Showing posts from January, 2014

Some people will do anything to appear on the blog

Public schools in our area closed on Monday and Tuesday of this week due to cold weather. Even though there was some heavy lobbying for us to cancel school, we did not. I pointed out that since they did not need to set a foot outside, nothing was hindering them from cracking the books. This worked well for Monday, but Tuesday, J.'s school closed the campus, so he was home. With Daddy home, I relented and gave everyone the day off as well. 
As I watched my children entertain themselves all day, it became obvious to me (again) that so much of learning happens outside of textbooks. What did they do all day? Well, there was a lot of reading, of course. D. decided to teach HG how to play chess, which he did, and the chess set has been out ever since and receiving heavy use. More mancala was played. This has become H.'s favorite game (a definite step up from endless games of Uno. A quick aside... I have been greatly impressed with how H. has mastered this game. When she started pla…

Napier bones

Today was a short school day for us because H. had (another) pre-op appointment. (For those of you have never had the joy of a child going through surgery, what you don't realize is that for the two weeks preceeding the surgery your life is filled with innumerable appointments at doctor's offices at the exactly the same time you become obsessed with keeping your child away from germs because if the child has a cold, the surgery will have to be postponed. It makes for parental craziness.) This is why we spent the remaining part of the morning opening up the Multicultural Math learning box which we had checked out of the Field Museum.

Inside the box were the things you would expect to find... abacuses (abici? what is the plural for that noun?) and tangrams. But there was also something I had never heard of: Napier bones. These are the coolest things and I'm sure that someone with a better math brain than mine could figure out how the series of numbers were figured out. Have …

Some new old books for you

The boys and I finished reading a great book which I want to share with you. As I was perusing a website which had a long book list which contained many of the more obscure books I'm always pushing at you, I came across a comment recommending a pair of books I had never heard of, nor had I ever heard of the author. Trust me when I say this doesn't happen very often. I was intrigued and immediately searched for them in our library's catalogue. I was thrilled to find them both there and placed them on hold. (I could go into long raptures about how much I love being able to do book searches at home and then reserve the books and have them delivered to the library one an half blocks from my house, but I'll save that for another time.)

The books are The Lost Island and The Island of Horses both by Eilis Dillon, an Irish author who wrote mid-century. The books are set on the western coast of Ireland and portray life there as well as on the islands off the coast. We just fini…

Large families, older siblings, and vocabulary

There are many articles (though I use the term loosely as they belong more on the Op Ed page) about the disadvantages of growing up in a large family. Some of them are so critical you would almost think it was a form of child abuse to selfishly have more than one or two children. Since most of them are so far from reality and written with obvious bias, I just ignore them.

Sometimes, though, one comes across my path that I just can't leave alone. Such was the one I happened upon today from Reuters titled, "Sibling Relationships Tied to Children's Vocabulary Skills". It's not that the whole article was bad. They did try to point out something positive about large families, though in a 'with friends like these...' back-handed sort of way. The gist of the article is this. Parents obviously have less time to spend with younger children of a large family and thus their vocabularies suffer based on standardized tests. But, if those young children have older sibl…

Doing adoption agency research

When I posted my little rant about adoptive parents doing a fantastic ostrich imitation when it comes to ethics, someone posted a question in the comments about how, exactly, to do due diligence and research ethical agencies. I have done a little research myself and I'll share what I've found, though don't take this for the only way to research. And if I've forgotten something, please chime in and share what you have found to be effective.

First, let me describe how we went about research 8 or 9 years ago when we were first starting this journey. In some ways, even though our dependence on the internet was a bit less back then, I think it was a little easier to do research. I knew what agencies we were interested in and set about to investigate them. At that time, each country had a couple of pages run by other adoptive parents that were a sort of gathering place. People who had adopted from that country would list their names and what agency they had used and whether …

Our week of Night of the Moonjellies

This past week was another attempt at Five in a Row style learning for the younger set. We read Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha. It's about the author's memories of working at his grandmother's lobster roll stand when he was a child. One day he finds something jelly-like on the beach and shows it to his grandmother. After they close the stand for the night, she takes him out on the ocean to where the moonjellies are. Everyone enjoyed the book and happily sat through it each day.

On the first day we looked at a map to see where New England was. This, of course, turned into a discussion about where Arizona was and how we would get there. Since we were not planning to imminently go to New England, their interest in it was minimal.

On another day we made moonjelly paintings with black construction paper and pastels. Since moonjellies are bioluminescent, they glow in the ocean and the pastels on the black paper have that same quality. It was one of those "it turns …

The low down on tissue expansion

I don't know exactly what I was expecting at the doctor's yesterday, but it wasn't what I got. It was training so much as education about the whole tissue expansion process. And there were a lot of pictures. Oh my. I had to take a lot of deep breaths and force myself not to start flapping around the office and yelling. I'm not sure I'm ready for this and I'm not sure H. is ready for this, but then I don't think we'll ever be ready, so now is as good a time as any.

Here's the deal for those who don't know about this procedure. Tissue expansion is used to create new skin to surgically replace skin that is compromised. That can be skin that was burned or poor skin grafts or, as in H.'s case, skin with nevus and/ or sebaceous skin. The benefits are that it is the patient's own skin, so there is no risk of rejection, the color matches, and both nerve cells and hair follicles remain intact and are present. The new skin is grown by the use of e…

Off to learn to be a nurse

First, let me point out that being a nurse was never on my list of potential occupations, so I find it slightly amusing and baffling that this is where I find myself. Of course, I'm not really learning to be a nurse, but I do have to take some training to learn to inflate the skin expanders with saline over the next two and half months. I'll just add it to my list of accomplishments along with removing stitches. Some people have bucket lists, I have a list of things I know how to do, but wish I didn't. I'll let you know how it goes.

Also, thank you for the suggestions for blogging topics. I always appreciate writing suggestions. Plus, I saw the question about how to choose a reputable agency. I think this is a more complicated thing to answer these days than it was a while ago. I'm going to do a little research and get back to you with a report.

Since I don't have time to write, I'm going to link to some much older posts that newer readers might never come …

The post I have to write but wish I didn't

I have been putting off writing this post, but I don't like what I see, so I guess I just have to get it out. In the various adoption forums and groups I am a part of I have seen a rise in discussion about ethics violations in countries whose adoption program was ethically inviolate. I know it surprises and saddens many people that fraud happens everywhere, but it does. This is especially true when you are dealing with the toxic cocktail of parents who either desperately want a child or desperately want to help a child, poor families in poor countries, and a large amount of money that changes hands.

As a parent of two sons from Vietnam, the stories of fraud, trafficking, unethical agencies and facilitators, and ostrich-like parents are not new. In fact, a country I love is closed to international adoption because of it. Other parents have similar stories about the countries of their children's birth. It is sadly the same story. Here is how it goes... fill in the country name o…

Visions of sunny days dance through their heads.

It's a balmy 8 degrees in Chicagoland and we received yet more snow overnight. I know I can't start moaning about it yet because it's only the middle of January and we still have a couple more months of winter to get through. The housebound children and dog, though may not make it to the end. Or maybe just their parents won't make it to the end. All that to say it's been a more winter-y winter than we've had recently.

This is why my parents' Christmas gift to all of us is so very well-timed. They are helping us to make the trek to Arizona in March, over J's, M's, and B's spring break. WooHoo! (And of course, the only reason I'm telling you about it in advance is because we have a house/dog sitter for Gretel while we're gone.) The big trip is only 6 weeks away and it's pretty much all anyone talks about. G. and L. have even gone so far as to pack their knapsacks. At the rate they're going, I will never be able to find anything whe…

A futon, a dog, and a new bed

As Gretel gets older, she slowly becomes a well-behaved animal. She is chewing a little less on things she is not supposed to chew on. She is able to greet visitors without totally drowning them with her tongue, knocking them down, and deafening them with barking. We don't have to have the kitchen blocked off with a baby gate. But she is still a Labrador who is only a year a half, so her improvements are still a work in progress.

Sometimes the dog forgets herself. Every so often, we will all realize that it has been a while since we have seen her. If when called, Gretel comes happily towards you, all is well. But if the dog skulks and slinks and pretends she isn't there, you know something is amiss. And you can be assured that it will be unpleasant and most likely involve pee. On a bed. It is her least endearing habit. So far the lucky recipients have been me and J., P., and TM. This most recent occurrence was the futon which K. had been sleeping on while B. was home. On the p…

Building blocks

I love blocks. If I had to reduce our toy collection to just a few toys, our blocks would definitely make the cut. They are played with nearly continuously around here. Blocks stand in for other objects, they (obviously) are great for building, they encourage creative and imaginative play and thinking. The trouble with many modern toys is that they dictate to the child how they should be played with. Blocks don't do that, it is completely up to the child to decide how to use it. Toys that make noise and light distract the child from real play because the child gets distracted by making the light and noise happen. That's not play, that's just button pushing. (Plus it's terribly annoying.) Allowing your child open-ended toys and plenty of free time is the recipe for creativity. 
Case in point. K. came to us the other day wanting to show us what he had built on the third floor. We were expecting a building of some sort, what we weren't expecting was his version of the…

Socially isolated

As I was idly looking through the newspaper yesterday morning, I came across a (front page?!) article about how there are still some people in the world who purposefully choose to not own a smart phone and still manage with a little flip phone instead. My interest was piqued because I happen to be one of those people, so I read the article. It was everything you would expect it to be, except it included the phenomenally ridiculous statement that people who do not choose to use a smart phone risk social isolation.


I often wish newspaper articles were actual dialogs because what I really wanted to know was exactly how this could be. (Warning, slightly snarky and facetious commentary ahead. If you tend to take your smartphone usage too seriously, you may be offended.) To me, socially isolated means that you have little human contact. That you don't know how to communicate with people. That you have difficulty interacting in groups when you are with people. That when you are o…

She laughs at the time to come

Today is the monthly Hearts at Home blog hop and the topic is "Love Your Dreams/Goals" and I have to admit I wasn't feeling really in love with it. It's not that I don't have dreams or goals in my life. I have plenty.... probably more than I have years to fulfill them all. I could spend this post writing something along the lines of be sure you have plans and dreams, especially if you are in the middle of you child raising years because you need more in life than raising children. But you already know that. Then this morning came the underwear incident.

I was listening to the little girls getting dressed and G. was having an unhappy moment about her underwear. L., helpfully was telling her, "You picked it, you just have to wear it." G. was shouting, "No, I don't! And the washer stretched it out!" This was curious. J. wanders in to see what is going on and the next thing I hear is J. saying, "G., that's not even your underwear. I d…

Thankful for sad

I want to start out by bragging about my college age children a bit. If you have children at college then you already understand that the transitions between vacation and school can be tricky to navigate. At school your child is an autonomously functioning adult. They are responsible for what they do and when. Yet when they arrive home for vacations, they enter a grey area. No longer are they responsible just for themselves, but they are back in a family with other people and they must think of those people. Also, it is so easy for both parent and child to fall back into old patterns, all the while the young adult tries to somehow maintain that sense of independence at school.

I will say that I think my young adults manage these transitions pretty well. On our parts, J. and I try to remember that their role in the family has changed. This means we try not to tell them what to do and when. I also try not to assume that they will be free to do something, and am sure to check their calen…

Adoption 101: glitches

I'm not sure I'm completely qualified to write this post, though in truth, I think there are probably very few people who actually are. With that caveat in mind, I will heedlessly jump into the fray and discuss something that a lot of people talk about privately, but that doesn't get mentioned publicly very often. That topic would be the irregular workings of our children's brains... at least those children who have come from less-than-ideal circumstances. I'm not sure anyone really knows what to call this, so I'm going to stick with glitches. Since a glitch is defined as a short-lived fault in a system, it seems to cover what I'm talking about.

I have a feeling that some parents are already nodding their heads in agreement, but probably many others are wondering what this is. Let's see if I can explain. I know a lot of adoptive families and a lot of adopted children. I also am on many internet groups of adopted parents, so my sample size is actually fa…

Crown factory

After a weekend of Romeo and Juliet, sending M. and B. back to school, and hours revising my schedule to make it match the reality of vacations and surgeries for the next few months all you get this morning are some pictures.

As I predicted, the crown that M. made for L. was hugely popular and all of the younger set needed crowns as well. TM wanted to get into the crown making action and made HG3 this one:

M. made a pink (by request) crown for G.

K. decided he wanted to make his own.

And TM made a butterfly crown for H.

And if you really feel the need for actual content, head over to Heart of the Matter and read my new article on Surviving the January Doldrums.

Queen Elsa

One of the fun family activities we did over Christmas break was to take everyone to see the movie, Frozen. Some family members really, really loved it. One of the favorite activities now is to sing the songs from it all the time. A. and TM are quite accommodating and hook their iPods up to speakers so the little girls can listen to the music. All. The. Time.

L., as is her wont, has embraced the movie in her own unique way. No more Superman around here, she has transformed into Queen Elsa from the movie. For four straight days she has chosen dresses and tights... because that's what Queen Elsa wears. Then into the second day, she found a random Lego piece that looked vaguely like a crown that she insisted we bobby pin on her head. This was find for a while, but it would come off and it didn't look like a real crown. The wonderful thing about having your designer older sister still home for break is that when you complain about your lack of crown, she offers to make you one. An…

The unexpected hidden cost of a large family

It all started because it was too cold and I needed to find the feather bed to help keep K. warm. This meant rummaging around in the blanket chest where it lives, under years' worth of photo albums. It being night and me being tired meant that I left the piles of photo albums on a couch... for several days. Yesterday, I decided that I must reclaim the couch and do something with with photo albums to keep them safe from little fingers. The trouble was that at the same time little fingers were interested in them, older children were really enjoying seeing them again.

In our old house (the charming, too-small one), the photo albums were more accessible and were often looked at. When we moved into the Big Ugly House, there didn't seem to be a convenient place to store them, and so at some point they ended up in the blanket chest. And since the blanket chest is often the pedestal on which our Harris Loan Program animals live, it is often difficult to get inside.

These are all the t…

Learning jags

I've been on a bit of a reading jag here recently... if you hadn't already noticed. As I've been thinking about it, it's how I function pretty much all the time. Get consumed with something, spend every moment of free time doing it, losing a bit of interest, and moving onto something else with the whole cycle starts again. My family is rather used to it and are pretty OK with it since I still manage to keep everyone fed and dressed. Usually. It's also how I functioned in school as well, though it wasn't always good for my grades to become consumed with the class I was auditing and not the class I was being graded in.

I have also noticed that in several of my children, they tend to function the same way. Being really interested in one thing, working on and reading about that one thing to the greater exclusion of the rest of their schoolwork, then moving on. I have learned to try not to interfere too much in this process as it usually averages itself out in the l…

Do as I do

I read an interesting book last night, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. While I'm drawn to books about education, I always approach them with a little trepidation because the theories and worldview behind them can be all over the board. This one turned out to be interesting, if only from an anthropological point of view. The author looks at three countries whose children scored extremely well on the Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. The interesting twist is that she follows three US exchange students as they get a front seat view into the schools of Finland, South Korea, and Poland. I didn't agree with everything the author espoused, but it was fascinating to see into the schools of other countries.

There was one interesting bit that I thought worth sharing here.

"Parents who read to their children weekly or daily when they were young raised children who scored twenty-five points higher on PISA by the time they…