Friday, June 24, 2016

Beach pictures

I have sat here and stared at the computer for longer than I should have hoping for some inspiration as to what to write today. And I've got nothin'. Then I remembered that there were some pictures on the camera from when J. and TM took the littles to the beach a week or so ago. So you get beach pictures.

L. and H. (who had decided for some reason she didn't want to put on a swimming suit.)




L. and G.



TM took these pictures and I also discovered that he had taken some other non-people shots that look pretty good to me. So now I will share those and upgrade the quality of photographs on the blog significantly.

Facing northward

Facing southward... yes, that's Chicago. We live in a very urban area remember.

It's a smallish sand beach, so he must have been over on the edge to take this picture.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cats: An annotated reading list

J. and I had a wonderful time last night. We ended up going out with very good friends to a nearly-new seafood restaurant in Chicago and ate our weight in crab, lobster, mussels, etc. It was very good and the company even better. Our friends even brought some champagne along. (It was BYOB.) We had such a good time that we ended up closing down the place. Yes, they turned the lights out as soon as we exited through the door. It was a great way to celebrate 25 years, especially since these friends have been a part of our lives for 20 of them. (Thanks, P Family!)

In other news, Nefertiti is settling in. All three animals have the run of the house now and Kenzie has stopped barking at the new cat and the new cat has stopped hissing (it's an impressive hiss) at all four-legged residents. She is also showing herself to be a true lap cat. If you sit down for any length of time, there is a good chance she will end up in your lap and purr. Just what I hoped for. Her name, though seems to be a bit fluid. While her official name is Nefertiti, more often than not, the little (and some not so little people) end up calling her Fat Cat. As in, "Look! I'm strong enough to pick up Fat Cat!" Another child evidently has 'Nefertiti' and 'Aphrodite' filed in the same folder in his brain and Aphrodite usually is what comes out first. To save effort, he has decided that he will just call her Aphrodite. This is what comes of teaching your children ancient history. Nefertiti seems happy enough with her new family, though I think she wishes the food were more plentiful.

Speaking of cats, I want to introduce you to a new blog project I've been planning. When I was younger I kind of assumed that I would be a librarian. I loved books. I loved reading. I even cataloged my own personal library during the middle period of grade school. I also loved recommending books to people... and still do. (There's a connection between all of this, I promise.) Prompted by several emails I've received from grandmothers thanking me for the book recommendations which they use to supply their grandchildren with books, I've decided to occasionally take a topic and create an annotated book list based on that topic. This is my compromise position to a bigger project of creating an occasional unit study based on a topic and posting it on my blog. I love the process, but perhaps don't have quite enough time to do that particular project properly.

Thus, my inaugural annotated reading list topic will be.... Cats! (See, I told you there was a connection.) With the new cat joining our family, people around here have been all about cats and it is fresh in my mind. I'm happy to take suggestions for future topics as well. I should also add that I do not even begin to imagine that this is a definite list, just the books I'm aware of and that we like. (Oh, and I think legally I have to say every so often that the links are to my Amazon Associates account and I receive a teeny tiny bit of money if those links are used for purchases.)

Picture Books

The Zoom Trilogy: Zoom at Sea - Zoom Away - Zoom Upstream by Tim Wynne-Jones -- This is probably the least well known on my list. These are charming stories about a little white cat (named Zoom), whose uncle is a sea captain and who longs to go to sea. He does go to sea in the first book, followed by trips to Ancient Egypt and the North Pole in the following stories. The style is magic realism for the picture book crowd and they have been highly popular around here. More people should know about them.

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag -- A much older book, but one my children have enjoyed. A little old man goes in search of a kitten for his wife. Not being able to choose which cat is the prettiest, hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions of cats follow him home. When asked to choose among themselves which is the prettiest, they eventually eat each other up, leaving one sad, scared little kitten. The pictures are fun and the rhythm of the book makes it enjoyable to read out loud. (Though with our older children we sometimes discuss that one little white kitten who was left.... we don't trust him.)

Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley -- This was a newer discovery for us a couple of years ago. A tom cat in Venice suddenly finds himself in charge of three kittens. It is a cute story with Venice definitely being one of the characters.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel -- I'm adding this book because it was so popular with some of my girls. I'm not entirely sure what the appeal is, but I'm pretty sure that J. and I read it hundreds of times in the month we had it out of the library. We eventually started hiding it just to give us a break every now and then. It doubles as a kind of alphabet book with the list of things the bad kitty did being organized as an alphabet list. It is incredibly silly, but evidently hits just the right note for 7 - 10 year olds. (I would highly recommend checking this one out of the library so that if it drives you as batty as it did me, you always have a due date to save you.)

Cats by Seymour Simon - We are huge Seymour Simon fans around here. His photographic non-fiction books for children are excellent and filled with gorgeous photography. This title is no exception and everyone enjoyed looking at the photos of cute cats as well as learning about them.

Easy Readers - Is there any animal more suited to being the subject of easy readers? C-A-T is practically the first word a child learns to sound out. There are many, many, many options out there. These are just our favorites.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Suess -- I wasn't sure I should even add this to the list since it seems self-evident. Is there even anyone out there who hasn't heard of it? I would be very surprised. But it is still one of the best easy readers out there and doesn't grow old. Depending on how often I've read it or heard it read in a week, I do find, though, that my speech patterns start to mimic the rhythm of the book.

Pete the Cat by James Dean -- This is a new series for us. I found it when I was looking for birthday gifts and so far G. has enjoyed them. She particularly likes the little carrying case all the small books come in.

Early Chapter Books (for early independent readers)

Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin -- The first of a series (always a plus for this age), it introduces cats who have wings and their adventures. Most of my children have loved these books upon reaching this stage of reading. Plus, they are well-written by a good author.

Chapter Books (For an independent reader or as a read aloud... it really depends on the child.)

Socks by Beverly Cleary -- The adventures of a little black cat told by Beverly Cleary in her wonderful style. Parts can feel a little dated since it was originally written 1973, but it doesn't detract from the story told from the cat's point of view.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden -- I know, it's not a cricket list, but Harry the Cat is a key player in this story about a mouse who lives in the New York Subway system. This is one of my favorite books from my childhood and I am always excited when I have a child who is ready to read it. Plus, once you've read this one, you've met the characters and can then ready Harry Cat's Pet Puppy.

Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks -- Once again, though the title character is not a cat (he's a pig) Jinx the cat plays a key role in the narrative of this book and all the subsequent ones. If you haven't discovered this series you are missing out. They are loads of fun, if a little silly. We have traveled many, many miles listening to these books on recording.

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech -- Like its predecessor, Love That Dog, this book is told in poetic form. Each part of the story is told in a different poetic form, based on the style of poem the class in the book is studying. It sounds a bit odd, but works exceptionally well. Highly recommended.

I'm editing to add the adult selection that I forgot I was going to share. (I'll also come back and add books to the correct categories as I come across them... I can't help myself. I like a complete list.)


"Good-bye to All Cats" by P.G. Wodehouse -- This is a short story that was originally published in the collection called Young Men in Spats and is a Drones Club story. If you have never read any PG Wodehouse, you really, really need to get yourself to a library and check some out. It is terribly funny and this particular short story is possibly my favorite out of all of them, the Jeeves and Wooster stories included. I find it completely laugh out loud funny. I love it so much that if I ever have the chance to name a male cat, his name is going to be Freddy Widgen just because of this story. Do yourself a favor and go find a copy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

25 years

Today J. and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Kind of one of those big milestones, huh? Twenty-five years ago, J. and I had just graduated from graduate school on the same day a week earlier (from different schools at either end of the Chicago area), and thinking since family were all in town already, we would have the wedding a week later.

It wasn't a small wedding. We met when we were both doing youth ministry and dated in a veritable fish bowl of junior and senior high youth. When that many young people feel a part of your story, you can't not invite them to the wedding, so we did. I'm not sure J. or I either remember much of the wedding or the following reception itself, except that we stood for what turned out to be several hours in a receiving line. Everyone told us it was lovely and they had a wonderful time.

But as nice as the wedding was, it was truly window dressing. (Those who are planning weddings right now, realize that, right? That you probably won't remember much of it and in the end it doesn't really matter. It helps to keep things in perspective.) What really matters is the commitment you are making to each other. We had no idea that afternoon in June what our future life would look like together... which end of better or worse, richer or poorer, sick or well our life together would be our story. We just knew that we wanted to take on the adventure together.

I don't talk much about J. and what a fantastic husband and father he is, though I should, because he is. I'm sorry everyone, but I truly did win the husband lottery. Not only did I get to marry my best friend and he has stayed my best friend throughout the past 25 years, but I also married one of the finest men I know. He is intelligent, kind, patient (very patient... a nice foil for me and my impatience), funny, unselfish, calm, and extremely caring. I admire him greatly and truly can't fathom how I got to be so blessed as to end up with him. I am truly better with him then I am without him. I am blessed.

Happy Anniversary, J.! I would do it all over again in a second. Here's to another 25 years. Adventures are better with you. I love you.

We plan on going out to celebrate tonight. Somewhere. At a restaurant. If we can decide what that restaurant should be. Before the time for dinner is over. Big things we can decide on; little things, such as where to go to eat? Not so much.
Edited to add: A reader asked for some pictures. I found a couple of loose ones that I took some bad digital photos of. Here you go...

Here I am with my Maid of Honor, who is also J.'s sister.

At the beginning of the ceremony with me, my dad, J., and J.'s brother who was his best man.

A picture of the ceremony and the very full church. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It was fun until it wasn't

I finally broke down and bought something that I've been wanting for a long time. (It's always nice to do one fun thing with the tax refund.) Managing our picture book collection has been an ongoing struggle, especially without those nice forward-facing bookshelves designed specifically for picture books. Well, I finally solved the problem by buying the actual bookcases. They arrived yesterday and I spent some time putting them together. 

I am exceedingly happy with them. I guessed at the size we needed and am happy to report that I guessed right. Our books are divided into seasons and I rotate them through. When I was reorganizing the school room, I did some purging and resorting to make sure the amounts were about the for all seasons. This means that if the summer books fit (which they do), these shelves will work all year 'round. 

Here they are. 

I put them on the third floor landing.

Someday, when I find one, I think a nice beanbag chair would work here as well.

Now here's the second part of the story. The bookcases came in that thin, crumbly Styrofoam. It proved to be more than a little irresistible to some little girls I know. It was a hot day and fairly unpleasant to be outside in. The little girls decided that making snow was the perfect activity for such a hot day. Normally, I would be hiding that Stryofoam immediately, but today it seemed like a fun activity while I put bookcases together.

And it was fun. These pictures don't even show the extent of the "snow" that covered the front hall and drifted into other rooms. But then it was time to clean it up and then it wasn't so much fun. My transition-challenged, easily frustrated children both didn't want the fun to end and were overwhelmed with the extent of the clean-up.

We were all still at it when J. and TM arrived home. It only took another half an hour with two adults, one 13 yo boy, and three (more or less helpful) little girls working. Dinner was a little later than planned. We may also be finding little Styrofoam bits roaming the house for months to come.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy 13th Birthday, D.!

Today is D.'s 13th birthday, though we celebrated it last Saturday. H. and K. started church camp yesterday and both were a little upset at the thought of missing a birthday celebration.

Strawberry pie for dessert and TM holding the '13' candles.

Gift opening

A book! I love R.'s reaction.

Other than books, D. asked for many decks of cards. To do magic tricks with, you know. 

What was going on on the other side of the room.

Y. worked very hard and made D. a crown.

And some picture from church camp drop-off.



And the non-campers spending some time looking at fish and bugs in the lake.

Today, we started off D.'s real birthday with donuts and (my plan, at least) a movie at the theater because I thought the summer dollar movies were on Mondays and Tuesdays. Thus, we loaded up everyone with the promise of a movie. But...

we got to the theater and I had read the webpage wrong. Movies are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. No movie today. Which is why at approximately 10:20 this morning you would have seen me walking down the street with two very disappointed and sobbing 7 year olds. We went home, found a movie on Netflix, made some popcorn and redeemed the rough start. We'll have to see what else we can do to make D.'s day special. Give him a balloon and then pop it? Eat all of the rest of the leftover strawberry pie? So many possibilities... I'll have to think about it. (You all know I'm joking, right? Things are just fine here now and D. is enjoying his day.)

Happy Birthday, my dear D.! I love you!! You are kind and caring and a joy to have around. I am amazed at all of your talent and love seeing what you'll do next. I love you and am so proud of you!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Just a normal sort of day

Not much going on around here...

J. took some little people to a nearby street fair this morning while I taught. L. got to try doing silks at the circus arts tent.

M. has been making life size children puppets, a boy and a  girl, for a show. These puppets are now done (I think) and we keep finding them sitting around. It is more than a little disturbing to walk into a room and find a child you weren't expecting to see and at the same realize that it's not really a child. It takes a moment for all the information to meet in your brain and I think nearly all of us have been startled by them.

And to top it off, P. and I drove a ways west to bring home our newest family member. Meet Nefertiti... whom we found through a Doberman rescue.

Cutest Doberman you've even seen, huh?

She reportedly adores people and loves to sit on laps.

If that's the case, then she will become my own personal therapy cat.

That last picture is deceiving. This girl is weighing in at a hefty 14 pounds and is pretty solid around the middle. I'm thinking a little reducing will be in order, though roaming a three-story house won't hurt, either.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pushing and loving

There is a tension that is a constant companion when parenting children with more than your average number of challenges. That would be the ongoing challenge of balancing the desire to help your child achieve all that they are capable of and accepting your child just as they are. I find it to be such a fine line that I am continually veering off the edge on one side or another, given the situation at any moment of the day.

I have a pretty continual running dialogue in my head over what is best at that moment. If I just push a tiny bit harder will I encourage her to get past the hard and do it? Am I asking too much? If we give up on this now are we stopping just short of a new skill? Shouldn't I just accept my children as they are and be patient about what the future holds for them? These are the types of questions that echo in my head. And usually the answer is I have no idea; I'm really just making this up as I go along and relying heavily on my gut instincts.

Sometimes the decision is based on how much energy we all have at a given moment. Some days I just accept where everyone is. No one has the energy to do anything else. Other days (and I can't even tell you why exactly) are more pushing days. It just feels as though the child is ready for something more, and so we work. And then there are the days where I just can't allow this child to stay in this place and I push a little harder than usual.

I always feel a little mean, pushing a child. Staying at one developmental level is easy and it is hard work to learn new skills; to try new and uncomfortable things. Yet, sometimes that little extra push is what was needed because suddenly the awareness that they are capable of more grabs hold of them. They have caught a glimpse of being able to do new things and the next day I will discover a child trying out the skill on their own, voluntarily, that we worked so hard to do the day before.

R.'s most recent accomplishment is case in point. Body awareness and movement is a struggle for her. She doesn't move through space easily and often seems to not know where her body is. Yesterday as we were working (again) on not stepping on things or walking into people, I realized that while she can walk, in reality she has very little independent leg movement. It is very difficult, if not impossible for her to lift one leg for the duration it takes her to figure out the best place to put her foot down. Until a child can do that, it means living with Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. There is nothing physically wrong with her legs (yes, I had it checked out with the doctor... put the flame throwers away), so I decided that it was worth the sanity of the entire family to work on leg independence in the form of standing on one leg.

And so we worked on it. Even just me holding on to her and lifting one leg elicited unhappy shrieks. (Shrieking is her default mode of showing unhappiness.) We worked for a little bit, her shrieking, me feeling rotten and encouraging her, with the angel child phenomenon twirling around us. You know this phenomenon, right? Where one child gets in trouble or can't do something and suddenly every other child in the house has polished their halos and points out how good they are? Well, this time, it was every other child in the house, including Y., "helpfully" showing me how they can stand on one leg. H. also used the moment to process her own development asking if I had to teach her how to stand on one leg since she couldn't remember. I told her that yes, I had to teach her. She was just quieter.

Today? R. has decided that she is going to figure this out. I have caught her practicing multiple times this morning. (And the fact that she is taking the initiative to do this is as huge as the physical skill. Maybe bigger.) Finally, R. called my name and I looked and see that she is on the balance beam (voluntarily and got up on her own) and she is practicing standing on one leg. See?

Now, we still have some work to do to achieve actual balance, but the fact that she is voluntarily standing on one leg, especially after our experience yesterday, is pretty much beyond words.

Sometimes baby steps are really, really big.
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