My newest portrait

mommy drawing

She proudly taped it by my desk with a smile…and then apologized to me.

“Mommy, sorry you’re so puffy.”


Eye contact {tips for your toolbox}

We received a surprise gift the day we received our daughter 4 years ago.


Not just any dimples, the most adorable little dimples. The kind that show up even before the smile breaks, giving away that she’s about to lose the staring contest. I love them.

Lydia dimples in Guangzhou1
While we got to see them that first day and most everyday since, we didn’t always get to see them for more than a quick glimpse. The hundreds of pictures I took of her in our first months home are a bit deceiving. They capture one split second of a moment; they do not reveal how her gaze directly at me may have only lasted for that split second of a moment. I longed for that closeness of gazing into each other’s eyes as I did while I nursed our other three. But, her loss of that closeness for the first year of her life made her fight it with me. She fought the closeness by looking away a second into the gaze and physically turning her head or whole body away. Her seeming rejection—through eye contact and in other ways—made my attachment process harder which made her attachment process harder which made my attachment process harder…and on and on…you get the idea.

Four years into this adoptive parenting thing and a few years into connecting well, I now know things I wish I had known in those first days to encourage eye contact and move us both towards a better connection. Here are a few…

  • Make it easier – It is a whole lot easier for a little person to look at a big person if the big person isn’t so big. I realize that to get better eye contact, I need to come to her, lower myself to her height while not making her feel like I’m all up in her grill.
  • Simply touch my nose – the simple movement of me moving my hand towards my face drew her attention and made her look in the right direction without the intimidation of looking up into my eyes on her own. As she looked away while we were interacting, repeating it again brought her back to my face again.
  • Use verbal cues – I’m a fan of simple scripts. Saying something every time I need to like, “Lemme see those brown eyes” served as a verbal cue for her that she could expect and depend on and kept me on track when I could have felt more frustrated and spiraled elsewhere.
  • Ask a seemingly silly question – I confess that the suggestion of spontaneously asking “What color are your eyes?” seemed odd to me when I first learned about that tool. But, you know what? It totally works. She looks at me; I admire her eyes for a few seconds and then continue speaking while I’ve got her right there with me.
  • Guide the glance – without touching her face but using the same motion as if I were, I can direct my daughter gently into eye contact by cupping my hand near her cheek a couple inches from her face. The gentleness of this tool helps us both.
  • Be a cheerleader – positive reinforcement goes a long way. When she would look right at me and we’d lock eyes for longer than was natural for her, my job was to notice those moments and cheer her on: “Oh, I like that! Good job looking right into my eyes!”

They’re tools for the toolbox, tools that were my go-tos in some seasons in particular over the last four years. But, there’s nothing magical about them; they don’t “fix things” on their own; there’s no if-then guarantee about them–and I so want if-then guarantees. But, there was something to the intentionality of using them, the pursuit itself of tools to use and then celebrating little successes that moved us forward. And, the hope and joy in that forward momentum has been nothing short of life changing for all of us.

Lydia dimples with AnnaKiele1

Planet of the Turtles/Tortoise

It all started with these two.

Our three gifts for Christmas include a gold gift, the pies de resistance. And, for Christmas 2013, the boys’ gold gifts were these little guys (which we later discovered were actually gals).

turtles 2 in yard
Yup. The little one there chomping on the weeds in my yard is named Jones. She’s a she despite her name (named after Indy, of course). I got that little lady off Craigslist from a middle school boy whose mom told him he had to sell off part of his zoo. $25 and a 45-minute drive got me a Western box turtle with tank, heat rock, light, and so forth for my middle school boy. But, the thing was…it was like September when I got him…and Christmas is in December. So, little Miss Shell moved into my laundry room for the fall because my children would never dare go in there. In fact, I’m pretty sure they don’t know the laundry room in the basement even exists and that the tooth fairy visits their rooms occasionally to deliver their clothes clean again.

As I was mysteriously taking pieces of tomato and such downstairs every so often, it dawned on me that the other boy would really like one of these things too for his gold gift. So, back on Craigslist I went where I saw that someone had an Eastern box turtle who needed a new home…but they lived about 90 minutes away…but very near my sister. So, my brother-in-law went on mission to pick up the above larger turtle from a very nice man who was happy to hand it off to a new home for free. A late night drive to meet up with my sister and another turtle (now Timber named after the struggle Mark and I had bringing the tank up the stairs Christmas day) had moved into my laundry room.

Christmas morning did not disappoint as the boys went bonkers over their new roommates and all they came with. And, while the girls were excited about their gold gifts as well, theirs weren’t breathing. And, apparently, breathing gold gifts are all the rage. It didn’t take long for the girls to start begging for a boy box turtle to call their own because…of course…no turtle farm is complete without turtle eggs (and not just eggs, fertilized eggs…because we have also learned through experience that female turtles will lay eggs but that’s all they will ever be without a boy turtle to finish the job).

So, this mama did what any turtle-loving and child-loving mama would do. I put an ad on Craigslist titled: Desperately seeking box turtle. I got a few responses from people over time–most, however, had some cute shelled creatures they were offering up but no male box turtles. We even had a Facebook crowd following along (aka. thinking I had lost my mind) helping us hunt one down. But, alas, no male box turtle.

Then, at the end of last week, something magical happened and an email was delivered into my inbox.

We have a Russian Tortoise named Fiona that needs a new home. She loves attention and will eat from your hand. I can send a photo if interested. Michelle

I’m not kidding. Her name was Michelle.

So, yes, photos were sent. And, despite the fact that Fiona is seemingly yet another female and unable to breed with box turtles anyway, we welcomed her into our family. I mean, how could we not? She was free. And, despite what you may think, she is pretty cute…and very hard to photograph with her new turtle friends.

turtles 3 in yard
Turtles sorta do this (note Timber bolting for the great wild).

turtles 7 walking away
unless you do this and sorta hold onto them. Believe me when I say they are shockingly fast and we’re all not surprised at all that the tortoise beat the hare.

turtles 8 in hands
We met Michelle half way to assume custody. And, we also got this massive tank complete with everything a tortoise could ever want, extra bedding, a bag of organic farm-raised vegetables that are reported to be her favorite and bottled water, a heat lamp and cold UV lamp, and special nutrient rich food for extra treats. And, I may have seen a tear in Michelle’s eye as she explained Fiona’s (now Aslan) preference for women and how she bats her eyes at a gentle voice spoken to her directly.

turtle in attic
Oh, dear Fiona, now Aslan, I’m sorry you have left Club Med and have now entered the Raudy house where you are being trained with a bell (not kidding) and will get a whole lot of attention from this little one in particular…and I’m fairly certain it won’t be in a gentle voice.

turtles in cage
But, she’ll love on you a whole lot because you are way more engaging than her Lego turtle she insisted on bringing outside with the others for some exercise (and it apparently has laser vision).

Wonder if I can find one more turtle on Craigslist?

It’s a legitimate question

So, we have an ant problem. Little tiny black ants in my kitchen, on the counter, on the floor, wherever they want to go, openly mocking me as they walk directly over the ant traps I put out for them.

Knowing “tis the season” doesn’t make me hate them any less.

All that prefaces this little snippet…

Lydia: I have a question.

Me: Yes?

Lydia: How do the ants get in our house when they can’t reach the doorknob?

No, there are not any adorable clipart pictures I can find online of a ladder of ants climbing up to open a doorknob and sneak in our house or cute little ants knocking on our door. Instead, I will leave you with this picture of the adorable child who says adorable things and makes my heart just melt with all her cutiepieness.


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