Camping: Part 2

Sorry to leave you all with a cliffhanger yesterday. ;)

Our fun evening was just beginning after the beach. I had brought food to cook over a fire and Aaron had picked up some firewood. Once we were done playing on the beach, he built us a fire.
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First, we roasted hotdogs. A rare treat that went over well.
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And then marshmallows.
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For s’mores!
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This is the first time we’ve made s’mores, although Reed informed me that he had made them at school before.
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Gus just really wanted the chocolate out of his.
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Gus decided that he wanted to crawl in the tent for a bit, so we watched the sunset.
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But, he changed his mind in favorite the campfire. And Reed got to put the last of the wood on, which was quite the honor.
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And, we just watched the campfire while the sun set behind us and the moon rose in front of us.
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It’s amazing what fun kids can have with sticks and fire.
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One by one, the kids decided that they were tired (whaaaat?) and went to sleep. So, Aaron and I had a rare chance to sit outside together.
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It was such a nice time. However, I was a bit bummed that the moon was full and the sky was cloudy!
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I ended up staying up a bit by myself, hoping that the clouds would clear, which they never did. I walked down to the lake with my camera and tripod. I’m fairly accustomed to being alone in the dark and rarely get spooked. But, being by the water where it was very windy and waves were crashing on the rocks had me completely freaked out!  I realized how much I rely on my hearing… and I could not hear a thing. I just took a couple of quick shots and headed back to the tent.
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Up until crawling into the tent, I was really enjoying camping. I forgot how difficult it is to sleep well in a tent with 3 squirmy kids! Somehow, we made it through the night.
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The kids were happy to play in the tent for quite awhile.
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And, day two was pretty uneventful. We had planned to go canoeing, but with these storm clouds + a lot of wind, we decided to try that another time.
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Camping was a great time. We had such a blast as a family. I wish it was a bit easier to get some good rest when sharing a tent with kids, though, so if anyone has any great tips for that, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Camping: Part 1

We went camping last weekend. Aaron had been asking me for months, but I kept putting him off. “So much prep work! So much laundry!” But, he really wanted to go. And the weather was going to be perfect.

These two lovely men put together our tent.
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Well, I helped quite a bit too, but I also had to pull out the camera AND keep an eye on the two little people who wanted to play in the car.
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Once the tent was all assembled, I took the kids to the beach while Aaron went for a hike.
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The beach is a lot of fun!
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I really enjoyed it. The kids played in the sand and I listened to an audiobook.
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Gus practiced his levitation.
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But, that’s hard work, so then he look a nap.
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I really love this next picture– brothers!
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Lena got the brilliant idea to use beach towels as superhero capes.
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And her brothers were quick to copy.
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Reed really owned it.
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For the rest of our beach time, Reed practiced his handstands and cartwheels.
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Gus is pretty sure that he can do the same thing.
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We had such a nice time playing at the beach, even just playing in the sand. I can’t wait to have more chances to do that this summer. It made me think of when we took Big L camping and to the beach last year, and how we plan to do it with “N” this summer, too!

I’ll share about the rest of our camping in a future blog post. Too many photos for all at once!

Tips for Hosting

I had a few questions about hosting on a recent blog post, so I decided to put together a little list of tips. Most host organizations cover a good portion of this in their training, but I still wanted to put together a list of a few things I think are essential or I wish I’d given more thought to before hosting.
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1. Don’t buy a ton of clothes beforehand. Stick to elastic/drawstring items and things that would fit multiple sizes like dresses, etc.
It’s really hard to predict your host child’s size, unless you have been provided with recent, accurate information, which is hard to come by. Many of the host kids are small, even extremely small, for their ages. However, some like Big L, are normal or even tall. It really depends on the kid, so unless you have recent, reliable information, it’s better to just buy a few things to get you through the first few days and then purchase other essentials once you know what size your host child is.

2. But, buy books and other language-specific items ahead of time — if you are aware of your child’s preferred language.
If you are ordering foreign language books, they can take a long time to arrive, as many are shipping from overseas. But, be sure to confirm what language your child speaks and/or prefers first. Big L spoke both Ukrainian and Russian, but had a preference for Ukrainian. For Latvian kids, most speak Latvian, although some are fluent in or prefer Russian. When buying books and such, it’s better to buy books that seem “young” for your host child, as they may not be reading at their reading level. We got Big L the Jesus Storybook Bible, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and a couple of others.

3. A couple of small gifts are good, but don’t go overboard.
A couple of small gifts can break the ice with your host child. We met Big L at the airport with a necklace and a Russian/English pictorial dictionary. In retrospect, I think I would have saved the necklace for later and brought her a different more hands-on airport gift. The pictorial dictionary was good since it was both something to occupy her, but also a bit fun. Any sort of gift that might help break the ice is great too.

I caution about going overboard for reason #5 below.

4. Bring snacks and bottled water to the airport.
The host kids will have been traveling for 24+ hours straight at this point and providing refreshments is essential.

5. The first few days set the tone for hosting.
This is why I caution against too many gifts, or even taking your host child on a shopping spree right away. Host kids, who have had little experience with things like grocery shopping and other ordinary errands, can easily get the wrong impression if you buy or do too much too soon.

Spend the first few days investing in your host child, getting them used to your routine and how things work for your family. Then, once they have the routine down, introduce a few special things here and there. The same goes for any sort of special adventures you’re planning on taking your host child on. Delay these until later in the hosting, so they are thought of as a fun, special thing, not an everyday occurrence in your family.

Also plan for your child to be totally exhausted for the first few days– jet lag and culture shock/overwhelm. Big L slept until noon and didn’t really want to eat for the first 24hours. Totally normal.

6. Sink into the awkward.
After we picked Big L up at the airport, it felt SO awkward. I really wondered what we were doing. An experienced friend told me that yes, it would be awkward for the first couple of days. Knowing that awkward was normal helped. Instead of trying to dance around Big L, we were just ourselves and invited her into our world. If she said “no” to an activity, that was okay. She could sit on the sidelines and watch and we wouldn’t try to force her into participation or stop the activity because of her. Many kids just need a bit of time to observe before they jump into family life.

7. Organize a family ice-breaker.
Once your host child is well-rested, engage in a family silly-string or squirt gun fight! Or, for winter hosting, snowball fight! Pick a family member or two who will enjoy being the target, team up with your host kid and attack! This has been a great family bonding type of activity for us, just totally silly and everyone ends up laughing.

8. Plan dentist and eye exam appointments for part way through the visit.
Most hosting organizations want you to get your child these appointments. However, if you plan them too soon in, you may not have the trust built up in your child. And if you plan them too far out, it may be difficult to get any follow-up treatment (cavities filled, glasses, etc.) in time. A week or two in is best.

9. Think through how much screen-time you want to allow.
Screen time is a big issue with kids, as we all know. Your host kid may want to get on their social media to connect with friends. Some programs allow this, some do not (so double check with your coordinator first if you aren’t sure!). Particularly if you’re planning on adopting your host child, think through how much you want to allow and set the guidelines from the outset.

There are many pros and cons of allowing the social media connection. Homesick host kids can connect with their friends, or even just show you photos of their friends. But, it can also have a negative affect if their friends are jealous or not supportive of hosting. Or, they can just get sucked into their social media world and be pulled away from time with family.

10. Think creatively about physical affection.
This can be an awkward thing at first, until your host child gets to know you. And even once your host child is comfortable with it, find excuses to connect with your child, as they may have not had it in a long time or EVER. Most kids really need this, but it’s an awkward thing to start.

Ideas: at-home spa/salon day for girls with hair styling and nail painting, applying temporary tattoos, helping with sunscreen. Our family also did nightly footrubs with essential oils.

11. Treat your host child as younger than their chronological age, especially if they act that way. 
If you have an older host child and also have younger kids at home, offer to do the same things you do for your younger kids for your host child. They may laugh, but some kids may take you up on it. Things like cutting up food, applying sunscreen, holding hands. Even if it seems totally awkward to you, remember that they’ve probably never had a parent to nurture them in that way and it’s priceless that they can now get it from you.

12. Make a list of family rules or expectations in your host child’s language.
This is a good thing to have posted in your child’s language, especially if you’re hosting a child who has not been hosted before. They may not be familiar with family life and having a clear list of rules can be really helpful for them to understand your expectations.

Example: in Eastern Europe, it is often necessary to throw toilet paper in the trash can instead of in the toilet. We put a little bathroom reminder in the bathroom along the lines of “toilet paper goes in the toilet, flush, then wash your hands.” It was just a friendly little reminder of our culture.

13. Encourage your host child with love notes.
We did a paper chain, one for each night of bible verses and words for encouragement for Big L. It was a way for her to understand how long she had left with us, but also be filled with encouragement as that flight home drew close. I’ve also heard of families just writing up words of encouragement and hiding them around the house for their host child to find. Either way, it’s a great way to fill your child with love. You can also sneak them into your child’s suitcase as they’re packing to leave.

Anything else you want to know about? Other tips from experienced host families?

Your Best Yes

I’m not much of a sales person. I have to be really passionate about something before I ask my friends and family to consider it. And, if there’s one thing I’m crazy passionate about, it’s hosting.

Hosting is an opportunity for orphans from countries including Ukraine, Latvia, Ethiopia and China, to come to the United States and live in a family for a few weeks over the summer or Christmastime. Sort of like an exchange program, but the goal isn’t just to teach them English and for them to experience another culture (although that can be beneficial). It’s really to show the kids, who may have never had a stable family life, what love and trust is. To introduce them to God. And, maybe, to find them a forever family.

We have so many awesome kids this season, but we need families to step up. I wanted to share a bit of what I’ve learned about hosting, through my own experience hosting and volunteering with a host organization, and also to address a couple of the most common objections I hear. I’m also open to answering questions, via comment here or email.

1. You don’t need to have it all figured out to say “yes” to the summer.

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I’m kind of a chronic planner and this is one of the most challenging parts for me. When I say “yes”, I want to have accounted for every possible long-term scenario, worst to the ideal, most likely to the most unlikely. But, if you know you can do this summer, I’d encourage you to consider saying “yes” to that and see where God takes things from there.

I had the pleasure of getting to know a couple who said “yes” to a ready-to-age-out teenage boy last summer. Unfortunately, they realized pretty quickly they could not be his forever family, but they shared about him at church and a family they’d never met before stepped up to adopt him and his brother. They’ll be home soon!

At the very least, kids need a place away from their war-torn country for the summer. A place with good meals, a bed and all the hugs they need.

2. You don’t have to be the perfect family, just willing.

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Like my thought #1, you don’t need to have all of the future possibilities planned out. You don’t need to have a ton of extra space for your host child, or be an adoptive parent, or have experience with preteens and teenagers. You just need to say “yes”. God can use your weaknesses and flaws to write an awesome story.

Last summer, we had our house on the market, we were barely only enough to adopt any of the host kids, we had no experience parenting teenagers and we knew we’d be spending a large chunk of the summer out of town. Yet, we said “yes”. And, I’m so glad we did.

Even in all of your imperfections (we all have them!), you have a ton to offer a kid this summer.

3. “But, we already have xyz planned.”

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Bring your host kid! As long as it’s not out of the country or downright dangerous, you can probably bring your host kid. And, it will be a great experience! We took Big L on a LONG trip to visit family and a short camping trip. I also had a work trip in there. She came to school registrations and doctors appointments and all kinds of things. It all worked out and Big L had a great time with her variety of experiences.

4. “Isn’t it expensive?”

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Yes, there’s no way around this one. The hosting fee covers the paperwork, airfare, passport, visa, etc. for your host child, so it does add up.

There are so many things you can spend your money on, but investing in a child is investing in God’s kingdom and in the “least of these”. It might mean saying no to a new couch or an extra couple of days on your next vacation, but it means showing love to someone who wouldn’t know it otherwise.

All of the host programs I am familiar with take tax-deductible donations. Some of the kids have grants. And, most families fundraise. We were blessed with generosity from friends, family and strangers. Don’t let the money hold you back.

5. “I don’t know if I could send my host child back.”

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You probably can’t, but somehow you will. Goodbyes are the hardest part. Both times, as I told Big L goodbye, I knew that even if it was goodbye forever, hosting had been worth it.

I’d also like to address that a lot of people question if hosting is “fair”, to bring a child here for the season and then send them home. First, the children know from the outset that it’s temporary. And secondly, the rules are pretty clear that you do not discuss a permanent scenario, like adoption, with your host child. Big L was well aware that she would return to her home country. It was a vacation and an opportunity to get nurtured. Would you not want to take a vacation if you knew you’d have to return home?

Many host kids do end up being adopted, but there are also those like Big L, who love the family experience, but would rather stay in their home country. This is where many people see our own story and wonder how I can advocate so enthusiastically for hosting after Big L chose not to be adopted. Not every story ends how I want it to, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it. We learned so much from her and I have no doubt that she learned so much from us. We stay in touch with her and keep on reminding her that she has people who love her. People she can count on.

Even apart from hosting, we all have people in our lives who are only there temporarily, but they still can have great impact. I’ve had people pour into me for just a season and I walk away better for it, even if the goodbye was hard.

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All it takes is one person to invest in a child and show them their worth. One person to hold the mirror up to them and show them how God sees them. One person to let them know that their life was worth something, could mean something, that they could have great impact.

Maybe you don’t think you have a lot of offer, but if you have any love and space to offer, I’d encourage you to say your best “yes” and see what God makes out of it. He can take the little things, the broken things, the imperfect things, and do something incredible.

We still have around 30 kids with Project One Forty Three‘s Ukraine program alone that need summer host families. Overwhelming? Yes. But, we can find them all families. If you cannot host, can you donate to help another family host? If you cannot donate, can you share about hosting at your church or even just on your Facebook page?

I have FAQs on hosting here and I will be doing an FAQ post in the next few days for families who are already preparing for summer hosting.

Reading Nook

Spring is here. We’re loving the warmer weather and everything in bloom. But, there’s also… the rain. I am fine with the rain Monday-Friday, but on weekends, I really appreciate nice weather so we can be outside.

Last Saturday, it poured rain all morning, but the kids still found a way to keep busy, by making a little reading nook on our stairs.

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Our dog Josie is terrified of thunderstorms, but she decided that the kids would keep her safe.
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I love these moments, when I find them enjoying each others’ company and just co-existing peacefully with Curious George and a few blankets.
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Bangs and Hearts

Lena got a hair cut. She chose to keep it long, but add bangs.

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She’s very happy with her choice.
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I love her confidence. She’s not a bold person or the stand out in the crowd type, but she has a certain self-assurance that I adore.

All self portraits come with a heart on them, because she loves people. Everyone in the whole wide world. This day, it was her mission to let every tree at the park know that she loves them.
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Sometimes, she reminds me that the world is a little bit more beautiful and people a little bit more lovely than I think of them. 
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Yes, I love her haircut, but even more, I love her heart.
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Tulip Fest

Two weekends ago, it was Kite Fest. Last weekend, it was Tulip Fest in Wamego, KS. A bit of a drive for us, but definitely worth it.

Wamego has this lovely Dutch windmill.
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So, so much to do at Tulip Fest.
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Reed asked to do the rock climbing wall and I wasn’t too sure how it would go. Lena decided to join him.
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Side by side and they were really moving, until Reed decided that he could do no more. I think Lena felt discouraged when she saw him quitting and decided she was done, too.

We replenished on the healthiest food we could find.
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And, Reed gave the climbing wall another shot. We really encouraged Lena to give it another go, too, but she wasn’t up for it.

Reed was doing really well, until he got to just a few feet from the top. He looked at me, ready to give up again, but I told him he could do it. I started telling him which hands and feet to move next and soon, he hit the buzzer at the top.
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I was very proud of him for persevering, believing in himself and listening to my directions.

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It was such a nice night that we even hung out after Tulip Fest wrapped up and played at the playground.
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And, a little hike finished off our wonderful day.

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