Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Beautiful Winter Baby

Sometimes in the day-to-day stuff of life I forget how stunningly beautiful she is.
Thank goodness for pictures, which capture single moments.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The First Tears of Christmas

You know my heart.  You know how I ache for the poor.  I know you will understand why I cried my first tears of Christmas.

Yesterday I received word that my aunt and uncle donated money in my family's honor to Feed My Starving Children to provide an entire box of food (216 meals!) to a family in need.  The beautiful card I received in the mail took me by surprise, but it was the sweet words of explanation written by my family that brought the onset of tears.

I have an overflow of joy in my heart today as I imagine what it will look like when the box of meals is delivered somewhere in the world.  I can picture relief in the worried eyes as hands reach out to accept the food.  I can see excited children gathering around the fire, waiting for the water to boil so they can taste the meal.  I picture their tummies full as they close their eyes for bed tonight.  And looking carefully, I can see a worried forehead wrinkle decrease a bit as the knowledge of food for tomorrow sinks in.  Hope. 

Yes, this is a merry Christmas.  A merry Christmas indeed.

Thank you, my thoughtful relatives.  You have made my Christmas. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Warm greetings from our family to you!  As I type our Christmas letter this year, I think about each of you and how my life has been blessed by you.  Perhaps you are one of my family members, knowing me since birth and wondering each year, "How did she get to be so old already?"  Maybe you are one of the friends I have picked up along life's way in grade school, college, camp, church, or work.  Maybe you are one of my friends connected through adoption, and maybe we have never even met in person yet.  Regardless of how we know one another, I am grateful for you.  My life is rich because of you.

2012 was a big year for us, namely because of the sweet face in the center of this photo.  We were blessed beyond measure to welcome a daughter into our family this year.  Feven joined our family in April, and life has been a wonderful, crazy ride since!

Feven has a tender heart which we see in the way she interacts with us and also with her baby dolls.  We will often find her rubbing her dolls' backs to help them get to sleep, or feeding them food with a big wooden spoon from the kitchen.  She surprises us with hugs and kisses, and enjoys getting them in return.  She is also inquisitive; she tips her toys over to figure out how they work.  Zac is sure she'll be an engineer like him someday!

Parenting, while wonderful, has also given us a good kick in the butt!  Transitioning from a family of 2 adults to 2 adults + 1 child-who-needs-you-all-the-time has not been easy.  I'm grateful for my husband Zac who walks this journey beside me and sometimes picks me up and carries me onward when the going gets tough.  The first 6 months were overwhelming and trying, but in the last few months we've felt ourselves getting in the groove more and more.  Our family is getting our rhythm down, and it feels good.  I hesitate to write that down for the world to see because inevitably acknowledging it will mean something will change and go incredibly wrong to make life fall out of the groove.  However, in desperate hope that this won't prove true, I will let that sentence stay in the Christmas Letter.  :)

As far as other life updates go, Zac still works for General Mills and still loves it.  His job fits him perfectly and he enjoys going to work everyday.  I left my work outside the home when Feven came and began work as a full-time mom.  I occasionally substitute teach at my favorite school or babysit my niece, both of which infuse me with new life and make me a better person and mother.  Our hobbies have taken a backseat to our new job as parents, but from time to time Zac will get out in his workshop and build beautiful pieces and I will take pictures or make cards or sit with my knitting friends and pass the time.  My love of reading has been challenging; each time I pick up a book I become so relaxed that my eyelids quickly drop.  I enjoy reading, but I'm just too tired to do it well these days!

It has been a good year.  A year of much learning, much leaning, and much joy.  As each year is completed, I feel like I'm seeing another segment of a tapestry come together.  As I sit and look ahead toward 2013, I have no idea what it holds.  What will I experience and how will it shape me as a person?  However, as I look back on the 31 years completed, I see how each year fit together with the one before it and after it to create something beautiful.  What will my tapestry look like when my life is done?  I don't know.  But I am certainly enjoying watching it come together. 

Thank you for your love, support, and prayers in our lives in 2012.  We look ahead to 2013 with anticipation and gratitude.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Luxury of Time

This December has been unusual.  It's typically a month where my expectations greatly exceed the realm of possibility and I rush around trying to grasp just a touch of what I think I'm supposed to be thinking, feeling, and doing.  This December is uncharacteristically...quiet. 

Our family's fall schedule had us running around like crazy people and December was the welcomed finished line.  It was the tape that broke as we gasped for breath from running for 3 months straight.  Now that we're here, it feels just as good as I thought it would.

In a month that has so much to offer, it is a complete luxury to have time to enjoy some special things.  For example, we had no plans one warmish December evening, so we went as a family to the Holidazzle Parade downtown.  It was on a whim and we had a blast.  Feven loved seeing the floats covered in lights coming down the street.  Each time one passed, she would look up at us with her big eyes and ask for, "more?  more?" 

Zac and I grabbed cups of hot cocoa one evening and sat in the living room, admiring the newly-decorated tree.  Our conversation was without agenda, and meandered here and there uninterrupted by children, phone calls, or chores.  It was a treasure.

Yesterday Feven asked to play in the snow.  We had no plans all day, and so it was easy to grant her this wish.  We put our winter gear on and went into the backyard where I built her a horse and a puppy to sit on.  The temperature was a beautiful 36 degrees with warm sun and no wind.  We could have stayed out there forever.  Before we went in we also threw snowballs, crawled in the snow, and pretended WE were horses.  What a wonderful, memory-making afternoon.  All because we had TIME.

I'm beginning to think that the sweetest things in life happen when there is no agenda. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Learning to Live

If you've read three or more posts on this blog, you're bound to have an idea how I desire to live fully yet get bogged down in to-do lists and logistics.  It's a constant battle for me, and many days I feel I'm losing. 

Today I had a sweet victory which can only be credited to Feven.

This morning a dear and brave friend invited us over to her house to paint Christmas wrapping paper with her and her children.  I loved this project for many reasons: we were reusing packing paper that came in shipments she had received from online stores, we made our own stamps by wrapping string around tissue boxes and blocks, there were a variety of paint colors to mix and match, and we were spending time with good friends. 

Feven and I arrived in our paint clothes and were quickly swept into the project.  With Feven in my lap, I tried to teach her how to paint.  She enjoyed dipping the tissue box in the paint and pressing it on the paper for a few minutes, but then the urge was too much for her and she tried to touch the paint.

Now, having a messy tissue box is one thing, but having a messy child is another.  The child can do far more damage to a room than an immobile tissue box.  I tried and tried and held her off for as long as I could, but soon it was unbearable and it was just time to let her touch the paint. 

She reached for it with boldness and placed her entire hand in the paint.  She made a few blob hand prints on the paper, but was more interested in smooshing around the paint.  After a few moments, she reached for my hand and got paint all over my wrist and forearm.  Oh my, this was going to be a disaster!  I gave in and just let her lead my hand where she would. 

And do you know where she brought my hand? 

To the paint.  She took me by the wrist and pressed my palm into the cool, wet paint.  I looked up at my friend and we smiled.  I proceeded to make a few hand prints of my own on the paper.  What the heck, right?

Feven helped me dive in today.  I was too worried about messes and how we were supposed to be painting and it was as if she said, "C'mon, Mom, give this a try.  You're going to LOVE it!"

Leave it to her to break down my barriers of propriety so I could live fully.

Thank you, Fevo.  I have a lot to learn from you. 

And thank you, dear friend, for the sweet memories made this morning.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Giving a Good Gift

I've been struggling with how to participate in the gift-giving and receiving aspect of Christmas.  I don't mean to be a scrooge about it all; rather, I'm uncomfortable with the looming shadow of consumerism obscuring the small baby in the manger.

Is it a heart condition?  Perhaps.  Maybe my heart is just not in a holy place as I traipse through decorated malls and rummage through racks of clothes and shelves of candles.  Is it possible to make these times holy moments?  I won't put anything past God, but I'm skeptical.

I calculated roughly how much money is spent on gifts at each of my family's Christmas celebrations.  Between the Christmas celebration with just Zac's immediate family and the one with just my immediate family, all participants are together spending just under $2,000.  Friends, that is not including the extended family Christmases at the grandparents' houses or the money Zac and I will spend on our Christmas with Feven.  This is only his immediate family and my immediate family.  Do you know what could be done with that money if my family decided to donate it one year instead of give each other gifts?  Here are just a few examples I gathered from Compassion International and World Vision.  It could be used...

to buy 115 mosquito nets to guard against deadly malaria
to protect 500 children from parasites
to provide 80 FAMILIES in Ethiopia with water, sanitation, and hygiene from a newly-built water reservoir

However, I can hear "Jingle Bell Rock" come to a screeching halt and the sound of glasses shattering in the background as I suggest not giving gifts at Christmas.  I think the tradition of gift-giving is just about as intertwined with the holiday as baby Jesus himself.

So family, relax, I'm not asking you to stop giving gifts this year.

I'm merely using these figures and this example to illustrate what is commonplace in our culture.  Every year we all dish out a substantial amount of money to buy presents for our family to show our love.  Considering the deep needs of the world, and the deeply rooted traditions of gift-giving, how can we find a balance and do good with the money we (inevitably) spend on gifts?

This is the first year that I have poured thought into the dollars that I'm spending to give the Christmas gifts I purchase.  I am thinking more about where my dollar is going when it leaves my pocket, and how I can do a double dose of good with my gifts this year.

When I buy an item from Kohl's or Target or whatever store I'm at, the dollar pretty much stops there.  It goes to buy a vacation for a corporate executive (okay, maybe that's a little extreme).  But you know what I'm saying.

However, if I buy from a different kind of store, my money doesn't stop there.  It keeps going.  Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I posted an inquiry to my Facebook friends to see if they knew of any individuals, organizations, or businesses who were selling products to raise money for people in poverty.  I had an overwhelming response to this inquiry and learned about many great places to shop for Christmas gifts.  This way, I not only receive a meaningful item to give to a family member, but I also help others in need.  No corporate executive vacations here!

To give you a taste of what I'm talking about, check out these organizations:

The Apparent Project benefits Haitian people.  Artisans there use discarded items to make jewelry, journals, and home decor.  By purchasing an item from The Apparent Project, you are helping Haitian families stay together and provide for their children.

The Breaking Free Boutique offers items made by women around the world who are survivors of sex trafficking.  An astonishing 100% of the profits go to support the work of Breaking Free, an organization that provides education and services to women and girls who have been victims of abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.

FashionABLE sells scarves to create a sustainable business for women in Africa.  This organization targets their efforts to women in poverty in Africa.

The International Princess Project sells beautiful pajamas made by Indian women formerly enslaved in prostitution.  They earn a fair wage and resources for their healing and restoration.

These are just a few of the many suggestions given to me by my Facebook friends.  Below is a quick-list of others for further exploration:

Serrv Fair Trade
Sharing the Dream
Heifer International
Adoption fundraiser - Oak from Haiti
3 Seams
Rafiki Africa Ministries
Not for Sale
Zion Project
Fair Indigo
Feed My Starving Children
World Wide Village
Olsson Adoption from Ethiopia

As you're considering what to give those you love, will you please look into a few of these options?  I think Christmas will be that much more beautiful when we can give not only a gift to our loved ones, but also a gift to those whom God loves around the world.

*Disclaimer - I have not looked extensively into any of these sites nor verified their credibility.  I see my job as merely passing along the good things I've come across.  Your job is to look into it as much as you need to for you, and spend your dollars wisely!  :)  None of these organizations have paid me or given me any products in exchange for being listed here.

**Disclaimer 2 - Some of my dollars this year went to pay for corporate exec vacations.  Unfortunately, some items on family members' Christmas lists could only be bought in BigBox stores.  I'll try harder next year, I promise!  But I do believe every step matters, and that my efforts and your efforts have not been in vain. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas - The Non-Gift Gift

Do you get those booklets in the mail?  You know, the ones from Heifer International, World Vision, or Compassion which list items you can purchase in someone's name that will benefit others worldwide?

For example, for $30 you can give Honeybees to a family in Honduras so they can care for the bees, sell the honey, and use the money to feed their family.  Or for $20 you can give a Flock of Chicks to a family which provides them with food and eggs to sell to earn money.

When I was little, I thought this would be the most insulting gift to receive.  How fun would it be on Christmas Day to open up a present and find a card inside that said, "A tree seedling was purchased in your honor."  Not very fun at all.  I thought those gifts were probably the meanest tricks out there.

Until last year.

Last year I was blessed and cursed to be part of a screening of "58: The Film" prior to Christmas.  The film allowed me to meet people from around the world who are trapped in poverty.  I heard stories from India, Haiti, and my personal favorite - Ethiopia.  I was struck anew by the needs of the world as words Jesus spoke regarding how we should care for the poor were interspersed among the stories.  You can read my initial thoughts here, in a blog post I wrote after viewing the film. 

I say that I was blessed because it awakened me again to what really matters in life.  I say I was cursed because I saw it shortly before Christmas, and it made me question the way that I have handled Christmas in the past - specifically the gift giving and receiving.

My solution last year was to beg my family NOT to give me Christmas gifts.  I had my basic needs met, and more than that too.  I had a closet full of clothes to cover me, I had a pantry full of food to eat whenever I wanted, I had a loving family and a group of solid friends.  And last year I even had the knowledge that across the ocean my daughter awaited me.  What more did I need or even want?

I sat down one night for a few hours and wrote, edited, analyzed, edited, and over analyzed an email to my family.  Finally it was just time to send it out, so I hovered the mouse over "Send," closed my eyes, and clicked. 

I didn't want to appear like I'd gone off the deep end.  I didn't want to stir the waters.  I didn't want those who liked getting gifts to feel bad or pressured into not asking for gifts too.  All I wanted was to affect what I could, and divert money that would have been spent on my wants to instead be spent on others' needs.

You know what?  It worked!

My family members contributed the money they would have spent on gifts for me to various charities that were helping the poor worldwide. 

One of the gifts helped purchase infant formula for the babies in our adoption agency's orphanage in Ethiopia.  Our daughter was there at the time, and perhaps some of the formula purchased went into her bottles.  Another gift helped provide food and education to street children in Ethiopia.  Yet another gift honored my love of gardening by purchasing seeds for a school garden in Ethiopia.  I cried upon receiving notice of each of these gifts.  They meant so much to me.  Some of my family members even wrote letters accompanying the gifts, and I saved those letters and read them over and over again.  (And cried just about every time I read them.)  

I hunger for that kind of Christmas again.  I felt such a deep, long-lasting joy knowing that money was going to help the poor.  So as Christmas 2012 rolls around, only one thing is on my Christmas list: That the people who want to love on me with a gift would spend their dollars to help the poor.  Nothing would bring me more deep soul joy than that.

I'm thankful that I now see what a gift a "non-gift" really is!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!

I am the firstborn child in my family.  I am a perfectionist.  I am Type A.  My Myers Briggs is INFJ, heavy on the J. I like my living quarters to be clean and organized.  I freak out if I can't find something because it's not where it's supposed to be. And as far as I know, I have ALWAYS been this way.  Ask my mom.

Which is why THIS

was such a victory for me today.

Yes, yes, that is my precious little baby girl playing in the dirt.  The best part is that I encouraged her to do it.  I gave her a shovel, showed her how to scoop a few scoops, and she was off.  I worked near her taking out the last flower bed before winter's snow covered our lawn.  I heard a cough at one point and looked over to find this...

Yep.  She ate dirt.  I didn't need to teach her not to because after one bite, I could sense she wasn't going to do it again.

And finally a shot of her pants... check out all that dirt.  It looks like she has one brown sock on and one white!  (and excuse the goofy-looking clothes and white socks with brown shoes...we put on our play clothes to go outside and get dirty!)

Although I've come a long way, there are still traces of Old Me.  As soon as we got in the house I stripped her down and threw all those dirty clothes in the laundry basket, washed her hands (and face), and put fresh, clean clothes on her.  Getting dirty is okay...but just for a little bit.  :)

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Awe

Hallway light off, I turn the door handle slowly and firmly, minimizing the latch click until the door opens freely.  I push it open 2 inches and pause, my breath quiet and listening for any sounds of stirring.

I push the door open fully and step long steps, landing my foot gently on each floorboard in a quiet dance to the steady blue light of the baby monitor, visible only faintly in the dark room.

By the light of my cellphone I behold her.  Her sleeping eyes, sweet nose, full cheeks and wild hair.  Seeing her washes away the tension and frustration that dappled the day until I feel my heart beating more slowly, my breath deepening, my furrowed brow releasing as a smile begins. 

Her pajama zipper marks the spot where her play ended and she gave in to sleep.  Reaching down, I connect the two sides of the pajamas again to ensure she'll stay warm through the night.

Blanket bunched in the corner, I lift it until it floats above her, then falls to cover her again.  The soft green and pink fabric, purchased when I only knew her face in a photo, covers her as I hope my love does; tenderly, protectively, unconditionally.

My heart swells with adoration, and I am in awe that I am the one to witness such beauty.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Convictions: A Plank and a Speck

Recently I was hurt by a friend's words and actions and it was eating me up inside.  I felt that I was treated poorly, and I cycled on these negative thoughts for a good 24 hours.  I had countless conversations with her in my head where I shared what I was feeling (sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately), and I hashed out the details of the situation with Zac over and over to see if I was indeed wronged.  (Yes, I have the best husband ever to sit through this and still love me.)

My childish instincts made me want to do one of two things: hurt her back or never talk to her again.  Very mature, Amber.  Thank goodness I have enough self control to act on neither of those instincts!

Rewind to the day before I was hurt by this friend.  Zac and I were having a great conversation in the car about friends.  We were discussing the people in our lives who bring life and energy to us just by being with them.  We look forward to the times we're together, and linger when we have to say goodbye.  We each listed off a small handful of friends whom we cherished like this.

Fast forward to this morning.  During my devotion time, I started reflecting on what kind of friend I'm being to those "top" people in my life.

What I came up with was this: I've been a pretty crappy friend.

One of these friends has an exciting life change coming up, and I haven't spoken to her in weeks.  Another friend and I have been playing phone tag for nearly two months.  If these are some of my "top" people, whom I value deeply, what in the world am I doing?

Could they say about me that I have treated them poorly?  Is my absence in the friendship hurtful to them?  How am I being perceived in the friendship - as someone who is interested and contributing, or an absent friend who only gives fluff to the friendship and never delivers?

Today I was confronted with my deep deficits as a friend to these special people in my life.  How can I be upset over what I perceived to be a friend hurting me (99.9% chance she doesn't even know I was hurt), and yet completely ignore my crappy job as a friend in these treasured relationships?

I have a large task in front of me - to repair the damage that my laziness has caused in these special friendships of mine.  I'm grateful God has shown me what I need to work on so I can stop feeling sorry for myself because of this friend of mine who hurt me, and instead spend my mental energy thinking on how I can love and care for these people whom I have neglected.  Lord, take this plank out of my eye.  You'll probably need a crane, it's so heavy.  I'm sorry I let it get that big.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Lesson Courtesy of the Baby Gate

We finally gave in and got a baby gate.  It was long-overdue.  Feven loves to be around me, and when I'm working to prepare a meal in the kitchen she's at my heels, clinging to my legs, reaching for things on the counters, or opening cabinets she knows she's not supposed to.  It's not safe for her, so we got a gate to keep her in the nearby living room while I'm working in the kitchen.

We installed it and marveled at the freedom this would bring us.  She looked at it and realized the barrier it was between her and mom.

My first time preparing a meal with her safely in the living room was not much fun for either of us.  She whined and cried the entire time.  I tried to get her to play with her puzzle, legos, dolls, books, school bus, soft blocks, or any of the numerous toys that were in there.  She would have none of it.  The one thing she wanted was to be near me, and she was upset that she couldn't have that.

How often is my life like that?  I am surrounded by great things, but all I can focus on is the one thing I don't have. 

Dear Lord, give me the freedom to see all the blessings around me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Baby Storytime

I've been meaning to check out "Baby Storytime" at our local library.  The biggest obstacle to me actually getting there has been the time it is scheduled.  Typically Feven is still taking her morning nap when Baby Storytime starts, and I'm not sure if it's one of those events where you can just drop in after it has started.

This morning Feven didn't take a nap but instead chose to use that time talking, singing, removing her socks, and turning her shirt into a shrug.  I decided we were just going to go for it!  I took her out of the crib and put her shoes on....Baby Storytime, here we come!

When we walked inside the library, the door to the meeting room was open and there were two adults in there with their small children in their lap.  Phew!  I found the right place!  I soon learned that Feven and I needed a carpet square and one copy of each of three books.  We went to the bins that were set up in the room, gathered our materials, and found a spot on the floor.

More adults and kids came in, making the total number of kids in the room around 20.  As I looked around the circle, all of the children were sitting calmly in their adult's lap.  There were some dads, some moms, some grandparents, and even a childcare provider that had all brought children to Baby Storytime.  My little (overtired) angel was not sitting still like the other children, but squirming around and flailing a bit.  I told myself that these other children had been here before and knew what to expect.  They had the routine down, and it was new to Feven so that's why she was so crazy.  Let's hope that was the case...

As storytime started, we sang songs together and read the three books aloud together as a big group.  Feven got pretty squirmy during the books which is unusual because she sits pretty well at home for books these days.  When the music came on and all the kids were doing hand motions to the songs, my little one stood up to dance.  I tried to relax a little and let her do her thing.  That resulted in her going into the center of the circle and smiling at all the people looking at her.  I stood up and pulled her back out of the center of the circle (embarrassing!) and put her back in my lap.  You can imagine how that went over.

Let me contrast this experience with one from my own childhood.  As the story goes, as a toddler I clung to my mom's leg our entire first ECFE session.  And the second.  And probably the whole year.  My mom was worried because I never wanted to say anything during class or do any of the activities the rest of the kids were doing.  I was most comfortable to just sit in her lap and watch everyone else.

Now I have my own daughter.  She is not content to sit in my lap and watch; she wants to get up, dance, and explore the whole room.  I feel just as much at a loss as my mom did with me!

Even though I was a little embarrassed by Feven's antics, it was really a good time together.  She took my hands and clapped them along to some songs, she enjoyed seeing the other kids, and I had a great conversation with another one of the moms whose daughter is just 2 weeks older than Feven.  It was a nice way to spend a cold, rainy morning.  I look forward to seeing what we do at the next Baby Storytime!

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Phone

Feven LOVES to play with our cell phones.  Her Auntie graciously (and wisely) gave us one of her old cell phones for Feven to play with so she doesn't use ours all the time.  Typically this hasn't been a problem and it's been more of a good thing.  However, I had my first real qualms with Feven's cell phone use this morning.

For whatever reason, Feven was getting a lot of phone calls during our time reading together.  She and I were snuggled into our reading corner and going through book after book when she started getting the calls.  She'd pick up her phone and say "Huh-o" and babble for a minute and put it down again.  A page or two later she'd pick up the phone again, "Huh-o" and babble on. 

WHAT IS GOING ON?  First of all, the phone doesn't have a battery in it, so all the "calls" she was getting were made-up.  Secondly, Zac and I make a point to NOT answer our phones when we are with her except for family calls or potential emergencies.  Thirdly, I have never EVER (not that I can recall) answered my phone when she and I are reading together.  How did she come up with this?

Funny enough, I was actually getting annoyed with her cell phone use.  Seriously annoyed!  I thought, "Can't we just get through one book without you answering your phone?" 

I wonder how many children of ours think that same thing. 

It was a good reminder for me to reign in my cell phone use with her again and honestly examine if I am on the phone too much in her presence.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Bedtime Check

I'm sure she'll be fine.  I don't have to check on her each night before I go to bed...but I do.  After I have my pj's on and I've brushed my teeth, I sloooowly turn her door handle, side-step all the creaky floor boards, peer down at her by the light of my cell phone and watch intently to see her tummy rise and fall.  Only then can I crawl into bed myself and rest.

This usually goes off with out a hitch.  Usually.  It did NOT go well last Wednesday night.

Zac and I went in together and it was hard to tell if she was breathing so Zac put his hand on her tummy to check.  BIG MISTAKE!  She shifted and we immediately stepped away from the crib and stood straight and still, not breathing.  Zac pressed his cell phone against his chest so no light would show and we prayed that she wouldn't realize we were in there.  Then, Zac LEFT the room with a quick run, leaving me standing like a statue all by myself!  She stirred some more and I was trapped!  Should I run out, she would surely wail; yet if I long would I have to stay?

I finally decided to run out of there too, and in doing so made the little lady angrier.  Oooooh, was she mad!  We laid in our own bed, still as could be, and hoped she would stop crying.  She didn't.  Eventually Zac went back in and rubbed her back and reassured her that she was okay.  The minute he stepped away from her crib she began wailing again.  He tried a little bit of everything, but each time he stepped away she would cry.  Finally he returned to our room while she continued wailing.  It seemed there wasn't a great solution.

Certainly she would stop crying, right?  It would just be a matter of minutes, right?  She does this when she falls asleep at the beginning of the evenings, so what's different about now...right?

After 20 minutes of angry cries, Zac took pity on her again and went back in.  Just in case you think that I'm not pulling my fair share around here, I'd like to mention that he had been gone all day for a band gig and had returned home late that evening hyped up on Mountain Dew.  So not only did he miss Feven and want to be with her, but he was also heavily caffeinated.  :)

The details after that are foggy for me, but I do know that she didn't fall asleep until at least an hour and a half after we went in to "check on her."  Such good intentions.  Such little sleep for all of us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Mondays

Hope you don't have a case of "The Mondays" today.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Toy Purge Follow-Up

I wasn't able to show you a picture of when we purged toys a few weeks back, but now I've got some photos on the computer!  Below is the "before" picture of all of Feven's toys that we found located around the house.  It was incredible to see how many she actually had when we put them all in the same room.  Of the toys you see below, we purchased only SEVEN of them for her!  As you can see, we were very blessed with gifts and hand-me-downs.  Through the process of going through her toys, we enjoyed being able to be a blessing to others by giving away some of her toys to friends and also giving some to the local thrift store.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My Supplier

I've resumed substitute teaching again at my favorite school.  I've gone on and on before about this school, so I won't go into details now other than to say it's a 10-minute drive from my house, great students and kind staff.  I feel at home when I walk into this building.

And now, I have yet another reason to love this school. 

I have a supplier. 

When I taught there last Monday, one of the students came up to me and presented me with a package of fruit snacks.  After questioning her thoroughly to make sure it wasn't supposed to be part of her snack OR her lunch, I graciously accepted her gift and confessed my love for fruit snacks.  Not gonna lie - when the school day was over, I indulged and those things were seriously delicious.

Yesterday I taught in that same classroom again and while still in the hallway before the school bell rang, she presented me with another bag of fruit snacks!  I questioned her again and told her she didn't need to give me anything.  However, I also know that it's important to be thankful and honor the gift given, so I let her know I appreciated it and I would enjoy them.

She went on to tell me that from now on, anytime she knows I am going to be her teacher, she will bring me a package of fruit snacks.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Trouble with Smelling the Roses

Back in May I taught Feven how to smell flowers.  We first practiced on lilacs and have since moved on to dandelions, irises, daylilies and even roses.

Here's the problem.  Roses have thorns.

This usually isn't an issue because when Feven bends to smell a flower, she sticks her head waaaaay out and doesn't get close enough to the flower to actually smell it.  Except yesterday.  Yesterday, she fell into the rosebush.  Yes, my beautiful little baby girl FELL INTO THE ROSEBUSH!  She has multiple cuts stretching across her right cheek and cuts on her left hand which she used to try to brace herself as she went down.  She looks awful.  I feel awful. 

We went to a nearby lake yesterday evening to sail, and as I walked with my daughter along the shore, I noticed a woman walking on the path toward us.  We smiled the Minnesota Hello, and as she passed, I blurted, "We had an incident with the rosebush today.  Good thing family photos aren't anytime soon! (chuckle chuckle)"  All the while in my head thinking, "PLEASE don't call Social Services on me!  I PROMISE YOU it was the rosebush!"

To make matters worse, in the 24 hours prior to what I am now referring to as "The Rosebush Incident of 2012," Feven took 3 other falls!  She fell down our [cement!] front porch steps, fell in her room and hit her head on her dresser, and yesterday morning she fell off the bed and hit her head on the nightstand!  Ugh!  This mama heart can't take any more owies!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Purging Toys

I have always enjoyed getting rid of things.  I like to go through drawers and closets to find things I no longer use and put them in grocery bags to drop off at the thrift store.

Recently I came across a great blog that follows the journey of one family who is making some radical steps toward simplicity.  I read it and become instantaneously inspired!

On Saturday Zac and I decided to gather Feven's toys to one location and see what she really plays with these days.  We were SO BLESSED to receive toys from friends and family, but we are tired of tripping over them and picking them up each day.

We decided less is more in this area, and by downsizing our stock of toys, we hope to gain:
-more time to be with Feven because we won't be picking up so many toys
-more creativity in our playtime because we can come up with multiple uses for each toy
-more space on our shelves due to fewer toys

We gathered all of the toys into the "Cabin Room" and separated them by category.

Friends, her toys covered the floor.  As I looked around at all the piles of colorful toys and dolls, I thought to myself that these would be enough toys for an entire orphanage.  And we have all of these for one little girl.

As we examined each toy, we put it into one of 4 categories: Keep out because she plays with it often, Save for future children, Give Away to our friends who might enjoy it, Take to thrift store.

Oooh, it was glorious to see what we had when all was said and done.  A big bin went to the thrift store, a box now holds toys for our next child (no, no announcements or anything of the kind right now.  Have you been reading my blog?!? We're completely overwhelmed with ONE!), and my favorite thing was that when we put all of the toys she currently plays with out on the shelves, we had one empty shelving unit!  That's right!  It sat completely bare!  We happily moved it downstairs and started mentally calculating all the extra hours in our week from not having to put toys back on that shelf daily.

My camera is being silly right now, so I can't show you a "before" picture.  I'll try to upload it later, but for now, I'll leave the scenario to your imagination!

What can you get rid of today?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Sunday Stroll

Sunday afternoon found us walking home from a new park in the warm, late-summer sunshine.  We had a great time running, climbing, sliding and giggling, and were now heading back home for supper.  We were adorable.  Someone probably should have taken a picture of our happy family for a parenting magazine.

Feven kept asking to get out and walk, so I told Zac to go on ahead with the stroller and I'd stay with Feven so she could walk the rest of the way. 

At first she was so excited to walk that she nearly pulled me behind her as she ran in her new-found freedom.  Soon her little legs grew tired, and she wanted to discover neighbors' lawns instead of walk on the sidewalk.  I kept redirecting her to the sidewalk.

Soon after, she would bend her knees as we were walking and just sort of plop down.  She'd kneel there, right in the middle of the sidewalk, and smile.

Ugh.  We wouldn't make it home by midnight at this pace!

I picked her up for awhile, but then she said, "Dah-dee" which is her way of saying, "I want to walk."  I'd let her walk awhile and she'd do the knee thing again so I'd pick her up again.

Pretty soon the heat and my own hunger got to me and I thought to myself, "We just need to get home."  I picked her up and intended to carry her the whole way home.  She started squirming and saying "dah-dee."  Then saying it louder.  And louder.  Pretty soon she was in the back-arching, screaming mode yelling "Dah-DEE!"

I'll let you figure out what it looked like to the average passerby as a white woman carried a black child screaming "Daddy" down the street.  I'm surprised I didn't get arrested!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ethiopian New Year!

Today marks the beginning of 2005 in the Ethiopian calendar

We didn't plan a whole lot to celebrate this year, but maybe in future years as Feven grows we will add to the celebration.  However, today we did enjoy Shiro Wat and injera for lunch.

Hold on - don't send out that nomination for "Adoptive Mother of the Year" just yet.  I have to show you what happened...

Even though we've eaten this meal before, when I placed the injera on Feven's tray she looked at it like, "Mom, are you serious?"

I finally got her to touch the bread, but she did so hesitantly. 

I convinced her to let me put a bite in her mouth.  I may have said, "If you take a bit of this I'll give you a bite of yogurt."  Apparently, even though I didn't think it was spicy, it was.  Here she is reacting to her mouth on fire.

No wonder the poor girl freaked out when she saw another bite coming her way!  Oh well.  Happy New Year, and we'll keep working on the Ethiopian cuisine.  As it turned out, I got a very nice, large meal of Shiro Wat for lunch! :)


Friday, September 7, 2012

True Confessions: Unproductive

One of the things I've struggled with the most and still am struggling with is my lack of productivity.  Oh, people warned me that once you're a parent, there's no time for anything else.  I listened to them and somewhere deep inside thought, "Yes, but you don't know me.  I can make it happen."

True confession: I can't make it happen.  I really can't get anything done.

I came across a quote from Rachel Campos-Duffy that sums it up well for me:
"But the act of nurturing and caring for children was never intended to be measured by the standards of productivity used in professions outside of the home because much of what you do is unquantifiable.  It is impossible to quantitatively measure the value of a hug, a well-deserved time-out, or the security your children are gaining from spending their day in the company of their mommy..."
So my to-do list sits full of chores that are yet to be crossed off.  Dust is piling up in the corners.  Projects sit on a shelf, waiting for a better time.

BUT, I'm spending my day...

Marveling at shoes.

Playing dress-up.

Laughing as my daughter learns to climb into the tub all by herself.

Cuddling this sweet face.

Chuckling as I find toys in new places.  Seriously, when did she do this?!?

Reading books to her; she brings them to me and then plops down in my lap, waiting for me to begin.

Watching my best friend love his little girl with a powerful, adoring love.

I prefer doing these tasks instead of cleaning.  How can you even think of cleaning when looking at the picture above?  I'm pretty sure 99.99% of the population would choose a hammock with these smiling faces over a broom and dustpan any day.

Even though I have trained myself for 30 years to be "productive," I'm seeing that there is something way more fulfilling.  Way more challenging.  Way more special.  And more rewarding than checking a box. 

It's LIFE.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

True Confessions: Cocooning Evaluation

When we brought Feven home in April, we began a process known in the adoption world as "Cocooning."  The basic idea is that you keep your newly-adopted child's world very small, and slowly bring in new people, places, and experiences.  If you haven't read my blog post on the cocooning specifics we chose, please do so; the rest of today's post will make a lot more sense!  Even if you've already read it, you may appreciate a refresher.

Here's my evaluation of the steps we used in our cocooning process:

Strategy: Limit Visitors and Trips Outside the Home

Implementation: for about 4 weeks we didn't let anyone else see Feven, except for the occasional neighbor in passing while we were out for a short walk.  We didn't take her to the grocery store, Target, or anywhere outside of the neighborhood.  She did have one or two car trips for doctor visits, but other than that, she was pretty much just at home.

Benefits: We were able to start a great attachment with her because we were the only ones in her world.  We met her every need and she began trusting us.  It took quite awhile for her to trust us.  We thought she was trusting us, but looking back at photos and videos from those early weeks, we can see now that her face still registered trepidation.  Attachment takes a looong time.  Another benefit from limiting trips and visitors was that Zac and I got rest.  Figuring out how to be parents - and be parents to a toddler - was very overwhelming at times.  Our slower pace helped us adjust too.

Challenges:  I felt so silly sometimes when friends would bring over meals.  When Zac was still on paternity leave, he would take Feven to a room on the opposite side of the house and close the door while I would welcome our visitor and accept their gift of food.  It felt very strange to not share our new baby with the world right away.  Also, running errands was particularly challenging after Zac went back to work.  I couldn't go out and about with Feven, so I had to wait until evening when he was watching her to get our groceries and make our shopping runs.  

Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this strategy to others.  If we are blessed enough to adopt again, I plan on doing a 4-week cocoon or even longer.  It seemed to really benefit Feven and give our family a great start.

Strategy:  Give Feven Chronological Age experiences she may have missed and treat her as her Family Age

Implementation: We spoon-fed Feven her food for the majority of the first months she was with us, even though many kids her age were beginning to use spoons.  We tried to make eye contact with her for each spoonful.  We fed her bottles 3 times a day (and still do!).  We "wore her" in our Ergo carrier for walks and sometimes around the house if she wanted to be held but we couldn't at the time.

Benefits:  Hopefully there were good connections happening in Feven's brain through our efforts to connect with her.  I know Zac and I really enjoy giving her her bottles and spending that special time with her.  I like to sing to her and talk to her about our day when I give her a bottle.  Zac likes to tell her how much he loves her, how much I love her, and how much God loves her.  We've also enjoyed carrying her in our Ergo.  SHE loves it too!  Before she could walk, she would see us getting out the Ergo and she would crawl over to us and then stop right in front of our legs with her arms reaching upward!  Even now, she smiles when she sees us take it out and she walks over to be swept up into our arms.

Challenges:  Sometimes we don't always feel like holding her, or having her hold onto our legs.  It's hard to give her cuddles each time she wants them.  However, when I think about all the times she may have wanted cuddles in her first 11 months and there was nobody there to give them, my heart floods with compassion and I pick her up again.

Recommendation: There is a lot of research out there which lists the benefits of making up "missed" chronological steps.  I think this is valuable.  I recommend this strategy to any adoptive parent - especially wearing your child.  I have heard of a number of other kids who REALLY like being next to their parents in the baby carrier!

Strategy: Zac and I will be the only ones to meet Feven's needs for awhile

Implementation:  We waited 3.5 months until we had our first babysitter.  For that entire 3.5 months, Zac and I were the only ones to feed, change, or bathe Feven.

Benefits:  She now seeks us out to meet her needs.

Challenges:  That's a long time to go without a date night!  We waited until we met with an attachment specialist and got the "official" go-ahead before having a babysitter.  Perhaps we could have had one sooner, but we were sure happy to get out when we did!

Recommendation:  This is such a good thing to do, especially if a child has had multiple care-givers.  We are still implementing this in some ways by being the ones to pick her up when she's hurt and when we have family over, we typically are still the ones to feed, change, and bathe her.

Strategy: Funneling

Implementation: Whenever someone wants to hold Feven, we should be the ones to pick Feven up and place her in the arms of that person.

Benefits: Through this, Feven sees that we are giving our consent for that person to hold her.  In a way, we are letting her know that this is a safe person.

Challenges: We haven't been great about doing this.  The attachment therapist suggested we do this more intentionally and it fell off our radar.  We can see the negative impact from our laziness; Feven too-willingly approaches strangers or people she has only seen once or twice before.  We are working on this strategy with more fervor now and hope that it helps her understand the importance of "checking in" with mom or dad before going with someone else.

Recommendation: This is important, but can feel awkward at times.

I hope you have found my evaluation to be helpful.  Feven is doing extremely well overall, and I credit it in part to these strategies.  The other credit goes to God.  He is working on her, and He is doing marvelous things in her life.

Monday, September 3, 2012

True Confessions: Epic Failure

I don't get it.  I look around and all I see are these stay-at-home-moms who look like they have it all together.  Their kids are polite, their clothes are trendy (and clean!), their houses are clutter-free, and their refrigerators are covered with the latest cute craft projects they did with their children.

I feel like a failure.

I feel like a failure as a parent.
I had all these dreams for things Feven and I would do together, but each day it seems all I can do to get us both dressed, fed, and put to sleep at night.  No cute picnics at the park.  No craft projects.  No swimming pool adventures.  Just survival.

I feel like a failure as a homemaker.
Catching up with chores after she goes to bed keeps Zac and I busy until 9:30 or 10pm.  And that's just dishes, laundry, and cooking, friends!  Don't even look at my dirty windows, check for dust, or go downstairs to the basement.  There are MANY neglected areas since becoming parents.

I feel like a failure as a friend.
I've always been good about getting back to people and caring for my friends.  i. just. can't. anymore.  So many things are dropping from this delicate juggling act I'm trying to perform, and communication with friends is one of them.  I worked my tail off to clean up our email last week, and after spending hours and hours returning emails, I still have 31 emails to respond to.  Facebook messages are worse: 52 messages to respond to and countless events that I have missed or not responded to.  And don't get me started on my phone.  I listen to most messages, but then save them so I can call back at an appropriate time.  I don't check my saved messages anymore because I'm scared to know how many are there waiting for me. 

I feel like a failure as a wife.
Zac?  Zac who?  It seems that even though we are under the same roof and spend 7 awake-hours together each day, our relationship has looked more like a relay race than a bicycle built for two.  "Here, you start feeding her the cottage cheese and I'll warm up the spaghetti." (hand-off of food).  "Here, you take her and get her diaper changed and I'll get her bottle ready." (hand-off Feven).  Sometimes I sit down on the couch at 10pm, exhausted and back aching, and I look over at him.  It's then that I realize I haven't even looked him in the eye all day.  This is my best friend, the person who I committed to for the rest of my life.  This isn't life.  This is survival.  I want to thrive. I want to be a best friend to my husband.

It's hard feeling like a failure.  If there was one area where I didn't feel like I was failing, I would at least have a little hope.  But it feels like I'm flunking all areas.  I shared this with a friend recently, and she passed along a great blog post that seemed to speak directly to me.

Check out this post entitled, "Dear Sweet Mom Who Feels Like She's Failing"

I hope it encourages you as much as it did me.  It made me start to believe that maybe I'm not a failure after all.

Also, I cannot compare myself to others.  Then I will fail to be the me that God created me to be. That is the most epic failure of all.  If you are feeling a little down on yourself today, check out this song which Feven and I love.  It reminds me to be who I am.

Friday, August 31, 2012

True Confessions: Language Acquisition

I have the smartest little girl on the planet as my daughter.  Don't argue with me because I know it's true. 

Many people have asked about Feven's English skills, and I gotta tell you, they are AMAZING.

It's hard to believe that just 4 months ago this little girl was immersed in an entirely different language.  It's hard to believe because she is understanding English, responding to requests spoken in English, and even speaking English.

I'm amazed at all she can do.  Just today I said, "Feven, do you want to go to the park?" (affirmative head nod from her) "Then go get your shoes and bring them to mommy.  Then we'll go to the park."  (she walks off in the direction of her shoes)

Also this week I began reasoning with her for the first time.  "Feven, will you eat some more please?" (vigorous negative head nod and flailing of hands) "Feven, if you eat one more bite of lentils, then you can have your yogurt." (she opens her mouth and her hands are calm as she takes her one bite in order to get her yogurt)

This is amazing, amazing stuff.  This is far quicker acquisition than I could have imagined.  I'm especially in awe of the way God created the human brain to absorb SO MUCH in those first few years.  She is watching every.single.thing we do and processing it. 

It's incredible.  This is one area that is going far better than expected.  I would even venture to say that she has as good of a handle on the English language as her peers who were immersed in English since birth.  What a joy it is to watch her learning and practicing her English.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

True Confessions: New Job Blues

When I became a mom, I left my out-of-the-home employment and began clocking in and out at our home.  Some days I delight in the fact that I can lay down on the couch and put my feet up when my daughter is sleeping, and if I want to I can wear my pajamas all day!  The perks are numerous, but there are also drawbacks.

Sometimes it feels confining.  There are days when it's a struggle to get out of the house between naps.  I find myself running around trying to pack a diaper bag, find the missing shoe and gather my own belongings before we head out the door.  Just as we're about to leave, there will be a diaper emergency or a hair emergency or we ran out of time to go and won't get back in time for the next nap.  It's a LOT of time at home.  I guess that's why they call it a stay-at-home-mom.

I miss my commute.  When I worked outside the home at my two jobs, I had a commute between 10-25 minutes.  That was great time to crank the music, process the day, and let go of work before getting home.  I don't have that separation anymore, and it's hard for me to let go of the frustrating things from the day and hit the reset button when 5:00 rolls around.  I'm trying out a few ways to make that separation, but I haven't found anything that's worked well yet.

I'm on call.  All the time.  And it would be so grand if I got paid like a doctor who's on call.  There was one particularly trying day last week (read: awful, awful day) when both Feven and I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  I can't remember why, but I had cried twice before 7:30am.  Then just as I was in the middle of eating my breakfast, she - standing right beside me - began grunting and twisting up her face.  Yep.  Dirty diaper coming.  It wouldn't be so bad, but she does this EVERY DAY when I'm eating my breakfast.  It doesn't matter what time I feed her or what time I eat, she always poops while I'm eating.  And I gotta tell you, my breakfast does NOT seem as appealing when I come back to it after changing one of her diapers.  So I trudged into her bedroom and reluctantly peeled the diaper back.  The anticipation is the worst.  Except this time.  The diaper was actually worse.  Even though I tried to breathe only through my mouth like Zac taught me, I still caught a whiff.  Incredibly awful.  I thought to myself, "Okay, that's it.  I'm taking a mental health day today.  I'm calling in and I'll use one of my sick days and...wait a minute.  I don't have time off!  I can't call in sick.  Ever!"

That's when I cried for the third time.  Sheesh, it wasn't even 8am yet!

It hit me so hard.  I can't take a break.  This is my job.  Every day.  All day.  There are no sick days, no mental health days, and no vacation days. 

That day I felt stuck.  I felt trapped.  I just wanted off the ferris wheel.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

True Confessions: I Chose This

Becoming a mom via adoption was a 3-year process for me.  For three years I've longed for and dreamed of this little one.  Of course I imagined some crying and a few sleepless nights, but it was all hypothetical and I focused more on the hugs and smiles.

When I became Feven's mom, I fully understood how much time and energy it takes to parent.  Gone are the days of hobbies and time with friends.  Gone are the restful nights.  Gone is the feeling that I have it together.  Gone are conversations with my husband.  Gone are the days when we had nothing better to do than sit on the couch and stare out the window (that really happened!)

The first few weeks of being a parent I would think solemnly, "I chose this."  Shortly followed by, "What was I thinking?"  I chose to be a mom and went through a 3-year arduous process for this?  For this lack of sleep, lack of time, lack of space, lack of sanity?  This was my choice?  Why?!? 

It certainly hasn't been an easy transition, and I've shared this with many friends who have all offered nice reasons why such as,  "Maybe it's harder because you and Zac have been married so long before having kids," or "Maybe it's so difficult because you jumped right into the toddler stage without going through the baby stage."

I think I know the real reason.  Parenting is hard because...well...because you have to meet someone else's needs before your own.  Oh sure, marriage gave me a little taste of that, but even in marriage I could spend a lot of time and energy doing things that I wanted to do.  Also, Zac and I have a lot in common so shared activities were a lot of me getting to do what I liked to do anyway. 

With Feven, I have to feed her first in the morning then see to my own breakfast afterward.  I have to think about how many errands I want to run and how many she can handle.  I have to hold her tight when she's screaming her head off to let her know that I'll always be there for her no matter what.

I'm learning selfless love.  And that's hard.  Some days I want my simple, predictable life back.  That life seemed overwhelming at times, and now I just laugh at what I used to think was overwhelming.  If I could go back and tell Amber of the Past one thing it would be this, "Look out, girl!  You won't know what hit you!"

But I chose this.  I am sticking to this.  This has meaning and value far greater than anything I've done before in my life.  I chose this.  And there are many daily rewards that reinforce that it was a good decision.