Sunday, December 28, 2008

Scrapbookers in Training

The girls actually asked for scrapbooks of their own for Christmas, so I happily obliged them. We had a fun Saturday morning all working on our albums together. Friday night I went to Sam's to print a bunch of photos for each of them to use. Snow White was especially happy to finally have pictures of her half sister from our trip to see her a couple of weeks ago. They all did a good job and got a lot of pages done. Miss Lady completed a whole album again in just two days. I told her this time I'm just going to get her some extra page protector refills instead of another album. She's just too quick!

Merry Christmas 2008!

The best gifts this year were our kids expressions and happiness. We managed to succeed in making sure that each of our seven got a couple of things on their wish lists and a few really good surprise gifts, too.

After a flurry of present opening, somewhat controlled since we hand a gift to everyone and then say, "1, 2, 3, GO!", we spent the morning prying toys out of complex packaging, inserting batteries (even in a puzzle!), and assembling certain gifts. Brother and Kevin both got some cardboard blocks that had to be carefully folded since they start out flat. We also had a difficult time figuring out how their new Transformers actually transform. We still can't find a head that popped off one of them.

It wasn't all work and no play, however. Daniel and I spent some time that night playing the new Playstation 2 games he got. I finally gave up on ever receiving the Lego Starwars 2 game I ordered from Amazon for our anniversary back in August and went ahead and bought it for Daniel as a Christmas gift at a local GameStop. I think we can all agree that this was one of the best Christmases we've had.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Following our standard Christmas Eve tradition, all the kids got to open one present on Christmas Eve. It's always a new pair of pajamas. This year we found matching PJs for all five girls. They looked adorable. For the boys we found Spiderman PJs for Brother that came with a robe that lights up and Lightening McQueen PJs for Kevin.

This year I even got in on the act since Daniel had gotten me some new polar bear pajamas. Usually I'm the one who gets him a pair of PJ bottoms, but this year I forgot. Chalk another one up to "pregnancy brain" as I like to call it. It's a handy excuse. Miss Lady says that when we go out somewhere together she's in charge of being my "brain" for the trip and remembering whatever it was I originally went out to get. Otherwise I'm likely to buy 5 things and totally forget the only thing I was actually looking for. Now if I could only get her to remind me to bring my purse with me when we go...

Special Xmas Eve

This year on Christmas Eve as Daniel was heading off to bed (having worked the night before) he mentioned that he'd sort of like to have a special dinner that night. So I grabbed some groceries while he was sleeping and the kids and I prepared a surprise dinner. We had chicken, mashed potatoes, cinnamon yams, corn, wheat rolls, veggies & dip, and deviled eggs. Anyone who knows my usual cooking style of "open the box and dump it in the pan" surely understands that this was a much bigger undertaking for me. We had a lot of fun and Daniel was very happily surprised. As a final treat for the kids we had them all dress up in their fancy clothes, turned down the lights, and ate by candle light. The girls thought it was wonderful.

Good Hearts

Our friends and occasional babysitters, Sarah and Shannon, are really good kids. Definitely not your typical self-centered teenagers. Not only did they come over to watch our kids while we got our Christmas shopping done this year, but they went and used their babysitting money to buy presents for all of our kids.

Sarah even took the time to "play Santa" and let the kids sit on her lap and tell her what they wanted for Christmas. Then she did her best to fulfill their wishes. To top it all off, Sarah and Shannon were in a car accident just two days earlier and still made time to come and deliver the gifts on Christmas Eve!

Spotted with Santa

We took the kids to Fazoli's kids' night on the Tuesday before Christmas. They were having a Santa photo shoot. I got the opportunity to try out my early Christmas present. Yes, since Circuit City was going out of business and Daniel found my dream camera on sale for about half of it's usual price, he bought me an Olympus E-520 DSLR. It's quite a step up from the high end point and shoots I've been using the past few years. It's going to take me a while to figure out all the cool things it can do, so my photos aren't going to look nearly as good as they should for a while.

In this photo of Danya with "Santa" at Fazoli's you can see by clicking on it to enlarge it that she has mysterious red blotches on her face and neck. Later that night at around 9pm I was putting the older kids to bed when we discovered that Danya's entire torso was covered with these red marks. I got my next door neighbor, Marge to come over and stay with the kids (who were all in bed), and I took Danya to the emergency room. It turned out to be an allergic reaction to strep throat. That brings us up to three kids taking antibiotics for strep now. That same day we had also picked up new prescriptions for Gloria and Kevin since the Amoxicillin they were on wasn't working. I'm just glad we got everyone to a doctor before they were all closed for Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gifted Again

Friday we received another surprise package of early Christmas gifts in the mail, this time from Aunt Jennie. For once, I have to say that Aunt Jennie's radar was set a little bit askew. Almost everyone was thrilled with their presents. Gloria, though, was suffering from a serious case of the green eyed monster.

A couple of the other girls got monkey themed presents. Gloria has sort of declared this year that all things monkey related are her specialty and no one else is allowed to like monkeys much less receive any monkey themed gifts. So this was particularly hard on her.

Kevin had a much simpler solution when he saw something else he wanted. Snow White got a Hanging Monkeys game that has a long curved plastic tree for the monkeys to hang from. Kevin waited until Snow White left the game out on the floor and walked away for a minute. Then he snatched up the tree and ran upstairs with it tooting into it and telling us it was his "tombone". I eventually managed to convince him to trade me his "horn" for an empty wrapping paper tube. At least all these early presents have helped to relieve the kids' long wait for Christmas.

Elmo Live!

My Aunt Kathy surprised us all by sending the kids Christmas gifts in the mail. The older kids were all ecstatic to see clothing and money among other things, but the absolute smash hit was the Elmo Live doll that she sent for Kevin.

He is now our 2 year old's best friend and woe to anyone who tries to play with Elmo without Kevin's permission. They stand in the kitchen and dance together with Kevin laughing his head off. Today Kevin led me by the hand to his darkened bedroom doorway and whispered, "Mommy, there's a monster in my room!" I looked in and, sure enough, there was. Elmo was standing on the desk under Kevin's loft bed and all we could see were his eyes and nose. So we went in, opened his window blinds to let in a little light, and danced together with his favorite furry red friend.

Explaining it to the Caseworker

Why is it that Kevin insists on finding a way to injure himself any time a caseworker or GAL is about to arrive? This week our family worker, Danna, made her monthly visit and inspection on the same day that Kevin managed to get a three inch bloody scratch on his face. Fortunately, he was happy to tell her the whole story and act it out when she asked about his ouchy.

He showed her and told her how he and Gloria were fighting over a box of crayons when Gloria suddenly let go. Then the box cut his face. Poor guy. He's had a tough week. Yesterday we took him to the doctor because it turns out that Gloria was kind enough to share her strep throat with him. We're praying that none of the other kids get it since the doctor's offices will all be closed half of this week for Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Adoption Update

Briefly I thought I'd let everyone know where we're at in the adoption process. Last Thursday was supposed to be the day that Snow White and Brother were made legally free for adoption. I went to court since it was going to be the official "TPR" which means Termination of Parental Rights. Unfortunately the case got delayed over an hour and the judge agreed that there wasn't enough time before the lunch recess to get the whole thing done since the kids' bio mom had decided to contest the TPR.

Her lawyer argued that he would be unable to fairly present her case since he hadn't known she'd changed her mind about agreeing to the kids' adoption and because she had been unable to contact him since she was in jail for the past three weeks. Two different jails actually on two separate charges during that time. So the whole case has been postponed until February. It's possible that if, after her criminal case hearing, she ends up out of jail, she could get visitation started with her kids even though she hasn't wanted to see them for the past six months. She had one visit with them in November that we foolishly agreed to when the caseworker suggested it as an opportunity to get pictures of her with her kids to keep in their album in case they ever wonder what she looked like. We're praying that this is just a bump in the road towards adoption and doesn't affect the kids negatively.

What We're Reading Now: Old Yeller

We've been working our way through our collection of 3rd/4th grade books that we got in our Sonlight Curriculum lately. We've recently read "Sarah Plain and Tall" and "Phoebe the Spy" about a young black girl who helps save George Washington's life from assassination. Currently we're working our way through "Old Yeller" which is just as good as I remember it being. Danya and Gloria have really gotten caught up in this one. The other kids aren't as interested because they've only gotten to hear bits and pieces of it when we happen to be reading it as they arrive home from school.

Outside of actual homeschool reading, we've been working on a few other books. Thumbelina just finished a collection of "Morris the Moose" books which are just the right amount of challenge for her, although it frustrates her when she gets stuck on a difficult word and Gloria looks over her shoulder and reads it for her. I'm trying to incorporate as many phonics explanations as I can for her, but since she has been taught to read using sight words instead of phonics it's slow going for her. Often she just guesses or substitutes any random word that makes sense to her.

For Snow White's required nightly reading we've been gathering together for read aloud time to read everything from "Junie B. Jones" to "Horrible Harry". We've taken side tours into "Nancy Drew" and "Cam Jansen" mysteries, but lately I've tried to stick to simpler plot lines since she can't seem to remember the longer stories. I don't have the time or energy to read every night to the kids, so it's usually every few nights that we sit down for a new book. I figure on average the older five kids are listening to books I read them for about an hour and a half per week (not counting books read only to Danya and Gloria for homeschool).

I detest having to write out those weekly reports for their teachers that list what we've read and how many minutes it averages out to per day. I think that teachers must not take into account family life when they come up with these ideas. Like somehow if my kid hears me read to them for 20 minutes a day they will magically learn to read by the sheer volume of exposure to books whether or not they ever have phonics taught to them. Having to document it all in duplicate or triplicate sure sucks the fun out of family reading time.

Crochet Day

Yesterday I pulled out my box of crochet hooks where I keep a current small project going and worked on it in the van during our long drive to Castle Rock. We had to drive there for a visit with Snow White and Brother's little half-sister. She is 19 months old, chubby, and adorable. Her dad and his family are great. They had prepared a Christmas cookie coloring project for all the kids. We hadn't planned on bringing all seven of our crew in, but he was prepared for them and welcomed everyone. I was very impressed with him and his whole family.

Apparently, seeing my little crocheted blanket forming made Miss Lady curious. So she asked if I'd teach her to crochet on the way home. She struggled a bit but had the basics mastered by the time we got back to our house. She finished her first official "Granny Square" this morning. She was so proud of herself. Then the other four girls wanted to learn, too. Daniel pulled out my great big plastic tub full of all different colors and kinds of yarn. I gave each of the kids a big hook, even Kevin and Brother, and let them pick out some yarn to work with.

The little guys just played with theirs. Snow White had to stick to figuring out how to make a long chain of loops since she's really too young to understand the process. But the other three girls did well and were getting good at the single crochet stitch. I told Miss Lady that she should recruit the three of them to make Granny Squares for her so that she could get her blanket finished faster. I'm not sure any of them have the patience to make an entire blanket, but they'd be happy to feel like their work was a small part of the whole.

Even Daniel got in on the act and whipped out a quick square. He's always been very fast at that ever since his mom taught us how to crochet the first winter after we were married. The kids also were inspired by seeing our very first blanket that Daniel and I made together that winter and hearing the story of how we huddled under it for warmth as we crocheted it in front of the fire place in our tiny little apartment because it was so cold that year and the management wouldn't turn up the heat. It was a good story considering how cold it was outside today. Daniel took the kids to the park across the street to go sledding but they all came in fairly soon. Every time the door would open a gust of powdery snow-filled air would rush in. The kids' faces were almost completely pale except for their bright red cheeks. We wrapped them up in blankets and gave them Oreos and milk while we watched the Matthew movie. Having a day of actual rest for once was so nice!

LIFE Christmas Concert 2008

Last night the girls were in the kids' choir as part of the annual Christmas concert that our church, LIFE Fellowship, puts on. It was particularly special because it was our first official night in the new sanctuary that our church has been working on for a very long time. Despite a few minor mishaps like malfunctioning microphones and a little boy in the front row taking a nose dive down the stairs, everything went very well. The new addition to the church looked beautiful.

The kids were all so cute singing their one song, "Look Who Just Checked In" that the music director let them sing it twice. Spotting our kids in the group photo is a little bit like playing "Where's Waldo?" but we could see them just fine from our seats up in the side balcony. The girls were so excited about their new dresses. Danya was the only one who didn't have a new one, because we couldn't find one she liked in her size. She wore a dress that was given to us recently by a friend of hers who lives down the street from us.

Seeing the band play up on the new stage was sort of bitter sweet. I was glad that I didn't have to add my own performance to the stress of the evening since getting four little girls prepared was tiring enough for me, but I also wished I could be up there with my friends. I was hoping to play for the Grand Opening celebration this morning, but unfortunately we had a heavy snowfall last night after the concert that was still piling up higher this morning. I was worried about driving myself to church in that mess like I normally would since band members have to arrive an hour before church starts. I kept imagining crashing in the snow and going into early labor all alone in our little car. On top of that Gloria had thrown up right after the concert and was still very sick this morning, so Daniel was staying home with the kids. When Sarah called to say I'd gotten the new time wrong and was already half an hour late for band I just gave in to the inevitable and we stayed home.

Hot Cocoa Night

For Gloria's special time Friday night she asked if we could have some of the hot cocoa mix that came in the gift basket we won. It was the kind that has mini marshmallows in it, but they all melted when we microwaved the hot chocolate. I wish I'd remembered to put mini marshmallows on my grocery list today. Oh well.

In this picture you can also see the butterfly that the clowns painted on her face at the foster family Christmas party. They did a good job. They also made each kid a balloon animal. Except Brother, who got a balloon sword.

Foster Family Christmas Party 2008

This year we finally made it to the annual Christmas party for Adams County foster families. I was actually surprised at how many people we knew at the party. There were some people that we work with on a monthly basis through the county that didn't even know I was pregnant. That was sort of funny to see the surprised looks on their faces.

We took the girls shopping to pick out new dresses for the party. We found these cute purple velvety ones on sale at Kmart for about $10 each. The girls looked lovely. The Christmas party was packed with about 500 kids, but everything was well organized. Our kids got to frost cookie ornaments, make picture frames, dance, take pictures with Santa, and even receive a gift. Our family won a door prize, too. It was a giant basket of food and a gift card to King Sooper's grocery store so that we can make an entire Christmas dinner. I think one of the best parts of the evening was getting to see one of our former foster sons with his hopefully future adoptive family. He looked really healthy and happy. It was a good night.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Portraits and Corn Bread

I finally got around to doing that photo shoot with the kids that I've been saying I should do for months. I had it all planned out for Saturday morning, but it ended up taking longer than I expected. I hadn't really thought through how long it takes to get that many kids clean and dressed and ready for photos. At least I had Miss Lady's help in setting up the backdrop, so that went quickly.

I got some good photos of all the kids. Some of you reading this will be receiving copies in your Christmas cards. If you're a close friend or family member who wants copies that doesn't end up receiving any (please forgive pregnancy brain and/or low funds) you can email me and I'll email you copies of the pics. We didn't end up with a group photo of all the kids this time around because some of the kids helped Daniel with lunch preparations after their individual photos were taken and ended up getting covered in corn bread mix.

Official Teenager

This week Miss Lady turned 13, so we are now the proud parents of a teenager for the first time ever. On Wednesday night I took Miss Lady out to eat at Panda Express and then we went shopping so she could pick out a scrapbooking kit that she'd been wanting. She had the whole kit, pictures and all, assembled by Friday night. Yup, I was impressed.

We also celebrated earlier in the day with the other kids. Miss Lady had a cheese cake birthday cake and got jewelry, clothes, and some new boots that are in style right now. They are black with fur trim and little pom pom balls and are meant to be worn on the outside of her jeans. They go nicely with her black fur trimmed coat.

On Friday night Daniel took Miss Lady out for some Pho which is a food that her family eats on special occasions. Even though Miss Lady is Cambodian, apparently they enjoy Vietnamese food. Then she and Daniel went to Skate City where she had a great time skating and being silly with about six of her school friends. Daniel enjoyed being the designated photographer. He's such a good dad. I'm glad that he and Miss Lady got a chance to spend some time together.

Welcome Winter

We got a heavy snowfall on Thursday. By Friday morning there was enough for Daniel to take some of the kids sledding. Snow White and Brother were nervous about the idea because they had never been sledding before. By the time they came back their faces were bright red and grinning from ear to ear.

The kids were all busting with stories about how much fun they had. Daniel took them to the big hill at the Community Park near Brother's bus stop. It's a two seater sled, so they went down in teams. Daniel says we should get another sled so that next time the kids can have races. I have visions of sled crashes rather than races, but the kids all love the idea. Apparently the only ones who actually fell out of the sled were Daniel and Kevin when they hit a bump at a bad angle. Now we just have to work on getting more snow boots and snow suits for some of the kids who don't have them yet. Thumbelina has specifically requested a pair of boots for Christmas, but hopefully we can get her some this coming weekend.

Kevin's Babies

Just before we headed out on our trip to Oklahoma Kevin started a new game. He takes care of his imaginary babies which vary in number from one to four depending on the day. He carries them around in his cupped hands asking us to kiss them or hold them. At Grandma's house he laid them down on a pillow in the playpen, covered them up with a blanket, and sang them a lull-a-bye. He's a very good daddy.

When we got back home we decided to let him play with one of the girls' old doll babies. He's started sleeping with it every night and carrying it around. He tells us to be quiet when his baby is sleeping. I guess this is his way of preparing for the arrival of his new baby sister which seems to be taking much too long in his opinion.

One of his favorite things to do is snuggle up with me when I'm laying down and ask, "What I do with Katie?" Then I tell him all the things he'll be able to do with baby Katie when she's born. We talk about how he'll hold her and find her pacifier, bring me her diapers, pick out her clothes. He's looking forward to letting her hold his finger and showing her all his toys and books. I tell him he'll be a good big brother and he nods his head and says, "Yes, I will!"

Kid Sister

My younger kids have trouble grasping the concept that Aunt Toni is my "baby sister" since she's 26 and not exactly a baby anymore. They'll understand some day. No matter how old they get, the "baby" of the family will always stay the baby.

This year she swooped in and scooped up my just about to turn 13 year old daughter, Miss Lady. She wanted to take her out and have some "girl talk" with her since she knows I'm woefully lacking in certain skills. We made it a girls only trip, just the three of us. Toni helped Miss Lady select the perfect make up for her skin and gave her expert tips on how to apply it all. She gave her advice on boys and friendships. She shared inside jokes and rolled eyes with Miss Lady when I started sounding a little too much like our mom. We had lunch at a pizza place before heading home. I'm glad that Miss Lady and my little sister got along so well. I'm also thankful to Toni for telling Miss Lady that she's learned to trust my advice over the years because it's always intended to protect her and said in love.

Grandma's Tree

I'm so glad that this year Grandma returned to the tradition of having all the grand kids help her decorate her Christmas tree. At our house it's just not the same. We lost all our special ornaments when we moved into this house, so all we've got are a few plain boring non-breakable balls. We don't let the kids use tinsel because it's messy. We have the kind of fake tree that already has the Christmas lights built into it. We lost all our garland and haven't bought any more. So putting up the tree is kind of a five minute process. At least this year the kids made paper chains to hang on it. They've already eaten most of the candy canes that we hung on it.

At Grandma's house, though, it's a whole different story. All the ornaments are unique and interesting. Some of them have pictures on them. The kids each get a handful of tinsel to toss onto the tree in shining messy beautiful clumps. The chaos of so many little ones all helping decorate at once is half the fun! I remember one Christmas before Daniel and I had kids I went to the effort of designing our Christmas tree. I bought special purple velvet bows and hung them in orderly rows around the tree. I tied a large golden bow to the top with long ribbons draping down to the ground in evenly spaced intervals. It looked very neat and pretty. But it will never compare to the perfection of one of Grandma's Christmas trees decorated with the fun, excitement, and love of so many tiny little hands.

They Keep Growing

It turns out that even if we're not around to see it, other people's kids keep growing. The last time we saw Daniel's brother, Ben, and his family little Nemi was a baby and his sister, Shalom, was still firmly in the toddler stage. I guess I have to admit that a year has passed and my kids weren't the only ones that got older.

Visiting with Ben's family always makes me feel like I wasted all my time studying Spanish in college because I fumble around trying to come up with an intelligible sentence and have to rely on Ben's wife, Diana's much better attempts at speaking English. It's a good thing that Diana is more motivated to learn English and teach it to her kids than I am when it comes to Spanish. I'm hoping that eventually I'll be able to communicate with my niece and nephew, but for now I just smile at them and repeatedly tell Shalom how pretty she is.

Some Things Never Change

We got together with our oldest and dearest friends while on vacation in Oklahoma. We were all excited to see Uncle Steven back from Iraq and to meet Tanti Glenda's new baby, Christopher. Of course, as usual we went to a playground. Between our three families we have 13 children, so somewhere for them to burn off a little excess energy is a must.

The first time I was officially introduced to my husband, Daniel, and his best friend, Steven, was at a park celebrating a mutual friend's 14th birthday (Hi, Kenny! Um, I mean Ken). It seems like most of my favorite memories of the two of them involve hanging out at a playground when we were all teenagers and trying not to worry while Steven and Daniel risked life and limb in death defying leaps off of parts of the playground equipment that were never meant to be climbed much less jumped off of. Some things never change. The only difference when we get together now is that these two guys are teaching their kids to be fearless little monkeys, too. I guess the banana doesn't fall far from the tree.

To Grandpa's House We Go!

Over the river and through the woods...

Why is it that we always seem to say we're going to Grandma's house as if it isn't also Grandpa's house? He's definitely a good half of the fun when we get there. The kids all gravitate to Grandpa Wayne within a short time of arrival. Maybe it's because he's willing to give "under dogs" on the swing, puts up with being a human jungle gym, and doesn't mind the little ones all trying to steal his hat while giggling like mad.

That's not to say that Grandma isn't a major attraction, too. The kids all love getting to help her cook, baking pies, playing "Can't Stop" (her favorite board game), opening all the little surprise gifts she always has for them, and just snuggling on her lap and reading bedtime stories. I've always said that Daniel's family is like a Norman Rockwell painting and it's still true. His parents are the ideal grandparents.

Although the trip down and back was incredibly long, it was worth it. We got to spend time with family, visit with friends, eat way too much food, and see all the cousins renew old friendships and even make a few new ones. Miss Lady and our niece, Meridian, became instant friends, almost inseparable. We even had time to drive back to our former town, Owasso, and catch up with our friends, the Millers. My friend, Betsy, is due with her fourth child (their first boy!) on Tuesday. It's always been fun that our four biological kids are the same ages as theirs. Of course, now we have a few extras. Betsy's daughter, Courtney, said, "Mom, Danya and Gloria sure have a lot more brothers and sisters now!"

How Did I Get Here?

How is it possible that I'm already 31 years old? And how did another birthday get here so quickly? It seems like just yesterday that I was telling Daniel that I couldn't wait until we were older because people would finally treat us like adults. Of course, that was shortly after visiting a dentist for the first time who was shocked to find out that I was only 19 and already married. He pompously told me in an authoritative voice that if I had been HIS daughter he would have grounded me to my room for a few years if I'd even been thinking about marriage at my age.

Well, here I am, finally old enough to be treated like an adult, my opinions respected, and all the adult responsibilities I could possibly want... Somehow I thought it would be more fun and less work, lol. Miss Lady said to me recently, "Mom, you are the busiest pregnant lady I've ever met. When my big sister was pregnant she just laid around the house all day being lazy." I pointed out to her that the difference is that I'm an adult, not living in my parents' home. Unfortunately, that means if something needs doing and I don't do it, it doesn't get done.

For instance, this year I carefully made a list for Daniel of things I'd like for my birthday. I received several of those things, too, although in unusually large sizes. That's okay. He made up for it by handing me cash and dropping me off at Hobby Lobby to browse the scrapbooking section. He and the kids also mixed up some home made cheese cake for me. And each of the older kids made me adorable construction paper book marks since I'm always using random scraps of paper and receipts as book marks. Then we got to work on decorating the house for Christmas and putting up the tree. It was a lot of fun. Now if I could just find my Christmas music CD we'd be all set.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

We made the loooong drive to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving after finally receiving all the paperwork needed to take all four of our current foster kids with us. It was a great trip and I've managed to finally download, edit, and prepare all the photos from Thanksgiving, two birthdays (Mine, and Miss Lady's), and a recent Christmas photo shoot. Tomorrow night I plan to overwhelm my blog with new photos and posts. So, if you've been wondering what we've been up to for the past few weeks, you'll know soon.