Wintered out of a winter fest

January has been quite the boring month in our house.

Mostly because our area has received a slightly gigantic amount of snow over the past few weeks. Our students went back to school on Thursday after FIVE snow days in a row! My husband hurt his back shoveling. I've been inside our house with Arie for all eternity. It's really cold out.

We did try to venture out and enjoy the winter wonderland last weekend. A neighboring town was having a winter festival. How fun! we thought. We told our friends and we all planned to go, little ones bundled up in tow. There was going to be a snow man building competition, ice skating, human dog sled racing... I couldn't wait! My mind was filled with images of people filled streets, hot chocolate stands, decorations galore, maybe some background music to accompany the click swish click swish of skates on ice... generally winter festival happiness.


The winter festival got wintered out. Along with most of the population in our state, our friends all got snowed in so they couldn't go. We live close to our city center so the plows came by early for us and we decided to brave the cold and hit up the festival just the three of us.

It started with a twenty minute search for Arie's mittens. Of course we dressed Arie in boots, snow pants, his winter coat, hat and hood before we realized the mittens were missing, so he almost sweated to death in the middle of Michigan's arctic vortex while we searched.

We recovered by fishing out an old pair from last winter from our basement and stuffing his little paws in there.

We made the short drive over to the winter festival to discover that our friends apparently weren't the only ones who couldn't make it. People filled streets, hot chocolate stands and festive winter music there was not.
"I hope we can find parking when we get there." - Me.
We did. 
Where are the tumbleweeds?? 
Whomp Whomp

There were some very happy children and parents having fun participating in the snow man building competition. We put all our efforts into making that fun. 

"Look Arie!! Snow men!!"

His face was too frozen to smile.

Still too frozen.

After about 45 seconds of looking at the snow men, none of us could feel our extremities and we decided to go get some hot chocolate and salvage the trip out. We got a window seat (technically the window seat) at a small bakery where Arie was able to pick out a treat....

... a snowman cookie. Wonder where that inspiration came from?

Arie's hot chocolate was of course too hot to drink so John and I spent twenty minutes blowing on the cup to cool it down.

Then we went home.

So not all family outings are magical.

At least we have lots more snow in February to look forward to!!!!!!!




How dare I worship?

Painting by Zhaoming Wu

Before the holidays John and I took Arie along with John's mom to see a Christmas ballet performance. The dances were choreographed to Christmas hymns and carols about the Savior's birth. The whole thing was profoundly beautiful; the kind of experience that moves you so deeply you find yourself holding your breath or blinking back tears.

Sometimes witnessing something so beautiful can leave you feeling entirely optimistic and satisfied. Often though, the most beautiful things abide within a strange tension between darkness and light: despair and hope. I felt that tension sitting in my seat, watching the ballet. In fact, as the dancers leaped and bowed, spun and slowed, I found a surprising thought recurring in my mind:

How dare they? 

I wasn't thinking it in the typical accusatory manner; rather, I asked it with a sense of awe. The songs to which they danced weren't happy little holiday tunes; they were songs with revelatory lyrics and the most penetrating music. Songs like Oh Come Oh Come Immanuel which encompasses the hope of Christmas but more truly the deep, deep historical longing, the exile, and the desperation that anticipated Christ's birth. It was probably that hollowing music that caused me to wonder how those dancers (and choreographers, and directors, and singers and song writers) dared do something so beautiful in a world too often dark and cold.

Even as I sat joyfully beside my little boy, home just one year from an orphanage, I heard in the long calls of the cello the cries of those children who wait endlessly for families of their own. I saw in the slow sweeping movements of the dancers, pictures of refugees who, because of long and cruel wars, are made to wander the earth in search of home. Even in the dark between each act, I felt the anticipatory ache of so many who for one of a thousand reasons wonder when- or if ever- the world will seem light again.

Yet even in the face of these hard realities, there was so much beauty. Even in the face of our tragic world, these young men and women dared to rise up and dance. And we dared to witness it. Together we dared to choose life, joy, hope, and beauty even as wars rage and orphans cry and the hollow ache inside threatens to undo us.

This is Christ. This is Christ who, in the face of sin, hurt, disease, despair, anger, and pain... in the face of mockers and of shame and of the nails that pieced his hands and of the blood and water that flowed from his side... in the face of that unmeasurable brokenness dared to rise from his grave in newness of life.

I believe those dancers danced unto Christ when they dared do something so beautiful in the face of our hard world. I believe the same for those who dare paint or sketch, photograph or sculpt, write music or type stories that are beautiful even in the face of of world that is so often not.

In this season of my life as I wade deep though the pain and unmet longing of infertility, I believe the same about worship. Though so much of this life seems dark to me now, I hear my God calling me to dare worship. To dare rise up and bless his name. To look into the face of all the dark and pain of infertility and yes even Satan himself and say with the scriptures,

 Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light (Micah 7:8).

Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. I dare repeat the ancient words of Job who said in his darkest hour:

Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
    I will surely defend my ways to his face (Job 13:15).

Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him. 

In my darkest hours when I despair to imagine what if my longing is left- for a lifetime- unfulfilled, I ask, "How can I worship?" How can I dare praise the name of the One who slays me? 

I dare with the dancers. I dare unto Christ who himself dared rise. I dare worship unto the future set before me in Christ- everlasting, abundant, joyful life. I dare because I know the truth of Psalm 30:5: 

...weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Friends, I do suffer. I do long for healing. My heart often feels broken on this journey. Yet I praise the LORD because in Christ, I am- as you are- able to look forward to eternal healing, to dance in the darkness because of the LORD is my light, to dare rise up and worship. 



After adoption: keeping your child's cultural heritage alive

It has been about 14 months since we brought our little boy Arie home from Moscow. Exploring our family's  adopted Russian heritage over the last year has been a pleasure, although not entirely without its challenges. Today I'm sharing what we've done to expose our family to all things Russian and how successful (or not!) those experiments have been.

I'm using the three categories of food, language, and culture to structure the post; for all you systematic thinkers out there, I realize these categories don't really make much sense because food and language are subsections of culture. I know- I'm killing you. Think of the word "culture" in this sense to describe the non-eating and non-speaking ways of Russian life. Kapeesh?

Here we go:


If you tell me that borscht is actually Ukranian I'll just put my hands over my ears and shout "LA LA LA LA!!!" In our house, borscht is Russian, or at least our primary culinary nod to our Russian heritage. We love borscht. In fact, even when Arie first came home from Moscow and would eat approximately three things (bananas, cheese, and yogurt), borscht was a hit! I will always remember how my heart sung as I watched my picky little eater slurp up spoonful after spoonful of that hearty red soup. Yum!
Fun game to play with toddlers in the kitchen: give them a sample of the ingredients and quiz them for the names! 
I am frequently asked what recipe we use. For us, it's always a vegetarian version and I go with one of two recipes. This one from the food blog Natasha's Kitchen or the borscht recipe found in one of my favorite recipe books Simply in Season

Proof of Arie's soup love affair:

As I've been experimenting with different Russian recipes, I've also- almost by accident- started cooking more recipes that aren't traditionally Russian but include traditionally Russian ingredients like potatoes, beets, cabbage, and rye flour. I say "by accident" because it happened one weekend after our friend Paul and his wife Lindsay had us up to their cottage for a few days. Paul loves to cook and as I was raving over the food he made for us, he showed me the cookbook he was using: Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. With his cookbook in one hand and my iphone in the other, I immediately placed my own amazon order and a few weeks later I had sautéed and baked my way through half the cookbook! Like I said, these are not specifically Russian recipes, but many of them incorporate those hearty and healthy Russian staples in a new and delicious way. That was quite a happy coincidence!

This summer I purchased a Russian food related memoir called Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen. I was excited to read this memoir because the author grew up in Moscow, which is where we adopted Arie. I thought of the story as a window into both his alternate future and also his birth mother's past. I am still excited to read it, however I have to confess to you that since the summer I have have developed a book attention deficit disorder; I've started a half dozen or so and finished approximately none of them.  You'll have to take an IOU on that book review.

Finally, we incorporated a new food tradition into our family which is that we cook and eat Russian foods for our Christmas Eve dinner. We just celebrated our second December as a family and our second annual December 24th Russian food feast. Both years we enjoyed easy and savory cabbage rolls as the main and a cold beet salad on the side. I changed up a few other sides and the dessert both years and will continue to do so. You can check out some of the recipes we tried and others we hope to on my Russian Food Pinterest board.
Our Christmas Eve dessert: Russian honey and poppy seed roll. 


My efforts to help Arie retain his Russian language have been something of a failure. I myself do not know any Russian besides a few basic words nor do I have time to truly dedicate myself to learning it and, as a result, I haven't been able to help Arie practice or retain his language. Despite the fact that he doesn't appear to remember much Russian, however, he still likes to watch the Russian language cartoon Masha and the Bear. We find the videos on youtube and watch them in Russian.

We also have three Russian Little Pim videos; Little Pim is a language learning program for kids. Arie does like watching the videos, but I'm not really sure if he is learning anything from them. He doesn't repeat the words in Russian unless I prompt him and he doesn't use any of the words in everyday life. Still, I'm going to keep watching them with him and see if anything sticks.
Little Pim DVDs and stuffed animal to the right.
On the left is a great pop up atlas- link below!
I feel wistful when I think about how Arie has lost his first tongue. I wish I knew better how to help him retain and learn it. At the same time, I try to give myself grace because we've been working so hard to help him catch up in English. I remind myself that he needs English more than Russian. When he's old enough to express interest, I have done some research about Russian language classes for kids (relatively) nearby; if he wants to re-learn it, I think it might be something we could accomplish together!


The first thing we ever did to start teaching Arie about Russian culture was simply go to the library and pick out a few children's books about Russian Culture. The books in our library are geared toward elementary aged kids, but we can still engage Arie with the pictures.
Library finds. 
One particularly memorable moment from our first weeks home with Arie was when we went to the library and saw on display a book about how Russians celebrate Christmas!  On that same trip to the library, I used the public computer to search for another book and wrote down the call number for my book on it. As I was checking out I flipped the scrap paper over and on the back was a photocopy of a newspaper clipping with a picture of an old man whose name was... Arie! Felt like something of a divine moment for me. Messages to remind me that both Arie's past and his future were being pulled together in our family.

Also from our library, we found this fantastic children's DVD called "Families of Russia" from a series called "Families of the World." The DVD follows two children through their daily activities: one from a rural place in Russia and one from a city. I think I loved the video more than Arie! And probably learned more too. I highly recommend this series for any adoptive family who can find their country represented!

Arie's baptism has been a touchstone of our efforts to learn more about Russia. We've been learning more and more about the Russian Orthodox faith and traditions, since Arie was baptized into the Russian Orthodox church when he was a baby. We have good friends Kelly and Dylan who are themselves Orthodox and function as Arie's honorary Orthodox godparents; they have helped us greatly in this area, teaching us and even buying Arie some Orthodox icons which hang in his room. One of the icons moves me when I see it as it is the same icon which hung in the director's office at Arie's orphanage! In addition, Arie wears a silver cross necklace which is a tradition of those who are baptized into the faith.
Morning of Arie's baptism renewal: wearing his cross necklace. 
Opening the icons from our friends at Arie's third birthday party. 

Back in November Kelly and Dylan, along with their son, joined us as we travelled an hour or so to a Russian Festival! We enjoyed listening to Russian folk music, watching our kids "dance" to the the traditional "balalaika," and eating hot soul-warming cabbage rolls. By coincidence, we went to the festival only days before the one year anniversary of bringing Arie home. John and I both felt emotional overhearing Russians speak in their native tongues; a language that sounds both strangely familiar and foreign in our ears.
Russian Festival 
Some music and dance for the kiddos! 

Russians are famous for loving and leading in ballet. The only ballet I had ever seen prior to bringing Arie home was watching one of my friends practice her dance in middle school. I had always wanted to acquire an appreciation for it and bringing home our little Russian seemed like the perfect opportunity! As a family we enjoyed a ballet performance for children when we celebrated our one year anniversary from our court date in Moscow last October.  We also went to a Christmas ballet with John's mom in December. Arie loved both and we are hoping to continue enjoying more performances as he grows! In addition to watching ballet, this fall Arie and I signed up for a "Mommy and Me" ballet class at a local studio. With a class full of 2 and 3 years olds you can imagine how much fun we had! I decided not to sign him up for the winter semester as the class was a repeat of what we already did, but we hope to see how he does in the preschool class this fall!

I made an attempt to introduce Arie to some Russian music with Meastro Classic's awesome recorded performance of Peter and the Wolf. Besides being Russian, this is a great way to introduce your child (and in my case- yourself!) to classical music. I don't know if this is a testament to my son's sensitive spirit or the power of music (or both!) but Arie is terrified of the "wolf" parts of this composition! Ha! So we've put our copy on the shelf for a few months until Arie matures enough to handle it. I look forward to that day!

Finally, we are slowly building a library of English language Russian story books. One of my favorite finds over Christmas was a book called, "The Miraculous Child" which is supposedly a folk tale (although one of my Russian blog readers told me that it is not actually a folk tale) about a Russian family who entertains an angel unaware. Whether or not it is a folk tale, it has Russian elements and illustrations and I think it is a beautiful nod to the country and to the Orthodox faith. We also love Lori Don's rendition of the popular Rusisan story Masha and the Bear.  It is currently one of Arie's favorite reads!


This is a bonus category because it is so small, but we are working on the simple task of being able to pick out Russia and Moscow on a map. If we use a familiar map like our favorite pop-up atlas, he can do it 9 times out of 10. A strange map though- less so. He'll get it soon! Once he knows Moscow we'll teach him Michigan too. As his brain is able to think more conceptually we'll teach him more about distances and travel. Right now he doesn't get it as is exemplified by his casual weekly request that we, "Go to Moscow after dinner." Ha!


That's our journey so far. If you've adopted a child from a culture different than your own, what are some things you've done to keep his or her heritage alive? To embrace it as a family? If you're a soon-to-be adoptive parent, what are some of your hopes and plans for this part of your adoption? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below or on facebook!



When to say when

Say when!
Last summer I read an advice article about starting fertility treatments. One of the main points of the article was this:

Before beginning treatment, you should sit down with your partner and talk about how far you are willing to go: what treatments you will consider and how much money you are willing to spend. 

That's probably good advice in theory. However, in reality it is difficult to do. The truth is that sometimes you don't really know how far- or not- you'll be willing to go to achieve your dream. Actually when I read that piece of advice last summer I talked to John about it and we both agreed that it was nearly impossible to make that decision ahead of time. There are so many variables: medical, financial, emotional, moral. We took a "one step at a time" approach.

"One step at a time" is a good way to do life, in my estimation. Especially the hard stuff. Sometimes the steps forward in fertility treatments are easy. The treatment I'm on now, for example, was easy to walk into: 10 little pills taken over 5 days. They cost $7. If this treatment works: hallelujah! If it doesn't, it was worth a try.

Others are very, very difficult. We talked with our fertility clinic about the cost of IVF. $12,000 per cycle. Most women are recommended to do up to three cycles. Then there's the emotional cost of spending your savings- or going into debt- and worrying about what you might regret if you're $30,000+ poorer and you've got nothing to show for it.

I'm not going to expand on the moral/ethical questions of fertility treatments, but there are those considerations too.

And then from a religious perspective, there's the question of what you feel God is calling you to do. I do not think God curses couples with infertility in order to make them adopt, however I do believe there is a holy wisdom couples need when they are considering how they should grow their family. When you are paying out of pocket like we are, you want to be wise in how you use your finances.

Each couple or person has to come to peace with their journey on their own. I've heard many women say that they got to the point where they realized what they really wanted was a baby and the pregnancy and biology didn't matter. Because I've heard that sentiment expressed over and over, I've spent a lot of time considering it and come to the hard realization that I can't say it. I wish I could. But I can't. I have- and love- motherhood. Adopting a toddler has been an incredible experience and I do find myself wondering if having a baby is really that important to me. I don't know the answer to that yet.

What I do know, however, is that the pregnancy is important to me. I ache so deeply to have a baby grow inside. It's not even the genetic link- we've even talked about embryo adoption for this reason- it's the biological tie. The tummy expansion. The kicks. The labor. The delivery. Breastfeeding. Nurturing and growing a child from the inside. That's what I want.

Yesterday a woman from our church gave her testimony, which included a long struggle with infertility. She talked about what it means to accept something even while you're still sad about it. She's had two biological children and had to accept that she'll never have another. She's sad about it, but accepting it has allowed her- and her husband- to start the process of adoption to grow their family.

That's the thing I'm praying about these days: asking God when do I accept infertility? How long do I keep fighting for my dream?

I know we're not there yet. I have so much hope for our treatment right now and peace about the journey we're on.

But I'm also watching my little boy get bigger and bigger without a sibling. I'm thinking about kindergarten in a year and a half and wondering what God has for me. I thought I'd be home with a couple little ones by then. Now I'm wondering what happens if we're still walking through this infertility journey. What will I do with myself? It seems impossible that I won't have a baby in my arms by then, but four years ago I didn't think we'd only be a family of three in 2014 either.

What do we want for our family?
What does God want for us?
How do we spend the resources we've been given?
How long should we continue with fertility treatments?
When do we make the decision to adopt again?
How do I know what desires God has given me for his purposes?
How do I know which desires I need to let die?
And of course.... always the "why?"

When to say when? 

Lots of questions. I don't have answers. I trust that God will provide them at the right time. I'm working hard to seek his will in all these things.

If you said "when" in your fertility journey I'd love to hear your story. How did you decide? When did you decide? Did you find peace? Do you still ache? When did you say when?



Fertility update

My New Year's resolution for 2014 is either to loose 10 pounds or gain 30.

With the one caveat that the "gain 30" has to come along with a baby in my belly.

Yep. My 2014 resolution is definitely get pregnant. ;-)

John and I had another consult with Dr. Colbert this morning. Since I had not seen him since before my surgery it was great to hear first hand how well it went. He gave us three options moving forward. Can I just say how great it is to have options? I love our doctor. He truly understands that every couple (or individual) has not only unique diagnoses but unique circumstances in terms of lifestyle, finances, moral convictions, and other considerations that come into play when making a fertility game plan. Infertility makes you feel so powerless and I love having a doctor who wants to empower us again.

Here are our basic options moving forward:

1. Try on our own, unmedicated, and see if the laparscopy was what we needed to "do the trick."
2. Take a low cost drug called Femara to improve ovulation. We could combine this drug with more IUIs or try on our own.
3. Take more expensive drugs commonly referred to as "injectables" (he called them FSH injections). Again, we could combine this drug with more IUIs or try on our own.
4. IVF

IVF gives us the greatest chance of success. He said if money was no issue and we wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible, he would say to do IVF. However, since cost is an issue John and I definitely want to explore other options.

 I do believe the laparscopy is going to greatly increase our chances, but I still have that diminished ovarian reserve diagnosis so I wanted something to help me ovulate. That left us with options #2 or #3. Dr. Colbert's cost estimate for the drugs on #2 was $60/month while #3 was more like $700-$1,000. Yikes.

We went with option #2! Femara. We were also able to talk a little more about John's "low end of normal" sperm count and essentially what Dr. Colbert said was that the issue seemed to be that they don't "wash" well. "Washing" is what they do to prepare the sperm for insemination. We did three IUIs and they only washed well once. So while the IUI would increase our chances of success, it doesn't seem like they would be increased enough to make the cost of IUI (and the monitoring ultrasounds that go along with it) worth it.

All this to say: for the next 2-4 months all I have to do is take one little oral medication! No driving 45 minutes to the office for monthly ultrasounds, no early morning winter IUI trips, no clomid (thank goodness!), no cringe inducing medical bills... nothing.

What a relief.

A few months ago I felt like we were rocketing toward IVF faster than I could come to terms with. Today we have a way to move forward with treatment that will allow us to take a break both financially and emotionally from all the appointments. Thanking God for this much needed grace.

I think I am also going to make an appointment with a chiropractor nearby who recently helped a friend of mine in her fertility journey. Now that I don't have any other fertility appointments on the calendar, I thought it might be worth a try!

All for now! Thankful for your continued stories, advice, and support.



10 favorite family photos of 2013

The shutter button on my camera certainly got worn down this year! 2013 was our first full year home with Arie and subsequently was The Year In Which I Will Photograph Everything. I have entire gigabytes dedicated entirely to pictures of him sleeping. Sleeping.

I regret nothing. 

I adore those pictures and the thousands more I took in 2013. I could (and do) spend hours clicking through them. 

Look how little Arie was!

John you are hilarious here! 

Uh Jill- what's on your face?? 

After much clicking, scrolling, and carpel-tunnel acquiring, here are 10 of my most loved photos of 2013, in chronological order: 

10. Taken at Arie's baptism renewal. Infant baptism is a very important part of our family's faith and the fact that Arie was baptized into the Russian Orthodox church before we even knew he existed is one of my favorite parts of his adoption story. It reminds me that God knew him before we did. We remembered his baptism in February 2013:

9. From our first trip to the beach! It was March, still winter, and the Lake Michigan shore was frozen and snowy. Arie was home for four months at this point and I was still swimming in new "baby" bliss. This picture captures the joy and light of that season:

8. We went on a mini-family getaway last winter to Northern Michigan. It was our first family vacation and so magical. When I see this photo of Arie sleeping in our rented cottage, my heart swells. The diaper, the chubby thighs, the sweet little lips... I'm so glad I got to witness just a little of his baby days before he turned into the big boy who runs around my house today!

7. This photo is from a trip to a local farm/petting zoo. Arie was pointing at something, but it looks like he's disco dancing and subsequently always makes me laugh: 

6. My sister-in-law took this one at Arie's birthday party right after he blew out the candles. I don't even remember why we were laughing, but apparently it was quite funny!

5. I took this photo while we were camping in July with my family. It makes me laugh out loud every single time. Papa ducking out of the shot: fail
 4. From the same photo shoot where John looks like a creeper, but this time he looks like the wonderful dad he actually is! We have this one on display in our home: 

3. John captured this moment when we went to heaven Mackinac Island. The rocks were hurting Arie's bare little feet so I scooped him up and balanced him on my knees as we threw rocks into the lake. One of my favorite pictures and favorite moments of 2013.

2. This is a shot from our fall apple picking adventures. I love it because Arie is making a lion noise, but he is not at all intimidating due to the fact that his lion noise is, "LLLLLAAAAR!" No scary noises start with "L."

1. This photo is from my "day in the life" post. Because you can never have too many stuffies in bed.

0. (Okay I couldn't pick just 10. One more!) Arie opening a gift at Christmas. Way too much fun!

Wishing you and yours every blessing in 2014! 


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