That year I neglected to blog?

Ideally: I kept myself busy creating a behind-the-scenes, quirky/amusing/heartstring-pulling chronicle of our first year as a family of five, soon to be unveiled as a smashingly successful first book.

Realistically: That didn’t happen. I began figuring out how to flash-parent three kids/two kids and a young adult. And I remembered to wear clean undies, most of the time.

On the plus side, all of us are still in one piece, with negligible time spent in the hospital or in jail. I’m counting it a win. Life is all about finding the hidden bonuses.

September 11, 2013 marked our one-year anniversary of reuniting as a family, on Latvian soil. Adoptive families have different ways to mark their “gotcha days”. I decided ours would be the day we stepped out of our adoption coordinator’s car at our kids’ foster home, a small working farm where I have more than once wished I could live. My son was harvesting a crop of sugar beets. For real. Nastja and Alosa promptly kidnapped Lil to introduce her to Bruno the cow (now a tasty hunk of dinner living in the freezer), while Joe and I had the privilege of a translated conversation with the wonderful woman responsible for linking our kids to a more promising future.

I decided these were some excellent memories to reassign to a rather crappy date in history.

One of the issues I’ve been tackling is how to illuminate our life as an internationally-constructed, on-purpose, gritty-spicy family without oversharing (which I am wildly prone to do). Babies and dogs don’t give a crap if you exploit them. Teenagers? Hoo boy. They stash it in that steel-trap portion of their memory (where things like “clean the bathroom sink” and “bring your biology notebook home” decidedly do not live) and hold it against you pretty much forever, I suspect. Though after a year (or twelve) living with me, my kids’ brain traps are so crammed with parenting debacles they can’t possibly hold any more. License to continue motherly screw-ups, granted. Cha-ching.

At any rate, these are a few of the facts.

1. The 12-yr-old is a crackerjack babysitter.

She did not get this from me. I suspect her own after-school babysitter (whose six-year tenure with our family just ended) was a platinum-level mentor.

Somehow in the presence of small children, her mile-long patience and calm come out to play. It’s pure magic (and has more than once kept me from selling her off).

I swear, this moment was not staged.

I so much love the ponytails. And the thoughtful counting of cucumber seeds for science homework.

2. If you have any rodents in need of brain studies, we have the girl for you.

My oldest daughter (note the strategic use of “oldest”…a lot of effort went into our earning superlatives like that) spent part of her summer as a high school fellow in a (really, really cool) research lab. After less than a year here. I know.

The siblings were apparently discussing the finer points of neuroendocrinology here. That's what it looks like, and now it's on the Internet, so it must be true.

Finer points of neuroendocrinology being discussed between siblings here. That’s what it looks like, and now it’s on the Internet, so it must be true.

(Note the inverse correlation between astonishing scientific accomplishment and number of years parented under our roof.)

3. My son won this summer’s Best Tan Award (see above).

His sisters were peeved.

We *might* have forgotten to supply sunscreen or a hat during his week of baseball camp. Conclusive evidence is not available at this time, but feel free to judge.

4. Canine uselessness is at full staticity in our household.

As if this requires photographic evidence.

Painfully gratuitous photographic evidence.

“Chronically truant”, “illiterate”, “ne’er do well” are all applicable here, on a daily basis.

We did discover, quite by accident, that Jenna (the middle one) can fetch small stuffed animals. But only if she’s not too bored.

Extremely, extremely good for nothing.

The Road Less Traveled

It is entirely possible that I self-recycled that title from a previous post. You are much better than me at remembering that.

Does this give you an idea of where my brain is these days? I believe the value of all my brain cells combined would merit prime placement in end-of-aisle clearance at Target.

We are rolling right along in the game of life. We have been together now five months as a family. I absolutely have that barely-holding-my-head-above-water feeling, what with this flash parenting of teenagers. I keep telling myself I’ll have my act more together in time. One would hope.

There has been very little time for the Interwebs for me. As I keep telling my kids, I seriously doubt that anyone on their death bed is ever proclaiming that they should have  have spent more time on Facebook/less time sitting down to dinner with their family. We’re making up for lost time (a collective 31 years, in this case). It’ll take awhile.

It’s fun to see our new kids carve out their new American lives. They are delightful, funny, intelligent people and I am immensely proud of them. Immigration and transition are a bear. It’s never, ever easy, but they are doing really well.

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Here’s us. Quite a many, if you ask me.

Here’s a small slice of the schizophrenia we call family.

Me, I’ve made some things.

This hair, for example. Do you like it?

It’s a bit of a hair riot, in my opinion. She’s much easier to spot in a crowd now.

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And we made these, but they’re all gone now.

Nastja and I loosely followed this recipe for the red velvet guts. We decided that the filling tasted a little like edible Play-Doh. But then we slathered it in chocolate and sprinkles and fixed that right up.

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They still make these, believe it or not.

In other news, since New Year’s Eve, we have watched the Beavis and Butthead movie two more times. All family members are up to speed now, thank heavens.

If you’re feeling the need to pee your pants laughing, come on over and I’ll get my 11-yr-old and her 14-yr-old brother to sing “Lesbian Seagulls” in falsetto.

Julia (mid conversation with 11-yr-old): “Look! Lesbian seagulls!”

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Flying high.

My son has gotten *really* into gymnastics. It’s awesome. I had no idea he’d come with this feature. The boy can flip! He’d probably swap a kidney for extra trampoline time.

Of course I should probably have a photo of him doing that. Pause for a moment, if you will, and feel all smug about the fact that you’ve documented your childrens’ upbringing so much better than I have. (Our cameras were stolen on the airplane home from our first trip to Latvia. Which was a big fat freaking bummer. Sigh.)

We’re doing. Oh, we’re doing. And living. And figuring out our groove as a family. Plus no one’s hemorrhaging AND nobody’s in jail. Rock on.

Among Other News…

The cheewawas enjoyed a little wardrobe change today.

Moody over-the-shoulder shot.

Moody over-the-shoulder shot.

Because what you were really wanting/needing/yearning for was another photo of my ridiculously small dogs dressed up.

The one in the baseball jersey has begun to break dance like the one in the hoodie.

Joe: “It’s like we’re living in one of those really bad horror movies where the babysitter moves in and tries to become the mother.”

Come to think of it, this is not our first life-becomes-art experience. Our attempt to secure takeout Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner was thwarted to the most bizarro degree (after a 45-minute wait the manager emerged from the kitchen, told us they were too backed up, gave us free Sprites, and refunded our money).

Heh. I said backed up.

Yep, the Beavis and Butthead references are alive and well here in our house.

So we took the only dining option that Columbus, Ohio offers at 10 pm on Christmas Eve: Speedway. (I’m not kidding here–even the 24-hour Meijer store was locked up tight.) Microwave burritos and frozen pizza, all around. Viva la fiesta.

Nastja (tucking into a bag of chips): “It’s just like those movies where the parents screw up and everyone has to eat gas station food on Christmas.”

She was right.

Better yet? We ate it again the next night.

Fortunately, teenagers and wannabe teens really never tire of gas station food.

Fast forward to present: I blew through three (3) boxes of funfetti this weekend on account of Cake Mix Cookie Bars. You’d think I’d have taken a photo before they became invisible. Honestly. I’m a work in progress.

So there we have it. Nutrition is at an all-time high and everyone has their clothes on most of the time. Come on over and hang with us.

Heheh. Hang.

Yeah. Conversational content? Freakishly intellectual. Come on over. You’ll see.

 

Hellooooo, 2013.

Happy New Year to everybody everywhere!

For my New Year’s gift, you can pretend I didn’t accidentally go all silent and unbloggy for entirely too freaking long. Really. Let’s all summon our best denial skills on my behalf.

THANK you! I needed that.

Remember the chihuahua/kid benders we went on in 2012? Our four add-on beating hearts are all still alive. (Hearty back-thump and smug self-satisfied grin for base-level accomplishment.)

The kids are far more interesting than the dogs.

The kids are far more interesting than the dogs.

That would be a butt dance that my first born is doing in the background. Yep, she’s the one I actually hatched.

And no, we didn’t adopt three. The little one is borrowed from time to time. That particular night, she  spotted Alosa’s birthday cake and refused to leave until she got some. I can only respect a girl who puts her foot down in defense of cake rights.

The acquisition of these ridiculous sweaters was about all they accomplished this year.

The acquisition of these ridiculous sweaters was about all they accomplished this year.

2012 went out with a bang for us. In the last two months, we had:

1. Two (2) week-long trips to Latvia to finalize our adoption and mint two spanking new U.S. citizens. Hot damn.

2. Our son’s 14th (!) birthday. Hotter damn.

3. Our daughter’s 18th (!!) birthday. Even hotter damn.

4. Oh, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Minor details.

Words cannot begin to describe the insanity of 2012. This year started out in such bizarro darkness, then brought so much magic.

I learned to roll with the punches, and to keep an open heart. Calamity is nothing if not incredibly interesting.

Most of all, I learned that God’s got my back. I sort of knew that before. This year, though, brought it into huge-arse plasma-screen definition for me.

(“Plasma screen” is probably way out of date now, isn’t it? Sigh.)

My kidfecta is, by and large, rockin’. They bring us, and each other, mucho happiness a whole lot of the time. A particular highlight of the holidays for me was seeing Nastja and Alosa meet their new grandparents. So kind and respectful.

My new daughter has both a big heart and desire to make a difference in the world, so we spent her birthday morning packing food boxes for the elderly at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. I had a momentary fantasy of quitting my day job to do factory work.

[Oh ye heavenly gods who could actually mess with my gainful employment? That was a fake wish made in the glow of helping.]

Life's a party. Particularly after you've packed food boxes for the elderly.

Life’s a party, even when your little sister doesn’t think so.

Our son's new remote control care came with life lessons for you and me.

Our son’s new remote control care came with life lessons for you and me.

My New Year’s Eve was awesome. While my daughters babysat, we learned to play Skip-Bo (where has that game been all my life?) and introducing our son to the finer points of Beavis and Butthead.

Alosa: “Do you need pee pee for your butthole?”

Julia: “Actually, if you’re really going to rock Cornholio, it’s ‘tee pee’ and ‘bunghole’.”

I don’t correct the English very often, but sometimes a mother needs to step in.

My 2012 acrobatic accomplishments were rock-bottom minimal, but we did manage to squeak this move in at the very end of the year.

Woo loo loo!

Woo loo loo!

In the interest of starting 2013 off right, I hauled my butt out of bed and went to yoga this morning, thankful for the marked absence of hangover.

Here is a real-life shot of my train.

This is what the subway looked like this morning.

I did not place this prop. Swear.

May 2013 bring you everything you’ve wished for and more. And may you never leave your sparkly hat behind.

Election Day Facts 2012

All the minutiae, none of the politics.

1. It’s official: we’ve got buncha kids!

Nastja and Alosa said two big! fat! yesses! to the Latvian orphan court officials yesterday (i.e., they want to join our family forever), which means I can officially toss off phrases like, “My older kids,” “*One* of my daughters,” “My son,” “My youngest,” and so forth.

Which I will do. Exhaustively.

The straight dope: From the get-go, I really wanted two more kids, as well as a girl and a boy. Over the past two and a half years, however, our hosting-to-adoption journey took so many funky twists and turns that I turned in that wish, figuring it wasn’t worth pushing our luck.

Apparently there were take-backs on that wish.

Last year at this time, we were in heavy pursuit of one more daughter, who then became one less daughter. When I returned said daughter to Latvia (in deepest darkness–oof), our adoption coordinator asked me if we’d consider adopting again, and if we’d consider two.

“I just met two wonderful kids and I think they’d be good for your family,” she said.

“Uuuuum…,” I replied. (Those of you who have experienced a failed adoption can understand why my brain at that moment was about as functional as a pile of wet sawdust.)

“How old are they?” I asked. (Thinking I might be better to stick to adopting hamsters and hermit crabs.)

“Twelve or thirteen and…seventeen or eighteen,” she replied.

You have got to be kidding me, thought me, trotting back to my hotel to dig into a hearty continental breakfast, Latvian style.

God: “What’s that you say, Julia? You want two? And a boy? And you think the concept of adopting older kids is ninja and cool?”

(Tosses giftie down my way, snickering from the sky.)

Most of these are mine! Do you like them?

2. After observing one of the chihuahuas eat a piece of squash off its own pee pad tonight, the 11-yr-old and I disowned them altogether, for forever.

I don’t think they noticed. They’re a bit dim.

Want one? We’ve got extras. I’ll throw in the little jackets for free.

3. My son has goals.

It has to be true: it’s on our goal board.

Ever seen the movie 17 Again, where Zac Efron eats that crazy sandwich packed with stuff like squirt cheese and corn chips? Yep, we’ll be making that.

I’ll probably make one for myself. There’s Nutella involved as well.

It must run in the genes. I once planned an entire vacation around the movie Sideways. Go to the Hitching Post and get a burger if you ever have the chance. You’ll thank me.

Happy Election Day, everyone!

A Few Announcements

Apparently the inside of my head now runs like an elementary school principal’s office.

1. Scratch ‘n dent produce is at high bounty early in the day. However, you have to elbow your way through the old ladies speaking in tongues, and the guy who thumps the apples with the side of his index finger.

Why does he do that? They are so not melons.

Owning my identity as part of the daytime scratch n’ dent group is a work in progress, but I’m all about the (relatively) fresh and cheap aspect.

I said fresh and cheap. Heheh.

It’s true. This bonanza set me back about $2.63.

2. This item of blue candification *may* have had its original contents intact when discovered on the subway steps.

Whether said contents *may* have ended up in my mouth cannot be confirmed at this time.

What happens in Queens stays in Queens.

3. Sometimes the joy of feeling the wind on our faces is all-consuming. Particularly when you’re en route to Six Flags.

Proof.

Proof redux.

You should try it. Screw the hairdo.

4. Upon occasion, Joe is known to make things like this.

Yah. He can stay as long as he wants.

5. The sisters-in-progress make me happy.

See if you can pry a secret out of them. I can’t.

6. Nastja and I recently enjoyed this view from a 22nd-floor window.

We picked out her Manhattan apartment as well. I’m allowed to come visit from time to time.

7. My inner 9-yr-old wants all things Angry Birds.

I so need to make this in my invisible spare time.

Three Pieces of Good News

In the spirit of Life is What You Make of It…

1. We have scratch ‘n dent produce.

At our local produce place, tucked way, way back in the corner, the past-its-prime produce is sold for $ .29/pound. Our family puts away enough fruit to support a small orchard, so this was a huge and amazing discovery for me. It’s always an adventure to see what’s up for sale that day. Kind of like a CSA, only much more ghetto.

It also means I don’t break out in a sweat each time one of the kids grabs a recreational apple.

They’re all showing their best sides. Trust me.

Nastja (upon learning of my secret shopping triumph): “Ah, I was wondering why all the apples looked so weird.”

2. The cheewawas are sporting their festive fall attire.

They start to shake when the temperature dips below 70 degrees.

Yes, you’re supposed to take your coat off for dinner. Their manners are appalling.

3. My shameless-shortcut baking might just be paying off.

This ridiculously great dollar store recently opened up in our neighborhood. It is full of, as Nastja would say, “so beautiful things.” One time Joe and I went there on a date. They had sprinkles *and* candy corn. I bought both. Quit judging.

As we approach the hopeful cementing of this adoption (Joe and the kids leave for the second trip to Latvia in less than three weeks), I am continuing the heart-through-stomach campaign, assisted by said dollar store’s array of Probably Really Bad For You cookie mixes.

(El nino has grown six inches and gained 30 pounds since July. He can eat his weight in trans fats and it wouldn’t even register. I so love feeding teenage boys.)

Tonight’s selection.

True fact: I dug the above out of the garbage for photographing purposes. They were hovering.

I’ve been packing the Latvian kids’ lunches for them. It’s one of those mom jobs I really don’t mind, and I figured it had been awhile, if ever, since they’d had someone do that for them. Add to that the fact that the nutritional value of their school’s cafeteria offering would curl your hair (she writes, tossing another handful of sprinkles into the chemical-laden cookie powder). Here’s one example:

Soda: $1.00
Milk: $3.00

I kid you not.

Anyway, I found out tonight that the art of lunch packing apparently dies out somewhere around middle school, so all of their friends buy the school crap (think pizza and fries). Rather than their homemade fare rendering them uncool, however, my kids are apparently the envy of their lunch friends. “Your mom makes your lunch? I wish my mom would do that.”

I am exceedingly grateful for this–it so easily could have spun the other way.

Score one for sprinkle cookies.

Dollar store crack in a pouch, all grown up. (Sniff.)

I leave you on this thought…

You can never, ever have too much ketchup. Just ask the Latvians. 

Or come on over to our house for an after-school snack.