Sunday, January 22, 2012


Tomorrow we have a BIG day in "Detroit" (as we westerners call anything "over that way")....actually we will be in Livonia, at the therapist's and in Farmington Hills, to see the psychiatrist.  

The first time we went to the psychiatrist, we literally had to physically get Anastasia out of bed, into her clothes, into the car and to the appointment.  I offered lunch on the way home and a stop at the outlet mall to sweeten the deal and to keep her from jumping out of the car.  It seemed anything could be possible.  The first trip to the therapist was similar.  The third was a bit better and the next easier yet - and so forth.  The last couple of times, I've arrived home (from dropping the boys off at school) to find my sweet one nicely dressed and ready to go - and no suggestions that she ought to get a "reward" for going.

One time a few weeks ago I asked her why she seemed so reluctant, especially as she seemed to like Julie (our therapist) and "get a lot out of" therapy.  She looked at me as though I were crazy, and said, "Because it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me."   Of course!  Why would I not see that right away!  "Regular" kids don't go to the psychiatrist, or therapy....   Of course I pointed out that a doctor for one's mind is not unlike a doctor for one's body, and referred to Serge's physical therapy appointments; I drew attention to the many young people we see on our way in and out of both places.  Perhaps that helped a bit. 

Hopefully I won't jinx things by writing that therapy is going pretty well.  Julie is wonderful, and Anastasia is more wonderful yet.  Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone making more of the opportunity.  She doesn't distract or waste time, she settles into the deep issues almost before she sits down - in fact, one day she brought up something very important, while we were yet in the car.  She asks questions, gives thoughtful answers - is entirely engaged.  I could not be more proud of her.

One nice little bonus is that both offices are quite close to the "Russian Store".  The Russian grocery is curiously called "New York Deli".   I often chuckle when I envision the many people who have, undoubtedly, come in for corned beef and rye bread, only to find themselves transported to another country.  

They have everything you could Here is a freezer full of pelmeni (mostly).  I was standing there recently pondering purchasing some when a Russian lady briskly said (as only a Russian would do), "You don't buy these!  You make them yourself!"  I could hardly purchase any after that!  Actually, I have made them myself, and they aren't that difficult.  She was right.

The store had just about anything you could want....beverages galore, meats, cheeses, fish; this past visit they had added a whole display of various fresh breads.  I was a bit wimpy and couldn't feel comfortable taking more photos than this.  

The challenge now is not to spend too much money there.  Everything I buy is so coveted by everyone that it doesn't last very long!

I'm so glad that this natural reward has developed to repay Nastya for all her hard work.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Or......I had a hard time getting the photos in and delayed my Christmas post.....and since this blog is a family journal (well, sort of) in addition to something more varied, I am posting them in the spirit of "better late than never".

Christmas started with stockings under the tree.  I packed them so they didn't need labels; it would be obvious who they were for:  Kvas for Sergei, pistachios for Ilya, dried fish for Zhenya, and a tiny notebook for Anastasia easily defined the recipient.  The stockings are opened at our house, then we go to my mom's place for breakfast and gifts.

We cut waaaay back on gifts this year.  Let's just say that an $800 utility bill due to a broken, leaking toilet in the basement (which needed fixing) and another sewage crisis (after hours,of course) on the upstairs toilet, and a check engine light on the car that has required THREE visits to the shop and $500 (check engine light is still on - they can "go deep into the engine" for another $400, but I'm opting out of that right now).....has taken its toll. 

Perhaps I provided perspective by getting the kids each a bag or box of candies from Russia.  Sergei exclaimed, "This is just what we'd get for Christmas at the Detski Dom!"  And that was all they'd get, so things did seem to be better overall, I suppose.  :)

We managed to pull together one "nice" gift for each of them.  A webcam for Nastia,  a nice jacket for Ilya, good headphones for Sergei, and a winter coat for Zhen.  And a Wii for everyone.  

Before we left my mom got everyone into the kitchen and marked their height on her pantry door....this has sure been Ilya's year to shoot up!  And Zhen, too!

And the following Tuesday we went to Pittsburgh to see Aidan and Susan and the kids, who were at Susan's parents' house.  We stay in a motel, and Susan's folks provide lovely hospitality at dinner.   This was breakast at a new sushi restaurant.  It was good!  All the kids are mad about sushi for some reason.  Below, Cal is enyoying his rice, and  being very talkative with "Ma Kitching" (me).

Cal turned four on November 30. In still photos he looks a lot like Aidan did, but in person, not so much.  Aidan was the calmest, most placid little boy who ever lived (God knew how much I could handle).  Cal is much more active - not hyperactive at all, but just a very lively, talkative, energetic little guy. So cute!  And, so well behaved. At one point back at the house, he got a bit carried away and in running around the table knocked his little brother down.  Instead of stopping to see if Patrick was OK, he kept going.  Aidan called him to account, and told him to go take a time out.  Sergei was very impressed with the way Cal obeyed immediately - he gave a little sigh and a sorrowful shake of the head, but then walked directly out of the room to his time-out spot on the stairs.  He is a good little boy, that's for sure, and Aidan and Susan are super parents.
It was interesting to watch how easily Cal could accept a time out, as his just due.  In fact, he is savvy enough, that you could even sense that he saw "doing his time" on the stairs as part of staying connected with his dad and the whole family circle.  Cannot imagine the agitation and meltdown that would follow if someone suggested Anastasia take a time out to calm down or whatever. 

Here are Susan and Cal at the ice skating rink, where we went next.  Cal was into the mood of making silly faces whenever I tried to take a picture.

Anastasia did pretty well on the trip.....the worst she did was say things about me, under her breath a time or two... I could see Aidan didn't like it, but having seen her at her worst recognized that it was minor. Didn't endear her, though.  Altogether, she kept it together, even though just about everything was a minor trigger....schedule upset, new people, places, family, seeing little chldren being loved and cherished. 

She was good with the nephews, and here was checking in to see if Cal would like to have her help him around the rink.

On Thursday morning we all went out to the Original Pancake House for breakfast before we started home.  I'll close with a photo of Peej (who doesn't look too much like baby Aidan, but Aidan thinks he does.)

Sunday, January 15, 2012


A smart one.
Here's a little question for you....  If a bat and a ball cost $1.10, and the bat costs $1 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

I heard this question on the radio.  Someone on the BBC was interviewing an expert in how the brain works, specifically in quick thinking and slow thinking.

Got the answer yet?

Well, I did not get the answer right....using my fast thinking.  When I heard what the correct answer is, I was in the car and must have driven for another ten minutes (albeit listening to the rest of the interview) wondering WHY my answer was wrong, and how their "correct" one could possibly be right.....(all the time using my slow thinking) before it came to me.  I felt so stupid.  (Nothing with numbers comes to me easily, I confess.)

Well, the next day I asked Zhenya.  He immediately came back with an answer, and I didn't miss the "of course" tone in his voice - and his answer - it was right.

He is great with numbers, and smart as a whip, as well.

They said that over half of the students at Harvard got it wrong, too......that did make me feel a bit better.

What answer did you get?

The answer is:    (scroll over)  5 cents

Friday, January 13, 2012


Thanks so much to Traumamama T who gave me an award!

Back when I began blogging she was my inspiration for a short period of time until she dropped out. But, now she is back, anonymously, and I'm so glad.  Please check out T's blog!

So here's how this works.  There are two parts to it when you are nominated.  First you have to list seven things about yourself that your readers might not know.  Then you pass the love along by nominating (up to) five of your favorite blogs for the award.

I am nominating five bloggers, all are very dear to my heart, for this award.  

First, Hevel Shir Cohen, whose blog is KosherKola.  Hevel is nothing if not versatile!  He is a wonderful writer, a parent of many children, bio and adopted (from a variety of situations and countries), and he, himself, is adopted from a disruption.  He is well-versed in many different faiths, and respects the deepest spirituality in all of them.  He lives in the Holy Land, is Irish, but grew up as a Mormon in the US.  And, he cooks!  Now - find another blogger with more versatility than that!  

Second: Lindsay Crapo  Home: A Soft Place to Fall  Lindsay is beyond inspiring.  I love her blog all the more because, having met her in person, I know she actually exists with the same level of joyful energy and creative mothering, that we can read about on her blog.     Hard to believe anyone can pull off things the way she does - or describe the joy and heartbreak of loving traumatized kids - as well.  A gifted writer, too!  Plus, as her FB friend I have been privy to photos of her homemade cupcakes and other treats.  Unequivocally  versatile! She puts me to shame, on every front.  I just love her.

Third:  Deb Walker at Slava Bogu   I've read Deb's blog for a long time, and am always impressed by her sweet and understanding spirit, and her amazing love.  I could never do what she does. She works full-time, at a job which requires travel, and raises a family of four.  Deb writes a wonderful blog, but never goes out seeking readers.  She should have more!

Fourth:  Christie at Our Family Blog  Such a wealth of inspiration, and ideas and sweet stories from this family of four girls.  I love Christie's blog for a lot of reasons, but partly because she is on her "second family", too.  Versatile, because on this blog we get recipes, adoption-related thoughts, homeschooling tips and a lot more.

Fifth:  Rachael at Five is the New Four  Rachael gets a dispensation (if she wants one) on the "requirements" for receiving the reward.  At this very moment she is in Ukraine adopting her new teenage son.  At home she is a mother of four other children, one from Russia, an obstetrician (wow!) another marvelous  cook and decorator, plus she is so warm-hearted and charming. And a good writer!  Her blog is terrific.

So many other bloggers I'd like to mention, whose blogs I adore, but this time I focused on versatile; I guess that's the point!

Now for Seven Things about me you might not know.  I've done this a few times, but suppose most of you haven't read it....nevertheless, I'm trying to put in new ones.

1.  From the time I can remember, I felt so strongly that I was born in the wrong century.  Everything in me gravitated to things a hundred years older, to the point where I began to even have some ideas that I was somehow "placed" in the wrong century.   I would probably still feel this way except for the following miracle:

2. Our firstborn, Aidan, was born at 27 weeks, and also with a condition called hydrops fetalis, which is often fatal - especially in boys.  Especially 27 years ago!  If it hadn't been for modern technology - he wouldn't be here, and I probably wouldn't either.  So, for a few years every time that longing "oh, I wish I were back in.....", I'd have to immediately realize that if it were that long ago time, I'd be in big trouble.  Thus that lifelong yearning, for the most part, went dormant.

3. I have lived in an old brothel (The Silver Bell, in Telluride, Colorado), in an old Brew house (also in Telluride), in the HOT L Moscow, in Moscow, Idaho, in an old TB Hospital in Gooding, Idaho, in a Jewish Fraternity in Boulder, Colorado, in a cottage in Chautauqua Park in Boulder, in the janitor's closet of an old apartment building on Capitol Hill in Seattle,Washington, in a facility for the homeless in Oakland, CA, and in a studio apartment in NYC.....among other unique places.  The worst of these was the dreadful place for the homeless; the best was - oh! - hard to say!  The Chautauqua cottage was lovely, but for uniqueness nothing could beat the Silver Bell.

4.  The place I'd most like to have a chance to live for a bit is in a Russian dacha.

5.  I acted in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, at American Conservatory Theatre and in a number of regional theaters.  Shakespeare characters I've played in full performances include:  Hermia, Audrey, Titania, Puck, a "Weird Sister", Adrianna, Hero and Viola.  I think my best performances were probably Bananas in House of Blue Leaves and Madame Arcati in Blythe Spirit.

6.  The happiest I have ever been has been in Russia.....

7.  I think the authors who have had the most influence on me have been Laura Ingalls Wilder and Leo's that for a pair?  (Jane Austen and Barbara Pym have given me the most joy.)

Now it is up to Hevel, Christie, Deb, and Lindsay (Remember, Rachael is exempted since she is out being versatile, and Hevel is actually exempted too, because he just did "seven facts" and more, so all he needs to do is link), if they want to play.  Even if they don't, I love them.  Go visit!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


We live where the Lansing button is.  Brighton is about
halfway to Livonia.
I feel like I am in the car soooo much!  I get sick of it.  Yesterday was especially crazy.  I drove the boys to school - first to Grand Ledge (about a 15-20 minute drive), then Zhen to his school in Old Town (another 20 min.), then there were some errands to do.  The bank.  The pharmacy.  Back to Zhen's school to pay his tuition. Then to McDonald's to get Anastasia the hotcakes she requested (special treat for therapy day).  Then to therapy - I allow an hour and a half for the trip to Livonia.

An hour of therapy and back to Lansing, just giving me enough time to drop her off at home and head out to Grand Ledge to pick up the boys, then up to Old Town to pick up Zhen, then back home to drop them off.  Then yesterday, I had to take the car in to get a new clamp of some sort put on.  A half hour in the waiting room reading Dan Hughes.

Then to the store, then home to make dinner.  Dinner.  Then off to Williamston to let Anastasia visit a friend (20 min or so, the opposite direction of Grand Ledge) then I needed to drop by my office, so Zhenya could pick up his basketball uniform, then on to his game at Resurrection School - about 7 minutes away.  On the way out Zhenya was in one of his crazy moods, loud, silly raucous.  But, I endured it patiently.  Once we dropped Anastasia off, suddenly he said - "Mom, I feel sick.  I have a terrible headache."  I tried to analyze this - was he fooling around with me?  Or really sick?  Was he really sick, or just coming down from a "silly high"?  I asked a few questions, suggested he just sit quietly and then I ignored it, for the most part, and drove....waiting to see what would transpire.

I was thrilled at how well the timing of this was all going.  I was ready to swing by my office so Zhen could pick up his uniform right at 6:35; he needed to be at Resurrection at 6:45.  I handed him the key so he could get into my office if it was locked. Then I sat in the dark parking lot; I put my head on the steering wheel, and relished the quiet for a moment.  He was back pretty quickly with his stuff; I asked, "Did you remember your shoes?" He answered in his sarcastic voice.  "Right, mom. I forgot my shoes...."  OK, well, it was sort-of a stupid question.

The door slammed, and we were off.  I hadn't heard any more about the "headache" so I said, "OK, Zhen, I'm onto you; you really had me going there for a moment.  You're a good little actor, but I was not going to buy that about you suddenly having a headache after acting like such a clown for the whole ride."  We were cutting it close.  I assured him we'd be on time, then, as we approached the school said, "I'll pull up in front, you hop out!"  But, there were too many cars.  "Just stay in the car; I'll have to go around back, but I'll pull up on the side."  I did this, and said, "You're only a minute late, in you go!"  But, he didn't move.  "Zhen, get moving!"  Nothing.  I glanced back, and it looked like he was lying down.  "Zhen!"  Good heavens.  Had he fallen asleep?!  It hit me that maybe he had had a serious headache!  Had he passed out?!  I jumped out of the car and opened the back door.  He wasn't laying there.  That little twirp! "Zhen, this is not funny!  You get out of there!" and  I pulled aside the blanket in the far back.  No Zhen!  Had he already jumped out?  No.  He would have taken his uniform.  His uniform....  It was still there on the seat.  But there were - no shoes.

Suddenly I realized.  He wasn't being sarcastic!  He really didn't remember his shoes. He'd gone back into the office to get them and I'd driven off!  Good Heavens!  He was back at St. Thomas Aquinas, wondering where I was!!!!   So, I hopped in the car, and headed back to STA.  Half way back I got a call.  Zhen had finally figured out which phone to use (I have two) and how to call me (he had to dial 9).  I assured him I was almost there.  I laughed all the way back, thinking how much conversation I'd had with no one!  What a dummy!

Picked up Zhen, back to Resurrection, and amazingly enough, there were a couple of minutes to spare before the game started.  Despite not warming up, he played pretty well.  They won.

Then it was back out to Williamston to pick up Anastasia, and home again by 9.....only to hear that we had no milk.  So, one more trip out into the world before bed.

Not exactly a typical day, but not a rare one either.  (Except usually, I put in some time at work!)

Monday, January 2, 2012

THE RETURN - Movie Review

On New Years Eve Craig and I did something typically "uncool"; we watched a Russian movie on Netflix.  We didn't get to watch it "on the big screen" (the TV); no; Anastasia and Zhenya had that, but we watched it on my computer.  Nevertheless, it turned out to be one of the most unforgettable experiences.  I would say that he and I have probably spent 2-3 hours overall discussing this movie over the three days since we saw it....and both of us have spent even more time thinking about it, and we keep coming back to it.  I love movies like this - the ones that make you think.  And think.  And think.

The plot of The Return involves the sudden re-appearance of a father who, for unknown reasons, disappeared twelve years previously.  His two sons, who appear to be around 13 and 15, live with their mother and grandmother in a remote part of Russia, near a large lake.  This film is exquisitely shot, and the acting is universally fine - the performances of the two boys are unforgettable.  Anyone who knows even a bit of Russian will enjoy hearing it here, because they will understand almost everything.  The dialogue is simple but there is actually very little of it.  The film is subtitled, but those who hate reading subtitles won't have to do much of it.

The Return is a suspense movie on the surface, but anyone who watches it for that reason will be disappointed. Why did the father disappear?  Why did he return?  Why does he take the boys on a fishing trip, and then, instead end up taking them to a deserted island in the middle of the lake?  The suspense, and the foreboding, ominous feel of the film create a mesmerizing effect, but this is what most would call an "art film" - its essence is in the deeply moving symbolism and in the beautifully developed relationships between the characters.  The big questions that arise from the suspense are never answered, which can be frustrating until you realize that the story is told from the children's point of view.  And to children, so much of what adults do is a mystery.  Why do parents come?  Why do they leave?  What business is it that they do with other adults?

To children, too, their worlds are made up of their friends and their parents.  Hence, in The Return, the world is sparsely populated.  Only in a few scenes do any outsiders enter into the boys' lives.  That aspect, too, creates a sense of fear and vulnerability......  It adds to the tension of the film, but once you realize that the action is seen from the children's point of view, it says much about the condition of childhood.

For those who are trying to parent children who haven't been with them from infancy, this film can provoke much thought about the approach to discipline, to ways to form relationship, the role of resilience and personality, and, most of all, the need for connection and what happens without it.  But, this film can raise deep questions for all parents.  While in the story the father has been absent for most of his boys' lives, due to his mysterious business - many parents are absent from children's lives more than they want due to their (from the children's point of view) mysterious "business" and what does that say about how parents need to relate to their children?

Central to the theme of this movie is the critical need for connection.  The father has so many of the right instincts.  In so many ways he shows compassion. He understands what the boys need to learn to become men.  But, the lack of connection he has with his sons makes so much that he does seem random and chaotic - and to the more sensitive boy of the two - frightening.   The filmmaker cleverly causes his audience to feel so much anxiety, so many things seem ominously destined to go badly - and yet, throughout the film, it is not the things we fear that come to pass - the horror comes when it is least expected.

This film is up there with the best I have ever seen.

I actually have a great longing to write a paper about it.  Sad thing that once you are out of school, time does not allow you to write random papers.  But - will you discuss it with me?  If you watch this, I'd love, love, love to talk about it with you more via e-mail or facebook, or whatever else we can contrive.

NOTE:  This is not something to watch with your children - though, I think I will suggest that Maxim (19), my deep-thinker, watch it.  (Curiously, Maxim looks so much like the older brother in the film.)  Otherwise, children and even young people who have undergone separation from parents will probably find this film far too upsetting and confusing.