Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


A former ECFE classmate of mine works for Visit St. Paul, who produced #mystpaul, a spoof on Adele's "Hello". The video plays up the rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul and showcases all there is to see and do in St. Paul (they are a tourism bureau after all) and watching it makes me giddy about my city. 

I love St. Paul, although I'm not from here.  I'm not even from Minnesota, although many people assume I am since I blend in rather well with a name like Kirsten and the long o's I find rolling out of my mouth.  I'm actually from New Jersey though and came to Minnesota over a decade ago to attend graduate school.  I settled in Uptown in Minneapolis because that's where one of the only two people I knew in the state at the time lived and because many university students lived in the neighborhood.

In those two years I fell in love with Minnesota and Minneapolis.  I could bus to school, walk to the grocery store and run every morning around one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.  I played soccer in a city league and met friends at bars and restaurants in my neighborhood.  I learned to cross-country ski in a city park with a view of downtown Minneapolis. By the time graduation arrived, I already had lots of friends, a full-time job and no interest in leaving Minnesota or even Minneapolis.

I tried to buy a house in my adopted city.  At the time I was frustrated that I couldn't afford even a condo on my government-wage income, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. That's because shortly after my house search stalled out, I met Chris, and a year and a half later, he finished school in Duluth and planned to move down to the Twin Cities for his new job. My apartment, or anywhere in Minneapolis for that matter, was too far of a commute for him.  Our compromise was to find a new place that was in between both our jobs and that meant moving to St. Paul.

I considered St. Paul Minneapolis' sleepy twin. It didn't have the vibrancy I thought Minneapolis had and so little drew me to the capital city that I rarely ventured across the river. I was as loyal to Minneapolis as my friends who had been born and raised there. I moved because I loved Chris, but I felt like I was leaving a part of my heart behind in Minneapolis.

Fast forward nine years and my Minneapolis friends still tease me about living in St. Paul, but I'm proud to say that my loyalty now lies on the other side of the river. St. Paul is where my I'm raising my children. It's where my parenting community with ECFE, my kids' schools, and playground chats with other moms resides. It's where my brother-in-law and sister-in-law live two blocks away. It's where my neighbors let my kids play with their daughter's extensive Lego collection while they're away on vacation. It's where I work.  It's my St. Paul.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

4th of July

Our long 4th of July weekend was pretty low-key since Chris, Oliver and Soren were out of town. They went to the cabin, where they met their aunt and uncle and Watson, their Goldendoodle. A long weekend at the cabin included what you would expect - lots of family time and time spent on (or in) the water.
Both the boys really enjoy tubing, and Oliver tried waterskiing for the first time.  We learned that he's one really strong kid, and not because he got up on skis the first try, but because he didn't let go of the rope and instead held on for dear life as he was dragged across the water for 20 feet. That experience began and ended Oliver's attempt at waterskiing for the weekend.

Soren also wanted to give waterskiing a try, so Chris strapped the skis on his feet, but the thought of bobbing around in the water was too much for him and he decided trying the skis on in the water was good enough.  

Until the kids grow bigger and stronger for waterskiing, the pedal boat is more their speed.  Chris sat in the middle and Oliver and Soren did all the pedaling.  They don't move very fast, but I think they found satisfaction in making the boat go all by themselves.

A 4th of July tradition on Mule Lake, as well as I'm sure many lakes across Minnesota, is the boat parade. Every decks their boats, from pedals boats to pontoons, in red, white and blue and then makes a loop around the lake, waving to those on shore or on the docks.
Chris' Uncle Clyde visited a couple of times and took the boys fishing. Soren caught the biggest fish, a 10-inch Rock Bass, but he loses interest quickly and didn't fish anymore after that. Meanwhile, Oliver's persistence meant he caught the most fish of the group.
A throw-back picture (circa 2012) of Oliver catching his first fish!
Like their Grandma Nan, the boys like a good campfire.  Watson even helped Oliver hunt for sticks and once they got the fire going, they did their other favorite activity - making S'mores.  

The boys were able to share a twin bed, which is convenient for a cabin short of bedrooms and bed space.  Unfortunately, this is probably the last summer they'll be able to do that since Oliver is getting too big.  Chris checked on them one evening and Oliver's feet were shoved in Soren's face with a big toe angling precariously towards Soren's nose.
I stayed back in St. Paul with Kiera and Matteo where we enjoyed a mostly quiet weekend. The weather was so nice - sunny, but not too hot or humid - and we spent a lot of time outside.

It wasn't all fun though.  Did you know there are dentists in the Twin Cities open 365 days a year?  I didn't know either until Matteo cracked a tooth and I desperately searched for an alternative to the ER. Once Matteo's tooth was fixed though, he was back to his old self before the Lidocaine wore off and we resumed our weekend.

While the days were nice, the late evenings were tiring and we didn't even go anywhere, not even to a late night fireworks display.  Instead the fireworks came to us. For three nights in a row, it sounded like fireworks were being set off in our backyard. I realized that they were being set off in the park across the alley from us. Kiera slept with her noise-cancellation headphones on every night.

I eventually adopted a "If you can't beat them, join them" attitude and lounged in my bed and watched the fireworks shoot over the trees in the park. I was still excited that a big storm rolled in tonight.  Even with the thunder, I predict a better night's sleep.
It was a little tough getting up early on the morning of the 4th of July, but it was worth it once we were out in the strawberry patch picking the last of Minnesota's strawberry crop. We lucked out with beautiful weather and enjoyed sitting in the sun even after we'd finished gorging ourselves on berries.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Baby-Toothed Smile

At age six and a half, Oliver still hasn't lost any of his baby teeth.  I'm not entirely surprised given that his teeth were late to come in. On his first birthday, he had half a tooth. I don't know when I got my first tooth, but I did lose my first tooth quite late, so perhaps Oliver is going to take after me.

I love Oliver's smile and it recently dawned on me that my time with this beautiful smile of his is running out. I know he can't keep those baby teeth forever, but oddly, I'm quite attached to them. I remember when he started getting teeth and how I mourned his toothless grin. Losing those same teeth is another reminder that he's growing up. 

Candid Portraits

I love photographing my children. They have little patience for me when I have a camera in my hand, but occasionally I can convince/bribe/plead with them to cooperate for "just one picture."  They're onto me though and know there's no such thing as just one picture. But I know they won't be young forever and the moments in time I manage to photograph are so precious to me.

Soren, age 4.5
Oliver, age 6.5
Matteo, age 3.5
Kiera, age 4

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Superhero Father's Day

Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo adore their father. They want to do everything with him - ride bikes, have him read to them, go to the cabin and ride on the boat. Wherever he goes, they want to be able to tag along, even if he's just making a Home Depot run. They know their dad is a bit of a softy and is going to be the one to let them stay up past their bedtime, watch a video, bike to Mojo Monkey to get donuts or allow them to have a "fun bath" where they don't have to wash their hair. In case you haven't heard, Chris is the fun parent. However, I love watching our four with their dad because they're at this incredible age where they look at him as their superhero.  And that is what inspired this Father's Day gift.
It was a risky gift since Chris doesn't like to draw attention to himself and some in my not-so-extended family are not fans of matching outfits. But the kids loved the t-shirts and were so excited about surprising their dad with them.  Unfortunately, their excitement meant that Chris didn't get one of his Father's Day wishes - sleeping in. We tried to make up for that with an "I'm a dad, what's your superpower?" coffee mug and a huge Superman-themed hand-painted card Celina helped the kids make.

The theme of this Father's Day may have been superheros, but it's important for me to acknowledge that being a superhero dad is a tiring job.  Long before the summer sun sets, Chris heads to bed in the hopes of getting enough sleep in preparation for a pre-dawn wake-up call, an early workout at the gym, a long, demanding day at work and then an evening devoted entirely to his kids. As tiring as his schedule is, he's proud to be able to both provide for his family and spend time with us, and we love him and appreciate him so much for this.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

There's Finally Room at the Table

I remember when our dining table, which could seat six, felt unnecessarily large.  It was just Chris and me across from each other with Oliver seated in his booster seat at the head of the table. Even when Soren came along, we still didn't use half the table and papers and magazines and other clutter could pile up on one end of the table with plenty of room left for our family to sit down to dinner.  Then our first au pair arrived and a few months later we brought Kiera and Matteo home and our family of seven technically no longer fit around the table. Every night at dinner, we'd pull the time-out chair out of the corner and make three chairs try to fit where only two are supposed to.

After a year and a half of this arrangement, there's finally room at the table for our whole family - and even a couple of guests. The drawn-out process of "making sure we can fit our family" is finally complete. We bought a minivan when we started the adoption process, broke ground on the addition to our house when we realized we were going to be doubling the number of children in our family and can now sit down more comfortably for a meal in the fully-renovated house. 
Here's a pro tip for making a major purchase quickly and decisively.  Bring four young children on an hour's drive to a 60,000-square-foot furniture showroom, set them loose and then make your customized table selections while your children burn off their energy jumping on the beds, playing "don't get off the couch" (thanks Grandpa Dan...) and tearing around the store like they own the place. The sales guys had looked like they were involved in a desperate game of "not it" when they saw us walk in, but the young man who lost ended up making the fastest commission of his career thanks to us.

We may have gambled with our hasty decisions, but we love our new table. It comfortably seats eight, yet can easily squeeze in 10, and can seat 12 with the additional leaf.  It's not only nice that there's room at the table for our family, but that there's room for guests to join us.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Orphan Hosting FAQ's

Ian arrived in United States today and it's awesome how many people are interested in his story and have helped to advocate by sharing blog and Facebook posts within their networks. And with all that sharing, questions have naturally come up about orphan hosting. It's a new concept to most people, including those who have previously adopted internationally. To better understand the hosting program, I've compiled these frequently asked questions based on the questions I have received.

What is "orphan hosting"?
China is one of a couple of countries (along with Latvia and the Philippines, to name a few) that facilitates programs where children in state care come to the United States for a couple of weeks to experience the love of a family, life outside their orphanage and U.S. culture. It's an opportunity to learn about a child and any medical needs he or she has, and advocate for that child with information beyond what's in his or her adoption file. The ultimate goal is to connect potential forever families to these children, who would be otherwise harder to place if they had remained in their home countries. Typically, over 75% of children who are hosted end up being adopted after their first host trip, whether by their host family or their host family’s community members, extended family members, or friends.

Ian is being hosted through Great Wall China Adoption, based out of Austin, Texas.  Great Wall is one of many American adoption agencies with China hosting programs.  Children typically come for four to five weeks over the holiday season or in the summer.

Who's chosen for the China hosting program?
Staff from adoption agencies work together with orphanages they have established relationships with to identify children who are at risk of not being adopted, such as children who are older or who have significant and/or overwhelming-sounding special needs. These are the children who need an opportunity for people to get to know them beyond the little (and sometimes inaccurate or incomplete) information available in their adoption files. A medical diagnosis like cerebral palsy or the thought of parenting a 12-year-old boy may initially overwhelm a family, but if they meet a child and witness how mobile and independent she is despite muscle weakness, or meet that preteen and have the opportunity to form a bond, the leap of faith adoption requires feels less like jumping off the deep end.

Who hosts them?
Two types of families host, those who intend to adopt the child they are hosting and those who host in order to advocate.

What do families do to advocate?
Host families find different ways to spread the word about the particular child they're hosting, but also the many other children in orphanages in China who need families. They typically use social media and blog, but will also host gatherings in their community for friends and family to get to know their host child. 

If the host family wants to adopt their host child, can the child stay?
Oh how I wish there were so! At the end of the hosting term, the host children and their chaperones must return to China. The family can start the adoption process before the child returns, but they still must complete the same nine-to-10-month process as families who have not hosted. 

Why can the children only stay a few weeks?  Why can't they live with foster families in the U.S. until they are adopted?
The children participating in the China hosting program are Chinese citizens and are under the guardianship of orphanages in their home cities and are not eligible for foster care in the U.S.

Ian is so young. I thought only older children could be hosted.
Since most children who are chosen for a hosting program are at least seven or eight years old, it is unusual for a child this young to be hosted. However, his orphanage believes Ian's autism diagnosis is incorrect and felt strongly that his best chance of being a adopted would be to be hosted. In addition to advocating, his host family has a number of specialists lined up who will be providing evaluations pro bono. 

If I'm interested in adopting one of the host children, what should I do?
Contract Great Wall China Adoption at 512-323-9595.