Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summertime for Sam

Since the past few posts have been about Ben, I thought it was high time to give you an update on Sam's summer. In his own words, here's how Sam is enjoying his vacation:

Almost all summer I've been watching Dad play Metroid Prime 3. When I get a chance to play video games, I play Battlefront II. When I'm not playing video games, I play with Legos. I built the Imperial Landing Craft and the Batmobile. I like to play with pretty much all the sets I have built.

I've been reading a lot of books this summer. The Way Things Work is a book that tells about almost everything, about how it works. It's really cool. Calvin and Hobbes books are really weird. Would you expect someone to do the things Calvin does? I think I've read 20 Calvin and Hobbes books. I really like them.

I like playing with Ben. Well, not always because he's kind of a grumpy kid and he's kind of mean sometimes. He's also really fun sometimes.

I think summer's really fun, a lot funner than the school year. When school starts I think I'll be looking forward to summer again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ben's Library Card

Apparently this is the face made when one gets one's very first library card. I think it's best if none of us stop very long to consider why this is the "appropriate" face to make.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Russian Lessons Continue

I guess that this shouldn't be a surprise to me, but it feels like everything in my life right now revolves around the Russian language. That's probably because most things actually do. We don't have any firm updates on our adoption paperwork right now - apparently somebody from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is on vacation through the beginning of August so we're unlikely to hear any updates until next week. So for now we wait patiently and hope that we'll get an update soon.

We did get a cool email last week from World Partners, though - copies of several pages of our dossier translated into Russian! I asked if we could have a couple of translated pages to put in our daughter's baby book and I have to admit that they're lots of fun to have. Since most of our postings lately have revolved around our anniversary, here's an excerpt of our marriage license in Russian - cool, eh? Seeing those pages and pages of apostille and homestudy and letters and certificates all translated helps me appreciate the effort that went into those 11 weeks of translation!

Ben continues to amaze me with his Russian. He knows all of his Russian phonograms (here's a picture of him with his self- appointed "favorite" phonogram. It makes an "f" sound) and he can sound out basically any word in Russian. And he has learned his numbers 1-100, although we're still working on recalling some of the trickier numbers quickly. Ben says that the coolest Russian number is 100 - it sounds like "stohl".

And even though I can't match Ben with Russian phonogram skills, I have been getting some practice writing those crazy letters as I label the gifts that we're bringing. I know, I know, we're still months and months from leaving, but little projects like this keep me sane and make me feel like the process is moving forward. A few weeks ago Bath and Body Works was having a humongo sale, so I purchased a dozen sets of body wash and bubble bath and lotion and then Teacher Ben wrote down the names of the products and I copied them onto labels for each bottle! We figure that all of those products tend to look pretty similar if you can't read the English labels, so a quick Russian translation would be helpful for the wonderful women who are currently taking care of our little girl!

And now all of those bottles are neatly labeled and sealed in Ziplocs, ready to be packed away in, oh, probably six months when we actually travel. Sigh. Well, at least I am enjoying the illusion of preparedness :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Anniversary Lawn Party

On Friday we celebrated our tenth anniversary with a pretty darn fine gathering of friends. We had beautiful weather (as I'm writing this there's a huge thunderstorm blowing outside - I'm glad the party was on Friday instead of Saturday!) and Steve and I decorated the backyard to enjoy our "Cocktails on the Lawn" in fine style. I was in charge of the flowers, hanging our fairy lights and paper stars in the apple tree, and artfully arranging napkins and food while Steve headed up team lawn, bar, and music. We were quite up to our reciprocal tasks.

The whole affair was pretty low key. We enjoyed fabulous cocktails (go Steve!), lawn games of bocce ball and croquet that eventually morphed into Rock Band once it got completely dark, and all the zucchini bread, veggies, and brie that we could eat, along with desserts and a champagne toast. As an aside, I have to admit that I was amazed by the voracity of zucchini bread consumption by the group - it was quite the hit of the party. That's good, because even after sending each guest home with a minimum of one zucchini we still have roughly four thousand more to eat. Good thing it freezes well!

We also had our wedding photos and album out and were amused by the exclamations of "you were such babies!" and "what are you, like, 14 in this picture?!?" and "I can't believe that your parents let you get married!" All of which, of course, are perfectly true. Looking back at those photos we sure do look like two kids, hugely in love, and following what we knew to be God's prompting in our lives. It's a good thing God created Steve, me, and our parents with adventurous spirits!

It's been an amazing ten years and it was such a joy to celebrate with so many amazing friends. We are truly blessed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

T-ball Season Endeth

It is with mixed feelings that I announce that t-ball season is over. I'll admit that it will be good to have our Saturdays back (not that a 45 minute game can really be credited with dominating a Saturday...) but we really did have a great season and I'm sorry that it's over.

One of the dads on the team got trophies engraved with the kids names (so cool!) which have, of course, quickly been elevated to the status of "treasured possession". They have cause some confusion, however - last night we had some friends over for dinner and when Ben proudly showed off his engraved, holographic trophy our friends naturally asked if it was because his team won. This got a puzzled look from Ben, who replied, "Well, I think in t-ball, everybody wins."

I'm just glad our boys still enjoy games where everybody's a winner!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Concert Season Begins

Summer concert season has officially started! Well, I guess it started in June when we saw Mark Knopfler when Sarah was in town - it was a great concert, but it was indoors, so it hardly counts as a summer concert, right?!?

Anyway, this weekend brought us two big concerts - The Police on Saturday and Emmylou Harris on Sunday! And both were fantastic. I have to admit, I thought that the Police concert would be fun, but I really had no idea how very impressive it would be - they were amazing!

And Saturday brought our first concert at the new Red Butte amphitheater. They did a fantastic job redoing the venue and we really enjoyed both the new amphitheater and the concert itself. As usual, we brought enough food to feed roughly the whole audience (see the top photo of our pack horses walking up to stand in line) and spent a lovely afternoon with the Knapps sitting in line, enjoying mojitos in the unbelievably hot sun, and, finally, listening to a wonderful live performance by a true legend.

Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Transracial Family

Lately we've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a transracial family. As we said from the beginning of our adoption adventure, we are so excited about being intimately tied to the other side of the world, but we also have to be real that adopting a daughter who doesn't look like us brings its own issues and questions. For anyone considering transracial adoption, Dawn Davenport's July 2nd podcast is a great introduction to the topic.

There are a few categories of challenges that we'll face as a multicultural family:

1. Being the weird kid in a white family.
As we are learning, kids who don't look like their parents can identify themselves as belonging to one of two groups - either they're the weird kid in a white family or they're part of a transracial family. We Morningstars are dedicated to becoming the latter - a family that acknowledges that we don't all share the same ethnic heritage and is investing in a family identity that celebrates our German, Welsh, Scottish, Pennsylvania Dutch, Mid-Atlantic, Utahn, Kazakh Morningstarishness! That's one of the reasons we're so excited to spend around six weeks in Kazakhstan - we'll have enough time to explore at least a little of Kaz and get to know the culture and people that our daughter comes from.
   That's not to say, of course, that spending 6 weeks in Kazakhstan cements our status as a transracial family, but it's a heck of a start. It also means that we make purposeful relationships with other families facing similar struggles. It means that we find at least a few friends or acquaintances of central Asian ethnicity so that our little girl is aware that there are other folks in the world (and even in Utah!) who look like her and share a similar heritage. It means that we don't exclusively buy blue eyed blond haired dolls :)
   Sorry if I'm coming off as over zealous here - I'm just excited about growing into a transracial family!

2. Cultural stereotypes
Another challenge for multicultural families is facing cultural stereotypes that the birth parents have never personally faced. Asian girls are smart, or passive, or Kazakh girls are steppe warriors! (ok, we probably won't hear that one, I'm still being influenced by Mongol). We just have to be realistic that just because we know that cultural stereotypes aren't universally true, that doesn't mean that our daughter's peers and teachers will be similarly enlightened.

3. Insensitive comments
Being a more obvious adoptive family means that we'll be that much more susceptible to rude, insensitive, or ignorant questions or comments. We're definitely going to have to grow a thick skin!
   As a transracial family, we'll probably hear more than our fair share of "real" questions ("Are they real sister and brother?" "Are you her real parents?"), payment questions ("How much did you have to pay for her?"), and "You should have adopted kids here at home" comments. And we're not talking about heart-to-heart conversations with folks who genuinely want to understand the adoption experience, but rather in-line-at-the-grocery-store comments.
   It's going to be interesting differentiating between the questions worth answering and those better ignored. We're learning more and more that the way we answer those questions really isn't for the people we're talking to, it's about modeling the right opinions and loving attitudes for our eagerly observing children - equipping for the times when they will be faced with similar questions from peers or acquaintances and won't have parents around to answer for them!

So there's a preview of coming attractions for you! We are certainly embarking upon quite the adventure...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our First Decade

Today is a very important day - it is the last day of our first decade of marriage!

Ten years ago, I had just finished my Freshman year of college and Steve had completed his Sophomore year, I was 19 and he was 20, we had been dating for 2 1/2 years. By the grace of God, the council of a very wise pastor, and the blessing of four very adventurous parents we were on the verge of becoming that three-stranded cord serving our God as husband and wife.

Ten years ago tomorrow a slightly sunburned and ecstatic Jamie (too much mini golf in the afternoon) walked hand in hand with her parents down the back meadow of Grace Fellowship Chapel, processing to Storybook Love and wearing a pair of brand new Birkenstocks purchased especially for the occasion :) And Steve (wearing new Birks, too, of course) took my hand and pledged his love and at sunset in the company of God, our families, and 300 of our closest friends we were wed.

And then we went inside, had Chick-Fil-A and ice cream cake and the rest is history!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Liberty Land

A brand new "adventure park" opened up recently near our home.  It goes by the patriotically inspired moniker Liberty Land.  It’s kind of hard to miss traveling down the interstate since one of its major features is the replica of Mount Rushmore, right along I-15, with a roller coaster running around it.  Seeing the four presidential heads being reproduced in plaster along the freeway was enough to make me want to go.  Besides, I’m a sucker for a mini golf course.

So I know that most places have some minor glitches when opening, but this place seemed to have everything going wrong.  We tried to visit on the day that they were supposed to open only to be turned away and told to call their phone number later and see if they would be open.  Only about half of their rides seemed to be working when we were there.  They went on the roller coaster, the Merry-Go-Round, the go-carts, the bumper boats, and the springy droppy ride.  Ben was a little short for some of the rides.  The teenager at one of them just looked and said “meh, close enough.”  So even though Ben was a foot and a half shorter than the height requirement, he was able to pilot bumper boats and drive go-carts, both of which he loved.

Overall, Liberty Land delivered on everything you would expect from a patriotic-themed little kids' theme park... the majesty of Lady Liberty gazing out over the bumper boats, the stately gaze of our founding fathers watching the roller coaster come through Mount Rushmore, the very odd mini golf course including a multitude of national landmarks and symbols.  Yeah, it was that weird.  Oh well, we had to try it once!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Don't mess with our daughter

Steve and I enjoyed a fabulous evening away last night, thanks to the visiting grandparents who graciously let us escape! We headed up to Salt Lake to hit a screening of Mongol (playing in only one theater on all of Utah... sigh). It was great! It's the story of Genghis Kahn, filmed primarily in Kazakhstan, hence our special interest in the movie. And let me tell you - do not mess with my daughter's people (at least in the 1200's) - they're a force to be reckoned with! A large portion of the Kazakh population can trace their lineage from the Mongolian ruler, so we considered the movie to be adoption research ;)

There are some fantastic battle scenes, but most of the film is dedicated to the story of Kahn's childhood, family, and marriage. It was a great mix of compelling story, breathtaking locations, and kick-butt action. Two thumbs up from the Morningstars - add it to your queue!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Adoption ABC's

We don't have a big adoption update this week - our dossier is still in the NY Consulate, which usually takes about 2 weeks. Today marks the end of our second week at the Consulate, but World Partners says that sometimes they don't get official notification that a dossier has moved from the Consulate to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kazakhstan until a few days after it's arrived in Kaz, so it's possible that we won't know more for a few more days. We'll keep you posted :)

In celebration of our dossier (almost) moving to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I thought I'd ask for your help brainstorming our Adoption ABC's. I was going to make a picture book for us to take to Kaz that includes photos of our home and family, and I thought that doing an ABC book might be a fun way to do it! (yes, we'll also bring smaller albums to leave with the judge, baby house, etc). Can you help us think of great photos for each letter?

Here are the options we have so far (admittedly, some are lame, that's why it's a brainstorm):
A - Arches, apple tree
B - brothers, Ben, back yard, bedroom
C - camping, church, cooking, car
D - Daddy, dog, dinner, dining room
E - excited, eating
F - family, friends, flowers, fun
G - grandparents, games, garden, grass
H - house, home
I - ice cream, inside
J - joke
K - kitchen
L - laughter, little
M - Mommy, mountains, meals
N - Nesbitt, neighborhood
O - outside
P - pool, parties, pals
Q - quiet
R - room, Rainy
S - snow, skiing, silly
T - tub, tubing, trees, Timpanogos
U - U.S.A., Utah
V - view, valley, vacations
W - weather, water, Wasatch
Y - yard
Z - zoo

Leave a comment with your ideas!

Monday, July 7, 2008

God bless the U.S.A.

If you know much about the Reinhart side of the family, you'll know that we take our Independence Day pretty seriously. I think I can honestly say that it's second in my list of favorite holidays displaced from first only by Christmas, the Mother of All Holidays (and filled with shiny glitter - notice the theme of Jamie loving holidays that involve metallic gleam). And as an honorary Reinhart, Steve's love for the Fourth started early in our dating relationship. I fondly remember him gazing in horror as we lit ladyfingers in our hands and threw them in the air for the better pop and the murmurs of incredulity as we broke open the duds to light the black powder directly. But he warmed up to the illegal incendiaries quickly and by his second or third Fourth was lighting the M-80's himself and climbing up my grandfather's tree to retrieve bits of exploded plastic buckets. He's a fast learner.

Our boys have definitely inherited our seldom-wise-but-really-fun fireworks genes. As usual, we walked our big red wagon over to the fireworks tent and bought up a small fortune in explosives, blessing Utah and the U.S.A. the whole time. I love living in a state where you can buy more than just stupid sparklers! My favorite purchase this year was a set of penguins whose various body parts would light up and cause the whole penguin to spin. How can your heart not be warmed by flaming, sparkling penguin eyes staring at you? (yes, they were as odd as they sound and well worth the $10)

And we are blessed with Utah friends who love fireworks almost as much as we do, because everybody knows that the Fourth is best spent with lots of friends so that there are a few to stay at the house with the kids while another contingent transports the injured person(s) to the hospital :) Just kidding, there we no injuries this year, not even little burns to remember the event by. And the lawn only caught on fire once!

This July Fourth was the Powells' first in Utah and they were a little slow to catch on to the fun of letting the kids light the fireworks, but by the end of the night Jack was lighting 'em like a pro and I'm pretty sure I saw Jim's eyes mist over more than once that evening, brimming with fatherly pride. The Thomas boys, of course, are old hands at all of this, as you can tell by the enthusiastic dancing amidst the smoke bombs.

Here's a truly fabulous photo that Jim snapped of Jedi Ben Shark Boots Boy. I think that he captured the essence of our child. How did kids ever have light saber battles before glow bracelets?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

An Adventurous Birthday Party

Dum da dum daaaaa, dum da da - The Indiana Jones birthday party was a fabulous success! I'm not sure how I'm going to finish this blog posting without a thousand photos of our little adventurers, but I'll try to restrain myself.

As usual, Daddy outdid himself with the activities, and I have to say that Mommy and Gramma did pretty well in the cake and decoration department. There were no wussy pin-the-tail-on-anything games - no way! There was swinging across the snake pit (as Ben demonstrates in the photo), crossing the balancing tomb entrance (a see saw to walk over balanced on propane tanks, which I think added a little extra atmosphere to the event), the bug-littered bridge balance beam, and crawling through the smelly swamp (a net to crawl under). It was fabulous! Oh, and we also had treasure digging in the sandy desert (treasure hidden in the sand box) which was more popular than I had anticipated, much to the delight of all. I guess that digging up gold coins is attractive at any age :)

And for the finale - a treasure hunt! The boys traipsed all over the house and yard collecting clues and pieces of the treasure map and, as usual, X marked the spot - a treasure buried in the veggie garden! It took them a considerable amount of time to to unearth the treasure, but eventually a candy-filled pinata was discovered! A few dozen whacks and the booty was available to all with all of the boys' favorites - gum coins, candy necklaces, and Tootsie Rolls of every permutation. It was a wonderland.

And how could any Indiana Jones party be complete without a snake cake?!? What our cakes lack in professionalism they usually make up for in creativity, and this year's cake was no exception. We did have a little problem keeping the candles lit on a breezy summer day, but the sparkler stayed lit without a problem and it was admittedly fun watching Ben try to blow it out.

Because I can't resist, here are a few more photos from Ben's fantastic 5th birthday party!

Ben crossing the bug-infested bridge (secret tomb entrance behind him)

The boys get their treasure hunt instructions and first clue from Indy

The mighty Sam takes a whack at the treasure chest (with the swamp to crawl through on the right side of the photo)

Happy Birthday Ben!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy Birthday Ben!

It's hard to believe, but our little baby boy turned five years old yesterday! Gramma and Poppop are in town and Gramma was reminding us of the stories of our little guy who had trouble being prompt (Ben was 8 days late, an eternity to a very pregnant mommy and grandparents who flew in from Maryland to welcome our tardy child) and I have to admit that it seems like yesterday that we were welcoming Baby Ben into the world. And now he's five and reading and playing video games and learning Russian to welcome his little sister home!!! Where does the time go?

Ok, enough nostalgia.

Ben had a fantastic and pretty low key fifth birthday. We started the day with the traditional Life cereal with milk (hey, if the kid is going to request cold cereal as his special birthday breakfast, who am I to argue?!?) and the ceremonial opening of the gifts. The highlights were some new Leapster games, squirt guns (can you ever have enough?), a Taters of the Lost Ark Mr. Potato Head (Sam's gift to Ben), a chocolate coin maker, and a brand new pack of bubble gum (from Mommy, who shares Ben's passion for gum). Oh, and a camera of his very own so that he stops getting fingerprints on Mommy and Daddy's camera lens! The camera is actually really cool - it has a little LCD screen and even has two eye holes for the viewfinder so that Ben can just hold it up and take a photo without having to close one eye (harder than one might think).

Here's Ben taking one of his first photos with the new camera:

And here's the result!

Needless to say, the camera has already been a source of hours of entertainment for all.

And at Ben's request the birthday evening was spent hanging out at home - we ordered pizza and while waiting for delivery drove to 7-11 to grab Slurpees. I told Ben that his love of Coke Slurpees was inevitable because when I was pregnant with him Steve, Sam, and I walked to 7-11 pretty much every evening and shared a Coke Slurpee on the way home :) And once the pizza arrived, we all watched Shrek 3 (Ben's choice, of course)! A delightful way to spend a birthday evening, I have to say.

Now we just have to finalize preparations for Ben's birthday party extravaganza on Saturday - we have a pinata to bury, a snake cake to bake, and lots of fedoras to hand out! (he chose an Indiana Jones theme) We got the official birthday portraits taken tonight- man, those kids are so dang cute!

Snakes - why'd it have to be snakes?
Ben's pensive Indy pose

Happy Birthday Ben!


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