Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of books, movies, etc.

Gift ideas for the 2017 world traveler

Want a few little suggestions of what very well may be perfect additions to put under the tree for someone who is heading to China with us ūüôā or somewhere else around the world in 2017? Here are a few of our personal favorites to get you started.

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screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-11-52-06-amAfter using packing cubes, you may never go back. They aren’t much money and work so well for organizing your packing as well as allowing you¬†to pack way more than you think will fit in your luggage which is always important. This blue set¬†is a good option as it comes with some pretty spiffy extras.







Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.25.55 PMA luggage scale is a must have because that 50 lb. international luggage weight limit comes fast and the 44 lb. limit for a domestic flight in China comes even faster. At least one¬†luggage scale for someone on a team of travelers is essential for packing and¬†repacking in China. Here are two of our favorites–this one from EatSmart or this one from Balanzza.


screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-04-22-pmWe love Timbuk2 bags in general. And, this Q laptop backpack¬†is our favorite China carry-on bag. It’s great on the flight, at the pearl market, and at the orphanage. All that several times over, and it will still look essentially brand new.

 

 
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China travelers need a passport holder, preferably one that can hold an envelope of crisp, brand-new-looking $100 bills without them having to be folded. This one from Ideawin for cards, passport, pen, travel documents, and even phone is awesome. It zips shut, has the wristlet thing, and comes in some pretty fun colors.
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Yes, these tags are obnoxiously bright. But, that’s the point. Baggage claim is way easier with¬†a couple obnoxiously bright luggage tags.¬†These colors and the grippy texture are perfect.










Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 6.07.21 PMWhen traveling to China, you¬†really only need a plug adapter (not an electric converter) for your computer, phone, iPad, and camera charger. They can handle the voltage and just need the right type of plug. Trust us when we say travelers shouldn’t¬†bother with bringing a¬†hair dryer and/or flat iron to use with a converter. It’ll¬†probably be destroyed within a day or two because the voltage is just too much (and you don’t want to burn your hotel down or anything).
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We know this TRTL travel pillow is kind of odd. But, what travel pillow doesn’t look a bit odd? And, when you are on a flight for 13 odd hours, odd is just fine. Whatever works. And, this one does. We should be getting freebies from this company for how many we’ve promoted and sold. We like that it is cozy and that it isn’t some big fluffy thing that you wear around the airport or have to tie onto your bag that can and will get filthy.








screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-58-43-pmNothing is better in a stocking than more stockings. And, these
Yaktrax cabin socks are nice ones. Put them in your carryon for when you want to get a bit more comfortable on that forever long flight.

 

 

 

 







screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-3-07-54-pmAlways a welcome stocking stuffer. A Starbucks gift card is great for the airport before departing and when you only have one more flight to go before home. That decaf caramel macchiato or green tea latte just tastes even sweeter then.




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Bathrooms in China often have sinks but no soap. This mini container has teeny tissue-like sheets of soap that are perfect for such situations when using hand sanitizer just isn’t what you want.




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This is also a handy stocking stuffer for the China traveler–travel sized, concentrated laundry soap. Then you can wash clothes to rewear what you need to and spot clean the spots you get from eating with chopsticks.



screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-16-15-pmEvery China traveler needs something to bring order to plug adapters, iPad chargers, phone charges, headphones, etc. There are lots of them out there. But, this one from Bagsmart looks like a good one with its bold colors so you can spot it easily in the depth of your suitcase or carryon.










screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-21-50-pmA toiletry bag is essential, and we prefer hanging ones to keep them from sitting in icky water on a bathroom counter. Grab this inexpensive one from NeatPack in a fun color.














screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-53-24-pmSometimes you just get tired of drinking bottled water and room temperature Coke. Having a couple of these Crystal Light liquid things in your bag for such occasions makes staying hydrated a bit more tolerable.



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Melatonin is your friend. And, it will make a good stocking stuffer that someone thanks you for later.

 

 

 

 

 






screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-30-55-pmAmylee Weeks is a talented designer. This journal is one of her designs, and we love it for a travel journal. Check out what the inside pages look like. They are inspiring but leave plenty of room for thoughts and doodles as you go and go deeper.

 

 

 

 



Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 7.21.57 PMOkay, so these are super expensive. we know. And, likely nobody’s buying these noise-canceling headphones as a gift since they have a high price tag. But, we had to share them because they are LIFE CHANGING. Seriously. If you have $250 to spare, get these. The plane ride and train rides and bus rides and long taxi rides are entirely different with these babies. You’re welcome.



screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-12-37-20-pmPlease don’t buy this for your China trip. It’s a post-China trip need. Every hotel room has an electric kettle to heat and clean water (no tea needed, just hot water). And, after China, you’re going to want one of your own. this one by Oster¬†is great¬†and the blue light is so nice in the wee hours of the morning.

 

 

 


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A very special gift is a sterling silver charm like this one from Jiayin Designs with a special word¬†or phrase to wear before, during, and after your China trip. You do have to think ahead to give the gift of this charm–they take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to arrive. But, they are¬†so unique and will be sure to become an heirloom.




Don’t forget the gift idea of¬†books about China travel, culture, adoption, etc…..

Be sure to check these out:

These links are Amazon affiliate links. What that is an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to¬†Amazon. Use the links in this post at no cost to you and know that when you shop using them, we’ll get a small kick back to support what we do.¬†

Nesel Pack Sensory-Friendly Backpack {GIVEAWAY}

There are some words to describe our kids that seem to pop up often among our families: wiggle worm, jumping bean, monkey, crazy man, wild lady. You get the idea. We’re the parents sitting down in tiny plastic chairs at a conference who hears from the teacher that she feels like she has to take dramamine in order to teach our child.

Here’s the thing: it may not simply be disobedience (or to aggravate you). Simply put, all our thoughts and actions are traced to sensations that we transmit and make sense of within our brains. Our brains are always working to process internal and external stimuli and then tell our bodies how to respond. The way each of our brains are uniquely wired drives what this looks like for each one of us. When children experience hard starts and trauma that affect their developing brains, their responses might look a bit different than what we’d call typical. What all that means in very simple terms is that all that fidgeting and bouncing around and hyperactivity might not be resolved with typical correction. Instead, we need to study our kiddos and seek to provide them with the right balance of sensory tools and strategies to help them regulate and help us tolerate their need for it as well as connecting correction.

We’re always looking for good tools for our toolboxes–fidget foot bands, chewy jewelry, wiggle seats, and all sorts of fidgets. We discovered a tool recently that quickly has become one of our favorites–the Nesel Pack. It’s a backpack specifically designed for kiddos with sensory processing difficulties. It has several features such as clips on the straps to attach your favorite tools, specially designed straps to mimic a compression vest and a hip belt that offers more compression, a security strap, pouches on the inside to add weight if desired, and an ID tag in the front to let your child customize the bag in one of five fun colors. We think it’s pretty awesome outfitted with some of those favorite fidgets from our favorite sensory store¬†with the best service from folks who are on the same team–as you can see.

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And, because we love it so much and want to introduce it to as many people as we can, we¬†are offering a giveaway for one Nesel Pack of your very own (valued at $99!) to put under your Christmas tree this year. Enter through one or all of the ways in the Rafflecopter giveaway below and we’ll announce a winner next week. And, if you don’t win,¬†just¬†order one of these bags and stuff your kiddos stocking with all the fidgets to go with them for a Merry Christmas for your kiddo and you both.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tangled

We are HUGE fans of the movie Tangled.

But I have to be honest, the night we saw it in the theater, Rob and I both had a reaction to it. Not the giggly, happy one. No. It was a sadness, and I now know it was God preparing us for something important.

We are in the midst of celebrating four wonderful years with sweet Hannah. Last week we celebrated the day Hannah became formally, fully, no-looking-back, no worries,

A Review and Giveaway: Secret Daughter

I have some friends I’d like you to meet – Kavita, Jasu, Somer, Krishnan, and Asha. I met them here at the beach on vacation; I’ve only known them for a few days. As much as I’d like to speak to them and allow you to do the same, we can’t; they are alive only in a well painted portrait of words. But, they’ve spoken to me.

There aren’t many books in which I find myself drawn in some way to all the characters. Maybe one or two resonate with me, not all. Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s

Blessed Are the Booty Hearts: Giveaway!

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Did you feel the need to say anything out loud after you read this?

Maybe a Hallelujah, or an Amen?

Well, if you were Eva Rose, you would have cried out, “Mom! My bottom is dancing!”

Isaiah 41:10 makes my daughter’s bottom dance.

Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ.

For a long, long time, eons it seemed, I searched high and low for un-annoying Christian children’s music. In vain. In vainy vainy vain.

I just wanted some good tunes, fun for kids, while not simultaneously making mom want to bang her head against the dashboard. So much good stuff exists in the secular world, I could not fathom why it was so impossible to find a Christian Laurie Berkner? Or a Dan Zanes for Jesus?

Wanting my kids to learn the good old songs and hymns I knew, I settled for listening to melodramatic children’s voices accompanied by a synthesizer played by a guy whom I imagined to have Flock of Seagulls hair. (With the Christian music leader frosted tips, of course. And a goatee. Probably wearing some Toms. And sporting some tats.)

And then, something beautiful and magical happened….I discovered Seeds Family Worship.

And now, if you are experienceing a little anxiety, I am not likely to quote scripture at you. Oh no.

But I will sing it at you. (Walker might accompany with an interpretive dance, should you happen to be exceptionally blessed.)

Lord knows I serenade myself with some do-not-be-anxious, like, well, pretty much every day.

These CDs, which are also available on iTunes, totally rock, and I mean that literally and figuratively. The band takes great Bible verses and sets them to great music. After listening to them, God’s word will be hidden in your child’s heart – and yours. Because get this – are you sitting down – I find myself listening (and jamming and singing very loudly) to Seeds even when my kids are not in the car.

And if you ever hear someone singing “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, it is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, it is the gift of God….la di DA. La di DA, ohhh, not from yourselves…” while goosing cantaloupes at Kroger, well, that would be me, and that would be Ephesians 2:8. Which I now know by heart. And which my bottom now dances to.

Now, one caveat – if you buy this CD, you will find yourself trying to explain things like, “Why is Jesus da wight of da world?” and “What is wages of sin?” or, “What’s a new cweation mean?” to 3 and 4 year olds. So have your coffee ready.

But can I tell you how my heart rejoices while I try and explain theological concepts to my preschoolers that I did not learn about until I was almost 30?

Shepherd and Eva Rose’s all time favorite is Booty Heart. “Play the Booty Heart song, Mom! Booty heart!” Did you not know about the booty hearts? Well, they will see God. Jesus said so in Matthew 5:8: Blessed are the booty pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed, yeah yeah yeah, blessed, yeah yeah yeah…

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Missy

Not your typical “mommy blog,” Missy’s beautifully-written musings run the gamut from witty and light to deep, thought-provoking and prayer-invoking…often simultaneously. Her blog touches on anything and everything: the nitty-gritty of daily life with four small children, social/political commentary, the calling and pursuit of adoption, and the ups and downs of walking faithfully through life with her husband and for the glory of God.

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And, We Are Grafted In is sharing the love today. Seeds Family Music has agreed to do a giveaway here. One reader will receive the cd of their choice from their store. And, you know what else is super cool? Each cd comes packaged with two identical cds–one for yourself and one for you to giveaway. Just keep planting the seeds, people.

To enter, simply leave a comment on this post (one per family, please). A winner will be chosen from those who commented at the end of the week.

Post-Referral Panic

I have debated long and hard about whether to write about this or not, but I have decided to for three important reasons:

  • It’s the truth.
  • I felt like the worst person in the world when it happened to me, and I think part of that was that I had never heard of anyone else having these same feelings though many surely have (or maybe not in which case I may be sorry to be the first person to admit it). Feeling like you are having a reaction no one has ever had makes the feelings feel even worse. Maybe me admitting this will help someone else.
  • Most importantly of all, it contains the most significant moment in our referral story for me. The moment I’ll always come back to if I ever panic again.

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The joy of being matched lasted about 24 hours for me.

Wait.

I’m not sure I felt joy at all that day we called to tell our agency that we were sending in our LOI (Letter of Intent to Adopt).

In fact, my matter-of-factness, my taking-care-of-the-business of it, never actually yielded any emotions. However, after hanging up the phone, the fear began to build up, growing more and more as the hours ticked by. By Thursday night (the day after accepting our referral), once I had the kids in bed and the house was quiet (Scot was away the week we accepted our referral), I began to feel panic almost physically strangling me.

Scot called that evening to say good-night to the kids and to let me know that he really couldn’t talk to me that night because everyone was going out. I told him I needed to talk to him and that it really could not wait until morning. Who knows what else I said, but after the kids were in bed, Scot called back (having excused himself from the events of the evening), and I fell apart on the phone with him.

Fell. Apart.

Every fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, every bit of it came pouring out. And, that’s not like me. In this whole adoption process, if I’ve gotten really freaked out at any point, I tried to temper it with Scot fearing I’d freak him out too much. But, I figured it was now or never to let it all out. Not about adoption in general, but about the boy we just accepted in particular. I’m not sure how he even understood what I was saying over the phone because I was so emotional.

I covered it all. Every “what if.” And, that was no small task, because at that point, there were for me, still many, many unanswered questions.

I told Scot point blank that I thought we may have made a mistake, and that IF that’s what we ultimately decided, HE would need to call our agency, because I simply would not be able to. (Scot’s never called our agency. I handle all that.)

Scot patiently listened to it all, told me that if we felt like we needed to change our minds that he would “absolutely” call the agency for me but that he thought I should let him get home the next day before we made any decisions. We both knew that it was nearly Friday in China anyway, so we should take the weekend to talk and pray. He felt sure that once he was home we would figure it out.

After that conversation, I felt better. Mostly, because I got it all out. There was no question about where I was at. I was terrified.

Cooper pre-Hardy

During these couple days, I told no one about our referral (besides one dear friend who already knew about it and our pastor). I couldn’t look at the child’s picture. In fact, I had called my mother-in-law on Wednesday after accepting the referral and got her voice mail. When she called me back on Thursday, I pretended I had forgotten why I had called.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. THAT’s how bad it was.

(I remember it so well that I’m crying just typing this. It was awful to feel that way.)

After my conversation with Scot, I went to New Day Foster Home‘s website (where the child was being cared for) and looked at every. single. picture. they had of him. I looked hoping I would recognize him. Because looking back, I think that is what bothered me the most.

I didn’t recognize him.

I had thought when I saw the face of my child I would know him (or her). That there would be some magic or something. Or that it would be a very spiritual moment. Or, you know, anything but a series of very intentional decisions. Which is what it was.

I didn’t get a phone call out of the blue and click open the e-mail to see my child’s face for the first time. Because that’s how you think of it in all those years of waiting. And, just like when I struggled after having Sawyer via c-section (the LAST thing I expected and certainly was never part of my becoming-a-mom fantasies), I realize now that I was struggling again with reality verses how I imagined it would be.

Then there were the very REAL questions on top of that:

  • Does he have Hep B? And, if so, in combination with his heart issue would that be something life-threatening possibly?
  • What is the result of his oxygen deprivation in his first year?
  • And what about his age? What business do we, unexperienced adoptive parents, have adopting an almost 4 year old? He’s only a year younger than Chloe!!!

On Friday, Scot came home, and I’m not sure I had ever, EVER been so glad to have him back from a trip EVER. And honestly, we only casually talked about the boy we had accepted that night and even through Saturday. I actually don’t remember much about those two days.

I know we prayed about it, but I don’t remember much else.

On Sunday morning, I was on my way to church by myself. I have to be there early, so I always go by myself, and Scot comes during the second service with the kids. In the car, I prayed very specifically, and I remember exactly what I said: “God, I need to hear from you today, and I’m in a very emotional state. Anything less than complete clarity will only confuse me. Can you please be crystal clear with me this morning?”

Nothing fluffy or ornate. Just a simple honest prayer.

But, as soon as I uttered it, I wondered how it would ever be clear enough for me in the state I was in. I remember distinctly thinking, “Unless I hear ‘You should adopt him’ or ‘You shouldn’t adopt him’, will I really walk away feeling sure?” Any amount of faith I had seemed gone in those moments.

Usually, I go to church during first service, and Scot attends second service. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is because second service for us is very busy, and I have to be back in children’s ministry that hour. However, on this particular day, Scot showed up early and went to church with me.

Our pastor wasn’t teaching that morning, and one of the people Scot and I respect most in the world was speaking. This man has been a missionary around the world and is a walking example of what a life looks like when lived trusting God to the fullest!

This morning, he was speaking about Noah. He talked about a lot of things, but he specifically talked about how the call that God made on Noah’s life could not have made a whole lot of sense to Noah. Noah had never seen rain. And, the Bible doesn’t say that Noah had any skill at building. Noah, the speaker said, probably felt completely inadequate for the task. The task HAD to have seemed too big for him, too hard, too unknown, too scary. I mean, God told Noah he was going to destroy everything on the earth. That had to have been unsettling at the very least! Everything in Noah’s world must have felt turned up-side down, but because He walked with and trusted God, he did it.

Then, right there in the middle of the sermon, with his British accent in full tilt, the speaker says: “So…what is God asking you to do today? *there might as well have been a l-o-n-g pause here, because I remember it as if time stood still* Does it seem hard, scary, unknown? I don’t know what God has called you to today, but I am here to tell you JUST DO IT!” (That was all caps on purpose because he yelled it. The man is 80 years old, and he yelled it!)

Could God have been ANY clearer? At all? Really?

JUST DO IT!

And, the choice of words? Echoed the EXACT words my friend had said to me when I told her we accepted our referral. She said, while she talked to me on the phone that night, she just wanted to yell, “JUST DO IT!

Tears immediately started rolling down my face, and I leaned over to Scot and said, “I think we have our answer.”

He just smiled, and was gracious enough NOT to say, “No, I had my answer all along. It seems that now you have YOUR answer!”

That’s in my mind when New Day’s Evan became Cooper. When all my doubts and fears took a distant back seat to the fact that this was oh-so-clearly the child GOD had chosen for our family.

I will always, always be so thankful that God cared enough about me to speak to me right where I was at that morning. To assure me when I was doubting. To answer my very specific prayer and to do it in such a resounding way.

That next week, after we got PA, we requested an update on Cooper. Specifically, we asked for updated lab results so that we could see what his Hep B status was. The woman at our agency said she would ask but that updated medical info is not generally given and so we shouldn’t expect it.

A few days later, we got a short update, and some pictures. The update did not contain any updated lab work. We were disappointed but okay with whatever. However, when we looked through the pictures, the last picture was a jpeg file of Cooper’s most updated lab results where we could see VERY clearly that the ambiguous test results were gone, and he was quite clearly NOT Hep B positive.

I thanked God that day for those lab results, because although I would have trusted Him either way, He knew how scared we were about that, and he took that fear completely away.

How great is our God indeed.

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Jenna Hardy and family (minus 1!)

Jenna is a teacher, turned stay-at-home mom, turned Children’s Ministry Director who is passionate about children. After hearing God’s call to care for orphans 4 years ago, she has become increasingly passionate about adoption and orphan care. She and her high school sweetheart, Scot, have been married for 13 years and are currently IN CHINA to meet and bring home their son Cooper who is 3 years old and seriously adorable (go see for yourself!). They are excited to see what God will do in the next chapter of the story He is writing with their family. Jenna and Scot feel strongly about sharing their story so that they might be of encouragement to others in various stages of the adoption process. You can follow along with them on their trip and afterwards at Our Many Colored Days.