Monday, November 30, 2009


I can't think where we got this recipe.  Only, we (my mom and I) adapted it rather radically to make it MUCH better.  I really have no use for any other pie after having this one. 


Single crust for 9 in pie.

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 heaping c. sugar (about a 1/2 c. + a tablespoon)
2 T. flour
dash salt
3 eggs
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to325 degrees.  Cream butter and sugar until light.  Mix in the flour and salt.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well mixed.  Add buttermilk and vanilla and continue beating until combined.  Pour into unbaked pie shell.  Bake 50 minutes.  Knife will come out clean.

Personally, I prefer it cold.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


When Aidan was here one morning we were looking for a large framed photo which I have undoubtedly put in a very safe place.  So, we were looking everywhere.   Somehow, eventually I got the idea of looking in a large trunk that I have in the dining room.  It is a family heirloom, and was really cherished by my old wood Wells Fargo railroad trunk.   I didn't think there was anything in it. Actually,  we primarily use it for the "phone table", phone book, incoming mail, etc., and never open it.
But I did have a vague memory of putting something in there...maybe it was this photo we were looking for....

But, no.  There was nothing in there but a bunch of clothing....I just looked at it in wonder.  Why would there be a pile of clothing there?   A few t-shirts, a sweatshirt, some underclothing, some shorts.....just tossed in.  What the heck?  Then at the bottom of the trunk, I spied this note.  "If these aren't properly put away you'll lose them."

I guess I meant that! 

Weirdly after probably 8 or 9  years it all comes back to me.    Clean clothes left in Aidan's room.  Not put away.  Found in disarray on the floor.  Note left.  Breaking point reached.  I'm sure I figured he'd ask for these things when he missed them....he didn't.  We forgot about them.

When I began to pull them out, I showed Aidan a t-shirt; he said,  "That's Kevin's."  and a sweatshirt, "That's Kevin's, too."  Well, no wonder he didn't miss them!  The best things belonged to his best friend!  And underwear he could live without, I guess....  Anyway, clearly, I meant it when I said he'd "lose them".  I lost them myself.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


My oldest son Aidan, his  wife Susan and near-two-year-old son, Calvin were here this week.  They got to spend some time with their East Lansing friends and with us.  It was a pleasant, relaxed few days for the most part.

We went to my mom's for dinner one night.

Later we all went to the ice skating rink.  Cal got to ride around the rink with daddy, but vastly peferred sitting with me or Nastya and playing with ice shavings.

Zhen introduced Cal to the joys of the computer and showed him how to watch "Mickey" on there  He really enjoyed playing with his daddy's old books and toys.....seems like just yesterday I bought some of those....

Everyone jumped on the trampoline, though it was a bit cold for it.  Cal really didn't enjoy the jumping, but running around  it, and rolling around on it - that was great fun!
At one point we were all sitting at the table and I realized that Cal was eating out of a bowl that Aidan's godmother had made for him when he was a baby.  That little bowl has been through a lot!  I wanted to take a picture because I thought "Auntie Mo" would love to see how long-lasting her gift we started trying to get a good picture.  It became very funny because Cal is at the age where he "gets the idea" and was trying to pose, so w were saying "hold the bowl" and he knew that's when the picture would be taken.  I think in future "hold the bowl" can replace "say cheese" for Cal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TTT - How to Celebrate the Holidays

Holiday Cooking - Just one wonderful salad - what more could you want?

Here is my TTT offering, loosly based on Essie's assignment.

We are spare in our holiday celebrations, compared to most families, I think.  I don't care.  I like it that way.  My family was, likewise, spare.  HOWEVER, as a child I interpreted our holiday celebrations as high festivity, not realizing that our holiday meals were akin to what many people experience on a daily basis.  Growing up, holidays meant:  a tablecloth, the good china, two side dishes, a relish tray composed of celery sticks and olives (olives = holiday), and a good dessert.  On a "regular day", in contrast, we'd eat 1) meat, 2) salad, 3) vegetable.  On a "special" day there would be dessert.  Dessert was not a regular feature of dinner.  My mom grew up during the depression in a very poor family, and when she married my dad she said that she was amazed to visit his relatives and find that they ate yeast bread on a regular basis - and not just baking powder biscuits.  So, it is all in what you are accustomed to.

I did not know people lived more opulantly until I got to be grown up and went out into the world.  The first (and only) time I visited my MIL at Thanksgiving, I was thrown into a near state of shock.  I believe that there were five of us present for the meal - MIL, Craig and me, her elderly parents, and Aidan who was than an infant in arms.  At first I was amazed, then aghast, then there was nothing to do but laugh (interiorly, of course).  This woman had made every dish that could ever have been associated with the phrase "holiday meal".  There was not just "Wow! Pie - and whipped cream!" as at our house.  There were five kinds of pies and cake and cookies and "bars" (with whipped cream, and ice cream, and hard sauce).  There was not just a turkey (Wow! a Turkey!!!) there was also a ham, and a roast.  There were all kinds of side-dishes, so many that an entire old folks home, or school, or institution could have come to the dinner and eaten hearty....I'm talking not simply sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes - I'm talking several kinds of each!  Mid-meal, there were several wild-eyed realizations that "Oh, no!  I didn't remember the salad/bread/compote!"  And new items would be brought out that would not only not fit on the table, but would not fit on the sideboard, or the  special tables given over to holding food.  I think we all felt burdened by need to taste or try was stressful.  My amazement became dismay eventually, and even dread as I imagined eating all these left overs for the rest of our time there.  I'm not a person who is fond of left-overs.   Craig was a bit embarrassed by all of this, having had introduction (via holidays at my parents' home) to the "pleasant and reasonable" school of holiday cooking, which thankfully he appreciates.

So, then comes the day when MIL visits us for Christmas.  By this time, Craig and I had developed our own happy little holiday tradition.  He didn't like turkey and I didn't know how to cook it, so we had settled on "Red and Green Lasagne" (a very pretty vegetarian dish with tomatoes for the red, and spinach for the green), with a layered salad, nice rolls and a (it's a holiday!! Wow! A relish tray - with olives!).  English Trifle for dessert. 

Little did I realize when I set about serving this nice meal on a prettily decorated table, that it would be found absolutely unpalatable.  My MIL sat in silence after the prayer and surveyed the meal.  She shook her head "no" as we passed the dishes,  then said with a prim sort of disappointment, "I think I will make myself some oatmeal."  And she proceeded to rise from the table, go into the kitchen and do just that.  Fortunately, I a) don't take offense and b) have a well-developed sense of even as this was occuring I was chuckling to myself and wiggling with the delight I'd take in telling this story in the future! 

So, I'm telling it again, and I'd not have had it any other way.  I mean, she could have simply been unpleasant - I'm so lucky she carried her displeasure all the way to TTT status!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SCHOOL - Sergei

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No matter which blog you go to - if it is the blog of a parent of an older adopted child - there seems to be gnashing of teeth and wailing.   We are now a quarter into the school year and all those high hopes that this would be a great year!, those resolutions that this or that new plan would both be followed rigorously and be successful, or that this or that strategy would certainly bear fruit - all those first high hopes are - if not dashed - at at least now seen in the light of hard reality.
What is that reality?  It is that of all the challenges of the older internationally adopted child, school is the worst.  School is the burden, the grief, the anxiety, the great black cloud in the sky - even when, in every other way - the child seems to have adapted beautifully, attached firmly, and turned out to have every excellence of mood and character.  (And how often is that the case for any human being?)  Remarkably, it is the case for my Sergei.  There could not be a more even-tempered, sweet-natured, loving, hard-working child than Sergei.  He is cooperative, obedient, and well-mannered.  Everyone who knows him loves him.  His teachers love him.  But that won't cut the mustard, once kids get into middle and high school.

Last year things began to fall apart academically.  Until then, perhaps, communal memory thought of him as the boy who "was learning English".  Every effort was made to help him, to accommodate for his challenges, to offer extra help and support and to judge him according to his effort.  But, let's face it - Sergei hardly has an accent anymore....just a charming bit of it around the edges.  He is no longer around people who think of him as "the boy from Russia".  He is in high school where grades begin to be taken seriously. 

I am continually grateful that shortly after he arrived I stumbled on this first-rate article:

I consider it essential reading for every teach of an internationally adopted child, who came to this country after the age of 6 or 7. 

The stumbling block, of course, for school is the sheen of competence that our children begin to show within the first couple of years.  Those Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills mentioned in the article make life a lot easier for the children, but mask the difficulties they have with schoolwork - particularly in subjects such as science and social studies, where one of the great challenges of the native speaking child is mastery of new vocabulary.  Our English Language Learners are doubly challenged.  They aren't able to pick up the contextual clues that the other children have, because those words are new or only vaguely understood - and when they turn to the glossary, the words used to define the new word, are also unknowns. 

So, how do kids cope?  I have three (including Maxim, here) and see that, as we'd expect - they all adapt to the challenges differently.  Sergei is 100% ostrich.  He could pretend a freight train was not bearing down on him, even though he was tied to the tracks - so long as that freight train was a worksheet or homework assignment.  Sergei has not quite learning how to grapple with the overwhelming.  Unfortunately, that is what it is for him.  If school offered him mere challenges....not an impossible mountain to climb....I think he might have girded up his loins and ventured forth.  But, you can see it in his face sometimes - the mountain of work is so overwhelming, and much of it seemingly pointless, that if we don't give him a lot of attention he can begun to shut down.

Oh, I can understand it!  If he could spend an hour and a half a night and really learn something, I expect he would find it worth it.  But, if he tries to do the assignments, he can perhaps get the thing hacked together - but all the effort it takes to do it, only means the thing is done.  Not that he's learned it.  There isn't time to learn it!  With the layer upon layer of new words, even I have found myself desperately exclaiming, "It doesn't matter what it means!  Just write it down!!!"  This is at 9:30, when I know a) I have to get up at 1:30 to teach and b) if Sergei doesn't get into bed, I won't be able to wake him in the morning and c) this is only science - we still have math and English left to do!

Even I would like to pretend all those papers don't exist.  That those grades aren't plummeting.  That just making an honest, or even giving it some intense effort - might actually pay off.  But there is too much.  It is overwhelming.  As smart as he is, as sweet as he is, he does not know where to turn acadmically.  The effort to "do the work" is not the same effort that would actually help him learn at the level he is on.  So, what do you do then? 

Well, you muddle along.  He begs to homeschool; I consider it.  His natural brilliance in computers, gains him an easy "A" in that class - even thought the exacting teacher (also the director of the school) believes he is  giving difficult work.  And because this same teacher also teaches Biology, he gives Sergei a little extra help.  And being given both help, and being treated as capable, means Sergei does better than average in that class.
And, then, as in most schools....there is the teacher who just won't give anyone a bad grade.  So, at this point the hurdle, the big, fat FAILING grade is English.  The teacher who doesn't communicate, the lessons that don't inspire.  Hm....I guess I need to step in and do something.... I'm just not sure what. 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SUNDAY FUNNIES - Aidan in the Kitchen

      Why not?  I used to read the funnies on Sunday.  Makes more sense anyway.  Besides which, this was a long day, and my "daily post" isn't happening unless I fall back on some solid material.  These are a few "funnies" about Aidan.

      As you might imagine we occasionally called Aidan "Adie".  One day he was helping me in the kitchen and he said, "I'm a chef!  Chef-boy-Adie".  

      He didn't really appear to be too gifted in that line, though.  I will never forget the first time I thought I'd let him cook something on his own.  I thought Jello would certainly be within his capabilities.  The directions are so clear and easy to follow.  So, I set out the equipment necessary and the box of jello and left him to it.  I thought maybe I ought to glance in every so often.  Just as well....  I looked in and he had the water on the stove to boil - the whole two-quart pan filled to the brim.

      "Ah, Aidan, how much boiling water do you need?"
      "Two cups."
      "Well, how about measuring the water first?  Then you won't need to boil so much of it."  He took that advice as well-intentioned and I ducked out to leave him to it.  A bit later I thought I better check to see how it was going.  He'd taken my advice all right.  He'd measured the water - and there it sat - still in the measuring cup, which sat in the saucepan on the burner.  I had surely not realized how specific I needed to be!

      I am not sure that "food critic" was ever Aidan's direction. He didn't ever quite get the vocabulary down.  When he was in kndergarten his teacher was commenting how cooperative Aidan was in trying all the foods served at lunch.  She mentioned that he'd even tasted the sharp cheddar cheese in the salad that they'd served that day.  Overhearing this, he wanted, I suppose to emphasize his bravery in this regard, "Yes"!  he exclaimed, "And it poked me!"

      Probably five or so years later his food acumen had not improved a great deal.  He took a bite of a Three Muskateers bar and asked, "Is that all that is in this candy bar?  Cartilege?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yesterday I believe that my mother bought me a piece of the best pie that exists on earth.  Certifiably so.

After thinking about doing this for awhile (why the delay???) we found our way up to a little pie shop in a continguous city (Dewitt); it took all of ten minutes to get there.   This little shop is called "Sweetie-licious Pie Pantry" and it is the cutest thing on earth, very retro and charming.

I read about the owner a couple of years ago in FAITH magazine.  Sad thing is I don't quite remember the story, except that her faith helped her work her way out of a sad situation, and into this life she loves.  After they did the article, I was prompted again to visit the shop, when I read that she had won the first place three years' running in the Crisco National Pie Championships!  And she recently won First Place in the Food Network Pie Challenge.

Frankly, I believe I make a good pie, and I learned from my mom who makes a good pie - so we went up there expecting a good pie, but reserving wild-eyed praise.  (My mother still left saying something along the lines of, "But they (the judges) have never tasted your Buttermilk Pie!")  Yet, we were wowed.  I had the prize-winner pie - the Very Cheery Cherry Cherry Berry Pie.  The two "cherries" in the title refer to fresh cherries and dried cherries, and I have to say those dried cherries in there were magnificent.  Also - the crust was spectacular, if I do say so myself.

  But as nice as the pies was the ambiance.  The people in there are just as happy and sweet as can be.  Lynda, the owner, is as cute, friendly and welcoming as she is made out to be and the fellow on the right was really a dear.  He was putting pink coconut on cupcakes while we were there and really appeared to be liking his work, silly as that sounds.  (Those cupcakes were adorable!)

TOTAL WEIRD ASIDE:  His cupcakes were more adorable than the ten that I made to take to Zhen's class for his birthday yesterday, which the dog ate while I went out to pick the kids up from skating.  But mine were cute, too and - yes; the dog ate TEN of those cupcakes...and it took me a while to believe it because she made NO MESS whatsoever.  No smear of frosting, no crumbs (I couldn't eat one without crumbs)!  Of course, the difference between the dog and me is that she ate hers with paper on!  And half of them had foil cupcake holders (or whatever you call them)..

Anyway, no bakery compliments for me - I had to go to the store and buy Russian candy to take to his class for a birthday treat because I didn't have time to make more cupcakes.  And the dog never got sick!  That might be the strangest thing of all!!!

Friday, November 13, 2009


I just read a post by my friend Mary (also an adoptive mom; her son was in the same orphanage as Anastasia, and then later Ilya).  Reading the so-well-written tale of her jury duty brought back to mind my one experience of being called for jury duty, which turned out far differently than hers, even though I really think we went into it with very much the same level of interest and anticipation.

Like Mary, I thought I would like to be on a jury!  I had the same sort of - "Well, this will be interesting!!!" approach to the experience.  Remember - I'm the girl who loves Forensic Files and 48 Hour Mystery, and back when we had TV I used to be moderately addicted to People's Court.

I was pleased when I was one of the juror candidates drawn to be questioned.  We went into the courtroom and were given an overview of the case.  Immediately, any sense of adventure went out of the experience.  The case involved the death of a woman in an auto accident. I was hoping for something INTERESTING - not purely sad.

Furthermore, the more I listen, the sadder the story gets;  it transpires that the accident was during a rainstorm, and the accused's car slid on wet pavement, and hit the side of the deceased person's car going at an extremely low rate of speed (of course I don't remember exactly, but I'd guess something like 10-15 mph - really slow); the poor woman somehow bumped her head just right so that the injury resulted in her immediate death.  Obviously this was a very unusual injury.  And, it was even mentioned up front that the accused was going significantly UNDER THE SPEED LIMIT at the time.

Remember - all of this was the initial overview of the case. I figure at this point, jurors should be hankering for more details.  But, we'd only begun and I wanted to cry out - "For God's sake, people; it was an ACCIDENT!"  Why are we wasting all of this money and time on this?  It was an accident, let the man (the accused) suffer without this circus!  Don't you see that his life will be forever ruined by this already???!!!.  And, let the victim rest in peace!

We've only begun and I am simply horrified, tied in knots, with sympathy for the poor man who had caused the death of another person. He is sitting there - a colorless little man, reminding me of Walter Mitty.  Clearly not the sort of cocky drug dealer or stock trader who'd previously been weaving in and out of traffic.   Isn't being the cause of someone's death enough punishment?  Isn't THAT torture for a lifetime????  What is THIS about, then?  I'm sitting there, nearly in agony for the poor man; I was trying to catch his eye to give him sympathetic looks.  Obviously, I thought, it could have been ME.  It could have been anyone!  And they admit that the woman's death from this little bump was a FLUKE!  What are they playing at?

So while I'm being accosted internally by all of these intense reactions, I am sitting there appearing, I think, outwardly placid and they are asking the jurors questions, none of which hit at all on what  seemed to me to be the key eliminating qualification surely - "Are you already fervently praying that the accused gets off with nothing more than a lot of prayers for his psychological well-being?"  But no questions like that.  A couple of jurors were let off for having recently had an accident.  I remained.

Then comes the quizzing by the prosecutor.  The prosecutor was a woman who immediately hit me wrong.  For one thing she was wearing an ugly brown suit and black fishnet stockings with a hole.  For cripes sake!  I can dress better than that!!!  (Not saying much.) And, any idea that she might be rumpled but brilliant was soon quashed when she spoke.  Far from having studied this case, she keeps having to look at her notes; she seems to have been handed them about thirty seconds earlier, and is clearly not a quick study.  First thing she does is state incorrectly the name of the victim.  First name wrong; last name mispronounced.  Every time she says the victim's name after this, it is again wrong, first one way and then another.  I am  squirming at the disrespect, the horror of it all...somehow the action of the prosecutor in not caring enough to say the woman's name right, is striking me as far worse than whatever misjudgment caused the accused to go a little faster than conditions warranted on that horrible day.

I literally had myself worked up to a fever-pitch of upset for both victim and accused.  Some closure was needed, but it was a PRAYER SERVICE not a TRIAL!  I sat there imagining myself leaping up and suggesting this. 

Early in the questioning, probably right after our names, they'd asked, "Do you have any religious or moral objections to judging another person?"  Everyone blithely and thoughtlessly said, "No." including me.  But woven throughout all these other thoughts, I was thinking about that.  Do I?  I realized, "Yes, I do!!!"

But what do I do about it?

Obviously, the juror candidates were not expected to speak without being spoken to, but finally, I raised my hand and said, "Excuse me, I realize on further thought that I really DO have a moral difficulty in judging another's actions in a setting like this."  And, then, to my horror, it happned.

Righteous indignation overtook me.  I have had three times in my life when somehow I have been completely engulfed by the sort of righteous fury that I presume Jesus displayed toward those money-changers.  I cannot imagine what possessed me.  I did not consciously set out to do such a horrific thing, but it just burst out of me.

I stood up and gave them my opinion about the whole fiasco....  I don't remember precisely what I said, but I know I expressed in powerful oratory the thoughts expressed above - including (to my horror) the level of disrespect I thought it showed not to know the victim's name.  "What if it was your mother who had died?  How would you feel to hear her precious name mangled again and again?  How would it feel!?" (Sadly I do remember that part.)  Then, I turned to the accused and vowed wildly to pray for the healing of his grief and guilt. (Which I have done for all these years whenever I think of this event.)  Then, somehow, without even getting permission I think, I eradicated myself from the cluster of juror chairs and strode out of the room.  I remember the adreniline which was probably spurting from ever pore.  I remember fearing to look back, lest one of the guards would be coming after me with handcuffs.  Of course I wondered what the heck it was like in there after I left!  (Surely my impassioned oratory had totally thrown this case off its tracks. Doubtful.)  I was allowed to leave, and never was picked up for contempt of court or any of the other high crimes and misdemeanors I imagined I'd  committed.   I was to horrified to even tell Craig how it had gone.  I really did fear every phone call and every piece of mail that arrived for the next few weeks.  This is the first time this odd incident has been publicly acknowledged.  I did try to follow the papers after this to see how the trial went....never heard a thing about it.  I do pray for those poor people.

My other two RI moments?  When I was about twelve a girl down the street gave me a cat.  I loved the cat, of course, like a child. It was my first pet and unbelieveably dear.   For some reason or other one day she came down the street to tell me that she wanted her cat back.  Wowee....  I think some angel of the Lord overtook me (or a demon?) at any rate, I do not remember what I said to her, I only remember that I was powerful, and I was articulate. As I remember it I got larger.  And she took off never to dare to come near my cat again!  And perhaps not my house!

The second occasion was in Santa Barbara California.  In some ways this is the funniest.  I was riding the bus with a bunch of typical inner-city young black guys who were loud, rude, and vulgar throughout the ride.  As it happened we got off the bus at the same time, and even though there was a trash bin attached to the bus stop pillar right there, a couple of them threw some trash on the ground.  Without thinking, that spirit of righteousness came over me and I instructed them in no uncertain terms, to pick that trash up NOW and put it in the trash container!   (Good gosh!  What brought that on!?)  I didn't think about doing it ahead of time.  I can't imagine anyone in their right mind doing such a thing, apart from maybe an armed officer of the law.  But. here is the funny part (and it illustrates the actual power that seems to come over me at these moments), they not only picked up the garbage, and put it in the trash container - they apologized.  "Sorry, ma'am."  They called me ma'am!!!  I apparently had spoken with authority!

I wish I had half this power - a quarter of it - when speaking to my children.  But it only comes on me unaware.  Too bad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


In the interests of not writing a book, I pared down the focus in my post about Anastasia's party-going woes.

I do think that behavior like that needs to be attacked, as it were, from a few directions at once.  While I have this feeling that in her case the genesis is in some deep dark knot stemming from her past, there is no doubt in my mind that it is also downright sinful behavior (I'm a Catholic, right?).  I have to say I also loved Olga's response.  I do think that Anastasia is a also a "drama-queen".  That is - she doesn't just feel things, she enhances her feelings and she illustrates them.  I suppose that is one step beyond the proverbial "acting out".  It is acting pure and simple!

In her neediness for attention, she has also been known to generate "feelings" out of whole cloth...just to get it.
My guess is that a sad little neglected girl, the first real focused, cossetting attention she got from strangers was when she was removed from her home.  I expect it felt really good.  Plus, she was of interest to people!  They treated her well!  A time or two since she has been with us, she has made the effort to get some of that attention via making herself seem pathetic.  (Well - it worked once!) 

I want to understand her so I can help her understand herself.  I really think that if she can realize what provokes these feelings, awareness will help her fight these impulses.  At her best, she is a thoughtful girl, who wants to be good and kind.  But by what compulsion does she behave in opposition to what she knows she really wants to do?  Well, some might say - it is just the prompting of Satan.  Nothing more than giving into selfish, sinful urges.

I sense that yes, the anxiety is there, but I also think she nurses it.  And that part of it is choice.  A sinful, wrong choice.

Hence, the title of the post.  Unless my children's reaction is clearly out of their control (like those that result in Maxim's rages or an actual Anastasia-melt-down), I  always try to use these occasions to build the children's moral development.  As a mom, I am quite glad I got the chance to study Kohlbergs' "Stages of Moral Development" because knowing this information helps me think a little more clearly sometimes about stretching my children up to the next level.

The "stages" of moral development are basically thought processes about "being good".  Motivations, as it were. Kohlberg would say that we all have to move from one stage to the other, without skipping any (though we can have a foot in a couple at a time, and may stay for a long time in one, and zip through others.)  We will know adults who remain in a very child-like stage.  But, knowing the progression is helpful; here they are (very short form!)

1. Punishment Orientation: (How can I avoid punishment?)
2. Reward orientation (What's in it for me?)
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity (Social norms - wanting to be like others/wanting others to like me/wanting to be considered "good"/wanting friends)
4. Authority Orientation: (It is the law! We have to follow the rules.)
5. Ethical principles: (What is right? What is truly good and beautiful?)

You can see that people usually move through these stages at somewhat predictable ages....though growth in morality is irregular and imperfect, we often see preschoolers at level 1 and 2 - wanting to avoid punishment and get a reward. Around 3rd and 4th grade children are often moving into Stage 3 - wanting to be liked, wanting to have friends, be like others. Around middle school or a little younger we start "luring" or "pushing" children into considering Stage 4. Rules become very important. That's when we usually have children memorize and study the Ten Commandments. Hopefully, we live in a society where most people rise to Stage 4! But we've all seen adults get completely stuck in lower stages - even Stage 2 - The "What's in it for me?" mindset created a lot of financial upheaval for our entire country.

What we want for our children (and ourselves!) is to get to Stage 5.  We want to act out of love.  Not so we get rewarded, not so we are liked, not just to "follow the commandments", but because we want to allow God to guide our actions - even when it is seemingly not in our best interests!  That is self-sacrifice. 

The theory goes - and I belive it - is that we will not make any sense to a person if we do not reason with him using either reasons that resonate in the stage where he is, or the one just above it.  We will make no sense to someone if we are suggesting the value of self-sacrifice, when they are just wanting to be liked.

So, with Anastasia  last week, I took aim and fired using a number of ideas that seem to be in and around her present level of thinking.

Anastasia, if I see that ugly expression on your face again, you'll not go to the party; you will spend that time alone in your room.  (Punishment)

If you can show me only pretty expressions you can go to the party. 
If you can show me that you are happy for V. on her birthday, I will let you have something new to wear, too.  (Reward)
Anastasia, if you want people to like you, you have to be sweet.  No one wants to be around a person who is selfish and unkind.
You will  be invited to lots of parties if you are fun to have around.  You won't be invited to any if you are crabby.  (Social)
Anastasia; I insist that you behave in a way that represents our family well, or you will not be allowed to attend parties at all.  You will not humiliate yourself or me again by this ugly behavior! (Rule)

So....she's given it a lot of thought, one way or another.....

And, to tell you the truth - I also have been singing the birthday song into her ear and giving her lots of cuddles the last few days as well......

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TTT - The Observations of Children

The perp and his sister

For some odd reason, all of my experiences that fit this particular topic involve not children.  But only Aidan.  Sweet, charming, open, observant Aidan. 

One of the more embarrassing moments he gave me - though sadly, far more embarrassing for some other poor woman - was the clear, bold observation he made in a very long line at the bank one afternoon.  With time for the eye to roam, it roamed at eye level and fell upon the patron ahead of us.  He commented to all present, "That lady has a BIG BOTTOM!"

And then there were the restaurant comments.  We took him to a fish restaurant, and it had  been long-established that shrimp were his favorite food.   However on this particular day he was chowing down when he got to thinking,  "Mom, what is this?"  "Shrimp" did not cut it as an answer.  So, I tried to elucidate, suggesting that shrimp were a kind of fish.  "Fish!!!"  Horror covered his dear face, as his voice penetrated the restaurant, "Fish!!  You mean this is DEAD FISH?!!?!?  They used to swim??!?"  I think more than one diner was forced to think again about becoming vegetarian. 

But, this was not as bold a health statement as he made at the restaurant where they had very imperfectly divided the smoking and non-smoking sections.  As he began to smell smoke, his little curly head perked up.  "Somebody's smoking!!  Why are they smoking!?  They're going to DIE!!!"  It was at a moment when, as I recall, there was no ambient noise whatsoever and every head in the place turned toward the soon-to-be-departed.  As we had just received our food, that was unfortunately - not us.  Look at plate; eat.  Pretend you heard nothing.

Monday, November 9, 2009


This weekend a friend shared, via e-mail, all the photos from her daughter's birthday party with the parents of the guests.  I wasn't gratified to see what a glum little reveler Anastasia turns out to be.  Isn't she enjoying watching her friend open the gifts???  I wish I could show the entire photo with the smiling faces of all the other girls - and you'd sympathize with my embarrassment.

I do know that birthday parties are a hot button for her, a trigger bringing up all sorts of unpleasant "stuff" from her past.  I didn't realize that at the party - with all the other children - she is still unable to overcome her malaise.   I really feel rather sorry for her; she is aware that her feelings and behavior are not "normal" and are "unpleasant".  In better moments she has obviously given it some thought.  One day she came to me and said "I can't stand it when I hear the birthday song sung to someone else."  She can tell the it sets off some uncontrolable (and unreasonable) reaction deep within her.

Is it just that she was given so little attention for her first years of life that she covets the attention that others get?  In the way a starving child would hate to see someone being given a nice plate of food? 

I have tried to give her little assists.  For example,  I took her to the same store where we got the outfit for her friend, and I let her pick an outfit for herself to wear to the party.  At her last birthday party, I found identical short/shirt sets in different colors - one to wear and one to give - she's still at the age where dressing alike and "being twins" is fun.  These things help, but obviously don't get to the heart of her distress.

In the next month we have FOUR birthdays to get through.  Zhenya's this Friday.  Calvin's on the 30th (her nephew - Aidan's son), and Maxim's and Ilya's the first week of December.  How to get through these days?   The idea of giving her extra attention goes over like a lead balloon with the actual birthday children.  As you can imagine, while not so needy as she is, they all want and deserve to be the center of attention themselves.

Her behavior, mind you, does not really parallel what one would expect that she would be feeling.  She is not sympathetic to anyone but a mother!  The affect is not sad, or needy, or longing....  No, she becomes hard, snide, sarcastic, irritated, angry and ill-tempered.  She does everything in her power to destroy any happy occasion.  Very unlikable, indeed.  And difficult to address.  I welcome all advice!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Saturday night I was all set to make meat loaf, when some imp of Satan [just kidding] prodded me into making pelmeni.

My kids all love pelmeni - one of the only dishes that gets universal approval.  Every so often I buy a bag of them, frozen, at the Russian store.  But they are fairly expensive, and last time I was in the process of doing this a Russian lady with serious face (as one might expect from a Russian lady) told me that I should not buy these as I would not know what was in them.  I should make my own; it is easy.

Well, I happened to know that it is easy. 
One night our Russian school group made them together and it was easy, fun and fast.   And I will also confess that her raising the question about what was in them, did cause me to pause.  What did she know?????

I have to confess that by myself, making pelmeni was perhaps easy, and fun (for a while), but definitely not fast.  This is a nice dish to make as a family, or with friends.  I even think that our little Russian school group should get together and make them for ourselves - sort of "stock up" the freezers.  I worked through most of All Things Considered and all the way through Prairie Home Companion, as I did mine....  But the results were tasty and appreciated.

Here is the easy recipe.

Filling:  Take whatever meat you like - even a combination - chicken, pork, beef and grind it up in the cuisinart.  Put it in a mixing bowl and process 1/3 as much onion as you have meat and mix the two.  Season with salt and pepper.

Dough:  I ended up making four batches of dough...I guess it depends on how many you want, but the basic recipe is:  1 1/2 c. flour, 1 egg, salt, 1/4 c. water.  Mix this together and kneed it until smooth (not long - a minute or two).

There are two ways to make the pelmeni.  You can roll out the dough and cut circles for the pelmeni, or you can take little bits of dough balls and roll them out individually.  I actually like this latter method (the only one the Russian lady who taught us had ever used).  It has two advantages - it doesn't take as much room or make as big a mess, and you don't have the same problem with the dough sticking. 

The circles are imperfect, that is OK.  They are maybe 2 1/2 " in diameter, and into each you put a ball of meat mixture a little larger than a marble.  Fold the circle in half, encasing the meat, and seal the edges.  Take the two sides of the half circle and pinch them together to make the traditional pelmeni shape.  Then you can boil them in broth.  Again - a mixture is fine - I boiled mine in a mixture of beef and chicken broth.  They only boil a few minutes; the meat cooks as they boil.  You can serve them in a bowl with a little broth or a lot, depending on your preference.  I love fresh herbs on top - like dill or parsley - and sour cream.

BIG WARNING: (Courtesy of Mary)  If you are not going to cook these right away you need to leave them on a cookie sheet - not touching - and freeze them.  When they are frozen you can put them in a bag.  If you let them touch when they are in the "fresh" form they will adhere to one another and you have an odd mess.

* Confessions:  a) This post was really done on the 9th, but I am determined to do the "daily" post in November.  b) Much of this was already on facebook......  Well....Sunday is a busy day!!!!!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


I got a new handbag - so Anastasia got a new handbag, too. She made hers from scrap paper at the office, while I was working.
It has lots of features.  She took notice of the things that I liked in the bag I bought, and replicated them for herself.

For example:  I have a nice little pocket for my phone, so she has one, too.

And you will note that she gave herself a nice little flip-phone like mommy has.  (I do not have a peace symbol on mine, though.)

This purse also has a pocket for my camera!  So, Anastasia fashioned one for herself.

And she gave herself a camera, too.
And inside her purse there is a wallet....  with money.
 The money is the one feature that her purse has, that mine lacks!

Friday, November 6, 2009


Aidan at home as a homeschooler in the convent....

The e-world is a crazy place....where you can connect with people from all over the world, really.  Recently, on a post by Moscow Mom on her harried schedule, I saw and followed a response by Amanda. Now, I do have a beautiful variety in responders to my blog, though most tend to be adoptive moms.  Amanda (as far as I can follow her hints) seems to be an English girl about to graduate from an all-girls's school.   Amanda's post got me inspired to write about my work life and how it works - or doesn't.

I have always been an old-fashioned girl.  Drawn to the housewifely.  I also live in the moment and believe in letting God lead while I follow (or is that just an excuse?)  Excuse or not, I do not plan ahead much.  I just head down the path without following a map, concentrating instead on adhering to my values, doing as much good as I can in small ways, and appreciating life.  I do appreciate life.  It is very odd, but in the worst moments I can still appreciate it all.  I wonder if that makes any sense?

In any case, there was one thing that mattered to me very much.  I wanted to be an at-home mother.  I still remember the conversation I had with Craig before we married, telling him in no uncertain terms that this was my expectation and a deal-breaker and he agreeing.    It worked out quite differently.

I worked as a teacher until Aidan was born, then stayed home with him.  At that time we lived in a tiny little town of 2,000 families or so, in the middle of Eastern least an hour to even a moderate-sized city.  Having been first an actress, then a teacher, I confess that though I adored my baby, taking care of him was not quite enough to keep the mind alive.  I wish I'd had blogging in those days!  That probably would have filled the bill - but I was rather lonely, actually.  When I went for a walk, it was out into the barren prairie.  It was exquisitely beautiful, but the feeling of being cut off from everything that I felt out there was akin to how I felt the two years we were there.  I did volunteer at the library processing books....I became the DRE of the tiny Catholic parish.  That work took me a few hours a week.  I helped the pastor with RCIA - again a couple of hours a week at most.  I began to substitute teach.  That was a nice break occasionally.

Then we boldly up and moved to Michigan so we could live close to my parents, risking that Craig would somehow get a teaching job over the summer.  To make a long story short, in the end Craig didn't get a job and I did.  Due to that little note at the bottom of my teaching resume about having been DRE of that tiny parish in Heppner, with only twenty-five or so children in our program, I was given the job of DRE at my present parish - with over 600 students in the program.  I can remember telling myself.  "I know how to do this.  It is simply a matter of degree.  Same thing, more of it."  And I lived through it.  But the most difficult thing of all - the searing pain that I will never forget was the pain of leaving Aidan.  To this day I wonder if I did the right thing.  In every other experience of my life when I felt that degree of agony, I took it as a sign to STOP.  Turn around.  But this time, I thought it was simply fear.  I didn't see it as a sign from God that I should not go forward, but a failing in my character at a time when my family relied on me.  I wonder now if it was God telling me to stop, freeze.  We didn't realize that so much hiring in Michigan schools was done in late August/early September.  They keep hiring even after school has started here!  That was not the practice in Oregon at the time, and we'd felt that since Craig didn't have a job in mid-August, I had to take this remarkable one offered me.   I have rolled this whole decision 'round for years, with counselors, with spiritual directors, in my own head, through my own tears.  Was God telling me to not take this job?   I had a spiritual director once bluntly tell me "God does not care whether you work or not.  This is not a moral issue."  Frankly, I still don't know.

I do know that I was more courageous then than I've ever been and I plowed forward.  Did the job, did it pretty well, as the years passed, did it better - and really enjoyed it, too!  I was grateful for the teachers' schedule giving me summers off.  There was the birth of Lydia - I really was determined that I wouldn't work with a baby....but somehow Craig was not in full-time employment then, and there was nothing for it.  I had to keep going.

But as time passed, and I was more and more respected, I began to develop my way of "making it work".  And, thank the Lord, I began to feel right and good about working.  The best description I can give of it is - I elected the pre-industrial revolution idea of work.  In fact, the day I began to think of my job as the "family farm" that was the day I began to feel right about working.

Prior to the industrial revolution there wasn't the distinction between "work" and "home" as conflicting realities - two separate spheres that argued over your soul.  In fact, work and home were often one and the same place....or if they were not (in the case of a blacksmith, for example) they were close and not mutually exclusive.  And I was so fortunate to be able to do this because I had the big old convent building to spread out in.  My children could be with me at the office; in fact it was vastly preferable to them to be there.  They hated being left at home.  At home they could not go out (there were some hooligan children in our neighborhood in those days).  Here at "the office" they had free run of the building, the grounds and lots of children they liked whose parents were happy enough to let them hang out here at church.

The kids became everyone's helpers and second pair of hands.  They were involved in everything - the choir, the RE classes; we started a girl's club; Lydia started a Bible Study for girls.  They had a true community of really good people influencing them, and supporting them.  Their lives, our lives were rich.  And, then when Aidan was in sixth grade I began to homeschool him here at the office. The benefits of being settled in this community was intensified.   Then after he went to high school (in the HS across the parking lot - he came "home" for lunch), Lydia began to homeschool here.  There was a sort of continuum between home and "the office" that was smooth, pleasant, safe, secure, happy.  For a couple of summers Craig even worked on the grounds crew.

Things are not as easy now.  Yes, the younger kids can be here, but there isn't the same space or freedom.  Even I don't quite feel "at home" in this present parish - more like a brand new hire, so clearly the children don't feel at home either.  But when this pattern was working for us, it worked beautifully....  At any rate, I can look back and think that Aidan and Lydia, at least had "happy childhoods" that were actually blessed by my working and the way it worked......

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Perhaps I went overboard this week.  Not sure.  I got fed up with the dependence on technology, and in particular, the gravitation towards "screens" in preference to just about anything else.

I actually purchased a foot of light chain and a little lock and locked up the xboxes (Maxim's was at our house) and Sergei's computer.  Interesting how the kids immediately find fun things to do.

What possessed them, I'm not sure, but Zhen and Nastya got into "doing hair" and Zhen fixed himself up - attitude and all - as a '50's kind of guy. 

When in doubt, Ilya will clean.  I got home yesterday and he and Nastya were making references to "a new toilet and sink".  When I got up there I realized that the two of them had scrubbed those appliances in places I'd never dreamed of scrubbing them before. (And, I assure you I feel as though I keep a clean bathroom!)  They went up and under and behind and in every nook and cranny.  Really cool!  (Except you hardly want to use them.)  Nastya, in addition, cleaned my bedroom.  True she put things away in places where we still can't find them, but the idea is first rate! 

I have noticed that, apart from Anastasia who is really serious about doing well in school, homework has not risen to the top of the "possible things to do" pile.  Oh, well.....I think what they are doing beats another 3-4 hours of Runescape, in any case.  I'll soften up one of these days, and let the machinery out of bondage, but I intend to keep the key handy and only bring the screens out for "dessert" - not the steady diet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I have to laugh at this lovely little nickname for South Korea...

Because my loving husband certainly HAS had a heck of a lot more "morning calm" than I have had this past year!

He has himself to get up and dressed and only one place to go - a leisurely walk.

Meanwhile, here in Michigan (Land of the Morning Chaos) I:
  • get up
  • make coffee
  • get dressed
  • clean the toilet
  • wipe down the sink
  • gather up the dirty clothes
  • put the clean dishes away
  • feed the dog
  • sweep the floor
  • take the clothes out of the dryer
  • put washer clothes into dryer
  • put new load on to wash
  • make lunches
  • make tea
  • check e-mail
  • pay a bill or two
  • call children................and are the bits and snippets I saved up from this morning's pre-school preparation to share with you:

Get up! This is my second time up here! You won't get breakfast if you don't get up now!  Mama where's my pants? In the dryer. NO! Those are Ilya's! Can I have a bagel and cream cheese? Did you make tea? Mom, this tea is too hot! This sweater is still damp! Sergei isn't up yet. Can you sign this form? I have to be there early! Can I have some money for the field trip?  Mom, can you sign my planner?  Did you get your homework done? No, because you said you'd help me...  Where is it? We'll do it now.  Can I turn up the heat?  I'm cold!  Do you have your spelling words?

Do you have any quarters? Where's my lunch? Can I take a snack? We're out of apples! Mom, it's raining! Sergei can you start the car? Didn't we have any drinks? No you all drank them over the weekend! I didn't drink any! Well, tell your brothers to save them for lunches. Let the dog out! Is Ilya up? He won't get out of the bathroom! Sergei, did you put out the recycling?

Can I have an egg? No eggs when you come down at this hour. Then I'm not eating. Hurry up! I just remembered; I have to get gas!

And so forth.  No morning calm here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


A few random musings.....

Had to drop off a DVD this morning and traffic forced me to turn down a street so I could turn around and head the right direction.  I pulled into the driveway of this apartment building and couldn't help but be struck by it's original pretensions.  Pretensions that have clearly been abandoned along the way.

This building was not on a street, and didn't have the architecture to suggest that it was ever actually a very nice place to live - certainly not a place worthy of being called any sort of "Manor".   I remembered that years ago the lunch lady at the St. Vincent Home, where my husband worked,  lived here.  When we bought a new car, instead of selling our old one, Craig (who is really a good man) wanted to give our car to the lunch lady instead.  Of course I agreed, and I recalled sitting in this parking lot while he went in to give her the keys, and feeling the conflicted satisfaction of doing something good, with the stomach-twisting knowledge that we could really use the money.   It was over nine months later that something went wrong with the car, that required repair.....and the lunch lady actually got mad at us for refusing to repair it for her!  She sat and gossiped with the other lunch ladies until they all were turned against him, and gave Craig angry looks when he went in there.  I suppose that is what they mean by "no good deed goes unpunished".

At any rate, the person who decided to call this crummy apartment building a "manor" is probably the same one who names most housing developments.  Why ever do they insist on scraping  a parcel of land clean of vegetation and then calling the area "Bennett Woods" or "Shady Glen"?  They eradicated the fields where we used to go to pick strawberries and called the subdivision they built there "Strawberry Farm".  Does this approach ever awaken despair and dismay in anyone else?    The old days in the '50s when they'd call the place "The Gillespie Tracts" seems far more appropriate somehow.  To draw attention to what was beautiful and what we destroyed makes me wonder.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Poor Nastya!  She woke up sick on Halloween day.  Crawled back into bed after a hot bath.  Unfortunately, there was nothing for it but for me to go to work, so I told her to sleep and assured her that I'd stay home with her that night.  I began to organize in my mind how the trick-or-treating might be managed.

We have a long-standing tradition of going to a friend's house in East Lansing for dinner, then taking the kids out in their neighborhood.  After trick-or-treating we end up at another friend's house for adult dessert and for children to count and sort their take.

But clearly a new plan needed to be made.  This year the big boys (Maxim, Sergei and Ilya) wanted to trick-or-treat with their friends in our neighborhood, so I would just need to alert our friends and convince the big boys to take Zhen with them.  But mid-afternoon Anastasia calls.  She's all better!  And, indeed, her voice was bright and she was full of what she'd put together for a costume.  And, as is her (and all the kids') wont, she called again to ask if she could put glitter in her hair, and again to see if her friend Madeline from the neighborhood could come with us to East Lansing, and again to see if Madeline's mom had said yes - etc.

So, I did believe that maybe she'd just been overtired, and that she was energized and ready to go.  And when I got home she looked great.  I put a spinach salad together and got the three little ones into the car.  But about the time we all sat down to the table, I noticed a bit of wavering, and refusal of pizza, or soup, or salad....  Not like Nastya. 

She said she was cold, and my friend's husband put her in a chair in the garden room, wrapped in a blanket.  When it came time to trick-or-treat I encouraged her to stay in, but she was determined to go with us.  This is when I took the photo - Anastasia Determined to Go.

She made it around the cul-du-sac, and that was the end.  Back to the house she went to curl up once more.  Zhen is at the age where girls are as much fun as boys, so though Madeline is not usually his friend, the two of them had no problems at all having a good time.  Of course the "after-glow" was out, and they were both disappointed.  So was I, but the responsible mother needed to kick in.

So - bad mother here?  I think I tried to be responsible.  I really did believe that she was recovered.  Should I have taken her home when she began to feel puny?  But that would have ruined the evening for Zhen and Madeline.  Well, I did my best.  She crawled into bed at home.  And claimed weakness and misery when I left for work yesterday....  So imagine my surprise when she called mid-afternoon bright and cheerful.  And, my repeated dismay to find her sick again when I came home.

What is it with these odd illenesses that are cyclical?  I don't think she is "faking it" at all.  I think she really is feeling well in the afternoons.  And is truly miserable morning and evening.  I recall an odd phenomenon one winter when I'd begin to feel sick around 4 p.m., and get worse and worse as the night went, on - only to feel perfectly fine next morning - and that went on for weeks! 

So any of my physician readers may want to elucidate. 

PS - I have seen a couple of references to a determination to blog every day of November.  Well, having missed the first day, perhaps it is not fair to head out into the rest of the month, but I just might.  I have to get over the sense that every post must be an essay with merit.  I hoped to chronical our family life and it is not a work of art!