Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Can It Be Nearly Christmas!?

December has flown by in an absolute whirlwind.  I seriously cannot believe how quickly the season has come and gone.  I’ve been so excited to share the holidays with Penny.  We had a TON of plans, but many of them didn’t come to fruition, just due to lack of time and of course there are times that you just can’t do everything.  Consequently,we missed the Fredericksburg Christmas parade, among other things!

I had suggested she take a sick day on the 9th so we could go to the National Tree Lighting (I know, bad momma!), but it turned out she had something crazy like 3 tests that day, so she went to school and we missed seeing the tree being lit.  On the 11th, we went up to my friends Paul and Kris’s house to attend their church’s annual Christmas pageant.  It was a beautiful 2 hour Christmas concert with scenes from the Christmas story acted out, plus my (*cough cough*) favorite liturgical dancing and a rather passionate sermon delivered from the pastor about accepting Jesus as our savior.  Penny handled it all rather diplomatically and we assured her in the car that we didn’t really feel that way about the hereafter, but she didn’t seem too concerned by it, so I’m not sure what she was thinking. 

After the program, we went back to Paul and Kris’s house and met with their friends for a big lasagna dinner.  They made Penny a special meatless lasagna while the rest of us feasted on beef, and I think she was pleased they made the effort.  She did a great job of dealing with their 3 spazzy dogs—we had to teach her not to scream and run away but to firmly say, “No!” and push them off, and by the end of the evening, she was a pro.  She also approached someone she didn’t know at the party and she struck up a conversation with them and I was very proud to watch her interaction with them.

P1090319 After the party (sorry, we didn’t get any pictures!), we went down to see the National Christmas tree.   I did want her to see it and I had never been to see it myself, so I thought it was very exciting.  All I knew going to DC was that the tree was “somewhere near the White House” but once I got down there, I could see it shining brightly.  You literally can’t miss it.  I had to pull an illegal u-turn to get a parking spot, but we got an amazing parking space right outside the park and while Mike and Leah waited in the car, Penny and I went to see the tree.  I was very impressed by the whole thing.  They have a beautiful display set up down there with trees representing every single state in the country plus every US territory.  They have a Santa’s village, but the line was crazy and we didn’t wait.  There were hundreds of people down there looking at the tree and it was quite spectacular, particularly with the White House so close by.  I can say it definitely won’t be my last trip to see it!


This past week has been similarly busy.  I have been busy with choir rehearsals and Penny babysat for us while Mike and I finished up our Christmas shopping.  We’ve been busy wrapping gifts and Penny has helped too, although I think she was of the opinion that if she helped with the wrapping, she’d get a peek at her gifts.  Sorry, Penny, I wrapped yours first!  Monday, Penny stepped outside to discover a quarter inch of snow on the ground and she was so excited she even knelt down, touched it, and tasted it.  The neighbor was out there and looked at her like she was a little bit crazy, but she was so excited!  I promised her we’d get more before it was over and she’d probably be sick of it.  She was disappointed that she didn’t get a picture of it, but leave it to me, I knew she’d be in a rush and wouldn’t have taken a picture, so I took one for her.  She had to write a descriptive essay this week about her favorite winter, so she wrote about seeing snow for the first time and the fact that I took the picture and wrote “I laughed until I cried.  My mum always knows what I want.”  That touched my heart. :0D

Wednesday, we went to the tree lot at the local Catholic church and picked out our tree.

P1090368And yes, it was FREEZING out there.  When we got home, we put the tree in the stand and I conned her into watering it.  Then I dug out a craft kit of ornaments and Penny and I made ornaments to put on the tree.  It was a kit of bird cutouts that were adhesive and little tubes of glitter that you shook over them as you removed the adhesive coverings a bit at a time.  It was  fun project and definitely a good thing to do AFTER the wee one went to bed!


Thursday morning, I happened to get up early with Leah and checked Facebook to discover that Spotsy schools were closed, so I checked the SHS web page and discovered that even though it wasn’t snowing, Penny had been granted a snow day. I intercepted her just as she was about to leave and she couldn’t believe she had heard me correctly.  Then she said, “Should I be happy or not? I am already up and dressed!”  I told her to be happy, we’d have fun together.  So she decided to work on her homework for a while instead of going back to bed.  Once Leah was up and we were settled in downstairs, Penny came thundering down to announce that the snow had started.  She was positively giddy.  I told her to get her coat on and we’d go out to WalMart and grab supplies to bake cookies and do some things together.  When we got outside, it was like the world stopped.  Penny just stood in the falling flakes and gazed in wonder.  I was so happy about her childlike awe of the whole thing.  She said, “I feel like I’m in a movie!”  She went in and got her camera and I got mine and we had fun taking pictures and catching snowflakes. 

P1090388The little things about snow were the most impressive to her—how it stuck to her sneakers, how it got dirty near the road, how it turned to ice when it got clumped into a pile, catching flakes with her tongue.  It was ADORABLE!

P1090394 We loaded up with supplies at Walmart and then came home and I taught Penny the Cherepon Method of putting lights on the tree.  She was of the misguided opinion that you just sort of put them on there in a swirly motion and that was that.  I corrected that misconception right away with my dad’s tried and true “push the lights in and pull them back out” method (which doesn’t sound like it makes a whole lot of sense until you see it in action!) and we wound up putting 600 lights on the tree.  I could probably have done another strand on there, but I was out of lights and didn’t feel like going back out, so we made do.  We were both sweating and tired afterwards, so we took a break and baked cookies in the afternoon while Leah was sleeping.  I had been sick for almost 2 weeks and by Thursday I was feeling absolutely miserable from pain, exhaustion, and just not feeling well, so when Penny and I sat down to play cards at 9:00, I started debating going to the local urgent care clinic.  Eventually I abandoned her and went over to the doctor and good thing, as I had a massive sinus infection, the second one I’ve had in 3 years.  (I know that doesn’t sound half bad, but in general I’m very healthy and this is not anything I encountered in the first 32 years of my life, so to suddenly get these infections SUCKS!)  The doctor told me not to go home but to go straight to the 24 hour pharmacy and get prescriptions, so I did, and consequently Penny was in bed before I got home.  But…

P1090407 Friday, Penny had ANOTHER school day, so while Mike was at work, we got the house ready for company, since my best friend from college Joe was coming to spend the weekend and my dad was arriving on Saturday.  We also baked her beloved raspberry bars, which made her happy since we made 2 pans worth.  Joe and Mike took the early train and got in at 5:40 and Penny and I tried our hand at making stir fry together.  It came out pretty well!  After dinner, all of us went into the living room to decorate the tree.  Leah presented Penny with an ornament that says, “I’m the big sister” and that was the ceremonial first ornament on the tree, placed by Penny herself.  Then all of us got into the act, listening to Penny’s new favorite musical artist, Kenny G.  She says she loves jazz and the saxophone so when I was at CVS and saw he had a Christmas CD other than the Miracles CD I already had, I picked it up for her.  She loved it.


Saturday morning I had dress rehearsal for my concert all morning and when I got home, we ordered pizzas for lunch.  Penny spent much of Saturday in her room.  I think we had a lot of together-time and she just wanted to relax and listen to music, which was fine.  In the afternoon, Joe and I baked cookies while Leah slept and Michael hid out in his man cave.  My father arrived Saturday night, which was a lot of fun since Penny just adores him. 

Sunday was my big day, the day of my choir concert.  I was very excited as we had been rehearsing a lot and I was ready to sing, but as the time drew close, my dad, Penny, and Leah hadn’t arrived.  As we lined up to go, I still hadn’t seen them anywhere, so I was really relieved to see Penny come running out of the ladies’ room and wish me good luck.  She enjoyed the concert a lot and I enjoyed performing in it.  Afterwards a bunch of friends met me with flowers, which was a sweet surprise as well!

P1090436Afterwards, Dad, Michael, Penny, Leah, and I went home and had dinner, and then Penny, Mike, and I worked on a project for AFS.  They asked host family bloggers to make a video describing what hosting an AFS student meant to us, so we decided to include Penny in our video.  The only downer about the whole thing was that Leah was already in bed since it was so late, so she doesn’t appear at all.  However, if you’d like to see our video, you can do so at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J6I89QHym0  I am pretty pleased with the final result. :-D

Yesterday, for reasons known only to the county, Penny had a 2 hour delay, but still nearly missed the bus.  She still declines to wear her coat to school, but I’ve given up.  If she gets pneumonia, so be it.  I tried to make a lasagna for dinner, but it didn’t congeal in time, so we had lasagna soup and then I took Penny to school because she was performing in her second concert at school in the choir.  She was in the women’s choir and they sang 3 selections, a Russian song, a Japanese song, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  She did a great job and the choir sounded amazing!

P1090440P1090441  Today she had a full day of school (must have been hard after all those days off plus a delay!) and then when she got home, we had dinner and then she and I picked up Mike and we all headed over to the mall for the flash mob chorus I was participating in.  Penny needed some pants, so she picked up a new pair while we were at the mall too, which was great and she ran into a bunch of people she knew from school, which I think was great for her!  We came home and she has been studying for her government test.  Tomorrow she has early release and then she will be done with school until 2011!!!!  I can’t believe it!

Thursday evening we are going to a potluck party at her liaison’s house and Friday afternoon, we will go up to a family member’s house for dinner for Christmas Eve before the big event on Saturday.  Penny has decided to call home this weekend, so we told her that she can as long as it’s not during the big events on Saturday morning.  I’ll make a special Christmas post post-Christmas!  Until then, I wish you all a simply amazing Christmas with those you love!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Updates Long Overdue!

I am waaaaaaaaay overdue for updating this blog, and I do apologize.  It has been over a month, but my gosh, I can’t believe how busy we’ve been!

I am learning not to make plans any more.  We make plans and then everything changes.  We have planned to go back to DC since our first trip back in August and guess what?  We haven’t made it yet!  Sheesh!!!

November was an absolute whirlwind.  I honestly can’t believe it has been and gone, and I have no idea where it went!!!  The only thing that really stuck in my head when I sat down to write this update is our Thanksgiving vacation.  I looked back through our photos and I think perhaps it’s possible that I’ve even been too busy to take pictures!  I am extremely thankful that I had in mind to keep a paper journal for Penny.  I found an awesome journal at the local bookstore and every night with only one exception so far (the night we arrived at my mother’s house at 2AM), I have written in it daily.  I will make a bound photocopy of it before I give it to Penny at the end of the year.

Anyway, here’s what I can tell you for sure we did:

November 9, Penny performed in her first concert at school.  She sang with her choir class.  The class is divided into men and women and at the time, Penny was singing second soprano.  The women’s choir sang 3 or 4 songs and we proudly waved to her from our seats in the back of the auditorium—as close as we could get unfortunately by the time we got over there!  We were very grateful that our friend Sherry Harrison came to the concert to support Penny and afterwards we all gave her flowers and met her friend, Stephanie, for the first time.

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November 11 was Veteran’s Day and we took Penny up to Ikea to meet up with my friend Emily.  Penny had never been to Ikea before, so we went over there and had lunch and wandered around.  Penny liked the chocolate cake a lot!

P1080971 Somewhere in there, Penny also auditioned for the district choir.  She was not ultimately selected, but we were so proud of her for having the guts to even try.  Her choir teacher ultimately decided to move her to the alto section, where I think she is a lot more comfortable singing as well.  She is such a songbird.  She loves to sing here all the time and has music on a lot.  She has taken a particular shine to Wham! so if we hear that there is a resurgence in Wham!’s popularity in Thailand next year, George Michael can send me a cut of the royalties.

P1090014 November also marks a major holiday in Thailand, that being Loy Krathong.  Loy Krathong is a festival in Thailand in which the Thai people create beautiful boats out of banana leaves and send them floating down the river hoping to have the sins of their year absolved.  You can read more about it by clicking here.  Penny decided to teach us how to make our own krathongs and we would float them here locally to celebrate her customs.  Penny had a lot of leftover tissue paper from her birthday paper, and cut it into strips to fashion a rough equivalent of the leaves that would typically be in a krathong.  She taught me the folding method, which I struggled with quite a bit at first, but after folding 40 or 50 of them, I quickly got the hang of it and we made a krathong for each member of the family.  I sent Penny’s mom a picture and she suggested we fill them with flowers as would be traditional, so on the day we were due to set them off, November 21, I went and picked up carnations at the local grocery store.  We filled them and sent them down the river at a local park here in Fredericksburg.  It was a very lovely moment.


My friend Jacalyn of Emerald Lens Photography came with us to take family photos for our Christmas cards and she photographed the occasion as well.  There are some pictures on her photo blog if you are interested.

1110230521_wGQmU-MPhoto credit:  Jacalyn Stanley, EmeraldLens.info

On November 23rd, all our company began arriving for Thanksgiving.  My father was here and our best friends Mike and Lesley flew up from Atlanta.  We had an awesome Thanksgiving together and Penny enjoyed making a big meal with us and she really loved the turkey!  We put her to work in the kitchen and she was into everything up to her elbows, from making pie to making gravy to setting our table just beautifully.

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Post-Thanksgiving we took our annual trip up to the Christmas Attic in Alexandria.  Afterwards, we started decorating the house for Christmas, most notably putting up Christmas lights, which Penny also enjoyed helping with.

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(Yes, she was insane enough to be wearing shorts!)

Once everyone left and we took a deep breath, we started getting ready for Christmas.  I perform with a local choir, so I have been running back and forth to choir practice as well as my regular book club meeting.  Penny has had a ton of tests and papers and projects she’s had to do.  We got out all our decorations for Christmas except the tree, which we will put up the weekend of December 18th.  We have started baking cookies and we attended a free concert by the US Marine Corps Band at Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center.  Penny has never experienced cold weather like we have here in Virginia (and I have to say, it’s been an exceptionally cold winter so far!), so we talked her into buying a coat, explaining that her yellow sweatshirt was not going to cut it.  I had gotten Leah a little lamb hat to keep her warm and Penny fell madly in love with it and looked all over for a “cute” hat like that, but couldn’t find one.  Fortunately, I found one at JC Penney’s and bought it for her and we gave it to her as an early Christmas present.  She and Leah looked adorable at Wolf Trap.



After we had been there ten minutes, however, Penny exclaimed, “I have changed my mind about seeing snow!”

Penny also made a new friend in a missionary, Jon, who has just returned from a couple of years living in Thailand and was looking for someone to experience Thailand and Thai culture and language with as he adjusts to life back in the US.  They met up at the mall and spent a couple of hours together chatting and whatnot.  Penny also had an amazing time spending a night at her liaison’s house with 2 of the other exchange students.  They went to the theater to see Tangled in 3D, Penny’s first American cinematic experience.  Now she wants to find someone to go see Narnia with her, as she is a great fan of it.  Hopefully she will find a friend to go with her!

We have introduced Penny to the tradition of the Advent wreath and have been teaching her how to light a match and then she can light the candles.  (I was a regular firebird by the time I was 10, probably due to the Girl Scouts and their evil camping influence, so the idea she could be 18 and not know how to light a match struck me as very strange!)  We do a reading each week, which I think she feels a bit more relaxed about since it is not overly religious in tone. 

P1090273Penny also helped us with our traditional “stuffing of the Christmas cards”—something she cannot believe we did.  We mailed out 73 of our 74 cards so far, and she couldn’t believe that many Americans send out that quantity at the holidays.  I explained that Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate the love we have for our family and friends and that while it is time consuming, it is so nice to give and receive cards to those we love.  I don’t know if she was convinced or not, but she IS enjoying when we receive cards.  My mom sent her a special Christmas card to commemorate her trip to Disney and Penny was so touched!


She is now in the spirit of the whole present thing.  Last night she helped me wrap Leah’s presents, as well as gifts for my niece and nephew.  She snooped around a bit since there were a few presents for her in the pile downstairs, but she didn’t gather much from her reconnaissance.  Most of her presents are wrapped and stashed elsewhere because I suspect she is a bit of a spy, just like I was!  Patience, Penny, only 16 more days till you get your loot! :)

Of course, we have crammed in tons of Skip Bo and Yahtzee and yesterday Penny and I finally, finally, finally finished Super Mario Bros. for Wii.  Now we are trying to decide what to do to fill our time since we have been sweating that game for months!

This weekend we will have dinner with friends tomorrow evening, attend a Christmas pageant at my friend’s house on Saturday and hopefully take a quick trip into DC to have a peek at the national Christmas tree.  Sunday our neighbor has invited us to see her son in the church Christmas pageant.  We will also probably start baking serious quantities of cookies soon, which is something Penny is extremely excited about.  She will be performing in another choir concert on the 16th and she has offered to babysit Leah and the neighbor’s little boy so Lisa and I can go Christmas shopping this week and I can finish it off!  Then my friend Joe will arrive on the 17th for the weekend that will include putting up our tree, my concert, my father’s arrival, taking cookies to the neighbors, and last minute preparations before the big day.  I hope to sneak in a trip to the mall to get a picture with Santa Claus too.

Hopefully it won’t take me 6 weeks to update from Christmas and New Year!!!  It’s hard to believe we are coming up on 4 months since the kids arrived, and only 6 months of this wonderful experience left.  Impossible to believe!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Rest of October

The rest of October is gone in an absolute blur.  I remember taking Penny and Leah to the mall for their photo shoot, and I more or less don’t remember a thing afterwards until I looked at the calendar today and saw a big, fat number 1 on it and thought, “Oh man, it’s November already!”

P1080552 Penny did go to Homecoming with her friend JB and met up with some new friends at the dance itself.  She looked lovely in her dress and she had a very good time going, although I think she would have liked to have danced more than she did.  Her friend is not much of a dancer and she felt badly leaving him alone while she went to dance.  Still, they had a great time having dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings with JB’s cousin beforehand and then going the dance and coming home.  Penny looked beautiful and felt great in her new dress, so  I’d call the night a success!

 P1080649 Another big event this month was that we went to Florida for my mother’s 60th birthday party.  We had been planning this for a while and we were all very excited about it.  My mom lives about 90 minutes south of Orlando, so a trip to Disney was definitely called for.  I left the little one with her father and grandmother and took Penny to DisneyWorld’s Magic Kingdom for the day.  It was a lot for her to take in and she was absolutely exhausted by 2:00 in the afternoon, but we managed to go on quiet rides then, like the Carousel of Progress, where she could take a little nap and get some rest.  We were laughing and joking with each other about daring ourselves to go on the “scary rides” like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, but ultimately my host mom instinct kicked in and I decided that Penny was not going back to Thailand regretting the fact that she hadn’t done things.  I always tell her that she will regret the things she didn’t do much more than the things she did do.  So I did the rides too, even though I really didn’t want to.  But it was fun.  Space Mountain is probably better for me than other coasters, since it’s in the dark and you really can’t see what’s about to happen.  There’s no time to get scared.  Penny was screaming the whole time, and she informs me that I laughed.  We did every ride either of us wanted to and a few I’d never done before in all my trips to Disney and left by about 7:30PM.  It was a beautiful day and a lot of fun.

P1080785 The next day was my mom’s party.  We had a beautiful time celebrating my mom and her special day.  We did a lot of decorating, we made centerpieces, we put together cookie trays, got cake, entertained my mom’s friends, and made a glorious mess.  My mom is a special lady, and has packed a ton of special into 60 years, so even though I gave her a big hug and she and I both burst into tears, it was a good kind of crying.  I hope she felt all the love in that room—I know we all did!

Monday, we took Penny for her first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a beautiful day but the hurricanes were churning up the water pretty good, so the waves were very choppy.  She elected not to get into the water, but at least she got to see it.

P1080799All in all, Florida was a great time.  We came home exhausted, and grateful to be in our own beds, but very grateful to have had such a wonderful time and gotten to know so many people.

Then it was one week till Halloween!!!  Penny was very excited about Halloween and it is really her first big American holiday, so we were excited too.  I had great plans for trips to the pumpkin patch, baking cookies, etc. but the wheels came off our family bus for a while and most of our weekend was taken up with meetings with our AFS liaison and a good deal of sulking, screaming, crying, and door slamming.  I am happy to say that things are better now, but it was very stressful and consequently we didn’t get much done!  She did go to her friend Victoria’s party on Saturday night, though, which was great, since she was able to meet some more kids and have a good time.  She even told us not to wait up for her.  I sort of didn’t, I just waited up in my bed instead of waiting in the living room.

So we crammed it in yesterday.  When Penny got up, there was apple cider and donuts waiting for her.  We carved pumpkins together—something she’d never done before.  It was fun to hear her when I got the top off the first pumpkin and pulled up and the strings and seeds came with it.  She really cleaned out her pumpkin with gusto, though, and took to the spirit of the thing right away.


She carved her own design into her pumpkin and she was happy with it, even if one of the eyes fell apart on her!  I made Leah a little happy pumpkin and in the other pumpkins we had gotten, we used some Mr. Potato Head type pieces that they sold at Target a few years ago to make a pirate pumpkin and a diva pumpkin.  The were all nicely displayed on the front steps.

Costumes were cool too.  I let Penny have the ultimate say in what Leah would be this year, and she chose a pumpkin outfit we found on line.  Leah looked super-cute, I must say, even though I wanted to go with a pirate princess costume.  I’m happy with the pumpkin!  (My sister-in-law pointed out that Leah is going to start forming opinions about what she wants to be soon enough and I may not have another chance to dress her as a pumpkin, so I should strike while the iron is hot!)  Penny chose to wear her traditional Thai dress, something she had brought with her from home and has decided she will also wear to the prom.  She looked beautiful in it, it was a cream colored lace top and a gorgeously patterned golden skirt.  Michael and I wore our traditional Frankenstein and Witch hats that we got the first year we were married.  We cut a beautiful picture as a family.

P1080927 I took the girls out trick-or-treating starting at about 6:30PM.  Penny kept asking what time it was and could we go yet and so we left as soon as we saw other kids coming out.  We went to all the neighbors up and down the street, but it was COLD!!!! and Penny was freezing in her outfit.  She had on a sweatshirt over it and at each house she would take it off before ringing the bell. 

Halloween is dying, at least in Fredericksburg.  It makes me sad—Halloween was such a special night when I was a kid, but I guess now people are scared about taking candy from strangers, so they take candy from strangers in church parking lots now.  Our neighbors had invited us out to their church for the “trunk and treat” where you go around to parked cars and accept candy from people’s trunks, so after we finished our block, I put the girls in the car and we drove over to Falmouth Baptist and picked up loot and hot dogs to boot!

On the way back, we stopped off at JB’s house, where the dog got loose and Penny ran in circles screaming with the dog barking and chasing her—it was some Halloween excitement!!!  Then we went to Mike’s radio buddy Jack’s, and then I told Penny I needed to get Leah home.  She said she wanted to keep going, so I gave her my cell phone and came home.  She was home about 15 minutes later, having gone to only 3 other houses before the cold got to her and she called it a night.

We all sat together at the table while she counted her loot.  She and Leah bagged 150 pieces of candy total, the top 3 of which were M&M’s, Butterfingers, and KitKats.  She was very excited by the gum she got—the kind in the red, yellow, and blue wrapper that turns rock hard in your mouth after about 5 minutes.  She apparently loves the stuff!  I’m going to go find her some today on sale.


Shortly afterwards, we perused our pictures and then it was bedtime.

So now it’s November and time to look ahead to the crazy season, which is getting underway. I can hardly believe it.  Penny has off tomorrow for election day, so we are going to DC for the day.  For Veteran’s Day, which I think she also has off and which Mike has off, we’re going to Richmond for the day.  Our best friends and my father are all coming for Thanksgiving, then we’re hoping to make a trip to NYC, and then it’ll be Christmas time!!!  Time for cookies and shopping and presents and trees and excitement.  Penny is simultaneously praying for and dreading snow.  We’ll see what happens!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two months?! What?!

Wednesday marks the two month “anniversary” of Penny’s arrival to our golden shores.  That means 1/5 of her stay is over.  I can hardly wrap my mind around that!  It does not seem like 2 months at all.  Seriously.

It’s been another busy week.  Mike’s parents left on Wednesday morning after a nice stay and visit with us.  I decided to take the girls to the mall on Friday to have their pictures taken together, so on Thursday I introduced Penny to Burlington Coat Factory and she enjoyed shopping there but didn’t get anything to wear for her pictures.  I wound up finding a sweet little dress for Leah, and so we matched up what Penny had in her closet as best we could.  I had to talk her out of a graphic t-shirt. :-)

Friday we went to the photo shoot and as long as Leah was clinging to Penny, she did just fine.  The minute Penny stepped away, Leah wanted nothing more to do with the whole venture and screamed and cried.  So we got a few good pictures and some hilarious ones of Leah crying (I was also trying to get her 18 month photos).

my favorite

While we were waiting for the photos to print out, Penny ran into some friends who encouraged her to go to the Homecoming Dance.  She said she didn’t know and I took the bull by the horns and explained that Penny was nervous to go on her own without a date.  The girls quickly exclaimed that they were not going with dates and she should just go anyway!  This set the wheels in Penny’s head spinning.  She asked me what I thought.

I told Penny that she will be more likely to return to Thailand thinking, “Oh, I should have gone to Homecoming!” than she would be to think, “Oh, I should never have gone to Homecoming.”  I told her we always regret the things we don’t do more than we regret the things we did do.  She said, “you want me to go?” and I said, “I want you to experience as much of being an American teenager as you possibly can and want to.”  This has been my philosophy all along.  I am not going to force her to do anything, but I am going to encourage her to do everything.

We took about 3 more steps and she said, “Ok, I am going to go.”  I was excited and said I would take her dress shopping over the weekend.

On Saturday, Mike’s sister arrived for a 2 day visit, driving her hot little sports car, which Penny totally fell in love with.  Every time we went out, Michael and Paula were in one car and Penny, Leah, and I were in our station wagon.  Penny would spend the entire time watching in the rearview mirror as Paula followed us.  Sunday, we all went to Paula’s hotel to go swimming and afterwards, I hung back with Paula and asked her if she would mind driving Penny around a bit in her car.  She said no problem, so I asked Penny if she’d like to ride in it?  The grin that stretched across her face didn’t abate the entire evening.  We took a picture of her sitting in the car and I watched as much as I could as she happily smiled and sat in that car for the ride of her life, her first time in a sports car.  Paula even put the top down for her.  Penny was in heaven.

Today we had a real AFS kind of day.  Leigh and Lucas of A Viking in South Carolina were in the area visiting family and seeing the sites of DC and Leigh and I chatted about getting together for a bit to meet after lots of fun on Facebook and blogs.  Even though both Penny and Lucas were like, “We’re doing what with whom!?” we went ahead as host moms do and made plans to meet up.  Ultimately, Leigh decided to stop over at the house on their way back to SC, and they made it over around 12:30 this afternoon.  It was so neat to exchange hugs and hellos and sit and chat for a while about AFS and school and America and Sweden and Thailand and all of that good stuff.  Leah woke up from her nap about mid-visit and Lucas convinced her he wasn’t so bad, so she offered him the $5 bill from her “Pat the Cat” book, which they swapped back and forth for a while.  They didn’t have long to stay as they had a long journey ahead of them, but it turned out Leigh knew some girls from Thailand who Penny had met at AFS camp, so that was cool.  And we have been told to let them know if we are in SC any time.  Although she was quiet, as she always is with new people, when Leigh and Lucas left, Penny asked if we had any plans to go to SC.  I think they made quite an impression on her!

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After they left, we went dress shopping.  I explained semi-formal wear to Penny, who just wanted to go back to Burlington to find something.  I told her we’d need to go to the mall to get a dress, and we tried some at JC Penney’s first, but Penny was so embarrassed by how much skin they showed that she refused to let me even see them!  We went to Deb and tried on a bunch of dresses, but she insisted on keeping on her t-shirt over her top half, so all I could see were the skirts.  I texted Mike, “Unless the Amish are suddenly in the semi-formal dress business, we are in serious trouble here.”  Penny really wanted something modest that didn’t expose a lot of skin, but the style these days is strapless!  Finally, we found a lace bolero jacket and decided she would wear that over top of whatever dress she chose.  She found a lovely little black dress and that settled it!  I hope she’ll let me take a few pictures on Saturday evening. The dress she chose really made her smile and I think she will be happy wearing it.

So that closes out Penny’s second American holiday, Columbus Day.  I had plans to drive Penny up into the mountains to see the fall leaves and then to go to Luray Caverns, but with the decision about homecoming and after looking at our schedule for this week, it just wasn’t in the cards for a trip up there.  Hopefully sometime soon!

Tomorrow we will go to the school for a Vera Bradley bingo night.  Penny’s friends down the street invited her to attend and I had already learned about it and asked my friend Wendy to go, so we will all meet up at the school and win some bags! Hopefully we all get lucky :-D  Wednesday and Thursday, I’m busy shuttling Michael and Leah to various appointments and then Friday I think we have a down day.  Saturday Leah will go off to my friend’s overnight and we will get Penny ready for her big dance.  Sunday I am volunteering at NPR in the evening, and then it will only be 5 days till our Florida trip.  I’m shocked that it’s all coming about so quickly!!!!  There’s only 10 weeks or so till Christmas.  Sheesh!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our First Disagreement

Like any family, an exchange family is prone to disagreements and getting on each other’s nerves from time to time.  Our family is no different.  I wanted to blog about this because all of us feel a need to present our families in the most glowing terms possible, and to encourage others to host and portray what a wonderful experience we are having.  All of that is true.  I would say without hesitation that my family is pretty darned awesome.  Our hosting experience has been better than I hoped for in my wildest dreams.  I hope that my friends and family all consider hosting a student and enjoying this experience for themselves!

But there does come a point when the laughter and hugs and “way to go”s and joy and love gives way a bit to some frustration and occasionally an argument.  That’s what happened in our family today.

The AFS Host Family Handbook contains a chart of the Cultural Adjustment Cycle, which tells how both the student and family may be feeling at certain milestones in the exchange year.  It begins at Stage 1 with the selection and arrival, and all the excitement that go with being matched with your student and picking them up at their orientation point and bringing them home.  This leads to culture shock, which the student is experiencing because absolutely everything around them is new.  This gives way to Stage 2, when there is surface adjustment, but leads into mental isolation, which I think is where Penny is at the moment.  She is starting to feel more at ease at school, feeling a bit better about understanding English, has a few friends, and is enjoying living with our family.  However, she does complain about a lack of good friends like she enjoys back home.  Her friends right now are still rather tentative friends and they are all still getting to know one another.  Meanwhile, for the host family, AFS suggests that small misunderstandings may become more irritating, since we might all expect that Penny has adjusted to being here.

I think a good part of that is what happened today.  Penny called from school to say she needed a ride home.  I was taking a nap, as my in-laws were visiting, which affords me time to relax a little bit as they love to take care of the little one.  Consequently, Michael answered the phone.  He came upstairs and told me that Penny needed a ride home and as it was 3:30, I got up and got ready.  I tried calling Penny, but her cell phone went straight to voice mail, so I went over to the school.

And I sat there until 4:45.  I paged her over the school’s PA system, but she never showed up.  My own cell phone’s battery had died (it has great battery life, so I never think to check it), so I was not able to call home and find out whether Penny was home or not, and no one at the school would allow me to use a phone.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a pay phone these days?!  Finally I found one at a local gas station and called home, and sure enough, Penny had gotten a ride from a friend.  She had not wanted to bother her friend and ask to borrow their phone to call us and let us know she had a ride. 

Now, for those of you who know us, or you may have inferred from reading this blog, Michael is totally blind.  This means that I am solely responsible in the house for all the driving, and driving is one of my major pet peeves.  Oh, maybe if we lived in a rural setting where driving somewhere 5 miles away would be easily attainable in 5 minutes, I wouldn’t mind it so much.  But we live in the greater Washington DC metro area, an area well known for its traffic.  Many is the time I have gotten stuck somewhere and it has taken me 20 minutes to go a half mile. 

And the fact of the matter is, I can never say to my husband, “Hey, why don’t you go pick up milk at the grocery store?”  or “I don’t feel like taking you to your doctor’s appointment, you take the car” or “Would you mind mailing this package on your way to work?”  Because I am the ride to the store, to the doctor, to the post office, to work, and to anywhere else we want to go.  I know you single folks feel my pain in a way, but if you are married, imagine never, ever being able to ask your spouse to run an errand and every time your spouse needs an errand run, you have to do it.  Now add a toddler.  I get to sit through 3 times the doctor’s appointments.  I get to do all the shopping for the family and if one of us forgets something, I get to go pick it up (as happened recently when the Mister forgot he needed toothpaste).  I do the shopping for family gifts and the shipping and the packing and I sign every card and either cook every meal or drive us to get dinner or take out or sign the delivery slips when our delivered dinners arrive.  Blindness is a pervasive disability, and even though Mike is an amazingly accomplished man and he could very easily sign the delivery slip, most people are extremely uncomfortable among people who are blind, particularly if they have no ongoing contact with that person.  This is one of the things that has made Penny such an extraordinary addition to our household:  she jumped right in with both feet and never treated “The Chief” any differently than she treated any other adults she has met on her adventure thus far.

So the fact that I drove across town for no reason whatsoever Really. Pissed. Me. Off.  I had worked up a full head of steam by the time I got back, and when I walked in the door, there was Penny, ready to great me with a chipper, “Hello!” and a laugh.  To which, I must say, I did not respond well. I said as calmly as I could that I did not want to talk with her just then and needed to go somewhere and calm down.

Because, you see, this is how I deal with anger.  As a kid, I was always sent to my room to cool off.

However, Penny was devastated that I would not speak with her.  She went up to her room and refused to come out.  Michael’s parents were leaving and wanted to say goodbye since Penny declined to go out to dinner with us, so I went out to the car so she could feel comfortable saying goodbye to them.  She burst into tears while hugging them and said she was not staying here and goodbye forever (the kid has clearly inherited my flair for the dramatic!).  Mike’s mom came out to the car and was very upset by the whole thing.  We went to dinner and I talked with her about how exchange students typically adjust and promised that as soon as we got home, we would all sit down and chat.

On the way home, Michael and I chatted about how we wanted things to turn out and when we got home, he went upstairs and got her to come down.  She was still crying, but I think she wanted it over as much as we did.  We had a very long chat and even in working out our problems, I felt as if I learned so much.

We talked about the different ways families handle conflict.  In Penny’s family, there is lots of yelling and in some cases, even laughter, and then it’s over.  In our house, the only people who argue are me and Michael, since Leah is still too little.  Our signature style is that we get grumpy with each other, and I retreat to cool off.  I am aware of the fact that when I get angry, I tend to say things I don’t mean.  Because I tend to have my feelings hurt rather easily, I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, and I want to only say things that I know won’t linger, as I definitely retain garbage other people say to me.  Plus, my dad doesn’t like dealing with emotional women, so we always got sent to our rooms to settle down, as I said before in this post.

As we talked over what had happened, I admitted that my cell phone was dead too, so communication was definitely hampered.  I told Penny I appreciated her attempt at making life easier by getting a ride, but that from now on if she called needing a ride and couldn’t get ahold of me personally to change plans, she should stay put and wait for me to come and get her.  She said she was sure she would get home before I had to leave, and she really was trying to save me a trip.  But she has agreed to wait at her school or wherever she is and not leave if she doesn’t talk directly to me.

One of the things that she said was that she was devastated because she is having a hard time understanding things at school and has a real lack of good friends, and the thing she loves the most is her host family and she was afraid that she had messed that up and she was so upset about it.  We explained that we love her and consider her a permanent part of the family, and that one little incident like this is not going to change that.  She ‘fessed up that she was so upset she had called her family in Thailand and woken them up—her father, mother, and sister all got on the phone with her.  We told her it was fine and no problem, we understood that since we had gone out it had brought her some comfort and maybe helped her get in the mindframe to be prepared to talk with us.  Her father’s advice was to find something to do, so she had made us a sign:


I told Penny that in my estimation, a family argument was bound to happen.  No one gets along 100% of the time and as is often the case early in an exchange, miscommunication is the source of a lot of it, which I think is what happened in this situation.   I explained to her that a disagreement didn’t mean we don’t love her or don’t want her around any more, it’s just a way of human relationships expanding and that now we all understand each other a little bit better.

We ended our frank discussion with big hugs and laughter and a few more tears and even Michael told me a few things about myself that I hadn’t considered and I had to agree with (whenever he and I argue, I never tell him I’m sorry).  We made plans for the upcoming long weekend and then Penny went up to bed.    It is sometimes a challenge being an adult, especially when you don’t want to be the one to say, “C’mon and let’s make this better and oh yeah, I’ll admit my mistakes too.”  But it’s so worth it in the end.  And while we didn’t yell at each other, our “make up” session did inspire more than a few laughs.  Our family bond is even tighter now.  Love our girl!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Another Week Has Gone By

Can it really be that a week ago already we were celebrating Penny’s birthday?  I can’t even believe it!  This past week has been full of new experiences for our girl and interesting discussions and just general life.

Penny joined the choir at school as one of her elective classes.  She is very much enjoying it, although she says she cannot sing.  This is not deterring her, however, from at least auditioning for the special select choir, and I’m  proud of her for trying.  I’ll be doubly proud if she makes it!  However, the choir is a bit intense.  Not only does she have to sing, but she has entered the great American enterprise known as fundraising.  They sent her home last week with an order form for pies and flower bulbs.  I put a status on Facebook and called several family members, who agreed to buy pies, but we did feel Penny needed to sell some pies.  She all but begged us not to make her ask our neighbor, but when he came over to get some chairs, I called him into the house and told him Penny had a question for him.  She was ready to kill us, but just as sweet as she could be, she said to him, “I am looking for customers to buy my pies.”

I just about died.  I thought that was the most adorable way to put it.  And apparently so did he, because he bought a pie.  She has since sold several more pies, although she finds the whole thing quite strange and she hates doing it.  Still, I like the idea that in addition to all the other boundaries she’s pushed on her exchange, she also has to push this one, and it involves communication and persuasion of total strangers.  She tried that old “But I don’t know these people” routine with me, but I pointed out that she’s living in an entire country of people she doesn’t know, and what a great way to get to know them!

P1080448 The pie sales also sparked a personal interest in pie in Penny, who has never eaten a pie.  While we were shopping yesterday, she asked if we could make pie, so I agreed and headed for the produce department to pick up apples.  But she didn’t want apple pie, she wanted pecan pie. Mmmmm-kay.  Firstly, I have never made a pecan pie.  Secondly, neither the Chief nor I likes pecan pie.  But, if that’s what she wanted, that’s what she’d get (and I got apples anyway!).  We went to the baking aisle and I had to ponder what goes into a pecan pie.  For some reason, Karo syrup popped into my head, and thankfully, there was a recipe for pecan pie on the back of the Karo syrup container, so we were able to get everything we needed.  I did, however, tell Penny that we were using a frozen pie crust.  Love her though I do, I was not up for making a homemade crust!

Penny plunged in with both feet and took the lead in pie making.  I more or less read directions and held the bowl so she could scoop in the filling.  I agreed to try a bite of her pie and so did The Chief.  And she had good reason to be proud of it—it came out beautifully, even for a pecan pie!

P1080449P1080452Penny said she really liked it, although it was very different from anything she’d ever eaten before.  I’m happy to hear it, because she has a lot of pie to eat!  The Chief and I ate our obligatory pieces of pie and we are done :-) 

Penny also decided to help out making dinner yesterday.  She informed me that she hates me because I always make such good food and she wants to eat all of it, the entire pan.  Yesterday was no exception.  We made stuffed shells from a recipe a neighbor gave me.  Penny wanted to stuff the shells, as she had never seen jumbo shell pasta before and thought it was a lot of fun.  Again, she does not want to use more of anything than she absolutely has to, so I had to tell her to put the entire jar of tomato sauce over the shells, but other than that, she did just fine.  (what I was going to do with a quarter jar of tomato sauce, I don’t know!)

P1080455I told her that if nothing else, her training to be a housewife will be complete by the time she heads back to Thailand.  She says she doesn’t mind learning to be a housewife, so either she really hates school or else I am just a shining example of what a glamorous profession it can be. Either way, I expect she will follow her dream of becoming a psychologist, but she will be an excellent caretaker of her future family either way.

Saturday, Penny had AFS orientation all day.  She really enjoyed her time there.  There was one other Thai student in attendance, and she was excited for the chance to meet her and also to see all the other students.  Apparently, they are all in something of the same boat when it comes to their year so far—they all love their host families but are having a hard time making friends.  They got the same advice from their AFS chapter leaders as they do from their host parents: give it time.  But it’s hard to be patient.  Penny said to me the other day, “I love to talk to my parents, but I want to talk to people my own age.”

To that end, we have encouraged her to list her real name on her Facebook page and to start posting in English, both of which she has done now.  I explained that Facebook is an excellent tool for connecting with her peers but that they cannot connect with her if she is only writing in Thai.  She said she gives people her name at school to add to their Facebook, but no one ever does.  I told her that she should instead ask, “Would you write your name down for me, so I can look you up on Facebook and add you as my friend?”  This lets her take an active role in pursuing friendships and finding people to add as friends, rather than sitting back and waiting for things to happen.  She was invited in passing to the first home football game for her high school on Friday night this week, so I hope she pursues the invitation and tries to make a go of it.  I think she will.

School continues to be an on-and-off struggle.  She is in advanced placement English and they are reading Beowulf.  Consequently, I am now reading Beowulf and badgering my father with questions about it when Penny and I both get stumped.  I enjoy her history and government homework the most.  The other day, she came home with an extra credit question to ask her parents who was president when they were a senior in high school and what they remembered about him.  I’m sure I was in the minority when I answered the first George Bush, I would guess most of her classmates’ parents would have answered Reagan.  And what I remembered was that he hated broccoli and he barfed on the prime minister of Japan (I also remember Dana Carvey’s parody of him saying “No new taxes” and whatnot, but there was limited space!).  I hope I get to see her teacher’s comments on her worksheet about those responses after she gets her paper back!

The Chief and I got to spend a small amount of quality time with just Penny this weekend.  Saturday, I sent Leah off to my friend Melissa’s for the day and night, which somewhat outraged Penny who didn’t really understand how we could need a break from the “little angel”.  I explained that I am exhausted most of the time and that a little time away from us is good for Leah gaining some independence.  She was not happy that her “best friend” was gone for the night, but it was fun for me and The Chief to be able to spend time with Penny Saturday evening and not worry about being interrupted or having to keep quiet while we were playing Yahtzee.  (The fact that the Chief beat Penny twice in a row by only 3 points did not go down well with her!)  It’s strange, but we really do have to divide our time between the two girls, so it’s nice to have time with each one of them individually.  Friday, The Chief had taken off work for an appointment that fell through, so we took Leah down to the Children’s Museum of Richmond for the day and it was nice for the three of us to spend some quality time together as well, especially in safe place where Leah could go crazy and run around and make messes. 

So here we are another week into our exchange.  I hope to take Penny to the Virginia State Fair this week, but the weather is lousy, so I’m not sure we’ll be able to go.  Fingers crossed, though!  At the end of the week I will buy our plane tickets to Florida so that we are ready to roll to Disney World and my mom’s 60th birthday party at the end of October.  It’s hard to imagine that it’s only 3 weeks from now that we’ll be heading down there!!!  It’s hard to imagine that my mom is turning 60, that I’m 35, and that Leah is almost 18 months old.  Sheesh!  TIME FLIES!

Oh, and do you want to be a pie or flower customer?  Drop me an email, private message on Facebook, or leave a comment here! :-D  SHS Choir and Penny thank you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Penny’s 18!!

This Sunday was a big day in our household:  it marked our Penny’s 18th birthday.  She is now legally an adult—but don’t tell her that!  :-D


We decided to throw a party for her to celebrate.  She hadn’t met many people yet at school, but invited the kids she had met that she liked.  We made up the difference inviting a bunch of our friends whom she had met and all of whom she liked.  I have learned by now not to shop till the day of the party, but still, we had about 6 cancellations Sunday morning, and of course they all came after I ordered the pizzas!  AUGH!

Penny had never had a big party in her honor before and she was powerfully excited about the whole thing.  For her birthday, she is used to going to the Buddhist temple and giving food to the monks.  We don’t have a Thai temple near here, so Penny’s parents and sister continued the tradition in Thailand in her honor while we celebrated here the American way.

The inspiration for Penny’s party came from our first shopping trip together when she arrived in the US.  She went through the candy and chip aisles and happily proclaimed, “I love American junk food!”  So we decided on that as our theme.  When I was lamenting on Facebook that I didn’t know how to keep everyone happy and busy during a teen party, fellow AFS mom Nina suggested that we use her idea of a scavenger hunt.  Her AFS son, Gianluca, had a birthday shortly after arriving from Italy, so Nina organized a scavenger hunt all over Seattle (read about his hunt here).  I decided that sounded like an awesome idea, so she sent me her list and I amended it so it would work in Fredericksburg.  The plan was in place, the invitations went out, and then we could settle down into the nitty gritty details of what else we needed.

Negotiations were intense over what to feed everyone, but finally we decided on pizza because it is a) pretty inexpensive to feed a crowd; b) sort of junk food; c) something most everyone loves; and d) didn’t require me to do anything other than call Papa John’s and have them deliver.  On Football Sundays, Papa Johns offers free toppings and a bunch of other deals, so I ordered 6 pizzas and we were in business for meals!  I went over to the store and picked up lots of chips and candy to make “The Candy Bar” and then Penny and I began discussing her birthday cake. 

Penny loved the Carvel cake I had at my birthday party and said she wanted the same thing.  Of course, I am no idiot, so I agreed to get her that, since I love it too.  But then my buddy Amy Wells said she thought we should have a Hostess cake to go with the junk food theme.  I didn’t know what a Hostess cake was, so she sent me a picture of a tiered cake covered in Hostess snack cakes.  I was sold.  I Googled for more pictures and came across a picture of a Rice Krispies Treats wedding cake, and that sold it.  I would put the two together and we’d have a cake!

P1080307 Penny’s birthday weekend got off to a great start.  Saturday morning, we all went out onto the porch after breakfast to enjoy the beautiful sunny day.  We found a box out there, and it was addressed to Penny! She kept saying “no, no!” like it wasn’t for her, but I showed her the label and got her a knife to cut the tape to find out what was inside.  (One of the beauties of being from a foreign country is that you have no idea what FTD is, so it’s all a big surprise, despite the description being on the box.)  She was blown away to find a big, beautiful bouquet of orange roses (one of her favorite colors is orange) waiting for her inside.  We dug around for a card a little and found a note from Nana (my mom), and Penny was just thrilled.  We called Nana right up and she got on the phone to say thank you.  Leah was excited by the box and the wrappings, so it was a win-win!


Saturday evening, we returned from our neighbor’s 2-year-old’s birthday party, where Penny met a neighbor who is also in the senior class and they hit it off just great!  I was so happy when Courtney even agreed to come to Penny’s party the next day.  She floated home on a cloud so happy to have finally made a friend.  Then we decided to get down to business on the cake.  Penny hadn’t made RKT’s before, so it was kind of exciting to teach her a little something new.  She loved them hot and gooey from the pan.  I wish I had taken pictures, but by the time I thought about it, we were done.  She did all aspects of the job, including smushing the treats into the cake pans, melting butter and marshmallows, adding the cereal, the whole thing.  I kept feeling her arm muscles and telling her she was getting stronger and stronger.  She said her arms were killing her—no doubt:  the cake took 6 batches of treats to complete!

We set the pans aside till Sunday.  Afterwards, we sat down to our regular game of Skip-Bo and I asked Penny to teach me to write “Happy Birthday” in Thai so I could put it on her Carvel cake.  She happily agreed and then laughed her head off at my attempts, although there was one particular letter or symbol that she said I made much more nicely than she does.  It was entertaining!!!


The next day dawned clear and bright.  I was up at 4:30, unable to sleep, so I went out and decorated our driveway with Leah’s sidewalk chalk and then baked homemade scones for Penny’s birthday breakfast.  Penny got a nice surprise when the phone rang at 9:00AM and it was her best friend in Thailand, who asked if they could call Penny specially for the occasion, to which we agreed.  Then we popped the RKT’s out of the pan onto a platter and I was so happy at how great they looked.  I could really see the thing as a wedding cake if you like RKT’s that much.  It was cool!  The treats popped out of the pan pretty easily, courtesy of how well I’d greased them, no doubt, and by really getting them densely packed into the pan, there was no doubt that we would have them crumbling or falling apart.  It was great!

Around 11:30, my father arrived and Penny was just beside herself with excitement.  She’d been dying to meet “PopPop” and ever since he announced he’d be visiting that weekend, she was just thrilled he’d make it for her birthday.  She gave him a T-shirt as a gift, and he decided to wear it in honor of her birthday (the day I get my dad to wear a shirt with pink and purple decorations and gold glitter, well let’s just say “that’ll be the day!” and leave it at that, but Penny managed it after 5 minutes!), and then Michael decided to wear his, so I decided to wear mine for the first time too.  We visited for a while and then it was getting to be party time, so we all put our shirts on and went outside to greet the first guests to arrive and get a picture of our family together in our Thai T’s.


 P1080336 At about 1:15, we detailed the rules of the scavenger hunt for everyone who had made it.  There were 5 or 6 teenagers and a bunch of adults, so that was great—Penny was pleased with the turn out and so was I!  They all broke into teams and headed out to complete their tasks. They had 3 hours to get everything done.  Let me tell you, this is the way to have a party.  Have everyone over and then get rid of them for 3 hours!!!!  Plus, I didn’t have to cook anything, either!  AWESOME!  We decided to put the cake together while they were gone, and the spirit of the thing really captured my dad’s imagination.  He even went out to get an extra box of Ring Dings so that it was done right.  We were all tickled by the final result.

Then I wrote the Thai on the Carvel cake and screwed it up royally because I ran out of room and had to put the last letter on the cake border, but the same thing happened when I wrote on it in English, so what the heck!

Penny’s guests were super impressed that I’d even tried it, so I guess that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile, all the kids and adults participating in the hunt were having a blast.  No one team completed every task, so we had to calculate all the points for each team and then declare a winner, but they all had a great time doing it and it broke the ice for many of the kids, as none of them knew each other.  Here are some pictures from the hunt:

P1090665 2010-09-19 15 09 24_Fredericksburg_Virginia_US IMG_0066 P1090633

The top picture is Misty from the winning team, eating ketchup-covered fries without using her hands.  The second picture shows Juliana at the Fredericksburg Visitor’s Center learning about our town.  The third picture shows Penny’s entire team down on the city dock, with their team mummy, JB, who rides the bus with Penny.  The final picture shows Melissa eating a banana split with one of Leah’s baby spoons.  These were just some of the tasks, and every team did an amazing job sending back fun pictures that induced lots of laughs from our birthday girl.

After we calculated the points and handed out prizes (everyone got a prize ranging from DVD’s to Halloween flashlights to glow stick necklaces), Penny’s non-scavenging guests arrived and her AFS liaison, who had popped in for a few minutes, had to leave.  As the hub-bub of the party started to kick in, the pizzas arrived and we all ate well.  I also set out all the goodies on the Candy Bar and everyone was able to pick at that stuff.  We had made Penny treat bags for the bar that read “Look out World!  Penny’s 18!” and everyone was able to stuff lots of treats into the bags.  Penny likes fruity candies more than chocolate candies, so we got the traditional things like peanut butter cups, Hershey miniatures, etc. and supplemented them with Starbursts, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, and the like.  There was definitely something for everyone.


After pizza, we had Penny open her gifts so that everyone’s meals could settle a bit.  Penny got some really nice gifts, ranging from practical (gloves for the winter, photo albums), fun (gift cards to the movies and a game for the Wii), glitzy (bracelets), and even cash. 

P1080351She was definitely touched by everyone’s generosity and excited about everything that she received.

Mike and I had decided to get her a charm bracelet.  Exchange students acquire lots of “stuff” while on their exchange years, and we thought a charm bracelet would allow us to constantly add small charms to her bracelet and not give her a bunch of things to try and lug back to Thailand.  Unfortunately, right after I started ordering charms, Penny told us that she had a charm bracelet already and didn’t much care for all that stuff on her wrist!!  So I made a trip over to Things Remembered and asked for their advice.  They had charm necklaces available, so I bought her one of those.  I added a charm for the US and one for Virginia, as well as a K so she could always remember that she is a Kosior, a school house with the date of her first day of school engraved on the back, and a charm with a big 18 on it so she could commemorate her 18th birthday. 


We still hope to give her charms throughout the year and I hope she likes it and wears it as a remembrance of her time here, which frankly, is just going by so darned quick!

After her gifts were opened, we got out the cakes, and of course, a wind kicked up just in time to light the candles!!!!!!!!  I finally got them lit and we took a bunch of pictures.  Penny held Leah tight as protection against all the attention we were lavishing on her, and we all sang to her and she happily accepted our good wishes before blowing out her candles.

P1080367She made quick work of cutting up the Carvel cake and serving everyone and we all picked at the Hostess cake.  By then, the party was more or less over.  Everyone started leaving, except my dad, Melissa, and Andy, so we all cleaned up the yard and then went inside for a Yahtzee contest.  Yahtzee is one of three games we’ve taught Penny so far and she LOVES it.  She was really excited to play against my dad, since he is the most down and dirty full contact yahtzee player the world has ever known.  We played 2 rounds, and then put Leah to bed and Melissa and Andy left and we all just finished cleaning and relaxed.


It was special to share Penny’s big day with her, and she gave me a huge hug afterwards and said, “I love you!”  Special moments, let me tell you, for all of us involved in this girl’s exchange year!!!