Love Transforms (Pt. 5) – And The Dam Finally Breaks

This is Part 5 of our story with Daniela.  We’ve taken snippets of our blog, www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com, and reposted them here.  If you want the full version fell free to read it at that website.

We wasted little time heading over to Assateague island and the beach.  The Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and is home to hundreds of wild horses – not to mention herons, bald eagles and other wildlife.  The beach had been decimated by Sandy last October but is in great shape now.  The water was “refreshing” and the surf was perfect for boogie-boarding!  Daniela was a little reluctant to go in at first but when she saw all of us – including Peter – having fun in the surf she eventually joined us.  Even Pete enjoyed the pounding surf.IMG_0377

Daniela is a girl who initially says “no” to new surroundings, new adventures, new foods and new challenges.  But once she warms up to the idea and tries it she is all in!  Same was true today about boogie-boarding.  The first time she went in the sea she didn’t touch the board.  Second time’s the charm though.  She and Eileen were rocking and rolling on those boogie boards!!!  She had a blast. — July 22, 2013

What I got was a different sort of relationship; one that is complicated – very complicated – coupled with moments of simplicity. Things have happened at their own pace and in their own seemingly bumpy, twisted direction – sometimes it has been a series of fits and starts. D and I have had a rollercoaster of a relationship since she arrived on the scene. Some days have been full of walls coming down followed swiftly by walls going back up. It can be an exasperating journey this hosting business. Whew! It can try your patience and make you talk to yourself and question your sanity and laugh out loud and smile a lot and feel a connection on some level – all in the same day. — July 24, 2013
I have learned so much about so many things during this process – faith, love, understanding (to name a few). I have seen a stranger touch a young man’s heart and a young man start to break down some walls she built for protection. I see two “parents” using unconditional love and understanding to meet a young woman’s painful issues. Some days are better than others but we make progress. It is an unconventional family in the making. It’s so complicated when human frailty and fears are involved and yet it is so simple – keep meeting those fears and fragility with love, wait for those magic moments with D and stay out of God’s way. — July 24, 2013
HPIM3937[D]espite the fact we didn’t “go” anywhere we really went somewhere deep today, very deep. Today Daniela seemed the most relaxed she has ever been since she arrived. She spent the day napping, listening to her music (even played it loud so we all could listen to it), playing with Peter and doing a whole lot of smiling.
Throughout the day she was playing little games with Peter. She fed him sunflower seeds and laughed when he ate them shell and all. She gave him fruit herbal tea bags and squealed when he would pop them in him mouth and chew on them and then spit them out like a big wad of chewing tobacco. She lined up bits of french fries on the table hoping that Peter would eat them one by one. Fat chance. Pete scooped them all up in one fell swoop and shoved them in his mouth faster than you could say “finger-lickin’ good”. She was in stitches!!
We decided to go out to eat tonight. Eileen overheard one of the servers speaking and noted that she sounded Russian. Sure enough, Natalia was indeed from Russia. Well, we introduced her to Daniela, she began talking to her in Russian and D had a smile as big as the day is long. She even tried some shrimp! When it came time for dessert we asked Natalia if they had any Russian Napoleon Tort. “No,” she said; we explained that D had made some for us and D was beaming as Natalia talked with her about that scrumptious dessert.
Back at the ranch D explains she will take a shower as she heads down the hallway. Good Lord, Eileen!! Is she humming? I believe she is! Wait, wait. I think she’s even singing!! WOW!! Not only is she singing, she is using the removable showerhead as a “microphone”, stretched it into the hallway so we could watch her and going Milli Vanilli on us! She was laughing and we were right there with her, laughing and applauding.
No photos were taken today. No videos were recorded. Yet today we will not forget. Today is the day Daniela and the rest of us took this relationship a little bit deeper than where it was. It’s not Mariana Trench deep but it doesn’t have to be. The fact is the family dynamic improved greatly today, proving yet again that time, being present in the moments and love will cut inroads through the jungle of fear and pain. — July 26, 2013
[S]he gestures our sign for a small store. Mmmmm. Off to a sweet little shop where my friend Connie works and has amazing fashion sense. Another success! She selects a white sweater that sort of is a cape and sweater in one…looks beautiful! A few more items, she is beaming with joy! Arrive home and she write me a note in English, from her Latvian/English dictionary. “I would like to try lobster or crab”…. I have no words. After much haranguing and rolling of eyes over my trying to translate the process of purchasing lobster, she cuts to the chase and chooses to have Phil and Peter go in search of said items.
Not only does she want us to go get the lobster but she seems to indicate that it should be us three that goes. At first, I didn’t really understand that she wanted to join Pete and I but she repeated the gesture that the three of us should go on the lobster quest. So, this is rather unusual that she requests to be with me but I jump up and head to the car. I dare not let this opportunity pass. Off we go to the seafood vendor and sure enough they have lobsters!! D and Pete wait in the car while I pick out the lobsters and grab some shrimp. I didn’t even make it into the car with the lobsters before D started shrieking and screaming. I took full advantage of this and took one of the lobsters out of the bag so she could get a good long look at it. Oh my God!!! Her screams almost shattered my eardrums. I had an ear-to-ear grin!
Back at the house she asks if the lobsters are alive. I nod but then point to the pot of hot water, pantomiming the lobsters going into the pot and then my best imitation of rigor mortis setting in – lobster style. When I put the lobsters on the counter she shrieked a bit more but curiosity overtook her fears. I showed her how to pick it up and reassured her that she was in no danger. Sure enough D picked it up, looked at it square in the eye and practically insisted we take pictures of her while she held the lobster. Not only that … Daniela grabbed the camera (a first since she’s been here) and started taking pictures too. What followed was a veritable frenzy of claw cracking, tail eating, butter dipping and shrimp peeling that would put Daryl Hannah ala “Splash” to shame.
I am trying not to spend any effort in figuring this out. Mostly because I know that it has nothing really to do with anything I have done. All we have done for Daniela is give her the room to breath, get acclimated, trust us, set firm boundaries and love her. Today she checked in with her chaperone. In the past there has been a serious or sullen tone in her voice when doing this. Not today; today there was an abundance of animated, joyous tones, twinkling eyes, smiles and many “labi” throughout the phone call (“labi” means “good” in Latvian). She is relaxed and enjoying herself. She has surrendered to being herself while in the midst of this crazy, unconventional family and in the process has become a part of this family … forever. — July 27, 2013
Today began in beautiful Chicoteague Island Va. We have been blessed to own a vintage 1961 Marlette trailer that sits back on a quiet lane. It’s really groovy and the same age as Phil and he is also very groovy! But the grooviest thing about it is that for the past week our little family has called this home. Snuggled in probably 500 square feet we had some awesome together time. We saw a beautiful side of Daniela that she had kept under wraps. We swam in the ocean, hung out and did nothing, laughed at lobsters and relaxed.
D had a habit of waking up Peter each day by singing “PEEETER YUM YUMS”, at the sound of which he would very groggily pop out of bed and stumble to the kitchen and await her next command. So we heard that a lot…PEEEETER YUM YUMS …. and she would sometimes trick him by giving him an empty raisin box.  He would give her a look and each time try not to fall for her shenanigans. He loves the game they play and so does she. She shares with him enough food for there to be a good chance of yummys so he plays the game even if it’s an empty box of raisins.
Dinner is served. Pasta with garlic and shrimp…and ketchup for the Latvian at the table…lots of it…coming out of the bottle are sounds to rival some serious intestinal issues. She pauses when the bottle makes the squirting sound, we all look around…PEEETER!!! She sings…As if he was responsible for the symphony. We laughed so hard I though Phil was going to need resuscitation. Beautiful the sounds of farts from the ketchup at the dinner table!
Phil heads out to pick up the last dog from the sitter. While he’s gone D starts calling PEEETER YUM YUM HOTDOGS….POPCORN…..SPRITE.. she’s laughing hysterically and I am in awe of hidden English words and Peter, well, face it, he is NOT falling for this. — July 28, 2013

Love Transforms – Rollercoasters and Surprise Parties (Pt. 3)

This is Part 3 of our condensed version of our adventures with Daniels during the Summer of 2013.  For the full story visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com.

I prayed a lot today. As frustrated as I was at not being able to spend time with her today I had to turn this one over the God. I cannot break through the walls this girl has erected over her 16 years; the walls that protect her from being hurt from rejection (especially rejection from older males – such as her father). So I prayed that God would somehow whisper to her heart that it is okay to let some light and love in; that she will not be hurt by me; that she can trust me. I think she kind of knows that already in her heart (where the love resides) but her mind (where the fear resides) has temporarily taken her heart hostage. – July 8, 2013

****
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 Daniela1006150_608255112539844_2027515651_n 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 … 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.

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” – July 9, 2013977384_486911604725210_2115226007_o

****
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. – July 10, 2013

**** 1052883_608633365835352_726081464_o
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.

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. – July 11, 2013IMG_0301

****
We had a little conversation this morning about her less than appropriate attitude toward us, our friends and our families.

Her response (in a nutshell): I do not like you; good behavior from her we will never see; it is disgusting when you say you love me; your house smells like dogs and it disgusts me; Americans are the most disgusting people in all the world; I think about leaving here all the time and the longer I stay here the worse it will be for you.

My counteroffer: We cannot force you to be polite but the choice is yours – be angry and miserable or try to enjoy; either way we love and care for you no matter what you do and that will not change; I am aware that you do not like me although I have done nothing to deserve this mistreatment; I am trying my best; you are wrong Daniela – the longer you stay here it will NOT be worse for us. – July 12, 2013

****
She enjoyed an indoor picnic lunch with everyone gathered around the kitchen table. Hot dogs, pasta salad, cucumber salad and watermelon were enjoyed by all. Peter was the entertainment with his gusto for food; he had Conner, Ryan and Daniela laughing with his eating many pieces of watermelon and trying to steal the peaches on the table at the same time.

The highlight of the day had to be Alex, Jana’s three-year old son. When he arrived around noon, Daniela was hiding in her room under the covers. When it was time to head out to the pool, Alex went up to her room (with Peter in tow) and jumped on her bed. “Wake up! It’s time to go swimming!” he said. She could not resist such a charming young man. (I come to find out later that it seems Alex has a crush on Daniela.)

Off to the pool we all go for an afternoon of swimming, water slides, cannonballs and conversation. Daniela played with Alex and Jana in the pool and had a nice time. It was quite an enjoyable time had by all. It was topped off with a trip to the local ice cream joint. Ahhhh! A good day indeed. – July 13, 2013

****
Daniela has developed a really cool relationship with Peter over the past two weeks. She has interacted very well with him and he with her. She has taken to mimicking his vocalizations … and playing keep-away with his beloved and well-worn pillow. She teases him in a way only a sister could get away with – hiding her food from him when he approaches, taking the front seat and relegating him to the rear seat in the car, and playfully taking his food away from him and taunting him with it. Peter adores her!Daniela and Peter Smiling

We went out to grab a little light dinner and while there something magical seemed to occur. I believe we had the beginnings of light dinner conversation in broken Latvian on our part and some English on her part!! WOW!! Eileen called me a “pensionars” – senior citizen – and Daniela and she laughed (so did I). Then Daniela said “Do you speak English?” fluently. This was immediately followed up with us saying “Kas jauns?” – What’s up? Daniela responded with “I am a tourist” and “I’ve lost my traveling companion.” We laughed and laughed as Peter – her traveling companion – was away for the week [at camp]. – July 14, 2013

Love Transforms – Sweet and Delicious (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of our condensed version of our adventures with Daniels during the Summer of 2013.  For the full story visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com.

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”!!! – July 1, 2013

****
It’s up, it’s down, you’re great, you suck, you are the worst host family ever … Followed by the most words I’ve heard the whole week shouted at us (in Latvian) from under the covers. We suspect it wasn’t a friendly good night.

I need to understand that is “ok” to say no. Teaching what a healthy family looks like may not always be met with warm hugs and yippy – skippy.

I don’t know much about Daniela but this is what I do know from a few short days with her: She is smart; She is stubborn as a mule; She has a killer smile and a goofy sense of humor; She is organized and likes to plan; She is very used to going out with her friends and they are not here; She carries a deep sorrow and doesn’t know what to do with that stuff. – July 2, 2013

****

We had several phone calls with her chaperone who then relayed to us some VERY pertinent information. Daniela says she does not understand how we can say that we love her when we barely know her while her own family does not love her. She is not used to this “love” thing and is probably waiting for the other shoe to drop – the shoe that says we don’t love her and pass her along to someone else. So she is testing us to see if we really mean what we say – that we love her, even at her worst.

No matter what happens, we will continue to have faith and will continue to persevere. We love this girl and it may not be until the middle of July that she realizes that our love for her is genuine and without conditions. We will wait because she is worth the wait. – July 3, 2013

****

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!!!Daniela 2013 050

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. – July 4, 2013

****

We were able to plan a morning of biking at a nearby lake. Little did I realize there is no swimming, just boating, so the swim plans were kaboshed. I suggested we could go to the pool. No “only lakes or the sea”. I explained there was no sea in Bethlehem Pa and not even a close lake, but we had two rivers and a lovely public swimming pool. Daniela has this great way of turning her head just so and making a ehh sound that translates into : WHATEVER. Biking was great. So it was after the Whatever and we left the park… we passed a small restaurant and continued to drive. About five minutes in she types something and then blurts it out “I want for Ice Cream.” I almost drove off the road. She started giggling and hiding behind the tablet. I rolled down the windows and hollered to the sky “Ice Cream Ice cream She wants for Ice Cream” It was awesome.

Daniela 2013 040She is excited to go to New York tomorrow … She is so smart and determined. She is not your typical teen but she is. She tells Peter that she gets the front seat. He listens. She wore the dress Phil picked out and purchased all by himself for her. She talked about her boyfriend and that they quarreled over her coming here. I got to tell her what a brave and good choice she made. She wore her cute red keds.

It was Phil who said we should host a girl. Oh no; not me! I’m a boy mom, girls are scary, I was one, yikes, crap, etc etc. He is such a smart husband. For whatever reason God has sent this beloved child to us to nurture and teach and learn from. We are blessed. This could all change by tomorrow but for this moment in time my heart is full, I am grateful and I know there are no mistakes in His plan. – July 5, 2013

****

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. … Once we showed her the East River she began to understand!

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.

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!IMG_0237

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.

Another very good day where the walls came down a little bit more. – July 6, 2013

****

IMG_0239Eventually 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.1053103_10201348090294878_1410379423_o

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. – July 7, 2013

Head Rubs and Plush Toys

It’s Mother’s Day.IMG_20150512_104652525

Eileen received a very nice card, signed by all of us and a coil ceramic jar purchased at the high school art show Friday night.  It is a lovely pale yellow with accents of green and purple.  Everyone is chattering away and wishing Eileen a Happy Mother’s Day over breakfast.  A very good start to the day as we head off to church.

Peter has been in an exceptionally joyous mood since he woke up.  He is laughing and smiling and very vocal.  We sit in our usual spot in church with Peter sitting between me and Eileen.  Peter is most definitely enjoying the moment.  As the service begins he is dancing and singing with the music.  As Jonathan is delivering the message, Peter is affectionately taking my hand and rubbing his head in that certain place and way that he enjoys.  Eventually, he leans in and begins to do something he’s never done before.  He positions the top of his head against the side of my face and begins to rub his head against my jaw line much like a cat rubs its head against an object.  He continues to do this throughout the message, all the while “purring”, sighing and smiling as he enjoys the sensation he gets from this “stimulation”.  Even Kris commented on his unusual display of affection

Later that day, Kris and I go fishing IMG_20150510_173650513in the Lehigh River in Bethlehem.  Eileen silently thanks me for a few hours of quiet and relaxation on Mother’s Day.  We enjoy the sunshine and the refreshing waters of the river as we rhythmically cast and retrieve our lines.  A few hours later, Eileen and Pete surprise us at the fishing hole and Kris proudly displays his first bass of the season.

As the day draws to a close, Kris presents Eileen with a plush toy bunny rabbit that he won several weeks ago in a toy machine outside a big box store.  “I got this for you for Mother’s Day,” he says.  I was astounded at this breakthrough.  This is a big deal! He and Eileen have struggled somewhat in breaking down his old walls and prejudices against mother figures.  This day, the walls came down and he showed some genuine affection for her.

IMG_20150511_133507653As nighttime approached, Eileen and Kris were sitting on the couch – she was watching some TV and he was playing a computer game.  Interspersed with that was some conversations about a variety of things. I was upstairs and as I came down the stairs, hearing the conversations … it hit me.  A feeling of love and peace washed over me and I realized that we are a family.  It’s hard to describe but I just knew that God revealed the blessing of family to me in that moment.  It was probably there all along but the busy-ness of the past nine months or so likely clouded my vision.  Nevertheless, we are one.

Now, Kris says he’d a like a sister!

Love Transforms – Part 1

The next few posts will be collection of snippets from my blog in 2013 chronicling our adventures in summer hosting for a Latvian teenager – Daniela.  They will be laid out in chronological order and I hope that you will enjoy the ride.  For a full read of these posts, go to www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com

****

This is the first of many posts about our adventure for the Summer of 2013. Eileen, Peter and I are hosting a young woman, an orphan, from Latvia for five weeks this summer. We are both terrified and excited all at the same time. We don’t know very much about her except that she is 17, her name is Daniela and she is studying cosmetology in Latvia.

What we do know are several things: we are thrilled to be hosting her; we believe that this is God’s will for us to be hosting her; and, we KNOW that we will be forever changed by this experience.

We have been actively fundraising for several months now and things are going well on that front. We have also been connecting with other families across the country who are hosting other orphans through the same organization, New Horizons for Children. The meeting of other families of like spirit, heart and mission has been a blessing to us as we prepare for Daniela’s arrival. – May 19, 2013

****
We continue to make headway on her bedroom (I ran the new electric and Eileen is repainting). We have an American flag and a Latvian flag for decorations. More will be added soon. We will make sure that the Latvian flag is flying along with the American flag for when she arrives on June 27th!

Friends, church and family continue to support our efforts financially and, more importantly, in prayer. God continues to confirm that this is our mission … to love and serve orphans. Frankly, we couldn’t be happier and more assured of His will. – May 21, 2013

****
Ok, it is now officially the un-official start of the Summer of Hope. Slowly we are making headway in the attic (plan is to have it painted by the end of the weekend) and then it is on to finding a mattress for her bed and perhaps a dresser/nightstand. We are finding that the “things” we need for Daniela’s visit with us are easily falling into place.IMG_0129

Our prayer support network continues to grow. Our love for a young woman, whom we have never met, continues to grow as well. Our family is waiting with arms and hearts wide open for her arrival to America. It feels like she’s already there. –May 25, 2013

****
Home safety inspection looms – tomorrow at 6 pm.

Eileen’s theory is to hide all the crap in the washing machine. Skeletons neatly tucked away in the closets. Dogs are sedated. Batteries changed in the smoke detectors. Bribe money conspicuously lying around (ha ha ha). Phil has promised to watch his vulgarity for a short period of time (Lord we need a miracle on this one)!

There is nothing more to do except …. pray!! — June 3, 2013

****
Well, the safety inspection went very well (thank God she didn’t look in the basement). Seriously, Nancy was sweet and we enjoyed getting to know her.

We now are focusing on getting the last items done on the list before June 27th. Speaking of which, we found out this week that Daniela’s flight arrives at JFK on June 27 at 1 p.m. Sooooo excited! We have some photos framed for her room, we have a variety of small gifts and other items ready for her (mp3 player, necklace, purse, etc) and we have been brushing up on our Latvian language skills!

Eileen used her artsy skills to make Daniela’s welcome sign for the arrival at JFK. Looks wonderful! Today, the kids at Church will be making welcome cards for Daniela and learning a few key Latvian phrases to make Daniela feel welcome. More to come … — June 9, 2013

****
Today is Father’s Day. As we celebrated the important role that Dad’s play in the family we heard a very inspiring sermon in church this morning. The topic of the “conversation” was Superheroes. The gist of the conversation was that superheroes, like Superman, have super-powers – x-ray vision, strength, speed, etc. Unlike our societal concept of what super-powers a superhero needs, Jesus flipped over that concept. Jesus says the meek, peacemakers, the poor, the grieving, etc are the real heroes. I can be a “superhero” by modeling my life after Jesus’ life – serving the downtrodden, the sick, the outcasts, etc with compassion, love and humility.

That struck a chord with me today. In about ten days a young woman will be experiencing life with our family here in America. While certainly we will have lots of fun and learn many things about each other, my priority is to be of service to God by taking the love and compassion and humility he showed to me and doing likewise to Daniela. We must be of service to her, meet her where she is and love her unconditionally!

By the grace of God I pray that she may know God’s love for her through our love for her. – June 16, 2013

****
Words cannot begin to express how excited we are! We are down to counting the hours …. yes, hours …. until Daniela is physically with us. I know it sounds crazy to most people but for us it feels like Daniela has been with us on this journey from the beginning. And it hasn’t just been us on this journey! Every one of our friends and family have been with us on this journey, too! We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends at work, in our neighborhood, at our church and across the country! They have made this part of the adventure so filled with love for Daniela it humbles us.

I don’t really know if we will ever really grasp the immense love and grace of God in this mission of love for Daniela. Perhaps we aren’t meant to understand it, just feel it and share it with others – love God, love others, serve the world. When I can pause and take a step back, I can see all the pieces falling into place all along the way to make this dream of ours a reality. – June 24, 2013

****
IMG_0154What 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 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. 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). – June 27, 2013IMG_0164

****
This is the Eileen version of today’s post: Phil kissed me and then left for work with Peter. It’s me…alone in the house. Wondering..when will she get up? Is it appropriate to let her sleep all day? Can I not tell Phil if she does. Can I sleep all day too? The answer was a crystal clear maybe. So I enjoyed my coffee, stalked Facebook for a while completely dependent on the wisdom of those whose host children had been awake for 5 minutes for deep and meaningful advise. I prayed and I waited

This is what I learned today:
1. She likes the same cereal as I do Special K red berry. She did not eat yogurt.
2. Apparently she likes to shop as much as I do…..we purchased….not a thing.
3. We both can go for long periods of time without speaking…we did
4. She would not eat ice cream
5. She will eat ravioli and almost spit it out while she watches P. scarf his food down like a maniac
6. I impressed her and well even myself a bit with the sit and stay hand signals for the Bouvier (read giant hairy dog) Willem, then she totally cracked up when he would not listen to go outside. Disobedience apparently is a universal language.
7 Dr. Who translates really great! We laughed at the same things, jumped and screeched in harmony at the gross things. She even said with a hand sign she wasn’t going to bed till the episode was over.
8. The jelly beans were all gone!

IMG_0163When we tucked her in tonite, she read her affirmation in Latvian and we read the English: Daniela you are light and love. Then she gave me a serious hug! I understand more of how you can love someone you never knew. It reminds me that this is just a drop in the bucket of how God loves us. – June 28, 2013

****
So, Saturday the reality kind of set in … Daniela feels isolated, homesick and frustrated. She talked to her chaperone twice that day (thank the good Lord for Dace (pronounced “Dachay”). She wants to go home to Latvia NOW, TODAY. We gave her her space but there were some tough moments. Tears and anger and frustration and fear were changing it up in an instant. As if it wasn’t tough enough being a teenager, imagine being a teen in a country where you don’t speak the language and you can’t be with your friends.

We slogged through it. Lots of sullenness, homesickness, feeling alone, language barriers (she doesn’t speak any English and is resisting) coupled with teenage daughter angst and you get the picture. We’ve been shopping with her twice without so much as a pair of socks purchased. We figured out she likes jellybeans and wants to visit with her friend Jevgenija. Big pouting when we said “not today”.

After dinner, she went upstairs to her room and fell asleep. Eileen and I processed the days events. We agreed it was important to be consistent and loving. We need to be patient and give her time to adjust and never give up on loving her.

This morning I heard Daniela quietly come downstairs and then go back up to her room. When I came downstairs I noticed that the bag of Starbursts was gone. 🙂 – June 30, 2013

****
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.

IMG_0195While 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.IMG_0174

Then we went to a friend’s 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).

Sigh – June 31, 2013

Music and Art and Family

Various ramblings heard during the Easter weekend:

While sitting around the dinner table during Easter the conversation turned to mEaster 2015usic.  Kris was asked, “What kind of music do you like to listen to?”  “Oh, I like the rap music” he answered.  Then he turns to Kathy Golden, Eileen’s mom and says, “Sorry Gran. I will not dance the disco with you. You will have to find someone else.”  Cut to Kathy who is laughing so hard that she must wipe away the tears.

On Good Friday there was a multisensory art exhibit that coincided with the stations of the cross.  The art, music, poetry and readings combined to make an already emotional event extraordinary and stellar.

Resurrection Day

Resurrection Day by Shannon Almanzar

Entombed

Laid in a Tomb by Annie Cullen

Last Supper

The Last Supper by Pamela Stopfer

Mary

Mother and John by Anne Fantini

Finally, during Good Friday service this song was performed by two young women in our church.  Angelic.

Progress

This one will be short and sweet.

We first met our son, Kris, in June of 2014. That’s right, ten months ago.  He first landed on American soil on July 4, 2014. Nine months ago.  We finalized his adoption and he entered school (9th grade) in November of 2014. Five months ago.

There have been lots of good times and laughs in those ten months.  There has been a huge leap in adjusting to family life and the American scene.  There has also been some very tough times during that process.  At times those meltdowns would rattle the very foundation of our family unit but we stayed the course.  We didn’t give up on each other.10553576_10204174536434265_4277685635505497917_n

When he first began school he had a lot of difficulty with the education system here and its stark contrast to the “crowd-control” system in his old country. He struggled somewhat with grades but more with his self-confidence. We all worked together to help him build up his self-esteem and give his self-confidence a needed boost.

He likes to succeed. He is highly competitive. He is also a big trickster.  So yesterday he comes home from school and reports that he got an “F” on his American government test.  “I got a 69 and the teacher gave me an ‘F””  After playing along with his April Fool’s joke he shows me his test.  He got an 82 – a “B”.  He was grinning from ear to ear.  HSAMSUNGe is also doing extremely well in English and Ceramics and he’s doing pretty good in Math.

Last evening, he is watching a cartoon video on Netflix.  He calls to his brother, Peter, to join him.  He sets two chairs in front of the computer and they watch it together.  All the while Kris is adding commentary to the video to personalize it for his brother.  “See Peter! This is you and me in the video, bro.  The one with the muscles is me and the chubby one is you.”  Peter laughs.

Priceless.

A Letter to My Daughters

March 8, 2015

Dearest Daniela and Nelya,

I love you both with all of my heart.

I begin this letter by telling you something I’ve told each of you many times before – I LOVE YOU. I have never tired of saying it and I will forever tell you how much I love you – until the end of time.

I think that you both realize that while I am not your biological father I consider you my daughters and, I hope, you look to me as a Dad in your life. I have been blessed to have each of you in my life through a hosting program. That would make you “sisters” and even though you each live a great distance from each other (one in Latvia and the other in Ukraine) my hope is that you would have the good fortune to meet each other someday. I am confident that you would become friends very quickly as you are very much alike.

You are both strong and lovely young women who’s lives are about to enter adulthood. In many ways life and adulthood has already met you face to face. In so many respects you have dealt with more challenges than most people twice your age. Through your courage and tenacity you have endured so much and I admire you for that. Many people could not have accomplished what you have done and you are my heroes.

While it may seem that you’ve dealt with so much already in life there is still so much more life yet to come for you. There will be many good times and events in your future but there will also be some tough times. There are exciting and adventurous times for each of you and I am excited for each of you as you experience life in all it’s glory. I am very blessed to not only be a witness to your journey in life but also to be a part of your lives in the future.

So, why am I writing to you now? Simply because the speed of life is about to get much faster for you and it will also become a lot louder! There will be many ideas, fads, things and people that will be clamoring for your mind, imagination, heart and attention. There will be many sparkly objects to tempt you along the way but not all of them will lead you to good places. So I thought that this would be a good time to tell you a few things while the opportunity presented itself. I hope that you don’t mind me passing along some information about life.

I will not pretend that I have unlocked the great mysteries of life or have any special insight into how to find the meaning of life. Nor am I so naive to think that you will actually heed all I have to say but perhaps you will; after all, when I was your age (and yes, I was once your age) I did not think my parents had anything to offer me in the way of advice. As I got older I realized my parents had a lot of wisdom. All that I can offer you is the benefit of my experiences and observations during my short time on this planet. You may feel it necessary to put my words to the test and that is certainly okay; I understand that. So here it goes …

● Life is not always easy and you will not be happy all the time; to think otherwise is unrealistic. There will be tough times and there will be times of sorrow; there will be times where your heart will feel like it is breaking and will never mend. However, those dark times will be outweighed, far outweighed, by times of wonder, times of sheer joy, times of laughter and times of love. The experiences of joy and love will, at times, make you feel like you cannot contain it inside your body and you will feel like you are going to burst! There will be times when you will feel connected with everyone and everything around you on a level that you will find difficult to put into words. Cherish those moments of pure love and joy for even in the darkest, ugliest of moments you must find the spark of beauty hidden in those moments and cling to those sparks! They will carry you through the dark moments.

● Speaking of love, when it comes to your boyfriends and husband, do not settle for a mouse or a pig … ever! Do not think so little of yourself that you feel you must accept less because somehow you believe you are not worthy of the best. I will say this very clearly – you are worthy of nothing less than the very best! Never accept someone who treats you like garbage or disrespects you as a woman or treats you as someone who is inferior; you are second-best to no person and you are glorious in your own right! Any man who is unwilling to support your dreams or defend you and your honor is not unworthy to have you. It is better to be alone than to be treated like a second-class person. So be patient and the right match for you will come along. I promise he will appear.

● Do not go chasing after love. Love begins with loving and accepting yourself as God meant you to be, including all your talents and your faults. Take the time to discover who you are, what you like and what your talents are; take the time to explore your dreams. If you are true to yourself and are patient in finding your partner in life, your mate will find you when you are ready for him. Let love find you.

● Experience what life has to offer you. The world is a small place and full of a variety of people, music, foods, art, culture and traditions. All of those things, and so much more, are within reach for you. Try new things and keep an open mind. Be open to learning new ideas and discovering how similar you are to people from different cultures, religions,and regions. We are all part of the same family – the human family. With that said, be adventurous but not reckless. If something doesn’t feel right for you avoid it.

● Listen to that inner voice. You know the one I am talking about, don’t you? It’s the one in your “gut” that warns you that what you are contemplating doing isn’t a good idea. It’s also the same voice that encourages you to spread your wings and soar. Pay attention to it. I encourage you to spend some time (a minute or two will suffice) in quiet and stillness each day to stay in tune with that “Voice”. That is one way that God speaks to you.

● Take the time to appreciate and notice the beauty in the world around you. Make the time to let beauty and love into your life. Notice how blue the sky is, how the grass smells, how warm the sun is on your face, how delicious the cake tastes. These little wonders are around us all the time to remind us of how much of a miracle life is, how much we are loved to have these little wonders in our world and how much we are part of the miracle! These beauties are here to help us through the dark times, to remind us that the tough times will not last forever. Look for the beauty even in the ugliest of scenes – it is there.

● To the extent it depends on you, be kind to yourself and to others. Treat others as you would like other people to treat you. Be a positive force of change in the world by being that positive force for change in yourself. If you want the world to be more peaceful, be peaceful yourself; if you want to see more love, tolerance and humanity then be more loving, tolerant of people who are different from you and be more generous with your neighbors. No one ever became poor by giving of themselves.

One last thing before I end this letter. I want you to know that no matter what happens, no matter where life takes you, no matter how far away you are … you always, always, always have family who loves you to the moon and back. Never forget that … never.

I love you both with all my heart … forever.

Phil

2013-07-26 18.57.31 HPIM3142

The Sailor and his First Mate

We come across so many influential people in our lives, don’t we? Sometimes their presence is loud, obvious and boisterous and at other times it is more subtle and gentle, like a summer breeze. Those subtle presences are sometimes so barely perceptible that we don’t even realize how they permeate our lives, influence our thinking and mold our character that it is often years before we are abUJ and Angelle to realize their impact. Such is the case with my aunt and uncle, Jerri and Joe.

Jerri is my Mom’s sister.  She was a kindergarten teacher in the Bronx for over thirty years.  When we left our Bronx apartment in 1965 she moved into it; it was in the same building where by paternal grandmother and grandfather lived and about six blocks from the apartment on Addams Place where she grew up and my maternal grandparents lived.  She grew up in the Belmont section – the Little Italy of the Bronx – where the neighborhood was rich in Italian heritage and culture.  It remains an enclave of history and an oasis of exquisite Italian food, music, festivals and tradition.  Anyone who knows anything about Italian culture in the Bronx knows about Arthur Avenue!!!

I remember trips to the Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, both of which were within a few minutes walk from the neighborhood.  Aunt Jerri would accompany us on many of those excursions.  I also have fond memories of being in her apartment with friends of hers from the neighborhood and from college.  There was always lots of singing, laughing and camaraderie!  UJ and AJ 1996

She married my Uncle Joe in the early 1970’s.  Uncle Joe loved the sea.  He served in the Coast Guard in WWII (he lied about his age). They were always game for adventures – taking trips up to Cape Cod or Florida or upstate New York. After my parents split their role became evermore important in my development.  I recall trips to the dunes on Cape Cod with Uncle Joe and my siblings spending hours exploring and running up and down the giant dunes.  There were also adventures to Pelham Bay and exploring various ships that wrecked and washed up on the shores.  There was snorkeling in the Florida keys and building model rockets and firing them off into the sky at the high school football field.  I particularly relished the times when we would sing his favorite Irish sea shanty at the top of our lungs! (http://youtu.be/1uUVxwDwc_s)

Both were very strong in their beliefs, both politically and spiritually.  I didn’t always agree with tUJ and AJ Reunionheir points of view but I always respected their positions.  I always knew where they stood and I appreciated that steadfastness.  I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were one of the few people in the world that I could count on.  In fact, Uncle Joe once told me that if I was lucky, I would be able to count on one hand the number of true friends I would have in life.  I never forgot that.

They now live in the Keys and we keep in touch every so often.  Uncle Joe is very hard of hearing now due primarily to an injury sustained in WWII.  I got the chance to speak with him over the phone not too long ago – a rarity these days.  It was oh so nice to hear his voice.

Aunt Jerri and uncle Joe are, for all intents and purposes, my second parents. I love them with all my heart.UJ and AJ West

Introducing … Peter

This is a first in a series of posts where I feature a family member or friend and give you a glimpse my relationship with them.  I hope that you enjoy getting to know them as much as I enjoy telling you about them.

This is Peter.  He’s 27 years old.  While Peter is not “technically” my son, I consider him asPeter Happy Woods my boy.  Peter lives with us and is most assuredly a part of our family.  He is in many respects your average guy.  He likes girls, particularly supermodels.  He enjoys looking at magazines and often you can find him relaxing in the hallway with several magazines spread out before him.

Peter also enjoys food.  Boy, does he like to eat! About the only thing he won’t eat is carrots.  He avoids them like the plague.  If he could pick his favorite meal you would find pizza, pasta, broccoli and rice on the plate.  Dessert would consist of cookies or cake but particularly Oreo cookies.  Oh how he loves Oreos!  For a snack he gobbles up either pretzels or bananas.  He’s pretty sneaky too when it comes to food.  If we’re not watching him, he has been known to make a dash for the cookies or bananas and scarf them down before anyone can get to him!

He is very active and likes to twirl as he walks.  He also loves music. Pretty much any kind of music so long as it has a beat; he enjoys rocking back and forth to the tunes, especially while riding in the car.

023Pete is does speak much but he sure has a lot to say.  He is on the autism spectrum and communicates to us through limited sign language or facial expressions.  He understands when we speak to him but admittedly it is sometimes challenging to understand what it is that he is trying to convey.  Over the course of our relationship we’ve managed to “crack the code” and have a very good relationship.

Pete is a very loving and affectionate person.  He is someone who very much enjoys participating in family adventures and family game night.  We take him with us pretty much wherever we go – concerts, picnics, family functions, etc. Generally, he is very happy and content.

He likes it when we read stories to him.  Although he likes that activity he usually doesn’t sit in front of the TV.  He will, however, sit in the hallway and listen to the whatever movie or TV show we may be watching and will occasionally laugh out loud at the humorous parts.  Lately, we’ve discovered that he likes The Three Stooges.  Correction … he LOVES them.  For that he will sit down and watch them on the TV.  He thinks they are hysterical and laughs at all the slapstick.

Honeymoon 083Granted, it’s not all peaches and cream.  There are difficult times when his frustration breaks through but we all struggle with that. All in all, Pete displays a lot of joy with the simple things in life.  I’m blessed to have him in my life.

IMG_0063

My friend Paul and Peter hiking through the woods