Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chicago at Christmas, 2009

I thought it would be fun to do a video for this one.

I'm not great at video slide shows. But I think they're fun. And who doesn't like some background music? Especially a version of Christmas is All Around from Love Actually that Josh managed to find somewhere in the deep recesses of the Internet.

Have an extra 3 1/2 minutes? Enjoy. And don't mind the abrupt transitions - I haven't quite figured those out yet.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Aiydan

I love this kid.

Isn't he adorable?

At this point, I consider him my nephew. And his sister my niece. And his mom my sister.

They're part of the family.

Aiydan

Christmas Presents #2

Christmas Morning 2009.

There were kids involved for the first time in a long time - since Ben and I were kids ourselves.

And little kids are way fun to have around for Christmas morning.

This was the year of the pajamas. Everyone got a pair. And the year of the American Girl doll, which Aiyannah got to pick out in Chicago the next day.

We toned down Christmas presents this year for two reasons.
One: we all felt strongly that we should "spend less and give more" (see my post on the Advent Conspiracy movement).
Two: on Christmas day after church we loaded up everyone and drove to Chicago, where we spent the weekend. Spending less on gifts freed us up to eat at fun restaurants, do a little big city shopping, and, for some of us, head to the aquarium.

And you know what? No one even noticed that the number of presents were fewer than last year. We had more people there, and thus more fun and fellowship. And our "big present" (Chicago) was an opportunity for us to spend quality time together as a family.

Perfect.

Christmas Morning

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Cheese fondue (Josh's favorite)
Happy family (including my aunt, some cousins, and Montoya and her kids)
Raclette Grill (a favorite for holiday parties at my parents' house)
Icy streets kept us from driving to see Christmas lights, a long-standing tradition
Small children underfoot
Tree, garland, and candles
Messiah (Handel's)
All kinds of people crammed into the living room for more Trivial Pursuit
Sounds of cracking fire, sizzling food, and drinks being poured

Excitement and anticipation of the next morning (especially on Aiyannah's part)
Very Merry
Emmanuel, God With Us

Christmas Eve

New Year's Resolutions

I'm not a good finisher. I have great ideas and then get 3/4 done and stop. I get lazy. And find a new project to start in on.

But I want to change that. And goals are healthy. And this year will be an interesting one, with all of the adoption craziness going on. And while we're waiting for baby B to arrive, I'm flat out going to need something to focus on to pass the time.

I have a few ideas brewing at the moment.

Devotional time? Exercise? Weight loss? House projects? Bloggy frequency? Budgeting? Hm... all kinds of options.

But I could use your help, Internet. What do I choose? More than one? Should I set mini goals - perhaps a new one per quarter? I could use your best New Years Resolution-type advice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Witte Family Christmas Party

I have many, many memories of this party from years past. It always takes place on the Saturday night before Christmas Eve. And I've always enjoyed it.

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There is a slightly different mix every year, which is the name of the game when it comes to large families. Because Josh and I split holidays between each set of parents, I only go every other year.

But many parts are the same.

The aunts. The hot fruit salad (SO good). The cousins. The casseroles. The rice crispy treats with M&M's (Aunt Laurie makes the best ones). The uncles.

My Oma.

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The piano being played. Sometimes we sing Christmas carols in Dutch. But this year, Jonah (in green) treated us to a concert. He's really quite good.

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The babies. More every year, naturally.

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And the games. We're game players in this family.

From intense rounds of cards...

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(Uncle Henk and Uncle Teunis were just too cute playing Uno with all of the kids.)

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... To Trivial Pursuit.

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80's edition this time. And yes, that is the butt of a Care Bear.

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And really, what party is complete without Trivial Pursuit?

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So fun. Such a blessing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Riley's New Bed

Thank you to the fine folks at All Modern Pet - the new dog bed is great.


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First of all, it is surprisingly hard to find an orange dog bed. But OF COURSE I needed one to match my office. And this fits the bill nicely.

Second, he seems to enjoy himself in it. Granted, his BFF is his bed that we used to keep in the office, and now is downstairs. But that one is fuzzy.

And this one is cute. And since it sits under the window, it provides an excellent sunning spot.

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MM... the sun is so delicious at naptime.

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Mom, seriously, get that camera out of my face so I can go back to sleep.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

You Know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen...



Greetings from your friendly neighborhood reindeer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside

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Adoption Questions, Part 3

Baby B 2

Do you know anyone who has done this?
Adopted internationally? Yes. Many friends and coworkers, and a few family members, too. Adopted from Russia specifically? Yes, as of last week. I met a lady from church that adopted from Russia a number of years ago, and she's already been a significant source of encouragement to me - not to mention her wealth of knowledge. She mentioned that right here in Columbus is a therapist that specializes in Russian adoptions, and in child-parent attachment. I'm so thankful for this new connection, and for the support we already have from friends and family that have walked this road before.

How did you choose your agency?
I did a lot of internet research on it, because there are a number of shady ones out there. Once I narrowed it down, I contacted a different agency I know to be legit (but isn't licensed in Ohio) and asked about the places I was researching. They that this agency has a solid reputation and has been around for a long time. Also, the fees seemed pretty comparable to others I was looking into.

What is the process?
For the next few months (3-4) we'll be doing what is known as the "paperchase." This means we have paperwork upon paperwork to do - for our government, for the Russian government, for the agency, and for the folks who do our homestudy. As a part of our homestudy, we'll also have someone come out to the house to interview us and see where we live. On one hand this scares me (what if I keep the bleach in the wrong spot?) but on the other hand I think they're basically checking to make sure we're not running a meth lab out of our basement. They'll also want to know that we're prepared for the potential difficulties inherent in adopting a child.

Then we wait. I hate waiting, and am not looking forward to that part of it! Our agency said we'd most likely get a "referral" 6 months after our paperwork had been submitted. A few days after that we get to travel to Russia for the first time and meet the baby. Trip #1 will last a week, and is basically a time for us to meet the baby, confirm that we want him, and head home. We will need many, many prayers that we can keep it together after we meet him and DON'T get to take him home on the spot.

Then we wait, again! (I feel the Lord may be trying to work on patience with me, since there is a lot of waiting in our future). 8ish weeks later we travel to Russia again for our court date. For trip #2 we actually have to be there for the better part of 3 weeks, including a mandatory 10 day waiting period (yup, more of it!) in which we don't get to spend any time with the baby. If we can swing it, we'd like to travel around eastern Europe during that time. THEN we actually get to keep the baby! We'll travel with him to Moscow to finish up some paperwork, then head back home - all 3 of us. Whew.

Post-adoption, there are a few follow up details to take care of, but that is pretty much it. Quite the ride, huh?


Are there any questions I'm missing?
Oh, and I still need baby name options.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Adoption Questions: Part 2

Baby B 2

Why Russia?
It is on our hearts. It simply feels right. Honestly, we hadn't really given it too much consideration at first. We originally thought about places like Ethiopia and Taiwan, but when we started to entertain the idea of Russia it seemed like an "aha" moment for both of us. We're excited to learn more about Russian culture, history, geography, and language in these upcoming months. And, we're really excited to visit the country (both in the next year AND when our kid is older).

Why a boy?
We're flexible on the gender of this baby. We'd be thrilled either way. From what I understand, however, being flexible on this point basically means we're signing up for a boy. Girls are in higher demand, and boys are more readily available. So bring on the "frogs and snails and puppy dog tails." If, however, the Lord found it right to match us with a girl somewhere in this process, we'd be on board. I'm sure it would be only one of several curve balls we have headed our way.

How old will he be?
By the time we bring him home, he'll most likely be in the 12-15 month range. Russia prefers that Russian babies be adopted within the country, and so they're not even available to be adopted internationally until they're about 9 months. And by the time the paperwork, etc. is completed, you're looking at a baby that is at least 12 months old.

Will he be healthy?
"Healthy" is a bit of a relative term when you're talking international adoptions. We're not planning on adopting a "special needs" baby, but based on the fact that he'll have spent a year in an orphanage he'll most likely have some developmental delays. He'll also need to learn for the first time what having parents actually means, since that experience will be completely new to him. We're starting to read up on how we can help him form healthy attachments with us.

What will you name him?
No clue! Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies - with a twist



This is a Brown family favorite. And by "Brown family" I'm including Josh's parents and grandparents in the mix. We're serious about sugar cookies. And no, not the fancy type with colorful frosting and shapes (although they could be fancied up, if you were interested). They're pretty basic, and simply irresistible. We make these every time we're together, and collectively gain a good 10 pounds.

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What makes these sugar cookies so good?
A) A solid cookie recipe. Basically, you need a sweet, soft, chewy base for the frosting.
B) Cream cheese frosting - as in, the kind you'd use for carrot cake!

Prior to marrying into this family, I'd have never thought of such a combination. But I'm a convert now.

Cookies:
1/2 C butter, softened
1 C sugar
1/2 t vanilla
2 eggs
2 C flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 T milk
extra butter and sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and sugar together, and then add vanilla and eggs. Mix together. Little by little, add the flour, and then toss in baking powder and salt. Add milk and mix some more. Add more flour if necessary for the sake of consistency. We usually don't need any.

Then use your hands to pull a wad of dough out of the bowl. Roll into 3/4 inch balls, and set 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet.

Take a water glass (or something else with a smooth, flat bottom) and grease the bottom of it with butter. Pour some sugar onto a salad plate, and pound the glass on the sugar plate a couple of times. Use this to flatten the balls of dough, and be sure to reload with sugar on a regular basis. Bake for about 10 minutes - just before they start getting brown.

Frosting:
(we like lots of frosting 'round here, so tend to double this recipe)
1/2 C butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese
1 t vanilla
16 oz powdered sugar
some milk for consistency

Beat first three ingredients together. Add sugar bit by bit, and add some milk if necessary.

Once the cookies have been out of the oven for a few minutes, they're ready to frost.

MMM

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The last time we made these, Josh took the liberty of adding M&M's to his cookies. It was a successful experiment.

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Adoption Questions: Part 1

Baby B 2

Why Adoption?
I know - this is the first question on everyone's mind. My answer is three-fold.

1. We wanted to be parents. We've known for years that it might be difficult for us to have biological children, and we're just not all that interested in walking too far down the fertility treatment path right now. It is an emotional, expensive, stressful time (from what I understand, having watched friends go through it) and we felt that we'd rather just put that kind of time, energy, etc. into an adoption process.

2. We have a heart for adoption. We've always talked about growing our family through biological AND adoptive children. Personally, I've felt a tug toward adoption since I was a teenager. I have wonderful family members and friends who've been adopted. I've watched people from church and work go through the process. And I've known for a long time that I wanted to do it. I believe that God has placed this desire within us, and we're simply walking down the path he has placed before us.

3. I'm adopted. So is Josh. Not in exactly the same way, since Josh and I were both raised by our birth parents.

But God, through Jesus, adopted me into His family.

In Galatians, the apostle Paul talks about the difference between slaves and heirs.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:4-7

Apart from Jesus, I would be considered a slave. I'd have no claim on God's promises, blessings, or family. I'd be an outsider - just like unpaid household staff. And I'd be bound to God's rules for my own salvation.

But since I've accepted Christ into my life, believing that he fully paid for my sins through His death on the cross, and trusting in Him alone to make me right with God, I'm no longer a slave. My standing with God doesn't have anything to do with a list of rules, but rather a relationship with Him through Christ. He knew I'd never be able to follow his law perfectly, and in love sent Jesus to die in my place. Through this I know that I've been adopted into God's family, and can now be considered a child of God. I'm an heir to God's incredible promises. Jesus redeemed me, and in that is my own adoption into God's family.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

I really just think adoption is near and dear to God's heart. He is, after all, called the "Father of the fatherless." And in His infinite wisdom, He placed this particular desire on my heart. And Josh's.

As a follower of Jesus, I'm called to care for "orphans and widows" (James 1:27). The Bible actually talks about this concept a lot. I think part of the reason God asks His followers to do these things is because it gives us a little taste of what He is like. And I'm so excited draw nearer to God through this process. I don't think there is any way this process won't give me a new, unique understanding of my Lord and Savior. And I'm excited for that.

I was recently reading a book (one I highly recommend) about adoption where the author talks about how, on a shelf in his office, there are two hats. One is a black cap from his seminary graduation, and the other is a paper cone birthday hat from his son's recent party. He'd adopted this son years before. He spoke about how, even though he'd spent years studying and learning about God through his seminary education and subsequent ministry, he learned so much more about his heavenly Father through what the birthday hat represented. This image of the two hats just sticks with me.



I hope this gives you a feel about our heart toward this adoption, and this baby.

And I'll continue to answer your (many) questions as best I can over the next week. Thank you for journeying with us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Brown Family Announcement

There’s a little something going on around here that I’m so excited to share with you all. In fact, I’ve been dying to blog about it for weeks.

The Brown family is under construction. And we’re thrilled about it.

Baby B 2

We’re in the early stages of an international adoption process, and are planning on welcoming a little boy from Russia into our family. We pray we’ll be able to bring him home by next Christmas.

More details to follow, but in the meantime, what are your questions? Maybe you're unfamiliar with adoptions. Maybe you just want to know more about why we chose this path. I know we still have a lot to learn about all of this, but have done some significant heart-searching, praying, and research over the past couple of months. And we're excited to share this journey with all of you.

And we could use your prayers, bloggy friends.
For the health and safety of our future baby, who may or may not be born already, and who will most likely spend several months of his life in a Russian orphanage.
For the process. The paperwork. The home study. The judges and courts and officials.
For us. That we depend on and trust in the Lord throughout this journey – a journey we feel His calling to begin. That we make wise decisions as we prepare to welcome this little guy into our home. That we grow closer to each other in this process.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What I'll remember about Thanksgiving Weekend 2009.

1. We had a wonderfully relaxing time with the Browns. We lounged around. A lot. And for busy people like me and Josh, that is perfect.

2. We were sick. (I suppose that is another reason why we lounged around.) Josh got sick on Thanksgiving day and didn't eat a bite of dinner, poor guy. I got sick two days later. But we're back in action now.

3. Pioneer Woman's turkey recipe was excellent, at least in my opinion. (The rest of the family agreed, but they may have been humoring me.) The brine helped keep it flavorful and juicy while cooking. For next time I'll aim my thermometer in a better place, however. We started cutting into it a wee bit too early.

Dinner

4. Her mashed potatoes (holy cow heart attack) and no-knead rolls were also terrific. As was Poppa Brown's famous Turkey dressing and Mom Brown's sweet potato-and-apple dish.

5. We bought all kinds of Blu-Rays on Black Friday, as Josh had received a PS3 (which includes a Blu-Ray player) a few days before.

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6. We played lots of cards with Josh's parents and grandparents. Our favorite game is called Wizard. We like to call it "Wizzy."

Cards

7. We watched Star Trek on Blu-Ray. Twice. It is a new family favorite. We saw it over the summer in the theaters with Josh's parents, and Josh's dad came out of skipping like a little boy. So it was given - and received for Christmas presents.

8. The Lions lost. Oh wait, that's every Thanksgiving.

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9. We made awesome sugar cookies. I'm saving the recipe for Short Stop's Cookie Exchange on December 9th, so stay tuned.

10. We had much to be thankful for. Praise the Lord for His boundless blessings.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

After many moons of sleeping on a mattress on the floor...

WE HAVE A BED.

The funny thing is, we've had a bed since we first got married. Josh's grandparents gave us a bedroom set for a wedding gift.

It has been in our guest room since we moved in. See? We were just being good hosts.

Right.

A couple of factors influenced our decision to spring for a new one:
A) Josh's parents had an extra king-sized mattress they were willing to give us.
B) Our old bed is SO HIGH off of the ground. So high that we kept an old ottoman next to the bed so Riley could have a launch pad. Living ottoman-in-our-bedroom free sounded pretty appealing.

One of these days I want to get some artwork/pictures up. Some cute pillows, maybe. And I'd like to get a full-length mirror for the wall with the windows.

But for now, it is just nice to be up off of the floor. With a headboard so my pillow doesn't fall into the ditch between the mattress and the wall.
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We were so anti-high bed this time around that we clearly swung the other way. This one doesn't quite clear my knee.

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We decided early on that we didn't want to try and match the existing woods we had in the room, so we went with the upholstered look. Also, I wanted a headboard the was cozy to rest up against. Our last bed was SO NOT comfortable to sit up in. This one is great!

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And yes, we are THOSE PEOPLE that have a TV in our bedroom. Can anyone guess the movie?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Okay, so we did get SOME good ones.

Mom and Dad Brown
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The Four of Us
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Nana and Poppa Brown
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The Brown Boys
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All Six of Us Browns
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And this one is my personal favorite.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Still figuring things out.

I thought I'd get all ambitious and shoot some family pictures while we were in AZ. I came armed with a tripod, my Nikon, and a new remote control.

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Clearly, I'm still working out the bugs on how it all works.