Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Christmas



Seasons Greetings All. The storm in the house Christmas morning was greater than the storm we were reported to get outside. No one was more excited than Krem to open gifts, but when all was said and done, we had to explain to him that Santa does not bring EVERYTHING on the wish list. Hirut's favorite gifts were anything to do with food. If she could not eat it, she moved on to the next present. River commented 'I know it's pajamas, but I sure hope their not footie pajamas', showing clearly that he has moved on to the teenage years of Christmas excitement. Forest and Stephanny, however, were ecstatic to get full length, to the toe, fleece footies. No Christmas would be complete without 8 pounds of frosting for the sugar cookies, probably 2 pounds of which never made it to the cookies. Nate, Forest, and Krem went out for a beautiful Christmas day test of the Kayak River and Forest received, just as the snow flurries were starting to come down. To view more Christmas and Holiday pictures, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving



Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We had a great Thanksgiving dinner a few days early so that Krem and Hirut could get the full experience of the tradition before Stacey left for Mexico to spend the holiday with her sisters family. Click on the picture above for a better view.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Seven Months


Today marks seven months since we arrived home with Krem and Hirut. In so many ways it seems like we have come light years from that remarkable day. Yet in other ways, it still feels like we are adjusting to life with 5 children. There are still challenges we are working to overcome. Here is an update of what's been happening since our trip to Maine... to round out the summer and start fall...

Forest participated in a kids Triathlon with friends, swimming 250 yards, biking 2 miles, and running a half mile. They had a blast! Stephanny, River, and Forest are also participating in fall soccer league, and we are enjoying watching their skill improve as the season progresses. River has become quite the goaltender and it's great watching Forest flash around the field.

We had a wonderful trip to Quebec City, traveling with Nate's work and a very wide collection of people from around the world. It's wonderful that our kids get the opportunity to interact with others their age from around the world. And of course the accommodations are a treat as well. The city itself was such a great
surprise. I'm sure the locals get sick of hearing it, but it's like being in Europe, with magnificent old buildings, a castle, fortresses, cobblestone streets, and of course the French Canadian accent. To see more pictures of our trip, click HERE.

As busy as life has been, I did manage to get out for a real camping trip with River, Forest, and a collection of their friends. Meric O. and his two boys joined us. It just happened to be one of the hottest, most humid, nights of the summer. Even the least strenuous tasks left us drenched in sweat. Luckily, we were camping right next to Muddy Run creek, and every minute not setting up or sleeping was spent floating around in the water. As for sleeping, the kids did alright but there were two very dreary dads hiking out of the woods the next morning.

A couple of birthdays to report as well. Since soon after coming home in March, Krem has talked about his birthday almost daily. When the day finally arrived, he was so excited! He woke up to 300 balloons in the living room, and had a great day, complete with party, pinyata, friends, and a great cake baked and built by Stacey. He wore his sparkling 5 year old smile all day!

River turned 13 a few days after Krem's big day. It's remarkable, and a little scary, to think he will be an adult in 5 short years. For his birthday he had a party with 4 close friends, and we took a trip to the local haunted woods in the big RV for a night of fright and freshly minted teenage shenanigans. To teach him what being a teenager is all about, we ended the evening throwing pumpkins from an overpass onto passing semi trucks. OK, not really.

Nate's pal Matt H. was in town for their semi-annual ultra run weekend. As usual, it was a mad dash to fit in as many adventures as we could in 72 hours. This included fishing for Bluefish on long island sound, a night in Manhattan, a mad dash to Times Square for Gyros, and oh ya, the actual run itself, a 28 miler along the spectacular trails of the Susquehanna River.

School has started again - River is in the middle school (7th Grade!), Forest is in 5th Grade, and Stephanny is in Mr. K's 2nd grade class. Krem started preschool at Fairville Friends and is overjoyed to go to school 2 mornings a week. Hirut is currently enrolled in "How to stop trying to bite your siblings in 3 easy steps" but is just barely passing. Next week we will start her in "How to not have a fit when someone takes something away from you that you should not have had in the first place."

Most recently I took Stephanny and Forest to a Philadelphia Eagles game. Despite the loss, they had a great time cheering on the local team. Check out the VIDEO.

Overall we are still adjusting to the chaos of 5 children, but one thing is for sure - we will never suffer from boredom. This VIDEO is just a sample of what you might see on any given day in our house.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Acadia National Park, Maine

We're home from vacation in Acadia National Park on the coast of Maine, where we spent a week in a small 8 bunk camping cabin in Bass Harbor campground on the very south west tip of Desert Island. Check out many great pictures of our trip HERE. Our week started with Krem and Hirut's first 4th of July fireworks show in Bar Harbor, packed in the middle of the city park among a see of blankets-in-the-grass and kids waving glow sticks. We stayed on the island for the entire week, exploring different parts each day. Our activities included lots of wonderful hikes, one of which scaled 600 feet in just over a mile, up a trail aptly named "The Ladders". All of the kids did a wonderful job hiking, which was a little surprising considering some of the hills we scaled. Not once did anyone whine about tired legs or ask to be carried. Forest and River seemed to relish taking the lead and hiking ahead of the group, sometimes a little to much for mine and Stacey's comfort. Carting Hirut up "The Ladders" in a baby carrier was like lugging a bag of cement that gyrates, jumps, and squeals for more blueberries. And of course blueberries are a pretty good laxative - you know where I'm going with this, so I won't spell it out. We also took a drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain to experience is spectacular views of the surrounding bays and harbors. We took several swims in the bone chilling waters of the North Atlantic coast, and a few in the slightly warmer inner-island lakes. Much of the area seemed familiar, being similar to Northern Minnesota, complete with lush blueberry bushes and the aromatic scent of spruce, cedar, and other evergreens. What trip to Maine would be complete without a few lobster dinners, including a memorable lobster cookout on the last evening, with bright red crustaceans cooking in huge pots over an open fire, accompanied by a 90 year old woman fiddling her heart out.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Dad

Saw this on youtube:



It's about 3 minutes too long, but there are some funny lines and truisms.

It got me thinking about a topic I have NOT taken any time to consider - What has it meant to be a new dad again, and a dad to 5 kids. With fathers day around the dorner, here's a collection of thoughts.

- I'm not a new dad really, but I am a new dad 'again'. I have never enjoyed having a baby in the house as much as I do with Hirut. She's a sweetheart. But so was Stephanny so that's not why #5 is such a pleasure. Being older and mellowing with age, I think I am taking a lot more time to enjoy it. Everything else has been put on hold, so most of my focus, outside of my work day, is entirely on the kids. There are lots of moments watching Hirut be the doll that she is, watching her develop and do all the wonderful new things 1 year old babies do. She's just about to walk, and says new words almost every day.

- For the same reasons, I am enjoying being a dad in general more than I ever have. The house project is on hold. I am coming home at 5 every day. It's summer. It's really nice to parent without other distractions competing for my attention.

- I change %5 of the diapers and get up 10% of the "Mommy" calls late at night. Stacey has always been the primary bearer of those burdens, and it certainly makes being a dad much easier, or at least much less 'tiring'.

- If there are dads out there who miss going to the bars and doing guy stuff, I'm confused. I just don't miss that stuff, not that I was a champion partier back in the day. I do miss doing stuff with Stacey. We had a lot of fun, and some of it is just not cool to do as we get older. For instance, we are now at the age where we would definitely be the old people if we went to a techno club. (I'm sure there's a lot of people who might read this and be surprised we did that kind of thing). And if we were caught parked in the middle of the woods sleeping in the back of our minivan, I'm pretty sure we would be arrested as vagrants. We spent the better part of a year doing that sort of thing when we first met! Being in collage together was a blast. I miss that attention that we used to be able to give to each other, and how much fun we had as a couple back then! We did not take any of those days for granted. I cherish them.

- What do people without kids do with themselves? I don't care how successful you might be, or how many adventures you might have, life would be so empty.

- There are few things as special as walking in the door at the end of the day and having kids run up to you and wrap their arms around you screaming "Daddy!". When those days end it will be a sad sad day.

- There are few things as special as hearing someone say "Goodnight daddy, I love you, see you tomorrow". When those days end it will be a sad sad day.

- I think I stepped it up a notch being a daddy this year. I don't celebrate birthdays, and am not big on presents at Christmas. But I'm calling in the favors this year - I want a present for fathers day. I think I have earned it this once. Kids, consider this your notice! I may not ask again, but this year I want some presents!

- Krem has definitely elicited a feeling of extra responsibility with regards to parenting an older adoptive child. I feel like I owe it to him to go the extra mile - to be patient, caring, solid, and present. There are times when the look in his face, or the actions he makes, seem to tell a story of his life before we received him into our family. I feel it is my responsibility to make up for the hardships he experienced, and assure he gets whatever he needs to lead a happy, normal, successful life. The picture we received when he was referred to us, and the thought of what it must have been like for him to leave his birth mother breaks my heart. That alone causes me to have strong feelings about being the best parent to him that I can be.

- You know what scares me as a dad - we have to somehow figure out how to get 5 kids through college, assuming they all go.

- You know what else scares me - teenage daughters.

- I do not fear the responsibility of providing for and raising children.

- River is soon to be a teenager, and these are the critical years he and all teenagers must bridge to get to adulthood while avoiding pitfalls, mistakes, bad influences, and temptations. I hope to be the right kind of parent - patient and understanding at times, solid and stern when needed. One things for sure - he is entering these years on great footing. He is kind, sensitive, does well in school, is helpful around the house (sometimes with a little prodding), and is a great kid in general. What I realize is that I don't spend enough time with him one on one - which is made difficult with 5 kids - but hope to do better over the summer.

- It is interesting and amazing to watch how each childs personality develops in different ways, shows different strengths and weaknesses, and how they devise their own systems to work together, resolve disagreements, help each other out, and even sometimes scheme to manipulate Stacey and I. It's like a little sitcom right in our home!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Updates

Here are some quick notes on the kids...

River recently performed in "The Music Man" as part of the cast and lighting crew at the middle school. We are very proud of the time and effort he put into the production, at times spending several hours after school several nights a week. As he approaches 13 years old, he acts more and more like a teenager, but a wedgie now and then keeps him in line. He excels in school and is currently on the honor role. He gets up on his own at 6:15 AM every morning, gets ready for school, and makes himself breakfast - all before anyone else rolls out of bed. River is also taking electric guitar lessons, learning chords, and picking up rock tunes. He is a wonderful big brother to all his younger siblings. It's amazing to watch kids go from pooping, crying, keep-you-up-all-night babies to responsible, helpful, mature, little-bit-lippy-now-and-then people.

Forest is a joyful goofball. Despite the cold spring water, he spends a lot of time in the pool. He is doing well in school (4th grade), because of the effort he puts into his homework every night. He is also involved in orchestra (cello), music ensemble (for which he goes to school an hour early once a week), and takes acoustic guitar lessons. He recently played his guitar for his school talent show. You can watch a video of his performance here. He also loves playing soccer, lacross, and camping in the yard with his buddy Kyle. Forest is also a great brother. One minute he will be rough-housing with River in the pool, and the next minute be playing with Hirut or feeding her. He is a playmate to all his brothers and sisters.

Stephanny is an adorable, sweet girl. Many mornings, we wake up to the sound of her and Hirut chattering in their beds. It is easy to see how much she enjoys having a baby sister. At times Stehpanny and Krem play like best buds, and at other times she gets a little frustrated with his high energy. Stephanny has recently starting curling up in bed to read chapter books. She also does well in school and gets glowing reports from her teaches. She has just started taking guitar lessons with her brothers. Stephanny's best friend Jenna lives just down the street, and they spend lots of time playing together with their American Girl Dolls. Stephanny and Jenna recently performed a dance routine in their school talent show. See the video here.

Krem continues to embody the happiness of Micky Mouse and the energy of the Tazmanian Devil. His language continues to develop at a steady pace. He is now starting to formulate simple sentences. He adores Stephanny and want's to play with her constantly. And we continue to catch glimpses of his life before joining our family. While doing yard work yesterday, picking up sticks from the yard, he grabbed hold of a root sticking out of the ground and, realizing what it was, became very excited. He bent down and started chewing on it, motioning me over to have a taste. Of course, roots are a part of the diet for some Ethiopians living on subsistence farms, so it was not surprising, but still an interesting contrast between his birth and adoptive cultures. Considering the poison ivy around the yard, we will unfortunately have to discourage chewing on roots while working outside. Stacey also recounted another anecdote from earlier this week: On a friends farm, Krem points to the chickens and makes a motion clearly indicating we should break the birds neck and says "Eat?". Stacey responds "No Eat". If I were there I would say "Yes! Yes!", if not for the effect it would have on the friendship. Another anecdote: Stacey took Krem, Stephanny, and Hirut hiking in the Susquahannah river valley along a creek, through the woods. Krem was very nervous about the wilderness and seemed fearful of bears, animals, and "scary people", at one point bolting down the trail in terror when other hikers approached from behind. Clearly, the wilderness is something unfamiliar, except that he knew it was scary and things in the woods would get him.

Hirut is still a very content and easy baby, but she certainly is developing some new personality as she grows older and gets more comfortable with our family. She has been giggling and laughing a lot more over the past few weeks. She also picks up new words almost daily. She says "Hot", "Hi", "Momma", "Dada", "Peekabo" (Peeaboo), "Ei-ei-ooo" (Old McDonald had a farm). Also along the lines of "communicating", she grunts when she poops and she has realized that this gets our attention quickly. She is now grunting to get our attention in general, and it is hilarious. "Grrrrunnnnnt", now means "I want another bite", "Look at me", "get me that toy", or "pick me up". Here is another funny habit she has started: we stopped giving her formula after her first birthday. She now gets about a half bottle of milk before bed. Being used to a full bottle, she was at first confused when she did not get as much as she expected. These days she is down right pissed. I know it's not right to use such language when talking about a baby, but no other word explains it quite right. She's not just angry. As soon as that last drop comes out, she immediately wails and throws a fit, flopping around in our laps to get down. She'll find her bottle, next to the rocking char, grab it, desperately drain any remaining drops, and continue to express her utter disappointment. This only lasts a few minutes, luckily. It is important to point out that this usually happens about an hour after dinner, where she generally eats hefty portions, such as a full slice of pizza. We're not starving her by any means. She LOVES to eat, and has serious affection for her bedtime bottle.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Matters of Perspective

I visited Kolkata, India for work in 2007, and delivered much needed supplies to a small local orphanage. The facility was a crumbling, dilapidated concrete structure. To one side there was a dark, sticky, hot room, the floor covered with various cloths and blankets, with a fine mesh netting strung over a rope crossing the room. Under the netting a dozen babies lay sleeping, grunting or babbling, or visually exploring their surroundings. Not a cry was heard. In the upper floor of this building was a room with several cribs, acting more as cages than a place to sleep to several toddlers. In a corner sat a lone child on a potty. In a building next door, several older children ranging from ages 5 to 12 waited excitedly for us to visit their room, a small area with a dirt floor and various cots lining the walls. A girl sat on a chair near the doorway, sunken depressions where her eyes should have been, but a wide grin on her face nonetheless. Several of the children had visible disabilities. All were eager for any acknowledgement - a smile, a word - of any kind. Two children were notably older and looked healthier than the rest. The director of the orphanage explained they had failed to be adopted due to a serious blood illness.



Elsewhere in Kolkata there were miles and miles of very simple shacks and homes lining nearly every street. There is nothing separating bystanders from the private lives of those living along the road. At night, many families draped crude tarps along the sidewalks and made small fires and rough beds for the evening. Many families bathed in a lake near the hotel I was in. From a distance the water was serene and picturesque, but close up it was littered with trash and choked with pond vegetation. The park surrounding the lake was covered in debris and trash, with many children and women scavenging and wandering among the garbage.

Fast forward to Ethiopia almost 4 years later. We visited a market looking for gifts and traditional art. The shopkeepers booths were packed tightly together along a dirt road just off a major intersection. After visiting a few shops and buying a few items, we realized every merchant would do whatever it took to nudge us through the curtain into their dark booths smelling of a beautiful mixture of woods, incense, leather, and cloth. The items sold were similar from booth to booth, so after visiting a few, there was not much to be found that we had not already seen. Everyone had a huge incentive to sell us something, and the effort and persuasion that went into their pleas reflected the opportunity they saw in a foreigner in the market. Having walked down one side of the market we were out of time and tiring of the unyielding attempt that each merchant made to convince us to buy something, anything, from their wares. We resorted to telling shopkeepers we had run out of cash. An older, gray-haired store keeper with leathery skin and years of hard life written in the wrinkles of his face gently pulled me by the wrist into his store, no bigger than a 8' by 12' closet, but with every possible inch of wall, floor, and ceiling covered with items for sale. Not wanting to look any longer, I quickly roamed the wares with my gaze and absently picked up a Mancala board to inspect. Upon seeing my feigned interest, the man immediately began to barter. The board was hand carved of ebony, beautiful yet simple. He was asking the equivalent of 10 dollars. I quickly repeated what I had told the last several peddlers - I had no more money, and the man quickly dropped his price to about 9, 8, 7 dollars. Blocking the doorway trying to convince me to make a purchase, I did my best to convince him I was out of cash. He even said he would let me take the board and the taxi driver could collect the cash from the hotel. He would do anything to make the sale. I did not want the board. In a last effort to make the sale, I saw, with heart wrenching dismay, tears welling in the old mans eyes as he broke down, pleading that he was hungry and would sell me the board. "Just make offer" he said.

I was shaken. I again repeated that I did not have money, and I exited the booth quickly. Stacey and River were in the booth of another merchant trying hard to make a sale. I collected them and we made our way to our taxi and hotel. Soon after we left, I had a pit in my stomach. With money in my pocket I had left the shop unwilling to look for something of interest and buy so that this man would be guaranteed a little money and perhaps a meal that night. I tell myself to live life without regrets. But no one does really. I have a few, and not buying something from this man is now counted as one of my regrets.

Earlier in the day we had made our way to the Blue Nile Gorge, to the north of Addis Ababa. Along the way we made several stops, often along the rural road seamingly in the middle of nowhere. In every case, almost out of nowhere, children would come running from the fields, eager for a handout, kind word, or a touch. Without explanation, their beaming, giddy smiles melted away as soon as a camera was pointed their way, and the hard lines in their young faces shone through. When the smile was gone, it appeared as if these children, 6, 8, perhaps 12 years old, aged a decade. Without a smile, there was no emotion to mask their sunken cheeks, their rail thin bodies.

But as soon as the camera was gone, the smiles reemerge. That's the beauty of the human spirit. It's the wonder of perspective. I saw it in India and Ethiopia - despite the conditions people may live in, if a person lives and grows knowing a way of life, there is an awful lot a person can put up with and still be happy. The shacks in Kolkata were surrounded by children chasing each other, splashing in the water, playing simple games with sticks and rocks in the dirt, enjoying each others presence. In Ethiopia, the children have rocks, sticks, and each other as their playthings. You can see them making chase among the goats, cracking their whips, looks of joy on their faces. Children, especially, can overlook an awful lot of hardship and find happiness in even the worst conditions.

But the old man teaches us there is only so much a person can bare, only so hungry a person can be before desperation takes over. The image of children surrounding our vehicle in Ethiopa, and the merchant's eyes filled with moisture, helps keep my perspective in check as we face our future as a large, multiracial family. I have spent hundreds of hours over the last 2 years working on our house in preparation for Krem and Hiruts arrival. There were many long nights, ending with sore muscles and frustration of facing many more weeks of work. Just the other night I was behind the house at 11 PM , with the cover off the septic tank, fishing a clog out of the sewer line. I'll admit the prospect the task made me less than chipper, but inside were 5 kids off to bed, complete with mattresses, surrounded by books, toys, dressers full of clothes for every occasion, steps away from cabinets full of food. They would wake up with smiles on their faces, and the prospect of vast opportunities in their future. If millions of people can find comfort and happiness in shacks and huts, with very little to eat, and little chance for a different future, we can certainly cope with the challenges that come our way as a larger family, with three different cultures and races under our roof.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One of Billions

"Experts" say there are 1.8 billion people with access to the internet. 1.8 billion people - that is our potential audience. I see there are three people following our 'blog'. By all standards, our penetration is atrocious. So why do we write this for all to see? Why does anyone keep a blog?

Before I go any further let me tell you how much I despise that word. It's like "Dork". Just the sound of the word is irritating. I have a friend who will not use the world "Dork" because he hates how it sounds. When "Blog" rolls off my tongue its like a half gag ending in "G". I'm going to refuse to write "Blog" from now on. It's "online journal" from here on out. Or the "B word".

These "Experts" also say there are 50 million online journals in existence. Even if 75% of them are no longer maintained, there are still millions to chose from. Up until the last 6 months, I had not read a single one, at least not intentionally. And I am not misconceived that I have anything more interesting to say than the other 10 million people vying for your attention. At least a million of those folks must have more interesting things to say.

So why do I write? I sometimes tell myself I write online to keep family and friends informed because it is so hard to keep everyone up to date. That purpose is served, but I don't think that's the "reason". I also try to convince myself that I write to have a record of these important days of our lives. While I believe we will read these words later in life and be thankful to have them, I still don't think that is the driving force that makes me get up a bit early once ever couple weeks and regurgitate such mental bile into the ethosphere. In reality, I am just hoping that someone will find our drivel interesting enough to read a single entry from start to finish. It took me a while to realize it, but that's the truth. That's why I also maintain a family web site. We have invited adventure and chaos into our lives, and sharing it online is a way to take pride in what we have worked so hard to achieve. We toss it out there for all to see. It's bragging really, but you only have to hear it if you chose to lay eyes on it. If your thinking "Oh god, what an ego", well, feel free to exit now. Go ahead, close your browser. Go check out what's on ebay instead. I'm sure you can find a nice set of used kitchen knives.

Oh shit, now no one's reading.

What I am trying to achieve is truth. To myself, and to you, and understand what motivates the other 10 million people like me. I think we are all looking for someone to take notice. It is nice to hear someone say "I read that, you guys are crazy" (we take that as a compliment), "I liked what you wrote", "You guys are doing it right". In grade school we are told "your special, you can be anything you want". Really? Are we? Can we? We're mostly just worker bees with 1 to 3 kids, trying to make ends meet. We have split-level homes and subscribe to cable. We look for kitchen knives on eBay. We stand around the water cooler to talk about the same shows that we ALL watch. We don't want to admit that we did not expect to be part of the vast sea of people all doing the same thing, all thinking we would be leading a far more interesting life. We want someone to take notice and say, "your doing it right". But really, if that were true, we would not be keeping an online journal - someone would be writing it for us, about us. That's when you know your life is interesting, when someone does your bragging for you. (That little tid-bit also comes from the same person who hates the word "Dork".) For the time being, it looks like we will have to just keep on bragging for ourselves.

But writing is also therapeutic. Taking the time to write out our lives and adventures forces me to reflect and organize my thoughts. It's like coming up for breath. Breath in - breath out. Something new happens every day and we rarely have the time to fully appreciate those moments. Writing is realizing those moments and appreciating them more completely.

What has caught me by surprise is the comfort I have gotten from reading other peoples online journals. I am not the most chatty guy on the plant. OK, I may actually be the least chatty guy on the planet. If you call me and I seem less than interested in talking, it's because I am not really interested. If I am chatting, I'm only pretending to be interested. You want to get together? Sure. Let's go biking. Let's take the kids to the playground. Chat on the phone? No thanks. So it goes - I don't have thoughtful conversations with other adoptive parents about how things are going. But there are a couple of friends keeping blogs about their adoption experiences, and it is surprisingly comforting to identify with their challenges, hesitations, fears, joys, and witty parenting anecdotes. Our adjustment to bringing Krem and Hirut into our family has been great. Many of our fears and concerns did not come true. But there are big challenges, and it helps to know we are not alone in facing them. I read the blog of a family that stayed in the same guest house in Ethiopia, and the mother accurately described Stacey's feeling of the hopeless war with the laundry. She may win a battle, but the war will definitely be lost. To know someone else feels the futility of this effort is somehow comforting. Another mother shares her fears about parenting an older child from another country before they travel. Her list of worries could be mine or Stacey's.

So in this way we are just like so many other people who have adopted a child (or two or three). Except it feels good to be just like one of the crowd. It's nice to know we are not doing it wrong or 'messing up our kids'. Or maybe we are messing them up a little, but at least we are not the only ones, and it's going to be OK. We are not going to be perfect, we will make our mistakes too. But we are doing it mostly right. Taking a peak into other peoples lives helps realize that. So if your reading this, and your one of those other "B**G" writing parents out there, maybe I read what you had to say, and it helped me a little. It was nice to hear your having your doubts too, and that things are going well for the most part, but there are moments. I'm not going to call and chat about it, but I still appreciate it. Thanks for writing. Really.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Settling In


The honeymoon phase of having new children is slowly fading away. Don't be alarmed. All is well. Very well in fact. Spring has sprung and everyone is enjoying being outside, and the special happy feeling that accompanies the blooming of spring flowers and greening of the trees, and of course the warm sun on your skin. However, we would not be painting a complete picture if we failed to mention some of the harder parts of being a larger family.

For instance, there is never a time someone does not need to be somewhere else. From play practice, to early morning music programs, to science club, and of course doctors appointments. Every family faces this challenge to some degree, but I think we have reached the point of critical mass, where it is sometimes not physically possible to have everyone where they need to be all of the time. At the end of some days, Stacey and I can only shake our head at how chaotic those 18 waking hours can be.

Another challenge: Krem is the personification of sustainable nuclear fusion. From 7 AM to 8 PM his tank is full, and we are on his heals trying to keep up all of the time. From riding his bike around the driveway for hours, to playing in the pool, to organizing doll house toys in the kitchen, there is never a moment of pause or rest. We are pretty anti-television in our house, but in the interest of initiating some down-time we are being a little more flexible. I don't know if we are the first to do so, but we have a good half-hour of "Spongebob family therapy" a few nights a week, the only time where all of the kids are in the same room doing the same thing. Stacey generally defers on this activity - not being so fond of the genius of Spongebob Squarepants, but the rest of us get some good laughs in. Krem also relishes story time before bed, the only other activity for which he willingly sits still. I use this time to foster language association with everyday things. Just this week he seems to be taking more interest in making the language transition. Despite his energy, it is positive and focused, like the rays of the sun. It spawns happiness. He drives us crazy trying to keep up with him, but as the same time spawns joy, and he has focus on whatever activity he is doing. Getting used to the energy level is an adjustment for us, not him.

Another challenge for Stacey has been her back. Hirut is a "Healthy" baby (aka Babyzilla) and it is taking a toll on Stacey's spine. She's coping as best she can, but it is obviously a frustration and distraction to deal with.

On the other end of the spectrum, here are some challenges we expected that never materialized...

We are getting way more sleep than we hoped for. Hirut can easily sleep from 7:30 PM until 7:30 AM, and she takes a long afternoon nap as well. Krem goes down between 8 and 9, and his sleeping habits have recently stabilized. He was waking up a few nights a week whimpering now and then. This seems to have stopped, perhaps now that he realizes we are just around the corner and available. I was thrilled when I heard him wake up the other day whispering "Folest" (Forest with Krems R to L pronunciation). A few minutes later I heard "Mommy....Daddy". Like Edgar Alen Poes telltale heart, it grew louder and louder until I went to check on him.

Meal time is much easier than it should be as well. There are some foods that Krem does not like, but Stacey puts everything on his plate that the rest of us eat, and he will generally try it all with a little coercion. Hirut (aka Babyzilla), on the other hand, devours her dinner. Here mouth is open, ready for a bite, while the spoon is en-route. She is eating cereal and pieces of vegetables and fruit. She has no trouble picking up anything that is even remotely edible and guiding it to her mouth. Oddly, however, she did not try to eat the sand at the beach.

Finally, the kids are all adjusting well, and have embraced the addition of two new children. Knock on wood! It's still early, and of course there are moments when they need some alone time or a break from Krem's energy. But they all love having Krem and Hirut as siblings. Stephanny plays with Hirut every morning before we go in to say goodmorning. Forest loves having someone who constantly likes to bike and be outside, and River seems to be enjoying being a big brother, which is great considering he is at that age where ipods are THE thing and high school is just around the corner.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Krem and Me

Perhaps it is because there are two children needing special attention during these early days that Stacey has developed a special bond with Hirut and Krem and I have a connection that is greater than what I have experienced with any of my other children. But I don't believe that. I think that Krem had a vision of what a father was before we even met, and I am filling that void that he longed for. I do not mean to say that the love between us exceeds that between me and my other children. There are still major challenges as we all get used to the larger family and new personalities. Rather, it is that Krem sees me as "The One". Most parents out there know what I mean when I say mommies are special. The bond between a child and mother is greater, more compassionate, deeper. When hugs are needed, or a knee is scraped, mommy is the one they run to. Those special moments before bed when toddlers fight to keep their eyes open, it is mommy who gives that kiss goodnight. With Krem I am finding out what it feels like to be that person for someone. When we are at the store or park, it is my hand he reaches for to hold. It is me who he wants to read books to him before bed. And these moments are very special - it is clear how much he yearns for this bond. It is clear how much he loves having a daddy. But don't worry River, Forest, Stephanny and Hirut, I still have my special place in my heart for all of you. But I feel great warmth in my heart to know what it feels like to be "the one" for Krem.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sweet Baby Dreams

Ok, before I go on attempting to transfer my journals from Ethiopia to the blog, I thought I would give a quick update on my sweet baby girl..

Hirut: Can a baby get much sweeter? I think she should win some 5 star baby award! Seriously, the girl chills in her high chair and allows me to actually wash dishes, giggling when I simply glance at her. She goes to sleep at 7:30pm, and does not stir until 7:30am, then goes back down for her nap by 11am, and wakes at app. 2-3pm. She LOVES just hanging out with her Mama, happily tied to my back while I attempt to play soccer, push bikes, cook food, wash little hands, help with homework, clean and do laundry, wait for the bus, dig out extra playthings from the garage for the neighbor kids, and very feebly attempt to hold a conversation with a friend on the phone. She calmly puts up with her brother's very loving (and possessive) demand for my attention, and her sister's constant rally to convince her that she can be 'Mommy' too. After all of this, and my constant desire to soak her skin and hair with ointments, oils, the whole line of 'Carol's Daughter' African hair products, bows, cute baby outfits, and finally baby pajamas, she still remains sweet, babbling cute baby sounds, and tickled by my silly ways. When she finally sees the bedtime bottle in my hand she goes nuts, trying to climb me to get over to it, until I sit down in the rocker, when she knows that it is on it's way. She immediately begins to drink, her eyes deadlocked with mine. She spends the next ten minutes studying my face, touching my eyes, cheeks, mouth, and hair, as if making up for all of the lost time she was not with her mother, and I equally am playing catch up with her, and am completely and totally in Mommy love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 6, Addis

The next morning we got ready and headed straight to the care center, River hanging back, still not turning a corner yet. Fortunately, as sad as River was to not be participating in the activities, and more disappointed yet to not have met his new siblings, he was keeping occupied with his movies, games, and books. The compound was gated, with guards and nannies who checked in on him, so we felt comfortable leaving him in the secure setting. As we pulled down the drive to the care center we saw that all of the older children were huddled at the gate. I quickly spotted Krem, and when he spotted us his smile grew wide once again and he ran between the other children trying to get the best view. I got off and held his hand through the gate until the doors were opened and he was once again scooped up into Daddy's arms. I quickly changed shoes and ran up to scoop up my girl. She seemed much more comfortable and was soon interacting with me in a playful manner. We went downstairs to play, but with the many other children who continuously pulled us down to smother our faces in kisses or try to climb Nate calling 'Daddy!, Daddy!', we were soon looking for a more quiet corner. As much as I would have liked to sit down and play and snuggle with the other children who obviously were in need of loving attention, we were trying hard to concentrate on ours, and Krem's face glowed proudly with that fact. We consoled ourselves with the thought that most of these children were being matched with other families soon to come and lovingly scoop them up as well. Peering into their beautiful faces, we saw how easily it would be to fall in love with any one of them. Some were decorated with the beautifying scarring that is performed in most of Ethiopia, which Krem has- two notches at each sides of his eyes- and other with scars across their eyelids, which is said to be a folk remedy to ward off eye infection. All of the children adored my unusually pudgy Hirut, and would pull her down to lavishly coat her face in kisses. Judging by the size of my chunky baby, and the sizes of the ones who will need to do some cathching up, I'd swear she was secretly stealing their food like the town bully. :) We found a quiet corner and played with our kiddos for the next couple of hours, then headed back to the guesthouse for lunch. River seemed to be up and though his stomach was not the best, he managed to down a bit of oatmeal- a good sign. In the afternoon we went to the main office to meet with social workers, prepare the remainder of paperwork, and to watch a DVD. The DVD was specially made for Krem and Hirut, explaining to them their early life in the rural southern Ethiopian countryside. The social worker team and film crew actually travelled to the place that was their home to film! It was amazing to see and we were very touched by the thorough investigation and work that has been put into our children's early lives. Often in adoption the information is scarce, and you find yourself wishing you had more to share with your children as they grow and ask more questions. On a side note, as the adoptive parents, we are said to be the 'guardians of their information', and are to hold it carefully, answering questions as they ask until they are old enough to understand and digest their whole story. This information that we receive is not ours to share, it is theirs, and if they choose to share their story later, then it will be their choice. For this reason we will not be writing about the circumstances of why our children came to be a part of our family, but rather from the point they came to us and onward. Another little blurb I just have to add on this subject is that though this is a very beautiful and joyous time for our family to be meeting these two souls who will be a part of our family forever, it is coming from the hardships that another has had to face. In most cases, when Birthparents made the decision to relinquish their children to an orphanage it does not come lightly. It most always comes from a place of deep love- knowing that life will be a struggle in their family, and wanting so much more for their children. In Africa, at times the decision comes from a dire situation in which a birth parent dies, and it is not possible for the remaining parent to work and keep children in their home. Often the extended families will help, but in many cases these extended families are stretched so thin for resources it is virtually impossible to take on feeding another mouth. When the child(ren) are placed into care, the loss of a child in the greater family is felt by everyone, especially in Africa where families often live in units of huts close together and are with each other on a daily basis. As a mother, I am thankful for our family's ability to provide for our children, and cannot imagine facing such a difficult decision. For this reason, the adoption of all of our children into our family has been a joyous and simultaneously grievous event. I thank my lucky stars to share my life with my children, and I ache for the fact that others out there in this wide world are grieving the loss of my children who I get the priviledge to enjoy and love and nurture. That evening we laid low, and went to bed early- the next day was to start early and stretch long.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 5, Gotcha Day!

I woke with the sun this morning and lay quietly so as not to wake River and Nate. I was running through all of my Amharic phrases in my mind- 'Eenayahnatiknegn' which is 'I am your mommy', or 'Yeh-nay-lij'- 'My sweet baby', and so on... I couldn't help but imagine beautiful scenarios of meeting my children, all of which had me tearing up into my pillow. Of course, the reality is that these kids don't know me, and will most likely take some time to adjust, as is what happened with Stephanny, who is now a bubbly outgoing girl! I finally rose and began selecting the most appropriate outfit, something that might say 'mommy', though I realized it really didn't matter. After a quick bite, we loaded the CHSFS bus with the other adoptive parents while River sadly stayed back in bed all day with a low grade fever and stomach ache. Arriving at the care center, we were instructed to remove our shoes and were ushered into a room for a briefing by social workers. The center is somewhat of an old worn-in palace, with a grand old meeting room and empty deep swimming pool with a great view across the land. There are 5 floors of rooms, all housing children of different age groups. A front patio has small bikes and toys, and there is a small grassy area. The kids are kept to a fairly regimented schedule of school, play, snack, meals, etc. One by one we were to be called away from the group to meet our children, and our names were called first. We walked up 4 flights of stairs and into the baby room. There were many babies lying on a blanket on the floor, and Hirut was sitting upright in a Bambo seat. One of the nannies picked her up and placed her into my arms. The feeling of finally having this long-awaited baby in my arms was overwhelming, and I lowered my face into her neck, arms wrapped round her sweet baby body. Hirut however, was not feeling the same vibe and quickly turned to lean toward her nannies, big tears rolling down her chubby cheeks. They soothed her and sent her along with me to spend some time becoming more comfortable. We walked back down the flights of stairs, Hirut now quietly distracted by the motion and chage of scene, and to the outdoor grassy area. There was a row of classrooms leading away from the main house, and Krem at the time was in 'school'. Our social worker slid open one of the doors and called Krem's name. I searched the many faces of children quickly, and found him sitting in the very back of the classroom with the boy they said was his friend in the center. The boy began poking Krem, telling him to look up. When his face rose and caught sight of us he broke out into a huge smile and leaped from his chair and began running up the aisle quickly and jumped into Nate's arms, squeezing around his neck and laying his head on his shoulder. He stayed like that for over a full minute, while Nate held onto him, big tears falling down his cheeks. When Krem finally looked up to look at me with his big flashing smile, I realized there was no need for fancy words or explanations- he understood who we were and that we were there for him. We spent the next two hours playing in the outdoor area with Krem while I held Hirut, trying to grab her attention and engage wtih her. She remained quiet unless a nanny's voice was in earshot, in which case she would lean toward the sound and cry. Krem wore a proud face while riding bikes, and flashing us his wide smile every time he'd pass. He loved blowing the bubbles and hitting the balloons we brought. We made our way downstairs for more indoor play on the floor, and Krem showed us his incredible ability to turn almost anything into a spinning top- like corners of blocks and Lego's! We were stunned and said 'Goh-Behz!', 'good job!'. By the end of the day Hirut was showing some sweet smiles to me, and spent some time studying and touching my face. At one point one of her toys rolled away and she quickly showed us her crawling skills and went to fetch it across the room. When she looked up she quickly searched out my face and came zooming back to me, buried her face in my lap and lay snuggling. The bonding had already begun, and Nate and I were overjoyed. Krem found a baby toy elephant that he played with nonstop and carried around with him by the arm. He was very proud to have it, as most things are quickly passed around the many children in the center. Soon it was time to say goodbye. We walked back up to the courtyard and changed our shoes. Krem became very quiet when he saw the bus, and his face became increasingly worried. Gripping his elephant, his eyes became filled with tears. I leaned down to re-assure him but his previous joyful warmth had turned cold and stiff and he turned away. We left him amidst the crowd of running kids and loaded the bus. He stood watching us with big tears streaking down his cheeks. A couple of times a nanny tried to push him to run and play with the other children, but he stood still, an accusing look on his face. I sat in the back of the bus watching him, tears rolling down my face as well, feeling guilty to have shown up and told him I am his mother. It was a confusing situation for a 4 year old to digest- these great people show up and play with me, telling me they love me and then leave. It is the policy of the agency to allow the children to slowly get used to us as parents, and while I can see that being effective for a baby, this 4 year old who has already had much disappointment in his short life, was not needing a slow transition, he simply needed his family, solidly, unwavering from then on out. As the bus pulled away I saw another boy run up and tear away his elephant that he had been clutching on to. Krem threw back his head sobbing and ran to stand by the fence watching us fade further in the distance. When I finally turned around, I saw that the other mothers were also crying for us- it was completely heartbreaking.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 4, Addis

This morning we attempted to sleep in and get extra rest- a difficult task when our bodies were fighting the time change. We'd spent a lot of night time hours the past few nights willing ourselves to sleep with little success. This morning however, we finally felt like we'd caught up. Unfortunately, the moment River opened his eyes he was not feeling well. We encouraged him to stay put, and began packing our things around him. Today was the day we moved on to the guesthouse to join the other adoptive families in the quest to finally meet our future children. After years of paperwork, social work visits, fingerprints, Hague treaty requirements, government appointments, and finally the most difficult part- the seemingly endless wait for the magic phone call with news of being matched with our children- and longer still- the call to finally travel- we were definitely ready for this moment to arrive! We booked our room for another half day to allow River to rest with Nate while I hired a taxi and ran around to the markets in search of some treasures. By four o'clock we were being transferred to our new place. The guesthouse was a gated establishment consisting of two 3-level buildings with a common dining room and living room. In Ethiopian standards, it was pretty nice- for us, um, not so much, but we are not picky, don't need things to be fancy, and the place served it's purpose- at least for the most part. It often ran out of electricity, or had a surge of it, which fried our computer and ipod chargers the first night. The house computer is dial-up, which rarely actually 'dialed up', but despite any inconveniences, the guesthouse was located very close to the orphanage. After learning that the building across the hill was it, I went in to 'stalker mode' with my long-range camera zoom, spying on the children outside in the play yard. I felt like a crazy lady, but was so excited to see all of the children over there, and was so eager to spot the sweet face of my boy. I felt butterflies while thinking it would be only the next morning before I would meet them! We unpacked, tried to soothe River who by this time was stomach sick and feverish, and hit the sack. Late that night all of the rest of the guests arrived, and I popped up to say a quick hello, and returned to bed where I lay awake, imagining looking into my children's faces for the first time, and whispering their names under my breath.

Day 3, Part 2, The Nile

The next leg of our journey was comparatively uneventful, covering a lot of ground across wide-open barren fields and clusters of huts. Occasionally we passed through a village where people were gathered around old ping pong tables waiting for their turn amidst the crowd. Goats and cows seemed to be scattered, searching out the few patches of grass they could find. The one strikingly amazing thing about these far-away areas in rural Ethiopia is that they are still full of life. We would be miles past a village and still pass many people (though fewer and further spaced apart) who were herding their cows, goats, or horses down the long stretches of roads or women walking with many jugs tied to their donkeys in search of water. Our driver said that some of the women walk miles a day to fetch their water. We made a quick lunch stop (which we believe later became the source of our demise!) and were back on the road. We at last arrived at the top of the grand Blue Nile Gorge. We took some time to take photos and handed food out to the many children who had come running across the rocky barren landscape (again, with no shoes!) in search of Ethiopian 'Birr', which is the currency or food. Sadly, these children ranging in age from approximately 2-10 years seemed to wear the rough terrain of the land on their bodies with their dry cracked lips, cuts, bruises, tattered clothes and dust-covered skin. They were devouring the food and water we left them before we even stepped foot in the car. For the next 15 minutes we climbed down an incredible decline, making our way down the 1,000 meter drop to the Nile. Sections of the asphalt had literally crumbled and fallen away, leaving partially dirt roads, making it difficult for the big rigs to haul their gas supplies from Sudan. We passed an over-turned bus, tipped on it's side and whose top had come off, partly falling down the incredible drop below. We could only imagine the terror of the people inside as they tipped and nearly fell straight over the edge. Lammergeier vultures soared in and out of the incredible wind currents that whip through the gorge. Every couple of meters we could feel the air become more still and unbelievably hot. Despite the heat, young boys were still driving their cattle and goats up the steep gorge road! They would yell for water as we would pass, and our driver would throw a bottle out of his window for them. We could hear their shouts of excitement at the sight of a bottle flying toward them. When we finally made it down to the incredible bridge that hovered above the Nile, connecting the provinces of Shoa and Gojam I felt like I was baking. I wrapped my head in my scarf and understood why the desert nomadic people of the mighty Sahara were always covered head to toe in cloth in such hot weather- it really helps! We crossed the bridge by foot, and felt a rush of relief as we approached the center where the rush of wind current whipped through the gorge. We stood for some time whipping rocks down to the green waters below and watching the birds fly back and forth between the high red rock expanse of the cliff sides. We can now say we have been to the longest river in the world- the mighty Nile, which flows upward, making it's way through Africa all the way to the shores of Egypt, emptying itself into the Mediterranean Sea.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 3, Part 1, Addis

We woke early today and were soon in our taxi and on our way out of the city. The sun was shining, as it has most of the days we've been here. We wound our way northwest, soon leaving the rows of corrugated metal shacks, stray dogs, street markets, and mass of uniformed school children behind in the smog of Addis. We were climbing another steep hillside, passing the firewood-carrying women who were making their way down from the forests of eucalyptus while Ethiopian elite runners wove in and out of them in a constant zig-zag. Coming up and over the hill we saw miles of green rolling hills of farmland and tukul villages dotted across the land. The sun seemed to illuminate certain hillsides with their scattered huts and worn trails filled with boys herding their goats, women carrying large jugs for water on their backs, and children carting their young siblings in cloth wrapped around their small bodies. After making some travel time we decided to pull off of the road to take some photos in the middle of an area of open country side. Almost instantly children began running across the fields toward us yelling hello! hello!. There were children of all ages, some with babies tied to their backs. They were very outgoing and vibrant, excitedly speaking at the same time, keen on photos, and glowing with confidence. It was easy to see past their tattered clothes, rough shoe-less feet, and untidy appearance with their faces that shined with the typical Ethiopian pride. That is, until I pulled the food out of the car to distribute. The children all quickly swarmed me, pushing me up against the car, grabbing at the food with such eagerness that they were clawing my hands. I shouldn't have been surprised, given their visual appearance. Of course they would react in this way, they are fighting for their well-being in such a hot, dry land with such limited resources. Soon we were back on the road, passing through small farm villages with their boys playing soccer or huddled around an old fussball table, shouting and laughing. we finally came up on the Muger River gorge overlooking the Awash River- a rough river known for it's numerous crocodiles that flows through a rough area called Awash Park- home to lions, ibex, baboons and more along with two tribes who are often fighting for land occupancy. We stopped and did a short trek down the mountain until we reached a wide expanse of sheer vertical cliffs leading straight down below our feet to the river far below. The view was stunning. After a few photos we hopped back in tyhe car to head to one of the most holy sites in Ethiopia- the Debre Libanos Monastery, founded in the 13th century by a priest who was credited with the spread of Christianity in the land. The Monastery is set impressively beneath a cliff on the edge of the gorge. The closer we got to the Monastery, the thicker the crowds of people became, all trekking to the holy site, some from many miles away. Winding our way on the top of the gorge, we passed baboons, the super cute Colobus monkey's, and occasional groups of tired old women with their hands extended and waving up and down in hopes of a donation. We passed through a small village with approximately 500 people all gathered in the center for their once per week market day. We slowly rolled through the crowds while children ran alongside our car yelling hello! and while other's surprised faces would turn and alert others of the 'Ferengi' or foreigners passing through. We passed stands with vegetables, baskets, goats for sale, and incredible sized sugar cane. We finally came to the gate to the Monastery and were out making our way past the crowds of onlookers toward the sounds of chanting and melodic singing. A priest draped in blue cloths and crowned with a jeweled hat met us and led us on a tour, explaining the rituals being performed and explaining meanings of the religious arts covering the entire walls of the inside. We came across a room of young men draped in white whose voices would slowly rise in singing prayer and then come back down again, only to have another voice slowly rise up amidst the others, causing the other men to join and rise again in harmony. In the main area the men and women were separated in two sections, both sides with people ritualistically patting down their bodies, crossing their arms and slowly coming down onto the cloth laid out in front of them to place their heads to the floor in constant prayer. When we emerged into the sunlight we noticed many people walking off into the woods and trekking up the mountain. We decided to follow and began making our way up the steep hillside toward the cliff that held the cave of healing holy water. The sides of the trail were lined with people, all calling softly out to us 'Ferengi' for help. We passed, keeping our heads low in mock concentration of our footsteps. How can one help so many? When we were almost to the top we came across many people unclothed, washing themselves. A small room was on the side, where many were waiting to enter. We passed through and soon were standing on the top of a rocky edge with a sheer cliff looming up above us, and a gated cave opening in front. We were instructed to remove our shoes and wait for someone to come and open the gate. We sat down to wait and glanced around at the many people waiting in line to bathe in the holy water. There were sick people, disabled, deformed, and mothers holding their sickly small infants. There were faces of the lonely, the loved, the prayerful, the sick and starving, the poor, the wealthy, and of the beautiful, with their faces covered with the typical beautifying tattoos and scars. I turned around and rolled my pants as we were led into the now open gate, our feet walking into the holy water of the cave. Many others rushed in behind us as we were led to the spot where the priest Tekle Haimonot did his praying. After a few moments we were again being led back outside while the men and women spoke to us, thanking us in Amharic for the opening of the gates, and an old woman stroked River in a loving way calling him 'Ye-nay-konjo-lij', which means 'my beautiful son'. One of the many things I've cherished in this country (though River might not agree!) is that everyone has referred to him as 'the baby': 'what can I get for the baby?', 'is the baby alright?', 'such a beautiful baby'. They are good reminders that amidst his growth and growing maturity my cherished baby is still underneath, and this trip has been special to be able to share with him, when soon our attention will be split by 5. We passed back through the waiting lines of people, making our way back down the mountain, passing the bath house where we could hear the sounds of a man screaming, his illness being beaten out of him while being washed in the holy water while the shrill high-pitched calls of the women rang out in thanks and praise. Making my way down the mountain, I began stopping to greet the old and the blind, holding their hands, placing a birr or two in each, and asking 'Indeminesh Mama?', 'How are you Mama?' They bowed their heads and showered me with blessings in their soft spoken voices. I couldn't help them all, but I could at least help a few.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Updated Photos

The latest photos have been posted to our online photos, including pics of Krem and Hirut home. We have also upload videos to YouTube. You can view the video playlist here. Forest, Stephanny, and River stayed home from school so the family could have a full day together. It was wonderful. Krem and Forest were mutually trilled to have the other as they spent the day biking, playing, and taking a bath before bedtime. Stephanny is delighted to be a big sister to a content and smiling baby sister. Kristie was here for her last day helping out tremendously (Thanks a million Kristie), and Donna delivered authentic Ethiopian cuisine (Much appreciated!). Thanks to everyone for their warm wishes and generosity.
- Nate

Things that Krem DOES NOT like, part two...

Waking up, sometimes.

Things that Krem DOES NOT like, part one...

Sitting still.

Things that Krem like, part four...

Cars. Or "Mechinas" in Amharic. Big ones, little ones, rusty ones, shiny ones, toy cars, trucks, etc. Anything with wheels and an engine.

Things that Krem like, part three...

Clothes. He spent an hour trying on every pair of socks in the suitcase. The first thing he did this morning was get his jacket on. He did not understand that clothes should be worn underneath. Don't be surprised to see him wearing several shirts at the same time.

Things that Krem like, part two...

Escalators. Use your imagination.

Things that Krem like, part one...

Electric Hand Dryers. They can easily make a trip to the bathroom last 15 minutes.

Sleep Deprivation

You know you suffer from sleep deprivation when you put the lip balm where the deodorant should go. My underarm was minty tingly all morning yesterday, but I'll have to admit it is not chapped.
-Nate

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Home at last...

It was 56 hours from the time we left the guest house in Addis Ababa, to our house. We are home at last.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Travel nightmares...

Sceduled to arrive at 1:40 pm in JFK airport, it is now 2 am and we
are at a comfort in 2 hours outside of Boston. Sheer winds kept us
from landing as sceduled and diverted us and many other planes to
Boston. We spent 2 hours getting through costomes, lost a bag of
luggage, and scrambled for a rental car, to drive the rest of the way
home. Desprate for the family to be together again, we will be on the
road as soon as we can drag ourselves out of bed in the morning.
Sent from awesome persons itouch

On our final flight...

Sending this message from the plane to let everyone know we are enroute, due to arrive at JFK in about 4 hours. Should be home around 6.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Passed Embassy, awaiting our return home...

Dismal internet access continues to greatly hinder updates to our
journal. Last night the computer in the guest house was fried by
further power surges. I now have 60 minutes of battery power to last
us the remainder of the trip. Never fear, the full account of our
journey will be posted, probably after our return on Saturday.

We passed our Embassy clearance yesterday. All that remains is a
couple of relaxing days (relatively) getting to know Krem and Hirut
better. After a nice going away ceremony at the orphanage yesterday,
they are with us in reality and in our hearts from now until the end
of time. Our night went well, with both Krem an Hirut sleeping
through the night, although Krem tossed and turned a bit. We are
playing playing playing today, riding bikes, playing blocks, drawing
with sidewalk chalk, etc. Hirut is being a sweet, smiley baby.
Everyone is past their illnesses here, but we received word Stephanny
has come down with the flu back home.

That is all for now. A handful of pics have been uploaded to our
Ethiopia photos, so be sure to check them out!

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon.

Nate

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Connection troubles, illness, and a very special moment

Greetings from Addis Ababa. We are behind on our updates not for lack
of effort, but rather the uncertainty of electrical supply and
internet access. Imagine 1985, when a hard drive was a new product on
the market and kids knew what dial-up was (Honestly, River just asked
me). Oh the nostalgia of the
"beee-beee-beee-shsshtshshccctchthhddh..." as the connection is made.

All is well here for the most part. We are all suffering from varying
degrees of stomach ailments and/or fevers, traced back to a
questionable lunch we had while on our amazing tour to the Blue Nile
Gorge. Why it did not cross my mind to NOT eat the cold beef and
chicken, I do not know. Just plain stupid. Fool me once, shame on
me, fool me twice... (e.g. Coming back from Calcutta with dysentary
and mono would be the "once" in this case"). Alas, we are all on the
upswing, and have been in contact with doctors for advice and assurance.

Despite the stomach issues, we have meet Krem and Hirut. To say the
least it was a humbling and overwhelming moment. When Krem saw me for
the first time, from the back of a dark, cramped classroom, he rose
from his seat and ran into my arms, and squeezed me for a long long
time. He knew us immeadiately and why we were there from the photo
album we had sent in advance. The orphanage takes great care to
prepare the children for adoptive parents arrival, and because of this
the moment was so special. This does not negate the challenges we
face on our long road ahead, but it is certainly the best possible
first step. I am going to let Stacey elaborate beyond this, and
describe meeting Hirut. For me, Forest put it best when he said "Wow,
that is something that just happens once in a lifetime!"

I think we have found a more reliable way to update this journal, so
expect further posts soon.

Nate

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day Two, Addis: We hired a private guide and did the historical tour of the city. We saw the grand Menelik Palace, the Haile Selassie Palace, and then were off to the National Museum, where they house the oldest skeletan ever discovered! ‘Lucy’ is 3 ½ feet in height and was dated to 3.2 millions years ago! A grand scientific discovery indeed. From there we headed to Mt. Entoto- the highest mountain in Addis, with grand views of the city below. The drive alone was incredible- winding up a very steep hillside, narrowly passing the many hoards of women carrying firewood down the mountainside from the forests on top. The loads were incredible and looked too much to bear. As I sat imagining how I could possibly manage to carry something like that ten feet (let alone down the entire mountain) I found my taxi driver experiencing a very different feeling. He seemed annoyed by there very presence, not bothering to move over enough for them, and at times brushing their load, sending them off balance and at one point causing a woman to walk down into a ditch! Unbelievable. Further up the mountain we came across boys hearding goats and donkeys up to higher pastures, and soon found ourselves in a thick forest of eucalyptus trees. Opening our windows, we felt the smog of the city fade away and were soon breathing the fresh scented cool air. At the very top of the mountain, we were able to see over the other side to many rolling green hills dotted with the boys and their herds of animals, and the typical ‘Tukul’ grass-roofed huts dotting the hillside. We managed to get in a hike guided by two very sweet boys who were excitedly practicing their English skills on us. On our way back, many other children ran to us from their Tukul, and one girl pushed a baby forward to greet me. Nervously, the baby stared wide-eyed while all the other children giggled, so I decided it was time to practice my Amharic skills. ‘Selamno baby’ I said, and ‘nimineyedel’ (don’t worry), which did not seem to soothe the baby at all, but at least seemed to produce more laughter from the children! : ) On the way back down the mountain we could hear the singing of the women from the Christian Orthodox Church being played out from loud speakers over the countryside. Much like the Mosque’s, this is a common sound you hear often here in Addis, and is beautiful. We stopped and took a walk around the church, enjoying the sights of the women who were decorated so beautifully, draped in their all-white church dresses and scarves, leaning their heads against the walls in deep prayer. Next we were off to one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Africa, which wind through tiny alleys and streets for many blocks. We stopped and went for a stroll, checking out the very cool handicrafts of traditional clothes, hand-carved wooden masks and baskets. Being out of Ethiopian ‘Birr’s’, we made mental checklists of the things we wished to carry home with us for future ‘adoption day’ celebration gifts. The end of the day was a celebration at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant where we enjoyed singing, dancing, and a nightcap of homemade honey wine called ‘Tej’. Sleep is now calling me, and tomorrow we are off for an excursion to the rural mountainous regions to the north of the capital. Chow!

Day One, Addis Ababa

We arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Monday afternoon to a very different atmosphere than the one in Dubai. The simply decorated airport was full with women greeting each other in their high-pitched sweet voices, crying as they embraced loved ones. Immediately I was reminded that I am in the homeland of my children, and couldn’t help myself from searching the faces of these people picking out features that seemed similar to my children in the few pictures I have seen of them. My heart seemed to be skipping beats as I mentally checked off the days, hours, and minutes that I might finally meet them. We quickly arranged our visas and paperwork with immigration and were soon driving the streets of the capital toward our hotel. River initially was skeptical and a bit nervous after what felt like a dangerous cab ride- weaving in and out of the many people who were shopping at the street markets along the way at high speeds. The atmosphere was a bit of a shock for us all as well- the initial visuals of people in a country where poverty is such a real issue is definitely a hard thing to process. Despite any hesitant feelings we may have had, we quickly headed out the door and were exploring the city by foot. Wow, talk about feeling like we were under a microscope! It was great to be able to experience what I am guessing many foreigners experience back in the rural areas of the States- a constant stare of ‘who are you, what are you doing here and where are you from?’!! I decided to make the most of the attention, and soon was greeting people with the typical smile and ‘selamno!’ (hello!), and ‘indemenalek?’ (how are you?). This went well, and soon we were feeling the warmth of the Ethiopian culture.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dubai

We arrived in Dubai late Saturday evening after a very long flight, so quickly gathered our things and grabbed a taxi. It had just been raining, and the rain had brought out the smells that the hot desert sun had baked into the land all day- it felt great to arrive to such a tropical feeling. The roads were deep in water- some so much so that I thought it might start seeping through our doors! The taxi driver informed us that despite our impression of such a wealthy impressive city, there were some things that had not been planned well- in this case plumbing! We soon arrived at the villa, where River excitedly began exploring, finding lizards climbing the outside of the walls, all of the different rooms in the house ‘wow, cool!’, and finally the amazing backyard oasis. Before long we were swimming under the stars and full moon. Aaah, how lucky we are to have a friend with such a place across the world from home! The next morning we awoke to the sun shining and the smells and colors of the flowers draped everywhere around the villa. We quickly threw our stuff on and were off to enjoy our one day in Dubai. We began in the old Bastakia quarter, wandering the maze of winding alley ways, passing someone’s camel that was tied to a tree, and soon found a little outdoor art cafĂ© to stop for breakfast. The food, music, paintings and elaborately decorated waitress in full berka were pleasant reminders of being in such an exotic place. We then found ourselves wandering the river front walkways with their decorated wood carved ships, watching the mass of people unloading their goods from around the globe across the river, and the families relaxing in the park. After a short cab ride we were soon standing outside one of the famous Mosque’s, with it’s intricately patterned and shaped architecture. We wandered around the front where we stood watching the men remove their shoes and begin praying on their knees before entering the building. I almost wanted to follow and see what else they were going to do in this religion that is so foreign to me, but alas, was shooed away by a man dressed in white from head to toe. Songs and Prayers ring out from the towers of these Mosque’s 5 times per day, calling people to stop, reflect and pray- the dedication of it is astounding to me when at times at the end of a busy day I wonder where my time has gone. Alas, after crossing the street and reading the beach dress codes and rules, we were taking our first dip into the Sea- which to some is called the ‘Arabian’, others the ‘Persian’. I thought I would play it safe and call it the ‘Gulf’, after reading that the word ‘Israel’ has been banned from all books and one can get into trouble by a mere utter of the word. It was nice to see the many families playing and swimming in the sea- this is by far the most diverse city I have ever been in- there are literally people from all corners of the earth here with different looks, dress and language- amazing. More amazing is that in this country it is not often you actually see Emirati people- they are definately not part of the crowds of working class people. That night we made our way down to the ‘Souq’s’ or shops, where you can finding almost anything while wandering the enormous labrynth of winding streets and alleys that go on for many blocks. After a short time of wandering through the ‘Gold Souq’s’, I caught a whiff of the ‘Spice Souq’s’, and quickly followed my nose. For the next few hours we all had a great time smelling things we had never seen and trying to keep from buying needless things we would not have any idea how to use. : ) Needless to say, it was the highlight of our short layover in Dubai. When we were thoroughly famished from so much walking we caught a ride to a great Lebanese place where the food was awesome, the ceilings were draped in Bedouin-style silk tents, and the violinist played pieces that made your heart ache. Almost deliriously, we finally arrived back at the villa late and still strummed up enough energy to go for a swim and hang out with our Jordanian friend who was also staying with us. The next morning we woke with the sun and the ringing out of prayer. Next up, Ethiopia.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Our trip begins...

We are on our way! After a frantic but very successful 6 days of scrambling, planning, and packing, we are ready and on the road. A photo album has been set up that we will be updating via mobile uploads and better pictures when we have good connections to the internet. See the album HERE. There is also a link to our album on our main web site in the upper left corner. Despite the poor weather reports, we managed to get to the JFK airport without incident or delay. We were so fanatic about giving ourselves extra to get to the airport, we arrived 7 hours before departure. The gate agent actually rolled his eyes as he informed us we could not check in for another 3 hours. We'll send another update when we are in Dubai.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Day Has Arrived!

It has been more than two and a half years since we made the decision to adopt two more children into our family. On Friday February 19, 2010 we received a call alerting us to an early opening at the Embassy in Ethiopia allowing us to travel a month ahead of schedule to meet Krem (4 yr. Boy) and Hirut (6 m. Girl) for the first time, and finally bring them home! It is with thankful hearts that we can say that we will soon begin caring for these two beautiful children. This gives us just 6 days to make final travel arrangements! In the past 24 hours we have booked flights, prepared final adoption paperwork, shopped, and began packing. Packing ranges from paperwork to orphanage donations to medical supplies to culturally appropriate clothing to all the things that our young children will need- not your typical travel list! We fly through Dubai in the United Arab of Emirates, and will be spending two nights there adjusting to the time change, and then continue on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. River will be accompanying us on the trip, while Forest and Stephanny will be staying with close friends and Stacey's sister. We look forward to March 13th when we return and are all together again as an official family of SEVEN!! We will be updating our blog through our journey so stay tuned!!