Monday, September 21, 2015

Calais Rose

In many ways, it feels like Cali has been in our family forever.  In others, it feels like just yesterday we were seeing her cute face for the first time.  We are so proud of how well Cali is doing.   She has the most darling group of friends that love her and look out for her.  Kaytlin, Kara, Anna, Lily, Karolina, Abby, Candice (and many others)-- we LOVE you!  We are so glad Cali has you in her life!  

Cali's giggle lights up her whole face.  It is so much fun to see her comfortable in our home and with our family.  She loves to tease and be funny and has a special relationship with her dad.  (:  She has the softest voice and sweetest disposition (most of the time (; anyway) but has plenty of spice in her too.  She likes drawing, keeping in touch with her friends in China, books about princesses, being with her friends, shopping, listening to music, spicy food, singing and boys.  (Though she might not admit the latter to just anyone.)  She's a pretty typical teenager in most ways, which is incredible considering the trials life has offered her thus far.

One of Cali's hardest trials is school.  Because Cali didn't receive a great deal of formal education in China, she is struggling not only with language issues and all that entails, but also a lack of understanding of the basics in many subjects.  She is smart and works to keep on top of her grades, but is at a major disadvantage compared to that of her peers.  We've learned that schools don't always know the best and most effective way to help kids like her and we are constantly trying to be her advocate so that she can receive the best education possible.  Not gonna lie, that's kind of exhausting.  We've found that some teachers "get it" and some just don't.  We've found in talking to other adoptive parents that it is pretty universally one of the hardest aspects of older child adoption.

Cali recently had an appointment at Shriner's that showed her scoliosis is getting worse.  This is both painful and problematic.  We're weighing the pros/cons of surgery soon vs. waiting and will likely be able to make a better decision at her next appointment.    Jeremy said that actually seeing her spine on x-ray kind of took his breath away.  It's amazing that she lives with what she does without complaining a lot.   She's a tough girl and such an example of triumphing through hard things.  We love you, angel Cali!  

Kaytlin and Cali at youth conference.

A sure way to Cali's heart-- pick her up some noodles and milk from the Chinese market.

Jeremy took Cali and Graci to a special Chinese performance in SLC-- they loved it! 

Daddy date to Lagoon

Best friends

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Conner Allen

I couldn't be more happy with how well Conner has been doing the last couple of months.  Older child adoption is tough.  (huge understatement)  People tend to generally think about how wonderful it is for the child to finally be in a family, but they don't realize that the truth of it is, you are taking them from EVERYTHING familiar-- friends, school, language, culture, food-- and doing so at a most delicate and difficult age.  We generally don't share specifics of the hard parts of adoption to respect the privacy of our kids, but just trust me-- it is not easy for them or for the family.  

Conner is an absolutely incredible young man.  He has been so throughout the year that we've had him in our home despite all of the challenges he has faced.  The last couple of months have been very exciting.  We are seeing more joy, more belonging, and more acceptance of his new life.  He is enjoying school, church and family activities more than he has in the past.  We know this is due in large part to his increased understanding of English, but I also believe he is genuinely finding peace and happiness as a member of our family and community.

Conner turned 15 this summer.  He's never had a birthday party (last year, he had just arrived here so we opted out of a friend party) and so he was VERY excited to finally have one!  He was so worried that he wouldn't have very many people come, so I enlisted the help of my other kids his age and they reached out to their friends as well.  We ended up with around 30 wonderful teenagers here to celebrate with him!  Conner felt so special and had such a good time.  We played lots of fun minute-to-win-it games, hung out outside, roasted s'mores, opened gifts and watched "Princess Bride."  I was so happy and grateful for all of the good kids that came and shared that night with us!

Conner also enjoyed several "camps" this summer with other visually impaired/blind friends.  I love to see him in this element, as he is so comfortable around other kids like him.  We're so grateful for such good programs for him to attend.  I also cannot express enough how grateful we are for our local church leaders who have rallied around Conner and looked out for him in many special ways.  

Conner is funny, sweet, talented, sensitive and very smart.  He's so kind to his siblings and especially sweet with Elli.  He loves Molly and greets her every day with "Hi, my dog!"  He's always saying clever things that make us smile and is getting more and more willing to participate in activities.  I am so proud of how far he has come in the last year, how well he endures his trials and how happy he makes those around him.  I love you, sweet Conner!

As I went through our photos, I realized I need to take more of Conner!  We tend to do mostly video with him since he can't see photos but can listen to video.  Many of these photos are a little dated...

Color Run Fun!

Conner really enjoyed having Graci's China family here!

Braille Challenge

With the missionaries at Temple Square.  Sister Jin invited Conner to go to General Conference with them.

Accompanying the school orchestra

Conner performs "Fur Elise" at his middle school concert

Conner's birthday party.  This is before another 15 kids came-- so happy for a good turnout!

Monday, September 14, 2015


Graci and I were driving to the orthodontist today and we started talking about our trip to Bryce Canyon.  I asked, "Do you like camping?"

She replied, "Yes, but I would like a transporter."  (She means a Star Trek-like, instantaneous travel machine.)

Me:  "Oh, so you don't like the long drive."

Grace:  "No.  I just don't like packing clothes in a suitcase."

Me:  " So a four and a half hour drive is no problem.  You want a transporter just so you don't have to pack a suitcase?"

Graci (and I can practically see her skin crawling at the unbelievably repulsive thought of suitcase packing):  "Yeah, cuz you have to fold your clothes in the suitcase and then they're all wrinkled when you get there and you have to pack stuff that's a waste of time like sunscreen and bug spray and  you tell me I have to pack it and I never use it.  (Shudders)  Oooooh!"

That's our Graci:)


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Taylor Jeremy

 Could I be any more in love with this handsome guy?  The answer is a resounding "no!"  Taylor is perfection.  He seriously could not be any more wonderful, smart, fun, handsome, spiritual, kind, and talented.  It about killed me this summer to watch him turn 16.  There is something about that age that just takes you back to the day they entered your life and wish that time could just SLOW DOWN.  Watching him get his drivers license is simultaneously awesome and almost crushing.  My baby is no longer a baby.  He's an incredible young man who makes me proud every day. He's both my son and my friend.  We are so grateful for our Taylor!!!!!!

Taylor's summer was full of fun.   BYU basketball camp (all-star!), EFY, family reunions, Scout high adventure, youth conference, birthday party... this kid had nothing to complain about.  As we were making the decision whether or not to sign our kids up for EFY this summer, finances were our main concern.  The kids help earn money, but it's still expensive.  Jeremy insisted that it was the right decision and so I went along with it.  I received this text from Taylor while at EFY:  

EFY has been an emotional roller coaster.  It has been fun, awesome, spiritual and inspirational.  My company is amazing and I know that I was grouped with them for a reason.  My counselors are the best you could ask for, I've danced every slow dance, and I've become closer to God.

After I read it and showed Jeremy, he turned to me and said, "Ok, now do you think it was the right decision?"  (:   We're so glad that he was able to have that opportunity.

We love you, Taylor.

Taylor gets his license!

School spirit
Taylor had to wear a costume for band last year.  He pulled out his giraffe costume from when he was 5 years old.  Everyone got a kick out of it.

With his favorite teacher, Mr. Uesi

Youth Conference

Handsome brothers and best friends
Taylor at a varisty away game

Taylor the baker

At Scheels

Taylor was awarded overall "Student of the Year" for the 9th grade and student of the year for PE.         

High adventure

Happy Birthday on the Fourth of July!

It was fun having cousins/family here for his birthday!
1st day of school

Such a great big brother

Taylor doing his vertical training program.  He's so dedicated!

Love my big boy!

Every Sunday, Taylor bakes 4 dozen yummy white rolls and three loaves of wheat bread.  Best tradition ever!

Stay away, girls.  He's still mine.  (:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Graci Kate

Graci and China Mom and Dad (the foster parents she had from age 5-9)
Thought I would go kid-by-kid and update how each is doing.  We'll start with our oldest...

Sweet Graci Kate has turned SEVENTEEN!  I'm still getting used to saying that!  At the end of last year, she was awarded with the "Courage Award" from her high school.  I couldn't think of a better recipient for that award!  She has shown such courage throughout her life as she's dealt with so many challenges.  Last week, she was asked to be the youth speaker at church.  She wrote her talk all by herself and did such a beautiful job.  She talked about how hard it is for her not to be able to drive because of her epilepsy, but how she knows that Heavenly Father has blessed her so much and how grateful she is for all of her blessings.   Lots of tears from those listening as she shared her sweet testimony in Chinese. 

Graci had a fun summer that included EFY, Girls Camp, Youth Conference and two family reunions, but the highlight for her was this past week when she received some very special visitors from China!  Graci's wonderful foster parents (we call them "China Mom" and "China Dad") along with Sara (our guide when we adopted Graci and on subsequent trips to China) and her husband and daughter all came to stay at our home!  It was such an incredible experience.  During the time that all five of them were at our home, we went to the China market, Temple Square, Cascade Springs, BYU campus, Copper Mine overlook, Thanksgiving Point, and to Graci's high school Chinese class to deliver the dumplings China Mom and Dad got up at 4 a.m. to make.  (:   I believe out of all of the fun things we were able to do, their favorite activity was sitting out on our deck looking at the view and enjoying blue skies and starry nights.  

Sara and her family stayed here for five days and then went on to Chicago.  At this point, we had China Mom and Dad to ourselves and decided to brave a camping trip!!  They had never been camping before and were not sure what to expect, but they were great sports and traveled with us to beautiful Bryce Canyon.  Watching their amazement at the magnificence of the canyon and being able to see the Milky Way at night was so much fun.  Because they don't speak any English and we don't speak Chinese, communication is a little tricky!  Graci, Conner, and Cali were all able to bridge the gaps enough to make it such a great trip.  I'm so glad they still have their Chinese!   Despite them not loving American food (wouldn't even try most of it) and making "interesting" food choices (pickle sandwiches, mayo sandwiches, peanut butter and fried egg sandwiches... all after having a full spread to choose from) I can confidently say that they enjoyed their trip.  It was such a new experience for them as they had never been out of China.  Lots of tears as they left.  We are so grateful that we have maintained a relationship with these most wonderful people.  They couldn't love Graci more-- and neither could we-- so she is one very loved young woman!  (:

Graci at girls camp

At a showing of "Find Me"

Getting the courage award

At her dance recital

Riding a bull

Daddy date to Lagoon
First day of school
Our Chinese guests at Temple Square

China Mom and Grandpa shucking corn
China Dad!

Graci and China Dad eating the "light lunch" they cooked for us after church (think SEVERAL time-consuming dishes!)

China Dad was so sweet with Elli

Cascade Springs

Sara wanted to see BYU campus because of the memories she had of BYU dancers performing in China when she was a little girl

Graci and Cali love to take selfies

Bryce Canyon