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!