Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Escalators, ER Visits, Airplanes, and Heartfelt Gratitude

October 13th, 2017 8 comments

It has been a hectic few days to say the least.  On Monday, my son Max told me it was the worst day of his life and he was certainly correct (and we hope he doesn’t have a worse one anytime soon).  But, it is in the midst of difficulty that you gain an appreciation for true nature of humanity.

Here is a run-down on what happened (Note: If you don’t want to read all the details, please skip down to the end – that is the most important part):

Max and I were in the US for a couple weeks (work for me, visiting grandparents for him).  We were schedule to leave on Monday.  We had to return the rental car to Louisville airport and then fly to Chicago to catch our flight back to Swaziland.  Even though our children are phenomenal travelers, the logistics of travel can be a bit much.

We were already a bit under pressure because I had miscalculated the time zone changes, but we were going to catch our plane no problem.  After dropping the rental car off, we loaded up our luggage.  Max had his little backpack and I was pulling two 50-pound suitcases as well as a heavy backpack and my laptop bag.  He followed me up the escalator to the ticket counter.  About halfway up, one of the bags which had a strap wrapped around my wrist slipped down a step and pulled me off balance.  Between not having any free hands, and the heavy backpack, I tumbled over backwards with me and bags landing on Max.  Someone hit the emergency stop on the escalator and several people rushed to help.  Max was crying and scared and that is when I noticed a deep gash on his foot.

I sprinted up the stopped escalator with him and was quickly joined by police and the EMS.  There was a good bit of blood and it was obvious the gash was more than superficial.  While Max was obviously in pain, he quickly gathered himself and let the police tend to his wound.  One of the officers brought him a stuffed animal to distract him while the others focused on providing first aid.

At this point the reality of the situation started to set in.  We were 9,000 miles away from home and were obviously going to miss our flight and our connecting flight (and then bus to Swaziland).  We were going to have to get medical treatment somewhere and I had an injured son, nearly 200 pounds of luggage, and no transportation.

The police offered to watch my stuff while I carried Max to try and figure out the details.  First we went to the ticket counter and canceled our flight.  Then I went back to the Hertz rental car to see if there was any way I could get my rental car back.  I could have ubered to the hospital (the police wanted me to take an ambulance), but that presented crazy logistics with luggage.  I told the people at Hertz what happened and they immediately got on the phone and pulled the car I had used back out for me and even delivered it to the door. (More on Hertz later).  From there I headed to the nearest hospital.

The next several hours moved very slow compared to the chaos at the airport.  We checked in the hospital and were triaged.  At this point, Max is calm and we are just waiting for our turn to go back.  This relative downtime gave me a chance to think a bit more about logistics.  In particular the fact that our international health insurance doesn’t cover the United States.  I had no idea how much this trip to the ER was going to cost us.  The time in the waiting room also gave me a chance to make some phone calls.  Obviously I was updating Beth and the family in the states.  Beth took care of rearranging all my transport and everyone else reached out to offer help however they could.  I called Hertz back and talked to a manager who was incredibly sympathetic to our situation and told us it would be no problem to extend the contract for a day and that we could even return the car to O’hare in Chicago since our plane tickets would cost nearly $500 to rebook.  I asked how much it would cost and he said “not too much more, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

At this time I also got in touch with my cousin Jana who lives in Louisville, has traveled extensively internationally, and who is a physical therapist specializing on hands and feet.  We talked about our options and she suggested an urgent care would be cheaper and most likely quicker.  She set out to call around to see what was available while also arranging for us to stay at her place.  She found an urgent care with no waiting near her house that was going to cost $250 to get Max stitched up.  At this point, Max was completely calm and relatively little pain.  I asked triage nurse an estimate on time (I am sure she hates that question), and was told “when you checked in there was one person in the queue ahead of us and nothing has changed.”  That made it easy to decide to head out of there and go to urgent care.

At Urgent care we quickly got taken back to a room and the nurse was very attentive to Max and his needs.  The Physician’s Assistant on call came in to take a look at things.  Both medical staff let us know from the very beginning that there was a chance they couldn’t treat Max due to his age and the location of his injury could have caused nerve, tendon or vascular damage.  At this point it had been about 4 hours since the accident and when they took the bandage off it was still bleeding.

The PA was incredibly gracious when reviewing our options.  He recommended we go to the children’s hospital (there was a branch close by), but also understood our situation with insurance and travel.  Basically he told us that he could probably stitch it up, but that really an expert should look at it.  At this point, I called Jana to ask if she could come over to help me think through our options. There was some concern because Max was not moving his toes very well.  We agreed to put some topical painkiller on it and see what should be done next.  During this time, he also called around to see our alternate medical options.

The longer we were at urgent care the more obvious it was that we would be heading back to the Emergency Room for treatment.  The PA came back in the office and said that his attending physician had told him he couldn’t do the stitches due to the complexity.  Additionally, in calling the nearby children’s hospital branch, he learned that even they wouldn’t accept the case because Max needed a place where a pediatric orthopedic surgeon could consult.  Due to the location and depth of the injury there was a possibility of tendon, nerve or even vascular damage. Our only option was to go to the main branch of the Kosair children’s hospital.

It was obvious that the PA was going above and beyond to help us.  In additional to his medical care, and the time he took to consult with doctor’s across the city, he told us he would work it out so that the entire visit to urgent care would be free. Holy Cow… what a relief!

So off to Kosair we headed.  Jana called ahead to her friends in the medical community to get advice and information and I followed her to the hospital.

We checked in, were triaged, and found our place in the waiting room.  Interestingly enough, a family friend from my hometown was sitting in the waiting area as well.  Throughout all of this Max was a trooper.  At this point it was past his bed time and despite his injury, he was incredibly calm and patient.  His biggest complaint was that he couldn’t eat or drink due to the possibility that he would need anesthesia if surgery was required.

After a couple hours we were taken back to a room.  The resident doctor took a look at Max and did some initial cleaning of the wound.  He confirmed that tendon damage could be a concern, but they wouldn’t know until they could look at it further.  The attending doctor also came and checked the situation and called for an X-Ray, so I carried Max off to radiology for three pictures of his bones.  The initial report looked clear, but the radiologist came back to say he saw a hairline fracture.

Now it was time for the tough part – exploring the wound and stitches.  Max was given a nasal dose of medicine to reduce the pain, but it didn’t seem to help much because even the cleaning process caused him deep distress.  With the attending and resident doctor both looking at things, they told us that tendon damage didn’t seem to be an issue and there also wasn’t any obvious nerve damage.  Next step then was actually getting the stitches.  Despite the topical pain killer already applied and the nasal painkiller, Max did not react well to the numbing injections.  This was certainly the most traumatic part of the process for him.  Eventually, the doctor was able to start sewing.  Even though Max was crying through the whole process, he never flinched his foot and let the doctor do his job.  In the end, it only took 3 stitches to get him put back together.

At this point it must have been about midnight and Jana headed back home while we wrapped things up.  The doctor told us that because there was a minor fracture and an open wound, it was technically a compound fracture and we would need IV then oral anti-biotics.  I already knew Max was not going to be a fan of more needles.

As you could imagine, Max was exhausted and fell asleep in my arms.  The nurse came in to give the IV and he was so sleepy, I couldn’t even rouse him.  The nurse found a vein in his hand and applied an aerosol pain killer and then inserted the IV.  Thankfully Max didn’t wake up during the procedure, but unfortunately the vein the nurse was going for blew.  He then found a vein in his arm, but Max woke up for the second stick and was none too happy.  Once again the vein blew and we would have to try again.  A different nurse came in and despite Max’s protests, successfully put the IV in.  It was hooked up to some antibiotics and we began the waiting process.  After about an hour the IV was removed and we were presented with our discharge papers.

After taking care of the paperwork, we finally head over to Jana’s house to get some rest.  When we got there, it was about 2am – 12 hours after the accident had initially occurred.

The next morning we were able to sleep in a bit and also take care of the logistics like repacking and getting Max his prescription.  At around 1pm after some lunch, we began the drive to Chicago to drop off the rental car and catch our flight.  Thankfully the drive was pleasantly uneventful, but it did give me a chance to think about the logistics of actually getting from the car to airplane.  Somehow, I was going to have to carry two backpacks, two 50 pound suitcases, a bulky duffel bag and an injured 4-year old.  No problem!  Thankfully my parents called ahead to try and work out the details, but unfortunately there wasn’t a clear solution and I was going to have to wing it.

Upon arriving at the Hertz return office, I ran into what seemed like a problem.  The guy checking in the cars said he couldn’t do anything because the contract had been closed.  Essentially I was driving a car without a formal agreement from the rental company.  He told me I had to go downstairs to talk with the office.  That is when I realized the only way down was by escalator.  You have got to be kidding me!

At the counter I talked to one advisor who said there was nothing he could do and I was going to have to work things out through Louisville AND the national Hertz office.  I had gotten to the airport more than 3 hours early, but didn’t really want to spend time negotiating contracts.  I was then directed to another representative who looked more into my situation.  After punching a few keys he outlined the situation:  Essentially the Louisville manager had kept my contract closed rather than extending it.  While that initially looked like a problem, what it really meant was that the guy had loaned me the car, and arranged for the drop off in Chicago, all on his own.  It seems there weren’t going to be any additional charges for our big change of plans.  WOW!

At this point I went back up the escalator and began dreading the next challenge: getting all my stuff, with an injured kid, down the escalator, to the bus, and up to the ticket counter.  Quietly this was the part of the whole ordeal I had been dreading the most.  As I was loading up my bags and thinking about options such as throwing my bags down the escalator and then dealing with them later, the car attendant offered to go get me a luggage trolley.  Excellent!  Why hadn’t I thought to ask for that!  Oh, and he mentioned there was an elevator I could take!  First complexity handled!

Next came the bus.  Thankfully the bus was already waiting for us when we got to the ground floor to take us to the terminal.  I was able to carry Max and get the first bag on the bus.  But then, the bus driver quickly got up and grabbed my other bags to help load up.  No problem at all!  Once on the bus, it was just a matter of waiting.  Once we got to the terminal, before I could stand up with Max, the driver was back there to help me unload.  I set Max down, grabbed a trolley and loaded up our stuff.  From there I headed into the terminal, found a quiet place, and repacked our bags for the journey home.

After we made it to the ticket counter, the complexity of our travel was greatly reduced.  We checked in, dropped our bags, and Emirates arranged for us to have a wheel chair to get through security.  Despite some juggling required to get through the scanners, it all was a pleasantly uneventful process.

On the first flight from Chicago to Dubai (14 hours), we ended up with an aisle/middle seat combo with an empty seat between us and then another guy on the other aisle.  Beth had called ahead and told them of our situation and Emirates agreed to flag our seats to try their best to keep things open.  It turns out that there were actually a couple empty seats available and the guy in our row willing to move so we ended up with a whole role of 4 seats to ourselves.  That meant that Max could fully lay down to sleep!  What a relief!

Our original plan was to spend a long layover in Dubai doing things in the city.  One of the only non-injury-related things that Max cried about was the fact that he wasn’t going to get to see the dinosaur skeleton at the Dubai Mall.  While on the plane, I was chatting with Beth (inflight internet is amazing!) and we realized that since our flight was ahead of schedule, if everything worked out, there was going to be enough time to still make it into the city.  I did all my calculations and set alarms on my phone so that we could try our best to give Max some distraction during the downtime.

At Dubai, things went flawlessly.  We were through security and in the cab even before we were originally scheduled to land.  With Max on my shoulders, we were able to quickly see all the things I had promised him (dinosaur skeleton, water show, tallest building in the world, aquarium, and the biggest candy store in the world).  We caught a cab back, and were able to get quickly through security with enough time to take advantage of the lounge (having frequent flyer status is such a blessing) to get a quick bite to eat and more importantly a shower.

Our next flight went just as well as the first.  We had an open seat next to us despite it being an almost full flight.  The people around us were very friendly and Max once again traveled like a champ.  When we got to the Johannesburg airport, we got our luggage and a trolley and had some time to grab a bite to eat (who doesn’t like calamari for breakfast!).  We caught our shuttle back to Swaziland, which thankfully had a lot of empty seats.  We both got some sleep on the ride home and were met by a staff member who had us home by afternoon with enough time to decompress and get cleaned up.

We started our journey on Monday morning and by Thursday evening we were safely back home – exhausted and a bit frazzled, but overall in great shape all things considered.

Looking back on the situation, I realize just how fortunate we were and how thankful I am for all the strangers and family/friends who helped make a chaotic situation so much more bearable.

So now for the main reason I am writing this post:

All the people I want to give thanks to:

  • To the staff and bystanders at the Louisville airport who quickly responded, pressed the emergency stop on the escalator and attended to Max and I before I could even comprehend what was happening.
  • To the police and EMS of the Louisville PD who provided immediate and competent care. They were primarily concerned about our wellbeing, but also understanding of our situation with the lack of insurance and the need to get home.  In all at least 4 people gave their time and attention to our situation providing excellent first aid and evaluation as well as emotional support.
  • I don’t know the name of the main police officer who helped us, but he was absolutely incredible. He watched our stuff while I sorted out the logistics.  He carried our luggage to the curb.  He even came back to ensure we not only got his foot checked out, but also kept an eye out of head trauma.  Most of all, he made sure we got the care we needed without incurring unnecessary costs or taking unnecessary risks.
  • To the Hertz people at the Louisville airport. I simply cannot say enough about how compassionate and helpful they were.  The people at the desk ensured I had transportation even though I had already closed my contract.  They could have easily told me to just take an Uber or made me fill out paperwork for another car.  They were primarily concerned about Max’s wellbeing instead of processes and procedures.  The fact that they even arranged the car to pick us up at the curb shows their level of detail.  When I called to sort out the paperwork, they were more concerned about us than about the rental details.  At this point it seems they even comped us our extension and are working out the details on their side.  Above and beyond!
  • To the random guy waiting in the hospital ER who offered Max and I a gift card for dinner after overhearing our ordeal.
  • To Beth who did an amazing job at handling her son being hurt 9,000 miles away. She handled all the details of changing our flights and ensuring we had open seats around.  But more importantly, she stayed calm and was there to help where she could without panicking.
  • To my cousin Jana who completely dropped everything to help us and give us a place to stay. She helped us think through our options and the implications.  She made countless phone calls to friends in the medical community to explore our options and get recommendations.  Her expertise in PT helped us get straight answers and understand the risks.  She spent more than 7 hours physically with us to help with the details and logistics of moving between medical centers and ensuring everyone was comfortable.  The next day she helped research pharmacies and other optios.  Also thanks to Curtis and Knox for letting us crash on their couch and disrupt their lives for a couple days.  We were so fortunate to have friends and family in the city where this happened.
  • To the staff at the Urgent care, especially the nurse (don’t remember her name) and to Travis the PA. They expertly balanced the concerns about travel and insurance with what was in the best interests of Max.  Travis in particular fully commited himself to looking into all the options and ensuring we had a clear path forward.  The fact that our medical services were provided free of charge is absolutely amazing and goes a long way in helping us process through the secondary struggles of this ordeal (financial).  What a compassionate and commited staff – especially at the end of the day on a bank holiday).
  • To all the staff at Kosair hospital for providing calm, professional, and expert service. In particular to:
    • The billing lady for understanding that financial issues can provide additional strain to already hectic situations.
    • Grant for always being straightforward with us and taking the time to talk with Max when he was scared. He did his absolute best to ensure Max got the care he needed and minimized the trauma.
    • Star for giving her attention fully to Max even during a very busy night.
    • The radiology staff for focusing so much on Max and making sure he was comfortable and the experience was as simple as possible.
    • The intern(?) who came to Max with an iPad so he would be calm during the IVs and even left it with him so he could watch during his treatment.
    • The nurses who took care of all the details and did their absolute best to make sure Max was comfortable. Even bringing a slushee after his IV stick.  The late night nurse also make sure that we were informed not only about post-discharge care, but also our options for payment reduction.
    • To the billing department for working with us on the finances and also explaining the situation in details when I asked specific questions.
  • To all my family to checked in with us and offered to help. In particular to my parents who helped to arrange the details around our transition at the Chicago airport, even being willing to fly back with us if we needed them.  Even extended family reached out to check on us and offer any help we could use.
  • To the Walgreens pharmacist for working with us to reduce medication costs and “Adjusting” procedures so that I could get a partial prescription in the states and then get the rest in Swaziland where it is cheaper.
  • To the random country lady at McDonalds who saw Max’s foot and offered to get him extra chicken nuggets if he wanted them.
  • Again, a shout out to the Hertz people. In Chicago the check in guy ensured I had a cart and access to a trolley.  The associates at the desk helped me figure out the logistics of the rental.  The bus driver went out of his way to help with the bags.  Spectacular service at one of the complicated legs of the journey.
  • To the Emirates and O’Hare staff for arranging for a wheelchair and helping through immigration and security.
  • To the guy on the plane to Dubai who moved seats so max could have a whole row to lay down on
  • To the flight staff on all our flights for going out of their way to ensure Max was taken care of (and that I was able to rest when possible).
  • To the random Arab guy on the escalator in the Dubai Mall who talked to Max and told him it was going to be okay when Max was hesitant to take an escalator.
  • To the receptionist at the Emirates lounge who let Max in even though my status did not allow guests. She also went and got us a stroller so we could move around easier with Max.
  • To all the security officers at all airports who didn’t hassle me for taking a bunch of liquid (medicine for Max) through the screening areas.
  • To all the friends and family who reached out with genuine offers to help however they could and to make sure we were taken care of.
  • To all the medical experts who gave their input and advice through friends to help us process our situation.
  • And finally to Max for being so brave and strong during this ordeal. He went through so much and was an absolute trooper through it all.  Getting hurt would overwhelmed many kids, but he not only handled that, but also spend the next 2.5 days on a crazy travel schedule and never once complained about anything besides the taste of his antibiotic.

Our trip back certainly did not go as planned, but it could have been much worse.  When I think about it, I realize just how fortunate / lucky we were.  My 4 year old son had over 350 pounds fall on him on a moving metal escalator and he escaped with only 3 stitches.  While the logistics and challenges of having all this happen so far from home were a bit overwhelming, the kindness and generosity of friends, family and strangers made things so much better.  I am so grateful for all the ways people reached out to help – some in small ways, some in large ways, but all where meaningful.

And just so you know, Max and I are now safely back home in Swaziland.  He is on the mend and most concerned about not being able to go to school yet.

This event will change my thinking on many things, but for now, all I can think is how grateful I am for the generosity of those around me.  I only hope I can return the favor to those I find myself around in their times of need.

Baby Names

September 22nd, 2013 3 comments

I was going through some files on my computer and came across the excel spreadsheet Beth and I used to help narrow down baby names. I am sure you can guess whose idea it was to use a spreadsheet!  And in case you were wondering, yes it was color coded and included weighted averages to rank the names; it also listed name popularity and trends based on recent Social Security Administration information.

For some reason it was much tougher for us to pick boy and girl names this time than it was with Mikayla. (I wrote about picking her name a while ago.)  Looking back at the lists of names reminded me of all the thought that went into the process.

Even though we decided to find out the gender with Baby #2, there was initially some ambiguity about the sex so we had a boy name and a girl name. If we had had a girl, the name would have been Elsie Bellissima.  We liked the "throw back names" that were familiar but unique, but it was the middle name that has the most meaning as it honors two children we were close to who were taken well before their time: Bella Shoemaker and Simo Dlamini.  When the names were put together, it just so happened to be the Italian word for ‘Most Beautiful" which we thought was appropriate.

Other girl names we considered were:

  • Ainsley
  • Amelia
  • Arabella
  • Avery
  • Briley
  • Elsie
  • Gabriella / Gabrielle
  • Harper
  • Lindiwe
  • Macy
  • Madeline
  • Mallory
  • Sophia/Sophie
  • Sydney
    Obviously we did not have a girl so Baby #2 was named Maxwell Simo – a name we had originally picked before the gender confusion.  We liked the name Max from the beginning, and it also is a way of honoring Bella since Max is the character in her favorite book "Where the Wild Things Are."  We had always considering giving our child a Swazi name, and after the death of Simo last Christmas, we didn’t think about many other names.  The meaning of Simo is also appropriate.  It means situation/character(istic).  Since being born in Swaziland will be one of the qualities that makes Max unique, it is a fitting name.  And while a name can mean a lot, it is a person’s character that is most important.

In case you were wondering, here are some of the other boy names we considered:

  • Crosby
  • Fletcher
  • Hudson
  • Max (Maxwell, Maximus, Maximillian)
  • Micah
  • Paxton
  • Quinn (Quinton, Quincy)
  • Sebastian
  • Tate
  • Thaddeus
  • Theodore
  • Xander
  • Xavier
  • Zachary

And just because I can… here is a gratuitous shot of my kids:

River, Max at 2months 076

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Mikayla and Daddy go on a Photo Walk

September 14th, 2013 3 comments

DD Photagraphy 279

We are about to start a very busy month here at Cabrini.  We have a Medical Team coming in from Australia next week.  We close out a grant year at the end of September.  All of our major annual programming reports are due in the first couple weeks of October. And, we have a quarterly board meeting along with a strategic planning session scheduled.  On top of all that, we are doing a major database upgrade that includes launching a new system to keep up with all of our recent work in Social Services.  Needless to say, my spare time is going to be limited and my stress level will probably be a bit higher.

In light of the upcoming weeks, I wanted to make sure I spent some intentional time with Beth, Mikayla and Max.  So today, while Beth and Max were at a meeting, Mikayla and I went out into the bush behind our house to do a "Photo Walk." 

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Mikayla’s ability to actually compose a picture in the viewfinder has only developed in the last couple weeks.  Before that, she would just indiscriminately press the shudder button regardless of what the camera was actually point out.  Considering that, her skills now are pretty impressive.  All of the pictures below came from Mikayla.  Not to shabby at all if you ask me.  I think some of her flower pictures are amazing by anyone’s standard!

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Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Family Pictures

July 5th, 2013 No comments

UPDATE: I made this blog post into a page so I can add more pictures along the way.  Please visit to access the new pictures.

I wanted to upload a few high resolution photos in case people in the states wanted to get them printed.  You will need to click on the ones you want to get the full size image and then save it and get it printed where ever is easiest.

Let me know if there are others you have seen on facebook that you would like uploaded.

Max Arrives 027Max Arrives 041Max Arrives 048Max Arrives 086Max Arrives 089Max day 2 012Max day 2 016Max day 2 026Max day 2 028Max day 2 035

4 year pictures 0364 year pictures 0544 year pictures 0664 year pictures 0924 year pictures 1054 year pictures 1194 year pictures 153

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Boy or Girl?

April 25th, 2013 4 comments

Things have been busy since January.  We have had visits from my cousin Jana (and her friend Olivia) as well as from my Parents.  I went to Ethiopia (and Dubai) for a week in March.  And, Beth is progressing in her pregnancy.  But, let’s face it, if you want regular updates on the Kickerts in Swaziland, you have to go to my wife’s blog for that.

Now, back to that pregnancy.  The good news is that both mother and baby are doing great.  Everything looks normal and the pregnancy is low-risk.  That means we will probably be delivering in Swaziland if everything continues as plans.  All of that is great, and what really matters.  However, we have encountered some frustration with Baby Kickert #2. 

If you will remember, at the 16 week ultrasound, we saw "definitive" evidence that our new baby was a boy.  Here is the picture looking up between the legs.  That is definitely a penis.


So with that knowledge, we set out to decide on boy’s names.  It was a much more difficult process for us, but we ended up settling on a name everyone liked: Maxwell (Max) Simo Kickert.  It was great to have that decision out of the way…  that is until our 28 week ultrasound.

Here is the picture from that one (sorry it is not as clear because it is a scan of a printed image):

28 week scan (2)

For this picture you are again looking up between the legs from underneath, but the baby is facing the opposite direction.  Also, instead of seeing a penis, you are seeing the three lines that indicate a vagina.  Even more telling, is that when the doctor continued the scan up the body, there was no evidence at all of a scrotum.

Both doctors said that if their respective ultrasound stood on their own, there would be no question of what the gender was.  The problem is that each ultrasounds points in a different direction.

It is possible that the first image is actual of the umbilical cord, but when I look back at it, it certainly looks like a penis to me.  It is also possible that in the second image, the baby was positioned in such a way as to hide the penis. 

So where are we?  We really don’t know.  It could go either way.  We are leaning towards girl since that is what was indicated in the most recent scan, but we won’t know for sure until we have another ultra sound (some time in the next month).

Again, the most important information is that the baby is healthy.  But this ambiguity is frustrating.  We have gone back to the drawing board on names to try and come up with one of the female variety.  It has been just as tough as deciding on a boy’s name, but we think we at least have an idea for a first name.

We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, you are more than welcome to submit your own guesses based on your ability to read the ultrasounds above.

Categories: Family Tags: , , , ,

Catching up

January 6th, 2013 No comments

When I started blogging again several years ago, I rarely went a month without putting a post up.  Unfortunately, it looks like I got out of the habit and have gone almost 6 months with a post.  Whoops! 

Looking back at the last six months, it has been anything but uneventful.  In fact, there has been so much going on that it probably contributed to the blog-silence.  So, here is a quick run down on the big things that have gone down:

  • There has been a lot of traveling with the Cabrini crew – both coming and going
    • 3 staff members went to the states for the AIDS 2012 conference
    • Five "sisters in training" came and stayed with us for spiritual development
    • We had a fundraising trip in the states that all the Kickerts plus Sister Diane went on (more on that later).
    • The sisters have been all over the place doing "sister" work and taking some down time
    • We have had two short-term volunteer come and go
    • Joe has gone to the states for some time with Family
  • We were able to spend 6 weeks in the US and it was very busy time
    • I spent time in New York, Philadephia, St. Louis, Chicago, Nashville
    • It was great catching up with friends and family
    • I became an uncle on my side when Tim and Chel had their first baby
    • My grandmother passed away
    • We got to enjoy some down time together as a family and see the sites in NYC and London
  • We wrapped up our funding year and took some time to look at all the accomplishments happening in Swaziland
  • Simo, one of the twins we watched was killed when his house collapsed on him.
  • We found out we were pregnant!

If you really want scoop on what has gone on with the Kickerts in the last six months, be sure to go to Beth’s blog… she even does pictures!

Video Dump

March 8th, 2012 No comments

Due to our poor internet, we rarely get the chance to upload videos.  So, here are three that we have had in waiting.

First up is Mikayla showing off her "Boing-a-hopping"


Next up we have Mikayla and I running away from the waves at Mission Rock during our trip to St. Lucia, South Africa:


Then, here is a video of Mikayla "reading" a book.  Technically she has it memorized from the Kindle, but I thought it was pretty impressive none-the-less:


And finally… just because I can, here are a couple of my favorite videos of Mikayla:


Categories: Family Tags: , , , , ,

2011 Year in Review (AKA: US to Swaziland in 5 years or less)

January 14th, 2012 3 comments

The coming of a new year gives us a reason to reflect on the year that was. Inevitably, we notice how fast time goes by and how, in a relatively short time, so much can change. That notion of mutability was amplified for us in 2011.

One year ago, my wife Beth and I both had jobs we loved. We lived in a comfortable house in a quiet sub-division where we knew our neighbors. We had a great support network of friends and family. We drove cars that were paid off. Our daughter had every luxury a one-year old could want. Heck, one year ago, there was probably snow on the ground, Christmas candy on the table, a Netflix movie streaming over the Internet and left over food from our favorite restaurants in the fridge.

Today, as I am writing this reflection, I am sitting in the dark because a summer storm has knocked electricity out. My whole family is sweating because it hit the high 90s today and the humidity is unbearable. My back hurts from cutting the grass with a glorified machete. Going to town today to get our mail and groceries meant 30 minutes on dirt roads through the bush and then another 10-15 on “tar roads.” We are still mourning the loss of our dog that was killed by a 7’ black mamba. Everywhere around us people are dying of HIV, TB and neglect.

One year ago we lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Today we live in Swaziland, Africa. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.

In January of last year Beth was teaching, I was preaching, Mikayla was playing and life seemed normal. By March we had begun selling our stuff, saying the first of our goodbyes, making last minute arrangements and preparing for a huge transition. In July, everything we ever owned was either sold, stored, loaned out or in our suitcases and we would spend 72 traveling from the life as we knew it to the bush of Swaziland. A month later we had taken in two TB positive twins as foster parents, had experienced oppressive heat of the Swaziland lowveld, and begun to learn what it means to live in a new culture. By the end of the year, while still far from full adjusted, we had begun to accept our new normal.

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January in the States

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December in Swaziland

Suburbia to Savannah in a year may sound like an incredibly quick transition, but in reality it was the culmination of nearly 5 years of planning, praying and preparing. In 2007, Beth and I began to take inventory of our lives and started talking about our long term goals. Up until then, our lives had floated along a very positive trajectory; we were very happy with the way our lives were turning out, even if we weren’t overt about planning. But, slowly we realized that all the things in life we wanted to do could not co-exist. We could not commit to staying in Bowling Green to make a difference while also talking about pursuing Ph.Ds at distant colleges. We couldn’t talk about living overseas while also talking about living in intentional community with our friends. Simply put, we had to make a decision about which direction our lives would take in the coming years.

You would think a big decision like that would be difficult, but it only took one conversation over dinner to decide that at some point in our lives, while we raised our kids who were yet to come, we wanted to experience life outside the United States. I think even early on we realized that it was not important to have all the details figured out, but rather we had to know what general direction we were headed and then be faithful in pursuing it.

Over the next several years we researched opportunities, got in contact with people on the ground doing ministry, and gradually allowed our future to be shaped. It was a lesson in balancing intentionality with ambiguity. We had to learn how to stay on course pursuing a reality that we did not yet understand. We had to be bold in making decisions, but humble in allowing those decisions to change if needed. Slowly, as the details came into focus, we began planning for a life in Swaziland, Africa.

In July of 2010, Beth and I flew to Swaziland and met with over 20 individuals and organizations. Our goal was not to find a job, but to see what sort of work was going on and where we might fit into it. At the conclusion of the trip we were more confident than ever that we were on the right track in moving to Africa, but completely unsure of where we would end up. Once again, we continued planning, even if we didn’t know the details.

In October we were offered positions at Cabrini Ministries (  in the St. Philips. The irony is that St. Philips is in the lowveld bush; that means it is in the middle of nowhere and ridiculously hot. We had intentionally avoided researching any opportunities in the lowveld because of the environment. However, when Cabrini offered us the positions, we realized that even if the location was not right, the place was perfect. It offered housing, paid a modest salary, was a safe place to raise a family, and provided the opportunity to live immersed in Swazi culture. Most importantly, it was a place where good work was being done that we could be a part of and the skills we brought were exactly what they needed.

In July 2011, when we finally arrived, we realized very quickly that the faithfulness and diligence of our preparation had paid off. When we began looking to live overseas, we wanted to be a part of restorative work that was driven by community needs and assets. We also wanted to head to place where we could be shaped as individuals and a family. We certainly found both. Here at Cabrini we are in one of the most forgotten areas of the country all of our work is dedicated to serving the needs geographically around us. We have an HIV infection rate of nearly 40% and nearly half of children under 18 are either classified as orphans or vulnerable children. In response to this Cabrini offers a full-service HIV/TB clinic and a child care program that includes 7 levels of care from comprehensive residential care to one-time needs assistance. Last year over 2,000 people received direct care or treatment support from the organization. One of the most phenomenal things is that most of our staff began as clients and have been capacitated to do the work needed. For instance, our current database administrator was left for dead on her homestead dying of HIV and TB and was slowly nursed back to health by our nursing staff. 2 years ago she had never seen a computer and now she manages a healthcare database that is more robust than what the government hospital runs! Of our 55 staff members, all but 3 are from Africa, and 44 of them are from within 25 miles of Cabrini.

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Cabrini’s Staff

In looking back at the transition we have gone through, it is easy to make things sound much more incredible than they really are. I can make the Kickert’s sound like heroes, but the reality is that most of the time, life is pretty mundane. On one hand crazy things happen here all the time (we have had two black mambas and a cobra killed within a couple yards of our front door in the last week), but then when I look at my actual day, I spend most of it behind a computer writing grant reports or doing IT work. Sometimes we spend 25% of our time without electricity, but we have decent access to internet. There are days where I may be in a national level planning meeting, only to come home and find that I have to chase cattle out of the garden. Last night Beth cooked cookies for the “Ambassador” to the EU (European Union) while I spent hours formatting report documents. I learned real quick that I can’t take myself too seriously.

A lot has happened in the last year, but all of it has been part of a dynamic yet consistent movement in our lives. Some people move overseas with only a few months notice; it took us 5 years. The hard part has not been the transition, it has been staying on course even when there isn’t a lot of action.

I have no idea what the next year or the next 5 years will hold for us, but I am confident it too will part of this direction we have been heading in for quite some time.


Thanksgiving in Swaziland

November 27th, 2011 3 comments

This has been the first holiday season that I can ever remember where I have been away from family.  Growing up, our extended families always lived far away and we only saw them a couple times a year, but when it came to Thanksgiving and Christmas we always committed to long drives and hurried schedules in order to make sure we saw everybody.

We knew celebrating the holidays in Southern Africa could be tough.  Not only are we away from family, but the Swazi’s don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. Instead of leaves changing, the coming of cool weather and football on TV, we have torrential downpours (when rain comes), 100+ degree weather and cricket on TV.  Plus, most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods are difficult or impossible to find.

BUT… instead of pouting about it, Beth, Mikayla and I made sure we had one of the most memorable Thanksgivings ever.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we were able to talk with all of our families overseas (even though it meant waking up in the middle of the night, it was worth it).  Also, Beth was able to put together a lot of Thanksgiving themed activities for Mikayla including a song that we will try to post on YouTube when we get a chance.

As for having a Thanksgiving meal, our plans changed many times, but ending up being extremely meaningful.  At first, we tried to coordinate with several Westerners that we are close with to celebrate this American holiday.  However, due to schedule changes and other circumstances, no one besides us was able to attend.  So, we extended an invitation to the Swazis that we are closest with.  This included several of the mangers, the office staff, and a couple other people from the mission.

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When it came to food, Beth in particular was able to pull off some culinary wizardry (I am sure she will post about it on her blog shortly).  Although very hard to come by, we tracked down a frozen turkey and some smoked ham.  We had traditional mashed potatoes and green beans as well as the most amazing gravy I have ever had (thanks to the sisters!).  We had apple sauce, homemade rolls, deviled eggs, a Swazi version of collard greens along with butternut squash, and of course some sweet potatoes.  The award for creative substitution came with a variation of homemade pumpkin pie that we made with butternut squash.  It was phenomenal and if you didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t have known the difference.

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By far the most meaningful part of the entire meal was being able to share it with the Swazis we are closest to.  We were able to explain the traditions and also express our gratitude to them for their support and assistance in our transition.

I was particularly struck by the unintentional symbolism that emerged.   In America, Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and we originally tried to replicate and share that with other Americans here in Swaziland.  However, what ended up happening was much more in line with the first Thanksgiving.  Tradition holds that the feast is tied to the Europeans celebrating with the Native Americas as a sign of gratitude for their assistance upon coming to the New World.  While the parallels are not perfect, the similarities were striking.  We are outsiders who are new here, and were were able to share our gratitude with those those who were already here as a way of saying thanks for helping us make the transition.

After dinner, we all sat around for hours and enjoyed each others company.  We introduced the Swazis to the Wii and as it turns out, they are pretty good at bowling!

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As the evening wound down, the tone became a bit more intimate.  Several of guys who were still around thanked us for sharing the tradition with them.  They also expressed the things they were thankful.  Esau, our maintenance manager, said he was grateful to be a part of something that was bigger than just the people involved; because we are doing important things, we can work together even if we don’t always agree.  Johannes, our agriculture manager said he felt most thankful when he could look back at all the hard work and see the fruits of his labor.  He also said he was excited to see how people from different cultures could come and make new creations with current things (he was talking about Dad’s sweet potato recipe in particular).  Mzamo, our HR Director, continued this theme by saying he was grateful for how Westerners could come to Swaziland and make things better without having to change the culture.

At the end of the day, I drove everyone back to their homesteads along with leftover plates stacked high.  It gave me new appreciation for the dedication it takes for these people to come to work every day walking miles (some up to 6 miles each way) through the bush.

Our first Thanksgiving in Swaziland brought many firsts for us (first holidays away from family, first time cooking a turkey, first butternut squash pie, etc.) and many firsts for the Swazis (first thanksgiving, first time playing wii, first time to eat many of the foods, etc.).

Looking back a day later, I certainly missed seeing all our friends and family during this time, but at the same time, this weekend did more than anything else previously to solidify the notion that we are in the in fact in the right place.

Now we just need to set up our Christmas Tree and get ready for our first summertime Christmas.

Happy Holidays from the Kickerts!

Feast or Famine // Bush Walk

September 11th, 2011 1 comment

Activity here in St. Phillips, Swaziland tends to come as either feast or famine: either there is a chaotic rush of things that need to be done, or there is absolutely nothing going on.  That not only applies to the work of the mission, but also to weekends.

My Saturday started at 6:30am (sleeping in for us) so we could get the twins ready to return to their homestead.  Then I had about a 45 minute round trip commute to drop them off.  Most of the day for Beth Mikayla and I ran was comprised of a trip into town to look at a potential vehicle to purchase.  During the day we purchased beds for the hostel, visited a home improvement store (which was a huge find for us!), met a family from the US, test drove a vehicle, stopped for lunch, found our mechanic was gone for the day so the whole trip was a bit fruitless, drove to the entrance of a game park (and saw impalas), returned the vehicle, went shopping at a new grocery store (also a big deal!), and picked up pizza.  Reviewing the day’s accomplishments though, we had to admit that all we achieved was purchasing a few things (most notably a hand-held shower head!), eating pizza, and spending 6-7 hours in single cab truck to do it.   Eish… even our days off are busy.

To compensate, we have tried to "achieve" a lazy Sunday here on the mission.  Sure, I have a few hours of work to do (Annual Progress Report for PEPFAR – US tax dollars at work), but most of the time has been just hanging out, eating, making cookies, playing wii, and a family walk through the bush near our house. 

Since busy work does not make for interesting photo ops, I wanted to post a few pictures from our Bush Walk:

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Mikayla posing in front of some season flowers along the road.

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And a picture with Mommy.

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Mikayla riding up high…

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… and riding not-so-high.

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Following trails through the open…

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… and through the brushy.

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Tree picture with Daddy.

Bush Walk 101

All tuckered out on the way home.

Categories: Family, Swaziland Tags: , , , , ,