Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve in Seattle

By the time y'all be reading this, it'll be Christmas but here's to say that on Saturday, Veeka weathered the 5-hour flight from Washington, Washington very well. We count ourselves VERY fortunate we did not book a flight through Chicago but instead spent zillions of dollars for direct flights to the Emerald City. Believe it or not, today was SUNNY in Seattle. Amazing.
Tomorrow all the relatives descend and Our Little One will be dressed in a lovely green velvet dress from Talbots, courtesy of Oma. Oma and Opa are experiencing the constant antics of Miss Veeka, who just got spanked for standing on the couch and hanging over a 10-foot drop down the stairwell leading to the den. Miss Veeka in turn is delighting in all the wonderful food to be had here, as she doesn't get near that kind of abundance at home.
Dinner is a'beckoning. Must go. For those of you with spare time, please do check out the last 2 days (Dec. 23 and 24) Washington Times when I've had articles on A1 both days. Today, my piece on atheists *banners* the top; yesterday my piece on a child with SMA - a horrific form of muscular atrophy, took up much the front page. And the WTimes blog has a photo of Veeka at the Indian embassy where she was also a hit. Our Veeka. A socialite.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Third Saturday of Advent

Tomorrow we light that special pink candle that belongs to the 3rd Sunday of Advent. As the weather gets colder, we enter Veeka's natural habitat of the southwestern Siberian plain where she was born. Must say I am glad I am not making that trip again any time soon. I think she is half Japanese though: she loves hot, hot baths. She tries to get into the hot tub with me when I am at the exercise club and the lifeguard yells at us both.
She likes hair driers too, as you can see from the photo.
Veeka is gaining words fast now. She can say "one" and "two" and "Opa" (sorry, not Oma yet) and "yes" ("es" it sounds like) and even a "tank u!" Wow. Now if I can get her to say "please." Her aunt Susan taught her how to say "apple" in September so she's good at that one.
My religion blog on the Times' web site is doing well. I am making it edgy, which helps in retaining readers. Most religion blogs try so hard not to be offensive, they are boooooring.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Veeka at the Kazakh embassy

Last Wednesday it was a snowy evening with nightmare traffic but were we inside, roasting chestnuts over an open fire? NO. We were driving about town, attending the annual Kazakh Independence Day reception at the Kazakh embassy on 16th St. just down from the White House. There our Little One greeted the new ambassador Erlan Idrissov (shown here holding my squirmy child). Unlike the previous ambassador, this one actually speaks good English!
Then Veeka went to listen to two musicians in native costume serenade the guests. There was a sumptuous banquet set out BUT we had to hold onto our little girl quite tightly as we didn't want her pulling on a table cloth and sending wine glasses flying. Her little hands were already busily grabbing tomatoes and cheese blocks off the plates as quickly as she could. Fortunately she was not tall enough to spot the caviar.
Kazakhstan Independence Day is officially on Dec. 16 but that is a Sunday and no one is in town that day. They broke free 16 years ago from Russia.
This is the season for Christmas parties here in Washington and Veeka is usually the belle of the ball. She attended a fete Saturday night on Capitol Hill where, with cookies in both hands, she charmed everyone all evening long. She even gamely put up with a flat tire her mommy got on the way home.

Monday, December 3, 2007

my new blog - I think

Folks: Today I began my new religion blog at the Washington Times. You can access it through this URL: but usually you can find it on the blogs list on our "front" page on the Washington Times site. There seems to be some technical probs getting it up, plus it was supposed to be on the main page for the first week, at least. So use that URL until you hear differently! Am also posting one of my new "mug shots" for the blog.
Last night, Veeka and I lit the first Advent candle on the wreath with Stephanie as a guest at our dinner table. And Veeka, who sometimes has a tough time taking on new words, took all of five minutes to learn how to say "cookie," especially after I baked her a batch yesterday.
That was during one of her more angelic moments. These days she's very Two: knocking down the baby gate, rifling through my purse and tossing my cell phone down the steps. She's hidden one of her library books and some lipstick she found in my purse. And at 4 a.m. today, I was awakened by a little tousled head, that, like a submarine periscope, slowly rose from beside my bed to hover above my sleeping form. My disgusted cats jumped off and she, of course, climbed in.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Caring for the octopus

Actually, Miss Veeka is an active quadriped with all four extremities going at once but in terms of managing all the activity, she is my little octopus. For instance, this morning, I was too groggy to snuggle with her in bed SO she jumped out, bounced down the steps, ran into the kitchen, pushed the little stepladder/chair to the counter, climbed up, got a bowl out of one cabinet, found the cereal box in the other, poured the cereal into the bowl and was chowing down when I found her.
The photo shows her at her desk job whenever she can get a seat at the computer. The kitty just takes it in.
Her vocabulary is improving. She likes to carry about a photo of Opa seated with a kitty he found in Jerusalem so I tell her to put "Opa" back on the shelf. She confuses this with "Baba," the Bulgarian word for "grandmother" that she uses at the daycare. She is now saying "OK" and has even come up with a two-syllable "thank you" when in the mood.
Yesterday she charmed the folks at Safeway into giving her not one but two free balloons. She just waves and blows kisses and everyone melts.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank heaven for little girls

Isn't that the name of some Broadway song somewhere? Anyway, as I write this, the ever-busy Veeka is taking a nap, giving me a few minutes of respite. Which I don't get much these days, especially since I moved her into a bed. This may have been a very premature decision as she has now taken to getting out and showing up at my bed at all hours of the night. I know, put up a baby gate at the entrance to her room, right? Well, it's not so easy as that. When she sees such a detour, a wail goes up calculated to wake the dead, or at least me.
But I am thankful. Thankful that this year, I am not encircling the endless question of "should I adopt?" That decision was made and result is finally at home with me. Every Thanksgiving morning, I get out my special Thanksgiving book that I write in once a year to list all the things that have happened in the past year to give thanks for. There is always quite a list: people who've popped up to help at the last minute; a business trip that took me to Seattle, a finished manuscript, the works.
And next week I will be premiering a religion blog on the WTimes web site. I think I can offer more learned discourse and edgy observations than does Sally Quinn and her "On Faith" blog across town.
So today I offer thanks for little girls and furry kitties (including the one purring on my lap), the balmy warm weather and fabulously colorful leaves we have in the Washington area this year. Quelle plaisir!
And yes, that is a copy of the South Beach diet book Veeka is holding there.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Veeka gets a bed

Well, it was about time to switch her from crib to bed, although I'm already regretting it. A pro-life group I knew of needed cribs tout de suite, so I figured that at age 2.5, Veeka was ready to get a little girl bed. Not only that, but some friends had an extra one they wanted to give me.
Soooo, we switched over Sunday and nearly every night now, I have to chase the Little One back into bed. She *loves* her new freedom and the chance to rip apart her bedroom in under 5 minutes. Even if I put up the baby gate at the door, that still gives her free range of her room where she is happy to wreak maximum mess. The crib was easier. The photo you see here shows her in bed but that is an illusion.
This week has been busy work-wise with my driving to Baltimore to cover the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (imagine rooms and hallways filled with 300 men dressed in black), then on Wednesday I switched to the Fairfax (Va.) County courthouse where I am covering the biggest property trial in Episcopal Church history. I know - or know of - most of the people who have taken the stand thus far and today was pretty wild with the testimony of the presiding bishop who was taped last month. My articles should stay on the WTimes web site for at least a week (no, we do not have a good archive, unfortunately) so read them now.
Unfortunately the courthouse will not let me bring in my laptop (as it has a camera attached to the lid that I do not even know how to work.) So I spend my lunch hours at the local Panera which has free wireless, sending emails on what my story will be about. Then late in the afternoon I dash back to the restaurant to type and file my story. Essentially the Diocese of Virginia and the national Episcopal Church are suing 11 churches that left a year ago (over a gay bishop and major theological differences) and the costs for all this are running in the millions. I hae never covered a court case this long (six days) but I am enjoying being out of the office and on assignment.
And the best news is this: This afternoon, I handed in the last few chapters of my book manuscript! Free at last ! Free at last! Great God Almighty, free at last!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Autumn rain

That's what it's doing outside, dripping from the sky. I suppose folks from Atlanta wish they could have the same wet weather.
The photo shows Veeka and I dancing at a Greek festival in Seattle. We looked like that last night when I put on "Joyful Mysteries," a beautiful CD of piano music by Mary Lyman Jackson and Veeka and I danced to it.
As the year gets later and darker, the commute home becomes worse and worse. I used to be able to leave at 5 and be at the daycare just before 6. Now I am usually 10 minutes late at least. The traffic in recent weeks has been horrible. It's the worst part of my day.
I am in the last few days of getting a large book manuscript together. Wednesday is the deadline and I'm up late each night working on it, which makes me even more exhausted each morning. It's also a busy time work-wise; I will be in Baltimore the first part of this week covering the U.S. Catholic bishops' annual meeting (driving through 2 rush hours to get there and back is a real joy as well), then I head down to the Fairfax County courthouse to cover a huge trial with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia suing a group of 11 churches that have pulled out of the denomination. I'll have an article in Monday's paper that explains it all.
Anyway I've lined up 2 babysitters this weekend to help with Veeka's care. It will be a tiring weekend, followed by an exhausting week. The good part will be getting that second half of my book advance.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Our little unicorn

Veeka really enjoyed her first Halloween. Just getting her to stop eating candy was quite a job. Here she has just polished off a red lollipop before she models her cute little unicorn outfit, purchased by the Vuotos in Canada. Her little arms are attached to wings on the back and she loved dashing about with her rainbow-colored horse's tail.
Her mommy is in the end stages of writing a book, the final chapters of which are due Nov. 15. So we are lining up babysitters both weekends so I can write! Two of the chapters are partly written; one has all the notes assembled and the last is ...hopeless! Well, not quite but it's the conclusion of the book which I have yet to think through. Of course this all has to be fit in around Veeka's schedule and my full-time job where I have also have a huge project I'd like to complete by Nov. 9.
Not to mention physical therapy for the frozen shoulder I got this summer that resulted from muscle strain in lifting Veeka. It never rains, but...
Happy All Saints and All Souls Days, y'all.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October sunshine

OK, I know we're having a drought here on the east coast, but it's been the most gorgeous October - warm weather in the 70s constantly and golden days with clear blue skies. The last 2 weekends have been spent visiting Virginia wineries near Leesburg and out by Front Royal. The latter group have the best views of the Shenandoah Valley and lots of gorgeous blue ridges parading off into the horizon. Probably the best was Fox Meadow Winery in Linden where I met a couple and their mom on the deck outside the tasting room. Their 20-month-old took up with Veeka and they invited me to sit at their table and down some white wine while the kids played, leaving us in peace for a few blessed moments as the sun slowly set, turning the landscape golden.
Virginia, for those of you who do not know, is the nation's fifth largest winery state after California, Washington, Oregon and New York. Who knew?
When not downing Merlot or Chardonnay, I am swamped with 2 book deadlines. Friday is the deadline for a chapter I am contributing to a book on Iraqi Kurdistan. And then there's four more chapters I am slaving away at for my leaving church book, all due before Nov. 15. It's a ton of work, while at the same time working full-time and also looking after The Moppet.
Speaking of which, she is fine. A speech therapist meets with her weekly but progress is slow. Did you realize you cannot *make* a 2-year-old say anything? The photo is her with John Yates, one of the pastors at Shrinemont, who could not resist putting our little bundle onto his lap.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Veeka turns 2 1/2

Yep, it's been six months the moppet had her birthday party. Her latest accomplishment: figuring out zippers. Now she can get into Mommy's purse! Hopefully we can get started on potty training; at this point she should be ready for it but as you all know, forcing the issue is not helpful. Anyone with ideas please send them here. She was somewhat potty-trained at the orphanage so I am going to do what they did; after every meal, she will have a session on that little pink seat. Hopefully she will get the hint. It's been suggested I pour water down her little throat to, um, speed the process up in terms of it coming out the other end. Well, trying to make Veeka eat or drink anything she doesn't want to makes for one glorious food fight.
Her little attention span is slowly growing. She's taking more of an interest in crayons and coloring books instead of just tossing the crayons across the table. She also opening books on her own and wanting me to sing the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to her. "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" is also a popular choice.
I met a woman today at the post office who suggested that Veeka's slowness in talking may have to do with her tongue muscles not being as developed as kids who had more time breastfeeding or with a bottle. So it's just harder for her to shape the words. Sooooo, I bought some lollipops for her today to build up that muscle! That's the kind of exercise Veeka likes.
The photo is of Veeka charming one of the Shrinemont gardeners.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shrinemont redux

When we signed off last time, I was in Kansas City juggling a rainy day, little Miss Veeka and an assignment to cover a pro-immigration demonstration. The first photo is of Veeka pushing a toy vacuum cleaner at the coolest kids' furniture store. She stayed amused for awhile, which was fortunate as it was raining a lot. Then she napped, the babysitter arrived on time (I found her through the hotel) and I wended my way through southern Kansas City to arrive at this demonstration near one of the main freeways. Other than the fact I was quite cold, it was all quite interesting and a great way to finish up my trip.
We are now back here although this past weekend I went on a church retreat to a lovely Episcopal place called Shrinemont, located in Orkney Springs in the mountains just before the West Virginia state line. Veeka charmed everyone and, after her nap, I thought I'd take her partway up the nearby mountain, thinking she would want to walk a little bit on the path up. The path ran through the Stations of the Cross and by the second station, our little princess decided she could care less about the acorns and the birds; she just wanted to be carried. So I lugged my 22-pound bundle all the way to the summit. So the next photo is of a very sweaty me with a relaxed Veeka. Lastly, Veeka is one for grabbing the spotlight whenever she can. She also loves music so when she saw this kid playing the piano, she ran up, sat on the bench beside him whether he wanted her there or not and started "helping" him to play. So, yes, music lessons are in her future.
As for me, I have a book manuscript deadline this week - three-quarters of it needs to be handed in by Wednesday so I am signing off so I can work!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kansas City welcomes Veeka

One may read this and say, "Kansas City?!" Yes, I am writing from KC, having spent the past 11 days in Seattle or LA chasing down the series I am doing on the new sanctuary movement. Those were 3 adventurous days in LA, interviewing all sorts of immigrants; each one of them a compelling story, who are on the threshold of deportation; who have lots of family here and who want to stay but who, for various reasons, are about to be thrown out of the country. Probably the most dramatic visit was our last one to Liliana, a very telegenic immigrant camping out at a church in Simi Valley, just down the road from the Ronald Reagan library. Just 8 days ago on a Sunday, about 100 Minutemen surrounded this church and tried drowning out the service by shouting on bull horns. A group of counter-demonstrators added to the noise and confusion, bringing police by the truckload to the church.
The following Wednesday when Allison-the-photographer and I pulled up to the church, we found everything in much confusion there as the local paper had that morning announced that the city was going to bill *the church* for 100s of hours of manpower (they said) were spent on defending the church from the Minutemen. You'd think they'd bill the folks who started the demonstration but no, the city blamed the church and was about to send them a bill for 40K. It's sort of like billing President Bush for police costs associated with demonstrations across the street at Lafayette Park.
So the poor pastor and several other people were tearing out their hair about this; meanwhile Allison and I finally found Liliana and had a great interview. Then it was back down the freeway to LA, a city where the drivers NEVER use turn signals, never let you in and are utter slobs - the freeways were filthy. Interspersed with my work duties, I managed to see a few friends, fortunately. All while I was down there, Oma and Opa were babysitting Miss Veeka and enjoying it, as far as I can tell. In fact, she behaved far better with them than with me. Guess it's that deep voice Opa has.
Then over the weekend came a surprise visit from Gail, a longtime Portland friend who at the last minute took the train up to see Veeka. She is pictured reading to Our Little Girl. And of course we had to take her on a Washington state ferry. Gail and I spent Saturday taking her to see a friend in Bremerton, so that's Seattle you see in the background of the window in which Veeka is sitting.
But all good times must end, so after a family gathering Sunday night, I was up at 4:20 a.m. to get Veeka and I to the airport. Fortunately there were lots of nice people who helped me with the suitcases and stroller, as I was overwhelmed. And, from the front, here's my assessment of plane rides with Veeka - ugh. It was pretty miserable. She was very noisy on the flight to Salt Lake, then dropped off to sleep just as the plane was landing! The flight to KC was far worse; she shrieked nearly the whole time and I just ran out of things to do to amuse her. I could not shut her up; so I threw a blanket over her at least to muffle the sound.
Well..I finally got here and now we are staying at a super nice hotel and she is blessedly asleep. We went out to dinner with one of my sources in the Plaza area of KC - a very decent district with cutsie Spanish/Mediterranean decor, like a poor man's West Palm Beach - and Veeka behaved most of the time until the exhaustion set in and she began to wail. *not* recommend taking kids on business trips. Tomorrow a babysitter will show up - for a very pricey fee - to take care of the munchkin while I cover a vigil and demonstration. Then - home!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sleepless in Seattle

The jet lag has been really tough to beat this time around, plus Our Little Pumpkin has been rising bright and early cerca 5:30 a.m. This morning she slept in til 7, so slowly we are adjusting although she was waking me up the first two nights or so.
She has, of course, charmed everyone, beginning with Oma and Opa, of whom I've included a photo of Veeka watching open-mouthed as Opa demonstrates his shaving abilities with Oma reflected in the mirror. Must say she doesn't get that at home. Plus the yummy food - we have eaten our way through 2 of Oma's pies and today we visited St. Mark's Cathedral where Miss Veeka charmed everyone in sight. Unfortunately the weather has not been cooperative; mid-60s at best so yours truly has been cold and has had to borrow Oma's clothes. But Veeka has been in her element, sniffing Opa's roses (2nd photo) and taking possession of Opa's stuffed kitty cat.
I've had an interesting time of it interviewing folks in Seattle and south King County on the sanctuary movement and tomorrow I fly to California for 3 days of non-stop interviews plus a few quick meetings with friends in the area. Am trusting that California will be a LOT warmer than here. The plane ride here, btw, was not too bad; Veeka napped part of the way between Baltimore and Minneapolis; but she was awake the entire time between Minneapolis and Seattle and she let me know how bored she was many times. While I am zipping around LA, she will be happily esconced with Oma and Opa who believe me, will be more than pooped after 3 days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Veeka heads for Seattle

Yes, folks, her mom snagged a business trip to Seattle and the LA area so the relatives will help look after Olivia Veronika while I run around and interview folks involved in the "new sanctuary" movement. That's churches that are sheltering illegal immigrants - a descendant of the 1980s sanctuary movement that moved lots of Central American refugees around the States just head of "la Migra." So by the time you are reading this on Thursday the 13th, we'll be in the air hopefully enjoying an event-free flight. Am praying the little one does not throw a fit on both flights (we change in Minneapolis) and I am taking the car seat along to make sure she stays put. She does love to wander...
The photo shows Veeka on a dawn walk to the beach at Bethany Beach in Delaware. We just had a great weekend there - fantastic weather - and THEN, at 5:45 a.m. Monday, my phone rang. My daycare provider told me she was desperately sick and had no backup. So I was on my own regarding my little 28-month-old. I called 1-2 folks but no one can babysit on only 4 hours notice, I learned. I did get one friend to watch her for about 90 minutes while I fulfilled a doctor's appointment, but then Veeka was back in my car headed off to the Washington Times newsroom.
She pretty much charmed everyone there, took a 2-hour nap and was fine til about 4:30 when she began getting a bit fussy. I managed to quiet her down pretty much. And wouldn't you know it, some doofus across the newsroom who wanted to stay anonymous complained to the features editor who came to my boss and so at 5 p.m. I was told I needed to take Veeka home. How sad - the TWT newsroom has TVs blaring, people swearing and loudly ranting and someone is bugged by a kid?!
That killjoy coworker should be glad he/she didn't have my assignment today which was to show up at a press conference on Capitol Hill filled with Latino families with tons of kids all asking for decent immigration law. You've never seen such a raucous press conference filled with chants in Spanish and catcalls of one type or another. Plus nearly everyone there dressed *down* for some reason; a lot of folks looked one step from being homeless, which is not the kind of dress code one usually sees in the Rayburn building.
The high point of that gathering was when Saul Arellano, 8, led about 200 of us through the hallways to Nancy Pelosi's office. It was near-riot conditions; lots of folks shouting slogans in Spanish; kids hoisting signs saying "Born in the USA - Don't take my mommy and daddy away" and the like. Saul's mom, Elvira Arellano, got deported Aug. 19 after she hid in a church for a year claiming sanctuary, so Saul is the new immigration icon. The idea was to take a large letter and make out like the Wittenburg Door of 1531 - nail it to Nancy Pelosi's office door. The missive demanded the Democrats do better on immigration reform.
However, when this ragtag army showed up at Nancy's place at the Cannon House Office Building, there were already 40 anti-war protestors having a sit-in inside the Pelosi palace so the Hispanics had to be content with standing outside in the hallway and shouting slogans at earsplitting levels. Poor little Saul just stood there, unable to get through to the door (which a security guard slammed shut on us all). I was crammed against the door with several other journos wedged between it and the TV cameras. Finally someone *taped* the letter (this is after all the 21st century) to the door at which everyone let out mammoth cheers. At the same time, 6 Capitol Hill police showed up, ready to arrest everyone.
Well, my story on it all is in the Sept. 13 TWT if you want to read more of this drama. But I stayed late at work putting that together, then coming home to PACK. And now we are off early Thursday and soon I will post answers to your questions. Like, how will Veeka survive 12 days without a kitty? How will Oma and Opa survive multi hours with a 2-year-old? Which one of Oma's treasures will Veeka break first? Stay tuned to our adventures in this newest episode of "Veeka Does Seattle."

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Veeka gets a 529

Well, we finally decided on a college plan for Veeka and will be signing all the papers on Wednesday. Yes, it took awhile for me to decide where to put the money, but finally I just downloaded some advice from Morningstar and went with one of the Virginia state plans. So if any of you want to help send Veeka to Harvard, Yale or Duke, let me know! People have already donated some, so I'll be depositing $1,000 for starters.
We've been to the beach twice so far this summer and are heading back there soon before the weather turns cool. I had a quick business trip to Chicago and loved just lazing about at the hotel for a few hours and wandering about Millennium Park. My newspaper has assigned me to research a piece on illegal immigrants and the "new sanctuary" movement where churches are attempting to shelter these folks and keep them from being arrested. The Chicago trip was part of that; a photographer and I were trying to track down Elvira Arrellano, a woman who was well known for camping out at a Chicago church in the western part of town. We showed up at the church, which was in a Puerto Rican area, but she had already left - and gotten arrested in California and deported! We missed her by only a few days.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Veeka and the Big Guy

Well, at some point we need to instruct Veeka on how the universe is set up so I've taken to setting a painting - well, icon, really - of a Russian angel by her bed. But I figured I needed to personalize this a bit, so on one of her 10 flashcards is the name "JESUS."
Now, the other flashcards have pictures on them, ie photos of "shoes" and "Mommy" and "Veeka" and "ball," etc., that I was able to clip out of places like Parents magazine. But where to find a mug shot of You Know Who? Well, I thought, I get 5 zillion Christian magazines at home and at work. Surely, there must be a good Jesus photo in there *somewhere.*
I am here to tell you that there was not. I looked everywhere, first starting out in the venerables, ie Christianity Today, Charisma and Ministries Today. Nada. I went further afield, searching Sojourners (there was stuff of Desmond Tutu but not Christ), the Wittenburg Door (Jesus in a superman outfit was all I could find and I didn't think Veeka would comprehend that message), Human Life Review, Crisis (lots of Catholic saints but no saviour), Books and Culture, Cutting Edge....nothing.
Surely, I thought, there must be something wrong. I went really radical, searching through Sunstone (a Mormon publication), Christian Challenge and even Free Inquiry, a magazine for atheists. I paged through some old Christmas cards but I didn't want Veeka to mistake Jesus-the-baby for a playmate. I had the cover of "The Passion" soundtrack on hand but trying to explain to Veeka who this very sad, bloodied man is with His face half in the shadow - hmmmm; let's wait on that a few years.
There's a commentary in here somewhere and I'm fumbling for what this all means. Is there such a thing as something or Someone being so meaningful, we dare not carry any pictures at all? That's the route Muslims and Jews have taken. Or is the current attempts at portraying Him are so awful, magazines don't want to run them? Or...? I cast about for paintings by Ed Knippers, a local artist who's known in many, many places for his fabulous, albeit startling huge paintings of Jesus - all in the nude. I love his work but it's a tad violent for a 2-year-old. Other stuff, say the Salvador Dali print shown here, doesn't show His face. I was amazed at how much art I saw on the Internet was either super stylized (ie Jesus as a stick figure) or too Thomas Kincaid-style sentimentalized.
A number of years back, I was putting together an article for the Houston Chronicle religion section on decent 20th-century art of the Virgin Mary and I ran into similar problems. So one ends up borrowing from the movies or - in Mary's case - drawings of how she appeared to the Medjugorje visionaries. I bought a statue of the Medjugorje Mary when I was over there in 1990 as I thought it was one of the more decent representations I'd seen of her.
Which brings up another pet peeve: religious Christmas stamps. I hate them. The US Postal Service always picks the least likeable renditions of Mother and Child with the worse color schemes imaginable and slaps them all onto a stamp. I usually buy Hanukkah or Ramadan stamps - they're much prettier. There must be such a thing as dishonoring God through bad art; if so, the USPS wins that one hands down.
If anyone has a recent head shot of the Second Person of the Trinity, please pass it along.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Veeka and the therapists

Well, there is one big challenge for our little pumpkin and that's learning English. Now, all she heard up until mid-February was Russian. Then she had me for six weeks and then she entered a daycare where half the time, she's addressed in Bulgarian. So, language process has been a tad slow, which is why three therapists from Fairfax County spent Thursday morning with us for that all-important assessment that gets her help sooner rather than later from a speech therapist.
I am proud to say that Miss Veeka impressed everyone with how quickly she was able to follow instructions, do complex movements and even throw a tantrum on command. They termed her "fun, alert, social and active," adding that she likes to "show others her toys and mosquito bites, expecting answers." They were very impressed with how she was able to spoon her cereal into her mouth using a medium-sized spoon without spilling any of the milk. When the therapist would build a tower of colorful blocks, Veeka would copy her.
So, we set up some goals, ie by November being able to follow directions without a gesture on my part. And by February she needs to have learned at least 20 new words. Soooo, the next day, I went out and bought poster board for all the flash cards we're doing to start working on.
We are also working lots of New Experiences for our little girl. Every other day I try to get her to the local pool where she has really taken to splashing about. She is absolutely unafraid of the water so I cling to her like a leech, as the girl keeps on striking out into water over her head. So I take her to within a foot of the ladder, then push her, so she can get that feeling of propulsion while also learning how to go for the side of the pool.
And today we visited the most amazing park I have ever been into in terms of playground equipment: Clemyjontri Park in McLean, Va. - if you want to take a look - truly amazing stuff. Very advanced play equipment is scattered over two acres, all placed on a rubber surface (for kids in wheelchairs) along with tons of ramps, swings, slides, balance beams, a maze, teetertotters and of course a carousel. Well, that's just one-tenth of it. Then we went out for dinner at The Family Restaurant, a comfy place in Mclean owned by Greeks where I ordered Veeka a children's plate. All she would eat was the French fries, as she was very fascinated with how one could pour ketchup onto the place, then dip a fry into it and - yum, yum! - eat it.
Veeka is pictured here showing off her little sheep purse. She now weighs 23 pounds and Mommy is having to visit the chiropracter more for help with all those sore muscles that come from slinging Our Rapidly Growing Pumpkin around.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Play time

As temperatures here in the lovely Washington area rocketed into the high 80s and low 90s in May and basically have stayed there, I've learned that whatever I do with Veeka, it's important she keep her princess-like cool. Thus, I am fast discovering every park and swim hole within 100 miles. Three weekends ago, we headed to a local water park. Now THAT was a good idea. Lots of wet stuff to splash in, lots of cool slides to go down and tubes to float in. We will try another local one this weekend.
Our love of water came after a bad experience at Glen Echo, a place in Maryland along the Potomac River where I used to go as a little girl. Back in those days, they had a pool. Well, no more. We went one Sunday morning and about wilted in the zillion-degree heat. The only thing that kept Veeka going was the carousel (pictured here) which she rode on twice. With Veeka, anything that combines music and motion is sure to be a winner.
Life continues apace as Veeka learns important lessons, such as How To Lick A Popsicle. I forget when and how I learned this lesson, but be forewarned, one must teach a little one exactly how to get all that ice cream down her gullet without leaving much of it on the floor or on the kitty. After one unhappy experiment with a chocolate popsicle that melted too fast, I decided to get ice cream that stayed within a cone. This turned out much better. She adored placing her tongue on the ice cream and actually having some of it stick to her mouth. Wheee! If she licked too slowly, Mommy would grab her cone and slurp up the rapidly dripping sweet stuff. Thus, Veeka learned that if she wanted to retain her dessert at all, she'd better lick fast.
Then I had to teach her that one needs to EAT the cone. Hmmmm. This was a new experience. I finally got her to try this by breaking off pieces of the cone and placing them in *my* mouth and saying, "Yum! Yum!" Soon Veeka was gingerly licking the cone as well. She learned that if she imbibed too slowly, Mommy would eat everything.
By this time, we have learned that it's best to experiment in controlled conditions. Mommy learned the hard way last week when she took Veeka to Starbucks. While her mother gets an iced cafe latte, Veeka gets her own carton of chocolate milk. As Veeka watched, two other little girls sipped from *their* cartons with much aplomb. Veeka followed suit, leaving her mother to assume that once in the car seat, she would professionally down the whole carton.
Well, she dispatched the milk all right - right into the base of the car seat. About 20 minutes later, her mother lifted up a wet child to find enormous puddles of chocolate milk just sitting in two hard-to-reach areas of the seat. Fortunately Mommy had a pile of napkins sitting there from a venture to Cosi's the night before soooo, fwump, fwump, fwump - all those napkins got shoved into the car seat crevices to soak up the wet stuff.
Veeka thought all that was pretty funny. She's already planning what do to when handed her first milk shake.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A depressing press conference

I usually don't mention much about my work on this blog - I try to keep things lighthearted but I attended a press conference Wednesday that was one of the most depressing I've ever been to. It was about the ongoing slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and how the U.S. military is doing nothing to stop it. Some 2.2 million Iraqis, half of whom are not Muslim, have fled the country and are languishing in Jordan and Syria, thanks to our horrific immigration policy, which has let only a trickle of these people into the country.
I have included of a photo of Canon Andrew White, the Anglican priest whose testimony led the hearing in the Senate Russell building.
One of the worst testimonies, which I didn't have room to include in my article, came from Donny George, chairman of Iraq's state board of antiquities and director of the country's museums. He said:
"At my parents' place in Dora (a Christian neighborhood in Baghdad), we started hearing the Muslim extremists will do to the Christians exactly what they did to the Jews in 1948. This meant complete cleansing of people from the country. We receive a letter in an envelope together with a bullet of a Kalashnikov. The letter threatened my younger son, Martin, accusing him of cursing Islam and teasing Muslim girls. They mentioned that they suspect his father, myself, works with the Americans, so he was ordered to write a letter of apology to them (the Brigades of the martyr Zarqawi) with a fine of $1,000 to be put in an envelope and dropped in a certain place in Dora, otherwise the next day he will be kidnapped and beheaded immediately.
"When I heard that, I asked my elder son to get my mother, my two sisters and Martin and bring them to our flat in another part of Baghdad and in the afternoon I arranged for the letter and the money to be dropped for them, so they will not come after my son. In the coming few days, I heard the same thing had happened to 12 Christian families in the same area of Dora...they all paid and left the ara, leaving eerything behind, houses and properties. Now Dora is completely empty of any Christian Assyrians and almost all the churches there had been bombed or burnt."
Listening to this, I felt lightheaded. What if someone gave me one afternoon to pack up and leave my home in Virginia? What would I do? Fortunately this man managed to get his family into the States, thanks to the State University of New York, where he was given a visiting professorship. But most people in his position - who managed to make it out of Iraq alive, are not allowed to hold jobs nor educate their children while they rot away in refugee camps.
"I think the future is very bleak," said Pascale Warda, Iraq's former minister for migration and deplacement. "My people said to me the other Saturday, 'We've never had it so bad since the Mongols.' "
For those of you unfamiliar with Central Asian history, she's referring back to 1258, the year the Mongols sacked Baghdad. Tamerlane came in 1401 and razed the city again, creating even more massacres. These folks have long memories.
All the people who testified Wednesday kept on saying the word "genocide." And that's what it is.
Here is my article:

Iraq's perils dire for minority faiths

By Julia Duin
July 26, 2007

Iraq's outnumbered Christians and other religious minority groups are targets of a terror campaign and are facing a dire situation where killings and rapes have become the norm, a panel of witnesses testified yesterday on Capitol Hill.

In a hearing convened by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, and four other panelists unfolded tales of horrors overtaking Christians, Yezidis (angel worshippers) and Mandaeans, members of a pacifist faith that follows the teachings of John the Baptist.

"The situation is more than desperate," said Mr. White, who described how Christians in Baghdad have been told to convert to Islam or be killed. Hundreds of those who could not afford to flee the country are living in churches without adequate food or water, he said.

"In the past month, 36 members of my own congregation have been kidnapped," he said. "To date, only one has been returned."

Iraq's eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are "the oldest Jewish community in the world," he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

"The international community has done nothing to help these people," Mr. White said, explaining that the group is trying to emigrate to an Iraqi Jewish enclave in the Netherlands, which won't admit them.

Michael Youash, director of the Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project, called the situation "soft ethnic cleansing." The "de-Christianization of Iraq" is not far off, he predicted, saying that Washington has refused to help Iraqi Christians, whose common faith with many Americans has made them loathed by Muslim radicals.

"The State Department just dismisses this as part of an overall conflict," he said. "But Christians are being disproportionately targeted. The attacks are purely vindictive and vicious. They are meant to give a message."

Religious minorities have no militias to protect them, Mr. Youash said. "If someone attacks a Shi'ite, there are consequences. If someone attacks a Yezidi or a Mandaean, there are none."

Pascale Warda, president of the Iraqi Women's Center in Baghdad, said more than 30 churches have been destroyed; priests have been fatally shot, kidnapped and beheaded; a 14-year-old boy was crucified in Basra; and Baghdad's once-famous Christian neighborhoods have been emptied of thousands of residents.

"That's because of fatwas issued by Islamic fundamentalists who give them three choices," she said. "Convert to Islam, pay the jizya [a tax imposed on non-Muslims] or leave with no personal possessions."

Suhaib Nashi, general secretary of the Mandaean Associations Union, said that in the past week alone, several Mandaean families in Baghdad were given one hour to leave their homes or be killed.

On Feb. 26, Rena Al-Zuhairy, a 20-year-old Mandaean student, went to school merely to pick up her college degree. "The last voice her mother heard was her crying over the cell phone to save her," Mr. Nashi said. "The police force is corrupt, often helps attackers and has little to no role in protecting minorities."

Several panelists criticized Kurdish militias in northern Iraq for joining the persecution.

"Christians flee one dictatorship only to arrive to another dictatorship," Mr. Youash said. During the January 2005 elections, Kurdish soldiers stole many ballot boxes from areas populated by Christians and Yezidis, he added, but the U.S. government did not respond.

"Minorities learned that standing up for their right to vote only exposed them to greater persecution," he said.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Typical mornings

Yes, it's been awhile since yours truly blogged, but we were retooling out web site and we're still working out the kinks. Pictured here is Miss Veeka at the beach - that is, North Beach, which is a charming spot on Chesapeake Bay I'm guessing about 20 miles south of Annapolis. It was a lovely spot and I met with a number of women from my local Single Moms by Choice group there on Sunday afternoon. Our Little Charmer of course adored the water, the sand, you-name-it.
This Wednesday we will be going in for Our First Haircut, a seminal event. Today started slowly; sometimes I think motherhood is like one of those nightmare dreams when you are trying so hard to get somewhere and you constantly get delayed. Trying to have breakfast and then get dressed and get out of the house is like that. I no sooner change Veeka's diaper and put her in her nice daytime clothes when she has a diaper explosion. So it's back on the changing table.
Or she spills breakfast all over herself. Then the cat throws up. One morning, I was getting towels to wipe all that up when I got upstairs only to discover Veeka had walked THROUGH the mess and had tracked the gook all over the carpet.
Also, this morning, I was rushing to leave when I could not find Veeka's sandals. She had been parading them about, wanting me to put them on and I had refused, as I don't like to put her shoes on til just before we go. So she hid them. More than 12 hours later, I still have no idea where they are. When I say, WHERE ARE YOUR SANDALS? she just giggles.
Then tonight I had worked so hard to make this wonderful beef-and-cheese-and-taco stack dinner with yummy tomato sauce. Veeka would have none of it. It was about to be tossed on the floor when I grabbed her plate. Ditto for the nutritious chicken-and-asparagus dinner I fixed the other day. Nope. She wants those French fries. Then there was the other Friday night when I didn't want to cook, so I took Veeka to a nice Korean restaurant, as the daycare is in Korea town, as they call it. I had no sooner dug into the main dish when Our Princess decided she was bored and wanted to wander about the place. No more kimchee for her, although she did like the anchovies. Well, I could not let her terrorize the other customers. Then she began to shriek. I was about ready to walk away from the meal when a very nice waitress presented Veeka with a lollipop. That bought me about 10 minutes.
A friend of mine told me last night that she gained weight when her kids were toddlers cuz the only restaurants she could take them to were fast food places. I can see why. Veeka does like MacDonalds, btw. She's cottoning onto Starbucks because of that yummy chocolate milk I buy her there. And I'm teaching her to appreciate sushi.
In case any of you wondered, she has grown taller, heavier and her feet have moved onto the next shoe size. And my back is aching, yes.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Likes and dislikes

Well, it's now July and as I write, Veeka is rocking herself to sleep. Well, that's what they do in orphanages and she's kept up the habit here. Included are some photos shot of her one recent Sunday at a church playground. Last weekend, she and I drove to southern Maryland and just tootled around some of the historic sites there plus the big state park - Pt. Lookout - at the end of St. Mary's County peninsula. Southern Maryland is where a lot of the post-Jamestown 17th century colonists ended up. It took nearly a century for folks to get as far east as the Shenandoah Valley that bisects Virginia. For several decades, they pretty much hugged the coastline.
Veeka is a pretty easy-to-please girl. Her likes: French fries, vegetables that are colorful and have interesting shapes (plum tomatoes, green beans), Trader Joe low-fat kitty cookies, ANY book or photo that shows a kitty in it, cheese, sausage, applesauce, tapioca (big yum-yum there), granola, rice, kiddie books, music with a beat to it, chips and salsa, baths (I have to fight her to get her to drain the water); in fact pools and lakes too, crayons, simple wooden puzzles and any playground. She likes going into Whole Foods and eating all the cheese samples.
Dislikes: Eggs, honeydew and water melon doesn't go over well. She's not much into dolls and she ignores TV (a good thing) but which means I have to entertain her more. She also doesn't like it when people try to speak Russian to her. Hmmmm. She also doesn't like missing her 1 p.m. nap time.
Her mom is busy producing articles in this slow Fourth of July week. Today I interviewed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a Hindu spiritual leader who told me all truth is relative depending on your point of view. I pointed out there are some absolutes; ie the white robe he wore was white, not any other color. And you've all heard the bromide about folks not believing in absolutes until they're asked to jump off a clif. Anyway, July is busy work-wise which is why I do my best to collapse on the weekends. Can't say I've found the time to read a book since I got back to the States, tho.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Veeka finds the beach

Well, I felt I had to get away last weekend, so at the last minute, I found an inexpensive (and clean and pleasant) B&B in Rehoboth just one-half block from the beach. It was a perfect location and even though Veeka was a tad restless at night (had to crawl into bed with her to help her go to sleep at one point), it was a perfect weekend.
Miss Veeka adored the beach, toddling around to everyone else's blankets and making off with whatever shovels and buckets she could find. Fortunately all the other parents were super pleasant about letting her play with their kids, their toys and even feeding her snacks (she's a real moocher). Which is how she arrived back at my blanket snacking on pretzels or her faced covered with chocolate.
Now the water was not quite her style; at 68 degrees it was a bit cold plus those big waves knocking her down took some getting used to. Where she really shined was at a an open air pops concert at the band shell. She began swaying back and forth and dancing by herself or with a bemused 8-year-old boy standing nearby. Then she'd charge the stage until I'd come running after her. This girl is going to be a mosh pit regular in a few years. But the way she kept time and danced about was amazing; a number of people in the crowd were having the greatest time watching her.
I've been trying to interest her in Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (all former countrymen of hers) but instead she tends to gravitate toward music with a beat. Hopefully our little beach princess can get back to the sea and sand at least once more this summer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mother and child

Here's a photo of me taken a few weekends ago by my friend Julie Kay when we were spending the afternoon exploring the Cactoctin mountains near Camp David. That's a pretty place I'd never seen in my 11 years here. Veeka and I are seated in a restaurant in Frederick, a nearby town.
Only news is health stuff; my dad just got a new knee today and the operation went well but now the pain is kicking in. My mom has his room phone number if you want to call. As for me, after numerous tests, it's looking like I had some form of hepatitis last month. Never mind that I had 4 Hep A and B shots in 2006; it's what doctors think was wrong with me. We're still puzzling over many of the symptoms. Fortunately I'm feeling quite well right now although I'm guzzling antibiotics just to make sure whatever-it-was won't come back.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Veeka and the TV station

I keep on forgetting to take a camera on our outings so I am posting a photo I took several weeks ago when I was a guest on a local TV station. They called me during the one day I was home with a sick Veeka; fortunately she was feeling better when the call came in. I said I'd be glad to appear but...I had a 2-year-old with me and no way to get a babysitter at such short notice. (They called at about 2 p.m. for the 5 pm newscast.) At first they said they had other things to do other than babysit, but 10 minutes later, they called back to say they had a staff member who'd look after Veeka for a few minutes. So I dressed her (and me) up and we went down to News Channel 8. She was very good while I was on the air and she (of course) charmed everyone. Notice the cookie they gave her as a bribe.
There's not a ton of news to report here. Veeka is her usually mischievous self. We attended this lovely picnic today way west of Washington in the countryside where Veeka got to see lots of sheep and dogs and even a horse. At first, she shrieked when she saw the horse but after awhile, she wanted to ride him. Anyone, after a long and productive day, we were riding home when somehow and somewhere, she removed her diaper. Not noticing this, we stopped at Giant right near my home, I of course not noticing she was diaper-less. We had just passed the customer service counter when I noticed this puddle forming under our shopping cart....
And we have some good news for Oma. Today at the picnic, Veeka wandered into a farmhouse where all the food was being set out and discovered a piano. She could not keep herself away from it. She constantly hammered away at the keys. Oma is our family piano player (well, I took a year's worth of lessons many years ago) and folks at the picnic were noticing the Little One's musical acumen. I asked them: What do you expect? The kid sleeps with a harp in her bedroom.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Rainy June day

It's Sunday; my heavens, what does one do with a toddler on a rainy day?? We perused the puzzles, tried out the new crayons bought yesterday at la Target, played hillybilly kiddie music, even played the soundtrack from "Carousel" and did some tumbling. Mommy ironed and made some tapioca - yum yum - of which Veeka downed 2 servings. Now she is FINALLY napping and Mommy is tired.
Yesterday, fortunately, it was sunny, which is why we're showing Veeka here dressed up in a very colorful rainbow play outfit sent her by Robbie in Los Angeles. And another friend, Amy, snapped the photo while she and Veeka were on an outing in the park. Lots of crumbs on the Little One's face.
Nothing new here to report; I am feeling better after my mysterious ailments of the past few weeks. I am now back to work on my book, after being very sick during the hottest, sunniest May since I moved here. This week might get kind of interesting; rumors abound of big budget cuts and layoffs at my workplace. So far, my newspaper has dodged that bullet, but apparently there's a reckoning in the offing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Whereby Veeka discovers the poo

This being Memorial Day weekend, we of course had to introduce the Little One to a new concept: the outdoor pool. Of course she loved splashing about but found that being attached to Mommy is quite a drag. Unfortunately, every time she wrestled free to strike out on her own, down she sank. How does one teach a child who doesn't even speak English to swim? Hmmmm. The first day, we were at my condo pool. The next day, we were at the Kreitzers' pool, at the home of friends in the Shenandoah Valley. There, they helped me try to explain to her the word "kick."
This may take awhile.
Otherwise, Veeka is doing well, although her mother continues to be under the weather with various bugs. As if she wasn't already sick enough, she picked up an ear/throat infection from the condo pool. Sigh.
Veeka continues the process of Terrible Two. Her latest: Sitting down on the ground any time she doesn't like something. Soooo, we no sooner had gotten out of the car in the condo parking lot this afternoon, then when she sat down on the asphalt and began to shriek. About what, I do not know. Saturday, we hit Tysons Corner mall so Mommy could find some decent sandals. Stupid Mommy. She didn't realize that eating early, then going shopping at 6 p.m. is a Bad Idea for little people. Veeka tolerated this arrangement for about 45 minutes, then started to howl whenever I entered a store. I was trying on some spiffy Italian shoes when she upchucked on the store couch. Mommy tossed the shoes at the clerk, then ran out the door with the Little Terror informing the entire mall as to how rotten a life she has.
Note to self: Little people are good for 4-hour increments max before they must eat or nap or both. Shopping must be kept to under an hour. Snacks must be served every 2 hours. Sippy cups must be kept at the ready. Veeka has already tired of Cheerios so now she's onto her newest munchie: Oyster crackers. Whatever it takes, right?

Monday, May 21, 2007

The terrible 2s

I think Veeka is starting to hit her stride now that she has turned two and officially be naughty. The photo of her in the driver's seat portrays the position she THINKS she holds in our household. She was fine this past weekend during Mommy's birthday festivities when she posed princess-like with all sorts of out-of-town visitors (the white-haired lady is named Bettie in the second photo)and even stayed up til 9 pm without much of a fuss.
But that was then. Someone (the daycare folks swear it was not them) taught her how to spit. So she goes around *spitting* - the little terror - at me, the kitties, whatever. Today was an example of a Nasty Day. First, she woke us all up at 1 a.m. screeching. She wanted to play. I made my way downstairs to the fridge, grabbed a sippy cup of cold milk, then tossed it into the crib. That shut her up.
I crawled out of bed later that morning and had just changed her ONLY to experience a diaper explosion. So we change her again. Then she wanted my cereal more than her oatmeal. Once she tires of a dish, she simply drops it on the floor, which creates a big mess, especially when the dish is full of food. Mommy has yelled at her countless times about this but Veeka is not in the listening mode. So Mommy removes all her food from her. Veeka sulks, then screams. Then kicks off her highchair tray which also goes crashing to the floor.
We decide it is high time to get this child to daycare. Every effort to dress her meets with shrieks and wails. We finally drag her into the car and whizz her off for a few hours while Mommy works to bring food on the table.
But 6 pm comes all too soon and when the Little One comes out to greet her mother, she spits again. Hmmmm. Going home, more sulking until a bag of fruity cheerios is tossed her way. We of course are very tired after having braved another 70 minutes of lovely rush hour traffic. At home, Miss Veeka is handed some pasta with yummy sauce and kidney beans and corn. Usually she snarfs down the kidney beans. This time, no way. We bring out some bread to get her to eat that. She shreads the entire piece and it too lands on the floor. (Note - her most destructive acts are done while I am in the kitchen). I hand her a sippy cup. Crash, that goes on the floor. I run out to the kitchen to pour her some applesauce. Unfortunately, I have left the milk bottle cap off the bottle on the dining room table. I re-enter the dining room to see the little darling pouring milk out of the bottle all over the dining room table.
By this time Mommy has had enough. She drags her screaming child upstairs and throws her into the bathtub. Miss Veeka hollers the whole time, then splashes water on Mommy who has forgotten to remove her work clothes. Fortunately, Mommy was not wearing one of her suits. Then as Mommy lifts her out of the tub, she wrenches her knee.
Mommy is now typing this at 11 pm. knowing that in a few hours, her little tzarina will be up at some ungodly hour.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mommy's Day

Well, it was my first as a real mom. Must say it felt pretty nice. Thanks everyone for more cards and good wishes! I went to church, worked in the yard, went to dinner at a friend's place where Veeka had 3 kitties to terrorize. No, she is still not speaking although she is trying to say "kitty," I just know it. Whenever she sees a kitty in a story book, she gets all excited.
Today Veeka was feeling pokey with no appetite, cold extremities, a cough and a temperature. I thought it was allergies but by the afternoon, it had gone up to 101.5, so I called the doctor a second time who told me that high temps are no big deal with kids and not to get worried unless it reaches 103. So I am dosing her with Tylenol and motrin. Still, she didn't eat dinner and fell asleep in my arms so I *hope* she is better. There is nothing like trying to solve such things at work with the daycare provider on one line and the doctor's office on the other. Kiddie pediatrics is very new to me.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Sniffle, sniffle

Postings have been a bit rare of late because yours truly has had the nastiest cold for going on two weeks now. Yesterday it turned into a bit of flu. Am not sure whether to blame the weather or the kids at Veeka's daycare. But I, who have always been healthy, have been on-and-off sick since I came home in February. Veeka, actually, has been quite healthy throughout all this. Funny, that.
Little news here other than I have spent the past week covering the Anglican/Episcopal Wars which have to do with a local Episcopal priest getting made an Anglican bishop by the Anglican Province of Nigeria all out of protest of the Episcopal Church consecrating the world's first gay bishop in 2003. Turns out that the head of the Episcopal Church got involved this week cuz the Anglican archbishop of Nigeria has flown in to install this priest as the head of a new Anglican denomination, based in Virginia. Confused yet? And then today, the archbishop of Canterbury got involved by asking the Nigerian archbishop (a bit tepidly I am assuming) to desist from tomorrow's ceremony. Course he was doing so to shut up the angry Episcopalians cuz if he had REALLY not wanted tomorrow's event to happen, he would have said something before all these Nigerians bought their overseas plane tickets to come here.
Anyway, if you want to read all about it, google my name and then Anglican and Episcopal and Minns (the last name of this new bishop) and you will find out lots of info. I get to be on BBC radio in the midst of it all describing the players to a London audience who are all wondering what all these Virginians have to do with a bunch of Nigerians. What that has all meant personally is because I am totally out of sick leave and vacation leave, I have dragged myself to work all week, barely getting through each day. But no one at work seems to mind my looking like Death Warmed Over, as long as I keep churning out those pieces!
The photo is of me and Veeka before The Cold set in.

Friday, April 27, 2007

My 36K child

Dear ones, you are looking at a very expensive child asleep there. Yes, that's Miss Veeka in one of her I'm-pretending-I'm-a-turtle sleeping poses. Meanwhile, her mom is having a heart attack after finally getting around to adding up all the receipts for ALL the adoption expenses paid out since late 2003. Granted, there was an expensive detour through America World - lost $1,100 with them - after they swore they weren't doing Kazakhstan adoptions and booted me out of their agency. Then I found out 6 months later they were, in fact, premiering a Kazakh program. Am still shaking my head over that deceit.
Anyway, once I added up what it cost to get birth certificates, FBI checks, fingerprints, background checks, physicals, notaries, money orders, home study fees, plus apostilling all my notarized documents (Fed Ex made hundreds of dollars off of me), plus the international doctor's advice - at $350 a shot - oh, and the $12,000 fee to get a child under 2...not to mention the $255 for the visa that was supposed to be multiple entry - instead it was a messed-up single entry visa that cost me $300 in-country to fix, the list goes on and on.
I split up the expenses into Before and During. Before, I spent $17,747 before getting on the plane. Adoption agencies alone charge about $5,000 and it goes up from there. Then during my seven weeks in Kazakhstan, I dropped another $18,700. Now the $700 was souvenirs and gifts I could have done without. But 18K included an amazing $12,400 something I had to pay in cash to the adoption coordinator - who refused to give me a receipt! Yes, I complained to the American embassy about her - not that it will do any good. My adoption agency is supposed to give me a receipt at the end of the year for tax purposes - hopefully their figures will match my figures, especially since so much was not receipted. My Kazakh adoption coordinator - Baha is her name - kept on hitting me up for money to the point that on the day I got custody of little Veeka, I finally put my foot down. That was the day she wanted an extra $300 for the orphange.
Now, Rudny Specialized Baby House, as it was called, is a good place but again, Baha, wanted the money given to her, not to the orphanage director. I had no way of knowing if it'd end up paying for Baha's 5th car or if it'd really help the folks in Rudny. So I said I was not giving any more money. Baha got back at us, however; as reported previously, on the day we flew out of the country, we got socked with a $380 bill for our kids' visas by the US embassy. Baha had "forgotten" to tell us about that expense.
The rest of the 18K was for hotels, meals, Internet cafes, strollers and just surviving for seven weeks in north central Kazakhstan. Fortunately, the hotel in Kostenai, where we spent 6 weeks, was $60/day; cheap compared to Almaty, where we paid $100/day. Life in central Asia is not cheap; when I flew into the country, the coordinators said they couldn't find any rooms for us in Almaty, so I was on my own. I stayed at the Hyatt - the only place I could locate on the Internet. Two nights there was $879.
People ask: How did you come up with that money? Well, thank God for home equity loans, book advances, gifts from parents and the Lord's supernatural provision. Oh, and my car is going on 11 years old. I'm "only" in debt $7,000, which will get taken care of next year when the federal government gives me the adoption reimbursement of 10K. So we're not swimming in green stuff here by far. Fortunately, generous friends have insured that Veeka has enough clothes and toys to last us until the Second Coming. And for my huge investment, I have a little cutie pie who greets me every morning with giggles and shouts.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Veeka turns 2

While Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 80th birthday, Our Little Celebrity turned 2. The party was on a very blustery, rainy Sunday afternoon; still, 27 people braved the elements to come wish Veeka a happy birthday; a lot more folks, I might add, than who came to *my* birthday party last year.
Everyone wanted to see our bouncing princess, who was in her usual good mood and happy to sit on various peoples' laps inbetween the opening of many presents. Clad in a white-and-pink frock sent from Anita Higman in Texas, she got all sorts of wonderful things: classic hard-back childrens' books, some cool stuffed horses and puppy dogs, many sets of pretty, pretty clothes, money, puzzles, games and even a call from Oma and Opa who wanted to sing her happy birthday but she'd fallen asleep by then, pooped after all the festivities.
The afternoon started when Diane Karadimos arrived to help make the lime punch, albeit squeezing 11 limes was not her idea of a great time. But a nice punch was made and then the guests began to drop in. By the time a few had arrived, we decided to sing her happy birthday at which point (see first photo), Debra Mattingly held her by the lilies and over the cake while Frye Mattingly - who'd just had a birthday I think - helped her to blow out the candles. You can only see the top of his head and the yellow-and-blue butter icing (color of the Kazakh flag) atop the carrot cake.
More guests arrived with gaily decorated packages at which point Veeka took refuge on Terry Mattingly's lap while he and Debra read to her from her new ladybug book (a gift from Ellen Campbell I believe). It's amazing what's out there in childrens' books; one of the gifts had little lights that lit up to represent fireflies. Kids' books come with the most amazing appendages; another has a literal tube that folds out into an elephant's trunk that arches between the pages.
At one point Veeka got upset that I was doing all the unwrapping so she tried to help (3rd photo). Even more intriguing when when Sarah Lohmann showed up with 5-month-old Anna Maria, which Veeka thought was a really cool doll for her to keep (fourth photo). It took a few minutes to set her straight. Also there were two women from my local single moms support group who are thinking of adopting from Kazakhstan and who wanted to see what a real live kid from there looks like.
This morning, Veeka crawled into bed with me and gave me lots of kisses. I think I'll keep her.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter day with Oliveeka

Our soon-to-be 2-year-old comported herself beautifully this past Sunday. First, we went to St Ann's Catholic Church in Annapolis with friends only to find it truly brimming with people standing in the aisles. So we shoved our way past everyone (reporters learn to act like that - else we'd never get to write our stories!) to find several kids seated on the front steps leading up to the altar. We too sat on the steps with them but were presented with a problem: How to keep the moppet quiet for the full hour while the Mass was going on. Well - I dug out every item in my purse for her to go through and examine. When the music began she'd stand up and sway, much to the amusement of onlookers. Amazingly, she hardly uttered a peep.
As a reward, I took her to a nearby playground afterwards, then to a bakery on the city's waterfront where she quickly consumed a whole pastry - what we used to call an elephant's ear. Then it was off to a lovely waterfront restaurant called Sam's on the Waterfront where the whole Vuoto clan + friends (these are my Canadian/Italian friends) sat around and ate and chatted for 4 hours. Like I said, they are Italians. Miss Veeka sat at the head of the table and amused everyone, including local patrons. Doing without a nap was a hardship, so she got testy around mid-afternoon. But, dressed in that darling Polly Flinders-style dress that Becky bought her, she was a true belle of the ball, albeit, covered in stockings and long sleeves because of the freezing weather. Jeff Kuhner (who has married the middle Vuoto daughter, Grace - pictured here in blue) pronounced Veeka his "little tzarina." That's because my daughter's heritage is Tatar - she comes from the Crimea region south of Moscow where, unfortunately, Stalin did his best to massacre every Tatar he could find. The remaining Tatars still wish to be independent of Mother Russia but do n't hold your breath!
Coming up: Veeka's open house this Sunday from 4-6. If you're local, come by...

Friday, April 6, 2007

That first week back at work

...and was it tiring. My goodness, fitting in breakfast and maybe a run in the jogging stroller, then over to the daycare (which had an Easter egg hunt today; Veeka was not impressed) and then to work. Getting there is not bad as I still miss the worst of the rush hour. But leaving at 5 p.m. to hit the worst of the traffic - aaargh. I've found the quickest route home possible but on a good day it still takes a solid 50 minutes in killer traffic. Again, that's a *good* day.
This week was quieter than last week. We said good-bye to Nancy and Alex, who won't be back in Virginia for a long time - if ever - and then today the Little One got her citizenship papers along with a letter from George W. Bush. So on Monday it's over to the Social Security office to apply for a card and then to the post office to apply for a U.S. passport. And then we can travel!
Tomorrow, Susan is coming over to watch Veeka while I get my taxes done. Can't add up those numbers with her running about; am including a photo of her smiling mischievously at the kitty.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Queen of peoples' hearts

Wasn't it Princess Diana who said she preferred to be queen over peoples' hearts rather than queen of England? Anyway, Our Veeka continues to win over the multitudes. This week she put in an appearance at the Natelli household in Potomac where she was followed about (see photo) by adoring young people who saw her as kind of like a big doll. Veeka really liked the personal attention from Nicolette who showed her how to go up and down stairs. The many boys were very gallant as well.
We've been spending the past few days with family in town for Uncle Ed's funeral, which was yesterday. Fortunately the weather has cooperated, the cherry trees are springing to life, the magnolias are already out and so the weather yesterday was quite warm. Monday it was in the 80s. Very unusual for March but we're enjoying it.
Monday, Opa did lots of work fixing furniture in Veeka's bedroom. Now the chest of drawers actually works! Last night, Kristi, Faith and Alice plus my parents showed up for dinner and slides of Kazakhstan. Today Opa, Oma and us wandered about Meadowlark Park in Vienna before this evening's reception where Uncle Ed and Aunt Dot's apartment is in Fairfax. Tonight we'll be sharing all sorts of remembrances.
A happy birthday today to Gail Dall who turns.....?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Veeka debuts on YouTube

Yes, it had to happen. Our little darling has become a film star. See her in all her toddler glory first with Amy Doolittle (the Politico reporter-turned-videographer), then playing in the front yard, then eating a cookie with moi (in the orange sweater).
The link is: You have to cut and paste it into your browser (up top).
Folks are starting to fly in for Uncle Ed's funeral (11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Paul's Lutheran on Idylwood Road in Falls Church) so Veeka is boning up on her charm skills to provide light and laughter and comic relief to our austere gathering.
The accompanying photo was shot by Tessa Franz whose parents, Becky and Leo, are also in Washington this weekend. Seems as though half the world is heading toward Washington this month although with the balmy temps and all the daffodils and crocuses bursting out, can't say I blame them.