Friday, September 28, 2012

Bike Dreams

This evening Steve went out to air up the tires on Rachel's bike.  Somehow, she managed to convince him to take off her training wheels.  After all, she is BIG.  She was very excited to give it a try.
But, after multiple attempts, it became clear that balance is still a big issue.  Rae couldn't stay upright for even one turn of the pedals.  Although she wanted to keep trying.  So, Steve put the training wheels back on.
Miss Rae was NOT pleased with this turn on events!
She did manage to talk her dad into bending the training wheels up more, so that they were farther from the ground.  Then she took her bike to the imaginary bike store and "took off the little wheels".  And climbed on her new-to-her-mind bicycle.
It's still obvious to everyone but Rachel that she's not quite ready for solo riding.  How do you like that lean?
But Rachel is, as always, determined.  Even when riding doesn't go as planned.
She just climbs back on and tries again.
She can even do tricks - "One hand!"
And she has a good time, even if she's not quite as big as she dreams.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Puppet Show

Granny and Poppy just got back from a trip to Europe - Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and other sites.  As always, they brought gifts.  Chocolate and embroidery for the adults.  And for the girls?  Puppets.  Marionettes, actually.
For Rachel, the lover of all things princess, a puppet that just happens to be dressed like Snow White. (But much cuter than the Disney version, in my opinion.)
Katherine has had a long-standing obsession with The Sound of Music and has sung The Lonely Goatherd, oh, 10,000 times.  So when Granny spotted this adorable goat/sheep, she know it was Kate's.
I have a feeling that there are some splendid puppet shows in our future!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playing School

One of the girls' favorite things to do together is to play school.  This is a somewhat secretive activity, conducted behind closed doors in Katherine's room.   I don't know what exactly goes on there, but I hear things.  Sometimes rather funny things.  I know that 95% of the time Katherine is the teacher.  (Once in a while Rachel pitches a fit and refuses to play unless she can be the boss!)  I know that they have imaginary classmates, who are referred to often by name.  Some of them are quite naughty.  I know they go to recess and have imaginary field trips.  I know there is a fair amount of homework.  And I know that this school is very real in their minds.

When Katherine was little, I spent hours sitting at the table with her working on letters and numbers and writing.  We made art projects.  We did worksheets left over from my classroom.  Katherine loved this and most of the time I did, too.  But when Rachel came home, I was tired.  And less patient.  And not very enthusiastic.  And Rachel wasn't exactly a sit-and-do-workbooks-quietly kind of kid.  Like mothers of second children everywhere, I felt a little guilty about this.  But then I realized that Rachel knew her letters and numbers and everything else, even though I had not taught her.  Katherine had.  So I let go of the guilt and turned Rae's academic life over to her teachers at school and to her big sister.  It's worked out quite well.  Rachel is happy to sit and work with Katherine and Kate is delighted to teach.  I occasionally suggest to Kate that she work on some skill with Rachel and it is immediately taken care of.  (In May, I mentioned that Rachel needed to work on writing her name over the summer.  Two days later, Rachel was happily printing her name perfectly, except for an excess of arms on the E.)

Rachel likes playing school and Katherine loves it.  She's always looking for an opportunity to be in charge and playing school is an excellent chance.  She's kind of a bossy teacher, but she is thorough.  And she takes it very seriously.  This fall I realized that not only was she teaching Rachel, she was actually making lesson plans!  And she was making her own worksheets and art projects.  And boy, are they amazing!  Here is a sample:
These worksheets awe me with their creativity.  And it's clear that Teacher Kate is pretty strict - I wouldn't dream of talking Rachel into doing all of this.  But Kate does give lovely rewards.  And she makes sweet art projects.

I guess being surrounded by teachers tends to rub off on you.  I hope that the enthusiasm for playing school continues for years to come.  I'd happily let Katherine teach Rachel the times tables and how to diagram sentences and certainly how to divide fractions.  And I think Kate just might to a better job of it than I would.  But for now, I'll just eavesdrop on the classroom in the bedroom and see what's the lesson for today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mud Pie

After we sent Rachel home from the Bluegrass Festival, Katherine and I took another stroll through the craft booths and spent some time looking closely at the fiddles, hammered dulcimers, and guitars for sale.  Then we moved out to the hill to listen to some music.  Katherine's friend Owen asked if she could play and I sent them off to entertain themselves.  That was the beginning of an afternoon of pure childhood joy...
It started out innocently enough.  Just a couple of kids wandering around chatting.  Then it progressed to digging "snake holes".
But the kids kept casting glances my way, seeing if anyone was REALLY watching...
...because there was a huge mud puddle near by that was just too tempting to ignore.
Owen's mom and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.  Sometimes kids just need to be kids.  Especially when mud is involved. 
And that was when the real fun began. 
When I saw the kids slapping mud onto the tops of these poles, I had to go investigate.
It turns out that they were molding bowls for their mud soup.  They were "chefs" and were preparing a feast...
...complete with dishes, spoons, and soup.
Other kids came and joined them for periods of time.  Lots of adults stopped to admire their creativity. Or just to stare in shock and wonder what kind of parent let their kids play in mud.
But I just saw a couple of delighted kids who will never forget their afternoon making mud pies.  (And despite an hour and a half of mess, their hands were the only parts of them that were filthy!)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Day at Bluegrass

The girls and I went to the Bluegrass Festival yesterday. 
The festival is one of my favorite places.  There are craft vendors, instrument vendors, music vendors, crafstpeople at work (as in making bowls from wood, potters, spinners, and weavers), kids' activities, food vendors, and a whole lot of tie dye.  And the music!  There are 4 official stages running live performances from 10 AM to midnight and people jamming together in out-of-the-way spots everywhere.  Spending a day at the festival is a way to fill your soul...

I first went to the Bluegrass Festival when I was in college and have been back most years since.  8 years ago, Steve and I roamed the festival grounds proudly showing off pictures of our soon-to-be baby girl, so excited we practically floated.  3 years ago, we all missed the festival because we were in China spending our first days with Rachel.  I've taken both girls the past couple of years, but there was a lot of whining and bickering and I was quickly ready to send them home.  But this year?  This year was perfect!

The weather was cool and cloudy, but it never rained, it didn't get too cold, and we never had to worry about getting sunburned.  And the girls were just happy to be there.  We started off the day by tie-dying bandanas.
We shopped for hairbows.  We had a snack.
The girls ran up and down a hill for entertainment.
And we listened to music.  Lots of music, some new and some so familiar we could sing along.
Of course, there was plenty of time for silliness!
We found Robie and Brandon and listened to some Irish music with them.  Rachel wouldn't dance, because she was sitting on Brandon's lap.  She has a HUGE crush on Uncle Brandon!
Eventually, Rachel went home to take a nap.  She really didn't protest much, because she was worn out!  But she though the festival was terrific fun.
Katherine had some adventures with mud later in the afternoon.  But that will have to wait for another post...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gotcha X 3

Today we are celebrating 3 years of Rachel!  On September 14, 2009 we first met our Rachel Fu Shen...
That was a hard day for everyone - such grief and fear and pain mixed with joy.  Probably the most emotional day of my life and maybe everyone else's.  But time has dimmed the hardest parts and now we see this day as pure celebration.  This was the day buzz-haired, chubby-legged, funny, determined Fu Shen joined our family and became Rachel.  And she has made us laugh every day since!

After her intense grief that first afternoon, Rachel, in what we would learn would be classic Rachel style, decided to make the best of things.  She looked around, saw that we appeared to be her new reality, and prompty claimed us as hers.  She has loved us fiercely ever since.  Her bravery never ceases to amaze me.  This morning, as we looked at pictures from the original Gotcha Day, Rae pointed at the photos and announced "That was the day you got me.  And then I was yours FOREVER!  You were my FAMILY!" 

Rachel has changed our lives more than we could have ever imagined.  She has made all of us more adventurous, more outgoing, more determined.  And she has made sure that our home is full of laughter and dancing and great enthusiasm.  She can be exasperating, but she always makes us smile.  And we are better people because of her. 

On Gotcha Day at our house, the designated girl receives a gift of something we bought in China.  Rachel's present today was a little silk and bamboo parasol.  I think it was a hit!
Happy Gotcha Day, Rachel!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Our First Glimpse

Eight years ago today (has it really been 8 years?????) we first heard Katherine Guo Dan's name and saw her sweet little face.  We had longed to be parents for years and even after we began the adoption process, I never was sure that it would really happen.  But on Monday, September 13, 2004 it suddenly became real.  And we were overjoyed! 

Yang Guo Dan was 7 1/2 months old that day and living in an orphanage in Yangjiang, China.  We wouldn't see her in person for another six weeks, but starting that day we were parents.  I remember studying that photo (we printed off dozens of them and plastered them all around the house and our clsasrooms) and wondering what she was like, who she would grow up to be.  We showed that picture to everyone we knew (and probably some we didn't) and people were gracious enough to agree that our Katherine was gorgeous.  All we had was a photograph, but we poured our hopes and dreams and all of our love into it.  This was our baby.  Ours!  And soon, but not soon enough, we would hold her in our arms.

Eight years later, every time I look at that picture I remember the very first time I saw it.  I imagine that photo will be prominently displayed in my house for the rest of my life!  I still think my Katherine is beautiful and I still look at her and wonder who she will grow up to be.  Judging from the past 8 years, I'm pretty certain she'll be amazing.  Because she was in that first photo and has been ever since.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Music Crawl

We went to a Music Crawl this eveing.  The city blocked off a street, set up tables, and had a cookout. With music.
There were trolley rides...
...and lots of food...
...and some great music.
The girls thought it was all terrific fun!
Musicians were set up all around town, giving free concerts.  We didn't continue the "crawl", but it would be a lot of fun.  I love my little town!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Why September Is Special

The second full week of September is always an exciting time around our house.  Katherine's referral came that week, the day we first heard her name and saw her sweet little face.  Rachel joined our family that week.  (We flew to China three years ago today!)  And this is always the week our town hosts a huge bluegrass festival, so the whole community is throwing a party.  There is music in our hearts for many reasons.

Today was Bluegrass Sunday at our church.  It's one of the best Sundays of the year! (And for all of you who think bluegrass is just duelin' banjos, the Bluegrass Festival has banjos, but also folk, "old time", cowboy, and my favorite - Celtic music.)  A loosely organized group from the festival campgrounds showed up to play hymns and Irish jigs and reels during the service.
The children's moment included instructions on how to play the slinky!  While not exactly a traditional instrument, it turns out that you can keep time with a slinky and it makes a cool sound.
Rachel thinks every Sunday should be Bluegrass Sunday!
After church there was an enormous potluck dinner.  Then the musicians started up again, amid much laughter and some dancing.
Our dear friend Roger took Rae right in the middle of the musicians for some true surround sound.  The banjo player even held out his banjo and let her try it out!
Katherine got more lessons in slinky playing.
And someone passed out egg shakers for the younger kids.
The music was happy and infectious and made you want to dance.  And Rachel knows that when your heart is full, you just gotta dance!
This time of year brings back such sweet memories for me.  And every September adds more.

I love birthdays!

the ladybug cake

The Ladybug Sisters


Jie Jie and Mei Mei

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Peeking through the windows

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Katherine and her toothless smile

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
The little one leads the way