Monday, August 31, 2009

Educational Decisions

Tonight I am feeling upset and unhappy. I got a call late this afternoon from the principal at Jon's school. Today the special education service providers from the school district came out to SCCS to see what the needs were there. One of the students they discussed was Jon Felipe because he was receiving special services in Holland. His IEP states that he is to receive Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), and Speech. The principal called to let me know that the recommendation of this team was going to be that Jon be moved back to first grade and that he be moved to the public school. Even if we move him to the public school, though, they still want him to repeat 1st grade.

I am not happy with this plan. I might be convinced at some point that it is a good idea, but I am concerned about him being so much older than the other students in his grade. I don't think it will matter much right now, but he is going to turn 9 next month. That means that if he goes back to first grade now, he will be 13 in the 5th grade, and 16 in the 8th grade. At that age, that could be a big difference in comparison to the other children in his grade who will be 2-3 years younger. He will turn 20 in the fall of his senior year of high school. Maybe this will all be okay, but it is hard to predict that right now.

It doesn't sound like SCCS is pushing for Jon to go to public school. Rather, Joe (the principal at SCCS) knew that I would be upset by this recommendation and wanted to give me some warning. I am meeting with the team on Wednesday at 3:30. In the meantime, I hope to go visit the public elementary school (it is about a block from SCCS) tomorrow afternoon. From what I've been told, I don't have much bargaining power, in terms of getting services for my children, if I choose to send them to the Christian school. It is sad and makes me appreciate again how well the public and Christian schools worked together in Holland.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday August 30

My cousin George and his wife Regina live here in Sioux Center, right across the street from the main entrance to Dordt College. We are so glad they are here. We have enjoyed doing things with their family and they have all been very helpful as we adjust to living here in SC.

Tonight Regina called to have Luke come over and join the volleyball game that was going on at the athletic complex near their house. Apparently, the high school kids gather at this park on Sunday nights to play sand volleyball. Luke (bravely, in my opinion) went right over and joined in the game even though he knew no one playing. When he came home, he said he had had a great time and was "definitely" going back next week.

I am so pleased at how well our kids are doing at making friends and adjusting to the new community. Today at church, someone asked Maria about her new school. She answered by giving this person specific examples of the things the students and the teachers at SCCS had done to make her feel welcome. She ended by saying, "So, I feel very welcome here." I'd say we all feel the same way. The communities of Sioux Center and Dordt college have made us feel very welcome here.

Incidentally (for those of you keeping track), we went to First CRC here in town today. We all really liked it. The minister preached on the first chapter of Numbers and a relevant text in Revelation. He made it both interesting and relevant to life today. The music was the best we've heard since we moved here. On a side note, Maria also has a number of girlfriends in this church who are advocating for us to join. Right now, I'd say First CRC has the edge over the other churches we've visited. The only downside is it starts at 9:30 :-)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Shopping Trip

This afternoon we loaded up the kids, including Jacob and his friend Tony, and drove to Sioux City to do some shopping. Maria, Luke, and Jon F all needed new gym shoes and some school supplies that Walmart had run out of. Jacob wanted a few things for his dorm room. I needed new sunglasses and Dwight was the designated driver.

Sioux City is about 45 minutes south of here. I wasn't sure what to expect, but was told that this was the closest place to find a Target store. Wow, we were pleasantly surprised by the shopping options we found. The Target was even nicer than the new one in Holland. For future shopping options, we also noted a large Kohls, Talbots, Coldwater Creek, Lowes, and many, many more. We got everything on our list, although somehow we managed to lose the hot pink ruler that we bought for Jon (actually, it appears it fell out of the cart before we got to the check out).

I was able to buy a small electric tea kettle for $7 that I plan to take to my office. There is a lovely workroom in my department that is equipped with a refrigerator and a microwave, but it doesn't run to a hot water dispenser like we had in the lounge at HC and tea made from hot water heated in the microwave is just not the same. I also got a new stylish pair of sunglasses. The fact that I have broken two pairs of sunglasses since we moved to Iowa is a testament to how sunny it is here. Actually, one pair was in bad shape already, but the other pair were new this summer.

After shopping, Tony and Jacob hung out at our house and stayed for dinner. I keep telling everyone how much we like this little house and how we really have almost enough space here. Tonight, though, I really missed my Holland house. Even just the addition of one extra person really strained the house at the seams. I was trying to cook and everyone was in my way, mainly because there just wasn't any other place to go. Tony has 5 brothers and sisters, so he didn't seem to mind the chaos at all, but it just wasn't as easy to have kids drop in as it was back in our house in Holland. Still, everyone got fed and no one got hurt so it's all good.

I end with this note: After we got back from shopping, I told Dwight that I wanted a gin and tonic and he made one for me - with diet tonic water and no gin! I'm sure there's a message there, but I'm too tired to decipher what it is.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Date Night

Dwight and I went on a date this evening. By dinner time, I was so tired that I considered cancelling the date in favor of a nap, but Dwight vetoed that idea. The original plan was to go to the movies to see Julie and Julia, but as of today that is no longer playing here so we had to come up with a Plan B. In the end, we decided to go to Orange City (about 15 minutes from here - Luke goes to high school in Orange City) for dinner and a play. Luke babysat and the kids had subway sandwiches courtesy of Nurse Lisa (Thanks Nurse Lisa!) and unlimited television while we were gone. They love it when we go on a date :-)

We went out for Chinese food at a little hole-in-the-wall place in Orange City that we had heard served pretty good food. Chinese was one of our favorite restaurant food choices back in Holland and, unfortunately, the Chinese restaurant here in Sioux Center just doesn't measure up to that standard. This place is better, but still not as good. What was great was the camaraderie. The place isn't real large and we sat near several tables of "regulars." Apparently these people always gather there on Friday nights. They were all talking and having a good time. Whenever the owner could get out of the kitchen, she joined them. They seemed to genuinely enjoy each other's company and eventually they included us in the fun. A couple of them were special educators serving as consultants in the area schools. One had even heard that our kids had started at Sioux Center Christian and was planning to get out there to see if they had any needs that she could help with. The food wasn't great, but it was pretty good and the company was friendly so I'm guessing we'll be back on another Friday night.

Then we went to a play by the Eastcheap Theater Company. This is a collection of faculty, staff, and students at both Northwestern and Dordt Colleges that get together in the summer to do "theater stuff" and put on a couple of plays. Since this was the first week of classes, they decided to put on a reprise of their summer productions. Tonight's performance, a dark comedy called Fuddy Meers, was in a beautiful theater on Northwestern's campus in Orange City. It was both funny and thought provoking. Since I'm on the Dordt faculty, Dwight and I got in free so it also made for a cheap date. I saw a couple students (even remembered their names) and some other Dordt faculty there as well. All-in-all, it was a very nice evening and I'm glad we decided to go. Since I missed out on a nap, perhaps I'll get to sleep in tomorrow morning instead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Day of Classes at Dordt

Today was the first day of classes at Dordt. I was really nervous about how it was going to go. I made sure I had everything all prepared and arrived early. I particularly wanted to have some time to get acquainted with the technology in the classrooms before I had to teach my class. I am teaching in a brand new building and all the classrooms are equipt with the latest technology to be examples of "model" classrooms. I certainly didn't want to look like a less-than-model teacher because I couldn't get the tech stuff to work.

This semester my Monday / Wednesday / Friday classes all meet in room 2260 and my Tuesday / Thursday class meets in 2248. Another prof was busy setting up for his 8:00 class in room 2260, but 2248 was open so I went in there to check things out. A friend from the department was able to help me figure out how everything worked and even showed me how to use a few things I didn't know we had. As I left, I did mention to my friend that I would actually be teaching in 2260 today and would have to remember to go to the right room. However, I also left feeling pretty confident that I could do this technology thing.

About 10 minutes before my class started, I headed over to the classroom. I set up my computer, got everything hooked up, and was walking around greeting students and generally trying to appear friendly and welcoming. It was all going great. The thought did cross my mind that there were more males than I had expected, but I didn't really think about it too much. Then a student came up to me and very nicely said, "This is an art history class and I'm pretty sure you're not our professor." Oops! Yep, I had just gone right back to 2248 even though I really did know that I was teaching in 2260. Oh well, it made for a funny story to tell at the start of class. Plus, the couple of students who arrived late to class because they got lost in the new building didn't feel so bad :-)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Day of School at SCCS

Waiting in the rain for the bus to come pick up the kids. We were all too excited about the first day of school to wait in the house.

Maria and Jon looking very cute for the first day of school.

Maria is very proud of her new, cool school bag. You can't see a lot of it in this picture, but it is very cute. She got a messenger bag instead of a backpack this year. Very stylish.

As the bus came around the corner, we walked out into the street and almost got run over. The bus driver didn't have the kids on her list and was surprised when we walked out in front of her bus. Fortunately, she was going very slowly.
Maria made friends with one of the sixth graders from school who rides this bus and lives quite near us. The kids had barely walked in the door after school when Casey called for Maria to come over for the rest of the afternoon. She lives close enough that Maria could just walk over to her house. It sounds like the girls had a great time together.
Maria has also connected with the girls from her grade that wrote to her during the last school year. It sounds like at least a couple of them are in the other sixth grade classroom, but somehow they still seem to find plenty of time during the school day to talk. :-)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Open House at SCCS

This is Jon Felipe's classroom. His teacher is Mrs. Siebesma. The school nurse's office is right next door to his classroom. Sounds like good planning to me.

Jon Felipe was so excited to discover that there was a piano in his classroom.

They both got to check out all the things in their desks.

As you can see, Jon Felipe is very excited about starting school.

Maria checking out the things in her desk and meeting her new seat mate. She seems like a really nice girl and she is going to help Maria "learn the ropes."

Maria quickly made friends with a whole passel of girls and is now feeling much less nervous about starting a new school.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Bike Path

People in Sioux Center are quite proud of the new bike path. It runs north and south on the east side of town. We have enjoyed riding on the bike path with the kids. Above you can see Luke and Maria riding along the path ahead of us.

Jon was very worried about riding on the Alleycat bike, but he was so proud of himself for doing it. The whole ride, he kept telling me to slow down, though. When we were finished, he was so excited that he hadn't fallen off. Now he can't wait to try it again.

The bike path runs along the backside of the college. You can see the college center building and the B.J. Haan Auditorium in this picture.

You can see these farm buildings across the fields from the bike path.

The bike path runs through Children's Park so we stopped and played for awhile.

There are newer play structures in the park, but the kids gravitated to the older ones.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, a great day for a bike ride and playing in the park.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Random Thoughts

1. Christian Music - My new office is in an area of campus that has been undergoing a major building project. Interestingly, the construction workers all play Christian music loudly on their radios. Actually, everywhere I go, they seem to be playing Christian music. I hear it in the grocery store, in the bank, and even at the county treasurer's office.

2. My Office - I have an office in one of the new areas of campus. It is very nice and even has a window (which I didn't have in my old office), but I can't get any work done there. Even if I close the door, people still drop in to check out the new offices, to meet the new prof (me), or just to say hi. Of course, I can't get any work done at home either. I despair of ever being ready to teach.

3. Opening Reception - Tonight, Dwight and I attended a reception to kick off the new school year. It was held on the lawn behind the college president's house and the weather was perfect. I know it shouldn't feel like fall in August, but it was a beautiful evening. The food was delicious and Dwight and I enjoyed making connections with even more people.

4. Lightning Bugs - I remember catching lightning bugs as a kid back in Chicago Ridge, but it seems like we didn't have very many in Holland. There doesn't seem to be any shortage of them here in Sioux Center. At night, it is fun to watch them winking on and off. Sometimes, later in the evening, you can see hundreds of them flying up in the trees and they twinkle on and off like Christmas lights. Jon Felipe has had a good time on several evenings running around and trying to catch them. I'm glad that they do have a healthy population of lightning bugs here because most of the ones he catches seem to end up squished.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


As many of you know, over the past couple years our health insurance company had become increasingly difficult about approving Maria's IVIG treatments. This month we are in the process of switching to our new insurance program, which we had hoped would be better.

This afternoon, Karen, the nurse at the doctor's office back in Michigan, called me to let me know that she had heard back from our new insurance.

First she said, "Working with your new insurance is not at all like working with your old insurance."

I thought, "Oh no, it must be worse."

Next she said, "You better sit down before I tell you the rest."

At that point, I wondered how bad it was going to be.

Then she told me that the preauthorization had come through and Maria's IVIG treatments are approved starting August 13, 2009, until . . . December 31, 2039. No that is not a typo. She has approval for the next 30 years! She'll be 42 years old in 2039. Hopefully she won't still be on our insurance by then. Still, I'm taking it as a sign that this insurance plan will serve her well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Luke had new student orientation at his school tonight. Dwight went with him, so I thought I'd interview him for my post so I could also hear a bit about how the evening went.

Where will you be attending school?

I'll be in the 10th grade at Unity Christian High School in Orange City.

What electives will you be taking?

Spanish, Orchestra, and Multi Media.

Which classes are you most excited about?

Multi Media, but it doesn't meet until second semester, and orchestra.

Why are you looking forward to orchestra?

Because orchestra was really fun last year.

Are there any other new transfer students at Unity?

Yes, there are a few other new transfer students.

What extra curricular activities do you intend to be involved in?

I would like to work on the sets for the play.

What are the school colors and the school team name?

The colors are blue and white. The team name is The Knights.

What did you do while Dad was at the parent orientation portion of the meeting?

Went to the library and read my book, and also found a magazine in the library about Myth Busters which I read as well.

Why didn't you want to buy a sports pass?

I'm not sure I'll end up going to any sports events, but I can always buy one later if I change my mind.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Good and The Bad

We have now been in Iowa two whole weeks. There have been lots of good things and some difficult things.

The good things:
1. I am really enjoying getting to know my new colleagues. We'll see if I still like the job once the students show up :-)
2. People are really friendly and welcoming. We left behind so many good friends that our hearts were hurting a bit as we drove west. Having so many friendly faces waiting for us has helped make the transition easier.
3. The weather has been absolutely wonderful. After miserable summer weather in June and July (at least back in Holland), it has been lovely to be able to enjoy being outside.
4. We've had some good family time since we got here. Living in a house that is less than 1,000 square feet means we get to spend a lot of time together. Soon school will begin and the kids will be involved with friends and school activities, but for now I am enjoying this time.

The difficult things:
1. Because our house in Holland hasn't sold yet, we have not bought a house here in Sioux Center. Right now we are living in a small rented house. It is a very cozy, pleasant home. It is also in a great location and the rent is reasonable. However, it recently sold so we will have to find another place to live soon.
2. We feel like we are bleeding money. Getting established in a new place is expensive. The kids are starting at new schools and we have had to pay 10% of their tuition up front. Eventually we'll get some tuition assistance, but for now we had to pay 10% of the full bill. We had to renew the plates on my car since they expire on my birthday. This cost about three times what it would have cost in Michigan. Perhaps Michigan is trying to encourage car ownership? We also switched to a new health insurance plan and maxed out Maria's deductable and entire out-of-pocket costs right off the bat. The insurance year starts over in January so we will get to do that again in just a few months. We'll likely get some assistance through the state with medical costs similar to the Children's Special Health Care plan that we had in Michigan, but I learned today that getting that in place could take another 6 months.

The good list is longer than the bad list, but the things on the bad list sure can keep you up at night.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Church Music

We attended the same church this morning as last week. I know, we said we were going to do some "church shopping" before picking a church home, and we still plan to do that, but there were extenuating circumstances. A representative of the church welcome committee, who also happens to be the school nurse for Jon and Maria's school, dropped by yesterday with a card of welcome and a pan of brownies. Also, Stan and Beth VandenBerg, cousins to Dwight's dad, attend that church and had invited us over today for Sunday dinner. Dinner, by the way, was super yummy. We had pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, and vegetables from the garden. All good reasons to spend another Sunday morning visiting their church.

I was thinking about music this morning in church. Our church back in Holland is very contemporary. This church is less so. Thus, the musical styles of the two congregations are very different. These last two weeks, I have enjoyed singing many familiar hymns. It has also been a joy to hear the organ played in church again. I wonder if perhaps I might sing just a little bit better when the music is supplied by the organ (or perhaps the organ just drowns me out better). I was chatting with a teenager the other day, and she told me that she had just returned from her organ lesson. We talked about the difficulties of playing the organ and I was pleased at the thought that the local churches must be planning to continue having organ music for at least the forseeable future. I know I will soon miss singing those contemporary praise songs, but for now I am enjoying this taste of tradition.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Today was Maria's regular infusion day. Making sure that these infusions would continue seamlessly was one of the things I really worked on prior to our move out here. There were a few bumps in the road, but everything got taken care of and the infusion happened right on schedule. This first infusion happened in the outpatient clinic just a few blocks from here. At first, I wasn't happy about that because she has been able to have it at home for several years now. However, once we got there, I could see a lot of advantages to doing it at the clinic. It is near our house, there are two nurses who work full-time in the clinic and do all the infusions so we would always have a familiar nurse, other kids come there for their infusions (no one with MG, but at least one other kid who gets IVIG), and the schedule was far more flexible than was possible with home health care. So, during the treatment, I got a call to let me know that Maria has been approved to have the next infusion at home. Ugh - now I'll have to see if the insurance will let us continue at the clinic.

We were still able to hit the pool for a few hours this afternoon after Maria's treatment. The pool here is fabulous. There are outside pools and inside pools. There are lots of fountains and slides and things to play on both in the inside pools and in the outside pools. It isn't as amazing as the outdoor pool facility in Orland Park (the town where my parents live), but it is still a nice place to spend an afternoon. I should mention that the facility in Sioux Center is actually called the All Season Center because it also has an indoor ice rink. We happened to run into my cousin Regina while at the pool and she invited us back to her house for dinner tonight, so we enjoyed a very pleasant evening visiting with George and Regina and their girls. All in all, it was a very nice day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My Birthday

Today is my birthday. Lots of people sent me birthday messages on facebook. I even got some nice cards via snail mail. I also got a new haircut last night so I received lots of compliments today, which is a fun thing to have happen on your birthday. There was a reception at the president's house tonight (President Zylstra that is, not Mr. Obama) and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. It was a nice day, even if it was really busy. I am really enjoying getting to know my new colleagues, which is nice because we spend a lot of time together.

If I was in Holland, I would have gone to lunch with my friend Marilyn, perhaps in Grand Haven as we've done the last couple years. Dwight and the kids probably would have baked me a cake, borrowing a mixer from the Pikaarts like we always do when we need to bake a cake. We might have taken the family out to dinner at Goog's. Now that we are in Sioux Center, we'll have to make some new traditions. Our schedule was so full that today wasn't the day to start any of those. However, I'm thinking it is just going to have to be a birthday weekend so we have time to get some of those things in.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Dwight and I walk everywhere in Sioux Center. I walk to and from the college each day, we walk to the bank, we walk to the post office, we walk to the park to buy produce from the farmers who can be found there every day selling fruits and vegetables (lots of corn for sale!). We also enjoy taking walks together exploring the neighborhoods, dreaming about maybe one day owning a home in one of these areas.

A few years ago, Holland won an award for being a "walkable" city. As much as I enjoy walking around Sioux Center, this city will never win that award, mainly because of the condition of the sidewalks. Many blocks in the city do not have sidewalks. If there is a sidewalk, it is likely to end abruptly in the middle of the block. The sidewalks that do exist are very narrow and in poor repair. This means that we often have to walk in the street as we ramble around town. Of course, there is so little traffic, that it doesn't seem to matter. Still, I miss the lovely sidewalks to be found throughout Holland.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Unity Christian H.S.

We went tonight to register Luke to attend Unity Christian High School. I have to admit that I was feeling a little unsettled about the whole thing. So far I have always been a teacher in the high school my kids, including my foster kids, have attended. I have watched from the teacher section as five of them have graduated from HC (Colin, Jacob, Sam, Gabe, and big Luk). Now, not only am I sending Luke to a school where I don't know all the ins and outs, it's not even in the same city where we live. Unity Christian is located in Orange City, about 15 minutes south of here.

So, we completed all the registration forms. We wrote the big tuition check (another first, as tuition was always just deducted from my paycheck). We met with the counselor to make a schedule. We toured the school. It was interesting viewing it from the other side, but it also all felt pretty familiar.

I think it will be a good school for Luke. Some students have already gone out of their way to make sure he feels included. One young man even came by the house this morning with the registration forms and wanted to make sure Luke knew about the registration night tonight. I hope he makes friends. I worry about that since he is so quiet. They don't have a swim team and he doesn't want to do any other sports. I hope he finds his niche.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Church Shopping

Moving to a new place means getting to find new doctors, a new pharmacy, new places to shop, and a new church. There are many churches here in Sioux Center and we've been encouraged to take some time to check out at least a few of them before we pick a church home. Everyone, however, also assures us that we will almost certainly end up at one particular church. Indeed, almost everyone we know here in Sioux Center attends that church.

So, that's the church we attended on our first Sunday in town. It was good. The preaching was good, although I have to admit it was a guest minister. The singing was good, although I had to give some of my kids a quick lesson on how to follow along in the Psalter Hymnal. Someone made sure my kids knew where to find the person handing out jelly beans after the service (a tradition that reminds me of my friend Mickey aka The Candy Lady at 14th St.) The best part, though, was the young man in the next section who made noises throughout the service.

I have to admit that it is only the behavior of my own children that ever bothers me during church. Other people's children could be singing and dancing in the aisles and I wouldn't mind. I was faintly disturbed once by a child a couple rows up that was tearing apart the chair cushion with a pen, but that was more a case of being concerned about the furniture. Anyway, no one seemed disturbed by this young man. He was clearly accepted as a part of the body of Christ, odd noises and all. Back in Holland, we had a young man who attended our church that also made odd noises and movements during church. He was also a clearly accepted part of our church community. I don't know the name of the young man this past Sunday, but his presence made me feel more at home.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday Evening in Sioux Center

Dwight and I have discovered the cool thing to do in Sioux Center on a Sunday evening - ride your motorcycle up and down main street. Admirers sit in the park or hang out along the sidewalk. If you aren't cool enough to have a motorcycle, then the next best thing seems to be to get an old pickup truck and pile a bunch of teenagers into the back. Then, you can drive up and down the street so the admirers can check out the group or you can hang out in the mall parking lot. The whole thing is reminiscent of Oval Beach in Saugatuck. I'm so glad I'm not a teenager anymore.

We have been wonderfully welcomed here in Sioux Center. As soon as we got here, a whole crew of people showed up to help us unload the truck, someone went and picked up some lunch, other people helped us unpack boxes. Neighbors have brought us meals. People have arranged for our kids to spend time with their kids. A whole group of kids took Maria and Jon Felipe to the movies with them one afternoon. We have felt very much enfolded into the community. If this is what it means to move to a small town, I like it.