Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday to Steve

Saturday was Steve's 32nd birthday - Happy Birthday Baby!

We celebrated with plenty of birthday kisses (as pictured) and a whole lot of Lego Rock Band. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Lego Rock Band may be the greatest game of all time - nothing beats pounding along on the drums to Spongebob's "The Best Day Ever" with Sasha on my lap (also pounding away, making it very challenging to amass my star power), Steve wailing on guitar, Gramma rounding out the band on bass, and Sam or Ben shrieking out the words as our little Lego guys on stage rock out. We just got our own private Lego jet, so I think we may be close to winning the game. And the name of our band? Why, the Turkey Leg Heads, of course, in homage to our Thanksgiving hats!

But we didn't just rot our brains in front of the Xbox all day, no sir! We also rotted our brains at the movies (we saw Fantastic Mr. Fox which was, appropriately, fantastic), ate a ridiculous amount of kettle corn, had Five Guys for dinner, and finished out the day with a Cold Stone cake. It was a pretty fantastic birthday, if I do say so myself :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

We had a really delightful Thanksgiving this year, sharing dinner with Gramma and Poppop (visiting from Maryland) and the wonderful Powells (visit their blog to compare Thanksgiving notes). Oh, and if you're confused about the hats, you can read all about them in yesterday's post.

Persevering through some early struggles to get the turkey onto its platter, Steve and Sharon finally emerged victorious and we enjoyed a delightful Thanksgiving feast, complete with oyster stuffing and sauerkraut (that's what happens when the crazy East coast relatives are in town for the holiday). No dried corn this year, though, despite visiting three grocery stores in pursuit of my favorite Pennsylvania Dutch dish. I suggested that perhaps we should just get chicken feed to reconstitute, but nobody else thought that was a good idea.

Jim made four (count 'em - four!) kinds of pie for dessert because he wanted to practice his pie making skills. I'll be his dessert guinea pig any day! Sam's enthusiasm rather paled in comparison to Steve's.

The day was made all the more sweet by the addition of two new little ones to the party - Sasha and Thomas! Introducing Sash to each new holiday has been such a joy and I love sharing our traditions with this little one that we waited so very long for! Happy first Thanksgiving, Baby Girl!

I'll leave you with our Thanksgiving blessing this year, from Psalm 136. Standing around our table, stating the simple truth that God's love never quits in response to each line was an amazing way to start the meal. What a perfect, exuberant way to capture the gratitude in each of our hearts.
Thank God! He deserves your thanks. His love never quits.
Thank the God of all gods,
His love never quits.
Thank the Lord of all lords.
His love never quits.

Thank the miracle-working God,
His love never quits.
The God whose skill formed the cosmos,
His love never quits.
The God who laid out earth on ocean foundations,
His love never quits.
The God who filled the skies with light,
His love never quits.
The sun to watch over the day,
His love never quits.
Moon and stars as guardians of the night,
His love never quits.

God remembered us when we were down,
His love never quits.
Rescued us from the trampling boot,
His love never quits.
Takes care of everyone in time of need.
His love never quits.
Thank God, who did it all!
His love never quits!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Hats

I was working on a touching post (well, as touching as our posts ever get) about the wonders of this Thanksgiving and our gratitude for our friends and family... but when I got ready to upload the annual group picture around the dinner table I realized that we may have some explaining to do about the hats.

Last year, Sam created nine truly fantastic hats for our Thanksgiving celebration - traditional pilgrim and Indian hats. This year, Sam decided to focus on the centerpiece and Ben happily took on hat duty. As Ben told us that he planned to make turkey hats and started making a supply list. The conversation started like this: "Let's see... for every hat I'll need two paper bags and three cotton balls. Oh, no, it's three cotton balls for each side. And I'll need tissue." and it went downhill from there in terms of my understanding.

But once he started on the massive hat creation project, it all became clear - get it? they're turkey hats! Like, turkey leg turkey hats! Hilarious and completely unexpected.

Here are some shots of our family and guests modeling their fabulous turkey hats:
Wowsers - I dare you to find more astounding Thanksgiving hats anywhere, let alone guests who wear them with such distinction :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You know the grandparents are in town when...

You know the grandparents are in town when...

You come home from work and find your eldest son reading your husband's old Heathcliff comic books and happily detangling his hair with a switchblade comb (both "treasures" brought from your husband's childhood room)

And your youngest son ecstatically pronounces, "Mom, I've still got 337 pieces left!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

P is for Pigtails

We are making considerable headway in girlyhairland - today I came home from work to find my baby in pigtails! They were completely adorable for the five minutes they lasted and I have renewed hope that we will, some day, learn to keep Sasha's hair out of her eyes.

Progress with the letter p, however, is not moving along as swiftly as we had hoped when we first blogged about it almost two months ago. Speech therapy is hard, frustrating work!

Sasha's general communication skills continue to grow by leaps and bounds, but her mouth hasn't caught up with her brain yet. Two months of intensive work on p has resulted in a very clear "puh" as long as she whispers it an doesn't try to pair it with any other vowel sounds. Up is still "uck," apple is "aggl," and purple starts with a b. We know that she'll learn to use that palate eventually, but for now p is our nemesis.

Sheesh - nobody told us that teaching our child English phonemes with a reconstructed mouth was going to be so much work! Good thing we have the adorable pigtails to keep us going.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chorney at Six Months

Chorney turned six months old this week, so we decided it was time for some updated photos and a "big dog collar" complete with brass nameplate riveted right to it. Admittedly, the collar dwarfs her right now, but I think our puppy still has some growing in her before she hits her permanent size. With standard poodle and yellow lab genes, we think she'll get a bit bigger than her current size, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Chorney's shaping up to be one heck of a dog. She still has way too much energy, but such is the way of puppies. She has her "sit" down pretty well and we're working on not jumping when overexcited (when people come over, when she's let out of her kennel after we come home, or when the day ends in the letter y). She does her lab genes proud in the chewing department, but has managed to constrain the real damage to sticks and balls and rawhides. And McDonalds toys, she has a special soft spot in her heart (stomach?) for Happy Meal toys. It's hard to be mad at a dog when she helps us clean house of worthless junk.

And she's just an awfully nice dog, which we love. She is patient with Sasha's overenthusiastic "affection" and loves to snuggle. And she still thinks she's a lapdog, which is alternately cute and very annoying when both she Sasha decide that they should be my sole, very active, lap inhabitants.

And we just realized that Chorney is not completely black - our dog has a reddish chin! She had two chocolate brothers, so we figure that a little bit of the chocolate snuck in to her whiskers. I'm just glad that we know what be her fearsome pirate name - Red Beard the Labradoodle it is!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bedtime Reading

I popped into the boys' room the other night after putting Sasha to sleep and what to my wondering eyes did appear? My baby boy, sitting up in bed reading Captain Underpants. Ben's been reading for some time, but I have to admit that my heart wasn't ready for him to be reading chapter books already! Today, first grade, tomorrow college.

ps - I'm in a bit of hot water over Ben's ponytail picture. Yes, I know that this begs the obvious question, "If you didn't want me to post this hilarious photo of you on the blog, why did you let me take it?" but we'll let such quandaries be and hope that posting this very sweet Ben picture will make up for last week's very funny but perhaps a bit embarrassing Ben picture.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


We're trying an experiment - we're going to try adding Google ads to our blog and see what happens.

Now, before you pass judgment on the ads, hear us out. For quite a while Steve and I have wanted to support SPOON, a really cool organization that provides vitamins and other nutritional needs for orphans in Kazakhstan. So if the ads on this blog generate any revenue, we will donate it all to SPOON.

We'll probably have to play around with ad formats and sizes for a while, so please bear with us - we hope that we can repay your patience by regaling you with amusing stories of our children's antics accompanied by adorable photos. We think it's a fair trade :)

If the ads gain any traction, we'll keep you posted on the amount that this blog is donating to needy orphans in Kaz. And if they get annoying (the ads, not the orphans!), we'll call the experiment complete, pull the ads, and move on. But if we don't try, we'll never know!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Tub is my Territory

The other day, I announced that it was time for Ben to have his bath and went up to draw the water - and just look who was already in the tub by the time I got upstairs! Ain't nobody getting into the tub unless she's invited as well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Passport Application

We haven't gotten Sasha's Social Security card yet, and several sources have informed us that it's often easier to get a SSN if you already have a U.S. passport. So today we took a field trip to the local passport office to get our baby's paperwork moving!

It took the poor passport lady a while to figure out which of the Russian certificates she needed to include with the application (she was a bit flustered by the whole thing) but I think that by the end of our time together all of the paperwork was in order. It was hard to entrust anybody with our only copies of Sasha's birth certificate, adoption decree, and certificate of citizenship, but once we have a passport we should be able to lock all of those originals away safe and sound and just use her passport for identification.

I'm just grateful to be on this side of the paper chase :)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ponytail Gang

For a few days there it looked like Sam was actually going to let me cut his hair - he decided he had finally had enough of the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth every morning when I brush his hair. Then Daddy pointed out that his hair is getting long enough for a ponytail and now I can kiss that haircut goodbye!

If he would acquiesce to a girly ponytail, I think that his hair would actually stay back, but since guys have to wear their ponytails at the nape of the neck rather than the ever-so-perky back of their heads he still has another inch or so to go before it will really stay back all day. These unwritten rules about proper ponytail placement seem a bit overly-complicated to me, but I am not strong enough to fight them on my own. Moms of boys with ridiculously long hair, perhaps some day we can band together to fight this injustice. But living in Utah I'm guessing that it may be difficult to find others to carry the banner with me.

And I know that you don't really need two photos of my son with a ponytail in this post, but I was so struck by these photos - Sam looks like a miniature little Stevelet in the first, and in the second photo he could be me at 8 years of age. It's crazy!

I'm not sure exactly what the story is with this picture, but apparently Ben's hair is also now long enough for a ponytail, albeit a sumo-tastic one. He doesn't look too thrilled about the look, perhaps I can talk Ben into a haircut. And if not, there's a certain poetry to the fact that soon Sash and I will have the shortest hair in the family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sasha's Hair

Since we're on a girly theme, let's talk about Sasha's hair.

Now, you have to remember that when we met in January, Sasha's haircut was rather extreme. I understand the practicality of short hair in the baby house, but we've been working hard at not cutting her hair for the past few months... actually, now that I think about it, no-haircuts seems to be a theme in my ruffian household.

When Sash acquiesces to leaving a barrette in her hair it's really quite manageable, not to mention adorable. We haven't ventured beyond barrettes yet because I can't imagine Sasha sitting still long enough for me to put a braid and rubber band in her hair. I'm sure the day will come soon enough, and I do wonder if a rubber band would stay in place better. At least it would be harder for little hands to tug out of place.

So, most of the time Sasha ends up looking like a sheep dog in need of grooming, as is the way of Morningstar children's hair. I keep thinking that as it grows out, her hair will train itself to keep out of her eyes. This is looking like wishful thinking, but we're not giving up yet and we're not giving her a haircut! I'm so proud of our little girl's new locks, and eventually Mom and Dad will figure out how to keep her hair long and lovely and out of her eyes :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sasha's First Christmas

Admittedly, it's taken me some time to ease into this "Mommy of a girl" role. A year ago I was wigged out by a pink princess tea set - can you believe that it's only been 11 months since "Sestra's" shower?!? My goodness, it seems like a lifetime ago. There's a reason that God started me off with boys.

You know I've turned a corner when this comes home in my Target shopping bag - a sparkle princess Polly Pocket for Sasha's Christmas stocking (except that she's not a Polly Pocket because I guess Disney didn't want to pay for those rights). I've become quite a Polly Pocket fan over the past few months - those gooey, stretchy clothes are strangely satisfying. But I digress.

I am so excited to share the joy and excitement of Christmas with our little girl! Now... where can I find a "Baby's First Christmas" shirt in size 2T?!?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sell Your Stuff

Steve and I are about halfway through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and it's been a really great opportunity to talk about our financial plans for the next years and decades. If you have the chance to take the 12-week course, I definitely recommend it.

Anyway, inspired by FPU, I decided to sell our CDs this week. Not the CDs we listen to, but the hundreds of CDs that have been collecting dust in the basement for a decade. It's mostly mid-90's fare - R.E.M., Tom Petty, Indigo Girls - stuff that we have on multiple compilations and hardly ever listen to anyway. So far, I've netted $136 in FYE credit (For Your Entertainment, it's a local music/movie/video game store) and $21 on, one of the world's greatest websites. Yes, I think it's slightly bizarro that a store would pay me $9 for the Les Mis soundtrack that I worshiped in middle school or that somebody out there in Plano Texas bought The Thomas Crown Affair Soundtrack for $5.71, but I'm grateful to them!

If you'd like to visit our store to marvel at the crap that we purchased in our teen years, here's the URL:

-LATE BREAKING NEWS- Van Morrison's Hymns to the Silence just sold for $21.95 plus shipping! God bless America.

(and, no, the photo has nothing to do with the post, but Sam took this sweet picture of me and Chorney this week and I thought I'd include it in this blog entry)

Friday, November 13, 2009

You call this candy?!?

No, I'm not sure what made me think it was a good idea. I guess it's that she seemed so happy to have the pretty red wrapped candy piece in her hands. Maybe it was her drunk excitement at having found the treat inside her brother's candy bag.

All I know is when she came to me signing for help to open her procured treasure, my first instinct was to grab the camera. I mean, how often do you get the opportunity to chronicle your daughter's first experience with a super sour candy called a "warhead."

My guess is that she just can't stand the taste of watermelon.

Me too dear, me too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall has Fallen

We have just the right number of trees in our yard - enough to make a decent leaf pile in the autumn, but not so many that you think violent thoughts every time there's a wind gust that knocks more leaves off of the semi-naked branches.

Our boys take their leaf-jumping pretty seriously. Sasha enjoyed observing her brothers' antics but remained unsure about the whole "leaping into the leaves" thing and preferred brandishing her rake at each leaf that dared try escape the pile. That was fine with us since she just had a bath and I'm pretty sure that wet hair + rolling in leaves = ick.

Ben decided that it was a pity to have a tree so close to the leaf pile and not combine the two, so he used his tree climbing strategy to take the experience to a new level. We photographed the entire first attempt for your amusement:

1. Preparation and show of strength
2. Dangling from the limb to better line up for the drop
3. Ben in mid-fall
4. "That was awesome!"

Repeat steps 1-4 ad infinitum

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quote of the Day

These words actually came out of my mouth this evening while Sasha was "helping" me load the dishwasher:
Time out, young lady; just because Chorney licks something doesn't mean you can.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sasha at Sundance

Last weekend, one of my friends from high school came to visit (which was awesome, BTW, and way more of you should be flying out to Utah to hang out with us!) and we took Sasha up to Sundance to show off our local mountains. It's always fun to see the Wasatch peaks through the eyes of somebody who hasn't been here before, it reminds you just how incredible our home is.

Here are a couple of adorable Sasha photos from our afternoon in Provo Canyon. I just can't get enough of this girl... or her fantastic boots

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Beverage Specificity

This flier came home last week from the boys' school:Now, come on, where else but Utah would you see these kind of beverage options?Something for everybody!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adopting a child with a cleft palate

We are part of a cleft palate support group here in Utah and recently wrote up this little explanation about our experiences as adoptive parents of a child with a cleft palate for use on the group's truly fantastic blog.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Adoptive parenting is for those with extra guts. And adoptive parenting of a child with a cleft palate? Well, that's left for those with an extra well-developed sense of adventure.

In January 2009 we traveled to Karaganda, Kazakhstan to meet and welcome 22-month-old Alexandra Grace Morningstar into our family.

Sasha (short for Alexandra) was born with a wide bilateral cleft palate and (maybe) with mild Pierre Robin Sequence (PRS) and spent most of her early childhood in hospitals and the Botakoz Baby House. When we first learned about Sasha's cleft palate, we were torn - we knew that this was an easily correctable condition here in the US, but we also knew that it compounded the scads of the unknowns that are intrinsic to adoption. So we started researching.

After talking to families in similar positions to our own, researching on the web, and talking with the cleft palate team at our local children's hospital, we learned the following:
  • These kids are survivors. Our daughter would not have lived through her challenging early childhood without a strong will to survive (and believe us, she is strong willed!). Orphans with clefts have learned to successfully navigate their environments without a lot of special treatment from the world around them.
  • Cleft kiddos have learned to make feeding work for them despite physical challenges. You are not going to break them and they're not going to starve when you get home just because you don't know the first thing about cleft palates. They have mastered their own feeding techniques, which often include shaking their heads to move food around their mouths, because they can't use their palates for leverage
  • Don't be too worried about early childhood delays. Because of a far harder-than-average start in life, it is normal for cleft orphans to be very small and significantly speech delayed. "Normal" delays from institutional care can be compounded by the cleft palate. Our daughter was a mere 14 pounds at 18 months of age and had only one discernible word when we met her ("kukla", which means doll in Russian). In the past months her vocabulary has simply exploded and her words become increasingly more discernible as she learns to use her "new" mouth and works with her speech therapist.
  • You probably just have to accept that you'll never know what caused the cleft. Maybe you'll get some family history that can help you understand what happened, maybe genetic counseling will help you diagnose the root cause, but most likely it will be a part of your child's biological and gestational history that you'll never really have the answers you want. Many biological parents of cleft kids walk this path as well.
If you know about your child's cleft before adoption, you have the opportunity to prepare in many ways:
  • Research your medical insurance and get your insurance ducks in a row before traveling
  • Choose a hospital and surgeon. After examining your child they will finalize the treatment path, but choosing a surgeon before travel will eliminate one more to do item when you return, exhausted and overwhelmed, from your adoption travels
  • Learn baby signs. Depending on your child's age, we definitely recommend learning and using sign language with your child. Sasha had physical impediments to speech, but she latched on to sign language within our first few weeks together and still often uses signs to communicate. Using sign language with Sasha was a godsend.
  • Talk with cleft adoptive parents. They will encourage you, remind you that you are up to this challenge, and share their own tips and tricks that were helpful in their first months home with their child. You can find other cleft adoptive parents through Yahoo and Google groups and your domestic and international agencies.
  • Be real with yourself and have extra grace for your spouse. Try to mentally adjust to the idea that you will probably have more than "average" (whatever that means) difficulty in your first few months home with your child. The fatigue and simple overwhelming nature of bringing a child into your home will be compounded by doctor's visits, surgery, speech therapy, and lots of chocolate running out of your child's nose before the cleft is repaired (this is adorable, by the way). It's hard. And it's worth it.
Welcoming Sasha into our family had been one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of our lives. If you have the opportunity to adopt a cleft child, we definitely recommend that you evaluate and seriously consider your ability to care for this little one's medical, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. And if this is the right path for your family, then go for it! Your child will teach you how to care for her, your doctors will guide you through surgery and therapy, and each member of your family will be richer and deeper for the experience.

If you'd like to read more about our cleft experience, here are some blog posts that can walk you through the journey:


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