Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hair and Spines and Seizures, Oh My!

Donald and I got a laugh out of Elisabeth's hair tonight. It had been in pigtails all day and I took it out before her bath. It looked - well - it looked like this:

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Crazy would be a good way to describe it! Of course, I ran and got my camera to take a quick picture (all I do all day long is snap pictures of Elisabeth and the girls).

Anyways, as I was taking the picture I looked beyond her hair to the reflection in the mirror. Oh that back! That poor, poor back! It is getting so very crooked and so very hunched.

Then I looked at her torso. In addition to the two very visible scars from her VNS surgery, there are four other substantial scars from surgeries past (not visible in this picture) as well as her g-tube button. She's quite a girl! Her body is a testament to her strength and bravery.

Life is not easy for Elisabeth. While her VNS has dramatically reduced her seizures, she still has 3-5 a day. And those are usually pretty strong. This morning I had her all dressed for the bus, coat and all, when a seizures struck. I held her in my arms and whispered Goodnight Moon into her ear as I watched her legs convulsing. When it ended she went limp and fell asleep. I nestled Elisabeth into her beanbag and as the bus pulled up in front of the house I waved it on without her.

I could have sent her. She could have slept at school in the care of her nurse. After all, I needed to go to Costco. But...I had an overwhelming feeling that she needed to stay home with me. I worry lately that I am going to lose her to a seizure. Indeed, sometimes I have nightmares about it. On those nights, when I wake in a panic, I go get Elisabeth from her bed and bring her into mine so I can hold her close. 

I love her.

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[Sleeping off a seizure.]

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Elsa, the Spanish Tutor

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[Milkshakes all around!]

When I picked up the children from school yesterday, Elsa's teacher waved me down and said he had something he wanted to show me. I got out of the car and he proceeded to push play on a video he had taken during class. It was of Elsa - tutoring a fellow classmate (a native Spanish speaker) on her letters and sounds in Spanish!!

Elsa's teacher was amazed. He said he mentioned to another parent that 'there is this girl who just moved here from Africa, and if she is tutoring the other kids we really need to push more help at home' (something to that effect).

I was so proud of Elsa! My smiled beamed! How is one little girl so very amazing? And smart? And confident? She has been in school for a month and she is already tutoring in Spanish! She is brilliant and I feel honored to be her mother - not just because she is brilliant, but because there is something very special about her.

As way of celebration, I took the girls and got them milkshakes. Then we dropped Lorelai off at gymnastics and Alexandra at her guitar lesson. I used the one on one time (Elisabeth was there, but you know...) to chat with Elsa. She opened up all about her memories of Gambella, where she originated from in Ethiopia. I explained to her why she came to America - how her mother loved her so much that she wanted her to have food, and go to school, and have doctors if she is sick.

I texted Donald after Elsa and I had been chatting a while, "Are you recording it?" he asked. Oops...hadn't thought to do that. So I hit record on my phone and had her recap a little of what she had told me. Here is that video. She is getting a little bit fidgety - as we had been sitting and waiting for Lex to get out of guitar. Also, you'll notice a red star on her forehead, she earned that at school for good behavior. Watch to the end - her reaction when she finally spots Alexandra coming out is priceless!

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Little Pokey

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Trick-or-Treat Training Session

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Have you ever stopped to think about how much there is to teach a child when they come to America from a far off land? Things like tooth fairies and Easter bunnies and trick-or-treating. All very, very important.

 On Saturday, Elsa tried on the dinosaur costume I wore when I was seven - the same costume that Alexandra wore in 2010 and Lorelai in 2011. She thought it was pretty much fabulous - and I realized that the concept of costumes is new her (every day there are new discoveries!).

Of course, then we told her all about Halloween and trick-or-treating. Donald went into the kitchen, got out a plastic bag, and hunted up a few pieces of candy. He then sent her outside with instructions to knock on the door and say "trick-or-treat" as soon as he opened it. She did exactly as she was told and was rewarded with pixy stix in her grocery sack.

"Then you say 'thank you' and go to the next house," Donald explained.

Now we have her all excited...we just need to wait for nine months to pass so she can do it for real.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

"You're Talking About Football?" turns out that Donald video recorded me during the drive home from the dentist on Monday night - you know, after I had that darn tooth pulled. I laughed so hard watching it; I honestly had no recollection of this conversation. My favorite part by far is the minute or so at the end, starting about about 2:50. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tales of the Past

A few nights ago I found Elsa like this:

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I had to take a picture - this simple moment spoke volumes about how far Elsa has come in just two short months. Two months ago she was living in an orphanage in Africa. She had no family to call her own, no possessions, no knowledge of modern technology. And now look at her - sitting fireside, looking intently at a laptop. She has absorbed life in America like a sponge.  

I realize that with each day, week, and month that passes her memories of Ethiopia will fade. It's a little sad to think about. We don't have much of her past to show her when she is older - or stories to tell of her young life. 

This morning Elsa was helping me pack lunches for school. Her favorite sandwich is peanut butter and honey.

"Elsa, did you know that where you come from in Ethiopia they produce a lot of honey?"

"No." she responded.

"Yes, there is a lot of honey in Gambella."

I decided this would be a good opportunity to talk to her about her past.

"Do you remember Gambella? It's where you lived before you went to The Thomas Center." (the name of her orphanage)

Elsa's eyes lit up and she nodded an enthusiastic, yes!

"That was my first home," she told me.

"What was your favorite thing about Gambella?"

"In Gambella, all the kids, we go outside and play, play, play all day!"

"Really?" I asked. "Was it fun?"


"Who did you play with? Your sister?"

"Yes, I play with sister."

"Do you remember her name? Was it Emmabet?"

"Yes, Emmabet," then she stood up to show me how tall her big sister was.

It was a simple conversation, but oh, so special. I loved having a little glimpse into her past; to see her eyes light up at the memory of her small village and playing outside with her friends and sister. I know that these memories might not last forever and so I want to record what I can before they are  forgotten; before the tales of her past slip gently away.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Trip to the Beach

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[Elsa, comforting me after having my tooth extracted.]

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you are familiar with my dentophobia, that is, a strong fear of the dentist.

Let's see, there was the time I had my wisdom teeth extracted . . . and the painful tooth abscess . . . and of course, that horrific root canal experience a little over a year ago. 

I just don't handle these things well.

So you can imagine the state I was in yesterday as I faced the dentist's chair yet again, this time to pull out a broken molar (remember the corn nut incident?). I was simply terrified. They agreed to do what is called conscious sedation. The dentist prescribed me two delightful little pills to take about 45 minutes prior to the extraction to make me nice and sleepy. They also gave me nitrous oxide. Believe it or not, this was my first time having nitrous - dare I admit how delightful it was? It swept me away to the beach of all places. I remember standing there and staring out at the ocean; so peaceful. Yet all the while, I was aware of the major pressure/cracking happening in my jaw. Wow, what an experience. 

The good news is - I survived! I have had that extraction looming over me for months, what a relief to know that it is nothing more than a memory now; a memory that includes warm sand and the soft roar of the ocean. Maybe the dentists chair isn't so bad after all...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Living the Dream

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." 
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

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A few days ago I overheard Alexandra telling Elsa a little bit about Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Elsa, a long time ago people like me didn't like people like you - see how your skin is dark and my skin is light? But Martin Luther King made it so we could all be friends."

This year, more than ever before, I feel sincere gratitude for the men and women who fought for equality among mankind. How wonderful to know that due to their bravery and strong conviction, my little Elsa is being raised in a country where she can follow her dreams and reach her fullest potential.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Post About iPods and Snoring

Every morning after I drop the children off at school I come home and do a quick tidy-up of the house. This includes going from room to room making beds.

When I get to Elsa's bed it usually looks something like this:

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[As you can see, she takes very good care of her dolls.]

More often than not, when I lift up her pillow, I will find her iPod hidden underneath:  photo 3741d140-975e-4565-8433-0db9e68ca00c_zps54ab08ef.jpg

I'm not quite sure why she does it. Perhaps it's because she's never had anything of her own before and she wants to keep them safe and sound. That's a guess, anyways.

After I straighten her sheets and blankets I carefully arrange her beloved dolls and iPod along with her pillows. They are there to greet her when she returns from school:

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Speaking of beds, Lorelai had to move (temporarily) out of her shared room with Elsa and onto an air mattress in the computer room:
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You see, Elsa snores reeeeeeeally loud. Really, really loud. So loud that Lorelai can't sleep a wink. 

Elsa went to the pediatrician a few weeks ago. As soon as the doctor looked in her mouth she asked, "Does she snore?"  

Turns out, Elsa needs to have her tonsils removed. Once they are out the snoring should cease. (Fingers crossed!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lisa's Finishing School: Part 2

Last month, when I was performing Handel's Messiah, it suddenly occurred to me that Alexandra and Lorelai were old enough - and mature enough - to sit unaccompanied at a concert. With me being a member of the orchestra and Donald home caring for Elsa and Elisabeth, I trusted that they would be able to manage themselves. Well, not only did they manage themselves, but they completely soaked up the experience! I checked on them during intermission and I'm pretty sure they were pretending as if they were high society ladies -  all dressed up and listening to fine classical music.

On Sunday afternoon, I had another performance - this one with the Mid-Columbia Symphony. And, since this year I am focusing on exposing my children to a wide range of fine arts, I requested some comp tickets and brought them along.

The theme of this concert was folk music from around the world, featuring themes from Romania, Estonia, America, England, and Ireland. Before the performance I reviewed proper concert etiquette with Alexandra and Lorelai. Things like, don't clap between movements; hold your applause until the end of the piece and no talking or whispering.

The girls had a seats right up front and I had a direct line of sight to Lorelai.

I may or may not have given her a few winks along the way. 

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[During intermission.]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Doe, a deer, a female deer.

Lorelai's gymnastics meet finished up just as the sun was setting - which meant we had to drive home in the dark - on a two lane highway. Not ideal. Especially a two lane highway in the middle of deer territory.

We were driving briskly, hoping to make it back by 8:00, when two deer decided to cross the road. By the time we spotted them there was no possible way to stop - only to plow on through. One deer made it out of the way, but the other wasn't so fortunate.

Now I am driving a rental van and counting my blessing that none of us were hurt.

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Such is life.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lorelai's First Gymnastics Meet

Winter Spirit Gymnastics Meet 
 Level 3 
Clarkston, WA
January 11, 2014

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[Team leo's didn't arrive in time - but they should be here by the next meet!]


Vault - 8.3
Bars - 8.65
Beam - 7.675
Floor - 8.0

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Tomorrow - A post all about our drive home. It includes a two lane highway, a deer, and our van. Ugh.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Faking It

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This morning the girls kept calling me over and over,  
"Mom, come take our picture!"

I came out of my bedroom to find them all snuggled on the couch - with Brigitta - pretending to be asleep. I went and grabbed my phone to capture the moment per their request. Of course, it took quite a few shots to get one where Elsa wasn't smiling. She thought this was hilarious!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Story About A Portfolio

Six years ago this week I wrote a blog post titled, "Magnets and Portfolios". In that post I showed off some portfolios I purchased for the girl's artwork. Elisabeth was only a few months old at the time, but I bought her one as well. Honestly, I don't think I ever expected her to use it. I knew from the beginning that her handicaps would most likely prevent her from doing art projects, but I clearly remember thinking, I have to buy three.

As I suspected, Elisabeth never drew any pictures. And, as a result, that portfolio has sat - unused - in the closet. Many times I looked at it and considered giving it away, but I kept it - and how glad I am that I did! Because now I have another daughter - and now she has a place to store her art, just like her big sisters.

It's funny how life works out sometimes.

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Elsa's first art.

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Monday, January 6, 2014

The Dreaded Dentist's Chair

If there is one person who fears the dentist as much as me, it's Alexandra. She was scheduled to have a filling done two days after Christmas - but oh, how she was fretting over it! Seriously, it was ruining her holiday. So, because I understand her fear, I took pity and rescheduled the appointment so she could enjoy Christmas without it looming over her. However, we made a deal that I wouldn't let her know when the new date was; that one day I would just say, "It's time."

Saturday was that day.

We needed to leave at about 7:40 in the morning, so I went in her bedroom before the sun even rose and woke her with the dreaded news. That's when the tears and cries began.

Elsa, who had just recently had two teeth extracted, went up to Alexandra and compassionately rubbed her back. "It's okay," she told her sister. Then she looked directly at me and said, "I want to go."

So she came along and gave Alexandra love and support throughout the entire ordeal. It warmed my heart to watch. These girls are amazing:

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Poor Alexandra. I know how it feels to be sitting there awaiting your doom. In fact, I will be sitting there awaiting my doom two weeks from today. :(

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Afterwards. Oh, how I love this picture - the expression on Elsa's face is so Normal Rockwell...

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And finally, Elsa wrapped her arm around Alexandra to walk her to the safety of our car. She survived.

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When we got home Alexandra used a little pen and notepad to communicate with me since her mouth was numb. The first note she handed me said:

"That wasn't as bad as I expected."

Now if I can just keep that in mind when my turn comes. Though I am having a bit more than a filling done...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lisa's Finishing School - Week 1

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[I will have my new table cloth before our next formal meal. Can't wait!]

Tonight we had our first dinner as a part of Lisa's Finishing School. It all started in the afternoon when I taught the girls about different place settings, names of various utensils, how many inches from the plate to place the fork, etc. Then they practiced doing it on their own (see picture above). As evening approached we all changed into our dinner clothes. The children were slightly shocked when I informed them that they even needed to wear shoes - but they were good sports and went along with it. As for me, I put my hair up in a french twist and got out my favorite pearls.

Right before our meal I put on some dinner music.

"Strauss . . . perfect." I said.

"Who's Strauss?" asked Alexandra.


Did my daughter just ask that?

Like I mentioned in my New Years post, there is so much to teach my children still. When they are grown I don't want them to say, "Who's Strauss?" but rather, "Ah...Strauss! Perfect dinner music!" And that's what this year is all about.

But back to our dinner...

As soon as we clarified with Lorelai that no, we did not need to speak with accents, we began to eat -  course after course after course. It was quite the meal, I tell you! In the end we spent about an hour dining. It was exactly what I had hoped for, and I really think the girls learned a lot. In this day and age it seems that our society has become so very casual, there just aren't many occasions for dressing up; for feeling a little formal. That's all about to change - at least in our home.

Care to join us?

Friday, January 3, 2014

My Birthday Surprise

On Thursday morning I had to go out and run a few errands. I wasn't gone long - just had to mail a package and buy a few grocery items - but by the time I returned home there was a magnificent surprise awaiting me!

As I drove up to the house I immediately spotted a huge Happy Birthday poster taped to the garage. I then glanced to the storm door and saw our tall giraffe standing behind the glass wearing a party hat. Alexandra and Lorelai had been busy! I was so surprised and touched that I just about cried - they are the sweetest girls ever.

But they didn't just decorate the house (balloons and all) in the short time I was gone...they also prepared a "Happy Birthday" duet on the xylophones. How are these girls so talented?!

Now that's how you turn 34!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Birthday Thoughts 2014

A lot of people have a bucket list. I don't. It's not that I have anything against them necessarily, I just don't like the idea of writing a life long to-do list and crossing things off one by one until suddenly it's all over. Rather, I just want to live; to let life come at me as it will. And so for 34 years I have lived, and life has brought me more adventures, opportunities, and experiences than I could have ever come up with on my own.
I'm so grateful for my life, and I am especially grateful to be a mother. It is the adventure of all adventures, the opportunity of all opportunities, the experience of all experiences. It is in motherhood that I find my greatest joy. There is no doubt that this is what I was born to do, that this is my true calling in life - to raise and love and teach these beautiful girls of mine.

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[My four daughters and me on the eve of my 34th birthday.]

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Hello, 2014!

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It's here!

January 1st!

And boy, oh boy, do I have something exciting planned for 2014!

I've decided to enroll my girls in

Lisa's Finishing School.

You see, my girls are growing up - and quick. I look at them and don't see little kids, but young ladies. When I realize how fast they are growing I get sort of panicked; there is so much to teach them yet! You see, I don't just want them to grow up...I want them to grow up well.

So this year I am forming my own finishing school of sorts. I am going to focus on teaching them etiquette and social skills. Once a month we are going to have a formal dinner at our house where we will put their lessons into action. The table will be set with our fine china, we will dress in our best clothes, and the girls will practice things like which-fork-to-use-when.

And don't think my finishing school is solely about dinner time etiquette. It goes far beyond that. I want my children to be well versed, I want them to know great works of art, I want them to be familiar with musical masterpieces. As a teenager I have memories of my mom taking me to see greats like Mikhail Baryshikov, Marcel Marceau, and Itzhak Perlman. That's what I want for my daughters - I want to expose them to artists and musicians, I want them to listen to symphonies and watch plays. There is a whole world out there rich with talent and creativity, and this year I am going to share it all with them. 


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