Friday, March 20, 2015


When we tell people we bought a horse barn, the questions are always...what made you do that?  do you have horse experience?  How did you find this place? So, I thought I'd tell the story of how we landed here.

I grew up with SOME horse experience.  My extended family members had horses and, like any little girl, I begged my parents for one.  The best I could get them to agree to was summer horse camps in Pennsylvania.  It was awesome!  We lived for a week in cabins and had our very own horse to take care of.  Clearly, that level of experience qualified me to own a barn.  The end.

Ok, so I actually had no business buying a farm, but "having no business" usually doesn't stop me.  As my oldest, Ella, pointed out to me recently...I'm a dreamer.  I LOVE that she knows that about me.  And it's true.  At least once a week, I call David and say, "I was thinking..."  This usually causes him to jump with excitement.  And by jump with excitement, I mean cringe.  I've had people suggest to me that Dave does anything I want.  That makes me laugh because it's not even close to being true.  He probably agrees to about 50% of my ideas.  It's just that the things he agrees to are so crazy, that people just assume I have him wrapped around my little finger.  I can't even imagine a life where he said yes to all of my ideas.  It's exciting and scary all at the same time.  One thing I know for sure is that I would have a pet pig that lived in the house and that I dressed up in cute outfits.

I've always been drawn to the idea of farm living and, after my experience working at a hippotherapy practice, I made the goal of owning my own farm based practice some day.  For those that don't know...I am an Occupational Therapist and hippotherapy is the use of horses in OT, PT or SLP treatment.  This was really a pipe dream and nothing I was even working towards - something I would do "some day" when the kids were older.  Well, one day, I drove by this boarding facility that was for sale.  I called David and said, "I was thinking..."  Much to my surprise, he didn't say no!  We drove out to look at the place and he loved it.  He loved feeling some seclusion from the chaos of his work day.  He loved the peaceful atmosphere.  For him, I think it was more about the land than the animals.  I, on the other hand, had dreams of snuggling farm animals day and night.

After A LOT of discussion, we decided to take the risk and jump at the opportunity.  Our plan was to buy the facility, learn the ropes and eventually build on the property in a couple of years.  But, one day, we received a call from a realtor friend of ours, who said she had someone she thought would be interested in purchasing our house (which was not on the market).  I told her that for the right price, I'm sure Dave would sell the kids and me, so I'm guessing he'd sell the house.  The buyer ended up wanting it and we had to start thinking about where to live.  With 4 kids and 3 dogs, landlords were not jumping at the chance to rent to us while we built our house.  Dave came up with the genius idea to build out an unused barn on our property and turn it into temporary living for us while we designed and built our house.  In 45 days time, we converted the hay loft of the barn into a 3 bedroom home.  After moving in, we found that we loved living in the barn and have ditched the idea of building a house.  We've had various animals live in the stalls below us - horses, chickens, goats.  While it was very cool to walk downstairs and see my horse standing there, the smell was not so cool.  So, now all of the animals are in the big barn and we are back here with only our mud covered dogs to stink up the house.  And Owen.  He also stinks it up.  There's something wrong with that child's feet.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Let's try this again...

It's been a loooong time since I've written, but that's a good thing.  When we started this blog, it was to help us process our difficult transition period when Zeke was adopted.  Things got better and I stopped having a need to write.  Well, it's been suggested to me on several occasions that I blog about our family.  While blogging was great during our difficult patch, it seems overwhelming to me to blog during normal times.  Do I have enough to say?  I know I never stop talking, but does any of what I say have enough substance for a blog??  I guess we'll find out!  Don't know how often I'll write, but hopefully you'll enjoy it when I do!

As a re-cap for those that may be reading this blog for the first time, the title "This Strange Place" comes from a saying you often hear in our home.  "This is a strange place to live," is something of a slogan to us.  We find ourselves saying it often.  We've taught the kids that if you're not weird, you're boring and, let's just say, we've all embraced that concept.

So, I guess I'll start thinking of topics to blog about and you stay on the edge of your seat in the meantime.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Zeke's Journey Home

Well, it's been a long time since we've written and I feel bad about that.  Not because I think you are sitting there on the edge of your seats waiting to hear from us, but because we basically left it at how hard things were.  For those of you reading this blog because you are in the adoption process yourselves, I feel a sense of obligation to keep you updated and I'm sorry I dropped the ball.  The good news is, the reason we haven't been writing is because we haven't felt a need to use it as a therapy tool. So much of the previous writing was cathartic for us, as we've mentioned, and with things going well, there isn't a real need for it.

I do want to write more about bonding and the troubles we had with that, but there never seems to be enough time to really get into it.  I hope to start back up on that topic after the new year.  In the meantime, we leave you with this video.  We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

Friday, August 3, 2012

kisses and laughs

Today was a mini breakthrough with Zeke.  It was a clear sign, to me, that he is learning to trust me more.  While he loves affection, he always became overwhelmed when I kiss him all over his face (different reaction than he gives Dad).  I do this with all of the kids.  When I put them in bed or say goodbye or just because - I grab their little faces and go to town!  Well, Zeke would always get kinda angry about it.  He clearly felt out of control.  He seemed not to be too sure whether I was being nice or mean.  It always bothered me.  With the rough year we have had, the times when I felt like being affectionate in this way with him weren't as often as I would have liked.  So, when I would actually feel the desire to bond with him and he would essentially push me away, it was hard...just another reason to be irritated with him.  Well, today, I was "nuggling" (snuggling) him before nap time and I whispered in his ear "I'm going to kiss you" in an "I'm gonna getcha" kind of way and then I proceeded to kiss him all over his little face.  He loved it!  I was so happy.  I felt like it was a sign of him trusting me.  It made me reflect on the "journey" of him becoming ticklish.  When we picked him up, he wouldn't even smirk if we tickled him.  He wanted nothing to do with us and especially not with us touching him.  I was super bummed.  If I can't even get him to laugh with a tickle, how were we ever going to be able to play and bond?  This went on for a couple of weeks and then, all of a sudden, he laughed!  I couldn't believe it!  He WAS ticklish...he had just been hiding it because he didn't trust us!  Zeke has the absolute best laugh in the world.  You can't listen to him laugh without laughing yourself.  Now, if you come even within 6 inches of his body (specifically his belly and neck), he falls apart with laughter.  It's a deep, guttural, out of control laugh that just makes me smile.  Only a happy kid can laugh like that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Who's Zeke?

For those of you who don't know our family personally and have been reading from the beginning, you may be wondering, "who is Zeke?"  We mention him in the first post, but then only talk about Ella, Owen, Cate and Obsa after that.  The short of it is that Obsa is Zeke.  For whatever reason, I felt it made more sense to speak of him as Obsa when he was Obsa and Zeke when he was Zeke, but have realized that it may have been confusing to readers.  We didn't expect to change Obsa's name.  We never want him to feel like we are trying to "take the Ethiopia out of him".  We thought it would be important for his identity to keep the name his birth father gave him.  In fact, to be perfectly honest, I was a tad judgmental of those who had decided to give their child a new name.  Weeelllllll, that all changed after we got home. Here's the story of how Obsa became Zeke...

I was very much prepared for the possibility of Obsa having a difficult time bonding to us and that we may have to do things to encourage a bond.  What I didn't expect was that I would have a hard time bonding to him.  When I looked at his pictures, I felt like he was my son, so I would obviously love him right away...right?  Wrong.  My favorite way to explain this is that my biological kids were born with a pair of rose colored glasses.  Yes, I knew they could be highly annoying at times, but just look at them...they're so stinking cute, how could I stay mad at them for long?  (The first problem with this statement is that they actually weren't as cute as I thought they were at the time.  I look back at some old pictures and think, "ouch.  that's a face only a mama can love"- but I digress)  For me, Obsa did not come with a pair of these magical glasses.  In fact, it seemed he came with a pair of magnifying glasses instead.  Everything he did was much more annoying to me than it would have been if one of the other kids did it.  I was holding on to so much resentment from our experience in Ethiopia that the poor kid didn't stand a chance.  Granted, he has a tough personality, so it's not like he was sitting there like a little angel and I was just mad and him for no reason.  I was beginning to fear that the bond would never come.  Everyone else could look at him and talk about how cute he is, but I wasn't seeing it.

Luckily, I'm not one to keep my feelings inside and I immediately started acknowledging my feelings to anyone who would listen - anyone that could offer some support - and even to those who couldn't and just stared at me like a deer in headlights.  Hey, I always tell people, don't ask me how things are going unless you really want to know!  I think I was just short of telling the pizza delivery boy all about it just because it made me feel so much better to talk about it!  Becky  from YWAM (the adoption agency) called a couple of days after we got home to see how things were going - and boy did she get an earful.  I just started sobbing, "I am worried we made a mistake", "I don't feel a bond to him", "I feel like I have post-adoption depression".  Luckily for me, Becky was extremely supportive and told me that how I was feeling was normal for someone who has adopted a child Obsa's age and with his personality - not to say everyone experiences it - but it's not uncommon.  She set me up with another YWAM family who had gone through similar things.  It was helpful to hear someone else say they once felt the way I was feeling.  They were only 4 months ahead of us in the process, so they were still doing work on this too, but at least they were able to tell me it gets better.

I started feeling like I needed to do something that would make this process familiar to me.  Something that would make him feel like mine and not just some kid I was babysitting.  The only thing I could think of was for David and I to chose a name.  David was reluctant at first, but he could tell it was something important to me, so he opened up to the idea.  For me, the name Ezekiel was perfect.  I was just drawn to it right away, but then when we found out that it means "God strengthens", I knew it had to be his name because boy did I need some of God's strength now.  Once David was onboard, it was time to tell everyone else.  I thought they were going to kill us because they spent so much time trying to figure out how to pronounce Obsa and now we were changing it on them!  Although, I think people have come to expect the unexpected out of us.  Everyone was very understanding and agreed that it made sense.  The kids were pretty confused for a few days - except for Zeke.  He immediately answered to his new name, even better than he ever answered to Obsa (at least for us).  We didn't want to completely get rid of his Ethiopian names, though, so we added Obsa and Birhanu (his birth father's name) as middle names.  So, now the poor kid has the very long name of Ezekiel David Obsa Birhanu.  I thought that it might be important for him someday to know that his Ethiopian names were still a part of who he is.  I think of them like rings on a tree - a storyline of "becoming Zeke".  First, he was Obsa Birhanu.  Then, once the adoption was final, the Ethiopian government changed his name to Obsa David (every child, boy or girl, gets their adoptive father's first name as their middle name).  Then we added the Ezekiel.  I didn't want to lose any of that story, so we just added it all in there.

There's so much more to say about the bonding issues...too much for one post.  I can tell you that one year later, things are sooooooo much better and I feel bonded to him, but it was a long road.  I have a lot to say about it, but not tonight.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Trip 2 - The Aftermath (part 2 from DP)

Here is the third e-mail I sent while in Ethiopia . . .

A view from our window . . . a very middle class type area. 
It's been a few days since I last wrote to you and I have all kinds of excuses why.  Other than a full schedule, we've also been without power for most of the visit. The rainy season is beginning here and the infrastructure just doesn't hold up well.  Most days have begun slightly overcast followed by thunderstorms that dry up in the evening and then return over night. Anytime it is dry it seems most folks spend their time cleaning up from the rains.  With only the main roads paved and dirt, debris, rubble, poor drainage etc. everywhere else, it is a very muddy place to be. It's funny though, because it's easy to paint a miserable existence among all the challenges here but it is very much just a way of life.  The people here are wonderful - warm, helpful, courteous and respectful.  They are quite resilient in their daily challenges for things like water, power, and cleanliness. Even more so, I often feel that we are looked at as a little soft in our "needs" for daily comfort.  I feel like Jillian and I can adapt pretty well to most situations - but I guess I see that as the difference in
our cultures. While quite clearly they have adapted as a culture over time, our culture is always looking for something bigger and better - a solution.

There is something peaceful and refreshing about their approach. They are quite content.  I certainly appreciate all the comfort, structure and opportunity that America offers, but put in perspective - the Ethiopian people are not as needy as some may believe.

The days have begun to run together as we try to help Obsa wrap his little head around what's going on. In the last few months he's had to move from caregiver to caregiver too many times and he is showing the signs that it's just all too much for him. We continue to have momentary glimpses of his potential personality. In the meantime, he's doing his very best to let us know he's not a happy fella. I'd love to tell you all about what a wonderful bonding experience we've had - and perhaps someday, we'll be able to look back and say we did - but right now we are battling to let this little boy know he is loved, safe, and secure. Our family is his last stop! 

Because of his transitions we've learned that when he's upset he cries - a lot. The good news is that Obsa has been in a very caring environment and has received plenty of love and attention. The challenge is that he has gotten everything he wants - on his terms.  It is a very difficult balance to make sure he knows we are the ones who will love and care for him  but that you don't get to whine and get everything you want. The other night we had dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant and Obsa thought it was fun to throw his food on the floor when he was finished eating.  Now at home we are fans of putting the proverbial smack down, so we simply took his plate away.  Right away we were chastised for taking food from a baby. When we explained the situation we were told to give him his plate back. In respect of our hosts we did just that.  A little example, but indicative of the cultural sensitivity we are trying to balance while we are still guests in Ethiopia.

Lastly, the aftermath we feared from the birthday party arrived. Jillian started antibiotics this evening due to a fever, achy joints and all kinds of other stuff I'm just sure you don't want to hear about.  I'm not as bad,but my body is telling me it's time to return as well.  Obsa still thinks I'm rather scary and needs Jillian to be his safety net.  So it was a very tough day but then we got one of those glimpses that helps us to see that this will all work out okay.  We had a really nice evening with him where he just played for a little while - all I could do was just look up and say thank you.  

By now you've figured out that the power came back on so I was able to get a little work done this evening. Sorry I'm so long winded, but I promise you that this was the abridged version of the last few days. What an experience - loved coming here, but can't wait to get home! 

Trip 2 - Thought I'd share a little

Below is an e-mail I sent to some family and close friends while we were still in Ethiopia.  This was the second day of our trip and I thought I would share a little bit of our experience.  It's funny to look back at what I wrote and compare to  what was really happening.  I seem to minimize his "preferences" and I'm not sure if it was to protect me or everbody else.  Regardless here's my take while we were there . . .

Mommy and Obsa
So Jillian didn't realize I was taking their picture - day 2 has been a little tough. Obsa just wants to be held by Jillian -definitely not me - and he is very sad. While things are going well, the emotion in our little corner of Ethiopia is palpable. Obsa seems sad, scared, confused, uncertain, distant, tired and more.  It's so hard to see such a little guy struggling to understand such a big change in his life. Jillian and I came here thinking that we would be picking him up on Monday - as it turns out we got a phone call two hours after we arrived Saturday at our guest house notifying us that our ride was waiting for us. We had just spent 24 hours traveling here and couldn't wait to just lay down, rest and prepare both mentally and physically for what was to come. But it was "game time;" so we gathered our stuff and hopped in the van to go get our new son! 

We ended up going to the orphanage with two other families.  When we arrived, we were greeted by the children holding small bouquets of flowers looking very excited and confused.  As we exited the van it was a bit chaotic as each of the kids scurried to figure out who their new mommy was.

One little boy came up to me with a hesitant pause and hugged my leg wondering if I was his new daddy.  After I showed him who his new parents were, he went running over and again stopped just short with hesitation - this time his dad picked him up and told him that he was so excited to be back to see him again.  He and his wife were there to pick up two little boys (3 & 4 year old cousins) and as he continued to tell the little boy named "J" that they were there to take him home he was interrupted with a giant hug. I'm telling you about their experience because it was a way better story than ours!  Obsa cried and did his best to wiggle away with hopes that this was just a bad dream!  Some of the older kids from the orphanage were comforting him and trying to tell him that it would be okay - Obsa was just sure they were wrong but would take a hug from anyone he knew, including the security guard!  After a couple of hours at the orphanage we all piled into the van again and returned to our guest homes for the night.

We ordered some traditional Ethiopian food for dinner and all fell asleep watching a movie on the iPad (oh yeah, we were without power since we arrived). 

This morning we awoke to the rooster crows after a smooth night and the power was back on.  Obsa slept all night and even ate some breakfast. He's very cautious about taking any food from us, even though he insists on taking something to eat and holding on to it like a Linus blanket - yesterday it was a cracker, today a piece of toast. He refuses most things to drink but was willing to allow Jillian to spoon feed some corn flakes and mango.  For the most part he's just been very quiet and demands Jillian hold him close (preferably standing and rocking). The good news is that this is exactly what we expected and were prepared for . . . the hard part is that it is tough. Jillian is a wonderful mom and Obsa is requiring every bit of effort she has. But already, we can see subtle changes in his demeanor.  He would really prefer if I wouldn't look at him but Jillian is quickly becoming his source of comfort. As I'm writing this she just got him to giggle a little bit - just a little, but it's a start.

An hour after my last e-mail, here's what I wrote . . .

While I was writing my last e-mail Jillian decided to go outside to get a change of scenery. Right after I hit send the power went out again and I went out to catch up with Jillian and Obsa and i couldn't find them. Then it started to rain really hard and they were still nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later they came running up to the guest house in the rain. They were at a birthday party for a 3 year old behind our guest house! We went back and had an awesome time! Obsa was a completely different child there - smiling laughing, having fun! We ate a bunch of stuff we shouldn't have (including sheep's liver) and have returned and are awaiting the aftermath!

But at least Obsa had fun! It was a much needed light of encouragement!