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Monday, December 29, 2008

Newsflash!

I have some VERY IMPORTANT BREAKING NEWS on my twins blog about baby bottles. If you have a baby in the house, read it! (If you don't have a baby in the house, read it; surely, you know someone who has a baby in the house.)

If you like me AT ALL, I mean even a teeny, tiny bit, do me a favor and post a quick comment -- not on this blog, on the GotCrazyTwins.com blog.

Note: I don't mean to totally direct you, but just so you know, GotCrazyTwins is not just me. Okay, it is. But the world at large isn't supposed to know that.

So, if you comment (please comment), while I'd SO love you to say "Liz, you are SOOO great!" do me a favor and just comment about how helpful GotCrazyTwins is, how timely the info is, how there's nothing like it, etc.

Then you can send me a personal message and tell me how great I am, if you really feel the need.

Thank you ever so much! You can consider this a birthday gift. Even though my birthday was 2 weeks ago. You missed it, didn't you. That's okay. You have a chance to make up for it. Consider this the best birthday gift ever. Albeit belated.

Click Here to see the post on GotCrazyTwins.com.

GotCrazyTwins.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tagsies and Good Coffee

First of all, if you've not yet been to Nell Ann's Etsy store, Nifty Giftys, go there now. Don't pass go, don't collect $200 (unless you want to spend it all at Nell Ann's store), don't do anything but go to this site:

http://www.etsy.com/shop.php?user_id=6196328

Nell Ann is selling these fantastic burp cloths and tagsies for both boys and girls, all with an African theme (or most, anyway, with an African theme). I ordered one for Nina and I must say that it's about 300 times better in person than it is in photos (and it was pretty great in photos). This is such a unique gift AND it helps support orphan care in Ethiopia.

Next, onto my morning with Ralph.

Ralph is the 80+ year old barista at the Starbucks in our local grocery store. I can't grocery shop -- and certainly not 2 days before Christmas -- without a latte in hand and thanks to Heather and Michael, I now have a gift card that will allow me 15-20 lattes depending on their size and whether or not I feel I need whip on any particular day. Most exciting.

Anyhoo, when Ralph scanned my Starbucks card and saw that I had $47 left, he said, "Wow! Nice gift card!"

"Yes," I replied. "From my fantastic peeps."

I think I lost him.

"You know," he continued, "The only thing better than using a gift card to buy yourself a coffee is..."

I seriously thought he was going to ask me to buy him a coffee. He should have. I would have told him to make it a venti AND add whip.

He pulled out a gift tin of Ethiopian coffee and said, "This precious gift tin of Ethiopian coffee is rare. It has sundried cherries in it."

"Is that good Ralph? Coffee with sundried cherries?"

"Well, ma'am, I don't know. But it sounds good. AND it's 20% off today."

"Wow!" I replied. "So how much does that make that fine tin of Ethiopian coffee with sundried cherries?"

"Well, today only," informed Ralph, "only $10!"

"Well, Ralph, that is most interesting," I noted. "You see, my daughter was born in Ethiopia."

"Really?" asked Ralph. "That is most interesting."

"I'll take it Ralph. You're a good salesman. Wrap it up!" I requested.

He leaned WAAAAAAY over so as to better see the card reader he needed to run my debit card through, and as he waited for it to respond, he looked up with only his eyes, looked at Grace, and inquired, "You mean that she was born in Ethiopia?"

"No, she was born in Illinois. My other daughter was born in Ethiopia."

"Oh, wow!" he exclaimed, slowly bringing himself again to an upright position. "So, what happened? Were you on safari or something?"

I paused. And then, I couldn't resist.

"Yes, Ralph, I was on safari and right there in the bush I had to hop off my elephant and deliver a child."

His eyes got as wide as prize-winning watermelons at the state fair.

"I'm kidding Ralph. She was adopted."

"Oh!" You could see him visibly deflate with relief.

"That's very cool!" he commented.

"Thanks!" I said. "And thanks for the deal on the coffee!"

"Sure thing," he said. "Just come back and tell me how it is. I need to know how that Ethiopian coffee with sundried cherries tastes."

You and me both, Ralph. I'll be sure to let you know.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nina Update

I realize I haven't posted pictures lately, so on this cold, rainy day (and by cold, I mean 50) here in Arizona, I did a little video of The Bean.

The child is HUGE. 20 pounds a couple of weeks ago. To put that in perspective, my niece weighs, like, 22 pounds and she's 7 months older than Nina! David says Nina's going to be the tallest Ethiopian woman ever. Of course she is. Because I'm the destined to be the shortest person in this family! She's also starting to "talk" which you can hear in the video.

Additionally, I got her ears pierced. For the record, I don't recommend this. I mean, I do, but I think that all moms who want their baby's ears pierced should have some sort of hired helper to take the child. It wasn't fun.

David, on the other hand, believes that any mother who would willingly put her child through this unbearable torture should have to endure it right there alongside her (screaming) child.

Needless to say, he did not accompany us.

But I think it was worth it, and this morning Nina looked at herself in the mirror, marveled over her beauty, and agreed. She said she's completely forgiven me and even thanked me.

(To be fair to those up-and-comers who are thinking of doing this but have not yet, while she cried for 90 minutes, after that it was a done deal. Hasn't so much as thought about it since.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Anyone who knows me well knows that my birthday isn't a day. It's a week. It's a national holiday.

I don't know where this comes from. Possibly the fact that my birthday falls 2 weeks shy of Christmas and, therefore, I've sought out ways to differentiate it from the "other" December holiday. Possibly it's simple self indulgence brought on by the fact that every day is about every one EXCEPT me, and I use this occasion to focus on myself and force everyone else to do the same (usually against their will).

Anyway, today is the day. And for the first time in (gulp) 36 years I could care less that it's my birthday.

"Why?" you might ask.

(Whether or not you asked, I'll tell you. Because it's my birthday. And I'll do what I want.)

Because yesterday, December 12, I got the best birthday present anyone could ask for or receive.

For all of you who said a prayer for my sweet Heather, you were heard! After one month in the hospital, Heather delivered a beautiful (and I mean BEAUTIFUL) baby girl yesterday.

After one month of not complaining even once. After ONE MONTH of dealing with shots and IVs and conflicting information and hospital food (which, admittedly, looked quite good even to me), and no fresh air, and about 7 (bad) channels on the TV, and no Starbucks, and a sugar-free diet for, like, 5 days, and infrequent showers, and only one visit from her precious dog Churchill, and her amazing husband sleeping on a rock of a bed.

And did I mention? She never complained. Not once. Their favorite nurse, Brittney, even told Heather: "I've had a lot of patients. And you are the ONLY one who NEVER complained. Not once."

There is nothing that Heather and Michael would not have done and would not do for this baby.

At 28 weeks, their sweet daughter was expected to weigh a little under 2 1/2 pounds. But, as only she could, she surprised us all weighing in at 3 lbs. 4 oz.

This little girl AND her mother defied all the odds presented to them. As statistics were given (I hate statistics), I had to continually remind myself that while xx% of cases turn out in an unfortunate way, SOMEONE has to make up the remaining xx%, no matter how small a number that might be.

And so they did.

Truly, the time from when I heard Heather was going into surgery to the time we knew she was out and that both Heather and the baby had come through with flying colors was the longest 1 1/2 hours of my entire life.

I don't have an emotional bone in my body, but when Michael walked into that waiting room in his navy blue scrubs (which he was sort of swimming in) and announced, "You guys, she's doing great!" even the most unemotional person on earth couldn't keep it together.

Welcome to the world Giovanna Rosemary! I cannot wait to get to know you. We are going to have crazy cool co-birthday parties for the rest of our lives (and I'll even let them be all about you because you're just that great).

I could not be more proud to know Heather and Michael and I could not be more blessed to have them in my life. To watch them go through every minute of this experience together was awe-inspiring. I learned a lot. I have never known a couple so supportive of one another or in love with each other. And that love is what created Giovanna and made her the fighter she is.

I slept better last night than I have in a long time. All is right with the world.

Happy Birthday to Me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Packages and Reality

It's been a week.

Jack is 7. One of Jack's seven girlfriends (one for every year of his life, apparently) moved out of the area last week. When Jack announced this to us he said, "Paisley's gone. I'm just a wreck!"

The doorbell rang a bit ago. Everyone went running as though Santa himself had rung. I understand. There's not much excitement around here. So when the doorbell rings, the very idea of just who it could be is enough to get any of the kids up from their Wii marathon for a moment or two.

Not Santa. Just UPS. By the way, I love how the UPS guys wear red Santa hats this time of year. Hey - I just realized, it's sort of like it was Santa at our door.

Anyhoo, the UPS Santa left 2 boxes.

When I brought them in, the kids asked, in unison, "What is that? Who is that for?"

"They're Christmas presents," I answered flatly.

"For who?" Jack asked.

"Whom," I corrected.

"Huh?" he replied.

"Nothing. They're for nice people."

"Nice people?" Jack asked.

"Yeah. You know, people who are nice to me. Those are the people who'll get the presents."

"Well shoot," responds Jack. "Guys, don't get excited," he screams to his siblings. "The presents are for Michael and Heather."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Just another afternoon...

Today, Henry began reading the Harry Potter series (out loud, while Jack sat 8 feet away reading Wacky Wednesday. Out load).

Henry: "Professor McDougal went..."

Liz: "McGonagall"

Henry: "Oh. It's a hard word to announce."

Liz: "Pronounce."

Henry: "Dad, this is so mean. Listen to this. 'Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair, and bright green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.'"

George: "Is he bleeding?"

Henry: "NO GEORGE. THIS IS A BOOK! IT'S NOT REAL!"

Jack: (running in the door with his remote control dragonfly): "This thing is out of juice."

George: "I want some juice!"

Liz: "No, he means..."

George: "But I WANT SOME JUICE!"

Liz: "George, we're not having juice."

George: "But Jack is! Jack, you're going to be on the naughty list."

Jack: "No I'm NOT George! My dragonfly is out of BATTERIES!"

Henry: "Professor McDoogal..."

Liz: "McGonagall"

Henry: "Whoever."

George: "JUUUIIIIICE!!!!"

'Tis the season to be...insane. Oh, wait, that has nothing to do with any particular season.

Friday, November 28, 2008

New ventures

Well, folks, after great amounts of stress (technology is hardly my thing), setbacks large enough to allow me the privilege of keeping Tylenol in business, and roadblocks the size of Rhode Island, I'm pleased to announce that my latest business venture has lifted off. Granted, it's barely off the runway, but hopefully it'll keep climbing.

This new blog/website, Got Crazy Twins (http://www.gotcrazytwins.com), will be filled with articles, audio files, video files, tips, humor, brain-cell boosters, must-have lists, favorite products, and much more to keep both expectant and seasoned parents of multiples happy and sane.

So, if you have twins, or know anyone who does, please check out the site or pass it along.

If you read (or listen to...or watch) a post that you enjoy, please post in the comment section of that post. That way, I don't feel like I'm hanging out alone in cyberspace. I'm lonely enough sitting on the corner of my worn out couch with my leftover green bean casserole and a dictionary as I determine the best words to include in the Word of the Day section for December -- you know, since we're feeling less intelligent by the second (hint: Word of the Day is included in the Sanity section of the site).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks

On this day of giving thanks, I wanted to say Thank You to everyone who helped fund the test Etagegne needed to take to get her nursing license. If you've no idea what I'm talking about, you can refer to this post.

As you can see from the photo below, Almaz arranged for Etagegne to take the test with the $500 we raised, and she passed. Thanks to you, this beautiful woman can now care for her family in a more reasonable way --- with one job that allows her reasonable working hours instead of three that only allow her to be home for a few hours each day (and probably don't provide nearly the income combined that her new nursing job will provide).

Thank you!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Togetherness

As I mentioned, David is out of a job. In the short term, this is terrific because we've been passing in the night for, like, 9 years and we're thoroughly enjoying having our days to spend together and the bit of extra flexibility it provides with 5 children (as in, thank you that I don't have to take all 5 children with me to the gynecologist).

We'll worry about the long-term later. Like, after Christmas. David is spectacularly good at what he does (even though I'm not completely clear on what he does, but it has something to do with testing and quality assurance in the IT realm) and I know something will work out. But right now, he's very happy being one of the many men at the park who stand around and kibbitz about how long they've been out of work.

The word kibbitz made me think of Mollie. Mollie, if you're reading this, I miss you!

I told David not to worry about looking for a new job until after the holidays. "It's been a long couple of years," I said. "Take some time and enjoy the kids and your time. Go hunt something." (I can't believe I suggested that.)

Today we went to Target. (We're trying to stimulate the economy. Is that so bad?). I suggested we get some cans of soup for dinner. You know, to conserve cash.

"I don't want to buy cans of soup. I want to make my own soup," David announced.

Okay?

"But I don't know what to make. I can't focus. I don't have a recipe. Should we go home right now and let me look through cookbooks and come up with something and then we can come back?"

No.

He threw some items in the cart and agreed to figure it out later.

We then got to the toy aisle.

"Oh, look at the Lego sets," he commented. "These are fantastic. The boys would love these."

"David, have you noticed how many pieces that kit has? 753. Have you lost your mind?"

"No, but I'm just saying..."

I was already 2 aisles over.

"David," I inquired. "Didn't you say you needed socks?"

"Yes, but we're not spending money on socks. Can't you darn them?"

I almost didn't acknowledge that I'd heard him but my second personality took over before I could stop her.

"This is the year 2008. No one darns socks. Buy a freaking bag of socks."

"That's okay," he answered. "Socks can wait."

Okay?

And then, every aisle went something like this:

"David, we need wrapping paper."

"Can't we make that?"

No.

"David, we need formula."

"Can't you make that?"

No.

"David, we need shampoo."

"Can't you make that?"

No.

"Liz, I need eggnog."

Yeah, No.

By the time we exited, I said, "David, watcha doin' this afternoon?"

"Nothing, why?"

"Oh, I don't know. Feel like job hunting?"

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's Official!

First of all, I would like to ask everyone reading this to take just a moment and say a prayer for my fabulous Heather (Nina's godmother) and Michael (Nina's godfather). I know that most of you don't know them, but I also know that the blogging community is so supportive and that when prayers are requested, they're given. And they work. Heather and Michael or so important to our family and they can use as many prayers as can be said right now.

Heather's water broke on Saturday. She's 24 weeks pregnant with a female gymnast (seriously, that baby flips around in her like nothing I've ever seen!) I simply ask you to say a prayer for the baby to stay strong and safe for a few more weeks and for Heather and Michael to be strong and stay positive.

On Saturday (National Adoption Day) we were able to finalize Nina's re-adoption. Re-adoption is required in some states. Arizona is not one of them. However, it was important for us to do it for two reasons:

1. It covers us should we ever move to a state in which readoption is necessary.

2. It allowed us to legally change Nina's name from Rahel David Lyons to Nina Rahel Elizabeth Lyons. This was most important, if for no other reason, because I'm getting tired of people calling and asking for the mother of Rachel!

We honestly expected it to be a rather sterile experience, but it was anything but that. Our judge was the kindest woman. She was so genuinely thrilled to officially declare Nina our daughter according to Arizona law. She said 21 judges volunteered their time on Saturday to preside over these hearings.

We can now apply for Nina's citizenship! This process, admittedly, stirs mixed feelings in me. Of course I want Nina to be a U.S. citizen and it's what her first mother wanted for her as well because of the opportunities she knew it would afford her. However, the U.S. does not recognize dual citizenship. So, to get U.S. citizenship, Nina has to renounce her Ethiopian citizenship. Now, Ethiopia does (I believe) recognize dual citizenship. So, until she's 5 (when her Ethiopian passport expires) I believe that Ethiopia still recognizes her as an Ethiopian citizen. But unless I want to travel back over there with her when she's five to renew that, she'll lose her Ethiopian citizenship then. And that makes me sad. I so wish she could have both forever.

Anyhoo, here are some recent photos:

Henry and Nina (don't you just want to eat her?)

This is her "What you talkin' about Willis?" look

All of us with Judge Eileen Willett at Nina's re-adoption

As you can imagine, Henry had 18,000 questions. Judge Willett answered them all. I told him that all he needed to know was that he needed to ask all of his questions now because this was the only time we intended for him to see the inside of a courtroom.

Judge Willett congratulating David

Grace in the judge's seat. The judge was taking off her robes so Grace could wear them, but Grace declined. Her exact response was, "Maybe next time." David said, "Yeah, there isn't going to be a 'next time,' so it's now or never!"

Judge George

Judge Henry

Judge Jack

Listening to the judge declaring us a family

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Trim Time

I caught a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror at Kohl's yesterday and my first thought was, "Who lets their wife out of the house looking like that?" Then I realized it was me in the mirror.

So I called David. "How could you let me leave the house this morning in this condition?"

"Liz, you looked fine. Same as every other day."

Not reassuring.

I determined it was time to stop slicking my wet hair into a ponytail each morning and get a trim. I mean, it hasn't been cut since 6 weeks before I left for Ethiopia. I've been home almost 4 months. Tired of looking like a hobo.

And where does the word "hobo" come from? Probably the fact that David and I have been subjected to no fewer than 784 viewings of Kitt Kittredge in the last week. It's the movie du jour right now. And it's about hobos. Well, okay, not hobos per se. But the Depression. And there were hobos.

And in trying to find ways to stomach the movie yet again I've begun looking at it more closely for tips on how to save money these days since, according to all accounts, our economy is seeming a bit Depression-like. The only thing I've come up with is to have a chicken coop in the backyard and sell eggs for 15-cents a dozen.

So Henry asks, in the middle of his 457th viewing, "Dad, what's a hobo?"

"Well, it's sort of hard to explain," David answers.

"I know," responds Henry, making me wonder why he asked in the first place. "It's someone who does work for someone else and then kills them."

Um, no.

David then had to come up with a more Webster-approved response than "it's sort of hard to explain."

Grace chimed in because she's writing a book and knows all about these things. Not hobos, exactly. But depressive times. Her book is about a girl who was born in Paris but lives in London and has to go live at an orphanage called Snoggage in Scotland because her parents can no longer care for her after her dad loses his job.

This is only slightly comical as David just lost his job. However, the storyline started long before this occurred.

She's aware that Nina lived in an orphanage, but her fascination with such places started after she watched the American Girl Samantha movie in which Jenny comes to live with Samantha --- after she lived in an orphanage. These American Girl movies are killing me.

So while you might think my child has been irreparably damaged by having a sister who lived in an orphange for 14 weeks and a father who's lost his job, the reality is that, in our case, life is imitating art! Maybe she's got some sort of psychic ability. Who knows.

In any event, I hope Jamie, my haircut gal, is in a good mood today.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Hilarity

Last night, The Beach Boys played a concert in our neighborhood (an extra 5000 people in the neighborhood made it a bit crowded!).

At one point, Michael said to Henry, "Henry, what do you think of the band? They're pretty good, huh?"

Henry's response: "Yeah. But why are they so old?"

**********

At breakfast this morning, Henry sat down next to George. Now, most mornings breakfast is full of a caucaphony of "Move over!" "You're too close to me!" "You smell!" and "Leave me alone!" --- all before 7:30 am.

This morning, as Henry sat down next to George and we braced ourselves for the onslaught of opposition, George says, "Thank you for sitting next to me my sweet love!"

David's still laughing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baptized

As I mentioned, Nina was baptized this past Sunday.

Baptism is an interesting topic. People baptize their children at different ages, for different fundamental reasons. For some it's deeply personal and for some it's done in the name of tradition and/or fear.

I have most certainly fallen into both categories but I won't name which kid's baptism was a product of which mentality!

We didn't see Grace get baptized. Doesn't that sound absurd? It was. She was baptized at an Episcopal church in Illinois. We never really felt "at home" there, but we felt as though we should be there since I was raised in the Episcopal church, my grandfather was an Episcopal priest, and David and I were married in the Episcopal church (by my grandfather). David was raised Catholic but didn't desire to continue that tradition in his adult life. I didn't argue with that!

Anyhoo, Grace was baptized on All Saints Day (as was Nina, which was really neat) and there were six or so other children baptized with Grace. One of the families brought to the baptismal font seemingly everyone they'd ever met. Grace's godmother had to literally push her way to the front or Grace may have been inadvertently forgotten! It was an impersonal experience to say the least, and it was the last time we visited that church.

The boys' baptisms were done at a Lutheran church in IL that we loved. Their baptisms were personal and beautiful.

Nina's baptism was different from the other four. Not completely because of Nina per se but because the priest of our church (which is Episcopal) who happens to be a woman (who is unbelievable) made it so amazing.

On the two Saturdays prior to the baptism David and I met with Pastor Gae and she explained to us the entire history of baptism---the myths and facts---and helped us explore some of our own beliefs related to baptism, spirituality, etc. It was really great.

Two other families had their children baptized alongside Nina. Nina was the only infant.

My aunt made a GORGEOUS baptism gown for our family when Grace was born. She's monogrammed the names of each child who was baptized in it onto the slip. I didn't think Nina would fit into it, but she did.

When Pastor Gae took Nina from Aunt Heather and introduced her to the congregation prior to baptizing her, she told everyone that she was born in Ethiopia. This was when I went semi-puddle. Heather was 3/4 puddle. Even Michael and David were overcome with emotion.

After the service I asked David what it was that made the whole thing so emotional; we'd never gotten that emotional at the other kids' baptisms.

David hit the nail on the head. He said, "It was Nina's demeanor. She was just so peaceful the entire time, like she just knows she's meant to be here."

He was exactly right.

I stood there on the altar looking at her and thinking, "We didn't conceive this child. We didn't spend weeks taking my temperature and timing 'actions' and then spending months talking about how she got my nose or David's mouth. And yet here she is. And she's as purposefully our child as are the other four."

The entire journey of adoption was, for us, a very spiritual one. It required great faith in many things. And in that moment, on the altar, the realization of how perfectly this child was created for our family was completely overwhelming.

The confirmation she provides every single day that we were intended to be her family and the peace that she's always had about being here, with us, is humbling. And that's what made me overflow with emotion in that moment. That and a very sudden feeling that my grandfather was there. And a simultaneous reminder that she wouldn't meet him and vice versa on this side of heaven. But somehow, I have a sense that they've already met.

Yes, I know. I'm weird.

I'm not an openly emotional person, and the place from where my emotion came in that moment is the same place very deep inside from which I had to draw such faith in my belief that we were meant to travel halfway around the world to welcome this beautiful girl into our lives.

And then my hair caught fire.

Deacon Gaye gave us each a lit baptismal candle and as I was whipping my rarely worn down hair around while saying Peace to everyone around me, I heard a sizzle. And then I smelled burnt hair. Can you even imagine if my whole head had gone up right there on the altar? I would have forever been known as "that lady whose hair caught fire during the baptism."

Next week I'll have to get a trim to remove the burnt part.

Mom, I'm going to load these to KodakGallery, don't worry. It may take a few days. Until then, enjoy!

Pastor Gae and Nina

The whole crewGeorge and Nina
Jack and Nina

Nina with Aunt Heather and Uncle Michael


Nina and Liz
Nina and Grace

When you gotta eat, you gotta eat


Jack, Liz, and Nina


Henry

Grammy, Poppy and Nina

Nina and Aunt Heather


Monday, November 3, 2008

Sit Baby Sit!

Nina was baptized yesterday and it was a beautiful service. I'll post pictures later today.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat her on the floor and this is what ensued. I'd tried the day prior and she just flopped over. But today was the day!

She's presently been sitting up for about 45 minutes playing with a new toy I bought her today. It's like a whole new world has opened for her...and for me!

As you'll see, she's obsessed with her hands. My mom and I think she'll either be a hand surgeon or a physical therapist. She spends hours just flipping her hands over each other and staring at them. She clearly finds them (and what they can do) fascinating.

Oh, and lest I forget to say it (because I think it often), I am so thrilled to again have an infant who can self-entertain for 1-2 hours at a time! It's been 7 or 8 loooong years without one (and instead with 3 infant boys who can self-entertain for a whopping 47 seconds --- on a good day.)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dear Dawn,

Ask and ye shall receive! Some new photos:

I love my exersaucer!

At the African Festival a couple of weekends ago at ASU
(the boys were off watching the hip hop dancers and Grace was trying to find
a temporary tattoo design that cost less than $10)

George at his school's field trip to a pumpkin patch (which is so NOT like
a pumpkin patch back east!)
George, Nina, and I at George's field trip

Growing and Car Ride Conversations

Nina had her 6-month checkup yesterday. She's huge. 18 lbs (90th percentile), 27 1/2 inches (also 90th percentile). Completely perfect (but we already knew that). She'd roll from one end of the house to the other if you let her and is starting to form actual sounds (other than screaming or spitting everywhere).

So the other day I was driving the kids to school. Here's the conversation that ensued.

Henry: You know what Mom?

Liz: What Henry

Henry: Some of the girls in my class? Well, they think I'm hot.

Liz: (trying to remain calm) Henry, what does that mean exactly?

Henry: It means they think I'm cute and handsome and they want to be my girlfriend

Jack: And when a girl is hot, it means she's pretty and gorgeous.

Liz: Uh-huh. Can we just say people are pretty or cute? Can we not use the word 'hot?'

Henry: No. I'm hot. That's what they said.

Liz: Uh-huh. Henry, do you have a girlfriend? Because the last time I asked you said 'Absolutely not!'

Henry: Yeah, I have a few.

Liz: A few? How about one. I really think it's polite to have only one at a time.

Henry: Okay. Well then I pick Tiffany.

Liz: Why Tiffany?

Henry: Because she has big front teeth like I do.

Liz: Uh-huh. It's important to choose someone with whom you have something in common.

Jack: Well, I still have 6 or 7 girlfriends. And I'm not going to have just one. I mean, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Always the sensitive one....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tagged

Okay, I was tagged by Trendy Mindy. And thank you, Mindy, because this tagging thing has been going on for weeks and I was beginning to feel left out.

I'm supposed to post 7 interesting/random facts about myself. I'm not real interesting, so this could take the rest of the year.

1. I am thrifty to the core when it comes to clothing. If it doesn't cost less than $10 I won't buy it. This is because I simply KNOW that within a few weeks, almost any item in any store will be reduced to less than $10. Nordstrom's items, kids' shoes, and my every-other-year pair of UGGS are the exceptions.

2. I'm an aspiring gardener. This dream was enhanced after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I'd love to grow everything we eat (except for meat, obviously) in our backyard. The problem is that I do not have a green thumb. Or even a yellow thumb. I planted 28 varieties of seeds two weeks ago and only 3 varieties are sprouting. But that's better than last season. I also recently purchased a composter. But it's not working either. It's just a bin full of stuff that won't compost. I've done more research on composting than I have on why kids whine. Still not working.

3. I am incapable of finishing one book before I purchase (and begin) another. It's an illness. I'm presently reading about five. It stalls any feeling of real accomplishment in my life.

4. I am in love with koala bears. If I could go back and do it all again, I'd be a speech therapist or a zoologist working with the koalas. Or the dolphins. Though I think marine biologists work with dolphins. The mere fact that I don't know indicates that I haven't the brains to be one.

5. The cold hard reality is that I couldn't do either of the above because I could not pass Bio 101. I didn't even take Physics in high school because there was a very rational fear on the part of my parents, teachers, and myself that it might prevent me from graduating (and that was after I narrowly escaped accidentally blowing up the school in chemistry).

6. I am positively terrified of snakes. Just the idea of them raises the hair on my arms. I recently touched one for the first time at a zoo event because the kids wanted me to and I thought it was the motherly thing to do. But it was awful. My next door neighbor accidentally kicked a 5-foot rattlesnake the other day on the sidewalk 500 feet from our house. I'm now afraid to go outside. I think I might become an agoraphobic.

7. I know next to nothing about U.S. history, politics, or geography. This is why I won't play Trivial Pursuit. I feel very uneducated after playing. I know a lot about OTHER countries, other countries' politics, geography, etc. Just not the U.S. I blame this on my social studies and history teachers as I believe that if they'd made it interesting enough I would have paid attention. But now, in my old age, I'm finding some of our country's history interesting enough that I'm proactively learning. I devoured the John Adams miniseries on HBO and I'm very slowly working my way through Don't Know Much About History (because I don't).

I now tag:
Karen Y.
Laurie H.
Nell Ann G.
Martha H.

You may already have been tagged by someone. But just go with it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Too Many Questions

First, I finally have a new blog post out on MomLogic. Check it out if you're interested; it does have to do with having a new baby in the house!

And now, on to my thoughts as of late...

I'm used to being asked a lot of questions. I'm used to having a lot of opinions thrown at me.

You see, in case you didn't know, when you have multiples, you are a bit of a freak show.

This makes perfect sense. I mean, there aren't many multiples in this country, so when people see them they go nuts.

Did you say, "Huh?" yet?

I thought so. Sorry. I got sarcastic for a second. There are TONS of multiples in this country. They are everywhere I look. I rarely go a day without seeing at least one set of twins while out and about (not counting the two sets at George's preschool alone). Celebrities are having them en masse, as though twins are the new Grammy or something.

When Jack and Henry were born 7 years ago, I could not go anywhere without being asked questions or being on the receiving end of some person's opinions when they learned I wasn't breastfeeding, wondered whether or not I'd ever thought of breastfeeding, or felt me up in Lowe's as they wondered whether or not my boobs were even large enough to feed two children to their respective points of satiety.

I learned to focus my eyes straight ahead and not make eye contact with anyone. When you make eye contact, you invite questions and comments. I'm very good at staring straight ahead.

I sometimes talked to myself, too, so I'd appear less than sane. No one wants to engage a less-than-sane person in a conversation. Unless they have infant twins with them. So sometimes I'd talk to myself and hum to make people really nervous.

I soon realized that, on a very small scale, I understood a bit what it must feel like to be a celebrity. Everywhere you go, someone wants something from you. In the celebrities' case, it's an autograph or a photo or some such thing. In my case, it was information on what position a couple must "do it" in to conceive multiples or how bad the C-section was (and when I mentioned that I didn't have a C-section, the conversation turned to how my va-jay-jay could ever have survived such an experience).

I simply could not go anywhere and do my thing invisibly.

Once Jack and Henry turned two or three, strangers stopped noticing us. And I noticed them not noticing. It made me sad for a while because by the time Jack and Henry were two, I needed people to notice me. Anyone. I had been living a very one-dimensional life with twins and a toddler for so long that I'd engage the pesky late-afternoon telemarketers and would have answered any question asked of me no matter how personal. I may have even willingly shown my boobs if asked nicely enough. I'd have done nearly anything for a little adult conversation.

Much of the public's sudden lack of attention likely stemmed from the fact that Jack and Henry look nothing alike, so most people didn't think they were twins. In fact, when I mentioned to folks that they were twins, I occasionally ended up in conversations that included a lot of "No, they really are," on my end. Like it was my job to convince people. But again, desperate times call for stupid debates.

I accepted that tooling around with two infant car seats is, apparently, just adorable. Tooling around with two screaming toddlers who look no more similar than next-door neighbors is, apparently, not.

I quickly got over the loss of strangers' affections and was glad to be able to go out and about again with anonymity.

I now realize that I'm back in that place. That place where I cannot leave the house without taking a deep breath and preparing for the onslaught of stares, questions, and comments.

And, the reality that these comments are likely to continue---possibly even increase---as Nina gets older, is not an idea about which I'm ambivalent.

I love that people are interested in Nina. I do. I'm very proud to be her mother. I love that most people think she's so beautiful. That they think she looks like "a doll." And some days, if one more person says, "She looks just like a doll. She really does. Honey, come here. Look at this doll...I mean baby...," I think I might lose it.

Some days, I just want to buy a freakin' squash. And some days, Nina just wants me to buy a freakin' squash and get the hell home. And some days, Nina's brothers and sister want everyone to stop making such a fuss over Nina so we can buy the freakin' squash and go home so they can play Wii and fight with each other some more.

Last week in California, I had Nina in a stroller in which she was forward facing. Big mistake. The beauty of having a baby facing you while riding in a stroller is that, to see her face, onlookers must stand where you're standing. Hence, you have an exit. When the child is facing forward, the strangers must stand RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU to see the child. And, most often, your only option to get away is to run them over.

I'm tired of being blockaded in the cereal aisle when I need to get to produce. Especially when the 4-year-old is holding a box of Apple Jacks and screaming, "PLEEEEEAAAAASE!!!!!" while the stranger is asking me why anyone would give away such a beautiful baby and not noticing (or caring) that I need her to get the hell out of the way before I (not to mention the 4-year-old) blow.

So after that particular stranger-of-the-moment moved on from "What happened to her birthparents?" to "She looks just like a doll," I had to politely say, "Yes, she does. And I've really got to get the doll's siblings and, thanks to you, this whopping box of Apple Jacks out of the store now. Have a great day!"

Idiot.

One day recently, Grace said, "Why does everyone pay so much attention to Nina?" I said, "Because she's a baby. Everyone loves a baby."

"Did everyone talk to me that much when I was a baby?" she asked.

"Yep!" I lied.

Again, I love that everyone is interested. I love the opportunity to show people a different side of Ethiopia from the swollen-bellied, fly-infested images they've seen over the TV for the last decade. I love to spread the word that there are many beautiful dolls---I mean children---in Ethiopia waiting for loving families who are willing to share their homes and their lives and their hearts (and, if they can get out of the grocery, a box of Apple Jacks and a freakin' squash to boot).

I do.

But I'll admit it. I'm waiting for a day when Nina can just be a daughter and a sister. When we can go out and be "just a normal family" trying to buy bushes or sheets or lunch. When Nina's not a walking advertisement (or a strolling advertisement, as the case actually is) or the focus of everyone's eyes and curiosity.

A day when I can point toward a faux Christmas tree in Lowe's and ask David WHY they have these things out in October when it's still 100 degrees in Phoenix without giving it my all to ignore, while being painfully aware of (and I do mean painfully), the fact that there are 3 pair of eyes intently focused on us as though we were Brangelina themselves.

I'm waiting for just. one. day. when I can run an errand...or two...or six...and just run the errand. Just Nina and me. Or Nina and me and Grace and Jack and Henry and George (because that's as many people as will fit in the car). A day when no one asks questions. No one points. No one says the word "doll." No one stands between my stroller and the produce aisle. No one mentions birthparents or AIDS or luck.

Just one day.

I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Too Much Information

Thank you, Karen, who pointed out that I'd forgotten to post my newest best answer to "What happened to her birthparents?"

If you know me at all, you likely suspect that my answer may be something cunning and sarcastic. But that would be incorrect...in this case. I actually got this idea from someone locally and it happened to come in very handy about 48 hours after I learned of it.

Here's what you say: "You know, there's just a lot we don't know."

The reality is this: if you insinuate that you know ANYTHING, most people will assume that it is their inherent right to know all that you know. It's unbelievable and I wouldn't have believed it to be true if I hadn't seen it and heard it about 368,000 times in the last three months.

Saying that you met the birthmother is often the biggest mistake. When you acknowledge that you did, the questions come like a flood. To any questions you don't want to answer, or don't know the answer to, people will make assumptions. Out loud. I have found myself wanting to protect Nina's birthmother almost as often and as fiercely as I've found myself protecting Nina!

So, if asked by a stranger, I now won't even admit that I met the birthmother. Who cares? Nina will know the truth, and I know the truth, and that's all that matters.

If asked by a friend, I'll acknowledge that I met her and, depending on the depth of the friendship and the motivation behind the questions, there is information I may or may not reveal. But I can count on one hand the number of friends to whom I'd release this information.

If you open up about a bit of a child's history, people start to guess regarding the rest. Most of the time, you know they are guessing wrong, and you so badly want to correct them (because their guesses are almost always negative) but to correct them you'd have to mention that, in fact, you know more than you let on. So you're stuck in this awful situation with an idiot who you want to run over with your stroller, but most of you are too nice for that so, like I, you just stand there with this fake smile plastered on your face wondering what you can to do get out of the situation.

On at least one occasion, I've thought of saying, "Oh, I think my water just broke!" No, I'm not pregnant. But some of these folks are seriously so lacking in brain cells that this might work.

I'm going to try it soon.

It can be very hard to have people make assumptions about your child's life or family. People say, "Oh, her mom probably died of AIDS." Or, "Oh, how could anyone not WANT such a beautiful baby?"

And then I realize that these idiots will say these idiotic things right in front of Nina when she gets older. Trust me on this. I've seen it with our twins. Specifically on the day in an elevator when a woman asked me, in front of the 5-year-olds, which one was smarter.

20 seconds after exiting the elevator, I answered, "Smarter than you? Both of them honey!" but she was driving away by then. I'm never real quick on the trigger because I'm usually too much in shock to respond immediately. It's too bad because I've come up with some real doozies once folks are in their cars driving away.

Idiots are idiots and their idiot-ness knows no boundaries. I mean, if they are dumb enough to say something dumb to begin with, does anyone really think they are smart enough NOT to say it in front of the child (or children) to which they are referring?

They're not.

So, we now stick with, "You know, there's a lot we don't know." People don't know how to push you on this. If you don't know, you don't know. They'll make assumptions, but hopefully you'll be long gone by then.

I heard another story recently that further cemented my desire to tell very little about Nina's history. A local friend was at a fundraising event with her Ethiopian infant and an Ethiopian woman who lives in the area came up to them and was asking lots of questions about her daughter's history. The mom (my friend) was very open, thinking that because this woman was Ethiopian herself, she'd appreciate the information and it would make sense to her. Well, based on what the woman heard, she began making some assumptions. She then felt the hair of my friend's daughter and made further assumptions (silently). She then walked away mid-conversation and will not engage in conversation with them anymore.

My friend learned through another Ethiopian woman who was there that this particular woman was from one tribe in Ethiopia and, based on my friend's daughter's history and hair texture, this woman assumed she was from a different tribe (with which her tribe did not associate under any circumstances). My friend felt that, by saying what she'd said, she placed a big target on her daughter's back. In the interest of her daughter being able to connect with as many Ethiopians as she can here in the U.S., she's decided to say nothing about her history in order to protect her from being shunned, possibly based on a misinterpretation.

I realize Nina sort of stands out, but what makes people think that all of our children don't have some sort of fascinating story behind how they came to be a part of our family? Assumptions are simply never smart.

A woman said to Nina the other day (as though Nina can answer), "Oh my, and where are YOU from?" I so wanted to say, "Um, my uterus?" just to teach her not to make assumptions. But I refrained. Aren't I nice?

Nina has a story. Grace, Jack, Henry, and George have stories. We all have stories. It doesn't mean that everyone has a right (or a need) to know them.

Just because the fact that you have "a story" is made more obvious by the fact that you're a fantastically gorgeous African child with unbelievably fantastic hair being toted around by your less-than-gorgeous white mother with bad, bad hair does not mean that your story must be shared with every Tom, Dick, and Harry who passes by. Did I mention Dick?

And, as I've learned, some people suffer from a bit more than idle curiosity.

So, for many reasons, the most important of which being a child's privacy and right to be proud of who she is, I think that "You know, there's just so much we don't know" will be my answer of choice going forward.

Next, stay tuned for thoughts on TOO MANY QUESTIONS! (because, these days, there simply are!)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seven!

They can only be serious for about 2 seconds...

Then Jack starts goofing off and Henry can't help but laugh and try to hide it. The photo shoots typically end here.

Do you remember when George Costanza of "Seinfeld" fame suggested naming a child Seven? Or Soda?

I didn't go so far as to name any of our kids Seven (though we came close to naming George "Four" as David waited until thirty minutes after George's birth to engage in a naming discussion with me, beginning by paging through his corporate directory and muttering "No...No...No...How 'bout Lance? Like Lance Armstrong?"

No.

"...Tristan?"

NO!

And on it went until he left the room for a soda and I called the birth certificate department and told them to put George David on the certificate and call it a day. When he returned, I told him it was George David or Four. I think he'd learned by that point not to mess with me until at least 72 hours post-delivery, so George it was.

Anyhoo, I digress (again).

Today, Jack and Henry turned seven.

I lazily lay in our less-than-optimally-comfortable hotel bed this morning and was reliving their delivery in my mind (which isn't the most pleasant of memories, frankly. Worth it, but not terribly pleasant) when someone with a very loud voice started poking me (hard) and yelling, "GRACE! GRACE! WHERE IS JACK?"

"Henry," I answered. "I don't know. I'm sleeping. And I'm not Grace."

He trotted back into the living area and opened the door over and over hoping to catch a glimpse of his brother, undoubtedly to scream to him that it was their birthday (just in case Jack didn't know). 

I called him back into the bedroom and said, "Henry, Happy Birthday!"

"Happy Birthday," he responded.

"Henry, it's YOUR birthday. You don't have to wish ME Happy Birthday."

"I wasn't," he clarified. "I was wishing myself a happy birthday."

Happy 7th to the sweetest, loudest, craziest, most creative, most frustrating, most lovable, most terrifying, most amazing 7-year-olds I know.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Breakfast Table Conversation

Okay, so truth be told I don't sit at the breakfast table having conversation with the kids in the morning. My pediatrician would chastise me for this, yet I doubt she does it with regularity either. I spend my mornings standing like a cheerleader in the middle of the kitchen (or while running from kitchen to laundry room to office to bathroom) directing people to "finish eating," "stop talking," "get off the dog," and "bring me your folder for god's sake so I can sign it ONCE this week." And not necessarily in that order.

This morning, Jack was paying little-to-no attention to my requests to bring me his folder because he was too busy talking about how he got invited to Mateo's birthday party but Henry didn't because only Jack's class was invited.

Here is the conversation that ensued when I was close to my breaking point.

Liz: Jack, if you can't bring me your folder, I can't call Mateo's Mom and let her know that you'll be coming to his birthday party

Jack: Well, you can't call Mateo's mom anyway. Mateo doesn't have a mom. He has two dads.

Liz: Okay. That's fine. Just don't tell Sarah Palin.

Henry: He has two Dads?

Jack: Who's Sarah Painting?

Henry: Sarah's painting what?

Liz: Omigod, forget it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Heart of an Angel

Today, Nina had her appointment with the cardiologist after her initial appointment had to be rescheduled due to lightning striking the hospital the night before!

As many of you know, when Nina was referred to us we were informed that she had a congenital heart condition called a VSD. VSD stands for Ventricular Septal Defect and it's basically a hole in the heart between the wall, or septum, that separates the two ventricles (which are the two lower chambers of your heart). You can have a muscular or a membranous defect, and we knew Nina's is muscular which, if you're going to have one, is the one to have.

We were relatively confident based on ultrasound images and other diagnostic information from Ethiopia that the hole was small and would likely close over time. We also knew that if she had a serious defect, she wouldn't be thriving. And, for the record, a VSD is not uncommon even in this country. But, we still needed to consult with the pediatric cardiologist here to get a full assessment and path forward. Because, lest we've forgotten, the wise 12-year-old working at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia informed me that "medical care is better in the U.S. than it is in Ethiopia."

Shocking.

After I filled out pages and pages of paperwork on which I had to continually note "Not Known" next to umpteen questions about her family history (can you say "insert knife and twist?"), the door opened and I watched a sweet young tech as she mindfully wrestled with her options.

You see, when you have an uncommon name, teachers and medical personnel alike tend to pay the price.

"Rah...Ray...Rah...Lyons?"

Very close. Good save.

We spent 30 minutes attempting to get an EKG, blood pressure, pulse ox etc. on this child. This very squirmy, unnaturally happy child who thought I'd taken her to an amusement park for the day. Honestly. She was chewing on all the leads, the blood pressure cuff, you name it. And, if you move during an EKG, it's over. It was over about 38 times before we got anything close to acceptable.

Then it was time for the ultrasound. While on the exam table, Nina began wondering what she could next chew to smithereens, and the tech began doing the scan. The tech also began venting about Sarah Palin.

Honestly, there must be a lesson for me in here somewhere. I'm too tired to find it. But what I can tell you is that I am SO SICK of hearing about Sarah Palin, one way or the other.

So there I was, intently watching the screen as the tech droned on and on. I caught only every 6th word or so, but I unfortunately caught enough to know that her monologue had something to do with Planned Parenthood, an e-mail campaign, and the acquisition of MY email address, which was not going to be forthcoming.

Anyhoo, about 7 minutes in (was it only 7? Because it felt like 107), I interrupted her diatribe by saying, "Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but what exactly are we looking at here?"

I realize she must have been shocked to learn that I actually was more interested in the state of my daughter's heart than her thoughts on whether Sarah's poor 17-year-old daughter should be forced to marry "a thug" simply because she is carrying his child.

"These are the ventricles," she explained as she pointed them out on the screen.

"...and can you even beLIEVE that people do not like Michelle Obama?" she continued. "Because..."

"No I can't believe it. Now, I'm no expert [insert tech's name], and I'm sorry to again interrupt, but are those TWO flows from her left to her right ventricle?"

"Yes. I think so. But don't tell the doctors I told you. I'm not supposed to do that. But she seems to have two VSDs. Now, did you see the way that McCain did not even LOOK at Obama during the debate, because..."

"I'm sorry. Excuse me again. Did you just say she has TWO VSDs?"

"Well, I think so, but again, I'm not a doctor and..."

At this point, I completely tuned her out. Didn't catch even every 6th word. I determined that, over the course of the next 21 minutes, I was going to become an expert on the heart as seen on ultrasound. Poor woman didn't have a chance. Didn't have the opportunity to provide another opinion on anything, political or otherwise, because she was suddenly bombarded by little old me with questions like, "Is that blood supposed to be flowing from her ventrical to her atrium? Because I think it is. Oh, that's normal? Okay.

"Why is the wand now in her neck? Are you looking at her carotid artery? Yes? Is it normal? Oh good.

"What's the systolic gradient of the VSDs? How do I know about that? Oh, honey, I don't know if you've met my very best friend but his name is Google.

"What? No one else on earth listens to you vent? Clearly. Save it for the next patient. Now..."

Anyway, the verdict was that she likely has two VSDs. Very small ones, though, and they should not affect her in any way short- or long-term. She'll get some follow-up visits and ultrasounds with the hope that we'll confirm that the holes have closed, which will hopefully happen by her 4th birthday.

She's clearly not suffering from any major heart condition, as she weighed in at 17 POUNDS and 27 INCHES. This means that she's grown 8 inches in 5 months and has put on 7 pounds since coming home two months ago! Yeesh.

She also continues to be an angel. Every time they did something, they'd say, "She probably won't like this," and I continued to respond, "You haven't treated a kid like this yet. Trust me." She smiled at everyone, never cried, and even after going 6 hours without a nap finally sank into her stroller, closed her eyes, and went to sleep as I talked to the nurse. We never even noticed!

I shudder at the very thought that David and I ever looked at one another with raised eyebrows, slowly and sadly shaking our heads in silence, as our case manager explained that she had a beautiful baby to tell us about but that we had to be very cautious because she had a heart condition.

We were shaking our heads because we heard "heart condition" and envisioned months living at the hospital while corrective measures were undertaken. With 4 other kids at home. And no family living nearby. Am I crazy? Yes. Am I clinically insane beyond measure? No. Not yet.

To be perfectly clear, a special need doesn't faze me in the least. But with 4 other kids at home, I could not manage the idea of living in a hospital with a baby for an unknown period of time. You deal with things that come up of which you were unaware in advance, but to know about something challenging in advance and take it on requires, for me, a different family dynamic than we have at this time.

Even with what limited information we had, David and I never considered turning down Nina's referral. The doctor's assessments gave us great comfort, but the specialists all insisted on speaking "off the record" and we didn't know what we'd learn once we got her home. We were a bit nervous as I prepared to leave for Ethiopia because, at 13 weeks of age, she still weighed under 10 pounds, had been hospitalized once with pneumonia and, not having laid eyes on her, we weren't 100% comfortable that all was copacetic.

The very idea that we could have been frightened enough of the possibilities not to accept her referral is something I cannot even think about. I simply cannot imagine not having this kid in our world. I mean, really, just LOOK at her!

To entice you to come back next time, I've found THE answer to be used when people ask what happened to your child's birth parents (and you don't want to answer). Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Calling All Angels...

So, here's the update on Believe Impossible Things...

I was able to communicate with Almaz the other day regarding the $500 for Etagenge's nursing license. She assured me that Etagenge is ready to take the test, and that Almaz will get all this moving when she gets back to Ethiopia in October (she's still in the States). She also confirmed that she'll be able to send a photo of Etagenge when she gets her license, which I cannot WAIT to show all of you!

I've mentioned an organization before called Charity:Water. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, scroll down a few posts or go check out their website. One of the things I greatly admire about this organization is the way in which they are able to pass every cent of every donation directly to the cause for which it's intended. The way they do this is by using private funding for salaries (for the record, Believe Impossible Things will not compensate anyone with salaries for the foreseeable future, possible ever). They also rely on donations for web design, logo design, stationery, office furniture, etc.

I love this concept. Allow me to use a well-known example to demonstrate one of the things that's always bugged me about charitable giving: The United Way. The United Way does a lot of tremendous things, no doubt. But donations often go into a huge bucket and, in the end, I don't want to find out that my $30 donation paid for the leg of an office chair. I want to know that my donation fed a hungry child in a third-world country for six months. Also, the CEO of The United Way makes an ungodly amount of money. Again, I know she (I'm pretty sure it's a she) works hard. But I don't want my $30 donation filling up half of her gas tank.

As a donor, I like to know where my money is going and whom I've directly affected. I want the same for all of the donors to Believe Impossible Things.

The office of Believe Impossible Things is, at present (and for the foreseeable future), right here in my living room. I'd love someone to donate carpet or an unstained chair, but that would be for personal pleasure, not business need so I won't ask for it.

What I do need is the following. If anyone can help (or knows anyone who might be willing to help), please let me know.

  • Assistance incorporating. Several years ago, I met with a friend of a friend who is a non-profit attorney here in town about forming a different charitable organization (that didn't ever come to be). He was going to charge me $3000 to form it (before filing fees). I'm HAPPY as punch to pay the filing fees. But is there an attorney out there who would be willing to fill out the paperwork pro bono? Or, is there an attorney out there who would advise me against using a service like LegalZoom for any reason? LegalZoom is not free, but it's far less expensive than the friend of a friend was.
  • Assistance filing for tax-exempt status with the IRS. Filing as an official 501(c)(3) requires even more paperwork. Again, happy to pay the filing fees. Is anyone willing/able to help me pro bono with the filling out of the forms?
  • Logo - anyone out there a fantastic graphic designer (or a budding one with great promise) who'd like to take a shot at the logo?
  • Web design. Of course, we need a website!
That's it for now. All told, if formally hired out, the cost of these four needs could exceed $10,000. Sadly, I don't have $10,000 lying around. And, truthfully, even if I did, I'd FAR prefer to use it to help others in Ethiopia. I bet $10,000 would go a long way over there. So does anyone know anyone who might do pro bono work in any of these areas?

I know, once again I'm wondering if anyone knows anyone. But this is surely more important than knowing someone who knows someone who knows the Jonas Brothers, right?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What's In A Name?

So, the history behind Believe Impossible Things...

My grandfather was a man I truly admired. He was mysterious - at least to me, as there were many things about him I didn't know. He passed away 2 1/2 years ago and there continue to be more and more things I wish I could ask him. He was an Episcopal priest (yes, you can be married if you're an Episcopal priest), and he had much wisdom to share.

I asked him once what he favorite book was. Now, this man was brilliant. As in, a member of Mensa. Not "Mensa-Like," as Gayle King refers to her producer, Corny Koehl. REAL Mensa. Sadly, those genes didn't make it this far down the tree.

I expected his answer to be something deep. Something complicated. Like War and Peace or some tome I'd never heard of.

"Alice in Wonderland," he said.

Huh?

In honor of my grandfather, I've always known that I would give my organization a name that, in some way, paid homage to Alice in Wonderland. Let people wonder. Carry on the mysteriousness of him.

I asked my friend Heather a few months ago, What on earth will I name this thing?

She sent me a paragraph from Alice in Wonderland.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Loved it. Still love it.

I wanted to call it "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast."

But that's a mouthful. Can you imagine me answering the phone? "Hi, thank you for calling Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast. How can I help or completely confuse you today?"

I can barely type it.

So, I modified it to represent what the Queen wanted Alice to do. Believe Impossible Things.

There you have it!

Oh, and I need help again. More on that shortly...

Friday, September 19, 2008

WE DID IT!

24 hours. $500.

Think about how long it would have taken Etagenge to save up $500. It may never have happened. Yet we were able to pull it together in 24 hours.

The last 24 hours in my life went by in the blink of an eye. Somehow, I doubt the same was true for Etagenge.

In the last 24 hours, I wondered how to get my son to remember to take his homework to school and I wondered how to get my other son to eat something other than cereal. Two things I didn't have to think about were, Will I have enough money to pay for my children's education? and Will I have enough money to put three meals on the table tomorrow?

It took 24 hours to allow Etagenge's life to continue moving forward. To allow her to fulfill her dream. To allow her to continue to provide for her family.

If we can do this in 24 hours for one person, imagine what we can do in a week. In a month. In a year.

This is what it's all about. Breaking the cycle. Changing the "norm." Giving another human being the opportunity to be all that she can be. Giving her permission to Believe Impossible Things.

I'm going to speak to Julie on Monday and find out when Etagenge will be ready to take this test. I'll coordinate with Julie and Almaz regarding when it would be best to send the money based on this timing. I'm hoping to be able to get a picture of Etagenge with the donation, and ultimately with that license! I'll post all details of where the money is, where it's going, when it's spent, when that license is acquired, and, hopefully, at what medical facility Etagenge becomes gainfully employed!

Thank you all so much. You rock. I can't wait for Mission No. 2!

Donor Update

For some reason, the Widget isn't updating properly using a Firefox browser (on the Mac). If you're using that, I want you to know that we're currently at $410! You guys are amazing!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mission No. 1 - The Big Reveal

I mentioned in my last post that I was working on something. This is the beginning of that something.

First, a bit of background (you know by now that I start everything with "a bit of background.") I've wanted to start a foundation for years. The path to get here has been long and winding. It's become clear myriad times that the path I was heading down was not the "right" one. (And the signs were very obvious. Like, say, a brick coming off the back of the truck in front of me, flying toward my windshield as I drove 70+ mph thinking I'd just gotten the idea of the century.)

After returning from Ethiopia, I was more sure than ever that the reason each of my previous endeavors failed to get off the ground was because I had not yet been to Ethiopia. I had not yet seen that kind of need. I had not yet connected with someone who lived such a different way of life.

Since returning, I've thought and thought. I always thought I wanted to do something around literacy (being a writer), but honestly after seeing what I saw in Ethiopia, I found myself thinking, "Who cares if you can read if you will starve before morning?" But literacy IS important, and I believe education is the key to everything.

I continued to think.

I'm still working on the exact nature of the need or needs the foundation will primarily serve. And, truthfully, I may just let it evolve until it finally becomes what it is designed by Someone Else to be. I know I need to partner with folks on the ground in Ethiopia who know not only what the needs are, but how to get in there and DO something, get past red tape, etc. I'm actively working on that.

For now, I have an initial endeavor, and I need your help.

Through AGCI, I've learned about a woman who is a special mother at Hannah's Hope. She works primarily with the infants.

Her name is Etagegne. Etagenge has 5 children; the oldest is 15 and the youngest are 3-year-old twin boys.

She is about 30 years old and her husband was injured in the Ethiopian/Eritrean war and, as such, is as dependent on her as are her children. Despite the daily challenges of her life, according to Almaz, you'd never know they existed upon meeting her. She possesses true joy, believes wholly and completely in God, and is willing to work 24 hours a day to allow her children to attend school and have three meals a day.

Here's the kicker. She is almost finished with nursing school. Being a nurse is her greatest dream for herself. Once she obtains her nursing license, she can work more normal hours and receive far better pay to care for her family.

The problem is, she can't afford to take the test to obtain her nursing license!

How much does such a test cost? Only $500.

$500 stands between Etagegne and not only her dream for herself, but her dream to be able to properly provide for her family.

This is a situation we can remedy immediately. I'm sure of it. This is the sort of situation that drives me --- a specific situation, a specific person, a specific need. Not a big ol' bucket from which $30 here and $40 there will be pulled for who knows what or who knows who.

This is a situation where we can each donate $1 or $10 or $20 and KNOW that we helped this woman obtain her nursing license and move closer to fulfilling her dreams. This is what assisting in Ethiopia is about for me. It's about ensuring that one day, with some amount of luck, there will be no need for places like Hannah's Hope. One day, parents will be able to care for their children. A $500 test will not stand in their way.

Now, let me be very honest. My foundation is not yet incorporated. I'll begin the process tonight. Therefore, donations aren't tax deductible. If you don't know me (or know me but don't trust me!) enough to donate before my foundation is formally registered as a not-for-profit organization, don't do it. Seriously. The only way I know to do this right now is to have folks donate through my ChipIn account (which goes to my Paypal account). I'll write a check to AGCI when we hit $500, they'll send it to Almaz, and Almaz will ensure that every penny is used to register Etagegne for the test that will enable her to get her license.

For the record, this is how my organization will ALWAYS work. Every donated penny will go to its specified cause. It's imperative to me for donors to know and approve of each and every cause they are supporting.

To that end, there will be a tally on the blog showing how close we are to our $500 goal. When the goal is met, I'll make a bold announcement. If we go over, any monies that are above and beyond the $500 will either be refunded to their donors or the donors will be contacted to ensure that the cause to which the moneys will be shifted is acceptable to them. Again, this is the cornerstone of this organization. I want all donors to go to bed each night knowing exactly the shape and size of the footprint they left that day on someone else's life journey.

At this point, you may be wondering, "What the heck is the NAME of this organization?" Without further ado, let me announce that Project Etagegne is the innaugural effort of:

Believe Impossible Things

Because Everything is Possible

I'll post the story behind the name soon, but for now, who cares. Let's just get Etagegne that nursing license! I'm donating $100 to get us started, and I won't post again until we reach that goal. So, if you like to read my posts, let's get on with this already!

TONS more details to come...





Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 4 in Ethiopia

Admit it, you've been holding your breath for this post and you're nearly blue.

Day 4 in Ethiopia was far and away my favorite day. No, it wasn't the day on which I met Nina. No, it wasn't the day on which the U.S. Embassy cleared me to leave the country with her as my daughter (those two events occurred on the same day, for the record). That day was memorable, no doubt. But more because I almost died of exhaustion than because the day was truly great by anything close to resembling Webster's definition of the word.

Thursday, however, was great.

In all of my mental planning prior to going to Ethiopia, one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to truly live the experience. I wanted to connect with the people. I wanted to take in the sights, the smells, the feelings. That was a little hard to do while praying to remain upright minute by minute, but by Thursday I felt so good that I was ready to dive in.

One place I'd wanted to go so badly was the Fistula Hospital, which is right up the street from HH. I'd seen a documentary on this horrendous obstetrical ailment, and I so wanted to go to the hospital to spend time with these women, many of whom have been completely ostracized by their families and villages because of their condition.

But, without someone to care for Nina, I wasn't comfortable going there. I feared, frankly, that the sight of Nina might remind many of these women of what they'd lost and that was the last thing I'd wanted to do. To go to the Fistula Hospital, I needed to go by myself, which wasn't going to happen on this trip.

Some of the families in our group wanted to go to a government orphanage: Enat Alem. Now, as I understand it (and my understanding changes constantly as the information changes), there are no truly government-funded orphanages in Ethiopia. They are all private. But some are run with more funding than others, especially those funded by international sources such as the U.S. This particular orphanage, Enat Alem, operates with far less funding than Hannah's Hope, and many of the children at Hannah's Hope initially spent some time there (or at Bethzatha Children's Home). Families whose children spent some time there understandably wanted to visit.

I decided not to go to Enat Alem. There were 3 main reasons behind this decision. One: I needed to see something hopeful. The sun was out for the first time and I needed to go somewhere that wouldn't make me sad. Two: I'd have to primarily carry Nina since she hated the sling I brought (as did I). Three: By carrying Nina, I wasn't altogether confident that she'd be protected from whatever illnesses might be present at the orphanage and I didn't have someone to hand her off to so I could mingle with the kids. How could I lean over a crib and have an exchange with a baby if the baby were coughing and Nina were right in his face by virtue of the fact that I was holding her? I was simply too worried about what she might be exposed to. And I know that's a bit wrong. But there were too many unknowns, and with her heart situation (and not fully knowing what that entailed) and the fact that she'd been hospitalized at 3 weeks of age with pneumonia, I just didn't want to take the risk.

Plus, like I said, I wanted to find some joy. I wanted to connect with one person. For me, connecting with one person meant more than handing out miscellaneous what-nots to 100 people at that point. Doing much for many is valuable, no doubt, but it keeps us in a state of seeing only the whole rather than the parts that make up the whole. And in Addis Ababa, the whole represents poverty, lack, sadness, and hopelessness. I needed to find a part that showed a different side; a side I knew was there.

After breakfast, I learned from the mother of another traveling mom (the very adventurous mother of another traveling mom!) that there was a boy who lived across the street from the hotel named Danny. Danny was, apparently, a terrific tour guide.

Haley and I decided we needed to find Danny.

This wasn't hard to do, as he hangs out just outside the Union Hotel gates all day long, talking to the security guards and, quite possibly, waiting for us Americans to ask him to take us somewhere. He'd already given the adventurous mom's mom a tour and had taken another mom's sister to a place to buy some CDs.

We asked him if he'd walk us around and he agreed. We decided to head to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.

So, along we walked, quickly learning that his English is quite good and also that the golf club was a bit further away than we'd thought.

Over the river and through the woods...

Okay, not really. But over a bridge that crossed a major highway.

This is the first picture Danny took using David's brand new and quite expensive camera. Was I a bit nervous? You bet. Then, I thought, "It's a frickin' camera. Get a grip, Elizabeth."




Up and over the bridge we walked. So many people sat on the sides of the bridge with medical issues --- gaping wounds, missing limbs, loss of spirit. I doubt these folks ever moved. I can still see one man who sat with a huge gaping hole in the back of his hand that was clearly infected. Danny pointed at his own hand and motioned toward the man and said, "Cut."

"How could he get such a cut?" I asked.

Danny didn't really understand my question and we kept walking.

We offered most of the folks sitting on the bridge lollipops. I remember thinking, "This is so ridiculously outrageous. We are giving these folks lollipops like we're at a carnival. And I realize they don't have access to these here, but lollipops? How about a sandwich? Or BandAids? Or prayers?"

As we crossed onto the other side of the highway, Danny began telling me about his brother and sister as well as his parents, who both work. His mother works washing clothing and his father works at a printer. His sister's name is Eyerus and his brother's name I can't remember, which is killing me, so if anyone meets him, please ask and report back!

We spent a couple of hours with Danny. He loved my cameras - both still and "mobile" as he called my video camera. At one point he asked me if he could keep them. I wanted to leave them with him more than you can imagine. He simply LOVED taking photos and videos with them and I have a video he made that, while I get nauseous each time I watch it because he was all over the place, I'll treasure forever because it has his voice on it. He introduces himself and just talks and talks. It's fantastic (as long as you don't look at it).

But, there is no way for him to print his pictures there. There is no way for him to charge the camera or purchase batteries. It was a gift that made no sense. Otherwise, I would have left them with him in a heartbeat. Because come on, it's a frickin' camera.

I did blow up two great photos of him to 8x10s and sent them to Almaz to give to him. I doubt he has any pictures of himself and I hope he enjoys these.

Before I go on, here is Danny...

Here we are at the golf club.


We finally began to walk back to Hannah's Hope where we planned to spend a few hours with the kids, and ultimately to say Goodbye.

As we were leaving the golf club, Danny said, "I teach you say 'Welcome to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.'"

Okay.

He said a word. I repeated.

Now, to put this into perspective, I have a B.A. in Japanese. I lived in Japan for a summer. I LOVE languages. And Japanese is not an easy language, per se. But compared to Amharic? Compared to Amhharic, Japanese is cake. Simple Simon.

He spoke. I repeated. He finished the sentence and started uttering 2 words at time. I repeated. Then 3 words. I repeated. Finally, the full sentence.

I forgot.

We started at the beginning. Again.

Each time we finished, he'd say, "Again."

Finally, I said, "What is this, Danny School?"

"Yes," he said. "Now, again."

I never got it.

I started asking him how to say Stop or Go or Dog. I don't think I said any of it correctly.

When we got near HH, I started to reach into my pocket. This kid, I don't know how to explain this, but he never asked for anything. So many people came up to us on the street or to the sides of our van begging for money, food, anything. They had nothing to give us, they just wanted whatever we had. It was a constant life of giving on our part for 4 days, which we were happy to be able to do. But at some point, it got to where we all started feeling as though, to many of these people, all we were were Americans with "stuff." Whether we emptied our pockets or had nothing from the start, the result was the same: they moved on to the next van or the next person on the street.

No connection was ever made. Many of these folks didn't even say Thank You. It was just "More? More?"

But not Danny. He escorted us around. He answered our questions as best he could. He asked for nothing. In fact, at one point I wanted a photo of a woman and her child on the street to whom we'd given the stupid lollipops. I asked him if he'd take it because he had my camera. He just started taking the photo and I was like, "Um, Danny, can you ask? I mean, can you ask if it's okay?" He goes, "It's okay." I looked at the woman like, "Uh, okay, thanks. Yes, I'm a stupid American."

Anyway, we were leaving to head through the gates of HH and I was reaching into my pocket and his eyes would dart, every so subtly and ever so quickly, to my pocket. He was wondering if I was taking anything out of there. He was wondering if I'd give it to him. It could have been a lollipop. It could have a been 1 birr (about 10 cents). It could have been 100 birr (about $10). It could have been a Kleenex.

Honestly, had it been a Kleenex, I have no doubt he would have graciously accepted it. It wasn't a Kleenex and it wasn't a lollipop. But I slipped it to him without any fanfare and a hope that when he got home he was ecstatic. I hope it's the most money he ever made giving a "tour." He deserved it.

There was another occasion later that day when he arrived at the gate and offered to carry all of our donations up to HH for us. I thought, "Crap, I've got nothing." But he just said "goodbye" with his beautiful smile after dropping us (and all our donations) off. He's an amazing, beautiful, grateful boy of eleven, and I will forever be grateful that on that day, that fourth day on which I felt fantastic and the sun was shining, I connected with him.

I hope he was inspired to continue giving without expecting, and I hope it helped to instill in him that when you do that, you'll succeed. I think Danny will do something great some day and I sure hope to see him again. He's a smart, resourceful kid. And in any country, even one of the poorest in the world, those kids don't fall through the cracks.

At about 5:00 that evening, we headed to the airport for our 10:15 flight back to Washington D.C. It was a weird feeling. We were all ready to get home. I was, especially, as I was ready to return to my entire family. And at that point, I can honestly say that I didn't have feelings of "I can't wait to come back." Honestly, I was happy to be heading home and had NO thoughts of returning for a LONG time.

But it's been nearly 2 months since we returned. And now, honestly, I cannot WAIT to go back (with a prescription for sleeping pills). That trip had its own mission: meet and bring home our daughter. But it was an emotionally exhausting trip that took turns that weren't anticipated (even for a planner such as myself). It was a whirlwind 4 days.

Now, having seen, smelt, and felt the reality that is Ethiopia --- ALL of it --- the poverty, the beauty, the despaire AND the hope, I would like nothing more than to return with my travel group --- this time to do something different. To be on a different mission. A mission that reflects the hope and the joy I found in Danny's face.

To that end, I'm working on a little project. Stay tuned!