Friday, February 28, 2014

Magical Home Improvements!

Home Renovation; it's like Magic! Only with lots more money, time, stress and hard work!

Today the playroom carpet was installed and we moved all the toys downstairs and TA DA!


Oh, it's so, so, so wonderful to finally have this space.  The kids are downstairs right now, which means the rest of the house is QUIET. And TOY FREE. Which means that I don't need to constantly navigate rooms full of tiny Barbie shoes and plastic superheroes. The kids are blissed out. I'm blissed out. And now I remember: oh yes, THIS is why we bought this old house! Right, that WAS a good decision.  It's been 6 months, and I'm finally liking my house. PHEW.

So here you go... the magical house improvement, in just a few iphone photos. (And 4 months and 47 trips to Home Depot and westoppedcounting $$$ and waaaaaayyyy too much of me stressing out about tile.)


A kitchen in the basement with an unvented gas stove! That's safe, right?!

The basement hallway. No, I'm not joking. Both my shoulders touched the walls.  Shudder.

One of the two basement bedrooms. 
We gutted. Everything. Absolutely everything. Then they framed out new walls, ceiling, window casements and doorways.

New walls, new cement floor, new elecrical work.

Laundry hook ups, and new washer and dryer and slop sink.

Bright cream colored paint. Lots of outlets. Outlets for everyone!
"Wood" tiles in the laundry area. So pretty. So easy to clean.

A brand new stair case! 

Not pictured: a new bathroom with shower stall. 


We still need to buy a couch and put the toys and furniture in some kind of order. But that lovely tan carpet just really pulls the room together, doesn't it?  I imagine lots of hours of happy memories made in that room.  Hours and days and years... We are so blessed.

Who wants to come over to play?!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lucky #7

This weekend Andrew and I celebrated our 7th anniversary. Hooray! We made it this far!
This is us cracking up after our minister mangled Andrew's last name.
A marriage that starts off laughing at life is bound for greatness... Right? 

It does feel very much like an accomplishment. In 7 years we have really put the whole "sickness and health, richer or poorer" thing to the TEST.  We hadn't been married 6 months when his mom (a wonderful, beautiful person) died very suddenly. A few weeks later my sister's first marriage ended.  Then we tried to get pregnant. (And God said "Ha!") Then a whole bunch of doctors tried to get us pregnant. (And God said, "What are you doing!? Didn't you hear me? I said, HA!")  I think there were some other illnesses and challenges in there, but quite honestly it's a blur.  We did buy an apartment. And we went on some really beautiful vacations. The best one, of course, was the one we took to Ethiopia with two extra plane tickets in our pockets.  And then we sold our apartment and bought a house. Richer, then poorer. Then rich again.

Of all those challenges, co-parenting has been by far the hardest. Ohmygoodness! Being a parent is so hard sometimes. You don't need me to say that, but it helps me to say it out loud. That way when, for example, I'm trying to coax a screaming, writhing toddler to get back into her bed when all I want to do is crawl into mine, I don't freak out. THIS  is HARD.  And that's okay.

But we did need a break. So this weekend to celebrate those 7 years of hard work and love we went away for a night.


*Without our children (that hardly needed saying, did it?)

And it was glorious! We had long conversations without interruption. I finished so many thoughts! It was amazing! And we went to bed when we felt like it, without a toddler screaming, crying or begging. And we woke up when we wanted to, and without a sleeping toddler's foot in our guts or backs. And we had breakfast and nobody spilled anything!  And then we sat by the fire in the lobby and did absolutely nothing! Nobody whined and asked when we could play on the iPad. Ohmyheavens... Life without children is so Quiet! Sigh...

We are very lucky to have relatives who are willing to take care of our kids living close by.  Daniel played and played with his cousins... one cousin ended up with a split eyelid, that's how much fun they had. (Sorry, sis.)

Lily had a glorious time playing Barbies with Grandma. And Grandpa read her probably about 100 stories. And, she slept through the night! In her own bed! With the LIGHT OFF.

I can't even.


One day she'll do that in our house too. Maybe the night before she leaves for college? Maybe?

Marriage is hard work. Marriage with children is very hard work. We are so lucky to have the support of our families and our friends and our church. We have people we are willing to listen to us vent about our spouses and our children, but who also say, "Yup, that sounds about right. You guys are doing great." We have the resources to go away for a night when we need to.  Just that space of a few hours recharged our batteries and helped us reconnect. How blessed we are. I thought of how hard it would be to remain in a committed relationship without those resources and supports. How easy it would be to destroy the fabric of a marriage without the tools and the time to sew back up the tears that everyday life rips into it.

The peace and ease that our little vacation gave to us lasted through the rest of the weekend. It lasted through a couple of tantrums, several rounds of "are we there yet?!" and a couple of tough bedtimes.  Driving home in the car, listening to the whining and the fighting of our two overtired kids in the backseat, we turned and smiled at each other.

Here's to the next 7 years.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Sabbath Project

So here's the thing... sometimes I get an idea in my head, and not only do I want to try it, I want to get a whole bunch of other people to do it with me...

Which is why right now I'm participating not only in a "Biggest Loser" contest at work. (ha ha ha ha ha!), but I'm also spearheading a Sabbath Project with our congregation.

Because, as my husband would tell you, I'm completely crazy.

Or passionate and dedicated.

Or both?

Strangely, The Biggest Loser and The Sabbath are very much related...

 A bunch of my co-workers and I had been bemoaning our waistlines and poor eating habits and low energy and cravings, etc over lunch (weeks and weeks of lunches). So we decided to all go on a diet together. Eating a small salad for lunch can be pretty sad when everyone around you is eating heroes and chips or Chinese fried rice.  It's not so bad when everyone else is also eating a small salad. And since we were all dieting, hey why not put some money down and make it sporting!? So, we all put in $100 bucks and submit to (thankfully private) weigh-ins on Friday mornings. So far we are all eating better, and the waistbands might have loosened a little bit.

Similarly, some folks in our congregation have been bemoaning our lack of gravity and quiet in this overstimulated, over tweeted, over scheduled modern life. So, we are trying to "diet" together from the noise. We each choose a day to set aside phones and computers and work and shopping.  We are starting small, but hoping that more people will catch on to how great it is to STOP.

I mean, it was really, really great. Not easy, not convenient... But wow, I couldn't believe how quiet my mind was for most of the 24 hours of our first Sabbath. It was like a switch had been pressed. Usually my mind is one long news feed of observations, worries, to do lists, worries, frets, shopping lists, wishes, anxieties, plans...

(Every one's minds are like that, right?!)

But after we watched the sun go down on Saturday night... quiet.  The news feed was silenced. I stopped writing lists. I stopped fussing over the couch pillows and picking up toys off the floor. I resisted putting laundry away.  I didn't check my phone every 5 minutes. It was wonderful.

We are observing our Sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday.  And yes, by Sunday afternoon we were all kind of checking the sky a bit expectantly. The kids, especially, were hoping that their magical screens would be returned to them as soon as the sky turned dark.  I was a bit sad, knowing that the endless feed of lists and the plans and the worries would probably be turned back on.  I did need to get ready for a week of work/school. Backpacks did need to be organized and lunches planned. But still, we waited til the sun was all the way down...

Here is what I noticed from my own first Sabbath ever:

I really didn't miss Facebook at all. Sorry, "friends"... but suddenly I wondered why I spent so much time scrolling through ads, political and religious articles and updates on vacations from people I don't really know. After the sun set on Sunday night I resolved to edit my "friends" list and be a bit more judicious about my FB time.

We avoided doing "work" as much as possible... although I did have some "church work" to perform. I'm going to claim it as "service" and call it a day.  Minimizing the schlepping and chores I need to do in service of the congregation is possible, eliminating it is not.  (And I wouldn't have it any other way.)

Here was the tough part: Traditionally the Sabbath is a day of rest. A day of joy.  No work. But, I'm still a Mom. And motherhood is a lot of Work. And sometimes, not so joyful. Snow pants still have to be struggled on, pajamas still have to be put away, teeth brushed and hair done. Loud reminders still have to be issued not to jump on the furniture. Whining has to be listened to and fighting in the car stopped.  So figuring out how to Not Work and still Mother is tricky. Very tricky.

Today, Saturday, I'm looking forward to sundown. I'm looking forward to quieting my mind and loosening up my heart.  I'm also looking forward to more loosening of the waist band.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Break from Ordinary

what is he thinking?

Most of the time, my children do not want to talk about being adopted. They'd like to go about their normal lives and just pretend that we are just an ordinary family who are all the same color thank you very much. And most of the time, I am relieved, because talking about their adoption and about how we are different colors is exhausting and often makes me cry. So for the past several months, we've gone about our lives- school and snow storms and renovations and arguments about screen time and on and on...

But this week, for reasons unknown to us, our son has said a few things that prompted me to think that we need to talk more about being adopted.  First of all, we had last weekend's eye opening conversation. Read it here. Then, Daniel says something to Andrew about being replaceable. As in, if he was lost, would we "just adopt" another boy? And just yesterday, Daniel asked me which orphanage I lived in when I was a little girl. He was disappointed when I reminded him that I lived and grew up with Grandma and Grandpa.

I'm glad to have these reminders that we are not just another ordinary family.  We had gotten too comfortable pretending.

So tonight I sat Daniel on my lap and read him his life story. He pretended not to want to hear it. He pretended to climb off the chair and run away. But he also sat back into my chest and nodded when I asked him if I should keep going. His story, as he said once, is a sad story.  Reading it I tried not to cry, and failed. Daniel said, "Stop crying! I'm going to be embarrassed."  I said, "I'll try."

In telling Daniel his story I try to get him to understand that he is not replaceable. I try to get him to recognize that it was a terrible tragedy that led him to lose his first family, and not because he wasn't wanted or loved.  I want him to hear me when I say how much he is loved and wanted and treasured.  I try to help him understand just how special his story is.  But I know that he will probably not truly internalize those truths until he is an adult.  My loving words fall into a deep, deep space inside him.

I'm telling you, the whole wide web, this intimate family story because I want more people to understand just how hard adoption is for children. Just how tragic and terrifying it is. Yes, life saving and life changing and trans formative, but also, a sad story.

Occasionally someone will say to me about my children, "how lucky they are." Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The only luck they had was in getting adopted at all, and not having to grow up in an orphanage.

I am the lucky one.

Ethiopia is slowly closing their international adoption program. I have very mixed feelings about it. On the one hand,  it is certain that many, too too many children were wrongfully taken from their families and "sold" into adoption. On the other hand, too too many children will now suffer, die or grow up to live limited lives in care centers. There is nothing worse for a child than to grow up without a family.  I can only hope that more families will stay intact, or that more children will be adopted within the country.  I'm hoping that when we visit Ethiopia this Spring, we will go to find Daniel and Lily's old care center empty and shuttered.  Those hopes are fairly thin.

Ah! You might be saying... What can I do?! I hate crying over all these sad stories! What can I do to help?! 

Well, you might donate money to one of the many, many organizations all over the world that are helping children stay with their families or work to prevent the causes of orphaning in the first place. Heifer International, The Fistula Foundation, Heartline Ministries Haiti and Ethiopia Reads are four that we donate to regularly. Or, you might sponsor a child at risk of being orphaned through one of the many organizations that helps children attend school, get good health care and clean drinking water. We sponsor four Ethiopian children through Food for the Hungry.

Or, you can find out ways to support families at risk closer to home. Tragedies and orphans don't just happen far away in Africa...

But even if you do nothing more, even if all you did was read this, thank you. I am the lucky one.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

eye opening

Sometimes my kid says something that completely changes my perspective on our shared life together...

D with Daddy in Ethiopia. Ohmygoodness he was so tiny!

Yesterday we had this conversation over a snack:

Daniel: "When I first came home, I thought you and Daddy were like monsters. That maybe you had lots of kids and you killed them and ate them or something. Ha!"

Me: "Really? Wow. And when did you stop believing that?"

Daniel: "Oh, maybe like after 100 days."

Me: "Hmm. And what helped you change your mind?"

Daniel: "That you bought me toys."

Yup. That's right. When our newly adopted son first came home, at age 5, he thought maybe we'd adopted lots of kids, and murdered them, and possibly ate them.

This puts a whole new spin on my memories of our first 100 days as a family, and also makes me rethink the value my son places on new toys.

First of all, you should know that the conversation above was not a whispered, emotional confession. It was a relaxed, normal conversation over apple slices at our dinner table.  As in: "Ha ha ha... remember how I used to think you and Daddy were murderers and cannibals! Ha! That was something!?"

Secondly, our son loves to get new toys, and gets super worked up around birthdays and holiday about which toys and how many and will they be fun and cool enough... Which I used to find really annoying and stressful. Who was this materialistic person I was raising!? And now I see that he's somehow equated these people buy me nice toys = they must not be about to murder me and my baby sister.  So, I guess I will keep those new toys coming for a bit longer just so he is clear that we are not out to get him.

Thirdly, and most importantly: What! holy @#$%! Is THAT what you were thinking during those crucial first weeks when we could barely communicate and you were having daily tantrums and grieving and we were all just trying to survive? I can't believe that Daniel was terrified for his life all the time. I think part of the time he was happy and excited to be in his new home. Part of the time he was confused, and a lot of the time overwhelmed.  But maybe I'm projecting my own emotional memories of that time onto him. Usually when we ask he claims to not remember those first few weeks.  After all, those memories were coded in a language he no longer speaks or understands.

I'm going to have to ponder this some more. And I'll ask him about it again. It maybe that he was pulling my leg. Or he might have other revelations for me...

Life with kids: always full of surprises.

D contemplating his new life in America