Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two days on the farm

Got a belated Christmas present: an invitation for a visit from a friend who was traveling until Christmas Eve. Never dreamed we'd be able to connect after she had driven for almost 2 weeks solid. But she invited us, so we loaded up the car and off we went!
She lives on a lovely farm in Virginia and it is always a retreat setting for me. And a reminder to count my blessings. Every piece of life there is a challenge. Want to be warm? Have to convince strong boys to split firewood, have to carry said firewood in, have to make sure that the wood stove doesn't go out. Want to eat? Must plan ahead. With 7 people in their family and 3 visitors, a single box of Mac and Cheese won't do. And Believe me- it takes at least an hour to cook a meal for the crowd. Mealtimes are wonderful. No matter what you fix, not a scrap is wasted. Leftovers from one plate are quickly shuttled to another. Cleanup also takes a while. Best to pour a cup of tea as you wrap up the kitchen. Want to entertain oneself? Must have good book or knitting or good DVD- TV is not an option. As a result, good conversations are had and minds are enriched. Children play imaginative games like dolls or Monopoly or Scrabble. Then run riot in the snow, tramping all over the property. Allen only fell in the creek twice: once he broke through the ice and fell in a puddle up to his knees. Then he slipped off a bridge and fell in the creek up to his armpits. No serious damage done and a memorable boyhood experience obtained. I threw him in a hot shower and fresh clothes and he was back to playing in no time.

Because my friend was just back from traveling, barn chores had fallen behind. We were able to pitch in and help clean it out in preparation for the birth of two calves. My kids NEVER face such work at home and it was a tremendous reminder to them that their lives in the "country" are extremely easy. We mucked manure and straw for well on two hours before we retired in for hot showers and Motrin. Got the best night's sleep that night that I've had in 6 months. I lay in bed, listening to the wind howl through the valley and shove at the old farmhouse's seams. My friend had blankets hung over all the doors to repel the unwelcome visitor and the house was cozy and snug as I fell asleep. I was thankful for day-long playtime for my kids and glad for friendship that includes you in all the aspects of regular life. I would feel so much worse dropping in for a lightning visit if my presence would mean freshly waxed floors and freshly starched sheets. I got a tremendous amount of knitting accomplished and was even able to teach her girls a few starting pointers. Such camaraderie sitting in front of the fire, passing knitting back and forth as they figured out the basics and asked where a stitch had gone wrong.

I'm back to my lovely warm home now, catching up on laundry, grateful for a functional washer and dryer. (Did I mention she's been managing without a dryer since June?!) I miss the smell of the fireplace, miss the cheerful bustle of the home. Only the knowledge that we'll aim our trusty van that way again soon keeps me from being sad. It was truly a lovely visit.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Reluctant Rooster

It is pouring rain outside. Has been all day. Hovering at 34 degrees, trying not to snow. The chickens have huddled, miserable, anywhere they can find shelter. Only gave me 14 eggs, instead of their usual 30.

So as I dashed through the dark cold to tuck the birds in for the night, I decided that to check that there were no birds trying to spend the night in the fig tree. (A group of 3 birds had taken that up as a habit.) Surely in this weather, they would have more sense. Nope, no sense. One rooster. High up in the leafless fig tree. So I stashed my flashlight in my pocket and grabbed him by the feet. (What else could I do?) "HELP!! MURDER!!! ABDUCTION!!! BODILY ASSAULT!!", he screamed. (Actually, more like SCRREEEK!! SCREEEEK!!) Wish I could have let him know I had kindly intentions. He flapped violently, making it hard to pull him down through the branches and I was terrified that he would dislocate his hips or knees. Eventually I got him contained in a firm football grip under my arm and we slipped and slid to the chicken house, where I gently tossed him in. He finally ceased screeching and walked up to a nearby roost as if that were his plan all along.

I hope in the morning all will be forgiven. I just honestly couldn't face losing a bird to stupidity and exposure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mom, WHAT are we doing?

I walked into my chicken house the other day to find a very confused guinea looking out at me from a nesting box. Which confused ME. Guineas don't use nesting boxes to lay eggs. They find a nice secluded spot on the ground, usually in the woods. Then I noticed the hen in the nesting box next to the guinea and it all made sense. It was the guinea's momma hen. You see, when I got the guinea at the beginning of the summer, it had been hatched and raised by a mother guinea. So when I got it home, I gave it to a hen who had just hatched out about 4 baby chicks of her own. She didn't bat an eye at the newcomer, just tucked it under with the rest of the babies and they have been inseparable ever since. The rest of the baby chicks have grown and are now leading independent chicken lives in the flock, but not this guinea. She follows her mom around everywhere, even though she's bigger, softly trilling to her, commenting on food or the day, or whatever. I love watching them. So I guess it should not have surprised me to see them together in the chicken house. Momma hen has moved on with her life and resumed laying. (Mother hens I have learned do not lay eggs while hatching out a nest, while brooding baby chicks or while raising the young into adults- they just don't have the extra time and energy I assume). Usually at this point, I was expecting the guinea to notice that there were other guineas around and that she looked and acted a lot more like them, causing her to join their group. But no, devotion dictates to this guinea that mom must be followed. I hope one of my brood ends up remaining devoted to me in such a fashion.
By the way, the other time this guinea had me in stitches was when it started scratching at the ground before it ate just like a chicken does. One of the reason guineas are so good around the home is that they just peck at the bugs and seeds they eat, but this one picked up on it's mother's scratching behavior and continues it to this day.
And it seems like the other guineas might be a bit jealous. When I tucked the birds in to bed the other night, there were five guineas inside the hen house instead of just one. Seems some of the guinea flock have followed this girl inside (from the tree tops), which will certainly keep them all a lot safer.

Friday, July 31, 2009

To Love is to risk Loss

Well, the house is so much quieter today. Except for frequent bursts of tears from Emily. "I MISS the boys SO MUCH!", "I know, honey, I do too..." Saying goodbye was horrible. A long drawn-out protracted affair, punctuated by shrieks and wails as the bus finally pulled away.
Emily was by far the loudest. I was grateful someone else was expressing my inner heart's agony without me having to get slobbery and headachy. The boys did pretty good until it was time to load up. They kept wiping away Emily's tears- "NO Emily, DON"T cry!, NO Emily." I cannot do justice to the accent as they say her name with tenderness, but it was heartwrenching to see them all trying to comfort one another with no real assurance that everything will be o.k.
Took the kids to a movie. Cleaned the kitchen. Stared at the leftover injera and shurro and sighed. Threw it to the chickens. Missed the companionship in the kitchen as I prepared dinner. Found one of the boys' hairbrushes and sighed again.
WHY!? Emily wants to know. Why did they have to go back so soon! I try to explain that a month is a long time to ask a family to host a child and that no matter how long we had them, it was going to be horrible to say goodbye. Then WHY did you sign us up for this?! She wants to know. I tell her that I was glad to get to know them and that it was good practice for when our permanent children come home from Ethiopia. She glares at me "Good practice to say good-bye?!" Nope, baby. When we get them, it will be forever. It was great practice for sharing a seat with Allen in the car, and practice for our language and my cooking. But really, I so understand how she feels. To love is to open oneself to pain. I don't regret a minute of it.
I would do it again in an instant. It completely changed how my kids think of Ethiopian children. Even how my husband thinks of Ethiopian children. What an enormous blessing.
Even if my heart still aches a bit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ethiopia and Virginia collide

I figured that since the foster boys were fitting in well at our house that it probably would be o.k. to take them on a short trip to visit my friend in Virginia for my birthday. Well, it was immensely more than o.k.
We all had such a wonderful time. This is a hard-working family (5 loads of dishes a DAY when company is around!), willing to include others in their lives and laughter. We slept in a tent in the front yard (a BRAND new experience for the boys) and all four kids: Allen, Emily, Tsegaw and Eyayu spent all day chasing after the Hillery children from one adventure to another and helping as they could with farm chores.
The whole family is good with languages and we all took turns practicing our Amharic. Allen pointed out:"I'm TIRED of speaking another language all the time!" (It really wasn't all the time, but I guess to a kid who studies Mandarin and French in school, asking him to study Amharic during summer break kinda is rough...) The boys' English improved daily. Ginger was a good sport at how unused to American food they still are and whipped up at least three Ethiopian dishes that were greeted with enthusiasm and empty plates. The rest of the time, they ate the injera we brought from the Ethiopian grocery and the shurro they made for themselves. (And a few bananas, oranges and freshly made french fries to fill in the gap!)
The high points of the trip for me were:
-Gazing up at the stars during a 4AM potty run to the house. Almost forgot I had to go. Magnificent. And I get LOVELY stars where I live, just not so many, and not framed so beautifully by the mountains.
-Tasting homemade custard Ice cream I had made with just cream, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla.
-Eating vegetable curry and blackberry pound cake birthday cake.
-Watching the Ethiopian boys blow bubbles endlessly on the front porch.
-The entire group of us howling in laughter as Ginger accidentally dumped a cup of sugar in Tsegaw's coffee, after I had just said they really like their coffee sweet in Ethiopia. Thus far, the boys had NOT had any coffee and were just agreeing to try some. The jar of sugar she was pouring from just went Trickle, trickle, GOOSH and suddenly we had coffee syrup. We started over with fresh cups of coffee and used the first one for sweetener for the new ones. But I have honestly never seen the boys laugh so hard. There was absolutely no language needed for the absurdity of the moment. And the coffee ended up being greatly enjoyed by all.
-Lying in the tent, listening to my kids complain, "Mom, the boys won't quit talking!" I was able to inform them that their first times in a tent they actually talked for HOURS. The boys barely lasted 10 minutes each night before completely passing out. (After first verifying that their flashlight batteries were still fresh and could reach every corner of the tent.....)
-I loved introducing my kids to tent camping and I loved introducing these boys to tent camping.
-Lying in the tent, listening to the thunder roar and the rain pour down. Praising God for dry tents and warm sleeping bags.
-Sitting in the full hayloft, smelling the sweet hay and watching the barn swallow feeding her young.
-Gawking at the amazing froth on the top of the milking bucket as Ginger milked Cocoa.
-Listening to Cocoa graze the yard around our tent early in the morning.
-Watching the boys fly down the hill on bicycles.
-Sitting in the corner of the kitchen and watching Ginger work her magic.
-Being Ginger's sous-chef on a day when she worked herself half to death weeding the garden and harvesting potatoes.
-Just being loved for who I am by people who really know who I am.

The worst part was knowing that parting comes much sooner than desired. I absolutely don't know what I'll do as I miss these sweet boys' faces with their ready smiles and tender hearts. Keep praying, I suppose. God brought them this way for a reason and I am trusting in Him to make his purpose known. Until then, I'll just keep loving, praying and working on my Amharic.

Ciao! (Amharic for good-bye)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shrieks and Giggles Galore

Well, it's been a week since the Ethiopian boys arrived and they have finally relaxed and started being themselves. It doesn't seem to bother them that they don't always know what is going on, although they do have an awful lot of English. I have noticed how much English they have when they start trying to teach me words in Amharic. I've been learning a LOT of nouns in Amharic! They are otherwise very quiet and respectful around me, although are quick to return those brilliant smiles whenever I grin at them. Allen and Emily have truly blown me away. They are willing to be the interpreters, acting out whatever they think the boys need to know. But they haven't been shy towards the lack of English coming back at them and truly chatter at them as though it is a regular day playing with best friends. As a result, I frequently cheer silently to hear the sound of four sets of feet running pell-mell upstairs, voices raised in laughter, English and Amharic. Tickling, pirate swords, pretend monsters- you name it.... kids are indeed kids the world over and I am blessed to be getting to know these two(and discovering sides to my own two that I otherwise wouldn't see).
The boys cooked a lovely Ethiopian sauce for dinner tonight. We were at the Ethiopian grocery and Eyayu picked a bag of powder off the shelf and named it "Sharro!" I told him we could get it, as he was obviously delighted to find it, but I confessed to the store owner that I had no idea what to do with it. "Oh, he can cook it for you! He knows how to make it! All you need is tomatoes and onions and a little oil." Well, honey. Let me tell you. Those boys can both COOK. I chopped up an onion and they had to reject my efforts because my pieces were too big. So I just handed over the knife and cutting board, and boy did they ever show me how it was done. That onion was the consistency of rice when they were finished. And the tomato looked like puree. It actually made me a little sad that at age 10, they both have had to be self-sufficient enough that they can fix a meal beautifully without the slightest bit of help.
We gorged ourselves on injera and Sharro along with baked chicken and fresh potato salad for dinner. It was lovely to see the look on Eyayu's face as I gobbled up my food and praised his cooking. Allen plans to make spaghetti with meat sauce tomorrow. I really need to use up the huge onion pieces from today.....
Tomorrow should be fun. More bike riding, swimming, exploring Charlotte. It's neat to experience where you live through the eyes of a child old enough to really participate in what your family likes to do.

If you ever get the chance to host an orphan, Jump at it. Your heart stretches until you feel like it might burst.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spa Day with Emily

I just fulfilled a pinkie promise to my daughter-- we indulged ourselves with a "Spa Day". Her teachers at school kept receiving spa gift certificates as thank you's and for birthday gifts, so she wanted to know what one was like. We picked up a cucumber at the store, I dug out an old sample of a face mask and we climbed in the bath, with bubbles up to our chin. Sliced the cucumber thin and placed on our eyes and relaxed. Pumiced our feet when we were tired of cucumbers on our eyes and had washed our faces sparkling clean. Once out, we applied face lotion, gently trimmed toenails and freshened up Emily's nail polish. The best part: didn't cost what a regular spa does. Oh, and the sense of closeness I felt with my spunky little girl. We have had two precious visitors in our house for almost a week now and she has been nothing but wonderful with them. I looked up at her after doing her toes and reminded her how I said that I knew life with more kids would be different, but that I would always still love her the same. Somehow, after a leisurely soak together, I felt like she could really tell I meant it. What a precious gift from my girl, to request that I pause from my endless merry-go-round to just enjoy her.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Changes, changes everywhere

Wow, what a lot is going on. I feel like I've been dropped into one of the teacups in Disney's Magic Teacup ride. Nothing to complain about....
Another trip to Ethiopia happened the first week of February. It was amazing. My Dad got to go with me this time and that added a dimension of fun and relationship to an otherwise miraculous trip. Our team was so special, everyone really came looking for God to speak to their hearts and were SO much fun to be around.  I personally felt so much more at ease this trip and was able to focus more on interacting with the people we met. It touched me powerfully to be able to just dive in and hug the kids and shake hands with the adults. Seeing the same believers felt like meeting friends I've known my whole life. 
We got to meet the children we sponsor through World Vision as well as some others who were sponsored by  church members. One boy I sponsor was SO shy! He is an orphan who is being raised by his uncle and grandmother. He has three older brothers. It was heartbreaking to think that this family has lost three adults to the AIDS crisis. As we walked up, they were threshing grain on an absolutely beautiful farm and the grandmother had prepared a coffee ceremony to honor my visit. In Ethiopia, when you have visitors, fresh grass is cut and thrown on the floor of the home. Coffee beans are roasted over the fire, ground and brewed directly before serving (with lots of sugar). It is absolutely the most awesome coffee you will ever drink. Traditionally, corn or grain is also roasted to offer with the coffee and a minimum of three drinks are shared while the neighbors visit. We had to leave after one cup due to the number of children we were trying to see that day, but my delight at the grandmother's hospitality was conveyed and it had to be enough. I wish I could say how much I love these people. Their warmth is indescribable to Westerners. They were obviously busy with the chores of harvest and daily life and had never met us before, but they were ready to give a hug and sit down for a visit with someone who didn't speak their language well at all. All of their lives revolve around relationships and they would never dream of getting to business without first finding out how you and all of your family are doing. 
In the lives of the Christians, this was reflected by families actually praying together instead of just gathering around a TV to be entertained. Miracles there are not at all uncommon. One pastor who seeks to reach all religions in Ethiopia for Christ has seen God use physical healing as a means to open hearts to the gospel. 
While we were there, a member of our team fell and seriously hurt an ankle she had had surgery on previously. The pastor prayed for her on the spot, while we were running for ice and immediately she was able to walk on it. The next day it was a bit swollen and tender, but she was fully recovered within a day or two. It was amazing how their first instinct was to pray, while we were focused on the first aid we could provide.
On a sidenote, over the past few months, Brian and I have decided to apply to adopt two Ethiopian children. It really started being urgent for me after my first trip, and God has opened quite a few doors that made it clear that it is the path we are to follow as a family. We are hoping to adopt a boy and a girl, maybe siblings, around the same age as Allen and Emily. The paperwork is just about done, and we'll just have to wait for it to go through the various government agencies. We are hopeful that the adoption agency will have a match for us sometime this month. 
I am tremendously excited by the whole process. Everyone says the paperwork is exhausting, but each time I work on it I get so thrilled at what the end result will be that I have to be careful not to get insomnia thinking about it all night.  The kids are excited, too, but they complain that it is taking so long. I think, Hey! we had to wait 9 MONTHS for each of YOU ragamuffins!! So somehow the process seems about right for me.
To completely shift gears, We got our spring shipment of baby chicks and I am again in love with baby birds. The baby geese that came with them didn't survive the journey, so we will try another shipment next week before we give up for the year. The baby turkeys also keeled over from causes unknown, so I am praying that Martha will try again before spring is over. If not, well, I still give her high marks for keeping them alive for almost a full month in terrible snowy weather.
Pilgrim (the goose) has decided that "You are my Lady!- and i am your Man!" and has been fondly courting my tennis shoes before trying to climb onto my leg. (Did I mention he only has one wing, weighs at least 60 pounds and is not the most graceful bird we have!) We REALLY need an adult female goose, but he's going to have to wait until next year. I've looked everywhere. I just pray the geese babies arrive alive and we manage to raise them successfully. I know I'll only be able to fend off his advances for so long......
We have daffodils in our front yard and I've decided that in future all my landscaping money will be spent on spring bulbs. There is NOTHING more welcome that the lovely sight of bright flowers at the end of winter. It is truly the sign of balmy days spent outdoors, enjoying all of my loony animals.


Saturday, January 31, 2009


God gave me an amazing gift today. As I pulled into our driveway this afternoon, our female turkey Martha was hanging out in our front yard. I sat quietly in the car, grateful that the dogs were locked inside so that they wouldn't chase her off with enthusiastic greetings. It has been almost two weeks since I last saw her. My emotions ranged from hope that she was just in a safe hiding spot nearby and despair that she had found a better place to live. I watched her for a couple of minutes, enjoying the quiet little sounds she makes. Then, suddenly, I noticed a tiny yellow fluff ball at her feet. TWO little fluff balls at her feet! She successfully hatched out babies without me ever finding her nest or giving her assistance. I watched as the little family stretched out, enjoying a sunny patch. (I can't BELIEVE she hatched them in the dead of winter with temperatures well below freezing at night all this week.) Wait a minute! There's another one!
She has THREE little ones!!!... George is just strutting around doing his best tail dance, gobbling his delight to the world. Whether at the sight of his children, or at the company of Martha, I don't know. He was certainly happy. I quietly tiptoed into the house, took a few pictures, tiptoed out to give her some food and water and just stayed glued to the window most of the afternoon. She is a good mother, keeping an eye out for dangers, fluffing out her feathers and squatting on the ground to allow them to nestle in next to her. The little ones alternated stretching out in the sun with pecking at grass and chasing after Martha each time she moved. By the time the sun was setting, she was gone. I had hoped maybe she would return to the chicken yard, but I have faith that she'll be o.k. She is probably in the crawlspace under the house and I know if she's made it thus far, she'll be fine until the babies are old enough to freely wander the yard. The wonder of baby birds struck my heart anew with the miracle of creation. They are so fragile and beautiful and make my heart sing praise to the God who thought to make the whole process possible.