Archive for the ‘Family Life’ Category

  • Christmas Letter (Part 2 – Middles & Bigs)

    Date: 2017.01.14 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    Jessica Jean (8) – I don’t even know where to start with this girl.  She came to us angry, shut down, afraid to love, and scared.   She has done so well.  In February she will have been home a year.  She is happy, sweet, loving, caring, brave, and ready to take on the world.  She is still very quiet.  She practices her English until she can say it perfectly because she doesn’t like to be wrong.  She talks with very little accent.  She is doing so well with her school work.

    I admit that while we were in China, I was so worried.  Worried that we were too late.  Worried that she would never bond or care to have parents.  Worried that her little heart would never heal.  Worried that she would never trust another adult again.  But I was SO wrong.  She has done unbelievably well.  I love this little girl so much!  I can’t believe we almost missed the blessing that is her.

    Elyse (11) – Elyse continues to do well.  She is so smart – very, very smart.  As of 1/1/17, she has been in America two years.  She takes being an American very seriously.  She loves her freedom and the right to worship God.  Elyse loves BIG.  She is friendly and funny.  She enthusiastically lives life to the fullest.  She dreams big and I believe she will accomplish whatever she sets her mind too.  She wants to design dresses when she grows up and send clothes to orphanages so little girls can wear pretty clothes.   If Elyse had her way, she would have 20 brothers and 20 sisters.   Her heart breaks for all those kids who still wait.  Her biggest wish if for every child to have a family that loves them and keeps them safe.

    Gracie (11) – Gracie’s lupus continues to stay in remission.  We are so thankful that she has had a couple good years with very little issues.  She is a huge help around the house.  She is growing up so fast and I can hardly believe that she will soon be 12.  Where does the time go?  Gracie loves having a big family.  She readily helps her sisters who are in wheelchairs and is my right hand.  School doesn’t always come easy to Grace but she works so hard.  She wants to grow up and adopt as many kids as she can.  That’s a pretty good plan.  We will see where God leads.

    Jasmine (17) – Jasmine continues to learn English and progress well with school.  It’s hard on a child who really didn’t get any formal education until she was 14.  It makes her feel constantly behind even though she has come so far in just 3 1/2 years.  The last two years have been harder then the first two for Jasmine.  She had a huge set back when she realized that she would never walk.  China had told her that America would fix her and no matter what we said, she believed them.  She lost hope when she realized that her life would be forever in a chair.  We continue to tell her that her life has purpose and she is finally believing that.  She has made such a huge difference in other kid’s lives.  She continues to write her own blog www.Flowerthatblooms.com where she shares her feelings about living in an orphanage and what it means to have a family of your own.  I am very proud of how far she has come.

    Jasmine’s Dream Update:   To date these four girls – the fab four – as I call them, have helped 300 children.   They work hard to save their money to donate to other adoptions and fundraisers.  They have a dream to open up an Etsy shop where they sell their artwork, hats, t-shirts, etc. that they have designed to help even more children.

    Hope (17) – Hope is as artistic as ever.  She loves special effects makeup.  She is constantly in her room coming up with some new design.   She shows her work on instagram on DragonKnightMakeup.  I’m not sure where this passion and talent will take her but it is fun watching her imagination at work.

    We laughed because when Cassie took the pictures, Peter ended up being in all of them.  Peter and Hope have been best friends forever.  They started dating last year and as you can see from the picture, he is still here.  hahaha  He is a good kid and our family loves him.  They are still obviously very young but we all love Peter and his family.

    Cassie and Reece – in May they will have been married 2 years.  Cassie is still teaching 2nd grade and has decided to pursue a masters degree to be a speech pathologist.  Reece is attending Iowa State and has decided to become an audiologist.  They continue to live in an apartment on our property so that they can be close to the kiddos and help out when needed.  They both sign and are helping us all learn how to sign for Max.

    Zachary, Stephanie and introducing….Nicholas

    OH MY GOODNESS and the biggest news of the year!!!  We have a grandson!  A sweet-tempered, adorable little guy who we all adore.   Zach and Steph continue to live in Wisconsin and Zach works for Raven Software on the game, Call of Duty.  Stephanie is the best mama and there is nothing better than watching little Nicholas listen to his mama sing.  It is the sweetest thing around.

    Nicholas has the biggest fan club in the world.  No matter what he does he has a cheering section of uncles and aunts that stand in awe of all that he does.  This little guy is definitely loved!

    Our new favorite thing is being able to Skype with them on our big t.v.   We all miss them and love to be able to see them even if it is just on the t.v.  Technology is amazing and makes living apart so much easier.

    Codey (29) – And last but not least our oldest boy.   Codey continues to live at home and is doing very well.  He loves football and basketball games on his t.v.  He is very close to Lainey and she loves to follow him around the house.  Dan recently ran into a doctor who took care of Codey when he was an infant.  It’s amazing to hear how they all believed he wouldn’t live to be a year old and here we are.

    Life continues to be busy and loud and full of love and learning.  Our floors continue to be sticky and never, ever perfectly clean.  Things aren’t always easy and adopting comes with its share of pain.  I won’t pretend everything is pretty and perfect, but it is perfectly ours.  Life can be messy.  Tears will be shed.  Life lessons are learned.  The most amazing thing happens when a child learns to trust you though.  Hearts open and start to heal.  Little souls start to bloom.  It is an amazing thing to be a part of.

    I could never adequately put into words what it means to be a mother to this crew.  How can I put into words what it feels like to see their sleepy little faces in the morning, to have all those arms hug me, and tell me good morning.  I look in the faces of children who have come so far.  I am constantly amazed at the miracles that happened to bring them home and to help them get the treatment they needed.  We are seriously blessed each and every day!

    Wishing you all the best in 2017.  Merry Christmas everyone!

     

     

  • Christmas Letter 2016 (The Littles)

    Date: 2016.12.29 | Category: Adoption, Family Life, Uncategorized

    Merry Christmas everyone!

    We’ve had an exciting year in the Ellsbury household.

    We receive the miracle of a healed heart for Benjamin.  We were told that there was no hope and now his future is full of hope!  Ben turned eight and is enthralled with soldiers and police officers.  He has learned how to read and loves math and school.  To see our boy filled with energy and no longer blue is a beautiful gift.

    ben-now

    Little Evie has had a wonderful year.  She has grown since her last surgery and continues to do well with her health.  She is a ray of sunshine from the time she wakes up until her little head hits her pillow.  She is everything that is good with the world.

    evie-now

    She was adopted 3 and 1/2 years ago with Elijah.  They continue to be the best of friends.  These two should have their own reality show.  They are a hoot together!  I mean seriously who could resist these sweet, little faces?

    evie-eli-now

    I continue to stand in amazement of Eli.  Every day I am reminded of the miracle of modern medicine.  The amazing fact that he had main branch pulmonary arteries formed out of four collaterals and graft material in a 14 hour surgery just blows my mind.  I stand in awe of our awesome God and the gifts He gives.  It’s hard to take anything for granted when your life is filled with such miracles.

    eli-now

    Big miracles come in all shapes and sizes.  Lainey  has come so far from that sad little girl who never looked you in the eye.  She yells “mama and daddy”.  She hugs with such sweetness.  She gives love pats all day long.  She can not say many words but her love language is loud and clear.  She holds hands.  She hugs.  She loves and all the kids love her.  And the very best news is that now that her seizures are better under control she is actually sleeping for 4-5 hours at a stretch.  This has been very welcome to mama.  She will often sleep for four hours and go back to sleep for another four.  I can certainly live with that.

    lainey-now

    Maisey has become quite the little mother.  She is quiet and shy but since she has gotten her BAHA (bone conducting hearing aid) she has become more vocal.  She figured out that she is funny.  She hears so much better and her speech has come so far.  She takes care of everyone.  She loves BIG!  She loves art and drawing and writing.  She has decided she wishes to be a ninja librarian when she grows up.  It’s a job that would suit her well.

    maisey-now

    One of the best gifts during this past year is Maisey and Evie’s friendship.  Evie’s personality is BIG and Maisey is quiet so they have always gotten along but Maisey would choose to play by herself a lot.  That has changed this year as they both realize how much fun having a sister is.  It does my heart good to see them play.

    maisey-evie-now

    Max also received a BAHA this year.  It has been amazing to see him actually hear and start to understand what conversation is.  His world opened up when he realized he could actually ask for something.  He continues to learn more signs – last count was 300+.  We still have a long ways to go but he has certainly made great leaps this past year.  Probably his biggest step forward was understanding affection.  He asks for hugs and kisses now.  He sits on people’s laps.  It’s one of the hardest things on this mama’s heart to realize your children don’t know what hugs and kisses mean.  It’s a cultural thing as well as an institutional issue but when they finally get it….well, there’s not a whole lot that is better in the world.

    max-now

    Because of facial issues it’s still hard for him to smile big but his giggle is contagious.  He can barely contain his laughter and it makes the rest of us laugh too.  The boys play pretty well together.  They have their arguments as all siblings do but they really do get along amazingly well.  Their favorite thing to do is to dress up in costumes and play super heroes.  They make the cutest super heroes don’t you think?

    Super Hero Day 2016

    Our seventh little is William, we all refer to him as Liam.  Liam had a harder transition than any of the other littles.  He enjoyed his treatment in China.  He had a case of Little Emperor’s syndrome.  Don’t believe it’s a real thing?  Just google it.  Anyway, it was hard for him to share at first.  He wanted to always be first and when he didn’t get his way he would cry for hours.  He has come so far and has learned what family truly means.  I am proud of the progress he has made in 9 short months.  His whole world was turned upside down and he had to learn how things work here.  We still have moments, but they are few and far between now.  Sometimes adoption brings unknowns that you really couldn’t even foresee being a problem.  I’m glad he feels loved and cared for and that he trusts us.

    He is sweet and caring and a natural born leader.  He is charming and very smart.  He loves math and eagerly learns new things.  He loves to help.  We instituted a Leader Day for each little and he eagerly waits for his turn.  Wednesdays are Liam’s favorite days now.

    liam-now

    There is nothing little about our Littles.  The love BIG!  They love life!  Our house is noisy and chaotic and filled with laughter.  There is never a dull moment with them around.  They bring so much to our lives.  Dan and I constantly say, “We could have missed this!” and I’m here to tell you that we would have missed a lot.  Our lives would have been so much duller, quieter maybe, but so much less.  We have been blessed beyond measure to be able to call these children sons and daughters.

    Not a day goes by that I don’t stop in my tracks and think about the miracles that have happened to them with both emotional and physical healing.  I don’t deserve the blessings they bring but I am forever grateful that we get to be a part of their lives.

     

  • The Kindness of Strangers

    Date: 2016.12.21 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    Today we had to head to the doctor’s office for some routine things.  The kids asked if they got ready early if I would take them to Burger King.  Since today was the first day of our winter break, I decided that would be fun.  They worked together and we left early enough to get food.

    I ordered the food and the cashier asked me questions about our food and our bus.  We talked about a little of everything while we waited for the 7 large fries and many nuggets.  We talked about everything from adoption to sauce packets.  We joked about how I don’t ask for sauce packets for the nuggets because the kids share the nuggets and there are never enough packets to go around.  Today there were extra sauce packets and a few more nuggets at the bottom of our sack.

    Little kindnesses from a stranger that brightened our day.

    The middles needed some vaccines so I checked them all in at the office.  JJ’s titers came back low and she needed a booster to be able to be put on the active transplant list. Everyone has to be up-to-date before we start the transplant.  The middles all told me they could handle it so I stayed in the bus with the littles.   The staff at our physicians office is so kind.  One of the office staff even offered to sit on the bus with the littles so I could be with the middles.  I told her it was fine, and thanked her for the offer.   They told me to let them know any time I needed help.  They even told me I could call them when I pull in the drive and they will get the door for the girls in the wheelchairs.

    More kindnesses that make life just a little bit easier for a mom of many.

    We decided it was so beautiful out that we should grab a few things at Target.  As I started to unload the bus, a car came up beside us.  We were parked quite a ways out in the parking lot so I thought it was a little strange for someone to park next to us.  Then I noticed that the woman got out of the car and was coming over to talk to me.  I hate to admit that my first thought was “Now what?”  I’ve had people yell at me for taking up four spots with our bus.  It’s one of the reasons we park way out in the lot.  We need room to put down the lift and we don’t fit in a handicap spot so there aren’t any options besides taking up four parking spots.

    Anyway, this women started her conversation with “You don’t know me, but I work with your husband.”  Now that is one I have heard before so I started to relax.  This women went on to say that she had recently had a kidney transplant and she thought JJ might want to meet her.  I thanked her for stopping and told her it would take a while to get out of the bus, but that I was sure that JJ would love it.  JJ is pretty quiet but JJ was touched by this women who took the time to stop and talk to her.  JJ went on and on about how good this women looked after her transplant, which was only 5 weeks ago.

    This women didn’t need to take the time to stop, but she did and by doing so her kindness helped ease a little girl’s worried heart.

    When we were shopping at Target, a lady went by and said something we hear quite often, “Boy do you have your hands full.”    Often times comments are made at the kids and it makes them feel bad.  They don’t always understand why people say what they do.   I guess this is a comment we have heard a few too many times because as the woman was walking away, Elyse yelled, “Our hearts are pretty full too.”  The lady stopped in her tracks and came back to apologize.  She said that she wasn’t criticizing me.  She said she was just commenting on our large family.  She was very friendly so we talked a bit, I smiled and thanked her, and off she went.

    We ran into her again in the back of the store.  She commented on how polite the kids were every time they answered me with “Yes mama!”  I told her that they were wonderful kids most of the time.  I told her I was blessed to be their mama.  She asked, Are they all on the good list?” and I said, “Of course!”  We wished her a Merry Christmas and off she went again.

    A little while later she found me back in the other corner of the store.  She handed me a gift card, told me what a great job I was doing, and wished me a Merry Christmas.  I was too stunned to say much of anything besides “thank you”.  She took me completely by surprise.

    She didn’t need to buy a card or come find me again, but she did, and in doing so she showed our children that not everyone is negative towards big families.  They were so touched by her generosity.  This will stay with them a very long time.  I wish I had been quick enough to get her name so the kids could have sent her a thank you.  Some where there is a stranger that brightened my day.  I cried all the way home.  It touched my heart that much.  I hope someone who reads this blog, hears this story and knows who this woman is and will send her our heartfelt thanks.

    Part of me feels guilty because I am sure there are families that need it so much more, but the other part of me is thankful that she took the time to talk to the kids and to make them feel special.  She went out of her way to show them she cared.  We get lots of people who stare and count.  There’s always a whole lot of counting going on when we pass by with our line of kids and carts, but we don’t often get a “hello” or a simple kind word.  I’m sure most people don’t know what to say.  I get that.  I do that too.

    Today was filled with the spirit of Christmas and I can’t thank those people enough.  It was a really wonderful day for the kids.  Our day was filled with little kindnesses and words of encouragement.  We will do our part to pay it forward.  This is my reminder to all of you that your kind words and acts of kindness really do make a difference.

    I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.  – Charles Dickens

     

     

  • A Gift for My Heart

    Date: 2016.12.04 | Category: Faith, Family Life

    A week or so ago I stood in line at Target waiting with a cart full of items.  The girl behind me had one item.  I tried numerous times to get her to go ahead of me.  She refused, said she wasn’t in a hurry, and stayed in line behind me.  Other lanes opened up and still she stood there.

    She listened as the cashier and I talked about why I had so much stuff in my cart.  The elderly cashier was a little chatty, very kind, and not in a huge hurry.  She kept asking questions as she worked.  I told her that we had 16 kids, 13 still at home.  She told me she was one of 12.  She said she loved big families.  She asked if I had given birth to all our kids.  I told her we had adopted 11.  We continued to talk about adoption and how blessed I felt.

    As I was getting ready to leave the girl behind me spoke.  She told me that she too came from a family of 12.  She told me that her mom adopted her out of the foster system.  She asked me if I ever resented having to buy so much stuff for the kids.  I told her that I have never resented having to buy cartloads of stuff and was very blessed to be able to do so.  She continued to say that her mom always seemed so happy and she always wondered if her mom was happy when the kids weren’t around to watch.  She was thrilled to see another adoptive mama be happy to buy for her children.

    Today I told Cassie that I needed some items at Target.  Cassie said, “Let’s take everyone with us.”  I thought, It’s a Saturday.  It’s only a couple weeks before Christmas.  “Sure! Why not? That sounds like a great idea!?!?!”  hahaha  We shopped with our row of kids – 1 double cart holding 4 kiddos, 3 wheelchairs, and Reece and Cassie walking with the others.  We ran into a couple of people we knew.  We joked with others about being a parade.  We picked up what we needed to finish decorating the front of our house and headed to the front of the store to check out.

    Reece noticed an open lane and we headed for it.  We just happened to get the same elderly lady that checked me out a week or so before.  She told me how sweet the kids were and how glad she was that she got to meet them.   Once again there was a lady behind us who commented on what we had in our cart.  She looked at all our kids and said, “Oh my goodness, are they all yours?”  I laughed and said, “Yes!”   I know most people aren’t being rude.  They are just surprised.   The cashier however said, “And I think it’s a good thing!”   I’ve never been defended by a cashier before.  It was kind of cute.   We checked out and all the kids wished her a Merry Christmas.

    We’ve been trying hard to get the house decorated for JJ and Liam.  It’s always fun to light up the house big for the kiddos who have never had a Christmas before.  The lighted garland I bought didn’t fit right so I headed back to Target by myself.  I just happened to end up in the same cashier’s lane.  I laughed and commented on her being on lane 12 before and now she was on lane 4.  She told me they move them around after breaks and she laughed about how I truly am always at Target.

    This little elderly lady reminds me of my mama.  She was kind and talkative and sweet.  She told me again how happy she was to see the kids.  She asked about the talkative one and I told her the short version of Evie’s story.  I told her how blessed we were to have these children in our lives and how sad it is that mothers have to give their children away to try to get them help.  She told me she could tell that we felt blessed to have these kids in our lives and then she said she was proud of me.

    It should have been a completely uncomfortable comment but it wasn’t.  It actually brought tears to my eyes.  I can’t explain it but it was like hearing it from my mom.  All of a sudden I could see my mama telling me that she was proud of me.   It was a very strange.

    You see a little over 3 years ago my mom was so excited to see us heading to China again.  She was at our house caring for our children, while we were in China, when she perforated an ulcer and had a major heart attack.  She spent months in the hospital.  She would recover a little bit and visit our house once to see those kids.

    Mom with kids

    She ended up passing away three years ago on Christmas Eve.  Mom never got to really meet her last 8 grandchildren.  She never again told me she was proud of me.  I liked to hear those words from my mom.  So tonight standing in a line at Target, I got a small gift from a little elderly lady who probably has no idea why she touched me so.

    ——————————————————————————————

    P.S.  My mom gave me many gifts over the years, but the biggest gift she gave me was a listening ear.  She was always there to talk and encourage.  She loved her grandkids and she was one of my biggest adoption supporters.  I miss her, but the very last gift my mama gave me was understanding about dialysis and kidney issues.  Because of this gift, we were brave enough to proceed with this little gift.

    jj-now

    Life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped but there are blessings and joy to be found amongst the tears.

     

     

  • How We Ruined Our Older Children’s Lives

    Date: 2016.11.22 | Category: Adoption, Faith, Family Life

    Dan and I started out like most other people.  We met.  We fell in love.  We got married.   We dreamed of our first little house with a garden and a white picket fence.  Someday we would drive cars that didn’t break down weekly.  We would have a couple of kids, visit our family on holidays, go to church on Sunday, and lead a happy, comfortable life.

    After a couple years of marriage, we had the twins.  Codey and Kyle threw us for a loop but pretty soon we were back to our old comfortable dreams.  The death of a son and 14 months in the hospital surely meant that from here on out our lives would be easy.  Zach and Cassie were born.  They grew up.  They were bright, sweet, caring kids.  They excelled at school.  We dreamed of the day we would buy a bigger house and take nice vacations.  They would go to college.  Dan and I would retire and travel.  We were living the American dream.

    Then one day a little girl was born in the NICU where Dan was doing his fellowship. The pre-adoptive parents chose not to adopt her because of her heart defect and the bio parents chose to not to pursue treatment options, which meant she would die in the NICU without a family.  We had a choice.  We could step up and do something or pretend there was nothing that could be done and just stand by and watch her die.

    When we decided to do something, most people believed we had lost our minds.

    We were questioned about it over and over again.

    Why would you do this?

    Why would you bring a child who may die into your family?

    You are going to ruin your life.

    How will your other children survive the pain?

    They will resent you.

    Your are going to ruin your children’s lives.

    Over and over again we heard those words.  You WILL ruin their lives!

    Well, it’s taken me years to get to this point, but today I’ll admit it.  It’s true.  We ruined their lives.

    I’ll own it.  Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say it was the best darn thing that ever happened to them.

    Although I once feared ruining our children’s lives, I no longer do.  In fact, I love that their lives have been ruined.  In fact, I praise God that it happened so early in their lives.  My eyes were closed to the pain and suffering of the world for way too long. I lived in a very small comfortable bubble.   They, however, understand how beautiful life is and how fleeting life can be.

    They know more medical terms than any child should know. We ruined their normal, comfortable lives and filled their days with G-tube feedings, seizures, heart caths and surgeries, kidney failure, lower limb paralysis, SMA, PKU, brain damage, incontinence, and chemotherapy.  They know what it means to spend many, many days, weeks, and even months in the hospital.

    We brought hurting children into our home not once but 11 times. We ruined their picture perfect life.  We made our kids share their home, their rooms, their parents.  We’ve made them sit through doctor’s appointments and surgeries.  They’ve cried tears over shots, blood draws, and i.v. starts.  They’ve held trembling hands, wiped away tears, and been filled with fear as their sibling was taken away for surgery wondering if their sibling would ever come home again.

    These things that we feared would ruin their lives for the worse have in fact made them better humans.  These things have opened their heart to others.  They don’t see the world the same way that others do.  How could they?  Adopting has opened their eyes to those who live without a mother and a father.  It opened their eyes to what orphanage life is. It made them appreciate what they have.

    They have been ruined for the ordinary because they have seen miracles in our home.  Children who shouldn’t be healed are in fact, healed.  They know how fleeting life is because there are children, who are NOT guaranteed tomorrow, running and laughing through our halls.  They understand that it is better to love with your whole heart and maybe hurt later, than to never have known the love of these sweet souls.

    They know that intelligence doesn’t make you a better person.  They know that taking care of the least of these may not always be easy but it is worthwhile.  They know that little souls who never utter a word can speak volumes.

    They know there is no greater blessing than allowing God to work in your life.  They know that being obedient, even when it scares you, brings blessings beyond measure.

    Our children are not perfect.  They still make mistakes.  We all do.  But what I know for sure is that God has ruined them for what the world stands for and instead has showed them what He values above all else.  I praise God daily that they are no longer unaware.

    I once feared those words that others uttered…

    “You will ruin your other children’s lives!

    But now I embrace those words and I celebrate them.

    We have been ruined for the ordinary and instead have embraced the extraordinary!

    It doesn’t get any better than that!

    our-family-now

     

     

     

  • Chicken Feet 101

    Date: 2016.10.08 | Category: Family Life

    For years Jasmine has been asking me to make her spicy chicken feet.  We couldn’t find them already done at the local Chinese store so Dan ordered them off of Amazon.  We ordered them once or twice and she was in heaven.  Then, for some reason, we just couldn’t get them.

    When we added Elyse to the mix, she begged me to make chicken feet and then little JJ chimed in too.   When we asked the littles they said they had never had them.  Jasmine and Elyse said kids under the age of 7 or 8 weren’t allowed to have them because of all the gristle and little bony parts.  The bigger girls, however, had them whenever there was a celebration like Chinese New Year or Children’s Day.  They were only allowed two feet and it was a VERY big deal.

    For some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to make them from scratch.  I had been around when my grandparents butchered the chickens they raised.  I gathered eggs from those same chickens.  I’ve been in a coop.  I am not in the least bit adventurous with my eating and even less so with my cooking.  Who wants to make a big batch of something new and have all your picky eaters refuse to eat it?

    BUT they just kept asking.

    Our pastor and some of our good friends raise chickens.  They were going to be butchering some and had heard the girls talking about chicken feet and asked if I wanted them to keep them for me.  I answered a very hesitant “yes” and they delivered them to me.

    chicken-feet-1

    Dan and I looked at recipes on line.  I asked my Facebook friends for tried and true recipes.  It seemed like it would be a bit time consuming because of all the steps, but it didn’t look hard.  It is the same way when I make steamed buns from scratch for the girls.  It takes all day by the time you mix the dough, let it rise,  roll them out and fill them up, but the looks on their faces when they bite into a homemade steamed bun is priceless.  I was sure it would be more of the same with these chicken feet.

    Here is the recipe we used from Sparkspeople.com.

    recipe

    You wash them in water, scrubbing them until clean.

    daddy

    You then put them in boiling water for 30 seconds and instantly remove to a drying rack.  This is what it should look like.

    1st-chicken-feet

    You then pull off the outer scaly layer starting at the nail and working backwards.  It is fairly easy to remove.  It will look like this when you are done.

    chicken-feet-2

    Do NOT overcook or you will not be able to peel off the outer scaly layer, both layers come off and it is a greasy mess and not very appetizing.

    chicken-feet-3

    It became a very, very sad chicken foot.

    You then cut the nail up to the first bony joint.

    chicken-feet-4

    Everyone joined in on the fun scaling the chicken feet.  See the joy in Hope’s eyes?  🙂

    chicken-feet-5

    Ben, Maisey and the middles wanted to join in and help.

    working

    After peeling them, you boil the feet for 90 minutes.

    You remove them and dry them on a rack to remove the excess water.

    Pat them dry, then brown them in a pan on each side.

    You then put them in the sauce in a crock pot and warm them up.

    This was the final product.

    chicken-feet-pan

    Even daddy tried them.

    daddy-tasting

    The first batch was not hot enough so I made the rest with a sweet chili sauce.  I cheated and used some directly out of a jar.

    chili-sauce

    They LOVED them.  It was hot enough to make their noses run and their eyes water.  Perfect is what I heard over and over again.

    The proof is on their faces.

    chicken-feet-jj

    If I had known how much they would enjoy them, I would have made them sooner.   Although it was nice that all three of them got to enjoy them for the first time together.

    chicken-feet-elyse

    They giggled so much.  Jasmine had the sauce all over her face.  She was a good sport and let me take a picture.

    chicken-feet-jasmine

    I watched them each eat 8 chicken feet each.  They talked again and again about how they could only have two before.  They talked about how lucky they were to be in a family.  How lucky they were to have each other.  The giggled and laughed and told stories for 30 minutes.

    When they were done it was much like eating too much at Thanksgiving dinner.  They sat back and rubbed their bellies.  The moaned a satisfied moan.  The smiles on their faces were priceless.  They were SO happy.  I told them before that I would only do this once but I will do it again.  How could I not?

    I remember what I felt like in China eating foods I was not used to.  I liked the noodles and the rice and the different dishes but it wasn’t like home.  It tastes so good to have something that you remember and love.  Chicken feet brought back good memories of the orphanage and they need those. They need good memories of their childhood to hold on to.  Not everything in their past was pretty.  I want them to remember these good memories and let the bad ones become a distant memory.

    The thought of cleaning chicken feet and removing nails was more than I could stand at first, but that was replaced by the happy faces of my middle girls.

    So Chinese New Year and Children’s Day will not only include my homemade steamed buns and  potstickers (even though they aren’t pretty) but some very hot chicken feet too.

     

     

     

     

     

  • Could I Get Any Further Behind?

    Date: 2016.07.14 | Category: Family Life

    Dan asked me the other day, “How long has it been since you’ve posted a blog?”  He went on to tell me I should add more to two of my longer Facebook posts and share more of what’s been on my heart.  I often post on Facebook because it’s easy to pick up my phone and add a picture and a small comment.  It’s a great way to remember the cute things the children have done throughout the day.  I don’t have to have a lot of time to collect my thoughts or get pictures together, but I still try to continue writing my blog because it’s the journal of our lives.

    I use the blog mainly to remember all that God has done in our lives.  I don’t ever want to forget little blue fingers turning pink or stories of little hearts healing.  Dan and I have been allowed to be a part of some really wonderful stories of hope and healing.  It’s a true blessing, one we don’t take lightly.  But somedays it’s easy to forget all that God has done and to get caught up in the small annoyances of the days.   My words in this blog are a reminder of God’s faithfulness.  My words are there for my kids to read about as they get older.  I want to tell it to my children so they can tell it to theirs.  God’s faithfulness abounds.

    Dan’s words got me to thinking so I decided to take a look at my drafts.   Codey had his wisdom teeth taken out today so it was the perfect time to sit in the quiet and make a list of all the blogs I’ve started writing and haven’t finished yet.

    Here’s my list:

    Max & Elyse Welcome Home!

    Lainey turns 5

    Eli turns 4

    Home from China

    Evie turns 5

    Because Mama Loves Jesus

    Gracie turns 11

    Maisey turns 6

    Hopey turns 17

    Max turns 7

    Liam turns 6

    Cassie is all Grown Up (Man I love that girl!)

    First Year Anniversary – where did the time go?

    Jasmine turns 17

    We are Going to Be Grandparents!

    Top 10 Things That Changed My Life

    Stories told Round the Kitchen Table

    No My Children aren’t Raising Each Other

    Hmmmm….I don’t believe I am doing so well on the “recording their year on their birthday” plan.    It’s not like my life is busy or anything.  After all based on what I’ve been told lately, my older children are raising my younger children so that must mean mama has lots of free time.

    If you’d like to catch up with what our family has been doing, you could check out Cassie’s blog, Thankful For The Crazy  or Jasmine’s blog, Flower That Blooms.

    Cassie has a great blog called “Just in Case” that tells how all of us where feeling before Benjamin’s surgery.   She also is chronicling our summer fun much better than I am.  🙂

    Jasmine’s last blog post talks about her dream.  We are trying to decide where to take Jasmine’s Dream next.  The girls recently reached the 200 children helped mark.  Jasmine’s initial goal is to help 1,000 children.

    Jasmine's Dream

    They have dreams of t-shirt sales and items they can sell in an Etsy shop.  The FAB Four are going to change the world.  They have big plans to advocate and help as many children as they can.  They have great big wonderful compassionate hearts.  It’s fun to watch their little minds work on what they can do.  It would be a wonderful day if Jasmine’s Dream came true – A family for every child.

    I’ll leave you with a couple cute pictures for those of you not on Facebook group, Seriously Blessed By Adoption.

    We celebrated Father’s Day.

    Father's Day 2016

    They loved the fireworks display.

    Fireworks 2016

    And National Cow Day at Chickfila

    Cow Day 2016

    We even dressed up as super heroes and headed to Krispy Kreme for Super Hero Day.

    Super Hero Day 2016

    The kids love dressing up. They wear costumes all the time at home and any excuse to get to wear a costume out in public is “super cool” according to Eli.  It does make for some really fun memories.

    Praying your summer is going well and that many happy memories are being made.  Hold those kiddos tight and give them an extra hug or two.  Take the time to blow some bubbles or lay on a blanket and watch the clouds go by.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like summer is going by much too quickly.

    God bless all of you who have uttered prayers on our behalf.   Thank you for standing by even when mama doesn’t get much writing done.

    Happy Summer!

     

     

     

     

  • Shock and Awe

    Date: 2016.02.10 | Category: Codey, Family Life

    Dan and I have often discussed the differences in having a biological child who has a disability or illness and adopting a child that does.

    With Codey and Kyle, I spent most of the first year in shock.  Watching your child take their last breath as you hold them in your arms will do that to you.  And there is nothing like standing there with the ground open and your husband carrying a little white casket to that hole in the ground, to change your life.  It will rip your heart right out of your chest and you will wonder how you will ever make it through another day.

    IMG_4225

    As the days in the hospital turned into weeks, and weeks into months which lead to over a year, dreams slowly faded away.  I went through times of sadness and mourning over all Codey wouldn’t do.  Just when I would think I had a handle on my feelings, another milestone would come up and my heart would break again. At one, he couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, and was still in the hospital.  We celebrated there in his ICU room with a cake and family and a news crew filmed it all.

    When he turned five, I mourned the fact that he wouldn’t go to kindergarten.  I mourned that he wouldn’t make friends and go to birthday parties.  I cried tears over the steps he would never take and the games he would never play.

    As time went by, I settled into a routine.  Life seemed normal and then another milestone would remind me that life was anything but normal.  When he turned fourteen, it was not being able to get a permit.  Sixteen was the driver’s license and dating.  Eighteen was graduation.  Then there was not going to college, not getting married, not having children of his own.

    Codey would always be a little boy in a man’s body.  The pain wasn’t over what his life was.  Codey is, for the most part, a very happy boy.  He has a family that loves him.  He has his room and his toys that he loves.  He enjoys football and basketball games.  He has changed everything about who I am and how I see the world.

    My pain was not over what Codey couldn’t do, I knew before he turned five that he would never do these things.  My pain was mostly because I still had these dreams in my head of what it was supposed to be like.  I was supposed to have two little, blonde haired boys.  They were supposed to be best friends.  They were supposed to play football and baseball and cause messes.   They were supposed to run together in the backyard and bring in critters that would make me scream.  They were supposed to grow up and have families of their own.

    Sometime during that first year or so, I received a poem about Holland written by Emily Perl Kingsley.  I remember the first time I read that poem and I thought, “Well, isn’t that nice.  I’m just supposed to be happy about Holland.  Well, I’ll get right on that.”   (Insert sarcasm here!)  It wasn’t that easy.   I had dreams and hopes and plans and none of them included a trip to Holland, but as time went on I realized they were right.  I had to quit mourning Italy and keep my eyes on the beauty of Holland.  The shock of not being in Italy slowly wore off and the awe over the beauty of Holland slowly emerged.

    So what had changed? Codey didn’t change.  Our circumstances hadn’t changed.  We were still broke and Codey was still not going to do what I had dreamed he would.  So what was it?  It was me.  It was my heart.  I was no longer bitter and angry over what I felt had been taken from me; instead, I decided to be thankful for all that had been given to me.  The glass is the same whether I see it as half empty or half full.  The glass never changed, but I had.

    Which brings us to adopting special needs children.  When you know what the cognitive, physical disability, or illness is and you choose it, you know right away that this is the way it is going to be.  You buy books to educate yourself.  You find a support network.  You don’t have to go through that mourning period where nothing is what you had dreamed.  You actually purchased the ticket to go directly to Holland.  You weren’t expecting a different destination.  You are right where you were chose to be.  You can get off that plane and actually be excited to have your feet land on the ground in Holland.

    I can say that I have learned to love the slower paced life of Holland.  I have learned to appreciate and stand in awe of all that our children do.  All those normal daily things that are so easy to just take for granted.   I found myself actually celebrating the little things like holding a spoon in your hand for the first time, the ability to run and play, the first word spoken even if it is at three years of age.  Being able to put a shirt on by themselves.  Being able to write their name.  Living past their first, second, and third birthday.  .

    These are things to be celebrated.  I learned that just because these are things we take for granted, they are NOT little things. A child’s smile, a child’s hug, a first step, these aren’t things to be overlooked or expected, these are things to be celebrated!  A child’s worth isn’t based on what they can accomplish.

    If we instead measure a life by lives and hearts changed, then our children’s worth is immeasurable.  Dan and my heart have been forever changed.  Our eyes have been opened to what matters.  Time has slowed down.  I don’t rush to and through things.  I try to walk and enjoy the journey.  I’m not worried about trivial things.  I appreciate the little things, the joys we miss while we are busy waiting for that thing that will make us happy – school done, the perfect vacation, getting married, finding the right career, retirement.  I have learned to not wish my life away waiting for something to make me happy.  You learn pretty quickly not to wish days away when you aren’t sure there will be another one.

    The truth is there are many other things that Codey will never do.  He won’t lie.  He won’t cheat.  He won’t judge you for the things you say or do.  He won’t make you feel less than.  How many of us can say that?  How many of us can say our words have never hurt another person?

    Elsberry _70 Crop

    You can say I have on rose colored glasses or a PollyAnna attitude, I won’t take offense because, the truth is, I do.  I choose to be happy.  I choose to enjoy my children’s lives.  I choose to wake up thankful that I get to do it all again – the monotony, the diaper changes, the g-tube feedings, the teaching the same thing over and over again, all of it.  Every day is a choice.  For the longest time, I refused to be happy in this place I found myself and now I thank God daily that this is where my life took me.

    Every day I wake up to the most beautiful, joy-filled faces and I know, beyond any doubt, that I am blessed.  I am in awe of this life I get to live.  I am in awe of these little souls that I have been entrusted with.

    A life of worth isn’t measured in the money made, the titles held, or what you take; a life of worth is measured in the lives you touch, the love you give, and the difference you make.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Why Our Large Family is NOT Our Own Little Orphanage

    Date: 2016.01.30 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    I have heard the comment “Wow! You are starting your own little orphanage/group home” more times than I care to count.  I’m still surprised people can think this, let alone even say it out loud.  Maybe they are just trying to be funny. Maybe they are just saying the first words that pop into their heads.  I’m not sure, but what I do know is that we aren’t the only family hearing these words.  Many other mamas have stated the same thing.  I have to chalk it up to someone not having a clue what life in an institution is truly like because if they had ever stepped a foot into an orphanage then they couldn’t say those words and be serious.

    I have had people tell me that they can’t even handle their two children so how can we possibly do this?  I have heard that there is no way I can have enough time for all of my children. I have heard there is no way I can give them the care they each need.  It’s not like I close my ears to the negative or that I haven’t asked myself the same questions.  I’m not delusional nor do I believe that I am superwoman.   I do, however, know where my strength comes from and I truly believe most people could do more.  I choose to try to be selfless not because I’m a martyr but because I truly LOVE my life.  I am blessed!!! Those aren’t just words I utter because I want to somehow sound good to others.

    Can life be hard? Absolutely!  Can it seem overwhelming? Yep!  Is it hard on your heart somedays?  Yes!  Trauma is not a pretty thing.  What it does to little hearts is hard to take somedays.  Adoption isn’t a walk in the park.  If you think it’s gonna be a breeze and you will have no issues because your little one was adopted early, then you will have a rude awakening.

    Institutional life is hard on a child.  They are limited in food.  The fact that they live in a facility means that their lives started by loss.  They aren’t taught the basic life lessons we teach our child.  They are left to raise themselves.  They get very little one on one time and they have no sense of family or belonging and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    As we prepare to leave to adopt Jessica and William in 15 days, the middles won’t let the topic of adopting again drop.  I laugh and tell them that we haven’t even adopted these two yet.

    William 11

    We don’t have a clue what it is going to be like when we get home.  We don’t know just how sick Jessica is.  It’s scary waiting, knowing that something as simple as a UTI could lead to sepsis and death for her.

    JJ

    But the girls talk about all the children who wait.  The girls pray for the children ready to age out and cry tears knowing what this means for this child. It’s one thing to be an able bodied child left to fend for yourself, if you have a disability, your future is so uncertain. I could not let them see the advocacy sites and not let them know of the children who need prayer BUT I won’t.  Too many people pretend it isn’t happening.  Too many people go about their days without giving the orphan crisis a thought. Too many people say it’s just too hard on their hearts. I won’t be the one to tell my girls that this burden they feel isn’t worth their time.

    These girls dream of a day when Jasmine’s Dream comes true – “A family for every child.”

    Three girls

    I will continue to pray with the girls and have big, ugly cryfests with them.  I will continue to post and share posts of others.  We will donate when we can.  We will encourage those who are adopting.  We will be the hands and feet of Christ in as many ways as we can because we know just how important it is.  We will help families stay together when possible and we will advocate for those who long for a forever family.

    Elyse dreams of building a castle where we have a 100 bedrooms.  She talks of all the children feeling loved and cared for. When I say, “Adopting 100 children would mean less time for each child.”  She reminds me that having a family is a beautiful thing and knowing you belong and have some where to call home is priceless.  She then says, “How about 20 then?”  Although she tells me that I could love 100 children or more and this fact is true, there is no limit on how many children your heart can love.

    She drew me this picture at her last doctor’s appointment.

    Elyse picture

    I would think that if our children felt that our family was too big, they wouldn’t talk so much of adopting again.  They love their siblings and they know how important family is.  They eagerly wait for the day William and Jessica will be home.  They talk about all the things they will do with them, where they will sleep, how they can figure out what their favorite foods are.

    After talking with Elyse and Jasmine on numerous occasions, we decided to make a list of how family is not like an orphanage.   Here are a few of the reasons we came up with that our large family is NOT like our own little orphanage.

    1.  Our children will never go to bed without being tucked in and told how much they are loved.

    2. Our children will never spend a day hungry.

    3. Our children will spend their days getting hugged, kissed, and told over and over again how much we love them.

    4. Our children’s last name will not mean orphan or tell which orphanage they are from.

    5.  Our children will always have a place to call home and family to come home to.

    6.  Our children will get the medical and dental care that they so desperately need.

    7.  Our children will not be defined by their disabilities, feel less than, nor will they be made fun of for having a disability.

    8.  Our children will be helped to be the best them they can be.  We will support them and encourage them in every way possible.

    9.  Our children will be allowed the privilege of going to school.

    10.  Our children will never hear the words worthless or unadoptable again.

    11.  Our children will have someone to run to for comfort when they are feeling physical or emotional pain.

    12. Our children will know that they are loved, cherished, wanted, and part of our family FOREVER!

    Family is a beautiful thing.  May we never take that for granted.  May we continue to remember and pray for those who want nothing more than a family to call their own.

     

  • LOVE in AcTioN!!!!

    Date: 2015.12.20 | Category: Adoption, Family Life

    I have noticed over the years that my feelings toward Christmas have changed.  Obviously when you are a child it is all about the presents.  You can’t wait to wake up on Christmas morning to see what is under the tree.  As you get older it changes, some of the excitement of the season seems to be lost.  You head into your twenties and it’s much the same.  You get married, have children, and some of the joy comes back.   You look forward to their anticipation of those early mornings when they are so excited to see what is under the tree.

    Christmas pic

    As we started our adoptions, my feelings changed even more.  Our journey with Christ had become so much more meaningful and Christmas became about so much more than gifts given to others on the day of Christ’s birth.

    We went a little crazy that first Christmas after adopting Ben and Maisey and then again when we adopted Lainey, Jasmine, Evie and Eli.  We were trying to make up for Christmas’ missed.  It was eye opening when our newly adopted kids were clearly overwhelmed by the toys.  They were more interested in the food, the pretty lights, decorating the tree, and being with family.  I started to think about why we shop and spend so much.  Does anyone even remember it a few months down the road?

    This year, I have cut way back on the decorations.  I have hung pretty lights because the kids love them.  I got rid of my tree with all the perfectly matched ornaments and just put up the kids tree with its ornaments strewn every where.  I let them play with the ornaments.  I let them mess with the branches.  I didn’t put out my nativity set that is breakable.  I donated many of the items I once held so dear.

    We asked our middle girls what they want for Christmas.  Their answer?  Their brother and sister home.  That’s it.  They don’t want us to spend money on them.  They just want Jessica and William home.  When we got our LOA (letter of acceptance) they were ecstatic and said it was the best Christmas present ever.

    We have cut way back on gifts for the littles too.  When you buy so many toys, your house can get easily overrun.   I realized this even more, a couple months ago, when I hit my limit and bagged up all their toys.  I put the toys up and told them they had to show they were responsible to get them back.  I told them I was tired of constantly asking them to pick them up .

    They got to pick one toy back each day.  As long as they put it away where it went, they would get another one the next day.  After the third day, they didn’t care anymore.  They each picked a hotwheel car to play with on their track, their Paw Patrol pet and one other random toy that had meaning for them.  That is all they wanted.  It’s all they truly needed.  I noticed their free play time went way up.  They were able to run more because the floor wasn’t covered in little toys. It had only been a week and they couldn’t remember what was in the bag anymore.  What an eye-opening moment.

    For Christmas they are going to get one big toy for the boys to share and one for the girls to share.  We have implemented the one thing you want, one thing you need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.  They’ll get p.j.’s (what they need), they will get a personalized t-shirt this year (something to wear), a book (something to read), and the one big “want” item to be shared by all.

    They look forward to the traditions we have started.  Breakfast for supper on Christmas Eve, in our new p.j.’s, watching a Christmas movie.  We have a personalized shoe box that they open on Christmas Eve that holds their p.j.s, and some treats to enjoy during the movie.  These are the things they are going to remember.  They may or may not remember what toys we bought, but they will remember these times spent together as a family.

    I’ve been thinking  a lot about this this year because so many people have asked me “Are you done with your Christmas shopping yet?  I bet it takes forever.  Wow!  I can’t imagine how many presents you have bought.”  When I tell them I am done with presents because we keep it very simple, they think it isn’t possible.  The reality is that these past two years have been the easiest shopping years ever.  We truly have simplified. We don’t worry about the biggest, newest gadgets and out doing anyone else.  We are keeping it simple and that in turn keeps our minds where they should be – on Christ!

    Give more of yourself this Christmas.  People would rather have your time than a gift.  Just ask your mama.  She doesn’t need a new coffee pot or the newest gadget, she wants time with you.  This is why I love the phrase that Love Without Boundaries has implemented this holiday season “Love in Action”.

    I tell my children this all the time.  Love is a verb.  Love requires doing.  Words are cheap.  Your actions speak louder than words.  What are your actions saying about what you love and value at Christmas?

    Please+help+this+holiday+season

    Help an orphan in need.

    Take a meal to a neighbor.

    Purchase a gift from an Angel tree or for Toys for Tots.

    Spend time with someone who feels alone.

    Serve a meal at a local mission.

    Support a family that is adopting or fostering.

    Shop for someone who is shut in.

    Brighten someone else’s day.

    The list of verbs is endless.

    Give of yourself.

    Find the true meaning of Christmas.

    From our family to yours – Merry Christmas!

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