Adoption Shopping

Yesterday I was going through old Amazon orders and came across a whole section I recognized as my “The Cherubs are coming!” shopping frenzy – items we bought hoping they would make the kids feel loved and welcomed, help us get to know each other, and meet practical needs (like how we had one twin bed and two incoming kids). It reminded me of the intensity of those early, mind-bending days, and how many directions we were looking to for help. Here’s a list of some of the items that delivered. Some of them might come in handy in your non-adoption life (or what I like to think of as your PRE adoption life!), too.

 First, The Thumb Ball.  This humble little ball started our conversation the first time we met The Cherubs. We came to their foster home in the afternoon after school. Their social worker, Janna, was waiting with them and introduced us. We all sat on couches in the living room, looking at each other but trying not to be weird about it. We knew conversation would be awkward (where do you even START?) so I brought this little ball I found online. The concept is simple: you toss it to someone, and wherever their thumb lands when they catch it, that’s the question they answer. “What’s a food  you don’t like?”  Janna didn’t like cinnamon, which gave us something to marvel at together. “What’s a good vacation place?” gave the kids a chance to tell us they’d been to Disney. Perhaps the best part of this, though, was that it was so tactile. When the game was over, #1 Cherub held onto the ball, squeezing it, tossing it in the air. It gave him something to do with all the nervous energy. I think we could have all used one.

On a similar note, Table Topics.  These cards were on our dining room table for months, rescuing  us from dinnertime misery night after night. Here’s why: Dinnertime was AWFUL that first season together. The kids didn’t like our food, we didn’t like their attitudes (and we were stressed about their health) We fought Every. Single. Night. But we had mandatory Table Topics conversations to approximate some semblance of the “value of family dinners” we were grasping for in those ten minute meals that felt like they lasted three hours. And you know what? It worked!  Sometimes you need a question about whether or not you’d travel to Mars if given the chance to get the party started!

A Note for writers: I once spent an entire summer using a box of these for daily writing prompts. Highly recommend.

Chocolate Hair, Vanilla Care.  This book FREAKED ME OUT. I was prepared to learn a new world of hair care for my mixed-race daughter, but the author’s personal approach to her child’s hair is a bit extreme. For example, the book suggests that if we went to the beach, afterwards I should use AN AIR COMPRESSOR on my child’s head to remove sand from between the braids. I was like, “The same one that runs the nail gun???”  I cannot tell you how stupid I felt, asking one of my black friends, “Um…do I need an air compressor?”  Thankfully, her answer was No. That said, if you’re looking for a guide for how to care for natural hair, this is great. It has so much helpful information that helped me understand different types of hair, products, etc. and it also has detailed how-tos for different braids and styles. I’ll leave decisions re: the use of power tools up to you.

Patriot Bear.  I think Pillow Pets are brilliant, and wish they were the norm for adult pillows, too. Kids of all ages like soft things. When a child moves in with you, he or she might come with a favorite snuggle toy. But I think it helps with the transition to add something new from you that has meaning and solidifies their life at your house. (If you live outside of New England and aren’t a Pats fan, they have these bears for all the teams.) I covet this bear every night at tuck in time – he’s very cozy.

Black Nativity.  I love this adaptation of the Langston Hughes play. It’s gritty and complicated, and yet shot through with scenes that show God’s presence even in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations. It’s by far my favorite Christmas movie. We first got it from the library, and I was ordering a copy to own before the credits were done at the end.

Black or White.  We watched this one early in our new family relationship and it was HARD. But it was also good. The scene with Kevin Costner’s court testimony where he breaks down what really happened? I tear up just thinking about it. This movie does such a good job of showing how complicated these cases are. Not just because of race, but because of people. This brought up a lot of stuff for all of us (Steve and I had been through something similar with Princess Peach) but I’m so glad we saw it. It’s tempting to try to keep everything happy and easy when you’re just getting to know each other. But the Cherub’s foster mom gave us good advice: Bring it up, she said. It’s gonna come up anyway. She was right.

On a lighter note…a friend recommended this South Shore bedroom set as a frugal solution to our two kids/one bed dilemma. We ordered the bed, headboard shelf & nightstand for #2 Cherub, the price was incredibly reasonable, and they’ve been fantastic. Note: leave some time for assembly pre-Cherub arrival.

And finally, three of my favorites, because they’re so personal:

Out of My Mind. I bought this book before we even met the kids, because #2 Cherub listed it as her favorite book in the adoption flyer her social worker prepared to help recruit for them. This book is so good. I couldn’t wait to meet #2 and talk about it. It gave me hope that she & I might bond through books & writing, and indeed, we have. Our love of books and stories is one of the best things we share, and I’m so grateful to her social worker for including this gem in that flyer.

Kyrie Irving Fathead Graphic. We knew that #1 loved basketball. But we were unprepared for his favorite player being from Cleveland :) Kyrie stands tall over #1’s bed, ready to make a move on the basket. (But yes, we also got him a Celtics Fathead to make it a real game. And we might have put the guy in the green shirt on the wall closest to the net…)

cys-sign  reenas-sign

I found these signs at Marshall’s and got one for each Cherub’s bedroom. I want them to see this every single night, and wake up to it every morning. It’s the truth. You can find something similar here, here, and here. As I look at them now, I kind of want one in every room.



The Blankest Page

A few years ago, as I cast about for a writing project that was less, well…ridiculously intense & personal than spilling my soul in a memoir, I started a series of essays about the Fruit of the Spirit – the benefits package the Bible promises to anyone who opts in to Jesus’ offer of a better life. We’re told that somehow, miraculously/mysteriously, Jesus’ people have access to unprecedented levels of nine specific things: Peace, Love, Joy, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control. 

I’ve always loved this list because it’s so precise. I mean, I know whether or not I’m feeling Joy. And when I respond to a frustrating situation in a way that’s Gentle instead of furious, it’s just astonishing; there’s no way NOT to notice.  I appreciate how Jesus doesn’t try to dazzle us with vague promises. Instead, we’re given a litmus test we can use anytime to see if we’re wringing all the pluses from our Holy Spirit benefits package.

Reading through these essays yesterday was fun. It reminded me of interesting thoughts I’d had about Love, and how great it is to feel Peace when on earthly terms I should be freaking out. I cruised through these pages, wondering why I’d never finished this project when I was clearly in such a groove.

Then I flipped the page and dead-ended at this:


I laughed so hard, water came out of my nose. Nothing to say on that subject. Not one word.

Patience has never been my thing. I don’t even WANT it. Patience means waiting, and I don’t like that, so where do I go to turn in this weird & annoying fruit and sign up for double Joy instead?

I never recovered from the Patience page. The essays stop there, almost suggesting (obnoxiously, I think) that God insisted that I process SOME thoughts on this subject before He’ll let me move forward. (Honestly, if this were a Harry Potter movie, I’d still be sitting there in some Hidden Tunnel of Doom, stomping my foot and refusing to wait for the secret key to descend from the ceiling, completely ignoring the reality that even as I refused to wait, there I was… waiting).

Maybe patience sometimes takes the form of forgetting all about that thing you’re waiting for. Obliviousness is a grace, I believe. And while I might not use this example as a particularly enticing Fruit of the Spirit (“You’ll lose sight of your work projects for YEARS at a time!!!”) I can admit a certain gratitude that I haven’t spent the past however many months trudging around the world trying to muster up a bunch of bullsh*t concepts about Patience in order to fill a page and move on. I appreciate that Jesus doesn’t traffic in bullsh*t concepts.

Ironically (only not), I’m far more patient than I used to be. Here’s what patience looks like for me now:

-Taking a part time job in the flooring department at Home Depot last winter when I could not read one more adoption book (seriously, I’d read them all) while we waited for our adoption home study to be approved.  Patience = Getting out of the house.

-Stopping writing mid-paragraph when THIS DOG rouses from her 5 hour nap and makes it clear that she needs to go out immediately. Patience = Knowing that bathroom needs always come first.

-Dinner: Every. Single. Night. Patience = Keeping a schedule that helps your kids learn to trust you.

It makes for a mighty strange essay. And maybe God knows I have EVEN LESS to say about Kindness, and is protecting me from myself at this point. But I’m grateful to realize that, just as promised, this Patience thing just grew inside of me when I wasn’t even paying attention. It’s cool to have fruit you didn’t cultivate.

Bergie and her Brussels Sprout

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PLEASE can I have a Brussels Sprout??? PLEASE??? (Note persuasive tail wag)

(If you are a children’s book author looking for your next big idea, this post is my gift to you…)

After seven months of searching, we FINALLY discovered Bergie’s treat of choice.  Brussels Sprouts. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Back when Bergie first came home with us, our trainer told us to find some super-special treat to use to reward obedience and good behavior. Wandering through a fancy pet shop, I accidentally bought a $15 bag of desiccated liver bits (thus learning the lesson, “Never shop where they won’t tell you how much things cost”).  Bergie accepted these million-dollar morsels begrudgingly, like she was doing me a favor.  Seriously: I’d pull down the bag and call her and she’d pull herself up, stretch, shake, then sloooooowly meander over and take the treat, then swallow it whole like a kid trying to choke down a lima bean.

It was like watching her eat cash.

We tried less-fancy options: Milk-Bones, Pupperoni, and some chew thing designed to fight plaque and taste like chicken.  Same response.  She was slightly more enthusiastic over frozen hot dog pieces, but not much. (And given her struggle to regain her swimsuit figure, we weren’t sure hot dogs were a great long-term plan for the Berg.)  But she was pretty well behaved anyway, and we soon learned that her love language is affection and praise. So instead of giving her treats, we trained her with enthusiastic hugs and high-pitched squeals of delight when she finally sat down (after only 14 tail wags) when told.

Then the other night I was cutting up Brussels Sprouts to roast for dinner. Not saying that I’m clumsy or anything (and yet suggesting exactly that) but one landed on the floor.  Bergie came FLYING out of the bedroom like she’d been shot from a missile. She skidded across the wood floor, grabbed that half a sprout, then turned and sprinted back to the bedroom without even looking at me so she could devour her treasure in private. I followed her and she had her head stuffed under the bed, so special was this moment with her and her sprout.  When she finished, she licked her chops, then her paws, then the rug. After which she trotted back to the kitchen and stared at my feet in the hopes that another green globe of happiness might fall.

Waiting. Watching. Hoping.

Waiting. Watching. Hoping.

I was like, Really? Brussels Sprouts?  But we’ve tested this theory and confirmed it.

I’m contemplating a career switch to children’s books. BERGIE LOVES BRUSSELS SPROUTS! The Dog Who Loved Vegetables that Begin With B!  will be a bestseller with parents across the nation who are struggling to convince their kids that green gross things are JUST AS WONDERFUL as mac & cheese and cookies.

*Filing this under “Plans to Get THIS DOG To Pay The Mortgage”

Get YOUR piece of the Bergie experience!

I’m starting a new business.

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She doesn’t look like she’s shedding. But she is. Right at this very moment. She’ll get up and it will look like she had puppies.


Sample chubby maltese. *Eyes, nose & paws not included.

THIS DOG sheds. Every other day I vacuum up the equivalent of a chubby maltese. Today as I hunted and gathered handful after handful of abandoned fur, I thought of all my friends who would just love to have a dog, but can’t. Then I had an Oprah-esque, a-hah! moment and (like Oprah) realized that I had the answer to the problems of the world!

Introducing my new business: Fur Friends With Benefits! All the ambiance of a pet without the pesky commitment!

Here’s how it works:

For a nominal fee, subscribers will be sent a weekly bag of freshly-shed fur (available in an array of sizes depending on what size dog you’d like to pretend to have). Each delightful pile of fuzz provides oddles of opportunities to partake in the dog-ownership experience WITHOUT having to deal with walks, poop, or trips to the vet!

Ideas for use include:

-Spread the white fur over your dark carpet then TRY to vacuum it all up!photo copy 2

-Let it waft across your kitchen and embed itself in casseroles, drinks and salads!

-Tell it to sit, stay, or even roll over…then enjoy the fun as it ignores you!

Friends, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience dog ownership without the actual dog.

PERFECT for commitment-phobes! You can name your Fur Friend, love it for just a few days (or even just a few hours) and then THROW IT AWAY without guilt or remorse! You can leave it home alone for DAYS at a time! It’s the ideal solution for dog lovers who fear permanency, intimacy, or responsibility!  Now is the chance to get that “Wow, you must have a dog!” smell throughout your house at a low introductory cost. Really, it’s an investment!

Lines are open now, so call right away!  The first 20 callers WILL ALSO RECEIVE a small dog toy, at NO EXTRA CHARGE! Know what it’s like to toss a squeaking piece of rubber across your home while squealing, “Go get it puppy! Go get your toy!” with no discernible reaction from your pet!

Operators are standing by!


A Book Reviewer’s Manifesto

I cannot post another crappy book review about another crappy Christian book! I simply. Can. Not.  I hit the wall last night as I read the first six chapters of a book I’d agreed to look at. It’s about decisions. I thought it would be a faith-based take on this fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath.  It’s not. It’s the sad neglected stepchild of this fantastic book by Chip and Dan Heath. Here at the covers:

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Inside it gets worse. Chip and Dan Heath did extensive research on the different decision making styles and how they’ve played out in case studies around the world. This other author had some chats with his wife and a few of his twenty-something friends and decided to share his thoughts with the rest of us. AGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH.

I hate giving negative reviews. When I started recommending books on the blog, I just didn’t mention the books I didn’t like. There were one or two cases where I longed to post a snarky take down of some book that bugged me, but I resisted the urge in favor of my overriding policy that when I don’t have something nice to say about someone else’s book, I say nothing at all.  (And yes, this is largely because I realize that many gracious readers have extended this same courtesy to me.)

Then came this blog program run by one certain publisher.  They offered advance reader copies of forthcoming books in imagesexchange for reviews on blogs & bookseller sites. I’d enjoyed a few of their books in the past even though much of their list was not up my alley, so I signed up. It was all great, until I realized the corner I’d painted myself into: If I accepted one of their books, I HAD to post a review. Even if it was scathing. Even if the book made me want to scream. Even if I was tempted to call the author and say, “Were you offered editorial assistance on this project? If so, WHY DIDN’T YOU TAKE IT?”  I tried to work around this problem by being more selective about the books I’d ask to review, only to discover if I didn’t do a certain number of reviews per quarter, they deactivated my account. But because I was afraid of missing out on a really great book, I kept requesting mediocre ones. The result has been a slew of short blurby blog posts about books I hated.

I am sorry. I failed you. Please forgive me.  Fear of missing out is a stupid reason to engage in bad behavior.

There is something inside me that gets SO excited at the prospect of reading a book before it’s available to the rest of the world. It’s like Christmas to me.  One of my favorite games as a child was “Library,” where my sister and I would set up books all over our room, complete with little check-out cards in the back. We’d spend hours setting this up, and then invite our mom in to browse and make some selections.  Circulation was low, but we were enthusiastic! I think this reviewing thing has tapped into that part of me. I love reading books, talking about them, recommending them to friends. I am that person publishers are looking for who want to connect books to new readers.  But I can’t be that person if my blog is clogged with half-hearted passive-agressive reviews of books that could have been great if they’d had another year or so to develop and be edited.

Here’s my new pledge to you:

I’m signing out of this “mandatory review” blogger program.

I’ll continue to review books I get from other venues (there are some good ones out there that trust bloggers to use their discretion and direct their energies to promoting books they really love), as well as my town library and the bookstore.  If I wouldn’t hand you a copy in person, I won’t bother you with a review online.

On a LIGHTER NOTE, I’ve been looking over the books I got at last year’s NEIBA conference. Some of my favorite books that led to some great reviews and recommendations.  This year’s event is next month, and each year I try to evaluate which books I didn’t read to try and avoid picking up similar ones this year.  As I looked at these three untouched titles, I see a theme:

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Can you say, Year of No Motivation???  it makes me laugh, just looking at them. In this case, I want to call the authors and say, “It’s not you…it’s me…”  I’ve promised myself that this year, no more motivational titles until I’ve read these three and am focused, moving and sleeping, and winning from within :)


Your Daily Bergie


“Please can I stay on the bed? Look, there’s plenty of room! Pleeeeaaase?

Someone on Twitter announced that today is National Dog Day! I came right over here to celebrate with a post. I believe EVERY day is National Dog Day, so it’s a delight to have the rest of the world (or even just one guy on Twitter) ascribe to my perspective.

I scrolled through the dozens of adorable pictures I’ve taken of our giant rescue pup since she waddled into our livesphoto copy in March, and realized: she sleeps a lot. And I take a lot of pictures of her sleeping, because it charms me. For instance, right now, she’s asleep on the floor by the couch.  Adorable, no?

I have similar pictures of her asleep under the dining room table, in a hole she dug in the backyard, and on the sidewalk when I got caught up in a conversation with a neighbor while we were out on a walk.  THIS DOG knows how to relax.

But if the grey and white cat who patrols our streets tries a shortcut through our back hedges? The Berg is up in a FLASH, hurling her heft through the shrubs to chase the intruder away. First gear to fifth in under a second. It’s a thing to behold.

I wasn’t sure there was room in my heart to love an new dog after we said goodbye to Kylie.  I mean, I’d loved one dog for eighteen years.  And yet God sent us Bergie all the way from Tennessee: entirely different, equally lovable, and keeping with our tradition of canine genetic mystery.

If you don’t have a dog, today might be the day to consider getting one! It takes awhile to acclimate to having a new family member in your life, but it’s worth it. There are lots of great organizations out there that can help. Here are two I appreciate:

Angels Among Us. They rescued Bergie after she was thrown from a van, paid to have her treated for heart worm, fostered her for over a year, and then brought her to us. They are fabulous to work with and so devoted to these animals that they come to know and love personally.

National Great Pyrenees Rescue.  I knew nothing about this breed when our vet said he thought it might be the genetic foundation of Bergie’s look and temperament (clearly the super-alert & active foxhound piece wasn’t dominating).  I went home and researched the breed, unsure how even to spell it. What I found made me appreciate how awesome these big dogs are–calm, loving, protective but not aggressive–and was like finding the secret decoder ring for how to train her. They’re not like other dogs. After a few months with Bergie, I’m convinced they’re a little bit better :)

Happy National Dog Day!

Sparkle Power

imagesI took my 11 year old niece shopping last week to buy an outfit for her birthday. Holy Sparklepalooza, are the 80s back! I’ll admit I was a bit overwhelmed when we first walked into her favorite store. Let’s just say it was not a collection of gentle pastels. After looking around a bit, we picked out a royal blue leopard print cropped t-shirt with sequin sleeves. Think about that for a minute: Bright Blue. Black & White leopard print. Cropped. With black sequin sleeves. And yet with all that going on, it was easily one of the most conservative options in the store. Paired with a jean jacket with rhinestone studding on the collar, the overall affect was a bit blinding…but in the best way possible. The Niece looked beautiful and happy (and like a Preppy Handbook model compared to some of the other bespangled and bedazzled options she could have opted for.)

Perhaps my favorite moment was when I brought her an a different top to try – it was denim, with a sort of glitter sewn or embedded or somehow encased in the fabric. She looked at it, thought a minute, then shook her head No.  “It’s not the right kind of sparkle,” she said.

A girl who not only likes sparkle, but is discerning about what KIND of sparkle? Be still, my beating heart!

Thankfully, I was not filled with longing to wear the clothes we saw; there was no urge to rush to other stores to find the grown up version of this store (and I’m sure it’s out there). But I’m glad these clothes exist, and that being a girl and dressing like a girl is really fun right now.

What was your favorite era for fashion?

Bikes, Cows, Dogs. Also…Footloose

So much to catch up on. Blog posts are stacking up in my head! And then I sat down to write this update and Steve starts watching Footloose. I mean, who wouldn’t be inspired by that?!? Let’s hear it for the boy!  I want to finish this before the farm kid finds his rhythm, so here’s the Cliff Notes version of life around here:

-I got a bike! Some of you may remember my infatuation last summer with a ridiculous purple Huffy bike I photo copyrode on vacation. I loved how there was no expectation that I be good at biking on a purple Huffy. Well, with some help from my Dad, I found one better. He discovered a “vintage” brown Raleigh by the side of the road next to a sign that read “No reasonable offer refused.” $25 later, it was mine! Isn’t she a beauty? She needs some elbow grease and TLC, and I’m not exactly worried that anyone will steal her. But the investment almost exactly matches my commitment to this venture, so I’m calling it a win.

-A catalogue arrived here yesterday, offering to sell us this enormous cow picture for the low-low price of $229! We’ve photoordered other things from this catalogue, so now I’m thinking, “Are we giant cow people and just don’t know it yet?” I’m telling you, the world of decor opens up pretty wide once you consider an addition like this to your home!

-Bergie was weighed today. She’s up another pound. 89.2.  I think it was the wasp she ate. They’re highly caloric ;)

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THIS DOG…Not the Biggest Loser

photoToday was Bergie’s BIG day at the vet: her second weigh-in since she joined our family. As you may recall, she’s been on a slim-down regimen for the past three months, and we’ve noticed a small but exciting difference as her hip bones emerged from the flab. She’s still a full-figured pup, but we’ve been diligent with her food, and we have walked and walked and walked and walked.  THIS DOG has had more exercise than all the other dogs I’ve had or even known, combined. I went into today with great expectations.

She gained three pounds.

I was flabbergasted. I started babbling to the vet about how careful we’re being, how much we’re walking, how no, she doesn’t pig out on treats because she’s not all that interested in them. I’m sure he thought I was lying–people fib all the time to hide the way they indulge their pets. But rather than feeling guilty about unconfessed dog feeding splurges, I was actually thinking,  “Omigosh, that doesn’t even count the two pounds of stuff she just puked up when she got out of the car because she was car sick…”


There will be more walking, and perhaps we’ll add an after dinner run.  The vet gave me a specially measuring cup to use in feeding her (in case the “cup and a half” of food I’ve been giving her has been measured out with a chowder bowl). We’ll keep getting her to wiggle her giant self in excitement, because moving all that self around MUST burn calories.  And we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy having so much more of her to love.  Because a chubby Bergie is so very much better than no Bergie at all :)

Bergie Sees The World

UnknownTHIS DOG got loose yesterday.

A man with a dump truck pulled into our driveway to deliver mulch. The truck made a loud jump forward that freaked us both out. But while I stood my ground, Bergie had the smarter, more honest reaction to having an enormous  piece of machinery lurch toward you: She slipped her collar and RAN.

Down the street to the left. Across our street, then back to the right. Through the yards of two neighbors I haven’t yet met (one of whom was on her back deck and told my mother-in-law, “She went that way…”)   Across another road, down the sidewalk, and around the corner, where I lost her.  Thank God she’s big, white and fluffy, and the yards around here are very green right now.  After a few seconds,  I saw her cut in to a yard at the top of the hill. She ran around behind their pool into what looked like a flower garden, pausing for a moment. There’s a chance she pooped in their yard. (I’m not sure how to circle back to introduce myself to inquire, but if you’re reading this, Mystery Neighbors, I am sorry!) Still, though, it gave me time catch up to her.  I was able to tackle her on the lawn between the pool and a fence. Right under the NO TRESPASSING sign.

I got her collar back on (backwards, a la Cesar Millan, so she couldn’t slip it again).  Then I remembered: I had the check for the mulch guy in my back pocket. So we ran. It’s a longer route when you stick to the sidewalks and don’t avail yourself of other people’s backyards. THIS DOG had used up most of her reserves (she’s still sporting a roll of chub that makes her more of a sprinter than a distance runner), but still looked at me like this was the best game ever. Her giant tongue flapped beside her face as we galloped home.  I suspect mine did, too.

The mulch man was not amused. He took the check I handed him and left without a word.

THIS DOG was grounded for the rest of the morning. I don’t think she minded a bit.