Thursday, December 30, 2010


I've been reading a few Christmas posts.....always interesting to hear what others do.

Sometimes when I teach about liturgy, I bring up Christmas.  When things are important to us, we celebrate them by developing traditions, and those traditions take on value and meaning of their own.  People care about them.  Often far more than would seem reasonable.....but it is due to all that hidden significance.  If you are Catholic and work in the church, you'll understand the joke about liturgists.  "How is a liturgist different than a terrorist?"  Answer: "You can negotiate with a terrorist."  So true.  I am a liturgist at heart, I must say, and at church often have to hold myself back lest I become legalistic and, well, "difficult".

Not so much at home.  No holding back.  I am the CHRISTMAS COMMISSAR. I say how it goes.  Had to teach my husband this from the outset.  No negotiation.  Fortunately, he was acquiescent and we were able to remain married. 

Actually, things have changed a bit over the years (just as they have in the Church).   Most of our traditions stem from the way it was growing up - which, because I had  very happy childhood, is the way it SHOULD BE.  However, becoming Catholic caused me to add another layer of  the way it should be

After trying a few alternatives, including the very-liturgically-correct option of not putting the tree up until Christmas Eve, we've followed the pattern of putting up the tree on Gaudete Sunday (the one when we light the pink Advent Candle).  That means the tree is up a week or two before Christmas.  Just right.

The tree may not come down until Epiphany - the conclusion of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and what was through most of the Church's history the conclusion of the Christmas season.  (Whatever Church official decided the Christmas Season should last until the Baptism of the Lord, did not consult me, so we sort-of ignore that.)  This pattern works really well for us, actually.  Honestly, I am not rigid about the tree.  This year it went up a bit late due to basement flooding, and ever so often, I don't get right to it the day after Epiphany....but it's close.

Stockings under the tree

Where there is little room for compromise is the Christmas morning routine.  For a few years stockings were hung at my mom's house.  Then, because she trumps me, and suggested that the stockings be opened at our house, we've done that lately.  It is a good idea.  The kids get a "taste" of Christmas cheer before having to get dressed and make beds before going to my mom's house where the festivities occur.   

At my mom's house, we start with breakfast.  For years the menu was the same - bacon (as much as you could eat - something never dreamed of any other day of the year), grapefruit, and something called "Melvin's Rolls" (because Melvin who worked at Dow Corning with my mom, gave her the recipe).  Melvin's Rolls are an easy mock up of caramel rolls, and quite as good, if not better.  My mother decided the Russians needed a bigger breakfast and (without consulting me) changed the menu, adding an egg dish and removing the all-the-bacon-you-can-eat.  Age has its privileges.  Perhaps she began to fear there was no way she could afford all the bacon our family could now eat!

After breakfast we clean up the kitchen.  Almost had a mutiny his year, led by Ilya, but I would not compromise on that one.   Then we gather in the living room.... 

I hand out one gift at a time, and we all appreciate the gift AND the wrappings are disposed of before moving on. In this, I am "She Who Must Be Obeyed".  One look at me, and they know I mean business.

I took over the Christmas Commissar role from my dad when I was about twelve. Perhaps I thought he moved things along too quickly.  In any case, once I'd taken over, I'd taken over.  This is not a role I will give up easily, and he seemed a bit surprised and amused that I'd never give it back to him.  I just love the present-opening and want it to be enjoyed with no moment missed.  After all the time, money and thought that has gone into gifts, it seems only right to give each one its due.
My  determination that these things must be SAVORED is actually outdone by a friend of mine who has one round of everyone opening a gift, then there is a break while everyone writes a thank you note (for relative and godparent gifts, of course). I went so far as to suggest that approach one year and realized that there might be a coup if I persisted.

I used to have the same level of zeal about how the remainder of the day should go as well, but somehow my Christmas spirit is not what it once was.  I've even acquiesced to a "traditional" sloppy joe meal, rather than making all the generally accpted "favorites".  I suppose it does make sense that "favorites" should be more important than "traditional" favorites.  I'm a bit embarrassed about that, however.  I do make pies.  Won't give that up!

Sunday, December 26, 2010


AND OTHER RANDOM STUFF (another non-writerly, rag-bag post)

First random thing:  I have two potential resolutions.....except I think they might be contradictory.  The first is to update my blog [I was going to say "update you" as though I have people waiting with baited breath out there to hear about my life] on some of the big things that have happened that I was too embroiled in at the time to write about.  One was my foray into assisting with disruptions.  [Nightmare!]  Another is Maxim and that was a nightmare in bold, the nightmarish parts of which did not eminate from Maxim.  There was a third one, too..... I'm sure it if is important I'll remember it, IF I don't take myself up on my other resolution,which is to cut down radically on my computer time.  (For example, I got up today with the firm intention of cleaning the bathroom, not posting......weak, weak, weak....and as you will see after reading this post, the bathroom would have been a better bet.)

Christmas was fairly OK.  Despite the fact that Craig woke up with a bad cold, which he did not want to take to my eldery mom's house.  Despite the fact that we got a flat tire on the way over there, and despite the fact that Anastasia was only at 50% civility.   Also, my camera gave me the signal that the batteries were dead after only a few photos.  The funny part about the photos is that they would seem to put the lie to my claim that Christmas was "OK".  For example, look at these cheery faces!

Sergei underwhelmed by entire event

Nastya decides if gift is worth opening

Zhen turned into zombie after looking at Lego project

Ilya dreams wistfully of orphanage life

We actually were all laughing over my camera's unerring ability to capture these less-than-stellar moments, because actually there were quite a few faces like these:

Zhen happy with new shirt
Nastya surprised and thrilled with her own camera!

Ilya interacts with Zhenya
OK, you all know that I had to sneak those photos of Ilya, so he had no opportunity to adjust his facial expression for the camera, and actually, neither did anyone else.  I was just trying to capture those "unguarded moments" - and boy! I sure did!

The funniest thing that happened was when Zhen opened the pocket knife he'd asked for and within 3 seconds had cut himself, and brave, sweet boy he is, he didn't say anything, but my mom noticed and accusatorily asked, "Did you cut yourself with that knife?!"  He revealed by his expression that he had, and was getting up as she continued, "Are you bleeding on my carpet?!"  And she ran quickly for a cloth to clean up the one tiny drop that had hit the white rug.  I was no better, because I just sat there laughing and doing commentary, while it took Sergei to go after him to assist.   But at that point we heard an outcry, and Sergei scurrying back, "I thought the door was closed because you were in there crying!"  And, when the door opened again, my mom had recovered herself enough to go give him a bandaid.  OK, my mom is not the most nurturing person in the world but she isn't that bad, which is why we all laughed.

The most fortunate thing that happened is when Craig, from home, was able to re-up our membership in AAA so that someone came to put on our spare.  I'd thought that, because I'd let it lapse, we were out of luck.  The most amusing thing about that was that the professional who came couldn't locate the spare; he needed Sergei (who didn't know either) to use his engineering mind to locate it.

The most apparently appreciated gift was socks, for Sergei.  I really felt bad that he was so thrilled. (That is, I'm sorry I let it go so long before buying new socks....a few days ago I got him his "real" Christmas gift, which is a long-desired phone.)  But that brought up the funny/sad remembance of how,  the last year Maxim was with us I gave him a package of socks for Christmas....and it was the final gift he opened, so he thought that was it.  But, I'd hidden the i-pod which he desperately wanted, in one of the socks.  We had a lot of fun with that...."Look at those socks, Maxim, aren't they niceFeel the quality of the cotton!"  Well, last year with his new family, Christmas came and, wouldn't you know - the one gift from them was....a package of socks.  Sad part?  He told Sergei later how he looked through every sock, hoping for something more.

Late yesterday afternoon, I ran by his place with a big "care package" - Russian candy, fish and Kvass, and a load of American sweeties.  They don't ever have desserts or soft drinks there.  I promised later this week to take him out shopping for something new to wear.

So, today we hope to get a new tire, buy gifts for the folks in Pittsburgh (Aidan and Susan are there with Susan's family).  We plan to leave tomorrow morning for two days there. 

The end.

Monday, December 20, 2010


When she was visiting Aidan last week (with make-up)
 Lydia came for a far-too-brief vacation, but oh! how glad we were to see her.  What did we do?  Nothing much!  The highlight was the night she and I spent a fun evening just watching TV.  How stupid is that?  She went shopping with her dad and she bought us a ton of wonderful groceries!  What a darling girl - she remembered special things for everyone....Keurig cups for dad (and me), ramen for Zhen, hummus for Ilya, chips and salsa, cookies, Entemann's chocolate doughnuts for me, pop-tarts for the boys....everything she knows we like and didn't see in the cupboard at that moment.  And, she bought all the ingredients and made two pans (one with olives and one without) of the most amazing chicken enchiladas!  I wanted to take a photo of them, but wouldn't you know, the camera chose that moment to require new batteries.  And, even after I got batteries, I got no photos of Lydia because she wouldn't let me take any!  She declared her vacation a "no make-up" time, and thus asked for it to be photo-free, too. 

Lydia spent an afternoon and evening with her friends, she hung out at school the first night she got here because I had, unfortunately, to be there for parent/teacher conferences, and we went to Zhen's basketball game (I was so glad he showed her his stuff).  Far too brief a visit.

The sad part about her visit is that it proved to be a trigger for Anastasia, on top of everything else she has been through.  She did not behave very well (to put it mildly), and there was certainly no increase of sisterly closeness.  Poor Anastasia; she creates for herself the very thing she fears.  Though I suppose her greatest fear is that she is not as loved as Lydia.  Poor little thing; if only she knew! 

Yesterday morning Lydia and Ilya put up the Christmas tree.  This is when it was discovered (always on a weekend - right?) that the basement flooded.  No telling why; how I hope it is the city's issue!  But, it is our issue no matter where the blockage, because although the basement (apart from the full bath the boys use) is only partially finished, we had all of our everything (off-season clothing, keepsakes, costumes, financial records) stored down there in boxes.  Plus, the location of the worst of the flooding was where we had carefully put all the things we are saving for a spring yard sale.  Or....probably were saving....  Now I have basement reclamation on my schedule for my Christmas "break".

Several times I've wanted to make Christmas cookies, but have not had the time, energy or patience....  To my mind (for some reason) there are only a few kinds of cookies that qualify as Christmas cookies.  Pecan crescents (which my mom always made, but which I don't like all that much),  decorated sugar cookies, and spritz cookies (the cookie-press ones.)  A cookie press is something I've wanted for years, but never treated myself to, so though I did spend at least a half-hour one evening wandering around Jo-Anns, with the cookie press in my hand, in the end I was "sensible" realizing I don't need it.  So, when I say I've wanted to make Christmas cookies, what I really mean is the shaped, frosted, decorated ones.  But, I've been too lazy.  I read an article in the newspaper though, where someone was quoted as saying snickerdoodles were his favorite "Christmas cookie".  To my mind, they are not Christmas cookies!  They are regular, everyday cookies.  But, perhaps to feel as though I'd made Christmas cookies, I made snickerdoodles last night.  All that happened is that I ate way too many of them - and I still don't feel like I made Christmas cookies!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Anastasia hit her breaking point.  Poor little thing.
After a few short months when she:
  • Lost her teacher and her safe and structured class.
  • Lost her best friend at school....
  • Lost her cross country coach, after she'd just discovered the sport she loved.
  • Was thrown into middle school, albeit small, it is still a lot to deal with - different teachers, different building, a lot more people, a lot of boys, a lot of girls who don't like her (and since she acts horrible when nervous and scared, I can't blame them)
  • She had a Birthday - huge trigger
  • She endured other people's birthdays - worse triggers
  • Christmas approaches (triggers galore)
  • New nephew  (trigger)
  • And, finally......a visit from her sister....the sister who she can't help but see as her mother's "real" daughter.  She longs for Lydia to love her, but can't believe she does.

Lydia arrived on Thursday; Anastasia and I picked her up at the airport.  BAD night on Thursday.  Bad, bad, bad.  But eventually, I was able to get her alone in a room, and after any number of unpleasant and quasi-violent interactions, she dissolved into tears and related all the abuse she's been taking at school.  The girls don't befriend her, because she is so nervous she tries too hard and comes off as a snippy, boy-crazy, b*t#ch.  I hate to admit it, but she glosses herself over not only with too much make-up, but with a hard shell.  With the girls.  She flirts shamelessly with the boys, all of the boys. The boys are uncomfortable and the girls don't like it, either.  She makes herself sound stupid.  I can't stand it....but there is so little I can see to do about it.  I can (and may) put her back up in the elementary building after break (and delay this scene by nine more months) but she mentioned that one of the sixth grade boys walked by her in the lunch room and gave her a violent elbow jab to the ribs.  I suppose he feels she is being "uppity"....moving up to "middle school".  And, I wouldn't doubt she brought it on herself to some extent, by her expression or attitude to him.  That would be in keeping.  She doesn't stand around school looking sweet and approachable, that is for sure.  But, be that as it may - she somehow thinks that what she is doing will work.  She longs to be liked; included, to have friends.  She doesn't know how.  Poor little thing.

Friday was marginally better and she went back to some of her tried and true "methods" of self-soothing.  I was actually proud of her, that she took her DVD player and retired to her bedroom with four movies.  Not what I'd recommend - except in this case, for her.

Only hopeful thing - she seems better able to voice inner feelings.  "I come from garbage; I'm garbage."  "You're not my mommy; you're Lydia's mommy."  "You're not my real mom; Lydia's not my real sister."  "I'm just going to be a sl*t, like my real mother."  "I have to have a boyfriend; I don't know why; I'm obsessed; I have to have someone love me."  Horrible things to hear, but somehow I think that putting words to it is actually a sign that she might be ready to benefit from some therapy.

As far as school goes....what to do?  I can keep her in the secondary building.  She is working hard and doing fine academically.  It isn't actually as stringent and demanding as what she was doing before, but she is capable of the work.  The social life is very hard for her....but do I try and protect her from everything?  On the other hand the other night she was threatening to retaliate and while worried about "going to the office" and getting "in trouble" with authorities, I could see she was truly evaluating what would be worse - putting up with the abuse or turning on her attackers. 

I can put her back in the 5/6 class in the other building.  Social life, odd.  Two much younger girls, one of whom is "difficult" (i.e. she seems to not have a very well-developed social intelligence).  And boys, most younger.  But, if she bonded with the teacher, I'd be assured that she'd be making good educational progress at an appropriate level.  It would probably be humiliating for her.

Her former teacher did start a "school".  Mrs. A's school is something like homeschooling with tutoring - but Mrs. A is a brilliant teacher.  This is the milieu in which I think Nastya would learn the most.  Socially, she'd not really have much challenge.  I think there are six or so kids working there.  Her age or older.  Nice kids.  There's be a cost.  Logistically (pick up and drop off) difficult.


You'd never think, by looking.....
Nastya asked to go back to the Catholic School where she imagines she had lots of friends.  I don't recall this being the case, actually, and I think we'd have the boy-crazy follies....only this time in my workplace.  Not sounding good, is it?  And there is a cost here, too. 

My husband is mostly for leaving her where she is, but she doesn't talk to him. 

 Any advice is welcome!




Saturday, December 11, 2010


Last month Zhen turned twelve...or, I think in actuality he turned eleven, but we didn't figure that out in time, and as one might expect, he has no desire to lose a year now. In any case, he is a dear and wonderful boy.  A blessing.

His teacher is adorable; look how she celebrated his birthday!  He is the oldest in his class of 3rd and 4th graders and when we arrived on his birthday morning, on his desk was a birthday medal to wear around his neck, and a birthday "friend" (some little stuffed animal that spends the day with the birthday child) and a special vest to wear.  His teacher started to hurriedly assure him that he didn't have to wear the vest if he didn't want to, but she'd hardly begun when she realized he had it on!  He loves stuff like that.  As has become traditional, I took him out of school for a special birthday lunch.  He was so excited about the Asia House buffet (I did try to lure him to Noodles and Company with no success).  Getting abundant food is Zhen's idea of happiness.  He always gets enough to eat, but often seems to fear there won't be enough.

Last night we were driving to a basketball game and for some reason he started to chat about wedding cakes: HIS wedding cake would be three layers tall, and the top layer would open up and doves would fly out!  I thought it rather sweet that a little boy would be thinking about a wedding cake.  Then he pulled his recorder out of his backpack and began to play for me.  He is pretty "all-around", our Zhen.

Practicing at Breslin Center - look at the shine on that floor!!
 He's a wonderful little basketball player, he scored eight points and got any number of rebounds. I just love watching him play.  By the way, Coach Izzo's son is on Zhen's team, and they actually practice at the Breslin Center almost all of the time!  The other night he told me that they "got to go into this room wih big padded chairs, and watch [our] game video on the big screen".  Wow.  Funny thing is that Zhen himself rather takes this for granted. 

On Thanksgiving I wanted to go do something other than just stay home, and it was Zhen who agreed to go with me to the nature center.  He loves the outdoors, and particularly animals. He climbed up and ran down this hill any number of times, enjoying the challenge of negotiating (leaping over or off of) all the fallen logs and debris.
In this photo I'd just gotten Zhen his new winter boot  He realized how great the tracks were and that gave him an idea.  He called me out to see what I could make of a "crime scene".  He'd set up a scene with a number of different "clues" and challenged me to find them all - footprints (of course), but a broken stick (weapon), a "bloody" hand print, finger prints, a scrap of cloth, etc.  I thought that was a brilliant idea for a game, actually - and with almost nothing to use but the little you see in the back yard,  he called me out there several times to try my hand at finding all the clues.  Clever Zhen.  We'd just been watching Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Theatre.  I'm glad it impressed him.

Zhen is such a blessing, sweet, funny, honest, and spiritual to his core.  I am infinitely grateful that I get to be his mama.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I love this photo, because I expect it suggests the ambiance the kids enjoyed at last Saturday's dance.  Everyone did such a great job of making this winter dance a wonderful experience for the kids, but still simple and without the ridiculous and expnsive excesses that accompany the winter dances at the public school.   And it was wholesome, too!  The drama teacher set up lights including disco ball and strobe lights.  One of the exchange students from Brazil is a disc jockey there and put together a tremendous set of pastor-approved music.  Grandma, in the kitchen, laid out a nice array of "meaties and sweeties" and the dress code was such as to delight all attending.  Girls were invited to wear long or short dresses.  Boys were to "dress up" - at the very least no jeans and a collared shirt.  So we saw an array of boys dressed in  way that made them feel good - from those like Sergei in khaki pants and a knit shirt, to the Brazilian boys in their crisp white pin-tucked cotton shirts, and the Asian boys who did it up right in suits.  Everyone was happy, and everyone looked special.  Anastasia took a second trip to the thrift store for a "new" $8 dress for the occasion.  I am sure she was counting her lucky stars that she'd moved up to the secondary building in time for this event.

Many of the moms, and a few dads, sat on the bleachers and watched and visited.  We were out of their eyeshot, mostly, and I think did a fine job of chaparoning - especially the moms who would go out and dance every so often.  The kids just had a good time - probably most often dancing in clumps of girls and boys....but every so often actually dancing with one another, very tentatively.  No concerns about the excessive, crotch-focused stuff that distressed even my older kids, that is a key component of the public school dances.  This was all so sweet, innocent and fun.  Worth the price of tuition! 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I don't write about Aidan too much, but he is absolutely the best son any mother could have.  He is such a good husband and father, and so valued by his company (BAE, a defense contractor; Aidan works in intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency in DC). 

Aidan calls me!  At least once a week, if not more.  I absolutely love hearing about his work, and all of his interests.  He is an interesting person!  He reminds me of my dad and my grandfather in that.  For example, Aidan reads.  All manner of things. When he was in Iraq he asked me to send him Walden, for example.  (If I were in Iraq, I think I'd be reading trashy escapism stuff.)  He is also an artist, and he does artwork on the side.  And, he is still playing sports - maybe more than he did when he was a little boy.  He was more hesitant then, I think.  He played football this fall, and he plays hockey and lacrosse.  Anyway,  Aidan is just a wonderful person.

He and Susan became parents again on Sunday!  Patrick Jonathan entered the world by c-section on Sunday morning.  Here's his photo.  (Looks just like a new baby, doesn't he?)  Up until now, at least, Patrick's nickname has been Peej", which I think is cute as can be.  We'll see if that one sticks, outside the womb.  I had advocated for the Irish spelling of Patrick (Padraic), but (maybe because he was relieved we didn't use the Irish spelling of Aidan  Aodhan) they opted for the more American version.  I do hold out hope he might do the jig someday, though.
Here is an example of why I think Aidan is such a cool person.  One of his memories about the birth of Lydia  - he was just  a year older than Cal - is that Dad took him to McDonalds for breakfast, and then they came in to meet the new baby and see mom.  I was a good mother in those days and McDonalds was a treat.  I doubt he'd ever had McDonald's for breakfast - and certainly not breakfast out with dad!  So, Aidan replicated that experience for Calvin.  Here he Cal enjoying his "Big Breakfast"; I bet that is exactly what Aidan had. 

Friday, December 3, 2010


A few of my students being silly in various ways.
 As I mentioned only briefly before, I am teaching this year at the children's school.  It is probably one of the more foolhardy things I've done, simply because it overextends me so much.  However, it clearly is a help to the school.  Starting in September I taught 7th and 8th grade English and Bible.  The schedule was the first two hours of the day.  I had 12 wonderful, wonderful kids and used the time as a block class.  It was splendid.

During this "restructuring" things have changed.  I can't tell if it isfor the better or not.  I miss my block class, that is for sure.  I think it was a very safe, orderly beginning to my students' day.  Now, classes are a full hour (rather than 50 minutes), but only MWF, for English - and at the conclusion of the day.  Bible is second hour on T, Th.  To begin with, the hour-long class is a bit much for all of us - or has felt that way this week.  And, I really don't like the last-period-of-the-day energy, especially as they are all tense and exhausted after their long and stressful day. (Things are more rigorous now, and less cozy than they were.)  I miss the two-period block, too.  And, I miss my nice cohesive little group of students.  For scheduling purposes, they added three new students to the Engish class.  So, in 7th/8th grade English I now have three HS students, moreover two advanced students, and one exchange student with very remedial language skills.  Have fun with that, Mrs. Kitching!

Bible is the same as it was, but I now have the burden of fitting all my lessons into the hour time-frame.  We had our final test on the Joseph story yesterday.  Somehow I was inspired to give them this challenge:   How would you express the story of Joseph in ten words or less?  That was so fun!  It teaches you a lot about your students to give that sort of assignment.  There were the really clever, confident students who clearly had fun with the challenge, and those who were upset because this is not the "spit it back" kind of assignment they excel at.  Then there was my "different-thinking" student who wrote:  I would decide what the most important aspects of the story are and then condense that into ten words.   I had to laugh.  She answered my question!

The good/fun part of the change is that they have also given me Art.  I am so excited!  It is so much fun!!
There are 17 students, all well-behaved and serious (especially as it is first hour).  They run from 12 - 18 years old, and about a third of them are exchange students.  They are from China, Thailand, Korea and Brazil.  The Asian kids are all amazing artists, leading me to believe they actually teach art there.  (As opposed to the American mode of basically giving out the supplies and suggesting an interesting project.)  I am teaching art, too.  This is partly because we have no money for supplies, and lessons in drawing and composition don't call for a lot more than pencil and paper.  But the other reason is because one year in my life - 7th grade - I had a teacher who taught art.  I still remember and use the basic rules of composition that she taught us.  I still recall how exciting it was to learn those things.  I hope to do that for these kids.  And, of course - ah! the fun!  I get to learn along with them. 

The only thing that would be better?  If I actually had time for it.  Even I have to admit I am stretched pretty thin.  Blogging gets its little place only because I have this time at the computer in the morning amidst my Korean phone-English lessons. 

But, without a doubt, apart from parenting my own children, teaching is giving me the greatest pleasure in life.  I love it.  I can build relationships with the students, do my best to bless their day, and I'm learning all the time myself.  But, to paraphrase Barbara Pym in one of her books, "Life seems perhaps too full."