Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallelujah Party

The Bridge, a CRC church plant here in Sioux Center, puts on a big Hallelujah Party for Halloween. Attending is definitely the thing to do. The party is held in the rec center at Dordt College and I think pretty much every family in the city was there. For the party, they set up lots of carnival games all the way around the track and they recruit college kids to volunteer to staff the games. Jacob was one of the volunteers tonight. The kids go around and play the games and win tickets which they can exchange for little toys and candy. Even with so many kids attending, there were enough things to do that we never had to wait in line more than a couple minutes for a game or activity.

It was fun to see all the kids, and even some adults, in their costumes and everyone was having a great time. Our kids had a blast. Jon Felipe wore his black shirt with the bones on it so he looked like a skeleton. He also wore his Colombia hat (costumes are more about having fun than being logical). Maria was pretty worn out from all the activities of the week and so she chose not to try to wear a costume. She really didn't want to stay home and miss the fun, but she was fighting her MG the whole time and even though we only stayed an hour, she was struggling with walking by the end. Even so, she seemed to enjoy the party and she can rest up tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Soup Supper

I tell my students that they have to let kids know about the hidden curriculum. This is stuff like "Teacher A is unhappy if you turn your work in late" and "Teacher B doesn't mind so much about assignments being late, but really gets upset if you are late to class." Most kids figure it out on their own. Some need a little more help. I felt like someone needed to clue me in on the hidden curriculum tonight at the soup supper, starting with how to get in the school. All the doors we have ever used to enter the building were locked. We did eventually find the open door in the back of the building and enjoyed our meal. As Maria and Jon Felipe ran around with friends and we did our gig busing tables, we also got to know a few more people at SCCS and had a few good laughs. Still, it's going to take awhile to get this all figured out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Birthday Cake and Beautiful Music

Jon Felipe turned 9 today. We spread the birthday celebration out over the course of the day to keep it from being too overwhelming. This morning he opened the package from my parents. After school, he opened the cards he got in the mail from Dwight's parents and from our friends the Swarts. After dinner, Jacob and Tony came over for cake and he opened his presents from us. These included a new Sponge Bob toothbrush, a hat and mittens, and a DVD of High School Musical 3. He also got to wear the birthday hat all day at school and pass out birthday candy. He had a wonderful day.

To bake the cake, I borrowed a mixer from Regina who lives just a few blocks away. In Holland, we would borrow a mixer from the Pikaarts, but we couldn't convince them to move to Iowa with us. As Jon and I were walking back home last night with the mixer, we were talking about his upcoming birthday celebration. He told me that they don't have birthdays in Colombia. Since we participated in a couple birthday celebrations while we were in Colombia, I'm assuming that they did not celebrate birthdays in the orphanage. Obviously, with so many children to care for, this would be difficult to do. Jon Felipe didn't seem upset that they didn't celebrate birthdays, but he has certainly enjoyed celebrating his birthday here.

After the birthday cake, it was off to Luke's orchestra concert. All the music groups sounded really good, but in my opinion the orchestra was particularly good. The best part was that when we were waiting for the concert to begin, I saw Luke talking animatedly to another boy in the orchestra. Most days, when Luke leaves for school in the morning, I encourage him to try to talk with at least one person during the day. Some days he gets this out of the way by talking with someone on the bus, occasionally he will talk with someone during break, many times he comes home and says, "I just couldn't do it today." He isn't unhappy at school, it is just that starting a conversation with someone he doesn't really know is difficult for him. So, I enjoyed watching him talk with a classmate as much as I enjoyed the concert.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Walking to Work

Dwight's van had to go in for repairs last week (something with brakes and tie rods and other complicated things). Parts needed to be ordered and then the wrong ones came and we had to wait for new ones to be delivered; thus, I've been doing a lot of walking to work so Dwight can use my car. Even from the new house, it is only a fifteen minute walk. Yesterday, with Maria home sick, I walked to the college to teach my morning class, came home to check on her and get her lunch, walked back to teach my afternoon classes, and then walked home for a total of about an hour of walking. It was a pleasant day for walking and I can certainly use the exercise, plus it was definitely more enjoyable than spending that hour grading papers.

This morning, though, the weather wasn't nearly as nice. When I came in from getting the kids on the bus, I mentioned that, while it wasn't exactly raining, it was "misting heavily" as my friend from Seattle would say. I expected my dear husband to respond by offering to drop me off at work. Instead he said, "Here's an umbrella." Chivalry in Sioux Center, Iowa, is dead! By the time he figured out the proper response and offered to drive me to school, it had stopped raining and I was able to walk. I really do enjoy the walk, although I could do without having to lug a heavy laptop back and forth.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Jon Felipe is using more and more English at home. He is receiving intensive speech therapy at school and this shows. He speaks slowly and tries to enunciate the words. His most recent phrase is "I can't help it," except that he says "I can help." He still leaves endings off words and has a hard time with certain sounds, but his speech is definitely clearer. One of his great joys is that he is a champion burper. When he lets go with a good one and we respond with parently admonition, he grins and says, "I can help."

I am so proud of the progress he is making, but I don't want to lose the Spanish either. He and I still talk in Spanish as much as I can. I still try out all my new vocabulary on him and he still makes faces at me and gives me a hard time when I get it wrong. Tonight he was teasing me and deliberately saying the opposite of the words I was trying to practice. Goofy kid, I've got another big test tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New House

This is the view across the street from "The Big House" where we now live. To the north of these fields, there are fields of soybeans. To the south is Open Space Park which extends all the way to Dordt. We do have neighbors on either side of us and behind us, several of whom we know already as they also work at Dordt. You'll have to wait for pictures of the inside until we are a little more unpacked. Suffice it to say, though, that I have been hanging around Calvinists long enough that I'm pretty sure I don't deserve to live in such a nice house.
We only moved about 8 blocks, so our phone number is the same. Our new address is:
1163 7th Ave.
Sioux Center, IA 51250

Birthday Countdown

It is just three days until Jon Felipe's birthday. He has been counting down for the last six weeks. We plan to have Tony and Jacob come by to share cake with us. I have a cake mix ready to go, although I will have to find someone to borrow a mixer from. Now that we are moved to the new place, though, we even have room for everyone to stand in the same room with the birthday boy and sing and watch him blow out the candles. What a blessing!

Life has been pretty exciting for Jon Felipe lately. Last week he was special student of the week in his class. His two favorite things about being special student of the week were getting to sit in the big yellow chair during story time and getting to pray at lunch. Praying at lunch was particularly special for him. He was so pleased that his class prays at lunch time in his new school. Obviously, his teachers couldn't do that last year at his school. He often asks me why this is so and I just do not have a good enough grasp of Spanish nor does he have a good enough grasp of English for me to be able to explain why Christian teachers in public schools cannot pray aloud in class.

Today is a special day too because we get to eat dinner at Kid Zone. We got to do this last month too. They have invited a small group of families to stay and share a meal once a month. They provide all the food and fun, we just get to enjoy. The idea is to help build community with the families. We had a great time last time and are looking forward to a fun evening again, plus the food was delicious. Jon Felipe just loves these types of events, so he has also been counting the days until we get to eat at Kid Zone again.

Actually, counting the days until any event is one of Jon Felipe's "hobbies." So, we count the number of days until we get to go to church. As soon as the service ends, he always lets me know that it is seven days until we get to go to "iglesia" again. On Fridays, he comes home and checks the number of days until he can go to "escuela" (school) again. If any other special event is happening, he will gladly keep track of the days for you. Doing this makes him happy, plus he is top notch at counting backwards.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The VanTols Move to the Big House

After I wrote about our two rental options, a couple more places opened up and we actually had about four places to choose from. We went and looked at them all and weighed our options and all the pros and cons, but then I got sick and then the kids got sick and we just never got around to deciding. After a couple weeks, the landlord from the place we liked best called and asked if we would consider renting his place if he lowered the rent. Of course, we said that would help! So, we got the place we really wanted at a reasonable rent.

Jon has been asking for days when we get to move to "The big house." The new place is has so much more space than the little house we were renting! Today was finally moving day. Many, many people came and helped us move. Lots of people from my department as well as some of Jacob's professors and a few people I didn't even know. Joe, the man moving into our house, helped us move too. He has people coming out to visit him at the end of next week and he really wanted to be moved in to his new house before they came. Our landlord kindly let us move in a week early to accommodate Joe's move next week.

A friend from my department came and helped me pack the kitchen yesterday. It was so nice to have help with this task, but it made me really miss all my friends back in Holland who came and helped me pack my kitchen for the move here. Regina helped me unpack my kitchen (for the second time in as many months) and also made lunch for everyone who helped. Everything is moved over. Now we have lots of unpacking to do. I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dinner at Tulipanes

My friend Socorro took me out to dinner tonight. There is an excellent Latin American restaurant in town and she wanted to be the one to introduce me to it. (Socorro is also my Spanish instructor.) We spoke Spanish for all the ordering, but I confess that the rest of our conversation was in English. The food was wonderful and I enjoyed spending time getting to know a new friend. Although I hadn't shared with Socorro that I had been feeling down, it was a great pick-me-up on this rainy Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Oct 20

I haven't posted anything for awhile because I have been struggling with feeling a bit down and I didn't really want to write about negative things. I'm not sure why I've been down, things are still going really well here. I still like the work I am doing, Dwight still enjoys his work, the kids are happy. I think it is combination of all this illness going around and having to move again.

It seems like I just cannot get everyone healthy. I was sick for what felt like a long time, then Jon Felipe got really sick, then Maria picked up something and now she is sick again. She was home from school yesterday and today. She'll have her treatment tomorrow which will hopefully help perk her up and help her kick this latest bout of the crud. Is it just me, or does it seem like illness is hitting harder this fall than usual?

Plus we have to move again. We have been so busy with work and taking care of sick kids that thinking of packing everything up AGAIN is rather overwhelming. The sale of our house in Holland hasn't happened so we don't have closure on that either. We didn't unpack a lot of stuff, but we did unpack some stuff and just thinking of packing up the kitchen again seems like a big job.

On top of all this, Jon Felipe has been having more seizures. We realized he was still having them at night so we got a baby monitor and put it in his room so we would hear him. Sure enough, he is still having seizures at night. Then today he had his first one at school. He is "student of the week" so during story time he gets to sit in the special chair at the front of the class. Of course, that means that when he had the seizure today during story time, he was front and center. On the plus side, the special chair is a sling type chair so he didn't fall out of it when he had the seizure. The teacher tells me, though, that the students were very calm when he was having the seizure. The nurse had explained to the class about seizures and I guess she must have done a good job because the teacher said the kids handled it really well.

So instead of doing any more school work, I'm going to go take a hot shower and then go to bed and read some frivolous fiction for awhile. And maybe have some ice cream. With chocolate sauce. And whipped cream. In bed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Snowy Morning

Today we woke to another dusting of snow. As you can see, we are not quite ready for winter weather yet. I did receive an e-mail from the school informing me that children are expected to wear boots on snowy days. Obviously, this never occurred to me! Of course, this notification necessitated a quick excursion after school to try to find children's snow boots (all our boots were lost in the flood). As I'm sure you are aware, the shelves were picked bare. We were able to get something for Jon Felipe at Walmart, but nothing has been found yet for Maria.
The little girl with the umbrella in this picture is Claudia and she is in kindergarten. She is a very sweet little girl and we always chat, usually in Spanish, while waiting for the bus. There are other children on our bus stop, but some of them didn't ride the bus this morning. There is still a lot of illness going around Sioux Center.

The snow on the trees was just beautiful and I enjoyed looking at it, while standing inside with a hot cup of tea. It did warm up this afternoon and all the snow melted once again. This wet weather has come at a tough time for the farmers. Friday night we saw them out in the fields working long after dark to try to finishing harvesting before the rain and snow started.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snow and Charlotte's Web

This picture is from Jon Felipe's class celebration of Charlotte's Web. As you can see, he is happy at Sioux Center Christian School. This morning, he was so excited to wake up to a dusting of snow. He loved playing outside in the snow until the sun melted it all. I'm glad it was a Saturday so he could enjoy it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Orange City

Dwight and I went on a date tonight. George had recommended The Hatchery as a good place to get a burger and so we went there. The Hatchery is a little place in an old brick building off the square in Orange City. Eating there is like what I imagine eating at your neighborhood pub to be like. There can't have been more than ten tables in the whole place and most of them were pushed together for larger groups of people. The food was good and we enjoyed the leisurely atmosphere. Then we walked around the downtown area in Orange City, which is much more Dutch and kitchy than Holland, Michigan. There are lots of false store fronts in the Dutch gable style. There are Dutch bakeries, Dutch goods for sale, and an impressive looking meat market with signs in Dutch for various delicacies. The park in the center of the square is littered with windmills. I'm sure it is all quite lovely in the spring when the tulips are blooming. Tonight it was pretty much deserted and everything was closed. It was a pleasant night for a walk, though, and we enjoyed our evening.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tami Tango Trio

Tonight we went to a concert by the Tami Tango Trio. This group from Argentina is touring in the U.S. and has been making presentations on the folk music history of Argentina to music and Spanish classes at Dordt. I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The musicians were fabulous, especially the woman playing the piano. It is amazing to me that a person's fingers can move that quickly. Jon Felipe's insistence that we sit in the front row ensured we had a good view of the performance. I also really enjoyed watching the dancers. They perform all those intricate dance steps without once trodding on their partner's foot. They also changed outfits and shoes between every dance number. The mind boggles at the amount of luggage they must have brought with them. It was a fun evening and we capped it off with a bedtime snack of ice cream after we got home.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Down Syndrome Awareness Month

As October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I thought I would mention a new reality show out of the U.K. that highlights DS. It is about the lives of five young people who are housemates together in Brighton, England. Four of the young people have DS and one has William's Syndrome. So far, five episodes have been released. While I do not necessarily agree with all the decisions that have been made as regards the lifestyle of these young people, I do appreciate that they are living a life that is similar to that of their peers. It is a fun show and you will laugh, especially if you know anyone with DS. If you want to get the flavor of the show, I suggest watching episode one. Episode three is the funniest one so far, but since it includes brief scenes of the Lady Boys of Bangkok, I would have to rate it PG-13. So, if you have some time on your hands, check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Maria's Braids

Maria let me braid her hair yesterday. Doesn't it look cute? She very rarely lets me do that sort of thing.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It was a Good Day

Today was a good day despite the H1N1. Maria and I took my folks out and about in Sioux Center this morning. We also stopped and visited with George and Regina awhile. This afternoon, we went on a tour of the college. I baked some almond patties while everyone had a nap and then Maria and I packed up the tea things and the treats and met them at the hotel again for tea. Maria got in more swimming and we all got in more visiting. Dwight and the boys made homemade pizza and brought it out there and we all ate together in the big gathering room at the hotel. It was fun.

Jon's fever broke by noon and he got up and ate three bowls of noodle soup. He is feeling much better and no longer wants to lay around and rest. He's eating and being pretty much his normal self again. We are so glad that he seems to have turned the corner and is on the mend. So far, the rest of us have remained healthy. It was too bad that he had to lay low for the big grandparent visit and I really hope my folks don't get sick. I think they had a good visit despite the fact that we didn't really do anything exciting. It was so good to spend time with them.

Saturday Morning

My parents arrived late yesterday afternoon. They stopped in LeMars and went to Pizza Ranch for supper. Then, Maria and I met them at their hotel room and shared a pot of tea. Maria swam in the hotel pool and the rest of us visited. It was very nice.

Jon woke up yesteday with a high fever. I called my parents right away, but they decided to come visit us anyway since the plans were all made. Later in the day, I became quite concerned about Jon because I couldn't keep the fever down and fever triggers his seizures. Plus, he clearly was very ill. I called the doctor's office and they had me bring him right in. He tested positive for H1N1. Poor little guy is totally miserable. They put him on Tamiflu and also gave a prescription for Maria to take to it to try to prevent her from getting the flu. Dwight just read in the news that 10% of the kids in the schools here have H1N1.

I was so excited to have my family come visit and now this. It seems so unfair. Jon was so excited to see Grandpa, now he can't be near him at all. Actually, though, he's so sick he didn't even notice that Maria and I left to visit with Grandpa and Grandma last night.

So, I don't know how the rest of the visit will look. I'm thinking we'll have to skip some of the stuff we had planned. My dad was pretty wiped out from the trip, so he's okay with that. At least it stopped raining.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Heartland Teachers Convention

Nasty weather is here with a vengence for the Heartland Teachers Convention. It is coldy and rainy and promises to be the same tomorrow. The Dordt College students have a reading recess today and tomorrow. In their place, several hundred teachers from the surrounding states have decended on the college for their convention. It used to be called the tri-state break, but then it occurred to someone that more than three states were represented and the name was changed to Heartland.

I attended the keynote address this morning with Dwight. The speaker was Ken Medema. He was fabulous. In addition to giving a good message, he was so funny that I laughed until I cried. This afternoon, I presented a sectional on autism spectrum disorders in the classroom specifically geared to high school. I wasn't sure if anyone would show up, but the room was full. For some reason, I was really nervous about doing this, but it went really well and people seemed to think they got some good information.

After we got home from the convention, we packed up the kids, grabbed some burgers, and went to the Ken Medema concert at the college. We heard some new songs and some old favorites. We sang along with the "Tree Song." We clapped and danced and joined in the fun. It was such a nice family evening. Tomorrow my parents and Colin are coming out for a visit. We are so excited that they are coming. I am excited to show them the college and our new home town, to share a little piece of our new life with them. (I recognize that the grand tour only takes about ten minutes, but I figure that gives us more time to visit :-) I do hope the sun comes back out.