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A lot to be thankful for

There may not be enough drumsticks to go around, but there's plenty of everything else at the Jeff Chalmers and Julie Martin household.

Especially kids.

The family doubled in size a few months ago when the Red Wing couple adopted three children from Brazil. Nine-year-old Lucas, 5-year-old Luana and 3-year-old Mariana joined 13-year-old Shelby.

"Now we have the family we wanted," Martin said.

"I've never been happier than I am now," Chalmers agreed.

As for the kids, there is no mistaking their enthusiasm for this new life.

Although the little ones are still making the transition from speaking Portuguese to conversing in English, Lucas has no difficulty listing all of things he likes best about Red Wing: a new mom and dad, a house, toys, a sister and a dog.

Coming to Red Wing has been one adventure after another for siblings Lucas, Luana and Mariana.

The three had spent over a year in an orphanage, where they were placed because their mother couldn't take care of them, before being matched with Chalmers and Martin.

"We started looking into adoption five or six years ago," Chalmers said. They wanted more kids, and they wanted Shelby to have siblings.

Brazil was their first choice. Chalmers and Martin had met in 1989 at an airport in New York when both were en route to Curitiba, Brazil, a city of about 2 million residents, to teach K-12 students at the International School of Curitiba.

After about five years, Chalmers was hired to teach chemistry at Red Wing High School and they moved here.

They loved Brazil, its culture and language and people. So when they decided to adopt, they turned to the Limiar agency in that country and Hope Adoption Agency.

The couple wanted two or three children -- a boy, a girl, at least one child under 3 -- and were interested in a family group.

About four years ago they had three children lined up but just as the adoption reached the final stages, a distant relative showed up and claimed them.

"That was devastating," Chalmers said. "We had all these dreams."

They had to start over, and this time they were more cautious with their emotions.

"We kept asking every month" if the agencies had located children for them, Martin said. A year ago, the answer was yes.

"I wouldn't let myself believe it until I was on the plane" to Brazil, Chalmers said.

They received photographs, videos and reports about the kids, and sent ahead a book for each child containing photos of themselves and Shelby, rooms in the house, Ginger, schools and special places in Red Wing such as the Colvill Aquatic Center and Universal Playground.

On May 28, officials brought the kids -- carrying their Red Wing books -- to a city building to meet their new "mai" and "pai."

"We hugged them and kissed them right away," Martin said, as they'd been told the children would expect that kind of greeting.

"Our lives changed from that moment," Chalmers said. "Everything we did, all of a sudden, was focused on our new lives."

The six took up residence in the equivalent of two dorm rooms for the required 40-day stay.

There were adjustments, of course. "We had some issues with rules," Martin smiled.

As the eldest, Lucas had taken on a role of responsibility for his little sisters.

"We assured him, 'You can be a child,'" Martin said.

And when Luana would test them, saying, "You're not my mom and dad," Martin would reply, "But for me, you are my daughter."

They don't hesitate to reinforce that unconditional love, she added -- to tell the kids, "We are your forever family now."

The family flew here in mid-July. It was just one of many "firsts" for Lucas, Luana and Mariana. Living in a small village, they had never been to a movie theater or ridden bicycles, seen an escalator or used a hot air hand dryer -- although they saw plenty of TV at the orphanage.

The kids are in good health, but Lucas needed "strabismus" repair for his crossed eyes. It was accomplished at Mayo Clinic on an outpatient basis, and he's enjoying the way he looks now in a mirror.

They're making friends at school -- Lucas at Burnside, Luana at Sunnyside, Mariana at Learning Circle, while Martin and Shelby are at Twin Bluff this year and Chalmers remains at the high school.

American food appeals to them as well -- pizza for Lucas, peanut butter sandwiches for Luana, grapes and candy for Mariana.

Halloween was "awesome" to children who had never before donned costumes and gone trick-or-treating, Martin said. Weeks ago she got out snow gear they will soon need, and now they can't wait for the first storm.

They say a thanks prayer every night at dinnertime, but Thanksgiving isn't as exciting to them as other holidays -- although for their parents it has more meaning this year than ever before.

"They're kind of looking past that one to Christmas," Chalmers said.

Already familiar with a character they call Papa Noel, the kids know exactly what they want Santa Claus to bring: a big remote-control truck for Lucas, and Barbie dolls -- pink -- for the girls.

Their new, big family is everything Martin and Chalmers wanted it to be.

"We have a great life," Martin said. "I feel like we're really lucky. They give us a lot."

"Constant joy," Chalmers explained. "I love coming home after work.