Monday, November 30, 2009

Our friends Aranne and Dan

See their "Hoping to Adopt" badge down there, on the right-hand side? Aren't they just the cutest couple you've ever seen?

Now they are parents!

I think I was more excited for them than I ever was for myself. I was free to be totally, completely happy without also feeling responsible, nervous, under-prepared, etc. Their little boy is named Blake, and I'm going to his baby shower tomorrow. He will undoubtedly be the star of the show, which is the way it should be.

I love when good things happen to good people. I love the miracle of adoption.

My Refrigerator

We have plenty. We are blessed.

I took this picture for my sister-in-law Kim. This intriguing article explains my inspiration.

Attorney / Homemaker, Henderson, Nevada, six-person household, has enough condiments to sustain life for a year, 2009.

P.S. I shall allow someone to organize and wipe down my freezer as a service project during this holiday season of giving--Because it is so much more blessed to give than to receive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our Story of Adoption--Part 5

We drove a million miles from Utah to Texas in a semi-reliable U-Haul, where prayer frequently overtook the tiny engine and saved us from breaking down.

I honestly thought that after graduating from Kingwood High School, I'd never come back. I was a Texan but my roots in Houston were shallow; I'd only lived there a year and a half before leaving for college. But there we were, pulling into my parents' driveway amidst the pine trees and opressive humidity.

Bryce started school and immediately found his niche with a great group of friends in Lane, Rhonda, and Stella. I found a job--with a salary!--as an insurance administrator at a barge transportation company, proving that enduring six horrible months at the insurance agency in Utah had not been in vain. With school and work sorted out, we left the suburbs and moved into an apartment in the city.

I felt proud that my salary supported us. I felt proud that Bryce was doing so well in school. For a year or so, we were content to push forward and throw ourselves into work, study, and church. (Our first callings in the ward were unconventional: Scheduling Secretary for me;  Building Czar for Bryce.)

Eventually we felt ready to add volunteer work to the mix. I searched the newspaper under "Volunteer Opportunities" and circled the ones that interested me. I called on a few, but they were too far away or didn't fit our schedules. Finally I called on a great match--Casa de Esperanza, not too far from where we lived. We began to volunteer on Thursday evenings.

The home had six children living there: brothers named Christopher, James, and Jimmy; a baby named Lynette; a preschooler named Brian; and the most adorable little boy we'd ever seen, named Tyce.

Bryce and I walked in that first day, knowing we were to help the house parents (two recently college-graduated young ladies) do things like fold laundry, play with kids, and read bedtime stories. Shannon called from the kitchen, "You can come back here! We're just finishing up dinner. We have two in high chairs, and they're ready to get out."

First I released 11-month-old Christopher. "Just put him on his tummy," Shannon instructed. I did, then moved down the line to Tyce. I released him and did the same thing. But to my surprise, he got up off the floor, stood up and smiled--and walked away!

Bryce and I loved coming each week. As volunteers we weren't allowed to know the children's situations but we could sense some of their issues; one was medically fragile, one was dangerously violent, one was developmentally delayed. But they were so much more than their issues and they all had a special place in our hearts.

At night after the kids were all in bed, we helped with chores and chatted with the house parents. One night as Bryce and I were packing up, Teleia said, out of the blue, "You guys should become foster parents."

We laughed. Was she kidding?

"Foster parents? We live in an apartment. Bryce is in school. I work. We're not experienced--we don't even have kids. Foster parents are older, stable, mature parents with a history of success when it comes to raising children. No, that just wouldn't work!" I scoffed.

"Here's how it could work, " Teleia explained. "Child care would be provided, support services would be available to you as parents. You'd go to monthly foster parent trainings and have a caseworker working closely with you. Most importantly, you would be providing a child with the stability needed to grow emotionally and socially. I know you could do it. Casa would support you every step of the way."

We left that night with a lot to think about. In the car I said, "Can you believe that? Pretty weird, huh?"

Bryce replied, "Yeah . . . "

"But it kinda sounds doable . . . if we wanted to do it, that is," I said.

It was a crazy idea that wouldn't go away. We agreed to pray about it.

That night, it was as if divine hands took us by the shoulders and literally steered us right instead of left. We felt compelled to change courses. We felt a burning, clear answer that we could not deny.

Yes, we got an answer. Yes. Yes. YES. We didn't know how or why, or for how long, but the answer was YES.

With the ball set in motion, there was no stopping it. In a matter of weeks we left our volunteer positions, said goodbye to our houseparent friends. Bryce quietly gave each child a blessing before leaving.

And then one evening in December, we packed up bags of toys and clothes for a 17-month-old, curly-headed toddler about to join our family, if only for a while.

The drive seemed to take forever. In fact, our little backseat passenger fell asleep. Upon arriving at our apartment, Bryce and I looked at each other, nervous and excited--and took a deep breath.

"Wake up, Tyce, " Bryce whispered. "You're home."

P.S. If you click the word "volunteer" here or above, the third video  on the Casa website (by Cheryl K.) is about our twins and our family! You're awesome, Cheryl!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Story of Adoption--Part 4

So Bryce and I dated for 9 months (and two of those I was in Italy for a study-abroad program; engaged, love-sick, and pathetic). It was a gorgeous day when we were married in a beautiful ceremony in the Salt Lake temple on August 21, 1995. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

As strange as it might sound, when we first discussed having a family I didn't think about infertility. I didn't think about that deep-down feeling. I wasn't denying or challenging my earlier promptings--I just never gave them a thought. I wanted to have babies and I assumed I would, in a few years when we were ready.

We continued as a married couple at the Family Support and Treatment Center, but this time as respite house parents. We worked overnight shifts on weekends, for the children who stayed for extended periods of time.

There were several bedrooms, and some nights they were all full; sometimes we had no one. One of our first little overnight guests was a 2-year-old named Jesse who loved trucks and frequently exclaimed, "Diesel!" We tried everything we knew (not much) to help him settle in for bed. But he was the Energizer Bunny. About midnight, Bryce and I got in our bed and made Jesse a little pallet on the floor. He vroomed in circles with his toy big-rig at the foot of the bed. Eventually he crawled slower and slower, his shout of "Diesel!" became more infrequent, and finally he collapsed right there on the carpet, truck in hand.

Another time we had two sisters who took a bath before bed; the bathroom was huge, with a tub and a separate shower. The girls took turns running from one to the other, laughing and having a grand time. My first thought was to stop them from making a mess. But then I thought about how these girls were spending the night in a shelter because they couldn't go home. Maybe they needed this. Maybe they would look back and remember that in a scary time, they had a little fun. Bryce agreed. And while they made a spectacular mess, it was worth it.

Most of the kids were friendly and manageable. But some were angry and difficult. A 10-year-old boy we had one Saturday put all of my behavioral management training to the test. He threw a tricycle on the roof. He broke a toy airplane. He threw a football at me while I was cooking macaroni and cheese. I was really at my wit's end, fearing that he would escape the facility or harm the other children. After talking to him several times about our expectations I finally got on his level and said, "Here's the deal, Daniel. The things you break are the things you can play with, and that's it." I didn't think that was a particularly effective threat, but he smiled, became pleasant, and stopped acting out. Bryce and I looked at each other like, "What just happened here?" but we sure weren't complaining.

I finished school in December and went to work as a customer service representative at an insurance agency, where my psychology degree was used to deal with my incompetent boss and his staff of angry women. Bryce worked on finishing his degree in Political Science. In April we donned cap-and-gown and walked across the stage in the Marriott Center, graduated at last!

Bryce applied to several law schools, and his first pick, hands down, was Notre Dame. I exercised every particle of faith that I had to pray morning, noon, and night that he would get in. They had a program that was perfect for him, and a psychology Masters that was perfect for me. We were in love with everything Fort Bend. We would have jumped through any hoops to get there.

And Bryce got on the waiting list!

And he also got accepted to several other schools, including the University of Houston.

I crossed my fingers and prayed even harder that any day, any day, any day we'd get that acceptance letter from Notre Dame! We could practically hear the Fighting Irish chanting our names!

But time passed and there was no letter. In the summer, we even called the university. We were told to wait, that there may be room but there was no way of knowing until school started.

And like two kids with a helium balloon, we let go of that dream. We watched it float into the sky until it got smaller and smaller, and we missed it less and less. We knew we'd go where we needed to be, and apparently it wasn't Indiana.

It was Houston.

And going to Houston changed everything.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Today I'm finishing up the turkeys and mashed potatoes for our youth-and-seniors Thanksgiving dinner. I made a mistake about who to invite; apparently last year we decided to include those 60 and over, and this year it was 55 and over. So some of the younger "seniors" are a little offended. Oops.

But they get in on pretty much the best activity of the year, so they should be thanking me, right?

Anyway, I'm short on time but I have this cute cartoon Mary drew to share with you. You'll want to enlarge it to read the words and see the facial expressions.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Our Story of Adoption--Part 3

Bryce and I walked home together nearly every evening. I worked in the Biofeedback lab at the Counseling and Development Center, and Bryce worked at the front desk in the Services for Students with Disabilities. Many nights he'd come all the way to my apartment, where I would make him dinner. I was very good at following directions on a box and I loved arranging the Hamburger Helper, orange slices, and canned green beans in artful patterns for an appreciative audience of one.

He taught my roommates to play the crazy card game Mau Mau. What were the rules? I remember making great plays, only to have Bryce say, "Oh, I forgot to tell you that you can't do that if there's a 2 played before a 9" or "Yeah, sorry, I should mention that this play is only valid during the full moon" and other such lunacy. We had many fun nights laughing and shouting, "SNOOPY FLYING ACE OF SPADES!" while Garth Brooks' "The Thunder Rolls" or Smetna's "The Moldau" played in the background. He was more popular than I was in that apartment.

And we spent our Saturdays volunteering, of course.

He was smart and funny and kind and upstanding. Many times we studied together for my religion class and I felt the Spirit very strongly as we discussed the Scriptures and the words of the Prophets.

He was a great friend. And I knew, as time went on, that he wanted to be more than that.

But I wanted to keep my options open. My heart was in more than one place. I had a missionary and I was keeping things light with dating.

But guys stopped asking me out when they assumed that I was already taken.

But really, was that bad?

Because I really did like Bryce and I had feelings for him.

And so I stopped sitting on the fence.

And I let myself choose romance.

And I was not disappointed.

{Then or now.}

Short Visit, Fun Times

This week my dad had a convention at the South Point. In a fortuitous set of circumstances, my brother ALSO had a convention here this week, at Mandalay Bay. So we met on Thursday at the MGM for dinner and the Cirque du Soleil show "KA."

This was David and my dad's first time seeing KA, and my second. It was spectacular.

This is my dad and my brother David. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, eh? David treated us to dinner and it was great to spend time with two of my favorite people in the world.

Which is scarier: serious siblings . . .

. . . or crazy ones?

David and the Pharoah = BFF.

Going my way?

David stayed at his hotel that night and returned home to his girls the next morning. But my dad stayed until Saturday! He did a home repair project (the patio table that Harrison pounded with a croquet mallet) and changed my outside lightbulbs. (Thank you, Dad!)

He also got to spend time with the kids. He read library books to the twins and even Tyce was intrigued by the pirate story. After school he said, "So where's that book? I need to find out what happens at the end." Ha!

We went to the park on Saturday. Mary even got Grandpa to play the board game "Sorry" with her--and Grandpa never plays games. He even won! So maybe we can persuade him to play again.

The best thing about living here is having visitors. Viva Las Vegas!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Story of Adoption--Part 2

Time passed. I went to college. I had amazing friends and wonderful experiences at BYU. While my major was Psychology, my minor was Dating, Socializing, and Watching Brigham Do the Funky Chicken.

I also did volunteer work.

I started out as a Big Sister in the Big Brother/Big Sister Program. Mine and my partner Lance's charge was a 13-year-old girl named Jamie. She was overweight, shy, and self-conscious in most areas of life. But she loved when Lance taught her (and me) to play tennis, when we played board games, and when I talked with her about boys. She had a Jason Priestly poster on her bedroom wall, so we bonded over our fantasy crushes on 90210.

After a year and a half, Jamie "graduated" from the BBBS program. Wanting another volunteer opportunity, I asked around. Another friend introduced me to a crisis shelter called The Family Support and Treatment Center, and I had a 3-hour shift every Saturday morning. Parents who were registered for counseling were encouraged to bring their children to the crisis nursery whenever they needed a time-out to regroup and take care of  pressing matters affecting the family.

I played hard with the kids. Every Saturday I went home and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich--the same thing the kids ate right before I left at noon. I loved my time with those kids. Some were a bit indifferent to the volunteers, but most were hungry for attention. One child who really touched me was a 6-year-old girl named Ashley. After spending a majority of my shift with her, she made me a card. The front was a picture of a rainbow. The inside read: "Thank you for being here. I love you. Please don't ever leave this place."

Oh! I wished I didn't have to. I wished I could take Ashley home with me, even though I was only 20, naive, and inexperienced--and she already had a family. I knew I had enough in me to bring her into my circle, to love her as my own. I remember feeling grateful to have a heart with the capacity to care for others.

The only thing missing from my work at the FSTC was someone to share the experience with. And so I asked a new friend, a sweet red-haired guy who lived in my apartment complex and worked in the office next to me in the Kimball Tower, to go with me. And he did.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our Story of Adoption--Part 1

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, I have decided to do a mini-series on our family's story, and of how we came to be.


When I was a young woman, I had a feeling--a very quiet, primal instinct that I had probably never put into words--that I would not bear children. I dreamed of having a beautiful family with my husband, of course. I assumed I would have children that looked like me, who inherited my good qualities (and none of the bad). I hoped to have 6 kids--4 girls and 2 boys. In daydreaming I was no different from other girls my age. But if I really thought about it--and sometimes I did--I felt that children would not come to me in that way.

When I received my patriarchial blessing at age 16, there was a promise that one day my home would be a place for the rearing and educating of my children. After the blessing, my mom clapped her hands and said, "Hooray, that means you're going to have babies!" I think that was the first time I really knew that I wouldn't.

But I knew I would be a mother.

I knew it deep down: I felt peace, not sadness. I knew I would get married to a wonderful person, and I knew we would be parents--somehow.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Most Welcome Package

We weren't expecting anything in the mail, but it was still exciting to think of what might be in the oversized-mail box. When Bryce jimmied the lock open we discovered a smallish box with the return address of . . . WHAT!? For real? The Wild Animal Park!

And inside the shredded paper were Mary's glasses.

(They were filthy. I'm dying to know where they were found. I was sure they were crushed under someone's shoe, or that a cheetah was enjoying improved vision.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunny San Diego

I'm not usually one to suggest going away for the weekend--that's Bryce's thing. I'm the stick-in-the-mud who wants to get the shelves put up in the closet. He's the one who wants to party it up, eating out every meal in a new city.

So you can imagine his surprise when I declared, "We should go to San Diego. This weekend. Make it happen." And then I did a smart military turn like when I was in marching band. Left flank, harch!

Luckily, my wonderful husband was on board. And he likes marching band references.

So we drove to the San Diego Zoo on Friday afternoon. We only had one hour before the park closed, but what a glorious hour it was. Gorgeous weather, low crowds, well-behaved children, well-behaved animals.

Checking into our hotel was next on the list. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which Bryce got for a steal on Hotwire. It was an older but quite lovely hotel, with a lush interior courtyard and a glass elevator.

We settled down for the night. The three boys were in one room; Bryce and Mary and I were in the adjoining room. Mary was very put out that she merely had a roll-away bed instead of a place on the "real" bed but she, after arguing her case, accepted her lot.

So imagine this.

You're lying in bed. Beginning to drift off. But then you smell something.

Something familiar, but awful.

Cigarette smoke. Oh for the love of Pete. You go on to the balcony to see if there's someone right next to your room lighting up. But you can't see anything.

It's getting worse. It's like there are 10 people puffing right into the air vent. You check your hotel door and it says "NO SMOKING" just like you thought, so how could this be? Reason, unlike the smoke, goes out the window. You, or somebody in your party, canvasses the halls with a proverbial fire extinguisher and a snappy speech, ready to nip the problem in the butt. Literally.

But vigilante justice is not the answer. Not because you've come to your senses, but because you can't find the offender. You assume that the person must truly be smoking in the ceiling of your hotel room--that's the only explanation!

This world is full of crazy people, you think as you approach the front desk in your pajamas.

Eventually you are moved two floors away, on the other side of the hotel, away from the pretty courtyard and glass elevator. Away from the mirrored entry ways and art-lined halls. But thankfully, AWAY FROM THE SMOKE.

As a bonus, you get comped a free breakfast at the fancy hotel restaurant.

End drama. You may return your brain to its full and upright position.

On Saturday we drove to the Wild Animal Park. The highlight was going on the Cheetah Run Safari. It was totally worth the extra expense. Bryce was so nice to let me take Tyce and Mary while he ran around with Cameron and Harrison.

In addition to watching the cheetah chase her "toy" down a track (she was truly phenomenal to watch), we also got to see two hyrax up close, and a Perrigrin falcon. Tyce took the cheetah pictures and was especially proud to have taken a better live-action one than I did.

When we met up with the group things seemed to go downhill.

That's when Mary discovered she'd lost her glasses. People were hungry, it was hot, Cameron kept begging for a sombrero (when he meant "souvenier"), and we just seemed to suffer from a lack of organization. But the kids did get candy as we wandered around (because it was Halloween) and then half of the kids did the costume contest. And after that we went back to the hotel.

And you know how Halloween night went.

The next day we packed up and went back to the zoo.

Cameron took this picture of Tyce!

So after a while we bought our sombreros--I mean, souveniers--and headed home. It was a great weekend, and I'd love to go back soon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spooktacular Events

Halloween started off with our Family Home Evening tradition of carving pumpkins. The kids are becoming expert at designing their own creations.

Mary's is on the back left, Cameron's is in front with triangle eyes, Harrison's is next to that (he drew the face with a marker and I cut it out), and Tyce's is the smiley one on the back right.

That weekend we went to San Diego. So we spent Halloween day at the Wild Animal Park! They had a costume contest but only two of the kids wanted to dress up (Mary--Headless Horseman, and Cameron--an elephant). Tyce was a nerd and Harrison was a dalmation. You will have to use your imaginations on those.


People gave out candy that day, and there were various Halloween-themed activities. These two workers said they were the president and vice president of the Park; I wasn't sure if they were joking or serious. They loved Mary's costume and asked if she'd won the contest. She said no, and Madame President was incredulous. "What? If we were the judges you definitely would have won. Here, come get some extra candy from us." And she gave her 12 pieces of bubble gum, a pretty nice consolation prize in Mary's eyes.


Mary came up with that costume idea on her own, which I think is awesome. She left her cape at school, but guess what. At school she won 1st prize for the entire 4th grade.


Cameron was a pretty cute elephant.

We fully intended to go trick-or-treating that night in a neighborhood, but everyone was exhausted. I know, too exhausted to go candy-collecting?

We went back to the hotel to swim, ordered pizza and a Thai salad from Sammy's Woodfired Grill, and watched the movie UP!. They had a great night.

But the next day they were feeling sorry that they hadn't loaded up on sugar.

And I was feeling pretty happy that they didn't.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Take a good look

Because she has already lost her glasses.

Picked them up on Wednesday night; lost at the Wild Animal Park on Saturday morning.

That might be some kind of world's record. A bad, bad world's record that no parent wants their child to break.

I don't know how it happened--one minute she had them on when we were riding the shuttle back from the cheetah run (more on that later), and the next thing I know, I'm snapping a picture of her in front of the duck pond, where she puts her hands to her face and says, "I don't have my glasses!"

Of course we retraced our steps. Of course I grilled her about when she had them last. Of course we filed a claim at the Lost and Found.

But the long and short of it is that they're gone.

(Insert adult-tantrum here.)

Oh Mary.

She looked so cute in her spectacles.

But I really, really don't want to plunk down the cash to replace them.