November 30, 2012

Around The Kitchen Table

The kitchen table is the "hub" in our house.  It's where the meals happen, the games get played, the homework gets done, the tantrums get thrown when someone doesn't want to eat their broccoli, where eveything imaginable finds it's landing spot, and where we spend the most time just talking.  I love cooking dinner and looking over to see Miles running his cars across the table...or Noah sitting with a magazine and pair of scissors cutting out all the animals he wants to put in his zoo when he grows up...or Sadie busy over her homework... or Kamron with a stack of papers out preparing for a seminar.  It's just where the magic (and a fair bit of mischief) happen.  Our table is beat up, the chairs are hard and it is constantly covered in caked on bits of food or paint flecks from the last art project- but I LOVE it!

Here's a little snapshot of what's happening around our table this month...

Miles learned how to draw people for the first time.  This is one of my favorite artistic milestones to watch my kid's reach.  I always give them a few weeks to practice and then commission them to do a family portrait.  Their perceptions of our family always crack me up and each kid's finds it's way into a frame in my bedroom.

The kitchen table is where Sadie spends hours writing and drawing.  She's got a whole collection of short stories that are haphazardly stapled together and somehow tend to feature two wild little boys who get into a lot of trouble. (Art imitating life or the other way around? Hmmmm.)  She is very much into her fake glasses that she often wears during these marathon writing sessions.  She even wears them to school sometimes.  Sometimes she just puts them on because she thinks she looks cute with them on.  This phase of the unnecessary glasses is hilarious to me but I love how that girl's confidence is rock solid.

The kitchen table is also where Noah read his first book cover to cover without one bit of assistance this week.  The pride that came over his face was totally priceless.  Watching kids read just melts my heart.

The kitchen table is where we packed up our Operation Christmas Child boxes.  Our kids are sooooo hoping their boxes end up in the Congo this year!

We also just had many good laughs with family and friends around the table this month.  I'm so thankful for that beat up kitchen table!

Where's the "hub" in your house?

November 29, 2012

Demonizing The Adoption Community

**Note: I did not go back and edit this post.  I wanted to leave it as my true thoughts without getting PC or worrying about how it would be perceived because I wanted to share my heart.  Forgive me if it's jumbled or doesn't make a bit of sense**

Adoption is messy.  It is ugly and beautiful.  It is tragic and redemptive.  It is the worst of humanity and the best of humanity all mixed together.

But one thing I think we can all agree on is that in the adoption community, we all need each other.  Birth moms, adoptees, adoptive parents and everyone in between- we need each other.  We need to listen and learn from one another and respect the role we all play in caring for children (no matter what that role is and no matter how many times we screw up while learning how to get it right).

I know that in the 3-4 years we've been an active part of this "adoption community" it cycles through times where it is extremely supportive and then hits a cycle where is is divisive and ugly and vicious in the way that we all treat one another.  This seems to be one of those highly devisive times.

First off, can I say that I both LOVE adoption and HATE that it even exists in the same breath?  I wish that no child ever needed to be adopted.  I wish that there wasn't poverty, or moms who weren't ready to be moms, or rape, or infertility, or coercion in adoption, or bad ethics in adoption or parents who struggle with substance abuse or child trafficking.  I wish that there wasn't money to be made in adoption which further muddies the water. 

But one of things that burns me up the most is watching the adoption community tear itself apart internally.  We get enough of that from the outside world without doing it to ourselves. I find that the "in vogue" thing happening right now is for adoptive parents who have completed adoptions to demonize those families who are in the process.  We play the "holier than thou" card any time we can.  We pull the "my agency is more ethical than your agency' card.  We play the "I think this is best practice so you are stupid if you disagree" card.  We play the "your adoption didn't go perfect so we're kicking you out of the group" card.  We play the "now that I've adopted I think no one should ever do it and since you are doing it I'm going to make you feel guilty every step of the way" card.  What's the point?  We are all just people who don't have all the answers trying to do the best we can.  Let's share ideas.  Let's help one another.  But doing all of the above are not the way to get there.

I believe in fighting for adoption reform and establishing best practices.  I believe in trying to preserve families when it's the right thing to do for an individual child.  But I also believe that adoption is a part of living in an imperfect world.

While I think it would be awesome for every parent to be a super mom and dad to the children that they brought into the world, the reality is that some people aren't ready to be parents or don't want to be parents.  The reality is that sometimes, it's not in a child's best interests to stay with their family.  The reality is that laws exist in countries that limit the number of children a person can have.  The reality is that in some cultures, step mothers don't accept children from a first marriage and enslave those children.  The reality is that in some places particular special needs are considered curses and children are outcasted.  The reality is that disease and famine and death are an unfortunate part of life and surviving children bear the brunt.  The reality is that some people just simply chose to make this decision for their children and we need to respect that. The reality is that some people do horrific things to their children. So while it's great to say that adoption should never happen and all children should remain with their first families- it's just not reality.

Is there coercion in adoption?  You better believe it.  Is there child trafficking in adoption.  Absolutely.  Are there times when mothers in third world countries are told that their children are "coming to America to go to school."  Yep.  And these are not the instances I'm talking about.  These practices are DESPICABLE.  But let's be honest.  Is this every case of adoption?  Not even close.  But those are the ones that make the news.  Those are the people who talk the loudest (and they should!!!!  These stories need to be out there!!!!)  But there are also great stories.  Stories of adoptive moms and birth moms working together to navigate open adoptions.  And some stories of adopted children growing up to start foundations for foster children.  And some stories of organizations empowering moms who choose to parent so that they can be the best moms they can be. And stories of kids that no one else would take a chance on finding families and thriving.  And some stories where the adoption community just gets it right.

While I think models of caring for vulnerable children in their own countries are awesome (and I hope that we can begin to move in this direction as an adoption community in instances where it is best for the child) the reality is that in the mean time, kids still need homes, kids still need families, and kids still need love- and therefore adoption is still necessary for these kids no matter where they live.  So while it's great to move in a positive direction toward family preservation, it is naive to think that every child can and should remain with their birth family.  The truth is that not everyone is an awesome parent.  The truth is that every kid in the system who vacillates between home and being in care has a parent who is proving over and over again that their child is not their priority.  The truth is that it's not better for a step-child in part of the world to be enslaved by their own family.  The truth is that girls are not better off left by the side of the road to die.  The truth is that as long as we live in a world where evil exists- there will still need to be adoptions.  And the truth is that as long as we are all humans making these decisions on behalf of children, we will sometimes get it wrong.  But it doesn't give us license to tear one another apart.

So can we all agree that on this journey to be the best voice we can for vulnerable children, that we'll make some mistakes? Can we all agree that given the opportunity to do some things over again that we'd do them differently?  Can we agree that we can't make blanket statements about what is best for ALL children (statements like either ALL children should be adopted or ALL children should remain with birth families)?  Can we agree that adoption lives in the gray area and there are no black and white answers?  And most importantly, can we stop demonizing people from all sides of the adoption community.  The demonizing doesn't help a single vulnerable child and does nothing but create division in a community that is going to take everyone working together to bring reform and do the best we can for our kids.

November 27, 2012

Our Amazing Race Birthday Party!

We are birthday party UNDERachievers in my house.  Our kids have low key parties every year.  The grandparents come over, they have cake, they go home.  No frills- no fuss. 

When my kids have a party with their friends, we usually do a craft (that I buy at the store all ready cut up and ready to just assemble since I have no crafting ability!), we let the kids play and run around and then go home.  I'm not the mom who does treat bags, or cool party games.  I wish I was- but those kinds of things just don't seem to happen in my house!

But this year was a little different.  I've mentioned maybe a zillion times on this blog about how we are Amazing Race junkies.  Sadie asked if she could have an Amazing Race themed birthday party with her friends.  I'll be honest, I got so excited about this one, that I actually threw a party that required some thought!  If you aren't familiar with the premise of The Amazing Race- teams are on a scavenger hunt type race that requires them to perform tasks to get their next clue to continue on in the race.

Sadie wrote and erased this sign at least 10 times before it was just like she wanted it!

The point is- we had an AMAZING time at this party and it was not that difficult to plan.  If a birthday party underachiever like me could pull this one off, I'm convinced that anyone could do it!

First we sent the invitations (which I made by pulling the Amazing Race logo and simply pasting onto a word document). Easy peasy.

On the day of the party, excitement was high in our house!  Since the kids are all 9 and under, we kept the area small (no traveling in cars or going out of sight in our neighborhood).  Kamron took the kids to the end of the cul-de-sac, gave them the rules and then told them to take off running to find their first clue (on our front porch).

GranMary was there to pass out the first clue- which told teams to grab a golf ball and walk the length of the driveway with the ball on a spoon without it falling off.  (I found a website that has a downloadable clue template with made the race clues seem so professional!)

This task proved to be way too easy for the age of the kids.  If we ever do this again, I would change this task to make them carry the spoons in their mouths to add some challenge! Once the kids finished this challenge, their next clue sent them to the neighbor's house where they had to memorize a short poem-

After they memorized the poem, the kids had to come back to our house and recite the poem for the judge.  Kamron played the role of a hardcore judge!  He showed those kids no mercy!  It took at least 4 or 5 tries for each team to get the poem right.  It was so fun seeing them run back and forth between the houses trying to see which team would get the poem right first!

 Reciting the poem for the judge.
Once the team memorized their poem and recited it correctly, they were given their next clue.  Teams had to choose between two different tasks- eat a jalapeno pepper (quick but spicy) or make butter (easy, but time consuming)


I thought for sure that several of the teams would be squeamish about eating a hot pepper and would choose to make butter even though it would slow them down.  However, all the kids were hard core and swallowed down those peppers!  (And now I have enough cream to last me a lifetime!) 
Immediately afterwords, I think they regretted the decision to eat peppers! 
The world is full of difficult choices, no?
After they successfully ate the peppers (and chugged a lot of water!) they were given their next clue which led them inside the house for an eating challenge!

For this task, I took about 50 paper bathroom cups and filled them with various goodies (just enough to cover the bottom of the cup)  About 6 or 7 of the cups had a smiley face drawn on the bottom of them.  The object of the task was to pick up one cup and eat the contents.  When you found a cup with a smiley on the bottom, you could receive your next clue.  In retrospect, I would add a few more marked cups.  The kids had to eat WAY too many cups to find the marked ones.  They loved this challenge, though!
Once that challenge was completed, the next clue led them to the door of our basement where posters with each contestants' names were printed.  Each girl at the party then had to write encouraging, kind words to each other party goer.  I think it's never too early to teach our kids to value and honor their friendships (and to recognize and admire each other's strengths!)
I loved watching the girls effortlessly write sweet things to each other- and themselves.  Yes, I made each girl write things that she liked about herself on her own paper. Self esteem building, people.  Getcha some.


Good Lord, my basement window needs a good cleaning!?! 
Once their affirmations to one another were complete (each sentiment had to be at least 50 characters long) they were given their next clue with led them to the kitchen table...

For this leg of the race, teams had to put together a 100 piece puzzle.  For this age of kids- that was too many pieces!  It took so long that we lost a little of the momentum of the "race" aspect.  A 50 piece puzzle would have been better.  Once a team completed their puzzle they were given their last clue which led them to the pit stop (finish line).  Kamron was waiting at the finish line (the mat from our bathroom floor) to check them in.  The first team to the finish line was...
Sadie and Gracie

Team Lucy and Miles and Team Alexis and Noah were not far behind.
We passed out lip gloss and candy bars at the pit stop for prizes.  The kids had a blast on the giant scavenger hunt!  I had so much fun that we are planning to do this the next time we have all of our friends over and have families race together as teams!
It was a pretty cheap party to throw as most of the tasks only required things we already had around the house or could be purchased at the dollar tree.   Overall, the birthday girl said it was "the best party ever" and that's what really counts!


November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving Indiana Jones, Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving!  This morning I got out the video camera asked these little people who call me mom to tell me what they were thankful for.  As usual, Miles stole the show, Noah giggled uncontrollably and Sadie tried to reign them all in.  And then my video camera cut them off and was out of memory.  But I'm posting the video anyway because it represents all their personalities so perfectly!

I'm so grateful for these little turkeys!

November 20, 2012

Sadie Orbits The Sun Again!

Dear Sadie,

Sadie. Sadie. Little lady.  Describes you to a tee.  Last week you turned 9, but really, you are a 40 year old trapped in a nine year old's body.  You are wise beyond your years and compassionate and thoughtful beyond what I think a nine year old could ever be.

You amaze me.  Truly- you do.  You inspire me to be better.  You can see a need and meet it like a little old church lady in a Baptist church circle.  You care about people in a way that makes me so proud.  You even went so far as to make me reprint your birthday party invitation this year to include a line asking your friends to bring gloves and socks to donate for foster kids.  Sadie- I admire you!

There was a little 4 week long period this summer where I thought that I'd lost my sweet girl.  You went from 8 to 18 overnight- complete with the attitude and chip on your shoulder.  I may have looked at your dad and said, "If this is a preview of her teen years, we are in for it!"  Somehow you snapped out of your pre-teenage funk and slipped back to your little girl ways and I breathed a sigh of relief.  But seriously- if you act like that post-puberty on a full time basis, one of us will have to move out of this house!

This year you started the third grade.  You read like your life depends on it- usually 3-4 novels going at a time.  You ask me to print off math worksheets for you for fun.   I'm not sure who you get your love of math from.  Your dad and I barely scraped by in math in college.  Our motto was "D for Diploma" when we would see our math grades!  I love your nerdiness and you totally embrace it.  You've got smart, good, kind friends around you who value school like you do and it makes me proud of the choices you've made for who your friends are.

You still enjoy playing with your baby dolls.  You mother those little things like a champ!  It makes me smile when I see you still being a little girl.  Since you've started asking to go to the mall and shop at Justice, I just savor those times when I catch you still being "little".  Can I just keep you little forever?

You swam on the swim team this summer and loved it.  You were totally in your element in the water and you even won a blue ribbon! Then this fall, you played soccer for the first time. While running is not your "thing", you rocked it on the defensive end!

You are Daddy's girl.  And let me tell you- your Daddy is obsessed with you.  When you walk out of the room he stares at you so lovingly.  Then he often times looks at me and says things like, "She is so amazing" or "she's such a good kid."  Baby girl- you are adored and loved and valued and I hope that we do a good job of making sure you know that. 

To sum up- we aren't sure what we ever did to deserve to get to be your mom and dad.  But whatever it was, we are so insanely grateful that God picked us for your parents.  You are so precious to us!  Happy 9th birthday.  I hope your year is as wonderful as you are!


**** The tradition in our home is for me to "interview" the kids each year on their birthday.  You can see Sadie's other interviews by clicking on 2011, 2010, 2009.)  I love watching how their answers change over the years but how the fundamental aspects of their personalities stay the same. ****

Me: If a genie would grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Sadie: *loooooooong pause* If a genie could grant me one wish it would be that I would get to be with Jesus up in heaven. (Mom says- let's wait a while for that to happen.  A long while!)

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sadie: Either a teacher or a veterinarian

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Sadie:  That's a maybe.  I don't know yet.
Me: Do you want to have children?
Sadie: Yes. I still want to adopt- same as last year- from China, Congo, and America.

Me: Do you want to have any babies in your belly?
Sadie: NO!  Still no.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are nine?
Sadie: Yes. Kinda.
Me:  How so?
Sadie:  I feel taller and I feel like my hair is a foot longer than it was last year.

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Sadie: Purple, because.... well, the sunset colors actually.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Sadie:  My best friends are Alexis and Lucy because they are so nice to me and they are there to support me when I need them.

Me: Now that you are nine, do you think you'll get a boyfriend?
Sadie: NO!
Me: Why?
Sadie: Because I'm too young to have one.  Duh.

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Sadie: Good Luck Charlie and The Amazing Race

Me: What do you like most about school?
Sadie: That I get to learn and I get to have fun with my friends.
Me: What's your subject in school?
Sadie:  I think it's reading because I get to go to my TAG group and I get to do more projects. And I just like to read.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Sadie: I'm smart and kind and pretty and nice and a lot of other things.  (Mom told her she had to brag about herself!)

Me: What do you think is the most exciting thing that's happened to you this year?
Sadie:  When I got my soccer trophy and when I won ribbons in swimming.  It made me feel good to accomplish that much.  And another exciting thing is that I got to join TAG because I didn't know that I was smart enough to do that so it was really exciting!

Me: What is your favorite song?
Sadie: Trouble or Twenty-Two by Taylor Swift and all the songs by FUN.

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Sadie:  I would like the power to fly and the power to read people's minds because if I could fly, I could see the whole city.  Can I also have the power to see super far and zoom in?

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Sadie: I think it's playing with my friends because they are fun to play with and most of the time I get to see my friends every day.  I'm lucky because I have a lot of friends.
Me: And what else?
Sadie: I like to sit in bed and help Noah get a head start on multiplication and reading.  Except last night because he got in my bed so we had to just trade beds.

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Sadie: I'm afraid of a lot of insects and animals.  And that's it.  Well, and sometimes I'm scared in the dark because I can't see what's happening.  But if there's a person there, I'll just knock 'em and their head will hit the ground.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Mommy?
Sadie:  That she's nice to me and she loves me and she takes care of me.  And she cooks her food and I have a long list.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Sadie:  That he works to get our money and he works to pay for us to go on fun trips.  And I like that he's in a band because he plays good music.

Me? What is your favorite thing about Noah?
Sadie:  That he's nice and sweet to me even though he can be really mean, annoying, and bossy.  And I like that he cares about me.

Me? What is your favorite thing about Miles?
Sadie:  That he's crazy.  And sometimes I get to play with him by ourselves and we have a lot of fun together.

Food: Lasagna- still
Book: The Tale Of Despereaux, All The Magic Tree House books
Game: Math games that we get to do at school
Movie: Goonies, Indiana Jones, Finding Nemo, and Shrek
Activity to do on one on one time with a parent: go out for a meal
Activity to do with friends: play baby dolls
Sport: swimming then soccer then tennis


Happy 9th Birthday, Sadie!  We love you!

November 19, 2012

Millions of Miles: Gifts That Give Twice Guide!

I love giving gifts at Christmas time.  And I love supporting charity.  This year, I committed to buying at least half of all my Christmas goods from places who support charities or who are selling fair trade items to help indigenous artisans make a living wage.  It's responsible giving, folks!  Jump on the bandwagon!

Here are my 20 favorite things from around the Internet for charitable gift giving this year.  All of them raise money for awesome causes and worthwhile ministries.  Happy shopping!

P.S.  Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below!  I'd love for this to be a great one stop destination for people trying to give compassionately this Christmas season!


From Mercy House Kenya that helps young girls safely give birth and teaches parenting skills:

Hand Rolled Paper Coaster Set (waterproof) - $15
From Ekubo Ministries in Uganda that serves the needs of children and families- doing everything from orphan care to medical care to school sponsorships for village children.
From Just Love Coffee Roasters- which helps support adoptive families and non-profits by selling fair trade coffee.  This fundraiser supports an orphanage project in Kinshasa, DRCongo.

From Freeset which operates globally to help rescue women trapped in the sex trade:
Braided Sari Bracelets- set of 3 $12
From Sole Rebel- a company making fair trade shoes in Ethiopia to provide workers with a living wage.

From Haitian Creations which serves women in Haiti- empowering them to become financially independent
From Girl Body Pride which helps girls and women learn their worth at any size.

From Ordinary Hero- a storefront that helps orphans find homes through fundraising help. 

 From Worldcraft- working in impoverished countries around the world to help women in poverty learn a trade and provide income for their families.

 Journal- $20
From Project Hopeful that serves HIV+ orphans around the worlds and helps them find permanent families

From Amazima Ministries working in Uganda to serve and educate families and vulnerable children and spread the love of Christ:
From Trades of Hope which helps empower women all over the globe and helps them provide for their families:

From 31 Nuggets of Hope which helps create support networks for adoptive parents and helping adoptive families thrive:
Hope Tote- $30
From The Autism Site which provides research and therapy for children and families affected by autism:

From Jabu Africa which comes alongside existing non-profits working in Congo, Ethiopia, and South Africa to make a better life for families and orphans:
From Krochet Kids who empower people to rise up out of poverty by creating sustainable economic development programs that support holistic growth of individuals and communities within developing nations.

From Light Gives Heat who are empowering Africans through the encouragement of economic sustainability and creative endeavors 

From Show Hope which helps children find families and serves orphans all over the world:
From an etsy store raising money to help street children and orphaned children in Kinshasa, Congo:
Don't forget to put some of your favorite gifts that give back ideas in the comments! 

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