Sunday, August 31, 2008

Back to School Bunch

Summer has been great and all, but these days everyone is really ready for school to start on Tuesday. (And by "everyone," of course, I mean "Mom.")

Preschool can't start soon enough for Luke...he's been climbing the walls for days.

And if the teacher needs help locating hidden chocolate chips, Luke will be a star student.

Sam's favorite subject will undoubtedly be snacktime...

...or dress-up.
(In this shot, Sam has been dressed by Emily who wishes she had a little sister. She calls him "Savannah." His father is thrilled.)

It's unfortunate that Auto Shop is not offered for 4th graders.

The highlight of Jake's week was taking apart our neighbors' broken vaccuum cleaner.

Just in the nick of time...Em lost a front tooth.

Which everyone knows guarantees her some serious social status the first day of 2nd grade.

Best of luck to all the back2schoolers!

Tune in next week for a photo of Mom turning cartwheels behind the school bus.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Seven Questions...Bloglove

Blogging can be fun, entertaining and educational. It can also be addictive and sometimes distracting. How do you balance real-life with cybertainment? What makes a blog so entertaining anyway?

D-Dawg (Denae in real life) is a long-time blogger who seems to have a few of the answers. Her blog is highly entertaining and completely random. A great mix of funny observations on life along with lots of deeply inspiring thoughts. Plus cute shots of her blogogenic family.
You never know what you are going to get when you click into D-Dawg's world...and that's what makes it so fun!

Here are Denae's thoughts on blogging with boundaries...

#1--I know you've been blogging for a long time. How and why did you get started? Did you ever think you'd have SO many readers and make so many new friends?
I started blogging almost 3 years ago. It was a cold winter’s day in Utah where I was visiting my techno-savvy brother. After a deliciously satisfying turkey dinner, he said to me, “Sit down and start a blog.” He handed me his laptop and the rest is history.

At the time I didn’t even know what a blog was and I didn’t know anyone else who blogged, so I had no idea that I would make friends, or meet new people, or have so much fun with it!

#2--What are the pros of sharing your life on a weblog? How about the cons?
I like to pretend that I am writing this blog for posterity and/or to keep a record of my family, but really, it is all for me. It is my thoughts, my place to vent, my hobby, my break from the real world, my pictures and my entertainment.

The pros are (I won’t lie) getting comments from so many fun and interesting people, getting a good laugh from commenters, hearing others’ opinions, advice and experiences, keeping a record of my daily life that I know I’ll go back and read many times, feeling supported through struggles, and hearing from random people from my life who read my blog and enjoy it-- I love that. There are so many pros!!

The cons are worrying about privacy/safety, and trying to keep up on so many great blogs. That part is hard.

#3--How do you decide what to post? Are there topics or experiences you consider off-limits? What do you think makes a good post?
Whenever there is a thought stuck in my mind for more than a day I have to write about it. I usually sit down and post something at night and whatever has been on my mind all day is what you get!

There are definitely topics that are off limits. I would tell you what they are, but I can’t talk about them because they are off-limits.

I think a good post is short and sweet with a great picture to go along with it. Also, I love lighthearted posts that make me laugh. I have definitely written my share of serious posts, and I love thought-provoking ones, too, but really my favorite are the funny ones!

#4--When you are tapping away on your keyboard, who are you writing for? Yourself? Your children? Friends? Who is your imagined audience? How does that affect what you say?
When I am typing away I am actually thinking of no one in particular. I’m just getting it out! I’m sure sometimes I write for someone else, but mostly it is just for me. It’s my therapy.

When I’ve written about my miscarriages and baby woes I’ve definitely thought of the women who have emailed me and shared their stories. So many women have reached out to me and helped me so much through this! I think about them a lot and hope that I can help someone like they’ve helped me.

#5--What are the best "techno tricks" you have discovered for making your blog more interesting?
As far as techno-tricks go, I like to keep my sidebar and blog simple so it’s easy to load. I love my label cloud and I love messing around with new headers, but that is about it! Oh wait, I also love to make blurb books. It takes a little time, but is so worth it.

#6--What three pieces of advice would you give to someone who is just starting her own blog?
For someone just starting out:
*Do not use your full first and last name as the URL.

*Find your own blog personality. Don’t copy or try to be someone else. Do what you want to do for yourself, and don’t worry about who will like it. If you like it, that’s all that matters!

*Write for yourself and let it all out. Honesty and openness helps and heals everyone involved. I often think about this quote from Gordon B. Hinckley "You will have significant experiences. I hope that you will write them down and keep a record of them, that you will read them from time to time and refresh your memory of those meaningful and significant things. Some may be funny. Some may be significant only to you. Some of them may be sacred and quietly beautiful. Some may build one upon another until they represent a lifetime of special experience." That’s what I think a blog should be.

#7--How often do you work on your blog? How do you balance your cyberlife with the real world?
I work on my blog usually once a day, at night when my kids are in bed. My goals are to not be on the computer when my kids are home from school, and to hang out with my husband for a while every night.

Also, I try not to blog on weekends. Let’s face it, people, there are too many blogs out there to keep up! I only read people I like. If a blog doesn’t make me feel good, I don’t read it. And I only comment sometimes. Please forgive me for not commenting on every post. I have to put my real family first, even though I love my blogging family too!

P.S. I am not perfect at my goals.

But D-Dawg! That's exactly why we all love you...

If you are new to Planet Earth and have not yet read Denae's blog, click here. Posts like this one will keep you coming back.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What I Do Not Have:

  • Baby Bjorns and Snugli sacks

  • Cans of Enfamil and a dishwasher full of rubber nipples

  • 247 cloth diaper burp-rags

  • Baby monitor, Desitin, mylicon drops

  • Jogging stroller, umbrella stroller, Peg Perego stroller, snap-n-go stroller

  • Baby Einstein DVDs and lullaby recordings

  • A sweet-smelling, milk-loving, shoulder-warming teeny-beany

What I Do Have:

  • Cicada exoskeletons and a broken wasp's nest

  • Bottles of Gatorade and a dishwasher full of Ikea plasticware

  • 247 unmatched greying tube socks

  • Gameboys, Legos, a Batman cape

  • Hot Wheels, training wheels, Heely wheels, broken wheels

  • Superhero DVDs and Jonas Brothers recordings

  • A sister with a sweet-smelling, milk-loving, shoulder-warming teeny-beany

This post is dedicated to the love of my life, the girl who will seamlessly and selflessly trade her Bumble & bumble for Johnson & Johnson, who will say goodbye to Williams-Sonoma and hello to Fisher-Price, and who will avoid all parenting mistakes because her big sister has already made them.

Congratulations, Dan and Marta. Welcome to the Land of Boy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

...and you get a free weapon when you're done!

Why do I post recipes on my blog?

Mostly because there's a pretty good chance one of the kids will burn my house down and I don't want to lose them!

I got this recipe from an old Oprah magazine and it's definitely worth saving from the fire...the marinated chicken alone is delicious, but the satay dipping sauce really puts it over the top.

Chicken Lollipops with Peanut Butter Dip
(inspired by Ina Garten)

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
8 chicken breasts , halved, skinned and boned
Marinate chicken overnight in above ingredients. Then grill, slice and skewer.
Satay Dip:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic , minced
1 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot (or a few shakes of ginger powder)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup ketchup
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, gingerroot and red pepper flakes 10 minutes, or until onion is softened. Whisk in vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup and lime juice, and cook 1 minute longer. Cool to room temperature and serve with chicken.

After-dinner swordfighting is optional.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some Enchanted Evening

Poop? What poop? At the pool? What pool? Kids? What kids?

I didn't have to wait for Mother's Day. My wedding anniversary celebration was better than Mother's Day. (Actually, I'm pretty sure it was better than the wedding day itself
...much better hair, at least.)
We left the kids and hopped a train to NYC. And, you know, sitting uninterrupted for an hour with my book and my Luna bar woulda been celebration enough.
(But let's just keep that our little secret, shall we?)

Next stop, the Manhattan temple. So peaceful. So lovely. So perfect.

Followed by dinner at Tavern on the Green in Central Park,
where we ate in the shade of this tree...

...and finished our meal with the quintessential New York dessert.

And the grand finale...

a Broadway musical!

Girls, you know your husband really loves you if he willingly forks over a small fortune to sit in the nosebleeds of the Lincoln Center for a stageful of singing sailors.

And, you know, there is really only ONE way to show him your appreciation...

chase him around, singing a medley of his favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein hits, of course!
(I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guy...)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parable of the Cactus Flower

About 6 years ago, Brad found this funky thing growing in a corner of our backyard. (Did you know that wild cactus grows in the Northeast? Neither did I.) Well, instead of hacking at her with a garden spade (as I would've done) or casually throwing her away, he dug her up gently and gave her a little pot home. He watched her and watered her and even brought her along when we got a new backyard. He brings her inside every winter and has upgraded her living accomodations several times.

Although I have tried to get rid of this thorny sister and although several children have, unfortunately, needed duct tape to remove her tiny spines from tender fingers, my husband is loyal to his prickly princess.

And I think she likes him too.

Just look at the bloom she offered up this spring.

Eighteen years ago, I put my life in the hands of this green-thumbed gardener. He loves me in spite of my prickly days and brings me in from the cold. He sees beauty instead of coarseness and waits patiently for me to bloom.

Happy Anniversary, Babe!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Seven Questions...For a Bookworm

Introducing Holly--"Marathon Bird"--as she is known in certain circles. She is one of my all-time favorite cyberstops. I thoroughly enjoy her cheerful outlook on life, her lovely Texas home and her thoughts on faith and family. (Not to mention the darling haircut...isn't she adorable!?)

Holly writes openly about her international adoption, her weight loss and running successes and--always interesting to me--her passion for books.

So today, let's imagine that we are all sitting at the Barnes & Noble Cafe, low-cal beverages in hand, while sharing the most decadent of desserts. Pull up your chair and get Holly's thoughts on finding a great read...

#1--What are your memories of becoming a "reader"? Were you a bookworm from childhood or did one certain book or author convert you later in life?
I don't have a clear memory of becoming a reader, once I learned to read, it was just what I did. My mom was a bookworm and nurtured my interest. I recently read A Girl Named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel and totally related to how she described her mother attached to their couch, surrounded by books. That was my mom too, except with a glass of Coke beside her.

I remember always having books around me when I was little and my mom reading to me. Going to the library, either at school or our local library, was such a thrill. I loved the Little House on the Prairie books, Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary...eventually Judy Blume.

#2--I know it's hard to choose favorites, but if you could only pick five books to take to that infamous "deserted island"...which would they be?
Does this deserted island have comfy lounge chairs, tall glasses of iced tea and waiters that resemble Patrick Dempsey? I am so there. I think I would bring To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner. You were right, that was hard to choose. Now I'm second guessing myself...

#3--Where are your favorite comfortable reading spots? How do you organize your library?
I love to read snuggled in bed, propped up with pillows and a mug of coffee on my nightstand. Ideally, there would also be a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. A girl can dream, right? Really though, I'm not too picky. I always bring my book of the moment any place there might be time to kill, like my daughter's ballet class or gymnastics. I do try to look up every now and then with a smile and a "Good job, sweetie!"

Organize my library?? Seriously?? People do that? Well, we have bookshelves upstairs on our landing that I have tried to arrange from time to time and keep certain authors or styles together. Dewey Decimal I am not, though. Don't forget about my nightstand "area".

#4--Tell us about your online bookclub. How can we participate?
I know a lot of people are involved in book clubs that get together regularly at each other's homes. I think that is wonderful, but am not a part of one. In an effort to spread a little book love and blog love I started the Bodacious Bloggity Book Club. We read a different book each month, each write his or her own blog post, then link the posts at my blog (like a blog carnival). Anyone interested is welcome to participate, the more the merrier!

#5--How do you go about selecting good reading material? Do you buy or borrow? Any favorite stores or websites?
I am always on the prowl for books. I love getting recommendations from friends. I always want to know what people are reading (it's my bandwagon personality--I don't want to miss out on anything, even though I know I'll probably never have the time to read everything that I would like to). I have enjoyed so much and have discovered lots of books I may never have stumbled across.

Much to my wallet's dismay, I buy most of my books. When the book bug bites, I have a hard time resisting. I usually order from Amazon or go to Barnes and Noble. My favorite bookstore is Half Price Books, since the prices are good and they buy back books.
I do visit the library too and borrow from friends. I enjoy passing my books along to friends and love to share.

#6--What are you doing to help your daughter develop a lifelong love of reading? Any suggestions for other moms out there?
I guess I have kept her pretty much surrounded by books since we brought her home from Moscow. Read, read, read! We try to read together during the day and at bedtime. She has easy access to her books not only in her room, but throughout our home, and enjoys "reading" them when the mood strikes her. We also visit the library every few weeks. We progressed from reading aloud board books, to picture books, and now chapter books. She has loved listening to the Little House series.

I think it's important that she sees me read, too. She knows that I love to read, but not just because I have told her.

What is so wonderful about books is that there are so many different types and subjects. Find out what your child is interested in and look for a variety of books on that topic. Keep looking for the one that creates a spark. Do an activity that relates to the book with your child. So many authors have websites, maybe have your child send an email or a letter to the author. Imagine their excitement when the author responds! After a book has been read, then watch the movie together and talk about both. Don't forget about audiobooks too--great for car trips.

#7--What about your friends who are "non-readers"? How would you encourage them to start enjoying the printed page? Any titles you would suggest for those who think reading is boring?
I know that everyone is different, but it seriously hurts my heart when someone says they don't like to read or haven't read a book since school. I could not imagine NOT reading. I talk about some of the books I read with my friends, I thrust books upon them, I heap praise and encouragement on their heads when they read. I hold out hope that they will convert.

A friend of mine recently discovered Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series and was instantly hooked. She has always said she is not a reader, but now she is making time to do it and enjoying herself. My heart is full.

Good books and good advice! Thanks so much, Holly!

Visit Holly @ her MarathonBird blog. It is worth the trip.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Next Mother's Day I Better Get Something Really Good


There needs to be some form of compensation for the mother whose 4-year-old notices, a little too late, that his oatmeal/blueberry breakfast is kicking in and proceeds to drop trou and make a poolside deposit-- in full sight of at least 85 other people. The mother who somehow manages to scoop it all up into her own personal beach towel, while hustling the oldest to the men's room with the offender, calming her other two delightedly disgusted children and apologizing profusely to the lifeguards as they disinfect the entire pool deck. The mother who pretends not to notice the shocked looks and whispers of E.Coli and Did you see? And all this as she is sucking in her stomach, wondering if last year's Lands End suit is honestly offering enough coverage from behind.


A Hallmark card is just not going to cut it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Great Outdoors

While on our month-long vacation, I realized that I didn't even miss my house or my car or my wardrobe.

In fact, the only thing I really missed was my backyard!

(Do you have an Airpogo? Best toy ever...)
Our last home was brand-new, really cute and in a great neighborhood. But it had a lousy backyard.

So...we moved.

And it has been a beautiful thing.

Because, in case you hadn't noticed, my kids are the "outdoor" type!

They need wide, open spaces.

And, although I prefer a comfy couch and air-conditioning...I'm learning to get my hands dirty, too.

My kids aren't the only wildlife back there...
A good backyard is worth a few bucks!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Babes with Books

Six years ago my life was very different. I had only two small children, a tidy home and a young, strong body. Autism and twins were things that happened to other people and, basically, I had life figured out.

As you know, my life has changed a lot in the past six years. But one thing has stayed the same and kept me going through some of my darkest days. My book club.

We started over six years ago and have met faithfully, once a month, hardcovers in hand and opinions to share.

Over the years we've read lots of great books and shared personal stories, as well. The group is large and fluid. A few of the "original" bookbabes remain, with a whole cast of others rotating in and out. Nothing fancy. Each hostess chooses a book for the month (fiction or factual, contemporary or classic), sets the date and serves refreshments.

Last night we gushed over Jane Austen and strawberry cake. Next month is my turn to host and I've picked something completely different. In October, we'll each research a political candidate or issue and share our findings in preparation for election day. It's like being in school, minus the boring teachers and term papers. I love it!

Although I can't remember all the titles, here are some of the books we've read over the years.

Gift from the Sea--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Poisonwood Bible--Barbara Kingsolver, A Long Way Gone--Ishmael Beah, The Westing Game--Ellen Raskin, I Capture the Castle--Dodie Smith, A Girl Called Zippy--Haven Kimmel, Power of One--Bryce Courtenay, These is my Words--Nancy Turner, The Diary of Mattie Spenser--Sandra Dallas, The Lovely Bones--Alice Sebold, The Wednesday Letters--Jason F. Wright, Warriors Don't Cry--Melba Pattillo Beals, Train to Potevka--Michael Ramsdell, Escape from China--Zhang Boli, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister--Gregory Maguire, The Wedding--Nicholas Sparks, Snowflower and the Secret Fan--Lisa See, Five People You Meet in Heaven--Mitch Albom, Three Cups of Tea--Greg Mortenson, Leap of Faith--Queen Noor, The Runaway Quilt--Jennifer Chiaverinni, John Adams--David McCullough, The Birds' Christmas Carol--Kate Douglas Wiggin, I am a Mother--Jayne Clayson Johnson, A Woman of Egypt--Jehan Sadat

What's your bookclub reading?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I really need to chill.

I have summer vacation burnout.

With the Western States Tour taking four weeks to complete (not counting one week to prep and one week recovery)...the flurry of social obligations, church responsibilities and medical appointments since returning the everyday overwhelmingness of keeping four children fed, clothed and educationally entertained all day...I am seriously exhausted.

And, of course, Michael Phelps has been keeping me up way past my bedtime.

So, this afternoon, I am hiding out in my personal little igloo. Do not disturb. It's "rest time."

Do you do rest time at your house? My mother was ridiculously religious about it, but of course now I see her wisdom and try to keep up the tradition, at least a few days a week.

These are the rules:
  • every person must be in a separate room with the door closed
  • children may play quietly or read
  • napping is optional (actual sleeping is generally discouraged, as it interferes with my other favorite tradition...7 o'clock bedtime!)
  • and, most importantly, LEAVE MOM ALONE

So...right now:

  • one child is listening to a book on CD
  • one has opened her own American Girl beauty shop
  • one is snoring here beside me, blue blankie clutched tight
  • one is begging entrance to the American Girl beauty shop, while being ignored by everyone else

And I am doing fifteen minutes of nothing, fifteen minutes reading my latest, and fifteen minutes sharing the igloo-love with all of you.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seven Questions...Healing the World

Sometimes you have to take a step back to see the heroes who are standing right beside you.

Meet my sister-in-law, Cami. For years I have envied her natural beauty and quirky humor, her flawless scrapbooks and her killer homemade salsa. But only recently have I become aware that she is a world-class humanitarian...making a difference in the lives of people who need her most.

Here's her amazing story...

1. Briefly describe what your family is doing for African refugees. How did you get started?
In October of last year, we packed up 20 backpacks with supplies and food, planning to distribute them among homeless people in downtown Phoenix. Then I read an article about some African refugees who had an apartment fire and lost everything.

We took the items to the resettlement agency and were shocked to find hundreds of refugees from around the world have been resettled here. We went to meet some of them and were hooked right away!

The kids are beautiful and charming and the adults appreciated some attention. The friends we met had only been here one month . They had very limited English, were lonely and obviously confused with our culture.

We started shopping garage sales for bicycles, clothing, shoes, and books. The first bike we delivered was to Sophonie, who was (and still is) our favorite refugee. When we gave him a nearly-new bike, you would've thought we had handed him the keys to a new Mercedes! He was thrilled and excited. It was an awesome feeling. Something so little meant so much to him.

2. What is the greatest need these people have? How can others help?
Initially, they really needed clothing and household goods because they were set up with only bare-minimum necessities.

A little background: The families we spend time with are from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), who fled to neighboring Tanzania when the war came near their village. They spent 11 years in Mtabila Refugee Camp filled with thousands of other refugees. No electricity, no toilet, living in a very basic shelter packed with large families in one room and all sleeping on dirt floors. They applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

After many interviews and long waits, the families were resettled by The International Rescue Committee, a wonderful non-profit group operating all over the world (

With this group, the refugees receive a short orientation on our culture. Then they are given a job and have only 90 days to become self-sufficient.

Modern conveniences are a shock to these people. So, we familiarize them with light bulbs, screwdrivers, and thermostats. We focus strongly on friendship. We let them know they are welcome in America--that we are grateful they are safe now.

We also help them with English, take them to necessary appointments, explain public transportation and how to manage a bank account.

They really need patient friends who are willing to get down to basics with them.

3. How have you made this a family service project? What have your children learned from helping these people?
We committed to visit them regularly and we do not treat them as a charity case. We knew early on that we had made lifetime friends and we are very grateful.

My 11-year-old son, was pretty touched the first time we met them. He was nearly in tears after we took them some groceries and saw them dividing it up among the men and sharing it all. He thought it was amazing that REAL LIVE AFRICANS were living here in Phoenix!

My daughter was 3 and so, of course, she wanted all the girls (who were mostly dressed in boy clothes) to have pretty princess dresses and cute shoes. We cleaned out her closet and drawers, took books and toys and let her share them.

Our kids are now very aware that we are so lucky and that not everyone enjoys the luxuries we take for granted. My son commented, on his own, that he didn’t really need 3 skateboards, and then took one to his new friend, Elia. Now he teaches him skateboard tricks when we visit!

My husband, Ryan, teaches the men a lot. They ask him about his job, his car, and our home. They see him as an example of success in America and ask for his advice. Their drive and ambition inspire us so much.

4. What has been your most interesting experience? Any humorous stories?
Oh boy, there are many!

It’s interesting hearing them share their stories about life in Africa and the camps. When a family tells you their child died of a fever in the camp, or that their mother was killed in the war, it is so shocking. And yet, unfortunately, it is all too common for them.

There are a lot of funny moments, too. My trip with a refugee woman to her first ever OB/GYN appointment offered many uncomfortable moments as I tried to prepare her for the doctor and the process... but I won’t go into that!

The refugees think our “white man” hair is strange. They like to touch our heads and feel our hair.

Ryan had the funniest experience yet. He was loading our friends into the car, when a young Somalian boy stopped him. He asked Ryan why the Congolese family was in our car. Ryan said, "They are our friends and they are coming to our house." The boy told Ryan to be careful, then slowly walked away, motioning Ryan toward him.

Ryan followed and the boy warned, “Those people are from Congo. They speak Swahili. They EAT people. Be very careful!”. Ryan could hardly contain himself.

To this day, no one has tried to eat us!

5. How have you worked through cultural and language differences?
The language is tough. Swahili is hard to understand, but we are learning basic words and phrases. Their English improves every time we see them and we are so impressed. Many of them speak numerous languages and are very intelligent. Also, there is a language hotline I can call with a translator for doctor appointments, or other times I really need it.

One cultural difference, our friends explained that in Africa, you never refer to someone by name, only their relation. (So, I would not be “Cami”, I would be the “wife of Ryan”, or “sister of Brad”.) They explained this is taken so seriously, that the police would come if you referred to someone by name! We suddenly understood why they had been so hesitant to give us their names when were first collecting information.

Another difference is their culture is very open and inviting to all people. Children commonly come and go from different families’ apartments and everyone cares for each other, like a big family unit. (Very unlike America where many people have never met their neighbors!)

To be honest though, it seems to me, that we are more alike than different. The mothers love their children. The fathers want success for their families. The children laugh and giggle and play just like my kids do. We are really all the same-- just with different backgrounds, environments, culture, skin color and opportunities.

6. Has this service changed your political views? How does it make you feel about being an American citizen?
I’m so much more aware.

I’m grateful to have become more educated and very focused on the plight of the poor, the victims of war and rape, the millions of orphans due to AIDS, war and poverty. There are so many people on our planet without a voice and without a chance to escape their situation. You and I could have begun life in their circumstances, but we didn’t. We are comfortable and safe/ But as far as I can tell, we haven’t done anything to deserve that luxury other than being born on American soil.

I realize now just how self-centered and ridiculous our culture is. I despise much of the media simply because I have to search high and low to find information about The Congo, Africa, and refugees. Yet there’s no lack of breaking news about celebrity drama.

I didn’t realize how sheltered I was from things happening RIGHT NOW in the world. Specifically, the war in DRC, where more people have been killed than any other war since the Holocaust, but which is unknown to most of the world. The Congolese have been forsaken by everyone.

I am very aware now that we were ALL created as brothers and sisters of this world – no one bigger or better than the next. I love this quote by Virginia Woolf, “As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”.

I know that we are very blessed in America, and are therefore given the responsibility and opportunity to help those less fortunate, wherever they may be in this world.

Also, I've learned true gratitude. Until now, I’d never really stopped to be grateful for basics like clean water, plenty of food, medical care, education, choices and opportunity. It’s really quite amazing to watch someone experience these things for the first time.

7. As others read this and are inspired to help, how would you encourage them to find and help refugees in their own communities?
Refugees are being resettled in many large cities across the U.S. and in Europe. The first step is becoming aware of refugees in your community. Be open and kind to them. They have suffered beyond imagination and just need a smile and encouragement.

My husband and I both volunteer for The IRC as well as a small local agency. We’ve been told that many Iraqi families are going to be resettled soon. They have been displaced by the war--hiding in Jordan and Syria, where they are not welcome and cannot stay.

We also have a lot of Burmese refugees due to unrest in Myanmar (you may have heard about the mistreatment of the Myanmar junta towards the Burmese peasants after the recent cyclone). The Burmese families in Phoenix had been in refugee camps for 31 years (No, that is not a typo!) before coming here. Thirty-one years is my entire lifespan and I cannot comprehend the difficulties they face here in America.

I would say it’s most important to have compassion and understanding.

If you are interested in helping refugees, google “refugee resettlement” in your local area. Also, I recommend and check “where we work” for your local area. Some groups have a mentoring program in which you can be matched with a family. It’s an incredible opportunity!

P.S. A quick update on Sophonie, who received his first bike last year... He recently passed his driver's permit exam with flying colors and we have been giving him driving lessons. At 26 years old, he had never been behind the wheel of a car.

This last weekend, Sophonie paid $2,500 cash for his first car and we couldn’t be more proud. It’s a long, hard road for him and his family, but we feel like we’re witnessing a miracle.

Thanks, Cami! YOU are a miracle-maker. Love you!

Cami & Ryan are in the process of adopting a Congolese child and have just started a blog to document it all, check it out here.
To see Sophonie and his wife singing a “song about Jesus and peace”, go to )

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Observations From a 20-Year High School Reunion

    Michelle & Amber...two of my favorite high school friends
    1. The dorkier, goofier-looking, lamer you were in high school the better. People don't expect much from you and are surprised you have grown up to be a little less dorky, goofy-looking and lame.
    2. If you have an unusual name, people you have known since FIRST GRADE will still mispronounce it.
    3. Conventional wisdom is do not age better than women. All the 38-year-old females will look great. Only 5% of the men will even be recognizable.
    4. If you go to school in Utah, don't be surprised that your former classmate has THIRTEEN children (no twins, triplets, or step-children). And she will look great.
    5. Many people you meet will have given their children the same names you have chosen for yours. (Lots of "Lukes" were, after all, the Star Wars/Dukes of Hazzard generation!) One friend might even give her daughter YOUR name (the mispronounced version, of course).
    6. It is strangely thrilling to be in a room with 300 other people who are exactly your age and who grew up in your hometown. For this reason alone, you will feel an intense connection and love them all.
    7. Some things never change. The cute boy from your math class will not acknowledge your existence and the creepy guy from German II will hold your hand a little too long.
    8. The best revenge is to sit next to the hottest guy in the room. (Just don't let him know how lame and dorky you really are...)
    Sweet Revenge

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Liquid Miracle

    "See, Mom? If we drink this it will help us ride our bikes without training wheels!"--my four-year-old.

    "Yeah! And our wheels will even turn into lemons!"--my other four-year-old.

    Silly boys!

    There's no such thing as a miracle juice pouch...

    (However, they oughta SEE the miracles I can perform after a can of diet soda and a few peanut M&Ms...Wowza!)

    Monday, August 4, 2008

    How I Spent My Summer Vacation

    Oh, what a ride!

    Mountainside Memories

    Camping with the cousins

    Fireworks on the 4th

    Spa Weekend @ Snowbird

    (Thank you, sweet sitters!)

    Big Bad Birthday

    Pioneer Park

    Lotsa Water

    Family Fun in the Valley of the Sun

    (You just gotta love staying with a Nana whose house looks like this...

    ...but still let's the kids play with this!)

    Meeting Celeb-bloggers...



    Long-legged Lindsey & Pineapple Princess


    (They're all even better in person...)

    Fishin' with Papa

    Las Vegas Luxury

    (The kid-sized drinking fountain in the bathroom was a nice touch!)

    Park City Pleasures

    All dolled up for BHS 1988 Reunion

    We listened to this over and over...

    And the funniest book I read was this..

    Now, if you'll please excuse me, I need to spend a little time...

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