Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday bullets, 12/2/16

This morning we are making paper mache birds, or at least starting to, it's a long, multi-day process. A perfect project, I might add, for December, a month where ability to focus decreases exponentially with the opening of each Advent calendar door. So while we're doing that, here are some glimpses into normal family life from the past couple of weeks.


  • G. sometimes calls her father 'Bob'. That's right, as in, "Hi Bob! How're ya doin'?" Or, "Could you help me get some breakfast, Bob?" It all started because when R. and Y. came home, they called J., 'Ba Ba', which is Mandarin for father. They still do, alternating with Daddy, so it is still in full use. Some of the other children have picked it up, but sometimes they shorten it to 'Ba'... it is a very short step from Ba to Bob. 
  • We don't allow phones and other small electronics at the dinner table. (Nope, not even for adults or adult children.) Every so often someone needs to be reminded, but for the most part it is not a problem. Until last week. I look up and catch K. holding something in his lap and using his hand to scroll across a screen. "K, what do you have?" I ask. He proudly replies, "My phone!" and holds up a rectangular wooden block with Sharpie lines drawn on it to create a phone. "No phones at the table," I say, and he puts it away. Not two minutes later, I see him scrambling to pull it back out of his pocket. "What are you doing?" I ask again. "I got a phone call. I had to answer it," he says. "No, you don't. That's why you have voicemail," I respond. He sheepishly puts the phone away again. Yes, I have normal sounding conversations about wooden cell phones which are more problem than any real phone or iPod in older siblings' possession.
  • Just because your adult children grow up and leave the house does not mean you are off the hook for storing their dead animal finds in your freezer. Silly me for thinking otherwise. M. was over the other day to work in the basement. (That's where M.'s art studio currently is.) Afterwards, the phone rings and it is M., asking for P. The instructions? P. needs to run down the street and collect the dead squirrel which M. spotted, and put it in a plastic bag and stick it in our freezer. My freezer notice. M's roommates evidently do not put up with carrion in their freezer. Imagine. Then for a fun holiday activity, last Saturday, M. heads down to the basement with many small children in tow to watch the squirrel being skinned. Does it surprise you that L. and G. loved this little science party? It shouldn't. The pelt is now back in my freezer until M. can get around to finishing it up. "I put it right next to the bird's head I have down there," M. tells me and then heads out the door. Bird's head? I have a bird's head down there, too? I had no idea. And now you know why I compulsively label any frozen items I put in my freezer. 
  • You know how interests and activities of children tend to go in cycles? For two months they are all about one thing and then as if overnight, every single child is consumed with something completely different. The current obsession currently is Bey Blades. Those tops which can be launched and battle, fed by a Japanese-made children's cartoon. I spend my days hearing the near constant launching and spinning of tops whose sounds are accompanied by the nearly as constant bickering about whose tops is whose and who gets the launcher next. We don't have enough of any of these things for everyone to have their own, so sharing must be negotiated. It can be a loud and contentious process.
  • This could be one of the reasons why D. is now pondering the possibilities of a career as an Ambassador. Yes, of the civil servant type. Being one of my research-obsessed children, he has already investigated what college major(s) would be best. I think he could totally do it. He already has extensive experience in negotiating contentious treaties among volatile entities.
  • Yesterday was not a good day. Isn't it funny how staying up too late the night before reading a good book can make the next day really rotten? Fatigue erases all margin, at least for me. Thus when you discover that the large bottle of glue you thought you had, but had actually been used up by overly-crafty children, is no longer in existence, and your local grocery store does not carry white glue, and you cannot leave your house because a small child is feeling particularly clingy and off-balance, all of this meaning you cannot do your planned activity, then you just throw up your hands and pretend it's Saturday. 
  • It's after Thanksgiving, which around here means we listen to Christmas music nearly every waking moment. 
  • It being after Thanksgiving also means that it is eggnog season. My family adores eggnog. Why, oh why, do they not sell eggnog in gallon jugs? Quarts and half-gallons just don't cut it around here.

Since I eventually resolved the glue problem yesterday, we can start yesterday's planned craft today. Which is what we are now going to do. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Bulk Instant Oatmeal Mix

Yesterday I mentioned how I was going to make a big batch of instant oatmeal mix, which I actually ended up getting done. Seventy-two servings later, we now have bags of Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal, Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Oatmeal, Oatmeal with Raisins and Brown Sugar, Sour Cherry Oatmeal, and Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal. If most people choose to eat this every day, it will last about a week.

Someone asked for my recipe, so I thought I would share what I do. First, in full disclosure, the original recipe is from the Budget 101 site. I have changed it to a larger amount and I also got rid of the many individual serving bags. I also changed a couple of things in the flavors, but the general recipe is not mine, so you probably want to check out the original site to compare.

These amounts make 16 servings of a half cup each. Or 8 servings if you are feeding hungry, growing adolescents.

Basic recipe:

2 C. Powdered oats (use a food processor and process these two cups until they are powder)
4 C. Quick oats (No, I do not buy quick oats. Quick oats are nothing but regular rolled oats that have been chopped up a bit to cook faster. Use your food processor to chop these two cups up a bit.)
1 tsp salt

Mix these together in a bowl and decide what flavor you want to make. Then add:

Apple-Cinnamon: 4 tsp cinnamon; 2 C dried chopped apples; 1 C sugar

Brown Sugar and Cinnamon: 1 C brown sugar; 1/4 C cinnamon

Raisins and Brown Sugar: 1 C raisins; 1 C brown sugar

Sour Cherry: 2 C dried cherries; 3/4 C sugar (and now that I'm writing this out, I think adding a cup of shredded coconut to this would be yummy)

Strawberries and Cream: 1 C dried milk; 2 C dried strawberries; 3/4 C sugar

Mix together and place in large, airtight container or ziplock bag. To use, put 1/2 C of mix in a bowl and add anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 C. boiling water. The amount depends on which mix you made and how you like your oatmeal. I suggest using less at first and then experimenting with adding more if it is too thick. Like the commercial version, let it sit for ~ 3 minutes before eating.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Control and chaos

I love holidays, but they are a bit of work to pull off. I often wonder if I like the aftermath of holidays better. Things are still relatively neat, everyone is still feeling the happy after effects of a nice holiday, and the to do list is shorter. It feels as though I can slow down a bit and take a breath.

Usually after that breath, though, I look around to discover all the things that got pushed to the sidelines while I focused on holiday preparations. Monday was spent writing a story that was ridiculously late and while my editor likes me, I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be that late again for a good long time. Oh, and there was that neurosurgeon appointment, too. Yesterday was laundry. Well, actually, every day is laundry usually, but I gave myself a holiday from it, so when I went downstairs yesterday to finally deal with it, it was a pile of magnificent proportions. It's all sorted now, and should be back to manageable proportions in a couple of days.

Today? Well, besides a couple of errands, I plan on spending some time doing advance food preparation. As we slowly crawl back from the chaos of the past year and as our new normal, I'm realizing that part of my grocery budget problems are that I have done very little cooking from scratch this past year. (Well, that and the fact I recently read a newspaper article showing how the cost of staples, the groceries I usually buy, have indeed increased in price considerably.) This doesn't mean that I've been buying a lot of processed food, but there are different levels of processing and I certainly haven't been buying the least processed options for a while.

So what will I be working on? Well, we already need more hot cocoa mix, and currently that falls into the 'need' category for many small people. I've also been asked more than once to make a bunch of instant oatmeal mix. This makes for an easy and healthy breakfast, so I think I'll also work on making a few different types. When I'm really at the top of my game, I will spend a day a week making things that can go in the freezer... English muffins, other baked goods, stocks, etc. Usually this is more cost effective than buying these things and, especially in the case of stock, uses up food that wouldn't have been used.

I need to work on creating some new habits that will make the house run more smoothly and make me feel a little more in control. When there is so much out-of-control-ness swirling around me, it is important to find those little oases of order. It's a slow process, this carving out habits of regularity in the midst of chaos. To make it work, I also have to be willing to let the item on the schedule go when the chaos I live with loses its collective mind and needs me to help them calm down rather than go on with my to do list.

It's a tricky tightrope, this creating order and being able to release it for the greater good. I'm pretty sure it's why it's important I keep a large supply of cocoa mix on hand. It's always good for calming the chaos.

Oh, and that article that was so late? It's already published. Feel free to read and share... a lot. 6 Times My Adoption Support System was Awesome

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Teaching the disregulated child

The longer I homeschool and the longer I homeschool children who come from less-than-ideal backgrounds, I realize that learning is so much more than just understanding the next concept in the book. There is so much more that plays into how our children process information. Hunger, fatigue, worry, and fear all play a huge role into how information about the world around them is processed. Academic learning takes a brain that is calm, fed, attentive, and primed for learning. Even at home with me as the teacher, it is all too easy for one of these things to fall by the wayside, at which point, trying to get through an academic lesson is an exercise in futility.

So what are some ways to help a child whose brain has gone off-line? I'll use some examples from the past couple of days to explain some of the things we do around here.

Calm

A brain that is suddenly fearful about something... in school work it is often a fear of failure... can divert all energy to worrying and fretting and be anything but calm. We adults do this. Think of a time when you were really worried about something. How well were you functioning? Would you have felt up to trying some new and potentially difficult task? Probably not. Our children are the same. Once a brain has gone into a fearful mode very little learning is going to happen.

This happened to one child this morning. Things were going just fine, and then a couple of math problems proved difficult and all was lost. I've pounded my head against this type of wall far too many times in the past to even consider trying to move ahead in the math book. What was called for was redirection; a chance to move the thinking from the reactionary part of the brain back to the higher order thinking part.

One activity I've had success with is to use a Celtic maze.



I hand a child a stick and have them trace the maze, starting at any point. It has a soothing capacity to it that can calm the brain and bring rational thought back. Other activities can do the same thing... coloring, playing in something very tactile, such as sand, large muscle movement, watching a snow globe.

Once I knew this particular child could at least hear me again, we then moved onto another activity, but not the one that caused the disregulation in the first place. There is a world of time to get back to math, it was more important to repair the child's relationship with learning. I got out our Critical Thinking Skills book. This is at a level a bit easy for the child in question and involves solving visual-spatial type problems. Notice we were still not trying to engage any language centers at all; that would have been too much. Building and matching shapes, though, was easy and also calming. We did several pages and our time together was up. The child was able to sit on my lap for minute, connect, receive reassurance, and then go on to his individual chosen activity. Having done this enough times, I know that math will hold no terrors when we pull it out tomorrow.

Fed

We are all about protein around here, particularly with children who either have extremely fast metabolisms or whose brains go haywire when they feel hunger or both. A hungry brain cannot think or do schoolwork. Believe me, I've tried, and it doesn't work. Sometimes I will just need to send a child down to the kitchen to eat something before we can work together. Ideally, this happens in the window I have it planned in during our school morning, but any number of reasons can cause this not to work. I'm pretty sure L. is in the middle of a growth spurt at the moment and for a child who can barely eat the protein she needs normally, to add a growth spurt to that means sometimes I feel as though I should just be continually giving her food. What and when did you last eat is a perpetual question around here.

Attentive

While this sounds a bit like being calm, I'll define it further to paying attention to what is actually being taught and not thinking of anything else while still seeming to participate in the lesson. I find my children who experienced significant neglect to have the most difficult time with this. Because there was so much they didn't understand about what was going on around them, because things moved to fast or they weren't explained or they had just given up trying, their focus in on reading body and facial language to guess rather than just figure it out. It has taken me a long time to figure out exactly what works to deal with this behavior. It is both infuriating and heart-breaking all at the same time, and does not always bring out the best in me. I'm getting a bit better with it.

For H., I've learned that when confronted with something new that she doesn't immediately understand and that I am unaware she doesn't understand, she will default to guessing. First, I can't figure out exactly why she suddenly cannot do what she could do just a moment before. So I try harder. (This is rarely successful, yet I continue to do it.) Slowly, comes the dawning awareness that we have gotten off-track somewhere and I try to figure out where that point was. Yesterday, we were reading a word problem that involved a boy having marbles. She has become quite good at math, so I wasn't thinking anything would be a problem. And then, all of a sudden, it was as if she had completely forgotten how to read. I do some quick thinking about what just happened and decided to ask her if she knew what a marble was. Ding! Ding! Ding! She had no idea what a marble was. None. This is where all my reading about play has changed how I think about education. Before I would have just gotten the marbles, showed them to her, explained this was a marble, and expected us to move on. We rarely moved on very well. Yesterday, I decided that H. had years and years of exposure to marbles to make up for, so I got out the marbles and tray and said, "Play." H. stared at me for a moment as if she hadn't heard me correctly, but then started to tentatively play with them. It didn't take very long before she was completely absorbed with her play and continued that way for the rest of our time together, about another 20 minutes. Then, for the rest of that day, she would come up to me at random times and just say, "Marbles," as if to continue to get things sorted out into her head. This morning, we opened up her math book straight to the marble problem. I took a deep breath and asked her to read the problem. She read it with no difficulties and proceeded to do the arithmetic easily. She knew marbles. She had felt them, looked at them, rolled them, sorted them, dropped them (on accident), chased them. They had become a part of her knowledge of the world and it made infinite sense that a boy would have some in his pocket. If you take only one thing from this post let it be that when we allow our children to play, we allow them to make sense of their world in a deep, deep way.

Primed for Learning

This is very similar to what I just wrote, but at a more macro level. Yesterday at the neurosurgery appointment (where it looks as though we will never have to visit again), I was discussing R.'s school placement with the neurosurgeon. He didn't question the homeschooling aspect, but wanted to know that I was teaching R. academic skills. I'm sure my face looked a little funny at the thought, and pointed out that we did do school at home, but it was school that would be appropriate for a two year old. "Oh, they diagnosed her as functioning at a two year old level. Who did the evaluation?" he asked.
"Who? I live with her. I have 12 children. I'm pretty sure I know how a two year old behaves at this point." I (possibly a little testily) replied.
The doctor pleasantly backtracked more than a little bit and we go along swimmingly for the rest of the appointment.

The point of this is that for R. we are still building the mental and emotional structures that need to be present before we can even hope to bring up things such as letters and sounds or numbers and arithmetic. It would be foolish and stressful and frustrating and ultimately harmful at this point. Parents know where their children are developmentally. They know what is difficult for a child and what is easy. We do no one any favors by skipping past stages and abilities that are not there, regardless of what age the child is. Yes, it's a bit trickier to do pre-learning activities with an older child, but it is still needed. Skills learned with a brain that is not ready for them will be sorted and stored and understood in less-beneficial ways and will ultimately not be available for doing higher order thinking. There is nothing that says our children have to have learned everything they need to know as a child by 18. We have their whole lives, we don't need to rush and skip what they missed, but can take the time to lay the best foundation possible. If you cannot imagine, play, wonder, and have experiences with how the world works, then you will not be able to really learn the things that come later. Do not feel rushed by the outside voices who say your child must be doing this or that by a certain age. They do not know your child. You do. Take the time you and your child need.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I could have missed this

I'm squeaking in under the wire for getting a National Adoption Month post written, since November is very nearly over.

As we finished dinner tonight, I looked around and realized that if we had never adopted, there was a good chance that it would have been just D. and P. at the table with me and J. tonight. That's seven people whom I love that would either have not existed or been part of our family. It felt a little shocking and a little scary all at the same time.

We didn't set out to have 12 children. We thought four sounded great.. and normal... and enough. But sometimes there is that little voice that says otherwise. I'm so glad we listened. While the bottom half of the line-up (to borrow J.'s phrase) is not always easy, and sometimes downright hard, we also cannot imagine them not being around. The blessings certainly outweigh the hard. I shiver to think what we would have missed.

We would have missed the sheer joy that these precious blessings bring to us. Their smiles, their laughter, their triumphs. While I often wonder if I can do everything I need to do, I never doubt that my life has purpose. It is no small thing to play a role in watching a child who was so shut down she was not a player in her own life come alive. It is not small thing to play a part in the emotional healing of a very hurt child. It is no small thing to be recipient of hugs and kisses from a child who had no idea what a family was for too many years.

Yes, it can be hard. It can be scary. It can be overwhelming. But that is not the entire story. In our path of living on the outside edges of normal, we have been witness to God's overwhelming protection and love and provision. These stories keep us going in the desert places where hope is hard to find. We have learned of our need for God in a way that we never knew before in our more normal existence. Adoption has changed us. Adoption has changed the dynamics of our family. Adoption has changed the trajectory of our adopted children's lives. Adoption has changed what we think is important. Adoption has changed how we view other people, especially those who don't fit inside normal. Adoptions has made us more humane. And adoption has given us front row seats to the continued outworking of God's story of redemption. Daily we see this played out in a myriad of small ways as we parent these healing children who are God's image bearers.

It was one small yes eleven years ago. And without that yes, we could have missed all that followed.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

In search of a tree

We decided to do something new and different this year, so yesterday we loaded everyone up and went to find a Christmas tree to cut down. 

K. (That's a roll in his mouth. We did a lot of snacking so as not to have to buy everyone lunch.)

There was a miniature donkey which P. wished we could tie to the roof of the van and take home instead of the tree.


And two cute fat and woolly goats. There might have also been some discussion about how to secretly take the smaller goat with us, followed by more discussion over whether or not the city would notice a goat living in our yard. Someone helpfully (?) pointed out that everyone already thought we were a bit odd, so what would one goat matter?

Kenzie got to come along, too. His last car trip was to the vet and I think he kept wondering when the shot was going to happen.


Off in search of a tree.



After doing some vague wandering, M. and TM really wanted us to come and see the "tree" they found.


We did not choose this one.


We chose this one instead.





This is some people waiting for the tree to be cut down who may have muttering something along the lines of, "I knew this would happen. We find one right away, go wander around, and then come back and get the first one we saw."


R.



K. and L. helped carry the tree all the way back to the entrance.

We couldn't ride in the wagon pulled by the adorable Fjord horses. (Aren't they adorable?!? This is what I would have taken home if I could have.) Kenzie, it turns out, is not a big horse fan at the moment. 

Our tree was shaken, tagged, and bailed while we went inside this little building and had some hot cocoa.





J., M., and B. tied the tree on the van and we headed home. It was a great afternoon and probably one we will be repeating in future years. For those who are interested, in went to Out on a Limb Christmas Tree Farm in Clinton, WI.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

We had turkey.


I held dinner hostage until we took a family picture.


There was a lot of food. I know people are curious about amounts for a family of 14. Here they are (and our menu as well.)

Turkey (21.6 pounds)
Stuffing (2 loaves of bread, 2 heads of celery, 2 onions)
Creamed onions (4 jars of pickled onions)
Mashed potatoes (7 pounds)
Carrots (2 pounds)
Salad (1 lg. head of romaine, 1 jar of pickled beets, 1/2 a bag of pecans... we were also going to add goat cheese, but it was forgotten)
6 dozen homemade rolls
Gravy (4 cups)
Pie (2 pumpkin, 2 pecan, 1 apple and whipped cream)


Waiting to eat.



After dinner entertainment was provided by Nefertiti, the cat, followed by our annual viewing of A Child's Christmas in Wales. It was a lovely day, a delicious dinner, and wonderful to have everyone all together.


No, she never reached the turkey, but we did give her a little treat.
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