Monday, December 30, 2013

Blogaholics Anonymous

We've been playing games together. Card games. Silly games. Games with Grandma, because Grandma likes games.

And I've been taking photos. Lots of photos. Getting out of my comfort zone and shooting a lot of candid, indoor shots. Capturing Christmas memories.

This morning we're off to a local state park for breakfast in an old Spanish sugar mill. Note to self: Don't forget your camera!

Here are a few links I found this weekend that I thought you'd like.

Giving the baby back - A foster mom shares her thoughts. "I give them back because they are not mine. And this is not about me."

Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss - written by an adoptive father, this is a beautiful piece about accepting the constraints of our lives.

this Christmas - Stefanie, from Ni Hao Y'all, shares how her family celebrated Christmas a little differently this year. I love what they did!


Anyone else still in Christmas vacation mode?


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Look Who's Curled Up With a Good Book




This makes my heart happy. Really happy.

Wenxin, adopted from China at age 7 1/2.

No spoken English. Zero. Nada. Zip.

He spoke Chinese, of course, but he'd never been to school in China and couldn't read his own language.

So for the last three years, I've had simple educational goals for Wenxin -- goals that will set the stage for a lifetime of learning.

1. Bonding and learning to be a family.  This was really a goal for all of us, not just Wenxin. At first glance, it doesn't even seem educational. But if there was no attachment, no becoming a family, then nothing else would really matter. So for the first months home, while we did dive right into academic schoolwork, it wasn't all that important to me. Doing schoolwork together was just a means to another end. We were getting to know one another. We were growing to love each other. We were becoming a family.

2. Fluency in spoken English. Not much to add here because immersed in a family of big talkers, this one happened naturally.

3. Literacy. I wanted him to read fluently, and I wanted him to love to read. It was kind of like pushing a boulder up the side of a mountain.

So this morning, when he curled up in a chair with one of his Christmas books and read it from cover to cover, I ran for my camera to record the moment. OK, I'll confess that he only did this after I banned the new XBOX until everyone read a little. Still, he read the whole book in one sitting.

I see the doors of learning swinging open wide for my boy, and I can't help but smile.

BTW, did you see my Christmas in Photos post? Click here to take a look.

Ni Hao Yall

Thursday, December 19, 2013

As December Rolls Along

Nathan turned 14 yesterday.

I love the man I see him growing to be.


He's a good son, and he's adored by his siblings, too.

We celebrated with a low key day at home - just presents and a yummy four layer chocolate pie that was easy on all those new braces!

Ready or not, December keeps rolling on. I'm keeping my sanity with lots of photography breaks, trying new shots and editing in Lightroom. I'm beginning to think Katherine may have a future in modeling. My sweet girl can work it for the camera!

December's thrown us a lot of curves. First there was the car accident. Yesterday, we got the news that our van is totaled. So here we are, van shopping just days before Christmas. Just. Like. Last year.

Then our heating and air died. Totally died. We got a brand new system yesterday, and it's amazing. 

Our whole house used to vibrate when the air came on. No more. This system is like stealth air conditioning. You'd never know it's running, except that you feel refreshingly cool and comfy and sweat-free. That's really important because where we live it's been in the mid-80s much of December.


One birthday celebration down. Most of our 300+ Christmas cards sent. Most presents ordered and shipped. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.


Ni Hao Yall

Friday, December 13, 2013

All is Calm. All is Bright. At Least in the Photos.






Anyone else stressed?

Wenxin greeted me this morning just like he has every morning in December. 

"Hey Mom, it's 11 more days til Christmas. 4 more days til Nathan's birthday. 9 more days til Grandma comes. And 17 more days til my birthday." He'll repeat the message at regular intervals throughout the day.

Maybe he's just excited. . . or maybe he's realized that there is real reason to be concerned that Mom's not going to get it all done in time this year.

Here are a couple of links for those of us who find that Christmas looks more calm and bright in our photos than in real life. (The second one is a post I wrote last Christmas for my older child adoption friends.)



Hang in there, ladies!




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Relationships


There are a lot of good ways to educate your kids. Public school, private school, homeschool. Most kids turn out well.

But for our family, one of the side benefits of homeschooling has been the relationships.

Relationships are so hard. I spend a lot of time coaching my kids on how to be kind and encouraging. . . how to communicate and ask forgiveness. . . how to work together. The process isn't usually pretty.

But yesterday, when I didn't feel well, Julia jumped in and helped Wenxin with his schoolwork. And he let her help him with his schoolwork.

I had to grab my camera.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Simple Things Sunday and Our Car Crash


Simply beautiful.

Photography is good for my soul. I love taking beautiful shots, and I love the nuanced work of editing.

I love that there's so much more to learn and that I can get better at this for years to come.

It helps me relax, and just like blogging, it's something I do just for me.

Yesterday, we were in a car accident.

We'd had an amazing, relaxing day of 3v3 soccer. Outside on a gorgeous, Central Florida, December day -- which is like a mid-summer day in lots of other places -- we laughed and cheered and celebrated with good friends. Hard fought games went into overtime, and in the end, both Julia's team and Katherine's team brought home first place.

Packing up Katherine with friends for the hour or so ride home, we stayed for Julia's sixth and final game of the day.

Late afternoon as the sun was going down, we pulled out of the fields, really tired and really happy, reliving the victories and talking about how really good burgers would hit the spot for dinner.

I was looking down as Mike got a green turn light and pulled into the intersection.

That's when we were hit.

An SUV, going fast, ran the red light and crashed into us, spinning our van 360 degrees. When we stopped spinning, we saw the SUV driver slow down and look back for a moment, before driving away.  We were left stunned and confused and pretty upset. Our back bumper and other pieces of our van littered the intersection.

Here's what we didn't know at the time.

Julia's teammate, Ainsley, and her dad, Ron, were driving behind us when we were hit and saw the whole thing. When the SUV driver didn't stop, Ron and Ainsley followed him. As Ron drove, Ainsley took photos of the SUV with her phone. Ainsley dialed 911 so her dad could report the accident. Unfortunately for the hit and run driver, the road he was driving on dead ended. Ron spoke with the man, encouraging him to return to the scene of the crash.

All of us initially thought the other driver was intoxicated, but the police told us later that  he was a man who'd had several brain surgeries, and that while he was confused, it wasn't an issue of substance abuse.

Ron and Ainsley were the heroes of the night, giving a statement to the police, playing soccer with the kids on the side of the road, and eventually taking them all to get something to eat.

It was a long night of police officers. . . and a tow truck. . . and an ambulance. . .and of course, the fire truck. Piling the contents of our van on the side of the road -- soccer chairs and a tent and a foldable bench and a cooler and soccer goals and a bag of balls and a sleeping bag and a pillow and a few blankets and backpacks and all the CDs and phone chargers and jumper cables and various tools that live in our van -- we waited for a rental car that never showed up. Finally, the five of us and our. . ummm. . . belongings, joined Ron and Ainsley in his five seater car, as he gave us a lift back to our house.

No one was seriously hurt. We got home safely. And Katherine, delighted to get a surprise sleepover with her friend, still doesn't know what happened.

Missing my van and hoping to have a driveable car - soon!


            Ni Hao Yall

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Not Too Late for Your Best Christmas Card Ever!

Festive Four Ornament Card with Luxe Ribbon for Hanging

It's not too late to make a beautiful Christmas card at Minted.com.

The folks at Minted contacted me last week and asked if I'd take a look around their site and let you know what I found. 

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at Minted was lots of original, fresh design. That's because Minted showcases the work of a community of indie designers from around the world. For the past few days, I've had fun browsing Minted, playing around and creating beautiful cards from my family photos.


The sheer number of design choices can be overwhelming, but I discovered something that really helped. I went ahead and uploaded the photo I wanted to use this year, and clicked the "Find it Fast" button. Minted magically inserted my photo into every one of their designs so I could see how it would look in each one. Each time I saw a design that looked promising, I clicked the little heart beside it which saved it to my Favorites. When all was said and done, I had five or six serious contenders out of the hundreds of possibilities.

Cards come flat or folded with your choice of a variety of shapes. Minted offers several options for the back of your card, from leaving it blank to adding a fun color or print or even more photos and text. Envelopes can be standard white or something a little more fancy. You can even add liners to up the WOW factor. More than any Christmas card company I've used in the past, Minted offers a truly custom experience.

Now here's the jaw dropper. As you check out, Minted gives you the option to upload your address list so they can address your envelopes - for FREE. 

Minted, you had me at beautiful custom design, but the free addressing thing. . . that pretty much seals the deal! I'm ordering my Christmas Cards from Minted tonight!

There's about a nine day turn around, so I'll have my cards in plenty of time to pop them in the mail for Christmas. 

If you decide to use Minted for your holiday cards this year, click through this link to get $25 off $50 at Minted.com. It's not too late to have a beautiful card this Christmas. Getting $25 off $50 on your most beautiful card ever? You might even say that it paid to procrastinate this year. 

BTW - Does anyone else obsess about the actual Christmas card photo? Is that what's holding you back?

Here a some tips to get you past your perfect photo inertia:

1. Use a photo you already have. Look back over your photos from the last year and pick one of your favorites.

2. If you MUST take a new photo at this late date, enlist the help of a friend who's a hobby photographer.

3. Don't obsess about the perfect wardrobe. Pick some fun clothes that don't clash from everyone's closet. You can even pull things out of the dirty clothes. We did! 

4. Have fun and get that Christmas photo marked off the list! 


Disclosure: I received credit at Minted.com for this review. All opinions in this post are mine alone. The $25 off $50 link is a referral link. Minted. com will give me store credit for all purchases made through this link making it a win/win for all of us! Thanks!


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Elusive Christmas Card Photo Strikes Again


First, no one would take me seriously.

Instead of posing nicely, they leaned hard on each other and poked each other and shoved each other out of the picture.

They seemed totally incapable of taking directions. 

When I moved one, everyone moved.

Chaos reigned.

And then Katherine stepped in dog poop.

While wearing her beautiful cloth TOMS.

I only got one good shot, and unfortunately, I seem to be missing one of the kids.


Friday, November 22, 2013

I am Devastated and Heartbroken

Hana Williams (Photo via Patheos)
Earlier this week, I read the feature story in Salon. Hana Williams, an Ethiopian adoptee, died after being systematically abused by her adoptive parents.

Researching Hana's story led me to the story of Lydia Schatz, a Liberian adoptee who was spanked to death by her parents.

In both cases, the parents, conservative Christians, seemed to believe they were disciplining their children as instructed in Scripture.

I'm devastated and heartbroken.

There really are no words.

Today, however, I feel compelled to speak up for these two girls who died at the hands of their adoptive parents.

What can I say that hasn't already been said? What can I add to the hundreds of news reports and magazine articles and blogs that are already posted online?

Maybe nothing. But I know that many families considering older child adoption end up here at my blog. Taking time to consider what went so terribly wrong in these adoptive families is an important step toward making sure it doesn't happen again. . . that it never happens in your family.

So if you are an adoptive parent, or if you know adoptive parents in your church, or if you are considering adoption yourself, please take some time to read the links below. Honor these girls by listening to their stories. Be informed.

Hana Williams, adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 at age 10; died May 11, 2011 at age 13. (Her age is disputed by her adoptive parents who claim she was actually older.)

Hana Williams: The tragic death of an Ethiopian adoptee, and how it could happen again - the story.

Corpses Don't Rebel: A former follower of Michael Pearl's "To Train Up a Child" reacts to the death of Hana Williams - a parent who at one time followed the same discipline system as Hana's parents speaks up.

The Legacy of Ethiopian Adoptee Hannah Williams - written by a mom with adopted Ethiopian kids.

Lydia Schatz, adopted from Liberia in 2007 at age 4; died February 5, 2010 at age 7.

Godly Discipline Turned Deadly - the story.

In which I discuss the unthinkable - written by a family friend in the days following Lydia's death. Honest and emotionally raw.

Couple sentenced for religious beating death and torture of children - the sentencing.

Tragedy in a homeschooling family - powerful words from a Christian dad.

There are some common threads in both girls' stories. Adoption. . . conservative Christianity. . . large families. . . homeschooling. . . and most specifically, following the teachings of Michael Pearl as outlined in the book, To Train Up a Child.

One thing I've noticed when things like this happen, is that if we fall into one of the groups listed above, we tend to quickly circle the wagons. We dismiss the offending families as fringe people who were not really part of our movement. Giving brief lip service to the dead child, we quickly move on to defending our rights to adopt. . . or practice our faith. . . or have a large family. . . or homeschool. . . or discipline our kids as we see fit. We worry about the fallout from the unfortunate incident.

That attitude compounds the tragedy.

Because this is not about defending our rights as adults. It's about speaking up for and standing up for defenseless children. They have to be the focus of the story.

There are so many thoughts swirling in my head, but underlying it all is a deep, deep sadness, that instead of finding love and safety in their new families, these girls were abused and tortured and killed.

And the part that makes my head hurt most of all is that I don't believe any of these parents thought they were child abusers.

They adopted older, traumatized children, and then viewed their every negative behavior as evil and rebellion.

Convinced that God had commanded them to use physical discipline, they punished every act of disobedience.

They fought to win every battle.

They killed their kids.

Heaven help us.

I've said it before. Dear Christian Parent Adopting an Older Child: Please Don't Spank.

And finally, To Train Up a Child Parenting Book Leads to Multiple Child Deaths. Some are asking if the author of this parenting book bears any moral responsibility in these children's deaths.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

She Wants a Make-Up Kit, and She's Only Eleven

Julia's Christmas wish list says make-up kit, and I have no idea what that really means. 

Look at those beautiful, make-up free faces. So natural. I have no desire to add anything to them at this point.

So, what would you do if your 11-year-old asked for a make-up kit?

Julia (left), in my opinion, is too young for any serious make-up, but certainly not too young to learn about skin care and beauty. After my initial shock at seeing make-up kit in place of toys on the list, I kind of got excited. I get to introduce her to this fun part of being a girl. 

So yes, I'm in. My 11-year-old daughter will get her first make-up kit this Christmas, and it will come from me.

As much as is possible, I want to be the one who introduces my girls to what it means to be a woman. When each of them turned nine, I bought them The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl. It's a great book about taking care of your body. It's written for young girls and progresses from taking care of their teeth and braces to healthy diet and exercise to the changes they can expect at puberty, including buying their first bra and getting their first period. I bought each girl her own personal copy, and we read it aloud, one-on-one.

So we've already read a little about skin care and make-up in the past, but back then the information was just tucked away for future use.

Sounds like Julia's decided it's time to put it into practice. And that's a good thing.


Sometimes I think we unintentionally shame young girls for their natural, God-given desires, like the desire to be beautiful. We tell them, "You're too young for make-up!" or "You aren't allowed to wear make-up until you are (whatever arbitrary age we pick) years old," without any affirmation for the rightness of their desire to be beautiful.

It would be easy for our daughters to get the idea that their innocent interest in beauty products and looking pretty is wrong.

It's not wrong.

So between now and Christmas, I'm on the hunt for a cute make-up bag and lots of goodies to put in it. I'm thinking facial cleanser, toner, and moisturizer. Sheer lip gloss.Maybe a facial mask, because those just look fun -- like a day at a fancy spa. 

One thing she made clear is that she'd like to try eye shadow. Yikes. I'm not ready to let an 11-year-old out of the house wearing eye shadow. But maybe I'll buy one of those inexpensive sets you can pick up around Christmas and tell her it's just for practicing and playing makeover with her friends. 

What do you think? Would you buy beauty products for an 11-year-old? Any ideas for what to put in her bag? Brands that are good for young girls without being too pricey? 

Waiting to hear your thoughts on this one.

Sharing today at Imperfect Prose and Ni Hao Yall.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Like Bunnies and Ostriches and Online Shopping



Several years ago, I was teaching Julia to write a paragraph where every sentence supported the topic sentence. To learn what it meant to write on topic, we did a little exercise.

Which sentence does not support the topic?

Topic: Spring

Spring is my favorite season.

The weather begins to get warmer.

Leaves appear on the trees.

Flowers start to bloom.

I like bunnies and ostriches.


It always made Julia laugh, and to this day, "I like bunnies and ostriches," is our code for random, off-topic comments.

Recently, Julia remarked that Stitch Fix is the "bunnies and ostriches" part of this blog.

In other words, what in the world does my trying on new clothes and having Julia take my picture have to do with anything?

I'm not sure, but my Stitch Fix posts are the most visited pages here at Death by Great Wall. Go figure.

And then, this November every time I sit down to write, I find myself wanting to share about shopping online. Stitch Fix was just the beginning. Then, I threw in a link for $20 off at Toms.com. Yesterday, I was raving about ThredUp. And honestly, there are still a couple of other deals I'm dying to share with you.

I'm supposed to be writing about older child adoption and family life.

And here I am. . . writing about bunnies and ostriches.

But the thing is, this is the time of year where shopping (which for me usually means shopping online) becomes a huge part of my family life. We're going to Alabama for Thanksgiving, and of course, every one of my kids has grown since last year. We wear flip-flops and shorts year round  in my neck of the woods, and all of the sudden all four kids need long pants and long sleeves and COATS. Yikes. Suddenly, saving money online becomes very on-topic for me.

And then there's Christmas. With four kids. You get the point.

So bear with me for the next few days, as I share another review or two and some of my favorite online shopping tips.

I promise to keep the older child adoption discussion going because I know that's why a lot of you are here.

But some days. . . it's just bunnies and ostriches. . . That's all I've got.

Ni Hao Yall