Christmas + Villa de Leyva

Christmas Eve Day dawned, as most days here do, bright and sunny.  Eliana was very tickled to discover that Box, her elf, had been particularly mischievous overnight and had appropriated the flour for her own purposes.

Snow angels, Colombian style!

We meandered over to the mall in search of Santa…

(Eliana was more excited to see Santa than she appears to be!)

Several family friends came for Christmas Eve dinner, and Eliana hit it off with Sebastian, a talented young artist.  They gifted each other with samples of their best work.

As midnight drew nearer, everyone gathered in the living room and very graciously agreed to do a round-robin reading of  “The Night Before Christmas.”  Though English was just about everybody’s second language,  they gamely tackled the poetic language.

The words “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night” were still hanging in the air when the sound of fireworks signaled that Christmas had arrived!  We hugged everyone, wished them a merry Christmas, and then went outside to see explosions of color in every direction.  The festivities carried on for another couple hours, but Michael and I had some wrapping to attend to!

Eliana awoke on Christmas Day to find, to her delight, that Santa had indeed managed to find us in Chía.  (This was a topic of some concern for several days previous!)  We had a leisurely breakfast and opened presents with Maiz, Catalina, and Giacobbe.

Maiz modeling her gift from the Giebink-Valbuenas.

Then we packed up the cars and set out for Maiz’s farm in Villa de Leyva, about three and a half hours northeast of Bogotá.  We stopped at a historic bridge, the site of the Battle of Boyacá, looked around, and had a snack at one of the little cafés.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but in our short time here in Colombia, we have managed to leave quite a path of destruction in our wake.  In general, we are not particularly clumsy people, but all bets have been off since we arrived on Colombian soil. Grocery stores tend to be our downfall, and we have mysteriously punctured bags of rice, toppled cheese displays, shattered bottles of wine, and caused virtual avalanches of cherry tomatoes.   In this particular restaurant on the way to Villa de Leyva, we managed to smash a glass bottle (which had miraculously survived the journey from Minneapolis) all over the floor, as well as knock over a bottle of Coke, prompting Catalina to declare we deserved some sort of medal for our (dubious) accomplishments.

By the time we cleaned up and got back in the cars, it was nearing dusk.  The dark and then the rain made the curvy, mountainous journey slightly harrowing, but finally we arrived at Rancho MG (named for Maria Eugenia – Maiz – and her partner Germán, who lives there full-time).

Eliana had a blast all week helping with the farm chores and getting to know the animals.

One day we went to “La Periquera”, a series of seven waterfalls set in a idyllic valley.

Maiz hiking to the falls.

Miguel was a champ in the Baby Bjorn!

On the hike back, a group of young men passed us, and they all greeted Eliana as they walked by.  Suddenly, one of them stopped and asked if he could take a picture with her.  We said sure – and before we knew it, every single one of these young guys was taking a turn to crouch down and have his photo taken with her!

Photo op!

Another day, we visited a nearby ostrich farm.  We learned all about ostriches, and we got to be up close and personal with the slightly intimidating birds.  They were, well, big, and quite assertive about finding the food they knew we had.

“Any day you’re not killed by an ostrich is a good day,” – Michael.

It was a good day.

We ate lunch at the restaurant there, where we had – what else?- ostrich burgers.  After lunch, Eliana and Miguel kicked back and relaxed a bit.

That same afternoon, we visited Santo Ecce Hommo, a convent built by Dominican monks in the 1600’s.  The building itself was gorgeous, but what Eliana loved was climbing all the rocks in the pasture next to the convent.

Interpretive rock climbing!

We also spent a day in Ráquira, a nearby small town known for its pottery.  There were also tons of other handicrafts – it was actually a little overwhelming!

One particularly decked-out shop.

Part of the central plaza.

Villa de Leyva is a very charming colonial town, full of white adobe buildings with red tile roofs, cobblestone streets, and quaint shops selling colorful handcrafted goods.  There are innumerable beautiful buildings surrounding lush courtyards.

There is  a huge central plaza, one entire side of which is taken up by a massive church and stone stairs that run the length of the square.  It was here that we decided to spend New Year’s Eve.  We arrived in town early, around 7, walked around a bit, and staked out a spot in the square.  There was a stage where a couple bands where playing (hip-hop and the accordion-rich ballenato), and some people were dancing, Maiz and Germán among them.  Children were playing with all manner of glow-in-the-dark toys, and the whole atmosphere was just incredibly festive.

 As midnight neared, the excitement mounted, and suddenly the band stopped playing and the entire plaza full of people started counting down in unison, “diez, nueve, ocho, siete…”  As we reached “cero”, cheers erupted, everyone hugged everyone else, and the sky directly overhead exploded with incredible fireworks.

It was definitely one of the most dramatic and memorable New Year’s Eves we’ve ever experienced.  (Except, of course, for New Year’s Eve 1998, when Michael and I laid eyes on each other for the first time!)

Though we kept pretty busy in Villa de Leyva, we also had plenty of time for relaxing…

“Lying in a hammock and laughing is good.” – Eliana

…and dancing…

Germán and Eliana cutting a rug.

…and bathing…

…and having some quality sibling bonding time.

It was an amazing vacation-within-a-vacation!

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Well folks, it’s official…the Colombian government has decreed that Miguel is OURS!

With great joy, we present to you Miguel Ángel William Unger-Sutz!!!!


As you can see, he’s a pretty happy little guy.  He also has a pretty happy big sister:

We found out last Tuesday that we would receive Sentencia (the final adoption decree) the following day, the last day the courts would be open before closing for the month-long holiday break.  For us, signing Sentencia came both after an eternity (two long, difficult years of paper-chasing and waiting) and incredibly quickly (our adoption was finalized just under a month after we arrived; we were told to expect nearly 2 months, and came prepared to spend 3.)

We woke up on Wednesday morning excited and a little nervous.  I ironed our best clothes and Michael got all his camera gear ready.  Then our agency’s representative Cecilia called and said she just wanted one of us to go, which honestly shouldn’t have come as a surprise because the family who received Sentencia just before us was told the same thing.  We decided that I would go and Michael would stay with the kids.

Cecilia came to pick me up just before 7:45 am.  We drove through the mountains, affording us a beautiful (though smog-marred) view of the city.  We made miraculously good time to downtown Bogota and were able to make a stop at the bank to pay for copies of documents.  Then we went to the office building housing the special “decongestion” court to which our case had been submitted.  (Our case was processed so quickly because of this special court.  Normally, the entire process takes 6-8 weeks, but since the courts have been on strike for so long, several decongestion courts were opened, and this turned out to be our saving grace.)

Family Decongestion Court #1

Our representative double-checking the documents.

The actual process of signing Sentencia was ridiculously anti-climatic.  In fact, I didn’t even realize that I had signed it until our lawyer said, “Well, that’s it!”  Basically, we all stood in the hallway outside the little office window, checked and re-checked passport numbers, names, and dates, I signed one piece of paper, and we were done.  We found out that our case was the last one processed before the court shut down for the month-long holiday break.  In under the wire…it seems incredibly fitting for Michael and me!

Our lawyer and the official Sentencia document.

Then it was off to the civil registry office where Miguel’s original birth certificate had been filed.  We applied for a new one, which actually lists us as the birth parents.  This seems strange (if not downright dishonest) to both of us – it seems like there should be room in the process to recognize both  sets of parents.

By then it was lunchtime, so I went back to the hotel and filled Michael in on the events of the morning.  In the afternoon, we all returned to the civil registry office to pick up the new birth certificate.  When we got back to the hotel, we paid the taxi driver, who had been with us all day.  I was stunned when she told us we owed her for nine and a half hours!   It was a long day, but one for the Unger-Sutz history books for sure.

A bonding moment with the civil registry employee!

He’s even happy when he’s waiting!

We celebrated our big day with a special dinner of ajiaco, a delicious Colombian chicken and potato soup that in this case was prepared by the wonderful Nancy at our hotel.  YUM!

And then we were off to our favorite park to enjoy the lights and the story-telling tree.

The talking tree!

The rest of the week was spent taking care of the myriad tasks that need to be done before we can go home.  On Thursday morning, Cecilia picked up Miguel and me and we went to the passport office to apply for Miguel’s Colombian passport.  The office was already packed when we got there at 8:30, but we were seen quite quickly and I think we would have finished in no time had it not been for my recalcitrant fingerprints – I had to re-do my fingerprint (an identification tool) four times before they finally gave up on me and just let me apply.

Then we headed back to Ayúdame (Miguel’s orphanage) for a tour and to drop off the lawyer’s fees.    All the rooms are sunny and cheerful, painted bright colors.  We saw where he slept, a room filled with little bassinets and bouncy chairs.  We toured the rooms where the older babies, toddlers, and older children sleep; saw the laundry room, with clothes hanging from lines and folded in little piles on every surface; and visited the playroom, a large, sunny space with toys and plenty of room to run.  Though many of the children were at Ayúdame’s new location outside of Bogota that day, there were still plenty of kids around.  Knowing how many families have been waiting so long for their little ones, it’s hard to see so many children in that institutional setting, cheerful as it may be.

Outside Ayúdame.

After Ayúdame, we went back to the passport office to see if Miguel’s passport was ready. The office was even more busy than before, but mercifully, many offices in Colombia have special “priority” lines for the elderly and for people with small children.  So even though the number on our ticket was some 60 numbers from the one being served at the time, we waited a scant 10 minutes before the number on the “currently serving” screen magically changed to ours.  And the passport was ready!

Have passport, will travel!

As a huge added bonus, while we were at the passport office we ran into our friend Ger getting a passport for her daughter Sofia.  Ger has been in Colombia since JUNE and got sentencia the same day we did (and was gracious enough to be genuinely excited for us!).  We had a wonderful lunch with them and then played at a nearby park.

Headed home at last!

That evening we joined our hosts’ extended family for an amazing dinner at the beautiful restaurant  El Pórtico.  It’s  is a colonial-style restaurant set on a huge piece of land, complete with cobblestone sidewalks and a bullfighting ring.  There was plenty of traditional Colombian food and drink, and we were welcomed warmly as part of the family.

Finally, on Friday we had Miguel’s medical check-up with a U.S. Embassy-approved doctor.  This doctor was one of the nicest physicians we have ever encountered (Drs.  Clay and Lupei excepted, of course!) He looked Miguel over and pronounced him in perfect health.  No slime was detected!  Before we left, he hugged us and told us we were angels…we, of course, said the angel is our little Miguel.  Unfortunately, Miguel did need a couple vaccinations, but the nursing staff was also exceptionally kind and made the shots as painless as possible.

No more slime!

That evening, we had the pleasure of attending a novena,  a traditional Colombian Christmas gathering where people eat, sing, play instruments, and pray.  This one was held at the house of Giacobbe’s best friend’s family, in a lovely neighborhood outside of Bogota.   We had heard that Angelita, the host and Giacobbe’s friend’s mother, had done some volunteering at Ayúdame.  As soon as we got out of the car with Miguel, she cried, “It’s him!”   She had worked with Miguel at the orphanage!  No one could believe the coincidence…in fact, Catalina said it wasn’t a “coincidencia”, it was a “dios-idencia” (a God-i-dence)!  Angelita said she had never run into one of “her kids” after they were adopted, and she was overjoyed to see Miguel again.  She even had photos of him and told us that he had been the special charge of a volunteer who had just had surgery and couldn’t lift much – since he was the littlest baby, he had been assigned to her.   Since we weren’t with Miguel for the first four months of his life, these stories are like gold for us.


That about sums up our last week or so…stay tuned for a special holiday post!!

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Just over a week ago, our little family of four arrived in the charming small town of Chía, just 30 minutes (or 2 hours, depending on traffic) north of Bogota.  Our dear friend Monica’s mother “Maiz” and sister Catalina live here in a lovely house with a separate apartment in the back, and they have incredibly generously allowed us to stay in this sweet little place for as long as we need to.

Our casita

Our days have been filled by exploring the town, playing with the resident animals (4 dogs and 2 cats), and enjoying the company of Maiz, Catalina, and Giacobbe, Catalina’s son.

Near the central plaza.


¡A bailar!


Little Miguelito has had some nasty chest congestion (officially diagnosed as “slime”) for as long as we’ve had him, so the doctor finally prescribed respiratory therapy for him.  Amazingly, the therapist makes house calls!  She arrived bright and early, just before 7 on Friday morning, to give Miguel his first treatment.  I have to say, it was fairly traumatic for everyone – first she gave him a mask steam treatment, which he was decidedly NOT a fan of,  then she used a little massaging device to loosen the mucus, and finally she basically gagged him repeatedly with a long q-tip until he spit up the gunk.  Poor baby.  He did a little better the second time, and we’re hoping that Tuesday will be his fourth and final treatment.  We were also scolded for not dressing Miguel warmly enough (he was wearing a fleece sleeper on the 65-degree day), which made us Minnesotans chuckle just a bit.

Loosening the slime.

We’ve had the good fortune to be able to visit the school that Maiz’s family has run for several generations, Colegio José Max Leon.  It’s a beautiful preK-grade 12 school on gorgeous grounds, and is recognized as one of the best schools in the area.  We were treated to a full tour, and Eliana got to spend some time in a classroom.

Catalina near her classroom.


The class Eliana visited.

Sunday was a relaxed day filled with some uniquely Colombian moments.  It started out with Catalina and I walking to the gym, gingerly stepping around an unidentifiable piece of cow anatomy that had been casually tossed onto the sidewalk.  When we got to the shopping complex the gym is located in, we saw an outdoor pre-Christmas prayer session (a novena) in full swing, right there among the pet stores and fast-food restaurants.   Later in the day, we all walked to the nearby mall to play mini-golf (golfito!) and afterward went inside to the food court to get a snack.  There was a small children’s choir performing Christmas songs, which were interrupted every so often by wild cheers and applause from the section of the food court that was watching the big soccer game.  (The Bogota team won,  and the honking, cheering, and fireworks lasted for hours!)

  Our previous visit to the mall turned out to be highly entertaining.  Again, we had gone to the food court for lunch.  Eliana and I both opted for Cuban sandwiches, but Michael struck out on his own to find something less laden with gluten.   He returned to the table shaking his head ruefully.  Apparently, while attempting to order his food “para llevar” (to go), he instead ordered it “para llamar” (to call).   To combat the puzzled looks behind the counter, he tried to further clarify “no aquí” (not here), but instead said “no hoy”  (not today).   Back at the table, Michael and I both laughed until we cried, and of course Eliana demanded to know what was so funny.  We told her, and she gleefully repeated, “I want to call my food, but not today!”  for hours afterward.

In other misadventures, we decided to make a menorah (our heavy menorah from home didn’t make the luggage cut).  I cleverly designed one out of an egg carton, and Eliana painted it red, green, and blue.  We carefully transported it to Maiz’s house, where we lit the candles, said the blessing, and set the menorah in the place of honor, in the middle of Maiz’s dining room table.   Then Eliana said she was hungry, so I went back to our casita to make her some macaroni and cheese.  When I returned to Maiz’s house 20 minutes later, Michael and Maiz were engrossed in a conversation in the living room, and just 10 feet behind them, the cleverly-designed cardboard menorah was in flames on the table!  I shrieked and ran toward the table, Maiz and Michael jumped up, and together we made quick work of the fire.  Hanukkah disaster averted!  (After the flames were completely doused, Maiz laughed so hard she had to sit down.)

Menorah – pre-disaster!

Michael and I estimate that we’ve spent more time at malls since we’ve been in Colombia than we have for our entire married life.  But they’re so much more FUN here!  They have incredibly friendly Santas.

They have golfito. 

They have whole corrals of plush animals you can ride all around the mall.

What’s not to love?!

We’ve had fun making some American treats for our hosts (pancakes, vodka tonics, and chocolate chip cookies so far!), and have had some intense conversations.  Everyone we’ve talked to is just heartbroken about the tragedy in Connecticut, as, of course, are we.  It’s good that important conversations about gun control and access to mental health care have been sparked, but at what an unimaginable cost.  Our thoughts are with all the families whose holiday tables this year will have an empty chair.

In the midst of this holiday season, we find ourselves missing our own families and friends immensely…but we feel so fortunate to be here, with our baby boy at last, making memories that will last a lifetime.


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Our second week!

All right, this time I’m determined to keep up with this blog a little more faithfully! A lot has happened in the past week. Here’s a brief recap:

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we spent mostly hanging out at our hotel, spending time with the two other families before they left to go back home. We ventured out for lunch every day and on Wednesday, Cat and Jhon joined us for some quality playtime at a new park.

Fernando came to help the kids make chocolates again, much to their delight.

Jhon, Eliana and Maddie hard at work.

While we’re here, Michael and I would like to create a video for other families waiting to adopt from Colombia, and Cat, Carol and Steve carved out some time between visits to the passport office and embassy medical checks to sit down and talk with us about their adoption processes.  They were all incredibly eloquent and spoke movingly about their time in Colombia, their plans to keep their children’s birth culture alive, the issues unique to older-child adoption, and the challenges of being a transracial family.   Michael and I felt so privileged to be able to hear their gems of wisdom and look forward to putting them into a format that will be useful for other families.

Cat on camera.

Thursday afternoon, we had the second official meeting of our adoption process. Our agency’s in-country representative was (slightly ironically) out of the country, so a substitute rep picked us up to take us to the ICBF (the central child welfare office) for our appointment with the Defender of Minors. The purpose of this meeting is to assess how things are going so far with the new adoptive family; in theory, the adoption process could be stopped if the Defender determines that the placement is not in the best interests of the child. Though our lawyer never appeared, which was slightly concerning, the meeting went well. The Defender of Minors basically just asked us how things were going so far, and asked us if we had any questions for her. She also asked Eliana how she likes being a big sister. Finally, she read from the official document, which states that we are now charged with Miguel’s well-being and healthy physical, intellectual, and emotional growth; and then she congratulated us and told us she was glad Miguel will be part of our family. And that was it!

In the Defender of Minors’ office.

On Thursday, the night before Cat and Jhon left, we all decided to head to Simon Bolívar Park, home of “El Pesebre Más Grande Del Mundo” (The biggest Nativity scene in the world.) There was also supposed to be a chorus of children singing Christmas carols.  Nancy and Alexander, who both work at our hotel, came with us, which made it extra-special.   Nancy called a friend of hers who drives a taxi-van to drive us, and at the appointed hour (actually, an hour past the appointed hour, because the driver was late!), we all piled into the van.

We arrived at the park expecting to see a life-size manger scene, with some caroling schoolchildren nearby. What awaited us instead was the entire town of Bethlehem, and part of Jerusalem too! There were full-size tents of dancers, ceramics makers selling their wares, camel vendors proclaiming the virtues of their animals, shepherds tending their flocks,  a replica of Herod’s palace, the Wailing Wall…and dozens and dozens of robed villagers wandering around totally in character, complaining about evil King Herod and admonishing women for having long hair.  It was truly something to behold.

Eliana and a camel seller.  Note the ever-present Christmas elf.

The whole crew with the Three Kings.
(thanks for the photo, Carol!)

At the end of route through the villages, there was a giant stage where several groups were performing.  The kids had a great time rocking out to the Christmas tunes!

The evening took a decidedly less-festive turn when we arrived at the appointed meeting spot only to find out that our driver wasn’t there.  We waited for more than an hour, the children sinking fast, and finally ended up taking another taxi.  Nancy and Alexander were actually quite concerned that something might have happened to our driver…luckily, we found out the next morning that he was fine.  We’re not quite sure exactly what happened, but chalked it up to the unpredictability of this whole experience!

The next morning, Friday, we bid a sad farewell to Cat and her son Jhon, whom we had gotten to know so well over the previous two weeks.  The hotel seemed strangely quiet after they left!

While Carol and Steve finished up the last of their paperwork, we took Maddie to Pan Pa’ Ya for the last time, and the two girls had a ton of fun in the ball pit.

That evening, we celebrated the Carr-Uren family’s last night in Bogota (after a stay of nearly 12 weeks!) by heading to our favorite park for La Noche de las Velitas, the Night of the Candles.  The park, which is already spectacularly festooned with lights, was made even more glorious by hundreds of blazing, multicolored little candles placed all around the central fountain.

La Noche de las Velitas.

Sadly, when we got back to the hotel, I learned that a good friend and colleague, Ann Mikkelsen, had passed away after a valiant fight with cancer.  I lit one more lone candle in her honor.

She will be greatly missed.


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Our first week in review

It was an amazing week, which we spent getting to know our baby boy and the city he was born in!  Last Monday, our representative Cecilia picked us up and took us to a notary to sign and notarize some documents for the orphanage.  It was surprisingly quick and easy.

After that, it was off to Ayúdame, our orphanage.  Colombia has just started requiring new adoptive parents to meet with orphanage staff a few days after taking custody of their children.   They asked us a number of questions about how Miguel is doing, if we’re following his routine, how he’s eating and sleeping, etc.  We also had the chance to ask a few questions that we had about him, including some respiratory issues he’d been having. They ended up calling a doctor and scheduling an appointment for us that very afternoon- at our hotel, no less!

Then it was back to our hotel, where we ventured out for a very tasty lunch at a neighborhood grill-type place.  I ended up leaving early with Miguel to make it back to the hotel in time for our doctor’s appointment.  This is where things took a turn for the worse…or more specifically, where I took a turn for the wrong!  Even though the restaurant is incredibly close to the hotel (and in hindsight, it’s basically a straight shot from one to the other), I managed to get myself completely turned around and ended up wandering around the neighborhood for at least half an hour.  After asking several people  if they knew where the hotel was (to no avail), I finally found a drugstore employee who took pity on me and directed me back to the hotel.   By the time we arrived, Michael was frantic, and one of the other families here had gone out searching for us!   AND the doctor  had already arrived and was waiting for us – I had just assumed she would leave and reschedule.  Embarrassing, to say the least.

The doctor examined Miguel, diagnosed him with a bad case of “slime” in his chest, and prescribed a two inhaler/mask treatment, as well as saline spray for his nose.

To let the kids expend some energy (and to celebrate Miguel and me not being kidnapped by the FARC!) we all went to a fantastic nearby park.   A good time was had by all, but unfortunately, the umbrella stroller we had brought for Eliana chose to die a rather inelegant death.  (Michael’s overzealous pushing may have had something to do with it!)

On Tuesday, all three families at our hotel decided to venture to a place called Divercity.  It’s housed in a large mall, and it is simply amazing!  It’s part amusement park, part children’s museum, and part career exploration venue.  It’s basically a child-sized city, complete with businesses, roads (trafficked by ambulances, fire trucks, and other vehicles), and landscaping.  As they enter, children go to the bank, where they receive some Divi cash as well as a credit card.  Then they choose their activities!  The children can do jobs, which will earn them more Divi cash, or they can choose other activities which will cost them.  Eliana made toilet paper at the toilet paper factory, learned about being a vet at the veterinary clinic, put out a “real” fire as a firefighter, boarded an Avianca airplane, and got a driver’s license and drove a tiny car.  The children receive job training before beginning their work, and they’re outfitted in the appropriate uniform, complete with hat!   After three hours of non-stop fun, we decided to call it a day, and headed to the store so the kids could spend their hard-earned money.  We discovered that they didn’t have enough individually to buy anything, but if they pooled their cash they could afford a small toy.  All five parents looked anxiously on (adults are not allowed inside any of the activity areas) as the three kids managed to arrive at consensus:  a package of bouncy balls.  We all arrived home exhausted but happy!!

Getting her photo taken for her driver’s license.

Behind the wheel!

¡Los bomberos!

You can find out more about this amazing place at

Wednesday was a mellow day of balloon fun (even our agency rep Cecilia got in on the action),

She’s a quick study!

Jhon and his balloon creations.

lunch at Pan Pa’ Ya (one of Bogota’s many child-friendly establishments),

Ball pit!

and helping Nancy, one of our hotel’s wonderful staff members, decorate for Christmas.

Snow in Bogota!

One of Thursday’s highlights was a nighttime visit to our favorite nearby park.  Bogota outdoes itself when it comes to Christmas:  it has designed an entire “Ruta de la Navidad”, a series of parks decked out in lights and decorations.  Our park has been transformed into a magical wonderland of sparkling white and blue lights, hanging from the trees and lining the walks.

Another highlight was helping Carol and Steve, one of the other families here, celebrate the news that they would receive “sentencia” (the final adoption decree) on Monday.

The spirits chosen for said celebration? Not so much a highlight.

Friday was a day of desserts:  dessert for lunch…

Pure decadence at Crepes and Waffles.

and dessert BEFORE dinner – a special treat dreamed up by Nancy.

Perhaps as a result of the Day of Desserts (but more likely due to a nasty little bug), Eliana awoke in the middle of the night and ALMOST made it to the bathroom before she threw up.  We cleaned up as best we could and tucked her into bed with us…and next time, she didn’t even make it out of bed before she threw up again.  Michael followed suit a few hours later, so needless to say Saturday was an extremely low-key day.  Michael spent much of it in bed, while Eliana enjoyed considerably more than her usual allotment of screen time.

By the time evening rolled around, we were all feeling a bit stir-crazy, so we headed out  to our favorite park to experience the lights in all their glory.

Eliana was especially overjoyed to discover that Box, one of Santa’s elves who finishes her work early and visits us every December, had miraculously made her way to Bogota and even seemingly had a hand in decorating the park!

Look closely at the tree!

Eliana and Box, reunited!

That night was the official “inauguration” of the lights, and there was music playing, performers preparing to entertain the crowd, and lots of Bogotanos out enjoying the spectacle.   We spent quite a while at the park, admiring the decorations, taking photos and generally reveling in the festive atmosphere.

Friday the 7th is The Night of the Candles, and there are apparently even more special events planned!

Sunday was Ciclovía again, and the day began with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the marketplace…

Serving up a guanabana treat.

The guanabanas are huge!


Beautiful gourd bowls.

Tasty empanadas – our new favorite is turkey, cranberry and gouda!

…and ended with movie night.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

It truly was an amazing week, from start to finish.  We feel so incredibly lucky to be able to spend this time as a new family of four in the country of our baby boy’s birth!

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Yo no hablo español

Zuetana, the hotel we’re staying in, is built around a tiled courtyard so the voices in the common area downstairs make their way into the rooms upstairs. One morning, I was watching Miguel sleep in our room and I heard Eliana’s unbelievably high voice wind its way up through the courtyard.  She was explaining to someone that she doesn’t really speak Spanish. When that someone offered encouraging words about how she would learn, especially now that she’ll be in Colombia for a while, she immediately said “no, I don’t need to because my mommy speaks Spanish.” Once I stopped chuckling I had to admit to myself that I hold a similar view. Someone recently told us (it was probably Steve or Carol as they are basically our live-in tour guides) that the percentage of people in Colombia who speak English as a second language is amongst the smallest in Latin America.  This is borne out pretty much every day when I struggle to order in a restaurant, ask an employee of an electronics store if they carry camera straps, or ask one of the hotel workers to please use bleach-free soap while washing our clothes.  It’s embarrassing to admit how little Spanish I’ve managed to absorb in the 12 years that Megan has been in my life and how badly I charade given how many years of high school and college I spent on stage.  And yet, despite this very real shortcoming, I continue to be quite confident in all things computer.  And so when the internet went down in our hotel (as it does about every 15 minutes) Megan encouraged me to go down to the office and see what I could do.  So after the language-free, tried and true technique of powering off and on the router didn’t seem to work, I plowed right into a series of Spanish-language troubleshooting screens which basically resulted in me inadvertently rebooting the machine and then being unable to log back in because I and the hotel worker on duty did not have the password.

Eliana and I are grateful for Megan in ways that are, to be honest, too numerous to mention.  And since landing in Bogotá, her ability to speak so effortlessly with everyone we encounter allows us a certain amount of warmth and acceptance that we surely would not enjoy if left solely to my mysterious and sometimes alarming pantomime. So I’m trying to be more deliberate about learning Spanish and, just yesterday, I heard Eliana playing on a slide with 5-yr old Jhon and this time the words floating up through the courtyard were “abajo, Jhon, abajo.”

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Days three and four

I will get caught up with this blog soon, I promise!  I’m running exactly a week behind.  Here goes…

Last Saturday was a mellow day.  We mostly hung around the hotel with the other families here and got to know our new baby boy!  He really is such a sweetheart.  In those first few days, he was very quiet and just seemed to be taking it all in.  He didn’t cry much and when we’d put him down for a nap, he’d fling out one little arm and go right to sleep.  He slept right through the night for the first several nights – if he woke, he’d soothe himself by jamming nearly his entire fist into his mouth.

There’s a man here named Fernando who is something of a jack-of-all-trades:  English/Spanish teacher, tour guide, Colombian culture expert, and cook.  Last Saturday he came to the hotel to make chocolates with the kids.  As you can imagine, it was a huge hit.

Chocolatey fun!

After lunch, we headed to a nearby park, where the kids ran around, climbed the bars, see-sawed, and generally blew off steam.

Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to have these other two fantastic families here with us?  They’re both going home at the end of the coming week – I can’t imagine how empty the hotel will seem!

The next day, Sunday, was a highly-anticipated day!  It was our first chance to experience  Ciclovía, where major streets throughout the city are closed to cars and are filled with walkers, runners, bikers, and street vendors.  What an amazing way to see the city!  We had breakfast and then headed out.   Numbering ten in total, we are a bit of a sight wherever we go!


With Carol and Steve, honorary Bogotanos that they are, acting as our intrepid tour guides, we made our way through the streets until we arrived at the “Palacio de la Mazorca”, or the Corn Palace.  Though the palace is more of a slightly run-down tent, the corn truly is fit for a king:  huge, nutty, chewy kernels brushed with some magical buttery sauce.

E’s expression doesn’t do justice to the buttery goodness!

From there, we proceeded on to Usaquén, a marketplace on a hill packed with people and vendors of all sorts:  fruit, ice cream, traditional Colombian art, books, toys, jewelry…a shopper’s (and eater’s!) paradise!  We spent a delightful couple hours wandering around, sipping coffee, sampling empanadas, and playing on the field below.  We look forward to many Ciclovías to come!

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We’re here!

Well, it’s been a long road, but we’re finally HERE!  A brief summary of our first week…

Our last few days in Minneapolis were a blur of last-minute shopping, packing, and visits and phone calls with our incredible family and friends, without whom we never would have made it this far.  We have been amazed and humbled time after time at the depths of generosity, support and love that we have been shown.  We are so lucky!

After pulling an all-nighter Wednesday night,  our first travel challenge was maneuvering our enormous quantity of luggage from the taxi to check-in at the airport in Minneapolis.

Lots of luggage!

Eliana was a champ as we flew from Minneapolis to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to Bogota.  She even managed to sneak in a nap in the Atlanta airport.

A little travel-weary.

We flew into the brand-new wing of the airport, which was surprisingly calm and empty, and breezed through Immigration.   By the time we got to our hotel, it was nearly midnight.  Somehow, we managed to fall asleep, which was a real challenge as we knew the next day we would be meeting our SON!

The next morning, we met some of the other families staying at our hotel, which caters to adoptive families.   It’s so fascinating to hear everyone’s stories, and we feel an immediate kinship with these folks, who have all experienced their own versions of  what we’ve been through in the past two years.  A German man and his new daughter were preparing to go home, and the occasion seemed to merit a balloon bracelet.

Because really, what occasion isn’t made more festive by a balloon bee bracelet?

We ventured out for a quick lunch and returned to the hotel to get ready to go to the orphanage.  I was strangely calm – I just kept thinking how incredibly surreal it all felt…this day, the day we had been waiting for for more than two years, was finally upon us!

At 3:00 pm, our agency’s representative Cecilia came to pick us up.  She stood by indulgently as we crammed Eliana’s booster seat and a carseat for Miguel into her small sedan, and then we were off!  She darted expertly through the Bogota traffic to the casa/orphanage Ayudame, where our son spent the first four months of his life.  We went in and sat in a little waiting room while the staff bustled all around us, and while Eliana asked repeatedly, “When do we get to see Miguel?”  Finally, the director, Maria Clemencia, invited us into her office.  We presented her with a gift for her as well gifts for the children:  books and school supplies from us, and stuffed animals and medicine from our good friend Judy,  who adopted her children from Ayudame 17 and 18 years ago!  Then Maria Clemencia went over basic information:  a quick summary of Miguel’s health, as well as his routine (bottles, bath, naps, etc.)   After that, we needed to sign lots and lots of documents.  Honestly, all of it is a blur, because all we could concentrate on was the fact that our son was upstairs waiting for us!  That, and Eliana’s continual question, “When do we get to see Miguel?”  I think Maria Clemencia must have finally gotten tired of it, because she suddenly took Eliana’s hand and led her upstairs to meet her baby brother!  Meanwhile, Michael and I were left in the office, Michael wondering which camera angle would be best, and me unable to shake the feeling of utter disbelief that this was finally happening.  And finally, it did!  Maria Clemencia came down the stairs holding our little Miguel Angel, walked into the office, and placed him in our arms.  It was magical!

Before we left, we gave Maria Clemencia some gifts for Miguel’s caregivers, and we chatted briefly with his primary caregiver, Rocío.  Thanks to the incredible photos our friends and fellow adoptive parents Carol and Steve had sent us before we came, we knew that Rocío had cared for Miguel with genuine love and compassion, and I got choked up as we prepared to take Miguel away.  However, Rocío said it made her very happy to know that Miguel now has a family of his own.

We came back to the hotel, where our new friends oohed and aahed over Miguel, and Eliana got to experience the moment she had been waiting for: she gave her baby brother a bottle.   We had dinner with all the adoptive families, including a couple who was leaving the next day with their new baby boy whom they adopted from the same orphanage that the husband was adopted from 33 years ago!

As this momentous day came to a close, Eliana decided she couldn’t bear to be any farther from her new brother than she absolutely had to be, and slept on the floor, right next to Miguel’s crib.

We are are thrilled beyond belief to welcome this little boy into our family!!





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