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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Melting Heart

We had a big snowstorm the other day so that meant lots of snowball fights for the kids. As the battles wound down and the other kids turned to making snowmen, my son Madiyar made me a special gift...a carefully crafted heart shaped snowball

My oldest son has been with us for 2 years now, coming to us with his younger brother from Kazakhstan after a hard fought adoption battle. He was 13 when we brought him home, already thinking of himself as a man. Accepting our affection took time...and saying "I love you" is still darn near impossible for him. Does this bother me? Not really...because while the words stick in his teenage boy throat, he finds other ways to show me his affection. My snowball heart is in our freezer, a reminder of my sweet man child's love for his mom. He's still a tough guy on the outside...but his heart is melting.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Doesn't Get Better Than This!

Doesn't Santa do nice work?
And the stockings were hung by our first real chimney!
 Anyone with teenagers can tell you that holidays may have lost some of the magic that accompanied them when the cherubs were little. The threat of Santa checking his list to determine the naughty from the nice kids isn't the motivator it once was. Pretty lights and the first snowfall aren't nearly as interesting as counting the presents under the tree and fretting over present equity. There also wasn't a single one of my five that I could convince to sit on Santa's lap for a picture this year. Therefore, when Craig and I decided our family would join our friends at a candlelight church service on Christmas Eve, you might have thought we suggested a family root canal. We soldiered on in spite of the groaning, hoping that some singing and hearing the Christmas story might be just what we all needed. As it turned out, we had a lovely time and our teens were very well behaved. My girls enjoyed being with friends and acting very grown up. I know my boys especially liked being able to hold a lit candle while we sang near the end of the service. They would have been even happier if Mom hadn't been keeping a watchful eye on their attempts to:
a) stick their fingers in the candle flame
b) drip hot wax on the sibling standing closest to them
c) slip away from the Mom in order to find a quiet spot for fire-eating practice

We returned home unscathed and in a merry mood. It wasn't long before we had a celebration going with tasty snacks and beverages, music, and much laughter. The happy mood continued through Christmas day, one of the best in my memory.

The kids are allowed to open one gift each on Christmas Eve and (as usual) they were very excited. I'm not sure why they continue to be excited about this tradition each year because (as usual), they received pajamas.

Aniyar likes his new pj's...go figure.
 The best part of this year's PJ gift was what our son Madiyar got. You see, our Madiyar hates PJ's. He likes sleeping in his boxers even in the dead of winter...which is fine until he shows up at the breakfast table in them. So what did Madiyar get for jammies? Why, green and red velvet elf shorts with a matching elf hat. We all got a good laugh out of the gift...and Madiyar was a great sport about the teasing, even modeled the outfit for us!
Elf Madiyar

Christmas morning started about 7:30 when Craig and I got up to make coffee and put the turkey in the oven. Much to our surprise, we woke up before the kids...although it wasn't long until they started appearing in the kitchen one by one. We sent them back to their rooms for a bit while we turned on the tree lights, readied the camera, and took a sip of our eggnog lattes. (What can I say, I married a darn good barista!) Once we turned the kids loose in the living room, it was pretty much pandemonium. The first order of business was to check out what Santa brought and empty stockings of all sorts of candy and trinkets. In the excitement, the kids almost missed the gift Santa left for the whole family, a new flat screen TV!

Kate discovers the new TV first!
Next it was on to finding the pickle ornament on our tree which would entitle the winner to open the first wrapped gift. Kate took the honors this year...but the others weren't far behind. In a veritable blizzard of wrapping paper and ribbon, Christmas secrets were revealed and hugs and thanks were given. The frenzy subsided and was replaced with a contented enjoyment of the new games, movies, and other gifts. Dad made his recipe for Cranberry-Orange Relish with Tanya's help . Once the turkey was roasted, I set about making a vat of homemade gravy from the pan drippings and stock, a process that makes me nostalgic every year. It reminds me of Christmases past when I was just a girl. I can see my mom's capable hands stirring the gravy patiently as she showed me just how to thicken and season the gravy to perfection. My mom is gone now but her presence is still strong in my kitchen; I close my eyes and hear her voice. As I stir, I feel her love...and I like sharing her recipes with my own kids.

Our friends joined us for dinner so there were 10 of us feasting on roast turkey with all the trimmings, a rib roast, potatoes, and veggie and fruit side dishes. No one went hungry...in fact, we had to postpone dessert for a couple of hours until we could find room for it!

Christmas dinner 2010
Our first Christmas in our new home...and it was perfect. Our material gifts are great...but our best gifts are so much more than things. We shared this holiday with our closest friends who also are now our next door neighbors. We are surrounded by other neighbors who have known and loved our kids as long as we have. We are just where we were meant to be, with just the kids we were meant to have, in just the house we were meant to raise them in. I can't think of a better Christmas present than that!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Goose is Getting Fat

Christmas tree 2010

Yes, it's almost Christmas and while we will most likely not celebrate with a roast goose, we are observing other time-honored traditions of the season. This is what's happening in our happy holiday home:

Christmas Tree Shopping

I remember Christmases past when the kids would eagerly count down the days until this event and would brave any amount of cold stoically in search of the perfect tree. However, we now have 4 teenagers in the house so family traditions have become significantly less cool. This year, I had to forcibly pry video game controllers out the hands of our boys and threaten one of our girls with the loss of her cell phone to get our happy little band in the car. (I growled through gritted teeth, "We are a family and we're picking a tree together. We will be pleasant and we will have fun...or else." and I intoned my oft-repeated mantra, "Videogames aren't as important as family." Being smart kids, they decided Mom wasn't to be denied on this one.) Once we got to the lot, the boys amused themselves playing tag between the trees to Mom's rendition of  "If you damage anything, it'll come out of your allowance!!" The sulky girl stomped around texting her friends with an in-depth description of how bored she was and how lame Christmas tree shopping was. We had one child who was in the holiday spirit and she flitted from tree to tree like a manic elf, offering a critique of each specimen Dad held up. We finally settled on a 7 ft. Douglas fir, got it paid for and loaded in the truck and back to the house in about 30 minutes flat. Fifteen seconds later, our darling children had returned to their mind-rotting pursuits. I checked Buy Christmas tree off my list of holiday family bonding activities and vowed to do better at lightening up for the rest of the holiday season.


While the cherubs were at school, I unpacked our house decorations and decked our halls with garlands and wreaths and nutcrackers. I even hummed Christmas carols and sipped holiday tea. Our greyhounds were good company as they followed me from room to room; they didn't bicker or proclaim boredom even once. When the kids got home, they took note of the decorations with comments ranging from "Oooh, pretty!" (the girls) to "Nice..." (the boys). I had saved setting up the nativity for Kate, one of her favorite holiday chores...it's the same nativity I used to arrange each Christmas when I was a girl. Pass down holiday traditions--check...and I didn't have to threaten anyone.

Lighting the Tree

When I was a kid, putting the lights on the tree was my Dad's job...and my mother's job was to critique his efforts. Risley women are notoriously opinionated re: the quantity and positioning of lights on the tree so poor Dad never stood a chance. He would mutter under his breath while repositioning and adding string after string of lights until my mom finally declared the tree properly illuminated. Craig and I figured out early on that we could live without that particular holiday ritual...and I'm the one who puts the lights on the tree in our house which keeps us both happy. This year, Kate and Aniyar wanted to help...and Kate told Aniyar that he couldn't put lights on the tree because he wasn't a Risley woman...poor Aniyar was so sad that I told him he could certainly join the Risley women in the tree lighting tradition. He was thrilled to be included in the club. (Aniyar to his big sister: "See, Kate? Mama say I can be Risley woman, too!" Big sis to Aniyar: "OK, buddy, you're a Risley tree lighter, but we can't do much about the woman thing.") Make our own family memories--check.

Trimming the Tree

For the first year ever, I was able to sit back and let the kids unpack and hang our ornaments. (Yes, I do have some control issues but I'm working on it!) Anyway, Aniyar and Kate did most of the work this time. They were so careful to place each ornament on just the right branch. The other 3 kids wandered in and out of the room, pausing long enough to hang their own special ornaments and then returning to other pursuits...and that was OK, too. It was a lovely, stress free evening that resulted in the above pictured beautifully decorated tree...go figure. Share quality time with family---check.


Thank heavens for the internet! Most of Mom and Dad's shopping has been done on line. I did brave the malls to help the kids find gifts for each other but it was actually fun. We did lunch, admired the decorations, and shopped in The Dollar Tree and Five Below where they could get more for their money. I was impressed with how much thought each of them put into what they bought their siblings and how excited they were with their purchases. Experience the joys of giving (not just receiving) at Christmas--check.

Holiday Baking

We've made French Puffs, Eggnog Coffeecake, and Maple Muffins for teacher's gifts and homemade hot chocolate spoons as gifts for friends. Our house has been filled with delicious aromas resulting from extensive recipe testing. Our kids have liked helping with baking, sampling, and wrapping the presents we made ourselves. Demonstrate the pleasures of gifts of the heart, made by hand--check.

You know, we're really getting into the holiday spirit this year. Even the teenagers have ditched their bored affect and are having fun. We're better organized this year, too.  I've already sent off gifts to relatives in far off places. I might even get around to Christmas cards before New Year's!

But just in case I don't get those cards done... consider yourself extended

Season's Greetings from our family to yours!

Tanya's first concert playing the violin

Kate playing Christmas carols for us at home

Our Christmas gifts

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Witches, turkeys, and transition

Since my last post, we've celebrated two holidays and moved mountains...or at least mountains of furniture, boxes, and all the stuff you can think of that a family of seven could possibly accumulate under one roof. It's been an exhausting and challenging month but we all survived. Here's an update on our family adventures.

Due to renovation delays, we didn't get moved in time for Halloween but we celebrated in our new house anyway. Craig and I moved our big TV and some living room furniture and the kids and I decorated our mostly vacant new house so that it looked truly spooky. Craig and I greeted trick or treaters in our new location while our 5 kids went door to door with friends. When the kids were done hauling in their candy, we ate Chinese takeout and watched a Halloween movie together. It was a nice evening, the calm before the storm of moving in earnest the following week.
Our lovely new living room

Craig took the week after Halloween off and we worked like dogs to pack up and move everything. Several of our good friends pitched in to help with both moving things from the old house and helping us set up furniture in the new place. Their assistance was invaluable...moving 7 people and 12 years worth of accumulated possessions turned out to be a daunting task!  We called in a local mover to truck our piano and the biggest pieces of our furniture to the new house; I also asked them to pack up and move most of the things in the basement, a worthwhile investment since Craig had to return to work and I was on my own at that point. It took the movers 2 days to get it all done but it went well...until we found out that our queen adjustable bed wouldn't fit up the narrow stairs to our new bedroom. The only way to get our bed (and its electronic innards) upstairs would be to take out a window on the second floor and hoist it through the opening...so that's just what we did. Craig and I have been sleeping on a mattress on the floor until today when the movers returned with a crane which lifted our very heavy bed to the window. It took 2 crane operators and 3 moving guys to maneuver the bed up and through the window safely. It was quite a show!

Thanksgiving was lovely, actually pretty relaxing in spite of the piles of boxes that still need to be unpacked and the renovation projects we're still working on. We watched the Macy's parade as we munched on homemade cinnamon rolls and pumpkin donuts. I roasted our turkey in my new convection oven and was shocked at how fast it cooked...love the new kitchen and had a lot of fun puttering in it at a leisurely pace all day. The kids loved the results; I made borscht and plov, two favorite comfort foods for my kids from Kazakhstan, which provided a nice lunch while the main meal (turkey and all the trimmings) was cooking. As we sat down to eat, we asked each of the kids to tell what they were thankful for. The answers ranged from silly to serious and we had fun sharing; when it came to my turn, I said that I was most thankful for our family and our new home...especially in light of the fact that two years ago this Thanksgiving, we were feverishly compiling a new dossier in 2 weeks time as a part of our fight to adopt Aniyar and Madiyar, unsure of our chances for success. Now here we all are, having weathered the many bumps and bruises of our adoption process and our transition as a family, not to mention the drama related to getting this house. We really do
have so much to be thankful for!

Thanksgiving 2010--and our dreams that came true

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Living with Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE)

I have 5 great kids...they are kind and loving (at least most of the time) and they make me laugh. I'm lucky to have them and I cherish them more than they would ever believe...but some of them have some hefty challenges. Unfortunately, four of the five are not my biological children (I'm honored to parent them in any case!) Fate hasn't treated them equally; all 4 of my adopted kids have post-traumatic stress disorder from early abuse and neglect and two of my kids suffer from the effects of their birthmothers drinking during pregnancy. The impact on these kids is nothing short of astounding...and I wish with all my heart that I could wave my magic wand to make these problems disappear...but it's not that simple.

Here's what I mean...I have a beautiful 13 year old girl who is painfully aware that she is 2 years behind her grade level in school. She is sweet and she works very hard...but she knows that her memory is weak and it takes her a long time to learn certain concepts. She's embarrassed by her learning deficits which are totally not of her own doing.  Ironically, she's the lucky one of my two kids who were exposed to alcohol prenatally. She has mild FAE but she is filling many of her developmental gaps with support at school and at home. Socially , she can be impulsive and is easily influenced by her peers so we keep a watchful eye, trying to balance her need for independence with our concerns for her safety. We believe that she'll complete her high school education and college through sheer grit and determination, growing up to be a functional young woman of uncommon beauty and kindness...she has to weather the storm of adolescence first but she's a gutsy girl who never gives up.

I also have an almost 13 year old who can't read or write beyond his name. Due to the cognitive damage caused by his more severe FAE, he functions much closer to an 8 or 9 year old than his chronological age...he is affectionate, happy, and helpful and doesn't demonstrate much of an awareness of his learning deficits. He is also physically small and appears much younger than his age, a blessing since it helps him to fit in better with his 4th and 5th grade classmates. With special education support, he is progressing at school even if it is a laborious process for him. His rages of a year and half ago are gone now, except for the occasional temper tantrum which blows over quickly. He still likes to cuddle with Mom, something most boys his age would avoid at all costs...but he never had a mom to cuddle with before so we'll make up for lost time with plenty of hugs as long as he likes. It's unclear at this point how he will meet the state standards to graduate from high school; right now, I'm hoping for basic literacy skills. We watch our boy closely since he is still very impulsive and not safety conscious; he also still can't remember our last name, our phone number, or our address...I have the info written in his backpack and in several other places as a safety measure...so his independence is limited to occasional excursions to movies or the videogame store with his "older" siblings (two of them are chronologically only 6 months older than he is) who are armed with cell phones if Mom or Dad are needed. We suspect that the future may hold some form of supported employment and living arrangement for our son; only time will tell how much can be done to offset the damage done by his FAE and early trauma.

If I could have just one wish, I would turn back the clock and erase the alcohol exposure from my kids' lives...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rubber Ducky Regatta

Lest you think we don't have a life other than The House renovation project, I thought I'd better post a few pics from some of our recent family outings.

We spent Labor Day weekend in NH where we attended this cool charity event at Cascades Park in North Woodstock. We sponsored rubber duckies in a race over the river rapids in support of childhood leukemia research; almost 2,000 ducks were released into the Pemi river. We cheered on our entrants and watched the kids jump in the water to help the ducks along when they went astray. It was a lot of fun even though our ducks didn't win any prizes.
My girls loved this giant ducky

My boys liked fooling around.

Waiting for the ducks
And they're off!

Can you find Kate and Tanya sitting on the riverbank?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Almost 3 months after closing...

...we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have torn down walls and ceilings as needed, framed new walls and sheetrocked, and now we're on to finishing work. John, the plasterer, is a genius at his craft; it almost makes me cry to watch him create perfect new walls and ceilings. We have new doors, new locks, new lights, even new doorbells. Our electricians (Dave and Jamie) are practically members of the family...they've worked to remove the old knob and tube wiring in the house, then replaced all the wiring...and they've been at it for about 6 weeks now. Our plumber Charlie has installed a new hot water system and will be connecting our new gas stove as well as our new steam dryer and washer. Today, our kitchen guy (Les) started work; he tore out the old tile countertop and backsplash and began the prep for refacing the cabinets. He'll work through the weekend so we'll be ready for our new Silestone countertop to be templated on Tuesday. The Silestone has been ordered, our new sink is set for delivery tomorrow, and the faucet and disposal are already here. Our hardwood floors will be refinished sometime next week and the carpet for the stairs (so we don't kill ourselves on them!) will be installed next Friday. After a long wait, things are moving quickly.
The living room wallpaper and trim is done!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Welcome to our new house...demolition derby style

Our work continues...and I promised you pics so here they are. My men have been destroying walls and tearing down ceilings, don't they look like they've been having fun? The first shot is of Max working hard to tear out a wall in Mom and Dad's new bedroom. The next shot is of Dad and Madiyar after tearing down the kitchen ceiling. Plaster and lathe is an ugly thing to deal with...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bad blogger!

Here I am, hanging my head in shame...it's been a month since my last post and that's not the only thing I'm behind on. I haven't answered emails, returned phone calls, or gone to the gym. I barely manage to cover the basic necessities of personal hygiene each day. There's been an alarming increase in the number of Pop Tarts being consumed for breakfast and an equally distressing increase in the number of takeout meals that are being consumed for dinner in the evening. On top of everything else, I ache all over (especially my hands) and all I want to do is sleep.

Gasp! What could be wrong, you ask? Is it chronic fatigue syndrome?? Is it clinical depression? Lyme disease? Menopause? Nooo...it's worse. My condition is caused by (dramatic organ chords here)...The House. Yes, it's true. Our recently acquired 100 year old house is getting a facelift before we move in; each day, we have electricians, plumbers, carpenters, general contractors, and a host of other tradespeople swarming over the place...and then there's the painting. Most days, there's only one painter working...and that would be me. Oh, the kids show up from time to time and give me a hand but now that school's back in session, our days go something like this:

6:15am--Life-giving latte is delivered to bedside by Dad (without which the rest of life as we know it would not take place)
6:30am--Chef Mom is up and starting breakfast for 5 kids. (OK, how hard are Pop Tarts?)
7:00am--Bus picks up first kid for school; Mom waves blearily from door.
8:00am--Bus driver Mom transports other 4 kids to school
8:30am--Chef/housekeeper Mom returns home to start dinner prep, throw in laundry, pay bills
9:30am--Mom the Painter heads to The House to begin the work day
9:35am-1:30pm--Multiple coats of primer and paint are applied to walls, closets, ceilings, etc. from basement to 3rd floor...to infinity and beyond.
1:35pm--Painter Mom is sighted in the local grocery picking up fresh vegetables for dinner...and more Pop Tarts. Cashiers begin to whisper about the new fashion statement Painter Mom is making...Bag Lady clothes with a different paint hue each day...hmmm.
2:45pm--Painter/Shopper Mom returns home in time to shower and greet the bus dropping the youngest child at the door at 3:00pm; homework support is provided by newly transformed (and slightly damp) Teacher Mom.
4:00pm--Bus driver Mom picks up other 4 kids from school.
4:10pm--Teacher Mom helps with homework while Chef Mom completes dinner preparations. (or orders take-out Chinese...or pizza...or selected other delivery du jour meals.) Various other tasks are accomplished as needed (i.e. field trip permission slips, after school snacks, more laundry, emptying lunch boxes, answering questions about boys, world peace, girls, why the sky is blue, prime factors, and the best outfit for picture day, etc.)
5:30pm--Referee Mom mediates a few disputes between siblings while Chef Mom beats the starving Mongol hordes back from the food prepared for family dinner. The bottomless fruit bowl is offered to appease the hordes until Dad returns from the salt mines to join the clan for dinner.
6:30pm--Dad arrives amid fanfare and trumpets, greeted by the children with enthusiasm (Dad's home! Now we can eat!!!).
6:38pm--First child has swallowed dinner whole and is asking to be excused.  Miss Manners Mom refuses and asks first child to tell us about his/her day. Mandated polite dinner conversation ensues.
6:45pm--4 other children complete dinner and ask to be excused. Miss Manners Mom sighs deeply and excuses said children.
7:00pm--2 greyhounds begin to whine and beg for a walk. Mom and Dad walk said greys to The House for the nightly progress inspection.
7:30pm--Mom and Dad receive various cell phone calls from children re: ice cream, TV viewing, equity and fairness issues, etc.
8:00pm-- Bedtime Mom is in the house. All TVs and electronics are turned off, showers are started, teeth are brushed, books are read, the evening winds down. By 8:30, children begin to drift off to dreamland. The big kids settle down around 10:00.
10:05pm--Dad is already asleep. Organizer Mom is packing lunchboxes, checking backpacks, doing laundry and dishes, reviewing the next day's schedule.
10:30pm--Tired Mom is slipping into a coma...dreaming of the next day's painting project...wondering why we thought we needed a 6 bedroom house with 3 floors.
4:00am--Painter Mom is awake, wondering if it's too early to slip over to The House and paint another closet before the kids need to get up for school. Sigh.

Are there 12 step programs for Painter Moms? Is there an end to The House's seemingly insatiable need to drink up gallon after gallon of paint? (The children are beginning to suspect that The House is haunted...perhaps by a demon who thirsts for Latex?) Will neglected family and friends forgive Social Director/Blogger Mom's lapse in communication in the past few weeks? Will the other Mom personas (not to mention the kids and spouse) survive until the nightmare is over? Stay tuned...pictures soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Summer is drawing to a close; four of our five kids started school last week and our youngest (still in elementary school) will start just after Labor Day. We've been dividing our time between end of summer fun, painting and renovations at our new house, back-to-school shopping, and settling into a routine for the new school year. We have a buyer for our current house and are set to close on September 30 which is a great comfort in this tough housing market. It means that soon we'll be able to access the equity in this house to pay for the necessary repairs and upgrades at the new one. In the interim, we're throwing all our extra money and plastic at plumbers, electricians, flooring guys, replacement window folks, and kitchen renovators. The people at Home Depot now remember us and greet us as old friends, referring to us as "regulars" these days.

We're also working as a team; the kids helped us clean and paint the basement so it no longer resembles a dungeon. Here's the before shot, complete with hanging wires, decades of dirt, and large spiders.

Here's our basement after power washing, wire removal, new lighting and the family painting party. We even managed to have some fun in the process.

A little at a time...soon this space will house a playroom with a couch, a large TV, and all the kids' videogame toys. There will also be a workshop for Dad, storage space, and a laundry room. Our new front-loading steam washer and dryer will be delivered in a couple of weeks. Fortunately, the space now almost meets my specifications on the reduced basement creepiness factor to permit me to actually do laundry down here...and you should see my wonderful old soapstone utility sink! It's original to the house so it qualifies as an antique; it was gross and disgusting before Craig attacked it with a putty knife and cleansers, digging up layers of sludge and grime. Now it's clean and tricked out with a new faucet compliments of our wonderful plumber, the same guy who removed our 1950's leaking hot water heater and installed a spiffy new hybrid continuous hot water system that hangs on the wall.

Don't get me started on the kitchen renovation we just contracted for...I'll start weeping with joy. Then there are the new windows, the carpet for the stairs, the wallpapering and painting, the rewiring and new lighting...it's all happening in the next month or so. Now that's progress!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy 15th. B-day, Kate!

Yes, it's true...the girl for whom this blog is named turned 15 at 8:14 am today. She's now a sophomore in high school who is beginning to talk about college applications and driving a car in the not too distant future. Eeek!! Where have the years gone?

We'll celebrate here at home with a cooked to order birthday dinner, cake and gifts. The diva has requested sirloins wrapped in bacon, roasted potatoes, and zucchini with parmesan...no more hot dogs for this girl! She really is growing up.

We love you sweetie...enjoy your day.

Love, Mom and Dad

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A mother's pride...

The morning didn't start off well...I'd barely sipped my morning life-giving latte when Tanya and Aniyar got into an argument which spiraled out of control. I spent the next half hour holding my youngest son and telling him that I loved him but that I wouldn't let him hurt himself or others in our house. Next Madiyar and Tanya got into an argument over an old Ipod and a non-working phone that they had traded each other last week...by the time that discussion ended, Madiyar had thrown the Ipod over our fence into the swamp so that neither he nor his sister could have it. Then Max decided to show his support for his brother by being rude and disrespectful to Mom, earning himself an early bedtime. When it was time to go to church, we had a sulky posse of boys who were picking on Tanya when they thought no one was looking. Once at church, the boy posse remained unrepentant for a time and there was tension in the air...so what the heck could I be so proud of? My kids made some bad choices and so did I in parenting them today. Apologies and consequences for actions are in the works...but I can also look back across time and see so much progress in our kids that I have to be proud of them, too. Here are the reasons why:

They've learned to band together and support each other.
Sometimes it's boys against girls, sometimes it's older kids vs. younger ones or some other alliance...but they have a sense of loyalty that will serve them well in life. I'm so glad you guys will always have each other's backs.

Aniyar didn't hurt himself or anyone else. He was also able to calm down in much less time than he used to need, and was able to apologize for his behavior. I'm glad you're trusting us more, my special boy!

Tanya stood up for herself when she felt she had been wronged. Tanya desperately wants to be liked and will sometimes give in to her friends or sibs in order to curry their favor...but this time, she was ready to stand her ground. Tanya, sweetie, you were right and I was wrong...even Moms make mistakes and I apologize for mine...but I'm very proud of you for sticking up for yourself!

My boys controlled their anger, swallowed their pride, and calmed themselves. Believe me, guys, I know how difficult it is for you to do these things...but when I showed up at church, you were being respectful and even singing a bit. Seeing my wild child get up and dance to the songs brought tears to my eyes...and watching my other two boys slowly shed their anger in favor of smiles caused the tears to fall. Boys, I hope you know by now that I may fight with you when I think you've been wrong...but I'll also fight for you...and I'll always love you. I'm proud of all 3 of you for choosing to let go of your anger during church!

Diva Kate was able to be Switzerland during the drama. Sometimes it's hard for our oldest to stay out of the fray even when it's not her fight...but today, she limited her involvement to calmly telling her sibs that they were all being a bit foolish, then she butted out. Thanks, diva, for letting Mom and Dad handle the parenting...I'm proud you mostly remained neutral on this one!

My kids fight, forgive, forge alliances, then fracture them, and forgive again. They've become a true family, imperfections and all...and that's a lot to be proud of even on a tough day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We are family!

For the past week, our house has been full...really full. We hosted the Schoelles family reunion here in Salem last weekend and relatives from several states joined us. Craig's mom, sisters, brother, and their spouses arrived first, followed by a variety of Schoelles cousins. Some relatives stayed with us, some at local bed & breakfasts, with our house being the central gathering point.

Our reunion events began on Friday with fruit, wine and cheese at our house before our group of 20 headed to dinner at the Sugarcane, a wonderful Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant. Saturday, we had perfect weather for our family picnic at Forest River Park where we ate, shared photo albums, and wove the fabric of family a little tighter with the thread of stories from the past. On Sunday, we had 22 for a church service and lunch at our house.

All of this took months of planning (kudos to Donna and Karen, Craig's sisters who did all of the advance work!)and lots of help (cousin Judy and her husband brought stellar wine and cheese and cousin Sally brought tins of scrumptious homemade cookies.) Everyone pulled kitchen duty for both food prep and clean up. Even more important, my awesome mother-in-law, her off-spring and their spouses took turns keeping my kids entertained with stories, card tricks, wrestling matches, hugs, and good-natured teasing. What a pleasure!

We have a nice life here in Salem but the one thing we lack on a daily basis is extended family. Our relatives are spread across the country so seeing them is a rare treat; to have all of Craig's siblings and his mom at our dinner table with our own family is a precious gift. Adding in cousins my kids have never met before is the icing on the cake. Craig and I are so grateful to all of you who came up with this reunion idea, made it happen, and brought it to our home. We'll always treasure the memory of our house brimming with family and hope you'll come back again soon.

Here are a few of the memories I will treasure from the week, complete with pictures:

Tanya having a whole cheering section of aunts, uncles, and cousins for her final Little League softball game of the season!

Watching the paparazzi work at the picnic...

Our kids climbing rocks and hunting snails with their cousins.

Kate and cousin Julie doing the tourist thing in downtown Salem.

Girls night out with my sisters-in-law!

The kids thanking Uncle Dale for treating us all to pizza on Sunday night...

Madiyar and Julie skyping each other on their laptops while sitting in my kitchen side-by-side...go figure.

It's quiet here now; everyone has gone home and it's just our little family of 7 (Ha!) It's time to get back to our project of cleaning, painting, and renovating the house we just bought. The kids will be doing their summer reading and preparing for a new school year while Craig and I begin packing for the upcoming move. I'll be busy as usual but thinking of the family I've joined not just by marriage...like our kids, I feel I've been adopted with love. I'm honored...

Monday, August 2, 2010

We are officially home owners...again!

It's a done deal. We closed on our new house last Wednesday, only one day late which allowed the lawyers to generate more paperwork for us to sign. Our closing attorney apologized for the inch thick stack of docs he presented to us for review and signature...but after compiling our 4 adoption dossiers for our kids which averaged 185 pages each, what's a paltry inch of papers for a house to raise them in?

The real fun has begun...we're cleaning and repairing, shopping for new appliances, choosing wallpaper and paint colors. After discovering that the kitchen cabinets are lacquered in about a decade of cooking grease and the countertop is in danger of collapse, we're getting estimates for another kitchen renovation. The kids are helping to wash woodwork, trim unruly bushes, sweep, and help Dad prepare the truly scary basement for powerwashing and painting. Craig has already added some electrical outlets and shop lights in the basement so at least it's not nearly as dark and creepy. The hot water heater is leaking and has to be replaced; no great loss since it's only 25 gallons, not nearly big enough for our family of 7. Craig met our trusty plumber at the house this morning to make a list of things that need to be repaired. The new dishwasher is being delivered around noon today so it can be connected while the other plumbing work is being done. The electrician is scheduled to come by tonight for an estimate on upgrading the ancient knob and tube wiring throughout the house. There's lots of painting in our future...so we're keeping busy.

Did I mention that Craig's family reunion is this weekend? Did I mention that it's here in Salem? His siblings, mom, assorted cousins, and various other relatives begin arriving tomorrow. By Friday, we'll all be together for a weekend of family activities. Actually, some folks might think this isn't perfect timing...but I'm thinking painting is a great family bonding activity!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Welcome to our new house...

As promised, I'm posting more pics of the house we're buying. (For those new to our house buying soap opera, we made our first offer on this place last fall to the original owner...then the house was foreclosed on before we could complete the purchase...but eventually we ended up getting a better price on the house from the bank.) We're scheduled to close at noon on Tuesday, July 27...keep your fingers crossed for us! In the meantime, we're scurrying around collecting paint chips and prioritizing needed repairs and updates. In a nutshell, the first floor looks pretty good except for the kitchen which needs to be renovated (sigh...). Initially, we'll have to make do with a good deep cleaning and new appliances, counters and cabinets will come later. See the breakfast bar where the purple cup is sitting? That wall separates the kitchen from the dining room, making the kitchen really cramped...so the wall is literally on our hit list. We'll be knocking it out to open up the space into a huge kitchen/dining area. Another advantage to removing the wall is that it opens up the "butler's pantry" that is tucked into a nook between the kitchen and dining room. This beautiful old built-in china closet will be the perfect place for my cut glass!

The second floor has 4 bedrooms but another wall will be coming down to make a master suite/office combo for Mom and Dad. Eventually a 3rd bathroom will be added just off the master suite...but for now, we'll make do with minor repairs/updates to the two full baths currently in the house. As I mentioned in my last post, the girls have chosen the two attic bedrooms for their space. Kate in particular has always wanted to live in a quaint garret like a starving artist. Shhh, don't tell them there's no bathroom up there! Maybe they'd like a couple of quaint chamber pots.

The 3 boys are still debating whether they want to split up between the two remaining bedrooms or use one bedroom for sleeping quarters and the other as a study/computer space. Right now, we're thinking triple bunks in one room, desks and spare bed in the other room. That way, the boys can have more space to use daily but we'll still have a room that can be used for guests as needed.

The second floor also has another favorite of mine, a truly beautiful old walk-in closet with huge linen cupboards that will accommodate even our biggest comforters. I love the fact that the closet is big enough to store our vacuum cleaner, too.

There's a lot to like in the new place...but there's lots to do to fix it up, too. Did I mention the ancient knob and tube wiring? The walls made of horsehair plaster and lathe? How about the leaking hot water heater? And the roof leak? And then there's the basement...it's everything I hate in a basement. It's musty, creepy, damp, poorly lit and has big spiders. It smells like a basement (or a crypt). Ewww...However, it also is much needed space for our laundry room, storage, Craig's workshop, and a game room for the kids. Craig has a plan to powerwash the walls and floor, then paint the whole thing with Kilz to improve these conditions before we move in. Otherwise, I'll be going to the laundromat.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Photos of our new digs...

After months of struggles, monkey wrenches, and curve balls in the process which included foreclosure on the house we were trying to buy...we are within a few days of closing our deal. We have a mortgage commitment and a few hurdles have been cleared on the seller's side. That means the bank who owns the property scurried to make necessary repairs (adding smoke alarms and fixing unsafe stairs) and pay back fees owed on our future home. Even today, I was shooting emails and faxing documents to our lender and trading phone calls with our real estate agent...if all goes well, we'll sign the papers and pick up our keys on Tuesday, July 27. (Hmm...the stack of paperwork involved here is beginning to resemble an adoption dossier...good thing I have lots of experience with that sort of thing!)

Anyway, thought it might be fun to post some pics of our "new" place. The rooms are empty, it needs cleaning and painting, not to mention tons of updating...but it's 3 floors (not counting the basement), 6 bedrooms and quite a bit more square footage overall. These are good things with 5 kids; it also helps that we'll only be moving 2 blocks from where we are now...so no change in schools, not even a change in phone number.

Here are the dining room and living room.

Here's Kate's attic room, complete with bookshelf and reading nook.

Tanya's attic room has a built in desk and a ton of shelves.

More pics soon, stay tuned to see where the rest of us will be sleeping!