Friday, August 24, 2012


The day finally arrived! One year, two months, three weeks and six days since we started waiting for our referral call, we got it!

I can say with full joy, that you really can only imagine how very excited I am, that we are adopting a beautiful ten month old girl from Ghana! I unfortunately cannot go into much details about her since we are not legally her parents yet, and you don't get to see her beautiful expressive eyes or her cute little head of hair, but I can share with the world that we are going to be parents! Of a girl! A young girl! Even if we take a year to get her home (hopefully, prayerfully sooner) she will still be under 2 when we get her home.

I had the amazing opportunity to share with our parents yesterday, and I loved the way we decided to do it- we printed out her picture, and then drove over to their houses and just showed up, and gave them the picture and told them her name, and shared the news! So fun!

The hardest thing is that we actually first heard about this precious one four weeks ago, but due to some issues, couldn't be officially referred her, even as it looked like she was going to be ours. So for four long, painful weeks, we had to keep quiet about it because it could still fall apart at that time.

I have said before how this blog is not only a record of life, but also a way for me to express my feelings, and writing is a huge cathartic activity. But since I obviously couldn't share on my blog yet, I started a word document for me to be able to write about the chance to adopt this girl. Below are a few quotes from that document, to share my range of emotions during that time.

In one of the first e-mails regarding this girl, our coordinator said that she would likely be made available to us-
Likely, she said likely! Dealing with might and probably and “soon” gets really tiresome after more than a year and a half of starting this long road, so to hear a likely! Amazing feeling. Amazing to think that I can think in terms of baby, amazing to contemplate the ramifications for work, amazing to have a face, and a name!...

If we can get her home soon enough, she can learn English as a young child at the same time that American kids are learning English!

How awesome is it that she is from the same organization that we already sent our dossier too! It has to be as God intended, there just isn’t any other way that it could work out so well.

It is soooooo hard to not start calling everyone that I have ever spoken to about our adoption and tell them about what is LIKELY! LIKELY! That is such a nice word. Blake doesn’t even want me to tell our parents yet, because there are a lot of unknowns still, and it is better to wait until it is for sure, but Wow. Just WOW.
Then the waiting for more information from our coordinator started to feel like forever, and here are a few of my thoughts from that hard time of waiting for the documents/ referral.

8/1 I’m losing it. I have become beyond paranoid and obsessive about checking my e-mail. Every single e-mail gets my hopes up that it is any word from her. I desperately need to hang out with Erin and kiddos today just to get my mind off checking it every few minutes. Seriously… every few MINUTES! When I can finally pull myself together enough to do something else, like feed the dogs, I follow it with checking.
(e-mail check)...
Blake is coming around, and indulges me as I talk about hair, and what we’ll need, and how it will affect our lives, but I think he is more nervous than excited, and that again, doesn’t help me stay excited.

I do keep looking at the picture we have, but I think I have memorized the little face, and wish that I could have more pictures, especially with her smiling. Right now her expression is more like a surprised look.
(e-mail check)

If I can’t make it a week, how do I expect to last the however long it takes for us to finally get her home? My hope is that once it is for sure, I can fully indulge in room planning and registries, and pinning what I want for her. Sigh. I should do something…anything…is Erin here yet?

I had a few conversations with my amazing coordinator during that time, but her hands were tied as she was also waiting for information and documents from Ghana.

Here are my thoughts a few weeks in-

8/15 If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If you have exciting news, and no one to tell it, is it as exciting?

Tomorrow will mark three weeks since we heard about ____. Three weeks since we had a picture and a name and an age of a child that is “likely” to be ours, and yet I haven’t said anything on my blog, or anything to family, and when people ask about the adoption, I still have to say that we are just waiting, which is true. But the waiting is different than the waiting that we had before three weeks ago.

That waiting was abstract, where we weren’t even sure what we were waiting for. This waiting is like we are waiting for a shimmering image to become solid. But there is an image, a shape that we expect to become apparent. Really, either way, since we are open to her medical needs, it seems to be just a matter of time. More time waiting.

Meanwhile, while my excitement should be building, without the ability to tell people, it seems to calmed, gone down to a low simmer. It is still there, and I know that once I am free to share it will boil over, but for now, it is waiting.

We have a relatively bigger family weekend coming up, and yet, I will have to keep all this news under cover. At least I can rest somewhat easy knowing that I am not lying when I tell them that we are still waiting for a referral call.

For all of the likely that this is, we DON’T have that referral yet. The main reason we aren’t sharing is that until the referral, it really isn’t certain. Big sigh, I really want news soon.

On Wednesday this week, I had the opportunity to write an e-mail to our Ghana contact though our coordinator who could make this a reality, after I expressed to our coordinator that I wished I could just talk to him, and share our story and how we have been waiting. It seemed to have done the trick, because yesterday, August 23rd, 2012, we got the call from our coordinator with our referral!

We are still a long ways from getting her home, and there are still lots of hoops to jump through, but now it is hoops, extensions, updates and everything with a name, a face, a child and a specific little girl that we will be doing everything for, and that makes it all worth it. 

Next step, as I understand it, is a court date (still 1 or more months away), that we may or may not have to be at, but that will make us LEGALLY her parents. Huge. Awesome. Amazing. So very exciting! So glad to be able to share with all of you, many who have been following our story to become parents since 2009! We have a referral! (Happy dance!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gonna cook Ghana Food part 3

Over a year ago, I posted that we were going to try cooking Ghanian food after I bought a cookbook for it with a giftcard. A month after the first post about cooking Ghanian food, I included pictures and a description of two other recipes we tried, though under a different post name.

So, this is part 3, even though the second part did not appear under that name. I recently thought about my abandoned goal, and decided to take that recipe book back off the shelf and make another recipe.

A few weeks ago, we made Beef and Bell Peppers.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

It turned out really well. Blake was very skeptical of the recipe as it involved marinating the beef (we used bison) in red wine vinegar. He hates the smell of vinegar, and when he came home as it was marinating,  he was worried that he would not be a fan of this recipe at all. But when it was done cooking, and all of the ingredients were combined, we both enjoyed the flavor of the dish. It also had good lasting value as a leftover meal.

It is still a bit challenging to find recipes with all ingredients easy to find, and since so many of them are stews, a part of me wants to wait until fall to make them. On the other hand, I understand that Ghana is generally hot, and so I really shouldn't be put off from doing their recipes just because we are going through a heat wave in California.

While I am at it, I might as well share a few other meals that we have made this summer, many of them using our new pan, which I am really excited about. We finally cashed in some of our credit card thank you points to get a Williams Sonoma stainless steel pan. Up till now, all of our pans were non-stick, but some recipes need a pan that sticks!

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
This is a healthy spin on a Chile Relleno. The stuffing has quinoa, bison, zucchini, tomato, dried cranberries and onion in it. I used bell peppers, because the poblanos the recipe calls for are too spicy for me (meanwhile Blake added hot sauce). The white sauce on top is made with pecans, sour cream and milk, and adds a great touch to an already good combination.

I don't know if the above recipe has a specific name, but it is one we have made a number of times before, though our most recent batch was the best yet. It has pumpkin, swiss chard, onions, sausage and pasta in it, and amazingly, it has tons of flavor with very few "bad for you" ingredients. Especially cool about this attempt is that we used our own few home grown pumpkins for it. The pumpkins are roasted before they go into the saute.

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App
So, I am aware that this picture is not the most flattering. But it started out as a good base recipe. Then, I used some of my blossoming cooking skills to enhance the original and make it even better. It is a packet that has zucchini, tomato, basil, mozzerella and chicken in it. I added some onion and garlic salt as well as more basil than the recipe stated. All of this gets wrapped up in foil, and then cooked in the oven. When you take it out, the chicken is flavorful, the mozzerella is melting, and it is really just a tasty combination.

Those are just the few meals that I remembered to take a picture of, but so far we have been really enjoying our new pan, and also learning how to cook in a way to not let food stick to the bottom.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Worth more than a link

I, unsurprisingly, follow a lot of other adoption blogs, and I love hearing about their day to day lives as parents of adopted children. One of the many that I read is at titled Just Showing Up. Today I read her blog, and was so moved by it, I immediately wanted to share it, not just in a link, but repost the whole thing-
*I do comment on it more at the bottom, so if interested, you can go straight to my commentary by clicking the read more button, but it is better to read it first :-D.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Adoption culture

Something I write about far less than I imagined I would is adoption--in spite of the fact that I have four adopted children.  There are probably several reasons why I don't gravitate towards this subject, but one of them is that I don't feel particularly connected to the culture of adoption.

This may sound strange coming from me, especially if you know that some of my closest friends in real life are raising adopted children, and that I have countless Facebook friends who are also adoptive parents.  I've attended assorted adoption-related conferences and seminars over the past several years, and was one of the first people blogging about Ethiopian adoption in particular.

But still, I'm a little bit on the outside.  And that is by choice.

The present-day culture of adoption seems to operate on two opposite spectrums: my-healthy-adopted-baby-will-have-no-issues contingent, and the medical/developmental-needs-are-SO-no-big-deal, so adopt a waiting child camp. 

One group thinks adoption is the best ever because oh my goodness, babies are so sweet, and the other believes everyone ought to be adopting waiting children because any and all issues are completely correctable and workable.

Both sides love to emphasize how we are adopted by Christ, and that this supplies the mandate necessary to embark on the process of making an orphan your child.

Both sides miss the mark, in my opinion.

Because the fact of the matter is that adoption is hard.  I repeat, adoption is hard.  And I don't mean the process, I mean the act of taking a traumatized and hurting human being into your home and incorporating him or her into your family.  I mean the transition period as well as the years to follow, the unending attempts to diagnose behavioral issues and foster attachment and correct for learning disabilities.

It is, ultimately, the long and hard work of love.

That is the crux.  That is why adoption is hard.  Because love is a choice, it is taking the long view, it is borne out in actions and also in silence, it is independent of feelings and it does not follow any one timeline.  It demands sacrifice, self-giving, nurture and structure, and daily reliance upon God.

And adoption in particular tests our character because it illuminates the struggle to put another first, above ourselves.  We must stare brokenness and vulnerability square in the face, our child's face.  We must make decisions and rethink any and all conventional parenting strategies, and in the end accept a new definition of success...while still clinging fiercely to hope.

We must become very small.

This is what, I believe, so much of the adoption culture misses.  To claim a child as one's own, we sign up to enter into a world of pain and sorrow and grief--some of which may never fully be healed this side of Heaven.  This world is often filled too with cognitive impairment, impulsivity, developmental delays, congenital heart defects, Asperger's syndrome, and the like.  These things do not fit neatly into the "cute baby" or "it's no big deal" categories.

For they are, truly, a most very big deal.

But this world is also filled with redemption.  We must take care not to miss the work of Jesus, especially in the small things, because otherwise we will only see the big, hard things.  We must continue setting standards for each of our children, and helping them to reach their potential, in spite of their difficult start in life.

It's no secret that I believe adoptive families ought to be open to waiting children.  I confess that my sympathies do indeed lie more closely with that side of the spectrum.  But we must go in with eyes wide open, and reject the idea that any and all effects from institutionalization or Cerebral Palsy or ADHD will be corrected with just a little time and love.  Some will, in fact, not be.  Because when you raise a child, adopted or biological, it is the work of a lifetime, not a list of milestones to be checked off until the age of 18 when the child disappears into the void.  And many (most?) of our adopted children have essentially sustained brain damage--whether due to undernutrition or trauma.

It is the work of love. 

And love is long-suffering, it perseveres, it forgives and it remains.  It is the very essence of God.

So while I count it a great privilege to talk to people about adoption, and wish for families to think long and hard about whether there might be room in their home and hearts for a child without a family, I also know that once the dust settles, adoption simply becomes the toil and joy of parenting.  It is exhausting and exhilarating, all at once, and will call you into a deeper and more difficult love than you have known.  God has called some of us to this journey and most of us regularly wonder why.  We feel woefully inadequate when it comes to such a humbling and beautiful task.

And yet, we know.

We know that our children would quite literally have nobody else were it not for us.

We know that our children faced abuse of all kinds in their respective orphanages.

We know that our daughter with Down syndrome would have lived a much shorter life were it not for receiving open heart surgery in America two months after joining our family.

We know, first-hand, how very important love is.

We know it is life, and we know it is mercy in action.

We know it is good.

And that is the adoption culture that I believe must be cultivated.  This is the paradigm that is sustainable over time.  It breaks through the unrealistic expectations while standing in awe of the miraculous.  It is filled with hope and beauty while acknowledging hardship and yes, occasional suffering.

It is, in many ways, merely representative of life itself.

And maybe that's part of the gift, this being called by God to participate in adoption.  Maybe He is giving us a unique glimpse into life that we would simply not otherwise have.  Not only are we able to see the world through the eyes of a precious child, but we have a front row seat to healing, raw grief, and the importance and value of belonging.

Several years into adoptive parenting, I am more convinced than ever that we parents receive far more than we could ever give. 

And this is perhaps the best-kept secret of adoption culture.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Co-Ed Baby Shower Fun

Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App

Blake and I went to a co-ed baby shower a few weeks ago for one of my friends, and while I am not sure how much Blake enjoyed it, I had lots of fun!

My expectant friend was one of the people that I met in my Bible study group, and so it was nice to see all of the male counterparts to the other girls that I know and to get to spend time with them, and catch up during this time that our study is on a break. Unfortunately, Blake's shy side came out, and he only spoke to people who spoke to him. The one exception to that was during the relay game.

As a co-ed shower, it had co-ed games. The guys had to get into teams of four, and do a relay race, where you "tagged" the next person in line by taking off your adult diaper, and having the next guy put it on. The first member of the team had to finish a baby bottle full of coke, the second had to put a pacifier into a jar without using their hands, and the third had to stack four blocks blindfolded so they spelled baby. Blake, being himself, had chosen to stand at the back of the line.

This meant that he was the person who determined the winning team, and his job was not easy. The fourth member of the team had to take off a dirty diaper from the doll, put on a clean one, and then throw the doll through a hole in the wood (which was painted to look like a crib, so they were "putting the baby to bed") from about 7 feet away. Blake showed that he is really ready to be a dad, by expertly executing the change, and then getting the doll in the hole on the second try, but still fast enough that he won for his team! For his effort, he got us a gift card. :-)

(The girls competition was much less exciting, and our team lost by 10 seconds).

It was a really nice shower, not just because of the games and getting to socialize (which are true of every baby shower really), but I loved a lot of their ideas. For example, it was held at a park, and kids were welcome, which made it feel very family oriented. Also, they had blankets spread out, with a table in the middle of each that was actually a door that was painted and had blocks mounted on it, so it was a low table. Our glasses were mason jars, and overall the decor was beautiful.

My favorite baby shower idea that they did was a onesie decorating contest. The onesies were donated (they were clean, but used onesies). They had stencils and paint, and pens, and everyone who came decorated a onesie for the baby. Even better, the couple plans to take pictures of their daughter with each person's onesies on, and send a copy of her modeling their "design" to each of us. What a fun idea! A great way to personalize the onesies, and give the parents quite the collection. The contest was just whose onesie they liked the best.Mine didn't turn out as intended as it got smeared before it dried, and then I attempted to mask the smear by adding more decorations to it... let's just say I wasn't surprised when I didn't win.  I couldn't help thinking that even if our child is older when they come home, this could easily be changed into a t-shirt decorating contest, with the same picture sending idea, and it would be so much fun to see what people come up with.

I actually really like the idea of a co-ed shower, but my shy husband might not appreciate it. If we could convince him, it makes a lot of sense to me to have it be co-ed because we are both becoming parents, not just me. Also, I liked that my friend's male family members were able to come as well and celebrate the birth of the baby. It should be an occasion for the whole family, not just the females to rejoice in.

My most proud moment was that my jealousy level was low, in spite of being surrounded by pregnant women or women with their children. I am so thankful for the peace that I have towards the lack of pregnancy, even as I do sometimes get frustrated over how long adoption is taking.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Slower than the Average Bear

As the ticker at the top shows, we have currently been somewhere in the process of adoption for 1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks and 1 day. We have been waiting for a referral for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks and 2 days. I've read that the average length that international adoptions take from start to finish is between 1 to 2 years. We are officially slower than average.

Even if we get a referral tomorrow, we are not likely to make the 2 year cut off. The most recent estimate from my coordinator is that from referral it is taking 6-12 months to get the child home, with most being around 8-10 months. For those of you keeping track, even if we get that referral next week, add six months to that, and that would put us in February, more than two years from when we started.

As part of our "celebration" of officially taking a long time, we get the "prize" of getting to redo paperwork that we have already done. One of our forms expires in January, and like I mentioned above, the bare minimum from referral to homecoming is past January, so we have to get an extension... which means we have to redo fingerprints... and our home study. I am not sure what updating our home study is going to include, but at minimum it means that we have to have the interviews again, and have to pay more. 

Most days, the time it has taken doesn't bother me. The fact is that everyone I know who has ever had kids says that life changes when they come, and that we will miss the time with just us, and I know I do appreciate this time with my husband. Also, it has given me more time to work, which means more money saved, and a bigger cushion for the adoption. I have a lot of freedom on a day to day basis, and I like that too.

But something about having to start the process of redoing all this stuff really brings me down. I can't really explain it, but just waiting is one thing, and having to do extra things BECAUSE it is taking so long is another. Imagine you are in line at Disneyland, you expected it to be a long line because of the estimated wait time, but now it is taking longer than expected, and as if that isn't enough, now they say you have to climb an extra 3 flights of stairs because the line is longer, which you wouldn't have had to do if the line was shorter. You would be understandably frustrated!

I hope and pray that our referral comes soon, because I don't want to be the kind of person that dwells on the negative, and it would be a lot easier for me if I had a referral to hold on to like an anchor as I deal with the "joys" of getting to do this paperwork again. I hope our referral comes soon so that I can finally have some real news for family members and friends, many of whom have given up asking because they don't want to hurt me by asking when I yet again have no new news. I hope that our referral comes soon so that I can give my employers any kind of general timeline for when I will be taking a break for our child.

But the biggest reason that I hope for my referral to come soon is that I want that 6-12 month timer to start ticking down. It is hard enough knowing that even once we get the call it could take another year after that without being very aware that any additional time from now to referral is just added to that wait.

Deep sigh.

"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine." Isaiah 55:8

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

 “Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told. " Habakkuk 1:5

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. " Ephesians 3:20-21

Deep breath. God has a plan. I believe it is a good plan. I just have to wait and see what He has in store for us.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

My Heart

"I ask for nothing
I can get by
But I know so many
Less lucky than I
Please help my people
The poor and downtrod
I thought we all were
The children of God"

The above quote is from  a song in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To me, it is the most appropriate quote for my heart to try to raise money for Adoption Advocates.

When I started signing up for races, there are countless charities that you can run for, and they will give you the race entry for free if you agree to raise money for their cause. Some of them will even train you. But I didn't sign up for them. Not because they are not worthy causes, because there are many great causes out there, but none of them even come close to my heart for Adoption Advocates.

This, as many of you know, is the adoption organization that we are working with for our adoption. As an organization, they have been more than kind and helpful in answering our questions and guiding us through our process. In the world of adoption, I think they are something special as they take a firm stance against bribes and corruption in the process. I have read books that tried to tell me that bribes are just how it works in other countries, and that never sat right with me, and I appreciate this organization's commitment to not work with corrupt officials as it helps me sleep at night, knowing that nothing inappropriate will be happening in our child's journey home.

Social Welfare Officer has a valid case to investigate, and is willing to do it--but not for the usual cost of transportation and time. Instead, he wants to make a flat out profit. Let's have $500 instead of the $100 that would have paid for transportation and time. No $500? No investigation report--at least not until he is to the bottom of the pile that will pay the $500. That scenario is VERY common in Ghana. What is an agency to do? Well, our answer has been to go elsewhere or to wait until we work our way to the top of the pile. Some entire regions are full of officials like that. Go elsewhere. Thankfully, there are regions (and officials within regions) that are doing their work for a decent living wage and in order to benefit children. Believe it or not, there are some very ethical individuals working within the courts and social welfare offices of Ghana. Corruption is there, but you can work around it if you are only patient.
                                                               - Quote from our coordinator's blog

But a donation towards them goes farther than just showing our support of their ethical commitment. There are many adoption organizations out there that work on getting kids out of that country and into homes in the United States, but AAI's first priority is keeping the kids with their families!

In poorer countries like Ghana, there are parents who love their kids so much, they know they can't afford food and schooling for them, so they approach adoption organizations, and offer their kids for adoption just for the hope of giving them a better life. Some organizations just accept that and place the kids up for adoption, but not AAI. Instead they look at the parent's background, and see if they are really showing effort (like keeping a job, actively trying to earn income) and then give the family an option to put the kids into a sponsorship program instead of putting them up for adoption. Money from donations to AAI helps these kids in the program by giving them the food and schooling they need, and then they can stay with their family, which I think everyone can agree is better for the kids. This is just one of many reasons that our referral takes longer than if we had gone through another agency, because AAI tries to keep the families together even if the family had initially tried to give the child up!

AAI also helps orphans that for whatever reason can't be adopted, and also tries to help families who are willing to adopt special needs kids, but need some financial assistance to do so because the need to place special needs kids is so great.

Breast cancer, children's health and the myriad of other good organizations already have huge fundraising campaigns, and millions of dollars are donated to them every year. AAI doesn't spend any money on advertising, and frequently the only people who hear about this great organization are those connected with someone who is working with the agency.

I have currently run 60 of my 300 miles that I will run up to and through the marathon, and my half marathon is less than a month away. Please prayerfully consider donating towards my cause as a way to support me, and my huge running goals for the year, but also as a sign of support to this organization that is such a huge part of us becoming a family someday, and also does so much for families in the country, and does it in such a good way. Next to my ticker at the top is the button to donate, and it will take you to the page that I set up for donations to this non-profit organization. It would mean a lot to me, and also a lot to every family that it benefits whether in Ghana or here in the United States.

I'll leave you with another quote from my coordinator on her blog in an answer to someone's question about where our adoption fees go:

I think there is a *HUGE* myth out there that all adoption agencies are somehow making money off of adoption programs. Seriously, that is simply not the case with reputable agencies. Instead, those agencies are trying to figure out how to make ends meet to both cover the actual expenses involved in the adoption process and all of the humanitarian projects they sponsor within the country. I promise! I'm telling you this as someone who 4 years ago would have never guessed the TRUTH! I thought they brought in the bucks too! I hate it that some agencies out there have inflated fees in order to have cushy offices or higher paychecks, and caused ALL agencies to suffer because of the myth. The program I run didn't come close to being balanced last year. Much more was sent to the country than was collected in fees or donations. Donations we receive don't have a penny taken out for administrative costs. It ALL goes to the designated project. Please, help me in educating others that there are many agencies who are NOT financially benefiting from the work being done.

Feel free to pass this on to anyone else who you think might be interested in donating towards this great cause that is near and dear to my heart.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Novelty and Challenge brings happiness

This summer I read a book called The Happiness Project not because I am unhappy, on the contrary I generally feel very happy. I just happened to see it at Target, and since I have trouble spending money on books when it isn't necessary, I then checked it out of the library.

The basic story is that the author felt that she could be happier, and then set out to research happiness, and from there design a way to incorporate many of the things she learned into her life in a way that each month added more resolutions while keeping all of the previous month's resolutions.

The majority of the book I enjoyed as a story, and as interesting to note, but not something to directly apply to me. However, this is with one big exception. She talked about how research shows that friends and a social network of people to talk to is important, and a good way to build that is to join clubs with people with similar interests. She also talked about how though it is really tough at the beginning to do something new, the research is clear that after you have done it, it brings happiness to conquer those feelings of insecurity.

Combine that with the fact that I have been reading books about running, and many of them talk about they recommend joining a running club for various reasons. I was nervous, but of course the book covered that too, and my fear of the unknown wasn't a good reason to avoid this adventure.

So, at this point I have the happiness book recommending it, the running book recommending it and then there was one final motivating factor- my unavoidable marathon training.

I am doing longer and longer runs every other weekend, and though Blake is very sweet to ride along me while I run, I know it isn't his ideal way to spend a weekend, especially not when I need to get up early in the morning to beat the summer heat. Meanwhile, already existing in Orange County is a club that meets Saturday mornings to run early enough to beat the heat.

After some quick internet searching, I found South Coast Roadrunners. They regularly run fairly local to me on Monday and Thursday nights, and then a longer run that changes locations weekly on Saturday mornings. Every Saturday run is followed by a meal together, and once a month the Thursday run includes a pizza dinner afterwards. I know Thursdays won't work for me once my Bible study starts again, but for now it's fine. I may switch to Mondays then, since I don't really want to take two nights and a morning away from my time with Blake. At least until my marathon, Saturday morning runs are a part of my schedule either way, so this was pretty ideal. For motivating their members, there is a club race every month that members can submit their times and they turn into points with prizes, and there is also the fun of that many members doing a race together. I am already signed up for so many races, I am not sure I will be able to join many this year, but maybe I will do a few, but not worry about points. If I decide to stick with it after my marathon, I might aim more for their races (half marathons and less distances primarily is my thought at this moment) and see how I would really fare as far as points go.

I learned that once a month they have their new members night (the pizza night) and I felt like I was out of excuses, I HAD to try it. I will fully admit that I was very apprehensive about my first run with them, and I had really no idea what to expect. So last Thursday I went to the meeting place, and the first person I happened to start chatting with was also new, but at least had been in a running club before. I asked her about how we figure out who to run with, and she said that her club would sort people before heading out on the runs.

This conversation proved to be somewhat detrimental as a few minutes later, after a brief introduction by the club president, she says,  "Let's get going," and then everyone starts running! I was completely unprepared for that start, so I was fiddling with my Garmin, and starting off really fast. Once I got that recording, I looked around me... and there are only guys ahead of me. This immediately told me that I was going too fast. I KNOW I am not faster than all the girls in this group, and if I am currently in that spot, there is no way I could keep it up for any distance. I slowed down to the speed of the fastest girls in the pack, and asked them about what their pace was, and learned that, yep, they were too fast for me. I then asked who in the group was running closer to my pace, and they referred me to someone else in the pack.

I continued to slow down till I got near that person, only to not be able to catch their attention. I did catch the attention of another girl in that area, and found that her pace was pretty similar to mine. Yay! So I stuck with them, and we kept following the pack for a while. At some point she, and the other girl with us, asked about how far everyone was running that day. After some discussion, we decided on six miles. My favorite thing about this six mile run was that we talked the whole time, and the time passed quickly, while I also maintained a great pace for me. It was really fun!

Thursday's success (which continued at the pizza party) was enough motivation for me to try the Saturday run, especially since I knew that there was not going to be any sorting unless I did it myself. According to my training program, today was a 10.5 mile run, and I knew my pace was around 10 minute miles, and so as we gathered at the meeting spot, I started asking around how far other people were planning on running, and what speed. I found a group that was a little slower than my pace and were only planning on doing 10 miles, but that was close enough for me. I had another great day running with the group, and talking about all kinds of things with them.

Even though I have gotten used to music on my runs, I found from these last two runs that a good conversation works as well or better than music to distract you from the portions of running which are difficult. Every person I have talked to has reassured me that you can almost always find someone else who is planning on running similar to you and your goals, slow or fast, short or long.

I hope and expect that these two runs are what I can expect in the future. Some nights I will likely find groups that are planning on running farther and/or faster than I would run on my own, and it will push me to be better. Other runs, I will compromise for the sake of having a group, and I will run with people slower than me and shorter than my plan. The nice part of this was that I felt good at the end, and I had moments where I could tell that I was talking easier than my running partners. This was especially significant for me because last August, I was dead tired and winded after a single mile jog, and today I had more energy and breath to talk than someone who has already finished multiple marathons after running 8 miles! It was a great feeling.

Also on the point of a great feeling, I watched the 10k Olympic race today, and putting aside the thought that I took twice as long to finish than those winners, it made me happy to think that I ran that distance this year!

Running may make me tired, and sore, but there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with finishing a good run, whether it is good based on pace or distance. Less than a mile to my half marathon!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Orange County Fair Visit

I have been going to the Orange County fair for as long as I can remember, and though I do a lot less on a typical fair visit than I did as a child or even as a teenager, I still make it a point to visit at least once every year. Wednesday I had the chance to visit along with my friend from high school and her two kids.

Since I am a teacher at heart, I couldn't help but incorporate a little lesson into the day's activities. After clearing it with their mom ahead of time, I started the day by telling both kids (ages two and four) that they would have ten dollars to spend, however they wanted, but when it was gone, it was gone. They agreed, and seemed pretty happy about the prospect.

 The first thing we went and saw was the animals. Elaynea, the four year old, was very impressive as any time I referred to an animal as a "baby ____" she would correct me with the appropriate term. Me- "Look at the baby goats" Elaynea- "Those are kids" Me- "Do you see the baby cow?" Elaynea- "That's a calf" and so on for most of the animals in the area. Her mom Erin informed me that many of their books that they read (over and over again) have animals with their babies and all of the appropriate names. So it was even more interesting to me that when we got to the chickens, she didn't know the term chicks, though Erin said it was because this particular fact was in only one of their books.

After seeing all these animals, and not being able to touch most of them, Elaynea decided rather emphatically that she wanted to go to the petting zoo. So, we looked on a map, and headed towards the petting zoo, which was on the opposite side of the fair. On the way there, we had our first possible money spending encounter as the two year old, Jeremiah, saw the spider man inflatable, and he said that he wanted it. So I asked how much it cost (and how much some of the other items cost that Elaynea was interested in) and learned that it would cost ten dollars. Now, we wanted the kids to learn about spending money, but we didn't want them to spend it all on one item at the very beginning and regret it later.

So, instead of just letting them spend it all now, we told them that we were going to keep walking around for now, and if they still wanted it in a couple of hours after doing other fair things, that they could come back and buy it. The kids were pretty agreeable to this. We finally make it to the petting zoo (it takes a lot longer for a four year old to walk somewhere than to just walk at adult speed) and there was another opportunity to spend money to buy feed for the animals.

So, we talked to the kids, and explained that they could buy the two dollar cup of food, but then they couldn't get those inflatables, and after some consideration, both kids decided that was a good choice (and we adults agreed with this logic). They got quite a bit of enjoyment out of those cups of food, and they tried to share it evenly with the different types of animals, with the exception of the calves, which were a bit too big for Elaynea's taste, and she was too afraid of their big heads to be willing to feed those. The big hit of the petting zoo was the piglets, and both kids gave a lot of feed to those little snouts. Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App Elaynea finished feeding first, and was done, and we were waiting for Jeremiah to finish his cup, but he got over it, so we just gave it to a random kid in the area to enjoy feeding animals with.

 Right by the exit to the petting zoo was the ark where they tell Bible stories. Elaynea saw the boat first, and asked if she could go there. Free Bible story? Of course she can go! And where she goes, her brother follows. Erin took this opportunity as a golden chance to get to use the restroom without little ones underfoot, and I waited outside the ark. At one point, Elaynea raised her hand and said, "Excuse me, but I want to say something." I didn't hear what she wanted to say, but I thought it was pretty funny that this four year old didn't have any trouble speaking her mind. When the story was done, they both got a little beaded bracelet that was supposed to be their reminder of the story. So, Erin and I asked Elaynea what the beads meant, and while she remembered the first few, she couldn't remember the rest, so little Elaynea said, "I'll go back and ask her," and proceeded to go right back into the ark and ask the teacher. So cute! Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App We adults had decided it was lunchtime, so we started heading back toward the food area, but we were stopped briefly at the next booth where they were giving out free new testaments. These two little ones thought it was amazing that they got their own books, and spent the majority of the rest of the day holding on to them, or asking us to read them.

My highlight of lunchtime was that Elaynea wanted to write her name in her Bible. So, I got out a pen, and let her try to write her name. She got through the first few letters, and then couldn't remember how to write the rest even with prompting, and then she decided to start over. She didn't get much farther on her second try than her first, and instead of going for a third attempt, she handed me the pen, and told me to write her name. Of course, Jeremiah wanted his name written in it as well, so that was my next mission. Our next stop was the pig races, and then the kids decided their next purchase would be to have their faces painted. Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App Jeremiah got balloons, but I didn't manage to get a picture of that because right when I was about to take the picture, he got upset, and started crying.

You see, the kids were in the big sand box area, playing with the communal sand toys placed there for the kids to play with, buckets and shovels and such. Elaynea and Jeremiah have been trained really well to respect other peoples' things, and so if they wanted an item, even one that looked like it wasn't being used, they would politely ask first (Elaynea even got a positive comment from the mom of the child she asked).

Not so with the other kids there, who would just walk over and take an item if these two did not currently have their hand on it. One of these moments was when I was about to take his face paint picture, and we just narrowly avoided it happening a second time when Erin told the child that was about to take another tool that he was still using it. Sigh, it really worries me about the future of the nation the lack of manners these kids have.

Anyways, after enjoying many of the activities in this area, including some paper crafts and other play areas, we were ready to head over to the rides and games. In addition to admission, our clothing donations (Wednesday fair promotion) got us a free carnival ride per ticket. Erin was smart enough to realize that while her kiddos didn't need tickets for admission, if she brought enough clothes for them as well, we would have four free rides instead of two! So smart! We, loving those kids so much, were willing to give them our rides. So, they got to choose two rides to go on. Jeremiah is at that age where he isn't big enough for every ride, and even the rides he is big enough for, he has to go with someone taller than the line (so even four year old Elaynea counts for that someone, which I think is funny). The first one they chose was very much like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. Uploaded from the Photobucket Android App After walking around and looking at the various rides, Elaynea, and thus Jeremiah, decided they wanted to go on one of these: KIDS AT STATE FAIR Pictures, Images and Photos (not my picture, but hopefully you can picture this kind of thing).

 After various obstacles and climbing and suspension bridges, they go on a slide back to the bottom. Yet again, Elaynea was tall enough to not only go, but count as Jeremiah's chaperone. I had my doubts, but figured it was Erin's call, and she was willing to try it. Things were going well until the rope climb part. Poor Jeremiah got his little legs stuck in the squares between the rope, and though Elaynea was trying to encourage him, there wasn't much else she could do to help. I was growing more and more worried and frustrated as older kids just kept passing this little one struggling without helping get him unstuck. After a minute or two of this, one of the ride operators noticed and helped him get his legs out, and he was able to finish climbing up (though I did note that she stayed there in case he got stuck again). At the point of the suspension bridge it was Elaynea who got scared and needed our encouragement. She was brave, and pushed past her fear and made it to the slide, and ended the ride on a high note. The kids really wanted to do it again, and they still had some of their ten dollars left, so technically they could, but we (again) intervened and reminded them that they wanted to play a carnival game (which they had mentioned previously in the day).

 So we used another portion of their money to give them a chance to play the balloon popping game. The best part of the game that we encouraged them to play is that it advertised that kids under twelve automatically win. Good deal. Turns out the game set up was easy enough that they didn't even need a consolation prize, and they both popped balloons with their throw (almost impossible to miss, with each balloon in a square). Elaynea quickly and happily chose a purple whale. Jeremiah was more picky. First he chose a green fish, then since Elaynea got a whale, he changed to a black whale. Then for whatever reason, he didn't want the black whale either, and switched to a blue whale. We were cracking up at his lack of decision. We left this area pretty quick after choosing the blue whale so he couldn't switch again.

By this time, it was time for dinner, and Blake had joined us. My meal caused quite a stir as I walked around with it, and I actually was stopped multiple times by people asking where I got it from. It was half a pineapple, carved out, and filled with rice, chicken and pineapple served with sauce on the side. It was really good, and much lighter than your typical fair food. I guess to counteract that, the adults at the table also shared a blooming onion.

We offered a piece to Elaynea, who asked if she could try it and were first puzzled when she said, "I had that before, the circle ones." After a bit of thinking, we figured out she was talking about onion rings!

 Blake wanted to see the garden, so we headed over to that area. When we were in the bee area, the kids saw that they could make their own candles for a dollar, which happened to be what they had left after the game. Another great use for the money. They also enjoyed some honey sticks. We looked at the area where people could enter their largest or best produce, and they had a great section for little ones like these two where they could pick up and touch a bunch of different fruits and vegetables. I really enjoyed watching Elaynea with it especially as she would try to guess what each thing was, and was very often right. A few times, when she wasn't sure, we would encourage her to smell it, and many times she would then be able to figure it out (especially citrus fruits).

 Our next stop was the carnival of products, which is really just like a mini swapmeet, but fun to see all the items that they are selling. At one stand, I happened to be holding Elaynea, and then after giving her a sample, the woman asked if her mom would want one. I quickly corrected her, but apparently Elaynea's face was a look of puzzlement, like she couldn't figure out why in the world the lady would think such a strange thing (even though I was holding her, and have some similar physical attributes as her).

It was getting later, so the kids' patience was starting to wane, and so before entering the carnival of products, Erin told both kids that if they were really good during that time, that they could have ice cream afterwards. Jeremiah fell asleep during the walk through, so he missed out, but Elaynea had earned it, and we went to go get dessert. When we met back up after going to different dessert places, we got to hear about the generosity of strangers, as one of them had heard Erin decide that she didn't think she should spend the money on a banana split for herself in addition to her daughter's cone, and the person behind her decided to buy it for her! Isn't it great to hear that things like that still happen?

Our last stop for the day was the craft area, and Blake stayed back with Jeremiah sleeping in the stroller and gave us girls a chance to look around at all of the handmade crafts for the year.

It was a great fair day, and I am thankful for the chance to share days like that with my friend and her kids.