Tuesday, May 26, 2015

We're home

It seems unreal to be home. It seems unreal that we were in Italy just a couple days ago and in Bulgaria a couple weeks ago. Part of the unreal-ness is probably due to the fog of jet lag. But part of it is that it's just plain amazing that we've been able to go on this trip. It was a dream come true. And it was a TON of work. And everything at home looks and feels a little different now.

I was trying to focus on really being in the moment on this trip and that combined with how jam-packed each day was with adventures put this blog on the back burner.  Instagram proved to be the best way to capture highlights of the trip w/o intruding too much on the trip itself. It's tricky finding a balance between enjoying what you're doing and processing what you're doing so you can savor it on another level and capturing what you're doing so that you can enjoy the memories.

This trip was a LOT of work. I feel like I could really use a vacation after this trip. Trips and vacations aren't the same thing, are they? It was hard packing and unpacking and not leaving anything behind (I have to pat us all on the back for not leaving anything behind anywhere we stayed!). It was hard finding food and water for everyone in a timely way (there were a few pretty hungry moments when grocery stores and restaurants were closed or when we wound up far from food when it was well past time to eat). There were lots of times when someone needed to go to the bathroom somewhat desperately with no bathrooms particularly handy. There were surprises - pleasant ones like a rainbow or an amazing street performer or a super delicious meal at a good price right when we needed it - and unpleasant ones like lots of rain making us wet and cold when the forcast showed no rain, one of the places we stayed turning out to be sort of scary, getting stuck in an elevator, and finding that some routes we took were a lot longer than we'd anticipated. There were times when we got on each other's nerves (being together 24/7 was wonderful most of the time but sometimes that much togetherness and bathroom and space-sharing was hard).

But every bit of work was repayed in abundance. We bonded over the beautiful and crazy things we experienced together. We learned so much about history and art and cultural differences and human nature. We shared big parts of our personal histories as Jared and I shared Italy and Bulgaria with our kids. We felt great compassion together for the orphans we met and learned so much about how important parents are. We realized how tough and adaptable our children are as they walked and walked and walked and literally never complained. We realized what a good team we make as we figured out so much together during our travels. We saw our children wonder and learn and grow by leaps and bounds. We ate fabulous things (amazing produce, great bakery treats, excellent bread and cheese, great pizza, heavenly gelatto). We saw such an abundance of beauty - both God-made and man-made.

Anyway, here are some stats on the trip that Ashton helped me compile on the plane home:
  • 18 days
  • 267,629 steps covering 81.25 miles (and the twins did about twice that since they climb over everything and run ahead and back to us - amazing amounts of energy!)
  • 6 orphanages visited
  • one computer donated to an orphanage in need
  • 51 books donated to two different orphanages
  • 1 training completed for orphanage workers
  • 1 new reading program set up at an orphanage
  • 115 little gifts handed out to orphans
  • 8 new Facebook friends - orphans we met and really connected with and want to stay connected to
  • 30 churches visited
  • 8 places we stayed/times we unpacked and packed
  • 0 times we left anything anywhere (other than a mostly-used thing of shampoo)
  • 9 times we ate gelatto
  • 8 times we ate pizza
  • 12+ times we ate crusty bread and cheese and whole cucumbers and carrots for a meal
  • 2 times we got really hungry because we couldn't find any food
  • 93 tunnels we drove through
  • 36 hill towns we drove past on the freeway
  • 1243 photos taken (just by me - we're in the 2000's if we count everyone's photos)

And if you want a representative sampling of 150 of those 2000+ photos we took, click below to see our best shots that we shared on Instagram:

#looslieuropeanadventure on Instagram

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interesting Things We've Learned


After dinner tonight, we brainstormed this list of things we've learned on this trip so far. We'll doubtless be adding to the list, but this is what we came up with so far!
  • Art and beauty is a big deal in Europe. People take time to make things look really good. Like in Bulgaria, the electric boxes all over the place are painted with pictures- some of them really beautiful. And in both Bulgaria and Italy - but especially Italy - people make their homes as beautiful as they can with flower boxes in the windows or pots of flowers on their doorsteps. Beauty really matters to Eurpopeans. (Eliza)
  • Good cucumbers and carrots are great to eat whole. We've sure had a lot of cucumbers and carrots along with bread and cheese for meals. You can find great crusty bread and yummy cheese almost everywhere then you  just break off a chunk of bread and rip off some cheese and squash the cheese into the breat and voila! a good little sandwich - and lot of crumbs all over the car and your lap. (Saren)
  • Oliver always has his shoes untied. Literally always. (Ashton)
  • There's a LOT of graffiti in Bulgaria and some in Italy - but just in the bigger cities in untrafficed areas. Some of the graffiti is really beautiful. (Eliza)
  • Safety is not a big priority in Bulgaria. You can sort of do whatever you want (like climb all over the walls of an ancient castle). (Isaac)
  • The sidewalks are really narrow or non-existant. (Ashton)
  • If you step off the sidewalk, there's a good chance you'll get hit by a car or bike or scooter since there's not even a gutter to divide the narrow sidewalk from the narrow road. (Oliver had a near miss...)
  • There are a lot of stray dogs in Bulgaria and I feel really bad for them. I wish I could take them home and take care of them. Some of them look really sick. (Oliver and Silas)
  • Oliver and Silas say "awwwwww" every time they see a dog. (Ashton)
  • Our mom really really really likes churches. It's been exactly 2 weeks that we've been traveling and we've seen 26 churches. That's an average of 1.8 churches a day. (Ashton)
  • People really cared about making their churches beautiful long ago. (Isaac)
  • Some churches look plain on the outside but are amazing on the inside and some are the opposite.
  • It's very cool and peaceful in churches. It feels good in all the churches we went in. (Oliver)
  • Baroque churches are out-of-control fancy - Isaac thinks it looks really cool, Eliza thinks it's a little too much.
  • It took 14 years to build the dome on the Florence cathedral - that's how long I've been alive (Isaac).
  • There are a lot of mosquitos that get you in the night when you have cool old windows with no screens in Florence. (Silas)
  • The side streets are usually the least crowded (Oliver).
  • Not a lot of people have dryers in Europe (used to say pretty much no one has dryers but we stand corrected by the comments at the end of this post). And it takes a long time to dry things with the humid air. You have to do a load of laundry about 24 hours in advance of when you'll need the clean laundry. (Saren)
  • Dishwashers are't very common in Italy and no one seems to have heard of them in Bulgaria. (Isaac)
  • Oliver pretty much always needs to go to the bathroom. Really bad. At not-so-great times. Because he sometimes forgets about the thing listed next. (Ashton)
  • You should always use the bathroom when there is one handy. Always. (Oliver)
  • Carry tissues with you. Public bathrooms don't often have toilet paper. (Eliza)
  • "Squatter" toilets aren't really that hard to use when you get used to them - and they do seem more hygenic than toilets where everyone shares the same seat. (Saren)
  • If you do a little potty dance in a restaurant that says "no public restrooms," they'll let you use the restrooms. (Isaac and Silas)
  • Bulgarian bathrooms often have just hand-held shower holder and fawset sticking out of the wall in the bathroom, no bathtub or shower eclosure. The whole bathroom is essentially the shower - the sink and toilet get all wet when you shower. (Isaac)
  • The road direction signs can be hard to find and pretty darn confusing. (Jared)
  • Cobblestones are hard on the feet after a while. (Everyone)
  • Lots of people in Italy have bidets in their bathrooms. (Oliver)
  • The closer you are to a major tourist site, the more expensive the food is. And the best food is usually not near major tourist sites. The best way to find good food is to ask a local. (Eliza)
  • Bulgarian yogurt and produce and bread is awesome. (Everyone)
  • Bulgarian chocolate is not so awesome. If you see a candy bar that only costs 15 cents, it's probably not a very good one. (Ashton)
  • Everything is cheap in Bulgaria (when you look at a price, it seems about what it would cost in dollars but the lev costs about 50 US cents so it's really half as much as the price for us). Everything is expensive in Italy (prices seem a little more than they would be if they were dollar prices but actually, the euro costs about $1.10 so everything is 10% more than the price says).
  • In Bugaria, a nod means "no" and shaking your head means "yes." It's super confusing. (Isaac)
  • The orphans we met in Bulgaria had decent, pretty clean places to stay and we ate lunch at a couple orphanages and found that their food was quite good (partly thanks to donations from One Heart Bulgaria). The 8-18 year old kids we spent a lot of time with were really sweet and friendly and smart. But without parents to cheer or nag them along, it seems most of them weren't doing very well in school, weren't having chances to develop talents, and were smoking and doing other not-so-good things at young ages. The 3-4 year olds that we brought books to didn't know what to do with a book - tried to grab them and rip them, didn't understand the concept of turning pages, didn't know how to sit through one quick picture book without grabbing for another one after a page or two. Parents matter. A lot. (everyone)
  • When you rent a "van" in Bulgaria or Italy, it may well be a car with a fold-down seat in the back that can accommodate 7 people but no luggage. We made do with this sort of "van" in Bulgaria. But in Italy, we were excited when they offered us a big Fiat Scudo 9-passenger van with tons of luggage room at the same price as the little car they were going to give us. It was crazy driving that big thing through tiny narrow streets but Jared's skills were awesome and we actually had great luck with parking that thing. We loved the Scudo. (everyone)
  • There are lots of communist block buildings in Bulgaria and the elevators are scary. It's cool that you can pretty easily get into the buildings and try out the elevators and you just might find an open trap door to the roof where you'll get a really great view. (Ashton)
  • You can make friends with kids even if you can't really talk to each other because you don't know each other's language. You can just use gestures and play games everyone knows and by the end, you'll be friends on Facebook. (all the kids)
  • Gypsy kids crawl around under the stalls in food markets in Bulgaria, looking for cigarrettes that aren't completely used up. (Isaac)
  • Fresh strawberries are amazing (Eliza)
  • Gelato is the best desert ever and you just can't get it in America. (Ashton)
  • A gelatto a day keeps the yumminess a-stay (Isaac)
  • Nocciolla is the best flavor of gelato (Isaac)
  • Cherry, pear and ricotta, and cremeno (nutella/vanilla) are the best flavors (Silas and Ashton)
  • Pizza in Italy in always amazing - street pizza, pizza in a restaurant, you name it. (Ashton)
  • Pesto is super good (Oliver)
  • At all the grocery stores in Italy, there are packages of yummy little butter cookies - we loved having those on hand for a snack most of the time. We tried lots of different ones. The hazelnut ones were the best.(Eliza)
  • There are awesome street musicians all over in Italy - and a few in Bulgaria (Eliza)
  • I really want to learn to play the accordion (Silas)
  • You walk a LOT and climb a LOT of stairs when you're touring Europe but you're seeing so many cool things that you don't get tired. (everyone)
  • At every tourist site in Italy about 100 guys come up to you and try to sell you selfie sticks. And at night, they try to sell you these little light-up things that spin up into the air, some laser pointer things, a flashlight thing that makes green speckled light on everything you shine it on, When it rains, the guys offer you rain ponchos and umbrellas. It's interesting that everyone is selling the exact same stuff everywhere and it's hard to carry on a conversation while they keep offering you things - again and again and again. We felt for them - trying so hard to earn money by selling things that hardly anyone seemed interested in buying (other than the ponchos and umbrellas - those seemed to sell really well when it started pouring several times!)
  • Jet lag is hard to get over. (everyone)
  • Never trust a hard drive (Ashton - he's done tons of GoPro videos and now the hard drive he brought is acting up so he's very worried)
  • You are supposed to "air kiss" people on both cheeks in Italy. At church in Genova it was hilarious watching all the kids - especially Ashton and Isaac figure out how to do this as we said goodbye to everyone - nearly kissed some ladies on their lips...
  • Europe should consider embracing larger shower curtain encosures so that you don't have to shower with a cold shower curtain constantly trying to stick to your body. (Jared)
  • There are a LOT of tolls on all the freeways in Italy. (Isaac)
  • There are a LOT of bridges and tunnels on roads along the northwest coast of Itally (we counted 75 tunnels, then we stopped counting...) (Silas was in charge of counting tunnels)
  • There are a LOT of hilltowns in Tuscany and the surrounding areas - we counted 35 that we could see from the freeway. (Oliver was in charge of counting hill towns)
  • Be sure to know the local parking regulations (we got a boot on our car when we left it just 30 mintues beyond the free parking time in Bulgaria. But you call a number an they come take off the boot in about 10 minutes and only charge you $15 so it's not so bad - but surely it costs them more than it's worth to regulate parking this way!). (Jared)
  • In Italy, parking is a lot more lax. At one place we stayed, the guy who owned the apartment said it would be fine to park all day in an area that said it was just for residents (he'd forgotten his pass but said no one ever checked). We parked there for 4 days and never got a ticket - even when one day turned out to be street cleaning day and the street cleaner truck had to go around our van which was the only car parked on the street (there were tons of cars parked there the night before but I guess everyone else knew to move their cars by early the next morning... so grateful we didn't get towed!)
  • Everyone is amazed that we have 5 children. They are very complimentary and talk about how beautiful the kids are. Then they say that there is NO WAY you could have five children in Italy or Bulgaria. (Silas)
  • Roads are really narrow and sometimes you have to back up a bit to let someone pass you since two-way roads are narrower than 1-way roads in the US. And dad is really good at driving a big huge fan in really hard spots. (Ashton and Silas)
  • If you get stuck in a tiny elevator, it gets really hot really quicky. But a nice old guy will come and save you and you'll have to climb up and get out the door that is 4 feet up. (Silas)
  • The elevators look and seem scarier in Bulgaria but we actually got stuck in an elevator in Italy - an elevator that looked like a good nice safe one. (Ashton)
  • It can take over an hour to get through the line to rent a car at the Rome airport. (Jared)
  • VW bugs actually look really big in Europe since most of the cars are really really small. (Oliver)
  • People are really really nice, especially to kids. They let you use their bathroom when they're not really supposed to (Oliver). They give you a delicious peach juice when you're sad because you don't like the food at the street cart that everyone else wanted to eat at (Silas). They smile at you a lot (Oliver).
  • The world is so full of good people who are kind to strangers and are willing to go the extra mile. Many people gave us helpful directions when needed. Everyone was so patient and complimentary about our best attempts at Bulgarian and Italian. Old friends had us to their home for a lovely dessert in Bulgaria and took us to their favorite place for gelatto in Genova and absolutely insisted on paying after we all ordered our ice cream. One lady whose apartment we stayed at gave us really nice fruit and breakfast stuff when we arrived. One host was so kind to come meet us at the apartment at 4am when our flight was delayed.
  • Don't accidentally throw your apricot pits off your balcony or the old lady who lives on the ground floor will come up five flights of stairs to pound on your door and when you open it, she'll throw your apricot pits at you and yell at you in Italian. (Isaac)
  • Chess is the best game in the world (Silas - one of the apartments we rented had a chess set an the kids got totally into it)
  • Cars are really fuel efficient in Europe (Ashton)
  • On Mondays, almost NOTHING is open in small towns in Italy (at least the areas where we were). No shops or restaurants. No museums. And in small towns, everything closes from 12:30 to 3:30 for siesta/lunch break.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Bulgaria - Day 1 and part of Day 2

So we've had three full days in Bulgaria now and wow, it's amazing to be here.

We got off to a not-so-awesome start thanks to our flight from Paris to Sofia, Bulgaria being cancelled. We got on the plane, taxied to the runway, then went back to the gate so they could fix what they thought was a small mechanical problem. After sitting on the plane for almost 2 hours, they had us get off while they kept working on the problem. They gave us some sandwiches and Orangina. We waited and waited. The kids slept - felt good to stretch out on the floor after trying to sleep sitting up on the previous flight from Detroit to Paris. Our flight was supposed to leave at 10:20am and at 4:30 pm they said they'd sent a different plane from Sofia and it would be here to pick us up at 11pm. Then they sent us to a hotel to freshen up, hang out, and have some dinner. We got out of the airport at 5:00pm or so and thought we'd try to go into Paris and check out a few sites but we had to be back at the airport at 9pm and were advised that traffic would be bad so we'd likely only have a few minutes in Paris and it would cost us $200 round trip in a taxi to enjoy those few minutes. So we just slept a bit at the hotel and enjoyed a very surprisingly delicious and very French dinner at the hotel, courtesy of the airline.

At 11pm we finally boarded the new plane and took off for Bulgaria, arriving at 3:30am. A kind missionary who served with me in Bulgaria 20 years ago and who now runs a business in Bulgaria sent one of his employees out to meet us at the airport at that inconvenient hour to escort us to the apartment we'd be staying at (courtesy of this same very kind fellow missionary). It was so nice to have someone smooth our way after our frustrating travel troubles!

We slept a few hours at the apartment (a really cool turn-of-the century place in downtown Sofia), then blearily headed over to our first orphanage visit - the very orphanage where I'd spent tons of time during my mission. It was amazing to be back there and to spend time with the beautiful little babies and children there. We got to meet all the children briefly and had some good play time with the 2 and 3-4 year olds. It was heartbreaking to see that so many of the children are quite delayed developmentally - without a mom or dad or someone else to read to them and teach them all the little things that children in families are taught every single day, they just can't progress that well. The ladies who take care of them at the orphanage were generally kind and the children were clean and seemed to be in generally good health. But some of them seemed to desperately need hugs (they clung to us and made us want to take them home!) while others didn't really want to be touched (seemed like they were so un-used to touch that it was uncomfortable for them).

After our time with the orphans, I was able to spend some time discussing and training with some of the One Heart employees who go in regularly to work with the orphans. We discussed how important touch is and how important reading is and today we'll be going in to that same orphanage to bring some children's books and model one-on-one reading with the hope that the orphanage staff will be able to catch a glimpse of the importance and benefits of reading with the children regularly. And we've got some special books that the One Heart staff will bring with them each time they visit the orphange (we found out that if we just give books to the orphanage, the staff often put them away and don't really use them so it'll be great to have the One Heart ladies bring books with them each time and actively use them with the children, offering an ongoing example of how important it is to read with these children.)

We spend the afternoon and evening exploring Sofia - the 12th century church of St Peter and the ruins of the Roman city Serdica over which Sofia was built, the amazingly in-tact 10th centurty church of St George, the gorgeous Sveta Nadelia church and Alexander Dnevski Cathedral, the main government buildings, the yellow brick roads, the broken up sidewalks, the overgrown but lovely parks. The main thing that seems different from 20 years ago is the cars - used to be that pretty much all the cars were these beat-up old Russian-made Ladas, but now there are all sorts of cars that look mostly like cars you'd see in the US. Oh, and it used to be that there were only a couple restaruants in all of Sofia that were worth visiting. That has sure changed. We've had some really excellent food - Italian, Indian, Bulgarian - and prices are super cheap.

The kids loved checking out the grocery stores (which are amazingly nice and have so many choices compared to 20 years ago!) and trying some Bulgarian stuff. I had them all try boza - a very popular and common Bulgarian drink made with grain. They were impressed - but how awful it was! We've been eating lots of good Bulgarian bread and tomatoes and delcious Bulgarian cheeses (kushkaval and syrane) and everyone's in love with Bulgarian yogurt (keeslo mlyako).

Saturday we had to go back to the airport to pick up the rental car we were supposed to pick up when we arrived (they weren't open at 4am!) then we drove up into the beautiful green hills to visit two orphanages. The first was for children with pretty severe disabilities - Pravets Home. The director there worked for many years at an orphanage for disabled children that had 90 children and was really enjoying now working at this brand new orphanage for just 14 children. The facility was truly beautiful - bright, clean, lovely building with nice bedrooms for just 2 children (the older homes had 10-20 in a room). The director and therapists and caregivers seemed excellent and were so kind and loving with the children. It was SO great to see these kids in such a great place after visiting a large home for disabled children when I was last in Bulgaria 10 years ago, doing orphange visits. In the past, these kids were essentially "warehoused" and the homes were dirty, smelly and overcrowded with children basically just receiving food and a place to sleep. The director told us that in order to join the EU, Bulgaria has to conform to certain standards of care for children in homes and they've started with disabled children. Almost all large orphanages for disabled children are in the process of being closed down now and the children are being placed in small new homes like the one we saw. My heart was so happy to see and hear about this change! After all disabled orphanages are taken care of, they will move on to shutting down the rest of the orphanges (some are already in process) and they'll eventually place all children in smaller more family-like homes. This will be so great for the children. But it'll be quite a long and difficult process!

Our kids had such a great experience playing with and getting to know the really sweet kids at Pravetz orphanage. Their spirits were so large and so loving and so beautiful! We got to experience seeing one boy with severe disabilities walk across this little bridge thing that our kids and some of the more able orphans were walking across - he watched and watched and then got this really determined look on his face, struggled to get up out of his wheelchair, then shakily grabbed the handles and slowly but surely worked his way across the bridge with us and his orphanage friends cheering him on.

I'll write about the great time we had at the next orphanage - Razliv, when I get a chance.

OK, got to run. It's been nice to enjoy our first relaxing, non-hurried morning here at the apartment thanks to some rain and a boot on our car (they are SERIOUS about parking rules around here, I guess - a huge change from my mission - we left our car in a legal overnight place and meant to move it to a lot at 8am as that's when you have to start paying for street parking around here - but we overslept and at 8:40, they'd put a boot on the car! I guess they don't bother with parking tickets, they go straight to a boot. So we had to wait for the people to come remove the boot and we paid the fine (only $20) and all is well). But now it's time to get out and see some more sites and buy some books for this afternoon's orphanage visit - in the rain.

Lots of photos posted on Instagram - no time to post them here as well so please visit Instagram here to get some visuals on our trip: https://instagram.com/sarenloosli/

Monday, April 27, 2015

Heard from Charity

Just got this note from Charity and Ian:

hey guys,
we just got to wifi after having crossed thorong la pass this morning. going through emails and seeing news has left us stunned - with the outpouring of love and concern for us and with shock about this awful disaster. we were resting on the side of a mountain a couple of days ago when the quake hit. we felt the ground moving and it was scary for about 3 seconds, and then we just thought it was kind of cool that we felt a baby earthquake in the himalayas. we felt a couple of even smaller aftershocks when we got to the camps where we slept over the next couple of days. a fellow trekker with a radio told us it was quite serious in kathmandu, but it was business as usual at the guesthouses where we stayed and along the trail. we had an incredible ascent to the pass this morning under perfectly blue skies, surrounded in spectacular mountains. it's just hitting us now what a huge deal this is. thank you so so much for all your concern and prayers. we are certain they helped to keep us safe and sound. we are totally healthy and safe and everything is normal here in the little town of mukinath. we are trying to figure out if we can fly to pokhara and then kathmandu (our original plan) and if we will be able to link up with the church or another organization to help with rebuilding. looks like the airport is back open so we will be able to make it out of nepal, but we may stay if we find an opportunity to help. we left a bunch of our luggage at our hotel in kathmandu, and we have no idea of it is still standing. we would love to go back there and try to help if we can. please keep sending prayers to nepal. these are such beautiful people, and this is so tragic.

we were soooo excited to hear about the safe arrival of baby dean when we connected with mom and dad on the phone as soon as we crossed the pass and got reception. life is so fragile and beautiful and we are so blessed to have this new healthy beautiful baby in our family!!

will send updates when we can. thank you so much for your love concern and prayers. we love you all very very much.

charian

SO glad to hear directly from her and to know that she's safe! But so sad that so many others are not. Thanks to Charity and Ian's being in Nepal, I have sure felt extra empathy for the victims of this quake and have felt extra love for my family and extra gratitude for the simple blessings of my daily life - safety, a strong house to live in, daily food and water in abundance, so many comforts that many people in Nepal never had, even before this recent devestation that has made situations so much worse for so many.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Gratitude

Today I feel overcome by gratitude - the kind that comes when worries about life and death come into play and positive outcomes are so joyful and the kind that comes when beginnings and endings offer fresh perspective.

1. I am SO grateful that my baby sister Charity and her husband Ian are almost for sure OK. They are trekking in Nepal so the news of yesterday's earthquake was pretty scary. Thanks to research by my siblings and helpful reports from kind strangers on Trip Advisor, we've been able to find out that they were almost surely outside the danger zone during the earthquake. There's no way to reach them until they get to the next village with wifi (our new Trip Advisor friends say that'll be in about a day based on where we estimate she'd be right now). So that's a bit unnerving. But we all feel at peace that she's OK (for more details, see my sister Shawni's post here.) Can't wait to hear a direct update from her, though!


In the process of trying to figure out if Charity's OK, I've come to know more about this particular natural disaster than most. I now feel a greater sense of connection and thus a greater sense of sorrow concerning this earthquake. What terror and tragedy for so many people - people who were already struggling to feed their families while living in crudely-built homes that were no match for an earthquake. I'm so grateful for the good people who are doing all the can to help those in need and I imagine that Charity and Ian will help in any way they can.

2. I'm SO grateful that my newest nephew has arrived safe and sound. My brother Eli and sister-in-law Julie had their baby day before yesterday. After the scary and slow and careful breech birth of their first child, Zara, this little guy shot into the world just 40 minutes after they got to the hospital (after a crazy rush-our cab ride through NYC where they live).

They sent this photo of their wonderful little family:

And it reminded me so much of this photo of our first two children:




Where has the time gone???!!!

I'm so so so grateful that all our children arrived here safe and healthy - we sure had some crazy deliveries (I got pre-eclampsia with Ashton and had to be induced early with him, Isaac came 1/2 hour after we got to the hospital, Eliza came out entirely blue and looked dead but she was fine, almost lost the twins when the placenta started separating itself from the uterine wall at about 14 weeks of pregnancy, did modified bedrest - with three tiny kids who needed me - for a couple months and thankfully, the placenta healed, then Oliver was born quick and easy but Silas got stuck and I had to have an emergency C-section...)

3. And while I'm on siblings, I have to say that all this extra interaction with my family due to worry about Charity and communication about the new baby has just made me so extra grateful for all my siblings. I love that we share a crazy wanderlust and that we feed off each other's excitement about travel. I love seeing Charity and Ian's posts from around the world and Tal and Anita's pictures of their new home in Switzerland while seeing Jonah and Aja and their five kids take off for a new life in Spain while planning our family's trip to Bulgaria and Italy while talking to Saydi as she plans her family's Europe adventure. I'm so grateful for the love of travel and learning and adventure that our parents blessed us with (even though, I have to admit, there are times we all feel like this love can be a bit detrimental - we pretty much all have itchy feet and a serious appetite for adventure which usually means there's a lot of stress and expense involved!). And as it's Jonah's birthday today, I just have to say I'm SO extra grateful for him and his example of marching to the beat of his own drummer. When I first met my brother Jonah, he was a 3-pound preemie in an incubator who was given a 50/50 chance to live. Now he's one of the strongest guys I know - spirit, mind and body.

Here are a couple shots from last-year's amazing trip to Bali:



4. And while I'm on family, I have to say that I'm extra extra grateful for my wonderful mom. It was her birthday this past week and I can't imagine where any of us would be without her. She is the kindest most Christ-like person I know and she somehow makes time for SO many people and helps everyone feel truly loved. Check out my tribute to my mom here if you want (lots of great old photos):

Happy Birthday Mom



5. I'm SO grateful for the chance I've had to serve in our ward's Primary presidency. For the past three and a half years, I've spent pretty much every Sunday with a whole slew of kids ages 3-11 and I've come to love each of them dearly. I've been able to share the simplest and purest truths of the Gospel with them during the Sharing Time lessons I've taught and I've so enjoyed their sweetness, their energy, and the genuine and original (and sometime hilarious) thoughts they've shared. Our presidency was released today and we will be turning these kids over to a truly stellar new presidency. It's time. It's right. But as I greeted each child today the way I have every Sunday, I felt so much love for them and some real sadness that I won't get to interact with then in quite the same way anymore.

6. I'm SO grateful we've FINALLY finished most of the key details of our itinerary for Bulgaria and Italy. There are SO many choices and SO many wonderful things to see and do! We've got our full itinerary of orphange visits ALMOST finalized, we've got our places to stay firmed up, we're finalizing our rental cars (wish we could just do trains but it's way more expensive that way with 7 of us). It's hard to know where to draw the line between fitting in enough of the many many amazing things we'll be close to and really enjoying and soaking in at least a few things. It's been pretty crazy trying to get all this set up while helping with this Primary transition, finishing our new Family Systems eCourse for Power of Moms (been working on that for a year - just a couple more places in our special intro group for the course if you're interested), finishing the updated Joy School lesson plans (stay tuned for more info on that), and getting ready for our big Power of Moms Retreat this coming weekend. Now if Isaac's passport will just show up in the mail in the next few days, I can stop stressing about that.

7. I'm SO grateful for YOU. It was so touching to see how many of you responded quickly and generously to Ashton's request for donations for the orphanages. It made me tear up to get that great card in the mail with the euros to treat my kids to gelato in Italy (see the post right before this). And I thoroughly appreciate all the comments on my post about teenagers - thanks for your thanks and for your helpful ideas as I navigate what sort of feels like a minefield sometimes when parenting my teenagers. I was so glad to hear from many of you who really appreciate my honesty and from many of you who had constructive ideas for me. Thank you so much.

So that's my top seven for today.

Have a fabulous Sunday.

And if you want to see more of what we've been up to, feel free to check out Instagram where I post a photo almost every day - and where there will be some extra-exciting photos soon as we head out on our grand Bulgaria-Italy adventure soon! Just look for "sarenloosli" on Instagram if you want to follow me. He's a quick collage of some recent Instagram stuff:

Monday, April 20, 2015

You guys are awesome! [another guest post from Ashton]

Hey everybody, this is Ashton again. Here's a quick update on my last post. So far, we have raised $435! This is incredible; I never expected that this would take off so fast! Our goal is to raise $600 so that we can buy the computers and books for the kids.

The coolest thing happened today. My family recieved the nicest note from an anonymous reader in Switzerland - along with some money we're supposed to use to buy ourselves some gelato. We've been so excited to try real gelato - and that's just so super nice of you to treat us! Whoever you are, thank you so much!

In case you can't read it, the part about the gelato says: "I would love to treat the Loosli kids to a gelato as a thank you for being positive role models - especially in regard to their creative fundraisers for Bulgarian orphans. Two thumbs up, Loosli Kids - and happy adventures." How nice is that?



Again, thank you all so much. This will make such a huge impact in these kids' lives. Any donation helps! We'll be closing out donations on Friday so there's still time you want to donate towards the computer and books for the new library room at one of the orphanages.

--Ashton Loosli

j.mp/AshtonLoosli

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A little help with my Eagle project? [Guest post from Ashton]


Hey everyone, this is Ashton.

My mom hasn’t announced it yet on this blog but WE ARE GOING TO BULGARIA ON MAY 6th! After 8 years of putting on Children for Children concerts at Christmas to raise money for the orphanages there, we’re really excited that we get to go and actually meet the kids we’ve been sending money to for all these years and do some volunteer work in the orphanages.

Click any of these links if you want to read more about the concerts we've done:

http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2007/12/children-for-children-and-joy-school.html
http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2008/12/children-for-children-and-joy-school.html
http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2009/12/concert-success.html
http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2010/12/overview-of-christmas.html
http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2012/12/almost-snowed-out-concert.html
http://looslifamily.blogspot.com/2013/12/fighting-blindness-and-helping-orphans.html

If you don’t know where Bulgaria is - that’s OK - it’s in Eastern Europe above Greece and below Romania. They speak Bulgarian which my mom speaks since she served a mission there (that's when she first got to know all about the orphanages and did a lot of volunteering with the orphans). There are tons of kids in orphanges because they they don’t have a foster care system plus during 40 years of communism, people were taught that kids would be better off in an orphanage if the kids had special needs or if the parents were having any issues. The problem is that the government does not have the necassary funds to support these orphanages very well and the kids don't have great supervision or very good food or medical care, plus they don't get to participate in extracurricular activities. And, of course, they don't have loving parents to care about them.

Here are a few pictures of orphanages and orphans in Bulgaria






As part of this trip, I am going to be doing my Eagle Project so I can earn my Eagle rank in Boy Scouts (an Eagle project involves me leading a project to benefit a non-profit organization - I chose One Heart Bulgaria). I’m going to be putting together little gifts for the 60 orphans in one orphanage that is for kids ages 7-18 (with the help of a lot of people in my community). I’m also going to be planning some games and English-learning activities that we’ll do at several orphanages. My mom is going to be doing a special training to teach the orphanage staff and volunteers about positive discipline and building self-esteem in kids plus answer any questions they have. They generally don't get a lot of training so this will be a great thing.

I found out that one of the orphanages with 80 kids ages 7-18 is in need of a computer and some Bulgarian books (they have a little room that they want to make into a library) so I'm trying to get some money donated so that we can buy those things for them once we get there (we’ll need to get the computer and books in Bulgaria so that the books are in Bulgarian and the computer has a keyboard with the Cyrillic alphabet that they use there).

If you could help us get the money we need for a computer (about $250) and books (about $200), that would be amazing!

Click below to go to One Heart Bulgaria and make a donation - any amount will really help!



When you're confirming your donation, click where it says "Add special instructions to the seller" and make sure that you state that your donation is for the Loosli Family Book and Computer Donations. Here's a screenshot of the link you should look for:



If you want to learn more about the orphanages in Bulgaria, here’s a short video that we made to show at our Children for Children concerts.

If you want, you could watch this video about the orphans with your kids and if they want to help raise money for the computer and books, they could do extra jobs around the house to earn money from their parents, and then their parents (you) could donate that money. If they earned five dollars, that would buy one nice book. Also, you could ask you kids if they would like to substitute a family outing for a game night or movie night, and use the money that you would have spent on your outing to donate towards the books and computer for the orphans.



- Ashton Loosli

j.mp/AshtonLoosli

P.S. After our time in Bulgaria, we will be visiting Italy, where my dad served his misison. It'll be really cool to see where both of my parents went on their missions in one trip! We'll see some sweet sights and eat some great pizza.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Last Call for Early Bird Pricing

For years, I was helping to put on a Power of Moms Retreat almost every month - East Coast, West Coast, Autralia, you name it. It was so wondeful to meet face-to-face with fabulous moms and learn together. But when my husband's schedule became less flexible and my children needed me more, I cut back on Retreats. Way back. And April and I started focusing more on offering great programs and events online which kept us at home with our families where we needed to be while encouraging our great Power of Moms trainers to continue with great in-person events for moms. This strategy has worked out great for the most part. But I sure miss getting together in-person with great moms!

In the past few years, we've held ONE major Power of Moms Retreat each year. Every May, we gather with about 100 awesome moms to learn and grow together at my parents' lovely big house near Park City. My amazing parents will be speaking. My sister Saydi is flying in from Boston to do a special presentation on how we can be more present and find more joy. Of course April will be there too - presenting life-changing ideas on how we can organize our brains and tasks better and actually accomplish the projects that are important to us beyond motherhood WHILE being good moms. And we'll all have the chance to learn from each other in powerful discussion groups.

Power of Moms Retreats are for ALL moms. We have moms from every religion and background attend. We have single moms, stay-at-home moms, moms who work outside their homes, moms who are doing great in general but would love to take things to the next level, moms who are struggling big time, you name it. The principles we teach are applicable to all moms and we love gathering with moms from all walks of life who have the same goal: to be the very best mom and woman they can be.

This year, this Retreat will be on Saturday, May 2nd (all day). We've got tons of great moms already signed up and flying in from places like Hawaii, Canada, the East Coast, you name it.  If you'd like to join us, register today and save some serious money. The Early Bird pricing on our Retreat ends TODAY but the regular pricing is only a little more expensive. So come!

Registration for May 2nd Retreat in Park City, UT




Monday, March 30, 2015

Trying to Figure out my Teenagers

I've got two teenagers. One 13, one 15. And my daughter just turned 12 so she's well on her way.

For a while there, I felt like I was doing a pretty darn good job. Newborns were hard for me. Having 5 preschoolers felt insane at times. But then I had five elementary school-age children and I felt like I really hit my stride as a mom. We'd have great conversations and go on adventures together. They all thought I was the cat's meow and I felt the same about them. Their issues were generally things I could help with - book reports that needed to be finished at the last minute, a friend who wasn't being very nice, a teacher they were struggling with. It wasn't always easy, but I usually had a good sense of what to do and usually I'd come away feeling quite confident that I'd handled things well. That was a very nice phase of motherhood.

But as my oldest approached teenagerhood, things changed. I was often totally at a loss as my smart, fun, adventurous oldest child who'd always been so full of ideas and enthusiasm for life became this kid who drove me just about crazy with his moodiness, his negativity, his cutting comments to his younger siblings, his definance, his frequent lack of respect for me and his dad.

In desperation, I wound up doing a lot of things that didn't work very well (yelling, throwing out over-the-top consequneces, using scare tactics like "I think I'm going to have to send you to one of those wilderness camps for problem kids," or "if you keep going on the path you're on with schoolwork, you're never going to be able to get or hold a decent job so you'll never have a car and you'll never have your own home...").

And when I was being rational and deliberate, I tried some things that really worked great one day then didn't work the next (like giving every bit of positive reinforcement I could, meeting moodiness with cheerfulness, giving more individual attention...).

I tried to find time between everything else going on to read up on teenagers and ask questions to friends and family with teenagers. I learned some important things through pro-active searching - while learning other things through often-very-frustrating trial and error.

I recorded some things I learned and that seemed to be quite consistently true here:
Five Tips for Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Pre-Teens

But actually applying what I'd learned was often easier said than done.

Teenagers can sure humble you!

Now that I'm on teenager #2, I think I've got a few things figured out a bit better. Of course, he's different than his older brother so some of the things that work with one don't work with the other. But I'm less easily frustrated now and thanks to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with my oldest, the stuff my second son does feels less stressful - I've seen that this stage is hard and that it passes.

One of the main things I've learned about pre-teens and teenagers is that their brains are more like toddler brains than they are like the brain of an 8-10 year old or an adult.

A teacher mentioned this to me when talking to me about Ashton's poor performance in 6th grade. I went home and researched this idea that was new to me. And sure enough, teen brains in the process of re-wiring themselves as they go through puberty (read all about it here) and the irrationality and emotion typically seen in toddlers is a pretty normal part of the process. I realized that while I'd given my toddlers a "pass" when they had tantrums, I wasn't expecting to need to do the same for kids who'd come so far past that stage, who'd started to be such rational and fun people. I didn't realize they'd revert. But they do. They can't help it. They can and should do something about their reactions to the way this "rewiring" makes them feel. They need to take responsibility for their actions and work hard to keep their emotions and irrationality under control. But it's important to understand that this is often as hard for them as it is for us.

I remember being incredulous last year when Ashton told me that he was absolutely sure that studying for tests wouldn't be helpful to him. I pointed out that studying helps everyone else in the world and that surely he could see that when you look over something repeatedly, you'll be able to understand and remember it better. He ademantly insisted that he was the one person in the world for whom studying wouldn't make any difference. I was angry that he was insisting something that seemed utterly illogical - when just a few months before he'd seemed to be quite logical and rational.

Now I see that his brain was just doing its rewiring thing and that he was acting much like a toddler does when you try to explain that we need to clean up the toys before we can go play outside or we need to brush our teeth before we go to bed and they throw a full-on tantrum. He couldn't see cause and effect properly.

And just like a toddler, the more I'd insist, the more he'd dig in his heels. My explanations couldn't help when his brain could only see his need to be right and to get his own way.

I loved it when Ashton brought home a test with a great grade on it earlier this year with a big smile on his face. I congratulated him heartily and asked what he thought had helped him do so well. He said, "I studied." I had to smile and ask him whether he happened to remember saying last year that studying didn't help him one bit. And his response was, "That was the old Ashton who was going through his stupid phase."

We now refer frequently to "Old Ashton" when talking about behaviors that aren't doing him any favors and it's so nice that he's now able to see things that he wasn't able to see last year.

So as my 13-year-old, Isaac, digs in his heels about things and sometimes drives me crazy with his irrational ideas and behavior, I'm letting it roll off my back a bit more. I've learned to not take everything he says or does so seriously - or so personally - and not allow myself to be so frustrated. I'm learning to be careful about where I dig in my heels and set up a battle where there doesn't need to be one.

I've still got a lot to learn. A whole lot.

And there are moments when I feel really scared. The stakes just get higher and higher. I want to be firm about the right things and lenient about the right things. I want to hold them close without holding them so close they'll push away. I want to guide them towards success while respecting the successes THEY feel are important (or simply helping them understand that SOME kind of progress and success is an important part of life...). I want to love them in the way they want and need to be loved - but often they don't know what sort of loving they need and neither do I. There's a heck of a lot of trial and error.

This morning, as with every Sunday morning for the past many many weeks, Ashton and Isaac weren't ready for church on time. I set out their clothes the night before, I reminded them about what time we needed to leave and told them to set their alarms set as I tucked them in. I pleaded with them to please be ready on time because, as usual, I needed to lead the prayer meeting for the Primary teachers before church.

I went to their room to rouse them when I hadn't heard anything (as per the norm, they'd slept through alarms). I reminded them of everything that needed to happen, assured them that there would be just enough time if they kept moving, then headed downstairs to help the younger kids do their hair.

Ashton was quick in the shower (for once!) and I was excited that he'd be ready on time. His clothes were waiting in his room for him and the shower was done. What could go wrong? Isaac was slower and it was hard to hurry him along while doing other kids' hair but I gave him a few reminders. I gave everyone the 10 minute warning, then the 5 minute warning. I yelled up for Ashton for a status report. No answer. Strangely, I can hear just fine when I'm upstairs and someone yells from downstairs - but Ashton never seems to hear... Isaac came rushing downstairs asking for a belt - the one thing I hadn't set out for him. I had no idea where he'd put it. And he said he'd been looking for his shoes so that's why he was late - but his shoes were sitting right by the front door - he could have just asked me rather than wasting time looking for them. As I rushed Isaac out the back door with his shoes in hand so he could put them on in the car, I called for Ashton again and he finally came downstairs, hair all askew, We were now 10 minutes late and the three younger kids had been in the car for a while. On the way to church, I asked Ashton what in the world he'd been doing during the 25 minutes between when I heard him get out of the shower and when he finally came downstairs. He said he was getting dressed. I was pretty frustrated by this time and told him that only a disabled person or a toddler could possibly take such a long time putting on clothing that was sitting there, ready to put on. And I tried to spray down his hair but he wouldn't let me and was totally rude and unapologetic. I expressed, in none-too-polite terms, that I was SO SICK of Sunday mornings full of unnecessary craziness and was SO FRUSTRATED that they kept making everyone late and keeping me from doing what I needed to do for Primary. I took a bad situation and made it worse by letting my anger out.

It's just so hard to know what to do in certain impossible situations like Sunday mornings - I try to set everyone up for success but nothing I do seems to work sometimes. I'd just leave the boys and have them walk to church (it's not that far) but they're Deacons and are really need to be there first thing to pass the Sacrament. Jared's in meetings so he can't help or take them a bit after I need to leave. Arghhhhhh!

I thought it was hard when I had to wrangle a bunch of tiny kids to get them ready for church. And it was. But at least then I could physically pick them up and put their clothes on them and carry them to the car! Now my control is more limited.

Maybe my anger and the talk Jared had with them will make a difference this time. It hasn't previously. But who knows? I'll talk to them more this afternoon now that I'm calm and rational. But wow, there just aren't good answers sometimes. And this is just a little not-too-private incident that is OK to share. There's plenty of way more complicated and frustrating things that have happened and that aren't fully resolved...

So I've still got a ton to learn. But maybe some of this will be helpful to someone!

And to end on a happy note, these big boys of mine are SO much fun sometimes. I love having real discussions with them and really learning what they think about things. I love talking with them about the interesting facts that strike their fancy, seeing the funny YouTube videos they introduce me to, and having them introduce me to cool new music. I love seeing them interact with their friends and getting to know their friends. I love seeing them grow so tall and strong and having these big boys around to lift and move heavy stuff for me. I'm excited about Ashton's new Learner's Permit and the fun (and crazy) driving experiences we're having together (he's learning fast and doing great but wow, there have been a few white-knuckle moments with me trying to slam on some imaginary breaks on the floor of the passenger side). I love how they're always totally up for helping out when someone needs help moving or when there are little kids who need to be tended at our house while their parents are needed elsewhere (they're SO good with little kids - melts my heart to see them interacting with such love and care and fun with their little friends). They're generally really wonderful people and I'm so grateful for them. But wow, sometimes they drive me crazy!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Easter Week Begins



Today is Palm Sunday. Time to get serious about Easter Week! I meant to get going extra early and follow the great program my sister Saydi put together to help focus the entire month leading up to Easter on getting to know Jesus better and preparing for Easter. But I didn't. Somehow the days just kept slipping away, packed to the hilt, and I never quite got it together to get Easter month going. Hopefully we'll do that next year. But for this year, we're getting going on our regular Easter Week celebrations and we'll add in some of Saydi's great stuff to keep it fresh. Plus we'll keep things going after Easter - might as well!

Here's an overview of our family's Easter Week ideas.

And here's the "Deliberate Mother's Guide to a Christ-Centered Easter" that I wrote for Power of Moms (includes lots of links to great videos and simple ideas.)

You can read all about Saydi's excellent ideas on her blog here - I will be incorporating lots of them even though I don't have a whole month! I love all that she put together and love her approach that she outlines in her blog post.




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