Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wearing Out Our Welcome!

I called home today to check in with Mike and see how things were going at home and my blood literally ran cold when he said, “Susan, I have some news”.  I really didn’t think I could take a whole lot more.  So I steeled myself and said, “Ok, what’s the news?” and he said, “Kristin moved out this afternoon.”

I’m not sure of the whole story, but Kristin has been staying with her liaison and it seems they jelled as a family together.  They are also hosting a student from Italy this year and the girls got along great, and so it was decided to make a go of it with both girls living together.  April brought Kristin by the house today and picked up the rest of her things and she has moved!

I am happy for her finding her new family and I think they will be a good match for her.  I hope she’s going to be very happy there.  I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to her and I haven’t heard from her since she left for school Wednesday morning, but hopefully I’ll get to see her in the coming months, as I am the Italian girl’s liaison and perhaps will be Kristin’s liaison as well. 

With that, we end our stint as a welcome family.  I am very proud of what we accomplished.  Our goal was to allow a kid to get to the US and start their exchange program, and we did that.  We never intended to host for a full year and while we were willing to do so upon meeting Kristin, there is a sense of relief that we won’t have to, mainly because after this latest blow, I am totally and completely mentally and emotionally worn out.  I learned a lot from Kristin in just a couple of short months, and I really am grateful for the experience of hosting her. 

I am looking forward to getting home in a week or two and getting back to our old routine, which we were just getting used to when I decided to be a welcome family!  This is the last picture I took of Kristin at our house—she and Leah were finally getting to be pals! 


Good luck, Kristin, we really hope you have a fantastic year!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


This has been a really rough two months, and Kristin has been such a trooper to stick with everything while our house seemingly fell apart.

This week was supposed to be our first road trip together.  We were heading up to NY for my dad’s 60th birthday, but Monday we got the call that my mom’s fiancé was on life support in the hospital.

“Papa Jim” has been a part of our lives for many years, and we love him so much.  So to hear that he had suffered a massive heart attack and wasn’t likely to survive was devastating.  His condition deteriorated, and my father called and demanded that I come to Florida instead to be with my mom.

This necessitated an emergency call to AFS, as we knew that Mike would not be able to care for Kristin adequately in my absence, primarily due to the fact that there would be no transportation available and the fact that he’s out of the house for work at 5AM and doesn’t get home till after 6PM. 

Our liaison was great, and got back in touch with us immediately.  By Tuesday night, we had a plan formulated, and I was able to leave Wednesday morning to start driving to Florida.  It was a long, long drive, and at about 1pm, we got word that Papa Jim had passed away.  We got word at dinner time that Kristin had been picked up and was now staying at our liaison’s house.

We didn’t get to my mom’s house until almost midnight.  Things have been chaos here.  Four adults and three toddlers packed into a two bedroom home with friends and neighbors stopping in at all hours to drop off food, express their condolences, and give hugs and support, as well as a phone ringing non-stop, and my dad’s 60th birthday coming and going, as well as all the details we are trying to get worked out from the logistics of Papa Jim passing, not to mention my school work for my class, it’s been a nightmare.

But we are so grateful to everyone who has been supportive and helped us in so many ways. 

So things with Kristin are pretty up in the air right now.  On top of the stress from the house and school, adding in the death of a loved one and the grieving process seems like in many ways more than I can bear, and more than she should have to bear with our family.  We are so lucky to have had a kid who didn’t add any stress to our family during any of this, who has not expressed any resentment over missed trips and lost vacations and stressed out parents and a crazy toddler.  If anyone in the Stafford High School catchment area wants an awesome kid to host, this would be the kid.

Mike is trucking along at home—friends and neighbors have generously given him rides, taken him shopping, and so forth.  Kristin is, I hope, happy at her liaison’s and doing fine with the new family and schedule.  I will probably be here with my mom for the better part of the next 2 weeks and then we’ll head home and see what’s what. 

This has been the most stressful two months of my life, and I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to 2011!!  I hope Kristin isn’t permanently scarred for life. Smile

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nearly October!?

I really, really can’t believe it is the end of September already.  While the first weeks Kristin were here did often seem to drag on a bit, now that she’s been in school, the time is flying by.

Kristin commenced school right after Labor Day and is doing fine.  She has typical exchange student problems of not really catching everything in class that’s being said, and often feels worried about her homework assignments, not being entirely sure what to do.  Fortunately, her teachers are very helpful and when I email them, they happily email us back with a more detailed explanation, which we find helpful.  We spend a couple of hours at night on homework—my task is to be the resident spelling bee.  I’ve spelled everything from “environment” to “collect”.  Kristin’s least favorite letters are E and I, as she finds it hard to remember which is which.

Sometimes she ties in the things we do to her homework and that cracks me up.  I have an obsession with the TV show Hoarders, so last night when she had to write a monologue for her drama class, she decided to write one about a hoarder.  She used the show as research for what a hoarder would talk about.  Pretty smart girl!

A couple of weeks ago, Kristin joined the cross country team.  Occasionally she comes home vowing to quit, but she always changes her mind the next day as she says, “I like my teammates!”  It is very physically demanding and she comes home sore and exhausted, and then has lots of homework today.  Often she feels that she doesn’t have much time to relax.  It has been good for her in terms of meeting people, however, and she had a genius way of getting to know people better by loudly announcing at practice, “I hate the activity bus!” so someone offered her a ride home.  I thought that was pretty ingenious, actually, so way to go Kristin!

She has been to a football game or two.  We were talking yesterday about it and she said she doesn’t understand the rules.  I, who have been watching the Patriots for 10 years now, also do not understand the rules, but gamely attempted to explain them to her.  My explanation in part was, “You get an extra point if you kick it through the Y shaped thingy at the end”…  Believe it or not, she knew what I was talking about.

this weekend, Kristin had her first AFS orientation.  I think she enjoyed it and immediately came home and added all her new pals on her Facebook.  We also got in a couple games of laser tag on Friday and a trip to Cold Stone, her favorite!

P1130670I guess the big excitement is that we asked Kristin to do some Icelandic cooking for us.  She settled on two dishes—Skyr and rice pudding.  Now, of course, you can get Skyr in the grocery store but I was informed that it’s not very good, even in Iceland, and needs to be dressed up to be edible.  She got the recipe from home and we had our friends Andy, Melissa, and Emily over as they are enthusiasts of international cooking.  The Skyr was done in an instant, she was an expert on that.  The rice pudding was more of a challenge and finally Kristin announced, “this is boring, I’m sick of cooking it!” and served it as is, which was nice and creamy, but the rice was rock solid.  We all found it hilarious.  We also got out the rest of the Icelandic chocolate and the Icelandic fish.  Kristin also made us apple sandwiches, so we had a real feast!


Everything was a big hit!

This week we will take our first roadtrip.  My dad is turning 60 and we are heading up to New York to celebrate.  It will be the longest trip Kristin’s ever taken in the car—10 hours at least—and we are preparing her by packing snacks, drinks, and a DVD player.  It’ll be nice to show her rural America and the people I grew up with.  I hope she enjoys herself!!  I’m looking forward to having a break and getting away for a couple days. 

Kristin is also “hosting” a Pampered Chef show in October, with a Cold Stone ice cream theme.  If she’s still here, we are going to go to a book signing with Diane Keaton, are in discussions with a  friend about a trip to Philadelphia to see Sara Bareilles, and are debating other fun and games as the year progresses.  We just have to find out what she wants to do!  Sooooo….

When we get back, it’ll be decision time.  We’ve asked Kristin what she thinks about staying here for the rest of the year and her answer is, “I don’t know”.  I think it’s possible in some ways she would be much happier with a family with older kids and pets, but she has settled in nicely here as well.  There have been times I’ve been convinced she’s going to give me trouble, and I’m glad to say I’ve been wrong—things have gone quite smoothly.  So we have offered her the chance to stay.  Whether or not she takes it, that’s up to her!  We won’t be upset either way.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print!!!  See you all from the other side of our NY trip!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mary Mom-A-Thon

A quick note to let you know that although I’d love to be leaving you comments, for some reason your Google Word Verification is not cooperating with my computer… I really have no idea why…  I’m still reading your every new update and all that good stuff!!!  I just can’t leave you a comment!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lessons Learned at Giant

Going to our local grocery store has provided some interesting lessons in our cultural differences. 

Kristin got out of the car as the person in the car next to her was getting in.  He said, “Oh, excuse me” as is pretty normal in our culture, but Kristin finds it hilarious that people say ‘excuse me’ as they go past each other.  I explained the concept of personal space and how Americans don’t really like to get too close to each other without excusing themselves, but apparently in Iceland it’s no big deal.

On a different visit, rather than visit self check out, I decided to let the lonely-looking clerk at the check out do our groceries.  He was a friendly enough guy and said, “Do you want to be a re-useable shopping bag?”  I said, “No, I enjoy destroying the environment for free” and the guy busted up laughing and we started chatting like old friends.  Pretty soon, another woman got on line behind us, looked at our purchases, and asked us what we were baking (peanut butter bars and cashew bars for an AFS picnic).  I told her and she asked how to make them, I explained it was our first try doing it and I wasn’t sure of the recipe, that kind of thing, and between the 3 of us, we had a very nice exchange.

When we got out to the car, Kristin said, “Americans will tell you their life story even if you don’t know them!”  She can’t get over how everyone talks to each other, even asking if I knew those people, which I didn’t.  I think it’s friendly, she thinks it’s crazy.  :) 

I think Iceland may be a very quiet place!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Everything Else

Well, I’ve written all the fun and games, and some of the not so much fun, that took up our 3 weeks welcoming Kristin.  Today marks 4 weeks since she arrived and Monday marks one month since we brought her home.  So what are some of the things we’ve learned about each other?

1.  Iceland and Icelanders are used to dealing with natural disaster.  Americans panic at the thought of a severe thunderstorm.  Unfortunately, with the way the media blows the threat of impending storms way out of proportion, it causes natural families in Iceland to panic at the thought of their beloved daughter being swept out to sea on the waves of a vicious killer hurricane, after the entire Eastern seaboard is broken off in a killer earthquake.  In contrast, a 12 hour loss of electricity doesn’t seem so bad.  There are currently cluster earthquakes happening in Iceland centered around a major volcano.  While it is worrying, Icelanders seem to be adopting a “wait and see” attitude.

2.  Halloween is getting so crazy here in the US that Kristin is powerfully excited for October 31 to roll around.  In Iceland it is customary that the children dress up, go to local shops and sing a song, for which they are given treats.  By contrast, Kristin has been taking picture of Halloween miniature villages in craft stores, debated costume choices, pondered Halloween parties, seen candy displays in stores, and enjoyed looking at inflatables for the yard.  She literally giggles every time we see something and last night confided, “I can’t wait for Halloween!”  I hope she’s not disappointed that she’ll spend the day in school and trick or treating is no big deal.  Fortunately, AFS is having a Halloween party if nothing else.

3.  Christmas has come up already as a time that she feels she will be very depressed and homesick.  She explained that in Iceland they have 13 Santa Clauses, and they get small presents every day for 13 days prior to Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, they open their gifts and have a big dinner and get all dressed up.  I explained our Christmas traditions, and was informed they are “stupid”.  I chose not to be insulted by this, mainly because Kristin’s favorite word is “stupid” and she uses it to describe everything from the fact that there are no sidewalks in our neighborhood to the fact that the color of a building doesn’t suit her.  I told her that provided she’s still with us, I would be happy to incorporate some of the things she is used to doing for the holidays into our celebration, but internally immediately panicked as this indicates a long-term view of this hosting experience with which I am not yet entirely comfortable!  However, I do believe that since it is not only Kristin’s exchange, but ours as well, that if she’ll let us, we would incorporate some of her traditions into our celebrations as a fun and new way of doing things.

4.  Teenagers share certain similarities the world over.  Where Penny would spend an hour curling her hair, Kristin will spend an hour straightening hers.  I am assured by friends with teen daughters here in the US that their girls behave similarly. 

5.  The weather we’ve had has been a challenge for Kristin.  She said last night that was so excited to come to Virginia because she was sure it was going to be sunny and warm and she’d get an awesome tan.  Unfortunately, it’s done a whole lot of raining since she arrived.  She says everyone at school is so nice and brown, and she was very proud of the tan she did managed to get until she saw all of them.  I pointed out they had an extra few months of sun and she was working inside all summer bagging fish.  Her response?  “Stupid fish”.

6.  Kristin really is pretty obsessed with big houses and fast cars.  I think she was under the impression that we all live like they do in Malibu or Beverly Hills, with flashy cars and fancy houses and tons of cash to throw around.  Sadly for her, that is not the case.  And of course, our house has been in a state of rebellion since she arrived.  Still, when we were up in Vienna for the pool party, she saw all the big houses and stated, “I’d like to live here!”  Whenever we’re out, she looks at all the cars she finds amazing when we pass and says, “Cool car!”  Sadly for her, she’s stuck in middle-suburbia with a host mom who drives a station wagon.

7.  Kristin didn’t know what Columbine was.  We watched a fake documentary about 2 boys who plotted to blow up their school and kill a bunch of people, and at the end, the scene in which they carry it out was taken directly from the video of the Columbine library.  She was shocked that something like that actually happened, and I showed her pictures of the real people involved and told her about the fact that Mike and I were on vacation when Columbine happened and 3 years later got married on the anniversary of it happening.  I find it interesting that it never entered her consciousness, but I guess kids of a certain age and kids who aren’t American have no frame of reference….

I really have enjoyed the past 4 weeks very much.  I feel far more mellow than when Penny was here, I suppose in part because I view this as a largely transitory experience, although I do have thoughts of it lasting all year from time to time.  Kristin implied on Monday that she is afraid to move somewhere else where she doesn’t know the people due to the largely positive experience she’s had thus far, and I admit there was a little lump in my throat when we thought we’d found her a permanent family.  We’ll see what happens!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day Weekend!

When I last wrote last week, I had an inkling that we’d be busy for Labor Day weekend, with something planned every day, but it went by in a heartbeat.  To be honest, looking back on these last 3 weeks, which at times seemed torturously slow, it’s hard to believe they’re gone and tomorrow our brave young lady will board the big yellow bus and roll off to meet her destiny at Stafford!  I remember last year, we watched Penny board the bus and I said to Mike, “That is the bravest thing I think I’ve ever seen”.  I know I’ll feel the same way tomorrow morning!

Anyway, to get back to our busy weekend and to quit rambling…

We had made plans for Thursday night to go out with our neighbors, Mark and Sherri and Sherri’s daughter Katie, who has been hanging around with Kristin a good little bit.  Mark and Sherri are good friends with the owners of a Thai restaurant in town and we got to know those folks through Penny’s being here, which was nice.  They are a really lovely family.  I was excited to take Kristin for Thai food, since I felt like it was kind of bringing her and Penny together. 

P1130608 I specifically made plans with Kristin and a girl from our neighborhood that Friday we would be going to Kings Dominion, a giant amusement park here in Virginia about 30 miles south of F’burg.  I told all contractors to hold it and off we went.  It was important to me that Kristin have someone her age to go with, as I knew I’d be taking Leah along and it was important that she be able to ride the rides with someone other than me.  Additionally, I wanted her to have some fun with someone who was willing to go on roller coasters and drop rides, and I am not.  I knew from talking with Taylor in June that she is a real daredevil, so I asked her and she accepted.  We were off!  We picked her up at around 10:00 and were at Kings Dominion before 11AM.  We were accosted in the parking lot by a lady who had an extra ticket to sell and so we got one ticket for only $28 and got a second for $29 since Taylor is a season pass holder and can get one person in at a reduced rate.  Leah was free!

We stopped to get some pictures with Snoopy and then walked over to the kids section to the Ghoster Coaster or something?  It used to be a Scooby Doo themed ride but then KD was taken over by a different company and no longer has the rights to Scooby so they renamed it.  It’s a children’s roller coaster—more than just for young kids, but not much more than 9-10 year olds would be too scared of it.  Leah was predictably too short, so we let Taylor and Kristin go on and we stood and waited to take a picture (they are in the very back car).

P1130612 When they got off, Kristin could barely walk, screaming that it was SO FAST!  They were laughing hysterically and I knew they were going to have a great day.  Their next stop was this crazy thing:

P1130614so I made sure to have Taylor’s phone number and Leah and I set off on our own adventure with plans to meet up with the girls at 1pm.

I tried to get Leah on a couple of rides, but we kept getting kicked off.  The people who work at KD informed me that unless Leah was willing to sit on the actual seat, not my lap, and not be screaming her head off while doing it, they could not allow us to continue to ride.  In the first 3 hours we were there, the only ride we managed to ride was the carousel, and only then because we could sit in the sleigh with her on my lap.  I also took her to the top of KD’s Eiffel Tower and we saw the park from up there, and it was a pretty cool vantage point!

P1130616  P1130618

The large tower in the second picture is a ride called “Drop Zone” I think.  The ring you see around the middle is actually chairs, and it rises up to the top and then plummets a couple of hundred feet to the ground.  Kristin loved that ride, although she was terrified of the roller coasters.  Taylor did manage to get her on 3 or 4 roller coasters while we were there, however!

After lunch at Chick Fil A, we got changed and headed to the water park.  Leah LOVED the tidal wave pool, while Kristin and Taylor hit all the big water slides and tubing adventures.  They came back as things were winding down and I was attempting to get Leah to take a nap, and offered to take Leah swimming, so I let them and curled up on a chaise lounge and snoozed for the better part of an hour.  When the girls brought her back, I took her to get changed and we met up with the girls again at 5:45, only to find out that in one of the tube rides, Kristin’s sunglasses fell off and she tipped out of the tube onto her head and had a pile of lifeguards rushing to her aid!  Thankfully she was fine, as were the sunglasses.  We were supposed to leave the park at 5:30, but wound up having pizza for dinner and then going over to the SpongeBob 4D movie (which Leah was not allowed to “ride”, so we sat in the motionless seats!).  As we were heading out, Kristin was all sad that we hadn’t done the log flume ride, but Taylor refused, saying she didn’t want to get wet again, so I took Kristin on it.  We had a nice time and at least I got to do one ride, but at the end, Taylor dropped a quarter into the water cannon and blasted us with water!  AUGH!

P1130624 Saturday was a well deserved morning of rest and then I announced my intention to catch up with school work for the entire afternoon, which I did.  I got a TON of work done and was so proud of myself for figuring out some XML!  Hooray :)  Afterwards, I decided we should all go out together and we headed to Chuck E. Cheese.  While probably not terribly appealing to a teenager, going there as a family of 4 is FAR cheaper than going to Funland.  You can see in her little face that Leah is not terribly sure about this big sister business, but Kristin is making an effort to win her over after a bit of initial resistance!  We played a ton of games together—got our pictures taken, fought fires, shot hoops, played Skee Ball, and more.  It was a ton of fun and we brought home one exhausted toddler, more importantly.  We got home around 8:30 and at 9:00, Kristin and I headed back out to go see “The Help” at the local movie theater.  It was an absolutely brilliant movie and on the way home, we discussed if things are getting better in race relations in America, what Leah’s future will look like as the adopted child of white parents, who the new minorities are, and a riveting discussion on the situation of the Portuguese in Iceland.  Apparently much like migrant workers in the US, the Portuguese flock to Iceland to work in the fishing industry and ship their money back to Portugal.  Many Icelanders don’t like the Portuguese for this reason.  I had no idea about that at all!  We discussed my time living in the deep south, we talked about OJ Simpson (who was apparently friends with the Kardashians, whom Kristin ADORES), and more.  It was a great movie, a riveting history lesson, and led to some frank and amazing discussion.

P1130639 I had decided that on Sunday we would have a welcome party for Kristin.  I sent out invitations but neglected to tell my husband about the party (oops!  Sorry honey!).  I had asked everyone to bring potluck but also decided to provide meat, drinks, and a couple of sides, so I sat and debated what to do.  I finally hit on grilled chicken, hot dogs (we have one friend who resolutely refuses to eat chicken, and since I got chicken with bones my hubby wasn’t eating it either!), fiesta corn salad, fruit salad, and ramen salad.  I got a cake for dessert and let the chips fall where they may.  And people were so generous.  We had an amazing collection of friends arrive—about 20—and they all brought many amazing things, including peach pineapple casserole, green bean casserole, fruit, cheese logs, cookies, pound cake, cobbler and more! 

Kristin spent the morning on Skype with her family and then as I started preparing the food, for the first time ever, she asked me if I wanted some help.  I was so excited that she wanted to help me out, so I put her in charge of the fruit salad and I was blown away at how beautiful it looked when she was done.  It was like a work of art!

P1130629All I did was hollow out the melon, she did the rest.  And let me tell you, there was a LOT of fruit and there when the party started and there was literally none left when it was over.

It was a nice day, very very hot, but everyone had a great time and it lasted till nearly 6:30.

P1130638  P1130632 P1130633

In the first picture, the girl to the left in the Abercrombie shirt is an AFSer from Italy—I am her liaison this year.  It was my first chance to meet her, so that was amazing!  And for my part, I was pleased that some of my new friends I’d never had over before had come!  It was great to hang out with new friends and old. 

One of the families who came to visit mentioned an interest in hosting and even volunteered on the spot to be Kristin’s family for the year!  I introduced her to our local rep and they were going to get things going, and Kristin was pretty excited.  Unfortunately just a few hours later, they emailed me to say they didn’t think they could do it this year.  I dreaded telling Kristin that news, as while we’d been making all the food, the AFS pool party had been canceled.  After the party was over, I checked my email and learned that the pool party was back on, so I steeled myself and went up to Kristin’s room and said, “There’s good news and bad news, which do you want?”  She asked for the bad news first and I told her and she actually took it quite well.  I gave her the good news that the party was back on and then invited her downstairs to watch a movie, so we watched Matthew Broderick and Meg Ryan plot against their exes in Addicted to Love and then turned in for the night.

Yesterday morning, we left about 11:30 and drove up to Vienna for the AFS pool party.  We stopped en route to pick up a fruit tray and fruit dip to bring with us and then arrived at the party just as it was kicking off.  There was a really good crowd of kids—not everyone made it but there were still about 15 AFSers in attendance. Most of them had their parents drop them off, but I stuck around since it was an hour’s drive there, and there were a couple of other host moms to chat with and two members of our area team were there.  It was nice to connect and we got to talking about things and I wound up volunteering to launch an AFS Virginia Facebook page, which I did last night.  The kids took all the food to the other side of the pool, ate, swam, and chatted for a long time, and then a downpour began so we went inside the community center.  The kids all started playing cards and soon a hot game of “Spoons” started, which resulted in a pile of AFS kids killing each other to get their hands on a spoon.  It was pretty hilarious.

P1130642 P1130644

We drove back to the Burg and stopped at the grocery store to get our food for the week.  Kristin wanted to stock up on goodies for her lunch, and decided to make herself tuna salad as well as a regular salad and bottle of water.  We brought home frozen pizzas and had that for dinner last night and then she started her laundry and getting ready for school.  We chatted about setting her alarm and I showed her how to do that, gave her some school supplies she needed, and at 10:00, we enforced bedtime for the first time.  Things have been pretty loosey goosey around here since it’s been summer, but now it’s time to tow the line, so in addition to helping put all the groceries away and doing her laundry, Kristin also helped take out the trash last night. 

We had a lovely chat on the way home from the BBQ about her confusion over why the other family backed out after only a couple of hours, and Kristin said she really had mixed feelings about leaving.  She had just talked herself into it, that it’d be fun to have a sister the same age and at the same school, and then the plug got pulled and she started to think about being a welcome student.  She said, “I’m so scared AFS is just going to put me somewhere just to put me somewhere. You are so nice and I don’t want to go somewhere with a family who is not so nice as you.”  Darn it if that didn’t just make me want to cry!  So I re-assured her that they wouldn’t put her anywhere that she couldn’t give her input on and that if she really, really desperately wanted to stay with us, then we’d consider that possibility.  I hope that puts her mind at ease.  She’s a lovely girl and deserves to not have to stress about these things!

P1130647 So that was our Labor Day weekend.  Kristin left this morning at 6:45AM for school—she declined to let me take a picture of her getting on the bus, so I grabbed one as she was walking out the door.  I know she’ll have a great day—she is worried about the strange schedule and about lunch and who to sit with, but I told her to just find someone who looks friendly as she is leaving to go to lunch and to attach herself to them.  I know she’ll do well, the first few days will be a challenge and then we’ll probably just see the back end of her from there out!

Hope everyone else’s kids have a great school year!!!!!!