Monday, May 02, 2016


On Saturday, I loaded up seven children and one dog and drove three hours to Madison, WI to have lunch with a friend. Now, this is a good friend, who lets me invite myself, seven children, and one dog to her house on short notice and even makes us lunch and sends me home with some cool homeschooling stuff. (This would be one of those good virtual friends turned real friends that I seem to have more than a couple of.) It was a lot of driving, but everyone had a good time and it was good for my friend and me to catch-up. 

Now, I'm sure you're wondering why on earth I would even consider doing such a thing. I had a really good reason. You see, on Saturday, dozens and dozens of people from our church were descending on coming to our house to bless us with some work. It was one of the reasons I had spend the last couple of weeks sorting, purging, and cleaning. To have that many people doing work, you need to start with a fairly organized house. So, now we have the double benefit of the completed work, plus the cleaner and more organized spaces.

When I arrived home, I was amazed at what was accomplished. Want to see?

First, my fantastically ugly hallway wallpaper was scraped, skim coated, and primed. All it needs now is a final coat of paint, which we can manage.

Next, the floor and walls of the third floor were prepped and painted. No more peeling paint! No more splinters! No more horrible floor color that I have never loved! We have to let the floor paint cure for a week, so I took this picture from an odd angle, leaning over the door barricade to keep children and pets out of the room.

But that's not all. Here is a room that you have never seen. We call it the stinky room, in everyday family parlance, because it was an apartment before we bought the house, where a man and his incontinent cats lived. It was stinky. And ugly. And really needed to be gutted. Our wonderful church family had the plaster removed and then yesterday, it was cleared out and cleaned up. These are the room on the third floor at the very front of the house. They have been behind a locked door for 15 years.

This is looking at the same room in the other direction. Under the plastic is everything that needs to go back into the larger room.

But wait, there's more. The children's bathroom received a new coat of paint.

The room in the basement where I store the outgrown clothes had the effluence scraped off the bricks and all cleaned up.

And another room in the basement was completely cleared out.

It was amazing amount of work. We are so grateful... and overwhelmed.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Before and after

The endless cleaning and purging continues. Today was G. and L.'s room... a task I try to avoid if at all possible. So, I do avoid it and the room descends further and further into chaos. I thought I'd share some before and after pictures and some of my process with you, if, like my two girls, you become completely overwhelmed at what to do with a room like this.

This is actually the picked-up version. You know, I say, "G. and L., please go and clean your room." And they go and move some stuff around, get distracted by the stuff, and end up playing the rest of the afternoon. So, it's not at its absolute worst (I can still walk across the floor), but it also isn't clean by any stretch of the imagination.

I realize, that in their defense, the room had become too full of stuff for two six year olds to be able to adequately clean it, so they gave up every time. In thinking about their room, I realized that they just have too much furniture to be really workable. There are three extra pieces that are either left over from other girls bunking here or are pieces that were useful, but are not used anymore.

The first thing I did was to marshal my older troops and ask them to remove the extra pieces, which they did. That gave us some room to work. The other problem was that many small items had migrated into their room which had actual homes elsewhere. Well, that, and there was just stuff they no longer played with. So, the bulk of the afternoon was spent with G. and L. sorting each of these thousands of little tiny pieces. We made baskets for each type of thing.

Once that was done and the debris was off the floor, it was time to do some rearranging and cleaning. Finally, we found homes for the things which were being kept and would live in their room. Here are final results.

We moved the beds next to each other. The only thing we really need is a small bookcase (they don't have one) that can go between the beds and will also double as a night stand for each girl.

L.'s desk got moved to this wall. That nice empty space to the left will house my very large dollhouse which has been in storage. They girls love dollhouses and I think they are finally old enough to handle this one. They are very excited about it making an appearance next week.

I realize it looks pretty empty. Each girl has a large under bed bin where she can keep whatever tchotchky and gewgaw that she desires.

The small animals and the Legos they like to play with each have a bin which live on the dresser, and the doll clothes which L. uses for her stuffed animals are in the pink basket.

Here is what was removed (along with four bags of giveaway stuff). Each basket is a different sort of toy, all of which live elsewhere. I haven't repatriated them yet, because K.'s room is in the morning and I know he has his own stash that needs to be sorted.

So, there you go. The room looks much, much better (ie I can stand to walk by it.) G. and L. are also very happy with it. 

I'm exhausted!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Progress report

I'm taking a brief break from the purging and cleaning to have a cup of tea and show you a couple of pictures. I'm realizing that by not taking any before pictures, the after pictures don't have the same effect. Oh well. Know that in the course of the past couple of days, J. and I have filled upwards of 20 bags and boxes of stuff, with many more to come. It's a little embarrassing. The house was always organized, but it's the sheer amount of stuff that is a bit overwhelming.

I try to be good about giving away other people's things, but I have been rather ruthless with my own. If I don't really like it or it fills me with guilt that I should be using it, out it has gone. The moment can be a bit hard, but it feels so freeing that I keep doing it. I have a couple of places that I can look at now and take a deep, relaxed breath when I see them.

My closet. I probably took out at least half its contents.

The bookcase on my side of the bed. No piles of paper... some space on the shelves. (Excuse the peeling wallpaper.)

But there is so much more. Sigh. My compulsive nature wants to be able to tackle everything at once and not stop until I'm done. This would be terribly productive if it weren't for little things such as my children thinking they should continue to have regular mealtimes. 

If you are interested and need something to read while I'm busy giving things away, go to the sidebar and click on "home organization." Evidently this need to go through my entire house and get rid of stuff is a somewhat frequent occurrence. Yikes. I hesitate to think of what things would be like if it wasn't!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spring cleaning

I may not be around a whole lot in the next few days. The spring cleaning fever has hit and I need... really, really need... to get the house back under control. I'm tired of entering any single room in the house and being overwhelmed with what needs to be done to make it looks less, well, depressing.

Have you noticed that in times of stress, the last thing you want to do is keep things organized? It always feels like enough just to keep on top of the basics... clean underwear, food (of some sort) on the table, clean dishes to eat on. For the past five months or so, this is the level it feels we've been living at. First, it was the massive worry and preparations of holidays and international travel to bring two new children home. Then my father died. One week later we left nine of our children for three weeks to travel around the world to bring two new children home. There was then the adjustment of the children to their new family and of us to them. And the grief. And the dog dying and then getting a new dog. And packing up fourteen people to travel to Arizona. And two more weeks away. And... And... And...

You get the idea.

Who has time to sort through outgrown clothes or piles of paper in the midst of that? I didn't. And now we are at such a state that I just cannot stand it anymore. Thus the fanatical cleaning and organizing that is happening around here. It feels good, but it is time consuming and we are certainly at the point where I feel as though I am making a bigger mess than the one I started with. But I need to be able to walk into rooms and feel as though I can take a deep breath instead of hyperventilating. It will be so much easier to focus on the important things, you know taking care of children and such, if I am not constantly overwhelmed by the house.

So now we're off to get some new storage containers to replace those that have ceased to actually store.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Indiscriminate affection, oh how I loathe thee

I've written before describing what exactly indiscriminate affection is. It was the way H. interacted with the world and it can be extremely challenging. I am thankful that H. is now entirely appropriate in her affections and it is not something we have had to worry about for a long time. I am also thankful we had that initial experience with her because it gave us some inkling of what it was like to live with such a child and how to address it. We needed this information because R. evidences indiscriminate affection to a greater degree.

I find it a little difficult to write about our experiences sometimes. There is the tightrope that I feel I continually must walk balancing my family's and children's privacy with the fact that raising children from hard places is just hard and other parents need to know they are not alone. Then with R. we have the added consideration that she has an entire community of people in China who love her and who poured their lives and finances into making sure she had a chance at a life and a family. I never in any way want to indicate any sort of negative feelings towards all those lovely and wonderful people. They showered R. with immense love and care and gave her a chance at having a future. I am hesitant to share some of the hard thing because I don't want it to come across as in any way critical of those who cared for her before she became our daughter. Tone in writing is sometimes difficult to convey, thus I wanted to be sure to carefully spell all of this out before I continue.

I have mentioned before that the change in family, language, and culture has really knocked R. for a loop. The transition has been difficult for her and as a result has caused some significant regression. Currently, she is a very young child in an older child body. She is having difficulty finding her footing in her new life. An example... for the past two months, R. has consistently asked multiple times a day if tomorrow we will take an airplane to Chicago. I know that her foster parents did an excellent job of preparing R. as well as she could be prepared for her new life, and flying to Chicago on an airplane was one of the pieces of information that was given. She was excited to go to Chicago. The trouble is, the airplane ride to Chicago was evidently not what she was expecting, thus what she was expecting was still yet to come. It was a constant in our lives since arriving home. We then drove to Arizona. It was a very long drive. She knew we had left somewhere and arrived in another place just because it took so darn long and she could see the landscape moving out her window. And then we drove back. We drove back to Chicago and suddenly the constant refrain of "Tomorrow we go feiji (airplane) Chicago?" has stopped. She has realized we are in Chicago and I'm not sure she is quite happy about it.

R. is a charming and sociable child. She loves meeting new people. She is very good at meeting new people and being charming with them. What she is still working on is the harder work of learning how to navigate being in a permanent family. I'm pretty sure that with the new found knowledge that she has arrived in Chicago she has also discovered that this new family is the one she is stuck with for good as well. And we have seen an even greater regression than before. It is clear that 'here' is the exact place she doesn't want to be. Except when a new person, not a family member, walks in the door. Suddenly, the lights go on and the charm comes out. The stranger gets the animated personable child. I have peeled her off more people in the last few days than I care to count. I am reminded exactly how difficult and how much work real attachment is. It is hard on everyone and the worst part about it is that it just takes time. Time to learn to trust. Time to find things you like about these new people. Time to get used to things. Time to grieve the losses life has already handed you. It just takes time. Time and grace.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


I realize that it's been a while since I updated you on the newest family member... Kenzie the dog. We are all in love with this dog. He is doing great and is very, very sweet. We kept him in the kitchen at first because he had a tendency to want to mark everything. I'm afraid some books on a bookshelf didn't make it. But now he has full run of the house and had been very well-mannered.

One interesting thing we discovered, though, is he doesn't like being behind fences in the house. When he was confined in the kitchen, every time someone new would walk in, he would bark and growl and raise his hackles. It was not a terribly endearing habit. One day, a visitor walked in while he was outside and was already in the kitchen when he was let in. Kenzie was the perfect gentleman and went and said hello nicely and allowed himself to be petted with nary a sound. So the next time someone came, I tried having the fence open so he could go around and say hello. It worked like a charm. No barking. No growling. No raised hackles. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have a dog that does not bark like an insane thing every time someone comes to the house. If you ever met Gretel, you'll know that it was her very worst habit.

Kenzie and Midnight have even become close friends. They play together and sometimes we find them sleeping together. Kenzie even shares his water bowl with Midnight. And his crate. And his bed. Well, it is more like Midnight deciding what he wants and just does is.

Sometimes Kenzie is a little befuddled as to what to do about it.

He's a good boy, our Kenzie.

Isn't he a handsome boy?

Now we just need to train him to not bolt out of the door and run, run, run down the street. Thankfully he loves other dogs and will always stop to say hello, thus allowing us to catch him.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Notes on large family car trips

We're back after three long days on the road. Everyone was tired after a fun week and was a little crabby about heading back home to the drearier weather. All in all, though, the car trip went smoothly.

The trip required two nights of hotel stays, both directions. The trick to doing this is that when you pull in late to the hotel, the last thing you want to do is have to schlep every piece of luggage into the hotel, only to have to repack it and schlep it back. For a long time now, for trips like this, I have packed bags solely for the hotel so that we only have to take in a few things. This trip, I think I have perfected the hotel bag. Here is what I did.

We had two hotel rooms, so there were two hotel bags. The children had already been assigned which room they would be in, so it was easy to pack for each room. Each child had two gallon size ziplock bags, labelled with their initial and what night it was for. For instance, in the night one bag would be that child's pajamas, clean underwear and socks, plus a clean shirt if needed. (I assume that people can reuse pants and sometimes shirts if all we are doing is riding in the car.) The child puts on the pajamas, in the morning out comes the clean clothes and the dirty clothes are put into the night one bag. The pajamas are then put in the night two bag. The plus of the ziplock bags is that nearly all the air can be compressed out of them and you can fit quite a lot in a small bag. The other plus is that they are inexpensive, unlike the popular packing cubes. The only other thing to go in the hotel bag was another ziplock bag containing each person's toothbrush, each housed in their own smaller ziplock bag, plus a tube of toothpaste. I'm happy to say these all worked like a charm and even the room without an adult to help keep things organized was able to make the system work. I have all the nicely labelled bags now stored with our luggage for future use.

We also traveled while listening to recorded books, and had varied success. The first two books we tried sounded really good in the summary, but the writing was so poor that none of us wanted to continue after the first disk or two. We finally landed on Ghost Canoe by Will Hobbs. This is set in the very western tip of Washington state in 1874. It was well done and is equal parts mystery and life about the Makah Indian tribe. It is by the same author as Jason's Gold which we all enjoyed on a previous trip.

The next book we listened to was A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner. We started it and were enjoying the story, but as the book progressed, J. and I looked at each other and both said that we felt as though we were dropped in the middle of a bigger story. No where on the case did it indicate that it was a sequel, but by the end, we were convinced that we were missing major pieces of the backstory. After a little looking upon arriving home, not only were we missing one previous book but three! It turns out this book is the fourth of The Queen's Thief series. No wonder sometimes we felt lost. It was a good enough story, though, that we kept listening to the end. Probably older children would find it most interesting, but L. declared it her favorite book of the trip. If the previous three are as good as the last (and based on the reviews I quickly read it sounds as though they are better), I would recommend it. But start at the beginning. As someone who compulsively reads books in order, I find having read the last one first, a bit distressing.

The last book we listened to was, I think, the best. But then is has reached classic status in young adult literature, so that is not surprising. It is The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford. This is a book I read as a child and adored. I knew my children had never read it, but was a bit hesitant to choose it because sometimes the books of our youth do not stand the test of time and we hear them with different ears as adults. I am happy to say that I probably enjoyed the book more as an adult than I did as a child. It is just very, very well written. You wouldn't think that a book about three animals... an English bull terrier, a Labrador, and a Siamese cat... travelling cross country would be terribly engaging, but it is. (Spoiler alert!) I did tell my children ahead of time that all three animals survive the journey, otherwise I don't think they could have managed the suspense. I also don't think that knowing ahead of time there is a happy ending dilutes the drama of the story in the least. If you have never read it, you should. Highly recommended.

The unpacking is done and life has begun back into full swing. Isn't it funny how it sometimes feels as though you never left?
I have another article published and the little "0" next to the number of shares looks so lonely and sad. Wouldn't a nice big number look better? Please feel free to read and share. 7 Bible Verses that Helped me on my Adoption Journey
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