Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Here is our annual "coming down the stairs" video of Christmas morning. Before the kids can go downstairs, we have them stop to pray by the baby Jesus in the manger; we read the Magnificat, and the littler kids sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. Then they head downstairs.

The most charming thing about this year's Christmas morning was the way the littlest kids (Alleluia Boy and The Music Man) don't rip though their presents, but kind of get stuck on the first thing they see. They are pretty happy with whatever, you know? They don't have preconceived expectations about Christmas...for now!

My favorite moment of the day, though, was the forty minutes or so that I spent with Jubilee Girl and Alleluia Boy out on the sledding hill. It was very cold  and still, and being late Christmas afternoon, very quiet. (Actually, twenty-five years ago, that sledding hill would have been crowded with kids sledding with new sleds.) The sun was setting, the moon was rising, and the air was heavy with ice crystals, so that the last rays of the sun sluiced through a kind of crystalline haze that diffused the light in the sky above us...all pinks and oranges and blues and purples. And the kids just went up and down the hill together over and over, just like this, and no one even ended up crying. Beautiful.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Bear leads a spontaneous exercise class

This was an amusing scene the other night...Bear often starts practicing his karate or just jumping around in the middle of the living room. This time, all of the other kids -- led by Alleluia Boy -- joined in. It was funny to see the little ones trying to imitate all of Bear's moves. Take a look:

The Music Man rides a bike

TMM has wowed everyone at his school with his proficiency on an adapted tricycle. After only three days of practice, here's how he was doing:

We hope to get a similar bike for him at home, given how much he enjoys it!


All right, here's the mandatory Halloween post! As I've mentioned before, Halloween has never been my favorite holiday...but I love taking the kids trick-or-treating around here. The neighborhood just comes alive in a way that you never see any other time of year -- pretty much everyone is home, and out and about. The kids have to keep prompting the adults to keep moving, because we're so busy talking with the neighbors we haven't seen all year!

Mouse went as Juliet, Jubilee Girl went as a lollipop fairy (her own invention),
The Music Man went as a tiger, and Alleluia Boy went as Thomas the Tank Engine.

Trick-or-treating with the residents at a local nursing home...another favorite
thing to do.

Pumpkins by (bottom to top) Alleluia Boy, Jubilee Girl, and Mouse.

Some neighbor was handing out big candy bars!
And here is a short clip of the kids trick-or-treating in the neighborhood:

Puzzle fun

Now that Matthew is home alone with me for a couple of hours every morning, we're finally getting some time to do things together again. His favorite activities include building really tall towers out of cardboard blocks and knocking them down (a toddler classic, right?), playing with water and pots and pans in the sink, and putting together puzzles. He can put together a giant fire truck floor puzzle pretty much by himself, with only minimal assistance. Here he is putting the final touches on:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Making pizza, walking (some more), and piles of paperwork

We had low-key fun this, what do you do to entertain the kids while you're trying to make dinner? How about giving them their own little ball of dough to make into their own pizza? Alleluia Boy and Jubilee Girl loved it:

And The Music Man continues to enjoy his walker...seen here in the drizzle, without AFOs because he popped a screw on one of them from working it so hard. The day after this video was made, he actually popped one of the side wires. You can see why--he works it hard!

What else...if things seem a little quiet on the blogging front, that would be due to the fact that I am home with two very needy little boys right now. The Music Man wants to be constantly engaged, which isn't surprising and is probably a good thing, given his traumatic past and lack of human interaction for the first six years of his life. His language is REALLY exploding; sentences are a more and more frequent phenomenon. We think his English is probably better now than his Russian ever was, if our observations in Ukraine are any indication. Certainly he is talking way more than he ever did there.

And Alleluia Boy is needy because he is three, and because The Music Man soaks up so much attention from me and any other adult around. He shows very clear signs of sadness, anger, and jealousy, which are both natural and also deeply saddening to us as his parents. It also keeps me very busy; I often have both of them hanging from me, or requesting the same thing from me. We have a good friend who has been donating three hours a day to help watch them -- and I don't want to imagine where I would be now if it weren't for her help -- but we won't have "official" personal care attendant services for The Music Man for at least another week or two. Also, TMM will be starting preschool for 2 1/2 hours per week starting the week of Oct. 22, which should help. Until then, dealing with the boys takes up literally all of my time during the day. I can get grocery shopping done (in a harried sort of way), but that is about it.

The other factor is the continuing avalanche of paperwork and phone calls and planning related to getting The Music Man set up with what he needs. It is literally like a part-time job. I have a two-inch binder that is literally bursting with paperwork and forms. Every organization we deal with wants signed releases for every other organization we deal with. The paperwork for enrolling him in school is compounded by his complicated IEP, for which we wrote a six-page plan (and his speech therapist wants us to record a 50-utterance speech sample). There is more paperwork (all of those intake surveys), phone calls, and scheduling involved in his complicated medical care. There has been a ton of paperwork involved in getting him signed up with Medical Assistance (for a sizable monthly fee), without which we'd quickly go broke (his AFOs -- those little plastic foot braces that broke after two months -- cost $3,500 all by themselves)...but that has involved tons of paperwork (including yet another copy of our cursed 2011 income tax return), as well as ongoing reporting. Setting up PCA service has meant researching the various agencies and options, finding and talking to potential PCAs to hire, coordinating the paperwork necessary to hire them, filing more paperwork with the county and the state, meeting with the "qualified professional" who will supervise the service on behalf of the agency as well as the public health nurse and social worker from the county, setting up a schedule, creating a care plan, and reading up on all of the regulations around PCA services. We have to get his passport back to the Ukrainian consulate, and deal with some insurance and medical billing issues. And we have more than half a dozen medical appointments for him (three at Gillette Children's, one at the International Adoption Clinic, one at Gundersen-Lutheran Orthotics, his first-ever dentist appointment, several intake screenings with his therapist) scheduled over the next four weeks -- and that doesn't include his weekly physical therapy appointments.

Did I mention that I have been frantically building an accessible raised walkway from our garage to our house before winter sets in?

Am I whining? I guess I might be, but I'm also just putting this out there as a heads-up for why we've been less available than usual lately.

On the bright side, much of this huge rush of work is a one-time deal -- and ocne we are set up with school, PCA services, and a comprehensive medical care plan, things should settle down to a more reasonable level.

Also, we can be extremely grateful that we have access to such comprehensive services, provided cheerfully by so many competent, helpful people. I'll leave you with a shot of some of them -- the folks who attended The Music Man's IEP meeting:

From left to right around the table: TMM's teacher/case manager; the district's
coordinator of services for disabled students; the speech therapist; the occupational
therapist; our amazing volunteer PCA; the school psychologist; the
physical therapist; the county public health nurse; the county social worker;
another of his soon-to-be PCAs; Starling (mom). And there were people missing!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Happy birthday, Alleluia Boy!

Guess how old Alleluia Boy is? If you ask him, "How old are you?" he will probably respond, "Good!"

Among his latest accomplishments are learning to count to twenty, learning basic (very basic) addition, an ever-expanding vocabulary ("What is that called? ... Oh!"), and using the potty (most of the time, anyway).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Alex gets to walk...and kinda run!

So...the day after his birthday, Alex got a great birthday present from the physical therapist at the school he will be attending. She was in the early childhood classroom doing some work with him and offered to pull in the reverse walker to see how he would do in it. Here is the result:

She offered for us to take it home, and boy did he take off! He spent maybe an hour and a half total out on the sidewalk in front of the house:

And here without anyone holding onto the walker:

I don't think I've ever seen Alex so thrilled as he was while on that's like he's been waiting for this opportunity to walk for six years! In fact, he protested very loudly when it was time to quit (to go pick up his siblings). Here he is in the car, pointing and saying, "I want to walk!" over and over:

The good news is he perked up when he was assured he'd get to try it out again!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy birthday, Alex!

When Alex turned five on this day one year ago, he was just getting used to a new institution, having recently been moved from the only home he'd known since he was a baby.

Today, Alex celebrated his sixth birthday with his forever family. The book that our seven-year-old daughter made for him says it all. Here is the cover:

The book is titled "The Boy Who Loved His Family"

And here is the last page:

And the last page says, "We love you!"

And here is how the birthday boy spent his big day:

Just after waking up...bed-head! "Good morning!" he says.

Eating homemade cinnamon raisin bread in the car.

Playing outdoors on a beautiful day with our good friend who has volunteered
to help care for Alex three hours a day, gratis. Once we get approved for a PCA,
she will be paid.

The big hit of the day: a nice new balloon! It went everywhere with him.

Folding hands to say grace before dinner (bread, cantaloupe, black bean soup).

Wearing the traditional Windley-Daoust birthday hat while preparing to blow out
the candles. Actually, he had no idea about blowing out candles, so someone else
had to do it for him.

Let him eat cake! With his hands!

Cake face. He actually quit eating before he was done with the cake...guess he filled up on that
good cantaloupe.

Asleep with his new stuffed animal at the end of a busy day. He loves that alligator!
Alex has made incredible strides in the three months he has been home with us.

He now uses English more often than he uses Russian, and he probably knows a couple hundred English words.

He has just recently learned the joy and art of giving and receiving hugs, and does so enthusiastically, and with a big smile on his face.

He asked to try to use the toilet today, probably inspired by the sight of his little brother potty training (and getting candy as a reward). He didn't actually go -- and actually he kind of fell off while trying to close the door -- but he got a piece of candy for his effort.

He knows how to say "please" and "thank you" and "I want."

He knows some of the words to his favorite songs on our Standing on the Rock CD.

He asks to "read" a book, and enjoys looking at the pictures.

He is up to wearing his foot braces almost all day, and is getting better and better at standing and walking (with support).

He has grown several inches, and gained several pounds.

And, he is learning to drive:

Here he quite literally turned to me and asked, "Can I have the keys?"

Did I mention that he has chutzpah? Keep going, Alex -- keep going!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Deck destruction

Have you ever woken up one day and said to yourself, "Hmm, maybe it would be a good idea to tear out our monster deck and build a raised walkway to the garage before winter comes and we're forced to walk single-file down the very narrow and icy/slushy sidewalk for seven months again"? No? Well, you're missing out, friends.

Seriously, this has been on my mind since the moment we decided to adopt a special needs child -- maybe it's the practical male in me, but it seemed obvious from the get-go that we'd need better access to the house, especially in the winter. Problem is, I hate major carpentry projects, probably because of the potential to seriously screw things up. Fortunately, I have a number of friends who are not so intimidated.

So for the past week or so, we've been tearing apart the deck -- or rather, carefully deconstructing it in order to re-use the pieces in the raised walkway that we're building to the garage. Tonight we had sixteen people come over to help move the deck off its trusses and down onto a new site (over our concrete patio) closer to the ground. It is now the first twelve feet of our raised wooden walkway.

Our friend Eric using a saws-all to cut the deck in half.

Our friend Brian using a table saw to cut the deck in half.

Moving the smaller of the two sections, which will becut in half to become
the rest of the walkway.

Moving the larger of the two pieces of the deck, which will be the first twelve
feet of the walkway, as well as a sort of wooden patio.

This is what community looks like. We have neighbors from down the street,
as well as friends from ECFE and church and book club, all having fun helping out.

Now all we have to do is reattach the posts and railings, build new stairs, rewire the electric, cut up the leftover decking, and create the rest of the walkway. Should be easy, right?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Horse camp

Yeah, we've been away from Gracewatch for a while...something about an adoption or something....

Anyway, catching up on our backlog...some pictures and videos of the girls at horse camp, one of the highlights of their summer.

And BTW, the first day of school today went great--smiles and good reports all around.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Walking the Highway

Here is the song that Mouse wrote (in the most recent post), performed by Mouse and her good friend in her bedroom:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Poems and Songs by Mouse


A baby is joy and laughter
all concealed in one small
bundle of soft baby skin.
It is the beginning of a life,
the beginning of many
birthdays (and cake) yet to come.
Someday, they will become our senators and our priests, our deacons
and our presidents.
And someday, maybe, they will grow up
and become mothers and fathers
to another
Even in the most hard-hearted
mothers and fathers, babies are able
to weave a thread of everlasting
in a parent’s heart. And eventually, the thread will weave itself
into a blanket of love. So many people wear that blanket, and the ones who do
usually give the baby
a blanket back.

Some Songs

Walking the Highway

Walking the highway,
on a rai – ai- ai – ny day,
umbrella in hand,
with me feeling sad,
walking the highway.

Splashing in puddles,
feeling all in a muddle,
you’re feeling so grand,
I’m feeling so sad,
why can’t we switch for a while?
You’ve got tons of fans that I haven’t,
you’ve got the better friends, too,
so maybe it’s time to establish
something entirely new!
Maybe it’s true
maybe they deserted you
while you were walking the highway
but don’t let that get you down, girl,
‘cause now I’m here in this town, girl,
the two of us, the two of us, two of us, two of us, two of us, two of usssss! Walking the highhhwayyy!

Rock and Roll

I’m getting higher above
the earth below
as I’m flying, flying, flying,
towards Albany’s home.
I’m gonna see the sights,
gonna rock and roll,
when I’m at – at – at – at
Albany’s home! Oh yeah, oh yeah, Albany’s home, oh yeah, oh yeah, Albany’s home…gonna rock and roll! Gonna rock and roll! Gonna rock and roll! Gonna rock and roll!

River, river

River, river, flowing, sparkling in the water towards the sea.
In the water swim the fish,
they get faster every swish;
the birds are gliding in the sky,
then I see the frogs hop by!
Then on the flowers are the butterflies,
then comes night, the owl comes out
hunting for mice and hunting for trout.
Then comes morning, birds come singing,
let it happen over again.

Why Don’t You Come Home

No one here with me to hold my hand
it’s almost too much to withstand.
Oh my sweet baby, why don’t you come home,
why do you have to go out and roam
beyond the valleys, beyond the trees?
Oh my sweet baby,
come back to me.

Losing You

It’s a loss and I can’t even bear it
it’s a sadness seeping to my bone;
to get it away, I just can’t scare it,
so let’s just say I’m done!
It’s just something I can’t admit
because it has just begun
my heart is everything but moonlit;
my soul just feels so barren;
He was so full of humor…
why, why did he have to die?
Why did he have to die?
Why did he have to die?
Why did he have to die?

Bear's Poems

Ice Cream

I like
eating ice cream
on a hot summer day.
The fantastic, refreshing cold
like ice.


The good banana
delicious to be eaten
banana goodness.

The Grocery List

Cheese, cheetah chews,
apples and apricots,
cool canned carrots,
grand granola,
for free.


The bucket is tipping
t           that water is
I                                   po
n                                       ur
g the water out then           ing
            onto the floor.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Poems by Jubilee Girl

(Seven-year-old Jubilee Girl has been working on writing poetry, with the goal of creating a book.)

The Apple Tree

A tree wiggles an apple—
The apple wiggles
and wiggles and it falls.

The Sea

The water splashes.
The waves swish.
But she swims
The sea is fun!

The Whale

The whale…
Oh the whale…
Plop! Splooth!

Wish Star

Oh wish star oh wish star.
I will tell you my wish,
but keep it a secret—
oh I forgot!

Brothers and Sisters

She did it!
No fair!
You guys stop!!
He hit me!!!
(sorry and sorry)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

'Every day is a good day'

Today Alleluia Boy and I ran some errands, and we ran into an old friend working at one of the stores we were visiting. I asked him how it was going, and he said, "Every day is a good day...some are just better than others."

I was really struck by that line -- what a positive attitude! And how true, especially if we have ever had a brush with a perspective-changing crisis (cancer, a brush with death, etc.). This particular friend -- I will call him Joe -- is someone we met at the local Catholic Worker houses years ago. At first he was a guest, then a regular at evening hospitality. We still see him there and around town about once a week. Our friendship has grown gradually, as has our admiration for him. Without going into the gory details (which actually I am a little fuzzy on anyway), he has really come through quite a lot in terms of personal crises. For a while there, his life seemed like it could go either way.

Today, he's doing so well, no one at this major big box retailer would ever guess anything about his past history. In fact, he's one of the kindest, considerate, generous, gracious, cheerful people I know. He rides bike everywhere, I think because his license got revoked a while back and he never bothered to get it again, but you will never hear him complain, not even in the worst weather. He is also very gentle -- he reads "Winnie the Pooh" to our girls -- despite being very athletic (he did a triathlon last year). He is working in a good, upwardly mobile position, and makes his time with his teenage son (also a great person) an absolute priority.

He's just one of the many people we've been privileged to call friends as a result of our time at the Catholic Worker.

The photo up top? Totally unrelated -- Alleluia Boy taking a bath -- but it seemed to fit the theme: "Every day is a good day!"

(Also, I fixed the video of Starling singing "Bless the Lord" with the girls, two posts back.)

Alex's orphanage

I am re-posting this from the Adopting Alex blog, since not everyone who follows this blog follows that one, and this is a pretty significant bit of information....

Well, we didn't get a travel date could come any day now, really...but we did connect with another family who is adopting another child from Alex's country, a 15-year-old girl who we were considering adopting at one point (in addition to Alex). And they have a connection to a U.S.-based organization, Serving Special Orphans, that visits that institution about once a year. Here are some videos from the institution; one is from Serving Special Orphans, the second is from another organization's 2008 mission trip, and the third is from February 2011 (also Serving Special Orphans).

Here is a link to the third video, which I can't embed:

The woman who runs this organization has also described a couple of her recent visits; you can find those descriptions here: February 2011 visit (scroll down to last paragraph); June 2011.

I think the videos and the descriptions capture the complicated picture in the orphanages over there. On the one hand, you will see smiling and happy children there -- and that's good. On the other hand, you will also see children living in inhumane conditions. Another take-away for the author describes, this orphanage is vastly improved over where it was 10 years ago. The trend is in the right direction. International organizations and the families who adopt these special needs children are contributing to that trend.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bless the Lord...SMP talent show

Here, by popular demand, is a video of Starling and daughters singing "Bless the Lord" for the Saint Mary's Parish Talent Show. The video quality is poor, because of the low lighting, distance, and me holding Alleluia Boy.

Starling claims this is an exercise in humility. : )

The Days Are Just Packed

Yes, that's also the name of a Calvin and Hobbes collection, but it also applies to our life right now!

First we have to eat strawberries for lunch on the deck...

...then we have to catch a train...

...all while keeping the tooth fairy busy!

And to keep the tooth fairy busy, we need to hop on our bikes and bike around Lake Park to...

...the Lakeview Drive-In, where we need to order the first ice cream cones of the season...

...licking extra-fast to catch all the drippies.

And after a long and busy day, we climb into bed and avoid going to sleep for as long as possible!

"If you don't get to sleep soon, I will use my newly-acquired white belt on you!" Heh heh, no he won't, but he does look pretty intimidating, you have to agree!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Our newest godchild

Here is our newest godchild! Several months old (taken in March)
Well, the newest member of the ever-expanding tribe of Daoust grandchildren made it into the world safe and sound this past December. (Yeah, I'm late posting about it.) Isn't he a cutie? Starling and I are his godparents.

We are particularly glad to have this little guy around because his mom's pregnancy was classified as very high risk. You might remember that she had had a heart attack a couple years ago, caused primarily by the effect of pregnancy hormones on the lining of the arteries leading to her heart. Her heart completely stopped beating on its own and was not re-started for forty-five minutes, after which she was in a medically induced coma for several days.

Besides the risks involved in the pregnancy, my sister also faced near-constant pressure to "terminate the pregnancy" (the polite euphemism we're using for abortion these days...where there is a euphemism, something ugly can't be far behind) -- mostly from medical staff. Some of the things that were said to her by doctors, nurses, and "specialists" border on jaw-droppingly unbelievable. But she also faced pressure to abort from at least one friend and various strangers. We're not talking about passive pressure here...a surprising number of people felt very bold about asserting their opinion that she was irresponsible to continue the pregnancy. Starling posted about her SIL's situation on her Facebook account and someone she knows was very outspoken about how "irresponsible" it was to continue a high-risk pregnancy. This person got pretty worked up about it, too.

What is the difference between the worldview held by these people and the worldview held by people like my sister? In the first, preserving one's own life, no matter what the cost, is all-important. It is a pragmatism that has its roots in reductionist/materialist assumptions: "This life is not just good, it's the ultimate Good -- the only good -- so preserve it at any cost." The worldview held by my sister and people like her, on the other hand, is rooted in the assumption that there is a transcendent, enduring aspect to each of us -- a soul. Life is good, yes, but we're all going to die at some point. And that means that there is something more important than preserving your bodily life -- namely, preserving the beauty and integrity of your soul. It is not whether you die that matters ('cause you're going to at some point); it is how you live. What does it matter if you live a few more years, if doing so requires you to sacrifice the life of your child? On the other hand, sacrificing yourself for another is a profound act of love...and in the end, that is what endures, even after our earthly bodies have passed away.

I am so proud of my sister and her family!

Following "Francine"

Here's another blog we're following (we also follow this family on FB): My Camo Kids. This family adopted "Francine," one of the nine children we were praying about when we were discerning the adoption. Actually, the Dad just got shipped out to Afghanistan -- again, mere months after returning -- just a few weeks after returning home from Ukraine with their new daughter. (Francine is now "Vi", a nickname she is familar with from her home country.) I will post their blog in the sidebar, too.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The girls' birthdays

The girls celebrated their birthdays over the weekend...with Jubilee Girl turning seven and Mouse turning ten. Since their birthdays are so close together, we usually combine the celebration, with separate cakes.

Jubilee Girl is smiling because this birthday cake was preceeded with "ral" pizza from Godfather's.
("Real" in her opinion...!)

Mouse received a new scooter from her grandparents, while Jubilee Girl got a new
(much-needed) bike from mom and dad. We got each girl a bell for their handlebars,
so now they can go up and down the sidewalk together ringing their bells. They are
also showing off new purses they received from their grandparents; they have been
taking those things everywhere!

Mouse had wanted a dollhouse she could paint and decorate. This corrugated
cardboard one was perfect...she has spent hours constructing the little cardboard furniture,
as well as making her own accessories (tissue-paper bedspreads and pillows, a toybox made
from a matchbox). She spent a few more hours this afternoon painting the various rooms
with a friend.

On the afternoon of her birthday, Mouse wanted to paint a mural on a wall.
We set her up with paint in the garage. She painted the whole wall under the stairs
white as a preparatory step to painting the mural.


We did the whole Easter Triduum as a family, from Holy Thursday's
foot-washing (above) to the two-and-a-half-hour Easter Vigil. We
had multiple people come up after the vigil to compliment the kids'
endurance! They were definitely on their best behavior, and enjoying
everything from the bonfire to the baptismal rites and the unique music.

Easter morning. Peeps and beans! And a few Christian music CDs.

Alleluia Boy was VERY happy to finally be singing "Alleluia" again...he perked
right up when we sang it during the Easter vigil. Several times a week when we
sang a song for family prayer, he would interrupt with loud cries of, "NO!
ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!!!!" The kid's destined to be a bishop. Or a liturgist.

If ever this boy is ordained, this picture will come out. This is his cousin's...he tried it on himself,
without prompting. Also, he likes doing the orans gesture like he sees Fr. Jim do.

Of course we're squinting into the sun! Oh well. This was taken during our quick
run up to the Twin Cities on Easter Day, where we enjoyed a very relaxed Easter
dinner at my brother's house.