Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bah Humbug

No, "bah humbug" does not reflect our Christmas attitude. The kids just finished up a 12 show run of "Scrooge". They both did such a great job and we were so proud of them. In this photo, they are in the "green room" before going onstage. These were their "street kid" costumes.
The director asked the men to keep their hair rather long for the play to help them look more period-correct. Adam hates getting haircuts, so he was thrilled. The play is now over, so as soon as we have the time, he's getting it buzzed off!

It's really pretty miraculous that the play happened at all. Only a week before opening night, the director shared the unfortunate news that the main character had been incarcerated. An emergency meeting of the theater board was called to see if funds could be gathered to bail Scrooge out. Seriously. As Lyle stated, with drama like this in real-life, who needs the theater?
Anyway, Scrooge could not be sprung from the slammer. Thankfully the director found a man from Tacoma who had played the role before, although it had been years. The poor man only had 3 practices with the cast before opening night. He did an amazing job, as did the rest of the cast. Madeline said that on opening night, in a group scene near the end of the play where Scooge is mingling with the cast and presumably saying something like, "Merry Christmas," that he was actually saying, "Help me! I don't know what to say next!"

The costume person did a great job. I'm amazed at all of the work that she put in. It was quite a large cast and most had more than one costume. They even provided many with shoes! This is Madeline in her party scene outfit.

And here is Adam in his party-scene outfit. The tuxedo pants make him look very grown-up!

The costume that most impressed Maya was worn by the ghost of Christmas present. His costume was a long green velvety robe trimmed in white fur. Maya (who always appreciates a good robe), told him, "WOW! I yike dat fancy wobe!" Thankfully she'd kept her apparrel items straight and didn't compliment the Ghost of Christmas Present on his nice "ba"! (see December 19th post!)

A cute picture of Adam and Madeline together at one of the dress rehearsals.

Proof that Adam does in fact sing.

When the new Scrooge joined the cast, Madeline said she didn't have to "act" scared of him, she WAS scared of him! He really gave the little kids some mean looks. I think Madeline's expression in this photo shows legitimate fear!

In this scene, Madeline is leading a group of Christmas carolers, but then is startled by grumpy old Scrooge.

Adam's big scene came near the end of the play. Scrooge has just woken up and runs out to the street and asks Adam what day it is. "It's Christmas day of course!"

Scrooge wants him to go buy the turkey that's hanging in the butcher shop window. Not the big one, the ENORMOUS one! Adam says, "The one as big as me?"

He'll get half a crown if he hurries!

Madeline helps Scrooge deliver the turkey to the Cratchitt family. This was at a dress rehearsal. You can see poor Scrooge (Santa) with his script.

Adam with some of the other teenagers

Madeline with friends from the show. Would you believe that Madeline is older than the girls on either side of her? She is!

Practicing bows!

I had to pull this out, just for comparison sake. Three years ago at Christmas Madeline was in her first C-Stock play. She was "Molly" the littlest orphan in Annie. She was missing her two front teeth and was so adorable. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day 2007

Maya was up at the unearthly time of 4:30. We put her into bed with us, but she was a horrible bedmate, so Lyle took her back to her room. The night before, we'd charged the video camera so that we could film the kids coming into the living room on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, all four kids went downstairs without telling us at 6 AM!

This is what Maya found that Santa brought--a robe and a farm set. She also got lots of fun goodies in her stocking. The strawberry banana flavored "Lip Smacker" was a big hit!
Maya's gift from us was a Noah's Ark flannel board book. Abby got her a doll, Adam bought her a wooden train, and Madeline gave her a play cell phone. I think Maya really enjoyed her day.

Abby loves dolls of all kinds, but has a special place in her heart for porcelin dolls. She named these two Opal and Olive. In the red bag she got a Christmas music box. I'm not sure how many of you know this about Abby, but she's a girl who loves Showtunes, so she was thrilled with her "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" CD. The present we were most excited about is tied up with the red ribbon. For a little background, Abby is a HUGE fan of Riverdance. She's never been to the show, but she's watched our Riverdance video countless times. She has names for many key characters: "The Twisty Lady", "Bump Head", "Weird Instrument Guy", etc.
The other night Santa had a moment of pure inspiration. After hearing about Abby's obsession, he did some internet sleuthing and found that Riverdance was doing its farewell tour with a stop in Seattle in January! Three tickets were purchased and Abby's yelling on Christmas morning could be heard through the house, "I'm going to RIVERDANCE!!" Abby also got a doll from the movie Enchanted, a Webkinz from Madeline, a very special homemade present from Adam, and a bathtub set from Maya.

Madeline is problematic for Santa. Whenever she's asked about gift preferences, she always responds, "I'm pretty content." Being content is a beautiful thing, but it poses a problem for gift buyers! This year Santa brought Madeline a radio-controlled dragon fly, a hair straightener, a video about a baby panda, and a penguin Webkinz. Madeline seemed pleased. Of course, she was also pretty thrilled with Abby's Riverdance present, because she knew she was included!
Madeline got a special Mom and Dad present. We'd always told Madeline that she could get her ears pierced at age 12. Madeline has only 5 girls in her class and they are the sweetest group of friends. They all get along so well and one of the girls frequently makes matching jewelery for all of them. This sweet girl made matching Christmas earrings for all of them, but told me that she was still looking for a place to buy a clip-on earring kit because she didn't want Madeline to be left out. Sooo, it got us thinking. She's not too far from 12, and we REALLY needed a gift idea! We bought her 2 pairs of earrings and included a note saying that she could invite her friends for a Piercing Party! She wants to do it this Saturday. We'll definitely take pictures! Abby bought Madeline nail polish, Adam got her a balsa wood plane, and Maya gave her slipper socks.

Adam is also a bit tough for Santa! He got a Storm Launcher radio-controlled stunt plane, several Discovery Channel videos, and a speed-sensing baseball.
Adam was really itching to try out his plane, so he ventured out on the porch for some little runs. We were all impressed with its maneuverability. Sadly, he went out with it later in the day and it crash-landed in our blackberry bog. We've searched and searched (as the snow began to fall), but have yet to find it. We all felt badly for him.
Also, the speed-sensing baseball doesn't seem to work, so Adam was understandably a little disappointed. Thankfully he rallied and had fun watching some of his new videos and enjoyed our evening Scum tournament.
Adam also got a book from us on Claymation, guitar pics from Madeline, a Nerf gun from Abby, and a wooden car kit from Maya.

Here is Maya modeling her very own "wobe"! What's funny is that she didn't have quite the reaction we expected. As a two-year-old, there really aren't that many things that Maya feels are absolutes. Her knowledge base is so small that almost anything could be possible. However, when she does make a decision that something is a certain way, she becomes quite determined in that knowledge. It's almost like, "Look, I may not know much, but I do know THIS....", and she cannot be swayed. As odd as it sounds, one of those facts of life is that she cannot reach lightbulbs. One day when I stood on a chair to change lightbulbs, Maya was just so impressed. Lightbulbs were her topic of choice for weeks and she would tell anyone who would listen that she couldn't reach lightbulbs. She always would grunt and stretch out her arm, maybe even jump, just to demonstrate. "UGGGHHH! Oh, can't reach it!" The listeners would nod their heads and agree that her reaching a lightbulb seemed very unlikely indeed. Then out of the blue one day, Lyle picked her up, held her up over his head and said, "Maya, touch the lightbulb. You can reach it!" I don't think I've ever seen her so livid. She screamed, "No!! Dad, I CAN'T reach it!" She refused to touch that lightbulb. Lyle was challenging one of the few indisputable truths in her life. She can't reach lightbulbs! End of story.

Well, on Christmas morning we found that another Maya fact is that Mom and Dad have robes, and she does not. So, it took some coaxing to even get her to try on the robe and then she quickly took it off. I was feeling a little disappointed until this morning when she came into my room and I told her we'd go get breakfast after I put on my robe. Suddenly she got this excited look on her face and yelled, "I have wobe! I have wobe!" She tore down the hall to her room and put on her robe like it's something she's done every day of her life. I wish I'd had her on video as she strutted like a fluffy pink queen down to breakfast.

Adam spent countless hours working on Abby's present. Adam is a "project" kind of guy and we often feel tired just listening to his latest ideas. They always seem overly ambitious to say the least. This year he announced that he was making Abby a guitar. We groaned inwardly at this seemingly impossible project for a 13 year-old. To Adam's great credit, he did a fabulous job. He really is pretty amazing.

After all of the work that he put in, I was more than a little concerned that Abby wouldn't show an appropriate level of appreciation. I shouldn't have worried. Abby loved it and it was definitely the most impressive gift this Christmas.

Adam isn't the only one who gave homemade presents this year. Madeline had heard me mention that I'd always wanted a nativity set. Unbenkownst to us, she went to work creating this adorable scene using Lincoln logs, bits of fabric, paper, some wire and stuffing.
I love it. Madeline also made a beautiful Christmas memories scrapbook for her dad complete with a pop-out present. Abby made a very cute hand-print wreath wall hanging for her dad and an ornament for me. Such crafty kids!

Here is Abby with her chihuahua Webkinz from Madeline. She's named her Betsy. Don't you wish you could look so lovely right when you get out of bed in the morning? (Abby, not the chihuahua) Lyle had a special present for me under the tree. First of all, I should say that Lyle hates the mall. He especially hates the mall at Christmas time. So, I usually get unconventional presents, which is more than fine with me. This year I got a card saying that on Valentine's Day I need to be ready at 8:53 AM with an overnight bag and a spirit of adventure. The obvious clue was that a broomstick was optional. I knew we weren't going to a Quidditch match and I didn't think we were heading to some sort of cleaning convention, so I guessed that we're going to see the play Wicked. Lyle has confirmed that we're flying to Los Angeles on Valentine's Day morning and will see the play that night and fly back the next day. I'm SO excited! Merry Christmas to me! He got a brown sweater.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 2007

Christmas Eve at the Beck house always starts with the big Subway sandwich. This was a tradition started in Lyle's family and I'm very happy to adopt any tradition that involves little to no meal preparation on my part. Obviously Adam is feeling good about his sandwich.

I wish I could say that this show of sisterly love presents an accurate picture of Abby and Maya's overall Christmas Eve demeanor. They really weren't in great spirits. We repeatedly reminded them that if they were going to be good only one day of the year, it certainly should be Christmas Eve! I think the excitement was a little much for them!

After the sandwich and our knock-and-run Secret Santa trip, we did the nativity. This year Maya was our representative shepherd.

Adam was our wise man, or wise guy, whichever the case may be.

Abby campaigns hard to be Mary every year. Madeline doesn't look very pleased to play the role of the donkey.

But her theatrical leanings shine through as the angel bringing good tidings of great joy.

After the nativity, the kids opened their Christmas Eve jammies. Here Maya is signing monkey in her monkey p.j.'s.

Madeline and Abby both had frog-themed jammies, hence Madeline's frog pose. Poor Abby's jammie bottoms were ridiculously huge. I honestly don't know what 6 year-old could possibly have a waist that would fit these pajamas. We gathered the back into a clip that kept her pants up for pictures.

And finally, the traditional Christmas Eve jammie pyramid! I think this year's was particularly good. Then it was off to bed for the 3 big kids on the third floor and Maya in her bedroom. Madeline begged to let Maya join them for the sleepover, but after a day of grouchiness on her part, there was no way we were risking her losing any sleep! I'm glad that we held our ground, because at that point we didn't even know we'd be seeing Maya at our bedside at 4:30 AM!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas is Coming!

I love this photo of our youngest and oldest at the Christmas tree farm. We had difficulty picking a tree this year. The kids were divided as to which type of tree we should get and none of them were in much of a mood to compromise. We did finally find a tree and Lyle was quite happy with the very skinny trunk. He cut that tree down in a matter of seconds. We've realized, however, that a skinny trunk is fraught with problems. See photo below.

Is it just me, or does our tree appear to be tilting? I'm quite sure it is. I've mentioned this numerous times to Lyle, but he hasn't taken note of it. Alas, the skinny trunk is to blame. We can't get a tight grip on it with our christmas tree stand. When we first put it up Lyle did try to reinforce the trunk with blocks of wood, but going by the current view of things, I'd say it didn't work.

This is a cute photo of Maya over at the girls' school. She is so fun to take on errands. Ninety percent of the time she's just great company. Her language skills have really blossomed and it's been so fun talking to her. Today I asked her what she thought Santa would put in her stocking. Her answer: "Halloween candy". Maybe Santa has some left-over candy too (probably didn't get as many elf trick-or-treaters as usual, so he'll pawn it all off in the kids' stockings)! She's only mentioned one thing that she really wants for Christmas---a robe. She thinks robes are just very cool. What's funny is that she gets robes and bras confused. One would think those two things could be easily kept straight, but apparently not. When she sees me in a robe she'll frequently ask for clarification. "Mom, dat a wobe o dat a ba?" She is getting a cute pink "wobe" for Christmas, but I just had a thought. What if what she really wants is a "ba"? Sorry, they don't come in toddler sizes.

She's also quite a daredevil. She loves to pull a chair over to the couch, get up on the arm of the couch, and take a flying leap.

Right before she jumps she likes to wave her arms and yell, "Oh no! I falling! I falling!" Sometimes she'll also throw in (just to mock me), "Careful, Maya!"

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home for the Holidays

This week, in the New York Times, there was an article entitled, "Study Quantifies Orphanage Link to I.Q." Lyle and I both read it and had a long discussion on the topic. Really, the findings of the study aren't at all surprising. The years-long study concluded that, "toddlers placed in foster families developed significantly higher I.Q.'s by age 4 than peers who spent those years in an orphanage." The difference was large and the study found that the earlier children joined a foster family, the better they did.

I firmly believe that we would have met a different child in China had Maya not spent the previous 2 months with a foster family. I think that her own indominable spirit would still have emerged and she would have caught up, but it's impossible to say.

Before we adopted, one particular conversation with an adoptive mom had more influence on me than any other. She told me that when adopting their daughter from China, they were allowed to visit the orphanage. As they were walking down the rows of cribs and looking at each little girl, she was struck by the sameness of each one. She tried to focus on the obvious that of course they were similar, all being little Asian girls from the same city, all roughly the same age, but it wasn't until her husband spoke up that she realized what they all shared and why she felt such overwhelming sadness. He said, "They have no hope in their eyes."

When I look at orphanage pictures of Maya, like the one above, taken just before she left for foster care, and then look at pictures of her in the home of her China family, I'm always struck by the remarkable difference. Maya is not smiling in a single orphanage picture. In some of the earlier photos, she looks close, but as the months went by, the hope left her eyes. The pictures in foster care show a different girl. I will be forever grateful that Maya had the opportunity to leave the orphanage when she did. I like to imagine that her foster family got a great sense of satisfaction when they saw her smile for the first time. I picture them saying some Mandarin version of, "Well, hello! There you are!"

We were so humbled to see this transformation happen right before our eyes in China. Frankly, not so much with Maya, who'd been in a nurturing home for the previous two months, but with other babies and children who went from blank shells to individuals with hope in their eyes. In some cases the difference was stunning.

With Christmas approaching, I thought of the oft-used phrase, "Home for the Holidays", and couldn't help but say a prayer of gratitude that for a short time Maya had a true home in China. During this Christmas season, If any of you feel so inspired, consider sponsoring an orphan so that they can leave the orphanage and enter a home. Adoption will not happen for most of these kids, but foster care can truly change lives. There are numerous organizations who do this throughout the world. Maya was sponsored through Holt International in Eugene, Oregon. Twenty-five dollars a month is so insiginificant when you consider what that money is buying. Every child deserves a home where they are cherished as an individual and where hope can grow.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kids' Art Wall

Lyle and I finished a fun "surprise" project last night while the big kids were at a late-night play practice. I know I'm biased, but I think our kids are pretty talented artists. I don't save much, but some things are really special and just beg to be framed.

We had an empty 9 foot wall upstairs that I decided would be a great spot for a kids' art wall. I found a quote by Pablo Picasso that I really liked that said, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." I had the quote made into an 8 foot long vinyl sticker and Lyle and I put it up last night.

I first thought I'd just hang the pictures, but I saw some neat "picture ledges" in a Pottery Barn catalogue and thought that they'd give me more flexibility to move things around and update pictures. Also, with the ledge, I could display some of my kids' ceramics projects.

Of course, I didn't buy the Pottery Barn variety. Lyle took one quick glance at the picture, got some supplies, went to the garage, and in probably an hour, I had shelves!

I wish my camera could capture the whole wall. The first picture in this group is a hilarious cartoon character that Adam has created called Marvin (star of "Marvin's Minnions"). The next two were done a few years ago by Madeline. Not bad for an 8 year-old.

In the middle section we have a fun picture from "The Hobbit", done by Adam (of course). The next picture is one that Adam did in an art class a few years ago. The last one is colorful jungle lizard created by Madeline. At the very end is a sculpture of Gollum, by guess who.

The last shelf has a picture of an old car, done by Madeline and a geometric watercolor by Adam.

Unfortunately, I don't have any Abby artwork. I knew she'd want to be included, so I put up her purple ceramic lion. When she saw it, she got the biggest smile on her face and looked very proud.

This wall is the first thing I see when I walk out of my room every morning. I absolutely love it. I figure there's not much reason to spend money on expensive artwork when I have talented artists right here at home!

It's nice that there's also still plenty of wall space to hang some things too. I think this wall will be very used through the years!

The kids' play practice went to 11:30 last night (the play starts in only 6 days!) and they had no idea we'd been planning this project. Adam went straight to the shower and didn't see the wall right away. Lyle and I sat in our room, waiting for Madeline to come upstairs and see it.

I so wish I'd had a video camera rolling because her reaction was great. She didn't even see us watching her, which added to the fun. She turned the corner at the top of the stairs, went about midway down the hall and then jumped and let out a little gasp. She stood back and stared at everything with her mouth hanging open. When I finally went out to the hall, I saw that she had tears in her eyes. She said she'd forgotten many of those pictures and loved that we'd hung them up. I couldn't have asked for a better reaction.

Adam came out of the bathroom, wrapped up in a towel, and let out a loud, "HUH?!" He was also very appreciative and thought it looked great. He loved that we'd framed his cartoon character Marvin. I think it was a self-esteem boost for the kids to know that we love their artwork enough to put it on display, and also I think they were surprised at how really professional it looks!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007

Before I jump into Halloween pictures, I should mention that Madeline turned 11 on the 25th!
We've found that she's become very difficult to shop for as she's definitely at that "tweener" age where she doesn't really fit into the "Toys R Us" category, but isn't really excited about teenage-type items either. I think we managed to find some things that she liked! Madeline is a wonderful young lady and we're blessed to have her in our family.

A couple of days before Halloween, Madeline had a piano recital at a local nursing home. All of the kids wore their costumes and the residents seemed to enjoy it. As usual, Maya wanted to come too, so she got more mileage out of her chicken costume! The residents thought she was pretty cute!

Madeline the pirate has spotted the chicken and is going in for the kill with her piano music. The chicken seems determined not to go down without a fight!

Our lovely piano-playing pirate at the nursing home.

On Halloween Abby was our beautiful princess.

The chicken, pirate, and princess planning out their trick-or-treat route.

Here is Madeline with her good friend Tsarina Anastasia Romanov. Let's hope Madeline doesn't get too attached. As a side note, along with Madeline's birthday came her annual check-up. She is in the 3rd percentile for weight and 10th for height. Normally, I don't think she looks so very tiny, but when she stands next to other girls who are the same age, as in this photo, I'm reminded that she's definitely on the low end of the growth charts!

As usual, Adam wanted to help his dad pass out candy. He did do some face decorating but I'm not sure what look he was going for! Actually, notice the laptop---his friend came over to see if Adam wanted to go trick-or-treating with him and Adam told him he had to do his homework. If that doesn't make a mom proud, I don't know what does!