Chapt.1: My Family:
Once I turned twenty-one, my boyfriend of ten months asked me to marry him and I accepted. My parents were proud of me and so were my friends. Darren Zabielski had asked me to marry him during my eight hour work day. I was on my last break when he came in. Randy had just told me to go on break and I had turned around to see Darren looking at me, his arm behind his back. I looked at him curiously and he got down on one knee. My hands flew to my mouth and the front end just stopped. The next few words out of his mouth were, "Jami, will you marry me?" and I said yes. I hugged him after he got off his knees and my co-workers hugged me and congratulated us. It wasn't the romantic way I wanted to be asked, but it would do. It wasn't that busy so Jacqui and Jeremy let me leave right then. I only had an hour and a half left on my shift anyways.
My family was next to hear the news as we went straight for my mom's home. My mom and step-dad were having a family barbeque when we drove up. I got out first and waited for Darren to come around the other side of the car. We went into the back yard where almost everyone was. My mom and grandparents were upstairs. I whispered to Darren that I would be right back and ran up the stairs. My mom and grandparents and Steve's sister and her kids were there watching the Mariner's game. I stood in front of the TV and they yelled at me to move, but I didn't. Darren came up the stairs a few minutes later, the rest of my family right behind him. He came to stand next to me and grabbed my hand. My whole family was looking at us. We both took a deep breath and I looked straight at my mom and step-dad and told them:
"Darren asked me to marry him today and I said yes."
It was silent for a few seconds after I told them but then my family came up to me and started congratulating me and hugging the both of us. I just happened to look out the window and see dad's truck pulling up. I grabbed Darren's hand and pulled him outside and down the front steps. My dad turned off his truck and got out. Lain, Erial, Titan and Macaylah got out as well. They looked at the two of us and I looked at them. Melain noticed everyone was looking out the window and spoke up first.
"Jami, what's going on?"
"I just told everyone else that Darren asked me to marry him."
"And what did you say?" Erial asked.
"I told him yes, I would marry him."
"So when's the wedding planned for?" Titan asked.
"We'd been talking about it earlier and we decided to have it in July."
"But that's like this month." Macaylah said.
"I know and I want everyone to be there, with no arguing from either side of the family. Please tell me that you will come and get along with mom, Steve and the rest of their side of the family?"
"It's a wedding, of course we're going to get along. First things first, you have to buy a wedding dress." Mom said coming down the stairs.
"I already have a dress. It's my prom dress. Darren's never seen it so it's the perfect dress. And besides, I'll never fit into any wedding dress in the stores, I'm too tall."
"She's got a point there. You could always use mom's dress." Sam said.
"Nice try Sam, but I'm almost six inches taller than mom and her dress is too short for me to wear. I'd rather keep it simple and my dress won't have to be altered or anything because it already is. All we need is a place to hold the wedding and I was thinking the river if that's okay with you dad, Lain?"
"Of course it's okay with us. You'll be the third person to get married there. But we may want to get enough tents just in case it rains. And we'll need the list of people the two of you are going to invite." Lain said.
"Darren's got family members who live in Botswana that are going to fly up for the wedding. And I have friends from work and friends from school that I want to invite. And I think Darren's got a few more people that aren't family coming up from Botswana as well. We'll give you all the information when we have it. Will there be enough room for everyone that is going to come. I mean, with all the people flying up from Botswana and all my family and friends and people we all know, you'd think we would run out of room."
"Well, we could always ask your friend Casey if we could have the wedding at her property. Doesn't she have eighty acres over in Eastern Washington?" Macaylah said.
"Yes, but I think her family is living on the property now so I don't know how to get in contact with them."
"Well, you could always call Casey. I saw her working at the Dairy Queen down in Marysville, right next to Albertsons. We could go down there and ask her." Jessica said coming out of the house right behind Katie, Aly & Bailey.
"Thanks Jessica, but I really want the wedding to be here. Hey, we could always ask Martie & Kirk if we could have the wedding on their property. They have five acres."
"She's got a point there. Hey, aren't you supposed to be at work Jami?" Titan asked.
"Jacqui & Jeremy let me go home early because we weren't busy and because Darren proposed to me in front of everyone at work. They said I could take the rest of the day off. And besides, I don't work tomorrow or Saturday so we pretty much have two and a half days to get everything in order."
"Alright, let's get a move on it then. Barbeque is officially over and wedding planning is officially on."
Melain, dad, mom and Steve began planning the wedding immediately. I went into Safeway with Michelle, mom and Melain and we went to pick out my wedding cake and got it ordered. It had to match the theme of the wedding. The wedding was going to be a traditional Botswana wedding with a hint of a western wedding. Darren had gotten an exact number on how many of his family and friends were flying up from Botswana and had given it to my parents. Martie and Kirk had agreed to host the wedding on their property of five acres. The tents were being put up and because it might rain, all the food stayed indoors in their basement for the reception.
Michelle was able to help make my cake. She had gotten permission from her boss and from Cindy the district manager of Safeway to work in the Bakery to make and decorate my wedding cake. She was there solely to work on the cake and make it how Darren and I wanted it to look. I had already put my two weeks in at Safeway and everyone that I'd worked with was invited to the wedding, if they weren't working. Jacqui and Jeremy both got the day off and so did Kathleen, Randy, Deborah, Vicky, Ninna, Gina, Lauren, Judy, Heidy, Renee, Thomas and Robin.
I had called in a favor from Robin and he was performing our marriage. Vicky had done all the flower pieces for the tables, the bouquets for the flower girls and my bouquet of flowers. Grandma Force had bought and altered a shall for my shoulders so that my tattoos wouldn't show. Darren's family and friends showed up about a week before the wedding and helped with the setup and everything else that needed to be done. Darren's parents took a liking to me and my family and friends the moment they saw us, but especially me, there new daughter-in-law.
When the day of the wedding finally arrived, I was a nervous bundle. I was in Martie and Kirk's room, getting dressed. It was supposed to get up to 85 degrees outside, the perfect weather to get married in. Darren's family was dressed in traditional Botswana wedding garb and my family was dressed in western garb. My dress had some alterations to it. There were a few beads that the kids had helped sew onto the dress to honor a traditional African wedding.
The day I got married went by in a blur, but I would never forget it. The reception was filled with people getting to know each other. Darren's friends and family spoke perfect English, though they tended to slip into the Afrikaans dialect while talking among themselves. I had changed into a pair of jeans and my African shirt that I had bought at Sausage Fest one year. Darren and I had planned on honeymooning in Hawaii, where our first child was conceived.
Our New Home:
Not long after returning from our honeymoon, we found a place in Texas to call our home. There was already a farm house built on the property, but we added a few other buildings to our 100 acres of land. We added three barns, two guest houses, and added onto our own farm house over the years as our family grew bigger. We also added more fencing and cages for the Animal Sanctuary that we ran on our property. We got the necessary permits to house all the animals that belonged in the Animal Sanctuary and got busy taking in the animals that nobody wanted anymore.
All of our businesses on our property were thriving and some of the kids had fun helping out during the summers & breaks they got during the school year. We also had many adults helping out during hay season and harvest season. The adults never wanted to be paid just as long as they were able to bring some of the food home with them. The teens and kids on the other hand were paid ten dollars for every day they worked.
We had decided that we both wanted a big family and that we wanted to adopt, be foster parents and have biological children. We became licensed foster parents shortly after our first daughter, Shani was born. Most of the kids we fostered, we adopted and our dream of having a big family became real. Here is our family as of now, though it might grow a little more if we decide to adopt our recent foster children.
-Dessislava [Dessi] is a sixteen-year-old female adopted from Pakistan
-Zelda is a sixteen-year-old female adopted from Mozambique
-Shani is our sixteen-year-old biological daughter and our oldest
-John is a sixteen-year-old male who is our foster child
-Taz is a fifteen-year-old male adopted from Nigeria
-Uzma is a fifteen-year-old female adopted from Kenya
-Irena is a fifteen-year-old female who is our foster child
-Naveen is our fifteen-year-old biological son
-Natascha [Nat] is a fourteen-year-old female adopted from Russia
-Riaan [Ree] is our fourteen-year old biological daughter
-Zebedee [Dee] is a fourteen-year-old female who we adopted after being her foster parents
-Kadijah [Kadi] is a fourteen-year-old female who is our foster child
-Reza is our thirteen-year-old biological daughter and one of the first set of twins
-Cory is our thirteen-year-old biological daughter and one of the first set of twins
-Rebeka is a thirteen-year-old female who we adopted after being her foster parents
-Zolani [Zo] is a thirteen-year-old female adopted from India
-Britta [Brit] is a thirteen-year-old female who is our foster child
-Sascha [Cha] is our twelve-year-old biological daughter and one of the second set of twins
-Shyam [Shy] is our twelve-year-old biological daughter and one of the second set of twins
-Rupak is a twelve-year-old male adopted from India
-Jack is a twelve-year-old male who is our foster child
-Karkera [Kera] is an eleven-year-old female adopted from Zimbabwe
-Sharada [Rada] is our eleven-year-old biological daughter and one of the third set of twins
-Rajendra [Raj/Endra] is our eleven-year-old biological daughter and one of the third set of twins
-Michael is an eleven-year-old male who is our foster child
-Siwari [Wari] is a ten-year-old female adopted from Pakistan
-Naidu [Du] is a ten-year-old male adopted from Nepal
-Louis is a ten-year-old male who is our foster child
-Chandrakant [Chandra] is our nine-year-old biological daughter
-Rekha is a nine-year-old female adopted from Buenos Aires
-Ajay is a nine-year-old male adopted from Cairo
-Mary is a nine-year-old female who is our foster child
-Sarita [Rita] is our eight-year-old biological daughter
-Abdul is an eight-year-old male adopted from Kuwait
-Hameed is an eight-year-old male adopted from Tehran
-Brian is our seven-year-old biological son
-Meghan is a seven-year-old female adopted from Kabul
-Avani is a seven-year-old female adopted from Bangkok
-Malavika [Mala, Vika] is a seven-year-old female adopted from Japan
-Kalu is a six-year-old male adopted from China
-Narendra [Naren] is our six-year-old biological daughter
-Tiku is our five-year-old biological son
-Revolution [Rev] is our four-year-old biological daughter and one of the fourth set of twins
-Tara is our four-year-old biological daughter and one of the fourth set of twins
-Chikolte [Chik] is a four-year-old female adopted from Mozambique
-Syeira [Eira] is our three-year-old biological daughter
-Blizzard is a three-year-old female adopted from Alaska
-Raja is a two-year-old female adopted from India
-Kisha [Key] is a two-year-old female who is our foster child, twin of Raya
-Raya is a two-year-old female who is our foster child, twin of Kisha
-Zenda is our six-month-old biological daughter
Four fully grown Siberian tigers (2fm/2m)
Six Siberian tiger cubs (3fm/3m)
Four fully grown African lions (2fm/2m)
Six African lion cubs (3fm/3m)
Four grizzly bears (2fm/2m)
Six grizzly cubs (3fm/3m)
Twenty-four Siberian Huskies (12m/12f)-trained to run the Iditarod
Four white rhinos (2fm/2m)
Five white rhinos babies (3fm/2m)
Chapt.2: The House:
The house is a 24,000 square foot, seven story house. We have to have such a big house to fit all of our kids and foster kids. Each set of twins shares a room and so do the younger kids. Because we have so many kids, we've had to upgrade the farm house many times and it rarely looks like a house. Here is what the house looks like besides the bedrooms.
-Stone fireplace and mantel with giant bay windows.
-A giant chandelier made from moose antlers.
-A small computer desk with computer in the corner next to the fireplace so we can keep an eye on what our kids are doing on the internet.
-Four 6 foot couches so that we can all sit in the same room and watch a movie or TV.
-A 96 inch TV so that we can all watch it and see what is on the screen if we are all in the same room.
-2 stereo systems (6 CD's each)
-6 book shelves for movies/CD's/books
-4 desks for the kids to do their homework on
-54 beds for all the animals that sleep inside during the severe storms and during family time.
-5 large beds for the white rhino babies so that they can be bottle fed inside and not out in the cold weather.
-Two freezers, two fridges
-Two propane stoves
-Two conventional ovens
-An island in the middle of the kitchen to make food on.
-A nook in the corner by the walk-out patio so that parents could eat in privacy if wanted to.
-A Walk-in pantry
-All state-of-the-art appliances
-A small refrigerator for the younger kids to have their snacks in so they don't have to get into the main fridge
-The stairs going to the upstairs are winding stairs they go throughout the house and stop at each level.
-A fire pole next to the stairs going through all the levels so the kids can get downstairs faster.
-There are ten rooms on each level of the house for all the kids as well as us.
-There is a game room on the seventh floor for all the kids to go play and do whatever they want with their friends.
-There is my study for me to work in with my laptop and computer. In my study there are all of my Tea Sets and everything I collected when I younger on shelves. There are also my incense and candles that I keep on my desk and shelves.
-The washer and dryers (3w/3d) are next to the back door so if it's really muddy outside then the kids can just take their clothes off there and put sweats and shirts on and put their dirty clothes straight into the washer.
-There is a bath for the dogs and animals to be washed in so that they are not so dirty when they come into the house.
-There is a shower for the kids and adults who work in the fields, then come into the house and don't want to be all dirty when they come in so they take a shower and get clean clothes on before making their way into the kitchen.
-Our front yard is surrounded by giant trees, blocking the view of the highway.
-The driveway is a mile long and there are two birdbaths on either side at the end of the driveway. There are also a couple benches at the end of the driveway so that the kids can sit while waiting for the bus if they don't drive.
-There is a covered porch that runs the length of the front side of the house and a sitting area with a small round picnic table to eat on.
-About an acre big and mowed with a tractor.
-The backyard is 6 acres because of all the gardens and kennels that we have for the animals.
-There is a covered porch that runs the length of the back side of the house and two hot tubs on either side of the porch.
-There is a fifteen foot built-in pool in the middle of our patio
-There is a kid pool off the side of the main pool for the kids to learn to swim
-Four gazebos sit at each corner of the patio with a hot tub in each so that when the kids have friends over, they can either stay separate or swim together
-2008 Chevy Camaro
-2008 Red Ford Super-duty truck with dark orange stripes
-2007 Black GMC Topkick with dark green stripes and road armor with exhaust pipes in back of truck
-2007 Silver Pontiac Solstice
-2007 Yellow Hummer H2 with red stripes
-Lavender Bentley Continental 400
-Flaming red 2011 Honda S3000
-Metallic silver Scorpion HX
-Flaming orange Obsidian SG-1 Ford Mustang
-Purple 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo: e-gear
-Gold 2007 Lotus Elise Touring Package: loaded, Stg. II exhaust, 3k miles,
-Blood red 2002 Porsche G2
-Aqua 2001 Lamborghini Diablo Replica: full tube chassis LT1 fuel injected 400hp, power windows
-Light green 2007 Freightliner Sport Classic P2
-427 purple Ford Cobra with dark pink flames on the side
-Sky blue Shelby GT 500
-One double-decker bus transformed into a giant motor home
-One 75 foot RV
-There is a vineyard on three acres so that our wine company can function.
-There is an apple orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is an orange orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a pear orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a banana orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a pumpkin field on one acre of our land.
-There is a lemon orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a fig orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a date orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a plum orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a cherry orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is an apricot orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a maple orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a lime orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a peach orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a coconut orchard on one acre of our land.
-There is a bee field where we keep the hives so that we can collect honey
-One full of pumpkins, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, gourds.
-One full of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.
-One full of peas, black-eyed peas, green beans, string beans, lima beans, pinto beans, red beans, and chili beans (all kinds of beans)
-One full of seasonings: fennel, paprika, cumin, turmeric, tea, barley, cumin, clove, cinnamon, garlic, coriander, bay leaves, ginger, mint, nutmeg, parsley, and pepper.
-One full of nuts: groundnuts, kola nuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, and almonds.
-One full of carrots, lettuce, cabbage, corn, sweet corn, Indian corn, zucchini, cucumber, okra, garden eggs, spinach, greens, lentils, tomatoes, yams and potatoes.
-One full of sugar cane, bamboo, coffee bushes
Chapt.3: Everyday Life:
Darren and I get up every morning at about 4:30 and start the chores. Zenda is usually in her crib or with Dessislava so that if she wakes up, someone will be with her and she won't be alone. Each of the kids has his or her own chore but normally on the weekdays, before school, all they have to do is get ready for school. So on the weekday mornings, Darren and I do some of the chores like feeding all the animals and letting the horses out to roam their field. The big cats are let out into their own open enclosure to get some exercise in before the kids head off to school. The bears, wolves and other animals are also let out into their own open enclosure (all enclosures are topped with fish wire so none of the birds can get loose and none of the cats, bears, wolves and other wild animals can get loose) so that they also can have some exercise in before the kids go to school.
Once all the animals are fed and taken care of, we head back inside and clean ourselves off in the mud room. Dessislava is up with Zenda and is starting in on the breakfast. Zenda is in her play pin, asleep because it's still too early for her to be up. The other kids are starting to venture downstairs as well and the kitchen gets crowded as kids make their lunches and grab some breakfast, whether it be a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal. We rarely ever have family breakfasts because it's such a hassle to get all the kids out the door and to school if we have big breakfasts. And school starts at 6:45 for the high schoolers, 7:25 for the middle schoolers and 8:15 for the elementary schoolers. The kids have their own routine in the morning. Because we have such a large family, those that can drive have their own cars and those that have permits also have their own cars. Our kids that have their permits will soon be able to drive by themselves but right now, they go into school with their siblings that can drive.
Once everyone is ready for school, the older kids leave in their cars and Darren and I walk the younger kids down to the bus stop. The kids that are in middle school also ride the school bus. The littler kids that were in pre-school and kindergarten all had afternoon school so they were picked up by the bus at 11:30 and dropped off with the rest of the kids in elementary school at 3:30. The older kids got home from school around 2:30 because it always took some time getting out of the school parking lot with all the kids driving home and the school busses loading up and leaving.
I guess the good part about having so many kids that could drive was that they could bring the other high school kids home as well as some of their friends. We were always having kids from school over at the house and they always seemed to want to help at Harvest Time when we had to harvest all the grapes for the wine along with going out to the orchards and gardens and harvesting all the fruits, vegetables and nuts. We constantly had kids helping out and we always gave each of the kids that helped out either ten bucks for gas or some of the harvested food to take home to their own families.
We owned a small vegetable and fruit stand at the end of our driveway that everyone always stopped by and bought the food that we grew in the gardens and in the orchards. I knew that if we wanted to keep up with all the demands, we would have to start getting more help and hopefully the trip home would get the help we would need. Darren's sister Analise had moved in with us and had her own house next to the guest house. She helped in the fields and watched the house when we were all away for a few days.
For our trip first to my father's house, then to my grandfather's farm, she would watch the house and make sure that the fields got hayed and that the ripe food got harvested on time. We had a way of handling our business and we were prepared to leave for the big trip nearly one month before we actually took the trip. We had to have everything perfect and finished up before going up for the reunion.
We would have to get the plans in order for the animals that had to stay behind to get their daily exercise and food. We would also have to make plans on who would take care of the orchards, gardens, and the vineyard. My parents were going to be surprised with everyone that was coming up, but my grandparents and cousins would be even more surprised.
Chapt.4: The Trip Home:
Packing the Trailer, Bus and RV:
We woke up around 5:00 Monday morning and started packing up the trailer, RV and bus. We would be heading out at about 7:00 and would get breakfast on the road. We had enough snacks in the bus and RV to occupy the children and both had car seats for the younger children. The older children could get up and move around as much as they wanted, helping out with the younger kids of course.
In the RV, we packed all the cages the animals would be using while in Oregon, on the road when we went into restaurants to eat, and when we parked in a Rest Stop to sleep at night. They were stacked in the back so that we could easily get to them. Also in the RV, there were games for the younger kids to play with among themselves and a few play pins hooked to the sides of the RV so that the kids could sleep in them and not get hurt rolling around in them.
Everything was packed up in the bus and RV when we loaded up all the animals and kids, said goodbye to Analise and the other animals that would be staying behind. Those animals were old enough to feed themselves and wander about the sanctuary. My family would be surprised when they visited the Ranch when I forced them to come down since they hadn't come down in sixteen years. My siblings would be older and within years of each other. And Kaiden would be at least 22 now and he would probably be happy to see me.
On The Road:
We headed out a little past 7:00 and made great time. We had walkies for keeping in touch with the RV just in case we got separated in traffic. People in Texas were used to seeing our two decker bus as we normally used it when we went out on family outings to parks and barbeques. But when we got out of Texas, people on the road kept staring as they had never seen someone driving a two decker bus. Didn't matter, we kept going.
When we reached Phoenix, Arizona we stopped in a motel parking lot and spent the night. The kids wanted to take pictures of every interesting part of the trip. We had labeled folders on the laptop where the pictures of every state we went through ended up. It was as organized as we could get. The state folders not only held landmarks, but also a bunch of nature pictures. We would go through different states on the way back home.
Shani, Dessislava, Zelda, John, Taz, Uzma, Irena, Naveen, Natascha, Jacomina, Riaan, Zebedee, Kadijah and Aleksandara took hold of the digital cameras we had bought them for Christmas over the years. We only ever used digital because it was the only way to get the pictures to family members around the world and it was a whole lot easier to use them then disposable cameras. Plus, digital cameras took better pictures, making it look like a professional took the pictures. I guess it was a good thing that most of the older kids were in photography classes.
The younger kids on the other hand, those that were in middle school, always made sure that the younger kids (those in elementary school and younger) were on their best behavior. It was the simplest way we could think to be as organized as we were. With the kids entertaining themselves and Darren and I keeping in contact via Walkies, we decided to get a little game going. The older kids knew how to play the ABC game and the Rubber Ducky game but some of the younger kids had to be taught so we just paired them with the older kids that knew.
As the game started out, if one team saw a letter, then the other teams couldn't take the letter and they had to be on constant lookout. We didn't just use signs for the ABC game, we also used license plates because it made it a whole lot easier when we got stuck in traffic jams. Once the ABC game was over we turned to the Rubber Ducky game. We played in teams again, only this time it was RV against Bus. By the time we got to Boise, I knew that home was only a day away and we parked in a Rest Stop and spent the night there.
As soon as it was light out and breakfast had been made, we started out once again. We headed up to first Lewiston, Idaho and then crossing the border we stopped in Spokane, Washington to do a little sight-seeing before heading back to the highway and over to Lake Stevens, which turned out to be an easy drive since there was barely anyone on the roads when we were. Driving back through my home state was like a memory for me. I knew that people were probably wondering who was driving the Bus just like they had since leaving Texas, but knew that we couldn't stop to tell them it was a big family.
Our Route from Wichita Falls, Texas to Lake Stevens, Washington was as follows:
Left Wichita Falls, Texas & traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico
From Santa Fe to Phoenix, Arizona
From Phoenix to Salt Lake City, Utah
From Salt Lake City to Boise, Idaho
From Boise to Lewiston, Idaho
From Lewiston to Spokane, Washington
From Spokane to Lake Stevens, Washington
We ended up stopping in every state and spending the night either in a motel parking lot or at a Rest Stop. Being back home felt good and I knew my parents would like seeing me again as well.
Chapt.5: The Shopping Trip:
The Green Team:
Dessislava: 16, oldest, pays and keeps everyone in line
Taz: 15, makes sure everything on list is in cart before going to checkout
The Blue Team:
Zelda: 16, oldest, pays and keeps everyone in line
Irena: 15, makes sure everything on list is in cart before going to checkout
The Red Team:
Shani: 16, oldest, pays and keep everyone in line
Uzma: 15, makes sure everything on list is in cart before going to checkout
The Orange Team:
Jami: 38, mother, pays and keeps everyone in line
John: 16, makes sure everything on list is in cart before going to checkout
Zenda: 6 months
The Purple Team:
Darren: 38, father, pays and keeps everyone in line
Britta: 13, makes sure everything on list is in cart before going to checkout
The Shopping Lists:
The Blue Team: All drinks & produce
The Red Team: All meat & seafood and ice
The Green Team: All breads, doughnuts and bakery items
The Orange Team: All dairy food & products and frozen section
The Purple Team: All camping gear and activity stuff (books, magazines, games, toys, puzzles, movies, extra batteries, extra headphones, extra plastic cups, plates, bowls and silverware.)
Time To Shop:
Darren and I handed out the walkie talkies to the leaders of each team and we all headed into Safeway. In the sixteen years Darren and I had been living in Texas on our Ranch, we had over fifty children, most of them adopted, some of them our own children and a few of them foster children. Each team had at least three carts for everything we were getting. And each team each had a credit card to use when they paid for the items they were getting. And we all used the same Safeway Card phone number to get the gas discount because we would need it.
Each team split into two's so they could get the shopping done faster. The blue team hit both the produce section and the drink isles at the same time and were the first to go through the checkout. The red team hit both the meat & seafood departments and got the ice at the same time and was the second to go through the checkout. The green team hit the bakery area together and got all the bread items, doughnuts and bakery items (cakes, pies, cupcakes, coffeecakes, cookies) and was the third to go through the checkout. The orange team hit both the dairy section and frozen section at the same time and was the fourth to go through the checkout. The purple team was the last to go through the checkout with their camping gear and fun activities for the kids to do.
Darren had been on the purple team and I had been on the orange team so we paid for the groceries with our credit cards. The rest of the teams had already gone out to the trailer and bus and put everything away in the coolers and fridges. They had come back inside with a few of the cubs we had brought on the trip with us because we were bottle feeding them. They had three tiger cubs, three lion cubs, three grizzly bear cubs, three wolf pups, three eagle chicks and three chimpanzee babies in their arms. They were standing in the eating area, waiting for us to come through the checkout lines. The rest of our kids that were old enough to leave our sight went to stand next to them and to pet our animals. Zelda came up to me with one of the tiger cubs in her arms.
"What did I tell you guys earlier? Safeway doesn't allow animals that aren't service animals in their stores. Take them back outside and feed them."
"But mom, we just wanted to show off our animals to your old co-workers. Can't we just keep them in here until you and dad get done paying and then we'll all go out and put the rest of the groceries away?"
"Old co-workers? We don't this woman. Come on if we really knew this woman don't you think we would've said hello by now?" Randy said.
"Thanks Randy. And yes you do know me; you just haven't seen me in sixteen years."
"Wait, the only person we know that's been gone for sixteen years is a girl named Jami Force. But she moved away and got married. She changed her last name to…" Randy stopped short after seeing the name on the receipt as he handed it to me.
"You were saying?"
"Oh my God, Jami I can't believe it's you. How have you been?"
"I've been just fine. Darren, the kids and I are up here for a little family reunion."
"Dude, how many kids do you have?" Jeremy asked coming up to us after hearing Randy talking to me.
"Biologically we have eighteen kids, but that's only because we have four sets of twins. We have twenty-three adopted children. And we have ten foster children. We always said we wanted a big family. It just so happens that we had the money and the expenses to get our family. We own a working ranch and vineyard down in Wichita Falls, Texas. It took us six days to drive up here. Our trailer and two-decker bus are outside in the parking lot. Like I said, we're up here to see my friends and family and we needed to get some shopping done before we headed to the house. So, how have you guys all been?"
"That is a lot of children. Where did you adopt them all from?" Cindy asked coming up with Jacqui, Nika, Chris, Jonathan and Monique.
"Can we get out of the check stand and put our stuff away before we tell you anymore. Our vehicles are outside, you can come out with us if you want but you might want to tell the checkers where you're headed. I know whenever I left unannounced I always got talked to."
"Actually, we haven't been that busy. Well at least that was until you and your family got here. How many shopping carts did you all have?" Chris asked.
"Three for each team and there were five teams. So that would be fifteen carts. The kids already got all of their groceries put away and we were just headed out there now. I think we may actually get a free tank of gas now that we all used the same Safeway Card phone number seeing as we all live in the same house."
"How big is your house? I mean it has to be pretty big to hold fifty-three people, plus all of your animals." Nika said.
"We have a seven story house, but not as tall as you would think. We have added floors and added length to the farm house. We started out with just one kid, our oldest biological child, Shani. Then we started adopting and became foster parents. We've adopted some of the kids we've fostered and we plan on adopting the ones we are fostering now. The vineyard and ranch are producing well and we have great friends to leave the state for a while to see my family. And it's too expensive to fly so we drove up here. Besides we wouldn't have been able to bring the animals on the plane." We had been moving outside with the kids while we were talking. The kids had already gotten into the vehicle they wanted to ride in and Zenda had been taken out of my arms so that I could help put the ice in the coolers and get the rest of the groceries put away.
"You sure do have a lot of wild animals in your care." Monique said.
"Of course we do, we also run an Animal Sanctuary for Wild and domestic animals. These animals we have with us are only here because we are raising them and they are all being bottled fed at the moment. Soon, though, before this trip is over, they will be on an all meat diet."
"So that means you'll be back before you all leave to go home?" Jonathan asked.
"Of course we will. And to answer a previous question, we adopted our kids from Alaska, Russia, Pakistan, India, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Nepal, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Kuwait, Tehran, Kabul, Japan, China and Bangkok. We are hoping to adopt a little boy from Sudan who was orphaned from the fighting a few years back; a little girl from Botswana where Darren was born; a little girl from Russia; a little boy from Iraq; and a little girl from South Korea."
"You have so already out done your own family by at least thirty kids." Jacqui said.
"I know and they are all going to love my kids and my family because they are my family and my kids really want to meet their grandparents on my side of the family. I've gotten both sides of my family together. Only thing is, we're headed to Oregon for a family reunion down there and my mom hasn't seen my grandpa Force since she divorced my dad when we were six. Well, it was nice seeing you all again. We've got to go. I'll talk to you guys later. Tell everyone that they are welcome to come along, only that they have to bring their own trailer and cars because we already have our vehicles full. The trailer behind the RV that Darren is driving is the oldest kids' cars so that they can drive without getting into the bus or RV to go somewhere. See ya'll later."
With that last sentence, I shut the bus doors and we headed for my dad's house. He had moved and I missed the old place, but he had only moved into a smaller house with a bigger yard. My kids were about to meet their grandparents on my side for the first time and we were all nervous on how my parents would react.
Chapt.6: Meeting The Grandparents:
Minshull/Three Stars/Force Residence:
Driving to my dad's house, I was a nervous wreck. I hooked my MP3 player into the tape player and pushed play. The kids started singing to the different songs. Dessislava had the most beautiful voice ever. She had tried out for her school Talent Show and had won. When 'Sweet Home Alabama' came over the radio, not only was Dessislava singing, we got everyone singing. The whole bus was singing the song and we were laughing and having a great time. We pulled into the driveway of my father's house not long after and the kids piled out of the bus and trailer. The song wasn't over, but we paused the MP3 player and turned the engine off.
The kids had piled out with the animals in their arms and Darren came around the other side of the trailer. He was holding Zenda, who just happened to be asleep, in his arms. The bus was backed into the driveway behind the trailer. My parents and siblings cars were not in the driveway. When we checked the house, it was all locked up and nobody was around back. We grabbed the animals from the trailer and bus and some food from the coolers and went around back. We had a small radio that we put batteries in and plugged my MP3 player into it.
We were eating lunch on the blankets we had spread out on the back lawn when we heard car doors shutting. I turned the radio off and picked Zenda up from where she was laying. Darren stood up as well and so did the older kids, who had been running after the younger kids, trying to get them to stop yelling and being so loud. Seeing their parents stand up, all the kids had stopped teasing and playing with each other to see what was going on. Two adults and three young adults walked around the corner with a giant dog. The five that were looking at them had stopped and their mouths had fallen open. I guess they weren't expecting to see so many people that they didn't know or recognize on their property. The two people that they did recognize were Darren and Jami, their parents. Dessislava was the first child to speak up.
"Hi, my name is Dessislava Zabielski and this is my family." Dessi said.
"Wait, did you just say Zabielski?" Titan asked. That's when I stepped forward.
"Hey Titan, so we just dropped by before we headed down to Grandpa's for the reunion. Aren't you going to give your sister a hug?" I asked. Titan, Erial and Macaylah ran from Lain and dad's side and threw their arms around me, careful not to hurt Zenda.
"It's good to see you Jami, we just didn't know you were going to have this many children. Are they all biologically yours?" Macaylah asked.
"Only eighteen of them are biologically ours, but that's only because we have four sets of twins. We have twenty-three adopted children, Dessislava being the oldest. And we have ten foster children. I always said I wanted a big family."
"And you sure as hell got it. What the hell were you thinking?" Dad asked.
"I was thinking we could have a great reunion and the kids really wanted to meet their grandparents on my side of the family. They've already met Darren's parents seeing as they come up every summer for the kids' birthdays and we have one big party for every kid. You could have at least come down a few times. I did send the address up via e-mail to Macaylah when we got settled. She should've given it to you. Mick?"
"Yeah, Mick, what the hell were you thinking? How come you didn't give us her address? Hell, if we had known where she lived we could have gone down their during summer vacation and not stayed here. God, how inconsiderate of you." Erial said.
"Wait, you guys never received the address? Mick, what in the world did you do with that e-mail?"
"I thought it was a junk e-mail because I didn't know the address so I deleted it and then deleted my trash. If I had known whose e-mail it was, I wouldn't have erased it. Sorry, I swear I didn't know it was your guys' e-mail address."
"It's not your fault. We should have given it to you guys before we left. So when are you guys headed to grandpa's house?" Darren said.
"We were thinking about heading down their tomorrow. How about you guys?" Titan said.
"We were thinking tomorrow but we were waiting to hear what you guys were doing. So, anything new in the past sixteen years?"
"Erial got married, Titan is currently engaged to a beautiful and nice woman, Macaylah is dating a very nice and smart boy, Jessica got married and then divorced and has one kid, Ashley and Brian got married and has a daughter, and Sam is dating a very nice but not so smart guy. How about you guys? You've apparently been very busy. For starters, we need the names of every child, starting with the oldest to the youngest." Lain said.
"Starting with the oldest, alright, but I'm warning you, it's a very long list and you asked for it. So here goes nothing: Dessislava, Zelda, Shani, John, Taz, Uzma, Irena, Naveen, Natascha, Riaan, Zebedee, Kadijah, Reza, Cory, Rebeka, Zolani, Britta, Sascha, Shyam, Rupak, Jack, Karkera, Sharada, Rajendra, Michael, Siwari, Naidu, Louis, Chandrakant, Rekha, Ajay, Mary, Sarita, Abdul, Hameed, Brian, Meghna, Avani, Malavika, Kalu, Narendra, Tiku, Revolution, Tara, Chikolte, Syeira, Blizzard, Raja, Kisha, Raya and Zenda at 6 months old."
"Wow, that's a lot of different names and a bunch of ages to overcome. How do you do it?" Dad asked.
"Years of practice and years of experience. We have a bunch of pictures with us for everyone to scour over and we also just went shopping so I guess in a way, dinner is on us."
"Oh, I don't think so, we were planning on meeting your mom, Steve and their side of the family for dinner so fifty-three more people won't matter. We rented out Olive Garden so we have the whole restaurant to ourselves."
"How did you afford to rent out the whole restaurant?" Dessi asked.
"Safeway pitched in since they will also be going. And we all pitched in a few hundred dollars. We were going to celebrate your successful marriage even though you weren't going to be there. But I don't think you should bring the trailer and bus. Do you have any other way of getting around besides the RV and bus?" Erial asked.
"Of course we do. In the trailer attached to the RV are the cars that we brought so that we didn't have to always travel in the trailer and bus. The older kids all have their licenses and we have our trucks in their as well. We just have to get the animals loaded up into the vehicles because they can't stay in the RV or bus. They are being hand fed so we can't leave them here." Darren said.
"Well, that's okay. What kind of animals do you have?" Lain asked.
"Well, we have three tiger cubs, three lion cubs, three grizzly bear cubs, three wolf pups, three eagle chicks, three chimpanzee babies and 1 white rhino baby. They all have to either be bottle fed or fed by hand and the rhino needs the most care of them all."
"Well, then, I guess the waiters and bus boys will have to let them come into the restaurant. Besides, I'm pretty sure we can all help out on that department." Macaylah said.
"I'm sure you can, but we have it down fine. The kids take care of the cubs and chicks while Darren and I watch the rhino and chimpanzees. We've got it all down to who feeds which animal and who takes care of which animal. But if you want to help, you can."
"We want to help, Jami, you're our sister, we want to be able to get to know you again and to know your kids and all of your pets." Titan said.
"Well, thank you Titan. But it is more complicated than you think. The animals already have their favorite person picked out and the rhino never leaves my sight, just like Zenda here, unless she's with her father or one of her siblings."
"Well, then Zenda will be the first person we'll get to know." Lain said, taking Zenda from Darren's arms.
"Well, she's a little sleepy. She didn't like the shopping trip and she was a little fussy while we were shopping. But go ahead and get to know her and the rest of the kids. I have to talk to Darren in the bus, but you guys have fun."
"Alright, we'll be out in the back yard and when you guys are done, just come out back. And I think the kids might want to get their cars out of the trailer so that you don't have to drive the trailer and bus to the restaurant." Dad said.
"That's a great idea. Dessi, take the keys, turn the RV around and get the cars and trucks out of the trailer. Then back the trailer back into the driveway. And get the rhino some milk. Make sure you feed her every fifteen minutes. We shouldn't be too long. Then we'll get ready for dinner and be on our way. And dad, Lain, Erial, Titan, Macaylah no you cannot drive my car."
"Who said we would want to?" They asked together.
"You'll see why. Dessi, Zelda, Shani, John, make sure they don't get any ideas in their heads when they see my car okay?"
"Got it mom, hey maybe you can drive them around in it. I know you always said that grandpa would love to have owned a car like this."
"He would have, but maybe when we get down to Oregon, then I'll let him test drive it. There are a lot of open roads down there."
"If you say so." Shani said as she and Dessi headed for the RV to get the cars.
On The Bus:
I sat with Darren on the top level of the bus and waited for him to stop fidgeting which is usually what he did when he didn't know what I was going to say. He looked at me and then out the window at our children getting to know my parents and siblings and then over at the older kids getting the cars out of the trailer that was still attached to the RV. He seemed to think something was wrong but then he saw the smile on my face.
"Why are you smiling like that Jami?"
"You know how I went to the doctor's office just before we left on the trip?"
"Yes, what does that have to do with anything?"
"I got some blood drawn and they were waiting for the test results to come in when we left. I've been contemplating how to tell you this and I wanted to tell you in private first so that we could tell the family together. I just didn't know we would be telling them in front of my whole family and all my old co-workers."
"What's wrong Jami? You can tell me, I am your husband you know."
"I know and you'll love it, I promise, but Zenda will just be turning seven months and…"
"And what, we can afford it, you know we can."
"I'm three months pregnant Darren. The doctors are sure s/he was conceived on Valentine's Day, but they could be a few days off."
"You're pregnant? That's wonderful. And of course that's just what we need to make our family even. It would make us at fifty-four people in our household and fifty-three pets. And that means we can still have the perfect surprise for your family as well as the kids and your old co-workers. And the kids will love having a new addition to the family. And s/he will probably be born right about the time we adopt the seven children we promised to adopt and still have room in the house. We were originally planning on adding to the house before the kids got here and now we have even more reason to do so."
"And we could probably ask one of my siblings if they want to come down and help around the ranch and with the kids and building onto the house. I'm sure they'll love the fact that they can get out of Washington for a while and spend some quality time getting to know us and talking to me again. I'm pretty sure they've missed talking to me."
"I bet they have. But maybe we should get back outside. I think your family is drooling over our cars. And to think, it only took us eight years to pay all the cars off and only have to pay the insurance for them. HeHe."
"Yeah, I can already see my father drooling all over my Camero. I know for a fact that he's going to want to ride in that when we get down to Oregon. Did you pack the quads and motorbikes for the kids as well?"
"Yeah, I figured we could use them down in Oregon if what you say is true, about your grandfather having all that acreage for his cows and the hay season is coming up. We could help with the haying if they're going to be doing anything like that. You know that we hay every year so we can help your family out a little."
"I know, and they'll be surprised that I can buck hay just like the rest of them. I used to hate bucking hay when I was a little girl."
"I'm sure you did. Come on, let's get out and start helping."
Olive Garden Reunion:
As figured, almost all of my old co-workers showed up for the reunion. And as ordered by Jackie & Jeremy, none had said anything to my mom's side of the family about me being in the state. But that wasn't the best part. Neither my old co-workers or my mom's side of the family were expecting us to arrive in cars that resembled what everyone wanted when they were younger, especially my 2008 Chevy Camero matched to look like Bumblebee from Transformers.
My dad and his side of the family from Washington arrived a little before us and as ordered by us, had everyone standing outside waiting for the big surprise. We arrived at around 8:00pm and came in a straight line. Darren was driving his truck ad I was driving my car. The rest of the kids that were old enough to drive all had kids in their cars and were in between our two vehicles. Darren's truck was in front and my car was in the back of the line. When we were all parked and all the kids had piled out of their cars, Darren and I got out and walked up to be next to our kids.
Mouths fell open and family members that I hadn't seen in sixteen years were surrounding us, asking about the kids, the cars and of course, the animals. But mostly they wanted to know how we were doing. I had Zenda in my arms while my family members talked and introduced themselves to the kids. The kids on the other hand also introduced themselves. They may have all been born in different countries, but they were our kids and that meant that they called us mom and dad.
The younger kids were introduced and after the introductions were over, each kid picked up an animal and everyone headed inside. My family and friends were amazed to see us prospering so well. They hadn't thought that I would have so many kids in so short of years, granted that most of them were adopted and some of them were fostered. They also couldn't believe that we lived and worked on a prospering farm, ranch and vineyard. We did everything that I had hated doing at grandpa's farm growing up. They couldn't wait to see the ranch and the rest of the homestead.
And I couldn't wait to show them, but that meant that they would have to come down to Texas with us on our return trip home. And that meant that they would have to pack for a few weeks or months because I wasn't going to drive them back up to Washington just to turn around and go back. If they wanted to pay for their own plane ticket home, then by all means, they could come home with us. But back to the present now.
The kids sat around the restaurant with my friends and family and the breadsticks were spread out. Menus were also spread out and since none of my kids had actually had Olive Garden, they tried just about everything, since it was all paid for anyways. Conversations started up immediately.
"So, Jami, how have you been, besides the huge ass family and all?" Sam asked.
"I'm good. Um, the ranch, vineyard, orchard and animal sanctuary are in working order. Darren's sister Analise moved in with us to look after the house while we are gone. She has her own guest house next to ours with a built in kitchenette, living room, bedroom, bathroom and she even has a guest room in the house. We built it to be two bedrooms just in case any of Darren's family came to visit."
"And what about us? Would we never be able to visit you? You seem to have forgotten us in the past sixteen years." Jessica asked.
"I haven't forgotten about you. We figured you'd forgotten about us. We didn't know that Mick didn't know our email address and she deleted the email with our address in it. It's nobody's fault, we should have tried harder to get you down to see us and the kids but things got busy. All the cars you see out there plus the ones the kids with permits have plus the RV, trailer, bus, motorbikes, quads and the rest of the toys we acquired over the years are all paid off. All we've had to do was pay the insurance on the cars. Our house is also all paid off. With the ranch, orchard, vineyard and fruit and vegetable stand raking in dollars every day, we have the money to afford everything. We've also been adopting kids from around the world. Everything kind of got busy after a while. I just wanted the reunion to be special for everyone because we probably won't be doing this in the near future. Maybe in the far future, but we've already gone over our budget of money to spend on the trip up here. We have to save the rest of the money for the trip home."
"Right and do we fit into this trip home of yours?" Erial asked coming over with Raja in her arms. Revolution and Tara were following behind her, holding onto her dress that she had chosen to wear for the evening.
"That's what we had hoped. I hadn't known all of you would go and get married and divorced by the time I came up here. There are two guest houses on our property if you want to bring your family. But you'll have to work to earn your keep. We pay the ranch hands and all the kids that come over to help with either money or food for their families. And since most of our ranch hands are from Mexico, well you get the point." Darren said.
"So we would be working on your Ranch and whatever else you had us working? That doesn't sound fair if we're only down there to visit." Kaiden said. He had been sitting with Reza, Cory, Sascha, Shyam, Sharada & Rajendra, three of the four sets of twins we'd had.
"Actually it seems fair to me. You'll basically be doing what you do on grandpa's farm only ten times more work. And don't worry, you'll get paid. And no, I never forgot any one of your birthdays. Your presents are back at home. I figured, that when you came down to visit and help out, that you could have them. Only, there's only one present per person. We kind of just combined all the gifts into one big one for all the years I couldn't give them to you."
"What kind of birthday presents?" Titan asked.
"You'll see. But first, you have to somehow make it down to our property. Maybe you'll get a GPS for your vehicles and decided to come down after the reunion, depending on what your employers say of course."
"Or we could just move down there." Sam said. I choked on my food and had to keep myself from laughing. She couldn't be serious.
"You're joking right? I mean why would you want to move down to Texas? There's nothing there but a bunch of Ranches and stuff like that."
"It sounds exciting and fun. Besides everyone needs a change of scenery once in a while, and boy do we need a change in scenery. Just going to suck that we can't snowmobile in Texas."
"Who said you wouldn't be snowmobiling? Where do you think we go every winter when it's too cold for any growing? What, don't you think we snowmobile as well? Well the kids like to snowboard and ski but snowmobiling has been a favorite family past time since we began our family. Did you actually think I would deprive my children of not being able to snowboard, ski or snowmobile? Hell, no. We did it when we were kids, my kids will be able to do it their whole lives and then their kids will also be able to. This is a family tradition that will be passed down to generations to come. Please tell me you guys take your kids snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding?"
"Of course we do. Living in the same state as dad, who couldn't?" Ashley said. She had gotten straight and clean, and had apparently been this way for about ten years. My leaving apparently straightened her out when she realized that she couldn't be immature for her whole life. Unfortunately the drugs and alcohol had already done their damage.
"It's nice to see you clean and sober Ashley."
"Thank you Jami. So where do you guys go during the winter?"
"To the California Mountains, of course. We own a cabin up there big enough for the whole family and some extras. And by some extras we mean the seven more kids we plan on adopting soon."
"Uh, huh, don't you think you already have enough kids?" Marti asked.
"Sure we do, but that doesn't mean we can't make the lives of more kids even better. And we have another surprise for the family. This one, even the kids don't know about." I said. Darren looked at me and the Restaurant got quiet. All of our kids were looking at us, as if about to hear a secret. Darren told them while holding my hand.
"So, as the kids already know, Jami went to the doctor a few days before we left on for the trip up here. But what they don't know is that she got a call from her doctors. Her blood tests that she had drawn came back and the doctor had called to tell her the results."
"And, oh brother, mom's popping out another kid." Shani, Dessislava and Zelda said together.
"Well, thanks kids. Yes, I'm about three months pregnant actually. He or she was conceived around Valentine's Day or a few days before/after that. The doctor really wasn't sure when the conceived date was. I have to go back to see her when we get back in the state."
"Which won't be for a couple weeks since we'll be here for a week and then it'll take about another week to get back home since were taking the scenic route home."
"So, you guys just really can't stop having kids can you?" Ashley said.
"Hey, it's not like we were trying for it," I said sitting down. Darren went to see how the rest of the kids and the animals were coping. The white rhino stayed next to my side, laying on her side while Zenda slept on her. "Darren was supposed to get a vasectomy a few months ago. Guess we underestimated the procedure because I'm pregnant again. My doctor also told me that I should get my tubes tied but I'm leaning more on a hysterectomy just to make sure we can't have any more children."
"Right, well have a great time with that. Hey, so how exactly are you guys getting down to grandpa's with just your cars. That would be a whole lot of gas just for a four hour trip." Jessica said.
"We unloaded the cars from the trailer that we attached to the back of our RV. There are more cars in the trailer but those belong to the kids with their permits and we didn't want to get into trouble without them driving with a parent. So we'll leave those cars for Oregon and we'll just reload the cars when we get back to dads house. Other than the RV with the trailer, we have a double decker bus that we bought from Britain so that we could fit all the kids. The second deck is covered and has only beds in it. Between each bed is a dresser attached to the bus wall so nothing falls down while we are driving. Normally there wouldn't be anything in the drawers but since we had such a long trip and wanted to minimize how many bags we brought with us, we loaded all the clothes into the dressers and bunji corded the drawers to the dressers. The only time we get into the dressers is if we are stopped at a rest stop for the night or a restroom break, then the kids change into what they want and we head out again." Darren said coming back over.
"So how does the new baby fit into all of your plans?" Erial asked.
"Perfectly, we were planning on adopting seven more children from different states and countries so it was a perfect fit. Now all we need to get is the right amount of animals in the animal sanctuary and we should be about pretty even. We're always going to be adopting, doesn't matter how many kids we get, we'll continue to adopt until we can't adopt anymore." I said, slipping a piece of fruit off the table and to the rhino.
"You know, normally, none of these animals would be allowed in here. But looking at the way your kids are taking care of them, makes me wonder if they've been doing it their whole lives. Do you actually let your kids around such dangerous animals when they are young like the little kids?" Jeremy asked coming up with some kind of chocolate desert that had been dropped off at his table. He was sitting with a bunch of Safeway people and they were laughing about something.
"So, what if we let our kids around the animals? The older kids or one of us is always with them. They know how to act when around them. And no, we don't let any of the high schoolers or middle schoolers in with the animals. The kids only bring their friends home to ride horses, help with the harvest, do homework or spend the night. And the kids know that they are not allowed to take their friends into the animal sanctuary. And their families know that they are not allowed into the sanctuary. So if any of the kids go home with injuries concerning the animals, the parents know that they broke the rules. Then they normally come over and ask what happened and I make the kids explain."
"Right, so why don't you just not let your kids into the animal sanctuary? Wouldn't that just be a whole lot easier?" Jackie asked coming up.
"Because, that would be depriving our kids of an education that they won't get in any school or its book. When I was growing up in Botswana, we took care of the animals that came to our village injured and sick from what the poachers did to them. It didn't matter if some of them were wild or domestic, we took them in and cared for them until they were healthy enough to go back to the wild and take care of themselves. Poachers had a hand in killing a lot of the animals near my home village and the surrounding villages. We did everything we could think of to keep them from killing them, but never would we have thought of an animal sanctuary. Because of what Jami and I are doing here, word has gotten back to Botswana and the surrounding countries and they have started up Animal Sanctuary's. They are all volunteer of course, but there are government people working in the sanctuaries and my parents tell me that the Botswana government wants us to journey down there to show them how to keep a proper sanctuary." Darren finished. He had been walking in between the kids and my family and friends for a while and had come back.
"I think we best wrap this dinner up. The kids look like they are getting tired and we don't want anyone driving back to your dad's house tired. Besides, we were getting up early and heading down to your grandfather's house to beat the traffic."
"Yeah, I'm about done with dinner anyways. So we'll see you all tomorrow and the next day. Shouldn't take long to get down to grandpas. And I believe some people from Safeway wanted to come so they might be riding with one of you. Or you could give them directions to the house and there wouldn't be much of hassle that way."
"Sure, why not. Have you guys already gone shopping for the food you need?" Dad asked.
"Yup, that's what we did earlier before coming to see you."
"And boy did they shop. Five teams with three grocery carts each. And they all used the same Safeway Card so that means they'll have a lot of free gas coming their way when they use it to fill up their tanks. It took us awhile to figure out who all the kids belonged to until Jami and Darren walked through the check stands and then everything almost fell into place." Kathleen said coming up and giving me a hug. She was one of the friends I had stayed in touch with via email and Facebook. I didn't play much of the games anymore except once a day.
"Well, I guess we'll just shop when we get down there. Dad said there was a tractor pull this week as well as an auction. Maybe you guys could and see if you could enter-if you do that kind of stuff-and then take the kids around the fair and all." Sam said. She was having a hard time pulling herself away from one of the chimpanzee babies that had been fed next to her. I'm thinking it'll be hard for her to leave Texas if she goes down with us.
"That sounds like fun. Darren and I talked and we are willing to stay and help with the hay season if grandpa needs it. If that's okay, we can stay."
"Wait, do you mean to tell us that you can actually buck hay?"
"You'll have to wait and see, come on; it's time to get some sleep before getting up and heading out. And we still need to load the cars back up into the trailer."
"Alright, see you all tomorrow when everyone gets down there. It was really good to see you Jami."
"Thanks mom. And I did miss you. I think Kaiden will come home with us and ride down to Oregon with us if that's okay or we can stop at a designated place and the kids can switch places with anyone that wants to ride with us. I know our kids will want to ride without us for a while so maybe we'll just exchange kids at a certain point on the way down."
"That sounds like a good idea to me Jami. Okay, everyone meets at two o'clock tomorrow if you are not already at the farm and we will exchange children."
Everyone laughed at the last statement. Dad hugged his family goodbye and as Marti, Kirk and there family followed us back to dad's house everyone else went back to their houses and got as much sleep as they could get before getting up and heading down to Oregon. This reunion was going to be the best reunion ever!
Chapt.7: The Reunion Part 1:
Marti, Kirk and Family had spent the night at dad's house as we all had as well. They had had their camper at the house seeing as dad had been working on it and was helping them with the essential fix-ups. Hannah was now twenty-four, with two daughters of her own and a husband who was a doctor. Gunner was twenty-two with a son and daughter who were twins and a wife who was a lawyer. Hannah & Gunner would be traveling together in Gunner's truck. They had a trailer attached to the truck and had Hanna's car in the trailer so she didn't have to rely on her parents or brother to drive her and her kids around. Hannah had become a firefighter and Gunner was in his last year at college, majoring in Forensic Science.
Lily and Sage, the two dogs they had gotten as puppies were still around, though older now. Both Hannah and Gunner had dogs that they brought on camping trips as well as down to reunions when they could get to them. Hannah's husband had to work the week of the reunion so he was unable to make it down, which is why Hannah was going with Gunner. The two seemed to be getting along a whole lot better than when they were kids and I even suggested that Hannah and the kids ride with us or at least have the kids ride with us so they could get some play time in while on the ride down.
Hannah and Gunner allowed the kids to ride with us and Hannah even opted to riding in the bus for a while. Marti and Kirk loaded the dogs up into the camper and once everything else was loaded up (tents, canopies, bags, sleeping bags, etc) everyone got into the respected vehicles and Darren pulled out first then me and then the rest of the family. Once everyone had called and said that they were on their way, we also got under way, heading towards the highways and down towards grandpa's farm. This was going to be a fun trip and a fun reunion.
Hannah was sitting next to the driver's seat talking about how her life had turned out and asked about the Ranch and how life was in Texas. We laughed about some of the things we used to do when we were younger and how things would be down at the farm once everyone got down there. We had to stop for gas only once because we hadn't gotten gas before stopping at dad's house the night before.
The kids were having a fun time playing with Hannah and Gunner's kids as well as the animals that were in the bus. Hannah's daughter Rebecca was laughing and playing with Zenda who was petting the rhino. There was so much laughter then there had been on the trip up because they had new people to play with and get to know. Hannah knew enough to know that not only was I pregnant, but that we were to be adopting more children when we got back home and once we had the house-building project done.
She also knew that no matter what, my sense of fashion had stayed the same as when I was younger and around them all the time. I still had a weird sense of fashion and all my music was still from around the world and from every genre on the radio and off, from movies and from different countries. It didn't matter that I was an American, I had grown up loving music from around the world and now that I had kids from nearly every country, it was best that I had it so that the kids could listen to it and pick what they wanted to listen to in their cars or on their MP3 players.
We listened to Casting Crowns the first hour down as Shani had promised her boyfriend that she would at least listen to some Christian music while she was away from them. But once we got to the Washington-Oregon border, we turned the music over to country music as mostly all of my family listened to country music. And living in Texas, we were known in our small community to be the ones with the music always on in the house, no matter what was going on (unless a movie was on or it was bedtime).
About an hour and a half away from Grandpa's farm we stopped at the designated rest stop and waited for everyone else that was going to show up. We got out and stretched and put the animals on leashes and let them run around with the kids and get some exercise in. Almost everyone at the Rest Stop was looking at us and our animals, and it was mostly the kids who came up to ask if they could pet the animals (with their parents coming up behind them of course). We let them pet the ones that weren't shy at all and managed to have a bunch of State Troopers stop and see what was going on.
I showed them the permits we had for the animals and said that the only reason we had them with us was because they had to be bottled fed. Apparently, one of the Troopers had a brother that lived in Texas and in the same town as we did who had told him about the Wild Animal Sanctuary that had been open for sixteen years and that the people that owned and ran it were actually really nice. Turns out his brother was the Sheriff of our town and we were really good friends with him.
The Troopers left and the rest of the family and everyone that was heading down showed up and we made some food and sat around talking for about another hour before we packed everyone up and headed out again. We took to the roads again and when we got to Exit 10 heading to Oregon City, we all took the same exit and headed to Grandpa's farm. My kids, who had fallen asleep along with Hannah and Gunner's kids, were all awake and looking at the landscape and everything passing by. My family normally came down here every summer and even though I hadn't been here since leaving to live in Texas with Darren and start our own family, it felt like I had never left. It felt like it had when I came down when I was a kid.
Everyone was talking excitedly about not only getting off the bus, but getting the cars out, getting to know everyone for that reunion and hoping that people from their mom's side of the family would accept them all. Hannah and I assured the kids that they would be accepted by our grandparents and cousins. We all knew that it was going to be one long week.
Jessica, Sam, Ashley and their families had managed to make it down to the Farm before any of us had because they had not stopped like we had and had kept going on. Grandpa and Lois were waiting for everyone when people started showing up. And with the help of my siblings, we parked where we were told to park. Grandpa Force had built another building to house the tractors so that they would be out of the weather during winter or when it rained so we parked the trailer that was attached to the RV next to it so that we could easily access the cars. Once the trailer was unattached from the RV and maneuvered next to the barn, with the back end facing out, we parked the RV and Bus in the field where we were told to park. The cows had been moved to the other fields or down into the canyon.
Once the RV and Bus were parked and the rest of the vehicles behind us pulled into the field and parked where they were told to park, everyone got out of there respected vehicles and started unloading what was going to be needed for that night. Most of the kids wanted to sleep in tents, but because the field was full of cars, trailers, campers and RV's, the tents were put up in the side yard next to the house. Coolers were pulled out of the vehicles and moved next to the house under the car port for the time being. Our parents and family members that had never really hung out together, were for the first time getting along.
Steve & mom's side of the family had managed to get down there with the help of following mostly us down to Oregon as well as their GPS systems. Kevin had come down with Mom and Steve because Grandma and Grandpa Costantini had passed away nearly four years ago, not knowing where one of their grandchildren was or there great-grandchildren had been born or where they were living. Kaiden had inherited there PT Cruiser when he had turned sixteen and used it as often as he could, going to and from work, college and his apartment.
Family and friends were moving things to and fro, trying to make room for just about anything that we had brought. Darren and I instructed the kids on what to do with the animals and even though Grandpa Force had a strict, No Pets Aloud Rule, he had lifted it for this reunion because of how many people were coming down and knowing that they had a lot of pets that couldn't be left at home. Grandpa Force and Lois were still around and kicking or so to say. Yes they were older than when I had been a kid, but at least my kids could meet them. We would honor Grandma and Grandpa Costantini once we got home, but for the time being, we needed to get the cars out of the trailer since the bikes and quads were in front of the cars.
The older kids with licenses and permits all grabbed keys as Darren and I unlocked the back door and pulled it down. We knew that my Oregon family would be surprised to see the cars and how many kids I had but knew that they would be accepted. Once the cars were revved up and with the kids and adults in the yard and out of the way, we instructed them to start backing up. The kids drove the cars over to the car port, parked them and got out, then turned right around and went to get the bikes and quads, which really wasn't a hassle to get out since my siblings and cousin were helping as well.
John, Taz, Naveen, Rupak and Michael were all busy helping get the bikes, quads and the rest of the 'toys' we had brought with us to a designated spot that they didn't even realize that their siblings and new found aunts and uncles were even trying to help. It wasn't until Jessica grabbed Taz by the arm to let them know that they were being a little annoying bossing everyone around. The kids were used to someone grabbing them by the arm seeing as that was how I got them to open up and talk about what they were feeling, or if I was angry with them they knew what was going to happen when I grabbed their arms. I never really hurt my kids, but a spanking here and there always did the trick. They were even sometimes grounded but because this was such a big deal for them, it was hard not to be loud and obnoxious.
Darren and I had gone back to the RV and bus to get some things that we knew the kids would want, like the cameras and the music. Growing up with a mother that liked music from around the world had gotten the kids into it as well, though we were mostly country lovers like my family had been, it was hard not to see my kids with a new type of music plugging them into what they did when they were in their own rooms.