Sunday, May 31, 2009

Six Years Ago Yesterday...

50+ of our closest friends and family flew to Las Vegas, threw on a costume and attended our wedding at Canterbury Chapel followed by loads of dancing, eating and celebrating at the reception.

15 years ago (on Halloween, not yesterday), Kai asked me on a date.

We've come a long way since then. On our date last night we pondered where and what we will be doing on our 25th anniversary. I'm putting it in writing (and wondering what form 'blogging' will morph into by then) to formally note that we simultaneously said "living in Spain". That would be a fabulous way to spend our 25th Anniversary - and of course you're all invited! (costumes optional)

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Dossier Checklist

This is the chart we've created to keep us sane right now. It's our tracking device as our dossier docs leave our hands and travel on to our caseworker, followed by the Secretaries of State, only to make their way back to us with a stamp of approval. At that time, we will repackage them and off they go to Ethiopia!

Authenticating One's Own Dossier

In unrelated news: First modern trauma center opens in Ethiopia

In your dossier packet, you will see an opt-in service offered by KBS Dossiers. This is run by a woman who has gone through the international adoption process herself and now offers her services (for a fee) to families reaching the authentication stage. It's always a topic of discussion on blogs and forums, Is this stage so daunting that I am better off paying someone to do it for me?

The answer is relative to your personality and lifestyle. We chose to do it ourselves for a few reasons:

1) we wanted to be hands-on and familiar w/ all documents being processed on our behalf through the US and Ethiopian gov'ts
2) we're very organized and knew we could handle it
3) we have an amazing agency who we knew we could call if we got stuck
4) based on the above, this was one expense we could pass on

In a nutshell, all the docs you were required to gather and notarize from the beginning are sent to your country-specialist caseworker who will review them for: language (keep it simple for translation purposes later), dates of your sigs matching dates of various notary sigs, all notary stamps are valid for two more years (so your docs don't expire) and a few other points that could raise red flags.

Once your caseworker gives the okay on the above, these docs are required to be authenticated by the Secretary of State (as mentioned in the previous post). This is where you have the option of hiring KBS Dossiers.

If you're on the fence, this may help a bit...
Kai and I spent most of this morning writing our cover letters (for WV, NV, PA, DC, NJ and NY), compiling the docs, folders, their return packets, labels and checks from approximately 8:30am - 2:30pm. We had a few questions, which we emailed to our caseworker. Once we hear from her, we will probably have another three hours remaining.

Its tedious work. If you can't be bothered, just want it done or have very little time - I highly recommend KBS. If you don't mind doing the legwork and want to save yourself a few bucks ($250-$650), I say do it yourself. In the end, your caseworker will be reviewing the final product before it's sent to Ethiopia anyway so it's really a decision of personal preference.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Rural Ethiopian village in Benishngule Western Ethiopia.

So, our Ethiopia caseworker reviewed the documents we've gathered for our dossier submission. She returned to us a checklist of which items are headed back to the drawing board.
It's not so bad.

We've been on it all night and now have our newest folder prepared with proper documents; all adjusted, updated and ready for our new bff, the notary.

The silver lining...the majority of our first packet of docs submitted got the "Looks Good" stamp, meaning they will be headed to their respective Secretaries of State to be authenticated. A fair estimate on turnaround time (from online research) is two weeks, but some have been sooner. We're hoping to begin that process as early as Tuesday.

Our next milestone is getting on the wait list. While we're crossing our fingers for that, we're sending positive thoughts to all the families currently waiting and going through court.

On a side note, we're headed to my brother's house at the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day weekend so this may be our last post for this week. My mother and stepfather are in town to check out new-baby-Theo, so it'll be great to see them while we're there. And a big fat seafood dinner Saturday night on the boardwalk...yum :)

This will be a nice little break before jumping back into our to-do list first thing Tuesday morning.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Relinquished v Abandoned: explaining recent corruption

In Ethiopia, children are legally available for adoption for one of two reasons.

They are either:
  1. Relinquished (willingly surrendered to an authority, orphanage or gov't officer by their parent/immediate family member)

  2. Abandoned (deserted without any trail to a parent/immediate family member)

There are pros & cons to both situations, from the side of a PAP (pending adoptive parent) receiving a referral. If you receive a referral for a child who was relinquished, you have the opportunity to visit their biological family in the village they were born, speaking with your child's family members, asking specific medical history, and so on. The downside you face is the possibility of a delay in passing court. The courts require that a relinquished child's parent or family member appears in court on your assigned court date to sign off on their relinquishment. Should they live hours from town, are too busy, not care, become ill, among a host of other reasons to not show in court that day - you don't pass court.

The alternative is, your referred child was abandoned. You will most likely have little, if any, medical history, family history, information surrounding their birth, etc. These cases have passed court much smoother in the past, due to the lack of access to birth parents/families. Therefore it is not a requirement by the courts for them to attend.

Unfortunately, there has been a spike in abandoned cases being sent through the courts - all coming from the same area. This has raised a big red flag with the federal judge and MOWA (the Ethiopian government ministry in charge of women and children’s affairs). Is there "orphan trade" (not my words) occurring? Is there parent-coercion from outsiders? Whatever the reality, the end result is speculation of unethical practices by certain agencies, causing the courts to temporarily stop seeing abandonment cases that originate from private orphanages in the city of Addis. (our agency uses gov't run orphanages in and outside of Addis prior to bringing them into their own care facilities).

For purposes of this post, I've limited the info to the bare necessity needed to understand the situations involved with our adoption. Anything posted here is simply my view, based on information I received from our agency. Yes, I did a lot of research online and have read the statements - some believable, some absolutely absurd and some that have made me think. However, our agency has had such consistent communication with its families, I knew we would receive something from them addressing the current situation in Ethiopia. The email came yesterday.

They addressed the issues and didn't hide the fact that there are many articles out there right now spreading like wildfire re: alleged corruption in international adoption, with Ethiopia hitting the list. It's a very hot topic among the international adoption community right now and very likely to spill over into the mainstream. I wanted our family and friends to know that we are dealing with one of the most highly respected agencies in Ethiopia (among the courts, govt and various agencies). It is also one of the oldest agencies, with over 100 in-country reps on the ground in Ethiopia working hard for all the children in their care.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Festivals, Fashion & Elmo

I think yesterday was the first day in awhile that we didn't have any commitments and were able to make the day our own. It started out with a great surprise when we turned the block (on our way to notarize a few final docs) to find it was Celebrate Jersey City day. I remember seeing signs for this, but have been so busy that it slipped my mind. There were booths, food, merch, two live stages and tons of people in full action at 11am. We even heard our governor and mayor speak. Well, Governor Corzine spoke while Mayor Healy sang.

Following our visit with the notary at the bank, we dropped off our folder at the condo and were off. We hopped on the shuttle for the 9th Ave International Food Festival for lunch (a slab of pork and some Thai food) and then headed to the Met for the Model as Muse exhibit. This is a fabulous exhibit featuring the history of the supermodel since 1947 and the designers who adored them. I guess 'fabulous' is a relative term. (I now have to see Star Trek) I loved it and picked up an equally fabulous book, AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion.

We also checked out the Ethiopia exhibit in the Africa/Oceanic wing (much under construction) and came across the oddest thing on the way. It was simply called "Postcards". Thinking it was something world-travel related, we deemed it a 'must see'.

It was the oddest and most intriguing exhibit. The source of this was a man who collected, organized and displayed over 11,000 postcards throughout his lifetime - all from small towns across the U.S. I spent the first five minutes, wondering why we were there and how is Kai possibly finding this interesting? Shortly after that we were doing the quiet/loudly "psst" to each other at every odd find. It ended being quite a topic of conversation and an exhibit I'm obviously still talking about. Those are the good ones.

And we saw Elmo on the way home.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Kai & Tamara & Secretary(ies) of State

What an amazing week. *doing Friday happy dance*

We are now, more than ever, in the mix. Our individual home study interviews are complete, as are our couples interview and home review. While that was happening, the main office in Texas was moving our file on to our third (and final) caseworker! This is the caseworker who will guide us through our dossier submission (our next step) up until we're ready for our travel plans to Ethiopia. (still a l.o.n.g. way away; update on wait times will be a topic very soon)

The next step is a bit mind-boggling but I'll do my best to be clear.
Remember all the paperwork we gathered during our paperchase phase? All of that is now sent to our caseworker to confirm it's all in order for dossier preparations. (note: I already have to re-do our passport photocopies & have them notarized again b/c I did a b&w photocopy, not color. We're doing that tomorrow.)

Once all is fine on her end, Kai & I will be "authenticating" each document in order to complete our dossier.

"Authenticating" in this world is as follows: each document must be signed off by the Secretary of State in the state of which the act represented by the document occurred. Ex: We got married in Vegas. Our marriage certificate will now be sent to the Secretary of State of Nevada to be reviewed, stamped, approved as legal and returned to us. Not until then is it dossier-ready.

Once all documents are signed off by their corresponding Secretaries of State, they are returned to us and then the entire package (dossier) is submitted to both the US Embassy and the Ethiopian Embassy for review. This applies to EACH document.

Documents submitted today for dossier review

our written statement (why we want to adopt and why from Ethiopia)
certified birth certs
certified marriage certs
fbi clearance letters with fbi fingerprints
employment letter for each
proof of life insurance for both parents
proof of health insurance for both parents
bank letter
medical certs for both parents
3 reference letters

Completing over weekend to submit Monday

notarized financial statement
notarized, color copies of passports
2 official passport photos
family photographs

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Home Study

Whew! It's Tuesday morning. That means our 7:45pm 5/11 home study appointment is in the past. I must say I felt completely at ease and prepared for whatever would come our way. That was until our buzzer rang. That's the moment my stomach did little cartwheels and my mind turned to complete white noise. Thank goodness for Kai's calmness!

I remained a bit on edge through the small talk and into the initial discussion, which I believe our caseworker picked up on immediately. She quickly shifted gears and made what I'm sure is the 'go-to' speech for the many other jittery PAPs she visits. She made the entire process so much better.

And this is very important for anyone else out there scrubbing your baseboards in preparation for your home study. The go-to speech as I remember it went like this...
There are no right or wrong answers. We want to see that the two of you are on the same page with this decision and what it entails. I want to hear about the two of you as a couple and as individuals, what brought you together, what has kept you together, what has brought you to adoption, what has brought you to Ethiopia, what you plan to do when your child is home, school, work, discipline, your plans for dealing with any issues re: attachment, bonding, grief & loss...and you get the picture. From the hour + meeting, our home was the focus for approximately five minutes.

We asked my brother and sister (who are both great parents, yet with very different parenting mantras) to email us questions. My friend, Lisa, also sent some great ones which were SO helpful. This was our Saturday & Sunday evening entertainment - following our long days of hands & knees cleaning. It was great! and transpired into entire nights of "what if ..." and "when do we allow ..." and "my philosophy on ..." that by midnight, Niko was 16 and not allowed to go on a date with the girl he liked because he wouldn't introduce her to us, nor would he tell us where they were going.

So, my advice for preparing for your home study is to ask family or friends who are fabulous parents to send you a few real life scenarios. Answer them candidly (and separately) from your partner to see how you each would deal. There will definitely be differences, but if you're both on the same page overall, you'll do fine! It's also fun to see where the conversation goes. We discussed things that were completely ridiculous - and brought a great laugh about the whole thing. Above all, you must keep your sense of humor.

Prior to our meeting, we had a contractor come to adjust the side gate, front door, an exterminator for 'just in case' and of course the hands & knees weekend cleaning & organizing. It felt productive but I don't think it was necessary. My advice would be to focus on yourselves. Yes, clean your house but don't kill yourself.
The caseworkers aren't there to find what's wrong. They're there to find what's right for the children they're trying to place.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

No rain today - yippeeee!

The windows are open. The curtains are blowing. The pillows are back on the balcony furniture and we're loving it. Hopefully lunch & dinner will be held outside today.

my grandma!

At the risk of sounding preachy, I came across a story that I felt is worth passing along. According to statistics, one in three of us is touched directly by Alzheimers in some fashion. Maria Shriver has written a book about her personal experience with Alzheimers, which has now been produced for TV and airs tonight. It seems to dig a bit deeper than simply a chronicle of symptoms, stages and statistics.

She writes, On Mother's Day, May 10th, HBO will air and I will executive produce the most comprehensive television event ever about Alzheimer's disease called The Alzheimer's Project -- focusing on the cutting-edge science, the issues of care-giving, how one lives with the disease, and the children and grandchildren of Alzheimer's.

What I especially found interesting are the inter-generational daycare centers, where toddlers and Alzheimers patients eat, sing, dance and have story-time together. How innovative for stimulation and interaction.

Some wonderful things are being done when this disease is recognized and put on the table as something to deal with. Hopefully this special will be a big fat voice for those no longer able to speak up on their own behalf.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I like it.

Another stray also made it into the mini-makeover this afternoon. While the 2nd coat on the misfit dresser was drying, I was searching for something else I could get my hands on to use up the remaining paint I had sitting in the roller bin. We now have a blue 6' horizontal shoe container slash plant holder slash umbrella stand on our landing. That may take a minute to grow on me, but Kai is very pleased with it.

Switching gears, it was a fun week at work last week. I got a cool shot with Oderous (lead singer of GWAR) during his photo shoot for Revolver Mag. This pix is from my blackberry, but the photog is emailing me a better shot next week from his stash.
Gotta love a job that comes with monsters!

Marissa, Oderous, Moi

Jason Aldean also came in (he's ALWAYS amazing) as did Evan Dando (Lemonheads). The new Lemonheads CD is released on 6/23 at which time I can stream the Dirty Robots track he did with Kate Moss. I doubt I'll post it here, but it will definitely be on my fashion blog, Twisted Knickers. I'm told by Evan's label that he'll be giving a quote for the post. Very exciting news.

The Misfit Dresser

It's here folks. We're less than 72 hours away from our first in-home interview and home study review.

I'm currently on a lunch break and I must say, very satisfied with our progress so far. Preparations went a little askew this morning when I woke up staring blankly at a dresser that has been sitting in our bedroom for quite some time with zero purpose and an equal amount of appeal. It is a hand-me-down we accepted purely for function, while we continue our search for the right piece to add to our bedroom.

So as I stared at it yet again, I decided today is the day we make it our own. Off to the hardware store I went to purchase a good primer that will coat melamine without having to pull out my sander. Ta-dah...

It's been drying all morning and anxiously awaiting the fabulous deep blue Moroccan-inspired shade I've created by mixing some old colors leftover in our storage room. I think the handles will be black.

Tuna sandwich is done. Kai's cleaning up his office. Off I go to spruce up the dining room and get cracking on this dresser. I'll post a pix later if I get it done today.

Happy Saturday to all and wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day Eve!