Monday, April 30, 2012

From the bookshelf

Thanks to my Kindle, I have been doing some over-indulging in what I call 'brain candy'. That would be those books (light mysteries for me) which are entertaining, but that's about all they have to recommend them. They are not great literature, I read them incredibly fast (at most an evening or two), and I usually forget them as soon as I finish them. It is pure escapism and I will occasionally go on binges of doing this. (I have to say I can indulge to a greater extent with my Kindle because I am not constrained by running out of books and having to leave my house to stock up at the library.) It is not necessarily something I'm proud of, but sometimes it seems my brain needs a rest and I feel incapable of reading anything of depth.

At some point, though, I will pick-up whatever the current brain candy is, and realize that I have no desire to read it. I'm done. I've had enough. It's kind of the same feeling when you've been overindulging on sweets and baked goods and find all you really want is a nice green salad.

In response I'm currently reading two very different books (with a third waiting in the wings) and thoroughly enjoying both of them. While I'm still in the beginning sections, I have come across some interesting quotes that I want to share with you.

The first is from The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. (I recommend this book with some important reservations. In my reading so far, I have come across at least one chapter that I skimmed and wish I had just skipped. Be choosy in what sections of this book you read and certainly don't leave it lying about where your children might be tempted to pick it up and read it. Let's just say that the author is coming from a secular world view and his ideas of human sexuality and what is appropriate to write about is perhaps VERY different from the world view of many of my readers.) With that said, I have been fascinated with the discoveries about the plasticity of the brain and in particular the work that has been done to help children who for various reason have some significant brain deficits. It is from that section that the following quote comes.

This follows a section which details how doing detailed work on identifying patterns, working with language, and copy work can have significant global impacts on brain development. From Chapter 2, 'Building Herself a Better Brain':

"The irony of this new discovery is that for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that children's brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty that strengthened brain functions. Up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. Often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. Then in the 1960's educators dropped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too rigid, boring, and 'not relevant.' But the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. For the rest of us, their disappearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brain-power unfamiliar to us now. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 the debaters would comfortably speak for an hour or more without notes, in extended memorized paragraphs; today many of the most learned among us, raised in our most elite schools since the 1960's prefer the omnipresent PowerPoint presentation - the ultimate compensation for a weak premotor cortex."

(I feel the need to add this was written in 2007; no specific political jab was intended by the author.)

In our home we do italic penmanship and have at various times memorized poems. I had a gut feeling we needed to do this, but I could not have told you why except for my feeling that it was good for my children.

The second book I've started is Ways to Open Your Heart & Home to Others by Karen Ehman. I haven't made it very far in this one. I was reading it yesterday... or trying to... while H. was sitting next to me. (She likes to stay very close.) It was sweet to have her there, but let's just say sitting quietly is a developing skill. Her world was turned upside-down so much that she needs fairly constant confirmation that Mommy loves her, that we will eat soon, and that she will get to "drive, drive, drive" in the car again. If I thought I had that whole patience-thing figured out, God evidently felt I needed to take it up a notch.

But, back to the quote that really struck me and one that I think many women need to hear. This is from Chapter 1: A Heart that Says "Welcome":

"God began to teach me [the author] that there is a huge difference between 'entertaining' and offering hospitality. Entertaining puts the emphasis on you and how you can impress others. Offering hospitality puts the emphasis on others and strives to meet their physical and spiritual needs so that they feel refreshed, not impressed, when they leave your home."

I don't know about you, but I find this idea convicting. I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Just a typical Saturday

And why is it typical? Because I've started more than one project and left a trail of chaos in my wake. In my defense, it's that time of year when I look at the clothes my children have been wearing and realize that they have all grown and most of their clothes no longer fit. And if they do fit, they are fairly disreputable looking. So that means it's time to do the dreaded task of sorting through clothes.

The fact that the laundry hasn't really been caught up for a while just adds to the chaos. But this morning, I had enough done that I felt I could make a start. K.'s are pretty much all done. It had been a loooong time since I had really had to go through his clothes since he has been the same size for quite a while. And then we would receive hand-me-downs from friends and the clothes we already had did that weird multiply-thing and as a result, he had so many clothes they didn't all fit in his dresser and I discovered that many of them didn't fit. Hooray! I was able to give away all the 3T and 4T clothes that he has been wearing and now he only has size 5's in his dresser.

That job was pretty straight forward. K.'s the youngest boy, so if something doesn't fit, I give it away. But then I decided to do TM and D.'s clothes as well. Their dressers needed straightening as well. For many years, both boys wore pretty much the same size (not exact, but close) and so they shared all their clothes. But for the last several months, this has no longer been possible and they now have certain clothes for each of them. I had never really re-done the dressers to reflect this change. Plus, they are also now having many more opinions about what they like to wear (imagine!) and so there were quite a few clothes lurking in their dressers which never saw the light of day.

It's easy to decide what stays in the dressers, but with middle children, the out-grown clothes become much more complicated. There are a couple of choices. I can either decide to save it, hoping that the next one in line will like the item and want to wear it or I can give it away, knowing that the next child will turn up his nose at it or it will have gone so far out of style in the interim that all the next child can do is laugh.

Putting away the clothes I'm saving is a royal pain. It involves spending time in the less-than-pleasant basement and finding the correct box and shoving (literally sometimes) the clothes into them. Or it means I have to scrounge some boxes first because I don't have that size currently in storage. I don't want to have to do this more than once, and I know there are still more clothes coming through the laundry which I have to sort through, so I now have a large basket in my room piled with clothes that at some point will need to be stored.

I should probably have spent some time with H.'s clothes today as well, but I just didn't have it in me. (She has changed size since we came home and things that fit in China, are no longer fitting quite so well.)  Another day.

All this clothes sorting and storing is not one of my favorite parenting tasks. And it's certainly not any more interesting to actually do than to read about. I'm curious how other people handle it... or is it just one of those things that has to be done and there's not really an easy way to do it.

I did actually finish a couple things, though. I taught a piano lesson, got everyone's church clothes laid out and ironed, made my outline for the class I'm teaching tomorrow on how to use worship notebooks, and... I guess that's it, I can't think of anything else.

Don't forget to enter the 1000th post giveaway!

Friday, April 27, 2012

1000th post giveaway

Having alienated my entire blog readership with posts #997, #998, and #999, I will now try to reverse this by dangling the promise of free stuff in front of you. It hardly seems possible that we started this blog almost exactly 6 years ago while we were still a family with 5 children and waiting to bring home TM. To say it's been an eventful six years wouldn't begin to describe it.

In those six years, we have doubled the number of children in our family (including delivering full-term twins at advanced maternal age), traveled overseas three times and spent a total of 8 1/2 weeks in Asia, remodeled a good portion of our house, and have taken children to the doctor more than a couple of times. Also through this blog, I have met virtual friends who have become dear 'real life' friends, discovered I love writing, actually made a little money through that writing, and gained a confidence that I didn't have before. For better or worse, this blog has become a part of who I am.

To celebrate sticking with something for so long, I'm going to throw a little party and give something away. In thinking about what to give away, I knew I wanted it to be useful, something that I think the majority of my audience would be interested in, and not just getting rid of some stuff I have lying around the house. So that ruled out things such as the bag of gravel in the basement, old Boys' Life magazines, and the dead mice in formalyn. (Just kidding, M., I would never give away your dead mice without asking you first.) But what to give?

Well, it had to be a book, didn't it? So I decided to pick a book that I love, that I go back and reread every so often, and one that has proved pivotal in my thinking about homemaking and motherhood. For my 1000th post, I'm going to give away a copy of Edith Schaeffer's The Hidden Art of Homemaking. (And a nice, new one at that!) I love this book. I find Mrs. Schaeffer both encouraging and challenging. Really, if you haven't yet read it, you should.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment and make sure you leave an email address so I can contact you if you win. And because I have found the book I'm giving away to be an encouragement, and I hope to be an encouragement to others, why don't you tell about a person who has been an encouragement in your life? I'll leave the giveaway open until the end of the month, so you have until the end of April 30th to comment.

We're all friends again, now, right?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things I would rather not have to say, part 3

Now comes the fun part. (Hear the facetious tone in my writing.) I've written about how adoption is central to the understanding of the Gospel and how the church has very often bought in to society's idea that children are a burden rather than a blessing, and now we get to talk about money.

Yes, I know, the crickets are chirping and they're going to chirp even louder when I mention that we need to talk about money and adoption. Why does this make everyone squirm? It needs to be talked about. And it is a shame that we ever have to mention money and children joining families in the same sentence, but not talking about it hasn't worked.

So what is the current situation? Well, adoption is expensive. Really expensive. It's how it is and as much as we would like to have it be a money-free transaction it just doesn't work that way. Adoption agencies do a lot of work to make it happen, and they deserve to be paid for their efforts. The government always needs their share. (I'm not going to go into whether this is right or good or just right now. For the purposes of this post, we're just going to render to Caesar for the moment and leave the government out of it.) Orphanages and agencies care for the children before their adoption and this also takes money. Often adoption involves travel, whether domestically or internationally, and this is not inexpensive either. All of this adds up, making it an unavoidable part of giving a child a permanent family.

I hope no one is surprised when I say very few families have that type of cash available to them. (Do you have $15 to $30 thousand dollars lying around? If you do, contact me, I can help.) If a family wants to add to their family, what do they do? Well, some of us go into debt; even if we don't believe in it because for us, the greater good is to bring our child home at any cost. Others do a lot of fundraising, being forced to raise their own funds to bring their child home. Others apply and are given grants. (Can't blog about that right now. Just can't.) And still others decide not to adopt, that while they could financially afford to raise another child, they cannot afford the one-time, very high expenses. Thus the fate of many children is decided by a line in a checkbook ledger.

I can't tell you how often I have heard that families should only adopt if they can afford it. At face value, this makes sense. No one wants to bring a child into a family if it means they're going to starve as a result. But, I have yet to meet someone who is in such financial straights as this that adoption is really on their minds. So, let's ask what this statement really means. In doing so, we find we're right back where we were yesterday with our skewed view of children. Children are not worth the sacrifice they naturally require, either of time or energy or finances. What this statement is really saying is that it's fine if you want to add to your family (though I can't think why you'd want to), and as long as you can do it completely on your own, I'm (somewhat) OK with it. But if you find that it is too much for you, don't come knocking at my door. You've made your bed, you obviously didn't think ahead, and now you have to make the best of it.

Harsh? Perhaps, but I don't think I'm too far of the mark. Because adoption is not seen as a corporate activity of the church (as in, something the church supports as a whole, either through encouraging families to adopt or supporting the families who have), it is seen as something only 'special' people do. And if it is in the purview of those 'special' people, it is obviously not something the majority have to worry their heads about.

But orphans and setting the lonely in families is a corporate responsibility of the church. In some ways, caring for children and adopting them into our families is a sacrifice. In doing so, there is much that we have chosen to give up. We have given up good things in order to gain better things. Another child to love is a much better thing. The church should see it as something everyone is involved in. Not every member of the church would or should adopt. But that doesn't let them off the hook for helping others to do so. There should NEVER be a family who says God doesn't want them to adopt because the church has not helped with finances. The message may actually be that God has told many people to help and they have ignored Him.

Another part of this puzzle actually has nothing to do with adoption. We Christians are pretty good at giving when it's easy, but its the giving sacrificially that's a stretch. But that is exactly what God calls us to do. Look at 2 Samuel 24:24, "But the king [David] said to Araunah [the man who owned the threshing floor on the spot David wanted to raise an altar to God and who had just offered it to David for nothing], 'No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.' " We are often too content to offer sacrifices to God which have cost us nothing.

Adoption, and supporting those who adopt, offers us a chance to remedy this. Adoption is costly. The church must stop assuming that having one or two adoptive families as members lets them off the hook, either for emotional or financial support. There may be others in the church who have thought about adoption, but just don't think they could pay the fees. A family may have considered a child with complicated medical needs, but ultimately decided against it because they couldn't afford the medical care even with insurance. This is where the church could step in.  Unless we talk about these things and unless the church makes overt efforts to encourage families, children will continue to wait for homes they might otherwise have had.

I can hear the curmudgeons now, "Well, if we tell every family in the church that we will financially support their adoption, then everybody would be adopting and then where would we be?"

Where indeed?


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Things I would rather not have to say - part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how the church has ignored or misunderstood the centrality of caring for orphans to the Gospel, but I don't think that this is the only root cause of the church's apathy. I believe there are two other factors which are at play. The one I will discuss today is the church's prevailing attitude towards children.

The trouble with being in the world is that more often than not we start looking more like the world rather than the opposite. It is hard to go against cultural norms. No one likes to feel as though everyone else thinks they're nuts or, even worse, ignorant. Instead of gladly looking and acting very different from the world, we choose to blend in. This phenomenon is very apparent when it comes to the church's general attitudes about children. These attitudes tend to very much mirror those of the society around them.

And what does society think about children? Pretty much that they are nice in limited doses, but don't have too many lest you ruin your chances for a 'good life', or ruin the two children you were 'supposed' to have, or ruin the environment. Children are seen in terms of their cost, and in society's eyes, they are very, very costly. And these limited children are really only welcome under certain conditions... they must be wanted and planned for and they must be healthy.

This idea of children being of questionable positive value is in direct opposition to what the Bible teaches us about how God views children. God, without question, considers children a blessing. Whenever God wished to bless someone, more often than not, that person was given or promised children. Children were seen as a blessing which would bring joy to the parent. Psalm 114:9 says, "He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!" Children are meant to bring joy. Psalm 127:3 says, "Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward." Not a punishment, not problem to be solved, not something to offer condolences over, but a reward. Children are a gift from a gracious God.

Not that this means that raising children is easy. God knows the time and effort it takes to raise and train children. In Genesis 33:12-14, Jacob tells his brother to go on ahead, that he [Jacob] will lead his family slowly, at the pace of the children. In Isaiah 40:10 we are told that the Lord God leads his flock like a shepherd and gently leads those that are with young. God knows that parents raising children need an extra measure of time and grace and He promises us this. Life will move differently if we have children with us.  Once again, different is not bad.

Not only is it not bad, but God uses it to teach us some big lessons about how we are to relate to Him. We must become like little children if we wish to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:2-6).  Ephesians 5:1 tells us to "be imitators of God, as beloved children." We have something to learn by watching children and their parents that we need to know for our own relationship with God.

I would venture to say that most of the people in the church would agree with all of this and many may be wondering what I'm kvetching about. But we all know that stated beliefs can be different from how these beliefs are or are not played out in real life. I'm friends with quite a few mothers of large families (I know you're surprised by that), and sometimes when we chat together we share some of the more outrageous things that have been said to us. Sadly, the number of negative comments is no different from within the church (who should know the value of children and rejoice over them) than from those outside of the church (who cannot be expected to know the value God places on children). And it doesn't have to be the really horrible blatant negative comments either, which demonstrate an unhealthy attitude towards children. How many people have uttered the phrase, "I can't wait until they all ___________ (fill in the blank: go to school, go off to college, move out, etc.) so that I can have my life back." Or the "better you than me" type comments when someone finds out another person is expecting. As if having children is something to be avoided. Or the '"we're going to wait to have children" comments which imply that there are other things which are better.

The other way the church demonstrates its core, true beliefs about children is how children are integrated into the life of the church. Do we want to add them into the corporate life of the church, or are they seen as a nuisance and better relegated to their own programs where they are out of the way? How much contact do the pastors, elders, or other 'important' people in the church have with the children? If they are truly important, these older leaders will take the time to get to know them and lead them as well as the adults. Are church programs and activities planned with the needs of families in mind or are they thinking only of the adults, unencumbered by children? It can even be seen in the small things. Are there high chairs available for families who bring children to church functions? Are the rooms which the children use cared for with as much thought and expense as 'public' rooms or the rooms the adults use? Do activities get out on time, making it easier for parents to plan and to prepare their children? Are parents with a fussy baby in the worship service glared at or smiled at? How many babies have been born in the church recently?

If the answers to these questions show an underlying assumption that children are basically bothers and that the real work of the church begins when these children are older (if those same children are still bothering to show up), then is it any wonder that orphaned children either on the other side of the city or the other side of the world, don't even appear on the radar? In order to develop a heart for orphans within the congregation, a heart for children must first be developed. That would mean embracing children as the blessings and gifts they really are. In doing so, it will be the first step in making ourselves different from the world around us. Following Jesus means that others are going to think we're different, weird, stupid, crazy. And loving children... all of them... even the ones society has deemed not worth the bother... is a great way to start learning to be different.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When I hoped for a blog worthy topic, this isn't really what I had in mind.

I have some sad news to share with everyone. You all remember Joseph, right?


And that we were all so excited to hear there was a family who wanted to adopt him? Well, for various reasons, that family feels that they need to stop the process. Joseph once again is waiting for a family who will make him their son. He ages out in a little over one year. If someone were to start now, this is still a very doable thing. Is this your son?

(Just to clarify... the following is in no way in response to the family!  Just wanted to be sure I was clear.)

Of course all of this, and various other things which I don't blog about, have gotten me thinking, and I have to admit that I'm a wee bit teed-off about something. (That may perhaps be an understatement, you'll have to decide for yourself.) Every child who needs a family or some sort of stability in their lives is an opportunity provided by God to the church to act out in a tangible way the message of the Gospel. And in many, many ways, the church is failing. I can think of many individuals and a few churches which take this need to act on behalf of the helpless seriously, but more often than not I hear about how not only is the church not acting, but the church isn't even aware that it should be acting. The prevailing attitude is often that orphans are someone else's business or the few sainted individuals whom God has called to care for them, not the church as a whole. It is a nice little mission focus of a few individuals. And in the meantime, children suffer.

This is going to turn into a three-part post. I see the failure of the church to act on behalf of orphans as being a three part problem. The first is not understanding (or acknowledging) the centrality of caring for orphans and widows to the Gospel. The second is a tacit, and thus unacknowledged, reservation about children in general. And the third deals with money. We don't like to talk about money in the US, and we certainly don't like to talk about money when it comes to adoption, but the silence is damaging. It is hurting both the children who need homes and the families who would be willing to adopt.

Throughout the Gospels, heck, through the whole Bible, caring for the segments of society that are powerless and often penniless is what is commanded. The converse of that is also true. Nothing brings on God's anger so much as oppressing or ignoring the powerless. And if we're talking about the powerless, the orphan and the widow were right up there in Biblical times... and in our own. You all know the verses, but I'll repeat them again.  From James 1:25-27:  "But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseverers, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

We can't ignore that. We can't make that into one of many good things that people do in the church. To do God's work and show God's love means that we have to do this. And it will be messy and painful and costly. We do it for the least of these among us because this is what God did for us. And it was messy and painful and costly.

Not every orphan will be able to be adopted into a family, and for those who cannot, we need to support them in whichever way is appropriate. But many orphans are adoptable. Churches need adoptive families in them. And churches need to support those families and encourage others to join them. Without actual adoption in our midst, how can anyone begin to understand the depth and meaning of the passages where God tells us He has adopted us to be His sons and daughters? Without walking through adoption personally, or coming along side a family and supporting them as they adopt, these verses hold very little significance. They are a nice thought which makes us feel good. But once you have personal experience with adoption, they become incredibly powerful.

To adopt is a legal term meaning that a child which was not biologically related to a set of parents, an 'other', becomes the same. Everything that would be granted to a biological child is now granted to the adopted one. They are no longer 'other' but have a place where they belong. This sounds fairly easy and straightforward, but it's not. Adoption occurs because there has been some tragedy, some loss. These hurts can be deep and it can be difficult to love this very hurt person. We develop a new sense of what it means to love and at the same time we see God's love in a new and different way. We come to God because of a tragedy and loss; because of mankind's descent into sin. We are filled with sin and are very imperfect. But God loves us. God loves us with all of our hurts and pain. God loves us no matter how much we may rage at Him. To see adoption played out in our congregations is to see a physical manifestation of God's love for us.

Not everyone is called to adopt, but I'm sure there are many more who are called than who heed. But everyone, every single Christian, is called to do something to care for the orphans and widows. This is not an option and the church needs to stop acting as though it is. The people of the church should be filled with so much grief over the plight of these children, regardless of where they live, that they cannot rest until all the children have been helped and those who can be are set in families. God promises to set the lonely in families, but if the families have not been taught and encouraged to receive the lonely, then how can they even fathom the idea. If a family does not feel supported, overwhelmingly, by their church family, they may feel incapable of the task before them. We do so much talking and meeting and discussing in the church that we forget we should be doing. It's really what James was talking about. Stop talking about being all religious and about what God wants from His people and instead just start doing something. Anything. Just do it.

And Joseph still needs a family. And Vincent. And Kennedy. And... And... And...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Large family food

Having just done the week's grocery shopping and because it was one of the reader questions I received, I thought I would share a little how I manage food for our crew. Plus, having had nearly two months off of having to cook every night has provided a much needed break and I find myself interested in cooking again. The adoption-insanity had really taken over right before we traveled and I was doing the bare minimum in the kitchen.

In order to feed our family, I try to go grocery shopping once a week. This shopping trip to the two stores a shop in on a regular basis (Aldi and a small independent store... Marketplace if you live in the area) and usually involves buying produce, dairy, and items I use on a regular basis. It is nearly 100% food purchases. I buy paper goods at a our local warehouse store, plus a few food staples (peanut butter, cinnamon, chocolate chips [yes, they're a staple!], and honey). More drugstore type supplies are purchased at a third grocery store which has fairly low prices for that type of thing. In general, I know what the price of things is and can take advantage of sales in other stores when I find them. Other things I purchase in bulk once or twice a year. Wheat berries, oatmeal, and the like I buy through a somewhat local farmer who organizes a bulk order twice a year. I will buy 50# of oatmeal and 200# of wheat at a time. Also, for the past several years we have purchased a side of beef which we store in a large freezer in the basement.

But I know what everyone wants to know is how much I spend. I won't kid you, it does cost a bit of money to feed 11 or 12 people every week, but probably not as much as you would expect. I spend an average of $150 on food each week. Every several weeks I spend $100 dollars at the warehouse store and let's say, $50 a month on random purchases at other stores. When I add in the amounts of the beef and bulk orders, after a little averaging, I come up with an average of $212.50 per week on all our groceries, not including diapers. From talking with people, I know that this is a surprisingly low number given the number of people for whom I'm shopping.

So what do I do to get this number to where it is? I think the key is in what I don't buy and where I don't shop. Some of the major chain grocery stores (at least in my area) are also some of the most expensive. They may have some good sales every now and then (which I'm happy to take advantage of), but for the most part, they are outrageously high. If you look around, often you can find less expensive stores to shop in. Next, I don't buy a lot of processed food. Very little in fact. We do most of our cooking from scratch and those ingredients tend to be less expensive. It does take a little more time in the preparation department, but I'm happy to do this since I often have more time than extra cash. (And, it's just a lot better for one's health to eat this way.) We don't tend to have snacks around. If children are hungry fresh fruit is always available. And no soda. It is a very special treat and some of our children don't even like the stuff. (I do buy coffee and tea. Those count as necessities in my book. I even buy fruit tea for the children to enjoy. I can be fun.)

When I buy fruit and vegetables, I'm afraid that I don't buy organic all the time. I just don't. When one looks critically at ones budget, there are many, many factors which need to be weighed. I do what I can and make the best decisions with what I have available at that moment. Sadly, it's not a perfect world. That said, I try to only buy fruit if it is under a dollar a pound. This means we pretty much eat only fruit that is in season.

We eat well. By keeping the bulk of the shopping to a reasonable amount, I can usually splurge on the ingredients for at least one meal a week. Every loves goat cheese and bacon around here, but those don't show up every day. It is another reason to really think carefully through the menu plan for the week so that you don't regret it at the checkout counter.

One last comment. I don't do coupons, either. Very few things I buy even have coupons available. I know that some can do amazing things with coupons, I'm just not one. I don't have the patience for  it.

So there you have it. Grocery shopping at the Big, Ugly House. Maybe by tomorrow something blog worthy will have occurred and I can write an actually interesting post.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

How I create a unit study -- using our Australia unit study as an example


I have been asked how I go about creating my own unit studies, so here we go. This could get long and if you have no felt need for knowing this, you may want to click on over to the next blog for today. I realize there is only a small segment of the population who needs, or even wants, to know this stuff.

I know that there are many, many (Ack! I can't help myself! This has become H.'s pet phrase and she uses it all the time... I find it creeping into my speech as well.) unit studies out there that you can either purchase or look at for free. And sometimes that's great if you are short of time or energy or find the perfect one. The trouble is, I rarely find the perfect study already planned out and I end up planning it out all over again anyway. Plus, I'm cheap and hate to pay for something that I could do on my own. I try to use the library as much as possible and only buy books if I absolutely can't find something elsewhere that I really need.

So, what do I do? First, I have to come up with a topic. It can be anything. Really, anything. As long as someone in the house is interested in it. (I'm a little odd and for fun sometimes think of a topic and mentally plan how I would go about creating a study out of it.) It can be a period of history, a single topic, a field of study, or even based on a piece of literature (my favorite type). What have we done in the past to give you some examples? Nearly every period of history, Lewis and Clark, lighthouses, the seashore, American Indians, the Santa Fe Trail, the solar system, volcanoes, and the Mississippi River to name a few. Some examples of studies based on literature include The Swiss Family Robinson, Around the World in 80 DaysCaptain's Courageous, Johnny Tremain, Kon Tiki, and The Wheel on the School. If a child expresses interest in something I file it away for future use. Or if I come across something I think would be interesting I save the idea. Or sometimes we just start reading a book and become so engrossed in it that we turn it into a full-blown unit study.

Once I have my topic, I start brainstorming ideas. Sometimes this is easy, if I happen to know a lot about a topic, sometimes I have to do some research first to give me a start. This is what happened when I planned our Australia study. I knew Australia is a continent and it's basic history and that it was home to some really unusual animals, but, truly, that was about it. I decided we would learn about it because I wanted to correct this oversight. I needed books. One plus of writing a blog with a fairly wide readership, including readers in Australia (Hello!), is that I could ask for book recommendations. I discovered that there is probably a really good reason why I felt as though I knew nothing and that's because we just don't hear about Australia much up here. Anyway, my Australian readers were very helpful in heading me in the right direction. The one thing I couldn’t find was a long, meaty chapter book, but I was pretty happy with what we ended up with.  Here is the list:
·         Are We There Yet? By Alison Lester
o   A family takes a car trip around Australia
·         Storm Boy by Colin Thiele
o   A boy and his father live on the Coorong and care for a stranded pelican
·         Ranger’s Territory:  The Story of Frank Woerle told to Colin Thiele
o   Memoir of a man who was a ranger in the wilds of northern Australia
·         Top to Bottom Down Under by Ted and Betsy Lewin
o   Animals native to Australia and their habitats
·         Possum Magic by Mem Fox
o   Tells about the different food common to various areas of Australia
·         Lizzie Nonsense:  A Story of Pioneer Days by Jan Ornerod
o   A sweet story of a pioneer family
·         Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow
o   Set in Alice Springs and has examples of Aboriginal art
And for fun:
·         Diary of a Wombat and Diary of a Baby Wombat by Jackie French
·         Wombat Goes Walkabout by Michael Marpurgo
·         My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch by Graeme Base

Now it’s time to go through the books and figure out how they will all fit together. I chose Are We There Yet?  as our main book because it is the story (in picture book format) of a family who takes three months and drives around Australia by car and describes the things they saw on the trip. It was an excellent way to make our way around Australia. I decided we would read just a page or two of this book at a time and then do other activities and readings that matched each place we ‘stopped’. Each study I plan and set up a little differently, but in general, I have chosen one or two books to serve as our tour guide and then add to them as we go along. A mainstay for us has been the Chicago Review Press books of _____________ for Kids.  I highly recommend them.

Once I have my books and in general figured out how I am going to make it make sense, it’s time for the fun part. By learning this way, you can cover almost every area of learning… literature, science, geography, history, art, music, etc. OK, I’ll admit I have trouble fitting math in, but you know how I feelabout that already. Now is the time when I try to come up with as many hands-on activities as I can. We’ll usually do map work, add to our perpetual timelines, do some art projects, some science experiments, listen to music if possible, and do some cooking. I’ll also try to work in some creative writing activities. It’s the whole package.

The last piece that needs to be figured out is how to document it all. We’ve done different things. We’ve made lapbooks (my children’s favorite), used blank books to keep track of things, done a big final project which can incorporate all we’ve learned, posters, dioramas, etc. It can be anything, but I find it helpful to have a way for my children to keep track and show what they’ve learned.

With all that background, I’ll now just write out how we actually did our Australia unit study using the books I listed. We used blank books to record what we learned, taping any maps in that we made.

I began by reading (out loud) some general books on Australia of the ubiquitous mid-grade, non-fiction type which populate libraries. (J. and I have written on ourselves, so I feel quite comfortable in being a little denigrating towards them.) While uninspiring, they did serve the purpose of giving everyone a general sense of what we were going to learn about. I also printed out a blank map of Australia and we labeled it marking the territories and surrounding oceans to begin with.

Then we began the Are We There Yet? book. The first stop was Adelaide and the Coorong and so we labeled these on the map and read Storm Boy which is about a boy and his pet pelican. (Warning, my children really liked it, but the ending is a bit sad.) From this point on, if we came across a word or term we didn’t know, we added it to our vocabulary page in our blank books. Also, we made a section for animals and if we came across an animal in our reading we added it and wrote a little about it. (I did have quite a few non-fiction Australian animal books on hand to facilitate this.) The other book we read in conjunction with these was Top to Bottom  Down Under. But since we were travelling ‘bottom to top’, we read the book backwards.

And so we travelled around Australia in this manner. We traced our route on our map as well as labeling cities and landmarks. We wrote about animals and drew pictures of them. And filled in with our other books as it made sense. When we got up to the top we read the book about Frank Woerle and his experiences being a ranger in northern Australia. (Please, since my sensibilities probably differ from yours, preread any books I suggest to be sure they are a good fit for your family. I am pretty comfortable reading a very wide range of things to my children because I am able to discuss it with them at the time. Do what you feel is right for your family.)

Our activities included:
·         Learned about the bush poets, specifically Banjo Patterson. We particularly enjoyed "Mulga Bill’s Bicycle" and I had everyone draw illustrations to go along with it.
·         Listened to various renditions of Waltzing Mathilda (lyrics by Banjo Patterson)
·         Looked at Aboriginal dot painting and then trying our hand at making our own
·         Listened to didgeridoo music
·         Watched a DVD documentary on the Great Barrier Reef
·         Prepared and ate various typical Australian dishes
·         Marked the different ecosystems of Australia on our maps
·         Added important Australian dates to our timeline books

We all do this together, though I often have my high schoolers do the same topic, but have them read different books. This way we can all discuss what we are learning at dinner and no one feels left out. Well, maybe J. does, but we fill him in on what we’ve learned.  For B., I had him read Bill Bryson’s book, In a Sunburned Country, which I also read. (My disclaimer stands here as well. Mr. Bryson can be a bit blue at times, but I find him both informative and entertaining and anyone who can make me laugh out loud until I cry is OK in my book.) If we had been doing this during the fall or winter when things are a bit more serious I would have also had him read The Fatal Shore:  The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes and had him watch “Rabbit Proof Fence”. I just wasn’t up for that level of seriousness in the middle of summer.

Here’s the short version of how to do this unit-study-thing:
1.      Pick a topic
2.      Find books. I like a really meaty story if I can find it.
3.      Sort out how it fits together. It can either be done chronologically to match a story or geographically to match a plan of travel. Just a way to sort the information in a way that makes sense.
4.      Plan activities. Think of all the different areas of learning and see what you can fit in. Don’t forget creative writing or memory work. (We’ve memorized a lot of poems as we’ve learned this way.) The more hands-on the better!
5.      Record what you’ve done in some way. It doesn’t always have to be just written out on a piece of paper. You could even make a family movie of what you’ve done together.
6.      Have fun and be excited. The world is a wonderful place and it is a thrilling job to show God’s wonderful creation to our children.
___________
The Homeschool Village

Friday, April 20, 2012

New dresses for little girls and new glasses for a bigger one

Thanks for everyone's words of encouragement. I am feeling better today and after having watched one of Karyn Purvis's DVD's last night even feeling a little hopeful about my boy.

A dear friend brought these sundresses for the little girls the other day and they wanted to wear them. G. is in the multi-colored dress and L. is in the blue one. G. also decided she needed to be wearing goggles and would not take them off. I have discovered the current best way to get pictures of these two is to bribe them with the promise of M&M's if they cooperate.







Yesterday, H.'s new glasses arrived. So far we have had no trouble with her being willing to wear them, so they must be helping in some way. I think it will be another day or two as her brain becomes used to the correction before we see huge changes in how she uses her eyes and how she moves about. I'm hopeful I will have some good news to report soon. The optician who fitted them did the best he could with a challenging situation. He was more concerned with getting the glasses so that she was seeing through them evenly rather than trying to get them straight on her face. That's L. in the picture below and can you tell today is much colder than yesterday was?





Thursday, April 19, 2012

Some things are hard

I was going to take some time and write out how I go about planning unit studies, but that will have to wait for another day. Instead, today I have been taking care of my children. H. has her new glasses and so far she is happily wearing them. I will have more to report on that front after she has used them a little bit.

I have also bitten the bullet and made an appointment for TM. I love my boy so much, but something is just not right. I want him to be happy and joyful instead of anxious and so easily upset. It is difficult  for us to navigate his behaviors sometimes, but I imagine it is even harder for him to live with whatever is going on inside of him. I want to be able to help and I'm all out of ideas. I had no idea that making that phone call would be so difficult. I am just so sad about it all. Sad that I don't seem to be able to help him, sad over the time we've lost when perhaps I should have found him help sooner, sad that there are things in his past that have caused him so much pain. Just sad. It has completely caught me off guard.

And I know this is not true, but there is a small part of me that feels like a failure. On some gut level I feel as though I have failed my son. I want to make everything all better for him and I can't. Parenting is hard.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Growing from a small family to a large family

Continuing to make use of other's questions... A reader commented, "I'd be interested in hearing about the transition from being a small family to being a large one." Or something along those lines.

I have mixed feelings about how to answer this. In some ways, very little seems to have changed in becoming a parent to an larger-than-average number of children, but in others, it has been such a monumental change, that I sometimes wonder if I'm the same person I was 15 years ago. What I mean is, there are some things about my existence that feel as though they are pretty much the same. I have the same children, just a few more and some of them are older (and that would have happened regardless, that aging-thing); I still do laundry, just a few more loads a week; I still cook, just do a lot more doubling; I still drive people around, just in a 15-passenger van. If you look at externals, things have just gotten bigger... cooking pans, laundry machines, cars I drive... but not necessarily more work. If I'm already doing certain tasks, doing a bigger amount of them a few more times a week is not that much more work. And those are the things that most people wonder about. How do I shop and cook for so many? What does my laundry look like? (Um, not really caught-up at the moment.) How do I keep track of everyone? Those types of things. I think people are a bit disappointed (and perhaps a bit unbelieving) that those things are really not much different for a large family than a small one. In some ways they are even easier because we have more people to help out and as a result can do things faster. I am absolutely positive that I have much more free time than another mother who has just two or three small children. Those are the hard years. I found them more difficult and more challenging than the stage I'm in now.

What I want to tell people is that having a large family hasn't changed how and what I do, but has changed who I am in a very fundamental way. I'm sure other mothers of large families or any mother who is raising an a-typical child can relate to the fairly regular comment of, "I just don't know how you do it!" As if there is something essentially different about me that allows me to do this perceived Herculean task of raising these children. I want people to believe me that there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT ME! (Yes, I know I'm yelling... I'll calm down.) There is something different about me, though. By having been given these children to raise, I have been shown in no uncertain terms that I am absolutely not capable of the task. By myself, I can't do it. And it took children numbers 5 through 10 for God to show me that.

All parenting has difficult moments. Some children are easier than others; some are more difficult. For me, I had things pretty well under control up through child number 5. Oh, there were difficult days, scary moments, frustrations, tears (theirs and mine), but I still thought (even if I never verbalized it) that the good things were my doing; somehow I was responsible for the good stuff that happened with our children. I had the picture-perfect, matching stair-step family. Life was good.

But God wasn't going to let me stay there. He was working in me. I thought I knew what His goal for me was... to open our hearts and home to a child who needed us. And on some level that was one goal, but I don't think it was the main one. He was going to show me how much I needed Him, because He knew at a fundamental level, I didn't really know.

The next five children have done more to teach me about God and His love for me than anything else has. I believe that one reason God wants us to have and to raise children is that in doing so, He can show us our weaknesses and His strength as in no other way. Parenting, and especially parenting a large family is a spiritual discipline.

There have been specific lessons I have learned with each of these five children. TM showed me my own brokenness and sinfulness and consequently my deep, deep need for a savior. While I thought I was saving a child, in reality the child would save me. My illusions about myself were shattered and caused me to cling to God as never before. It was an incredibly difficult and painful process, but not one I would trade for anything.

K. taught me acceptance. There was always a little piece of me that wanted that perfect family... beautiful faces, intelligent minds, high-achieving children,because this would reflect well on me. K. showed me I could love a child even if he wasn't perfect. When we adopted him and became aware of his delays, we had no idea what the future held for him. Would he ever talk? Would he grow? Would he need care for his entire life? At his level of delay, these were all possibilities. And I was scared. I didn't know what this meant for our family, our future. But God showed me that I could love a child who wasn't perfect. Once a person realizes this, a whole world opens. I learned that who K. was, his essence, was so much more than what was visible on the outside and what he could and couldn't do. I realized that I began to look at other people with new eyes because of what my son taught me.

G. and L. have taught me joy. I cried to God, grieving because I thought I would never have another little girl to dress up and love, and He heard my cry and blessed us with these two little girls. They are a gift from God. I won't kid anyone and say that my pregnancy with them was easy, or that we enjoyed the endless sleepless nights when they were infants, but even with those difficulties, they have brought nothing but joy. We have reveled in them and enjoyed each and every moment (even the loud ones). We are well aware how fast childhood goes and the blessing of later children is that the parents can relax and just enjoy. They make me smile and laugh and praise and thank my God. We may not understand or even want to be blessed in the way God wishes to bless us, but if we embrace His blessings we can experience joy unbounded.

What will H. teach me? Time will tell, but it well may be to relax and live in the present and fill my house with joy. With an older child who is aware of her surroundings, but does not yet speak your language, I find I am paying much more attention to my outward behavior and the general atmosphere of our home. My other children have a long history with me. They understand I love them, how life works, that things will be OK. H.'s only way to understand this is to look around her. I can't explain if things feel off kilter; or if I'm just grumpy, but not at her; or why everyone seems to be in a bad mood. I can't make everyone happy all the time, but I can control myself. I want her to be glad that she ended up with the mother she did.

Having a large family has changed me because I can't do it on my own... and I know this. God's in charge, not me, so I don't have to. And for those who have ever thought, "Oh, I'd love to have more children, I'm just not sure I could do it." Well, you probably can't, but I know Someone who can.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Summer school

A question from a reader:  What do you do homeschool-wise in the summer? Do we keep up our schedule, take a break, or what?

If you haven't noticed, I'm back on to homeschool topics right now, probably because that's what my brain has been thinking about recently. The upcoming summer is a big part of that thinking because the nice, neat lesson plans I made in August are soon coming to an end. I won't make detailed lesson plans for summer, but that doesn't mean I won't have some sort of plan in place.

I guess I've come to terms with the fact that we do school all year 'round. It may look a little different from how we do school in the fall, winter, and spring, but we are still learning. Because for us, school and learning are pretty interchangeable. (Having now just tried to write a brief critique of the word 'school' and given up, I'll have to tuck that away as a possible future post. Emphasis on brief... something I'm not.) Learning doesn't stop, it just relaxes a bit and moves outside a bit more.

But over the years, as the children have grown and become more numerous, I have found that it is helpful if I have a plan for guiding some of that learning. Unending free time always sounds really good at first, but eventually looses some of its luster often resulting in the time honored childhood tradition of filling ones time by picking on a handy brother or sister.

So what does our summer schedule look like? Well, first we don't actually sign-up for bunches of summer activities, both so we can be relaxed in our plans and our daily routine. Some of my favorite childhood memories are being able to sit down with a good book and being able to read as long as I liked. You can't do that if you are constantly having to run out of the house to get to the next camp or lesson or activity. That's not to say we don't do anything, but that we think carefully about what we agree to and put strict limits on it. For instance, some of our grade school types will be heading off to church camp for a week and B. will be a counselor at church camp as well as working on doing a week of building and repair at an AIDs/HIV+ clinic. (In the Bahamas. Tough life.) We're also planning a couple of summer trips and have guests coming into town. Other than that, the time we have at home is pretty much free.

I try to have a general outline of how a day will go so that everyone knows what to expect. First thing in the morning, after breakfast, we continue to do math. I have tried to take three months off in the past and it's just not worth it. It is the one subject that is painful to restart in the fall and the easiest subject to lose ground in. So we just keep doing it. Since it is how life works around here the rest of the year, it is just taken for granted that each day begins with math; it's just how it is. Doesn't everyone's? From there we move onto whatever our topic is for the summer. Last year it was Australia, this year it is looking to be electricity. We'll read books, do projects, build things. (J., in thinking about the book recommended by his aunt about the boy in Malawi who built his own electricity generating windmill has hopes that he can do that with everyone in the back yard this summer.) Then it's usually time to clean up and eat lunch, which is accompanied by me reading a book to them. The afternoon is making sure any household jobs are done and free time. Sometimes we'll go to the beach, or play with friends (those who have available time), or just relax at home. Oh, and lots and lots of library trips to keep the voracious readers satisfied.

For the next two months, I will do a little work planning how our electricity unit will work and finding resources. And I'm pretty sure that the whole excuse to do a lot of planning and research is one of my very favorite things about homeschooling.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Bible for H.

In the spring every second grader in our church is presented with a Bible with their name embossed on it and signed by the pastor. Since H. didn't spend her 2nd grade year here, she missed out on receiving her Bible, so the Children's Director ordered one for her with this year's group. We thought it would all be too much to ask her to stand up in front of the church with the second grade class and we wanted to make is special and not just hand it to her, so we came up with a different plan. 

Our pastor had us meet with him in his office after church on Sunday so he could present it to her personally. Our wonderful friend who has been acting as translator also joined us. H. may not be able to read her Bible yet, or even fully understand about this Jesus-person or why we go to church, but she knew it was a special thing.

Here is our pastor showing her the Bible and where her name had been written.


Here she is receiving her Bible. The little ceremony ended with H. giving the pastor a big hug and 'thank you'.


And I continue to feel that the job of representing Jesus to my daughter, who really hadn't heard of Him up to this point is a huge and awesome responsibility.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The California gold rush

This semester we have been learning about the California gold rush as our unit study. You know, one of the reasons I love homeschooling is that I get to learn things I didn't know along with my children. (And I would be lying if said my own desire to learn about something didn't play into my choice of what unit studies we do. Of course, if a child has a strong desire to study something, that trumps my choice.) I have really enjoyed learning about the gold rush and realize I didn't know that much about it when we began. It helps that I've found some good books to go along with it.

It also helps that it lends itself rather nicely to some good hands-on learning. As we read more and more about it, I come up with a bigger list of these types of projects than I had when I did my initial planning last summer. So, some things I will be adding in as the weather warms up and we have less desire to be indoors and others I will make a note of in case we do this again.

Take last Thursday night, for instance. I had planned to serve food that the 49er's might have eaten as a part of our dinner. But as I prepared dinner, I was suddenly finding myself thinking up ways to make it even more interesting. (This is a sure sign that I'm recovering from my adoption-induced insanity... the ability to think creatively again is returning.) Were I to do it again, not only would I serve the appropriate food, but I would make it a bigger experience.

Want to hear my ideas? First of all, we would have to wait for warmer weather so we could do it all outside. And we would cook the food over the fire pit in the backyard because the 49er's lived in tents for the most part. Flannel shirts and some sort of hat would be a must as would metal bowls (retrieved from the camping supplies) for eating out of. But first we would pan for gold. (We will do this, but I wasn't prepared to do it Thursday night.) Because without gold dust, my children would have nothing to pay for their food with. And it turns out food was really, really expensive. When I read about how much certain foods cost in the gold rush areas, it sounds expensive in current dollars much less 1849 dollars. Then we could all sit on the ground with our pans of food and have the whole experience. (Happily minus the hours of backbreaking labor in the hot sun while standing knee deep in frigid water. I'm willing to use my imagination for that.)

My only regret with the way we do school is that we tend to only do a topic once. (There is so much to learn about and discover, I just can't bring myself to repeat... at least with the same group of children.) But I do write it down. Perhaps we'll come back to this topic with the little girls when they are older. Should I write it all out for you? Would this be helpful to anyone? Maybe I will anyway because then I will know where to find it if I want it again. I just get so excited about what we've done and what we've learned that I really want to share it with people.

Because learning is fun. And watching your children learn and discover things is even more fun. And there are a lot of books involved. What's not to love?

(And on the topic of student ideas for unit studies, we have been having A LOT of questions about electricity around here and I'm thinking it will be our big summer project. Does anyone have any books they love that deal with electricity? I would be looking for either fiction, non-fiction, picture books, older child books... I'll look at it all. I probably have some of the basics: Magic Schoolbus, the Janice VanCleeve's books, etc. Thanks!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Special gift

A family friend (my mother's best friend... they met in grade school... who is so much like an aunt to me I've always used "aunt" to refer to her) made and sent these adorable aprons to the little girls. (She even made matching aprons for each of their dolls.)

G.

G.

L. (on left) and G.

L. (on left), who was put-out that A. had said no about something, and G.

L. (she recovers quickly)

I also promised our egg salad recipe to a reader, though it hardly counts as a recipe, as you'll soon see:

Egg Salad

Peel as many hard-boiled eggs as you will need and smash until they are in fairly small pieces.  Add mayonnaise (some), yellow mustard (to taste), and pickle relish.  If you don't have pickle relish we've also cut-up bread and butter pickles and added those or chopped a cucumber.  Mix well.

Sorry there's no exact measurements, but we do it by taste and sight and it's slightly different every time.

Also, I had to laugh at the comments on yesterday's post and the fact that the majority of commentors share my difficulty. I think I have figured out one key to my problem:  I am more likely to go to bed if I am all ready for bed. It seems that I am more likely to stay up later than I should if I know getting up means I can't just crawl into bed, but have to wash-up first. So, I experimented last night and got ready for bed before I picked-up my book. I discovered that it was much easier just to close (turn off) my book when I was feeling tired knowing that all I had to do was lie down and close my eyes. Perhaps I'll just get in my pajamas when the children do from now on. I know I'm tired enough to go to sleep at a decent time, maybe the key is not waiting until I'm too tired to get ready for bed. I'll try it and let you know how it goes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Forgot to mention...

I am one of the online hostesses tomorrow for Heart of the Matter's online homeschooling conference this weekend. I will be hostessing from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Eastern time. The speaker during that time slot is Karen DeBeus and she is speaking on the topic, "Taking the School out of Homeschooling:  Homeschooling as a Lifestyle". There are also two half hour segments for chatting. So sign-up and chat with me so I don't have to spend the time playing solitaire waiting for someone to talk to.

You can find the information at:  http://www.heartofthematterconference.com/

Facing the day

So, I'm ready for something a little lighter, considering the amount of drama that swirled around here yesterday. I think there was drama involving every person in the family except H. and the little girls. (Ironic, isn't it, that the newest child and the twin toddlers each had a calm day and no one else did?) So by evening, after everyone was put to bed, J. made me a cup of tea and I relaxed with a good book which is my very favorite way to end the day. The trouble is, I enjoy it just a little too much... both the peace and quiet and the story. I want it to go on and on. And so it does, until it is just a little later than I meant to go to bed.

You can see where this is going, can't you? A late bedtime makes it that much more difficult to wake up in a timely manner. I'm a person who does really well when she has a good hour of quiet and a couple of cups of coffee to fully wake up and feel able to face the day. I have fallen into a bad routine which is making mornings not quite so enjoyable and is quickly ratcheting up J.'s entry into sainthood. Currently what is happening is I sleep in, though J.'s alarm and J. getting up and stay asleep until J. comes back upstairs with my cup of coffee. This is lovely. Actually, it is lovely when it is early enough to sip that first cup of coffee in peace. It is not so lovely when most of my children are awake and wanting attention. I love my children. I just find it difficult to appear loving when I'm halfway through my first cup of coffee and several of them jump into bed with me... asking questions, moving around, briefly arguing with each other, complaining about some slight that had happened moments before, and wanting me to explain math to them. And did I mention moving around? For some reason I just can't take a jiggling, bouncing bed first thing in the morning. It's as if it is just too much sensory information for my brain to process that early in the day.

I end up getting out of bed slightly out-of-sorts and feeling a little behind before I've even begun. By mid-morning I have usually regained my equilibrium, but I would rather not have to play catch-up each morning. I know that this means I have to go to bed earlier which means while I am readjusting my schedule I will have to give up some of my hours of quiet. I know I will reclaim them in the morning (if I can get up), but since I can't allow myself to read for pleasure in the morning (the whole day would be lost), I'll have to give up a couple reading hours as well. Ah, the price of parenthood.

In order to get me out of bed, I need some accountability which is why I am bothering all of you with my sleeping habits. If I have to report back here about how I'm doing, maybe it will shame me into a better schedule. But I'm also curious. How do other people manage to prepare themselves to face the day? What is it like to be a morning person? (I know I'm not a morning person. The trouble is I'm not really a night person, either. I think I'm more like a late morning/early afternoon person.) If you are not a morning person, but still arise early, how do you do it? Inspire me!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The ethics of adoption

Yeah, right, like I'm going to cover that enormous and controversial topic in one blog post, even for someone as long-winded as I am. But I am going to touch on it. Unsurprisingly (at least for those of us who have been involved in adoption for any length of time), my article on homeschooling and adoption has been found by an anti-adoption advocate. Instead of engaging in the comment section of the article (I've never seen a 'comment war' turn out well), I'm going to respond here.

I will be the first to say that adoption is an imperfect solution to a significant problem in an imperfect world. Ideally every single child would be able to be raised by their biological family. But we all know this doesn't happen. For whatever reason, some children are relinquished or abandoned or are separated from their biological parents through death. They end up on the streets where they are prey to a whole host of social ills or they live in an orphanage without any permanency or a family to call their own.

(There are also children who lose their biological families through child trafficking which is a direct result of the money which adoption brings.  This is wrong. NO CHILD should ever be separated from biological roots because the parents or extended family were offered money and the promise of a 'better life'. These are not the orphans I am talking about. I am talking about children who have lost their family and literally have no one and will have no one even if a set of adoptive parents never shows up. Often these children have special medical needs. They are not young, healthy, and female. But then you've heard me rant about all that before. I just needed to clarify.)

It would be wonderful if tomorrow there were no orphans who needed families; if every child lived in their family of origin or even their culture of origin. But while that is a worthy goal, it is not happening tomorrow or even next week, and in the meantime there are children suffering while adults bicker about what is 'best' for them.

How could it possibly be 'best' for Selah Tweitmeyer to have died in an Ethiopian orphanage?



Or for little Katie, the little 9 year old girl who was the size of an infant, to be forgotten and neglected in an Eastern European orphanage because she has Down Syndrome?

Or how could the word 'best' even come close to describing the situation of the 14 year old girl who is in the same orphanage as Katie, who weighs FOURTEEN POUNDS? Please go to that link. The pictures will shock and sadden you, but there is hope and good news!  Adeye (who writes No Greater Joy Mom) and her family have committed to adopt this little girl who so desperately needs love and medical attention. They are having a fund-raiser with some amazing prizes. Go and help them bring this child home.

It is a sad fact that many orphans do not have the hope of a life in their country of origin. Physical deformities are often considered 'bad luck' and schools and places of employment will not accept a person with them. Medical care is not an option due to both lack of availability and finances. In reality, there are few options for these children.

It stinks to lose your birth parents. But it also stinks to remain neglected without any chance of permanency because the adults around you are bickering.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Manglish

This is the language I am speaking a lot right now. Having left for China with a couple useful phrases ("I love you" and "hello" and "thank you"), my vocabulary has increased exponentially. (Of course given where I started from, I realize this isn't saying a whole lot.) I know pronouns, some verbs, and some adjectives, and if you were to see the list, they would tell you far more about my daughter than my language abilities. We all tend to learn what is useful and relevant and that is what I have done with Mandarin. Thus, I know the words for "spicy", because H. does not like spicy food and is always checking whether something is spicy or not before she tries it. I know "peanut" because H. loves peanuts. And I know the useful term, "bu shir" which pretty much means no.  And "bu" also negates things which can also be useful.

H.'s English vocabulary grows each day as well. (Far faster than my Mandarin vocabulary ever did.) She also tends to focus on the useful words... happy, sad, yummy, owie, hold on. (Having a child learning a language from you results in finding out which phrases you use a lot.  I evidently say 'hold on' more than a couple times a day. Still wondering if that's good or bad.) Anyway, each day it becomes just a little easier to communicate.

This communication does take on some odd sounding phrases, though. I find I speak in a combination of English and Mandarin. Phrases that would probably make other people squirm. For instance, H. is now letting me brush her teeth (Hallelujah!), but she is still very disturbed by all the blood. A friend gave me a very soft toothbrush for me to try. To show H. that this toothbrush might not hurt so much, I made a big deal about showing her how soft it was in comparison to the other toothbrush we were using. In doing so, I found myself using phrases such as "bu owie". Which made me laugh inside, but H. understood. I live a funny life.

One last interesting tooth brushing story... to help with the whole tooth-brushing-thing, I had H. watch as I scrubbed K.'s teeth. When he spit into the sink, I showed here that there was no blood, to reinforce what my interpreter-friend had told her that eventually her gums would heal. When she looked and saw that there was no blood (after what she probably thought was a particularly strong tooth brushing), she was amazed. Truly, it was nothing short of a minor miracle in her book. Perhaps these crazy people really do know what they are talking about.
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I have a new article up at Heart of the Matter Online about Adoption and Homeschooling.
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