Saturday, April 21, 2012

Our Last Day in Addis

Our last day in Addis was bittersweet.  We were excited to get home and introduce our little girl to her brothers and sister, but we also knew we were taking her away from everything she's ever known.  Can you imagine waking up one day, having someone pick you up, and put you on a plane and take you far, far away from everything you've ever known?

We tried to keep the day as low key as possible.  A little after noon, our driver arrived with Elliana's Visa and sealed envelope so that we could officially travel that evening. (Sorry -- I had said in my last post that we received the "Envelope" when we were at the Embassy -- I had that incorrect).   The Guest Home prepared a coffee ceremony for us and one of the beautiful ladies from the Guest Home braided Elliana's hair for us.

Shortly after dinner, our driver arrived to take us to the airport.(and we weren't finished packing!!)  They piled all of our bags on top of the van and 6 of us from our guest house hopped in the van.  We then stopped at another guest house, and picked up 5 more people.  (yes, it was crowded -- 4 of the 11 occupants were babies).   As we began our trip to the airport, it began to rain!  (it's true.. there hadn't been any significant rain in Addis for 7 months and it picked the day we were leaving to pour down.... I mean pour down... stormy conditions complete with thunder and lightning).  We all moaned as we realized our luggage on top of the van was getting soaked! Thank goodness we had our "Sealed Envelope" with us in the van.

When we arrived at the airport, the van dropped us off as close to the building as possible, but it was still a parking lot away.  Our poor husbands stayed behind to retrieve the luggage from atop the van, as us ladies (with babies in tow) ran towards the airport building.  ... note to self... wet rubber flip flops running into a wet marble floor is not recommended :)  Luckily, I didn't fall completely down!  Elliana thought it was funny and even let out a little giggle as the rain trickled on her face.

~First Plane Ride~ 
Checking in and getting to our gate was not a problem.  We changed Ellie into her pajamas before boarding the plane and held our breath as we wondered how she would do.  The flight was completely booked!  I mean, no extra seats.  We were so glad that we purchased a separate seat for Ellie on the way home.  Technically, she could have sat on our lap.  Many adoptive families have traveled and were able to get bulkhead seating with baby bassinets or a row with an extra seat for their child (and not have to pay for it), which would have been ideal.  We just didn't want to take the chance of holding her the entire way home (17 hours) with someone else in our row.  I'm so glad we bought her a seat.  There were about 30 babies on that return flight, and many families were disappointed that they had to hold their child the entire way home.

She did great on the flight.  She slept for a good part of the way, and the other time she entertained herself with stackable cups, looking at pictures on our iphone, sticking stickers in a book, and playing with a baby wipe.  She played with a baby wipe for about 30 minutes.. no joke.  She would 'fluff it' and then fold it.  She must have watched the nannies fold laundry.  She still does that at home.  Anything that is laying on the floor will get folded by Ellie. too cute :)

Once we arrived in DC, we headed towards Customs with our Sealed Envelope in hand.  This time the line at customs was pretty long, and Ellie had no intention of letting Brad hold her. Ugh. We probably waited about an hour or so in line and she wouldn't let me put her down for a minute.  I had taken off my carrier because I was so hot and then I wasn't able to put it back on without putting Ellie down (and I was trying not to have make Ellie have a major meltdown in the middle of the customs line).  All I can say is that we were very glad we were not sick this time.  When our turn came, we approached the customs agent, and he tore open the envelope.  I was wondering what the heck was in there.  It looked like a duplicate of our paperwork (court decree, birth certificate, immigration paperwork, etc.)  It looked like he took whatever was on the top and threw it away! Ugh... (although, I did find out later that we can send a request to get our paperwork back as there may have been some information in her file that went to customs that we may not have).  Our Customs visit was pretty non-significant too.. and soon we were on our way to get our WET luggage.  (yep, it was pretty wet).

Second Plane Ride
On this trip, we were blessed to be able to take a flight back to Harrisburg, instead of driving the 2 hours home.  Although the drive wouldn't have been a problem, we weren't sure how Ellie would do being in a car seat for the first time for 2+ hours after a 17 hour flight.  A 43 minute flight from DC to Harrisburg sounded very good!  Before I called the Travel Agent when we got our invitation to travel, I had checked prices for the "43" minute flight and they were crazy expensive (I'm talking between $500 and $700 each!).  We were disappointed... because we were hoping to have our family meet us at the airport in Harrisburg to see Ellie coming home.  I told our travel agent to price them out anyway but we probably wouldn't do the Harrisburg leg of the flight.  Can you believe she called me and our seats from DC to Harrisburg were $7.00 each!  Fourteen dollars total is all it took to fly us from DC to Harrisburg.  Praise the Lord!  Apparently there was some type of deal going on and she was able to get those prices to us.  Ellie was free because she sat on our lap.

Once we got our luggage and took it to our connector flight, we honestly only had enough time to visit the bathroom, change our icky clothes, grab a bite to eat and hop on our next flight.  Once we arrived in Harrisburg, it was so overwhelming (but awesome!!) to be greeted by our family and friends.  We couldn't have asked for a better ending to such a long 24 hours!

And, as far as Ellie getting used to her carseat.... I don't think it was a problem :)

First Car Seat Ride on the way home from the airport

  The next morning, both girls were excited to begin their day and play with each other. . .

First Morning Together

At least for a little while!

{sorry some of the pictures are blurry... we used our phones to take them}

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Our Baby Turned 16

How does that happen?  It seems like only yesterday we brought Colton home from the hospital... all 9 pounds and 21 inches of him.  Now he's near 6 feet tall and just got his driver's permit.  I must be getting old.

He's such a great kid and a big brother.  I'm amazed at what a blessing he is to our family.  Many times people wrinkle their noses when they find out we have 2 teenage boys and say, 'wow, good luck with that.'  But he is really a good kid.  (both of our boys are).

It's really been fun (but heartbreaking) watching him grow up to the great young man that he is today, but I still refuse to believe he's 16!

Happy Birthday buddy!

Pappy, Colton, Daddy, Dylan & Pop

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Embassy Day

Embassy day for us was pretty low key since we had a 1:00 pm appointment. So, we got up, blew some bubbles, viewed some beautiful Ethiopian landscape and just played around.  We changed Ellie into a dress, which she loved.  She also liked her sandals, but wanted socks on too (Ok!!).

Blowing Bubbles

Checking out the Addis View! 
Hanging out with my sippy cup!

The Alley-way beside our Guest Home

 We were expecting to be picked up around noon for our appointment, but our driver never came until 12:40. We also had to stop and pick up the CWA rep from the office. Ahhh.. I was worried we'd miss our appointment and have to reschedule. Luckily that was not the case. I forgot things run on a much more relaxed schedule in Ethiopia!

Going into the Embassy, they check your bags and you are not allowed to have cell phones (which is why we left ours at the guest house).  As they scanned our bags, we got pulled aside for having "cell phones" in our bag (which we did not have!) The scanner showed 2 "microchip" looking things that security thought were cell phones. It turns out it was our government badges that were causing the problem. But, Security wasn't buying it.  (which upset us because we were in a U.S. Government office with U.S. Government badges/clearances, and the guards didn't understand what those mysterious microchips were on the scanner! Ugh.).  We had to completely unload our  backpack to show we did not have a phone. Then, one guard took our tin of "Altoid Mints" and wanted to know what they were.  We said they were mints, and he made me eat one!! Ha ha. I didn't know that my breath was smelly!! It was funny!! Finally, we were cleared to enter the building with our "suspicious badges" and "mysterious mints!"  Gotta love it! 

The package we waited 5 weeks for!
Wonder what's in it? ? ? 
Next, we entered a room much like a DMV with teller windows and numbers above each window. We were told to sit near window 7 or 8 since that was the window with our file. There were many adoptive families there and it was nice to chat with them while we waited and hear their God-touched stories. We were not called until close to 3:00.   Elliana just sat on our laps the entire time taking in everything.  She did exceptionally well!  It only took about 2 minutes at the window once we were called. They just asked if we saw Elliana before this trip, gave us an envelope and told us not to open it, and handed us her passport.  That was it and we were done! What a relief it was to walk out of that building with our daughter (and with our suspicious badges and mints).

That afternoon and evening, we just played around at the guest house and started preparing and packing things up for our trip home.  Elliana discovered her reflection in the sliding glass window at the guest house.  She entertained herself (and us) for about 45 minutes blowing bubbles and trying to share with her "twin" in the window.  It was very sweet to watch.  We even heard our first words that day and saw a few smiles.  

Another view from the Guest Home
Those are roof-tops of surrounding homes

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gotcha Day (Day 2 in Ethiopia)

Our Day 2 in Ethiopia started out with great anticipation.  What to wear (like Elliana would care!), what trinkets should I bring for her to play with?... Would she remember us?  What if she hates us?  Was she feeling better? Lots of questions and actually a bit of fear.

We were to be picked up at 9:30 at our guest home.  Our friend Tom and his son Henok were joining us so that Henok could celebrate this birthday with his friends at Acacia Village before we went home to the USA!  At about 9:45, CWA called us and indicated that they were running late.  They hoped to be there by 10:30.  Uggh... Luckily, Tom and Henok walked over to our Guest Home to keep us company while we waited. That was truly a blessing as I was a bundle of nerves and just felt like I couldn't wait a minute longer.  

Finally, our driver arrived to take us to the CWAE office for some final paperwork.  After just a few minutes at the CWAE Office and a few signatures, we were ready to head to Acacia Village.  Although the care home was only 10 minutes away from the office, it seemed like it took forever to get there!

As we arrived at the Acacia Village gates and the van made it's infamous 'honk' to open the gate, I just wanted to jump out and run into the building!  But, I patiently waited for the van to pull in and park... then I don't remember much ....except them saying something about Elliana not liking her bath that morning and that she was grouchy today.  Great!!  It was also right around lunch time until we arrived, so she was ready to eat.

As they brought her to us, it was surreal.  I can't even describe it, knowing that once she was in our arms, it would be forever.  We were leaving with her forever... this would no longer be her home.  My heart ached for her.  My heart ached for her Nanny, who had taken care of her for the last 4 months.  It was hard.

She had on her traditional Ethiopian dress and head scarf that she received for Christmas.  She looked so darn cute.  She also had on little patent leather shoes and little socks with an orange stripe around the top.    Under her dress, she had on a blue onsie with a basketball.  Too cute.  I took a few other outfits to leave at the transition home -- so that we could take all of her original clothing with us.  (I haven't washed them yet -- I want to let the 'smell' of Acacia Village on them for as long as possible).  Her hair was in 3 little puffs... two on the top and one in the back -- a style I've been able to duplicate :)

She was frightened and didn't want to come to us and clung onto her Nanny and cried the biggest tears I've ever seen.  After her Nanny handed her to us, she walked away quickly, wiping away tears.  Elliana continued to search the room for her Nanny and looked at us again and cried and screamed.  Wow... I didn't picture it happening like this.  I just can't imagine what was going through this little girls mind.  I felt so much grief for her.  I wish she knew how much we loved her already and how much fun was waiting for her at home, but at that moment, she was frightened.  Finally after some time, she settled down and didn't feel so tense.

We attempted to feed her lunch, but she wouldn't eat, so they suggested we take her back up to her Nanny to be fed.  I was conflicted over this and didn't want to repeat the Nanny good-bye situation again, but agreed to it, since I didn't want her to go without eating.  While her Nanny fed her, we went over to the baby room to give hugs, kisses and prayers to our friends' babies who were there.  Most of them were sleeping so peacefully, completely unaware of the turmoil their parents were going through trying to get back to Ethiopia to bring them home.  There was a feeling of peace in that room though, and all the babies look so much healthier than they did in January.  It was nice to have good news to report back to the waiting parents.

After her lunch we went into the cafeteria where Henok was celebrating his birthday complete with cake from Kaldi's Coffee and soda!  The staff was also preparing a coffee ceremony for us.  By this point Elliana was emotionally spent and fell asleep in my arms, just like she did during our first visit in January.  After the coffee ceremony, her nanny came back down and prayed for her (in Amharic).  We have no idea what she said, but it was the most emotional and intense prayer I have ever heard (and very sweet).  

Shortly after, we said our good-byes and got back in the van; but this time, we had our baby with us!

Once we got back to our guest home and adjusted, the first thing we did was cut off her identification bracelet around her ankle.  That was a glorious moment... knowing her identity was no longer limited to the ID tag on her ankle.  She was now ours, and we were hers. It was a new beginning for all of us!

Elliana back at the Guest House on Gotcha Day
Elliana on Gotcha Day at the Guest House
After dinner we got her ready for bed and she fell asleep in our arms. We were able to Skype with our kids at home, and show them their sister sleeping in her playpen beside our bed.  That was a really cool moment too!  

That night I could barely sleep as I reflected on the 2 1/2 year process to bring this little girl into our family --- and there she was, sleeping right beside us.  God is good... He's really, really good, and faithful, and knows the perfect plan for us indeed.  

Ellie & her friend Henok

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ethiopia, Take Two -- Day One

We received our invitation to travel on a Thursday, and we were on a plane that next Monday morning.  I'm glad we had things ready to go so we could leave quickly.  Since we already did this trip once, we knew exactly what to expect . . . Or did we??  We had so many funny thing happen to us on this trip, we just had to chuckle.

Our trip was pretty quick -- so quick in fact that we didn't have time to get 'jet lag' which isn't necessarily a bad thing!  We left on Monday, arrived in Ethiopia on Tuesday, picked up Elliana on Wednesday, had our Embassy appointment on Thursday, and flew home Friday night!  Whew!

We took the direct flight from DC to Addis again.  It's the quickest (but most painful) way to get there.  We were lucky to have an extra seat in our row going over, which was wonderful.  We watched about 4 movies on the plane ride over.  I think every movie we selected was a tear jerker.... or maybe I was just emotional!  I don't think either of us slept more than an hour on the 13.5 hour flight.

Once we landed, we knew exactly what to do.  We exchanged some money, and headed for the Immigration Line.  (we already had our Visas).  After we made it through, we quickly grabbed our bags and looked for our Guest  House driver.  Last time, he was waiting right as we came out with a sign with our name on it.  This time, however, there was no one around.  Hmmm... After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were approached by a man working for the Hilton.  He asked where we were staying, and we told him.  He said, "please, come into my office and rest.  I will call your Guest Home for you."  I was very leery of this... why would he want to do this for us?  We weren't staying at the Hilton.  He kept saying, "Please come my brother and sister.  I want to help."  "Here is some water.. please rest."  Finally, we shrugged our shoulders and went with him.  Sure enough, he called our guest home who then called our driver.  The "Hilton  Man" walked us out into the parking lot right to our driver.  (the driver was waiting out in the parking lot for us -- who knew!)  Before he left, we thanked  him over and over [and slipped him a few bucks], and that's when he told us that the was a part-time Pastor, and he can recognize a brother and sister [in Christ]... that's when I realized he was our angel for the day.

After we arrived at our guest home and started to get settled in, (long story short) -- we realized that we were missing a bag and actually had someone else's bag!  It was identical to ours, except it had a lock on it.  We quickly called the airline, who confirmed they still had our bag.  Thank goodness because it was MY bag that we were missing and it had most of the donations in it.  All we had to do was go back to the airport and pick up our bag.  (easier said than done!!).  We arranged for another driver to come pick us up and make the 30 minute drive to the airport.  Once at the airport, we had to go back through security and they had to scan the bag (you know.. the bag that wasn't ours... that we had no idea what it had in it... yikes!!).  Luckily we made it through and made our way to the lost luggage department.  The nice lady behind the counter told us to have a seat and the owner of the bag would be here soon.  Uhhh, what?  Oh yeah, they forgot to tell us that it is their policy that the owner of the bag must come to the airport to inspect the bag to make sure we didn't steal anything from it.  Oh my goodness.... One of the managers felt sorry for us waiting and he tried to let us go, especially since the bag was locked and we couldn't have opened it, even if we wanted to ....but, no such luck.  We waited, and waited.. and were entertained by the family of rats climbing up and down the wall in the holding bay.  We were both extremely tired, hot, hungry and getting a big grouchy.  I was wondering what would happen if the person came and decided that he was missing something... would we duke it out in the airport or what??  After an hour of waiting the owner of the bag finally came. He was a very nice Ethiopian man who thanked us for bringing his bag back and couldn't believe we had the same exact bag!  He said no worries and welcome to Ethiopia.  God was truly with us that time as well.

After that fun trip, we made it back to our guest house just in time to eat a late lunch and catch our next van (that we had previously reserved) to the Former Fuel Wood Carriers Association.  I wanted to purchase some more scarves!  Next we went to Kaldi's Coffee for another Caramel Micchiato (yummy).

After we arrived back at the guest home again, we were reunited with the Rudstroms from Alaska (whom we met on our first trip) and their sweet daughter Tizita.  They had just returned from picking her up at Acacia Village and were so in love.  We also met up with our friend Tom (whom we met in our first trip as well, along with his wife Liz).  Tom came solo this time to pick up their son Henok.  Tom and Henok stopped by our guest home to say hello, along with our previous guest home manager, Nardos.  It was so nice to see some familiar faces.  Tom and Henok were going to go with us the following day to Acacia  Village to celebrate Henok's 9th birthday with the children at Acacia Village.  This would be his last day with his friends at AV.  A bittersweet time, I'm sure.

It had been a full 36 or more hours since we had slept.  We showered and literally fell into bed laughing about the days' events and beaming with excitement over what the next day would bring... the day we'd bring our little girl home forever... her Gotcha Day!    

A Few Easter Pictures

How are we doing?

Wow, we've been home a little over a week and life is pretty B-U-S-Y with 2 toddlers and 2 teenagers.  I've started about 3 or 4 different posts but haven't finished any of them!  

Elliana is doing amazing!  She is very smart and picking up on everything.  She's saying mommy and daddy, and ka,ka (poo poo), among a few other things!  Ha!!  She is also beginning to like her bath, which is a blessing.  We took her to a baseball game this week, and to church yesterday.  She did great.  We, of course, didn't allow anyone to hold her or put her in the nursery etc.  She is fine as along as we are holding her and no one makes too much of a fuss over her.  

This past week I had a great pleasure to collect 8 vials of stool.  Yay Me.  It was much fun and when we dropped it off at the lab, they gave us 9 more vials to fill for additional tests.  Can't wait to get started on that.  We're pretty sure she has a parasite or two, so hopefully we can get it  identified and treated ASAP!

We go to the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia on Wednesday for our 4 hour appointment and evaluation. We will meet with the adoption specialist doctor, and occupational therapist and maybe a behavior specialist.  

It's so fun to watch Ellie experience things for the first time.  Carpet and grass are things I'm pretty sure she's not used to :)  She loves shoes (a girl after her momma's heart) and she likes to brush her teeth.  She's slowly integrating into American food, but she still prefers her fruit/veggie pouches, rice and noodles.  We couldn't get her to drink milk, but we did find that she will drink the banana flavored Pedi-Sure, so that's a start.  Hoping the doctors at the Children's Hospital can give us some more insight there.  

She is still playing hard-to get with our son Dylan.  She's allowed Colton to hold and play with her, which is good.  Ellie and Faith play pretty good together.  There's usually a few cat fights too that result in tears, pushing, biting and slapping.  That's all normal for sisters, right?  Hoping to get some additional insight there too, from the folks that the Children's Hospital  :)

The girls are so cute together.  My favorite is when they are both freshly bathed in their little jammies running around chasing each other and giggling.  They wake up in the morning happy and ready to play.  They are almost the same size.  I think Ellie might have a few pounds and maybe an inch on Faith.  I think they are both enjoying (for the most part) each others' company.  I'm sure they will teach each other LOTS of things!  

I'm trying to establish a schedule for them.  Faith was used to 2 naps and Ellie is used to 1 long nap.  Trying to coordinate that has been hard and usually results in 2 tired toddlers. I'll try again today!

That's about all we've been up to lately.  Eat, play, sleep and then repeat! (oh yeah, and laundry in between).  I'll try to post some Easter pictures later and get some of my posts about our trip out soon.  

Thanks again to everyone for your prayers, texts, meals, gifts, etc.  You all have been a true blessing.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

We are Home!

Blowing bubbles at the Guest House just after our
Embassy Appointment
We are home and everyone is doing wonderful!  Elliana is adjusting well and Faith LOVES having a playmate.  We will see how long that will last ;)  Ellie is still pretty much on my lap for the most part and wants to be held ALL of the time, but she does get down and explore and play sometimes.  She's only been home for 24 hours and we are getting smiles, giggles and some words.  I wish I knew more Amharic because I have no idea what she is trying to tell me.  She is warming up to daddy a bit more, as he was able to hold her today and read books, etc. to her (which was a great relief to my sore arms!!).  She grabbed my cheeks tonight and gave me a huge kiss on my lips!  Precious.  Faith and Ellie are almost the same size!  Faith calls her "Nemme" -- since we are using her Geneme name for right now (along with Ellie).  Last night they held hands and when Faith woke up this morning she crawled right to Nemme and gave her a hug (Yes, we had both babies in bed with us last night).  She still hasn't allowed the boys to hold her yet, but hopefully soon!  

I have so many stories and things I want to share, but do not have many moments yet, that my laps and arms are not full of babies.  So, for now, I'll give you a few sneak peaks at our last 24 hours.

Thank you SO much to all of our friends and family who came out to the airport to welcome us home!  That is truly something we will never forget! 

(PS -- she did awesome on the plane ride home -- and it was a full flight with about 30 babies coming home!)  

First stroller ride today!   Happy girl

Two Happy Girls!