Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pat-a-Cake and we go again!

Well, we are almost at one month from our return from China. While we were away, we posted on (type in Shane Roberto). If you weren't able to follow our journey, feel free to catch up.
It has been quite a month, and our lives have changed significantly since October 12th when we first met Shane. We are now a family of 8!!! Do you have any idea how many gallons of milk that is a week? Don't think about it, it will exhaust you.
When we arrived home on October 23, we were greeted at the airport with our Mick, whom we flew home for the weekend. Mick's flight arrived just as we were getting our bags, and we had a wonderful weekend with all the kids. We didn't get much sleep, but we sure were happy to be home. The girls absolutely flipped over Shane, and he has been engulfed in hugs and kisses from the minute he came in the door.

As for the has it been hard. Matt and I have basically been doing shifts, in between swine flu, school working, and adjusting two kids to our time rather than China time. Shane has had a very tough time with the change in his life. We know it to be a better change, but this little guy has been thrown for a loop. He pretty much had little to no experiences in China that advanced his development. I know he was well-loved, and fed and taken care of, and I know his foster family cared for him. But it is so sad to think of how much time was lost, how much lack of sensory experiences have affected him... Anyway, we are moving forward, and not looking back.

It is now Saturday, November 21, and Shane had a good night's sleep, which means I had a good night's sleep! Wow, what a difference that makes. Besides that fact that I am too old for sleep deprivation: lack of sleep makes cowards of us all! There is no learning happening when you are exhausted. So, we are thrilled with any of the changes and advances Shane has made.

First of all, Shane loves to hum songs, and 'babble' the words. So, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star sounds like " Da da da da, da da da da, ga ga goo..." He loves it when we sing songs to him, and will stop his babbling and listen. The greatest thing is when he begins to hum new songs that we sing to him. The other day he hummed Row Row Row your Boat, and made the 'm' sounds with the right syllables for 'Merrily, Merrily'. Big, big, big.

Matt and I are overjoyed with what I call the 'glimmers' of change we are seeing. I describe it to people as a little boy, covered in cobwebs. We know he is there: we are not sure exactly who he is, or what he looks like completely, but we are slowly clearing the cobwebs to let him out. Good food, and lots of it, lots of milk and good things to drink, sleep, lots of hugs and kisses, sensory experiences, and stimulation are slowly showing us who he is. He brings us so much joy, and once again Matt and I are heading to the playground, and all of us are going around singing songs and playing 'pat-a-cake'.

We are slowly formulating a plan for Shane which includes Physical and Occupational therapy, which we will begin as an out-patient for CHOP, through our insurance. We want to give him a head-start on learning to use his body and muscles. He was never expected to feed himself with utensils, hold a cup, or walk very much. He walks very well, and has great mobility, but would rather hang on the floor, or be carried. He did not wear shoes, and we have to jump through hoops for him to wear them.

That being said, he now will hold a sippy cup with a handle, uses utensils with help, finger feeds himself appropriately, and helps getting dressed and undressed. He wears shoes when we are out, and usually leaves them on for a reasonable amount of time. He knows his name, and will turn to us when we say his name. He holds his arms up to be held, and is beginning to show anticipation when we are doing some fun game with him, like tickling, etc.

We have many many hurdles and obstacles, and lots of work ahead of us. But we are a united front, and we are so blessed to have the love and support of our kids and our extended family, and the resources for therapy and for school. We ask for your continued prayers and we know that without your prayers, we would have not been able to make it through. God's grace is leading the way, and we are following...bleary-eyed as we may be!

Adding some new pictures and video...enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Preparing for one more passenger

Many years ago, when Matt and I were looking to rent, and then eventually buy the house we live in now, we were debating whether or not is was big enough. We had finished our fertility 'work-up', I had had 5 surgeries, and we were preparing to adopt a child domestically. Looking around at the small two-bedroom Cape Cod home that we loved, I said to Matt "It's small, but it's not like we are going to have six kids."

If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.

So, with 26 days to go before we leave for China, we are keeping busy with the day to day activities that come with raising four girls here at home, checking in on Mick, and both of us working. Life is, to say the least, busy. Add to that packing for a two week trip to China, and getting things ready here for the girls to be all set with my parents, and we are pretty darn busy.

We have a little toddler bed for Shane for the time being, and right now he will sleep in the room with the girls, until we get more rooms finished. Our two bedroom home is now a three bedroom home, complete with a second floor addition. Now we are working on putting bedrooms downstairs to spread out even more. It is busy, and hectic, and sometimes crazy, but we love it and wouldn't have it any other way...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New year, new school

Well, the school year officially began yesterday for Sophie. We made an unexpected, but blessed change for her. Last year Sophie was in Pre-K, this year 1st grade to reflect her amazing growth both physically (nine inches in one year!) and academically. We found out in the summer that the Catholic School for the Deaf had moved to a parish school very close to us. It was always our hope that 'someday' Sophie would be able to go to Catholic school, but we thought we would have to wait until high school.

Meanwhile, as we are preparing for Shane, we are hoping that he will be able to go to the Catholic school for the blind, which I am very familiar with with my work. Well, as God would have it, the Catholic school for the deaf has the same building as the Catholic school for the blind!Sophie and Shane will hopefully be going to the same school...albeit different programs, but same formation, same wonderful people. We are so blessed, and so grateful to God for this miracle in our lives. What are the chances that we adopt a blind child and a deaf child, and they can go to the same school!!!

Here is a great picture of Sophie dressed in her uniform. She loves wearing far!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sophie's saying something...

While I am recording, Sophie cannot see my lips, so she is not lip-reading. This is her talking, just listening to my voice. Sorry it is dark. And yes, her hair gets that curly!

It is just three months since her CI was activated...judge for yourself how she is doing!

Travel Approval for Shane!

Finally...we have travel approval! Our approval came last week, with a bit of delay (of course) because there is a holiday in October in China, and we can't travel before that as the province offices are closed. We were not happy with the delay, but it is what it is, and as we learned with Sophie's journey, the Plan is not ours, and there is a reason for it.

So, we should be traveling on October 9th, just five weeks away. We have lots to do to get ready, and Sophie starts school this week, which will keep her busy, and take her mind off the trip. She has already packed the books and toys I have for Shane...she is very excited about going. Since she loves Chinese food, and everything Chinese, she will love being there. She understands why we are going, and that we are going to a different place than what she remembers. It will be fascinating to see her back in China...and able to hear.
She is doing very well with her CI... amazing, really. She can hear little things like the microwave beeping, the phone ringing, and can mimic our speech patterns and inflections. Can you say 'miracle'? What fun, what a blessing, to be a witness to the grace of God on a daily basis. We are so grateful.

Here is a video of Sophie...a little dark, but you can hear her voice.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Finishing up our vacation...we had to cut it short to drive to Vermont to take Mick to school. Boo Hoo! We miss him already. But he is doing well, looking forward to starting Rescue, and he finished his EMT training this summer so he will be a senior member of the squad.

We vacation with another family...they have five kids as well...the group shot is the whole gang..and Terry and I cook for the whole crowd! We have an absolute ball, lots of laughs, and jst in time to get ready for school starting in a week and a half for the high school girls, after Labor Day for Sophie and Shannon.

Waiting any second now for a travel approval. Once we get it, we will have an idea when we are traveling, as in a targeted date for travel. They then ask for a Consulate Appointment and when we get that, we are set to book our flights.

It has been such a long road waiting for Shane, I can't believe we are on the last leg of the journey, but I won't believe it until we are actually home with him. Stay tuned... hopefully this week we will know our plans.

Friday, July 31, 2009

One step closer

Well, we are waiting for the UPS truck, or the Fed Ex truck, to pull up to our house and deliver the LOA, or "Letter of Acceptance" which was signed on Tuesday in China, and is en route to us. Once the LOA arrives, Matt and I will sign it, and next-day it to Maryland, who will then send it off to China again. At that point we wait for TA or Travel Approval, and then a CA, consulate appointment. (Are you confused yet?) Once we get the CA we can book our flights. The bottom line is that we are somewhere around 6 to 8 weeks from traveling. I know that sounds like a long time to most of you, but it sounds like minutes after waiting two years for Shane.
At this point, we can begin to put things in order for what we will need. We went to China in February last time, so our suitcases will be packed very differently traveling in September or so! No winter coats, gloves, sweatshirts! Truthfully, it was not all that cold in China when we were there, and I hate the heat...ugh. But, Matt and I are traveling with Sophie, and are planning on laying low with tours and traveling around the city where we go.
Because Shane is now in foster care, and has not been in the orphanage for more than a year, we are not planning a trip there this time. For Sophie, the orphanage visit was important and meaningful as she knew the people well who had cared for her. Shane will not remember the orphanage or the people there, and the trip is two hours from the province capital. As it is, two days before that he will have traveled two hours to come to us, so we don't need to put him through that.
We are expecting a more difficult time with Shane's transition than we had with Sophie. Because he has been with his foster family for a while, we will be taking him away from the only family he has known. (He was brought to the orphanage at 7 months) Added to the trauma, we will not be familiar to him at all, will not speak his language, etc. To help to buffer this for him, last week we sent him a tape player, lots of batteries, and a tape of songs and one of Matt and I talking to him, singing to him, and reading him stories. Our hope is that by hearing our voices, he will have some comfort that he has heard them before, and was told that we were his family and would love him and care for him. In addition, I wrote him a letter, which will be translated into Chinese by the agency liaison, and I Brailled the letter for him to have to 'see' the words we sent to him. I so hope this help. In any event, we are prepared for the grieving process that is so common for children who are adopted internationally. And then again, Sophie will be there, and she will be all over him with love and hugs and kisses!!! Hearing her laugh, it is very hard to stay sad!
Keep checking in. Once we get closer to traveling, I will route you to a new site to follow our journey as it is an easier site to download pictures and info in China. (You cannot use blogger in China...imagine that)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

" I want to say 'I Love You"

Yesterday when Sophie and I were talking about going back to China to get Shane, she asked to see her pictures from China. We pulled them up from the computer, and she looked at them one by one. She so enjoyed them, with an added bonus: She had her CI processor on, so for the first time, she heard her voice, and ours from the speakers. She laughed hysterically at her screaming, which was all she did back then. One of the videos (you can see them on was Matt playing around with her in the hotel room. At one point he said, "Say thank you, Baba' and Sophie just said something unintelligible. Watching the video, she laughed and said "I didn't know 'thank you'"
Then she saw the pictures of the orphanage visit, and she was very intrigued, and told me lots of things about the kids there..specific details (in sign) about the kids and their personalities.
Sophie had a very special nanny who loved her very much. The two of them clung to each other, and we all sobbed when we pulled Sophie out of this young girls' arms. When she saw her favorite nanny, she asked if she could go back to China. She signed "I want to say 'I Love You".
Something tells me she wants to tell Sophie the same thing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Where's Sophie?"

Yesterday, Sophie was asking me when we are going to get Shane. She does this airplane thing, where she makes one hand the airplane, and the other the people getting on. She signs "Mom" " Dad" "Sophie" then flies off, and signs: Shane. She signed, "go, get Shane". I told her we were waiting, just like we waited for her, that we were ready, but we were waiting for the people in China to get the papers ready. Lots and lots of papers. She looked at me very solemnly and signed "Shane waiting, crying, saying 'Where's Sophie?' Pretty sure the bonding has already begun.

She is doing exceptionally well with her CI. From across the room, without her looking, she attempts to repeat words we say. If the words are familiar, she can do it no problem. Unfamiliar words she will try. Therapy is going well, and she is very much up for the challenge. She loves games, hates losing, so her therapist, Amy, stages just enough wins to keep her happy, and just enough losses for her to be motivated to do better next time.

Just heard form the agency today that they are waiting for one more signature before we get our LOA, which is the next approval before finding out when we travel. Once we get the LOA, travel could be 4-6 weeks away. Our prayer is to get Shane before his birthday August 28th, and for him to be home before Mick goes to school...please join us in this prayer.

Deo Gratia. A picture of Shane from Feb 08...we were in China getting Sophie, another adoptive family met Shane and took this picture. Thought you'd enjoy it.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

New Pictures!

Here they are! I was so thrilled when I got online yesterday and saw the new pictures of Shane! He looks so cute, getting big...and seems so happy. Waiting for an update on the status of our file. This agency was willing to look into how we are standing in line, as it were. Will post as soon as we hear anything.

Last night Sophie and I started making books for Shane. We did a numbers book, where we glued large buttons on each page, to represent the numbers one through ten. We did the numbers in puffy paint, and will add Braille today. She had a ball doing it! She is very excited about Shane, and is looking forward to going with Matt and I for the trip.

Have a good one.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Who knows where the time goes?

We have had a very busy few weeks! Last Tuesday, Matt and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary! He and I met in Avalon NJ, where I was working as a counselor at a summer home for blind children. We have had many challenges over the last 25 years, many of them medical challenges. But we have been so blessed, beyond measure, with the ability to handle these challenges with much prayer, and plenty of humor. Our goal has been to always have fun, to love and cherish each other, and to raise wonderful children. So far, so good!

Matt and I were able to get a way for two nights last weekend! That was so great, as we have not been away alone for years, and Saturday Matt totally surprised me with a little get-together with our family and a few friends to celebrate our anniversary. He and the kids got me out of the house (thanks to my parents) and put together a party, and I had no clue. Trust me, I needed to do food shopping, so there was nothing in the house when I left Saturday morning! Matt really wanted to show me how much they appreciate all I do by inviting the people who have helped and supported us all these years, to celebrate our marriage. My first-ever surprise party, not including my bridal shower. How lucky I am!

We are waiting for pictures of Shane! The agency emailed me that they have an update, including new pictures, and are waiting for them to be formatted before they can send them to us. Hopefully I will have them in a few days. He is about 35 lbs. now, and about 39 inches tall. We are on day 81 of 'the wait' for LOA or Letter of Acceptance. Hard to know when we will hear, but it could be any day...or it could be weeks and weeks from now. Sending up prayers, asking for more!

Sophie is doing VERY well with her CI. She has therapy two times a week, and basically is learning to use her hearing. Her audio gram shows that she can respond well to sounds, now she needs to learn how to use the hearing she has. It is an amazing process to see her brain working, and she is very motivated to talk, so this is right up her alley. The therapist is amazed, every time we see her, at what she can do.

Will post Shane's pictures as soon as we get them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A little help from our friends

As many of you who are familiar with international adoption know, it costs money. Lots of money. But money is never a deterrent for families who are determined to adopt, and while there is a lot of planning and saving, somehow the money comes. There are few people I know personally who have the money sitting around waiting to decide what to do with it, and then think about adoption. But for those of us who are called to adoption, we are so blessed with the miracles that happen, continually, to allow us to afford the fees associated with bringing our children home. And the truth is...once we see their faces, there is no thought to the adoption loans, penny-pinching, and budgeting that goes into making that happen.

Both with Sophie's adoption and now Shane, we have been blessed with the generosity of family and friends who are helping us to make the burden a bit easier. My family gave up presents from Nana and Pop Pop and my parents donated to our Kingdom Kids fund instead of buying presents for everyone. Friends from adoption groups, people I have never met, sent in checks and donations. We are so grateful to everyone who have helped us in any way. My dream is to someday start a foundation to enable families to adopt children who are blind or deaf, and to help educate parents as to what to expect when adopting a special needs child. (More to come on that)

A few weeks ago, a family of three precious girls, all adopted from China, whom we know from our elementary school, had a yard sale to help us raise money to bring Shane home. Each of these little girls knows first-hand what it means to live in an orphanage and to be brought home to live in a loving family. The girls are under the age of 10, and they raised $200.00 for Shane's adoption. The oldest, Lily, had a table where she sold toys, water bottles and soft pretzels. She was so thrilled to be able to help us. I truly cannot wait to be able to tell Shane about these little girls who gave of themselves to help him.

Hope you all have a great day. Another full week coming right up...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

We have had a busy few weeks...but then again, busy is relative! I always say that any day I am not taking one of my kids to a hospital for therapy or a surgery is a good day! That being said, in the last two weeks we had two medial appointments at DuPont and three therapy appointments. So, add to that a part/time (turning into full time job), five kids, too dogs (that is not a typo...when people ask me how many dogs we have I say ''too''....many!!!)
Sophie has now had two AV therapy appointments. We need to go to therapy twice a week so that she can learn to use her hearing. The CI is complicated, and just because it is on, it doesn't mean she hears everything, nor does she understand everything. No one is sure that she ever heard, but there are suspicions that she perhaps had hearing but lost it. Since we have no medical records, we will never know. Even her surgeon said that if she did hear before, many years ago, perhaps in her first year, she would have only heard Chinese speech, and not English. So, there is no reason they can figure out why she can imitate some English words. Another mystery with Sophie's name on it!
Her first therapy appointment started off with fidgeting, giggling, and general over-all not cooperating! It was a three o'clock appointment, and we had an hour drive to get there. The therapist showed Sophie which chair to sit in and she hopped up on the stool, strapped herself in, and promptly began rocking herself back and forth, alternately banging the table and the wall she was leaning against. Once we got her to stop rocking, therapy began.
The therapist, Amy, showed Sophie a game where she would make a sound ("EEE", "OOOO""", SHHH", etc) then Sophie would repeat that sound, and drop a marble into a bucket. Amy and I played a round so that Sophie would understand completely, and then it was her turn.
"EEE" Amy said, her hand covering her mouth so that Sophie could not read her lips.
"EEE", Sophie repeated, then dropped a marble into the bucket.
Amy's eyebrows raised slightly, and she glanced quickly at me. I could just read her thoughts. Must be a fluke. Lucky guess.
"OOO" Said Amy.
"OOO", repeated Sophie, promptly dropping another marble in with a firm kerplunk.
"MMM", another marble in.
"Shhh", difficult sound.
"Shh', a perfect imitation, another marble.
"SSS". Tough to get this one
"SSS, and Sophie drops another one, waiting for the next sound.
At this point, Amy stops and looks at me, her face incredulous.
"We were supposed to do this for a half hour," she says. "You don't understand, she shouldn't be able to do this so soon after her activation."
I laughed and told her "Welcome to working with Sophie. Buckle your seat belt and take notes...she is something!"
Amy then regrouped and found an activity that was challenging for Sophie and we were off and running. We are learning that while Sophie can approximate sounds to repeat, she needs to learn to develop an auditory memory. She has not learned things through her auditory parts of her brain. All of her learning (or most) has happened through her other senses. Now she needs to learn through her hearing only. This being said, she will rely on her signs for a long time, and sign will always be her first language. We are very committed to her continuing her ASL, since she will rely on this for difficult situations (large crowds, classes, etc). And there is truly no guarantee what will happen with the CI.
Therapy will continue two times a week...stay tuned.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Music and Prayers

Buckle your seat belts for this one...short and sweet, as we are heading out today for my nephew's high school graduation. Hard to believe it is one year since Mick's graduatin from the same school. Will is the last of the boys in the family (until Shane comes) and the fourth to graduate from the same all-boy's college prep school. Very cool.

We went to Mass last night since we are going to the graduation this morning. A wonderful woman from our parish plays the guitar at the 5:00 Mass and she is a retired teacher of the deaf (how cool is that?). She has, of course, taken a special liking to Sophie and has followed her progress. She was so excited for the activation. We came in to the church, and Cathy was already playing her guitar. We sat in the pew and I pointed to the guitar and told Sophie to listen. A smile lit up her face and she signed "I hear it!" All through Mass (when she wasn't fidgeting, laughing, and distracting the whole congregation) I would alert her to the music starting, the priest speaking, the readers speaking, etc. At the closing song "They will know we are Christians" Sophie burst into song (we sit right up front, near the music). She often sings when we go to Church, but this time, hearing the music, she was very excited. Cathy, looked at Sophie singing, and knew she could hear the music. Suddenly, the song went into instrumental only...Cathy could not sing for the tears streaming down her face....

From the very beginning, when we brought Sophie home, we showed her that we prayed before meals. Since she did not know many sings, and we prayed "Bless us Oh Lord" with an adapted sign language, which we still do today. When she learned enough signs to know the words, I tried to change our prayer to the actual signs, but she would have none of it.
On Friday night we all made homemade pizza, and each of the kids, including Sophie, made their own 'pizzone'. Sophie's was first to be out of the oven, and by the time we sat down to eat she had finished her prayers and wanted to eat. I told her to wait for all of us and she signed she had already prayed. We all said the prayer, and she was a bit impatient, waiting. Suddenly, her face changed, and a small smile appeared on her face.

She signed " I hear my family praying..."

I warned you to buckle your seat belts.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sound from Silence

Well, the big day was Wednesday. Sophie was so excited that morning...she woke up signing "Today, CI" We made a road trip out of it, and we kept Sarah and Meg of school, and Mick took off work. Sophie was ready, understood what was going on, and her teacher, the infamous KB met us there. How cool is that? Kate herself has a cochlear implant, and was so excited to see Sophie's reaction. Kate has been such a great teacher for Sophie, and we appreciate her help, support, and patience this school year. As a teacher, I know the love and affection Kate feels for Sophie, and how she appreciated teaching such a bright, fun, challenging child!

The audiologist showed us how the implant works, and took us through the steps of turning it on, placing the batteries in, finding the settings, etc. Luckily Matt was there to help with the details (trust me, later that night I needed him to refresh my memory). After she showed us the device, she gave Sophie the ear piece to try on. Sophie took it and placed it on immediately, knowing exactly what to do from watching the other kids in class do it. She went out into the hall to 'play' and when I checked on her, she was taking apart the device, replacing the batteries, and playing with the controls! Sophie, Sophie, Sophie!!! Needless to say, the first thing Matt and I asked to learn was how to lock the controls, and we will NOT let her see us doing it as she will quickly find out how to undo it!

The audiologist said we were the largest group who had ever fit into their small room to see an activation. With Kate, we made eight, and we all waited while the controls were set and the CI activated.

Sophie sat with the head piece on and a wire attached to the bottom of her CI and connected to the computer. (We will be able to use this port to attach her earpiece to an ipod!) She sat expectantly, and the activation began. She was still and solemn, and a bit worried. She did not react at first, and we were not sure what she was hearing. As the testing began, she suddenly had a different look on her face, and when asked by the audiologist if she could hear her, Sophie nodded yes!

At this point in the process, Sophie is on a low setting, and is just beginning the process of hearing. We think that you turn on the CI and you can hear, sort of like turning up the volume on the TV, but not so. The brain is so much more complicated than that, and we are learning, every day, what she can hear.

We went out to lunch after leaving the hospital, and at the restaurant she was beginning the realize that she was hearing things for the first time. She asked what a sound was, and she mimicked a humming sound was the music playing in the restaurant. Later, in the ladies room, Sophie flushed the toilet, and then looked in amazement at the water as it swirled in the bowl and signed, "I hear it!"

Matt and I learned a long time ago that miracles are a part of our every day life, if we just stop and see them as they are. But now, we are watching miracles every day, with Sophie. It has only been two days, and we are only at the beginning of this process, but what a joy to see a little girl get so much delight from hearing her feet walking on the hardwood floor, or listening to water flow into the sink. The dog barking, the phone ringing, the sound of the keys being placed on the counter...everyday sounds that our brains never even pay attention to we are so used to them, and they seem so meaningless. Now, for us, there is meaning to every sound, and joy in hearing Sophie tell us to be quiet!!! (No, that's a major accomplishment!!!)

Stay tuned as we begin therapy next week, and continue to watch miracles happen!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Inch by Inch, Row by Row....

Last year's garden

Sophie hanging out in the garden with me. She took most of these pictures!

Gardening with attitude!

Janette and Kate come to visit!

I remember when I was around nine years old, and we lived in a row home (now we call them Townhouses!) in Philadelphia, and one day in the spring, I noticed that the 'bush' in our backyard was actually full of beautiful red roses. I had never paid much attention before that as out yard was only a passway from the house to the alley that led behind our row of houses and into the houses and yards of the other kids in our neighborhood. I was amazed that a thing of such obvious beauty could grow in what I considered an average, ordinary, mundane yard. I asked my mom all about the roses, I was so fascinated with them. She replied that the bush had been there when they moved in, some 15 years before, and that it came back to life every spring. I was hooked, my green thumb officially born that day. To see such beauty and not have anything to do with it, but to enjoy it year after year! I was in.

I started a vegetable garden the next year, in a small 'L' shaped patch at the perimeter of the yard. Tomatoes were the hit of the summer, and I moved my attention to the front yard, which would challenge the best of horticulturists. Nestled under a large oak tree, our front yard was full of 'dirt' not soil, and there is a big difference. My dad was my partner in my projects and would bring home a variety of plants for me to work with. Soon our yard, full of large rocks and patches of dirt, was dotted with flowering annuals and I was off and running.
We moved to a new home when I was in 10th grade and by then I knew much more about annuals, perennials, shade-growing plants, and the value of pruning trees in the spring and fall. Our new home had a large yard, and my Dad and I were set. He and I spent hours, and I do mean hours, after school, and on the weekends pruning trees, planting borders, and mowing a very large lawn. To this day, I think of the trees he and I planted, and one in particular in the front of the house that years later my mom would use to hang the Easter treats for all the grandchildren for our annual Easter Egg Hunt. Amazing memories.

Many years later, gardening is still my passion. It still amazes me that if I plant it, it will grow. Our home of 21 years has seen many garden transitions, and I continue to learn more and more each year. I have come to know the names of all the plants that grow, and can recognize the perennials by their leaves as they emerge triumphant each year, bringing hope for renewal. I know when my irises will bloom, according to color, and which irises are my own, which swapped with two neighbors...both of them now deceased. When Gail's yellow iris blooms, I think of her, and when Mary "Grandmom" Thomas's purple irises display their vibrant color all over our garden, I know she is smiling down at me.

My vegetable and herb garden is by far my peice de resistance. It is a 20' x 60' area behind our garage full of vegetables, herbs, berries (our blueberry bush yields about 10 quarts of blueberries every year!) and this year a big pumpkin patch. Every year I do things a little bit different, for fun, and for soil preservation. I love going to the garden before dinner to pick fresh lettuce, fresh herbs, and check for tomatoes. I love when the kids come to help me, and I love working there on my own. Behind the garden I see the neighbor's horses, the new chicks in our chicken coop (yes, we are raising free range chickens! Don't tell our teenagers, they think we're hillbillies!) and I am in heaven. Forgotten are the bills, the wash, the paperwork. For a while, I concentrate on where the lettuce will do best and how many marigolds I will need to border the tomato beds to protect the plants from nasty bugs. Life is good.
Sophie helped me again this year, and she romped through the straw I use for mulch, and dug holes for me in various places, told me she was too tired to put the plants in, but she could dig the holes. She discovered my Nasturtium seeds (fabulous plant if you never planted these...edible leaves and flowers make an awesome addtion to a summer salad!) I let her plant these hardy seeds wherever she wanted, as this plant is another great natural bug-repellent.
Some pictures of this year's garden, some from our harvest last year. Zizi, our Northstar puppy, loving the great outdoors, and she had a great time running through the straw. All that dirt gave her her first official bath, so you see her wrapped up snug and warm in a towel, and then sound asleep next to our 15 year-old Lab, Belle.
Sophie, as you can see, is fully reovered and doing well. We were thrilled when her teacher and teacher's aide came to visit last week!
Have a great day, everyone.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Today is my 19th official Mother's Day. Funny, the number 19 doesn't seem large enough, because I have had so many "Mother's Days" the day I found out I was pregnant:after 5 years of infertility, five surgeries, applying for adoption, waiting for our child, many tears of sadness...or the day Mick was born, after 40 hours of labor...getting beta strep, struggling to make it, he and I, and (we almost didn't), and thanks to Matt, our 'coach' who talked me through the last hours of labor when my hearing was gone, and I could only hear his voice, and God, who so richly blessed us and helped us through that ordeal... or the days our daughters were born, and I looked into their eyes and cried with tears of joy that I was so privileged to hold another miracle, a gift from God...or the day when Meghan got sick, and the months and years that followed with the many challenges she faced, and overcame, one by one, when I knew what it truly meant to be a mother, to help my child who was seriously ill... or the day our Shannon, at 3 months, was sedated and slid into the MRI tube and we waited to find out if she had something serious wrong , and prayed that God would make it not so...and He did...or the day that Sarah had scoliosis surgery, and we waited 8 hours as she underwent spinal fusion, and we prayed, and she recovered...when we saw Sophie for the first time, after waiting too long for her and bearing with paperwork glitches and files lost...and she looked up and me five minutes after we met her, and signed "mother'...

Being a mother is so much more than we can begin to catalog, or list, or recite. Being a mother is truly a gift, whether we bore our children under our hearts or in them. God intended that gift to be a precious one. Like gold in the fire, he intended that we would not just be handed that gift and finished, but that we would be blessed with our children, and then tried, like gold in the fire, with sadness and hardships, difficulties and illnesses, so that we would never lose sight of the beauty of the creations He chose to call us 'Mom". If it was easy, anyone could do it, but He chose us to do it.

On this Mother's Day, I am thankful for the precious gifts that God has given me. After five years of praying for 'a child', God has given me six! (Remember, God cannot be outdone in His generosity!!!) I am thankful for my husband Matt, who has shared my life for almost 25 years of marriage, who is the most awesome Dad in the world, who helps me to be the best Mom I can be, and whom I love with all my heart. And I am thankful for my kids, who are the light of my life, and who are growing up to be awesome people. And I am grateful, beyond measure, to God, who has tried us many times in fires of illness and obstacles, but who has never left my side, and who strengthens my resolve to fight the good fight by giving me the joy of my family each and every day.

For all my friends who are mothers, I wish you a happy day, lots of TLC, and if you are lucky, a quiet moment to thank God for the blessings who wake you up in the middle of the night, need to be fed more times than you think is possible, drink countless gallons of milk and consume more food than developing countries:and who love you in a way that takes your breath away.

Happy Mother's Day

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cochlear Implant update..."Hurt finished"

Well, she made it through! I had great plans of posting last night, even had my camera, got a laptop from the hospital (avaialble to the kids courtesy of Astra Zeneca) but things did not go as planned to give me any extra time!
Here's the update: We arrived at the hospital at 6:30 in the pouring rain. It rained absolute buckets all the way down I-95. The team got ready pretty quickly, and they were great, as usual. Everyone was fascinated with Sophie and interested in her story. Before she went in, one of her surgeons drew a Sponge Bob face on her right wrist to prevent any confusions (thank you very much for that!) She was thrilled with this little drawing! They let me walk back with her, complete with scrubs (sorry, no pictures of that, but it was quite a sight!) The doctor kidded around with me when we walked into the OR and asked if I was going to assist them. I told him they didn't need my kind of assistance, as I would be flat on the floor. I could handle it when I worked at the vet's office, but not for people.
By then, Sophie already had had her 'happy juice' (versed) so she was calm and cool. She slid right over to the OR table from her gurney, and they let me sign to her what they were doing, I told her Matt and I would wait for her until she woke up, that we loved her, etc. Within a few minutes she was out, and I wished the team luck, and told them to take good care of her. Boy, I'm glad I didn't go into medicine! But I'm glad so many wonderful people did!

The surgery took a little more than three hours, and during the wait you are updated regularly by Meg, who is a nurse who scrubs, goes into the OR and finds out what is going on with your child during the surgery, then comes out to give a report. She has an amazing knowledge, and a wonderful personality. She is the same nurse who updated us during Sarah's 8 hour scoliosis surgery 4 years ago. What a blessing this is, giving parents real-time info, reassuring us and informing us, at the same time.
Before we knew it, they came out and told us she was finished, and they were calling audiology to test the implant. The surgeons (ENT and Cochlear implant specialist) called us in to a room to let us know how she did. They were both as laid back as good be, were thrilled with how she did, and explained where we go from here. As a part of the surgery, they looked at her left ear, which was the worse ear to begin with. It does not look good at all, and there is virtually no ear drum left. Looks like at some time in the future (hopefully not too soon) she will need reconstructive surgery to close off that ear drum. The good news is that if the cochlear implant works for her right ear, they might be able to implant her left ear.

Sophie woke up well from the surgery, relatively speaking. I was very happy we were staying the night. She was able to tolerate liquids, and was VERY hungry! Once she started to get a clearer head, she watched TV, wanted to inspect her bandage (thanks again to her teacher Kate who prepared her for the bandage and the whole surgery). She would have been totalled freaked about about the bandage if she did not see a picture of her beloved Kate with the same bandage on.
Oh, the bandage! You might notice from the pictures that Sophie's bandage is different sizes. Well, let's just say what she came out of surgery wearing is not what she tried very hard to rip off. The nurses reinforced it many times, until it was almost a turban on her head. Finally, by about 4 am, she had it up so high on her head, it was not even covering her incision, and the nurse took it off the rest of the way. When she could feel the incision, she was thrilled, because it felt like the incision she saw that Kate had! Only Sophie would want the EXACT same incision!

We were very happy for a visit from Bonnie, Sam and Keira. Bonnie and her husband Dave live near DuPont and they adopted Keira the summer before we adopted Sophie. Bonnie and I, along with about six other families, have kept in touch over the last year on a Yahoo Group. We had dinner once before at their house when Sophie and I went in for one of her tube surgeries. Sophie was thrilled to see the kids, and we had a nice visit, complete with a fabulous story Sam shared with us, for Sophie! It was so cute!

Sophie was not very steady on her feet, so we toured the hospital in a wheelchair, and she and I went down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Sophie is not too great when she is cooped up for too long, and I often think about her months at Swallows Nest, during the winter, when many of the kids were sick. I can't imagine how Pam and Clay did it, with no effective communication. Another tribute to these two wonderful people. We owe them so much, and we figure they are going straight to heaven for their wonderful work at the Swallows Nest Children's' Home.

This morning the nurses wanted to give Sophie her pain meds and when I asked her if her ear hurt, she said "no", "Hurt finished". Way to go, Sophie Wu!

Next step is activation on May 27Th. For now, she needs to heal at the site, and then wait. We are very excited about the activation. After that, she has therapy twice a week to teach her what she is hearing. Always an adventure. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and good wishes. I know there were many angels hanging out in that OR yesterday.

Off to sleep, or just to chill. Hoping for a better night's sleep! We'll see what happens.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Introducing Zizi

Well, here she is! This morning we drove up to North Jersey and picked up Zizi, our newest 'passenger' (boy this train is sure getting full!). We are raising Zizi for a family who lives nearby and whose son Leo has autism. Leo's family chose the name 'Zizi' because it means 'free' and 'dedicated to God'. Sounds like the right name for the right puppy.

Zizi is absolutely adorable. She is nine weeks old and is easy-going, spirited, and sweet as can be. She loves the other dogs, and of course, they are all used to puppies coming and going, so they are fine with her as well. Right now she is asleep in her crate. Shannon is petting her with one hand, and Novac (our first Seeing Eye puppy) with her other hand.

Sophie loves Zizi and has been pretty good with her, considering how tough it is getting used to a new puppy in the house. She is learning the rules (no picking her up, careful when she is walking near her) and tries really hard to say her name.

We will be teaching Zizi signs as a part of her training both to help ZiZi and to help Leo when he is interacting with her.

Tomorrow we are heading down to the Cathedral in Philly for a special Mass to celebrate our 25th Anniversary!!! Our Anniversary is in June, but this is a city/county-wide Mass to celebrate 25 and 50 anniversaries. Hard to believe we are here..seems like yesterday we were married. We have had many challenges in our life together, too many to list her! But we have come through with so many blessings, and we are so grateful to have each other, and to be truly happier and more in love with each other today than we were 25 years ago.

On Monday morning we need to be at DuPont at 6:30 am. UGH! Sophie's surgery will be somewhere around 8 am. Please keep her in your prayers. I will post from the hospital.