Chapter 16, in which we get away

A miraculous thing happened a couple of weeks ago; my husband and I had our first trip together overnight AWAY from our kids. Sixteen months after arriving home with our three, we had a long weekend without them. It was glorious in all respects! I was overcome with gratitude the day I arrived in Northern Ca; gratitude for my beautiful kids (because being away from them gave me space to appreciate them more), gratitude for my parents for traveling to our place and staying with them, gratitude for our wonderful friends who invited us to join them on a fun adventure/escape, gratitude for my husband who I love even more today than I did when we married thirteen years ago. I felt euphoric. And invincible. When can I go again?!

Two of our friends were celebrating their 40th birthdays, and their spouses surprised them with tickets to ride in the Levi’s Gran Fondo out of Santa Rosa, CA. Two couples rode, two couples (including us) lounged and cheered and sampled wine. We cooked together, hung out together, went on runs around the neighboring vineyards. It was heavenly!

“Team Sandpoint, 40 and Still Climbing!” Crosses the finish line!

Celebrating 40 years with 103 grueling miles; You guys inspire me!

A nice spot for lunch, with delicious foods from Big John’s in Healdsburg.

Tasting at Truett-Hurst Winery.

Enjoying the weather, the scenery, and friends!

A beautiful cave under the vineyard

4 wonderful men; husbands, fathers, providers, friends. Love these guys!

Not only did we get refreshed, inspired, and rested with this getaway, our kids had a wonderful time with my parents, and I think my parents had a wonderful time with our kids. What a cool opportunity for kids and grandparents to continue to build their relationship. Loved it all! Now, when can we go again?






Happy 8th Birthday, Alex!

I wrote briefly yesterday about Alex’s birthday party, but here are some more photos from the event. This was my first REAL birthday party I’ve ever thrown for a child. I was a little out of my element! Here’s what I learned: 2nd graders love to dress up. The costumes added enough fun to the group, that they were pretty content to run around and make up their own games based on the costumes. A couple of times I asked other moms if I should round up the kids for an organized game or two. They wisely encouraged me to leave them alone if they were having fun! Right-O. We did end up playing capture the flag and having a candy race. The kids were great, Alex was so happy, and I didn’t have to clean up my house from a stampede of eight-year-olds (because I held the party for free at a local park). It was nothing really special, but I’m giving myself a point for throwing a successful birthday party! One more next month…hmmm.

Alex wore his pirate costume from last Halloween. In this photo he has a fake pistol, I think from the kid who dressed as a cop. Maybe he pirated it from the cop…

The grim reaper being chased by a ninja, with pirate, cop and knight in the background

A beautiful vampire!

Adorable cowgirl!

One of Alex’s good friends as a fabulous clown!

Brilliant: A white box, red duct tape for stripes, popcorn sign, arm and head holes cut out, real popcorn glued to the top. Is this not the cutest thing? I love it when people are so clever. And behind popcorn girl is a cute cheerleader and a ballerina.

A group shot with most of the kids present, Alex holding court in the center.

The kids voted for their favorites by putting names in jars labeled Best Overall Costume, Funniest Costume, and Prettiest Costume. Some kids voted for themselves, over and over again! It was really funny to read the votes.

Ellie made a late appearance in her chicken costume.

Show me your teeth!

My sweet husband ran the candy relay. Management skills come in handy in these situations!

A green team and a blue team, they had to move all the candy from one bucket to the other one spoonful at a time.

Alex loved sitting in a pile of kids opening gifts!

Melkam as a knight

Alex was stoked to get gum in one of his gifts.

I love this boy. I can’t believe he’s eight. It’s really weird to be a mom of an 8-year-old when you’ve only been a mom for about 16 months!

Being fierce.

I love this boy, too.



















Ah, September

As a friend once posted on her blog, at some point you start to become just a normal family and maybe what you write about on the topic of raising adopted kids isn’t so specific or relevant or interesting anymore. Maybe we are heading in that direction. Just like millions of families across the country and around the world, we’re back in school! How NICE to be back in a routine. Just saying, I guess that’s how I am. I like the chaos of summer, but I’m glad life isn’t like that all the time!

Bringing home our three kids from Ethiopia a little over a year ago, I had a clear sense of their innocence, their as-of-yet-un-Americanized-ness. My kids had no expectations. That’s how we were able to do a 9-hour road trip with them in the back of a very old Honda Accord with no air conditioning, no DVD player or even CD player, barely room for the three to fit across the back seat. That’s when they thought of Grandma’s old honda as a race car. Those were the days! Their birthdays were low-key dinner parties with a few close family friends. It never occured to them not to eat the crust of their sandwich.

They didn’t know legos, or star wars, or Pokemon.

I really enjoyed that time, I treasure the memory of it. And while I wouldn’t want them to stay that way, ignorant of their new childhood culture and all that it entails (good, bad and ugly), I also am glad we don’t live in a larger city where they might have been bombarded by it. For the shift came swiftly nonetheless. Even in our small mountain community in Northern Idaho, with one at public elementary school and the others just participating in normal life, my kids were quickly exposed to Ninjago (I still don’t know what that is exactly, but my two-year-old sometimes shouts it with an upraised arm), Saturday morning cartoons, the $5 movie bin at WalMart, lego obsessions among their friendds, computer games and the idea that they should have them, pizza and hot dogs, and elaborate birthday parties.

We avoided signing up for anything that sounded remotely like getting roped into a schedule that might dictate our Saturday mornings, for example. We held that line quite well for about a year.

And then we caved. Hard and fast. One thing led to another and the logical choices just stacked up.

I think it all started with the minivan. Did I mention that we became a minivan family last year? A Honda Odyssey. It’s amazing…I love it. I never ever ever thought I would love a minivan, but it is truly a vehicle designed for moms. It has a fantastic sound system to go with the wide screen DVD display. It came with headphones that, when on the kids, let the adults up front listen to something other than the movie! Brilliant.

Today, my two oldest are in school 5 days a week, at different schools. Alex is in a fairly intense soccer program with practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, frequently on Fridays, and games on various weekends, through the fall. Melkam is in Taekwondo on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and now ALSO soccer on Tuesdays. (yes, you are now correctly visualizing a mini-van-driving soccer mom.) Alex has violin lessons on Fridays. Both boys attend AWANA bible study on Friday nights. One or the other of them is in counseling once a week, one at a time.

I just threw a birthday party for Alex’s 8th (I can’t believe it!) for which I acquiesced to his request to invite his entire 2nd grade class (19 kids) plus his friends from last year who are no longer in his class. I held it at a local park and made it a costume party. I didn’t give out party favors and I couldn’t pull together the pinata he requested, but I did serve his choice: angel food cake with fresh strawberries and real whipped cream. I consulted heavily with my sister about the best games I could lead a bunch of 2nd graders in at a park. I can’t believe how many gifts my son received. But mostly he just had a great time running around with his friends playing various forms of tag.

Alex’s friends at his 8th birthday costume party

While there are things I really wish were different about American culture (I recently discovered, to my horror, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.) it is what it is…made up by everyone who lives in this country and the organizations that shape it. I’m so proud of my kids for jumping into it so readily and making a way for themselves. They are really comfortable, at this point, among their American peers. They are doing great in school and sports and they have lots of friends. Their ability to pick up on subtle nuances of our collective sense of humor is impressive. Sometimes I think they fool me into expecting far more of them than perhaps I should.

We had an awesome summer, with dear friends visiting, Charles’s parents to help us celebrate his birthday in August…

Our best friends from DC to just spend some summer time with us and give the kids a chance to enjoy sleepovers and lots of hang out time with their “cousins.”

Love, really in only one direction…

Still the love is really Eliana+Celeste, not so much obvious in the other direction…Eliana nearly is choking Celeste…

Perhaps the last lemonade stand of the season. Juliette was a great promoter!

shucking local corn in the front yard…



It’s so hard to fit all the fun into every last second of August, but we are doing our best! Here’s a photo review:

Our new friends from Liberia, Prince and Ezekiel, stayed with us for one vibrant week while touring and performing in Sandpoint with the Matsiko choir. My kids LOVED having older brothers in the house and have been asking for more.

Looks like someone is in love!

We volunteered and attended almost all of the Festival at Sandpoint shows in the first two weeks of August. The lineup was awesome! My favorite show was Pink Martini, but I also loved Alison Krauss, and the finale with the Spokane Symphony and fireworks at the end was wonderful. The kids came with us to some, and we had sitters for others. It was a nice mix!

painted faces at the Childrens’ Concert at the Festival

We’ve done lots and lots of swimming! Our lake is glorious this time of year, especially on a 90-degree day. We walk to the pier a few blocks from our house and jump in, or ride our bikes to City Beach about eight blocks away to meet friends. We’ve also been invited on a few boat rides, and to pools this summer. The kids all are doing great with their swimming and loving the water.

With Anna and Alyssa Howarth at their new condo pool!

Swimming with friends off their boat. Eliana loves to backfloat and splash in her life jacket!

Too bad we don’t like each other much…

August fun has also included some barbeques, blueberry picking, and a day of pickling with my friend Kathi. We’ve eaten ice cream, made watermelon popsicles, and tended the garden. Today Grammy and Poppy arrive from Maryland for a visit, and our best friends from Washington, DC follow right on their heels. August will go out with a bang and I can’t believe it’s almost time for school to start again!

Hope you’ve all been having a great summer.

African smiles

We live in a small town, waaaaay up north in the Idaho panhandle. When people hear we are from Idaho, they always think potatoes. No, don’t think flat, agricultural landscape, think mountains and trees. When they ask me how far north, I always say, “Almost to Canada.” to which they invariably respond, “Oh! That IS far north!” Yes, it is. We get a lot of snow, our summer is short but the summer days are long, our winter is long but the winter days are short, and it takes a long time for people who immigrate from other countries to make their way this far inland. Our town severely lacks diversity. We’re VERY predominantly white!

I have written about this topic a few times in our adoption journey because it’s something we considered carefully before bringing three Ethiopian children home to live here. And now it’s something we think about as our kids have become part of our community; we watch for racial issues and we pursue cultural opportunities that will help them not feel so alone.

Well, one of those has arrived! This last week we took our kids with us to the opening night of The Festival at Sandpoint, which started with artists from South Africa. Simultaneously the Matsiko Childrens Choir arrived in town, with children from Liberia and Peru. They sang our National Anthem to open Thursday’s show, and then they hung around for the duration.

We are hosting two Liberian boys and an American group leader starting tomorrow. It’s a crazy decision considering all that’s going on in our lives and family, but I think it was the right one. I consider it a gift to my kids to house and feed three more big boys for a week. No, I do not have all the meals planned yet and YES I’m panicking a little!

We got to meet Prince and Ezekiel, our temporary kids for next week, at that opening show. When they learned we were to be their host parents this coming week, they rewarded us with enormous African smiles, filled with love and warmth, and they threw their arms around us for big hugs. It was JUST LIKE when we welcomed our two girls from Uganda for a week a few years ago. Africans I’ve met from many countries have this incredible gift of love and friendship…if they decide to welcome you, it will be a welcome to remember!

My kids were fascinated and overwhelmed by these bigger boys (I think they are 11 and 13), so comfortable in their own skin, offering big hugs to their new friends. Alex clung to my side and watched them wistfully for a good thirty minutes as they danced to the opening performers. What dancers they are, and what unabashed fun they were having! Alex wanted to be with them, to learn to be like them, in the worst way. “Go!” I told him, encouraging both the boys to hang out with the kids from the choir who were beginning to draw a crowd of children. Finally, Alex worked up the courage. He loitered around Prince for a while. Melkam, always the social butterfly, quickly engaged in a game of tag with some of the younger kids.

Before long, there was a full-on wrestling match going on in the grass at stage right! Alex’s smile was from ear to ear as he tussled and tackled with Prince while other kids rolled around in the grass and pig-piled with each other. I saw Melkam being toted around on someone’s shoulders. Our friends’ kids, adopted from Ethiopia and China, were in the fray with those from Liberia and Peru. Kids of many colors linked hands and began dancing in a giant circle together, welcoming all comers, regardless of age, size or color. I can’t tell you how my heart swelled!

The best part was seeing my oldest, my responsible boy, the one who reminds me which things are dangerous on a daily basis, lose his inhibitions. He danced with abandon, he laughed with his whole body. He relaxed and was himself. It was a beautiful thing!

Our house will be packed to the gills this week with eight of us here, and I’m afraid of how much food we are going to go through, but I hope this week will help my kids feel more proud of who they are, and less uncomfortable with expressing love. Because two really fun big boys, with skin similar to theirs, will be modeling for them what it’s like to be proud of who you are, able to express love openly, and comfortable in the beautiful skin God gave them. Thank you, Lord, for this great opportunity! May you be present and at work at our house.


The Skin We’re In

There are several books with a similar title…one children’s book that we enjoy at our house. But a call from a friend yesterday had me thinking about it.

She was doing something near a table at the beach where our kids were all involved in activities at Vacation Bible School when she overheard an unknown boy talking to Melkam, my five year old. The kids had big white bandanas and were preparing to tie-dye with the group. The boy next to him said (apparently several times) “I’m going to wipe this brown off your skin so that it will be skin-color.”

What did Melkam do? I asked her. Nothing really, just kind of ignored him. She couldn’t tell if it was really registering with him. I wondered if I should come get him, or go talk to a camp counselor and make a big stink. I didn’t. I talked to Melkam later when I picked him up for karate. I asked him if he had fun, if he’d had a good day. Yes, he happily chattered at me about what they’d been doing. I asked if he liked the kids, if the kids were nice to him. Yes. He made a new friend, he couldn’t remember his name. Sigh.

Then this morning I read my friend Dakota’s blog. She lives in Ventura California. We live in Sandpoint Idaho. I only need my hands to count how many black people my kids see on a regular basis. An executive at our bank. My friend’s adopted kids from Ethiopia and from New Orleans. A girl who was on Alex’s basketball team, and her mom. We sometimes drive an hour and a half to go to a black gospel church in Spokane where we are welcomed with open arms and we tell the kids that Mommy and Daddy may be the only people with light colored skin in church today, and they giggle and squeal with delight.

Like Dakota, I try to find a legitimate reason to start a friendship with other African Americans because of their skin color. What is that, like reverse racism?

On a recent trip to the Washington Coast we drove through Ranier Valley in Seattle to get to a highly rated hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant. There were scores of Ethiopians playing soccer in nearby parks, walking together, etc. The little community park in Redmond where I took the kids and dog while my husband went to a meeting was filled with Indians, Ethiopians, Asians. I miss that. The restaurant had the best injera I’ve ever tasted! The lovely family who runs it tried to greet our children in Amharic and it’s the first time Alex, our oldest, has registered regret for not remembering how to communicate with his fellow Ethiopians.

We will just keep taking advantage of every opportunity we can find to bring people who look more like our kids into their everyday lives. August brings two: First, we’ll take the kids to opening night of our famous outdoor music festival to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Remember them from Paul Simon’s Graceland album? Here’s a cool video of them performing. Second, we are hosting two boys from Liberia for a week in mid-August, along with one of their leaders, as the Matsiko World Orphans Choir tours our area. We did this a few years ago with two girls from Uganda. This time around the visiting kids will have children to play with at our house.

Despite the dearth of ethnic people in our area, we have found it to be a wonderful and loving community to bring our kids home to. Our oldest gets easily overwhelmed with lots of chaos…we’ve discovered this on visits to San Francisco and Seattle, for example. It has been nice to ease them into their new family and American culture in a small quiet place, with small schools and close friends and no long commutes anywhere. We are grateful for this, but no place is perfect, and ours could certainly use some more diversity. We’ll just have to keep working at it…hard!

For Grammy

This evening we opened a special box from Grammy with some cool wooden sailboats from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Grammy has a beautiful Bed and Breakfast right on the water in St. Michaels, Maryland where sailing is a big preoccupation.

We decided to walk down the street for a swim at the pier and test them out after dinner. When I tried to take the kids swimming last summer I was convinced they were all going to drown. All three loved the water with abandon, and sunk like stones when they jumped in! Several sessions of swimming lessons and lots of time in the water since then, and I actually enjoy taking them now so much! We are fortunate to live on a beautiful lake and have easy access to the water. Here’s a review of the evening.

The boys finished up with a Daddy-assisted swim around the end of the pier. They were very proud of themselves.

Lovin summer!