Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Our guide began our morning with a visit to a Russian Orthodox service. Congregants standing near the raised pulpil as the priest chanted prayers - a hidden choir singing acapella hymns - thousands of candles, gilded pictures of saints - an eerily beautiful contrast to the gray exterior of virtually every other building in sight. Keith and I enjoyed it, and bought three CD's of hymns to play at home. (I can hear Rachel, Lois and Hannah groaning now.)
Naturally, we were anxious to get to the orphanage. Keith and I were allowed to take Guanna off the Children's Home #47 premises - to a nearby playground, followed by her first-ever trip to McDonalds. Now, I know some folks dear to me hate McDonalds, and I totally get that - but for a child in a St. Pete orphanage, a trip to McDonald's is much-coveted and heavily-fantasized experience.
The playground was nearby - a small slide, playhouse and jungle gym, buried in snow, which deterred Guanna not a bit. Keith had to swing her around repeatedly, plus chase her. We clapped repeatedly when she went down the slide. Too many beer and liquor bottles scattered about for my comfort - I was afraid one of us would step on a snow-covered one. ("Mama" is from the Greek, meaning "worrier.")
She was very excited about McDonalds, knowing about it from commercials on TV. We ordered her a plain hamburger Happy Meal, which she had no idea how to eat. The caregiver that told us she liked hamburgers must have meant ground beef. I held the burger together and put it up to her mouth. Ditto for demo'ing french fries - a first for her, and she loved them dipped in sweet'n'sour sauce. Guanna ate every bite, which is an orphanage rule. She asked for and received a bite of my cheeseburger ("Royal Burger"), but didn't care for it. We're thinking she's not familiar w/cheese. Their main diet is cereal and soup. Keith was smart and ordered our Coca-Cola Lights (Diet Cokes) with no ice, since we can't drink the water. I'm not sure I would have remembered to do that.
Now, the child had never been to McDonalds, but knew there was "something else" in the Happy Meal container. We said, yes, a toy, which she could have after she ate (a Woodworth rule.) As soon as the last french-fry-in-sweet'n'sour-sauce was chewed, she reached for the box and pulled out a small plastic-wrapped Tigger, which really pleased her. Tigger and the torn packaging went into her pocket post-haste. Does anyone still doubt the power of marketing?
All the toys we've given her have been "absorbed" into the orphanage playroom, which is fine, we expected that. We noticed one little girl working one of the puzzles, and several of the nine children in her pod playing with the Cinderella doll set. Something new to play with is always more fun. Tomorrow we're taking art supplies, Play Doh, an Etch-a-Sketch and a building set.
Keith was immediately surrounded by the nine children when we entered the playroom, all clamoring for his attention. Guanna affixed herself to his leg. A friend said, "Guanna, your papa is so big!" Guanna responded, "He's MY papa." The interpreter and I chuckled; by that time, Keith had been pulled onto the couch to better appreciate all that was being shown him.
After visiting Guanna, Keith and I toured the Hermitage and the ice palace outside it. The Van Goghs, the Renoirs, the Da Vinci's - all lovely, of course, but I've long felt that the best art I've ever seen is on my refrigerator. Tres gauche, I know.
"Do we need one of these to go with the pond?"
Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun? Maybe one day. But today was a plain hamburger with Tigger, and that, friends and family, was definitely a happy, happy meal.
Posted at 07:06 am by beckyww
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
And Purple is Her Favorite Color
Keith and I met 6-yr-old Guanna at Children's Home #47 in St. Petersburg, Russia today- an amazing encounter with a delightful dark-haired, dark-eyed little girl. I wish I could show you her picture, however, we're not allowed to publicly post her photo until the adoption is final. But I can post a photo of the building where she lives now - a third-floor (walk up) self-contained world of a a playroom, doctor's office, admin offices, kitchen, dining room and sleeping area.
Children's Home #47 in St. Pete - Currently Home to Guanna and 40 Other Children
After a bit of initial shyness, she was happy to tell us about herself. Her best friend is "Catya." She used to be good friends with "Viktor," but he's been moved to another home. Her favorite foods are cereal, ice cream and cake (Keith bought a lovely chocolate Valentine's cake today for all the kids, plus a large bag of apples and bananas.) She likes all kinds of fruit, especially apples. Her caregiver, Ludmelia (sp.), said she likes hotdogs, hamburgers and mashed potatoes, too.
She likes to play outside, especially on the slide. Keith roughhoused with her a bit. She could hold herself off the ground, holding onto his extended hands. What I loved was when he would quit playing with her to listen to our translator or the social worker or whatever, and she would lean back and look up, like, "Well, come on - I'm waiting."
Our jaws dropped when she mentioned dolphins - she really likes dolphins. Lois, is, of course, an aquatic fiend with her favorite stuffed toy of all time, "Pink Soft," her self-chosen birthday gift when she was five years old.
We'd brought two 24-piece puzzles, and were fascinated to watch her work them. She's right-handed. If she picked up the puzzle piece, she was much quicker to position it correctly the first time than if a piece was handed to her. She worked the puzzles quickly and well, and was eager to show them to her friends.
We also brought a small (3.5") Disney princess doll set, like Polly Pocket. Omigosh, that was huge, really a bigger hit than a larger doll we also brought. Keith showed her how to dress and undress the little Cinderella in her rubber clothes; the idea of "more is better" was quickly evident. Cinderella wore a multitude of rubber gowns, complete with capes, shoes, a "fur" wrap and always her little gold crown. Guanna counted the shoes for us, and told us the colors of the outfits. The Cinderella set was never too far out of the line of sight of her quick brown eyes.
We brought clothes to size her, including a size 6 lavender Cinderella furry hoodie, and a size 4/5 pink Princess furry hoody, plus an assortment of pants, shirts, underwear, gloves and socks for all the children. She's definitely a size 4/5, and we are thinking that she's hanging onto one of those hoodies (i.e., it's not going into the communal clothing bin!) She recognized the Cinderella emblem on the hoody matched her doll...and (shudder), really liked the Barbie gloves. We've had very little Barbie for 14+ years of parenthood, and I am hoping to keep it that way - what possessed me to buy those gloves? They must have been on clearance.
When we left her, she was trotting off to nap time, clutching a red flannel blanket that "Babushka" (Keith's mother) made her her. The blanket is a thick red flannel, trimmed in a wide blue ribbon with white stars, and an embroidered Texas flag. If the blanket doesn't make it out of the orphanage, we've got another at home that looks just like it. We slept with Guanna's blanket for two weeks before we left so it would smell like us.
We also left her with the scrapbook that Rachel and I made more than a year ago with its photos (house, family, friends, San Antonio postcards, etc.), complete with English and Cyrallic captions. Ludmelia promised to read it to her at least once a day. Guanna had Rachel's name nailed; she sometimes confused Lois and Hannah. With the way Keith and I butcher all their names (we've become our parents), we joked she will be "RaLoHanJul," much as I was "JuBeck."
Tomorrow we are taking her crayons, markers and an assortment of papers and coloring books. We want to see what she does with those. Hannah and Rachel picked out most of them, and I can assure you that Disney Princesses play heavily in the covers and designs.
Yes, purple is her favorite color (imagine that!), followed closely by pink. We showed her the picture of Hannah's room with its purple walls - which she will share - and Keith described the glow-in-the-dark stars he stuck to the ceiling. What is harder to explain - what is difficult to picture - is that it's not the room that's important, it's the sister that's in it. It's not the purple walls that matter so much, it's the family they protect. It's not the blanket Babushka made for you that matters, it's that she cared enough about a new grandchild to create it.
We will get past the language barrier. She is bright, and we are determined, so we'll get past that. We can attack the (minor) health issues we know she has. We can (continue to) document, notarize and apostile out our ying-yangs, and I know we'll have to do so. What's going to be tougher is just teaching "family" - God's first organizational unit. Before the temple - before the church - before the high priests or the apostles or the government, there was family.
Happy Valentines Day to you - our family and friends. No cheezy hearts cut out of construction paper here in St. Petersburg, just two beating hearts being held in the hands of a six-year-old girl.
Posted at 07:54 am by beckyww
Monday, February 13, 2006
Between bouts of paperwork, our Buckner guide treated us to tours of three amazing Russian Orthodox churches today.
We first visited the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, the oldest church in St. Pete, and the burial site of much Russian nobility. We encountered a new treasure with every corner turned, with each angle changed. We then walked outside, for better views of the architecture, and an up close peek at the frozen Neva River.
"Hurry up, Keith, this is your chance to walk on water."
I thought, "Okay, we've seen the best - now it's downhill." No! Omigosh, no. We drove to the Savior of the Spilled Blood church, with an interior perhaps less "showy," but even more beautiful with its simpler lines, stunning stone work and breathtaking mosaics.
Ceiling of the Savior of the Spilled Blood - Fortunately, Rachel was not on site to loose a flight of helium balloons.
Finally, we stood in awe of St. Isaac's Cathedral,our favorite with three smaller active chapels inside. We're hoping to actually participate in a worship service there when we return on trip #2 this spring.
The only stained glass in a Russian Orthodox chuch in St. Pete is here at St. Issac's
As the winds blew and the day progressed, Keith decided he had to purchase - and wear - a Russian hat. Silly wabbit! Hats are for wookies.
Just pass the vodka and call him "Boris."
So, let's see....stunning architecture...amazing art....church services short enough that you stand throughout....pulpits that are "rarely used".....acappella singing.... tell me again why we're Southern Baptist?!
The art was priceless, yes, but tomorrow we meet a real treasure. She's six, and we have a Princess Belle doll and a Sponge Bob ball we hope she likes. A little smile would dim the beauty of the mosaics for us. So say a prayer, light a candle or just send us a positive vibe that we see one.
Dos Vadanya to you.
Posted at 10:53 am by beckyww
Sunday, February 12, 2006
ZDRST-vooy-tyeh (a.k.a., "Howdy")
Keith and I arrived a-okay in St. Petersburg this afternoon, albeit without the cellular SIM card that would enable us to be reached a bit more easily. If there is something you want us to know, just post a comment or pop a contact off this blog page.
We met Buckner's helpful reps when we cleared immigration security, no small feat with the entry visa forms in Cyrallic and our jetlagged eyeballs blinking "no comprendo." After three bumbling runs at different officials, we made it. We may meet Little A tomorrow, maybe Tuesday - we're not sure. What I am sure of is that we need to be plenty careful walking on the slushy sidewalks - I came dangerously close several times to crashing on the backside of my American diplomacy. Keith wants to get one of those ear-flap fur hats; I swear if I thought I had a chance of finding women's 11N boots for myself, I'd be hunting them tomorrow fer shure.
We gave SAS Airways two thumbs up for making the long flight from Chicago to Stockholm as pleasant as possible with hot food, steamed washrags, complimentary in-flight entertainment choices and an accommodation of Keith's request for a bulkhead seat so he didn't have to ride embroyed like Polly Pocket in her widdle pink plane. One of the in-flight features - which Keith accurately described as "such a guy thing" - is a real-time representation of the jet on a flattened globe, showing the rider the passing landmarks, ("Now does that look like Greenland or Iceland?"), how many miles from the point of origin and to the point of destination, air speed, temperature (a brisk -72C in the wee hours) etc.
And in my sleep-deprived state, that got me thinking. Everyone's somewhere, whether you can see them or not. The fact Rachel, Lois and Hannah couldn't see Keith and me didn't mean we were less their parents. The fact we were flying over groups of more remote peoples doesn't make them less tangible than we industrial drones. The fact we can't see people we love who have "passed away" doesn't mean those people have ceased to exist - it only means they have "passed away" elsewhere.
Everyone is somewhere. Maybe our 4th daughter is here. Please remain in your seats until the plane comes to a full and complete spot.
Posted at 08:40 am by beckyww
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Lois was one of five Bush Middle School sixth grade students to be recognized today for participation in a recent UIL writing competition. We're not sure how the contest will be judged, or if she'll place - but she got a nifty prize, a "Live the Bulldog Creed" plastic wrist band to commemorate her work. Its bright red color complements her bright blue braces bands, I think - all in all, a patrioric appearance.
Lois has the write stuff!
Speaking of bands - we're still hoping to add to ours, God willing. Keith and I leave Saturday for St. Petersburg, Russia. We're entrusting Rachel, Lois and Hannah to our (sainted) friend Mary Anne, with a variety of friends and family pitching in. If you hear of a "band on the run," that probably means she's come to her senses and headed back to Dallas, with them in hot pursuit.
In the meantime, we have to get the kids over the stomach flu that we girls shared this weekend. Hannah - who brought it home - seems fine now. I thought Lois was completely well until - while we were working on her Girl Scout cookie order in the dining room tonight - she decided to decorate the floor. Rachel - the last to succumb - is still bedridden; the scent wafting from her room reminds me of nothing so much as long-ago nighttime jaunts to Houston's Greyhound Bus Station.
So, please that my germy kiddos heal quickly (and that I can fumigate the house before Mary Anne arrives.) And also pray that our future kiddo is healthy and happy to see us. And pray that Keith - who has so far escaped this stomach bug - finishes the last go-round of paperwork blizzards before we leave. Feel free to band together to offer those prayers. Because where two or more are gathered....well, you know the rest.
Posted at 08:51 pm by beckyww
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
50 is Here but Six May Appear
My boss Sharon and friend Aimee organized an office surprise party for me this morning attended by a dozen folks in person and several far-flung AT&T'ers via conference call. Cake for breakfast - what's not to like?
Remember when I blogged "presence" was more important than "presents?" Okay, well, so, I might have had a brief moment of - ummm - rethought. Because the group gave me the most beautiful snow globe I've ever seen - Tinker Bell with spiraling sparkly dust suspended in a gold water lily, celebrating her 50th birthday in 2003.
As Rachel said, "Mom! It's Tink! She's 50! It's a snow globe! It's one of Daddy's water lillies! It's sooooo 'you!'"
Transporting it home on the bus raised my possessiveness to new heights. I had Tink wrapped in T-shirts and stuffed in a basket, with tissue paper jammed in every crevice. I eyed every other rider who approached our bench with unmasked hostility - Step back! Step away from the Tinker Bell! The guy sitting behind us probably thought I needed to go through a metal detector and a shoe check. Tink and I both made it home safely (whew!)
So my birthday was today. But there's a more important birthday tomorrow, February 1. It belongs to a little girl living in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia who will be six years old. Right now, she has no idea we exist. But Keith and I are leaving Saturday, February 11, to meet her the following week. When I first "met" Rachel, Lois and Hannah, my hair was matted, my legs unshaven and my lungs were strained from bellowing for the epidural. I plan to be a bit more composed when we meet "Little A," as we've called her these (looonnngggg) 18 months.
Tinker Bell - she's magic. And so is the opportunity to grow a family. So wish us well as we fly, fly, fly toward St. Petersburg on February 11. No aerial wires peeking out on a stage. Just the tie that binds in our hearts.
Posted at 07:52 pm by beckyww
Monday, January 23, 2006
Keith and I are now bus riders. We are They Who Ride the Bus.
I would like to say we are riding the VIA bus 20 mi. downtown every morning because the idea occured to us in a flash of environmental brilliance at our last "Save The Whales*" conference, or when we huddled around a campfire, whining "Kumbaya" with the Sierra Club. Alas, our motivations are economic. We're saving $40/month in parking, $6 - $9 daily in gasoline plus vehicle depreciation - all for the cost of two $20 bus passes we can buy with pre-tax dollars, plus, of course, we're throwing in a bucket of flexibility.
All Aboard the #6 Express At O'Dark:30
Rachel - never one to confuse frugality with fashion - sniffed to a group of her church friends that her parents rode the bus, "just like ghetto people."
While we joggle down 281 toward the mighty McCullough towers, I mostly read novels, or sleep, or listen to my Rio. Keith mostly huddles behind the paper, shuffles through work stuff, or - if he doesn't have something interesting to peruse - tries to keep me from reading.
We've ridden for about two months, and I'm now branding many of our fellow passengers. There's "Bosomy Blonde Woman with the Starbucks" who always boards before us. She's generally across from "Hospital Worker with Blue Sweater Who Sleeps." Always sitting ramrod straight by the back door, there's "Secretary with Hair Bun and Tote Bag." Lately we've been enjoying - or at least hearing - the rather loud one-way conversations of "Mr. Grew Up in San Antonio And Knows Everything About Everything."
So I wonder - how would our fellow riders brand Keith? "Wookie With the Paper?" Or, "AT&T Man Who Mumbles Over Drawings?" And what about me? "Gray Woman Dragging Jingly Laptop Bag?" Or, "Crazy Woman Who Audibly Corrects Billboard Grammar?"
I dunno. But since I wear a cross around my neck most days, maybe I should think about that. I'm supposed to be Jesus with skin on. What would Jesus ride? I think he might ride VIA, too. But he wouldn't hog the seat next to him with his purse and he wouldn't silently curse at the Quarry slowdown.
Gabriel the Angelic Afternoon Driver Says, "Move on Back"
The wheels on the bus go round and round. The baby on the bus says "Wah wah wah." The mommy on the bus says "Shhh sshhh sshhh." The horn on the bus goes "beep beep beep." And however you get to work - have a safe safe week.
* We are trying to save the whales, though. We want to collect the whole set.
Posted at 05:17 pm by beckyww
Monday, January 16, 2006
My sister Judy and (brilliant) niece Sarah feted me with a truly delightful early birthday party in Houston on Saturday afternoon. My real 50th isn't until 1/31, but this (long holiday) weekend was a great time for a party in the large parlor at our old church, Westbury Baptist.
Sarah hired a professional photographer; I asked Rachel to take pictures also so I could blog about them quickly. After we returned home on Sunday, I discovered her pictures were of herself and her goofy friends messing around in the church baptistery. Imagine my delight at this discovery of evidence of their deeply spiritual interests. I think she was too busy letting a large flight of helium balloons loose in the sanctuary to concrete on her duties; I only hope the colorful spheres drifted to the pews before or after Sabbath worship.
Fortunately - my dear friend Marilyn Dodd pinged me a picture today of the two of us at the party taken on her camera - great, my excuse to blog! (When I can link to an online album - expect more pictures!)
So maybe I'm no longer her pupil, but she's still my teacher.
Marilyn tapped me to be yearbook editor of the all new and quite exciting 1974 Mariner at Madison High School in Houston. She invested herself in me, and I will always be grateful. The writing, editorial and photography experience led to more responsibility at Remco TV Rental (college job) which led to employment with AT&T in 1979...well, you get the picture.
Speaking of yearebooks and pictures - yeah, "Rebecca Hoffman," bottom right, that's me...
Mom made photo albums for all three of us when we were kids. Judy asked me to bring them to display; I happily complied, and - purely coincidentally - spotted this picture of Mom on her 50th birthday, 1/15/71. Since her 85th birthday would have been yesterday, I thought posting it here was a fine idea. David and I made her cake.
1/15/71 - Two boxes of icing helped hold the 50 candles together.
I appreciate all the gifts brought for our Samaritan's Purse boxes next year (and yes, Charlotte, Debbie and Gloria, the unexpected gifts for me, too!) But really, Saturday wasn't about "presents." It was about "presence." The presence of John, who gave blood for Lois and me. The presence of Mary, Kimothy, B.C., Dennis, Konen and Gaylos, who made Station 90.51 Parkwest the place to Bock'n'Roll. The presence of Goldie, who let us kids drink Koolaid in her kitchen instead of water from the hose. The presence of Beth and Lisa and all our babies that shared the nursery, and of Jim & Rosalie, whom my babies rushed to greet. The presence of Steve & Jo and Dan & Sandi, who were so good to Mom, and Martha, Mario & Ruth, who are so good to our whole family. It was great to see Patsy and Andy walking in the door, like they did when we were present on O'Meara. I'd like to have Lisa's bravery, Lorelei's hips, Jackie's smile and Kip's good sense - but Saturday, I was just happy to bask in their presence.
Thank you, Judy and Sarah, but one very special day.
Birthdays. They're about presence. Because life is the gift.
Posted at 05:54 pm by beckyww
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Episode III of A Man and His Pond
Keith is standing in the bog, which is several feet from the pond.
What is that big black thing?
If you guessed "giant slip and slide" - I sure hope you're wrong.
Keith - assisted by good friends Dan, Brett, Rick and brother Byron - laid the 500 lb. waterproof pond liner today, a crucial new chapter in the saga of "A Man and His Pond." He paid them in brisket, ribs, beans and pecan pie - certain small (though tasty!) recompense for lugging the equivalent weight and texture of hundreds of deflated inner tubes across baked limestone.
He had one other friend from church help him one day last year. Other than this assistance - he's done it all himself, even with a nail through his hand, even with his knee in a brace. No Bobcat, no electric jack hammer, no dynamite (shudder) - just a cement saw, hammers, picks, buckets and lots of elbow grease effecting his vision in the limestone.
Stay tuned to this blog for the next installment of "A Man and His Pond." I'm thinking we're getting close to it being a wet one.
Posted at 02:47 pm by beckyww
Saturday, December 24, 2005
The delicious caramels and buenellos a friend gave us at church tonight have been properly sampled.
The peppermint ice cream shake residue has been washed from the blender.
The makings of tomorrow's breakfast tacos are ready for quick assembly.
Lois' homemade chocolate chip cookies and a cup of milk are near the fireplace. Our DVD of Its A Wonderful Life is lying patiently nearby, awaiting its turn to be enjoyed. Tomorrow, Jimmy and Donna - tomorrow we visit Bedford Falls.
But tonight - yawn - tonight only a (computer) mouse should be stirring. And even that, not for long.
Merry Christmas, and to all a good night.
Posted at 08:22 pm by beckyww