Thursday, 31 December 2009

Six Months!

It's true- time flies when you're having fun.

Six months!!

We met Tommy on June 30 of this year, so yesterday (or maybe today, whatever) marks six months with our precious blessing, our Mugisha.

I'm adorable and I know it.

We had a low key day, as Tommy and I both have mild colds. We spent all day playing at Grandma Janie's, where we are currently staying, and watching Daddy install a safety gate and construct a crib.

Matching hats

Tommy is doing so well. He is saying more words than I can count, starting to put together two word phrases (most recently- "door open," as he loves opening and closing doors), demonstrating excellent fine motor skills, starting to run, going up and down stairs the "real" way with the help of a hand, eating like a machine, and, growing out of his clothes. He is still small for his age, but jumps up on the percentile at every doctor's visit. He is starting to get a bit more stubborn, and occasionally treats us to a tantrum. Ahhhh, the two's are coming.

Here are some photos from the day we met:

I'll take that camera, thank you.

Inspecting his referral photos...

...which made a good hat.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Uganda Restaurant Rundown

For all of you headed to Uganda in January, here are our reviews of the restaurants we ate at during our stay. We cooked at the guest house as much as we could to save money, but, sometimes you have to eat lunch in Kampala, and other times you are just dying for some American food. If this list looks long, remember we were there for five weeks. Hopefully you won't be! Here are the restaurants we tried and our impressions. To be fair, we only went to most of these places once, so it is possible that a poor impression was based on an "off" day.

Pizza Inn/Nandos: Pretty decent pizza any day except Tuesday. Tuesday is two-for-one day, which may tempt you, but here is why you should avoid it: the wait will be way longer, the ingredients seemed skimpier, and when they say "two-for-one" the don't mean get two, pay for one, they mean "open your pizza box and find two of the same pizza stacked on top of each other." The top pizza is the free one, and it will be small and pretty soggy. Also, it will make the pizza you paid for pretty soggy too. So, as great as it is to get extra pizza, it wasn't worth the quality sacrifice. On any other day it is good. They deliver. That is awesome.

Chicken Inn: I am pretty sure this is related to Nandos/Pizza Inn. They sort of share a building in Kampala. The sandwiches are pretty good but you want to get a two piece sandwich, because the chicken pieces are like what we would think of as chicken fingers, and if you order a one-piece it will mostly be bun and scraggly lettuce. The chips are good here too (and by chips, I of course mean fries). The bummer is they don't have ketchup, only mercado sauce (like top-up). They will swear to you that it is ketchup though. However, if you mix the mercado sauce with the chili sauce that they have (both in little squirt bottles that look like ketchup and mustard bottles), you can make a decent sauce for your sandwich. Thursday is two-for-one day at Chicken Inn, which we found out when they handed us a second bag of sandwiches as we were leaving. The same delivery that brings you Pizza Inn will also bring you Chicken Inn, although we never tried it.

La Petite Bistro: Check your lonely planet- this one good restaurant. It is located outside of Kampala (close to the American embassy). It is an open air restuarant with a cute thatched roof, so you can't miss it. The food here is quite good. Things we enjoyed (two visits: one with Jeff, one with my mom): house salads (with lettuce and, beef samosas, beef stew, pepper steak, pork chops, and the cheeseburger. I think either the beef stew (ugandan style) or the pork chops were the best. The catch with La Petite Bistro is that it takes forever, and ever, and ever, to get your food. So, don't go if you don't have at least an hour to wait for it. It is "expensive," I think seven dollars for the steak or pork chops. The meals come with a house salad and a potato and vegetable, so it is a lot of food for your money. We went on the day that Jeff left (his last meal in Uganda) and on the day that mom and I left- out last meal. It was a nice send-off.

Ranchers: This is in Garden City Mall. Now, before I tell you our impression, I should say that it was highly recommended to us, and I know people who ate at Ranchers consistantly and really liked it. Also, it was the first place we went in Uganda for "American" food, so we were very surprised when it was British food instead. Ranchers was decent, but not great. I was dissapointed because it really looked like it was going to be good, and then my cheeseburger arrived topped with cucumber and tasting exactly like a meatloaf sandwich (I am not a meatloaf fan). It was also our first run-in with Garden City Mall food prices, so it seemed really expensive to us. We did not go back. However, if I were concerned about food preparation and handling, Ranchers did seem very clean and is probably very hygenic.

A Lo Cubano: Garden City Mall food court, third floor. This is only one of the food court offerings that we tried. The food court in Uganda is a very different experience than in an American mall. Instead of wandering around and picking a place to eat, you sit at a table and waiters from all the different restaurants swarm you waving menus. You pick your menu and order from the waiter for that restuarant. Service is not quick like American fast food. You will wait a while. A Lo Cubano had very good food. It was spicy and interesting. My mom had a pork plate, and I got a sandwich, and we were both happy with it. Tommy was particularly pleased with it as well (Ugandan babies seem to love spicy food), as he shared some of both of ours. It is a lot of food. We were surprised by the big portions. I would absolutely eat there again.

Quality Cuts: This is at Quality Hill, which is very very close to the American Embassy. At Quality Cuts you can by deli meats, cheeses, and a few very expensive groceries, but you can also buy deli sandwiches made to order. I loved this place. The sandwiches were about two to three dollars each, and they were very big. We went twice, and both times we (me, Mom/Jeff, and driver) all ate for about ten dollars total. The meat is not the highest quality, but it is good enough.The bread is good, and it is great to choose from different kinds of cheese! There are some tables out front where you can take your food and eat, so it is very convienent. I would highly reccomend this place.

Quality Hill Coffee Shop: I don't know the proper name of this shop, but it is right next to Quality cuts at Quality Hill. You wouldn't be able to miss it. We went here one day that we were stuck at the embassy. We went in in the morning and had to come back a few hours later, and didn't want to drive back to the guest house so we went and sat in the coffee shop. It is nice, clean, and offers typical coffee-house drinks. However, (notice the theme of slow service) it takes a really long time to get your drinks, and if you order a blended iced coffee by the time they make it and deliver it the small bit of ice they put in it is melted. Not at all frappuccino-like. The desserts are decent, but overpriced. However, if you are stuck near the embassy it is a comfortable place to kill time.

Lotus Mexicana: This is where we went to celebrate after getting our "yes" from the judge! It was recommended to us by an American who lives in Uganda as the closest thing to Mexican food that we would find. Now, you should understand that Mexican food is my favorite kind of food, and I grew up in Southern California, so I have fairly high standards. Lotus Mexicana is a fusion restaurant, so it isn't purely mexican, which we knew going in. It was good enough to alleviate some of my worst Mexican food cravings. The food was, in my opinion, more southwestern than mexican, but it was, as Tommy is fond of saying, tasty. We had enchiladas and tacos, and both were close enough to the real thing. The rice and beans were decent too. The biggest dissapointment was that the tortilla chips tasted like fried wontons, and not like real tortilla chips. This place is expensive (the bill ended up being $50 for the four of us), but it was a very nice restaurant, and a good place to celebrate.

Metropole Hotel: This hotel has a few restaurants. We ended up at the first floor cafe, on one of the days that we had to hang around the Surgery all day (to bring back a sample). It is very close to the Surgery, which was convienent for us and why we ended up there. The hotel is quite nice and very clean. Service was extremely slow, the food was only so so, and it was fairly expensive. The cafe does have some beautiful gardens. I wouldn't go back, because Garden City isn't that far away, and it had better food than the hotel cafe for a similar price.

Tea Room next to the Surgery: This place has a real name. I can't think of it. Anyway, you will see it when you go to the Surgery because it is in the building right next to the parking lot and below the Surgery entrance. We never ate there because on the days we needed to hang out at the surgery they seemed to only have broccoli laden food- soups and quiches (I do not eat cooked broccoli). However, the cookies there are awesome and totally worth going in. The chocolate dipped shortbread is so yummy, and since you will probably visit the surgery multiple times, you will have ample opportunity to get some delicious treats. They have a really nice patio that would be a comfortable place to hang out in between appointments.

Zambia River Lodge Restaurant: Yuck. Please refer to our tale of Safari horror to understand why we even stopped here. I got really sick from this food, even though it is supposed to be a nice hotel that caters to tourists.

Parra Lodge Restaurant: Best food we ate in Uganda (except maybe at Gately), but you have to drive an awfully long way and pay a very steep price for it.

Buffet at Ndere Center: Gross. Don't do it. Cold matoke is not appealing, and the buffet has very few options. Just go and order chicken skewers A La Carte.

Chapati Stands- Ok, we totally broke all the "rules" and had chapati from stands often. We were warned that we should only purchase it fresh-made to avoid "the running stomach." We stuck by that rule and were fine. You can get a bunch of chapati for very little (50 cents) and it will keep well enough if you have a way to heat it. We used it to make tacos and quesadillas, and we ate it when I made Ugandan food. Rolexs are also a cheap way to eat. They are a fried egg and some veggies rolled up in a chapati. I think they may have made me a bit sick though. Samosas from stands are also good, but only buy them hot.

Traveler's (In Jinja): This is a bar/restaurant in a hostel. We went to Traveler's for the smoothie bar, which, while not Jamba Juice, was the closest I saw anywhere. The smoothies are made with great juice, but not nearly enough ice. Very refreshing after a hot hike at Bugagali Falls. The menu there is limited, but inexpensive and pretty good. A bit too much of the British influence (my cold roast beef sandwich was slathered in butter), but for the price you can't complain.

Gately on the Nile (In Jinja): Yum. Gately is tasty. It was one of the more expensive places we ate, but they had iceberg lettuce that we felt safe eating. And to put "expensive" in perspective, a Greek salad was, I think, 7 dollars. All of the entrees we had were between 5 and 8 dollars. Dessert was three dollars. We went to Gately twice. The first time when Jeff, Tommy, and I went to Jinja, and our driver insisted we go there because "Mzungus love it." Jeff had quiche (yes, real men eat quiche), I had a steak sandwich, and our driver had pork chops. Everything was delicious, although I think my steak sandwich was the best. We had friend bananas with ice-cream for desert, and it was amazing. So, when my mom started to get a little burned out on driving around Kampala (the smog made her very sick) we decided to take a day-trip to Jinja, and I planned to take her to lunch at Gately. I knew it would make her feel better- and I was right! She had Greek Salad and I had Nachos (with decent salsa!), and our driver had fish. Of course, we finished with friend bananas. It was the highlight. All good. So, if you are in Jinja and desperate for a salad, or some good food, hit up Gately. It also has very nice grounds and a neat patio so you can dine al fresco. And don't forget the fried bananas.

Friday, 25 December 2009

First Christmas Together

We had a rather eventful day. We had three different celebrations to attend. First we opened stockings together, then had presents and breakfast with my family, then lunch and presents with Jeff's family, then dinner and presents with my extended family. The day's excitement included a kitchen fire, when the paper towel Uncle Kevin was draining bacon on got a little too close to the stove top and dramatically burst into flames. Thanks to some quick thinking and a pair of tongs the ball of fire made it to the sink quickly and everyone escaped injury.

Tommy is officially not in Uganda anymore. Talk about a rags to riches story.... let's just say he had a lot of presents to open. Jeff and I only got him one matchbox car and a little stuffed bear, so we take no responsibility for the extreme spoiling. I've decided to leave some of the toys in their wrapping and pull them out in a few months. He won't know the difference!

Opening stockings

What did Mum get?

Group hug with Mum, Uncle Kevin, and Colleen

Second breakfast

Midday nap at Grandma Janie's

Merry Christmas from the Klugs!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Another Christmas Eve

I am dreading Christmas Eve. It marks one year and six months from Leah's birth and death. Milestone days are often still very hard for me, I'm just too busy now to pay attention to them.

Thanksgiving was rough. Oddly enough the actual day went well, but the few days before were hard. Finding balance while chasing and caring for a very active little boy can be difficult, and when I have to choose between time for personal hygiene, and personal reflection I always go with the former. Thus, every once in a while I get hit by a big wave of missing Leah, accompanied by the usual exhaustion, weepiness, and now, smothering of poor Tommy in kisses when he just wants to play.

The problem is, people you really love aren't replaceable. Having Tommy wiped away our sadness about not having any children, but it can't erase the sadness we feel over losing our specific child. That still stings. I imagine it always will.

This year, as we celebrate for the first time with our boy, we will still be missing our girl.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Being "Famous"

Funny thing about being white parents with a black stand out. The current term for our kind of family is "conspicuous," which is adoption lingo for multi-racial and therefore easily recognizable.

Our social worker required us to do hours of training on coping with being a conspicuous family. Most of it focused on how to deal with the inevtiable (sometimes rude) adoption comments and questions, and how to respect your child's diginity and privacy. The training was good, and I am just waiting for someone to make a rude comment to me so I can use one of my pre-rehearsed snappy comebacks (we get lots of questions, but so far they have all been polite and cautiously worded, thus no snappy comeback required).

But all the training in the world can't prepare you for, as Jeff puts it, "being famous." That is, everywhere we go people remember us, even if we have only been there once before. Before we left for Uganda we went to our bank to stock up on 100s, and all the tellers were helping us and knew we were leaving the country to adopt. The first week we were back we ran into one of those tellers in a completely different location- at a restaurant- and because she saw us with Tommy she remembered our story six weeks later. That was weird. It is especially odd moving to a new city, and having cashiers, librarians, etc remember you on your second visit, or having people who have heard of you being able to identify you without introduction. After living very nondescript lives for the last 29 years, it is quite a change.

It is a burden, at times, knowing that what you say or do will stick with you because no one is likely to forget who you are. It feels like we have to be on our best behavior at all times. As Christians we certainly strive to be polite and kind in every situation, but now it feels like we have less room to mess up. When I feel rushed, stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted, I know I can't get upset at people helping me who may be doing their job poorly, unless I want them to remember the next time. No more flying under the radar on bad days.

Of course, there is a blessing as well. Standing out gives us a chance to share our adoption story. Seeing adoption in action normalizes it and makes it seem less scary. That is good. We often find ourselves in conversation with people who talk about considering adoption and the things that have held them, or people they know, back. We love talking about Tommy, our journey to get him, our time in Uganda, and adoption in general, and having a family that was obviously formed by adoption works to start those conversations.

However, I think the thing that throws me off the most about being conspicuous is that in my head my family doesn't look strange or different, but to other people it does.

After a while you start to forget that your skin tones don't exactly match. In fact, it occasionally shocks me when I look at Tommy's hand in mine, and it dawns on me how pale I am (thanks, midwestern winters). It isn't that I forget that Tommy was adopted, it's that I feel he is so completely mine that I fail to realize that other people don't have my perspective. So when a little girl in the park asks, "so, are you um....watching him? Or something?" It throws me off.

But don't worry, I answered politely. After all, she's likely going to remember the next time we run into her.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Descisions, Descisions

The other day I was watching the "Orphan Sunday" broadcast (about a month late). One of the interviews featured a couple describing their adoption of a little girl, and the woman mentioned how she knew the girl was their daughter the second she saw her picture, because of overwhelming feelings, etc, etc. I believe her. I know people who have seen significance in the dates of their children's births, or orphanage arrivals, or what-have-you, seeming signs that assured them that they were accepting the right referral. These situations make for compelling stories. Compelling stories are the most often repeated. It seems to me that this desire to tell good stories perhaps leaves out the couples who don't have extraordinary experiences regarding their referral. People like us. I also realized that I never did write much about that part of the adoption. So, I have decided to write a bit more about our decision process in accepting Tommy's referral.

As many of you know, towards the end of our adoption process (which we didn't know was the end, of course) we were having some issues with our agency, and I had asked for prayer regarding my desire to act in a Christian manner towards them and to offer forgiveness for some wrongs done to us so we could reconcile and move forward. One of the results of that reconciliation was us getting our desires for the process-specifically our need to travel quickly- placed before the person who had the ability to make this happen. He got on the phone with Isaac right away, and told us that if we were willing to accept a child slightly outside of our requested age range (which was six to twelve months) that we could have a referral within a week or two. This occurred on June 9th. We knew by the beginning of the next week that they did indeed have a baby for us, but we asked not to hear anything until they had the birth certificate, HIV testing, and photos in hand, as well as a reasonable assurance from Isaac that he would be able to secure a court date for us prior to the summer recess. On June 19th we got the call saying that everything was in order. I was on Lakeshore drive at the time, and illegally answered my cell phone because I knew it was Claire, our social worker, and was hoping for the news. She told me Tommy's name (Anthony), age, a little background, and that she was sending me a picture. I was dying to get home to see everything. Jeff was at Argonne working a beamtime (round the clock shifts at the Advanced Photon Source for 6 days), so I knew I would be seeing our baby for the first time without him. That was disappointing.

I got home and rushed to the computer, called Jeff, and we downloaded the photo together. I admit, I was hoping for fireworks. Instead, I thought "he's cute." I looked through the records hoping for a connection that would make our decision obvious. Nothing. Well, not nothing exactly. Anthony/Tommy was born on my Aunt's birthday which also happens to be tax day. But that didn't really do the deciding for us, if you know what I mean.

Our referral photo(s) as we received them

Choosing your child is a weird. On the one hand, part of you just wants to say, "give me whatever you've got." On the other hand, you worry about scheming nuns trying to send you the bully child that makes all the other children's lives miserable (yes, that was my fear. He had a belly and I worried that he was beating kids up to steal their food). With our program (and typically in Uganda), we had almost no medical information, so there was no sense in getting an outside evaluation. I blew up the picture and checked for signs of FAS, but that was the extent of our medical evaluation. We were able to have Isaac ask a few general questions about Tommy's health to supplement the HIV test, but the information the orphanage passed on was vague, and, from what I know now, not entirely correct, although I attribute this more to poor record keeping than dishonesty.

Isaac was confident he could get us a court date before the High Court summer recess if he could try to schedule one first thing Monday morning, which gave us until Sunday night to decide.

We really wanted to go to Uganda before summer recess, and this was our opportunity. Anthony was cute, healthy, and from the orphanage we wanted to work with. There was no reason not to adopt him except that he was a bit older than we expected, and I really had my heart set on a baby. Also, our social worker had warned us a few weeks earlier that people who change their expectations to move more quickly often experience significant disappointment later, and that we should not do that without significant prayer and a conviction that it was absolutely the right thing.

Jeff and I talked as much as we could without disrupting his experiments, and prayed, and talked to family.

In the end, we came to the conclusion that there was no reason not to adopt Anthony. He was a boy who needed parents, and we were a couple who needed a boy. The more we looked at his picture, the more he started to look exactly like that baby we were waiting for. I talked with a friend about my age concerns, and she shared that she still felt that kids of his age had lots of learning to do, and plenty of baby-like characteristics. That comforted me. I just wanted some adjustment time before I had to send my child to kindergarten, and I wanted to teach my child to walk and talk, and all those good things. I wanted to go, and knowing that God had placed Anthony in front of us, even without signs and wonders, was enough.

On Sunday afternoon I made the phone call and accepted the referral. That was the 21st of June. God's timing was good. We knew going into Leah's birthday that we had a little boy waiting for us in Uganda. That took the edge off the pain. It was still a hard day, but we had a little more hope than we had had in a long time.

On Wednesday the 25th I was at the pool in Wilmette with the little boy that I babysat. We got out of the water to dry off and go eat lunch, so I checked my cell and noticed I had a text. It was from our dear friend Joanne, saying that she had heard from Sister Christine that we had a court date. I was cautiously thrilled. I waited and waited for our agency to call. Finally in the late afternoon I broke down and called them. I didn't mention that I knew we had a court date. It came out that we did, but that Claire hadn't called because the appointment was still unconfirmed, but she told me that she would be calling me in the wee hours of the morning to let me know if it finalized. We were on pins and needles going to bed that night. Claire hoped to hear something by one or two our time (morning on Friday in Uganda), but she didn't end up getting the phone call from Isaac until about three. She called us anyway (by request, of course). Isaac told us to get on a plane as soon as possible, as our court date was the next Thursday and he needed us to be there by Tuesday.

Friday morning we woke up exhausted but ecstatic. We bought tickets and started packing. It was insane.

On Sunday the 28th, one year exactly from the day we laid our precious Leah in the ground, we boarded a plane to Uganda and to our son.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Congratulations to Dr. Jeff!

Jeff has passed his final exam! A few more forms to file and he can put grad school behind him completely. We are so excited. Thanks to all who have been praying- it has been a rough few months, but it is over now.
And since Jeff isn't one to brag, I will. Jeff's advisor called his work "outstanding" (he also previously referred to it as "unprecedented"), and told him he needs to "take his show on the road" ie, make sure everyone is aware of the important work he is doing.
Other advisors commented that his thesis was extremely well-written and detailed. Jeff's response: "I do think of myself as meticulous."
Tommy and I are so proud.
Now for interviews, and hopefully, job offers.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Throwing Rocks at UNICEF

Many policy groups purportedly support international adoption, but do everything in their power to prevent children from being placed in the loving arms of international families. Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet at Harvard law, an adoptive mom, adoption advocate, and author of some fantastic books on adoption, has recently written a paper detailing how UNICEF and some related organizations are pushing policies that subvert the basic rights of children to excellent care and loving homes. Everyone interested in adoption should read this article, as Bartholet's passion for orphan care and good public policy is infectious. And, it will make you want to throw rocks at UNICEF.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Scenes From Breakfast, or How I Get Oatmeal in My Hair Everyday

I spent a couple days this week working from home while finishing up writing the first complete draft of my Ph.D. dissertation. This allowed me to, among other things, eat breakfast with Tommy while his mum got some well deserved rest. We had a lot of fun...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Uganda Packing List

I am heavily indebted to Joanne Tarrant for giving me most of these suggestions, and to Chelsea Nazarian for giving me great tips for surviving the flight.

When we traveled with Northwest/KLM/Air France each adult could take two fifty-pound bags free of charge. Because we flew on the adoption fare we got an extra bag free. I have read that some airlines recently changed their allowance to one fifty-pound bag per adult. Hopefully this is not true, but you should check with your airline.

What we took and what I would do differently:

One bag with clothes to donate to the orphanage and gifts for children, the Aunties, and other people. We brought clothes and shoes for the kids at the orphanage, tons of sweets (both chocolate and hard candy), bubbles, and beach balls. The candy was very popular.

One bag with 50 pounds of food. Totally worth it, especially after week two when you really start to miss American food. We hit up Costco and bought granola bars, Cheezits, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, tons of candy: mini-bars and hard candy (mostly for giving away), Oatmeal, Infant Formula, Spanish Rice mix, Ketchup, and spices.

Skip the ketchup. Contrary to what I was told you can find it almost everywhere. Bring fewer granola bars/crackers in favor of more boxed dinner things, and packets of just add water cookie mix. Uganda has plenty of decent snack foods. You can get milk, butter, meat, etc in Uganda, but flavoring it can be an issue. Next time I am bringing more Spanish rice, some Zatarains mixes, and maybe even a few of those good Thai mixes that you add chicken to. I will also bring salsa and tortilla chips. I was dying for both of those by the end of week two, and did not find a satisfying substitute. I would bring a rice-based formula, as the milk-based formula I brought did not work well for Tommy (although that is what he was drinking at the orphanage). Formula in Uganda is VERY VERY expensive. It would be worth packing (more worth it than diapers).

One bag with clothes for Tommy. It is hard to decide what to bring, because you likely will not have an accurate weight/height. You can assume that the child will not be larger than an American child of their same age. I brought some 12 month clothes, which fit Tommy at 14 months, but he also was fine in 12 to 18 month clothes, although they often looked pretty big. Shoes are worse. I brought the "average" size for 14 months, and they were too large. You will want shoes for court. My mom ended up bringing me little leather shoes from Target. They are great for early walkers, cost about 15 bucks, and are compact and light. Buy the correct size for your child's age and the one below, if they are an early walker. You can buy shoes in Uganda if need be. Truthfully, you can get almost anything there, it is just a matter of how much you are willing to pay!

You can dress your child casually everywhere but in court. Bring some nicer outfits, like a few short-sleeved button down shirts and pants. They should also look nice for church. Other than that it doesn't matter what they wear, although you should bring a sweatshirt or two, and carry one with you. Ugandans have a different idea of what is cold and when a child needs extra clothing. It seemed like anytime it dipped below seventy women would approach me and explain that Tommy (almost always cozy warm in my front carrier) was clearly very chilly. It is more polite to throw a sweatshirt on your child than to argue, and we all want to be good guests while we are in country.

Other supplies we brought for Tommy: diapers, wipes, a bottle, two sippy cups, two bowls with lids, spoons, a bottle rack and brush, dish soap, Royal African Hot Six Oil, Johnson's Baby Wash, two wash clothes, a small brush, an aspirator, nail clippers, portable changing pads, a tote to use as a diaper bag, toys, crayons, and books, a blanket, a little stuffed lion.

If you have reason to believe that your child might suffer from Giardia (or any other intestinal disorder) be sure and pack extra outfits and carry an outfit or two with you when you go out. Giardia causes major explosions frequently throughout the day. On a good day Tommy only needed two outfits. Some days he needed four.

With new airline weight restrictions I would leave out diapers. Diapers are expensive in Uganda, but not so expensive that they would be worth paying for another bag. We only brought them because we had room. Go to the Game- they sell bulk packs of diapers for more reasonable prices. I didn't check wipe prices, but my guess is that they would also not be worth taking unless you had extra room.

Bring a bottle, sippys, etc. These types of things are outrageously priced in Uganda, and they are light so they should be easy to fit in your bag. Go to Walmart. They have very inexpensive baby things that are BPA free and of fairly good quality. I think I paid 97 cents for each sippy I brought and the same for the bowls and set of spoons. If you are anti-walmart I'm sure Kmart or Target or the 99 cent store might have something similar. You want to bring cheap things so that you will not worry about them while you are there and can leave them behind if need be, since you will want space in your bags to bring some things home with you. Whomever you give them to will appreciate them, trust me.

Toys: We brought Tommy a number of books and toys; almost all were previously loved. He played with everything there, then we picked the things he was most attached to to bring home, and left the rest with various friends. Tommy loved his books, especially ones with mirrors, cars, and touch-and-feel things. He had a soft stacker, a shape sorter, a mirror, rattle, pull toy, and some stuffed animals. We brought some age-appropriate toys, and some toys geared for younger kids to teach him how to play. These were invaluable for entertaining at home, while waiting at court, the doctor's, the embassy, at restaurants, and of course, on the airplane. Also, we really believe that having some familiar objects eased his transition once home.

Our bags:

Medicine: Pepto Bismol, Immodium, Mosquito repellents of varying strengths, Advil, Advil pm (for jet lag-didn't need it), cough drops (the smog is BAD), band-aids, antiseptic wash.

Clothes: You will probably be getting your laundry done once a week, and it will take at least a day or two to dry and be ironed. So I would bring at least nine days' worth of clothes. You will need at least two different nice outfits for court. Depending on your judge you may want to bring three, because you might have an extra court date. These clothes should be modest and nice. Jeff wore a full suit, and I wore either dresses or nice skirts/blouses. The judge probably won't turn you down based on your appearance, but you want to dress nicely to show your respect. You will also want to wear nice clothes to church. People really dress up for church.

The rest of the time, if you are in Kampala or the surrounding areas you can wear skirts knee-length or longer, knee-length shorts or capri pants, and jeans or other long pants. The only time I ever wore regular shorts was in transit to and from the pool at the Speke, where everyone wears normal bathing suits, so I figure they can't be shocked by shorts. Men can wear shorts, but it is most culturally acceptable to only wear shorts on the weekends and wear pants on the week days.

Bring shoes that are good for walking, especially on uneven terrain. There are sidewalks in Kampala, but if you are outside of the city at all and decide to take a walk you will mostly be traveling on rutted dirt roads.

We did not bring jewelry, except for wedding bands, watches, and one pair of inexpensive earrings. You must have a wedding band on at court. If your band is attached to a diamond or other precious stone, get an inexpensive plain band to wear.

Toiletries: Pack your normal things. Then bring extra toothbrushes. You will need to be careful not to use the water to brush your teeth, and it is really easy to forget. If you accidentally run your toothbrush under the water you will either have to boil it or throw it away.

If you have hard contacts you may want to avoid washing them in water that is not either boiled or bottled. The easiest way to do this is Simplicity solution. It is not as good, but it works well under the circumstances.

Miscellaneous: Depending on your living situation, you will probably not need to bring towels, sheets, etc. I know our guest house provided them. You may want to bring a blanket for spreading on the floor or grass. We brought an old sheet and a grass mat and they were both very useful.

Flashlights. The power goes out all the time. Bring at least two flashlights. I had a headlight (like for spelunking) and it was AWESOME. So useful.


Copies in each carry-on of all of our documents (dossier and tax returns for the embassy), just to be safe.

Our court clothes. You do not want to be without these.

The rest of the space we devoted to clothes and things we did not want to be without, just in case our bags were lost.

Personal Item:

Jeff brought his laptop. I brought a backpack with a fresh shirt/undergarments for the layover, books, our iPods, my adoption journal, my glasses, and my quart sized ziplock survival pack (we each had one to take through). It contained: deodorant, a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, pre-moistened face clothes, antibacterial gel, a travel sized contact solution and my contact case. The only thing I didn't have that I wish I would have packed was a small tube of lotion. Airplanes make me so dry.

Long trips like this are bound to make you feel gross. However, I found that changing clothes during the layover, washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc, really made me feel better. I arrived in Uganda feeling somewhat normal, which helped my emotional state a lot.

Bring a pillow. Bring a pillow. Bring a pillow.

African pillows are very large, overstuffed, hard, and lumpy. If you normally sleep on a cushy, flat, down pillow, your neck will be horribly sore after sleeping with these. I ended up sleeping without a pillow for five weeks. Bring a pillow.

If you child is under 35 pounds or so, bring a carrier that will allow you to backpack them around. If your child is under 25 pounds that you can use a front carrier (or a front/back/hip carrier like Ergon), which is even better for bonding purposes. We brought an Ergo and were so happy with it. We used it everyday, and it was worth every penny we spent on it. Tommy found it very comforting, and often liked to fall asleep in it while listening to one of our hearts. It also encouraged a great deal of eye contact in the front carry position, which is also ideal for bonding. It was easy to get him into and out of, and rarely was uncomfortable for us to wear. The only time I felt any discomfort from it was after wearing it for hours on end and doing a great deal of walking. If you are only planning on being in the city, a cheap umbrella stroller might be helpful, but if you are strong enough to carry your child it is so much easier to do that.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Like Father, Like Son

I love Jeff. Therefore, I think the world needs more of him. I used to think that the world would get some more of him when we had a baby. A little of him, a little of me, in a super cute package. We got a taste of that with Leah. As little as she was, I could see Jeff in her. I could see me in her too.

When we began the journey of adoption, the one thing I found dissapointing about creating our family this way was the thought that the baby we adopted wouldn't have Jeff's ears, eyes, awesome metabolism, and that he or she would not inherit his smarts or musical abilities (certain family members actually delight in Tommy's genetic disconnect from us, claiming that will make him automatically cooler and possibly able to play sports- thanks, UNCLE KEVIN).

I have learned since then that plenty gets passed on through nurture. When we stayed with the family with older adopted children during our move, we saw kids who reflected so many of their parents talents and characteristics. Recently Tommy has begun to reflect this, and imitate Jeff constantly- and he does a darn good impression.

Some highlights: Grabbing Jeff's lunch bag, slinging it over his shoulder (like the backpack Jeff takes to work), and marching into the other room while calling out "by-eeeee" and smiling and waving over his shoulder.

He insists on wearing Jeff's indentification badge, and loves to grab it and put it around his neck as soon as Jeff gets home from work.

During dinner he watches Jeff and mimics his gestures. The other night Tommy was sitting with his index finger extended along the side of his mouth, and when I glanced at Jeff he was sitting with the same "thinking" pose.

Somehow they keep ending up dressed alike. Jeff may be more responsible for this than Tommy.

Low points: Tommy has learned to make body noises, real and fake, and laugh about them. His fake burps are pretty funny. I just thought I had a bit longer before I would be surrounded by flatulance followed by giggles. Such a boy.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Out of the Ashes

A friend and counselor of mine during our long walk through Leah's death and Tommy's adoption recently asked to share our story during a devotional she was preparing. She asked for some pictures of both Leah and Tommy, so I made a little slideshow.

I used music from Steven Curtis Chapman's newest album Beauty Will Rise. This album rocks my world.

Disclaimer: I am neither a long-time Steven Curtis Chapman fan, or a fan of most CCM. Of course, as an adoptive parent I have a great respect for the Chapman family and their commitment to orphans. Not only have they adopted, they also started Show Hope, which helps hundreds of families bring home kids every year (including us!). Given the amount of grants Show Hope gives, along with running numerous programs to help orphans, and building a huge care facility for special needs kids in China, I would guess the Chapmans support it pretty heavily. They put their money where their mouth is- so refreshing. All that said, I still hadn't purchased any of SCC's albums, recently or ever.

A few weeks ago I saw an article on about Chapman's new album, in which he writes and sings about grieving his daughter, Maria. I was intrigued. I went to his website and listened to the two song sampler, then went and got the album the next day.

I can't tell you if this is a "great" album or not. I can tell you that it is honest and accurate. I listen to it and think, "yes, I felt (or feel) that way." It speaks straight to my heart. This album is sad, but so is losing a child. Despite the overall heaviness of the album's content, Chapman works in the hope that we have in Christ. The way he balanced hope with the pain of loss in his lyrics and music felt perfect to me. It is too easy to deny the real pain that Christians have as we mourn because we cling to our hope of something better. Chapman does not deny his pain, his suffering, or his longing for his girl, but he makes it abundantly clear that he knows he will hold her again.

Especially as the holidays approach and everything becomes even more bittersweet (I know I would never have both Leah and Tommy, but I want them both. Having Tommy makes the holidays fun again, but we will still really miss Leah), I have really been enjoying this album. In the interview I read Chapman mentioned that he hoped the album would be healing for others sharing his pain, and it is.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Another Judge, Another YES

Wednesday we went to adoption court and filed Tommy's interim order. The Judge accepted all of our paperwork, so we could be finalized in six weeks (six months to the day that we took physical custody of Tommy). However, because of the holidays and some backlogs of paperwork at our home-study agency it will probably end up happening a little later. We will not be returning to court for finalization. In Illinois you only appear once for the interim order.

We have received many questions along the lines of "but didn't you adopt Tommy in Uganda?" The answer is no. Uganda does not allow international adoption. They only allow non-Ugandans to file for guardianship, which they allow with the understanding that you will return to your country and go through an adoption proceeding there. The US requires you to wait six months, and then you can finalize your adoption here. Until then, we remain Tommy's legal guardians in the eyes of the state.

Wednesday was interesting. We were driving into the city for the first time since moving out west, and we foolishly relied on google map's "with traffic" driving times (lessoned learned: TAKE METRA). We ended up getting there with only a few minutes to spare before court opened, which meant we had to rush through the process of getting Tommy served with his paperwork by the sheriff's office and filing our paperwork.

That meant lots of rushing up and down and back and forth in the Daley Center. We got into the adoption court about three minutes after it opened at 9:30, and our lawyer was worried that the Judge might not hear our case because sometimes she leaves early (this confused me because one would hope that she at least stays five minutes after opening, but whatever). So we found ourselves once again praying for a Judge to have mercy on us. There were other families in the waiting room, so it was clear that she was still in session at least when we got in.

A few minutes later a family came out of the court room and we were called in. We stood before the Judge and answered a few questions, she accepted our paperwork and congratulated us. Then we went back to the waiting room until she finished with the other family there so that we could take pictures with her and our lawyer.

After all the nerves and rushing, getting in and out was quite a relief. Now, all we have to do is wait!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Building a Bridge to Uganda: Caring for Ibanda

We spent a little less than 24 hours in Ibanda, the town in western Uganda where Tommy was living. We arrived at our hotel later in the evening, around eight, and spent the entire night in our room. We were exhausted from a very emotional and difficult court appearance that morning, rushing around to pack and leave Kampala with enough time to get to Ibanda before the bandits came out, and stopping in Mbarara to gather documents to take back to the Judge. In Mbarara we saw the hospital where Tommy spent his first three days of life, and had a quick dinner at a little bakery before getting back in the car for another hour.

The next day in Ibanda we ate breakfast with a man who turned out to be the Mayor, we went to the regional court to meet Tommy's probation officer, and walked around the town while we waited for Sister to get a special seal from a regional judge. Ibanda only recently became a separate district, and the town of Ibanda its center. The money that must eventually attend that sort of honor has not reached the people there. The town is small. The people are generally very poor.

Although a Mzungu in Uganda is always a sight to see, we were even more of an anomaly in Ibanda. People stared. Some laughed. Many pointed. Some engaged us in conversation, but not many. We must have looked so strange, so white, and so very rich, as we drove around in a car with air conditioning, swigging bottles of clean water, obviously well-fed and usually munching on some snack from the US. The widespread poverty in Uganda very rarely infringed upon our physical comfort, even in the poorest places we visited, although it frequently tugged at our hearts.

The people of Ibanda come from a traditionally poor tribe. They have less, and have had less, for generations.

God has been working to change this.

He has led a parish in Pennslyvania to partner with the parish in Ibanda to bring about change in this region. The non-profit for this organization, Building a Bridge to Uganda, supports the church, school, orphanage, and hospital. Volunteers visit multiple times a year to serve and to plan future projects.

One of the concerns brought up on their trip this summer was the desperate need for clean water in the region. The school, orphanage, and hospital all operate using dirty water. After seeing what dirty water and it's accompanying parasites do to someone after only 14 months of ingesting it, I am becoming increasingly passionate about the need for every person to have access to feces-free water. Tommy and many of the children at his orphanage are terribly sick because their water has poop in it. They have no other source of water, so the choice the nuns have is to give them dirty water, and watch them possibly waste away with parasites, or give them no water and watch them die of dehydration. It isn't much of a choice.

This past summer, it was determined that the school needed a well, and that both the orphanage and the hospital could be served by the same well, if they installed a good piping system. The cost of drilling wells so far from the city center is, of course, astronomical.

This week an amazing thing happened. Father Joseph, the head priest in Ibanda, visited a friend one evening, and while at his house met a man who specialized in fixing old wells. Father Joseph asked him if he would mind taking a look at an old well on school property that hadn't worked for a very long time. He inspected it and found a number of problems: rotted pipes, problems with the pump, and an unsteady base. However, the well was still good! The man was able to do the repairs for about $500. The well can now serve the primary and high schools, and the surrounding community. Over 900 people will have access to clean water because of $500 in repairs. They never should have been without clean water in the first place.

Now the focus is on the orphanage and hospital, where, unfortunately, a fresh well must be drilled. That is not a $500 project. It will probably cost at least $15,000.

Building a Bridge to Uganda is raising funds for this project.

Americans spend millions of dollars on bottled water each year because we believe it is fresher or better tasting than the tested, treated, and clean water that arrives in our homes via numerous faucets. We take our clean water for granted. We shouldn't.

Walking the streets of Ibanda, I can honestly say I thought very little about the drinking water of those around me. I had other problems, other worries-all adoption related- that absorbed my energy. God has opened my eyes to the plight of these people through the experience of caring for a child whose body has been damaged, perhaps irreversibly (although we hope not), by dirty water. The picture below is of the newly repaired well, and the students from the school in Ibanda.

When was the last time you stood in line just to feel fresh water flow over your hands? Or just to see it?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Tommy's Room

This weekend we are preparing for three big things this coming next week: we have our first court date for finalizing Tommy's adoption, my Mom is coming to visit (to go to court with us), and we have our social worker coming to inspect and (hopefully) approve our new home.

Thus we have been tackling the last of our boxes, hanging pictures, and desperately searching for storage solutions. Hopefully no one will ever look in any of our may be dangerous to open those doors.

Last night we finished up Tommy's room. The only thing I am still contemplating is whether or not I want to put up curtains to reduce the light in the morning. So, here are the promised pictures.

Enthralled by the humidifier

Awesome garage sale find: Elephant and Lion pictures

Little safari animals

Crib and toys

Posters of animals and birds in Uganda

Changing table...where we spend most of our time

Mobile from Uganda

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Early Intervention Saga

After being home for almost two months, we finally got our early intervention evaluations. Finally. You may be wondering why we sought them out, and that is simple: all children who grow up in orphanages, no matter how loving, have delays and are considered "special needs" for a time. Orphanages simply cannot provide the kind of attention required for optimal development. Tommy was, we believe, physically delayed due to parasites and poor nutrition and as a result is small for his age (25th percentile), despite being a large baby when he arrived as a newborn at the orphanage.

Because of his background Tommy's pediatrician gave us the referral we needed for an early intervention evaluation.

Now, at the time we were aware that we would be moving from Cook county to DuPage county. My referral was for Cook county, and when I called they said they couldn't evaluate Tommy because we were moving to DuPage and I should call them. So I did. DuPage said they couldn't evaluate Tommy because we still lived in Cook. I love bureaucracy. DuPage said I could call once we physically resided in the county. On Sunday, September 2, the day we moved into the Argonne Guest House, I called and left a message for the intake coordinator. It took a few days for her to get in touch and set up an intake appointment for the end of the next week. At the intake appointment we discussed my concerns and she explained the program and told me therapists would be calling me the following week to set up appointments. We had five therapists come out over the course of two weeks to evaluate speech, development, attachment and psychological state, and gross and fine motor skills. The evaluations all happened within a month of my calling.

The evaluations went well. My very favorite was the psychologist who told us that Tommy is attached! All of his body language and responses indicated a bond to us. We are still, of course, being careful of this bond, because we don't want to damage the progress we have made, but it was very encouraging news. She added that she was very impressed with Tommy's overall attitude and that many of the skills he demonstrated for her were above average for his age. She felt that he was more advanced at some things than many children born in the US. We thought he was pretty clever and fast at picking up on things, but believed ourselves to be biased...apparently not!

The Occupational therapist felt he was also at or above age level in his fine motor skills, and the physical therapist said he was doing well for an early walker (he learned to walk late, but they don't consider it delayed as long as it is before 17 months) and that his muscle tone was great and that she doesn't anticipate future delays.

The developmental therapist noted some delays, as did the speech therapist, but neither were severe enough to require services, although we can request reevaluation in those two areas in three months to make sure that he is moving forward at the appropriate rate.

But here is the kicker: the physical therapist said, in an offhand way, after saying that we wouldn't qualify under her, "If only you would have had him evaluated sooner, he would have qualified when you first brought him home"!!!

Not qualifying is a mixed blessing. Now we don't have to deal with scheduling a therapist and making appointments, but instead we are responsible for catching Tommy up with no guidance and no help. I'm not complaining about having to teach Tommy things. That is my job as his parent, and we knew when we adopted that he would have delays and had prepared ourselves for those delays to be much worse. That said, at the end of the evaluations I felt a little like I did the day when Sister handed Tommy over to me with the words "He should be walking and potty trained by now. You should work on that."

He has some delays. You should catch him up.

Thanks. He still isn't potty trained.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. In recognition of the estimated 145 million orphans worldwide, here is my list of the top five reasons you should prayerfully consider adoption or supporting someone who is adopting:

5. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27




1. Because you were an orphan once too.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will." Ephesians 1:4-5.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Protestant Reformation

Last Saturday, while most of the US celebrated Halloween and Trick or Treats, some of us stayed home talking about Martin Luther and celebrated Reformation Day by reading facsimiles of the Geneva Bible.

We had to be careful during our protestant celebration this year, because Tommy was baptized in the Catholic Church. In order to spare his feelings, we didn't dwell too long on indulgences, and skipped right to the good stuff: Martin Luther pounding his 95 theses into the Wittenburg Door. Tommy was so inspired by this courageous act that he decided he too wanted to become a protestant.

We were concerned that he might not be taking his conversion seriously enough. We didn't want him to be swayed by the raw emotion of Reformation Day. So we carefully explained the five points of Calvinism and read from the Institutes (scintillating!). Tommy decided he is probably only a four-point Calvinist, but still felt called to the Presbyterian Church. After all, it has a really careful governing structure, and Tommy is big on committees. After teaching him to say "costly grace" and "sola scriptura," and having him memorize the Apostle's Creed and the 23rd Psalm, we decided he passed the protestant test and would be allowed to convert.

Thus on Sunday we took him to church for his dedication. All kidding aside, it was a very special time for all of us. In our church dedications come after the "Children's Moment." During that time we joined Pastor Dave up front, and he explained to the kids that families are formed in different ways, and that some families are formed by adoption. Then he shared Ephesians 1:5 "he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will," and explained to the kids that all of us have been adopted- by God. Then Pastor Dave did the dedication and Jeff and I pledged to teach Tommy about Christ and pray for him, and the congregation promised the same.

Early for church - amazing!

Let's stall by taking pictures...

With Pastor Dave and his wife, Julie

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Trick or Treat

A UCLA football player, of course. Tommy is a scholar athlete.

Hut, Hut, HIKE!

Not sure about the hat...

The American football player and a Ugandan footballer