Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An Ode to 2013

2013

Years from now, when I am quite old and reflecting back on my life, 2013 will stand out as a very important year. It was the year I traveled to a far off land and met my daughter, Elsa. By then, she and I will have known each other for a life time. I will have raised her and it will be hard to imagine there ever was a time that I didn't know her. Then I will remember back to this year and those first moments together. I will think of bringing her home, teaching her English, and watching her eyes as she made discoveries about things like ice cubes and vacuum cleaners.

2013 has been one of the richest of my life. I have felt myself grow as a person - both in compassion and understanding. There is no doubt that I end this year a very different person than I started. I am in awe of life - how it keeps moving forward; how it keeps changing; how it brings experiences that we don't always expect; how we [I] can continually learn and grow.

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[The first time I met Elsa. Ethiopia, August 12, 2013.]

Farewell, 2013.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Elsa, meet Mary.


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Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite movie in the whole world is Mary Poppins. It always has been and it always will be. I'm not sure why I hold it in such high esteem - perhaps simply because it is to me what no other movie is: magic.

I remember one time when I was a child, my father took me to a special screening of Mary Poppins in the company of Julie Andrews and Karen Dotrice (who played Jane). Dick Van Dyke was also supposed to be in attendance, but his flight was delayed if I recall. Regardless, it was a memory that I cherish. Thinking back I figure it was probably in honor of the 25th anniversary - and this upcoming year marks the 50th!

About a decade ago I decided to read the book Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Knowing that books are usually superior to their film adaptations, I was eager to read the inspiration for Disney's movie. It was, however, a great disappointment. The book left me puzzled; it lacked all the charm and whimsy of the film. What did Walt Disney see in it? Furthermore, how was he able to read it and see beyond to the magic he created? Pure genius, I suppose.

Because of that, I was excited to see the movie that came out this month, Saving Mr. Banks, about Walt Disney's quest to bring Mary Poppins to life on the big screen. Donald and I went to see it on Saturday night and I enjoyed it immensely! (Though I still don't know how Walt Disney could have loved the book enough to beg Mrs. Travers to sign over the movie rights for 20 long years!)

Tonight we decided it was time to introduce Elsa to Mary Poppins. I mean, she has been here a full six weeks! It was high time! I was giddy with excitement; eager to see her discover the magic of Mary. Much like when I took her to see Nutcracker, I found myself watching Elsa more than the movie. She was absolutely in awe! There was a look in her eyes of pure joy and amazement! And oh, how she laughed when the penguins danced with Burt!

I knew it already, but tonight confirmed it once more 
- Elsa most definitely came to the right family!

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[A picture of Elsa watching Mary Poppins for the first time. At this exact moment she was laughing as the toys were going bonkers as Mary finished tidying up the nursery.] 

[Don't mind the shower cap - Elsa gets a nightly conditioning treatment on her hair.]

Supercali-fragilistic-expialidocious!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Some Favorite Gifts...

Alexandra:

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Lorelai:

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Elsa:

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Elisabeth:

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Lisa and Donald:

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~ A drawing from Elsa

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 'Twas the 
merriest of days!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Morning

A cozy morning with my family.

Gifts from Santa Claus.

A roaring fire.

Stockings.

Music.

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(I love this reaction to her new Ukelele!)

Magic.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Ho Ho Ho!"

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve!

"Santa, we're ready!"

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Traditions

Christmastime means traditions. Lots and lots of traditions. To my family these traditions are long lasting and familiar, repeated year after year. But to Elsa, they are all new, each and every one.

Here are some of the Christmas traditions (and plain ol' Christmas-time-musts) that we have introduced her to this month:

~Buying/Trimming the tree
~Decorating the house
~Watching Christmas movies
~Driving around looking at lights
~Shopping
~Wrapping
~Listening to old records
~Singing carols
~Reading Christmas books
~Nutcracker
~Decorating a gingerbread house

That's a lot to take in when it is all new. Sometimes I try to put myself in Elsa's shoes and imagine what it must be like...but I really have no idea. So I just watch her, and see the wonder and amazement in her eyes, and feel grateful to be witnessing it all firsthand.

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Most importantly, we have been teaching her about the birth of Christ.
 I really got a kick out of this coloring page she did depicting the nativity scene:

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It's almost Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sing, sing, sing!




Gather
'round 
the piano 
and sing!

Friday, December 20, 2013

By Days End...

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Without out a doubt, the last month has been the busiest of my life. Of course, there are all the 'normal' things involved with adopting a child from Africa and helping her get accustomed to life in America. But on top of it there has been the hustle bustle of the holiday season, medical appointments for Elisabeth, violin engagements, and everyday tasks like laundry and grocery shopping. Busy, I tell you! By days end I am exhausted and usually doze off in front of the fireplace.

Last night I fell asleep snuggled close to Elisabeth. When I woke this morning Donald showed me the picture he captured (above). My heart melted to see Elisabeth's hand resting on mine. I love Elisabeth - I love how special she is and I love the unique experience I am having in raising her - she is one of a kind and I cherish her. Elisabeth reminds me to slow down and enjoy this season of life that I am in. I feel incredibly blessed and oh, so happy.




Thursday, December 19, 2013

Elsa's First Day of School!

~Kindergarten~

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Elsa was SO excited when she woke up - the kind of excited that puts a skip in your step. She quickly got dressed, ate breakfast, watched me pack lunches, and put on her biggest smile for pictures out front. When we pulled up next to the school she hopped out of the van with no reservation, ready to take on the world. I was so proud of her, and once again, amazed by her courage and confidence.

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[After school. Still smiling!]

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And so begins her formal education.


Note: Elsa should technically be in 1st grade, but because she has some catching up to do and will be learning Spanish, we decided to enroll her in Kindergarten with the option to move up later if/when she is ready.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Little Princess

"It's time to get you ready for school, princess," I said to Elisabeth.

"Elisabeth is a princess?" Elsa questioned.

"All girls are princesses - you are too,"  I replied in true Sarah Crewe fashion.

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1/2 of my princesses.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Generosity - It's All The Rage!

Let me tell you something about myself: I am a talented lecturer.

It's true - ask my kids.

One morning last week, as I was driving them to school, I set in on one of my world famous lectures. This time the theme was, be selfless; think of others before yourself. Truthfully, this is something that they need to work on (as do I).

I started explaining how becoming selfless and generous would transform them; how they would not only see the results of their effors in the happiness they bring to others, but how they themselves would become happier, too.

As an example I told them that I had read several stories lately about people paying for the person behind them in a drive thru line. The incentive is not personal recognition (thus the anonymity) - but simply to spread good cheer. It really seems to be becoming a trend - how wonderful is that!?

About that time I pulled into the drive thru line at Starbucks - cold December mornings sometimes call for peppermint hot chocolate. I ordered three child's size cocoas and proceeded forward. When I reached the window I handed my debit card to the cashier but she stopped me.

"The person in front of you paid for yours, she said you were a good mom to get hot chocolates for your children."

I couldn't believe it!

This is the kind of thing you hear and read about - but I never expected it to happen to me, much less minutes after I used that exact example to teach my children the concept of giving to others. The girls couldn't believe it either, their jaws dropped! It was almost like it was planned - but it wasn't. I told them to stop and think about how they felt at that moment: happy and excited. Then I reminded them that by doing good deeds they, too, could spread joy.

I am so grateful to the patron in front of us. They will never know just how much their act of kindness meant, and how they perfectly illustrated a lesson that I am quite sure my children will never forget. 

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nutcracker, 2013

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On Saturday night, Alexandra, Lorelai, Elsa, and I got all dolled up and went to watch one of our favorite Christmas traditions, Nutcracker. 

We arrived at the theater early and found our seats. As we waited, Elsa starting acting tired and bored. All throughout the day I had told her that we were going to watch a ballet performance, but she still had no idea what was going on. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and the overture began. Elsa looked over at me with curious excitement. "You're going to love it," I whispered. 

As the curtains opened I found my eyes on Elsa rather than the stage - this was a moment I didn't want to miss. And oh, what I saw! Elsa looked absolutely mesmerized! A smile spread across her face and her eyes twinkled with wonder and amazement. Out of all the firsts I have witnessed over the past month, this was by far the best. 

I couldn't help but think, "If only her mother could see her now."

Elsa was happy, oh so happy. 

A mothers love for her child is the greatest thing in the world, there is nothing more powerful. I know this is what Elsa's mother, Seyba, wanted for her; this is why she was willing to say goodbye. Not only did she want her to have food, shelter, and an education...but she wanted her to be happy. 

So as the days and months and years tick by, I will think of her mother with each smile that I see. And I will think, "This is for you, Seyba."

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 We add a nutcracker to our collection each December. 
This year Elsa made our selection.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mi Nombre es Elsa

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Well now, you aren't going to believe what I have to say!

First: Last summer I inquired with the school district about enrolling Elsa into the dual language program like her older sisters so that she would learn English and Spanish. She was denied on the basis that she doesn't already have a strong foundation in English or Spanish.

Second: Two weeks ago I tried to get Elsa a transfer to the elementary school that Alexandra and Lorelai go to so that they could all be in the same school (only one class in each grade is dual language.). With Elisabeth going to a different school due to her special needs I thought this was necessary; I just couldn't see managing three elementary schools. The transfer was denied.

Third: I scheduled a meeting with the assistant superintendent to discuss my rather unique situation, hoping he could help sort it all out. He referred us back to the dual language department. They called the next day and asked me to bring Elsa in to be evaluated.

Fourth: I get a call from the head of the dual language department several days later. They said that although it was completely unprecedented, they were going to place her in the program! She went on and on about Elsa - about her confidence, her smile, her intelligence. My heart soared! They see in her exactly what I see: limitless potential. This girl is going places, I tell you!

So...she is going to be learning Spanish right alongside English.

I am so excited!!!!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Elsa's Scars

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Elsa has some rather big scars on her arms and legs. Naturally, we've wondered about them - what caused them, how old they are, etc.

Donald pointed to one last night and said,

"Elsa, what is this from?"

"Fire," she replied.

"Fire? Did you burn yourself?"

"No. Sister." 

"Your sister burned you?" Donald confirmed.

"Yes," said Elsa, referring to her biological sister in Ethiopia.

"Was it an accident?" I asked.

"Yes," said Elsa.

"Did she get in trouble?"

"Yes,"  she replied with a smile - and we all started giggling.


We were amazed. Amazed that she was talking to us about her past; about her family in Ethiopia.

A short while later, as we were tucking her into bed, she started crying. We gathered around her - Donald, the older girls, and myself. We embraced her.

It was a big moment; one where we were able to show Elsa that it is okay to remember where she came from, it is okay to think of her mother and siblings, it is okay to mourn for the life she left behind; it is okay to acknowledge that she has been through big things.The truth is that Elsa has a past. That past is with her still - in the memories she carries and the scars she wears. Yes, she bears our family name, but that doesn't erase or diminish the importance of her own personal heritage.

As we hugged her my mind raced through the parenting classes we had taken as part of the adoption process. And then my thoughts shifted to our case worker and the advice she would give. How do I handle this? What's the right thing to do? Then I stopped and realized that I am a mother. I don't need parenting classes or social workers. I just need to follow my intinct, my heart. So I held her close and let her cry.

This morning Elsa was back to her bubbly, smiley self. We drove the girls to school and she helped me get Elisabeth onto the school bus. Then it was just the two of us.

I went into the parlor and started playing the piano. Elsa followed along and sat by my side. As my fingers moved across the keys I glanced over at Elsa, and she glanced back at me. We smiled, we understood each other.

I kept playing, going through the same music several times over. Meanwhile, Elsa started rearranging the nativity set on top of the piano: wise men here, sheep there - and last but not least, she put baby Jesus on the roof.

"Elsa?" I asked.

"Yes?" she said.

"I will always be here for you. I will hug you on days when you are sad and I will hug you on days when you are happy."

She responded with a content,"Okay."

Elsa wrapped her arms around me and kissed my cheek. 
Then she rested her head on my shoulder and I started playing again. 

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Let's Get Stylin'!

Elsa's extensions were starting to look a little messy.
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And I was having no luck getting her in to see a local stylist. 

So...I got brave and took them out myself! ( I was nervous!)

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That was on Saturday.

On Sunday I got brave (again) and washed and conditioned it. To those of you that don't know, hair like Elsa's can't be treated with a shampoo....so I did my research and used apple cider vinegar (it's true!).

Now to figure out how to style it...

Also, I found the following video on my phone. It was recorded on the [infamous] day last week when Elsa ate all the candy from the dish.

Here she is trying a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup for the 1st time:


I simply cannot tell you how thrilling it is to watch Elsa experience firsts day after day after day!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Posting here, posting there, posting, posting, everywhere!

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Guest posting over at The Naptime Bloggers today!

From Rags to Riches

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One of the most common motifs in literature and cinema alike is that of rags to riches; stories that tell of a person rising from poverty to wealth. Indeed, those were the stories that captured my attention throughout my childhood years. Favorites included Cinderella, The Prince and the Pauper, and My Fair Lady (to name a few). Oh, and let's not forget Becky the scullery maid in A Little Princess. One of my absolute favorite literary moments is when she leaves her life of poverty and becomes a 'little princess' herself.

Those stories always resonated with me, though I am not quite sure why. As a child I wanted for nothing and had every opportunity afforded me. Yet I sill pondered what it would be like to experience such a dramatic change of fortune - or better yet - to be the cause of that change in the life of someone else.

So when my husband approached me with the idea of adopting I didn't give it a second thought. I responded with an immediate and absolute, "Yes!"

And that is where our adoption journey began.

Many were surprised when they heard we were adding to our family. We already had three biological daughters, the youngest of which was born with severe brain damage. As a result, she is what I like to call a forever-baby. She doesn't walk, talk, or even eat. Feeding tubes, shunts, and seizures are common topics of conversation in our house. To many, it appeared our plate was full. But what most don't realize is that while our life is a little different, it is also our normal.

So despite the shock and questions from onlookers, we started researching, knowing that somewhere out there was a child who belonged with us. It was such an interesting thought, to know that on some continent, in some country, was one child who was all alone, waiting. So I searched and searched until one day I saw this picture:

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Her smile captivated me. And her eyes - so full of life and excitement, despite the unfavorable circumstance she was in. I knew immediately she was the one.

***

Three weeks ago we traveled to Ethiopia where Elsa, age 6, joined our family. We arrived at the orphanage with a new outfit to dress her in - including some silver sparkle shoes reminiscent of Cinderella's glass slippers. She literally left her 'rags' behind and came to the States to find a bedroom fit for a princess awaiting her. But rags to riches it isn't about monetary wealth. At least not in this case. For Elsa it means a home; it means safety; it means opportunities to develop talents; it means having a family to call her own.

When I look at Elsa, I see something special - a spark, a light, limitless potential. I see a child who was born into dire circumstances, but regardless, chose to smile. She has a fighting spirit and the courage to face the world with confidence. I have rarely seen such strength and strong sense-of-self in a person. As I think towards the future I am excited to see what it holds for my Ethiopian princess. Who will she become? What will she achieve? Something great awaits her, I just know it. Indeed, this fairy tale is going to end with a happily ever after.

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