Monday, June 30, 2014

Mail from Mickey

Several weeks ago, L. (who LOVES Mickey Mouse) decided she would write Mickey a letter. She asked A. to write the letters as she dictated. Here is her letter. (It reads: Dear Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Clarabelle, I will come visit you when I am 5 years old. I like to dress up as Superman. I am very excited to meet you. Love, L)

I seemed to remember that there was an address to send fan mail to Mickey, so we looked it up and mailed it. It was worth the stamp because L. was going to be insistent that it really be mailed. For the first few days L. hovered around the mail box waiting to see if her return letter from Mickey arrived. Then, thankfully, she forgot about the letter and only occasionally asked when it would arrive.

And then on Saturday it arrived! Oh glorious day! A letter from Mickey and all his friends. L. loves it and is even planning on bringing it along on our trip later this week. 

Notice L. has now entered the goofy, forced smile phase.

Now, about the content of that letter. No, I do not know how L. got it in her head that she would be visiting Mickey when she was five. I haven't broken the news to her, yet. I'm hoping she will forget that was on her agenda for this next year, because it won't be happening. Have you looked at ticket prices for Mickey's home recently? It's a big number and then when you multiply it by 15?! Yow! I think we'll stick with writing letters. When you're five, mail addressed to you and a trip are about equal in excitement.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On not being lost in Iowa

While there were some humorous moments, I am happy to report that I am not writing this from the back roads of Iowa still looking for a driveway. All went well and I am now home with two less children than I left with, but that was the plan so it's OK.

The drive was fine and then we turned off the interstate to head north. That was fine until there was a detour. Now, historically, I do not have great success with detours. I don't know if I miss signs or just have happened to be on poorly marked ones, but they never seem to end and I have to make up the last bit on my own. I do not view detours signs as happy things. Yet, the bridge was out, so I had no choice but to take the detour. I drive on and then the detour brings us to the town where I have been to pick-up our side of beef. I know where I am! The trouble is, while I can easily find the meat locker in this small town, I have always had difficulty finding the road north out of it. Ask my children. I probably hold the record for the number of times I have circled around this town looking for the highway. I got to add to that number again on Thursday. (Don't ask me how or why I get lost in this town, but I do. It's a mystery.) So, I decide to continue following the detour, which most definitely is not heading north, the direction I need to go. We drive some more and I notice the road coming up is the one that goes by the farm where my brother is now living. (I am not heading to the farm first, I am heading to the friends' house where some of us will be sleeping. But I have never been to their house, hence the road between the cornfield directions.) We pass the farm and keep driving north. Now I am finally on the right road and can begin looking for the cornfields and the road... from the opposite direction from which I have directions. As we keep driving and notice we are passing things that were to be landmarks going the other way, we turn around, paying very close attention. And then we see the road... as we pass it. So I turn around again... and pass it. (It's not very big.) We do this little merry-go-round-thing three times before finally making the turn onto the small lane right in the middle of two corn fields. Truly there are no other identifying landmarks one could use to give directions. We find the house, greet our friends, and then climb back in the van to go back the way we came to go back to the farm.

The evening, after spending some time catching up with my brother and his family, TM and D. and I climb back into the van to go to the other house. A. decided she would rather sleep on the floor with her cousins. For some reason, the absence of A. in the car filled the boys with great trepidation. It was as if without A.'s presence we would become hopelessly lost and never be found again. "Are you sure you can find the road, Mommy?" "What if you don't find the road?" etc., etc. I will admit to sounding a little more confident than I was feeling. Would I be able to find the road in the dark? 

I am happy to report that I did, and found it the first time to boot. The next morning we headed back to the farm and helped do some unpacking then headed back for home. The 45 minutes spent in rain so heavy I could barely see the road wasn't a lot of fun, but that was the worst of it. It's funny how much more quiet the house seems with two children gone, even if those two children were the quietest of the bunch. It will be good to go back next week and see them (and bring one back.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Road trip!

I'm leaving this afternoon with several children (I'm taking the helpful ones and leaving J. at home with the, um, less helpful ones.) My brother and his family have recently moved to Iowa (long story, not mine to tell) and they need help getting the place ready to house a horse and other farm-type animals. Enter B. who likes nothing better than to do hard work around farm-type places. He will be working for my brother for most of the summer and we need to drive over to drop him off. Of course, other children want to come along and see the farm and play with cousins, so that's what we're doing. It's a quick trip and I'll be back tomorrow. That's OK because the whole family will be heading out next week (with a dog sitter at home... just need to point it out) to spend the fourth over there. Because we'll be back next week, P. is going to stay there as well and we'll bring her home with us next week.

Now, I've been in the area before, but not frequently and certainly very few times as a driving adult, so I needed to call last night to get directions to the various places I need to show up tonight. I'm afraid that this is where my rather mundane driving trip becomes a bit of a farce: city girl driving in the county. Hilarity ensues as she gets hopelessly lost in the middle of a cornfield. You see, the directions I have to get places are less than clear. At least to my mind. I like and do very well with directions that sound like this. Drive three blocks, turn left at the stop light on 36th street. Go another three blocks, past the strip mall and turn left on the street just past it. etc., etc. What do I get for directions instead? I get things like "Turn left onto the blacktop road just before the big hill" or "Turn off the black top right before the blue silo" or (my personal favorite) "Turn past the house onto the lane between two corn fields." Um, I will be in Iowa. doesn't every road go between two cornfields? At least I will be finding these places while it is still daylight. At least that's my plan. We'll see. You can tell I'm brimming over with self-confidence about this, can't you?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Here's some reading for you

Here are some interesting things I've come across that you might find interesting.

First, One Thankful Mom has written one of the best posts I've ever seen about homeschooling.
Homeschooling: Six Truths I Wished I had Known in the Beginning

Next a couple of articles about reading.
Why Books are Better than e-Books for Children
Read to a Tiny Baby? Yes

And a couple on adoption.
The Adoption Process Really isn't the Hard Part
Post-Orphanage Behaviors in Internationally Adopted Children

Finally, a link to a video Love Without Boundaries produced. It really highlight for me what these children face when they are adopted.
Hope for Orphaned Children

Lena may have a family now, but that still leaves two girls who really need someone to be their mommy and daddy.

Here's Grace. She is 7 years old and has waited and waited for a family while being shuffled from place to place. She needs some love and stability.

And here is Ting. I found another site advocating for her with some different pictures. She so, so, so much reminds me of H. (She is called Tina on the Twenty Less site.) If you are seriously considering adopting her, please contact me because I have some information I can share with you privately.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Catching up on pictures

My mother reminded me that she is still waiting for pictures from D.'s birthday. Here they are.

We also celebrated J.'s birthday. You know we have candle issues in our house... never having a dessert that can hold them and my penchant for recycling them over and over. I think this is a new low (high?) in candle recycling. It's hard to see, but B. is holding a '4' and a '6' and four single candles, which if you add all those numbers together you get the somewhat milestone age that J. just turned. I don't think he minds me outing him on the internet. Much.

D. actually had candles that said his age: 11. And they were new! You should have heard the exclamations over using new candles.

Opening presents.

(That smile is for the camera, Grammy and Grandpa.)

I also wanted to show you photographic proof that we don't have a crazy Lab in the house, but merely an over sized gerbil. I walked through the house yesterday and started seeing little bits of cardboard strewn around.

And then I saw what they had come from. Yes, Gretel, the gerbil-dog, has been on the move.


And.... I have some very, very good news to share. The little girl, Lena, who I have been advocating for has a family. They have submitted the first paperwork needed and are on their way to being able to bring her home!!!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

What has it cost you?

One afternoon while I was sewing I had the radio on and happened to catch an interview with Rosario Butterfield about her book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith. I haven't read the book, but there was one part of the interview that I have continued to think about for months afterwards. As Ms. Butterfield was contemplating choosing to follow Jesus, she was speaking with the pastor of the church she had been attending about the fact that she felt she would have to give up too much in order to follow Jesus. She felt as though her experience was unique and that probably no one else in the congregation had to give up as much as she would. The pastor challenged her to go ask them. Go ask people what they had given up in order to follow Christ.

At this point I admit to losing track of what was on the radio because I wondered what I would say if someone asked me this question. Have I had to give up, sacrifice something I felt was really important and valuable to follow Jesus? At the face of it, it seemed like an easy decision. Both sides of my family have been faithful Christians for generations. I did not have to face the disapproval, much less condemnation of my family to take this path. In fact it was the opposite... following Jesus is a high family value. I live in a country where there is freedom to follow whatever religion you want. No one is going to come knocking on my door and take me away to prison for being Christian. My family is not in danger of their lives because they are Christian. I've never even lost a friend because I am Christian. I could make the argument could be made that my decision to follow Jesus was cost-free.

As I thought about it more, I realized this is not exactly true. There are certain decisions that J. and I have made that have come about specifically because of following Jesus. The result of those decisions have certainly not been cost free. There have been some extremely difficult and trying times. These decisions do affect our entire lives and there are certainly things we do without because of those decisions. And while this may be true, it is also true that the decisions have not been all negative and we have received much blessing from them. When you feel this way, it is difficult to see something as a loss.

As I said it is a question that somewhat haunts me. Others have given up so much to follow Jesus. The more you give up for something, the more you value what you gave it up for. I'm not looking for answers or even fishing for compliments; I'm merely sharing the things that linger in my thoughts. It's not really a matter of whether a person does enough or not. Jesus doesn't have a list of things one must do to receive His love and approval. It is more a matter of ultimate value. What is really the most important thing to me? To what lengths am I willing to go for that thing? Do you wrestle with the same thoughts?

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matthew 13: 44-46 (ESV)

What has it cost you?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The further adventures of Gretel... or the worst first piano lesson ever

Gretel loves to play. One of Gretel's favorite game is chase. Gretel doesn't want to chase people (though there's nothing better to her than chasing rabbits and squirrels), she wants people to chase her. Chase is even better than fetching balls. Playing chase is the best, best thing and Gretel will do anything to get people to chase her. Gretel has discovered that bolting out the front door is the very best way to play her favorite game.

Gretel's people do not like to play chase. They will throw balls. They will point out the rabbits. Gretel's people do not think playing chase is fun. Gretel's people think that playing chase with Gretel when she bolts out the front door is the worst game in the world. Gretel's people have to play the game Stalking when Gretel bolts and carefully sneak up on her, piece of food in hand, to stop the game the of chase. Gretel's people do not like this.

One of Gretel's people teaches piano. This is fun because there are always new people to ask to play. But Gretel's other people don't often let her do this and keep her in the kitchen. This makes Gretel sad. Why can she not play with the new people? This morning, things were different. All of Gretel's people went away except for the one teaching piano. They did not put Gretel in her crate. Gretel could say hi to all the new people, though none of them wanted to play. Gretel was sad and sat and pouted on a chair.

Then, one of the new people left the door open. Gretel's person was busy talking to the new person. Maybe the new person wants to play chase! Gretel runs hoping someone will play. All of the people come out of the house. Maybe they want to play. Oh, wait! Gretel feels something. Gretel has some business to do before she plays chase. OK, Gretel has taken care of her business, now they will play chase. Gretel runs. No one chases her. Gretel runs some more. Gretel looks at the people and does not look where she is running. Bang! Gretel has run into something. It was hard, but it has driven away and it is not there anymore. Gretel tries to run that way again. Some other big things comes close and honks a horn. Gretel's person is calling. Maybe running back to the house is a good idea. Oh, look! There is that new person again. Maybe she will want to play, Gretel will go ask.

Darn. The new person didn't want to play. The new person grabbed Gretel's collar. Gretel's person put her in the crate. Gretel is sad. Gretel didn't get to play.

In all my years of teaching, never have I had such a ludicrous first lesson. The dog bolts. The dog poops in front of everyone. The dog runs into the street and runs into a moving car. (I'm picturing traumatized piano students watching their teacher's dog get killed in the street.) The dog is fine and runs into the street AGAIN, narrowly being missed by a second car. The parent of my new student catches the dog and I put her in the crate.

The moral of the story? If you husband asks you if you want the dog put in the crate before everyone in the family leaves, say YES!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy 11th birthday, D.!

Today is D.'s birthday, though we won't celebrate until tomorrow since he is still up at church camp. It also marks the day of a three day in a row string of celebrations... tomorrow is J.'s birthday and the next day is our anniversary (our 23rd). Is it any wonder that I have a love/hate relationship with June? This also marks the day where we have three 11 year olds in the house.

It also caused me to do some math to figure out what years will have the most children in their teens living here. It's a tie between when the virtual triplets turn 13 and when they turn 16. Both years will see five teens in the house. Don't read too much trepidation into that statement, because I happen to like the age. I actually find it (the count of teens in the house) more interesting than anything.

Anyway, back to D. I love this not-so-little boy so much. He is perhaps one of the most empathetic people I know. He really just loves people. He also has a most remarkable memory. I'm not sure if it is quite to photographic levels, but for the most part, if he hears or reads something once, he remembers it. Anything that he has heard that has struck his fancy, he can usually remember verbatim. He will then repeat the interesting thing over and over, but that's another story. He's just good company.

So Happy Birthday, D.! I love you!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Love your uniqueness

The Hearts at Home blog hop's topic this month is "Love Your Uniqueness." I will admit that as much as I love a prompt, this one has me a little stymied. I have a pretty healthy self-esteem, but I am also realistic about areas I need to work on. I'm also a little wary of the school of thought that tells us to love ourselves without a hearty dose of clear-headedness about our strengths and weaknesses.

We humans also have quite a bit of trouble with uniqueness anyway. We tend to prefer when everyone is comfortably like ourselves. Different is hard. When people take a different path, it tends to make others nervous; not everyone, but in general. I think this is because when people do things that are unique, it makes us question what we are doing. I find this to be particularly true with parenting. The minute a mother chooses something different from the crowd, a minor brouhaha erupts. Pick your topic... breast feeding, working, vaccinations, sleeping arrangement, all the way down to what kind of toys you buy. I remember talking to a mother who felt compelled to hide the plastic toys her child owned when a certain group of mothers came over for a play date. They were in the 'wooden toys only camp' and she was embarrassed by her plastic playthings. I often find mothers to be the piranhas of the human world: when frenzied, we have a tendency to attack and eat each other. (Metaphorically, of course.)

Why do we do this? I've watched it happen over and over for the past 21 years, and I'm sure it happened well before I was a mother. You want to know what I think? You must, since you're reading this. I think there are at least two reasons. There are probably more, but I think these two are high in the running.

First, we lack personal reasons and convictions as to why we do things. We go along with the flow and everything is okie-dokey until someone does something different. It's as if we have been living with the shadows in Plato's cave, and watching someone make very different life choices is like suddenly being shown there is a world that we had no idea existed. It's hard to realize that there are other ways of doing things when you just assumed there was only one. Psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance. It's unpleasant to experience, but it is how we learn and grow. Except when we don't. Sometimes we just want to go back into our caves and pretend another way of doing things doesn't exist. It might even make us feel better to tell everyone how wrong that other way of doing things really is. We do it because we often don't have real reasons for why we have chosen something. It feels threatening to be shown that there are other options.

Let's use my experiences of telling people I'm homeschooling as an example. When we first began homeschooling, it was still a relatively unusual educational choice, especially when you live in an area where people pay exorbitant taxes for the nationally ranked school systems. I found there was one of two possible reactions when I told people we wouldn't be sending our daughter to kindergarten. The first was outright shock. Why would we do that? But we lived in a 'good' school district! Is that even legal? I could tell the people who reacted this way were completely thrown by our decision. The other reaction was "That's interesting, how does that work?" The people who were OK with our decision were ones that I knew had done some real thinking about how there were going to educate their children. Some had chosen public school and others had chosen private school, but all had real reasons for why they sent their children where they did. Our decision didn't affect them so much because they had already put so much thought into what they were doing.

There is a second reason that would seem to be contradictory to the first. People with strong reasons for what they do can also be uncomfortable with uniqueness. We lack humility. We may have many reasons why we do what we do and we think they are really good reasons. It wouldn't make sense to do something for a bad reason, would it? We have a tendency to think our really good reasons for doing something are the only really good reasons out there. If someone chooses something different, we know without a doubt that they are wrong. And sometimes we want to share why they are so wrong. We assume that a unique life choice, one that is different from our choices, must be inferior. We can lack humility.

I have really dealt with just superficial things here and haven't even really touched on more personal character traits where it can feel even scarier to be unique because they touch on who we really are. My point in all this is that it is difficult to accept our own uniqueness if we have difficulty with uniqueness in general. Being unique is often just double-speak for oddness and not fitting in. To love your uniqueness means that you have learned to accept uniqueness in others as well. How can we really love what makes us individuals when we are so busy wanting everyone to be just like us? It seems that would make everyone the same and would do away with any uniqueness we may have. Since belief follows action, it would seem that if we make a habit of accepting the quirks and oddities and differences in others, then we will become more comfortable with our own quirks, oddities, and uniqueness. Really, once again, it comes down to putting the focus on others and taking it off ourselves, and in the process we will become more comfortable with who we are.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Those times when you realize you have a big family

Most of the time I don't think our family is all that big. Yes, there are a lot of us, but it's what we're used to. We see the individuals, not the group as a whole. Does that make sense? When some are missing, many times at least one person will look around and say, "Is that all? Do we have everyone?" Even though the group consists of at least 6 or more people, it seems small because of our normal numbers.

There are times though, when I have moments of seeing our family with someone else's eyes. Those times when I catch a glimpse of my family, yet don't immediately recognize it as such. I do have moments of, "Wow! That's a lot of children!" I then realize it's my own family, laugh, and the size doesn't seem so enormous anymore. Or, I'll look at photos of other families with the same number of children and be momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. That is until I realize that this family I'm looking at has one less child than I do and I laugh at myself again.

And then there are those times when the full reality of our family size hits me full in the face. This often happens at restaurants when we walk in and the wait staff visibly breaks out in hives and they take many minutes to get enough seating for us. It's logistical things like this that knock me back into every else's reality. Most places are just not set-up to handle this many people. And when we are travelling with friends, who also have a larger than normal number of children, things get really tricky. We have it down to a science.

Step 1: Announce how many seats we need.
Step 2: Calm hostess by assuring her this all works, really.
Step 3: Instruct waitress or waiter that they need only deal with the adults. That we would really rather they deal only with the adults. Please don't ask our children what they want because who knows what they will order!
Step 4: Take orders for each of our children, write them down on the paper I carry with me, and order by family for the whole group.
Step 5: Help wait staff figure out which meal goes to which child. "That goes to the blond in the red shirt. No the other blond. D. raise your hand!"
Step 6: Enjoy meal.
Step 7: Leave with restaurant still intact and with the wait staff thanking us for making it so easy.

This is the present, but last night I had a vision of the future. HG (who we just assume is our 11th child these days) and M. had boyfriends over for dinner along with our smaller number because three (B., A., and D.) are off at church camp this week. It was fun having them there and the littles loved having more audience to play to. But then I did the math. Eleven children = eleven spouses (yes, I'm making assumptions). That makes 22 people, plus me and J. and that's not even counting possible grandchildren. Someone will always have to have a huge house for us to meet in. Logistically it's a little mind-blowing. And if I think meals are loud now...

But you know what? The logistics are worth it. Having this many people around is just fun. Loud, yes. A little crazy, yes. But the amount of love when everyone is together becomes a tangible presence and I wouldn't have it any other way. I need a bigger dining room table, though...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Over the weekend we went to a BBQ at a friend's house and they had chalk to use on their long driveway for the various children who were there. Suddenly everyone was playing hopscotch and HG even taught us how to play a Honduran version. When we got home the hopscotch craze continued and my front walk is covered with various hopscotch games, some more traditional than others.

My favorite is this one:

It starts in front of my house and goes on and on. Notice that TM added to it on the front end so used negative numbers for the squares.

The hopscotch game continues down the block for four houses. If you look down the sidewalk you see a person in a blue shirt standing far, far away. That is H. who is at the end of the hopscotch game.

The last square is labelled 134, so that makes a total of 138 squares once you add in the negative ones.

It's great exercise and good for certain people's large muscle development. H. can do about half of it before collapsing. TM, the human perpetual energy machine, on the other hand, can do the whole thing. I will admit to not trying it, but have done portions of it to show H. how to do some of the trickier spots.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why we really chose homeschooling for our family

I know this seems like a slightly odd topic for the end of the school year, but it's what has been on my mind. It all has to do with G. and L. turning five years old. There must be something about your youngest turning five to make you remember your oldest turning the same age. It was about when M. turned five (or maybe a little earlier, I don't really remember) that there was a Baby Blues comic that appeared in the paper. The short version is that the mother sees a school bus going down the street and clutches her baby a little tighter thinking about having to send her away to school. I loved this so much I put in on the refrigerator where it hung for years. I've even blogged about it before because the whole idea is really the reason we started homeschooling.

Having the little girls turning such a pivotal age, it feels brand-new, this feeling of needing to keep my little ones with me just a bit longer. And five years old really is little, it was not so long ago that they were little tiny babies. Multiple times a day something happens that causes tears and I need to kiss and hug them. A good nap is still needed every few days. I admit it... I'm selfish. I love spending time with them. I love watching them learn. I love listening to the stories and games they make up.  I don't really want to share that with anyone. Soon enough they will be bigger and more independent. Soon enough they will be leaving the nest. Soon enough I will be looking up at them (or at least in the eye). With M. being 21 years old and pretty much independent I am intimately aware of how quickly this will happen. I was in no rush to send my oldest off and I am even less inclined to send my littlest.

The phenomenon of sending children off to kindergarten is so culturally pervasive that I sometimes have to remind myself I don't need to participate. It would be very easy to start crying and hyperventilating at the thought of the first day of school. I am thankful I have the choice and can opt out. Instead I can look forward to kindergarten. I get to share their excitement over learning new things. I get to be the one to watch them grow and mature. I get more time to spend with my little girls because in the great scheme of things that time is very short.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The first June birthday bash... or Happy 19th birthday B. and Happy 5th birthday G. and L.

We have a lot of June celebrations in the Big Ugly House. Eight to be exact; 7 birthdays and 1 anniversary. To make things simple, I decided to combine several of the birthdays into one big celebration. Last night we celebrated HG3's (though now he is HG4), B., G., and L.' birthdays. To cover all bases, we had both pie and cake. 

A. made panda cupcakes.

I made peach pies.

The pies brought the funniest moment of the evening. You'll see I wrote the ages being celebrated on the pies. I even pointed out to B. that I had done so. He said he had noticed. Then J. points out that B. isn't turning 18, but is turning 19. B. and I look at each other and burst out laughing because neither of us had really caught onto him turning 19. You'll be happy to know he now knows how old he will be tomorrow.

Here are a few scenes from the evening. We sang one round of 'Happy Birthday' and each person had a candle or two to blow out. (We never seem to have a dessert that candles can be put in anyway.)

Then came the presents.


So Happy Birthday (a day early) to B., G., and L. (For those who are new here, these three share a birthday. I'm pretty sure the little girls are the best gift that we ever gave B.) I love you all so much.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Distracted from distraction by distraction*... a book review

I finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr about a week ago and I've been digesting it ever since. I'm not sure I can even now write a completely coherent review, but I'm going to try. There is just so much in this book.

The thesis of the book is that by using and relying on the internet for more and more of our day and for more and more varied tasks, we are changing our brains... and not necessarily for the better. The Internet is training us for distraction. As a result, it is more difficult to think deeply, to engage in extended serious thought, or to sustain concentration.

 "... it would be a serious mistake to look narrowly at the Net's benefits and conclude that the technology is making us more intelligent. Jordan Grafman, head of the cognitive neuroscience unit at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, explains that the constant shifting of our attention when we're online may make our brains more nimble when it comes to multitasking, but improving our ability to multitask actually hampers our ability to think deeply and creatively." (p. 140)

I admit that reading something like this is, to me, preaching to the choir. I don't like to multitask, don't do it well, and I don't actually think anyone does it really well. If I'm already skeptical, then I'm sure to like a book which tells me, "What we're doing when we multitask 'is learning to be skillful at a superficial level.'" (p. 141) Or, "Intensive multitaskers are 'suckers for irrelevancy,' commented Clifford Ness, the Stanford professor who led the research [a 2009 study], 'Everything distracts them." Michael Merzenich offers an even bleaker assessment. As we multitask online, her says, we are 'training our brains to pay attention to the crap.'" (p. 142)

I may not like it, but when I'm online, I am as distracted as anyone else. I flip back and forth between what I'm writing to other important things I need to keep an eye on. (We desperately need some sort of font to indicate sarcasm.) This book just confirms what I had already experienced. My brain acts differently when I'm using a computer. I have spent most of the year with limited computer time, and I've actually really liked it. I need to be more diligent again, because there is a creeping aspect to it, though. One day I don't turn off the computer until a little later, and that continues, and then suddenly you discover it seems to be on all the time again and once more has taken over your life. Time for me to go back to just my two hours in the morning.

There seems to be some research to back up a more moderate approach to computer usage. "The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden. ... The problem today is that we're losing our ability to strike a balance between these very different states of mind. Mentally, we're in perpetual motion." (p. 168)

It was the section on memory that I found most interesting, though. As computers become more and more a part of our lives, we have a tendency to see our brains as just really good computers. How many of us have said something along the lines of, "My brain is full," meaning that like a hard drive, there is no more empty space. Yet, our assumptions seem to be wrong. "' Unlike a computer,' writes Nelson Cowan, an expert on memory who teaches at the University of Missouri, 'the normal human brain never reaches a point at which experiences can no longer be committed to memory; the brain cannot be full.'" (p. 192)

In fact, by using our memories more, we create the ability within ourselves to remember even more. "The very act of remembering, explains clinical psychologist Sheila Crowett in The Neurobiology of Learning, appears to modify the brain in a way that can make it easier to learn ideas and skills in the future," (p. 192) But, in addition to relying on our own memory as opposed to some external source, we also need to give our brains time to sort things out. "The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and, equally important, forming connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory." (p. 193)

This is getting long and since you're probably already distracted and ready to move onto the next flickering page, I'll end here. There are many implications in all of this... how to best educate our children, how distractedness and the inability to concentrate affects our ability to be aware of subtle emotions in others, the need for real rest away from electronics, etc. As much as some of us would like to, we can't really pull the plug and go cold turkey from computers. At least not if we want to continue to function and interact with others in the same century. But we do need to take a good look at how and why we are using technology and remember what makes us human.

Highly recommended.

*Title is from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and quoted in the book.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hair extensions

H.'s hair extension arrived not too long ago and I wanted to share with you how it works. I think it makes the shaved part of her head virtually unnoticeable. It's made out of human hair and the color is a perfect match. Here is what it looks like.

There are two little combs that open up with a little pressure (just like barrettes).

The little combs slide over the short hairs that are growing in and attach really securely. Here is what it looks like when its in. (It's on H's left side.)

Can't tell, huh?

Worth every penny.

I had a couple of questions about shampoo and smell. First, the odor from the medicine. I'm not sure I can really describe it. It has just a vaguely unpleasant smell and I'm not really good and describing scents. Maybe a little sour? Definitely just 'off', not what children, even dirty ones, usually smell like. It does not smell like a child under constant anxiety and fear, though. I know that smell. TM would smell like that before some of his more major rages and K. smelled like that for the first two years he lived with us (poor little guy). This is not that smell.

I also wanted to wait until H. had used her new shampoo by herself to see if it really did the trick in taking the odor away. I'm very happy to report that it does. I can also tell you what the shampoo is and admit to it being the most expensive shampoo I've ever bought in my life. (I tend toward buying the 98 cent variety at the drug store, my older children have all rebelled and purchase their own shampoo.) So, while this is probably in line with other salon-type shampoo, it's a whole lot more than I usually spend. But, it is worth every penny to me if it takes away one more thing that made H. seem different. The shampoo is Solu Shampoo by Davines, for those who were interested.
Obviously it is not Saturday and I'm back online. After some more phone calls on J.'s part, we got an actual repair man to come out and replace the modem instead of waiting for one to eventually arrive in the mail. This is very good since we are scheduled to do an online homeschooling conference before the modem was due to arrive. You know it's bad when, as the repairman is leaving, he mentions that the company will be calling to take a survey on how he did and says several times that the survey is just about him and not about the company.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On not answering the question

I go to great lengths to avoid answering the question of how many children I have. I'm the queen of the smiling, noncommittal answer. Conversations usually go something like this.

I'm out with some of my children and a stranger notices that I have more than a couple of children with me. "Oh my. Are these are yours?" (Which, since it is usually a fraction of the real number, always feels a little amusing.) I look around me to be sure they really are mine, answer in the affirmative, and try to keep moving. 

Or another scenario. I have just one child with me and someone asks if I have other children at home. I usually mumble something like, "Yes, a few," and try to move along.

There was an online discussion I read about this very thing and some women were adamant that my mumble and move strategy was tantamount to lying. (I wasn't participating in the discussion, but I'm not the only one to employ this strategy.) Others were appalled that those of us with more than your typical number of children wouldn't want to proclaim that fact at every chance we got. 

It has made me think about my avoidance tendency. As you probably figured out if you've been reading here for any length of time, I really enjoy my large family and think that having a lot of children has many benefits. I am certainly not embarrassed by how many children I have. So why I am so hesitant to publicly proclaim it at every turn?

First, it has to do with boundaries. I just don't need to answer every single nosy question put to me when I'm out in public. (You don't either, by the way.) Even if you aren't a large, multi-ethnic, conspicuous family, it doesn't hurt to be armed with a couple of replies to nosy question. (My two favorites are: "Why do you ask?" for nosy, yet polite questions and "Oh my goodness? Did you know you said that out loud?" for the over-the-top rude variety.) We just get more practice because there is more to comment on and ask about. So, no, I don't think it's lying to not give a stranger your full life story; it's maintaining personal boundaries. 

Second, I have found that many people have certain preconceptions about large families and the parents who raise them. (Don't believe me? Go find yourself an article on the Dugger family. Whether you like the family or not, reading the comments will give you some idea about how many people perceive larger than average families.) By avoiding answering the question, I also avoid being pigeon-holed in a certain box before someone has gotten to know me. Plus, I don't always need to have people's jaws drop open when I say how many children I have. (Yes, they do. I sometimes feel like I need to reach over and close their mouths for them.) It always feels a little bit much because I am friends with people who have more children than I and when I'm with them, 10 doesn't feel that big.

I am human, though, and there are some times when I take a little perverse pleasure in the revelation. This is often when I've met someone for the first time and we have been chatting together for a while. I can pass for normal and it is the unsuspecting person who asks in the course of the conversation how many children I have. I know I don't fit the stereotype of the mother of a large family, so it is with just a little glee that say I have 10 children. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Off line

Just wanted to let everyone know we're OK, but I won't be posting for the rest of the week. It turns out our modem is bad so I won't have phone or internet until at least Saturday. Just don't ask me how much I love AT&T U-Verse at the moment. Unless you want an earful that is...

Monday, June 09, 2014

Just can't wait

I went to a homeschooling conference on Thursday to shop the vender hall for next year's supplies, and came home with several bags of books and resources. My children seem to have inherited my love of books, because just having them sit around and not use them has been difficult. Some things I really will keep until fall, but others I am letting them start in right now. I was planning on doing some school-type stuff throughout the summer anyway.

"No, you can't do any math right now. We have to save it for September," said no mother ever.

There is another story from the weekend that I've gone back and forth about whether to share or not. It feels so private but at the same time, it highlights the need that some children have for families. It breaks my heart every time I think about it. Before we left church to come home yesterday, H., G., and L. needed to use the rest room. HG and I were waiting out in the hallway chatting, when we hear the most gut-wrenching howl of terror coming from inside the bathroom. I knew it was H. We dashed to the rest room and I find that H. cannot figure out how to open the latch on the stall. It wasn't stuck and I was able to get her to try again, but her terror was so instantaneous that she couldn't do anything but howl. It took her a few minutes of shaking in my arms to calm down. I am so broken up about what must have happened to my girl to cause such a visceral reaction of fear. I hate that children are hurt and afraid. I hate that so many of them wait for families.

I will take this opportunity to remind you once again of some girls who need families of their own. A mommy and daddy to hold them when they are afraid and assure them they will never be left again. (Links will take you to other places where I have written about them.)

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Old World Wisconsin

I've spent the past two days driving long distances, walking and standing all day, then driving long distances again. It was all good, just exhausting. Thursday I went to a homeschool conference, not to listen to any speakers, just to shop and spend time with friends. (I may have to go to all conferences this way.) I was able to get everything on my list and school planning later this summer should be a breeze. I'm not sure there's better R&R for a homeschooling mother than a day buying books and chatting with friends. (We often chatted about books, but that's what makes us happy. We're odd like that.)

Yesterday we drove up to Old World Wisconsin to spend the day. It is a really well-done living history museum and we had a grand time. The H-S family joined us as well as another family who started out as virtual friends and have become real-life friends over time. (The P. family couldn't make it this trip, much to my children's disappointment... ) Other than the fact that the entire quarter of southeastern Wisconsin seems to be under road construction, the day was fantastic. We had absolutely gorgeous weather and once the masses of school children went home, we had the place virtually to ourselves. Often the interpreters in living history museums are hit or miss, but we really enjoyed talking to everyone we met. They were friendly and well-informed.

Some pictures...

Most of the group on the tram.

D. making a shingle. I would have taken a picture of G. making a shingle, but felt I needed to stay right next to her in case she tried to impale herself with the blade. (She didn't but I had a few jumpy moments.)

Petting the Percherons

I have two L. stories to share. First regarding horses... she's my girl, alright. We were at the blacksmith's shop, behind which was a field with a horse in it. L. wasn't so interested in the blacksmith and chose to stand at the fence and watch the horse. At one point, she comes running into the shop, grabs my hand and pulls me toward the fence saying, "Mommy, you have to see this, you have to see this!" The men who were caring for the horse see L. approaching with me and say, "You have a little girl who sure loves horses." The object of her affection was a 19 hand Percheron. (For the non-horsy among you, that would be a horse who stands 6' 3" at the base of the neck.) He was a big fellow and L. LOVED him.

It seems the other thing that L. loves is laundry. Who knew? Our last stop was at the home of a woman who took in laundry and there were laundry tubs set up so people could try their hand at it. Many people washed clothes for a while, but L., as is her nature, entered into her own imaginary world where she was the laundry woman and had to get the laundry done. Long after everyone had wandered off and were nearly back at the entrance, L. was still there, dutifully finishing the entire tub of laundry. The only thing to do was to sit down and wait for her.

These are with everyone doing laundry.

G. was the second to last to leave. Once she had finished her one piece and hung it up, she was done.

L. kept working...

and working...

and working...

until at last, the final piece of laundry was hung.

It was a great day and everyone is asking to go back again. I think we'll plan another trip for early fall and see what is happening at all the farms then. (I got a great deal on a Groupon for a Wisconsin history lover's pass which gets my entire family into quite a few museums for free. Love it... love the whole family-thing.)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Adoptive families in the church... or admitting you need help

A week ago I wrote a post about how churches can support the adoptive families in their midst. It seems only fair to discuss the other side of the coin. All relationships work two ways and effort needs to come from both sides. If adoptive families want to be supported there are a couple of things that are expected of them as well.

[As I wrote this I realized that it is actually broader than just an adoption issue. This is really for anyone whose life is not perfect and wishes they didn't feel quite so alone in their problems.]

Learn to be transparent.

If you ask my children, one of the phrases they will probably carve on my tombstone is, "People can't read your mind." The idea that if someone really knows you and loves you then they will just know what you want and need is a lot of piffle. It is an unrealistic expectation and an unfair test to apply to anyone. This is true for not only spouses and friends, but our church families as well. People do not know you need help if they only ever see you smiling and saying things are fine. People, even (especially?) church people are not mind readers, yet so often we think they are. People get upset that they are not given the support they need, yet at no point have they ever mentioned that life was rocky. (Please note, this is a very different problem from saying you need support, but not receiving any. I'm not talking about that.) I'll say it again, NO ONE is a mind reader. You can't expect them to know what you don't tell them. I know this is difficult and scary. If you begin to tell them exactly what life with your child from hard places is really like, they may not believe you... or like you... or respect you... or... or... or.

It's scary, I know. I've been there. Here's what I've discovered. I am not the only one dealing with difficult things in my life. Since I decided that I have no energy or desire to pretend to be anything I'm not (perfect life, perfect children, everything perfectly under control), I have discovered it gives other people permission to not be perfect as well. We are all so tired of pretending, but it seems it takes someone to break the ice, so to speak. There is no shame in saying life is rotten at them moment and you are pretty sure you can't do it by yourself. No shame, but great freedom. And, the reactions I imagined never came. Instead I received outpourings of love and support.

If you want support, people need to know you need it.

Learn to Accept Help

It's one thing to tell people you are hurting, it's another thing entirely to accept help. You don't want to put anyone out. You don't want to trespass on their time and resources. You don't want to appear needy, even though you know you are. It is humbling. Yet, people really do want to help. If others know you are hurting, then their first reaction is usually to want to fix it, to take away the pain. We all know that this is rarely possible. But people still want to do something. By allowing them to help, by accepting that help, you are also helping them by giving them an outlet for their compassion.

Continue to Help Others

Now, I know there are crisis times when just taking your next breath and surviving minute to minute are all you can do. I'm not talking about those times. Often, though, life is still sort of functioning, even it it doesn't look at all as you imagined it and takes more work than you had planned. It is easy to become so inwardly focused on our own problems that we become unaware of the people around us. I find it is always good for me to spend some time praying or doing something for someone not in my immediate family. It stops the tunnel vision and reminds me there is a broader world around me and I'm not the center of the universe. I have been so blessed by people who have done this for me,such as my friend who came and cleaned my house for me when I was hugely pregnant with G. and L., even though she had many small children herself at the time, that it makes me want to do the same for others.

While there are certainly times when my own life feels so overwhelming that it is all I can focus on, it is also true that this way of thinking can become a habit. I don't want to so fixate on what I see as my own problems and not be aware of the needs of others.

Really, in short, people can't help if they don't know you need it or you don't let them. Be courageous and take a chance at being honest with your church family. And if someone is honest with you about what life is really like, be filled with grace towards that person. None of us is perfect.
I have a new article... Incorporating Music

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Ocean boxes

We have finished our study of sea creatures and as a final project each child made an ocean box and filled it with some of the animals we learned about. I thought you might be interested in seeing them.

By G.

L. (Who really liked just taping her animals to the walls. Actually, she just likes tape.)

K. (See the dolphin leaping out of the box?)



A close-up of D.'s coral reef...

and his walrus and ice berg on top.

TM (See his ice berg hanging down into the ocean?)

He made his jelly fish out of plastic.

A close-up of his 3-D coral reef

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