Kitchen Reno 2011 Update

It's finished! Our kitchen renovation is complete thanks to help from my parents. A few weeks ago they made the long trip to Ogallala to help us install new counter tops and a new sink. There were a few bumps along the road, but it looks great! Our next project: office overhaul. We'll be taking a trip to IKEA in Denver (it just opened this week) to purchase a new desk and bookshelves for our basement, so we can slowly start to clean out and empty our office in preparation for a hopeful adoption placement.

Here's a before and after shot of our counter tops and cabinets:


We bought this chalkboard from an artist at the Portland Saturday Market as a souvenir for ourselves. At least once a week, I hope to write what I'm grateful for on the board as a reminder to praise God and appreciate the little things more.

Today I am thankful for my marriage. I didn't know it then, but five years ago I married an incredible guy. I've learned so much about him over the years and am sure to learn more as we continue to evolve as people and as a couple.

Our marriage hasn't been perfect. We've encountered intense struggles and at times I've wanted to run away from it all. However, I am thankful for every struggle. I praise God for our battle with infertility because I think this is what our marriage needed. We needed something to thrust us closer to our heavenly Father and to each other. Our marriage is stronger today than it was two years ago. We still have much to learn and much to struggle with, but I'm looking forward to that journey.

I feel blessed to have couples in our lives who have taught us what a healthy marriage looks like: my parents and Nate's parents have taught us perseverance, Amy and Pat Nebesniak have taught us what it means to sacrifice and how to be incredible parents, our old friends Shane and Erin Melenbacker and our new friends Drew and Amy Sharp--have given us a glimpse of what a God-honoring marriage looks like.

Marriage is a blessing not to be thrown away, a commitment that shouldn't be broken. Today I'm thankful for my marriage, for married couples who have coached us in our own marriage, and for my beautiful husband.


Road Trip 2011

I've taken a blogging hiatus---it's been a crazy few weeks. We came home today from a week long road trip through the most beautiful places I've ever seen: Wyoming (except for the southwestern part!), Montana, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. We drove 19 hours the first night and slept in Pendleton, OR and drove to Portland the next morning. The three days we spent in this city were incredible....we met up with an old friend and her fiance, received an amazing tour of the city from a cousin of mine, ate plenty of unique food, drank local beer, attended a beautiful church service at Imago Dei (church home of my favorite writer, Don Miller), shopped, wandered around, and hiked 11 miles to Ramona Falls near Mount Hood.

Then we drove to Seattle to experience another piece of the Pacific Northwest. We stayed downtown near the Pike Place Market and enjoyed having time to walk up and down hilly roads through downtown Seattle. Some highlights from Seattle: drinking coffee at the original Starbucks in the Pike Place Market, enjoying local, live jazz music, eating fresh seafood and tons of pastries, visiting the EMP...it was all fantastic.

We saved up for this trip for an entire year and used it as a time to celebrate our five year anniversary. I feel so blessed to have seen so much of God's great creation, spend quality time with my husband (42+ hours in a car is intense), and just relax without a lot of plans.

If you'd like to see photos of the trip...click here!


Adoption update: We made the list

Well....that letter I wrote about in an earlier post: we received it today! The letter lets us know that the adoption committee at NCHS has approved our application for adoption. Essentially, we are now on "the list" of available adoptive parents.

Now we wait to be matched up with birth parents. The adoption process looks different for everyone, but generally speaking here's what happens:

1. When birth parents express interest in making an adoption plan for their child, they fill out paperwork similar to what we filled out...plus more. Once that is turned in, someone in the main office pulls a certain number of profiles that match what the birth parents are looking for in adoptive parents and what adoptive parents are looking for in terms of family history, health, etc. The birth parents then read the four-page profile letters and select one couple.

2. If time allows, there is a pre-birth meeting between birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. Kind of a get-to-know you first meeting. Sometimes (again if time allows) the birth parents and adoptive parents continue to meet after that to form a relationship. At this point nothing is finalized.

3. Once the baby is born, the birth parents can't sign relinquishment papers (document releasing the birth parents' rights to NCHS) until 48 hours after the birth of the baby (Nebraska law). Both parents need to sign that document.

4. Then a baby is placed with the adoptive parents the birth parents selected (sometimes this happens before relinquishments are signed depending on the circumstances).

5. The caseworker working with the adoptive parents then completes a few home visits to make sure everything is going well. If all is well, the adoption is finalized in court some time later. I believe this is when a new birth certificate is issued.

At some point between steps two and four, the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents work with their caseworker to draft an open-adoption plan. This is a set of guidelines that both couples agree to follow in terms of contact and relationship---this isn't a legally binding contract, but is an important document that will guide the relationship between birth parents, child, and adoptive parents.

The information we share from now on will be extremely limited. Because so much could happen and change, it will be unlikely that I will share any progress in the process until we are actually placed with a child and relinquishments are signed. We've heard a few stories of "failed adoptions"---where birth parents and adoptive parents met before the birth of the baby, formed a relationship, and then when the baby was born, the birth parents decided to parent (which is completely legitimate since relinquishments can't be signed until 48 hours after the birth). But...I would hate to announce that a couple has selected us, and then have that happen and have to announce that the adoption didn't go through. In that case, I can imagine it would be almost like grieving the loss of a child.

In a nutshell, only God knows from here on out. It could be a two-week wait, and it could be five years. Either way, we appreciate your support. If you're the praying kind, here are some requests:
  • Peace during the wait. Of course we would love the wait to be short and the process smooth, but more than anything---we want a sense of peace while we wait.
  • Pray that we would take advantage of this time to continue to build our marriage.We realize how important it is to have a solid marriage in order to be effective parents. Pray we would use this time to continue to grow our strengths and work on our weaknesses.
  • Pray for birth parents. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to decide to make an adoption plan for a child. Pray that the decision-making process would be as smooth as possible, and that they would have support during the process.
Thanks to all of you who have been following our journey---we appreciate your interest in our lives and the support you give through kind words and prayers.


Ben Sollee

This is what I've been listening to and watching for the past week....I'm absolutely captivated by this performance. With just a cello, a cajon, and a violin---these people make breathtaking music. Watch the way Ben Sollee plays the cello; it's certainly not your grandma's cello playing! He creates beautiful rhythms and even plays it like a guitar in the second song. And the way the violinist rocks out, makes me sway to and fro no matter where I'm at. And the last song...oh my. A few days ago I was coloring with my niece and nephew who were just beginning to fight over crayons (despite having a big box of them with plenty to go around) when the very last song came on. They both stopped, looked at the computer screen, and watched. Kael even started to clap along. The song is soothing. Take eleven minutes of your time and watch this video...you won't regret it.


Adoption Update

We ran into yet another hang up with our adoption paperwork a few weeks ago (a paper someone forgot to give us to fill out) that set us back. Our caseworker then sent off all of our paperwork on a Thursday, but the person who did the initial intake paperwork in the main office--her last day was the next day. We had no idea if the replacement was trained to process our paperwork or if there was even a replacement hired. We waited about two weeks before we called the main office to check on it. They had received it, but it hadn't been processed yet. So....we were told to wait...again. At that point, I was pretty indifferent. I wanted to get worked up about it and be pissed off, but really---what was another week?

Today Nate called me to say that our caseworker called him to let him know the main office had processed our paperwork and was sending out a letter today to notify us that we'd been placed in the "pool" with other waiting couples. This is the news I've been waiting to hear for about two months now. So, I expected to be ecstatic. But to be honest...what I felt was fear. A pit in my stomach that spread to my throat, tightening it.

This process--infertility and adoption--though we've been at it three years now is all still new and unpredictable. I've learned that my expectations won't always be met---whether it's expectations about the adoption process or expectations about what emotions I'd have throughout the road to adoption. It's a bit unnerving because I'm unsure of how to not have expectations. It's definitely taking a lot of prayer.

I read an article recently in Adoptive Families that advised waiting couples to celebrate every milestone...and being placed on the list (though it's not quite official until we have that letter) is certainly a milestone. I want to celebrate---but I also want to guard my heart to protect it from any other bumps in the road we might experience. Nonetheless---I am relieved that there seems to be an end to the paper trail we've been chasing for ten months!


"Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Earthquake Ballad"

I heard this yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered and thought it was worth sharing. The story is compelling---Faulkner County, Arkansas has experienced several small earthquakes due to natural gas fracking. The segment is a series of interviews with community members, politicians, money minded industries, journalists, etc and is spliced with folk musician Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's song Mother Nature Kneels---a song he wrote based on these events in Arkansas. This story is part of the Song+Stories Series. Take 15 minutes today to listen to the story; then scroll down past the photo of Will Oldham to listen to the song...pure beauty.

What story am I telling with my life?

A year ago I read Donald Miller's A Million Miles In a Thousand Years---a great book that explores the concept of seeing our lives as narrative. If our lives are narrative, a story---then we should want it to be a compelling one.

I've been trying to live more intentionally and to be more conscious of the story I'm telling. While I have made good progress towards writing a better story, I'm still not 100% satisfied the story I'm telling. I realize there is more to be written.

I want to help people more. This morning I heard an excellent story on NPR about a 22 year old American woman who has moved to Uganda and is now parenting 13 orphaned girls. It's an inspiring story---I don't need to move to Uganda, but when I die, I want people to say---"wow, she really helped people" and mean it.

I want to take more logical risks (yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds). I ran across an editorial (again on NPR) from an intern who happens to be from Lincoln---this led me to browse the job openings with NPR, and I have to admit---I was jealous of this Nebraska girls' opportunity. Earlier this week I checked out PhD programs at the University of Iowa, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan...and I longed (again) to move. I don't know if it will ever happen---but I want that experience of moving and living out of state--of taking a risk and trying something new like a PhD program out of state, or being an intern for NPR :) I want to live a life with vast, diverse experiences. When I'm old, I don't want to look back at my life and wish I would've done this or that, lived somewhere different, traveled more.

I want to build more sincere relationships. Last night I spent quite a bit of time with a local couple we've become quite close to, and as I reflect and recover from the late night--I realize how fulfilling it was. We drank wine, ate great food, sang beautiful songs, and talked about meaningful things. It was a beautiful time. And I want to develop more of these significant relationships--I want to invest more in people.

The best stories I've read are honest, unpredictable, compelling, and push me to be better. I want my life to be like that.


Shoes, blanket, and the red notebook

I had a sudden burst of productivity this afternoon---after my hour and a half long nap---so I decided to clean out our office closet. Actually, I tried to grab something off the top shelf and a box came tumbling down, smacking me in the face and spilling its contents. That's really what made me decide it was time to clean out the closet.

This task has been on my summer to-do list ever since school ended. The closet is in the second bedroom in our house which is currently serving as an office with hopes of someday becoming a bedroom for a baby. When school ended in May, I told myself I'd clean out and organize that room leaving only the bookshelves, love seat, and rocking chair so if our adoption does go through, it will be an easier transition. We've heard so many stories about adoptive couples having only a few hours to prepare to bring a baby home (what typical couples do in nine months). After two years of waiting and 10 months of paperwork, interviews, meetings, and more waiting, I feel like I need to do something to, I guess, get ready.

While cleaning, I ran across the three items in this picture: baby shoes, a baby blanket, and a red journal. They all seem pretty insignificant, but each item had an emotional impact on me today. I'll start with the shoes---I bought these little canvas shoes four years ago at a Target. When Nate and I started dating, we talked about starting a family---how many kids we wanted, ideal time frames...we had it all planned out. Since we married when I was only a junior in college, we decided it would be smartest to wait until after I was finished with school. But during my fourth year of college (our second year of marriage), I started to get that itch---that desire to be a mom. I didn't want to wait any more. I began dreaming about the babies we would have. I'd find myself wandering through the baby section at Target, handling the earth-toned receiving blankets, mentally picking out cribs and baby joggers, imagining the wardrobe my baby would sport. Then one day I ran across these cute shoes. I couldn't pass them up. When I brought them home, I felt so silly but was excited to show Nate. He laughed it off and made fun of me for a few years for it. I stashed them away in storage in anticipation for our first baby that I thought would come soon...the baby we're still waiting for.

The next item in the basket is a white blanket. It has a satin edge and little poofy balls attached to the front. Nate's mom gave it to us before our first meeting back in October with Nebraska Children's Home Society (NCHS). Ever since Nate and I married, I've dreamed about telling our parents they'd be grandparents to our children. Nate's mom has three beautiful, unique grandkids already from two of her three children. These kids bring her so much joy and pride. It kills me to not be a part of this. I often feel like the black-sheep of the family because we haven't been able to contribute to the joy she has in her grandkids. Though it's hard to see the blanket still tucked away with tags attached not knowing if we'll ever be able to use it, the gift still means so much to me. I know it's not just us waiting for our family to grow---the blanket sort of symbolizes the others who are also eagerly waiting for us to have this blessing. And somehow, I take comfort in that.

Finally, the red notebook. In January we attended a two day training in Omaha at the NCHS office that prepared us for all that was to come in the process (I say that with some sarcasm because two days isn't possibly enough time to prepare a couple for a lifetime of parenting an adopted child). That weekend I decided I wanted to chronicle our journey in the form of handwritten letters to our hopeful, future child. So---ever since, I've been filling the notebook with letters, song lyrics, parts of our adoption/infertility story, pieces of wisdom I've learned, bible verses, etc all addressed to our child. If God's plan is for us to be parents, I hope to give this to him/her when he/she is old enough to understand and appreciate the significance behind it.

It seems stupid, but after I found these items I started thinking about all the other items I've painstakingly passed up in the last three years: the tie-dyed onesie and matching hat from the music festival in Colorado, the Worth the Wait onesie, all of the adorable baby furniture at Ikea, the pieces of pottery at Paint Yourself Silly I want to paint for our kid's room, the Ted Kooser picture book, the folk and bluegrass songs beautifully converted into kids' songs on Elizabeth Mitchell's album You Are My Little Bird. Just when I think I have it all together---I seem to have an emotional meltdown. The shoes, the blanket, and the notebook did me in today. I'm so tired of waiting. I'm hopeful that we'll someday be parents. I'm frustrated with the lack of communication we seem to be having with our agency. I'm unsure how much more heartbreak I can handle. I just want to be a mom...I never anticipated it would be this difficult.


My Thesis: Buried in Apprehensions

Last week I officially finished my last course for my Master's Degree in English with a concentration in Teaching. I earned my undergraduate degree in December of 2008 and registered for my first graduate class that next month. I've slowly been plugging away ever since, taking classes during the school year and the summer. I'm on track to graduate sometime next summer---so now that I'm done with my coursework, the next step is my thesis. Yikes.

I met with my advisor a few weeks ago, and he helped me create a clear cut to-do list for the next four weeks: finalize my committee, fill out a few forms, get IRB approval, and write my initial proposal. I planned on starting this last week. So far I've only finalized my committee. I have plenty of time on my hands, but the thought of actually starting on this giant project freaks. me. out. Here's why:
  • I am a terrible decision maker. I'm wishy-washy. I have so many teaching interests, that I don't even know how to begin to narrow them down and pick just one.
  • I fear feeling stupid. The most terrifying (and the most beneficial) comment I've ever heard a professor utter is, "What are you adding to the overall conversation on this issue?" This terrifies me; I'm only 25, I've only been teaching for three years---what do I have to add to any intellectual conversation? I feel like I haven't been around long enough to add to anything. I want to add something crazy insightful to my field--so insightful that someone will want to publish it. But I fear falling short of this goal. I fear that I won't add anything to my field because I'm simply not intelligent or critical enough. A teacher and PhD student I know wrote in a post on GradHacker, "Eventually, I will run out of stupid ideas and be left with something that will work" (Zellner). I can only hope for this.
  • This is going to sound crazy, but hear me out: I fear that our adoption will go through while I'm working on my thesis. There is nothing that I want more than to become a mom, but part of me fears that if this happens while I'm working on my thesis that I'll never finish. I've come so far in my program, and I really want to finish and move on to the next step, but I've wanted to be a mom for so long that I also fear (I'm not sure that's the right word to convey what I really feel...) I will want to just quit my job and spend all my time being a mom. I want to be the world's best mom AND I want to be the best in my field. Can I do both? I'm not sure....
Whew. As much as I feel buried in all of these apprehensions, a portion of me is excited for this experience. I'm psyched to see what I'll discover along the way, and how I'll grow as a teacher, researcher, and writer. So, if you have tips for starting my thesis---feel free to leave them. If you have Twix bars, dark roast coffee, and New Belgium beer that you'd like to share to help push me through this next year---I'll accept those, too.


One of my loves...

I love baking. Seriously. I don't do it very often because....well, because there's only two of us, and I typically don't have any occasions to bake for. Nonetheless, I love scouring the internet for recipes (I have a huge cooking folder in my Evernote account!), I love tweaking the ingredient lists to make recipes healthier, and I love eating what I bake.

Today I pulled out one of my aprons (I have three beautiful aprons that were either my grandmother's or great-grandmother's) and whipped up a dozen rhubarb streusel muffins while I listened to NPR's All Things Considered. I had leftover streusel in the freezer from the batch of oatmeal muffins I made last month, so it saved me quite a bit of time. These little dears are delightful---a perfect blend of sweet and tart. So far this summer I've baked German pancakes, oatmeal muffins, homemade brown sugar and cinnamon poptarts as well as Nutella poptarts (both were whole wheat!), and rhubarb muffins. I'm surprised I haven't gained weight this summer!

In case you love baking too and want to try out new recipes, here are my go-to websites: