Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lest you think I have it all together

The beauty of writing a blog is that I can edit my life to make it appear that I live an always picked-up, calm and serene existence.  Since this really is not the case, I like to disabuse you of this notion every so often.  Take my dining room table for example.  Here is what is currently gracing it at the moment:


Yes, those are dead cone flowers and yes, they are still sitting on my table.  They looked very nice a couple of weeks ago when A. picked them when M. and B. came home.  Now?  Not so much.  But there they sit because I don't notice them or think about them until we are actually sitting down to dinner.  Then I will say something like, "Boy, I should do something about those flowers."  Everyone agrees and we eat dinner.  After leaving the table, I forget about them again and the same scene is played out the next evening.  And really, I'll do something about them soon.

Houseplants suffer the same fate in my hands and eventually all end up looking like those flowers up there.  I have stopped trying to grow them because I just can't remember to think about them.  Perhaps it's because I'm so busy thinking about all the small people in my house; there is just no brain space left for other things.  And it's not just the feeding and diaper changing that take up my thoughts, I also dither about other, more tangential things related to my children.  Such as what they put on their feet.  After a ridiculous number of hours, I finally settled on these baby shoes:


White classic baby walkers with laces.  I love them and they cannot be removed by little hands, even though both girls have given it a valiant try.  (My friend brought them each a pair of squeaky shoes from China which velcro, and though the girls love them, the shoes don't stay on their feet for very long.)  But I also can't help wondering if I really needed to expend such effort on finding them just the right shoes.

Here is another view of both girls in their new shoes and in a set of my favorite dresses.  G. is on the left and L. is on the right and I'm making an absolutely ridiculous face.  Just ignore that part of the picture.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Unintended messages

Sometimes in parenting, there are things we do (or don't do) that scream messages to our children that we never intended to send.  It is parenting's blind spot, because if we were aware what was actually being communicated, we wouldn't do it.  One reason I like to be around other experienced parents and to read other mother's blogs is that sometimes I will suddenly recognize a blind spot I had been missing.  It is often a painful process because when it happens, it is as if a glaring light is suddenly showing me and area of sin, or hypocrisy, or just plain laziness in my own life that I was hitherto unaware of.  But it's hard to fix something I don't know about, so ultimately it is a positive thing.

One of the biggest examples I had of this was several years ago when it was pointed out to me that the whole 1-2-3 counting-thing was not doing what I thought it was.  (Bear with me here.  I know I hold a minority opinion on this, and I also know I've discussed this with some of my readers in person.  I'm happy to agree to disagree with you.)  What I thought it was doing was creating a vehicle through which I was helping my children to be obedient.  But what was actually happening was the opposite.  I was training my children to ignore me until they heard the magic number "2" (or 2 1/2 or 2 3/4 or 2 9/10 on a bad day).  It was the same as if I had allowed my children to ignore me until my voice had reached a certain pitch of annoyance.  Ultimately, they were obeying me on their time and not mine.  Now I will be the first to admit that it is far easier to count or repeat myself than it is to enforce the first time obedience rule.  We are all human and for our children, obeying the first time is not their preferred course of action.  It's why we have to train our children; they didn't come hooked-up that way.  Sometimes (on good parenting days) this training takes a positive approach.  Practicing having children come when called (or whatever it is I am asking the child to do) is more effective and pleasant when I am able to give them a hug or kiss or read them a story or give them some kind of treat.  But this takes forethought, something I am, sadly, not always able to do.  Other days, the training has a definite corrective spin, which is far less pleasant for everyone, but also important.  Child training is just a lot of work. 

The trouble with these blind spots, is that often the only way to discover them is to find them out for yourself, either because of sudden revelation or because you're living with the consequences.  Often someone else pointing them out to another person is neither welcome nor effective.  We don't live in a society that manages criticism well.  Even the word "criticism" has a decidedly negative connotation and the phrase "constructive criticism" is said with a wink because everyone knows it's still just someone telling you what you are doing wrong. 

It's why we all need mentors.  People to whom we've given permission to lovingly point-out our blind spots and to also rejoice with us over our successes.  The corrective part is just a piece of a much larger relationship.  But it doesn't stop there, mentors can also offer suggestions as to how to do things differently.  For instance, a mentor could show how to use a worship notebook with a child during the sermon... how to draw pictures to illustrate what the pastor is saying or how to engage an older child with questions about what they are hearing.  And about how not to use them, such as using them to play games with the child and inadvertently sending the messages that 1) you, the child, can get nothing out of the sermon and that 2) I, as an adult have nothing to get out of it either. 

Parenting can be tough and sometimes it takes another set of eyes to see the whole picture.  Find yourself a mentor or two... or if you are enjoying the fruits of your parenting labor in the form of grown children, be available to younger parents.  Invite a new mom over for coffee and just chat.  You'll both be glad you did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Got mooncakes?

For once I am planning ahead!  I must be finally coming out of my pregnant with twins/nursing twins and never sleeping fog.  And what am I planning ahead for?  Why, Tet Trung Thu, of course.  For those readers without ties to Vietnam, that is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which occurs on September 22 this year.  The festivities include parading with lanterns and eating mooncakes.  I've always been pretty good about the lantern part... especially because one of my good friends stocked-up on them the last time she was in China.  But the mooncake part has always been a bust.  This year will be different.  I just finished ordering fresh pineapple (which I much prefer over the red bean type) moomcakes which will be delivered to my door in time to celebrate.  If I do nothing else today I will feel as though I have accomplished something.  Do you need mooncakes?  Mam Non, an organization in Ann Arbor, Michigan dedicated to sharing Vietnamese culture with the adoption community, makes them fresh each year and sells them in their etsy shop:  Mam Non Organization Shop.  If I remember right from having missed them in years past, they go fast.

____

In a completely unrelated note, I have a new post up on The Homeschooling Blog about children and chores.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm a hipster parent... who knew?

Warning!  Only read ahead if you can stomach a full dose of snarkiness!  And yes, I realize it is not a terribly gracious reaction on my part.

This article from the New York Times was passed along to the homeschooling support group I belong to.  If you don't care to go and read it, essentially, it is about how some young, well-off NYC parents are choosing to hire young, hip tutors to teach their children in small co-op groups.  It seems homeschooling, or at least whatever these parents are doing, is the new in thing.  I know I shouldn't be surprised that I find an article in the New York Times about New Yorkers to be annoying at best and completely condescending at worst.

Normally, I would hit the delete button on the article and let it go.  But, it does such a disservice to homeschoolers of all stripes (from conservative Christian to hippie radical), that a couple of the comments need to be addressed.  First off, after reading this quote, "Eight months pregnant with the couple’s third child, a girl, she [the pregnant mother in question] is the epitome of the glamour mama, utterly lacking the whiff of patchouli one might associate with the home-schooling movement."  I do wonder how many real homeschooling mothers the writer has met.  (And yes, I knowingly use the word 'real'; as in mothers who do the direct, non-outsourced, educating of their children.)  I know quite a few, and none of them has ever smelled of patchouli.  However, I'm not sure any of them qualify as a 'glamour mama', nor do I think any of them would find it to be a compliment.  On the other hand, not a single one of them looks as though she would qualify to appear on What Not to Wear, either.  Why does motherhood always have to equal frumpy in people's minds?

Secondly, while I hope the disposable income these young families have makes them happy, it hasn't made them modest:   ' “It’s obviously gentrified more,” Trejo says of the new home-schoolers. “Definitely more from people who have a privileged background, with one parent who has the luxury of working from home, which is not an option for a lot of working-class families.” '  Gentrified?!?  Really?!  I didn't realize I had been living in such a low estate.  I'll go them one better, I have the luxury of not only not working out of the home, but not working (for money) from my home either.  I have the time to take care of my family myself.  And I am fully aware it is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to manage, but is also one that we have by living very, very carefully.

But in the end, I just can't figure out why all of this has warranted an article in the first place.  It sure sounds as though the nice little experiment in alternative education ends for these children anywhere between kindergarten and third grade.  You know, when it starts to matter.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bidding wars

Problem:  I do not like to clean bathrooms.  And while I have my children clean all the shared bathrooms in the house, I don't make them clean mine and J.'s.  When you put these two things together, it equals a fairly scary bathroom.
Solution:  This morning, on the white board which hangs in our upstairs hallway, the following message appeared:

Notice of Money Making Opportunity

Closed bids for the job of cleaning Mommy and Daddy's bathroom are currently being accepted.  If you are interested in bidding for the job, submit a written proposal containing the following information:
  • What will be included in the cleaning
  • When the work will be completed
  • How much it will cost
Contract will be awarded based on a combination of work, cost, and originality and neatness of proposal.  Bids due by 1 pm today.

The Management



We have three proposals to look at tonight and by dinnertime tomorrow we should have a squeaky clean bathroom.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Future contortionist

Look what we discovered that K. can do:


But wait, there's more:



At least we know he doesn't suffer from claustrophobia.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Who's your friend?

I've been thinking about a discussion we had at the mom's group I lead last Monday about being friends with one's children. I was talking about how thankful I was that M. was back from Samoa and that she had had a good experience. This mother then asked me if M. was my best friend. Now, I know she had the best of intentions behind her question, but since I still have not learned to curb my immediate reactions very well, I immediately answered, "No! That's not her job" with perhaps more force than was really necessary.

My response between now and then hasn't changed, but I think I could have done a better job in explaining myself. Like many things, it is mostly a matter of semantics. According to Webster's dictionary, a friend is someone attached to another by affection or esteem. So far, so good. If we were to use just this definition, I have no problem agreeing that all my children are also my friends.

But is this all we mean when we use the word "friend" nowadays? I don't think so. Friend also implies a confidante, someone to whom you pour your troubles; two people who are of equal status. It is this connotation of the word friend to which I objected so strongly. As much as I love and like my daughter, admire her, enjoy her, and value her opinions, I am still her parent.

Too many times I hear about parents trying to be their children's friends and forfeiting their parental role in the process. By elevating the children to the same status as the parent (or the reverse, lowering the status of adult to that of child), the parents abdicate any authority they might have had over them. If the child's opinion becomes as important as the parents, why should the child give any credence to the adult's words? And this at a time in the child's development when parental guidance could save them so much heartache.

I think, also, that we have a Biblical mandate to be parents worthy of the fifth commandment. Children are to honor their parents, and whether our culture likes it or not, honor requires a difference in status. Parents and children are not equal members of the household and family.

Yes, a child in the teen years is more mature and capable than they were, but the scope for making poor decisions with lifelong implications is correspondingly greater. Teenagers (and if you know my opinions on that term, you know I use it somewhat disparagingly) need parents and not more friends.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cast of characters... or you need a scorecard to tell the players apart

Not Back to School Blog Hop

Don't worry, even though this seems to be the same post that I used last year, I keep updating it, since everyone continues to insist on growing up!

Not Back to School Blog Hop

(Updated August 2011; text updated March 2012)
I worry that my system of using initials to talk about my children and family members could be a bit confusing especially is you don't know us in real life.  To help with that, I've created a list of 'who's who' in the big, ugly house.  I will begin with the youngest and work my way up:


Here is L., who is 3 (her picture desperately needs to be updated).  She is always on the go and exploring things, but is also very much Mama's girl, especially when other people are around.  Sadly, she and her sister (below) have decided that their favorite activity is removing their diapers during nap time.  I won't be sad to see the phase disappear.


And this is G., also 3 (and also needs a new picture).  She is not quite so adventurous as her sister, but is far more interested in other people.  Her big grin and princess wave are really adorable.  She has become quite the talker and will parrot back absolutely everything that is said around her, including the phrase, "I 'dorable!", which means that we really need to curtail saying this to her.





This smiley little guy is K., who is 6, but after adjusting for his time in the orphanage, is really closer to 4.  We adopted him when he was two years old from Vietnam.  Although he started out with a lot of things stacked against him, he has been making remarkable progress.  He is the sunniest little boy and joy to have around.  His newest accomplishment is that he has started to learn how to count and write letters.  We discovered he could write letters because at the moment he is sporting a big 'A' on each knee which he wrote with pen.


D. comes next in the line-up.  He is 9 years old and is in 3rd grade.  I'm not sure there has ever been such a gregarious child... at least not in our family.  He has become an amazing reader over the summer and reads constantly.  Yet another precocious reader in the family... this means that finding books which challenge his abilities, yet are still appropriate becomes a challenge.  Good thing I've had a lot of practice.


This is TM who is 9 and also in the3rd grade.  He came home from Vietnam when he was 3 1/2.  TM loves all things mechanical, especially if those things involve wheels or computers.  He is also developing into quite an artist and draws wonderful, elaborate pictures.


Meet H., our 9 year old daughter from China and the last of the trio of virtual triplets (along with TM and D.)  She has facial tumors and it seems the most likely diagnosis at this point in Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome, an official rare disease on the NIH website.  Despite everything stacked against her, H. is one of the sunniest, most resilient children I've ever met.  It's as though she is our own personal Pollyanna.  (And I mean that in a very good way; I love the book.)

This is P., who allowed me to take her picture in a rare moment of photographic cooperation.  She is 11 and in 6th grade.  P. loves to read and make things and go places.  Like L., though, she is not so sure of interacting with other people.  Recently she has started dancing with a group at church and is loving it.  Oh, and she would also give her right hand to have a pet cat... if only her sister weren't allergic.


Now we're to A., who is 14 and is in 8th grade.  A. is my happy, bubbly girl who I can always count on for a smile.  She is also a world-class organizer and is often my right hand around the house.


Next up is B., who is 17 and a junior in high school.  He is a great guy and amazing with the babies.  B. has a great sense of humor and is a lot of fun to have around.  He is a beekeeper and loves to cook, often helping me in the kitchen.  He also is the 'baby whisperer', having amazing abilities at rocking fussy babies to sleep.


M., the oldest child in our family, is 19 and is a freshman in college, living off campus, but only 25 minutes away.  M. is a wonderful daughter, helpful and cooperative.  It will be very odd not having her around as much this year, though I am excited to see what she does in college. 


I suppose the list wouldn't be complete without including me (E.- above) and J. (below).  I am a homemaker, wife, mother, homeschool teacher, and holder of many opinions.  J. works at a local university and does his best to spend as much as he can at home with us.  We've been married 20 years.



So there you go, a nice list with photos so you can keep us all straight.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The things that matter

I just returned with all the children from driving to and from Michigan to attend the funeral of one of best friend's mother.  I'm glad it was close enough so that we could go and be there for her.  Sitting there during the service I was thinking about how both the beginning and end of life remind us of what is really important.  And what is important is not what we spend most of our time working on and thinking about.  It is the small things that we often don't give second thoughts to:  food, clothing, spending time with people.  Deep down we know that these basics are what are vital to us, that everything else is just window dressing.  How else can we explain the need to provide food to a grieving family or a family celebrating a new life?  Why else is it important to think about what we wear to a funeral service?  What else would explain the need we have to go and just be with the ones we love during times of celebration or grieving? 

The memories which the family shared of their mother and grandmother were mainly about the supposed little things of life.  How she was an encouragement to her children; how she would take the time to listen to each of them; of all the acts of service she provided and how through those acts her family and friends experienced her love.  It is how I would like to be remembered by my children... as someone who took the time to care and listen, not as someone who was too busy with other things.

If anything, funerals remind us that our time together on earth is fleeting.  Go hug the ones you love and spend some time with them, because in the end, that is what really matters.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Busy, busy, terribly busy

Leading a Moms Bible study group discussion about homemaking?  Check.

Taking a 1/2 bushel of peaches and turning them into 19 1/2 pints of canned peach jam?  Check.

Blogging?  Not so much.  And tomorrow isn't looking so good either what with grocery shopping, bill paying, dentist appointments, getting dress clothes ready for all of us for a funeral we're going to on Wednesday, taking a meal to a friend who had a baby, etc.

I don't really care for days where there doesn't seem to be any down time, but I'll survive.  It's just that something needs to give and the computer and the internet are always the first to go.  Look for me on Wednesday...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All's right with the world

A rare Sunday post since the computer is on from having checked flight status and viewing M.'s photos.  And since we were looking at her pictures, you can gather that she has made it home safely, looking (more) thin, tan, and (more) blond.  A true sight for sore eyes.  She had a fantastic time and is full of stories.

Off to enjoy my girl.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

One down, one to go

B. has made it home safe and sound!  I'm sure dinner time will be filled with lots of catching up on both sides.  Tomorrow M. comes in around 2:15 in the afternoon.  We will all be going to the airport to meet her.  You know I'm anxious to have her home since I voluntarily spent far too long on the phone with the airline representative confirming her flight and paying for her baggage.  (I feel the need to add how much I hate talking to computers.  They absolutely infuriate me and I find it a great challenge to regain my composure when I finally reach a live person.  Hint:  Just hit '0' and it will connect you with a live person nearly every time.)  Anyway, I will jump through any number of hoops to have her home.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Odds and ends

Here is a photo of the baby corral.  Silly us, we thought it would be for the babies.  We have had to limit the number of children allowed in it, because as you can see, with too many people, there is no room to play or crawl around.

Over the past several days I have had a chance to talk with both M. and B. on the phone.  M. called from LA during their 10 hour layover between Samoa and Orlando.  It was so good to hear her voice!  She sounded well and said they had had a great trip.  Her calling card only had a few minutes on it so I didn't get to hear very much.  I can't wait to see her on Sunday.  B. called when he and the rest of his troop arrived back at base camp.  He also sounded well and had enjoyed all the backpacking.  They are probably close to boarding the train back by now and we will see him tomorrow afternoon.

Not only will we be happy to see M. and B. this weekend because we have missed them, but also because when favorite people disappear for extended periods of time, it is difficult for a certain boy healing from trauma.  We noticed a particular decline in an ability to self-regulate after B. left.  TM adores B. and from various stories he has made up and dreams he has had, clearly sees B. as someone who can keep him safe.  B. is always the one in TM's stories and dreams who comes to fight-off the bad guys, evil robots, monsters, aliens, etc. and save smaller brothers.  I am thrilled they have that type of relationship, but it also makes me a bit sad that B.'s absence makes TM feel less safe even though J. and I are still around.

I gained some new insight into the crazy-making behavior of my son when I read this article which my friend Ann, at Crazy for Kids posted.  I found the idea of inducement, the need of a child to create the feelings he or she is experiencing in the people around them, fascinating... and spot on.  The more I can know what is behind a child's negative behavior, the better I can manage my reactions and parent my child.  If you have a child who has experienced any loss or trauma in their life I highly recommend the article to you.

One last story before I close.  Each of our children is so different and they each have things that they tend to focus on.  It is sometimes amusing how these strengths play out.  Yesterday, many children were outside welcoming J. home when I man on a bicycle rode by with a young dog.  Through a series of events, he ended up stopping for a moment at which point K. immediately asked if he could pet the dog.  (I need to point out the big deal of this.  First, K. is now able to 1. know he needs to ask to pet someone's dog 2. can formulate the sentence, "Can I pet your dog?" and 3. be able to be understood by a complete stranger.  Huge!  Huge I tell you!) But I digress... When they all came inside, the three youngest boys all wanted to tell me what happened.  K. told me about the dog.  TM told me about the bike that didn't have a chain to drive the wheels.  And D. told me about the man.  In their three different descriptions of the same event, they also showed what is important to them.  K. is all about animals and dogs in particular.  At one point, as he was petting the dog, he hopefully asked if the dog was staying here.  TM is all about machines... mechanical, electrical, it doesn't matter.  He loves them and can't rest until he knows how something works.  D.?  People.  All people, all the time.  The whole thing was just so telling it made me laugh.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Decorating with Books

Not Back to School Blog Hop

In preparing for the new school year, I've been thinking about where we are going to 'do' school.  We have a dedicated school room for this purpose, but for the past two years we have gotten out of the habit of using it for anything but glorified book storage.  It was too difficult for me to go up and down the stairs when I was pregnant with the babies, so we spent a lot of time in the kitchen.  And then when the babies were tiny, all the baby stuff was in the kitchen, so we continued to work there.  But now the babies are not so tiny and very mobile.  While I love my borrowed play yard, I'm thinking I can't keep them inside of it their every waking hour, so I need a plan B.  And Plan B is looking more and more as though we will actually be using the school room for school, mainly because it has a door that closes and we can keep G. and L. inside with us.  Which brings me to my dilemma, which I will share with you after a brief tour.  Without further ado, welcome to our school room.  Come on in, we'll move around counter-clockwise (or anti-clockwise, if like me you read too much British fiction):


Yes, I'm a bit over-organized, and our non-fiction books are sorted and labelled by topic.  It was the only way we could find anything and the stickers help the non-readers put them back (insert light chuckling here) in the correct spot.


The "wall-'o-books" and the computer which our children use for doing Rosetta Stone French and for writing:


The futon for reading together and for use as a second guest room when necessary.  Through the double doors is the former sleeping porch which we use for craft storage.

The second, smaller "wall-'o-books" which contains the rest of our non-fiction books, the storage cubbies for each of the children, and paper and pencil supplies.

And finally, some of the shelves in our craft storage room.  Through selective photography, I can make it look as though the entire room is all nice and organized.  You can just go ahead and think that, OK?

It has just about anything one could want in a school room.  Plenty of storage, a large table, a place to sit and read, a computer...  but I just don't find it a pleasant room to be in and I can't figure out why.  The windows are south facing so it gets enough sun.  It is not too crowded, though it does have a tendency to get messy; it is a room I need to check on multiple times a day to control the chaos.  But still, I don't enjoy it.  Here are some of the reasons I think this could be:

  • You can't see it in the photo, but the futon cover is grayish, dingy, covered with pencil and marker, and just plain ugly.  I need to find some fabric and make a new cover. I'm thinking maybe in a bright, happy print.

  • The windows have the same type of problem as the futon.  The mini-blinds are broken, dingy, and ugly.  They desperately need to be replaced.  Plus, maybe if I made some curtains to coordinate with the new futon cover it would brighten things up.

  • Yucky, peeling paint.  The green wall is new and was done when we redid the kitchen because there was a closet in the school room which had to be removed.  I like the green wall, but I don't like the other walls, especially in comparison.  I'm just not sure we can get to painting the room, though.
I worry I sound just a tad bit ungrateful because really, it is a wonderful thing to have space like this.  And I do appreciate it, I do!  I just know that there must be something I can do to make it a place in which we want to spend time.  So now I'm asking you dear readers, what are your thoughts? I'm open to just about any suggestions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Time for more baby pictures -- and the giveaway winner

Since so many people commented on the giveaway post that they enjoy seeing pictures of the babies, I thought I would indulge you a bit.

Here are TM and L. looking at a book together:


G. and L. are still not walking, though they love to 'walk' holding someone's hands (L. in green and G. in orange):

They are happy, happy babies, who love to smile and wave:


G. is particularly good at waving.  When she doesn't have her thumb in her mouth, that is:

This picture gives you a better sense of their grins:

I love taking them out in the stroller; it almost feels as though it is a public service.  They sit side by side and grin and wave at people and people look at them and smile back, looking much happier than when we first approached.  It has its dangers, though.  Two days ago, the girls very nearly caused an auto accident.  We were at a corner waiting for a light to change, when the driver of a car making a left turn caught sight of them and stopped mid-turn to stare and smile back.  She then caught herself and resumed driving.  At least there were no oncoming cars at that point.

They can also be very silly:


I love it when they do the same thing at the same time:

And here is an example of why I was so glad when my friend, Amy, brought by a play yard this morning:

Except that this is a very mild example because L. is sitting still (a rare occurrence) and they are not going at top speed.  They tend to travel together, but they are fast and stealthy so it is not immediately noticeable that they have slipped away.  Yeah for the baby corral, my new best friend.

And finally, I am happy to announce the winner of the highly technological drawing (slips of paper drawn by A. out of a basket) for the $40 gift certificate is...

The Fam, commenter number 3!  I will email you with the information.  Congratulations. 

Monday, August 09, 2010

Game storage revisited

(Go here to enter the giveaway... only two more days, and your chances of winning look pretty good.)

A while back I wrote about my frustration with keeping our games neat and organized while still allowing my children to use them.  I'm happy to report that recently life with the games has been much better... and it's not because they haven't been used.  So what changed?  First, I took the suggestion made by one of the commenters and used Ziploc bags to store games which didn't have boxes.  These were mostly card games.  The cards had never been loose, but I was using rubber bands to hold everything together and it was an unreliable system.  My mistake was thinking that 7 year old's small muscle abilities were the same as mine, and they aren't.  Even with good intentions, the cards just could not be neatly fastened with a rubber band by young children.  Plus it was too difficult to add in a missing card, so the card was flung into the drawer instead of being correctly put away.  The bags have made a much bigger difference than I had expected.

Next, I spent some time studying how the games were being used, who was using them, and what was the likely cause of them not being put away.  This gave me some more insights into our storage problems.  First I discovered that my storage method was the biggest part of the difficulties.  We have three different places we keep games:  a drawer which contains small games which is easy to get to, the top of the armoire where we have games stacked into several piles, and a smaller cabinet with shelves that is also easy to get to.  Once again I realized that what was easy for me was not easy for the 7 year old boys.  I had put some of the games they enjoy playing in the top of the armoire.  It was hard for them to reach and the stacks became increasingly precarious as they tried to return them.  They would eventually give up and leave them out.  The older children could reach the top, but the chaos created by not-quite-tall-enough children meant that they couldn't put anything away either.  (Well, they could have, but it would have meant taking out all the games and restacking them.)  So one afternoon, A. (my organizing buddy) and I went through and sorted games by who played them.  (Before I had been sorting them by size of box... they looked so pretty lined-up neatly on the shelves.  For about 5 minutes, that is.)  Games for younger children were put into the smaller cabinet or the drawer.  Games for older children were put in the top of the armoire, but in two simple stacks that didn't involve solving a logic puzzle to put them away.  Younger children are welcome to play with the other games, but they need to ask someone to help them get the game down.  There has been very little of this since the games on the high shelf really are too advanced for them and are not much fun to try to play if you are younger.

The second thing I realized was that I don't wander around my house very much  I tend to stay in the same few rooms most of the day and the room with the games is not one of the few.  (It's not really surprising since it contains neither stove, sink, washing machine, nor changing table.)  If I don't go into a room, I don't notice things that are out of place.  If I don't notice things are our of place, they don't get picked up.  (Sometimes I think my children have vision problems.  I really don't think they see mess, garbage, and clutter.)  If this goes on for several days, then when I do walk into the room, well, let's just say life isn't very good around here for a while.  I have been trying to be more conscious about walking around the house a couple of times a day to keep things under control.  One game left out is easy to pick-up.  Five open games left out are not.

Things seemed to be going swimmingly when I one day I walked by the room to discover game pieces strewn about.  Again.  After quietly screaming inside my head, I called everyone together to pick-up and to try to figure out what had happened.  That is when I made my third discovery:  Friends.  Evidently, having friends over to play causes my children to believe that normal, everyday, household rules do not apply anymore.  Actually, I'm sure it has more to do with the fact they are having so much fun playing together that they just don't think.  So, we had a little chat about what I expect (from them... my own children) when friends come over.  I also have tried to make a point to do a bit more policing to help remind everyone what the rules are.  And so far it seems to be working.  (I need to add that these friends are all nice, well-behaved children whom I enjoy having in my home.  And I have no problem nicely informing guests what is and isn't allowed in our home.)

I'm not sure my solutions will work for someone else, but maybe they can be helpful.  The biggest thing I realized (again) is that like it or not, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for the level of chaos.  If I am actively on top of things... checking the house a couple of times a day, calling a child back to do a job correctly, supervising play dates, etc. then life is seems more under control.  If I am tired or feel that doing all that is too much work, I pay for it in the end.  Life feels messy and I am grumpy at the children.  And if I'm perfectly honest, even more grumpy at myself for letting it happen.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Nearly missed it!

(Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a $40 dollar gift certificate to any CSN online store, including cookware.com.  Go to this post for details and entering.)

As we started to prepare lunch yesterday, I heard A. gasp, "Oh my gosh!"  I look up to discover our butterfly had hatched, and evidently had hatched quite a bit earlier in the day as the wings were nearly pumped up and ready to fly.  I snapped a quick picture before carefully carrying the wooden planter outside to our back porch.  I didn't want to be in the position of having to try to catch a flying butterfly to get it outside.  There was a tricky moment when the butterfly began climbing up my arm and I couldn't convince it to go back to the wood.  He continued to walk up my arm to my shirt and then onto my neck heading toward my face.  I was happy to get it off before it reached that high.  Butterflies, it turns out, have sharp little feet that they use to hold onto things.  If feels like tiny, tiny pinpricks on your skin.  Once returned to the wooden planter, the butterfly immediately started to exercise its new wings.  Not long after it flew away.

We said goodbye to three other caterpillars as well yesterday.  Outside on our dill plants we had been watching three black swallowtail caterpillars.  Like monarchs, they are also green and yellow, but they are bigger and when scared have an organ on their heads, orange and V-shaped, which they raise.  It is very cool.  We were looking forward to watching them over the winter as chrysalises and then as they turned into butterflies in the early spring, but they have vanished.  We have no idea if they walked away (no doubt because too many people were petting them to watch the defense mechanism) or were eaten.  I'll keep an eye on the dill, though, in case they come back.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Summer has to end sometime, I suppose I should prepare for it

If you are looking for the giveaway, click over to here.  Newcomers to this blog are welcome to enter... it's a $40 gift certificate.

Not Back to School Blog Hop

I know it's only August, but I am starting to think about getting back into our school schedule in September.  I always loved the beginning of a new school year.  Actually, I think what I really loved was all the things that went with the beginning of school:  new books, new notebooks, new books, new pens and pencils, new books.  I find that I feel the same way as an adult whose children do not attend school I feel the same way.  But along with the new books and look forward to a schedule.  I love the free time of the summer, especially at the beginning, but as the summer wears on I find that the lack of schedule begins to wear as well.  Our brains have rested and we need new rigors to help them grow.  Before I can begin to formulate what our schedule will look like, I need to know what everyone is going to be working on.  With the book order I placed yesterday, I think I have it sorted out.  So for those who are interested, here is some of what each child will be studying this year, oldest to youngest.  (If you're not a homeschooler or obsessed with curriculum, I can't promise you that this will be my most interesting post.)

M. (17 years old, senior [!] in high school) -- First, let me say, there is NO WAY she can possible be old enough to be finishing high school.  Someone must have counted wrong.  But even though I am denial, I guess she still has to study something.  The biggest change this year will be that she will be taking a college level French class at the University where J. teaches.  Along with this, she will be finishing up the VideoText math program, with Trig and pre-calculus being the final sections.  A study on constitution and government is on tap using Exploring Government by Ray Notgrass.  Everyone in our family will be focusing on American history, my high schoolers being no exception.  M. will be reading The Oxford History of the American People (both volumes) by Samuel Eliot Morison.  There is also a 20th century American literature class being offered which I am considering having her take, though I am not sure about getting her (and B.) to the class.  I may just use their reading list and have her do it on her own.  We're still on the fence and I really need her input before we decide.  I'm sure there will be more that she will do, but this is a start.

B. (15 years old, sophomore in high school) -- B. will be working on VideoText as well, but finishing Algebra 2 this year.  He will also be completing a curriculum called, Starting Points, which is about developing a world view.  (It is supposedly a one year course, but we are taking our time through it.)  I am pretty sure I will also have him read the Samuel Eliot Morrison American history book and I am leaning toward B. attending the American literature class as well.  Science I am waiting to see about.  A friend of ours, who is a high school science teacher, has been teaching both M. and B. over the past several years and we haven't had a discussion about this year yet, so I don't know if he will be able to do it or not.  One way or another, B. will also be studying chemistry.

A.  (12 years old, 7th grade) -- A. is the one for whom I ordered a new book.  We are trying something new this year with her because I think she needs to be a bit more challenged.  Consequently, she will be using the Omnibus curriculum published by Veritas Press.  It is a far more rigorous curriculum than we have used with her so far, but I think she can handle it.  The 7th grade year studies ancient civilizations and literature, so she will be reading some pretty advanced stuff.  (That's the technical term, you know.)  A. will also continue with Rod and Staff English and will begin the pre-algebra section of VideoText math.  Whether she will continue to join the younger group for our unit studies will remain to be seen since we don't have any idea how much time her new curriculum is going to take.

The younger group all work individually on math, English and handwriting and we cover everything else in the form of literature based unit studies.  So that means for P. (9 years old, 5th grade), TM (7 years old, 2nd grade) and D. (7 years old, 2nd grade) that they will be working on Rod and Staff math and English, the Italic Handwriting series, and for the boys, doing a lot of reading.  P. will also be reading George Washington's World and Abraham Lincoln's World both by Genevieve Foster and narrating the chapters back to me.  For unit studies, we will continue to work our way around the world as we do geography, using a combination of literature and Cindy Wiggers' book, The Trail Guide to World Geography and Geography through Art by Sharon Jeffus and Jaime Aramini.

And what will K. (4 years old, preschool) be doing?  I will be getting out our preschool boxes for him to use and I always have a way he can participate in our unit studies.  Plus I picked-up some Rod and Staff preschool work books for him to slowly work through.  I love these, by the way.  If you have a preschooler, I highly recommend them.  They are inexpensive, there is a lot of coloring, cutting, and pasting so the child likes them, and the books cover a lot of learning readiness skills. 

And those babies?  Anything they can, I'm sure.  Especially if it involves climbing the stairs unsupervised.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sponsored giveaway -- $40 gift certificate to any CSN online store!!

Part of my ponderings about blogging came as a result of being contacted by a representative from CSN asking if I would host a giveaway on my blog.  So after some soul searching, the results of which were yesterday's post, I said yes.  And you, my devoted readers, are the beneficiaries.  The prize is a $40 gift certificate good at any CSN store.  So, if you suddenly have a desire to go camping after reading about our trip, you could get yourself a new dutch oven to cook with.  Or perhaps you don't ever want to go camping after reading about our trip... you could certainly pick something else.  It seems CSN carries just about anything you could want.

Here are the rules:

I will give you three ways to enter. 
1)  Leave a comment on this post telling me why you read blogs. 
2)  Become a follower on my blog [Disclaimer:  I don't really care that much about followers, I don't really 'follow' anyone myself, but I wanted to give everyone as many chances to enter as possible.] 
3)  Mention this giveaway on your own blog and link back to mine.

You will need to leave a separate comment for each of these.  For example you will leave one comment saying why you read blogs, you leave a second comment telling me you became a follower or were already one, and you leave a third comment saying you linked on your blog.  I will leave the comments open through August 10 and will draw and announce the winner on August 11.  Easy huh?  Oh, and leave some contact information so I have a way to contact you if you win!  This is really important because I'm telling you in advance I won't track you down, I'll just draw someone else.  And one last bit of information... this is only open to North American readers since CSN cannot ship internationally at this time, though Canadian readers should know there may be international shipping charges.

I wish everyone could win.  Heck, I wish I could win.  It would make the rice cooker I've been eyeing possibly affordable.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Navel gazing

I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about why I blog and if I need to worry about increasing my blog readership.  On a certain level it is an incredibly narcissistic endeavor, and while that is not my mode of operation in real life, we all know the virtual world can be an enabler for some less than desirable behavior.  I began to fret that my main purpose in blogging was to fulfill some deep seated desire to be popular; probably leftover angst from having attended junior high.

But, as I thought about it, I decided that I really do have other reasons for blogging.  Some of these reasons, such as keeping my family up-to-date on our doings, do not require a bigger audience.  In fact, trying to get a bigger audience for that type of blog would seem a bit odd (to me at least).  But I write about more than just what my family is up to.  Depending on how it's divided up, I write about five other main subjects:

  • Homemaking and parenting
  • Adoption
  • Large families
  • Homeschooling
  • Christianity
So why do I write about these things?  Because I want other people to see that there are other ways to live and raise one's family than just how "everyone else" does it.  That it's OK to choose a different path and perhaps that different path is more than OK.  I hope that by sharing how my large, somewhat goofy family lives and thrives that it will encourage others to consider being open to more children.  Maybe even children whom others have deemed imperfect or not valuable.  I want to support those women who have chosen homemaking as a career.  We need all the support we can get since so few voices are saying homemaking is a valid and valuable option.  And finally, my main goal in everything I do, is to point to Jesus.  My faith underlies every decision I make, with my sole purpose being to honor my Lord and Savior.  (For a truly remarkable example of a family living to glorify Jesus, check out my in-real-life-friend's blog, His Hands His Feet and meet their newest daughter.)

Reading all this makes me realize how far short of these lofty goals I regularly fall.  But I cannot succeed if I never try, so I will continue trying.  And I find that it's OK to want others to read this.  I know I gain great support and often some great parenting tips by reading other mom's blogs.  I'd like to think I can offer that kind of support myself.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Oh, what a beautiful morning! -- our last day

I'm beginning to worry that posting endless vacation pictures and stories is the electronic equivalent of being invited to someone's house for dinner and then being hijacked into viewing their vacation slides.  Of course, you can leave at any time and I will never know.  And you didn't get dinner...

This remains the best way to share pictures with my family, so the rest of you will all have to survive one more vacation post.  On our last morning we finally awoke to sun!  We were able to make pancakes:


And many cousins thought it was fun to continually make the babies' hair go into a Mohawk.  This is L.:


And of course there was a lot of other baby love happening:


For lunch we decided to take a picnic to a place called Thunder Rocks.  It turned out to be so fun that we spent the rest of the day there.  Beautiful, isn't it?



All those big rocks were easily imagined into castles and houses and ships.  Many children spent quite a few happy hours playing long, imaginary games.  But it wasn't just the smaller people who were happy.  Some bigger people were pretty content as well.  See...



What are they all looking at?

Well, those rocks weren't good only for imaginary games.  They were also excellent for climbing.  Being the prepared sorts that they are, J. and his brother had packed their rock climbing equipment.  Everyone who wanted to, got a chance to climb.  Here's D.:


See, everyone's all roped in and harnessed.  J. was belaying.

And here's P.:


And here's B., who is in the middle of changing his shoes.  He started up and then realized that perhaps his sneakers were not the best choice of footwear, so changed into rock climbing shoes mid-climb.


I don't climb, but I came prepared with some knitting.  And what did the babies do?  Well, they alternately nursed and sat in their prisons chairs.  It never ceases to amaze me how many parents of twins there are out there.  While we were sitting there, watching everyone climb, I met three or four other parents of multiples.  The first question other parents of multiples ask is, "Are they sleeping?"  It is such a relief to be able to answer, "YES!"  (Except when sleeping in a tent, that is.)

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