Friday, June 29, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - Guest House

I realize that I've mentioned our guest house many times, but have not shown any pictures yet!  Here are a few photos of the place we called home while in Ethiopia the second time:

This is our front gate, behind which is the TDS Guest House.  Our room was the top corner.  You can see our bedroom window, and our balcony behind the arch above the yellow gate.  Also pictured here is one of the sweet security guards who always tried to get a smile out of Feven.  Each person who worked at the guest house was so kind.   

Here is the view down the street if you were standing facing the house and looking left.  Very beautiful.

Our balcony.  
Feven loved to take in the view, and Zac and I enjoyed sitting out here in the cool evenings after Feven went to sleep. 

Our balcony overlooked the garden area.  We often sat at the tables and visited with other guests.

The kitchen where we cooked some meals and washed many bottles.


We ate breakfast at this table each day, and relaxed on occasion in the community living room pictured here.


Here is a picture of our room.  This is the bedroom/living area.  Past the first arched door is the dressing area, then the bathroom.  It was very spacious and gave us plenty of room to run around with Feven.

A photo of just the living area.  Notice the little munchkin in the crib!

Here's our bathroom, where Feven screamed at the top of her lungs when we gave her the first bath in the tub.  I'm pretty sure every guest in the guest house heard her!

Hope you enjoyed the tour!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Trip to Duluth

On Monday Zac and I celebrated 7 years of marriage.  We decided to spend a couple days in Duluth for our anniversary.  It was special to take Feven to a place that has meant so much to me since childhood and also has become a fun getaway for Zac and I as a couple. 

Here is Feven's first time eating at Grandma's Restaurant.  Due to recent flooding in Duluth, many tourists stayed away which meant that we had no waiting at Grandma's and got patio seats facing Lake Superior!

We played in Canal Park while watching a large ship come in.  
Feven took off across the lawn with her stroller.  She prefers pushing rather than riding these days.

After supper we bought huge ice cream cones and strolled down the boardwalk as the sun set.  
Here's Mama and Feven getting some giggles together!

I showed Feven how to choose good rocks for skipping.  Part of her choosing process involved tasting the rocks.  
Somehow that helps you know how good they'll jump across the water.

We started with throwing the rocks in.  We'll work our way slowly toward skipping rocks.

Daddy and Feven playing on the rocks.

Who's the best mommy?  YOU!

Giving Dada a kiss.  :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - A Beggar, A To-Go Box, and How My Life Changed Forever

On our first trip to Ethiopia we weren't really approached by beggars because our guest home then was in more of a residential area.  This time, though, our guest house was situated among large, beautiful houses with close access to many nice shops and restaurants.  The area had a reputation of wealth, and the homeless and poor knew that this would be the best location for them to look for handouts.  

I struggle with how to respond to beggars.  It feels so wrong in the core of my being to look away and pass by them; however, I have learned that if you give to one, others will flock to you in hopes that you will give to them too.  That draws a lot of attention and can quickly empty your wallet!

Whenever Zac and I would walk down the business street just blocks from our guest house, we would see beggars on the sidewalk.  One woman in particular caught my attention.  She was sitting on the sidewalk with her two children.  Zac and I were walking toward her, Feven in my arms.

When this woman and her children saw us, her two children started walking toward us.  They called out to us in their language to give them something.  Their hands were outstretched and their voices pleading. 

I held Feven, who I was taking with me to the states to have a life of provision and blessing, while a little girl not more than a year older than her was walking beside me, no shoes, in tattered clothes with dirty hands, begging.  These two little girls started off similarly in life, yet both are on extremely different paths now.

My breath caught in my throat and my eyes pooled.  I pray I never forget how it felt to be walking down the street side-by-side with that little girl.  The disparity was heavy and tangible.

As I type this post tonight, I wonder where that little girl is.  It's the 9:00pm hour here, which means 5:00am in Ethiopia.  Where is she waking up?  If it was a typical cool night, did she have a blanket to cover her small body?  Did her tummy growl as she drifted off to sleep, or did she get food last night before she went to bed?

We ended up giving some restaurant leftovers to the begging woman that day, who seemed grateful.  Perhaps we helped that family to go to bed with full bellies that particular night.  However, I know I can do better than just sharing my leftovers.  These people are deserving of my first-fruits, not my measly leftovers or excess.

May I always have clarity to see the difference between need and want.

May I never choose comfort over helping others survive.

May my heart always break when I see others in pain, and my eyes always water when I see despair.

Lord, keep me from getting comfortable here.  I can do so much more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Fashion

Feven was supposed to be sleeping in her crib, but she was more interested in playing in there.  One time I saw her stand up and noticed a large hole in the back of her shirt.  Nope, it wasn't a hole, but rather the neck of her shirt...on her back...what?  After I took her out of the crib, I had to snap a few pictures.  From the front, it looks like a neon shrug!  She must have had to really pull to get her neck out of the shirt, because when I went to right it, I had to tug fairly hard!  Oh, Feven!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - Scared Eyes

We rushed back from Assela to the House of Hope on Saturday.  We got back later than expected due to heavy traffic coming into the city, and we were trying to hurry because one of our friends was flying back home that evening and needed to gather her luggage at the guest house before going to the airport.  We picked up Feven in a complete flurry, quickly asking for the gifts we had brought for her the first time and trying to make a trade with a blanket we brought for a blanket that smelled like the transition home.  We said rushed goodbyes to some of her nannies with the promise to come back on Monday and say a "good" goodbye.  In our haste and scurrying, we forgot to ask for any kind of schedule for Feven.  In fact, all of our care questions regarding Feven remained in our closed notebook, not a one of them able to be asked.

We quickly piled into the agency van and drove to the guest house in the end-of-day traffic.  Feven looked a little concerned after having been rushed into the arms of (almost) strangers and taken into the van.  I held her tight and tried to reassure her that she was okay.

The rocking of the van calmed her, and soon she grew heavy in my arms and I knew she was asleep.  As we didn't have any sort of schedule, we figured that her sleeping was good and we should try to keep her that way.  We gingerly exited the van upon arrival at the guest house, and slowly made our way up the steps to our room.  We placed her gently on our bed where she continued sleeping.  Parent victory number one!

Now what?

Zac and I sort of just looked at each other in the stillness of the room and tried to comprehend that we were now a family of three.  Feven was in our custody, ours forever, and today was day one of our life as a family.  Simply amazing.  Finally, after all the waiting, the ups and downs, the struggles and joys, she was ours.  We were together. 

After some time she began to stir, and we both looked at each other with excitement in our eyes.  She was waking up!  We could play together!  We made our way over to the bed, one of us on either side of her, and quietly greeted her as she opened her eyes.

I won't forget what happened next.  Her eyes grew big, and without moving her body at all, she moved her eyes first to look at me, then Zac.  What I saw in her eyes was not love or excitement to be with us, but rather fear.  Her eyes took in the room around her, a room unknown to her and even how she got there unknown to her.  She had such scared eyes.

My heart broke for her in that moment.  I didn't know how to reassure her effectively that she would be okay, or how to tell her how great life would be from here on out.  All she knew was that she was not in the place she knew and loved for the last 9 of her 11 months on this earth.  She was in the care of strangers.

Oh, my little darling.  Hang in there.  Good things are to come, I promise.  You may be frightened now, but it will be small compared to the great joy you will feel in being loved so deeply by Daddy and I.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - My Daughter's Hometown

We took a day trip by van to the town of Assela, where Feven was born.  In our van we traveled with our translator, driver, and the director of Feven's orphanage.  The orphanage director had been in Addis for business, and since we were going his way, he hopped a ride back to Assela.

The traffic was stop and go, and the air was thick with exhaust fumes as we exited the city of Addis Ababa.  This combination did not do well for my often-carsick stomach.  I (embarrassingly) had to ask our driver to pull over once so I could puke.  Thankfully, I didn't, and the brief walk outside helped me to reset my stomach.

Until we arrived in the town of Nazret.

The driver pulled out at a fruit stand to purchase some fruit for the orphanage, and I had to hop out immediately.  There was a cement ditch that lined the street, and I got down on one knee and puked right there, on the side of the street in front of this nice lady's fruit stand.  Other customers were shopping at her stand, and I can only imagine what they thought as this white girl hopped out of a van and puked in the street.  Embarrassing!  But, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I felt MUCH better after that.

Our journey continued, and soon we arrived in our daughter's hometown.  Once in the city, we passed the hospital where she was born.  I snapped a picture quickly as we passed by so we could show her where she was born.

We meandered through the city, and finally came to the orphanage.  It wasn't what I expected, although I don't know what I expected!  It was a strange feeling to step into this place where Feven's journey to us began.

I wonder what it was like the day she was brought to the orphanage.  Was her mother sad?  Scared?  Relieved?  Did she kiss Feven before she turned and walked out the gate?  Did Feven cry?  Was Feven scared that first night in a new place, or did she even notice as such a young infant?  Were the women who I met that day the same women that cared for my little girl in her early months?  Which crib was hers when she was here?  Were some of the clothes hanging to dry on the clothesline the same that she wore back then?

It was like stepping back into time, or walking into a movie.  It didn't seem real to be at the place where it all began.  It was sacred.

I didn't take a ton of pictures there.  I tried to tread carefully, not sure what I could photograph, and what I should respect.  I hope to return someday and bring Feven with me.

While there, we were fortunate to see her birth mother again.  I'll tell you more about that later, but to close today, I'd like to share with you some pictures of the drive to Assela.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Little Reader

Sometimes when I'm out of the room, Feven gets really quiet.  This means one of two things:

1.) She is touching something or into something she's not supposed to touch (and she knows it)
2.) She is reading

This morning I found her lost in her books.  I don't know if there's anything that makes me prouder than seeing my daughter captivated by books.


Still working on which way to hold the book, though.  Perhaps it's more interesting upside down?  I guess I've never tried it!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - So Close, But Not Yet

Excerpt from my journal to Feven:
Thursday, April 5, 2012   9pm 
One more last night we fall asleep just Amber and Zac.  Strange feeling knowing that tomorrow our lives will forever change.  From now on we'll sleep with our ears ready to hear "MAMA!!" or "DADA!" shouted or cried in the middle of the night, or during teenage years sleep lightly until we hear you return home from hanging out with friends.  It's the last night we fall asleep as a family of 2.  So strange.  Most couples do not get to experience or recognize this because they go into labor at some undetermined time.  We know that for sure, this is our last night and tomorrow will be our first night as a family of 3!

Or not.  We learned from our translator on Friday when we were reunited with Feven that we were not to take custody of her that day.  It was painful.  We had waited so long and didn't want to be separated any longer.  However, we had planned a trip for the next day to the orphanage where Feven's mother brought her, and the long trip by car would not be suitable for a small child.  It also wouldn't be wise to take custody of Feven overnight just for Friday night, and then bring her back to the House of Hope for the day on Saturday and pick her up again Saturday night. 

Oh, my heart was hurting when I heard that news.  It felt like someone punched me in the stomach.  I couldn't concentrate on anything anyone said for about an hour after that.  However, one option that was presented to us by our translator was to not take custody of Feven until Monday...4 days after we had arrived in Ethiopia.  I couldn't possibly wait THAT long, so Saturday evening would have to do.

I guess we get one more "last night" as a family of 2.  Goodbye again, my little love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Swimming Pool!

I had wanted a small swimming pool for Feven so she could stay cool on hot days.  Remember how I was telling you about all the kindness extended to us?  It continues!  Our neighbors brought over a birthday gift for Feven last week and you know what it was?  A swimming pool!

After a few cries at first, she started liking the pool.

Clapping along to us singing the Feven Song. 

Fascinated by the floating bugs.


We even stayed in so long that we got nice and wrinkly!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - Reuniting

An excerpt from my journal to Feven en route to Ethiopia:
April 5, 2012   8:10am
We are in Amsterdam now, ever closer to you!  I can't believe that the time is finally here to be with you forever!  We have missed you so much since we last saw you.  We watched videos of you nearly everyday, and stared at pictures of you on our computers, in frames, on the wall, in're sort of everywhere.  :)
Our arms have ached to hold you.  Now it's time.  We are praying for you, that your heart is ready for us.  We know that you really like where you are and might feel sad to leave.  We are praying that you are not afraid of us, and that you are comforted by our presence.  Oh, Feven!  We can hardly wait!  We have not slept in quite some time, and the way our flights worked we didn't have a night, but I think I must be going on adrenaline and excitement.  It is morning in Amsterdam, the sun is up, and we will soon be on our way again.

 An excerpt after arrival:
April 6, 2012   9:31pm
Feven, when I woke up today I was so excited to see you again!  I couldn't wait to see how you've grown and changed.  Toward the end of our breakfast this morning, our translator called the guest house checking to see if we had arrived.  She said we could come at 9:30am with the other families to see you!
Our drive was different than last time because we are staying at a different guest house.  I took in the sights all around me until somebody in the van said, 'This is the road!'  Sure enough, things were looking familiar and soon we pulled up to the House of Hope gate. 
We drove in, parked just in front of the clotheslines and hopped out.  I was so excited to see you!  I tried to be polite and say hi to the workers, but I just wanted to see your face again.  After a few moments, I saw our translator on the balcony, holding a little girl and waving to us.  It took me a moment, but then I realized that girl was YOU!  Your hair was done up in small pigtails all over your head and you looked so old!  What a big girl you are!
Come to think of it, I don't think I remember walking up those stairs.  I was just so excited to see you!  We held you and you checked us out again like you did last time, but this time you were quicker to show us smiles and let us hear your laughter! 

What an amazing reunion that was.  Knowing that we would never have to say a goodbye like the one we did before, but now we would be together forever.  Well, at least for the next 18 years!  We are a family of THREE!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - New Friends

We planned our trip dates for our second trip based on a few factors.  The first being when we needed to be in Ethiopia for our Visa Interview at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa.  Then, we thought about how long we could possibly wait until seeing Feven again.  In case you were wondering, the answer was "not long."  And then we tried to find out when other families from our adoption agency were going to be in Ethiopia and if we could overlap our trips.

On our first trip to Ethiopia, we were the only family there from our agency.  While it provided some great opportunities to get to the know the staff better and also have all of the agency's resources at our disposal, it felt a little lonely.  Meeting other families in-country is probably our only way of meeting others who are working with our agency.  Because our adoption agency is based in St. Louis, MO, many families who use that agency live in the south.  I have yet to meet another family in Minnesota who is working with this agency. 

I learned that three families who are also adopting through our agency were going to be in Ethiopia near the time that we were.  I had been in touch with two of them regularly via Facebook.  I was so glad when Zac and I were able to schedule our flights to overlap a day or two with each of them.  Finally I would meet some of these wonderful people!

We arrived in Ethiopia late Thursday night and were shown quickly to our room.  I think the guest house receptionist could see how tired we were!  She opened the door to our room, and on the coffee table was a welcome note from the families who were already there.  What a sweet way to arrive in Ethiopia!  I was so excited to meet them, but it was late and they were probably in bed.  We too were tired, so we resolved to meet them in the morning.

At our last guest house, we tried to honor the staff by arriving promptly when breakfast was served.  We wanted to do this again at our new guest house, so we awoke early the next day and headed downstairs to breakfast at 7:30am.

There was nobody downstairs.  

Apparently at THIS guest house, it was more of a continental breakfast.  All of the food was laid out on a table in the dining room, but not another person was in sight.  We snuck back upstairs and decided to go back down when we heard voices of others floating upstairs.

About 15 minutes later we could hear stirring downstairs, so we got ourselves ready to meet the other families from our agency.  We entered the dining room to find a Danish couple and their newly-adopted son.  Not from our agency.  We did enjoy meeting them that day, but our hearts were still excited to meet our Facebook friends.

Finally they trickled downstairs, and it was such a joy to meet them!  We met Jen and Trevor who were there meeting their son for the first time, and Kristine who was there meeting her daughter for the first time.  It was incredible to see them face-to-face and talk about our new children together. 

I know you know what I mean when I say that it's such a comfortable feeling to meet others who are going through a similar experience.  It's almost like your friendship is fast-tracked. 

Days later, Becky and Andrew flew into Addis.  Their little boy was in the crib next to Feven for quite some time.  We were thrilled to meet them because of this relationship that our children had.

It was such a joy and comfort to meet these great families.  We spent time at the House of Hope playing with our children together, eating out together, and just conversing back at the guest house.  I was sad to say goodbye to our new friends, but I hope that we'll be seeing each other again in the future.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Carrying on the Tradition

My mom sent me the shirt Feven is wearing below with this sweet note:

Amber,  When you were about 10-11 months old, the Lewiston Journal photographer asked if you could model the new Fools Five T-shirt for the next week's paper.  The shirt that the editor brought over to the house was a size small.  It came all the way down to your ankles!  We had to hold you up a little while you modeled.  You weren't quite ready for the runway yet.  When the paper came out, here you were on the very front page!  I think the picture must have been at least an 8x10!  It's fun to remember.  Thought we better start Feven out right by giving her a Fools Five T-shirt too!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - Preparations

We (again) didn't have much notice when we got to go to Ethiopia the second time, but I'm not going to complain!  It ended up that we had one week from the day our case was cleared by the US Embassy in Ethiopia to the time we flew out.  If I'm honest with you, I wouldn't have minded if it had been even shorter.  This was the trip to bring our daughter home.  My heart was ready to go the very night we cleared!

I'm sure you can relate with me that it's tough to pack for a trip.  Another dimension to my packing that made for quite a challenge was packing for our daughter, someone whom I didn't really know.  Also, she is our first child, so I've never packed for a child before.  How many diapers should I pack?  What toys will she like on the plane ride back?  What foods will she eat?  What size clothes will she be wearing? 

All of these significant unknowns made for a lot of extra packing.  I wanted to overpack diapers because really, who wants to run out of diapers?  I wanted to make sure she had enough clothes to wear if some got dirty and I wanted to try out my cute new outfits on her, so I packed at least twice as many clothes as she needed.  And we loaded up one suitcase almost entirely with food.  Food containers for her, puffy snacks for her, and granola bars, cookies, pretzels, crackers, etc. for us.  I am a snacker, and just the thought of me being out and about in Ethiopia without a granola bar in hand made my tummy grumble. 

Zac and I filled up an entire hiking backpack with our clothes and toiletries.  Even though I packed only half as many clothes as I needed (I planned to do laundry in Ethiopia like last time), we still had a full bag.  The we began packing our airplane carry-ons with books, magazines, decks of cards, and - of course - more snacks!

After all those suitcases and bags were zipped tight, we added to the pile of luggage a suitcase brimming with donations for the transition home and orphanages in Ethiopia.  Our church friends threw us a donations shower in which we received mountains of clothes, shoes, and socks for the kids in Ethiopia.  We were so happy to bring an entire suitcase of donations with us.

Looking at the pile, it seemed like a lot.  However, we made some good decisions and wanted to be comfortable yet realistic about what we needed.  All in all we had one hiking backpack, one large suitcase, one medium suitcase, and two small backpacks for the plane.  We could carry it  What would happen when we added a kid to the pile?  Where was she going to go?

The day of our flight, my sister came to pick us up.  I had butterflies in my stomach as we loaded up the car.  I was so nervous and excited I think my hands were shaking!  Even in the check-in line at the airport, I kept thinking, "We are going to get our daughter.  We will come back as a family of 3."  It was the most amazing feeling.  I wanted to turn to the people in line ahead of me and behind me, grab them by their shoulders and say, "Hey!  Do you know where we're going?  We're going to get our daughter!!!"  Then hug them like a crazy person. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Playtime with Daddy

One of the sweetest parts of the day is when Zac comes home from work.  Feven smiles the biggest smile when he walks in the door, and then they play together until suppertime. 


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - The Explanation of My Silence

Our first trip to Ethiopia was amazing.  I was certainly in Stage 1 of culture shock, also known as the honeymoon stage.  Everything was exciting and wonderful and great and fascinating and wonderful and intriguing and wonderful and wonderful.  I was on top of the world and couldn't wait to return to this special place and bring our daughter home.

You can imagine my surprise when I didn't always feel this wonderful on our second trip.  While it was great to return to Ethiopia, and incredible to take custody of our daughter, the second trip was tougher than the first.  I felt like I was often in Stage 2 of culture shock, also known as the this-is-so-different-and-I-don't-like-it stage.

Let me make something clear at this point in my writing, just in case you get called away and don't finish reading.  I deeply love Ethiopia.  It is a truly amazing country with so much to offer the world.  I eagerly anticipate going back, and hope to continue learning about this country while I'm away.  However, just like you love your family members but it isn't always easy to be around them, I love Ethiopia, but it's not always easy for me to be there.  Anytime you are in a different culture than your own, there are stressors that poke at you.

I have put off writing about our second trip for this and many other reasons, the biggest one being that I am just not sure how to start.  How do you begin to put into the words the day your family became three?  How do you share about things that have so deeply affected your heart that you'll never be the same?  How do you explain why you cried as you looked at the Ethiopian mountains one last time before entering the airport for departure?  In the words of Chris Rice, it's like trying to smell the color nine.  I haven't found all the words yet, so I just haven't written.

I also have managed to avoid putting our second trip in writing thus far because I have cleverly sidetracked you and entertained you by posting a picture a day of our sweet girl.  It's easy to snap a picture of a silly face of hers, a cute outfit, or a moment together.  It's much harder to snap a picture of my heart.

But this very thing is what I'm now attempting.  Over the next few blog posts, I want to share with you our second trip in words and pictures.  In my writing and on my blog I always strive to be honest, candid, and genuine.  To entirely leave out the events and memories of our second trip for lack of the perfect words would not benefit either you or me.

While there were tough things about trip two, there were also wonderful things.  Amazing, wonderful, joyful experiences.  Please don't take my blog off your reading list thinking that I am going to depress you.  I won't.  I promise.  And even if some of the posts talk about difficult things, please keep reading.  I know it is much easier to look at a picture of a smiling girl than read a deep blog post, but don't short yourself.  It's when we embrace the whole of something that we truly embrace it at all.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Things I've Googled

Here are some of my searches in the last few weeks...

Why won't toddler fall into deep sleep?

What do different poop colors mean?

How much does a 11-month-old eat?

Transitioning a child to a Toddler Bed

How to put coconut oil in hair

Cocooning for adoptions

BumGenius bubble color

BumGenius sweet color

How to do finger rolls

Videos Ethiopian dancing

Traditional Ethiopian Music

How to not go crazy as a Stay-At-Home-Mom

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Walk Around the Pond

We visited a nearby pond last week with our good friends, the Z-family.  Lucky for me, Anne brought her camera!  We all had a great time eating our lunch under the shade of the trees, and seeing all the wildlife living at the pond!