Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy 12th Birthday, TM!

Today is TM's 12th birthday. He strongly dislikes the date his birthday falls on, so we will be celebrating this weekend. But today is the day he turns 12, so I'm writing my birthday post.

TM has come so far in the past year. He has worked hard and is so much better in control of the big emotions and feelings he has roiling around in him and is getting better able to identify and (sometimes) talk about those feelings. It has also not been an easy year as we have identified some past events that significantly alter how his therapist works with him. They are things that in the long run are good to know and address, but it's not easy.

This is all good stuff and it comes with ups and downs, but the best thing in my book is that we are more and more seeing the 'real' boy that has been buried in deep, deep pain and fear. We are seeing him smile more. We are seeing him able to laugh. We are seeing him able to help. We are seeing him slowly allow himself to become a part of the family. We are seeing him able to relax. None of this happens all the time, but even to have these things appear sometimes is more than we could have hoped for a couple of years ago. God is slowly healing this child.

So, my darling boy. Happy Birthday. The love I have for you is deep and strong. You have changed me and forced me to become a better person than I ever would have been if I had not fought to love you and help you. I may not have given birth to you, but you could not be more my son if I had. May this year be another of healing and growth and joy and peace.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With friends like these

We are blessed with some very good friends who take an active interest in us and our children. One friend came over once a week to watch little people while I took the older girls to their horseback riding lesson. Another friend has developed a great relationship with TM and D. and several times a year will take them out and do something fun. We are richly blessed to have friends like these in our lives and our children's lives. It makes our job a little bit easier.

Last Friday, was one of these boys' outings. Miss C. took TM and D. to Navy Pier. They had dinner. They rode the Ferris Wheel. They rode the carousel. They had a fantastic time. On top of it being a great time for our boys, it also allowed J. and I to go to that fancy dinner.

I think they had a really good time. What do you think? These are all from the Ferris Wheel.

It's even better that we have friends who will take my boys on the Ferris Wheel. I do not like them. (Ferris Wheels, not the boys.) I really have no intention of going on one with my children despite L. asking me every time we drive by it, "Momma, when will you take us to that amusement park so that we can ride the Ferris wheel?" Sorry, just can't do it, despite the lovely grammar and vocabulary.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


No, I wasn't in the bathtub and discover the theory of displacement, but it felt almost as momentous. Sometimes teaching children who have come from a different and deprived background is challenging. It stretches me in ways I didn't expect and sometimes it requires me to play detective. This morning was one of those mornings.

It is always a mystery to me when H. and I hit a road block in terms of school. We'll be going happily along and suddenly it's like a switch flips and we're not going happily along anymore. My first question is always: have we changed to a new seizure medicine?  As I've written before, that can play havoc with learning. But this time, no changes in medicine. I couldn't figure out where we stumbled. And the trouble with stumbling on one thing is that it sets in motion a chain reaction that then causes us to stumble on everything. With H., success causes more success and misunderstanding brings complete and total shutdown. I'll leave it at yesterday was a not a banner homeschooling day for either of us and I was feeling a bit of a failure by the end of the day as well. Pretty yucky all the way around.

Today I decided to start with something I new she would be successful at and then move onto math, which in a complete reversal from previous years has turned into a really good subject for her. Since we were on a roll, I decided to try one more time the thing that derailed us yesterday... accompanied by an enormously deep breath. At first, it appeared that we were going to get stuck again and it baffled me. Here is what was happening. (I share this because it might help someone else and we did figure out what was wrong so it is no longer an issue.)

It was a word in her Draw-Write-Now book, which she loves. It was 'arrived'. To help her decode it, I took off the 'd' and had her start with 'arrive', shortening it even further with the syllable '-rive'. This she sounded out and it seemed a simple matter to add the 'a' sound at the front. Seemed. It was mysterious. She could read '-rive' and 'a-' separately, but when I asked her to put them together she would inevitably says, "ave," leaving out the entire interior of the word. At first I couldn't figure out what was happening. Could she not see the inside of the word? Could she not remember what she had just said? What would make someone do this? After figuratively slamming my head into the table I tried something else. I used another similar word to see if the same thing would happen... and it did. She could sound out the parts separately, but when I asked her to put the two parts together, the entire middle was left out. Arrrhhh....

And then came the Eureka! moment. If you are trying to make a word with one syllable, one sound, you have to leave out the extra ones and it makes sense to say the beginning and ending and leave out the middle. This is what she was doing. In her mind, 'a-' was one sound or work and '-rive' was another. There is no way to say arrive with one syllable. So she did the best she could to make it into one. H. was operating under one set of assumptions and I was operating under another. English is awash with multi-syllabic words, Mandarin.. not so much.

To test my theory, H. and I talked about words having different sounds and having to say each sound in order. We counted sounds. We wrote numbers underneath each sound. And then we read the two different parts of the word and afterward, with bated breath, I asked her to put them together. AND SHE DID! There was great relief all the way around. For me, for the other children having to listen to this going on, and especially for H. We are all so happy I almost felt like throwing a party.

The moral of the story? I have found that 99% of the time, when I have a child making the same error over and over, there really is an underlying reason. It's my job as teacher is to figure out where everything went wrong. If I have a child failing, it's not their fault, but it's my responsibility. The moral is to keep digging.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not a nightgown... revisiting New Look S0595

Last weekend J. and I went to a family dinner downtown at a swanky club. It's a good thing I've been fooling around with a dress pattern so I had something to wear. Remember my first attempt at this pattern? The one where I accidentally made myself a new nightgown? Well, I was much happier with the second try. Happy enough to wear it out in public.

Monday, October 27, 2014

David and Goliath

I read Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, over the weekend. While I really liked his other books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers), I think this is my favorite one. While it is also more difficult than the others in terms of emotional content, I also think it is his most hopeful.

Like most of his books, the essential premise is that what we think we know is true, actually isn't. In this case, if we think the giants of our lives hold more power than the underdogs, we are wrong. Being the underdog carries certain advantages in itself and those advantages are not without strength. There are a lot of interesting topics in this book. Too much of a bad thing really is bad for you. Going to a very prestigious school is not always going to help you in the long wrong... and could actually hurt you. Being the underdog means you are going to have to expend more energy than those on top.

These topics alone would have made the book worth reading, but there were two others which really struck me. The first was his discussion of fear. It would seem that FDR was correct in his first inaugural address when he stated that the, "only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Having just read quite a bit about World War II and specifically the Blitz of London, I was particularly interested in his discussion as to why Londoners were able to live through the Blitz in such a stalwart manner. It would seem, according to the research that has been done, that surviving a 'remote miss' [a 'near miss', being too close to a traumatic event so that it leaves a deep impression as opposed to a 'remote miss' where you are affected but far enough removed to leave a lasting negative impression] of something you originally feared transmitted a sense of fearlessness and invulnerability instead of what we think would happen, which would be to make us more fearful. It would seem that it isn't the actual event we are afraid of, but the feelings we will have as the event unfolds. We are afraid of being afraid.

If you've ever done something that you were previously afraid of, you know this feeling. It is the idea that challenge courses are based on. You know, those ropes courses where they ask you to do terrifying things while being 30 feet off the ground? The Blitz was full of remote misses for its population (40,000 killed and 46,000 injured in a population of more than 8 million) and thus the vast majority of the population was emboldened rather than traumatized by the falling bombs. They weren't afraid of being afraid anymore. I found it very interesting.

But it is the last part of the book that is so powerful. It is the power of the underdog, the person who has been deeply injured, to forgive the injuring party. Mr. Gladwell contrasts two parents who had each lost a child to a violent attack. One parent became a crusader, constantly seeking justice, the other made the decision to forgive. The difference in the outcome of their lives and outlooks on life a great contrast. Forgiveness gives the underdog great power.

It's a good and quick read. You may not agree with all of it, but it is thought-provoking. Give it a shot.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Do not forget these girls

I won't let these girls be forgotten and miss out on a chance to have a family. Don't forget, a family isn't just for the growing up years. As an adult can you imagine not having a family? (And for those adults who do not have family... my heart breaks for you.) As adults we rely on our families almost as much as we did as children, but in different ways. Imagine not having that. It is the plight of many, many children. Do not let these girls suffer that fate... to not have anyone. Are you her family?

Or hers?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fun and Games

It's been quite a while since I've written about our game days. Three years ago to be exact. (Game Day, Oct. 2011) The idea of planning in game days to play those fun, yet educational games I have stashed away has continued. When I am planning our homeschool year I put one in every six to eight weeks or so.

Today was one of those scheduled days. Well, actually, Tuesday was one of those scheduled days, but we were all on auto-pilot and no one (including myself) bothered to open a folder to check what we were supposed to be doing. D. was the first to discover yesterday that we had missed it and the outrage was immense. I did some quick shuffling and changed it for today.

Once again, I started with the younger group first, though they are now all much more enjoyable to play games with. Everyone can move their own marker, they can count, and they will all stick around to the end of the game. We started out with the Dorling Kindersley game, Around the World. Someone had given it to us, and it has sat a shelf... waiting. When I went upstairs to see what I had, I saw it and decided we should give a try, and if it was a bust, I would give it away. It wasn't a bust and it is back upstairs waiting to be played again. It is a pretty simple board game with squares superimposed on a world map with various pictures of different places and animals on the board as well. It looks just like you would expect a game produced by DK to look. The children move around little cardboard airplanes as they move around the board. Some spaces have a Chutes and Ladders aspect to them where you follow the trail to a different space, though from an adult's point of view, it is wonderful that there is no long trail leading back to the beginning. There were some move ahead and lose a turn spaces with various reasons given, such as you stop to watch the penguins swim in the icy water. This aspect of the game really appealed to everyone and no one seemed to mind losing a turn if they were watching penguins. It was also a relatively short game to play. With all four people playing it took no more than 15 minutes, which was just about the right amount of time for this group. The other plus was that G. just came up to me and asked where the Taj Mahal was. (She had visited the Taj Mahal multiple times during our game.)

The downside? It seems as though it is out of print and the link I provided (which I receive a small percentage of, in full disclosure) shows that a new one can be purchased for $25 and a used one for $125. (Go figure. It doesn't make sense to me, either.) But, I can say, while we enjoyed playing the game, it wasn't worth $25, much less $125. But now, if you come across one, you know it is the the $1.50 that you would pay at a garage sale.

This seemed to be our day for playing games that cannot be purchased reasonably. The older people (P., TM, and D... A. was off memorizing Shakespeare and Spanish verbs) and I played Chronology, which I see is still for sale, but will set you back $86. For a card game! It is fun, though. The game has hundreds of different cards, each with an event from history and a date. You start out with one card and try to place the event in the correct chronological order around the cards in front of you. If you get it right, you get to keep the card. The first person to have 10 cards wins. It starts out pretty easy. Say you have Declaration of Independence - 1776 and you are read a card about the pyramids being built. It's pretty easy to say the pyramids come before 1776. It gets trickier, though when you have cards with the dates 1872, 1919, 1923 and there is an even read that you know happened about that time, but aren't sure where exactly it falls. The game is pretty heavy on the 20th century, so between that and having taught history to my children for 17 years I had a distinct advantage over them. To make it more fair, I handicapped myself by requiring 20 cards to win instead of 10.

Is it worth $86? Probably not, but you can make your own pretty easily. This works especially well if you are studying a certain period of history. I have a lovely deck of chronology cards I made to go along the Renaissance. As we learned something, I would make a card... event and date on one side. We would then use these to review the events we learned about. At the end of the year, I think the deck is at least 150 to 200 cards thick. If you do this, you need some rules. Shuffle your deck and put it face down on the table. To begin, each person draws one card and puts it face up in front of them. Then the first person draws a card and reads it without revealing the date. The person on his or her left then says where in the timeline in front of them that even would fall. If they are correct, they keep the card and add it to the timeline, if they are incorrect, the play passes to the next person and they have a chance to figure out where it goes. If no one gets the card, it is set aside. The play moves around with the next person taking a card and reading it. The first person to reach 10 cards in their timeline wins.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anyone want to send us all to France?

Yeah. I didn't think anyone did. D. really wanted me to ask. And why this sudden and pressing need to go to France... other than I really love Paris and it's been too long since I've been there? It's all for the study of history. Really.

Today we spent learning about cathedrals as part of our study of the Middle Ages. First we read David Macaulay's book, Cathedral: The Story of its Construction. We then watched a Nova episode, Building the Great Cathedrals, which I had ordered from Netflix for the occasion. We all found it very interesting. Well, not the five year olds so much, but the rest of it did. The cathedrals and their construction were really interesting, but what really caught our interest had nothing to do with cathedrals and jumped back to castles instead.

In the show, it mentioned and showed a building site in France where they are constructing a medieval castle using medieval building techniques and medieval materials. And it is a living history museum as well so YOU CAN GO AND SEE IT! Who wouldn't want to go and watch a medieval castle being built? If it were in the US, I would be making some major summer driving plans, but alas, it is in Treigny, France, southeast of Paris, and quite impossible to drive to. Some day... it is not anticipated to be done until 2020, so we still have some time. If you want to take a look at it, it's called Guedelon Castle.

It's still not too late to make an offer, though. I'd even blog about it for your reading entertainment.




Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ladybug Heaven

I have written before about L.'s pets... the dead bugs she carries around and cares for. The most popular of these pets are the ladybugs which fall into her clutches. Imagine L.'s excitement when the ladybugs started to swarm our house yesterday. (They do this every fall. We think the beetles are trying to find somewhere to hibernate and our house looks particularly appealing.) Much of the day was spent in ladybug collection. We even had to move up to a larger container.

This has led to some particularly funny quirky L. moments. We all now know a lot about ladybugs since at the last library visit she insisted we check out multiple books and have since read them. She likes to walk around expounding on ladybug knowledge. L. thinks she knows so much about them that I heard her tell G. that tomorrow there would be a class on the care, keeping, and most importantly catching of ladybugs.

This was not sufficient, though, to make the most of the bounty of ladybugs. They make great pets in L.'s opinion... alive or dead. She is concerned for the deprived people around her who do not have pets. Now think for a minute and I bet you can see what's coming. Many ladybugs + a needy audience + a child who really, really likes to sell things and is relentless at it = ????

You guessed it. Yes, L. has decided that a ladybug stand to sell ladybugs to people who don't have pets is the order of the day. It was one of the first things out of her mouth at bedtime and the first thing out of her mouth this morning. I'm not sure how long I can put her off. You can bet I will do my best. The idea of sitting with her outside trying to sell ladybugs and having her open her ladybug containers to check on them and then watching the ladybugs fly away does not sound like fun. If anyone out there thinks otherwise, I would be more than happy to let you handle ladybug stand supervision duty. That said, it is very difficult to not get sucked into the vortex of L.'s imagination.

Here are some girls with their ladybugs.

These are two that G. was carrying around in a toy treasure chest. (All small containers have suddenly become ladybug homes.) 


L. with her bucket. Notice the lid is off because it is easier to see the ladybugs. The trouble is, these are alive and can still fly. It's like living in one of those walk-in butterfly exhibits except with ladybugs.

Notice the amenities for the ladybugs: mountain, toys, leaf (even though L. can tell you they eat aphids.)

Monday, October 20, 2014


Nice mouth, huh? K. lost one of his front teeth the other day. (He also has a missing tooth on the bottom; you just can't see it.) But between the missing tooth and the cleft on the other side of his front tooth, it gives him a particularly holey grin.

A funny boy to brighten up your Monday.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The place where hotel furniture goes to die

J. and I didn't mean to go on this quest. In fact, we didn't even really care if we ever discovered the hotel furniture graveyard... or if it even really existed. But some adventures are thrust upon you and you have them whether you want to or not.

Yesterday started out normally enough. Children were fed. Weekly meal plans were made. I went grocery shopping. The only thing that was different was our revulsion at the state of the couches in our front living room had been raised to such a level that J. and I felt as though we needed to actually do something about it. The trouble is, we wanted to replace our decrepit and collapsing couches but we didn't want to spend very much money to do it. OK, we don't have any money to replace the couches, but yet we are tired of living with urban blight inside our own home.

This leads to searching terms such as, "cheap furniture in Chicago." J. found a place that looked promising. Big sale and photograph of a warehouse with dozens of couches stacked up. We (and by we I mean J., TM, and D.) took three benches out of the van in order to enable us to bring our plunder home and we set off in search of that elusive beast: cheap furniture.

The first leg of our journey involved Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon. It technically wasn't time for rush hour, but someone forgot to tell all the cars on the road. Our little venture was already taking longer than we anticipated. After 30 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Stevenson, we were hoping this was going to be worth it.

But we persevered in our quest and arrived at the warehouse. We walk in and find ourselves in a little room with no one there. Thinking that this can't be all of it, we see a door and wander through it. This leads to a slightly bigger room with more furniture, still no people, and not really the furniture we are looking for. We continue on, finding open doors and entering them. After another couple of rooms, we finally find the warehouse. The warehouse is big. Really big. It is also filled with a lot of furniture. Now, the thing is, while there are literally hundreds of pieces of furniture in the warehouse (at some really ridiculously low prices), there is not a lot of variety. For instance, they probably have close to five hundred couches... but in only two styles. It is the same couch over and over and over. Trust me when I say that they didn't start to look better the twelfth time we came across them. There were a lot of upholstered arm chairs (which we weren't looking for), but once again, the variety of chairs was slim. The whole things was a little odd. TM and D. had a ball wandering huge piles of furniture and playing hide-and-seek.

You see, the thing with the warehouse is that it buys furniture from hotel chains who are redecorating or closing and sells it off cheap. If you have ever had a hankering to own the framed art you come across in hotel rooms, I know where you can get some. (Or 100.) I can also tell you where to get bedside tables, conference and desk chairs and console tables. If you have multiple rooms you want to furnish exactly alike, this is the place for you. There was one lone pool table which J. and I thought we'd buy just to make the trip worthwhile, but it was sold. The large mirrors were a really great deal ($15), but J. and I couldn't think of a place where we needed one.

Thus, the end of the story finds our adventurers empty-handed... of furniture at least. We did stop to get donuts to appease the young boys who thought the warehouse was little compensation for the drive through traffic and removing and returning van benches. Just a hint. If'you happen to be visiting, only sit on the left side of the brown couch in our front living room, you will be less likely to get poked by a spring.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Some plans don't work

This was to be one of the weeks that we did our five in a row style activities with a picture book. I had the book and the plans and I was ready. What I was unprepared for was the reaction. I had thought they would all be excited about setting our workbooks aside and reading a new book and doing activities. I had thought wrong. There were complaints right off the bat. The little girls in particular were rather upset that they didn't get to do their workbooks. Grudgingly, they sat down to listen to the new story. I thought for sure once we were reading the story they would become excited.

The book was, The Giraffe Who Walked to Paris, by Nancy Milton. I thought it was good. It is a retelling of a true story about a giraffe that is a gift from the pasha of Egypt to the King of France to promote goodwill between their countries. The giraffe then needs to get to Paris. After a voyage by ship across the Mediterranean, the Giraffe then walks from Marseilles to Paris. I thought for sure everyone would love it.

Well, I just wrong all across the board. They listened to it the first time, but were not entranced by it. They still complained that we hadn't done any workbooks even after we started the story. And no one wanted to listen to it a second day, even though I insisted. The activities were even less well received.

So on Wednesday, I threw in the towel and went back to workbooks. Everyone was happy. I was left wondering if I needed to rethink my bigger school plan. Here's what I've decided. My experiences from last year tell me that the success or failure of this venture is highly dependent on the book. Some books we read last year they loved and couldn't wait to read again. Others, they didn't love and it was not as successful. (Though I didn't have outright rebellion like I did this week. I think that's due to everyone being older and liking their current school work.) Since not every book worked for us last year, I'm going to try a couple more times. I think they will like the books I have planned. Of course, I thought they would like the giraffe book. We'll see if it is just a mismatch between book and children or if it is a style of learning that just doesn't fit anymore.

If it just doesn't fit, I will admit to being a little sad. I've loved sharing these books and doing projects. I think I just really like teaching the preschool age. This is the first time I've "run out" of them. It's good that they grow and mature; it's what they're supposed to do... but, still... It's right up there with noticing that G. does not always reverse her letters and write backwards all the time anymore. I told J. the other day that you can tell she is #10. In an earlier child, say #1 or #2, consistent backwards writing might have caused me concern, but in this one, I was just charmed and was 99.9% sure that it would straighten itself out. It is, and I will miss the backwards writing. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's your purpose?

This question is the prompt for the Hearts at Home link-up today. As I've thought about it, the short, easy, obvious answer is, well, to raise and teach my children, of course. But for some reason, this didn't seem satisfying. It's not that I think raising children isn't important. I do. I spend a lot of time doing it. I spend a lot of time supporting others who do it. If you asked me what I spend the vast majority of my time doing, raising and teaching my children would be the answer. So why did I find it an unsatisfying way to respond to the question, "What's your purpose?"

I think there are a couple of reasons I've come up with as to why this is. First, when I think about the phrase, I can't get away from the idea that purpose and results are tied up together. To have a purpose implies that there is some end goal, some result. This becomes a little tricky when you add parenting to this. Of course, we all have dreams for our children. What parent doesn't want their child to be happy, successful, and following in their faith? The trouble is, despite what multitudes of parenting books would have you believe, you can influence your child but you don't have total control over how they turn out. There is no guaranteed formula that if you do A, B, and C that you well get the results you want. It doesn't work that way. To tie my purpose to my parenting implies that if my children do not turn out as I desire that I have failed.

Would I even want that power anyway... the power to mold my children into my own creations? There is a line from the musical, "Into the Woods", that goes, "How do you know what you want 'till you get what you want and you see if you like it?" This flits through my head more and more often. There are some things that I have really, really thought that I wanted. There are things that happen that I think, I would have chosen a much different path. There are those times that God has said no or take this path and not the other one. I have complained and railed and cried over my these things. Yet after time has passed and I look back, my way was not best and I am thankful that it really wasn't up to me. It is kind of a relief that, ultimately, the results of my parenting aren't up to me.

The second reason I'm uncomfortable with choosing parenting as my purpose is that despite the many hours I do devote to raising my children, it is not all I do. Like everyone else, I wear many different hats and just because I don't have each of them on all the time, that doesn't mean I don't see them as important or valuable. I am also a writer, piano teaching, homemaker (yes, that is different from parent), friend, wife, etc., etc. The trouble is, these are all things that I do. Is that the same thing as who I am? If having a purpose in life is important, than can a purpose only be something that someone does? What about people who for some reason or another cannot do things? Do they have no purpose? This is where we need to be careful. We can come perilously close to equating purpose with value, especially if we define purpose in terms of what we do. I don't think we want to go there.

So where does this leave us? We all still want, crave even, purpose in our lives. Since this is not a new problem, I think it is helpful to turn to some historic church writings. (Sometimes I think we forget that Christians have been trying to tackle these problems for centuries and have much to say to us.) Let's look at the first question from the Westminster Catechism. (A catechism is a series of questions and answers used to teach people about the Christian faith, in case this a new word for you.) The first question states: What is the chief end of man? (Man used in the unversal human sense, please don't get caught up on this.) Essentially, it is asking what is a person's purpose... the exact question we have been dealing with this whole purpose question. The answer is: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I think this sums it up so beautifully. My purpose is to glorify God; to point to Him and give Him the credit. It is to acknowledge that He is in control and to not usurp His authority. But this relationship is not just one way, I am also to enjoy Him. Enjoy means to take delight or pleasure in. If we are in right relationship with God, there is joy and delight. Jesus says Himself that His yoke is easy and His burden light. (Matthew 11:30) What a delightful purpose! To glorify our God and to enjoy Him. Everything else we do flows out of this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A girl and her family

Here are the promised pictures from H.'s birthday.

Here is the cake that D. and TM made. It says "Happy 12th Birthday" and has a butterfly.

This was a kit to make pom-pom dogs. I think she liked it.

I think you can see that we are seeing her personality is blooming. I don't claim to have any special abilities, but feeling safe and loved and challenged (in a good way) is good for a child. Institutional care, no matter how good, can never provide the same level of safety and love that being in a healthy family can. Remember these two girls?

Tina - If you go to the Twenty Less site, there are several new videos of Tina. Please go and look at them. 

Every child deserves a family. Every child deserves to be loved. Could you provide that love and safety for a child? For one of these children? They wait and wait and wait. I know Grace has been waiting for years because we met her when we brought H. home. I believe Tina has been waiting just as long. No one has chosen them. These children won't just be referred to a family, they will wait until they are chosen. 

And do you want to know what it's like to wait for a family to choose you? Go and read the my friend's daughter's blog, The Flower that Blooms. (She has written it in Mandarin, but there are translations after each post.) Just go read it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy 12th Birthday, H.!

Today is H.'s 12th birthday and we'll be celebrating tonight. (So that means no pictures until tomorrow.) It's quite the different child who is celebrating. H. still has challenges ahead of her, but we have seen such growth in the past year. I looked back at the post of her two last birthdays (10th and 11th) so I could refresh my memory. What strikes me in looking back is the difference in emotion. Her first birthday here made her so happy. And while I think she was genuinely happy with her celebration, to my eyes now, she has that 'deer in the headlights' look about her. Everything was so new and different. New family, new country, new language, new level of attention and care. I find the photo of her clutching all her new gifts to be particularly poignant. This is a child who is happy to have stuff, is clutching it to stop others from taking it from her, and while happy with it, doesn't really have any idea what to do with the things she has been given.

Fast forward to the next year. She looks more relaxed and more comfortable. But as I read through the post I am remembering that this was when I really discovered how terribly passive she was in her life... just a by stander, not a participant. Things happened, she didn't why, sometimes they were good and sometimes were bad. Why bother remembering it? No one tells you in adoptive parenting classes how to help a child get off the sidelines and be a participant in their own life. We started with just remembering what happened the day before and went from there. We talked about what had happened, what was happening and how she could join in, what was going to happen.

The trouble with having a very polite, happy, passive child is that they can be perfectly content sitting in a chair observing life while the louder people garner all the attention. I know that a quiet, well-behaved child doesn't sound like a problem, but over time, you realize it is odd. When every other child in the house sees something happening and wants to jump in, you start to realize that one child never thinks to jump in. When life isn't going well, other children will moan, complain, and cry. You start to realize that one child never moans, complains, or cries. Now, I'm the first one to say a good outlook on life is a positive thing, but when pleasant passiveness is a child's only note, it begins to stand out. So, we worked on that as well. We did a lot of talking about emotions. "Boy, I would be really upset if that happened to me. I might even cry." This and similar sentences came out of mouths. We also become more aware of the quiet child on the sidelines and helped her to see she could join in.

This birthday I find myself looking at a different child. As she intellectually and physically gains new skills, she is also starting to take possession of her own life. The range of emotions she is willing and able to express is widening. No longer is she quietly happy all the time. There is annoyance, frustration, sadness, and even a little tiny bit of anger. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to attach to a child who has real emotions. Real emotions you can engage with. It is like watching someone slowly become real.

So Happy Birthday, H. I am privileged to be your mother and to be a part of your story. You are one of the bravest people I know and you have weathered so much in your short life. I am filled with joy watching you grow and learn and become the young woman God created you to be.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big weekend

This past weekend was one of those that is full of good things but leaves you feeling as though the arrival of Monday will be relaxing. There was the usual Saturday stuff... piano teaching, house cleaning, errand running, signing a contract to write for but we also had some extra events.

A. and P. rode in another horse show. Here's P.

And A.

Both girls placed 2nd and 3rd in their respective classes.

And then we celebrated HG's birthday. We're so happy to have this young woman in our lives.

Happy Birthday, HG! We love you.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I made a cardboard siege tower yesterday, what'd you do?

When M. and B. were very small and we were in our very first year of homeschooling, we learned about castles. One of the best things we did that year was to build cardboard castles. They were played with and added to (including a wooden royal family) over that entire year. Those good memories came back to me as I was planning this school year and I decided that we needed more cardboard castles. So it was added to the schedule.

Yesterday was the day. I had collected quite a bit or cardboard, stocked up on tape, and set people loose. It was helpful that I had done this once already, even if it was a few years ago, so I had a sense of what was going to work and what wasn't. I knew that the younger ones could never create a castle for themselves... at the very least the cardboard is just too hard for little hands to cut. For them, I decided I would cut a simple castle shape and let them add and/or decorate as they desired. The older two were on their own. I should also add that we spent the earlier part of the week reading David Macauley's book, Castle. It gave everyone a sense of how castles were constructed and what parts they contained.

Here is what we ended up with. First, my very basic siege tower. (This is where having done this particular craft once before comes in handy, because I remembered how I made it the first time. The first one was probably fancier, though. I also had to inform the masses that there was going to be just one siege tower... they didn't each get one. They could think of it as Siege Towers R Us and come and rent it to attack a neighboring castle.)

Here's TM's. Can you tell this craft was right up his alley?

Inside the keep is the kitchen, complete with chimney for venting the fireplace...

and a portcullis which moves up and down.

This is K's. Here you can see the very basic castle design I cut out for the younger group. It is an empty paper box with crenelations and a door cut like a drawbridge. This is also what I made for G. and L. and (using a different box) for H.

The additions are all K.'s. He made various buildings within plus a trap door to send people to the dungeon.

Here's D.'s. His portcullis move up and down as well.

He didn't want just the keep, so was working on the outer curtain wall, but ran out of time... and steam. Here is the vaulted opening in the outer wall he was working on when fatigue struck.

I couldn't locate G.'s this morning, but did find L.'s... if you can see it amidst the stuffed animals. She wasn't happy with just the keep, either, and wanted a second floor. So what you see here is that tower I made with a second level taped on top of that, plus the house she taped onto that. It is rather an unwieldy thing and has a tendency to fall apart. It is distressing (and loud) when it does.

Here is H.'s. She understood that the drawbridge was to cover water, but I think was a little unclear on the whole thing. She does know how to decorate, though, and blank surfaces are quickly covered with her current favorite things to draw...

which are trees and flowers. It works on the side of the castle, I think, giving an illusion of being in a garden.

What you don't get to see the what my kitchen looked like at the end of all this castle building. (I didn't think to take a picture of the chaos; I just wanted it picked-up.) We were walking around in cardboard pieces ankle-deep. There were scissors, pens, tape, and markers strewn about everywhere. Paint and hot glue littered the counters. It was a true disaster. Somehow we managed to get everything picked-up to eat lunch.
I have a new article up:  And Then Monday Happens. Take a look.

Friday, October 10, 2014


D. and TM have joined Boy Scouts (the same troop that B. was in) and are loving it. They started in September and quickly earned the level of Scout so that last night at the Court of Honor, they received their advancement.

Some people don't like to smile for cameras.

But when you try to make them laugh, the camera shakes.

And scouts is even more fun when two of your best friends are in it as well. (Here are the H-S boys.)

Who knew that getting four boys to smile nice smiles all at the same time...

would be so difficult. They're having fun. Really.

Today's post and the corresponding lack of real content is brought to you by cardboard. Cardboard castles... cardboard seige towers... cardboard castles cum tree houses... cardboard bits, big and small, covering every bit of my kitchen.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

I have a movie I want to recommend to you. That in itself is pretty unusual, I know. I don't watch a lot of movies and the need to recommend one happens even less. A friend suggested that J. and I might like this one, so we ordered it from Netflix and sat down and watched it last night. Really the only reason we sat down and watched it is that A. needs a movie to arrive that goes with her Economics class and it can't come until we send something back. We were told we had to watch it so this could happen. I'm glad we did.

The movie is Tim's Vermeer and is a production of Penn and Teller, with whom he (Tim of the movie) is friends. The premise is that there is a group of people who believe that Vermeer used optics of some sort or another to enable him to create his paintings. So Tim becomes fascinated with this idea and as he thinks about it, decides that the way Vermeer actually did it was a combination of a lens and a mirror, which makes the process one that just about anyone could do. To prove this, he sets out to paint a Vermeer, specifically, "The Music Lesson". 

This image is actually the painting that Tim painted and not Vermeer's. Tim is not a painter and had held a paintbrush just once in his life before he started this project. It was really fascinating to watch. J. and I were pretty transfixed by the whole thing... along with thinking, "Boy, this is someone with way too much time on his hands."

If you are studying the Renaissance, it would be a great film to go along with it, but it is also interesting to watch just because. There are a couple brief instances of language, but given the fact that Penn Jillette was involved it's pretty squeaky clean despite it's PG-13 rating. I would say anyone late grade school and up would find it interesting. Of course P.'s reaction to it was, "It's about a guy who spent six years painting a picture that was already painted."

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


As you know, we've been studying the human body. This week we are learning about bones. It took a while to cut out the many pieces of skeleton that took a while to print out.

And while the paper model is nice, but it is hardly a substitute for an actual skeleton. You know, to see how those joints fit together and move and all that. It kind of makes a homeschooling mother wish someone would drop a skeleton off on the doorstep.

Well, sometimes things work out. While we didn't have one dropped off, we had the next best thing. One of the bonuses of having a husband who works as a university is that universities sometimes build new buildings. New science buildings. And it seems that when you have a brand-new science building, you don't want to put old equipment in the shiny new building. Instead you leave it behind in the old rooms, waiting around for someone to decide what to do with it. Or, until another person comes walking by and notices that some useful equipment is just sitting around and knows the person to ask. 

This is the reason why if you were walking around the campus where J. works yesterday evening, you would have seen a man trying to carry a skeleton that didn't seem to be cooperating. (The skeleton is not in the most pristine shape and didn't want to roll quietly along on his stand.) J. is pretty sure at least a couple of people did some double takes. But J. persevered, and after figuring out how to fold the skeleton into the back seat of the car, arrived home to surprise everyone with this...

Meet our new family member whom we are affectionately calling Gomez. (You know, from the Addams Family?) He has seen a few better days. As you can tell from this picture, he is missing his right hand, and he has a little jaw trouble. As in, his jaw has a tendency to fall out.

So people are needing to put it back.

Which causes either an extreme over-bit or under-bit.

He also is a little sticky and needs a good cleaning. And I think he walked in something dirty at some point judging from the state of his feet.

Gomez has proven very popular already, though K. isn't so sure he wants to be in the kitchen alone with the fellow.

So thank you, thank you to my husband's university who so nicely agreed to let us be Gomez's new caretakers. 
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