Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Women's Conference

With a few minor edits, the following is the transcript of a talk I gave at a women's conference this past weekend. Hopefully the first of many on the topic of adoption.

Good morning.

 I am not at all comfortable with the task I’ve been asked to perform this morning.  I am much more at home arranging cookies on trays and disappearing before the crowd arrives. But about a month ago, I was listening to K-Love radio while I was driving somewhere.  They were interviewing this singer/songwriter I’d never heard of  - a man named Jason Gray. In the course of the interview, he said something like “When we hide our weaknesses from each other, we hide the grace of God.”  I was struck by the truth of that simple statement.  So this morning, I’m going to take off my mask – which isn’t actually as pretty as I’d like to believe, anyway – and share with you my weakness and brokenness.  My prayer over the course of the last month has been that God will perform one of His signature reversals. That He will use exponentially what Satan had intended as a means to destroy one family, to instead illuminate His grace for the benefit of many.

I’d like to paint a picture in your mind before I start…

Imagine that a gift is being held out to you.  It is a beautiful gift – it is the most perfect gift chosen just for you by someone who loves you dearly. Now imagine that instead of reaching out your hand to accept the gift and offering your thanks to the giver, you knock it away and refuse to accept it.  Not just once, but repeatedly.  The giver continues to offer the gift, and you continue to refuse it.  Hold onto that picture while I tell my story….

I grew up going to church, and I’ve called myself a Christian since I was a little girl.  But a daily relationship with Christ was not something that I experienced in my childhood.  I finally responded to God’s insistent whisper in my ear at the beginning of my sophomore year of college and became His child.  At that point, I decided that dating losers in an effort to irritate my parents probably wasn’t a good life plan, and I set off on a mission to meet "The One".  So when I caught sight of the cute guy playing the guitar at bible study a couple of months later, that was it for me.  We started dating and eventually (it took longer than I would have liked) got down to the business of discussing marriage.  In the course of those discussions we, of course, talked about children.  Fertility issues run in my family, so when S and I were discussing marriage, one of the things we talked about was the good probability that we would be unable to have biological children. Adoption was just a natural part of conversations about our future together.

Shortly after we got married, we started attending Calvary Baptist Church. God called a couple there to adopt a child from Russia. He then called them back to Russia to do service projects for the orphanage where they found their daughter.  They started recruiting other people in the church to go with them.  Who then started bringing children home.  Because once you go and see an orphanage, and you see the children, you cannot get it out of your head.  So there came to be a pretty good gang of former Russian orphans running around the church, and a strong culture of adoption developed within the church family.  We were just surrounded by it, and adoption continued to be a natural part of our conversations at home. 

When we decided that we were ready for children, I was prepared to wait a long time.  Imagine my surprise when the little dot on the stick turned the right color the first month.  Frankly, I was a little unprepared.  I was shocked again when it happened 3 years later.  Then the third time - it didn’t.  But I was OK with that.  I had discovered that I didn’t really like babies all that much. They’re kind of demanding…and I really like to sleep. We felt that God was telling us that it was finally the right time to pursue adoption.  I had dreams of filling my house to overflowing with as many children as I could cram in.

We had girls, so we wanted boys.  Two boys. Preferably biological brothers, because they can be harder to place.  We were referred these two adorable boys, we travelled to Russia to meet them, we fell in love, and through a sequence of events involving playing political games with the lives of children  (a story which I don’t have time to tell this morning), we lost them. And it was devastating.  But we had seen this little blond boy while we were there…

Here he is in the orphanage the first time we saw him. [picture] I had no idea that J would become a part of our family when I took this picture. I was just trying to provide whatever history I could for our boys, which included taking pictures of the other children in their group.  We did talk about J on the plane ride home – how cute he was, how we hoped that he would find a home. After we recovered from the initial shock of losing our referral, we inquired about J. In a providential sequence of events, we were able to bring him home without any delays in the adoption process.  I have absolutely no doubt that God orchestrated the whole thing.

When we brought J home in the Fall of 2007, we expected the happily-ever-after fairytale that you see on the covers of adoption brochures. Like many people, we truly believed that the love of a family would wash away the wounds and scars from J’s past. 

J did not have a happy life before God led us to him. His birthmother was an alcoholic who did not care for him properly. He was often cold, often hungry, and often left to wallow in his own filth.  He quickly learned that no one would come to help him when he cried.  He was left with strangers for long stretches of time.  From the revolving sea of faces, he learned that no one special person cared for him.  Finally, a kind neighbor lady had compassion for him and called the police.  By then, he was a very sick baby, and was taken to the hospital.  When he was sufficiently recovered, he was moved to an orphanage. J lived in a group of children with one or two caretakers. Once again, there was no special person to care for him.  But he didn’t need anyone…at the ripe old age of 4, he had learned to take care of himself.

I now understand that, sadly, a child maltreated in this way suffers permanent scars, not easily washed away.  There isn’t time to delve deeply into J’s medical issues this morning, but I think this picture says a thousand words. [picture] It is from a study published in 2001, and shows the brains of two 3-year-olds. One is normal, one has been maltreated.  The difference is obvious. Additionally, J has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, a common problem with children adopted from Eastern Europe.  Because the experiences of infancy and childhood provide the organizing framework for the brain, children who are maltreated often develop emotional, behavioral and learning problems that persist throughout their lifetime.  J is essentially a child with a traumatic brain injury. Researchers often draw comparisons to the damage done by a head injury in a car accident. 

Because of the trauma that J experienced in his infancy and early childhood, the intimacy of family relationships terrifies him.  He sees himself as worthless piece of garbage, and the fact that he was thrown away by his birth mom proves it.  This self-concept manifests itself in behavioral difficulties unconsciously designed to keep anyone from getting too close.  Which then becomes an ugly, self-fulfilling prophesy. He is still certain, after five years in our family, that we will abandon him at any moment.  He expects to be rejected, so he rejects us first. The clinical name for this is Attachment Disorder.

These are some of the signs of Attachment Disorder taken from the handout I received at the first seminar I attended when we were trying to make sense of the chaos going on in our home.  This is J:

-Avoidance of eye contact
J stares at my chin when I talk to him.
-Indiscriminate affection with strangers
This has improved, but when we first brought him I had to be very careful in stores because he would have happily gone home with anyone.
-Destructiveness to self, others and things
          He picks paint off walls, breaks toys, chews himself, tears holes in clothing…
-Cruelty to animals
Since he tried to wrench the leg off our cat, we do not leave him unattended with our animals.  This also applies to children smaller than him.
All the time.  About everything.  Even if I’ve told him that I know the truth before he starts talking.
-Poor impulse control
          If he thinks it, he does it.  If he wants it, he takes it.
-Lack of cause/effect thinking
Consequences are not effective.  We are still struggling with the same obedience issues we were working on 5 years ago.
-Lack of conscience
There is no right/wrong filter and no reason to do the right thing if no one is watching.
-Lack of empathy or compassion.
          “Do unto others” makes absolutely no sense to him.
-Provokes anger in others.
          He is much more comfortable with anger than love.  Love scares him.
-Superficially engaging and charming
J fulfills his need for interpersonal relationships through many shallow interactions. He spends his life skimming the surface.
Which brings me to this point. Some of you are thinking that this doesn’t sound like the little boy that you know from Sunday School class.  You’re right.  His teachers at church and at school, and even extended family, do indeed find him to be engaging and charming and can’t understand why I’m so worn and weary.  It is a lonely, isolating experience to have a child who is so eager to please others and yet so eager to reject me.  It is common for parents – particularly mothers, myself included – of attachment challenged children to think that they are going crazy.
Why would any child choose to live this way?  The root of J’s problem is two-fold:  1. He doesn’t understand what he’s been rescued from, so he doesn’t appreciate what he’s been given, and 2. he still thinks of himself as an orphan. If he could truly grasp that a family, not an orphanage is God’s design for raising children, as well as the horror that his life would become when he aged out of the orphanage system at 16, then perhaps he would feel gratitude.  If he could understand that God gives children parents to love them and care for them, and that 9-year-old boys don’t have to fend for themselves, then perhaps he would embrace us as his family.  Me, as his mom. But he is not developmentally mature enough to grasp these ideas.  Will he ever be?  I don’t know. We’ll continue to pray to that end.

 What if I now turn the camera around and point the lens at myself?  I am J. I use my new name.  I might even wear a WWJD bracelet and slap a fish decal on the back of my minivan.  But do I really embrace my new life in Christ?  Do I live like I’m really the child of the King with a brand new identity, certain that my Father will never leave me nor forsake me?  How often do I look backwards to the life I’ve left behind and forget what I’ve been rescued from?  More often than I’d like to admit.  Richard Phillips writes this in the book Reclaiming Adoption “We are still capable of acting according to [our] old identity in sin, but this is disgraceful and ungrateful.”  That’s me. I am ungrateful for the sacrifice that was made for me and I do not show my Heavenly Father the love he deserves.  I’m broken, just like J.

I read this recently on The Gospel Coalition Blog in an article entitled “Parenthood: The Lab of Gospel Growth” by Brent Bounds.

“In a recent conversation with a young man who struggles with worry about God's view of him, he expressed a pervasive fear that he is not in a right relationship with God and therefore feels compelled to constantly confess. He said that he has to frequently "check in" with God to make sure that they are on good terms. Listening to him describe his exhausting dilemma, I wondered how God must experience this man's anxiety and doubt of his identity in Christ. I thought about my own feelings if my children related to me in the same way. How would I react if my child constantly came to me asking if we were okay, doubting my unconditional love for him and questioning the stability of his identity as my son? I would be devastated and deeply saddened if I thought my son was never able to truly rest in my love and his place in our family.”

That’s my son.  He is unable to rest in my love and his place in our family. And from a parental perspective, it is indeed devastating – a source of deep sorrow.  How then can I continue to grieve God in the same way?  How can I sit at His table as His child and yet push away the daily bread He offers?  That is no way to show gratitude to the Father who has rescued me from condemnation.

When our adoption of J didn’t turn out the way I’d planned – I’d planned – I became angry and bitter.  I felt that I had obeyed God’s command to care for the orphans (James 1:27) and then I’d gotten the rug pulled out from under me.  Surely I deserved better, right?  I read 2 Cor 9:5 – whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully – as an assurance that this whole adoption thing would turn out all right.  What I finally realized is that it did turn out all right, and I will receive my reward.  Just not yet. Wanting J to love me like his mom is desiring to lay up my treasure on earth (Mt 6:19) instead of running the race for the joy set before me. (Heb 12:2)

Does this mean that it doesn’t hurt? No. Does this mean that I’m enjoying this trial? No. Does this mean that I will stop praying that God will take it away from me? No. Even Jesus prayed that God would take the cup from him. (Mt 26:39) Clearly he didn’t want to suffer, but he obeyed God unto death.  If God only asked us to do things that we wanted to do, none of us would struggle with disobedience.

I can almost hear the question in your heads.  Would I be willing to adopt again?  A year ago, the answer was a firm “no”.  But I’ve come to understand that the things we call risk in this life – inconvenience, isolation, rejection, frustration, physical pain – really aren’t risks.  John reports Jesus’ words: “In this life we will have trouble”. Luke reports in Acts 5 that the apostles rejoiced following a beating because they had been counted worthy to suffer.   It can’t be a risk if we expect trouble and count it joy to suffer in the course of the Christian walk.  In the case at hand, what does matter is that God has commanded us in James 1:27 to care for the fatherless. I am called to do so.  Disobeying a direct command from God is where things get risky.

Would the story have a “happy” ending this time?  Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter.  I won’t pretend that I don’t want the fairytale, but it may turn out that I have another child who holds me at arm’s length…who can’t stop thinking of himself as an orphan.  But that’s up to God, not me.  It’s just my job to obey the call.
And here’s where you start to squirm.  Do I believe that everyone in this room should be involved in caring for orphans…caring for the fatherless? Yes. First, because God has commanded it.  Second, because it is, as Rick Morton puts it in Orphanology, an opportunity to” mirror the Father as an adoptive parent and a rescuer of the fatherless”.  It’s chance for us to join with Him on His mission. Third, because if you are a child of God, adoption is a constant, undeniable, in-your-face illustration and reminder of what has God the Father has done for you.  Just like marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, adoption is a picture of the relationship between God the Father and His children.
Do I think that everyone is this room is being called to adopt children?  No.  Some of you probably are, but there are many ways for everyone in the church body to care for orphans. For example, you can come alongside those families who do feel called to adopt and help to bear the burden. Finances are obvious. Adoption is expensive.  An adoptive family is required to attend all sorts of meetings, and will potentially need to travel. We paid a babysitter at least once a week to watch our girls, and we had family come in from Chicago and Minnesota to care for them while we travelled. The church family could help to bear that kind of burden.  You may be called to foster care. Even if you don’t feel called to house a child, you could provide respite care for those who do.  Because caring for a child who has suffered neglect and abuse can be overwhelming and exhausting.  Sometimes the promise of an afternoon to run errands or an evening out with your husband can keep you going. 

Or maybe you could learn about the challenges that face a family who has adopted or is fostering a traumatized child, and provide a listening ear and a safe shoulder to cry on. The sorrow can be difficult to bear alone. This simple act of kindness can be a tremendous blessing.

Here’s the next question I hear people thinking:  When will I be showing up at church with a couple of new kids in tow?   Not until it is God’s will for our family.  My husband is prayerfully bringing the issue before God, but he doesn’t feel called at this time.  So we will wait upon the Lord.  Based on our adoption experience, I give this caution:  Even if you hear God’s voice speaking to you, maybe so loudly that you can hardly hear anything else, don’t do anything until your husband hears it too.  A trial like this can put a heavy strain on a marriage.  I read somewhere that the divorce rate for couples who adopt traumatized and attachment challenged children is 85%.  In our sinful humanness, we look for someone to blame when things go wrong.  Don’t give your husband a reason to blame you because you grabbed the reins. Just pray that God would speak to his heart.

So…now to the picture I asked you to hang onto back at the beginning.  What about the gift?  The verse in 2 Corinthians I mentioned earlier – the one about reaping bountifully – the Greek word for that phrase is eulogia.  In the verse right before it, that same word is translated into English as “gift”.  The same Greek word is translated in other places in the New Testament as “blessing”.  The idea of rewards, gifts, and blessings are all wrapped up in one package.  We find this same package in the Old Testament in Psalm 127, which says:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them.

Children are the whole package. This passage doesn’t make any distinction between perfectly behaved children and those who are a constant source of aggravation.  It says nothing about whether the child loves you as his mother or not.  It says that children –all of them- are a gift.  A reward. A blessing. And because I know that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17), then can I know that J is God’s perfect gift to me.  If I am going to call myself His child, then I must choose to reach out my hand and accept the gift that God is holding out to me with a heart overflowing with gratitude.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Jason Gray singing "Curiosity Killed the Cat" at The Community Coffeehouse in Danbury, CT back in 2010.  Hilarious.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Women's Conference

My dear friend Teren spoke at a women's conference in Colorado back in October.  She used our adoption story (with my permission, of course) as an illustration of God's adoption of His children through the blood payment of Christ, and how our brokenness can hinder us in accepting the new life that God offers. It is worth the time investment to listen to the whole thing...even if our story wasn't woven in. :)

Front Range Alliance Church Women's Conference October 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I've had this post mostly written for over a month now, and I just haven't gotten up the gumption to finish it.  So, here it is in all it's unedited glory...

We went with the basic Disney Dining Plan.  You buy this as part of your package when you book your vacation.  The basic plan allow one table service meal, one quick service meal and one snack per person per night of stay.  So we had 35 of each kind of credit.  You can use these credits in any order you want, and as many per day as you want.  So, if we had wanted to load up on ice cream bars the first day we were there, we could have used up all our snack credits and done so.  My kids would have been happy with this approach.

Notes on Table Service Meals:
Unlike the olden days (you know, back when I was a kid), you have to make reservations for your table service meals.  Or you're out of luck.  Like several disgruntled people I saw in the parks.  Really disgruntled. The choices we made for table service meals were: Kouzzina by Cat Cora on the Boardwalk (supper), Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom (lunch), Tusker House in Animal Kingdom (lunch), Teppan Edo in the Japanese Pavilion at Epcot Center (lunch), Restaurant Marrakesh in the Moroccan Pavilion at Epcot Center (supper), and the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort (supper).

In order to chose our restaurants, we had everyone go through a list and rate their favorites.  The kids were really on board with trying new things, so we were able to go to some interesting places.  Letting them help choose made for less whining later when something didn't work out quite as they had expected.

The food was all really good, with the exception of Restaurant Marrakesh.  I chose lamb, which I normally like, but I found out I don't like it that much.  The husband had beef shish kebob, which he said was really good.  So I think it was more just a function of making a poor choice on my part.  We really enjoyed watching the chef at Teppan Edo, and the kids really enjoyed the character lunch at Tusker House.  My girls aren't into princesses, so we chose this one because it showcased Mickey, Goofy and Donald.  The rest of my family really enjoyed the Aloha Dinner Show.  I think it was good, I was just too sick to keep my eyes open that night.

Notes on Quick Service Meals:
These can be disgusting or good.  The hardest part was working with the children's menus.  Just because the adult menu at a Mexican restaurant sounds good, doesn't mean that kids ages 3-9 have great choices.  They may have to choose between mac & cheese or a pbj.  We got smart after the first day and looked at the children's options first.  Some quick service restaurants don't have a children's menu at all, so kids have the same choices as adults.  I know for sure that this is true at Epcot in Germany, England and France.  This worked out the best for us, by far.

First, the bad stuff...to get it of the way.  I do not (really, really do not) recommend Cosmic Ray's in the Magic Kingdom. Yuck.  I also do not (and Little K vehemently agrees) recommend the chicken nuggets on the children's menus.  They may be nuggets, but the are certainly not chicken. 

By far, the best quick service meals we ate were in Epcot.  One in England at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop and the other in France at Boulangerie Patisserie.  Very yummy.

Notes on Snacks:
As The Husband said on our last day: Not all snack credits are created equal.  We used these credits for all sorts of things, including candy, ice cream bars, coffee (both real and Nescafe), roasted almonds, and popcorn.  We actually had some left over at the end of our visit...because you get dessert with each table and quick service meal, so I didn't see the need to stuff my kids with ice cream mid-afternoon...so I used them to buy some stocking stuffers from the gift shop.  You can use these credits all over the place...carts, snack stands, gift shops, restaurants, etc.  You just have to look for the special little symbol.

Overall, I'd say the dining plan was worth it.  Because we paid up front, we didn't feel guilty about how much money each meal cost...and they cost a lot.  Each quick service meal ran about $70.00 and the table service meals averaged about $200.00.  Plus, since the sky was the limit, I think it encouraged our kids to try new things.  You do have to remember that gratuity isn't included with the dining plan, so be prepared to pay a rather large tip at each table service meal.  You can find helpful information for all restaurants, including menus, at All Ears.

Friday, January 6, 2012


As I mentioned before, we stayed at the Pop Century Resort.  We were hardly there, and we only walked around the resort on the the last morning of our stay when my camera was already packed away.  So...I don't have any pictures.  Here's the link on the Disney site for the Pop Century Resort.  It's pretty much a standard hotel with some large, colorful decorations glued to the sides and mouse ears in the wallpaper.

Because we have five people in our family, we don't fit into a standard 4-person-occupancy hotel room. Which is all you can currently get at a Value Resort.  We were able to book two connecting rooms (guaranteed for families, no matter what it says on the website) which was still cheaper than a family suite at a Moderate Resort.  This, of course, gave us an extra bathroom...extremely helpful for getting out the door in the morning.  Apparently Disney World has also noticed the glaring lack of family suites in their Value Resorts, because they're opening up a new Value Resort in March which features them. Value Resorts also do not include refrigerators, but we were able to add one to our room for an additional $10 per day.  Still cheaper than a Moderate Resort.

We chose the Pop Century over the All-Star Resorts for a couple of reasons.  First, we were able to get a discounted price.  If you go to the Walt Disney World site and scroll to the bottom of the screen, you'll find a Special Offers link under Tickets & Packages.  I found different offers on different days, so it may be worth checking back if you don't find what you want at first.  Or call directly.  When we were ready to book our vacation, the offer I wanted wasn't available online, but I was still able to get the discounted price over the phone.  Secondly, the Pop Century has dedicated bus service.  The three All-Star Resorts share buses.  So, when a bus pulls up at your resort it may already be full because it just came from another resort.  That means it will take longer to get to the parks.  I wasn't interested in waiting in line any more than necessary.

And, what I think is the most important thing to consider about accommodations: Whether to stay on or off Disney property.  We chose to stay on property because (1) All transportation is included, so we didn't have to rent a car.  A bus shuttled us from the airport to the hotel...they even picked up our luggage and delivered it to our room.  We then rode buses from our hotel to whatever park we wanted to go to that day. (2) As a guest on Disney property, you can stay for extended hours at one or more of the parks every day.  We liked this feature a lot, particularly the extra hour in the morning when we could loop around and around and hit the "big" rides multiple times. The extra hours in the evening meant that we didn't have to rush to finish our day.  Even if we didn't close the place down, the extra evening hours still allowed us to move through the park at a more leisurely pace. (3) Another perk I discovered while at the parks is that anything you buy can be sent back to your resort.  Which means that you don't have to lug around that hefty coffee mug (or those mouse ears that a relative asked you to buy) for the rest of the day.

It was a tough call, though, because we found three bedroom condos off property with a pool and laundry en suite for $130 a night.  Check All Star Vacation Homes to see what you can find.  Discounts are available at AllEars.net.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Should be in Dickens

Dig back deep in your memory to the days of English Lit and find the word "Chilblains".  Got it?  Know what it is?  Yah, me neither.  Until yesterday, that is, when I went to the doctor with some chronic sores on my toes.  Turns out I have some cruddy circulation going on, and I essentially have frostbite without really having frostbite.  What does that mean?  A trip to REI for some Smartwool socks, a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond for a heated blanket, a trip to the lab for more blood work, a trip to the Rheumatologist to see if I have lupus...or something.  Yesterday I was feeling grouchy about the whole thing.  This morning I'm feeling better.  Perhaps this is the last piece of the puzzle I need to get an accurate diagnosis.  I'm praying that it is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Disney...An Overview of Our Trip

I still haven't looked through all the pictures, but I think I can at least take a few minutes now to sketch out the basic choices we made about our Disney trip.  Not sure if anyone cares...or will find it interesting...but I found the whole planning process to be pretty involved.  Perhaps some of my hindsight would help someone.  Or not.  Maybe you'd rather go watch a rerun of the Andy Griffith show like my kids are doing.  I'm fine with that.

Park Tickets:
We went with the basic 1 park per day tickets.  We found that 1 park was enough for each day, and we didn't miss having the Park Hopper feature.  If we had stayed less than a week, maybe I would feel differently.

We spent 2 full days in the Magic Kingdom, 2 full days in Epcot, 1 day in Hollywood Studios and 1 day in Animal Kingdom.  I thought this was the perfect amount of time per park.  By the end of the week we felt like we had seen everything we wanted to see in every park and we were ready to come home. We did make the mistake of going to the Magic Kingdom on Saturday night after our flight.  It was a Z.O.O., and we were very tired.  I wouldn't do that again.

We stayed at Pop Century, which is a Value Resort.  Not sure where the Value part came in, but it was cheaper than most of the other Disney resorts.  We had two connecting rooms, which worked pretty well for us. We didn't actually spend much time in our rooms...we pretty much just crashed there every night...so I didn't miss the plush features of the nicer resorts.  But our kids are older and can go all day.  I can see how someone with younger kids might want a little more space, or a washer/dryer in the room.

We bought the dining plan that allowed 1 Table Service meal, 1 Quick Service meal, and 1 Snack per person per day.  I think it was probably worth it, but I would be more careful next time about where we used our Quick Service credits.  More on that and where we ate in a later post. We had some basic groceries delivered to our room so that we could eat breakfast before we headed out.  This kept us from wasting meal credits at breakfast...plus it saved time.

1. Disney coffee stinks.  It is Nescafe.  It is Disgusting.  Go to AllEars.net to find places at Disney that sell real coffee.
2. Many people find the refillable mugs to be a great deal.  We found them to be a ripoff.  You can only use them in the hotel, we don't like Nescafe, the iced tea was also made from a powdered mix, and we don't drink much pop.  That didn't really leave much to fill our mugs with.  I'm pretty sure we didn't use $32 of teabags during the week.
3. We all (with the exception of J-Man) carried backpacks in the park every day.  I'll share more later about what everyone carried and how it worked out.  I'll say now that the most important item in everyone's bag was bottled water.  I did not once have to listen to anyone complain about thirst.  A minor miracle.