Guess who started school?

Yes, our little Masha-bug has started preschool! She is really happy about playing with kids her size. She shares her classroom with another little girl with Down syndrome who is older by one year - and I do mean little girl. Masha picks her up and carries her around like a doll. She is delighted to catch her bus in the morning and throws herself excitedly into my arms as she gets home in the afternoon.

It is wonderful to see her sparkle with enthusiasm. I am a little sad when I think of the children like her in Eastern Europe who do not get the joy of going to school and learning with other children because of their disabilities. We are so blessed to have Masha here in Minnesota where she can make the most of her potential.

I think she is pretty happy with being here too!

Happy Halloween!

We had a great Halloween. These are all my girls. I love the glowing eyes!
Masha enjoyed trick or treating and looked adorable as a little fairy. She wasn't real impressed with the wings but she loved carrying the pumpkin bucket.

Caelia and Lera are experts at making the rounds. Caelia made a beautiful witch - she even let me put makeup on her this year! She is still insisting on putting her costume on everyday. She really liked the hat.
Lera was Snow White - she wanted to be a Barbarian but they didn't have her size, so she settled for a Disney princess. Michael was very thankful that we didn't give Lera a sword. Lera can kick butt (and does) with a lightsaber on anyone that dares pick up another sword. Lera is quite the candy fiend and she is quick. One lady was sitting on the porch with a bowl on her lap handing out candy. She gave a piece to each of the girls but Lera grabbed another and ran. The lady thought it was funny and Lera does it with a smile so she was allowed to keep her ill-gotten goodies. Lera also believes that an open door is an invitation to enter. She attempted to make new friends at four houses. Randy sure had his hands full!

I got to stay home and greet the trick or treaters. I love this. Some kids are nervous but they eventually make it up to see me. Michael sometimes sits on the porch with a mask on pretending to be a scarecrow. He has strict orders not to scare the little ones but I got a lot of visitors this year that towered over me. They are fair game for Michael. He scared three girls straight off the porch - I love teenagers!

It was very still and very chilly which leads us to this photo. Yes, Randy managed to fog the entire neighborhood.
Happy Halloween!

No pictures - blogger is doing something BUT an update!

Randy pointed out that I have been severely slacking with the blog and he is right. I have however been very busy - actually, we all have been busy. We had rounds of colds and sniffles. Michael escaped the sickness probably because he has been so busy growing that he didn't have time to get sick! He now towers over me and is very smug about it.

Caelia is really happy. She has been doing great in school. She is growing up so much. She has started playing handheld games. She really likes her leapster but it is an old game and it's hard to find parts for so we are researching the new game systems, maybe the Mobigo. If anyone has an opinion let me know, I think something with a touchscreen would be best.

Valeria has been a sick little girl. She was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and some of the side effects are making her very unhappy and very uncomfortable. It is also making her less than her normal sunny self. Okay, she is downright surly. Her attitude towards Masha is much better though. Her teachers have even commented that she doesn't scowl when they mention Masha anymore. Masha has taken to kissing Lera every chance she gets. Lera at first looked bewildered and then amused and now she cracks up and kisses Masha back. They are both very silly girls. Lera has also followed Caelia in the big sister role and helps Masha get dressed or acquire toys that are out of reach. Both big girls look out for Masha and try to keep her out of harm's way.

And Masha has been busiest of all. She has had lots of doctor appointments and lots of tests. She has a nice straight spine and clean lungs. She will need eye surgery but it will need to be done at Minneapolis Children's Hospital because she does have a small heart condition. She is overall very healthy. She also has been taking lots of tests so that she can start school. She will be starting preschool next Tuesday and will start riding the bus like a big girl on Wednesday. The teacher who evaluated her said that she was very social and played very nicely with the other toddlers that were being evaluated. She also said that it was very obvious that Masha had previously had therapies to improve her strength and skills.

Randy and I are just keeping up with the kids and all the paperwork that goes with the start of school for special needs kids. We completed our first report to Russia and I can't believe it has already been six months since Masha came home. It really feels like she is home now. She is our cute, impish little dancer. Her favorite words are food, cup cookie and more. She can say Mah (mama), Kay (Caelia), stop it, quit and no. She hears those last three a lot, I'm afraid. Everything is so interesting, so much for her to see and touch. We are teaching her "gentle" because she does everything with such enthusiasm and gusto that we frequently get a little bruised by her. She loves to climb all over Randy and I and she wrestles with her siblings but she can be so sweet and angelic. She now pats me on the cheek very gently as she smiles up at me when I rock her at night. She loves to crawl up on Randy's lap and look at pictures of herself and of our trips to Russia.

Favorite foods.

The one issue that is not really been an issue in our family is food - until now. My kids will try most anything, they may never try it again but they give it chance. Masha seems to operate under different principles. She will spit just about anything out the first time you give it to her. So, we give it to her again and say "umm" - Michael discovered this worked- and if she likes it, she devours it.

She has a particular dislike for green things - lettuce, spinach, broccoli - that also extends to most fresh foods - strawberries, grapes, apples. She is so adept at spitting out lettuce that it became a game one evening. We had chicken with dressing and salad - oh and fresh grapes. Randy attempted to feed her lettuce and she spit it out. He put chicken and dressing on a spoon with a tiny bit of lettuce and fed it to her. She paused for a minute, concentrated and spit out only the piece of lettuce! Randy tried this several times - always with the same result. In an attempt to outwit her, he tucked a tiny sliver of lettuce into a grape and fed it to her. Down went the grape, out came the lettuce. Michael was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his face. Lera took pieces of lettuce and chewed them like a little goat to show us what a good girl she was - she's a little competitive with Masha.

These are a few of my kids favorite things.

Caelia loves ice cream, pizza and popcorn. She signs "movie" and "popcorn" all the time. The top of her favorites is chips and cheese - she has made up her own signs for these, Chips look like "a bit" and cheese is a flourish with her pointer fingers in the air and a huge smile!

Lera used to eat anything. She made a frowny face while eating the ones she hated but she would eat anything in front of her - babyhouse rules, I guess. Now she adores spaghetti or anything with pasta, barbecued pork chops, hamburgers and chocolate. If you offer her something she doesn't like she says "no tank-you" and waves her hand side to side in front of her.

Michael loves crab legs, kettle corn, a chicken hot dish that he calls "slop" and licks his lips for and samsah - sort of goat hot pockets from Russia. Anyone know where we can get samsah in Minnesota?

Masha does have some things that she really likes and will take instantly. She loves grape juice, cookies, ice cream, anything from Caelia and her new favorite, corn on the cob!

The North Shore --- Part 2

A trip to the North Shore should include Split Rock Lighthouse. This is another one of those history things that is interesting to both adults and kids. They have period actors walking around telling stories about their life (based on an actual person), the foghorn works and so does the light. It is still turning even during the day but they don't light it. It is amazing because it turns by "winding" like grandfather clocks. It has 250 pound weights that hang from the light to several feet under the ground. The lighthouse keepers pull the weights back to the top every 90 minutes (that's how long it takes to make the distance from the top back to the bottom) and they did this when it was a working lighthouse all day and all night. They also cleaned those huge windows (inside and out) every morning because the lamp burned oil and it filmed the windows and you have to have clean windows in a lighthouse.

I was really surprised by how much Caelia adores lighthouses. She insisted on going to the top of the lighthouse 3 times. She generally doesn't show such strong preferences for things that she can't hold but she was captivated by it. She also wanted to walk the stairs all the way down to the shore. It is 137 feet down to the shore which translates into a whole bunch of stairs and a very sore back. She did okay all the way down but insisted that Randy carry her back up! I didn't go down there - I have been before and I knew that Lera and Masha would not be able to manage those stairs, so Randy, Caelia, Michael, Christopher and our friend Ron and his boys took that journey.

We had a picnic lunch and then headed for Gooseberry Falls. Gooseberry Falls is a wonderful place to splash in the water, climb and explore and it's free! We sort of overestimated how much energy Randy and I had left so we didn't stay as long as we have in previous years. Caelia was also tired and had a sit-down strike at the top of the falls necessitating Momma carrying her down to meet Daddy and her sisters at the lower falls.

A bit about Down Syndrome Slump, Drop and Flop, Sit Down Strikes or whatever you choose to call that lovely bit of non-compliance that appears when a child with Down syndrome decides that she is not going to do what she has been asked, or is expected of her. This is an amazing thing to behold. 1960's civil rights activists would be envious. Caelia doesn't fight you but she won't budge, she won't walk and coaxing and cajoling do not work. She is simply on strike until she chooses to get up. When Masha does this, we pick her up and move on. It's not pretty but it works, even works on Lera but Caelia? Caelia is getting to be an unmanageable size for me, so if anyone has a plan to get her moving, let me hear it! Oh - and keep in mind...she doesn't give a rip what anyone thinks about her behavior, you can't walk away (she won't follow --- she will run in the opposite direction as quick as she can) and "do I need to get Daddy?" doesn't work either.

The water is chilly but not too bad and the rocks can get kind of slick but it really is a lot of fun and it was warm enough that the cool water felt great.

Masha will be getting her first haircut soon. We tried pulling it into pig tails but her hair is really fine and she pulls them out quickly so she looks a little wild child all the time...especially in this photo!

The North Shore

Okay, the North Shore is not a new destination for us but we thought it would be a nice way to get Masha used to traveling. It is not too far from our home but it is a roadtrip and requires putting together a suitcase and a long car ride. This is a logistics lesson for Randy and I. It is tricky to go anywhere with 5 kids in tow - (and no, we have not added to the family again - our favorite sometimes son, Christopher, was along for the ride.)

We left around noon after picking up Caelia and Lera from school and after stopping to pick up new glasses for Randy. Evidently Randy forgot about Caelia's propensity for destroying glasses at Masha's age but Masha has quickly reminded him, first with his glasses and then with his sunglasses (less than a week apart). Our van seats 7 which means it is snug with all the kids and luggage. We also brought along our WIKE. I love this thing. It holds Lera and Masha and diaper bags and steers really easily - it also goes through single doors of buildings and not have to be folded. It also puts together in a snap. Lera tires easily (so does Caelia but she refuses to ride) and Masha is too unsteady on her feet for us to take long walks with her, especially on uneven terrain.

We stayed in Lutsen at Caribou Highlands. I really like this place. It has townhouses for rent and they are reasonably priced because they are not on the water. It is a ski lodge in the winter time but in the summer it is equally beautiful and they have a lot of activities to sign up for that I hope to take advantage of next time we are up there. Our home had a beautiful view of the gondolas traveling up the side of the hill. (Hill is an understatement) It also had a huge dining table that I hope to have one of its size in the future. We took advantage of the the kitchen and grill to cook at home. It was really nice to not have to go out for food after a long day of being out. It is a challenge to take the girls out and still manage for Randy and I to eat at the same time. There are a lot of distractions in a restaurant that make eating less interesting than whatever the kids at the table across the way are doing.

This trip was sort of short because Randy has interviews that he needed to be home for the next week but we did go to all our favorite places. We stopped in Duluth's Canal Park on our way to Lutsen. Lera wasn't in the best mood but it was cooler there than anything in Minneapolis has been for the last couple of weeks. The humidity is much lower too. We played on the shore and watched the big boats with the girls while Michael and Christopher burned off pent up energy by climbing all over the big rocks that protect the shore.

The next morning we went to Grand Marais. The home of the Best Donuts in the World. Randy loves them (and so does everyone who was in town for the Fisherman's Festival to judge by the long line). I don't think they are spectacular but as Randy says how can you find fault with something deep fried and coated in sugar and frosting? It was a lovely morning and of course, we had to skip stones. Notice Lera is wearing a coat. It was chilly by the lake. Lake Superior is icy cold which makes the surrounding area cool and is the reason you do not see us splashing in the water.

From Grand Marais we drove almost to the Canadian border and visited Grand Portage. There is a really cool working fort there that was interesting and entertaining for everyone. The girls could run but they also were allowed to touch things and us older people got to learn more history. They have actors portraying period folk that you can ask all kinds of questions. We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day.

Next to the fort was the camp for the voyagers (traders) and both Caelia and Lera made themselves at home. I mentioned that Lera tired easily right?

---------------------------to be continued------------------------------------