Loving the Rollercoaster, Hating the Rollercoaster

Hating the Rollercoaster: I am at a loss for words.  I am very disappointed in the way she has been treating me, Eileen, our family and our friends.  For someone who appears so classy she has been anything but classy in her behavior.  She can be charming one minute and rude and obnoxious the next.  I have been bending over backwards to accommodate her moodiness and exercise patience but I have had enough of this mistreatment of hers.

But I am also torn.  I cannot compare what I am enduring – a petulant, moody, hurting, rude, insulting, attitude laden teenager – to what Christ endured.  Really, there is no comparison.  I will endure this and I will do my very best to turn the other cheek but I will also set boundaries.  Daniela will know that her behavior is not acceptable and there are some consequences.  She will also learn that her abominable behavior is not a reflection on us but rather on her.  Lastly, she will know that no matter what she does or says we will continue to love and care for her.

Sorry but I just had to vent there

Loving the Rollercoaster:  Today was a trip to the amusement park and, despite the attitude problems from our petunia, the day definitely had its bright spots.  Laima joined us again and really seemed to enjoy herself.  She got her first taste of cotton candy and she really liked it.

Tricia Hoffa and her family (including Zhenya) met us up at Knoebel’s.  Daniela and Zhenya really seemed to enjoy themselves.  They especially enjoyed the water rides!!  We all went on the wooden rollercoaster, except for Daniela and Laima, and really had a blast.  What a rush!  More importantly it was really nice to watch Daniela interacting with Zhenya and enjoying herself, albeit for only a few hours.  The magic seemed to dissipate as soon as we got in the car to go home but the moments are cherished.



Today was like most of the days with Daniela – a bit of a rollercoaster.  We started the day with her pretty much dismissing with disgust anything I offered her for breakfast.  The cereal she has been eating all along she now doesn’t like; she is sick to death of the yogurt she’s been gobbling up since day one; and let’s not even mention the tea!!  She would continually storm off leaving me to shrug my shoulders and telling her “When you figure out what it is you want , let me know.”  She wanted regular bread, margarine, regular sausage and regular black tea.  Of course we don’t have any of that in the house so we stop at a grocery story on the way to get Laima for the day.

After a series of translation and language issues I determined that “regular sausage” is not sausage at all but rather bologna and “regular bread” is white bread.  We picked up some peaches and apples too.  She seemed to like those.  Then she smiled when we came to the bakery section and pointed at the doughnut case.  One doughnut and one blueberry danish later she was a happy camper.

After we got Laima we headed back home and began making the traditional Latvian birthday cake (which is really more like bread).  It turned out pretty darn good.  Laima assisted in the kitchen and it was very much appreciated.  So it was off to the Adams’ house for the party with cake in tow; Daniela has no idea.

There must have been about 30 people there from church.  We are so blessed to have such great friends as they truly practice being God’s hands and feet to each other and to the community.  When it came time to sing “Happy Birthday” Daniela had no idea until she heard her name being sung and the cake was placed in front of her.  She smiled quite a bit and really enjoyed the attention and gifts from all.  She especially relished the time with the little kids who came up to her and hugged her and wished her happy birthday.

She accepted some gifts at her 1/2 birthday but did not want to open them. That was fine. It was very sweet to go up to her room when she was at Knoebels with Phil and find wrapping paper everywhere! It looked like Christmas in July. The evidence of her opening every gift was all around – nail polish, body spray, hair thingys, perfect thoughtful gifts from our friends. I could see that she was excited even though she was not even there. It was great!

The rollercoaster ride ended on a high note!

Daisy Chains and Nail Polish

We had a pretty good day today.  She still scowled and sulked and pouted but she came down this morning from her room and she went out with me and Laima, a Latvian chaperone, and spent time at the lake today.  Progress.

Laima was gracious enough to spend the day with us and it was a tremendous help today.  Little did we realize that God’s plan had us helping each other.  Turns out she had a rough morning with her host family and needed  to get out of the house.  Meanwhile Daniela had someone to talk to and Laima coaxed her along throughout the day.  Hmmm, imagine that!

Eileen hooked up with us at the end of the day at her mom’s house.  My nieces Irina and Nadia and nephew Vitaly were also there.  Laima showed Eileen how to make a traditional Latvian headdress out of daisies while Irina had the idea that I needed my toenails painted.  I had nothing to lose by trying to get Daniela to smile (she had been extremely rude to our friends and family throughout here visit and that continued today- more later) so it was on.  By the end of the session my toenails were painted, I had a floral wreath in my hair and a bouquet in my hands.  It worked.



Daniela continued to “spar” with Eileen once we got home.  Eileen had to get after her about being rude to people and especially to me; to which she received some choice remarks.  Then it turned to food – at first claiming that our food is sickening and then asking Eileen to call me on the phone and have me bring home sausage and potatoes.  She would walk away and minutes later would reconnect with us.

Last night she had told us that her ‘friend’ in Latvia was dying of leukemia and dropped a hint of other personal things.  Eileen pointed asked her a few questions tonight about it all of which went unanswered.  She spoke to her chaperone Dace today and Dace later related to us that Daniela was puzzled as she did not get the response she expected when she hinted at the personal things – we did not yell at her.  We also learned that her ‘friend’ is in fact her boyfriend is is as fit as a fiddle.

What have we learned about this girl so far is this: she is smart and crafty; she can be moody; she is constantly TESTING, TESTING, TESTING to see if we really mean it when we tell her that we love her.  It’s like she’s saying, “You say you love me.  Let’s see if you still love me if I am rude to you and to your friends and family.  Let’s see if you still love me when I shut you out completely.  Let’s see if you still love me when I am acting like an emotional lunatic”

Dace asked if we were “ok” with Daniela; do we need to switch her to another family.  We explained to Dace that we understand that she is a teenage girl and teenage girls are horrible;  we also know that Daniela has had a rough time viz. her father;  we understand that she is stubborn and doesn’t like being told what to do;  we are not giving up on Daniela.

Aukstā Zupa

I don’t know about anyone else but this family is whipped, exhausted and otherwise drained.  While I’m sure this incredible heat has something to do with it, I am just as sure the roller-coaster emotions, busy pace and holiday have played a major role.

Today started early for me (so what else is new) as I was playing as part of the music worship team at church.  [As a quick aside, I wonder if anyone else in the hosting program is finding it difficult to sleep.  I have not been able to sleep past 6 a.m. yet!  Nerves, excitement? Who knows.]  Anyway, at the end of services, during the final prayer, Peter starts his yelling out loud.  We just couldn’t help but start to giggle and laugh under our breath, especially Daniela.  I think she liked the way Peter was praying.  At times during the service, Daniela appeared to be paying some attention to Michael, our pastor. Hmm? Was she able to pick up a few words here and there? Maybe.

We rolled back into Bethlehem and Eileen and Daniela had to take a long nap; they were just exhausted.  Peter and I ran off to the grocery store and did the weekly shopping.  Eventually Daniela awoke from her slumber and came downstairs.  She typed a question into the translator asking me if I would like some cold soup and if she can make it for me.  Of course, I readily agreed and asked her to go with me to the store.  She smiled and said yes.  At the store we bought all the ingredients she needed.  She was unconcerned with not finding the right kind of sausage (aka bologna) necessary as “I will be able to take [make] still something delicious [for] yourself.”  When I asked her if she wanted anything else at the store she nodded her head “I want something sweet and delicious.” Really love this girl!

At home we began preparing the meal (yes we have a secret video of it unbeknownst to Daniela).  We all sat down to dinner and Daniela was beaming when we “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed”, gave her a round of applause and showered her with compliments. Peter was looking at the pink soup as if to say “You have got to be kidding me! You want me to eat that?” He pushed the bowl away.   Daniela was beside herself with laughter!  She said he does not like “pink” food and that he was on a diet!  That made all of us howl!!  She also said to him that now he knows what she feels like about our food – strange tastes, smells and spices.

After a quick walk of the dogs, Daniela decided she did not want to go to swim tonight.  That was cool with us.  Netflix tonight!  She is taking it easy upstairs as I type this.

Tomorrow Eileen goes to work for the week so Daniela and I will have some time together.  Looking forward to all the awkwardness, frustration, love and laughter that this week has in store for us.  God is so good!!!

On Top of the World

On Saturday, we ventured into the Emerald City to see the Wizard.  We discovered that the Wizard had returned to Kansas for the holiday weekend which was just fine with us!  We enjoyed our day in the Big Apple – just us five and about 8 million residents and other tourists.

Joining us on our excursion was Laima Bula, a chaperone who happens to be staying with a family here in Bethlehem, PA.  Laima was very sweet and so kind.  I think that Laima and Daniela appreciated the opportunity to talk to someone in their native tongue.  They both were laughing and smiling throughout the day.

Our first stop was Ground Zero.  We did not visit the memorial partly because we had limited time but also because we couldn’t find the entrance!  We hooked up with my cousin, Susan, who spent the day traipsing around the city with us.  It was nice to have a member of my family get the chance to meet Daniela and spend a little time with her.

The first thing Daniela asked when we arrived in the city was where do we go swimming?  We had to explain to her that there is no place to swim in NYC.  She immediately became annoyed and adopted a little attitude.  Even Laima exclaimed “Teenagers!”  Once we showed her the East River she began to understand!  Eileen and I were determined to enjoy the day and have some fun even if it meant dragging Daniela along until her mood changed.  We’ve learned this much about her – she is stubborn but will eventually come around when she realizes she can enjoy the situation and have some fun.

After a little lunch we hopped on the famous NYC subway and headed uptown to Rockefeller Center.  Everyone enjoyed the beautiful surroundings with the wonderful architecture, the shade trees, the sculptures and all the crowds.  Laima and Daniela enjoyed trying to find the Latvian flag in the plaza and squealed with delight and applause when they found it.

At this point Daniela was starting to warm up.  We went to the Top of the Rock to take in the magnificent views with the weather being ideal.  Daniela asked to have the camera so she could take pictures as we were heading up in the elevator (she was beginning to get excited but didn’t want to admit it).  When we got to the top, everyone was speechless!  The views were breathtaking.

After a brief stop in Times Square our sweaty, tired family headed for home.  Daniela played some of her mp3 music through the car stereo and we were dancing and singing along. She had been reluctant to play her music for us and was relieved (I imagine) when we enjoyed it!  When we arrived home Daniela wanted to email the pictures of her adventure to Inga her house director back in Latvia.  So we did that and sent Daniela a copy of the email (Eileen managed to smoothly get that email contact info from Daniela so now we have a way to keep in touch with her when she returns to Latvia).

After a little light supper, we went upstairs to tuck our girl in to bed.  Her bed was unmade and her clothes were scattered throughout the room.  We jokingly acted in horror at the “mess” and Daniela enjoyed a good laugh.  She said that in her room her feet never touch the floor because of all the stuff on the floor.  She says that she likes to have small rooms so the things she has will fill up the space and make her feel cozy.

Another very good day where the walls came down a little bit more.

Cannonballs, Water Pistols and a Dress

Yesterday was Independence Day. As anyone who has been following this adventure knows our time with Daniela has been indescribable, wonderful and tough all at the same time.  We began the day with uncertainty. Uncertain as to how this day would start out, uncertain as to which direction it would go and uncertain as to what lay before us.

After some gentle prodding Daniela emerged from her room and ate some breakfast.  We filled her in on the plans for the day and she showered and dressed.  We were going to our friends’ house – Wayne and Linda Adams – for a BBQ and swimming.  She came down the stairs wearing a simple cotton maxi dress that I had bought for her while she and Eileen were getting a mani/pedi on Monday.  She had told us that she liked those and wanted one.  I couldn’t believe it!  Daniela looked … radiant! A tiny smile even broke out as we vigorously showed our approval by applauding!!!

We spent the day swimming.  Daniela is in her element in the water.  She was laughing, interacting and being mischievous all day long.  She was tipping us off our floating rafts in the pool, pushing us into the pool and occasionally bombing us with cannonballs!!!  Then when it came time for retribution from me or Eileen she would squeal and run away saying “Noooooo”.  When she wasn’t looking I would swim underwater and grab her ankles making her squeal with laughter.   Daniela and I even did a few choreographed cannonball jumps together.  Loads of fun.

Peter refused to get in the pool but that did not deter Daniela.  She grabbed a water pistol and began soaking him with it.  We all joined in the fun. When that wasn’t enough Daniela poured water on him and splashed him non-stop.  Peter does NOT like getting splashed but he was LOVING it from Daniela.

Peter and Daniela have formed some connection in the week she has been here.  He makes her giggle with his gusto for food and Daniela has begun to mimic some of his rudimentary language skills.  When Pete claps, Daniela responds with clapping.  When Pete makes his guttural “whale” noises,  Daniela answers in kind.  That makes Pete smile and Daniela rolls her eyes at him and smiles back.

At the end of the night, we were sunburned and exhausted.

This young woman has been through so much pain and rejection in her life, things we cannot and will not share here.  She cannot understand how we (strangers) can tell her we love her when her own family does not love her.  But I think she is beginning to understand that love now.  She obviously struggles with letting her guard down to let in some love and let out some love; she wants to so much but then she feels vulnerable and scared so she throws up the wall and pushes us away.  This is followed by letting her guard down a little more when she sees that we still love her and are NEVER giving up on her even when she is at her worst.



Girls Day Out and the Eye Doctor

Today was the dreaded eye doctor visit.  Daniela was anxious (although she swore to us that she was not nervous) as she is self-conscious about the near total loss of sight in one eye due to an accident.  She was a real trooper and got through it without a hitch.  The doctor, on the other hand, was more concerned about covering his butt for liability purposes (as he could not get a read on her bad eye) than he was in taking care of his patient.  We rescheduled the appointment and will have it set up to have the interpreter (not the google translator app) do the talking.

Afterwards, Eileen and Daniela  got a manicure and pedicure.  She really enjoyed the chairs – they had a massage feature!! Very nice!!!!  Daniela was still shy about pictures where she is the subject but she’ll warm up to it.  Very nice to see the two ladies bonding.

Later, they went on a shopping trip to the grocery store.  Daniela got to pick out foods she wanted (chicken nuggets and tomato juice) and saw the pizza you can make at home at the store.  Excitedly she asked if we can make Hawaiian pizza with the pizza dough shell and, of course, we were happy to oblige her!!

Daniela started her English lessons today and stated emphatically “English does not make sense; I will not attempt it.”  However, Eileen managed to get her to say her first English word “tomato” by telling her that if we require Peter to give the sign for pizza she had to say the word for tomato juice. Brilliant.  She later said “water” and “Peter”!!!

More adventures tomorrow.


What a Difference a Day Makes

It is 10 PM on Sunday night.  This day has been a day of miracles but it did not start out that way.  We have to thank that countless prayers that were offered up for Daniela for the breakthrough achieved today.  Tomorrow may see a different set of circumstances but the results of today cannot be denied.

The day started with tip-toes to the kitchen to root through some candy.  There was a brief smile when we said our good mornings to each other and then …. we met with some resistance.  When told she needed to wash up and put on some clean clothes for church she had a little bit of a tissue-tearing moment.  Then she stalled and stalled until Eileen gently but firmly informed her she had five minutes to come downstairs.  She came but she wasn’t pleased.

While at church we introduced her to our friends there which was met with sullenness and attitude as only a teenager can do.  Our friend Cathy graciously offered a slew of clothes for Daniela to try on and topped it off with a lovely little card written in Latvian!!!  That started the ice to melt.

The younger kids at church had made “welcome” cards for Daniela and decorated them with lots of stickers and flowers and colorful drawings.  After Sunday school was over they all went upstairs and handed them to her saying “Sveika”.  That brought out a smile on her face.

Then we went to a friends house and met up with a few of our friends from church.  Linda and Wayne were so loving in offering their hospitality and Jana, Miriya and Alex were fantastic in helping her feel relaxed.  After chowing down some pizza, chips and soda we hopped into the pool (even though it was raining at points).  Daniela eventually joined us in the pool!! She laughed, floated around and swam like a fish!  She interacted so well with everyone, including me, and was joking and playing with Peter!

Afterwards, when we were home, she told us that she really likes tomato juice and could we get some at the store for her.  She then asked us to keep Peter downstairs while she took a shower in order to insure some privacy.  We finished off the night with a netflix movie and our new ritual – the nightly affirmation (“Daniela is a joy to spend time with”), “Arlabunakti”, “saldie sapni” and “mes tevi milu” (good night, sweet dreams and we love you).



D-Day (Daniela Day)

What a whirlwind of a day!!!!  Woke up at 4:30 a.m. (I did, Eileen slept like a baby) because of all the nervous energy of the anticipated arrival of Daniela.  We were on the road by 9 and headed for our rendezvous at JFK Airport in Queens, NY.  We hit a few traffic snarls along the way but we arrived at the airport by 12 and met up with some of the other families.  It was quite special to finally get the chance to meet the people behind the facebook personas – Trish, LeAnn, Paula and Kristine just to name a few.

Apparently there was some glitches getting through customs so although the plane landed by 12:30 the kids didn’t start filtering out until almost 2.  It was weird but recognizing some of there faces from the photo album it was almost like we already knew them even though we only met them for the first time today. We spent months pouring over their profiles and later talking with their host families and here they were … for real!

It was really quite indescribable to see all these lovely young people filled with such joy and promise as they walked through the terminal toward us.  Several waves of lime-green t-shirted young people came past us but no Daniela yet.  One of the girls, Kristine, lives with Daniela and overheard us asking about her.  She was kind enough to tell us that Daniela was coming!!

Finally, Daniela came into view and you would have thought that we were a bunch of kids on Christmas morning the way we were yelling “Svieka Daniela” and jumping up and down!  She smiled and waved.  Then we hugged her and welcomed her and waited for the “all clear” signal before heading out.  After several pictures we said our “good byes” and headed for home.  We had some fun pantomiming what the car sickness bags were for and that made Daniela laugh.  Daniela was whipped and fell asleep in the car.

We arrived home at about 5:30.  We practiced our language skills (Latvian and English) and had some dinner.  Daniela really enjoyed watching Peter eat with such gusto … she giggled at him (perhaps because she was such a dainty and slow eater).  We showed her her room and how to use the shower, had her read her first affirmation, kissed and hugged her good night and wished her Saldie Sapni (Sweet Dreams).