Friday, August 21, 2015


One of my earliest memories is of my first dance recital.  I was a bumble bee, one of a handful of them, adorable and ready to steal the show in my yellow and black bumble bee costume with wings.  I had to wait for my debut with the rest of my colony in the high school band room.  I can remember it so vividly like it was yesterday, and this is why.  Back then there were no parent chaperone ‘dance moms’.  We were watched by the older girls.  It was a different time.  And that would have been just fine if these girls hadn’t decided to have a little fun with us.  They told me and my bee colony that we were trapped in the room forever and would never see our parents and families again.  We would never go home.  Nice, huh?

I remember the feeling of sheer terror because when you tell a five year old she is trapped and will never go home again, she believes you.  I sat there paralyzed for what seemed like forever. I had that ever so painful lump in my throat and tried my hardest to hold back my tears only to fail.  

My next memory is me running toward the door and escaping.  Once outside of my prison room I remember turning up the endlessly long hallway leading to the stage. I would run faster than I had ever run before.  As I turned, to my relief I saw my mother walking toward me.  I can only imagine that she was checking up on me as mothers do.  She had her handbag over her shoulder and tightly tucked under her arm.  She was thin and tall with pressed pants, frosted hair and glasses.  She was my beautiful mommy.  I ran and ran and ran and ran projecting my body into her legs and wrapping my arms around her thighs like a vice.  

She saved me.  Here she was at the exact time that I needed her. Talk about a mother’s instinct.   I remember the relief washing over me like a warm shower.  Ahhhhhh mommy. 

I don’t remember what happened next, because I was with my mom and nothing else mattered. I’m sure she went back and kicked some teenage ass.  You didn’t mess with my mom or her kids….ever. 

Since I have lost her, I have thought of this moment often.  There have been too many times when I am wanting to run down that long hallway wrapping my arms tightly around her legs knowing that she would make everything better.  But now the hallway is empty.  She isn’t there to run to.

After my second son Alex was born and my second cesarean, I had the most difficult recovery…newborn, toddler, surgical pain, exhaustion…..One evening I lost it and remember curling up in my moms lap crying like a baby.  30 years old and I still just wanted my mommy.  

They say that when your mother dies, it is the first time you cry alone.  My mom always cried with me.  She felt my pain better than anyone.

I miss my mom for selfish reasons.  Sometimes I just want that lap to curl up into.  I want someone to take care of me and make it all better.  I don’t want to be the strong one, the mom, someone else’s relief.  

But, she isn’t here so I cry and I breath.   I breath in and I breath out.  Then I do it again. Tomorrow I will do the shopping and the cooking and be a mom again to my own children,  but today all I can do is breath.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wrap up, Gimbichu April 2015

I wanted to extend a thank you to everyone who in any way helped with our 2015 project in Gimbichu.  It was a huge success.  I don't know how everything always seems to fall into place and become seamless,  but it does.

Michael and I arrived at about 4pm Ethiopia time Saturday greeted by our dearest friend Yishak, pronounced Isaac.  It was a happy reunion.  We were then reunited with Binyam who is the director of the Gimbichu Health center and also our dear friend.  These two people are actually more like family.

So on Sunday, with three purchased hospital beds ready to travel,  over 400 baby receiving blankets, stethoscopes, a new ambu bag, pulse oximeters, dental instruments, dental care products and a large supply of women's sanitary napkins we were off to Hossana.  

Checking into the Lemma International was the next stop on our journey.  I love the tea which is very soothing.  Coffee was wonderful as always (I get the macchiato which is delicious)

We reunited with Desalegn the ambulance driver who seemed to have grown a beard!  With everything packed and off to Gimbichu,  so were we!

Arriving in Gimbichu was surreal.  It had only been two years since our last visit but it almost seemed like we never left.  We delivered everything to the clinic,  met up with the staff and met our first baby blanket recipient.  It was a boy.  The amazing thing was that they were using the generator that we purchased two years ago because they had no power at that moment.    I was happy to see the generator working well and serving its purpose!  We also saw the autoclave.  Happiness.  

Baby blankets
Our generator working hard!
Delivering the beds

Mom picking out blanket getting ready

Its a boy!!

I think the highlight of my trip was meeting the four girls we are sponsoring.  Tigst, Dinknesh, Betelehem and Genet.  They were the sweetest most polite girls I have ever met.  One of the girl's father, who is a farmer told us he was so happy and although he had nothing to give us,  he would offer us blessings.  We are truly blessed!

Another highlight was the purchase of a motorbike for the central office.  This would enable the healthcare workers to travel to areas and administer vaccinations to children who were unable to to get to their local clinic.  This was difficult to do because the vaccinations need to be transported cold and in a timely manner.  Now they can be.  As a nurse,  this makes very happy!
We were also able to purchase a television and school supplies for our school.  I was happy to see the dvd player and cds still  being used but the old tv fizzled out.  

A new television for The Gimbichu Wongel Berhan School
The Gimbichu Clinic Staff
The trip was exhausting as it always is trying to squeeze so much into so little time, but it is one of the most meaningful things I have ever been a part of.  


Buying new sheets and fleece blankets (4 sets)

We even have money left over to put toward the girls' tuition in the fall.  
Thank you for helping us be a part of the lives of these beautiful, kind and giving people.  When we would tell people that this was our 4th time,  they would always smile and say,  "you are Ethiopian".  

School supplies

Ice cream and beer on Lake Lagano to celebrate!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


and click on the link to The Gimbichu Project for more information about our 2015 campaign and my children's book:  

A Thirst For Home,  A Story of Water Across the World

Praise for 
A Thirst For Home

"This slim, sweet story will resonate particularly with children missing a previous home." —Kirkus Reviews

"Velasquez’s light-infused illustrations capture the quiet dignity of Emaye’s grief and Eva’s tentative acceptance, and perfectly complement the tender tone of the text . . . This book can be read as one of a growing number of immigration stories." —Booklist
"Beautifully illustrated oil paintings bring the words to life . . . This would be a good resource to use while doing cultural studies, especially with younger students." —Library Media Connection
"Provides an opportunity for addressing themes of poverty and resource inequity with a very young audience. The perspective is spot-on, and the presentation of Alemitu’s culture shock is realistically detailed. Velasquez’s lush full-bleed oil compositions offer photorealistic portraits of the story’s characters . . . Raises some important talking points for young listeners as well as some thoughtful reminders to appreciate easy access to food and water." —BCCB

Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
This beautifully written and illustrated book tells the story of Alemitu, a young Ethiopian girl whose life is dominated by the water, typically the lack of it, and her beloved mother. When life in Ethiopia becomes severely difficult for Alemitu’s mother she gives up Alemitu for adoption, noting to the child that “You will find out what is on the other side, but I cannot go with you.” A short time later, Alemitu is adopted by an American family who shows her a very different view of life/water. Now called Eva, the child sees herself as the combination of the two worlds and, in an especially poignant moment, looks into a large puddle and sees her mother looking back. Eva-Alemitu notes that she and her mother are simply on different sides of the Ethiopian water hole where she spent so much time as a child. The author’s note for this text provides additional information about the difficulty of life in rural Ethiopia and how we can help families like Alemitu’s through greater access to clean water and education. This is a lovely book and a great read to help younger people understand the importance of water-something they probably take for granted—as well as learn a greater appreciation for how difficult others’ lives are around the world. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.; Ages 5 to 10.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gimbichu Project Montage

Our project this year is The Mother and Child Project (refer to previous entry)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Water is Life

Excerpt from  A Thirst for Home

We have walked all morning with the blazing orange sun on our backs.  Emaye (mother) tells me a story while we walk.  "Our watering hole gives us something precious", she says, "even more precious than gold.  We could live a lifetime without gold, but not a day without a drink of water.  All over the world, the clouds make the rain and the rain brings us our water.  This connects us to everyone and everywhere.  Water is life."

I couldn't care any less about diamonds or beautiful rare gemstones,  or about  fancy cars with all the bells and whistles one could hope for.  Expensive shoes don't impress me.  Money is nice, but only when you can do good things with it.

It is water that I am in complete awe of.   I am a child of water.  I am drawn to it.  I was raised by the sea.  I couldn't live anywhere else in the world but on the coast.

How ironic is it that soon after adopting my daughter from Ethiopia,  I found her drinking from a puddle in my driveway.  Was this coincidence or a sign from God?  Then to have written a children's book A Thirst For Home and soon publish through a fancy New York Publisher is a dream come true.  It is a chance to share my passion of water with children everywhere.

Water, clean water,  is something taken for granted and only appreciated when out of reach.  Eva's simple act of squatting down and drinking from that puddle four years ago changed my life and the course of it.  Sometimes I think,  'How did I get here?'.  My desire to never stop or ever give up knowing that this is a life long journey doesn't end with the release of this book.  Along the way,  I have been connected to the most amazing people,  joining forces to attain the same goals.  It all started with water.

I think of Eva's birth mother struggling everyday without the privilege of clean water among other things and it can be excruciating at times.  All of my happiness is always a little overshadowed by her struggles.  It keeps me grounded but more importantly keeps me going.  I can't wait to return to Ethiopia this fall.  I am nervous and excited.  I want so badly to bring clean water, education and accessible health care to the Hossana and surrounding area.  I may never see it, but have to keep trying.

My daughter has taught me so much and is wise beyond her years.  I love A Thirst for Home, the book she inspired me to write, and I know it will be loved by many because of its message of water, hope and love.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Beautiful Feet

True story.....Very soon after bringing Eva home I went to a baby shower.  The expectant mom must have received about 20 pairs of little shoes.  At the end of the shower they lined them up and took a picture.  One time in my life I would have smiled and ahhhhed but that day I almost cried.  I thought of my daughter who got her first pair of shoes at age 2 1/2 and her little legs and feet with the many scars and missing toenails.  This is how my life is tainted.  I see everything differently.

I remember seeing her little feet for the first time and kissing them over and over again.  I still kiss them.  They represent a world so unlike ours. To me they represent strength, courage, wisdom....

I want my daughter to never be ashamed of her feet.  They are a part of her and they are beautiful.

My Mom, who grew up poor on the lower east side of Manhattan, used to always say,  I once complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. (my Mom is very wise)  That never held as much truth as it does now!     Thanks Mom!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An apple a day....

True story.... One day around the time Eva first came to our home,  I gave her an apple which she gladly took.  A little while later she came to me and gave me what was left,  the stem.  She had eaten the entire apple, core and seeds and the only thing that remained was the pathetic little sad looking stem.  Heartbreak.  It reminded me that she was still eating in survival mode which meant nothing ever got left.  In the first couple months with us, she would eat like it was her last meal because in her mind,  it might have been .  She never turned away one single food item making me realize that she must have been hungry for the first two years of her life, a pain that is not easily forgotten.

Now of course,  Eva is a finicky picky six year old who amazingly doesn't eat meat and loves cookies.  I smile actually because I know this means  that she has moved on and adjusted nicely.  Again the bitter sweetness of it all pains me knowing as Eva goes to bed every night with a full belly and will never know that hunger again,  her sister still does.  To see a picture of her beautiful sister recently only reminded me of this.  Even though she is a few years older, Eva has already surpassed her in size.  More heartbreak.

How can I live everyday knowing this.  It can sometimes be excruciating.  What can I do, what can I do.  In the end,  I know the best I can do is promote education for girls in Ethiopia through the building of schools and libraries.  Sadly for me and other than that,  my hands are tied.  That is why raising awareness is so important to me.  That is why I can't wait for the release of my book.  I want to stand in front of a microphone and shout to the world......Look,  look what is going on on our tiny planet.....

But again, education is the key and makes me think of the overused saying that is so popular with teachers,  and now with my own little twist goes like this,   Give a girl a fish, feed her for a day.  But teach a girl to fish and feed her and her children for life!