Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Trip to the Mountains

So last Wednesday, my friend Melissa was free and we decided to take Kristin and Leah up into the mountains in the western part of the state to visit Luray Caverns and the Skyline Drive.  Last time I took Leah to the caverns, she went crazy, running around, screaming, ducking under ropes, etc. so I was glad that I had back up with Melissa to help me keep her safe and quiet!


We met up around 9:30 and hopped in Melissa’s car and took off.  We drove up and over a big mountain on a twisty road to get out there, so I wound up getting out a map to show Kristin the route, and I think she was happy to have a concrete idea as to where we were going.  We made it no trouble by 11:15 and stopped off at a Pizza Hut to eat lunch before going over to the caverns for the tour.  Our timing was impeccable, as the tour was just getting ready to go down, so we didn’t have to wait very long.  There were a lot of people on the tour, and they tell you when you go in that you cannot touch anything, the reason being that salts and bacteria on our hands can cause the rocks to quit growing, become brittle, and break.  The other 2 times I’ve been on the tour, people have obeyed this command.  Not this time.  Seriously, my two year old obeyed better than several adults on the tour.  One lady actually sat on the rocks to get her picture taken.  The tour guide was apoplectic. 

Leah was a good bit more subdued this time, thanks to the fact that it was really pretty much naptime and she’d had lunch.  Note to self to repeat this next time we go somewhere!  There’s not much to say other than that the caves are gorgeous and Kristin lingered a lot to take pictures!  The light is not good down there (haha) so we had a hard time getting pictures of her, but got at least one decent one!  She spent a lot of time learning to use her camera, which was good, and we just saw some beautiful formations.

318470_10150355955537498_733927497_9708711_5440938_n 297601_10150355956997498_733927497_9708720_713898_n

After the tour was over, we went through the gift shop and I found magnets which said Leah and Kristin, so I bought each girl their name as a souvenir.  Leah immediately attempted to eat hers, so we decided it was time to hop in the car and hit Skyline Drive to go to Big Meadows visitor center.  The drive was beautiful and we pulled over several times to get pictures in the various overlooks.  We had absolutely amazing weather.

317846_10150355965012498_733927497_9708779_6994441_n 301446_10150355967882498_733927497_9708802_3135308_n A perfect day on the Blue Ridge

We got to big meadows and hit the concessions stand.  They are apparently famous there for their blackberry ice cream, and Melissa had taken Penny up there last spring to do some hiking and Penny came home raving about the ice cream, so I decided to try some for myself.  YUM!  It was really, really good.  Kristin tried a sundae and Leah got some plain Jane vanilla, but she loved it!


Afterwards, we went to the Big Meadows visitor center and looked at their exhibit and saw deer, which Kristin had been asking about.  It was a really great day, we had a beautiful ride and a nice visit.  Sadly, Leah refused to nap, so she got really cranky on the ride home, but we played her some Lady Gaga in the car, which made her happy.  I asked her who it was singing and she said, “Gaga!” and Kristin thought that was the cutest thing, so I’m glad she got some entertainment out of that and hopefully it helped her like Leah a bit more!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Can’t Make it Up!

Hello fans and friends…

Well, I’m convinced we must have been puppy killers in our past life—the hits just keep on coming!!!  But before I get ahead of myself, let me say this:  We survived Hurricane Irene, no problem.  I really wasn’t too worried about it, I figured we would lose power and we did.  It went out at 4:30pm on Saturday afternoon and came back on around 11:30pm.  The worst challenge of it all was that I put my back out on Friday and have been trying to keep my back in check with a heating pad, which I couldn’t use with no electricity. 

It was a bit of a challenge to keep both Kristin and Leah entertained for the 2 1/2 hours prior to Leah’s bedtime.  It was pouring rain and no electronics meant we were somewhat forced to spend quality time together (gasp)!  But it went off fine.  When it went out, we grabbed what we thought we’d need from the freezer and fridge and fixed ourselves cold suppers—Leah and I had Chef Boyardee ravioli from the can with salad (Chef B is just as gross as I remembered!), Kristin made a salad with leftover cold chicken from when I roasted a chicken a couple days before, and Mike had a bologna and cheese sandwich.  I had optimistically predicted that I’d be able to grill, going so far as to buy a separate set of pans to cook with on the grill, but alas, it was raining sideways and the wind was blowing like crazy.

We had tons of candles lit, and as it got dark and Leah went to bed, we turned on the emergency flashlights i had bought and we had been charging for a couple of days.  We played a quick round of Yahtzee, and Kristin was delighted to discover in my shopping expeditions I had bought the board game Clue.  We broke it out, but were having a good bit of trouble seeing, so Kristin decided she would rig up a chandelier from flashlights.  Our first issue was digging up supplies.  We finally settled on dental floss to tie the lights together.

kristinlightflash Lest you think this was easy and look at all the light we had, here’s the same picture taken without the flash:

kristinlightnoflashWe were in virtual darkness.

Once we got the lights tied together, we decided to string them to the overhead light in our dining room.  Unfortunately, they hung sideways and  cast a perfect spotlight on our refrigerator.  So Kristin decided to try using her ponytail holder to see if that would work, but it really didn’t do much.  So I hit on the solution of bungee cords.  Which was an awesome idea, but they were in the car.  So being the amazing hostmom that I am, I headed for the driveway and sprinted through the wind and rain to come up with bungee cords, which we managed to use successfully to string up the lights, prompting an enthusiastic thumbs up from Kristin!

kristinhanginglightWe got through quite 3 games of Clue, all of which she won, and by the 4th, which was a couple hours later, the lights were dimming.  Since the only flashlights available in all of stupid Fredericksburg were rechargeables (read: no batteries), there wasn’t much I could do, other than that I did find one other flashlight with an LED bulb that we stuck up there and moved the candles closer.

I decided thus that Kristin needed to be inducted into the great American game of Monopoly.  I told her we’d see how bloodthirsty she was, and explained the game.  She caught on quickly, but unfortunately is not terribly ruthless.  Every time she built a house, she’d say how badly she felt about it.  Thus, for probably the first time ever, I won a game of Monopoly!  And I couldn’t even really feel good about it.  But the important thing was that mid-game, we broke out the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers and made s’mores over the candles.

smoreWe even got gourmet—we used peanut butter cups, caramel Hershey kisses, and Snickers bars in the creation of our s’mores.  Kristin was concerned that they were going to be disgusting, but the minute she took a bite, she said, “Oh my, that’s so good!” 

Around 11:30, the lights came back on, and we were able to finish our game in the light.  The game lasted till almost 1:00AM, and then we both decided to go to sleep!  This morning, I woke up around 6:00 and the power was back out.  We have an alarm on our internet provider’s battery back up system and it was beeping like crazy because the battery back up was dying.  I came to the conclusion that it was basically likely that the power had gone out 2 or so hours before.  I think it woke Leah up too, because by 7AM, she was ready to go.  I got her up and let Mike and Kristin sleep and we took a walk around the block and then hopped in the car to see what we could see in town.  It was quite disappointing—not much damage or anything, and the power was on in most of the city, just not on our block.  We stopped off at Dunkin Donuts and got a dozen to take home and then headed back.

This afternoon, our A/C started making a weird noise and so we called our A/C company to come out and have a look and it appears that we have to have a new furnace, since the motor in the furnace burned out, and that’s what blows the cold air around.  On top of everything else going on, I had something of a nervous breakdown and just took some time to go for a walk and try to collect my thoughts. 

Kristin decided to distract me tonight with Free Willy 2 (which made me a little weepy, damnit!) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  She likes fantasy and fairy tale movies, and judging by the fact that I view my part of the exchange experience to be that I try new things that my students are interested in, I’m going to be well versed in this stuff by the time our time with Kristin is over.  Penny liked screwball comedy and teeny bopper stuff, so I became a great watcher of iCarly, Diary of  Wimpy Kid, and the Hangover.  I am hopefully becoming a more well-rounded mom and person as a result of my interactions with these kids! :)

I swear I have good things to post besides the gloom and doom of our house seemingly collapsing around our ears, so keep checking back and when I’m not exhausted from chasing a toddler and a teen, taking care of Mike, running a household, studying for my master’s, and crying my eyes out, I’ll be back! :) 

And just a reminder—AFS USA has another week to find homes for 275 great kids who still need host families.  Even if you can’t commit for a full year, and yet are willing to give a kid a month to get in and get settled, please, please, please contact AFS USA today and sign up!  Seriously, if they haven’t pulled the plug on us yet, they will find out a great host family, I know it!

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Meteorological Week from Hell!

Well, this has been the craziest week ever…  Tuesday was my birthday and I got Kristin over to the school to meet her counselor.  It took a while to have our appointment, and we wound up just leaving the counselor’s office when I heard what sounded like a freight train rumbling towards us.  Then all of a sudden picture frames and stuff started clanking and it hit me that it was an earthquake!  I grabbed Leah and ducked under the reception desk, but the counselors started screaming that we should all go outside.  So we raced outside, and I turned back to see Kristin sauntering towards the back of the crowd, cool as a cucumber!  We got outside and stood around waiting, and she said that in Iceland it is quite common to have earthquakes and she regarded it as no big deal.  Well, it’s not the first one I’ve ever been in, but it is the first one I’ve ever experienced (slept through my first and didn’t notice my second!), so I was really, really excited about it.  We decided to get in the car and drive home, and when we got here, all the cabinet doors in the kitchen were open, a picture had fallen off the mantle and smashed on the fireplace, and some of our good china had been shifted around.

Some hours later, we felt a good sized aftershock, and then that was it until the next night when we all got shaken awake at 1AM by another aftershock.  It was great excitement all around.  Many friends and family were terrified, but I suppose in a way having an old pro in the house helped me to feel not so scared.  The one that woke me up in the wee small hours of the morning scared me much more than the original quake.

Yesterday, we had a massive thunderstorm.  My husband’s radio antenna blew over, our outdoor furniture got blown around, trash strewn everywhere, etc.  The power went out at 4:30, just as Kristin was getting involved in a game of Titanic on the Wii, and stayed out for 7 hours.  Kristin asked if it was Hurricane Irene, but I had to tell her that sadly, no, it’s just a storm, the hurricane is still to come!

We went out to dinner and had a family meeting when we got back, just to see how she was feeling about things and talk about some things we were concerned about.  She then took some candles up to her room to work on her journal and whatnot.  A drive this morning shows LOTS of broken trees and tree limbs, so I hope that the damage is done if Irene arrives.  Although I am secretly praying that our POS shed collapses in the storm and we can claim it on our insurance and get a new one!

Current predictions are that Irene will hit F’burg as a tropical storm this weekend.  I went out this morning and picked up bread, water, shelf stable milk, non-perishable food items, ice for the cooler, and cookware I can use on the grill without damaging my good stuff.  I picked up 3 rechargeable flashlight/emergency light things that should last and a bunch more candles.  To keep us busy and happy, I got Clue and Monopoly as well.  Laptop is charged, cell phone is charged, iPod is charged—we should manage to keep entertained with those things for a while, even if we can’t get online.  I hope it won’t come to the point we need to use any of it!

We won’t be going up to New England as I’d hoped because the storm is due to go up that way and everyone is nervous.  I need to start looking into what we can do for Kristin’s final week before school starts!!!  I have a few ideas.  I will write about the positives of this week soon, and yes there are some!!!!  This poor kid—she has had the worst welcome ever…  But it’s one she’ll never forget, I can guarantee it!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fun Weekend

So the weekend is over!  I had something planned for each day and it felt good to get out of the house and away from all the crazy. 

I had found out a while ago that the band Barenaked Ladies was coming to Fredericksburg August 19 (Friday), and since they are pretty much my favorite band ever, I was definitely going to go.  I had seen them once before up in Fairfax with my sister and my friend Heather and so I asked them if they’d like to go and they said yes, so we got tickets!  When I found out Kristin was coming, I asked her if she wanted to go.  She had never heard of BNL, but also said she’d never been to a concert before, so she thought it would be fun.  We had paid for “premium seats”.  I had thought we should go early since the seating is first come first served in the “premium” section, but then I just decided to relax and as my sister got stuck in traffic, it was just as well—she didn’t make it till 4 and she left Alexandria at noon.

We decided to have dinner first, and went over to Buffalo Wild Wings so Kristin could experience buffalo wings for the first time.  So she opted for a burger! hahaha  But she did try corn dogs too. :-)  Through that dinner, I learned she does not like onions or honey mustard, important information!


P1130467 At around 5:30, we drove over to Celebrate Virginia Live—it turns out it’s just a field next to Wegman’s and when they’re having a concert, they put up a stage and call it a pavilion!  Go figure.  We got our tickets, no problem, and then went into the seating area, which was pretty much empty!  Yahoo!  We got seats in the third row, dead center.  I was in HEAVEN!  I’ve been pretty close in other concerts before (5th row for Eric Idle, 7th row for Meatloaf), but this was TOPS!  There was time before the opening act, Jukebox the Ghost, came on, so we just sorta sat around and didn’t do much. 

The opening act was pretty decent, I must say, and I have a history of seeing crappy opening acts for bands, so it’s a serious plus for me that I didn’t dislike those guys.  It started to rain a bit, which kind of sucked, but also gave a kind of Woodstock-esque atmosphere to the whole thing.  I walked around a bit and found some friends in the back, slogged through the mud, and Heather bought Kristin cotton candy.  Then it was finally time!

BNL took the stage pretty much right on time, and they were great.  Despite losing one of their lead singers a couple years ago, I really think they sounded amazing and the concert was great.  We were on our feet the whole time, dancing and singing, and I got tons of pictures and videos, and just LOVED it. 

P1130478 P1130496 By the time it was done, Judy couldn’t even talk.  Kristin declared us “a little” nerdy.  Hahaha

Saturday, was party night.  At Penny’s goodbye party in June, I had a few of my friends over with whom she had gotten close, and I said when our exchange was over, I needed to go out with my peeps and get a drink.  So we got to planning and decided to have a slumber party the weekend before my birthday, which is tomorrow.  Well, surprise!  Kristin arrived, so sleeping over was not an option due to space, but we decided to party at my friend, Melissa’s house.  We went up there at 6pm and had a really nice chat the whole way up.  We got up there in time to see the end of Shaun of the Dead, eat pizza, and discuss our plans for the night, and decided to go play laser tag, something that Kristin really enjoys and the one time I’ve played, I hate.  (I’m too much of a pacifist to hide in dark places and pretend to shoot people.)

Kristin’s first pack didn’t work very well, but she still did quite well, much better than I did!  We played a second game and she killed me a ton of times!  It was crazy.  My friend Emily and I tried to form a team and get each other’s backs, and it worked pretty well in the second game, so that was good.  It was fun and Kristin laughed a lot, so that made me happy!

We went back to Melissa’s and sang karaoke, although Kristin staunchly refused, saying she doesn’t sing (she must not have been listening—none of us do!).  Afterwards, we decided to play a game called “paper telephone”.  It’s a lot like the game telephone in which you whisper things around the circle and see what comes back, only in paper telephone, you start by writing something down on a piece of paper, the next person draws a picture of what you’ve written, the next person writes down what they see in the drawing, and so on.  We played that probably 8-10 times and it was hilarious.  Culture only played into it once when Kristin got “sloppy joes” and didn’t know what they were.  But let me tell you, drawing what Andy deemed “A cowboy wrestling a gingerbread man” was a real challenge!

P1130508We got home around 3AM and while we were gone, the toilet that caused the destruction in the house had coughed up a “hairball”—basically a giant brick of sludge, so I wound up cleaning that until 3:30 and for some reason, couldn’t sleep past 7:30 that morning.  We left at 10AM on Sunday to go up to Judy’s.  There is a local water park for kids called the SprayGround—basically a pile of fountains and water tables that you can run through.  It is closing this week, so I wanted to go one more time, although frankly I like it much more than Leah does.  We got in a bit of a splash war with Kristin, which was fun and afterwards went to Fuddruckers for dinner.

We got home and Kristin went on Skype with her parents and even got Leah on camera and showed her her dogs, and then I put Leah to bed.  Kristin came down and said she was going to go up to her room and watch a movie.  Then she kind of looked at me sideways and said, “Unless you wanna watch it with me?”  Of course I did!  So I made some popcorn and we watched Kung Fu Panda, which is one of her favorite movies, apparently and was cute!!!  I took a shower and got to thinking about the fact that this week is pretty busy but next week is EMPTY and how I really didn’t want to sit around and do nothing for another week, so we all talked and we are thinking about going up to Mike's family’s house in Rhode Island.  It will depend on if his parents will have us and if he can get the time off work, but since we really don’t know what will happen, it’ll be nice to go and take at least one trip with Kristin before she possibly moves out.  NY and Philadelphia are quick and easy day trips that I can make in September or October, but it’ll be a good thing to see New England a bit as well.

So that’s it for our big weekend!  Today Kristin is going to lunch and shopping with our neighbor’s daughter, Katie.  Tomorrow is my birthday and since I”m kind of depressed about it, I’m just going to do normal things like take Leah to Toddlin’ Time and take Kristin to her school registration appointment.  Wednesday we are going out to Luray Caverns and Friday I am putting together a little party to welcome Kristin to the area with some kids from the high school.  Not sure what we’ll do next weekend, although my sister and I have to get together to make invitations for my dad’s 60th at the end of September.

So that’s all the news that’s fit to print!  Progress is being made in transforming us into a family, not just a host family.  It makes me happy, each baby step.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monuments, Yahtzee, Alphabets, and Rock

This has been the longest week of my life—none of which has really anything to do with Kristin.  Monday, the clean up crew arrived to begin work on our basement and since then, we’ve affectionately dubbed our basement “The Wind Tunnel” owing to the number of fans and dehumidifiers going down there, and I’ve been calling my house “The Pit of Despair” owing to the fact that I want to just cry whenever I think about the job ahead of us.

So I decided to put all my cards on the table and do my nighttime tour of DC early.  One of the few things Kristin was able to communicate prior to her arrival was that she really wanted to see famous tourist sites while she was in the US.  She specifically mentioned the White House and the Capitol, so Monday night, I bundled her up and off we went.  Of course, we got stuck in traffic on 395 which prompted a disgusted, “URGH!” from her and with which I most vehemently concurred.

We left around 8:30 and made it to DC just before 10, a new low.  We had a really nice chat all the way up—talking about her brother, about disability services in Iceland, about all kinds of really interesting topics.  But all was forgotten when we got there and she started seeing things and her camera refused to work.  It staunchly refused to take pictures at night that weren’t black!  I offered her mine, but she continued to play with hers and just told me what she wanted pictures of if she couldnt’ get hers to cooperate.

Our first stop was the Capitol building.  Some nice passersby came and offered to take her a picture on her memory card, but she declined in favor of me taking one on my little camera, so this is what I got for her:

P1130376I was really stoked about the moon Monday night—I thought it was a cool addition the pictures we were taking! :)

After that, we drove past the park in front of the White House, as close as we could get to it and I pulled over and she tried to get pictures, but again, nothing came out.  Consequently, we used mine, and my zoom isn’t that great and there were signs in the way, so our sole picture was rather disappointing, but I had to move along as the cops didn’t take kindly to me blocking the road they’d blocked already with traffic cones!

P1130377P1130382 That accomplished, we drove over to the WWII Memorial to park.  Seeing it from the car prompted an “Ooooh!” from Kristin and she loved it, as I think most people do when they see it.  We worked hard on getting her a decent picture with the fountains and were finally somewhat successful!  We walked all over the memorial and I told her that now that she is a Virginian, we had to get her picture with the Virginia pillar, which she happily obliged me with.  I think I shall take all my exchange students there forever, it’s a fun way to really concretely (pardon the pun) put a sense of their own history into their minds.  P1130389

Afterwards, we began our trek down to the Lincoln Memorial.  I’m very glad that the lighting has improved a great deal down the path.  Several years ago, my AFS brother Franc from Ecuador came to visit and we did the night time DC tour and walked in utter pitch blackness down the same path.  I’m pleased that at least there are some improvements in the lighting so it’s not quite so scary to be out there now!  Along the way, I pointed out the WWI Memorial, a modest little memorial off to one side of the mall.  Compared with the grandeur of the WWII Memorial, it’s quite sad, but it was a nice study in contrasts for Kristin.

Before hitting the Lincoln, I told Kristin we would go visit the creepiest memorial on the mall, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and she concurred with my assessment that it IS rather creepy!  We didn’t linger there for very long, as I think she was a little weirded out by the haunting statues that are there.

P1130412 With that, we set off to the Lincoln Memorial and I met Kristin upstairs as I had to make a quick potty break.  We got some photos for her and she enjoyed the view.  There were some other tourists there (not that I consider myself a tourist, but whatever! haha) taking a photo and their picture taker was laying on the ground to get the shot.  Kristin informed me it would be a beautiful picture, so I willingly obliged and did the same for her.  The things I do for my kids!

Then we went back down the steps.  There is a new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial opening at the end of the month, so there are a lot of fences up around the place, but we found a place to go through and went around to the Vietnam Wall, which always is a sobering place to visit.  She was blown away by the sheer number of names occupying the wall and the significance of it and it was a quiet moment for us both.

On the way back to the car, we stopped off at the small island they built to commemorate the signers of the Declaration of Independence and then made our way back to WWII in a swarm of little insects, of which I have no idea what they are, but which annoy me half to death every time I go down there at night and get attacked by a swarm of them.  Kristin is quite squeamish of bugs, so it was a real trial to her!

We got back to the WWII and I messed around a bit with the black and white setting on my camera and got a couple of interesting pictures and then it was off to the FDR Memorial.

P1130396 Much of the time when I bring people down at night, the FDR fountains are shut off, which really, really ruins it for me.  The FDR is probably my favorite memorial just due to the beauty of the waterfalls—the WWII is my other favorite because my grandfather was a WWII veteran!  I wanted Kristin to be able to see it fully lit and working, and as we walked up to it, I didn’t hear anything and expressed my aggravation.  But as we got inside, she said, “I hear water!” and sure enough, the fountains were on.  AMEN!  She saw the first one and said, “WOW!”, Kristinspeak for “This is awesome!”  She put her feet in and then read the sign, “No wading” and giggled “Oops!” 

P1130432We walked through and I encouraged her to climb out onto the rocks of another fountain—it used to be OK to do so when it first opened, but I’m sure some idiot fell off and that was the end of that.  However, I have many pictures of myself on those rocks and got one of Kristin as well.

P1130438Afterwards, we went down the short path to the Tidal Basin and she loved the view of Washington from the water.  She snapped quite a few pictures, and I just sat and relaxed and took in the view myself.  As we went back up to the memorial, the timer must have clicked off or whatever, because all the fountains stopped.  I was so pleased we had made it in time and she got to see it—she was my good luck charm!

I asked her how she was holding up and if she was tired, and she said she was quite hungry. I told her we had one more stop and then I’d get her something to eat, and we went over the river to the US Marine Corps Memorial.  She couldn’t believe how big it was—she thought it was much, much smaller.  She walked all around it and took lots of pictures.

P1130453Then we hopped into the car and went over the a local McDonald’s that was just closing, so that was a bust.  We then went to a 24 hour CVS and grabbed some food.  Kristin grabbed a chicken sandwich, half of which I found on the counter the next morning and she declared it, “not very good”.  So that kind of sucked for her!   I resolved to make a big meal for her Tuesday night and made a big pot of spaghetti sauce and pasta, of which she ate 3 helpings, plus 3 slices of Texas toast, so I’ve hit on a winner there, far more than pork chops :)

Wednesday night, her liaison came over to see her when I sounded the alarm about everything going on.  They had a very nice time, making pizza and playing with April’s dogs and I had asked April to try and find out how Kristin was really feeling about the situation with our house, but really she had no complaints apparently and April asked us to just relax a bit and let things happen.  But she also did talk to Kristin about the importance of coming out of her room a bit!

So yesterday (Thursday) was supposed to be her school registration appointment, but that got cancelled.  I feel bad for this poor kid—we were supposed to go up to Skyline Drive Wednesday, but that got cancelled because my friend got sick.  I was hoping she’d get to go hang out with this girl from the high school that I met via one of Penny’s friends, but that is postponed till next week because that girl’s mom is out of town.  We’ve spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for clean up crews and insurance adjustors and whatnot, and yesterday came home to wait for the clean up crew only to have them call and cancel at 4pm! 

So I was really feeling pretty grim, but it was then that Kristin decided to spend the day hanging out with us.  We went over to my friend Jacalyn’s house for a little while and then we came home and had lunch and I put Leah down for a nap.  Kristin and I sat and looked over the school website for a few minutes, and I had asked her several times if she wanted to check her email or her Facebook, but she always said no.  She was just kind of playing with the school website, so I said, “You know what, I’m going to go sit in the living room and read my book.  If you need anything, holler.”  And she said, “Can I upload my pictures?”  I told her to go ahead and go crazy, and she spent several hours online, I think emailing and Facebooking and whatever else.  During that time, my neighbor’s daughter called and asked her if she wanted to spend Monday going to lunch and doing some shopping, and she was so happy and decided to take her up on it.  So she has that to look forward to.  She watched Tangled twice with Leah, and even let me leave Leah here when I went to pick Mike up from the train.

Mike decided on the way home that we would play Yahtzee after dinner, and so we introduced her to the wonderful world of Yahtzee, which she lost, but which was a lot of fun and broke the ice in many ways.  Last year, I became very friendly with many host moms, as I’ve said, and one of them said to me yesterday, “Ask her what she needs to be comfortable.”  So as we sat down to play, I said, “Well, Kristin, it’s been a week now, and it’s been a hard week.  To be honest, all I’ve done this week is cry and I know it hasn’t been easy on you either.  So what can we do to make you more comfortable here?”  She said, “Nothing really, I am just fine.”  So again we thanked her for her patience, which she kind of shushed off.  Then all of a sudden, she jumped up and ran to her room and came back and said, “I forgot!  I brought you volcanic rock.” and gave us a pretty awesome rock.  She said, “I hiked all the way to the top of the volcano to get this for you” and my eyes must have gotten big because she started laughing and said, “No, not really, I drove up and got it!”  She started joking around with us a lot after that and it turns out she has a pretty wicked sense of humor!  Then she asked if I’d like to see the Icelandic alphabet, which I did, and she wrote it out.  I got her a copy of the Braille alphabet and some writing that she and Mike had worked on together and wrote out what it said for her so she had that, and we had fun making Mike and me pronounce words in Icelandic and her laughing about it, as well as us laughing about Icelandic names like “Brinhyldur” which is really not even close to anything common here in the US. 

It was a really lovely evening, a major icebreaker for us all, and really a balm to the soul after what we’ve been through.  I’m very excited to have done it and excited for the weekend.  Tonight I’m taking her to see Barenaked Ladies at Celebrate Virginia live, and being that she has never been to a concert before, I’m pretty excited about that one as I think it’ll be an awesome experience for her.  Tomorrow we will go to a “slumber party” without sleeping over at my friend Melissa’s house, which will be a lot of fun.  Sunday she wants to Skype with her family, which is fine, and Monday she will go out with Katie.  Tuesday is my birthday and we will FINALLY get to go to her school appointment!  And then we’ll see what the rest of next week brings.  I am very optimistic that this is going to work out just fine. :)


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Two Days Down

P1130325 We arrived at 2pm on Friday for our host family orientation.  It was a crazy morning—me trying to get a lot done, then picking Leah up at my friend’s house, picking up Mike at the train before finally getting to the church.  The orientation was fine—us and one other family—and was over by 3pm.  Since we and that family had a long way to go back home, they offered us our kids early, so we accepted and they brought Kristin out to meet us.  We had Leah stand with the other family’s kids and hold the teddy bear we’d made, and she seemed charmed enough when she saw Leah standing there.  We took a quick picture and hit the road.

Something was in the air this weekend in DC, because traffic was absolutely awful Friday and Saturday.  It took us 2 hours to get home, which sucked.  It was shades of last year all over again.  I really wish something could be done about the traffic in the area.  We ordered our traditional “welcome to the family” pizza from Domino’s and then put Leah to bed afterwards.  We chatted with Kristin (as she has decided to be called, pronounced “Christine” but much easier on Americans than whatever her first name is—having heard her pronounce it 4 or 5 times, I still can’t say it!”) for a while, everything went very well, but she was clearly tired and decided to go to bed.

P1130330 The next morning, I had plans to go to lunch with friends, and had invited Kristin to come with me, but she overslept.  When I came home after sitting in traffic ANOTHER 2 HOURS, it was to a total disaster zone—an upstairs toilet had overflowed, and neither Mike nor Kristin could figure out how to shut off.  The water leaked down into the finished basement of the house, and they managed to call the neighbor who helped shut it off and start the clean up, but I still called 911 and had the firemen come in to check the area.  Our ceiling was punched in and partially pulled down, and there was water everywhere.  Welcome to America!

We decided to go out thereafter and show Kristin the town.  While I was out, she had asked Mike could she go for a walk, thinking she could just walk wherever she needs to go.  Kristin is from a very small island off the coast of Iceland, population about 500 people.  They walk everywhere.  She is also able to drive.  So I think she is going to be mourning a lot of her independence in a big city without good transportation and nothing really close enough to get to.

So I drove her over to see the high school and the football stadium, then we took her to old town, Central Park, Wegman’s, the mall, all of that fun stuff.  We got home and I called our neighbors to see if I could throw in a load of towels at their house.  I took Kristin down to meet them and she was very happy, as they have dogs and she LOVES dogs. 

My sister came down afterwards and we had a welcome bbq of sorts—it was raining and gross out, so we cooked out and ate inside.  We tried out some kind of a fish thing that Kristin brought with her from Iceland.  It is a dried fish and you put it in butter and then eat it.  It’s kind of like fish jerky.  It wasn’t so bad, really, but Leah want crazy for it.  She ate 3 or 4 pieces!  I couldn’t get over it.

P1130342 P1130331 P1130336

P1130343 Afterwards, we taught Kristin Skip Bo and then it was pretty much that we were all tired.  My mom called and I cried, we let Kristin go on Skype for a bit with her family, and then we all went to bed.

Today she spent most of the day in her room.  We got her out of there this afternoon to have a chat with the host family questionnaire and that seemed to go very well, except she really doesn’t want to call us anything except “Susan and Mike” which is not acceptable.  I gave her a brief lesson on American coins and she showed us some money from Iceland. 

After we did that, I showed her the stereo and the TV, and then she went back upstairs till we got her out with a trip to the mall.  We gave her almost 2 hours there and she enjoyed doing some shopping, and said everything is quite cheap.

Afterwards, we went over to Panera and got dinner and then went to Hurkamp Park, where there was supposed to be a “Name that DIsney Tune” concert by a local orchestra, but they never showed up!  So I loaded us into the car and we drove the battlefield and I showed her some more historic monuments in town before coming home and everyone turning in for the night.


The first days kinda suck, especially if your student is an introvert, which both of ours have been.  I find it helps to keep them busy and on the go, forgetting about sitting around.  Tomorrow I will call the school so we can plan for that, and I do have to wait for the electrician, cleaning crew, and insurance adjustor to make contact, but if they all plan to come tomorrow then tomorrow night we will go to DC to see the monuments.  That will be a lot of fun for her, I know, as she has loved taking pictures of the ones in the ‘Burg.  I hope to have something fun to do every day.  I recently found out that she likes go karting and laser tag, so I’ll put that into the schedule. I just want her to be happy for the short time we’re together and I hope she’ll come out of her room and meet us halfway!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


This time tomorrow, we will have picked Gudrun up, God willing managed to get home, and everyone will be snugly in bed, dreaming only good things.

I have to make a confession:  I hate the first couple of days.  Everyone’s a little off balance, everyone is kind of feeling each other out, no one is quite sure of one another.  It’s painful.  This year, I’m prepared.

Saturday, I am giving Gudrun the option to come with me to brunch with some girlfriends.  Saturday night, my sister will be down with her kids for a good ole fashioned American cook out.  Sunday we will discuss the family questionnaire and I found out about a free concert of Disney music at Hurkamp Park, so we’re going to pack a picnic and go out there after taking her around to see the town.

I’m making lists of possible activities.  I’ve spoken with teenagers—I hit the jackpot with Michelle, a girl with a car who has offered to take Gudrun to new student orientation and show her around the high school.  Concert tickets procured for Friday night.  Although I had no plan to do so, I have been cleaning the house.  Hurricane Leah is up north with my friend, Melissa, and that gave me free reign to do a lot more cleaning—the car is virtually spotless.  I hauled my shop vac out to the driveway—Go me!  I’ve vacuumed, folded a couple of loads of laundry, done the dishes, and picked up the chaos.  In the morning, I will finish laundry, run to the grocery store, mop floors and run our old printer out to the dump to the electronics recycling program—our new printer was installed today.  I chatted with Gudrun last night and she kindly assured me that as she has a younger brother at home, it is not usually the case that her own house is clean all the time.

But of course, I want her to like us and like it here.  The rational part of my brain reminds me that a clean house doesn’t mean someone’s going to like me or not like me.  But I feel it betters my chances.

I’m trying to remain calm.  I know this is only a temporary situation, but I seem to be the same bundle of nerves and excitement that I was a year ago at this time.  She and her family seem quite nice and down-to-earth and I alternate between abject terror that this kid from Europe is going to hate us and a weird kind of quiet confidence that we’re all going to do fine.  I guess tomorrow we’ll see the beginnings of which is which!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Welcome Gifts

I knew I would want to bring something with us to meet Gudrun on Friday, and I figured I should put something together based for her to come home to, based on a lot of conversations last year.  I was so nervous with Penny that I wound up taking everything with me and kind of throwing it at her.

This year, I wanted to be a little bit more sensible.  I got Gudrun the same welcome gift I got Penny—Leah and I went to Build-A-Bear and made a bear for her.  Leah got to be much more hands on this time—she picked the bear out, stood on the stuffing pedal and put the stuffing into it, added the heart and picked out the “clothing” which in this case was a bandana.  I broke out the Cricut again and made a “Welcome Gudrun” flag, Mike having selected the “Welcome” sticker over a Statue of Liberty sticker.  I got a cheap bag of small flags at Hobby Lobby and voila!  We have ourselves something to bring with us Friday.  Cute, eh?  (For the record, Thailand and Iceland and the US all have red, white, and blue flags.  I’m thinking this could be our hosting theme from here out—Australia, New Zealand, France, Norway, Chile…  Sorry, Canada and Japan, you’re each one short.  Too bad!)

P1130318I also picked up a few things to make a welcome basket for her. This will be sitting on her desk with a card when she arrives.  I went to a few different places to get these things and wound up with:

P1130316A Stafford High T-shirt, tissues, gum, a neat international travel journal and pen, sunscreen, fun socks, DC travel guide, and rubber bands for her hair that are shaped like a lollipop.   I put it all together and voila, a welcome basket!

P1130317So now the details are out of the way in terms of having things ready—her room is clean, the bathroom cabinet is cleaned out as is her sink, we know where we have to be and when.  

I suppose I’m getting a little bit more and more excited as we get closer to Friday.  I’ve got a to-do list going, and we’re working our way through it bit by bit.  I’ve taught Leah how to say Gudrun, and she’s doing quite well at it, so that’s a lot of fun.  Other than that, we’re more or less where we need to be!  Here’s hoping Friday goes well!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Day of Information!

Well, what a day today has been!  We heard back from Gudrun today and she informed us she is leaving Iceland on Wednesday, but beyond that, she didn’t know when she would meet us.  She wrote, “I've been really nervous these last days because I hadn't had a family so I'm also were glad, relieved and excited to finally hear from you!”  Her main thing she wants to do is a trip to New York City (of course), so I’ve sent her the cost of a train ticket so she and her parents can consider this and I am mentally preparing myself for that trip again.  It was a 24 hour odyssey with Penny, and I was exhausted for a couple of days afterwards.  But I’ll probably do it anyway.

We got both a phone call and an email from our area team and our liaison tonight that we will be picking Gudrun up at 4pm Friday afternoon.  While it’s kind of cool to meet her so quickly (seriously, we must be setting a land speed record here!), it’s also the absolute worst time to have to go to Northern Virginia and then try to battle our way home again.  Ugh.  It was the same with Penny, and it took us over 2 hours to get home that night, with a  screaming toddler and an exhausted teenager in the car.  We have tried to prepare Gudrun by explaining it’s likely to be a long ride, but I don’t know that there’s anything to prepare someone for it, particularly in light of the fact that as I mentioned, Iceland is a small country both population-wise AND area-wise.  This might well be the most cars she’s ever seen in one place!

Additionally, since I flat out refused to go to host family orientation today due to having a ton of homework still to complete, we will have to go up a bit early and have our orientation then.  State Department regulations insist, even though it seems silly, given that we were hosting less than 2 months ago!

Our liaison also informed us that the “D” in Gudrun’s name is pronounced “th”.  So her name is kind of like Katherine.  Given that both my and Leah’s middle name is Katherine, I’m quite happy about this, it seems like a nice omen.

I also managed to complete and submit my issues paper today, so that’s one less thing to worry about.  I need to finish my reflection paper and then I am officially done with my first class at library school, unless I totally screw up, in which case I would have to take this class over again and there is NO WAY that’s happening!

I also contacted one of Penny’s friends at the high school, who put me in touch with a friend of hers who is quite interested in many of the same things that Gudrun is.  I plan to have them meet up sometime next week after Gudrun’s jet lag wears off.  Also in the works are registration for school, and the school’s new student orientation.  This time last year, I was in an arm brace that made me look like the Terminator, and which seriously limited the amount of activity I could really do.  I’m so glad I’ll have much more flexibility for the next 3 weeks with Gudrun.  It should make having a busy and active teen easier!

I didn’t have to do much to the guest room to make it ready, so here’s a picture of the room just in case you want to know what it looks like:


I spent some time today making a little flag for Gudrun’s welcome gift.  Leah and I will go to Build-A-Bear this week and make her a little welcome bear, to which we will attach the flag along with a small American flag.  We will also work on a welcome gift for her, but I haven’t thought of what that will be yet. 

It’s interesting how much more relaxed I am this time around.  I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve already hosted once or that we are only a welcome family or what.  I think back to this time last year—I had the rugs professionally cleaned, I had the car detailed, I was buying “meaningful” gifts left and right, killing myself, really.  Now I’m just sort of “Eh, whatever”.  I want her to have an amazing experience and be happy here, but my frame of mind is more that we are who we are, and so be it. 

So that’s where we are, T-5 days until we’re a family of 4 again.  We’ll see how it goes!  On the plus side, as I said, I’m not in a brace, I’m not building furniture, and I’m not killing myself over little details.  Score one for experience!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Info About Iceland

So, last year, I did a little comparison of Thailand and the US, side by side.  I thought it would be similarly interesting to do so about the US and Iceland.  Ok, so here we go:

Capital Cities:
US:  Washington DC
Iceland: Reykjavik

US:  310.2 million
Iceland:  308,910

(To put this into some perspective, there are just under 600,000 official residents of Washington DC, more than the entire population of Iceland!)

Monetary Units:
US:  Dollar
Iceland: Krona

The exchange rate today is $1 = 116.070 ISK.

Life Expectancy:
US:  76 (male), 81 (female)
Iceland: 79 (male), 83 (female)

Iceland has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world.

Time Difference:
Iceland is 4 hours ahead of the US.

US: The 4th largest country in the world
Iceland:  The 2nd largest island in Europe.  Iceland averages a volcanic eruption every 5 years.

Iceland is 39,768 square miles.  Our home state of Virginia is 42,774 Square miles.

US:  Democratic Federal Republic
Iceland:  Constitutional Republic

US:  Barack Obama
Iceland: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

Presidents in both countries serve a 4 year term.

I’ve added a little sidebar yonder -----> with the flag and some of these facts.  I learned a lot with a quick Google search and hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It’s Official!

New Picture We officially got our student’s information today, and we are officially a welcome family!!  We will be welcoming Gudrun from Iceland sometime this month!  I’m still not exactly sure when—during our family interview it was looking like the end of August, but a recent email from our AT makes it sound like it’ll be next week.  Holy cow!  We will have a lot to do if it’s next week, particularly as I will be finishing up my schoolwork from my recent “library boot camp” class in Arizona!  I got home yesterday and found out last night that pick up day APPEARS to be August 12th.  Well, life is never dull!

Anyway, I’ve just fired off my first email to her, and hopefully we’ll hear back from her in the next couple of days and be able to find out what kinds of things she likes and wants to do, eat, and see.  We were quite lucky to have a couple of months with Penny, the idea that we might have just a week with Gudrun is a bit scary and exhilarating at the same time!

If you are still on the fence about hosting or being a welcome family, the last we heard, there are still hundreds of kids who need homes!  Please go to AFS USA and click on “host a student” today!

Tomorrow I will post something about Iceland, since I have a lot to learn about it!  Mike and I both had students from Iceland in our schools, but I never knew the one at my school, and he is wracking his brain to remember the one at his.  I’m excited about having been matched with a student from someplace new again.  Thailand was an adventure, and I’m sure Iceland will be too!