Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our Day of Thanks...

Here are some things I missed this year:
*John cooking in the kitchen all morning
*John’s “Starters” like Crab cakes and crab cakes and, did I mention crab cakes?
*our yearly “turkey trot” through the neighborhood in an effort to promote good health and also a healthy appetite…
*Having Johns mom and brother sit at our table (they’ve been with us every year for the last 5)
*Reading my favorite Thanksgiving story, “Thank You Sarah” to my children as John makes the final preparations for our meal to begin.
*Sweater weather
*Setting my own Thanksgiving table.

Here are some things I am thankful for this year:
*Learning again that you can be thankful for the many blessings you’ve received on any continent, in any time zone, under any circumstance (even when your toddler poops in her pants at the thanksgiving table).
*That a spirit of gratitude can be cultivated and fostered even without football and parades
*that spending a special day with friends-no matter how newly made-helps the day feel brighter and more festive
*that my kids are fantastic little cooks in their own right; Mason will definitely be making our sweet potatoes every year after this year’s completely successful showing (he did it ALL by himself).
*That fresh farm cheeses and delicious breads and fruits are a nice starter too (though nothing can really bead John’s crab cakes on Thanksgiving)
*That in the end, its not about the food (can you say “butternut pie” instead of “pumpkin pie” ? Oh, I didn’t think so…) but its about the Thanks.

Let me say that last line just one more time for good measure.

In the end its not really about the food, it’s about the Thanks…

Thanksgiving Decor

Home made by many small hands...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blue Light Special

I've saved lots of thanksgiving pics to share here but we've run into more computer chaos at our house. The little telcom phone modem we use here receives two signals. The weaker signal is indicated by a green light. When we have the green light checking email takes hours and downloading or uploading pictures is basically impossible. The stronger signal is indicated by a blue light-we call it the blue light special around our place. When you have a blue light you can blog, order Christmas gifts and email your friends and family without growing gray in the process. That is, if the modem lets you stay "on line". One of our other recurring problems is the fact that either our computer or our modem drops our connection on a routine basis, often after only being connected to the internet for a moment or two. Once the connection is dropped, you have to stop what you are doing, reconnect, and then refresh whatever you were working on in hopes you haven't lost information in the process. I've actually remained "connected" for 9 minutes in a row, allowing me to write this little note to you. Hopefully I'll be able to post before my measly green light is dropped and my connection terminated. As soon as the planets align and I can post you'll have lovely pics to see of our kids, Thanksgiving, more silhouette shots, and probably our upcoming trip to Durban. I hope to share the creative Christmas decorating ideas come to fruition and lots of images of friends we've made while here...I'm hoping to share that all with you. We'll just have to see when I get the blue light special!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Feeling at Home

Last Sunday we enjoyed one my favorite days yet in Africa. After listening to John speak to our church congregation (His spiritual nature amazes me, and his love for God and desire to serve Him truly helps me strive to grow spiritually as well. I felt so deeply priviledged to be his wife as I heard him speak and share his experiences and testimony) we enjoyed an evening with Paul and Ann Koelliker. The Koellikers are long time friends of my parents, and have been an instrumental example to me through out my life. They are currently living in Johannesburg on an assignment for our church to be counselor to the Area President for the Africa area. President Koelliker, as he has always been known to me, was my ecclesiastical leader (my Stake President; thus the title) when John and I were married, and he interviewed us for marriage in one of our church’s temples. Just last year President Koelliker was again an important presence in a family experience; he was the sealer (a man appointed by our church president who is authorized to marry church members in a temple for time and eternity and one who is also authorized to seal families together forever. ) who sealed our Lucy to us to be a Graham for all time and eternity. Sharing such sweet moments with the Koellikers, and adding to that the tender love my parents have felt as friends of theirs for many years, you can imagine the feelings of being home I enjoyed as we entered their beautiful living quarters on the Temple grounds of the Johannesburg Temple for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. To be welcomed with hugs and kisses, to be fed as if at my own mother’s table, to have people who I love so dearly truly pour out their love toward my own children as if their grandchildren had come for a visit. I can’t really describe it for you, accept to say that it was a sweet and tender evening for me. Tears came freely as I stood with this dear man overlooking the temple and the vast city of Johannesburg, feeling a love from him could only be described as Christ-like. What a gift to know a couple like this, to feel of their love for others and their devotion to God.

And the kids had a BLAST playing in the big garden out front. President Koelliker took our family on a walk of the temple grounds and the surrounding area while Sister Koelliker kindly prepared our dinner (don’t worry mom, I came in and offered to help, and she let us bring dessert and rolls, so we tried to contribute and remember our manners as best we could !). Brynley and Madi felt so happy and comfortable there that they practiced a little “show” which they shared with all of us at the conclusion of our evening together. In true Graham we left our mark on the evening; breaking a toy, changing Molly after she had a “messy” potty training episode, and leaving behind us a sippy cup and bib. John always says our “footprint” is big; but as the Koellikers successfully raised 7 children of their own I somehow felt they’d understand. And they did.

I hope we’ll get to see the Koelllikers again before we leave Africa. They have in the four months they’ve lived here already seen more of this continent than we ever will. They’ve ministered to the people of this place in concrete ways, helping to distribute aid that is used for our church’s Perpetual Education Fund and presiding over conferences and church meetings…but if their schedule is such that we don’t get the chance we will certainly understand. I’ll cling to that feeling of being home on those days that I am pushing through a day of home school or feeling a bit alone in a vast country where we have made only a few precious friends. Thank you Koellikers, for giving me a taste of home as we spent time with you and felt your gigantic hearts as they poured love out upon our family.


We took the family on a day trip to a little town called Dullstroom. We had been told it was a fisherman’s paradise, and a lovely get-a-way from the city. Life here becomes mundane as you can’t really “spread out” at a park or lounge in a garden. I was anxious to just sit in the grass and let our kids run around with some freedom.

The town definitely offered green space. It reminded me much of the Cotswold’s in England, with rolling green hills and lots of rocky outcroppings. We even saw some rock walls that had been broken apart over time; very much like the countryside of England we meandered through years ago when living in Europe.

Sadly, due to a late start and unclear driving expectations, we had very little time to explore the town. We found ourselves-in the name of “checking things out” sitting on a covered porch at an art shop with our kids making mosaic topped boxes. An unexpected turn, but a relaxing few hours none-the-less. The purveyors of the shop were thrilled we’d stopped by-six kids to sell art projects to! Although it wasn’t quite what I had imagined it was a relaxing day away from the city and our house, which is beginning to feel a bit Closter phobic for me. It was nice to actually do something on a Saturday that wasn’t going to a shopping mall. For all that Africa has to offer, most of it needs an overnight stay, and-well-John is here to WORK, so overnight stays become a bit difficult. We are here just long enough to have to have an everyday schedule and church obligations (John is in Stake conference meetings even as we speak and I was in charge of our Ward Christmas party last night…) but short enough that we’d like to use each weekend to “experience Africa”. An impossible attempt to balance, but we try just the same.

So, Dullstroom needed an overnight stay and we needed a little more time to linger on the green rolling hills and breath in the fresh, safe, air. A pleasant excursion and a happy diversion from the daily life of Johannesburg.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My sisters encouraged me to check out Stephanie Nielson's blog some time ago, and it is a pleasure to continue to visit this would-be stranger and enjoy her fresh attitude, her lovely and happy perspective, and her great talent for home decor and just plain "life is art" living. Please meet her on her blog;

I emailed Stephanie recently to ask if she'd share her talent with our family and make some of her wonderful silhouettes for us to enjoy. She agreed, so we went to town taking profile pictures. Here are a few of the results.

Silhouettes of my mother and her siblings as children hung in the homes she grew up in, and I remember the day at Disneyland when I sat in the little shop on main street with my brothers and sisters while the artist trimmed and cut our profiles from black paper. I considered this tradition when John and I took our little family to D-land last spring, but my strong aversion to advertising anything Disney in my home got the better of me, and I walked away from the opportunity. I'm not sorry, especially now that a better option has presented itself.

Not only was it fun to contact Stephanie and feel happy for the chance to "make a new friend" as she shares her talents with our family, but it was wonderful to shoot the photos and enjoy the time spent with a camera in my hand for the pure purpose of capturing my kids on film. Sometimes its through the lens that you can see the true beauty of the subjects you photograph.

Can't wait to share the finished product with you as they hang on our wall (in whichever house we chose, sigh...). Thanks, Stephanie, for sharing your talents with us!

A Test of Patience and Discipline

So, this absolutely darling picture of our #5 was taken as in celebration of her first "success" in the potty training adventure. It took 5 days to get to this picture, and though she has continued to stay "dry" since that glorious moment on Sunday morning (including naps and bedtime; had to quit the diapers cold turkey-no turning back or using pull-ups for this little girl!) we still have problems in the slightly messier area of potty training. Needless to say that while the diapers have gone out the window the baby wipes are still kept closely at hand...gross.

Potty training is like having some loathsome medical procedure like a root canal-incredibly necessary and most certainly painful and uncomfortable. The only upside is the fact that once you are on the other side of the experience and looking forward, things are more comfortable on a daily basis and you are a bit more healthy. If my mental health (meaning my ability to slap a child silly for creating a stomach churning mess for me to clean up at least once a day is squelched by my ability to reason through that "this too shall pass" and 'she doesn't really mean to make you throw up when she does this') can outlast the accidents we'll all be in better shape.

so, Here's to good (mental) health, I guess! Best of luck to Molly as she completes the quest, and I need a bit of luck too, to endure it :)

Here's to my health, I guess.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Our latest adventure for sure

So, you can't see in the picture, to protect her privacy, that Molly is sitting in a potty chair. We have begun the most frightening adventure the Grahams have ever encountered; Potty Training our Molly. In five days of effort we have had two successes, one was just this morning-giving me some hope that she had finally turned a corner. But, alas, the hope has faded since we've changed underwear already since that wonderful success...

ANY suggestions would be welcome. Finding the magic formula to Molly's "toilet training" success is eluding me. And another week of wiping up accidents is surely on the horizon.

Help, seriously, help!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


We took the kids to a 3D movie on Monday night, and had a blast. It helps that the movie is truly one of my favorites; Meet the Robinsons by pixar. I am an adoptive mom, and as one my heart is tenderly touched by many aspects of the film. I am also a mom of a 12 year old "creative mind" who at times feels his ideas will never be successful. I love the sentiments put forth in the film to "keep moving forward" and that family is most precious above all other can understand me a little better if you've read my post a few days back about messages and movies; I look for them!

It was also just really cool to put on the plastic glasses and watch my kids hold them on to their eyes so they could see the time machines come at them or say wow as the main character sits in a library that looks completely real and tangible. Technology, I tell you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


While we were out last Friday I caught this photo of Bryn and Madi awaiting the start of the " bird show" at Monte Casino. A find and tender moment for a mom to see her girls so "sisterly" and so happy to have each other. For a relationship that is fraught with all the bumps and snags that sisters face it is nice to see these girls gel as we spend our time in South Africa.

Of course, they get on each other's nerves at times. But most mornings I find them curled up next to each other,one having "slept over" in the other's bed. Most days I see them cheer one another through spelling or math...or plan "performances" for us to watch before they go to sleep. They team up when mom needs help with the little girls (Madi, I'll get Molly a snack while you change Lucy's diaper, o.k.?)

They don't even realize that they are living with their very best friend.

Isn't that the way sisters tend to be? So intertwined and ever-present that they are taken for granted? I know it was that way with me. Growing up I never appreciated the gifts that my sisters were-and would be-in my life. Fighting over whose clothes were whose and who had entered the other's room without permission. Diminishing the very fact that the girls who knew me best and loved me anyway were the ones I was badmouthing to those whose acceptance I craved and longed for.

How the tables have turned. My sisters (and now I am lucky enough to have 5 of them- thanks brothers for marrying fantastic sisters for me!) are the women whose acceptance matters most of all. No other opinions on this planet (accept I guess my mothers; both of them) mean more to me. No encouragement is more dear, no support more lasting.

There have been so many times-so many-in the lives of my "big girls" when in the midst of petty differences and the tears that always follow I have implored them to hear this absolute truth; "you have your very best friends living right here in your very own house". So Many times I've begged them to set aside those things they'd gladly look past if it were a friend from outside the walls of our own home.

When I see these sisters, arms wrapped in acceptance of one another, I begin to feel that somehow they have heard.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Life with Dirt

Being the parents of six children means that you often have to make explanations. We are consistently asked here (and everywhere) how we "do it" with them, why we had so many of them and especially why we adopted two of them. These interrogations lead me to feel that we are always on display, and that the children should be displayed beautifully. But, as these pictures evidence, being a kid is a dirty job. And, well, being a mom who wants her kids to be happy, I find it very conflicting to keep them neat, clean and presentable all the time when happiness to them is life with dirt. Faces are often smudged, dresses smeared and fingernails laced with evidence of life with paints or other mark leaving mediums. Many times when we "show up" in public I look at the kids and find that they resemble the images conjured up by life on the streets in a Dicken's novel. At times I feel embarrassed that my parenting is not "up to par" as to have the kids scrubbed clean and the clothes fresh off the line when we head to the grocery store. And at other times I kind of feel like messy faces and dirty clothes = a happy child, because they are evidence of that child enjoying the things that children should; prentending to be fairies in the garden and digging for buried I try to stand tall and walk straight even if the kids look like the "before" shots in a laundry detergent add. I wonder what other people think of me, of us; but I think I'm getting to a point in my mothering (at least I hope I'm getting to this point) where how the kids behave means more than how they look. And dirty kids are usually pretty happy, so they tend to be better behaved. Make sense?

If you come across us Grahams wherever we may be, I hope you'll look at our happy faces and see the children saying "please and thank you" and helping one another with hands held & sweet smiles among them, and not look too close to the smudged faces and dirty fingernails. Please forgive the mother who didn't hose them down before going out in public; she was too busy putting away the finger paints and digging up the fairies in the garden...

If We Could Talk with the Animals...

If we've had one over-arching theme for our time here in South Africa it has been ANIMALS. Not just lions and elephants either. We've encountered lots of birds, a whole family of puppies, a hamster, baby tigers and even horses and ducks. Seeing my kids take to these furry things has kind of helped me feel that perhaps they'll love their very own puppy when we get home! I just hope he will still love us!

More of our daily Life

school books strewn all over the floor. Students strewn all over the house. "School forts" built to house thinking minds. Educational chaos everywhere...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Advice well taken

I had composed a well written post about all the things in Johannesburg that drive me nuts. I was going to "school" you all on how this city could improve its service, its infastructure and its security. Before I pushed "publish" on my little browser I saw in my mind's eye my sweet husband-a fantastic guy and a great example. He, in my mind's eye, was repeating this quote from a leader of our church:

life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland's maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse.

end of post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On Films and Fathers...

As a kid I knew that following every chance to see a movie we would be presented with a profound life lesson, thanks to my dad and his wise ways. Some of the movies with the lessons I remember were: All of the Star Wars trilogy (the old good ones) had deep moral lessons like choosing to do what is right and standing for honor and honoring the power within (the force) and there were some good “follow your leaders” lessons in those movies too. Chariots of Fire taught integrity, and the personal value in standing for one’s beliefs, as well as finding the inner peace that comes from honoring the Sabbath day. Karate kid taught us to learn to stand up for yourself, and in the classic underdog winning out because of an unexpected ally story we saw that we could rise above what people expected us to be and become instead something even better. You see what I mean? Every movie, every time, dad had something to teach us when the credits rolled around. Back then I felt it a bit of a stretch to make everything we did and saw a lesson of some kind (isn’t there anything to be said for pure entertainment?). But last night I realized that in all those years the pattern had been engrained. When it comes to movies and parenting, I think I have become my father.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles provided last night’s cinema experience for our family. Not a heavy hitting morality tale, but a light hearted computer animated ride for the pre-teen and younger crowd that is our family. After the film we sat around a restaurant table waiting for our food to be served and John and I asked the if they’d “gotten anything out of the movie” a nonchalant way of trying to squeeze in a family home evening element to our Monday night outing. As the kids shouted out, “be a team”, and “listen to your leaders” and “if you do something wrong then try to make it right not matter how long it takes” I felt happy they’d been able to see some thing redeeming besides “jump high, kick furiously and burp really loud after eating pizza for breakfast”. We ate our dinner with a pleasant spirit and as we munched I realized how seemingly silly it must be to try and find a lesson in everything; but then again, I am my daddy’s little girl.

Monday, November 05, 2007

School of Life

I've tried hard to take advantage of all of the home-schooling and fit in some "school of life" experiences for the kids on regular school days. We've taken a trip to Lesedi, the "living museum" of South African tribal culture and we've gone to the tourist shops to find native costumes for Halloween. But this has by far been my favorite day of home school.

After a quick morning math lesson I loaded up the three oldest and we, along with our friend Charnel De Kock and our protector and navigator Trust, headed to down town Joburg to spend some time with the toddlers at the Salvation Army orphanage. We shared some "play time" and then helped them eat lunch, feeding the littlest of the bunch-who had to wait their turn to eat for lack of enough spoons-and after that it was off to nap time for them and back to a life of security and relative ease for us.

I found it particularly ironic that after feeding these little ones a meager meal of pup(basically grits) and gravy, with a few bites of meat we ended up having a fine meal at a Chinese restaurant in one of the classiest malls in Johannesburg (I had to run an errand there, so we stopped on the way home). I wondered if the food tasted finer to the kids as they'd just seen the simple morsels fed to our little friends. As we sat around the restaurant table I asked the kids their feelings concerning the little ones we'd played with. I was pleased with their responses. Each of them had a different perspective on the hours they'd spent at the orphanage; Mason had enjoyed holding the kids and had felt "looked up to" by them, Madi got a kick out of the games they played with her, Bryn had wished to go hold the little babies again. All asked to go back, even though they'd left with the wet of the babies' leaking diapers on their clothes and the snot of runny noses on their shirts (these are orphans, snot happens..). I myself felt a great desire to go back with my children again and again. They had been at their finest, and I had been witness to their compassion and unconditional love for mankind.

I was also surprised at the reaction we received from our friend Trust, who had never gone into an orphanage before. He had been the absolute hit of the morning; you can imagine how unique it would be for these chidlren to see a black man in their midst. Each child approached him, calling him "daddy" and raising their arms to feel his embrace. a couple of the boys clung to him and screamed in sadness when he stole out of the room. He had said he must check that the car was safe, but next morning he had admitted that the experience was overwhelming, and his dreams had been interrupted by the faces of those little ones during his restless night's sleep.

My thoughts, of course, turned to Lucy and Molly. I could see in these toddlers "what could have been" for my dear little ones, and my heart ached to have the faces that looked to me for a hug and a smile know the comfort of parents who love eternally and siblings who care beyond blood or race. I tell you if I even had the slightest nudge from Heaven that it was to be for us again, I'd go through all the pains of waiting and hoping to bring another soul into our Graham craziness. One less heartache sitting in the playroom at the orphanage, one less mouth waiting for a bite of pup. I look for a sign in their faces, a blessing from Heaven that one of them is meant to be a Graham. How strange to be willing to go through it again, as adoption has been twice for me an experience of heartache and personal distress. But if one of these lives is meant to be led in my home instead of within the walls of an orphanage, how could I not go through it again? What happiness is there if I've left one behind? When will I know if all that are meant to be ours are truly safe at home, with us? Heaven only knows, and perhaps in my pleading I'll someday soon be let in the sacred secret....

I don't really have a good conclusion to these thoughts, and perhaps that is a good thing. Perhaps thoughts of little ones who lack the love of family isn't a thought that should conclude; but a reality that should be ever present in our daily lives. I hope in these thoughts that our school of life days are filled with these little children and that through their need for love we truly will have been schooled in the meaning and deepest purpose of life.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Porter the meek

To be meek means to be willing to submit your will to that of another’s. Christ said we should be like little children in that we should be willing to submit to the will of God, like children submit to the will of their parents.

I’ve been a parent now for 12 years and 6 months, and I’ve seen my children, at times, be meek. Sometimes they have decidedly NOT been meek, but I want to tell of a day last week when our young son Porter definitely was.

We’ve found an orphanage here in town, and had a chance to visit there on Thursday to play with the children and give some hours of service. I had chosen to take Mason, Brynley and Madi with me but I knew the circumstances would not be such that Porter would be old enough to go. I had to leave him home with our friend Evie to “babysit” the little girls and keep an eye on things.

Porter loves to be “BIG”, and reveres his older brother like a hero. He wants to be with the big kids, and to do what the big kids do, so I knew Porter would be disappointed if he was left behind. But for his own good it had to be, and I pulled him aside Thursday morning to tell him so.

“Porter, I’m going to take the oldest kids with me to the orphanage today, so they can have a turn helping the babies.” Said I.

“Really mom? Do they have to go?” Porter asked.
“It is good for them to help the babies, Porter. And I need you to stay here and take care of your sisters.”
“o.k. mom, if you need me to” This was his response, to my surprise.
“I love you mom, I’ll miss you…” he said as he ran away from me.

A moment later he ran back to my side, a look of concern on his face.

“Mom, will you go there in Heavenly Father’s tummy?” Porter asked
“what do you mean, ‘in his tummy’ sweetheart?”
“I mean, will He carry you there, so you can get there fast?”
“well, He’ll watch over us and bring us home to you as soon as we can, so I guess He’ll carry us there in a way” Trying to console his growing concern.
“Trust will drive us there sweet heart”
“Trust can drive to Lucy’s orphanage from here?” Porter’s next thoughtful question; this is when the understanding dawned on me…
“Porter, do you think we are going back to Lucy’s orphanage today?” I asked…
“Aren’t you?” he replied.

Lots of hugging ensued, me hugging Porter and feeling such tender feelings of love for this little boy who, upon my request alone, was willing to take care of his sisters while I took his best friends and his solid hero far far away to help some babies-a trip that took us 5 weeks last year to complete when we went to Lucy’s orphanage to bring her home. On my command he submitted his will, letting me go to help little children while he stayed behind, alone, for an indefinite length of time. All because I said so.

This is meekness. This is Porter.