Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, TM!

TM turned 8 years old today.  I can't believe it, really.  Four years ago there were days where I couldn't imagine him being that old... mainly because I could only see what was right in front of me and it wasn't pretty.  As hard I as tried to imagine a time where our family would feel  'normal' again I couldn't do it.  But we all have come a long, long way since that time four years ago.  We are back to normal again (whatever that happens to be) and not only can I appreciate the present, I can imagine the future... one where my son grows up to be a responsible man.  I love him so much.  He is bright, funny, caring, and energetic.

The other day when he was sitting on my lap I was realizing how big he has gotten.  He hangs off in all directions and has lost that little-boy-look he used to have.  I was suddenly struck with how much I have missed of him.  Not only did I miss his baby and toddler years, I missed his preschool years as well.  I couldn't appreciate his small little boy-ness as both he and I deserved because we were fighting so hard to learn to love each other.  I know there is nothing I could have changed about those first months and years we had together, but I grieve their loss.

TM enjoyed his family party.  He ordered shrimp fried rice for dinner and chocolate mayonnaise cake with a chocolate glaze for dessert.  One of his favorite gifts was from his Grammy and Grandpa... an Erector set that comes with a motor.  Do they know their grandson well or what?  Look at that smile.

Happy Birthday, TM!  I love you.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What I do in my free time

I do one of two things... I either make things:

Here is my current project that, because of time constraints, has taken over every waking hour.  So I guess it's not really during my free time anymore.  The trouble with intensive project making is that all other things fall by the wayside.  For instance, I haven't done laundry in two days.  I must do some today or the situation in the basement will become critical.

Anybody want to guess what I'm so madly working on?

... or I read.  (If only I could figure out how to sew and read a book at the same time!)  My latest book is The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.  It's been on my list to read for a while now.  Mr. Gatto was the New York State Teacher of the Year and has been given numerous teaching awards.  He is now one of the most out-spoken critics of current educational practices around.  It makes for some very interesting reading.  You may not always agree with him but he does make you think.  I warn you now that I may find this book so interesting that I will have to share bits of pieces with you.  For instance, here are a couple of quotes from the prologue which I found particularly interesting. 

from p. xxviii
"Somehow out of the industrial confusion which followed the Civil War, powerful men and dreamers became certain what kind of social order America needed.  This realization didn't arise as a product of public debate as it should have in a democracy, but as a distillation of private discussion. Their ideas contradicted the original American charter but that didn't disturb them. They had a stupendous goal in mind -- the rationalization of everything.  The end of unpredictable history and its transformation into something orderly.

From mid-century onwards certain utopian schemes to retard maturity in the interests of a greater good were put into play, following roughly the blueprint Rousseau laid down in the book Emile.  At least rhetorically.  The first goal, to be reached in stages, was an orderly, scientifically managed society, one in which the best people would make the decisions, unhampered by democratic tradition.  After that, human breeding, the evolutionary destiny of the species, would be in reach. Universal institutionalized formal forced schooling was the prescription, extending the dependency of the young well into what had traditionally been early adult life.  Individuals would be prevented from taking up important work until a relatively advanced age.  Maturity was to be inhibited.

During the post-Civil War period, childhood was extended about four years.  Later, a special label was created to describe very old children.  It was called adolescence, a phenomenon hitherto unknown to the human race."

And one shorter one:
from p. xxxi

"The shocking possibility that dumb people don't exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the careers devoted to tending to them will seem incredible to you.  Yet that is my proposition:  Mass dumbness first had to be imagined, it isn't real."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review of the week

Sometimes you just have one of those weeks that don't work according to plan.  For no discernible reason, this past week was one such week.  The schedule didn't work so well and everything was just off.  I find it helpful on weeks such as this to look back and make a list of things we did accomplish... even if they weren't in the plan or on the schedule.  I have to remind myself that these things really do "count".

So what did go on in the Big Ugly House? 
  • Well, M.,B., and J. attended a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was great timing because they had just read and discussed the book for their literature class.
  • P., TM, and D. all spent time on learning the rest of their lines for Charlotte's Web, the performance of which is in three weeks.  Working on lines has been great for TM because we have been really working on pronouncing the endings of words.  (He still tends to believe that word endings are entirely optional.)   Rehearsing the play has also been good for the boys' reading since they need to follow along, know their lines, and follow stage directions.
  • Along with reading of the play, both TM and D. have spent a good chunk of the past two days walking around working on reading chapter books. I'm not sure how much they're getting out of them since about every 4th or 5th word they need to ask about a word.  But, good readers develop by tackling things that are more difficult than they can easily read, so I don't mind.
  • We finished reading Minn of the Mississippi and J. finished reading The Return of the Twelves to the boys.
  • A. began reading the Odyssey for part of her schoolwork and we had an interesting discussion at the dinner table about feet and poetic form.
  • M.'s mask-making has started a real interest for her and she has been doing some research into different types of mask-making.
  • We made cardboard and rubber band paddle boats to discuss both how paddle boats on the Mississippi were propelled and how paddles work in the water.
  • M. and B. have been watching a lot of Jeeves and Wooster (by P.G. Wodehouse) to work on the accents they need for the show they are in the middle of December.
So, it is a decent list, especially when you consider that English and math did happen each day.  I have to remember that learning happens all the time, whether I have personally scheduled it or not.

And now I have something fun for all of you to try.  One of the science experiments A. did this past week was to dissolve the egg shell of a raw egg.  Take a jar, fill it with white vinegar, put in the raw egg, cap the jar and wait for 24 hours.  The membrane holds the egg together and you end up with an egg that looks like a cross between a water balloon and a bouncy ball.  Plus, it is the perfect lead-in to discussing teeth enamel and what acid will do to it.  It is a great visual lesson.  Try it!


And remember, tomorrow is the last day to nominate your favorite homeschool blogs.  Click the button to send in your nominations.

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mask making and front yard theatricals

Due to last year's successful production of short plays on our front lawn during the trick-or-treating hours, more front yard theatricals are being planned for this year.  M., B., A. and friends have been writing and rehearsing and making props and costumes.  M. has taken on the job of making the masks.

(Edited to add: lots of people hit this page looking for directions on how to make either wolf or pig masks. M. made these and has put up a tutorial on her tumblr site. Here are the links for part one and part two. When you arrive at her site, click on the photos for the written directions.)

 One wolf mask

 Pig masks (with D. and P. modelling)

A lion mask

I think they're rather ingenious, especially when you consider they are made with glue, paint, and construction paper.  I'm sure you can figure out at least one of the stories they will be dramatizing.  Yes, they are doing the Three Little Pigs, and no, the lion is not a part of that story.  It appears in the story of Pierre, which is part of the Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak.  They are also doing some short, funny skits, and a dramatization of the book, What! Cried Granny.

I love watching my older children have inventive ideas which they then work to make come about.  It is so interesting watching them as they figure out what needs to be done and how they are going to do it.  I purposefully stay in the background as much as possible.  It is watching real learning in action.

But this type of learning has to come from the child or young adult.  In fact, while they enjoyed doing last year's production, I think they were on the fence as to whether they should do it again.  On the fence, that is, until more than a couple people at the block party mentioned how impressed they were last year and were asking if it was going to happen again.  But my born actors are not ones to leave a potential audience in the lurch, so we're on to round two.  (I don't have the heart to tell them that doing something twice in a row constitutes a tradition... and traditions are very hard to break.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Culture Keeping

I just finished reading the book Culture Keeping: white mothers, international adoption, and the negotiation of family difference by Heather Jacobson.  And since no one here at my house has read it, I guess I will discuss it with myself.  There were some interesting parts, but it wasn't quite what I expected.  First off, it is very much a book by a sociologist written for sociologists.  To get to the interesting bits, you must be willing to slog through quite a bit of jargon... and quotes about how burdened women are by society's expectations that they raise their children.  But I won't go there right now. 

Also, the focus of the book was much narrower than I expected it to be.  The title makes it sound as though transracial international adoption would be discussed as a whole, but that is not quite the case.  The study centered on two groups of mothers, those who had adopted from Russia and those who had adopted from China, and looked at how each group kept culture for their children.  It was interesting to read how each group viewed both the necessity of culture keeping and how it played out in each of their lives.

I was more interested in the China adoptive mothers since their situation speaks more closely to that of my own.  I was struck by a couple of things.  (And here I want to point out that I am merely communicating the results of Ms. Jacobson's study... don't shoot the messenger.)  In this group of mothers, it would appear that they see culture as a commodity, that is, something to be bought or acquired or a class or lesson to be attended.  None of the women interviewed had any close friends who were Asian, and the only Chinese people they had contact with were a part of some type of economic exchange.  Also, none of the China adoptive mothers looked to immigrant Chinese raising first generation Americans to help inform them as they dealt with culture and what it means to their children to be an Asian minority living in an ethnically white majority.

The author does not give any type of criticism in her descriptions of how these various mothers kept culture.  (Well, except along the lines of what I mentioned in the first paragraph.)  And all of the mothers mentioned that on some level their culture keeping felt superficial or inauthentic.  I know I think about what it means to try to share and teach about a culture in which I have not grown up.  I don't want it to seem as though it is some game that I am playing.

I am not Vietnamese but I want my sons to know about the country of their birth and to feel a sense of pride in who they are.  I admit I am often stymied as to how best to do that.  What do others do?  How do you develop real friendships with people from you child's birth country?  More importantly, how do you go about it without making it seem as though the only reason you want to develop a friendship is because of someone's ethnicity?


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I promised you a video of G. and L. walking and here it is.  (G. is in the dark pink shirt and solid jumper and L. is in the light pink shirt and striped jumper.)  They really don't crawl anywhere anymore.  It's all walking, all the time.  We were outside taking advantage of the wonderful weather we've been having.  Who would believe that the babies could have short-sleeves and bare legs near the end of October?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Grown-up dinner

You might have noticed on my menu list that Saturday night we were having J.'s sisters and their husbands over for dinner. We do this every year to celebrate their mother's birthday. It is a nice chance to get to visit with each other without the distraction of our children and spend some time remembering their mom. We have done it different ways in different years. The first year after she died, we had dinner together and then went to a play. Since she was an actress, seeing a play seemed fitting. Other years we've gone to restaurants or one of us has hosted dinner. We offered to host this year. I decided to make meatloaf using my mother-in-law's grandmother's recipe. J. also wanted to serve pickled herring as an appetizer because he can remember his parents eating that together on the evenings when children ate early and sent upstairs to give their parents an evening together. 

It is fun to set a table for only 6 people because I can take out two leaves and suddenly all my table linens fit.  I decided to use a tablecloth I bought in Vietnam and thought was going to be big enough for my larger table.  Since it wasn't it sits in the cupboard much of the time.  I love all the blue embroidery on it... dragons in the center and fish around the edges.  I also added a pair of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of peacocks... they belonged to my mother-in-law.  Add some china and crystal and it looks all very grown-up.

As much as I am a proponent of having family dinners together, I also believe that sometimes adults need to do things by themselves.  It is refreshing to be able to have a meal without telling someone not to touch their feet and to be able to have a conversation without interruptions.  I think it is also important for children to see their parents enjoying being adults and doing grown-up things.  By including children in everything, society often gives children little reason for growing up.  Yes, being an adult comes with responsibilities, but it also comes with some privileges.  They go hand in hand.  I want my children to see the benefits of being an adult and not just the difficult parts.

So, my children eat early on nights such as this.  They may briefly greet the guests, but then are ushered upstairs where, after a movie, they are tucked into bed by the in-house babysitters.  They go to sleep with the sounds of adult conversation and laughter and the memory of looking forward to the day when they can join the party as well.
I have a new post up at The Homeschooling Blog.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Advance planning -- the short version

After I finished writing the last post, I realized that it was really long and wordy and perhaps my point was lost.  So here's the short version, for any explanations you'll have to slog through the long one.

To make Christmas enjoyable, you need to start planning now.  Steps to make that happen:

  • Sit down with your spouse, older children, and a calendar and block out dates in December RIGHT NOW!  Plan what you would like to do as a family and put it on the calendar.  This is the only way to make sure everyone will be free
  • Consider blocking out dates just for everyone to stay home and enjoy each other's company.  Christmas is a busy season and you don't have to be going, going, going all the time.
  • If you have been buying gifts throughout the year, now is the time to inventory them.  See what you have before you buy more.
  • Plan what you still need to get and write it down (and then carefully hide the list!)  How many gifts does each person get?  What are they (or types of things) are they?  Do they need to be made or purchased?  What supplies do you need to make them?  Where will you purchase them?  What is your timeline?  It might help to have a special holiday planning calendar where you put target dates to have things done by.  My goal is to have all Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving.
  • How do you do sibling gifts?  Does each child make/buy something for everyone?  Do you draw names?  Do it now.  I find planning for children to make gifts for others to be as labor intensive as any gift preparation I do for them.  It helps to start making plans now even if the children won't be working on it 'till December.
The key to all of this is to start your thinking and planning early... even if you don't want to or don't like to.  Come December, you'll be glad you did.

Advance planning - get a cup of tea, this is the long version

I'm convinced that part of being organized and prepared is a willingness to confront things before they reach crisis-mode.  For instance, taxes are easier to prepare if you've saved receipts and kept records throughout the year even though it is not so pleasant to think about taxes outside the month of March or April.  By doing so, it certainly makes that month in spring a bit less dreary.  If you wait until April 10 to start sorting paper, it is a crisis. But if you have spent a few minutes throughout the year making yourself think about that unpleasant thing called taxes, it is not enjoyable but it is rarely a crisis.  (Of course this is the IRS we're dealing with, so perhaps it is not the best example.)  I'm heading somewhere here, and I bet you've guessed it is not really about events which happen in April.  Are you ready?

Take a deep breath.

To really enjoy the month of December and not be a crazy lunatic who suddenly makes Scrooge look like a poster child for holiday spirit we must start thinking about Christmas now.  (Well, a few months ago ideally, but now will work just fine.)  Christmas can too easily become a crisis and that is so not the point of why we celebrate.

This post is for myself as much as it is for anyone else because my stash in the surprise closet is out-of-control and the ideas swirling around my head need to be put in order soon.  If I post about it I will remind myself what I need to do and I thought perhaps it might be useful to someone else as well.

I grew up with a very organized mother and my childhood memories of Christmas (actually the entire month of December) are idyllic.  I use that in the very best sense of the word.  It was a wonderfully happy time with us doing things together as a family and observing traditions which made the season meaningful.  When I had my own children I wanted them to have the same type of memories.  But with that desire I suddenly realized that I was now responsible for all that specialness.  There was one Christmas season when M. and B. were little that I spent the entire month suffering from insomnia.  (If you know me in real life, you know that this is very unusual.  Sleeping is something I do very well.)  I would lie awake making plans, checking things off mental lists, and worrying that I had forgotten something.  When I did sleep, I would have fitfull dreams about Christmas morning coming and I had forgotten about it and didn't have any gifts for anyone.  This is not the way to spend the month of December.  I had so many expectations that it was difficult to really enjoy it all.  All this also affected how I viewed my children.  I wanted them to be perfect as well, to complete my perfect little fantasy about the perfect Christmas holiday.

But they were children and, while wonderful, were decidedly not perfect.  I needed to learn to change my expectations of what would make a perfect Christmas.  We could still do special things, enjoy special traditions, and yes, open gifts, but it didn't have to be perfect to be enjoyable and a wonderful memory.  Someone could cry on Christmas and the holiday wouldn't be ruined.  (And we have yet to have a Christmas without tears of some sort... and when we do I'll probably wreck it by crying myself because that means my children are all grown-up.)

All this long-windedness to say, step number one is adjust your expectations.  Decide right now what days you are going to spend as a family.  Block them out on everyone's calendar NOW!  J. and I always sit down and decide when we are going to buy our tree and decorate it and put it on the calendar long before December actually hits.  It is also a good idea to block out other times just so the month doesn't get too crazy.  It's OK to say no to events.  It's OK to stay home.  This is also the time to decide if there is anything special you want to do as a family and plan when you are going to do it.  Look at holiday lights?  Put it on the calendar.  Christmas carol sing-a-long?  Quiet evening of playing games by the fire? Decorating Christmas cookies?  Plan for it now.  Then you won't get to December 20 and realize you never got around to what you really wanted to do.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it's painful to think about now.  But it's worth the sanity you will be saving yourself in December.)

Next, the other thing about Christmas that ratchets-up everyone's stress is gifts.  How many?  What to buy?  How to pay for it?  This was also something I had to readjust my thinking on.  I had the mistaken idea that every gift had to be the perfect (see a theme?) one for each person that somehow communicated to them how much I loved them and understood them.  Talk about pressure.  That's a lot to ask for a toy wrapped up in paper, and it certainly gave those presents far more importance than they deserved.  I needed to rethink the whole present-thing.  We still do presents... it's fun for everyone.  But these days, I try to communicate that the gifts are tokens.  I give people gifts because I love them, but the nature of my love is not tied to what the gift is.  I do not have to give the perfect gift to a child to let them know I love them.  It certainly takes the pressure off gift buying.

But if gifts are part of your Christmas tradition, they still need to be acquired.  This week I will be making a list of everyone's name and head into the surprise closet to take inventory.  I do collect gifts throughout the year and while I should have a running list, I don't.  Before I can start planning what I still need to get, I need to see what I have.  I have a feeling that at least a couple of children are completely taken care of, but I'm not sure who.  After I know what I have, I will make a list of what I need... for everything I will be buying or making... including extended family.  By having a master list (kept hidden very, very well), it helps keep the budget under control because there is no impulse buying.  I also try to make as much as possible.  All the shopping I have to do is usually done by Thanksgiving.  I hate stores to begin with, and stores in December are even worse.  I enjoy Advent so much more if I'm not also shopping.

The things I'm going to make are not usually done by Thanksgiving, but I know what I need to do and have purchased any supplies I need.  There are many evenings in December when I'm busy, busy, busy locked in my bedroom, but I enjoy that process.  I put on Christmas music, make some tea, and create things.  What's not to like?

So there you have it, advance Christmas planning.  If you've never done it before, I urge you to start now for this year.  It will make your Advent season so much more enjoyable.  You will be more relaxed, consequently your family will be more relaxed, and you all will be able to concentrate on the meaning for it all:  the birth of Jesus, Savior of the World.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Big Ugly House tour

I know more than a couple people are curious about the Big Ugly House and so I thought I would give you a tour... in installments.  You've already seen the kitchen and guest room and a bit of the dining room and the schoolroom. (The room which I am in the very slow process of redoing.  I'll have something to show you once I work up the nerve to cut into the fabric I bought to recover the futon.  Oh, and it desperately needs better lighting.  I've decided that's why I find it depressing.)  How about we go upstairs and see how we fit 9 children into four bedrooms?

First up is the little boys' room.  That would be TM, D. and K.  Their room is actually a tandem room which connects with B.'s  You can't see it in these pictures, but there is a large opening to the right in the picture below.  We have it covered by a curtain and blocked by dressers to make two distinct rooms.

As you can see, the boys don't have a lot of stuff in their room.  They each have a bin for special stuff under their beds and a couple of baskets of books.  Anything else and it becomes impossible for them to keep it clean.  Their toys live on the third floor in the playroom.

If you were to go through the white door in the above picture, it would take you into a small closet which also has a door through to the girls' (everyone but M.) room:

That white door in the above picture is where you come in if you went through the closet.  B. was taking the pictures for me and forgot to include the bunk beds which A. and P. use.  If the camera panned just a bit to the left you would see them.

Opposite the bunk beds, if you turn around are the babies' cribs.  It is a tight fit to get everything in this room.  Plus, A. and P. are the classic odd couple when it comes to cleaning, with A. keeping a fairly tight ship and P. ignoring her cleaning frenzies.

The white door in the picture below leads to the children's bathroom.  Yes, you could travel through bathrooms, bedrooms, and closets between all the children's bedrooms but M.'s.

Speaking of M.'s room, she is much further down the hall in her own little hide-away.  When we redid the kitchen, her room was completely redone as well.  It had formerly been the maid's room and the way it had subsequently been configured, it was a room without a door.  We fixed that detail plus gave her things such as insulation and windows which work.  She started out with the most questionable quarters and now has some of the nicest ones.

It is very purple... her choice.

Lastly we'll go back down the hall to B.'s room.  If I were doing this in order, I would have started with his.  B. is the possessor of the coldest room in the house.  It is west and north facing with big drafty windows.  His is in the very front of the house.  And as I look at these pictures, I realize that perhaps he is due for a makeover... to a style more in fitting with a 15 year old rather than the 10 year old it was decorated for.

B. also has his own bathroom... if it worked.  It's through that white door in the picture below.  Three winters ago, the pipes which run to this bathroom froze and burst.  In trying to stop extreme damage, we disconnected the pipes and unseated the toilet.  Maybe someday we'll put it back to rights.

There you have it 9 children, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms in various states of functionality.  (Plus, they now all have somewhat tidy rooms.  It's amazing what the power of blogging can achieve!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Time flies

Every so often I come across some photographs of my older children of when they were very little.  My heart aches a bit when I find them and it feels a bit like homesickness to look at their picture and wish I could hold my little ones again.  I love who they are now.  I love talking with them and spending time with them and seeing glimpses of the adults they will be. But... just for a couple brief moments I wish I could turn back time and enjoy them as very small people again.

I worry that I didn't appreciate them enough when they were small.  I remember being the mother of three or four very young children.  I remember being tired and often grumpy and often impatient with their needs.  I worry that I was focused on what I wanted them to be able to do rather than what they had just mastered.  I worry that I wanted them to grow up too fast.  Because I've learned in the meantime that they do grow up and master many things and it happens in the blink of an eye... though it may not feel like it when  the entire population of people you spend you days with are all in diapers and cannot fix their own food or wipe their own noses.

I feel as though I have been given a gift with my younger children.  I know how fast they grow up and while I am still impatient and grumpy sometimes I also know with every ounce of my being that I will wake up tomorrow and D. and TM will be learning to drive and K. will be going off to summer camp and the baby girls will be ready to spread their wings and go places on their own.  I am no rush to see these little ones grow up.  And I don't want to wonder several years from now if I appreciated their childhood enough.  Every time I button K.'s pajama shirt I know that soon he will be doing it for himself.  Every time I change a baby's diaper I know that while it seems endless today, the day is quickly approaching when diapers will no long appear on my grocery list.  Every time TM or D. come running up to me to give me a hug and kiss I know that soon these marks of affection will soon become a bit more self-conscious.

My grandmother used to say in reference to me and my brother that she loved us so much it hurt.  As a child I found this statement to be absolutely baffling.  But as a mother with children?  It makes all the sense in the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just out of curiosity

I'm wondering how many families in Illinois with more than the average number of children received a nice little notice from the state internal revenue service a while back stating that they were either denying part of your exemptions or looking for more information about the dependents you listed.  It seems that the state has decided not to believe that large families actually have the number of children they say they do, even though the children have social security numbers.  Just curious if this is wholesale or just the large families I know.  At this rate I'm going to have to make a new post category:  I heart Illinois.  Too bad there is not a 'facetious' emoticon to go with it.

Homeschooling is good for the brain... Mine!

You know all those studies that have been done about Alzheimer's and that one of the recommendations to help ward off the disease is to keep you brain active and learning new things?  I think this must be a little known benefit to homeschooling parents, especially those with more than the average number of children.  There are some mornings where I fear I will suffer from whiplash of the brain.  While many of my children do much of their work independently, sometimes they will have questions they need to ask or comments they need to make.  And since my time is pretty well scheduled with one child or another throughout the whole morning, any questions need to be squeezed in while I'm working with someone else.

This explains why I sometimes find myself discussing the Code of Hammurabi at the same time checking a long division problem (and trying to figure how on earth she managed to get that answer), all the while offering suggestions as to how to word an email to various beekeeping groups.  Or why while I'm helping a son read a book I am also helping a daughter find resources to research Mount Vernon and trying to discuss the causes of the First World War.  It is the trying to think about two completely disparate topics at the same time that I find most challenging.  It is the mental equivalent of trying to do the splits.  Sometimes it gets to be too much and I start talking to the wrong child about a topic meant for another which they either find horribly funny or vaguely vexing.

It is also why I'm trying to write a blog post and at the same time I'm quizzing M. on her French vocabulary for her test demain tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


As we read through Minn of the Mississippi, we come across different things that we want to do a little more learning about.  Wood ducklings falling out of the nest and bouncing on the ground to join their mother was one of those things.  (It sounds horrific, doesn't it?  But in actuality it's amazing, and the ducklings are pretty darn cute.) Here is the video we found:

(If you're having trouble viewing this because of how it fits on my blog, double-click on it and a it will open a new window so you can watch it on the YouTube page.)

This is just a short bit from a longer series called Planet Earth, produced by the BBC.  We've had the entire Planet Earth DVD set from Netflix before.  The photography is beautiful and it shows what a truly wondrous place this world is.  (Warning for sensitive viewers:  We are dealing with nature here.  Animal do eat other animals.)

Since this seems to be one of those posts filled with randomness, I'll share something else with you as well.  Recently I was asked to write a brief article about homeschooling.  If you go to this index page, you can click on the link to read it.  There is really nothing extraordinary about the article, unless you consider the fact that I was asked to write about homeschooling in a mere 400 words.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that brevity is not one of my strengths.  Four hundred words was a real challenge.

And one last bit of randomness.  Does anyone know how to convert a cassette tape to a digital format?  We have a beloved recording of Glynis Johns (she played the mother in Mary Poppins) reading four Frances stories:  Bread and Jam for Frances, Bedtime for FrancesA Baby Sister for Frances, and A Birthday for Frances.  We love it and when I started it yesterday afternoon for TM to listen to, I noticed that it was sounding not-so-good.  I'm afraid it is not going to last much longer.  A quick search finds that 1. It's seems to be out of publication (print? manufacture?  What's the correct term for audio?) and 2.  There is one used tape available, but it seems it was never remastered into a digital format.  I'm not so keen on buying another cassette, especially a used one.  It only prolongs the problem without solving it.  Help!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Breakfasts in the Big Ugly House

I would like breakfast a lot more if it didn't happen in the morning.  But as it is, I have it pretty good.  J., for quite some time now, has taken on breakfast duties.  He usually comes downstairs first, makes the coffee and often something yummy for breakfast... baked oatmeal (my favorite), muffins, scones (I also really like these), or a quick bread.  He then brings me a cup of coffee to me to drink in bed while I try to wake-up.  I'm spoiled.

Other times the children will make themselves either scrambled or fried eggs and toast.  And in the winter we often have hot cereal (oatmeal, farina [which is like cream of wheat], or I've even done couscous with peaches).  Hot cereals are trickier to navigate because some like one kind, others like another kind, and some don't care for hot cereal at all.  We have to try to stagger what kind we have so as to spread the unhappiness around.

I do try to make things to have on hand so he doesn't need to bake every morning.  I told you about the English muffins I made.  (They were good and I need to make them again.)  We make granola fairly regularly and I'll cook a bunch of hard-boiled eggs to have on hand when I have a few spare minutes.  When I have more than a few minutes, I'll use the egg molds.  And for a special treat, I'll make doughnuts.

But one of my favorite breakfasts to have on hand is homemade instant oatmeal.  It is very like the little packets of instant oatmeal you buy in the store, but I keep ours in a big bin (no silly little packets) and I can tailor the flavors to suit the family.  Want to try making some?  Here's the recipe:

Instant Oatmeal (This originally came from , but I have done a bit of tweaking.)
(This makes quite a bit.)

2 c. oats, chopped in a food processor until powdery
4 c. oats, chopped in a food processor until coarse
1 tsp salt

Mix together.  If you want flavored oatmeal add the following:

4 tsp cinnamon
2 c. dried apples, chopped
1 c. sugar

Brown sugar and cinnamon
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. cinnamon

Raisin and brown sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. raisins

Fruit and cream
1 c. dried milk
2 c. dried fruit (we like dried peaches)
3/4 c. sugar

1 c. sugar
4 tsp maple flavoring

I store each flavor in a labelled (with type of oatmeal and instructions) gallon ziplock bag.  For each serving, put 1/4 c. of mixture in a bowl and pour in ~1/2 c. boiling water.  Let sit and then stir.  This serving size is too small for my big eaters, so our usual serving size is twice this.  This is a great, quick breakfast to have on hand for cold winter mornings.

large family, moms of many, manage,

4 Moms are hosting another link-up, this time about breakfasts.  If you want to read about other families' breakfast routines, click the link above.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

For someone who tries to never leave her house...

going downtown twice in one day seems a bit much.  The first trip was to the Art Institute where we were scheduled to go on a field trip to see American art.  There were four families and all of us were studying American history in some form or another.  Over the past 13 years of homeschooling, negative comments or just plain ignorance have significantly declined.  So much so that I'm surprised now when they come.  Such as the question the docent directed at our children:  "So did you not enjoy going to school?"  Oh boy.  I'm afraid the homeschooling movement's cachet did not rise in her estimation when our children all stared at her in an uncomprehending, slack-jawed fashion.  Evidently they are out of practice with ignorant comments as well.  The morning ended up being fine, though it was a very inauspicious start.

We came home from that and after directing everyone toward some lunch, got in the car again to drive downtown.  Does this picture give you any hints as to where I went?

It makes it sound very important, doesn't it?  Actually, I (and P Family mom) were to be interviewed at WMBI about our experiences with adoption for a show that will air during November, which is National Adoption Month.  I feel as though I did fine, though I can't help second-guessing what I said a bit.  Since I hate to listen to myself, I will probably never listen to it.  (It will be just like the DVD I have kicking our house somewhere of when my children's choir performed on a local TV station and I had to be interviewed as well.  I have never sat down to watch it... I find the whole idea just too painful.  On the whole, I think I much prefer radio.)

Join Me at The Homeschool Post!

A note to all blog-reading homeschoolers:  The Homeschool Post is sponsoring the Homeschool Blog Awards for 2010.  Click on the button above to go and nominate some of your favorite homeschool bloggers.  There are 20 categories and nominations are open until October 30.  Go check it out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Snuffly pinkness

The babies have been fighting colds this week.  They have been a bit needy, wakeful, and there is a lot of goo coming out of their noses.  A lot.  But, for the most part, even though they don't feel well, G. and L. remain two of the most cheerful babies ever.  And with G. officially walking, it is almost too cute to bear to see them toddling around together.  (I'll have to take a video of it soon to share with you.)  Here are some photos of my two cute babies (G. on left, L. on right).  (And yes, Mom, you can chuckle to yourself at them being dressed all in pink.  You see, before M. was born I swore I would never dress a girl in pink.  It was going to primary colors all the time.  Funny how our perspective changes.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kid Companion

One of the giveaways Barbara Curtis at Mommy Life was hosting was for a Kid Companion Chewelry necklace.  (I'm sorry about the Facebook link, it's the only one I could find.  I usually eschew Facebook because I think it's creepy.)  Anyway, the idea behind chewelry is that it provides children who are sensory seekers a more appropriate way to find it.  Instead of biting nails or fingers or clothing or scratching and picking at skin, the child can use the necklace.  I entered the giveaway because I have one son for whom this is a constant problem.  I worry about the long-term effects on his nails and skin from constantly being picked at, bitten, and scratched.

And I won!  I was completely surprised because I don't seem to ever win anything. The necklace arrived in the mail yesterday and was immediately put to use.  It is on a lanyard with a breakaway clasp so the child can safely wear it around the neck.  My son was very interested in it and was game to put it on.  I have noticed over the past 24 hours, that it is being used in place of the other behaviors we were trying to curb.  I have to admit my initial temptation is to say, "Take that out of your mouth!" but so far I have caught myself.  I have this little inner-monologue going on:

- He should really take that thing out of his mouth
- But it is far better than chewing on his nails or scratching his skin.
- Yeah, but we don't want him to get too attached to it.  Can't you see him standing up in church, waiting for his bride to walk down the aisle, and then take out this thing and chew on it?!
- Well, that's an imminent problem isn't it?  It is merely providing a healthy way to get the sensory input he needs right now.  It doesn't mean he will be tied to it for life!
- Humph.

The inside of my head is so interesting.  Parenting kids from hard places can be, well, hard.  It sometimes means putting aside our expectations about what is right and doing what is best instead.  I share this with you in case there is a small person in your life who could benefit from one.  It seems to be working well for us so far.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Oh the places you'll go

One of the more interesting things about being a parent is seeing what one's various children are interested in.  Often, it seems, these interests spring from no where... at least no where in relation to the parent.  Take M. at 2 years old, for instance.  For some unknown reason, she developed a love of all things frog and amphibian.  For Christmas that year I even gave her a copy of Vivarium Magazine which she nearly wore out with looking at it.  I now know far more about frogs and other amphibians than I ever thought I would. 
Some children seem to develop specialized interests more than others.  And sometimes it just takes longer to find that specialized interest.  (It's probably a good thing not all my children had such specific interests at the age of 2.  It would be difficult to keep up with them.)  Being the good mother (and a homeschooling one at that) I try to encourage my children's interests.  We've had frogs; we've visited train museums; we've checked out piles of books on all manner of subjects; and I've even read an entire book about NASCAR which just shows you my commitment to my children.

As I sit here and think it through a bit more carefully, I realize I need to stay attuned to the interests of my younger children as well.  It is very easy to be interested in and help out with the interests of my older children.  They are better able to express interest, look for resources, well, just do more.  It is a lot of fun to help them in their pursuits.  But, I realize that I may be giving short-shrift to the younger ones who may need some help to discover their interests.  I need to be sure to listen attentively so I can catch the brief mentions of a passing fancy and perhaps guide it to something bigger.  I also need to be sure I am exposing them to enough new thoughts, ideas, and possibilities so they have an idea of what is out there to learn about.  In short, I need to be purposeful about my attention to their interests.

The upside of having a wide age range is that my older children expose their younger brothers and sisters to pursuits that I might have never thought about.  Take bees for instance.  This is B.'s newest interest and the reason why I've been thinking about all this.  When we were in Denver last spring visiting my brother, he was telling us about his new bee hive.  B. has been interested ever since and has started doing research about having his own hive... especially once he discovered it is legal to do so in our city.  As I was telling my friends about this at dinner the other night, I realized I know quite a bit about bees just by listening to B. talk about them and leafing through his library books.  I'm not sure how interested the other children are in the actual bee keeping, but I know they are very interested in the honey that would result.

It's fascinating, the paths children take you down; paths you would have never chosen on your own.  It's quite an adventure.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A gift for a friend

(Edited to add:  It was pointed out to me that I give no indication of scale.  The peapod is about 4 inches long.  It's not very big.)

Last night I went out to dinner with a group of friends.  Our excuse?  We had a friend who has had a tough couple of months, but really we need very little reason to go eat Thai food together.  I thought I would bring a little gift.  Remember the book I mentioned, Amigurumi Knits?  I love it and my first project was this little peapod with three peas:

 The inside

 The outside

I love these projects because they can be made over the course of several evenings.  Knitting them is also going to really improve my technical knitting.  You know, increasing, decreasing, short rows, wrapping and turning.  (Well, some of that I didn't know either before I began.)  Perhaps I won't dread those parts on sweaters anymore.  If you are interested in trying some, I will say that I am glad I already knew how to knit on double-pointed needles.

Now a cute little gift needs a cute little package to put it in, so I quickly sewed this together:

 Closed and all tied up.

 Open, so you can see the inside.

There you have it, a cute little gift for a good friend.  I'll be knitting a lot more projects from this book, but I'm afraid I won't be able to show you any until late December.  (Shhh!  Don't tell!)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Hole in our Gospel

A fellow adoptive mom over at Coming Home issued a challenge a couple of weeks ago.  For every person who reads Richard Stearns' book, The Hole in our Gospel, and writes about it, she will donate $10 to her 8 year old son's campaign to raise enough money to build a well for clean drinking water in a village in Africa.  Helping to raise money for clean water for an entire village is a noble enough cause, but getting to read a book in the bargain is even better.

First, I want to tell you about how I came to even acquire this book.  When I signed up for the challenge, in the back of my head was the thought that I would have to order the book.  Money for ordering books on a whim is not usually part of our budget and I admit to a very slight grudging spirit about it.  I mentally put it on my list of things to get to and didn't think about it again for a couple of days.  Before I had a chance to order the book, I went into a mild cleaning frenzy over the amount of reading material that had stacked up on all surfaces in and around the kitchen.  I noticed a pile of books next to the CD player and wondered what they were and where they were going to live when I happened to notice what the books actually were.  The stack contained a brand new copy of the book I had agreed to read as well as small group material and an accompanying DVD.  J. had brought them home from work and I suddenly remembered him mentioning them when he set them down.  At the time I thought is was mildly interesting but now I was very interested.  It did feel a bit like a God moment.

So on to the book.  If you are tired of your somewhat comfortable middle-class existence, then you should read this book.  It will give you new eyes to see the world and perhaps the motivation to do something about it.  But if you are pretty content with your life... things are good, children are growing, finally making enough money to provide a little margin... not only should you read this book, you need to read this book.  I'll tell you up front, you won't like it.  But there are times that we need to do things that are good for us that we don't like, and this is one of them. 

Much of the book is uncomfortable to read.  We are pretty well insulated here in the United States, but that does not excuse us from not acting on behalf of human beings... people created in God's image, whom He loves... to help provide them with at least the minimum of things necessary for life:  clean water, enough food, and hope.  While the numbers and statistics were not new to me, and the stories about actual individuals were compelling, it was Mr. Stearns' (who is the president of World Vision) call to the Christian church to rise up as a whole and say enough to allowing our fellow human beings to suffer in abject poverty.

I want to share a quote which sums up what I am talking about.  (From pp 278-9)

"Picture a different world.  Imagine one in which two billion Christians embrace this gospel -- the whole gospel -- each doing a part by placing his or her piece into the puzzle and completing God's stunning vision of a reclaimed and redeemed world -- the kingdom of God among us.  Visualize armies of compassion stationed in every corner of our world, doing small things with great love.  Imagine the change.  Might the world take notice?  Would they ask new questions?  Who are these people so motivated by love?  Where did they come from?  Why do they sacrifice so to help those the rest of the world has forgotten?  Where do they find their strength?  Who is this God that they serve?  And most important, Can we serve Him too?  Can you imagine this different vision for our world?  Can you glimpse just now what God longs to see?"

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Nanny 911

Is this the name of a real show, or am I making it up?  If it is a real show, I obviously haven't seen it, but think I want to audition... to be the nanny, not the parent in need of help.  Sometimes I just want an avenue to give a little parenting advice without looking like a know-it-all mom bully.  Because I really do understand that people can have tough kids, or a child is having a bad day, or any number of reasons why children misbehave in public... that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm talking about when parents make really obvious parenting mistakes that would be so easy to fix if they were aware of them and that in the long run will make everyone's life that much more pleasant.

Today, J. and I stopped to get a cup of coffee to share on our way to our big date of grocery shopping.  While we were in the store, a mother pushing a stroller and a young boy (who wasn't in the stroller) walked in.  They stood in line, where the little boy (like all small children) started to touch things in the open case.  The mother kept telling him not to (over and over -- he obviously wasn't paying attention to her), threatening him with dire consequences (which I could tell she had no intention of carrying out), and then proceeded to get him something from the case.  Hmmm... what did small child learn?  Well, first no need to listen to Mom, she just makes a lot of noise.  Second, if I keep at it, I may just get what I want after all.

What would I have suggested to this mother?  First, before you enter a store with a small child, review the rules so the child knows what is expected.  Second, use the stroller that you are pushing to contain the child. Especially if you are not sure the child will be able to behave as expected.   A child unable to reach the things he shouldn't touch doesn't get in trouble.  Third, do not get in the habit of making noise and continually repeating yourself.  It just trains your child to ignore you.  Fourth, be prepared to carry out the threats you are making.  If you say, "I'm not buying you anything," don't then proceed to buy something.  If you say, "If you touch the things in the case again, we won't go to the park,"  you must be willing to leave the store immediately if the child does it again.  Yes, it means you miss out on ordering your coffee.  But, sometimes parenting involves sacrifice.  In the long run, short-term sacrifice will make for a far more pleasant life.  (I can still remember whisking M. home when she was less than two because she refused to stop throwing sand.  Yes, I missed out on visiting with my friends, but M. also had a new respect for what I said as a result.)  Really, effective parenting involves thoughtfulness.  Thinking about what you say and do before you do or say it.  Once words are spoken, you can't take them back.

I'm looking forward to the day when I'm a cute little old lady who can say what she thinks.  I will go around saying things such as, "Your words are like rain on a tin roof:  Making a lot of noise that no one pays attention to and yielding no fruit."

My honorary "daughter" P18 has updated her blog about her first month in Uganda.  Go here to check out how she is doing and see some of the cute, cute children she gets to love and care for.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Cozy, cozy, cozy

We love The Cozy Book around here.  I love how the book evokes feelings of being safe and secure.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to curl up on a comfy couch under a warm blanket with a cup of cocoa and a good book after you read it.  That feeling of cozy safety is one of the goals I have for how my family perceives our home... a safe and comfortable place to be.

I find that homemaking is a balancing act.  There always seems to be a fine line between cleanliness and order and an inviting amount of chaos so that one doesn't feel as though one is living in a museum.  For instance, at this moment my front hall is still taken over by a large cardboard boat, but with the addition of long paper murals with riverside scenes and waterfalls drawn on in colored pencils wrapping themselves around three of the walls.  There are always piles of books everywhere.  (At least it feels as though it's everywhere.)  A large portion of my bedroom is taken up with an embarrassingly large pile of children's outgrown clothes.  (I had no idea they owned so many clothes, but then we are dealing with the outgrown clothes of 7 children.)  And the kitchen is rarely completely cleaned up due to the amount of cooking done in it.

But I know these circumstances (well, maybe not the kitchen) are temporary and order will be restored eventually.  On some level this goes against my natural temperament.  I tend toward being an all-or-nothing type and if I make a big mess I want to compulsively keep working at it until it is completely dealt with.  But having children has helped curb this tendency (a bit), and I'm aware that some jobs need to be done over time because the small people in my life need my attention more than the stuff in my life.  I also want my children to feel comfortable in their own home.  I want them to feel as though they can do interesting and creative things without unduly worrying about messing things up.

So I find that there is a constant tension.  I want my children to grow up with a sense of order and organization.  A home needs to be a place to where you can welcome others and where you can provide hospitality.  A home need to be organized enough so that the work of the home can be accomplished.  But the organization should be a tool for living and not an end in itself.  For instance, my younger children decided they wanted to make yarn octopuses (octopi?) yesterday afternoon.  It was simple to begin the project because they knew the bin of yarn is in the craft porch and that the instructions could be found in our craft and activity binder.  (Though it was much simpler in the long run to wait for M. to get home and just have her show them how to do it.)  I expect that the yarn bin will be out for a little while yet while the possibilities of yarn animals and people are explored.

It's very much like my grandmother's (and mother-in-law's) theory about china:  It was made to be used.  This is just like our homes... they were made to be lived in.  And actual living with actual people.  You know the kind where people make messes, not the magazine kind where everything is always clean and clutter-free and monochromatic.  At first those photographs always look appealing, but on closer inspection I realize they are lifeless and cold.  Not really somewhere I would want to spend very much time.  (Well, except on those days where chaos has broken free and sitting in a pristine room with no one else does sound rather peaceful.)  But on the whole I'll take real people in real homes any day.

In bloggy housekeeping news, I've added some pages to my blog.  They're right there between the header and the body of the blog.  Really.  Squint.  Harder. Having reached the apex of my technological abilities just putting them there, I cannot go farther and make them actually visible to eyes older than 20.  Maybe some day I'll figure out how to do it.  But there are three pages:  About, Adoption, and Links.  The About page is pretty self-explanatory.  The Adoption page has a compilation of all the posts, in order, from each of our boy's adoptions.  The Links page I did mainly for myself.  When my laptop was infected with a virus last week, I suddenly realized that if I lost my bookmarks, I would never find them all again.  So I've put the blogs I read on the most regular basis on that page.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


You know the term bowdlerizing, right?  After Thomas Bowdler who carefully excised all the questionable bits in Shakespeare, often used disparagingly.  I'm having second thoughts about the disparaging part.  It's all because of Tom Sawyer.  Since we're studying the Mississippi River, we have been reading Tom Sawyer at lunch time.  On the whole, everyone is enjoying it.  I knew going into reading it that there would be some issues with a bit of language and attitudes.  I was up for this since I see it as a part of learning about history.  We have to be willing to tackle the hard parts as well as the easy parts.  But I was unprepared for having to actually deal with the racial epithet that no one says and just abbreviates by its initial letter.  So I took a deep breath and dove in with incredibly strong warnings that this word was to never, ever be used.  I did that once and said the word aloud, choking on it even as I said it.  But the word comes more than once in the book.  I suppose if I had really thought about it, Tom Sawyer doesn't end up on banned books lists just for one instance of a controversial word.  What did I end up doing?  Bowdlerizing.  And I'm OK with that.

So what have you done with controversial words or ideas when you come to it (often unexpectedly) when reading out loud?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mississippi shanty boat

I love the serendipitous moments of homeschooling.  As part of our study of the Mississippi River, we have been reading Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C. Holling.  On the pages we read today we came across a picture and description of a shanty boat with the occupant fishing for both fish and mussels (the mussels being used to make shell buttons.)  It just so happened that we had two very large boxes in our front hall which the children had been playing with, but which were going to be rapidly destroyed unless I came up with a purpose for them.  What better use than to have P., TM, and D. turn them into a shanty boat to float on the Mississippi?  The three children weren't entirely sure about the whole thing, but soon through themselves into boat production.  Two hours of play and creating later this is the result?

Everyone in the boat.  The living quarters are in the box on the end.  You can see the chimney for sticking up and the mussel shells outside the boat on the step.

Fishing rods and fish were also created.  P. is fishing, though it is difficult to see the rod, line, and fish.

The living quarters took the most time to create.  There were counters, a stove, a sink, utensils, plates, and food.  Since I don't crawl into tight places, the children each took turns taking pictures of the inside.  Here is the sink for filling the teapot:
 And the one-burner stove complete with knob control:

I foresee quite a few more hours happily spent on the Mississippi.  I'm thinking maybe we will add to it and create a life size diorama around it.  We'll leave it up until I can't take the chaos the any longer.  You just gotta love something that so engages a child that they forget to eat lunch.  Around 1:30, I suggested they may want to take a break to eat, which they did in record time and then went back to the river.
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