July 9, 2008

Is that your final answer?

41. Where do some of your creative ideas come from (favorite stores, websites, etc.)?

I am a shelter magazine junkie and subscribe to 10 or so home magazines at any given time. I have fairly eclectic taste and regularly read: Martha Stewart Living, Victoria, Oprah Home, Chicago Home and Garden, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Veranda, Home Companion, Southern Accents and Domino. I also still read Sunset magazine to get my “West Coast” fix.

The two parenting magazines that I adore are: Wondertime and Cookie. Both are smartly-written and beautifully-photographed.

I have a huge binder of home and entertaining ideas that I’ve ripped out of magazines and I have a second binder of kid’s craft ideas that I’ve gotten from magazines as well. (They're just three-ring binders with clear plastic sheets that you can slip pages in but they work really well to organize things that have been ripped out of magazines.)

I really like: decor8.blgospot.com and read it daily and I also like tottrendsweekly.com I love to look at photographer blogs and Jessica Claire's is my absolute favorite. Scroll through her site to see the four-year old's Alice in Wonderland party she photographed. Unbelievable.

As far as stores go, I love Anthropologie, Design Within Reach, antique stores and flea markets. (This is flea market season here and the girls and I are heading to their first flea market in a couple weeks.) I also can spend all kinds of pointless time in a craft or fabric store!

42. Do you know the yellow paint color name that you used in the girls big girl room? I cannot seem to find a good yellow to use in Mae's room.

Yellow paint is so tricky. The paint in their room is really a great yellow. It’s warm but not muddy and sunny but no overly bright.

It's Benjamin Moore paint. I'll take off the switch plate and look at the name and update this when I do. (I write the paint colors on a piece of tape and put it under the light switch in a room.)

43. Do you ever wonder why so many people read your blog and feel like we know the girls?

Yes. And I am incredibly humbled that people do.

44. I was a November moonbeam too and was wondering how you are or how you will be in the future dealing with the subject of the girls being adopted. Do you discuss it with them?

Yes, I try to casually discuss it whenever I can. We read books about adoption -- Chinese adoption and other adoptions too. I try to talk about different aspects of our trip to China, adoption in general and how our family was created at "teachable moments." I've made books for the girls about the time surrounding the day we met and I really do plan to finish their life books some day.

The most important thing I think we do though is have a group of other families, who also have daughters from China, that we spend quite a bit of time with. We actually traveled to China with many of these families and I think it's incredibly valuable for Michal and Kenna to see, and spend time with, other families that look like ours. The topic of adoption also comes up naturally when we're together.

Like you, I am really unsure how much Michal and Kenna understand about what we talk about. At one point Michal insisted that she was born in the United States, like I was, and when our neighbor had a baby recently both Michal and Kenna wanted to know if they'd gone to China to get her.

45. My daughter is turning five. What would you suggest for a meaningful present?

I think this necklace by The Vintage Pearl is adorable and completely appropriate for a five-year old. I don’t know if you all have ever read the book "Guess How Much I Love You" by Sam McBratney, that the quote is taken from, but if you haven’t, you could give her the book with the necklace.

Here's the text of the book if you're not familiar with it:

Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare's very long ears. He wanted to be sure that Big Nutbrown Hare was listening.

"Guess how much I love you," he said.

"Oh, I don't think I could guess that," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

"This much," said Little Nutbrown Hare, stretching out his arms as wide as they could go.

Big Nutbrown Hare had even longer arms. "But I love YOU this much," he said.

Hmm, that is a lot, thought Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you as high as I can reach." said Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you as high as I can reach," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

That is quite high, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I had arms like that.

Then Little Nutbrown Hare had a good idea. He tumbled upside down and reached up the tree trunk with his feet.

"I love you all the way up to my toes!" he said.

"And I love you all the way up to your toes," said Big Nutbrown Hare, swinging him up over his head.

"I love you as high as I can HOP!" laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.

"But I love you as high as I can hop," smiled Big Nutbrown Hare - and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

That's good hopping, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. I wish I could hop like that.

"I love you all the way down the lane as far as the river," cried Little Nutbrown Hare.

"I love you across the river and over the hills," said Big Nutbrown Hare.

That's very far, thought Little Nutbrown Hare. He was almost too sleepy to think any more. Then he looked beyond the thorn bushes, out into the big dark night. Nothing could be further than the sky.

"I love you right up to the MOON," he said, and closed his eyes.

"Oh, that's far," said Big Nutbrown Hare. "That is very, very far."

Big Nutbrown Hare settled Little Nutbrown Hare into his bed of leaves. He leaned over and kissed him good night.

Then he lay down close by and whispered with a smile, "I love you right up to the moon - AND BACK."

I know that Erin also happily does custom pieces and I saw one that she made that had two charms -- one with a little girl's name and a second charm that said "You Are My Sunshine." Simply adorable.

I'd personally choose the ball chain, since it's sturdier, but any of the chains are pretty. You'd want to specify a length that's appropriate for a little girl.

Another idea would be to start a charm bracelet for her. I had a charm bracelet when I was little and still have it. I started one for the girls in China and have added to it each time we've traveled somewhere. You could start it with a birthday cake or a "5" charm and add to it for meaningful events or trips or milestones. Rembrandt sterling silver charms are my favorite but there are zillions of charms available at jewelery stores and online.

One last idea would be to have one of these dolls made for her. I think they are positively adorable and love how they can be customized. I think Michal and Kenna may each get one for their birthday or Christmas this year.

46. What one thing did you give up (which you wished you could still do) that allows yourself to be able to fit everything into one day with twins?

In the early days the answer would have been showers but now it's working out regularly, especially doing yoga. It certainly isn’t the thing I should be giving up but it’s just logistically one of the more difficult things to fit in daily and, unfortunately, one of the easiest things not to do.

47. What is your schedule? How do you plan/prepare for all of the fun entertaining and crafts that you are so good at? You have a lot to show for your time, which inspires me, so I would like to know how you get so much done.

The girls are late risers -- they stopped napping at 27 months so they tend to sleep in -- kind of a night's sleep and a nap all in one. I get up early so I have a couple hours to myself before they wake up -- most days. It's funny because I am not a morning person at all but it works out well anyway.

Once they're both up, we have breakfast together and get ready for the day. Two days per week we have music class in the late morning and on the other three days we do "school" at home.

I try to have us go somewhere every day, even if it's just to the grocery store. I do that as much for my sanity as anything. I usually give them a few choices of what they'd like to do for the day and I try to include something they'll think is fun.

During part of the summer I have a babysitter a couple times a week, which gives m a lot more flexibility, which is nice.

When we're at home we bake and do crafts and they do a great job of playing independently, probably because there are two of them so they always have a playmate. We're also outside a lot and they love to play in their little pool, draw on the driveway with chalk, play on the swing set and blow bubbles. We also go to the "real" pool fairly often.

I am the most effective and the most organized when I have a lot to do. I guess it's like that old adage -- if you want something done, give it to someone who is really busy. Plus, I really like when I have a "big project" to focus on -- a party, getting something done in the house, etc. Plus, I like to "go." It drives me crazy to sit around the house. When Michal and Kenna were really little we'd go to Costco and just walk around because Costco is one of the very few places with double carts.

48. I just love the things that you do with your girls. You are so creative and they always seem to have such fun. How do you come up with all your daily ideas for activities and fun for the girls?

Thank you.

We have memberships to the zoo, the aquarium, the arboretum and the botanical gardens so we frequent those places. I also regularly look for special children's events in the area. It helps that we live in a large metropolitan area and there is always a lot going on. It's much easier this time of year to have lots of things to do since we can be outside. I also try to figure out how I can make something that isn't necessarily a kid's event or place into one. For example, we ride the train to a neighboring town and then walk to Starbuck's for milk. We have lots of local farms and animal rescue centers that we visit. And the girls both love public transportation. If there's a bus, a train, a taxi or a trolley involved, it's been a really good day!

49. If you do not drink coffee what do you order when you go to Starbucks? ( I recall several posts where you mentioned frequenting there. One in particular where the girls said you looked like the siren on the Starbucks logo.)

In the winter I order a skim hot chocolate or skim peppermint hot chocolate (a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie in a cup!) without whipped cream, which is where the girls picked up their regular use of the term "no whip." In the summer I order a skim chocolate milk with ice or a shaken passion tea lemonade.

It's funny to listen to Michal and Kenna order at Starbuck's . . . "I'd like a grande water, no whip, add ice please" or "May I have a kid's milk, no whip and no ice." They both are little parrots.

50. Based on what we've all written here, we think you're a great mom - very creative, hands on, intelligent, warm, funny, caring. As a parent, what do you think your strengths are and what do you think you could do/wish you did a better job at?

Wow, thank you.

I like the creative aspects of parenting, love thinking up fun things to do with the girls and new ways to teach them things. It is important to me that we have special family traditions and events and I work hard at creating those.

The thing that I need the most work on is spending individual time with each of the girls. The first thing any twins book or other of mother of twins will tell you is how important it is to give your twins alone time. I wholeheartedly agree but boy is it hard! When I have a babysitter, or Eric is home, I want to go run errands, do something I can’t do with the girls in tow or do something as a family. Each time Eric and I do take one of the girls alone though we see how special that time is and how much they enjoy it but it doesn’t make it any easier to do.

51. My question is whether you intend to write a book with all the material you have accumulated since you brought the girls home. Your photos are wonderful, but your comments really bring them to life.

Thank you. What I'd really love to write is a children's book. Maybe someday.

52. You have such unique and original names for your daughters. Do you have any suggestions on names for a little girl?

Brynn, Lexi, Riley, Devon and I still do like the name Kate.

53. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

I love kicking off the Christmas season with a trip to see the Marshall Field's windows downtown. I love going to see the Rockettes on Thanksgiving weekend. I love the Charlie Brown trees everyone puts in the front yards of their homes in our town and how it looks when you look down the street and see the neat row of trees all with the big, old-fashioned colored lights. I love making ornaments for the “Michal and Kenna” tree we decorate each year and baking Christmas cookies with the girls.

54. Do you do anything special with the ones that are sentimental to you like their Gotcha Day outfits, etc?

I had the outfits the girls were wearing on Adoption Day made into dolls. Their Gotcha Day outfits are put away to give them someday. We've taken them out a few times and looked at them but I like leaving them exactly as they were when I took them off in China. They each still have the piece of tape with their name written on it in Chinese.

Their very first Chinese dresses are hanging in their bedroom and some of the others they've worn are still hanging in their closet.

55. Happy gotcha anniversary.

Thank you! Happy Gotcha Day anniversary to you too.

56. Do you ever make any of your daughters clothes?

I haven't ever made them anything. I can sew, and would certainly make them a costume or anapron, but I don't think I'd make them clothes just because having things fit properly is really a skill and one I don't possess.

57. May I ask, where did you get the dress they're wearing at Eric grad ceremony.

I bought the dresses at Nordstrom. They’re by Halabaloo. If you Google “Halabaloo” you’ll find a number of online boutiques that carry the brand too.

58. If you had a full twenty-four hours to yourself, what would you do and why???

Oh my.

59. What is the most important thing you are intentionally trying to pattern or teach your girls as you raise them daily? Marissa would LOVE to play with the girls if you guys ever come to the KC area!

This wins as the question that made me think the most. It was one of the first questions I was asked and was one of the very last I answered.

I am trying hard to help Michal and Kenna learn to be responsible and respectful children who will grow into responsible and respectful adults.

And I am sure Michal and Kenna would love to play with Marissa too.

60. And one for Eric (if he doesn't mind): What did he enjoy about Dubai?

From Eric: I really enjoyed visiting somewhere that is so unique. Dubai is truly "over-the-top" and there is very little that hasn't been "created" in Dubai -- including an indoor ski resort and spectacular buildings that look like nothing you've ever seen before.

I went to Turkey on the same trip and actually much preferred the culture and history of Istanbul to the newly-created opulence in Dubai.

61. If you and Eric get carryout often, what are you eating to stay so trim? You look fabulous!

Wow, thank you. We really get food from the same three places over and over -- I know, kind of wild and crazy huh? We frequent: Chipolte, a local PanAsian restaurant and then a place that only has take out. It's kind of like a deli except that they have fully-prepared entrees, salads and side dishes that you can take to go or have delivered. The menu changes daily and the food is fabulous. It's "real" food made with lots of locally-grown produce and high-quality meats. They also sell Michal's very favorite mac-n-cheese there.

62. Do you like living in Chicago? (Besides, the horrible winters, of course.) If you didn't live in Chicago, where you would choose to live?

I love Chicago. It's an amazing city with great museums, parks and theaters; a beautiful waterfront; an abundance of festivals, concerts and other activities; great ethnic diversity and people who are truly warm and friendly.

I don't like the winters but I didn't like the summers when we lived in Arizona.

I think that someday we'll live in California again but we're not looking to leave Chicago anytime soon.

63. What do you think the hardest thing is about being a Mom?

I think the hardest thing about being a mom is the knowledge that the choices I make daily can ultimately affect the physical, emotional and spiritual health of two little people.

It's a sobering responsibility at times.

64. What age have you enjoyed best with the girls? I know they were about 18 months when you got them, so starting from 18 months, what has been their most fun year yet? My daughter is 17 months, so I'm interested to learn what fun is in store for us!

I like four the best so far. They're now old enough to carry on a conversation, old enough to go most places with me and just plain funny. I love the things they say and how they're figuring out the world.

65. Do you still have the physical book we all signed at Jennifer's? If yes, could I send you money to make a color copy of it at some point in the future (there would be no rush as I know you have a crazy schedule)? I'd love to be able to have that for our youngest girl. I just remember that the scrapbook was so lovely. We were one of the late Nov families and so were not in GZ until early September. The comments left by families were so heartfelt and showed the excitement and happiness of being reunited with their children.

Yes, I definitely have the book. I've intended -- for three years! -- to scan in all the pages and upload them so people could order a copy of the book. I will get to it.

66. What do you enjoy doing in your "free time"?

I spend way too much time on the computer updating this blog and visiting the blogs of others. I love taking pictures. I really enjoy reading -- both magazines and books. I like to swim and really like yoga. I love to travel -- and so does Eric. (The girls are great travelers too!) I like interior decorating, entertaining and I love to garden. I like talking about politics and I interned for one of the current Presidential candidates when I was in college. I am always happy to go get a pedicure and spend a mindless hour reading the latest People magazine and I usually have some "artsy" project I'm working on.

67. What are the girls favorite toys, books, activities?

They both love musical instruments, singing, Lincoln Logs, anything that you can draw, paint, cut or write with, their doll house, doll strollers, using the kitchen chairs to make airplanes, rocket ships and trains, and puzzles and games.

They both love books and are currently enamored with Fancy Nancy, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy and Fancy Nancy Bonjour Butterfly.

They love to swim, play outside, blow bubbles and draw with chalk on the driveway. They both want to take ballet.

And we've hit the princess stage. That probably needs no further explanation. :)

And that brings us to the three most-often asked questions:

68. What kind of camera do you use? What kind of lenses do you use? How did you learn to take pictures?

I used a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, primarily with a 35-80mm lens, until February 2008 -- and loved it. In February I upgraded to the Canon 40D. I'm still on a pretty steep learning curve with it but I think it's going to be a great camera. It definitely captures greater depth and vibrancy in the photos.

If you're going to buy a Canon digital SLR, I would recommend buying the body only (available online from lots of camera stores) and then buying lenses separately. The lens that the Digital Rebel is packaged with isn't very good so there's no sense paying for something you'll ultimately want to replace. Some of the other Canon camera kits do come with good lenses.

And what creates beautiful photos is the lens. You need a decent camera but you need a great lens -- or two or three!

I use four primary lenses: 35-80mm lens, 50mm lens,

If you're looking to add a lens to your camera I'd highly recommend a fixed 50mm lens. Some people call this a "nifty fifty" lens or a a portrait lens. What it does is create beautiful bokeh (blurriness) in the background of a photo so you really see the subject. As far as lenses go, it's not expensive -- about $90 -- and worth every penny in my opinion. There are more expensive fixed 50mm lenses but I'd start with this one.

I've never taken a photography class but I do read some photography boards and have figured out a lot of things by trial and error. I am trying to attend a multi-day seminar at the end of the summer but I'm not sure if the logistics are going to work out or not.

A few suggestions to take better photos . . . First, try getting your camera off the "Auto" setting. Learn how to use a couple of the settings where you have to make some choices. This will force you to learn what aperture, shutter speed and ISO are and how they affect your photo. Second, take photos in natural lighting whenever you can. Shoot photos outside where you don't need a flash. Try taking pictures in the early morning or early evening when the light is the longest and softest. Third, get in close to your subject. Really close. A bunch of "stuff" in the background is distracting. Fourth, change your angle. Try tilting the camera, taking photos looking down on your subject or from a perspective other than just straight on. And last, take a ton of photos. It's just digital and doesn't cost you a thing. Watch some time how many photos a professional photographer takes to get just one really good shot. If it takes a professional that many then it certainly won't take you and I any less. :)

69. What size do Michal and Kenna wear? Where do you get the girls' clothes? What do you do with the girls' clothes when they outgrow them? Do you sell the girls' clothes on ebay?

The girls wear a 4T in most brands.

I updated this post that details where I buy the girls clothes. I've added a link to all of my favorite etsy sellers -- I will warn you that etsy is incredibly addictive and I can't be held responsible if you find yourself buying all kinds of things! I've also updated the list of my favorite brands and favorite places to shop.

I have done all kinds of things with Michal and Kenna's outgrown clothes . . . I took some to a consignment store and received about $1.25 per piece. (I won't do that again.) Several times when we've had friends over I've put out bags of stuff and told them to take whatever they want. I send a lot to my friend in Northern California for her twins. Three bags of their boutique stuff that was ready to send to another friend in San Diego got put out with the Good Will stuff on accident. (Hopefully someone will be excited about their Good Will finds!) I've sold some of their outgrown Matilda Jane items on ebay and actually have a bunch ready to list in the next couple days but I've never sold any of their other things there simply because it takes a lot of time to organize, photograph and then send them to the buyer.

With the exception of their Gotcha and Adoption Day dresses and their Chinese dresses that I bought in China, I'm really not that sentimental about their clothing. I kept one of the dresses that I bought them in China and I'll keep the jean jackets they've literally been wearing since they were two that my parents bought them. I love buying them clothes, love having pictures of them in those clothes but don't have a need to hang on to a bunch of their outgrown stuff. Plus, it makes me really happy to see other little girls wearing it. I get so excited when I see a picture of other girls in something that was once theirs.

70. Will you adopt another child?

Our family feels very complete with Michal and Kenna and we don't have any plans to adopt another child. I guess you can never say never though . . .

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