2018 Goals

I spent a lot of time toward the end of 2017 thinking about what I wanted my goals for 2018 to be. 2017 was a crazy intense year. I’ve told a few people recently that I felt like I had about 800 balls in the air, and I dropped almost all of them at least once, and I’m slowly trying to pick up what is important. As we – hopefully – move toward a time of less necessary intensity, I’ve been wanting to be intentional about what my priorities and goals are, and I’ve come up with a few things.

  1. I want to try to cultivate peace and joy, both in my heart and in my home. First and foremost, I think this is a spiritual battle. I want to be more intentional about spending good time in my Bible and in prayer. I’ve started getting up earlier and doing a Beth Moore Bible study – just on my own – to help me stay in a pattern of doing that. Beyond that, I need to take some practical steps to enable peace and joy to flourish (like not over-committing myself to too many things). And I need to commit myself to examining my own heart throughout the day, practicing mindfulness and prayer and self-regulation, and I need to establish more patterns of treating every member of my family with respect, not yelling or expressing myself with sarcasm, even in my most frustrated moments. I think this is key to my growth as a person and as a wife and mom this year. 
  2. I want to rebuild our emergency savings fund. We basically wiped ourselves out financially to complete FangFang’s adoption at the end of 2016, and 2017 was such a crazy year with medical and travel expenses and just not having the mental or emotional energy to buckle down and commit to spending less money, so we pretty much just held steady financially. In 2018 we’d like to get back to a place of more financial security.
  3. I’d like to read 12 non-fiction books. I’ve been doing really well with keeping up with and enjoying some good fiction books lately. I read them on the Kindle app on my phone, which allows me to spend 2 minutes here or 5 minutes there reading as I’m able, which I so enjoy. But with non-fiction, I find that I am more thoughtful about what I’m reading if I read it in a paper copy, not a Kindle book, and I want to devote time and mental energy toward really integrating what I’m reading into my mind. That means I can’t just read it anywhere and everywhere and in 2-minute increments. But I am, at heart, a student and an intellectual. Matt and I are dorky people – it’s one reason we love homeschooling so much. I find that I feel more myself when I’m engaging with ideas, when I’m growing and learning. I want to make that a priority, reading and thinking on my own, and to that end, I’m making a goal of reading approximately 1 non-fiction book per month in 2018. And oh my goodness, I cannot wait to dig into this pile of books. I’ve started the first already, and it has been such an encouragement to my soul. 
  4. I’d like to get healthier. Exercise was sporadic, at best, for me in 2017, and I think my body feels the effects of that. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that my metabolism isn’t what it used to be, and I’m needing to adjust to that. We remain committed to our pescetarian lifestyle and try to follow a fairly healthy, whole-foods, plant-based diet, but I think toward the end of the year, our meals tended more toward whole wheat carbohydrates and less toward vegetables, and I’d like to flip that around again. I’d also like to get a healthier amount of sleep – always a challenge with young kids 🙂 Overall, I’d just like to make progress toward being healthier.

Those are my top 4 personal goals for 2018. I’ll try to keep you posted here about how I’m doing in working on those, and I’d love to hear what your 2018 goals are!

Book Thoughts: Siblings Without Rivalry

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sibling relationships – how to cultivate good relationships among all 4 of my children. There has been a lot of discussion about sibling relationships within the China adoption community lately (I wrote this guest post last month for a popular China adoption blog), and, more personally, Matt and I have been working on addressing some concerns we have about ways we’ve seen our kids interacting with each other . We have a lot of different dynamics going on in our family that complicate our kids’ sibling relationships – we have both biological and adopted children; we’ve virtual twinned and adopted out of birth order; and we have 4 kids with the age difference between our oldest and youngest being only 4.5 years. We have girls and boys; introverts and extroverts; sensory seekers and sensory avoiders.

As a researcher, my instinct whenever I encounter a situation in which I’m not certain how to proceed, is to find a book 🙂 The book Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish came well recommended, and I’d appreciated another book they’d written, so I dived into this one last month.

I found it often helpful but also sometimes not incredibly practical, at least for my crew.

The book begins with encouragement to understand our children’s perspectives. They are individuals with individual preferences, and they may not always get along perfectly or appreciate one another, and we as parents need to understand that and give them good, healthy ways to express their feelings honestly.

It then discusses the dangers of comparisons, which, to me, tied in closely with their discussion of placing children into roles. Making comparisons includes things that are, to me, obviously problematic, like making a statement to a child like, “Your sister always gets her math homework right; why can’t you?!?” But it also includes interactions that have a bit more subtlety – any discussion a child’s accomplishments relative to those of another child; labeling children as “the athletic one” and “the funny one;” and only allowing children to pursue interests at which they are the best in the family. This section forced me to ask myself some questions, in particular about the strategies I use to parent my oldest two children, who are less than a year apart in age and spend much of their time together but who are also very different.

I was reminded of that this week when a Facebook memory popped up from two years ago:

Madeleine CaiQun – “Mom, if me and JieJie want to be flower girls in Uncle Daniel’s and Sharon’s wedding, we’ll have to practice – it’s a big job for 5-year-old girls!!”
Miranda Grace – “I have practiced enough. I even knew how to do it before I practiced. Watch me.”

It’s easy to box them in, to make assumptions about who they are and who they will be, and not give them space to explore beyond that. It’s a tough line to walk – encouraging each of them in who they are but not pigeonholing them or restricting them. I want them to be free to explore and become exactly who God created them to be, and their relationship with each other is going to be part of that, but I hope it will be an empowering part, as opposed to a limiting part.

Relatedly, there was discussion about treating children uniquely, not equally. We need to give each child what he or she needs, which is not necessarily the same thing that a brother or sister needs. The book encouraged parents to treat our children as we hope they will become and empower them to become that.

The last section of the book focused on conflict. I found a large portion of the conversation helpful, but I also disagreed with parts of it. The authors’ suggestions for helping your children in working through conflict are, essentially, to acknowledge that the situation is complicated and acknowledge your children’s feelings but then to assure them that you are certain they can come to an agreement that works for everyone and leave and allow them to work it out on their own.

Sometimes that works well. I followed their directions almost exactly one morning when we were in Wisconsin and my two big girls were fighting over some toys, and the result was that they worked it out on their own and enjoyed hours of happy play time together.

However, the fact is that our children are often doing as well as they can in the moment. Sometimes a brief interlude in a fight with a sibling, taking time to tell the story to a parent and have their feelings acknowledged, is enough to help them come out of a state of dysregulation, and they can then focus more and work through the conflict themselves – but sometimes it’s not. And sometimes children are children, they’re young, their brains are not fully developed, and they simply do not have the skills to resolve a conflict on their own.

At our house we practice scripts. Probably the earliest one was this –

  • “May I have a turn with that toy when you’re done?”
  • “Yes, you may have a turn when I’m done.”

Do I expect my 7-year-olds to say exactly that to each other every single time one of them wants a toy that the other one has? No. But practicing that script in different situations when they were 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 gave them a framework to understand the dialogue that can occur. It helped them to learn that they were not allowed to take toys from one another but that there was an expectation of sharing. It also helped them to practice working out conflict with each other.

If kids are calm and if they truly have the skills to work through the conflict themselves, I think the book’s recommendations can work – but I don’t think those conditions are always met (and this may be true in particular for kids who have experienced trauma).

In general, I found the book helpful. Though I didn’t agree with every single one of its recommendations, it challenged me to reconsider the ways in which I think about and interact with my kids, and it gave me some new strategies to put into practice. For me it was a worthwhile read!

Christmas 2017

It has been several years since we have traveled for Christmas, but this year we made the trip to Wisconsin, where I grew up and where my mom still lives, to spend Christmas with my mom, my dad, and my brother David (Daniel was out east with his wife Sharon and her family).

It was probably a good thing that we were heading north instead of hosting people here. Traveling for FangFang’s latest surgery and then continuing to help her recover once home, plus trying to get in a bit of schooling with the big kids, and just live life (feed everyone at least 3 meals a day, make sure everyone has clean underwear, and keep everyone alive) was pretty much all I could handle the couple weeks before we left. This was the extent of my Christmas decorating.

And you know why that was up? It’s because my mom made it with Miranda last year while I was in China, and Miranda didn’t want to take it down, so it stayed up all year. And ripped. And I just left it there. We did no Christmas tree at home, no Christmas crafts. We did watch some Christmas movies 🙂 Matt did some Advent stuff with the kids. And I started reading through the Jesus Storybook Bible Advent reading plan with them…and then failed to finish it. But this year’s holiday season was one of realizing that we could not do it all and that we needed to prioritize what was most important, focus on that, and not sweat the rest. We talked about Christmas being a celebration of Jesus’s birth and what that meant. We listened to Christmas music. And we looked forward to heading to Wisconsin to be with family 🙂

The big girls were very excited and told many people that while everyone staying here was probably going to have a green Christmas in Missouri, we would be enjoying a white Christmas in Wisconsin. They were rather disappointed when we arrived to only small patches of snow on the ground. David and I took all the kids for a walk a couple days after we got to Wisconsin, and they collected all the snow they could find in this stroller and then brought it home and dumped it outside the window of my old room, where the big girls were sleeping, so they could look out at it to enjoy a white Christmas!

Unfortunately, it was really cold, so that was pretty much our only outdoor outing for the whole trip. We did have a lot of indoor entertainment, though 🙂 Madeleine CaiQun’s siblings got her a paleontology excavation kit for Christmas, and she chipped away at it (sometimes with a bit of help from Miranda) until she had uncovered every single bone and put together her dinosaur model!

Miranda has been interested in learning more about how to sew, so she dove into this sewing kit project as soon as she received it!

We’ve learned, over the years, that our kids do better with a “Christmas season,” as opposed to one giant, overwhelming morning of a million presents and no time to enjoy any of them, so we started letting them open presents, one or two at a time, several days before Christmas.

Even so, Christmas morning was a big deal 🙂

I love these photos of my kiddos spending time with family and enjoying their gifts <3

We made our traditional Christmas cut-out cookies and frosted them the evening of Christmas Day. Somehow the frosting turned out super runny this year, which made things more difficult than usual, but we managed to enjoy the evening and make some nice cookies 🙂

The time in Wisconsin was, overall, very relaxing. We didn’t go out much – it was freezing cold, and Matt had a sinus infection that sent him to urgent care (and then back to bed) early on in our trip, so we ended up spending a lot of time just relaxing at my mom’s. That wasn’t all bad, though. Matt made a lot of small artworks. I read some books. The kids played and had space to really enjoy their time with extended family. Miranda played more games of Yahtzee with my dad than I could count. We received several more cooperative games for Christmas gifts, and we all enjoyed playing those together. There was time to play with Playmobil and puzzles and, of course, dinosaurs. Some of us adults frequently played cards after kids were in bed…and Atticus woke up a couple times and sat with me while we finished our games 😉

And we did get out a bit. In addition to our Chicagoland trips, I finished reading Wonder out loud to the big girls, so the two of them and my mom and David and I went and saw the movie one evening. And after Matt started recovering, we were able to go out and connect with a few friends in the area. Miranda found a fellow climber in my cousin’s daughter, which was so fun to see!

Overall, it was one of the most relaxing Wisconsin trips we’ve had. I think we often pack them full of things to do and people to see, and while I love getting out and enjoying other places away from home and connecting with friends and family, our last few weeks leading up to Christmas were intense that it was probably perfect timing for us to have some pretty low key time with family. It was a good Christmas celebration!

Bookends to Our Travels: A Night and a Day in Chicagoland

It has been a little over 10 years since Matt moved to Missouri from Chicagoland and almost 10 years since I made the same move. We’re content where we are – but still – my heart longs for Chicago. I love this city.

We headed north to celebrate Christmas this year, and while most of our time was spent in Wisconsin with family, Matt and I were able to make 2 trips down to Chicagoland, one at the beginning of our trip and one at the end.

Every year my office has a holiday party, and most of the time, it would be nearly impossible for us to attend, but this year we thought it could work! My mom agreed to watch our kids, so Matt and I headed down to the city for the party.

Even traffic in Chicago is romantic to me. You feel like you’re part of a huge monolith, something greater than yourself, pushing on toward progress. You can watch the city skyline, not knowing the story of each person in the cars or trains around you, but knowing that you are all part of this grand city together.

Eventually we made it to the party, which was so much fun! We had a private party at Bespoke Cuisine, where we worked together (with actual chefs) to create an appetizer, a salad, a main dish, and a dessert, all of which were exquisite, for our dinner. Many of the employees with my company have joined in the years since we’ve moved away from Chicagoland, so I don’t know them well, but I’ve known some of my colleagues for years and years, and it was such a joy to get to spend a few hours catching up with them in person!

I’m so thankful for the ways in which my job has flexed with our life over the years, and it has been a huge part of facilitating everything we are passionate about. It was really nice to get to spend some time with these people who have been a huge part of our lives for nearly 15 years!

The next time we went to Chicagoland, we brought the whole crew! One of Matt’s and my favorite places in Chicago is the Field Museum. We knew that with our kids’ current fascination with dinosaurs, they would be ecstatic about the opportunity to see Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. Given our flexible travel schedule this trip and the fact that Sue will soon be taken down, not to appear in her new location in the museum until 2019, we thought this would be the perfect time to make the trip.

All of the kids were suitably impressed 🙂

As a homeschooling mom, I could not love stuff like this any more. We’re exploring the kids’ interests and passions and all learning together. SO COOL.

We did see some of the other collections (notably the Egyptian area), but we spent most of our time in the rest of the dinosaur exhibits 🙂

It was an expensive day, but we place a high value on experiences like this one. We love to spend time together, and we love to learn and to provide our kids with the opportunity to explore, in person, topics they’ve been reading about. They had many thoughts about dinosaur sizes and strength and time periods and other details they were learning about as we were making our way through the exhibits. It was an amazing day of exploring and learning together, and we were so, so glad we took advantage of the opportunity to make it happen!

And on our way back up to Wisconsin, we got to drive along my favorite Chicago route, Lakeshore Drive, and stop and see some good, long-time friends!

I’m so thankful for that day and thankful it all came together! It was nourishing to my soul to be able to spend some time in our old city this trip.

Looking Back: Summer Travels 2017

I love traveling – not so much the hours of preparations and packing that go into taking a family of 6 on trips but definitely the traveling itself. I like sitting in the front seat with Matt, reading books together or chatting or listening to music. I love getting to catch up with friends and family and revisit places near and dear to me, as well as exploring new places. I want my kids to have the experience of a world that is broader than just their hometown. My hope is that, as they get older and become better travelers, we’ll be able to introduce all of our kids to more and more places around the world. This summer we kept it pretty simple – 2 trips, both heading north.

The first was to celebrate the wedding of these two cool kids <3

I’ve known Natalie since I was in college, sometimes baby-sitting for her and her brother, but often just hanging out with her and her family. For years, she was something of a little sister to me, and I just adore her. She has become a lovely, thoughtful, passionate woman who serves the Lord, and it was an honor to be part of hers and Jonathan’s special day.

Heading to Chicagoland for their big day also gave us a chance to visit a city we love and catch up with some more dear friends! We saw and got to talk with so many friends at the wedding, and we got to stay with some other long-time friends. Frank and Sheri and their kids, Noah, Jackson, Natalie, and Ellie, have also been an incredible blessing in our lives over the years, and we were so thankful to get to spend the weekend with Frank and Sheri and the girls! We got to talk about literature and politics and eat Thai food and play games and sit outside in their back yard around a fire and just generally enjoy one another’s company, and it was such a nice time!

Atticus was in love with their dog, Chewy, and actually slept in his dog bed (without Chewy) for part of the night!

Later in the summer we made another trip north, this time centered around a family reunion in Wisconsin.

We’d also met up with a couple of my cousins and their kids pre-family-reunion to give the kids a chance to get reacquainted before the big party, which was a lot of fun!

And we took advantage of our time in town to hang out with other friends, as well. Here we are with my 2nd grade teacher, now a dear friend, and one of her daughters.

We also took in some local attractions, including the Milwaukee Public Museum. What Milwaukee-area child doesn’t have fond memories of hanging out with these graphic dinosaur models?!?

After a few days in Milwaukee, my mom and our family drove out to the Twin Cities to visit some long-time family friends. David was one of my mom’s grad school professors, and through him, my mom met and became friends with his daughter, Tricia, who, along with her husband Michael, eventually had 3 children around the same ages as my brothers and me. We grew up as pseudo-family, and we’ve continued those relationships through the years, with them even visiting us here in Missouri a few years ago. Ella, who is a few years younger than me, has two kids around the same ages as my kids, so there were plenty of playmates and plenty of toys, and we did a lot of fun, kid-friendly activities, visiting the zoo and some parks, having some ice cream (of course!), and just generally enjoying our time together!

It was great to get to reconnect with family and friends this summer and revisit some favorite places! We’re thankful for these opportunities to travel and hope to have more in the future!