Thursday, December 31, 2009

A few more Christmas pics

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas is so fun and this year we got to spread Christmas out over a whole week!

Papa Noel

Papa Noel, aka Santa, finally made it to the Big House in Northwest Iowa.

Jon really wanted a camion (truck) and Papa Noel came through for him.

Maria desperately wanted a guitar

My three big boys always get Lego.

It just wouldn't be Christmas without Lego to put together.

Puppet Theater

This is the puppet theater, complete with velvet stage curtain, that my dad built for my nieces. Aunt Pat contributed the pictures. It turned out beautiful. All the kids thought it was great.

It even has storage "back stage" for the puppets.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back in Sioux Center

Winter travel is not for the timid. We did, however, make it "back east" to see our families for the holidays. With school in session through the 23rd and Maria's treatment scheduled for the 30th, we didn't have as much time for this visit as we might have liked. We did gain a bonus day, though, when school was cancelled on the 23rd so families would have a chance to travel before the big storm hit.

Jon Felipe had some blood work scheduled for the morning of the 23rd and as soon as that was done (for the record, he did not cry - he is very proud of himself for that), we headed out. It was slippery and rainy for the entire drive and we were exhausted by the time we got there, but we made it without mishap. We had family parties planned for the 25th and 26th, but nothing planned for the 24th as we had thought we would travel that day.

It was nice to have a free day. We helped my parents finish their Christmas preparations, played games, baked cookies, and had a relaxing day. After dinner, I made all the kids get back in the van and drive around looking at all the Christmas decorations. I love Christmas lights. One of the little things I have enjoyed about Sioux Center is the decorations the city put up. For two and a half miles down the main street, every light pole is decorated with a trio of large lighted snow flakes, a red banner, and garland. I love it.

On Sunday, we headed out to Michigan to see Dwight's family. It was a good thing we know that route by heart because it was snowing so hard along the lake that you couldn't see the highway. Not fun! We did enjoy the chance to visit with family. Monday was spent packing Colin up and moving him out. Then we drove back to Chicago to spend the night before heading back to Sioux Center on Tuesday morning. The drive across Iowa was clear and dry, so much nicer than the drive out.

We arrived back to about two feet of snow and large drifts. The snow in the trees is beautiful. Another beautiful thing, our landlord had plowed out our driveway for us so we could just pull right in and unload. As we were carrying all Colin's things in, I declared that no one else may move for at least five months. We have been moving stuff from place to place about every two months lately (flood in June, move to SC in August, move again in October, move Colin in December) and I am ready for a break.

We wish we had had time to see some of our friends, another day or two would have been about right, but we are thankful for the family we did see and for safe travel. Shortly after arriving back last night, Jon Felipe declared that he wanted to go back to Grandma and Grandpa's house. I think he's going to have to wait a bit for the next trip.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Family Gatherings - Dec. 25 & 26

Family picture '09

A slightly nicer picture except that Luke's eyes are closed.

I got this mixer for Christmas. I am so excited. The beautiful girls in this picture are my nieces.

My mother got a snuggie. Colin and Caitlyn looking very excited.

Jon Felipe waiting to open his gift. He was definitely excited. He was even thrilled about getting clothes.

We've been having a nice time spending time together, visiting with lots of family, and eating lots of yummy food.

Holiday Pictures

We had fun taking some pictures with Aunt Pat's new camera. Jon Felipe was not excited about having his photo taken.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Thank you all for following along as we go about the day-to-day adventures of our rather ordinary lives. Thanks, too, for your comments and e-mails. I love hearing from you.

Wishing you all the best for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The VanTols

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dr. Z

It took me nearly three hours to drive home from Sioux Falls and I'm still a little shaky from the experience. An ice storm started just as we were leaving Sanford Children's. The roads were terrible, especially 29. It took more than an hour to drive 15 miles and there were cars in the ditch everywhere. Once we got to 18 and headed east the roads gradually improved. They were still icy and I was still a nervous wreck, but they weren't nearly as bad. Plus, the roads had been sanded or salted so cars weren't skidding off the road every few feet.

So, about the appointment: We really liked this doctor. He was very gregarious and spent a lot of time getting to know Jon Felipe a bit. The examining room had a large yellow school bus painted on the wall which Jon found very cool. Dr. Z's opinion is that this cluster of seizures was caused by one of two things. Most likely it was caused by the tetanus shot. In support of this, the seizures started a few hours after he got the shot and lasted for about the next 48 hours. This would mean the seizure on Monday was a coincidence.

The other option is that his shunt is failing. The doctor said that if we had come in last week, he would have sent us immediately for a CT scan, but since the seizures have stopped, he agreed to wait and see if they start again. He is going to contact the neurologist, though, and she may overrule that decision and request the scan. Dr. Z said that the shunt will likely fail eventually - Not good news! However, we don't need to worry about that just yet. I'm pretty sure it was the shot.

This storm may put a damper on our travel plans. I am not anxious to do that type of driving again soon, preferably not ever. Behind the ice storm, which wasn't suppose to hit quite this early, another blizzard is predicted. I love all of you back east and am looking forward to spending time with you, but I also want to keep everyone safe and that may mean postponing the first to ensure the second.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random Pictures

These are some random pictures from this fall. Maria had to dress up as a cook for the medieval feast at school last week. The picture doesn't do justice to her costume, which was quite impressive. Thanks go to Regina and her daughters for providing many costume pieces to choose from. You can see our Christmas tree in the background. It turned out very nice thanks to my mom who mailed us a box full of ornaments that my kids had made for her over the years so we would have something to hang on the tree.

The next two are of the kids waiting for the bus right across the street from our house. This is a FFA (Future Farmers of America) field and it has now been harvested. We watch the sun rise over this field in the morning as we get ready for school.

The last picture is of Jon Felipe with his decorated gingerbread cookie. He also has one of these cool gingerbread hats that you see some of the other children wearing. He has been wearing his around the house all weekend. It was a very quiet weekend here. Saturday we had "a quiet day at home" and Jon Felipe even spent the whole day in his jammies. We played games, did puzzles, read books. It was very nice for all of us. The best part was JF was completely seizure-free all weekend!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Update - Friday

Jon Felipe had a great day today. He did not have any seizures. Plus, he was able to go to school for Gingerbread Day. When you are in second grade, some things are very important. Apparently Gingerbread Day is one of them. The staff sent me e-mails throughout the day so I would know things were going well and his teacher aide called me at the end of the day to let me know that it had been a good day.

Over the past couple days, I have gotten calls and e-mails from the teachers and even the principal of Jon's school asking how he was doing. I even had several people stop in my office at Dordt today to ask whether Jon was doing better. Apparently their kids came home from school and said they needed to pray for Jon (and that they really hoped he would not have to miss Gingerbread Day). We are definitely feeling that the school community loves and cares about our son. What a blessing!

Last night we attended the Unity H.S. Christmas Concert. The concert ended with the Hallelujah Chorus. Jon Felipe truly loves music and really enjoyed the concert, but he was absolutely enthralled with this song. He really wanted an encore so he could hear it again. We have recordings of Handel's Messiah and will have to play them for him, although I doubt if a recording can have the same impact as hearing it in person. I am so glad he was able to attend with us despite the seizures (we sat in the balcony so any seizures wouldn't bother others, plus the view from the balcony is really great).

Thank you so much for your prayers! It has meant a lot to know that so many people were praying for us. I'll keep you posted on developments.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


These last few days have been really rough for Jon Felipe as his seizures have greatly increased for some unknown reason. He typically has about two seizures a month. So, when he had a seizure on Monday, we weren't very concerned. Then he had another seizure on Tuesday. Wednesday he had four seizures, include one that lasted almost four minutes. Today he had seven seizures. As you can see, we are moving in the wrong direction. Having so many seizures is scaring him and he spent the past two days glued to my side.

Many of you have let us know that you are praying for him and we are grateful. Please continue to uphold us in prayer. We do have an appointment with a neurologist on January 4. Our doctor tried to get us seen sooner in light of this increase in seizures, but was not successful. They did, however, make an appointment with another doctor at Sanford Children's in Sioux Falls for this coming Monday for us. This doctor is not a neurologist, but I have heard very good things about him and I'll be glad to have him on the team.

I'm concerned, but the docs are less so. He just had a physical on Tuesday so we know he is healthy. Seizures are not a new thing for him. These are just "break through" seizures. That is, these are happening despite the fact that he is taking a medication that he has had success with in the past. He is at the max dose of this med for his weight so the doc is not comfortable increasing his dose. It may be that we will have to add a second drug to his routine. At least, I am hoping it is an easy answer like that.

Dordt is finished for the semester so I can hang out with Jon Felipe as much as I want. I do have some grading to finish, but grades aren't due until next week. JF stayed home from school yesterday and today. We are really hoping he can make it to school tomorrow; however, I have to say that even if having so many seizures in class weren't an issue, he is so out of it from the seizures that I'm not sure how much he would learn. He and I spent the day today making the same four puzzles over and over and over. It was way more fun than grading exams.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shots - Part 2

Update: After consulting with the health department, a different shot was recommended and Jon Felipe and I drove up to Hull this afternoon to get it. JF was totally in favor of "let's just get this over with." He was very proud of himself; he didn't cry at all. Tonight he had another seizure, not sure if that is from the shot, the anxiety about the shot, or just because. He did have a seizure yesterday too. He has only gained a pound or two since this summer so I don't think that's it.


When you adopt a kid at age 7 from another country, you can't expect him to be completely up to date on the suggested schedule of vaccinations. After we got back to the U.S. with Jon Felipe, our pediatrician's office worked out a plan to bring him up to date on his shots. We moved through that schedule quite slowly as we were also dealing with poor seizure control and were in the process of switching meds, so we didn't want to complicate things too much. I honestly don't know if he finished that schedule or not.

Thus, when the school nurse called to say that it appeared he needed to get some shots, I was thinking she was could well be right. I called his doctor's office here and made an appointment. He needed a med check anyway and I told the nurse that he probably needed to get some shots while we were there, but I wasn't sure. I was told that they would check out the shot situation and let us know at our appointment. I'm guessing they didn't realize his shot record is a little different than most and didn't realize they really did need to take a little time to review it before we came in.

I had prepped Jon Felipe to expect shots. He was very nervous. His blood pressure was much higher than normal. He told me he was going to cry. I assured him that would be okay. I did promise McDonald's for lunch after our appointment. Unfortunately, no one had checked the chart beforehand, so we had to wait in nervous anticipation for about 30 minutes while they tried to figure out which shots he should get. Finally, we were told that he is now too old for most of the shots he hadn't gotten yet and the one he should still get has to be special ordered (he needs something different than the standard one because of his age). All that angst for nothing. We still hit McDonald's for lunch. We both earned it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Good Weekend

We had a fun and busy weekend. On Friday night we attended a great Christmas concert at Dordt. On Saturday night we attended the Dordt faculty/staff Christmas celebration. My division was in charge this year, so Dwight and I and the kids spent some time Saturday morning helping with the set up and decorating. The kids enjoyed helping and everything looked just lovely for the party Saturday evening. Of course, the kids stayed home while we went and enjoyed a nice evening with colleagues.

Maria also got to spend time with a new friend this weekend. Regina, the bringer of so many good things, introduced Maria to M on Monday night at the Christmas dessert night. The two girls were practically best friends from the moment they met. They are both 12, both in the sixth grade, both adopted. Maria tells me they like all the same things and dislike all the same things. They don't attend the same school, but M only lives a few blocks from here so the girls can still spend lots of time together outside of school.

Maria went over to M's house on Saturday afternoon and the two girls did whatever 12-year-old girls do. I'm sure it involved lots of giggling. They also went sledding as it was such a beautiful day. Maria ended up staying there for supper and going with their family that evening to a living nativity event in a nearby town. They were transported in a horse-drawn wagon to each stop. Maria loved the whole thing, but especially noted the inclusion of a live llama. I would like to think that this was because she was wondering about the likelihood of llamas being present at Christ's birth, but I'm pretty sure it was because she had never seen a live llama before.

We are still working out the church thing. It has been suggested that we spend about six weeks at each church and I think we are going to try that. Jacob says that whichever church we go to first will be the one we join as we won't want to leave after six weeks. We plan to start the extended visit thing after the Christmas break. I don't know yet which church we will start at. I'm guessing it might be hard to get consensus on that.

As usual, Jacob and Tony also came by to spend the evening with us. I love that they enjoy doing this. A colleague lent us a new game to try and it was a big hit. The game is Ticket to Ride. The maximum number of players is five and we had seven, but Maria and Jon Felipe were tired and not very interested in playing so that worked out. For the record, Tony and I tied for first place. We may get this as a family gift this Christmas. For those of you familiar with this game, do you prefer the original version or the one set in Europe?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Adoption Group

Last night, Dwight and I had a chance to go a meeting of the adoption support group at First Reformed Church. We learned about this group back in November when we went to a Sunday service there celebrating adoption. We weren't sure how the group worked, but last night was designed to provide information about resources for adoptive families and we figured we could always use a few more resources.

Members of the group had gathered together a large number of books related to adoption and different people in the group gave a little information about particular books they had found helpful. They talked about a variety of books, including books for parents, inspirational books, and children's books. Even just a few years ago when we adopted Maria, there weren't a lot of good children's books about being adopted. I was pleased to see so many really nice picture books about adoptive families.

I did hear about many books that I would like to read; maybe I'll have some time over Christmas break. They thoughtfully gave us a book list so it will be easy to go back and find the books I was interested in. I also hope to get a few of the children's books. We only had a couple and they were lost in the flood. Someone in the group also put together a resource page of helpful websites for adoption issues which I haven't even had a chance to look at yet.

The best part, though, was meeting all the people. There were families with a variety of adoption experiences: domestic, international, infant, older child, foster. One women held a tiny 10-day old baby, her 13th foster baby so far this year. One lovely woman comes to the group mainly to be a support to families adopting from Ethiopia. She is now retired, but spent most of her life as a missionary to Africa, mainly Sudan and Ethiopia. It was so fun to meet everyone and hear about their experiences. We are really looking forward to getting together with this group again next month.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Jon Felipe is using lots of English now and most of his conversation at home is a combination of English and Spanish. We still enjoy practicing our Spanish together, though. I usually say the word in Spanish and he tells me the meaning in English. He thinks this is a great game. In his class the other day, the teacher was reading a book that had some Spanish words and she asked the class if anyone knew what the word "rojo" meant. He responded immediately with "red." He never talks in class so everyone was doubly impressed. He was so pleased with his contribution and the positive class reaction, that he came home and told me all about it at great length.

He has also picked up some favorite English words and phrases. He seems to like how certain words sound and he says them often. A big favorite for the past couple months has been "Hallelujah." If anyone shares anything interesting or good that happened to them during the day, this is his usual response. Another word he particularly likes is "Hosanna." Instead of saying "No way Jose" he says "No way Hosanna." He has a friend named Jamaica and likes to say that word too (or maybe he just has a crush on Jamaica :-) His new favorite phrase to say when things don't go his way is, "Shoot a pickle." I have no idea where he picked that up, but it makes us smile every time he says it.

Another Felipe-ism is to say that something has been "Feliped." This isn't something Jon Felipe says, but something he does. He is so curious about everything and has to check everything out, but he's not terribly gentle or cautious and things just don't always survive his scrutiny. Having only one hand that works well doesn't help either. So, if something in our house breaks or gets destroyed under mysterious circumstances, we say it has been Feliped. If you ask him, he always admits to the deed and sincerely says "sorry," but that doesn't necessarily stop him from checking out the next interesting thing he comes across.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It is blizzarding here. The wind is battering against our little house, whistling and moaning and rattling all the windows. It is amazing how loud it is. When everyone got home from school, there was a small snow drift in the living room because the front door doesn't fit quite right. Dwight soon made some adjustments and now only a little bit of snow gets through, forming a tiny hill just inside the door. After the blizzard quits, he plans to get some materials and see if he can make the door fit better.

The schools had a two hour early dismissal today because of the weather and a two hour late start is planned for tomorrow. The kids are very excited about that. Unfortunately, a lot of sports activities and Christmas events also got cancelled. Some of my students were hoping I might have to cancel class if the weather is bad tomorrow and were disappointed to learn that I live close enough to walk to school. Like most colleges where many of the students live on campus, I've been told that Dordt never cancels class for weather.

An Iowa blizzard seems very different from a Michigan blizzard. It is very, very cold here and the force of the wind is amazing. Because of the open fields across from our house, snow drifted over the street stranding several cars. Fortunately, just as I was suggesting that we go out and help all these poor unfortunate people, someone with a snow plow came by and cleared the road. There were enough stranded people that they had plenty of pushers available and they all were able to get on their way without us having to put on our boots and brave the elements.

After such a long, mild autumn, I was unprepared for this sudden plunge into arctic weather. Everyone warned me that it was coming, but I guess I hoped that this year would be the exception. It does make me a little worried about making the drive back "home" for Christmas. It also makes me think maybe I should start looking for jobs in places like Albuquerque or maybe Hawaii.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I love Sundays. We pick up Jacob and Tony for church in the morning. Usually they go back to their dorm after church and then come by us again in the evening. We have dinner together, often homemade pizza, and spend time together. Lately we've been playing games. Last week we taught Tony how to play Five Crowns. This is a great family card game, in case anyone is looking for fun gift ideas. The past two weeks, Luke has won every game.

We still haven't picked a church. We have visited a lot of churches. The problem is too many choices. They are all great churches and we would probably be happy in any of them. We've sort of narrowed it down to two, based on very unscientific decision making. One is a very young church, meets in the high school two blocks from our house, and is more contemporary. About half the congregation seems to be Dordt students, so I don't know how many actual members there are. Luke knows some kids at this church and has attended their youth group.

The other is a little more traditional, still uses the organ. Maria and Jon already have lots of friends in this congregation. A large contingent of Dordt profs go here, so I know lots of people. We always have lots of people to talk to after church so it "feels" friendlier. On the other hand, I already know lots of people in this church so we wouldn't get to meet a lot of new people if we joined this church. Both churches have small groups, which I think would be a good way for Dwight and I to get connected, and both have Sunday School and typical church programs for the kids.

Choices, choices. Any advice on choosing a church?