Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

2016: Worst. Year. Ever? Maybe not.

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In the past, I’ve recognized the arrival of a New Year with a retrospective Todd Top Ten List or the announcement of the year’s Matty (formerly known as Ralphie) Awards. After much soul searching and careful consideration, I have decided to indefinitely suspend these events.

Is 2016 the worst year ever?

When we look back on 2016, it’s hard to say it’s been anything but rough. Personally, this has been the most physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually exhausting year I can remember.  This has just plain worn me out.

I don’t think I’m the only one. It appears that 2016 presidential contest sucked the life out of many people. And this transition to a new administration is causing angst on both sides of the aisle. Then there’s Syria. And Russia. Ethiopia has also seen some political unrest and uncertainty. Oh, and then there were horrible terrorist attacks and horrifying mass shootings. And don’t forget the worldwide refugee crisis. I could probably add the hype around the Zika virus and the uproar over the death of Harambe and the wildfires that swept through Gatlinburg.  Don’t get me started on the way social media has turned everyone into an expert about everything from parenting to zoology to political science. And they’re not shy about pouring on the criticism when someone disagrees. It’s awful. It’s really awful.

It feels like we’re sitting on a powder keg. And the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey made many wonder if we were getting a front row seat to early 20th century world history repeating itself.

That’s a scary proposition.

Then you add in all of the well-known people we lost in 2016. Prince. David Bowie. George Michael. Kenny Baker (R2-D2). Erik Bauersfeld (Admiral Ackbar). Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia). Muhammad Ali. Florence Henderson. Alan Thicke. These are just a few of the many celebrity deaths in 2016.

On a personal note, I was heartbroken when I heard about the deaths of David, Sophia, and Ruth Ann Rinehart. We also said goodbye to my Grandma and laid her to rest at the end of 2016.

The hits just kept coming.

When I look back on 2016, it can be tough to argue that it is anything but the worst year ever.

One event changed everything.

Regardless of all of the other events that took place this year, this is what makes 2016 one of the best years ever.

Brothers meeting for the first time.

Todd Family of Six

Todd family of Six

We became a family of SIX in 2016. And that trumps everything else that happened this year.

It’s something worth celebrating.

So let’s dance!

In light of recent worldwide and celebrity tragedies, it feels like we’re limping into 2017. Many are wishing “Good riddance” to 2016. I get that. I really do. So whether you’re celebrating the end of what could be considered a pretty awful year, or whether you’re celebrating the good things that happened this year, let’s dance together as we look forward to what 2017 has in store for us.

Happy New Year, friends!

P is for Planes

P is for Plane

For Christy’s trip last year, my trip last year, and our most recent trip, we flew to Ethiopia via Ethiopian Airlines. I’m honestly not a fan of the long flight, but our experience with Ethiopian Airlines helped ease that pain a little bit. The food was good. Soft drinks and water were readily available. The in-flight movie selection was pretty good (I’d like to thank the newest version of Fantastic 4 and Iron Lady for helping me fall asleep during the long flight home). Ethiopian Airlines is one of the most successful airlines based in Africa. And the government seems quite proud of their success (Ethiopian Airlines is owned by the Ethiopian government). As well they should be.

While waiting to board the flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa, we encountered a life-sized sign of a flight attendant from the airlines. I tried to get Aiden to put his arm around her. Somewhere buried  in the boxes and boxes and boxes of family photographs, there’s a picture of me when I was about his age. And I have my arm awkwardly draped around a cutout of Jessica Rabbit. So I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of Aiden in a similar pose.

He wouldn’t cooperate. This is the closest I could get him to standing beside the cutout. But that’s OK. I think it’s still a pretty good picture.

L is for Lions

L is for Lions

The lion – especially the Lion of Judah – is a popular national motif in Ethiopia. When Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, his official title was “By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.” That’s certainly a mouthful. But it reflects the ancient connection of the people of Ethiopia with the nation of Judah. And even though a monarch hasn’t reigned over Ethiopia in more than forty years, there’s still an affinity towards the lion.

Lion of Judah Statue in Addis Ababa Ethiopia
Lion of Judah statue in Addis Ababa

In addition to the connection with the Lion of Judah, Ethiopia has its own unique species of lion. If I understand correctly, they were once Emperor Selassie’s pet lions. They have a darker mane and smaller bodies than most African lions.

Weldu and a lion

It was also recently announced that a new group of lions, once thought extinct, was rediscovered near the border with Sudan. One of the organizations that helped fund this expedition was Born Free, a wildlife organization that focuses on rescue and care of wild animals as well as conservation and education. They maintain Ensessakotteh, the Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Center on the outskirts of Addis. It’s a beautiful sanctuary that we had the opportunity to visit with some missionary friends during our final day in Ethiopia. One of the things Weldu said he wanted to do before we came home with him was to see lions. So we told him we’d be sure to do that. Lions were my favorite animal when I was a kid. I even dreamed of being a lion tamer at one point in my childhood. So if my kid wanted to see lions, we were going to see lions, by golly!

The lions were neat to watch. We also saw some cheetahs and some other smaller animals. The view from the Preserve?

Born Free Lion Preserve in Ethiopia
The view from the Lion Preserve

Konjo.

Since we’re on the topic of lions, there’s one more story about lions in Ethiopia that is worth mentioning. It’s almost like a reverse Daniel in the Lion’s Den. A 12 year old girl was abducted and beaten by seven men. Their goal was to force her to marry one of them. They would have been successful, except the lions stepped in. That’s right. A pride of lions protected her from her captors. They kept guard until she was found by the authorities.

Sounds like a legend from centuries ago. Right? It happened in 2005. NBC News has the details.

 

K is for “Konjo”

K is for Konjo

There are a few Amharic words I remember from my first visit to Ethiopia in 2009. I remember how to say thank you. I remember hello and goodbye. Of course, there’s also injera, berbere, and tibs. I didn’t really learn a lot of Amharic words that first time around. I definitely learned more during my most recent trips. But there’s one word that has stuck with me since I first heard it in 2009.

“Konjo.”

Beautiful.

There is a lot about Ethiopia that is Konjo. Instead of wasting words trying to describe its beauty, I’ll just share a few photos. They’re supposed to be worth a thousand words each. Right?

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Ethiopia landscape from Lion Preserve

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Ethiopia DSC06682 DSC06696

See?

Konjo.

H is for Habesha

H is for Habesha

He looked at my son, raised an eyebrow, and said,

“Habesha?”

Our son looked at the man, smiled, and quietly said “Yes.” They both smiled at each other as our family placed our order. We had just gotten off the plane at Dulles International Airport and passed through customs. Only minutes before, Weldu had taken his first steps onto a foreign land – one filled with people speaking a strange language with weird customs and white faces that all look the same – and officially became a US citizen.

In the midst of the the uncertainty of stepping into the unknown with his new family, Weldu found a brief reprieve. He was asked this question a few more times while we were in Dulles. Every time, there was a warm, but silent conversation between the two.

When we visited Ethiopia for the first time back in 2009, I don’t think I ever heard the term “Habesha.” We heard it all the time during our last trip a little more than two months ago. So what is Habesha? Habesha is a people-group that spans Eritrea and Ethiopia. Although approximately 15% of the population is not actually Habesha, it has become a term that is generally used for all Ethiopians and Eritreans. It’s basically a term of cultural pride, celebrating what unites their culture instead of dividing them by language and tribal group.

I think Weldu is still in shock about how many Habesha he met in the airport. It makes sense. Washington, DC, has a pretty significant Ethiopian population. But I think the mere mention of that word by someone else in the know made his arrival here in the States a little bit easier. In the midst of the craziness he had a small island of comfort, knowing there are other people here like him. And they recognized him as Habesha, too.

While I don’t think I’d never heard the word Habesha until a few months ago, I’m glad I did. Because that word has made a world of difference to my son.

And for that, I’m grateful.

Well you don't see a restaurant like that every day

Christy and I have eaten at some unique places over the years. Like The Parson’s Table in Jonesborough, Tennesse –  an old church building that was converted into a fancy shmancy restaurant (now it’s a special events facility). There’s St. Joseph’s Brewery in Indianapolis, another old church facility that was converted into a microbrewery not too long ago. We tried the poutine.

It was delicious.  Continue reading Well you don’t see a restaurant like that every day

This is the most amazing dancing you'll ever see.

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During our trip to Ethiopia, we dedicated Thursday as a day of celebration. The Transition Home where Weldu had lived hosted a goodbye coffee ceremony for him (and for us). And later that evening, we went to 2000 Habesha, an Ethiopian cultural restaurant. We had been to a similar restaurant when we brought Mihret home. And we had a great time. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the end of all of the red tape and the fact that Weldu was really, truly, going to come home with us in just a few days!
The food was amazing, as one should expect. The dancing? Amazing. It was a great evening of celebrating with family and friends. Our hearts were as full as our bellies by the time the night was over.

Continue reading This is the most amazing dancing you’ll ever see.

My son asked for a brother. He had no idea what was going to happen.

Mom Aiden and Weldu at Cultural Dinner celebration

I was driving Aiden to school one morning shortly after we had brought Mihret home from Ethiopia. I was a little shocked at the words that came out of his mouth.

When are you going to bring home a brother for me?

Uh…

I wasn’t sure how to answer that one.

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback. I mean, we had just brought Mihret home. And the transition wasn’t exactly going well. Truth is, we were still exhausted from the flight home and from the continual lack of sleep. How could he be thinking of adding another kid to our family already? As I thought about it, though, I understood. The balance of power had shifted. He was the only boy in our family. He was outnumbered. And I started to see his point. He needed a brother.

He had me convinced. All it took was that simple, innocent question.

Some six years later, we took Aiden with us as we flew to Ethiopia to bring his brother home with us. And it was one of the best decisions we could have made.

Two brothers playing soccer. I mean, football.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on


Aiden and Weldu posing in front of a school

They became instant friends. In some ways, it’s almost like they’ve known each other for years. I mean….they even have their own secret handshake.

Hanging out during a flat tire

Weldu meeting Mihret

Weldu and Aly Aiden and Weldu - first meeting

Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero!

I think Marc Brown is right. Sometimes being a brother is better than being a superhero! It’s also pretty cool to have a brother. I know both from experience.

Todd family of SIX

You know, it’s taken far too long for us to be able to say this, but WELCOME HOME, WELDU! We’re excited to have you part of our crazy family. Our journey is really just beginning, but you’re already a pretty amazing brother. I now there will be some rough days in the future. That’s a given. Everyone goes through them – especially in the teenage years. But there will be some pretty amazing experiences we’ll have along the way, too. During the easy, happy times and the tough, sad times, I know this: we’re going to walk through them hand in hand.

Together.

As a family.

Because that’s what we are.

All six of us.

Wrist bands, mugs, clean water, and a trip to Ethiopia

MudLOVE Cover

A few months ago, Aiden came home from a youth group retreat with a bracelet on his wrist. It was a MudLOVE band. Now, Aiden’s not the kind of guy to wear much jewelry, but this bracelet was different. He never took it off. He loves it. It’s his style. It has a good message and it’s for a good cause.

“If I’m ever raising money for a mission trip, I want to use them for a fundraiser,” he told us. It’s a pretty good fundraiser. You keep half the money raised from selling wrist bands or mugs. Plus, each item purchased provides one week of clean water for a person in the Central African Republic.

MudLOVE has partnered with Water for Good to help build and sustain wells in the Central African Republic. This is a life-saving, life-changing mission. Because clean water changes everything. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

MudLOVE mugs and bands help provide clean water to the Central African Republic.

So when we talked with Aiden about the possibility of needing to raise some funds to help cover the cost of his plane ticket to Ethiopia, he naturally suggested partnering with MudLOVE. Oh yeah – have I mentioned that Aiden is coming with us on this final adoption-related trip to Ethiopia? It just makes sense. He gets to experience his teenage brother’s homeland first-hand. And they get to spend some quality bonding time together before the craziness hits the fan when all SIX of us are finally under one roof together. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will probably change his life.

So he’s going.

He’s excited.

And we’re excited, too.

So to help offset some of the costs of adding him to our travel group (the grant organization that is paying for my plane ticket and Christy’s plane ticket won’t cover a sibling, which is totally understandable), Aiden has asked to host this fundraiser through MudLOVE. He loves these and he thinks you’ll love them, too!

A purchase of a bracelet or a mug will not only help him go to Ethiopia, but it will also help change the life of a person living in the midst of severe crisis.

So here’s the deal. Through MudLOVE, we are selling wrist bands and mugs. The Classic bands are $10 apiece if you choose one of the words that are already available. The word choices for these Classic Bands are: Beautiful, Believe, Blessed, Courage, Create, Dance, Dream, Faith, Family, Free, Friends, Grace, Hope, Imagine, Inspire, Joy, Laugh, Live, Love, Peace, Pray, Shine, Smile, Strength, and Trust.

Word choices for Classic Bands: Beautiful, believe, blesses, courage, create, dance, dream, faith, family, free, friends, grace, hope, imagine, inspire, joy, laugh, live, love, peace, pray, shine, smile, strength, trust.

You can also customize your band with your own unique message for $15 each. The maximum character limit is 13 characters, and you can use any combination of numbers and letters and a variety of special characters (like a cross, heart, ribbon, or music note – to name a few).

For either style of band, you can choose from these colors for the band’s elastic: White, Gray, Blue, Turquoise, Green, Lime,  Yellow, Gold, Orange, Pink, Red, Burgundy, Purple, Brown, Navy, and Black.

If you live outside of the Indianapolis or Evansville areas, please add $1.50 per 4 bracelets for shipping.

MudLOVE Mugs

We’re also able to offer some classy, hand-crafted mugs that are microwave and dishwasher safe. I’ll be honest. They’re beautiful. I wish I could buy them all. But that would defeat the purpose of a fundraiser. Right?

It’s the same concept as the bands. You can buy a classic mug for $25. Or you can customize your mug’s color and imprint for only $30.

Unfortunately, we don’t think we will be able to ship these. So unless there’s a way for us to meet in the Indianapolis or Evansville, IN, area – or if we’re planning on meeting sometime in the near future – please don’t order these mugs. I don’t think we can guarantee their safe arrival to your home.

Ready to order?

Great!

You can click my PayPal link and give all of the information there. Please include the type of band or mug (classic or custom) with the word(s) you’d like included, plus the color of your mug or the elastic. Don’t forget to include the $1.50 for shipping if we’re going to ship it out of state.

If you say it’s a good or service, PayPal will take out a fee. I’m just sayin’. Do with that what you will.

If you have any questions, concerns, or need clarification, please feel free to email me.

In order to have these items in-hand shortly after we return from Ethiopia, we’re going to place our MudLOVE order early Tuesday morning. So you have until Tuesday, 1/26, at 7:30 a.m. Eastern to place your order!

Thank you for your ongoing support of this adoption journey!

 

Nesting and packing and nesting and packing

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"If the family were a container, it would be a nest, an enduring nest, loosely woven, expansive, and open." - Letty Cottin Pogrebin

If the statement that a family is a loosely woven and expansive nest, then it’s safe to say that our nest is about to get bigger. It’s already grown in our hearts, but things are about to get real. Real world real. Because that empty chair at our dinner table is finally about to be occupied. Forever.

Rumor has it he’s a pretty good soccer player. And he’s a big fan of Manchester United. So I’m trying to get the hang of it. I was never a very good soccer player. And I haven’t really been much of a fan.

But I am now.

Because he is. That’s kind of how the game is played. So I’m learning about soccer  football. We’re also learning how to be fans of Manchester United. It’s a whole new world in the Todd household, y’all.

There is a sudden flurry of activity in our house. In the midst of our busy school and work schedules, we're trying to put the final touches on this house, making room for one more person. So you could say that we're in full-on nesting mode, helping this family container of ours expand some more.

Fortunately, his side of the Boys' bedroom is ready. Chalkboard and all.

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But we're not just nesting. We're packing, too. So we're kind of in this weird state of cleaning and rearranging a bunch of things while also pulling stuff out to pack. Fortunately, I didn't really fully unpack from my trip a month ago. But now there's two more people flying out with me and one more coming back with us.

So we're nesting. And packing. And nesting. And packing. And waiting. And getting ready. And nesting. And packing.

Because soon this journey to bringing Weldu home will come to an end.

And the real journey will begin.