‘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

Monday, January 30, 2012

An Anya & Orphanage Update

Kisses from Anya...in gratitude for your cards and letters
I've been skyping with Anya more regularly -- about 3 times a week. I'm so relieved she is staying at her friend Ira's house and hope that doesn't change for awhile. I can see via skype that it is a clean, fairly modern apartment. I didn't realize how worried I was about her staying at her cousin's, until she moved to Ira's. Oksana, her 1st cousin once removed on her father's side, lives with an older man names Sasha in a very tiny cottage down a dirt road. I think I mentioned before that it had no bathroom, just an outside toilet, and was very run-down and inaccessible. It wasn't so bad when Anya was mobile, but since the shooting, it's become a tough place for her to live. She even started to admit that to me, which is not something she is wont to do -- she's far too proud.

So, her spirits seem up, but she does remind me often how lonely she is. I tell her we will visit as soon as I get back on my feet financially. She knows I'm trying my best. She is such a sweetheart; every conversation we have she manages to turn the tables and ask me all the questions. How am I? Am I sure I'm okay? How is my health? Am I eating right and taking my vitamins? She's my own little baboushka:)

Please let me know if you have sent, or will be sending a card to Anya. It is helpful for her to know. Although Ira lives in an apartment, it is still in the same neighborhood and it is very crime-prone. If they know a letter or card is on its way, they will watch the mail more carefully. Packages are safe, because they are not delivered to homes, but to the local post office.

The orphanage is another story altogether. Their internet service has never been fixed, so I cannot email them. I've called and not had good service for weeks...no connection. It seems to happen every winter. Perhaps the weather is a factor? None of the older kids have been on Russian facebook since December, so I can't get any news about anything. I DO know that photos were taken on January 7th of the Feast...I just don't know when we'll get to see them.
I do have some photos of the older orphanage kids that Vanya sent me in late December/early January. Just forgot to post them! Some are a year old, some are from this past summer. I'll write a description under each. Enjoy:)

Natasha, Vika, Nastia, Alina and Marina on their graduation day last May. 
They are 16 years old. Some have already left the orphanage for good. 
Natasha and Marina remain for now, as they have no place else to go.
Sidozha, Andrei and Marina outside their school on graduation day.
A photo of last year's Thanksgiving dinner in the boys group. 
That is Stas in the no-sleeve shirt. You can just make out D 
at the table behind him, standing and leaning over the table.

More of the graduates. This was taken just inside the school. 
None of these kids have hope of a job, except the boys that get 
jobs as coalminers. But their life expectancy is about the same 
in the mines or out. Most of these kids will not see 
their 30th birthday. Sobering fact.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Feeling defeated. And down.

PTSD rears it's ugly head again. I forget. I forget how one false move can bring the world crashing down around you. I forget that it never goes away. I forget that this terrible fear and trauma will haunt my daughter the rest of her days.

I can't give details, because, as you know, I've promised my girl not to share those kinds of things anymore. She's older. She doesn't want her dirty laundry airing, and I don't blame her. But can I say this? Can I say that sometimes I get so angry that people don't get it? I want to scream.

A certain child of mine was taken, without my permission, to see a very upsetting movie. I know it's a wonderful movie. I had planned to see it myself. But it is NOT the kind of movie that should be seen by someone who has experienced a lifetime of profound loss.

The movie is 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'. I can't even comment on it, because I haven't seen it yet. But I see the repercussions it's having on someone who DID see it, and it's not fun. Regression, in all its forms, is visiting us again. Grief, deep grief. Nightmares and fears of losing me. And the added bonus of her fear at not being 'normal' that she 'did not want to see that movie'. She knew. She knew just from seeing the commercials that it was not a movie she could handle. She even tried to encourage the group to see something else, but in the end she was more scared of appearing different, than she was of the terrible feelings she knew this movie would elicit.

I'm angry. Really angry. I'll get over it, but right now I'm absolutely raging mad, because I wasn't asked. I wasn't given the chance to inform anyone that, no, this movie was not a wise choice for my daughter. I wasn't consulted. Heck, I didn't even know she was at the movies!

So now, on the eve of her midterms, and after a week of problems at school, she is in full-blown PTSD mode. Yes, I know what to do. I know how to move into crisis mode and do what needs to be done. But I didn't choose this. Not now. Not when I feel so raw and beaten down myself.

Don't know what else to say without betraying her trust. Please remind me of your own ways of dealing with the PTSD monster. You 'trauma mama' readers out there -- what would you do in this situation? Any new wisdom? I'd love to hear, and would just love your support right now.

Going upstairs to enter the warzone, again.....

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Proverbial Bucket List

I've been in a slump. A deep one. The kind that you think you'll never crawl out of unless there is divine intervention. Being out of work is hard for me. Heart-wrenching. It's not that I don't enjoy the free time. It's just that I feel so completely fulfilled by my work. Take that away, and you've quite an empty pocket to fill.

I am being very productive with this time -- organizing closets and drawers, being an ultra-attentive mom, cooking and baking more, reading books, taking care of all the mundane tasks I never usually get to.... but it's just not enough. I experience so much joy being with my students. That's gone right now.

I'm trying to follow Ann Voskamp's example. I'm trying to be grateful every day for what is here, now. But I'd be lying if I said that was easy. I might be successful for a morning, but by noon I'm often counting curses instead of blessings.

And it's quiet. Soooo quiet.

Nastia is in school, the dogs are in hibernation mode. Friends are busy with their own lives. I get it. Life goes on. But I can't help feeling a little left behind. It's not a feeling I'm used to.

And so, with eyes gazing hopeful towards the future, I started making one of those proverbial bucket lists. If I can't have what I want and need now, at least I can dream some tomorrows into being.

Here's the list. It's not flashy or shiny, but it's mine. I don't want to climb Mount Everest or win the lottery, so you might find my list a little boring in that respect. But it's an honest list, and that must count for something. I actually feel quite vulnerable sharing it, but all the more reason to do so. Naming things gives them more validity, more substance. I'm naming my deepest dreams to prod their little seed-selves to take root.


1. See Anya sitting across from me at my kitchen table, US passport in hand.
2. See D sleeping soundly in his bed. Here. On this side of the world.
3. Watch Nastia receiving her HS diploma, to wild applause.
4. Creat & nurture SOAR, the nonprofit I've envisioned.
5. Adopt more children. (Please, God?)
6. Be the inspiration for other adoptions.
7. Become a certified emergency foster parent.
8. Buy a house in Siberia for children aging out of the orphanage.
9. Write a book.
10. Meet Nastia's birthmother before she dies.
11. See Africa with my own eyes. Visit the tiny Ethiopian village where my father used to live.
Asmara, Ethiopia where my dad used to live. (now Eritrea)
12. Visit my ancestral home in Ireland again. With my daughter.
13. See India with my own eyes.
14. See Nastia graduate from college, to even wilder applause.
15. Build my own cob house and live in it.
16. Educate and empower the local community in Siberia to fix the system and get ALL the children of Orphanage #5 into homes.
17. Finally speak Russian fluently.
18. Go on an adventure overseas with all my brothers and their children & spouses.
19. Find a kind and open-hearted man to love and marry.
20. Join a barbershop quartet for women, like my cousin.
21. Sleep just one more night at Hengrave. (A place I used to live, in England)
22. See Iceland with my own eyes.
23. Visit the Aran Islands, and sleep in a JM Synge's cottage there. Read his stories as I fall asleep.

Synge's cottage.

24. Take the Trans-Siberian railway, stopping along the way.
25. See one of my students perform with Shakespeare's Globe or the Royal Shakespeare company, before I die.
26. Live in Florence Italy for a month. 
27. Take my godsons Josh & Drew on an overseas trip, just the three of us.
28. Edit and publish my father's last book before I turn 50.
29. Cliche, I know, but...swim with dolphins.
30. Gaze into the eye of a whale, underwater.

See? It can be done. But I want to do it without a camera. Just me and the whale.

I'm sure I could think of dozens more if I tried, but these are the ones that came effortlessly. What's on your list? Do you have one? Will you share it with me?

News From Afar!

Screenshot of Anya on Skype. She added the words:)

Thank you God, for finally providing Anya with a way to contact me after weeks and weeks!

Update: Anya has been invited to stay at the home of her friend Ira (pronounced EE-rah for any non-Rusophiles) for a few weeks. This is a GOOD THING.Where Anya was staying was not sanitary, had no bathroom, and she was in a very small room with two other adults. No privacy at all. Ira lives with her parents and their home offers Anya a little more safety and privacy. Ira also lets Anya use the family's mini-notebook (like a laptop) when her parents dont need it for work, so I got to skype with her for the first time in WEEKS today! Here's what she shared:

She has been told that the Llizarov Apparatus will be removed in late March or early April if all goes well. She has currently had it on for almost 6 months. She is still in a great deal of pain, but tells me she is not taking the pain meds, #1 because she doesnt want to become addicted and #2 to save money. But I can see how much pain she is in when I talk to her. She has to have the screws turned in her leg every day.

Not having daily internet access has been rough for her. We were skyping every day. she reports she is very lonely -- Ira is at school all day and the parents work..plus no TV, means she is alone with her thoughts most of the time...not good for Anya. However, she thinks she will have weekly access to the laptop, so thats a good thing.

She still has no word on when the court case will happen. She is worried, because she knows we will have a small window of time to get her here on the medical visa (if approved), and also that if she heals too much, she won't be eligible at all. So she hopes the case will come soon.

If of my readers can write in Russian and wish to write her, I know that cards and letters will lift her spirits. You could also send a card in English, I suppose, as long as it is VERY simple and not written in cursive. Anya has very rudimentary English skills, but a simple 'hello, how are you' type of message is something she could likely read.

And just in case anyone feels really motivated, she can finally receive packages. She was unable to receive them at the other place she was staying. It's a long story, but the Russian Post is a bit more complicated than ours. Anya and her 'cousin' were not registered at that house, making it difficult to receive mail.

Ira is willing to receive mail in Anya's behalf, and she IS registered at her adress. Any care packages must be worth under $25 so Ira won't have to pay custom fees. Here is Ira's address:


All packages and cards would need to be addressed as above, so that Ira can pick them up at the post office. I can also post a list of things I know Anya loves. , if anyone would like. She hasn't asked for anything, which is typical of her. When I asked if she needed more funds for her meds, bandages, creams, etc, she replied with 'Mama, take care of yourself. I will be fine. Do not waste your money.' But I do know a card, letter or small package would REALLY boost her spirits, primarily because it means she is being thought of.

I'll continue to post information as I receive it from Anya. She looks great, and the color is back in her cheeks for a change, but she did admit that she feels very lonely alot of the time. Just a simple card will surely help alleviate some of that, I'm sure!
Anya with Ira,  July 2011

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Russian Christmas Feast is ON!

If you're up about 2am eastern standard time tonight, and you bend your ear towards southern Siberia, you might just catch the joyful chatter of the kids from Orphanage #5 sitting around their little wobbly dinner tables, laughing and feasting on turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots, bread with butter (a real treat for them), lots of fresh fruit, pies and cakes, honest-to-goodness juice instead of tea, and sweets..all kinds of sweets:)

Yesterday morning I had gotten the news from Vanya, of my earlier post, that the staff never received the money I sent and that there would be no dinner. I should have guessed that relying on a teenage boy for accurate news of an important financial transaction was bound to be a wrong. But I just panicked. I called Western Union, and after an eon of being on hold, I learned it was indeed picked up a few days ago by the person I sent it to. {Sigh of relief.}

I had never heard back from the orphanage staff after sending them the code on December 20th. I had also sent a list of things I expected them to make for the dinner, and specifics on what to do if there were any money left over. (Buy sweets for the staff for pulling off the dinner. They have to work extra hours for free to pull it off) So, I was worried and fairly stressed for a few days, wondering what had happened.

Natasha, the bearer of the good news:)
Cue helpful contact with one of the older girls via russian facebook. Natasha saw me online and wished me a Happy Christmas, so I was able to live chat with her and ask a bundle of questions. (Natasha is also one of the top students at the local school, so it's safe to say she might be a bit more reliable than Vanya..lol.) She explained that there is a problem, still, with the internet. She said they were able to read and print out my emails from Dec 20th, but then the internet 'froze' again and they've had no access since. She also told me that the assistant director received the money, AND she told me that they were already setting up the tables and doing preliminary prep work in the kitchen! Turns out that they will hold the dinner tomorrow (tonight to us here in the US) because some of the kids go home to relatives or friends for the holiday weekend. Having the dinner tomorrow (tonight at 2am!) assures that most of the children will be present.

I have no idea when they'll be able to email photos to me since the internet is such a problem, but I asked Natasha to report back to me about how it went as soon as she can. She is going to stay at a friend's for the holiday weekend, so she said she'd likely write me on Monday.

Wish I had photos to share! Well, I guess I could post a few of the kitchen. Not a very big space to cook for 100 plus, but it seems to work for them! Will post details of the feast as soon as I can!

С Рождеством, дорогие мои!

The stove at the orphanage.
Nastia and the cook's daughter helping to cook last winter.
(Nastia's eyes are closed, but I promise she was awake.)

Monday, January 02, 2012

2012 - The Year of Stark-N*ked Blessings

We've all heard the somber warnings about 2012. End of the world. Apocalypse. Yada yada yada. I tend to think that those Mayans -- and all those other forward-thinking ancients who made prophecies about 2012 -- were intuiting about big changes. MONUMENTAL changes.

Humanity as a whole seems ever inclined to painfully slow growth. Like continental drift slow. But, you have to admit, there are times in history when we seem to take huge leaps forward. My guess hope is that all those prophecies and prognostications signal that kind of a leap, and I'm hoping it's of a spiritual nature. A collective reaching up towards Love.

Anyway, if truth be told, I am a little superstitious when it comes to New Year's Day. I always see the happenings of the first day as somewhat symbolic of the year ahead. (Blame my Irish grandmother.) That is why I was pretty darn agitated when our day started with a lot of frustration and obstacles -- the alarm failed to go off, I woke up to a zit on my chin (a zit at my age?), our fridge was empty, all our favorite breakfast places were closed for the holiday, the car engine light went on...you get the picture.

So I told Nastia about my little weird superstition as we drove to the mall, and she laughed at me.

'Oh mom, you're soooo crazy. You're just grumpy. Look for the good stuff!'

And so, as we walked into Sears to buy our new vacuum cleaner, we saw an elderly lady standing unsteadily at the bottom of the stairs we were about to descend. She was smiling right at us.

'Seeeeee.....?' whispered my daughter.

We started walking down the stairs as she walked up. Her smile breathed new life into my day. I was feeling hopeful, jubilant even. As we met in the middle, the smiling woman stopped to catch her breath and addressed us . 'Don't ever get old, you two. It stinks. It REALLY REALLY stinks!' And she continued up the stairs as my daughter fell into a fit of laughter.

Later, as we left the store using those same stairs, Nastia recounted the story of the old lady and laughed. 'Mom, she probably said that just because you were looking for the bad. You gotta look for the good, like me!'

My daughter, buoyant with her new-found optimism, runs to hold open the door for a young mother dragging a perturbed-looking toddler by the hand. As the door opens, we hear the boy mid-tantrum:

'I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!' He is directing this tirade at his mother.

Nastia barely makes it past them before she bursts out in hysterics. 'Okay mom, I guess you're right. maybe there are a lot of bad signs today, but maybe God is trying to tell us something.Remember what you tell me, there is always a blessing in disguise.'

Note: Nastia and I have a running commentary on 'blessings in disguise' She thinks the very idea is ridiculous. I know it is almost always the case. Last week I sat at my kitchen table discussing 'blessings in disguise' with an out-of-work friend who was struggling to see any blessing in his current state of unemployment. Nastia chirped in from the other room in a very loud voice,


I've laughed at and pondered her declaration all week. Tonight it came to me -- I want 2012 to be my NAK*D blessing year. God knows I've had enough of the disguised kind. Now I'm on the lookout for straightforwardly au naturel, totally exposed, stark-nak*d blessings. 2012, let's see that patootie!

Note: I had to take out the full word (n8ked) because I was getting thousands of google hits from men searching the words RUSSIAN and GIRL(s) and N8ked. GROSS.