Monday, September 29, 2008

Treehouse, Phase 2

I know that I shouldn't be quite so amused while writing this, but I think we have made the stupidest/coolest treehouse addition ever - the counterweighted down elevator! Yep, it's what you get when you combine some rope, a bag of rocks, pulleys, and a quiet Sunday afternoon in the Morningstar home.

Here's a photo of elevator mach 1 - this was when we had the pulleys reversed, requiring roughly 60 lbs of rocks in a bucket for the boys to descend. Man was that exciting when you let go of the wooden bar and the bucket came plummeting to earth!

Eventually we figured out the problem and now we only need 15 lbs of rocks to counterweight the boys. At first we tried it with a plastic planter holding the rocks, but the first time Ben released it the plummeting resulted in a seriously shattered planter, so we decided on a softer rock container. Don't get me wrong, that baby will still really hurt when somebody gets wonked with the bag o' rocks (and let's be honest, it's not if, it's when). We have considered roping off the square foot of lawn in the drop zone - eventually we'll probably figure out some sort of spinner to slow the fall, but for now it's really just a "stand there at your own risk" area.

Ben loves the elevator, but Sam's not so sure about it. He hated the rope ladder at first, too, and now he's a champ, so I'm hoping he warms up to it. I was trying to figure out where we went wrong with Sam and then Steve pointed out that having one child with a will to survive probably doesn't represent a failure on our part as parents. I had to admit that he has a point.

Here's a quick video of the elevator in action - enjoy!
video

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I Saw Dead People

This weekend we went up to Salt Lake to see the Body Worlds exhibit. I've been wanting to go for years, and I'm so glad that the tour finally came to Utah. I have to say that it was everything I had expected and hoped that it would be - slightly creepy and totally enthralling.

It took us a full 90 minutes to see the whole exhibit and the boys were riveted for most of it (and, to be honest, I was getting hungry and tired towards the end of it, so I could hardly blame them for being done as well). We purchased audio tours for them and they really enjoyed listening to the details of each piece. And they seemed to adjust pretty quickly to the cadaver concept - we only had to answer the, "These were real people?!?" question a couple of times each before they started to take it for granted. We did find it important, however, to stress that the people were dead before their bodies were prepared for the exhibit and that clarification seemed to set the boys' minds at ease.

Sam was especially interested in the cross-sections of lungs with emphysema, since my grandfather was just diagnosed and so he now has a personal connection to the disease. It was quite the learning excursion for all of us and I think we each left with a new respect for the miracle of the human body.

After Body Worlds and lunch, we took the chance to hang out in the Salt Lake library again. That is such an amazing facility! We had a little incident where Mommy got lost and spent the better part of an hour searching for the rest of her family while said family enjoyed perusing books in the super cool children's reading nooks... but we were reunited in the end and I learned the important lesson to look in the coolest section of the library first. Either that, or just make sure that Steve isn't carrying both cell phones. I know, it all seems so obvious in retrospect. I'll learn someday!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Halfway through the MFA (?)

Today, September 27th, marks our one-month anniversary in the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in Kazakhstan. A "normal schedule" (if there is such a thing) would have our dossier spending 2 months in the MFA before we're eligible for assignment to a specific region, so we're halfway there!

Knowing that we have at least another month until our next update is tough, but as always we're keeping busy. Steve caught up on his vaccinations last week, so we are basically impervious to all diseases right now, and our current project is choosing an International Adoption doctor to look over our little girl's medical info before she becomes ours, to help us understand her history and unique needs. Yes, we have a long time before we'll have any info for a doctor to look over, but it will be nice to have a doctor chosen before things get really hectic. Besides, it gives me the comforting illusion that I'm doing something :)

Oh, and we just got our new passports in the mail! Our old ones didn't expire until June, but Steve figured that we should go ahead and renew them now since sometimes they don't like to issue visas if your passport is going to expire within six months of travel. The new passports are really cool looking! And I was feeling sad that I hadn't shipped anything off to be apostilled in months, so it's nice to get to give the Lt. Governor's office some more money for attaching a pretty gold seal to our notarized copies of this round of passports.

That's it for the latest non-news on the Morningstar adoption. Next month we combine the boys' rooms and start decorating Sestra's, so that'll be exciting!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Butterflies Emerge

Our last monarch caterpillar emerged from his chrysalis yesterday as a beautiful butterfly!

For the past two years, Gramma has sent a batch of caterpillars and milkweed (those caterpillars are voracious eaters!) to Utah during a fall grandparent visit. This year, Buddy and Grammy made the delivery - there was a little incident with not being able to carry caterpillars on to an airplane (who knew?) and so they had to check an extra bag at the last minute and pay the extra bag fee... but I digress.

Our last magnificent winged beauty hatched yesterday - two hatched while Grammy and Buddy were in town and Sam took two more to school, so this was our last one! We celebrated by parading him around the house before setting him free outside. Don't worry, I think he survived all of our affection.

The whole process is really pretty fascinating - they come out with shriveled, saggy wings like you see in the top picture and over the course of a few minutes pump fluid into their wings so that they stand out straight and can fly. I still marvel that all of that beauty is trapped inside of a lowly caterpillar. Maybe there's hope for my transformation yet :)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Community of Adoption

We probably won't have any real "updates" on our adoption process for a while - we entered the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kazakhstan) on August 27th and it will probably take all of two months to get through that department before we start to enter the queue for region assignment. At its very, very shortest, we were 3 1/2 months away from travel when our dossier when to the MFA on 8/27, but the more likely timeline has us traveling between four and six months from the end of August. So, it's still possible that we'll start our travel by Christmas, but more likely that it will be January or February. And that's ok. I mean, in Jamieland our little girl would already be home. But fortunately (for all of us!) someone infinitely wiser than me is in charge of our timelines and we will wait on Him.

And just in case our travel dates come early, you'll be happy to know that I am now immune to Influenza, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Pertussis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Typhoid. Ah, the joys of preparing for international travel.

At the cross planting on Sunday, one of Pastor Scott's friends from California talked about how we are defined by our journeys, and I believe that this is true both for our corporate self as a church and our individual selves and families. And I tell you, our adoption journey has already defined and redefined each member of the Morningstar family!

One of the happiest surprises of the journey has been the astoundingly supportive community of adoption. It's hard to describe - there's just an automatic kinship between adoptive and pre-adoptive parents (I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule, of course, and I hope not to meet them). This has been especially true for the folks I've met who are in the middle of or have completed international adoptions - there's nothing like swapping war stories or just sharing struggles with another mom who knows exactly what I'm going through. And that's just as true for the friends I've made all over the country through virtual adoption communities - these are amazing women (and their families :) and I am grateful for their support, prayers, and the honestly with which they share their parallel journeys.

I keep writing and rewriting this posting, and I just can't seem to get it right. I guess the best way to describe it is that there's simply a kinship between all of us whose hearts are being opened to our children on the other side of the world, children who our hearts ache to hold, whose names we long to speak. We share a precious fellowship that I am grateful for. It is one more way that God is loving and sustaining and teaching me through this beautiful, amazing, excruciating journey.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame

I thought that my 15 minutes of fame had come and gone during my brush with What Not to Wear three years ago, but the fates had even bigger things in store for me today.

Three friends and I headed up to Salt Lake this afternoon to celebrate the completion of our 30-day challenge (which we reinterpreted as a 5-week challenge): at least 5 quiet times a week (times of personal prayer and Bible study) for 5 weeks. For four busy moms, that's no small feat!

Anyway, we headed up to a favorite haunt - The Beehive Tea Room - as a little reward for a job well done. After a delightful afternoon tea, a Fox 13 news man was doing man on the street interviews about a Forbes.com article listing Salt Lake as the nation's eighth most stressful city. Ever the shy one, I was more than willing to chat - check out the results.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's Rock O'Clock!

It's been a big video game week here in Morningstarland. Both Force Unleashed and Rock Band 2 were released and with a stay-at-home dad and two boys in the house, you know that's a recipe for a whole lotta excitement.

Most of Sunday (after the cross planting, of course) was spent with various friends stopping by to enjoy the just- procured Rock Band 2. I have to say that I'm a fan - the new "no fail" mode is so much fun because Sam and Ben can actually play along with us! So far Ben's record is 53% playing bass on Eye of the Tiger... it's his favorite song (really, who can resist that theme?!?).

Sam takes his guitar even more seriously than Ben does. Here's a nice photo of Steve coaching his young boy to follow in his expert-level footsteps. Touching, I know. But vocals are really Sam's forte (no pun intended). We just had to end our jam session tonight with Blitzkrieg Bop from the old Rock Band so that Sam could shriek along with the Ramones. He's really delivers quite the impressive performance, I'm just glad he doesn't understand what "pulsating to the back beat" means... yet.

I am a little worried, however, that video game fever has gone a little too far. I'll leave you with a transcript of Ben's bedtime prayer from tonight - I think it says it all:
Dear Lord,
Thank you for a great day. Thank you that Force Unleashed was released. Thank you that Daddy beat that really hard crazy guy.
In Your name, Amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cross Planting

Today was a big day for Christ Evangelical Church - we planted the cross from our old building on our new property!

To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect from the service, but I have to say that I was really moved by the event. There were a few songs, a few baptisms (always moving), and each family brought a container of dirt with us from our homes to symbolize the foundation we're laying, the church that Christ's growing, and the multiplication of dirt that we need (we need 1300 dump trucks full!). And, man, I am sure looking forward to having a permanent meeting place for the 800-odd folks who we worshiped with this morning - being a church on the move is hard work!

Praying with Steve and Sam and Ben for our little bucket of dirt from our garden just brought home how monumentally important Christ Evangelical Church is to me, to us. There's no other way to say it - Christ EV is our family here in Utah. When I picture our little girl coming home, I don't envision coming off of the plan in glorious Salt Lake International Airport. I don't imagine showing her into our home for the first time or her first night in her bed. When I think of bringing her home, I dwell on the images of Steve and I dedicating her to God before the family of Christ Evangelical Church, promising to raise her to the glory of God, and receiving our church family's pledge in return to support us in raising her for Christ. That's how important Christ EV is to me. Even reading over those last few sentences I tear up! Oh, man, I am such a mess.

Let's face it, Utah Valley can be a lonely place sometimes if you don't fit in. But this church is the family who welcomed us with open arms when we rolled into Utah seven years ago. It's the church that has supported and loved us through thick and thin - served us and accepted our service in return. Like any family, there are the folks who drive you crazy and that you're glad to only see on Christmas and Easter :) but it's a family that beats with the same heart, Christ's heart.

And there's so much more to it. This is the church that taught us that it's simply not about me - it's about Him. Life's not about our own security or comfort. Church doesn't exist to serve us. Christ created it to demonstrate his love to the whole world, to be a vehicle for his love. This is a church with mission and vision - to serve our community and give them a hint of Christ's truly unbelievable love.

So today was a big day. Today we broke ground on our new facility. But more importantly, today we recommitted ourselves and our church to sharing God's incredible love with our world. It was a good day.

ps - Jason just posted a comment with a great question - our new property is the 6 acres at 1580 South Sandhill Road, just south of Utah Valley University between I-15 and Sandhill Rd. We still own the property across from Orem High, but since it's too small for Sunday mornings we're renting the whole facility to a charter school with hopes of selling it soon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Grand Visit

We had a great visit from Grammy and Buddy this week - filled with lots of board games and games of Old Maid (Ben is an Old Maid maniac!), hours and hours of Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones with Grammy on the new TV, and the hilarity of tormenting Buddy with plastic bug finger puppets. It was quite the week and a half!

The boys loved having their grandparents in town, of course. Tonight as I put Ben to bed, he looked at me with mopey eyes and we shared this conversation:
Mommy: What's wrong, Ben?
Ben: I just miss someone
Mommy: Who do you miss?
Ben: Grammy.
Mommy: Yeah, it was great having her and Buddy in town
Ben. Yeah, she's the only one who plays tag with me
Mommy: Oh, well, I'll play tag with you tomorrow
Ben: Well, I like playing tag with Grammy because she's the only one who's really slow. Because, you know, she could get like an injury for old people.
Mommy: Ah
Ben: Yeah, and plus an adult's heart beats like one time a second, but a kid's heart beats like three times a second!
Mommy: Oh, and that makes Grammy slow at tag?
Ben: Well, you see, I remembered. She's slow because old people don't have all of the energy. Because the energy comes from the heart beating. So me and Sam and all of the kids have lots of energy because our heart is beating three times a second. But all of the adults don't have so much energy because their hearts only beat one time a second!
Impeccable logic and an interesting commentary on aging, courtesy of my five year old.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crazy boys, missing teeth

I couldn't help but post a few crazy photos of our kiddos. Here's Ben at Cody's birthday party - wearing the same glasses as the Lego guys in Lego Star Wars wear when you turn on their disguises (having a pair of real glasses like the Lego disguise glasses is sheer joy to Ben, as you can well imagine). I think he looks quite dapper.

My latest Hilarious Ben moment came last Friday when I asked Ben what happened at school that day. Usually on Fridays they do a lot with music, so I asked him if the fiddler came again. He no, the fiddler didn't come, just a girl who played violin. Then he proceeded to tell me that he got to play a new instrument - "you know, like monkeys play in movies!" It took me a second to realize that he was talking about playing cymbals. You know, like monkeys play in movies :)

Sam's big event this week is the loss of not one, but two teeth! This is quite the blessing because they've been loose for roughly forever and very annoying to Sam, thus making them very annoying to everybody else as well. Three baby teeth gone, a zillion to go.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Something Fishy

On Saturday, we had the unique chance to go up to the fish traps at a local reservoir and help a friend sort salmon! Ok, I'm guessing that we probably provided more entertainment than actual help, but we all had a really wonderful day at the fish traps.

The process is really very interesting. The salmon start life in the reservoir tributary that the fish traps are located on. They hatch and swim downstream and live in the lake for 5 years(ish) and then when it's time for them to spawn and die, they swim back upstream to the traps (just fish holding pens that the fish aren't smart enough to find their way out of) where they are sorted by gender and measured and checked out for diseases and then the eggs/sperm are harvested and sold to local hatcheries. A portion of the fertilized eggs stay at the reservoir and the cycle starts again. Right now they're trapping around 400 salmon per day and they'll get around 7 thousand this season! That's a lot of fish. And get this - each female produces around 10,000 eggs, and in a hatchery they get about a 75% survival rate. Woah. That's enough salmon to keep us basting and grilling for a long time.

Sorting the fish was really cool - I was so surprised by how strong those angry, flopping fish were when we held them up. Obviously, we are not well acquainted with sportfish or however salmon-type fish are generally described (admittedly, our general ignorance abounds on the subject of any fish not in Finding Nemo or in our fishtanks) so the day was filled with learning and surprises.

Ben loved watching the salmon swim upstream into the trap, but his interest only extended as far as watching from a safe and dry distance as the others held the salmon. Oh well, I guess I can't blame him. As you can see, Sam did work up his nerve to get close enough to help Daddy hold a salmon. Given our love for fishing, it's probably as close as he's going to get to catching an edible fish for at least a decade. At least, I'm hoping that's the case.

I'll leave you with my favorite photo of the whole day - now that's a sign you don't see every day!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Steve's New Baby

Move over Jamie, there's a new love in town! Steve's been saving his nickels, dimes, and quarters (lots of nickels, dimes, and quarters) and has procured the ultimate male status symbol (or so I'm told) - the ginormous TV.

Now, if you know us well you probably realize that this is a rather interesting purchase. Does Steve watch sports? No. Do we have cable? No. Do we even have an antenna or any way of getting a television signal into our home?!? No. But we do have all the internet streaming TV that Move Networks can offer (go Move!) and a deep love for video games. And that's enough for Steve.

"Tell us more!" you beg, "Give us all of the stats and inputs and outputs and numbers associated with that incredible feat of engineering!" Here's the entirety of my knowledge: my rival is a 50-inch plasma TV that is now mounted to our family room wall. She has arrived in time for Rock Band 2, coming out this weekend. And Daniel Craig looked pretty freaking incredible tonight as she displayed her inaugural movie, Casino Royale. Hey, if I have to vie for Steve's attention with "xenon and neon gas... contained in hundreds of thousands of tiny cells positioned between two plates of glass", at least I can enjoy the view ;)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Salute to Grandparents

Happy Grandparents Day!

We didn't technically get cards or gifts or flowers delivered to our set of Grands (our intentions were so good... but somehow last week got really short) so thank goodness for the blog!

We are truly blessed with an astounding set of grandparents, all healthy and active and enjoying life and all the grandchildren it offers. Ok, I guess that mostly healthy is a bit more accurate - Gramma just got word a few weeks ago that her CA 125 (a blood marker for ovarian cancer) is higher than her doctors want it to be, but the CT scan came back clear so she's back on chemo again for a few treatments until the marker comes back down. But Gramma continually astounds us with her easygoing and fantastically positive attitude towards that stage 4 ovarian cancer that she's been fighting for the last 2 years - except for the baldness, you'd never know that anything was wrong from her activity and outlook. Go Gramma!

And Poppop continues to take care of Gramma while also keeping the grounds of the local golf course looking fantastic, growing more corn and tomatoes than any family could ever eat, and gearing up for another year of ski instructing at Ski Liberty.

And things are going similarly well on my side of the family. My grandfather, Poppoppop is still enjoying living at Virginia Beach, especially flying kites on the beach. If you're wondering about his name, we figured that when Sam was born, Poppop could be promoted with one more "pop", sort of like a "great" before "grandfather". Poppopop is gearing up for his 80th birthday this winter - wowzas!

Buddy is our last full-time employed grandparent, still working for the Carroll County Public Library system as the Assistant Administrator. Grammy keeps busy working at the local libraries at the Information Desk and doing Storytimes. Both of them keep threatening to retire soon and move out to Utah, and the current estimated season of move is Fall 2009. I have to admit that after living 2,000 miles from any parental unit for most of a decade, I think that having parents live close again sounds really nice.

We are astoundingly blessed to have parents who truly love God, love each other, and love their children and grandchildren with selflessness and devotion. And we are so grateful that our boys are able to enjoy a relationship with their wonderful Great Grandfather - that's a privilege that so few folks enjoy.

Happy Grandparents Day to each of you, and we sure hope to bring home a new grandbaby for you to dote on soon :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Treehouse, Phase 1

The architectural plans were exacting, the specifications well-defined, and I can now say with confidence that The Treehouse, Phase 1, is completed! Ok... I guess that only two of three of the parts of Sam's plans are done - the walls that for some reason look like a bicycle seat in his diagram aren't up yet, but 66% isn't bad. Ok, I guess that technically 66% is an F, but only if you're not grading on a curve.

Anyway, as you can see the treehouse is perched amongst the branches of our apple tree which is a good use for the tree because we never actually harvest any apples from it (because we're lazy, not for want of trying on the tree's part). It's really a rather roomy treehouse - Steve and the boys did an exceptional job with it and the four of us ate our ice cream cones quite comfortably in the treehouse earlier this week. Obviously it's also pretty sturdy to support two kids and two adults and four ice cream cones!

And today Steve and the boys finished up the trap door specified in Sam's plans. In Mommyland, the presence of a trap door is basically equivalent to hundreds of pinched fingers and a few concussions as one boy drops the rather heavy door on the other's head as he climbs up, leaving the unfortunate bottom child hurtling to the ground from the rope ladder... but I will concede that may be more paranoid Mommy talk than actually likely outcome. Only time and emergency room visits will tell :)

But, if you're Sam and Ben, the presence of a trap door means that your treehouse is complete (or mostly complete, there's still the weighted down elevator and bucket on a pulley to finish, but I digress) because you can now require a password for entry to your treehouse. Sam explained to me tonight that the password to the treehouse would only be awarded if one brought "food or a drink or a new toy" to the treehouse dwellers. Those kids strike a hard bargain. Oh, and the trap door means that you can keep girls out - Sam has already finished his "No Girls Allowed" sign although he did concede that relatives are allowed up, but no other girls because they may bring up, and I quote, "dolls and stuff." And clearly this is precisely the kind of disaster that the treehouse trap door is meant to protect them from!

Sam's Calvin and Hobbes fantasies have finally been realized.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Wettest Concert Ever

They were serious when they printed "rain or shine" on our Bob Dylan tickets! But we love our Bobby more than we love our health or comfort and we came prepared Sunday for the long haul. We arrived at Deer Valley at 3:30 and were well-rewarded for our wait in line - Steve got the best seats! Here's a great shot of how close we were to the man, the legend (he's the one who looks like General Custer in the white hat and black suit with gold military stripes down the leg. When you're that famous, I guess you can get away with any outfit). Ok, so my hair leaves a little to be desired in this photo, but at this point in the evening we were well beyond worrying about appearances.

The rain didn't start in earnest until after we entered the gates at 6:30. And man did it rain... and thunder... and hail... but we were committed to the cause. I have to smile at the appropriateness of the "Thunder on the Mountain" shirt that I purchased at the concert. We actually had a nice break in the storm for most of Dylan's performance, but as you see from this photo we were pretty soaked by the end. Fortunately, there was plenty of fantastic music to dance to - I think we danced more to stave off the frostbite than anything else but, hey, whatever works!

It was a nice mix of classic and newer songs, most of which stayed pretty driving (a good thing - it was easier to dance our way to warmth with a rock beat). Interestingly, Bob exclusively played keys, which was a little sad since the keyboard is so much less cool than the guitar (that was for you, Rich), but let's face it, Bob plays all instruments with a style all his own. Plus it was fun watching him play harmonica and organ at the same time.

We've been to enough Dylan concerts to know that there are good Dylan concerts and there are bad Dylan concerts (this was number six in our repertoire - not bad!). We are pleased to report that Bob's concert at Deer Valley rates in the first group. And we haven't contracted pneumonia... yet. There was a chance of it at the end of the concert, but he encored with Like a Rolling Stone and the sheer joy of it all kept us going. Here's a link to the Salt Lake Tribune's coverage of the concert with the full set list. It's a pretty good write up except - hey! - they stole my opening line from this blog posting for their story!

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