Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five Christmases!

We loved having a house full of happy, loving, boisterous, and sometimes crazy family members! They are pictured in front of the Christmas tree, which you can almost see behind Victor's head. Victor and Dennis cut it from the ditch with Dick and it was perfect! We also loved celebrating the birth of Christ not once, but FIVE TIMES with different family groupings.

There are lots of things which made this Christmas memorable in addition to sharing it with Victor and Dennis and our other children from Honduras, Michigan, Des Moines, Ames, and Cedar Falls:
*Being snowed in on Christmas Eve
*Having our own worship service at home
*Opening presents by candlelight off and on
*Getting stuck in a snow drift in the 4x4 truck
*Building a snowman at my insistence
*Making Nigerian chin chin
*Did I mention 5 family gatherings in 5 days????
*football, food, fun, family, fellowship, foul weather, and our forever gift- Jesus!

It is much quieter around here now- of course I cried as I said goodbye to my children who live miles away. And I got hugs from my African sons who are left behind. The world is smaller this year somehow.

Christmas greetings to all!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowed In!!

My advice to my African sons when we learned we had some snow days was this: "These days are a gift. Spend them wisely." They took my advice and we had three wonderful days full of: Christmas cookie making, new recipe trying, Nigerian deep fat fried vegetable eating, mouse trap car engineering, snow scooping, snow angel making, fast sledding, movie watching, computer practicing, house cleaning, clothes washing, gift buying, more snow scooping, picture taking, homeworking doing, extra sleeping, truck traveling, table talking, and world-of-white gazing. We loved it. Thank you, Snow!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Preparing for Christmas

I wonder if it is even possible to prepare the boys for a Nichols Christmas. They have already figured out that we start WAY earlier in our celebrating than they do in any part of Africa. Last weekend when I asked Victor if I should email his father a scan of our Christmas letter, he said with shock, "NOW??". He said it was WAY too early and that he would remind me when it was time. I'm counting on that because it's going to get kind of crazy around here and I'll probably forget.

I was telling Dennis about the upcoming craziness that happens when all five kids and our precious daughter-in-law descend upon our house, and he said, "It will be FUN!" It will be much different than his Christmases in Tanzania, where he must avoid his family's Christmas celebrations. He is afraid that if he attends, his father will not let him return to school. My heart aches to think about that. So I will concentrate on making this Christmas wonderful for him. I will have lots of good help.

Apparently, our IRIS coordinator has asked for some information on what will happen at Christmas time in our family, and how the schedule will change. Victor said, "Ashley wants an essay!! The answer will be very long!" It all begins on the 17th when the college kids begin arriving, followed closely by the missionary daughter from Honduras on the 18th. The rest of the crew will arrive on the 23/24th and away we go. There will be non-stop celebrating Jesus' birthday from the 24th to the 28th because we have to do our December/January birthdays in there also. We will go caroling as a church youth group and also as a family, attend church together, enjoy our traditional donut feed, open lots of presents, watch movies, play games, watch football, sleep in, and eat special foods that we don't eat any other time of year.

I hope they are ready, because their schedule is about to get seriously messed up! I hope I survive to write about it when it is all over!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009


"Count your many blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done!"
My husband's family begins each Thanksgiving celebration with this beautiful hymn, and each year we are truly thankful for our blessings. This year, we count our African sons among our many blessings! Victor and Dennis survived two family gatherings, two gigantic dinners and two afternoons of watching football! Some memories: Victor's amazing pass receptions during the backyard cousin FB game; Dennis' visit to the Care Center in my parents' golf cart; post-movie craziness at McDonald's (go see "Blind Side") where Victor tried to suck a McFlurry out of that special spoon; Dennis' fear of a wild animal he heard crossing the creek (he thought it might be a crocodile but it turned out to be a big buck); Victor's surprise at the "smoke" coming out of his mouth when we left for his early morning BB practice; Dennis helping put up the outdoor Christmas decorations; playing SPOONS!; our own children (now adults) loving their new brothers; the sound of laughter late into the night.
Blessings abound! We do indeed give thanks.

Can't wait for Christmas when we can introduce the rest of our kids to their new brothers. More celebrations! More people! More football! More Blessings!!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How do they see us?

I'd like to be a fly on the wall this weekend when the IRIS students are getting together in Waterloo. What are they talking about? Being teenagers, I think that it is very probable that they may be comparing their host parents, their rooms, their schools, their new friends. Certainly they are talking about family rules and siblings and school activities. Can't you just imagine the stories and the conversations? Well, I can. If I were a fly on the wall..........

"What? Your mom doesn't make you breakfast?? Mine fixes pancakes or waffles every morning. Sure wish I could have some cereal!" Or- "Does your dad keep trying to get you to eat everything in sight?? I think I've gained 10 pounds already!" Or- "Your mom washes your clothes?? You have your own room? You have to clean your bathroom??"

I can't wait to hear about their weekend. Hopefully, they will still be glad that they are living with us after hearing about the other families. Whatever they are thinking, I know they will be glad to get home and we will be glad to see them. And that's enough for me, regardless of the stories I'm sure they told about us this weekend!

Monday, November 9, 2009

It's Good to be Appreciated!

I tried to prepare the boys for the "Musical Season" at our house, but I'm sure they had no idea what that meant until they survived living at the director's house for the two weeks leading up to the show. My husband is used to it. My five children have been through it many times. They know what to expect and they have lived to tell about it. They remember the warmed-up (and sometimes non-existent) suppers, the bleary eyed answers to questions, the brief glimpses of someone they thought lived at their house, and the barely concealed lack of patience that was thoroughly exhausted dealing with talented, but moody teenagers.
I am happy to report that both Victor and Dennis have weathered the storm in fine shape. They put up with their dad's cooking, appreciated Grandma's freezer meals, scrounged in the refrigerator for snacks, and tried to keep the questions and the need for help to a minimum. They even went to the show and laughed in all the right places! I'm totally exhausted, but as proud as punch.
They told me they took a vote: 3-0 they want me back. Sure is nice to be appreciated.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

State Cross Country

It was a beautiful day for the end of October in Iowa, a great day for running and for watching those who ran! Our Tanzanian son ran like the wind, achieved his goal, and was the 9th fastest in the state. His coaches' goal was for him to be in the top 15. His personal goal was to bring home a medal by being one of the top 10. We are all so proud that he ran well under a lot of pressure. He was representing his country, his adoptive school, and his team. He humbly accepted our praise and congratulations ........... and mourned for his worthy competitor from a neighboring school who finished just out of the medals. Wow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reflections on Parent-Teacher Conferences

Random observations:
* My African sons are respectful and hard working. Their teachers wish all their students were as eager to learn.
* They have learned to ask questions, which is not necessarily encouraged in their own cultures. I am very proud of them for this!
* They recognize the good teachers as the ones who expect the most from their students and keep order in class. Hmm. They also recognize the lazy ones as the ones who show movies frequently and who pretend that uncorrected worksheets are good reference material for quizzes. Hmm.
* They are well liked and were greeted by many of the students and parents we saw at the conferences. (Thanks to Cross Country, Football, and Church youth group)
* They are dealing with many cultural differences that we don't even know about. Last week, Dennis was so pleased and surprised to learn that he didn't have to start over on a paper he was writing because all of the corrections could be made right on the computer! (He had asked me to type it.) What else is he thinking that I can't imagine?
* The teachers that are hard for them to understand are the same way for me! You should have seen me leaning forward and concentrating hard on comprehending what the Chemistry teacher was saying!
* Parent-teacher conferences went very well. We are looking forward now to the next season, which of course! Every day brings new surprises. Today I learned that they both have been thinking that the milk we drink (skim) must come from sick cows because it tastes almost like water!!!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I had been very carefully pointing out the signs of the changing seasons so Victor and Dennis would not miss them: the drying crops, the colorful leaves, the delayed sun in the morning. I was so looking forward to the coming of winter and watching them experience snow for the first time. I was imagining their reaction, their surprise, their wonder. And then........I missed it. Only God knew that it would snow on October 10 when we would be in Michigan with our son and daughter-in-law and they would be in Iowa with my husband's brother and family. So I will just have to keep imagining what it was like, though sister-in-law Linda gave a wonderful description of big, round eyes, repeated "No Way!" comments, snow angels, and snowball fights. I can't wait to help them welcome spring!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Homecoming Week 09

The theme was "Under the Big Top" and the weather was cold, wet, and dreary. The boys had heard about Homecoming for several weeks, but really didn't know what it was or what to expect. It was very interesting how differently Victor and Dennis approached the week, but very indicative of their personalities. Victor was very "into" the dress up days. He spent quite a while Sunday night creating a duct tape tie for Monday (Duct Tape Day). It took a long time because he insisted on using a ruler (and measuring and everything!) Dennis was sure that all this talk about dressing up had nothing to do with studies or homework or anything serious at all. It wasn't until his two cross country buddies showed up at school on Tuesday in full costume for Circus Animal Day that he thought it might be ok to have a little fun. So Wednesday was Clown Day. Between Dick's chore stash and the kids' old dress up barrel, we managed to outfit them satisfactorily (see video below). So much fun! We were all laughing hysterically at Dennis' reactions. He kept saying "Everyone will laugh!" We said "That's the whole point!" The next morning before he left, Dennis made a sign that he taped to his shirt front that said "I don't need questions." What a hoot. At the end of the day he admitted that he had had a fun day. But apparently enough was enough. That was the last time we got him into a costume.

Parade Day was interesting. Dennis rode the Cross Country float, with much prodding and careful explanation of the terms "parade" and "float". It was colder than he thought it was going to be, but other than that, an ok experience. Victor enjoyed riding the fire truck with the other football players, of course. No jacket needed.

Dennis had been worrying about the dance for several weeks, trying to decide whether or not to go. (For Victor there was no question- his main worry might have been whether the evening would last long enough to dance with all the girls who wanted to dance with him.) Eshpa (another Tanzanian student living nearby) wanted to go but didn't want to go alone, so the moms got together and made the plans. The three students would go together (pictured above) but could leave whenever they wanted. We sent cell phones with them and went home to wait for the phone to ring......and waited......and waited. Turns out they were having such a good time they stayed for the whole dance. The only problem for the evening was that the parents had to stay up long enough to bring them home!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Climate Culture Shock

I love the brisk fall air, the pungent smell of decaying leaves and grass, the last cutting of alfalfa, and the brilliant colors of autumn. My African sons, however, do not like the fall. Correction- one of my African sons does not like the fall. Why? Because he is cold. All of the time. And people keep saying reassuring things like: "What? You are cold? Just wait- it gets worse! This is NOTHING!" Thanks a lot. He was just starting to like Iowa, now all he can imagine is six months of shivvering. September was so nice. I kept remarking about the beautiful weather, and at first he didn't understand why. Now he does.
The other son? He must have the same metabolism as William, our second son, who wears T-shirts year round and might put on his winter coat in January if it is gets below 0. Dennis is bundled up in his track sweats under several blankets and Victor wants to turn on the fan. Good grief. Tonight my husband brought home a genuine rabbit fur-lined ear-flapped farmer hat as a joke. Dennis loves it. He said he wants to wear it to bed! I think he may have discovered that our heating system only warms the first floor of our big farm house! (Bedrooms are on the 2nd floor of course.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Parenting Take Two

Tonight I'm feeling the heavy responsibility of making decisions for other mothers' sons. Last week we had a sit-down heavy-duty talk about aggressive American females and how to run from temptation (prodded by the pending homecoming dance hoopla). This week we are navigating a possible ankle injury to the runner. All uncharted territory with boys from another world it seems. With our own boys my strategy was simple: Be mean to the girls who call my house. Tell my boys that the girls that chase them are not the ones they want. Repeat this mantra: Don't do drugs. Don't have sex. Remind them that they will NOT be in a car with a girl alone until they are 18. Pray real hard. (In case you don't know me very well, there is a lot of truth in this, but also a little exaggeration). In some ways, we are doing the parenting better the second time around because we are assuming nothing and talking about everything!

Take the possibly injured ankle, for instance. We cannot assume that this pain he is telling us about is just a little owie that will go away with ice and ibuprofen. We don't know if he is as tough as our boys ("I'm fine mom- I can wrestle on this broken ankle!!" OR... "I do NOT have a concussion!") or if he is more sensitive and, um, sensible. We do know that his tribe's cure for the malaria he had 2 years ago was to spend 2 weeks in the forest eating beef and roots. Hm..

When we signed up for 2 African boys, I did not stop to think that we would be so responsible for sending them home whole, pure, and better than when they came. I understand that they bear some responsibility for their actions also, but I spoke to Victor's mama on the phone tonight. She is counting on me and I don't want to let her down.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


They got to see John, another Tanzanian student who will be staying with our sister and brother-in-law next semester. They enjoyed eating tail-gate food and meeting new American relatives. They got properly decked out in red ISU-wear. They learned how to point the right direction and say "ANOTHER CYCLONE FIRST DOWN!" with the crowd. They were privileged to see the Cyclones win against Army! They enjoyed Cy's antics with the West Point mascot (a horse?). They endured the long walk back to the car (exercise they did NOT need after the cross country meet that morning). But what did Dennis and Victor enjoy the most? (Be still my beating heart)............the baton twirler that was part of the marching band! Go figure!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Culture Shock

We are looking forward to taking the boys to the ISU Cyclone game Saturday. I can only imagine what new things they will see. While they may be familiar, at least in theory, with the craziness a soccer crowd can exhibit, I wonder if they will be ready for a night game at Jack Trice Stadium. For example, how does one explain tail-gating (a family tradition)? How do I prepare them for the noise level? The multi-media onslaught? The frenetic over-stimulation? The unruly crowds? I guess I won't even try. We will only get to go to one game this year- and I definitely think it's part of the American experience that they should........experience. Maybe no explanation is necessary. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Study Habits Revisited

Our children were good students, but they did NOT get up at 3 am in the morning to study for 2 hours. They may have STAYED UP that late cramming for a college exam. They may have watched 3 am come and go at a slumber party or camp out. They have set their alarm for 3 am to go on a mission trip or catch an early plane. But get up at 3 to study? Uh-uh. So you can imagine my confusion when Dennis asked me if studying at 3 would bother anyone. Since their room is upstairs and ours is downstairs, I said "No, but why would you want to do that?" This kind of behavior is totally foreign to all the teenagers I have ever known, and I am a high school teacher. Enough said. He informed me that this was common practice in his country. The students his age routinely study many hours of the day or night, sacrificing sleep and recreation in order to be ready to take their major exams. Wow. Of course, they don't get to be on an athletic team, sing in a school choir, hang out at the mall, or even see their families much if they go to a boarding school. They also don't get to talk back to their teachers, fail exams, or break school rules. Discipline is meted out with a cane. While this seems a bit extreme, I'm wondering if there is a happy balance between Dennis' and Victor's home educational system and our own. While I'm not advocating middle-of-the-night studying, I can see that we could learn from the high value they place on their education and they could learn from us how to turn out well-rounded individuals who can work on teams. Of course, I realize it is not that simple. But it is interesting to think about.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A New Crop of Athletes

We raised 3 football players, 1 basketball player, 1 wrestler, 1 track champion, 1 volleyball player, and a cross country runner. Ok- only five children but you get the idea. I thought we had turned in our blue stadium seats for our brown recliners. Wrong! We have a new crop of athletes at our house that are keeping us hopping from bleacher to bleacher- sometimes on the same night. Here are a couple of things I want to remember from the beginning of their time with us regarding sports.

When Victor got here, he REALLY wanted to learn how to play American football. (What he calls football is actually what we call soccer). So that first weekend, William went to the house to get a football. When he joined Victor outside, Victor said "What's that?" Since then, he has been practicing daily. William showed him how to throw the ball, James taught him to catch, and Dick taught him to kick. (Samuel reacted on the phone: Dad's playing football with Victor? He never did that with me!) Well, that's because he was milking the cows! Last Friday night, he got to kick off in the Varsity game! He is a very quick learner, and a natural athlete. His hands are 3 times the size of mine and he really wants to use them to be a pass receiver. Maybe in time........

Dennis was very sure that he did not want to play American football, but he thought he might like to run, so we signed him up for Cross Country. First meet- 4th. Second meet- 2nd. Third meet- 1st! I asked him what he did differently to beat some of the same competition that he followed in the first 2 meets. He said: "I just decided to win." Wow.

No one at the black and gold school seems to care that our stadium seats are blue and white. I think they've got a few more seasons in them.

Next time: study habits

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Welcome to my blog about the year that two young men from Africa joined our family. We had no idea what to expect- just a certain knowledge that this was what God wanted us to do. So we prayed.....and prepared....and waited......and went to Alaska! When we got home, they were here to meet us. We love them already and they have only been here for one month. Here is the first installment of what I hope will be many reflections about our year with Dennis (Tanzania) and Victor (Nigeria).

I thought I was prepared for the addition of two young men from Africa to our family, because we have successfully raised five active and involved children who are all grown and on their own now. Well, I wasn’t!

I found that there are some similarities: how much they eat, how much they sleep, how busy their lives become so quickly.

But oh, there are differences! Our semi-quiet, empty-nest lives have been turned upside down in three short weeks, but I have to say we love it! The boys are bonding quickly; they tease and take care of each other.

Victor is enjoying learning to play American football. He has progressed from not knowing what a football looked like to earning the spot of kicker on the JV team! He got to play on two plays in the varsity game last week, and the student section was chanting his name!

Dennis has earned the first place position on his cross country team and won a 2nd place medal in a meet on Tuesday. He makes it look easy and is an inspiration to the team. He also is learning to play some songs on the piano!

I want to share a story that is funny now, but was NOT so funny a couple of nights ago…

It was 2:38 a.m., and we were awoken by a foreign-sounding voice saying: “HELLO…… HELLO…… HELLO!” My husband thought it was the radio, so he began flapping at it trying to make it stop. All he succeeded in doing was making music play louder. So now, we have the voice: “HELLO….. HELLO…… HELLO” and the radio playing music loudly.

I started to chuckle when I realized that our portable phone (which is usually in its place at the answering machine by the bed) was in the other room, and we did not hear it ring. All we heard was the Nigerian voice trying to talk to our answering machine message!

Apparently, Victor had not gotten the message to every member of his family about the six-hour time difference, and his uncle just wanted to say “HELLO!”

We had one sleepy day, but for the most part our African exchange student experience has been wonderful and educational. Our nest is no longer empty, and we are trying hard to keep up with our new African sons!