Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two months already?

Two months have way. We seem to have accelerated time's passing once again (having kids really does this) and wish there was a way to slow it all down so it can be savored. I actually had no idea it had been 2 months already until Iris and Daniela (an AFS student from Chile) were lamenting time's passage while driving back from a long weekend over in Bend, OR. Both girls were worrying about how little time of their stay was left if things kept going by so fast! That is surely a testament to the AFS program making what would seem a daunting trip away from one's 'home' into a fantastic journey.

Of course we have now heard of a few rumblings of this journey not going so well for everyone but how could it be otherwise. Maybe some student-host pairings were not great matches, a few students who really couldn't transition away from their home or hosts who in the end who weren't really wanting a teenage offspring in their well-oiled household machine. Who knows but it is really not the norm and hopefully won't deter others from taking the step forward to have a good chance for a really great experience.

Back to our new reality and what a blast taking teenagers to their first Pumpkin Patch. It was so corny (ha-ha-ha)! The Central Oregon Pumpkin Co. in Terrebone, OR has a classic Americana Fall experience. Of course there is a field of pumpkins where you stumble around selecting your perfect globe amongst the thousands of perfect globes. But it is all the other pieces that just makes this a destination worth traveling to: the corn maze, pumpkin cannon, horse-drawn wagon rides, train-like kid ride decorated with zoo animal cars, petting zoo (with escapee chickens and roosters), farm market, hay bales, caramel apples, carnival food and places just to hang out and watch the whole scene. It was even dog friendly (Cory was very happy and decided he likes caramel apples, no surprise there). All of this with a background of Smith Rocks just adjacent to the farm. What a great day to share.

Yummy caramel apples.

Crooked River Gorge and railroad bridge.

Those funny photo-ops...the Peanuts gang!

AFS Oregon students at Sky Camp.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday!

We celebrated Iris's birthday today!

I wonder how this day would have compared to her birthdays back in Finland. Seemed to me that cake and candles are universally recognized. We were treated to a number of birthday songs from various other countries as many of the exchange students at her school were able to come. Spain, Chile, Ukraine, Belgium and of course, the good ol' USA students wished her well. (What a gift for us to be part of this).

We are so fortunate in our small community to have such a strong commitment to exchange students from AFS and Rotary. I don't remember a single, exchange student from my high school days in San Diego and the school had 3x's the number of students than this one in Newport. Credit must be given to those who have organized and promoted these exchanges for many years! Kudos to you Evelyn & company.

It is also a very good thing to have a great liaison and friends as this party may not have even happened without their help. Even though I think I'm fairly organized, this is still new and I planned a party that I could only attend for an hour due to a meeting...oops. Fortunately liaison and friend (Katy & Julie) to the rescue to help supervise and provide some transportation. Of course, not to be content with just that task, the kitchen was sparkling when I tiredly walked in the door. WOW.

Didn't someone once say it takes a village? It surely helps and this village rocks! Guess I shouldn't worry as much about Iris being in a small, rural town because it is a GREAT community to be a part of. I hope Iris takes this impression back home about the USA. It is not all Hollywood, SUVs, hamburgers, etc.

The gifts are sure mutual during this adventure and we are so very lucky to be able to have celebrated with Iris and her 'new' friends. Happy Birthday and thank you!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

School activities have begun

First school, then the after-school activities. It has been an easy transition from summer's endless possibilities, to the definite boundaries created by school hours and now the beginning of the seemingly chaos of the after-school life. The reason our household has had it fairly easy considering that dance hasn't begun yet which definitely will be the monkey wrench in schedules.

For now we are just adjusting to 2 different pickup times after school which conveniently coincides with when Andra then Cliff leave work. Iris has been dabbling into participating on the cross country team. Dabble is due to the actual events occurring on the weekend, early on the weekend...Iris and early on weekends are fairly incompatible so far. (Throw in a chance to go to the big city and 5:30AM doesn't sound so impossible after all!). Doesn't it make you remember being a teenager?!?

Remembering high school has been the biggest learning event at this stage of our experience. That happy-go-lucky, spontaneous, last-minute combination of homework, school and sure takes me back a few (!!!) years. Hopefully I haven't been as annoying as I remember parents wanting to know about schedules, events and friends. You do want to know but primarily to make sure they are happy. You always want your children to be happy but it all seems so condensed with having a daughter for only a year to make sure they are doing well and enjoying the experience. I also don't want to personally relive high school but so far I've enjoyed all the memories this has been bringing forth and now all the new memories being created.

This is really fun! I sure hope someone reads this who is sitting on the fence about hosting and sees the possibilities for remembering, learning and laughing at the past (and the present!) and decides to take the plunge after all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

School has begun!

Not quite like one of those office supply commercials with the mom dancing in the aisles but I was glad school started. I've been so worried that it must be incredibly boring for a teenager, especially one that we didn't have a lot of years to get to know/annoy, to just hang out with their family for weeks on end. I wanted a school-full of friend possibilities to start beyond the few gatherings we have had.

So we loaded up the station wagon and dropped the girls off in front of school and kept our fingers crossed. Success! Both of our girls are very glad to be back at school to be surrounded by other students. Not so happy to have to get up at a set time in the morning, do homework and then go to bed at a reasonable hour but a good trade in any event. Now weekends are special once again where you can revert back to a more relaxed sleep schedule.

As an added bonus the weather has changed to sunny and even waves of warmth (Oregon coast kind of warmth, not most people's idea but still warm). This might have seemed like a cruel twist to have such nice weather right when school begins but after such a lousy summer we are not going to complain one bit.

Iris has already come back from school with stories of other AFS students, new friends and the teacher who speaks Finnish. Unbelievable! I'm beginning to think this guy is Superman at night as he not only teaches the honors physics and math classes, he's involved in all kinds of volunteer activities and is a big family man and now he speaks Finnish!?!?!. (Ok, you should meat Wonder Woman, aka his wife.) Iris will be heralded all year with random Finnish in school so she definitely won't be able to just start thinking in English. Iris has also been experiencing a new kind of football (why does it take an hour when there is only 15 minutes on the clock?) and starting to plan for homecoming (shopping for a new outfit will certainly be a must).

This has been a great month and so far all is going well thanks to AFS opening this world of opportunity. Having coordinators that are knowledgeable, a liaison that has a wealth of experience and common sense (not to mention a place in town for an alternative home near the school!) and a student who is open to new experiences is making all of this a highly recommended experience. Who knows, we're already thinking about doing this again, and again...

For now its homework, football and dancing through this first part of school.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vacation already

We made it! Well, just to the top of Tumalo Butte but it was a gorgeous view. At about 7700 feet, even Iris was a bit winded and amazingly, Alexa made it with A LOT of coaching.

Going with the Flow

With 2 weeks since our student's arrival, it was time for a vacation. We hadn't made it up to our place on the east side of the Cascades for a week-long visit and summer was ending. I have to admit I had some concerns that we were just getting into the routine of our new household, Iris's new community, and off we go to somewhere else with a different dynamic. Even our dismal weather started to improve on the coast to lure us to stay put but we were off.

Fortunately we are still on the upside of the infamous AFS emotion curve for all of us so we all were going with the flow. Plus there were rivers to paddle, mountains to climb,

The climb around Smith Rocks State Park was gorgeous. The rock climbers looked like bugs on the rock walls. Here the girls are holding up the massive boulder.

bikes to ride and hopefully some swimming. We also were accompanied by another teenager and mom for the first weekend which worked out great. Never a dull moment here but that is our normal mode as much as we can arrange it. I never think we are all that busy since we are surrounded by type-A people from work who make us look like the slackers some days. Then I look at our calendar and wonder how to fit everything in, hence our planned week in the mountains was the last week of school vacation.

Keeping busy is working for our new family configuration and maybe it is our daughter's personality but I think when you are in a new environment you want to see as much of your surroundings as possible. Just staying home would get old quick in a small town with weeks before school begins.

Easy paddling down the Deschutes River from La Pine State Park to our neighborhood.
If school had started right away this would be an entirely different situation since school would provide all the excitement as exploring does. Assessing the situation, trying to remember being a high school teenager and then hoping your plans provide a smooth transition seem to be the key to success with AFS. Going with the flow certainly helps as well, so far smooth sailing down river!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The first week

Beach walks with the dogs (we are dog sitting Violet).

This has gone by very fast, I can't even believe it has been over a week since Iris arrived. We probably have over done some activities to show off our home and surroundings but it is also that time of year. You know, you are realizing that summer is about over and the school year with its own kind of busy, is just around the corner so you try to pack in all those things you had not gotten around to yet.

We have had people over, visited many local sites, gone to the valley twice and been to the beach numerous times. Iris really loved the beach once she could actually see it, yes--the sun came out! We went back to a beach we visited on the first day and she couldn't believe there were rocks and tide pools, totally obscured by the fog on our previous visit. It is really gorgeous here when the sun is shining.

My best hit so far as a new AFS host was to invite a group of people over with teens of the same age within the first week, especially if you don't have child that age. It was great to see the local teens surround Iris with advice and friendship while the parents were busy socializing. We had almost 3 weeks before school starts when Iris arrived and living in a rural community, there just aren't that many places to meet up with other people so creating the 'event' was the answer.

After a visit to Cupcake Jones in Portland, the girls attempt their own cupcake creations.
Although that was good event, I think Iris liked getting to a big city just as much. I visited stores I would never have gone to (Love Culture, Love 21, etc.) which cater to older teens (we did go to Alexa's Justice but she has about outgrown that one herself). Shopping for back to school clothes was a lot of fun and brought back so many memories. My gal pals and I used to cruise the malls and put our back to school clothes on layaway fairly regularly. Even though this won't be a regular event with the city in question being 3 hours away from here, the trip certainly bridged a bit of the difference between her Finnish home town and her new home town.

Cartwheels on the beach...summer has finally arrived!
Then there is the younger daughter, she is loving having a big sister! She can't stop talking around her. Then there are those other benefits such as shopping in new stores and trying on makeup. Ooh-la-la!

Everyone is part of the experience and that's the point after all.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


She's here! In the end, it happened so fast (believe it or not). Ok, it is only day 2 but this has been easy and wonderful. AFS did a great job of bringing us together. Iris has an amazing amount of poise and energy after her long journey. I had no idea what a quick itinerary they have between arrival, long bus journey then right with their new families. Why is she not tired?

All the students must line up and introduce themselves before meeting their new families.
Must be still working off the initial excitement of the event. She did admit last evening that the translating is very tiring but I'm sure once she starts thinking and dreaming in English (they say it happens), she will not be affected by that.

Anticipating overwhelming her, what do you do at first!?!?! Go to the general store, in our case, Fred Meyers. What would a day be like without a visit to "Freddies" in our lives (one stop shopping). On the way we made a quick stop to our outdoor, Saturday Market where Alexa showed Iris around while I stood in the infamous bread line after they made their bread & pastry selections. Thank goodness for Pacific Sourdough, just wish we could get all the selection in the off season but they certainly must need a long vacation when you see the variety. When I finally made it to the front of the line I spotted "Finnish Cardamom Sweet Bread" amazing I thought. I kept with the multigrain bread Iris selected but before we left I had her take a look at the Finnish bread. She had never seen that in Finland....we'll have to learn more later but I suppose you shouldn't even judge bread by their labels.

At the store we all stocked up on shampoos and the like, a little food and then had to stop at Radio Shack to get a European to US electric converter. Iris's computer now has electricity (I'm sure her parents and friends are anxious to hear from her).
Back at home, a few of Alexa's friends were very anxious to come over. There was a slumber party in town so we agreed to drive them all. Those tweens were giddy about meeting Iris, she is a rock star already.

Iris's AFS liaison stopped by, "Aunt" Katy, and we all braved the fog for a beach walk with the dog. Perfect.

Yes, it has been close to perfect, still dream-like. Easing into a daily routine but knowing we won't be able to resist doing a bit more activities at first. We'll all be looking for our new balance points as the year stretches on. Exciting?, absolutely!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Iris arrives in 5 days.

I can't believe we are getting a daughter in just 5 days. It has been a whirlwind from the beginning. We had thought about hosting a student after attending the AFS fund raisers over the years but had just kept putting it off, waiting for that 'perfect' time. Then came Evelyn, our local AFS coordinator, into our daughters dance class with a flyer. "Who would like to host a student next year that likes to dance?", she announced to a roomful of teenage girls. She was surrounded by them all, asking to be the family while the parents' eyes opened wide. (Would you all like a cell phone and puppy too while you're at it?) Guess that perfect time was now!

I am trying to keep my eyes (heart & mind) opened wide as no matter what we expect, it will be different. Going from parenting a single girl at the beginning of becoming a teenager (I still know a few things and am ok to hang around with) to parenting 2 girls, the other already a teenager, on the edge of becoming an adult. Alexa has no experience with sharing on a daily basis but Iris has a younger brother. I haven't been tuned into the high school and now need to catch up with that crowd while worrying if Alexa's middle school will make it through budget cuts another year. Fast forward to the dating scene which was years away and now we have a beautiful, foreign senior...yikes! What will be different and what will be the same?

We (ok, Cliff) is very busy with last minute preparations, the renovations started almost last year on Alexa's new bedroom and bathroom. In the last 2 days we went from one working shower to 3 (the claw foot tub has been retrofitted with a shower head as well). Alexa's tiny bathroom still needs the sink installed but we thought having more showers and mirrors was going to be necessary with an upcoming teenager and now there will be 2. At this point I guess I'm almost glad not to have gotten the second dog I had wanted since I barely have time to brush Cory.

Now with only a few days left, I'm excited and worried, looking around the house and community. I hope Iris can make the adjustments smoothly. I want her to have good friends and experiences. Will the adjustment to a small town be hard? Will the school be challenging and fun? What kind of sisters will Alexa & Iris become? Will Cory get really spoiled? Will we be good parents? Guess worrying is a good sign, that's what parents do.

We are VERY excited and looking forward to all the changes that we all will experience this upcoming year. First, better finish up those projects.

In the middle of remodeling Alexa's room (with help from Uncle Todar!)

Just 3 of us at Newberry Crater.

Here comes Iris!