Archive for December, 2010

A crazy Christmas weekend

We spent a long weekend celebrating Christmas with lots of family! It was crazy but I loved every single second.

We woke up and celebrated quietly together because we knew we’d be gone all weekend. We went small this year, just stockings (with a few gifts that didn’t fit). I got candy, slippers, the Glee Christmas soundtrack and lots of other fun stuff!

Mike got a coffee mug, coffee, some sweaters, and some other stuff I can’t remember.

We even got some treats for the kitties.

That evening we picked up my niece and nephew, Caleigh and Kyron, to spend the night. They are CUH-RAZY, but we had a lot of fun. Even made some Christmas cookies!

We packed up for a weekend away, and made sure to bring along Santa’s magic bag full of gifts!

Our first party was with my mom’s side of the family. We ordered pizza, ate way too many snacks, had a Euchre tournament, sang carols and exchanged presents. And by the way, my babies were so incredibly cute in their Christmas outfits!

Next we went to Mike’s mom’s and hung out with her and Mike’s brother. It was the exact opposite of the previous party. With my family, there were long stretches of time when I didn’t even see Mike. People were all over the house doing a thousand different things. At his mom’s, it was four of us sitting in the living room making small talk. I really like his family, but it’s so strange to celebrate with a small family when mine has always been huge.

We spent the night at Mike’s mom’s, and in the morning we had Breakfast Part I: mixed berries with yogurt, and homemade blueberry scones. We opened gifts, then had Breakfast Part II: bacon, sausage and eggs. I fell asleep, and by the time I woke up, it was time to head to the next party.

In the afternoon we hung out with my mom and immediate family at my brother’s. Again, it was chaos, but a lot of fun. We had Breakfast Part II: french toast, egg casserole and mimosas. The kids were buried in gifts, and the adults played a fun game to exchange gift cards. I have to show you Scarlet’s other adorable Christmas outfit.

I can’t even handle her cuteness! Anyway, that evening we hung out at my dad’s. Nothing official, but a few of us spent the night, which we always love to do. And in the morning everyone else came over. We made a delicious dinner including BYO steaks, exchanged some gifts and made each other laugh a lot. We left that evening and came home.

It was a spectacular holiday season, and I hope you all enjoyed yours just as much! Next up, New Year’s Eve!

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My husband is such a good guy. At my family Christmas party on Sunday, they were looking for someone to play Santa and pay a visit to the kids. All the other guys said no — the dads and uncles and cousins, they all refused. But when someone asked Mike, he didn’t even hesitate.

He was a pretty awesome Santa, too. Most of the kids were big fans.

Others not so much. Well, mostly just Brady.

I love that he’s willing to do this stuff, and that he’s such a natural and awesome uncle, and that he fits right into my family like he belonged there all along.

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Maybe baby, maybe not

Yet another adoption info meeting. This time we thought we were going to a meeting hosted by the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange that just happened to take place at a Catholic Charities location. Um, no. Turns out it was a Catholic Charities adoption meeting that just happened to have a brochure or two on MARE. It was fine except so much of the meeting was a repeat of what we’ve heard a few times already — information on what adoption is, what it means, what it takes to be an adoptive parent, etc. Finally we learned a bit about what Catholic Charities does specifically. Good news is you don’t need to be Catholic to use their services! In fact, you don’t have to be Catholic to work there. Our facilitator mentioned they have people of all religions employed at the organization — they even keep a copy of the Koran in their reflection room — and the only person required to be Catholic is the Executive Director. So already I’m liking this place.

Despite the fact that it was only a few days before Christmas, there were 8 other couples at the meeting. We were asked to say our preferred age range, and about 50% said two or under, another 25% said 5 and under, and couple were willing to go a little older. Only one person said ages 6-11. Mike and I said we were intersted in newborn to young schoolage (I didn’t get specific). One thing we’re realizing is that at this point in our lives, we don’t want a child older maybe 6. I know there are so many children 7-18 who need homes, but we’re only 30! Adopting an 8 year old would be like having a child when I was 22. I wasn’t ready for a baby at 22 and I’m not ready for an 8 year old at 30. I think maybe someday we could add an “older child” to our brood — but most likely only when our other children are a little older and we, ourselves, are a little older.

One thing we learned is that if you adopt from the foster care system (as opposed to a voluntary adoption by a birthmother), there is essentially no cost. There are no agency fees, and the minimal costs, like a new birth certificate, can often be reimbursed. Plus many children over the age of 3 are eligible for a monthly subsidy, which Mike pointed out would be a great way to start a college fund! Or at least might free up some money from other expenses (if the subsidy is earmarked for certain things) that would more easily allow us to save for college.

What is becoming quite apparent is that the need is with older children, not infants. That’s kind of a duh, but there is such a stark difference between adopting an older child from the foster care system and adopting an infant from a birthmother. A huge difference in need, in time, in cost. And for us the point of adopting is to fill a need, not just have a baby.

So on the way home we had a long discussion, as we usually do after these meetings. Right now we’re thinking we might like to pursue the idea of adopting a sibling set, preferrably with both (or all?!) under age 6. And if someday we think we want to actually parent a baby, we can decide if it’s worth pursuing.

Our next step is to attend a few more info meetings. By the end of January we’ll pretty much have explored all the options available in our area. Then we want to get settled somewhere. We’d like to be in the community we plan to stay in for a few years before we pursue adoption, so we’ll need to decide where that is and what that means for us. We’ll also need to decide what route to pursue and which agency to work with. And then the process begins!

Disclaimer: No actual decisions have been made. These are just thoughts, ideas, introspections. Everybody just calm down! (Smiley face emoticon.)

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Happy holidays!

Many people, in the year they are married, send out a holiday card with a photo from their wedding. And it’s great — we loved the one we got from my sister Emily! But we didn’t do that. For a few reasons: 1) We lost our wedding photo discs during the move, and 2) we just don’t roll like that. Instead, this is what we sent out to select family and friends:

Apologies to anyone who probably should have received a card and did not. We ordered 25, and the next option was 50. We figured we’d take a handful of people off our list rather than think of 15-20 more in order to make the larger purchase worthwhile.

So this is for everyone! Happy holidays!

PS: Interested in how we put this card together? First we studied the American Gothic painting.

Then we borrowed a pitchfork from my dad and hit up Goodwill for all the necessary items to finish our looks. Spent about $12. We set up a very makeshift photo shoot and after several attempts, finally got a shot we could work with. I took this photo…

(These were the least flattering clothes I have ever had on my body.)

…and messed around in Photoshop until I got a look I liked. I did something wrong because I definitely lost some quality in the process (the final product is much grainier than the original), but I actually like that it’s clearly amateurly homemade. After some editing, I found a photo of the house in the painting, or a least one that looked liked it, and plopped us on top of it. I took that image and incorporated it into a Shutterfly template, and voila, holiday card!

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Recently I turned 30, an age I feel pretty good about. And to celebrate, Mike spoiled me rotten. He surprised me with flowers and candy, then took me out to dinner where we had an amazing three course meal. He even asked the wait staff to put a birthday candle on my dessert!

They next day a surprise package came in the mail – a warm and cozy sherpa-lined sweatshirt that I had been eyeing. I wasn’t expecting a gift from him, so it was a great surprise. And speaking of surprises…

Mike, with the help of my family, totally planned a surprise 30th birthday party for me! The Saturday after my birthday we were supposed to be going to a graduation party for my sister who just earned her accounting degree, but when we walked in, we were met with a mass of people yelling surprise! and happy birthday! And best of all, they were all wearing ridiculous 80s clothing.

The whole thing was awesome. Or should I say radical? I was blown away by my husband’s and my family’s thoughtfulness. It was the best possible way to kick off what is sure to be a good year!

Now to think of something to do for Mike when he turnes 30 in September…

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Last night we visited Bethany Christian Services again, the agency we first visited to learn about their international adoption program. This time we were learning about their options for infant adoption. Sad to say, but I think we have to rule this agency out. Which is really too bad because they claim to be the largest adoption agency in the country, they have amazing resources and support, and I think we could have a successful adoption through them. But for one thing.

They require that you are a member of a Christian church. You have to submit a pastoral recommendation, you have to sign a statement of faith, and you have to compose your own statement of faith explaining your activity as a Christian and how you plan to raise your adopted child as a Christian.

It’s really a disappointment that this is going to be our barrier. We are good people with strong moral beliefs, but we do not belong to, nor even attend, a church. And we do not intend to. My faith and my beliefs are just that: mine. I used to be very involved in a church, but I never felt so inauthentic. I appreciate that the fellowship and teachings of a church are incredibly valuable for many, but it has never been that for me, and I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that. I wish that my personal faith was enough, but apparently it’s not. It’s upsetting that a person who, in practice, has very poor morals but shows up for church twice a month can adopt through Bethany, but we, who have strong morals but don’t attend church, cannot.

Sitting in the car after the meeting, I pointed out to Mike that this is what discrimination feels like. We’ve had a lot of privelege we have taken for granted while others have been denied access to many things because of their race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc. Now we are being denied access to all the resources Bethany offers because of our religion. Mike pointed out that they can’t deny anyone because of race or education, but they can deny us because of faith. Which is the bottom line for me. It’s not just about us, it’s about their whole philosophy that only “Christians” (I put that in quotes because calling yourself a Christian doesn’t guarantee anything) can adopt children. What about Jews or Buddhists or other people who would make amazing parents but happen to have slightly different beliefs?

I’m ok with ruling out this agency — it’s just not the one for us. Except so far the only non-faith-based agency we’ve found has very limited programs. And even if we find a good fit somewhere, I’m not sure a smaller one can offer all the resources Bethany can. They have incredible counseling and support services for the birthparents and adoptive parents. They have the ability to make matches between families across the nation. It’s too bad that because we don’t attend church, we can’t access any of those things.

So on to the next thing I guess. Next week we have a meeting with the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, and I hope to get a clearer understanding of the many available avenues to adoption.

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Keep on gathering

Last night we attended a second adoption information meeting, this time with DA Blodgett in Grand Rapids. This claims to be the only non-faith-based adoption agency in the county, so we were extremely interested in hearing what they had to say.

The first comforting thing is that we were in a room with 12 other people, so we were able to take it all in without being put on the spot (a la last time!). It was actually an orientation about their foster care, foster-to-adopt and straight adoption programs. It was a lot of information, and rather confusing to be honest. At the end of the meeting they asked us to identify which program we’re interested in and then split us into two groups. We joined the group that was most interested in adoption or foster-to-adopt.

However, their adoption program is for wards of the state, not infant adoption (where a birth mother chooses a family), and the majority of the available children are over the age of 8. There’s a waiting list if you’re interested in children under 8. I asked how big of a step it is to get on that list, and she said nothing at all. If they have a child and our name comes up, they call and we can simply say we’re not ready at that time. So we got on the list!

Then on the way home, Mike and I had a long discussion about our need to get on the same page as far as what we want and when we want it. I think I’d prefer a younger child, but the point for me is to be a parent, to provide a home for a child, and if the right child for us turns out to be older, then I’m open to that. Mike, on the other hand, has sort of been thinking adoption for us meant an infant or toddler. He’s not opposed to an older child, he’s just not sure he’s fully-equipped for that situation right now.

We also realized our timelines are a little off. Originally we talked about gathering information now, but not actually starting any sort of process for at least a year. I’ve realized, as we’ve been info-gathering, that I’m a little more eager to get started than I originally thought. There are a few things we need to figure out — like where we want to live and work — before we move forward, but I’m ready to figure that out soon and get going! Mike is still operating on the original timeline.

So after a lot of talking, we decided to keep going to all these information meetings (we have several more scheduled for the next couple months), and we’ll each keep thinking about what we want and what our limits are, obviously we’ll keep talking about it. And really, I just hope the right fit reveals itself to us. No matter how much we try to create the perfect scenario, I really believe the right situation could be something completely unexpected.

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Two years ago on my and Mike’s first date, we went to dinner at a place called San Chez Bistro. After dinner, we weren’t ready to end the date, so we drove around for over an hour before settling in for a long night of conversation at my place.

One year ago, to celebrate the anniversary of our first date, we revisited San Chez. Afterward we drove back to the apartment we shared.

Tonight we celebrated the second anniversary of that first date. And after dinner we drove to an adoption agency to gather information about options for adopting children.

My how things have changed.

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Oh yeah, adulthood equals bills. You’d think someone would tell me that. I could have put it off a little longer.

Growing up, I remember my mom paying the bills. It involved laying out a bunch of paper, writing checks, balancing a ledger, licking stamps, and using a loud, ancient adding machine. It was a process. The kitchen table was off limits to any other activity for at least a half-hour or so. It was simple though. How did she get there?

Fast forward to our marriage. We’re modern Americans, so we pay bills online. But why, oh why doesn’t everyone have the same set-up for paying bills?!? For the gas we can do a direct debit, but for the electric we have to mail a check. For the cable we can pay via debit card, but for the credit card we have to pay through their website with a routing number. It’s so easy to miss payments that way! Add to that the small town we live in, and we have several bills each month that we actually have to write checks for. What is this, 1987?!?

Complicating things further is the fact that Shan and I were both adults when we met. We have our own bills. Student loans, car insurance, etc. How do you manage those bills? Pay everything together? Pay separate? There’s no standard. We’ve agreed to combine all of our bills and pay them out of a joint account. After much stalling and lots of life getting in the way, we’ve finally gotten around to creating a spreadsheet that identifies all these bills, from rent all the way down to a set buffer for unforeseen expenses. I hesitate to say budget, because that implies that we intend to stick to it rigidly, but it’s a pretty reasonable guideline.

Our guideline dictates how much money we need to make sure to deposit into our joint checking account each month. That way we can set up a direct deposit at work, and we know that we’ll have enough in our account each month to pay these bills. Anything left over in our checks goes into our personal accounts for personal purchases (shoes for Shannon, Wii games for me, gifts we buy for each other, secret gambling addictions…that kind of stuff).

We’ve also agreed to to deposit money into our goal-setter savings account every month. Right now, we’re saving for a trip to Europe. After that, we’ll turn that account into an adoption account. We’ll even begin to put money in our regular, joint savings account for adoption when we can, so we have a foundation when we switch over our goal-setter.

Ah, adulthood. Fun huh?

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I know everyone thinks they have the best husband in the world, and I believe it’s true. If you think you have the best husband in the world, then you probably do have the best husband for you. There are many reasons I know Mike is the best husband for me, I could go on and on, but as an example, just take a look at all he does to keep our household running smoothly:

He does all the cooking
He helps with meal clean up
He does almost all the grocery shopping
He cleans the house more often than me
He takes care of our recycling (no easy task when there is no recycling in your town)
He used to do all the laundry, and now does all but my occassional load
He runs many of the errands between the time he gets out of work and I get home
He feeds the cats
He takes care of the litter box
He empties and takes out the trash

(Bonus: He gets up earlier than me and gets ready outside the bedroom so as to not disturb me. And he turns on a space heater when he gets out of bed so I don’t freeze without his body heat. And he always leaves a light on in the entryway so I don’t stumble around in the dark. He lets me have the carport. He drives 40 minutes to work so that I only have to drive 30. He leaves me cute notes on our kitchen’s dry erase board. When I told him sometimes his loud breathing keeps me awake at night, he immediately went out and bought Breathe Right Strips. He rubs my feet and shoulders and plays with my hair when I ask, and even when I don’t. He lets me put my ice cold hands and feet on him to warm them up. He puts up with my moods, and he lets me take things out on him without ever taking it personally. He loves me despite (and because of) myself.)

At this point you may be wondering, “What the hell do you do, Shannon?” That’s a good question. My contributions are much less tangible. I keep us organized, which means a million different things I’d find impossible to capture. I do the research, I make the plans, I keep us on top of our shit as much as possible. But have no doubt, I know exactly how lucky I am to have a husband who does all of the things I listed. He does a lot of stuff to keep the household moving so I can focus, with less stress, on things like, you know, figuring out how the hell to go about adopting a child and stuff.

Plus, I totally put up with his moods, too!

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