Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I never saw a Michael Jackson video. Only the bits they've played on the radio made me confident I'd heard him sing.

I've never seen Jennifer Aniston in anything. Or Angelina Jolie. Or Katie Holmes. Or Brad Pitt.

I never have seen Friends.

I never saw the planes hit the towers. Or any other visual from 9-11.

I never saw the Rodney King video.

I've never seen Spongebob, though we did have a Spongebob bowl.

I never saw a Little House on the Prairie episode, though I have read all of the books at least twenty times.

I never saw a Star Trek episode.

I wonder if anyone will still be my friend when they know how radically weird I really am.

Monday, June 29, 2009


A few people have asked how my job is going. I honestly haven't been able to answer. Have I had my head buried under the blankets? Not been able to think for all the rumbling beneath my feet? Just been unable to put my fear and trembling into words? Probably all of these and more. I am not actually sure I can do it now.

Things seem one way. People say they are one way. This piece and that piece might not fit together quite right. Then, you realized that the reality is not at all what you have been led to expect.

I think I am finally beginning to understand why.

To recap: The two Catholic parishes in my city will be merged.....as of July 1. Forget that one has prided itself on being traditional and orthodox, the other on being accepting of all people and ideas. (I hope that is a good way to put it - obviously, I am with the first parish described.) We underwent at least nine months wondering if we'd have a job. Interviews were held. I eventually found out that I was hired for my own position. In fact, with one exception, all of the full-time staff was kept. But, some inner voice told me not to rejoice too heartily. The situation was too uneasy. (Even disregarding the caveat that though all full-time staff were re-hired....it was only for a year. Another year of anxiety to face.)

The biggest immediate blow was that it was only full-time people that were retained. I have always chosen to divide my "full-time" assistant position into two part-time people. Because the pay is pretty low, that has allowed me to always have two assistants who are educated, mission-driven, capable, enthusiastic people. (Stand up and take a bow, Jen! One of my former assistants is now a blog-friend.) Usually my assistants have been moms who have found this part-time job with flexible hours precisely what they want. And they have been friends, too, not just employees but supporters. This has made my job really wonderful for all these years. No more. I'll have a ten-hour a week intern. I think that is as much like another responsibility as actual help.

And then - my other colleagues began dropping like fleas. Or, is the image more rats fleeing a sinking ship? Not long after the announcement was made, our parish administrator (Lydia's godfather) "retired". He was offered a more suitable part-time job with the diocese. Then the principal, who had become a really valued colleague, announced that her husband was offered a new position and they would be moving. (He had a standing offer to take this position....but they'd stayed because of her job.) The people who had been music ministers here for over 35 years were given their walking papers. We were already losing our pastor. The sense of loss and unease grew.

Then my closest colleague, the man I have shared a building with for twenty-four years, decided that things were too uncomfortable for him, too....that he'd rather "risk it" on retirement and the hope of some part time work, than take the stress.

This leaves me, and one woman over in the parish office, as the only pastoral staff remaining from our parish.....the pastor and all the staff from the "other" parish are moving in here. Yes; it feels uncomfortable. But it is more than just staffing.

I think I've finally figured it out. In my time here, we have had three different pastors, and an interim pastor. It has been relatively easy transitioning from one to the other. But, the situation was completely different. HE was coming into "our" place. The pastor was stepping in to manage a ship that was running smoothly. When he found things he didn't like, they might be changed over time, incrementally. The presumption has always been that we are doing our jobs well...carry on. This time, the pastor is already administering half the parish....and he has been there long enough to get things there precisely as he wants them. Of course, he now expects to get this "other" half of the parish "in line".

So, the names by which we've called things for all these years must be changed. The registration procedures that I have perfected over all these years so that they work just the way I need them to work - must be changed. I understand how he feels. If I were him, I'd be just the same. But I am also beginning to understand that I didn't keep "my" job - I got a new one. That just looks like my old one. My sense of being capable and qualified, respected for how I do my work - all gone. I am feeling very uneasy.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


My distant "granddaughter" Julianna.

I have mentioned before that I don't have many relatives. I grew up in a wonderful, but small nuclear family, wishing all the time that I had about twelve brothers and sisters - or (strangely) that I lived in an orphanage surrounded by children. I had/have only a very few cousins and of those, I saw only three or four of them when we traveled back to Iowa a couple of times a year. I was playing with "imaginary siblings" until I was twelve, at least!

Since I've been grown up, I've not even seen my distant and unknown cousins, and have resigned myself, for many years, to a very. quiet. life. At least as regards family! All the more so when my brother died from hemochromotosis at a young age, and then when my dad passed away a couple of years later.

But all was not lost! When it seemed that my own family would be small, the miracle of adoption enlarged it. And now, it seems to be extending itself again......

I was so pleased and heartwarmed to get the following letter from Sergei's sister, Nadia:

Hello my Dear relatives. How are you? How is your health? How did Seriozha do in school this year? Dear Annie, please can you tell me when your birthday is?

... I am very happy that Seriozha has wonderful parents like you. You have become like relatives for me, too. You are very kind people. Seriozha is very lucky. I would like to have the same parents, too. This is so wonderful when you have parents. I know how bad life is without them. Very often Julianna is asking me, "Who's on this photo?" I will explain to her, "This is your Uncle Seriozha and your grandmother Annie." Then she asks me "When will they come to visit us?" I explained to her, "They live in America very far away from here." Julia is a very sweet girl. ... We wrote this letter together. She says she loves you, Uncle Seriozha and Grandmother Annie very much! She asks Seriozha to please listen to your mom and dad. Love them and help them. Please remember us. We always look for your letters.

So, we can tell one thing for sure (which makes me love her) - Nadia is a doting mother! It really does make me happy to think that I have these new family members....even if they are far away. I hope so much that we can visit them some day. The time may come! [The money may come.] Meanwhile, we have the chance to communicate a bit, for which I'm grateful.

I cannot imagine what their life is like. I'd hatched a plan to bring Nadia and Julianna over here for a visit. But a Russian friend, and intermediary, told me that I simply didn't understand. That even getting out of their tiny settlement is difficult for Nadia - just buying food is hard for her. Getting to the place where she would obtain a passport and a visa would be near impossible, to say nothing about paying for it. Of course, we'd pay for it, but I can see that the logistics are too difficult right now. And I've no way of helping with those.

So, I hope that someday we can visit her. She is in the Rostov region - not in an area of Russia where I know anyone, so it would be quite an adventure, indeed! I'll keep my fingers crossed that someday it will be come a reality.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I have discovered a huge chink my already ragged armor of self control. A mocha frappe can really change my attitude. Mere frugality was keeping me in line previously. Then I discovered McDonalds.

One could never say I was "anti-McDonalds" - certainly not to the point of boycotting it or anything - but I've not previously been a fan.

Though, I confess, I am famously remembered for the time (the September I started homeschooling Aidan, came down with a severe case of pneumonia and was trying to master the most difficult time of my work year simultaneously) when after feeding him McDonalds the third or fourth time in as many days said, "Why don't you have the fish sandwich so you have a more well-rounded diet?"

But, apart from that foray into junk-food living, we really don't do McDonalds much. (In addition to forbidding trampoline-jumping I also refused to buy "Happy Meals"). Label me a meanie.

Until....I tried my first mocha frappe. Sooooooo good. Just as good as Starbucks or our local chain, Beaners. And CHEAPER!!! Also, so unlike the McDonalds we are used to (and unlike the more upscale places) they have a small size. Yes!

There is a little something lacking in the ambiance, I admit that. Instead of the leather lounge chairs, the fireplace, the erudite-types on their laptops...well... you know. It just is not the same.

Tonight I had one of my most jarring episodes, ambiance-wise. We attempted to avoid the ambiance-issue altogether by going through the drive-through. I have a little "thing" for the whipped cream, so I asked them to not put the lid on. They were happy to oblige - the cashier turned and bellowed:

"Hey! Hey, you! She don't want no lid on that frap thing!"
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Monday, June 22, 2009


I've never been able to convince Nastya that the hoods are decorative. I think this is from always having her head covered by the "mamas".

It was fun back when I first started this blog and I posted something every day. I am surprised to look back and see how "good" most of the posts are, for all that. I mean, they attempt to say something beyond the "we went here and did that".... which, I have to say, in our situation would NOT be that interesting.

Case in point.

This was our big Friday night entertainment. I took the kids swimming at the community center, then they told me that they'd "expected" I'd then take them out to dinner. ???? I have a hard time imagining that's true, but I surprised them by complying, and taking them to Steak and Shake. Then, on the way home, Sergei my "tech guy" asked to stop at Radio Shack to look for something.

Everyone went in and I thought I'd never get them out! Who would think that Radio Shack would be that fascinating to this disparate group? And for some reason the place was hopping with all sorts of people, including another family who seemed to be entertaining themselves the same way we were. Sergei bought some little LED lights in the end and I got a car charger for my phone. And a good time was had by all. (As you can see, I was just waiting for Ilya to get so interested in something I could take his picture.) :)

Actually, after I took everyone home, Nastya, Zhenya and I went out for some more "typical" fun - Nastya treated us to a movie - Imagine That! It was very sweet.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Carpet of Flowers for Corpus Christi
I love the traditions of the Catholic Church. Traditions can be a way of expressing our faith story, so that, as adults, we experience it anew. It is also a way of teaching (as if through "hands on" techniques) the faith to children and those who are new to it.

This past weekend, we celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi - or the Body and Blood of Christ. At the Saturday evening Mass, there is always a procession with the Blessed Sacrament around the church property. We stop at each corner and pray. We pray for the people who live there and in thanksgiving and petition for the things that happen in each directions (the seat of State government in Lansing, for example, and Michigan State University, to our immediate south, the country's government to the east, and the Great Lakes and farmlands to the north.)

We also do a humble version of an old tradition - making a carpet of flowers for those carrying the Blessed Sacrament to walk over....i.e. a carpet of flowers for Jesus. Anastasia and I assisted with making the carpet this year. It is a lovely work.

We "learn" sacrifice very simply by sacrificing the pretty flowers - God's gift to us - and offering them back to glorify Him and show Him our love....reminding ourselves that we love GOD - not His gifts. I have to say that tearing those flowers up is hard to do! And to see the priest, deacons and servers walk right over it at the end of Mass, as the procession starts, also rather makes me wince. So our labor has been sacrifice, too. And temporary, as are all the works we do here on this earth.

Through the procession we show in an outward way what is happening on a deeper level....we are all "processing" through life - traveling together, trying to follow Jesus, keeping one another from wandering away.

It is always beautiful, and memorable, and I'm so glad we do it!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


On Monday morning I had a few minutes before I needed to get the kids up, so I was paying bills and the renewal from AAA came up. I am not sure why I kept delaying. No family has ever gotten more good out of AAA than we have, but that's another post. Anyway, a week or so previously I realized that I'd actually let our membership lapse. Credit Union had changed everyone's numbers for security reasons, so it didn't take place automatically as usual. High time I took care of it, and since I was sitting at the computer, I figured - what the heck, I'd do it on line rather than writing the check. Good choice.

That night I had to run over to work again at 8 or so, and nearing the church, I felt something really odd, then heard something odder - and sure enough, I had a totally flat tire. A complete good-for-nothing tire. Praise God for AAA! I called, they came, I was able to go home in short order on my little doughnut tire and get a real tire replacement yesterday.

I thank God for the prompting to take care of the AAA membership that morning. I can't imagine how upsetting it would have been otherwise, to deal with it all myself and pay the considerable price to do so.

It is just this sort of thing that makes me believe that God is watching over me, caring for me, protecting me, loving me.


Am I being a childish fool?

This weekend a man in our parish - the husband of a somewhat older friend of mine - was out fishing with his son-in-law and granddaughters, ages 2,4, and 6. As the father and grandfather attended to a tangled fish line, the youngest little girl fell overboard. She was in her life jacket, but undoubtedly was afraid and cold. Grandfather jumped in to lift her aboard. While her father was getting her back in the boat and sorted - only a few moments, one would imagine - the grandfather, my friends' husband, went under and disappeared. They only found his body yesterday.

So, where was God then - on that sunny afternoon? Why would He take care of me and my flat tire, and let a good man drown while saving a child? Why would a child have to live her life believing that because of her a good man died? Why would those little girls have to see and remember this horrific event forever? Why would my friend be without the husband she loves and relies on? Why would that man have to forever wonder if he'd done this or that, if he could have saved his wife's father? Dear Lord - why? Why? Why?

I don't understand You. Forgive me for being so childish, for expecting something from You that you aren't giving - maybe even attributing things to You that You don't do. I'd think I was being childish, making you small...into my personal protector, but we read in Scripture that You do take care of even inconsequential things! Your first miracle is the perfect example! I want to understand and have trusting faith. But I am really confused.

Monday, June 15, 2009


A few posts ago I wrote about how, as parents, we occasionally end up doing things we could not imagine ourselves ever doing!

Well, I've done it again. Big time. Have really made quite a spectacle of myself, in front of Aidan and Lydia anyway.

Here are my handy boys, Sergei and Ilya, putting together our new trampoline.


(That's Aidan and Lydia yelling all the way from Virginia.)

They will tell you that when they were little, far from having a trampoline in their own yard, they were horribly disappointed and probably hideously embarrassed, and (I'm fairly sure) driven to deceit, by my dictum that they were NOT, under any circumstances, to jump on a trampoline!!! Ever.

I had some good, trauma-borne, reasons for this. When I was in fifth grade, we had a trampoline in our school and it was one of the "rotations" in PE class. So, one day, a boy named Doug was doing the obligatory, and not-very-dramatic "seat drop" when he landed funny. He became a paraplegic. That quick. So, you can see that there was some substantial reason for me to be alarmed at the idea of my dear ones jumping on this dangerous contraption. I later heard - and am pretty certain it is still true, that schools no longer have trampolines because they are too dangerous. (How I'd love to hear that this is not true; that it is only their cost, or something, that keeps them from being ubiquitous in schools.)

So what happened? Why do I now let my dear ones risk life and happiness on the trampoline?

I suppose it is just that enough time has passed, and I've seen enough people jump on trampolines, have noticed enough families with a trampoline in their back yard, and no ambulance in their driveway, that I have had my fears abated.

I hope I have not thrown caution to the wind in a way I'll live to regret. However, allowing for a little more "active fun" around the house is one way I've decided to fight the computer demon. Just hope that this does not become another thing I wish I'd never done!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Zhen asked - do you love me as much as if I came from your tummy? Yes, Zhen - I couldn't love you more.

Just read a very nice post by one of my favorite bloggers. Favorite, because of the sweet love and absolute delight Maria expresses as she talks of her daughter Elena. Their relationship is just so heartwarming and dear, and it is a joy to watch that precious little girl grow (and glow) under her doting mama's care. I started to comment to her latest post, but realized I was writing a post of my own! So, I decided to write it on my blog, not hers. :)

Like Maria, I've received some less than stellar questions - many are clumsily spoken and that doesn't bother me too much, really. People undoubtedly say "your own" kids because they just haven't thought or read about adoption enough to realize that "biological kids" would be a more accurate and less offensive way of speaking. I've had a harder time with people who clearly have a prejudice against adopted children. A woman at the Christian bookstore, no less, all but asked me straight out if I wasn't worried about "genetic illness". And what did she mean? FAS? Actually, from her stumbling explanation, when I looked at her blankly - it seemed more like she thought my child might be the spawn of an ax murderer, and this trait might.....be...... GENETIC! Truly - it was horror, more than curiosity or concern in her voice. I was so stunned, both at her idea and that she actually expressed it, and in this Christ-oriented place, that I really don't even recall how I responded. I do know I don't go there any more!

But for the most part, I really try to be open and understanding when people speak clumsily and answer the underlying question rather than respond to the graceless presentation. The older I get the more I understand that people rarely TRY to be offensive. They simply don't understand, and perhaps they want to - which is why they ask. Maria's questioner really asked a more important question: Is there any difference for you in having adopted your daughter? Is there some part of you that wants to have a biological child? Now, I know for a fact (having talked to one) that there ARE women who have adopted who still want a biological child, so that is not a completely stupid question.

But it is easy to be offended when we know the love we have for our child, and don't want either our love or the bond to be questioned in any way - but questions like this are our big chance to share our "mother-love" in such a way that we become an advertisement for adoption!

Also, people are different. And people grow and change. A person who might not think of adopting, can change! This reminds me of a big change in attitude I experienced regarding childbirth. I had Aidan via c-section. And more than anything on earth (it seemed) I wanted to have natural childbirth with my second child. I had a midwife, I went to a distant town so I could have an obstetrician who was a believer in "v-bac" - a vaginal birth after cesarean. When I found out that I was going to have another c-section, I remember sobbing my eyes out all night with disappointment. At that time in my life that really mattered to me. I really wanted to experience giving birth. I was devastated that I didn't get the chance. I do not quite know why I felt this way; but I sure did! (Amusingly, I remember when my feelings finally did an about-face - a woman in church looked at Lydia - particularly at her head and with horror on her face said, "I hope you didn't give birth to her naturally!" I, in turn, looked at Lydia's enormous head and all of a sudden realized that God had surely been watching out for Lydia and me! And that's only part of it - when they did the c-section they discovered that two layers of stitches had torn (I'm not quite sure about how the body is put together, but suffice to say that had I gone into labor it would have been a catastrophe). So, my point of view changed 100% comparitively quickly. Had I gotten pregnant again, I would have scheduled that c-section with glee.

All to say that becoming a mother means a lot of different things to different woman at different times for different reasons. Those of us who are happy adoptive mothers know that we love our children with a love so powerful it couldnt' be increased! But, I do think that there may be some adoptive parents out there who do not bond with their children. [I am fairly convinced, though this is another post, that some "RAD" is attachment disorder on the parents' part, not the child's.] I have also known for a period of time, a mother of three who truly was not bonded with her youngest child. I think she struggled with this for quite a while, then - to my horror - decided to give voice to her feelings - she tried to do it humorously, but it made my blood run cold; I can't describe how horrible it felt to hear her speak so disparagingly about a cute little girl. Perhaps she thought by talking about her feelings, that she could get help...or it gave release to something within her. I lost track of her about the time her daughter turned four. I have worried ever since about that family, as I cannot imagine how a child could develop into a happy, balanced person when she was openly rejected by her mother.

All this is to say that the permutations out there are endless. We can't ever presume that other people feel the way we do. But, when it comes to adoption - particularly the amazing, overwhelming, uplifting, transforming love that we can feel for our adopted children - I am going to share that every chance I get!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009


The boys "socializing" at Babushka's. Maxim is home...doing what?
If I could start all over again, I would change one thing: I would not allow "electronics" into the house. I remember now writing a previous post on this topic when I was vastly less disturbed by it. Time has passed; things have changed.

I've heard different points of view about computer game play. (A woman in our parish has even done research proving the salutary and wholesome benefits.) I even have some different impressions myself, all jumbled up together, but over all "electronics" - as in electronic games, has not contributed to the happiness and peace of our home.

Yes; it brings the boys together. Perhaps playing xbox live even helped Ilya with his conversational English in a way less stressful than school. But - have you noticed how few photos I post of Ilya? It is because he refuses to let me take his picture for some reason. So the fact that I stood in the same room and took this one is clear evidence that even this paltry handgame has power.

Of my four boys, I would say that only Sergei can "take it or leave it". He enjoys playing Runescape; and he enjoys some xbox games. But he enjoys them in moderation, and will play awhile then do something else. Ilya and Zhen are fine without games, but when electronics are available, they get sucked in so powerfully that they lose all track of time; then they have to be forced to do something else....if that makes sense. And they are all crotchitiness and irritation. They'll "give me lip" as my grandfather would say.

On the far end of the spectrum is Maxim. I believe he is addicted. I can see he is using it for self-medication (like an alcoholic uses alcohol) so controlling it is nearly impossible to fight. When his xbox broke and had to go for repairs I was elated, until I realized that he was determined to wrest control of Sergei's from him - and not only the xbox - his room, for that matter. When Sergei would get sick of it and complain, I'd suggest getting rid of his xbox (the attractive nuisance) altogether since he didn't play it that much. "But I do like to play it mom! And I bought it myself."

Yes; that "wise" bit of parenting - making them earn the money for this stuff, and buy it themselves - rather backfired. I don't feel I have the same control over these items as I would if they'd been purchased by me. Had that been the case I could simply say, "These have not turned out to be the pleasant diversion I imagined; I'm selling them and buying a bocce ball set." No; by taking them I'd undoubtedly be undermining their sense of the value of hard work - and definitely creating enormous animosity. Particularly in Sergei's case, as he does not abuse it. If I had more money, I'd try to bribe them. "Give me the xbox and we'll go to Russia for a visit!" or "Give me the xbox and I'll put up a basketball court in the back yard!" But these things aren't in the budget.

Maxim does abuse it. And abuse leads to abuse. Back when he first got it, he asked me to buy him some "minutes" or whatever it is. No big deal - I think it was twelve dollars for three month's play. It wasn't until later, and he'd become addicted that he used that registered credit card to buy over $300 worth of "stuff" from xbox Live. I'm not an idiot. Wouldn't any reasonable parent immediately think - "He'll have to sell the xbox to pay me back." But I got some advice from one of our counselors who felt that it was better to just shut off that income source, and let him keep the xbox. In her view he is using the xbox to deal with the high level of anxiety he's feeling and xbox certainly beats some more typical self-medications - particularly for a boy who comes from alcoholic parents. Unfortunately, I fear she is right.

So, here I am with this non-stop constant source of "problem" of one sort or another:
  • He wants to play all night and sleep during the day.
  • He fails several classes because he was on xbox and not doing homework.
  • He takes a different credit card from my wallet, and buys more xbox stuff (I didn't even know the darned Sears card WAS a Mastercard!)
  • He refuses to stop and come to dinner, then I come down to do the midnight teaching and find the mess he's left in the kitchen feeding himself when the rest of us are sleeping .
  • He physically restrains me as I attempt to remove the router when going to work - on a day when he claims to be "sick".
But, because everything improved during track season - he trained with zeal, he buckled down to work, and was fairly cooperative and pleasant - I "forgot". And, I don't want to be unfair to the other kids.......... and, I don't want him to turn to drink and drugs.

Everyone suggests "counseling".....but there is only so much counseling will do. "Counseling! Counseling! Get him counseling!" Counseling is like trying to put out a fire with a thimbleful of water. They intention is good....but that may be about the best you can say about it.

So I'm back to wishing I'd been struck by lightening the first time I walked into GameStop. Of course, I'm now remembering...had that been the case he'd just still be addicted to watching TV all day and all night..... Quite honestly, as I wrote this it all came back to me! That's why we don't have TV! That's why I cut off the cable! I gave up Masterpiece Theatre for Maxim's good - and what did it get me?

It is from the frying pan to the fire with him.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Zhen does not look like this

Suddenly one morning last week Zhen woke up with swollen, red eyes. He'd been sleeping by the window, with the fan blowing the outside air into his face, so I thought - "Poor child has hay fever!" I sort of shrugged it off, talked to him about hay fever, promised him some of the "allergy" eye drops I have at the office and we carried on. But, by the time we were ready for school, he looked much worse! In fact, his eyes were extremely swollen, as was his face and there was a rash 'round the back of his neck. This was NOT hay fever!

He didn't want to go to school - well, who would! So, he went to work with me and I kept an eye on him. He was not having any other symptoms - no difficulty breathing, or anything else - and the skin problem was not even itchy. Just odd.

I presumed it would go away, but as the day went on, things actually got worse! He was beginning to look really scary - and not like himself at all. That night I rubbed on some Benedryl and immediately his skin was less red where it was applied - but I didn't want to put it around his eyes, obviously. When the following morning there was still no improvement - in fact, he looked worse, I decided that we'd have to visit the Redi-Care.

This was the nicest visit to a Redi-Care ever. No one was there but us! We got in immediately and were seen immediately. The doctor said, "I'll need to give him a couple of innoculations, and ...." That's about all I heard. I braced myself. Zhen does not DO innoculations! Zhen is absolutely out of his mind when he even hears the word "shot", let alone get one. I responded a bit hopelessly, "I hope you have a few strong men on site." We waited a few minutes, and I distracted myself by taking this photo.

Imagine my amazement when following the nurse with the medication, in walks an enormous orderly! This guy could have come directly from the State Prison! Bald, tatooed, BIG. Not smiling.

Ordinarily, at the pediatrician's office, they call the other girls and it takes three or four of us to hold Zhen down for shots. This time the orderly walked around and silently sat down behind Zhen. And he put a hand on Zhen's shoulder. As the nurse approached, I saw Zhen's other hand instinctively move towards his arm, but the orderly's grip tightened just a bit on his shoulder. Zhen's little voice quavered, "Is it going to hurt?" And that was it.

I was SO proud of Zhen for his bravery and told him so. This is the first time he's gotten a shot without going absolutely crazy. I complimented him on his courage and self-control. "It wasn't that, mom." he said in a little voice. "Of course it was courage Zhen. What would you call it?" He answered, "It was what you said mom." "What?" "A strong man."

Well. Whatever works. It looked like progress, for all that.

I was surprised that though we saw improvement rather quickly, Zhen's face is not quite normal even yet. I don't even like to contemplate what caused that odd physical response. Just have to hope it doesn't happen again! (And I don't want one single response that refers to "spider bite". No!)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I admit that I can occasionally be a pretty opinionated person. I can even be a bit judgmental. I certainly try to be open-minded, understanding, compassionate, to see the other's point of view, etc. But when you get right down to it, I am not past raising an eyebrow on the rare occasion.

It is startling then, when after coming to a bold opinion in my mind (I do ordinarily keep these things to myself), I later find myself doing precisely the thing that I found unacceptable when someone else did it. Years and years ago, when I first began working at my church, I had a volunteer teacher whose son played hockey. "Travel" hockey.... I was stunned, absolutely stunned to discover that she drove that boy to DETROIT - yes! DETROIT - an hour and a half drive(!) on a school night! I could not fathom spending that kind of time on a mere sport. And - mark this - she also had a daughter who was a ballerina. Quite good, I heard, but she took this girl to ballet class several nights a week! This family seemed to be running all the time.

I'm sure I smiled and listened with interest, but I privately felt this was excessive, detrimental to a healthy family life, and I parked these people in my mental file: crazed.

So.....years passed. Ten, probably. Lydia was born. Lydia grew. Lydia fell in love with Irish Dance. Lydia was good at it. And I found myself driving my lovely child, and a few others, to DETROIT (well, close - Birmingham) so she could have lessons twice a week at the top Irish Dance studio. In addition to lessons with her local teacher.

It is an odd feeling to find yourself doing something that you disdained (well...at least disapproved of) in someone else.

Now it has happened again. See illustrative photo.

My dear Sergei has joined the Army Cadets.

I have always considered myself a pacifist, mind you. So you can imagine my surprise to find that I have my fifteen year old son running around in camouflage!

Sergei (left, in case you don't recognize him without his hair!) is pictured here with his wonderful friend, Misha. Misha and Sergei met initially a few years ago at our agency's annual picnic. His amazing parents adopted Misha and his three younger sisters in a story that would bring tears to your eyes if I stopped to tell it well. The three sisters came on a hosting visit, and when their parents found out there was a brother [considered too old] back in Russia, they flew there to meet him, and after assuring him that yes, he could fish in the United States, the rest became history. This wonderful family are key members of our Russian School, and Sergei and Misha are fast friends. Mish is a really nice boy.

So, when he asked if Sergei would like to join him in the Army Cadets, and Sergei showed more excitement than he's showed about anything, ever - of course, I said yes. It is wholesome. It is healthy. It is something special that Sergei can do that does not involve Maxim or Ilya. But, I have to admit that when I was at the PX Store buying him army boots, and certainly when he came down in uniform - wow. I couldn't help but think, as though about another person altogether, "I can't believe she is letting him do that!"

Really. If I saw another mother's fifteen-year-old son running around in the "pre-army" I'd look askance. I admit it. But Sergei has always shown great enthusiasm for the military. He loved going to Aidan's and Lydia's Basic Training graduations. The one memory he has of his older brother in Russia is that he was in the army. The main thing isl, he whole-heartedly wants to do it. And for any number of reasons....but primarily because of that, I just have to hold my head up high as I raise an eyebrow in my own direction.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Yesterday was the last half-day of school! Yahoo! I am happier about this than the children are. No more worrying about getting to bed "on time" so we can get up "on time" and get out the door "on time" and to school "on time". No more checking if there is homework, checking if homework is done, checking if it is done well, checking if it got handed in, checking to see if there are lunch foods, making the wretched lunches, making sure they are remembered. Making sure uniforms get washed....and on and on. Merely going to school is nothing. It is the staging that is where the work comes in.

The weather was warm and sunny and joyous to fit my mood. I suggested an impromptu picnic. Maxim was out of this scene as he has one more week of finals, and Sergei who, as an 8th grader, got out early last week was home with Ilya. But the littles and I stopped at McDonalds, a moderately rare treat, and then went to a sweet little park we know.

This park, up until a few weeks ago was under water because we had such a rainy spring, but now it is arrayed with dazzling emerald green grass. Gorgeous. Except for one circular area of mud, the last bit that was under water, I suppose.

Of course the children headed for this muddy area. I followed and settled on the soft grass nearby. As I leaned back, there was the most unsettling feeling! I could swear that as I put my hand back onto the grass, something under the earth moved! I sat bolt upright. What the heck was that? It wasn't a bug. Way too big. It wasn't something in the grass. It was under the earth. Something living. No. I must be imagining things. Then Zhen cried, "Look!" and out hopped a frog. He must have been dug into the earth right under me. Well....it certainly could have been worse! But I decided not to sit on the grass any more!

The frog hopped out onto the muddy area and of course Z and A followed. Of course there were more wonders out there! Nastya busied herself finding dead fish and arranging them by size. (Yes; I confess I am the sort of mother who allows her child to play with dead fish.) Zhen played with the frog. Eventually they ended up in the river, catching real fish, undoubtedly inspired by the university student who was practicing fly fishing and actually caught an enormous carp. I had presumed he was just practicing until he hauled it in. There is some serious quality to his practicing as he laid it out and took a photo of it before throwing it back. He was also nice enough to open its mouth and show us its teeth.

Altogether it was a lovely few hours. Rare. I just sat and dozed. Delighted in the peace. Yahoo, indeed!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Today is the twentieth anniversary of our moving into our house.

I wouldn't remember exactly, I don't think, except it occurred on the day of the Tiananmen Square massacre. I recall feeling so fortunate in comparison to those poor people. And we have been fortunate.

Our house was built in 1919, and that seems so old....yet now we have lived in it for over twenty percent of its existence. I often wonder how things used to be....what happy and sad things occurred here before we came. People lived here through the Great Depression, the aftermath of WW1 and WW2. Through so many historical events. But what personal events did these walls witness - and why won't it tell?

This house held us close as we made decisions about Aidan and Lydia's education, as we prayed with them and taught them to read the Bible. It was blessed by Fr. George, and sheltered many a prayer. It reverberated to the sounds of Lydia's dancing, tap-tapping on the stage we made for her, to the advice of Doctor Laura during those years when I actually was able to take a day off to do housework! The walls rang to loud music as we danced to the radio turned loud (to demonstrate for Aidan before his first dance) . It enjoyed our cozy family nights with Lindt chocolate and Jeeves and Wooster videos, and the game nights around the Clue or Pictionary boards. We welcomed Sergei for his summer visit, and waited and waited and waited for him. Then the house began to hear Russian.....from Sergei, and Zhen, and Anastasia and Maxim and Ilya....

We found out Craig had diabetes. We grieved the loss of his job at St. Vincent Home, and rejoiced when he was hired at Lansing Catholic Central; wept when his job was eliminated there. Delighted in his successful coaching career, and in the more important successes he had with students.

I desperately cleaned the spice cabinet, praying, praying, praying that my brother would recover form hemochromotosis, then sobbed over his untimely death. Here in this house, where I received the call, suddenly amidst a sunny morning's ironing, when my dad died, we celebrated Aidan's entrance into the army and welcomed him home from Iraq. Lydia danced and sang here and Aidan stood in the yard and maneuvered his lacrosse stick. Sergei takes apart his computers....Ilya does his needlepoint under this roof. Within these walls we've enjoyed so much great literature....hours of reading aloud....

There has been much playing in the hose, and dinners on the porch. We've had a beautiful garden (when I had the time) and we've had a very neglected garden (now). We've waved daddy off to Korea, Aidan off to Washington D.C., and Lydia off to Spain. We've welcomed Susan and Calvin into our family. So, much, so much, so much. And a lot more, I hope, with God's grace.