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Monday, January 31, 2011

Someone please shoot me...

Don't be fooled by the pretty face.
More snow predicted this week, a few inches tomorrow and as much as 12 more inches on Wednesday. The kids are already counting on a snow day or two. I see orthodontist appointments, therapy appointments, and my interpreting jobs disappearing under a blanket of white.

Sigh...have I mentioned that I used to live in a townhouse on the beach? (This is the point where my kids all groan and say "Not the townhouse on the beach in Florida story again, Ma!") Well, it's true...I used to have a snowless life. I didn't own a snow shovel. I didn't even have a winter coat. I used to sit by the pool in January, working on my winter tan.

No, I wouldn't trade my life...but moving all I hold dear to someplace warm is looking pretty good right now. Beam us up, Scotty. Before tomorrow, please.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Be careful what you wish for...

It's my own fault, really. If I had never installed this cute little penguin at our back door, we wouldn't be in the meteorological fix we're in right now. There she stands, holding up that adorable little message, "Let It Snow". We've had 60 inches of snow in the past 30 days...yes, that equals 5 feet. Ten inches of that fell yesterday so of course it was another snow day for our five cherubs. Yeesh, enough is enough already! Penguin Girl is headed for the basement.

Say goodbye to the penguin

She brought out the snow blower...again

She brought out the whole family for plenty of shoveling as well

I think one of our greyhounds is under this drift...dig, boys, dig!

OK, don't tell Penguin Girl but we also had some fun. We all slept in; even Craig was able to avoid a dangerous commute by working from home. The snow stopped around mid-morning and all 5 kids helped with snow removal without complaint (mostly). Once the work was done, the boys had a blast chasing the dogs around the yard and digging tunnels in the snow. The girls took themselves inside and made tea to warm up. The sun shone brightly all afternoon, the sky was a cloudless winter blue, and the temps rose a bit. The neighbors were all outside so the clean up was more like a block party than a chore.

We spent the afternoon and evening with all my chicks safe in our nest, just the way this Mama Hen prefers it. While Dad worked on the server he brought home from his office, The kids and I did some homework, played some games, made dinner, and baked some cookies. There were no major meltdowns and no bloodshed between siblings. (In the interest of honesty, I must disclose that we had one round of unkindness between a brother and a sister. Even that was pretty easily resolved with a review of the Golden Rule and the reminder that no ice cream would be served that evening until the matter was resolved. A heartfelt apology was extended pretty quickly.) As snow days go, this one was pretty darn good...but I'd really like to skip the snow part next time.

Just in case there's more snow to come, we have these musclemen!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Screenless Sundays

Lately, I've been concerned about the amount of time our kids spend riveted to some kind of electronic screen or device. Our kids have videogames for computers and gaming systems like the Wii, Gamecube, and Nintendo DS; when play time is limited by MOM (aka mean old mom) on those systems, everyone immediately turns to TV and/or movies. We set limits on TV screen time as well as game time; we also insist on homework being done before screens are allowed. No screens come on in the morning before school and all screens go dark at 8pm each school night. In other words, we try...but especially on snow days and long winter weekends, it still seems there are multiple screens on all day long. Don't even get me started on the amount of time they spend texting with friends on their cell phones...that's something else we've had to limit. (In the interest of fairness, Dad and Mom are also pretty hooked on our screens and phones as well so we probably don't set the best example.) I was really struck by how far out of whack things had gotten one day last week when I looked across the room and saw my 3 boys "multi-tasking" in a disturbing way. They were surfing the net on Dad's computer while also watching TV while also playing a Nintendo DS game together...and I knew something had to change...but I was at a loss as to what that would be.

It's somewhat ironic that the catalyst for change arrived via the news application on my spiffy new Android phone. (OK, so Mom has a tiny little Android addiction going on, too.) While I was waiting for the kids to be dismissed from school one day, I came upon this story:

Mom unplugs teens and they survive 
By BETH J. HARPAZ, The Associated Press

Susan Maushart lived out every parent’s fantasy: She unplugged her teenagers.

For six months, she took away the Internet, TV, iPods, cell phones and video games. The eerie glow of screens stopped lighting up the family room. Electronic devices no longer chirped through the night like “evil crickets.” And she stopped carrying her iPhone into the bathroom.

The result of what she grandly calls “The Experiment” was more OMG than LOL — and nothing less than an immersion in RL (real life).

Thanks, Susan! You're an inspiration.

Turns out this woman has written a book (The Winter of Our Disconnect) about her family's "experiment" and how it improved their lives. I was so intrigued that I told Craig and the kids about it at the dinner table that night...and the kids (especially the boys) reacted in a way that was shocking. There was talk of mutiny if Mom and Dad ever tried to take away screens, threats of running away if videogames and cell phones were removed from their lives. In one case, there was a tearful hizzy fit about the injustice of it all. (Hmm...it appears that some of us have forgotten that screens are a privilege, not a God given right.) One of the girls was the sole voice of reason, warning the others that if they continued to fuss, it would only make Mom and Dad think maybe our family could stand to be unplugged. Bingo...that's exactly what Mom and Dad decided to do...but we live in a democracy (or maybe a benign dictatorship). Therefore, right there at the dinner table, amidst weeping and wailing and nashing of teeth but with eventual acceptance of the inevitable, a proposal to at least partially unplug the whole Risley-Schoelles clan was hammered out. Just like that, Screenless Sundays were born.

Yesterday was our first day with no screens. Per our agreement, that means the following:

  • No TV or Movies

  • No computers

  • No gaming systems

  • Cell phone use is limited to voice communication for an actual purpose (no texting)

    How did it go? Well, it was a bit rocky at first. The kids really like to turn on the TV first thing in the morning and Dad likes the Sunday Morning news program; neither happened and we all survived. Dad and the kids went to church which kept most of them busy. Mom drove Kate and her friend to the mall which kept them occupied. Kate was allowed to use her cell phone to call Mom when they needed a ride home. When the rest of the family came home, Aniyar had a hard time figuring out what to do with himself and was whiny until he was reminded that he got a new remote control car for his birthday that he could play with. (I know, it's still electronic...but at least it's not a screen.) Max and Madiyar accepted Mom's challenge to a game of Sorry (I'm not a lover of board games but desperate times call for desperate measures...and I couldn't blog, now could I?) We actually had a lot of fun...surprise, surprise! Then our friend Eileen came by to visit and offered to cut Tanya's hair, giving her a whole new look. That also gave Tanya some special attention and a chance to visit with her Auntie Eileen. The rest of the day was spent in similar fashion. Dinner was especially fun; the kids didn't gulp their food and run off to their screens per usual. Instead, they stayed at the table, joking and laughing, playing a fortune telling game. Max begged for a reprieve, asking for "...just TV, Mom! I need to watch TV soooo bad!!!" Hmmm....sounds like an addiction issue to me. The other kids hushed him, saying that if he kept talking, we might decide to add Screenless Other Days to our family calendar. I always said they were smart kids...quick learners, too.
    When the dinner dishes were cleared away, I helped kids with homework and studying for midterms. Madiyar asked for a needle and thread and sewed a rip in his backpack (The kid actually did a chore voluntarily, without threat of punishment???) Max read a book and Aniyar and Kate played cards. We spent a good hour listening to the kids tell stories of their memories of Kazakhstan...we read books, listened to music, and enjoyed each other. So can you guess what will now be a regular part of our family calendar? Craig and I already see the results of unplugging not just the kids but ourselves as well. We're committed to doing something fun as a family each Sunday afternoon from now on...sans screens, unplugged but more connected to each other.
    Just in case you couldn't tell, let me be clear what Mom thought of our little experiment:
    OMG, Screenless Sunday was XLNT!!!!

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Sleepovers and visits with friends

    The view from my bedroom window
    We've been very busy this weekend, trying our best to combat cabin fever after our latest big snowstorm. Friday was yet another snow day, no school here...I believe the kids have actually been out of school more than in since January began. We've also had a lot of slush and some rain and sleet, all of which froze solid. Then we got about 3-4inches of pretty white fluffy stuff that covered the treacherous ice. Lovely to shovel until you hit the part that requires a jackhammer...but I digress.

    This weekend, our kids have played in the snow, visited and entertained friends, gone sledding, watched movies, played games, gone to the library, and whined about how bored they are. Bored??? Just last night, we picked up Tanya's friend Anna for a sleepover.
    Anna and Tanya

    The girls slept in the living room on our sofa bed; they watched movies on our new TV, ate popcorn and ice cream, stayed up late and giggled a lot. This morning, they watched more movies and giggled, ate pancakes and bacon, and listened to music in Tanya's room. They had a blast...but that's yesterday's news now so poor Tanya is bored.

    Cara and Kate

    Kate, on the other hand, was bored last night but is in hog heaven tonight; her friend Cara arrived for a sleepover a couple of hours after Anna left. They've already moved into the living room space, chowed down on pizza, and are doing makeovers and watching movies on our new TV. (I wonder if Mom and Dad will ever get a chance to watch the new TV???) Between the girls' sleepovers, Max went sledding and then had his friend Zach over for a visit. He is now campaigning for a sleepover next weekend because, "I never get to have any fun, Mom!!!".

    Aniyar and Madiyar begged to be allowed to get a haircut today...now that's boredom...but they both look quite handsome, anyway.
    Madiyar and Aniyar

    As I write this, I hear more laughter, both from the boys and the girls. There seems to be a lot of activity in our house again tonight...and boredom never sounded so much like fun.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    My baby is a teen...

    Our youngest child turned 13 the other day, bringing the total of teens in our family to five. Count them, 5!!! teenagers. Oy, the hormones are thick in our house...but that's the subject of another post.

    Here's how our boy celebrated his big day:

    Aniyar decided he wanted take-out Chinese for his birthday dinner, a choice endorsed by one and all (especially Mom who didn't have to cook!)
    His birthday cake was (of course) an ice cream cake. To make the day really special, he had an ice cream cupcake for breakfast, too. This is Aniyar's idea of heaven.
    Dinner and cake were followed by gifts, mostly Beyblade tops and accessories. Aniyar likes to duel his friends at recess in Beyblade battles; now he has an impressive collection. The gift he liked best was a new videogame and a used Nintendo DS (his original one died a few months back and he's been without...horrors!) One of his favorite computer games, Plants vs. Zombies, was just released for the DS so that was the big thrill. He danced all around the room when he got it...and I have to admit, even Mom likes this game. He also really enjoyed getting birthday cards in the mail from our relatives...and finding a little cash in them was even more exciting. (Thanks, everyone!)

    Our special boy had a happy day, full of fun and smiles. It was very ordinary as birthday celebrations go...and anyone who knows the struggles our boy had when he first joined our family knows how grateful we are for ordinary.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    My Yulia in Kazakhstan

    May 2010

    Tanya and Yulia, 2004
    This is my dear friend, Yulia, on her most recent birthday. I've known Yulia now for 7 years; she was our translator when we adopted Tanya but she quickly became much more than a service provider to us. Yulia and our driver, Jenya (who also happened to be Yulia's boyfriend) were our main support system during our stay in Kazakhstan. They drove us everywhere, kept us safe and helped us to communicate in a strange land, just what good adoption professionals normally do. Yulia, however, did so much more than her job. While we were adopting Tanya, Yulia adopted us.

    We've added 4 children from Kazakhstan to our family over the years and Craig and I have made 7 trips to Kaz. Our Yulia and her family have been our staunch supporters through thick and thin, not only helping us with communication but even providing us a place to stay. We've kept in touch between the adoptions as well, sharing big events in our lives via the web. When she and Jenya married, she made sure we had wedding pictures. When their son Vlad was born, Picasa web albums let us see him grow and change. As our kids have grown, Yulia has been able to celebrate their progress with us and pass on their successes to the orphanage they came from. Lately, we've even been chatting live via Skype. We swap recipes and share stories about our kids. Even though we live on opposite sides of the earth, we have kept in touch more like next door neighbors through the miracles of the internet...and I think maybe I've gotten spoiled.

    I hadn't heard from Yulia recently which isn't usual, especially at the holidays. I know that email is sometimes restricted in Kaz and I was worried.that the snafu with our email accounts could be the problem. I emailed Yulia from my trusty yahoo email account that has worked pretty well for us when we've been in KZ. I heard from her today and breathed a sigh of relief...but she also told me she can no longer access our blog:

    I followed your story till about mid of December when blogspots were restricted here. I don't know why but now I cannot get to your blog even through an anonymous website as I did before...

    I'm so sorry I cannot read your blog anymore, it feels as if I lost you somehow. I'm so used to read your news and find out what's going on with you. So I don't know what happened recently.

    Hope to hear from you soon,
    Miss you too,

    The world has gotten smaller via the web...but governments can make the distance between our countries impossible to bridge if they choose. What a shame...but friends will find a way to stay connected...even if it means a return to some serious intercontinental snail mail. I wonder how the Kazakh government feels about Facebook?

    Yulia, Jenya and Vlad, May 2010

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    New Year's Resolution

    There are quite a few resolutions I could make this year...things like eating healthier, taking up yoga, losing weight, and being better organized all come to mind...but the one resolution I've made for 2011 is to be more patient with my kids. (There, I've put it in print so I'm committed to it!)

    This may not sound like a big deal. After all, we're blessed with good kids in general so how hard can it be to exercise patience with them? I'm an adult, right? I understand that kids (especially teens) are learning, changing, and growing every day. I know that they need positive reinforcement and a calm, positive role model to help shape them into responsible adults who have good self-esteem. I know this...and I try...but all too often I fall short of the mark. This year, I'm resolved to do less yelling and lecturing and provide more positive direction. I'm really trying. Like the other morning...

    All the kids were in the Mom van for the ride to school except one. We waited for several minutes for the missing child to appear...when he did, he said he couldn't find his backpack. I rolled down the window and told him it was in the dining room. After several more minutes, he returned to the door and said he couldn't find his backpack. (Uh, yeah, that's what you were supposed to be looking for, right?) I jumped out of the car muttering something that sounded like a request for divine intervention and escorted said child on a search of the house. Nope, no backpack in the dining room. Hence the following discussion.

    Mom: You must have moved it...did you take it upstairs?  
    Son:  NO!!! I looked there and it's GONE!! 
    Mom (practicing deep, calming breaths): Well, let's look together.
    Son: It's not there!!! I told you!!! Someone stole it!!
    Mom: Really? What's that big backpack shaped thing on the floor of your room?
    Son: Oh.
    Mom (silently screaming in her head): AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    This morning wasn't much better. My youngest couldn't find his shoes.

    Son: Somebody maybe stole them, Mom!
    Mom (sighing):  Yes, I've heard there's a ring of smelly sneaker thieves on the rampage in our community...but just in case, why don't you look in the basement where you were playing videogames last night?
    Son: I look already!!! They not there!!! I tole you, somebody stole them!!!
    Mom (again with the calming breaths): Let's look together...hmmm, what are those next to the Wii?
    Son: Oh.
    Mom (silently screaming in her head): AARRGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

    I am woman. Hear me roar. I have a uterus, also known as a locator device for all things lost...just ask my kids. I am resolved to be a kinder, gentler, more patient mom in 2011...but my tongue sure hurts from biting it.               

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Email woes

    Remember the days when we didn't have cell phones or email accounts or any other electronic communication tethers? Remember when our only phone had a cord attached to our house and we shared the service with our neighbors on a party line? Remember when we still got handwritten letters in the mailbox attached to our house? I do...which just reveals how old I am, I guess...but I'm the first one to admit that I don't miss those good old days much.

    I love my cell phone and I'm pretty sure email and internet access make it possible for me to survive. That's why I'm struggling a bit at the moment. You see, our email access is frozen, the result of a series of nasty SNAFU's with our local cable company that began when we moved to our new house. We have a great bundle package that brings us our cable TV, our email accounts, our land line phone, and our internet access which works really well...until it doesn't...which would be now.

    If you're trying to reach any of us at our regular email addresses, the messages are disappearing into a black hole. Maybe someday we'll be able to retrieve them. We're working on it with our friends at Comcast. Until then, you can email me at (my alternate email account)...or you could write us a letter. How much are postage stamps these days anyway?

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Ringing in the new year...

    We've been doing a lot of celebrating right here at home and it didn't end with Christmas. Since Craig's birthday is December 30, we had an excuse to party for 3 days straight into the new year. We started with a b-day dinner of prime rib for Dad and our next door neighbor, Elizabeth. (Eliz was turning 30 and Craig...well, wasn't.)
    Don't you love the hats?

    Dinner was fun...even Max was in a festive mood!
    Max is rarely this silly

     The next night was New Year's Eve and we partied with our dear friends/neighbors, Rick and Deb. 
    Almost midnight!

    Rick and Deb with Craig and Tanya

    Max and Mary

    Hello 2011!

    New Year's Day, we hosted an open house...it was supposed to run from 11am-3pm...but it ended around 6:30 in the evening. I guess that's a successful party...and it was nice showing off our newly renovated home.

    We ate goodies and visited with friends and neighbors...and Madiyar coaxed our friend Vanessa to help him learn to play Beethoven on the piano. He loves Fur Elise and has dedicated himself to learning how to play it. He's getting pretty good.
    With all this partying, New Year's dinner had to wait until January 2 so Mom had time to make the traditional turkey croquettes. It was another family event filled with good food and laughter...let's hope the rest of the year follows suit!
    You know those Christmas cards I was hoping to get in the mail? Well, maybe next year...you're in our thoughts, faithful readers, even if the greeting didn't arrive by snail mail. From our house to yours...

    Happy New Year!!!