Monday, July 31, 2017

Dear Sugar: Ten Things This Mama of Four Ain't Got Time For

Dear Sugar:

I have four children.  That alone should cause pause.  I do not have time or patience for the following:

1:  Any events where only one of my children is invited.

2:  Parties (online or in person) where women are trying to sell me crap I do not want, need, or like.

3:  Diets, including no-carb or low-carb, keto, vegan, or drinking-shakes-only.

4:  Listening to complaints from grown women about petty nonsense.  

5:  Drama.  Put on your big-girl panties.  

6:  Outings for the sake of the children that mean I will sweat profusely among a large crowd of strangers for several hours while making small talk with said strangers who want to discuss all-things-adoption while two of the four kids have epic meltdowns over needing another snack even though we ate sixteen minutes ago.  (Think, zoo in July...thanks but not thanks).  

7:  700 ultra-expensive children's adult-directed activities that only make all of us want to have an epic public meltdown.  Just say NO to over-scheduling.  

8:  Flakes.  My carefully-laid plans are just that: carefully laid.  When I manage to get my rear out the door, dressed as a semi-normal and functional human being, that's a BIG DEAL.  If you flake on me: girl, bye.  

9:  Extra anything.  I don't want papers, I don't want freebies, I don't want crappy junk in my house.  (Just say NO to free Dum Dums from the bank teller.)  

10:  Healthy brownies.  NOBODY actually likes brownies made with vegetables.  Eat a real damn brownie, and we can be friends. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dear Sugar: My Honest Review of Ancestry's DNA Testing

Dear Sugar:

The (short) story:  I wanted to run a DNA test on one of my children to see the ethnic breakdown. 

The before:  I’ll tell you, I was choosing between 23andme and Ancestry.  The reason I went with Ancestry?  We tried 23andme a year ago, and their customer service sucked. I ended up returning the kit for a full refund.  Also, I’ll be honest that advertising got to me.  I used Ancestry because they’re the sponsorer of one of our favorite shows, Long Lost Family, which features stories of (mostly) adoptees and birth families reuniting. 

I caught the kit during a 20% off sale.  Seemed like a great deal at first, until I realized there’s a $10 shipping fee tacked on.  I only saved $10 off the normal price, but $10 is $10, right? 

The spitting:   I cannot even.   So I had to be SO patient and firm and encouraging.  You’d think ¼ teaspoon of saliva isn’t that much.   A kid like mine can produce that very quickly when arguing with a sibling, but on-demand, by mom, and into a vial?  Um, no.  It took us 45 minutes to get the sample.  And I pulled ALL the stops.  I had the kid “spit” at a bug outside.  I had said child “spit” by making big farting noises.  I encouraged child to “spit” loudly and quietly.  I had even had child “spit” by first swishing the mouth around.    The vial does come with a funnel you screw into the top, so it catches more saliva than if the funnel weren’t available.

I’m pretty sure I produced more saliva, like 10000 times more, than my child did during the process. Kid was miserable.  I mean, kid tried REALLY hard.  But 45 minutes of anything besides i-Pad time or swimming is too long for any young kid.   The only good part?   When there’s enough saliva to fill to the line, you get to remove the funnel, screw on a cap full of blue solution, and SHAKE.   My child LOVED the ten-ish seconds of shaking.   And, of course, the jelly beans I promised when finished.

The mailing:  Easy.  Register the kit online and then mail in the prepared packaging by dropping into any USPS box.  It was very easy to follow the directions.    After I registered, I got to state the name of the person (I used a fake name) and how much I wanted made public (basically nothing).   I found the permissions to be very up front and easy to navigate and understand.   Breeze.  

The arrival:  Ancestry e-mailed me when they received the kit.   Gave me peace of mind.  I had visions of my child's saliva going to some medical research facility and being used Henrietta Lacks style.   Which, if you haven’t read the bestselling book or seen the recent HBO movie, do it.  And just remember, you control how the sample is used and what info is published, so don’t freak out. 

The wait:  Oh did it feel like it took FOREVER to get the results.  Then I'd get all hopeful when I saw a message in my inbox from Ancestry, only for it to be another promotion or update that WAS NOT our results!   To be fair, I'm a pretty impatient, demanding person, so I can't blame Ancestry on this one.  They did say results take 6-8 weeks.

The results:  On a Saturday night, I got an (unexpected)e-mail that we had the results!  (I figured results were only sent M-F.)  It was not as climatic as I thought it would be.  The ethnicity results were not what I anticipated.  However, it was still really cool to save the results for our child and to know, via cold-hard facts, what the truth is vs. taking birth family's word for it.  Not because they birth family was dishonest, but because they themselves didn't have a full history and a lot of information!  The breakdown provided comes in the form of a pie-graph, as well as an explanation and a world map with highlighted regions.  

Repeat?:  Would we do it again?  Yes. Waiting was the hardest part (isn't it that way for everything in life?).   I'm not so interested in learning about my own history (I know I'm Polish and a mix of Irish and American Indian), but two of my other children have also taken the test, and we're waiting on the results.   It's definitely interesting to learn about one's origins, and I think for adoptees in particular, knowing the "once upon a time" and the beginning can be even more meaningful and important than for the non-adopted person.  

Have you used a DNA service?  Which one?  Was it helpful?  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dear Sugar: 9 Adoption Books to Own Before Your Baby Arrives

Dear Sugar:

If you're waiting for your baby, can I just say I'm so over-the-moon for you?  I know exactly how you feel:  a mix of anticipation, elation, joy, and fear.   I've adopted four children, and each time the wait was incredibly challenging and surprising.  

One way that you can get ready for your baby is to start a home library.   As an avid reader and fan of children's books, I've compiled this fab list of the books you need to put in your child's library.

Why fill the library now?  

1:  It helps you nest.  To actively be buying and arranging things for your future baby helps you prepare your heart and mind.  

2:  Practicing reading the books now helps you be able to articulate and discuss adoption with your child from their earliest days.   (Think:  practice makes perfect.)  

3:  You will be *slightly* busy once your child is in your arms.  So getting ready now leaves room on your plate for the more pressing things later:  snuggling your baby!     

Happy reading, and happy waiting.   I'm cheering for you!  

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dear Sugar: 3 Fun Uses for Coffee (And All the Moms Say YAY!)

Dear Sugar:

Coffee.  YES!    Not just good for drinking, though drinking is pretty great!   But that ground coffee you love can be used to create other fab things too!  And how about getting a great deal on ethically-sourced coffee?  Coupon code at the end of the post.  

1:  Facial scrub.

Take a dab of organic coconut oil (a little goes a long way) and mix in a teaspoon of ground coffee.   Then apply to your (clean) face using the pads of your fingers, doing so in circular motion.  You can also use a washcloth.   Massage all over for a few minutes, then wipe off excess, and then rinse your face with warm water.  The oil moisturizes and the coffee exfoliates.   I have read you can use a skin brush in the shower and use this same recipe to help reduce the appearance of cellulite, though you have to rub in for like ten minutes and it makes your shower floor REALLY slick: so be careful!  

2:  Fudge.

Coffee + Chocolate = Bliss.   Follow this super-simple recipe from Babble to create coffee fudge!  (The video shows you how to make the fudge with leftover coffee OR wine.)  Serve it to your girlfriends or eat it all for yourself.  Call it mommy medicine. 

3:  Home fragrance/decor.

Coffee smells incredible (like love and babies).  Find a clear glass container (the dollar store is a great place to find something), partially fill with coffee beans, and then place a vanilla or scent-less candle in the center.   It's simple, it's gorgeous, and the beans release a coffee scent all the live long day to bring you energy. 

This post is sponsored by our friends at Coffee Crate.    Enter coupon code WHITESUGARBROWNSUGAR17 at checkout to receive 15% off your order, from now until August 30.    

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dear Sugar: The Day I Quit Working Out

Dear Sugar:

For fifteen years, I worked out consistently.  Working out helped me get through the stress of college (most of the time I was also working 2-3 jobs to pay my tuition bill).  Working out helped me manage the pressures of planning my wedding.   It aided me in managing my anxiety, my blood sugars, and keeping my weight steady.

When we were matched with our fourth child, I began to stop working out as much.  First, it was summer, and I had three children.   Second, I was a nervous wreck, slowly falling in love with the daughter who wasn't mine.  

When our daughter was born in September, I ceased working out.  And I noticed that some things happened.  Perhaps they sound familiar to you?

-I wasn't sleeping as well.
-My anxiety increased, in steady waves.  
-I had way less energy.  
-I was less coordinated and less strong.  
-I got hurt more easily (probably due to the aforementioned lack of coordination and strength).
-I was less motivated.  
-I dreaded the first two hours of every morning, because I was so slow to fully wake up.  
-My blood sugars crept higher more easily and quickly.  

Looking back, it was really a domino effect.   One thing leading to the next.  That feeling of helplessness and giving up, plus an awareness of spiraling "out of control."  I found a new normal, eventually, a normal of accepting that working out had succumbed to LIFE.  

Now, there's a natural break in routine with a newborn.  Feedings every two-three hours through the night, plus dealing with one child's restless leg syndrome, another child's sensory issues, and another one's asthma.   Then sick season where we got hit with strep and the flu (two solid weeks out of school).   

But for me, a type 1 diabetic, working out is essential.  Exercise lowers my blood sugar, gives me energy (which is needed since my energy-sucking disease needs a boost!), and decreases my anxiety (about everything, including my disease).

I hit rock bottom when a month ago, my hip was in excruciating pain.  I couldn't sit on the floor and play with my kids. Certain movement rendered me breathless.  The pain radiated down my thigh, around my knee, and down to my ankle.  I went to my chiropractor, then my general practitioner, and then to physical therapy.   I felt like I was 85 years old.  I mean really, hip pain?

Since doing the assigned exercises to increase flexibility, mobility, and strength, I'm slowly reintegrating working out back into my schedule.   It used to be non-negotiable.  I was THAT girl in the hotel gym on Christmas Eve, huffing and puffing on the treadmill.  

I'm trying to give myself a lot of grace.  And I'm trying to remember the WHY to working out.   

I share all this with you for a reason.   As a person who has been all over the proverbial map in terms of health, I want to offer a few "been there, done that" thoughts, hopefully so you do not end up in physical therapy:

1:  A lack of self-care is selfish, not selfless.
We are prompted to put our families first.  That's what good moms do, right?  WRONG!  Accept a temporary situation (a new baby) for what it is, but don't remain stagnant.  As my baby began sleeping through the night (and we did, too), I should have reintroduced exercise into my daily routine.  By not taking care of ME, I was not only hurting myself, but I ended up hurting my family with my limited ability to lift, play, and go! 

2:  Exercise isn't (just) about weight. 
Yes, you can lose weight or maintain your weight by exercising. Of course a healthy weight is important.  However, weight control is far more about what you put IN your body than exercise.  That said, there are SO many benefits to working out that go far beyond weight.  It's different for every person, but a few perks for me, when I work out, include:  I fall asleep easily and wake up energized, my anxiety decreases, and I feel empowered.  

3:  Exercise doesn't have to be what others like.
I.  Hate.  Running.   I hate it.   But I do like dancing, walking, and lifting weights.  I do what I love and reap the benefits!  Choose something you enjoy and do it.  

4:  Technology is great, but...
I'll be honest:  I think the whole FitBit, routing your run on your cell, tracking your diet in an app---I find these to be distractions.  I think some people find them helpful, and perhaps increase accountability, but fitness can be really, really simple.   

5:  Get the kids involved.
I've come to realize that my kids need to be included in my fitness routine since they are home all summer. They have their own set of free weights.  They have their own bikes and helmets (so they can pedal around the trail at the park while I walk, pushing the stroller). We love doing XBOX Just Dance! games together.  Again, these are not super strenuous things.  Because if it's not sort-of fun and occupies the kids, I'm not doing it.  Plus, it's really important to me to raise active, healthy children!  

What do you do for exercise?  What has gotten in the way of exercising in past, or what is getting in the way now?  What practical steps can you take to make a positive change?  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Dear Sugar: Meet Birth Mother and Big Tough Girl Ashley Mitchell

 Dear Sugar,

I'm so excited to share with you my interview with Ashley Mitchell. Perhaps you've heard of her already? She's a birth mother and the owner of the fabulous BIG TOUGH GIRL brand. As if she's not powerhouse enough, there's even more fabulousness to this incredible lady!  Meet Ashley:  

Rachel:  Ashley, tell me about yourself!

Ashley:  My name is Ashley Mitchell and I live in the beautiful state of Utah.  Minus a few "lost years" I have lived here my entire life and I love it.  My mom and dad have been together since the 9th grade. They are an amazing example of love, consistency and dedication!  I have two older brothers and a younger sister.  We are all very very good friends and I am so thankful for them!  I am 37 years old.  I am married to the love of my life, John aka Amazing Grace and we have two magical kids, our daughter Tyler (7) and our son Oliver (5).  We live a very simple yet very full and busy life.  I love to travel, paint, bing on Netflix and jammie days!  I truly believe that College Football is the greatest sport on the planet and my one of my bucket list items is to have my picture taken at every College Football Stadium in the country, thus combining two great loves-travel and sports!  One more thing you really need to know....I love snow and I think it is the most magical thing that exists.  

Rachel:  Big Tough Girl (BTG) is everywhere I look!  Tell me first about your connection to adoption.

Ashley:  In 2006 after finding myself in an unplanned pregnancy I made the decision to place my first born child for adoption.  This single act changed the course of my life forever.  After years of grief and suffering I started to heal, started to educate myself and I started to find a voice.  I soon found that I was not alone in my struggle, not just with adoption but in life.  It has been so powerful and healing for me to share my journey through the very complex relationships of adoption.  I am speak all over the country and work primarily on education the professionals on how to better serve women, for life, post placement.  

Rachel:  And what is your life's mission?  What are you passionate about?

Ashley:PASSION ON TOP OF PASSION.  That is what a lot of people say about me when they really get to know me!  I am a pretty simple person and I just want to be lit up!  I want to be inspired and I want to inspire!  My goal would be that every woman in the world would adopt the title of Big Tough Girl.  We are not about perfection and competition!  We are about hope and community.  We are about REAL women sharing REAL struggle...that is what makes us Big Tough Girls, because we show up daily to fight the good fight!

My favorite word in the dictionary is MOXIE and my mantra is: IS THE JUICE WORTH THE SQUEEZE?"  It is all about the determination and courage to go after what you want, learning to say no to what you don't want and being your own authentic self through it all!

Rachel:  There is so much "noise" in adoption these days. It's hard for parents-by-adoption to "get it right."  What advice can you offer those who choose to adopt?  

Ashley:  The best advice I can offer is that there is NO right way!  There is no manual or step-by-step process to do it right but we can always strive to do it well. Drown out the noise and listen to your own heart.  YOU KNOW if you are doing your best, and you know if you can be doing better!  The hardest thing about adoption is that NO adoption is alike.   We need to stop with the expectations and comparisons.  Your adoption will never look like another and that is ok.  Stay open, stay teachable, stay compassionate and optimistic.  Recognize that you can't fix everything, that you don't know everything and please cut yourself some slack!  This requires great patience, great flexibility and great forgiveness.  

Rachel:  What are some of the top adoption resources you recommend? 

Ashley:  Obviously I am going to shamelessly plug for myself!  Big Tough Girl / Lifetime Healing are a great resource.  There are many places to find information.  I always tend to educate myself through national sites like NCFA and Family to Family Support Network for information, radio interviews, blogs and statistics.  Education is key to feeling successful!  As you are looking through sites and reading blogs remember that the personal blogs are just that, personal. They are sharing their experiences and emotions and are not meant to be taken as standard best practices. 

Cheers to Big Tough Girls, education, and Ashley's commitment to empowering women!  

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dear Sugar: Teaching Kids Valuable Lessons and Skills Through Play

Dear Sugar:

Since it's summer and my children are home for three straight months (where is my coffee?!?), I'm using these precious days to teach, and more importantly, teach through play!   

I have a mad mommy crush on all-things-eeBoo and for some very good reasons.  eeBoo values creativity, diversity, affordability, and quality.  I would describe the company as selling products-with-purpose.   

If you've been parenting for any length of time, you know that so many children's toys and games are completely pointless, even annoying.   I loathe noisy, over-stimulating, non-imaginative toys.   But eeBoo?  They provide the very things this mama loves!   

Here are our favorite eeBoo products and a description of why we love them:

Currently, my oldest has a math tutor.  Like me, she's not mathematically-minded.  We're awesome at all-things-creative (think art and writing) and enjoy learning about cultures and history.  But numbers, they just don't add up!  (Pun intended).   When I was trying to decide how to get her to enjoy math (is that possible?) it dawned on me that games are fun.  So why not nab a math game for her to learn-while-playing?   The Simple Math Lotto teaches children ages 5+ about addition and subtraction. 

Then comes talking to my kids about adoption.  Because we're a transracial family, adoption is an open-topic and an obvious "status."    The Happy Families card game, geared toward kids ages 3+, explores the diversity of families while emphasizing communication and taking turns.

Now, let's talk about empathy.   Empathy is something that's very important to our family.  I see parents asking, how do I teach empathy?  Is it something that one either has naturally, or not?  I believe empathy can be learned!  I think experience truly is the best teacher, but why not enjoy a game that teaches empathy, too?   I Heard Your Feelings conversation cards are incredible for "reading emotional situations."  48 cards, each with a picture on the front, and multiple questions on the back to prompt kids to analyze and examine social situations and how to be empathetic.   

I'll Never Forget a Face is our all-time favorite matching game.   It's great for memory-building, diversity-mindfulness, cultural-competency, and laid-back fun.  Have a globe or world map nearby and show your kids the different places where the "faces" are from. They also sell Children of the World art cards and a puzzle.   

For easy, quick fun (with a focus on turn-taking), we love Old Maid (diverse cast of characters) and SNAP!  My three oldest can play these games together.   We took SNAP! with us to family Christmas, and the cousins had a blast!  I love uncomplicated, fun games that include kids with a variety of ages and skill sets.  Also a win: one of my kids struggles with impulsiveness, so any games requiring awareness of others' rights and needs and turn-taking is helpful.   

We are old school.  We still send our friends and family members greeting cards via snail mail. Nothing is better than getting "happy mail"!   eeBoo offers diverse greeting cards to celebrate life's occasions.   My kids include their own messages and sign their names (or for the baby, we trace her hand) to personalize the cards. By doing this, they practice composition and handwriting. Remember what I shared with you on Insta a few weeks back? That a great way to decorate around your house is to frame postcards and greeting cards?  These cards are perfect for that, too!

eeBoo sells so many fantastic items including:  lacing cards, puzzles, party games, art supplies, story cards (my kids LOVE these), paper dolls, block tower sets, and much more!   You can also shop by age, and 
eeBoo has products for babies to adults (and families).   

This post is sponsored by our friends at eeBoo.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: Happy Anniversary to Me and the Hubs!

Dear Sugar:

Today, my husband and I are celebrating 15 years of marriage. Here are some fun fact about us:

-We met at a church coffee house and concert event.  I saw a guy I thought was cute and was flirting with him, when a man approached me and said he knew my mom.  Turns out the man and my mom are cousins, and the guy I was flirting with?  MY COUSIN.  I turned away from him, met Steve, and flirted with him instead.   (We included this hysterical story in our wedding program!)

-When we met, I had a boyfriend, whom I promptly dumped.  

-When we started dating, I was 16; he was 19.  I was in high school, he was in college.  We had attended the same high school when I was a freshman and he was a senior, but we didn't know each other then.  

-Our first date was at Denny's.  He bought my hot chocolate.  He was the first guy I dated who paid for my food. 

-After another fun time at Denny's with church friends, Steve drove me home.  My parents grounded me for a week for riding home with a stranger-college-boy that they didn't know.  

-He attended (as a college guy!) both my junior and senior proms and two homecoming dances as my date.    

-He introduced me to country music, which I hated before, and within a few months of dating, I knew every lyric to every song.   He also introduced me to camping, boating, golfing, and hiking:  which is funny because we don't do any of those things now! 

-He proposed at sunset on Sanibel Island where we were vacationing with his parents.

-We dated five years before getting married.  

-I got married at age 21.  I walked down the aisle to the theme song ("Once Upon a Dream") from Disney's Sleeping Beauty, which was my favorite childhood movie.  

-Our reception was the very, very best.  Held in a place called "The Warehouse" with brick walls, strings of lights, and lots, and lots, and lots of dancing.   I had the most gorgeous (two piece!) dress!

-We honeymooned on The Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is where a ton of Nicholas Sparks' book plots take place.  

-In fifteen years, we lived in one townhouse and two houses.  Six graduations.   Five jobs for him.  Seven jobs for me.    

-My husband saved my life.  After being sick for 1.5 years with no proper diagnosis (despite visiting five medical professionals), one afternoon I took a long, long nap.  When Steve couldn't get in touch with me on my cell, he frantically drove home, put my shoes on me, and put me in the car.  He took me to the ER where I was told I was very lucky to be alive.  I was in a state called DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) with a blood sugar of 700, which is 7x the norm.  

-I knew I wanted to adopt immediately after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  It took Steve a year to come around to my plan.  
Us when we got THE call for our first child!  
-Steve's parents have been married 49 years.  Mine almost 38 years. Longevity!   

-Our biggest differences?  He's analytical, and I'm the visionary.   I make quick decisions, he takes a long time to make his decisions.   He is more flexible and forgiving, while I'm more passionate and erratic.   

-Sometimes we look at each other and say, "WE HAVE FOUR KIDS!"  God has blessed us with the family we never envisioned for ourselves.   God has the BEST surprises!   

Do we have a secret?  No.  We are flawed people.   But we have parents who modeled for us that "family is forever" and commitment is everything.  We're "in it to win it."   And one day, when the kids have jobs and families of their own, all my hubby wants to do is travel the country in his incredible RV.  God-willing, that's exactly where we will be.   

Cheers to us!  

How long have you been married?  What's your secret?  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dear Sugar: Bible Verses to Encourage You Along Your Journey

Dear Sugar:

Ten years.  Four adoptions.  Twenty (plus) profile viewings.  Two "stork drops."  Two pre-birth matches.  Dozens of trips to Kansas City.   Open adoption.  Ethical adoption.  Transracial adoption. Domestic infant adoption.   A chronic disease.   Four homestudies.   Four judges.  Two lawyers. Three adoption agencies.  Four social workers.


Whether you are considering adoption, are waiting to adopt, are waiting to adopt again, or are parenting a child you adopted, these verses will encourage and inspire you along the way.   They are some of my absolute favorites!   ***Click on the center of the image to pin***

For more encouragement along your journey, check out the book I co-authored with (adoptee and mom-by-adoption) Madeleine Melcher, where we offer you 52 devotions to carry you through the year:

-This post contains an Amazon affiliate link.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Dear Sugar: The Incredible Love Between Parent and Child Showcased in These Fabulous Picture Books

Dear Sugar:

You know I'm book obsessed, and today I've put together a collage of my favorite parent and child picture books for you!   Many feature multi-racial families, adoption, and/or text that is open to adoption.  Get ready to BAWL.   Well, a few will make you laugh.

My criteria:  must be inclusive, racially diverse (if possible---because #RepresentationMatters), and fun illustrations (I HATE books with YAWN FEST illustrations).   These books are best for children interested in picture books.

We've read every one of these (and own many of them), so they're MOM and KID approved!    Happy reading, friends, and if you click on the book image, you can get details on the book!

-This post contains Amazon affiliate links.