Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kazapalooza 2010

4 days after returning home from our Florida vacation, our family packed our bags once again (albeit much smaller suitcases!!) and headed North to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the 3rd annual Kazapalooza event! For us this was a first time to attend and as many of you know, something we had been anticipating for several months. I have shared before of our involvement in a regional Kaz Family group and what a blessing & joy that has been for our family. I might have also mentioned that over the years our family has sent direct donations, when possible, to Lauren's rural and impoverished Babyhouse. But never before have we been so privileged to be part of something of this magnitude, with over 75 adoptive families in attendance, with children ranging in age from 11 months to 12 or 13, radiant faces of stunning diversity, blessed families of all sizes, gratitude for a beautiful yet little known country who gifted so many of us with their finest treasures........... and with purposeful compassion for those children left behind.........

Our weekend began with a trip to the Betty Brinn Children's Discovery Museum which was a bounty of hands- on activities and exhibits for children of all ages. I so wish I had been able to capture more of the children and even more photos of our 2, but keeping track of 2 demanded (pretty much) complete focus! LOL And when I did manage to snap one or two pics., all but one turned out blurry and the lighting was tricky! Miss Lauren kept busy with her darling new friend "L" and just like peas & carrots, these two became fast friends and only really stopped to check in from time to time and alert of us ( the 2 sets of parents) of their next destination. :) Tyler was in toddler heaven and in constant motion! It was frenzied, fun and wonderful, to see so many sweet, happy & healthy kiddos happily playing along side one another and to chat, as feasible, with their equally sweet & joyous parents.

Saturday brought many events, especially meaningful for us was the the luncheon and raffle. It was here we sat in awe as we watched a slide show of every Kaz. kiddo in attendance featured as Before and After. This was particularly compelling for me as it highlighted just how far each family and more so, each child had come. Many went from solemn or frightened infants or preschoolers to radiant, confident and smiling kids..........under the Christmas tree with brothers/sisters, smiling hugely from a family vacation........in soccer uniform or wearing a silly expression of carefree kid happiness. In other words, happy, well adjusted, loved and cherished children.....pretty darn amazing when you think about it!

Another big part of the afternoon's luncheon was the raffle, which this year was to help fund a water filtration system at Lauren's former Babyhouse to ensure better health for all the children left behind and for those who will find their way to homes around the globe. Two Hearts for Hope (which I have blogged about before) was this year's designated charity and their goal was to raise $3,ooo for the filtration project. In all, and in one afternoon of giving and gratitude, our group of families raised over $5,500 for the Karakastek Babyhouse and to better the lives of orphans in Kazakhstan. Of course preceding this was a year's worth of planning by the dedicated and wonderful ladies who organize the KP event and certainly the founders of Two Hearts; it is particularly meaningful to Scott and I that this year's efforts benefit the Karakastek Babyhouse and while I may not speak of it often or share in depth our thoughts on the conditions from which we brought our angel home, it is with tears in my eyes tonight that I imagine the incredible benefits this money will bring to them and the difference the generosity of each family in attendance will make to this most impoverished of Babyhouses. Its something that each family could not have done alone........but collectively was made possible. Amazing!

Our weekend was also filled with swimming in the hotel's water park, a pool party for the group, eating outside at Mo's, cuz Lauren liked the pirate statue *grin* and saying our goodbye's the following morning.

We left exhausted (probably won't plan a big family vacation RIGHT before KP next year! LOL ) but so honored and grateful to have been part of something like this. We felt welcomed and accepted and just loved meeting so many families that walked such a similar path as our own. Our only regret is that we didn't find this event sooner and didn't have more time to meet more families. Next year it is slated for Florida :) so we are saving already!

We left exhausted yes............but we left with one very proud and excited young lady, who made sweet new friends ( as did we!!) and who gained a BIG OLE dose of Kaz. identity/pride too! Priceless really. Just priceless.

Below I've shared the pictures that turned out okay; our camera was cranky the whole weekend and I wish I had more to share of the gorgeous kiddos!!

Miss Lauren & Miss "L" ~ like peanut butter & jelly these two formed a fast friendship instantaneously and Lauren is already missing her new buddy!! Scott and I also found new friends in her wonderful parents and we pray their long awaited baby sister ( their family is China LID May, 2006) arrives SOON, as "L" will make an amazing big sister!!

3 lovely ladies. Lauren, "H" & "L"!! Lauren and Miss H were adopted from the same Babyhouse in 2003 and these 3 girls had a mighty good time together!

Arrrggghhhh E mateys.......here is the pirate who guided us to our dining choice Saturday evening. LOL Some folks opt for word of mouth or ratings when selecting a restaurant...our fam. let's the pirate be the guiding hand....er....hook, as it were. :)

Both kids thought it was a grand treat eating outside and during our meal we bumped into several Kaz. families heading to or returning from their dinners too!

We all wore our Kazapalooza t-shirts Sat. afternoon, but did I manage one family pic??? No....sadly, no.

Saying goodbye to new friends Sunday morning. I wish we could have had more time, but hopefully next year!! Tyler, Lauren and Miss "E".

Oh, please take a peek at the sweet face behind the stroller. Meet "M" ~ he is just a wee bit older than Tyler and has been home for just a few months. His incredible family waited SO LONG for him and could not be more happy and in love with this incredible little guy!! AND he too is so blessed with an amazing family ( I just love his Mama!!) and 2 beautiful big sisters!! P.S. This is the best shot we could get of the 2 boys....they were SO SO busy!! P.S.S. Tyler made another little friend who I DON'T have a picture of ....the lovely Baby Hannah~ but its all good, cuz we Mamas have already decided they can attend prom 2025 with one another! Tyler is already practicing his dance moves! ;)

Lauren and Tyler with both Miss "E"'s. Could they be any cuter or sweeter???
Our family simply feels so blessed and lucky to be part of 2 such amazing adoptive communities; and really its more than 2 as we have been fortunate now to follow along with and cheer on families from all over the world, adopting children of many nationalities. The stories and faces may vary, but the shared joys and blessings of these children (born both near & far) truly unites us all.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Discovery Cove

As promised I wanted to share a bit about our unbelievable day swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove during our recent trip to Florida. DC is affiliated with Sea World but is its own exclusive day resort, offering an all inclusive dolphin and sea life excursion.

This was truly a day for our big girl and I know some of you wondered why we did not spend more time at Disney proper; for years Lauren has been dreaming of a swim with dolphins and while many kiddos yearn for Disney, our budding pint sized marine biologist had her heart set on this experience from the time she was very little. Tyler was too little for the swim(you must be aged 6 or older) so he spent a glorious day basking in the attentions of Mimi & Papa at our resort. And oh yes, we will be anxious to return to Disney again someday to see much more!!

AND what an experience it IS. Located near Sea World, its tucked away and extremely private, offering a white sand beach, cabanas, water falls and caves to swim in and explore, an exotic bird aviary lagoon accessible by water, a large salt water pool for snorkeling with sting rays and schools of tropical fish and a smaller sting ray pool where you can touch and experience them close up. Part of our fees included our snorkeling gear, wet suits and our meals, snacks and beverages for the day. It felt like an extravagant and first class day from the moment we arrived till the moment we reluctantly left. But more importantly it felt like we were part of something special ~ a conservation effort to preserve these incredible creatures and mammals and to (where possible) return them to their natural habitat ~ the oceans ~ when feasible.

For years, but mostly before kids ( BK for short! LOL ) Scott and I have been avid snorkelers and we wondered privately how Lauren would do in wetsuit, swimming with a mask and snorkel. Many of the adults around us were experiencing some initial anxiety in the waters and we watched with nervous caution to see how our girl would do. She did incredibly well!! She took to it with no qualms and within a few minutes was spitting into her mask ( it reduces fog ya know!) like a pro and gliding through the water eager to explore.

Our dolphin swim was scheduled for later in the afternoon, so we had many hours to snorkel in the fresh and salt water pools. I'm not certain if our snorkel etiquette was at its best, but swimming beside Lauren, witnessing her awe, amazement and glee at glimpsing gigantic string rays and schools of tropical fish below and around us, was something I will always treasure. She spent more time bobbing up and down excitedly to make certain that Mommy had seen the 6 foot wingspan of a Southern Ray or Lemon shark ( viewed underwater BUT through a protective glass!!) than actually gliding, but for me that was part of the wonderful experience of sharing the day and there was always another spectacular site to see up ahead IF one or two of the creatures swam away(quickly )in the wake of her abundant enthusiasm! *smile*

Our day just zoomed by and soon it was time for to meet our dolphin trainer and small group for our swim. They go to great pains to ensure that folks are properly educated and prepared and the dolphins treated with care and respect ~ even down the special (non harmful ) sunscreen provided to us for the day. As our time neared to head to the actual dolphin cove we were told that there was a delay ~ it would seem that our dolphins were taking an unexpected break and since they are never forced to work ( nor should they be!) we all waited anxiously for our turn.

As luck would have it and as a result of this unscheduled break, our group of 7 were fortunate to meet 2 different dolphins ~ one a young mother ( we could glimpse her calf too off in the distance) and one an incredibly rare breed of dolphin ~ the "tween" C.J.! No cameras are allowed and the water was chilly which is best for the dolphins. Little Lauren was standing in shoulder deep water, shivering and shaking but honestly I don't think she even noticed her discomfort! One at a time we were allowed to touch, kiss (unbelievable!!) and feed these amazing and highly intelligent creatures. Our visit culminated with each of us swimming out, holding on to a fin and being swam back in beside these strong, breathtaking dolphins! Some of us worried it might be too taxing for the dolphins to carry our weight, but our instructors laughed and assured us they could, if desired, probably carry us all en mass ~ and for those who get twinges ( like I sometimes do at zoos, etc.) about animals in captivity I can assure you that each dolphin in residence was either rescued and unable to be returned safely or was born in captivity and again would not survive alone in the wild. Dolphins are very loyal to their families/pods and this was evident to us all during our visit. We were also told that the average life span of a dolphin in the wild is 25 years ~ the oldest living dolphin ( and the largest!) at DC was 45 and absolutely the alpha male! :)

Its honestly hard to even describe our experience and its something I think we will all keep with us forever. Something very unexpected was C.J.'s extra attention on Lauren, which surprised even the trainers. At one point he was swimming by each of us giving each guest a high five(fin) when he abruptly stopped in front of Lauren and began clicking and spraying a light water mist through his blowhole. For just a moment Laure froze, a bit uncertain ( these are powerful creatures after all) and then it was like 2 kids finding each in a crowd ( the way kids always seem to be able to do) and she smiled and clapped and C.J. waved his fin and raised himself up and did a little jig. Even the trainers were watching silently and later one mentioned a dolphin's incredible ability through echolocation to be able to tell size, mass, possibly even age and other specific traits of folks and other sea life in the water and speculated that he knew perfectly well she was the only other child in that lagoon with him and he wanted to play! I also personally wondered if he intuited her deep love and passion for dolphins ( and really all animals) and recognized her awe, joy & respect. Who knows, but it was amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was a moment we will never forget.

Yikes ~ this is turning out long ( again ) and I don't really feel my description has done our day justice. I will share that our package included our admission into both Sea World and Aquatica Water Park ( both of which Tyler COULD attend )making it a triple delight for our budding scientist! How blessed we felt that we could tailor this trip a bit for Lauren this time around and we would not have traded away a single moment.

Most of our pics from that day were taken with our water camera and did not scan well. But I can share the ones taken with the dolphins that we purchased on site and a few others taken with our regular camera.

Look at that joy............Lauren has this photo hanging in her room and treasures it above all others. This is the Mama dolphin and she was sweet as sugar & very patient with us all! She kept sneaking glances at her baby who was nearby and she melted my heart with her nurturing tendencies.

Our family photo with young C.J. ~ can you see how spirited and exuberant he was?!? He is so rare there are only 2 of his kind known to exist in the world!

Our sweetheart taking a break from the wetsuit and snorkel to enjoy the natural pools.

And cuz I just can't leave him out ~ and yes we missed him that day!! ~ here is Ty sunning himself at Cocoa Beach a few days after our dolphin excursion.
P.S. YES, this IS the very same excursion as seen on Kate Plus 8. *LOL* So many folks have asked us and then sheepishly add that they don't really watch, but wanted to see how the kids had grown! :) I don't watch either (and we were in Florida when the episode aired) but they confirmed at Dolphin Cove that it was one and same! Thought it might be fun to share that bit of info.!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mickey Found

We were on the road once again, but this time it was a flawless flight to Orlando, Florida to dabble in all the delights and magic of its attractions. Our long awaited and planned for vacation to Disney and its neighboring sites was A-Mazing and though we battled some extreme heat, a few sprinkles our first full day( Magic Kingdom) and some mighty crowds just about EVERYWHERE :) we relished each moment and definitely flew home last night( late!!) already anticipating another trip to Florida in the coming years!

We are SO grateful to our generous friends who gifted us with the use of their gorgeous time share( Hilton Grand International Resort ) and our 2 bedroom suite was splendid ~ we are now SO incredibly spoiled from here on out! We are thankful to Papa Bill for shuttling us to and fro the airport AND especially to my folks who joined us in Florida and added that extra sparkle to our stay. My Mom surely witnessed more than a few heat induced squabbles and as we were practically newbies to this whole thing Disney ,our learning curve was mighty huge! And we loved sharing this special vacation with them both!

There is simply so very much to share, but I have added tons of photos which I hope will tell the story better than I possibly could. I can say that our kiddos were angels on the flights( I had been a bit concerned about Little Man ) and that despite the age gap, we managed well with the bigger rides ~ with lots of help from Mimi. Lauren adored Splash Mountain ( we rode TWICE!!) and we all were enchanted with the rides It's A Small World & The Peter Pan Ride (Magic Kingdom) and the incredible Dolphin and Orca shows at Sea World. Scott loved Space Mountain!! Also if you plan to visit this summer don't miss the Electric Parade which is running at 9 p.m. June through August after a 9 year hiatus.....its stunning and we were So lucky to see it!!

While in Florida we took in a grand and full day at the Magic Kingdom, a breathtaking excursion to Discovery Cove ( which I will share much more about in another post), a day at Sea World ( it has changed SO SO much and is incredible!), an unbelievable Character Meal at the Polynesian Disney Resort, Aquatica Water Park ( affiliated with Sea World) and a glorious day at the beach. ( Cocoa Beach ) In between we shopped a few outlets, swam and chased a couple of sunshine kissed monkeys who never seemed to tire! :) (and YES, we did get tired from time to time.....but that's just us ~ the grownups!!) LOL

We can't wait to go back one day and take it all in again.Your tips and emails from my original Mickey Fever post were so helpful and encouraging and I suspect that each time you visit Disney you leave armed with a few new strategies for the next time around and a sense of its overall size and magic! And ya know what? A big part of it all is watching the sheer joy on your children's faces throughout it all! And staying hydrated. :)

So here are WAY too many pictures to share in one post, but my Mom can't see the slide shows on her computer, so I appreciate your indulgence!! (AND I did try to just pick my favorites!) Can't wait to pop around and visit with you all ~ it feels like ages since my last post and I'm sure you all have been busy too!!

Lauren picked the Lilo & Stitch Character Meal and it was FANTASTIC!! We were treated to great food and 4 characters who visited each table!! Stitch especially loved our girl as he spotted her stuffed Stitch and recognized a big fan!!

Stitch picked his nose and wiped it right on Tyler's shirt......LOL So of course.......here is Tyler picking Stitch's nose too! Ack!! But look at those faces of joy!!

Here's Mickey again........just had to share it one more time, cuz look at those faces of happiness!!

Tyler LOVeD it all too!! We had worried he might be afraid ~ not so much!! :)

Cutest waffles EVAH!!

Pretty ladies!! Mimi & Lauren

Our first meeting with Stitch at Magic Kingdom.

A bit of the Electric Parade........

Feeding a bunny in Disney.

Cup O' tea anyone??
My folks!!

Our family.....

Our best girl........

Our Baby Boy........

Peek-a-boo Mickey OR no more pictures please Mama! LOL

At the resort....

In awe watching a show at Sea World.

It's hard to see, but we are in a glass tunnel of sharks......Lauren loved it of course!!

Shamu welcomes us to Sea World.

It was a bit steamy....... :)

Tired kiddos at last! :) Lauren leaned over at the last minute, proving that she was NOT in fact asleep! LOL

Life's a Beach.........*chortle* I could never ever tire of the beach! We had an almost ideal day to visit....low tide, warm waves, few crowds....bliss & a bit of sunburn!

Beach baby......both of our kids adored the ocean ~ so happy we took the drive and time to visit.

Looking homeward........... BUT not before we had 2 special visitors........

Elvis in the HOUSE!!!!!!!!!!!!

Little Elvis came too. :)