Monday, March 31, 2014

Happy 8th Birthday, K.!

K. turns 8 today. If you happen to know him in real life, you already know this because he has been telling everyone he meets that today is his birthday. He has been telling us today is his birthday as well. In case we forget, you know. K. is just a little bit excited about his birthday. He is also convinced that today is forecast to be the first really nice day of spring because it is his birthday. To celebrate... everything... he is wearing shorts. (I'm not. I'll believe the forecast when I feel it.) Sadly, though, we are not taking the day off of work for him. I've already broken the bad news that math will happen today. It only slowed him down momentarily and then he went back to skipping around the room. (He didn't earn his family nickname of 'Skippy' for nothing.)

I honestly cannot believe he is 8 years old today. Has it really been almost 6 years since we brought him home? Watching this child blossom before our eyes has been sheer joy. He can do so much and has so many ideas. (Some of which we are all relieved that he cannot possibly carry out.) K. is also the bounciest, happiest, funniest, little boy we know. He (usually) embodies the word joy. He is still operating about two years behind his chronological age, but that's OK. His functioning age continues to grow along with his chronological age. We have the luxury of not having to worry about what his actual grade is; he just does the work that is appropriate for him at the moment. And when he is 30, it won't make a fig of difference.

Happy Birthday, my cute-as-a-button boy. I love you so much! You are so talented and bright and funny. You make me smile and my heart melt. I am so glad you are my son.

(K. has requested that A. make him a Lightening McQueen cake for his birthday. [I know that's difficult to believe.] I will have pictures of it tomorrow.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seeing with new eyes

We went to the library yesterday and is was woefully lacking in any interesting stories. (I can often count on at least one interesting conversation while I'm there. This time? Nada.) But because it was so calm, I was able to leave the littles playing in the play area watched over by the very capable A., and went upstairs to the stacks to browse. Oh, how I love to just browse in a library! I have come across the most interesting books just wandering past the shelves. And they're free... any book I want to read I can take home.


What was I talking about?

Oh, yes, the interesting book I found while I was wandering.

I happened to be in front of the home decorating books, which I sometimes find interesting, though, admittedly they are not usually healthy for me to look at. I find shelter-type books to be particularly good at creating envy and discontent and try to be careful with them. A huge one struck my interest, though, so I picked it up. It's called, The Way We Live: An Ultimate Treasury for Global Design Inspiration by Cliff Stafford. (It's huge and out-of-print and very expensive... the link is here just so you can see it and then check it out of your library. It's too bad, I would have bought myself a copy if it was reasonable.) This book is mainly photographs of houses and towns (living spaces in general) from all around the world. There are plenty of palaces and chateaux, but there are also much more modest homes throughout its pages. It is fascinating to see all the different types of places people live. (I actually wish it were bigger and had more countries.) Plus, the photography is gorgeous.

Aside from just being interested in houses and decorating (not that you'd know it to look at my house), what I found most intriguing was the idea of how we view things. I always imagine that it is far more glamorous and interesting to live somewhere else. Where I live is, by virtue of being familiar not terribly interesting. Other places? I find them endlessly fascinating and always wonder what it is like to live there. Life in those places must be so much less mundane. Yet as I looked at these photographs, it crossed my mind that while some of the homes and places seem incredibly exotic to me, for the person who lives there, it is just their house and would they find my living situation to be equally exotic.

You know, I kind of liked the idea that my living situation seems intriguing and unusual to someone. I started to look around me and wondered how the photographer would photograph my home. What would he find interesting? What would he take pictures of? And if I saw them in a photograph, would I look at it and thing, "How cool would it be to live there?"

Here's my challenge to you (and to me): Look at the place where you live... home, city, area, etc... and begin to see it with new eyes. Not all of the photos in the giant book were of pristine homes. Some were small, some were cluttered, but through the lens of the camera, all were interesting. Think what a mood lifter that would be to think of your home as interesting, unique, worthy of attention. Stop seeing your surroundings through your same tired eyes and look at your surroundings as an interested stranger. There may still be some things you want to change, but it is easier to change things with a positive attitude.

Let me give you an example. Some of the photographs were views from the homes, the scenes the windows of the homes looked out on. As I was sitting at my desk writing this, I realized that my view is rather unique, though I really don't think about it (or appreciate it) at all. Here is what I can see through the window above my head.

It is one of our city's larger churches, built in the Gothic style of architecture. While I think I long for beautiful natural vistas out my window, I admit that this isn't a bad thing to look out on every day. I need to work on appreciating what I have and not what I don't.

Will you take up the challenge as well?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Back to advocating

When you live in the world of adoption, you become aware of children who need homes. For those of us who have adopted, I think these needs strike us just a little more forcefully than for those who haven't. You see, our sons and daughters are former orphans. We have seen the transformation which happens when a child is loved and has a place of belonging in the world. We have been in institutions and seen face after face of children who long for this love and belonging. We have learned that these are real children, individual children, flesh and blood children, and not just some name on a list and a collections of diagnoses. They are so much more. Sometimes we are asked if are going to adopt every orphan in the world, as if the desire to is somehow wrong. And you know what? If I could, I would. If it were in my power to give every one of these children a home I would.

Sometimes there is one child out of the dozens and dozens I read about that strikes a chord with me. I don't know why. At least once, it was because that child was my daughter. Other times, it seems to be merely my role to advocate for them. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Here is the latest child who I feel the need to advocate for:

This is Lena and she has a complex heart condition which may or may not be repairable in the US. It is not repairable in her country. It should not be her lot in life to die having never known what it is to be part of a family, yet at this point, unless a family steps forward to make her their daughter, that is her fate. It is a miracle that she is even alive at this point... be a part of a greater miracle and be her family.

Read more about Lena at the New Day Foster Home blog.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Just curious

Since I was writing about comments that we receive (or don't receive) about our family yesterday, it got me to thinking about other sorts of comments, the ones we receive about our choice to homeschool. I will say that of all the family choices we have made, our decision to homeschool still receives far more comment than anything else. (Family size comes next.) It's not the fact our choice to homeschool receives comment that I find interesting, but it's the type of comments it receives that I've been interested in. I'm a little curious if other people have noticed the same thing as well.

When we first started homeschooling, lo these many years ago, homeschooling was just picking up in popularity. There were plenty of people homeschooling, but it was still pretty fringe. While some of the general public had met an actual homeschooler or knew of one, it was far more common that some people I came across had never even heard of such a thing. It was a little 'out there'. I was far more likely to field questions such as, "Is it legal?" or "Do you children have any friends?" (sigh) or "How will your children get into college?" (My child was five.) And then there were the occasional egregious individuals who would turn to my children and start quizzing them on basic facts. (If you know my eldest in real life, you can imagine the look of death that she glared at these types.) While the conversations weren't necessarily negative, they often involved a lot of education about the philosophy of homeschooling.

While it is still not the majority choice of educational method, homeschooling has gone much more mainstream than it was 15+ years ago. Most people have heard of it and the majority of people I meet have a friend or relative who homeschools. Marketers have found us and like to cash in on our proclivity for book and material buying. It has been a long time since anyone has asked me if it's legal; the comments have changed.

In the past year the comments have changed a lot. Far more often than not, the comments I hear go something like this, "Your kids must be smart," or some variation there of. This is such a complete turn around from strangers asking my daughter is she knows what 1+1 is, I take notice. And it's happened more than once. I also wonder if it is an adult-thing. When I asked A. and P. about it, they shared the comments they have heard recently from peers and they tend towards the same old thing. They haven't noticed a shift.

So, I'm curious. Has anyone else noticed this? Is it a thing? Do tell.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inconspicuosly conspicuous

I had someone ask me if we would take H. out as the skin expanders got larger. The question took me by surprise because I hadn't really supposed we would do anything different than we already do. H. loves to go out and it seems as though it would be adding insult to injury to say she had to stay home because her face looks different. It looks different all the time and I'm not really sure how we would manage keeping one well child at home for over a month.

But the question did give me cause to think about the whole thing, though. I can understand the point of the question. Is it fair to the child to add the comments and stares that will inevitably happen on top of the general yuckiness of the whole endeavor? One certainly doesn't want to add to a child's discomfort.

At least in our situation, I have come to the conclusion that by taking H. out and about with us, we are not really adding to her discomfort. The first reason is that while she does receive some stares here in the US, compared to what she experienced before, it is really nothing. You will find rude people everywhere, but there is a cultural value here that says it's rude to stare even if not everyone observes it. It is usually children who stare the most, but they are also the most likely to come up and ask a question as well. That's genuine curiosity and I don't mind chances to do a little education. I can usually handle rude adults, but for some reason, very few people come up and actually make outrageous comments to me. (This is in comparison to the experiences of others in similar situations... maybe it's where we live.)

There is another reason that H. doesn't stand out as she might, and that is because she travels with her own personal side show. At least that's what it feels like sometimes. We are a conspicuous family. There's just no way around it. We get stared at when we are all out and about pretty much all the time. We have many children in tow, they are not the same ethnicity, we have a pair of twins (yes they still draw attention), other children look remarkably the same age though they cannot be twins, we have physical differences, and we are often out during school hours. Usually passers-by can't decide which oddity to focus on and one more oddity doesn't really make a difference. Because we confuse people, we actually camouflage H.; she is just another child in what some perceive to be a sea of children.

H. also has a winning personality. People just take to her. She greets them with a smile and is so kind and friendly she usually wins them over almost instantly. This happened even in China. It is probably a lesson for all of us that she expects to like people and for people to like her and treats them accordingly... and they reciprocate 99.9% of the time. If we all approached other people this way, the world would be a much nicer place.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Be adventurous

Over the years as I've been part of the adoption community, I've come across an attitude that just baffles me. I'm not actually sure what to call this attitude, so I'll have to describe it. It is the unwillingness to venture out of ones comfort zone to explore and experience the new child's birth culture. (Obviously I'm writing about intercountry adoption here.) I've seen more than one parent comment, almost proudly, when asked what they did while they were in country that they only saw the inside of the hotel and the local McDonalds (or Kentucky Fried Chicken, depending on city.) It is an attitude that I find a little mysterious and disturbing.

To be clear, if you were a parent who only saw the inside of the hotel because your child was sick or would bolt the moment a door was open or for any other reason that made it not wise to venture out, I'm not talking to you. Adoption travel is different from any other travel out there and it is no pleasure trip sometimes. It is stressful and exhausting. We all know our prime reason for being there is not to play tourist.


What if your child (and you) are coping fairly well? I can't figure out why one wouldn't want to do some exploring; to show your child (assuming they are older than a baby) something of their own country. Many of these children have never been outside the orphanage, so you want to be aware of that and not completely overwhelm them, but you can still go and walk around. You can still try new food. You can still create memories of the country where your child was born.

For instance K., at first was completely overwhelmed by the busyness and noises of Vietnamese city streets. We would carry him and comfort him as we walked along and the first few days we tried to keep exposure to the busyness at a minimum. But he quickly grew used to the sights and sounds slowly became more engaged in the world around him. Those three weeks we spent there with him were really the only exposure he had to his birth culture since he never left the 2-3 rooms where he spent the first two years of his life. The orphanage was a little off the beaten track, so he didn't hear anything outside except the loud chirping of cicadas. He loves to look at the book of those weeks which we made him and look at it and talk about all the things was saw and did.

I also know that being adventurous can be scary and not everyone is wired this way. It is not how I was when I was little, being adventurous (and compared with most of my family, I'm still not, my children would say), is a learned skill it is something that can be acquired. Mostly it has to do with attitude. Adventurousness means that you might be made uncomfortable, that you might be stared at. Yes these things can and do happen, but other things happen as well. You get to see new things, meet people you wouldn't have met, make memories you wouldn't have had. And it is worth the moments of being embarrassed or uncomfortable.

Then there is food. Food in international travel is a huge component of being adventurous. As a formerly picky eater, I can say that pickiness is a choice. It is a willingness to eat something you may not like. For a picky eater, the pay-off that you may actually like something is not worth the chance that you will not like the taste. But I will repeat, as a person who as an adult made a conscious decision that I didn't like my traits of pickiness and reformed, this really is a choice. I still have a moment of thinking it won't be worth it tor try something, but as my tastes broaden, it becomes easier. And you know what? I haven't died yet from something tasting bad. By refusing pickiness, I have also broadened my choices of where and what I can eat. It means I have the wonderful memory of going into a restaurant in China with my family... a restaurant where no one spoke a word of English and there was no English on the menu... and pointing to photos of food on the wall and ordering. We still don't have any idea what we ate, but it was good. And the memory of that funny dinner is even better.

What bothers me the most about adoptive parents unwilling to explore their child's birth country is that it is such a double standard. The adults, who have a choice, are unwilling to do something (experience a different culture, even if it is uncomfortable) that they are demanding their new child do. The new child coming into the family has no choice but to experience new foods and experiences whether they want to or not. Especially once they are home, nothing will be familiar. If the parents try to experience the child's birth culture, even at personal uncomfortableness, it gives those parents a little better insight into what their child is going through.

Being adventurous gives you empathy, memories, self-confidence, and makes you an interesting person. Don't close yourself off in little Western enclaves and miss what another country has to offer. You don't really mean to say that your child's birth culture has nothing to offer you, but that is, in effect what you are saying.

Monday, March 24, 2014

So he wasn't really just making a mess

Our first day back to school after such a long break means that extended time for blogging doesn't exist this morning. So, I will do a little show-and-tell of K.'s most recent art work. I've mentioned he loves firetrucks, and he also loves to cut paper and use glue and tape. More than once I've come across him making little tiny scraps with scissors and construction paper, thinking he was just enjoying cutting and making a mess and wasn't really making anything. More than once I've had to stifle my initial response which is to tell him to stop and clean up the scraps, but then remember it's not hurting anything and I can let him cut to his heart's content. And more than once a few minutes later, he shows me something amazing that he has whipped together with all those little pieces that I had thought were just scraps. Such as this firetruck. (You may need to click on the picture to get a better view... it's quite detailed.)

The fireman is sitting up in the top of the firetruck.

And there's even a fire dog.

A couple of days later, A. was making a cake and K. announced that A. should make him a Lightning McQueen cake for his birthday. (Imagine! How out of character.) A. said that she would need a picture first. K. was happy to oblige and immediately whipped out this for her.

It even says, "Rusteze".

I think I may be buying a lot more construction paper. And tape. And glue sticks.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Books to travel by

We had great success with our recorded books this trip, and I wanted to share a couple with you. The first is The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck. This is set in the time of Queen Victoria and the mice live in and around Buckingham Palace. J. and I found it entertaining and clever. I think this is one of the few times that I will recommend you find the recording and listen to it. The version we listened to was produced by Listening Library and was read by Russ Bain. J. and I think that one of the reasons we enjoyed the book so much was the excellent way the narrator captured each of the British accents. This is something that would be beyond me if I were to read it out loud and it certainly added to our enjoyment of the book. If you are an Anglophile at all, you will appreciate the humor. (The link is for the actual book, I couldn't find the recording on Amazon, so ask your library for it.)

The second book is Whittington by Alan Armstrong. This is a story within a story, the first being a tale of various cast-off animals who live together in a barn and the children who come to visit them, the second is a retelling of Dick Whittington and his Cat. While the outer story was mildly interesting (the animals try to help the boy who comes to visit learn to read), it is the inner story of Dick Whittington which we really enjoyed. Happily, it takes up the better portion of the book. This would be an interesting addition to studying the middle ages as the author does a great job of describing life during that time. I'm still not so sure about the author's take on more modern problems, but they were brief enough to be ignored.

The last books I want to tell you about, we didn't actually listen to, but A. and P. have spent the past three days reading them and highly recommend them. The first, Boston Jane: An Adventure by Jennifer L. Holm, is a book that P. picked-up in the free book bin at the very nice visitor center in Colorado. P. then proceeded to read the entire book before we reached Iowa and A. then took it and read it as well. One of the first things they did when we arrived home was to head to the library and find the other two books in the series, Boston Jane: Wilderness Days and Boston Jane: The Claim. They have both since finished all three books and have raved about them ever since. My girls read a lot of books, but it is infrequent that they both find books that they love so much they talk endlessly about them. I haven't read them, but I trust their judgement and thus share them with you.
I have fallen in love with a little girl and there's not a thing I can do about it. (Thank you very much, Illinois.) She arrived at New Day Foster Home in China as a barely alive 1 month old. She survived and it turns out she has a complex heart problem, one they tried to repair, but were unable to. Her heart may or may not be able to be repaired here. Either way, she is a cutie and needs a family. She needs a family even if her heart cannot be repaired. She needs to know what it is to be loved by a mommy and daddy. She needs to belong to a family. Please click on the link and read about little Lena. Pray for her. Pray that her family finds her. You might also pray that this happens soon, because I will badger you about her until that happens.

Love Grows Here: The New Day Foster Home Blog: Advocacy: For Lena

Friday, March 21, 2014


I have a very brave girl. There are not many 11 year olds who could manage the emotional aspect of tissue expansion with the grace and good spirits that H. is showing. This isn't because she is clueless about what is going on. She is highly aware of what is happening and she doesn't like it. At all. And I can't blame her a bit. Even though she doesn't like it, she is cooperative and understands why it is happening. We talk often about why this procedure is being done, what is going to happen, and when the expanders will be removed. I can tell you that no one is looking forward to the end of April more than H. is... even though she will be having major surgery to remove them.

In order to grow as much good skin as possible, the expanders need to be filled as much as possible. At first this was once a week, and I traveled with expander supplies and I filled the expanders twice while we were gone. (Can I just say here that I cannot believe there were NO comments on the egregious typo on the last post I wrote about this? The post where I wrote about sticking nOOdles in my daughter's head instead of nEEdles.) No one enjoys it, but I'm pretty good at it now. We went back to the plastic surgeon's this morning for another expansion and we learned now that H's skin has become stretchier we can begin expanding every five days instead of every seven. I have a new load of supplies so we don't have to trek up to the doctor's every time.

Here is H. after five expansions:

As you can see, the expander on her forehead is fairly noticeable now, but the one under her scalp (on her left side), because of the shape of her skull, is still not showing. Here is a close-up of her forehead... it is also a good picture of the skin which the plastic surgeon will replace at the end of April.

Just to be clear, I did ask H.'s permission before I took and posted these photos. We talked about it and she was willing to let me share her experience with everyone... because she waited a long time for a Mommy and a Daddy. She is quite aware of why she waited a long time to be part of a family and she is always asking if her friends in China have Mommies and Daddies yet. (I am happy to say that most of the older children she knew, do indeed have families now.) Children living in orphanages do want families... a Mommy and Daddy, a home, a place to belong, a place to be loved. They may not always be fully aware of what all that will entail or the difficulties of transitions or any other number of hard, grown-up things, but they do know they want love from people they belong to.

H. doesn't want another child to wait a long time for a mommy and a daddy because they look different, so she is willing to show that it is possible to manage the surgeries and the stares and the discomfort... if you have a mommy and a daddy to love you through it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

To avoid dealing with the stack of credit card receipts, I'll show you pictures of the Grand Canyon

On Sunday we left the Phoenix area and headed north to the Grand Canyon. It's about a 4 1/2 hour drive and we planned to get there by lunch and then spend the afternoon. Since we were not feeling pressed for time, we took the slower route that goes through Sedona (where there are beautiful red rock formations) and Oak Creek Canyon. We found a spot by the side of the road and had a snack and a brief rest beside the creek.

This is G., she is trying to smile, but the sun is in her eyes.

Can you believe H. made it up and down this creek bank completely unaided? (No she's not in the picture, this just shows the steepness.)


We then continued on to the canyon. After Flagstaff, you drive for a little over an hour through open country. The interesting part of this is it doesn't look as though that there is one of the seven wonders of the natural world straight ahead of you. See? This is what it looks like for much of the drive, right until you get to the actual canyon.

Someone must have been really surprised at some point, because you very quickly go from this flat, flat land to this:

A. and G.

TM and P.

H., G., L., K., and HG3

I've been to the Grand Canyon more than a few times, but it was a first time for all the children. One of the things that has changed since the last time I was there was the shuttle bus system. I wasn't sure I would like it, but I loved it. Before, you would have to drive from overview to overview and unless you wanted to back track to collect your car, it was difficult to walk along the rim for any distance. With the bus system, you can walk as far as the little legs of your younger children can manage and then just hop on a shuttle bus. It is easy and wonderful. 

We had a lovely time and no one tried to leap into the canyon. I even managed not to twitch every single time someone got within three feet of the edge. (This is a major accomplishment.) After everyone was pretty tired out, we headed back to the car and were greeted by this group... elk!

This one is licking the car's rear view mirror.

Elk are not native to the area, but a small herd was imported for hunting purposes a while back and eventually it grew to 50,000. There are actually a bit of a problem, because as you can see, they have no fear of humans at all. And they just wander around and lie down in the road and cause huge traffic jams, to boot. But, tourists that we were, we enjoyed them.

And so that ends the travelogue. It's back to regular life... and bills... now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Well, that was a later arrival than planned

At least this night's late arrival wasn't due to any vehicular malfunctions. The wind that followed us from Arizona, blowing dust all the way stayed with us, except for a change of pace the dust changed to snow. The first flakes were falling as we were leaving the hotel this morning and continued for nearly the entire trip. The worst was through Nebraska on I-80 when the combination of wind and snow caused nearly white out conditions through much of our time in the state. We could always see a few hundred feet in front of us, but it wasn't a lot of fun. J. has sore muscles from fighting the wind coming from the north which wanted to push us off the road. The only truly frightening moments were when we passed cars in ditches... there were several. The worst was when we passed the three semis which must have had some sort of accident which caused all three trucks to end up off the road. I will say that we were might impressed with the number of plows we passed on the highway. Far more plows than I ever pass in the Chicago area on much snowier days.

Now, the trouble with high winds and blowing snow is that if you plan to picnic for your lunches, the weather makes that nearly impossible. Not wanting to spend another day passing endless snacks around the van hoping it would pass for lunch, and not having any friends (real or virtual) which we could invite ourselves to visit, we felt a little stuck. We knew there was a nice welcome center just inside the Colorado border on I-76, so we thought we'd see if we could eat in there. It turns out they don't allow food inside the visitor's center, but they had a back room in which they could have food and they offered us the use of it. It was very, very nice of them. Actually, every time we've stopped at this center they have been extremely nice. In better weather the visitor center also has places to walk around and nice picnic tables. Being able to fix some sandwiches inside a building made for a much more pleasant day.

So here we are in Des Moines with just a short half day drive ahead of us tomorrow. The plan is to arrive mid-afternoon and be able to get things sorted out before life begins on Thursday. That's the plan, at least. The way the past two days have gone, I'm a little hesitant to have any expectations at all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Not only have we made it to Colorado Springs...

but we are the proud owners of two brand new trailer tires! I know you are all green with envy over this new development. The new tires also meant that we pulled into our hotel (where we had reservations) very late. It wasn't supposed to be quite this late, but with the not-quite-as-early-as-we-had-hoped start, two hours for dealing with tires, and losing an hour to the time change... well, it got later and later.

We were driving happily along this morning, having driven for maybe an hour (if that), when J. hears a noise, says something along the lines of, "That's not good," pulls over to the side of the road and gets out to see what's happening. It turns out we had lost both the wheel cover to the right tire on the trailer as well as the tread. We have no idea of the cover came off first, thus damaging the tire, or if the tread came off and took the cover with it.

The good news was that we had a spare, nothing else was wrong, we were only 8 miles away from Winslow, AZ (and there aren't a whole lot of larger towns in that part of the state), and it wasn't raining. J. was able to change the tire (I helpfully held the trailer door so it wouldn't bang in the wind and watched the tumbleweeds blow by) and we drove into Winslow hoping to find a place that sold tires and hoped they would have the size we needed. After asking in a store along Route 66, we were directed to the local tire-appliance-furniture store. (K. announced that he thought the store was, "So cool!") The nice man was able to tell us that nothing else was wrong and replaced both tires, all in a half an hour or so.

And what did we do during that time? The nice man also directed us to a local park where the van full of people ran off some energy.

It was incredibly windy, thought not too cold. I'm not sure I've ever been in that part of Arizona when it wasn't incredibly windy. The wind continued through New Mexico, though, so it made it impossible to picnic. We ended up passing snacks back to the masses to keep them fed for most of the afternoon so they wouldn't get hungry and start snacking on their seatmates. The drive was not improved by the nearly continuous dust storms we drove through.

All in all, it could have been much worse, but I don't think we will remember it as being one of our better driving days. If we get in at a decent time tomorrow night, I'll try to post about our visit to the Grand Canyon.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The beginning of the end

We leave to go home tomorrow morning. M. and B. have it the worst since they have a morning flight and need to be at the airport at 5:30. We will be not much farther behind them. We plan to leave as soon as we can in the morning. That 'soon as we can' thing is fairly flexible because it takes a while to load up 13 people and all their stuff, especially since no one will be wanting to leave. Our vacation has been wonderful and for the children, has been as close to experience Christmas every day as you can get. (I bet you think I'm exaggerating... I'm not.) It's just hard to leave that kind of fun. It's especially hard for some people to leave that kind of fun and I've already taken multiple deep breaths so as to regain my patience, and I'm not even dressed yet. Yes, it will be that kind of day.

I think what I need to do is to focus everyone on the fun ahead of us. We have decided to take an extra day home and spend tomorrow at the Grand Canyon. This is to the great annoyance of M. and B., because it is the first time we have ever taken any of our children there. B. has even offered to skip four days of classes and ride squished in the back of the van in order to see it with us. (He will be flying home with M. Do I feel guilty about this? Yes, a little bit.) We also are trying to meet up with friends who live near there and with whom we spent three weeks in Vietnam when we adopted K. I'm looking forward to it.

But first, we have to get through the day and also repack everything. What is it about travelling that causes the contents of every bag and suitcase to explode across the place you're staying and also increase in volume? My goal is to only leave a small box of belongings behind for my mother to ship... I know better than to expect to not leave anything. I don't think that can be done.

So, while I comfort children and do laundry and pack suitcases (sounds like home, huh?), you can enjoy some of the pictures from out outing yesterday. We went to Pueblo Grande, which is an archaeological site in Phoenix of a Hohokam settlement. I'm not sure how interested the children were, but J. and I both agreed that we think possible we both should have become archaeologists. (I have several lifetimes of careers I think would be interesting... how on earth can people ever get bored? There is so much to learn about and be interested in.)

We then had lunch. Please, please restaurant people, if your restaurant is not busy, no one is waiting anywhere and many tables are empty, when my family enters do not act as though you are doing us a favor by seating us. We are paying the bill after all. By the reaction of the host at the restaurant yesterday, you would have thought that we all had disgusting illnesses covering our entire bodies. His attitude contained that much distaste. By the end of the meal, it seems as though it was not the size of the party, but the number of children that was the initial problem. This opinion is based on the gushing amount of praise we received about how well everyone behaved. We're used to a little bit of this and certainly don't mind it, but there is a point when it becomes a wee bit too much.

After lunch we visited the Hall of Flame and saw many fire engines. Guess which museum was the biggest hit? If I could put a life size fire truck in my backyard, I'm pretty sure my children would never come inside.

At Pueblo Grande:

And the Hall of Flame:

K. would have stayed here all day had we let him.

Friday, March 14, 2014

H. has been home for two years

I'm really bad at remembering these anniversaries, but when a friend posted about being home for two years with her two children, I realized that that means H. has been home for two years as well. I think nothing quite describes how far H. has come in these two years than to show some pictures and describe our day yesterday.

One of the things we really like to do when we are here is to take a picnic to Papago Park. There are lots of places to explore and hike around, plus it's just a lovely park.

Here's H. hiking around.

Do you remember our trip to New Hampshire two years ago, right after H. came home? We did a lot of things, one of which being a nice long hike up in the White Mountains. That would be the hike where J. and I literally dragged H. up and down the mountain. It was not a lot of fun and her inability to navigate terrain which did not involve a sidewalk caught me completely off guard. The combination of undiagnosed eye issues and a complete absence of muscles combined with life experiences which involved sitting in a room doing not much of anything creates a child who cannot engage with her environment in ways one expects a child to.

How much has changed... she can now run (really run) a fairly long distance, her muscle tone has improved significantly, she is curious about her environment and is able to ask appropriate questions to get the information she wants, she understands past, present and future (so that we didn't have her asking where we were going every 30 minutes as we did when we went to New Hampshire), she asks for things and joins in instead of passively just watching other people enjoying what she would like to (we never intentionally leave her out, but it helps to have her ask instead of waiting for us to notice), and she will turn down food when she is not hungry or doesn't like something (you just can't believe how huge this one thing is). It is like watching the real child bloom from an empty shell. I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but it is truly what it is like.

Some pictures. Here is the first small hill H. was able to go up and down without a problem.

Some pictures from the picnic ramadas.

This picture does a great job of capturing the extent of the muscle tone H. is developing.


We noticed while we were there that more than a few people chose to wear blue shirts.

(l-r) G., L., M., K., and H.

Because of B., we notice all things bees. This sign made me chuckle because I wondered what the opposite would be... lazy bees? couch potato bees?

When we were done with our lunch we drove over to another part of the park to climb up to Hole in the Rock. Here is everyone inside. M. noticed that there were people taking pictures of us trying to get everyone together to take a picture. I guess we're our own moving tourist attraction.

K., M. (who looks as though she's texting, but is really trying to figure out the panorama feature on her phone which is what she said when I mocked her for it), P., and B.


B., with the view from the top behind him.

Here is the view up the path to the hole. H. did this entire thing herself, both up and down. Only once she needed help on the first step down, after which with her new confidence, she then jumped (JUMPED!) down each step the rest of the way. There was no dragging involved anywhere. It seems fitting that this occurred on her two year anniversary home.

We all had a nice time, though when you are the father of so many, you don't really get a chance to do what you would like to do... rock climb.

I have another article up... The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Yes, we all have them.

Also, if you are in the Chicago area, go see Thin Ice Theater's latest production, Pride and Prejudice. A. is (obviously) not in it, but you should still go and see it anyway. (A. really, really, really wishes she could have been in it.)

And really you should go just to see the dozens of dresses that were created. I made a few of them before I left town, such as this one:

Please notice the yards of piping... and the lace... and the gathers everywhere... and the piping....
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