Monday, December 17, 2012

Together - Our Story

Ours is the story of five broken people.  Incomplete without each other.  It's a story that crosses oceans, that breaks down language barriers, and brings five unlikely characters together as a family. 

I will be forever grateful for the wild ride that was this year. For the angels that restored my faith when I needed it the most.  For the man ever by my side, gripping my hand as we took this leap together.  And for the countless prayers that carried us to our "happily ever after."

Christmastime is different this year.  There is a sparkle of pure joy in our lives that I never knew was waiting for us halfway around the world.  I'm so glad it found us. 

So here's the story of our year.  Of five broken people.  Incomplete without each other.

 I hope you enjoy a glimpse into our journey home. 

(A HUGE thank you to my dad for putting together this video for us. Thanks for helping us keep these awesome memories.)  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happiness is...

...meeting Santa for the very first time.
And no, the video is not in fast forward.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Paying it Forward...Holiday Style

Hi Everyone,

During our adoption, we had, and continue to have, a tremendous amount of support from our "village." We have been so fortunate for the people in our lives who wrapped their arms around us and boosted us along our journey.  This email is my attempt at "paying it forward" to another family who dreams of being parents to a precious little girl in Russia.  Although close to 1 in 3 families express interest in adopting at some point or another, the financial burden of the process prevents most from actually doing so. 

So here's the deal.  I'm hosting an online Scentsy party through another adoptive friend, Melissa.  She decided to be a consultant for the sole purpose of donating all of her profits to families fundraising for adoption.  How cool is that?  For this party we're raising money for the Brower Family.  You can check out their website and their story at their blog if you'd like. They are a family taking the leap to adopt and figuring out the finances as they go. 

The party starts today and runs the next 2 weeks.  It's all done online, but if the website is confusing or you'd like help ordering, just email or Facebook me.  

I'm a sale/clearance/always-looking-for-a-deal kinda shopper, so what caught my eye is the "Combine and Save" section of the site.  

The Fragrance Foams are buy-one get-one-free (2 for $6) and the Scentsy Buddies are buy-one get-one-free as well (2 for $25).  The Fragrance Foams would be a cute stocking stuffer for adults, and the buddies for the kiddos! 

Here's the link in case you missed it above:
Even if it's a $6 purchase, consider doing a little to help a lot! 

Thanks for still reading and for your time! Happy Shopping!


Monday, November 12, 2012

Bedtime Snuggles

Our books are finished and he's laying sleepy-eyed in his footy pajamas.  Out of the blue, he wraps his arms around me, gives me a kiss and says:


"Yah buddy?"

"Mama, I'm thankful for you."
You too, buddy.  You too. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Orphan Sunday

“We learned that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes…” – David Platt

Today is Orphan Sunday.  So I'm sharing with you the three faces I couldn't ignore. The pictures I saw that made my insides ache to pick up the phone and do something about it.  

8 months, and a few papers later, we took a short plane trip halfway across the world to meet the orphans that changed my world. 
 First meeting with sweet and timid Joel

 (Stella actually wanted nothing to do with me for the first 2 trips)

And Liv sat scared in my lap the whole visit

And you know the rest of the story. Orphans no more, adoption changed us all.  Jay and I have witnessed the joyful chaos of three souls coming alive.  

 Our days and hearts and hands are full. 

I wake up every morning to the family I always dreamed of.  (Admittedly, I'm not sure they spoke Russian in my dreams, but that's just a very minor detail...)

If you're thinking about it, make that phone call.  Adopt. Foster. Mentor. Sponsor a child.  Go on the mission trip you've never been brave enough to take.  Volunteer locally.  Pray.  Follow a blog or a FB page advocating for waiting children.  Get to know some of the faces you can't ignore.  They'll change your life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

20 Questions

1. What is something Mama always says to you?
Joel: Stay at our house.
Stella: I love loo.
Liv: I love you.

2. What makes Mama happy?
Joel: When Papa's at work.
Stella: Hugs.
Liv:Mama happy

3. What makes Mama sad?
Joel: If the bad guys get Joel.
Stella: This (and makes a sad face)
Liv: Mama no sad, Mama goo-girl.

4. How does Mama make you laugh?
Joel: Smile on your face.
Stella: Smile.
Liv:Mama silly.

5. How old is Mama?
Joel: Bigger.
Stella: 6. Mama you 6? (holds up 3 fingers)

 6. How tall is Mama?
Joel: Really bigger.
Stella: Bigger.  (Stands up on tiptoes)
Liv: (Nods head)

7. What is Mama's favorite thing to do?
Joel: Cleaning.
Stella: Papa.
Liv: Mama silly.

8. What does Mama do when you're not around?
Joel: Crying. 
Stella: Mama our house. Stay here. 
Liv: See ya soon - buh bye

9. What's Mama's favorite toy?
Joel: Baby pants. (What in the world does that mean?)
Stella: Cars. 

10. What is Mama really good at?
Joel: Playing bad guys with Joel.
Stella: Colors.
Liv: (walked away for 10 minutes)

11. What is Mama not very good at?
Joel: Yell at Dottie barking.
Stella: Mama good.

12. What does Mama do for her job?
Joel: Mama go in the car.
Stella: Just like Papa.

13. What is Mama's favorite food?
Joel: Macaroni.
Stella: Supper. I like supper. 
Liv: Appa (Apple)

14. When you go to sleep, what do Mama and Papa do?
Joel: Leave and I can't hear it.
Stella: Tools. Just like Dadushkas. 
Liv: Mama food - hungee! 

15. If Mama were a cartoon character, who would she be?
Joel: Rapunzel.
Stella: Spiderman. Uh-huh. Papa good job, Spiderman.  Papa give Mama high five!
Liv:Mama I HUNGEE!!! 

16. What do you and Mama do together?
Joel: Stir the juice. 
Stella: Play toys. 
Liv: Hungee. 

17. How are you and Mama the same?
Joel: Lay down in bed.
Stella: Big girls.
Liv: Food.

18. How are you and Mama different?
Joel: Ears.
Stella: Cartoons. 

19. How do you know Mama loves you?
Joel: Mama loves you when Joel smiles.
Stella: For toys. 
Liv: Yummy food. (I gave her a banana)

20. What do you think of the Hawkeyes?
Joel: Stinky Hawkeyes.
Stella: Hawkeyes poop.
Liv: Ewwww tinky. 
The girls are saying "cyclones" not glaring at you.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Unca Jackson

Hi Everyone. This is Jay, the husband of your normal blogger. I'm going to interrupt Kelsey's sweet, poignant blogs for a quick tale about Joel. But first, some history:

On the summer in which I experienced the scariest night of my life, my cousin Neal was tasked with babysitting my brother Dallas and me during a family trip to Chicago. We ate pizza and rented a movie: Michael Jackson's Thriller music video. Oh. My. Was that a werewolf I just saw? In a lettermen's jacket? I've watched countless movies since my first experience with Michael Jackson's classic, but nothing has scared me as much as Thriller scared me. I was terrified. Dallas was terrified. Right after the video ended it was our bedtime. We begged Neal not to turn off the lights. After all, werewolves are obviously scared of the dark. No one ever sees a werewolf, or any monster for that matter, in the light.

Fast forward to today. We went to my in-laws' house for supper tonight. At some point someone pulled out an iPod. On said iPod was the Michael Jackson Thriller video. Joel sat on Kelsey's lap and watched it. Kelsey, who lived in an MTV-free bubble growing up, had somehow managed to experience nearly 30 years of life without partaking in the introductory werewolf scene. Suddenly, Michael Jackson's letter jacket starts to rip, and his fingernails grow into yellow claws, and his eyes turn yellow, and his whiskers grow out, and his teeth, oh god his terrifying teeth, grow sharp and then sharper and then sharper yet until Michael Jackson officially becomes the most lifelike and terrifying werewolf ever put on screen. Joel's eyes grew wide. The terror my brother and I experienced as a child (minus the possibly deranged lunatic cousin portion) now lived in Joel.

The rest of the night at my in-laws' house passed by just fine. When we got home, that's when we knew we were in for a long night. Joel sat at the table and ate his before bed meal (because he REFUSES to eat a full meal at a normal mealtime--stories for another day). He started to talk to us in his cute English/Russian hybrid language about monsters. The conversation then turned to the scariest monster of all: Unca Jackson. That's when Kelsey and I officially won our Parent of the Year awards for the wonderful lies we told our child:

Joel: Where is Unca Jackson now?

Kelsey: He is dead.

Joel: Okay. But in the cartoon, Unca Jackson comes out of the ground.

Kelsey: Good point. He is in the ground in California though.

Joel: The circle map. Show me California.

At this point I went and got a globe out of Joel's room. Before I sat down, Kelsey told me to tell him Australia was California.

Jay: See Joel (pointing to Australia) this is California. This is where ALL the monsters live. See all this blue around Australia? That's water. It's a well known fact monsters can't swim. Nor can they drive in boats or airplanes.

Joel: Car?

Jay: Silly Joel, you can't take a car on the water.

Joel laughs. Then, for some reason that probably made sense to him asked: Where's Wolverine?

Jay: He's in California too (pointing at Australia again).

Joel: Wolverine fight monsters?

Jay: Sure.

Joel: What's this (pointing to Canada)?

Jay: That's Canada. That country is filled with people you'll make fun of for the rest of your life.

Joel: Monsters in Canada?

The conversation then continued. I tried to convince him that Unca Jackson was just a pretend werewolf and he was wearing a mask. But the video was so convincing, that Joel mimicked the entire transformation for me. He explained that no mask was put on. Unca's face just turned scary. No gloves were put on. Unca's hands just grew big claws. There was nothing I could do to convince him that a zombie werewolf was not going to end him tonight.

We went to bed. I read him Cat in the Hat. I read him some book about a dirty dog. And I read him a light-hearted tale about barnyard animals singing. Then it was time to sleep. I went and sat in the chair in his room, as I do every night, while Joel stared at the ceiling, petrified. He'd occasionally shoot up and say, "Papa leave cogda (when) Joel sleeping and Unca Jackson bed boom RAAR." I showed him the videos of Michael Jackson applying make-up to become the werewolf. It worked for about three minutes until Joel fell asleep and then shot immediately awake because of the monsters in his dreams.

Finally I had to call in Mama. While Papas are good tactical ground support for potential monster raids, only a mother can soothe the beating heart of a scared five year old. That's why it is now 11:30, and I'm writing a blog while Kelsey cradles Joel to sleep. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Because. (3 months home)

Here we are.  
Our family.  
Happily married, for sure, but definitely something missing. A little banged and bruised from all we had just endured. I think Jay would agree that we were mostly hopeful that our dreams were about to come true. But we were also entering into totally uncharted territory and the daunting journey we had ahead was a little, um... scary. 

I would also lie if I said the thought, "Why me? Why us?" never crossed my mind back then.  I tried not to say it out loud, basically because I knew it was a selfish little thought I needed to keep to myself.

But our "village" was already quietly coming out of the woodwork to boost us along the way. And my amazingly talented and super supportive friend, Ashley, helped us capture some pictures to send to our adoption agency in hopes to help us find our family. 
-   -   -    -    -    -   -   -   -   -   -    -    -    -   -   -   -   -   -    -    -    -   -   -   -   -   -    -    -    -   -   - 

And then there's "us" one year later. Three months together as a family.  

I cried when I first saw these pictures. (You can see that Ashley Schrage is still rockin' the village with her gorgeous gift of photography!)

Somehow, miraculously, here we are.  We have our family. 

And to Me from a year ago with the, "Why me? Why us?":

Because. Because. Because. (You impatient fool!)

Monday, October 1, 2012


It makes me cringe.  The "Mom" count.  You know the one.  I'm counting to three so you do what you were supposed to do before I started counting. Yah, that's it. 
I assure you he's always on his best behavior.
 So one day, in an event totally out of character for any of my darling children, one of the knuckleheads (err, angels) was doing something he or she wasn't supposed to do.

And then it happened.  
Me? Misbehave? Never.
"Darling, sweetheart, dearest love, please stop torturing your sister."

Still in shock that a child of mine would actually misbehave, I was even more taken aback when it didn't stop after I had just asked them so politely. 

"I need you stop that behavior, it's inappropriate."  
This angel can do no wrong.
And then it came.


OMG. Did that just come out of my mouth? And did I just hold up the fingers for extra emphasis? No, not me, I wouldn...

But out of nowhere, his eyes got big, he stopped what he was doing and said,

"Mama! Stop! Please don't say THREE!" 

Superheroes/Mischief Makers. Yes, Stella has a plastic hammer in her hand.  But she's the perfect Thor. And yes, Putin, my Russian son is now Captain America.
What? WHY?!  This is ri-gosh-darn-diculous (Yep, I have totally G-rated thoughts).  Why do you, child of mine, care if I say the number three?  And why when I count out loud and put my fingers in front of my face do you suddenly change your behavior?

Oh you know that #3, he really means business.  Grr. 

Here I am exasperated with life after too many 1-2-3s. Actually I was just resting my eyes while the kids took a bath. Is that frowned upon?
So long story short, I hate myself for it, but I do the  3-count now. Like, frequently.  But it works,  dammit. 

Oh shit, so much for "G-rated".

Don't judge.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Family Age: 2 months

Sometimes when you're in the muck of it all, it's hard to see how far you've traveled.

Our family is 2 months old.  And all things considered, we've all grown leaps and bounds together in our 8 weeks. 

We still have days that are pure chaos, where Jay comes home from work and I need lock myself in the bathroom to pee in private for a moment of peace for fear of my sanity (whoah that was a loooong sentence). But those days are getting fewer and far between. 

Stella's first night of Kindermusik

We're still eating crayons. 

Joel learned how to ride his bike without training wheels with absolutely no assistance.

Cuddle bugs on the couch
Yes, we're still obsessed with Batman. 
We're sleeping through the night in our own beds.  Lock down has been lifted and we're meeting some friends.  We're comfortable with boundaries.  We don't scream bloody murder when Mom leaves for 5 minutes. The girls take a nap every day in their room. We ate at a freaking restaurant...just the five of us!  We know Dad goes to work and comes home.  We wait for affirmation of "they're a friend" when a new person approaches.  Stella is speaking mostly-English and part Elmo.  Livvy now says at least 4-5 times more in English than we ever heard her speak in Russian.  Joel is eagerly learning English as well, and loves repeating lines from his favorite books.  Good, good, stuff folks. 

There's lots more to tell.  Better stories, more eloquent ways to capture what I want to say.  But I'm exhausted tonight.  And ya know what? Sometimes that's part of it, too. : )

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


"Everybody looks so happy!"

I'm told this a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. 

Yep, we're happy.  Yep, the kids are doing great.  They are doing amazingly well considering they've spent less than two months with us. 

On the flipside, we have some pretty tough moments. Some really bad days. Fine, let's be real, we've even had some all-around crappy weeks. 
Why am I awake?
But our kids, especially Joel because of his age, are dealing with some big, raw, nasty feelings from their past. Things that little people shouldn't have experienced. Abandonment, loss, distrust, neglect, more loss. 

And Joel? He's been in a funk. Acting out. Not eating. Clinging. Crying. Regressing. Behaviors we expected, behaviors we "understand", but behaviors that are definitely hard to work through. 

We finally broke down a wall yesterday and he told me he felt scared.  Scared that we were going to leave him.  (Thank you Lord for Google Translate) Then crumpled in my lap and let me rock him to sleep. 

And you know what sucks? I can't fix it. Not right away. I can do nothing more than assure him we'll always be a family, that we're going to be together, and prove that to him day after day after day. Has he heard that before? Maybe. And that sucks, too.  I know we'll earn his trust.  But I want to fix his hurt. Now. 

This week has required extreme patience. I have pulled every tip and advice from my bag of tricks. I was beginning to feel pretty pissed at how my sucky bag of tricks was not the least bit helpful. 

I needed out of the house. Out of Funkville.

So we went to the park.

And there it was.  A glimmer of hope.  A peek of sunshine through the clouds that he and I both needed (and apparently Jay, too).

He met a boy.

And made a friend.

(The boy's face was not disfigured, I just didn't feel it appropriate to put some stranger's kid on our blog)
They ran and jumped and chased each other.  They shared his cape and looked at the cars on his buddy's t-shirt. And an hour later when it was time to leave, I asked him if he made a friend.  My boy smiled from ear to ear and puffed out his chest.

"Dah, friend!" 

And I cried. I sent Jay the picture and he cried, too. (Sorry for ousting you, Jay.)

We needed a win this week. All of us. And it came in the unexpected package of a boy at the park.

So we're gonna take this friend thing and run with it. Maybe set up a playdate or two with a neighbor.  I can't fix his hurt, but I can help him find some new happiness.

We're gonna be okay, buddy.  We're gonna be okay. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


"You two look exactly alike!" a random stranger told Jay at the gas station.

How did you reply? I asked when he got back into the car and told me the story.

I told him "thanks," smiled, and we went on our way. 

You know, I think "thanks" is enough. 

The first day we met Joel.  His caretakers went on and on about how he looked like his "Papa" 
Trip #2 to visit Joel. Don't you just want to see a smile on that face?

Sure do love this boy.
This dude was definitely meant for our family. : )

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Day in the Life of the Naked Lala

Little Miss Livvy has many dolls she cares for. She calls them La-las.  She is a very attentive mini-Mama to almost all of her babies.  But not to naked Lala. 

Naked Lala had a real rough day today. 

Here's naked Lala in all her nudity embarrassed on the garage floor.  

 Then she got run over by bikes in the driveway several times. Joel found it hilarious.

 She took a nap in the backyard after she was flung off the swings.

 Was almost eaten by the ferocious Dottie after a Fruit Loops activity. (Note: Those are Lala's clothes, she has not always been a naked baby)

 Here Olivia sings to Lala before chucking her down the stairs.

 Time to eat Lala. She later fell off the stool.

Finally, Lala ends her day under a wet washrag on a stepstool. 

The sun will come up tomorrow, Lala.  Maybe it will be a better day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

We Took a Little Trip...

The natives were restless.  I sensed it was a case of the Happy Birthday Hangovers.  You know the kind, when you eat a lot of cupcakes and drink one too many Koolaids? Yep, that's the one. So call me crazy, but I thought it was time for a road trip.

So we picked up the baby whisperer...

...and headed to the cabin for a day trip.  It was the perfect getaway full of many "firsts"...

First pedicures

First walk on the trails

First time fishing

First exaggerated fish tales. 

 First chip sandwich. (Honestly, who's parenting this child?)

First gator rides. 

First time swimming in a lake. 

And checking out girls with Uncle Joeker. (Kidding, kidding) 

And we ended the day with a first cuddly boat ride.  

I know we'll spend many wonderful days at the cabin, but watching these "firsts" will always be extra special to me.  It's like seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes. 

Thanks Mom and Dad for the invite, and to Uncle Joeker for riding in the back of the van with the turbulent trio. Turns out a little fun in the sun and some fresh air were all we needed to cure the birthday blues!