Tuesday, December 25, 2007
In the meantime though, this holiday season just doesn't have the normal vibe. We celebrated Christmas early, on December 15th, so that my brother could be with us. A few days later, he was on a long journey to Afghanistan where he will be serving for the next 12-18 months. While I am so proud of him, and know he'll do an amazing job, it's hard to not feel scared, sad, and a bit hollow. I hate that we will be bringing our children home and not be able to introduce them to their uncle. The feeling of worrying and missing a loved one while they are deployed overseas is difficult to describe. It's a very familiar feeling, although I'd nearly forgotten how consuming it can be. My dear husband Joe was in Iraq for a year, and returned in April 2004. I'm thankful we had a relatively long break between the deployments, but still wish Zak wasn't gone. Please keep his safety in your thoughts and prayers.
As for our current adoption status:
Our dossier arrived in Ethiopia last week, and is now being translated, registration, and legalization process. That should be completed soon and we'll get a date that we began "Officially Waiting!" Our agency has told us to expect approximately a 3 month wait for a referral, although I think that's a bit optimistic. Once we get our referral, it has been taking 6-8 weeks for families to get a court date, after referral acceptance. Because of this recent slow down, it's averaging about 3 months after referral acceptance before families are traveling to pick up their children. I can't imagine how long 3 months will feel, but since we won't be doing much of any nursery prep and shopping prior to accepting our referral, it'll give us a good amount of time to do all that before we leave. See... I'm still being optimistic about things at this point! ;-) Gotta stay patient and keep that good humor!
Enjoy your Christmas turkeys/hams and delicious family dinners! I'm off to fix a low key lunch and get back to cleaning house and taking DOWN Christmas decorations! We've already got our tree down and back in its' box, and most of our outside lights have been taken down too! Please keep our little girl, Chloe (our mini dachshund) in your thoughts and prayers too... her meningoencephalitis (or whatever it is that's really affecting her) came back with a vengeance 3 days ago and her prednisone dosage has been increased. She walks like she's drunk and shivers in pain. :'-( We'll get this kicked soon, I'm just sure of it!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Our agency is currently telling us that it will probably be about 3 months to get a referral, but I imagine this is much more optimistic than what it will end up being. I'm just hopeful that we will be traveling by summer... but who knows! The exciting and difficult part of this is not knowing our "due date." Trying to prepare for a very loose time window is, well, weird? It's not like we can try and plan work/vacation/life schedules around a month or two window. We aren't planning on doing anything to get a nursery ready until we have our referral. This will definitely leave us scrambling to pull things together once the time finally comes, but I'd rather be really busy while waiting to get through court and travel instead of twiddling my thumbs counting the minutes. Besides, if it takes a REALLY long time to get a referral, we could still end up re-listing our house in the spring and moving or something like that! No sense in getting a room ready and then moving before we use it.
At the moment, it all feels a bit unreal. The emotions of this entire process can be surprising. At this point, every bit of progress feels like something to celebrate. Our process has gone quite quickly, other than a few months of doing nothing while waiting for Joe's job situation to work itself out. I know the wait ahead will make the last few months feel like a breeze. At least until this point we were in control of the process and timelines we more predictable. Now all we can do is wait for "The Call."
While all this excitement is happening with our adoption process, the Christmas season is now fully upon us, and our family will be celebrating early this year. We are holding our festivities this Saturday, while my brother is on leave. He will be deploying before Christmas, so we are making the most of the time we have together now. My dad and brother both flew into town this week and will be leaving on Sunday. Preparing for another loved one to deploy is such a scary and difficult thing. There's really no way to describe the emotions that seem to wash over you... pride, fear, sadness, frustration, etc. Knowing how to best support and encourage the individual deploying is also a challenge. Leaving at this time of the year, a time which is normally full of fun, food, gifts, and family; it seems to make it all the more stressful.
In the midst of all the excitement of our early holiday celebrations, Joe is dealing with an excruciating shoulder injury... and is in a shoulder immobilizer. He needs to follow up with an Orthopedist next week to see if a more dramatic step needs to be taken. His shoulder became an issue just as I finally began to get over a bad case of strep throat and a difficult recovery with my right tonsil. My tonsils have never handled strep throat well, and this time was no exception. I ended up having to take Prednisone, a steroid, to help the swelling go down. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm told to consider going to an ENT (Ear, Nose & Throat) doctor to see what they think about having my tonsils removed once and for all. Ugh. Plus, my dentist now says my wisdom teeth need to come out... more fun!
The worst of the health issues in the household have been related to our lovely little princess, Chloe. Chloe began having issues going down the stairs, and went through a two week diagnosis process as her symptoms continued to increase in severity and number. She began displaying neurological symptoms, and hung like a wet noodle in your arm. By the time a neurologist saw her, she was almost completely non-responsive to us and her feet on the right side of her body were "knuckling" which means that she would stand on the top of her feet... at least if you held her up in a standing position; she couldn't stand on her own. A brain MRI showed that her cerebellum was swelling and moving down through the foranum magnum (opening from the brain into the spinal canal). She was near death and the cause was unknown. It could be lymphoma, meningitis, encephalitis, or some other scary thing in a list of bad news diagnosis possibilities. They collected spinal fluid from the base of her brain, and it came back with scary results. Her white blood cell counts should have been between 0-10 and it was 1500. She had a very high count of lymphocyte cells... possibly pointing to lymphoma which would be terminal.
We don't know conclusively, but it is now believed that Chloe developed a viral meningitis. She has been on Prednisone (steroids) since diagnosed, and within the first week the improvement was incredible. She now appears close to normal, but still suffers some mild balance issues and is a bit more depressed, dependent, and clingy than before. We are slowly reducing her doses of Prednisone, a month at a time. She may have to be on the Prednisone for life. That wouldn't be so bad if it didn't have so many other unpleasant side effects (which I can speak to personally since I've been on the SAME medication lately!). It causes serious restlessness (generally very late night/early EARLY morning), increased hunger, excessive drinking, a bloated, swollen belly, and so on. Not fun.
Ok, so that's the yuck health news we've had, but we've been fortunate that Chloe has made it and Joe and I are obviously doing great... despite a few annoyances like strep and shoulder injuries. Sometimes it takes some sort of injury or illness to really make you appreciate your health. Therefore, I feel so fortunate that we've had a little reminder of how lucky we really are!
Enough rambling for this post! I hope I've covered the major events in enough detail to satisfy you and not bored you with too many trivial details!
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thankfully, our family members most closely affected by the flames have been allowed to return to their house that was spared from the fire's fury, and we can all begin to work towards rebuilding what was lost. For a couple of weeks we're told to stay indoors, and have a damp cloth over our mouth/nose to breathe when outside. Ash is raining down all around, and the smoke burning your eyes and throat is a reminder of the ongoing battle against the flames. Yet another reminder of all we have to be grateful for.
It's been a long time since I've added a post to our blog, as there's been little adoption related for me to add. As Joe's company began regular rounds of layoffs, we've been carefully planning and searching for another option for him, should his turn to be laid off come. We could not, responsibly, carry forward with the adoption until we knew more. I can't imagine draining our accounts to pay adoption fees, and bringing our baby (or babies!) home to such a tight situation. While Joe's job is still an uncertain thing to rely on... we're feeling less terrified. We've been working feverishly at coming up with that side income we've been hoping to come up with for quite some time.
I have finally found a business I would like to begin, out of my home office, on the side. It'll take a while to start up and really get going, but recently I've begun learning about Leisure Group Travel. It seems like a perfect fit for me. I have such a passion for travel, spending time people, and trying to expose people to the diversity of the world. Starting a group travel club should enable me to do just that, while also bringing in some income on the side. It is such an exciting possibility! I'll post more as I learn more, but for now, just the potential is keeping me pushing forward.
We have also begun our own business franchise. After only 2 weeks with the company, we are already enjoying more success than we would have thought possible. The company I'm referring to is Fortune High Tech Marketing. We were quite skeptical when first introduced to it by our amazing friends, Geoff and Val, but after learning more and deciding to give it a shot, we are thrilled beyond measure! We decided to give it a go after learning Geoff and Val's close friend was able to leave her job after less than a year with Fortune, because she had been able to replace her previous job's income that had been over 6 figures! For anyone interested in learning more, please feel free to visit our website (www.fhtmus.com/vividdreams) or watch one of two videos (www.thefortunedvd.com or www.successwithfortune.com). Joe and I are so happy Fortune found us, or that we found Fortune, and would be so excited to see our family and friends benefit from it as well!
Also, we now have a travel website that is a subset of Travelocity. If you're going to be booking tickets, staying at a hotel, renting a car, or buying tickets to any attractions/theme parks/shows, please check out our site! The URL is www.travelfhtm.com/travelabroad. The hotel prices have a 110% price guarantee, which the normal Travelocity site doesn't have! You've got to check it out!
So, as you can see, despite the current concern we have over the stability of Joe's job, we are beginning to work towards better financial security. Since our ultimate goal is also to prevent me from ever needing to return to being a traveling employee (for my current job), it may also one day allow us to be comfortable that if the need for me to begin traveling again ever arises, I will be able to safely say "No!" I do not want to be a mom that is only home on the weekends, and will do whatever I can to prevent that situation from happening!
As a final note of celebration, I plan to be sending our dossier to Sacramento today to be certified. Once it is certified, it will be ready to send to our agency and on to Ethiopia!!! We are getting closer, and will be waiting for our referral soon! Thank you everyone for your support through the last few months of obstacles and stress we have faced. We couldn't have done it without you!
We are currently in the process of preparing to pay $6250 to submit our dossier to Ethiopia and begin waiting for a referral. Once we receive a referral, we will then send another $5,500 to our agency, and also begin making our travel arrangements to Ethiopia to pick up our child(ren)! We hope to be traveling by the spring, but have no idea how long our referral will take to get. As you can see, there is a lot of money we still owe, and the stream of water-damages that plagued our house for a number of months took a serious dent out of our savings account. We hope to be submitting our dossier by the end of the year, so any assistance is greatly appreciated! We feel humbled by the graciousness of some of our amazing family and friends that have asked to be given a way to help, and hope that everyone understands the depth of our gratitude. We are truly fortunate!
Love to all!
Friday, September 07, 2007
The day following my last post, I discovered yet ANOTHER leak in the garage. This one involved the neighbor's drain that seems to have been leaking for quite some time, and the column at the front of our garage between our garage and our other neighbor's had to be torn open (from the exterior... removing stucco) and then involved some structural repair to the wood support beams that had some serious wood rot. Not fun... and not to mention the stucco color in a huge patch area from the ground, up the column and all the way to the bottom of our neighbor's second story window doesn't match the rest of the building.
So, the leaks in the garage ended up setting us back about two months in the housing market. We didn't get our home relisted until all damage was repaired, as there didn't seem to be any intelligence in parading people through our home while it was all torn up. On the positive side, our garage's interior now looks great... the entire thing was painted once the drywall was repaired, so we can enjoy a fresh, clean looking garage. Let's just hope it stays that way!
In the mean time, the housing market has really been suffering. There are now comps to our house for $60,000 under where we need to be listed. There were always some comps that were much lower, but not so many. It's now not the peak selling season as children are back in school, and with interest rates on loans being a lot higher, there are a number of factors working against us. So... looks like we won't end up getting to move after all. :-( The painful part is how close we got... it's like getting a taste of something and then finding out you can't do anything to make it a reality.
As for the adoption, Zambia is no long a road we can follow. Families that were in Zambia with the agency we were going to be working with had children pulled from their care, and now international adoptions, and that agency are under serious review and scrutiny. Things are basically on hold and much to tenuous for us to proceed. Ultimately, I think our hearts have never left Ethiopia, so making the decision to switch back was fairly easy. I have since submitted our request to have our I-171H (USCIS visa approval) changed back to Ethiopia and have it in hand. I have EVERYTHING I need for my dossier. Joe and I just need to get a few signatures notarized and we'll be ready to have it certified and submit it to our placement agency.
Here's the catch. We are sort of in a holding pattern with the adoption. Not only does the housing market significantly affect our ability to move into a house, it also greatly affects Joe's job stability. His company has finally joined the ranks of most other home builders and begun doing some serious layoffs. Their division now has about half the amount of staff it had one month ago. It's been a story of more layoffs almost every week. Joe's workload is through the roof (for now) as he's taken on the work of the other people that were in his positions on different projects. The catch is, a number of the projects are being "shelved" until mid-late 2008 or later in hopes the market will begin picking back up by then. So, most of the work is short term... working on finishing up whatever's currently being worked on, and getting the sites secured to be left alone for a while. We're expecting Joe will likely be laid off by December as well. It's a scary though, but Joe also feels much loyalty to his company after working with them for a while, so he's trying to stick it out. Maybe... MAYBE he'll be able to stay employed with them through all this. If not, finding another job in this market would be really tough. The market itself makes jobs in the field tough to come by, and combine that with the fact that he would be getting laid off SOOOO late in the game compared to the majority... all jobs are being gobbled up about as quickly as they appear.
So, that's it in a nutshell. It's so frustrating to be ready to finalized our dossier and submit it, but unable to proceed in the current situation. Well, I guess we could proceed, but it seems to be an unwise decision until we have some more answers and/or stability in Joe's job.
Oh, and speaking of jobs, I am seriously considering a new venture myself. It'd be part time, at least for quite a while. I am looking at beginning a cruise/travel agency franchise I can work out of my home office. I would be able to sell cruises (the specialty), air, rental cars, hotels, and even land tour packages. It'd be a huge assistance to me if whomever reads this could tell me whether or not you'd ever consider using a travel agency service like that to book your cruise or other vacation. The perks of the company are that they have a large purchasing power so they buy cruises a couple of years in advance in bulk so there are so good group rate discounts to be had, booking through a travel agent ensures you're getting all the information you need about your cruise, etc. There are a lot of perks to using an agent, but want to try and get a feel for what people think my success might be. I LOVE to travel, and have a passion for being on the water, so it's not something that would be difficult for me to "sell" to people. I think experience and enthusiasm alone would help make it something I could be good at... but who knows. Any thoughts? Email me privately or post a comment... I'm anxious to test the waters!
Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement in this stressful time. I am so anxious to announce that we have submitted our dossier and are officially waiting... so hopefully the time comes sooner than later!
Hugs all around!!!
Friday, July 27, 2007
On Wednesday afternoon, I enjoyed another great afternoon with Val, Wesley, and Harrison. Val is such an amazing friend, and I truly treasure our visits. It's hard to believe I only met her two months ago. I feel like she's an old friend, and I love how easy it is to talk to her. On top of that, she's got two AMAZING, adorable, incredible little boys that I just love. I can't imagine a set of better first time parents than Geoff and Val, let alone first time parents of twins! I only hope Joe and I can do half as good of a job living up to the standard they've set. Wesley, he's a hoot. He has the best little laugh and when you see his smile, it's contagious. He's not too interested in crawling, but he loves to be held up so he can jump around. He's got little cricket legs. He is beyond cute when he lays on his tummy and arches his back so his head and legs are up. Then he kicks his legs over and over again. Harrison seems to be a bit more mobile. He gets up on his hands and knees or feet and can kind of crawl backwards. He's pretty easy going, and seems to have all sorts of cute noises he's ready to share. For a while, he liked to growl. I can't imagine a more adorable little sound.
As you can tell, visiting their house is full of fun. Joe joined us after work and we had some pizza., ice cream (oh yeah!), and talked. Somehow, when we stay over at Geoff and Val's for dinner, we seem to end up chatting until way past everybody's bed times! By the time Joe and I left, it was already 9:40 PM. As soon as we walked in the door, I fed the dogs a late dinner (sorry puppies!) and Joe took a shower.
As we were getting ready to hop into bed, my cell phone rang. At this point, it's now 10:30 PM, and no one really calls me that late. I answered the phone and immediately thought it was a telemarketer. He asked for me by my full name, pronounced terribly. After I asked who was calling (still hadn't admitted to being the one he wanted to talk to!), he told me that he was with Virgin Atlantic airlines and had my bag and was going to deliver it between midnight and 12:30 am. Yep. One long sentence packed with amazing little details. All I could say at first was, you have my suitcase?! On Thursday, the next, it was the 21 day mark. It would be 3 weeks to the day on Thursday. At that point they consider your bag lost (but not before then), and deal with your claim. So here it was, the point where I figured our bag was lost and gone forever, and someone was telling me they'd be bringing it by in a couple of hours.
He told me to stay off the phone line and answer it when he called back. I gave him the gate code, and agreed to be home and sign for the bag when he arrived. After trying to stay awake watching TV, we ended up deciding to go to sleep, knowing we'd hear the phone or doorbell ring.
Suddenly, I sat up, with a feeling of dread. What time was it? I checked my phone, no missed calls. It was 2:30 AM! It was 2 hours past when he said it would be. What happened to our bag this time?! I snuck downstairs and out to the garage so I didn't wake anyone else in the house. I called back the number that had called me and asked the guy what had happened. He confirmed that I was the one in Aliso Viejo. Yep. He said "I've just come inside the gates. Could you come out to the street so I can find you?" Um... no. I had confirmed online that our bag HAD been found and was being delivered, but I was NOT going to go outside in the middle of the night and meet up with some stranger while I'm in my PJ's! So I ran up stairs and grabbed the blankets off Joe and shook his leg. I got him to wake up and come grumbling downstairs. Just as Joe got to the front door, the baggage guy spotted the porch light I'd flipped on and told us we could wait inside.
I was like a kid waiting to open their Christmas presents. It felt like an eternity as we waited for him to get the bag out of his car and bring it up the sidewalk. We opened the door and the first thing I noticed was that our bag no longer had the shrink wrap stuff on it that the airline had put on at the Jo'Burg airport. And, that the masking tape with "J.Humbles B-311" was ripped off and all that remained was a sticky spot. That tape had been on there since August 2003 and they had the nerve to remove it! It was one of those little pieces of life on Semester At Sea that I just couldn't bring myself to remove.
The suitcase was missing a wheel (just like my pink one had been when we got it at LAX!). Joe carried it over to the living room, and I quickly tore into it. ALL of our dirty clothes were still in there! So was the power converter, our hand carved table's base, the giraffes with intertwining necks... all of it! Ahhhh, what a relief to have these things all back. Silly maybe that we cared so much, but there were a lot of items in there that would be costly to replace. As it is, we have to get new suitcases before our trip to Zambia since both of our big ones are now in terrible condition.
Joe hustled to the garage with a load of laundry and I reveled at all of the things that I thought had been lost to us forever. We then headed back upstairs and tried to get to sleep. Joe was out cold the minute his head hit the pillow, but I laid awake for over an hour. I was pumped with the excitement of the unexpected return of our suitcase. Sleep was not easy to come by... but I should've tried harder. If only I'd known how much I was going to need a good night's sleep...
The next morning, our luck changed. I was laying in bed, awake but hoping to fall back to sleep, when I heard my mom calling up to me from downstairs.
"Jesi, I need you to come see this!"
I flung myself out of bed and trudged over to the top of the steps.
"What?!" I replied.
"Just come down here and see," responded my mom.
I went downstairs and she told me that there was a water leak she wanted me to take a look at. Yep, you guessed it. I was now fully awake and dreading what I was about to be shown. She took me into the garage and pointed to the ceiling. Lo and Behold, the ceiling above our washer and dryer was now a big, wet, soggy mess. At least it wasn't the same spot leaking again, right? Please, if it was the same spot, we'd be better off! Then, it would just be dripping straight onto the garage floor and running out of the garage since the drywall is still opened up there!
I bolted inside, ran out the front door (still in my PJ's!) and started ringing the neighbor's doorbell over and over again. I was SURE that the daughter would be home sleeping, and just needed to get her to wake up. I banged on the front door. Nothing. I pounded with all my might, both fists slamming into the wood and creating a thundering, angry sound. Still nothing.
I rushed back inside and quickly put on some clothes. I grabbed my cell phone and started calling Joe as I ran back to the street and found their water shut off. Having not ever used a water shut off like theirs before, I had to fiddle around in the wet, cobweb filled box in the ground for a couple of minutes before achieving success. I got the water turned off, then ran to the leak in the garage to see if it slowed down. By this point, I'd talked to Joe and told him to call our neighbor and the plumber that our association uses.
After a lot of scrambling, we finally got the leak to stop dripping, and eventually the neighbor was reached. Her daughter WAS home, sleeping, and had not bothered to come open the door. Luckily for them, there was no water damage anywhere inside their place, so we get to deal with all of the damage resulting from their leaky pipe. Wonderful.
We now have yet ANOTHER hole in the ceiling of our garage, and need to have water mitigation performed to prevent any mold issues. The plumber did get the pipe leak fixed through our ceiling though, and the problem has been stopped. That is the most important thing. But, as a result, we WILL be waiting another week or so to get the house relisted so the garage isn't such a messy, scary sight to see. Seriously, we've had such terrible luck with this place lately! My ability to remain sane and my level of tolerance surrounding this place is just about maxed out!
One last bit of good news, if you've made it this far. I DID receive our new I-171H in the mail yesterday afternoon, so we are GOOD TO GO to Zambia when we want to this fall! I have details on the dates we're considering, but I'll discuss that in another post.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
If you'd like to check out our registry, we registered at www.babysrus.com. You can also get the registry in the store I believe, so that's an option too. Thanks for taking a peek! We're registered under our FULL first and last names... not by our shortened and more commonly used names (Jesi/Joe). Or, you can look it up with our registry number: 52134451.
Oh... and we're now thinking that due to work/vacation schedules, we'll probably be heading to Zambia in November... hopefully around the evening of the 9th or the morning of the 10th. I'm bummed that it's a little later than we'd be thinking, but it makes much more sense in the long run! It also means that if we end up needing to be over there for a longer period of time, Joe should be able to have enough vacation days to make it work since November 30 is the fiscal year end for his company and then his vacation days are renewed for the next year.
An article about a couple in Newark that just adopted an infant son from Zambia:
A YouTube picture collage of a volunteer's time in Zambia in 2006:
The same volunteer's blog site, as she is currently in Zambia again right now:
Another YouTube video showing a township that is fostering orphaned children... discussing some grim realities surrounding the HIV/AIDS pandemic:
Just thought you might enjoy seeing these!
Friday, July 20, 2007
I also don't think I mentioned before, but my brother's in town right now! My mom's lease on her Saab was up, so he drove their convertible Beetle out from Colorado. I think he's staying through Sunday night, so it's definitely time we are trying to take advantage of since I don't know that I'll be able to see him again before he heads to Afghanistan for his deployment. :'-(
As for the house, it's not re-listed yet, but I finally got our realtor to take his sign off the garage door. He seemed to put off doing that for quite a while since he's still trying to wait and see if this deal with the guy who made the first offer on our house is going to work out. We should've received a written offer by now, but he's had a situation come up that has changed what his financing options are, so we're just waiting for him to get that figured out first. At this point we're told that BY Monday we'll get an update. I just hope, REALLY HOPE, it'll work out and we don't have to start over with showings and waiting again. As much as we don't like our current realtor, we just want to be done and not have to work with another one!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
In addition to the situation with our house, we received our I-171H in the mail! We have been approved to adopt One or Two orphans... from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Yep... Ethiopia. I wrote Lusaka, Zambia on the application, but they completed disregarded the application and approved us for Ethiopia since that's the country our homestudy mentioned! If they noticed the discrepancy, the proper protocol they are supposed to follow is to contact us and request an amendment to the homestudy. Instead, they just approved us for Ethiopia! So, now I'm waiting to get the amended homestudy in hand so I can head BACK up to Los Angeles and get this corrected... hopefully without paying the $200 fee to change countries! Grrr... I was so bummed that this came up. That'll teach me to count on things being correct the first time around!
At this point, we have no idea if/when we'll move and our I-171H is still in the works (getting the country mistake corrected). We're hoping to get some updates on the adoption process in Zambia soon as the first 4 families with Faithful Adoptions leave at the end of this week to begin their Zambian adoptions! Please keep your fingers crossed, pray, or think positive thoughts (whatever it is that you do) for them/us that their adoptions go smoothly and in about a month they will be safely traveling home with their new children!!!
Friday, July 13, 2007
The Journey to Zulu Nyala, South AfricaWe departed for South Africa on Tuesday, June 26th. Somehow, Joe and I made it out of the house just ahead of schedule. We got to LAX in record time, with no traffic jams whatsoever to slow us down. While at the airport, we tried to pull the offer together from the couple that had been trying to come to terms with us on the house the night before, but to no avail. We boarded our flight to London Heathrow and the real journey began.
Let me begin by explaining that I am a die-hard window seat person. The only way I know how to explain it is by saying that without sitting next to a window I can look out of, I feel as though I'm locked into a tin can for the duration of the 11 hour flight. For me, that's just too long. I realize many people prefer aisle seats so they can stretch their legs out... good for them. I always have been, and likely always will be, a window seat kind of girl. So, you can imagine my disappointment when stepped aboard our flight to Heathrow and learned that although I had a seat along the side of the plane where a window SHOULD be, there was just NO WINDOW. Who knows why. There just wasn't. Bummer. I will admit though, that other than this disappointment, it was a relatively smooth, incident free flight to London.
We arrived in London the following day and made our way through customs. The layover was 8.5 hours, so we planned to take advantage of that time outside of the airport, visiting with an old family friend, Philip, that I hadn't seen since I was 9 years old! Somehow Joe and I actually met up with Philip immediately upon exiting the airside of security and we began our journey around England. We had the pleasure of enjoying a beer at a very old pub in the English countryside, and then got to enjoy the tail-end of a track meet that Philip's daughter, Alexandra, was competing in. After the meet, we were introduced to the beautiful Alexandra, who is herself, currently 9 years old, and then gave her a ride to her dance lessons. Upon arriving at the dance studio, we got to meet Philips lovely wife, Yelena, and their adorable 6 year old son, Henry. Our meeting was quite brief, and then we were off to grab a quick bite to eat before heading back to Heathrow. We ate at a little cafe inside of a store that was a grocery store, combined with a department store. It was quite interesting. You could do your grocery shopping, clothes shopping, and grab a bit to eat, all in the same store! And no, it wasn't like a Super Walmart. It was different. More JCPenny-esque combined with Safeway. Something like that.
After our lunch, we fought off sleep on the slow drive back to the airport. Turns out, there's a lot of traffic in London too! I felt terrible for Philip because as bad as the traffic was on the drive in, you could see it was much worse leaving the airport! But, Philip returned us to the airport with plenty of time to get back through security and be ready to board the flight to Johannesburg. On this flight, I enjoyed a sit in the MIDDLE of the airplane, with Joe on my right enjoying the freedom of an aisle seat, and some short gentleman on my left that enjoy the aisle, and plenty of legroom for his short legs. Somehow, the seats on this plane were so close together that sitting with my rear pressed against the back of the seat, the seat in front of my still pushed against my knees.
Yep... it was a long flight. Luckily for Joe, he was able to sleep quite a bit on this one, and did not seem to even realize how antsy I was the entire time. Lucky guy! I was especially jealous of his ability to catch sleep on a place considering that we were delayed at Heathrow, on the tarmac, for an hour+ due to a gas spill that had occurred earlier. When we were making our approach to Jo'burg, we received the news from the pilot that their 1st snow in 29 years combined with serious fog and a power outage to their landing equipment was going to keep us from landing right away. In fact, we were informed that we had enough fuel to circle for 20 minutes before we would need to divert. If we had to do that, we would fly another 45 minutes to Bloemfontaine where we would refuel and fly back to Jo'Burg. Ugh.
Luckily, we were able to land just before the time when we would have had to divert, and got to do our best to push and shove off of the plane, collect our bags, and run to the domestic departures terminal to check-in for a flight to Richard's Bay. Not too surprisingly, the delays on both ends of the flight to Jo'Burg caused us to miss the next flight. So, we were able to enjoy an extra 4 hours at Jo'Burg... freezing our booties off. The airport seemed to have no heat, and Joe and I were in shorts, I had flip flops, and it was below freezing outside. Yep, my idea of fun times. Freezing, exhausted, in need of a shower and a bed. Ah, good times!
When our little prop plane finally landed (despite some wicked winds tossing us around in the air), I was thrilled to be nearing the end of the journey. All I wanted was a shower and a LONG night's sleep. We met our driver, Mandla, at the minuscule airport in Richard's Bay, and began the 2 hour drive to the lodge. It was dark when we arrived, so it was hard to get a feel for the surroundings. The staff were kind and welcoming, and told us dinner hadn't been served yet, so we could still eat. So, we took quick showers, grabbed a bite to eat, and hit the hay. Ahhh... sleep at last!
Our time at Zulu Nyala
We began the morning early, with a movie in bed (at about 5:00 am... couldn't sleep any later), got dressed, packed our day bags, had breakfast, then met up with our Guide/Ranger for the week. His name was James Jambulani (sp?) Tembe. We were the first to be picked up and he quickly explained a little of what to expect for the week. We were provided with a list of activities, reserves we could go to, etc. and their prices. Gulp... we had more stuff to pay for?! We knew our trip was supposed to include 2 game drives per day... what we hadn't realized was those were only on the reserve called Zulu Nyala, and to go to other reserves, you had to pay for it. Bummer.
We rode over in the front bench seat in the bed of James' Zulu Nyala HiLux Toyota pickup truck. It was a chilly drive and we quickly realized that we would likely not being seeing any of the 70 degree days we'd been told to expect. We had come during a cold spell. When we got to the Game Lodge, we met John and Denise, who would be in our group for the week. They are a lovely couple that we got along quite well with. We enjoyed their company, and we certainly couldn't have asked for a better guide.
We spent that morning on a game drive, and had an up close encounter with a male White Rhino. In the afternoon we were joined by a family of 5... and a hunting family at that. Not really the kind of people I would chose to go on a photo safari with. Every time we'd see an animal, the father (I'll leave out names), would have to "glass" them. Ugh. He was a big, burly guy that walked around all week with binoculars strapped to his chest and talking about the racks and tusks on all the animals. For dinner, there was usually an opportunity to eat the meat of the animals we'd seen that day... things like Warthog (Intibani in Zulu), Ostrich, Wildebeest, and so on. My thought was that we were here to enjoy and revel in their beauty... not see how they tasted. But hey, that's just me.
On the next day we got to go to Tembe Elephant Park in Tembe. This is about 2 hours from Zulu Nyala, so on the drive we asked James all about Zulu culture, his family, etc. Since James is from Tembe, we were also being given the opportunity to meet his family. We met his wife, Sebongele (sp? See-bon-gee-lay), his two sons, Qinisani (tongue cluck-in-e-saan-eh) & Philigathle (sp? Phil-e-gath-le). We also met his sister, her two daughters, and last but not least, his parents Baba Tembe and Mama Tembe. It was an amazing experience I won't even try to describe. They were a lovely family and we were soooo fortunate to have the chance to meet them.
While at Tembe Elephant Park we enjoyed some time in a Hide, watching a waterhole that was the play and training area of about 15 bull elephants at the time. They fought with each other... as training, the splashed and sprayed with the water, scratched on trees, and so on. It was breathtaking. Sitting in a hide probably 100 feet from the water hole and watching all of this was spectacular. After our time in the hide, we drove around the reserve, and even experienced being charged, or mock charged, by a bull elephant in musk! That means he was ready to mate and was not in the mood for distractions! It was thrilling, and terrifying, to be in a little Condor (name of the small SUV we were riding in) when this enormous bull elephant came running at us!
The following day we had the privilege of enjoying a Zulu cultural village. We learned that for each wife, a man has to pay 11 cows. Even our guide, James, had to do this. Although, in current times, they don't always use real, live cows, sometimes the bride's family would prefer to just have the money, or give the husband a list of items they want him to buy with the money equivalent to the worth of 11 cows. We learned about the dress of the woman, about medicine men, about living arrangements, etc. It was fascinating.
We also really enjoyed the trip we took to a rural village. The village of Nompondo has some amazing people in it. They have a 70%+ unemployment rate, a higher than the national average HIV/AIDS rate of over 32% documented HIV/AIDS sufferers, and a 99.9% pass rate on their national exams. Incredible people. We met a 76 year old woman who is taking care of her son's children. He was killed in a car accident on the drive home from Jo'Burg. When his wife learned of his death, she died of a heart attack. Now, the woman is caring for 6 children on her own with no aide. It's heartbreaking. She can barely stand, and yet she has to take care of these young children with whatever money she can get.
A Quick Lesson in Zulu
Sowubona -- Hello!
Ujanni -- How are you?
Niya pila -- I'm well.
Niya Pila Nami (or Nami Nia Pila) -- I am well too.
Sala kahle -- Stay Well
Hamba kahle -- Go Well
Yebo -- Yes
Siyabonga -- Thank you
Forgive my spelling. I learned it orally, and didn't learn the spelling for most of the words. I wrote them somewhat phonetically though, so hopefully that will help you all learn! Oh, and I think I got the Go Well/Stay Well part with the right words, but if not, please let me know! I can't remember for sure already!
The Trip Home
Our journey home was relatively uneventful. We had delays due to baggage system breakdowns and not being able to get them to the plane at both Jo'Burg and Heathrow. When we got to LAX, we were disappointed to find that, after waiting for over an hour at the baggage carousel, that one of our bags hadn't made it. We filed a lost bag report and left the airport. Traffic on the drive home wasn't too bad, and we arrived a mere 46 hours after beginning the journey home. We took showers, had a quick dinner, caught up with mom, and went to bed. It's always so good to be home again after an exhausting adventure!
I hope you've enjoyed the quick summary of our trip. It was an incredible experience, and yet again as I left Africa I felt as though I left a piece of my heart behind. Joe told me he now understood what I'd meant when I said this and felt the same way. We should be traveling back to find our children in Zambia in a few months time, and the anticipation can be tough to deal with. Watching our plane fly back and forth over Zambia on the trips to and from South Africa was painful. Knowing our children were possibly already down there, 40,000 feet below us, waiting, was almost too much to bear. Stay strong little ones, we're coming!
Monday, July 09, 2007
Well, I emailed Los Angeles USCIS today to check on the status of our I-600A application. I'd been told I could check the status online, but my receipt didn't have the proper number code on it and I wasn't able to. So, I emailed the Orphan Petition Unit to ask for the correct number and an update. To my big surprise, I actually received a response within an hour! And, better yet, the response told me that our application had been approved and our I-171H was being sent to us tomorrow! Holy smokes, that was fast! Just over two weeks from application to approval! Way to go LA USCIS! I'd tried to prepare myself for it taking anywhere between 1-5 months!
Of course, this also comes as a bit of sad news in a way. Now that our I-171H is ready to be mailed to us, we are able to travel... except that bit about at least one of us needing to be 25 before we go. So, that means at this point we will just be waiting to go. I do have to do a homestudy update (very short, updating the HS to state we're adopting from Zambia and not Ethiopia), and if/when we move do our address updates and homestudy update. I'm holding off on having our homestudy updated to be Zambia specific until the move happens so we can hit two birds with one stone. ;-) Smart thinking, I know!
On the move front, we put in our first offer yesterday morning on a very nice house. We were worried it wouldn't be worth the effort since the sellers don't seem to be ready to accept the condition of the housing market and were priced quite high. Nevertheless, we gave it a shot. The response we got was that our offer didn't deserve a response. Yikes! Their realtor also proceeded to lecture and insult us in every way possible. Kind of makes me want to tell her what kind of person she is, but instead, I guess I'll just have to enjoy it when we find a much better house at a good price and they can't get that one sold cause they won't pull their heads out of you-know-where and get their price to be market sensitive!
Enough for now! I'm off to see some more properties and then have a LONG overdue visit with a Semester At Sea friend I haven't seen since I walked off the ship for the last time in December of 2003!
Sunday, July 08, 2007
So, I kind of left everyone hanging when we headed out for South Africa. I mentioned in my final post that we were going to be receiving another offer on Monday night, and didn't know how it would pan out. Well, the long and short of it is that the offer was super low, we countered with our BOTTOM line offer, told their realtor we didn't have time to play games and they had to come up to our number or look for another house. Well, they still played the game of countering, coming up another $10,000. On Tuesday, while we were at LAX, our realtor was calling us and trying to get the deal to work out. They'd come to within $10,000 of our number through multiple counters and now it looked like the deal was going to work. Talk about frustrating. We're through security at the airport, less than an hour before leaving for Africa, and now our realtor wants us to find a fax machine in case we could get the numbers to work. Well, I was determined to make it work if I could, so I begged in the VIP airline lounges until I found one that would let me accept and send a fax. Then I waited some more. Kamran (our realtor) called us moments before we needed to board the plane. He said he still had a lot of number crunching to do, and had to talk to their realtor, so he couldn't fax anything yet. THEN, he asked if we could get in touch with him upon our arrival in South Africa. Are you kidding me?! Ugh.
Well, after 2.5 days of flying and a wonderful visit with an old friend during our 8 hour layover in London, we were at our Game Lodge on Zulu Nyala and ready to crash. After a quick dinner and showers, we did just that. We were out within seconds of hitting the pillows. The next morning, however, my curiosity about the deal began to get the better of me. I eventually called my mom from our room at the Lodge (without a calling card... yikes!) to see what had conspired. She let me know they'd made the numbers work, and the first time buyers that had made the offer were too concerned to leave the deal out there hanging until we returned. So, if we wanted to get the house under contract, we had to get some papers faxed to us, signed, and faxed back. Grr. What a pain. It doesn't help having a 9 hour time difference to complicate office hours of our realtor and the lodge office staff.
So, we were able to get the papers faxed and signed, and spent the remainder of our trip trying to forget about the whole thing. We were in AFRICA, who wants to worry about a house back home?! We had a magnificent time, but that's a story for the next post! Right now, it's time for breakfast!
Monday, June 25, 2007
Now, here we are with very little time left to prep, and I can't focus on work.... I know, I'm terrible and need to be working right now! To make our time crunch worse, we just learned we have gotten another offer (our second one so far) and our realtor and the buyer's realtor will be coming by this evening at 6:45 pm to present it to us. I have no idea if it's good or bad. If it is good, it sure does complicate our leaving town tomorrow! If we go under contract, they will need to do inspections, etc. and we lose 2 weeks of house hunting. I have no idea how we'll pull it all together. Obviously, packing will be a nightmare since we're too broke to hire a company to pack and move us. A typical 30 day escrow period may just be a little tight for us at this point. What makes it especially difficult is the fact that we will still have to decide on a place to make an offer on ourselves, and any time between the closing of this place and our future house will be difficult with our 3 dogs in tow! Let's see... a short term rental for someone with 3 crazy pups?! We may be out of luck!
Ok, I'm not complaining though. As tough as it may be to pull it all together, we will find a way. And, if the offer works out and we go under contract, we'll be so fortunate for that... so I am NOT complaining, just starting to think through what it will entail!
Cross your fingers for an amazing offer tonight! We've had so much misfortune with this place (and the plumbing) lately, we could really use a break!
Sunday, June 24, 2007
However, on Thursday night, we had some radical changes to our adoption plan. We have been planning on adopting from Ethiopia, and falling more and more in love with the country and its' people the more we learn about it. Yet, something unexpected came up this past week that I couldn't ignore. On the Ethiopian adoption forums I read every day, someone mentioned an agency was starting a Zambian program. Discussions about how easy/impossible adopting from Zambia would be. I'm not sure what did it for me, but I think I was just curious. I began researching Zambia, and mentioned it to mom and Joe. I didn't really think I would have a change of heart, or be interested in changing to Zambia. We're practically ready to submit our dossier for Ethiopia... why would we consider changing from a stable, established country to one that has never had any sort of international adoption program?
Well, after a couple of days of casual research, I asked Joe whether he thought I should look more seriously into the option of adopting from Zambia. Mind you, I was just waking up as I asked him, and he was heading out the door for work, so it was a brief question and answer. He responded with "No, I think we're pretty committed to Ethiopia at this point." So, that was that.
Problem is, I just can't stay focused once I get an interest in something. I don't know what exactly, but something that day kept causing my mind to drift back to Zambia. I even carried my laptop downstairs to work next to mom for a while and found out SHE was researching Zambia! Apparently it wasn't just me that was wondering about the possibility.
When Joe got home from work on Thursday, I brought it up with him again. This time, I was more informed about what it would mean to try and adopt from Zambia. During the course of the conversation, we agreed that we should try and adopt from Zambia. Holy smokes, talk about a change in course in just a couple of days time!
Well, that night, we re-typed our application for our I-600A up, this time listing the place of travel and embassy we would file our I-600 at as Lusaka, Zambia. Yikes! We are really doing this! It's exciting, scary, and also sad. We have met such wonderful families with such great kids through the Ethiopian adoptive community. We are leaving a stable, established program and pioneering our way through a new program. Yet, as I submitted our I-600A to the woman at the orphan petition unit at the Federal Building in Los Angeles, I felt confident with the decision we've made.
Now, I'm sure a million questions must be going through your minds. We HAVE been so excited about adopting from Ethiopia, and had no reason we needed to make the change, so what happened? Especially knowing that it's POSSIBLE we'll return from Zambia and our adoption attempt will have been unsuccessful. In which case, we'll return to our original plan of adopting from Ethiopia. It's tough to summarize our thoughts, but I'll try to explain.
First of all, Zambia has a staggering rate of orphans, and this is one thing that made us interested in adopting from Ethiopia. Yet, so far, there are barely any adoptions taking place, so the outlook for most of these orphans is quite poor. Wouldn't it be great if, while building our family, we could help pioneer this new program and open the doors of Zambia to Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAP)?
In addition to the high rate of orphans in Zambia, we were also excited, and scared, by the fact that you identify your own children. When we travel to Zambia, it will be for 3 or more weeks, and the first thing we do upon arriving is begin visiting the orphanages in Lusaka (the capitol of Zambia). There are 95 registered orphanages in Lusaka alone. Can you imagine? 95 orphanages?! It's a difficult thing to imagine how difficult it will be to identify the children we would like to adopt, knowing that most of the children we see will likely not ever get adopted. The part about Ethiopia that seems easier to me is that the children we would've seen at the care center would already be matched with families to be adopted... they have homes to go to soon.
QUICK FACT: The life expectancy in Zambia is 32 years. I'm sure you'll find slight variance in this number depending on the source, but this seems to be what I'm finding.
Ok, so not only are there a large number of orphans, but the paper side of the process is also much simpler than any other country right now. All you need is a completed, approved homestudy, and your I-171H. That's it! You're set to travel! I realize that for us, this doesn't really matter since I now have all of the documents needed for our Ethiopia dossier (except the I-171H that we're waiting for no matter what). Yet, for families that aren't as far along in their paperchase, this is a huge perk. It could save a few hundred dollars in document, notary, certification and authentication fees alone!
While there are a number of differences between the requirements and process between Ethiopia and Zambia, there are some mild similarities. Zambia is also very flexible on parental requirements, even more so than Ethiopia. The only requirement is that the parents be at least 25 yrs old. For us, this could also be the downfall. We have read that this is "frequently waived," but I don't know how much that is worth with this being a brand new program, how many families have been through before and were under 25? So, we're waiting to learn whether or not we have to wait until Joe's birthday in order to travel. I'd think not... but we'll see.
At this moment, if our I-171H comes through by the end of July, we'll probably look at traveling sometime between September and November. One factor will be whether our ages come into play, another is that Joe needs to talk to his work and discuss days off for the trip. Like I said, the trip will be at least 3 weeks... and the 3 weeks begins once we identify our children, which could take a few days. Plus, there are no guarantees, so we COULD end up needing to stay longer in order to get through court, get their passports and visas. Not to mention the fact that it'd be really tough for Joe to return to work immediately upon our return with our new kids. We'll need some amount of time to bond, settle in, and get something of a routine going. As for my job, I'm hoping I'll be able to work (at least part time or something) from Zambia, especially if we need to stay more than 3 weeks. That would really help if I could save more of my maternity leave/vacation time for our return home.
Anyway, at this point, I think I'm rambling. So much has come up, so quickly. On top of it all, we've been trying to deal with the water damage in the garage and planning/packing for our trip to South Africa. We leave in less than 48 hours. At this point, I haven't even begun to pack, but I HAVE written up a list of things we need to remember to bring! What a whirlwind!
Oh, and cross your fingers for us... we had a couple come see our house for the 3rd time today, and also had a second showing by a different family! Please let them make us an AWESOME offer before we take it off the market to leave town!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Let me set the stage... it was a beautiful, sunny afternoon when Joe left for a ride on his bike. He loves mountain biking and was so thrilled to get out and enjoy an afternoon in the outdoors....
Psh, enough of that style. Here it is. Joe went out for a ride, and long story short, he did a major endo (for you non-mountain bikers - that means he flipped his bike, back end over the front, and not intentionally!). Upon crash landing he realized before all of the shock and pain set in that his shoulder wasn't right. He's got a problem with that darn shoulder partially dislocating in these bike accidents he occasionally has. So, before the shock factor wore off, he did a full rotation of the shoulder to get it to move back into the joint. OUCH! Then, he realized his right wrist was hurting...badly. And, his left forearm was skinned up and filled with cactus needles. AND, his right knee was missing a few chunks of skin. Oh yummy. But, what did Joey do? He got back on his bike and struggled along the trail for another hour before heading home so that he could try and enjoy some more of the beautiful day!
By the time he returned home, he was in quite a bit of pain. I did my best to help bandage him up, but he was a mess! His wrist was swollen and sore, his shoulder hurt, and his knee was oozing nastiness. It took 3 days to even begin to scab over!
Ok, so what's so bad about all this, you ask? Well, the following morning was pretty awesome. Our social worker came for our final interview and did our home walk-through. As I mentioned already in an earlier post, we passed and were given the "go-ahead" with our adoption. Talk about crossing a huge milestone! That was super exciting, no doubt.
However, that evening, I noticed what seemed to be damp grout near the bottom of the toilet in our downstairs bathroom. I lifted the toilet lid and saw the water was almost completely drained out of the bowl. So, I think "Hmmmm... how odd. Maybe it's partially clogged and I should flush it to get it back to normal." One flush does nothing. It looks the same. So, I flush again, and again, and one last time. Now, the water's up to the rim of the bowl and not going down. Yikes. So, I run to the garage and grab the plunger. Joe's in the shower and unable to help... so I can handle this, right?! I begin plunging away, thinking I'm all that and I'm going to fix whatever's wrong with the toilet.
Then, I hear it. I little gushing noise, almost too quiet to hearing. I plunge again... psher, psher, psher (plunging noise ;-)). That's when it happens. Water begins to pour out from the bolt holes where the toilet is bolted to the floor, and then it starts flooding out from all around the base of the toilet. The floor of the bathroom around the toilet is quickly becoming a small pond. I rushed to the cabinet and grabbed a handful of those puppy pee pads we use when leaving the dogs in the garage during showings. They're pretty absorbent, and have a plastic backing, so I figured it was a good choice.
I run down the hall and grab a trash bag to throw gobs of the, now drench, pads into. Water's still coming out. Now what? I keep sopping it up with new pads, paper towels, whatever I can get my hands on. Ugh, how nasty. TOILET water is all over the floor in there. I'm a major sanitation freak about some things, so I'm getting the willies just thinking about the nastiness factor here. WHY did this have to happen?!
So, I get the mess cleaned up, sanitize the floors, toilet, anything that had been touched by the water including my hands, feet, ankles, etc. Then, I run upstairs to ask Joe to come down.
**Remember - Joe is sore and has a worthless wrist on one arm and a worthless shoulder on the other from the accident**
His response is that we should leave it alone and call a plumber in the morning. A PLUMBER?! Are you kidding me? I mean, we're total do-it-yourselfers. We've remodeled our whole house with almost no assistance from anyone. We set those toilets a year ago, we can fix it, right?! Besides, we're pouring all of our cash into checks for adoption expenses, how could we possibly afford a plumber?! I said "No way, I'll do it myself tomorrow." Figuring I'd get some new wax rings cause it must've been a case of the rings oozing into the hole and blocking it up or something. No big deal. that toilet barely gets used, how could it be any worse than that?!
Fast forward to the next afternoon. I send Joe to grab two new wax rings from Lowes on his way home from work. It's our 2-yr anniversary, but we're going to fix the toilet. I know you're all jealous! "What a romantic couple!" you're thinking. Well, yes. That's us. But, I had a change of heart while Joe was grabbing the supplies, and decided we should at least go walk along the beach and grab some cheap food while we're out. The toilet would still be there, broken, when we got back. Sadly.
We enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing dinner, watching the waves roll in and out, kids playing in the sand and dreaming. The weather was perfect, the food was great, and we were together. Ahhh, what a wonderful break from the nasty mess at home.
Alas, when we returned, I was determined to get that toilet fixed. I mean, seriously! What if someone came by for a showing??? We couldn't just leave it like that ANOTHER day! So, I changed into my "down and dirty" clothes and headed to the nasty zone. I got the tank off the bowl, got the bowl up off the floor with Joe's help and onto plastic laid out for it. Then, we saw it. Water was sitting in the drain hole up to about 2-3 inches below the top of the pipe. Not good. That hole shouldn't have water standing in it. Come on, can't we get a break?! Last month it was a slab leak, this month... a clogged toilet drain?! Guess we'd better call a plumber after all, eh?
Fast forward again. Now, it's the following day, around 1:00 PM. Joe's arranged for a plumber to come out and check out the problem and clear out the clog. He should be arriving sometime after 3:00 PM, but whenever he comes, he'll call at least a 1/2 hour in advance to let me know. So, I run to the garage to grab a frozen burrito out of the freezer out there. I left the light off in the garage, who needs it. I notice the garage smells damp/dusty. Odd. I see there's a pool of water by the garage door, near the hose bib. There's frequently a little water there after someone's used that hose, so I don't think much of it... but it is a rather large amount of water for that. Hmmm.
Drip, drip, drip. Uh oh. What's that? Out of the corner of my eye I see dripping from the undercarriage of my car between the front two wheels. My mind is racing with ideas as to my my car would be dripping so much fluid. I sniff again. It doesn't smell like gas, oil, or whatever. Then, I begin to lift my eyes up and see that whatever it is, it's running down the sides of the car, just behind the front wheel. It's all over the hood and windshield. It looks as though my car's been through a hurricane. Well, the front 1/2 of the car does anyway. There's water all over the front of the car from the driver's and passenger doors and forward. Now, I look even further up and see it.
The garage is raining. It's as though a giant cloud had formed in the garage and was raining down all around. Except, this cloud was actually the ceiling! The ceiling was raining! It was dripping like crazy all over the place. From one side of the garage to the other and from front to back! Big, HUGE wet patches on the ceiling. LEAK!
Above our garage is our neighbor's condo. It wasn't coming from our house. I couldn't shut off our water to stop it. This wasn't some small, slow leak either. This appeared to be Lake Superior up there! I ran for my cell phone and told Joe he had to get home... NOW! Then, I ran out the front door, planning to beat down my neighbors door in order to get the water shut off. Luckily, as I ran out, it was just in time to see the plumber show up. He shut off their water and ran up to assess the problem. Our neighbor's daughter was home and I asked her what was going on. I told her our garage was being flooded and needed some answers. She seemed bewildered (she's 18 or 19 yrs old... not some child). She was only able to tell me that her mom was on her way home... should be home any minute, and she'd have her come over and talk to me when she got there. Great.
In the mean time, I ran back into the garage and began saving whatever I could from the water. We'd bought a glider chair for our nursery at the neighborhood garage sale the previous weekend. It was soaked. A bag of new dog food... drenched. Just about everything was wet to some degree. Since the ceiling was still dripping quite a bit, I tried to move things out from under "active drip" areas so they wouldn't get any more damage. This wasn't just clean water, either. It was sloppy, goopy yuck with drywall powder and chunks in it. My car had been just washed... now it was covered in a white, mess.
While I was cleaning and rearranging the garage, the neighbor stopped by to discuss repairs, Joe arrived, and so did the plumber that was coming to look at our toilet problem. In order to keep the story from drawing out much further, I'll summarize. With the help of the drain snake, the drain was cleared, but the plumber felt we should run a camera down the pipe to see if we could learn why the drain had clogged. So, we arranged to have him to come back with a camera to look in there and see what's wrong the next day (this morning). He thinks he found that we may have a minor offset in the pipe that has probably been there for quite some time. If this is the case, it could occasionally case things to get caught up and in time, cause a clog. If we felt that it was necessary, the next step would be to locate and verify the problem (another $150), and once found (and verified) they would have to then dig down into the ground, through the floor and whatever else is in the way, to replace the pipe sections. Fun stuff.
So, for now, we had them reset the toilet while we talk to the association since it may be covered by them. It's in the slab, and therefore may not be our responsibility. Either way, we're holding off on taking the next step to have anything fixed. Since this is the first issue in the 2 years we've lived here, we're not too concerned. As it is, the slab leak last month sucked up our emergency funds and with adoption expenses, our accounts are dried up to next to nothing.
As for the garage water mess, we still haven't seen our neighbors insurance guy. She said she'd call us "when he's on his way" so I have no idea when that'll be. That's where I get frustrated cause my working from home gets abused a bit in these situations. I actually need to WORK when I'm at home and can't just take off, get off a meeting call, or whatever when it's convenient for her and the insurance guy. Whatever, I'll be flexible, yet again. I just hope my boss doesn't mind! More to come on this... hopefully they get this fixed quickly because the garage smells damp, and almost mildew-y. I'm hoping we don't end up with a mold issue to boot. Plus, with Joe and I leaving the country in 6 days, I don't want to have this going on while we're out of town. No way. Plus, these are our final days with the house on the market before we leave town. We're taking it off while we're gone so we don't have to worry about the dogs with showings, the possibility of dealing with an offer while we're in South Africa, etc. We'll probably re-list when we get back.
Whilst all of this is going on, we're waiting for our notarized homestudy. I missed a call from our social worker last night when Joe and I were distracting ourselves with some fun at Geoff and Val's. Can you believe I missed her call? I can't. She was calling to let me know that our homestudy was done, the supervisor had approved it, but the email address she'd written down for our placement agency wasn't working so she couldn't get their approval. So, at this moment, I've given her the correct email address and we're waiting for their social worker to look it over and get back to us. Hopefully soon. We've GOT to get the notarized copy in hands in time to get our I-600A submitted and be fingerprinted before we leave town. That would be one huge bit of progress that would help us with some good news in the midst of the chaos at our house!
Seriously though, going to Geoff and Val's last night was just what I needed to get my mind off plumbing issues and have some fun with friends and their precious little guys. I need to get pictures of them so I can put them up for you to all see. They are absolutely gorgeous boys. I have so much fun with them, and feel so incredibly fortunate to have met the Smith family. Wesley and Harrison are helping get Joe and I ready (to some extent) for babies and twins, and they're parents are so great to be around. We even got to test drive the stroller around the neighborhood for a nice long walk, so I got a little workout in too!
Pictures and updates to follow... in the meantime, I'd better get to work!
Monday, June 18, 2007
Now, for a little more insight into our visit with Cara yesterday. I know I can talk a lot. That's just something I'm known for. Especially when I'm nervous/excited/anxious. Well, trust me when I say that I was completely blown away by the fact that Joe was so busy talking and answering questions that I could barely get a word in edge-wise yesterday! No joke! He was so talkative that he couldn't keep his mouth shut long enough for me to finish sentences or ask questions! He'd just jump right in and finish answering for me, or trying to complete the question I was asking. It was so bizarre! I thought my husband had been abducted by aliens and they'd returned someone completely different! No more long pauses while waiting for Joe to speak up or answer something... he was all over it! Is it too presumptuous to say that maybe... just maybe, his excitement was kicking in a bit?! And he was all smiles when she left. I was still in shock that A) the "homestudy" was over and B) Joe was answering ALL of her questions instead of me! Trust me when I tell you this is a shocking turn of events! It was awesome to see the excitement he's feeling but been so good at controlling all this time in order to keep me relatively calm in the process.
A world away our children may already be out there. It's sometimes difficult when I sit and wonder about them. Are they still in their birth mom's tummy? Have they been born yet? Are they already in an orphanage waiting for us, or on the verge of that tragic situation that puts them in a situation of needing a mommy and daddy. It's painful to think that with all the excitement and anticipation we feel, we're excited about something that inevitably means a painful, terrible loss of some sort for our little ones.
Knowing that the soonest we could travel is October (that's if we get a referral during court closures and get through court when it first reopens in early October) that we're only 4 months away... 4 months. Of course, that's the SOONEST it could happen. It's very likely it will be later than that. If we get our I-600A submitted before leaving town AND get fingerprinted, we could be receiving our I-171H by late July. So, the big question is how long will it take us to get our referral? It could take a while, so I'm trying not to get my hopes up about the wait being too short. I'm just hoping we'll get to travel before the end of the year!
Enough of my ramblings for now. I have to go host a meeting and get back to work... it's so hard to concentrate on anything other than the adoption some days!
Saturday, June 09, 2007
We'll be flying through London, with an 8 hour layover, so we should even have a chance to leave the airport and see an old family friend that was like an uncle to me when I was young! I haven't seen him since I was probably 10 years old, so it's very exciting! He's now married and has kids of his own that we'll get to meet! Plus, it'll be a great break from the airport and airplanes during our long trip.
Once we arrive in Johannesburg, we'll have about an hour and a half to get our bags, get through customs, and check in, go back through security, and board our flight to Richard's Bay. I'm worried that connection is way too tight, but if we took the next later flight, we'd have to wait 5.5 hours for it. And, that's our first day at our safari destination, so I wanted us to get to the lodge before dark! Once we arrive in Richard's Bay, someone will pick us up and drive us about 2 hours to the Heritage Safari Lodge. It looks really gorgeous from the pictures! We'll be on safari in the area where the Kim Bassinger movie, "I Dream of Africa" was filmed! Yes, it's that cool! But, thinking of that movie makes me think of the poisonous snakes her son had caught in the area and the mamba that bit him and killed him. Yikes! What a sad movie!
Enough said, Joe and I are headed off on a fantastic adventure. One more thing to stretch our already suffocatingly tight budget, but it's the perfect thing for the two of us to celebrate 2 years of marriage (on June 18th!) and be alone together before becoming first time parents!!!
Sunday, June 03, 2007
"In Ethiopia, Open Doors for Foreign Adoptions
By JANE GROSS and WILL CONNORS
Published: June 4, 2007
ST. PAUL — Ethiopia was not on Mark and Vera Westrum-Ostrom’s list when they first visited Children’s Home Society & Family Services here to explore an international adoption.
From Ethiopia to Minnesota Ukraine was first, because of their family heritage, until the couple discovered that the adoption system there was chaotic, with inaccurate information about orphans’ health and availability.
Vietnam was second, after they saw videos of well-run orphanages. But the wait would be at least a year and a half.
Then they learned about Ethiopia’s model centers for orphans, run by American agencies, with an efficient adoption system that made it possible for them to file paperwork on Labor Day and claim 2-year-old Tariku, a boy with almond eyes and a halo of ringlets, at Christmas.
From Addis Ababa, the capital city, they traveled to the countryside to meet the boy’s birth mother, an opportunity rare in international adoption. And at roughly $20,000, the process was affordable compared with other foreign adoptions, and free of the bribes that are common in some countries.
It is no wonder, given these advantages, that Ethiopia, a country more often associated by Americans with drought, famine and conflict, has become a hot spot for international adoption. Even before the actress Angelina Jolie put adoption in Ethiopia on the cover of People magazine in 2005, the number of adoptions there by Americans was growing. The total is still small — 732 children in 2006, out of a total of 20,632 foreign adoptions, but it is a steep increase, up from 82 children adopted in 1997.
Ethiopia now ranks 5th among countries for adoption by Americans, up from 16th in 2000. In the same period, the number of American agencies licensed to operate there has grown from one to 22.
The increasing interest in Ethiopia comes at a time when the leading countries for international adoption, China, Guatemala and Russia are, respectively, tightening eligibility requirements, under scrutiny for adoption corruption and closing borders to American agencies.
Ethiopia’s sudden popularity also comes with risks, say government officials there and in America.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to handle it,” said Haddush Halefom, an official at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which oversees adoption. “We don’t have the capacity to handle all these new agencies, and we have to monitor the quality, not just the quantity.”
Capping the number of agencies is one solution. And that is what some international adoption officials in the United States are now urging the Ethiopian government to do.
Of concern is the ability of agencies to handle the rising demand, which may have contributed to a recent mix-up involving two families sent home with the wrong children by Christian World Adoption, an established agency, although relatively new to Ethiopia. That case prompted inquiries by the State Department and the nonprofit Joint Council on International Children’s Services in Virginia, a child welfare and advocacy organization, and the adoption agency itself, said Thomas DiFilipo, president of the joint council.
Officials at Christian World Adoption did not reply to e-mail messages or telephone calls. But Mr. DiFilipo said the agency was reviewing its procedures and has hired immigration lawyers to resolve the mix-up.
The consensus, Mr. DiFilipo said, is that the mix-up was “an honest mistake.” But, he added, “This could be the byproduct of a staff handling 35 placements when they’re used to handling 20.”
Children’s Home Society & Family Services, founded in 1889, began working in Ethiopia in 2004. The agency completed about 300 adoptions in its first three years in Ethiopia, and expects to complete that many in 2007 alone. Along with Wide Horizons For Children in Waltham, Mass., the society is credited with helping Ethiopia create a model for international adoption.
Ethiopia, with a population of 76 million, has an estimated 5 million children who have lost one or both parents, according to aid organizations. Many African nations have outlawed or impeded the adoption of their children by foreigners. Ethiopia has welcomed American and European families who are willing to provide homes for children who have lost both parents to AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis or starvation, or who come from families too destitute to feed and clothe them. (The adoption process includes routine screening for HIV infection.)
Two elements distinguish Ethiopia’s adoption system, according to dozens of experts. One is the existence of transitional homes for orphans, in the countryside and in the capital, with services and staffing that are rare in the developing world — paid for by American agencies.
Not long ago, Sandra Iverson, a nurse practitioner from the University of Minnesota’s international adoption health clinic, the first of its kind in the United States, was invited to visit the Children’s Home Society’s Ethiopian centers.
She arrived with a neonatal otoscope, to diagnose ear infections; the Red Book, the bible of pediatrics; and scarce antibiotics. She left confident that Ethiopia’s orphans enjoyed unusual care.
“You don’t hear crying babies,” Ms. Iverson said. “They are picked up immediately.”
The other signature of the Ethiopian system is that adopting families are encouraged to meet birth families and visit the villages where the children were raised, a cutting-edge practice in adoptions. Some agencies provide DVDs or photographs that document the children’s past.
Russ and Ann Couwenhoven, in Ham Lake, Minn., recently showed one such video to 6-year-old Tariku, one of three children they have adopted from Ethiopia. The boy seemed proud of the beautifully painted house he had lived in, they said, and the uncle who had sheltered him for as long as he could.
Linda Zwicky brought 2-year-old Amale home five days before the Memorial Day weekend, with a letter from the child’s grandmother that described holding the motherless infant at her breast even though she had no milk. Sometimes such vividness is too much. Melanie Danke and her husband, of Minneapolis, adopted 6-year-old twins and a 3-year-old, all siblings. One of the twins “would work herself up until she was inconsolable” looking at photos of the aunt and grandmother who raised her, Ms. Danke said. So she has tucked the photos away for now.
David Pilgrim, vice president of adoption services at the Children’s Home Society, said the agency spends $2 million a year on its Ethiopian facilities.
At the main transitional home, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, a staff of 170 care for about 120 children, ensuring that the children have consistent contact with adults, which experts say mitigates the most damaging psychological effects of institutionalization.
During a reporter’s recent visit, the two terra-cotta buildings where the children live, usually for no more than a few months, were spotless, with staff members scurrying to pick up toys and food spills as they hit the floor.
The transitional home has a primary school, open also to local students, where the children begin learning English. There is a medical clinic with two full-time doctors and 10 nurses. Down the road is a guest house for adoptive parents, who also can stay in a sleek hotel.
The children also enjoy the services of a “laugh therapist,” Belachu Girma.
“These kids come here and are very depressed at first, all with their heads down and not talking,” Mr. Girma said. “I come in and try to help them relax.”
There was laughter also at the nearby guest house, more of the nervous kind, as American parents waited to take their children back to St. Paul from the Horn of Africa.
Araminta and Jason Montague, from Atlanta, who picked up 17-month-old Natan last week, compared their experience in Ethiopia to an earlier adoption of a girl from China (where Americans adopted 6,493 children in 2006).
“Our daughter was in an orphanage with about 300 children and she was very dehydrated,” Ms. Montague said. “We were never told her origins. Her sheet just said ‘Status: Abandoned.’ ”
Some parents anguished, as did Karla Suomala of Decorah, Iowa, when she arrived in Addis Ababa to adopt 5-year-old Dawit and his 21-month-old sister Meheret.
“It’s hard to know what the right thing is to do,” Ms. Suomala said. “Should we just give all the money we’re spending on this to the children’s mother?” Ms. Suomala and her husband, David Vasquez, had already spent time with her.
“It was obvious the birth mother loved her children,” Mr. Vasquez said. “She said to us, ‘Thank you for sharing my burden.’ ”
Alessandro Conticini, the head of child protection at Unicef Ethiopia, is one of many who believe that international adoption is a good thing but must be “part of a larger strategy” that focuses on keeping children in their families or communities, with the help of humanitarian organizations.
Indeed, the Ethiopian government has taken the unusual step of requiring foreign agencies to provide social services and document the results. As a result, agencies like Children’s Home Society and Wide Horizons have built schools and medical facilities — including one for HIV-infected children.
But Mr. Conticini, of Unicef, worries about the mushrooming number of private adoption companies that “are not properly regulated by the government” because two different ministries are involved and working at cross purposes.
At the State Department, visa applications for children adopted from Ethiopia are getting extra attention, said Catherine M. Barry, deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services. “We will very quickly see if patterns are emerging,” she said, “and we will intervene in a timely fashion with anyone doing less than quality work.”
While the governments collaborate to protect a delicate adoption system from the perils of growth, adoptive families arrive each week in Addis Ababa to ease their children into new lives.
Last week, these included Mr. Vasquez and Ms. Suomala. While she had no trouble escorting Meheret from the orphanage, Dawit refused to budge, so Mr. Vasquez carried him toward the gate.
There, the child grabbed the bars and would not let go. Mr. Vasquez considered prying his hands loose and thought better of it. Instead he told Dawit that it was O.K. to cry.
Jane Gross reported from St. Paul, and Will Connors from Addis Ababa. "