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One Banana // Maria is 12

We had been trying our best to convince her, mostly straight faces, “No really, in America on your twelfth birthday, you get one banana.  That’s it.”

She was laughing and shook her head, “Noooo,” with a gleam in her eye.

“Seriously, it’s like, tradition.”

Our friends pulled into the bandwagon, nodding their heads,”Just one banana,” they assured her, “Cause I mean, you know, twelve.”

She always just laughed.

The morning of her golden birthday, she woke up as a twelve year old, rubbing her sleepy eyes, tired grin on her face as we gave her big hugs.

“Look at this big twelve year old!” we said.

“Maria,” Finley made intense eye contact with her, “Can I please share your cake, please?” he knew this whole birthday gig, just making his preparations.

“Time to get ready for gymnastics,” I told her over my shoulder as I leaned on both hands over her open closet, looking for the right outfit for her.

“Ok,” she said.

We put all the kids into the car, as Andrew and I loaded the double stroller in the back.

Before we started backing up on the way to gymnastics, we turned around and turned on the video camera.

“Maria…” we told her, smiling.

“Yes,” she asked us.

“Maria, we are not going to gymnastics today…”



“We’re not?” she asked, surprised.

“Nope, did you know that today is a very special day?  Today you are twelve years old…”


“Where are we going?” she asked, but by then, the boys had made eye contact with each other on either side of her, and all three were loosing their cool, squealing as they started to read our faces even though they didn’t know what was happening.

“Today, we are going to a special place…

We’re going to where Micky Mouse lives.”

Silence.  Mouths open, curved into a circle, Finley asked,

“Mickey’s house?”

“Yes, and Mater, and Donald Duck, and Goofy, and Minnie and Elsa and Anna and…”

And Olaf”

Silence for a couple seconds as it all sunk into those round eyes, then if you could hear the sounds of joy busting out of three little bodies, as Elijah mouthed whispered, squeaky, “Olaf?  Olaf?” and we put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway.

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Our dear friends Matt and Sam had given us gift cards when we first brought the kids home–such an amazing gift–and today was the day.

We rode the tram, the parents had words about parking, we made up, we loaded the stroller, we saw the gates.

Maria skipped along beside us, grabbing our arms and grinning at us as we got closer.  We got in line, and walked through the gates, a horse drawn carriage walking in front of us, Goofy to our right, music playing.

“Goofy?” Finley asked in a whisper, surprised at his size.

The kids ran up to Goofy, except Elijah, who buried his head in Andrew’s legs, certain Goofy was the world’s scariest creature with a green cap.





“Omg…wait–he’s still right there.”



We spotted the Town Hall across the plaza where a birthday girl got a special greeting.IMG_3783


And a call from Mickey himself.

“Mama….it was Mickey…”IMG_3789

We asked the kids if they wanted to ride on a flying elephant, the boys nodded solemnly, while Maria squealed, “Yes!”

When we got in line, Maria looked at us, “Mama, poor Russia.”

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Andrew and I used to have year passes along with our friends back when we were first married.  We would run around the park, only to hop in long lines waiting for the big rides.  It was a lot of hurry up and wait, a lot of running past the small things.

Today was the first time we had ever gone with our children.  It was slower, and it was better.


We swapped out rush for investigation, for discovering and savoring the moments we found.

Even if Finley was too nervous to meet these two British people.


It was fun, and it was actually, I mean really, it was magical.

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(There is an actual Elsa Doll in that bag, I guess the only place you can find them for a normal price is Dland.  Grandma B sent Maria a Disneyland gift card just so she could use it on her special day)




Family Shot.

Well, 3 for 5 isn’t too bad, right?

Finley and Elijah are ready to rough someone up, Russian Mafia style.


Andrew and I each picked a ride to go on with Maria.  While she and Andrew were sailing the Caribbean with Pirates, I got two fast passes for Splash Mountain.  When it was time, we grabbed our tickets, kissed the boys and ran past hundreds of people in the regular line, right to the front.

{Right before we stepped into the logs, and right before she noticed that it was in water}

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We stepped in, “Mama, is in water…” She had never been to a park remotely close to this in her life.

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That said, she thought the singing and dancing animals were, “so cute, mama, look!”  She marveled at everything she saw at the park throughout the day, not quite believing anything could be this cute, this magical and sweet.

She even did great on the fall, even though she was scared.

(Um, what’s up with the guy with the bag, right?)

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We did a few rides as a family if there was no line, which was so fun.  Little Elijah though, spent most of the ride burrowing into papa or mama with his eyes closed.

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But none of it slowed him down, he loved his day, maybe just not Pinocchio.

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Watching the Asimo robot show.

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For birthday dinner, Maria was the only civil one.  She felt special and fancy, we even let her have a sip of a cappuccino.



The boys were crazy beyond, cackling out of joy, disturbing the people sitting around us–until we realized they were all crazy kids, too.






“Finley, what do you want for dinner, Chicken or Salmon?”


“No, Chicken or Salmon.”


“No, Chi–”

“Just get it for him”





As the day turned to night, and the little ones weren’t self combusting of tiredness, we stretched our day, we savored each next new thing.  We followed her lead.



(How cute is that dad and his daughter in the background–I die)

One of us staying with the boys, Elijah passed out, thumb in mouth, blankie over his snoozing lips as they spun around, golden light glowing in the cool evening sky, music surrounding us, a twelve year old girl’s smile visible a mile away as she knew, she was special, she was important.




We spun and twisted across the ground, we laughed and laughed and held each other close.




We saw Maria shift between two ages while at Disneyland, sometimes she was her poised twelve year old self, and other times, we saw her running joyful, filled with abandon and freedom, happiness on her lips, freedom in outstretched arms, young giggles escaping her mouth as she ran in circles with her brothers, more like a child of 6, a child who never got a childhood until now.

Living life with her family, safe and loved, loving life.

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Maria literally found two fast passes for Space Mountain for 9pm on the ground, “I did it!” so she and Andrew ran in, while I propped by feet up next to two sleeping boys.

“Awww, twins huh?” said strangers.

“Yeah, ” I said back, tired, don’t got time to explain.

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It was time to pack up and head back to the tram and say goodbye to Disneyland after we saw the fireworks show.  Andrew folded up the bulky stroller, and Maria and I both grabbed a sleeping boy, “I can help, Mama!” when she saw Andrew’s full arms.

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We headed back to our car, where all the kids fell into a deep sleep and Andrew and I talked.  We agreed, it was the best Disneyland trip ever.  A moment in time we will always cherish.

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She never even got that one banana.

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“No medicine cures what happiness cannot.” 

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez 





11 Simple Ways to Save Money While Adopting


It’s no question, there are many children who don’t just want families, but need them.  One of the main reasons people don’t adopt has to do with finances.  Here are eleven simple, yet powerful ways families can prepare for an adoption financially, and save money while adopting.

1.  Go Green:  Find new uses for old things and find ways to cut down on what you purchase.  You’d be surprised by how much you can do with less, and surprised by how much you love less clutter and chaos.  Some examples we discovered while adopting and still do today are using plastic shopping bags instead of buying trash bags.  You can cut down on cleaning supply expense by using natural cleaners around your home like lemon and vinegar, check it out, plus less chemicals in your home.

2.  Don’t buy clothes or toys for your kids:  Many people are looking for places to give their kids clothes to instead of dropping them at the dump.  Ask around, we have received bags and bags, many of the hand me downs are nicer than what we would have bought in stores to begin with.  Our kids are happier and more creative with less toys.  They get plenty at birthdays and Christmas.  You could also organize a toy exchange between friends so everyone can try something new without spending money.  Plus, the added benefit of allowing kids to be kids when wearing clothes and playing toys without stressing about how much they cost.  (Thrift stores and garage sales are also good options)

3.  Become more self sustaining (even if it’s just a little):  You don’t need to invest a lot, you can even use the seeds that are already in the food you eat such as bell pepper, cantaloupe and watermelon and plant them in pots.  Look into chickens, they are very easy to keep and cost effective.  You may find you like it and expand, but even being able to provide a little free food for your family helps!


4.  Slowly improve your cooking skills, eat out less:  We could not afford to eat out while adopting, so I was cooking often.  I learned food pairings, optimal cooking times and procedures, slowly, with daily practice.  Our family now prefers to eat at home than to going out to a chaotic restaurant.  In fact, now we can pick our own food first, then cook it, which is both fun and so healthy.  I am thankful for these skills adopting ended up giving us.

5.  Get creative:  Can’t hire someone to build you that shelf?  Can’t afford to buy a pre-made chicken coop, or heck even the wood to build one?  Check out Craigslist free section, where we found free pallets, scrap wood, and fence posts and built our own chicken coop.  We only did it because we had to, we would have been too intimidated to try if we didn’t have to, but with each next nail in, the more it resembled a real chicken coop, look, we were doing it!  The kids love it when we are doing our own, hard work at our house, they love being with us, helping when we can and being outside as a family.  Plus, hey, free exercise, save on a gym membership.

6.  Diminish Distraction:  Our culture tells us to keep moving, never stop improving, and don’t slow down.  Break the mold and spend more time together as a family.  Cut the to-do list, minimize errands, avoid stores, be satisfied with less extra curricular for kids, who maybe would rather spend time together with a movie, a family project or playing a game than run all over town.  Remember: Happiness isn’t around that next corner, it’s right here, in the people in your life.

7.  Cultivate a feeling of gratitude within your family:  Your options at meal time are to say thank you, or go to time out.  Our children have the unfortunate situation where their parents spent much time with children who threw their arms in the air in thanks for two meals a day of rice and corn.  Picky eaters aren’t a thing here, and no second meals will be made.  When budgets are tight, it is a chance for palettes to expand, and learn the power of thankfulness for the food we have.

8.  Water over juice or other sugary drinks:  Free and healthier.

9.  Take the time to plan:  The time it takes me to meal plan; take out a cook book or food blog and write down my shopping list is about 5 minutes, just 5.  But the time and money it saves me in the store, the stress it prevents us at meal time are worth their weight in gold.  Planning makes a huge difference for budgeting, year plans, food plan, etc.

10.  Save money on preschool:  Find free library story times, find a local BSF, create your own play group with outings, find simple lessons to do online if you have toddlers at home.

11.  This is one of the most important things any family, especially an adoptive family can do that will change their lives;  Take a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class.  Sign up, pay for it, and go, shoot, sign up here. Taking the class doesn’t mean skimming the book, having have heard him on the radio or tv, it means taking the class.  The sooner the better.  Dave teaches you that each month counts, don’t wait.

There are very, very few things that have changed our lives as much as taking the Dave Ramsey FPU class.  We got out of debt, like right away, we started saving, and giving.  Giving like we had never been able to give before, and that has been one of the highlights of our life.  It strengthened our marriage, our parenting, our life, and we just have this feeling like, everything is going to be ok.  I make all my adoption friends take this class and they say after the first class meeting, they feel better, and like they can do it, they can adopt (amazing)  We give this class to our friends getting married, we love listening to stories of friends paying off HUGE debt and student loans in a time-frame they never thought possible.  Being able to make choices in their lives they weren’t able to prior, moms being able to stay home with their kids if they want to, when before they thought they just couldn’t.  Being in control of your life, blessing others: Dave Ramsey.  Find a local class here.


This is our short list, what are some things you have done with your family to save money while adopting?  Please comment them below so we can grow our list.  Have you taken the Dave Ramsey class?  Share your experience below!  We would love to hear your story as well.



Andrew and Pie // 33

Picking up the next apple sitting by  the heap of skin bits, “Keep going,” I thought, “It’s his thing.”


And I peeled one more apple, and before I knew it, 8 naked apples, sat ready to be sliced for a pie.  A pie for a man whose birthday it was, a man who doesn’t like cake–but pies.  So with the pin and the flour and the piles of red speckled apple skins that toddler boy hands carried in fists down to the chickens who greeted their snack, “Mama, they liked them!” they grinned on arriving back into the kitchen.  ”And they said they like my shoes,” one added.

Chickens who care about toddler fashion, pretty good.

He and Maria were out on some arbitrary mission, she told me she would not share the secret as she almost burst with pride at the idea of being the distractor, as I slid the pie brimming with sliced and spiced apples into the oven.



Something is cooking,” the boys returned minutes later, breathless, looking around for the smells coming from the oven.   Cinnamon and warm apples filling our home, interrupting their play, for a moment.

“Mama, do you want to be this monster truck?”

“That’s the one,” as we waited for the beeper, and the other two returned home.

Maria and Andrew smiled as they walked in, smelling and we bundled for the beach, hopping in the car.



Cute tourist families charged the waves, capturing each moment with their phones as we bundled up in our warmest, even our Russians, whose blood now fits into Southern California temperament.

We sliced and ate, we watched the waves, shining in gold.


When the boys finished, they scampered off to someone’s deserted beach day’s hard work, shadowed from the sun almost set.  Sloping sand castles becoming roads under toddler construction vehicles, sound effects of excavators escaping rounded cheeks, their team of two demolishing, sand deflated and flush, but ready for the construction workers the next day will bring.

They worked, until they saw Andrew was done.

Even on his birthday, it was him giving love to all of us.  Cause we all can’t get enough of this guy, who is now 33 years old.  (Oldie)  Toddler arms, stretched up and ready will be met, lips ready for kisses will find his.  Tears will be caught by his hand.

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Sometimes if I feel worried about my kids growing older and heading out into the world, I think, but wait–they have Andrew as their Dad.  He doesn’t miss chances to invest in them, his priorities are people, his virtues are noble, and I see him shaping them already.  He is humble, and probably wouldn’t even want me writing all this, but it’s true.  He is a man who loves God and desires to learn from Him, wise enough to seek out a manner of living different to what we would think, a man who loves people and has no problem sacrificing for them.  He loves his family, genuinely with his time and actions.  His heart and smile.

He brings us all peace and joy.

And guess what…it’s his birthday!

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All cause he loves us so good.


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After stomping the beach and enjoying sandy pie, we walked down to Pizza Port, where someone complimented Finley on his shoes.  Finley looked at me, “Mama…I like her.”

“Mama…I love you all up!”




Dancing to the Wiggles.



//Funny Story: For the first time, we saw Maria with an attitude, and it was the best moment ever.  Ever.  Fleeting, but amazing.

It started with Andrew, “Singing a Frozen Song.”  Frozen…every parent has a silent tear when we hear those songs one more time.

So, he sang, “Let it snow….let it snow, can’t hug me back anymooooore.  The snow always bothers me every day.”

And Maria whipped her head around and stared at him, “That’s not how it goes,” she was laughing, jovial.

“Yes it is,” he retorted.  ”Let it snoooooooow….LET IT SNOOOOW.”

A look of bewildered shock hung on her lips, “No…” was all she could muster, thinking of all the times she had sung it to him, countless, how could he not know the one song second to the gospel, look on her face.  Which only egged him on.

So, with eyes closed now, belting, “Can’t HOLD MY CAT ANYMORE!  Let it snow”

Eyebrows down, smile gone, I held back my laugh, “Papa, you could never  be sinning on stage,” she told him, low, serious.

“I can’t be sinning on stage?” he asked as we cracked up.

When she found out he was joking, it was suddenly the second best day of her life, “Daddy, I was SO WORRIED!”


Happy Birthday Andrew.  You make life beautiful because you are in the world.

Thanks for being our guy.IMG_3613

Also, thanks for being the best poop smith for the cloth diapers, that does not go unnoticed ;)



Is there something special you make for your person on their birthday other than cake?  How’s the Frozen epidemic in your house?  Does anyone want me to share the recipe for the pie crust, it’s wonderful.