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    From Russia with love

    I call her my borrowed Russian daughter (Diana), and I call them my daughter’s Swedish parents (Mats & Carina).  All part of our extended global family thanks to AFS & their high school exchange student program. 

    Our larger world experience is all because of Annie and her passion for language & cultural experience.  As a freshman in high school she decided she wanted to be an exchange student during her high school junior year.  She knew which program she wanted and which country she wanted.  She prepared a detailed presentation complete with a folder of pertinent information that parents would need to know when considering the whole exchange student situation.  Or shall I say that she made 2 folders – one for me and one for her dad.  (She must have been paying attention when I told her to never go into a meeting or situation unprepared to answer whatever follow-up questions there may be – because she was wickedly prepared for her exchange student presentation to the parents.) So what could I do?  When the time came the next year to decide if I’d support her application my answer was yes.  I was going to be an AFS parent – sending a child to Sweden.

    But Annie wasn’t finished there.  She wanted us to host an AFS student during her sophomore year.  Our local chapter had copies of the applications of all the students who would be placed in our area the following year, and we could review them and see if we thought any of them would be a good fit for our family.  (Although – truthfully – Annie had already reviewed them and made a selection before I saw any of them).  So we talked about it as a family and decided to be a host family.  Diana – a beautiful young girl from Kazan, Russia would be living with us for 10 months, part of AFS because of a State Department scholarship program called FLEX which is for students from the countries of the former Soviet Union.  I knew we would learn a lot from her, and I knew Annie would learn a lot by going to Sweden.

    When Diana lived with us she would often say how grateful her parents were that she was with our family.  I didn’t really get it – what could be the big deal?  She was part of our family now and we treated her that way.  She was my third daughter and fourth child for that year.  Sometimes I annoyed her just like I did my own children, and sometimes we argued when she changed her plans and didn’t let me know.  But still she would tell me that her parents were so happy that she was with us and I didn’t give it a second thought.  I didn’t really get it until the next year when I became the parent at home with a missing child living in a stranger’s family half the way around the world.

    You give up your parental control and power for 10 months while your minor child lives in another country with no friends or family near – with a family you don’t know at all – who are all complete strangers – and it doesn’t do any good for you to Google them to find out more.  You don’t get to decide what their curfew is or go to parent teacher conferences.  You don’t know much about their culture and what kind of freedoms teenagers may have that you wouldn’t be comfortable with.  You don’t get to know if they are spending the night at a friend’s house – because unlike when they are in your home there will be no call to the other parent to find out if they’re actually home for the weekend.   All of those parental things are done by someone else.  Someone who is a complete stranger.  OK.  So now I get it.  How grateful you are when your child is on another continent with a family that has turned out to be kind and loving and accepts your child as their own.  Now I understand that Diana’s parents feel the same way towards me that I feel toward Mats & Carina.  I am grateful beyond words.   They and their wonderful, loving extended family gave my daughter a real home during her year in Sweden and continue to be a part of her life – and by extension – our entire family. 

    Fast forward.  This summer Caroline (my oldest) and I visited with Diana’s family in Russia.  A remarkable trip we would never had experienced if it wasn’t for AFS.  I don’t speak Russian, and Diana’s family (with the exception of her brother Bulat who is studying English) doesn’t speak any English, so we didn’t get to have a lot of conversation.  But some things don’t require words.  The way that we hugged hello and goodbye said everything that needed to be said.  In those hugs from her parents and grandparents I felt their gratitude that we had loved and cared for their daughter, and I was so grateful that they were generous enough to lend her to us for a year.  I felt it in their hugs and the way they smiled at me.  I felt it when they made their special occasion dishes for dinner and send me home with their favorite Russian snacks and vodka.  Didn’t need words to understand that.  Same way I feel about Mats & Carina – Annie’s Swedish parents.  Forever part of our family – all of them.

    I’ll write more about my experience in Russia – but wanted to start out by introducing you to our AFS experience.  And encourage you to consider hosting an exchange student in your home.  It’s an invaluable experience that will enrich your family in ways that nothing else can. School is just starting and I’d bet there are still students in need of host families in your area. Check it out -   AFS can be contacted here

    Your child interested in going abroad?  Here's my parent's perspective Q & A's that I wrote while Annie was in Sweden:   



    She believed she could so she did.

    She took her Christmas ornaments.

    She TOOK her Christmas ornaments!

    And her books off the bookshelves.

    And her dad’s Pittsburgh Pirates panoramic photo from 1925.

    This is what happens when your child graduates from college and moves into their first ‘permanent’ home.  They take their stuff.  Another milestone in the life of a parent.  (The taking of the stuff is not the milestone – just the permanent home part)

    Caroline – my oldest – has graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from Goldsmiths College and has settled in to her first permanent home.  Not nearly as emotional for me as taking her to college the first time.  I’ve adjusted over the past 4 years to not seeing her often – although I happily admit that I will surely see her more often now that she’s in the continental United States.  What I’m feeling now is pride and hope and anticipation and excitement.  For her.   The just-out-of-college years are so much fun; it’s when your life really starts. 

    Last week we moved her to a NYC apartment.  We rented a minivan, loaded it up with the aforementioned Christmas ornaments, books, Union Jack quilt, and other assorted stuff.  We stopped at Target on the way and purchased pillows and bed skirts and other necessities.  When we got to New York we went furniture and rug shopping – and I was surprised that she sees me now not only as Mom – but also Mom the interior designer.  She valued and asked for my professional opinion about the furnishings we shopped for: size shape color pattern texture!   (All you moms surely know how gratifying it was for me to have my adult child respect my profession and ask for my advice.)  Ok – so maybe she thought it was a little over the top that I drew her apartment floor plan in AutoCad…  but it did come in handy to know rug & furniture sizes.

    Now for the next part of her life.  She’ll continue to work hard – but it’s a different kind of working hard than college was.  She’ll get a job and figure out her career.  She’ll make friends and a home.  She’ll make mistakes and fall in love and hopefully not have her heart broken too many times.  It’s an exciting time and a scary time and a time full of possibilities. 

    So yes, I’m a little sad that my first baby is moving on.  Wasn’t I just pushing her in a stroller? But I also have to tell you that I’m thrilled that there are so many possibilities in her future.  She’s smart and kind and talented and charming and I'm immensely proud of her. 

    She’s never thought any of her dreams were unachievable – and because of that - they haven’t been. 

    Photo above of my favorite card of all time - I've bought them and given them away many times.. - you can find them here:


    they call them love apples for a reason

    Tomatoes are my favorite food.  If it’s not summer or early fall I don’t even attempt to eat one except for the grape tomatoes – which frankly - are good any time of the year.  And I would never order tomato on a sandwich unless it was tomato season and I already have vetted the restaurant and know their fresh-tomatoes-in-season policy.  Otherwise disappointment ensues and no matter how good the atmosphere or the company, the meal is ruined.

    Growing up my dad only ventured into the kitchen to prepare two things.  Fried Potatoes.  Tomato Salad.  Both of which are completely delicious.  In the summer he’d take the tomatoes from the plants growing in the back yard and cut them freehand with a paring knife – no cutting board needed.  Add olive oil, red wine vinegar, dried basil & oregano, salt and pepper.    Then the tomatoes sit for a while – never in the refrigerator – and it becomes the thing dreams are made of.  Tomato dreams.  If you’re a true tomato lover you know what I mean.  After the tomatoes have been consumed there is a liquid in the bottom of the bowl that is almost as good as the tomatoes themselves – the leftover olive oil, vinegar, tomato juice and seeds.  At this point we tear off pieces of bread to sop up the juice at the bottom of the bowl – and that may just be the best part.  Makes my heart beat fast just thinking about it.

    So here we are – at the beginning of arguably the best time of the food year – tomato season.  I can and will eat them at all three meals of the day.  And consume them in every form possible.  Fresh off the vine, warm from the sun, tomato salad, tomato sandwich, with mozzerella & basil, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, and the most perfect of sandwiches – the BLT. 

    Tomato goodness. Just makes me happy.

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