Making Memories

29 06 2012

Alternative Title:  A Bunch of Pictures to Prove Just How Lucky We Are.

This logo graced the back of the t-shirts we received at Camp Coleman last weekend.

The event absolutely lived up to its billing.

A few weeks ago we submitted a quick application on the blog The Guavaliscious Life.

Soon after, we learned we would join about 20 other families in Missouri, and an equal number in three other states for a one night camping extravaganza.  In addition to being styled out with an amazing eight person tent, a sleeping bag for every member of our family, two air-mattresses, four awesome chairs, and almost every other cool camping accessory you can think of, we had a chance to participate in a great array of activities.

Of course, we went swimming.

Then we tried out the kayaks.

Wow, did they love this.

Experts were on hand to help with everything.  SAG loves to fish, but we both knew it was a smart idea for the kids to take their first lesson from a professional.

Watching your kids learn something new is so cool.

Then they practiced with their Dad.

PJ got the hang of casting pretty quickly, and was content to practice with the small pole that had a rubber fish ALREADY attached to the end.

Little Dude also sat on the banks of the water for some time with his friend.

Then another camper caught a real fish.  Once that happened, Little Dude was no longer content with the rubber fish.  He approached Coach Brad and said, “Where are the worms?”  Brad, who is amazing with kids, set Little Dude up with regular tackle and started working him through the process.

Always true to himself, Little Dude grew bored and moved on to other activities.

SAG and PJ took over the rod with the real tackle…. Next thing you know – FISH ON.

A little fear

and a lot of pride.

I remember fishing with my Dad as a kid.  I am thrilled my kids will have similar memories.

In addition to the fishing expert, there was a professional Chef to inspire us and guide us through each meal.

Chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe, St. Louis, provided excellent instructions and was incredibly personable.  He and I chatted while I washed our group’s dishes.  He tried to encourage me to experiment more in the kitchen – I happily washed the dishes and nodded in fake agreement.

SAG and I have been pescatarians since 1995.

We always said we would let our kids decide what they were comfortable eating.

Apparently, Little Dude thinks Pork Fritters are heavenly.

I wasn’t sure that my kids were ready for camping.  PJ has been begging to go for more than a year, but it seemed complicated and the opposite of relaxing.  The truth is, sure we “wanted” to camp, but we really wanted the $1,500 worth of free camping gear for some future date.

Turns out, the free stuff was even better then we expected.

This eight person tent goes from bag to fully functional in about 60 seconds.

And it is about the size of our first apartment in Vancouver, B.C.

Back-packing is an amazing way to get out in nature.  But being firmly planted in Missouri, with two small children, car camping is our new reality.

Now we have the chairs, the air-mattresses, the tent, the sleeping bags and all the other swag to make every trip exceptional.  However, you know you have joined the elite when you have a light/fan for your tent.  Hallelujah!  (It might be a terrible picture but it is a blessed invention.)

I know you are jealous at this point.  How could you not be?  But I want to emphasize, one more time, the swag was nothing compared to how much fun we had.

As we settled down to sleep (for the second time – because the first time was a bust and was just a prelude to another hour around the campfire eating s’mores and playing with glow-in-the-dark necklaces) PJ  kept repeating, “I can’t BELIEVE we are REALLY camping.”

Little Dude was not so verbal.  Instead, he was jumping on our two new air-mattresses.  Then, all of a sudden, he was snoring.  I am not exaggerating when I say, I believe he fell asleep mid-air.

The goal of the partnership between National Wildlife Federation and Coleman is to get kids outside and having fun.

Camp Coleman was amazing for our family, but there were a few opportunities that our kids were too young to take advantage of ie:  horseback riding and the guided nature walk.  Since we returned, I’ve been thinking how incredible this program would be for a family with school-age kids who love video-games and watching television.  The chance to enjoy the outdoors with Coleman’s wonderful staff making everything easy for Mom and Dad is too great to pass up.  I would be shocked if the screen-addicted child did not find a new appreciation for swimming, boating or just running wild and being loud.

The Coleman staff went above and beyond to meet everyone’s needs – and they did it with smiles on their faces.  This event taught us that our family IS ready to camp, and that whatever efforts we have to make to get outside will be more than worth it.  And, honestly, Coleman turned our family into loyal customers.

Thank you, Coleman.

* For the record:  I was just a regular, ole’ participant in this event.  I have no arrangement with Coleman or anyone else to be going on ad nauseum about this event.  If I was going to have an agreement with someone, it should be a Syllabus company, because I have run out of ways to say “Awesome, great, amazing, wonderful…”


Wordless Reading

27 06 2012

Baby Shower and The Helpful, Helpful Internet

25 06 2012

Yesterday, I hosted a baby shower for my friend S.  She and her husband, P, will be traveling to China to bring home their new baby boy sometime soon.  (Yup, you read that right – Boy.  After being on the waiting list for something like five years, during which time they completed an open-domestic adoption, they received their referral for A BOY.)

When we picked the date for this shower weeks ago, trying to accommodate as many friends’ schedules as possible, we did not realize that this would be the Coleman Campout weekend (hopefully you can read more about that in a few days.)  So, it turns out this weekend was actually pretty inconvenient for ME!  And, in the end, only a few other families could show up.  Still, I started to obsess over the party… but not in a timely way.  I did not obsess weeks ago when I had time to do my homework and get all crafty in a pretty way.  No, I started to obsess late last week, when I only had a day or two to do anything.  What do you do when you are in a pinch?  I turn to the internet.  Here is what I learned after Googling “Shower for Baby Adopted from China”…

1)  Parents who are adopting children like to celebrate their new children JUST like parents giving birth.

2)  As far as gifts go, adoptive children need the SAME EXACT supplies as bio babies.

3)  Sometimes parents who are adopting do not know the exact size their child will be when he/she comes home.  Therefore, it is important to get gift-receipts for any gifts you will be giving.

4)  It is best to wait until parents have a “referral” before setting a date for the shower, as sometimes the wait can be long (Can I get an Amen?)

And, really, can I get a WTF???

Are people actually this stupid?  And, if a stupid person is in charge of throwing a shower, would they not ask their friend, the Prospective Adoptive Parent, a few questions???  Oh, maybe it is one of those surprise showers… well, that is what you get if you like to plan surprise showers, I guess.

Eventually I found an idea or two worth stealing, but mostly I just headed to our local Asian Grocery Store followed by craft stores, dollar stores and party stores.  Beyond shopping, the key ingredient was help provided by my awesome friends.

So, here are my tips for throwing a Baby Shower For A Child Being Adopted From China or Any Other Country…

1)  Have a theme, but be careful not to be a racist (just saying).  It is great to honor the child’s country of origin, but make sure you don’t get down with some crazy stereotypes.  Safe choices… flags, food, colors, language and culturally significant proverbs or symbols.

2)  Make your shower a “potluck.”  I believe in making EVERYTHING a potluck.  When we sent out the evite we told people the theme was China, but they could bring whatever they wanted.  We ended up with an awesome stir-fry, home-made taquitos, tabouli, antipasto, fruit and fortune cookies….   And it all worked together.

3)  Honor the adoptive parents’ wishes.  In this case, they did NOT want any gifts.  They already have a son so they have clothes, toys and a plethora of baby gear.  Still, we wanted to do something.  We chose to make donations in the family’s name to a charity working in China.  After checking with some friends (thanks Bicicleta Mama) we picked Half The Sky.

4)  If the adoptive family already has a child who is about to get screwed out of all attention happily awaiting his younger sibling’s arrival, do something special for him.  In this case, we made him a giant card that we all signed and he sat in front of the cake while we sung “Happy Big Brother, to you…”  The kids who attended the party all made him individual, special cards, as well.

5)  Don’t forget to have awesome friends.  In my case, they came early and vacuumed my floor, brought flower arrangements, decorated the house, provided food, stayed late and cleaned up.

These cards that we all signed were on a table right when you walked in our door.

A few theme items… fortune cookies, chopsticks, a cake decorated like the Chinese flag with the Chinese character for “Joy” written on it, an internationally adopted child (you may not have one of these handy and may have to borrow one from a friend.)

Know your guests… more theme items included paper lanterns for ambiance and Chinese beer because our friends could care less about ambiance.

Cake tips – NO amount of red food die will turn white frosting red… the Chinese flag is NOT pink. Also, some kids can NOT keep their hands off of cakes. If your cake was not going to be perfect anyway, it might be good to be able to blame one of those kids for messing with it.

Mr. Enthusiasm himself LOVED hearing us sing the always popular “Happy Big Brother To You.” The fact that he exudes joy made the fact that the cake said joy extra special.

This mobile was the coolest idea that I stole. I found the Chinese characters ready to print, used red cardstock and a variety of gold papers, plus some blingy gold stars. The whole thing hangs from red thread balanced on some giant chopsticks. My hope is they will hang it in their new baby’s room. They seemed to like it and said eventually they would even frame the cards. Considering I didn’t finish this project until they had been at my house an hour, I was grateful for their enthusiasm.

One of the Chinese characters that is part of the mobile.  In China the color red symbolizes good fortune and joy, the colors yellow/gold symbolize balance, good luck and freedom from worldly cares.  The red thread connecting the mobile is a reference to the Chinese proverb, “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle but will never break.

Final tip: If you can arrange to have the adoptive father who is about to travel to China open this fortune – you are golden. I just got lucky… thank you, Universe.

Where the Bible Meets Science – Ethiopia

21 06 2012

Interested in Ethiopia? Science? the Bible? Human Migration? Ancient Cultures? Linguistics?

Check out this article to see what recent genome studies of Ethiopians reveal.

A totally different way to explore Christianity and Ethiopian pride – decorate your truck!

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

20 06 2012

25 years ago we started dating. This is the summer he lifted weights to impress me. I am more impressed now then I was then… proof that youth is wasted on the young.

14 years ago today we got married.

This morning he was late for work because I insisted on taking this picture (and 100 other pictures until I got one I liked.)

Busy Week Photo Dump

19 06 2012

A week ago today, my friend Jamie arrived in St. Louis for an animal welfare conference.  Jamie was at the hospital less than an hour after PJ was born.  And Jamie went with me to Ethiopia to meet Little Dude and bring him home.  (To read more about Jamie, click here.)

St. Louis is a solid two hour drive from our home, but I was determined to take advantage of her being close.  The animal welfare conference also provided me an opportunity to spend time with former coworkers and colleagues from around the country who work in the difficult, amazing, important field of animal welfare – saving the lives of companion animals and teaching compassion.  Add in beer, roller-coasters, a surprise visit from me nephew and a major-league baseball game and it is safe to say I had an epic week.  Not everything was captured by cameras, but here are a few of the highlights.

I made SAG take a day off of work to look at after the kids so Jamie and I could go to Six Flags mid-week. Note the empty parking lot. With just a four hour time-block we needed an efficient plan to hit every major ride and coaster. Let’s just say the lines were so short and we were so efficient that we both ended up nauseous for about 36 hours! (Tip – ALWAYS sit in the front row for Batman the Ride.)

After Six Flags and a late afternoon NAP (can I get an Amen?) I was treated to a Cardinals game with my sister’s boyfriend and my nephew – down from Chicago.
Love the sky-line beyond the outfield. Love the pageantry of big-time sporting events. Love the fact that the bottle of water cost the same price as the slice of pizza – $5.25.

This picture is really just to prove that it was in fact a baseball game. And, that I stayed awake for the entire thing despite the fact that the final score was 1 – 0. Best play of the game was made by the Sox shortstop, but the Cardinals did not show a replay of it on the giant screen… I guess because it was the opposing team. But in a boring game any terrific play should be celebrated (in my humble non-baseball-fan opinion.)

Brought my nephew home with me so he could be properly worshiped by my kids for 24 hours. (I SO loved my cousins growing up and am thrilled my kids are getting the same experience.) Paid for his first professional chair massage to make up for the kids waking him from his nap.

Headed back to St. Louis to drop nephew off, and pick Jamie up so she could spend the weekend with us. Snuck in a little sight-seeing. Here is an artsy photo of the arch taken with my phone… I bet Anse1 Adams would have used his phone for photos if he had the chance.

Technically the Arch is a national park. I bet most Americans can recognize the Arch but few can tell you much about it. After spending a couple hours there, including getting in a LITTLE TINY POD and going to the top, I still can’t tell you much about it. However, if you had a really good lens you could probably see the seats I sat in at the baseball game.

This photo serves to prove that I was actually there… see me in the shadow?

Jamie came to our house for the weekend. We did some sight-seeing, but she didn’t post those pics on FB, so I couldn’t steal them for this post. We also just hung out – lots. Here is how the kids looked after their mani-pedis.

I am starting to think seriously about adding a big dog to our family. Since Jamie was here it was a perfect excuse to visit our local shelter and a dog adoption event. Check out this kitty’s name! Naming animals at shelters gets exhausting…. apparently the staff decided to go for the obvious-yet-creative when it came to naming this chunk of love.

We attended a birthday party. The birthday girl became a little overwhelmed at one point and I somehow became a leader in ring-around-the-rosie.

My preferred activity at birthday parties.

Yesterday we had to take Jamie to the airport. Since the kids were going to spend four hours in the car, we decided to squeeze in a brief visit to the zoo.

I dressed both the kids in orange on purpose so they would be easier to find in a crowd. I had also picked out on orange shirt. It wasn’t an intentional choice, and it felt a little cheesy, but I decided it would also help the kids find me if necessary. Then Jamie got dressed in AN ORANGE SHIRT. We ended up looking like a very cute same-sex couple with darling children wandering around the zoo (if I do say so myself).

I love how he is looking at her. Also, the grass was a big symbol in our adoption and while he doesn’t know that, I see it in this picture. I think of Jamie and her husband Trent as potential guardians to my kids… and grass as an Ethiopian symbol of promise and covenant means a lot to me (it means nothing to Little Dude – but I am all about projecting.)

Lately Little Dude has been processing adoption STUFF. I wasn’t sure how he was going to react to Jamie. He knows that she came with me to Ethiopia, but he has only met her once since then on a whirlwind visit we made to Oregon 18 months ago.
I happened to snap this picture right as Little Dude reached for Jamie’s hand.

This is a photo of Somali Wild Asses. The older I get the more immature I become. Honestly, they couldn’t come up with a better name for these animals?

Last, and absolutely least, I leave you with this photo. When taking pics of a giraffe using your telephoto to get a close up of his/her face is pretty ridiculous. This is the most out-of-context, poorly composed picture. Anse1 Adams, eat your heart out.

Glue Not Stitches

10 06 2012

Three Things About This Incident

1)  I went to the gym, left the kids in the child-care room and went upstairs to work out.  I was waiting for my friend to arrive so we could do cardio together.  I decided to fill the time by lifting weights.  As I was lifting, I was fantasizing about the child-care attendant coming upstairs to tell me one of my kids was hurt.  I was wondering if I would sprint across the room and down the stairs, or if I would be casual and calm.

Less than an hour later, the child-care attendant approached me on the stairmaster and said, “PJ is hurt.”  I did not sprint.  In fact, I assured her that PJ was having a very dramatic afternoon and was probably just find.  She assured me that PJ was NOT “just fine.”

Twenty minutes later, after confirming that our pediatrician’s office had just closed, we were sitting in the lobby of Urgent Care.

So, am I psychic?

2)  Our Urgent Care experience was awesome.  They sent a nurse out right away to assess the situation.  I assume this is so you don’t waste your time or their time if, in fact, your body will heal on its own.  The nurse looked and said, “Pretty sure that will need glue but not stitches.”

A few minutes later the doctor came out and confirmed.  Not too long after that, we were ushered into a room where they already had the materials they needed laid out.

And when our insurance card didn’t work for some reason, the receptionist did not become a control freak and demand cash for our services.  She assumed something was wrong with the insurance companies computer because it was after 5:00 pm.  She accepted our co-pay graciously.  I am sure she was confident if she needed to find us she could.

I LOVE efficiency (and professionalism, and good customer service, and people who understand caring for kids.)

3)  Despite being totally calm the whole time, and the fact that I have a super tough kid who also was calm and for the most part not even crying, the whole incident exhausted me.  When the kids finally went to bed a couple of hours later, I drank my first beer of the evening in record time.  And, to be perfectly honest, I opened my second beer before I even finished the first.  I mean, I was up anyway, and as I mentioned above, I love efficiency.