Saturday, December 17, 2011

5 years old, 4 years home!

Anya Rashi's birthday is a little unique -- Peter and I first met her and held her on December 12, but we've always celebrated her Homecoming Day on December 16, which is also her birthday. That is the day we flew home and we were all together for the first time as a family of five, under the same roof.

We celebrated all day long! First, she got to bring a treat to preschool. She chose grape-and-cheese kabobs to balance out her favorite Christmas treat: candy canes. Then, our local Christian radio station has a birthday club -- and she received a gift certificate from them for a free meal at Subway. So lunch was extra special too.

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for dinner. We had family over for the meal of Anya Rashi's choice: Chicken Makhani, Jasmine rice, salad and root beer. After asking for birthday cupcakes for birthdays 2, 3 and 4, she changed course and asked for cake pops this year. She's seen them at Starbucks, and on her cribmate Devi's blog . . . so we tried our hand at them, after finding some instructions online. They were a big hit!

Anya Rashi, you hold such a special place in our family and in our hearts! Your grandma always says our family was like a puzzle missing a piece, and you filled it perfectly. Your Daddy and I love watching you with your brothers, watching as you've spread your wings in preschool this year, watching your very animated face as you talk about . . . well, anything!

I always seem to do a "numbers" game on your birthday -- I can't help but calculate the percentage of your life that you've been with us compared to the time you spent in an orphanage. As of yesterday, we've been blessed to have you for 80% of your life! Kind of goofy, I know . . . but I think it each year just the same.

And now, you are also a sign of hope as we wait for your sister: your sparkle, joy, and enthusiasm -- and the miraculous fact of your presence -- brings us much hope through the long wait for our next daughter. Just by being you, by being here, you give us reassurance about God's timing for our second adoption.

We love you, and are so grateful you are our daughter.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The week of Christmas craziness

We're right in the middle of a week-long Christmas crush. I'm an introvert, and too much activity wears on me, so I'm glad the busiest part of our Christmas season is over . . . but I've also really enjoyed the things we chose to do.

Our church's Christmas musical production was last Wednesday through Sunday. Peter is the director, and every year I am amazed at how he pulls a group of people together to put on a show -- acting, singing, lighting, sound, live animals -- that is enjoyed by over 3,500 people. He is one talented man.

Because there is a live nativity included at some point in each year's play, there is a petting zoo before the show. Thankfully, the donkey and camel are not part of the petting options -- just miniature sheep, goats, bunnies, chickens and a tortoise. (Incidentally, the tortoise is just along for the ride and isn't in the show!) It's such a gift to experience it through my kids' eyes -- they absolutely love getting to hold and pet the animals, and then they get to see them in the production. Total wonder and delight!

This year I was sad not to take my usual "date" to the show -- my 93-year-old neighbor, Ann. She is a woman with an amazing life story, and she's been my date for the show every year since we moved here. She was hospitalized Sunday morning with an infection, so for the first time in 8 years we didn't see the musical together. Anya Rashi is fond of her because she gives out Pez candy each time we visit. :o) She's back home now, doing well, thankfully.

Then on Saturday, Aaron and Nathan performed two concerts with our city's boychoir . . .which brought on sobbing fits from Anya Rashi because it's a more formal setting, and she had to wear (gasp!) a dress. After the tears, she gave me the stink-eye and reminded me that she only wears a dress on Christmas Day and Easter.

The boys have a rehearsal tomorrow night because they're singing at services this weekend, along with a few other kids. And also Peter and some choir members are singing at a nursing home tonight.

Through most of this, I am the "hub" of the family "wheel," making sure that everyone gets where they need to be and has food and clean clothes. Until this Monday: then we threw my volunteer work with at-risk young women into the mix -- after putting together 24 gifts, I went with two other volunteers to bring Christmas gifts to some of the women last night. We will deliver another 24 gifts in the next two weeks, but other people are "on duty" those nights.

It made for one crazy week, but I'm glad it was all crammed into the first part of December. From here on out, I am looking forward to some peaceful weeks leading up to Christmas. Any further craziness I experience will involve making cookies, addressing Christmas cards, and wrapping presents . . . I'm looking forward to days of quieter anticipation, all at home, in front of our own Christmas tree. Which sounds just right.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Adoption is hard, but that's okay

During both of our adoption processes, more than one well-meaning person has commented on our adoption by saying, "You're having a baby the easy way!" I know what they mean -- we are bringing a child into our family without morning sickness, stretch marks, or labor.

Sometimes, I've joked right back that my labor will be the 24+ hours of travel, planes and airports with a child who just met me, who may or may not get airsick all over my shirt (I'm lookin' at you, Anya Rashi!). Other times, my patience wears thin, and I want to be brutally honest and tell them exactly how "easy" it is to wait 2 1/2 years, and be no closer to our daughter than when we began.

But we weren't expecting it to be easy, and most days we actually feel some measure of peace about the wait -- because our daughter will be worth it. I recently read words from a mom who said it much better than I ever could:

Adoption should be hard. We are glad it is hard. And no matter how hard, how painful, how steep the cost . . . It doesn't come close to the value of the life of this one precious human being.
-- Susanna (Katie's mom),

It occurred to me that her words also reflect the heart of God about each one of us. Christ willingly endured the steepest cost so that I could be adopted into God's family, and He waited patiently, lovingly, for 21 years until I joined His family at last. I'm sure that He even shed tears during that wait, wondering why I was taking so long to come home to Him . . .

Much to my amazement, the God of the universe thinks that you and I are worth it, worth all the pain and waiting, worth the terrible cost of Calvary. And there is rejoicing in heaven whenever one of us joins God's family at last.

My mom always told me that anything worthwhile is usually hard. Adoption is hard. Susanna knows that -- and we know it too. But that's okay, because she is worth it.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inspiration from the Solomon family

Last week, we received an early "gift" of 2 inches of snow. Usually we get our first snow in the 'teens of November, but it melts right away. Not this time! Anya Rashi and Nathan LOVE snow, so while I shoveled they created a snow jack-o-lantern. I just had to jump in and help make a snow rabbit. Meanwhile, Peter was at a conference in Florida, and kept e-mailing us pictures of palm trees.

In the midst of National Adoption Awareness Month, I wanted to pass along an amazing story. The Solomons adopted their son Daniel from Romania at age 7, after he spent his entire life in a truly terrible orphanage situation. While most families have an easier path to attachment and bonding, they did not. Their story is one of relentless love, perseverance and refusing to give up. It is especially compelling because Daniel talks too -- is it a rare chance to hear from an older adoptee about the sometimes difficult journey to becoming a family.

I feel a need to share their story because I have read so many celebratory adoption posts this month. I love adoption, and I am happy to celebrate it, but I"ve noticed how most of the blog posts have presented only a rosy picture of adoption. I know there are families out there who are really struggling now that their kids are home, and often they feel like failures . . . and they feel so alone. Please pass along this link to anyone you know who is having a difficult adjustment with their child. I would love to help people know that there is always room for hope in seemingly impossible situations, and that other people have had huge struggles too.

The Solomons' portion of the program begins about 9 minutes into the broadcast of This American Life, and lasts 27 minutes. It is so worth listening to. Here's the link:

*I'm having trouble with the link! If you copy it, it should work though.

Monday, November 7, 2011


November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

If you're a long-time blog friend, you might remember that I pulled a nightstand off the curb last fall. Someone was finished with it and put it out on trash day. It had obviously been forgotten in an attic or basement for a long time, and had the cobwebs and grime to prove it. Underneath the dust, however, was good solid wood, so into my van it went. While the fall weather was still nice enough, Anya Rashi and I spent part of an afternoon washing, sanding, and priming it.

After a few months deciding what to do with it, inspiration hit. I gathered supplies and I began creating a mosaic on the table top. It takes a long time to cover 12" x 18" surface with bits of glass and tile, but it's so worth it. Inch by inch, I can see a beautiful treasure emerging.

This is the perfect time to work on it, before another inquisitive toddler joins our family. It's also been a powerful symbol of adoption for me as we wait.

Like the nightstand, our new daughter has been left alone. Through tragedy, poverty, or situations I can only guess about, she has no family to care for her. Despite her circumstances, though, she is not forgotten. She is valued and remembered by the One who created her, and she is longed for by everyone in our family. Inch by inch, as slowly as the glass and tiles cover my table top, we are getting closer to our treasure -- and she is so worth the wait. If only the journey to her was as easy as driving by and scooping her up . . .

And then she will be alone no more! We will lavish our love and attention on her, and after time allows her to trust us, the treasure of her personality will emerge, inch by inch. And that will be more beautiful than anything I can create with my two hands.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fun photos

Here are a few photos from Diwali and Halloween!

Anya Rashi and I wore our favorite Indian outfits for our Diwali dinner. Unfortunately, the boys have long outgrown theirs. (Must be time for another trip to India to get some new ones . . .) Anya Rashi's outfit comes courtesy of our friend Priya, who visited her family over the summer and was kind enough to bring back a new outfit for our growing girl.

The strange creatures you see are Snow White (who must hold up her skirt in every photo, like the real princess she is), a Mad Scientist (wearing an old doctor's coat from Aunt Alicia), and of course, Darth Vader. Last year's trick-or-treat costumes were all homemade, but I ran out of steam this year! This will be a short post, because I need to go raid some candy buckets . . .

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In honor of Diwali: book & recipe

Miss New IndiaJust in time for the first day of Diwali, I thought I'd post a book review and a recipe.

The book is Miss New India, by Bharati Mukherjee. The author is Bengali, which I appreciate since Anya Rashi was born in Kolkata and shares that heritage. It's been fun to learn a few Bengali words, especially family words (baba is father, didi is big sister, etc.) through her writing. Many of her novels deal with the experiences of Indians who have emigrated to America -- and are also thoughtful explorations of family ties, culture, and identity.

Miss New India, however, takes place within India. At first glance, it is a classic storyline about a young woman moving from a small town to the big city. It is deeper and richer than that simple description, however. The main character, Anjali, is also leaving behind a traditional life and exchanging it for a more modern (and much more ambiguous) identity. The city of Bangalore, where she ends up, is almost a character in itself -- dynamic, pulsing with technology, and fueled by the energy of young people pouring in every day to work in call centers and other new industries. But she also encounters the dark side of life in a large city, and finds that things and people are not always what they seem.

Prospective readers should know that Mukherjee is an author who allows bad things to happen to her characters -- and this book is definitely reading for adults. But it is a very rewarding glimpse into Indian culture which is changing and growing by the second. Ultimately, the book is about rebirth: the rebirth of Anjali, of her hometown and personal history, and of India.

Now for the recipe! I've posted more traditional recipes in the past, but this time I wanted to feature a chicken recipe that's Indian-inspired, rather than strictly authentic. Many of us have family members who can't eat spicy food, or are afraid to try new kinds of cuisine. This easy dish is very friendly to the uninitiated, and gives them the flavor of curry without the heat.

Easy Mild Curried Chicken
(and thanks for the recipe, Michelle M.!)

12 chicken drumsticks, skinned OR 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
(salted and peppered to your taste)
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. dijon or brown spicy mustard
1 Tbsp. curry powder

Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients. Place chicken pieces in baking dish and spoon sauce over chicken. Bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour, turning chicken pieces over halfway through baking time.

Happy Diwali -- enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Field trip "firsts"

Last Friday, Anya Rashi was very excited about her first field trip ever! Her Pre-K class went to a local apple orchard on a "real school bus! But it didn't have any seat belts." The children learned how apple trees grow, learned the proper way to pick apples, and loaded them into the apple polisher. Everyone snacked on dried apples and received an apple-shaped water bottle.

I'm happy to tell you that Anya Rashi is no longer crying at the start of the school day! After two weeks (and one agonized blog post), she turned on a dime and was just fine at drop off. She literally ran happily into her room without a backward glance. It was kind of comical -- her teacher, Mrs. R, looked at me and said, "What did you DO?", as if I had discovered some secret of the universe. :o)

Actually the answer is two-fold: that Monday, I used shameless bribery. Grandma had brought over a box of fruit snacks, a rare treat for her. I tucked a package in my purse, and said if she could muster up a smile at drop-off time, she could have the fruit snacks when I picked her up. And then, answer number two is that she is a little social butterfly now! As soon as she knew some of her classmates a little better, she couldn't wait to go into her Pre-K room and play with them each day.

The other field trip was for Peter and me. We were contacted by Show Hope about volunteering at a concert near us. Show Hope is the adoption grant agency started by Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife Mary Beth. (We were grant recipients in 2010.) But Show Hope does so much more than just grants -- they've built a hospital in China to help children with special needs, and many of them have now been adopted because big medical barriers were taken care of. They also assist families in the US who do foster care and foster-to-adopt.

One thing that I hadn't heard about before especially moved me: part of the hospital is for palliative care. They give special care and love to children who are dying. When nothing can be done medically, the workers make sure the children are held, loved, and made as comfortable as possible every day of their too-short lives.

We were honored to be able to volunteer and give back in some small way. We got to provide information about becoming a sponsor for Show Hope, and assist people with making a donation during the intermission. One of the best parts of the evening was connecting with the other volunteers, some of whom were other adoptive families. One family had a teenaged daughter who has only been home for 10 months. Another family had siblings from Ethiopia who've been home 20 months, and they live near us.

The whole evening was wonderful. If you'd like to find out more about Show Hope, you can find them at

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Blah," said Toad

Anya Rashi and Eliza

Since Friday, I've been trying to decide if I feel like Charlie Brown when Lucy keeps pulling the football away just as he tries to kick it . . . or if I feel like Toad of "Frog & Toad" fame. I think Toad wins. BLAH.

Along with other families adopting from India, we have received some bad news. Again. All families from outside India were supposed to re-submit our dossiers and a few other documents by October 1, after which date we would be assigned to a particular orphanage -- and then be matched with a child.

On Friday, however, we learned that there is a backlog of 550 families within India who must be processed first. While we think it is ideal for children to stay in their birth country -- and we are praying that they find families soon -- it was so hard to hear that our adoption is delayed yet again. Our new deadline is December 31, and the Central Adoption Resource Agency in India is not guaranteeing that anything will happen then either. Needless to say, we were heartsick reading that e-mail.

We were actually sitting at a table with Anya Rashi at our favorite Indian restaurant when Peter glanced at a new e-mail on his phone. He decided to read it during our lunch, which told me it was something very important. (Later, he told me that he had thought it was going to be good news about our dossier arriving in India.) Then I watched as his face fell, and he shared the news about the delay. Our eyes filled with tears, and Anya Rashi asked us what was wrong. We explained that we were having a day when we were missing her little sister, just like she sometimes does. Trying to help us feel better, she chirped, "Well, you don't have to worry about me today -- I'm not having one of those days right now."

We never dreamed that this process would take so long. Anya Rashi's adoption took 2 years and 1 month, and now we're coming up on 2 1/2 years with no end in sight. It is very difficult and so painful to know that millions of children in India need a family, and we are ready and willing to love one of them . . . but we have no control over when that will happen. We can only ask that you join us in praying for something miraculous to happen to speed up the process.

On Saturday, Anya Rashi had this discussion with her friend Eliza:
Eliza: Are you sure your little sister is ever going to get here?
Anya Rashi: Remember those really old people in the Bible who had a baby?
Nancy: Do you mean Sarah and Abraham?
Anya Rashi: Yes! So if God says we're going to get our baby sister, then it's going to come true.

Aside from the slightly unflattering comparison to the elderly Sarah and Abraham (!), we are taking heart from that truth: if God says it's going to come true, then it is going to come true. We are deeply saddened right now, but trying to rest in that truth.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First day of Pre-K

Well, in the midst of the marathon fundraiser, the youngest member of the Appleton family experienced a very important "first." Our Anya Rashi began Pre-K, under the expert care of Mrs. R and Mrs. E, who also taught Aaron and Nathan.

She was very excited, and I was very nervous. Typically, Anya Rashi has not done well with new "group" experiences. Sunday school was a complete no-go for a long time, and we didn't push it. Many children who have been in an orphanage or institutional setting have trouble with group experiences, so we were in no hurry.

When she was 2 1/2, we decided to try again, and I volunteered all summer in her class, which helped a lot. Eventually, we found that she liked a particular teenaged helper, Miss Michaela, and then she was just fine. When she had to change rooms after her 3rd birthday, we went with what worked, and found a new teenaged helper to take Anya Rashi under her wing. Another thing that helped her was "helping" one of the teachers at the check-in/roll call table. Now, Miss Elizabeth is her special friend in the 4's class, and she goes with a smile on her face.

Wish I could say the same for Pre-K! After being very excited before arriving, she became clingy and tearful at the door. I thought it was just first-day jitters, and wasn't too upset. But now she's been there for 2 weeks, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and last Friday was the hardest drop off yet. One day, she ran and got a photo of me and Peter to keep in her backpack so she wouldn't miss us . . . but it didn't seem to help. There has been one day where she had no tears -- she was SO excited to tell her teachers about Daddy's marathon -- but all the other days have been teary. Once she's inside the room, she calms down pretty quickly (within one minute -- I am watching behind the one-way window!), except for last Friday. She was sobbing and it took her 5 minutes to settle in.

We will see how this week goes -- I hate seeing her upset, but I know we have to get ready for Kindergarten next year (not to mention the new sister in the mix!). I am hoping and praying that it becomes a fun, happy place for her soon. I think I will tell her teachers about Sunday school, and if they will let her be their "helper" right away in the morning, like she did at Sunday school.

Does anyone have any tips for making this easier for her? I'd love to hear them!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marathon man

This is a long post, but it has a very happy ending, so bear with us!

I am pleased to announce that Peter successfully ran his first marathon! I am so proud of all the hard work he put in, and I fell in love with him all over again as I witnessed his perseverance and dedication. My sister Alicia joined him at mile 21 and helped make the last grueling miles a little easier. I have to say that he smiled a lot for someone running 26.2 miles -- he was smiling when we met him on the course, and other friends said the same thing.

Our relay team did their work without a hitch too, and everyone did a great job with the transfers (and clocked some pretty fast times too!). When our daughter is old enough, I hope she will be touched that Lisa, Colin, Aunt Mary and Aunt Alicia were willing to run for her.

My brother Matt joined the fun by volunteering for marathon safety patrol -- he and others rode motorcycles along the course to help watch for runners in trouble, or any other problems. So many people love this child already, even though they haven't even gotten a glimpse of her face yet.

But enough from me! Here are some observations from Peter himself:

First of all, let me thank Nancy and my kids for all of their support as I trained for this race. Their love, encouragement and gift of time allowed me to train slowly but surely for the race over the last 8 months. I will never forget how they cheered me on as I faced both success and set backs. Thank you, my love and my family, for believing in me.

It was a very satisfying race. I stuck to my game plan and only walked for 30-45 seconds or so at water stations every 2 miles, along with a few hills. Other than that, I ran -- albeit slowly! -- the whole time. At the last turn, Alicia and I were joined by relay team members Lisa and her son Colin. We crossed the finish line together at 6 hours, 21 minutes. As we crossed I shouted out "for our daughter!" and started to cry.

I talked briefly with a some amazing people along the course. There was a woman from Kansas in her 70s who was running her 110th marathon. Another man from Tokyo, Japan was running his 600th marathon. Wow.

Miles 16-21 were the most challenging for me mentally, and it was difficult to keep focused. I just kept thinking about our daughter-to-be, wondering what she looks like . . . her eyes, her smile.

It was very inspiring to see friends, people from our church, and family along the way, cheering me on from the sidelines. Thanks so much for supporting me and praying for me as I trained and ran the race. It was such a picture of what we should do for each other through all of life, all the way to the finish line. It made me think of Isaiah 40:31: "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not grow faint."

And both of us must somehow try to convey the depth of our gratitude to everyone who donated to our marathon fundraiser. Too many times to count, we have been moved to tears by the generosity of our families and our friends. Your love for our child is humbling and so appreciated.

Friends from Oregon, Kenya, Chicago, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio joined with us in spirit as they prayed and gave from afar. Our families, and many friends from church who are passionate about caring for orphans also astonished us with their generosity. The teachers at our sons' school took up a collection, and a relative put out a donation jar at her workplace. Any words we can think of seem inadequate to express how much we want to thank each of you.

And we keep on being surprised -- today, the day after the race, a few more people have given a donation. We are thrilled to announce that the total funds raised so far are an incredible $10,063.60.

Originally our hope was to raise $9,000 and that seemed like a pretty lofty goal at the time. I wish we could find some way to describe how much you have blessed us. Your generosity is a huge help meeting our upcoming adoption fees and travel costs.

Thank you. In the end, that's really all we can say. Thank you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Almost race day!

Like the photo? Sorry to disappoint, but it's not Peter. Earlier this summer, Peter and my sister Alicia ran a half-marathon called The Cheesehead Half -- and one runner wore a cheesehead for the entire race. Now that's some Wisconsin pride.

Just doing a quick post to say that this is the weekend Peter and our relay team will run 26.2 miles! We will post photos from the marathon, along with our fundraising total. I truly can't begin to tell you how overwhelmed we are by the support of our family and friends. I'm tearing up just typing this . . . thank you so much, everyone.

Please keep Peter, Lisa, Colin, Mary and Alicia in your prayers as they run!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Snakes & stuff

Aaron and Nathan helped make a dirt cake, in keeping with his party theme. The finished product is pictured below.

We have a birthday boy at our house. Aaron turned 11, and celebrated with a snake party. He has always loved anything that crawls, flies, swims, or slithers. And we happen to know someone who has a steady supply of pet snakes, so a party theme was born!

One of my 40+ cousins (my dad is one of 11 siblings!) is a member of the local Herpetology Club, so he and his wife were the "entertainment." They are reptile rescue people for the humane society -- they house lizards, snakes, and other critters that the humane society isn't equipped to care for, until a new home can be found. The kids had a ball holding snakes and lizards, and learning about their habits, diet, and life cycle.

For a few years now, our sons have chosen to collect for a charity instead of receiving gifts. This year, Aaron chose a charity called Feed My Starving Children, that ships meals for hungry people around the world. Each meal costs 24 cents, so Aaron's friends all brought quarters instead of gifts -- enough to provide over 274 meals! The kids were all cheering each time the total went up -- they are a sweet bunch.

If you noticed, Anya Rashi is nowhere to be found in the outdoor/snake photos. After eating cake, she and her friend Sarah decided snakes weren't their thing, and went off to play with dollies and other more civilized things!

And just in case we hadn't gotten our fill of creatures, a neighbor gave the kids a monarch chrysalis. We waited several days, then watched the butterfly break out. We walked down to a nearby prairie planting at our neighborhood school and set it free. It was magical!

Happy birthday, Aaron! You are such a gift to us. We love your curiosity, your keen mind, your sense of humor, your compassion, and the wisdom you have that belies your years. Our eleven years with you have been a joy.

* * * * * *

In other news, Peter ran 20 miles this weekend to prepare for the marathon! I am amazed by that number! He's ready to go . . . please keep his run, his health, and his stamina in your prayers.