Saturday, May 30, 2009


Today was the last day of school - that's right . . . a Saturday.

Here are the 3 youngest, heading out to catch the bus to church (Finland has a state church{Lutheran}), so many school functions involve church services, including the year end assembly. This was the first year I've had to get a girl ready, so I didn't have time to get myself ready in time for church, so we met up with them later at the school. Refreshments there first, then the assembly (some performance, awards and report cards).

I'll apologize now for the poor quality of the photos - my "helper" took them while I "manned" the video camera . . .

Mattias played the violin twice and sang one solo.

Mattias got an award for "showing respect to peers and school personnel" - 20€.

The Grade 1 class (Joel in the horizontal stripes) received books as gifts because they learn to read in Grade 1.

Sofia's class waiting to get their gift bags from their teacher. Sofia is 2nd from the right.

Just as we were heading out to the parking lot, I got a phone call from Sam that he had misunderstood his pick-up instructions for today and he had, therefore, missed the bus. So, we had to race home and then I drove him into town to his school. Thankfully, he got a bus ride home:-)

We had lovely weather today, so we spent the afternoon enjoying the sun out on the deck.

I guess that's it . . . it's getting late and my brain is kinda fried . . . Sam's at a friend's house in town, so one of us will have to go pick him up in awhile . . . yipee . . . just when you're getting too old to stay up late for yourself, you have to stay up late for your teenagers . . .

Sofia's hair:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

oh no . . .

Exactly one year ago today we met a little girl at Orphanage #4 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Here are some pics from that day (the quality of the photos isn't great; I had just gotten a new camera and hadn't figured out the settings):

Within minutes of first meeting. She looked so tiny then!

Later, that first afternoon, she was quite attached to Stefan already.

While they were dancing and singing (it was, apparently, a practice for the SPB's birthday celebration).

The second day - at a cafe.

So, today we remember that special day.

But, today was also our first post placement visit from the social worker - 2 of them, in fact. We were the first of three visits they were making today. Since they were here at noon, I had invited them for lunch and coffee. We picked up Sofia and Mattias early from school. Joel was at a birthday party and Sam's school is too far away. Things went basically okay, except Sofia was a bit bossy today - something we've been working on with her and has been getting better. But, today, I didn't know if I should be correcting her behaviour in front of the SWs or . . . Her behaviour was definitely not her usual - but I'm sure they can figure that out, right? It was strange to be"under a microscope" like that in front of SWs. If it had been other people over, I would have whispered to her about her behaviour, but then I didn't want to do that in front of the SWs for fear they'd think we had some sort of secrets. I was certainly over-thinking things and still am . . .

Anyways, before they left, she wanted to show them how she can jump on the trampoline and ride a bike. Trampoline - no problems other than some awkward landings . . . no injuries, anyway. Then she ran in to get her helmet (things are looking good). She gets on the bike. We are at the top of the driveway and she rides down the hill pressing on the brakes. So far, so good. She shows them she can stand and pedal, steer one-handed, etc. They say they have to leave and say good bye. Before they get in the car, Sofia pushes the bike back up the hill, tells everyone to get out of the way and rides down again.

That's when things went downhill, literally. She wasn't using the brakes this time. Everyone was shouting, "Brakes!" (in Swedish). I could hear a car was coming down the road (it's 80kmh/55mph on our road). Thankfully, she veered towards the lawn on the lower part of a yard, but was still cruisin' at a pretty good clip. Stefan quickly ran after her but didn't catch her before she crashed into the bushes, luckily stopping before the drop-off into the ditch. I got there just as Stefan was pulling her out. The SWs said goodbye and they'd see us in November. We took Sofia in and cleaned her up - she had some scratches on the back of one leg from the bike pedal. Other than that, she wasn't hurt.

So, we sat down at the kitchen table and our conversation went like this:

Me: Do you think that'll be in the report?

Stefan: Ohhhh, yes. I'm pretty sure we'll be getting another visit before 6 months . . .

I felt sick to my stomach. I don't even know what to make of it. Maybe they didn't think it was a big deal . . They didn't stay to see if she was ok . . . And, she was ok.

I should also mention that during lunch Mattias told them he had a cold shower last night because we were out of hot water. Do you think that'll be in the report?

Monday, May 25, 2009

stafett - finished!!

I've been out of bloggerland for awhile: Friday morning Mattias and I hopped on a bus with his school mates and a bunch of other parents and headed to Helsinki for "Stafettkarnevalen" (relay carnival/track meet). It's a huge deal - it's the largest annual school athletic competition on all of Europe. In the last years, over 10 000 students participate annually. It's also a big deal that our school participates so enthusiastically every year for being such a small school - this year there were only 19 students in grades 3-6. Such a big deal, in fact, that last month a magazine ran a story about the school's dedication to Stafettkarneval

This is the cover of the magazine that goes out to all Swedish-speaking housholds that have an "s" card - a card that collects points and gives discounts at certain stores. Their story was highlighted on the cover.

The principal introduces Mattias and Lina on this page when he jokes that the school's "karneval" tradition is so strong that 2 families moved into the area for that reason - Mattias from Vancouver, Canada and Lina from Turku in southern Finland. Then, Mattias is quoted on this page, "It's chaos at the meet, everything is happening at the same time, it's sweaty and crowded. But it's fun to be a part of it."

Mattias, giving the "thumbs up".

Then, last week, the national Swedish speaking TV channel (kinda like the French version of the CBC) ran a story on them as well.

Stafettkarneval is held in Helsinki's Olympic Stadium, so it's really something quite extraordinary for the students to experience. The school sent 2 teams to run in the mixed 5x80m and they also ran in the mixed 12x80m ("mass stafett").

I took this photo of Mattias in front of the stadium's tower because the Amazing Race 10 (one of my favourite shows) filmed here - the contestants had to rappel face forward down the tower.

Mattias (in lane 4) and his team ran their heat on Friday evening. It was raining a bit.

They placed 4th, 8/100 of a second behind the 3rd place team, so they did not advance to the semi finals.

Saturday, around noon, they raced in the mass relay - 12x80m; 6 boys and 6 girls running back and forth across the field inside the track. Mattias was the starter for Hirvlax. He's in about the middle of the picture - black t-shirt and red socks (they have to run barefoot or with socks). What you can't see in this photo is that it is raining even harder than it did Friday night. You also can't see how chaotic it seems to have 37 teams running this heat together. I think there was about 45 -60 seconds between the first and last teams finishing. There were 5 heats. That's a lot of teams . . .

On Saturday afternoon, the bus took everyone over to an amusement park. Everyone but us. Mattias had misplaced his cell phone, so we walked back to the hotel. Sure enough, housekeeping found it and then we walked over to the amusement park where Mattias tried to ride as many attractions as he could in 2½ hours to make it worth the armband's purchase:)

For the first 2 hours, Mattias was riding alone since we hadn't come across any classmates. I took this pic of Mattias getting on the "sofa" because of what's happening in the background - the roller coaster got stuck, so they were helping the riders climb down :)

So, we got home in the wee hours Sunday morning and it took just about all day yesterday to recover - I was tired and had a huge headache! But, Mattias had a great time and has some great memories - and that's what's important.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

feeling good

Except for feeling totally tired because I was up too late watching Project Runway and then had to spend some time reading to get comfortably settled in Outlander's 5th book "The Fiery Cross", things are good.

First, I'm happy to say my 3 favourite entries in Eurovision 2009 actually came in 1st, 2nd and 3rd. In the end, I voted for Norway (twice, because Mattias' phone wouldn't let him . . .). I love that song . . . already have it on cd . . . keeping pushing the repeat button in the car . . . So, on our way home from a track meet last night, while listening to that winning song, and singing our hearts out along with it, Mattias and I had this conversation:

M: Lina thinks that singer is so cute. She was daydreaming about him all day today.
Me: Well, he is cute. It's ok for her to think that.

M: Uhmmm . . . isn't Pappa gonna be jealous if you think that?

Me: No - I mean more in a "I-just-wanna-squeeze-his-[facial]cheeks" kind of way. [By even saying this it made me feel old]

M: Yeah, I guess. Maybe if you were younger or just married and didn't know each other so well Pappa would be worried . . .

That kid always says the funniest things.

One of the coolest things about adopting an older child is the memories they have about us meeting them. On Easter Sunday, I wore the same clothes that I had worn the first day we met Sofia last May (it was the first time I had worn them since she's been with us). She squealed with delight and said, "Mamma. You wore that in Russia!" Later that day, Stefan wore the same jacket from that trip and again, she was delighted to recognize it.

So, last night when I was tucking Sofia into bed and gave her a hug and kiss, she excaimed, "Mamma, in Russia you smelled so good! I know that you put something on [meaning perfume] when you came to Russia." I know what triggered this memory - yesterday I was wearing my old perfume - I've only worn the new perfume I got for Christmas since she's been home but now it's run out. It was the scent of "DG The One" that reminded her I smelled good once. Wonder if I still do?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

note to self

Hair that looks like this:

Should look like this (or a reasonable facsimile):
before jumping on the trampoline.

Last night we spent at least 20 painful minutes combing out the tangles in Sofia's hair before bed. Good thing we did it last night, otherwise she would've missed the bus this morning . . . Her hair didn't look like it had so many tangles, but I had decided to braid it before sleeping so it's easier to do in the morning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

just as i thought

If you've read the little "about me" blurb on the sidebar, you know our family has a drawer full of passports. We are about (well, not actually "about", more like in 4 weeks' time . . .) to embark on some international travel and put our traveling stamina to the test. But, for those of you who know me IRL (in real life), you know I have to have everything perfectly organized and arranged beforehand - there will be no loose ends - there will be no "playing it by ear".

When we I booked the tickets back in March, in my great wisdom frugalness decided it would be much better to save 2000€ (that's 3171 CAD/2723USD) and fly into Seattle instead of Vancouver. Surely those savings have to make up for the inconveniences . . .? Those inconveniences would include: a 3-4 hour drive to New West from the SeaTac airport, having to clear US customs and border control at the airport, the long line at the border crossing and applying for some visa waiver forms ahead of time (which I am currently trying to sort out - of course, this is more difficult since we don't all have the same nationality).

What else do I need to sort out ahead of time?
  • get notarized letter of permission from Stefan to travel with the kids without him
  • figure out how we'll get to Helsinki for our 8am flight (it's a 6 hour drive)
  • figure out how we'll get home from Helsinki when our plane lands at 11:15pm on July 21st - we have a 7 passenger car, but the luggage won't fit . . .
  • arrange for the animals to have sitters once Stefan is on his way
On top of this, our savings didn't turned out as originally planned - Stefan's ticket ended up costing more because he's starting his travel in July (and he lucked out with an afternoon flight from Helsinki) and he's now decided to get a flight from Seattle to Vancouver to avoid the whole border issue. With my luck, he'll be bumped up to business class and be able to sleep on his transatlantic flight . . . All so reminiscent of our flight 3 years ago, when I was seated with all the kids and he had his seat several rows away from us . . . . C'mon BA, help me out here . . .

Friday, May 8, 2009

five months

Wow . . . five months already as a family of six. This girl is such a part of our family now, that's it's getting harder to separate out those things that are milestones . . . But, I'll try anyway.


This, of course, has been the biggest concern for us - making sure that Sofia is properly attached to us. In my non-expert opinion, though, I think she is doing really well. She is a very physical person. By that I mean she likes to touch us. This could mean sitting on our laps, hugging, climbing on us, etc. She will rarely come and talk to us without there being some form of contact - her hand on our arm, shoulder,etc. or she leans into us. It's very sweet (although not always convenient). On schooldays, when I wake her, she puts up her arms to be carried into the hallway where I deposit her to go on her way while I wake the rest up. Some weekends, she'll slip into bed with me and wrap her arms around me, waiting for me to wake up.

She makes eye contact well, even when she's angry (that's when I get the "if-looks-could-kill" look). There are no more "melt-downs" that I talked about in the beginning. Sure, she still gets angry and whiney like most kids, but she gets over things remarkably fast (faster than me, anyways, lol). A while back, she had done something (I forget what). Later in the day, she explained her thought process to me:

Sofia: I did (_________) and then I was in my room. I was sitting at my desk. I was sitting in my rocking chair and I was thinking: I should go to Mom and say sorry.

She had already apologized to me when she told me this story. I thought it was cute how she thought through what she needed to do.

She loves her teacher, her grandparents, her cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, etc. She loves visiting with our neighbours. She is too very talkative. However, around strangers she clams up, even if it is apparent it is someone we know. This is a good sign.

She talks about Russia a lot now. Everyday we hear something new about the kids, the staff or her grandmother (and bits about other family members). We think it's good that she talks about it in a positive light, but not with a longing to be back there (other than to visit). We're glad that she has happy memories but that she's even happier with us!


Gosh . . . I think she's pretty fluent (then again, Swedish isn't my first language so I'm not really sure). Her teacher wrote in her report that even though language is her most difficult area right now, she has made enormous steps forward. The teacher is surprised every day by how much she can say/express, even some things that are naturally difficult for 6 year olds. And that she already has a very big vocabulary.

I think it's funny that some things she learns quickly, but others not so much. For example, she can talk about her "bangs" which is a 3-syllable word in Swedish (and not a word that you use everyday . . .) But, she cannot remember to use reflexive verbs properly. For example, in Swedish you say. "Jag klä på mig."  I get myself dressed. Sofia will always say " Jag klä på sig." - "I get herself dressed." Every time. We correct her about 10 times a day, but it's not sticking. Another phrase that she uses wrong all the time is "Jag ska ha det." - I will have that. She really means to say "I want that." So, you can picture as we walk through the stores, she points to things (LOTS of things) and says "I will have that." Hmmm. Sounds a little presumptuous . . . Yeah, we're trying to work on that one, too.

As for English, I have started speaking more and more English with her. She really understands much more than I thought she would at this point. And she's trying to answer back in English if she can. She really amazes me. I think we have one smart cookie on our hands. . . .

Russian? There are a few words and phrases still, but she only uses them if one of us intitiates Russian into the conversation. Last week she would tell us a few Russian words she remembered each night as she went to bed - obscure words that don't come up in everyday conversation, like elephant. When we were at the gym last week, and the instructor spoke Russian to her, she looked at me before she answered. I don't know if she was looking at me for permission to speak/understand Russian or for me to translate what Nelia said:)

Sibling Relationships

Things continue to improve here. She has the closest relationship with Joel, but they are only 20 months apart in age. They can still have huge fights, but get over them in a reasonable amount of time.

In general, I think the boys have a little resentment towards how much of mine and Stefan's time Sofia demands. By demand, I mean she interrupts conversations we're having with them, is jealous of time we spend with them, etc. She has a bit of a "me-first" attitude that doesn't really work if you're not an only child . . . And she's a bit bossy . . .

The boys also get frustrated that she's soooo competitive but is a really bad loser. (Even Grandma has noticed this). She cries every time she loses at a game. As soon as she's tagged in "Tag" or found in "Hide and Seek" she says, "I'm not playing anymore." So, how to be a graceful loser is something we're working on with her . . . understanding that people don't want to play with sore losers . . .

Yet, there are still touching moments that they have with their little sister: when they offer to share something (and haven't been asked to do so), when they teach her something new, when they are so excited to show her something, and when they ask her to tell something about Russia.

Overall, I think we're doing well. It's hard to remember how it was in the beginning.

Monday, May 4, 2009

this and that

Lots of things have been floating around in my head . . . here are some of our recent highlights:

  • My computer is in the hospital - last Tuesday the power went out for 30 minutes (while I was rendering and burning a home movie of ALL our adoption video and photos). Since then, Windows will not restart. I waited awhile and then asked a friend for help - he talked me through the problem and told me how to fix it. But, I was missing some software and didn't want to bother him anymore, so I took it to the shop. It's been there since Wednesday. We've been using Sam's laptop in the meantime, but clearly haven't been online as much as usual - this morning it took me an hour to read through Blog updates . . .
  • We only have about 1 litre (1 quart) of snow left in our yard (where the kids had their sledding hill) - it will probably be gone by the end of the day:) insert happy dance
  • We had glorious weather this past weekend - on Saturday afternoon we went to Stefan's parents' summer house (we now refer to it as Fammo's Dacha) by boat. We are all nicely tanned (or at least have the beginnings of a nice tan). Stefan remarked that it's amazing how well Sofia does there - for someone who's been raised in a concrete city - the way she runs around on the rocks and plays in the water. She had her first S'mores on Saturday.
  • Friday was a holiday (which probably accounts for why my computer's been gone so long) so we've been able to enjoy a long weekend and lots of outside playing.
  • Stefan has started fishing (he's putting nets out right now). Yesterday morning he and Mattias pulled up some nets - I think it was about 50kg they got (of the edible kind:)
  • On Thursday I went with the school on their field trip. First they went to a gymanstics gym that is new here in Jeppis. The gym is owned by Russians, and Nelia tried speaking to Sofia in Russian. None of us could figure out if Sofia didn't understand, or didn't want to understand. But, all 3 of my kids had a blast and want to sign up in the Fall . . . . After that, it was the swimming pool. Sofia's getting much more confident, but still stayed in the wading pool most of the time.
  • Joel finally jumped from the 3m diving board (twice). He has tried to do it everytime for the last few times we've been at the pool - walks out to the end, stands there for about twenty seconds and then goes back. Repeats this about 5 times every visit. Everybody clapped for him - but he was so thrilled he didn't notice!
  • Last Tuesday we had our parent-teacher meeting for Sofia. She is well within all norms for her age group (other than language) and her teacher recommended that she indeed begin Grade 1 in the Fall.
  • Sofia has learned to ride a bike - but that can be its own post.
  • Sam is definately taller than me now - it's weird to have to look up to reprimand someone . .
  • Mattias had a violin concert on Wednesday. He played a piece by Bach with piano accompaniment. It went really well.
  • I have washed all winter jackets, pants, gloves, toques, scarves, etc and put them away for the season!!!
  • Oh yeah, I found out that I don't have a day-job to return to in the Fall when my parental leave ends. That stinks.
Well, that's all for now - I should probably go get the laundry started - Sofia is wearing her last pair of clean socks . . .

The Holms

Denmark Road Trip

The outskirts of St. Pete

St. Petersburg

Saint Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg, Russian pronunciation: is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. The city's other names were Petrograd (1914–1924) and Leningrad (1924–1991). Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on 27 May, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. Celebrating the 300th anniversary of its foundation, Saint Petersburg was selected as the main motif in a recent Finnish commemorative coin, the €10 Mannerheim and Saint Petersburg commemorative coin, minted in 2003. The reverse of the coin features a view of Saint Petersburg, with the Peter and Paul Fortress and its three turrets. In the coin the words "St. Petersburg 1703-2003" can be seen.