Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Love Story

Today is Valentine's Day. Bereket just got home from school with a sack filled with mini cards and treats from her classmates. Taking inventory of the little bags of Skittles and trinkets, I smiled at a heart shaped pencil sharpener and pink mustache. Some parents and kids are so clever! I would make a mental note to do something more Pinterest-like next year, but I know that won't happen. So instead, I will enjoy the creativity of others.

Today though, it is a different kind of expression of love that has me smiling.  It is the love and pride my child has in who she is and where she comes from. Last week, Bereket decided she wanted to tell her adoption story to her classmates during sharing time. She wanted to share her precious photo albums and talk about Ethiopia and the important people in her life there.  Bereket's teacher reached out to us first for our blessing and so that we could guide her in preparation.  We were a little uncertain if Bereket was ready for this, but in the end it is her story and her decision who she shares it with.
We have yet to see the video Bereket's teacher took yesterday, but she did message us this photo. Bereket's principal joined the class for her special story. We've been told Bereket's sharing was beautiful and we look forward to watching the video with her. We could not be more proud of her.

If I was to tell the story of my own childhood, it might include the wonderful box of chocolates my father gifted me with every Valentine's Day. He never missed giving my sister and I each our own giant, heart-shaped box. We would cut into each chocolate with a knife, trying to find the caramel ones. The candies with pink and orange filling were always the last to go.  My parents have now passed on the tradition to their grandchildren. We enjoyed going out to dinner with my parents last weekend and Dad did not forget that special heart-shaped gift for Bereket.
We keep holidays pretty simple around here. I bought my own flowers for $4.99 at the grocery store on Sunday and Jason used a scrap of paper as a card as he headed out the door to work this morning.  But my heart is full. Happy Valentine's Day.





Friday, January 6, 2017

Little Acts of Kindness

In November, the inspiration from a simple Facebook post shared by a friend, a December Acts of Kindness calendar, re-shaped the last month of 2016 for our family.  Before I had a chance to think out the implications of what this would mean, I boldly proclaimed on Facebook that Bereket and I would do an Act of Kindness on each day during the entire month of December. Yep, 31 consecutive good deeds. Here's a report on how it went down.

I will admit, on November 30th, I wondered, what had I gotten my family into? Often by the time Bereket gets home from school, I am already in my pajamas and the thought of going out into the Minnesota cold to share a little love with the neighborhood just wasn't looking so practical. I decided I would give us some grace. If we missed a day (or two) that would be o.k. We would just get back on track and start up where we left off.  That grace came in handy.

In some ways, December was the perfect time of year to do this. Opportunities to do good were right in front of us for the taking. Like collecting toys for my work's annual Drive By Toy Drive. Despite some rather lengthy "warming up" breaks inside the building with hot apple cider and donuts, Bereket was a shining example of doing good for others during the time she was outside. She also did a few live television hits with me encouraging people to stop by and donate toys.
Bereket wrote lots of Christmas cards and prepared special gifts for staff at her school.
Some cards were fun and happy like the ones to Auntie Jolene and to her beloved Kokeb. (How my heart smiled when she signed that card: your sister, Bereket). We consider Kokeb her "Hilawe Sister."  Another card was heartbreaking to send. A dear adoption friend we met in Ethiopia, who also adopted a little girl named Bereket, had passed away from cancer. She leaves behind 5 devastated children and a husband who adored her. If only an act of kindness could bring Amanda back.

We accepted an invitation by our church to share the "good news" by reading in front of the congregation and lighting an advent candle. Bereket questioned if "reading" could be an act of kindness, but what better gift to give than God's grace and encouragement? I know I sure need it.
Now, a few admissions:

I admit, we did not get to everything on our list. We have some really good ideas still out there for January.  One of them came from Jason. He wants to gift a family in our church with some venison meat since he had a very successful deer hunting season and the hunter in their family did not. (Good idea, Jason!) 

I admit, there were 3 days in a row when the weather simply stole my ambition. So one night when it was finally a little "less cold," we went out and did four acts of kindness to catch up.

I admit, my child proclaimed more than once, "I am sick of hearing about acts of kindness! Please tell me we are not doing this next December."

I will also admit, when I received an email from my mother titled "thank you." I wondered, "What is she thanking me for?"  I completely forgot that the week prior we had sent her an Elvis Christmas cd we discovered while waiting in line at Walgreens. My mom is one of Elvis' greatest fans and she said it brought tears to her eyes listening to his voice sing such special songs.  I guess acts of kindness are worth your time even if you don't remember doing them the next week!

Will the people we hoped to bless with a baby gift, a ride to the airport, or a card remember they are loved and treasured? 

Good thing we can continue to send reminders of love in 2017!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

First Travel Log

When I was sitting down in January to begin the 12 page application needed to apply for a Russian Tourist visa, there was one question that overwhelmed me: List every country you have visited in the last 10 years and the dates of entry and exit.  I'm not good with dates or years and Jason and I spent the first decade of our marriage globe trekking wherever our frequent flyer miles would take us. I got out my two most recent passports and sighed at the mess of stamps and dates. None of the stamps were in order. Many of them I couldn't make out. Was that stamp Morocco or Egypt? How many years ago was Spain? Did we fly into Geneva or Zurich when we hiked in Switzerland? I ended up paying the Russian government an extra $65 fee to fill out a less complicated form that required far fewer details. (It cut the paperwork down from 12 pages to 3. It was worth every penny!)

Still I ask myself, why haven't I kept a journal of all my adventures or at least a log of countries visited and dates?

Bereket, here's my attempt to do a little better for you.  Our project this week is getting your passport renewed as it expires next year. It will be your 4th passport! Yes, in just 6 years of life you will have had 4 passports!

Here's a log to help you keep track of the early international adventures in your life.

Passport #1 was issued to you in 2011. It was your Ethiopian passport allowing you to travel to your new home in America. Look at the cheerful expression you gave the photographer! (We came to know that lovely expression well!)
Passport #2 was a first priority when you arrived home. Once we got your certificate of citizenship in the mail, we were off to Walgreens to get your passport photo taken.  Passport #2 was used only for one trip: Mazatlán, Mexico on March 9th, 2012. Mommy, Daddy, Uncle Eric, Grandma and Grandpa were all there.
Passport #3 looks just like the one before it but with more stamps! We had rushed getting your passport for the Mazatlán trip and when we came home from Mexico, we began the process of changing your name. The Ethiopian government named you Bereket Jason (because in Ethiopia your last name is your father's name) so we had to get your name changed to Bereket Ann!

You've had lots of wonderful adventures on Passport #3.
Negril, Jamaica: January 20-26, 2014 (with Mommy and Daddy)
Cancun, Mexico: January 24-31, 2015 (with Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandpa)
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: January 22-29, 2016 (with Mommy and Daddy)
and Cozumel, Mexico: July 18-22, 2016 (with Carson and his parents Cory and Katie)
One note: while we didn't need your passport for our trip to Sanibel Island, Florida in December of 2012, we still brought it along just in case the TSA wanted to see identification for you. So I'm putting that adventure in your travel log, too.

Wow, girl! You've been on the move! Mommy and Daddy have a big surprise for you coming up in January, 2017 to celebrate our 5 year anniversary as a family. Here's a hint: it involves a really big ship and 4 exciting ports of call! So let's get that paperwork for passport #4 started! We've already gotten your new photo taken and look at what a mature little traveler you are becoming. 
(Now, no asking "how much longer?" or "are we there yet?" when it comes time to get on the plane!)

Until that next adventure, a family photo of our retired passports. Such great reminders of all the sweet travels we have to be thankful for.








Sunday, May 29, 2016

It is Enough

Today is Bereket's birthday. Any minute now, she will wake up and bound out of the bedroom...overflowing with excitement for her special day. Turning 6 is a big deal and she's been counting down to the big day for a few weeks now.  We are excited to celebrate with a family picnic at Whitewater State Park.

While today is all about showering Bereket with love and presents, she had a big surprise for me last night.  Bereket went on a quick errand run with Daddy and somehow convinced him to stop at the florist on the way home.  She came running into the house, "Mommy, I have a surprise for you! I bought you a flower with my own money because you are the best mommy in the whole wide world and I love you so much!"
The money actually came from Jason's wallet, but the idea was all her own. When I thanked Jason later for my beautiful purple rose, he said, "That was 100% Bereket. It was her idea. She wanted to stop and get you something because she said you were the best mommy in the whole wide world."

Lately, I have felt far from worthy of that title. I can feel overwhelmed by life and lose my patience way too quickly.  So many days I wish I could have a re-do.

But last night, with her simple, sweet gesture, Bereket told me in her own way, that it is enough. I am enough for her.  And I so needed that.

Thank you Bereket, and happy birthday.  I know I will mess up a lot of times in your new year, but I promise to do my very best for you.
Bereket passing out the napkins to her classmates for her birthday treat on Friday!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Was Moscow a Dream?

I've always dreamed of seeing the "swirly topped" buildings of Moscow.  Once a year or so, I would pick up a travel guide I had purchased on Amazon and look at pictures of a city that seemed almost forbidden to American travelers.  I wondered if I would ever actually get there.

Last fall, I came across a Travelzoo deal that was too good to pass up: airfare to Moscow from Minneapolis and 4 nights hotel with breakfast for about $800. Jason passed on it. It was in the off-season and Jason didn't want to be cold exploring the streets of Moscow. He said I could ask some girlfriends, though. I don't think he actually thought anyone would say yes, but my dear friends Kathy and Jennifer were up for an adventure and soon we were busy with plans for the adventure of a lifetime.

Without a doubt, this quick trip to Russia was one of the most challenging trips I have ever planned (and I have tackled some pretty off the grid stuff).  We had flights cancelled, the ballet we had tickets to was cancelled and the paperwork to get a travel visa into Russia is nothing short of overwhelming. But once the planning process was complete, the complications also came to an end.

I can honestly say, from the moment we stepped onto the plane at MSP International on April 6th to the moment we returned to Minneapolis on April 11th, there was not a single trip glitch. Not one! It was almost like we had stepped into the fairytale of Cinderella arriving at the ball. Several beautiful surprises awaited us in Moscow: weather that was 30 degrees warmer that it should have been, a luxury hotel that served an incredible breakfast with complimentary champagne, arriving to the opera (which replaced our ballet experience) to discover our tickets were in the 2nd row, kind strangers who spoke no English but put their own busy lives on hold to try to help us navigate their beautiful city and a last minute splurge on an extremely affordable (and unique) spa experience that included a 90 minute massage. We were also amazed by the incredible restaurants our hotel concierge and private tour guide made reservations for us at. People in Moscow eat well!  As my friend Kathy texted me just last night, "Everything was so amazing." We really did live a dream and we are attempting to show our appreciation to those who took care of us in Moscow by writing some glowing Tripadvisor reviews.
As you navigate the city of Moscow through its massive and cleverly designed underground metro system, you will be greeted by world class art at each stop. Our lovely young tour guide Katya explained to us that during the rule of Stalin, it was illegal to build churches and many were actually destroyed. So artists went to work underground.
 
During Joseph Stalin's rule from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953, a massive art museum was built beneath Moscow and great skyscrapers were built above it. Stalin's mark on Moscow is a big part of what the city is today. 

When we were visiting the Red Square and the Kremlin, Katya took us to a scenic overlook of the city. She pointed out a great cathedral and told a story of how Stalin ordered it to be torn down and a swimming pool constructed in its place.  When Stalin died, the people rebuilt that cathedral.  But Katya told us for many of the people in Moscow, these great churches are only places to tour and admire and that very few people are practicing Christians.

I haven't had time to process all my experiences during our 3.5 days in Russia. I have been asked several times what the highlight was. For me, it was seeing the amazing churches inside and out. That's what those "swirly topped" buildings are: breathtaking cathedrals. 

There are very few tourist carts or shops in Moscow. This is a world-class modern city with some of the greatest history to be told. I feel beyond blessed that I got to experience it and I hope to continue to process what my time there has to teach me.

Just a few weeks before we left for Moscow, there were some terrible terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium.  A travel warning was issued by the U.S. State Department for all of Europe. I wondered for a moment if we should consider cancelling our trip.  Jason said too much work and planning had gone into this. We could not let the terrorists win. He reminded me that anything can happen anywhere, at any time. 

I am so very glad we went on this trip. The people of Moscow were kind and went out of the way to help us see and experience their incredible city. We always felt very safe.

Jason asked me what the lesson is for Bereket in this little story. Once again, it is simple. Go see this amazing world. Meet its wonderful people. Our time here is short. There is so much to learn and experience.  The blessings of travel will not disappoint.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

She Reads

I've heard other parents say how amazing it is when your child begins learning to read.  I just didn't realize how fast it happens, how a child can begin kindergarten with no other skills than writing her name and just a few months later is reading all kinds of words!  Bereket now begs to read a story at bedtime and she is the one who reads the book to Jason and me (and Cooper and Frosty who lately are always by her side at bedtime).
I haven't been exposed to early childhood learning since I was in kindergarten 35 years ago so the whole process has been amazing to watch. The five sight words that Bereket's teacher requests she learn each week, the special books Mrs. Clauson sends home that supplement her sight words with photos of the words she hasn't learned yet. Brilliant!

Last week, Mrs. Clauson invited all the parents to class for a little concert featuring the fun songs they sing in class everyday. We shared a snack with Bereket and she surprised us with a special Christmas gift, coasters with her photo on them.  Mrs. Clauson explained that the gift for parents was a thank-you for all the time we spend at home working on sight words and reading books.
 
I have to admit, I felt a little emotional as Mrs. Clauson thanked the parents. There are many days when reading time can be a struggle. After a long day of learning and trying to be on her best behavior, sometimes I think Bereket's overflowing brain just wants a break and a really big snack.

But the rewards are worth the struggle! Bereket was so very proud to move up to a "1 Green" reader level after starting as a "Yellow" reader. After the winter break, she should be reading "2 Green" level books. For her, this will be a big deal.  And then there are those moments when Bereket recognizes a word that I had no idea she knew. Last night, she looked up at the television and read the word "married" off the screen. Wow! My parent friends were right, this is pretty incredible stuff to experience.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

When Our World Has Gone Crazy

It is not yet 6 a.m.  Bereket is still snuggled in bed, no doubt dreaming of the big day ahead of us.  At her request, we are driving to the Minneapolis airport to pick up Jason from his business trip to the Netherlands.  She is like her momma in so many ways and loves to be at the airport with so many people coming and going...even if it is not our turn to experience something new.

Last night, like most of the world, I was shocked, saddened and angered by the news of a major terrorist attack in Paris. It took more than a hundred lives and was carefully orchestrated at multiple, busy locations.  People were out to enjoy a soccer game or concert. They did not know these few hours of living would be their last.

I can't speak a word of French and I get terribly confused whenever I study a map of the Paris Metro, but I love that city.  I have experienced it in the bright lights of Christmastime, the cool dampness of April and the blissful sunshine of June.  This summer, on my third trip to Paris, I really fell in love with it. I wanted to spend hours smelling the beautiful flowers that spilled out of the shops into the street.
I didn't want to get up from my cup of cup of coffee at an outdoor café taking in the beautiful people and buildings around me.
I love this city.

Just a couple of weeks ago, a Russian plane suddenly crashed near the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. 224 people were killed. Investigations point to a possible bomb that could have been planted by an employee of the Sharm el-Sheikh airport.  About a decade ago, Jason and I flew through that airport during our travels around Egypt. While experiencing the thrill of camping in the Sinai Desert and snorkeling at the Blue Hole in the Red Sea, we also felt the scare of a bomb going off in a nightclub there, just hours after we had walked by it on the street.  These attacks made the Egyptians we met so angry. They want tourists will come visit their treasures to strengthen their economy. Plus, they are simply proud of their country, and want others to experience its beauty. They would say to us, "Please, tell your friends to come visit. They are welcome here."

Bereket, one day you will read these stories. I want you to know your momma is part nomad...always looking for the next great place to visit and experience...a place even more unique and interesting than the last.  I think you already have a similar spirit of exploration growing in you.  Don't be afraid of the bad guys. Don't let them win.  This is an amazing, beautiful world. Go see all of it you can.  My spirit will be with you.