Tomas is 12!

Tomas is 12!

Right now we are going to pretend that it’s March 7, 2016 and that there aren’t major things happening in the world that warrant mention in my first blog post in months. Since all of that will be covered in a future post we can just celebrate March 7 right now and in turn celebrate my Tomas turning 12!

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I was talking to a fellow adoptive mama last night who adopted a 10-year-old from Ethiopia. The child has since been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and she opened up to me about what life has been like since they brought her little one to America almost 10 years ago. She finished with, “I’m just not sure I can advocate for someone adopting an older child after that. ” She wasn’t saying it to be mean, she was saying it out of tremendous pain that she and the child had been through. She was actually advocating for a system where we can support first families and let them keep their older children rather than adopt them and tear them away from all they know.

On the drive home from that conversation I thought only of Tomas, who we brought to America when he was 6. There is truly no explanation for how seamless the transition has been with him. There were fits and starts as we navigated language and the like but overall it’s nonsensical how incredible this son of mine has been from day 1.

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At the camp my kids go to they award a kid in each cabin with what they call the Broken Arrow award. It’s a blind, private vote that each kid does separately so there’s no mob mentality. The kids just vote on who exemplifies the values of Eberhart the best-caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Tomas that he won this year. The award meant even more to us as his parents because middle school has been a little tough on Tomas. The pressure to fit in, to wear the right things and act a certain way is really, really hard to navigate for an extreme people pleaser like him. And so we were thrilled to be able to say, “Look! They gave you this award even though you wore the same outfit every single day! You hadn’t brushed your teeth or showered for a whole week! They gave you this award because of who you ARE not because of anything else. They see the real Tomas and they celebrated you. That’s a really big deal.”

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The counselor wrote on his note to give to parents at the end of the week, “It’s been a really great week in 13/14 and it wouldn’t have been possible without Tomas in the cabin. Tomas really helped out a lot in our cabin, he was especially good with the new campers.” This is the essence of Tomas. Very rarely do I have to ask for help and when I do, extremely rarely do I hear negative feedback from Tomas. It’s always an “Ok!” “Got it!”

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The first kid to ask how my day went or how my workout was or if I am feeling better after a cold is always Tomas. He doesn’t just ask because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, he asks to learn more about the person. He asks because he genuinely cares. It’s a trait I’ve not really seen in any other kid his age and I find it remarkable and charming.

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His laugh is a whoop then a laugh. When we first brought him home I had convinced myself he had whooping cough because he laughed at all the things and it sounded like he had poison coming his lungs. Slowly I realized his body was just collecting all the joy he stores inside and letting it out in one big whoop before laughing. It’s simply the best thing I’ve ever heard.

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Most of my other kiddos could be gone from home for a week with friends no problems but not Tomas. He’s a bit of a homebody. He’ll spend a night away and then be happy to come back, sleep in his own bed, eat the food he likes and hang with us or around camp. Needless to say I kind of love that about him.

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Zach and I were at Tariku’s baseball game so we asked Trysten, Tomas and Dailah to make dinner for when we got back. They ended up making some plant-based tacos. They were delicious and only 1 spatula was burned and a few tortillas lost in the process. I think that might always be the asterisk to Tomas’s stories “It was a huge success BUT I lost a toenail and broke my arm in the process.” There’s something just so sweet about his ability to go all in on something and lose sight of some inconsequential details.

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Tomas is 12 but looks older. The mustache on his upper lip is forming, his shoulders are broad and his chest barreled. He’s got hair on his legs and all the baby fat from his face is now gone. He’s mere inches from catching me in height and even with his disarming smile I worry about him.

Because he is love in a world that sometimes seems all consumingly full of hate. He is joy when the joy is sucked from every nook and cranny in the outside world. And he is full of faith-in people, in countries, in all the things- in a world that takes advantage of people like that.

I worry about him because I love him so much. And want to protect all that is bright and beautiful in him-which is essentially everything.

Happy birthday my Tomas-ay.

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2015, A Recap

2015, A Recap

What a year it’s been! WordPress sends out a yearly review of this blog and it was brought to my attention that I only blogged 25 times this year. Could that be true? That means I missed a lot of what we did this year so I wanted a place to recap 2015. It’s my blog, I can photo dump if I want to.

January 5 Ian Matthew was born and the world will never be the same. I wrote about this little bit of squishy preciousness here.

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Zach and I tried teaching Dailah to snowboard and Binyam to ski. It took multiple hours, numerous utterances of the F bomb and this one selfie of Zach flipping off the camera with a gloved finger for us to cry out uncle and literally never return.

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Dailah received a 1st place trophy for cheerleading. Even though our alarm clocks rang out at 3:45am we still managed to hoot and holler louder than anyone else.

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We had our first experience with toboggans. The hill is on the left, only 2 people the employees of the hill had ever seen crash halfway down are on the right. We assume it’s because not many things were meant to carry 2 Klipschs due to sheer head size and overall beefiness. We lived and I peed a little laughing so hard so not all was lost.

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My kids continued to eat me out of house and home. I now double a recipe if it says “serves 8” and usually the kids still eat more fruit after all of that is gone. If you hear of giveaways that feature blessing someone with groceries for a year I’d be much obliged if you would enter us. I’ll have to start working if these people continue at this pace. 😉

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Tariku and Trysten filmed a commercial for summer camp. I’m not entirely sure why anyone would use anyone other than my kids in their commercials after seeing how adorable they were. 🙂

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I helped a fitness studio start up. Though I’ve done marketing for over a decade it was fun to be able to shape the tone and “voice” of the business from the beginning. Plus I got to work with my good friend Kyle Taylor in creating the logo (thanks, Kyle!)

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We said good-bye to our first family car-the Honda Pilot. Zach got in a car accident and it was totaled. The airbag shredded the gloves he was wearing with the force of the accident-I can’t believe how fortunate we were that he was ok. Despite the fact that she had seen better days, that every part of her was dented and bruised. Despite the fact that she was perpetually dirty from living at a camp and that her bumper stickers signified a moment in time now gone, she also brought home 4 out of my 5 kids. She was the place the 7 of us were first a family and on the back of one of her seats was where Tariku decided to practice writing his name in ink. In her trunk was where we said our final good byes to Abe and Aristotle and, above all, she protected Zach on her final trek. She was a good car.

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We bought a Subaru (great car!) and soon after Zach took Trysten on a road trip with my dad, uncle and cousin to Colorado for a week of snowboarding. Zach took this picture, one of my all time favorites.

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We said good-bye to my sister’s white boxer, Leo. Leo lived with us a few times throughout his long life and I sure did love the way he took care of my sister when she lived on the east coast away from us. Once Ian was born it was as if Leo knew my sister was going to be okay so he let go. I can’t stress enough how much I love dogs and Leo was one of the good ones. Miss ya, buddy.

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We took a family trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes for spring break.

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The kids played baseball/softball which I do believe is the longest season of any sport. The older 3 tried out for All Stars and were selected. Tariku’s team made it really far and was a fun team to watch. Tomas and Trysten’s not so much. 😉

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The big 3 were all on the same team as it has been for many years mostly because Zach and I don’t want to make too much work for ourselves. So it was that they were often in the field together. In the below picture Tariku is playing short stop, Trysten was pitching and Tomas was playing catcher. It was more fun than you can possibly imagine.

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They also played a lot of soccer! (My favorite!) My parents came over for quite a few games considering they live 7 hours away. This surprises no one who knows them.

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While playing 3rd base, Tomas took a ball to the face from the hardest throwing pitcher on his team. This was soon after I posted a picture making fun of little girls wearing face masks in softball. I feel largely to blame for this injury but true to his nature Tomas was smiling the whole way through getting stitches.

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We went vegan/plant-based. More on that later.

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We had a visit from my friend Chandra and her 5 kiddos. I loved watching them play and have so much fun together. It’s weird that a few of my great friends have never met my kids except through my blog and the stories I tell when we get together so it felt ridiculously good to have Zach and my babes meet this friend of mine I always talk about.

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My good friend, Alex, brought her boy toy and dog up to camp for a weekend. She used to live at our previous camp as well so to say I miss seeing her randomly most days would be an understatement. She’s a fellow Harry Potter junkie and just overall top-notch human.

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Tariku offered to hold my hand for the first time. On Facebook I wrote this to mark the occasion:

Last Thursday after his baseball game, one in which he got a minor injury, I asked him if he ever just wished I was there. To comfort him, give him a hug, make it better. No, he says, sometimes I wish the animals were there though.
I told him how when we first adopted him that used to kill me-that he would never let me hug him or snuggle him, not even hold his hand. I told him now I realize it’s not that he doesn’t see me as his mom but that he really just doesn’t like physical touch so I didn’t take it personally anymore (and that I never really should have).
Then on Saturday while walking around camp, with tween girls in swimsuits everywhere, he told me I could hold his hand.
My relationship with Tariku continues to be a reminder that the most beautiful things in life are often the result of a lot of hard work and sweat/tear equity. It’s also a reminder that the culmination of that hard work can sometimes be in something as relatively unremarkable as an outstretched hand and an offer.

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Leslie and Jake finally got a dog! Though I think Leslie is still on the fence about Daffy she hasn’t gotten to the good stuff yet where Daffy is no longer chewing everything and is instead comforting my nephews or niece when they are sick or sad. Hang on, Leslie, you’re almost there!

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My nephew Caden John was born!! On my birthday! Which happens to be my mom’s birthday too! He’s a smiley little man and I love him so. I wrote more about him here.

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We played more rounds of basketball in the front yard/court than ever before. We even talked grandparents and dogs into playing along too sometimes.

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The kids finished their last day of 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd grades respectively.

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Doozie competed in Regionals for cheerleading where they took home 1st again.

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I continue to do the marketing for my brother’s Chiropractic business, Dawson Chiropractic near Des Moines, Iowa. I do it mostly for the free adjustments but also because he is genuinely the best chiropractor to which I’ve ever been. Oh and because it forces my little brother to talk to me on a regular basis, a perhaps not naturally occurring thing for a quiet dude like him 😉

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While at an orthopedic appointment for Binyam our car was broken into and stuff was stolen (also, weirdly, the thieves tried on every pair of my sunglasses but didn’t take any. It took me a good while to put them back on my face after imagining some weirdo trying them on. Also made me seriously question my style that they didn’t deem any of them worth stealing. But that’s neither here nor there.) I called the police and then about 5 minutes later called Jimmy John’s since we hadn’t eaten lunch and it was well past 2pm. Jimmy John’s arrived first which was hilarious to us all.

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Zach started seriously training for triathlons and I continued to take hundreds of pictures of my pets. Zach is on the left swimming in the lake while Hagrid and I kayaked next to him-keeping him safe and looking adorable in the process.

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All of the Klipschs came to visit-even Kait straight from the NYC. I continue to be beside myself with gratitude that I count Zach’s siblings and significant others as some of my greatest friends. And time spent with my remarkable niece and nephews is always exactly what I need.

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My 5 all went to Camp Eberhart for a week and had a ridiculously good time. Trysten got to go in the bigger kids cabin where they stay up a little later and hang with the older girls cabin over campfires. I pretended to be all cool as a cucumber but there were def a few nights when I drove past “on my way home” just to see what was what.

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A few weeks later Dailah was off to cheer camp. It was her first time at an overnight camp that her dad wasn’t in charge of and at which we didn’t live. Despite her smile here she actually hated it-coming home with bruises and bumps covering her legs from being dropped and thrown around (as fliers are, obviously). Soon after spending $250 on this camp she decided cheerleading wasn’t for her and asked if she could not try out for the coming year. This perfectly sums up the personality she was born into by nature of being her father’s daughter.

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Tomas’s face was used for marketing purposes. This makes sense because of all of my kids his face best translates constant joy-which is what you get when you send your kids to camp, obvs.

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We let the kids sign up for tackle football for the first time. I held off for as long as I could on account of me loving their healthy knee joints and beautiful, developing brains. I’m still hoping they choose cross country or soccer over football but now at least I know it’s possible for all of us to survive football season.

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My sister and I got another matching tattoo (we both have the purple cross on my sister’s foot, along with our mom, from when I turned 18). This time we got the two “d”s. Before marriage our maiden name was “Dawson” and in high school sports we were called “the double Ds” not due to mammary size, clearly. She and I are polar opposites in so many ways but I love her like no one else. That veiny arm would be mine. Gorg.

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I got a selfie stick. I don’t always use it but when I do everyone loves it. 😉

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My parents took us all to Adventureland-an outdoor roller coaster and water park. It never disappoints, especially now that the kids are old enough to go on all the rides by themselves if they want to.

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Then my parents took my kids for a long weekend while I flew off to Colorado and Zach stayed in Michigan to work. I spent Thursday-Sunday with my blogamiga friends for the 5th year in a row. There is just no way to tell you how much these women mean to me. Mothering can be really quite lonely despite having little ones in your business all day e’ry day. Adoption parenting adds another layer that can add to the loneliness, particularly if it’s an adoption of a child from a different race. Sometimes there are just too many things that are specific to that where other friends just can’t possibly understand because they haven’t been there. These women though? They’ve been there. And they are better women, better mothers, nicer people, bigger hippies and funnier than I am. So I basically spent 4 straight days stealing all of their knowledge and then claiming it as my own when I got back. I love them more than they can possibly know.

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Upon my return my parents took us all to the Iowa State Fair. If you love fried food, the smell of animal shit and people watching, then the Iowa State Fair is a must see. It’s ranked as the #1 state fair in the country and with good reason-I really do love it.

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We took a family trip to National Bridge State Park. Despite Tomas’s look of confusion we had a tremendous time together.

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Zach and his good friend, Isaac, participated in two olympic sized triathlons: the Three Rivers, Mi and the Chicago Tri. It’s always good fun watching the two of these old friends together and I tend to get all the feels when I’m watching people I love compete in feats of strength.

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I left Binyam home alone, on accident, for 20 minutes-marking this as the first time I’ve ever left a kid anywhere on accident. I knew he was going to be ok when I got home (he’s 9-years-old for goodness sake and Zach was literally working a few hundred feet away) but I still felt like total crap. Until we pulled into the drive and saw him sitting on the front steps looking ridiculous presh with his soccer stuff ready. He had no doubts I was coming back to get him-I love that about him.

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I celebrated 13 years of marriage to this guy. Even in my darkest moments he’s been my harvester of light, what a lucky thing it is to be his wife.

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The kids started another year of school. It’s already been a trying year in many ways so I’m just constantly praying we get through it with our grace and sense of humor still intact.

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We talked our good friends the Korandas into coming on one of the busiest athletic weekends of the year. Declan Zachary handled it like a champ and I was a smitten kitten getting so much time with him, his mommy and daddy.

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I had the distinct honor and pleasure at being asked to be Ian’s Godmother. Until he has questions about God I am assuming my role is to just spoil him with chocolate, candy and more kisses than he could ever want. I take this very seriously.

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Zach and I tried acri-yoga after watching a few videos that looked easy enough. This is as far as we got before Zach told me I was about to expose my breast. This wouldn’t normally be cause for concern but since Trysten was capturing this glorious moment, Zach thought he would save poor Tman a year’s worth of therapy and just stop. The idea crossed my mind to put on a bra but I kind of have a strict policy about not doing that while at home so we scrapped the idea altogether. Maybe 2016.

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Zach taught the oldest 3 to shave. Since both Zach and I are legit at growing facial hair-it’s no wonder Trysten already had a decent amount at 12. (Truth is he was born with it. Zach’s first words to me when Trysten entered the world from the womb were, “He has your sideburns!” Bless) Now if someone could actually get them to wear deodorant every day I would feel a lot better about their future prospects.

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Trysten and Tomas went out for the middle school cross country team. They worked hard all season and both did really well. I could genuinely care less how they rank as long as they give it their all when they are out there and they did that-it was a fun season!

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The Jake and Leslie Klipschs, Isaac and Papa Frank came up for a weekend where the men went off to the Notre Dame game and I got 7 uninterrupted hours talking with Leslie. The next day we took everyone to the Notre Dame campus. Watching these cousins together is just too much of all the good things.

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We went trick-or-treating with the Dawson and Klipsch cousins as well as the Smitty besties. It was the first year my kids, Oliver and Eli and the Smittys went off by themselves to tour the neighborhood when the adults got too cold. I got to go with my niece Landry and listen as every. single. house told her she was the cutest they had seen all day. It’s true-she’s 100% ridiculously cute.

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We celebrated my brother-in-law Frank’s birthday with his adults only party again this year. Zach and I went as Doc Brown and Marty McFly and the birthday boy went as his own spirit animal. See if you can tell what the other Klipschs were…

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I also talked all of the Dawson side into coming this year too! My brother was a legit Wolverine and my sister-in-law as Steve Bartman went over super well in a house full of Cub fans.

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My father-in-law was elected as Davenport, Iowa’s new Mayor! I was so happy we could be there and the kids could watch the whole process unfold that night. He will undoubtedly be the best Mayor that city has ever seen. Grateful as always that I married into that crazy group of justice seekers and public servers.

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I got to work with Leslie on our 7th Water Party together. I’m so proud of how she’s taken over since my move to Michigan and made it bigger and better than ever before. This year the event raised over $35,000. That is beyond my comprehension as I so vividly remember the first year sitting up at midnight counting the $10,000 in cash with Zach. I am grateful for every penny then and every penny now. We have the most generous friends and family of anyone I’ve ever known. I always go through Leslie withdrawals after the event because I’m so used to spending an insane amount of time talking and texting with her leading up to the Water Party. I’m just really lucky to count her as a best friend.

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Not sure if you heard this or not but we all went to Ethiopia. 🙂 I’m ready to go back.

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Barbara Streisand and Hagrid just continued to be off the charts adorable on the daily.

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We had such a fun time cheering on our Iowa Hawkeyes this season! Though they lost to our current state, we are excited to see them dominate the Rose Bowl tomorrow!

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The bigs had their band performance (Trysten on drums, Tomas on trumpet) and the littles had their Holiday music concert. Binyam had a speaking part for the first and probable last time of his life. He went as Harry Potter and was nervous as hell. I was beaming and crying and waving like the fanatic I am. Proud mama heart burst moment for sure.

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Just before leaving for Ethiopia Trysten tried out for the 7th grade boys basketball team and made it. They went on to become conference champions. Man were they a fun team to watch.

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Trysten and Tomas had their first semi-formal middle school dance. Tomas was true to his nature and asked his girlfriend what color of dress she was wearing so that he could match her. He could be found trailing a few feet behind her wherever she went. Trysten was true to his nature and translated loosely “semi-formal” by wearing basketball pants and a t-shirt until I begged him to at least wear jeans and something that didn’t stink of puberty and hard work. He and a few of his buds went stag with plans to tear up the dance floor seeings they had no ladies to tether them down.

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While the older 2 were at the dance, the younger 3 were painting snowmen for the elementary PTA. Dailah took her job seriously, as she always does when it comes to creative outlets, and the other two were mostly there for the cookies.

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Dailah chopped off her hair. She told me she was ready for an adventure and had read about donating hair to kids with cancer who lose theirs. I asked her on the way to the appointment if she was nervous, “Nope just excited! You’ve got to think about the worst that can happen and if it’s not death or lots and lots of pain then there’s no reason to be nervous!” I love that about her.

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On Christmas Eve the kids made a fort that took up the entire “fun room” for the second year in a row. This one had separate rooms and everything. Christmas continues to feel so magical with these kiddos. As they get older I appreciate even more how close they all are and how often they want to be around just each other. My most common prayer is probably that they continue to be best friends throughout their lives.

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We had a truly great Christmas both here and in Iowa celebrating with grandparents, aunts/uncles and cousins. So much so that I didn’t take very many pictures. 🙂

While Trysten fights off the pneumonia that has been plaguing me for the last few months (I legit broke a few ribs coughing so hard. My cough is mostly gone but the pain in my ribs is redic. Avoid that at all costs.) the other 4 are at Winter Camp at Camp Eberhart.

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I think after writing the post about being lonely some might think I don’t like living here but it’s even more obvious after looking through the pictures of the year that my life here is full of goodness. I think if nothing else, the moments when I’m lonely only make it super obvious that overall our time here has been overwhelmingly happy and great. This year has been one full of growth for all 7 of us and with that will surely come some growing pains in every sense of the phrase. But at the end of the day I get to kiss the 5 sweetest, kindest, funniest most beautiful children in all of the world and cuddle in next to the funniest, most loyal husband out there. What more could I possibly ask for?

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Happy NYE everyone. May you find peace, happiness and insurmountable joy in the coming year. Thanks for reading. Love to you.

Tesi

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

National Bridge State Park/ Red River Gorge

Summer kind of got away from us this year. The kids were involved in baseball/softball until mid July and then I was trying to squeeze in a “laid back summer” for the rest of the weeks. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but a forced laid back summer didn’t feel so laid back and so it was that Zach recommended we take a family camping trip before school started.

During the school year I can sometimes fool myself into believing we have our stuff together because the kids are gone at school for most of the day and then activities at night. But summer? Oh summer comes at ya with all the problems and issues that have been pushed down or run over from the crazy of the school year.

I think particularly with our babes who have suffered trauma-the unscheduled-ness of summer can sometimes be really scary for them. Scary for them often means intense parenting for the mamas and the papas.

All this to say, our camping trip came just at the right time. Our plan was to head to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but a few days before we were to leave we noticed it was supposed to be 60 degrees with 90% chance of rain so I we made the executive decision to try the National Bridge State Park in Kentucky instead.

It had been a few years since we last went camping and, since then, have adopted a plant based lifestyle so I was a little nervous about what exactly we would eat for our 4 day vacation in nature. More on that later…

 

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The kids are now of ages where they can put up the tent by themselves while I organize/read my book. It is bliss.

We arrived much later than I was hoping so part of dinner was prepared by flashlight. Fajitas (sautéed on my new pan. I physically danced when this little lady and her dutch oven sister were delivered to my door.)

Vegan Fajitas

Onions, peppers, garlic, zucchini, squash. Buy the refrigerated tortillas at Costco, they are so good and have only 5 ingredients! We added guac and salsa for obvious reason.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day called for oats with almond milk and honey. Cooked to perfection and overwhelming praise by all. So easy, so delicious.

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Our first hike was up to the National Bridge. I had forgotten my nice camera but remembered my selfie stick so not all hope was lost.

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Even though we live at a camp in the middle of beautiful wilderness, it’s so easy to take for granted just how beautiful nature is. When you’re on a hike with no distractions other than your 5 children playing an adorable game of follow the leader and your husband’s calves flexing in the sexiest way possible-it’s easy to be reminded just how big and beautiful this world is.

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Dailah was often behind the other kids just chatting with Z and me. At one point she turned to me and remarked, “I think I’ve been talking the whole time we’ve been walking mom!” And then carried on before I could give her confirmation to the fact. She may look like her daddy but I suppose there’s a piece of me in there somewhere. 😉

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The lead up to the natural bridge was a teeny tiny staircase. Hiking with Binyam is no different than hiking with other children until we get to cliffs and tiny spaces. He stumbles often in his walking, so every stumble is a little bigger of a risk and my anxiety tends to get a little out of hand. I don’t think he knows I feel this way as I usually overcompensate the fear with effusive love, praise and picture taking.

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The top of the bridge is just gorgeous, both the views and the actual physical bridge.

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I posted this picture on Facebook and the commentors had a great time trying to find Binyam. He’s there, but he blends in perfectly with the foliage.

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Zach taught the kids how to safely get to the side of a cliff to look down and I sat down in the center and shit my pants prayed.

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Tariku was pouting about something or other, I was a safe distance away from the side and Dailah had found a rock to climb. But I loved this shot of Z and 3 of his boys.

I love all things yoga and meditation and when I’m in nature, it always inspires me to move my body in a way that reflects that. Natarajasana (Dancer pose) is one of my favorites because of all of the angles it creates, plus it just feels awesome.

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It could be said that sarcasm is our family’s love language and so when that’s the case, it comes as no surprise to find one son meditating on a rock during the hike and another imitating my love of yoga. I love all the things- their budding senses of humor in particular.

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From the natural bridge we could see another cliff (over Zach’s shoulder in the shot of the two of us) that the kids wanted to check out as well so off we went.

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We didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the night before so we headed back for some lunch/naps.

Lunch was veggie burgers and some grillin’ beans. Zach bought himself 6 cans of these things and I think we ate every one. It is legit the only time we eat baked beans but there is certainly something about the taste the open fire gives them. (Make sure you get the vegetarian/vegan kind. Most have some sort of pork in them so check the label!)

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Zach and Dailah chatting in the hammock during chill time.

Have I mentioned how much more relaxing camping is when your kids can also start fires? This is particularly enjoyable when I have a book that I can’t put down. (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a must read, truly.)

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The next morning I did a tofu scramble for breakfast with a little tofu, garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric, nutritional yeast, spinach and tomatoes. Mmmmm might need to make that tonight…

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That morning we hiked a trail close to our campsite. It was a decently strenuous hike that was much longer and higher than the previous day’s but one that I preferred. Took us over an hour to be able to see the sun through the trees so everything was lush and gorgeous.

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I’m not actually leaning against the tree behind me, this was kind of a tricky pose on the fallen tree. I jumped down and Dailah asked, “Isn’t it so fun to be a kid again?” It is. It really, really is.

We had to descend pretty quickly as we had a kayak/canoe trip down the Red River around lunch. When we got to the campsite I couldn’t help but smile, what a lovely thing it is to be with the ones I love-all of our needs met so simply.

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We were warned by an older couple who took a liking to our kids that the water level was low in the gorge so we might be in for some pulling of our various boats but we Zach decided to soldier on. Dailah wanted in with me and I enthusiastically agreed, forgetting momentarily that when Dailah decides she’s over something there is not a human alive who can talk her into engaging. The first few minutes were pure bliss though.

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We arrived at the water hole with a cliff just perfect for jumping. I’ve had many opportunities to go cliff jumping in my day and I’ve declined each and every invitation for I imagine the same reasons Dailah stopped rowing 5 minutes into our excursion-it just didn’t appeal to me. I’ve never loved heights, nor has anyone accused me of being a risk taker in the traditional sense. I typically like my 2 feet planted firmly on land, thankyouverymuch. But I try really hard to be an ever evolving person, letting go of the things that no longer serve me, and fear of cliff jumping seemed like one of those things I could let go of.

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On the way back, it was decided I would be canoeing home with Binyam (the three bigs all had their own kayak)-which makes the most sense since together we have virtually 0 experience canoeing. Ahem.

You know where this is going…we hit some rapids and when I told Binyam to duck to avoid a tree branch he took that to mean grab on to that branch like your little one precious life depends on it. Next thing I knew, I was ducking to avoid my child and grabbing him down from the tree at the same time while our canoe tipped over. Binyam freaks in the face of most things and so when I stood up the first thing I saw was his big, beautiful eyes peaking out from the water with a look of sheer panic. It took what felt like 42 minutes to convince him to stand up as the water was shallow enough for him to touch. Bless.

It ended up being a really fun 4 hours. We were basically the only people on the water so we could take our time admiring the beauty of the gorge.

Probably one of my favorite parts of camping is sleeping all in one tent. When Zach initially wanted to get into family camping my one condition was that we all sleep together. Oh and air mattress, I wanted to be sleeping on one of those.

Going to sleep and waking up next to the kids is so fun, in particular because our bedroom at home is a child free space. The only time you’ll see a child in our room is if they are 1) sick or 2) sick. And even then, there better be puke somewhere or you can just figure it out on your own. Kidding, kind of. Maybe it’s because I created that sanctuary when my kids were so little that I can now appreciate the moments when we’re all together. Sure I don’t sleep as well because Tomas yells in his sleep and a few others are loud breathers/snorers but I can’t beat waking up to this sight.

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On the way home our van officially hit 80,000 miles. It is 3 years old. You do the math here, there is a lot of love and miles lived in our minivan. I love adventures and if there is one thing I hope my kids take from me it’s that-travel, travel, travel. And pay off your cars as soon as you can so that you never believe there’s risk in getting that mile ticker to go higher.

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Camp!

Last week all 5 of the kiddos went to resident camp here at Camp Eberhart, this marked the first time for Binyam (he’s always just done a week of day camp-coming home every night) and the first time for them all at our new camp. Though they all wanted to go back to Camp Abe Lincoln for a week as well, we just couldn’t make it work this year.

Every summer I try to plan their week of camp towards the end of summer for one main reason: we are positively sick of each other. If I plan their week away too soon after school lets out we are still in the honeymoon stages of summer. All blissed out on late nights and sleeping in. I’ve found a few weeks before school returns is the best time for all of us to send them away for a week. 😉

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It was a little bizarre for me not knowing all of the procedures for drop off and the like at this camp. Having lived at Abe Lincoln for 7 years I knew all of the ins and outs, as well as most of the counselors and all of the staff. I’m not quite there at Eberhart so I got to experience what a first time mom must feel like when dropping her kids off-a little overwhelmed. But because I’ve been there let me tell you-don’t let it stop you. It’s short lived uncomfortableness for a week of (mostly) bliss!

In past years I would often see the kids at least once a day, either walking by our house (at Abe Lincoln our house was in the middle of all camp activity) or at meals. This year I made it a point to stay away all week- I wanted to give them a legit camp experience. Though they saw Zach off and on during the week (hard to avoid when his office is in the main lodge) only Dailah saw me once and that was because she brought two of her friends to our house during their open period. 🙂

Zach and I had an awesome week together, heading to Kalamazoo and Chicago for some quick getaways. I’m so grateful for his new job that allows him to sneak away for a bit during the summer. Other than that one time when we had to go pick up our 2 new sons in Ethiopia for two weeks (!) Zach hasn’t been able to take an hour off any summer, let alone an afternoon or a whole night! Felt a little like playing hooky, which we all know makes everything feel a little more exciting!

The kids had so much fun. Every year I’m reminded why I send them to camp-they come back so mature and so proud of themselves. Remember how you felt the first time you really fled the coop? I remember the first time I came back from college I was walking just a little taller, feeling so much older because I had managed to survive without my parents. I think that’s essentially what camp does for kids. Yes, Trysten wore the same shirt for 6 straight days and Binyam forgot to bring a pillow altogether (one of my rules is that they are responsible for packing their things. I will not bring them anything they’ve forgotten). Yes, Tomas only wore his swimming trunks all week and Tariku lost his voice from all the camp songs and the yelling. It is not what our week would’ve looked like had they been with me but they lived and it only took 3 days for their feet to dislodge all of the dirt.

But more than that the reports from their counselors said things like, “He is a remarkably polite and respectful young man.” “He was so good at including everyone in group activities!” “He has a very amicable and generous personality which made him a joy to be around.” “He was one of the nicest boys I have ever had in my cabin.” “She brought just the perfect amount of joy, friendship and sassiness to the whole cabin!”

I love that. You’ve heard it said that character is what people are doing when no one is watching, right? For kids I think it’s what’s being done when their parents aren’t watching. I’m so proud of them for sticking to their guns even when it would’ve been pretty easy to forget all they’ve learned.

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As a quick aside for adoptive parents…camp can still be a little hard for my babes. Tariku actually picked a fight with me an hour before we dropped him off. Even though I knew it was a defense mechanism it was still really hard to not go for the bait. It’s so much easier for him to say good bye to us for a week if he convinces us all he never loved us anyway. And Tariku is always upset for a few days upon returning home (as evidenced in the above photo). This was the first year he didn’t cry for the first 2 nights home begging to go back to camp. Even Zach said this year that it was hard to see Tariku so loving with the kids and counselors-his arm flung around their shoulders. Looking like the weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Even after 6 years we have to remind ourselves that it might always be this way-life in a family is really hard, life in a group of friends with fewer expectations and fewer emotionally charged memories is WAY. Easier.

That said, every year gets a little bit better. Every year they assimilate a little more back into the family structure and every year I think it helps remind them of their permanency here. So please don’t let that be a reason you don’t send your kids.*

Note: no one pays me to endorse camp. Zach is such a stickler for rules, we even pay for our kids to go (should anyone question who is the better human between the pair of us they need only listen to our conversations about paying for camp. This involves mostly me whining about the cost and the fact that he’s the director maybe they should go for free and him reminding me that it is a non-profit and because we pay camp is able to afford to give a spot to a kid who can’t afford it. Point-Zach.)

*Obviously you know your kids better than I ever will so if attaching isn’t going well at all, probably they aren’t ready for camp.

#2-She who knows how to safely maneuver a boat-wins

#2-She who knows how to safely maneuver a boat-wins

I actually have a really big project I want to do right now (rip up carpet and put down laminate flooring. Perhaps demolish a wall.) but someone-cough, Zach, cough-is doubting my ability to finish such a task. It seems I’ll have to convince him I’m serious about this whole year of Tesi thing before I start on major home improvement makeovers. Lame. 😉

I’ve mentioned it before here but I was basically raised on a boat. My parents have pictures of me as a wee infant riding in the footwell of my parent’s ski boat. Some of my earliest memories are eating cold meat sandwiches in the blazing heat of summer after we convinced my dad to finally stop skiing long enough to allow his 3 children to eat and/or jump in and out of the boat as much as we wanted. I also gained the nickname “chipmeisty” on the boat due to my love of and allegiance to anything fried and salty (that still exists, by the way. I have no control when it comes to trans fats and fried potatoes. Bless.)

Anyone who knows Zach, particularly in the professional arena, can attest to his strict adherence to the “safety first” policy. For those who know him best in the private arena, it can get kind of annoying. 🙂 That said, he had asked me to take the Michigan boater safety course and subsequent exam before driving the boat. Though I reminded him I was basically raised on a boat, he was unwavering in his allegiance to safety. For months I’ve felt a little put off by it, also a little lazy about it. 3 hours of online work? Plus it’s always just been easier to let him drive the boat while I tanned dutifully next to him. Recently he’s reminded me that, had I passed the exam, I could’ve taken the boat out with the kids while he was working. It’s the year of Tesi so it was time.

I just sent this picture to Zach with the caption, “Safety first bitches!!!!”

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So if you need me for the remainder of the summer/early fall I will be here. Because even though the theme for this year could be “taking the bull by the horns” in this case I’m doing that by taking the wheel with an approved PFD.

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The Weekend

The Weekend

I think weekends in Michigan are even more exciting than weekends in Iowa for us. Zach learning the ropes and every detail of his new job combined with the kids and their various activities/new friends + my new job means during the week I feel like we are all moving in various directions. Weekends allow us to come back together and reconnect. Holiday weekends even more so. And this weekend was absolutely beautiful.

Friday night Trysten and Dailah had sleepovers to go to so we got to spend some quality time with our other 3. This never happens. I loved getting to spend so much time with them, especially Tariku. We chatted about all the things and then we read funny cat and dog memes on Pinterest for about an hour. We also tried to take a selfie but since I don’t really know how it only kind of worked.

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This weekend was Family Camp at Camp Eberhart. It was so cool to see over 100 people hanging out at camp. Some families had multiple generations included in the fun so watching grandparents dote on their grandchildren was particularly special. I genuinely believe camp is the perfect place to reconnect. Instead of TVs and video games there are various forms of team building activities and relaxing beach time. I can’t recommend family camp enough-find one in your area and do it!! Saturday morning we shot some bows and arrows, made some tie dyed t-shirts and hung out by the beach. Zach’s dad ended up coming into town (yay!) for the weekend so we basically just kept the kids busy until he got there lest they ask every minute where he was. 🙂

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I had scheduled a little yoga retreat in Chicago months ago. Mostly it was a chance to hang with my bestie Chrissy but it was also a chance to learn new and exciting moves for my yoga practice. Rachel Brathen (yoga_girl if you’re on Instagram. Follow her! Not only are her yoga pictures beautiful but she always writes beautiful insights as well) led the workshop and was just as wonderful as I imagined. Her fiancé also came and watching the two of them together made me so happy. Witnessing new love is one of my favorite things in life.

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I think one of my favorite parts about my short 24 hours in Chicago was realizing how far I’ve come on my journey into mindfulness and self acceptance. As with any fitness/yoga workshop there were all kinds of men and women there. I think in past years I would’ve been so consumed with where I stacked compared to everyone else. I think I would’ve been too preoccupied  jealous, intimidated by those who were further along in their journey to really appreciate and accept where I am on my own. But there I was. Sweating and cussing and laughing. Handstanding and falling. Appreciating the feedback of Rachel and ending the workshop holding Chrissy’s hand and saying a little prayer of gratitude that my body can do all that is does and that my heart is open to new experiences and new people in the way that it is.

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Upon my return to Michigan I was greeted by excited children, a jazzed Zach (meeting new people and talking Camp makes for an excitable-and supremely attractive-Zach) and a tired Papa Frank (5 kids all wanting your undivided attention is exhausting-trust). But what a great Papa, right?

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And yesterday was more of the same. This time shooting rifles. Please, somebody, find something this kid isn’t immediately great at.

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And boating!!!! I love boating!! We all took our turns on the banana boat and I laughed so hard my abs are sore today. It’s my favorite kind of soreness.

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The afternoon was relaxed and wonderful. Zach took Hagrid stand up paddle boarding (full disclosure: Hagrid and I do this every day and we are just as adorable as you are picturing in your head right now). Trysten chose kayaking. Because Zach is the best when I looked out after about 30 minutes I found the two of them just laying down on their various water toys and talking.

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Fishing. Not my favorite past time but the kids will try anything and I happen to love that about them.

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I hope you guys had a wonderful weekend! Today you can smile because it’s already Tuesday!!! 🙂

Official Michigander

My whole life (except for a short, 1-year stint as a South Dakotan) I’ve been an Iowan. How weird to now call myself a Michigander.

We’ve lived here for just over a week now and I do believe we are settling in quite nicely. The kids started school a week ago today and are absolutely in love. They love their teachers, their new school and have made more friends than I could’ve hoped for in a week. That was my biggest prayer as their mama. Friends, please let them make friends! We were so pleased to discover one of Trysten’s friends lives directly across from our house on the lake. Doubly pleased to learn he has a sister in Dailah’s class! On Saturday that friend rowed his sister on over so they could play with our kids.

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There are many terrible ways people could describe me that would be true but “lazy” is not really one of them. (Although my marathon of The Walking Dead today might disagree). I can thank my parents-the hardest working people in the world-for teaching me to just keep working no matter how tired when there are things to be done. Thus the house is unpacked, the whole top floor is freshly painted and we even have our pictures hanging on the wall! 🙂

Can I just tell you that Zach has been the most amazing? He’s working really long hours and then still comes home to finish painting the top part of rooms or hang this or that. I have no doubt that if you were to ask him lately he would tell you he really hates that my love language is “acts of service” but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at him. What kind of man does something he hates for hours on end and asks to take a break only to go shoot hoops with his sons? That would be mine. Lucky, lucky lady.

As for me, I’m admittedly a little sad. I miss my friends. I miss my job. I miss knowing exactly where to go to get everything we need and who to call if I wasn’t sure. I miss having a bathroom that I didn’t have to share with some of my kids. 😉

But we’re doing it, you know? I’m so proud of all of us for putting ourselves out there and finding happiness in even the most mundane events. That’s what it takes right? To start to make a foreign place home? Find little bits of happiness whenever or wherever they come?

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