Saturday, October 31, 2009


Here is Anastasia yesterday at the front doors of her school, in costume as Susan B. Anthony.  She was doing the typical fifth grade assignment of reporting on a famous person in costume.

Initially, I was just glad she was assigned someone that would allow her to wear a costume we already had!  This is a dress made for Lydia back when she was about this age, and homeschooling, and we did historical re-enactment. 

But I am so pleased she was assigned this particular book!  It turned out that it was a book I must have read when I was a little girl.  Better yet!  It had a story in it that had stuck with me all these years...a story I had thought of again and again, and often wondered where I'd read it, and what famous person it was associated with.  I would never have guessed Susan B. Anthony - so this was surrendipitious! 

The story goes that Susan, a little Quaker girl, had the typical gray everyday dress of most Quaker girls....and of course, longed for something pretty.  Her mother decided to make her a new "Sunday" dress that had a little pattern of flowers in it.  Susan was so excited about the prospect of wearing this lovely new dress.  About this time an acquaintance of her mother's passed away, leaving a daughter about Susan's age in extreme poverty.  The family tried to help, and Susan volunteered to give this little girl her dress, knowing a new dress was being made for her.  Susan realized that if she gave this girl her gray dress, she'd then have to wear her pretty Sunday dress every day.   So, time came to take the things to the other family - and lo, and behold!  Susan's mother expected that Susan would be giving the little girl her NEW dress.  Because, of course, a true gift to others involves loving sacrifice from us.  So, Susan learned that valuable (and painful) lesson...and somehow so did I!  (Oh, the power of reading!)  Anyway, I was so glad to find that story again.

Back to the report.  Anastasia looked perfect in the dress.  We even had a crinoline to put under it (when Lydia wore it we were in a cabin and "roughing it" so a plain cotton petticoat was all she wore).  We went to several banks before we found a Susan B. Anthony dollar to use.  And, we practiced!

I helped her get past the natural opening she suggested:  "I was born in 1820..." and suggested she start by saying that she was one of only two women to have appeared on a US coin - and then show the dollar coin.  This was a nice beginning and the whole presentation was fine.  We had a sweet little purse she could put her coin in. 

So, I gathered with the class and other mothers for the presentations.  Anastasia stepped to the front, poised and confident, though I noticed she had chosen not to carry the purse, but was holding her note card and the coin.  She remembered to speak clearly and loudly.  But as she went to show the coin, she stopped dead and froze.  Silence.  Nothing.  She looked at me agonized.  I kept making the gesture of displaying the coin....but she didn't do it.  Eventually, she jumped to explaining what a Quaker was and carried on - on script, but struggling, for a few lines - then suddenly she diverted from the flightplan and headed out into unchartered territory....telling everything she remembered about the book - stories I hadn't even heard!  Obviously, this did not sound too practiced and fluent, but it wasn't BAD exactly.  She stumbled  back, finally, to our practiced conclusion and thankfully, finished.

"What happened?" I asked later - well, she'd made a tactical error.  She'd put the quarter that she wanted to use to buy something from the treat cart into her little beaded bag - and when she went forward to present,  instead of taking out the Susan B. Anthony dollar, she'd taken the quarter. When she looked down and saw the quarter, that was the end of her concentration. 

Oh, well - I guess that's why they do these sorts of assignments!  Live and learn.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Anastasia accused Zhen of pushing her.  Zhen denied it fervently.  I looked at them and said, "One of my two dear children is lying."  At this point Anastasia admitted, "Well, I saw him do it, but he didn't see himself do it."

Sergei and I were at Mass one Feast of Christ the King.  I was listening to the homily when I noticed that Sergei was chuckling away.  When I gave him a little frown he explained in a whisper, "Mom didn't you hear what he said?  He said Jesus was King of the Juice!"

The funniest thing Sergei ever said was the first year he was here, when he knew that Zhen would be with us the following year.  We were just explaining all about Halloween, and he was excited.  One morning he bounced into the bedroom and exclaimed, "I can't wait to tell Zhenya about how you go up to the houses and say, 'Chicken Feet!' "

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TTT - Children Should be Seen and Heard and Believed

I used to see a lot of these bumper stickers around.  I always cocked an eyebrow.  Here's why:

Recall that my children more or less lived at the office when they were young, and my poor co-workers just had to put up with it.  Actually, they were pretty well behaved and kept themselves to themselves, however, one day my colleague Joe put his head 'round my door and seemed to have little frizzles of amusement flying out of every pore.  "Annie...Lydia just shared something with me."
"She just told me how you and Craig ended up getting married."
"Really?  What did she say?" (Thinking she doesn't know anything about it - what could she say?)

"She told me that you got Craig to marry you by putting his head in a vice."   At that point (for obvious reasons) he dissolved into laughter.  Me, too - but wherever did that come from???

Turns out, Joe, who would spice up his adult education sessions with illustrative video clips from hither and yon, had been screening an old Twilight Zone in his office - the one where the doll comes alive and goes crazy and someone ends up putting its head in a vice to kill it.  Lydia asked, "What is that thing he's putting the doll's head in?" Of course Joe told her  the man was squeezing the doll's head in a vice, at which point she replied, "That's how mommy got daddy to marry her." 

Obviously I was stunned at this revelation nonsense and couldn't fathom why she'd say such a thing, so later that night over a quiet dinner table (the "boys" were at hockey) I asked her, "Ummm....Lydia....did you tell Joe that I got daddy to marry me by putting his head in a vice?" (To this day I remember how odd it was to put that idea in words; I could hardly keep my voice from shaking.)  I also remember vividly the surprise and confidence in her voice as she answered me.  She looked at me seriously with her big eyes and said clearly, "Yes.  You did!"

Well, it took a bit of sorting out....but here is how this bit of misinformation came about:  We'd been driving past a Karate studio and Aidan piped up that he wanted to take Karate lessons.  Craig made some disdainful comment about "Right - and learn to put some kid's head in a vice grip."  And, I trying to be positive, added, "I took Tai Chi before daddy and I got married."   That was the end of that conversation....but apparently the new word "vice" got lodged in Lydia's brain and when she found out what a vice was everything fell together for her. 

Just goes to show how perfectly decent, even boring bits of information - put togther in the right way can become quite interesting gossip!  I noticed that Lydia perfected her technique in high school, and I expect is quite a master at this now.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I can't really write about anything else, unless I write about all that has gone on in my background.  It has changed and somehow has to be acknowledged here....

Lest anyone be mistaken -  I am so grateful for my job.  I am grateful for meaningful work in the Church.   I am grateful that we have a home, and food.  But, that is not to say that things haven't been challenging the last couple of months!  It now seems impossible really, after having gone through all of this to just keep writing as though my environment has not been turned upside down.   I've wanted to keep posting this last month, but I've had all I could do to just keep my head above this choppy and stormy water.  There's been no time, and no ability to process much apart from all these changes.

Our parish has been merged with another here in our city.  They were the "liberal" student center, we were the "traditional parish".  The goal is to create one community with all services to families at our parish.  Who could deny that this sounds like a good idea?  But it is easier said than done.   The staffs were combined.   The pastor of the student parish came here.  Nothing is the same, and it hurts.  Not even the Mass schedule. Not the people.  Many have left.  Those remaining seem shell-shocked, many of them. Those from the once-parish, now "Student Center" are angry, many of them.  Everyone is really just hurting.   Frankly, I think that it will all get better.  We are Christian people, and our Faith is strong.  But for now, it is strange and difficult.

Meanwhile, for other reasons, financial and logistical, the wonderful building where I have worked and lived for the past twenty years is now a mere storage building.   The place where I homeschooled the older kids, where we had all of our little "social events" - from Lydia's fifth birthday party, through all their first communions, the baptism gatherings for the Russians...and on and on.  Where Lydia practiced dance, where we had Russian school gatherings.  Where I could work comfortably on the weekend or evening with the kids "doing their thing" across the hall, or upstairs in the "big room" or on the playground, without my worrying.  Lost.  It is there but cold.  Literally.  My own remaining personal things sit there, amid debris... I need to go clean it up, but I've been busy and it makes me want to weep whenever I go over there.

I do like my new office.  They were so kind, and actually consulted me about it - painting it my favorite, cheerful green, building the cabinets just the way we needed.  Warm, new brown carpet.  But it is sooooo small for what we try to do here.

Last year at this time we had a lobby, a front office, an AV room, my own office (bigger than this room!) a work room, the catechists' room,  a kitchen, a library, a storage room for hospitality, many storage rooms for materials......

This year I have this one room. 

Last year I had two very capable part time assistants.  They had been parents, catechists, volunteers.  They knew everything I knew and could handle just about anything.

Debbie and Maureen....Oh!  I miss them!
This year I have a ten-hour a week intern, whose job is to run the Sunday School at another site. I see her maybe a half hour a week.  She is wonderful and capable....just not enough of her!

Last year I had a husband here to help with the kids.

This year he is in Korea and it is all me.

Last year the whole parish staff was made up of people that I'd known and worked with for years.  People as close as family.   

Now all but two of the pastoral staff people are new.  They are kind.  Fine people.  But though I am in the same place, everything around me has changed.  The culture is different.  I feel as though I was just hired for a new job I've never done before.  I feel clumsy and unsure.

Last year I had a program with two sessions for around 300 children.

This year there are over 550 children in five sessions.

Last year I supervised about 40 catechists and volunteers.

This year it is around 70.

Last year I wasn't working 2-3 hours a night teaching on-line.

This year I am.  Have to, unfortunately.

No wonder I'm so tired!  But God has given us all great capacity to change and evolve and accept and I know I can do "all I have to do through Him who gives me power."   I

Sometimes I feel as though I just stood still and the whole world changed around me - not slowly and understandably but fast leaving me feeling confused, unsteady and not sure what I feel about any of it.

But, somehow I am still standing.  I hope to get back to blogging regularly when the world stops spinning.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TOO TRUE TUESDAY - Unfortunate Flare for Drama

There is a SUBJECT challenge for the TTT this week, which makes it harder.  (And here's where I admit that there may have been subjects provided previously, and I was oblivious to them.....  Oh, well!)

The subject for this week is bad gifts. My "bad gift" actually began as a very nice gift.  See illustration (left).   I was doing a summer repertory theatre, playing Titania in MND....and there was a young man in the company who apparently had a "thing" for me.  How sad is this?  I honestly do not remember him; I do not remember if he had a minor role, or if he was on the crew, but apparently he had a crush on me, which was revealed the day of my birthday.   You need to picture the dressing room - a large room maybe 30 ft. x  30 ft., brightly lit with  mirrors and dressing tables all around the periphery and a big open floor in the middle with only a few chairs and random costume bits scattered about.  After the show everyone was in their assigned spots, for the most part removing make-up, taking wigs off, etc.  This is when someone instigated "happy birthday" singing for me, a cake and a gift or two from the cast.  Then I noticed a bit of hubbub and whispering over in the far corner from those who knew what was up....

And, from that other side of the dressing room, comes this young admirer, face beaming, bringing a special gift just from him - a large bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. Now, I have indulged in Bailey's a couple of times in the years since, and have always gotten quite a small bottle.  This was quite a large bottle.  So,  across this wide expanse comes a heretofor secret admirer carrying an opulent gift.  All at once I was taking in that I was receiving the gift, recognizing that it was from a young devotee who was using this public opportunity to declare his admiration, and realizing I must do my upmost to hide my embarassment.....just as all of this was  coming together for me, at about the time all of my tortured attention and gratified smile focused on him - realizing that the attention of everyone in the room was likewise directed - as he came forward bringing this fine gift for me - carrying it out for everyone to he is just in the center of the room - he dropped it.

The bottle smashed and Bailey's ran.  Horror was universal.  Both at the loss of the Bailey's and embarrassment for the poor fellow.  The prevailing idea - offered in a sort of redeeming-the-moment, face-saving frenzy by someone -  seemed to be that some of it "could be saved".   Everyone seemed to jump on this bandwagon - Yes!  It could be saved!!  So I sat there at my dressing table (the recipient couldn't really be the one to try to save the gift pre-presentation, could she?) and I watched this extraordinary group effort.  Someone got a broom. (Yes.  A broom.)  Someone got a rag.  (A rag.)  Someone else rinsed out their 2-liter.  Another cleverly found a stocking.  (A stocking.)  Someone rolled a program into a funnel And together they got as much of the Bailey's as they could through the stocking and the funnel into the bottle.  And, if you can believe this - the grand procession across the remaining half of the dressing room recommenced.  The young man, this time accompanied by his chief assistants in the retrieval effort presented the magnificent gift.  I will say that my acting abilities were amazingly up to the effort!

I did graciously accept this gift.  I did smile and compliment, and thank everyone for "saving the day" and then I generously shared the gift with all who wished to partake.  I do believe that there were a few sane souls who demurred, not having too much appetite for this interesting cocktail.  I obviously could not demur.  At least I had to appear to enjoy my gift.  So - I lifted that paper cup of Baileys and dirt (and surely, I feared, a few shards of glass) to my lips.  And...... no.  I didn't drink.  But I think I gave a fair representation of drinking.  Well, sipping, as would (praise God!) only be appropriate under any circumstances.  I did have to fearfully lick some of it from my lips, and then I oohed, and aahed, and complimented and praised.  And profusely thanked those who had made that moment possible.  And somehow managed to be soooooo attached to my little cup of heaven that I could carry it with me all the way to the bathroom where I "finished it off" so to speak.

Of course we were all - or most of us - actors.  I think back and can see that the salvation effort was primarily acting; hopefully most of the drinking was acting.  The delight with which I clutched the plastic bottle to my breast as I left the theatre, was definitely acting.  The event itself was saved, more or less, at least in on its surface.  My admirer's most outward feelings were spared (though interiorly he must be writhing about this event to this day).  In any case, if that young man intended to break the ice with me that night, breaking the bottle certainly smashed his hopes.  As evidenced by the fact that this fine gift is the only thing I remember about him. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


The National Enquirer title of this post (which I was so tempted to use) is: 
How I Was Enslaved by Minor League Baseball.

And learned a few things in the process....

A few years ago, our city got a Class "A" Baseball team called the Lansing Lugnuts.  There was a lot of promotion going on for some time before the opening season, as you can imagine. 

One of the promotions was a sort of contest to find "Real Lansing Lugnuts" - i.e. "the people who hold our city together."  And supposedly the "real lugnuts" do this through their fine efforts on behalf of local humanity, etc.  Well a few years before this I had gotten a food pantry together in our parish.  I'd like to say it was my extraordinary care for the impoverished that drew me to this fine work Here is where I feel a bit embarrassed because it wasn't this, really . NOT EVERYTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS

What happened was, I read in the parish bulletin that our little cell of the  St. Vincent de Paul Society needed donations of food for Thanksgiving baskets.  Ah!  A great idea, think I, to involve the children of the parish in service to others.  So, I advertised a food drive and invited families to bring food to Mass to donate to this cause.  Well!!!  To my surprise, I got an irate call from one of the members of the StVdeP* group absolutely hornet-angry that I would have taken this on myself! NOT EVERYTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.  How dare I speak for them! (Hadn't they asked for food?) How dare I get all this food in here and expect them to do something with it!!!  "Didn't you need the food for Thanksgiving baskets?" I timorously asked.  Well, I was told - they had about five families to give baskets to, and they don't want all that food!!!  I'm all the while sort of blown away.  Never in a million years did I expect that a humanitarian group, organized to feed hungry people would be angry about having food to give them.  However, I could see that this was not a battle to fight.  I humbly apologized and after crying about it a bit, started my own food pantry, and the food is [to this day] available for the hungry in our parish, and also taken downtown to a shelter where it is bagged up for hungry families with children.  So, it was quite accidentally that I got into the food pantry business.

So, when this "Community Lugnut" thing came up, a very nice man in our parish nominated me, and to my horror I won.  But the embarrassment at being spotlighted in this way was only the beginning because......NOT EVERYTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.   I was told that I'd get some free tickets to a game and a special tour of the locker rooms and offices.  And.....they did have a few other "honors" for me.  Thus began my enslavement to minor league baseball.  I was invited to appear downtown at Lugnut offices to formally receive this recognition and my gift.  OK.  As it happened, this was first communion week and it was in no way convenient to spend time like this, but of course.....if one is given an honor, one must humbly accept it!   So, I found my way down there, to find the manager, the Lugnuts publicity people, umpteen zillion journalists and photographers - and - the Mascot.  Big Lug.

NOT EVERYTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS It was quite clear that the presentation was something that was a good deal more appearance than reality.  I was certainly given the envelope with my tickets and a nice certificate, however it was presented with such odd formality for a near-empty office (apart from media people).  They chose their girl well, though. I accepted my award as though it was in front of a room of a hundred clapping fans and then.....the horror of it.....took my cue like a trooper and...........danced with the mascot.  Yes.  He held out his arm for a do-si-do and I danced with him.  I danced with this guy in an enormous costume, to no music, around that office with all these cameras flashing.  And, so everyone could get a lot of good pictures, we danced for a LONG time.

It was at that moment that I realized that I was not having fun.  I did not feel honored, I felt co-opted.

But that was only the beginning.  After that travesty was over, I was given my marching orders.  A list of "events" and "appearances"!  I was to be at this TV station at such and such a time, and at the Rotary Meeting at such and such a time, and at the City Council meeting, and at a radio station (at an ungodly hour of the morning).  What could I do?  I was being honored!  I had to accept the honor like a man.  So, I showed up here, there, everywhere.  I humbly accepted undeserved praise again and again.  It was sheer torture.  My week was for all intents and purposes, theirs.  Each of these appearances was stressful, of course - I had to dress nicely, find the location, worry about being there on time, worry about making an ass of myself.  And cope with the fall-out at home and work because those were the places I needed to be!

So.  Next time you see someone publicly honored.....ask yourself: Are they having a good time?  I bet not.

But by the way, I found out something else that has amused me mightily ever since.  NOT EVERYTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS.  At the TV appearances on the morning, noon and evening local news, I was stunned, horrified to discover.....  Those made-up, snazzily dressed anchor women?  Under the beautifully tailored jacket, perfectly accessorized, beneath the exquisite make-up and perfect hair?  They wear everything from cut-off jeans and short-shorts, to sweats and bare feet!  Yes!  Obviously, it makes perfect sense.  But I'm not sure I could do it with a straight face.  I'd feel like one of those half-horse, half-men.  I wouldn't know whether to speak or neigh.  But, there they were - and while I was answering my questions with a smile and (by now) practiced humility, I was looking at a woman sitting there half professional, half something-else and I must say that really did make my job a lot harder.  I had to keep from spilling the beans, looking into the camera and crying out,  "Do you know she is just wearing jean shorts with that blazer???!!!"

* As any church person will recognize, this was simply a temporary situation with some odd leadership.  Our present St V de P group is nothing like this.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Religion classes start this week, so I am unbelievably pressed for time....if I ever come up for air, I'll write about this dreadfully stressful couple of months....  But that time is not now.  Still....  Something big happened this week.  Ilya allowed me to take his picture.  I know I've mentioned that he has been adamant that I won't take his picture - to the point, sometimes, of taking the camera and deleting photos with his image.  And it hasn't been done in humor.  I've had the feeling that it was important.  In Russia he and I had a great time together and I took tons of pictures - he didn't mind posing for me at all.  But sometime after we got home this changed. 

I asked our family counselor - what does it mean?  She didn't know, but even as I was talking to her the words "capture his image" came to mind.  Capture.  He would not be captured by me, and that is what I felt about it.  I also had a sense that it was all about Maxim and the dynamic that Maxim created in our house for Ilya.  No time to go into it too much....and when the fog lifts I want to write about the meeting Ilya and I had with a Russian counselor.  But - for now - here is a picture.  Not a great photo, as he has a terrible cold. But! He let me capture him for a few moments at least. 

And here is another special photo from this week.  Here is Lydia and Calvin - and look where they are!  Lydia finally got nerve to drive from Virginia Beach, where she lives, up to Fairfax, VA, where Aidan and his family live.  And, apparently, they "saw the sites"!  But the highlight for Lydia was spending time with the lovable, adorable and oh-so-brilliant, Calvin.