Sunday, December 27, 2015

Signing off for a while...

There is no easy way to say this.

My beloved father died early this morning. It is a lot to process and we are all grieving. You'll understand if I don't see you here for a little while. We are still leaving for China in a week. It is what he would have wanted. It is what my mother wants.

He was a very good man and I'm going to miss him.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas 2015

We had a lovely, calm, and wonderful day. Just calm family fun, both at home and with extended family. Here are just a few pictures.

TWELVE pairs of new pajamas... there were some for Y. and R. as well.

Ready for Christmas Eve dinner

Jesus' birthday cake

Coming downstairs for Christmas morning

K. and H.

Gretel enjoying her new toy. Midnight got a new toy as well, but much preferred the wet cat food he received.

Christmas breakfast

L. had been telling me she was going to get a guitar. Imagine my joy when I came across this one when I was shopping for something else a couple of months ago. She has barely set it down since she opened it.

B. and G.

TM has really, really wanted a pet husky. This is a fairly acceptable alternative.

The one thing D. requested... the new Rick Riordan book.

H. and the Legos she had really wanted.

L. has a new Superman sweatshirt. 

See what I mean about the guitar?

We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Music, always music

This is one of the lines to describe the narrator's Christmas in the movie, A Child's Christmas in Wales. (That would be the same movie we always watch on Thanksgiving night, after dinner is over.) I have always found it to sum up a big part of my own family's Christmas as well. Singing Christmas carols and listening to Christmas music is something we do a lot of during the Christmas season. We sing each Sunday of Advent after dinner, we sing on Christmas Eve before we tuck everyone into bed, and we try to invite friends over for an evening of singing as well.

This is what we did last night. The H-S family and P. family joined us and we ate cookies and drank eggnog and sang. We have done this for many years, our three families. We have all added children and all of us now have grown children. Some have moved away, some have gotten married, and there is even a quickly growing baby in the mix. I'm sure I'm not the only one of the six adults to find these moments a bit bittersweet. We sang many songs... and all the verses of them as well. We did have hymnals to share, but for the most part, except to jog our memories, they act as reminders since most of us, including our children, do know all the words. I accompany on the piano, with only a few instances of not changing keys between songs. It was a lovely evening.

Do you sing with your family? Believe me when I say, despite a long-held fantasy that we would be the next von Trapp family, we make up for in enthusiasm what we lack in quality. How you sound is really not the point, anyway. The main thing is the making of music; creating a joyful noise. So if quality was the problem, don't let that hold you back. Besides, since singing is a combination of breathing and muscles, it is a learned skill which only gets better with practice. If you never sing, of course you're not going to sound as you would wish.

Give your children the gift of music as well. We live in a culture that has music going nearly every waking minute, but it is passive listening. Few people actually make their own music anymore. Listening and enjoying music is great, but making your own, especially with others, is even better.

You don't have anyone to accompany you? Well, you can still sing together even without that added bonus. And, use this year to make that change. Learn an instrument. Yes, you, the adult. You can still do it. I'm always telling people that the single best reason to learn to play the piano is so that you can play Christmas carols for your family. You don't have a piano? Well, how about guitar? ...harp? ...cello? There are a host of instruments out there to choose from. Let your children learn an instrument. Yes, time can be an issue, but I think it's worth it. Sports can be great, but, dare I say it? There is more to life.

This Christmas, sing. Sing all the verses. Make a joyful noise and celebrate the birth of our savior.
Looking back, I find I tend towards being a broken record on certain subjects.
Sing with your children
Sing with your children, part 2

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gingerbread... um... creations

Today was cookie decorating day. It was the easiest cookie day I've ever experienced, mainly because all I really did was take pictures and wash dishes. Yesterday, D. made the gingerbread men. He is finding it difficult to fill his time and has been extremely helpful in the baking department. Then, this morning, D. made all of the icing and TM added all the colors and together the filled the decorating bags. These two jobs, the coloring and the filling, are really not my favorite activities and I was thrilled to give them away to the boys. We had successful decorating. Everyone had fun, there were no disasters (at least during the process), and everyone helped clean up.

You can enjoy the photos while we engage in a package wrapping marathon here.

L. and K. playing a game I brought out of storage to occupy the masses while the icing was being made.

TM. and D. working on the frosting.

Ready for decorating.

G. ... waiting and waiting...

D.'s gingerbread Hulk





H. and L.








K,'s (He really liked the sprinkles... that would be a gingerbread policeman on the very left.)

He really liked the sprinkles.


P.s (I must have forgot to turn the picture... aren't they cute?)

D.'s (Enjoy this picture... I'll tell you why at the end)


Now, I mentioned the lack of disasters during the actual decorating. After lunch, TM and I went out to do a last minute bit of shopping that he needed to do. We had the cookies sitting on the kitchen counter and I made sure to tell people that they must not leave the kitchen unattended. I guess what I forgot to mention was that what I meant was do not leave the kitchen unattended even for a second. Gretel likes cookies. Gretel knows better than to try to steal cookies when anyone is around. Gretel can steal five cookies in literally seconds. Guess what happened? Yes, people left the kitchen for just a moment. Just a moment is all that Gretel needs to do her snitching. I'm really glad we had pictures of D.'s gingerbread cookies to document them. 

In other unrelated news, J. sent me an email this morning telling me that the weather in Urumqi (where Y. is) is currently 3 degrees. The weather in Guongzhou, where the consulate is is currently 64 degrees. Zhengzhou (where R. is) is somewhere in between. Yes, it's officially a packing nightmare, people.

And finally, I had another article published a few days ago. Click on it, share it, heck, you can even read it if you want. 3 Things to Consider When Adopting After Having Biological Children

Monday, December 21, 2015

More shopping

Because actually finishing the Christmas shopping for 12+ people isn't enough, I'm still gathering things to go out of the country a week later. Look at what I picked up today.

These are matching dresses for Y. and R, plus some hair bows. We will be able to bring all of R.'s wardrobe which is wonderful, but I'm quite sure that Y. will come to us with the clothes on her back. It is so fun to be able to finally get these girls some things. I figure they will wear them at the official adoption paper signing our second day in Zhengzhou and at our consulate appointment the next week. They would work for both climates... tights in Zhengzhou and short socks in Guongzhou. (Note to self. Dig out these items to pack.) The beauty of doing this kind of shopping at this time of year is the crazy sales that are on. I really didn't mean to buy dresses today. I was going to save that for next week. But when you find an entire store on sale for $12.99, you stop in.

What I was really doing was looking for a new pair of walking shoes to take. I wanted some time to wear them around before we left. I had success in that department as well. Good, comfortable walking shoes for under $30.

I was hoping that I could also show you the cute knapsacks I ordered for the two girls as well, but it seems they will be arriving tomorrow. Well, that would be the knapsacks along with all the rest of the things I saved until the last minute to order. It would seem that as much as we all love Amazon Prime shipping, it has made us collectively lazy and prone to wait until the last minute to finish shopping.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

God shows up

This is a post about our immense thankfulness. 

When we started R.'s adoption, we knew we could make it work because of her grant. If we were only bringing her home, there would have been no real issues and the small expenses we would incur would be quite manageable. It is a truly amazing grant that the Baobei Foundation has provided for her. Yet, we knew that not only was R. our daughter, but Y. was as well. I truly don't know how to explain the jolt I felt when I first saw Y.'s picture. It was as though my body knew that this face was somehow important to me. I saw her photo at about the same time as R.'s. Two girls whom I felt a connection with. And I knew this was crazy because we knew we were done, and even if we felt as though we weren't done, there was quite literally no money to even start an adoption, much less pay for one. So all I could do was advocate and hope and pray they would find families. I would scan the advocacy lists for news of them, both hoping I would see they had families and at the same time, holding my breath, wondering at the sadness I felt at the thought they might be someone else's daughters. 

And then the grant and the approval for R.'s adoption came, along with the crazy thought that if we were already in China, maybe, just maybe, Y. could be our daughter as well. None of us needs to live through the craziness of the first half of the year trying to get our home study approved for two. Once was enough, thank you very much. But it was approved. We held our breath and asked for permission to adopt Y. as well. 

And China said yes. We were going to have two new daughters, and while many of the fees were taken care of, there would still be significant expenses that we were going to be on the hook for. We went ahead, holding our breath, and knowing that if God really wanted this child in our family, it would all work out. This is easy to say at the very beginning of an endeavor and at the end when it is all said and done, but another thing entirely in the midst. 

I won't kid you. There have been moments of sheer panic that we would not have the money to pay the next fee. This is not something I am proud of, but I would not be truthful if I did not share that the year has been full of doubts and fear and complete inadequacy. 

But God...

Each time there was a fee due (and sometimes even before I realized it was going to be due), a check from a friend or relation or complete stranger would arrive. Every single time we had something come due, the money would be there. For those of you who felt compelled to share with us, thank you. Because of you we have made it this far. It has been both an agonizing and amazing year all at the same time. We are humbled and overwhelmed with gratefulness to all of you.

When I do begin to panic about finances, I am trying to remember the provision we have already experienced. I am realizing that while we all love a really good God story and to hear of other's experiences of miraculous provision, we (at least I) tend to forget that to experience miraculous provision, you have to first be at a place of complete need. That is a very difficult place to live in. Yet, it is the place most likely for God to show up. 

We have been living in a place of complete need in many aspects of our lives this year. I can say, God has truly shown up. If He hadn't, we wouldn't have plane tickets to fly to China. We also wouldn't be at a place emotionally to take care of other children. It has been a tough year. Yet at our lowest points, God was there, guiding us through, supporting us, loving us. 

I want to share one more example of provision before I stop. 

There, what do you think of that photo? Not quite down to my usual standards, huh? That's because dear friends bought us a new camera and came and dropped it by last weekend. 'Find camera' was on my list of things to-do before we left for China, and I had hoped to find one before Christmas. It was yet another of those expenses that you need to pay for, but wonder exactly how you were going to move the available money around to make it work. I actually didn't even feel quite right praying about it, since we had much bigger things to send God's way. Our friends' gift to us really felt as though it was God saying, "I care about the little things, too." 

And all I can say is thank you. A teary, heart-felt, overwhelmed, humble thank you.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Speed of lightning

Gretel is back to good health which means she is back to her very bouncy and barking self. I have moments of wishing for just a low-grade fever to tone the barking down. Not really. Much. Gretel and the cat have continued to live together with minimal drama.

I was a little concerned about the Christmas tree. We have survived Christmas trees with babies, toddlers, puppies (and a Labrador puppy at that), and even twin toddlers, but thanks to the wonders of You Tube, I was seriously wondering if the tree would survive the cat. Based on all the videos people kept sharing, it would seem that Christmas trees are such a temptation to cats that we would be spending every waking moment either setting the tree back up, or taking the cat out of the tree, or replacing every single ornament on the tree. I was a bit trepidation.

So far, Midnight has left the tree pretty much alone. We have had a couple of ornaments that were batted off, but nothing more serious than the babies, toddlers, and puppies did. It turns out that Gretel is our secret weapon against Christmas tree cat sabotage.

Who would have guessed that Gretel, the world's goofiest and perhaps dimmest Labrador, the dog who takes approximately 1001 repetitions to figure something out, would turn into the Law and Order dog? Gretel does not like Midnight to break the rules. Those rules include: jumping on the table or counters, clawing the furniture, and... walking near the Christmas tree. If Gretel sees Midnight doing any one of these things, she is all over it like ants on honey. She will jump up, give a low growl, and dash towards the cat giving one short, but fairly ferocious bark. Midnight then stops whatever he is doing, glares at the dog, gives a swat with his paw, and dashes out of the room with Gretel close on his heels, just to be sure the cat doesn't try it again when Gretel isn't looking. She is kind of like our own personal UnderDog.

"There's no need to fear, UnderDog is here!"

It's a shame she doesn't polish our shoes when isn't busy keeping the cat in line.

I regret to inform you that if you understand the references, it puts you in a certain age bracket. Sorry. I also apologize for the ear worm that is now squirming around in head, because you can't exactly remember the words to the song. As far as I can tell, J. is the only person I know to be able to remember the all. I falter after "... roar of thunder."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Love came Down

In the holiday mayhem that happens at this time of year, it is so easy to lose our focus. This is especially true if we are mothers. There is a sort of unwritten expectation that we need to make Christmas and the Christmas season lovely and magical and unforgettable. We want to feel cozy and connected and full of love and peace and hope and joy. It's what we sing about; it's what we watch in movies; it surrounds us for the entire month of December. Is it any wonder that this season is difficult for so many people?

Yet, when we stop to really think about it, feelings of discontent, anxiety, and even fear put us right in the center of the Christmas story. We forget that at the time of Jesus' birth, it was life as usual for everyone in first century Palestine. And that usual involved living in a conquered country that was part of the Roman empire. Herod, having played his political games well, was named King of the Jews by Augustus, the current Caesar of the empire. He was culturally Jewish, so vaguely acceptable to the population of Judea, but his real loyalty lay with Rome. While the region did experience the Pax Romana under his reign, there were also problems. He spent lavishly, both on buildings and on entertainment. To finance these, he taxed the population heavily. That registration that required Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem was a census, undoubtedly for taxing purposes. Plus, any opposition to Herod or to Rome was quickly put down. Just a few years before Jesus' birth, a group of zealots destroyed an eagle that Herod had placed at the temple. In response, Herod had them burnt alive as punishment. Where exactly is the joy in any of that?

Mary is told the unbelievable news that she will bear a son, though she knows better than anyone that in human terms, this is impossible. Gabriel explains it to her and she accepts God's will. We like to leave the story right there. It makes it seem as though saying yes to God is the end of the story. We like to jump to the happy ending. What we don't see, I'm sure, is the social cost that Mary paid as a result of saying yes. We don't see the stares, the whispers, the veiled remarks. We don't see the conversation between Mary and her parents, between Mary and Joseph. And what about Joseph? He was by all accounts a good man. Being thus, he was trying to do the right thing by Mary, even though he must have been crushed at the news she was pregnant. He knew he wasn't the father. How could she have betrayed him? Then he, too, receives a visit from Gabriel, and he, too, says yes. He paid a social cost as well. Either everyone would believe that he was the father or they would believe that someone else was and Joseph was just accepting it. Neither scenario made him look too great. They both said yes, but that didn't mean life was easy as a result. Where is the peace here?

The night of Jesus' birth, for a brief moment, Heaven and earth meet. Joy is here. The redemption for sin and the evil in the world has arrived. There were multitudes of angels, there was worship, there was joy. Mary and Joseph must have wondered at it all, and in the days to come wonder if it had been real, or some dream they shared from too much travel, too much stress, and too much emotion with the birth of their first child. Because, though everything had changed, it most likely felt as if nothing had changed. It was still the same world, the same ruler, the same family, the same problems, except now there was this baby to be worried about as well. This baby didn't look like the long promised Messiah.

And it continued, the Divine reaching out, sharing, being part of the mess of humanity. Being with Jesus did not stop His followers from being human. They were still confused, scared, angry, and clueless. Jesus would remind them again and again, that their fear, their worry, their anger weren't necessary. He was in charge, if they could only allow themselves to believe it. The disciples, when in a boat during a storm, were terrified, even though the Creator of the universe slept next to them. Mary ran to Jesus, angry and sobbing, that He did not come sooner and thus save her brother Lazarus from dying. Peter was so fearful after Jesus was crucified that he denied having known Him, not once, but three times. Each time, those who knew Jesus during His time on earth, were so overcome with the world that they lost hope.

Because here is the real Christmas message to all of us. Sin is costly and evil is alive and well in the world. We see evidence of this every single day of our lives, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small. But it is all the result of sin; of having turned away from God and put ourselves at the apex of importance. To redeem this sin is costly. So costly that God had to come to us to work out His plan to save us, if we will let Him. And God's plan never quite looks like what we would expect, or even want. It often feels backwards and ineffectual, when in actuality, when we look back, it was the only way things could ever come out right. It is a mercy that can be difficult to understand.

If we have hope, then we can find the joy in the moment. If we have hope, then we can rest in the peace that Jesus has it all under control. Because Jesus was born doesn't mean that suddenly our lives will become peaceful and problem free, we are still living in this old sinful world and the story isn't done yet. But because Jesus was born, we have hope that things are being made better, though often in a backwards, unexpected, and sometimes terribly slow (to us) way. God chose to enter into our mess. It was the only way He could reach us. To redeem us. To save us. Our hope comes from knowing that God loves us that much.

This is Christmas. Unimaginable love in the midst of unimaginable mess.

Hallelujah! Christ is born!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tree Trimming 2015

Today was our annual Christmas tree trimming party. I think the children are getting older because the tree was loaded with ornaments in record time. This is the first year ever that all the decorations have been put up and the boxes put back away before we sat down to dinner. How terribly civilized.

Here are some photos from the day... but remember, I'm using D.'s camera as a stop gap until we finally get one and to say I don't like it wouldn't quite convey my feelings towards it. It is just a big pain to use. And, I don't use it very well as you will soon see. Not that any of you have ever come here for the photography... except maybe to laugh. (Go ahead, it's alright. I really don't blame you.) These were all taken after the boxes were all put away.

I think we'll be able to squeeze in two more stockings, don't you think?

Bad picture #1... but a Christmas tree looks pretty even when blurry, right?

Here's Gretel doing her best calm and quiet dog imitation. Don't believe it for a moment. She ended up having to rest in her crate for much of the party.

It's not a party without snacks, right? Or what used to be snacks...

Here's really bad picture #2. It's supposed to be our front staircase all decorated. Just pretend, OK?

Another part of the front hall.

Enjoying the tree

I also got out our snowman game. It's sort of like tic-tac-toe.

Other people played a game of Dutch Blitz. (If you don't own this game, you should really get it. It's great fun.)

I caught G. just playing with the snowmen. They're pretty cute snowmen. 

At least the house is ready for Christmas now. 

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