‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Still Alive

Yes, I'm still alive. Sorry to worry some of you. Anastasia and I have just been taking a "vacation" together, albeit at home. I haven't felt like writing at all. This past seven days have been all about sleeping late, eating Boston creme pie and double chocolate chip cookies, watching Golden Girls reruns, knitting, and cooking. I think we've been in our pjs more than out. We made an amazing Armenian lentil stew the other day and on Sunday we spent the entire day painting for our semi-annual FBI mission ( Fools Being Imaginative.) It involved five children ( including me), lots of painting and collaging and making messes.

What we do is this: we make little boxes out of wood or cardboard, decorate them and then create an inspirational or funny message to go inside them. Sometimes we include a little prize, other times only a little glitter.Then we drive all over our art-forsaken town and hide these little boxes for strangers to find. Sometimes we leave them right in the middle of a busy sidewalk, other times they are well hidden in a rocky crevice at the beach. Whatever strikes us.
We usually do the installation part in the middle of the night, but this time it was broad daylight, which was trickier. It ended up attracting the police for a bit :)

Anyway, I'll tell you more about our Sunday adventures when I get my writing groove back.

Be well, friends. I'm doing my best to do the same.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Anyone Good At Pep Talks?

(This is what I feel like.)

I seem to have hit a slump these past few days. Don't let my last post fool you. I just posted it to fill the page. Behind that post was a miserable whiny b*tch who has not felt like herself for several days. You may have noticed I haven't been commenting on your blogs much (though I have been reading.) I'm just too grumpy and sad to comment or write or do much of anything. I'm not good at calling on my real world friends for support. I'm just not comfortable being that vulnerable. Don't ask me why, at 43 years old, I still have no idea.

Anyway, for some odd reason, spilling my guts here seems less scary. I know, I know, that makes no sense, seeing as posting on a blog is like writing your woes on a neon sign for the world. But anyway, I digress. I thought maybe there is someone reading this who is filled with joy and gratitude right now and they could give me a little pep talk. Only if you're up to it. I love giving pep talks when I'm in a good space, so I thought maybe there are others like me. I know the world seems to work that way -- when you're down, your friend is up, and vice versa.

So, I will catalog my woes here. Only read them if you can handle the whine. I just have to get it all out. I should preface this by mentioning I found out I am peri-menopausal, so that may be contributing. You know, the dreaded hormone factor? Anyway, here goes. Feel free to stop me at any time.

1.The specialist I saw yesterday about the auto immune disease I've got was a complete a**. I won't trouble you with the details, but basically he rushed me out of there because I am uninsured (I think he was worried about my ability to pay.) He made disparaging remarks and was quite dismissive, and offered no advice whatsoever. He even questioned how I would know that the salmonella came from Austin PB crackers. "How could you possibly know that? It could be from anything." he so kindly said. I could go on, but I won't.

2. I found out I've gained 20 pounds. That's 20 on top of the 20 I already was overweight with. Where is this extra weight hiding? You got me. Thank you, menopause....

3. I still have several schools and individuals who owe me money. All told it amounts to $6,000 which is alot of money for a single mom like me. I'm tired of bugging each of them about it. What more can I do?

4. All four of our pets have worms. The little rice kind. The kitten, it turns out, was born with them. She has generously shared it with all the others. The meds won't be too bad, but the upcoming vet visits and multiple stool samples could put us in the poor house. (Just kidding.)

5. I lost a job I was expecting for this spring. It's at a school I love, and the children were as excited as I was to begin, in March. Long story, but they are using someone in-house to pull a musical together. No room for Shakespeare. I'm really sad, not even so much for the lost revenue as for the lost opportunity with these amazing kids.

6. I have to go to court tomorrow. A company is suing me. Most likely I will win, because they are at fault and it will be pretty obvious, but you never know. If I lose, there goes $1800.

7. The back pain continues. It's certainly not as bad as it was, but it's always there and it's annoying. It just makes bad days like these seem so much worse.

8. Then there are all the inconsequential little things weighing me down: very messy house, car brakes need replacing, car didn't pass inspection, excise tax and several bills overdue, furnace leaking, yada yada yada.

So, if anyone reading this is in the mood to lift my spirits, I give you carte blanche. Lift away. But I must warn you, I am 20 pounds heavier these days.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brief Post For A Busy Day

I kind of borrowed this idea from Life At Willow Manor's sidebar. I don't think she'll mind. It's been a busy day of bill and paperwork catch-up in between urgent trips to the bathroom. (Yuck.) So I give you a brief summary to keep you informed:

EATING: nothing.(due to round two of stomach bug)

DRINKING: dark, dark coffee (and, yes, I know that's stupid of me...)

LISTENING: to my daughter laughing at a 'Golden Girls' rerun.

THINKING: about the people of Kinglake and Whittlesea, Victoria, Australia.

READING: Volume two of Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control by Heather Forbes.

DREADING: taking the dogs out for a walk. (see EATING)

I'll also leave you with two Anastasia quotes of the day:

Concerning her puppy who snuck into her room to eat the cat poop out of the litter box, " Mom, sometimes Matilda makes me SOOOO angry I wish I could squeeze her little head until her eyes pop out and roll away. [LONG PAUSE] But I won't."

Concerning today's (very random) argument of whether children or their parents are bigger germ carriers, "Mom, parents are WAY germier..I mean, they're MARRIED....think of where their hands have been..."

Monday, February 09, 2009

Answering Questions About Russian Adoption

(Photo is of the village where my daughter's orphanage was located.)

A local college student interviewed me (via email) for a class project on adoption. Thought I'd post her questions and my answers in case there are any prospective adoptive parents lurking here!

How long was the process of your adoption, start to finish? I signed with my agency in September 2004. I received Anastasia's referral in late February 2005 ( after my original referral fell through). I went to meet Anastasia in March 2005, and brought her home on May 22, 2005. It was 9 months start to finish – just like a pregnancy!

Did you travel to Russia and did you visit your daughter's orphanage? If yes, what was it like? Yes, to adopt in Russia, you must make two trips. I went in March & May 2005.
I truly fell in love with Russia, but my daughter’s orphanage was a very depressing place. It was in the middle of nowhere in Siberia, and they had nothing – no toys, no bikes, no balls for use outdoors. Their food was meager, and everyone there seemed very very sad, including my daughter.

How did the staff seem? Some were nice, and some were horrible. The children were used to being beaten by their caretakers. It was the norm. My daughter was told by one of them after my visit, that I didn't like her and decided not to adopt her. This woman did this just to traumatize my daughter. That is the type of person my daughter was raised by.

Did you meet other children at the orphanage? What were they like? Very curious of me, being an American, and elated at the gifts we brought. They were desperate to find parents, and a number of them literally begged me, in tears, to “please find a mother for me."

How many other kids were there? In Anastasia’s orphanage there were 120 children ages 4-16.

Was it sanitary? It was very clean, but the children did most of the cleaning. It was quite sanitary, but devoid of even the basics we take for granted. For example, there was no toilet paper, no toothpaste or toothbrushes, no hairbrushes, no shampoo and very little soap, no washing machines. Starting at age four ( yes, four) the children had to handwash their own clothes once a week.

What did the children do during the day? They attended a school up the hill from the orphanage Mon-Sat. Sundays they took walks and sometimes watched tv. They had just been given a tv that year from another American family.

Where did they go to school? Up the hill. I visited the school. It was in horrible disrepair. The orphanage children were not even allowed lunch. Anastasia explained that they just had to watch the village children eat and would sometimes steal their leftovers from the trash. Anastasia was once caught stealing bread from the school kitchen and was beaten severely for it.

How were rooms arranged? They were arranged by age and gender. One room had the 4 & 5 year olds, another the 6 - 9, and others the 10-16. Anastasia was in a room with 16 other girls aged 10-16. There were 8 sets of bunkbeds in the room.

What were they fed? Not much. Anastasia only weighed 72 pounds at adoption. She got a hard boiled egg for breakfast, but never got to eat it, as the older girls would steal them from her. Soup for lunch, soup for dinner. Sometimes bread. she doesn't remember eating any meat. At Christmas they were given a piece of fruit as their gift.

What was the reason your child was placed in an orphanage? Anastasia's birthmother abandoned her and her older sister outdoors when Anastasia was two years old. A neighbor took them in, but then tried to kill Anastasia by placing her in an oven. Someone heard her screams and rescued her. (She still has the scars…)The police then came & put both girls in the hospital. After several months, they were taken to separate orphanages and never saw one another again. (Until we found Anya and reunited in April 2006.)

Would you say that the adoption process ran smoothly? Was it stressful? What was the process like? Can you describe it? The adoption process was not easy or smooth running or easy to predict. It was big highs and even bigger lows, and lots of frustration. You are at the mercy of our government as well as Russia’s government. The paperwork alone could fill a small room!

How would you describe your child’s transition into America culture? How was her first day of school? Has she adapted socially? Has she connected with her family?
Difficult. Because of her years of abuse and neglect, Anastasia has quite a few psychological challenges to overcome. She suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so has difficulty being in large groups of people, and being stressed in any way. School proved too much for her, and we are now homeschooling. She learned English very quickly, but it took her a long time to adjust to this life. She had never taken a shower, used an elevator, seen a washing machine or dishwasher. In fact, when I told her what the dishwasher was, she laughed at me, thinking it was a joke! She had never used a regular toilet, or even brushed her teeth -- ever! She had never had access to food whenever she wanted. During her first few months home she would open the fridge literally 20-30 times a day just to assure herself their was food. She hoarded food in her room & under her pillows for months.

Social adjustment has proven very difficult. Anastasia was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder which can make dealing with others very painful. She also cannot read social cues and assumes that everyone is 'out to get her' until proven otherwise. She has not made many friends, but we are still working on it. She has connected to our family well, though. I have three brothers and she adores them.

Have you received any professional help making this transition easier? Yes, we meet with a therapist and psychiatrist regularly. However, I've found the greatest benefit and support comes from fellow adoptive parents.

How would you define adoption? Just another way to start a family. My daughter is no less my daughter because she does not carry my DNA. Sometimes I even forget she's adopted -- not kidding!

What was adoption like for you financially? Hell. It took me five years to save up the money, and I am still recovering!

What was the actual adoption in court like? Beautiful, actually. We went to court on May 16th 2005, in Russia. My brother was with me, and Anastasia was by my side. I answered a slew of questions, and then the judge asked my daughter if she wanted to be adopted. She said yes. The judge asked why? Anastasia answered, "I'm just hoping it's better..."After 5 minutes of deliberation, the judge announced us a family!

What is your daughter’s name? What is she like? What are her hobbies? Her name is Anastasia Holly _______. She goes by Nast and Nastia, which is the Russian nickname for Anastasia. She had never been called Anastasia in her life, though, and demanded she be called Nastia for the first year. Of course that was fine with me. Her name is one of the few things that she had called her own all those years. She now prefers to be called Anastasia, as she thinks it "sounds more grown-up."

Her hobbies are: cooking, making up new recipes, thousand piece puzzles, painting, singing, scrapbooking, swimming, playing on her computer, riding her bike, sledding, taking care of her pets, travelling to new places.

Anything else you would like to share? I wish more people would adopt. There are over 750,000 children sitting in Russian orphanages alone right now. EVERY child deserves a family.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It's A Balmy 40 Degrees!

I know all my fellow New Englanders will join in the victory cheer with me... " It's time to open the windows!"

Anastasia and I woke up to the sound of snow sliding of the roof and water dripping off every eave of the house. It's spring! Well, that's what it feels like. We promptly turned off the heat and opened all the windows. The house smells so good! Neighbors are out primping their yards and wiping down there cars without the hassle of coats and gloves and hats. Kids are walking their dogs for the first time in weeks! Birds are chirping! No, none of this is an exaggeration no matter what any of you Floridians think. Right now I am sitting in my room with the windows open and the screens down, revelling in the smell of fresh air. The dogs are out playing in the slush of our yard, my daughter is singing a happy song, and all is well.

Tomorrow it's supposed to go up to 50 degrees! What will we do? It's almost too good to be true. Anastasia already brought out her summer clothes box. Tomorrow we'll hit the ground running in our spring gear for a day at the beach with the dogs. Life is good! Spring is upon us!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Silver Lining, Always

You may think I'm nuts to say there is a silver lining in this whole auto immune disease saga, but there is. And I'm not just saying it to sound like a saint or pretend all is well when it's not. I really do meant it. The past few days were just awful. Constant, tremendous, infuriating pain throughout my body. I wanted to throw myself off a bridge. ( Well, not literally, but you get the idea..) And then today....

The sun came out! Well, that's what it felt like. It was like the sun coming out after a week of darkness. It was a nearly pain-free day, and it put me in such a wonderful, grateful mood.... it felt like it was my birthday or something!

So, I really am amazed at pain's ability to make you aware of how awesome normal, pain-free days are. I was soooooo happy to be able to bend and sit and climb stairs...and PEE...lol. The whole world seemed sunny today. And what do I have to thank for this perfect awareness of this beautiful day? The pain of the last four days.

So, I'm not going to be preachy or anything, but there really is a silver lining to the yucky stuff. I found it today. Now, tomorrow I may feel like crap again and be grumpy, but for this moment in time, I am grateful for my body, my ability to walk and sit and climb stairs and turn my head and all those simple things we take for granted every single day.

Yippee for a plain old run-o-the-mill day!!!!
PS: Anastasia took that photo of the sun. I think it's beautiful.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What I'm Going Through Right Now

Sorry if you already read this on my facebook page. I just thought i should post it here while I'm up to it:

I hate having to explain things over and over again, which is what I'm finding myself doing lately. So I thought if I wrote a note on FB, I would be informing a very large percentage of people I know in one fell swoop. It will make things easier for me -- less explaining.

I'm not well, physically speaking. After a bout of salmonella poisoning in early January, I started having a series of really strange symptoms that were causing me alot of pain & discomfort. I couldn't turn my neck, couldn't bend, couldn't even dress myself, my eyes burned all the time, my knees and other joints were really swollen & red, and a few other symptoms that I'd rather not talk about here. I finally went to the doctor, and after a series of lab tests, I was diagnosed with Reiter's Syndrome, which is a rare auto immune disease that comes as a result of a salmonella infection.

I did everything the doctor said, and made an appointment with a specialist and took my meds. The pain came and went. Meantime, I did as much research online as I could, and found out this is a lifelong chronic illness that is not going anywhere. The usual way it manifests is 4-6 months of symptoms followed by 6 months to several years of remission, and then back again. Several people I've met online, however, never have remissions. Some are in wheelchairs, which scares the hell out of me. All of them deal with the pain every day.

If I'm honest, I'm pretty depressed about this turn of events. It's already caused me to miss several days of work, and for the past two days I have been stuck in bed, unable to even sit long enough to pee -- until tonight. My daughter even has to help me dress, because I can't bend my legs or back when it's really bad. I know, embarrassing, but I'd rather tell it like it is. Even turning over in bed caused excruciating pain. And then, around 6pm, the swelling started to dissipate and, right now, I just have swelling in my knees, lower back and fingers ( a bit.) It still hurts, but it is not unbearable.

I got this because of salmonella. The salmonella came from tainted peanut butter crackers ( you've seen it on the news.) The stupid factory in Georgia that sent out the tainted peanut butter KNEW it was tainted and SENT IT OUT ANYWAY. Damn them. Well, at least now the FDA is going after them.

Anyway, I found a great lawyer who is also representing lots of other people sickened by the PB salmonella outbreak. The law firm is currently paying for my blood work and further lab tests. I'm one of only a handful of people who contracted Reiter's Syndrome from the tainted peanut butter. We will have a lifetime of medical bills, cortisone shots, blood work, etc and, as most of you know, I am not insured. I need to go to court over this to pay for my future medical bills.

I'm sorry. I think I'm writing this mostly to vent my anger, but also to just explain my current situation, so friends and students will understand #1 my grumpy mood and #2 my likelihood of missing more work, etc. I HATE being incapacitated. It makes me feel OLD and unproductive, but right now I just have to live with it.

Please have patience and understanding. If I'm being less than nice when you speak with me, it is probably because I am dealing with alot of pain. I just don't want to have to talk about it all the time.

I appreciate prayers. I know they help. I just don't want my anger at the situation to be in charge. I want to find some understanding about it.

Well, thanks for listening. Sorry I won't be blogging as much as usual.