Wednesday, December 31, 2008

lazy summer afternoons

Do you remember those summer days as a child where you spent all afternoon in the swimming pool, only getting out to eat potato chips with dripping wet fingers and it didn't really matter if you got the chips wet because you ate them fast to ward off the starvation you were feeling from all that swimming? The kind where if you got out of the sun to sit under the shade of an umbrella, you automatically felt cold because your skin was so toasty warm from the sun? The kind where you could play with a frisbee in the pool by yourself for a really long time, alternately making the frisbee a launch seat for a rocket ship, a steering wheel, a water splasher, and a surfboard? The kind where you spent a lot of time perfecting your newly acquired skill of turning back flips?

That's the kind of afternoon Mac had yesterday and that makes me inordinately happy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The favorite Christmas present of the year (for father and son)

The Nerf Blaster Turbo

What happens when you take a shower when the vultures are around...

On Christmas Eve, I baked a turkey that I'd ordered and planned to cook on Christmas Day before we made plans to eat with friends. The turkey was spectacular and cooked to perfection. It was untouched when I jumped in the shower. I was gone from the kitchen not 15 minutes and returned to this carnage left by the vultures:

Merry belated Christmas from us to you!

Jimmy and Mac join me in wishing you a wonderful Christmas. I know I'm a day late but shouldn't we celebrate the miracle birth that makes Christmas all year long anyway? I hope your day was special no matter where you were or with whom you celebrated.

My mom is here visiting for a month. She commented yesterday that we were having a Griswold Christmas. Normally she's busy on Christmas Day either preparing lunch for her whole family or making a dish or two to take to her sister's house for the family meal. As we'd been invited to join friends at their Christmas dinner, we literally lazed the whole day away. We stayed in pajamas until 4 in the afternoon, we ate turkey sandwiches smeared with cranberry sauce for lunch on an unset table, and we played with our new toys and read books. It was entirely blissful and I think it could set a new standard for future relaxed Christmases for my mother!

Blessings to you and yours during this holiday season of light and hope.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Madonna or Bust!

Last night we went to see Madonna in concert along with 69,798 other people. It was the last show of her Sticky and Sweet (or is it Sweet and Sticky?) concert tour and it was PHENOMENAL.

Before you start lecturing me, I know she's morally questionable and disgusting in many aspects of how she lives her life. But we got the tickets at a good price and so we decided it was worth the money to see one of the greatest music legends of our time. (And odds are she won't come to South Carolina next year when we live there and she certainly hasn't made it to Brasilia, Maputo or Guadalajara in the last 10 years so this seemed like as good a time as any).

The Sao Paulo newspaper reported that she travels with 250 people in her entourage and that it takes 5 days just to set up the stage. I can totally understand those numbers after seeing the show. There was so much going on - her; the band; dancers all over the place; djs; 6 huge screens that formed her backdrop that flashed different images, videos, etc the whole time; these enormous sparkly "M"'s that decorated the sides of the stage; this huge moving circular lighted thing that raised and lowered during different parts of the concert; etc. A baby grand piano was raised on the stage at one point and she drove out on the stage in what looked like an antique Bentley or Rolls early in the show. It was CRAZY INSANE.

We had great "seats" - I put that in quotes because there were no seats. We were in that part right by the stage where you stand for hours upon hours (yes, I know I sound old, but my back was killing me!). We were a maximum of 15 people back from the stage so we had great views of her. She didn't even start singing until 10:15, so when she stopped at 12:15am, I was DONE.

Before the concert, we ran into some people from the group "Meninos do Morumbi". Meninos is this wonderful organization here that was started in the mid-1990s by a great guy and musician named Flavio. Flavio's intention was to introduce music to adolescents from the slums as a means of getting them off of drugs and off the streets. The program has been wildly successful. There are some 4000 kids involved in the program - they come for various lessons now in sports, English, and music; and their music is sensational. They've performed for President Bush and other dignitaries so their exposure is enormous. But I digress. We ran into Flavio and his wife before the show with some of the kids from Meninos. They said that they were at the show as Madonna's guests. Some of Madonna's dancers had come out over the last few days to do workshops with the kids. As we were standing there, the dancers came out to get the group. They treated each other like old friends and then they took them backstage. How cool is that? So even good things can come from morally destitute people.

It was a memorable show and I'm so glad we went but wow, am I tired today. Apparently Madonna at age 50 has way more stamina than I do at 38 (and if you look at the attached photos of her, you'll see she's nothing but muscle so I imagine she's definitely got more stamina than I do!). She was out celebrating until 5am this morning. I fell into bed at 1:30am, don't think I rolled over until the alarm clock went off at 7am and I've hardly been able to keep my eyes open all day. So on that note, I'm off to bed!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Update on adoption front

Some of you have asked about our adoption efforts, and I really, genuinely appreciate your interest and concern. Sadly there's not much to report. We started the home study process and are nearly complete with that and that's about the only good news there is to share.

We really wanted to adopt in Brazil as this will likely be the place we live the longest in Jimmy's diplomatic career. As some of you know, the United States signed the Hague Convention on international adoption last December and ratified the convention (or whatever you do with a convention) in April. Brazil has also signed the Hague Convention, so it seems like it should be really easy to process an international adoption between the two countries. So much for my thinking on that matter.

The United States has Hague-accredited a long list of American adoption agencies and now Brazil has to choose a few of those that we Americans will use who want to adopt in Brazil. Seems easy enough, right? Well the meeting to discuss these agencies has been scheduled and postponed at least 4 times that I know of since October. Now it's Christmas time and not too much gets done in Brazil between Christmas and Carnival (end of February), so I'm not hopeful that the meeting will happen until sometime after February, which means there will continue to be NO adoptions by Americans in Brazil.

The psychologist who is doing our home study was confident as late as Thanksgiving that we still had time to adopt in Brazil given our departure next summer even with these delayed meetings. But I have just heard from her and she now believes this nonsense could drag on indefinitely. She has decided to assist in adoptions only in non-Hague countries and wanted to tell us that. Our home study could still be used for a Hague country adoption, but, for instance, if we decided to try for Brazil, we'd have to present our home study to one of these agencies that eventually Brazil will one day approve and that agency would review the home study and hopefully be able to use it.

And actually the same process will still happen if we go with a non-Hague country - we'll select an agency in the US to help us and they'll use the home study that we're nearing completion on.

In a big step forward, yesterday I contacted an adoption agency in the US that our friends, the Schnabels, used to adopt their girls from Ethiopia. As it's the weekend, I won't hear from anybody until tomorrow (hopefully they're working even though it's Christmas week), but we are moving forward and will now try to adopt in a non-Hague country. Ethiopia is our first choice.

At this point there wouldn't be much difference going Hague or non-Hague for us because we have decided Brazil is out of the running. The real reason we've decided to go non-Hague is because we'd have to get a police report from every place we've ever lived in since we were something like 18. That's fine for places like Columbia, South Carolina, but Maputo, Mozambique? It sounds so difficult that I can't even contemplate how you go about getting that done.

So we press on. The thing that makes me maddest and saddest in all this is that I know there are thousands of children in orphanages here in Brazil that are waiting to be adopted and because of bureaucratic nonsense, they're going to stay in orphanages longer instead of being placed with decent families who can provide them a home. It's infuriating but we can't beat our heads against a brick wall when we can find another wall that's a little softer, a little more accommodating and a little more willing to be knocked down.

I'll keep you posted as events develop!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Would you like an invitation to my pity party?

To paraphrase Donkey (of Shrek fame): "You cut me deep, Mac. You cut me reeeeeeeal deep."

Signed, Chopped Liver

Drag Queens delivered to your door

When someone tries to enter our apartment complex, they have to tell the main gate who they're here to see. Then the main gate calls our building porteiro who calls us to ask if they can be granted access. I have a very difficult time understanding the porteiro who works in our building in the morning. So imagine my surprise when he called just now and told me "Drag Queen" was here to see me and could they be granted access? The only person I'm expecting today is a consulate repairman and I'm pretty sure he doesn't go by "Drag Queen", so I expressed my confusion over who this could be. He said he'd quickly find out what sort of business "Drag Queen" was and maybe that would jog my memory over who I was expecting. Trust me, buddy, I'm not expecting anybody from the Drag Queen industry. But I heard him on his radio calling to the main gate and turns out it was the lady from the "Dry Clean"-ing place delivering our drycleaning. Drag Queen... Dry Clean... I can see the confusion!

Our new neighbors

A fruit basket delivered by our new neighbors, Elza and Felix!

When Elza delivered it, she said she knew it was customary in America to take a cake to your new neighbors, but she's not a great baker, so she brought us a beautiful fruit basket. I love them (the neighbors, not the fruit, although the fruit was exceptional) already.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"I had a really bad day at school"

Mac is usually so happy and cheerful, but yesterday he got off the bus with his head hanging down. He told me he had a really bad day at school. I asked what happened and he said he did something very embarrassing. I asked him what he did, thinking of all the really embarrassing things he could have done that might have scarred him for life. In gym class, he fell down on his head and "everybody laughed, even the teacher, Mom". I asked him if he would have laughed had it happened to someone else and he said no (of course not, says his mother sarcastically).

So I decided to tell him my most embarrassing school story of all time. It occurred in the 5th grade at a school that I'd only attended for a few months. It must have been Halloween (what other occasion would there have been to dress up in a costume?) and I dressed up as a hobo and wore a pair of my dad's pants as part of the costume. I rode the bus to school and when we arrived, I stood up to get off but the pants stayed down. Fortunately it was cold and I had on tights underneath and I don't know if anybody really even saw because believe you me, I was fast in pulling them up, but I WAS MORTIFIED. (Obviously I'm scarred still because I can remember the horror some 28 years later.)

So I thought this story definitely trumped the falling on his head thing. But Mac looked at me with near-disgust in his eyes and said "that's nothing compared to my embarrassment." There you go. I am now letting go of my decades-old embarrassment because it can't even compare with kindergarten embarrassment.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Batter up!

Yesterday ended the current session of Little League for Mac. This semester he only played baseball so we could focus concentration on one sport. I'm pleased to report there was marked improvement (and attention span).

Last semester there was a lot of playing:

This semester there was more playing baseball:

And, of course, the participation medal at the end makes it all worthwhile!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

Some of you may not know that I left Jimmy and took up with Grizzly Adams. Okay, not really, but that's a little how Jimmy has looked since he "practice-grew" a beard for his Afghanistan tour. I was okay with the beard which was grown while on vacation in SC in October, namely because I was told it would be shaved off upon his return to Sao Paulo (on November 9).

Well wouldn't you know that some people actually liked the beard. They told Jimmy it made him look older (yes, it did) and more distinguished (maybe?), but none of those people were having to kiss him!

I was wholeheartedly in favor of beard removal as quickly as possible. Those people who voted in favor of the beard kept it on a little longer than necessary, but my vote still has veto power over everybody else!

Yesterday, Mac helped Jimmy shave it off. He was going to get rid of it in stages - a goatee for awhile, then a mustache, then a soul patch until there was nothing left. But he got so carried away with his little beard trimming kit that he shaved almost all the goatee part away, so it all went in one fell swoop. (Trust me when I tell you that the mustache was NOT a good look for him and we won't even address the soul patch).

So I am pleased to report that Grizzly Adams has left the building.

James, the older, distinguished version

The Sleazy Creep

The Jimmy We Know and Love

Monday, December 1, 2008

More photos from the Marine Ball

Some of the beautiful ladies from my Bible Study

Renee, Susan, and Laura

The Marine Ball

On Saturday, November 22, Mrs. Kay, Walker, Jimmy, and I attended the Marine Ball to celebrate the Marine Corps' birthday. The event was held at the Grand Hyatt in Sao Paulo and it was a lovely affair. We sat at a table with our dear friends Laura and Scott Tonks and the head of the consular section. Jimmy's USC friend Andrew Kaiser was supposed to attend with us, but sadly, he forgot to get a visa to come to Brazil. He's an international consultant and has traveled before to Brazil, so he knows the ins and outs of international travel; otherwise, we would've felt really sorry for him instead of just sort of sorry! He's gotten his visa now and will be arriving in Sao Paulo tomorrow. Better late than never!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Jimmy, his mom, and Walker left on the day before Thanksgiving to travel to Paraty and Rio. Mac and I stayed in Sao Paulo to unpack boxes and because Mac had school on Thanksgiving Day (don't even get me started on why an American school doesn't have Thanksgiving Day off). Regardless, he missed enough school during our US trip in October, so I didn't think he could miss any more days.

His school, despite the idiotic decision to have school on what is the most American of all US-celebrated holidays (besides Independence Day which isn't celebrated during the school year), really is a fantastic school and does everything first-class.

On Thanksgiving morning, they hosted a Thanksgiving Prayer Service and brunch for Kindergarteners and their families and it was just perfect. The three classes had different roles in the program - one class sang a song, another told the Thanksgiving story, and Mac's class told what they were thankful for.

When it was Mac's class's turn, they all stood up in a row and held up a piece of paper that said what they were thankful for. Mac was right in front of me and so I could clearly read his paper, which said he was thankful for "his fish and his family." A blue beta fish named Pedro got higher billing than the people who gave him life. Go figure... He did have the good grace (or forgetfulness) to name his family first when he gave his oral presentation. (It's hard to understand in the poor-quality video, but he really did say family before the fish!)

The program was followed by brunch where we ate turkey, rice and gravy, potatoes, salads, and desserts. It was a lovely morning with my little Pilgrim.

Mac and I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at our friends', the Wares, who open their home every Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful evening with great food and wonderful company. We are blessed with so much in our life here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mac's 6th Birthday Party

Before I started blogging, I sent out an email about the first birthday party Mac attended once we moved to Sao Paulo. It was an elaborate and costly affair and I was sure it would be cheaper for us to vacation as a family at Disneyworld for a week than to spring for one of those parties.

So as Mac's birthday loomed closer and closer, I grew more and more nervous. Our apartment was too tiny (and too moldy although I didn't know that) to host even a few children, their siblings and parents. I checked on renting the party room in our building and that alone was about $250 to rent and it didn't really have the space for children to run around that I thought we needed. So we decided to have it at the consulate's recreation area. There's plenty of space with a soccer field, swimming pool, tables and chairs, and best of all: we weren't charged to use it!

Because we had just moved to Sao Paulo before Mac's last birthday, he didn't have a party last year and I've felt guilty about that for a whole year. So when faced with who to invite, I followed our Marine friend's life motto of "go big or go home". I felt strongly that we had to invite everybody in his class and then there were his friends in our complex and consulate friends and some kids on the school bus and church friends. You get the idea.

Because we were having it at the consulate and we had to get everybody on the security list, rsvps were a must which was a great thing for me. People don't rsvp here and so I had a clear idea of how many people we were expecting. And because the people expected numbered about 80, I knew I wasn't making food for that many people (remember we were in the temporary apartment with one pyrex dish, 2 pots, 1 measuring cup, 4 drinking cups, etc). One of the things I will miss most about Brazil is the plethora of services you can employ. We hired this wonderful company called the Blue Banana Buffet to set up three booths of food. We chose nuggets, mini-pizzas and mini-hamburgers and they threw in cotton candy as a prize. It was fantastic and easy and surprisingly delicious and all I had to do was make the carrot cakes at Mac's request. It was definitely the easiest birthday party cooking I've ever done!

The weekend of the party was overcast and rainy and we prayed and prayed for sunny weather for the party day (last Sunday). We woke up to beautiful weather in the morning but apparently we should've been more time-specific in our prayer requests because the wind started blowing around 1pm. The Blue Banana people told me rain was on the way (the party was from 2-5pm). Well by about 3:15, the skies opened up and we had a rip-roaring, thunder-booming, lightning-cracking, wind-blowing storm. I'm pretty sure it never rains inside those expensive party places in Sao Paulo. You only have these problems with the elements when you're trying to do a backyard-esque (aka affordable) birthday party.

Another problem you don't have in those party places is the electricity going off. Yeah, we had that problem too. The power went off and while the generator kicked on for the consulate building itself, the generator doesn't cover the recreation area. So our food people couldn't cook and we had a lull in food cooking and consumption for awhile.

I had several games lined up but they were all outside games and didn't translate well when played under a covered patio. I mean Red Rover just seems a little dangerous when children can skin their knees on concrete after busting through the locked arms. Finally the rain slacked off and instead of doing an orderly balloon toss game as I'd planned, Jimmy let the children have a free-for-all water balloon fight which they loved more than anything.

All was not lost, though. The sun finally came out, the children could swim, the electricity came back on, everybody ate and Mac had a great time. All's well that ends well. I'm glad that's checked off the to-do list!!

Three apartments, two moves, two in-laws, one Marine Ball, two birthday parties... all in three weeks!

I have survived the last three weeks and sometimes, survival is good enough.

When Mac and I returned from the US on October 29, we came home to mold. We had a mold problem earlier in the year but the mold was never visible (it was behind a closet that was supposedly fixed), so I was alarmed to actually see the mold on the wall. The Consulate acted quickly to get the landlord's repairmen in to fix the problem. But they couldn't find the problem. The aforementioned closet was pulled out and we found it was covered (and I mean covered) in mold. They started breaking into the concrete floor under where the closet had been to find the leak. They dug down several inches and the concrete several inches down was as wet as the concrete had been on the top. And they couldn't find the leak. So that meant they were going to have to break up the floor and walls (all concrete construction) to find the leak.

Photo of the side and back of the closet insert

As an aside, we took Mac to an allergist while we were home in October because of reactions he's had to nuts. The doctor diagnosed him with asthma in addition to the allergies. I really almost dismissed the diagnosis because I was so confident we didn't live in the moldy, damp conditions he insisted were triggers. So much for my medical degree...

Now by this time, we'd lost the use of two bedrooms due to mold so Mac and I were down to sharing the guest bedroom. This was cozy, but time was ticking. Jimmy and his mom were arriving shortly and as much as I love his mom, four of us in one bed was going to be a little tight.

On Wednesday, November 5, they pulled out the closet and discovered the mold and the house smelled worse than anything I could imagine (and the mold was so bad that it caused your nose and throat to burn). On Thursday, November 6, the post OSHA representative told me the apartment was unfit for humans to live in in the current state, and on Friday, November 7, the Consulate called at 7:30am to tell me to pack enough clothes for a couple weeks because we were moving to a temporary apartment.

So we moved to the temporary apartment which was nice and modern and not moldy but small and a minimum 25-minute commute to Mac's school.

We lived in the apartment for 2 weeks during which time we had a belated quasi-surprise birthday party for Jimmy, Jimmy's stepdad came (and had to sleep on the couch because the guest room was too small for anything but a twin bed), we attended the Marine Ball, Jimmy's mom got sick, we had Mac's birthday party (see the posting for birthday party news - coming soon!), and a moving company moved all our household effects from the old apartment to a new apartment in the same complex as the moldy apartment but in a newer building.

We started sleeping at the new apartment this past Monday. Jimmy, his mom and stepdad left for Paraty and Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday afternoon and they'll return on Monday, by which time the apartment will look more normal so they can feel more at home for their last few days of vacation.

Thankfully the apartment is really lovely. It's big and spacious and we can all breathe. Mac doesn't cough at all over here, which means that I have a HUGE 7-month supply of Zyrtec that it appears we may not need after all.

The best thing of all? We're totally unpacked. There is nary a box to be seen. Christmas decorations are up. It feels like home!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What a great night!

Last night I was determined to stay awake to see the presidential election results, but by midnight I was done. Actually I was done a lot earlier but that was when I made the decision to stop sleeping in the chair and move to the bed. For some great and terrific and inexplicable reason, I woke up about 2:15. I decided to turn the slingbox back on and tuned in just in time to see them declare Obama the winner. WOW. I then watched McCain's extraordinarily gracious speech and then I watched as Obama made the victory speech of all victory speeches. That guy is incredible and I am so excited about the next 4 (and, I'm confident, 8) years with him as our leader.

This morning when I woke Mac up for school, I told him that Obama won. Mac's followed the campaign with us and knew of our support for Obama. He asked "so he's the president now?" I explained that we had a couple months to wait but yes, he would be president.

I really wanted Mac to understand the tremendous significance of Obama being elected. My dear sweet son is so colorblind - thank God - that it took awhile for him to understand that Obama is a black man and that not too long ago, his being elected President couldn't have happened, even in what is the greatest country on earth. It was what I hope was a good teaching moment about equality, although Mac looked confused when I said that it didn't matter if a person is black, white, purple or green - we're all the same. Maybe I should have used a Transformer reference for the different colors?

Beyond that, we have a chance for real change and improvement. Oh, it's such a great time to be an American.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election excitement

I am soooo excited about this election and learning the results that I don't know how I'm going to survive the next 36+ hours!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

the times, they are a-changin'...

Tonight Mac and I went to eat dinner at a restaurant with our friends, the Bregmans. The Bregmans have three children, aged 5 to 11. Rebecca, their youngest, is this adorable little pixie of a girl and she's just full of energy and spunk. She asked Mac if he wanted to come over for a sleepover. Mac and I have discussed the concept of sleepovers and we've read repeatedly a Franklin book about sleepovers but he acts like he's not ready to do it yet. (He's only ever had a sleepover at his cousin Hayley's and that's family so we don't really count it). So he told her that he'd never done a sleepover and then I said maybe she could do a sleepover at our house one time to show Mac how it was done. She suggested tonight, so we are now having our first sleepover and wouldn't you know it's with a girl! The times really are a-changin'.

Friday, October 31, 2008

why God wisely pairs up over-protective moms with less-than-over-protective dads!

If this had been a mother-son weekend outing, I am fairly confident there would be no photo of Mac on a horse, alone, on a trail ride. It's a whole different story on a father-son weekend outing. At least there was protective headgear involved!

Follow-up to "Interesting Chapel Mom" posting

My best friend Caroline has taken great exception to my reference to being middle-aged (because that means she is too!). While 37 might not literally be middle-aged (or I hope it's not anyway), when compared to a 22 year-old supermodel, it feels remarkably like middle-aged or beyond. My apologies, Caroline!

a pearl of wisdom

Conversation tonight during Mac's bath:

Mac (holding a bar of Dove soap): Don't you know you should always use Dove soap?

Mom: Why do you say that?

Mac: Because when you use it, it gives you an invisible force field of protection.

Mom: Where'd you learn that?

Mac: From TV.

And they say there's no educational content in American television anymore...

Interesting Chapel Mom

So today I was at the Halloween party at school and saw this kid with a very cool Incredible Hulk costume. He was sort of lurking and slinking around like he was completely in character and getting ready to attack someone. I commented on him and another mother asked if I knew who his mother is. He's in another kindergarten class and I didn't even know who the child was, so I said no. Turns out she's a 22 year-old supermodel named Isabela Fontana who now lives in NYC while the child lives here with his grandmother. I've just googled her and can we just thank the good Lord that the 22 year-old supermodel didn't show up at the Halloween party to make the rest of us middle-aged ladies in our cheap Target Halloween t-shirts feel even frumpier and more middle-aged!?!?!?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bumblebee is in the house

For those of you who are not Transformer buffs like we are at Casa Story, Bumblebee is a "good" Transformer. That's about the extent of my knowledge, but I'm sure Mac could tell you more. In lieu of that, I'll just share a few Halloween photos of Mac, aka BumbleBee.

Monday, October 20, 2008

a mother's heartbreak begins...

This afternoon, Jimmy and I took Mac to Jimmy's mom's house while we shopped and ran errands. Jimmy was driving his mom's car, and Mac and I followed behind. When we got to Bubby's house, Jimmy pulled in the garage and I pulled up behind him. Mac unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door, looked over his shoulder and said "thanks for the ride, bye" as if I were nothing more than a friend's mom, dropping him off at his house after soccer practice. Where did the little boy go who had to be buckled in and unbuckled out, who couldn't reach the door handle and who certainly couldn't jump down from a big truck all by himself????

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A sad day at the corn maze

If you've ever visited our corn maze website, the first thing you see is an aerial photo of the maze. That photo is what hooks people on the idea of walking through a corn field because the picture is always so cool. Since our beginning in 2005, our photos have been taken by Randy Bales, a quiet, hard-working guy who loves to fly airplanes and ride motorcycles.

Yesterday morning, Randy was riding his motorcycle and was struck by a driver who ran a red light. Randy died of blunt force trauma. He is survived by his wife and 7year-old son. The other driver had several traffic violations already, was an unlicensed driver and is now free on bail even though he killed a good family man whose son only got 7 short years with his Daddy and whose wife is now faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to live without her mate.

Randy came into our lives in a manner that so typical of small-town life. About 9 months before we opened the first corn maze, I was having my teeth cleaned at our local dentist's office in Moncks Corner. My dental hygienist Cindy mentioned in passing that her husband had a small plane and loved to take it up. I asked if he could take a photo for us on one of his flights, he agreed, and the rest is history. This is one of a million reasons why I love small-town life. And we loved Randy Bales for his warm and unassuming personality, his good work ethic, and his great multi-tasking abilities (he could fly the plane AND take photos at the same time). We loved Randy because he brought their son on a school field trip to the corn maze when there weren't a lot of other dads taking time off to do that. We loved Randy because he always came out to the corn maze with his family on a weekend afternoon when he probably had a million other things he'd rather be doing. Our hearts are heavy today.

To check out all of Randy's photos, cut and paste the following link:

Monday, October 6, 2008

The next Tiger Woods? I think not.

Mac and his friend Andre playing at the driving range

We had the great privilege of spending yesterday at our friends' country house. Mac is in class with Andre, and so through Andre we've met his parents, Claudia and Fernando, and his brother, Guilhermo. They invited us to their weekend place for a lovely, relaxing day. Their home is simply perfect- they've recreated this Tuscan villa in a beautiful neighborhood about 1.5 hours from Sao Paulo.

Their house is on a golf course and so Fernando and Jimmy took the boys to the driving range after lunch. I'm fairly confident we're not raising Tiger Woods v.2. Maybe baseball or basketball will pan out better?

A pirate must never abandon his sword!

Our tired, little pirate in mismatched too-small pajamas, holding on to his sword to the end!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Has anyone seen the OSHA representative?

Yes, this is what it looks like. They are building a huge new apartment building behind us. They add another floor about every week and there is no end in sight. And on Saturday morning when I was trying to unload the dishwasher, I could not stop watching this man working off the side of the building.

To put this in perspective, we live on the 25th floor and this view was nearly at my eye level. This guy is CRAZY. I sure hope he's got some good life insurance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An afternoon at the fashion show...

Okay, first of all, let me just clear up how the Storys, whose idea of haute couture is "new Gap" (as opposed to vintage Gap which is our everyday wear) got to go to a fashion show. Our friends Gisele and Flavio's daughter was a model for Fashion Weekend Kids (as was their niece) and they got us tickets for yesterday's events at one of the fancy malls in Sao Paulo. We were in the company of high society, let me tell you. (And yes, we did act like we knew how to hang with high society, so there were no social gaffes, at least none that we know of.)
Gisele, the mother of the model, and me, the hanger-on

Our first order of business was to watch the fashion show, which was set-up with a catwalk and lights and loud rock music and looked just like what you see on tv. Bia and Mirella were gorgeous in their outfits - so natural and beautiful and fun. There were other girls, however, who are either professional models or who have watched too much Project Runway. These pre-adolescent girls were strutting their stuff like nobody's business. Also included in the fashion show were a famous reporter for Globo television and a rock singer from a famous Brazilian band. Of course, we are clueless and didn't know who these people were. In fact, I thought the rock star must have had to go out onstage holding this young boy because the boy was his son and wouldn't walk otherwise. (You know, like a ringbearer in a wedding who hasn't understood the concept of "I'll buy you the biggest toy in the toystore if you will just walk down this aisle with the pillow".)
Some models who didn't make it into the show, but should have!

The second order of business was to enjoy the different booths that the sponsors had all set up. When you entered the fashion show, you got a bunch of arm bands that were labeled with the names of different sponsors, and you gave up one band for every booth you visited.

Mac's first booth was a cupcake-decorating station. Needless to say, the finished product didn't make it to the car and Jimmy and I didn't get so much as a crumb!
Betty Crocker in the making!

Our second booth was sponsored by a florist where Mac got to wrap up a potted plant in pretty paper and stick a pinwheel in the side of it (it is spring here now and so it was a very spring-oriented booth).

Before we got to the next booths, Mac played on the playground they'd brought into the tents and Jimmy ate a lot of little hamburgers. They had a row of food people set up - all free for us socialites! - with hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, soft drinks, cotton candy, etc. All kid-oriented since it was a kid fashion show and the place was filled with children (even though there was some 6'4" kids taking advantage).

Next we went to the Kopenhagen booth. Kopenhagen is a really excellent line of chocolate here and, for some reason, we had to twist Mac's arm to wait in the line here. I don't think he realized what he'd get to do and eventually take home. Once he saw the bar of chocolate that was the length of a Hershey bar and probably twice as thick, he was in. So he painted the bar with white chocolate and then stuck on various other pieces of chocolate and they wrapped that up in a nice box AND then also gave him a package of 12 little chocolate bars plus a tube of these other chocolate things. Needless to say, we were all happy campers.

The Chef of Chocolate

Creating the Masterpiece

Next we went off to the Crocs (the shoes) booth. There wasn't much going on in their booth - a little coloring and facepainting - and the line was really long, but Gisele said it was worth it because of the drawing they have. So we waited in the line and Mac got his turn to draw for a prize. The prizes were Crocs keychains, those pins you stick in Crocs (what are those called??), and a pair of Crocs themselves. Well, wouldn't you know that Mr. Mac inherited his father's lucky horseshoe and he won a pair of Crocs!!! He chose brown ones. Who chooses brown Crocs? But as they were a giveaway, I decided not to argue about better color choices. This is very un-"high society" thinking, but if I'd known he was going to win a pair of these plastic shoes in September, I definitely would've saved the money I spent on a pair of them in July while we were home.

After the Crocs win, Mac made a windsock, we skipped the Glamour Glitz (or some such name) because it was a girl thing, and we went home with Mac's windfall.

So now, my dahlings, I must rest like all the other socialites in the city are doing on this Sunday afternoon. Ta-ta!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reason #14,376,421,725,999 why I know the God I serve is The God of Small Things

I successfully baked beautiful plump chocolate chip cookies for the first time in my life! This may seem like no big deal to you chocolate chip cookie bakers who are always successful, but for me, this was monumental and truly had to be divine intervention. In my 37+ years of life, I have tried A LOT of different recipes, I've bought every different kind of cookie sheet sold on the free market and still, I have always baked flat cookies that are so thin you can almost see through them. When we've lived overseas, I've blamed the failures on bad butter with too high a water content, and when we've lived in the US, I've blamed the failures on everything else but the butter.

Mac has been so dismayed by my inability to cook chocolate chip cookies that I almost didn't try the recipe in this month's Southern Living. But God bless this woman who works there who shared her recipe. On Monday afternoon, Mac and I made the most marvelous cookies you have ever seen or tasted. I have made a note of what cookie sheet I used, what brand of Brazilian butter I used, and the exact minutes and seconds I cooked each pan for. If this feat is to be repeated, I need all the help I can get!!

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's the little things that will make you crazy...

I was pretty excited because my new potato ricer finally came and I was going to learn how to make gnocchi. I went to Wal-Mart this morning to grocery shop and THEY HAVE NO POTATOES. I'm not saying they only had red potatoes and I needed Idaho. I'm saying they had NO potatoes for sale. How can this be? And why are they doing this to me?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mexican food, Brazil-style

I'm still in Brasilia. Tonight is my last night before returning to my boys tomorrow afternoon. I'm staying at a really lovely Melia Hotel (even though somebody stole a very expensive alarm clock from my room when I stayed here last December). I've tried other hotels in the city on return trips and this really is the nicest, so now I hide my much cheaper alarm clock in the suitcase every morning before I leave for work.

But I digress...

They have had posters up all over the hotel about this Mexican Festival that started tonight at their fancy restaurant and ends this weekend. They've flown in the chef from the Gran Melia Resort in Cancun, where we stayed 7 or 8 years ago with our friends, the Royster-Mateens, and then my mom and dad. So I was a little nostalgic and I love Mexican food, and you can't get really great Mexican food here.

The problem is that the restaurant is pretty swank and I didn't really want to eat there by myself. A mall restaurant by yourself is one thing, but a fancy hotel restaurant is a little loser-ish on your own for an interactive meal like a Mexican buffet.

So I did what any self-respecting person would do. I called room service. This is one of those hotels where you dial 1 for everything. My new best friend Paulo has worked a lot this week at the other end of "dial 1" -I've had room service and Paulo was there; I've called to get the access code for Internet in my room and Paulo was there. So I really hoped Paulo would be working tonight because I thought I might be able to convince him to order room service for me with a Mexican assortment. But alas, Paulo must have the night off.

I got this other really friendly guy who said he'd call the restaurant and find out if they could do it. He called back and said no problem but I'd still have to pay the full buffet price, which was expensive but fine because I knew I'd get good Mexican food and besides, I'm on per diem so why not splurge on one meal? He asked me what I wanted and I said surprise me with an assortment, but only chicken (no beef) and lots of guacamole.

When he relayed that message to the restaurant, that must not have satisfied them. The next thing I know, the phone is ringing and on the other end is a man telling me to hold for the chef of the fancy restaurant. This seemed a little extreme that the chef would need to call, but I'm a sucker for service so I held.

The chef got on the phone and said they weren't sure what I wanted. I repeated that I'd just like an assortment really - they could pick - but I'd prefer chicken and I love guacamole.

So then he told me I needed to speak to the Mexican chef from the Gran Melia in Cancun to confirm what I wanted. (Did I mention that Mexican food isn't really that common here?) I was feeling better with every passing moment about the exorbitant price I was paying for this meal just from the attention I was getting. He asked me to hold, so I held... and held... and held.... and held.

I could hear discussion going on in the background, so I really thought the Mexican chef was telling them to tell me that I couldn't have the buffet for room service. But no, that wasn't the problem at all. The Brazilian chef got back on the phone and said he was so sorry, but it appeared that the Mexican chef had gone to use the bathroom and they'd have to call me back. Okay, too much information. Apparently his mother never taught him the art of giving a more socially acceptable reason for not being able to come to the phone.

Just as I was getting ready to hang up and wait for the callback, he told me that he had good news, the chef had just reappeared. So I spoke to this very nice man and told him that we'd had a lovely stay at his hotel some years ago and I was very eager to eat his food but didn't want to come down by myself so could he just make me a plate. I felt like a loser when he said "for one" in Spanish, but yeah, it was for one.

A few minutes later, a knock on the door produced this tray that was laden with food. My new favorite chef totally hooked me up. I didn't have one silver domed plate, but two. And that didn't count the two kinds of soup and the seafood salad and the dessert plate. I didn't eat everything (although I was tempted), but he sent these delicious light fried tortilla rounds with the most marvelous guacamole (2nd best only to Jimmy's) and ropa vieja. The second plate was rice and fried plantains and chicken mole (that tasted just like it did in Mexico) and fish in a tomato sauce. The soups were chicken/veggie and seafood, the salad was a seafood mix, and the dessert was rice pudding and flan. Oh, and they brought me a margarita too.

So I'm now stuffed to the gills with Mexican food and hooked on the idea that we must go immediately to re-visit the blue water and white sand of Cancun. If I could just hear the waves out my window right now, I could almost think I'm there....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sitting in a hotel room in Brasilia...

I'm in Brasilia for a week's consultancy for my old job. It's nice to be needed again and I'm very much enjoying being back on familiar turf. But I should be here to pick up our new baby - his due date is a mere 4 days away on September 20. I've had no contact with the adoptive mother since she first made contact with the birth mother. I assume the adoptive mother is here as she was to come around September 10 to wait for the baby to be born. I hope and pray he's born healthy and he provides this new family with what they've missed for 6 years.

We had our first home study visit with the psychologist last Friday morning to start our adoption approval. She was very nice but the whole thing is a little weird and I have what I hope is an irrational and unfounded fear that she'll think we're unfit parents. What if we answer a question wrong? Jimmy and I have to go for the next two appointments separately and what if she asks the same question of each of us and we answer differently? Are we automatically disqualified? I don't feel like it's a trap, but there's a lot riding on this and we need her to think we're worthy of having more children.

Mac had a school holiday on Friday so after we had our early morning home study visit, we took off for a weekend at the beach. Friday was spectacular, Saturday had some showers and clouds, and Sunday was downright cold, rainy, and miserable. But we had a wonderful time, relaxing, watching movies in our pousada, and playing in the sand when we could. It is still late winter here, and I have to remind myself that we wouldn't be sitting on the beach in our bathing suits in Charleston in March without very mixed results.

Life is very good to us in spite of these twists and turns.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dream Day, Take Two

Jimmy just got home from work and instead of letting himself into the apartment with his keys, he rang the doorbell so Mac and I would answer the bell to see him standing nonchalantly with his fancy Major League Baseball cap on. He was beside himself with boyish excitement. They let him throw balls around the field (with the former Major Leaguers) and they had the good grace and manners to compliment him. I believe he thinks he might be ready for a change of career and that his big break in the Major Leagues is just around the corner. It's so nice to dream big...

A Dream Day in the Life of Jimmy

Okay, so after more than 10 years of this foreign service gig, Jimmy had his dream day on the job yesterday. Did you know there's such a thing as "Baseball Diplomacy"? Even if you didn't know that, you should've known that if there were such a thing, Jimmy Story would find about it.

Apparently there's a big baseball training facility here in Brazil, just outside of Sao Paulo, and yesterday, Jimmy got to go there. Cue the sunbeams radiating from the skies and some sort of angelic music.

So here's the whole scoop. This facility is state-of-the-art and houses some 50-60 Brazilian boys who are handpicked as the best and brightest of Brazil's future in baseball (I guess in the US, Japan and wherever else they play baseball). I'm sure I don't have all the details right, but the facility is supported by a private Japanese company and is intended to do nothing but develop these young players. The boys pay R$700 per month for all their needs and the rest is subsidized by this company. They play baseball for something like 6 hours a day and then they go to a private school at the facility. Their moms come in every so often to take turns cooking the meals for them.

So here's where the Baseball Diplomany comes in (and yes, I do smile every time I write that. Have you ever heard such a silly expression as "Baseball Diplomacy"?) A higher-up from the State Department along with a lot of Major League Baseball former players and coaches have come down to check out this facility and play with the boys and get them excited about Major League Baseball. And of course, Jimmy volunteered for this visit. He would've scratched and clawed to get the visit, I'm sure, but as he was giving out the assignments, he claimed this one as his own.

Jimmy said this facility is his "field of dreams": beautiful flat, level grassy fields (something like 5 fields, I think he said), good clay, and I'm willing to bet there were white bases and a few bats laying around as well. Plus he got to hang out with these baseball players from the US and today -- HOLD YOUR BREATH -- they're going to let him hit and catch some balls!!!!!! It was a strange sight to see him leave this morning with a suit and tie on, his briefcase in one hand, and his baseball glove in the other. But he's never been happier, so who am I to complain if I have to explain to the drycleaner tomorrow why we have to get the clay out of the knees of his suit pants? I just told him not to complain to me if he gets dinged by a fastball going 100 mph. I will have no sympathy.

Turns out there's a tournament at the facility next weekend that, not surprisingly, we're now going to attend. I will let you know if it really is the field of all dreams or just Jimmy's ...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mac's latest

Tonight after reading some books, I was getting Mac settled in bed. We were discussing Teddy, this little bear that he got from my best friend Caroline's mother-in-law when he was born. I told Mac that Teddy had been with him since he was about 2 weeks old. So then Mac asked how long he (Mac) had been with us and I told him nearly 6 years. He got really sad and said that when he turned 18, he was going to have to move away. I told him that he could stay with us as long as he wanted but that I was sure by the time he turned 18, he'd be ready to blow this joint, that he'd move off to go to college and get a job and get married. I asked what would happen when he got married. Would he and the girl move into our house? He said he wasn't sure if she'd be "Brazilian or American or Japanese or Chinese or something", but he was definitely going to live in a house (not an apartment where we currently live) "with a swimming pool, a big yard, and a treehouse". He's obviously got it almost all figured out.

Mac's Brazilian Playdate

Yesterday afternoon Mac had a playdate with a friend from school. Daniel's dad is American and his mom is Brazilian, so Daniel speaks English but Portuguese is definitely his mother tongue and his language of choice. (As a side note, his mother speaks less accented English than I do, so when he hears English at home, it's very, very good English).

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to tell you how awesome Mac's Portuguese is. I hear him speak it in clips now and then, but this was 2.5 hours of nearly constant Portuguese. He even knows the Portuguese name for Hide and Seek. I am constantly reminded what a cool, talented kid Jimmy and I have.

Mac with his cousins Hayley and Rachel at Folly Beach, SC (July 2008)

Monday, September 1, 2008

We've found a family!

My prayers have been answered as we have a family who wants to adopt the baby. The husband and wife both work in government jobs, and they've been waiting for a baby for 6 YEARS! They're thrilled to know that they'll be bringing home their baby boy in 3 weeks. Can you imagine waiting for 6 years and now, you're going to have a baby in your house in 3 weeks?!?!?

I spoke to the birth mother this morning to explain our inability to get approved by the Brazilian government and to tell her that I had another family for the baby. Wtih her permission, I gave the new adoptive mother her phone number. They've just spoken and the adoptive mother is over the moon. She will go to Brasilia on September 10 to wait for the arrival of the baby.

Praise the Lord that this baby will have a home.

Friday, August 29, 2008

How can it be so hard to find a good family for a perfect baby boy?

My quest for a family for this sweet baby boy continues.

The teacher doesn't want the baby because her husband "has his heart set on a baby girl". Wow. When I heard that, I was struck speechless which really rarely happens. How could you be choosy at a time like this?

She has contacted her social worker who apparently has a Brazilian family that desperately wants the baby. The social worker was supposed to call me tonight and she hasn't called yet so have they fallen through too?

Then tonight, the American woman in Brasilia had an idea: why not let the birth mother keep the baby until we get habilitated and then we adopt directly from the mother? This would take a number of months but it sounded like a good solution (if, in fact, the Brazilian government would allow us to adopt directly from the mother - and that's a big "IF".)

The American talked to her housekeeper, who is the birth mother's cousin. The cousin said the birth mother will not agree to do this. She's so desperate to get rid of the baby, she will throw him in the garbage if somebody doesn't take him from her in the hospital. I cannot imagine the desperation she must feel to be at that point. It's critically more important to her that he be placed with a family and not "in the system", and I have been told not to tell her yet that we can't adopt him for fear of sending her over the edge.

When I drove her to her house, she told me that she was embarrassed for me to see the poverty in which she lived. I told her that she was rich in something that money couldn't buy me but that she was willing to give me. I feel such an enormous weight that I've failed to live up to my end of the deal with her after she was going to give me a bigger gift than I deserved. I have to find this baby a home so the mother doesn't reach the point of desperate measures where she'll do something awful that she and I will have to live with for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"You must abandon the birth mother."

The fight is over. The lawyer uttered the words "you must abandon the birth mother" last night as we simply do not have enough time to complete our paperwork and get registered and approved before the baby is born.

After I hung up with the lawyer, I called the American family in Brasilia to tell them. The wife just could not understand how it worked for them and why it wasn't working for us. I could offer her no real reason because I had no idea.

The wife called our shared lawyer to discuss the situation and the difference in our situations became very clear. This family started their adoption process when the husband was not here on a diplomatic visa. He had a regular working visa which allows a foreigner to claim resident status in Brazil after something like 6 months of being in-country. Even though we've lived in Brazil for nearly 3 years and still have a year to go, we will never be able to claim resident status because we're here on a diplomatic visa. It all boils down to what kind of sticker page we have in our passport. The Brazilian government doesn't take into account how long we've lived here or the resulting affinity we feel for this country.

Our own devastating disappointment and selfishness aside, what's important right now is the baby's welfare. I started attending a Bible Study among friends on Tuesday and the adoption came up. While I was talking about the Brazilian government's insistence on placing newborns with Brazilian families who are apparently lined up in droves, a friend said that was interesting because her husband's Portuguese teacher and her husband have been waiting for 5 years for a baby and still there are babies put into orphanages. I have spoken to the Portuguese teacher this morning and I am hopeful that I can connect her with the birth mother.

As for us, the attorney has talked to a lot of her contacts and she's insistent that we can do the paperwork and get "habilitated" or registered in the system and she can help us adopt a child sooner rather than later. The child won't be a baby, which really is okay for us because we'd like a smaller age gap between Mac and a younger child. So we remain prayerful and hopeful and we're going to start the process.

Through all of this, I have known that there was no certainty or guarantee in this process. It's not like Christmas where you know you'll wake up on December 25 to find a present. I have wrestled with what God's plan was and is for us through all this and I still don't know where this is all going. What I do know is that Jimmy and I thought we'd closed the door on having more children and this has made us realize that we really do want more children and that it is worth fighting to grow our family.

Two days ago, we had decided to pursue international adoption outside of Brazil because both of us were so disgusted by the system here that we couldn't bear to fight it. But after talking to Vera last night, we've decided to put in our paperwork here to try and get habilitated so we can adopt a child from here. Brazil will likely be the place we live the longest in Jimmy's diplomatic career, so to have one of our children be born here would be a special reminder of a country and its people that we do love. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Life goes on...

Jimmy was paneled for the job in Afghanistan, so it's official. He'll spend a year there (starting next summer) while Mac and I live in SC. More details as we know them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Possibly the greatest invention of all time?

I've spent the last week moaning and groaning about all this adoption nightmare, so today I'm shifting gears and writing about what might be the greatest invention of all time - or at least this year in the life of the Storys.

Since we may as well live in a cave for all our technological expertise, the connection this past Sunday of our Slingbox is a real marvel. We learned about the Slingbox on a flight out of SC last November. I sat next to an ESPN producer living in SC whose biggest concern when he found out we lived overseas was how we live without American television. I didn't bother to tell him that we watched non-cable Brazilian television on a black-and-white set. He would've been horrified.

As soon as the plane's wheels touched down, he whipped out his cell phone, which was probably worth more than Jimmy's little VW in Brazil, and we started watching live-from-Mt Pleasant, SC cable television on it. I could not believe such a thing existed.

So this guy told me what I needed to know about buying a Slingbox and - in typical fashion - here we are 9 months later with our Slingbox set up.

We have it connected to cable at Jimmy's mom's house because they have what seems like 496 channels. It runs through their Internet and we can watch on our computer in Sao Paulo. There's a remote control on the computer screen and you can control the remote and change channels just as if you were sitting in your La-Z-Boy in Moncks Corner, SC. We actually can run it to a television from the computer, but our computer and our tv are both older - go figure - so we can't get that to work right now.

If you live in the US or have an aversion to television in general, you probably don't realize how wonderful American cable television can be. Do you know the pleasure you get from watching a US-Brazil men's volleyball final with commentating in English and not Portuguese? Do you appreciate how nice it is to watch Meredith Vieira do a segment on her family roots in the Azores? Do you know the value of watching HGTV? After one day, I'm ready to renovate our apartment singlehandedly. And don't even get me started on how excited Jimmy is about watching college football. The SC Gamecocks are really 99% responsible for us having the Slingbox. (Otherwise he will spend hours reading line-by-line plays on the Internet - BORING- or listening to radio commentary - ALMOST AS BORING.)

As I sit here drinking my green tea, waiting for 15 more minutes until The Today Show starts, I'm thinking by the time we see some people next, I may be 40 pounds heavier from turning into an office-chair-potato (the Slingbox version of a couch potato). But I will be all caught up on current events, improving curb appeal, and college football!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Confusion Reigns Supreme...

First discouraging email came in early this morning from a Consulate colleague that said Sao Paulo is not doing any adoptions to the US. We knew this already, but I really didn't need to see it in black and white first thing on a Monday morning.

I sent the lawyer in Rio an email to ask for an update soon after and only just heard back from her. She's checking with a colleague in Rio to see if we can still register in Sao Paulo (even if adoption won't happen there) and she's to get back with me on this. In the meantime, she's given me a list of what seems like a million things to start working on immediately.

I haven't spoken to the birth mother today, but I did talk to her cousin and they all believe the baby will be born before September 20. The birth mother obviously has experience in delivering babies and she believes she's closer to delivery than her estimated due date.

I am overwhelmed with how this can possibly even happen or if we even stand a chance. There's obviously no way we can be given legal guardianship before September 20, so even if we were able to bring the baby home, we would simply be "fostering" the baby. The mother would still have all rights over the baby: we would have to get her permission to travel with the baby, to have any medical treatment, etc. The best-case scenario by which we'd be given guardianship is maybe 6 months. Then we'd still have to wait for a court date before we'd go before a judge. Up until then, some government official could knock on the door and take the baby from us. And that's the scary part. What if we love this baby and live with this baby and believe he's going to be ours, and somebody takes him away?

If there appeared to be any remote guarantee that a judge would ultimately allow us to legally adopt the baby, I could more easily live with the fear that the baby would be taken away because the odds would still be in our favor.

The lawyer says we must not worry about this because it's in God's hands; if the baby is meant to be ours, he will be. I very much believe this, and if I were helping a friend through this, I'd say the exact same thing. The problem is that I'm very involved in this and very committed to this baby and I'm terrified of the hurt that, right now, is about 99% more likely than the happy ending I dream about. Are the high odds of hurt worth the 1% chance of a happy ending? I have to believe so. This opportunity fell from heaven into our laps; how can we not do everything possible to make it happen?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Poetic thought for the day

"I know
it's hard to be reconciled
not everything is exactly
the way it ought to be

but please turn around
and step into the future
leave memories behind
enter the land of hope"

- from Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's "A Life"

There's not much to report in the way of breaking news. We have two attorneys looking into our case. One is the woman who helped the other family adopt and one is a lawyer referred by my brother-in-law's firm. The woman has said she'll have more to talk to us about on Monday and the man said his firm is reviewing the legal statutes and will get back to us as soon as possible.

So we wait and we pray as we enter the land of hope.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I found a Yes (wo)Man!

Yesterday was a truly spectacularly disappointing day. Everywhere I turned I just got bad news.

Our preacher at church anonymously called the Santo Amaro (where we live) adoption agency (government-run) to ask about the process, our odds, etc, and he was told that Sao Paulo is not currently doing any international adoptions to the US. STRIKE ONE.

I called a recommended lawyer in Brasilia and she said she wouldn't even tell us if she'd consider taking the case until we talked... in Brasilia. STRIKE TWO.

Then a friend in the consular section in Rio told Jimmy that Brazil-US adoption protocol had just been finalized according to the Hague Convention on International Adoption and things really didn't look good for international adoptions right now. STRIKE THREE.

I exaggerate because there were moments of goodness. You all have reached far and wide into your network of contacts and have provided us with lawyers, advice, encouragement, and prayer. So that really, truly negates the strikes.

And then last night we got our first bit of really encouraging, concrete news. The lawyer in Rio who helped the American couple in Brasilia to adopt was willing to review our case.

I have spoken to her today and have just sent off a long email that tells our story, our desire to adopt and why, all the details I know of the birth mother, etc. She's going to see what she can do to help us. She believes in adoptions like these because she recognizes the benefits for the child and the adoptive parents. Prayers have been answered!! We at least have our "Yes Woman."

Today started out as the sequel to yesterday's terrible day. Do you know the children's story about Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Well that's how my day started out. I took our car back to the shop (it's already spent 7 of the last 10 days there) to be told now that the car isn't firing on all cylinders. Join the club of the Story family. I started crying in front of the poor mechanic and told him this was just one more thing on a mountain of things that I just didn't need. He felt so bad that he offered to rent me a car to use until they fix our car. I declined, but the goodness of people shines through all over the world.

Then I went to the bank at the consulate to pay the internet bill, only to find out the bank didn't open until 30 minutes later. Then I tried to get more minutes on my cell phone, only to give them the wrong number. Fortunately the number I gave them didn't exist or else somebody would've thought they'd won the mini-lottery.

But then I had lunch with 3 lovely friends and it was a great respite from stress and worry and aggravation. Just what the doctor ordered. The car may still not be firing on all cylinders, but I think I'm at least up one more cylinder now.

We are waiting to hear from the lawyer and will go to Rio to meet with her as soon as she calls. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later. She understands the urgency of this since this baby could be born a month from yesterday.

The possibilities for total disappointment are mind-numbing so I'm choosing to stay focused on my Yes Woman who might not be able to say with 100% conviction "you can" but at least she recognizes the power of "you might can". I'll take that any day over NO!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Unexpected gifts from friends

I really debated about "going public" with our current adoption struggle. Infertility and, for us, the urgent and resultant desire to adopt are such personal things - even though many people invade that privacy by being quick to ask about our plans to have more children. (As an aside, I have learned that nothing gets somebody to change the topic faster after asking that question than answering "I apparently have used up all my eggs.")

I also worried about going public because my email was ultimately a prayer request. We have so many friends of different faiths that I was afraid of offending somebody.

So as I was clicking the boxes of who to send the email, I left out a lot of people. Then my computer froze and the email didn't send and I had to start all over. So when I got to the point of clicking the boxes again, I decided to go for broke and click everybody I know. I decided that as people read the part about praying for God's direction, even if they never uttered another prayer about our plight, God would've heard that single utterance and heard my cry.

I have gotten so many emails this afternoon from people near and far who have promised to pray for us and remember us, and knowing that all these people are sending up prayers and sending us well wishes is just more than I could have imagined.

Several friends have sent their emails on to other people and tiny rays of hope have come through in what has otherwise been a dismal, tear-filled day of nothing but discouraging news. A friend of a friend of friends works in the legal arena in Brasilia who might can help and somebody else knows someone who adopted two children here and he's going to get me the names of his legal team and somebody else called the local government adoption agency here in Sao Paulo to discuss our situation to find out the possibilities. I asked for prayer and got so much above and beyond.

Jimmy has tried to prepare me for what I think he sees as nearly unavoidable and eventual disappointment. He works within the confines of the bureaucracy here nearly everyday, but fortunately I don't, so I'm not jaded into thinking that this can't happen.

We had a discussion last night about what could be God's purpose in bringing us through this if not to have a baby at the end of it. Jimmy feels like even if we don't get the baby, maybe having this birth mother brought into our lives might be part of God's purpose. Meeting the birth mother and understanding her plight and her desire to find a good home for this new baby so she can get back to her other children and our trying to help her meet that goal might have to be enough.

Or it might be the unexpected outpouring of gifts from our friends today of prayer and love and trying to help us get this baby. I knew we had great friends, but today I know we have the most extraordinary friends on the planet.

Yesterday I started reading a fictional work called "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri. I don't know what you technically call it when an author chooses to put a little quote in the front of the book before Chapter One starts, but she chose a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Custom-House". The quote spoke to me for different reasons than it spoke to the author, I'm sure, but here it is:

"Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."

Brazilian adoption law heavily favors keeping adoptable children in Brazil. I can completely understand their desire for the continuation of heritage, culture, language, etc. But is this baby the potato that needs to stretch its roots in the unaccustomed earth of a home made by American parents? Would that be as awful a thing for that child as the lady in Brasilia seems to think? I can't help but think that a home filled with love is more important than what language this child grows up to speak.

Tomorrow's a new day and we'll see what it brings.

The Power of YOU CAN!

Either cut and paste this link into your browser or click on the YouTube link over to the right! It's so worth watching.

Post-Brasilia Update on Adoption

I met the birth mother on Monday afternoon in what was a slightly awkward meeting. She's 28, appears healthy, and has had 4 other healthy children (who either live with her mother or their fathers). She is from the state of Maranhao and came down to the state of Goias because she had family there and she thought she could make more money down there than she could in Maranhao (where she was lucky to earn R$100 ($60 USD) a month). She didn't realize she was pregnant until she got to Goias.

She appears very eager to hand the baby over and return to her family in Maranhao. Her intention is to get on a bus for Maranhao as soon as she leaves the hospital. I would like to think that she's willing to hand over this baby to us because she liked us the best and thought we'd do the best job with her child, but I think she was just looking for anybody who seemed halfway decent and responsible.

She agreed to allow me to take her for an ultrasound so I could see the baby. We tried to get an appointment with my former doctor there but she wasn't working on Monday afternoon, so the birth mother had the idea that I could drive her back to her town and we could go to the little private hospital there to have the ultrasound. In what was a lapse of sanity, I agreed. I think now of everything that could've happened, but thankfully nothing did so it is not regrettable.

We got lost getting there (it's only 30km from Brasilia but we took the wrong road and a quick trip ended up a little longer). Our hospital visit ended up taking 2 hours - about 1 hour and 55 minutes of waiting and 5 minutes of the ultrasound. It was all worth it because I got to see the baby and he is beautiful and big and healthy (and definitely a boy).

By now it was getting dark and I was getting nervous. Her house is way up in this rabbit warren of dirt roads and it was at this point that I thought things could go terribly awry. We stopped at a grocery store to get her some food and then I delivered her home (her aunt's house). It's a very humble dwelling - she has lived a far more difficult existence than I can even imagine. I left her there and set off for Brasilia. Fortunately I didn't get lost and the 30 km passed very quickly.

On the plane going to BSB, I randomly opened my Bible and read a lot from the Psalms. The verse that I kept repeating to myself before I went into my meeting with her (when I feared rejection) and then again on the road home (when I feared for my safety) was Psalm 118:6 - "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

I should have been reciting that verse yesterday when I went to the Vara de Infancia in Brasilia (the government adoption agency). Jimmy and I met with a woman there 14 months ago when we were first trying to start the adoption process and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. We have taught Mac that we don't "hate" people, so I don't "hate" this lady who runs the office on international adoptions, but I -- insert verb for whatever is the closest thing to hating without hating --- this lady. I explained the situation to her and she said "esse nao pode acontecer" - "this (foreigners adopting a baby that is handed over from the birth mother) cannot happen." Apparently there are a million Brazilians in line in front of us who want newborns and so there's no way a foreigner can adopt a baby. (My question is if there are so many people willing to adopt newborns in Brazil, why are there so many unadoptable teenagers in Brazilian orphanages? Did they become burdensome only as they got older and so their moms put them in the orphanage then??)

Anyway, I told her that it can happen because there's an American family (who facilitated my meeting with the birth mother) in Brasilia who has just finalized an adoption of a Brazilian baby who was handed over specifically to them by the mother. Our meeting went nowhere because she just kept telling me no, so I left and decided then that I was going to follow some advice Jimmy subscribes to: Why take no from somebody when there's somebody out there who can give you a yes?

So I'm now on a quest for my "yes man". I am desperate to find a lawyer in this country who can work on this with me because time is of the essence. I ask that you pray specifically for God's direction for us in this process. I know that our answer may ultimately turn out to be "no", but I'm not stopping yet. Right now we need some guidance from an expert who can navigate this bureaucratic nightmare with us.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Looking for some Prayer Warriors

As some of you know, we have struggled with infertility and God's plan for us regarding more children, which we desperately want. In June, I underwent unsuccssful medical treatment, and because of our limited time left in Brazil, we know we don't have the time to fight the bureaucratic adoptive process here. In what was our final show of giving up total control, we sold all of Mac's baby stuff last weekend. Last Sunday was Brazilian Father's Day and part of the sermon focused on delighting in your child, so we decided to delight in this near-perfect little boy we have and not focus on what we don't have.

And then last night, I received a call out of the blue from a friend in Brasilia who had a lead on a woman who is pregnant and who is "100% sure she's going to give up the baby for adoption." Go figure...

So I'm off to Brasilia early in the morning to meet this birth mother to try and convince her that we're the right people for her to hand over her baby to. The baby is due September 20 and is a boy.

I am so nervous about this meeting and I really need your prayers. Specifically I'd like for you to pray for me to have the peace of God going into this and to know that no matter how this ends, God is sovereign and has great plans for me as a mother, even if it's only to Mac. I'd also like you to pray for the birth mother, that she might understand the depths of our hearts' desires. Even if she chooses not to give us her baby, I want her to know in her heart of hearts that we would've done anything possible to raise up a healthy, happy baby into an adult that she would've been proud of.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mac's First Day of Kindergarten - a look back over the last 5 years

Forgive my nostalgia. Mac started Kindergarten today, and he and I went through all his baby gear this afternoon. It's been an overwhelming day.

Click to play Mac's First Day of Kindergarten
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Summer Happenings

Since my last posting, a lot has gone on at Casa Story. We took a family vacation to Argentina to snowski in late June. Sadly there wasn't a lot of snow, but we had a great time anyway. More will be coming on that trip later.

We arrived back in Sao Paulo on June 30, and Mac and I left for South Carolina on July 1, so it was a quick turnaround. Thankfully you use dramatically different clothes for winter and summer vacations.

Mac and I have had a good time visiting with family and friends. We spent some time at my mom's mountain cabin, and we've just come back from 12 days at the beach. Now that I've started packing up stuff, it seems like any other time was spent shopping. Photos will be forthcoming from the beach once I get back to SP next week.

Our biggest summer news has been the semi-finalization of Jimmy's onward assignment. As you know, Jimmy thought he would have been going to Afghanistan this summer, but our move to SP bought us an extra year. Time is nearly officially ticking now as it appears he's off to Afghanistan next summer. He was to be paneled for the job this week, and I haven't heard whether that happened, but if and when it does, it will all be a done deal. Tentatively, he is planning to leave SP by mid-April after which he'll enjoy a couple weeks at home before reporting to Washington for Pashto language training on May 1. Mac and I will stay in SP until mid-June so that Mac can graduate from Kindergarten there. Jimmy will then leave on August 1 to head to Afghanistan where he will be the political advisor to a military unit. It should be completely different from anything he's ever done before, and I know he'll make the most of it. Mac and I will spend the year in SC to be near family, which is the only way we'll be able to make the most of it!

So that's the news of the month. Mac and I leave next week, so we're busily filling our days with things like dental appointments and trips to the local aircraft carrier museum and of course, the last-minute shopping! Hope you're enjoying your summer wherever you are!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys!

For Father's Day, my friend Laura and I surprised our husbands and children with a trip last night to an indoor go-cart track here in Sao Paulo. Jimmy was in heaven - he got to drive a go-cart for 30 uninterrupted minutes. Laura's husband Scott won the race (he's had years of test-driving fast GM cars), and Jimmy came in 3rd place. Thank goodness this track was a little expensive; otherwise, I think we'd spend every other weekend breathing noxious go-cart fumes!

Check out the go-cart driving get-up (and notice the too-short pants!).

For all the "action" shots, check out the Father's Day Go-Carting link on the right hand side of the blog. Scott is #13, Jimmy is #17, Samantha is #16 (in a green shirt) and Jonathan is #10. The little boys, Mac and Michael, decided to be spectators on this go-round.