Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Tag...

Happy almost Thanksgiving!

Lori, Joy, and Kerri tagged me. Here are ten things that I am grateful for...

1. The benevolent bee keeper...

2. The Ted...

(And yes those are THESE blankets).

3. Moses, flatulent but friendly...

4. Health Insurance...

5. My healthy family...

6. California...

7.Ginger Scones...

8. The Blogging community, Books, Barack, Binky (what Steven calls my laptop-'Julie do you want your Binky?'), and Big comfortable beds...

9. Mark...

10. Being a year closer to filling these...

with youngsters like these...

I have to say when I first saw this tag I thought, "I am grateful that no one in my family died this month." I realized that this snarky response is indeed an indication that I am still grieving the loss of my mother-in-law quite a bit. I would have completely fallen apart this summer had it not been for you, my friends in the internet. Thank you for reading, commenting, e-mailing, praying, and even visiting. I am so very, very grateful for you. Thank you.

I tag Cindy, Evelyn, Rebekah, Enat, and M.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friday Friend or Family Feature... A Day Early...

Today's Feature is...

The Single Mom...

Ethiopia is changing its adoption policies for single women.

Are you guys skiers? When I was in junior high I joined the Snowflake Ski Club. On cold, Midwestern Saturdays, I would bundle myself into puffy, slippery ski clothing and get on a bus before dawn. The driver would proceed to drive us to one of the small man made humps north of Chicago. Tweens would spill out and grab their cumbersome ski equipment. I haven't been skiing in a long time, but back then we sometimes skied in pairs or groups. Occasionally one of us would gather speed and find ourselves at the bottom of the hill, exhilarated and ready to go again. I remember sliding up to the chairlift line by myself, "Single," I would shout as I raised my ski pole to indicate, that I, over here in the Mylar, would be needing a partner to accompany me in my chairlift. The ski mountain staff (and of course I use that term 'mountain' loosely, really should be molehill) didn't want to waste a perfectly good chairlift seat, and would encourage strangers to partner up saving time and energy. It was something that was both filled with excitement and dread. Who would I be paired up with? The cute boy skiing in jeans? The creepy older gentleman with the suspenders? A snot nosed ten year old? Occasionally I would end up next in line with no partner in sight. The attendant would shrug his shoulders and wave me over solo. Going up alone in the lift could be both frightening and freeing. You could sit smack dab in the middle if you wanted. You could swing your skis around, and spread your arms across the entire back of the seat. You could breathe in the cool air, take in the view, and thoroughly enjoy your solitude and freedom.

Does being partnered up make you a more desirable adoptive family? It shouldn't. I think that you can be single and be a wonderful parent. The fact that single women are now going to find it very difficult to adopt children from Ethiopia makes me really sad.

These are just a few of the incredible single moms that I have met in real life. They are strong, accomplished, and vibrant. They are excellent mothers. Their children are thriving in their care.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of having lunch with three other women who are waiting for their 'proposal' (referral). Two of them are single. During the lunch, one of the moms to be spoke about how she has never felt God's presence more than right now, during her adoption process. Her eyes welled up as she described how she felt that God was absolutely leading her to this child in Ethiopia. Last night I received an e-mail from her. The e-mail was electric. The hair on my arms stood up as I read it. It was the announcement of her daughter, her beautiful, smiley, Ethiopian daughter. Julie will make a fantastic mother. She is smart, funny, owns her own law firm, and has a family chock full of relatives looking forward to embracing its newest member. The idea that other women like Amy, Sam, Tami, Robbin, Haze, and this woman, may be denied an opportunity like this, really hurts my heart.

To my friends who are seeing their dreams deferred, I am sorry. I am thinking about you and your pain. I think that this is a truly unfortunate development.

If you need someone to ride the chairlift with, give me a call. I would be honored to sit next to you, but absolutely understand if you would prefer to ride up alone.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Six Netflix Movies a Month, OR...

More Info Here. Contact Amy by Monday if you are interested in a sponsorship.

Kolfe, (remember Kolfe?) is one of the orphanages.

I know most of you give all you can to places like Ahope, and Doctor's Without Borders, but for the lurker out there, here is a way you can help.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Friend or Family Feature: Guest Blogger Edition-Jane Kurtz, Part Three: Life as a Circle: Ethiopia Comes Around Again

From the outside, it appears as if the publication of Fire on the Mountain made my life click into gear and roll sweetly down the hill. I had at least one new book published every year…a current grand total of 27 once Martin’s Dream (Simon & Schuster), my new ready-to-read book comes out this month.

The view from inside was considerably messier. By the time my first book was published, I knew exactly how rejection felt—I just didn’t know how much rejection was lined up and waiting for me after publication. I naively thought once a book existed, readers would find it. And read it. And buy it. And love it. Actually, most of us only have to ask ourselves how many new hardcover books we buy in any given year to realize what a chilly world it is for books, especially in a time of pinched funding for schools and libraries.

Still, the day came when I stood up to begin a school visit, glanced at the table beside me, and thought, Whoa…I have a LOT of books published. I even started to be brave enough to put “author” on forms (along with “teacher”). I experienced the thrill of speaking at schools or conferences where students and teachers had either no picture or only grim pictures of Ethiopia in their minds and, after reading my books, let the sunshine in. Once, I was in a school that had done a terrific job of crafting a big author celebration. A girl turned to the boy next to her and asked—in my hearing—“Are you from Ethiopia, too?”
The boy nodded uncertainly.
“Wow,” she said, breathing out with a small sigh. “You’re lucky.”
For a long time, her words made all the agonies of travel feel fine.

With my own children growing up in North Dakota, I found myself more homesick than ever. I imagined I would never see Ethiopia again. My brother went back as a teacher during the time of the Marxist government. Then my older sister. Another sister went to Togo to repair helicopters used to spray for river blindness. I was stuck in the frozen northland. Then, to my astonishment, in 1997 I was asked by the international school, the British school, and a mission school to come to Addis Ababa as a visiting author.

I’ve written on my website about what it was like to go back for the first time in 20 years. That event launched a period of international speaking for me. I’ve gotten to talk to book lovers in Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Romania, England, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, and Cambodia. India and Morocco and Norway are on the horizon. One year, educators in both Uganda and Nigeria asked me, “How can we begin to plant a reading culture here as you have in America?”

I began to mull the answer to that question, thinking about the role that libraries, public education, publishers, writers, illustrators, and literate parents play in the children’s book world in the United States. It was an interesting question, but a somewhat academic one, until the day I got an email from Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a children’s librarian in San Francisco. He told me he’d never held a book, outside of school, until he was 19. He wrote, “I want to go back to Ethiopia to start publishing books. You know how much Ethiopian children are deprived of the joys that books bring. I know that you have great love for the country you grew up in, and I want to ask you if you can join me in making this idea a reality.”

I was fascinated…and stunned. Such a huge problem. Two people with little power or money. But as he wrote, “We have to start somewhere.”

Start somewhere, we did, with the help of an adoptive mom, Maureen Evans, who interviewed Yohannes and wrote down some of his ideas for beginning. The story has been told beautifully—by Melissa Faye Greene in last October’s issue of Good Housekeeping and a recent article in Rocky Mountain News, and on my website and at Ethiopia Reads.

The dream that is now Ethiopia Reads has showed me the amazing power of ordinary human beings to do something important. Something big. We started by publishing the first color children’s book for Ethiopian kids and opening the first free library for children in Addis Ababa, a city of five million people. A few years down the road, we’ve planted 16 school libraries; we operate two community libraries; we’re the proud owners of a donkey mobile library; and we have funding for 12 more school libraries and several more donkey mobile libraries. The staff in Ethiopia has recorded more than 100,000 visits from children per year.

We want more, more, more.

The dream has also gobbled up a chunk of my life. We’re a tiny group trying to do so much. Never again will I make snarky comments about money that goes to administration. No, I’ve seen the light: without creative and thoughtful administration—without money for infrastructure—programs may have heart-stopping impact but they are always piecemeal, often herky-jerky, inevitably only an experiment. We’ve shown ourselves to be a great experiment. Now we have to see if we can turn ourselves into an organization that will change the future for Ethiopian children everywhere.

In the dark, hard moments, I have several thoughts I hang onto: Need is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. And Money isn’t always the answer; in this case, it is.

I also take comfort in what teachers everywhere know: the reality of ripple effect. Andualem, the shoeshine boy from Only a Pigeon did so well on the test students take after high school that he got to attend Addis Ababa University and went on to work for Ethiopian Airlines and Northwest Airlines. One of the young Ethiopian women who worked for Ethiopia Reads loved translating my first book, Fire on the Mountain, for children at Shola Library so much that she approached Simon & Schuster and got permission to publish an Ethiopian version. You can read about her work HERE.

The most important ripple effect? Two Ethiopian-American grandchildren. (When my son and daughter went to Ethiopia to volunteer at Shola Library, my son fell in love with one of the young women working there.) Could anything be sweeter?

I’m often asked what adoptive parents can do to help their children celebrate their Ethiopian heritage. I wonder the same thing with my own grandbabies. A few completely biased answers are here: 1) Bring my books and any other books you can find about Ethiopia into your homes, your schools, your libraries, so that your own family members and community will see positive images of Ethiopia. No book stays around forever. Grab them while they’re in the world! (I, myself, was caught without any copies of Trouble when it went out of print.) 2) Support other people’s efforts. Treasure the adoption camps that are growing up in different geographic areas. Get to know your local Ethiopian community if one exists. Bring beautiful images of Ethiopia into your homes and lives. When my son, a photojournalism major at KU, went back to Ethiopia last summer, I asked him to remember adoptive families as he traveled around looking for stories to tell. Some of the results are HERE. 3) Healing for me, a bi-cultural child, has come as I reach back to the land of my childhood and believe I’m making a difference for those children I once felt helpless to help. Come on over. Give me a hand with Ethiopia Reads. (If you don’t know how, just email me and ask.)

As Yohannes says, “"The real heroes are the children who collect pennies, the people who help us bring books to Ethiopia. It was my idea, my dream. But the people who help us, they are the dream realizers."

* Note from Julie...

There are still a few days left to vote for Yohannes, although I think the nomination committee made a mistake by not including Jane as well. The winner will be announced on CNN on Thanksgiving. You can vote more than once.

To Donate to Ethiopia Reads, click HERE.

Thank you such much for doing this series. You are truly an inspiration. I can't wait to share your books with my children.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This Post Gets No Title...

I know that I have posted this picture at least once before. Sorry.

Today my husband and his brother travel here to scatter the ashes of both of their parents.

I wanted to write more about this, but I find myself, well, a mess.

Please keep them in your thoughts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

I could have spared you months and months of blathering by just posting this picture. This picture describes our adoption journey so far.

It describes it completely.

About two years ago I dragged Steven to an adoption seminar. It was sponsored by these people. It was depressing. There were at least a dozen women weeping quietly during the opening remarks. The couples in the audience were full of despair. They had suffered losses and disappointments. They were at their wits end. They were a grim looking bunch. We fit right in. Steven said,"Losers, a room full of losers." We felt like losers. We were all unsuccessful. We could not have a family. We were dejected, depleted, and depressed. We were not alone. This was the first formal adoption seminar that Steven had come to. It was like pulling teeth to get him there. I had already decided that adoption was our next step. Steven was reluctant to say the least.

Over a year later, (actually a year ago last Wednesday) Steven and I attended another adoption event. (Yes, it was a whole year later for those of you out there with a reluctant spouse). This next event was at the home of the woman in the picture. That's her on the left. No, it is not Thandie Newton. This woman had an open house for prospective adoptive families.

In California, (back then) you needed to find an out of state placement agency for your adoption. This open house was sponsored by Children's Home Society and Family Services. I am not sure if I can adequately describe what happened that evening. This woman, let's just call her Thandie because she is a dead ringer for her, was anything but a loser. We arrived at her house and were greeted by several small children. Thandie had adopted three children from Kazakhstan, one from Korea, and one from Ethiopia. The wee Ethiopian had been home just one week. Thandie helped present a slide show about the adoption process. She was so honest, open, and funny about her experiences. Her husband was as beautiful and open as she was. The kids were obviously thriving in their care. I am not describing them well enough.

Give me a minute....

Optimistic. Joyful. Full of Life. Unafraid. Full of Wonder. Elated.

They were the complete opposite of us in that sad auditorium a year prior. They were radiant. They were down to earth, smart, funny and willing to share every single detail of their experience.

Like I mentioned, I had already decided that I wanted to adopt. It was Steven who still needed a little help.

Help arrived. Help arrived in the form of the tiniest Cindy-Lou-Who. Cindy-Lou-Who bounded down the stairs in her fuzzy footie pajamas, with her pigtails swinging. She plunked herself down in her mom's lap, threw her arms around her neck, and laid her head down. She was smiling. She was secure. She was breathtakingly adorable.

On the way home, or maybe it was the next day, Steven said,"Okay, Let's do it." We filled out the application the next evening.

Today we went to a picnic sponsored by our agency.

The little girl that Steven is smiling at in the picture from today is Cindy-Lou-Who.

There she is, just as beautiful as she was a year ago. She is looking into the face of Kristina.

Kristina is our social worker. We hadn't met her until today. She lives in Minnesota. She is the woman who is going to tell us who are children are.

Glancing over from across the park, I had one of those full circle (or at least half circle) moments. There was Cindy-Lou, holding hands with her Ethiopian sister, Thandie, Kristina, and my once reluctant husband. Cindy's new sister, who just came home from Vietnam two days ago, was there too.

This is the second time this week that I felt a huge surge of hope run through my veins. My worries and anxieties about our adoption were temporarily erased.

I looked at how far we had come, and I saw a small, adorable glimpse of our imminent future.

Not bad for a Saturday afternoon in the park.

It's a New Day...

Check out these pictures that Rebekah found. Aren't they beautiful? They say so much about this historic election.

Another favorite picture from Grant Park...

My sister on the left, and her friend Nora.

Today I am meeting someone who will, at some time in the future, give me the best news of my entire life.

I hope that you too, have a profound Saturday.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Jane Kurtz....

is having a very busy week working for Ethiopia Reads! I will publish Part III of her story just as soon as I get it!

Happy Friday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Barack the Beach!

Do we have the coolest polling place or what??

In the warmer months you get the added perk of beefy, sexy lifeguards.

It wasn't warm enough for the men in red today. It didn't matter...I only had eyes for one man....

President Barack Obama.

So the pups wouldn't feel left out, we shared a soda when we came home...

Did anyone else tear up while casting their vote?

I swear I almost yelled,"God Bless America!!!" when I was finished. I guess that wouldn't have been the strangest thing to ever happen in Venice.

Happy election day!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lifeboats and a Toast to Hope...

Lifeboats for my friends who have court days today. I hope you don't need them.

A toast to Hope...for all of us.