After reading lots of online reviews and Better Business Bureau reports on our top three agencies, we've decided to move forward with the little local agency. We met the agency workers in person two years ago when we attended the education weekend and had our initial intake interview. We appreciate their genuine hearts for adoption and feel really secure investing with them, both emotionally and financially.
We completed our first giant stack of paperwork and mailed it out yesterday -- an updated parent fact sheet, the adoption questionnaire/application, faith statements, and our receptivity forms. Now, we wait for the official program acceptance letter and the home study interview appointment. (Because knowing us more personally helps with the matching process, the agency social worker wants to be the one to complete our home study, so we'll stop working with the local worker and pass along what we've already done.)
Sunday, January 23, 2011
After reading lots of online reviews and Better Business Bureau reports on our top three agencies, we've decided to move forward with the little local agency. We met the agency workers in person two years ago when we attended the education weekend and had our initial intake interview. We appreciate their genuine hearts for adoption and feel really secure investing with them, both emotionally and financially.
Posted by Amanda at 4:12 PM
Friday, January 21, 2011
As we've prayed about agency choices, I've continued to pray for our would-have-been birthmom and the twins she's now parenting. For the last couple of days, I've felt strongly compelled to send a little something her way -- practical things, things I know she needs -- to show that we wholeheartedly support her choice to parent and harbor no ill feelings towards her. As we were getting ready for bed last night, I told James how I was feeling, but he was reserved -- he didn't want my gesture to come across incorrectly or for it to seem like we were stalking her or her babies. Initially, I agreed with him and decided to ignore the burden on my heart.
By this morning, though, that burden was back and stronger than ever, so I decided to go against what my husband thought -- not normally something I'd recommend. On Black Friday, I stocked up on boxes of baby wipes, so I snagged a box from the storage shelf and headed towards Babies R' Us. I had some coupons and reward dollars from some Christmas purchases I made, so I justified my plans by committing to keep my spending around what I could pass along for free or for very little money. The closer I got to Babies R' Us, though, the more I worried James was right. Maybe she wouldn't understand my gesture as one of genuine love and honest support and maybe I would seem like a stalker.
In my concern, I didn't call my husband -- I called my mom. I told her what I'd felt and what I thought I was supposed to do, then I asked her if she thought it was weird. "No, I don't think it's weird, I think it's nice, but here, talk to D." D is the babies' grandmother, and she played a significant part in connecting us with her daughter. She and my mom were working together today. After the adoption didn't work out, I didn't really expect to talk to her again, but she seemed very happy to talk to me and apologized for things not working out as we'd all hoped. I assured her we were fine and that we were so honored to have ever been considered as possible parents for the babies. Despite that arrangement falling apart, God is faithful and He has a plan for us.
I explained to D that we've been praying about our next step and the agency we're to work with. (Side note: we've decided we're going with the little local agency we loved so much before having Brystol). I continued by telling her that I've still been praying for birthmom and the babies. I shared that I felt impressed to pick up some diapers and essentials as a gesture of love and support, but that I had concerns about my offering being offensive or coming across as predatory. D was overjoyed. She said my gift would be a tremendous blessing, that birthmom was completely overwhelmed and deeply struggling. She said that birthmom was in a very hard place financially and was actually coming up within the hour to go to the store with D to pick up diapers -- diapers D couldn't actually personally afford to buy.
At that point, I called my husband for forgiveness (because sometimes it's easier to get forgiveness than permission -- ha!). I relayed the conversations and told him I was outside of Babies R' Us, then I confirmed it would be okay for me to buy a few things. When he knew the gift would be well-received and wouldn't seem weird, he was behind it, so I picked up some diapers and a few other essentials and headed towards the Home Depot where my mom works. I just planned to drop the stuff with a note, but about ten minutes before pulling in, D called me to say birthmom was so grateful for our gift and wanted to talk to me. She gave me her number and encouraged me to call. So, I did.
I'm so glad I did.
All the "conversations" we had before the babies were born were mediated by our respective moms, or were between me and Grandma D. Several times, James and I offered to meet birthmom and her boyfriend to let them get to know us better, but birthmom was scared and boyfriend was oppositional. Talking to her today was so natural and easy. She talked to me like I was an old friend and went on about how overwhelming parenthood is. I did my best to encourage her and I promised it would get easier. She said if she hadn't decided to parent, I was definitely the mom she would have picked for her kids. "Thank you," I replied, "I would have been honored." I told her I was on my way to the store to drop off the things I'd collected, and she said she was on her way up to meet me there.
Birthmom was so beautiful-- just a regular girl in a puffy black jacket with hair dyed pink and a rhinestoned bow. She noticed my nose ring and compared it to hers. She thanked me for the diapers and asked if I wanted to see the babies. I did, of course I did.
The babies were so beautiful -- scrunched little bundles of honey skin with tufted black hair, perpetually drowsy. They looked like Gracie as a baby, a small version of James. We visited for a few minutes, and when we parted ways, I did not feel sad. Sure, those sweet babies were perfect and would have been wonderful additions to our family, but they were perfectly hers and my heart was at peace.
Meeting this birthmom today was such a blessing. As long as we've planned to adopt (both before Brystol and of late), I've had some concerns about open adoption. Our situation with Bub is special. We've heard amazing stories about open adoption, but our adoption story with Bub is different, and we can't look to it as an example of something we can hope for in the future.
When we began exploring open adoption and had to consider including a birthmom in our lives for the long-term, Bub's birthmom is the sort of birthmom that came to mind. Long story short, the thought of inviting someone like her into our stable lives is not something I've ever personally been very excited about. We expressed concern to our social worker, even asked about the possibility of having an anonymous adoption, but he assured us that, when the time comes, God would bring the right match to our family -- both baby and birthmom. He reminded us that, even then, we have choices and can negotiate for things that make us comfortable. Still, I've remained unsure about that relationship.
Stepping out and doing something unconventional today led to a face-to-face meeting with our would-have-been birthmom, and meeting her both opened my eyes and changed my heart. She wasn't an angry and aggressive person. She wasn't high or strung out on anything. Nothing about our conversation was forced, uncomfortable, or frustrating -- we talked easily like we'd known each other for a good, long while. We hugged when we parted. She was just a regular girl who wanted the best for her babies, and who, at one point, thought adoption might be that best thing.
Sure, she didn't choose me to parent her children, but today she showed me that there are indeed nice, normal people out there considering the adoption option, and that what I've always assumed will be an impossible relationship might not be so bad after all.
photo credit: tensionnot.com
Posted by Amanda at 5:50 PM
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I love scarves, but I never know how to wear them in a way that doesn't make me look stupid or that doesn't leave the scarf slipping off my neck every three point five seconds. Recently, Molly Piper shared a Works For Me Wednesday vlog showing how to wrap a scarf in a most interesting braided knot. I tried the technique today with a clearance scarf I picked up last week, and I love it!
I tried to get a better, more direct shot of the knot and not of my hands waving about wildly, but I got 693 pictures of the wall beside my mirror and this one of me looking remarkably like a zombie.
Watch Molly to see how it's done...
Posted by Amanda at 9:18 PM
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Last winter after drooling over some food blogs, I sent an e-mail to my canning friend Marcie and begged her to add tangerine marmalade to the lot of jars she planned to prepare for me over the summer. A few months later, UPS dropped a box of sweets on my doorstep -- blackberry jam for Bub, tangerine marmalade for me. The marmalade was so bright and so delicious, it was like sunshine in a jar! It was better than I imagined it to be. No doubt about it, Marcie takes care of those she loves.
The spring semester just began for me, and in an effort to make some decent dinners in the midst of my busyness, I've been relying on meal starters I have stored in the freezer. I thawed some cooked turkey and planned to put together a casserole, but I decided instead that I wanted to make something other than a noodle dish with a heavy, creamy base. I searched AllRecipes.com, my go-to recipe site, and came across a simple poultry dish using up the delicious marmalade. This is the recipe before I modified it:
Sweet Orange Chicken
* 5 pounds bone-in chicken parts
* 1/2 cup orange marmalade
* 2 cups orange juice, or as needed
* 3/4 cup dried cranberries
1. Place chicken into a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Stir together the orange marmalade and orange juice; pour over chicken. Sprinkle in the cranberries.
2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink, and the juices run clear. Check occasionally, and add more orange juice if necessary.
The original recipe calls for bone-in chicken, roasting it in the marmalade, but my technique was simpler. I put about 4c. of deboned, pre-cooked poultry in a Dutch oven, then thinned about 1/2c. marmalade with some juice and warmed it on the stove. I poured the warmed marmalade glaze over the poultry and let the whole lot simmer together in the oven for about 30 minutes at 425 degrees. While the turkey heated, I cooked a pot of rice, steamed some broccoli, and made a bit more marmalade glaze to top the final dish. When the rice cooker shut off, I took the turkey from the oven and shredded it, then served it atop the rice drizzled with a bit more marmalade glaze. The steamed broccoli was served on the side.
This dish is reminiscent of a sweet Asian dish. It's so simple and so delicious -- it's a new family favorite!
The down side? I'm out of tangerine marmalade.
Posted by Amanda at 7:59 PM
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Last week, Gracie participated in her school spelling bee. She was one of two students chosen from her language arts class, the other was her BFF Sarah. There were thirty-four kids total gathered from the third, fourth and fifth grades. The winner of the school spelling bee moved on to the district competition, then regionals before the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I think that's how it goes!
Grace made it through four rounds. She was knocked out in the fifth round when she left the "i" out of the word "maimed." More than half of the kids were out when Gracie was eliminated, and Sara fell out in the same round. The two spent the rest of the day laughing about some of the word choices, making light of their losses by pretending to be spelling bee word presenters on game shows.
Our Little Competitor
Gracie's Sweet Friend Sarah
Posted by Amanda at 7:08 PM
Time for a trim...
Step One: Put the baby in the bath.
Distract her with a cup...
... and ignore the fact that she's drinking bubbly bathwater.
Step Two: Gather said unruly bangs.
Step Three: Take a steady aim.
Step Four: Snip away.
Brystol loves her cut!
Posted by Amanda at 6:53 PM
Sunday, January 16, 2011
With regards to an agency, we're still undecided.
We had a very good conference call with the firm in California, and we have another call scheduled later this week, but we're not sure at this point if we'll retain them. Though we personally know two families who have grown with their assistance, and though they have a number of excellent reviews, they also have some very bad reviews. We've read everything we can find on them with open hearts and minds, knowing that these processes are emotionally-charged and some of the negative comments about them can come from hearts still reeling from the pain of infertility and/or loss. Still, the points that were made drum up legitimate concerns for us that could make or break the whole deal. When we spoke to our case worker, we brought up these issues, and while she responded to them, her responses were generic (as they had to be) and didn't necessarily leave us feeling at ease.
For the sake of the privacy of friends who have or who are still working with them, I've tried to figure out how to address some of our concerns here without divulging too much of the financial information, but I can't figure out how to do that and make any kind of sense. Still, I'm going to do my best. E-mail me if you feel you need specifics.
First of all, let me say that adoption is expensive. Unless you're taking advantage of a foster-to-adopt program through a state agency, you're going to spend thousands to grow your family through adoption. Right now (2011), the government allows a tax credit of $13,170 to reimburse adoptive families for some of their expenses. Additionally, the military and some employers provide adoption reimbursement programs as part of an employer benefits package. James' employer provides a sizable adoption benefit, and the combination of these two things will go a long way towards covering our personal adoption expenses. In many cases, the two combined will cover our expenses in full.
The agency in California is essentially an adoption facilitation agency. That means they facilitate the relationship between a birth family and adoptive family, sort of like a recruiter or matchmaker. This group actively pursues birth parents through advertising and through relationships at maternity homes, clinics, etc. They invest a great deal of money both in advertising and in screening potential birth moms, eliminating those who are just thinking about adoption, and only taking on parents who are committed to the process. Because they financially invest in developing this pool of birth parents, they have a proven history of matching families very quickly, often in as little as four months, but because the process is so thorough, the birth families are so well-screened, and the process has the potential to be so short, the initial financial investment for the adoptive family is pretty substantial.
What we'd be expected to invest with this group alone would completely consume both our tax credit and our employer benefit. Birth mom expenses, finalization expenses, legal fees, and various other charges would pass through to us, and we could conservatively be expected to spend an additional $5,000-15,000 above the fees for facilitation. If circumstances were special, that number could jump even higher. All of the funds aren't due in advance -- a large sum is due with the contract and initiates the process, and the balance for facilitation is due when a birth mom is interested in matching with the adoptive family. Fees for documentation, legal fees, and other expenses are paid later to different groups or individuals. In total, the cost of working with this group to secure a domestic adoption arrangement costs about as much as adopting internationally.
While the money is not the issue, one of the issues we had did relate to the money. As most agencies do, this agency promises to rematch families if the originally matched birth mom backs out of the agreement. A complaint we read before our consultation was related to this promise. Every family signing a contract spends virtually the same amount, but the second amount -- the match fee -- is not due until a match is made. The family who complained said that this group did indeed connect them with a birth mom within a short amount of time, but she backed out soon after the match, and they'd been waiting over two years for a rematch. They accused the group of only presenting families who would still be required to pay the match fee, ignoring those who would owe no more money. When we asked our consultant about this complaint, she reminded us of a number of things that could delay a match -- preference in sex or race, preferences about birth parent behavior, etc. She said it was likely that particular family's specifications that delayed their match, and while she's very probably right, we still felt concerned.
Part of the reason we're pursuing adoption right now is because we know the process takes time, often years. We would like to grow our family sooner rather than later, but right now, waiting does not concern us. The opportunity for those twins -- presented privately and due so soon after matching -- was an exception, not the rule. We're working on this now, anticipating a somewhat lengthy waiting period. Still, waiting more than two years after such a substantial financial investment? No thanks. I imagine we'd be free to go with another agency at that point, but we'd just be out the initial $XX,XXX, and without a placement, we couldn't file to get that money back from anyone.
The little agency we planned on working with before discovering we'd conceived Brystol had only ever had one family wait longer than two years for a placement, and even that family felt comfortable waiting that long. (I got the impression that they'd declined matches, although I cannot confirm that.) We recently had another call with that agency, and while they only had eight placements last year, they only have five waiting families right now with another baby due tomorrow. If all goes as planned, they'll have four active families by the weekend. Four additional families are in the process of completing their homestudies and will begin being presented soon.
When we met with the staff of this agency in person, we really liked them and we trusted them. We felt secure giving them our money -- though the don't require any until a match is made. We're already a couple of steps ahead with this group -- we participated in the pre-application seminar a couple of years ago, and we've been invited to a refresher meeting at no additional cost. We're a few steps into the process of our homestudy, so that agency would complete it with us and could begin presenting us to birth moms as early as the end of February. Match through finalization with this agency is about 25% of the cost of the group in California because birth parent services, including counseling, are paid for by charitable contributions from the community. This little group really strives to minister to both families, adoptive and birth, and they work hard to keep total adoption expenses below the federal tax credit. If we chose to go with this agency, we could very likely designate the entire benefit provided by James' employer to cover the medical and/or living expenses of the birth mom, which would, I think, put us at a significant advantage. What is not advantageous aboutb this little agency is the very small number of matches per year, and the fact that this group does no advertising.
I've been reading about an agency in Georgia that seems to me to be a happy medium. While they aren't as aggressive about advertising as the California group, they do advertise. They advertise both to promote adoption as a general option and to promote specific families, and they advertise both in print and electronically. Also, I'm not sure yet how they do it, but somehow they have the ability to keep costs low in Texas. I don't know if they have a local agency office, but they quote low travel costs and low finalization fees, and they promote no need for Out-of-State agency (ICPC) fees. The overall listed expenses fall in between the two other options we've most closely considered. This group is a more expensive option than the little local agency, but they still fall well below the facilitation fees of the first agency (and that's not even considering the additional expenses due to people outside of the California group). Additionally, there's still room in our reimbursable funds for some unexpected charges before we'd be required to personally absorb expenses.
We feel a little guilty so carefully considering the financial aspect of this process, but the reality of our situation is that we already have children to care for and support. While it's true that we have access to a good bit of adoption assistance, it's all in the form of reimbursements and won't be returned to us for some time after placement -- maybe even a year or more. There are grants available for adoption, but the majority seem to be need-based (for which we don't qualify) or they're for international adoptions (an option we're not pursuing). There are also interest-free loans available for adoption, but at this point, we don't feel comfortable financing this process. Since we'll be paying for all of this in advance and entirely out-of-pocket, we anticipate some sacrifice to see this through, but we don't want to spend so much on a child that we might not have for a long while that we have to say "no" to many of the normal, everyday expenditures for the children we have already.
Posted by Amanda at 6:16 PM
Saturday, January 15, 2011
After a morning spent shuffling HTML and CSS code, I've made a few changes to the ol' blog design. Everything should both work and display properly, but if it doesn't, would you let me know? I've learned over time that while things might look great on my monitor, they don't always look as stellar elsewhere, and I'd deeply appreciate comments if something seems to be non-functional or just looks out of place.
Posted by Amanda at 3:21 PM
Friday, January 14, 2011
and/or are collections of news articles or blog posts related to finances or frugality.
I frequently post deals and bargains on my Facebook page, so recently a friend asked if I could share some money-saving tips for a luncheon she's speaking at soon. I compiled a short list for her, and I thought I'd share the same information here. Much of this information is not new -- I've shared tips before by either by writing about them or by putting them into practice -- but all of the information bears repeating.
Trimming the budget is a good idea regardless of income. In most cases, there are a number of things that can be done to reduce spending. Being honest about how money is spent and truly tracking your spending is the first step to determining ways your personal budget can be trimmed. Look back at bank statements to determine how your funds are spent, then begin researching money-saving alternatives. Unless you’re an extreme couponer and are already filling your pantry for free, there are always ways to trim the grocery budget. Again, this is just a short list of ways to save -- there are so many ways to whittle away at the grocery budget and implementing even some of these ideas will leave money in your pocket.
(1) Use coupons. Coupons are an easy way to save money, and they're not just for "poor people" or people with lots of time on their hands. I once heard Dave Ramsey talk about the #1 coupon user being the rich person,* and while I don't see Paris Hilton whipping out her coupon binder, I know plenty of people who have large salaries and still get excited about saving on paper towels. Find coupons in the Sunday paper, print them off the internet (coupons.com or other websites), load them into your phone (cellfire.com, store websites), load them onto your store savings card (store websites), visit manufacturer websites to request coupons, buy them on eBay or through an online clipping service, ask for inserts from friends and family members, etc. Save more by “stacking” coupons – use one manufacturer coupon plus one store coupon on a single product, or pair your individual manufacturer coupons with a dollars off store coupon.
(2) If you only purchase groceries at big box retailers, you’ll likely save by switching stores. A simple switch from Wal-Mart to Kroger will often reflect savings. Not only are many items similarly priced or cheaper at Kroger, Kroger has great sales, frequent markdowns, and they double and triple any coupons you apply. Check out stores in your area to compare prices, then ask about sales, markdown dates and coupon policies.
(3) A simple way to save no matter where you shop is to switch from name brand to store brand. Most stores offer identical products under their own label – so identical, in fact, that many grocery manufacturers make the generic product as well, they just slap on a different label. Try some products and make the switch.
(4) Keep your eyes open and look for savings everywhere. I’ve purchased some incredible grocery and diaper deals at Walgreens while in the store to fill a prescription.
(5) Shop more than once per week. For people prone to impulse buying, this is not a good plan, but for those with restraint, this is a way to save money over the long term. The sale prices will not change, but markdowns occur daily – ask when markdowns happen in the store you frequent. As an example, our family is eating primarily organic products now. I’ve learned I can find most organic dairy and produce markdowns at the beginning of the week at the store I shop most often. That’s when I plan my biggest shopping trip.
“What, markdowns? Isn’t that stuff bad?” No, it’s not. Stores cannot sell products past their expiration or “sell-by” date, but they mark them down significantly just before products reach those dates. Also, a "sell-by" date is not the same as an expiration date -- keep that in mind when purchasing anything. I personally do not recommend consuming food or using products that are expired.
** Milk is often marked down 5-7 days before the “sell-by” date, and while experts agree that milk (especially organic milk) is good for ~2 weeks after the “sell-by” date, kids and cooking consume the product well before the date comes into question. In a pinch, milk can be frozen for later use, just pour a little off the gallon to allow for expansion. After thawing, shake to remix.
** Eggs and cheese also last beyond their “sell-by” dates – information is available online – and they can also be frozen. I store bags of shredded cheese in my freezer and use it in casseroles and soups from the frozen state. I let cheese thaw to use on tacos, etc. There is no difference in taste or texture when thawed. Do not freeze eggs in their shell. Crack them into ice cube trays to freeze.
** Meat is marked down 1-3 days before the “sell-by” date, and should be used right away. I typically prepare markdown meats for dinner that day or the next, I prepare it as a meal starter for use in the future, or I freeze it immediately for later use.
** Produce might be marked down because of bruises, but if you plan to use the produce to bake/cook with or to use in smoothies, a few bruises won’t matter. Sometimes produce is marked down because the store has abundance. During the summer, I bought bags and bags of firm, fresh tomatoes for $0.69 per bag. I cut each tomato in to 6 pieces, spaced them apart on a baking sheet and froze the pieces. Once frozen, I gathered the pieces together into a freezer Ziploc bag to store. I just pull out individual pieces to drop into soups and stews. I’ve done the same with other veggies and fruits.
** Some stores also offer markdowns on processed foods. Just look for a clearance section. A friend I took shopping bought full-sized boxes of name brand cereal for $0.52 each (dented boxes). I bought triple packs of Gerber baby puffs for $2.00 – three for less than the price of one (package change).
(6) Consider shopping at discount/markdown stores like Big Lots, Dollar Tree or the 99 cents store. Exceptional savings can be had on all manners of grocery or household products. With regard to food products, all items are “in date” – often the packaging has changed (seasonal, etc.) and the product can no longer be sold in regular stores.
(7) Be open-minded and don’t limit yourself to familiar stores. I visited a large Asian food market while hunting for a particular ingredient and found incredible deals on fresh produce, bulk items, meats and seafood. I live in a smaller town 20 minutes west of FM/HV and find that my little local IGA often beats the prices of the big name brand store down the road. Meat markdown prices at that store are unbelievable.
(8) For more extreme savings, consider shopping at “banana box” stores. These are “scratch and dent” wholesalers who buy food and home goods by the crate or truckload. Many things are neither scratched nor dented. Because these items come to the wholesaler in large box lots, be responsible about checking dates for freshness. Most items are in perfect condition and can be purchased at an incredible savings.
photo credit: thebsreport
* I can't find a printed quote from Dave Ramsey about the couponing rich -- I just heard him say that on a radio show one day.
Posted by Amanda at 12:44 AM
Thursday, January 13, 2011
James and I have been working diligently on our Bible in 90 Days reading program. It really is so awesome to discuss obscure Biblical facts with my husband, and to wonder aloud together about all kinds of things that happened way back when. I love reading verses about how people straight wore the Lord out, and how He calls them stiff-necked because of their grumbling and wants to eliminate them from the Earth (but then He doesn't because He's moved with compassion and is faithful to honor His promises).
A couple of interesting things I've noted throughout the earliest portion of the Old Testament is the frequency of infertility, as well as the regular mention of barrenness and miscarriage. Honestly, it's quite astonishing to me how much barrenness is addressed in the Old Testament. I knew of the famous infertile -- Sarah, Hannah, Rachel -- but even passing passages talk about those wombs being closed, these other wombs being newly opened, and so on. I know that we're fearfully and wonderfully made being knit together in our mother's womb by the Lord, so I totally know He controls all that there is to control when it comes to the perpetuation of the human race. It just surprises me that the issue of fertility (or the lack thereof) is something so regarded by God that it's mentioned time and again.
Something else I noticed was a lineage of infertility. God made a promise to Abraham to make him a great nation, saying that his infertile wife Sarah (who'd already gone through menopause) would bear him a son through which a family would grow, outnumbered only by the stars in the sky. Sure enough, God did what He promised and Sarah conceived and bore Issac. When Isaac was forty, he married Rebekah who was also barren. Isaac prayed for Rebekah for TWENTY YEARS, and she bore Jacob and Esau when Isaac was sixty years old (Gen. 25:21, 26). Jacob loved and married Rachel, who was also infertile (Gen. 30:1) and it wasn't until Jacob had many children by his other wife Leah and their servants that "God remembered Rachel and... opened her womb" (v. 22). God promised a great nation, but even the formation of the population of the great nation came out of great struggle.
I know these scriptures have been there all along -- I guess they just stand out to me now because of my personal history with infertility and miscarriage. Because we feel presently pressed to pursue a new family member, they just jump off the page. In light of my own infertility and history of miscarriage, we're sticking our toes in the water with regards to adoption. We have a conference conference call tomorrow with an adoption firm in California, and bleh -- I feel totally nervous. We're not committing to this firm just yet, but there's a possibility we will. We're still praying.
As I mentioned before, we've already looked at a number of options, we've made some calls, we've corresponded. So far, process of elimination has worked this time. I wish we had more clear direction about which way to move, but so far, we try a door and either shut it again or have it shut for us. I'm
a little a lot jealous of the very specific directions the God of the Old Testament was known for doling out. It was like a flow chart of if/then statements -- it was unreal. What I wouldn't get for a little of that! Instead, we're operating by checking the peace gauge, hoping for God's peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). If we have peace, move forward. If our hearts are troubled, step away.
We had such peace about moving forward with those twins that we began to invest our joy -- which is, I think, what frustrates me the most about that whole deal falling apart. Every update was exciting, and when we got the call that delivery was eminent, I could hardly contain myself what with the thrill and the nerves. I still cannot for one minute blame the birthmom for choosing to keep her babies -- being on the relinquishment side is unfathomable to me -- but to have made the choice to trust, to admit my physical failings, and to have asked for her consideration, only to be denied, is painful. To know now that, even with only one baby home, the reality of parenthood is already overwhelming her to the point of regret -- that's heart wrenching. I'm sad for her that she's hanging on to a decision she's unhappy with. I'm sad that those beautiful babies seem to be burdens and not blessings. Selfishly, I'm sad that I put my heart out there, that I cracked open its hard shell just a bit and became vulnerable -- I'm not a fan of the residual ache.
Even with this loss, we're excited about adoption. For a second, I thought about putting on the brakes, but we both really have peace about moving forward -- at least, for now. From what we've heard, many successful adoptive matches come through relationships already in place, meaning this friend knows that person whose teenage daughter is approaching delivery, and they trust us because you trust us. I mention that because I'd love it if our friends and family would keep us in mind if an opportunity were mentioned. We're impartial to sex, and we're not necessarily partial to race. It would be amazing if we were matched with baby who had some measure of Filipino ancestry, but other than that, we're totally open.
A new adoption option was presented to us when a friend mentioned the firm they used to adopt their son, one that specializes in the kind of adoption we're hoping for -- domestic newborn adoption. I perused their website, read some reviews, requested an information packet, and had one short phone call with someone at the firm. We have a conference call scheduled for tomorrow, but even that is really just for gathering more information, and I imagine they'll be interviewing us as much as we're interviewing them. We'll see how it goes.
In the meantime, we'd love it if you'd pray both with and for us. As for how you can pray specifically, we need DIRECTION. We don't necessarily have to do something that makes sense to everyone, we just need to know the right path for us. We want to be good stewards of our time, our money, and our hearts. Selfishly, I'd rather not have another adoption loss. I'd personally rather never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER match with a birth mom than match with someone again and have them change their mind. Even that, though, is a risk we're willing to take.
photo credit: fibroid.com
Posted by Amanda at 11:54 PM
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Texas was showered with snow today. What a beautiful winter treat! The kids loved gazing at it from the warmth of the house and discussing whether or not school would be canceled on Monday. (The snow's melting, so I doubt it...) They went outside in it for a while, but spend more time putting on and taking off their warm winter gear than they did actually playing in the precipitation.
Brystol was most interested in being outside. She was going out no matter what.
Escape Attempt #1
Escape Attempt #2
Escape Attempt #3
When the snow began to come down heavily, James had the forethought to send a kid out to catch it. Bub put a big bowl outside, and when everyone came in from the cold, I put together some some ice cream using Paula Deen's recipe. The sweetened condensed milk made it creamy and delicious!
Snow Ice Cream
recipe courtesy of Paula Deen
8 cups snow or shaved ice
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place snow or shaved ice into a large bowl.
Pour condensed milk over and add vanilla.
Mix to combine. Serve immediately in bowls.
Happy Snow Day!
Posted by Amanda at 5:06 PM
Saturday, January 8, 2011
When Bub came home from school yesterday, he excitedly told me about a party scheduled for later in the afternoon. It was going to be great and all of the kids from his class were going to be there. When I asked to see the invitation, he said it wasn't that kind of party. It wasn't a birthday party -- just a regular shindig -- and oh yeah, he was the party host. What?
We had a long talk about how, when you're a kid, parties should be planned and your mom should be involved in the planning -- a fête on the fly is not a good idea. I sent him upstairs to play with a neighborhood friend and really didn't expect anyone to actually show. Moments later, though, the doorbell rang and a little boy was at the door ready to celebrate.
As all the kids played together, I quickly set up a folding table in the yard and topped it with starry curtain panels pulled from my fabric stash. I used a silver balloon weight with star details for a simple centerpiece. I pulled some red paper plates and cups from the stash of discount party supplies I gather through the year and store in my hobby room. Then, I put together some trays of simple snacks -- pretzel snaps, natural cheese puffs, Teddy Grahams, gingerbread marshmallows, and slices of organic apples. The kids drank lemony tea poured from an unattractive pitcher (one that I wouldn't miss if it ended up being destroyed). Gracie streamed some tunes through the iPod touch she got from HaHa and Uncle Gunk (Jerald) for Christmas.
In the end, only one invited classmate came to the impromptu party (all the other parents knew better -- whew!), but Bub and Gracie enjoyed living it up with him and a few pals from the street.
Posted by Amanda at 1:16 AM
Friday, January 7, 2011
and/or are collections of news articles or blog posts related to finances or frugality.
"He who fails to plan, plans to fail." This old Proverb could be applied to so much, but these are words that often come to mind when I consider the principles of frugality. Many spendthrifts hold fast to the principle of planning ahead: stockpiling the pantry, storing the next size of clothing for children, etc.
One small thing I do that saves loads of money when compared to my contemporaries is plan ahead for birthday parties. We love having parties for our kids, and because of some forethought, they never cost us very much. I frequently find themed party supplies on sale or clearance throughout the year. I supplement theme-specific items with products I already have or things picked up last minute from Dollar Tree or another bargain outlet.
The goody bag is a party expense that can add up very quickly if not planned for. My kiddos love to take home favors from parties, so we make sure they send favors home with their own party guests. After-holiday sales are GREAT for finding and stocking up on party favors (or stocking stuffers, teacher's gifts, tiny "thinking of you" gifts, etc). In preparation for Gracie's birthday in May, I've gathered girly things (that aren't really season specific) from the post-Christmas clearance bins -- bath soaps, little pens, blingy rings and card games. When the actual day approaches, I'll pick up an inexpensive sweet treat to include and tuck all of the goodies inside of homemade bags or brand new generic-looking ones I gather at yard sales and thrift stores year round.
Posted by Amanda at 12:49 AM
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
For Christmas, James gave me a girls-only four-day trip to New York City to share with my friend Marcie, and Babbit has opted to tag along. We head out very early on March 31st and return late on April 3rd. We're all so excited to visit the big city -- none of us have ever been. I've been researching our touristy options, and while we each have access to reasonable travel budgets, Marcie and I are both super thrifty and would love to prove that a trip to NYC doesn't have to break the bank. (Secretly, I think if I can prove that to the hubs, he'll let me go back again really soon.)
I have some things in mind that I would like to do and have been looking for the most cost-effective way to do them. We've considered purchasing the City Pass, but I've learned about Free and Pay What You Wish options for museums and think that may be the better way to go. To fully embrace my personal challenge of NYC on a dime, I've downloaded the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs guide that lists loads of inexpensive cultural offerings. I've set up a separate travel e-mail account to subscribe to Groupon and Living Social for NYC deals, and I plan to watch for the 90% off sale at Restaurant.com. Also, the Entertainment book for NYC is only $20 shipped. We save so much in DFW with our Entertainment Book, I can't imagine the savings in NYC would be any less remarkable. I've only just begun building a list of must-see things with prices posted. Here's what I have so far:
Free/Cheap Places to Go in New York City
Brooklyn Bridge – FREE
Brooklyn Heights Historic District – FREE
New York Public Library – FREE
9/11 Memorial Preview Site – FREE
Central Park – FREE
Metropolitan Museum of Art – FREE, BoA "Museums on Us"
Guggenheim Museum – Pay What You Wish on Saturday
Museum of Modern Art – FREE on Target Free Friday nights
Museum of the City of New York – FREE, BoA "Museums on Us"
Statue of Liberty – FREE ferry tour, $12.00 for crown tour
Opera at the Met – $20/$25 last minute tickets at Box Office
Theatre – FREE, or inexpensive last minute tickets at Box Office
New York Philharmonic – Student Rush Tickets, $12.50 each
Chinatown – FREE to explore, $$ for shopping on Canal Street
Cheap Places to Eat in New York City
Papaya King Hot Dog Stands – Chelsea (Under $5)
Dumpling House – Chinatown (Under $5)
Café Edison – Times Square in Edison Hotel (Under $10)
** We're excited to try inexpensive little hole-in-the-wall places, preferably ethnic ones **
Despite my planning and bargain hunting, this is a daunting task and I would really appreciate some insider tips from those of you who have been there/done that. Favorite restaurants? Best way to buy show tickets? Number one way to save on souvenirs? Your insight is invaluable to me.
photo credit: howard models
Posted by Amanda at 1:31 PM
Monday, January 3, 2011
Just like everyone else, I have a number of resolutions for the new year. Some things, like diet and weight loss, aren't even worth discussing. They just roll from year to year, as they do for most adults over the age of 24. Some things, though, are specific to 2011 and bear mentioning here.
Resolution #1: Finish up the Franken-bachelor's. This process is already in progress. I'll graduate from Texas Woman's University this summer with a B.G.S. in English and Sociology. I'll commence in May and finish my final credits in August. After that, who knows? Very likely, a break from school during which I will nap and craft. Then again, maybe not -- I can't stay too still for very long.
Resolution #2: In 2011, I resolve to potty train my youngest child. She's already shown some interest in the potty, but my hope is to have her totally out of diapers by her second birthday in July.
Resolution #3: I resolve to read the Bible in its entirely in 2011. Actually, I resolve to read it within the first 90 days of 2011. I'm taking part in the challenge on the Mom's Toolbox blog. I'm in an accountability group and everything! The study began today with the first 16 chapters of Genesis. It works out to be about 45 minutes to an hour of reading everyday, but that's doable. This is actually something I'm very excited about, and I'm especially excited that James is reading along with me (though he's not in an official group). Maybe we'll read through two times in 2011 -- who knows?
Resolution #4: This is the resolution I hate to share because it will take lots of work, commitment and determination to accomplish, but I resolve to run (not walk) my first 5K in 2011. I'm planning to do the Cool Runnings Couch to 5K program which takes just a few weeks to get even the laziest couch potato race-ready, and while I'd like to be ready for a race before the killer heat of the Texas summer, as long as I run one by December, I'm good. (There's actually a race being held in June that I'd love to run, so I'm really hoping to be ready by then -- fingers crossed and laces tied!)
As if going from the couch to a 5K weren't intimidating enough, I have this whole issue with not feeling my feet that makes me feel very afraid -- afraid of wounding myself again, afraid of another season on crutches -- but I have great footwear and I'm especially good now about looking for potential pressure points. I'm determined not to let this fear be something that keeps me from pressing on towards the goal. The fear is something else to lay down and let go of, I suppose.
Resolution #5: We're planning, once again, to grow our family through adoption. We've been researching this new venture for a while, deciding which path to take this time. We've been in contact with state agencies both in Texas and Oklahoma, we've researched international adoption from the Philippines and other countries, and we've spoken to adoption brokers, advocates, and private attorneys. For now, we've hired a social worker and have begun gathering documents and completing state and federal background checks as part of our official adoption homestudy. We have a some friends lined up as references and have only to complete our official interview.
After all the research and as we began working with the social worker, an opportunity came to us to adopt newborn twins -- a boy and a girl. They were due at the end of January, so we expected to have some time to prepare, but in the case of a premature delivery, the attorney we've been working with told us they could expedite our homestudy process since the adoption arrangement would be private and not agency-based. We got the call on December 30th (while we were in Oklahoma for the new year) that the birthmother was going in for an emergency c-section. She had advancing pre-eclampsia and was very sick. We didn't know what to do! We passed along the message that we were ready to come, but would need driving time. The c-section happened hours later than originally planned, and thankfully, the twins were born healthy and at remarkably good weights. Sadly, we got word the next morning that the birthmother decided to parent because she thought the sometimes-present boyfriend would make a great dad. Days later, we've heard that she's made despondent comments about her life being over. She's very unhappy and the boyfriend is no where to be found. We've again sent word that we're available to meet to discuss adoption options, but really, this is all entirely out of our hands. In our minds and hearts, the door is closed.
On the one hand, I deeply respect her decision to parent. I personally could not make the decision to relinquish my children for even one minute. On the other hand, I'm not super young and unhappy about the prospect of parenthood. I wish she could see all that we could be and do for them. Those babies would be a dream come true for our family, and it makes me so sad to know that they're a burden to her. It breaks my heart, really. All along, though, as we've discussed and prayed about this specific opportunity for adoption, we've prayed for God's perfect will to be done. That is still our prayer. We're trusting her decision to parent is His plan, and in that, He has a better plan to satisfy the longing that remains in our hearts. We were sure hopeful, though, that a little set of sweet baby twins was part of His plan to redeem the years of heartache and loss.
At this point, we have no specific direction for adoption. Neither of us feel comfortable connecting with an agency -- at least, not yet. We're still working on the normally-paced homestudy and hope to have it completed by the end of January. I'm hopeful we'll know how to move forward at that time, and I'm hopeful 2011 will prove to be a year of growth and blessing in the family way.
photo credit:ssu-usa.edu, allwomenstalk
Posted by Amanda at 3:11 AM
Saturday, January 1, 2011
We rang in the new year in Oklahoma with our friends Marcie and Tobey. We spent a couple of days together watching movies, shopping after-Christmas sales, playing dominoes, and just hanging out, laughing over decades-old jokes. For New Year's Eve proper, Marcie hosted a small gathering of friends from church and served up all the delicious fare she's known for (while I contributed to the spread with the store-bought fare I'm known for. Plus some cake balls. I did make cake balls... and peppermint bark... and the cheeseball Marcie made was my recipe. Hey, maybe I'm not such a culinary loser after all!) Some board games were played while everyone was around, but I had to steal away to quiet an over-tired baby. When I returned, the other couples -- also with over-tired young children -- had to leave. At the end of the night, we four friends watched the ball drop and welcomed the new year with our children. The kids were sent to bed, another couple of adults dropped in, and the game playing resumed. In all, we had a great time. I can't think of a better way to ring in a new year or a better family to share it with.
Happy New Year!
photo credit: 111newsviews
Posted by Amanda at 2:51 AM