Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quote of the Week

Amirah: "This is exactly the brother I was wishing for," while tickling Avi on the bed.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Divine Providence

Our van went into the shop on Monday because the brakes weren't quite doing their job properly. We needed a rental car from the agency next to the car repair place because Eli would likely need to go to the doctor, so Dean was going to get just the tiniest car they had (we're a very happy one-car family). Turns out that they had none left, so, poor us, we had to get a brand-new Nissan 7-person minivan for the same price of $25/day. AND it turns out that we still have no van and we probably won't have it back until next Wednesday (!). Todah, hashem, for arranging for us to have a minivan for the 10 days we are without our car. We would otherwise have been quite stuck. Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Pictures!

Finally, I'm getting some more recent pictures of the kids downloaded (thanks for the reminder, J!). It's been a busy week, er, month.

One of our first outings was to the zoo.
Here I am with the whole brood.

The zoo was a big hit.

Here's a funny face...

This is where Eli slept for the first few nights
after we were all home (?).

Last week we had some 90-degree+ weather
so we went to the water fountain in Beaverton on Thursday.

Sunday was savta's birthday (Dean's mom).
She and Grandpa Neil came up from Ashland, OR

on the bus and spent two nights here.

We had a nice birthday dinner and birthday cake #1.

Wearing savta's tichel (scarf).
(Poor nose - it hit the driveway on Friday...)

Avi likes frosting...

Playing out on the back deck.

On Monday Raizel turned 2!

And Eli had his 3rd birthday on the Hebrew calendar.
His Gregorian birthday is on Friday.
On his Hebrew birthday, he got his
tzitzit and kippah
just like papa wears.
Pictures to come!

Eli likes chocolate frosting...

It's been quite a week. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grocery Math

Did you know that if you get 5 people 1.5 pieces of fruit a day for two weeks, that's 105 pieces of fruit?????!!!!!! (I only go real grocery shopping every 2 weeks.) This math is all new to me. And astounding. Maybe even more astounding than the laundry.

Amirah's Kindergarten Year

One more post! I've finished planning (and ordering!) the materials for Amirah's Kindergarten year. This is off the adoption topic, but this is mostly for family/friend updates, so here goes.

This is what we'll be doing:

conversational Hebrew based on various books from Behrman House
the Nitzanim Level I series (easy readers)
Rosetta Stone Hebrew (the oral parts, not so much the reading parts)
finish learning alef bet and start reading soon after that
possibly start writing if English writing is well under way

Other Jewish stuff:
A wonderful curriculum with Hebrew, parsha, middos, songs, tfillos (prayers), holidays, and projects, available for FREE at

Saxon Kindergarten math
She took the placement test and knows about 85% of Kindergarten math from this series, but there are many kinds of activities we haven't done per se so we'll do it just because I'm sure she'll enjoy it and there's no reason to push ahead. We'll probably go through this pretty quickly. I'd like to start as soon as it arrives. We're year-round homeschoolers, except when in the middle of a new adoption!!!!!! I don't think we'll do much more than torah/parshah, read aloud books, and Hooked on Phonics before July!

Hooked on Phonics
This has been working great for us

Handwriting Without Tears

TONS of read-aloud books. We always have one "big book" we read as a family plus lots of shorter books we read throughout the day (except not the last few weeks!).

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock
This is a FANTASTIC resource even though (or maybe because) it is nearly 100 years old. Yep, 1911. It is about 4 inches thick and covers all the natural sciences. Most of the chapters (we're doing earthworms right now) include an excerpt from a poem, a description of the creature and its habits (or the phenomena), a lengthy list of observation questions for the student, and concludes with an excerpt from literature. Amirah begs to read this book all the time. We have a plastic box of earthworms in a dark drawer. Her earthworms had babies!!! A couple dozen thread-thin 1/2-inch long earthworm babies are in her box. Nothing like being a proud earthworm mama.

I finally had an excuse to buy an excellent music curriculum that came out AFTER I "retired" from classroom music teaching. It's an Orff-Schulwerk based curriculum called Gameplan. We'll start with 1st grade. There is no Kindergarten curriculum developed yet, but I think Amirah is ready for 1st grade music. Or we can just take 2 years to cover the concepts. She also really wants a violin, so I think for her birthday we'll get her a little used one. She makes a really nice sound on the adult one we have! We won't start formal lesson or anything. We'll explore it to the extent she feels inspired.

Hopefully, we'll get to spend some time working on our drawing skills. Otherwise, lots of torah-based projects plus tons of just experimenting with different materials.

Swim lessons, daily walks, track and field days in Beaverton, indoor playground

We also spend a lot of time at the library, on field trips, going on nature walks, baking, and propping up mama. :)

It is tricky covering all chol and kodesh (secular and religious) studies with 4 littles at home, but doing it year-round also eases some of the pressure. I hope to spend 10 hours per week, with time off for holidays, festivals (yamim tovim + chol hamoed, the in-between days of a festival), birthdays, hookie days, sick days, and vacation days. It should be split roughly evenly between secular and religious. We'll see! I'm very excited.


Our Sixth Day in Ethiopia

Well, if I thought things were getting fuzzy last week... it's approaching hopeless now but I'll forge boldly ahead.

Tuesday was our sixth day. Yep. Tuesday. Um. Oh, dear. OH YES!

Tuesday morning we, baruch hashem, got our US visas for the children. We had asked to have them in one day, and they were able to do it! It often takes two. This was very fortunate because we also had to go to the German Embassy to get visas for the children. I really was grumpy about having to do all that for a two-hour visit in the airport, but at least the visas were free. I became quite a bit less grumpy when someone else explained it's part of the effort to prevent child smuggling and corruption. Dean waited in line for nearly two hours, only to find out he didn't have all the documents we needed. I had printed off the list from the embassy website, but apparently some items were missing.

We frantically went home, got all of our papers together, then dropped them off again. Frantically, because Thursday was an Ethiopian holiday (the equivalent of Labor Day, I think???) and the embassy would be CLOSED. We had been planning to show up at the German Embassy on Wednesday, picking up our visas on Thursday afternoon, and flying out Thursday night. We would have been in deep doo doo if we had waited that long. We wouldn't have been able to leave the country until Friday. But we couldn't leave the country on Friday because shabbat would start before we got home and we can't travel, etc. on shabbat. One shabbat away from home was plenty. Two was not a happy thought, especially apart from our other two kids. We got all the papers in on Tuesday afternoon and were able to pick up our visas on Wednesday afternoon. PHEW!

After that we went to the Merkato. What a great place! This was - by a million miles - the most pleasant kind of foreign public market I have ever been to. Everyone was softspoken and polite. We quietly bargained our prices, collected a (very few) things (we're just not much into "stuff"). No pushing, shoving, or yelling. It was really nice. Actually, Guatemalan markets were similar.

The only thing we bought was a really great painting telling the story of the Queen of Sheba's visit to Shlomo HaMelech in the days of the Temple. It has 30 or 40 miniature pictures of the story with captions in Ge'ez (the holy language), and is painted on leather. I'll post a picture of it later (bli neder).

On our way home from the Merkato, we saw the Muslims preparing for early evening prayers by having their feet washed before going into the mosque. Ethiopia is about 50% Ethiopian Orthodox and 50% Muslim.

That was the sixth day. Hope I can remember the seventh!!!

Deelie-Bob Bullets?

What's the deal with those bullets??? In my version they looked normal! Oh, well. Enjoy the fancy bullets!

The Hardest Parts

Overall it's still going well, but there are definitely challenges! The hardest things right now are:
  • Raizel does *not* want to fall asleep by herself. I've been lying down with her each night (on our bed) until she falls asleep. Usually this takes 10 to 15 minutes, but tonight it took 90 minutes!! After 40 minutes I did get up to find a book to read, but I had a howling girl on the bed while I did that. While I was in the bathroom getting the book, I did do a mommy dance (you know, the kind where you have an absolute jumping up and down 3-year-old style of fit, then come back out hopefully more composed...). I came back to bed with an extremely reproachful-looking girl. I felt like a bed prisoner. Fortunately, this is the first time it's taken this long. (NOTE: responding to their every need like this is not our usual style of parenting, but it IS vital when working with an adopted child to create a secure attachment. There are many things I've learned that are not "normal" parenting in my book (and are exhausting to boot), but they are necessary at this stage and I can understand the reasons, even while I'm doing my mommy dances. Did I say danceS? :) )
  • Avi doesn't much care for being put down much. He's been much clingier this week than before. I suspect his giardia is giving him some tummy trouble, and he's working on a whole bunch of teeth right now.
  • My arms are T-I-R-E-D!
  • Tonight we figured out that Eli is likely suffering a bout of pneumonia. We'll take him to the doctor tomorrow to find out for sure. He's been coughing all night and in the morning he spends 30 minutes "making pancakes," an Earlix euphemism for a not-very-pleasant bodily function, and the one I seem least able to clean up without falling victim myself!
So with Eli under the weather and wanting to be near us by sleeping on our floor, and with Amirah feeling lonely downstairs, and with the hope that very soon Raizel will be able to sleep in her own bed... I came up with a very out-of-the-box idea.

Our house has two bedrooms downstairs (plus living room, kitchen, bathroom, and dining area), and upstairs is a really pleasant master bedroom and family room. I had one of the downstairs bedrooms set up with a guest bed (queen), crib, and my (very squished) teaching area. The other bedroom had twin bed, toddler bed, twin bed, two nightstands, a chest of drawers, and a laundry bin. These bedrooms are *not* large. Well, we have COMPLETELY rearranged everything today.

The upstairs family room is now the kids' room. Sounds weird, but it's FANTASTIC. Half of it is their sleeping area (very roomy) and the other half will have all their books and toys (bli neder) by the end of the week.

This solves lots of things:
  • With 4 children ages 5 and under, it just feels better for everyone to have them closer to us (and will hopefully allow Raizel to make the leap to her own bed sooner). Eli doesn't have to sleep on the floor, but he can still call out in his feeble little voice and we'll be there in a second. Poor guy. :(
  • Most of their toys (and, um, mess) can be upstairs instead of downstairs and drifting into the kitchen; we can clean up here and there but we won't be tripping over things all the time
  • The living room downstairs looks a little more grownup and spacious and all of our (limited) nice furniture is in one room
  • The kids' old bedroom is now the den: computer, loveseat, and television. It's a great place to fold enormous quantities of laundry and it too feels quite spacious!
  • We're going to sell our "real" crib and just use the portacrib. That way, Avi can sleep in the music room or in the den. This also frees up the music room quite a bit.
  • The downstairs living room is long and narrow. We used to have it 1/2 living room and 1/2 play room (previous owners knocked out the walls of a 3rd bedroom downstairs when they put on the addition upstairs). Now it's 1/2 living room and will be 1/2 learning area (for "home" schooling - a misnomer since I don't know any homeschoolers who just hole up at home!).
  • More money to pay for some of the adoption expenses - we can sell the nice crib and the pretty large entertainment center!
Neither of us has come up with any negatives about this arrangement. Some people might worry about noise, but in our house everyone but me goes to bed at the same time. And besides that, our kids can sleep through vacuum cleaners so I don't really need to tiptoe or anything. Outside-the-box thinking, but I think it will work really, really well for us while the kids are so little.

I'll post pictures as soon as we have the space squared away. Amirah and Eli LOVE the new arrangement, and Raizel actually spent some time snuggling on her bed this afternoon. Here's hoping... B'shaah tovah. In it's own time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Oh, my, he looks more ethnic than she does!" (HUH?)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Settling in Nicely

Everything continues to go well. Raizel has been more and more comfortable not being glued right to me. I'm getting out and getting errands done (with half the kids, thanks to papa!). I'm returning phone calls. I'm getting (most of our) laundry done. We're starting to settle into a schedule. Amirah and I have even done some reading lessons and it's starting to almost feel "normal" to have four little children around. We all went to see Ladybug Theater at the West Linn Library tonight. Raizel made it about halfway through the 40-minute performance. We *love* Ladybug Theater. They produce plays for 2-1/2 to 5-year-olds and the kids (and us grown-ups) think they're hilarious. Anyone with little kids in Portland should check them out. We feel like Raizel and Avi have just slipped right into our family. I'm also feeling like when Dean goes back to work after Memorial Day we'll be pretty well squared away here, B"H.

More Ethiopian trip updates tomorrow. I can't seem to keep my eyes open tonight! :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Our Fifth Day in Ethiopia

Oh, dear. Monday is a bit fuzzy. There are also no pictures dated for that day. I do remember we went to the US embassy in the morning with our lawyer, waited for about 45 minutes, then had a 30-second "Yes, we promise our documents are true" and that was it. Then home for lunch. We also brought Avi home with us for the day and night. After spending the night with us, though, and with all of us sick with colds, we decided it was easier to have him stay at Toukoul until it was time for us to fly home. Better for us all to be well-rested!

Here are some random pictures from here and there:

A fire in a business district... about 10 store owners were frantically emptying out their stores.

Here's a high school. The students are always in uniform, and very nicely dressed. It was refreshing to see.
And for those with a really morbid sense of humor (shoa means holocaust in Hebrew; it's actually just a neighborhood in Addis Ababa)...
Most of Addis seemed to be under construction, or abandoned construction, or paused construction... very little there seemed "finished." Most of the neighborhoods pretty much looked like these pictures. And this was the Big City! :) More to come...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Our Fourth Day in Ethiopia

Our fourth day in Ethiopia was on Sunday, which was Easter for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is very interesting. It separated from mainstream Catholicism many, many centuries ago. They do share many things in common with Jews - they have a special way of slaughtering animals for meat, they do not eat pork, the women cover their hair definitely in church and often outside of church, and they sit separately during prayer. In addition, they are much more focused on "old testament" (torah) teachings, then on the Christians' "new testament." Not once did I hear JC mentioned in common conversations, but countless times G-d was mentioned. They also consider Saturday the sabbath a holy day, but not as holy as Sunday. Amharic is also a sister language to Hebrew (and Arabic), so there are many words in common. Every morning at 5:00 the Eastern Orthodox prayers would come drifting in our window. Their holy language is Ge'ez and the haunting melodies, similar to Gregorian chant but with much more eerie and disjointed melodies, was really beautiful. The chanting and windows and doors banging in the wind are the sounds I remember most from our week there.

So, Sunday was Easter, which in the Ethiopian church is the most important holiday of the year. They fast for the 55 days before - that is, they do not eat or drink until after 3:00 pm, and then they do not eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. They also fast most Wednesdays and Fridays and for several weeks leading up to Advent. All in all, there are 250 (!!!) fast days on the calendar. Towards the end of the week we saw more and more cows and sheep being herded through the streets in preparation for the Sunday feasting.

Two sheep ended up in the back yard of the guesthouse on Friday, and on Sunday morning they were slaughtered. Before slaughtering them, the staff milked them and used the milk for butter. That wonderful cardamom they had shelled earlier in the week was cooked with the butter, then that was used to baste the lamb. Treif as treif can be, but the cardamom cooking on the meat sure smelled good. :) By noon, the side yard of the guesthouse had become Feast Central for the Toukoul staff, the orphanage director, and several French adopting families (the director/founder is also French). And us. The martians from outer space, or so it seemed.

We thought we'd go out and be a little social and meet the founder and all that, but BOY did I feel like I was from another planet. The French families were pretty aloof, and we were the only ones who actually had a child with us. They were barbecuing mountains and mountains of beef, chicken, and lamb, which made our paltry, homely passover food all the more, well, paltry and homely. (It's not normally like that, but when one is making do in tricky circumstances, one just makes do!) So here were me and Dean, him with beard and hat, me with hair covered, long sleeves, and skirt. And we were sitting next to the barely clothed French. One lady at the next table was staring and staring. Her brow was deeply furrowed each time and she looked to be filled with great concern. After the 8th+ time (yes, I started counting) I said to her, "Est-ce qu'il y a un probleme?" She didn't hear me, or at least acted as if she did not, but continued to frown at us another 9 times before we left. After that we just went back to the guest house and twiddled our thumbs. I felt like we had a thousand things more in common with the Ethiopians than with the French, and was really wishing I was working in the kitchen and serving the food instead of just sitting there. It was the last day of passover so we couldn't really drive anywhere or anything. It was kind of a funny day. We did get lots more cuddle and bonding time with Raizel and that was good. Dean said, "You can just hear the bonding crackling," and it was true. :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hooray, Avi!

Avi slept until 8:00!! Hooray! And great timing too. Early-rising papa went to work to catch up on the one class he is taking online and hasn't done any work for since April 17. If we can keep this schedule I'll be a well-rested mama with a little time to keep the house up. Here's hoping...


I interrupt the digging up of the trip events to bring you a very important message. One kid is sleeping until 9:00 now, and one is sleeping until 6:30. If we can add an hour to Avi and take an hour from Raizel, we'll be arriving at a happy medium. Oh, and Raizel doesn't nap. What is it about this house that doesn't allow anyone over (or almost over) the age of 2 to nap? Actually, they do nap once a week. Avi happily naps twice a day. And now I should go back to sleep after being up with Avi. But there's a really great musical on PBS! Oh, well. :)

Our Third Day in Ethiopia

Sleep, snuggle.
Eat, snuggle, walk, snuggle, rest.
Eat, snuggle, walk, snuggle, nap, snuggle, read.
Eat, snuggle, sleep.
Yep, that was shabbat. Just like at home! :)

Our Second Day in Ethiopia

I'm realizing I had better get our memories of the days in Ethiopia written down quickly. They are fading fast in the midst of our house full of kids. And laundry. And dishes. And diapers (3 in diapers!!).

The morning of our second day our driver took us to Toukoul for the morning visiting hours (10:00-1:00). Raizel's caretaker brought her out first, and as soon as she saw me she started crying and reached up for her caretaker and wanted to go back. We were actually glad to see this because it meant she did form good attachments and wasn't ready to just wander off with whoever came wandering through. The caretaker left her with me anyway, and I picked her up and we went for a walk around the outdoor grounds of the orphanage. She did *not* want to go back into the visiting room! Meanwhile, Avi and papa bonded.

Papa was glad someone was interested in him! :) Raizel calmed down with the distraction of looking at the other kids and the birds. The Ethiopian oriole was everywhere.

We ended up sitting on a chair outside and she kept pointing in the direction of her room and indicating that she wanted to go back there. But she didn't fuss! She did look at me and said, "Mama" but I'm not sure if it was a question, a comment, or what. She fell asleep in my arms. At lunchtime, we handed her back over to her caretaker and she went happily back.

Before we went back to the guesthouse, one of the orphanage guards came up to talk to us, but we needed a translator. We got our driver and it turns out that this man is married to an Ethiopian Jew and he embroiders Jewish pictures (like the one at the top of the blog). I had wanted to purchase several while we were there, but didn't yet know where we could go. Who knew we could get them right there! He had heard about us and already started an embroidery of shabbat. We ended up buying 4 of shabbat (for gifts), 1 of Yonah (Jonah), and 1 of Moshe (Moses). We *love* them and are so happy we'll have them around the house (as soon as we can afford to have them framed and up on the wall, that is!).

We went back to the guesthouse and had lunch and rested. Then we walked around the outside of the guesthouse for a while. The grounds are lovely and well-maintained. There are even a few resident tortoises.

During the morning visiting hours, our driver had also been running around trying to get water for the guesthouse. Our water had been turned off in the morning. There was a lot of construction happening in the road below the guesthouse (government low-income housing construction), and apparently, because of a big leak that was flooding the area, they had shut off all the water for the holiday weekend (Ethiopian Easter). Finally, he was able to get a water truck to the guest house and we got to watch the exciting filling up of the water tank. :)

After that welcome hullabaloo, we returned for the afternoon visiting hours (3:00-6:00). We got there a little early, so we walked around a bit while we were waiting.

Here is the "toukoul" where the youngest kids play and nap.

Then they brought out our kids. Here all of us in front of the offices.

This time when they brought Raizel out, she didn't try to run the other direction when she saw us, but she definitely was not thrilled about it. :) Another outside walk was a good distraction (while papa continued to bond with Avi). We were really wanting to bring her back to the guesthouse with us and spend shabbat (Friday night/Saturday) just getting to know her and take care of her. I thought for sure that she would have an absolute meltdown fit when we put her in the car, but NO. She sat in my lap (no, no car seats or seat belts are to be had in Ethiopia) and looked out the window and that was that.

We went home, made sure all our food was set for shabbat, and there we were with our new daughter. We were greeted by the wonderful aroma of cardamom pods being shelled. Cardamom is the secret ingredient we put in our challah each week, but it doesn't even compare to the fresh, fresh pods. YUM! On Day 4 of the trip, you'll get to find out what the used the cardamom for... :)

That night we made kiddush (blessing over wine) and motzi (blessing over bread... well, er, matza... bleah.... I mean, YUM) and the blessing for daughters and she just looked at us like it was all good. She ate at least as much as I did. The staff was very amused listening to all the Friday night goingson - in Hebrew to boot - and I'm not sure they could really connect who we were to Beta Israel (one name for the Ethiopian Jews) or to anything really. We sang the full bentching (after-meal blessings) out loud too... and that's no short song either! I think they just all thought it was, well, different! The other nice thing - just for shabbat we were the only family in the guesthouse! The other family there had the good fortune to travel south to meet their new daughter's birth-grandmother. (We had no such opportunity with our children. Both were found abandoned - 0ne in Bonga, one in Dire Dawa - and there were no known relatives. I do hope that somehow each of their birthmothers senses or knows that their children are in good hands and thriving.)

It was really a lovely evening. And that night Miss Raizel slept straight through for 10 hours, much to my surprise, and from Friday afternoon onwards she was glued to my arms and I was definitely MAMA and no one else would do.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Papa Has Been Promoted

A funny story... When Raizel first met papa she really didn't want much to do with him. Then she started calling him papa after a few days and would let him hug but not hold her. Then we noticed that she was calling *any* man papa, so Dean wasn't too flattered by it. Well, yesterday she woke up before me and went downstairs. Papa made her breakfast, and cuddled with her and changed her diaper for the first time - she had never let him do that before! She then promoted him to mama for the rest of day and now she alternates between calling him mama and calling him papa. I guess it's all in the function. :) Shabbat shalom!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Our First Day in Ethiopia

(I'm sure I can write this post with an almost-2-year-old sitting in my lap and feeding me paper. I'm sure I can write this post with an...)

We arrived in the airport around 7:15 on Thursday morning, April 24. In the airport we got our Ethiopian visas, then went through passport control and got our luggage.

We arranged a taxi in the airport (for 100 birr... $9.50... kind of expensive... whatever!) to go to our hotel, the Semien Hotel. At the time we didn't know that our agency had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to a *different* guesthouse. Oh, well!

Later, we wondered if this man was waving at US and was actually our driver. Turns out it wasn't but that would have been funny!!

We arrived at our hotel and unpacked our bags and called our lawyer, who was dismayed to discover that the missing family had been found. He came over to our hotel, talked the hotel into only charging us for 1/2 day (we were there for all of 3 hours + 1 shower!), and drove us over to the Toukoul guesthouse which turned out to be a MUCH MUCH better place for us to be for the week. OY. Here is the view from our 3-hour hotel:

And here is the gate into the Toukoul guesthouse. It was continuously manned by someone who worked on the grounds of the guesthouse.

Then our driver took us over to meet our children!! We got two pictures before the batteries died (fortunately we had plenty of extras at the guesthouse). They appeared unannounced, so we went from having a very confusing multi-participant conversation about what our plan was for taking the children (how on earth could we know before we MET them???????? We wanted to know how Raizel felt about it first!!) to BOOM there they were in the doorway (HUH?!). Pretty funny, kind of... I guess it would have been nice to have a minute to prepare for THE MOMENT. :)

So, here is our first glimpse of them!

Raizel was a bit uncertain of what was actually going on. Instead of reaching out for her immediately I took out an adorable little brown dollie I'd found at the local grocery store for $2.49 (!). She really liked it, and then we went into the visiting room for a little while.

TO BE CONTINUED... crying toddler! :)