Beautiful and Delicious Chicken Stuff

I think my friend Amy would be proud to know that this is how Alosa described her pulled pork. It sounds like something on a Chinese restaurant menu, doesn’t it?

We are continuing to settle in and more or less find our groove with each other. I realized that we have lived together for eight weeks now, if we include this summer’s hosting. (A little needy here. It’s as if I’m in high school again, wearing a maroon uniform jumper and making up anniversaries with a swoony boyfriend. Maroon is, as a rule, an extremely challenging color to rock, I might add. Particularly when you’re a winter.)

Nastja has a job! As of today, she is officially an after-school fetcher of one very tiny five-year-old girl. Excellently, said child’s after-school program is–literally–across the street from our apartment building. Better yet, the bulk of the babysitting can be executed at our apartment, so I still get her for the ever-crucial dinner hours (soft wavery bounce of teenager-adoption-independence-attachment tightrope).

We are winding down from a five-day school vacation for Nastja and Alosa (some Christian school conference plus Columbus Day). I’m counting it a win that they were Busy Enough for all of them, at least in my opinion. (That little nagging fear that my opinion/impression is wildly whacked out and in actuality they’re miserable? Always there. Just like herpes.)

We inaugurated a Family Movie Night tradition this past Saturday evening. First flick was Step Up (the original), after which we immediately agreed to watch all four. Can someone tell me why the formula for all those dance school movies mandates the harming of a young sibling? I felt like I was watching Fame all over again.

[Sudden burst of words among siblings.]

Julia (who gets facial tic-y at missed movie dialogue): “Can you pause it? There’s a lotta TV talking happening here.”

Nastja: “With three kids, it happens.”

Alosa: “Welcome to your life.”

So then yesterday during church I look over to find the 11-yr-old wearing this:

Ask yourself, “What would Jesus wear?”

“I can see you through my skepticals.”

(We didn’t bother to correct her. There are so few of those moments left anymore.)

I’m the owner and protector of these Euro-chic boy feet now. He selected those shoes himself.

In other news, we’ve been going to this Russian Baptist church lately. I decided it would be a nice touch for the kids to connect with God in their semi-native tongue. It’s a very small congregation. I’m convinced the pastor’s wife has a direct line to God and they play some kickin’ music. I don’t think I’m really a Baptist at heart, but the majority of the service happens in Russian, and everyone really likes my cookies, no matter how slice ‘n bake (hydrogenated shortcut baking is again fueling my world).

Yesterday I decided to do an instant replay of communion at dinner (Nastja had a headache and Alosa had gotten mysteriously skipped over during church). I bought a bottle of grape-intensive kid champagne and a loaf of bread, though at first I considered these.

Jesus loves me, but still would not authorize these for communional munching.

Here’s a bite of childhood, per my Latvian daughter. Wonder if that cancels out the calories? I’m so in if that’s the case.

If they served ice cream at communion, everyone would go to church a whole lot more. Just brainstorming here.

Meet Useless, Uselesser and Really Freaking Useless.

They get no stars. Ever.


A Meat People

So we are settling in as a family of five. Nobody has hemorrhaged or bolted yet today, so I’m calling it a win.

Truthfully, the kids are great. They keep us hopping (I started this blog post on Saturday, if that gives you an idea), but we are enjoying them just about every minute.

The hugest blessing is that, consistent with this summer, they treat the 11-yr-old as one of the pack. It’s awesome. Even when they gang up on me.

My contact name in the 11-yr-old’s new phone: MJ (Mama Julia)

Apparently she’s adopted as well. Tell that to my stretch marks.

I am meanwhile doing everything within my power to win all kids’ hearts through their stomachs. This involves meat. And plenty of it.

Once upon a time, we were essentially a vegetarian household. Then we decided to host some Latvian kids.

Nastja and Alosa most recently lived on a farm. Their food traveled about two feet to their plate. I pretty much want to live in their foster home. All the days. Still trying to figure out how to make that happen.

All this to say, our kids like meat. The other day, when I told a very hungry Nastja that the sausage in the fridge was intended for dinner but the cheese was immediately available, she replied balefully, “I am a meat people.”

(Please note my casual conjugation of “baleful”, as if I speak SAT prep on a regular basis. In reality, I stole it from someone’s vocab homework. Did I mention I have two middle schoolers and a high schooler now? Plenty of vocab to swipe.)

A very pretty meat people, if I do say so myself. That was her first-earned American dollar, now spent.

(Number of days in her new school before she was asked out on a date: .75.)

She said no. (Applause.)

I would have handled that situation so much more moronically when I was 17. Sigh.

Now, we are a meat people too.

Alosa: “Why Americans invent ketchup when they never eat enough?”

And this was a moderate quantity. Trust me on this one.

Number of hot dogs in my freezer: a lot. Really, a lot.

Alosa’s daily hot dog quota: three. Would be more, were it not for the blasted nitrites.

On another note, our old Razor scooters are seeing a lot more action these days.

I love it when they go like this.

Julia: “What would you like in your lunch tomorrow?”

Nastja: “Do you have any cookies?”

Heart through stomach, people. Heart through stomach.

Shameless shortcut. So ghetto. Dollar store all the way.

Eww, a pumpkin barfed. Cleanup in aisle six.

I always presume that corn syrup solids will withstand extreme heat. Is that genetic?

Julia: “I pretty much just need to stock about eighty of these cookie mixes at all times, don’t I?”

Joe (chewing): (nods)

Heart through stomach. Ghetto shortcuts sanctioned.

What We Have Are Stars

A little epiphany struck me last night as I was lamenting the fact that No One Refills The Water Bottles Except Me. I decided that a star chart was absolutely in order, and that the first star should go to me. So it did.

Now, when I stumble across a shoe flopping about, poorly washed dishes, an errant water glass…STAR! Right there, on my chart, thank you very much.

The Latvians were all over this idea.

El nino is particularly motivated, as you can see.

Twenty stars earns a buck. And I have been known to toss out five-star jobs like penny candy from a parade float.

Amount of time this system has been in effect: 22 hours.

Amount of time I sound like it’s been in effect: much longer than that.


I am totally buying myself Something Shiny with my first buck. Maybe if I’m lucky the kids will leave all their shoes out for me to pick up tomorrow.

In other news, we are all settling in and enjoying each other a hearty most of the time. Financially, everything times three (or five) all of a sudden is a bit mind-boggling, but I suspect that my head will wrap itself around that, in time.

The mechanics of five are so entirely different than four. There are little things that you don’t expect. Like the ride home from the airport when the stoopid taxi driver charged us ten bucks over the meter for the fifth person, despite the fact that his Toyota Sienna more than fit all of our butts with room to spare. (Believe it or not, he was the bargain–another driver wanted to charge us fifteen.) What. Ever. Freaking taxi guy.

Mind you, these kids are worth every penny. My heart bursts all over them, daily. I spend concerted time and effort not freaking them out with that.

Boy likes boating. Quite a bit.

We took a little family outing to the Central Park boathouse this afternoon. The weather was perfect, Alosa discovered an affinity for rowing, and Joe and I scored a Latvian-guided tour around the pond (or is it a lake? Yes, I’ve lived in this city for over twenty years. #sosolame).


Quite a few boathouse boys were quite eager to help my new daughter into her rowboat. Ahem.

Perhaps the new facial ‘do will keep the boys at bay. Pun intended.

Gotta go. Spotted two water glasses, one half full. Cha-ching.

Yes, Yes, YES!

How do I even put into words news this hugely great?

As of today, we are a family of five! FIVE!

That’s so many! (Okay, I know it’s probably the American average in terms of family size, but to the formerly-three-us, it feels ginormous.)

Two excellent things happened today.

1. Nastja and Alosa told the orphan court today that they are hardy enough to weather my super-sized neuroses would like to travel to the U.S. in continued pursuit of being adopted into our family.

2. Both of their student visas were approved by the America embassy in Riga.

Hot damn. (That’s not a cuss word if I write it in Latvia.)

This is my heart felt like after today’s court hearing, only bigger and splashier.

Never turn down a banister opp, particularly after you’ve made a gargancha life decision.

Yeah. What he did.

Between the orphan court hearing and our embassy interview, we had the additional bonus of visiting Nastja’s school and meeting her teacher and class (completely by her invitation).

Yes, she’s breathtaking. And she’s MINE.

Teacher’s pet.

Joe: “I look like such a geek!”

Julia: “You really do!”

Something a little more tactful and supportive may have been in order. #badwifealert

These are the books she returned today. We have a scholar in our midst.

Julia: “How many people do you know who can say they’ve experienced the inside of a Latvian orphan court–twice–and a real Latvian high school?”

11-yr-old: [shrugs]

Julia: “Um…NOBODY.”

True facts:

1. We strongly suspect we’ve hit the jackpot.

2. Every bit of bizarro struggle we’ve endured to get here? Very freaking worth it.

3. We have three. THREE! And they rock.

They do things like this. They’re a freaking pack.

Required vicarious celebratory activities for each and every one of you:

1. Do a happy dance. Preferably an ungainly one.

2. Drink a cocktail. Preferably one of generous proportion.

3. Eat a cookie. Or three. Or FIVE.

You! Now!



Keeping Busy

With two teenagers and a teen aspirant in our midst, we’re walking the fine/finer/finest line between up time and down time.

Here’s what some of that looks like.

Nobody loves the bus (except me).

But it generally takes us someplace a little bit excellent.

If el nino can climb the freakishly large web…

Apparently so can la nina and me.

(It was approximately 58 bajillion feet off the ground up there. The kids will concur.)

Sometimes we fly at a safeishly low range. It’s cool.

Because anything done at the beach is automatically cooler than the same thing done elsewhere. Sitting, for instance.

Passerby, you smiled so pretty for my camera. Paldies!

What is UP with this pseudo-olive complexion I’ve developed? I will blame it on childbirth. And also my husband for glowing so smugly pink in contrast.

You, too wish for a chipped newsprint manicure? We can share our secret recipe, for a price.

(You may, however, find yourself wishing for the above souvenir ring. The amber jewelry options here are breathtaking.)

Magic Schoolbus, please to take us to the giant Lido restaurant of our dreams.

(Well, *my* dreams.)

Thank you, Magic Schoolbus, for this table groaning with Latvian awesomeness in the form of fried meats and strawberry fluff.

Lido makes everyone smile.

Can we just live forever at Lido?

Conversations With Our Son

It is only now hitting me that I will soon be able to casually toss out the words “my son”. And what excellent words those are.

Having lived in Girl World for, well, 43 years, and in a parental role of said world for eleven years, I knew not of these boys you speak of. Girl World? A different country. Lovely nonetheless, but entirely foreign land to Boy World, with minimal overlap.

Sorry, but you can’t have this guy. We got dibs.

I have really not met a kinder, more easygoing young teenager. Ever. Parenting this sweet boy feels like a big phat gift (15-odd years behind the curve, note how effortlessly that slang rolls off my tongue/fingers).

A couple of days ago, I told him that his first work-for-hire in America would be to paint the inside of his closet any color/s he wanted. Last night as I tucked him into bed, he told me, “I am thinking about what color I will paint my closet.”

Eight shades of stoically psyched, methinks.

The verdict is leaning toward green walls, purple shelves, and chalkboard paint on the inside of the door.

It’s only a matter of time until I paint my own closet to be just like him.

Additionally, today’s father-son motocross outing (a really big deal in 13-yr-old boy world–motocross only comes to this area about once a year) has set the scene for our future living room decor.

Objet d’art.

Alosa: “I am thinking there needs to be a little bit of me in Party Central.”

Julia: “Yes.” (Presses fingers to lips, glances to ceiling as if it will reveal the exact location of spare frames languishing about the American apartment.)

[Sound of odd pop song suddenly blaring from Joe’s smartphone.]

Julia: “What are you doing?”

Joe: “Checking for motocross.”

Can’t talk. Researching.

Party on, Wayne.


I try to never pass up an opportunity to count my blessings.

For three!

For an hour of mad flipping at the Olympiskais Sporta Centrs, completely unhindered by intrusive cattle.

For the means to spring for an impromptu Latvian value meal (“kompletks”).

For this most excellent hombre. (And the, gulp, 983-calorie Rudzu burger I devoured in approximately six seconds flat.)

For one of my favorite cities in the world.

For slapjack.

For these beautiful hands, and the beautiful young woman attached.

For an array of delightfully ketchup-laced Latvian-style pizzas. 

(Because apparently the thousand-plus calorie lunch didn’t quite satisfy me. Gad.)

For this vessel of ridiculous beauty, as seen from our hallway window.

Goodnight Riga. I’ll never be able to quit you.