This edition of 7 Quick Takes comes to you from northern Ontario (near Sudbury).  We are still on our “great RV adventure trip,” but if all goes well, we’ll be home tonight.  This is my final report on hosting “Valentine” (not his real name), the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe who joined our family for a little over two months this summer.  It has been a very busy, full summer and now it’s coming to an end.

  1. I will get the complaints out of the way first. After almost two weeks of living in our RV, we’re all getting tired of it.  I am SO looking forward to getting home, where I can deal with everyone’s needs better (including my own).  I am tired of the inconveniences of traveling with this many people in this small of a space.  I’m tired of various other annoyances, like the fact that Don likes to sleep with the air conditioning on very cold (we don’t have air conditioning at our house).  I usually cloth diaper, but switched to disposables for this trip.  It hasn’t been hard to adjust to the disposable diapers, but I am not impressed with the disposable baby wipes.  They are incredibly inferior to the baby washcloths that I use at home.  Simon has been driving us crazy speaking like Valentine does; he sounds like an ESL student and not a native English speaker.  He says things like, “You no I like?” (“You don’t like this?”), “You come and me?” (“Are you coming with me?”), and “My name is airplane” (“I am an airplane”—pretending).DSCF0720 small
  2. Valentine had fun on our trip to NYC. He had a blast at the amusement park last Friday.  He had no fear of trying any rides he was tall enough to ride and he liked everything he went on.  He grinned through every ride.  (This is hard for me to understand because I am NOT a thrill ride fan.)  We got to the park right when it opened and Don stayed there with the boys until well past their usual bedtimes (I went back to the RV with Clara to get her to bed).  I’m sure that Valentine will remember that experience for the rest of his life.  We stopped and did a coal mine tour on Saturday.  Valentine seemed bothered by the fake animals—the fake rat, the fake canary in a cage, and the fake mule.  He kept asking me, “Statue?”  On Saturday evening, he and Simon playedd mini golf (or as Don likes to call it, “goofy golf”).DSCF0794 small
  3. We experienced New York City. Among other things, Valentine rode on the subway, saw the 9/11 memorial (we didn’t explain it to him or Simon), rode on the Staten Island ferry, saw the Statue of Liberty, went to Times Square, went to Central Park, went to the American Museum of Natural History, ate food from a food cart on the sidewalk, and saw a rat (a living rat, not a statue—it was in the subway).  This was my first time in NYC also (excepting the time Don and I took a cruise from NYC, but we took a ferry over from New Jersey and walked along the waterfront to the cruise ship and then did then reverse when the cruise was over; we didn’t go into the city at all).  I enjoyed seeing the great diversity of people (we live in a very not-diverse area) and the experience of being in the city.  After seeing so many TV shows and movies set in New York, it was interesting to see how the real city compared with my mental image of it.  It was exciting, over-stimulating, and exhausting.  We spent a small fortune on public transit and wreaked havoc on Clara’s sleep schedule.  I’m glad we went, but I’m glad it’s over now.DSCF0814 small
  4. We said good-bye to Valentine. On Monday evening, after all the kids were finally asleep, I stayed up very late going through photos, selecting the final pictures for the photo album I made to help Valentine remember his summer with us, and ordering them to pick up on Tuesday.  On Tuesday, Don took the boys to the natural history museum while I stayed at the RV with Clara so she could get a good nap in.  In the afternoon, I pushed Clara in her stroller over a mile to the drug store to pick up the photos, which wouldn’t have been a big deal if it hadn’t been raining and if I didn’t have to bring all of Valentine’s stuff with me (the SpongeBob backpack he came with and the string backpack we sent his care package in), in addition to the diaper bag, with only our little folding stroller.  As it was, it was a pretty miserable walk.  Then Clara and I walked another half mile and took a train from Jersey City (where we were staying) to the World Trade Center, then a subway up to the museum to meet Don and the boys.  From there, we took subways and the AirTrain to the airport, where we ate some dinner, met up with his group, gave Valentine the photo album, and said our good-byes.  We then headed back, taking another two hours on public transit to go from the airport to our RV.  Altogether, from the time Clara and I left in the afternoon until we got back from dropping Valentine off, we were gone for over seven hours, almost all of it spent either walking or riding on a train of some sort.  It was hard to say good-bye to Valentine, not knowing when or if we will see him again, but I was so exhausted that I was using all my energy to take care of Clara and Simon.  I had to shove my emotions aside to deal with later.IMG_0017 small
  5. We hope to see Valentine again; we’ve started the process to adopt him. We made the decision after he’d been with us for a couple weeks and got the paperwork started, but we decided to keep it quiet until after he left so that no one would say anything to him.  Most hosting organizations tell you not to discuss adoption with the kids; you don’t want them to believe they will be adopted and then be disappointed if it doesn’t happen, for whatever reason.  In our case, there was some drama with our hosting organization when we decided to use a different facilitation team for the adoption instead of the facilitator that they work with (who quoted me fees that were $4300 higher than the team we went with, then e-mailed me a week later when we hadn’t signed up with him to tell me that he had dropped his fees by $4000—I felt like he was just trying to see if he could get more money out of us, but he shot himself in the foot because I knew better than to pay that much).  We were harassed by e-mail (from the facilitator and the hosting organization) and phone calls (from the hosting organization director and a staff member) and the facilitator told me that when Valentine gets back to his country, he will be going into a foster family (which would make him ineligible for international adoption).  We don’t know if he’s lying to discourage us because he’s mad that he lost the business or if he’s telling the truth.  The way that adoptions from Valentine’s country work, we can’t officially have a referral for him until all of our paperwork is done and approved and we travel to his country (which should happen in the spring, if all goes well).  This uncertainty about whether Valentine will actually be available for adoption when we get there adds more stress to an already stressful undertaking.  (In case you’re wondering, if we do make it all the way there and he’s not available for adoption, we will be able to adopt another child who fits our homestudy approval.)I need a hug
  6. Now we need to come up with the money to pay for the adoption.  If you know anything about international adoption, you probably know that it is expensive.  We’re estimating the cost of the adoption at around $30,000.  We don’t have $30,000 lying around to pay for it.  We have about $7000 in savings and Valentine has received a grant of $2400 from Reece’s Rainbow (which is a child-specific grant that we will have to pay back if we are not able to adopt him).  That means we still have to come up with $20,000+ to pull this off.  We have the resources to take care of him once he’s adopted, but we are humbly asking for help to pay for the adoption.  Valentine is a good kid who will thrive in our family.  If he’s not adopted, his future in his country is bleak.  Kids “age out” of orphanages in his country when they are 16.  Theoretically, they can go to trade school and the government will give them a stipend to live off of, but in reality, most orphans end up homeless and turn to crime or prostitution to support themselves.  Most kids from good family environments are not mature enough to live on their own at age 16, and kids from orphanages are even less prepared.  To make matters worse, Valentine was born with a medical condition that is controlled with medication.  Because he has been labelled as having “special needs,” he is considered almost unadoptable in his country.  International adoption is his best hope.  I know that he has been in an orphanage at least since he was six years old; he doesn’t seem to remember living anywhere else so he may have lived in an orphanage since birth.  Children belong in families, not in institutions.  Please help us get Valentine out of the orphanage and into our family, where he has a real chance for a happy, successful life.  We have been approved for a Family Sponsorship Program account through Reece’s Rainbow, a non-profit organization that provides grants to help pay for international adoption expenses for children with special needs (with a special emphasis on children with Down Syndrome, which Valentine does not have).  When you donate to our account, you can feel good knowing that you are not only helping a great kid get a family, but that your donation is also tax-deductible.  You can donate by clicking on the graphic below or on the side of my blog to go to our Reece’s Rainbow page.  Please give generously!RRdonationbox
  7. I plan to post updates on my blog throughout the adoption process.  Please follow along!  We are very appreciative of your support, both financial and otherwise.

This week’s update on hosting 10-year-old “Valentine” (not his real name) comes to you from central Pennsylvania.  We are on our “great RV adventure trip” on our way to take Valentine to the airport in New York City to fly back to his country next week.  Sorry, no pictures this week; it’s challenging enough just to get a text post up.

  1. It hasn’t been the most fun week of my life. I was dreading this trip because, among other reasons, it’s not easy to travel with Clara (who just turned 13 months old).  As I predicted, the stress:fun ratio is unfavorable, at least for the adults and Clara.  I think the hardest part of traveling is having less control over meeting people’s needs (including my own).  It’s hard enough to balance everyone’s needs at home and much harder on the road.  When it takes so much time and effort to deal with basic needs like eating, sleeping, toileting, and general hygiene, I don’t have much energy left for “adventure.”  As I’ve reflected on the difficulty of meeting everyone’s needs, I’ve been thinking about how hard it must be for refugee mothers in transit who don’t know where their child’s next meal will come from or where they will sleep that night.  I can’t imagine how horrible their lives must have been for them to make the decision to flee with their children and have to live like that, in the hopes of reaching a safe place.


  1. One of the biggest challenges has been Clara’s sleep. She naps well in the RV while it’s moving, but has a very difficult time going to sleep when it’s not.  Plus, for various reasons, we haven’t been able to coordinate our schedules every day to be able to drive when she needs to nap.  Because I need to stay with her until she falls asleep (to keep her from falling off the bed), it means I’ve spent a LOT of time lying on the bed with her.  She’s now decided that she likes to be in physical contact with me to fall asleep and while she is sleeping.  If she wakes up and I’m not there, I hear about it.  This is not how we do it at home, but I’m putting up with it for now because it’s easier than any other way.


  1. I think the boys are having a good time. There have been complaints of hunger and boredom and squabbles over who gets to sit where, but overall, they’re doing well.  They have been riding their bikes around the campgrounds and playing on the playgrounds, and they’ve been swimming twice.  Today is a big day—we’re going to an amusement park.  They are very excited about that.


  1. Valentine has eaten at restaurants as many times on this trip as in the two months he was with us before we left. (I would be happier saving money by doing more cooking in the RV, but Don likes to eat out.)  Valentine has now moved beyond eating a “gamburger” for every restaurant meal, but restaurant dining is still pretty new to him, as evidenced by the fact that he picked up the salt shaker from the table at the restaurant where we ate lunch on Tuesday and asked, “What is it?”


  1. Despite the stress, I am starting to appreciate the value of going on this trip. As we drove through the mountains yesterday, the boys were studying the view with rapt attention (well, Peter and Valentine were; Simon was sleeping).  I thought about it and realized that we haven’t been on a family road trip outside of Michigan/Ontario/Wisconsin/the Twin Cities (just inside Minnesota) since before Simon’s first birthday (well over four years ago).  It’s a good experience for the boys to get out of the Great Lakes region and see other parts of the continent.  I look forward to going on more road trips when Clara’s a little older and traveling with her is easier.


  1. Yesterday we had a mishap. The bike rack on our RV’s trailer hitch broke and the bikes fell off and got dragged a ways.  Amazingly, of the four bikes, the only one that needed repairs was Valentine’s—he needed a new inner tube and tire.  This happened not terribly far from the mishap Don and I experienced the last time we drove east across Pennsylvania.  Back in 2010, we were on the way to New York City to go on a cruise (the only time I’ve been to NYC).  I was driving our minivan and I smelled something unpleasant.  I assumed it was coming from the construction zone I was driving through.  I noticed smoke in the rearview mirror, then I looked in the driver’s side mirror and saw flames coming from the back of our vehicle.  That was scary.  I pulled over and we bolted from the minivan, not knowing if it was about to blow up (the flames were near the gas tank).  A Fed Ex truck driver pulled over, ran up with the fire extinguisher from his truck, and put the fire out before the fire fighters arrived.  One tail light was melted and the paint was damaged.  A police officer escorted us to his friend’s auto shop, where they got the light working well enough that we were allowed to drive off.  We were able to make it to our cruise and deal with the repairs after we got home.  I’ll take a broken bike rack over a flaming vehicle any day.


  1. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to my series of updates on hosting Valentine, which I hope to have posted next Friday.

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This was our last “normal” week in hosting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe.  Since we’ll be traveling, I can’t guarantee that I’ll have 7 Quick Takes posted here on my blog next Friday, but I’ll try not to leave you hanging too long.

  1. We leave this weekend on our “great RV adventure trip.”  We will travel to the East Coast to bring Valentine to the airport to return to his country.  I cannot express how much I am dreading this trip, in contrast with Don, who can’t wait to go.  It’s been a rough week and I am not prepared for what I know will be a stressful experience (vacationing with young kids is more work than staying home).  I have been fighting a feeling of impending doom, a physical feeling of anxiety in my chest.  I recharge my batteries by being alone, so the thought of being in close quarters with four or five other people (only one a mature adult) for almost two weeks is not a happy thought.  If you’re the praying type and could spare a prayer for me (and all of us), I would appreciate it.
  2. Valentine’s behavior this week has been challenging.  He has been deliberately annoying Peter and Simon by getting in their space, making obnoxious noises, calling them names, or repeating everything Simon says.  He hasn’t been stopping when they ask him to and even sometimes when I intervene, leading to consequences that make him mad, so he stomps around yelling and crying (and once woke up Clara from a nap in doing so).  I locked up his bike for a day because he rode off on a long bike ride down the street without asking me first.  I assume he’s acting up because he’s upset about leaving soon and I am trying to be compassionate, but it’s tiring to deal with.IMG_8830 small
  3. Valentine seems to think that “Why?” is something you say to express displeasure.  If he asks for something and I say no, he’ll whine, “Whyyyyyyyy?”  (He picked this up from my boys, but he has taken it to a whole new level.)  He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s asking a question; he doesn’t seem to care whether I respond or not.
  4. On Sunday, we went to our church’s annual picnic at the beach.  Normally I’m on top of things like making food for potlucks, but it slipped past my radar and I didn’t remember until that morning.  At Mass, when they mentioned it during announcements, they said, “Bring a dish to share if you are able.”  We came home to get changed before the picnic and I studied the contents of the cupboard, the fridge, and the freezer in vain.  I had no inspiration for anything I could throw together quickly.  I considered bringing a bag of marshmallows, but that seemed pathetic.  I was so stressed out that I just couldn’t deal with it.  I decided to take the announcement to heart and accept that I just wasn’t able to bring a dish to share, so we went empty-handed.  I figured that I’m doing the good work of caring for an orphan, which some people can’t do.  Other people can do the good work of providing food to share, which I just couldn’t do at that time.  I decided to accept their good work and be grateful for it.  Of course there was plenty of food and the world didn’t come to an end because I didn’t bring more.  The kids had a great time and I’m glad we went.IMG_8841 small
  5. We went on a nice family walk last Saturday.  Normally we go to parks and nature areas, but this time we had an “urban” adventure (“urban” in quotation marks because we’re talking about a city with a population under 10,000).  We walked across a large bridge, walked through downtown, ate at a pizza place, walked to another place where we had baklava for dessert, walked back across the bridge, and then walked a labyrinth.  I had made a list of fun things to do this summer before Valentine arrived.  We have done most of them and I’ve given up on what’s left (some things are hard to do with a baby who still naps twice a day); that was the last thing on the list that I wanted to get in before we leave on our big trip.
  6. Valentine’s knowledge of geography is quite limited.  We already knew that he was confused about where he was.  Due to our Canada Day celebration and various Canada-themed shirts that we wear, he thought he was in Canada, but he knew he was in America; he didn’t understand that they are two separate countries.  This week, I was reading him the children’s book Little Bear and Little Bear wanted to go in a tunnel to China, so I asked him through Google Translate if he knew where China was, and he said no.  I pulled out an atlas and we went over some basic geography.  He couldn’t find his country on the world map; he wasn’t even looking on the right continent.  He didn’t know the capital of his country.  I showed him where his country is, what countries are near it, where America is, where New York is, where we live, where Canada is, and of course, where China is.  He does know the colors of his country’s flag; he has mentioned them to me several times when he has seen things in those colors.IMG_8823 small (2)
  7. Valentine has made real progress in his lessons this summer.  He can now count by 5’s to 100 without a visual aid and can recite even numbers to 10.  He is pretty good at naming numbers up to 100 and finding them on a hundreds chart when I name them.  He can write almost all the capital letters and most of the lowercase letters if I say the most common sound that they represent.  He is reasonably good at telling time to the quarter hour on an analog clock.  He is currently on book 11 of level 1 of Little Stories for Little Folks.  He enjoys being read to and likes to look at pictures in books, especially The Action Bible (a sort of Bible comic book).  Sometimes he looks at books in French; I figure that since he can’t read well enough in English to make sense of English text, it doesn’t make any difference if he looks at English books or French books.  He was excited to find an illustration of the life cycle of the frog in one of our books yesterday; I showed him some Youtube videos on the frog life cycle several weeks ago after he saw hundreds of tadpoles swimming in a pond and had no idea what they were.  I asked him if he gets to read books other than in school when he is in his country, and he said no, which makes me sad.  I think he would like to be able to read for pleasure, and it would help him fill in some of the gaps in his knowledge of the world.  He has been attempting to read some environmental print, like “NO SMOKING” and “DO NOT PASS.”  I plan to continue our read-aloud and reading lessons during our RV trip, but I’m not going to work on writing, numbers, or telling time any more.

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Welcome to this week’s edition of notes on hosting “Valentine,” a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe.  The end is getting nearer; we have one more week of “normal” before we leave on our family vacation that will culminate in taking Valentine to the airport to fly back to his country.  Two of the photos are not actually from this past week. They are from the beach trip my friend organized a couple weeks ago (Take 4 here), but I just got the pictures from her.

  1.  Probably the most exciting thing this week was flying kites.  I’m a little disappointed that I missed it; Don took the boys to a park while I stayed home with a napping Clara.  Normally I’m all about having that kind of break, but I bought a kite for Simon in the spring and two more kites (for Peter and Valentine) before Valentine arrived and we still hadn’t flown them (due to a combination of the weather and being busy with other things).IMG_8801 small
  2. Valentine is getting better at playing card games.  He first learned to play Uno; the last thing he had to get the hang of (which I think he has figured out now) is that he should pick a color of a card in his hand when playing a wild card (more than once, he named a color that no one else had and it would go around to him and he wouldn’t have one either).  We have recently started playing one of the simpler variations of Aquarius.  He understands the game but isn’t a particularly strategic player.  He totally has the hang of Go Fish, which we play with phonics flash cards (matching uppercase and lowercase letters).  When he first came, he was a very sore loser.  We have emphasized and demonstrated good sportsmanship and he has shown improvement.
  3. Valentine continues to clown around a lot.  I think that his acting silly is a behavior that has been reinforced by living in an orphanage; if he can make his peers laugh, that gives him status.  Sometimes he is funny but sometimes it gets annoying.  Lately, he and Simon have been fond of the words “stupid,” “stinky,” and “caca” and their reactions to each other are motivating them to keep using them, despite Don’s and my attempts to discourage them.

    Hancock Beach

    What are pool noodles for?  Battling, of course!

  4. Eating, for Valentine, is a purely utilitarian activity.  He doesn’t seem to have the concept of sitting down and enjoying a meal and the company of the family.  He would eat every meal standing up in about five minutes, then clear his place and be on his way, if we let him.
  5. Another sound that Valentine has difficulty pronouncing is /i/ (the short “i” sound).  (Take 5 of my hosting report #5 noted that hard /th/ sound (like “this”) and /w/ (“wow!”) are challenging for him.)  He mostly pronounces it as /ee/, like “seet” instead of “sit.”  However, the word “stinky” comes out as “stanky,” which brings back memories of my years teaching at a high school in inner-city Detroit–there was a dance that was popular among my students at the time called “the Stanky Legg.”Hancock Beach
  6. I was impressed with how Valentine used his English to tell a story.  Our cat, Malou, caught a chipmunk.  He dropped it on the grass and it lay limp for several minutes, but then ran off.  Valentine witnessed it and reported to Don, “Malou eat chipmunk.  Chipmunk no I’m dead.  Chipmunk bye-bye.”
  7. Valentine is starting to apply his knowledge of phonics to try to spell words in English.  He has written simple words like “Mom,” “Dad,” and “bug” when he was playing around with the little whiteboard that we use for lessons.  Then he drew some superheroes and labelled them “Spoyderman” and “Bet Man.”  (Vowels are the hardest for him to identify in English.)  He came to me when he wanted to know how to write /oo/ for “Superman.”  I was proud of how well he sounded them out all by himself.

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Here is the latest edition of notes on hosting “Valentine,” the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe that my family is hosting this summer.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t take many photos this week and most of the pictures I took show Valentine’s face, so there’s only one to share.

  1. It’s been a busy week but mostly for boring reasons.  Trips have included the campus police station (to get paperwork notarized), the post office, the health department, the local school district’s homeschool partnership program office, and the library.  Even when we were home, I was preoccupied with paperwork.  It hasn’t been the most fun week, but important stuff has gotten done, including all the registration forms for Peter and Simon for next school year and the application for Clara’s certificate of Canadian citizenship.
  2. The most exciting thing that happened this week was that my parents came for a short visit.  They arrived Sunday evening and left Tuesday morning, so we mainly had Monday to spend with them.  It was a particularly hot day—it was in the 80’s (F).  I know that’s not very hot for most of the country, but it is for around here, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  We can generally keep our house comfortable in the summer by opening the windows to let in cool air at night and closing them in the morning to keep the cool air in.  However, my dad is allergic to cats, so he tries to spend as little time as possible in our house.  We spent most of the day hanging out on the porch, with some time spent in the RV (which is our summertime guest bedroom).  Valentine and Simon ran through the sprinkler, had a water fight, and showed off their bike-riding skills.  My mom read a book to Valentine and then he read to her.  He also pulled out the toy clock and demonstrated his time-telling skills (he can tell time to the hour and half-hour now).  My dad played checkers with Valentine and commented that he has obviously played before.  In the evening, we went to a nearby waterfall.  It would have been nice if my parents had stayed longer, but I understood my dad’s desire to get home.  He had been on a motorcycle trip from lower Michigan to Alaska (he made it to the Arctic Circle) and back since before Valentine arrived in the United States.  My mom drove up to meet him as she stayed home and thus hadn’t seen him in a month and a half.
  3. Valentine claimed us as his parents.  Before my parents arrived, I explained to him that they were coming and who they were, my mom and my dad.  He then said, “This my mom” and hugged me, and said, “This my dad” and pointed upstairs to where Don was.  I agreed with him.  What else was I supposed to say?
  4. Valentine got to add “snake” to the long list of animals he has seen here.  Apparently there was a snake on the seat of his bike; I didn’t see it.  However, I did see a snake on our front porch later that day, and then Malou, our cat, got out of the house when my parents were here and met up with a snake not far from our porch.  There was a long and entertaining battle between them (it was a pretty small snake—we weren’t worried that it would hurt the cat).  The kids declared that Malou killed the snake, but they were wrong.  In the end, it got away.IMG_8773 small
  5. Valentine continues to learn new things all the time.  Lately, one of our focuses has been on saying “I am hot” or “I am cold” rather than “me hot” or “me cold.”  It doesn’t help that Simon has taken to imitating Valentine’s incorrect grammar to communicate with him, saying things like “me book” and “bike no.”  In our lessons, Valentine has made it through book eight of level one of Little Stories for Little Folks (there are fifteen books in level one).  He can read sentences like, “It is cool in Ann’s room.”  He enjoys being read to; I’m still reading easy readers to him.  He sometimes looks at pictures in books in his free time.  He’s still not 100% with the names for numbers up to twelve (he often calls 8 “eleven”), but he’s getting there.  He is working on counting by 5’s to 100 using a hundreds board as a visual aid; he’s a little shaky on the names for 15, 20, and 30 but has improved a lot on the others.  He can read time to the hour and half-hour on an analog clock and has been introduced to telling time to 5 minutes.  I have been making a point to tell him that things will happen at specific times (like, “You can eat a snack at 3 o’clock” or “TV off at 4:30”) and to ask him what time it is when I see that it’s on the hour or half-hour so that he can start getting a sense for what happens at different times during the day.  I’ve just introduced the digital clock way of showing time.  He is working on writing English letters when I say the most common sound for the letter (a precursor skill to spelling); he is able to write maybe 80% of them without help.
  6. The end is coming.  When I flipped the calendar on our kitchen wall to the August page, Valentine pointed to the 29th and said, “Me bye-bye.”  I was surprised that he remembered the exact date that he is leaving; it was several weeks ago that I showed him.
  7. We have about two more weeks of “normal” before things get crazy.  Valentine has to be at JFK airport in New York City on the 29th to fly back to his country.  We decided to go on a family trip and take him there; we will be taking our RV.  Don has been excitedly researching attractions and planning a route.  I am mostly trying to ignore the fact that our departure date is getting closer because I am really not looking forward to the trip.  Our test voyage before we picked Valentine up convinced me that travelling in the RV with Clara is very challenging.  She did not sleep well away from home and I basically had to hold her the whole time she was awake.  Plus, in general, I find that after about a week of vacation, I’m ready to go home, but Don’s current schedule has us gone for almost two weeks.  I’m sure there will be some fun and memorable moments on the trip; I just hope they are worth the amount of stress I will experience to make them happen.

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How time flies!  It seems like it’s only been a few days since I wrote my last update on hosting “Valentine” (not his real name), a 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe, but another week has passed.  Bonus–lots of pictures this week!

  1. We celebrated Clara’s first birthday.  My in-laws came to visit for the occasion.  My mother-in-law, who used to own a patisserie and makes amazing cakes, made a giant cupcake.  She also made regular cupcakes and let Valentine and Simon decorate them, which they enjoyed.IMG_8700 small
  2. While my in-laws were in town, we went out to eat at a sit-down restaurant for the first time with Valentine.  It was not a particularly successful experience.  First, the menu overwhelmed him.  I knew better than to try to give him all the options, so I just picked a few things for him to choose from.  He didn’t have much trouble choosing a hamburger, but he had a meltdown when I asked him to choose a side.  I ended up taking him out of the main part of the restaurant to an area that was quieter and not full of people.  I went through the six options for sides using Google Translate, but he did not want to choose.  I went through them again and he started crying.  He did not want to choose.  I refused to choose for him, so I picked two that he had seemed interested in (corn and mashed potatoes) and asked him to choose from them.  He still didn’t want to choose.  I rubbed his back and reassured him, but I insisted that he choose.  Finally he made a decision—corn.  (We go through this at home sometimes also.  He’ll say, “I don’t know eat” and shrug his shoulders.  I might suggest a couple things he could eat, but I won’t just tell him what to eat.  I suspect he doesn’t get to make decisions about what to eat, or many other things, in the orphanage.  I know it’s hard, but I think it’s important for him to practice making decisions, and what to eat seems like a good place to start since it concerns him personally.)  Then, after all the stress of choosing his food, he was not very patient in waiting for it to arrive.  I ended up taking him, Simon, and Clara outside until our food was ready.  He enjoyed his food when it came, but on the whole, it was not a great experience for him.IMG_8517 small
  3. Don, my in-laws, and the boys took a day trip to explore the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula.  They did some hiking in the Porcupine Mountains and visited some beautiful waterfalls.  We had written in our welcome letter to Valentine that we would visit waterfalls, so he had been looking forward to that.  I stayed home with Clara; it was easier than carrying her around all day and messing up her nap schedule.IMG_8602 small
  4. A friend of mine organized a wonderful outing for the boys in support of our hosting experience (though Simon decided at the last minute to stay home with me).  She picked them up in the morning and took them to the beach, where they had fun with her kids and those of another friend.  I came in the late morning with Clara and Simon, after Clara woke up from her morning nap.  The two other moms brought a picnic lunch for everyone and the mom who organized it treated the boys to ice cream.  I appreciate her putting that together so the boys could spend the whole morning at the beach; with Clara still napping twice a day, I can’t take them out anywhere for long periods of time.IMG_8617 small
  5. Valentine had his dentist appointment for his filling.  It was quick and easy and they didn’t have to numb his mouth.  I had prepared him ahead of time for having to have a shot, so he was relieved that he didn’t have to have one.  His comment afterwards was, “No ouch!”IMG_8627 small
  6. Valentine has a knack for injuring himself.  We’ve taken to bringing a first aid kit with us when we go on outings and we’ve had to use it more than once for cuts and scrapes.  For weeks after he got here, he would slip and fall on our kitchen floor; I wondered if he was used to wearing shoes all the time and found it slippery to walk around in socks (I tried asking through Google Translate but didn’t get a clear answer).  He falls on his bike frequently (which is understandable as bike riding is a new skill for him).  He smashed his finger with a rock when he was trying to bang it on another rock and now has a big bruise under his fingernail.  I don’t know if he’s just naturally clumsy or if he lacks the kind of judgment that comes from having a wide variety of experiences.IMG_8752 small (1)
  7. Valentine’s bike riding skills have progressed considerably in the past week.  On Sunday, Don took Valentine and Simon to a small park to practice riding on paved trails.  Yesterday, I dropped off the three boys in town and let them ride their bikes on a riverside bike path to a local park.  I met them there and we had a picnic lunch.  Valentine told Don and me through Google Translate that riding a bike has become easy for him.  We told him how proud we are that he kept trying and didn’t give up.  This is a real accomplishment for him.

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“Valentine,” the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe that we are hosting this summer, has been with us for a month now and has a little more than a month left in his stay.  Here is this week’s update:

  1.  Last Saturday, Valentine and Simon participated in a kids fun run that was part of a larger local run/walk event.  They ran a quarter mile down a closed-off street to the finish line; the starts were staggered by age so the little kids wouldn’t get trampled.  All the kids who participated got a medal; Valentine was very proud of his.
  2. On Sunday, we visited an Orthodox church.  Valentine’s religious background is Orthodox, and we actually have a little Orthodox monastery and mission church in our area, so I wanted to give him the experience of something somewhat familiar.  The service was in English, so he couldn’t understand it, but the church was richly decorated and the rituals were interesting to watch.  I had contacted the hieromonk in advance.  He arranged for a parishioner who speaks Valentine’s language to meet with him and us before the service.  She translated for him and Valentine, then he took Valentine to a part of the church where we could see them but not hear them and had Valentine make his confession.  He gave Valentine communion during the service; none of the other people in the congregation took communion, just the monks and what I would call the altar servers, so that was something special.  Afterwards, we were invited to join the monks and some of the parishioners for a meal in the rectory.  We had cabbage soup and rolls, followed by cake and ice cream (the dessert was in honor of the woman who had translated for Valentine; she was returning to her home country after visiting here for a year).  On the whole, it was a very interesting experience to observe the service and note the aspects that were familiar and those that were different from what I’m used to.  Several aspects of the service reminded me of things I have learned about the history of the Catholic church, like the parishioners not taking communion every week and the priest facing away from the congregation when he was praying at the altar.
  3. Simon and Valentine went to the eye doctor on Monday.  I was proud that Valentine had learned the English alphabet well enough to read the letters on the eye charts (saying the sounds rather than the letter names, because I teach the sounds first).  The verdict was that he doesn’t need glasses.  I am grateful to the optometrist for donating his services for the exam; he would have also donated a pair of glasses if Valentine had needed them.

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    Playing in the sprinkler when we couldn’t make it to the beach.

  4. We finally made it to the beach on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, we were only there for an hour, including the time it took to eat our picnic lunch, because we had to get Clara back home for her afternoon nap.  Having a baby who still naps twice a day means we’ve been getting out less than in previous summers.  Valentine has been wanting to go to the beach and I’ve been looking for a good day for weeks, but we’ve had a lot of lousy weather and it seems like we had somewhere else we had to go every day that was nice enough.
  5. Valentine’s English is improving.  He uses two-word phrases and the occasional three-word phrase, such as, “I like,” “Good-bye, house,” “my nose,” “three motorcycle,” “baby apple,” “big truck,” and “spider eat bug.”  When my in-laws arrived yesterday with their fluffy little dog, our cat was scared and jumped onto a high ledge to get away from it.  That inspired Valentine’s longest utterance in English yet, “Look, Mom!  Cat sit, is looking dog.”  We’ve been practicing the pronunciation of the hard /th/ sound (like “this”) and /w/ (“wow!”) because they are challenging for him.

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    More sprinkler fun.

  6. Valentine is still learning some American habits.  I’ve had to remind him to put toilet paper in the toilet and flush it (in his country, it is usually put in the garbage, not flushed).  I also have to remind him to put on clean clothes every day; in the morning, he will often change from his pajamas into the clothes he was wearing the previous day.  I’m guessing that in the orphanage, the kids wear their clothes several times between washings to save on laundry.
  7. Valentine is still working on learning to ride a bike.  Don put one training wheel on his bike to help him out, and he’s making progress.  Yesterday I saw him ride maybe 20 feet before he lost his balance.

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