Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Becoming A Foster Parent

Sixteen months ago we started the process to become foster parents.  Over those months, I've answered some questions, shared about the training process and home study, and felt encouraged that we can do this.  And now?  We are officially approved!

I don't know when we will be matched with a child; it could be anywhere from one week to several months.   What do I know?  I know that it will be hard.  I know that we will have to shift priorities.  I know that I will feel challenged.  Most importantly, I know that we have a love-filled home to share with someone who needs it and we're not doing it alone.  

I will be sharing what I can because I know that we can all learn from each other.  It sounds dorky but that's truly how I feel.  Whether it prompts you to start the process yourself, or just provide you with a little insight into the foster system, I hope it will be beneficial.

How do I feel? I'm most nervous about the timing as child care is usually the trickiest thing to manage in `regular life'.  We have a very busy June and July so I really hope that it works out that way.  It would not be ideal for the child to come just as we were heading into a wedding weekend or our one family holiday.  We would love to take him or her with us to Vancouver Island but it depends on timing (how long he or she had been with us) and also the approval of the social worker and parent(s).   We can always say `no' but in my heart I truly believe that the timing will work out.  Our August is purposely wide open for the first time...ever.  Usually it is filled up a year in advance (with wedding photography) but we felt that we should leave it free.

His or her room is ready to be personalized.  We also have bunk beds and crib just in case.  I can't wait to meet the little one that will be using this room.

I'll keep you posted.  Thank you for reading and caring!


Monday, May 25, 2015

10 Ways To Improve Your Marriage

As a wedding photographer, I see the time, energy, and money invested into a wedding. Yes, it truly can be the happiest day of your life, but what about the `from this day forward' part?  How much effort is invested into the marriage itself?   It's easy to slip into a relationship where you just co-exist.  What about living in a marriage where you are having fun and enjoy being together?

As we approach our 10th wedding anniversary, I took some time to look back at the nuggets of wisdom I've gained and here are some things that I wish I understood going in:

1.  Respect.  Thank him for the work he does each day.  Trust his decisions.  He has been driving for years just fine before you were in the picture and your `tips' are not actually that helpful.  What he is probably hearing from you is that he's not a good driver and you don't trust him.   Did he get some paint on the ceiling when he painted that bathroom?  Don't point it out as I'm pretty sure that he knows it's there.  Instead, just thank him for his hard work.  Finally, always speak positively of your spouse in public.

2. Watch your tongue.  Make your home a safe place where he wants to be and where he can be himself.   Over time he may become more comfortable sharing his insecurities and these are things that you should never use to hurt him.  This is a hard one for me as I tend to speak before thinking about what I really want to say, especially in a heated moment.  James 3:4-5 has a great analogy of our tongues being small but having the power to steer a conversation and relationship like a rudder on a ship.

3.  Realize that he's not your girlfriend.  I love saying "Guess how much I paid for this!" or "What do you think of this dress?".  Gary's not into that game and won't share that excitement.  He isn't sure how to answer the question about the dress other than saying "It looks great".  You can let him know what you'd like to hear but I wouldn't count on him gushing like a girlfriend might.  Also, he will usually try to solve a problem when all you want is to be heard with a sympathetic ear.

4.  Make him feel wanted.  Let him know you think he's handsome.  Put an effort into your appearance and try to initiate sex.  Let your partner know what you need, like, and hope for.  I know that this is one area that I can invest in where the results (a super happy and helpful husband) are so appreciated.  Husbands--make sure you tell your wives that they are beautiful, too!

5. Put him before the kids (and/or work).  This can be hard, especially when the kids are young and just NEED us so much.  Wouldn't you rather approach parenting as a strong, happy unit?  Wouldn't you love to enjoy time with your spouse each evening once those little monkeys are in bed? One day they will move out and we will be left with our spouse.  It is so healthy for kids to see this marriage relationship being a priority.

6.  Be intentional.  Our 8th year of marriage was our hardest.  We were tired from having three young kids and we were busy with work.  We survived in a business type mode and there was not a lot of fun.  Although we were working well as a team, we weren't connecting and enjoying each other's company.  Make the effort.  Even if the other person doesn't want to, just start and you will see results.  Read books.  Attend marriage classes or counselling. You can't change them but you can change yourself.  When things are going well, don't stop putting in effort!  You wouldn't quit working out once you were at the fitness level you were hoping to achieve so don't do that with your marriage either.

7. Focus on the positives.  If you see a wet towel on the bed and dirty clothes on the floor, don't let your mind start going to all the ways your spouse has let you down.  Instead, focus on what he does do.  He works hard.  He takes care of the kids.  He makes dinner a couple of times a week.  He takes out the garbage.  Whatever it is, focus on those positive things.  Turn those negatives around.  For example, if you're frustrated that he's a procrastinator, appreciate that he's laid back.  This doesn't mean you don't need to mention the wet towel, just be aware of how often you bring it up and the tone of your voice.

8.  Spend time together talking, sharing activities, and in bed.  Usually an investment in the first two leads to the third.  Have fun together.  Pray together. Share together.  Figure out what activities you enjoy doing together and do them.  Going into our marriage I thought we would always have ample time to hang out together, I didn't think about how life (kids) would affect that.  We enjoy hiking as a couple and realized early on that playing tennis together was not an ideal activity.

9. Fight fair.  Try not to use the words "always" and "never" or "remember when".   If possible, enter the discussion calmly.  If you feel like you are going to be unable to discuss something respectfully, I would encourage taking a few minutes to calm down.  There may have been an incident where I threw a bag of potatoes across the kitchen.  You don't want to say something you will regret.  Don't be stubborn as it's not worth it to try and win.  There is no winning.  Try to work towards compromise and a solution.  Working through a problem towards a solution is so much more satisfying!

10.  Recognize that we see things differently.  When I come into the house, I see shoes in the hallway, dirty dishes on the counter, and a laundry basket at the bottom of the stairs.  What does my husband see?  Not those things.  Sometimes they really don't see what needs to get done and it's not that they expect you to do it, they just need it pointed out gently.  Other times, it's just not high on their priority list.  Often I just ask for those items on the To Do list to be done by a certain date or time.  Believe me when I say that it's not worth it to leave an item out to see how long it will take to get cleaned up.

Please make sure you put the effort in even if the other person doesn't see the need.  Check in with each other to see where you feel your marriage is at.  We give our marriage a grade by using a percentage to get an idea of how each person is feeling (86% for me and 88% for Gary right now).  And finally, just to make things a bit easier; Whoever gets out of bed last is responsible for making the bed.

What advice would you give?


PS I asked Gary for a Bonus Tip from his perspective: Husbands, try to look nice before leaving the house.  Your wife feels it's a reflection on her in regards to how you are dressed.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Surrey International Children's Festival

On Thursday morning, I took Koen and Nya to the Surrey International Children's Festival which was taking place at Bear Creek Park from May 21-23.  We booked tickets to see The Street Circus bright and early at 9:15 am.    

While in line we were able to see the RCMP helicopter land.  It's actually much smaller than I thought it would be!

The show quickly filled up with students and we had seats in the front row.

It was the perfect show for a 6 year old boy and (almost) 3 year old girl.  It's a husband wife duo with a circus school and figure skating background.

After the 45 minute show, we spent about an hour going to some of the different stations that they had set up.  We made clay figurines at Port of Vancouver's tent.

Nya spent a lot of time painting while Koen just played with the toys available.

There were other stations like a giant sandbox, colouring, storytelling, a maze made of boxes, and musical stations.  The kids really enjoyed playing the xylophones.

I'm not really an arts and craft type person but the kids enjoyed it!  I'm really glad we saw The Street Circus as that was a highlight for sure.  The Vancouver International Children's Festival is next from May 25-31.

I hope that you are having a good weekend!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Nya's Third Birthday Photos

Our beautiful Nya Bear is now three years old.  It's a very surreal feeling as she is our youngest and it seems like it was not that long ago that she was born.  She is sweet and cuddly yet fiesty and strong.  She loves to do whatever her brothers are doing, and if they bother her, you'll hear her scream.  She loves her tickle time with daddy and to be held by mommy.  We all think she is the cutest little thing at only 30 lbs and are so thankful to have her in our lives.  Miss Nya, we love you!

Every year we take photos of our kids around their birthdays.  Photographs of my family are very important to me and I don't think I've ever regretted putting in the effort to get some beautiful keepsakes.

Here are 5 tips for taking photos of your young child:

1.  Choose a location that they will enjoy!  Nya's favourite colour is purple.  Purple flowers and a purple pram to push around? Perfect.

2.  Take photos during the golden hour which is an hour before sunset.  You don't want bright sun in their eyes and as the sun sets it makes everything feel warmer.  Try to have the sun behind them for some back lighting.

3.  Have the child interacting with someone or something.  She stood in the field for about 3 minutes before getting bored.  Thankfully I was prepared to be in some photos with her.  She also loved pushing the pram down the path.

4. Make sure they are comfortable with what they are wearing.  I offered her several choices for what to wear in her hair so she felt some control over it.  She helped to choose her shoes too.  She wanted a different, more colourful, dress for her photos so I took some pictures of her in that dress at a different time.

5. Treats.  After the photos were taken, we went home and had ice cream to celebrate.

Isn't she the sweetest?

Nya Bear, we are all so thankful for you.  Your giggles warm our hearts and your dimples melt us.  We appreciate your enthusiasm and dramatic expressions.   Thank you for your cuddles and always making sure to hold my hand with our fingers intertwined.  We love you so much.

Mommy, Daddy, Kai & Koen.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thankful Thursday

This week I am thankful for:

1. Dress up clothes. A few months ago, I bought 5 second hand princess dresses for $20 and they get used so much!

2.  10 years of marriage (as of next Thursday).

3.  Seasons.  I love that we're into some beautiful summer-like weather and then in a few more months, I'll appreciate the cooler temperatures again. 

4.  Bugs.  They make hanging out outside a little more interesting.

5.  Photos.  Love having pictures of me with my mom to look back on. 

6. Anniversary Cake.  For our honeymoon we went to the Kingfisher on Vancouver Island and enjoyed a piece of chocolate cake with raspberry sauce while on the ferry.  Now whenever Gary goes on the ferry, he brings me some home.

7.  A yard.  It's teeny tiny but I'm thankful we at least have one and that it gets used so much.

8.  Waffle night with friends.  We're part of a care group from church and we get together with 4 other families for dinner and sharing every other week.  It's chaotic with so many little kids but it's good.  Also, I'm a little proud of myself. The idea of having people over used to stress me out because I wanted our house to be nice and clean.  I wanted to be a great host.  Now, I'm happy just being me with my 7/10 clean house.

9.  Afternoon at Crescent Beach.  We celebrated Mother's Day and Father's Day on Victoria Day with Gary's family.  The beach was packed but we got a good spot and had a great time.

10.  Date night.  Gary and I are in a marriage class (we're good but maintenance doesn't hurt!).  Part of our homework was going on a date.  We had gift cards to Earls and Home Sense for some photos we had done so that was what we did!

As always, please share something that you are thankful for this week! 


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

This is Infertility Awareness Week and I am 1 in 6.

{This is a guest post by my sweet friend, Estelle.  I met Estelle at church and have enjoyed getting to know her better through Book Club, running, and photographing her beautiful family. She is sharing her story in honour of Infertility Awareness Week}

It is important to talk about the harder things in life. Often it is our instinct to do the opposite, to guard and hide the hard and messy parts. When the going gets rough, we tend to cocoon, but in reality that is when we need our community of friends and family most of all.

We think that we are protecting ourselves. But instead, often it is the fear of rejection and judgement that drives us into isolation, leading us to more heartache.

I was once in this place. I was in full pursuit of trying to get pregnant only to continually be left empty handed. My husband and I represent the one in every six couples which experience infertility during the child bearing years.

I share my story with you to break down the unnecessary shame and stigma that surrounds this medical condition. In doing so, I hope I give both encouragement to those of you facing similar difficulties, and perspective to others.

In many ways it feels like it was a lifetime ago that I was on the roller coaster ride of infertility. Yet, I can be taken back on there on a moment’s notice. Most often, I am caught off guard by a flood of memories and feelings from these days, which can happen when I least expect it. I am at the airport, I see the bathroom where I had to cram myself in a cubicle to give myself a perfectly timed fertility drug injection. I laugh and shake my head. It is a heavy rain fall and I am driving. I am reminded of the day I almost threw in the towel as I drove home in flood-like conditions from a very painful procedure. I wince. I see a woman across the row from me at church. She is older, married and doesn’t have any children. I wonder if she is walking the road I once did. My heart aches.

When we initially ran into roadblocks with getting pregnant we only told a few select people. My husband and I supported one another. We were, and continue to be, fiercely committed to one another. We chose to face this trial with lot of prayer, good communication and humour.
As time marched on and as we upped the ante with more invasive treatments it became almost inevitable to tell others. Was I hesitant to tell my very personal challenges with others? For sure. In doing so, I had to prepare myself for people’s reactions.

And I did receive some classic, cringe worthy comments. There were times I had to extend the gift of understanding and remind myself the intentions of most people were well meaning even if their execution was poor. For me to get bitter and upset about every misguided comment would not be helpful. Instead, I learned to be prepared with some simple, matter of fact responses.
When told, “You just need to relax and take a vacation.” My response might have been, “Sadly not even the best vacation is going to fix my ovaries. They are broken. But a vacation right about now would be lovely regardless.”

Or, “When you stop trying then you will get pregnant. My brother’s girlfriend’s sister got pregnant right after she gave up trying and adopted a baby.” My reply, “That is a great story but sadly not the situation for most people with infertility. You know and remember that story because it feels good. People don’t go around telling the hard and painful stories that are more of the common reality of infertility. They are less heartwarming but just as valid and important.”  And even, “Really, I got pregnant so easy. None of my pregnancies were planned.” For that one, I typically gave a long pause and responded, “You are very fortunate. I know my child will be worth all my waiting.”

I learned to value the people who, at the time, vexed me. They made me think deeper and often fueled my resolve. Sometimes my best support came from the people who initially said all the wrong things.

The best gift you can give to a friend who is experiencing infertility is to be open to learning and understanding. Sometimes it’s best to simply say, “I can’t pretend to understand what you’re going through but I’m here for anything you might need.” And when words fail, offer practical acts of kindness to show you care.

One friend sent us a cheque and a card in the mail. We received an envelope of cash from someone anonymously. A neighbour friend drove me to an appointment 1 hour away so I didn’t have to be alone. Co-workers demonstrated great understanding when I had to work a very flexible schedule around my medical appointments. My boss was a saint. One co-worker agreed to act as a buffer and let me know of any pregnancy news in the office. I could, and wanted to be, happy when others were pregnant, I just needed time process the information. A friend baked me cupcakes to savour each day of my IVF treatment. Another friend dropped everything when I called her in a panic (okay, near hysteria) and ran to the pharmacy before it closed to purchase my time sensitive fertility medication when I was stuck in traffic. Months later I would make another desperate call to a different friend who works as a pharmacy technician. She would talk me through my latest crisis; I mistakenly froze instead of refrigerated my medication.

Then, when I announced after years of trying to conceive and multiple fertility treatments, that I was pregnant, people were beyond happy for us. People cried, cheered and did happy dances. My Facebook newsfeed lit up with words of congratulations. One person sincerely told me, “I am just as happy today as the day I found out I was pregnant.”

Throughout it all, I learned that good or bad, I needed people. I would encourage you, if you are in the depths of your own heartache, to not shut yourself away from a supportive community. If you are continually running into hurtful situations, find others who are and have walked through similar experiences.

When I found a local infertility support group I found the beauty of people who knew and understood the infertility world. Not only were these people supportive, they empowered me to better advocate for my own health.

My days on the infertility roller coaster are now over and I am now firmly seated on the parenting one. I am grateful not only for my two beautiful daughters and ever supportive and loving husband but also a community of people continuing to encouraging us on this latest ride.

Infertility Awareness Association of Canada:  www.iaac.ca

Estelle Greb is a wife, mother of two, and a Child Development Consultant.  She is a community builder, supportive friend to many, and a Book Club leader extraordinaire. She is also 1 in 6. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Get To Know Me {Liebster Award}

Hey friends, I was nominated by Sarah over at Sarah on Purpose for the Liebster Award.  Sarah writes Thankful Thursday posts every week and I always love reading them.  Make sure you check her out, especially on a Thursday!  

What is the Liebster Award?  I had to look it up.  I will answer 11 questions, share 11 random facts about myself, and then pose 11 questions to some other bloggers. To everyone reading,  I would LOVE to hear some of your answers to any of the questions posed, so please share one.

1.  What are you most grateful for in your life?

Unconditional love. 

2.  Describe one of your happiest memories.

I'd say that recently winning a trip to Disney World was pretty amazing! 

3. How has your life been different than you imagined?

I thought my mom would always be around (she passed away 9 years ago).  I also thought that I would be working full time outside the home.

4. How did you meet your husband?

Gary and I started teaching Science 9 at the same school in 2001.  We shared resources (aka he borrowed all my stuff) and started with a friendship.

5. What is the kindest experience you've ever had?

When Koen was 10 months old, I was diagnosed with Graves' Disease.  This is an autoimmune disease that left me very weak.  I had to quit playing football and my team blessed us with someone to come clean our home. Twice.  It still brings me to tears because I'm not good at accepting help but they just did it without asking and I felt so loved.

6. Describe what you looked like as a kid.

7. What is your favourite dinner recipe?

I love pretty much everything my husband makes; Butter Chicken, Pad Thai, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Pork Tenderloin with Mango Chutney....he's the best.

8. What is your favourite smell?

I love smells that remind me of my childhood; diesel gas (because I used to go on the tractor with my dad), the ocean and the forest.

9.  What smell makes you gag?

Urine.  I think I am going to force my boys to pee sitting down from now on because I am so sick and tired of urine all around the toilet!

10. What are you  most likely doing at 9 pm on a week night?

Watching Netflix with Gary

11. What would be a perfect birthday gift for you?

A hike!  Is that a gift? I just love the gift of time and experiences.  


Okay, now 11 random facts about me:

1. I can touch my tongue to my nose (Gary can also do this).

2. I have my scuba diving license.

3.  I'm very afraid of spiders but trying to overcome it so my kids aren't scared.

4. I grew up on a Christmas Tree Farm.

5. I have misophonia. It's a thing.

6. The sport that I was best at in high school was shot put. 

7. My mom used to rub my forehead when I was little and I love that feeling to this day.

8.  I've hiked the West Coast Trail 3 times and hope to do it once with my kids when they are old enough and I'm not too old.

9.  I have a Bachelor of Science in General Biology and a minor in Psychology.  Oh, I also have a Bachelor of Education in Secondary Science.

10. 7:30-8:00 am is my favourite time of  the day.  I drink my coffee and Gary does the school drop off.


And finally, the three bloggers I am going to nominate are:

1.  Jacqueline at TwoFunMoms.  Jac and Juli tandem write their blog and I always find their posts amusing such as Jac's latest trip with a toddler.  I actually played on a football team with Jacqueline for a season before we had all these kids.  

2. Carolyn at Moments in Mommyland. Caroline is a fellow blogging friend who recently bought an acreage which is pretty much one of the coolest things ever if you live in the Lower Mainland.  We also share the combination of two boys followed by a baby girl!

3.  Shawna at Simple on Purpose.  She calls herself a Lady Nerd, likes bacon and has three kids.  Awesome combination.  I know she has already been nominated but I would like to learn more about her, too!

Questions for you bloggers:

1. What is your favourite spice?

2. What book are you reading right now?

3.  What is your favourite hour in the day?

4.  What did you last laugh about?

5.  What subject did you enjoy most in school?

6. What is the story behind your name?  Why did you parents give you that name?

7. What is one of your favourite blog posts you've done?

8. When you were in high school, what did you want to be when you `grew up'?

9.  What nicknames do you have?

10.  If your husband took the kids out of the house for two hours, you would ____________

11. What is one lesson you wish you learned earlier?

I think that's it! Phew.  

To my friends/readers, please answer one of the questions in the comments! I love learning random things about people.