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!

IMG_5690

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.

IMG_5366

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.”

IMG_5705

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!”

IMG_6179

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.

IMG_5359

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.

IMG_5362

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.

IMG_5664

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.

IMG_6368

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.

Advertisements
Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include depravation or hours in the gym.

Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include depravation or hours in the gym.

As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I get excited for January. Every year I see new faces and meet great new people excited about taking their health into their own hands. The energy in the gym is palpable, even the annoyance of the veteran gym goers can’t overpower it.

And then April comes, or sometimes even March and the energy has died. Most of the January rush has disappeared with only a few strong willed health seekers continuing on. On social media my new clients or participants in my classes have gone from posting their accomplishments in the gym or in the kitchen to posting pictures of their nightly cocktail or their Netflix binge.

Having been in the industry for well over a decade none of this surprises me. Even in high school and college when I didn’t know any of this academically but just had a legit metabolism and participated in year ’round sports, I would have friends come to me for advice on how to get active and lose weight. I’ve wrestled with getting healthy, eating healthy and losing weight just like everyone else on planet Earth it seems so some of this advice is stuff I’ve learned personally and others are what I’ve observed from being in the fitness industry.

So here are some secrets to getting healthy in the new year. Some of these you’ve heard and some of these you haven’t because personal trainers keep them to themselves unless you pay the premium to work with us. None of these tips will seem like rocket science and that’s because finding health that’s sustainable is actually not rocket science (training for a fitness competition-rocket science. Training for professional sports-rocket science. Learning how to find and sustain a healthy weight-NOT rocket science.) So here you go. Accept these with the no judgement and no expectations with which they were written.

  1. Learn self love. There’s a reason this is #1 y’all. If you’re starting the new year in the gym because you hate your belly or you hate your flabby arms you will never, ever, ever make it to April. Very few people hate parts of their bodies enough to push through the pain and discomfort that comes with a new exercise routine. If, however, you are starting the new year in the gym because you realize your life is worth more than getting winded going up stairs or sitting on the couch while your kids play basketball outside-you will stick with it. I promise. This rule might require you seeing a therapist or developing a daily journal reminding you of what you mean to the world but it’s essential if you want to genuinely find health in the new year. Even if I don’t know you personally I’m here to tell you that you are loved beyond reason. And that anytime spent exercising or cooking healthier foods is not selfish. I can guarantee you, your family will get more from you when you feel good mind, body and spirit than when you don’t. You are worth it, promise.
  2. Develop a mindfulness routine. I’ve already lost some of you, right? I don’t mean this has to involve you sitting on a meditation pillow for 20 minutes in the morning (but take it from me-that’s the very best way to start your day!) This can be taking 2 minutes while your coffee is made to just sit in silence and breathe. You don’t have to chant or block out mental distractions if you don’t want to but just become aware of your breath for a few minutes. Try to do it first thing in the morning otherwise it’ll continue to be pushed back to make room for seemingly more pressing to-do items. How does this little few minutes make you healthier? It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, boost immune function, decrease pain and decrease inflammation at the cellular level, amongst many other reasons. Go here for some of the studies. The biggest thing that has come from my meditation practice is compassion for myself and for those around me. Remember #1? Meditation has been the biggest thing to teach me how to do #1 relatively effortlessly. Try it. (If you’re looking for help, try the app Headspace. It’s a 10 minute daily practice but I love the guy’s voice and his direct approach to mindfulness.)
  3. Eat more fiber. Want to lose weight? There you go. This is a little secret I usually reserve for clients. There has been some push back on the benefits of fiber but for me the proof is in the pudding-or in this case-the weight loss. All of my clients who make a pointed effort to incorporate more fiber in their diets lose more weight than the ones who don’t make such a concerted effort. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut in a way that carbs, proteins and fats can’t because they are absorbed by the bloodstream before making it to the large intestines. Changing gut flora is a big deal, one in which I’ll go into next, but for now focus on fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is where you’ll find your fiber. Try to go by the 1, 2, 3 rule if you can. 1 fruit and veg for breakfast, 2 for lunch and 3 for dinner. Most days I add a few for my morning and evening snack just for good measure.
  4. Gut flora. Perhaps the least sexiest thing to discuss when talking about weight loss and health for the new year but more and more science is coming out on this so it’s got me all kinds of excited. First, I want to urge you to listen to this podcast about gut flora with Doctor Robynne Chutkan, MD. Or check out her book at your local library. There was a study that took the feces from an overweight mouse and deposited it in a normal weight mouse and vice versa. Changing nothing else, the overweight mouse became normal weight and the normal weight mouse became overweight. Why? The gut flora. You may think that your brain controls your sugar cravings and your salt cravings but science proves it’s actually your gut flora. If you want to lose weight-you need to start with changing that. How do you do it? By feeding the gut flora nutrient dense foods as often as you can. The more you feed it healthy, nutrient rich foods the more it craves those and not foods that are bad for you. This doesn’t require you to stop eating sugar or salty foods altogether-though that would make the gut flora change quicker to be sure-this just requires small adjustments on your plate. A quick personal note: I used to be a huge sugar addict. Since learning about the gut flora and making small adjustments to our meals-I no longer crave the stuff at all. And since I cook the majority of the meals, that means I’ve changed the gut flora in my kids and guess what? We made batches and batches of cookies and breads for Christmas and I currently have a few bags left in the pantry as well as chocolates people had gifted to us. My kids don’t even ask for it. Gut flora may be unsexy to talk about but their ain’t nothin sexier than healthy gut flora. You heard it here first.
  5. Move. If your goal is to get a six pack and deltoids like LeBron it’s going to require more movement than if your goal is to get down to a healthy weight and be able to play with your kids on the regular. Let’s first address movement for health. Start with walking 15 minutes every day. I live in Michigan where the temps can get down to single digits so I understand how you might think this isn’t possible. Well it is. Bundle up and do it. Make it a family event and go after dinner to stimulate digestion. Also, stop making your house so convenient. If you’re enjoying coffee on the porch or at the table, don’t bring the pot to you. Make yourself get up to grab another cup. Same thing for dinner. Don’t bring everything to the table where you can help yourselves to seconds and thirds, keep it at the stove so that you have to physically get up. This small act can be enough to make you realize you aren’t actually hungry for another round. The reason so many of the fitness trackers (FitBit, Jawbone, etc) have a programmable alarm to remind you to get up is because it’s been proven that the people who live the longest just move more. Most of the time these people aren’t doing any kind of exercise routine but they live in areas that require them to get up and out to the garden to bring in their meals. They’ve de-covienienced their lives. We Americans could take a lessen from them.
  6. Find a workout that you like doing. This is for those of you who might want to find some kind of muscle definition in 2016. I’ve put this at 6 because if you don’t do the previous 5, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any abs or triceps by the end of 2016. Harsh? Maybe. But if you’ve ever had me as a trainer, a friend, a partner or a mother you know that I’m not great at holding back knowledge when you’ve come to me for advice. You will read articles in the coming weeks that tell you CrossFit is the only way to get fit in 2016, you will also read articles that tell you that running will be the key to unveiling the abs you’ve always desired. You have heard me go on and on about Les Mills fitness classes and how they’ve gotten me in the best shape of my life (which is true). None of that matters if you don’t like doing it. Les Mills classes have gotten me in the best shape of my life because I freaking love doing them. I love the music, I love the moves and I love the people I’ve met through the classes who do them all the time too. This is why CrossFit works for some folks and why people will talk your ear off about their run group. But do not listen to anyone. You need to find what works for you which means trying everything under the damn sun. Spend a little money and time to discover it. And give them time, a few weeks a least to grow on you. You’ll need to push past the soreness and the awkwardness that comes with developing muscle memory to be able to actually gauge if you like the activity or not. NOTHING will be 100% fun at first because it will probably hurt and be too confusing initially. Give yourself a little grace and get back in the saddle as quickly as possible. Once you find what you love doing, stopping no longer really feels like an option.
  7. Be patient. For God’s sake be patient. Nothing is harder to hear than “I don’t think it’s working, I haven’t seen results.” after 2 weeks of trying something. You guys, it can take 8-12 weeks. You might feel your jeans loosen by week 2 or get a few comments by week 3 but for the real “ah ha” kind of physical results, settle in for a grip. Here’s what I want you to do differently in 2016 than you ever have before. Notice how you feel. You will feel differently right away. The first day you feed your body nourishing foods instead of pre-packaged shit you will feel so good. Check your energy levels, do you notice how easily you got up and out of bed? Notice how much easier it was to go to sleep? What’s going on with your poop? Yup, check that too. Maybe you’ll notice your constipation is gone and your BMs take that ever-lusted after S shape. Good on ya buddy, that right there is results. This is another secret to sustainable weight loss and health-if you can start to feel good mentally and emotionally, the physical takes care of itself. Why? Because you have the energy to try new things and for longer. Plus, you start to notice that when you don’t exercise or move-you feel pretty dumpy mentally too. Once you’ve hooked into that mind/body connection you are good as gold. Welcome to the healthiest you have ever been.
  8. Stare at yourself in the mirror. Naked. The first time I told a client to do this she started crying. She told me that it was her very worst nightmare. And look, I get it. I spent far too many years avoiding the mirror myself. But you know when you’re laying in bed and have this weird fear that you left the door unlocked and are convinced someone is going to come in and do something terrible to your family? You know how if you continue to stay in bed because the sheets are warm and it’s bedtime how you can’t go to sleep because you convince yourself it’s legit going to happen and then you’re going to never forgive yourself because you knew it and did nothing to stop it? But if you go and check the door you’ll realize that 1) it’s locked or 2) it’s not locked but hasn’t been all week and you’ve all been just fine. It’s the same with the mirror. You need to just face the music, sister. I promise if you do you’ll notice your belly isn’t nearly as big as you imagined it was in your head. You’ll also probably notice your breasts are quite beautiful and that you actually have a pretty well defined quad. So just do it today after your shower. Take 5 minutes to just check every inch of you out. I will no longer allow you to be your own monster lurking in the corner. If you tell me you want to lose belly fat I want you to be able to describe in vivid detail what your belly looks like because if you don’t know then you’re just running from the imaginary monster. Running from anything won’t get you the health you seek, running towards something will. So instead of losing fat around our triceps we are going to chase arms that allow us to throw up our grandkids when we’re well into our 60s. Instead of losing weight in your thighs so that they stop rubbing together (thighs are meant to rub together. Just enough already with that nonsense.) we’re going to chase legs that have us going on hikes or walking the streets of Paris for hours without complaint. We’re going to face who we are head on so that we can have a better picture of what we actually want to change and not what we think needs to change just because we’ve been too scared to look.
  9. Stop dieting. I have no earthly understanding of why we are still doing this when every bit of science and anecdotal evidence proves it does nothing in the way of sustainable health and weight loss. Here’s what you do instead: throw away all the shit in your cupboards. Commit to not buying chips, cookies or processed food for 1 week. Your kids do not need macaroni and cheese. Your kids do not need chicken nuggets. There is not a human on earth who needs that so just get rid of it. Buy bread for sandwiches (Ezekiel bread is my personal recommendation. My kids eat it too. Don’t make excuses for your kids. Have them eat it and change their gut flora too. Soon enough they won’t like the sugary, processed breads they were used to eating. Promise.) and as much fruit as you possible can fit in your cart. This way when you’re tempted for something quick and easy the only thing at your disposal is fruit and sandwiches. Once you’ve successfully made it to one week without processed foods in the house stretch it to two weeks and so on. I don’t care how dedicated you are-we all have days when we’ve been working, the kids are crazy and we’ve been fighting with our spouse and the last thing we want to do is cook a healthy, nutritious meal for us all so we throw in a few frozen pizzas and call it a day. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy it makes you human. If you don’t have access to frozen pizzas, however, you have no choice but to make something healthier. Want to know what I do? I make large batches of rice and quinoa and keep them in the fridge. On days when I have 0 effs to give I make it a “Chipotle” night and throw some black beans in a pan and some cilantro in the rice. I grab our salsa and guacamole and done. It takes me all of 4 minutes which if you’re keeping track is actually quicker than frozen pizzas anyway. Don’t buy the crap food and you can’t eat the crap food. See? Not rocket science.
  10. Make the commitment for your whole family. Here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my time as a personal trainer-I can tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll reach your goals or not with one question- I ask how your family feels about you getting healthier. If the significant other “is supportive but wants no part of it him/herself” Nope. If the kids “will keep eating what they always do and I’ll make myself the healthier meals.” Nope. I don’t know how else to say this-if getting healthier is important to you this year then you need to make it important to your significant others as well. Because otherwise no matter how sweet, caring and kind your family is they will end up becoming saboteurs. They will take a family vote one night and go out for pizza. And then the night after that they’ll all decide that what you cooked just wasn’t enough and they’ll go out for ice cream. This doesn’t make them terrible people, it makes them human. But I know you, mama, because you are me and I am you. You want your kids to outlive you and you want to be doing fun and adventurous stuff with your husband well into your 80s. You cannot do that if you’re all unhealthy. Oh. Heartbreaking words to hear. But true words. So have a family meeting or sit down with your husband. Don’t make the conversation about weight because who gives an eff about the weight on your scale. Tell them your goals for the future and ask them theirs. Really evaluate if those are possible with the way you’re currently going. If they are-awesome, if not-time to change as a family. This generation of kids is the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parent’s generation because of obesity. What a horrifying truth. You getting healthy isn’t selfish anymore-it’s a gift to your family and to your friends. We can do hard things. And for our families? We can do seemingly impossible things. I believe in you.
  11. Engulf yourself in the health and wellness community. Don’t buy Shape magazine or any magazine that even hints that your self worth is at all tied to your waistline. Instead invest in magazines and books that encourage you to learn more about your passion or your mindfulness practice. My husband is obsessed with Outside magazine. He went on his own health journey in 2015 and I’m so proud of him. His excitement about Outside magazine is one of the things to which I attribute his success. There are so many great articles on movement and health in general that have peaked his curiosity and led him to try new and different ways of getting healthy. I’m a big podcast listener and I’ve found that when I’m feeling “eh” about eating healthy or exercising, listening to one of my health and wellness podcasts always re-inspires me. The reason I like magazines is because it’s a monthly dose of inspiration that often comes just when you need it. Most libraries have a decent amount of magazines you can peruse before you commit to the monthly subscription so try a few out first. Or even better, once you’ve found the workout that’s got you feeling some kind of way-google “magazines great for runners, weight lifters, cyclers, dancers”, etc and go from there. Even though my day job is literally to exercise, I still have days or weeks that I just don’t feel up to it-cough, all of November-cough. Immersing myself in these knowledge-based communities is easily the best way to re-invigorate me.
  12. Don’t wait until you find a “workout buddy” to start. I guarantee this is a piece of advice you will hear every day for the next few months but I’ve found it to be wholly untrue. Here’s more typically what happens: a few women or men come to the gym together. Typically one is more passionate about being there than the other. After a few weeks, the less passionate one stops coming and a few weeks after that so does the one who was so ready for a change. Here’s what you do instead: just begin. If you’re joining a new gym just head on into that weight room or group fitness room. If you’re wanting to try running, try joining an already established running group. Every run group I know has runners from novice to expert so you won’t be the only newbie. Instead of starting with a gym buddy, just start! Your workout buddy will be found when you are doing what you love doing. They will hold you accountable and be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The people you find once you’ve already started are also already committed so you won’t have to be convincing yourself and your best friend. This way you can just focus on you-the rest takes care of itself. I just did some quick math in my head and realized that every great friend I’ve made after college has been made in the gym. There might be a few exceptions to that but not many. We aren’t some hulking, roided out group of protein shakin women-we come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. You will find your people when you start to get healthy. And they will be awesome. Just like you.

A quick hard truth about your health journey-not all of your friends or family members are going to be supportive. Man, this is tough. If you continue to allow negative thought patterns and negative friends to have a say in your life your life will be exactly the same as it is now. This doesn’t mean you have to write nasty notes or say hurtful things to any friends that don’t support you. The further you get in your journey, the more you will see there’s nothing wrong with them, they are just at a different place. If you are serious about your health, make sure you evaluate who you are letting into your heart space just as much as you are evaluating what you are letting onto your plate. It can have an even bigger impact so this little piece is a vital step. It’s a hard step and will feel impossible at times. But anyone who doesn’t embrace, support and encourage you when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday just isn’t ready to handle your light. Find the ones who are wielding their own light instead of hiding in the darkness, they’ll be the ones who will celebrate your success and remind you that your failures don’t define you. That’s exactly what you need always, but now even more so.

I come to you as someone who vividly remembers being unhealthy and unmotivated. I can’t believe how much better of a mom, wife, friend and human I am when I’m healthy (still acknowledging I muck it up on the daily). At times I’ve been fit enough to see my abs and quads but I can tell you honestly that it didn’t make me any happier than I am when I’m simply at a healthy weight eating healthy food and associating with positive people. I totally get it if your goal is shredded arms but my hope is that you hook into health first. Because being in the fitness industry I’ve seen my fair share of shredded arms and abs on people who are just unhappy and unhealthy.

My wish for you in 2016 is that you find that sweet spot where you like how you look in your jeans but you love how you feel even more. Get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to give you that initial “You can do it!” Because you can, and you will. I totally believe in you.

Les Mills Bodystep 100 release. Fitness, health, wellness.

Pic taken after a particularly fun sweat sesh with some of my Phoenix Fitness friends.

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.

IMG_1345

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.

IMG_1358

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.

IMG_1410

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.

IMG_1459

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. 😉

IMG_1520

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. 🙂

IMG_1550

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!)

IMG_1564_2

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.

IMG_1650

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.

IMG_1980

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.

IMG_1959

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

IMG_0063

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. 😉

IMG_2357

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.

IMG_2737

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.

IMG_2361

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.

IMG_2477

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

IMG_2777

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.

IMG_2605

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.

IMG_2691

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.

IMG_2704

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!

IMG_2840

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.

IMG_2907

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.

IMG_2926

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

IMG_2962

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

IMG_2998

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 😉

IMG_9927

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.

IMG_3037

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.

IMG_3077

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.

IMG_3182

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.

IMG_3365

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.

IMG_3612

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.

IMG_3678

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.

11695951_10154133996664972_4597725284840763421_n

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.

IMG_3686

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

IMG_3690

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.

IMG_3735

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.

IMG_3799

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.

IMG_3840

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

IMG_3927

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.

IMG_4065

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.

IMG_4147

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.

IMG_4254

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.

IMG_4215

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.

IMG_4287

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.

IMG_0225

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.

IMG_4308

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.

IMG_4336

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!

IMG_4381

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.

IMG_4490

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.

IMG_4671

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…

IMG_4700

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.

IMG_4710

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.

IMG_4811

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.

IMG_5032

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

IMG_0437

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

IMG_5088

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!

IMG_5117

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.

IMG_5138

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.

IMG_5150

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.

IMG_5203

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.

IMG_5206

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.

IMG_5250

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.

IMG_5265

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.

IMG_5333

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?

IMG_5043

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

Tesi

Ethiopia Trip-the Logistics

When I was trying to organize our big trip to Ethiopia I found great resources in the online groups I mentioned previously, as well as with friends who had done similar trips before. Planning a trip like this can be overwhelming and I found even with the resources I had, there were still some big question marks that left me feeling anxious even as we arrived in Ethiopia. In this post I hope to go over the (sometimes boring) logistics for those of you interested in planning a family trip. I’m also going to go into money spent while in country because that was the hardest thing for me to budget. No one could give me a good idea on how much they spent for food, drinks or lodging but have no fear! I kept track of every dollar spent so that you have a better idea for your trip.

This trip we flew Qatar Airlines. For the two trips prior we flew Delta/KLM and both Zach and I agreed Qatar featured nicer planes and more comfortable seats. Around January of 2015 I made myself a Google Alert to notify me of any flash airline sales flying to Ethiopia. In March I was notified of Qatar offering a flight from Chicago to Ethiopia for just $700/person. Having spent roughly $1500/person for both previous trips I jumped at the chance to cut the ticket price in half. There’s my first piece of advice-get yourself some Google Alerts! We saved around $6,000 because we were flexible with our travel dates and we waited until there were flash sales. 

Visas. My understanding is that you can get them before your trip and they last 2 years for $70/each or you can get them at the airport for $50/each and they last for just your current trip. We chose the latter and it worked just fine. If you’re doing the math that is $350 we spent in visas. They will take Ethiopian Birr or USD but there was no one at the window to exchange money so we ended up just paying in USD. Also important: make sure you have the address and phone number of where you will be staying in Addis handy as you will need that when going through the Visa process.

If you do fly Qatar know that they will usher you out of the Domestic side of the airport. We found out it was because most Ethiopians fly Qatar so they both load and unload all flights for that airline through the domestic instead of international. This is important information! We landed a little after 1am local time and could not find our driver anywhere. Dailah was crying, Zach and I were freaking out a little bit because there was not an english speaker to be seen. We finally found another english speaker with a phone and called our hotel to ask about the driver we had arranged for an airport pick up. The driver had been on the international side of the airport the whole time. So if you are flying Qatar and are arranging an airport pick up, make sure you tell them you will most likely be coming out of the domestic terminal.

IMG_4844

Interestingly, the difference in the domestic and international is HUGE! Our return flight left at 2am so we got to the airport about 9pm just to allow our driver the chance to see his family and to ensure we had plenty of time to find where we were going. On our previous trips we enjoyed surprising luxury at the Addis Ababa airport but when leaving from the domestic side it’s a totally different story. The bathrooms are less international and more like what you will find throughout Ethiopia. They treated the Ethiopians rather terribly, making them squish into tiny spaces to make room for diplomats or forenji like us. Even when we were waiting at the terminal, the services were so far below what they were in past trips it was shocking. None of this is bad enough to avoid Qatar but if you were planning on waiting to buy trinkets at the airport you will be totally out of luck.

Our first night we stayed at Wellspring Guesthouse. It was a beautiful house with top of the line accommodations. We were able to stay in one large room that had a queen bed, 2 bunk beds and a cot. It also had a large bathroom and large closet space. It was by far the nicest place we’ve stayed while in Addis Ababa. We pulled into the guesthouse at around 2am but had to pay for that night as well as the next. For our large room it was $190/night. Considerably more than we had ever paid for a room in Ethiopia, actually in America as well. 😉 The breakfasts were delicious and the owners were friendly. There was also a decent amount of room to play soccer in the gated courtyard in the front of the guesthouse.

At checkout they did charge us for the airport pick up even though I had thought I arranged that with no additional fee. We were already going to be paying a driver for that day so had I known they were going to charge us $40 for an airport pick up I would’ve just arranged for our driver to pick us up instead. Next piece of advice: just get it all in writing. Make sure you understand what you are and aren’t paying for, this includes water set out in your room, etc. If you have all the money in the world to throw at the trip then you can avoid that little nugget of wisdom but if you don’t-it will save you so much stress and hassle.

IMG_0445 IMG_0446

After getting some sleep and eating breakfast, our driver Solomon (more on him later) picked us up for a day around Addis. I hadn’t done much planning of what I wanted to do I just knew that I wanted to have it be pretty laid back to ease us into the new time zone. I told Solomon the only thing for sure I wanted to do was go to the National Museum and he took charge from there. It was so great to have him plan the rest of the day.

He first took us to exchange some of our USD to Ethiopian Birr. There is a good chance your driver will know of a place to get a better exchange rate than the average bank so I would encourage you to ask for that! Solomon found us a place that exchanged at a rate of 1 to 23 instead of the 1 to 20 at banks. It may seem like a small difference but when talking about the amount of money you’ll spend on the trip it really helps!

Our trip to the Museum was our best one yet. They’ve upgraded it since the last time we were there so it was far more educational for the kids. Solomon arranged for us to have a guide who was so great. For $5 he took us through the whole museum explaining things in really vivid detail. Other than Trysten who was pretty much sleeping while walking, the kids were captivated by the history of Ethiopia. In total it was just $10 for all of us to go to the museum and to have the guide-this is a must do in my opinion!

IMG_0423

20151108_023508

20151108_024011

We then went to a local zoo. Though it cost just $3 for all 7 of us, this is something I wouldn’t recommend. We are clearly pretty big animal lovers so I’m not a huge fan of zoos anyway but this was the saddest zoo I have ever seen. There were maybe 10 animals total, all of them looking old and unhealthy. This was also a place the kids felt the most uncomfortable as there were a lot of locals that just stared at my kids instead of the animals. Because it was so crowded my kids were often petted and and touched in a way that wasn’t as common the rest of the trip. It did kill time for the day but in the end I would avoid it.

IMG_0427

Solomon then took us to the Lucy Restaurant next to the museum. It was a nice restaurant with authentic Ethiopian food. It was almost exclusively foreigners who were dining there, a common theme for the places Solomon took us to eat. Because this was our first restaurant in the country we had no clue how much food to order so we each ordered an entree. We made that mistake a few more times before realizing the 7 of us needed only to order about 3 entrees. We are all really big eaters (when I’m making a meal at home that says it can feed 12 I double it and rarely have leftovers. We just really, really love food y’all) but injera has a way of expanding to fit the size of your stomach really quickly. There’s not really refrigeration readily available so there’s no point in leftovers and I have a thing about throwing away food so if you do too I would order less-knowing you’ll always be able to order more if you still have hungry kiddos. Helpful tip: order less than you would in an American restaurant and enjoy passing the food between the group!

We then went to the top of the Entoto Mountains. It was incredibly beautiful! This was another of Solomon’s ideas and I’m so glad we went with it. Make sure you have your driver take you. Great photo opps and fun climbing areas. There’s also ample opportunity to race up the mountain as long as you’re mentally prepared to watch as cars fly far too close to your babies during the race.

IMG_0437 IMG_0443

We had Solomon drop us for a little siesta after that. Within minutes all 5 kids were snoring loudly in their beds. I would recommend carving out a little time for a nap the first few days, especially if you have kids around the ages of mine (9-12) as they are too told to typically fall asleep in the car or on laps but sometimes have a harder time coping with jet lag because their bodies are so programmed to sleep at certain times, eat at certain times and the like.

20151108_001427

For dinner I wanted to go to a traditional restaurant so the kids could see the dancing and traditional clothes and listen to traditional music. Solomon took us to 2000 Habesha. We had been to two different places the previous two trips and they all kind of run together in my mind. I think you really can’t go wrong with traditional restaurants so if I were to do it again I would ask Solomon to take us to one less expensive. I remember when we went 5 years ago (I know it was 5 years and there’s little things like inflation, but still) Zach and I paid for the two of us, a bottle of wine, a few beers and 4 of the drivers who all had meals and a few rounds of Cokes. Our total then was $35. This time for all 7 of us it ended up being $150! It was still worth it, the kids had a blast and the food/dancing/music was wonderful! I highly recommend doing the traditional restaurant thing for your kiddos but be prepared for that price at the 2000 Habesha.

20151108_203120 IMG_0450

The next morning we ate breakfast at Wellspring (free with your stay) and were off to Hosanna. Most drivers will charge you a flat rate for their driving and then have you pay for their gas as well. To fill up Solomon’s van that fit all of us and could off-road like you wouldn’t believe it cost around $45 to fill up the tank. We had him drive us from Sunday-Saturday, driving all over the South of Ethiopia which required just 2.5 tanks of gas. Totally worth the $115.

In Hosanna we stayed at the Lemma International Hotel. There is a new hotel in Hosanna called the Shembelala that I’ve heard good things about. The Lemma: there’s a reason there’s a hashtag created just for this hotel. #lemtastic is perhaps the most ironic hashtag that ever was. The rooms are tiny, requiring a family our size to rent 3. Zach and I were in one with a queen bed, Trysten and Binyam took one with 2 twin beds and the other 3 decided to squeeze on one queen bed as well. The price of room varies depending on where it’s at in the hotel as well as which kind of bedding configuration but we spent 3 nights total at the Lemma and paid $190 for all 3 nights (if you’re paying attention you’ll notice that was exactly what we paid for one night at Wellspring-there is no doubt the Lemma is a steal!) Unfortunately you get what you pay for with the Lemma. 2 of our toilets didn’t flush at all which required moving rooms a few times. They also never cleaned the rooms the 3 days we were there. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem but the Lemma is where I got really sick (and Trysten dealt with a small bout of sickness as well) so we could’ve used clean towels and bedding and flushing toilets. I did ask for them repeatedly but was never brought any.

I’m not sure of the prices of the Shembelala compared to Lemma but if we were to do it again Zach and I both agreed we would probably book the Shembelala. We are outdoorsy, rarely wash our hands kind of hippies and yet we were all a little overwhelmed by the Lemma. If it’s possible to budget for a little more money spent at hotels I would say splurge a little on the Shembelala, if nothing else their bedding is certainly newer than at the Lemma and that little difference would’ve felt like luxury. *It does need to be said that I was feverish and ill all 3 days that we were there so I’m not sure I have the necessary perspective. I don’t want this to come across as whiny so take all of that with a delirious grain of salt.*

I chose the Lemma because I heard their food was really delicious. I wonder if maybe they weren’t just having an off week because even though I don’t have picky eaters, no one was impressed with the food. We tried almost everything on the menu and were only blown away by two of their traditional meals. I do want to point out that most of us are either vegan/vegetarian so we didn’t try all the meat dishes-I chalked up our lack of enthusiasm for the food to the Lemma staff’s focus on the meat dishes. 🙂 That said, you can’t beat the prices for their meals. On average a meal for all 7 of us ran us around $15.

IMG_0684

It does need to be said the Lemma’s coffee and macchiatos are second to none. If you stay at the Shembelala make sure you make it over to the Lemma for coffee!

IMG_4856

While in Hosanna we used the services of a friend of ours that has delivered correspondence from us to our special people for the last 7 years. If you’re looking for something similar leave a comment or shoot me an email and I can put you in touch with him. Zach and I both agreed his service was worth the fee and we can’t imagine ever going back to Ethiopia if he’s not able to be with us when we visit our special people. He has done such good work building trust with the locals so they will often tell him things they maybe didn’t mention during the adoption process or had previously not told for fear of stigma. A translator who can be trusted by both birth families and adoptive families alike is one area you don’t want to cut financial corners!

After our incredible time in Hosanna and surrounding communities we were off to Lake Hawassa and the Lewi Hotel & Resort. Many of my friends recommended finding a place at the end of our trip to unwind and process. I am so glad they did! There is another great resort along Lake Hawassa that was a little nicer (we went to compare) but cost a bit more as well and didn’t include unlimited pool access. The Lewi was just perfect for our needs. We got two rooms that were attached. Our room had a pretty rockin’ circle bed, a huge living room and nice bathroom. The adjoining room had a bathroom with a jaccuzi tub as well as 2 queen beds.

IMG_0783 IMG_0784 IMG_0786

At the Lewi you can choose from a variety of options. Bed and breakfast, Bed, breakfast and unlimited pool access or all inclusive. They have a workout room, miniature golf, and ping pong tables as part of the all inclusive package. We chose to just do the bed, breakfast and unlimited pool access which ran us $145/night. The rooms at the Lewi were the nicest we stayed in and the service was terrific. I highly recommend the resort!

We ate the rest of our meals at the Lewi as well, each one averaged around $35 for all of us. The food was really, really good! Meals did take longer to prepare so make sure you go before you feel really hungry. We made that mistake the first night and after an hour of waiting for our food we begged the waiter for some bread to tide the kids over. It was no problem after that since we knew to account for extra time.

20151112_182455 20151112_182520

Solomon ended up taking us to the Hawassa fish market. We were skeptical at first due to the whole being vegan issue but Solomon had yet to disappoint us so we went anyway. It cost $7 for us to enter. We went later in the day so the frenzy of a typical fish market had died down but it ended up being a really fun trip. Solomon encouraged us to try a fish that was prepared before us with a spice blend that was common in the area. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe it. If you find yourself near the fish market please go! We also got to see Ethiopian volleyball, storks and the fishermen preparing their nets for the next day. Plus it was just gorgeous.

20151113_101154 20151113_101423 20151113_102135 20151113_103318

While at the Lewi we actually only ended up swimming twice. The weather was warm but not hot so it wasn’t as big of a draw as it would’ve normally been. All things considered, we were really glad we got that as part of the package because our kids are big swimmers and made the most out of it. We were also glad we didn’t do the whole all inclusive package. We tried asking how much it would cost to just play mini golf or just allow the kids to play a game of pool. The prices ran the gamut from $1 each kid to $5/minute depending on who you would ask. Other than mini golf we probably wouldn’t have used any of the rest of it so unless you’re planning on spending your entire days at the resort without venturing out into the city, I don’t see any reason you would need to buy the complete package.

20151112_153011IMG_0796

Another reason I just don’t see the need to buy the full package is because of the monkeys! My kids spent more time feeding, playing with and obsessing over the monkeys than they did in the pool and rightfully so! They were incredibly adorable and could get playful or even downright nasty if you tried to withhold food.

20151112_170625_001 20151113_171558 IMG_4921

But seriously, it was just unbelievably breathtaking. Zach and I ordered a bottle of wine and took it to our room to relax and talk about the trip. It was a perfect way to spend our last night in country.

20151112_180748

On our way back to Addis we stopped at a different Hailie resort in Ziway for lunch. It was beautiful there as well. The food was good and it was a nice little stop to break up the 5 hour trek from Hawassa.

11220902_1088034761209166_8169631044416090533_n

Having bought most of the traditional Ethiopian items our last two trips we didn’t have anything we really wanted to get on a shopping trip other than coffee. The Tomoca bags are now about $7/each and worth every penny. There is simply no better coffee than Ethiopian coffee and they make such great gifts!

If you are in need of specific shopping items, there are Ethiopians who will get them for you. For $100 you hand them a list and they go get them. If we needed anything at all, I would’ve definitely bought this service. I hate haggling with a hot, hot hatred but I also hate knowing I’m paying more for something than I should be. This shopping service is a great way to sidestep those things! You can still go shopping for a few little things if you want to have your kids experience it but for the bigger items I would certainly recommend the shopping service.

Solomon. He is so good at what he does. My friend Meghan had told me that he is superb with kids but I think she might not have even done him justice in that description. A few of my kids who aren’t real trusting of strangers or are a little quieter with them spent no time opening up to him. Tariku and Tomas specifically bonded with him in a way they don’t normally which made me so happy to see. Those two would often ride up front with him and learn Amharic words for the things they were seeing. It’s true he was incredibly kind and sweet with them but he also didn’t let them get away with anything-which is such a blessing for a mama like me. It’s no secret Solomon hates electronic devices so he didn’t hold back in telling the boys to put them down and enjoy the scenery. *For the record, our kids did play their iPods on the trip. You do what you feel is right for your family. The iPods ended up being a great way to come down from their emotional highs and to take some of the edge off. Plus, they all took their own pictures with their iPods so seeing the trip through their eyes is fun as well!

20151113_094508 IMG_4877

We were with Solomon for around 12 hours a day for 7 days straight, often in close proximity in his van. He ended up feeling more like a fun uncle than a driver by just the second day. That said, he never ate meals with us or stayed in the hotels with us. Solomon told us it was a “Driver’s Code” and there always had to be that small separation between the family and the driver. So in terms of budgeting, plan on budgeting for the driver (the ones I researched were always somewhere between the $80-100/day) and the gas but you will not pay for their food or lodging.

I can’t stress enough that the driver should be the number one place to splurge. Solomon was fantastic with our special people, was attentive to all of my kids (Trysten had a rumbling belly at the fish market so Solomon dashed off to get him a lime. He taught him to bite it and suck out the juice, hailing it as the cure all for any upset tummy. Trysten said it worked so suddenly the other 4 had upset stomachs. Off Solomon went to get 4 more limes. 😉 ) I have no doubt Solomon isn’t the only truly wonderful driver in Ethiopia but make sure you get recommendations before booking with one-you’ll spend far too much time with this person to not get along with him or her. *Notice Dailah crying in the picture below-she was so sad to be leaving Ethiopia and Solomon in particular.

IMG_4938

I know it’s a little uncouth to talk about money so openly but I don’t want any unknowns to deter you from planning a trip like this. The unknowns of the financial cost is what took us so long to bite the bullet and I know had I had a better idea of the cost we would’ve went so much sooner.

We spent approximately $500 for our 7 days in country on food for the 7 of us.

We spent approximately $800 in hotels for our 7 nights in country.

We spent around $100 just buying a few things at the Post Office Shopping center and Tomoca coffee shop.

We spent nearly $100 on trips to museums, zoos, markets, etc.

The cost of translators and drivers vary but those will need to be worked into your budget as well. I can give you a better idea what we spent if you leave a comment or send an email as those two will be your biggest financial cost by far.

Be aware that most hotels will not accept reservations ahead of time. Even the guesthouses in Ethiopia wouldn’t let me book rooms until about 2 weeks before our trip so try really hard not to freak out about that (I failed miserably at staying relaxed on that account). The Lemma didn’t take reservations and I could never get the Lewi to confirm my reservations via their website or email ahead of time. No worries, there was plenty of open rooms at both places. Even if worst case scenario happens and all the rooms are booked, there are now multiple hotels in both areas so you’ll always have a back up.

If planning a trip like this makes you nervous there are plenty of travel agencies who will plan it for you. The cost is steep but it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to put up with the hassle. Zach and I have far too much German blood to spend on such luxuries so instead I just bombarded my friends with questions for 6 months straight. I think most of them still love me. 🙂

I hope after this post you’re feeling empowered and ready to plan a trip for your family. Obviously I can’t answer whether or not your kids are emotionally or mentally ready for a trip like this but if you’re dragging your feet let that be the reason rather than the overwhelming nature of the logistics.

If you have any more specific questions please feel free to reach out. I think it’s become pretty obvious that I’m a bit of an open book so get in touch-your kids will thank you for it!

Much love,
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…

 

IMG_3889

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.

IMG_3894

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.

IMG_3898

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.

IMG_3905IMG_3986

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. 😉

IMG_3918

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.

IMG_3922

IMG_3921

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

IMG_3924

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.

IMG_3928

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.

IMG_3934

IMG_3931

IMG_3939

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.

IMG_3945

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.

IMG_3952 IMG_3919

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.

IMG_3948 IMG_3954

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!)

IMG_3895

IMG_3960

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.)

IMG_3965

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…

IMG_3985

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.

IMG_3990 IMG_4005

IMG_4003

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.

IMG_4007

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.

IMG_4013

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.

IMG_4026

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.

IMG_3984

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.

IMG_4044

Mindless Monday

  • Some bloggers do a “Mindless Monday” and then have really interesting, dynamic and thought provoking material. This is not what this is. This blog is seriously “mindless”. You’re welcome.

 

  • A few people had follow up questions about my vegetarian post.

Do you pack the kids’s lunches? Yes we do. It looks the same pretty much everyday. A PB&J (with my grandma’s delicious homemade jelly!), a fruit (strawberries, grapes, blueberries and blackberries), veggie straws or apple straws (each kid likes one or the other so they get their choice), and then a piece or two of chocolate if we have it (around holidays usually) or my homemade granola bars. For a drink it’s usually water or chrystal lite. They love it and are bummed if we run out of supplies before grocery day.

 

Do you make the kids eat vegetarian/vegan? When we’re at home I’m cooking so yes, they eat what we’re eating. When we’re out to eat they can order whatever they want. I feel good about the fact that they are eating with us the majority of the time and are thus eating mostly a whole foods diet.

 

Do your kids really eat that stuff? Mine wouldn’t get near it! A few of my kids (Tomas and Tariku) are terrific about eating whatever I put in front of them. The other 3 don’t eat quite so quickly with certain things. 😉 The reality is, though, they know there aren’t any options. So they eat enough to satisfy themselves and then they are done. My hubs used to only eat meat and cheese. He hated vegetables and/or anything remotely healthy for you. Now he doesn’t eat meat and cheese and loves veggies. We really don’t want our kids to wait until they’re 30 to discover a beautiful taste palate.

 

What do you eat?!?!? We eat really well! For the most part I take advantage of our library system and rent new cookbooks all of the time. There are great ones for both vegetarian cooking and vegan cooking. That would be my best recommendation. There are good ones and bad ones. The good ones I put on a list of ones to buy and when I have enough that I’ll be able to get free shipping then I’ll just buy them at once. 😉 Also, there are REALLY great blogs devoted entirely to whole foods living. Google it, prepare to salivate!

 

  • Semi-Feral Mama wanted an update on our kitty, Mitigu. If you’re a texting friend of mine, you’re super annoyed about my Mitigu updates. I seriously text people pictures of him all of the time. It’s getting a little ridiculous. He is cute and funny and feisty and playful. He also thinks he is a dog which is kind of awesome. My 2 favorite things about him is that he loves snuggling on my chest, particularly when I’m blogging and that as soon as Tariku goes to bed, Mitigu crawls up the ladder and goes to sleep with him. So freaking cute. I will post pictures of him as soon as I can figure out how to do it on the iPad.
  • We are in the thick of sports central around here. The big 3 are on one baseball team again. Trysten is on a seperate under 9 AAU team. Then the 4 littles are all playing soccer (Tomas/Tariku on one team and Dailah/Binyam on another). Dailah is finishing her dance class with a recital on May 18th. The best part about having them so close in age (ok, there are many things) is that they all double up on teams. This means the amount of running around is decreased exponentially, which I love. It is so fun watching them play and love being involved in sports.
  • Binyam, because of his club feet, didn’t walk until he was almost 3. Saturday was his first soccer game (or really any athletic endeavor). He was smiling and laughing and sprinting. It was magic. He is magic.
  • My women’s league outdoor soccer season starts tonight. I am seriously nervous that I might die.
  • Tariku has decided he wants to tell “his story” at school. More on that later. One note: it’s weeks away and I’m already nervous about it. He is so brave.
  • The theme of our family lately has been “responsibility”. “Please be responsible and wash your little brother’s dish out for him”, etc. Some days they totally get it and I pat myself on the back before going to bed. Other days they fail miserably and I consider drinking at noon. C’est la vie.
  • Life is beautiful and complicated and wonderful and best served with friends.