Archive - July 2016

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» Love is Blind Part II
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» Our favorite back to school essentials
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» REVIEW: Girls of American History
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REVIEW: Flavor Your Life
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» A Day with Show Hope
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» REVIEW: Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) 70th Birthday Season
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» Love is Blind

» Love is Blind Part II

Hopefully you caught part I of Love is Blind, if not, you can read about the LaGorga family and their adoption story here. I’m happy to report that their sweet Lili is now home and learning all about life in a forever family. Part 2 of this story is all about the Carl family and their precious son. It’s been a joy to watch them adjust to life as a family of 4 with all the triumphs and heartbreak and stress that it brings. It’s hard. But all worth it things are hard. So without further introduction, it’s time to hear from Jenifer Carl as she shares just a bit of her big ol’ heart.

I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to adopt children. I can remember growing up in my small town in Iowa, and seeing other adoptive families at church. I felt drawn to them, and often watched in awe, wondering how their lives had intersected. Many years later I graduated college with degrees in Journalism and Women’s Studies. At this point I felt strongly that I was meant to be a mother, but didn’t feel strongly about the need to have biological children. Rather, I was more interested in thinking about how my journey to motherhood might be able to connect me with other women around the world. The desire to adopt was already strong.

When I met my husband several years later, I brought up adoption on our first date. It turns out he, too, had a heart for adoption. In fact, his older sister was adopted. And so, we started researching adoption agencies even before we got married. We just knew we wanted to start growing our family through adoption. At first, we planned on bringing home a “healthy infant.” However, we quickly realized that there are long lists of couples wanting and waiting to adopt healthy infants. The true need, we soon found, was for families open to considering older children and/or those with special needs. With that in mind, we switched gears to pursue a waiting child program in South Africa, which led us to our daughter who is now five (adopted at age 3 1/2).

While working on our paperwork for South Africa, we also found ourselves drawn to the China waiting child lists. Our previous agency sent out an advocacy email with the profile of a little boy with low vision who was living at Bethel Child. He had been paperwork ready for quite some time, but due to his gender, visual impairment, and age, was not being considered by many families. I can remember watching his video, and feeling my heart split in two. We had never considered parenting a child with a visual impairment. And yet, here was this little boy, happily pushing a stroller down the sidewalk in the video, while I watched with tears running down my cheeks. I showed my husband, who felt something tugging on his heartstring as well. We decided to sponsor the child, so that we could follow his story from a distance. In time, we learned more about Bethel China, and their mission to help children living with visual impairments in China to live life to the fullest. Although we didn’t talk openly about it at the time, we both started to wonder…”Could we ever do that?”

Soon we met other families who were parenting children with visual impairments. I started following blog posts and learning as much as I could. Lola’s story especially struck me. I remember seeing photos and reading about her initial transition into her family – all of the challenges, but also all of the little victories. One of my favorite things to watch were the videos of Lola with her siblings. I remember sitting Ryan down to show him two videos in particular. The first was a video of Lola running a race across a field with her siblings. We both watched, amazed at how fast and straight she was running. Yes she was blind, but there she was running happily with her brothers and sisters. The second video was of Lola learning how to ride a bike, with the help of her sister Charlotte, who was cheering her on proudly from the side. We both looked at each other with raised eyebrows after watching that video. Not only was Lola defying everyone’s expectations of what she would be able to do, but she was also teaching her siblings valuable lessons about the power of hard work, determination, and love. Lola showed us how beautiful and rewarding it could be to parent a child with visual impairments. Through Lola’s story, we eventually found our hearts pointing us towards our own blind son, Ted TongZhi.

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The Carl’s have now been home for several months and I’ve watched them with knowing eyes. The first few months knock the wind out of you in some ways. Not because our children are blind, but because they lived a whole life before they knew us. They struggle with fears that we can never understand. But I watch with eyes that already know the progress that will be made, the trust that will come and the security that will result. I watch Ted with a forever family that will give him the resources he needs to live a full and abundant life. And I hope that more families, like the Carl’s, will say yes to these precious kids. Kids like Joshua, and kids waiting at Bethel, an incredible orphanage for blind children in China. If your heart is being pulled or moved, listen to that, and explore what role you might play in the lives of children across the globe.

 

» Our favorite back to school essentials

It’s that time of year. And I secretly love it. I have always enjoyed the anticipation of the new school year and all the fresh pencils and clean sneakers it brings. So back to school shopping is something I tend to hop on early, looking for the most useful items at the best price. Today I want to share some of our favorite tried and true items with you! These are all items we have used for an extended amount of time and highly recommend.

Lunch Boxes

  • Flip Top and Discovery Lunch box
  • Plenty of room inside

We only buy lunch boxes from L.L.Bean. And I ALWAYS wait for a sale or purchase the marked down colors. They have so many great choices, even in the clearance area (check out current sales here). We like L.L.Bean because the patterns are fun and not characters or other patterns the kids will outgrow. They also have a lifetime warranty on things like zippers. We have tested this warranty and they quickly replaced Liam’s lunchbox, no hassle, when his outer zipper kept getting stuck. Additionally, they are one of the roomiest lunch boxes we’ve found. We also use ebates before shopping at L.L.Bean, and everywhere else, to get 3% cash back on our purchases. It’s as simple as remembering to click on ebates website before shopping.

Lunch Containers

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We love the ease of bento-box type containers. But I’m not into spending upwards of $20 each on a container that may or may not wash well in the dishwasher. We used the 3 compartment ziplock containers for a couple of years but found that Target stopped carrying them. They also weren’t super durable and had to be replaced every couple of months. I found these awesome containers on Amazon and took a chance on them. They are very durable, much thicker than the ziplock containers and we love the colorful lids. They are also leakproof and have a tab that makes it easy for small hands to open. And $10 for a set of 6 is my kind of price.

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We also like the Konserve stainless containers for items like yogurt or fruit. For our salad lover this also holds just the right portion for a 1st grader. They wash up perfectly in the dishwasher as well. I’ve got my eye on their sweat-proof ice packs to purchase when our current ones bite the dust. Their focus on sustainability and our eco-system is the icing on the cake!

Water Bottles

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We typically use Nalgene bottles (love the durability and price point) but I love the Camelback Chute for school. The valve is perfect for smaller folks who tend to get drenched when they try to drink from my Nalgene. They are leakproof and get this… because this is the magic… the lid always stays connected to the bottle. Like always. Even in the dishwasher. We have lost many a lid to the lid graveyard. Such a waste, and often a new lid costs as much as the original bottle. For this reason, and the no leaking part, we adore the camelback chute. Check out the picture to understand the lid feature. Oh… and no gross straws either.

Back Packs

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Our backpack choice seems a little old school but nostalgia and that lifetime warranty brought me back to JanSport. I remember when I HAD to have one of these and I think they are ready for their comeback after seeing the crazy fun patterns and products they are offering. Again, we like to stay away from characters to give the items we buy our kids a longer life. Charlotte and Lola picked out these fun patterns and I’ve had to stop myself from acquiring that banana backpack myself.

 

» REVIEW: Girls of American History

Many of you may be preparing your curriculum for the upcoming school year. It’s often quite a challenge to select curriculum that is both interesting and challenging at the same time. We do not homeschool but we do add quite a bit into our Summer enrichment. This Summer we added the Girls of American History lessons into our Summer learning and exploration. And don’t be fooled by the name, this curriculum works for both genders, in some units more than others. Girls of American History was written by a long-time homeschooling mom of five, and she nails it!

“Girls of American History was created to be used with the popular American Girl historical, fictional series. Each unit in Girls of American History is meant to last six weeks. Of course you can lengthen or shorten this based on what works for your family. For example, you may decide to spend more time on the Felicity® & American Revolution Unit, as there is so much to learn and review for that particular time period. Don’t be deterred by the use of American Girl books; this truly is not a study just for girls, but for all children. There are many strong male characters in each series, as well as crafts and field trips that will entertain and engage boys.”

You can check out samples here before purchasing the curriculum. We enjoyed exploring history, language and doing so with a very hands-on approach. The connection to the American Girl series was the icing on the cake. If you are looking for a unique way to approach history this year check out this curriculum set and support a homeschooling mom while you’re at it!

REVIEW: Flavor Your Life

As a Moms Meet Ambassador I was recently asked to sample a delicious high-quality olive oil provided by the Flavor Your Life campaign, a movement to educate consumers on the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Europe, including: Taste, Health, Functionality, Heritage, and Quality. The timing was interesting because I had just read a few articles about finding quality extra-virgin olive oil and discovered that much of what adorns the grocery store shelves is nothing but colored canola oil.

As I read through the various articles like this one from Real food for life I picked up a few quick tips to help you discover the health benefits of quality extra-virgin olive oil without being ripped off by an imposter oil.

  1. Make sure you look for the European Union PDO certification (Protected Designation of Origin-also known as DOP in Italian). PDO certified products must be produced, processed and prepared in a specific region using traditional methods and have the sensorial qualities attributed to that region.
  2. The oil should typically cost more than $10 a liter, beware of cheap oil.
  3. The olive oil should taste fruity or peppery.
  4. Look for the IOC seal. (Olive Oil Council)

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We use olive oil often, typically for salad dressings and light vegetable sautés like the asparagus pictured above. If you are new to olive oil, here are a few great recipes to try. I hope these quick little tips help you get out there and snag some great olive oil. Remember it’s heart healthy, full of healthy fats and delicious!

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» A Day with Show Hope

Our friends at Show Hope invited us over for a few hours last week. Mostly because our kids are cute… but we are also adoption grant recipients and live nearby. After we crashed their offices and our kids talked to EVERYONE and touched EVERYTHING we’re pretty certain we’ve taken that friendship to the next level.

  • Lola approving the Mandarin portions of the team training book
  • The Show Hope ceiling, filled with kids who are now home.
  • Getting ready for the photo shoot!

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The kids had such a good time just being themselves, trying on the cute t-shirts and playing a game of red light green light with some of the staff. We are honored to help show off these fun t-shirts that benefit families in the adoption process, and ultimately the children that become part of those families. We know without a doubt that our family would not be the big, bustling beautiful thing it is today without generous givers and grants.

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You can check out Show Hope and their fun t-shirts here… and yes, you’ll see our smiling faces when you get there.

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» REVIEW: Holiday World (Santa Claus, IN) 70th Birthday Season

Disclaimer: The folks at Holiday World kindly provided our family admission for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

We were excited to visit Holiday World for a second year in a row! The kids were a little taller so they were ready to experience some new rides that they weren’t able to ride last year. In addition, Holiday World is celebrating its 70th season this summer (2016).

  • Dole Whip!
  • Leaving the park tired and exhausted

The pictures of our fun trip speak for themselves. Here is a list of “what’s new” for this special season:

  • Continuing the park’s birthday theme, new menu items: Birthday Cake Fudge, Birthday Sundae, Birthday Confetti Cake Flurry, and Birthday Cake Ice Cream Dip
  • The Legend “reborn,” with more than $2 million in track improvements to the wooden roller coaster, plus the addition of a new “double-down” feature to further enhance the ride experience
  • In Splashin’ Safari, the water park’s filters now utilize sand featuring an anti-microbial coating; this is the nation’s first large-scale rollout of Mystic Blue Sand
  • Dole Whip soft serve and floats add a new gluten-free, non-dairy, fat-free treat
  • The park’s free 30 SPF sunscreen now also contains aloe
  • The park’s free soft drinks selection will include Big Red, in addition to Pepsi products, Gatorade, pink lemonade, iced tea, and coffee
  • New Peanut Butter Burgers plus Kettle Corn and more gluten-free desserts

Holiday World is an amusement park located perfectly in a town called Santa Claus, Indiana which is a short 2.5 hour drive from our home north of Nashville. Its “worlds” are comprised of Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Independence Day. In addition to the Holiday lands there is a huge water park called Splashin’ Safari, which is located inside Holiday World and included in the admission price. We loved that we didn’t have to exit the park to get to Splashin’ Safari. In fact, we spent more than half of our day enjoying the expansive collection of water coasters and slides.  Holiday World is definitely a two-day park if you plan to enjoy the water park.

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Considerations for Young Children: Our children are ages 4-8. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they could ride quite a few big water rides and park rides. Fortunately rides like the Mammoth Water Coaster (pictured above), Frightful Falls and Mayflower satisfied his thrill seeking tendencies. We were pleased that at least three big water slides in Splashin’ Safari allowed our entire family to ride together on one big tube, including our 3 year old. It’s always a bummer when you have to constantly split up to accommodate everyone. Our favorite ride that we experienced all together was the Raging Rapids, pictured below. Here is a full list of height accommodations for all rides.

TIP: Once you enter the park, go to a measuring station and get the appropriate wristband for each child. This cuts down on the Holiday World staff having to measure each child to make sure they are tall enough.

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Considerations for Individuals with Disabilities or Special Needs: Holiday World has a pass, much like the one used in Disney, (see review here) called the Ride Boarding Pass. Basically you show the card to the ride conductor, they write down a return time and you wait while doing another activity. This solves the difficulty of waiting in line for those with sensory processing disorder, autism or other challenges. The only disappointment with this system was the number of guests allowed to ride with the individual designated on the card. The individual can have 3 guests accompanying them. This would exclude families of 5 or more from riding together. Their policy designates that the rest of the party wait in the physical line, this makes timing the ride together pretty difficult. Individuals with physical disabilities can be accommodated on any ride safety permitting. Full policy here.

Budget tips for families: You cannot bring meals into Holiday World, however they do provide a picnic shelter in the parking lot so pack a lunch cooler and take a midday break. We ate dinner in the park and found that 3 adult meals at Plymouth Rock Cafe fed our entire crew until they were quite stuffed. ALSO! Free sodas. This is totally legit, there were soda stations with soda, Gatorade and water located all over the park. We don’t normally partake in soda but we really had fun visiting and getting little drinks, and LOTS of water whenever we felt the urge. Next time, we may even bring an empty drink container to keep the drinks longer and chilled. You can also bring a limited amount of snacks and sealed water bottles in your purse or backpack. For us, there was no way to avoid the locker rental because of the swim clothes and towels we had to bring in, expect to pay $10-$15 for this. And as one last tip, if a hotel isn’t in your budget, set up a tent in the nearby campgrounds and make a weekend out of your Holiday World experience.

Overall: Our trip to Holiday World exceeded our expectations! It’s a BIG, legitimate and affordable water and amusement park. I love that the water park was right in the middle of the amusement park so we didn’t have to completely leave one to get to the other. There is everything from huge, soaring roller coasters to little lands full of little kid-friendly rides. The staff was very friendly. There were a couple times throughout the day they had to bear the bad news of rides shutting down because of weather (thank goodness there were none over 10 mins. long that day) and one staff member patiently calmed Liam down when he was upset about not getting a certain seat he wanted on a ride. We had a jam-packed day and still didn’t see and do everything. We can’t wait to return when the kiddos are a bit taller and take on the big coasters!

TIP: We saw many parents with walkie talkies. This might be an investment we’ll make for our next visit to any theme park.

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 Other helpful links:

There are a variety of shows each day; here’s the list: www.holidayworld.com/shows

All the rides and slides are listed here. You can filter by ride type, experience level, and section of the park: www.holidayworld.com/rides-slides

» Love is Blind

I am so thrilled to share two family stories with you today. I sat down with two mom friends who have also said yes to adopting a blind child. Every day we fight against the stigma and misconceptions surrounding the blind community and wanted to share our perspectives with you. Below you’ll find questions followed by insights from both Meredith and Jennifer. Hopefully this will help if your family is considering adopting a blind or visually impaired child.

Bonus: I am also happy to report that both of these precious children are now with their families! In fact, Meredith is in China preparing to meet Lili as I write this. 

Interview with Meredith:

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Isn’t it beautiful how adoptive families connect? How has observing other families given you courage to move forward in growing your family through adoption?

Meredith: Since we began the process of international adoption in 2010 we were open to many special needs including VI/blindness. After adding Thomas and Sam to our family in 2014 we went back and forth about what type of adoption we would do next, what special needs we were open to adding to our family. Once again we were not only convicted by the fact that all children, no matter their special need, needs a family, we also saw how families with more children then us were adding children with different needs to their family. We were so encouraged by seeing how families still went out and did life normally. Their children were doing typical every day things, welcomed by their families, schools and communities. It was humbling and joyful to have a seat on the sidelines watching these families grow and their children flourish.  

I remember looking at Lola’s file and thinking… I don’t know anyone who is blind. I remember finding it almost impossible to find resources about adopting a blind child. Have you been successful in connecting with other families who have walked this path and what resources have you found most helpful?

Meredith: When we went to Ethiopia to meet our sons there was a 4 year old girl at their orphanage who was blind. She was blind but she was joyful; probably the happiest child there. Blindness didn’t hold her back in one bit at the orphanage; she played with the other children, made her way around the orphanage and lived a seemingly normal, albeit in an orphanage, life. I remember sitting there watching her open a gift from her family in the USA thinking how much she would flourish once she came home. You, Erica, as well were such an encouragement posting about not only Lola and her feats (coming to mind specifically is her riding a bike, swimming in a hotel and going to VBS). It was also incredible seeing how Lola’s siblings were so eager to help her yet willing to stand back and let her learn to do typical activities. We’ve recently connected with more families whose children are not only blind but also in the same foster home as Lili. We are able to hear from them not only about the care their child has been given but see how their child is adjusting to life at home, what resources have been most helpful for them and any tips they have to offer.

Our kids are truly amazing, yet there are so many stigmas and pre-conceived notions about what blind children are capable of. How has observing blind/visually impaired children in other families helped you move past that?

Meredith: I suppose besides the obvious fact that life will be different for Lili than a child with vision, we ourselves didn’t have many preconceived notions. I owe that to our son Gabriel. He was adopted at birth with some very unfavorable diagnoses. While it hasn’t always been possible to parent him typically we’ve done our best to parent him with the expectation that he will do great things; his great things may be different than other children’s achievements but they will still be extraordinary. With that thought in mind, saying yes to Lili’s blindness was intimidating but not to overwhelming. We know we have much to learn, but just like with Gabe we are entering that arena with as many tools as possible and ready to go to battle for our girl to have the life she deserves; one full of love and every opportunity to become exactly who the Lord has planned for her. We do get a number of questions from people asking about her disability, what she’ll do as an adult (she’s 4, whatever she wants!) and how we as a family will handle another special need. For that we give as honest answers as possible, but what it boils down to is she is a little girl who needs a family and we are a family who needs a daughter, a sister for our sons and a little more sparkle in our days.

If you could share one, awesome, detail from your adoption story thus far, what would it be?

Meredith: One awesome detail about our story is the inner connectedness of it all. My husband and I had started talking about adoption again and I had been slowly looking at waiting child websites while we simultaneously contacted domestic agencies. And then one day, Jenny sent me a text that said “or you can adopt Lily while we adopt Ted” with an accompanying photo. In that instant I knew I had seen my daughters face; I forwarded the photo to my husband and he too, knew. We had some logistics to figure out; we were waiting to hear about a transfer for my husbands job, the agency she was listed with wouldn’t approve us to adopt Lili and the ever dreaded financial piece of adoption was looming in front of us. But what Jenny didn’t know was that about 25 years ago I started dreaming about adopting a baby girl from China and naming her Lily. That dream had changed as I grew older and met my husband; we adopted Gabriel domestically in 2009 and then adopted Thomas and Samsel in 2014 after a four year wait. We always thought we’d eventually adopt from China but were assuming it would be boy what with all of the waiting photos we had been seeing.

Life has a beautiful way of working out, even when it seems hard. We hate the fact that Lili had to wait so long in an orphanage for her family to find her but that one text showed us the daughter we didn’t know we always wanted but is so desperately needed. Lili is not only a beautiful addition to our family but a long awaited, forgotten dream come true.

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Jennifer and Meredith were so gracious and thorough in their interviews that I was able to split their stories into two separate posts. Join us in a few days to hear Jennifer and Ryan’s beautiful adoption story!

And if you’re feeling a bit of a tug in your heart, please check out Joshua’s advocacy post.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal