Wednesday, June 30, 2010

HOW TO LOOK TWENTY YEARS OLDER IN ONLY FIVE DAYS!

  • Firstly, you volunteer to teach a challenging lesson on the Holy Trinity (easy and straightforward topic, yes?) to adults, when people very important to your career will be present and observing, then....
  • You say "yes" to work in a pilot program, teaching Korean teachers strategies for English teaching.  This is on-line every morning from 6-9 a.m.
  • You do this while still teaching Korean students English from 2-4 a.m.
  • Suddenly, you are told that you must write three one-hour lesson plans for ALL of the on-line teachers to use teaching the Korean professionals teaching skills.  You, who usually take days to write a lesson plan, you who are a perfectionist, you who have never before written lesson plans on these topics, get to write one a day for three days while receiving a non-stop string of e-mails either giving criticism of the last one, ideas for the new one, or pleas, even demands, that you get it in NOW.  Oh!  and the first one is due the day after you are told to write it.  No dinner that night!
  • You sign your daughter up for tennis every morning from 9-11....so that you literally leap from your role as teacher (in front of the computer) to your role as mother, in the car, racing to tennis.
  • You sign your boys [one of whom is near having agoraphobia] up for an expensive soccer camp which meets every afternoon from 1:30 - 4:30, in another city....oh, of course they don't have equipment - you have to make time (and find money) to buy that!!   You take every moment to encourage your agoraphobic son to actually go to the camp - after all he asked to go, and asked to have his brother attend with him.  You have almost giving up wincing at the cost....but live in dread that said son will not attend.
  • The second day he doesn't attend, and when you tentatively try to discuss it with him, you make the tactical error of referring to "fear".  You realize you have apparently hit a nerve when he regresses to destructo-boy and smashes a bottle of laundry detergent on the laundry room floor.  (Do you know how hard that is to clean up???)
  • You are trying to clean it up fast, because you have a repairman who will be coming by in the afternoon, and he will need you to go to the store and purchase multiple items....while he is working, with the understanding that he will only be able to finish the job if you are back soon!!!
  • You agree to having the emotionally fragile acquaintance of your compassion-challenged daughter come to stay for a week.  Oh!  Your agoraphobic and socially fearful son, extends himself to speak Russian to this little girl, who is so fearful herself that she is mute.  Indeed, she is nearly 100% mute in all languages.  Said son, undoubtedly hurt, behaves badly, threatening to cut off the guest's hair.  You witness this episode, passing through on the way to what becomes an aborted effort at a nap....you wonder how many such incidents you have missed.
  • You spend a frustrating couple of hours from 6-7:30 a.m. on the phone with various tech support people, because in the middle of teaching your Koreans you find that alternately you:  a) cannot be heard, b) behold your face frozen on the screen in a most unflattering expression, or c) cannot see, hear or type. 
  • Finally, as a sort of dessert item, you are told by your Korean superior that your students are unhappy, and you must write them a letter of apology for these technical issues, and that the letter must be ready within the hour.  
I tell you people, this is when a sense of humor is a pretty darned precious commodity.  I'm so glad I have one.

Only thing.....the sense of humor has not prevented my visage from appearing every day more haggard and aged.  Probably the most painful aspect of the teaching-the-teachers program is that I have to LOOK AT MYSELF the whole time.

To wrap it all up in a big bow, there was a staff meeting for my real job this morning at 10... (Wasn't that great timing?!)  Well, yes - it was!  It was scheduled for perhaps the only moment of the day when I don't have another responsibility!

Craig did kick in and pick up Anastasia from tennis, an event which will undoubtedly result in a melt-down of some proportion later today.  He also took the boy(s)? to soccer.

Now....A nap!  A nap!  A nap! 

 
 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'VE TOTALLY GOT THIS MASTERED

Thanks to a link posted by Moscow Mom, I discovered the greatest website.  Written by a Russian woman in the US, it offers real Russian recipes, but unlike cookbooks which tend to be a bit "gournet", and to have metric measurements, she offers recipes which are pretty much "home cooking".  I have made blini for quite a while now, and they are a general favorite, but I've never been very happy at a) how they looked and b) the fact that they are sometimes better than they are other times.  I've made them according to the formula I learned via my Russian friend, Alla....just by watching her.  And she didn't use a recipe, just tossed the ingredients in and adjusted as she saw fit.  That works.....but this works better.

"Enjoy Your Cooking" provided a great, simple recipe which provides for the perfect amount each time. And best of all I got one essential tip:  use a small, cast-iron skillet.  Previously I used a larger frying pan and [stupidly] wondered why I didn't get the nice uniformity of shape and size that I was hoping for.  (I wouldn't say cooking comes naturally for me - would you?)  So, I'm delighted to find this little assist.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO...

....we had some company.  One of my dearest friends in the world broke my heart a few years ago by moving to the most remote corner of Texas, of all places.  (So what that her family lives there!)  Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Nora and her husband Ken came to Lansing for a visit, and delighted the heck out of us.  (The most perfect of all visitors, they stayed in their own house, which they haven't sold, but we had the pleasure of seeing a lot of them while they were here.)

NOTE:  Nora took the great photos of Zhenya and Sergei which grace my header.  I wish I'd encouraged her to try and photograph Ilya!  Nora can charm a rattlesnake.

Anyway, lots of good things transpired from this visit:

a) I had fun chatting with a friend in real life! 

b) Nora, who had been holding out on us all the while she was actually living here, shared the location of the BEST pizza place in Lansing.  I immediately thought "This looks like Russia!"  Now, you who have been to Russia, am I not right? 
  • It does not appear to be a place just anyone should enter, (or even a place of business).
  • It has no sign. 
  • Inside there appears to be minor construction of a non-stop variety going on. 
  • The few small, unattractive tables in a no-nonsense atmosphere could have been the hotel cafe in Ivanovo.  
  • Instead of distracted teens at the helm, as we expect to see here; the place was manned by two elderly gentlemen. 
  • The menu was no-nonsense, too - forget wings, crazy bread, etc. They make pizza.  That's all.  But it is really, really good!  And a good price, too.

c) Zhenya got to spend time with his dearest friend from the orphanage, Nora's and Ken's son, Viktor.  "V" as they call him was the smiling sweetie that I remembered, and just as they always have done the boys were soon rolling all over the place like they'd never been apart.  They always act like two puppies together.  From what we hear from the older girls from #2 in Ivanovo, in the boys' four and five year old manifestations, they were often in trouble together, the terror of the "mamas". 

d) Nora introduced us to "Bananagrams".  Now, the thing is.....she introduced us to "Nora's Rules" and after she left, when I bought my own set, and read the "real" rules, I realized that I don't ever want to play by any rules other than Nora's.  However, we've been playing it ever since.  Anastasia is particularly good at it, and will sit down and play by herself.  The photo is Nora in our local coffee shop.  The shop, now a small chain, was originally known as "Beaners".  But they turned politically correct a couple of years ago and changed the name to "Biggby's".  Most of us still call it Beaners.  Nora, Hispanic herself, gives us the go-ahead for this.  In fact she is seeking original Beaners memorabilia. 

It was a great visit, but too short!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A LITTLE TRIP TO DAYTON

WARNING:  This post is as exciting as it sounds.

This weekend we took a little trip to Dayton, Ohio.  Aidan went there on a business trip (why does it sound so funny to think of my little boy on a "business trip").  He works for a defense contractor at the DIA in Washington, D.C. and this trip was to Wright-Patterson AFB.  He got his return tickets for Friday night, so he could spend a good portion of Friday with us.  Sergei "had army" which is the way we refer to his Cadet weekends, so he stayed home, and Ilya still has trouble with too much public exposure, so he begged, and we allowed him, to stay home alone during the time Sergei would be gone.  So, it was just Craig and I and the littles.

The afternoon with Aidan was nice.  We just hung out at the mall, eating at the food court, and seeking a little gift for him to take home to Calvin.  Then we went back to the hotel and played our new favorite game "Bananagrams" in the lobby until it was time for him to leave.  Pretty uneventful,  but pleasant.

When Aidan left the kids went swimming and Craig and I entertained ourselves by taking one another's pictures.  Then we sat on the edge of the whirlpool and got a foot massage, while Zhen went whole hog.

Dinner at Don Pablos was actually pretty bad.  What a shame, because I don't get to eat out much.

On Saturday morning we took the kids to the Air Force Museum, which is really wonderful! It is well worth seeing. We spent 3-4 hours, but you could easily take a day - and without children, longer. I would have been glad to read every explanation and view every video, but Anastasia and Zhen didn't have that level of devotion to historical detail, let's just say. They were much more drawn to the interactive exhibits.

Anastasia looks happy in this photo, but frankly my nerves were pretty frayed by the time we got home.  She was so dysregulated the whole time.  Travel is not good for her.  And, for some reason I don't entirely understand, Aidan in particular is a trigger for her.  She is not able to respond to him at all normally.  She is snippy and rude and altogether unpleasant when she is around him, which makes him dislike her, of course - and that makes her more uncomfortable, so the cycle continues.   I hardly know how to describe her behavior....   Since I know her it is clear that she is acting under the influence of some irritant to her soul....but she responds by becoming an irritant to everyone around her....negative, demanding, sarcastic, mean-spirited.  I didn't have my calm on at the mall, and for a few moments experienced some huge waves of dislike for her.  But some rapid-fire prayers for help were answered, and I was soon able to gain some sense of understanding and compassion (enough not to abandon her there, anyway).

Our food experiences continued terrible.  We stopped at a Bob Evans outside of Toledo for dinner on the way back and Craig got the most dreadful meal imaginable.  He apparently made the mistake of taking them seriously when they advertised "breakfast any time".  His meal had clearly been sitting in the cooler, or even on the back of the stove since breakfast.  I couldn't believe the waitress brought it out, because one glance showed me that the sausage patties could have doubled as hockey pucks.  The pancakes rather than being soft and tender, were hard and stiff.  The potatoes had a charcoal appearance.  I'm not sure why he decided to even taste these morsels, but he did, and was immediately fighting waves of nausea - he said even the pancakes tasted like grill brick.  Nasty! 

The one splurge I made, food-wise, was another mis-step.  In the hotel lobby I ordered a mocha frappe.  Unfortunately, I watched her make it and couldn't believe my eyes.  I've seen these made at Dairy Queen, at Baskin-Robbins and at coffee shops and every time I've watched as some combination of milk or ice cream, coffee powder and chocolate are mixed with ice.  Not this time.  No - she dumped some mess out of a big plastic jug labeled "MOCHA" into the blender, tossed in ice and that was it.  Nothing "real" at all....and it tasted like it.  My bad choice, I guess.

Some people go to Barbados; some people go to Greece.  I guess when you go to Dayton, you get what you might expect. 



Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TWO MORE THINGS I COULD SELL

LEGOS.  There simply cannot be a better toy for boys than Legos!  Everyone of mine has spent hours and hours of creative [and quiet!] time with this terrific invention.  Zhen is no exception, and over the weekend he put in quite a bit of effort doing chores to "earn" a new Lego set - in this case, something related to Prince of Persia (it has the most minute little pieces of fruit that totally charm me). 

There is one mystery.  You notice I said "boys".  I have purchased a few Lego sets in my day that I hoped would appeal first to Lydia and then to Anastasia. If I recall correctly there was something comparitively domestic with pastel blocks that was attempted by the Lego company when Lydia was little, intended to appeal to girls.  It didn't.  At least to Lydia.  A couple of years ago I purchased a Harry Potter themed set, thinking Anastasia might like it.  On one hand she liked it (as Lydia had liked the one I got her) but there is just something about the whole concept of this form of play that has not appealed to my girls on the same level that it has to the boys.  Anastasia will play with Legos as long as Zhen will play with her and no longer; but he - and the other guys - will play quite happily by themselves.  Occasionally, the huge basket containing, I am sure, HUNDREDS of dollars worth of Legos will end up in the living room, and any of the boys will sit down and spend hours at it.  I can only take this so long, however, because the one drawback to Legos is the pain generated by stepping on one barefoot.

And......Netflix!!!  We are new to Netflix, but I really wish I'd given this a try sooner!  Netflix is as magical as they make out!  Those DVDs arrive in the mail in a cool little wrapper (after e-mail notification that it's on its way) and after you watch your movie, you can painlessly put it right back in the same wrapper and pop it in the mail to go back - no worry about stamps or packing.  No worry about WHEN!   They'll just happily wait for you to watch the movie at your leisure; those late fees don't "hang over your head" when something changes your movie-watching plans.  There are no late fees, no need to be haunted by the need to return a DVD when your "to-do" list is already filled with a lot more critical items.  I'm not sure what I expected, but absolutely nothing as trouble-free and satisfying. 

Better yet!  You can download anything to watch on the computer instantly!!!  If (as has been the case recently) Craig and Ilya are watching the World Cup, I can sit down at my computer and watch a nice mystery, or romantic comedy.  And - even better!!  The Netflix selection is spectacular - I am particularly appreciating this when it comes to PG and G rated movies.  I limit Anastasia to these, and at the video store the pickings are slim.  Even I have to admit there isn't much appropriate for her that looks worth watching.   But Netflix has a super selection of things that are really appealing to her, and wholesome, too.  I just noticed today that she can search for movies in the "Children and Family" selection by age - so she doesn't have to wade disconsolately through all of the "baby" movies to find something that she might like.  All of this for less a month than we have been paying a week! 

I think that is it.  As you can see, my potential as a salesperson is pretty limited.  But if any of these companies contact me, I'll sign on gladly.

THINGS I COULD SELL

I have always known that there is no way I could be a sales person.  I simply cannot bring myself to try and talk people into buying things.  I've had a few opportunities....when I was in high school and worked at a bakery, when I volunteered at a nature center and was occasionally at the gift desk, at garage sales, etc.  Can't do it.  I've even felt a bit guilty that I feel the same way - more so, perhaps - about religion.  If people come to learn about the Catholic Faith - I am thrilled to talk about it, teach about it, and effuse about my experience of it....but I feel so strongly that it is up to them to make the choice without being coerced, or even encouraged.  It is up to God to do that.




Thus, it amused me a bit when earlier this year I realized that I sounded just like a salesperson, as I not only exclaimed over, but demonstrated my Keurig Coffee Maker.  I have one in my office, as well as one at home, and if anyone wanders by and gives me an interested glance...or even an "I smell coffee" glance, I am at the ready to proclaim the delights of my coffee machine and provide them with the proof of its brilliance in the form of a heavenly cup of coffee. 


And, strangely enough, I now have something else I could easily sell!  Actually, I could only find a photo of the "real" thing - I have only purchased the Kroger brand of this absolutely splendid product.

I had never tried one until early this year when a friend was using one in the church kitchen to wash her pots and pans.  Without this experience, had I ever found a reason to purchase one, I am certain I would have limited my use of the Magic Eraser to the prescribed purpose - cleaning walls....but my friend, Mary, was on to something!  The Magic Eraser will clean just about anything!  It is amazing on walls - absolutely amazing.  As Mary said, at her house it wiped away years of accumulated grease above the stove that "had come with" their house when they bought it - true!!!  Worked in my old house, too.  And, it is great on the pots and pans, on glass, getting label residue off newly purchased items....  I use one when I scrub the floors.  I think my favorite use is on the bathtub, where it gets rid of all the scum easily! 

The only surprise is that somehow it dissolves.  I didn't expect it to slowly disappear on me, but it does.

The only use I wouldn't recommend???  In a panic, after the event of the exploding Easter egg that blew blue dye all over the place - including my face - I used it, along with Ajax (can you tell I didn't want to be blue?) to scrub my face.  This is not a good idea, as anyone might imagine who thought about it for a second or two.  Let's just say, this product is abrasive.  It did get rid of the dye, though! 

Monday, June 14, 2010

THIRTY-DAY CHALLENGE SEVEN - Happy!!!

I guess it you don't act fast you lose.... My link to the "Thirty Day Challenge" is no longer active, so I don't have the list anymore... Thus you will be spared.  Too bad, because writing on those topics really was challenging and enlightening.  However, I was delightedly anticipating the chance to write on Day Seven.  So you are getting that one, anyway!  I think they way they put it was "Something that Makes You Happy".

Well, I had the most magnificent opportunity this year to do something that made me dancing-around happy. 

I wrote last year about our "Butter Lamb" project.  For the past few years our girls club, at my urging, had been making Butter Lambs to sell at Easter (yes - just as it sounds...lambs molded out of butter); they are a Polish custom.  I also got the idea to mold some chocolate lambs and for the past few years we were making nearly $1,000 a year.  It took a ton of work (but, it was an appropriate Lenten activity) and some people just donated to the cause....but we had nearly $5,000 saved toward a proposed mission trip to Ivanovo (the city in Russia where my children are from).  This was a dream of mine because the boys always spoke about how much they enjoyed "when the Americans came".  Our previous parochial vicar and pastor were respectively enthused and cooperative regarding the venture.  Then, all was turned upside down in the parish merger, and one of the little losses was this dream.

The new pastor fears that if a person lays down $5 for butter lambs or chocolate, that is $5 less he/she will put in the collection basket.  I can definitely see that point of view (I saw it through tears, however).  I was told that I needed to make appropriate use of these funds before the end of this fiscal year.

I'd advertised the fundraiser as "Summer Camp for Russian Orphans" and needed to use the funds for that purpose, somehow.  Happily I stumbled on the New Horizons program.  New Horizons hosts children for summer trips (and Christmas trips) to the US to stay with [usually] potential adoptive families.  I called New Horizons and the money we had to donate paid the complete cost of two children's visits  as well as a substantial part of the hosting fee for two more.  So four children get to come to the US!   I got to choose which children to sponsor....that was both blessed and difficult.  But my heart is for the older boys, who are always the last to be chosen.  Most of them are being hosted by families who live down south, as far as I can tell.

Here are "my" guys - the ones we sponsored:

ABOVE is the boy who melted my heart.  Davids. With that open, happy smile he reminds me so much of my Sergei...I think he looks like Sergei, too.  I tell you, if he hadn't been chosen, he would have come to our house!  By hook or by crook!  On either side are Alex and Vlad.



This young man BELOW was my final selection.  I noticed a post on facebook from a woman bemoaning the fact that they couldn't finance hosting Zhenya at the moment, otherwise she would - he is musical; they are musical; she was really drawn to him.  And this boy will turn 16 at the end of September - if he doesn't find a family now, he will be too old for adoption, and he is out on his own - no orphanage and no family either.

No question in my mind what to do!  R. who is hosting Zhen promised to keep me posted and let me live vicariously though his hosting visit.  Oh!  Please pray for all these boys that they find good homes, or at the very least have a happy, joyous visit! 

If you want to follow along as a little girl is hosted through this program, go to Creating My Own Little Nirvana and see what a sweetie FaerieMama is hosting!

PROJECT 52, TWENTY-ONE

On Memorial Day we drove the hour and a half to Dearborn for the oldest Memorial Day parade in the Detroit area (or so we're told).  It was big!  And it was nice.  Sergei was marching with his Army Cadet group.  That's him in the front row in a beret (which attests to his special leadership status, not to his having forgotten his regular cap).  The parade began with a fly-over of jets and the whole thing really did fill me with warm patriotic feelings.  I found it especially moving because Dearborn is largely populated by immigrants from the Middle East....I was sitting by several ladies in abayas and hijabs, and wanted so much to catch them in a photo, but didn't have the nerve, although we chatted back and forth cheerily. 

On the way there was much parental discord in the car due to the inadequacy of the map-reader (Craig) and his failure to have purchased a GPS heretofore.  Actually, it did not seem that he knew what a GPS was, eliciting scorn from all passengers.  And he didn't think it was funny.
After the parade there was a picnic in the most gorgeous setting.  We got some good food, then had to scurry as the rain began to pour.  Overall, though, it was a very appropriate Memorial Day.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

AWARDS

Anastasia and her remarkable teacher.
I hate awards.  At least that is what I would have said a month or two ago.....after the "Art and Music Festival" at the school.  In addition to the evening of fun activities, and the hallways filled with the students' art (very cool), they also present art awards.  Each year I am truly expecting Zhen to get an award.  I long for him to get an award.  He is an amazing little artist.  But, he doesn't.  Obviously, the teacher (who is wonderful) can't give awards to everyone in this 400 student school.  And she explains that part of the criteria is "behavior" (though I think she has a more tactful way of expressing it)  and I am certain that Zhen is his usual talkative self in art class.  Still....He struggles with everything else.  Why the heck can't someone do something to make him feel as though there is hope for him in the school setting?  Not that his teachers aren't encouraging....but this school is huge on awards, and while they may make the recipients and their parents feel wonderful, when a child doesn't get any it is like flashing lights: 
YOU ARE A LOSER.
YOU ARE A LOSER. 
YOU ARE A LOSER. 
AND, YOU TOO, MOM AND DAD! 
THAT GOES FOR YOU, TOO!

I love competition.  You have the choice to compete or not, and usually there is a "next time" to contemplate.  You can tell yourself, "Practice more and next time..."  "Work harder, and next time..."  Zhen ended up on the worst basketball team this year.  Even though he is a good player, overall the team was dreadful, and lost every game.  But "there is always next year!!!"  Or, you can decide that this particular activity is not for you.  And awards associated with competition are completely different.  Lydia was a first rate Irish dancer, and we had such a blast when she won, and could "take it" when she didn't and either way, I think it was a great learning experience in so many ways.

School awards are different.  School is not an avocation or pastime.  School is the BIG DEAL when you are a kid....where you spend most of your day, where your sense of self is developed.  So, always, always being a loser at school - that impacts people.  For life. 

Now, after that long moan....  At Anastasia's school I saw awards done right.  The awards at Summit were not to weed out "winners" from "losers" which is what the awards seem to do at the Catholic school.  Rather in some way each child was sincerely appreciated.

Anastasia is in no way, shape or form a top student in the class.  There is no question of that, but she left that assembly feeling appreciated, honored and cherished.  Perhaps it is because it is a small school.  In her class there are just twelve students.  But each student was honored for their accomplishments during the year - she happened to have gotten a prize at the big Math Olympics, and that was presented.  She completed each week of the "Book It" program and was recognized for that.  But the "big" awards were the "Virtue" awards, and the teacher did a lovely job of matching every child to his or her gift or virtue and presenting that award with great solemnity.  It was extremely touching. Anastasia got the "Creativity Award".  I was surprised!  I would have expected her to get the "Organization Award" or the "Diligence Award" something like that....  Later in the week when I mentioned it to the teacher, she told me that she gave Anastasia that award in part because she thinks it is the way Anastasia wants to see herself. And then she pointed out a number of ways in which Anastasia showed creativity.  I thought about it and realized that yes; it is true, and furthermore it is a quality that needs building up in her.  Because while not the  opposite of organization, creativity springboards from organization.  For Anastasia to achieve her own greatness, she needs not to cling to order, but to use order as a foundation for greater things. 

She also got one of the bigger awards....and I have to confess, even before they got to Anastasia's class, I leaned over to my friend and said, "Most Improved....that's a backhanded sort of compliment, isn't it?"  But that was the award Anastasia got....and by then I felt completely different about it.  She IS most improved.  As the teacher explained, Anastasia has gone up two and a half grade levels in reading!  And two grade levels in math! 

I do not believe Anastasia could have had a more remarkable teacher, or a setting more perfect for her to succeed in.  Such matches so rarely occur, I have to rejoice in it! 

Friday, June 11, 2010

THE BLIND SIDE


No pretentions to a well-written post here.  Just journaling.

Watched The Blind Side with Nastya, Ilya, and Zhen.  Craig started watching with us, but once the football began he got too melancholy about not having the opportunity to coach and left.  There's adult trauma in our household, too.

Zhen watched silently and attentively from beginning to end.  Nastya and Ilya had to comment now and then.  Overall from their little interjections I got the idea that it impressed them to see another adoption story.  Even made them understand a little more fully how a mom might love someone who didn't initially seem appealing, or smart, who didn't appear to "belong". 

I never heard before about the instinct to protect, but when it was mentioned I had a hard time not gasping, and Nastya noticed tears in my eyes, because that is Ilya.  From the very beginning - those first two weeks when he and I were exploring Ivanovo and Moscow together, he was always so vigilant in watching out for me - looking for cars, carrying things, helping with money, making sure a piece of fruit I bought was not bruised.  And now, if we go shopping he is always making sure we get what he considers to be a safe spot - where I can pull forward and not have to back out.  He checks to see that I do things safely, that I lock the doors, turn the heat up or down according to his idea of prudence.  Ilya watches out for me and it is so precious. 

In the scene in the movie where they'd gotten into the accident, most of us were quite sure what was going on for a moment - it was Ilya who realized that Michael had protected his little brother from the air bag.

Then as tension began to build (really because Michael was struggling with school), Ilya sensed the tension but not the reason and said, "His mother is going to want him back."  That comment made my heart crumple up inside me. 

I just had to threaten Anastasia with having the door of her room removed.  She is slamming it, slamming it, slamming it.  All because Zhen needed to use the bathroom before she went in to take a bath, and I told her it was courteous to let him do so.  But I think really it was because of the flashback scene.  The utter stillness in our living room during that scene was palpable.  I don't think Anastasia breathed.  Those were her flashbacks too.  Probably I shouldn't have let her watch it.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in conversation and behavior.  I hope it was more of a conversation starter and thought-provoker, and not the first rock in an avalanche.

SERENDIPITY

SUCH a fun thing happened a week or two ago.  I got this terrific little surprise package from Ciska in Belgium! 

I had completely forgotten that I won a little give-away she had on her wonderful blog.  And, she'd even e-mailed me to ask me what sort of goodies I'd like to receive from Belgium.  I answered - tea towels!  So she sent me a generous selection in my favorite color - green.  I don't recall telling her I liked green, so I think she may have looked on my blog for photos of my kitchen.  From what I know of Ciska, that would be just like her. 

In addition to the tea towels, she included the things any reasonable person would have asked for!  Lace!  Chocolate!   Can you see the darling miniature lace doily and the pretty lace-edged hankie?  They are beautiful.

And then, some pretty and very fragrant soaps.  Anastasia gravitated to those right away, but she is no better at using them than I am. We don't want to spoil them, so they sit on the bathroom window ledge and whenever we go in there we smell them!

The  way the chocolate is wrapped - the package you see at the top part of the photo is the chocolate, and under that white cover is foil...and it is solid and heavy - it could also be soap.  I'm glad I have enough French to know better.  Craig thinks it is soap too (he-he).  I'm not so sure I will let him know different. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

SCHOOL DAYS

As Essie bemoans, school is out.   Even she cannot regret this as much as Anastasia does.  I could see it in her eyes - and oh! I am SO proud of her that she recognized the anxiety within herself enough to begin articulating it to me.

The photo was taken on the school's lovely property after the last day's awards assembly.   May also write a post about the awards specifically.... but Anastasia had a great school year.  She is sorry it is over and says so.  She doesn't know what to do with herself, and says so. 

Isn't it helpful, often, just to recognize the problem? 

She - all by herself - came up with two great strategies.

First, she asked me last night if we could begin, right away, getting ready for school next year.  She is making a list of what she'll need, and what she'd like in the way of notebooks, backpack, etc..  I find this so touching, somehow.

Secondly, she recalled a couple of years ago when she went to the Todd Martin Tennis Camp.  Todd Martin was a tennis player from Lansing, who made a name for himself in tennis, and significant money, too, I gather.  He started a foundation to provide tennis lessons for kids in Lansing.  This is a GREAT program!  They have morning lessons nearly all summer and on Fridays, in addition to lessons there is a really nice field trip of some sort, with lunch provided - all of this for $30 a month!    And it has regularity.  It is every day.  It is something to count on.  Precisely what she needs and I am so very pleased she recognizes it.

Left to my own devices, I'd relish the chance to play it loose and easy - to sleep in a bit, muck about in the garden,  clean house in a leisurely fashion, etc....   However, I did choose to have children and in so doing sacrificed those pleasures.  So, up I'll get every morning [nearly] this summer to take Anastasia to tennis.  And glad to do it.  My guess is that it will save me a lot of trouble in the long run.

Let's hope so, anyway.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

PROJECT 52, TWENTY

Maybe I have an odd sense of humor, but I thought this uproarious....especially as I kept sort-of seeing it for a while until it finally came to my consciousness - What am I supposed to be worried about????   There is absolutely no hint of what they are warning us about on or near this sign.  (Seen at my mom's apartment complex pool.) 

Below is why I have a lot to worry about in terms of Miss A.  She is one lovely girl.  This suit seemed so modest on the rack. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

PROJECT 52, NINETEEN

I think most states study the state history in fourth grade.  I'm not sure why, but that was the pattern in Oregon and even when I was a little girl in Colorado.  There was another "Michigan" field trip for Zhen's class and I went along for the morning session...  They call it a "Voyageur Encampment"....but they dont' seem to stick all that well to that theme.  This Native American re-enactor really did a lovely job, though.  I hung on his every word.


PROJECT 52, EIGHTEEN

Just love this photo of Sergei at his Army Cadets weekend.  His best friend Michael (Misha) is on the left, and I rather wish that the other little boy had been somewhere else, but I still love the photo of these two friends.

Every year our adoption ageny has a picnic and about five years ago, Sergei was not much in the mood to go, but I forced him to go anyway.  "Making friends" in a situation like this - when you are walking up to a large group of total strangers, or mostly strangers, is difficult for most of us.  I wouldn't want to go myself if I didn't have other adoptive mom friends that I could count on to talk to me!  But I figured Sergei could always play with Zhen and Nastya.  Even as we walked up to the pavilion I saw Misha and it was one of those moments in my life that I had sudden and complete focus on something, and I knew immediately that Misha was a friend for Sergei.  Somehow I could tell by the look on his face that they would be in sympathy with one another, and they surely are. 

There were are few difficult moments:  When my own common sense asked me how I even knew this boy was Russian.  (There are always children there from Guatemala, and Dana does domestic adoptions, and lots of people's biological children come, too.)   And how the heck would I know he was a nice kid when all I saw was his sitting at a table looking unhappy to be there?  The biggest challenge was getting Sergei to speak to him.  I think in the end, I did the hard thing and braved the first word to his parents (who are since friends of ours) and we conspired to get the boys to "talk",  since Misha had come to the picnic with the same "reluctance" that Sergei had. 

In any case, the rest is history.  And the Army Cadets is one way that the boys spend time together despite the fact that Mish and his family live nearly an hour away from us. 


Thursday, June 3, 2010

PROJECT 52, SEVENTEEN

Every spring since Zhen arrived, I've taken photos of the children in the tree outside my office.   But now I have a different office, and oh! how symbolic the change of trees!  Rather than  climbing into the low, comfortable branches of the crabapple trees to be surrounded by a soft, pink cloud of blossoms.....one afternoon after school Zhen climbed into the tree outside my present office - a hard, harsh evergreen.  He's a good little athlete and got up there all right.  And was good enough to pose for his "spring photo".  And all the while - over at the other building, there were the crabapples blooming away, unseen - at least by me. 

WHY I STOPPED GOING TO THE LIBRARY

My favorite childrens' books ever, which I only read after I got to be grown-up
the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

Tina asked a reasonable question responding to my last post.  Have I considered the library for DVDs?

Well, that made me think.   Quite a few years ago, I got angry at the library and stopped going to the library altogether.  Odd isn't it, when my early memories of the library were so important?   And it is coincidental that Tina suggested going to the library on the very day that, looking over something in a little project Anastasia brought home from school, I saw she'd been asked "When did you last go to the library?" and she wrote "Never".  (This was one of those "All About Me" projects that feel like prying, but I have to admit is probably a good way for teachers to get to know their students....)  At any rate, I cringed when I read her response.  For one thing, it isn't really true, as she goes into the library here at the school where I work....and she has a not insubstantial library - five shelves full of Lydia's books (!) in her closet.  And there are book shelves, crammed with books, in just about every room in our house.

Still...  It is true we don't go to the library.

About ten years ago I got mad at the library.  First our Lansing library, then the East Lansing library.  The Lansing library story is sort of funny.  The "good" library is downtown in a warren of one-way streets and scary to get to.  When you manage to do it, you may or may not find a parking spot.  So, that leaves me the branch library near us, and it is pathetic even for a branch - it has about the quantity of books you'd find in a book-mobile.  Still, I have always been a library patron (I've a collection of every library card I ever had) and I went there.  Until the day they embarrassed the heck out of me.

They had a five-book limit and I'd checked out a couple for Craig, one as a read-aloud, and a couple for myself.  I was returning my two.  Now, granted, they were not great literature.  I think I was on a streak reading British mysteries.  I dropped my returns in the book drop, picked something new and lined up.  For some reason there was a packed library that day and since the computer was down there was a line of people there waiting to check out their books.  I got to the front and she noticed that I already had my five books out.  I explained that I'd just returned two.  Now - what would you do?  On a hot day, long line; we're talking five BOOKS here, not five bags of gold coins.  How bad would it be if I were lying and was actually trying to check out - gasp! - SEVEN books?!   Well, she apparently thought it would be bad.  So she had to find out if I were telling the truth.  Now, being publicly treated as a liar didn't over-please me, to be honest.  But the clincher was when she didn't just go check.  No.  She bellowed across the library to the woman emptying the book drop, "Did she give back Naked in the Woods?"  "What?"  "Naked in the Woods.  Did she return it?" (pointing to me - really)  Now, Naked in the Woods sounded obscene.  But, imagine if I'd checked out a book like What to Do When You're Infertile or Are You Considering Divorce....would she have bellowed that all over the library, too?  I bet she would!  I still remember the a) stunned and b) amused faces of the people lined up behind me, especially that pre-teen boy.  Sheesh!

I vowed I'd never go that library again.

So, we went upscale.  It made me mad, because I'd never had to pay for a library card in my life, but that was what they required, so I did pay the $25 to get an East Lansing library card because we don't live in the district.  It occurred to me that I could get the books from them free through inter-library loan, but then I'd have to darken the doors of my branch library again.  So I paid.

That library too, soon got on my "bad side". Eventually I got a notice that I had a couple of books overdue.  How could that be?  Well, here was the deal.  Each person had their own library card.  I felt I was being a great mom getting my kids library cards, wouldn't you think?  But when a couple of books got lost somewhere, I got a postcard saying our household had two books overdue.  Anonymous books.  I went in to ask what books.  They refused to tell me, because I personally had not checked them out.  Who checked them out?  They didn't want to tell me but I began to get testy.  Eventually - the revelation!  It was Aidan.  Aidan was on retreat.  What books should I be looking for?  They refused to tell me.  Now,  their refusal to tell me what books my children had out, while yet requiring me to pay the fine for them, threw me over the edge!  They explained it.  It is some legal requirement - HIPPA - or something similar.  But I got very peeved.  

The final straw was that decided that they would no longer renew books.  Now one of the great things we did as a family - one of the happiest traditions I had with Aidan and Lydia was reading aloud.  I think Aidan was probably a senior in HS before he finally, for various reasons - homework, sports, etc. withdrew from the reading...but Lydia and I read together until she left home.  And occasionally Craig would get in on a book, too.  But this wretched library now wouldn't allow me to renew books!  Come on people!!!  Surely they'd think that was a wholesome activity to encourage.  Wouldn't you think?  But no. And if you have a big, long book - 300-500 pages, even if you are reading an hour a night or so - well, you just don't finish your book in two weeks!  To add insult to injury, I could see from the date due slip that I'd be the first person to have checked out the book for years and years!  It was just stupid.    I think a time or two I kept the book, and we'd extend the reading time, reading feverishly....then I'd pay the fine.   It didn't take more than a couple of those before I decided that it was clearly easier to purchase books from the book store.



And that's why Anastasia has a gorgeous closet full of lovely books, but never visits the library. (Shall I print this out for her teacher, or just sit with my present reputation as a substandard, non-reading parent?)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

PROJECT 52, SIXTEEN

Clearly (you may well have noticed this before) my "photo series" is patently not intended to represent the best photo I took any given week!  I apologize for the quality of this one - someone had changed the settings on my camera. (Excuses, excuses!) And I took it (there it lies on the car seat) at the last minute thinking that it might illustrate a post....again, I was too busy to write.  So, I resurrect it at this late date.

My favorite entertainment, probably, are Masterpiece Theatre presentations, and in particular many of the Masterpiece Mysteries.  So, though I hadn't heard of this one, I checked it out.  It had a number of the earliest BBC mystery dramas.  And, oh! the difference!

These were produced in the late '70s.  The difference in production values are so obvious as to be startling.  I felt as if I'd watched "older" productions before, but not this old, I guess.  But, clearly, at this point they had not visualized doing much more than filming a stage play.  Each scene was on one set; they probably felt very smug at having three cameras and doing a close-up here and there.  Craig's impression was that they hadn't had much budget for costumes - they were strikingly dreadful - but I put that down to that "stage play" mentality.  Everything was bold - there was no subtlety.   It was fun to see  Christopher Timothy (James Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small) in a very early role here, a very minor policeman sidekick.

I don't feel like getting the next one in this series!  But it was fascinating to see how far British television has come in such a short time.  By contrast this past weekend I watched The Russian House episode of Foyle's War (which can be seen on-line for a few weeks).  The production values rival those of full-length films and the content is better!    This one has a Russian theme, too, as you can probably tell...and some surprising, and really disturbing historical revelations.  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/foyleswar/

THE ALERT - Right!

Thanks, Kate, for pointing out that I did not make my ALERT very "alert-like".

The alert is that I am determined to "catch up" and thus will [ok - hopefully] be posting more than once a day.

I wouldn't want anything to miss anything earth-shattering.  Like another bagged salad post.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

PROJECT 52, FIFTEEN and......ALERT!

I'm determinded to get "caught up" with Project 52...and now I wish I'd made a separate blog of it like Kate did.  Live and learn.  Anyway, I am also going to try to catch up with a few other posts, and memes....  Nothing like blogging being on your "to do" list. 

I took this photo thinking of making a post of it, but obviously it wouldn't have been very deep!  Yet deeper than you think.

It just never ceases to amaze me the degree to which it makes my day when I find a bagged salad (and particularly a Caesar one!) on sale at Kroger.  The only problem is that now I absolutely refuse to buy them at full price....   That has something to do with Craig being out of work, too....  Money is - well "tight" just doesn't begin to express it.  So, getting something the kids love (no set of people ever loved fruit and vegetables like these kids) that is easy (!) AND cheap!  Wow!  Eureka!