Friday, July 31, 2009

A Little Help from our Friends

Grandpa Wayne, Daniel's dad, started it. When he came to visit us he spent some of his time taking care of some home maintenance issues for us. He cleaned out the gutters, helped connect the dryer venting to the outside, and sprayed all the grass out of the air conditioner.

We've also hired a guy a few times this summer to mow our strange pathetic yard. I won't call it grass since it's mostly weeds. Just recently we also hired a handyman friend from church to trim the tree in our front yard. The branches were getting so low that every time we shut the side van door we'd break off a few leaves inside the van.

The most helpful person lately has been our babysitter, Sarah. She's stepped up often to watch the kids while we attend foster parent training, get errands done like shopping for Brother's birthday party, and just spend a couple of hours reconnecting with each other. Tonight, Sarah and Miss Lady are on a Youth Group camping trip together. I definitely would not have felt as comfortable letting Miss Lady go if it weren't for Sarah being there.

We're going to submit paperwork in August to try and get in on a program where the airport, via the city, pays for families in this area to have work done to their house to mitigate the noise. Before we bought the house someone else used that program to get new windows put in here. We're hoping to get the back patio door replaced.

Now if I could just find a really good, really cheap landscaper to fix my yard I'd be happy as a clam.

Bike Upgrades

We got Danya and Gloria new bikes in June when Grandma and Grandpa Elliott were here. Their knees were hitting the handle bars on their old bikes. So we passed one of the old bikes down to Snow White and let Thumbelina ride the other one. Then we found a really nice second hand bike at a yard sale that we gave to Thumbelina so that she'd have one to take home with her when she leaves. At the same yard sale we found a good starter bike for Brother. He's not ready to go without training wheels yet, but he's happy about having a "big boy bike".

Danya and Gloria were really nervous at first and got hurt a couple of times when they started riding without training wheels. They're getting better, though. I think it's mainly due to their wanting to keep up with Miss Lady, Thumbelina, and Snow White who can all ride really well. The real kicker has to be having little sisters that ride better than they do. I've ridden my bike a few times, once about 3 miles with Miss Lady, but mainly I've been getting practice on the stationary bike at physical therapy. After making it up the hill beside the park I've learned there is quite a bit of difference between stationary biking and the real thing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Approaching the End

This picture is from a family bike ride down a nature trail that we took with Daniel's parents in June. He's got Snow White slung over his shoulder looking down into the creek we stopped next to. Snow White has seemed to become more attached to us lately. She tells us that she loves us often and asks every day how much longer it will be until we adopt her. It's getting pretty close now.

We were originally set to adopt them on July 15th, but the caseworker postponed that because we couldn't get their Sewell evaluation done until July 14th. The evaluation was a comprehensive series of tests to figure out if Snow White or Brother were suffering from FAE (fetal alcohol effects). Thankfully, neither one of them are. They both fell into the "normal" range for most things. It turns out that a lot of the strange behaviors we've been seeing, like inability to comprehend what we're saying to them, or follow simple instructions, or remember how to do simple things they knew how to do before can all be explained by one problem. Their receptive language skills are extremely low.

That means that they just don't understand a lot of the words and phrases we use. So if today we say "put your socks on" Brother might understand us and do it. Tomorrow if we say, "You need to hunt for some some socks and get them on" he may have no idea what we've told him to do. The sentence was too long, too complex, and used an expression he didn't understand. So we have to be very clear, very simple, and very concrete in what we say until their vocabulary improves over time. We also have to teach them to ask us what we mean if they don't understand us. Another thing we found out is that Snow White has very poor muscle tone. So she's going to be starting physical and occupational therapy soon. That should help her with things like holding a pencil and throwing a ball. It's something that will also improve over time.

It's such a relief to know that the issues Brother and Snow White have are correctable in time and that we are so close to the adoption so that all the waiting will finally be over. They are both getting new middles names, but their first names are going to stay the same. Snow White is already practicing writing her new names. She really enjoyed choosing what her middle names would be. Neither of them know what their middles names are currently, so we didn't think it'd be a big deal to change them. I'll write about the names and the meaning behind them after the adoption is finalized next month.

Party at Pixie Hollow

Danya's best friend Lauren had a really great birthday party this year. It was a Tinkerbell slumber party. Her mom went all out designing backdrops and giving the girls manicures and pedicures. She even hand sewed Lauren's costume!

All the girls were supposed to dress up as fairies, and the birthday girl would be Tink. Danya and I had an interesting time coming up with her costume. We used an old pair of angel wings and a frilly skirt, her gymnastics leotard, a maroon scarf, and a headband with green hair attached. I put glitter eye makeup and lip gloss on her and combined the green hair with her regular hair and put it into two buns. At the party all the girls loved Danya's green hair. The birthday girl, Lauren, wanted to run right out to the Dollar Tree and get some for herself. Danya had an absolute ball at the party.

Summer School

The boys recently completed all the classes they were taking on Fridays at the rec center. They really had a fun time learning about bugs, the ocean, cooking, and other things. I think they liked that it was a special class that the girls were too old to go to. I was glad that they had each other for support in the class. They really stuck together. I heard one of their teachers telling Kevin to come sit by her because he didn't seem to know where to sit when the kids lined up outside. Then he pointed to Brother and said, "I'm sitting by him. He's my brother."

They are so cute together. I love the funny looks people give them when they say they are brothers since they don't look much alike except for the blue eyes. Their gymnastics coach just asked me last week if I was Kevin's mom or Brother's mom. I smiled and told her, "They're both mine." She said that Kevin seems to have a little fear of heights when it comes to walking on the balance beam and jumping off things. So we're supposed to work on that by having him jump off everything we can.

Summer Movie Madness

This is the last summer before Sarah's senior year begins in high school. She has been such a wonderful babysitter for us. When she told us that we should ask her to babysit as much as possible this summer since she's going to be very busy during the school year and then going away to college after that, we took her up on it.

Normally we only see a couple of new movies actually at the theater per year. We are much more likely to wait until they come out on Red Box video before seeing new movies. This summer, though, we've seen quite a few movies.

Some movies we've seen are Transformers 2, Xmen: Wolverine, Harry Potter, The Proposal, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and Night at the Museum 2. We're looking forward to seeing the new G. I. Joe movie soon. We've also rented on average about 2 movies a week to watch at home. This particular photo is of me, Sarah, and her sister Shannon when I took them and Miss Lady to see Transformers after youth group one Thursday night before Daniel's shift changed at work. I've been enjoying having special girls' nights out with Miss Lady since she is going home soon to her parents. Have I mentioned that I'm REALLY going to miss her and Thumbelina?

Foster Parent Recertification

Our annual recertification for foster parenting has to be completed in August so Daniel and I are working hard to get all the requirements done. We are planning to temporarily close our home to new placements for a couple of months after the adoption of Snow White and Brother happens on August 20th. When we open up our home again in either November or December we will officially be an "intake only" home. That's a specialized foster home that only takes emergency placements for a short period of time. Usually a few days to a few weeks. No more than 3 months.

To be a regular foster home we only need 20 training hours a year. To be a specialized home we have to have 32 hours. Currently we have 16 hours. By the end of August we'll be up to 27.5 hours. We also are working on getting physicals completed for our whole family. The doctor has to fill out a form that states we're all healthy. Then there's a huge questionaire regarding our experiences over the last year and what we've learned as foster parents. Finally, we have to submit documentation of our taxes and Daniel's pay stubs to prove that we are financially able to support ourselves. That way they know we aren't trying to use foster parenting as a way to make money for our family.

Speaking of money, we just signed the adoption subsidy agreement which is going to lower the amount of assistance they give us for Snow White and Brother by about 25%. I'm just glad that they'll continue to send that since we'll be taking Snow White to about 5 different appointments per week and Brother to three. That will probably continue for the next several years at least. The cost in gas alone for our 12 passenger van is significant since I normally have to bring all the kids with me. We were very excited to complete that paperwork and also the adoption petition to the court which should be submitted by the caseworker this week. I can't wait until I can officially announce Snow White and Brother's real names on my blog and stop putting black dots on their faces!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Perfection is Overrated

I tried to take another photo shoot of the kids recently since our family will be changing soon. Miss Lady and Thumbelina are expected to be going home before the end of the month. They are already having overnight visits. Brother and Snow White will hopefully be adopted by us sometime in mid August. The photo shoot didn't quite work out as well as it usually does. I didn't get a single one of those eye catching, just right photos that usually occur by chance if I take enough pictures. I got a couple of "nice" ones of each kid, except Katie who refused to smile until I let Danya hold her.

So, instead of posting lovely photos of my children this time, I thought I'd share some of the outtakes that made me smile. Sometimes it's the imperfect photos that end up being the most special. Sometimes it's just nice to remember that our kids aren't that perfectly posed sweet little angel in the portrait on our walls or in our scrapbooks. They're just kids. Funny, messy, exasperating, normal kids. Miss Lady asked me the other day when she was feeling a little overwhelmed after a long day rushing around with all the kids in the van, "How do you deal with this many kids and not get frustrated? How can you be smiling still right now?" I told her the simple truth. "Because they're mine." She'll understand someday.

The Best Father's Day Gift Yet

For Father's Day this year a miracle occurred. Daniel actually had something he wanted. Most years it's like pulling teeth to try and get him to give me a straight answer on any potential gift for Father's Day, his birthday, our anniversary, or Christmas. This year he talked about wanting a pocket sized camera for months. I was against it because I was afraid it would be an inferior quality camera that took bad photos and I wouldn't want to use them in our scrapbooks.

Then, shortly before Father's Day, Daniel found a new camera that was a reasonable price and actually took better quality photos than our current best camera. He was so happy when I surprised him with it on Father's Day. He has become a picture nut since then. I'm getting a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of photos he takes now. But I have to admit, it is convenient to be able to just pop that little camera in a pocket and take it with us where ever we go. On the first night he got it he took it to work and played with some of the features like the ability to "stitch" panoramic photos together. Above is one he put together of his work area. Of course, they just moved his group to a new location in the office, so that's not his desk anymore. Good thing he took a picture of it, I guess.

But You're at Disneyland!

There we were; meeting Princesses, riding fun rides, eating pretzels shaped like Mickey Mouse's head, and generally having a blast. But what do my kids say? "Thanks, Mom and Dad. This is the best trip ever!" Nope. All we hear is, "When can we go back to the hotel and swim?" Apparently the highlight of the trip was not when Danya got chosen to play the drums in the "tomorrow land" exhibit, nor was it the shockingly creepy real-ness of the 4D Bugs Life Show with the sensation of spiders running under our seats, nor the heart racing moment when we plummeted to the ground in the elevator on "The Tower of Terror" ride.

No, the best part for the kids was getting to swim at the hotel every day which had two big pools, a kiddie pool, and two hot tubs. Daniel and I agreed that next time we'll save a few thousand dollars and just rent a room at a local hotel that has an outdoor pool.

What a Character

I'm so glad we took the time to make sure we got special pictures with as many characters as possible at Disneyland. We waited to meet the princesses for over an hour and a half, but it was worth it in the end. The kids were so excited. Thumbelina had been hoping she'd get to meet Mulan, because her therapist said she looked like her. Then when we met Princess Jasmine she actually told Thumbelina that she had hair "just like Fa Mulan's"! That made her day!

We ended up getting pictures with all the main characters, except Daisy Duck. We only got a quick photo of the kids near Goofy because he wouldn't stand still. Brother almost knocked Buzz Lightyear over in his excitement. The kids didn't seem to know who Chip and Dale were. We also saw several minor characters, but didn't take pictures with them. We saw Cinderella's fairy godmother, and some evil queens. The kids also got to meet the Mad Hatter. It was really fun for them. Brother actually thinks that Winnie the Pooh was real and was frustrated that Tigger hopped away too fast to hug him. My one regret is that I didn't get a picture of Daniel with Donald Duck, since he does such a great impression of him.

Little Things

Today the kids and I were reading a story during homeschool time that was about a boy who was learning that "little bad acts" like lying or covering up something small are not so little and are really like tiny acorn seeds that eventually grow into enormous oak trees. We also talked about how small acts of kindness can have a profound affect on someone's life.

I told the girls a true story about a boy on a church youth group trip who decided to take pity on the new girl and invite her to sit with him at meal times and join him and the youth pastor for card games when she was feeling left out and ignored, wishing she hadn't even come on the trip. They were such small acts of kindness. But if he hadn't done that, the two wouldn't have become friends, and a year later husband and wife, and eventually become a foster family with 8 wonderful kids. Isn't it funny how the little things can change so many lives?

Crazy California Drivers!

You know, I've heard plenty of stories about those crazy California drivers and how dangerous it is on the freeways there, but I never would have believed it was this bad if I hadn't seen it for myself. And they're letting kids drive so much younger these days!

I blame the influence of Hollywood. Kids get the idea in movies that you can drive recklessly through the city and no one will really get hurt. Well, I've put my foot down in our family. I told my kids that they can drive when they're 40... with a permission note from God.

Hee hee. While we were at Disneyland the kids actually got several opportunities to drive. They all loved the bumper cars in the Bug's Life area. Miss Lady got to sit in the driver's seat on the Indiana Jones ride. The funniest time was when Thumbelina drove Toad's car on the Wind in the Willows ride and it got stuck in the scene where the judge is sentencing them for reckless driving. She and Miss Lady had to sit there while the giant mechanical judge kept pointing his huge finger at them and shouting, "Guilty! Guilty!"

Disney or Bust!

The whole process of flying to Disney went incredibly well. The kids were all so cute in their matching VBS shirts. They got lots of compliments on their good behavior and general adorableness. Is that a word?

This was the first time on an airplane for most of them. We packed a lunch and had them eat at the Denver International Airport before we went through security. Daniel had brought a bunch of water bottles that mostly had to be thrown away. They let us keep two for making bottles on the plane, but they did a chemical test on them to make sure that we weren't bringing anything dangerous in them. The kids thought it was like a cool science experiment. The security people were all incredibly nice and helpful. They seemed to get the humor of the situation trying to get that many little kids through security.