Greatly Blessed

Greatly Blessed

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Graduation


Tonight was Annaliese's big night.
Can't believe my baby girl is a graduate.


Grammy came up to attend the ceremony.


Love these guys.  
We've had some struggles over the last year, but I know that whatever she decides to do in life, she'll be just fine.  


First picture of all of us since the blog header shot that was taken at Thanksgiving.  


Jack Jack crashed the girls shot.  

As Paul said, "Two down, 8 to go."  That makes me tired.  
Luke will be class of 2029.
Yikes.


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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

DTC Swap Gifts


This month, I was sending to an older little girl.  I made the bow holder and the barrettes.  


Then I embroidered her new name on a couple of t-shirts that I bought at Kohl's.
(excuse the hoop marks, those will wash out)


The person who got our name in the swap sent us some books from Amazon!  


Annaliese test-read the Turtle story in Sleepytime Tales to Hannah.  (Incidently, her turtle, which was the size of a bottlecap at Christmas, is getting so big!  He's palm sized now.)  Boynton is a favorite author of mine, and this is one we didn't have yet.  The board books are on the changing table to keep little hands busy during diaper changes.  Thank you so much, TS for the lovely gift!  I can't wait to read them to Katie and Luke!  


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Tiffany Window Art

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When the opportunity to review an ART CURRICULUM for See The Light came up, I jumped at the chance.  Brianna is my artist, so I read through the list of options with her in mind.  So many neat choices!  Cartooning, Paper Jungle, Repeated Sweets, Pointillism Fruit, Dreams of Joseph, and more.  Some for ages 5 or 6 and up, some for older kids.  Each DVD retails for $14.99.

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I selected Art Projects Tiffany Window for her.  I'm so glad we got our first choice!  It was perfect for her.  Tiffany Window is recommended for age 10 and up, and Brianna is 13.  I did not feel the material was too easy or too young for her.  She absolutely learned new things from this video.

The DVD contains 4 step by step lessons, which each take about an hour to complete.  Brianna was so excited after the first lesson, she began creating masterpieces for days on end.

This drawing represents the material Brianna learned in the first lesson.

I love that the supplies list is right on the back cover of the DVD case so we knew exactly what we would need to gather up before beginning.  For Tiffany Window, the list reads:  11x14" bristol board or poster board (which I bought in a multi-pack that disappeared very quickly!), artificial flower with leaves and multiple blooms, #2 pencil, good white or gray kneaded eraser, set of broad magic markers in a variety of colors, thick black permanent marker, sharp point black permanent marker, scrap paper or newspaper.  All items that are reasonably easy to find.  The See The Light Store offers some specialty items, but we didn't need any of those for this DVD.

Working in her room with the portable DVD player.

The intention is for the lessons to be done once a week, so the video would be a week long course.  My little art fiend couldn't even wait until I got the supplies to watch the DVD, so she watched the whole thing without doing any of the work.  --Which turned out to be helpful, actually, and not a bad plan.  Having the supplies could have been a distraction, and she gained an overall perspective on the process and the finished result.  Later, she was able to watch the lessons one at a time, and work through them carefully.

It's hard to see, but she's now filled in the background with the lines for the stained glass pieces.

When I asked Brianna what her thoughts were about the DVD, she said, "It was fun!  I learned a lot about stained glass windows, like I didn't know how complicated they were.  And I learned about the rule of thirds."

The finished project

Another version


These were smaller ones she made (almost index card sized).  I like that she is incorporating what she knows about Mondrian with what she learned from the video.  A very different twist!  


As you can see, Brianna totally loved this course.  Art is an area she excels at, and it pains me to admit, it's also an area that's been sadly neglected by me when it comes to buy curriculum.  We ended up with more art projects this year "by accident" because of switching to a curriculum that incorporates them regularly, and we've all enjoyed that.  I'm realizing that she needs this.  Art is an area she shines in.  And it's okay that I'm not artistic, because she can learn from programs like this.  


Perhaps my most sincere endorsement of this product would be to tell you that more of the See The Light Art Projects DVDs are near the top of the list of things I'm planning to buy for next school year.  I just haven't decided whether I'm going to have Brianna pick a few of them or whether I'm going to spring for the whole 9 month program, yet.  But I love that she is able to develop her knowledge and her talent in this area while working completely independently.

For more reviews of this and other titles in the series, click here:
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today, I woke up not knowing that our world was about to change.  I had no idea that a single email could change so many lives.

When I sat down to read my morning emails, my heart raced.  One of the directors of the agency we used to adopt Hannah had contacted me out of the blue, because she was in China meeting kids, and she found herself thinking of us as the perfect family for a certain child.  You can call it coincidence.  You can even be pessimistic and call it self-serving, in the sense that her job is to place children.  I prefer to think of it as the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

She described her as "serious, intense, brilliant and so sweet.....  truly amazing..."  This child had similar special needs to Hannah's.  Needs we were already familiar with.  She asked if we wanted to see a picture.  She ended with, "No pressure at all, but I just had a very strong feeling about you and this child."

I emailed back at once and said yes, we would like to see pictures.  Then I called Paul and told him about her.

We didn't actually get pictures until June 4th, in line at Disneyland.  Jack and I were waiting to go on Soaring over California the first time I saw this:


Be still my heart!  What a lovely baby!  Looking back at my emails, I have to laugh.  I had a homestudy agency lined up and the application downloaded 5/30.  Paul and I talked and talked about it, and on on 6/23, he took me out to lunch, looked across the table at me, and said, "Yes."  I knew exactly what he meant, and got the ball rolling as soon as we got home.


When we hit the one year mark since officially starting her adoption, we will be in China with her.  My sweet little girl!  I'm so excited to meet her and get to know her.  I feel amazed that, without even trying to, we ended up with a baby younger than Hannah was when we met her (by almost a year).  I guess I just always felt like only the most worthy families get the youngest babies, and to be bringing home two little ones is such a privilege.


I look at this little girl and think, "What if she hadn't sent that email?"  We were not looking to adopt.  We would not have just run across her.  We had been talking about starting the process for a little boy in the fall or maybe a little later.  We would have missed this.


Next time you feel prompted to do or say something, and you hesitate, please remember Katie.  Likely, some other lucky family would have found her file by now and be working toward bringing her home, but WE would have missed out on her!

Please pray for Katie and her nanny in the top pictures.  I can just see the love between them.  It's going to take a lot of work to transfer those affections, and we are prepared to deal with some heavy grieving as she loses all that is familiar to her.


Look at her!  How did I get so lucky?  I know she wasn't "born for me," but I am honored and humbled that God saw this little one in need of a family and orchestrated events to bring us together.  Our agency could have been partnered with any orphanage in China, but they are matched with hers. Lord, help me be the best Mama I can possibly be for her.


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Monday, May 27, 2013

Huzzah!

I've been on pins and needles, wondering if we made the right call by booking our tickets to lock in the lower rate.  Last night before going to sleep, I got an email from R in China, saying we could now book our flights.  HUGE sigh of relief.  We gambled, and we won.  No extra costs.  Whew!

So here's how it's going to go:  (at least in theory!)

6/11  I fly from Sac to Seattle to Beijing
6/12  I fly to Nanchang.
6/13  I meet Luke for the first time.
6/15  Paul flies out of Sac
6/16  Luke and I fly to Nanning, Guangxi
6/17  in the wee hours, Paul arrives
6/17  Paul and Luke and I meet Katie for the first time.
6/23  the 4 of us fly to Guangzhou
6/27  Consulate appointment
6/29  we all fly home

I am insanely excited, and I can finally write, in ink, my countdown on the calendar and adjust the paper chain Brianna made me last week.  


I'm finally, really, actually going to China!  Squee!  I'm starting to think about packing for ME, since the babies have been packed for weeks.  I'm not sure there's any room left for my stuff, lol, so Katie's backpack at the very least is going to have to hitch a ride with Daddy in his suitcase.  

I've been busy making last minute arrangements.  Katie has her first appointment at Shriners in July.  Our check from Reece's Rainbow is on it's way to our agency.  (Additional donations can still be made through our PayPal button on our fundraiser page.)  And I'm almost finished with the Operations Manual that stays here with the children so that my amazing step mother has all the info she needs to manage this crazy crew in our absence.  

The one slight downer was another email from China, letting us know that our package to Luke had been delivered to the orphanage.  That's it.  No way of knowing if it got to LUKE or not.  No answers to our questions.  And most disappointing, no new pictures.  Oh well.  In 17 days, I can take all the pictures of him I want to, right?  Can not wait!  


Poor guy.  He has no idea his world is about to be turned upside down and shaken.  Please pray for him.  That God would prepare his heart to be receptive to us, and that our transition would be bearable.  I'm a little afraid of being on my own with a totally miserable little guy, but I know it's just a few days until Paul and I will be doing this together.  I can do it, regardless of what I'm presented with, but it would be nice if it wasn't horrible, you know?  I don't want to be so exhausted that I'm running on E when we get Katie.  I want to have enough of me left to be excited and engaged.  She deserves her own special day.  Maybe in addition to praying for Luke, you could pray for Paul and I, as well as Katie?  Thank you.  


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Weekly Wrap Up - Antarctica week one

Originally, when I read through the list of countries we'd be studying this year, I thought, "Antarctica?  What is there to learn about Antarctica?  There's nothing there!"  

I was wrong.

It's the forgotten continent in many ways.  In fact, Sam told me he "corrected" his teacher when she told her class that Australia was the least populated continent.  I can't imagine Teach was too thrilled about that, ya know?  

There is no currency, no government, no religion, no capitol, no flag.
So what did we do this week?  


Well, the kids colored coloring sheets for the fair.


Studying about arctic and antarctic animals, we did an experiment to illustrate the insulating power of blubber.  


We froze a block of ice in a mixing bowl to use as our "iceberg."  
Then we put a thick layer of shortening inside a vinyl glove to represent blubber.
Then we put both hands on the iceberg; one hand on the blubber and one hand on the ice, to see which one was colder.  

It's one thing to read, "Blubber helps keep penguins warm," but it's way more memorable when you can feel the difference yourself.  


I love it when my kids say, "Can I go get a magnifying glass?"  
Let me think about that... "YES!"
Eli discovered lines and bubbles in his ice.


Someone dropped our iceberg, which broke into bergs and growlers all over the kitchen floor, but we still managed to float the largest piece in the sink, and were surprised at just how much of the berg is below the surface of the water, compared to how much is above the water line.  


Since Antarctica has no flag, we designed our own flags for it.  
Brianna's stripes represent the land under the ice, and the upper right is an iceberg in the water.  The upper left is 2 types of penguins.  


Eli showing his draft version, and a rotten picture of Jack with his painted flag.  I told them they could use any media for this project.  I was expecting someone to use cut stripes of construction paper, but no one did.  Jack's flag incorporates bits of the flags from some of the several countries that maintain bases on Antarctica!  I thought that was pretty clever.  We were all a little surprised to find India on that list.  


And Eli's final version.  He printed the penguins and pasted them on.

Now we're looking forward to our LAST SCHEDULED WEEK OF SCHOOL.  
I'm ready.
Ready to be done.
Ready to see how many more countries they can locate on their post test maps than their pretest maps.  
Ready to close the book on spelling.  
Ready to cancel our monthly Aleks subscriptions.  
Ready to open the last Little Passports package.  
Ready to watch March of the Penguins and call it school.  

As much fun as this year has been,
and it really has been fun,
I'm ready for a little break from school.

Fortunately, I'm just as excited about next year.  
I hope to be able to order our curriculum for next year in July so I have plenty of time to create a better planner/record keeping solution for us.  I've always used a teacher plan book, but that wouldn't have worked this year, so I ended up just saving all my marked up photocopies in a folder, but I'd really like to make something a little more tailor made to our needs for next year.  I have a couple ideas, I just need the time to execute them.  I am hoping to spend some quality time at Staples concocting my masterpiece.  

In other news, we found The Dress for Annaliese's graduation yesterday.  Glad to have that settled, she graduates on Thursday!  


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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Don't try this at home

In the interest of chronicling our journey for posterity, I thought I'd better write down how the travel arrangements worked out.

Wednesday morning, while we were homeschooling, I got a phone call on the house line.  I was a tad annoyed at the interruption, because I thought it would be something like TeleStaff (Paul's automated overtime phone calls) or a telemarketer, or an appointment reminder.  I was wrong.  It was our agency.

When she said, "This is L, how are you?"  I answered, "If you're calling why I think you're calling, I'm doing GREAT!"  She laughed and said, "You've got TA!"  She then gave me the BAD news.  Dragon Boat festival would close all the Civil Affairs offices, so we couldn't leave until 6/14, at the earliest.  I specifically asked if both Guangxi and Jiangxi were definitely closed, and she said, "I'm 90% sure, but I can have R check...?"  Since I'd been hoping to leave around 6/2, I told her, "Please do."

I then contacted my friend, a Disney travel agent, and gave her our details to see what she could come up with for international flights.  On a whim, I also sent the info to the agent we used when we traveled for Hannah.  The agent we used last time was able to get us the better price, and put tickets on hold for us, since we'd been instructed, DO NOT BUY TICKETS YET.

The next morning, Thursday, I got an email saying that R was able to get us in to the Civil Affairs office in Nanchang, Jiangxi during the week of Dragon Festival, so if we wanted to pick up Luke first, we could leave 6/11.  It's only 3 days earlier, I realize, but I was TOTALLY thrilled!  Not to mention, by having Luke Day at the end of one week, and Katie Day on Monday of the following week, we're actually shaving a few days off the trip.  Which saves money.  Which is a very good thing.

She then asked if she could request our CA on certain dates, and I, of course, gave my consent.  Here's the annoying thing about all this:  Every.Single.Thing. takes another day, because she emails during our day and China's night, then their in country person, R, emails during HIS day and OUR night.  She continued to say, DO NOT BUY TICKETS YET.

I then took our new dates to our travel agent and had her re-work the flight arrangements.  The final verdict came back, Paul's tickets $1,530 for Alaska air to Seattle and Hainan air to Beijing, and $360 for China Southern air to Nanning.  My tickets would be $1526.  Katie's flight home would be $747.70, and Luke's would be $132.20.  Katie has a child's ticket, and Luke is flying as a lap baby, because he'll still be a hair under 2 when we come home, thank goodness!  That alone saves $600 bucks.

Friday's morning email confirmed our Consulate Appointment for 8:30 on 6/27.  Which means we can fly home on 6/29.  Unfortunately, it also said, DO NOT BUY TICKETS YET.  L wants to make sure that R can coordinate "gotcha day" and adoption day appointments in both provinces before we pay for tickets.  I emailed our travel accommodation forms to R, the in-China guy.

Later Friday, our travel agent emailed and said that the hold she placed would expire on Saturday, and we needed to fish or cut bait (but in much nicer terms, of course!).  Not realizing that it was FRIDAY, I emailed back and told her that we were waiting to hear back from China the following day.  Sweet woman that she is, she didn't call me on my ditz-brain moment, but that could be because she'd just accidentally sent me someone else's itinerary, and maybe we're on the same wavelength?

It wasn't until on the way home from a gender reveal party for twins that I suddenly realized it was Friday in conjunction with the ramifications that would have for us.  I fired off another email to R, letting him know we needed a decision asap so we could save our rates.

Saturday morning's email indicated that something was lost in translation, when he said, if you and your husband are going to different provinces, why don't you just wait until 6/17 for both "gotcha" days.  I emailed back at 5:43 a.m. our time saying, no, that's not what we're doing, I'm doing the first province alone, and Paul is coming later for the second and third phases of the trip, and do we have his blessing to book flights?  He emailed back about 45 minutes later and said, "Could you wait a little if possible, I have not heard from Civil Affairs because it is the weekend here."  Which I knew, of course, but I really wanted the answer to be different.

Two hours later, our travel agent called.  If she released the holds, Paul's ticket across the ocean would shoot up to over $2,000.  We had until 2 p.m. Texas time.

I knew I was not "supposed to" book the flights yet, but I decided that given the choice between 1) MAYBE we'll have to change something and pay fees, and 2) absolutely paying several hundred dollars more...  I booked the flights.

I don't think I can go through this process again.  The paperwork, the wait, the minefield of pushing each piece of the process through different agencies, offices, governments.  I know it's all worth it in the end, but I just don't think I have it in me to pour this much of myself into the system, when I have so many people here who are counting on me to focus on them.

Sitting here, Saturday morning, I'm obsessing over whether I did the right thing or not, which is silly, because I know I won't get Official Word from my agency until Tuesday because of the US holiday Monday, although I'm holding out some hope that I might potentially hear from R by Monday morning our time because it's NOT a holiday in China, so he should be able to book those appointments.

So now, I'm going to get OFF the computer and get ready to go run errands with the girls, hoping to distract myself by focusing on the PRESENT.  Even though I've already spent $4,000 today, we're off to the post office, the library, and a little bit of shopping.  Annaliese still needs a graduation dress, and it's less than a week away.  Oops.

Only 17 more days until I leave!  I think.


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sacramento County Fair for 5 people on $1


FREE parking


FREE admission


and FREE educational activities?  


Sounds like a field trip to me!  


Someone from homeschool park day arranged a school tour for us, and we had a lovely day filled with military vehicles, animals, giant bubbles, and more.


Here's our $1 purchase.  The kids got flavored honey sticks, 4 for a buck.  


We brought a picnic lunch and ate in a quiet corner in the shade.


Then it was more fun, including the "boot camp" obstacle course the army sponsored.


We watched more than one kid go down in the tires, but Eli did great.


Jack just happened to be wearing his Air Force shirt from Lackland AFB.  


A quiet moment while the brothers were in line for something.  


Jack doing the Army crawl section.


Some other large, khaki armored vehicle.  They all started to run together at this point, but the "army guys" running the stations were mostly all very nice and interacted with the kids well.  This one was ready for a break.  ;)  


Brianna in the gunner's turret


and Eli.

You know how the end of the school year has some "fun days" where nothing much happens in the way of book work?  This was one of those.  But I think learning happened anyway, so we're counting it as school.  

In other news, we don't have exact travel dates yet, but it looks like I may leave a couple days earlier than we thought!  It seems Luke's province may allow us to receive him on 6/13, instead of waiting until the following Monday.  I hope to have dates finalized tomorrow or the next day so we can book tickets and such.  Brianna made me a paper chain yesterday, and I'm holding my breath to see if I'll get to take a few extra links off soon!  


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