are sorted and stored or bagged up and the fall clothing is put away in drawers and closets, I have each kid give me a list of the "needs" and the "wants" they have for rounding out their wardrobes. Again, as they have gotten older the lists are easier to generate and in the boys' case, these lists are shorter and more streamlined. As you can imagine, my fashionista LadyBug has quite a few editions of her list before she hands me her "final copy." I have her help me plan out the list for the little girls, too. It's a great way to help LB think strategically at something she loves. Shhhhh, don't tell her but her artsy self has a hard time with planning and plotting so it's a sneaky way of teaching her some good life skills. She also helps me pare down the wardrobes for the little sisters by pulling out duplicates or past trends that I don't "see" and that "horrify" her. Heh!

I run through my clothing with the same system and check in with The Boss for his needs at this point, too. Then each person's list gets transferred to an index card that I store in my handy dandy envelope system. When I'm out running errands or I see a bargain on my online yard sale sites, I can reference the lists quickly and easily AND have an up-to-the-moment idea of how the clothing cash is holding up. I pretty much take the envelopes with me everywhere I go, especially now that it's just me and Mei Mei all day long. It's so much easier to shop and run errands with just one little sweetie and NO half-day kindergarten routine to work around.

When the needs and even some of the wants on a card are taken care of, I toss it and usually by November I am done rounding out the kids' fall/winter wardrobes. I love it when it happens earlier but it's been a while since I finished before Thanksgiving, between budget constraints and regular crazy-life pace, so I try not to stress and I DON'T give in to the temptation to just do it all and pay the budget back later. A little prioritizing, a little layering, and a lot of patience goes a long way. For all of us!

There you have it. Managing the seasonal wardrobes for 6 kids and 2 adults. It's not nearly as daunting as it sounds and with all the much-appreciated hand-me-downs that the kids recive from friends and family, it's actually kind of festive for the few days it takes to wrap it all up. Well, festive for the girls anyway! To the boys, it's just a project to be endured. And for Momma? It's a chance to clear out, clean up, and re-organize the rooms (including my own!) that got neglected a bit during our lazy hazy days of summer. That alone is reason enough to make me take a big gulp of that Pumpkin Spice goodness and breathe deeply of the fresh crisp air!

How about you? What tips and tricks have you discovered along the way for this big project? 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Family Day {5}

I can hardly believe it but here we are we are celebrating the awesome milestone of Li'l Empress joining our family five years ago today!



Here's a look back at the joyful! exuberant! "little fiery one!" that is our girl...

Getting to know her Daddy.
Charming her Daddy is more like it!

Such! a! BIG! personality!

Soaking in all the last rays of summer...

Such a little fashionista.
(It would just be wrong to call her a ham here...)

Proud to participate in her
first "Eagles Spirit Day" as a new Kindergartner.

And today. 6 years old. Thriving in her first grade class.
Learning how to be an excellent big sister.
And still charming her Daddy with her beautiful smile.

Happy Five Year Family Day, Li'l Empress.
You are a treasure and a gift to our whole family.
Your sunshiny spirit and joyful manner brightens everyone's day
and we love that you LIVE! BIG! and LOVE! BIG!
with your whole heart.
We are so thankful God brought you to this home,
to this family, FOREVER!
We LOVE you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And They're OFF!

Wow, what a crazy, busy, erratic and irregular summer it has been around here.... in case you couldn't tell by my abject disregard for my little corner of the blogosphere, this summer kicked Momma's hiney. Transitioning to life as a gang of 8. Significant life-stage changes for a couple of the kids. Entering new developmental stages for a couple of the kids. Understanding and uncovering medical issues, with the added weight of an unexpected diagnoses. All these things combined together to make this a summer to which I am only too happy to wave the bye-bye.

I told my sister the other day, I think this might be the first school year in a long, long time (if ever?) to which I was looking forward with anticipation and gratitude. The exertion of external forces on our routine, our productivity, and our attitudes will be good for all of us. HEH. NOT that I will ever convince a certain 17-year old of that fact, but really, it's time. About 2 weeks past time, if I'm being totally honest.

So. This morning, I sent off my SENIOR, my FRESHMAN, my 6TH GRADER, and my all-day-for-the-first-time-ever FIRST GRADER!

  I realized after the first two pics that there was a big
fingerprint on my lens. Ugh.

She was so excited to get on the bus and see her friends,
that she almost forgot to stop for the picture!

After the bus pulled away, I ran in to brush my teeth and The Boss helped finish dressing Mei Mei. We drove quickly over to the elementary building for the "Welcome Back" party on the lawn.

It was so fun to see BBE's friend, V, and introduce her to Mei Mei.
She's becoming quite a lovely young lady.
BBE is pretty excited that they'll be in the same homeroom this year.

I finally found Li'l Empress through the massive crowd, where I discovered that she'd already hooked up with her VERY! BEST! FRIEND! from church. These girls have been buddies for a while now and the fact that they are now in the same school and the same class every day was cause for MUCH! EXCITEMENT! and JOY! on Li'l E's part. And cause for much relief and gratitude on Momma's part. The transition to full-day, no naps, no break from the hearing aid, and so on has been a bit of a prayer concern of mine for a few weeks now and I'm so grateful that God answered the prayer for both Li'l E and for me in this way. I sure hope that teacher is ready for TWO! LITTLE! GIRLS! on DAILY! DOSES! OF! EXCLAMATION! POINTS!

How cute are these two?!
I'm so excited to watch their friendship grow!

Mei Mei is currently hosting a little tea party at her table next to my computer, talking to her teapot and her dolly while I type this out. So far, so good. She hasn't totally noticed that she's all alone with me yet. She's pretty good at keeping herself occupied with books and puzzles and toys most mornings, so I'm pretty sure the reality of the quiet house won't hit for a few days. And with three teens in the house, she's gotten pretty used to hugs adn kisses good-bye around here. I'm hoping that the busy pace of our kids' lives has set her up for a smoother transition than I prepared for.... I'd like to be over-prepared for once in my life for something big and meaningful!

So, that's our first morning - they're OFF and I'm ready for a second cup of coffee. How was your first morning?! Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Scavenger's Daughters

I'm excited to share something that I've been keeping a teensy secret from you all for several weeks now.... I got to be an advanced reader for Kay Bratt's new book, the first in what I hope will be a wildly successful series. So far, both LadyBug and I have read it, and Shaggy has mentioned wanting to grab it and take some time with the book too.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was sent a free copy of the book and asked to read it with the intent of sharing my review for the release date to spread the news about the book. Aaaand, it's probably helpful to disclose that I am a huge fan of every book by Kay that I've read so far. Like I said, I'm very excited about the series and I think you will be too.

The Scavenger's Daughter is the captivating story of an old man and his wife who have spent the years after the Cultural Revolution in China living in dire poverty, barely scraping by on the earnings he makes as a trash collector. Literally, his station in life is to seek out trash that can be turned into cash. Papers that can be ironed and recycled. Cans and bottles that can be sold to purchase food for his family. When he's really lucky, he finds furniture or clothing or other treasures. However, along the way to living his meager life, he has become the finder of far more valuable treasures than discarded bicycle parts. He has found literally dozens of baby and toddler girls and crafted a very unlikely family with his wife, Calli.

Find it here on Amazon!
Beyond the obvious connections that I feel to the story line of abandoned babies and special needs orphans in China, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Benfu's story of seeking the treasure in all of life. His adamant determination that all life has value and is worth living with love and purpose pulled me in completely. Each stage of the story pointed to the same message over and over and the consistency of his character's temperament and personality was written really well. Further, I really enjoyed reading the back story of the Cultural Revolution and the recent history of China through his (albeit fictional) eyes. I'm a history buff and I always enjoy learning about the events of history. But this time, I appreciated learning about the feelings and thoughts of one who survived that history. As the story wove Benfu's current existence together with his painful experiences of the past, it occurred to me just how deeply the Cultural Revolution dehumanized so many incredibly intelligent, interesting and stimulating people who all had so much to offer their world. It struck me that Benfu and his wife worked with these little girls, giving them a family, investing in them and offering them the hope of a future as a kind of redemption of the past they'd all endured. It's as if they were saving the girls' lives and saving themselves in the process.

As one who believes that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God Himself, I found myself rejoicing and cheering Benfu on for his dogged determination to dig out the treasure in each girl, making sure each daughter got her own special way to SHINE and REFLECT the image of her Creator. His commitment to his family, no matter the cost, kept me reading long into the night and made me sigh with frustration that the book was over all too soon for me! It's been a long time since I let myself stay up that late to finish a book. Truthfully, it's been a long time since I read a fiction book that pulled me in quite so thoroughly.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to read this book and am glad to wholeheartedly recommend it to you as well. And I canNOT wait to read the next one...

Friday, August 2, 2013

New 'Do for Mei Mei

Mei Mei got her first trim since coming home.
Here's what she looked like the week we met her in China.
Ugh... such a bad haircut on such a pretty girl!

 Here's what she looked like this week.
You can't totally see it here but the back lengths
came down to a lovely 80's-looking pointy mullet. 

Even with the bulk of it pulled up in cute little piggies, it was a mop!

She liked the cape.... thought it was pretty funny
to poke her finger up into it and make a little tent.
Not even sure why it was funny but it tickled her fancy.
It did NOT, however, keep her still.
Nothing does that.
Even in her sleep.

Here's how she looks, all trimmed up and tidy.
Except for the stringy little straggler hanging there in her eye.
It flips over from the back of her head
like a bad comb-over.
No matter what we do to try to control it.

Excuse the smudge of peanut butter on her forehead.
Eating lunch here is a full-contact sport
and we were without the proper protective headgear, apparently!

I got a bit of a new 'do too - unintentionally.
I went in and asked for a just a few highlights to frame my face.
I came out with these shocking white {Seriously. WHITE!} locks.
All over the top, front and sides of my head.
 Sometimes, getting more than you've paid for is not a bargain.
That's all I'll say about that.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fanning The Flames

I think I might have neglected to mention this to ya'll: Dr. D has spent the last ten days in Alaska! How cool is that?! He is part of a ministry work team that was sent by our home church to go and support the work of Last Frontiers Ministries. As soon as we knew about the trip, we just KNEW that this was something he had to do. And from the reports that have been trickling in for these last days, we weren't wrong. It's been awesome to hear things like "killer work ethic" and "in his element" and "awesome team work" from him and from the other folks with whom he has been serving. Makes a momma's heart proud!

His most recent status update on F@ceb**k alluded to his love of the beautiful land and the fact that he could see himself going back and settling there. Heh. Imagine how much this momma loved hearing that! I assigned one of the team members the special task of being 100% certain that Dr. D gets on that plane and comes home to his momma. The team arrives home tonight and we cannot wait to hug him and hear all about his adventures!

But seriously, what a blessing to be able to launch him off to something that is so life-changing and at the same time, so RIGHT UP HIS ALLEY! I love that God takes such joy in the way He wired my boy AND that He crafted an opportunity like this one for Dr. D to learn more about His Great Love and His plan for his life. As I'd mentioned in my previous post about his enlistment, we've known from a very young age that God had a very creative and unique wiring built into our boy's heart. This trip and the kind of ministry that it offered, with its brand of teamwork and its type of practical ministry (like digging trenches, weatherizing, and other construction projects), set in that rugged environment are indeed integral to the man that Dr. D is becoming. I'm not sure I would have known this as a young mom, but I gotta tell ya: as the mom to two almost-adult young men, one of the most exciting things I get to experience is their steps into that plan and the path that sets them off to pursuing it. I'm so proud, I could burst open with it!

This is now the second short-term missions project one of our Gang has done and I have to say, we are hooked! The benefits AND the lessons that these experiences bring to their lives are really invaluable. Early in our marriage, The Boss and I both did a couple short-term experiences (as staff) with our former youth ministry so we knew that it was something we'd incorporate into our bag of parenting tricks. We are anxious to see what opportunities will be available when LadyBug is ready to venture out.  And we are SUPER excited about a potential trip that The Boss is hoping to take this coming March, ministering in a manner that is very near and dear to our hearts. I'm equally excited about what his experience on that trip will speak to our kids as they watch him prepare and hear about it when he returns. Fanning the flames of ministry in our kids' hearts by exposing them to all different kinds of opportunities to serve around the world is a really fun part of being the Momma to this Gang He's given us!

As soon as Dr. D has settled back in and we get our family debriefing out of the way, I'll be sure to share more about the trip and some of the pictures various team members have shared. Who knows, maybe he'll be excited enough to "guest blog" a photo post?! Until then, here's a sneak peek at a pic my brother-in-law shared with us.

In the meantime, if you are the momma to a little one OR a teen, consider including a short-term missions trip in your family's "curriculum" for launching them to adulthood. You won't be sorry - it's a priceless life-changing experience!


If you want to hear more about some of the experiences and resources to which we are connected, I'd be happy to share! Leave me a comment or shoot me an email and I'll be in touch!

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Too Many Words"

"Too many words, Li'l Empress. Too many words."

It's an oft-repeated phrase here, particularly in the early morning hours before I've had my coffee. Before my eyes are fully opened and certainly before my brain has caught up to the fact that my body is vertical now. Really the only true morning person in our house, even The Boss has been heard shushing her with this quick reminder to go easy on the rest of The Gang.

Most days, she wakes happy and chatty. Very chatty. From the very moment her eyes flutter open. Chattering to herself quietly in her bed. Singing quietly into her pillow before her feet hit the floor. Thankfully, it's mostly all quiet enough not to disturb Mei Mei. Who does NOT wake quite so talkative. Happy, yes. But quiet. Blissfully quiet and snuggly. But once Li'l E comes down those stairs, it just doesn't stop.

We have to tell her, "too many words, Li'l Empress. Too many words."

When I'm well-caffeinated, awake, and it's a decent hour of the day, I can totally relate to my girl's verbosity. I'm known in my family for being the wordy one. I love words. I love learning and using new ones. I love talking with friends, sharing my thoughts, listening to what's going on in their minds, asking questions about their lives. I enjoy sharing a good story. I get really excited about cheering folks on with my words. I like spirited discussions about lots of topics. I am a verbally expressive person. I love using words to tell folks how I feel about them.

(I don't, however, love repeating the same words
over and over to my children. Ad nauseum.
Can I get an "Amen" from the momma crowd?!)

A while ago, The Boss (semi-jokingly, semi-lovingly) told me that my frustration over a particular conversation, in which I was trying to verbally support that person, likely was because I use "way more words than necessary" to get across my point. That it could have (and in his view maybe should have?) been said far more succinctly (my word, not his!). While I don't disagree with him at all, AND while I know he was sincerely trying to help me see another viewpoint in a loving way, it stung a little. Probably because in this instance, I was attempting to offer my words as a sort of gift. I know now that the gift was not so fitting for the recipient. Although I truly didn't know it so definitively previously and that's why I appreciate The Boss's insight. I've been examining my response to the situation and to his observations for a while now.

I do try to make my words count when speaking with people. I try not to vainly flatter or falsely build them up. I desire my words to be an encouragement. That is likely the reason his summary stung a little. Words aren't the "thing" that this recipient responds to, apparently, and thus my words fell flat. I felt like the gift I had offered was politely accepted as if it was a garish purple and orange sparkly scarf given by that crazy old aunt who shops in her ancient closet for birthday presents. My gift was dismissed.

In examining my feelings about the experience, I've been wondering now. Do I do that to the ones I love? Do I take their gifts and dismiss them without realizing the treasure they represent to the one who gave them? The simple offerings that my gang shares with me come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Not always words, but often that is how it starts. My gang members all know their way around the words. To varying degrees, they are all well-spoken, conversational, and sometimes down-right chatty. Do I take what they are offering, in the form in which they are offering it, and see it as the gift they are extending? The invitation into their world they are issuing?

Dandelions from the yard clutched in muddy, grubby fingers.
Stories of junior high drama and angst in uncertain voices.
Slightly strange, sometimes bordering on inappropriate, memes gleaned from friends.
"Knock, knock" jokes that really NO ONE understands.
The 999'th "hold me" with reaching arms and clutching fingers.
The random "Hey Mom, listen to this" kind of songs that I don't quite "get."

Sadly, in this recent examination, I'm discovering that it's an area of parenting that I really need to work on with the Lord's help. I need to be more mindful of what is behind what they are saying. They often are attempting to form connection between us and in response, I must throw open my heart more freely and receive those attempts as such. I'm certain that in receiving more openly what my gang is offering, I am creating more safety and security. I am shaping a foundation of love and confidence. I really need the Lord's help in this - to move from examining it into implementing it.

I do think, though, that it is fair to reserve the right to gently tell her "Too many words, Li'l Empress. Too many words." At O'dark Thirty. When the barrage hits me before my big ole Tigger mug full of sugar-free hazelnut creamer-flavored coffee. Right? Right?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mei Mei - 1, Momma - 0

When we were little and would cry dramatically over something not really worthy of such a display, my mom would mimic us in a horrendously melodramatic manner. Usually, it was hilarious enough to distract us and get us giggling within seconds. Sometimes, the more stoic of us (umm, that would NOT be me) would not cave quite so easily and she'd take it up a notch.

It was just one of the MANY displays of my mother's creative skills of distraction that headed of the need for formal correction. She was a master. Still is, as many of the grandkids can attest.

I've taken many a page from her book over the last 19 years of parenting. I'd been thinking about this particular trick for quite a while. Searching for the key to breaking the mood that she myopically gets stuck in once this cycle starts. Wondering if it would work on her unusually single-mindedness. Waiting for the right moment to try it out on Her Royal Ridiculousness.

So the other night, when Mei Mei was in a ridiculously overtired state, being ridiculously melodramatic about every little bump and offense, with ridiculous amounts of wailing and (faux) weeping, I pulled out my trick.  

She came to me while I was prepping dinner, moaning pitifully and on the verge of bursting into great big crocodile tears over something of pathetic origins. For about the 79th time since nap time.

I scooped her up, held her close and started my own over-the-top version of her wailing and weeping. Loudly. Ridiculously dramatically.

She stopped. Stared at me in shock. Silent for oh, ...a millisecond.

And proceeded to mimic me. Mimicking her.

OMIGOSH. Seriously.

She clearly won that round. I lost the round. AND my composure.

Literally, I laughed till I cried.

Then I cried some more. It's official. All 6 of my kids are smarter than I am.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grace Like Rain is LIVE!

There's a big event going on over here that you might want to check out.... wait. Read the rest of this first. Then, go check it out.

This gal, Robin, has been an adoptive momma friend and cheerleader to SO many of us within the Chinese adoption community. I started following her original blog very early in our journey to Li'l Empress, having found her via our (then) mutual agency connections. She was such an encouragement during the long wait. And when we announced we were adopting again, she was equally supportive in both word and deed. While I've never had the privilege of meeting her in person (yet!), we've had many, many discussions and interactions over the last 6 years. Her heart is magnanimous. Compassionate. Steadfast. And Driven. This woman and her husband, in the last five years, have completed three adoptions of beautiful little girls from China. THIS time, they are going back for a little boy (oh, I could just eat him up!) AND another little girl (also quite delish!). Oh yeah. AND they have two older kids already in the mix!

Many of you are likely familiar with her work - I've shared some of it before - and some of you will be new to her creations. The stuff she sews is beautiful, creative, and intentional. She's been "firing up her mean machine" for months, crafting amazing clothing to auction in this fundraiser. This momma is no slouch - her efforts in bringing in the finances to bring these two (and her other kiddoes, frankly) are to be admired. Her work ethic and diligence have been impressive to witness. And the workmanship on these outfits is amazing. This auction is nicely rounded out by many other things donated by her friends and family for the purpose of finishing off the balance of the expenses for these two adoptions.

I know I'll be puting my name and my bid on a couple of the things lined up here. This particular event is near and dear to my heart as one of the kiddoes has a need quite similar to one of my girls. I'm always thrilled when Waiting Children come home but I love the additional connections that Robin and I will share with the addition of these two sweeties. Would you consider heading over and maybe sharing the auction with others too? Just don't bid on the stuff I'm shooting for - it might get ugly!  {insert big grin here}

Grace Like Rain
~An Auction for Caleb and Gabi~

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Joy Is Greater

Mei Mei turned 2 on June 30th. It was a beautiful day to celebrate our girl, even if the weather wasn't perfectly cooperative.

The cousins swam, we ate burgers and dogs, Grandma Bonnie made her FABLIOUS (Li'l Empress' new word o' the day!) macaroni salad, and we enjoyed a perfect day together. It was awesome to watch her blow out her candles - she knew JUST what to do, as The Boss had his big 45th birthday just a few days earlier.

It was such a treat to introduce her to our family birthday traditions and to make sure that her first birthday home with us was grand and memorable! I loved watching her figure out that the gifts were for HER. That ripping open that paper would bring a fun new surprise guaranteed to make us all "oooh and "aaaah" while she explored it. It was pure joy seeing her new family just wrap her up in all their love and affection and carry her along on the wake of "forever."


But when I had a few moments alone to think and observe the goings' on, I was also a little sad. I watched her giggling and teasing her cousin with her trademark impish grin and wondered what her birth mother was feeling at that same moment. I couldn't escape the thought that her birth family will never know what an amazing, delightful, brilliant child she is. That pierces my heart each and every time I think on it.

While we may never fully know exactly what led them to place her at the orphanage, we certainly understand that her physical needs and health issues might have been the predominant factor in their choice. Culturally and economically speaking, it's likely that they were completely ill-equipped to handle what they knew she likely would need. But it couldn't have been an easy choice for them, knowing what a gorgeous and sweet baby she must have been. The early pictures of her just take my breath away - her perfect little rosebud lips, her long sweeping eyelashes, and those deep onyx eyes. Thinking of it tears me apart - their pain and fear juxtaposed against what I can only (maybe niaveley?) assume was utter joy in looking at their pretty new baby girl. I don't know any of it for sure, obviously, and I can only suppose any of this from my readings and experiences within the adoption community.

I am everlastingly grateful for the choice they made for Mei Mei - the attempts to ensure her safety and well-being, the plan to find security and medical care for their beautiful baby. I pray for their peace of mind and comfort for their hearts often.

I am forever bound to the women who carried my daughters and I don't let myself forget it. My gratitude unspoken makes me hug my daughters a little tighter. Linger a little longer in their sweet snuggles at the end of the day. Love them a little more fiercely than I thought myself capable of doing.

So I joined the celebrations, juggling my mixed feelings. As I also do for all of Li'l Empress's birthdays and milestones. As I will for years to come, I'm sure. And celebrate, I did. For even though the losses are indeed great, the joy is greater. The endlessness of forever promises that.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

DIY: Shabby Chic Storage

I have a plethora of memories to document here and really no time or mental clarity to commit myself to capturing my thoughts, editing those thoughts, and getting them into a regular posting schedule again. So I'm starting out the gate again slowly... bear with me as this one really has nothing to do with the many milestones Mei Mei is tackling almost daily. Or the adjustment to our new normal that I'm still working through carefully and slowly. Instead, here's a peek at a DIY project that The Boss and I threw together for LadyBug.

Several months ago, I found this small dresser by the side of the road. Dr. D had asked us to be on the look out for "project pieces" that he could clean up, fix up and re-sell. He loves working with his hands and the chance to make something beautiful out of others' cast-offs appeals to him. So I loaded it into the van with Shaggy's help and brought it home.

However, the bones of the dresser were pretty rotted and warped, so he decided to trash it. I asked him to save the drawers and clean them up for me. I had seen an idea in a design magazine a long time ago and then again when my sister did something similar for her boys' rooms. I asked The Boss to make a help me make it a reality for LadyBug's room as she is in a bit of a "re-do" mood and we're trying to accommodate her design gene without breaking the bank.

I asked The Boss to pick up some casters, while I shopped for the knobs and contact paper.


Then it only took a little bit of sandpaper, some clear coat varnish.
Just like that, LadyBug has beautiful
new storage made from these old drawers.

I wish I was "together" enough these days to give you the tally of costs
for this little DIY. But alas, I'm just glad it's done and it's one less thing
for me (and The Boss) to think about for now.
You'll have to trust me when I say it was done "on the cheap!"

What summer DIY's do you have goin' on there? Share in the comments.
I'm always looking for inspiration and ideas.