Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Crazy for Kids in the Big Ugly House

Last night we hosted Ann from Crazy for Kids and (some) of her children for the night as one of their stops on their mondo adventure across a good portion of the US. Ann and I had met before and became real friends instead of virtual friends a couple of years ago. Then, because we live too far away to really easily see each other in our home country, we had great plans to see each other when we were both in China. We overlapped for approximately 12 hours, and we were even in the same hotel, but due to various inconveniences, we didn't get to see each other.

So it was wonderful that they could stop here on their road trip. Plus, our (most) of our children got to meet each other. After a little of the usual reticence, they all hit it off famously and everyone wished the visit could have been longer. I am a little tired today, though, because Ann and I stayed up too late talking. It was worth it.

Some pictures.

Ann and I

Vu and D. (These boys met the last time Ann was in town and have been pen pals ever since.)

Our mutual sets of virtual twins, Vu, D., Patrick, and TM. Vu is also from Vietnam.

There was a lot of picture taking going on. I couldn't resist taking a picture of Ann taking a picture.

H. and MeiMei. These are the two girls who should've been able to meet in China in March.

All of Ann's crew and some of mine. Please note the sight-seeing flamingo who visited as well.

It was a great visit, and I suppose the next time we see each other it's really our turn to go to them. Happy travels on your way home, Ann!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ahoy, mateys!

The murder mystery party which happened here on Saturday was a huge success. Great fun was enjoyed by all and it's just plain fun to watch these no longer little people. A. went as the official photographer, so these photos are just some of what she took. I've posted them in no particular order, but I'll try to tell you what's going on.

P20 and P18

This picture and the one below are at the very beginning of the party when everyone was gathering.


A couple of the pirates

A lot of socializing/playing took place in my front yard.

Not everyone was a pirate... some were scripted to not like pirates at all.

P20 and another of "my" girls. ("My" girls being the original five which I started the girls' Bible study with.)

AL H-S

M.

B. - He was a commodore and was charged with arresting pirates.

Practice sword fights in my front yard.

The last of "my" girls. (I include P20, AL H-S, and, of course M. in that group.)

More front yard pictures. Evidently traffic did have a tendency to slow when the cars drove by the house.

And an apology to some of my newer readers. I know my whole initial system is bad enough for my own children, but it must be truly maddening when I start using initials for other people's children as well. I do this for the children in two other families... the P family and the H-S family. These are the two other large families whom we do a lot with and we have all watched each other's children over the years as we've have traveled for various adoptions. They are more like extended family than anything else. So, for the P family, since they all have the same first initial, I add on their ages and the H-S family gets their own initials. 

Oh, and did I mention that B. flew out yesterday morning to Nassau, Bahamas? He went with our church's youth group to work with Next Step Ministries at the All Saints AIDs Camp. They will be doing mostly construction-type work to help make improvements to the camp and will also interact with the camp residents. I will admit to making an exception to my no computer on Sunday rule because I wanted to check their flight status to make sure they arrived safely. Which they did. B. and the rest of the group will return this coming Saturday.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mohawk boy

Since I'm busy making a commodore's costume for B. for the big shindig tonight, plus doing myriad other things, you get a funny picture.

Here it TM with the mohawk that A. put in his hair yesterday evening:


That's some pretty amazing hair gel, huh? TM has been growing his hair out, though we have the agreement that in mid-August, we will cut it. Recently, he had been doing a great imitation of a K-pop boy band member. Good looks (I think I'm allowed to say that since I have no genetic responsibility for it) and the whole hair-flip-thing he does to get it out of his eyes really complete the image. Of course, he's probably never heard of or seen a K-pop band in his life. (For those of you scratching your heads, it stands for Korean pop or Korean popular music.) And he's not Korean. But you get the idea.

Back to the commodore.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Keeping track of library books

I had another reader ask how I keep track of library books. (And thank you for the questions! It's a nice break from coming up with topics on my own.) Since we do use our library quite a bit, possibly vying for the single heaviest used award, I have a little experience with this.

First off, I really, really dislike paying library fines and having to pay to replace books, so I work really hard to keep track of them all. It happens every now and then, but I have a remarkable track record considering I have ~100 books checked out at a time. Every so often I do lose track of one of them and sometimes it's even my fault. Like the time I accidentally mailed a book instead of putting it in the book drop. Yes, I did. It wasn't until the next time that I drove by the drop box that I even realized I had done it. I suddenly had a memory of putting a book in the drop box, except the drop box was a different color. Something didn't seem right. And then I look up and see the mailbox and realized what I had done. Now, wouldn't you think that the postal worker, upon finding a library book (a clearly marked library book) in a mailbox right next to the book return would think, "Oh look, someone mailed a library book by accident. I'll just put it in the drop box"? If you did, you would be wrong. That book never was returned and probably sits in my city's dead letter office to this day. And yes, I paid to replace it.

But I digress.... how do I keep track of all these library books when I'm not busy mailing them? First, I do have a specific place for most of the library books. This spot has taken different forms over the years, from shelves to baskets, but currently it looks like this:


Fancy, huh? The basket we had been using was never big enough and so they were stacked around it anyway. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge what they system actually is. This is all the picture books and sometimes someone's chapter books will make it down as well. In order to maintain some sanity, we try to keep all of our personal picture books upstairs. (Emphasis on try. I know we've accidentally returned books that belong to us before because the library calls me to come and get them if they have our name in them.) Older children's chapter books tend to live in their rooms, but once again, they each usually have a place where they are normally stashed.

Keeping them somewhat contained helps a lot. (Though the little girls do their very, very best to free the contained books and allow them to experience many other rooms of the house. It's probably because of the extended time the little girls spent in their pen that they feel the need to encourage roaming in others.) But by far the biggest key to avoiding fines is the online record system and email notification. Before the library began emailing patrons when their books were coming up on their due dates, I would mark on my calendar book due dates so I would remember. The email system is so much better. And when you combine that with the fact I can renew online then you have the biggest key to my success.

The last key is to be sure you're returning everything you think you are. We do this by loading library books into bags one at a time. I will pull up my card record and read the titles one by one. The children find that book, put it in the bag, and then we move on. This allows us to be sure we are returning all the books we should and lets us know which books are still wandering about the house. Sometimes we even discover that several books were never actually checked out to us. (We return them, too.) Every so often a book will prove difficult to locate. I will renew that book to give us more time to look and it usually turns up within the next month.

Sometimes they don't, though. Every so often I find a book still appears on my card when I know I've returned it. When that happens, I can usually find it on the library shelves and show the librarian who takes care of it on my card. But once a blue moon, a book which I know we've returned never shows up. I have to say this is when having a good relationship with your librarian is really helpful, because they are more likely to believe you. Plus, I'm also willing to pay for books we just can't find anywhere. It happens.

The last part of the questions was do I let my little people check out book? If they come to the library with me then, yes, they get to check out a couple of books. When they are really little I only let them check out board books. That way I don't have to worry about them. But by three all of my children have been really good with books and we have very little trouble with coloring or tearing. (I wish I could say the same for my walls. It is evident that I care for books more.) That year between the ages of 18 months and 2 1/2 seems to be the worst in regards to books destruction. Too much capability and too little sense.

It's happened a little later with the girls, but all of my children have really graduated from the need for board books by the age of three. Usually, unless it is a particularly favorite story, no one has really wanted to look at them past this age. They want to be like all the other big people and look at and listen to 'real' books.

I just looked at the length of this! I'm not really sure I have said anything except to have just proven that I can write really long posts about nearly anything.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Homeschooling: The early years

Those would be my early years. A commentor asked on my last post what it was like when I first began homeschooling and I thought it was an interesting question. I don't think about them very often, other than recall they were enjoyable. So over the past 24 hours, I've been asking myself how it was different then than it is now. The biggest difference is these:


I kept records. A lot of them. Even though I live in Illinois where we are not required to keep records and no one is authorized to look at them even if we did. (As far as homeschooling regulations go, Illinois has done something right.) But for my first 7 years of homeschooling, everything we did went into each child's binder.

These binders were divided by subject and each included a sheet where I could write down activities and field trips, plus room in the section to insert completed work. I also kept a list of every book we read. It was a lot of work, especially by the time P. started kindergarten, but I don't regret doing it. I also don't regret giving it up.

I think I began keeping meticulous records in order to have proof that M. actually learned and did things, both to the world and myself. I knew if I had to (even if it was a self-imposed 'had to') it was more likely that I would do it. I also enjoyed the practice of translating things into education-ese and it helped me to view a wider category of things as educational. These binders also helped buoy me up when I was feeling low and wondering what the heck I was thinking when I thought I could do this. I would flip through the binders and look at all we had done and learned and remind myself that I was far more competent than I was currently feeling.

It was a lot easier to keep these binders up when I just had a few children to keep track of. (And my heart-felt condolences to those of you who live in states where this is required.) There was a lot less book work to keep track of and a lot fewer children. We did a lot of hands-on activities that would span a week or more and there wasn't that much to write.

This was not the case by the time M. reached 6th grade and P. was starting kindergarten. There was more to write down because a 6th grader just does more and there were more binders to write in. (And the way I had set it up, I was often writing the same thing four times.) It became a chore I increasingly put off doing. I had also gained enough confidence by this point that I didn't need to see everything written down as I had before.

It's kind of like learning to cook. When you first start out, the recipe is everything. You don't know enough about how things work to make changes and have the confidence that the recipe will turn out OK. But eventually, you make enough recipes that you begin to see how things fit together; how it all works. You can begin to change recipes slightly and know it will still be edible. Then after many more hours in the kitchen, you realize that for some things, you just don't need a recipe. You start to experiment and even dare to serve the creation to your family. After much experience, you have gained a mastery that only hours and hours of practice produce.

After hours and hours of homeschooling and seeing four different personalities learn things, I had developed a certain mastery over how the whole thing worked and didn't really need as much outside validation. This is not to say I know everything, and a child will still throw me for a loop every now and then, but for the most part I have figured out how things work best for us.

This is not something someone can do for someone else. They can offer advice and suggestions; tell you how they do things, but nothing can make up for the hours in the trenches. You may start out with a boxed curriculum, but eventually realize you don't need it any longer. I has helped you gain the confidence you need to go it on your own. Or, you may decide that that boxed curriculum works really well for your family, but you also know why that is and what changes you need to make to accommodate your needs.

If I could go back and tell my younger self a few things, the first would be to assure myself that my children would turn out OK. But the next thing would be to be patient with myself. It takes a while to find your footing... to really figure out what works and doesn't. It's OK to make mistakes and back track and regroup. It doesn't mean that you are going to ruin your children, but not giving yourself the grace to change when necessary may make everyone pretty miserable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Homeschooling : Doing it right

I've been doing this homeschooling-thing for a while now, so I don't often thing about how intimidating it can seem to someone just starting out. And if I'm honest, since I tend to suffer from an over-abundance of self-confidence, the early years didn't really phase me, either. I figured I could probably handle kindergarten and went on from there. (The beginning of high school threw me for a bit of a loop, but I recovered.) But I do know that the leap into homeschooling can seem really scary at first.

I think it's because there is a preconceived idea that there is a "right" way to homeschool; that to not follow the rules means that you will somehow injure or ruin your children. It's as if there is some sort of magic formula out there that only the "experts" have the inside scoop on and without their wisdom or product, you're doomed. Doomed to have children who will go through life as obviously having been homeschooled, so great are their deficits, and all because you didn't follow their rules.

The curriculum companies (or anyone touting their particular method of homeschooling) would love for you to believe this. But, really, there are no hard and fast rules about how children learn. (Plenty of rules about how to record and track educational efforts in some states, though. But real learning and educational bureaucracy are two very different things.) Each child is so different that what works really well for one, doesn't work at all for another. Sure there are some basic, overarching rules of thumb that apply to most children, but there are always exceptions. And each family is also different. Schedules? No schedules? Lots of workbooks? All hands-on experiential learning? I've watched children from a great many family learning styles grow into intelligent, functional adults.

One thing that doesn't work (or at least make for a calm and enjoyable household) is when the parents are so worried about 'doing it right' that they cease to enjoy their children. The idol of 'right' does make for a really frustrated parent, though. A much better way of looking at homeschooling is one of doing your best with whatever you have. And what you have may change from day to day, if not from hour to hour. Life is unpredictable and children even more so. You need to be willing to be flexible, with enough confidence, to know that you will not have ruined you children if you didn't follow the scope and sequence exactly... or you didn't get to every period in history... or you didn't ever diagram a sentence... or you were a bit lax in the experiment department. You will not be able to cover everything (schools don't even do that) and to try is to make yourself crazy.

Learning happens all the time (just try to stop it), and some of the best learning doesn't come from a book. I'm sure my children learned far more when we closed the books and took a month or so off the fall when my mother-in-law died. We comforted each other, we remembered, we cried, and we didn't do much else. My children learned that it's OK to grieve, that people and relationships are important, and that the books will always be there when we're ready to go back to them.

So, new homeschooler, I know you are anxious about this new venture. If you have never really lived in this world it seems very intimidating, but it will be OK. And I will admit there really are some things you need to do in order to be successful. First, you need to know why you are doing this. This will help you clarify a lot of decisions. (And save you a lot of money.) Second, homeschooling is a lifestyle. It pervades your entire family-life and is not just for a certain number of hours a day. The child who reads science books for fun under his covers is still learning. It counts even if it is not during your assigned school day and you didn't assign it. Third, be willing to try a new approach. Not every curriculum, method, or book, will work for every child or every family. It's OK to stop doing something if it is not the right fit. It's OK to try something new. Do what works for your child and your family even if no one else is doing it. And last, remember it's usually not about the homeschooling. If there are difficulties in your family, the chances are you would have those difficulties whether you homeschooled or not. Homeschooling does act as a sort of incubator, though. When you spend so much time together it is easier to see where the family stresses are.

There is plenty of homeschooling advice out there from all sorts of different sources (including yours truly). Take what is useful and ignore the rest. Do ask for advice from more experienced parents if you have questions, but be willing to take the answers with a grain of salt. No one person or entity has the market on how to do homeschooling. Ask yourselves: Do enjoy your children. Are you all relaxed? Enjoying each other's company? Learning things and finding them interesting? Involved in activities you enjoy and do not overwhelm you? I think if you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, you're well on your way to doing it right.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Potlucks 101

M. and her friends are planning a big murder mystery party bash for Saturday night. (You may remember some previous ones that she and her friends have put on.) This one promises to be bigger and better and I can't wait to see all the costumes based on the advance discussions from many of the participants. To make it a bit easier on themselves, they've decided to make it a potluck. It suddenly occurred to me this morning to go over how they divided up what was being brought that the directions which they gave. You see, this is not a small party, and half the guests are young men between the ages of 16 and 21. If you've ever spent any time with this particular demographic, you know these young men are in their prime eating years. They consume a lot of food. I suddenly had visions of everyone bring a bag of chips or a small green salad and me scrounging my freezer for more food the feed the hungry hoards.

Some of you, especially if you live in areas where potlucks are common and occur often, are probably wondering at my little phobia of running out of food. I perhaps never told you about various potluck disasters which I have been witness to over the years. One of the most dire saw the guests bringing offerings in cereal bowl sized containers, if they brought anything at all. That potluck really did find my in my basement scrounging for food I could rapidly thaw and serve because there truly wasn't anything else. Everyone ended up fed, but I'm pretty sure my guests were not privy to the frantic behind-the-scenes drama. It's left me a little gun shy.

I've come to the conclusion that, at least where we live, people just don't get how to come to a potluck. (To my good friends who participate in our weekly potlucks or our history feasts, you can excuse yourselves from class now. I know you've got the basics and then some.) So, here are a couple of good rules of thumb. 

  1. You have got to make more of something than you normally prepare. If I'm bringing a side dish, I will double what I would normally make for our family. While you don't need to prepare enough food to feed every single person, it is great to bring enough so that everyone can put at least a little on their plate. It's awkward for the first people through and disappointing for the last ones if a dish is obviously only going to feed five or six people. 
  2. Choose a dish that will appeal to a large variety of people. You don't need to go completely bland, but I would probably also pass on the super hot chicken wings.
  3. These days, you need to be aware of food allergies. Go ahead and label anything that might contain the basic food allergens:  dairy, wheat, soy, nuts. This way people with allergies can enjoy the food knowing what is it in without having to track down the person who made it.
Really, though, the most important rule is the first... just bring enough. I know if you regularly cook for two people that that 8x8 pan looks pretty big, but if you consider that I make two 9x13 pans of something and never expect leftovers it helps to put things in perspective. 

I think potlucks are a great way for families to enjoy dinner together without the burden being placed on only one family's shoulders. If you've never tried this form of hospitality, give it a shot. Invite some families over who you don't get to see very often or whom you would like to know better. Everyone likes to be invited and no one really minds fixing one part of the meal. Low stress and fun, what's there no to like? (Unless of course, you find yourself in the basement staring into your freezer in complete panic mode.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Some days

I know some of you who read this blog are adoptive parents and there are others who are considering it. Since I'm firmly of the belief it's always better to tell the truth, here's a little truth for you.

Some days are hard.

Some days you think that there is never going to be any progress. Or if you had been seeing progress it can feel as though it disappears in the blink of an eye. Some days you feel as though the hurt is too deep and there is nothing you can do.

Some days you do worry for your other children and wonder what you have done. All the what ifs... that you thought you had put away begin to resurface.

Some days all you can do is cling to God. You may not feel as though He is close by. In fact at the moment when life goes haywire (again) you'd be happy to feel as though God is in the same state much less the same house.

Some days you have to remind yourself you've been here before. That you can't trust your feelings because you've learned that God was with you all along... even if you didn't feel like it. You have to think back a long time ago and remind yourself that you are making progress. Very slowly.

Some days you just have to throw yourself at God's feet and say, "OK, do something with this. It's messy and yucky and I can't possibly think how You can make anything good come out of it."

Some days you have to stop carrying the load yourself and let God carry it for you. And some days you just have to praise Him because He can carry the load. He can make beauty from ashes. He can heal the hurt.

He can. And you don't have to.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some cute little girls

J. is home; I had a good night's sleep; all is well. While we enjoy family time together, you can enjoy this video of the little girls that M. took while they were visiting her in her room. (The frog G. is talking about is an African clawed frog, a species of aquatic frog that is pretty much just an eating machine. It's just what it does. Eat. Anything.) The girls are acting pretty true to form in this. G. is the talking one and L. is the spinning one.  Enjoy. Oh, and M. has taken to calling them velociraptors because they remind her of those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park... they just leave less death in their wake. Perhaps not less chaos, though.

Friday, July 20, 2012

T minus 5 hours and counting

That would be counting down to the J.'s estimated arrival time home. He has been gone since last Saturday morning because his doctoral program requires a week of classes on-site. For the most part, the week has gone pretty well. The house is still standing, every one has had meals on time without resorting to breakfast cereal (though there were those banana splits...), and we spent some time today doing some organizing. But I'm pooped. I think it's mainly because I haven't been sleeping well and if you know me I really need my sleep to function. Each night it has been something... upset child, older child coming in, just plain restlessness... that has interrupted my sleep. So I have become increasingly foggy as the week has progressed and perhaps not as chipper and patient as usual. I know many of you deal with being the sole parent on an ongoing and longer basis, so I do feel a bit of a wimp for whining about it.

I'm sure it doesn't help that some members of the household don't react to changes in schedules well, especially when it involves a parent and those members have been a little trickier than usual. Today has been a particular challenge because excitement often registers as the same emotion as anxiety and just adds to the general craziness.

Dinner time should be a lot of fun. Not. I may have some very tired little girls as well. In the midst of the crazy, G. and L. were taught how to lock their bedroom door, which they can reach from their beds. Normally this wouldn't be a problem if it was a regular internal door knob. But we live in the Big Ugly House, remember, and it used to be a rooming house so all of the bedrooms were outfitted with exterior knobs and locks. Most of the doors have gaping holes in them from where we removed the dead bolts. G. and L.'s door was one of the few intact because it just had a key lock and we left it unlocked. Until today. When the door is locked we can still get in by going through the bathroom, but I was concerned that if there was a fire in the middle of the night and they had locked the door that it would be that much harder and more time consuming to get them out. So I asked B. to remove the doorknob entirely. (I'm not so concerned about the door not latching; very few of our doors actually latch.) This was just unusual enough to cause the little girls to NOT FALL ASLEEP at nap time. Instead, they (well, G.) opened and closed and opened and closed and opened and closed the door. She also helpfully woke L. up the one time L. did fall asleep. It's been quiet upstairs for a while, so I'm hoping sleep has finally happened. Just in time to get them up, of course.

These's my sob story for today. I'm going to jump in the shower, make some tea, and roast some garlic. In that order. Some of my older children are at the beach so that should help burn off any extra energy. Five more hours to go. Actually it might even be 4 hours and 45 minutes by now. Not that I'm counting.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cleaning with children

I have just spent a good chunk of time sitting in the boys' room while they cleaned it up. You'll notice that I was sitting and they were the ones cleaning. This is how I have trained all of my children to pick-up their rooms and it works. Well, it works in that eventually they are actually capable of cleaning up a room, not that they always keep their rooms clean.

If I have not trained a child to clean a room, it is too overwhelming for them if I just send them upstairs with the instructions to clean it up. (There are always some children who come by it naturally, but it really is a learned skill.) This is especially true is the room has exploded. A child will look at the mess and not have the slightest idea of where to start. Consequently, it seems to be a task that will never end, so what's the point of even beginning? So I have learned that I need to help. This help does not involve me picking up at all. I settle myself into a chair, preferably with a cup of coffee, and I direct.

My direction provides the thinking about the problem that they are not capable of yet. I also think out loud in that I share my thought process with them. So, we look at the room together and I suggest that starting by picking up all the Legos would be a good start. My children are usually able to do more and more picking up without direction as the room gets cleaner. And then they tell me that they're done. For the first 'inspection' I usually don't even have to arise from my chair to point out the piles along walls, in corners, and under beds for them to tackle. After the room is sufficiently picked-up we move on to actual cleaning with dust rags and vacuums. When it's all done I help them admire their work by pointing out how well things are picked up and clean.

This is not a one-shot solution to children's cleaning. I figure I probably spend one to two years on this process. It takes a while to develop the skill to see what needs to be picked up and know how to do it. I have watched with each of my children as they focus on the one or two things that might not have a home or they don't know what to do with. I can direct them to put down the hard item and instead focus on the easy ones to begin with. Children also don't see disorder. This doesn't mean they don't appreciate it when things are nice and neat, but that they don't look around a room and say, "Boy, this is messy!" either. They just know when a room doesn't make them happy.

This same philosophy is one I use for other rooms of the house as well. Both J. and I have watched children clean bathrooms, kitchen, or any other room they are responsible for. Watching me clean something only goes so far, they need the experience of actually doing it themselves, but in a way that allows them to succeed.
___________________________
I have a new article up at Heart of the Matter Online about Oh, the Places You'll Go! Take a look.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Conflicted

I sometimes feel that advocating for adoption and also advocating for a realistic picture of what adoption looks like are at odds with one another. I know first hand both the joys and the difficulties adoption can bring to a family. The trick is to communicate the joy while being realistic about the difficulties. It is a fine line to walk, it seems.

I want people to adopt children. Really, I do. But I also worry about some families and wonder if they really know what they are getting into. I'm sure it stems from one too many, "I didn't know it was going to be this way" conversations. The majority of people have the best of intentions when they adopt. They know there is a need and they want to help. It is a good thing to want to provide a home and a family for a child who does not have one. I don't doubt their motives. 

It is so easy to look at the smiling face of a child, a child who needs a family, and to imagine onto that picture a personality. A personality which is charming and loving. A personality which is added into the family structure with little disruption. Maybe even a personality which is a bit sad at the changes which have occurred. It is a little more difficult to imagine that smiling child in the picture screaming and kicking. Or whining at every turn. It is more difficult still to imagine that child recoiling at your every overture or trying to injure you. And until you have witnessed a full-blown rage stemming from unimaginable fear, you cannot imagine what it would look like, much less that smiling child in the picture behaving like that.

Yet this is the type of behavior that many parents of newly (and not-so-newly) adopted children witness. There is a reason why some agencies have the rules they do... one child at a time... home a certain length of time before bringing another home... no disrupting birth order... no virtual twinning... no adopting past the age you've already parented. It's because these are the types of things that can add to the stress of adopting a child. The rules are in place because responsible agencies want families to be successful. They want the family to remain intact, disruptions are not good for anyone.

I know the reasons for the rules, yet sometimes it is best for everyone if the rules are bent a bit. We've certainly bent the rules a couple of times. I do have three nine year olds after all. What is good for one family is not necessarily good for another. The converse is true as well. What is bad for one family is not necessarily bad for another. And here's where I really struggle. How does anyone know which it is going to be?

I vacillate. What if a family is really called to adopt an older child when they only have young children? Or what if a family is really called to adopt older children when they've never adopted before? Or what if a family is really called to adopt out of disruption the first time out? I know God can do anything. But I also know that there are a lot of broken people out there who did feel called to adopt and for one reason or another (they weren't prepared for what it would be like; they knew but couldn't believe that would be their experience; there might have had a chance but there was no support) the adoption disrupted. I know that God can redeem bad situations, but no child needs yet another loss in his or her life.

I want families to adopt. I want children to find homes. I want parents to go into this whole messy business with their eyes wide open... or at least as open as they can be. I want people to be honest about their adoption experiences. I don't want adopting out of disruption to have to be the next "big" country.

Because adoption is messy and hard, but it is also wonderful and miraculous. And those miracles aren't only about children finding homes and parents finding children. Those miracles are about people allowing God to take over every aspect of their lives and turning it upside down. Being turned upside down can be unexpected and scary and confusing, but in the end, at least I found, that what I thought was upside down was really right side up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some days you just have to be the fun mom

If any of you are like me, being the fun mom needs to be scheduled in. I can get so caught up in keeping the house relatively tidy and making sure school work gets done and starting laundry and all the myriad other things that can consume my day, that I forget to just sit back, relax, and enjoy my children. I also forget that I want my children to have memories of me other than telling them what to do or telling them they'll have to wait. It is easy to fall into the trap of so wanting to do the best for our children that we forget the reason we wanted to do our best in the first place.

That is why tonight I planned a surprise dinner. Now this completely unnerved some of my children. The ones who just want to know everything that is going on were a little focused on figuring out my plan. Others who just need to know what is going to happen had some brief moments of spinning toward out-of-control-ness. (As a side note, I am aware that for everyone's mental health being able to know what is going to happen in advance, even if it just a little bit in advance, is best and I work with that. But I also think it is good to have safe opportunities to practice being surprised and I decided this was one of those times.) I thought having it be a surprise would make it a little bit more fun.

And what was the surprise? Instead of a regular dinner, we had banana splits. Yes, I served my children ice cream for dinner. (It was 100 degrees here today, I thought it was brilliant timing.) I didn't really come up with this on my own. I was inspired by the mother who recently lost her young son due due to a heart defect. She suggested to anyone who wanted to do something that they create a memory with their own children by serving banana splits for dinner. The point being that none of us know how much time we have allotted to us on earth and we should make the most of them.

I am also always challenged by a line in the book, Will Mrs. Major go to Hell? by Eloise Buckley Heath. It is in the introduction, which was the eulogy that was written by her brother, William F. Buckley. In it he describes his sisters, her love of life and her love of her children, and her untimely death. When one of her young daughters was told of her mother's death, the daughter's response was, "Nothing will ever be fun again."

I want my children to enjoy life and I know I have a big part of the responsibility while they are young. We parents are in the business of making memories, after all, we just need to be careful what memories we are making.

So, go be the fun mom. Enjoy your children and your time with them. Make memories together... the good kind.

Monday, July 16, 2012

One of those days... or practicing grace

This has been a particularly Monday-ish Monday. You know it's not going to be the best day in the world when you are awakened long before your alarm by a screeching 6 year old. He was screeching because he wakes at the crack of dawn and feels the need to wake up brothers and sisters. Not surprisingly, he didn't get the reception he hoped for and needed to screech out his frustration. The day didn't improve. We had drama. We had irritation. We had annoyance. And it wasn't all from me. It was also one of those days when every room I walked into looked as though a tornado had arrived before me. It was not the calm, serene, peaceful home I aspire to. I was also not the calm, serene, peaceful mother I aspire to be, either.

Now, I don't know about you, but sometimes when I get into one of those moods (the irritated at the world and my children in particular mood), I have very little motivation to get out of it. There is a part of my brain which blames my children for my bad mood and everything else that has gone wrong and I don't want to change my mood because that might make my children happy. And they shouldn't get to be happy because I'm not. It is the ultimate in cutting off one's nose to smite one's face. No one is happy and no one is doing anything to change it.

Really, it's just plain selfishness. I am unwilling to take my share of the blame for the tenor of the home and I am also unwilling to sacrifice my sense of personal justice to make it better. I want someone to pay for my bad mood. Someone who is not me.

But parenting is sacrifice. Sometimes the bigger sacrifices are easier to manage. We sacrifice our time and our money in order to raise our children. We do so knowingly and often happily because we love our children. It is these little daily sacrifices that are sometimes harder and not as obvious.

Let's take my bad morning (and mood) as an example. I know I have the possibility to change my own attitude to redeem a bad start to a day. But, it means that I must sacrifice what I feel I deserve. I have to fight the idea that I somehow deserve not to be the one to make the first move. I deserve a clean house all the time. I deserve always well-behaved children. I deserve... I deserve... I deserve... This idea of entitlement, that there is something intrinsically special about me that deserves an easy life, does not make for a pleasant home. It stops me from sacrificially loving my children.

It stops me from treating my children with the grace with which God treats me. And God does treat me with grace. All the time. I do bicker and whine and complain and make messes. Far more often than I care to admit. I am so thankful that God does not give me what I deserve, but instead offers me His sacrificial grace and love. Grace and love that I did not earn and do not deserve. If this is how God parents me than it is good to remember that it is how I should parent my children.

It is one thing to know this and another thing to act on it. It can be hard to lift ourselves out of the pit of self-pity and annoyance. I wish I always took my own advice, but when I have succeeded in changing my mood and the mood of my household, this is what works. 1) Start with God. I really can't do it on my own, especially if there is a pretty big part of me that is rather enjoying the abyss of self-pity. But God can. Ask Him to begin to change your attitude. 2) Get away for a few moments to regroup. Sometimes it means I lock myself in the bathroom, other times I can run a few errands, either way, it helps to take myself out of the fray if even for a couple of moment. 3) Be thankful. I remind myself that I really do love these children. I remind myself why I love them. And I spend some time thinking about why I chose this parenting path and what the alternative would be. (On the face of it lots of free time and lunch dates sound fun, but multiplied over the course of time come up looking empty.) 4) Do something radically different to set a new tone. Put on some music. Get out a game. Play in water. Tell jokes. Do something silly. Make people laugh. My children were not the only ones responsible for the bad mood, I am just as complicit. They pick-up on my bad mood and it is on some level threatening. They may not be able to voice it as such, but they are reacting to a less-than-ideal environment on an emotional level. I need to make our home feel safe again.

When I have been aware enough of what is going on and I take these steps, I find not only my children are rewarded, but I am as well. I feel happier and more content. Life doesn't look quite as dire as it did a few hours ago. Parenting can be tough. We have to be adult enough to see a situation for what it is and be willing to make the sacrifices to change it. It takes a lot of grace, but thankfully, God's grace never runs out. He has grace in abundance.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Correcting a possible misconception

One of my favorite blogs to read is The Blessing of Verity. In reading her post this morning, I was convicted that I may have unintentionally created a misconception in what I was trying to say in my post about institutionalization. I'm concerned that I may have communicated one of a couple of things... that because it seems that H.'s diagnosis of mental delay is incorrect, life is good and we can move on knowing that we dodged a bullet, or... that we don't accept into our family children who have mental delays and will work, work, work to make them as "normal" as possible.

If this is what came across then I have done a disservice because this was certainly not my intent and I want to speak very carefully in case I have. It really doesn't matter to us whether H.'s mental delay diagnosis is correct or not. She is our daughter and the way God created her. Everyone has value and God loves all His children and in the end, this is what really matters. We sometimes make an idol of high academic achievement and that idol blinds us to what is really important.

What makes me angry is when a child is not allowed to live up to his or her potential, either through outright neglect or because the adults in a child's life have decided they are not worth bothering with and are ignored. This is unacceptable and is essentially saying that it is only the brightest children who are worthy of time, effort, and affection. We confuse the worth of what a child can do with who the child is.

This confusion plays out in different ways. The most obvious is that children who have the words, "mental delay" or "mentally retarded" in their file often wait... and wait and wait and wait for a family. The world sees and rewards outward achievement. It can be very difficult to stop seeing the way the world sees and begin to see the way God sees. It is counter-cultural in a way that makes a person stand out, and not always in a good way. Adopting a child whom the world sees as less can cause odd reactions in others. Because it is such a radical choice, the people who do it are either treated as saints or as someone to be avoided because their presence makes others too uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable because these families are questioning the status quo and what is really important. So many people work so hard and are so busy with the externals, that to be confronted with someone who has chosen a different path and still seems content (or more content) with life is disconcerting. It can be disturbing to realize that what you thought was so important isn't really important after all.

While we have experienced some of the saint or pariah phenomena ourselves, I don't consider us as having made terribly radical choices. (NOT compliment fishing here. We are certainly not saints and still feel quite normal.) Maybe it's because I continue to live in my happy bubble where I assume everyone is like me, or it's because the women I admire and want to be like when I grow up have chosen even more radical paths and my path seems pretty tame in comparison. It's all about who you hang with, huh?

Dare to see people through God's eyes. Dare to ask what is really important. Dare to make radical choices. Dare to be different. Dare to not blindly follow the herd. Dare to make a real difference in another person's life.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Children's craft storage and organization

I want to show you the results of my newest organizing project, but before I show you the pictures, I'll have to write a whole bunch of words. Because I am long-winded and can't just show you pictures.

The problem about craft supplies has been brewing for a while and I hadn't quite figured out what to do about it. Now, I find when I need to organize something that there is often more going on than just having to find a container for stuff. There is usually a deeper problem that led to the disorganization in the first place. If this isn't identified and tackled, all the pretty containers in the world are not going to help.

So first the problems. 1) While I had a designated place for supplies and those supplies were nicely organized, they had become inaccessible to many children because the craft porch is a tandem room through the new room that A., P., and H. are in. I'm sure I don't need to outline all the reasons why a bunch of brothers trooping through a sisters' room is a problem. 2) When they did have access to the craft porch, there was too much there and it routinely descended into chaos. 3) I have a son who really NEEDS to create and make stuff and the limited access was causing him to need to hoard craft supplies. This is not good for his health or our relationship. 4) I was realizing that I was in a sense hoarding craft supplies as well because I was slow to let my children use them... they might get used up, you know. It was yet another example of my not appreciating the abundance in my life. 5) The craft supplies really need to be where I can keep an eye on them.

Since the kitchen is where everyone spends nearly every waking minute of the day, all activity happens here. It made sense to try to figure out a way to keep craft supplies in the kitchen. But, there was no storage and it already felt chaotic and overrun with toys and stuff. Clearly some reorganizing of the kitchen was in order, but I was stumped how to make it accessible, neat, and attractive. Even turning to Pinterest was no help since all suggestions seemed to involve huge rooms and expensive shelving units. I knew I didn't want or need this option because we had already tried a variation of it with the school room/craft porch combination and very little creating happened there, but huge messes did. What to do?

Evidently moaning about my problem to whomever would listen was clearly the right choice. Early this week when I was at the H-S house for H.'s Mandarin tutoring, H-S Mom and I were chatting and I was moaning. Putting her architecture brain into gear she announces she has a solution for me... and she did! And even better it involved a trip to IKEA.

Without further ado, I'll show you the solution. The first step was to find a place to put the printer. Before it has been perched on a TV table which collected junk around it. It drove me crazy. I remembered that we had an unused hutch that went to live in the basement when we remodeled the kitchen and thought it would work as a printer table. It does! Step one down. 

Then I realized that part of the problem was I had too many craft supplies. Too many! Contrary to popular opinion, too much stuff does not contribute to creativity or well-being and is just overwhelming. I realized that I didn't need huge things to hold it all. Instead, all I needed was this really cute metal set of drawers. The drawers are just the right size to hold various paper and stencils. Flat things. And it comes on wheels so that the children can role it closer to the work area if they need to. 

Here is the combination hutch/metal drawer unit.



The hutch move was great because it also gave me room for storage boxes. Unfortunately, the regular plastic bins were too big, but I found these great cardboard boxes that fit perfectly. I worried they would be too small to hold anything useful, but they are actually the perfect size. No one, not even a family with 10 children needs more supplies than these little boxes can hold. And the blue matches the kitchen. Doesn't it look nice? I like to open it up and just sigh happily.


Along with my friend's genius suggestion of the metal drawers, she suggested the magnetic containers which affix to the cabinet. They are just the right size to hold little craft stuff and you can see what each holds.


Here is that end of the kitchen all reorganized. This looks so much better to me and actually opens up the room a bit. We did decide to pull out ALL the toys from the room. Children are welcome to play in it, but they must transport the toys into and OUT of the kitchen. I'm no longer storing toys here. The library books are still here, but I have them stacked in another corner. Oh, and the black basket on top of the metal drawer cabinet holds an interesting assortment of recycling that has good craft potential.


There you have it... craft supplies for 10 children in a way I can live with it. The last thing we need to do is tackle that huge blank wall that's been bothering me for four years. What I want to do, I can't really afford, and short of that I wasn't crazy about doing something permanent that I wouldn't be happy with. So it sits there. I finally have a solution for this as well. I purchased three sets of hanging wires... the kind that you can hook clips to... and we are going to string these across the wall. This way I can use clips to hang a rotating selection of artwork and not have to commit to something permanently. It will also provide a place to display children's artwork for a time. Those will go up this afternoon.
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I have an article up about Life Skills: Tips for Teens Heading Downtown Alone. This is my paying gig, so every click counts. And shhh.... I don't even really care if you read it. Just click on it, OK?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Large families and the state of IL

Yes, I know this topic is becoming tiresome to some of you. Frankly, it's becoming tiresome to me as well. And yes, this is not what I should be doing right now, but it is better for my family to have me process all of this by writing it out than by ranting at them.

It all started with a phone call this morning. A friend had alerted me that a mother of four children, who desperately wants to keep her children, finds herself in a place where she needs some time to get herself to a place emotionally and financially in order to be a good parent. She needs respite care for her children while she does this so she contacted Safe Families.  Do you know of Safe Families? You should. It is an organization started here in IL which provides short-term care for children. It may be care because a parent has been admitted to a hospital and has no one to help out, or it could be like the mother I just mentioned who needs some time to get her life back together but wants to keep her children. It is a way for children to avoid foster care and to help keep families together.

But Safe Families must abide by the laws of each state and here in IL, foster care, in any form, cannot be provided by families with 6 or more children. I am well aware of the reasons for this rule, but I am also aware that a rule without any way to make exceptions can be ultimately harmful. And here in good, ole' IL, there are no exceptions... and IL certainly thinks it knows best. This means that the licensed social workers in IL are not taken seriously and their every opinion is second-guessed by people who have never actually met the families in question. It means that Safe Families cannot interview and visit a large family and decide if that family would be able to provide short-term respite care. It means that these four children, on top of having to be moved to another home are now going to be split up during the care period and will not have each other for support.

Because let me tell you an uncomfortable truth. I find it is usually the large families who are willing to take on larger numbers of children. The woman I spoke with at Safe Families has NO ONE (and these would all be smaller families because of the foster care regulations) who is willing to take all four children together for three months.  Yet I have contact with more than a couple large families who would take all of them in an instant (though some of us might be scrambling for beds.) Why is this?

I'm really asking. Is it because the idea of more than doubling the child population is too overwhelming? Is it transportation? Is it just a matter of practice? My guess is that it's a combination of all of these things. The reason why those of us with more children find it manageable is that we've already had practice caring for multiple children, we have large vehicles, we are set up for a lot of children. Going from 10 to 14 doesn't seem quite as overwhelming as going from 2 to 6 and tripling the child population in the home.

Since all the blog posts in the world are not going to change IL's policies, I will put out a plea. This is particularly directed to those of my friends and readers who live here in IL. Could you be a Safe Family? Could you get past the impossible and see what God can do with your willingness? You may not be able to help this mother and her children, but if you started now you could be ready for the next one. And I know there will always be a next one. We live in a fallen world where things don't work as they should.

Please, put your life on the line and make a difference. What is the worst that could happen? You could be inconvenienced for a period of time. What is the best? You could see the power of God and you could make a real difference in the life of a child and his or her family.

Contact them. Please. I can't help and so desperately want to, but you could. You will need to fill out an application, go through some training, be fingerprinted (join the club... I've been fingerprinted at least 6 times), and have a homestudy written. Don't let the homestudy scare you. It just means a social worker comes to your home and makes sure it is safe and interviews you. Your home doesn't have to be spotless. Really... I know. But do it now. You may say that if God wants you to do this, he will send the people you need to help, but the reality is God often works through others and those others cannot send you anyone to help if you are not prepared.

So, Body of Christ... rise up! Wouldn't it be wonderful if every reader of this blog could say, yes, my church supports Safe Families and we have many members who stand ready to help. And what does it say about the reality of our collective faith if we can't even do that much?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A funny pair

H. and K. are currently best buddies. I think one of the reasons is that they are both at about the same developmental level and can do about the same things. Plus, K. is really good about helping H. to understand what is going on and doesn't mind if she doesn't catch on to the rules for a game right away. (Probably because K. views rules as fairly flexible himself.) They just enjoy each other's company. 

Academically, they are at just about the same point as well, though I think that will be short-lived because I anticipate H. jumping ahead by leaps and bounds as she gains mastery of English. It's a good thing that we tend to have pairs of things already thanks to G. and L. Sometimes it is a little crazy making... such as when both Phonics Fireflies are going.

Aren't these pictures cute? And, I should add, completely unposed. This is how M. noticed them a little bit ago.





On another note, we've been taking advantage of the local movie theater's $1 movies this summer. They are not great movies, but it is a fun and affordable activity. At least it's usually fun. I never have high expectations for most of the movies they show, but today's was possibly the longest movie I've ever sat through. I wanted to cheer when K. needed to be taken to the bathroom. The rotten tomato was Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2. Truly, I have rarely seen a more depressing movie about modern family life. When I came back into the theater with K., I had to chuckle to myself because all of my children were watching the movie with an open-mouthed deer-in-the-headlights kind of expression on their faces. Sorry it this is one of your favorite movies, but family life can be so much more rewarding and adults can be so much more competent than was depicted in this movie. I felt as though I was watching a family from another planet. I could go on, but I'm sure you can imagine what else I could say at this point and save myself the typing. Let's just say that I don't recommend it.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Impossible?

We had a guest preacher at church on Sunday and his sermon was on the feeding of the 5000 and the idea of the impossible. It has made me think about the idea of impossibility and of the fact that nothing is impossible for God. I'm afraid that many may have interpreted the meaning of the sermon incorrectly because I think much of the time, those of us living comfortable, middle-class lives have very little concept of what impossible really is.

Our culture does not accept the idea of the impossible. I don't mean in the modern, miracles aren't possible, rational thinking way (though that is a part of it), but because of our high need of control. We only do things that are possible, that we can have control over, that make sense, and are fiscally sensible. We are all too busy controlling our lives to allow any possibility of impossibility into them. I would venture to say, when asked what seems impossible in someone's life, the answer has more to do with paying bills than it does with doing outlandish things for God's kingdom.

I fear we have lost our collective imaginations of what could be possible and settle instead for the mundane, and dare I say it, boring. We focus on what is practical instead of dreaming of what is impossible. And by doing this we completely shut God out of the equation. God doesn't need to do miracles in our lives because there is no need for them.

This need for the miraculous, to see that God is still at work in the world, that He is still in the miracle business, is ever present in our lives whether we know it or not. We sit up and listen carefully when someone shares an experience that could be called miraculous. We admire those people who do follow God's call and do crazy things. We want there to be more than just the life we are experiencing. We toy with idea of breaking out of our comfortable existence, but it's scary. So we tell ourselves that surely the miracle we just heard about was a bit exaggerated. That the family who sold everything and went on the mission field was always a bit loony and it was a completely irresponsible thing to do. That life just doesn't work that way and we slowly bring our foot back from the edge of the boat and sit back down where it's safe.

It's also not the place to find out if God really can take care of impossible. It's hard to find out if Jesus can help you walk on water if you're still sitting in the boat.

I'm pretty sure that everyone, if they have been listening to God at all, has some crazy dream in the back of their head that they consider either too scary, or impractical, or ridiculous to even consider. I know there are ideas in the back of my head that I try not to dwell on too hard. But I will also say, as someone who has plunged into a crazy idea three times now, it gets easier each time. The water can be a bit shocking and the drowning feeling isn't fun, but it's all worth it because you realize that God really is still in the miracle business, things that feel impossible turn out not to be, and the motivation to keep your eyes upon Jesus is pretty strong.

Dare to imagine what would happen if the impossible were possible.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Institutionalization, large families, and expectations

I'm a bit hesitant to write this because I don't want to appear ungrateful for the care my daughter received before she came home. But because I think it has broader implications, I'm going to anyway and make it a bit more generic.

I have been reminded constantly of several things over the past four months. 1) There is nothing that can replace a loving family in a child's life 2) The presence of long-term committed parents in a child's life trumps the number of children in the environment and 3) A child is able to intuit the expectations of the adults around them and will live either up or down to the those expectations.

I do not doubt that many of the adults who care for children in institutions love the children they are caring for. Let's get that out of the way first. Short-term care workers are needed and provide love and care which a child desperately needs, but the children these workers love are not their children. To know you will be caring for a child for the rest of his or her life is to care for a child in a very different way than if you know you will be caring for a child short-term. A person can provide love and care to a child, yet without the long view, the care and expectations will be very different. There is an immediacy to what is expected versus taking a longer view and a set of very different expectations.

It is easier to dress a child who may struggle a bit with this task yourself rather than taking the time to wait for the child to do it themselves. It is easier to hand the child a toothbrush, see the toothbrush enter the mouth, and consider the teeth brushed. It is easier to not insist a child learn a new task if that task is not picked up quickly. If the child seems generally happy and is not making trouble, it is easy to assume all is well and not notice if the child has never jumped or run or hopped on one foot or has difficulty climbing up on things. The path of least resistance is always easier, especially if the care giver has many children to care for.

That's always the excuse, isn't it? The caregiver is overwhelmed and has too many charges to really give the love and attention each child needs. It makes sense, and is often true, and is consequently used as an excuse why large families should not add more children. Someone will always get lost in the cracks. To make a large family work, some people assume, the path of least resistance must always be taken. It would not really be an improvement in the child's situation to move from institutional care to just a different version of it. Those are the assumptions of many people as well as many states' governments. And those assumptions are wrong.

What is missing in institutional care is parents. Parents are what a child needs and it really doesn't matter how many other children those parents have. I know some of you with smaller families struggle to wrap your heads around this, but parents of larger numbers of children know each of their children as individuals, know their strengths and weaknesses, miss them when they're gone, know when each of them is happy or sad, know how to encourage them, and know when to push each of them a bit... and when not to. We are not parenting a large litter of indistinguishable children, but a large group of individuals. We know our children just as well as parents of smaller families know their children and we love each of them as fiercely. Our love is not diluted between our children because love is not in limited supply; the more children you have the more love you have to give.

And because we love each of our children fiercely, we will be sure that each of them gets what he or she needs. If that means a mother sits and waits for 10 minutes for her daughter to buckle her seat belt, she will. If a father has to review a son's colors over and over and over until he finally learns them, he will. Parents will take the harder road over the easier one because it is best for their children, regardless of whether it is slower or more difficult or less efficient. Some days it is very hard to do this, but parents are willing to make the sacrifice because they love their children that much. And if we have more than the usual number of children, we make this work by sacrificing other things... outside activities, a perfectly neat house, extended leisure time... we do not make it work by sacrificing our children's well being.

Because parents love their children sacrificially, we have a greater sense of who each child is as an individual and what they can do. Parents have high expectations for their children because they love them and want what's best for them. If carried out in a positive way, these high expectations help the child succeed. The converse is true as well. A child knows if an adult thinks she cannot do something, and that low expectation becomes a part of who the child is. Other adults also will pick up on  each other's perception of a child's abilities. Suddenly, there is a child who cannot do anything or learn anything because adults have made that assumption and the child complies. Whether that initial diagnosis had any basis in reality to begin with, it becomes self-fulfilling. It is a dangerous thing to assume a child cannot do something.

When H. came to us there was a lot about her that we were told; she had picked up multiple diagnoses for various things along the way and pretty much the only thing that has proved accurate is that she has facial tumors and seizures. Among the list of things 'wrong' was the statement that she was unintelligent and would never be able to function on her own. She has a lot of catching-up to do (no doubt because of these low expectations), but she's doing just fine, thank you very much. I alternate between being thankful we have her home now and being incredibly angry at what she missed out on because of it. Because really, it is very hard to take it seriously when I just heard the child play Old MacDonald had a Farm on the piano. By herself. Yes, she was using simplified note reading, but she did it. And she is learning piano in a language she has been speaking for less than four months.

Unintelligent?

Bah.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Creating with cereal boxes

When my parents arrived in town at the beginning of the week they brought with them boxes and boxes of cereal. This is a huge treat for my children since they love it and I rarely buy it. (Just for the record, they brought ~15 boxes and there is only part of one left less than a week later. It takes a lot of cereal to feed between 14 and 15 [my family, my parents, and a house guest] people every morning. That's without seconds and why I don't buy it.) But the boxes are filled with potential for craftiness when they are empty of cereal. This is what we have done for the past two days. 

First, we took the boxes and turned them wrong side out so that we had a (mostly) blank, non-glossy surface to work with, and hot glued them back together.




For this project, we were making houses. Some people used paint brushes...


and others used bits of sponge.



It looks like a lot of paint, but I'm realizing that it consists of mostly empty bottles and we are missing some key colors. I think it may be time to restock.


Since today promises to be just as hot as yesterday and to ward off any empty feelings from having to say good-bye to grandparents, we got the paints out again. Well, I did at least. I wanted to make a house, too. (And it never fails that if I start doing something, I will soon be joined by most of the children in very little time. Today was no different.)

I also discovered that it is much easier to paint on the box while it is still flat and hot glue it together afterwards. Here's my house.


And the back.


They're fun because you can see all the sides.


We are growing quite a nice little town. P.'s on the left is a restaurant and I'm showing you the back where P. painted a dumpster filled with garbage, complete with a person coming out of the door with another bag. TM's brick house is in the middle.


More painting was done today. Here is TM's new house. You can see that when you paint flat you have to be sure that both sides will be right side up when the house is put together. (I have found that painting allows TM to relax in a way that it is difficult for him to do otherwise. He relaxes to such a degree that I could probably claim it as a form of therapy for him.)


H. got in on the act as well. She loves to color (mainly because she LOVES color... just the whole idea of it and all the different shades) and so painting was right up her alley. This is today's. You can see her yellow house with a red door on the right side.


Here is yesterday's. I think she could have budding, abstract art abilities.  I love her use of color.


I'm coming up with all sorts of projects for empty chip board boxes. You could paint rooms of a house and have a sort of movable dollhouse; you could paint zoo scenes; different types of environments (this would be especially fun if you were studying different ecosystems). I think you get the idea. I also love it because it is a non-permanent toy. We have some really nice, sturdy toys that will last forever and forever... blocks, dolls, Playmobile, Lego, cars. But there are also so many other toys that children love for a while and then they sit on a shelf never to be played with again. But they don't wear out, so it's difficult for some to justify getting rid of them. With this type of toy, about the time it has exceeded its play value, it is also likely to be on its last legs and can be disposed of without guilt. This type of toy is also fun for children to make, but it is also fun for a parent to make a child as a gift. Not bad for a box that was heading to the recycling anyway, huh?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Creativity involving my sewing machine

Incredibly, I still know where my machine is and also how to make it work. Life has seemed so busy around here that relaxing and sewing hasn't really happened much. (And it's not that I lack for projects!) One of the ways I made myself crazy last month was to want to make a pair of matching tops for G. and L. for their birthday. The trouble was, we were celebrating their birthday immediately after returning from our camping trip which meant I had to have everything done before we left. I got them done. Barely.

Here are the completed tops:


These are made from a curtain valance that I found at the thrift store for a dollar. I used the bottom of the valance for the bottom of the shirts (and I didn't have to hem them!) Then for the other parts I used some leftover lavender fabric from an Easter dress I made for P. and the top part of the valance for the yoke and sleeves.


The whole thing took much longer than it should have because there wasn't quite enough fabric to cut out all the pieces. If you look closely below you will see that I had to start piecing fabric together to have enough to cut out the required number of pieces.


But even though I had the tops done by their birthday, I didn't want to show them to you because I still wanted to make knit capri leggings to go with them. That is what I did this week. Here's the whole outfit.


And of course, G. and L. needed to model them. (L. is on the left and G. is on the right. You can also tell because L. has Tigger in front and G. has Pooh Bear.)



L. is holding a giant origami crane the M. made

The reason that the little girls were unusually cooperative with the picture taking was they were promised a chance to play in the water if they let me take their picture.

Because what else do you do on a day that is supposed to get to 105, but sit in a pool of water?


Even if the (garbage-picked) wading pool was made for two small children. It's still fun, especially if your father connects a (garbage-picked) slide to make a water slide into it.

L.


G.

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