Thursday, January 29, 2009

Our Chinese New Year 09

This year we decided to celebrate Chinese New Year with Josie's preschool class. Because of snow days, our celebration was delayed until today. I will say, right here at the start, that teachers are not paid enough. After just an hour of directing the class in making Chinese Lanterns - I was beat!

We started with circle time. I read this book to the class:

(sorry for the flash glare!)

This book does a beautiful job of explaining the preparations and traditions of the Chinese New Year. It details the traditional foods associated with the holiday and their meanings. The pictures are colorful and large. Excellent for preschoolers.

Once I read the book, we moved to tables and made our Chinese lanterns. We started by decorating the paper with Chinese stamps of bamboo leave; symbols for happiness, wealth, and love; cherry blossoms; and fans. Then we used our safety scissors to cut the paper, glued the edges together and stapled on the handles.

Once the lanterns were done, I showed the kids what was inside their "Chinese take-out gift box". We gave them a tangerine (for a sweet life); a Chinese Noise maker (to wake up the dragon so he could bring on the Spring rains); a traditional 'red envelope' with a gold $1 coin inside (for wealth/prosperity); some Haw Flakes (a Chinese pressed fruit wafer/candy and two pieces of 'Good Luck' candy.

The kids were thrilled when they found out they got candy AND money. Bonus day, no doubt! We then posed for a photo while shouting "Gung Hay Fat Choy!"

Here's a final shot of Josie showing off her beautiful New Years dress:

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Witnessing History

Maddie and I were two in about 2 million citizens who ventured into Washington DC today to see the inauguration of President Obama. I felt it was important that we both witness this historic event in person. Since we live so close to Washington, it wasn't much of a task. We purchased special train tickets for the Inauguration over the Christmas break. Trains were Reserved Seating only.

Every bridge going into Washington from Maryland & Virginia was closed. Every Metro station within a 2 mile radius of the Capitol was either closed or 'Exit Only'. Only buses, limousines, taxis, and official government vehicles were allowed to travel on the city streets. I cannot tell you how eerie it was to see this site:

This is the 395 (which cuts right through DC) at 2PM.

Unbelievable! We were able to grab a spot relatively close to the Capitol to watch the festivities. We were just below 3rd Street. This was the closest area the general public could watch the 'swearing in' without a ticket. If you look at next few photos, you can see the inaugural platform right behind the JumboTron. We were about 3 city blocks back from there.

This is what it looked like from where we stood:

In Front of Us

Behind Us.

Security was incredible - even for Washington. Here's a photo of the snipers on top of the National Gallery of Art:

There were sharpshooters on the roof of every building lining the Mall. On the ride up on the train, there were Dept. of Homeland Security police, TSA police, local police and police dogs patrolling the aisles of the train, the stations and the crowds waiting in line.

It was 'cold as all get out'. Air temperature was about 25 degrees with a 10-15 mph wind blowing the whole time. You would think that as crowded as it was, you wouldn't feel the wind. You would be wrong. We froze our butts off! I had on silk long underwear, a turtleneck, jeans, a polar fleece jacket and my hooded winter coat over all that. We had those 'hot hands' chemical heating packs in our pockets and shoes. Of course, the ones for the shoes didn't work and we walked like we had club feet after 5 hours of standing in the freezing temps.

But, as you might expect, the crowd was lovely. Everyone around us was polite, happy to be freezing, helpful, and downright giddy once the ceremony started. I watched a gentleman next me, with his father by his side, break into tears as President Obama took the oath of office. Women to my right hugged, with tearful eyes. It was a very emotional moment. You could hear a pin drop as the crowd listened to President Obama's speech. I was amazed. And, really thankful to live in a country where the change of government is celebrated in harmony and goodwill. I never forget that in some countries, wars are launched over election results. I could go on for hours about the funny and kind people we met today. Everyone was just incredibly thrilled to be there, able to witness history in the making. It is a day I will not soon forget.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bloat, Sweat & Tears

Pictured above: Brady, Lisa, Heidi & Maddie - Summer '08

A really important part of my life started last February when, with a desire for fitness, I sought out a personal trainer. We have belonged to our gym since it opened in February of 07, but I wasn't getting a lot out of our membership. Sure, I'd go in a few times a week and use the elliptical machine (and the awesome Kids Zone for Josie), but beyond that, not much.

Fate brought me my darling Lisa. The fitness manager assigns trainers based on fitness goals and age - seeking to hook up client and trainer that would be a good fit personally as well as professionally. Boy, we were we a good fit! Lisa and I are of similar background and temperament. And, we were both in new & challenging chapters of our lives.

Last February, Lisa had just begun a relationship with a gentleman named Dave. At the same time, I was recovering from my decades long relationship with cigarettes. I was ready to take on a new challenge. For 3 months, Lisa and I met 3 times a week to work out. In April, she encouraged me to begin cycling classes (spinning classes, to some). I loved it! Once our sessions ended, we remained friends.

During that same time, I watched Lisa become a wife to Dave, a widower, and take on the enormous job of becoming a Step-Mom to his two teenagers. Brady & Heidi are fantastic kids who we just adore.

Our conversations revolved around the joys and challenges of trying to steer our kids through their teenaged years. Heck, sometimes we just wondered out loud how we would survive the teenaged years! In addition, while still newlywed, Dave was sent by his company to work in the Green Zone, in Baghdad. Lisa had a baptism by fire - being the sole parent left behind to manage the house and family life. She and the kids did great! After sharing many family milestones together (Maddie's graduation, Lisa's professional awards, cookouts, etc) I can truly say I have a REAL friend.

So, let me brag on my friend for a minute... Lisa was named 'Trainer of the Year' last year. She also trained the winning team in our gym's version of the 'Biggest Loser'. It was a company wide (8 locations) competition with a Blue Team and a Red team for each gym. Lisa's team lost over 300 pounds in 5 months! Her 'Loser' team and most of her other clients all met on Saturdays for the 7:15AM cycling class. I found two of her 'Losers', Skip & Ken, to be especially inspirational.

In November, our gym started another competition called 'Jump Start'. Lisa teamed me up with two seriously funny individuals, Lisa & Lynn, and we became the "Shut the Front Door" team. So named because of our predilection for 'salty' language during strenuous workouts. We worked out as a team for 6 weeks (Nov 6-Dec 14), and had a great time. I don't know how our team fared in the competition, but I was pleased with my own results - I lost 9 pounds during the competition and also posted my personal best during a 2 hour Thanksgiving morning cycling class (in 2 hours I rode 43 miles). I credit Lisa, with her never ending support and encouragement, for all the fitness improvements I've made in the past year.

I also credit Lisa with helping me make new friends and letting me see that extending myself to other people is not such a scary thing. She is an absolute lovey and someone I am so glad to have in my life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mom Conversations

The above photo is of my friend, Sharon and her youngest daughter, Lauryn Grace. Sharon and I met when our daughters (Josie and Meghan) were assigned to the same preschool class. You've seen photos of Meghan and Josie together on this blog - they are members of the 'preschool posse'.

I should first explain that we call the girls in the preschool class a 'posse' for a very good reason. These little girls are not a clique, they are not 'buddies' - they are truly a group of individuals that acts as a whole, with nothing but loving intentions. I have never seen anything like it before in my life. ALL the girls in this class LOVE each other. When we walk into the classroom they greet each other with hugs - no one is left out. They all light up at the sight of one another. They don't fight, they don't compete. They stick up for each other - ALWAYS. I think this is a huge credit to all of their parents who are raising these amazing girls in such a caring manner.

The Moms of our class are a funny, accomplished group with no pretense. Very easy to be around. The Dads, too, are highly visible - they come into the class to read or to teach the kids about their professions. (Our firefighter Dad was a HUGE hit during fire prevention month!) It's just a really nice place for both the kids and their parents to be...

Which brings me to the conversation Sharon and I had last night. Sharon has 3 daughters. Lauryn will be heading to preschool next year, Megan will move up to the 4's preschool and Caitlyn will be going into the 2nd grade. Sharon is a very active Mom - she's the one who organized the first 'Mom's tea/play group' gathering. She is also a volunteer at Caitlyn's school. She's the Mom that never forgets gift bags for the kids on ALL the holidays, always volunteers, always extending herself to make a new friend. I really admire her.

Yesterday we got the notice that preregistration for next year would be on January 16th. Though all of our children are guaranteed a spot, it's the days of the week that are first-come-first-served. Meaning, the 4 year olds have the option of MWF 8:30-11:30; MWF 12:00-3:00; or M-F 8:30-11:30. Sharon and I were discussing what would be best given our girls level of maturity, other family considerations and preferred days of the week. Both Meghan and Josie are ready for the 5 day program. Heck, If you asked James, he would tell you that Josie is ready to go right into kindergarten! I, on the other hand, want her to be my baby forever!

Sharon's quandary lies with what she will tell Lauryn when she sees both of her older sisters heading off to school everyday and she only goes three days... (she laughed out loud when I suggested, "Um, how about you tell her she doesn't have school on those days." ) It's apparent that I am totally ignorant to the logistical nightmare of getting 3 daughters under the age of 8 out of the house in the morning!!

While Sharon detailed her morning routine, her wish to continue volunteering, and other commitments (CCD classes for Caitlyn, ballet for all 3, etc), I tried to convince her that having Megan in the 5 day program and Lauryn in the 3 day program would give her so much more 'me' time. Time to go grocery shopping, time to volunteer, time to just sit down and read a magazine in quiet for an hour. That lead us to the 'maternal guilt' discussion.

Earlier in the day I had been listening to Dr. Robin Cook on the 'Oprah and Friends' radio station. Her topic was 'self care' vs. 'selfishness'. Dr. Robin's discussion focused on the fact that, for many women, the two are indistinguishable. A lot of women feel 'selfish' if they take that 'me' time. Even though, it has been proven, that just that one hour or half hour a day, makes us feel more energetic and able to give even more of that energy to our families.

I know how Sharon feels. When Maddie was little and I HAD to work, it was a constant internal battle. How could I be there for all the 'important' stuff in my daughter's life when I had to work 9 hours a day? How would she even know that I was her mother if other people were feeding her, caring for her? Guilt, Guilt, Guilt. Taking time for myself wasn't an option. Every spare minute I had was poured into being with Maddie. After a while, it takes it's toll.

I have always been a HUGE proponent of ROUTINE. I believe that routine comforts a child, gives them boundaries and makes them much happier & well rested individuals. What was missing from my earlier routines was that 'me' time. The time to take a deep breath. It was a while before I could incorporate THAT into my routine. It's hard. My friend, Sharon, gives so much to others - I'm convinced that she would benefit so greatly from some personal time.

Sharon & I are blessed with great husbands who are actually great Dads. Both James, and Sharon's husband, Bobby, love taking off with the kids on the weekends or helping out around the house while 'tag teaming' the child care. So, it is possible to take personal time and not feel guilty about leaving the kids behind.

We ended our conversation with more unanswered questions but I promised to help out in any way I can. Also, we acknowledged that how our kids are today is not how they will be 9 months from now when a new school year begins. They will mature, become a bit more self sufficient. Hopefully, Sharon and I will continue to build up our confidence in our ability to balance all the joys and challenges that come our way.

Speaking of 'personal time'... mines about to end as there is a little monkey child pulling on my arm. It seems I must come and play Barbies now.

Take Care.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year

Maddie and Friends celebrating the New Year at our local 'First Night' event.

Happy New Year one and all! I hope everyone is as excited about the New Year as I am! We had a wonderful Christmas - shared with my parents who surprised us with a last minute visit. We had been asking them to come to Virginia for the holiday, but they didn't think they could for a number of reasons. I got a call from my Mom on the morning of Dec. 23rd asking if the invitation was still open. Of course it was! She asked me to keep their arrival a secret - they wanted to surprise the girls. Well, all I can say is you should have seen Josie's face later that afternoon, when she woke up from her nap and her Grandmom was there waiting for her! Pure Joy! Here are some photos from our Christmas:

PopPop and Josie hand out presents:

Maddie loves her new iPhone!

Josie 'rock out' on her new Princess Guitar:

Josie is a total Grandmom's girl! That goes for both her grandmothers. In my family, the kids all go for PopPop - he's big fun. He teases, plays, jokes and basically acts just like one of them! Grandmom is quieter, more patient and all about kisses & hugs. Josie is much more quiet and shy than her sister or cousins. She prefers her Grandmom hands down above all of us. She tells her all the time that she needs to come Virginia and live with us. They play 'puppets' together - with Grandmom donning her tiara to play the Queen (Josie is a princess). They cook together, read together and cuddle. Needless to say, they are both in heaven when they are together.

Josie's MaMa (James' Mom) is also very close to her heart. MaMa is an active player and participant when Josie is around. She's also one of the few people that Josie will talk to on the phone. If you listen closely when Josie talks, you can see how she puts things together in her head... California equals MaMa and GungGung, Disneyland and Dave (James' dear friend for over 20 years) She is such a smart and loving child, I can't imagine what our lives would be like without her.

Maddie has also been such a source of pride these past few months. Her first semester of High School has been a combination of joy, worry, and maturity. The curriculum at her school is intense. She has been learning how to organize her work and time to achieve her goals. She has 8 classes: The Sacred Scriptures (religion); Algebra; English; Physics; World History; French; The Human Person (bioethics) and Dance. Her grades are good but she has trouble balancing her effort... straight A's in one course, and C's in another. When she focuses her energy on bringing up the 'C', her grades in the other classes start to falter. I worry constantly. But, I also remind myself (and James!) that it's all on her now. We can't sit in her classes for her or take her tests - all we can do is offer our help and hope for the best. It's hard letting go...

Maddie has made some wonderful friends at school. She has also begun dating! This is a strange and new world for James & me. We have a policy of 'no car dates' until she is 16. Meaning, she is free to have group outings or dates where we know where she going, how long she will be there, who will be present and we drop her off and pick her up. This is working out well. The young man she is currently 'dating' is a nice guy. They meet at one of our local coffee shops, attend teen concerts together and find other activities in our small downtown. He is respectful of Maddie and our rules. I won't go into any more detail because Maddie has been rather 'sensitive' about 'everyone knowing her business'. (Those of you with teenagers will understand this...)

Which brings me to explain that I am planning some changes for this site...

We've been going through a lot of changes here. I had given a lot of thought to continuing this blog. In all honesty, I really love having this blog to share photos of the girls with friends and family. Lately, however, all I've been doing is reporting and not really sharing any thoughts.

I started this blog back in 2005 while waiting for our referral for Josie. Back then, it was all about paperwork, preparation, anxiety over the wait and finally- getting our referral. It's been 3 years since we got 'The Call'. I received so much support from the adoption community - I've come to know some of those parents on a personal level and that has really enriched all of our lives.

It's always been about the kids. James and I have just been the background players to the true stars in our lives, Our Girls. But, now Josie is in pre-school and Maddie is in High School... and quite honestly, there isn't really that much to report when you take into consideration how routine our lives have become. Also, it's sometimes difficult to try to put a positive spin on teenage angst and toddler drama. I have always been afraid that if I shared my true thoughts or observations that I would end up offending someone. In trying to be somewhat diplomatic and impartial - I've neglected sharing a huge part of our lives.

James & I have made so many new friends this year. At this point in my life, I didn't expect to make any 'true, real friends'. I always felt that those friends whom I have know for a long time would understand me better, accept me and my thoughts more readily. I no longer feel that way. James and I have made friends who have become like family to us - and over the course of the past few years I've neglected to share details about these wonderful folks. I hope to remedy that with the changes I make with this blog - starting now. I hope to introduce all of you to the people who have brought us so much love and joy.

So, with that long winded explanation given, I'll tell you all that our blog will no longer be just about the girls. Though we are only a family of four, our extended family is huge! I can't wait to get started with the introductions and to share with you the whole canvas of our lives. I will be blogging much more frequently, so to those of you who check in regularly - Thanks for sticking with us.

Until next time....