Saturday, June 26, 2010

International music school

This has been our summer so far:

Friday, get out of school.
Saturday, Lisa, Gillian, and Darcey arrive
Sunday, leave for Santa Fe
Friday, come home from Santa Fe
Saturday, Lisa goes home, girls stay
Fast forward a week
Friday, Gillian and Darcey go home, Li Ping arrives
Fast forward 2 weeks
Saturday, Li Ping leaves, Gillian and Darcey arrive

We might install a revolving door!

Just over two weeks ago I got a call at work from a neighbor/book club member telling me about a girl coming from China to attend a music school who had no where to stay and who did not speak English.

Would it be possible she could stay with us?

I think the only question I asked was how old she was, which Laura did not know, and when I realized she would arrive the day that Gillian and Darcey were going home for their vacation with their dad, and the fact she was from China, and that she needed someone who could speak her language, which Annabel can, then I said yes. If I asked more questions, I did not ask the right ones!

I felt a sense of panic when I thought about a "child" flying from China by herself, the jet lag, the language barrier, the difference in food, what would she want to do, this would be her only experience in the US, what all should I plan!

The day before they arrived, the director of the camp heard from the student in China that she was unable to get a visa, so we were hosting a girl from Philadelphia instead, who happened to be Chinese, but whom we later learned had moved here when she was 2 years old.

I ended up taking the day off so I could get everything in the house ready for our guest, still clearing through giant stacks of the girls' most prized possessions, while trying to make room for someone to actually walk through their room!

That evening we went to my new best friend's house, Laura, and met Li Ping, as well as the students staying with Laura, who were from Brazil, so they speak Portuguese, which no one knew how to speak, and two girls from Russia, and one boy from Mexico staying with others in the neighborhood.

I should have had a hint of the next 2 weeks right then when she did not want to leave but stay with her brand new best friends from Brazil, even though none could speak the same language, but I just thought it was anxiety over everything being new.

Life quickly changed as we began to meet and know all the international students, as well as some from the US, at pick up and drop off times, as well as several parties we were all invited to.

We also began to learn more about piano, violin, viola, and cello, since that was what the school was for. It was quite prestigious to have been accepted to the school as the concertmaster from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was in charge of the school.

Our days became blurred with trips to and from Laura's house, to the church in Highland Park, where the school was held, and back for parties and dinners.

Our nights, or at least mine, were filled with practice on the piano, that usually lasted until 2:00 a.m.!

It was a strange place to be in for me. While feeling responsible for her, her not wanting me to be responsible, but really knew someone had to be, even though she was 21 and since she was not, I wasn't sure how to act and when I "suggested" she not practice so late, since she could not get up, that did not work. I finally talked to her instructor, whose primary language was Russian, but made him understand that she felt compelled to practice incessantly since she had only learned to play the piano 6 months before and was now in this international music school!

There were 4 students from Russia, 2 from Brazil, 3 from Mexico, 1 from Taiwan, and others I did not get to meet.

The parties usually consisted of the students from Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and Li Ping! It made for fun conversations and lots to learn about life in other countries. There were other students whose families were from China, but they now lived in the US.

If you know me, then you also know that a language barrier was not something that could stop me from trying to talk to them!

The Russians insisted on playing soccer even in the Texas heat and even though they came from an area of Russian that has only a few warm days a year and would come back so red in the face you were sure you would need to call 911.

We all soon eased into routine of interesting conversation, music, games, and a lot of swimming.

One night Laura felt they needed a break and we should go to CiCi's Pizza and the movies.

Trying to herd everyone into a car or three, was very similar to herding cats. Just trying to get them out of the door at one time was an exercise in futility often.

We rushed them through CiCi's buffet, which was genuinely a completely new experience for most, and then hurried to the movies, which unfortunately was sold out.

The school had several concerts last week, which we missed, but this week have attended two of them.

Most of these students have only studied for a few years, but they were incredible!

There is a 9 year old boy who was featured for his piano skills and if you had closed your eyes could never have dreamed the sounds were being made by this very small, bespeckled child.

There was also a 12 year old boy from Russia who played the cello so remarkably that he also won a prominent position on the program.

We only knew these kids, aged 9-23, from dinner and playing, and so to hear them perform gave a whole new perspective. It was amazing how different each was and yet how similar. The music they chose was as unique as they were, with each favoring different composers. We were introduced to new music and new composers and I found new favorites in both.

Today is the last day of the school.

Li Ping tried to change her reservation to return tomorrow, but Gillian and Darcey are coming back today, so it was just as well that she could not.

One result I did not anticipate was a reawakening of Grace's interest in playing piano. Laura knew a good teacher within blocks of us and Grace started last week. She practices religiously. I am so proud of how great she does!
The BIG concert is today at 2:00. I can't wait!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father's Day

I've actually started writing a post about Father's Day two other times, but did not like the way they were coming together, so here is my third attempt.

I decided it is hard to write about Father's Day because we don't do fathers justice with their celebratory day.

For mother's day, I do this huge tea party and urge women to invite their mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters and we have a great time.

Father's Day is in June and in Texas it is really hot in June, so there is not a lot of desire to have big celebrations when you know you will just sweat! I tried having a men's health day but would never have considered urging them to bring their fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons. For one thing, I just don't think they would have.

Father's Day gifts are hard too.

My father has a tendency to buy himself what he wants JUST before father's day, which makes it really hard to find the perfect gift. And my dad is one of the few who would REALLY love to have a tie and shirt each and every holiday, but then there is the problem that he has no room in his closets because he does love shirts and ties, with the numbers in the 100's of each!

At least this year Lisa made the long drive the day before and took everyone out to dinner on Saturday to a great place where everything is fried, has gravy, and plenty of biscuits! So that took care of what was for dinner, even though it was the day before.

Then on Father's Day, we were invited back to our old church, which is now a Spanish church, so there are lots of memories and it makes the whole thing bittersweet. This is the church we all grew up in and where we were baptised and Lisa was married and a whole lifetime of experiences. So it was a little difficult to focus on Dad on Father's Day.

But I think my Dad deserves a better celebration than what Father's Day does. There is not a card to express all your feelings and if there were one, it would just make him cry and then you would feel guilty.

This has been a tougher year for my dad.

His best friend, who also happens to be our minister, has been so close to death so many times in the last few months, that after 100 days, we are ecstatic that he has finally been able to move to rehab. For so many of those days he was in a coma.

Not only is is difficult to have your best friend in a coma, but then that leaves the functioning of the church, the shepherding of the flock to fall primarily on Dad's shoulders. It has seemed that an inordinate number of people have passed away, gotten difficult diagnoses, had serious family issues, and not the least of these, we needed someone to preach all the sermons! This all became Dad's task and no one has felt the least slighted with our minister being absent. Dad has fulfilled the needs.

Then recently his older sister passed away. She was the one who knew the family history, the guardian of the treasures of the family, the one who seemed invincible.

There have been other problems, some financial, some personal, but all seem to have taken a toll on his health.

This is the man who normally has my yard mowed before I can even get out the door for work and for the first time is sitting down to say he is tired.

My Dad is a very tall man with very broad shoulders. This year they have been weighted down with so much from so many it makes it hard to fit how much you appreciate all he does for you in a card or a gift because all of that is way too small and could never really express your sentiments.

My Dad is a good man who would do NO harm to anyone. He is outspoken on what he believes and has had to make very tough choices, but he stays true to his word and more importantly the word of God.

I love you, Father Dear!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What fathers do!

Here on Father's Day Eve, I realize that I am slowly developing an understanding and some serious empathy for the life of a father, specifically my father.

Driving from Santa Fe to Dallas in one day made me realize how those vacations for him, probably were not as much fun as we thought they were for him! That is hard work and when everyone in the car starts to get whiny, you have to stay focused and keep going even though you would like to stop the car and whip everyone!

Speaking of whipping, there is a pretty funny story about Dad and whipping.

My dad is a very kind hearted person who does not enjoy things like hunting because that would mean killing something. Although I have seen him angry, I have never seen him raise his hand in anger.

When we were very young, we went to this little tiny church. One Sunday Lisa needed to go to the bathroom and on their way out, she began to scream, "Don't beat me daddy!".

Back to fathers.

Since we did not have air conditioning growing up, we slept with the windows open, of course. Our bedroom windows were on the drive way.

Saturday mornings in the summer Dad started early mowing, edging, etc. He had to go down the driveway with all his equipment, but I managed to block out all the noise and keep right on sleeping. Even when he was mowing right under our windows, I still could sleep right through it. So Dad always did all the work by himself.

Recently I had a neighbor offer to help me clean off my porch. It took that to make me realize what a horrible mess it was in, so after I dropped our guest off this morning, I started early trying to pull out the weeds, trim the shrubs, mow, with the ultimate goal of cleaning off the porch.

Of course in Texas, by 10:00 a.m. it is pretty hot when you are doing manual labor and I would come in to grab a drink of water and one of my precious girls was still sound asleep. The other had been up and offering to help any way she could.

When it got to be 11:00 a.m. and my darling is still asleep, I realized I was not as patient as dad and went in and told her to get up, get dressed, and get outside to help me!

I'm not good at being the dad!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The crazy, not lazy days of summer!

If you are just joining us, this is the story of my sandwich life, sandwiched between raising my 2 daughters and "caring" for my parents, who actually do a lot more caretaking of us, than the other way around.

When summer approaches, all you can think about is how everything will slow down, especially in Texas with the weather so hot, you have to temper your activities to avoid overheating, so naturally you slow down.

With summer there is:

No more school.

No rushed dinners so you can get all the homework done, lunches made, and breakfast planned, much less uniforms washed and dried, any special supplies needed, and then going to bed at a reasonable time so everyone can get up and start the cycle all over again.

This school year brought a tremendous change in the time it took to get to school. the elementary school was at the end of our block and then I drove a mile to work and back again.

This year school was close to 20 miles away, then 20 to work, then 20 back to school, and then 20 miles back home.

Needless to say I was ready for a break from the drive so I could return to my one mile drive to work and home again.

Somehow instead of slowing down, it seems like our summer has been at an ever faster pace.

School was barely out when my older sister Lisa arrived with our two nieces for what is becoming our annual trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We each were allowed only 1 suitcase, as we had all downsized our cars, but when you have six women traveling together, one suitcase isn't quite enough, so I ended up with a small "princess" suitcase that was Grace's when she was 6 and even then, it took some tactical maneuvers to make them all fit.

We got to Fort Worth, thirty miles into the trip, and I think we were tempted to just stop there, as the remaining long hours of driving seemed insurmountable, but we pressed on.

Thank goodness for inventions like portable DVD players and MP3 players to get you across Texas. Yes, they missed all the scenery, but so did we when we were growing up.

And even worse for our parents was the four of us, hanging over the front seat, whining about how much longer it was.

We finally made it and we enjoyed staying where we did last year at the Rancho Jacona, about 15 miles outside of Santa Fe. The property is made up of quite a few casas surrounded by a working farm, providing plenty of area to roam, animals to feed, and beauty to behold.

While I would have been satisfied to just sit there, we made trips each day to see some of the surrounding areas. The most popular of these was our trip to the Taos area where we met up with one of Lisa's husband's old friends. He is running a horseback riding service (?) at the Taos ski slope, and while we did not come prepared to ride horses, he did allow each of us to mount and be led around. The area was beautiful and it was surprising to all of us as to the amount of snow still on the ground.

Each of us had a turn and about the time we were going to call it quits, the horse that Darcey, my niece was riding, got spooked, and kicked up somewhat, but Darcey held on like a pro. It scared me to death! OK, not literally, of course. The guys in charge of the horses said she had a natural talent to have survived that and still be in the saddle.

On the drive home, I'm not sure if we had more laughs or more miles.

Somewhere around Ranger, Texas, Lisa asked Annabel if she could have chosen her name, what would she have chosen.

Without a bit of hesitation she announced she would like to be called Oliver Twist! From there it all went downhill, and our last 2 hours in the car, reached the point of hysterical laughter, which kept me awake to get us home.

The second week of summer break, Gillian and Darcey, my nieces, stayed with us.

My nieces are my younger sister's, who died three years ago, in the house we now live in.

For them, staying here can be emotional. As a means to "shield" them from difficult memories, all four girls sleep on the floor together in the living room.

Since I hope to have the girls here for most of the summer, I was motivated to find an alternative this summer. I got a platform bed that would hold a second bed underneath and then bought a set of bunk beds. But just because I had all this planned out didn't mean it happened quite that way. While I can shovel huge piles of dirt and mulch, taking apart and moving sets of solid wood beds takes a little more than I can do, so it took some coordinating to get it all here, but first we had to move a BUNCH of stuff out to fit the new things in!

This led to the girls taking pictures of some of the better items and putting them on a virtual garage sale, with hopes to raise enough  money to go to Bahama Beach. They set up a back drop and staged each item along with the prices. Gillian loves a task like this, but she knows how to spread the work among everyone, and they work together beautifully. A lot of companies could learn lots from Gillian's management technique.

While we were tearing their bedroom apart, trying to get rid of some things, and set up the new things, I got a call from a friend in the neighborhood with a big request.

Now I'm not really sure how the conversation started but I understood she was in a pinch trying to find a place for a girl from China to stay while she attended a music school. This girl did not know English and she thought that having Annabel around would help. Next time I will ask more questions, but I said yes so this child would have a safe place to stay for her one trip to the states. I did panic over the idea of what to feed her as I recalled the struggles when both Annabel and Grace first arrived and trying to find anything they would eat.

At the last minute everything changed and I ended up with a girl from Philadelphia, who is from China, but has spent very little of her life there. Her parents sent her to the states when she was 2 years old to live with her "Irish" relatives. I'm not sure how many times the parents got to come to the states, but she only got to go home a couple of times. Now her family has relocated here.

She has only been playing the viola for six months and piano a little longer, but is quite amazing at what she can play.

The group of students makes the whole thing even more interesting, there is a group from Russia, most of whom do not speak English, 2 kids from Brazil, who speak Portuguese, several from Mexico, who speak Spanish, and then some Asian students from Cleveland and Plano! It is like a small United Nations! There is one boy who can speak a little of all the languages and played the role of translator for all, but he has been sick, so there is a lot of acting out to try to explain part of what is happening.

Today I took a vacation day, as my parents volunteer on Thursdays, and I hated to leave them home all day. Even though there has already been 2 1/2 weeks of summer, I think it was the first day my girls and I got to spend time with just us.

We had a great day seeing the movie Karate Kid, getting Annabel's watch fixed, Grace's charm bracelet fixed, the license tags finally on the car, and Annabel to her tutoring. While I thought we had the evening off from our guests, without even needing to pick up, all of that changed during the day and we were dispatched to bring as many as could fit to a dinner. While I should have dropped them off and run, I hated to leave the hostess trying to feed our mini "United Nations" without help. By the time the evening was over, I had taken two students from Mexico to stay with a new family, delivered a young Russian boy to the family keeping him, and then returning in time for our guest to return from a concert, and us all finally getting home about 10:00.

Hmmm, this summer is getting complicated! And we still have ten more days of our guest!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Major bragging on both girls!

I try not to start my stories with "I" because one time my sister Lisa pointed out that when I wrote a letter, I always started each paragraph/sentence with "I" and it made me sound egotistical.

Oh well.

I'm way behind on posting this important information.

About a month before school was out, the girls' English teacher gave me the head's up that she thought Annabel was going to win a major award at the end of the year awards assembly.

Annabel came home the day before the assembly with the note telling me what time and where to be there.

They gave awards that had previously been won at competitions, awards for all the standards the school upholds, and each one, I thought was going to be what Annabel had won.

Then they came down to the very last award and the principal said it was his favorite award to present, as it represented the hardest work, the highest values, and overall everything the school stood for, "Most Improved". He mentioned that to win out of close to 700 students was quite an accomplishment and then he said Annabel's name.

Of course I shed tears. I was so proud for her to be recognized for all she has accomplished. It has not been 2 years since she has been an American and everything in the life she knew was turned upside down. I wish there was some way to let all of those who loved her in China, know how much she has done, but especially, her birth parents. They need to know their decision was ok. That her life is good.

Then yesterday we finally got their report cards.

They only get report cards every quarter, rather than 6 weeks like most schools.

I kept getting reports from Annabel's teachers that her grades and assignments were not too good.

I knew she needed some motivation, as I REALLY did not want to have to take her to summer school. Shoot, I love summer just so I cut 80 miles out of my commute and dreaded doing it all summer long!

So we made an agreement that if she made all B's and if Grace made all A's they would get a special prize.

Annabel made four B's and FOUR A'S!!! And not just in PE! She made an A in band, PE, Technology, AND LANGUAGE ARTS! How amazing is that!?

When you look at her grades you see the consistent upswing from the time she began the tutoring in reading. It's amazing how much a student can accomplish when given the opportunity and the skills needed to learn!

Then in the same envelope were Grace's grades for her report card, as well as her test scores.

In Texas, students are required to pass the TAKS test for each grade. Annabel's scores don't count as she takes one for those with linguistic challenges.

But Grace's scores do count and in math she got EVERY SINGLE QUESTION CORRECT!!! She made a perfect score, which makes her score, "commended" and she also got "commended" on the reading part! Wow!

And her report card was all A's except one B in Spanish!

I'm sure they take after their mom, right?


I've told Mom that recently I feel like I introduce myself as, "Hi, I'm Jerri. I have 2 daughters I adopted from China and my sister died."

It's amazing how many new people I can meet in one week and how few I don't disclose these two parts of my life to even if they are casual acquaintances.

And I'm not sure why.

Now I am adding and my sister's daughters are staying with us as much as they can this summer!

This is the way I like it. It is difficult not to look at her two beautiful daughters, growing into beautiful young women, and feel loss, concern, fear, and worry. I have fought to overcome treating them like "damaged goods". I want to censor anything about losing a parent or anyone or anything dying.

For Darcey, who was only 5 when Jana died, I know she needs memories of her mother.

What makes it really hard is that Jana was her third "mom".

Darcey had her birth mother in China, a foster mother in China, and then what was supposed to be her "forever" mom in Jana. She is the reason I adopted my daughters.

Gillian was 8 when she died and has memories, but there was so much more that she did not have time to learn, history, how to handle the future, how to shave your legs, etc, etc.

At first I just could not mention Jana without tears, but now while they are here, I try to bring her up and relate the current to her history as often as I can, trying to impress in them her story, to help them recall it easier.

But there are also very real practical matters that girls growing up need help with and tonight we attacked a few of them. We meant to have spa night, but instead got held up trying to remove all excessive facial hair! Now men probably have no clue as to the work we do to try to make ourselves look gorgeous, but it is work!

Gillian is much more aware of the girlie kind of things.

I think I forget to do them, so my girls don't see it in practice and besides all of them are really young! BUT at least at this point they all still think I know what I am doing and will listen and let me help.

So tonight they decided they needed to do something with the caterpillars that double as their eyebrows but did not want to do tweezers and knew they did not want to try waxing. We got it done with some special stuff I had bought at Sally's. They have no idea how nervous I was and if you see them, please don't look too closely. I think all stylists are feeling a shift in the earth's core due to the odd way I did it, but it pleased them.

Tomorrow night we tackle facial scrubs and masks!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Home is always best!

There is a great benefit to traveling, other than the obvious ones of seeing new sights, hearing sounds, and smelling and tasting new cuisine.

A big benefit is a deeper appreciation of home.

While we did not travel far, coming home was a joy. Driving straight through from Santa Fe, New Mexico is not a joy, but knowing home is at the end of the journey makes it all worthwhile.

For us, we knew our dogs were anxious for our return, which is nice.

BUT by far the best and most important part of returning home is that Mom and Dad are there to greet us, no matter how late we finally arrive.

For most people they return home, unload the car, and slip back into their homes and their roles with little fanfare of their return.

For us, Mom and Dad stayed up late and as soon as we drove in were out there greeting, hugging, and kissing all the prodigal children from their trip! It is nice to know that someone misses you and even better, that they care that you return.