SIX Long Days

Sorry for the absence to my legion of 5 devoted readers, but last week me and my trio of cuteness were in survival mode. Daddy was out of town. He left Sunday morning before I usually am even out of bed and didn’t come back until bedtime on Friday night. Throw into the mix that the twins go to school at Daddy’s work which is 45 minutes from our house and Mommy had a long week. There are so many people who volunteered to help, but when they are already cranky because Daddy’s gone, throwing help into the mix just turns out to be more work because it messes up their schedule.
 
I realized at the end of the week when Daddy got back and wanted to know how things went, that the week can be summed up in pictures.
 
Day 1: Happy is not doing well. Imagine her saying, “I miss my Daddy.”

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Day 2: Picture my delight when not only do I get to drive for 90 minutes before I even get to work, but then have to drive 90 minutes after I’ve put in a full day. Imagine the utter delight added to it when the forecast was 100% rain. All Day.

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Day 3: My bright idea to help the girls cope was to let them take turns staying in Mommy’s bed. While they loved it, it meant that Mommy couldn’t really do much until the little one of the night was asleep. On Day 3, it was Cranky and she didn’t kick it until 9:30pm, 2.5 hours past her bedtime. Mommy did not get up after this!

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Day 4: It’s going downhill. Sweet Girl was on repeat on our drive to get the little ones, “But Mama, I’m so thirsty I’m going to die!” So I did what any parent in survival mode would do and sacrificed my Dr. Pepper.

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Day 5: I don’t know where this milk came from or how long it’s been here, but on Day 5, it smells like death. Since I’m in survival mode, it doesn’t make the cut of things to get taken care of on Day 5 (or 6) and instead I just pop a new air freshener in the car.

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Day 6: Someone snuck grape juice upstairs and then didn’t get the cap on tight before swinging the bottle around in a circle. Cleaning this while it was fresh did make the Day 6 cut.

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Since the airlines knew what was good for them, they allowed Daddy’s flight to be on time and he made it just in time for bedtime on Friday. Did I mention we had 25 people coming over for Sweet Girl’s 6th birthday party on Saturday at 11am?

Parenting for the WIN!

What happens when your child wants to pee in the grass? You say, “Sure sweetheart!”. When her sister tries to copy her and you aren’t looking, you get pee pee pants. When it’s 70* and you are outside playing and your replacement pants are 2 flights of stairs away, we just take off the pee pee pants and carry on about our business. Her business last night was pushing her baby doll stroller around the house in her rainboots.

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We won’t talk about what happened when we weren’t right there and they both decided they had to poop.

Happy 1st Russia Party Sweet Girl!

When we were in Russia, we collected several gifts to give to Sweet Girl every year on the anniversary of when she became ours forever. In November, we were sick around this anniversary, but we talked with her that soon we’d have a party with Russia things to celebrate her being in our family for a year. She started calling it her “Russia Party.” Time slipped away and she kept asking when her Russia Party was going to happen. I had all these grand plans and because I wanted to do it right, more weeks slipped by. Finally, I told her we’d have her Russia Party before her birthday. The day I had her birthday invitations printed I knew I better get on it!

We already had dinner with friends scheduled last week so I decided to bite the bullet and just combo our little get together with her Russia Party. A few cupcakes and a sign later and it was not the extravagant celebration in my mind, but she loved every second of it!

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The gift we chose to give her this year is a book that teaches kids numbers. There are lots of number games and puzzles in this book and even those it’s a book, the puzzle pieces come out and can be put together separately or in the spot in the book. So it’s Russian, but because she doesn’t speak or read Russian, she can still use it since numbers are universal.

20140328-100443.jpgSweet Girl, we are so over the moon in love with you! I can’t imagine my life without you. Your papa and I are so proud of all you have done in 16 months in our family. Your sisters adore you and you are so patient and so kind to them. You are the perfect fit for us.

You are almost done with your kindergarten year and everyone at your school loves you and protects you. You’ve had a few bumps learning how to be a good friend and learning that it’s okay to mess up. We remind you a lot that being kid means that it’s your job to mess up and try again and it’s our job to help you learn how to make good choices.

This morning I was telling you how super cute you looked in your pigtails and you were getting annoyed with me gushing on you. You finally said, “Is your brain on top?”  I asked if you meant, “Is your brain on today?” and you said, “Yeah, that’s it!”.

I am looking forward to being your mama for as many days as God blesses me with the honor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you want to build a garden? (Part 2)

My predictions have come true. I’m spending so much time on garden stuff, I can’t even find time to blog about garden stuff!

In good news though, my little seeds have mostly all sprouted so I’m spending my time watering and monitoring temperature!

When I last left you in Part 1, I was just getting ready to make a couple hundred little newspaper pots. I successfully made my little pots and this time used a brick of seed starting material and added water to that. It was SO MUCH easier and I got about half of a 5 gallon bucket of material with about 2 minutes of work. Once again, I used a play kitchen measuring cup to put about 1/4 cup of soil in each little newspaper pot. I then grouped all the pots of each variety into 1/2 steam trays. I got a pack of like 50 at Costco for about $4.50 and we use them for so many things when I need a disposable pan! I use them for BBQ’s and taking burgers and dogs off the grill. I use them to collect glitter and mess in kids crafts. I even helped Sweet Girl learn to tie dye in one recently!

If you recall, I started with all of my little seeds in my craft room.

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Eventually, he made me a shelf in the garage and outfitted me with a 8′ florescent light. We put the strongest florescent bulbs in it to simulate sunlight. The bulbs put off very little heat compared to an incandescent bulb, so I took some batting scraps from a recent quilt project and wrapped the shelf to provide some insulation. I was still a little worried about the heat, but if you put your hand into the box, it’s about 10-15 degrees warmer than the ambient air. Since it’s our downstairs garage and it’s closed in on 3 sides by the ground, it was maintaining about 50-55 degrees so keeping the seedlings at 60-70 degrees is a little cool, but should be fine. If you didn’t know and just walked into the garage, you might be a little confused as to what the heck the glowing shelf is!

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I had some sheets of 12×12 thin steel so I lined them up across the back of the shelf. I think this helps reflect the light and also the heat.

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I was super worried about heat loss so for access I cut these slits into my batting. I then covered the whole slitted section with another square piece of batting. So, to access, you fold up the “door” and then fold back the slitted access.

 

 

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CORN! These guys have shot up about an inch a day and are now at 4″!  The other benefit of using the newspaper pots is there is no transplanting involved and I can just plant the pot as is. I still didn’t risk planting seeds like carrots who are super picky about getting their roots disturbed. I’ll direct sow those. And I’ll direct sow the herbs since I want them to fill up some areas and I don’t care as much about them. I might plant some herbs in newspaper pots too so if anyone local wants mint or oregeno or cilantro or whatever else I might have bought let me know and I’ll put your name on a pot!

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In the meantime, we got a nice afternoon and he worked on the picket fence. We still need to repair one whole section that is missing and then add in the rodent netting. But this is our garden. The pallets are being stored for one brother and both brothers helped me till. It’s on the SE side of the house and gets spring sun about 10 hours a day. I figure in summer, it’ll get 11-12 with some morning and late afternoon shadowing because of the fence.

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Water access in the garden!

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Electrical access in the garden!

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The only thing in the ground right now is the strawberries. I made sure not to bury the root head part, but I still need to mulch. Google tells me I can use straw, but I am thinking I might try to find some rubber mulch. Not sure if I will have things leaking into the soil with the rubber? Do I have any other options for keeping the berries off the ground? I know strawberry farms use plastic, but since these little guys aren’t established, I want to leave some room for some little runners to come up.

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Next on the schedule: Get the blueberries and raspberries in the ground! I’ve had them for about 11 days and I know they are getting to the end of having their roots wrapped in paper towels and misted. But, since they will be planted along the fence, I need the rodent protection up first so we don’t disturb the plants while we attach it.

I’m also watering my little seedlings every day. They are taking up much more water than I expected. I’m not sure if it’s just the warm box I put them in, or if it’s normal, but the one time I skipped a watering night, the next night, the soil was almost completely dry on top. In both my systems I have an excellent way of making sure they aren’t over watered. In the little trays, the top tray lifts off and there is a water reservoir on the bottom. It’s been dry every night in all trays. In the newspaper trays, clearly, the water that isn’t needed will leave through the bottom of the pot. Since I have no pooling water and the newspaper is drying out up top, the watering nightly is a necessity as well.

Community advice – when and how do I thin these seedlings? i.e. I planted the broccoli seeds in a little row and some cells have 4-5 little shoots. I would assume I should remove 3-4 of them and go for one healthy plant per cell? Do I try to pull them or do I clip them? Do I need to wait until they get bigger? Do I need to worry about thinning the dahlia’s? I want them to grow big and bushy – will thinning them now mean they get bigger later or should I let them all have at it? I don’t know if they are stealing resources from each other right now or not!

I think our last frost just passed, but I’m likely to wait until mid-april to plant my seedlings and herbs just in case!

Lost childhood

Up until a month ago, this picture, dated 9.6.10 (it’s tag is european dated) was the earliest we had of our sweet girl. I cherished it and all it represented, but I secretly prayed for a baby picture of her. How many times in your life have you referenced your baby picture? How many times when you were in school did you have to bring in a copy for some project or another? I didn’t want sweet girl to go through any trauma with not having a picture of herself before 18 months.
Our brave girl has been home for 18 months now and I thought again that I’d try to do the research to find baby house pictures. I try every couple of months but never had any luck finding anything older than this picture.
But then, I found a girl. She posted a picture on an outdated web journal years ago.
Do you see her? Do you see my sweet girl? She is down in the bottom left. A couple more inches and she wouldn’t have even made the picture. Even with this tiny snipet, I knew it was my girl. Afterall, I’m her mama. More web sleuthing (all in Russian btw), resulting in me finding this girl’s VK account (Russian facebook). I messaged her in English and Russian and introduced myself. I begged her for more pictures.
God heard my pleas and through this sweet angel of a girl, we received these:
Joy doesn’t even begin to describe it. These were pictures of my baby in her baby house. This meant they were pre-2010!
My angel wasn’t done though. She then sent these:

The one in the stroller I believe is the earliest pictures. I’d estimate that she’s 4-5 months old in this one. Do you see her little hands? At almost 6 years old they are the exact same. She’s a skinny little kid, but her little fingers are still chubby like that. She still has the same ears and the same cheeks. And she still has the same look in her eyes. It’s my baby.

Where to begin?

Let’s see, since I last updated our sweet girl turned 5! We had a jampacked summer full of so much fun! We moved. We went to the beach. We stayed up too late catching fireflies with Russian friends. We went to the zoo. Sweet girl had her first overnight trips to Annie’s house. We went to the mountains for the 4th. We played in the lake. We went fishing. We hung out with friends. We played in the pool. We played in the backyard. We went to Jaime’s wedding in PA. Sweet Girl started Kindergarten. She had her first sleepover at a friend’s house. We took some family pictures. We played ring around the rosie in a field.

Sweet girl is beyond fluent in English. She can count to 50. She knows her ABC’s and can identify the majority of her letters. She knows all her vowels and the sounds they make.

She is memorizing bible verses and hearing her little Russian accent tell me about doing to others just undoes me. It’s precious. Her fine motor skills are advancing – she can now draw pictures with purpose and write her letters. She’s getting a steady hand with the pearler beads.

She’s a wonderful big sister who loves to play with Cranky and Happy. She’s mostly patient with them, but has no problem tattling. She believes in fairness and equality and the most disruptions occur when she thinks one of those has been broken.

She LOVES to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and up until this week could care less about anything else on TV, but in the last couple days she has said she likes Doc McStuffins. She went from being terrified of animals to letting Annie’s doggies lick her and run with her.

She’s getting less picky on food. She’ll eat almost anything these days except most vegetables (tomatoes are still a hit) and chicken. Spaghetti and macaroni are still the favorites. Her hair has grown 6”, but because it’s corkscrew curls, it doesn’t look like that much. When it’s wet, it’s partway down her back. She loves baths with her sisters, but prefers showers alone.
She has gained 9 pounds. She is a solid 4T in the waist now, but is still tall for a 5 year old so pants are still a challenge. Thank goodness for Gap slim fit with adjustable waist! She just had her first ear infection. The rest of the house had a little cold we thought she avoided, but she must have caught it enough to have some fluid in her ears that got infected.
Saturday is the one year anniversary of Sweet Girl being officially ours in Russia! We didn’t get to pick her up for several more weeks and we didn’t get to the US until 11/18, but she was ours!

Sleep Tight

For the three and a half months Sweet Girl has been home now, she has slept on a small cot just beside the bed in mama and papa’s room. Having spent her entire life sleeping dormitory style with at least 10 other children in a row of beds, we knew sleeping in her own room, her own bed, would be a big adjustment to overcome. We could not force her to spend those first scary nights alone in her room and we didn’t want to start the habit of her ending up in our bed, so the cot became a familiar extension of the comfortable little pallet on the floor she took to so well to those first couple of unfamiliar nights with us in an Moscow hotel room.
We had fully prepared to begin transitioning her to her own bed when she showed signs of attachment. She had spent some time napping in it during the day, so it wasn’t totally foreign. However, due to many outside circumstances and for a variety of reasons, we have found ourselves selling our house and gearing up to move the family onto a much better situation for everyone. Despite her doing so remarkably well with her adjustment, we have been careful to prepare her for every change and implement them slowly. We knew that moving would be a huge obstacle to her attachment and adjustment. With awareness of that, we decided not to push and not to change the familiar sleeping arrangement she was accustomed to until we were settled in the new house. Of course, this wasn’t an easy decision for us since one of us (9 times out of 10, mama) has been with Sweet Girl every night from her bedtime at 8pm to when she falls asleep, with no break, since picking her up that night in Russia from the orphanage.  Because of this, our available free time together is limited to 7pm-8pm – when the twins go to bed to when Sweet Girl needs to go to bed. It’s hard since we work all day and need time in the evening to reconnect and be still together for a moment without children.
But last night, a break through… rather, a miracle! Sweet Girl, of her own accord, asked to go “nite-nite” in her big girl bed. We were a bit startled and caught off guard, but welcomed any chance. So we quickly gathered the baby monitor and set a trail of ambient light leading from her room downstairs to the open door of our bedroom and said have at it! We talked about the house being quiet and about how she could go to mama and papa’s room if she got scared. After several testing bathroom breaks, she went to sleep in her very own bed by herself! That sleep continued until 3:30am when we were awakened unexpectedly by a toddler bedside in our room. No warning, no noise on the baby monitor, nothing, just a little person whispering “mama!”. We directed her to lay on her cot and all quickly went back to sleep and that was that. When we asked her in the morning what happened, her only answer was “scared”. That however doesn’t seem to deter her as she remains adamant about wanting to go to sleep in her room again. So as I write this, I’m upstairs just outside her room, quiet, watching her on the webcam trying to repeat last night’s brave performance!Morning update: She made it until 5:50am and then came downstairs. She didn’t want to lay in her cot and instead knee’d mama and papa in their kidneys until we were all up for the day at 6:15am.

We have 6 more weeks in our house so we’ll see how she does! She’s very proud of herself and excited so I think she’ll do just fine!

Sweet, precious, spunky, brave girl.

A Tour of Vladimir, Russia

So I had the idea of putting together this post now that Sweet Girl is home and we can speak more openly about her heritage. I’ve had many people curious about where she came from and I wanted to put together a little showcase to give you a better understanding of her town and heritage, which we hope we can preserve as an important part of her.
Sweet Girl was born in a small town near Vladimir and when she was about 18 months old was transferred to the Vladimir Baby House which is where we found her.
Being the capital of the region, Vladimir is a good size city of around 300,000 (not all that much bigger than where we live in the US).  Though not a common tourist destination, Vladimir is part of the “Golden Ring” of ancient Russian cities, has several ancient cathedrals, and its heritage dates back to 900AD. In fact, the Grand Prince was crowed in Vladimir’s Assumption Cathedral up to 1200AD when this was moved to Moscow’s Kremlin and the famous Assumption Cathedral there which was loosely modeled after Vladimir’s.
Old bridge of some historical relevance, though I’m not sure what exactly. As seems to be customary in Europe, locals would affix “love padlocks” to the rails of this bridge.
McDonalds, the only familiar sign of western civilization we encountered in Vladimir. Even though most Russian’s could understand simple English and use a few broken words, we hardly ever encountered anyone to which we could carry on a conversation with in Vladimir. ATMs that would exchange money were common enough (most only in Russian), but paying with credit cards of any variety was not common and most transitions occurred in cash. This McDonald’s was one of the few places we found both credit card machines and an English picture menu.
Assumption Cathedral (1160)
The principle church during Vladimir’s reign as political capital of Russia and where the grand prince was crowned before this responsibility shifted to Moscow’s Kremlin
Back view of Assumption Cathedral.
Monument to Prince Vladimir I and Fyodor the monk in Pushkin Park.
Building of the Gubernia’s Administration (1785)
Sits between the Assumption Cathedral and St. Demetrius’ Cathedral.
Housed local administration during Soviet era.
Now home to the Art Gallery and Hall of Pre-Revolutionary Estates. Seems as though it was undergoing renovation

St. Demetrius’ Cathedral (1197)
View perched atop Vladimir vantage point overlooking the Klyazma River
Muronskaya Bridge and Klyazma River leading to Suzdal I believe.
The Northern Trade rows (aka “the mall”).

Located within walking distance of our hotel in downtown Vladimir, this supplied us with a grocery store and all the shopping necessities we needed.

Golden Gates (1163).
Located in the city center, these gates once marked the entrance to the city and were an impenetrable fortress.
More local architecture
Trinity Church (1913)
Vladimir Oblast assembly hall
I believe this is the site where the Tartar-Mongol hordes breached Vladimir’s defenses in 1238. The city has struggled to recover since then in the limelight of Moscow.
19th century water tower. Houses the Museum of “Old Vladimir”.
View of the Assumption Cathedral and Pushkin Park from afar.
What trip to Russia would be complete without your local Vodka factory?
A typical Vladimir street and city horizon
A Vladimir side street.
View from afar of what I called Vladimir’s industrial area we drove past everyday on the way to the orphanage. What you see isn’t a nuclear power plant, but rather a thermal one that produced power and steam for the town. Large steam pipes snaked their way above ground all over the town between buildings as the primary source of heat for the winter.
Entrance to Sweet Girl’s orphanage… down a narrow, rough alley between two high rise apartments adjacent to some sort of military installation. Located about a 10 minute car ride from our hotel in downtown, the orphanage was on the outskirts of town in a noticeably more poverty stricken area than the old world that surrounded us in the city center.
The main gate to the orphanage. This would be locked after 5:00. The entire orphanage grounds was surrounded by a rather creative fence built entirely from rebar.
Once inside “the compound”, the building located in the center was 2-story designed in an “H” configuration with a groupa living in each of the 4 quadrants and common area in the middle. Her  groupa lived in the far quadrant you see pictured above.
The Google earth image shows square “H” style building located in the middle of the high rise apartments. The red line shows the path we took everyday between the two buildings (pictured above) and down the alley to the orphanage. The large complex below the orphanage was some sort of military/police training grounds though I don’t know what. Vladimir is home to the 27th Guards Missile Army and the Strategic Rockets Forces, the latter commands the Soviet nuclear fleet.
The rather square “H” style building was surrounded by 4 playground areas at each of the four corners. The kids would rotate around from play area to play area with the exception of one quadrant that seemed to be overgrown and off limits (see our trip 1 report about the forbidden slide). The vibrant colors seen here were a staple throughout in insides of the orphanage perimeter.
Here is the driveway leading back out of her orphanage to the alleyway. Every morning we would get dropped off here.
View of the high rise apartments that surround the orphanage grounds and tower over them. I often describe the orphanage as an “oasis” in the middle of otherwise run down apartments that would be best described in our culture as ‘projects’.
We hope to one day go back here with Sweet Girl and let her take it all in. We tried to document our experience through pictures and videos as much as we could since we imagine she won’t remember much of it. We are thankful for this place and this staff for doing their best with what they have. Just in talking to them and seeing the grounds, the care and attention they try to give the kids is palpable. But when I see how much Sweet Girl has blossomed with just 3 months of love and focused attention, my heart breaks for the 40 other kids we left behind here and the millions of others in less friendly orphanages and on the streets around the world. No matter how great this place was, NOTHING replaces a family for a child.

3 months home

Sweet Girl has been home officially 3 months now – we can hardly believe it! Seems like it has been much longer, not only from our perspective of adjusting to being new parents again, but she has been picking up things at a phenomenal pace and I forgot just how little time she’s spent here. Mama got the same stickers we used to chronicle the girls first 12 months of life to chronicle Sweet Girl’s first 12 months home. Unfortunately, life has been so busy, blogging Sweet Girl’s progress has been difficult to say the least. I don’t know if we’ll ever catch up, but we hope to do better in filling everyone in. You might even see a few posts I started from a month or two ago pop up out of chronological order.
Now 3 months home, Sweet Girl is understanding almost 100% of our instructions in English. She is speaking a version of Rusglish.. Russian with English nouns and adjectives scattered in. Its sometimes difficult to decipher whether she’s speaking English or Russian. She is learning more and more everyday and it often only takes her a single time hearing something before she’s repeating it again. She is completely comfortable in our house and with the twins. She continually wants to help with her sisters, whether its with bath time, unbuckling them from their car seats, or giving them food. She sometimes tries to take on a disciplinarian role with them which we try not to encourage.
Words she’s saying in English include:
i love you
Jesus
more
all done
mama
papa
Cranky
Happy
teacher
school
Lollyhop (bunny at school)
french fries
soup
chicken
macaroni and cheese
apple
orange
banana
yogurt
chocolate
ipad
water
juice
milk
please
thank you
car
bath
shampoo
monkey
doggie
kitty cat
shirt
pants
shoes
jammies
icky
oops
mess
baby/babies
hit
house
next
careful
dangerous
one
two
three
four
five (and counts them)
she can spell the letters of her name
and tons more I’m sure I’ll remember later!She’s doing an excellent job of stringing things together including “lollyhop school” and “more apple please”. And when it relates to tattling on her sisters she’s excellent at “mama babies no please” and “papa cranky no my room”In the interest of getting the update out, heres some random pics with no organization! Most are of her first day at school!