A Three Soda Salute

Today I celebrate warm memories of a mom.

And the life of a daughter.

It was on Mother’s Day 15 years ago that my late husband and I returned to the United States from Russia with our new 12 year old daughter, Nicole.

My mom couldn’t have dreamed of a better gift.

A language barrier didn’t slow at all the love and bonds that grew between the two.

Such soul mates they were, sharing passions for strong coffee, pickled herring, and the spiciest of shrimp gumbos.

They even shared the same May birthday.

Though Nicole’s teenage years were far from simple for any of us, I know how proud my mom would be of her granddaughter today.

Nicole’s a strong willed and loving woman, making her a remarkable mother.

She’s been an advocate for ensuring the best education and health possible for her three children in spite of some challenges.

I believe her grandma is looking down from above smiling wide at that.

And so is this mother as she sits across from her now.

So Nicole, your kids and I would like to offer up a three soda salute for all that you do and who you’ve become.

This one’s for you, kiddo!

Nicole arriving in the U.S. at age 12.

Little Miss Spitfire

“You’ve got yourself one little spitfire”.

We’d had more than a few people tell us that after we adopted our then 12 year old daughter Nicole from Russia.

Feisty, she definitely was.

And feisty, she still is today.

That’s one of the things I love about her.

And so did my husband, Richard, always forgiving her with endless love for each teen age tribulation she’d manage to unearth.

And maybe because we knew from day one there was another side to our daughter.

A softer, gentler side.

One of great creativity and beauty.

And capable of so much love.

When Richard and I first arrived in Russia bearing gifts before the adoption proceedings, Nicole was prepared to present us with several gifts also.

She’d cross stitched several perfect pieces and had sewn for us a beautiful potholder.

Her caregivers had taught her well.

But once Nicole moved to America, she embraced her teen age years in a new, fast world of video games and technology.

Nicole’s fiber art skills were parked in favor of the Back Street Boys, cell phones, and definitely pushing some of her parents’ buttons.

Yet my husband and I knew that softer side with its creativity was still resting deep underneath the missed Friday night curfews.

Unfortunately Nicole only knew my husband for six years before his dementia settled in.

But still her growing love for him was in full bloom by the time my husband’s illness worsened.

One year ago today she held her father’s hand, stroking it and smiling as Richard rested in a hospice bed on his final Christmas Eve birthday.

Ever thankful she was for the gift of his short rally in cognition for a few hours. Richard even tried to talk to her some, smiling back up at Nicole’s pretty face.

I like to think that smile may have ignited Nicole’s creativity again.

Taking a short break outside that afternoon she immediately began to sculpt smiling faces in snowbanks as a response to my husband’s grin, spreading joy to all looking on.

Yesterday Nicole, her fiancé, and my grandchildren celebrated an early Christmas with me. As we exchanged gifts, I pulled out an extra one for her on behalf of my late husband.

It was a bag full of pannettone (Italian sweetbread), pelmeni (Russian dumplings), and Russian chocolates.

My husband and daughter always shared a passion for the same foods, especially around the holidays.

Nicole smiled, as she opened the gift and card, her eyes growing wide and misty when she saw the chocolates.

And then my daughter gave me my gifts.

Her bag included a pair of a sparkling red slippers she’d crocheted along with a beautiful Christmas potholder.

My husband would have smiled at the sight.

I sure did.

Nicole also whispered that she’d purchased a child’s crochet kit for Christmas for my granddaughter.

The sweet seven year old so wants to learn the craft, and be just like her mom.

I smiled again.

It seems my once little spitfire has now grown into a blessed flame of creativity, great warmth, and such incredible love.

How lucky am I.

Tears of joy


Comedians don’t normally make me cry, but one did this morning.

Grabbing my first cup of coffee I heard some tough words coming from the TV.

“My dad had left his body”.

I knew the speaker had to be talking about Alzheimer’s.

I walked over and turned up the volume.

It was an interview with comedian Mike Myers in a “CBS Sunday Morning” news segment.

Mike was in tears after uttering the phrase.

It seems his dad never had a chance to see his son’s TV success in “Saturday Night Live” or in films.

That comment brought me a few tears of sadness.

But they were also mixed with many tears of joy.

You see Mike and the “Austin Powers” movie series were a staple for creating laughter in my house for years.

My husband and daughter would replay the movies weekly.

And they’d laugh at the same gags, no matter how many times they’d heard them before.

If I ever wanted to kick them out of the kitchen while cooking, all I’d have to do is start one of the movies in another room.

Then the guffaws would begin again until tears flowed down their cheeks.

With my daughter joining us from Russia at age 12, she didn’t have a lot of time with her dad before his own dementia settled in.

So watching those shared expressions of joy and hearing that rip roaring laughter were special gifts I’ll never forget.

Or those really bad ‘Dr. Evil’ imitations they did either.

So Mike, if you see this, thanks for the memories.

And on behalf of my husband, thanks for all the joy and laughter you brought to one dad and his loving daughter.

A collection of memories

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I’d misplaced one shiny, red box in the basement, but found it again under the stairs. I soon realized while opening this box of ornaments how much it’s like turning the pages of an old photo album. Each ornament a snapshot in time.

And for me a memory of a husband and a marriage.

With hot cider in hand, to ward of the chill from a sub-zero gray morning, I took my time hanging them one by one.

Like art on a museum wall, this collection is broad in its content and increasing in value as it ages. At least it is to me.

There’s a sparkling Santa bought in a pretty Parisian shop when my husband Richard and I were young. A gold ball covered with dancing nutcrackers purchased on the streets of Vienna, while nibbling on warm chestnuts. And a wooden Russian girl in costume from travels to Russia to meet our daughter, and bring her back home to the U.S.

I slowly unwrapped one ornament Richard always loved that reads “Uncle” done in needlepoint. And a Rudolph wreath full of tiny colored bells with “Richard” etched below.

My husband would always laugh as he’d see the blue ball covered with the small painting of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox from our first family trip ‘up north’ with our daughter. And the ornament of a stork carrying a baby falling out of a basket representing our first grandchild. I laughed, too, as I hung them both.

But as I spotted one special ornament I sat down and just held it for a few minutes. I wanted to find just the perfect spot.

It’s photo of Richard and me on our wedding day, framed with a label reading, “Our First Christmas Together.”

The sun suddenly broke through illuminating a hole in the already crowded tree. Right in front.

Shuffling back over to the tree in my old, cozy slippers I hung the ornament in this perfect space.

Finally, I bent down to turn on the tree lights, then stepped back to admire my work.

I smiled.

What a beautiful tree, I thought.

And what beautiful memories, as well.

One pretty, pink parasol


Although it’s one of the busiest post offices in the city, one young postal clerk was getting to know me too well. I’d always wait patiently for the sandy haired man, motioning others in the long line behind me to go forward for service from the other clerks as I waited.

I’d been going there to mail packages to Russia for a couple of years. All to the same person at the same address. The intended recipient was a small nine year old girl I’d met when she’d visited America one summer. The once nine year old, was now fast approaching twelve.

My favorite postal clerk had a Russian son, a baby, he’d adopted. He loved sharing stories about him and pictures, too.

The clerk was always so curious about the packages I was mailing. The unusual shapes and sizes. The colored hearts, flowers, and butterflies I’d draw above the girl’s name on each package. But he was intrigued the most by the address, finally realizing one day it was for an orphanage.

Over the years I mailed family pictures, music, costume jewelry, toys and clothing. Sometimes all at the same time. One year sending the girl a Barbie doll in elegant red velvet, with her own velvet jumper to match at Christmas time.

I never knew how many of the packages I sent made it her village, the orphanage, or her. Even if none of them did, I told the clerk, “I just hope they find a good home with a child who appreciates what’s inside”.

Then one day, I showed up at the post office with the most unique package of all. A three foot long ruffled blue umbrella with matching raincoat. I’d painstakingly packaged it as securely as I could, yet the clerk and I both shook our heads. We knew it was a long shot it would make out of the U.S., let alone arrive in her Russian village.

But a year later as we traveled abroad to adopt this special girl, we discovered she’d received the package with the umbrella. In fact, she’d received everything else we’d sent her.

Though my daughter’s umbrella was broken by then, the blue raincoat did travel back to my daughter’s new home in the U.S.

My daughter is in her twenties now, and a mother herself. Yesterday we had the joy of taking two of her children to see Santa Claus.

I overheard my six year old granddaughter ask in a whisper, for an umbrella.

And this ‘Santa’s helper’ just found one!

Frilly, feminine, and pink.

She’s going to love it.

But actually, I believe my daughter will even more.

One strong young woman


I’ll be the first to admit this decade has been far from my favorite. Overlapping responsibilities of caring for four generations simultaneously some years, while working full time can wear any girl down. Yet many days, I’ve been blessed with a beautiful gift. A surprise. And today was one of them.

With my morning mug of coffee, I read something my 24 year old daughter Nicole posted last night about her tumultuous teen years. She first moved to America and joined our family 12 years ago from Russia.

Becoming part of a new family and a new country isn’t easy. It becomes even harder when you make that change as an adolescent who didn’t start school in Russia until the third grade.

Nicole immediately found it challenging here dealing with peer pressure, while learning a new language. Dealing with parents again, after being in an orphanage for 6 years couldn’t have been simple for her either. And seeing my husband’s increasing memory loss only further complicated the other issues for her.

By the time Nicole settled deeper into the teen years, I was finding items under the mattress no parent wants to discover. There were nights of missed curfews, a couple of climbs out the bedroom window, and other memories that still make my hair gray just thinking about them.

Yet my daughter survived and has matured. She is a great mother to my little grandkids. And she’s developed into a strong, authentic writer in a language she’s only known for 12 years.

Last night as Nicole wrote about these years, she thanked her Dad and I, as well as a few others who’ve helped her along the way.

“Without you guys, I would have been one lost soul” she typed.

But I’m thinking I would have been one lost soul without Nicole.

Every dog has its day

She wanted a Dalmatian bad. Really bad. I figured she might, as most kids do at some point in childhood.

“They’ve agreed to a dog, but it must be a little one for their little home,” the translator explained in Russian to Nicole, the little girl we hoped would soon be our daughter.

Nicole was silent. Disappointed. Thinking. But I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in those hazel eyes. Were we moving towards detente, an easing of tensions, just like back in the Cold War? I felt a shiver as Nicole devoured disgusting looking dried fish in our Moscow hotel room, while Russian dubbed reruns of the Teletubbies played in the background.

I knew this dog business could be a deal breaker. As she was 12, it was now her decision to move to America.

Finally, she looked up and spoke: “Da, Da!”

Eureka!

The adoption was quickly finalized.

We settled in nicely for the first two months as she learned more English, supplemented by Mary Kate and Ashley videos. One afternoon, swallowing sardines, she managed to ask in her now ‘valley girl’ accent, “What about my dog?”

I knew I had no choice as we’d promised. So off we went to the pound “just to take a look,” I said. Of course, the first dog we saw walking in the door was a Dalmatian.

She melted. I cringed. She pleaded. I folded.

I told her we’d take the dog into one of the playrooms “just to visit,” but reminded her we’d previously agreed to a “no Dalmatian” policy.

I took a deep breath. The dog ignored her, the dog ignored me. The dog circled back by Nicole and
lifted his leg three different times in front of her, leaving pungent puddles everywhere. Nicole stood up, hands on hips and proclaimed: “No Dalmatian! Nyet!”

I appeased Nicole by putting a puppy on “lay away” that night, just like at Kmart. The dog volunteer shared, “Don’t know what he is, but I can tell he’ll stay a small dog.” Perfect, I thought. I told Nicole we’d be back for our “blue light special” the following night as we had to make sure Pop liked the pup, too.

When we returned, volunteer number two put the pup in the playroom again, warning us, “That pup’s going to be huge! ” My husband freaked, spewing “No way, absolutely not.” Nicole broke into tears. And I went hunting for a dog house to hide in.

But somehow everything worked out that night. We left with a cute and cuddly corgi. The puppy followed a friendly family to a farm. And the Dalmatian went to a dentist named Dave.

As for Nicole, she did finally did get a Dalmatian even bigger than her that summer. She won it in the arcade at the State Fair. At least she thought she did.

Her Pop had slipped the carnie a fifty, smiling.