This blog chronicles the miracles and struggles of our daughters, Emily and Olivia. Emily was born 15 weeks early and had many complications, but she continues to amaze us! Olivia, born in China with heart complications, is also beating the odds. She joined her forever family (us!) when she was four years old and has been doing wonderfully! UPDATE: We started homeschooling August 2009 :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

catching up

I'm behind on posting so I'm playing catch up here with some recent pix and video clips. I'm having trouble getting the videos and text to insert between the right pix, but in the interest of sleep and sanity, I'm leaving this jumble as is.

The first photo is from this Sunday when Olivia bumped her head before church and our pastor sat down next to her to console her. I happened to have the camera at the ready because Emily was going on stage and caught the end of their chat. As you can see in the next photo, Olivia made a full recovery :)

I'm proud to say that both our girls made it on stage this year at church without a single tear :) Last year, after many fears and tears Emily sat out, but this year I tried to help her out by not giving her that out and it seemed to work. I reminded her that at school when it's time to go to gym or music, she doesn't choose if she goes or not, but just does what the rest of the class is doing...and that sometimes we have to do scary things that we don't really want to do. Or maybe it was Daddy's pep talk that did it--the one about envisioning everyone in their underwear! I'm not sure what made the difference, but once she resigned to going on stage she seemed to relax about it and looked very comfortable up there :)

Olivia has no stage fright and is quite a ham! Her class didn't sing at church, but her preschool had a little program that I went to. I wish I'd caught her on video when she noticed me in the audience and lit up, shouting, "Hi, Mommy! I'm over here! That's my mom!" Or when I coughed and she yelled, "Mommy, are you OK?" The other parents couldn't help but snicker. Although I didn't capture those comments on video, I did get her very animated hand motions as her class sang. The video here starts with Emily on stage and ends with Olivia wishing you a Merry Christmas.

As a teaser I've posted a shot from our Christmas card photo shoot that did not make the cut. After all that hard work posing, Olivia relaxed with her own little jam session on Emily's new guitar.

I've also included a shot from a very intimate (nearly naked!) Saturday morning tea party using a cute tea set we bought in China. Have I mentioned it's hard keeping clothes on that girl?!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy 8th Birthday, Emily!

Emily turned eight years old today! Her day started off with our tradition of a new birthday outfit that she wore to school. Then, after school, she got a nice surprise when she walked in the door. Her neighbor friends had let themselves in and had hidden while Olivia and I were picking her up; when we got home her friends jumped out and gave her quite a surprise! She had a lot of fun playing, eating cake and ice cream, and opening presents! Then, of all places to go for dinner, she chose Burger King (play land!) and continued the fun. I'd wondered how Olivia would respond to all the attention and gifts Emily got, but she took it all in stride and enjoyed the day, too. I'm sure it helped that Emily was a gracious big sister and let Olivia play with the new toys, too! Overall, I'd say it was a great day :)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Olivia came from a subtropical climate in Southern China, but she does not seem to mind the cold here at all! In fact, it was hard to get her to come in from playing in the first snow fall. When she did come in, instead of wanting to warm up with hot chocolate, she promptly changed into a swim suit (which she's wearing here as she trims the tree, fortunately with other clothes, for a change!).
On the nights we are able to convince her to put on warm, footed PJs, once in bed, she unzips them in protest, throws off the covers and turns on the ceiling fan! She also resists wearing a winter coat and often takes it off in the car and tosses it on the floor. People in China would be shaking their heads in disapproval, telling us we're not dressing her warmly enough! We try, but she's got a mind of her own! Some days I wonder why I bother to pick out clothes for in the morning because they never stay on! She leaves clothes strewn all over the house from all of her changes throughout the day into multiple "princess" dresses, swim suits and gymnastics leotards. I guess that just comes with the territory when you have a princess in the house. Below the pix I've added a video of the princess singing.

Tomorrow is Emily's big day! She just helped me mix her birthday cake which is now in the oven and she's getting very excited. Olivia wanted to help with the batter, too, but was a bit bewildered by the mixer and didn't want to touch the scary thing! She did, however, enjoy licking a beater :)

I asked Olivia to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and she opted for the ABCs instead. As you can see, that's one we haven't worked on much!

Friday, November 30, 2007

pony tails again (finally)

A few months ago I had the back of Olivia's hair trimmed so that the sides could catch up...which meant it was too short for her beloved pony tails. The back is finally getting long enough again so that I can gather a little hair for pony tails (with a lot of clips!). Today, when she got her "pone tails" again, she was in heaven and so thankful. I'm taking notes from my little teacher about contentment and gratitude! I've posted a pic from this afternoon showing her joy as well as one from Thanksgiving Day. We have much to be thankful for :)

Emily's school conference

It's been a few weeks since we had Emily's IEP and parent teacher conference and I'm finally getting around to writing about how she's doing at school. A quick background for those that don't know Emily's history...she was born 15 weeks early at 1.5 pounds and had quite a few issues as a result. Her fragile, damaged lungs were her main health problem that kept her on life support in the hospital for five months and then she eventually came home on supplemental oxygen which she needed until she was almost three. Miraculously, she is now amazingly healthy and does not even suffer from asthma :) Thankfully, health is no longer a concern, but she still has a few lingering developmental/neurological issues that impact her learning.

This is Emily's first year in all-day school--first grade--so we were curious to hear her teachers' impressions about how she is doing. And...(drum roll, please) I'm pleased to report that she is doing very well :) Her classroom teacher said she is very proud of her and that she is "holding her own." In the IEP report, I was very happy to read the words, "Emily is a good student." Some other descriptions in the report that pleased me were: sweet, happy, friendly, eager, conscientious, kind, caring, respectful, prepared and ready to learn, anxious to please, works hard to do her best, takes great pride in her work, a good listener who follows directions... all music to my ears :)

I bolded that last comment because of it's significance. One area of weakness continues to be auditory processing (listening comprehension) so I was particularly pleased to hear that she is able to follow directions and function well in the classroom. Her teacher pointed out that in first grade there are still a lot of pictures and visual cues to aid in comprehension so Emily has been able to do well in spite of her listening weakness. However, we're not out of the woods yet. Her speech teacher reports that "She does very well re-telling stories or events with picture support, but had difficulty when auditory information is presented by itself." So, while we are very pleased that she is doing well, we know that we'll have to continue working on this area since picture/visual support will fade as instruction moves to more of a lecture style through the years. We are continuing to try to build up this area of weakness with NILD Educational Therapy after school twice a week. You can learn more about NILD (National Institute for Learning Development) here.

The teacher was also pleased with her reading ability and noted that Emily knew 50/50 on a test of sight words and her reading comprehension test scores put her in the range of end of first grade/early second grade level. Her spelling and writing were also at a good level, but she will be working with an occupational therapist to work on her writing form (she needs reminders to use lower case letters, start at the left side of the page vs. middle, and to write within the lines).

The teacher said that while Emily is doing well and holding her own, if she had to pick an area of weakness, it would be math. This summer we worked on addition (using Touch Math) and that's coming along quite nicely and now we're drilling with flashcards, but counting mixed coins is another story. She doesn't seem to have a good grasp of numbers and sometimes prefers to make wild guesses rather than think through the problem. I recently started doing Hooked on Math with her and after we tackle addition facts, subtraction is next...and then book #2 gets into coins. I have faith that even if she struggles with math concepts, she's got a good memory that will come in handy for remembering math facts. Hopefully the concepts will eventually sink in, too.

Overall, we are very pleased and encouraged, but we also want to make sure we keep plugging away to make sure she continues to be successful. I'm thrilled to see how far she's come and how she is now just a "normal" kid. Normal in the sense that not only had she defied the odds by being alive and healthy, she is fitting in well at school, has friends and is a good student. I just love getting answered prayers :)

Oh, there's one more piece of good news from the IEP meeting that I almost forgot to mention. When Emily was in preschool and again in kindergarten we'd taken her to a pediatric neurologist due to concerns about her distractibility, wondering if she had ADD. At our last visit he said to wait until she's in school all day and to return if she was still having difficulty staying on task. Knowing that it may take a while to see the doctor, I made an appointment for December just in case it was needed. However, I was thrilled to cancel the appointment after bringing it up with her teachers! When I posed the question, everyone at the IEP meeting agreed that her focus was no longer an issue and that no one thought I needed to keep the appointment :) WOO HOO!! That means we don't have to deal with a possible label of ADD or face the sticky dilemma of whether or not to medicate. At least for now. Another answered prayer :)

Next week we'll celebrate Emily's birthday. On December 6 she is going to be EIGHT years old!! Some of you have been following--and praying for--her progress through these updates, long before this blog, back in her NICU days. Thank you for your all your prayers and support that have gotten us to this point. Maybe it really does take a village ;-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

medical mystery solved

When Olivia's initial blood work in March revealed that she was slightly anemic, her pediatrician prescribed iron supplements. However, after a month of iron and no improvement (though I initially, mistakenly thought there was in May), I started to look at her all the lab results we had from her pediatrician and her orphanage. As I studied them and did some research, I started to suspect that Olivia might carry a trait for a blood disorder called Thalassemia. With this condition the hemoglobin does not produce enough protein, resulting in smaller and fewer red blood cells which can cause varying degrees of anemia. Once I suspected that Olivia might have this I stopped giving her iron because #1 the iron hadn't improved her anemia, #2 I knew that if she had Thalassemia, iron was not the problem or solution, and could actually cause problems if she were to get overloaded with iron, and #3 her anemia was so slight that I wasn't overly concerned if went untreated.

To test my suspicion, earlier this month I requested a hemoglobin electrophoresis (a blood test to check the different types of hemoglobin in the blood) ...and my hunch was correct. She does carry the trait (Thalassemia Beta minor), but she does not have the full blown disorder (Thalassemia Beta major) which can result in life threatening anemia and require regular transfusions. Since she just carries the genetic trait she will probably not experience any health problems from it other than mild anemia. No symptoms and no treatment required :) The only thing we have to do is make sure she avoids iron supplements, and when she's ready to have kids, she'll need to find out if her husband also carries the genetic trait. If he does, their children could be at risk for getting the full blown disorder so they'd need to get genetic counseling.

If you're still reading, I'm sure that was way more than you ever wanted to know unless you've also got a child from China. It doesn't affect too many WASPS, but is commonly found in Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, southern China, and occasionally the Mediterranean region. Among Chinese adoptees, those from the south, particularly Olivia's province of Guangxi, seem prone to having this condition. I found it interesting to learn that having this trait can actually be advantageous because this particular mutation seems to have protective effects against malaria.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The girl can dance!

Yes, Olivia can dance! And no, she didn't get her moves from me! I shot this video clip when we went to the circus a few weeks ago. I posted it on YouTube in preparation for posting it here, but just realized I apparently neglected to post it here. Better late than never?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One year later

This day has two special meanings. First, it's my mom's birthday--Happy Birthday, Mom! And, second, exactly one year ago today we got THE CALL about Olivia!

As you may know, adopting a four year old was never our plan, and I explained how that came about here when I introduced her a year ago. I'll be the first to admit I was a little scared about what kind of baggage a four year old might come with and how difficult the bonding process might be, but we decided to take a big leap of faith. And for that, we have been greatly rewarded :) Some may have the wrong impression that we "settled" for less than perfect (i.e. a healthy infant, bio or adopted), but in fact, we couldn't be happier. Babies are wonderful, but there's a lot to be said for being closer in age with her sister, being potty trained and sleeping through the night! We had no idea that Olivia would fit so perfectly into our family, but I believe Someone else did :). That scowling little girl turned out to be an affectionate, sweet, loving, happy, giggly, social, strong-willed, smart little girl!

Here I've posted the picture we got one year ago today along with two pictures I just took moments ago. It may be cold outside, but Olivia has taken to multiple clothes changes in a day. Moments ago when I decided to take a "now" picture, she was in a swimming suit that she had found (she was dressed warmer for preschool this morning, against her "better" judgement!)...then, while I was trying to take her picture, she was trying to add a black gymnastics leotard on that (behind her in the pic), and now she's got a princess dress on top of all of that. I wanted to include a picture of what she looks like at the moment, but I just can't keep up with her!

Friday, November 16, 2007

She ain't heavy, she's my sister

There was no school today thanks to parent teacher conferences so we enjoyed sleeping in and lounging around in PJs until noon :) I also took a vacation from the elliptical machine this morning (I've lost 9 pounds, but still have many more to shed!), but as you can see, the girls did not!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

No, not me!

This is a follow-up to the aforementioned dentist appointment during which Olivia was to have a filling.

Emily was a trooper and model patient when she got her preventative fillings (permanent alternative to temporary sealants) which took all of 5-10 minutes. Olivia, not so much. She insisted, "no, not me, not dentist" as we pulled up to the building and continued to voice her opposition in the waiting room. Then, when just Emily's name was called, Olivia thought she'd been spared and her mood suddenly lifted. Unfortunately, her reprieve was short lived and she got a rude awakening when her name was called.

As the dentist tried to familiarize Olivia with the scary tools he showed her a big vacuum tube that he referred to as being like an elephant's trunk, or nose. At the word "nose," Olivia immediately covered her nose and mouth, protecting them for dear life. This was when the dentist quit before he ever started, saying he does not fight kids. And that was that. He said we could wait six months to see if she'd be more cooperative or we could take her to a pediatric dentist who is better equipped for kids. I think I'll go for option #2, but after dreading this appointment, I'm disappointed that we're still not done. Not only do we need another appointment, but probably two more because the next dentist will need to do his own initial exam (trip #1) and then the follow-up to finally fill the cavity (trip #2). UGH.


Olivia recently started taking a gymnastics class and she loves it. But then again, she loves just about everything, so that wasn't a surprise. It's a bit early to tell if she's got any potential as a gymnast, but she's got a couple things going for her; a petite body and a fearless attitude!

Fearless, that is, until we go to the dentist this afternoon for her first filling! Not looking forward to that!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


After seeing how much Olivia loves Sunday school and classes at the park district, I thought she might like going to preschool for a few hours twice a week. It's mid session, but there were a few openings so Olivia and our next door neighbor, Mary (who is just 3 months older), started today! Olivia was SO giddy with excitement and kept asking hopefully, "Olivia school?" and,"Olivia back pack?"

When I told the teachers that Olivia has only been here 7+ months and is still perfecting her English, their eyes widened a bit, probably a little fearful of communication problems. But their eyes got even bigger when Olivia interrupted to say, "Hi, I'm Olivia...and this is Mary!" They seemed quite surprised and impressed when she answered appropriately when asked how she was doing...and when she complied when I asked her to hang up her jacket.

The report at the end of class was that she was very outgoing and fit in very well with the class. Just as I suspected :) She is an amazing kid!

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Olivia's first Halloween

I've got door duty tonight, giving out candy, while the girls are off trick-or-treating with Daddy. Although it's Olivia's first time doing this, she's a quick study! Here is a picture I took of my snow princesses right before they left.

Today was also Olivia's first gymnastics class and she was very excited about it. The teacher said she followed directions well and fit in perfectly with all the other four and five year olds. When I asked if there were any communication problems, the teacher laughed and said there weren't...and added that she loves to say "watch me" and "look at me!" Yep, that's my girl, totally opposite from her big sister who hates to be in the lime light. Olivia loves attention and is very confident, outgoing and independent. It's funny to watch this little tiny one walk with such purpose, head held high and swinging her arms as if she's on a mission! She's our little spitfire!

Tomorrow night we're off to the circus! Another first for Olivia!

(click to enlarge)

Friday, October 26, 2007

"Catch Me!"

It just dawned on me that tomorrow marks 8 months since we first met Olivia! Our Gotcha Day was February 27 and you can see that entry here.

(23 second video clip)

In case you've been fooled by the pony tails and clips, Olivia's hair is still pretty short, but it is coming along nicely. Here you can see that we're still in the process of growing out her bangs...and you can see why it's usually pulled up out of her eyes!

In addition to her hair growing, I think she's finally had a little growth spurt :) I think it's just happened in the last week or so because suddenly the pants she's been wearing since we met in China are high waters! I noticed it yesterday and thought it was odd that the pants that were fine last week are suddenly so short. Then today a second pair was also short so I checked her against her tick marks on the wall and, by George, the girl has grown at least an inch! Finally :) She's going to be five soon and she's still in 18-24 months clothes! No one believes she's four, and they'll really think we're crazy when we say she's five!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

School Picture Day

Today is school picture day and I decided not to throw any more money away on sight unseen pictures that almost never turn out,before school this morning, I decided to take the annual school picture myself! These are my favorites that I'll get made into wallet size, etc. When I was done, the girls wanted to pose together, which I thought was kind of sweet. I threw some clips in Olivia's wild morning hair and snapped a few more pix. I'm pleased with how they turned out :)

Monday, October 22, 2007


I took these pix tonight as the girls were (supposed to be) getting ready for bed. I'm continually amazed by how easily Olivia became a part of our family and how well the girls have adjusted to being sisters :)

(click to enlarge)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Princess Olivia

Every day now Olivia hauls out one of Emily's princess dresses and asks for help getting it on over her clothes. Today was no exception and I let her keep it on for her nap and getting Emily from school where she basked in the compliments! I took a picture just now to post here. She is kinda cute, isn't she?

Wednesday we went to the dentist, an appointment I wasn't looking forward to since a few molars are brown. At first things weren't looking so good when the hygeinist said three out of four molars needed fillings. However, when the dentist came in, he said the teeth weren't actually decayed--as they appeared--but were discolored due to decalcification. Since they are hard as rocks (vs. soft and decayed) he said he's just leave them alone :) In the end, she has one small cavity that needs to be filled, but her teeth aren't as bad as I thought. Phew! I'm still not looking forward to that filling, but one small one is much less daunting than what I expected.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

"Yes, I know, Mama"

Olivia found Emily's play make-up and got busy beautifying with some lovely blue eye shadow. When I said she looked nice, her matter of fact reply was, "yes, I know, Mama." confidence issues here :)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Two new exciting developments

...exciting to Emily anyway!

1. Daddy added MONKEY BARS to our swing set!! Emily has been in love with and begging for monkey bars for 3-4 years now and Daddy assembled some last weekend! Hope we're not on the tail end of that window for enjoyment, but at least Olivia's still an up-and-coming monkey!

2. On Monday it occurred to me that we had three soon-to-be-expiring reward flights...that Andy has more vacation days to burn (which we didn't realize this summer)... and that Emily has the first week of January off from school... Hmmm...perfect excuse to escape the cold and introduce Olivia to sunny Florida and Disney World! By Tuesday, we bit the bullet on Olivia's expensive holiday flight (not so bad when the other three are FREE!) and booked flights!

By Thursday I'd reserved another beautiful new 3BR 2.5BA town house with it's own pool in addition to having a full kitchen and washer/dryer. I love getting a bargain--especially at peak season--and am thrilled to report that it cost less than a hotel room, at a whopping $85/n. Click here for pix and virtual tours of the town homes themselves and here for pix of the brand new Encantada resort. This is the same builder as the townhouse we stayed in in 2006, but different location. I don't get commission, but if anyone's heading for Disney, I can refer you to the rent-by-owner site where I get good deals :)

Emily is excited! Disney and Florida don't mean anything to Olivia yet, but I think our littlest princess will fit right in with royalty at the castle :) We'll be in Florida Dec. 28-Jan. 5, the day our reward flights would have expired. How perfect is that? We can still have Christmas at home with family, but before the after Christmas let-down has a chance to settle in, we'll whisk off to sunnier pastures :)