Tuesday, December 28, 2010


My trip to Africa filled me with fear … for a number of reasons … all wrapped up in the very broad .. fear of the unknown. Unknown culture, unknown people, food, experiences. And yet, for all of my fears, my time in Ethiopia felt other-worldly, but not scary. I was consumed with being a mom …. Keeping them safe and bringing Kenenisa into our family. I would wake up each day and just do the next thing until finally the next thing was getting on the plane to fly home

It was not till I got home and started processing the trip …. Looking at pictures, reading blogs from others who were there with me … that I finally realized … while I was physically present, I did not feel like I had connected with the experience, with the people with the culture, with the need. It felt like I wasn’t really there.  As I talked with my friend, Jennifer, she said that she kept waiting for the emotion to catch up with me, but that it was as if I was in a bubble and all of the need and poverty just bounced off of me.  And then once we got home, my life again has been consumed with being a mom. And parenting Kenen is taking all of my focus at this point.

In contrast, Jennifer, who traveled with us, was there and present in all of the most important ways. She saw the need, she saw the children, she let her heart open to the people and the country of Ethiopia in a way that I still can’t say that I have.  She promised herself that she would not forget ... that she would make sure that it changed her.   And she has kept that promise.

Jennifer and her family have taken the seeds that were planted in her heart and put them into action. They arrived in Ethiopia today and will spend the next 2 weeks serving in my son’s country. I can’t wait to hear about every moment of their trip.

Because I haven’t really been there

… but I know I will some day.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day

I had a bit of concern about how Christmas would go for Kenen.  I knew he'd like the gifts, but he has a very high sensitivity to fairness and who has what, and is always concerned when he doesn't have something that someone else has.  So wasn't sure if the morning would fall apart over something the Ethan received that he wanted.  However, he was delightful and got the hang of giving and receiving pretty quickly. 

Here are a few sights and sounds of our Christmas.  The video link is a bit long ... so I only expect family to watch, but if you want to hear Kenen's little voice and his excitement, it's pretty cute.  (I'd edit it if I knew how. :-) )

A new ipod

Viola lessons
Ginormous Lego set

 We have very few still shots of Kenen opening gifts.  Guessing it's because he was a blur, running back and forth all morning.  Hope your Christmas was as joy filled as ours was!

Christmas 2010

We mailed only a handful of Christmas cards this year. So if you missed our hard copy card, here it is in blog form.


*Traveled in July as a family to meet and bring home our son, Kenen David Elder who was born in Ethiopia in August of 2006. He is adjusting well and has brought new energy to our home.  :-)
* Took a side trip to Rome on our way to Ethiopia. Highlight was seeing the Coliseum. Lowlight was our two start hotel and the heat.
* David was gainfully employed for 9 months and took an "unpaid sabbatical" for 3 months. He has been able to be home for some much needed support and bonding time with Kenen. He will begin working again in January.
* The three oldest are doing great in their 3rd, 8th and 10th grade years at school. All are still involved in music and sports which keeps us very busy.
* My sister and her family moved from Tualatin to Houston leaving a great void in all of our lives.
* I stepped back from all volunteer responsibilities to focus on being a full time mom to a preschooler.
* Our family continues to be so grateful to our Emmanuel for being with us and providing in amazing ways all we have needed during this year of tremendous transition and change.

May you and your family know the peace that passes all understanding this season and in the coming year.

The Elder's

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Falling in Love

When I met my husband, I definitely was quite taken with him and attracted to him  However, my analytical brain knew that feelings, while nice and important, could not always be trusted ... so I made a decision to choose to love him ... based on his character, shared values, dreams, etc.  Why share this? .... besides giving you a glimpse into my non-emotion driven brain?  

One of my biggest fears when beginning this adoption process was that I would not be able to connect the decision we were making to love this child with my emotions ... with my heart.  Without going into too much detail ... the first 3 1/2 months home with Kenan have been incredibly difficult.  And the love that I have for him has been decision based love ... not emotion based.  This is because living with him has been like being in an extremely unhealthy relationship where you never know which thing you do is going to set him off.  So I've been walking on eggshells ... dreading the next explosion ... counting the hours till bedtime ... trying to survive another day so that I can wake up and do it again.  Yes, there've been laughs, and when he is happy, his smile can light up the room ... but the hard moments followed so closely on the heels of the good ones, that my heart has not had time to open up.

All this to say ... I think we've turned a corner in the last few weeks .... he is learning to trust us more, he's not as combative and explosive ...  tantrums are fewer and smiles and peace are gaining ground.   And the other night as I was tucking him in ... I thought to myself

.... I think I may be falling in love ......

Photo courtesy of Katie Campbell Photography

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monuments of Thankfulness #3

Those Who’ve Gone Before

This one surprises me a bit, but I am seriously so thankful for the internet and the “blogosphere”. I’ve never been much of a trailblazer … I’m more of a “play it safe kind of person”. The families that I have followed on their journeys to their own children have inspired me more than I can describe. They shared their hearts for the orphans in our world, they shared their own fears, and they shared their personal journeys … including homecoming videos that brought me to tears. They gave me a vision of ordinary families stepping out in faith to do an extraordinary thing … to give a loving mother and father to a child who needed a family. So in honor of these people – most of whom I’ve never met – I’ve updated my blogroll with many more blogs that I love and that continue to inspire me. Check some of them out. You will be amazed at the brave, courageous families who are stepping WAY out of their comfort zone to bring a child home to his or her forever family.

I’m also so thankful for my friends who have already adopted that were here locally or who were in the process of adopting at the same time. It helped to be able to sit across the table and hear their stories … the joys and the struggles. What a blessing to continue to have these dear friends in my life as a source of encouragement and wisdom. So thank you to Dana and Eric; Ray and Theresa; Rick and Laurie; Julie; Heather and Aaron; Bonnie; and Clint and Laura for your support.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monuments of Thankfulness #2

Our Church

The original seeds of “maybe we’ll adopt someday” were planted by our church family and specifically by our pastor for the last 13 years, Ron Kincaid and his courageous family who have adopted 5 children, 4 of those internationally, in addition to their 4 bio kids. Each year, as we would sit through Orphan Sunday presentations…. Tears would roll down my face … seeing the faces of children in need … children who would love to have a family … and knowing in my heart, that we needed to be one of those families to reach out and give a home to one of those kids. We have also been privileged to see so many adoptive families in our church family … that it became somewhat commonplace to see transracial families. This was such an encouragement as we pondered whether we would ever have the courage to take this step. Our church is going through a difficult time right now, so it feels good to be grateful for the blessing of our Sunset family and to Ron and Jorie for being faithful to the call to care for the widow and orphan.  In this way they have modeled and lived out what true religion is.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monuments of Thankfulness #1

I had the thought of doing a blog post each day of November for something I’m thankful for , but quickly realized the likelihood of me getting on the computer and having some quiet moments to think every day was slim … so I’ve adjusted my plan.

In the Old Testament, God often asks His followers to build monuments after great victories so that they would remember what happened and primarily so that they would remember God’s faithfulness to them. While I realize that I have often spoken and written of how grateful our family is for all of the blessings we have received this past year as we have gone on this journey to bring Kenen home, I thought I would post a few blogs to be very specific in who I’m thanking … not because I want to call people out, but because I want to remember, and I want all of my children, but especially Kenen, to know the many people who were a part of this journey. No individual reached out to our family or helped us in order to get recognition, but rather because they wanted to be a part of what God was doing. Without a doubt, all the glory goes to Him.

Our Family

David and I have amazing families on both sides. From the moment we told them that we were going to adopt another child, we have received nothing but encouragement, enthusiasm and prayers. Each of our parents has prayed for us diligently, and Dave’s folks, since they are close by, have been amazing since we’ve been home. To see them love on Kenen … it is clear that they love him as if they had known him his whole life ... Such a blessing! Our siblings have all been incredibly supportive, as well. Each of Dave’s siblings now has an adopted child, which is pretty cool … including one from Ethiopia. My brother and sister have been so supportive as well. And this support has come from our uncles and aunts and cousins, as well. We are so grateful to God for the extended Elder and Klassen families who have embraced our new son completely. We are so blessed!  

Nana and Kenen

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our Homecoming

I thought I'd repost this ... as it was a year ago today that we arrived home in Portland. Hard to believe all that has happened in a year. So thankful to have these moments captured so beautifully!
We've been home for 3 months.  It is hard to believe ... and looking at our homecoming reminds me how very far we've come.

Although delayed by a day (and missed by our dear friends, the Lawrie's because of that) our homecoming was perfectly captured by my friend, Jay McKenney, in this video.  I thought I would repost it on my blog ... 

Welcome Home Kenen HD from Jay McKenney on Vimeo.

Thanks to all of our friends who welcomed us home ... and to those whose prayers were with us throughout the entire journey to bring our son home.  We are blessed!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

As Iron Sharpens Iron

....  so one (wo)man sharpens another.  Prov. 27:17

This is my friend, Jennifer. We have been friends for about 8 years. We met at swimming lessons for our daughters, and formed a unique bond from the start. She is strong, compassionate, generous, bold and fearless ... especially when it comes to doing what she believes God is calling her to do. She has been misunderstood and even judged for things she has done while trying to follow the crazy things she is called to. She and her family are currently on an amazing (and crazy) journey to see how God wants them to use their resources to help orphans in Africa in a radical way.

God has used her often over these years to challenge me and grow me, and while at times, I might have wished for a little less of that    :-), ultimately, she is a friend who I know I can always count on, and I am better for having her in my life. Happy Birthday, dear friend!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Only One More Day

JULY 25, 2010 - Washington, D.C.

First morning waking up on American soil

First donuts. He wasn't quite sure how to eat his.

The view from the WWII Memorial

The Korean War Memorial has the names of all of the countries who fought during the conflict.

Ok, so these pictures got all mixed up, and I'm not very good at moving them around, but basically we started at one end of the mall and worked our way up, really only having time to see the big sights from the outside, as it was a very busy day due to the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts.  Streets were being closed to allow for the parade, and so we worked our way through the area pretty quickly.  We did go past the capitol far enough for me to show the kids my old stomping grounds from when I lived in D.C. in college ... and yes, they thought it was pretty cool.  And for those of you who know our family's passion for getting "stamps" in our National Park Passport books, our biggest disappointment was that due to the Scouts, we couldn't get to the kiosk to get the stamps for all of the mall monuments.  This guarantees that we will have to return at some time in the future.

We headed back to the airport, and had our first major meltdown of the trip by Kenenisa, who evidently was tired of being in the car.  I had to unbuckle him and ride with him on my lap for a while because he was so upset.  Made a quick stop at Wendy's for lunch ...  getting off of the highway at the exit right by the apartment in Falls Church where I lived after college.  Funny to see the little strip mall next to it looking exactly the same.

And got to Dulles just in time to be caught in an absolute downpour, unlike anything I've seen since leaving the East Coast.  Met with Charlene to return her van, and after a few glitches in being able to check in, boarded our plane to finally head home to Oregon leaving at about 6:30pm.  One more very long flight to make it through.  Gave Ethan and Kenenisa some Dramamine to help them sleep.  Kenen was asleep before we took off, and basically was out like a light for the whole flight.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Our Nation's Capital - Day One

I am working hard to finish up the travel journal from our trip ... thanks for bearing with me. 
One of the best moments of our arrival in D.C. was coming around the corner after clearing customs to see dear friends waiting with signs welcoming us home.

My friend, Jacqueline Cranford and her kids, Sydney and Sean
The whole Chamberlin family came to greet us.
George, Charlene, Sean, Nicholas and Darci

We were absolutely exhausted, and seeing their smiles and excitement was such a relief and blessing.  And once we figured out that our flight to Chicago had been cancelled, and we were actually not going to be able to get on another flight until Sunday evening ... they blessed us even further.  We needed to find a place to stay and figure out how we were going to get around.  My friend, Jackie, offered to pay for a hotel near the airport for us, and the Chamberlin's let us borrow their van.  While we had several people that we could have stayed with, we were truly so exhausted, that being able to be in our own space was much needed ... and Jennifer, who had not seen her family in over 2 weeks, was desperate to get home.  So being by the hotel gave her the chance to fly stand by ... and she was so excited to be able to get onto a flight at the last minute and be home a day earlier than the rest of our clan.

We also found out that we were not going to be able to get into any of our luggage so we were stuck with whatever we had in our carry-on's for the next 24 hours, which wasn't much.  We said good-bye to our friends and left in the van for our lovely hotel and much needed showers.  After our showers, Jen headed back to the airport and we went and checked out the Air and Space museum by Dulles airport.  We figured it was a good time to introduce Kenen to the fact that we are a museum kind of family, and that's what we do when we visit new places.  We were a little too tired to fully appreciate it, but still managed to see some really cool things, including a space shuttle.

We then went in search of food and clothing. You see, when we left Ethiopia, it was in the 60's and rainy. In contrast, DC was in the 90's and blistering hot! Our sweat pants were not going to be ok for a day of sightseeing. So after dinner, we took a quick trip to Target to buy some clothes on clearance and to pick up some Ibuprofen for our Ethan who was crashing with a fever. And then returned to our hotel where I think that I literally passed out. 

We decided as long as we were in our nation's capitol - a city that I love, and have longed to share with my kids - we might as well make the best of it, and see as much as we could.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Dictonary.com says it means, "something provided; a measure or other means for meeting a need."  We have had amazing stories through the past two years of God providing for our needs.  Two years ago in November, Dave was laid off from his long time job for a start-up company ... it was a company he had given his heart and soul to, and it was heartbreaking for him to be let go due to lack of funding.

The next 4 months were stressful, but through a number of circumstances, each of our daily needs were met.  In April of that year, Dave was offered a job as a contractor at Xerox, which was literally 7 minutes from our house.  We have loved having him close by, and while the job has been difficult in many ways, we know that it was a blessing and God's provision.  It is the job that enabled us to follow our dream of adopting another child. 

Due to internal Xerox rules, they are not able to renew his contract after 18 months  ...  and so today is his last day of work. 

We were talking to the kids and making sure that the older ones were not worrying about our finances, and my very wise 13 year old daughter said, "Why would we worry? We've already been through this, and it worked out just fine."  We are glad to know that the One who created us, knows and can supply for our every need.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two Months ... and Counting

As I think about the fact that we have been home with Kenen for 2 months, I wonder when it will happen ... when I will not be so aware that he has not alway been with us ....when we will feel like he is so much a part of us, that it doesn't make sense to count months.

Instead of focusing on the things that have been difficult these past two months, I thought I'd highlight some of the good things ...

* He sleeps!! In his own bed (which is currently in our room). He might wake up in the early morning hours, but usually it is to go to the bathroom. Then he snuggles up next to me, and falls back to sleep.  He sleeps peacefully and soundly.  This is by far the only thing that is keeping me sane most days. 

* Kenenisa is fearless.  He rides his scooter faster than many kids twice his age ... and it only took him a couple of weeks to go from tricycle to razor scooter.  I am hoping to keep him off a bike till Spring, since I will definitely not be able to catch him once he's on the bike.

* He loves water.  Loves taking showers, the sprinklers, water guns, pools and the ocean.  Can't wait till he gets to take swimming lessons.  I'm sure he will be a little fish!

* He seems to be comfortable with our family and delights in each person differently.  Though his favorite is no doubt, his sister, Kristen.  Before the kids went back to school, he would often refuse to eat breakfast till Kristen came down, and would wander the hall calling her name.  Bummer for him, she's the sleeper of the family, and can sleep till 9:30 or 10:00 most days.

* He has been great at sitting and watching soccer games.  This surprised me very much, as I expected him to want to run onto the field and kick the ball. A small bag of goodies has done the trick.  Since we have at least 3 a week ... this is a very good thing.

* He is smart. His language improves every day.  He even remembers which way we should turn when we are going places. The number of things he has learned in 2 months is phenomenal ... from just learning the things that are now familiar to him in our house, to a new language, to new faces.

* He is very confident in his abilities, and wants to try to do everything.  I'm pretty sure that he thinks that he could drive a car, if we would only give him the opportunity. 

* He prays each night before we turn out the lights ... "Kristen, Daddy, Kristen, Daddy, beans, makena (car), Fuh-ly-zun (Ryan), Efan, cake, food, Mommy, Kristen, Daddy, house, Nana, Grandpa's house, Sophie (their dog)... you get the idea.

Most importantly, he knows we are here for him ... this is progress ... to be sure.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Most of this blogging about the trip is to make up for the lack of journaling I did ... there are so many things that I know I've already forgotten from our trip.  Our flight home was scheduled to leave at 10:15pm ... we arrived at the airport by about 7:30pm.   My biggest concern was keeping Kenenisa attached to us and keeping him occupied for the hours that we had to pass.  Since we had not eaten anything before leaving the guest house, our first priority was getting some food.  Fortunately, there was a little restaurant near our gate where we unloaded all of our carry-ons and sat and relaxed for a bit.  Jennifer had not been feeling all that great the whole time that we were in Addis, and had not eaten much.  For some reason, she thought that egg rolls and fried rice sounded good ... so we ordered that plus some french fries and cake.  Kenenisa loved the egg rolls and the chocolate cake.  We all took turns taking our bathroom breaks and wandering around a bit ... and evidently, only "lost" Kenenisa once ... when he took off running after Kristen and I when we were headed to the "toilet".  I think it was Ryan that sprinted after him and caught up to him.  Oh, and it was around this time that we actually watched Kenen's hands everytime he needed to go to the bathroom. Jen finally said, is he making a sign language letter?  Oh ... he's signing the letter "T" for toilet ... after 3 days, that was quite helpful to realize.  Discovered after returning home, that waving the letter T is a universal sign for I need to go the restroom in the deaf community.  Would have been good to know.  And when we went through the last security check into the gate area, for some reason, Kenenisa got on the ground and crawled through the security check.  They didn't think too much of that.  I discovered that it is very important to the Ethiopians that "their" children are behaving well, because whenever someone would stop and speak to Kenenisa in Amharic, and I would then ask what they said to him, it was always something along the lines of "you are obeying and behaving, right?". 

While we were waiting for the plane, a very nice American gentleman came up to me and started asking about our story and if this was our new son.  He said it brought back fond memories of 2 years ago when he and his family brought back their son, who was about the same age.  He said several encouraging things that filled me with hope for this long journey.  Once I got on the plane, I saw all of these people in matching t-shirts ... and recognized them from an organization that I follow in the blogosphere called Ordinary Hero.  Click on the video to see the incredible work they were doing while they were in Ethiopia working among the people who live at the Addis trash dump.  I felt like we were traveling with famous people. :-) It is amazing to see what God can do through ordinary people who are compelled to make a difference in our world.  Only later when we landed in DC, did I find out that this nice man that spoke to me was the husband of Kelly Putty, who was the founder of Ordinary Hero.  :-)

Other memorable moments ... Ethiopian Air serving fish .. twice ....; rude man behind me who wouldn't let me recline my seat for the entire flight; Dave getting up to go to the bathroom and leaving Kenenisa with a plate full of food alone in his seat; Kenenisa locking himself in the airplane restroom ....

Pouring powdered creamer on his butter
 Overall, the flight went well, and Kenenisa was amazing. He was not afraid at all ...and slept great, with a little help from Dramamine.  We arrived in Wash., D.C. ... tired, glad to be on American soil ... and not happy at all to find out that our connecting flight to Chicago had been cancelled.  Despite our best efforts, we were going to be spending the night in D.C. ... delaying our arrival home by one more day. 

Monday, September 6, 2010


Day 6 - July 23rd   - Tour of the Coffee Factory and Packing to Head Home

In case you didn't know, Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee and it is it's leading export.  And in case you want to increase your Amharic vocab, Kenenisa taught us the word "boo-nah".  And yes, he wants to drink it each morning, and seems to enjoy it.  So I'm assuming that it was not a new taste for him.  Though I try to keep his decaf since he doesn't seem to need more energy.

Anyway, back to Ethiopia, we left early for a tour of the Robera's coffee factory.  It was fascinating to see all  the work that goes into preparing the beans.  This company supplies beans to Starbucks.  We were able to buy coffee to bring home, as well.  We never did get to participate in our much anticipated coffee ceremony that I had heard so much about.  Maybe next time ... :-)  Here are some pics from our visit that morning.
Very yummy bunna

Hundreds of women sorting beans

After the factory tour, we went and had lunch out one last time.  We ate at The Blue Top restaurant which is right across the street from Lucy's where we had eaten previously.  Since we still were unsure what Kenen would eat, we stuck with Ethiopian. Problem was we had him order, and he ordered "wot" which is Ethiopian stew, usually made with chicken.  When they brought it out, it was definitely not what he wanted.  So I described what it looked like when he had it at Lucy's, and we learned it was Shiro ... a dish made of ground chickpeas.  This is still his favorite!  We headed back to the Guest House, and had everyone shower and pack up ... thinking that we had plenty of time before we had to leave for the airport.  We were even hoping to get some dinner before leaving.  However, at the last minute, our driver, David, realized that a big storm was coming in, and since all of the luggage is carried on top of the van, it was important to get moving as quickly as possible.  So our departure from the Yebsabi Guest House was quick with very few good-byes to the people we had spent the week with.
We wanted a good-bye pic with Ashenafi, but Kenenisa was upset
about something (obviously) so this was as good as we could get.

I was more than a little saddened at the realization that we were taking Kenenisa away from the only life he had every known.  And even though, this new life would be filled with blessings ... for him, at this point, we were just strangers taking him away.  I wondered if he had any idea what an airplane was, and had they told him that we were getting on one, and was he scared ... all questions that I could not ask him.  So I hurriedly asked the driver (standing outside in the rain), "Does he know what's about to happen?"  So he bent down and told him we were getting on an airplane and going to America ... and the driver said Kenenisa already knew that and was excited.  And then we walked into the airport ... away from all that was familiar.

I hope that some day he will understand why he had to leave, and even more so, hope that he will still love Ethiopia and will have a desire to help the country that gave birth to him.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Days 5 - The Leprosy Hospital

One of the things that Dave was determined to do while we were in Ethiopia was go to the Leprosy Hospital.  He had been told by his brother, Eric, who brought home their 7 year old daughter from Ethiopia in May, that the gift shop there was great with lots of beautiful things at great prices.  I mentioned that my husband was REALLY into the shopping, right?

So this was not part of America World's schedule for us.  In fact, Thursday morning was the morning that was set aside to visit the Kids' Care orphanage in Addis where many of the children at AWAA's transition home come from.  I had concerns right away about taking Kenenisa to an orphanage when he had only been with us a little over a day ... and checked my thoughts with the psychologist at the TH, who agreed that taking him to an orphanage might be upsetting.  So that just confirmed that we were going to make our own arrangements and head to the Leprosy Hospital.

This was an amazingly large compound, and we would have loved to have learned a bit more about the work they do.  Instead, with our limited time, we went directly to the area of the gift shop. Many, if not all, of the gifts are made by patients at the hospital, and the money from the sales goes directly back to the work that they are doing there.  We saw many women who were doing embroidery and weaving work ... and most of them were missing at least some parts of their fingers, due to leprosy we presume. 

The funniest part of our shopping time was when the "sales girl" in the gift shop looked at Dave and said, "You're back?" with a confused look on her face.  Turns out that she remembered Dave's twin brother from when they were there in May ... she mentioned that he bought a LOT ... must be in the genes.  Here's a picture of Dave with her.

and another one of Dave and his brother, and his brother's son (who was also in Ethiopia) from a couple of years ago ... just a little family resemblance.

Here are a few pictures from the hospital

Some of the beautiful needle work

Done by these ladies

Jen handing out gifts to some of the children

The other memorable moment was the complete breakdown by Kenenisa while we were shopping. If you've read my previous posts, you will know that I did not do a great job having toys, food, etc. with us when we went out. This was just another of the "mom fail" moments.  His friend Ashenafi had a darling little backpack that his parents gave him when the first met him. It was filled with all sorts of goodies, and his mom said she could not get him to take it off for anything.  Obviously, possessions are important for these children who have never had any.  So understandably, Ashenafi was quite excited about his goodies, and decided to display them all to Kenen while we were shopping. It was actually kind of amusing to me to be able to hear the sing song tone of voice that totally transcended language, as he would pull things out, and say (in Amharic) so I'm just interpreting by body language and tone of voice ... "Kenenisa, look what I have".  "And you don't have anything." "Ha. Ha. Ha".  Now this is not meant to be a slam on sweet Ashenafi because I am confident that had their positions been switched, Kenenisa would have done the EXACT same thing.  But needless to say, it left poor K in a complete puddle of tears over the lameness of these new parents that he had been unlucky enough to receive ... :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Due to crazy, soccer schedules, we celebrated Kenen's birthday a day later, instead of on his actual birthday.  We had his favorite food .. Ethiopian, of course.  I actually made two dishes, and drove to NE Portland to buy injera, the "bread" that is a necessity for any Ethiopian meal.  He was so happy to be eating injera for the first time in over a month.  We also had a man at the store where I bought the Ethiopian food speaking Amharic to him and asking him questions.  While he seemed quite shy and hung onto me pretty tightly, it made me happy for him to have a chance to hear something that he could understand.  It is a weird thing to long for him to be able to speak English so that we can communicate and connect, but also feel a deep sadness at him losing the language that connects him to his birth country.  He sings songs in the car all the time in Amharic. 

At age 4, Kenenisa is funny.  He loves to laugh and even with his limited language skills ... he can still make a joke.  Like when we're reading "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" for the 87th time ... he'll point to the different animals and say the dog is a sheep and then he laughs so hard.  He also thinks that putting on other people's clothes that are too big is hilarious.

He is very athletic.  He has mastered the razor scooter .. has incredible balance and goes very fast.  I'm getting some good exercise keeping up with him.  Also loves all types of balls or "kwas", as he still calls them.

Our days typically start with him waking up (on the mattress in our room), and calling out for me. Then, if he's in a good mood, he will climb into bed with me and snuggle up and often fall back asleep for about an hour.  The falling back asleep part will end when school starts, but hopefully the snuggling won't.

I won't lie ... these past 5 weeks have been incredibly difficult ... and there have been moments where running away sounds like a pretty good idea.  However, I do believe that I went into this with eyes wide open, and knew that these first weeks would not be easy.  I'm so grateful for the glimpses of "normal" that God gives me ... He is a delightfully, enthusiastic child.  He is my son, and I'm thankful that God is using him to continue to humble me, and make me more dependent on Him ... and you can remind me I said that if I ever call threatening to run away. :-)

Lamentations 3:22-23
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Four Years Ago Today

.... there was a young woman named Bizunesh who gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.  While we do not know all of her story, we know that she wanted to have this baby and she wanted this child to have a good and happy life.  When the baby was born and she heard, "it's a boy", she and her husband, Negatu, named him Kenenisa.  It is a big name that means "so much more".  It is the name of one of the most famous Ethiopan runners of our time, and everyone in that country knows the name.  She wanted so much more for this child than she could give him.  For two and half years, she gave all she had to him, until an illness finally took her life.  I wish that I had a picture of her ... so that I could see the eyes that looked into my son's each day.  So that I could help him remember her.    Four years ago today, she gave birth to him .... and I am grateful to have the opportunity to give him all of the love that our family has, so that he can experience and achieve so much more than she could have imagined .....

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 4 - Embassy Appointment

Our first full day with Kenenisa started with him waking up, putting his shoes on, and making his bed. (This is a nice habit that I had hoped to keep, but since coming home, he has decided that he is too little to make his bed, so I've chosen not to "fight" that battle at this point.)   We had to get ready fairly early to head to the Embassy.  Our 3 big kids stayed with Jennifer at the Guest House and relaxed, while Dave, Kenenisa and I loaded into the van to head to the U.S. Embassy.  The Embassy appt. is important because that is where you get your child's visa so that they can enter the U.S.  It is typically a fairly, routine event and most families "pass" and are given the visa without any problems.  There were 3 other families besides us who were there for visas.  I was a little concerned about how we would entertain Kenen while we waited since no electronic devices were allowed, and we had been told that the wait could be quite long, but it turned out I didn't need to worry because there was a large play area with play structure with a slide.  Wish I could have taken some video of him and his buddy Ashenafi playing.  They were hilarious and wild.  I'm not sure that the Ethiopians who were also waiting for appointments appreciated how seemingly out of control they were, but Ashenafi's mom and I were just pleased that they were laughing and having fun.  They even stood on the top of the slide and sang a little rhyming song in Amharic that made the whole room laugh.  Kenen still sings it occassionally at home.  It does make me sad to think that by the time he can tell us what the song means, he will most likely not remember his Amharic.  When they called our names, we walked upstairs and stood before a window where a very nice lady asked us a few questions, mostly about what we knew of Kenenisa's background and why he was an orphan. She tried, unsuccessfully, to ask Kenen a couple of questions, as well.  Then she wished us good luck on our journey and gave us our visa stamp.

We returned to the Guest House to reconnect with the rest of our family and group.  We had lunch at the guest house again, and then went shopping again.  Each time we got in the van, Ethan, our 8 year old, would groan. He started feeling motion sick almost immediately.  He does not typically have this problem, but there really are not words to describe the driving and roads in Ethiopia.  Fortunately, we had grabbed a number of air sick bags from the airplane, just in case.  And so the majority of the time that we were in the van, Ethan had his head in a bag.  In retrospect, this may have been a blessing.  Ethan has an incredibly soft and compassionate heart towards the needy, and one of my concerns was how the poverty and all of the sights of Ethiopia would affect him.  In fact, I told him before we left that Ethiopia was going to break his heart.  Well, it turns out, I'm not sure he saw very much, and he was quite miserable, as well.  In addition to Ethan's motion sickness problems, our traveling buddy Jen, has sympathetic sickness ... whenever anyone actually gets sick around her ... she will also get sick.  As I was trying to relive this day, I couldn't remember why I was having such a hard time remembering what we did.

Evidently, I had blocked it out ... (if you have a weak stomach like Jen, you might want to skip this part ....)  because at one point, Ethan sitting on one side of me actually started throwing up into his bag ... and simultaneously, Kenenisa, who was sitting on my other side (with no warning) started throwing up on the floor of the van.  Then, Jennifer, who was sitting on the other side of Ethan, had to jump up and lean out of the window to try and keep herself from losing it as well.  It was all so comical that I started laughing as my two boys were both throwing up around me.  I felt badly because I think that Kenen thought that his crazy new mom was laughing at him while he was getting sick ... and he started to cry.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.  Here's a little video of some of Jennifer with some of the street kids, who Robel helps take care of, outside of the stores where we were shopping.

Hard to believe at this point, we only have two more days in this beautiful country.

A Lesson in Amharic

I thought I'd interrupt my trip posts to give you a little glimpse into living with a child who doesn't speak English.  The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic.  However, this was not Kenen's first language. He was from the southern region of the country and spoke one of the indigenous languages there.  So when he was transferred to Addis Ababa from the orphanage where he was relinquished, he had to begin learning Amharic.  As a result, he is actually quite good at figuring out how to make it clear what he wants, either through hand motions or facial expressions. 

We have been with him (counting our time in Ethiopia) a little over 4 weeks now.  He has really only said a handful of words in English in that time.  Instead, he seems to be getting quite good at teaching us his language (which truthfully, we assume is Amharic, but could be his original language).  Here are some of the words that we have learned ... (spelled phonetically)

ma-kee'-nah             car (or in Kenen's case, any sort of vehicle).  He says this word more than any other.

oo-ka-lah'-luh          egg ... we may keep this one.  Way too much fun to say.

shint                         going to the bathroom. An unfortunate word choice -we'll be trying phasing that one out

koh'-fee-uh               hat  (also fun to say)
wuh- huh                  water
wuh-teht                   milk
kwas                        ball
kahls                        socks   (very amusing to him when we mix these two up and tell him to kick the kahls)

chah-ma                   shoes

He also counts and describes the colors of things in Amharic.  The two words that he says most frequently in English are monkey and bananas.   Curious George is his favorite thing to watch, and this past week he's added "Jolly Holiday" (from Mary Poppins).  We're just waiting for him to start saying Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious .....

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Day 3, July 20th

Since we only met Kenenisa on Monday, and had to say good-bye to him that day, we view the 20th as the day that we welcomed him into our family forever - "Gotcha Day" is a day that most adoptive families celebrate as much as their birthdays. 

The day started off with some amazing pampering for the "mom's to be".  We were taken to a spa that was every bit as nice and elegant as any I've been to here ... not that I've been to that many.  It was extremely nice, and the one hour massage cost the equivalent of $15 US. A great example of Western amenities in a country with so much poverty.  While Jen and I were at the spa, Dave and the kids got ready for the day which would include our first shopping trip before we went to pick up Kenen.  There's a saying in Africa, "Europeans (Americans) have watches, but Africans have time."  This is so amazingly true. When they say what time to get ready, you have to always be ready to just hang out a wait for a while.  So on this day, I thought we would go to the spa and then return to the Guest House, and all leave for shopping together.  However, because of this whole "time issue" ... we were picked up at the spa, and then met the shoppers at the shopping area.  This is important because I did not grab the backpack that had goodies and things for Kenen beforeI left. 

We went shopping at 3 little shops.  A little overwhelming, but was re-reminded that my husband loves this kind of shopping ... the kind where everything seems really cheap and it's your once in a lifetime chance to buy any of these things.  For me, there were too many choices, and it was too difficult to decide what to spend money on.  We also had our first encounters with some of the many street children in Addis who "make a living" selling gum, tissues and shining shoes. A number of the boys that we met that day are helped a great deal by one of the America World employees who helps these kids get into school, and makes sure they receive at least one good meal a day. One of his requirements for his help, is that they don't flat out beg ... that they have a business.  So we bought a lot of gum and tissues. :-)  My friend, Jen, who traveled with us, was deeply touched by the stories of these boys and was even able to meet them and learn more about them.  I've no doubt that more will come of this part of our story

After shopping we went to lunch at an Italian restaurant that is frequented by adoptive families called Makush.  The owner makes a point to come over to each group and lets us know how appreciative he is that we are willing to help the children of his country ... which is quite impactful.  It is an art gallery and restaurant, and there were some amazing pieces.  I would have loved to buy a piece of art, and some day if we ever go back, that would be at the top of my list of things to purchase..

After a very eventful day, it was finally time for the MAIN EVENT.  We returned to the transition house to pick up Kenenisa ... and this is where the no backpack was a bit of a problem.  We ended up having quite a bit of time to play with him before we left, and once again, the other families had all sorts of fun things and snacks to eat, and poor Kenenisa had very little to play with.  It didn't help that it was raining so we couldn't play outside as much. This was also our chance to talk with the doctor, social worker and psychologist that work for our agency. I was so impressed that they had people who knew our son to talk with us in detail about the things that we needed to know.  While we had many questions about Kenenisa and how he was coping with all of the changes in his life, the psychologist left us with one important thought.  He told us that who Kenenisa will be will be determined most by what will happen in the future not what happened in the past.  This was encouraging at the moment.  We then went  and loaded into the vans ... with Kenenisa this time, and went to see the older children's home where he had been living, so that we could see the room and bed where he slept.  When we got to the transition home, he definitely did not want to get out of the van and was quite upset that we were back there. He obviously understood that he was supposed to be going with us, and was concerned that we were going to leave him. So we held onto him pretty tightly as we walked around.

Robel and Jennifer at Makush

No toys or food - so we just played with the camera

Kenenisa's bed at the transition house

His first night with us

When we arrived back at the guest house, we went straight up to our room, and played with him until dinner.  He did not eat much at dinner.  I'm sure it was all pretty overwhelming for him.  We were thankful that there was at least one other boy that he knew during our stay.  His friend, Ashenafi McKinney was quite sad that first night.  Kenen seemed to be quite excited to be with us, and was very agreeable and got ready for bed happily.  I went to sleep in the bed right next to him ... close enough to reach out and touch him ... and he slept all night.  All in all, a pretty great day. 

Welcome to the family, Kenen Elder

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ethiopian Cultural Dinner

After leaving Kenen at the Transition House, we returned to the Yebsabi Guest House where we were staying to get ready for our big night out at an Ethiopian restaurant. By the way, the guest house was quite nice ... especially after our very not so nice 2 star digs in Rome.
Kitchen (Can't figure out how to rotate the pic)
Sideways bedroom
Living Room

Anyway, we cleaned up a bit ... probably tried to get on the internet, which was a continual trial, due to spotty internet connections and our very, slow laptop.  Facebook was the only thing that I could ever get on ... and not very often.  And then left for our traditional Ethiopian dinner with all of the other families who were at the guest house, including the many who were there for their court dates.  These families would not be leaving with their children on this trip, but would have to return 4-8 weeks later. There were probably at least 20 of us.  We had already introduced our kids to Ethiopian food in Portland, which I was thankful for.  They all are ok with it, and so we enjoyed the meal itself.  The highlight of the evening was the traditional Ethiopian dances.  The music and dancing, I'm sure, was quite good, however, it lasted way too long, and after 3 hours, we were more than ready to go home. Here are few pictures of the dancers and musicians.  The highlight by far was when one of the dancers came up to our table trying to get some of us to dance.  He snagged both Ryan and Kristen.  We have video of them  ... but seems like having that video is good leverage for the future ... so I'll be saving that for now. I was laughing hysterically, but really was so proud of my kids that they would go along with it.

Next post - Day 3 .... GOTCHA DAY!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 2 - Meeting Kenen

Confessions .... I was terrified to fly across the ocean ... I was scared to be in Africa ... I was scared of what the poverty and need would look like and how it would affect me and my kids.  The reality of being in Addis (short for Addis Ababa, which is much more fun to say) was in some ways easier than I expected. Perhaps because I was understandably focused on just one child, it was easier for me to not to emotionally engage with all of the need around me .. or perhaps just because there is such a surreal coexistence of the haves and the have nots.  Western conveniences side by side with street children shining shoes or selling gum or mothers with babies begging for food.  I do realize that we were kept from some of the worst areas, but all in all, my fears were not realized. Addis is a relatively safe city, and we were well taken care of by our agency which allowed us to focus on meeting and bringing Kenen home.  That is not to say, of course, that the sights and smells of Ethiopia did not have an impact ... but more on that later.

July 19th - Had very little appetite, although breakfast was pretty nice at the guest house.  Eggs, pancakes (of a sort), yogurt, and very good coffee!  We were all picked up and taken to the Hilton in Addis for the "paperwork party" where we filled out the final forms we will need for the Embassy.  While we worked on the papers, Jennifer took the kids swimming at the hotel pool.  You can see by the picture that the outdoor temperature was a bit cool, but they said that the pool was like bathwater and they had a great time! After that we all had lunch at the hotel.

Lunch at the Hilton Addis

Again, very little appetite ... moments of inner panic over what the next few hours would hold ... and the only way I got through it was just to keep telling myself to do the next thing ... put one foot in front of the other, and let go of my expectations for how the next hours, days, weeks would unfold.  It is what I am still doing each morning ... though it is becoming habit now. :-)

After lunch, we loaded back into the van to head to the Transition House.  With our agency, once a child is deemed adoptable, they are transferred from an orphanage to the Transition House.  All in all, while certainly not extravagant in any way, the care at the transition house is very good.  They are fed and clothed well, and are taken care of by nannies who genuinely seem to care for them.  However, there is no replacement for a mom and dad and a true family.  There were 3 other families who were meeting their children for the first time. One meeting their infant daughter, and the other two were also meeting toddler boys. 

Entrance to the Transition House
The playground
Driving through the gates

Last family picture as 5 Elder's

They brought our children out alphabetically by last name, so we were the 2nd family.  Kenenisa walked up to each of us, put his hands on our face and kissed us.  It was far more than I could have imagined as far as a first meeting. He seemed to be taking each of us in. Looked at us. Held our hands ... I wish that I could have read his mind, and heard what his thoughts were at this moment. My own thoughts were really just that I couldn't believe we were here ... meeting him, and that he was ours!

We waited for all of the other families to meet their children, and then went out to the courtyard and play structures and played soccer with Kenenisa. He was very energetic and having our other kids with us was awesome at that point, since I'm not much of a soccer player. It was all rather surreal watching our son - who I didn't really know. After a bit he motioned with his hands to his mouth that he was hungry. Bummer thing was that I hadn't really brought any food ... and there were the other little boys eating M&M's and animal crackers from their families. Borrowed a few treats on the sly so that it looked like I had been thoughtful enough to bring something yummy for him, and he ended up pushing both of them away. Found a protein bar in my backpack, and that he loved. Phew! Made it through my first test of motherhood. Though really my little backpack of things for him was quite lame. This theme will recur later in the week. Oh, and he loved our camera and the little flip video camera that we borrowed for the trip. That kept him busy for quite some time.

Rejecting the M&M's
Discovering the joys of technology
After a few hours, it was time to say good-bye.  We all hugged him, told him we'd be back tomorrow, and he started to cry. While that was sad, it at least gave me a sense that he liked being with us, which was good.  Here's our picture as we were driving away, after saying good-bye for the last time before he is with us forever.