Archive for November, 2012

I am Not Very Good with Water Crafts

I work with several recreational groups for children. I am great arranging games, doing social skills activities, helping them   cook simple meals, go out to the movies, bowling and other such activities.  The one area where I am terrible is in doing crafts.

For an October program, we had a great day; went to a corn maze, picked pumpkins, made pizzas for lunch and then…decorated pumpkins. What could go wrong with that, you ask?  Well, I was in charge of it, which was the first mistake. The second mistake was in lieu of having the children of various ages and disabilities use a knife to cut into it, I chose to have them decorate the outside. Not with just stickers…no, THAT would have been too easy! We were using large google eyes, yarn for hair and fake “gems’ for the smile. Very tactile.  Lots of bling.  Lots of glue.  Lots of the WRONG glue…the yarn hair drooped into the eyes, which drooped down towards the mouth, which also drooped down into a frown.  They were very sad looking, in more ways than one.  I excitedly told them to tell their parents they created a melting pumpkin face.  They were thrilled they were so clever.  I was mortified the glue did not hold the items in their designated places.

I had another glue mishap a while ago.  I used jars of baby food and the kiddos glued an icon into the jar top; Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Disney princesses, and the Littlest Mermaid.  While it dried, they added water colored a light blue, and then half of a jar of sparkles. We were making snow globes, of course.  However, when they tightly screwed the top to the bottom, the icons  simply drifted off into the water.  I had used the wrong glue AGAIN, not water proof.  The little icons were freely floating in the sparkly water.  They could understand why they Littlest Mermaid was swimming, and Spidey could have been flowing through the water to save someone, but poor Minnie and Mickey were just plain drowning!  

My last craft humiliation also contained water.  A few weeks ago I had the kiddos make Thanksgiving centerpieces using real flowers in a beautiful bowl.  I’m no slouch when it comes to common sense, so I knew enough to purchase those green hard spongy things in which the kids could stick the flower stems. First,they glued colored (fake) leaves on the outside of the bowls. Then they started sticking the flowers in one by one.  We followed a basic pattern, a tall, bushy yellow one on top, assorted yellow and orange ones arranged downward, and plenty of greens to finish it off. They put it in the bowl and we filled it with water. They all looked WONDERFUL. I was so proud of my students and their creations,which they showed to their parents when they picked them up. We all know that moms and dads are famous for “ooooowwwwing” and “aaaawwwwing” over each and every creation their child makes, but I knew for sure these were the real thing.  

After the students left, I went back to look at the flower arrangement I had done as a sample.  The flowers were listing to the side.  Curious because they were stuck safely into that green hard spongy thing which should have held them straight…IF IT HAD BEEN GLUED PROPERLY TO THE BOTTOM OF THE BOWL!  GLUE!!!!! Why hadn’t I known that it would FLOAT if not glued down?  Horror visions of the kiddos flowers floating on their side, sitting on their Thanksgiving tables filled my head.  Oh, NO! I am staying away from glue and water crafts from now on!    











For any new readers, I am attaching the review of my book by Readers Digest:

Nov 02, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

What to Read After a Hurricane

by Dawn Raffel

Shortly before Hurricane Sandy came to my town, flooding my house and knocking out the power (which is still out), I had the good fortune to download The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane by Linda Petersen.

Her story begins not with her children but with her own childhood spent traveling the country in the backseat of her parents’ car (her perpetually restless dad had post-traumatic stress disorder from  WWII), often with very little money and few provisions. Where someone else might have seen deprivation and isolation, Petersen viewed her unusual childhood with a sense of wonder and gratitude. After marrying young and giving birth to a son who was legally blind (and who went on to earn a PhD on full scholarship), Petersen and her husband adopted four more special needs children and fostered many others.

Her honesty, wit, and terrific storytelling make this a book you want to read rather than one you feel you should read. So there I was, swiping pages on an iPad in the dark in a blackout… I couldn’t have picked a better book for putting it all in perspective.

I Used to Think People Who Celebrated Their 25 Wedding Anniversary were Old…I was wrong!

When I was young, I thought couple who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversaries were old.  I learned when I celebrated mine, that they were really quite  young.  I was astonished I ever thought differently.  How could I EVER have thought that?  I must have needed glasses at the time.

Being married more than 25 years to my “first love” has been a blessing.  He was the cook and I was the waitress at a restaurant I worked in while in college.  Here is some advice for anyone reading who is not yet married:  LOOK FOR SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO COOK.  I have been so fortunate because HE does all of the grocery shopping and cooking.  Really.  I come home almost every day to a delightfully cooked meal, complete with salad, meat, veggies, and an tall iced glass of Diet Coke.  He used to make desserts, too, until we both started to expand our waists…

For Thanksgiving, we have a great family tradition.  I and ten others in my immediate family, (children, their significant others, and a grandchild) go to the movies. Yes, the movies!  We saw “The Life of Pi” because several of my children are fascinated with animals. It was about an Indian boy shipwrecked with some animals from his family zoo. Everyone seemed to enjoy it because it had something for everyone.  Brooding, spiritual, philosophical content along with a cheetah jumping on animals and killing them for food.  The food chain.  Done tastefully with no blood or other sites where one has to turn their head, shut their eyes and go “EWWWWWWW”.  We enjoyed buckets of drenched in fake butter popcorn and ICEEs.  Great day at the movies for us. Great day in the kitchen for my husband, who loves to cook but likes to have a quiet kitchen, something which is rarely available to him.

We came home from the movies and VOILA!  Turkey and trimmings are on the neatly set table with the obligatory child made Turkey centerpiece.  All 12 of us sat down and had an extremely delicious dinner. My husband basked in the glory.  There is nothing better than doing something you love and getting praise for it.

I was proud of my children who “signed” (American Sign Language) for Marie, who is deaf. We signed the simple Thanksgiving prayer,and the conversations began. As a mother, there is no sweeter sight than all of my family members being happy and sharing conversation with Marie, who smiled and laughed and participated.  I think I have raised them right. I remember that every Thanksgiving and I my little heart smiles inside me.




In case readers may not know, my book was reviewed by Readers Digest:

Nov 02, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

What to Read After a Hurricane

by Dawn Raffel

Shortly before Hurricane Sandy came to my town, flooding my house and knocking out the power (which is still out), I had the good fortune to download The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane by Linda Petersen.

Her story begins not with her children but with her own childhood spent traveling the country in the backseat of her parents’ car (her perpetually restless dad had post-traumatic stress disorder from  WWII), often with very little money and few provisions. Where someone else might have seen deprivation and isolation, Petersen viewed her unusual childhood with a sense of wonder and gratitude. After marrying young and giving birth to a son who was legally blind (and who went on to earn a PhD on full scholarship), Petersen and her husband adopted four more special needs children and fostered many others.

Her honesty, wit, and terrific storytelling make this a book you want to read rather than one you feel you should read. So there I was, swiping pages on an iPad in the dark in a blackout… I couldn’t have picked a better book for putting it all in perspective.

I Never Thought I’d be Thankful for Having Big Breasts…and I Don’t Mean the Ones on the Turkey!

I waitressed from the age of 15 to 27, and it was a great job to have during college and as I started my career as a social worker.  I learned how to balance eight plates on my arm, and carry another 3 more in my hand.  I could gather up 8 glasses of water and get them to the table without spilling a drop.  I enjoyed the customers and nothing on the job bothered me…if I can handle life with five kids with ridiculously difficult problems, I could handle a burnt meal or two, the Heimlich maneuver, and customers running out without paying their checks.  So, when the time came recently that we needed extra money, I obtained a job as a waitress at a well known local restaurant nearby. Of course, I haven’t done this job in 30 years, and I AM a little older, but I thought I could still do well (and use my Cheshire cat smile to charm the customers into leaving large tips.)  I have worked for a week at this job, and I DO like it, but age has a way of affecting how I do my job.  When I squat down to get something from a bottom shelf, I can’t get up without a helping hand.  I need glasses to read the orders.  At this restaurant, which is more “elegant” than where I worked before, we need to use trays on which to place the plates of food, not line them up our arms, (a technique which served me well so many years ago!)  The problem is, I have arthritis in my hands and elbows and my balance is a little off, so I have difficulty carrying a tray full of meals up on my shoulder using one hand.  I CAN carry the tray on my shoulder if I use 2 hands, but the problem then comes when I have to put it gracefully down.  The other waitresses deftly grab a tray stand with one hand while balancing the meals with the other.  That’s not gonna happen with me.

This is where my appreciation of large breasts comes in.  I had always hated them.  The bra straps hurt.  They poke out unattractively.  If I try to wear a necklace, it sits at an awkward angle.  I am forever collecting crumbs on them. And they have just generally been a pain in the neck to put up with.  Until now.  When waitressing, I have learned how to take the tray off of my shoulders with both hands, and, with one hand under the tray and the top part of the tray balanced solidly under my left breast, I use my other hand to serve the meals.  Mission accomplished!  I wonder how long I’ll be able to do this before the management notices the gravy stains on my apron!

Beatles are NOT Bugs

I attended a banquet last evening where the featured musicians played songs from the 60s and 70s…the Beatles, the Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, and so forth.  Listening to the same Beatles songs that were first heard on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago, I became nostalgic for my childhood.  I led an unusual childhood with parents who were the opposite of materialistic…they rarely spent money on “things”.  Being a teenager those days was much easier than being a teenager in “modern” times.  Teenagers now have so many choices of types of jeans, sneakers, perfume and so forth.  We did not have as many choices when I was younger, and, if we did, my parents would have still bought the no name brand sneakers and jeans at K-Mart.  And who needed to smell good anyway?

For Christmas that year my dad gave me his old record player and a record to play on it.  The record was of the fake famous band the Bugs…dressed and hairstyled after the Beatles.  They played the same songs as the Beatles, albeit a little off key. To my parents, it was the same.  To me it was not.  Having been raised not to care about “things”, it surprised me how let down I felt when I received this record.  I know it was selfish of me when we had so many other things to spend money on, but I was disappointed by the fact that I did not get a  real Beatles record.

Although I have lived my life also not dependent on “things”, I still remember with more than a little resentment that day 40 years go.  Sneakers were just sneakers.  Jeans were just jeans.  But the Bugs were NOT the Beatles!


To read more about my unusual childhood, please check out my book The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane,   which was reviewed by Readers Digest at

Dead Van Running



Last week I pulled into a gas station from out of town to, obviously, get gas.  I filled it up, (ie put $20 in as it would have cost $100 to really fill it!)  Because this station had super cheap gas, a line quickly formed behind me. I started the van up and tried to shift into “drive”.  The shifter did not move!  I tried again, and again and again as the line of cars behind me now flowed out onto the street.  IT WOULD NOT SHIFT!  The car was running smoothly, it had plenty of gas, and yet it would not move.  I was highly embarrassed now, as the cars started honking at me.  However, as it my usual good fortune, this particular gas station was associated with an auto repair business.  I ran in and got the mechanic, who took a look at the line of cars, and tried not to smile.  I am sure he thought I was just incompetent, and he cockily climbed into the drivers seat and grabbed hold of the shifter, but it would not budge for him either.  There were only 2 ways to get my van out of the way…have it towed, (which we all know would be another disaster,) or having him climb underneath my running van and by hand shift the gear into drive, crawling out before it started moving.  In other words, a death defying trick.  Being the brave man that he was, he choose the latter option.  As he crawled under the van, he told me that no matter what I do, DO NOT STEP ON THE GAS UNTIL HE TELLS ME TO.  I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.  My little old, nervous, shaking foot on that break pedal was the only thing between this man and death!  He shifted it quickly and rolled out, telling me to “Go!  Go!” which I did at a breakneck speed of about 2 miles per hour.  I made a loop around the gas station, coming to stop at an empty parking spot off to the side.  I put my foot on the break…holding down with all my might.  He crawled back under the van and hand shifted it back into park.  My hero!

Come to find out, the shift gears were so old that they were very rusty and would not move.  He took them apart, sanded them and oiled them, thereby fixing the problem.  When it came time to pay, he said, “That will be eight hundred and seventy-two dollars.” But before I could faint, he started laughing and said he was only teasing…it was only forty-two dollars for his labor.  This man risks his life and it costs me less than $50! I was so relieved that not only was my van fixed, but that it was fixed for a very reasonable price.  Such is my luck in life.  Every time something bad happens, it turns out okay.  I truly am lucky!  (And so was that crazy man who climbed under the car while it was still running!)


Just a reminder…as I am saving up for more reliable transportation, it would be greatly appreciated if you could consider purchasing my book, The Apple Tree:  Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane, which is sold on I-Books, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  I have since learned that some days it is easier to maintain my sanity than others…


Adoption Blogger Interview Project: Meet Ms. 20Stuff!

I volunteered to interview another adoptive parent, and I had the good fortune to meet Ms. 20Stuff who happened to have a friend who ran an orphanage in China…and the rest is history!  She has an amazing family, that is sure to grow even larger!

Please welcome her and her answers to my probing questions:

1)  Could you please let the readers know your underlying reasons for wanting to adopt, and why you specifically chose China.

We weren’t actually planning to adopt and didn’t have either any noble or heartbreaking reasons for wanting to adopting. We had been students preparing for a future of teaching at a university level and were “too busy” for kids. But a lifelong friend of my parents who runs an orphanage in Taiwan knew we were nearing our forties and still childless, and he persuaded us that we should apply for adoption. We did not know at the time that this small, private, government-approved orphanage only accepts about one in every thirty applications, or we would probably have been far more intimidated about starting the process! But we did start, somewhat reluctantly, and we stated in our application that we would take a child “with problems.” Apparently that willingness pushed us fairly high on the list, because only six months later and just two weeks after we’d moved to a different state for my husband to start his doctoral program, we received word about a five-week-old baby girl who was missing her left ear. We agreed to adopt her, then eagerly awaited photos! And less than six months later, just two days after Christmas (2007), we were in Taiwan and our precious little Pumpkin was in our arms.

We knew right away that we wanted a sibling for Pumpkin. I wanted a sister for her, but our orphanage director urged us to consider a boy, and I am so thankful he did. Two years later we were able to adopt ten-month-old Slick from this same orphanage, and he has been such a joy to us.


The first four or five months were not at all joyful to us, though — we were completely unprepared for Pumpkin’s over-the-top jealousy of Slick or for his waking up and crying once every two hours throughout the night. Crazy daughter during the day, crazy son during the night! It was a miserable time, and I felt that we had ruined our family by trying to have two children.


Just the same, in August of 2010, about five months after Slick came home, I happened to see two referral photos of Sunshine, a six-year-old girl with Cerebral Palsy in China,  on another adoptive mom’s blog, along with Sunshine’s story and a plea for someone to come forward and become this child’s family. I couldn’t help myself! I loved her and wanted to be her mother. I prayed for three months, and then at the end of October, my husband very unexpectedly said, “You know, our home study is going to expire — we should look at some agencies if we want to adopt again.” I told him about Sunshine, and we began her adoption the next day.


Then in August of 2011, our agency told us about Joy, a chronically ill 13-year-old girl about to “age out” of China’s orphan care system in just four weeks. I said I would advocate for her online and did so on our blog and Facebook, but no one came forward for her, so I asked if we could adopt her. Mr. 20Stuff then conducted a Hague-convention adoption in just three weeks! Oh. My. Word. Adoption of a special needs international child usually takes about a year, but through God’s mercy, the intervention of everyone from our adoption agencies to government offices on both sides of the water, and my husband’s heroic efforts, that adoption was completed in three weeks. I am still amazed! And did I mentioned that God provided every last dollar needed for Joy’s adoption? Even the airfare and hotel costs — everything came in within three days.


Mr.20Stuff flew to China without knowing whether he was bringing home one daughter or two, but within just a few days,  we rejoiced to learn that we would be bringing home two daughters, Sunshine and Joy. But within four days, Joy had become very angry about the adoption (imagine your child at 14 being taken away from everything she had ever known and sent to live with strangers from a different race and language far away from her own country). She raged and grieved and dug in for what was clearly going to be years and years of anger. I have no doubt even now that she was fully prepared to hate us for years. But I could see that she responded well and immediately to a particular type of personality in the women we knew at church, school, and elsewhere, and I saw that she was very intelligent and could be relaxed and happy and even sweet-spirited. As our home life fell apart around her misery, I began to imagine a “second chance” for her, a home with a mom who had that particular personality type that was so able to connect with Joy. Through one of our blog readers, God provided a second family for her after seven months in our home. She is now doing very well in her new home, and our younger three children are relaxing and returning to their “real” selves in her absence.


That’s our adoption story in a nutshell. 🙂 We do hope to adopt one or maybe two more, another boy and maybe a girl, but for now we are recovering from Joy’s time in our home and are content with just three children.

2)  How did you feel in that airport as you were waiting for your husband to get off the plane from China?

I felt quite apprehensive, because at that point I was well aware that Joy was bitterly unhappy about her adoption, and I wondered what on earth we were doing to our family. Still, I was convinced that this adoption was God’s will — He had shown us in multiple ways — and I still believe that. Joy’s second family could not have adopted her when she was in China and “aging out,” but they could adopt her once she arrived and had received citizenship and so forth. They are very, very clearly the right family for her. Of that I have no doubt at all. She has been in her new family for five or six months, now, and is happy and learning to be loved.


3)  Your children are amazed at the microwave and watch it go ’round and ’round.  What other American “inventions” have they found fascinating?

Yes, that was such a funny thing. Both Joy and Sunshine would stand and watch the microwave table turn. And it was through the microwave that we began to get a sense for Sunshine’s enthusiastic response to life. One day as I was setting the dining room table, I heard our little Sunshine shouting as she stood by the microwave, “Mommy! Mommy! Hot dog — BOOM!” She didn’t know how else to tell me that the hot dog had exploded in the microwave.

I think what has most amazed Sunshine has been the water park at the zoo. I have never seen a more grateful child in my life. She was utterly thrilled and thanked us over and over again for taking her.

4)  You mentioned in your blog that while shopping, buying additional clothes was beyond your financial [capability] at the time.  I think one thing readers may  not realize, unless they have adopted themselves, that there is an enormous financial cost to adoption before you even start the financial cost of raising these kiddos who, in your case, have disabilities.  Could you expand generally on this?

Yes, good grief! The “start up” costs for bringing in an older child are every bit as expensive as bringing in an infant: bed, bedding, dresser, clothing, shoes, books, toys, backpacks, etc., etc., etc.. In Joy and Sunshine’s first seven months with us, we spent about $10,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. Each girl had nearly two dozen medical appointments a piece, which included specialists of various kinds and a surgery for each of them. We were living on a single income, just my salary as a full-time lecturer at a university while my husband worked on his doctoral program (he’s in the dissertation phase), and we hadn’t done any fund-raising for the after-adoption expenses (very few families do), so it has been a tough year financially. Yes, adoptive families do struggle with the after-adoption expenses.

5)  What things have you done with your family that have been the most fun and least stressful?

Our children have especially enjoyed activities that we do together: taking walks, craft-time, going to the library, and so forth. This summer after Joy left, we were able to take Pumpkin, Slick, and Sunshine to the zoo and the water park on two occasions and this fall to a children’s museum, and they were thrilled with everything. They do have some physical, emotional, and behavioral challenges: cerebral palsy, severe astigmatism, hearing loss, Fetal Alcohol Effects, low muscle tone, poor articulation of speech, anxious attachment, sensory integration issues, etc., so time away from home can be challenging for them and for us. We are also unemployed right now while Mr. 20Stuff is working on his dissertation and I am staying home with our son, so family entertainment that requires admission fees or so forth can be a stretch for us. But God has provided for us, and we enjoy taking the kids places that delight and stimulate them.


Thank you, 5kidswithdisabilities, for interviewing us here at 20Stuff! We have not ever told our full story here on this blog, so it was fun to attempt to “write it in a nutshell.”

Thank you Ms. 20Stuff!  It was nice to “meet” your amazing family!  If anyone would like to get to know them more, the link to their blog is


To read more interviews of other adoption bloggers, go to

It was MY Fault My Daughter’s Soccer Team Lost

Because of limited services to children who are deaf and have psychiatric disabilities in our state, my daughter,  Marie,  has been placed in a residential school out of state.  This has worked out great, as she is educated and has good social relationships during the school week, and is able to come home on the weekends for quality family time.  However, because her school is two hours away, I have been unable to attend any of her after school soccer games. This past weekend she and I went shopping for soccer gear for her to be the goalie…a desire of hers for ages!  Generally speaking, it does not make sense to have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder be a goalie because her athletic skills are better when running around the field and are not so good for paying attention and waiting for a soccer ball to come her way.  For whatever reason, this child has always wanted to be the goalie, and it appears that her coach agreed to give it a try.  So, for her momentous occasion, I decided to drive up to her school to watch the game.

Marie was thrilled to see me.  In fact, she was so thrilled to see me that she kept looking over and smiling and waving…usually at the same exact moment when a soccer ball would come flying into the net to make a goal for the opposing team.  Try as she might, the reassurance of me being on the sidelines overcame her ability to perform her roll as the goalie…given the assumption that she would have been able to perform the roll in the first place.  I was mortified as the balls kept flying past her, but she kept smiling and signing “Mom!  I”m the goalie!”

I tried not to look at her so she wouldn’t look at me.  What I saw and heard astounded me.  Her team looked like most other soccer teams at schools for the deaf…all sizes and abilities, attempting to be as inclusive as possible.  The opposing team was made up of what looked like 6 foot “jocks”.  I looked at the burly guys and thought “Wow!  They must all really work out at the gym at THEIR school.”  Then I started to listen.  They were cheering each other on.  “Vite!  Vite!” and “Passez-moi!”  My immediate reaction was that I was thrilled I was finally able to put those 5 years of learning the French language to good use, (rather than the more popular Spanish language which should have been my obvious choice!)  Then I realized, they weren’t DEAF, they were FRENCH!  AND they were GREAT soccer players!  Yes, my daughter did let ball after ball through as they scored goals, but the fact of the matter is that no one on her team ever got close enough to their net to even TRY to score a goal.  So yes, my daughter’s team may have lost, but I blame it on the husky, six foot tall, great soccer players from the private French school!

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