Friday, April 11, 2014

10 free ideas for a fun summer

This summer, we plan to visit a certain famous mouse in Florida, so the rest of our summer needs to include cheap or free fun. Preferably free.  I started bookmarking and pinning potential summer activities and hopefully these help you as you plan your summer too. Last summer I was in Ghana for over 5 weeks so I feel like I missed our usual activities. This summer, I have some catching up to do.

I start by printing blank calendar pages like this and as I find fun events, they are all marked in one place. The goal is not to do something every day, but to have ideas for those days that swimming isn't an option or we just want to break the routine a little.

1. Free Zoo and Museum days

Our Zoo is free every Monday and several museums are free on designated days. We usually visit our zoo from opening for 2-3 hours and pick an area to explore with detail. It makes our visit more relaxed, less walking for the kids and we want to return week after week.   Here is a tool to locate a Zoo nearby.

2. Swimming

Do you have a local beach, lake or community pool? We have free places within 30 min drive where we can enjoy a day of swimming and a picnic. We also buy a family membership to a local pool because it has a nice shallow end for the little ones and they offer swimming lessons. I once calculated how much the membership cost us per visit and it was 75 cents per trip (for 5 people swimming usually). We plan to get a season pass again this year and also visit local free swimming spots. This option isn't free but for 15 cents per person, it's worth mentioning.

3. Library/reading programs

Our library has a fun reading program and children can earn free stuff for reading books. We sign up in May and keep a record of why we read and for how long. While at the library, see what other programs they may have. We have attended magic shows, crafts and other in activities while checking out books. Bookstores such a Barnes and Noble have programs also, check out their websites each year for free programs. We write the events into our summer calendar and go especially on rainy days.

4. Concerts

Does your community offer free outdoor concerts in the summer time? We go to many concerts each summer, take a blanket and listen to music under the stars. Not only is it a fun family outing, our kids get out of their usual music rut. We pick anything from classical to jazz to African beats and pack a picnic dinner along. An since it's outdoors, kids can dance and clap along.

5. Movies

For rainy days, we keep a list of $1 movies handy (written into the calendar). These are usually played early in the morning and they are older movies, but since we don't go to movies that often, it feels like a special treat to my kids. We also look for outdoor movies in our community which are super fun and free. Sometimes an ice cream social is included which my kids look forward to.

6. Parades and Fireworks

Another fun summertime tradition is to attend parades and fireworks. These are around 4th of July of course, but many communities around here choose a different weekend so for a couple of weekends we can enjoy beautiful fireworks shows. Parades are super fun and my kids love seeing matching bands, fire trucks and of course they are hopeful for some free candy.

7. Playgrounds

This may be not be revolutionary but we do utilize various playgrounds for summertime fun. Pick a different playground, invite a friend or two to join you and it is a fun day for sure. Some parks have a splash pad as well which can help kids cool off while moms relax (hopefully) or join the playtime.

8. Geocaching

This is a new activity for our family. But one we will be doing this summer. I found many geocaches nearby from this website

9. Local sporting events

Do you have a minor league team within driving distance? Check out their kids club or family games for low cost or even free tickets. Last summer we scored tickets for our entire family for $12 to a local minor league baseball game. Kids were excited to watch the game, visit a kids bounce area and there were no parking fees, long walks from the parking lot or $8 hot dogs. It was great. Some even offer fireworks after the game, kids can run bases or meet the players.

10. Organize a neighborhood summer camp

The best moments of summer are often spontaneous and happen at the last minute. It could be as simple as bringing out the slip n slide and inviting a few friends to join. Or a few moms can organize a day of summer camp activities to change the routine of summer a bit. I find that inviting a few friends over changes the dynamics between siblings and we tent to have less squabbles.

Pinterest has tons of ideas on summer time backyard activities with easy to find supplies. We plan to add many of these ideas to our summer bucket list.

We are gearing up for a fun summer! 

No words needed

Afua is non-verbal. As her mom, I long to communicate with her. When she cries, I would love to know what's wrong. The more I get to know Afua though, the more I understand her body language and how she communicates with us. Looking through recent pictures, I could tell exactly how Afua was feeling.

Mom, I'm bored....where are my brothers and sisters? (This was spring break week and Afuas siblings spent a few days at in-laws)

Brother....I am not letting you out of my sight. 

Ahhhh...I got my sister back

More tickles!!!! 

Mom...I'm waiting for my lunch. 

Afua is teaching us that words aren't needed to convey feelings and thoughts. We have learned that sometimes "talk is cheap" and words can actually get in the way. Afua communicates with her whole self, she is communication. And part of my journey has been to learn her unique language. We celebrate each time she uses ASL and learns a new sign. And we appreciate all the ways that she has found to communicate with us.

Related: How to Keep Your Non-Verbal Child Safe

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Orphan Care

After our family's 6 trips to Ghana and 5+ weeks living in the midst of orphan care last summer, I have had many thoughts swirling through my brain . For 8 months I have struggled to put these thoughts into a post.  I am a Momma to 3 children  who lived in institutions and the effects of that life is evident every day. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes very prominent. So I've been thinking how to approach orphan care so that is sensitive to children, makes a lasting impact and reverses the cycle of poverty. Here are some things I am currently processing...

Moms and their babes in Ghana

1. Orphan care = Caring for Orphans

Sounds simplified, but this is where most of us start, definitely where I started. We become aware of millions of children who are labeled "orphans" and we feel compelled to help. Before jumping on a plane or adopting a child, my biggest hope is that we would educate ourselves  about orphans, who they are and what they need. In fact, most orphans have parents, grandparents or aunts/uncles who love them but can't for a variety of reasons to care of them. So the proper term for orphans may indeed be "vulnerable children" and there is so much we can do to keep these children connected to their families. That's the ultimate goal of orphan care, that there would be no more orphans. Some simple things we can do from the comfort of our home: pray, sponsor a child (email me and I can connect you with many wonderful organizations), support people who are working with vulnerable families and educate others about the condition of children here in the USA and overseas.

Emmi stocking shelves at the Fern House, a maternity home in Ghana. Helping vulnerable moms is definitely "orphan care"

2. Orphan Care does NOT  = adoption
Adoption is one part of orphan care and I do believe in the restoration and healing power of a loving family. I have 5 amazing children, 3 of them joined our family through adoption and I have parented them through their grief and healing. But too often adoption is seen as the first, best and only choice. In Ghana, 80-90% of children living in orphanages have families, they are not orphans the way we imagine them to be. So if you were to visit an orphanage there, don't assume adoption is the best  choice for most of them. Maybe the children need school and food sponsorship to return to their families? Maybe their mother needs a micro loan to get back on her feet? Maybe the parents/village need education on special needs or medical sponsorship so a child can live with their family? That's orphan care that makes more sense for most kids. And then, there are those children that need a new family, the 10-20% who have no other option ( and worldwide, 95% of orphans are over the age of 5, part of a sibling group and/or have moderate to severe special needs). Adoption makes sense for them, but please let a qualified social worker decide that for the child. Let every other alternative be sought for that child before they are uprooted. It's a painful journey for the child as well as the family and we must be ready to some day explain to that child that we explored every other option before adopting them.

Emmi washing baby equipment

3. How to visit orphanages in a child centered way

Over the summer, the orphanage that Afua lived in for the past 2 years would get a steady stream of tourist visitors. They would bring donations and then many times they asked to see the children. Their cameras were around their necks and sometimes they were allowed access to the children. Pictures were taken, kids received treats and hugs were exchanged. I spoke with many of these "orphan tourists" and they readily admitted a stop at an orphanage was a quick part of their trip similar to a visit to the Elmina slave castle, the art market and other tourist destinations in Ghana. Other orphanages allow week long visitors, repeat visitors and pop in visits as they know this is vital for their operations. This can be done in a child centered way or it can also be done in a way that leaves children with continual broken hearts. My biggest advice is to approach a visit in a way that allow the caregivers to maintain their role while supporting them behind the scenes. What are the tasks that are always in the back burner due to taking care of the children? Do the dishes, sweep the floors, help with inventory, fix anything you know how to fix or find your unique way to be an asset, not a tourist. If that is your focus, I am sure your time will be spent wisely.I would sometimes do a pop visit to an orphanage to deliver a package from a child's adoptive family. I consider that an honor and an exception to the rule. Each time, it helped the child know their family was coming and brighten their day. But more often, it's more meaningful to have a long term supportive role that lifts up those who do the daily work long after my trip is done.

Emmi's hard work was rewarded with advice from a special auntie. 

4. Long Term View

Orphan care should not be a one time mission trip or one Sunday topic at church. It's a lifelong commitment to helping children who are vulnerable. Why should we care? Because one day these children are the adults of the world and we want this planet to be filled with well adjusted, attached adults. Statistics show that children from institutions are more likely to commit crimes, become victims of human trafficking or repeat the cycle of poverty and orphan-hood. And just so we don't kid ourselves, institutions exist here in the United States as well. We don't call them orphanages, they are now residential care facilities. As those teens age out, we want to be sure they can enter society in a well adjusted manner and that each child has a family they can go to for support, advice and love.

Orphan care is so much more than adoption. There are thousands of children in Ghana who are vulnerable and only under 200 children children are adopted to the US each year. Adoption alone will not solve this issue.  Let's all find our piece of the puzzle and become part of the solution. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Words that lift us up

On Tuesday we had an appointment with Afuas Physiatrist. My husband is convinced that it's a made up specialty, but I am so glad we have this professional in our team. He is the most compassionate and down to earth guy. In his simple words, he encouraged me more that I have been encouraged in months; "Keep up the good work Mom. You are doing all the right things for her." It was just what my soul needed to hear.

Afua enjoying her evening snuggles and tickles

I am hard onmyself at times. I could be more therapeutic, fight to keep her hearing aids on more, be more creative, more energetic, more patient.... Why didn't I notice her hearing loss right away? I can live in this place of self doubt more than I should, but for now, those words from our doctor lifted me from "that place" and kept me flying high all day.

It was also our first spring feeling day an we enjoyed a dose of vitamin D the natural way and played outside. Afua and Joy played ball together. Come on spring! I hope you stick around!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day

Afua woke up at 8am this morning. We had breakfast (hers is pureed but not specially cooked) and got dressed. Then she played with toys, watched a Signing Times video and then we played some more. After snack, we did exercises but it's fun play for her (maybe a bit more work for me but definitely play for her).  Now she is napping and then we might head out to the store.

Sounds like an ordinary day, and it is. Unless you knew Afua, nothing in our day today is different because she has Cerebral Palsy. In fact, most of our days are ordinary and other than her wheelchair, leg braces and hearing aids, there is little about our days that are different than when my typically developing children were this age. We may do some things differently but I wouldn't say it's necessarily better or worse.

Yes, there are days that we sit in Dr offices, therapies and make hard decisions. But beyond the diagnosis, she is a child, our daughter. She makes sure we don't forget that she is a child first and foremost.

I wish that my words were eloquent enough to explain how Afua has changed our life, our world. And how there are other children waiting, today, to have the privilege of a family. I wish I could explain the conditions that these children live in and how different their life looks in a loving family. I wish I could explain that you don't have to be a superwoman or superman to adopt a child with special needs. It takes more than love, but most of us have more than love to give.

In honor or Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, here are just a few children who are waiting for their families to find them:

Want to know more about adopting and parenting a child with Cerebral Palsy? No Hands But Ours has a great resource with information on many special needs. 
And of course, you can always e-mail me with questions.

Monday, March 24, 2014


For months we have processed Afua's hearing loss and how we should proceed. For months we have hoped for someone to give us a roadmap from the medical community but we realized that there were many different choices and many different opinions. And the best thing we could do was to pray and go with the path that brought us peace.

Earlier this week, we met with our "team" and explored the option of cochlear implant once again. Afua's CT scan makes her a perfect candidate for the implant. I was hoping we would find out also the reason for her hearing loss and we did narrow it down a bit. 

Currently the best option all around is to place a cochlear implant into Afua's left side and keep using a hearing aid in her right ear. This would allow Afua to hear speaking and begin to recognize more environmental sounds. 

The outcome of the cochlear implant will depend on so many different factors. Afua could learn to speak, it could enhance other communication tools and it could improve safety as she will hear more noises around her.And no matter what, it will improve her quality of life, which is what all the surgeries to date have done.

We will start the process next month and depending on insurance the process I surgery can be quick or slow. 

Most importantly, we have passed our fork in the road and once again are moving forward with a plan.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I did consider and I will wear that shirt

The article linked above has been floating all over my Facebook newsfeed. My adoptive Momma friends are sharing it, wondering if they should wear their adoption related shirts. Some are parenting children who were adopted, some are currently fundraising with t-shirts and some are waiting families. I think it's absolutely important to read with an open mind and I must say that I paused too, read the post and let it sink in for some time. These are the stories in the adoption triad that we want to listen to, and I do. This time, I am just not sure it's the way I choose to go personally.

The fact is, I have many orphan care, adoption and other awareness shirts and I am not ready to toss them aside just yet. Not because of my sense of fashion, but because of those who are left behind. The children who will never be adopted but who will need a lifetime of sponsorship and advocacy. Children with special needs who do not have a voice while hidden in cribs in orphanages.

I am also not willing to subscribe to the thought that awareness shirts immediate reveal something about my family. If I wear a domestic violence shirt, do people assume that my husband abuses me? I must have breast cancer when I wear a pink ribbon? My children must have HIV since I wear those shirts too? No, that has not been my experience.

I do choose the shirts I wear with sensitivity to my children. My children are NOT orphans, they are sons and daughters. So the word orphan does not apply to them. My son is old enough to have an opinion and he wants to wear shirts that raise funds for people in his country, he feels empowered to be an advocate. Our family does not use the terms "rescue" and "saving" our children, because that would make me their savior (which I'm not, I'm their mom). So those t-shirts are not ones I would wear. But I respect other viewpoints on this and realize that most people are willing to reconsider terminology once they are lovingly educated about it.

One day while waiting for my kids in taekwondo, I was stopped by a woman who noticed my t-shirt. It said something about feeding children and she asked more about it. We talked about different ways to help that are sensitive to children, that truly bring change to communities and she wrote the website off my shirt. Months later she came to talk to me and to me how her family sponsored a woman to go to sewing school through an organization. A mother now has a real chance at parenting her children and providing them with an education. All prompted by a t-shirt.

Afua at her orphanage in 2012. I wore my awareness t-shirt that says Go.Be.Love. 
We went, we were and we loved :)