Monday, January 31, 2011

THE Project

J and I have been working on a fun basement project over the past few weeks.  

Here are some before and afters. 

Bookshelf before:

Bookshelf now:
Most of the bedroom toys and games moved to these shelves and labeled bins.

They are in this fun space with a gigantic chalk board.
(We spackled our concrete walls to make them look finished.)

And all of those books from the white shelves moved to these new shelves.

This is the "house" space.
When we were waiting at the Number 1 spot, I repainted those pink and blue cardboard "rooms."

The swings!
(And in the corner the beautiful cradle that J's grandfather made M for Christmas.)

Dollhouse Space:

Art Table:

And now for the biggest part of the make-over--The stage (seriously, all J's idea)!

(That couch was J's parents.  When we got married his Aunt Arlene recovered it for us--Amazing!  That couch has gotten a lot of love.  Also, it's a sofa-bed--rumor has it that it is NEVER leaving the basement.)


This stage comes complete with stage lighting on dimmers--great for fashion shows, concerts and a mean game of charades.  

AND now there is a projection TV.  This has become a serious movie viewing room.  (The couch rolls out for maximum viewing.)  And the Wii--it's life-sized!

Most definitely a sweet pad! ;)  Thanks, J--you're amazing! 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Funnies: Who's the Daddy?

Every day when we drop M off at school, T has to tell the teachers that "I am big."  If he forgets to tell them he gets really upset.  He's pretty much obsessed with being "big."  He wants us to know that he is NOT a baby.

Most recently he has been requesting that we call him, "Daddy."  Not because he wants to take J's place, but because big guys must be called "Daddy."  We usually oblige.  Someday I'm sure he'll come up with a nickname that we might not be so crazy about. :)

(T helping Pop because he's a "Big Guy.")

M went to a Karate birthday party this weekend.  She was SO nervous about it.  For the first half she just sat on my lap--she was not so sure about all of the "hi-yah's" and kicks (which I thought were pretty cool).  The shyness continued until it was time to run in a "run-away-from-the-ball" game.  That girl is a runner (not an ounce of that comes from me)!  She even won!  Then after chopping a board with her bare arm and catching candy from the pinata she is pretty much a karate-loving kid. ;)

On a sentimental note, on the way home from the party she asked me what it must feel like to die.  I asked her why she was asking me that?  She said, "Because life just keeps going and going and going and going and I figure that I've already lived some of my life."  Deep thinker, that precious 5-year-old girl.  Love you, M!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Favorites: That's Nat!

A few months ago I was looking for some series books that would be good for a 5-year-old girl.  M likes story books, but she definitely LOVES chapter books.  Anyway, I found this series, That's Nat!  They are awesome for little girls! 

There are six books in the series and they are written in the really fun perspective of 5-year-old Natalie.  I can totally hear M in Natalie's thoughts and I think that M loved reading about someone just like her.  Natalie also learns a lot about God in her everyday life.

Admittedly my favorite book is the last one.  I had NO IDEA, but in Natalie Wants A Puppy, Natalie finds out that her parents are adopting a little boy from China (with a cleft palate).  (Um, yep, and as I was reading through it I was totally trying not to cry. :)

A little excerpt from Natalie Wants a Puppy (Dandi Daley Mackall):
I never prayed a pick-the-right-dog prayer before. So I have to guess how it goes. "God, which one's the right puppy for us? I'd really like to be sure about that one. Amen." I look up at Granny. "Was that okay?" 
"That was just right, Nat," Granny says. "You know, your mom and dad have been praying a prayer just like that one for a couple of years." 
"They wanted a puppy?" I ask, surprised. 
Gran chuckles. "No. They wanted a child." 
Some of me wonders if they wanted a child as much as I want a puppy. The rest of me wonders why. "Why did they pray that, Granny? They already had me."
"Before they had you, Nat, your mom and dad prayed God would give them a baby. You were the answer to that prayer. And they thank God every day for you."
I know that's a for-true thing. "So why do they want another baby?"
"I think God gave them that want. And this time God chose to answer their prayers by letting them adopt a boy from China, a boy who really needs a home."

Really, these are such fun books to read to a little girl--I highly recommend them (and wish there were more)!  You can go to Amazon to read an excerpt here.  And you can quickly read a blurb about each one here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Theme Weeks: For the Bears!

If you haven't noticed, the bears around our house are pretty much a part of our family.  Last week was our week to celebrate them. ;)

We started the week by making invitations for each one.  M found all of her bears in the hallway holding their invites when she woke up.  (My plan had been to get that one all set up right before I went to bed.  I woke up at 4:45a--plow truck--and realized that I had forgotten to do it.  It required some major sneaking to avoid floor creaks!)  T found his bears' invitations in a pile with "Horse" (because, of course, Horse was supposed to deliver the notes but he can't read yet. ;)

We decorated for the party and then T chose to make "panilla" cupcakes.

M made a chocolate cake (and cupcakes with the left-over batter).  (Okay, here's a real-life mommy moment.  I am a bit of a germ-fanatic in the kitchen.  I wash my hands constantly when I cook.  My biggest fear is spreading my own germs to someone else.  Needless to say I'm trying to teach M and T good kitchen hygiene--you know, if you lick your fingers, no big deal, but, please, go wash your hands.  And they're really good about this!  So we're all happily stirring cake batters and we're just about ready to pour M's cake into the pan when it happens.  She sneezes right in it!  Ahh!  What to do?  I took stock of the situation and realized that this cake was only for us and that I'm sure the heat would take care of any sneeze heebie-geebies, right?  Against all that I believe in, we just went with it and even ate it! :)

The Bear party.  Beary turned 3 and Ben turned 5.  Happy Birthday, guys!

Spy cam caught this scene.  T sitting on M's lap while reading our stack of bear books.  Too cute even though M was having a really hard time seeing the pictures (they're really almost the same size).

During the week they also turned their closets into "dens."

And in a little blog/journal housekeeping, the previous week was Space Week.  All because early in the week we got a cool glimpse of Jupiter and her moons through the telescope.  During that week we also read a lot about the planets and made a Solar System out of playdough.

( Quite blurry, but a shot of the moon through the telescope.)

What's Up?

*Incredibly enough we leave next Sunday to meet our little girl for the very first time!  (I actually leave early on Friday morning, 2/4, to go to the Created for Care Conference--that means I leave in 9 days!)

*It's been snowing like crazy.  Hoping that early February brings A LOT less snow.

*Searching for some good books for our Kindles for the trip.  (I read an excerpt from Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali .  It was recommended by It's Almost Naptime.  The excerpts are fascinating--this one is definitely on my must-read list.)

*On Monday Nana did a "trial run" with M and T while J and I were off renewing our passports (because, you know, it's not like we've known for well over a year that we would be traveling! ;)  And don't you know our new passports came today in the mail--that was thankfully fast!  (Thank you, Nana!  M & T are counting the days until you come back!)

*I'm working on the photo albums for little sister's family and for her.  Still have to write a letter for her family.

*We are completely vaccinated!  As a matter of fact, JMill got the last of his shots today. (In total we are good to go for Hep A/B, Polio, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Flu and Tetanus.)

*Over the past 2 nights I repainted both M and T's bedrooms from when I did my touch-ups with the paint that was a whole shade darker than it was supposed to be.  I'm so glad that job is done--there were really a lot of other things I would have rather been doing, but those splotches all over the walls were pretty unsightly.

*One of my very best friends is NUMBER 1 on the girls waiting list!  Waiting with her for the call.

*And I just realized that our little girl is no longer 6 months old, as of last Saturday she is now a 7-month-old. :)  Sweet age--can't wait to meet her!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Heartbroken and Thankful

Today I read a blog post by a family who just came back from visiting the places that J and I will be going to in less than 2 weeks.  She so beautifully describes the beauty and pain in one of the orphanges in the city (not Hannah's Hope).  (Please click here to read the full post.)
Then we entered the next room - the baby room. Again, the smell of urine and feces was overpowering. My eyes were burning, but what I saw hurt even worse. There were a few cribs and one bouncy seat. The babies were tiny and there were 3 in one crib. The one in the bouncy seat was crying, so I knelt down to soothe him. That's when I realized they had no diapers. None of them. They were laying in blankets, and most were soaked with urine. We stayed in the room for a few more minutes, but then had to leave.
Outside in the fresh air I was struggling to wrap my mind around what I saw. Tucker's nursery here at home is bigger than the room that held all Bethzatha's babies. Some of our closets are bigger. We take for granted that our children are bathed daily and get a fresh diaper whenever the one they're wearing is soiled. I've been at baby showers where we make "cakes" out of diapers and then THROW THEM AWAY when the shower is over simply because they were generic brand and only for decoration. We have the resources to not think twice about these things. But I saw women who were doing everything they could to care for these children and not even be able to give them diapers - I saw these women SMILE. They were able to still have joy. They were doing the best they could with the little they had and I believe it's for that reason that they could smile.

... and it's for that same reason that I couldn't smile. Am I really doing the best I can for the orphans of the world with the resources I have? Am I really doing all I can for them? No. Part of that is because I truly didn't know. It's one thing to watch an infomercial or a you tube video that expresses the need. It's quite another to be there to see, smell, and feel it all yourself. Now I get it.  (Continue to read more about how to help with "1000 Cloth Diapers for Ethiopian Orphans.")

This reality completely breaks my heart.  While we also have read about the needs in books and on blogs, we have yet to experience it ourselves.  I can only imagine how it will change our lives.

Over the past few days, J and I have been overwhelmed with the generosity of our friends, neighbors, co-workers and families.  It's hard to find the words to express how grateful and touched we are by how many people have given donations for the little ones we will meet in Ethiopia.  Thank you so much--please know that you are really making a difference.

Monday, January 24, 2011

One Clock

There is one clock in my house that is set to a completely different time.  As a matter of fact, it is set 8 hours different than our time.  Yep, it's our Ethiopian-time clock.  Kind-of fun to imagine what's happening on the other side of the world.  Like right now it's 10:30 at night here, but 6:30 in the morning there.  I'm going to bed and they're (she's) just getting up.  Good morning, little girl! :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Funnies: A "Beary" Good Breakfast

Sometimes T's brain seems to misfire a bit.  Like if you tell him to open his eyes really wide, he shuts them really tight.  And totally not on purpose.

The other morning for breakfast we were having banana bread.  I happened to be walking past the table when I saw T pick up his bear (normally not on the table), open his mouth wide, and put Beary's nose right in his mouth.  Then I saw his startled expression.  Ahhh, so funny!  He completely meant to be taking a bite of banana bread (not a bite of Beary)!  Love it!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

This Is Why...

This is a huge part of why adoption has moved our hearts.

I see M...  I see T...  I see little sister...  I even see me...

Ethiopian Orphans from Simon Scionka on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Donation List :)

When we travel to Ethiopia in just 3 weeks, we have the privilege of bringing donations with us.  Love (and honestly I am humbled) that we have the opportunity to make a really practical difference for little ones (and those who take care of them) who have so little of what we take for granted. 

From blog and facebook friends who have recently been in Ethiopia, diapers appear to be a huge need.  I can't imagine not having something to cover my little one's bottom.  They sometimes have to wash out and re-use disposable diapers.  (Can you imagine?)

We are hoping to bring 6 Rubbermaid bins.  The list of items below, including diapers, are things that are either hard to find in Ethiopia (like specialized formulas) or that cost much more there than here. 

Donations for Ethiopia
Diapers of all sizes (including preemie-sized)--cloth or disposable
Baby Wipes
Hand Sanitizer
Infant and Children’s Vitamins
Powdered Similac Formula (regular, vegetable– and soy-based)
Avent Bottles (8 and 12 oz sizes)
Rice Cereal
Organic Flaxseed (unground)
Baby Shampoo
Baby Oil
Toys for infants 0-16 months
Sidewalk Chalk
Deodorant (Men’s and Women’s)
Twin Sheets (pink, purple, red, blue or green—solid or printed)
Adult-sized slippers (They don’t wear shoes inside.)
Scrubs (All sizes)
(Friends and Family, with absolutely no pressure, if you want to donate, but live far from us and don't want to ship items to us, you can send us gift cards to purchase the items you would like to donate.)

Thank you so much for making a difference!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Pride and Joy and Watch Out for Those Hangnails!

Tonight I was cleaning out my over-stuffed wallet and I found a few expired cards and a crazy photo that cracks me up.  I kid you not, I sometimes show people this exact picture of my "pride and joy."

Yep, that is one pretty corny card! ;)
(J's Grandma gave it to me a long time ago.)

Also, this week, T and I were doing a mad-dash through Targ*t and along the way he picked up a Transformers book to look through while we shopped.  At one point I heard him narrating the scenes.  Talking in a deep, robotic voice, it went something like this, "If you don't be good mean guy, I will get you with my hangnail!"  The hangnail--a hook hand.  Funny kid!

And on a completely different note, I am so thankful for all of the photos and videos we have gotten of our little girl this weekend from friends in Ethiopia right now.  And it is so cool to see them meeting and hanging out with their little ones.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

This is the Snow...(Ice Cream Recipe)

This is the snow, not quite two feet, 
That we had after dinner for a tasty treat.

We filled a great big bowl full of snow, all fresh and white,
Added sugar, vanilla, and just enough milk to make it right.

Who knew that snow could taste so delicious?
(And surely the milk makes it a little nutritious.) ;)

1 Gallon of Snow
1 Cup of Sugar
2  (+/-) Cups of Milk
1 TB Vanilla

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's Up?

So what have we been up to?

1.  Updating out homestudy with a new agency.  This includes new fingerprints, new physicals, new reference letters, new financial forms, and a new visit from a social worker (and that all just means a lot of paperwork).

2.  Gathering stuff for traveling.  Carry-on's, money belts :), compact clothing, medications.

3.  Booking our flights.  And, YAY!, I will be able to go to the Adoption "Created for Care" Conference and still fly out in time to make it to Ethiopia.  That will be one very full week!  Oh, yeah, and trying to kick my fear of flying.  I'll definitely have a lot of opportunities to practice letting go of that fear. :)  (And really, what better reason to fly?)

4.  Scheduling that Yellow Fever Vaccination and taking our Typhoid pills.

5.  Making a list of donations that we can collect to take with us.  I think that we'll be able to take 6 rubbermaid bins.  (The list will be coming soon.) :)

6.  Trying to put aside my to-do list during the day so that I can hang-out with M & T.  Tough, but worth it.

7.  Waiting with friends (both here and all over the blog world) for new referrals.  Excited to see what this month brings!

8.  Praying for a little girl (and so many like her) across the world.  So looking forward to meeting her and then bringing her home. :)  That's the best!

Just for fun (and a good laugh:), I had to share this crazy funny photo from Christmas.  My mom always gets us look-a-like shirts.  That's a lot of green! :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sharing Her Story

Hmmm...I've been thinking about this post for a long time--but actually putting it into words has seemed a bit daunting.

As you know, about 5 weeks ago we received a referral for a, if-I-do-say-so-myself ;), gorgeous tiny, little 6-month-old girl in Ethiopia.  How we longed for that phone call!  What an unbelievably precious moment in time.

But what I didn't expect was the sadness, or maybe heaviness is a better word, when we heard what little we know of her background.  And while this is a lifelong process, it definitely took the better part of a week to get my head out of the fog as I worked through the emotions of it--confusion, guilt, sadness, anger, doubt.

And what is her story?  Ahh...this is a question that I would love to answer--an answer that I think would show the real-life personal not-so-pretty implications of extreme poverty.

But it is also an answer that I have come to realize is something to be guarded.  It is our daughter's story to share someday.  I would never want her story to be exploited or used in a hurtful way.

Adoption happens because there has been a loss--a deep, never-in-a-lifetime-would-I-chose-this loss.  It could be the loss of a parent, the loss of an ability to care for a child due to extreme illness (malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS, etc) or the loss of an ability to provide for a child because of hopeless poverty (no job, no food, no hope). 

But adoption is also about redemption.  Out of the loss comes a new hope, a new story, a new life.  I firmly believe that God has seen the lives of our little girl and her family.  He knows it all.  And while I don't understand it--I do know that He has chosen this little girl to be a part of our family.  I know that our lives are changing for the better because of her.   

We're still working on the right words to the questions, "Does she have a family?" and  "What is her story?"   In short, the answer is that "We don't know very much.  But we do know that because of the effects of extreme poverty her family is unable to provide for her basic needs.  And they love her very much..."   

And so do we...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Made-It: He FINALLY has a bed!

T has spent the last year sleeping on the his crib mattress on the floor or on the futon in his room.  Both have worked really well, but we thought this might be a good time to finally get him a "big boy" bed.  So, as you can guess, on our very productive IKEA trip he finally got his bed. :)

 He also scored a very inexpensive desk and chair.

Note the lack of lamps.  Little dude has been unplugging a few too many things--which makes me a little nervous.  Needless to say, I removed the lamps and his room is a bit on the dark side for now. :)

Also note that this was a rare moment.  He loves to group things together to make "trains."  Right now the desk and floor are covered with pillows and all of his trucks and tools.  And his bed is full of guy figures and stuffed animals and books and water cups and his watch, of course. :)

And one final note.  T naps in his room every day and starts each night in his room.  But by 4am he is usually snuggled in our bed.  We can hear him coming down the hallway.  He drags his big green toy bin full of his "friends" over and then throws all of his said "friends" into our bed.  Sometimes he even tries to flop the big green frog (he's sitting on it in the picture) on our bed.  Then he lays down and promptly falls asleep.  Crazy kid.  I love his warm snuggles and will really miss them someday...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A Favorite

A spoonful of this deliciousness...

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Photo Journal of Christmas (just a few weeks late) ;)

A few days before Christmas we made cinnamon salt dough ornaments.  Love making a few in the shape of their hands so that I can remember how little they were. :)

We also made homemade marshmallows (with Becca and Emily).  So soft and yummy!

JMill started his holiday vacation on the Wednesday before Christmas.  So we spent an afternoon at Stepping Stones Children's Museum in Norwalk, Conn.

Christmas Eve at our house. :)  Somewhere in the pile there are matching "animal clinics," a horse and carriage, a loud bull-d-d-dozer, lots of books and an "awesome" DVD with Hard-Hat-Harry driving big rigs and monster trucks (I thought T would like the trucks, but I had no idea that this crazy DVD would be one of their favorites--I have accidentally turned my kids into monster truck fans!)

A most delicious Birthday "cake" of donuts for Jesus's Birthday--um, YUM!

We headed to PA for more Christmas fun with both of our families.  M and T think that PA is just about the most wonderful place on earth. :)  (Interrupting gift unwrapping to read a book.)

J's Grandfather handmade this beautiful wooden sled for T--it is AMAZING!  And we got to use it when we got back to NY.

The Snow Bunny who outlasts us all.

A fun nativity picture by M.

What a very fun Christmas--it flew by so quickly.  Very much looking forward to next year! :)

The Good and the Not So Good :)

Whew!  Since Christmas, J and I have hit the ground running in preparation for our next little one.

Here's the short-and-sweet version of what we've been up to. :)

House Stuff
Not So Good: A blizzard kept us in PA a day longer.
Good: We got to spend a little extra time with family, we saw the new Narnia movie and our awesome neighbors shoveled our driveway.

Not So Good: clothing storage space for little sister.
Good: One very productive trip to IKEA.  3 desks, 3 chairs, one bed, one mattress, 2 bookshelves, 4 lights, a few other odds-and-ends and 5 hours later we returned home with a very full van.

Not So Good:  All of that furniture to assemble.
Good: J had a little over a week off from work to put together above mentioned furniture and to do some other fun (really) house projects.

Not So Good:  New furniture means a lot of rearranging.  Ex. To make room for the bed in T's room the rocking chair moved to my room.  To make room for the rocking chair, the chair in my room had to move to the basement.  To make room in the basement all of the basement furniture had to be re-arranged., etc... :)
Good: The new spaces look amazing and work really well.  (Makeover post coming soon.)

Not So Good:  T is now in a twin-sized bed.  The slats J bought to hold up the mattress are toddler-bed sized.
Good: J had some extra lumber and made some temporary slats until we return again. :)

Not So Good:  There were a few final paint projects in our house.
Good: The laundry room and my bathroom look great.  And I finally finished one small spot in M's room from when I ran out of paint--the very same paint color as most all of the walls in our house ("Captured Moment").  I even touched up all of the scuff marks on the walls upstairs.
Not So Good: The batch of paint I used on M's wall is slightly darker than everywhere else.  Every place that I touched up looks like I was sampling another paint color.  Bummer...more painting in my future...

Adoption News
Good: All of our referral paperwork is DONE.
Not So Good:  Hmmm...found out today that our homestudy needs to be updated.  Very not so good is that the details are fuzzy (how expiration dates and how what information is needed for a simple update are not known facts is just a bit confusing to me).   Just spent an hour working out a plan of action with Becca and J--kind-of frustrating...
Good:  Having someone else (Becca and J) to figure all of this out with. :)
And knowing that it will get done and it's not urgent, but it does need to happen.

Good: A most-beautiful photo or our little girl in our email on Christmas day.  And several more since (Thank you Katie and Adam & Amber!)

Not So Good:  Leaving our Passport Renewal to the last minute (they expire in April)--a bit of an oversight on our part.  ugh...

Good:  Getting closer and closer to becoming a family of 5! :)

(The sweet little lamb we got in the mail this week from our agency.)

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Day in the Life of our Bear Friends

For Christmas I made little rhyming photo books for M and T of a "day in the life" of their bears.  

Here are a few excerpts...

M's Book:  Ben

Ben likes to cruise in the doll's hot pink race car.
But he's very careful not to travel too far.

But all through the day, Ben peeks out the window.
Wondering, "Where's M?" and why couldn't he go?

Feeling a bit tired he heads back to bed.
Just one more game for this sweet sleepyhead.

T's Book: Beary-Bear

Left in the basement all alone, Beary decides to play on his own.
He drives the trains, takes the truck for a run, looks around and exclaims, "This is so fun!"

On the map at the desk, he sees that Ethiopia is right here.
He is so excited that sister will be joining us next year.

Beary scurries to the chalkboard to write a quick note.
He's sure T will smile when he sees what he wrote.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Christmas Letter 2010 & Happy New Year

Happy 2011!  So thankful for the past year and looking forward to new year that promises to be full of exciting (and hard, but really good) life changes! :)

Our 2010 Christmas Letter :)
(Click on the images to make them larger.)