Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Here I have been saying that it hasn't really felt like Christmas this year with no snow, no family coming in to celebrate with us, and not being in Guatemala. However, that whole sentiment changed Christmas eve. First, there was church with the acting out of the Christmas story, my children shouting "AMEN!" after every prayer, and singing Christmas carols. Then Mommy and Daddy got to play Santa's elves after the kids went to bed. Finally, there was Christmas morning with the kids pure joy and excitement. What a wonderful holiday the Merrill family had -- our first all together and in the US. Amen.

The tree Christmas Eve

Garrett was awake and happy at 4 am. Mommy and Daddy buried their heads in the pillows until about 6:30. I opened the bedroom door and the little man came charging out. He ran into the living room and stopped cold, just staring in amazement in all that was there before him. I wish that Chris and I had gotten it on video, but all I have are still pics. Here he is with his new kitchen. (Elena was a little slower in the wake-up and therefore about a minute behind him in discovering what Santa had left beneath the tree.)

Look, Daddy, a cup.

Monkey see, monkey do. Elena showing us the kitchen had a cup for her, too.

Let anyone try to tell me that there isn't a Santa Claus and I will show them photos of my children's faces on Christmas morning. Pure joy. Love it.

Elena feeding her baby doll a bottle (it empties as the baby "drinks") while she sits in her stroller. Elena has been pushing her dolls all around the house. What a good mamacita.

Little Miss Too Cool sitting on her new bike

I love how tender my hubby can be with the kids. I know that I'm a bit impartial, but I think he's the world's best dad. Here he is opening a "puz" (puzzle) with Garrett. If you look at the background you can see a pear that the kids were munching on. They got chocolate and fruit in their stockings, took a few bites of the choco, and then spent the rest of the morning nibbling their fruit! How many years do you think we can pull off that coup?

Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa for all our food and kitchen gadgets. Now we can really get cooking!

Can you feel the excitement in the air?

Of course, the box that the toys come in always make the best toys.

Christmas happens ...

all over our living room. :)

Pretty princess playing with a dinosaur. Just when I start to wonder how to raise a girly-girl she pulls something like this.

Caught by the camera

Handsome boy cooking in the kitchen. He was some concerned when he woke up from his nap and the play kitchen had been moved from the living room. Thankfully everything was still there.

My pretty princess with her pretty princess Barbie, Cinderella.

Hmmm, how does this thing work?

Maybe like this?

Where did Daddy go? I brought him a soda to share with me.

Right before this picture Garrett looked at Elena and said, "Pretty princess, Sissy. Hug." Awwww. Just melts a Momma's heart.

My tough guy sitting on his new bike. Can you tell that he is about to fall asleep sitting up?

I spent most of the afternoon, and a chunk of Christmas Eve day, in the kitchen preparing our holiday meal. Our holiday dinner menu was:

  • Roast turkey (9 lbs) and gravy (Wolfgang Puck recipe with sherry and white wine -- yummy!)
  • Cranberry-orange relish
  • Parker House rolls (my first attempt at making bread from scratch)
  • Dressing (plain Pepperidge Farm, blah. Need to change that for next year)
  • Maple roasted butternut squash
  • Green bean casserole from scratch
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Pumpkin bread with cinnamon cream cheese spread
  • Peppermint chocolate pudding pie

Yeah, we had a lot of food for just the four of us, but I wanted to cook a good 'ole traditional meal. As a self-critical cook, I still have to say it was all pretty delicious. I just need to work on the timing of getting all the food cooked and ready at the same time. Next year I'm going to spice it up a little bit and try to make a traditional Guatemalan tamale to have with the meal. We also meant to have the kids drink hot chocolate, but they were hopped up enough on other sugar and just the excitement of the day that we decided to forgo that Guatemalan tradition. We'll figure out how to put our traditions all together as the years go on. We've got lots of time to get better.

What a wonderful, joyous holiday we had. We are sad that we did not get to celebrate with any friends or family, but our day was pretty darn near perfect. We hope that your Christmas celebration was equally special and joyful.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Adoption Miracles

Grab a hankey and have a good read. Adoption really can be the work of a miracle.

GI saves Iraqi boy in long-shot adoption

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What a difference a year can make

One year ago today, Chris, Garrett and I arrived in Guatemala to meet Elena for the first time. What a wonderful Christmas gift that was. To walk into the lobby of the Marriott and see this beautiful face looking back at us. I'm tearing up even now thinking of it.

Look what a peanut she was -- a mere 14 pounds, the same weight Garrett was the previous Christmas at 4 months! Now my big girl is 27.5 pounds and 34 in. tall! But she'll always be my peanut.

It was such a different way to experience the holiday for us -- no blood family, no large meal, fireworks lighting up the night sky at midnight. Elena was so quiet and observant, nothing like the instigator and giggle-puss that I have living in my house this Christmas. Garrett and Elena were just learning to feel each other out, whereas now they love and torment each other in alternating cycles. They are the best of friends and I honestly can say that each would not know what to do without the other. Both Chris and I struggle to remember what life was like before both these angels graced our family.

However, despite being in a strange land we met some wonderful people, wonderful new friends. We formed a new extended family of sorts in the baby room. Visiting in the afternoons or in the middle of night when one of our children refused to sleep created bonds between our families that Chris and I hope will last a long, long time. So to the Rice family, Kurn family, Meverden family, Dillons and others we met last year -- thank you for helping us have such a wonderful Christmas and thank you for sharing your life with us. We miss you this holiday season and pray that we can celebrate together again some day in the not-to-distant future.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Adventures in Potty Training and another thing

So, we have started the great adventure of potty training with the kids. Garrett refuses to have anything to do with the big potty, but will sit on the little potty -- with his pants up! -- and tell me what he is doing. Check his diapers and, sure enough, he has completed his business. However, ask him if he wants to sit on the potty and I believe the ear-shattering scream of "NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" can be heard throughout the neighborhood. Hmm, guess we'll just keep telling him that we are going to the potty if he wants to join us and just wait for him to decide that he wants it. So much for using a checklist to see if it is time to start toilet training.

Elena, on the other hand, is a completely different story. She loves to be told what a big girl she is sitting on the potty. In fact, I even made up a silly little song to sing to her while she sits on the big potty on her Dora seat (now I don't have to hold her up). She gets a sticker to put on posterboard, taped to the wall right in front of the potty, every time she sits on the potty. She has picked out big girl undies, that based on the smile on her face she feels oh-so-proud to wear (behold the power of pretty, pretty princesses). If she actually pees or poos on the potty she gets chocolate. My kids are crazy about "choco" and this is a BIG incentive for them. Yes, I am big enough to admit that I believe in bribing my children in order to teach them a specific behavior and then fazing out that bribe. So far Elena has peed on the potty a few times and pooped once. Mostly we just sit on the potty and sing our silly song every twenty to thirty minutes. Occasionally Garrett gets jealous that his sister is getting all this positive attention and will sit on the big potty for a count of ten, but those times are few and far between.

The other adventure in our house currently is me in the kitchen. I have a confession -- I LOVE TO COOK! Those of you who know me might not believe it, but it is true. For years I didn't cook because I had a kitchen the size of a postage stamp. That, topped with the fact that I was working and never knew when Chris was going to be home from his work, kept me from doing much of anything in the kitchen. Now that we are settled in our new home and I am home all the time, I have gotten back into cooking. I am addicted to Yahoo!Foods website and stalk it for new recipes several times a day -- yeah, like new recipes are magically going to appear. :) I am slowly working my way through the two Rachael Ray cookbooks I have (Express Lane Meals and Just in Time). Yumm-o, as she would say. That topped with my birthday gifts from Chris of a new set of sharp knives and a food processor has contributed to lots of fun hours in the kitchen (only a few minutes at a time, mind you -- my specialty is 15-30 minute meals).

I've added a new section on our sidebar -- "What's Cookin?". Here I'm going to list our menu for the week (doing this has stream-lined grocery shopping, a challenging task anytime with two toddlers so all the help is appreciated). Most likely they are from the Rachael Ray cookbooks, but if they come from the internet I'll note it. If any of you out in blogger land have a recipe you'd like to pass, please let me know. If you want a recipe, post a comment or email me and I will see what I can do. A couple of months ago I tried a recipe exchange and received a whopping 2 recipes. Maybe this will net us more dinner ideas?

Speaking of recipes, I know most of us are getting our menu ready for Christmas dinner. For those of you who are interested in a new version of the traditional green bean casserole, and one that is completely made from fresh products, do I have the recipe for you! I tried this recipe out for Thanksgiving and it was a hit. 90% of the recipe is cooked on the stovetop, so it frees up the oven for your dressing and other goodies. Check it out at: Chris is looking forward to my making this casserole again for Christmas and I'm looking forward to making it. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ponderings and Photos

So, I have been doing some thinking lately. I love my children tremendously and I am so thankful that we have the resources available that allow me to stay home with them. However, I don't know how much longer I can stay at home and stay sane. I am missing the classroom something fierce. That said, and considering we have no idea how long Chris will be stationed here, making getting employed in a school district as a full-time teacher challenging, I have decided to start my masters. I am so excited -- classes begin on January 1st. Finally, I'll have something to do during nap time other than clean the house or watch poor daytime TV! It will be so good to start using my brain for more taxing purposes than deciphering the latest whine or protest cry from one of my children.

I am also contemplating starting a small photography business. I love to take pictures. Have loved it for forever. In fact, I'm one of those nerds that reads books on taking photos, even though I've never taken a class to learn to be a better photographer. If there is a class offered on base or in a nearby town this spring, it most likely will end up on my list of things to do.

Back to taking pictures for money. Kids grow up so fast. Taking them into a studio they don't always act/react the way they would in their own home or playground. We live in a society where we don't necessarily live near grandparents or where a parent can be gone on business or a deployment for long periods of time. Then there are those of us that have experienced the miracle of adoption -- we want to document every minute with our bundles of joy. If we are to keep up with our kids then we are going to pay a small fortune in sitting fees and pro-quality photos -- Chris and I spent over $150 for a photo CD from Sears last weekend, and that included a whopping 11 photos taken in about 20 minutes!!!

My thoughts are that I would take photos of kids and sell their parents a CD of the session. I think that this could be a good outlet for me on top of studying curriculum planning and instructional design. I've been moved by the Celebrate Adoption sessions and would love to take pictures of families brought together by adoption. I want to help families who are surviving long deployments -- Chris at least didn't feel that he was missing everything about the kids growing up while he was gone. Plus, since this would be "extra" income, I would donate some of the money to Global Orphan Team.

Now, here are my questions: 1.) Based on photos that I have posted on my blog, would you hire me to take photos of your precious babes? 2.) What do you consider a fair price for a photo CD with 1 hours worth of photos from a location of your choice (with some retouching)? 3.) How high of a quality camera would you expect from your photographer? This is my real big conundrum currently. My girlfriend is getting married next summer and I offered to take the photos of her wedding. She in turn offered to help me buy a camera to start off my business. I really want the Cannon 40D digital SLR that has all kinds of bells and whistles and is a professional grade camera. However, the Cannon EOS Rebel also has 10.1 megapixels but the big difference is it doesn't shot as many frames per second or have quite as fine a resolution. Do I go for the big camera or the Rebel (I have the film version and LOVE it), since I am not sure how much time and money I am going to have to invest into this business. Any thoughts or suggestions you can post are greatly appreciated.

Saturday afternoon in the yard with Daddy:

At the park:

Any time I start to think that my kids are getting to big I just need to see them next to something that I know is big (like a basketball hoop) to be reminded that they still have lots of growing left to do.
Elena's "Uh-oh" face
Superman down the slide

Taking the steps like a big girl

Shot from below while Garrett is climbing the ladder

Fun with wood chips



So, would you buy my photos?