Saturday, August 30, 2008

Backpacking Again

It's been years - years - since we've done it, but this weekend we finally went backpacking again! It was just a short hike up American Fork Canyon near Silver Lake to the aptly named "Secret Place" that the Knappenbergers introduced us to so long ago. For a real blast from the past, you can read about our last trip up there 4 years ago - click here for the vintage Morningstar newsletter.

Anyway, we had a truly spectacular short backpacking weekend. It's amazing how a few miles of hiking, some Jello cooled in a stream overnight, astronaut ice cream, and enjoying God's incredible creation can really put life, the universe, and everything in perspective. We figured that backpacking is only going to get more... interesting (read: harder) once sestra is with us, so we'd better get back into the swing of it!

Mommy and Daddy sherpaed (is that a verb? It is now) the tents, sleeping pads, and bags up, while the boys certainly carried their own by packing up their sleeping bags and clothing. Nesbitt once again reveled in getting disgustingly filthy and covering herself in burrs and is now lying nigh-comatose on our kitchen floor. This evening Ben told me that there was "something wrong with Nez - every time I touch her she makes weird noises." I did the obvious thing and advised our child to stop touching the dog who had more exercise this weekend than in the past several months combined.

A good time was had by all - here are a couple of choice shots from the weekend:

Mommy and Daddy toast our dossier's arrival at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Kazakhstan

Ben discovers that he really likes freeze dried chicken and noodles

Sam masters the art of water purification

Sam's "triumphant" pose as we finished this morning's hike. He was sure a super backpacker!

Oh, and don't worry, we did save enough energy to stop at the Purple Turtle on the way down the canyon for milkshakes and fries. One does need to replenish one's fat stores after a few hours of exercise!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Super awesome cool news!

Our dossier is now in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kazakahstan!  That means we've moved one step closer and one desk further in our process.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Naming our Daughter

Today we pass the two-month mark of waiting in the Consulate for our dossier to be processed. Sigh. It's a looooooong wait, but we're hopeful that even with the changes going on in the Kazakhstan Embassy and Consulate we'll hear something soon about our dossier moving on to the next step (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kazakhstan).

In honor of our paperwork sitting on somebody's desk in New York for two months now, I thought I'd blog about naming our daughter. When somebody finds out we're adopting, the first question is generally some variation of "Kazkah-what? Where's that?!?" (don't feel bad, we had to look it up on Wikipedia, too!). The second set is, "Do you have a photo? How old is she? What's her name?"

Well, we know that she'll be 24-48 months old when we first meet her, so at least we have an answer to the second question. We also then explain that Kazakhstan works differently than most international adoptions, and we won't have a legal referral for our little girl before we meet her. In most other countries we'd already have a girl sort of reserved for us by the government, but Kazakhstan places a lot of emphasis on the bonding period and so she's not officially ours until we hang out with her in the baby house for two weeks. We love this part of the Kazakhstan adoption process, but I do have to admit that sometimes I wish I had a little picture to look at... although that would make this waiting period even more heart wrenching.

And then we get to the name question. That's an interesting one. I mean, most people name their children before they meet them, the difference here is that our daughter will already have a name before we meet her!

There are lots of different philosophies on naming and renaming adopted children. Our philosophy is that our little girl is joining her new forever family, and it's ok for her to take on a new name as she does. She is a Morningstar now (or, she will be!), but she is also Kazakh, and we want to honor both of those identities because both are important. And if she was named by her birth mom, we also want to honor the name her mom chose for her baby girl.

But... ever since we were pregnant with Sam we decided on the name Rebecca as our perfect girl's name. We've always loved the name and it fits with our "Biblical names that can be shortened and sound good as a lawyer name or as a little kid nickname" theme. Samuel Isaac could be a professor, Sam is the kid down the street. Benjamin James could be the President, Ben is a boy on the t-ball team. Same with Rebecca, Becky, Beck. Plus, I love the "brought home from afar" theme of the Biblical story of Rebecca - it sure seems perfect for our little girl from halfway around the world!

So what to do? The real answer is that we don't really know yet, and we're ok with that. Most likely, we will keep all or some of her Russian name as her first or middle name(s) or maybe anglicize or translate her name into something easier to spell and pronounce in English.

So, for now she's Sestra - that's Russian for "sister". Someday soon (in the vast scheme of things) we'll know more, but we'll be content with Sestra for now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day of School

Happy first day of school! Well, school technically started last week for Sam, but since it was only half days (a nice transition into the fall schedule) we took the obligatory "aw, Mom, do we have to?!?" first day of school photos today.

Actually, the boys were great sports about the pictures (apparently second grade is still young enough to have photos taken without too much whining). Ben was especially excited to get his photo taken because he was, as he says with a wink, "looking sharp!" We didn't get many details from Ben about his first day of Kindergarten, but that kid is so freaking social that I'm sure he ate up every second.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

Our peach tree is finally producing! We planted a Saturn Peach tree a few years ago and this year it's large enough to start giving us truly delicious peaches. It's an oriental white peach tree that's supposed to be tolerant of high heat and low water (two musts in Utah) and to judge from the fruit it is very happy here. It's called a Saturn Peach because, as you can see, the fruit isn't spherical.

I have to say that I'm a huge fan - the fruit is delicious and juicy and they're really easy to peel. This weekend yielded 2 batches of jam, a cobbler, frozen sliced peaches for another cobbler, french toast topped with peaches, and bags of peaches for several friends.

Fortunately, I'm not sick of them yet, which is good because I have to pace myself - nectarine season is right around the corner!

Sam's Adventurous Life

Sam lives life far closer to the edge than I usually give him credit for. An example of the trials he endures came yesterday during his bath. Steve recently purchased a different variety of the same brand of children's shampoo than we usually use. Sam did survive the transition (brave little soldier!), but requested that we go back to the old shampoo variety because, and I quote, "I'm just not used to wild changes like that."

Yes, my son described a change in the color of his shampoo bottle as a "wild change" barely survivable by the bravest of individuals. It's a good thing that Steve's his primary caregiver, interjecting delightful spontaneity into every day - if Sam had his routine-oriented mother around for the majority of each day, he'd be doomed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Camping in the Canyon

We are so blessed to live here! I've been hankering to go camping, so Thursday after Sam's half day of school Steve and the boys headed up American Fork Canyon in Rainy and scoped out a fantastic spot up at Granite Flats campground. I scooted up the canyon after work and we all enjoyed a fabulous Thursday night campout! Ok, I guess I probably smelled a little like campfire at work on Friday, but it's a small price to pay for a much-needed evening in the great outdoors.

We actually intended to stay through Saturday morning but couldn't find a campsite so just decided to bag it and sleep in our beds Friday night, which worked out just fine since Steve had his first Jr. High event of the school year Friday night anyway.

We didn't really "do" much up in the mountains, we just enjoyed the cool and the stream running through the campsite and time together. We cooked hot dogs over the fire and the boys burned newspaper balls, their favorite camping activity - Steve or I rip a section of newspaper into strips and the boys crumple them into balls and burn them. They could do this for hours - I truly think it's one of their favorite things in the whole wide world.

And in the "I can't believe how quickly my boys are growing up" category of events, Sam and Ben and Nesbitt slept outside in a tent! I'll confess that every time I woke up I had the shuddery fear that they were being eaten by cougars, but I consoled myself that the cougars would go for Nesbitt first.

Oh, and speaking of Nesbitt, here's a picture of Steve and Nesbitt enjoying their favorite game - "Leap to Eat Things out of Steve's Mouth." Yes, I agree with what every reader of this entry is likely to say - this is truly a terrible idea. Steve has trained our obese and grouchy dog to jump up and steal food out of people's mouths. But I do have to confess that it's hilarious to watch. And I consider us lucky - Steve still has a nose attached to his face.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Craziest Child Ever Created

I have determined that Ben is the craziest child ever created. I know that many of you came to this conclusion some years ago, I'm just a little slow on the uptake.

Here is a photo of him riding his bike to the park - shark boots on and giving some sort of classic "I'm an insane child" pose. I think the photo pretty much sums up our child - quirky and hilarious and affectionate and prone to give his brother noogies and/or tackle him and then run away screaming when angry (ok, that probably doesn't come through in the photo, but it's true nonetheless).

Here's a great Ben photo from last night. He's been wearing his new green bookbag around pretty much nonstop since it arrived from L.L. Bean at the beginning of the week, I guess he's just trying to break it in before school starts on Monday. Last night he loaded it up with a clone trooper blaster and light saber, explaining that he must be a padawan because padawans are the ones who carry packs. Who can argue with logic like that?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Summer Wanes

This is the last official weekend of summer for the Morningstar family! As impossible as it is to fathom, school starts on Monday! Can you hear Steve's shouts of jubilation even now as you're reading this?

Actually, school only sort of starts next week - Sam has a week of half days (I love this idea of transitioning gradually back into the school schedule) and Ben only has orientation this week, he won't start Kindergarten (how did my baby get old enough for Kindergarten!?!) until the week after next.

Both boys start at a new school this year, Walden School of Liberal Arts. Sam had a wonderful experience at our local public school last year, but spots opened up at K-12 Montessori charter school and we just couldn't pass up an opportunity like that! Both Sam and Ben did really well with the Montessori philosophy of learning at their school in Lindon, so we have very high hopes for good times and great learning at this new school. We had a back-to-school potluck at a park last week and found out that Sam's teacher for his grades 2-4 bridge class is one of his favorite teachers from his old school! When he saw her, his words were, "Hey, that's my old yoga teacher!" We are so excited for her to teach Sam again.

We've been enjoying the remainder of our summer with lots of concerts and live performances and plan to spend the next couple of weekends camping. We saw A Midsummer Night's Dream up in the outdoor theater at Sundance - I'm so glad that they're doing performances up there again! Also, we saw Los Lobos up at Red Butte, which was one of the most fun concerts we've ever been to. The crowd was fun, the band was a blast, the night was beautiful, I was hanging out with the man I adore, and by the end of the night everybody in the venue was on their feet dancing - it was everything live music should be.

We also went up to Deer Valley to watch the dress rehearsal of the yearly Gilbert and Sullivan performance that the Utah Opera Company does up there with the symphony. We had so much fun! We went up with the Powells and we all brought our kiddos. The kids merrily played on the side of the hill, maintaining a reasonable volume (most of the time) while the moms and dads enjoyed the performance. It was all so low-key and enjoyable up there in the mountains watching a free concert, sipping my Pimms (what else could you possibly drink while enjoying Gilbert and Sullivan?!?), and laughing as the boys commented on how odd it was that the performers were singing their favorite songs from Veggietales (the Veggietales gang borrows quite liberally from G&S). It was the perfect stuff of summer memories.

Only two more concerts this summer - Wilco next week at Red Butte and then we end the summer right with Bob Dylan at Deer Valley! Enjoy the rest of your summer, I know we will!

A Great Article about Kazakhstan

I have a Google News alert set up for new news from and about Kazakhstan and found this article today from The Independent in London - Kazakhstan: Steppe by Step. It's a great quick overview of Kazakhstan and its people, landscape, and history. Check it out - I hope you enjoy learning more about the astounding culture our little girl comes from.

And Kazakhstan seems to be holding its own in the Summer Olympics in men's wrestling and women's weightlifting - see, I told you not to mess with our daughter!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Craziest Thing we've Ever Done

Steve and I were chatting last night and came to the agreement that adoption is the craziest thing we've ever done - and if you've known us for any length of time, you'll know that's quite the statement. We've gone out on a limb before, trusting that God knows us better than we know ourselves and has a better plan than we could ever imagine - but this adoption thing is taking it to a whole new level!

Right now we're in what I've heard others refer to as the "dark time" of waiting. It's been over a month since we've had news that our dossier has progressed and in all probability we won't hear anything else for a month or two more. We should stress that this is normal - our paperwork is working its way through the bureaucracy of Kazakhstan and will in all likelihood emerge from the other side approved and needing no additional work or change. Some things are changing in adoption procedure in Kaz, but since our paperwork is already in their hands we shouldn't have to redo any paperwork for the new rules. Even if we do, it's no biggie, just another paper to notarize and FedEx in :)

But that's all what my head says. My heart says that this is the longest, cruelest wait of my life! I do believe that God is preparing us as parents, as a family during this waiting time, but man oh man am I ready for the waiting to be over. I want to go meet my baby!

So, what to do during these months of waiting? Well, the first thing I've been doing is to take care of myself - my sisters at church remind me that God is getting us ready for a missionary adventure and I'm learning more about myself and my Savior in preparation. I pray for myself, my family, my little girl; I read scripture and study to know more about our miraculous adventure in grace and refinement; I pray Ephesians 3:16-19 for our little girl:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, my have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
And I remind myself that waiting in hope for the Lord is never a static process, and it's never without a reason. And I trust God's reasons and timelines far more than I trust my own (even though I tend to like mine better!)

What else do I do to pass the days/weeks/months? Well, right now I'm in buying mode (Steve just loves this phase). We haven't started decorating Sestra's room yet, so I can't channel my psycho-nervous energy into painting, so I've been buying stuff for our trip. This is a worthwhile pastime, since Steve and the boys don't have very good traveling clothes, so it's been fun shopping for those. Last week I purchased new snow boots for Sam and me. Snow boots. In August. I'm telling you, this waiting does crazy things to my head!

In between work and all of the elements of "normal" life, we've also been:
On that last bullet point, we have lots of gifts to buy for the folks we'll meet along the way in Kazakhstan, so I've been hunting for fabulous sale items to drag along with us. So far I have:
  • 16 American flag notepads and pens
  • 12 cool reusable bags to give the gifts in
  • 3 packs of tissue paper and curly ribbon for wrapping in Kaz
  • 4 make-up bags with Clinique bonuses (thanks, Laura!)
  • 7 American flag t-shirts
  • 12 sets of soap, etc. from Bath and Body Works
  • 2 sets of bangle bracelets
  • 25 Utah postcards with our thank-you message printed on the back
Yes, by the time we travel, we will probably have gifts for the entire population of Kazakhstan. But that's ok, we'll be grateful to all of them!

So now that you know way more than you probably cared about our preparations for our third kiddo, I thought I'd leave you with our thank-you note, 'cause everything looks cool in Russian:
Благодарю вас за то, что вы так тёпло приветствовали нас в красивом Казахстане и за помощь в усыновлении нашего ребёнка.
Искренне Ваши,
Семья Морнигстар
Thank you for warmly welcoming us to beautiful Kazakhstan and for helping us realize the adoption of our child.
The Morningstar Family

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Revenge of the Veggie Garden

Help! My garden is coming to get me!

Here's a photo of today's yield from the veggie garden... apparently we need to stay on top of the zucchini harvest a little more - I shredded 3 of those snozcumbers this afternoon and got enough for 26 loaves of zucchini bread. Yikes. If they came up with a way to power vehicles with zucchini I think our little garden could keep the greater-Orem area running for weeks!

The tomatoes just started coming in, so that's exciting, and our broccoli plants are determined to keep producing over two months after the initial harvest, which suits us just fine - broccoli and cheese is a family favorite.

We have also had great success with our sunflowers this year - they are rivaling the zucchini for the garden's grand prize! We're going to have some happy birds this winter... and maybe even a few happy Morningstar tummies if we figure out how to roast the seeds. A new adventure!

Gotta go - time to get 2 more loaves of zucchini bread in the oven :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Snowbird Rock and Blues Festival

I don't want to unduly disturb anyone, but I think that it's possible that my children are actually growing up! This weekend we went up to Snowbird for the Rock and Blues Festival courtesy of my parents (our anniversary present!) and had a genuinely fantastic time. The bands were great and Ruthie Foster was amazing - I've been a fan of hers for a long time and it was so fun finally seeing her perform live.

But as great as the bands were, even Keb Mo and Ruthie Foster couldn't compare to the fun of just hanging out with my family in the mountains. We got the boys activity wristbands and concert wristbands (it was a little like The Magicians Nephew watching them consider which wristband to show at each entrance) and let them go! I'll admit that I was nervous about it at first, but they were astoundingly responsible and kept their commitments to check back in with us every 30 minutes or so at the festival. They'd come in, listen to a few songs, and then go back out to the bouncy castle or rock wall - it was a whole new adventure in parenting for us and it felt great to trust our big kids to look out for each other, do what they said they were going to do, and come back when they promised.

I think we all enjoyed some quiet time (or as quiet as life with two boys can get) with each other. It was a really fantastic weekend. Oh, and two major milestones - the first was that Sam rode down the Alpine Slide at Snowbird all by himself (and he also rode up the ski lift to the slide alone... man, if that doesn't get a mommy's heart a-pounding, I don't know what does! He looked so little suspended 30 feet above me!) The funny part about Sam riding the Alpine Slide was how slowly he went - Steve and I usually attack the slide full-throttle, so it was more than amusing to watch him putter down the track. Oh well, I guess I'd rather that his first few solo slides were taken at a reasonable pace anyway.

Ben's major milestone was perfecting his bungee-trampoline front flip. He is such a little monkey! Steve and I are seriously considering enrolling him in Freestyle Aerials camp at the Olympic Park next summer!

Needless to say, after such a fantastic weekend it was hard to drag myself in to work on Monday... why are weekends only 2 days long? Good thing there's one at the end of nearly every week.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Climbing Mt. Timpanogos

Once more, I have conquered our local peak! Ok, "conquered" may be a little strong... I actually chose not to summit this year and instead went to the saddle and then over to Emerald Lake, but I still made it 11,000 of Timp's 11,500 feet. And before you think that I simply wussed out, I've been battling a sinus infection for the last two weeks and just didn't want to push my luck - besides, I hate climbing those last 500 feet of shale.

But I digress... This year's Timp hike was made possible by the fabulous folks at Move Networks - it was a team bonding hike (the team that wheezes together keeps together). I was really proud of my team - 8 of us went on the hike and everybody made it to the saddle with two of us then heading over to Emerald Lake while the others summited and slid down the glacier to the lake.

To be honest, I was worried that I would hold the group back, what with my breathing yuckiness (I cannot lose this infection!) and my... um... fabulous cubicle-worker physique, but I was pleasantly surprised by my stamina and the relatively few number of times I had to pull over for the hacking cough.

The flowers were amazing this year, but even their splendor wasn't the highlight of the trip - it was the goats! We saw well over thirty goats on our hike and were amazed as we watched even the little baby goats scaling the rock walls of the mountain. Here's a photo of the snowfield and meadows under the peak - see the goat standing on the edge of the snow?

It was a great day away from the office. We emerged blistered, sweaty, and really proud of the team we belong to. And two days later I am proud to say that I no longer whimper while descending stairs.


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