Saturday, January 31, 2015

Child sponsorship... or I should have been selling Skillet t-shirts

Last night, J. and I took P., H., TM, and D. to the Winter Jam concert. We got in free because we were volunteering with one of our adoption agencies, Holt International, who was sponsoring the concert. J. had P., TM, and D. with him inside the concert and passed out sponsorship folder during intermission and H. and I sat outside the concert at one of the child sponsorship tables. That was perfect for both of us. We could hear the music, but it wasn't quite so deafening. (I was also a little afraid of what the noise, lights, and over-stimulation would do to H. as far as seizures.) H. had a ball. She is such a people-person. She sat at the table and smiled and waved and said hello to everyone who passed by. At first I couldn't understand why people were coming up to us to say hello when they weren't greeting the other people working the table. Then I caught the Miss America waving and smiling going on and understood. I also bought us some pizza slices and sodas, thus H. declared the evening, "So, so fun!"

The table where we were working was directly across from Skillet's booth. (If you are not aware of Skillet, they are a heavy-metal Christian group who is popular in both secular and Christian arenas.) I am now intimately acquainted with the full line of t-shirts which Skillet has for sale, having stared at them for six hours. They are very popular. The booth was never quiet and there was a steady stream of customers buying a lot of rather high-priced t-shirts. I briefly thought about going across the aisle and suggesting that they let me give a child sponsorship pitch with every t-shirt sale. My children are relieved that I didn't.

I understand that many of the people who passed by our table already sponsor a child, many people came up to say hello and mentioned this. I'm also pretty sure that many other people hadn't ever heard of child sponsorship and would glance away once they saw what the table was about. I did my darndest to convince people of the importance of child sponsorship... and did a lot of educating as to the difference between adoption and sponsorship.

For those of you who haven't heard about child sponsorship, or who haven't taken the plunge, here's my plea. (And we sponsor more than one child through more than one organization... I understand the financial sacrifice involved.)

Child sponsorship is when an individual (or group of individuals) send money through an organization to support a specific child. Often this means the difference between being able to stay in one's family of origin and being relinquished to an orphanage or abandoned. Poverty is one of the number one reasons children lose their first families. For many families, they live so close to the edge that disaster is often just a meal away. Child sponsorship helps to push these families just a little bit away from the edge and also gives them other support in terms of education and therapies and access to other social services. If you are pro-adoption, you really also need to be pro-sponsorship. Our first duty lies with the children and keeping their families intact if at all possible. As much as we support adoption, in a perfect world, it would not be necessary.

Think about how much you love your children for a moment. Now, imagine with me what it would be like if financially you could not provide enough food for them and had to watch them starve. Parents around the world face this every day. Often they make the heart-rending decision to relinquish their child to an orphanage so that their child will be fed. Now imagine if some unknown benefactor started giving you enough money so that you could feed your child and did not have to face this gut wrenching decision. You could do that for another family. You could do that by spending as little as a dollar a day. Why don't you?

Child sponsorship programs all differ a little in the nuts and bolts, but have the same goal. We do sponsor through both Holt and Compassion International and like them both for different reasons. But we also want to be careful with our money and make sure the programs do what they say they are going to. If you are on the fence about their effectiveness, you really need to do read the in-depth report that Christianity Today did on the economics of child sponsorship programs. They do work.

It was interesting last night to watch who was drawn to our table. Inevitable, it was the children who would stop and look and ask questions. More than once I saw a young child literally try to drag their parent(s) over, the parent would glance at the table, and pull their child away as they kept walking. Also more than once, someone would come up and sponsor a child because their child wanted to. We need little children around us because they keep us honest and help us to remember what is important. Listen to them.

Friday, January 30, 2015

My newest favorite cookbook

I like to add food into our learning whenever possible and studying the Silk Road seemed like a perfect fit. The first thing to do, of course, was to find a book. I had found one at the library and it was OK, but I wasn't wild about it. It was very glossy with lots of color pictures. I have found that while these books are beautiful to look at, their value as actual cookbooks isn't all that much. While doing a more intensive book search on Amazon, I found another book. (An aside... I always felt as though I were cheating a little bit when I used Amazon to search for titles and then looked for those specific titles in my library's catalogue. That is until a librarian was helping me find a book at one point and did the very same thing.) This book, though was not available at my library or any of the libraries in its inter-library loan group. The book looked so intriguing that I did something I rarely do and went ahead and bought it.

I am so glad I did! The book is The Silk Road Gourmet by Laura Kelley. The subtitle is A Journey through the Cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka. The author, trained as an anthropologist, but then ultimately combined her passion for cooking with her career to become an ethnic food detective. The front matter of the book contains information on food movement, the silk road, and origins of spices and cooking methods. For the recipes, the book is divided by country with a selection of recipes for each. It is highly interesting reading, even if you never cooked a thing.

But you should cook some of the recipes because, at least judging by our sampling this past week, they are very, very good. We've had a fish curry from Bangladesh, saffron rice from India, coconut rice from Sri Lanka, and meatballs with garlic and mint and chicken with apricots with lemon-pepper sauce both from Afghanistan. They were all hits and I will definitely be making some of them again. They were pretty straight forward to prepare and the only difficult thing for some people would be to find some of the less well-known ingredients. If you happen to live in an ethnically diverse area, this shouldn't be a problem. I had most of them already and only had to pick-up a couple extra.

Plus, there are lots of other recipes I'm excited to try. Usually I check new cookbooks out of the library first because a book that looks promising often ends up only having a few recipes that I want to try, or are different from the recipes that are in the dozens of cookbooks I already own. Perhaps that is why I'm so excited about this one... it's not the same old stuff I usually cook.

My only quibble with the book is the index. Why, oh why, are indices so difficult for publishers to get right? I have some cookbooks where the index is virtually unusable and is little more than a table of contents in the back. Forget about searching it for an ingredient. Others get it right and I can find whatever recipe I want easily by searching either the name or ingredient. The index in this book nearly gets it right. You can search by ingredient, but then you are only given a list of page numbers instead of the name of the recipe along with the page number. If I'm searching 'rice', it is not so helpful when there is a list of 20 page numbers without any indication as to what they reference.

I would recommend trying this book if you are tiring of cooking the same old stuff every night. Plus, remember that the best way to create children who are adventurous eaters is to expose them to lots and lots of different tastes, textures, and smells in their food. Our taste buds and the nerves which attach them to our brains of some of the most plastic. That is both good and bad in that we can change what we like fairly easily with enough exposure, but we can also solidify pickiness just as easily.

Be adventurous and try something new.
Hey, local readers... if any of you are heading out to the Winter Jam concert tonight, stop by the adoption information table. H. and I will be there (at least I'm assuming that's where we'll be) and you can say hi.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"But you asked for it"

This has been rolling around in my head for quite some time, but before I go on, I must write a disclaimer. We're fine. I have no trouble with telling people when life is hard or being truthful about what life looks like... and most of the time it actually looks pretty OK. So, if you read this and are suddenly concerned that it is a desperate, silent cry for help... it's not. Still, others don't quite feel as comfortable sharing when life is hard (often for a reason) and that is what I want to address.

I have contact with a lot of different people. It won't surprise you that many of them of mothers of large families, mothers of adopted children, or both. When more than a few of these mothers get together, there is often a common theme that arises in the discussion. That is, when they are with other people who 'get' them, there is a freedom to kvetch and share the hard stuff. Now I know that this is natural. When you are with a group of people who have the same experiences as you, there is a level of understanding that just doesn't happen anywhere else. There is nothing wrong with this and it is healthy. But there is something else going on here. These mothers feel a freedom to share the truth with each other because they know that no one will say to them, "But you chose this." (I have only heard this line once or twice. People tend not to say it to me, it seems. But I know others hear it quite a bit or hear its implied meaning in other veiled comments. Trust me when I say it's a 'thing' and it happens.)

There seems to be the mistaken assumption out there that because someone chose to have more children than usual (or chose to adopt children) that it means it can't be hard or there can't be moments where you don't enjoy it or you can't complain. Nothing else in life works this way. In politics we are told the only way we can complain about something is if we had a voice in the choosing. People choose their spouses and complaining about them seems to be a national pastime. You often choose a career and complaining about your job is second only in popularity to complaining about your spouse. Yet I have heard innumerable stories from mothers of many that if they voice anything along the lines of how hard it can be sometimes, they are are shut down and essentially told you made your bed, now lie in it.

What I can't figure out is why this is. Parenting can be hard; it doesn't matter how many you have. We love our children and want the best for them. We want them to be healthy and happy and preferably not screaming at us. But they are little human beings with all of a human beings faults (just like us adults) and they will do things that annoy us and irritate us and scare the heck out of us. It's all a part of parenting. If you've ever parented, no matter how many children, you understand this.

So if parents of one, two, or three children get to complain about parenting and hard and crazy life can be, then why not parents of eight, nine, or ten? Mothers of large families feel as though they carry a burden to constantly defend their choices... life must be always wonderful, easy, beautiful... or somehow it feels it makes these choices invalid. Some mothers feel this pressure to an unhealthy extent and the consequences can be devastating.

We must decide to get rid of this image of mothers of large families or mothers of special needs adopted children as somehow more superhuman than your average mother. Because if you want the real truth. We're not. Not one mother who fits into these categories (and I know more than a few) feels as though she is any better or more equipped than any other mother, regardless of family size or dynamics.

The truth is, we have more practice so some things are just easier (laundry, cooking, navigating schedules). These are learned skills that anyone who practices them consistently can learn. There is nothing superhuman about it.

The truth is, that as much as things can be difficult, we also have the possibilities for a lot of joy. I get a lot of hugs and kisses and pictures and "I love you's" throughout the day. The different number of personalities makes for great entertainment and laughter and there is always someone to do something with. There are a lot of good things and these good things can get you through the day.

The truth is, things can also be hard. Stomach flu through a family of 12? Really not so fun. When you have so many children you are opening yourself up to greater possibilities of being hurt. At times the worry for each of these precious children can be overwhelming. When everyone is grouchy? Having a lot of grouchy people around isn't fun.

The truth is, it doesn't matter how many children you have, you will experience the same things. The mother of many will just experience each of them to a greater degree... both the good and the bad. If she complains or is having a hard time, allow her the space to express these feelings. Treat her as you would any other mother. Because when she says something is hard, it has no reflection on anyone else. It also doesn't mean that her choices were wrong. Just because raising many children can be hard, doesn't make it wrong. Just because opening your home and family and life to a child with special needs is hard, doesn't make it wrong.

We are not superhuman. No one is. We may have just learned a little bit better that we do nothing in our own power. I may not be amazing, but my God certainly is.
Another new article:  Word of the Year: Beautiful

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ideas for high school

A reader asked on my post about A. graduating from high school early what are some of the things we've done that haven't been exclusively text book based. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but here are some of the 'classes' my various high schoolers have done.

B. received a credit for Apiology (that would be bee keeping). He reads dozens of books and magazine, took a class offered by a local bee keeper's group, and built and kept his own hive.

All of my high schoolers have earned at least one credit in Sound Technology. That would be the live, hands-on working of how to run a sound board, do recordings, and run live sound for an event. It is a lot of practical experience learning from an adult who knows what they are doing. None of them have listened to things the same since having this experience.

We have made use of many of the Great Courses CD's to supplement various classes. M. did linguistics and B. did quite a few economics lectures. These would be the courses aimed at adults and not their high school classes. In my opinion, the courses aimed at adults are far more interesting because they have to be... adults don't have to listen to them.

Often we'll go the route of using a variety of books for one subject, just not a textbook. This is what P. is doing for her Japanese History and Culture Class and what A. is doing for History of Police Work. I also created a class like this on the Gold Rush for B. I will then add some written assignments to go along with the reading. Pretty much it is what happens in many college classes.

For B.'s World War II class, I really didn't have to do anything. He was avidly reading about this era and probably I could have given him three credits based on the amount of reading and study he did. At some point, though, it starts to look a bit ridiculous and you want the college to believe you, so we kept it to one.

Sometimes I've gone the easy route and used an already assembled list of resources. For B.'s History of the 20th Century class I did this using the outline on Ambleside Online.

And, of course, for some things we do use textbooks, usually for math and science. It's not that textbooks are evil or bad, it's just that if that's your only way of learning things, they can become a bit tedious and dull. Sometimes we will use them, but as a reference.

Learning is happening all the time and in so many different ways, it's really just a matter of being aware of what you child is doing and helping to add in enough resources to fulfill those Carnegie hours so you can call it a class and create a transcript. By doing it this way, you are putting the focus on learning and not coursework, which is as it should be. We want to create learners and not grade-mongers, right?

My older children continue to learn. B.'s love of all things growing and all things farming continues. He learned so much working for my brother last summer and I know he wants to continue that. M. has lists of things she wants to learn... glass blowing and welding currently being towards the top of her list.

Life is so interesting and there is so much out there. Model learning for your children. Be interested in things. Learn new things all the time. Your children will see this and they will be interested in things as well.
I had another article published that I think I forgot to mention here. Adopting a Child with a Facial Difference

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Learning through dissection

(Warning... I'm including pictures of what we were doing with our dissection projects. Please, DO NOT scroll down if this is a problem for you.)

Because you just never know what you are going to find when you visit here....

In my very informal and non-scientific poll on the Ordinary Time facebook page, some people indicated interest in seeing our dissection projects. We just finished the second one this morning.

We have studying the human body and the different body systems. Really, one of the very best ways to really see and understand body systems is through dissection. It helps that M. has always loved dissection and comes equipped with her own dissection tools. (It was a Christmas gift one year.)

 The first thing M. dissected with everyone was a pig heart.
(And now you're going to have to scroll down a little bit because I don't want anyone to accidentally see the pictures if they don't want to.)

She found a valve and everyone could see how it opens and closes.

I had two hearts to work with, so she cut each of them a different direction. In this one they were able to see the different chambers and she demonstrated who the blood can really only move through those chambers in one direction.

This view showed how the different chambers were next to each other and the size of the muscle that pumps the blood.

Dissection was a hit and everyone enjoyed it. So today we moved onto the sheep's head I had bought at the store.

Opening up the package.

Taking a look at it and discussing it's teeth and how everything fits together.

Here you can see the opening up into the mouth and nasal passages and that white rectangular shape to the left of the opening is the epiglottis.

The tongue

Lower jaw bone

Tried as she might, M. just could not get to the brain to look at it. (It is amazing the amount of skull a sheep has to protect its little, tiny brain.) She found a way they could feel it, though. Here's TM...

And D.

M. and K.

It was a great success that took up our morning. What was best in my book is that everyone had been paying attention when we had talked about various body systems earlier and were able to discuss and name various parts so they really knew what they were seeing. 

M. did a great job and I told her she could probably pick-up some extra money by offering her services to other families to do dissection. She didn't immediately shoot down my idea... just sayin'

Monday, January 26, 2015

Instant Wedding

What do you do when one of your best friends asks you to host her daughter's wedding at your house... in 24 hours? Say, yes, of course, and be thrilled that you can do this for a dear friend and an equally dear almost-daughter.

I love the fact that all my children will pitch-in and help when the situation calls for it. Between the efforts of the whole family, with some significant decorating help by M, A., and H. H-S, we were ready at 6 pm when the guests started to arrive.

The bride was P23 whom I've known since she was 4. (Sniff.) Her favorite color is yellow, so that's what we went with. It seems I have a lot of decorative-type stuff kicking around my house. I only had to make a run out to the store for yellow ribbon and yellow candles.

Welcome everyone! There's going to be a wedding!

We needed to come up with seating for 43 people.

The 12 and younger crowd were in the kitchen.

The living room where the ceremony took place.

Store-bought cake with decoration by AL H-S and A.

The P. family did the food... though all three dads helped to get it all together.

It's impossible to have a 'small' family wedding when your family consists of three families with 30 people between them... and a few other friends and relatives. Here are some of the younger people.

The Father-of-the-Bride reading Scripture.

The happy couple.

Congratulations P23 (though I think I'm going to rename you Mrs. R). We were so happy we could share this moment with you.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Permission to talk

I've noticed something and I wonder if other people have as well. I don't sit and do nothing very well, and since I do a lot of waiting in doctor's offices, this is a constant challenge. My first line of defense is to always carry a book with me. The trouble is, I am often waiting in doctor's offices with a child and it seems a bit rude to bury my nose in a book and ignore him or her. So I have a knitting bag that always has a project in it and I drag around with me. I can knit, not have to sit and do nothing, and still pay attention to my child. It works. As a bonus, I have made a lot of small knitted projects over the past few months.

Now, when I have a book in my hands or (horror) don't have anything to do, no one approaches me. Everyone sits in their individual bubble and politely ignores each other. But, when I am knitting, it is another thing entirely. I would say that at least once (sometimes more) when I am knitting in a waiting room, someone will start a conversation. Usually it is about what I am knitting. Sometimes it's even to ask what it is exactly that I'm doing. (True story.) But I don't think there has ever been a time when someone didn't say something. This even happened in the waiting room of the large counseling center where TM's therapist used to work. I can't think of a place where people's individual bubbles are thicker and people pretend harder that they are not there.

[An aside. This is kind of sad, because long about year two of therapy, I would have been more than happy to chat with some of the parents there. Raising a child who requires the help of a therapist is not always easy and some of the parents who showed up looked so stressed and unhappy... and deep inside their protective bubble... that I longed to chat with them. It just never seemed as though my overtures would have been welcome. Probably I was wrong and I should have just said something. One does get braver (or has fewer filters) as one walks the path of a therapeutic parent.]

All this to say, I think that a person who is knitting is seen as a safe person. Think Miss Marple. I think there is also the whole car ride phenomenon going on as well. Have you ever noticed that your children will bare their souls when you're driving in the car together? It feels safer for a couple of reasons. One, you are not looking at each other. It can feel intimidating to tell emotional things when someone is looking right at you. And two, someone is driving and thus the full force of their attention is not directed at one person. It gives some emotional space. (It also means that the parents sometimes has to work really hard at not running into things.) Knitting does the same thing. Plus, because it is not a skill that every person has, it also arouses curiosity. It is a little bit fascinating to watch a ball of yarn become something useful just by wiggling two sticks around.

I'm curious. To my knitting readers, have you noticed this? And just in general, are you more likely to strike up a conversation with someone who is doing handwork if you are in a waiting room?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Binding... or why I think I should get to go to bed now

It all started late this summer when I was planning school. At the library, I happened across the book, Handmade Book for Everyday Adventures by Erin Zamrzla. I have always been interested in making books, but it actually trying it just had never happened. Well, I opened the book and I was hooked. Hooked to the extent that I actually bought myself my own copy. There are all sorts of ideas for all sorts of different books and instructions for sewing them all together. Then, as I was planning thMap Art Lab:e last bit of our school year about maps, I came across Map Art Lab by Jill K. Berry and Linden McNeilly. What could be better than a book that combined maps and art projects? I bought that one as well.

Those books were percolating in the back of my head as I was planning our unit of Marco Polo and the Silk Road. And it all came together. I'm always looking for creative ways to document what we've learned. So, in the art book I had read about line maps (a sort of linear illustrated map) and in the bookmaking book, there was a long journal shown. What if we were to make our own books, a very long book, where we would do line maps of Marco Polo's travels? So I wrote it on the schedule and bought some supplies, with stern instructions to myself to figure out how to actually make a book over Christmas break.

To aid in this, I thought that buying a kit that could walk me through it would be a good idea, so that is what I did. School was barreling towards me, so a couple of weeks ago I sat down and made the book. I have to say I am completely and totally hooked. Here is the book I made with the kit:

It looks just like a real book! I was so excited that the next day I sat down to see if I could design the long style book I was hoping to use with the children. Here are the results:


So now, how was I to do this x6, with some very little people participating? I decided that I would need to do quite a bit of prep work ahead of time. I cut pages and sewed them together...

And did all the measuring and cutting of all the different pieces. (Thanks to M., who agreed to cut all my book board. I discovered that is one part of the process I really do not enjoy.) On Tuesday, each child received a blank front and back cover page to decorate while I read and today was the day that I decided we would construct the books. It was going to be our entire school day because I realized that the only way it would work is if I helped one person at a time. The only change to that plan was that TM and D. felt capable of doing it all themselves, with me helping just a little big, while I helped the littler people.

There is a lot of gluing in book binding.

G., and the only picture of the during process... it was almost more than I could do just to help each child.

We finished about 2:45 today. I'm pooped. That took a lot of energy and patience, but everyone was thrilled to have made an actual book. Here is how they turned out. (If I had been willing to spring for better paper for the covers, they would look a bit more professional, but decided that if I was overly worried about supplies then it would take an even greater toll on my patience.)






G. (See the donkeys?)

They look like real books, huh?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Teaching reading

For most children, teaching reading follows a similar pattern (and it starts earlier than you think.) First there is just the familiarity with print. Seeing it around, watching people use it, discovering that those marks mean something, learning that those marks can tell an interesting story. If a child is exposed to print in their environment and has been read to, they can usually tell which direction is right side up for most words, even if they can't read them. They get used to how the shapes look and they don't look right upside down. Once this familiarity is there, a child then wants to know what a letter is. They start learning each letter and the sound it makes. Then they need to start hearing those sounds in the words they use. First at the beginning, then the end, and finally the middle. If you can't sort out the individual sounds in a word there is no way you can sound a word out. Each step builds on another.

Once the letter sounds are learned and the idea that words contain individual sounds is absorbed, a child can start to sound out simple words. English is a rotten language to learn to read in. There are so many words which do their own thing; a beginning reader must learn quite a few sight words in order to read even simple books. (Think of words such as 'the' or 'said'. It's hard to tell a story without them, but you can't really sound them out.) Simple words move onto more complex ones which contain trickier rules (consonant blends... th, ch, sh..., the letter e at the end of a word, when two vowels go walking...). Words can be sounded out, but there are more steps to remember. And there are more sight words to recognize. This is where H. is right now. It is still a lot of work to remember all those different rules and then sound the words out. Often we have to read something a couple of times so she can get the words the first time and then the meaning the second.

Then somewhere in the midst of the step, something happens. The process becomes more automatic. Each and every word doesn't have to be sounded out every. single. time. A child will find himself just seeing a word and reading it without effort... and often surprising himself at first that he knew it without working. The harder rules don't need to be consciously remembered each time. It is still a bit of work, but a story can now be read and enjoyed. At this point, a child is just steps away from that magic moment when they can really read. This is where K. is. He is so, so close to having everything click. It is at this point that I tend to put away any phonics programs and work on reading only with books. Because that is really why we read, isn't it... for the story? The more a child reads the better he gets and to get them to read more, you must find stories that engage a child. You need stories that they find interesting enough to keep doing the still rather hard work of reading.

My very favorite easy reader for this purpose is Piggle by Crosby Bonsall. (Sadly it seems to out of print, but you can still buy used copies.) I love it because it is funny. It plays with words. It appeals to both adults and children. It was the first book that B. read that made him laugh out loud. This is the book I got out for K. this morning. He wasn't entirely enthusiastic at the prospect of reading it, so I told him we would only read a couple of pages and save the rest. He read those pages pretty well. We talked about why it was funny. (It's a whole "Who's on First?" sort of running joke.) We got to the end of the page I said we would read to, and K. says, "I don't want to stop. I want to read another page and see what happens with the rabbit." He actually went on to read four more pages before he grew tired.

My other advice for teaching reading? Work on it every day. Do different things. Keep it short. Reading is a rather tenuous thing at the beginning of the process. Children can easily become overwhelmed or develop the mistaken belief they can't do it. Your goal in teaching them reading is to create success. Success builds on success. Positive feelings towards reading go a long way towards allowing the child to feel as though this is a doable thing. (If you stop to think about it for any length of time, you'll soon realize that the fact any of us can read at all is really quite extraordinary.) And continue to read to them. Even when they're older. I've heard of more than one child who balked at learning to read because she was afraid no one would TO her again if she could do it herself. And lastly, let your children see you read. There must be something in it if the adults in a child's life are willing to spend the time on it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Graduating early

Graduating from school early seems to be a theme for this school year. M. graduated from college a semester early this past December and A. plans on graduating from high school a year early this June. She is working on college applications and major test preparation.

Someone had asked about this, so I thought I would give it a brief mention.

A. has always been my eager over-achiever. She is the one who taught herself to read. She is the one who had HAD to do things the other bigger people were doing. She was tenacious and a bit precocious as a small child. (Those are nice words for extremely stubborn preschooler. Personality traits which work extremely well in an adult and not always quite so pretty in a small child.) She was always the one pushing me to get her textbooks and chafed a bit at our pretty loose version of school.

It didn't surprise me when she announced last summer that she wanted to take a college class this fall. By this time we knew the routine and J. helped to get her registered. She really loved taking classes and meeting people and being mistaken for a college student. And I will admit that she did very well. The main reason I like to have my high schoolers try out a college class is so that J. and I are around to help them out if they need that. A. didn't... at all. This semester she is taking two classes and is gone five mornings a week.

It also didn't surprise me when she announced that she wanted to graduate early. I knew she loved being on the campus and meeting other people and taking classes. My lone extreme extrovert, she really likes (and thrives on) being around people. Lots of people. More people than anyone else in the house can truly tolerate for extended periods of time. College fulfills her competitive nature as well as her social needs. I'm sure she will do just fine, though I admit, I will miss her and don't relish losing that last year with her. I did try to talk her out of it. Wouldn't it make sense to take four years for high school, take some more classes, and save that money? No, that's not what she wanted. So soon I will be putting the finishing touches on her transcript so she can get the applications out.

I actually hesitate to mention this to people. It's not that I'm not proud of her... I most certainly am! It's that there is a fairly large portion of the homeschooling community (frankly, parents in general) who see pushing their children faster and harder to reach their (the parents') goals sooner as something that is important. I don't. I like to delay academics. I like to be relaxed and take our time learning things. I like to have as much time as possible with my children and am in no rush to see them grow up. (It happens all too fast as it is.) We don't test or do practice high stakes tests to get the best score possible. We don't even use all that many textbooks for high school. I just don't see the point. You can be an educated, intelligent person without having done huge amounts of intense classwork. Why burn out a child before they have even reached college?

So I don't mention it that much. I don't want people to get the wrong impression of what we do and why. A child who wants to move quickly is certainly welcome to, but I'm not pushing. In fact, I'm probably more likely to dig in my heels and hang on to the child in a tediously annoying way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Choosing Joy

I was going to write a post about the beginnings of our unit study on Marco Polo and the Silk Road. I'll still do that, but today I want to share something else. My real-life friend wrote a very moving post describing her daughter's day. I've met this child. She is sweet and personable and you can't help falling in love with her. My heart aches for the pain she has endured... and still endures.

She is also a humbling reminder to me. Joy is a choice. We don't have to wait for perfect circumstances to choose to be joyful. In fact, if we were to wait, we would probably never get to experience joy. Please, even if you don't tend to click through to links, take the time to read this one. It's worth the effort.

Seriously Blessed: A Day in the Life of Jasmine

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I've been on an organizing kick for the past two weeks. Sometimes your house just gets to a certain point that you can't stand it anymore and I reached that point. After stuff accumulating and not getting put away (or thrown away), it just becomes too much.

When I'm in an organizing phase, I tend to want to read organizing books. I had heard about one mentioned that sounded intriguing, so I checked it out of the library. It was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering by Marie Kondo. It sounded promising and I was looking forward to reading it. Well, it was interesting in an unexpected way. That is, the author is a little bit nutty, in my humble opinion and I had to read certain parts more than once to be sure what I read was really what I read. No, I'm sorry, I don't think I'm going to take the time to thank my purse and shoes and clothes for their work for me at the end of each day. Nor am I going to stop turning the tops of my socks over each other to keep them together, even if it does mean my socks won't get the rest they so much deserve.

While she may be a little over the top in some things, in others, I found her right on target. First, I wholeheartedly agree that if you have too much stuff, there is no organizing system in the world which will make you happy with it. To be well-organized means paring things down to a manageable amount. Second, I find her yardstick for what to keep and what to get rid of to be extremely useful. It's simple, if that item does not bring you joy, don't keep it.

Now, she does seem to take this to the extreme. If anything does not bring you joy that is in your house, she says you should give it (or throw it) away. But, life just doesn't work like that sometimes, especially if you live with other people. For instance, as I was looking at the bags of medical supplies in my bathroom... syringes, saline, gauze, bandages, needles... I knew that those things did not bring me joy. No part of these things made me feel even remotely happy. Yet, they are important and we need them right now and it's for a good purpose. I can't get rid of them even though I'd like to.

It does feel good to get rid of stuff and piles, though. I spent today working on the kitchen and my desk. (My desk was particularly bad.) School books now have a new home where it should be easier to keep them neat. My desk has doubled in size and it doesn't make my stomach churn to look at it. There are no longer corners in the kitchen that I avoid looking at.

The silly thing is that it didn't really take that much time and effort. It was a combination of just not putting things into their right home and not wanting to make a decision about some item. So it sat there in limbo... neither having a home but not being either thrown out or put in the give-away pile. I know that once something is sorted out and tidy that it is much easier to keep it that way. It is so much less tempting to leave something sitting out when it is the only thing out of place. Neatness encourages neatness while piles of stuff just make it easier to continue piling.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Adventures at the grocery store

Sometimes you just have to take your adventures where you can find them. I do love the little grocery store where I shop. It's in the next town over which is one of the most diverse cities in Illinois; a town where more than 100 languages are spoken at home. As a result, the grocery store where I shop caters to a very diverse audience... I can find fruits, vegetables, and groceries there that I just can't find in a more traditional American grocery store. I feel a little spoiled and a friend and I have entire conversations about what we would stock up on if we ever moved away to a less diverse area. It's so diverse that if you covered up the English signs and just set someone down in the middle of the store, I imagine they would be hard-pressed to figure out what country they were in. Bhangra music often plays on the music system (which is actually quite fun to shop to) and it is possible to hear multiple languages as you walk up and down the aisles.

I mentioned that I can find unusual ingredients, and this morning I took advantage of that fact. We have been learning about the human body for school and M. has volunteered to do some dissection with everyone. This next week we're going to learning about the circulatory system, so I picked up some sheep hearts for everyone to dissect and examine. Now, buying animal hearts at the grocery store isn't all that unique, but I also bought something else. We had already learned about the brain and the eye, and today I hit the jackpot when I discovered that not only were pig's heads in the meat case, but sheep's heads were as well. The ear on the pig is always covering the eye sockets, so I can never tell if there is an actual eyeball in there. The sheep didn't have this problem, so everyone (with M.'s help) will be able to see the eye, tongue, brain, and teeth and how they all fit together. I will say it's a little disturbing to have your groceries staring up at you, so I covered it with some chicken I was also buying. Evidently, it is not one of my usual purchases, because when I checked-out, my usual checker holds it up and asks, "Why?" I told her and we agreed that putting it in its own plastic bag was the way to go.

Now, buying bizarre and disturbing meat purchases was not my only fun this morning. As TM and I were waiting at the deli counter, an older woman comes up to me and starts talking. It took a moment to realize she thought I was Croatian. (Do I look particularly Croatian, I wonder? How would I know?) I was able to figure out that she had a question about cabbage. I thought she meant pickled cabbage, so I offered to take her to where it was, so I headed off to the Eastern European aisle, leaving TM in charge of waiting for our cheese. When we reached the right area, she vehemently said this was not what she was looking for. (At least I'm assuming that is what she was telling me.) She then takes me over to the fresh cabbages, as we are walking she introduces herself and thanks me for the help. (Some help.) We reach the cabbage, but she doesn't want these cabbage, she wants something else... something bigger maybe? I was just about to dig out my rusty French to see if we could find a common language when her husband (I'm assuming) comes up and says something. She says thank you and off they go. I'll never, ever know what it was she wanted. My only clue was that as I was in the check-out line I saw one of the store employees helping them at a refrigerator case.

Ah, I think I may have just figured it out. As I was typing this I was trying to think what could be cabbage-like in that particular place. I have it. Sauerkraut! That is where I buy fresh sauerkraut when I need it and it is the ONLY thing in that case made of cabbage. I like to solve a mystery. It shows where my brain is these days that when she was asking me to help her find something with cabbage, all I could think of was kimchi. I knew that wasn't right, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what else would contain cabbage.

I bet you wish you could have so much fun. I'm now going to top off my terribly exciting day with a trip to the doctor. I know that surprises you. This time, though it's for me and I will get to cross off yet one more thing on my homestudy/dossier to-do list. Now, that is really exciting.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Back to Ordinary Time

We are now in the second week of Ordinary Time according to the church liturgical calendar. It's not a surprise that I named this blog after the two seasons of non-holiday time in the church calendar. I both love Ordinary Time and find it extremely challenging. With the other seasons... Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter... there is a goal, special occasions, celebrations that set-aside those seasons as something special. We love holidays, but they can sometimes be exhausting and it feels good to get back to normal. Holidays can also help us to forget briefly the challenging parts of our everyday lives. This is why Ordinary Time can be both wonderful and hard. It is nice to go back to some semblance of a schedule, to a routine, but it is also hard because we are not good at the ordinary and everyday.

I know for myself, in calm seasons of life, I can chafe at the everyday and ordinary, at the routine of making dinner and cleaning and caring for children. I sometimes long for greater adventures, for seemingly greater purpose. In less calm seasons of life, the routine is exactly what I crave. I just want to stay home and not go to yet another doctor's appointment. I don't want surgeries looming up over my head both coming too soon and not soon enough all at the same time. I want to just stay home and clean my house and fix good food and spend time with my children. I am often not good at appreciating what I have at this exact moment and instead look for what I don't have.

Here is the beauty and mystery of Ordinary Time. It gives us a break from the special and at the same time forces us to look full on at the routine of our lives. At least it allows us to do this if we haven't so co-opted the ordinary into the busy. If we are realistic the church calendar should start with Advent and Christmas and rename them Super Busy Time, followed by Busy Time. Then in place of Lent and Easter (and the coming spring) it would be Really Busy Time. Summer would see the reappearance of just plain Busy Time before Super Busy Time rolls around again. Trying to survive my own Too Busy for my Taste Time (which should end after the homestudy is finished and the next surgery is over), makes me realize how much I miss when I am busy rushing here and there. I miss having time to be caught up with laundry and cleaning. I miss having time to just relax and play a game with a child. I miss having moments in my day when I do not have to do anything. Having those moments in my day to just take a breath, also allows me to remember the God is present with me. When I am too busy, I am also too busy to remember that simple yet important fact.

Every time I come out of a too busy time, I tell myself that this time I am going to really appreciate the everyday, the normal, the calm. Yet, I also know this can be a challenge. It always make me think of one of my favorite poems, Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon. Learn to slow down and appreciate the moments that you have.

 Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
©2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birchwood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Books, books, books

We have just returned from a rather whirlwind trip to the library. For December, I return all of our library books so as to make room for all of our Christmas books which come out for the month. Well, those all went away last week when I put Christmas away and our kitchen bookshelf was looking rather bereft. The children were also feeling the need for new reading material and were resorting to bringing me books that I wasn't terribly excited to read. As we were getting in the car at the stable after riding lessons, I realized that I had them strapped in, there was nothing on the calendar for the rest of the afternoon, and it would be the perfect time for a swing by the library. We managed to do it in about 40 minutes, which for us is pretty darn speedy. Right now I have many children sitting in piles of books as they look at them. It always takes a while for the books to make it onto the shelves. (TM and P. have taken themselves and their books upstairs to their rooms.)

See the piles? 

I've also been meaning to write for a while about how my love for my Kindle sort of faded away over the past few years. I loved it at first. I loved being able to carry so many books with me all the time. (You all know I have a fear of running out of things to read.) Yet, I was finding that I had no memory of what I had read. I couldn't tell you the name of the book or the author and even plots are now hopelessly confused into one giant mess of everything I've read on it. I couldn't account for it, but decided it had something to do with never seeing the covers when I was reading on the Kindle. It felt a little disorienting and sort of without even being aware of it, I moved back to reading actual books. I didn't even miss it. (I still think it is absolutely brilliant for plane travel when you can't lug dozens of books along with you.)

Well, it turns out that it wasn't entirely my imagination that I was having trouble remembering what I read. An article came across my facebook news feed this morning that I found interesting. In Science Has Great New for People Who Read Actual Books, I had confirmed what I had intuitively felt all along. I needed the actual pages to help me remember. There were also some other things I learned, but on some level already knew. Reading for 30 to 45 minutes a day is calming and helps your stress levels. It also helps you sleep well. Before Christmas, I usually read for a couple of hours. Then Christmas hit and everything combined made my brain completely unable to concentrate on anything. My stress has been higher than normal and I haven't been sleeping well. Who knew that going back to my little compulsive reading habit would help both those things? Now you understand why we HAD to go to the library this afternoon. I was out of books. I now have a good supply laid in and it's all I can do to finish this post before I get my cup of tea and look at all of them. (I suppose I should add 'fix dinner' into that list; it would make my family happy.)

I'm already feeling more relaxed just knowing I have books to look at and read.
I may not have been writing much here, but the writing continues. I've had several articles published recently. Feel free to click and share them... a lot. It helps my little, teeny, tiny paycheck.

A Winter's Worth of Books

Dear Struggling Mother, Part 2 of 2

Adopting and 11th Child

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Some days are like that

It never fails, you tell people about how wonderful something is and the next moment, it doesn't seem so wonderful anymore. I should have guessed that after yesterday's post about the glories of homeschooling that today would not be quite so glorious. So in a continuing effort to portray a realistic view of life, I'll share the less complimentary side of homeschooling.

In homeschooling a lot depends on the parent. So if that parent gets up a little later than she should have it throws everything off. And if that parent has to spend more time than seems necessary on the phone making a doctor's appointment (something I should really, really excel at by now) in order to be a step closer to finishing the homestudy, then that throws everything off as well. And if that parent has very little tolerance for adoption paperwork and is worried about how to get everything done in a timely manner, and if that new doctor's appointment conflicts with something else that needs to be done for that same homestudy, then that parent is not feeling at her most patient and understanding when the family actually gets around to starting school.

That would be starting school amidst more chaos than usual, because little children have been keeping themselves busy while Mommy has been on the phone. It also means that older people must be located because they have taken advantage of the phone call to disappear to do their own thing. The older children are not quick to return, so that means that some small person suddenly finds it difficult to wait which means in her little world it makes sense to take a crayon and color all over her sister's picture. Noise ensued.

We did get to schoolwork. Some people needed more help than usual. Some mothers (I'm not saying who) should have been more understanding and helpful, but some mothers were really wishing they could go back to bed and start the whole day again... maybe tomorrow. Some mothers find it difficult to concentrate on anything except the mounds of paperwork which need to be completed and the writing projects they signed-up for but really wish they hadn't and the various non-adoption paperwork medical needs and appointments that need to be taken care of and getting older, adult children to make the appointments they need to. It's hard to find the brain space to think about phonics. (My biggest pet peeve at the moment is the fact that though my older adult children do not count as children in the house, they still need to have completed medical forms for the homestudy. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get older children to the doctor much less in a limited time frame in between their busy schedules and when they don't have a car?)

We even managed to build a respiratory system and took many deep breaths as we learned about it all works. This was probably good for all of us.

We survived. It won't go down as the best homeschool day in history, but we did something.

Thank you for attending my little pity party. I hope you had a good time.

I hate adoption paperwork. I despise it with every ounce of my being. It makes me inordinately stressed. More stressed than it really deserves. I would rather go through labor delivering twins than do adoption paperwork. And I can say that because I've done both.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The difference between homework and homeschooling

You would think they would be pretty much the same, wouldn't you? Both involve academic schoolwork type activities, both are done at home, both sometimes require the help of a parent... not much difference between them it would seem. Yet, if homeschooling were even remotely like helping with homework, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be homeschooling... especially with 6+ children.

You see, despite the seeming surface similarities, they are really very different things. (Thank goodness!) Let's take a look at each one. Homework is something sent home from school by the teacher. (Though I'll show my age and point out that when I was in school, homework was something you took home because you didn't finish your work in class. I'm pretty sure I never had specifically assigned homework before junior high.) It also means that it needs to be done after a child has already spent 6+ hours in school. I think it's pretty safe to say they are not at their peak at this point. Homework is also assigned by the teacher for the whole class and not restructured for each student. Usually the parent has no say in whether all the homework should be completed. (I did have a friend when M. was little who would send her daughter's homework back undone with a note saying it was pointless and little more than busy-work, but I'm not sure she's the norm.) Can you tell I think the whole homework-thing is a little wrong-headed? My local school district should thank me for not sending my children to them, because I don't play well with others and would be that parent, I'm pretty sure.

How does homeschooling differ? Well, the biggest difference is that when we work on academics, it is during my children's freshest time of the day. For most of them, this is morning time. They haven't sat in a classroom for six hours already; their brains are ready to concentrate. I get to decide what each child is working on. I know them quite well and know their strengths and weaknesses. One child may really need pages and pages of math problems to do to cement the concept, while another can grasp the idea and get them right after just a few. If a child is having a particularly difficult day, we can drop the academics entirely and save it for a better time. If a book just isn't working for a child, I can change the book. I have the luxury of being able to tailor my children's education to each of them. Plus, by homeschooling, I also get to experience the fun and joy of learning with my children. I get to help them do the big projects and cool experiments. I get to hear them discover how to read. I don't just get the dregs.

Plus, we are done by lunch (well, most of us, the high schoolers spend more time on academics, but they are older.) My children have time to rest, play, read, or whatever after lunch, and then that leaves time for other activities in the afternoon. When their father gets home from work, we can enjoy each other's company without having to worry about getting homework done.

I've had many, many people tell me that they are sure they couldn't homeschool because helping with homework is such a nightmare. I tell them I couldn't do traditional school because homework is such a nightmare.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's 2 degrees outside, what else to you have to do?

This post is really directed at anyone who happens to live near me. A. is in her final show with Thin Ice Theater this weekend (she will be graduating high school early) and is appearing as one of the Dromios in The Comedy of Errors. I took some children last night to the opening and it is a terrific show. Funny, well done, easily understood, funny, and has a terrific set (more on that in a minute). You should go see it.


I'll show you some pictures from it. (Now, I admit that the ones I've bothered to upload all have A. in them... there really are other people in the cast. If you want to see all 76 show photos, you can go to the Thin Ice Theater facebook page and take a look.)

Do you know the plot? It's a little silly. Two sets of twins were born, one set to a wealthy woman, one set to a poor woman. The poor woman's children (the Dromios) were given to the rich woman to be servants/companions to the rich boys (the Antipholuses) . As infants they were all involved in a shipwreck which separated them. One Antipholus and Dromio ended up in one country and the others plus their father ended up in another. No one knows any of the others are alive. One day, one of the Antipholus/Dromio pairs lands in a new city... but confusion ensues when everyone keeps mistaking them someone else. OK, it's a lot silly, but also a lot of fun.

You'll all come and see it now, right? Here are the details, you have two more chances.

The Comedy of Errors performed by Thin Ice Theater
Saturday, Jan. 10 at 7:30 and Sunday, Jan. 11 at 3:00
Elaine and Zollie Frank Theater, Mayer Kaplan JCC
5050 Church Street, Skokie
Tickets at the door: $12.00 adults and $10.00 students
Plenty of free parking

And not only will you get to see A., you'll also get to see the set that M. designed and built. Here is just a little of it... I don't have a full picture.

Plus, if you've never seen real, live high schooled homeschoolers in action, now's your chance. You can satisfy your curiosity as well.
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