Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Trip - The End

The last day of our reunion was short, but sweet. We all met at Washington Park in Portland for a farewell lunch, some group photos and play time. By Sunday I think we were all pretty wiped out from a busy weekend, but this was truly a laid back ending to the weekend.

The park was beautiful and we got lost in the Rose Garden trying to find the covered picnic area we had reserved. Wish I would have actually taken picture while we were in the Rose Garden, but Dave was carrying a heavy cooler and I can't imagine he would have been happy with me breaking out the camera at that point.

Before and after lunch, the kids played at the awesome playground. I'm sure the kids found this to be an awesome ending to their weekend. Again, I wish I would have gotten some pictures, but I was busy setting up and then cleaning up lunch, so I was limited in how many picture I could take. However, I did manage to get a few.

The sun was a little bright, thus the squinting. Fortunately, she's cute no matter what the look.

Lili was much more interested in being behind the camera instead of in front of the camera.
We were only at the park a couple of hours and then it was time for good-byes and a trip further south to visit family.

First stop - Keizer, OR

By mid afternoon we were at my aunt and uncle's house for a mini family reunion. I have two aunts and uncles in Oregon and most of their kids (12 in total between the two families), also live in Oregon. While I was only able to visit a handful of my cousins, I was able to meet some of their children I had never met before, plus some of their grandchildren. We did our best trying to catch up on the last 15-16 years, but a couple days just isn't enough time, especially when you have an extended family of that size. Still, it was a lot of fun seeing everyone and next time we hope to see all those we missed this time around.

After we left Keizer, we headed a tad bit further south to Salem, OR to spend the night at my cousin Tammy's home. Even though Tammy and I grew up living 2000 miles apart, we saw each other pretty much every summer and were joined at the hip during those visits. During the rest of the year we would write letters back and forth talking about all those things pre-teens and teenagers talk about. Unfortunately, we both allowed our lives to get in the way of staying in better contact, but seeing her is always a treat.

The next morning we made our way over the mountains to La Pine to visit with my other aunt and uncle. They have lived in La Pine for 20 years and I'm rather embarrassed to say that this was our first time visiting them in their home. We had an awesome visit and got to see another cousin's daughter and meet her two beautiful girls.

Our trip to La Pine was very short (over-night) and we had two more stops in Bend, OR before heading back to Tammy's house.

First stop was a visit with my good friend Katie. Dave, the boys and I used to go camping with Katie and her husband Cuyler when we all lived in Washington. This was also another case of two friends allowing life to get in the way of staying in better contact, but as is the case with good friends, it quickly felt like old times. Although we weren't able to see Cuyler or meet their son, we were able to meet her daughter and she was able to meet our girls.

After a short visit with Katie, we headed to the other side of Bend for a quick visit with a fellow Toukoul AP, Laura and her daughter Emme. Laura was on the planning committee for TAFRU, but in the end wasn't able to attend. I just had to stop and meet her and her beautiful daughter in person.

We made our way across the mountains again and spent our last night at Tammy's house. Tammy's daughter, Tina, was there and a few minutes after we arrived she introduced Lili to a fun little built-in cabinet full of Barbie dolls, clothes and furniture. Now, I don't want to get into a debate over Barbie. I just know that I loved playing with my Barbie dolls as a kid and would have been in kid heaven had I had a cabinet like the one Tammy had at her house. While I didn't intend on introducing Lili to Barbie's quite yet, she was obviously having a great time playing with them.

The next morning we left for the airport and as we drove up I-5 we decided that making trips out west to visit family and friends needed to happen more often then every 15-16 years.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Our Trip - Part III

Friday was over and Saturday was scheduled to be a busier day than Friday was.

First thing on the agenda was breakfast with a member from each agency. We were the only family there with Tree of Life and I was thrilled to finally meet Bianca. We had traded emails and spoken on the phone so many times while in process of Naomi's adoption that I couldn't wait to meet her. While no agency is perfect, I really did like working with Bianca and Tree of Life. I truly felt as if she and I had become friends during the process and she truly has a heart for orphans.

Bianca with Naomi. We'll forever feel grateful for the role she played in helping us bring Naomi home. After breakfast we all headed to the Oregon Zoo. You may wonder how we kept everyone together at the zoo? Short answer - We didn't. Shortly after entering the zoo we separated into smaller groups and I think most left the zoo by mid-afternoon.

There were some really cute animals at the zoo. Check out this one playing the drums.
And this one was so serious.

After the zoo, we went back to the hotel so Lili, Naomi and daddy could take a nap while mommy went to the hair care workshop. Yes, I needed some information and guidance on caring for Naomi's hair.

Katie from Happy Girl Hair conducted the workshop for us. Some of the participants had been following Katie's website for awhile and we felt like a celebrity was standing before us. Actually, Katie was perfect for us as she too is the mother of two little girls adopted from Ethiopia. She has spent a great deal of time reading and learning how to take care of and style her daughters hair and if you take a look at her website, you'll see that she knows what she is talking about. I left the workshop feeling like I will one day be able to make Naomi's hair beautiful. Now, if I could only find a workshop for my hair and Lili's hair I would be set :-)

Saturday night we made our way to Jarra for an awesome Ethiopian dinner. Jarra is owned by a couple from Ethiopia and they were so kind and patient with our group. Considering the fact that we were a very noisy bunch, that's saying a lot.

After we finished our meal, the gentleman who had been serving us asked to speak with our group. I wasn't quite sure what he wanted to talk to us about, but I got everyone together and quiet so he could speak. He went on to tell us how touched they were to see so many Ethiopian children loved and cared for by their adoptive families. He talked about how happy it made them to know they would be given opportunity here in the U.S. that they would not otherwise have had in Ethiopia. He also thanked us for choosing to having our dinner at Jarra and hoped we would return one day. I'm not sure about the other families, but I was very moved by his genuine thankfulness and next time we visit Portland, our family will be paying a visit to Jarra.

Saturday was over. It was a hectic day for sure, but it was a good day full of fun

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Our Trip - Part II

Friday in Portland was a busy day. TAFRU was beginning that evening and I had some last minute items to take care of before reunion time, so after breakfast I did a few things at the hotel and we headed out in search of a GPS. We had gotten very spoiled using Dave's GPS on his phone and after driving around trying to find the hotel the day before, we decided it wasn't worth wasting time trying to find all the places around Oregon we intended on visiting. We even had trouble finding a place to purchase a GPS, so that was even more proof that we needed one. LOL!!! We finally made our way to a Fred Meyer and walked out with a TomTom GPS in hand. After sitting in the parking lot for several minutes trying to get it to work, Dave took it back into the store and return with another one. The first one was defective and we really did want/need a working system if we were going to get anywhere we needed to go on this trip. Fortunately, the second one worked fine and we were on our way to meet my cousin and her husband for lunch.

We met at Lew's Dari-Freeze in Milwaukie, OR. Lew's is a small diner/ice cream shop with some history. It has been around since the 1950's and although it's had a few different owners over the years, it has been a popular diner in the area all these years with annual cruise-ins being held there for several years. Obama also stopped at Lew's prior to becoming president.

I hadn't seen my cousin, Pam, for over 15 years and it was a wonderful reunion. Lunch isn't a long enough period of time to get caught up on the last 15 years, especially with a 1 year old and a 3 year old in tow, but we did some catching up and I certainly hope we don't wait another 15 years before seeing each other again.

After lunch we headed out to make some reunion purchases and managed to get back to the hotel with just enough time to freshen up and change clothes for the reunion.

Our TAFRU meet-n-greet began at 5:00 p.m. in one of the hotel banquet rooms. We had 12 families in attendance and the cameras got quite the work-out that evening. I would have to get out my paperwork to verify the numbers, but we had about 20 kids, about 15 of them from Toukoul in Ethiopia. Knowing these children went through Toukoul to their forever families was amazing and I found myself getting a little teary just looking at them run around and play together. Because I don't want to share pictures of other's children without their permission, I'll only be sharing the one photo of Naomi I managed to get that evening that didn't include other children.

She was definitely having a good time and trying her best to keep up with the other kids. A couple times she was sure she could run around with them and quickly realized that she wasn't yet able to walk on her own, let alone run. That has now changed, but she wasn't walking yet that night.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Busy Weekend, But First

Kerri is an adoptive mom of two beautiful girls and she discovered that her oldest daughter has a younger sister that was relinquished to an orphanage in Ethiopia a few years ago and was adopted by a family in Spain. Her daughter misses her sister deeply and wants very badly to reconnect with her somehow. Kerri is trying her best to locate the family in Spain, but hasn't had any luck so far. She recently start a new blog and has asked everyone she knows to please pass along the blog link in hopes that somehow it will make it's way to this family and they will contact her. The blog is http://buscandoeliham.wordpress.com/. If you are a blogger, can you please post the link to your blog as well in an effort to reconnect these two sisters?


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spur of the Moment

Any other moms out there that decide to do something just on the spur of the moment like pack you and the kids up and drive 3 hours to Indianapolis when you find out that your friends are going to be there visiting? LOL!!! I found out a couple hours ago that some friends from the east coast are on their way to Indy to visit family. I haven't seen them in almost two years and who knows when we'll be just 3 hours away from each other again. So tomorrow morning the girls and I are going to head over to Indy and visit with our friends at the Indy Children's Museum. I've never been, but heard it's fantastic. Anyway, I first met my friend on our agency Yahoo group. We traveled to Guatemala to visit our girls the same week in October, 2007 and saw each other again at a Guat adoptive families event in October 2008. We've stayed in contact via email, blogs and FB since then, but that doesn't compare to face-to-face visits. And what a great opportunity for our girls to spend some time together.

I won't be blogging for a few days, but when I blog again, I'm sure I'll have some fun Indy pictures to share!

Have a great weekend everyone!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More On Our Trip

After a couple days in Chicago, we boarded a plane and headed to Portland, OR. We moved back to Illinois about 15 years ago after having lived in Tacoma, WA for almost 10 years and this was my first trip back to the Pacific NW since leaving Tacoma. I was not disappointed. Okay, I'll admit that it was a little cooler than I would have liked, but I loved living in the NW and didn't realize how much I missed it until I went back.

Our flight was on time and uneventful. The girls traveled well and after gathering our luggage we headed off to pick up our rental vehicle. So far, so good.

We left the airport hungry and in search of the hotel we were staying at that weekend. Unfortunately, the GPS on Dave's phone wasn't working so we were blindly trying to find our way around Portland. We weren't doing a great job of finding the hotel, but we did find a Carl's Jr. and stopped to eat lunch. I was thrilled!! My first visit to Carl's Jr. in 15 years. Wow, it doesn't take much to excite me does it? LOL!!!

After some driving around and a phone call to the hotel, we finally arrived and got checked in. We stayed at the Doubletree Portland. I must admit, I wasn't expecting much from the hotel based on the rate we were paying, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a nice hotel. Our room was clean, big and comfortable. The hotel was large with a couple restaurants, a bar, lots of conference rooms and a pool (Lili was thrilled). When Dave went to check us in, he was told that we got a really good rate and later overheard someone in the restaurant say they were paying over 3x's the rate we were paying. Score!!!!

I spent part of that afternoon finalizing plans for our Toukoul Adoptive Families Reunion that weekend and then we took Lili to the pool to swim. Did I mention that it was a little cooler than I would have liked? Cooler temps in an unheated pool = cooler water temps. Lili didn't care, but it was a little harder for mom and dad to tolerate.

We ate dinner at the hotel. We were impressed with the hotel, but the restaurant service left a lot to be desired. After dinner we went across the street to the Lloyd Center for some shopping. I was still on a mission to replace my sandals that had met their demise in Chicago at the teeth of Naomi. It was a successful shopping trip as I returned to the hotel with two pair of new sandals in tow.

Our first day in Portland was nice and low key. Now it was time for a good night of sleep so we could tackle Friday which was going to be a busy day for us, but one I was very much looking forward to.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Milestones and Little Did I Realize

That my comment about Naomi walking within a few days would turn out to be Naomi walking by tomorrow. She is off and walking everywhere now. Granted, she's not yet a steady walker, but she is walking and so very, very proud of herself. She doesn't want to crawl, she wants to be up walking. She has walked all the way across our family room, into our kitchen and continued all the way through the kitchen a few times now. That is a lot of steps for those little legs. My baby girl went from baby to toddler overnight.

And don't you love the way our dogs are keeping an eye on her? :-)

She began walking at exactly 14 months of age and we also hit another milestone today - She has now been with us for 5 months.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Our Trip and Look Who's Walking

Chicago, Portland, Keizer, Salem, La Pine and Bend. Those are all the places we visited over a 9 day period and 9 days just wasn't long enough.

Our first stop was Chicago. Dave had two days of meetings so the girls and I went along and spent some quality time in Chicago. Before I go into detail about the trip, let me just say once again that I absolutely love Chicago. I think I've been to all the major U.S. cities - New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, etc. and Chicago is by far my favorite. I won't go into all the reasons why I love it so much, but I do love that city.

We arrived in Chicago Monday evening, checked into the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park Hotel, let the girls play a little bit and then went to bed. The next morning Dave headed to his meeting while the girls and I prepared for breakfast and a day at the Shedd Aquarium. It was cloudy and threatening rain, but we chose to make the 2 mile walk from the hotel to the aquarium. Just as we could see the aquarium ahead, it began to rain. Fortunately, it wasn't one of the torrential downpours we regularly get here in Illinois. Instead, it was a light rain that managed to get us wet, but not soaked. Lili thought it was great fun walking in the rain(actually, she was riding in the back of the double stroller and mommy was walking). As we approached the aquarium in the rain, we discovered that the entire city of Chicago was going to the aquarium as well. We waited in line for at least 45 minutes and then it was finally our turn to purchase our tickets. It was very crowded, but that was the only thing disappointing about the aquarium that day. Okay, Lili's less than desirable behavior was a bit disappointing as well, but lunch and the dolphin show seemed to cure what ailed her that day and she still talks about the dolphin show today. Unfortunately, holding Naomi during the dolphin show didn't allow me the opportunity to take pictures, but I did manage to get some pictures during our visit that day.

On Wednesday, Dave left for his second days of meetings while the girls and I checked out of the hotel and headed off to met my friend Meg for lunch. Meg's little guy Sam is from Le Toukoul orphanage and she had not yet met Naomi. Meg is either a very good actor or she really was smitten by little Ms. N. Our lunch date was just what the doctor ordered. We talked about the kids, Meg's weekend plans with a friend from Indiana and her kids, our upcoming trip to Oregon and life in general. I so wish I lived closer to have more lunch dates and outings with my friend. Thanks Meg!!!

After lunch, the girls and I headed down Michigan Ave to find a new pair of sandals for mommy. I wasn't planning on shopping for sandals, but Naomi decided to pull the pretty silver and white beads off my sandals and since they couldn't be repaired I needed to find a new pair. My shopping trip was unsuccessful and once again, we found ourselves walking in the rain. Still, I love that city!!!

After our walk up and down Michigan Ave was complete, we made our way back to the hotel to meet up with Dave and get our van. We were going to be checking into a hotel closer to the airport for our flight out the next morning, but not until we went to Portillos to meet with some adoptive families for dinner. I met Kerri via the blog world a few years ago. She has a little girl from Guatemala who is a few months older than Lili and an older daughter from Ethiopia. She and her friend Jocelyn, who has two girls from Ethiopia, were on their way back from Wisconsin where they attended an Ethiopian Heritage camp. They were spending a couple days in Chicago before heading off to MoGuat in Missouri. I had been reading Kerri's amazing blog for a few years and almost felt as if I was meeting a celebrity. It was awesome to finally meet her in person. A bonus was meeting another mom from Indiana along with her three kids from Ethiopia. What I didn't realize at the time, is that this woman was the very same person Meg had plans to meet that weekend. What a small world.

The other big event during our trip to Chicago was Naomi's persistence in trying to walk. The hotel room apparently made her feel secure in her walking adventure as she practiced her skills over and over again.

While Naomi isn't quite yet a walker, she is certainly trying and I think we're only days away from her walking more than crawling.

Also, I need to explain the last walking photo. Naomi loves to put things over her head. In this case, it was my shirt and somehow she managed to get my pants stuck to the shirt and pulled them along for the ride. Here is the picture I took shortly before she stood and took off.
Our trip to Chicago was over and our next stop was Portland, OR. Stay tuned for my post on Portland and TAFRU.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Birthday

Just a quick post wishing my awesome hubby a fabulous birthday today!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We're Back

TAFRU was great! Visiting with family was great! And we're tired!!

I'll post details about our trip in the not too distant future, but in the meantime I have a lot of catching up to do around the house.