Sunday, 27 February 2011

Cautiously Optimistic

We just found out that our embassy drop-off appointment will be requested this week. I have been asked not to share the details of the process, but suffice to say we have a long wait before we will get the appointment and be able to travel home. Thus we are cautiously excited. We are thrilled that some progress is being made, of course, but trying to juggle that with the reality that we still have a long road to travel. Our prayer this week is that we will be given an appointment that defies the timeline so that we can all be home for Tommy's birthday in mid-April. This is extremely unlikely, actually it would probably be better described as impossible, but why pray for something likely when you can pray for what you desire? God has certainly done bigger things than this before.

I long to hold our boy. He has grown so much since our referral. While that is positive (I would hate for him to not grow in the last 4 1/2 months as that would be very unhealthy), it hurts my heart a little each time I see the proof that he is growing up without us. He has developed a wild and crazy baby afro, and I am so hoping they won't decide to buzz it off before we come. I know that is a weird thing to feel attached to, and to even think about, but hey, that's where I'm at. Also, let me say that Mtoto is receiving fantastic care by orphanage standards, which really helps me rest easy at night, but in every single picture we have of him from the last two visits (December, February) he is covered in baby powder. I think it is to keep him dry where he sweats, but I'm not entirely positive. Anyhow, baby powder is very unhealthy for kids to aspirate and so I am growing increasingly (and I'm sure unreasonably) concerned about his lungs. Please pray with us that we will be assigned an embassy appointment very very soon, so that I can run my fingers through that hair and make sure he never aspirates another speck of talcum.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

A Glimpse of Reality

Today we went as a family to Step into Africa, by World Vision: AIDS experience. I went with a group of women from my Tuesday morning bible study on Friday night, which allowed me to screen the experience and make the final decision about how appropriate it might be for a two-year-old.

The event is very well designed. There are four different paths through the display, and each follows the true story of a child affected by AIDS. The event is narrated through a headset (much like what you get when you go to on a museum tour), and the pacing of the headset distribution pretty much guarantees that you will be walking through the stations in your individual story either by yourself or with a member of your party, but not with strangers, keeping the experience intimate. The event includes rooms that primarily focus on pictures, and rooms set with very realistic props-down to the cans of Zesta Red Plum, the ubiquitous plastic "Jerry cans," and "doors" made from vibrant African fabrics.

On Friday night I deliberately asked to follow one of the "unsuitable for children" stories, so that I could do a different story than the one we would do with Tommy (and I checked with the friend who did walk through the one we intended to do with Tommy to make sure it wasn't too scary). I followed Kombo on Friday - and his story was very moving, and honestly not as disturbing as it could have been, but probably better for either a fairly mature child or a teen. Thus this morning I knew exactly which story to ask for when we got to the headset window, as Emmanuel was both child appropriate and from Uganda.

Tommy made it through most of the story. He enjoyed looking at the pictures of kids in Uganda, and sitting in an African hut, and crouching under the leaves of a banana tree. He did get bored after we left the rooms with props, and removed his headset right as we had to go to the clinic to receive the results of our HIV test, and was not keen on putting it back on after that. He loved the chapel, but mostly because he thought (and announced very loudly multiple times) that it was a pirate cave, and we skipped the prayer wall with him because we didn't want to disturb the other visitors (all four stories converge at the clinic and continue on together). He had a blast at the donation center...because he got quite a bit of attention from some of the volunteers, had the chance to scribble on a flyer with a pen, and got to see "a movie" of some of the work World Vision is doing in Africa.

I am so glad that we had the chance to take him to something like this. Obviously I do not expect Tommy to come away with a good grasp of the impact that AIDS is having on children in Africa, but I do hope that exposure to the realities of life in Uganda/Africa from an early age will help him to develop compassion for others, and help him to understand a part of the background for why international adoption occurs in Uganda. Also, I have yet to find anything in our area that looks or feels like Africa...and since he is a bit young to return to the real thing (he can go to Africa when he is old enough for me to be comfortable with all the required shots, able to yell at the top of his lungs "I am an American Citizen," and old enough to remember at least a bit of his time there), we are settling for substitutes.

While I'm not advocating for full disclosure when it comes to AIDS and children, because Tommy doesn't need to know the gruesome things that AIDS does to the human body, or some of the awful ways that AIDS is purposefully transmitted by pillaging soldiers, I do want him to understand that not everyone lives in the comfort and relative safety of suburban America, and I want him to begin to understand that as soon as possible. Question to those more experienced parents out there: what have you done to teach your kids about the harsh realities of our world, and when did you start?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Beware the Bad Influence?

I don't regularly vet Tommy's friends. He's two, so that would be crazy. I've never heard of a two year old pulling out a pack of cigarettes at a play date, or bringing a sippy of gin instead of juice. However, a recent experience has led me to question my lack of caution.

Tommy had a friend come over to play this week. This friend, C, comes from a good Christian family, solid stock, leaders in the church - you know the type. His mom has half the bible memorized, his dad is a Deacon, and C is always so polite and sweet.

After about an hour of playing, it was clear that the kids needed a little rest. Or rather, it was clear to me that I simply could not stand to load the Elefun yet again, so I offered to read them some books. I asked them to each pick something out. Tommy chose The Berenstain Bears Show God's Love. C? Well, see for yourself:


Look closer at this sweet scene.


What is that book that C is so intent on reading to my son?


Yes, C chose to read The Communist Manifesto. Looks like we'll have to crack open Hayek with Tommy sooner than we thought. My poor free-market boy will never be the same.


Look how he is embracing it. It is clear he really loves Karl Marx.


I know you are wondering, did he actually bring a copy of The Communist Manifesto to your house? Did he pull it out of his diaper bag? No...Jeff refuses to get rid of any of his college textbooks. I admit, C did pull the book off my shelf. But, he certainly hugged it for a suspiciously long time. Good thing he didn't find any of our Woody Guthrie albums...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

My Precious Watermelon




I was trying to get ready one morning when I noticed Tommy climbing on the desk chair and reaching onto the desk. I turned and said, "Tommy, what are you doing?" He gave me a wide-eyed innocent look and said, "Mom, I'm just chillin'."

The next day I was making dinner, and he walked into the kitchen, looked around, and said "Hey mom, what's happening in here?" with an emphasis on the "what's happening."

Tommy's latest dinner prayer; "Dear Jesus, thank you for this food, and Mtoto, and hotdogs, and beautiful rainbows, and the sky. Amen."

Tommy examined a picture he was working on (with assistance drawing the stick figures) of him and his Jjaja riding in a car. He decided it wasn't quite finished, and that he had a little something to add to the stick-figure of himself and Jjaja: "Mommy, I want to make eyes and nose and shoes and a wiener."

We were cuddling at bedtime and I said, "Tommy, are you my cozy cupcake? My darling donut?" and he laughed and said, "No, I'm your precious watermelon."

Saturday, 19 February 2011

36oz of "Gold" For Only 18.33!


Gold may be at an all-time high, but "liquid gold" is quite affordable these days. Yes, in many countries infant formula goes by the nickname "liquid gold" because it is so valuable.

The formula sold in Mtoto's country is unsafe for children to drink, thus babies in many orphanages rely on imported formula to stay healthy (or they drink the sketchy stuff and run the risk of becoming seriously ill). This is not just a matter of the formula sold in-country being expensive (although it is expensive) or "not as good" as American formula (although this is also true), it is truly risky for babies to drink the formula available for sale there. Thus, Jeff and I will each be devoting one of our checked bags to carrying formula. This formula will be passed out to various orphanages and foster homes to provide safe nutrition for children too young to consume solid food.

If you would like to send a can of liquid gold to an infant in need of some safe nutrition, please call/email/facebook me! We *hope* to travel in 6 to 8 weeks and would like to raise 90 pounds of formula by then. Why 90? We just got 10 pounds in the mail from an over-achiever who guessed that we might want to take some formula based on our last post on the subject!

Any formula that you feel inclined to donate (sample cans, an unopened unexpired can that you haven't used, formula you got an excellent deal on, etc) is fine. If you want to purchase some formula, the organization we are working with prefers Kirkland brand formula (Costco) with iron - it is good quality and good value. They ship from Costco's website or from Amazon (I think it is more $$ from Amazon).

Interested in Vampire Fiction?

I am not a priori against Christian fantasy or even non-Christian series that delve into demons, monsters, magic, and so forth. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis, enjoyed Harry Potter, and I absolutely believe that an author can deal with biblical themes and magical characters. That said, really? Christian vampire fiction? The whole thing feels a bit to trendy for me, like someone thought, "Hey, vampires are so popular right now, we should write about some of them getting saved." Enter Tracey Batemen and the novel Tandem (which is actually the second in a series about a local that seems to have more than its fair share of paranormal activity - and yes, it hat tips "Buffy" when this is brought up.

I did not read the first book in the series, but catching up with the characters was easy enough. Batemen's plot and character development were fine, if a bit transparent - for this type of fiction that isn't unexpected. The story follows Lauryn, an auctioneer who is wrestling with growing up without a mom, the impending death of her father due to Alzheimer's, her struggle to care for him and develop a life of her own, the sudden return of her high school crush, and a mystery surrounding the estate she is currently cataloging - that of a man who was killed after a bizarre series of animal sacrifices and murders in their town (covered in the first book). The town is thrown into turmoil when animals, and then people, begin to die again. The big plot twist is, of course, that vampires have been doing the killing. I would hate to give it all away, but suffice to say there are both vampire characters that have some remorse for their proclivities and feast only on animals and those that do not. And yes, a vampire gets saved at the end. Whether or not you like this book will probably depend on how interesting you find vampire novels, and whether or not you are looking for one that is generally "clean," although not by any means spiritually deep.

I know you are wondering, Amy, why on earth did you pick such a book? The description made it sound like an interesting mystery (I love mysteries), and conveniently left out the "v" word. Never would have picked it had I known.

*I received a free copy of this book for review*

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

It's Complicated

"So, when do you leave?"

I hear a variation on this question every time I tell someone that we have finally passed court and that we have a new son. The thing is, it's complicated. I don't know. I hope that we will be on a plane in six weeks or so, but that timing depends on a lot of things falling into place, and that may happen...or it may not. Africa time is a funny thing.

When you request a visa you must bring a rather large stack of documents with you to the embassy. While the adoption judgment is a key component of that stack, we need the rest of it before we can even request an appointment. I've heard that after you submit your request it will take roughly a month to get an appointment. Our travel plans are thus dependent on the completion of our paperwork, and how long that will take is up in the air.

Getting the positive judgment was quite a relief, but practically speaking it hasn't changed anything. We are still here, he is still there. Our family is not together. It has almost been harder these last few days, because I thought our paperwork would be complete by the time we got our judgment, so it is a let-down that we aren't able to request an appointment and that we have no idea when we will be able to.

But we trudge on. In adoption, that is just what you do, I think maybe it is the payback for not getting stretch marks. Thus, we wait. We pray. We hope.

Psalm 10: 14
"But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan."

Monday, 14 February 2011

Tonight, We Celebrate!

Remember in that whole "Breakdown" post how I may have mentioned I was desperate for good news? Guess what we got only hours after I wrote those words?

Good news!

God has a funny sense of humor.

We are officially Mtoto's parents. Now we just have to convince USCIS to let him come home. We still have some paperwork to pull together before we request our embassy appointment. Please pray with us that these documents will be gathered quickly, as we will have a considerable wait from requesting an appointment to actually receiving one, and as I mentioned before, I am currently ready to hop on a plane! Also, I would really like to be home with Mtoto in time for Tommy's birthday. We are cutting that one rather close- as more likely we won't be done with this process until the end of April/beginning of May, and Tommy was born on tax day.

We were planning on celebrating tonight anyway. Somewhere along the line my mom got the idea to have family Valentine's day: she would set a fancy table, get a big box of See's candy for dessert, and...order pizza. On Friday we got a certificate for a box of See's in the mail (thanks Mom!), and went and picked our pound. On the way home from work tonight Jeff will pick up a pizza, and we will eat our meal on fancy plates, because what could be classier than Papa John's on china?

On the day that our culture sets aside to celebrate love, we will be thanking God for his love for us, that he has made us a family with two sons!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Breakdown

Don't worry, not that kind of breakdown. Although that may happen this week, as we are getting somewhat desperate for good news around here. I am so so ready to hop on a plane!

"Breakdown" is the title of this post because I gave in and we started the process of getting our apartment ready for Mtoto's arrival, although for the record I am not nesting.

When we started talking about the changes we would be making to the organization of our living space we decided to switch our slightly larger room for Tommy's room (which will soon be Tommy and Mtoto's room). As soon as I began thinking about doing that, I realized how advantageous it would be, as Tommy's naps have recently been cut short due to some factors beyond our control (outside noise) that would be lessened once we changed rooms. All week long as I had to repeatedly put Tommy back to sleep in the afternoon, I thought about how glorious it would be to have him in a quieter spot. Then, Jeff came home from work on Friday and spoke those much dreaded words "beamtime next weekend" (this is a particularly time consuming experiment), and we realized that we would be rather busy for the foreseeable future. Thus, it was now or never.

On Saturday we made the big switch. Everything is now in it's proper room, except for the things that are hanging on the walls. Currently Jeff and I have an adorable safari animal mobile above our bed and ABC's on our walls, while Tommy's room is a bit bare. We will be switching things around later this week. We still aren't totally done, as we need to get some type of dresser or shelves with baskets for Tommy's clothes- which are currently overflowing from tiny baskets in the changing table. Mtoto's small clothes will be a much better fit. I also need to get some type of pegs to hang Tommy's "play pretend" (a certain someone objects to the term "dress-up") hats and outfits, as they were displaced from his toy chest by the mother-lode of Duplos. Also, true to my original commitment, we have not set up the crib - which means that there is a huge, ugly pile of crib parts and baby items stacked in Tommy's room right now, half covered with baby blankets. Hey - it beats having to stare at an empty, waiting crib.

Finally, a Keeper

I'm not going to lie: I anxiously awaited the arrival of this book, and when it came, I immediately tore open the package and sat down (next to the door) and read it to Tommy.

Why? It's by Lisa Bergren and Laura Bryant, the author/illustrator combo of one of our favorite adoption books, When God Found Us You. (I will have to do a post on those soon, but minus a word or two that are not the most adoption friendly, When God Found Us You is great - and Tommy loves it).

When I saw God Gave Us the World as a review selection, I picked it without even glancing at my other options. The story is presented as a conversation between Mama Bear and Little Cub, as they talk about how God was creative when he made the world. Mama Bear first brings up this diversity in reference to different types of snow, and then she shares that God also made bears of various kinds. Mama and Little Cub then proceed to a "bear exhibit" (which is supposed to be a full sized diorama, I believe, but also looks something like a zoo - and bears visiting a zoo to view other bears is just weird). At the exhibit they see black bears, panda bears, sloth bears, and grizzly bears. Mama points out differences in the types of bears to Little Cub: "different fur and different families" for black bears; living in China and eating trees for Pandas; living in India, hanging from trees, and eating termites for Sloth bears, and living in America and eating fish for Grizzlies. Little Cub questions why some of the bears eat strange things and live in other places, and Mama explains that not all bears have the same tastes or homes, but they are all bears and all made by God, and that these differences demonstrate God's creativity and immense capabilities. At this point I very much wish that they would have mentioned the various colors of bear fur, and how all bears may not look the same but they were all made by God - a missed opportunity in my opinion.

The book then transitions into a bit of instruction on creation care, as Mama Bear explains that God is a creator by nature, and that the world he made is old and strong, but in other ways fragile and in need of care. This part feels a bit heavy handed, but it's a good message for children to think about, and children's books aren't exactly known for their subtlety and finesse.

The book concludes with Little Cub wondering about the possibility of befriending other bears and being thankful that God made her to be part of his big world. The illustrations throughout are cute and colorful, and fit the storyline well.

The real test, of course, is the "again" test. This book passed that with flying colors. We had to read it twice in the first sitting, and Tommy chose it again (out of all his books) at naptime. This meant that I did not have to read Curious George Flies A Kite (for the ten thousandth time) - which earns this book two thumbs up from a mom who was very much in need of some new children's reading material.

*I recieved a free copy of this book for review*

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Supporting OFA

Over the course of the past ten months we have been priveleged to get to know some amazing women who are working their hearts out for orphans in DR Congo. Since getting to know Cami and Jilma at OFA, I can say without reservation that they care wholeheartedly about caring for orphans in the Congo (and they are both moms to former Congolese orphans so they have put their money, time, and love where their mouth is). Currently another Mom of a former orphan is raising money for OFA and for an organization caring for vulnerable people in Haiti by raffling off some pretty nice vacations. If you are interested in donating to some excellent causes AND possibly getting a nice trip in exchange...check it out. Here

Thursday, 10 February 2011

More Snow Pictures, or The One Where We Get Mum to Go Outside In The Cold




Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Little Pitchers Have Big Ears


During dinner we had one of our many discussions about Mtoto coming home. Tommy has had some anxiety about whether or not Mtoto will be taking his things, although mostly he is concerned that there will not be enough food for both of them (picture Tommy asking, almost every day, whether or not Mtoto would be taking whatever he is eating- oatmeal, cereal, banana, hamburger, etc). We have managed to shift the conversation- now we try and focus on what Tommy and Mtoto will do together, and this has for the most part taken Tommy's focus off of his fears of what he will lose and onto what he will gain.

So, there we were discussing that Mtoto will come home to share a room with Tommy, with a heavy emphasis on Tommy still being in the family, in the room, and not being replaced.

I said something along the lines of, "Tommy, we are a family and families live together and you will always live with mom and dad." Quick pause while I realized that that statement is not entirely true because we really hope that one day he will be a functioning adult who has his own family that does not live under our roof. Quick addition: "That is, you will live with us until you go to college."

Tommy immediately responded, "I don't want to go to college."

We were dismayed by his emphatic negative reaction to the suggestion of higher education, and asked why. His response: "Because I can't suck my fingers at college."

Flashback: The day before we were in line at Aldi, and Tommy was sucking his fingers. The cashier asked me how old he was, and we had a very brief conversation about finger/thumb sucking that ended with me saying, "I'm not worried about it. I know he won't be sucking his fingers when he goes to college."

Yikes. He really does listen to EVERYTHING.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Next Christians

Disclaimer: *I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review*

In The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith Gabe Lyons desires to show how the next generation of Christians are engaging with culture in a new way- and in doing so providing hope for the future influence of Christianity in America.

His premise rests on a few assumptions- one, that Christianity is dying in America, two, that the "old way" of "being Christian" has failed, and three, that there is one particular way of practicing of Christianity that is vitalized and pushing the faith forward, offering hope (and a model to follow) for believers. While I don’t entirely disagree with many of Lyon’s assessments, I found them to be too simplistic, particularly the negative stereotypes of "old" Christians that he sets up to argue against. In the Second Chapter, "A Parody of Ourselves" Lyons shares that he is employed as a consultant for people who wish to understand major trends in Christianity. As part of his work in this field he has categorized different "types" of Christians- complete with diagrams and synopsis of each. Interestingly, since he includes the word "parody" in his chapter heading, each of his descriptions reads like a parody, they feel mocking and lack grace, are sometimes belittling, and lean heavily on the faults of each group. Although I can think of people I know that probably represent each "type" none of them fully fit the negative assumptions listed, and most have much more depth then the simple typology allows for. I understand that Lyons did this make his argument seem more important and novel, but the tone is too negative for a man who desires (and I believe him) to prompt people to work together to become restorers. For someone so focused on "restoration" the first third of the books feels too heavy on classification and division.

The tone of the book shifts a bit with the second division in the book, as Lyons moves on to his thesis about what the next Christians are (these descriptions double as chapter titles): Provoked, not Offended; Creators, not Critics; Called, not Employed; Grounded, not Distracted; in Community, not Alone; and Counter-cultural, not Relevant. Again, the comparative design of his explanation- that next Christian’s actions can only be understood in contrast to the negative patterns of other Christians- detracts from the positive aspects of Lyons’ message. I think his argument would have been stronger if he focused the discussion on what the next Christians are, instead of emphasizing what they are not, which he does better in some chapters than in others. For example, in "Grounded, not Distracted" Lyons sets up his chapter by describing a "next Christian" who loses his way but then returns to his vision to serve God. Because Lyons keeps his argument within the context of who the next Christians are and how they can stay grounded within their callings instead of comparing them to other types of Christians, this chapter has a more encouraging and instructive tone. It would have been nice had the entire book been written that way, because Lyons has a few interesting points to make and some encouraging stories to tell.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

False Alarm

Q: When adoption updates come via email, how many times a day does an adopting mom check her email?

A: Way more than is normal or necessary. This is particularly amplified when you know that news should be coming.

This week was the week that we (and a few other families in our program) were told that our adoption documents should be complete. Now, we all know about Africa time and how unlikely that was to actually be true, but that doesn't stop one from hoping. The other two moms that we are "on track" with and I have been commiserating via email about how crazy we are getting (over checking email, feeling jumpy for news, nesting - or in my case NOT nesting as much as possible, and so on). The subject line of these emails since Monday has been: "Let's hope this is our week!"

So, imagine how excited I was to open up my email yesterday morning and see an email from the head of the organization facilitating our adoption with the subject line "Jeffrey Klug - adoption documents" and little paper clip attachment sign next to it. I hurriedly downloaded the documents included and scanned through each one - they were clearly court documents, but none of them appeared to be what I was looking for - a final ruling.

Yes, as the title of this post implies, it was a false alarm. The court process in Mtoto's country has more than one step, and what we received was a very important ruling, but not the ruling. I am told that what we received is the harder part of the process, and it was issued in December so we could be receiving the rest of the documents very very soon...or not. It's Africa, after all. So, the good news is that we have some of the documents we need to file for our visa, and, we found out the birthdate officially assigned to Mtoto and the name assigned him for court (which is his name given by the orphanage plus an African name plus our last name). That is nice information to have. However, as you can imagine, I really just want that ruling and (other difficult thing to get) his birth certificate. So, the waiting continues.

Because of the blizzard this week no one in our primary care doctor's office was working Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday so our referrals weren't processed on time, thus I had to cancel our appointment for shots tomorrow. I'm actually glad, because I was reminded about the ill effects of the typhoid shot (which I experienced last time I got the shot but had forgotten) and I have something fun going on Saturday, which I would hate to have to miss. Unfortunately there really aren't many days that I have time to feel lousy, but if I have to feel bad I would rather it be on a weekday than on a weekend.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Chicago Blizzard 2011

Part One: Snowpocalypse, or the Four Snowmen



Part Two: The Morning After, or That's a Lot of Snow