Zucchini Season / Easy Summer Side

August 9, 2016

honey-mustard-zucchini-recipe We took a pre-dinner China Village walk around the corner the other day to visit the neighbors’ goats and chickens. We left with a dozen eggs (the week’s delivery a day early) and a box of zucchini and summer squash. “We’re inundated!” They said. We gladly took a few off their hands. I remember that season from growing up, before the trees near my parents’ garden grew so big there was only shade underneath. My mom used to put a box down by the side of the road with a sign that said free! There was a lot of zucchini-crusted pizza and zucchini bread in those summer days.

Houston and Ireland may be different from Maine in the zucchini (or courgette) department, but this time of year in the northeast, zucchini is plentiful and bordering on overwhelming. Here’s an easy zucchini summer side we made a few weeks ago.

Honey Mustard Garlic Zucchini


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, sliced thin

2 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch rounds

2 tablespoons honey mustard

1 tablespoon grainy dijon mustard

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup chicken broth

Heat a nonstick skillet with the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions, and then a few minutes later the zucchini. Let them cook until they start to soften. Add the two mustards and sprinkle over the garlic powder. Add the chicken broth and give it all a stir. Season with salt and pepper and let everything cook until the chicken broth reduces and the veggies are cooked but not too soft that the zucchini falls apart.

Bon appétit!

(p.s. Can you believe it? A post not about Maya or adoption or fostering? 😉 Shocking!

Happy Friday!

August 5, 2016

maine-sunset Happy Friday, friends! We’ve had a good week, with a few firsts for Maya (first playground swing!) mixed in with sunshine and one squishy baby niece. Maya turned ten months old yesterday…and promptly decided to show us that she could climb all the stairs to the top without anyone noticing. My heart nearly jumped out of my body when I found her clapping away to herself at the top step. She’s a speedy little thing and stealthy when she knows what she wants, so it’s baby gates and hawk eyes on her at all times from here on out.

We have California and Rhode Island family visiting us in Maine this weekend, so we’re excited for Maya to meet everyone. She’s much more fun in person than on Instagram, although she has certainly taken over my Instagram!

On a more serious note, we’ve been talking quite a lot (with heads in our hands) about the upcoming presidential election. It’s the first time since Obama was elected in 2008 that we will be in the country for election day, and that we have been in the country for the run-up to it and it’s heartbreaking to watch on a daily basis. I don’t talk much about politics here, despite having worked in political campaigns for several years before moving to Ireland, but this year is so different – and so personal.

I watched this New York Times video yesterday, a compilation of hateful clips from supporters inside Trump rallies, and just cried. Because you know who they don’t want in this country? Maya. And Maya’s birth parents. And anyone different, and people with darker skin. I often wonder what Maya’s life would be like if her birth parents, homeless Mexican immigrants, hadn’t been treated as second class in this country, if they hadn’t been instantly marginalized. It may not have mattered, but it may have made all the difference.

Sometimes we wish we were back in Ireland already and that we didn’t have to be faced with a political candidate’s hatred (and the 43% of the country who supports that hatred) every day. But most days I believe it’s important that we’re here to fully understand and feel what’s at stake, especially for our daughter, but also for all the daughters and sons – and to work hard to make sure that hatred and nationalism and protectionism don’t win in November.

Small rant over for now, but it probably won’t be the last before November. Fair warning!

And now, a few happier links for your weekend. I hope it’s sunny and happy!

Rev. Barber speaking inspirationally at the DNC last week. There were so many great speeches, including Michelle Obama’s of course.

The weird world of medical debt – and John Oliver buying and forgiving medical debt for pennies on the dollar.

You just got out of prison, now what? Such an inspiring read about two former prisoners driving around, picking up released prisoners and helping them reintegrate. And a follow-up on how the White House employed them to help with prisoners whose sentences have been commuted by President Obama.

A sweet school bus turned tiny home.

European countries taking new measures to lessen food waste – or put it to better use.

President Obama the feminist.

Happy weekend, everyone. xx

Nuts and Bolts / The Adoption Process

August 3, 2016

we do I thought it might be interesting to share a little about our adoption process now that Maya has officially been adopted! I know every adoption/fostering experience is different, but this can serve as one example. Adoption is often referred to as a journey, and that’s a pretty apt word for what the last year has been. Our journey is admittedly much shorter than a lot of people’s, and I’ll explain a few factors that played into that as well.

We’ve jokingly called this adventure the path of most resistance, because in some ways it certainly doesn’t seem like the easiest route. But for us, it was the route that gave us the most peace. What our path will be for building the rest of our family, we aren’t sure yet, but doing it this way for this last year just made sense to us.

Here’s how we got started. First, we decided that adoption was how we wanted to start building our family. Adoption is something that Michael and I have always said we wanted to do, but, like most people, we imagined it would be after we had biological children. After several years of infertility testing and an ultimate recommendation for specialized IVF, we decided that adoption felt much more right for us than infertility treatments. I know many people come to adoption as more of a last resort after failed fertility treatments, but we tried to embrace the idea that it could be our first resort instead.

The trick, of course, is that we were living in Ireland, where adoption is very, very, very difficult. I’ve shared this article before but I’ll share it again. Adoption is nearly impossible in Ireland (and I hope to help change this however I can when I return because it’s something that breaks my heart for friends and family there). So we knew that if we were going to adopt, we’d have to (at least temporarily) leave our life of seven years and move back to the United States. We are lucky in that we both have American passports, so while moving to another country seems like a hard part of the process, for us it was simpler because we’re both American citizens. We have social security numbers and didn’t have to worry about visas or anything like that. After lots of discussion for several months, we actually made the decision to try to move and adopt when we were having this dinner in Skerries. I’ll never forget it.

The other thing that made it possible for us to leave Ireland for a year or so, was that public servants can apply for career breaks from their jobs. Michael applied for and was granted a career break from his job as a high school guidance counsellor. He can extend his career break for up to five years, and he can apply for two career breaks in his entire career. When he returns from his break, he will either be given the same job or a job within a certain radius of commuting with the same number of hours that he had before. It’s an awesome perk of being a teacher in Ireland. So last spring, Michael applied for his career break and when it was granted, that set the ball rolling for our move.

At the same time, we were also in the process of trying to buy a house before we left so that we would already own a house when we returned. We had a deposit saved and we knew we’d likely be approved for a mortgage – but if we waited until after we came back, we’d have to wait several more years before we could show income in Ireland. Career breaks in Ireland are great, buying a house is definitely not. It’s extremely difficult, especially for people who are self employed – and 3/4 of our income comes from being self employed. So! We were also in the thick of buying a house paperwork and uncertainty, but it meant we knew we’d be moving out of our apartment one way or another. It actually worked out perfectly, although we did need to rely on the help of Michael’s family because we had already left before our closing! Michael’s brother signed our closing papers and Michael’s parents got our new house all ready to rent and moved a lot of our belongings into the attic. We couldn’t have done it without them.

That was a little tangential, but it’s what was going on last spring when we were trying to move, and it adds to the slightly insane picture of what we were up to.

When we decided to move to the United States to adopt, we also decided to move to Houston to do it, instead of back to Maine where my family is. The amazing couple who married us adopted Michael’s godson ten years ago and were well connected to our agency here. We also liked the idea of an adventure in a new place! We figured if we were going to go somewhere to wait for a baby, we may as well use the time to explore somewhere new. Little did we know that there wouldn’t be so much time for that! Ha!

It’s also my personal opinion that there are more children and babies in need of homes in Houston than there are in Maine, where I’m from. I don’t have statistics to back that up, but it’s the impression I get. What we didn’t realize before we got to Houston is that there is a huge culture of adoption here and it is amazing. Adoption is normal and common and in some churches even expected and encouraged. Our adoption attorney has 9 kids – 6 of them are adopted! The awesome family that has little bird baby that we minded for a few weeks has 4 girls, the youngest is 2 and they’re fostering a 5 month old and now her 3 year old sister! People have big houses and big hearts and there are more kids who need homes than homes available for kids.

So, Houston it was. Hot, sweaty, under-appreciated Houston. We arrived in late August after spending most of the summer with my family in Maine. We spent a week looking for the neighborhood we wanted to live in, and then for an apartment in that neighborhood. In one day of looking, we settled on Houston Heights because it’s so walkable, has giant trees, and is a ten minute drive from downtown Houston. While Michael’s sister and our friends live in a suburb about 45 minutes north of the city, we knew if we were going to have a waiting adventure, we wanted to be close to the action.

Once we knew it was going to be Houston, we bought a tiny, old Prius from a friend here because Houston is nothing if not a driving city. So essentially, when we arrived we had two suitcases and the hippiest car on the block!

By the grace of God, we found the cutest little ground floor apartment in a four-unit building with enormous trees and single family homes all around. On September 3rd, we moved into that unfurnished apartment with our two suitcases and a mattress my sister-in-law hand-me-downed to us. We worked on setting up the apartment with furniture we found for cheap on Craig’s List and at the few used furniture stores in our neighborhood. Within a few weeks, we had a couch, a bed frame and a table and chairs. Thank goodness the apartment is tiny and simple because setting up a whole apartment from scratch is daunting! But we started with the basics and worked on making it cosy bit by bit. I had forgotten what goes along with renting an apartment – setting up gas and electricity contracts, getting internet connected, it all takes time and energy.

The first week we were in our apartment, Michael sent a note to a principal of a small charter high school 8 blocks away asking if they needed any substitute teachers. She wrote back right away and asked him to come in. He had to get fingerprinted before he could substitute, but then he had his first day of substituting and by lunchtime, the principal asked him to stay for the whole year! We’re so grateful things fell into place so quickly. Michael had been applying for jobs in Houston for the whole summer but he hadn’t gotten many replies, so this was extremely serendipitous! (I shouldn’t say it was perfect, though. Michael was hired to teach American government, Dollars and Cents, and Interpersonal Skills to high schoolers. He has teaching experience but those were all new classes that came with no curriculum or direction! So he learned and created it as he went along. He’s a champion.)

A friend of my sister’s connected me with a magazine editor down here, so I met with her and started writing one or two articles each month, which helped me instantly feel more connected and also added a little income. I continued my Irish Independent articles and a few other freelance pieces as well. So, we had income and an apartment!

Both of which we would need in order to start my new part time job: adoption paperwork. When we first got to Houston, our agency emailed me the adoption paperwork, which you need to complete along with 20 hours of training. The email with the adoption paperwork had 25 attachments. HA! And one of those attachments was the main application, which was 25 pages long! Double HA! But we had just finished a ton of paperwork to buy our house, so more paperwork just seemed like our normal life by that point.

So while Michael was gone each day teaching, I would work on checking off our adoption to-do list. Here’s roughly what we had to fill out, copy and send to our agency (and I’ve included rough costs if there were any associated because that’s something to think about as well). This list changes often and might differ by agency, but it’s what we did for ours and roughly what you’d expect for others:

Application (25 pages!)
5 References (one pastoral, one relative, and 3 non-relatives)
Background Check Consent Form
Family Consent Form
Criminal History Statement
Fast Application – Fingerprints (these took 3 weeks just to schedule! They cost $40/person)
Self-Affirming Health Form for everyone living in home
T.B. Tests (this meant two visits to a TB testing place, once to be stuck with TB and once to be checked that we didn’t have it, $25/per person)
Physician’s Statement of Health (thank goodness our doctor in Ireland was able to send us a letter because it’s hard to find a doctor in this country just to get a regular physical!)
Floor Plan of your home with room dimensions
Evacuation Plan
Copy of Driver’s License (husband/wife)
Copy of Social Security Card (husband/wife)
Copy of Education Verification (Diplomas husband/wife)
Copy of Marriage License
Copy of Divorce Decree (if applicable)
Birth Certificates-For everyone living in home
Pet Vaccinations (Thank goodness we left Coco with Michael’s parents or that would have been another kettle of fish!)
Copy of W-2’s (Since we hadn’t worked in America in over 7 years, we had to provide statements from our Irish accountant and bank statements for the last six months)
6 months pay stubs (Michael only had two of these, so we also included his Irish pay stubs)
Insurance Verifications – Health, Life, Home, Auto
Health & Environmental Checklist
Fire Inspection (for some reason, this was also difficult – I had to go to the enormous permit office and pay and then wait for the fire inspector to call us, but he didn’t for weeks so I finally tracked him down after about 17 phone calls! This cost $250 but could be cheaper in other counties)
Photograph of fire extinguisher listing date purchased or the annual inspection of weight
CPR & First Aid Certification (I’d recommend the online course! You take most of it online in a video game format then do the practical test at a Red Cross center, $110/person)
Pre-Service Classes- 16 hours ($850/family but we availed of a scholarship for it!)
Photos of all outside areas around your home where children would play
And then we had to sign the following documents:
Notice of Legal Counsel
Confidentiality Statement
Appeal Process
Firearms Safety
Foster Care Agreement
Foster Parent/Agency Rights & Responsibilities
Discipline Policy
Phew! My blood pressure is rising just thinking about all that paperwork. Some of it was satisfyingly simple, like photocopying driver’s licenses. But other parts were more time consuming or seemed to have endless parts just to be able to check off one item from the list, like the fire marshall’s inspection. There were things we hadn’t realized we would need and had left in Ireland, so we had to call Michael’s mother way too often to ask if she could dig out a piece of paper and scan it to us. But she did and we did and all was accomplished in about six weeks.
Once all that paperwork was done our caseworker had to come for our home study, where they inspect your home and ask you a lot of personal questions for the whole afternoon. Our interview was a little shorter than most because we don’t have children who also needed to be interviewed, but our caseworker, Taylor, talked to each one of us individually as well as both of us together. Taylor asked us quite a lot about our relationships with our parents and siblings, and our parenting philosophies, but the questions all required thoughtful answers. We were exhausted when it was finished!
And once the home study is complete, the caseworker types everything up and meets with the team at the agency and makes a final decision on your licensing. We got good news, and so we had one final piece of paper to sign – our license! We are licensed by the State of Texas to foster/adopt and we have to display that license in our home at all times (if we have foster children present). Maya was a foster baby until adoption day, technically. State law requires that a baby or child is in your home for six months before it can be adopted. We could have left Texas with her and gone to Maine or somewhere else in the country (after paying her adoption fee), but we would still have been required to return for her adoption court date after six months. A guardian ad litem is appointed and goes through all the paperwork from the caseworker and the agency and evaluates whether the child is thriving in your home, and if they are, then you have a court date for a petition to adopt and a petition to change her name. At that point you are able to get a new birth certificate (with your names on it as parents! Woohoo!) and then a passport. Then you’re allowed to leave the country if you’d like. (Interestingly, because of the size of our apartment we’re licensed for up to three children, although only two of them can be under the age of 18 months. Doesn’t that sound like a hoot!)
Phew! Still with me? Longest post ever.
I should mention that our agency, Loving Houston, is a non-profit that works primarily with rescue babies and street moms. They are also primarily a foster or foster-to-adopt agency. They work with state child protective services in some cases, and in other cases they work directly with birth parents. They are also a faith-based agency, which is why we needed a pastoral reference and why our application involved statements of faith. This is something we have loved about our agency, but it’s obviously not for everyone. For us, it has been an added blessing and bonus that we hadn’t even really anticipated before we started this adventure. When we were waiting on news of the baby boy we thought we would adopt, it was incredibly comforting to know that several families who also foster in our agency were praying for us and for birth mom along with our family and friends – and our whole agency. We found so much strength and solace in that.
Because our agency is primarily involved in foster-to-adopt cases, they rarely have birth moms who choose to relinquish their rights at the birth of the child, as was done in Maya’s case. She is our miracle Maya and we are so grateful for the simple situation we were able to start with. There were so many other variables (like 1500 words worth up there, apparently!) going on in our lives that starting with a complicated fostering situation might have been too much for us. Ten years from now, if we lived here with a whole family of our own bio or adopted kids and had an enormous house in the suburbs, I would foster every baby they ever offered us and we’d probably end up with 20 kids! But for now, for us, Maya’s simple situation was perfect for us.
Finally, because our agency is a non-profit that primarily deals with fostering cases, the fees are significantly lower than they would with a straight adoption agency. Interesting fact, foster families with our agency are also not paid for their services as they are in most child protective services systems in the States.
And that, my friends, is nearly 3,000 words on our adoption adventure. Whew!! All seven of you who made it to the bottom, congratulations! 😉 I’m an enormous advocate for fostering and for adoption, obviously, so I’m happy to answer any questions I might have missed if it’s something you’re interested in. And now, time to go snuggle my miracle girl!

Life Lately / Summer Travels

July 28, 2016

We’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel to see both our families again this summer. Thank goodness for school summer vacation! Michael worked a few weeks at his school and at a basketball camp at Rice University and then we hit the road. First, Cincinnati for a family wedding on Michael’s side (congrats, Anna and Mitchell!), and then a flight to Denver for more time with Michael’s immediate family in the lovely dry air. After a quick stopover in Houston, we escaped the heat again and headed to Maine to be with my family for a while. Michael will go back to Houston to start work next week, but Maya and I are staying a few weeks longer – and avoiding the dreadful Houston heat!

maya-summer-02 Our first flight with two babies! We dominated. Go team Westbrooks! The girls were so well behaved and charmed everyone around us. Or put them to sleep apparently!  maya-summer-04 Maya hadn’t seen her Grandma Lois since she was three weeks old, and she’d never met Grandpa Jerome! Once she inspected his facial hair she warmed right up.  maya-summer-03 Not scared of the wolf dog in Cincinnati one bit!  maya-summer-05 Couldn’t help myself. I love watching her sleep since we never get to at home because she sleeps in the very dark!  maya-summer-06 These are all snaps from our time in Denver at Michael’s brother Aaron’s house. He and his wife Summer are so hospitable and always put up with our crew and mess in the summer! Their two-year-old Julius is a wild man who was so sweet to both girls, always offering toys and helping calm them if they were sad. Heart melter, that kiddo!  maya-summer-16 Hiking with her dad while I was doing the sad thing in Houston 🙁 maya-summer-15 Acrobatic bottle feeds (and wet hair with no makeup ;). So glam!  maya-summer-14 A wine tasting party on the back deck while the babies slept! It was such fun!  maya-summer-13 maya-summer-12 maya-summer-11 Maya’s just about had it with bouncers that keep her cooped up, but they’re useful when you need to contain her or when she keeps bopping Baby J!  maya-summer-10 Michael’s aunt Monica came out to Colorado from Chicago – we hadn’t seen her in seven years! Maya loved her, of course. maya-summer-09 And then we did a crazy thing and decided to drive to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs! We’ll never do it again, that’s for sure. SO SCARY. But we lived to take a photo!  maya-summer-08 You can’t tell from this photo, but Maya’s wearing a kiwi dress and Baby J was wearing a pineapple dress – and they’re both chewing on plastic lemons. Fruity ladies! 😉 maya-summer-07 Pool time on the 4th of July!

And now a few photos from our first week in Maine.  maya-summer-17 My brother looking for favorite uncle status letting Maya climb the stairs. She can climb them all and it’s terrifying.  maya-summer-25 Grammy with my new niece, Claire Elizabeth! She’s so snuggly and has the softest skin ever.  maya-summer-24 Wasn’t happy at all to meet her squishy self, can you tell?! She’s also only 3 pounds behind Maya despite being nearly 8 months behind her! Come on, Maya, eat up!  maya-summer-23 Maya in her daily chaos. That dress/top (gotta love Old Navy clearance!) is my favorite though!  maya-summer-22 My parents got Maya this elephant that plays little Jamaican style jingles. It’s hilarious and Maya loves it. maya-summer-21 Whole lotta soft grass outside my parents’ house in China Village! Houston grass is so sharp and scratchy that this is really Maya’s first grass experience and she enjoys taste testing every single blade and prowling around like a tiger. maya-summer-20 Maya’s first real ocean visit! So thrilled! Very sweaty.  maya-summer-19 Stroller naps with her lovie (lovey?). Love those dimpled fingers. maya-summer-18 Chilling with her dad on the porch! She (we) got him that portable speaker for Father’s Day and she loves playing DJ and bopping to his tunes.  (Video of that bopping here!)

And that, there, is a roundup like you haven’t seen in months! I’m back in the game. Ha!

Braver Than You Think

July 28, 2016

IMG_0827 I feel like half of what I’ve been writing here this year has been explaining long silences here. Blech. That wasn’t the plan at all for this year, but this year has been a whole different ballgame than we ever anticipated, and I’ve realized that when we’re working on something particularly emotional in our family, I don’t have room in my brain to put words together and I’m quiet here. I can’t say this will be the last time that happens – heck, with the wacky way our year has been I’d be shocked if that was the case! But I’ve decided to just keep diving back in when I can. Here’s what we’ve been working on in the last few months.

If you follow me on Instagram or follow my FCV Facebook page, you likely caught the general gist of it. At the end of May, even before Maya’s adoption day (gosh, that feels like an age ago already!), we got a call on a Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening!) from our agency asking if we could take a five month old baby girl for a few weeks while they finished licensing another family for her to go to as a long term foster family. We said yes, and at 9pm that evening, our caseworker dropped Baby J to our home. A sweet, sweet baby with the longest eye lashes, the chunkiest thighs, and the easiest sparkly smile.

We knew very little about her case or circumstances at the beginning, although it seemed there were quite a few family members involved and it seemed like it would be complicated. We enjoyed the insanity of having two babies just ten weeks apart in age, but prayed that her next family was ready for whatever was ahead.

Baby J took a little break and went to my friend Jaimee’s house for a week while we focused on Maya’s adoption and the subsequent celebration. We didn’t really anticipate that she would return to us, we thought she would go from there on to her long term foster family. But lo and behold, she boomeranged her sparkly little self back to us.

By this point, we started to learn a little more about Baby J’s circumstances and the prognosis for her in the long term. Without getting into any specifics, her case moved quickly into Child Protective Services (from voluntary placement with our agency), and they took custody and officially placed her in our home. We’d never been part of a CPS case, so that was a learning curve in itself. Court ordered DNA tests, visits from her guardian ad litem (the lawyer assigned to ensure her best interest was being served) and more caseworkers in addition to our agency’s. And what we began to learn from everyone involved was that they thought Baby J would likely be headed for adoption by non-relatives.

Just a week before we were set to head out for several weeks of traveling around the country visiting both our families, we were asked again to consider whether we could be Baby J’s forever family – not that that was a guarantee, but it was such a strong possibility that we needed to consider. But our extensive travel plans were a hitch. CPS denied the travel for Baby J, but her ad litem thought it was best that she stay with us rather than moving to another temporary foster family, so they pushed hard for her to be able to come with us. The night before we got on a plane, we found out she was approved!

To be honest, by that point, Michael and I had already been up and down on the Baby J roller coaster. We had tried to protect ourselves from falling in love with her, then fallen in love with her a little anyway, and then mourned the loss of her from our family once when CPS said we couldn’t bring her with us out of the state. But when she was cleared to travel, and when we were being told by everyone on her case that she would likely stay forever, we let ourselves completely fall in love with her as a part of our family. I don’t regret giving her that love one single bit, because what she needed from us then was to feel unconditional our love in a scary time for her, but it certainly made what happens next much harder.

Two weeks into our travels, at an emergency hearing back in Houston, a judge ruled against all of the parties who testified and ruled that Baby J was to return to a family member within 48 hours. We knew the hearing was taking place, and we knew that decision was a possibility, but according to everyone involved in her case, the decision that was made was a complete shock.

An hour after receiving that news, I left Colorado to head back to Houston to relinquish her to her family member via CPS. Between learning that she had to leave us and dropping her off, was a space of forty-eight agonizing hours. Michael and Maya stayed in Colorado with his family, so Baby J and I were on our own, sharing a list of lasts before dropping her off. Last bath, last bedtime, last bottle and snuggle before a last nap. It was heartbreaking. To look at her and know that we will never know what she grows up to be, to wonder forever whether she would be safe and loved, and to know that I would always miss her infectious smile.


But through the sadness of our loss, we weren’t broken. It was actually quite a strange feeling. Absolute heartbreak, but the kind where you know that you will be okay eventually. Perhaps not fully whole, because I think Baby J (along with our baby boy who wasn’t meant to be) will have a piece of our hearts forevermore.

I should make a few disclaimers at this point. First, from the very start of this roller coaster we always knew this was a possibility, and we protected ourselves as much as possible with the knowledge that it’s not over ’til it’s over when it comes to foster-to-adopt situations. Second, we do always support reunification of babies and children with their families. We know that that’s the best place for them if that’s a safe, secure place for them – as determined by the agencies in charge of determining those factors. It’s not our job to decide that, it’s our job to trust the people whose job it is. Baby J’s case is particularly hard because her safety was and is at question, but the judge ruled against every recommendation that was made to the court that she stay in place.

Our job was simple in theory but emotionally complicated nonetheless. Our job was to love Baby J as hard as we could – as though she was our own – for as long as we could. As we met family in Cincinnati and Denver and Colorado Springs, I explained Baby J’s story – including the fact that she could be returned to her family at some point. And I also joked that if that one day had to happen, we would do just that, but they’d probably have to pry her from my hands. But I wasn’t joking when I added that if we had to return her, God would just have to give me the grace to hand her over.

And He did. Until the moment the CPS worker took her, she was loved and loved unconditionally. And He gave us grace to pray for her safety, to pray for her caregivers, to pray that she always keeps her sparkle. And as if that wasn’t gift enough, He has already begun to heal our broken hearts. We miss Baby J, and for the first week Michael and I both felt there was just a hole in our little family. But little by little, it stings a little less.

As we were driving up to my parents’ house after meeting at the airport in Boston, Michael turned to me and said, “I just miss her back there.” Even though two babies certainly wasn’t the easiest thing to do, taking two flights with an 8 month old and a 6 month old, or to take care of them each day. It was so much baby food and diapers and formula! But it didn’t really seem hard either. It seemed normal. Maya loved playing with Baby J, even if she enjoyed using her to pull up even more. There’s enough hubbub on our travels that Maya has been distracted from the loss of her little playmate, and thankfully that has mostly been the same for us.

The last hard part of this story was the moment I actually had to relinquish Baby J. I am so grateful for the prayers and texts and calls of so many of our friends and family at the very moment I had to bring her to CPS. And I will be forever grateful to our caseworker, Allie, who drove us there, hugged me when it was over, and prayed for me and our family in the parking garage after the very unpleasant deed was done. Without Michael or any family there, I needed her there more than I even knew. By the time she dropped me to my car, I felt like I’d been run over by a tractor, but I wasn’t crying anymore. I’ve cried since, of course, especially in those first few days when everything was missing a Baby J shaped piece. But when I got in my car, I felt strong and hopeful that Baby J will be okay, because that’s all we can hope and pray for every day.

That day, of course, turned comically awful, as some of those really bad days have a tendency to do. My car broke down on the enormous highway in the horrible heat at the same moment that my phone died. I had to flag down a passerby and try to convince him I wasn’t a total weirdo while hoping he wasn’t one either! Turned out Brent was totally nice and absolutely saved the terrible, horrible, very bad day. And then I had two glasses of wine, dinner with family and slept so many hours that night.

I mentioned before that this experience felt like utter heartbreak without being completely broken. I woke up the next morning, the first morning in nine months without one tiny life, let alone two, depending on me or at least playing with dad in the next room. I spent two hours in bed just because I didn’t want to see and feel the reminders of that Baby J shaped hole. But what doesn’t kill you, can in fact make you stronger. I never thought I’d be strong enough for that kind of roller coaster with that tragic an ending, but I’m still standing. Our family is only better for the blessing Baby J was for those two months. Life is perhaps a little harder than we knew it would be, but we’re often braver than we thought we could be.

I’m forever looking for the lessons God is teaching me in this roller coaster season. This one for sure came with a few. I believe strongly that we were supposed to open our hearts and home – like really, utterly open – to care for Baby J, and that we were supposed to learn what it’s like to love that hard through complete uncertainty. We were supposed to practice ultimate service, hospitality, sacrifice and love, and we were supposed to learn that whatever the terrifying, scary outcome, He would be with us to help heal our broken hearts.

We’re in Maine for another few weeks and so grateful for the rest and distraction and help from Maya’s grandparents. My brain is coming back after the busy-ness of two babies and the emotion of the last few months, and I even have a post for later this week (two in one week, I know!) with a few highlights from our summer so far. It hasn’t been all drama, I promise! More soon, friends, thanks for sticking with us (and praying for us!) on our wild and crazy sabbatical roller coaster. xx Em


A Rite of Passage

June 16, 2016

maya-cheerios-11 We gave our sweet girl Cheerios for the first time a week or so ago and it seemed like such a baby rite of passage. I wanted to remember her tiny fingers pushing the Cheerios around and trying to squash them into her mouth. So many ended up on the floor, but she did pretty well getting a few of them down the hatch.

For your viewing enjoyment, way too many photos of sweet Maya eating her first Cheerios.

And bonus! My mom made her little raindrop dress! It’s too cute.  maya-cheerios-10 maya-cheerios-2 maya-cheerios maya-cheerios-8 maya-cheerios-12 maya-cheerios-13 maya-cheerios-14 maya-cheerios-15 maya-cheerios-5 maya-cheerios-7 maya-cheerios-9 maya-cheerios-10 Happy munching! (And much cleaning up for some of us….;)

No Take Backs, No Do Overs

June 14, 2016

maya mike tattoo 2016 Never in a million years did I think I’d marry someone who likes tattoos, it’s not really my thing at all. But I married this guy and here we are. Tattoos. This family tree was my gift to Michael for our first Christmas after we got married (against all my better judgment since I think this started a whole lot more!) nearly eight years ago. He found a tattoo parlor in Dublin and we went together with a vague idea of what he wanted. A tree, with his parents’ names at the bottom, ours on the trunk and room for our kids’ names at the top. The tattoo artist was Latvian and spoke literally no English. Like zero. We showed him a sketch and he drew a circle and two sticks and stuck it on Michael’s back. He said “Like this, yes?” and for some insane reason we both said, “Yeah, I guess?”

How on earth either of us thought that was a good idea, I will never know. But it was and it turned out really well.

Seven years later, it was finally time for the first of hopefully at least a few finishing touches. We took Maya (and our 5-month old temporary foster baby – making it quite possibly the most hilarious scene those tattoo artists have probably ever seen!) to a tattoo parlor for a quickie tattoo. Five minutes and one little grimace from Michael later, it’s official. No take backs, no do overs.

mike tattoo 2016 maya family tattoo maya and mike tattoo 2016

But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children

Psalms 103:17

Here’s hoping it’s the first of many!

Video: Maya’s Adoption

June 9, 2016

My friend Andrew helped me figure out that you can embed Facebook videos!

On adoption day, we live-streamed a few different videos leading up to the adoption and then a few after when we were basking in the excitement. You can watch them one after the other for the full effect, or you can just skip to the one with Maya’s Adoption right above it.

My favorite is obviously the adoption moment (followed by giraffe judge moment ;), but I also love that in one of the videos before the adoption I’m feeding Maya with my back turned to the camera. We were very serious about following all the foster baby rules and not showing her face until she was really official!

Pre-Adoption Anticipation! 

Maya’s Adoption! 

Post Adoption After Joys! 

Thank you all for joining us in our excitement! And thanks to Leah and Eanna for video-ing and figuring out this whole Facebook live thing for us. It was really fun!

Maya Catharine: Adopted!

June 9, 2016

IMG_0426 Friends, after a lot of back and forth about whether Maya’s adoption would go forward, we found out Thursday evening last week that it was a go. And it went! I’d love to share with you the play-by-play of adoption day! Sorry it’s taken so long, we’ve got our temporary foster baby back and there’s very little down time between refereeing babies!

So here’s the play by play of adoption day!

Once we enjoyed the partial relief that court was scheduled to open on Friday, we had to worry about my parents’ arrival. They were flying into Houston on Thursday evening and hit major thunderstorms. They were diverted to Dallas and got to Houston at midnight, only to sit on the runway for an hour! They are troopers. But we were so, so glad they were able to make it for Maya’s big day. leaving-for-adoption-day Friday morning, we woke up very early (Maya woke us all up at 5:23am!), got spruced in our adoption day finest, and headed west to Fort Bend County Court. We crossed over the very swollen Brazos River on our way, in total awe that court would go forward. But it did! When we arrived, the court was open and we waltzed right in.  walking into adoption We signed a few papers with our lawyer, met Maya’s ad litem, then waited for a little while outside of the courtroom. Our caseworker, Taylor, handled the termination of Maya’s birth parents’ rights with the lawyer, then they came out to get us. Maya charmed everyone and we took a little video to test the Facebook live stream before the actual court part.

The court part was so fast! I wish we could do it over and just make it longer! But one of the first things the judge said was that there would be no do-overs, no take-backs. (Cue the tears!). But the adoption flew by, and Michael and I were both so emotional. Our judge, Walter Armatys, was wonderful. He even sent Maya away with a stuffed animal and posed for photos with us. We’ve named Maya’s new giraffe Walter in his honor!

The strange thing is that neither of us have ever felt threatened with Maya’s situation. From the moment we saw her face, we knew she was ours and the particulars of her situation meant we didn’t need to worry that she would ever be taken from us. But nonetheless, having Maya’s adoption finalized, having her officially become a Westbrooks, having her officially be our daughter in the eyes of the law, was a big deal. Michael pointed out over the weekend that part of the excitement was because we’ve never really had a chance to celebrate Maya with our friends and family. We didn’t have a baby shower and her birth was such a surprise that it took a while for most of our family to even meet her. Sadly, some of them still haven’t – but they will later this summer. So this was our celebration of Maya joining our family, and it was wonderful from start to finish.

If you are on Facebook, you can watch the whole video sequence from adoption day right here. If you are not on Facebook, you’ll have to wait just a little longer as I figure out how to pull the Facebook livestream video off Facebook to share with non-Facebookers. Anyone have any ideas?

In the next few weeks, I have more to share about Maya’s first 8 months. I actually have video of the first time we met her, which is rather tear-jerking, and tons upon tons of photos of her. It’s a lot to catch up on, and I haven’t the foggiest how to go about it, but we’ll get there eventually.  post-adoption-maya For the time being, this is our sweet girl after her adoption. She was a champion and looked absolutely gorgeous in her little blue and white dress! I went back and forth about the size of her bow, but in the end I figured what the heck, when in Texas, right?!

And now, a whole lotta photos from the day!

First, the waiting in anticipation for the lawyer to call us in…. adoption selfie Our adoption day crew! My parents on the right, Michael’s sister Leah in the red, our dear friends the Walkers on either side of her, and Leah’s boyfriend Eanna (team photographer! Thanks Eanna!) at bottom right. Our caseworker, Taylor, is in a lower group photo as well. Couldn’t have done this without her! walkers adoption day Maya and I with the Walkers, without whom Maya simply wouldn’t have been possible. Their encouragement before we moved here, their welcome and help when we got here, and their constant support as we have raised Maya for the last eight months. They constantly believed this would happen, which was such an enormous gift. em excited adoption maya pre adoption with grammy And here we go! Cue the waterworks! We do solemnly swear…. we do adoption moment with judge armatys To love this baby girl forever and ever! Thanks, Judge Armatys, for making it such a sweet moment. And for posing for photos with us! Ha!  family of 3 official First photo of our official family of three! If you look closely you can spot the alligator tear rolling down Michael’s nose. Big softy, that husband of mine. mike banty and maya And very proud sister/aunt!  mike and maya post adoption

maya and banty adoption crew post adoption courthouse adoption crew adoption crew courthouse While Michael and I were inside getting Maya’s adoption decree and filling out applications for her new birth certificate, my mom entertained Maya by letting her play with the courthouse roses. Thank you, Eanna, for snapping these! My mom and her first grandbaby!  maya and grammy flowers maya and grammy flowers 3 maya and grammy flowers 2 Then Maya’s grandparents treated us to a delicious lunch at Revival Market in our neighborhood! They know Maya and Michael by name, so we thought it would only be fitting to celebrate in a place that knows us well!  family of 3 celebration lunch em and maya lunch mike and maya adoption lunch mike and maya adoption lunch 2 maya first high chair Maya got to sit in a high chair for the first time. My dad was nervous she was going to slide out, so I’m pretty sure his hand was on her the entire lunch! Sorry, Dad! She also got her first taste of danish (minus the filling) and made a lovely, flaky mess – luckily we were eating on the patio! We spent most of the lunch trying to decide whether to go forward with our plan of a picnic celebration later in the afternoon. We went for it and we actually got sun!  adoption day party We had a lovely little picnic celebration in a park around the corner from our house, and apparently everyone got the memo to wear blue! 😉

Thank you all, for consistently and constantly being so excited for us and encouraging about our adoption journey. We loved knowing that so many people were rooting for us from afar even during the adoption itself! I’ve said it before, but it’s been so powerful to know how much support we have from friends, family, blog readers and strangers for the last eight months. I never anticipated what a boost it would be to have you all by our virtual sides! Lots of love from us! xx Em, Michael and Maya

Adoption Day Tomorrow…We Think!

June 3, 2016

family of 3 in pool Oh, friends. What a week! You’ve probably seen the news that Texas is getting record storms and we are in the thick of it. Personally, we’re high and dry in the Heights. It has certainly been many days of torrential rains and I think there’s a leak in one of the bedrooms, but overall we’re completely unscathed and grateful. Some people have had their homes flooded twice or three times in the space of a few weeks or months.

One spot that’s not high and dry? The courthouse where Maya’s adoption day is to take place tomorrow morning. It’s on the banks of the Brazos River, which is experiencing its highest levels in over 100 years. What are the odds?! The courthouse was closed on Wednesday and yesterday, but they have tentatively said that it will be open tomorrow. So we’ll drive an hour west and cross our fingers that the flood waters have receded and are going to stay that way!

But to add a little insult to injury, my parents were supposed to fly in tonight and with constant severe thunderstorms today they were diverted at the last minute to Dallas. So as I write this, Maya’s grandparents are stuck in Dallas and we’re so hoping they’ll make it to Houston in time to see her adopted.

If all ends up going as planned tomorrow morning (which will shock me to no end after the drama of the last few days’ weather), we’re still planning to stream her adoption on Facebook Live. Now, that said, Michael nor I have any clue how to do that, so we’re going to work on it while we wait for my parents to make their way here!

And meanwhile, Maya not only broke through her first two teeth (adorable bottom ones!) this week, she also started crawling! It’s halting and punctuated by belly flops, but it’s forward movement and it’s glorious. She will never cease to amaze and delight us. So, all in all, we’re hanging in there and remain excited for tomorrow…or whatever day she’s finally adopted. But man, we really hope it’s tomorrow!

Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes. We’ll be updating my FCV Facebook page tomorrow morning if you’d like to keep track of how it all turns out!

And hopefully that photo of the three of us in the pool is the last time I have to hide Maya’s face!