Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy 11th Birthday, TM!

Today is TM's birthday, though we will celebrate tomorrow. He really does not like having his birthday connected with all the hoopla and scary stuff of Halloween and I can't say I blame him. We decided that All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, was a much better time to celebrate, so that's what we do. I did make apple cider donuts this morning per his request, though.

So, Happy Birthday, TM! I love you more than you may ever know. You have changed my in profound ways; no less profound than when M. was born and I first became a mother. I am constantly amazed at your creativity and love to see your seemingly effortless projects. You are bright and energetic with so many good things inside of you.

I also grieve for the hurts you have endured and would do just about anything to be able to go back and somehow change it. When you hurt, I hurt. I continually pray love and peace for you. That you would feel God's profound and unreserved love for you and as a result be able to feel your parents love for you as well. And that with that love you can finally feel peace. Deep, overwhelming peace where there is no fear or pain or hurt. This is what I desire for all of my children, but if I could give you anything it would be to be free from your hurt and pain.

I love you. Always.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

First world problems

As I finished writing yesterday's post, I considered add in a little line at the bottom about knowing that in the great scheme of things, this was a trivial problem. Then I decided that it seemed pretty obvious that the whole trivial episode ended in my owning up to my poor behavior, but once again, I'm reminded that tone in writing doesn't always come through.

Because I do know that a movie not arriving the second I expect it hardly worth getting my pants in a knot over; it's one of those first world problems, a problem with abundance. Yet I find it is these types of problems that trip me up more than the 'big' ones. For the big things... finances, difficult children, health issues... they feel so big and possibly so overwhelming, that I know I cannot even begin to deal with them. I have no expectations except that God is going to take care of them in the best way possible, even if that turns out not to be the way I would have arranged things. (And I'm great at deciding for God what is going to be the best. Thankfully, He doesn't pay much attention to my arrangements.) I'm not in control and thus have few expectations which means my fits of temper of irritation at them are relatively few.

Not so for those minor problems and irritations. I usually still have the misconception that I have some control over those things and therefore often have unrealistic expectations. And unrealistic expectations more often than not end up with me becoming irritated and/or disappointed. It doesn't seem to matter that I should be thankful I live in a place with stores that sell everything and anything, I still get annoyed (and sometimes ridiculously so) when they have every size except the one I need. It doesn't seem to matter that I should be thankful that I can have movies of my choice delivered to my doorstep and that I have the money to pay for them and the machines to play them on, I am still bothered when it doesn't work they way the company says it will. The list of small irritations can go on and on... cars that don't work when we want, appliances that don't have all the features we would like, clothes that aren't the newest, cell phones that stop working, children who leave multiple pairs of shoes lying around, food that isn't quite to our liking, etc., etc.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one to get tripped up over things such as these. I'm also pretty sure that I'm not the only who knows that my level of frustration and irritation is often greater than most of the situations warrant. Sin stinks and it's hard to get away from it sometimes. And since I'm not the only to experience this, I think there are two things we can learn from our inability to always think rationally and in perspective. The first is that it helps us remember that it is a lie when we tell ourselves if we just had more, we would be better, happier, saner. If that were the case, our current state of affluence (and for the vast majority of us that is the state we live in) would have already made us pretty darn happy. More stuff, more options, better, faster, smarter does not equal happiness or contentment. The second is that we are all pretty much cut from the same sinful cloth and we will all react our of proportion at some time or another. Let's give each other some grace. We've all been there whether we admit it to others or not, and we know how far a kind word can go when in that state.

All that said, I really do think I was completely justified at my temper tantrum at the dog last night. I settling into bed to read a good book when I noticed my arm felt damp. Upon further investigation, I discovered that at some point the dog had gotten on my bed and peed on the down duvet and wool blanket. Oh, so not happy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Queue problems... or eating crow

I spent a portion of last night going around and apologizing to my older children for my little temper tantrum regarding the Netflix queue that happened over the weekend. They were right... I was wrong.

To explain the whole story, I have to back up a bit. Netflix is one of our major entertainment options and our movie queue is very long. Since we don't watch a movie every night, it can take a while for a person's chosen movie to reach the top of the queue, thus arriving in the mail able to be viewed. It has become a thing around here to fiddle with the queue and "help" ones movie reach the top faster. Not everyone is guilty of this all the time, but it happens. I've learned that if there is a movie I really need to arrive, such as for school, that I need to time moving it to the top of the queue to the time when a previous movie is mailed, ensuring its arrival when I need it.

Last week, when I was looking ahead in my school schedule, I noticed that I had scheduled a documentary about Rome that I planned to show this week. I moved my movie to the top, found the movie that needed to be returned, and mailed it off. This pretty much ensured that the movie I needed would arrive in time. Imagine my surprise when on Saturday I receive an email telling me that a movie that I did not put at the top of the queue was being mailed to me. What?!? There was really only one answer. Someone had moved their movie to the top of the list after I had so carefully placed mine there. I start the stomping around and lecturing. Not a single person owned up to the deed, which did not improve my attitude about it.

Yesterday, the unwanted movie arrived and I insisted that we seal it up and return it immediately so that the movie I wanted had a chance of making it. I didn't really care that someone wanted to watch it, it was going back. To make my point, I stomped and lectured one more time for good measure. Everyone still avowed no knowledge of how the movie was moved up.

Not due solely to the movie, but yesterday was just not a good day all the way around. J. got everyone ready for bed and I decided to stare at the computer for a bit. It seemed a better choice than snapping at children. When I checked my email, imagine my surprise and chagrin to see an email from Netflix. An email telling me about the thoughtful thing they did for me. It seems that documentary I had wanted wasn't immediately available. In order for some movie to arrive at the expected time, they sent the movie that was 2nd on the queue. When they found a copy of the documentary they would send it right away. You're welcome.

Yeah, thanks.

Thanks for telling me three full days after sending me that first notice that a different, and unexpected, movie was going to be arriving. What would have been really thoughtful would have been to send the informative email first. It would have saved three days of annoyance.

My children were right. Not a single one of them messed with the queue. Netflix did.

Monday, October 28, 2013

First horse show

P. was in her first horse show yesterday. She has been looking forward to this for weeks now. She and A. have been taking riding lessons for almost a year now. Their very generous grandparents are paying for them, because it certainly isn't in our budget and they love them. The stable where they ride has two school shows a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. When the notice came out about the spring show earlier in the year and I saw the entrance fee, I had to tell the girls there was no way we could make it work. They were disappointed, but took it fine. 

This time, when the fall show notice came out, I could tell that P. had been doing a lot of thinking. She had decided that instead of buying the new bicycle that she had been saving her money for, she would rather pay the entrance fee to the show. I questioned her carefully because 20 minutes of riding in a show verses having a bicycle that she could ride for a long time didn't seem like an equal trade-off. (And I completely get her horse-thing since I used to ride competitively myself.) But she was positive. 

So the big day arrived and yesterday afternoon J. and A. went with P. to the stable. J. had never seen her ride and wanted to have a chance to go. I stayed home with everyone else because P. really did not want EVERYONE to come and watch. A. was photographer and she wanted to see the show.

Here is everyone mounting their horses to get ready for the class. P. was riding in two classes... one was a walk-trot over poles and the second was walk-trot hunter equitation.

During the class.

P. did well. In her first show she came away with two ribbons. Second place over poles and and fifth place in equitation. Not bad, huh? (And there were 7 or 8 riders in the classes.) I'm pretty proud of her.

Her new wall decorations.

Oh, and the bike... after P. had decided that she was going to skip the bike, a friend contacted me and asked if anyone needed a bike that would fit a 12 year old girl. So P. has a bike as well. It is just a little on the small side, but the seat can be raised high enough for her long legs. It won't last for terribly long, but since she had no bike that fit her before, it's great.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A gentle reminder to begin planning for the rest of the year

It's the end of October which means at any second now, life will feel as though someone hit the fast forward button and it won't be until the middle of January that I'm able to catch my breath. In order to contain and conquer some of the season's worst excesses. To that end, I am starting to make lists and am also going to sort through all of our winter wear. Due to general nuttiness around here, this is something that never happened last year. As a result, people would go to the basement and grabbed whatever they could find. They were warm, but things are fairly topsy-turvy.

Since I will be busy doing that, I'm going to send you to other posts that I have written about getting organized for the upcoming season. I'm also going to link to posts where I have shown various things I've made for Christmas gifts to get you thinking and give you some ideas.

First about getting prepared. You can read the long version: Advance planning: get a cup of tea, this is the long version, or you can read the shorter one: Advance planning: the short version. Here is another post about a variety of things that need to be thought about: Lists, lists, lists.

Next, here are the crafty posts: Homemade gifts; Crafty Christmas gift ideas; The goods; and a tutorial for a miniature braided wreath.

Happy reading... I'm off to the basement to spend quality time with outerwear.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I do not heart minky

I thought that making G. a panda costume would be a good idea. She loves them and she is still little enough to think dressing up as a panda would be fun. So I bought I pattern that looked as though it would be fairly simple to change into a panda and started looking for some fabric. Then a bit ago, I discovered on one of my many trips to Vogue (I live just a few blocks away and just run over anytime I need a sewing notion... which seems to be a lot) I happened to notice that minky fabric was half off.

You know minky fabric, right? It's that super, super soft fleece that many baby blankets are made out of. It's the fabric, that when you bring your children to the fabric store, they stop and pet the whole time you are looking at other fabric. It really feels good to touch it. And wouldn't a panda made out of minky be just so soft and cute? I thought so, so I bought a bunch of black minky and white minky.

Those of you who have actually sewn with minky fabric before can see what's coming already, can't you? I really had no idea. I thought it would be like sewing with any other fleece fabric. Ha! It's too soft and too stretchy and too fuzzy to be able to work with easily. It's only plus is that it's nice to touch as you swear at it while you are sewing. At least I tried sewing a sample before starting on the actual project and alerted me to the difficulty of the task I had set before myself. Googling 'sewing with minky' turned up some good hints: pin a lot, like every inch; do NOT iron it; use a walking foot; pin a lot; keep the minky fabric on the bottom if sewing two different types, and so on. I will add that it's not worth it to try and serge it. I did try... on a scrap and it was just too difficult. My other tip would be speed. The faster your machine goes, the easier it is to feed the fabric through.

Having figured out the technicalities of working with the fabric, I was ready to start the costume. I sewed and sewed and sewed. Did I mention that the fabric also sheds along the cut edge to an amazing degree. By the time I was done it looked as though a panda has exploded all over me. I was covered in black and white fuzz. I also had the body of a costume... that looked like a backwards skunk.

I should have known something was wrong when G. was watching me sew and couldn't figure out what I was sewing. Black... white... it seemed as though it should be pretty obvious. I should have also listened to that little voice inside my head that said, "Why don't you actually go and look at the dozens of stuffed pandas in the room across the hall just to be sure you have the colors correct?" Did I listen? No, of course not. Sometimes my self-confidence is a little misplaced. After I finished the costume and looked at it and realized that other than the colors there was nothing about even remotely panda-like I decided to actually look at a panda.

Be impressed that I neither ripped up the costume or burst into tears when I looked that the pile of stuffed pandas across the hall. I held in my hands an all black costume with a white circle on the tummy (yeah, I know, I don't know what I was thinking) when the pandas all had completely white middles with black necks, arms, and legs. Just because I didn't burst into tears doesn't mean I didn't want to.

At this point I finally did a smart thing and put it down for a while. I had to go pick-up my children from a friend's and decided to try to fix it later. When I came back to it, I was a little more balanced and had a plan. I took the extra white minky fabric that I had and cut a new middle section and just sewed it right on top of the costume. About the only good think about the fabric is that you don't have to finish the edges (they eventually will stop shedding... I hope) and you can sew right on top of the fabric and not see the seem. It's the only thing that saved the costume... and my sanity.

It worked well enough. I just hope no one looks to carefully at it and G. certainly doesn't care. It has to be the worst construction job I have done in the past several years. But it fits, G. loves it, and she is very, very soft in it. Here's a really bad picture of it:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A morning in the life

It's 10 am and I am still in my pajamas waiting to be able to get in the shower. You see, a good friend of mine is taking three of my children to a zoo for the day and we are waiting for them to be picked up. That's fun, you think to yourself, and if you are a normal, healthy individual, that's all it is... just fun. But if you happen to have had a lot of bad things happen to you in your early years, then fun is not so simple. Fun and anxiety are processed  and interpreted all the same way. In fact, it's pretty hard to tell the difference between the two. Fun, beforehand, really isn't so much fun.

Which is why I'm still waiting to get dressed. Over the course of the morning, waiting for the three to get picked up, I have been on high alert. First there was the drama about what lunch to bring.

"What should I bring for lunch?"
"I don't know what I should bring for lunch."
"Could I pack just a snack."
"I don't think I need to bring a lunch."
"Can I melt chocolate to put on my sandwich?"
"I don't want a sandwich."
"Do I have to bring a lunch?"

He finally decided on chicken noodle soup in a thermos. We then had the same type of conversation about whether to bring a water bottle, a bowl for the soup, and what to put the lunch things in.

Having finally settled the question of lunch, we moved onto clothing. It is currently 38 degrees in Chicagoland and my dear boy was wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt and nylon running shorts. This inability to judge temperature is a constant so not unique to the morning, and it is also a fight that I haven't bothered to wage in a long time. If he gets cold, he gets cold. I did ask him if he didn't want warmer clothes on since he would be outside most of the day. No, he didn't want that... until he did. Finally under his own volition he changed into jeans and I insisted he at least carry an extra sweatshirt with him.

Now, with both clothes and lunch sorted out, it was time to move onto really important considerations such as what supplies to bring. When I asked him what he was going to carry his lunch in, he said that he would put it in the bag he always brings everywhere. Sure enough, there by the door was sitting the messenger bag that he likes, looking just a tad full. I asked him what he had already packed and he started sorting through it. For a day trip to the zoo he had packed: 1 umbrella (I made him leave that behind since it was sunny), 2 pairs of swim goggles (these I also insisted he leave behind), 1 small baggie full of AA batteries, 1 small flashlight (which explains the AA batteries), 1 empty plastic bag... just in case, 1 band-aid, 1 travel bottle of shampoo, 1 toothbrush, 1 tube of toothpaste, 1 container of dental floss, and I think there were a couple of other toiletry-type items in there as well. Because you never know when you're going to need something.

At the face of it, the list is a bit laughable, but this also breaks my heart. You see, this is what he carries with him most of the time when going out on trips longer than errands around town. It screams to me how insecure and frightened he still is. Deep down he doesn't feel he can trust anyone but himself; he has to be prepared. Seeing the tangible evidence of how deep his hurt is makes it a little easier to be empathetic to the over-the-top-wildness that comes with the prospect of both leaving me and going on a day-long excursion. I know my role in these moments is to act as the anchor to the wildly careening ship on a stormy sea.

It's just a real good thing that my anchor is stronger than anything.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another letter

Dear Mr. Rainey,

I read your letter that went out with the most recent Family Life email (10/23). It was about the story of Davion's plea for a family that went viral on social media. I feel for this child and think it is wonderful that so many people have come forward, interested in being his parents. I think it is always a good thing for the church to be confronted with the plight of the orphan. And it also scares me.

I have 10 children, 3 of whom are adopted. Of those three, one of them suffers from trauma as a result of early experiences in his life. I love him madly, but parenting him is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I have read in other places that Davion, as a result of his less than wonderful life experiences still deals with anger. (Why wouldn't he? It is actually perfectly natural.) But because of this, I pray that the parents he is ultimately placed with are prepared. I pray that they have been given adequate training, though in reality, reading about and hearing about living with a child from trauma is a vastly different thing from living with a child from trauma. I pray that the new parents have an adequate support system. It is grueling 24/7 work and parents will need all the help they can get. I pray their church is willing to understand their new son and his challenges. It is a big undertaking.

This is not to say I don't think Davion and all the other children like are not worth it. They are. But this road of helping traumatized children to heal is not an easy one. I hope that Family Life can be part of the support that therapeutic parents need. That would mean that they are honest about the challenges involved in raising these children. I would also hope that orphan ministry becomes much more than just encouraging people to adopt. Yes, some of us are called to adopt, but we need many more people, not in the throws of this hard and demanding work to come along side of us and help hold us up. This is where I really believe our emphasis should be. How can the church as a whole support adoptive families?

There have been many stories recently about the phenomenon of disruption. By providing honest information coupled with an increase in support for struggling families, the church could help lower the rate of families falling apart.

Thank you for your time,

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What's wrong with being a lady?

In Sunday's paper, there is a column where parents write in with their parenting question and the staff give their responses followed by an 'expert' giving their 'expert' opinion. More often then not, something about this column causes me to kvetch to my family at lunch after church (it's kind of a tradition), but this past Sunday's column was so over the top merely orating to my family didn't seem quite enough. The question was something along the lines of, "My mother is always telling my daughter to act like a lady. I don't know what to do about it. Help!" Every single respondent then agreed with the writer that this was a totally horrible and completely out-of-line thing for a grandmother to say to her granddaughter and then proceeded to give suggestions as to how to make it stop.


I read it again, thinking I surely must have missed something, but no the column remained unchanged. Evidently being a lady is a totally abhorrent thing to be much less wish upon an unsuspecting young girl. I suppose being a lady would be a problem if you define lady as a brainless doormat who hasn't had an original thought in many years, but that is certainly not how I would define what lady means. I come from a long line of extremely strong and opinionated women who would have very much considered themselves ladies. It was a term of honor and not one to be looked down upon.

What we need in this world are more ladies (and gentlemen... but that will have to wait for another post), not fewer. Being a lady is something to aspire to, but to think this way, you need to have a right idea of what being a lady means. So without further ado, my own personal definition of what it is to be a lady.

  • A lady has great self-respect. She expects others to treat her with the respect she knows she deserves.
  • A lady is comfortable with being female. She is not embarrassed by it, nor does she wish she were a man. She accepts herself for who she is and appreciates it. She knows that being different in type and being equal in worth can happen at the same time.
  • A lady knows that she is capable of many things, and in fact, does many things well. These do not have to be traditionally feminine tasks; she is multi-talented.
  • A lady is sure of herself enough to not need to point out all that she is capable of doing to those around here. That would be bragging and ladies have no need to brag.
  • A lady is intelligent and thinks for herself. This does not mean she does not listen to other's opinions and weighs them carefully... she does, but you can listen politely without necessarily agreeing with someone. It also means that she avails herself of educational opportunities when and where she finds them.
  • A lady is polite. Politeness is concerned with the well-being of others and making them feel listened to and appreciated. Politeness is not a sign of weakness.
  • A lady dresses appropriately. I know that people like to say that clothes don't really matter, that we are a casual society now, but they still do. How one dresses conveys a lot about the value that is placed on an event or gathering. Admit it, you are aware of when someone wears something inappropriate or so revealing that it makes others embarrassed. Dressing well is not a matter of the pocket book, but a sense of rightness. It's both dresses and heels and work boots and jeans. It just depends on the situation.
  • A lady knows how to move and sit and walk in the clothing she is wearing. This means she can keep her underthings, well, under, and she can walk in the shoes on her feet. (My own personal pet peeve, which my daughters [and their friends] are probably heartily tired of hearing me go on about is the ability to walk in heels. The heel comes down first. If you cannot do this and must stalk along as if your shoes are too heavy to lift off the ground, your heel is too high. You may think you look good standing there, buy pray you don't have to move because it looks just a tad ridiculous.)
  • A lady stands up for herself and others.
  • A lady is not a matter of socio-economic status. It is a matter of attitude and self-worth. I have been friends with some very wonderful ladies whose economic situations were less than ideal. 
Let us take back the term lady and raise it back up to the high status it used to have. Strength, politeness, and self-worth should never go out of style.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Leaf relief art project

How about a post that's light and full of pictures after a week of lots and lots of words? Last Friday was our first scheduled 'Art Friday' where we do bigger and more involved art projects. Since it is the beginning of fall, I decided to do leaf relief pictures using the instructions from the Cassie Stephens blog. It worked out quite well.

First, two gratuitous pictures of a cute little girl. This is G.

The first step of the project was to mount a leaf on a piece of mat board using spray adhesive and then mount a piece of foil on top of that. Once the foil was on, the children then used their fingers to smooth and press the foil and rub over the leaf so the outline appeared.  (Really, if you want to try this, don't use my description, but go to the website where there are real instructions.) Here's H. and L. (yes, she dressed herself) holding their foil-covered leaves waiting for the black spray paint, which was the next step.

Once the foil is ready to go, I sprayed them with matte black spray paint and let them dry.

H. didn't care for the smell of the paint.

After the paint dried, I spread a paper tablecloth on the floor and the children then used a little bit of steel wool to lightly rub away some of the paint to let the shiny foil outline of the leaf show through. I thought the paper tablecloth was brilliant because I just rolled up the cloth, containing the little bits of steel wool and paint scrapings, and threw it away.

We had some H-S children here as well, if there seems to be more children than usual.


And the final result. I still want to have them all paint larger pieces of mat board so we can mount them.

Some people chose to scrape away more paint, and others (this is P.'s) decided just to do only the leaf, leaving the rest black.

A successful project... and another one where all ages and abilities were able to create something they liked.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Couldn't wait to share

Do you remember this little girl? The one I have shared about for quite some time now (though in the past month or so, I have been negligent)? Well, do I have some good news for all of you. 

I am thrilled to tell you she has a family!! If you pop over to The Blessing of Verity blog, you can read all the details and see a picture of her new family. If you do, you will also see a link to a site where the family is trying to raise money to bring this precious little girl home. Home with a family who will love her and care for her. A home where she will not spend every waking hour alone in a bed with no one to care about her.

I know not everyone is called to adopt, but we are all called to help. Here is a great chance for you to play a part in placing an orphan in a family. Please, please, please, go to Bringing Brandi Home and help out this family. Adoption is very expensive and few families have the resources to pay for it, though day to day expenses work out. Many of you have seen this little girl's picture for months now and have been praying for her. Help her to get home as soon as possible and into the loving arms of her new parents where she can begin to experience love for the first time in her life. Every little bit helps.

Ready? Go. Just do it now while you are thinking about it. I am.

Clutter, part 4

Yes, I know I said I was only going to do three parts on clutter, but in talking with a friend, she brought up one more aspect that our inability to contain our clutter impacts. That is, our tendency to live with a mind-set of scarcity while surrounded with abundance. What are we tacitly teaching our children about what our relationship to stuff should be? Is there ever enough?

Most children are natural hoarders. At least in my experience they are. It starts with the toddler yelling, "Mine!" and moves onto the preschooler and grade school student who keep every single scrap of paper they come across. They tend to fixate on what they don't have which causes them to hold tightly to what they do. Many adults are really not much different. Yet, in reality, we have so much. Too much. It's why we have a clutter problem to begin with.

We need to tame our relationship with our clutter and stuff in order to help our children develop a right relationship with stuff. We need to start seeing our abundance that is around us and realize that we really do have enough. It's good for a child to watch you process through the stuff. More than once I've gone through drawers and closets and sorted out the excess that we don't need and pass it along to someone else. I've also had conversations with my children about why we weren't keeping something. I've had it enough to begin to hear the thinking repeated as my children sort through their belongings.

Children sense the attitudes in the home. They can tell when a parent is anxious about things, and possibly they know this better then the adults themselves. Children know intuitively when a parent is worried about having enough. They may not be able to voice the worry in words, but it will show in their actions. Even if the parent never said a word about their fears, the children will soak them in. What a gift to a child when a parent can help them focus on the abundance around them instead of what is lacking.

And we do have a lot. Most of us have a place to live with clean, running water and indoor plumbing. Refrigerators and stoves and ovens. Clothes to wear and food to eat. None of these things may be the latest style or the most expensive, but the fact that we have them puts us in the incredibly well-off category. Sure we could always look at the people in the tax bracket above us and ponder what we don't have. But would those things really make us any more happy than we are now? Really? Do we want our children to think that their happiness is dependent upon having stuff?

So let your children see you living out the abundance in your life and the fact that we can be content with enough. Go ahead and share what you have with others. Go ahead and say no to something someone offers you if you really do already have enough. And really think about whether what you suffering from is having too much rather than not enough. Do you want to be the living version of Jacob Marley, except that instead of cash boxes wrapped around you, you have the piles and bags and shelves and closets of unused and unneeded stuff weighing you down?

Be careful of what you are quietly saying to your children... and yourself.
Clutter, part 1; Clutter, part 2; Clutter, part 3

Friday, October 18, 2013

Adoption - a [somewhat] brief story of our journey

I'm using an old post for the adoption link-up.

No Bohns About It

Since Kelly's Korner blog is having a link-up today on adoption, I thought this might be a good time to review where we've been. It's a long story and some of my newer readers may not be familiar with it. I'll try to keep it short. (Ha! Not my strong suit.) We'll see how I do.

I have always been interested in adoption. It was something I always wanted to do and even did some serious research into it after our second child, B. was born. (Our first, M. was two.) I wrote away (yes, it was that long ago) for information from various agencies and thought and prayed about it. It never seemed quite right and we never did anything more serious than think. In the meantime, we had three more children, A., P., and D. I had five little blond stair steps and life was good. They were easy, pleasant children, life was pretty stable, and we had a new and bigger house. We felt on top of things. And something felt as though it was missing. Perhaps it was adoption.

After D. was born, I remember sitting in the rocking chair, nursing my adorable, healthy baby boy and feeling so sad. Sad enough to cry. I couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere there was another baby who was not being held by his mother. I didn't understand it and I couldn't explain, but I wept for this unknown child.

It was also at this time that J. and decided that if we were ever going to actually adopt, we should do it now. We weren't getting younger and our family wasn't growing smaller. It seemed right. We filled out paperwork. We waited. We filled out more paperwork. We did more waiting. More than once, I thought this is crazy, why are we putting ourselves through this. We should just stop. And I would burst into tears. It was crazy and scary and I knew we had to keep going forward.

Eventually, we got the call we had been waiting for. A little three year old boy was living with foster parents in Vietnam. Were we interested? Of course we were interested and eagerly awaited the FedEx man to arrive. When the package finally arrived we stared at a picture of a very handsome, smiling boy. Our new son who had been relinquished and was placed in an orphanage at the same time that I was nursing my new baby and grieving for a child I didn't know. We began a new round of paperwork and waiting, along with diligent reading about what to expect when adopting a toddler. We felt nervous, but prepared when we boarded the plane to Vietnam nine months later where we were to meet the little boy (TM) who would change our lives.

We had no idea what was in store for us that day when we caught our first glimpse of our child. A child in full tantrum-mode being ushered away by multiple nannies from his visibly grieving foster parents. We may never know the full story of all the trauma in his life, but we saw first-hand this small and pivotal piece of it. If I am to keep this brief, there is no way to fully communicate here his pain, our shock, and the subsequent years of trying to reach and love this wounded little boy. (You will have to read past posts to get the full story. Go up to the adoption tab and there will be links to all of our adoption stories as they happened.) It started us down a path we never thought we would take.

But through the tantrums and upheaval that our new son brought, we knew we wanted to adopt again. Our family didn't feel complete and we didn't want our son to always be the different one in a sea of blond children. We wanted another child and we wanted to give our son a sibling who looked like him and who shared a similar story, so we applied again. We knew the wait times were long and we wanted a child who was younger than D. our youngest, so we were anticipating waiting at least a year before receiving a referral.

Imagine our surprise when just a month after turning in our application, we received a phone call asking if we would be interested in a 7 month old baby boy with cleft lip and palate. We agreed to look at his information and found ourselves waiting for the FedEx delivery. This little boy (K) was also cute with his wide, wide smile and we said yes, even knowing that his province was taking a bit longer than the others in Vietnam.

A bit longer turned into months and months longer. We received updates on our baby and watched him grow up in pictures. It wasn't until he was over two years old that we were allowed to travel to bring him home. This time we traveled with TM, who couldn't tolerate being left by us and also our two oldest as helpers for both the new son and TM.

While TM surprised us with his anger and trauma, K. surprised us with his size and delays. As we watched him grow up before our eyes and I mourned not being able to parent him as a baby, I had no idea that he would be so small and malnourished and delayed that he would be like a baby when we adopted him. And so we began another learning curve of therapists and patience as we waited to see what life long implications this would have for him. Would he ever speak? Learn? Be able to care for himself? We had no idea.

We didn't know if we were done adding to our family, but didn't rule it out. There were a couple of different avenues we tried and everything ended in a dead end. I received a clear message from God that I was to dare to be idle as far as adding children to our family. It was an emotionally difficult few months. I can remember sobbing in the basement as I was doing laundry and feeling as though I would never have any more little girls to dress up and get to be a mother to. It felt heartbreaking.

And then I discovered I was pregnant... with twin girls. It was the most joyous unexpected blessing I have ever received. Having G. and L. join our family as numbers 8 and 9 was wonderful and exhausting. I felt pretty sure I was done and our family was complete. I stopped even looking at waiting children because I knew none of them were mine.

Then one evening when the little girls were about 18 months old, I was reading a post on someone's blog that a friend had sent to me. I was impressed with the post, and started to poke around a little on the blog to see if I could learn more about who wrote it. It turns out it was an advocacy blog for Chinese orphans... a place I would have never visited on my own. I scrolled through a few pictures because I was there and came across the picture of a little girl with a facial deformity. My first thought was, "Oh, that little girl needs a mommy and a daddy." Then I read a little about her and it stated that she wanted a mommy and a daddy who would love her and sing to her and cook her good food. And my heart broke. But it was crazy to even think about it because we didn't meet the country requirements and we were pretty tapped out with the children we had at home.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I couldn't get this child out of my head. I would think about her and go back and look at her picture. And then I would tell myself all the reasons it didn't make sense. Her diagnosis was daunting. We didn't really have enough money for our family as it was. We didn't meet requirements. And so on and so on. But the feeling of being tied to this child wouldn't go away. I started mentioning it to J. who, as usual, said if that is what I thought we should do, well let's do it. So I called my mother and told her my story. Her first words after I had poured out what was on my heart were, "What do you have to do to bring home this child?" That clinched it. We had to at least try.

Eighteen months ago, we brought home our 10th child, H., the little girl I first saw in a picture. She was meant to be our daughter. We now have an official diagnosis for her, Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome which is not quite as scary as the original diagnosis. There are a host of medical issues that she deals with, but we are managing. Through the changes and medical procedures and surgeries, she remains a smiling, good-natured child who is eager to please.

I know a lot of things now that I didn't know when we started down this crazy road. I know that trauma is a very real and painful thing and its effects are horrible to live with, both for the child and the parents. I know that children are resilient and can overcome horrible beginnings. I know that I am both stronger and weaker than I ever thought. I know I will never be the same again.

Over seven years ago, when it was just our five blond stair stepped children, I thought I had it all together. Now I know I don't and that's OK. Seven years ago I thought I understood my own sinfulness and God's great love for me. Now I see that my previous understanding was just the beginning and I have experienced God's love and care and grace in ways that I would have never been able to had my life remained safe and predictable. I have been fundamentally changed by my experience of adoption, and I understand so much more what it cost God to adopt me.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Love their socks off

Not being one to turn down a blogging prompt, I decided to write about Hearts at Home Blog Hop topic for the month. That being the idea of comparing ourselves to others and how we just need to stop doing it. That's all well and good, isn't it? To say it is not good to compare ourselves with others, but it is another thing completely to actually stop doing so. Unless we look a little deeper at why we play this comparison game, it isn't something that we will be able to really stop because we won't have fixed the problem that is the cause of it.

Comparing ourselves to others can run two ways. The first is that we compare ourselves to other people and we turn up lacking; the second is others come up lacking in comparison to ourselves. And if you're anything like me, if you have found someone who makes you feel inferior, you will quickly find someone else who boosts your ego with their supposed failings. Written out like that in black and white it looks pretty ugly, huh? So why do we do this?

I believe that it is our own sinful selfishness at work here. We get so caught up with ourselves that we cease to care about the humanity of others. The more we care and love another person, the less likely we are to see them as a merely an outward grouping of characteristics and see them more as a real person. Someone will always be thinner, more organized, more outgoing, smarter, or more beautiful than you... at least how you view yourself. And someone will also always be heavier, shyer, scatterbrained, or slower than you... at least how you view yourself. If we don't see others in their full humanity, we also often do not see ourselves in our full humanity, either. We either focus on our strengths and not admit our weaknesses or we only see our weaknesses and do not give credit to ourselves for our strengths. We are not terribly objective about ourselves or others.

Because we are not objective, we humans are most comfortable with conformity. If everyone is the same, then it is more difficult to compare. But God doesn't do sameness. Look around you and see how incredibly diverse and creative the world is, and that extends to humans as well. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Not one of us is the same. Even identical twins are different. I don't think it was coincidence that Paul writes about how we are all parts of one body, but each with a different function in 1 Corinthians 12 and then immediately follows with a description of what love is in 1 Corinthians 13:

"Love is patient and kind; loves does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor. 13: 4-7, ESV)

It is as if God knew that we would have trouble accepting the differences among us and was telling us how to manage it. A wise friend of mine once used the phrase "loving someone's socks off" in relation to a difficult person. I love this. If we are so focused on loving one another's socks off, then we have no time to compare ourselves with them. If we are so busy making another person feel loved then we have no time to wallow in how rotten we feel because we don't think we measure up. If we make truly loving another person our goal, there is no way we can feel superior to them.

If you've ever tried to correct a bad habit, you know that unless you put another habit in its place, it's virtually impossible to do. So just deciding that we are going to stop comparing ourselves with others is a start, but unless we put another habit of the mind in place, it will feel like a futile goal. Instead, we need to decide that we need to work on really loving the people we come in contact with is what we are going to focus on, then that is something we can use to change our focus.

Love their socks off.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Clutter, part 3

We only really have clutter because we have so much stuff. If you only have a couple of things, then it is easy to keep them orderly. Clutter is a problem of abundance, but we usually seem to have clutter because we are afraid of not having enough. Enough of what we need, enough of what we want, enough to project the image about ourselves that we want others to see. Fundamentally, clutter is really trying to tell us something about our faith in God.

It is uncomfortable to listen to. I know I don't always want to really think about the sheer amount of stuff I keep hold of. It's a control thing. (I am actually not that different from my always-need-to-be-in-control son. A humbling thought.) I say that I trust God to take care of me, but then I turn around and clutch and hoard stuff because I am afraid that He won't. It all comes down to fear. Again.

There is a slight tension in the Bible, though, between being wise and prepared and being foolish and hoarding. At what point does prepared cross the line to fearful and hoarding? I think about this a lot because I do like to be prepared. For me, I've decided that it comes down to a matter of attitude. First, if I have a lot of something, do I find myself thinking I need even more "just in case"? The inability to judge when enough is enough is the first sign that I am not thinking clearly about my stuff. Moving into that "just in case" place is a signal that I am not trusting that God will take care of things. It says I have moved out of the reasonable and into the lie of self-sufficiency. There is not enough stuff in the world that will make me completely self-sufficient and certainly not enough room to store it all.

Having too much stuff that we are unwilling or unable to get rid of is also a sign that we are trying to find our self worth outside of God. The minute I think I must be better or worth more simply because of what I own is the minute I have ignored who God says I am... His child, sinful, yet loved by the Creator of the Universe. A child of the One True King. Who needs to hoard stuff if this is fully lodged in your heart?

An exercise I've been doing with myself recently is to look at an item and ask myself if I would be able to give it away if someone else needed it. If I feel the familiar clutching feeling of panic at the thought of not having the item any longer, I need to think about why. What is it about this thing that has such a hold on me? Am I in danger of turning away sadly because I was asked to sell something and I couldn't do it? It is not wrong to have things, but it is wrong to hold onto them too tightly. We have things so that we can be generous. Generosity isn't clutching.

Our clutter can distract us from our focus on God. It can give us the illusion of control while being out of control. It can give us the illusion of wealth and freedom while causing us to spend money and be shackled to its upkeep. Clutter keeps us busy focusing on things that are not important.
Clutter, part 1; Clutter, part 2

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Happy 11th Birthday, H!

Yesterday was H.'s 11th birthday. She had a good day and enjoyed her celebration.

The cake

Blowing out the candles

Opening presents

Sisters... can you tell I haven't turned the heat on yet?

TM reading H. the card he made for her

I thought this would also be a good time to give a brief update on how H. is doing.

Overall, she is doing well and making progress. It's slow progress, with a back and forth motion, but it's progress. Health-wise, she is currently fighting on infection in her eye and on her face where one of the sutures was. Since she began antibiotics, it is looking better. We are still trying to get her seizures under control as well. We have an appointment with the neurologist at the end of her month and I'm sure we will be tweaking her medication once again. No seizures would be great. Her weak eye has been making progress with the patching. It started out at 20/200 (with glasses) and at her most recent visit earlier this month, it is now at 20/60. Pretty good, huh? We'll be continuing with the patching. The wandering and nystagmus seem to be getting better as well.

Self-awareness is also growing. It was virtually non-existent when she joined our family and I'm not sure I've mentioned about her extreme passiveness. I have never met someone who was so firmly entrenched in the idea of being merely an observer to her own life with no ability to change what is happening to her. I know that it is a defense mechanism for dealing with past neglect (or worse), but it is not a self-image that is easy to change. I was particularly struck by this when I realized that she wasn't even forming conscious memories of what she had done. I could ask her what we did yesterday and she would look at me blankly and shrug her shoulders as if to say, "How on earth should I know?" This has been a significant part of our school work together... working on remembering what has happened. I am happy to say that it is working. (I was a little concerned that it was something having to do with her brain abnormalities that was causing the lack of memory formation.) Each day she gets a little better at being able to recall what we did the day before. I decided this is where we needed to begin, because if you aren't used to forming memories, how are you going to remember something such as school work?

Reading has struck her fancy enough that she wants to remember it, though. She has moved from reading rule following three letter words and is now working on four+ letter blends. She can even read some words that do not exactly sound out as you think they would, such as 'farm'. Even more important to me is that she is remembering the sight words that I've taught her. The list is still small, but she can get them every time.

Physically, she is starting to gain more mobility and muscle. The highlight of the recent past is that she has learned how to run with a real running gait. Before, her running was, well, unique. I can't even really describe it except that it was like watching a marionette run. Nothing really seemed connected or under control. A. was coaching her the other day and by the end, she was able to really run up and down the block two full times. I really wasn't sure that would actually ever happen.

H. has been home a year and half now and feels so much more integrated into the family than she did this time last year. Adopting a child and making them a part of your family just takes time and for an older child it takes even more time. I also find I think of her more as just a part of the family as well, and spend a lot less time worrying about her ever fitting in or being aware of her. Boy, that sounds bad as I write it, but it's not what I mean. Being aware in the sense that when she first came home I was hyper-aware of her presence. I knew she was new; I wasn't used to her being there. It was sort of the same feeling when you have a small cut or bruise or blister and you are aware of that part of your body in a way you are not when it is not in pain. The newness, the differentness is gone. I know she is there, but in the same way I know my other children are there. It takes time. If you have felt those same feelings towards your adopted children, give yourself some grace... and more time. (It doesn't let you off the hook for actively working for a good relationship, but change your timeline.)

So, Happy Birthday, H.! Your joy and good nature never ceases to amaze and humble me. I love having the privilege of watching you grow and blossom into the girl you were meant to be. I love you.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Clutter, part 2

For me, there is another really huge reason to get rid of the clutter and that is because is helps my child affected by trauma. Now, before I continue, I have to give my regular disclaimer. I am not a trained therapist. I am a mother who is working to raise a traumatized child and is willing to share what she has learned along the way. What is true for my child and what works for him may not be true for your child or family. Take it all with a grain of salt.

There are three big ways that clutter is not a good thing for my healing child. The first is pretty obvious and that visual clutter and disorder seems to hinder an already cluttered and disordered brain to regulate. Think about it. Do you do well in a chaotic and disordered environment? I'm not talking about whether you work best with a messy desk or not, but just the atmosphere in general. I'm pretty sure that the majority of people would say that disorder... messiness... visual chaos makes them feel unsettled and unhappy. If piles of stuff sitting around make people feel good, I'm pretty sure that's what we'd see in magazines, or realtors would be OK with house sellers leaving everything in their houses, and publishers would stop printing how-to-get-organized books.

If functioning adults do not do well in mess, then consider the traumatized child. One of the difficulties these children have is to sort out and evaluate what they are feeling. If their environment is sending signals to their brains that life is chaotic and unhappy, this will compound their difficulties. They already have a host of triggers in their brains which are sending them these signals... life is scary, unpredictable, and confusing. Sometimes these feelings have basis in reality, but more often it is because children from hard places actually have difficulty evaluating what they are feeling and either misinterpret or cannot interpret what they are feeling. Thus, if they are feeling unhappy because the clutter is too much, they won't necessarily understand why they are experiencing negative feelings. They feelings will just be there and in their brains it could be for any number of reasons. And I can guarantee that if they are having negative feelings they will assume that something bad is going to happen and must act accordingly. For us, a calm and orderly atmosphere helps to cut down on the negative input which happens. Plus, it makes me calm as well and a calm mother is always good. For everyone.

Reasons two and three are interconnected. If you have contact with a child from a hard place, then you become aware fairly quickly, that much of life for this child is consumed with control. Who has it and how can they get it? The world isn't a safe place and the only person they can rely on is themselves. They need to be in control if they are going to stay safe. What does a cluttered environment scream? Lack of control... of someone, somewhere. (Usually the mother gets to take the blame for this.) Once again, the child feels, "Hmmm... this mother person can't be trusted. If they were in control, life wouldn't feel chaotic." But this void of control has other implications if you are raising a child who also suffers from what I call the "Jackdaw syndrome".

Jackdaws are birds that collect anything shiny that catches their interest and it sounds so much more kind than stealing. While it is stealing, it is also so much more complex and really does have some jackdaw tendencies to it. It's wrong, I'm not confused about that. But a child can both understand with the rational part of his brain that it is wrong and still act on him impulsive side and no amount of punishment is going to make those two parts of his brain meet without significant healing. Usually these jackdaw children make use of opportunity. A house with a lot of clutter provides infinitely more opportunity to acquire other people's interesting things than an orderly one. We do our children a favor by eliminating temptation and thus helping them to behave as they should. Think about it. If your house has little clutter so that it is easy to see what goes where and there are few enough things to keep track of, it is fairly evident if something is missing. Or, if the house is ordered and everything has a place, then it is fairly obvious when something has been added. (Dresser drawers still need to be sorted through on a regular basis, just sayin'.) But in a house that has a lot of stuff and the stuff is all over and things are rarely in their places, then it is in this vacuum of control that tempts the jackdaw. First, no one can tell if something has gone missing or has been added where it doesn't belong. It is not evident and, at least for my jackdaw, this invites temptation. Plus, if we have so much stuff, there is the rational that a) no one will miss it; b) everyone else seems to have more than I do and it's not fair, and since I can only count on myself, I will take care of that, and c) if they really cared about this stuff they would take care of it. (It's ALWAYS someone else's fault that these thing happen, you know.) It's all very complicated. I'm not saying that a clean and orderly house will make the jackdaw turn back into a child, but it also won't encourage the jackdaw.

Lack of clutter is not a cure all, but it can certainly help to keep equilibrium in the home, mainly because it is good for everyone. And for those of us who are raising children from hard places, a little equilibrium goes a long, long way.
Clutter, part 1; Clutter, part 3 will come on Wednesday because tomorrow I'll be sharing pictures from H.'s birthday which is today.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Clutter, part 1

I know it's a topic I harp on a bit, but it's because it is something I deal with fairly constantly and I think other people do as well. I just don't think it's healthy to live with clutter and I'm really trying to stem the tide, though sometimes it does feel like an uphill battle. My war against clutter seems to go in cycles, so why this renewed interest? A couple of reasons.

I am a magazine junkie, though I have a love-hate relationship with many of them. I find magazines the perfect thing to look at and read when I have a few spare moments. Often they don't require much in the way of brain power and I like looking at pretty pictures. I used to subscribe to several shelter magazines, but over the years stopped the subscriptions for my own mental health. I found that looking at these types of magazines too often created an unhealthy mental attitude of dissatisfaction. While many of the homes featured in the magazines were beautiful and occasionally I did get a good idea or two, mostly they just made me feel badly about my own living situation. Now, this is really crazy because while I call our home the Big, Ugly House, there are really many parts of it that are beautiful and unique and I know it is a privilege to live in such a house. I have been thinking about this a long time now, and am embarrassed to say it has taken me more time than it should have to figure out the real reason for my dissatisfaction.

It was clutter.

Or more precisely, the lack of clutter in the photos in the magazines. Sometimes I would look at a photo of a room and not even really like the color or the style, but found myself envying the owners of the home none the less. And it was all because there was absolutely no clutter anywhere. No toys strewn about, no piles of papers, no piles of anything period. Perhaps a few interesting objects artfully displayed to look at, but that was it. Mostly is was clean and clear surfaces. The juxtaposition of the photos I was looking at and the view which met my gaze when I looked up from the magazines was jarring.

I know the owners of these homes don't usually live like the photos. I know they were styled for the photographs and that the piles of stuff were tucked away out of sight. I know that living in a house means that things are used and left out. It's what gives things a homey and lived-in look. (Don't the house photos in magazines seem almost too antiseptic... as though real people don't actually live there?) But there's a difference between comfy and lived in and cluttered and crowded. I find it is just too easy to cross the line.

Once I realized the cause of my house envy, it became a fairly simple thing to do something about it. If it was the clutter which was the difference (and perhaps the walls without chipped paint and children's scribbles, but that's another story), then I could do something about that. So that's what I've been working on. I have been slowly working my way through the clutter and getting rid of a lot of it. It has to be a slow process because while I would love to spend a week dedicated to the process and get it all done at once, life just isn't going to allow that.

Every day that I can, I have been choosing one area to work on. Sometimes it is as simple as just putting things away. Laziness really seems (at least for me) to play into a big part of the clutter, especially if something is already piled high with stuff. A counter that is absolutely clear is much more difficult to leave something out on than one that already has several things left on it. Other times it's just because I have too much stuff. We have so much more than we really need and there are various reasons for this (I'll talk about this in part 3), but truly the easiest way to not have clutter is to get rid of the stuff. If you don't have it to begin with, you don't have to find a home for it. In theory, it's really simple.

Simple until it's time to actually get rid of it. But I think it helps to keep the picture of those clear surfaces in my head. When it's done, even if it is a little bit, it seems so much nicer. I can look at it and take a deep and contented breath. It feels good. It's worth the small bit of angst at the severing of the ownership of the thing.

On Monday, I'll write about why if you have a child coming from trauma that this decluttering is essential and Tuesday will be what clutter says about our relationship with God. Fun stuff. (Even better is knowing what I'm going to write about for two more days.) If you need more about stuff right now, I did another series about it in 2011. Stuff, part 1: Lessons from the playpen; Stuff, part 2: Lessons from the too-small house; Stuff, part 3: That's entropy, man; Stuff, conclusion: The hard part.

Friday, October 11, 2013

And some days I know exactly what I do

This is particularly true if I have taken 11 people to the Museum of Science and Industry for most of the day, which is what we did today. It was a good visit and we had a good time, but it's tiring. Often when we do a museum visit, I make it short so that I don't have to worry about lunch, but we had this planned as a bigger trip, so we took lunches with us.

There are a couple of things I really like about visiting Science and Industry. First is they have a good family policy, in that they don't really care how many children you have. It's just nice not to have to fight about it. (Because you know I'd raise a stink.) Second, it's really easy to eat a lunch you bring from home. If you are in the area and haven't figured this out, or are going to make a special trip, I'll tell you how we work it. For the morning, we leave the lunch in the car, then when it is getting close to lunch time, we head downstairs to the area the first escalator brings you, and if you time it right, you can get a table right across from the Jolly Ball. (For those who have not been there, the Jolly Ball is similar to a pinball machine, except it's vertical and you watch the ball run down the track as it "visits" various sights in Switzerland. (It was originally made for the Swiss Tourist Board.) I leave my older children with the littles and take a couple of others out to the car with me to bring in the food. As long as you don't take food past the area with the tables, it's not a problem. (Be sure to keep your ticket with you; as long as you have that with you, you can come and go as much as you like.) Children eat, go and watch the Jolly Ball, and come back and eat some more. When we are done, I reverse the process and return the lunch carriers back to the car and we proceed on our way through the museum.

We never even try to see the whole thing. It is one of the nice things about a membership, you can go for shorter amounts of time and not feel as though you have missed out, knowing you will catch something new the next time. Today we saw an Omnimax movie, looked at the giant miniature train board, visited the airplane, went through some of the storms exhibit, and ended with everyone trying the giant hamster wheel in the human body area. I could really use a giant hamster wheel in my house. It would be particularly useful in winter. Well, except for the frequent ER visits that would then occur.

I was supposed to go grocery shopping when I got home, but it didn't happen. We spent a little longer than I had thought we would and I was done in. That made it a pancakes for supper night. No one is really complaining, though. And because sometimes you just need to, J. and I will be having a dinner of take-out later this evening when the smaller types are all in bed.
I have another article up: Permission to Relax

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What do you do all day?

I have to admit I was thinking about the answer to this question today long before I popped on facebook and saw a link to this blog post about a husband's response to the question of whether his wife was going "back" to work. (I thought it was a great post, by the way, not that that should surprise anyone.) But there are some days when I get to the end of them and I look around the house and see disaster after disaster, nothing on my to-do list has been accomplished, and I do wonder what the heck I've been doing for the past 8 or 10 hours. I know I must have been doing something because I can't recall just sitting around reading novels and eating candy (though I don't think I would be adverse to this), and I'm tired. Really, really tired. But what have I done?

Some days it just doesn't seem like I have done that much, if I am truthful. This is mainly because I don't really have anything tangible to show for the day. Unfolded, but clean laundry doesn't always feel like an accomplishment because it's not done and I can still see it. The little check marks on my school schedule are nice, but five or six little check marks doesn't always seem a lot for an entire morning's occupation. Days when I can sew feel productive because I have something to hold up and look at.

I think this is the frustrating part of being a parent... we spend so much of our time on the intangible. The number of times I remind a child to use a better tone to his words is important, but is tiresome and often futile. Picking up a four year old's mess (or more difficult, asking the four year old to help pick up the mess) after an afternoon of intense playing grows old and there are some days when it seems rather pointless because you know you will be doing the exact same thing tomorrow. (This will explain the incredible disaster that is the little girls' room right now.) Building character in children, showing them love, giving them security takes time because often it happens at a glacial rate. It is the cumulative result of all those days spent together where it seems as though nothing is happening. All those times when it seemed as though nothing was happening, nothing was being accomplished. All those times when you end the day and feel as though you didn't really do anything.

Really, I'm preaching to myself today. Some days just feel more tiring than others. More correcting, more tears, more irritation, more rudeness. It can make for long days. Long days when I wonder, what, really have I done.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

I love it when a book captures a child's imagination and opens up a whole new world to them. I find this usually occurs when the book is very well written and contains characters who have character traits that are to be admired and emulated. It has certainly been the case for D. and for the book, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham

The boys and I needed a new read aloud book for bedtime and TM had said he wanted a book that involved ships and sailing. On a whim, I pulled Mr. Bowditch off the shelves and started it. Truth be told, though I have read good reviews of the book and the book has been on my shelves for years and I've taught the American Revolution period of American history more than once, I've never read it. Boy, was I (and my older children) missing out. It is a great book.

One of Nathaniel Bowditch's chief characteristics is his desire and drive to learn, which he does even when life circumstances would seem to prevent him from doing so. Well, this character and his story have completely captivated D.'s imagination. Just like Mr. Bowditch, D. has begun carrying notebooks around to record things that he has learned. D. has also made one trip to the library already this week to look up books on astronomy because he has decided that "just like Mr. Bowditch" he is going to teach himself astronomy as well. Who is going to argue with that?

Another thing that the book has caused me to realize is how much the world of research has changed in the last 10 years or so. One of the ways Mr. Bowditch taught himself was to read through an encyclopedia which was made available to him. This immediately made both boys ask what an encyclopedia was. Really? And then I thought about it. It has been many years since we've had a set of encyclopedias around. (It was a very old set. So old that if you looked up Switzerland in them, women still did not have the right to vote. I don't think I was wrong to give them away.) At least D. thought that the idea of an encyclopedia was wonderful and wondered where he could find such a thing to look through. He was amazed that they had been at the library all along and he had no idea, though he was a bit disappointed that he couldn't check them out and bring them home.

I actually agree with him. I always loved looking through encyclopedias and do kind of miss having a set around here just for people to browse through. Because it is in the browsing where you find things that you didn't know you were interested in. This is much harder to do with online research. It's also why I much prefer going to the library and searching for books on the shelves myself... because you never know what you are going to come across when you do so.

So I guess I will be keeping my eyes out for a not completely outdated set of affordable encyclopedias to have around the house. That used to be an oxymoron, but I wonder if they have so fallen out of favor that it could be possible. Anyone know?

Monday, October 07, 2013

My big blue IKEA bag

We spent a good portion of Saturday going through the house and picking up. Every single surface in the house had become piled to Mt. Everest proportions. I admit that some of the mess was the remains of my school planning that I had never put back into place, but certainly not all of it. The disease of 'leave your belongings where ever they drop out of your hands' had reached epidemic levels. It was time to take drastic action. It was time for the big blue IKEA bag.

[Insert menacing music.]

This is something I used to do long, long ago, but decided it was time to dig it out of my bag of tricks. It's a simple idea. I keep the big blue IKEA bag in the kitchen. If I find anything that it is not put away and I pick it up, I put it in the bag. A child is welcome to reclaim the items in the bag at any time (in fact, it is encouraged), but at a designated time on Saturday mornings I will empty the contents of the bag and get rid of it, no matter what happens to be inside. It's a very effective system and useful for discovering what people really care about.

I few notes if you want to try this at home. First, I give the littles a little grace. I will probably help them to find their things before the disposal because they really don't understand what's happening. Also, for the first few weeks, I will offer a reminder to older people in case someone, somehow missed the memo about when disposal was happening or decides to not really believe me. (For some children, it takes having your stuff actually thrown away before they understand you mean what you say.) Lastly, it takes a strong parent to actually follow through, especially if you know there is something in the bag that is cared about.

But it is effective... and memorable. When younger brothers and sisters mentioned the IKEA bag to M. and B. this weekend, the response was, "Oh, the IKEA bag" with great understanding in their tone of voice. It does make the house more tidy.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Shark teeth

Look what we discovered last night. K. has two grown-up teeth growing behind his baby teeth and his baby teeth are very loose.

To me this is the final proof that K.'s development stalled for two years in the orphanage and he really is not just two years delayed, but really two years younger than he should be... as if someone hit the pause button on his life. Teeth tell a lot and first new teeth come in sometime during a child's fifth year. K. is, age-wise, 7 years old, but really he's five. According to his teeth.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Quietness, well my version

Yesterday as I was telling J. about our schedule for today, I mentioned that P., TM, and D. would be going to the Art Institute to do a drawing through the museum program with friends. As a result, because the son who requires extra vigilance and extra patience would be away, I said that it would be a quiet morning. This morning, after those three had gone and our house guest had gone to a cleaning job, J., on his way out the door was listening to the six children that were going to be left in my and A.'s charge and he laughed thinking back to yesterday's conversation. You see, the house at that point, with busy, busy, busy preschoolers was anything but quiet. It was rather loud, in fact. Happy loud, but still loud. He mentioned that perhaps my idea of quiet was rather different from most other people's.

I realized that it is. Quiet has come to mean 'without drama, disaster, or disregulation' in my world. It truly has nothing to do with volume. Thus with the main player in the drama, disaster, and disregulation camp away, the day was shaping up to be quiet. Even with the noise. I am so thankful for good friends who provide respite. It offers me a few hours to breath normally and even take a shower without wondering what chaos is occurring on the other side of the door. It truly is a respite... even with so many preschoolers dashing and yelling about the house.

I know this could make my life sound rather dreary and tense, but on a day to day basis it really isn't that bad and you get used to how your normal looks. This is especially true if you have been through real crises and can appreciate that bad is really much worse than what you are currently experiencing. It's like the rabbinic folk tale about the cow in the house. It's a great story and one that really feels as though defines my life. Essentially, a poor man goes to the rabbi to complain that the house is too small and noisy and everyone is unhappy. The rabbi tells him he can fix it if the man will do everything the rabbi says. The rabbi then tells the man to bring, one by one, farm animals to come and live in the house. When the man can't take it any longer, he is finally instructed to remove all the animals. When he does so, the house seems so large and quiet and peaceful that he is happy... even though it is back to the way it was when he originally complained. Brilliant. It's all about perspective.

Still it's nice to get a break every now and then.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Avoiding the bills

Since I should be working on paying bills right now, it seems much more fun and interesting to write a blog post instead. (Actually just about anything at this moment sounds more fun and interesting.) Now, if only I had something to write about. I'm afraid odds and ends is all you get today.

First, I know that I've told you that A. is very interested in photography. She saw that our local library was running a photo contest and decided to enter. Well, out of over 100 entries in her age group, one of her photos was chosen as a semi-finalist. If you click the link, you can see the picture that was chosen. She is in the under 18 category and her photo is the one of P. reading on the roof of the van. I will note that this is not normally a place that P. reads, but did so to humor A. in her quest for interesting reading photos. (Please don't think this is a ploy for votes, though you're welcome to vote for whichever photo you like best. I really just wanted to share her photograph.)

Next, the results of my day spent with apples last weekend was 8 pie's worth of apples in the freezer, 20 quarts of applesauce, and several cups of dried apples. I still have some more apples and I think we're going to dry most of them as well. I accidentally forgot about them and they dried a little longer than I had planned. It was one of those happy accidents where the final product turned out better than they would have otherwise. Instead of being chewy like the dried apples from the store, these are pretty crisp and are much more like apple chips. Everyone loves them and I've had to hide them in the freezer so that they will still be around in the winter.

Finally, in book news, we have finished reading two chapter books. The first was Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield. It was our lunch time read aloud and it was a hit. It had a good story combined with giving a sense of what ancient Rome was like without being too didactic. I think we will have to hunt up the sequel. The older boys and I also finished reading The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. I loved this book as a girl because it satisfied my need to read anything and everything about horses. Thus, I had classified it in my head a book appropriate for horse-crazy children. Well, if you had also thought about it that way, you need to reclassify it because it is also a really great book for boys, whether they are interested in horses or not. (Though they might become interested as a result.) It had both my boys completely engaged and clamoring for more. I know finding compelling books that appeal to boys can sometimes be tricky and I'm always happy to find one to add to the list.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

History crafts

As we've been reading through The Story of the Romans, I have crafts planned that (sort of) match elements in what we've been reading. (As we get further along, it gets a little easier... read about Roman roads, make a model of a Roman road.) Right now we've been reading about the early, more mythical stories of Rome which do not always lend themselves to hands-on, educationally-related activities. We've been doing a little stretching.

The first history craft we did was to make eagles. (Tarquin had his had stolen and then replaced by an eagle which was seen as an auspicious sign.) Ours didn't turn out quite so eagle-like due to the multi-colored feathers that we used. These eagles have a string that runs through the toilet paper tube so that two people stand across from each other holding both strings. When on spreads his arms apart, the other holds his arms together, thus sending the eagle 'flying' back and forth as the string is moved apart from either end.

Yesterday, we made poppies (to go along with another Tarquin [a different Tarquin, though] story). I love a craft that turns out well for all age groups. These will be going up on our wire when I get a free moment.

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