January 28, 2012

Forgotten Pictures

After reading my previous post, Karen sent me a message with wonderful news. She found pictures from our home visit that she had forgotten about! Even with my descriptions, Seth and our children were amazed to see where Dirbe and her siblings live.

It was so dark, my "fancy" Canon camera couldn't find a focal point in the darkness, and couldn't take a picture. So I reached for my daughter's small point-and-click camera and snapped a few quick pics with the flash. Reading Apryl's post jogged my memory, and just tonight I downloaded those photos and here is what I found - along with a video I somehow captured while holding hands with a child and balancing my other camera too. :)

The mud bench, yellow jugs for water in the background. You can see the thatched roof with black stains from smoke. Dirbe and Meskerem had terrible coughs, as did many of the other children, no doubt due to the smoky house.

The kitchen area, with large pans for injera along the wall. The raised bed is in the background.

One final shot as we leave, the children sleep on the floor near their parent's raised bed. This picture makes me even more thankful for the blankets that we gave to the children.

Karen has about 30 seconds of video on her blog. In it we had just entered the cluster of huts and were approaching the Hunde's home.

January 26, 2012

The Visit

Last year, when a little girl stole my heart by draping her arm so protectively around her little sister's shoulders, I never dreamed their family would become so familiar to my family. I never would have imagined that we would find ourselves in their home.

We had walked through the fields on a dirt path, gingerly making our way to the crest of the hill. Each of the children grasped the hand of an adult, almost as a badge of honor. We followed the path to a cluster of mud huts surrounded by shrubs and fencing.
This was the first time I had visited the home of one of our sponsor children. The unexpected made me nervous. I was holding the small hands of two little girls. I looked down at my sponsor child, Dirbe, on my right. She was obviously excited about the visit we were making. We trailed behind the group, my mom was just up ahead holding the hands of Dirbe's older brother and sister, whom my parents and sister sponsor. My hands were clammy and my stomach full of butterflies.

From the moment we stole away from the care point; I felt such a burden. I wanted to remember each detail of the walk, each sight and smell, so that I might share the experience with our families back home. I felt such responsibility climbing that hill, as I couldn't imagine many visitors taking this path to these homes. We were there as representatives of so many people and I felt inadequate. I felt so awkwardly American with my cameras and blue jeans. I was so tired from a long flight and no sleep and so, so terribly sorry that I hadn't learned Oromiffa in the past year.

That smiling face kept peering up at me, glancing and grinning. She obviously doesn't care how out of place we look. She's delighted to bring us home. I wish I could capture her excitement! Then I catch a glimpse of the view once we reach her cluster of huts, and I wish I could bring that home, too.

The huts seem abandoned, but we are shown the Hunde family's home. Dirbe's mother comes, smiling. She looks graceful in her traditional flowing dress and scarf. Again, I feel under dressed, though we stand in a smoky mud hut. It's unreal. She puts me at ease as she, too, is obviously excited to have us visit. We talk through two translators to try and understand how many children are in the family and what they do for a living. We are waiting for the children's father to arrive.

I'm nervous and rest in Karen's ability to think clearly and make conversation. What will their father be like? Perhaps angry that these American Christians are here? I have no idea, but not much time to think about it, because soon the crowd peering in the doorway parts for him.

He is small and wearing a ball cap with a large shawl wrapped over his shoulders. He walks with a limp and uses a cane. I never should have worried about this man. The moment I see his face, I see the same familiar joy that I adore on Dirbe's face. He is thrilled that we have come. His eyes adjust to the darkness and he comes towards me, smiling. He is talking, but I can't understand what he says. As the translators begin to sort out what he has said, he is taking my hand. Then he begins peppering it with kisses as the translator says, "He says he recognizes you from the pictures you send. He says thank you, thank you, God bless you."

I'm a mess. I'm a humbled mess. I can't think straight enough to ask any simple questions, for which I will have to beg forgiveness later. We learn that our three sponsor children sleep on the dirt floors. Their father fought in the army and sustained extensive injuries to his leg. He tries to support his family, but relies on the help provided by the care point.

As we begin to leave I realize that I must bring home at least a mental image of the home where this family lives. The three children sleep on the hard packed dirt floor near a raised mud platform where their parents sleep, a mud bench runs along one wall, and in one corner is a small fire, obviously where the cooking is done. Our visit ends far too soon as I realize I haven't taken photos or video to share with our family.

We walk slowly away from the huts and I am elated. I have just seen the smallest glimpse of the blessing Trees of Glory is to the children. I'm excited to be able to tell my sister that 'our girls' are loved and adored by their family. My nervousness has bubbled up into relief and joy. I give the little hand a squeeze and Dirbe smiles up at me again. This time, I recognize that she has her father's smile.

January 21, 2012

Staycation--The Finale

That fated morning, when the snow was coming down and I was dreading the thought of breaking the sad news to our kids, I was certain that we needed one big ticket item. We have some really good kiddos. They are usually so flexible and willing to change plans at a moment's notice. I shouldn't have worried so much about telling them that we weren't leaving for Florida. But, to my credit, I pictured myself saying, "I know you have been counting down the days until we were leaving, and I know that our bags are packed and you are expecting to pile into the van and head south in a few hours. I know that we have pumped you up for grandparents, theme parks, and swimming with manatees. Instead of that, Daddy and I decided that we are going to stay at home and do some fun stuff instead. I know there is something fun we can do. Really."

Their expected reaction? Wailing as they throw their bodies prostrate to the ground beating little hands and feet while they moan with disappointment and regret over their luck in life to have been put into the care of two senseless and obviously uncaring adults who call themselves parents.

I should have expected more of them. I tried to break it gently, and was certain to stress this particular event. Our trump card--two days at the resort/waterpark just an hour away. I had called and explained that I didn't care what day we came, but I needed something great because, "I'm about to tell my kids we can't go to Orlando for the week."

Though we enjoyed the beginning of the week, I do believe the biggest fun was had during our last two days of staycation. We sucked every ounce of fun from that water park. The discounted price I got for our room was due to low numbers at the park on Wednesdays. The place was relatively deserted and perfect! The four biggest kids are tall enough to ride nearly everything, this year they were able to run up and come down slides on their own. Josiah, ever the water-wimp, hung with me in the shallow part of the wave pool and managed by the end of the second day to be coerced into going down the 'big kid' slide in the kiddie zone.

The thought of standing around in my swimsuit is quite unappealing. Standing in my swimsuit, dripping wet and catching a glimpse of the snow pouring down from gray skies made for a perfect end to a snowy week!

January 18, 2012

Staycation--Day Three

We woke up on day three to the sound of the sump pump running. The snow that kept us from our vacation in Florida had disappeared. Rain and wind had replaced it--our snowy activities have come to an end. We hit the free Tuesdays at the science center downtown. It's a great place that I usually avoid. A three story museum cluttered with exhibits means keeping track of kids is pretty hard. We hit the entrance and five warm bodies scatter. Soon everyone is hidden among the exhibits. My palms start sweating and images of Josiah getting onto the elevator alone start running through my mind.

Send me to the zoo on a hot day in July. Outside with open spaces wins every time.

The museum was desolate this Tuesday. Having another pair of eyes (and bigger kids) made the experience pleasant.

January 16, 2012

Staycation--Day Two

Staycation's all I ever wanted...

Snowy theme continues today as we hit the trails to cross country ski. You can only imagine the surprise as we bombarded the clubhouse at the golf course turned winter sports park.

Boots and skis for seven, please.

The unbundling and boot selection, tying, bundling back up was an event in itself. Then snapping on the skis and getting a short lesson. Incidentally, if you ever choose to take five children cross country skiing and the guy managing the place assures you that poles will only make things harder for the kids, don't believe him.

Poles make things easier. Small children with little upper body strength will fall often and have no way to right themselves. If an adult is right there, no problem, but five children falling over and over again soon becomes defeating.

We didn't realize this until we were too far away from the clubhouse to turn back, so Seth and I sacrificed our poles so the kids would have one. Eli, our fearless leader, became so efficient he disappeared from view several times. We managed to make a 2 mile loop. The runner in me was certain (after skiing for an hour) that we must have made a wrong turn (little boy in the green coat, remind me why you are leading us?) and ended up on the 20 mile trail. I was surprised when we looped around and found that after 90 minutes we had only gone 2 miles. I think I pulled Josiah the last half mile. He kept saying he was having fun, but "I'm ready to have hot chocolate, can we just stop?"

Day Two: Ski and Boot rental for 2 hours $85 (kind of pricey but not anywhere near downhill ski prices)
Fun Factor: Much more pleasant than skating. Weather was perfect, we really did enjoy ourselves once everyone got the hang of the skis.

Probably not as much fun as swimming with the manatees, but definitely warmer.


Our family is making a vacation out of a snowy weekend.

It's a sad tale involving a week in Florida and two days of snow. I am unabashedly a paranoid freak when it comes to driving in bad weather. Instead of packing the van on our departure morning, I checked the weather and fretted. I talked to my sister and fretted. I realized at some point that I was sabotaging our trip by remaining in my jammies with loaded suitcases sitting by the door instead of in the van. At that point, I called Seth. He tried to reassure me that the weather was only bad up here. Little did he know I'd been planted in front of the laptop studying four weather sites.

If this were our first year of marriage, we would have gotten into an all-out brawl. Since we are so mature and know each other so well, the conversation went something like this:
Seth, it's snowing in the mountains, I am sick at the thought of driving through them.

Apryl, it's not going to be bad, but I'm sick at the thought of driving through the mountains with you.

Yeah, it will be terrible (I'm not going to argue about how ridiculous I act in the van). I already checked plane tickets to fly out tomorrow. That is probably not an option.

Thanks for not calling me a cheapskate and forcing me to fly us down there.

Thanks for not forcing me to sit in the van as we drive to our death.

I'm NOT working next week. What do we do?

I'm NOT telling the kids that the trip to Florida is canceled until we have another plan.

We cooked up a plan that requires us to belt out our own rendition of a Go-go's favorite. Goes like this: Staycation 's all I ever wanted, Staycation--don't wanna get away!

Yep-traded Florida for a snowy week in Ohio. Woo. Hoo.

This is serious business. It would be easy for us to just sit around for a week. We made a plan, that fated morning, while I sat in my jammies, dreading breaking the news to the kids. We decided to make the most of this blasted snow. Perhaps our antics this week will be an encouragement to you to take advantage of the cool (sometimes cheap) things to do around your neck of the woods. I'm pretty good about taking the kids on adventures around the city, but there are a few things I just wouldn't attempt alone unless forced. This week is the perfect opportunity for us to 'force' ourselves to do all of the things we've been meaning to.

Day One--Ice skating at the outdoor rink at University Circle. Surrounded by three museums--we figured we would skate then visit the art museum to check out their ancient collections. Sadly, we were wet and frozen by the time we finished skating. Well, those of us who remained upright weren't wet, but the other five were soaking.
Cost: skate rental $3 per person=21$
Fun Factor: Marginal only because the girls and Josiah weren't very steady on their feet and it was C-O-L-D.
Even huddled around the outdoor fire, we were chilly and ready to go. Everyone, that is, except for Ella who was as determined as ever to get this skating thing down.

We had the entire rink to ourselves at first. We must have looked like we were having fun, as couples and college kids began meandering in asking where to rent the skates. Must have been because we kept yelling, "Staycation 2012!" We have no shame.

January 8, 2012

Elijah is Nine

Every birthday a child celebrates brings the "I can't believe time is passing so quickly" thought. It seems like we were just rushing to the hospital. I waddled across the parking lot telling Seth to leave the bag (and camera) in the car since it would be a while before we needed them. By the time we made our way into a room I was certain that baby was about to make his appearance. He did, much to the surprise of the doctor, nurses, and us. He's been in a hurry about everything since the day he came.

We always celebrate as a family with a dinner chosen by the birthday child and cake. Later, we have a party--Eli has always (except for his first) shared a party with his cousin. This year the festivities took place at the professional baseball stadium turned snow festival. Cake, pizza, and gifts took place at our house. This was probably the easiest party ever and the cake I made was probably my most successful (also easy) cake making venture ever.

Happy Birthdays, boys!