Friday, October 30, 2015

When you want to make it all better

Let's just say trauma stinks. I hate what it does to my child's brain. I hate that it turns things that should be good and fun into something anxiety-producing and detestable. I hate that it robs children of their childhood.

That said, we've come around another corner and due to some out-of-the box decisions, life is good again. Or at least as good can possibly be. I'll take that.

Sorry if this is cryptic. But it is also true that as children get older, it becomes more difficult to share the hard stuff. Just know that life was hard. Decisions were made and discussions were had. Life is better again. Just don't be expecting birthday pictures from the celebration of the last family member to have a birthday this year.

Yes, I'm disappointed, too. But some things are more important.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Children and cooking

You know that you must have done something right when your children discover the TV show, America's Worst Cooks, and spend all of dinner rehashing with great incredulity the ineptness of the cooks. They were just amazed that adults... and old adults, 44 years old!... could not know how to cook.

It makes me realize that my children's kitchen abilities are not something to take for granted. And pretty much, they are all good cooks who know their way around a kitchen. I cannot tell you how many times I have come home from being out at a doctor's appointment to discover that a boy has made cookies or a cake. (It does kind of play havoc with my sugar supply, though.)

Baking is a favorite activity, but they can also cook meals as well. For instance, D. helped make the dinner tonight, while G. and L. wielded knives and chopped all the vegetables. It only causes me to say about 1000 times, "Remember to keep your fingers tucked in." G. is also a lefty, and I've discovered with both she and TM that lefties are far more ambidextrous than us righties. Still it makes me a little nervous when, as she is chopping tomatoes to hear her say, "And now I'll switch to cutting with my other hand."

Some children prefer to make breakfast foods. H. would fall into the this category as her favorite food in all the world is eggs and she has quite a morning egg repertoire. She will happily cook eggs for anyone who wants one... scrambled, omelet, overy-easy, sunny-side up (or "eye ball eggs" as they are referred to around here.) She is handy with a knife and as I write this, I think it is probably time, given her current level of skill, to broaden her cooking horizons a bit.

Tomorrow morning, it is looking as though D. is going to try his hand at poached eggs. The complete and utter failure of the contestants to make pancakes, bacon, and four different types of eggs, particularly bothered him, as these are things D. has been doing for several years. Poached eggs are the only things he hadn't tried, and my competitive streak runs strong in my children. He needs to prove to himself that he can poach eggs as well.

Plus, then, in the morning, we will all have a chance to sing Frances' little egg song*, "Poached eggs on toast, why do you quiver, with such a funny little shiver?"

*From Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. A book every parent should read to every child, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Because I can't stop thinking about him

Life is returning back to normal after a dreadful start to the weekend. P. is doing well. She would be doing even better if math never existed, but there's not much one can do about that is there?

But here is who I've really been thinking about pretty endlessly... Peter.

You can read about him at his listing at Twenty Less. He turns 14 in April. That gives him just over 25 weeks for a family to commit to him, get all the paperwork done, travel to China, and sign the papers. It is not overstating things to say he is running out of time. A woman who knows him and recently talked with him says that he told her that we wants to become a composer and write music that makes people happy. His best friend, who is now in the US with his family and who is also blind, just ran a full marathon. There is no reason that not having sight will stop this child. It shouldn't stop a family from committing to him, either. As far as anyone can tell, not one single family has asked to see his file. Would you allow a child you know to be on his own at 14, with not a soul to call his own?

Plus there is still little Gracie.

Someone should scoop her up right now and not have her languish for years until, she too, runs the chance of aging out. Wouldn't it be better for her to start enjoying the love and support of a family right now?

Now, how about some good news? Do you remember Sharon (or Grace as she is known on other advocacy sites), whom we had met when we were adopting H. and for whom I have advocated so long?

Well, I am thrilled to announce she has a family! And not only is it just any family, it's a family I actually know. One of those meet via the internet and then meet in real life. Her new mom and I got a chance to connect in China when she was there adopting as well. Pretty cool, huh? If you would like to help them bring her home, you could go to their Reese's Rainbow page and give a little money.

Because it really does take a few bucketfuls of money to do this. That is one of the reasons I was excited to be able to write an article about my real-life friend, Lisa Ellsbury's daughters. Lisa was another person whom we got to meet in China. I've also been able to meet almost all of her children who have joined their family since then as well. I think they're pretty neat. Three of her daughters, Jasmine, Elyse, and Grace have banded together to help raise money for children's surgeries and for adoption expenses. You can read more about Jasmine's Dream (follow the link) and maybe even help them help other children.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

We ended the day with chocolate. It couldn't make it better, but it also couldn't hurt

"Just tell me when you're ready," the vet said softly.
"Is this what you would do if this were your cat?" I sniffed again.
"Yes. You can see how much difficulty he is having breathing."

This was not how the day was supposed to end. We had no intention of learning what the initials FIP stood for. This was not the lottery we wanted to win.

Two days ago, P. mentioned to me that Moon, one of her new cats, the dog-starer, wasn't eating very well and his eyes were starting to run. This didn't sound good and I wondered if he had developed some sort of respiratory infection. When he wasn't better the next day, and frankly, looked worse, my intuition said we needed to get him to the vet soon. Our wonderful vet had an opening and we took Moon in. She took a quick look at him and grew very concerned. He was far sicker than we had thought and she wanted to run some tests. We left Moon at the vets and returned home. Twenty minutes later, she called and the results weren't good. At best Moon had a severe case of pneumonia, at worst it was FIP. It was the first time we heard those initials; it wouldn't be the last.

Our vet suggested that what he needed was 24 hour care and some IV antibiotics, if indeed he had pneumonia. We agreed that we would come and pick him up and take him to the emergency clinic which was set up for that. He did not look better when we got him and his breathing was markedly worse. I was beginning to have a very bad feeling about this whole thing.

We arrived at the clinic and they were prepared for him. They whisked him away to try and stabilize him. P. and I bided our time in the lobby. Eventually the vet came out to talk to us. She was not optimistic and asked permission to do an ultrasound to see if they could get a better look at what was going on. I gave permission and we went back to the waiting room.

The ultrasound showed a lot of fluid in his abdominal cavity. While the vet couldn't give a definitive diagnosis, as FIP can only be truly detected through an autopsy, she was pretty certain that this is what Moon had. Not only did she not expect him to make it through the night, even minute-to-minute at that point seemed dicey.

FIP stands for Feline Infectious Peritonitis. It is caused by a virus and when that virus is activated, it causes internal fluid build-up and the cat declines rapidly. There is no cure. It is usually seen in young cats, but at a 1 in 5000 rate. Moon didn't have a chance.

P. and I were both pretty devastated.

I am so thankful that this is A.'s fall break and she had come home with J. yesterday afternoon. She and P. are very good friends and her company was just what P. needed. After everyone else had gone to bed, the two girls and I shared a chocolate cake and had a mini-Amazing Race marathon.

This is the part of being a parent that I hate. I hate seeing my child in distress and not being able to do a single stinking thing about it except to cry with her.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fun with chalk pastels

When you are studying the arctic, you have to talk about the Aurora Borealis. It is also something which lends itself to a cool art project. Plus I found instructions for how to make drawings of the northern lights using both oil and chalk pastels. Now, we have lots of oil pastels and they see quite a bit of use. We didn't have chalk pastels. What a great excuse to buy a new art supply. TM and I picked these up yesterday.

As you can see, I took picture after they were used all morning. They didn't come out of the box looking like this. You can also see that they were a popular art medium. Even now, after we finished with our project and had lunch, I have four people still sitting at the kitchen table creating new pictures.

Our project was to draw the northern lights. We used black paper, oil pastels for the ground, and chalk pastels for the lights. We also threw in a little ethnomusicology into the mix and listened to modern and traditional Inuit music while we drew. There was even some rap in the mix.

Here are the results.

L. (She wasn't sure she could do it at first, and then created this.)


K. (K. was completely overwhelmed at first and I didn't think I could get him to try. So, I suggested his favorite thing to draw, just to get him started.... fire trucks. He happily agreed to draw a fire truck, and went on to add the lights on his own.)

K., also. (He then went on to immediately draw this one. Do you see the dog sled to the left of the lights?)




I also have dozens of other chalk pastel on black paper drawings that have been created in the past few hours. The chalk pastels were quite a worthwhile investment.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

In search of red pandas

This morning the Lincoln Park Zoo had a special member's event that allowed them to see the new red panda cubs. This is the first time they have been on display since they were born. Now, I love pandas. I didn't think I was as big a fan of red pandas until we saw them in China. Red pandas are really, really cute in person. So, who would pass up the chance to see babies? Not me.

We left in plenty of time this morning (for once) and it was a good thing. We got there a little early, but they started to let people in so we were one of the first. The little cubs had just come out into the outdoor exhibit following their mother. We were able to watch them for five or ten minutes before they both headed back to the inside exhibit, not to come out again. Boy are they cute! Their fuzzy heads are a little too big for their bodies and short stubby legs. Cute, cute, cute. D. brought his camera, one of the few working ones in the house), and took some pictures.

After the cute, fuzzy, little red panda cubs decided to go take a nap, we then walked through the lion house and the monkey house before heading home. We spent a long time watching the adolescent gibbons (who are technically apes and not monkeys) playing. Watching them made me think of some boys I know and I was suddenly overcome with the desire to make a swinging ropes course on our third floor. How cool would that be? Minus the ER visits, of course.

We made it home with enough time to even squeeze in our history reading.

Life is good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Crystal balls don't work

I remember vividly having a little heart-to-heart chat with B. one day in his room, sometime during his junior year of high school.

"Do you have any idea what you think you might want to do as an adult? Do you think it might involve math or science?" I asked.
"No! I don't want to do anything with math and science," he unhesitatingly replied.
"Fine. Then let's put us both out of our misery and say you're done taking math and science classes for high school." We both paused for a moment, breathed a sigh of relief and B. went back to reading book number 253 about World War Two that he was in the middle of. (For the record, he had enough math and science for his transcript. I'm not completely negligent.)

Fast forward four years.

That non-math and science loving boy is now an environmental science major in college and doing quite well. In fact, he has become something of an organic chemistry rock star. I look back on that earlier conversation and chuckle a bit. And remind myself that I really need to take back that crystal ball and get a refund. It clearly isn't working.

I'm relieved I can chuckle about the whole incident, and not just because my son is doing so well in school. If he were a history major and never took another math or science class in his life, I would still be proud of him. It isn't about his major or his abilities. It's really about the crystal ball.

We cannot predict the future in regards to our children. And if an (overly) attentive homeschooling mother cannot predict the future, then sure as heck, the standardized testing industry cannot predict the future, either. Yet this is exactly what these testing companies and the politicians who are hand-in-glove with them want you to think. Why else would so much time be spent on useless tests which sort and categorize even very young children instead of actually teaching them something? How can they even begin to predict what a child will find interesting at the age of 20 based on a test scored in 3rd grade? Why do we even let the testing companies experiment on our children in this way?

Because frankly, we just don't know what the future holds. Think back on your own childhood. While some adults do pick out a chosen profession or avocation early on in childhood, I'm pretty sure the vast majority do not. Children are a work in progress. Why should we try to pin down what they will be so early?

Standardized testing isn't a traditional/school vs. homeschool issue. It is a humanity issue. The minute we think that human beings, even young ones, can be reduced to a score on a test, we have reduced their humanity by just a little bit. We have taken away a bit of who they are and who they may be. We have ceased to look at the child as a real person and instead begun to thought of them as a piece of data to be tabulated and evaluated and sorted and slotted.

This is not education.

Parents, take back the humanity of your children and opt out. Just say no and relieve your children (and their teachers) of the burden of being a statistic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leitner boxes and spaced repetition

A reader mentioned to me that I should do a post on Leitner boxes since I mentioned them in my previous post. She may not be the only who who doesn't know about them, so here's a brief explanation.

We can't start with the boxes, though. We have to first go back to the idea of a spaced repetition memory system. This is the idea that there are optimal times between review sessions of material to firmly implant an idea into ones memory. Different scientists early in the last century worked on this problem and I had run across the idea in various forms in my somewhat compulsive reading about brain science. I think that's why I was so intrigued with Sebastian Leitner's system of using index cards when I read about it in the book, Fluent Forever. I knew the science behind it and it made sense. Plus, it used an organized system with schedules and index cards and little index card dividers... all things that I enjoy playing with. It is also hard to ignore the results of such a system if used regularly and correctly.

I knew that from my previous eight (!) years of trying to learn French in school, that I had two problems with my language ability. The first is that I didn't full understand that everyone has a steep learning curve when learning to understand native speakers. That aural understanding is a learned skill and not just something someone is born with. I was convinced that there was something wrong with me because I could only catch a word or two when listening to spoken French. Well, it turns out, it wasn't me, it was sheer lack of practice. The second problem is very directly tied to the first. I just didn't have enough vocabulary that I knew inside and out. Those words I did understand in spoken Frnch? Well, surprise, surprise, they were the words I knew as well as I knew English words. I could always catch them. So as long as people used a handful of present tense verbs and talked about colors and body parts, I was good. Venturing out of my secure vocabulary made it increasingly difficult to understand spoken French, and frankly, there were huge amounts of words that I just didn't know. How can you understand a spoken word if you don't even know the word?

In doing a lot of reading about modern polyglots, the one big thing I became aware of is the sheer amount of vocabulary they spend hours just memorizing. My own French vocabulary (after 8 years of school French) was no where near enough to hold even a simple conversation. It was either the wrong words or just not enough words. So I'm working on rectifying that by using a Leitner box.

A Leitner box is really just a lot of index cards that are reviewed in a certain order. I am using the number of levels and review times listed in Fluent Forever and am adding anywhere between 10 and 30 cards to the box each day. Here is how it works.

Let's take today, for example. Today is Day 23 of a 64 day cycle. I am supposed to review levels 2 and 1 today. First, I take out all the cards in level 2. I look at the card and answer the question. I could be an English to French vocabulary word or a French to English one. In my French box, I could also have questions about conjugation or missing parts of a sentence (because I am more advanced and understand the grammar of the language). In my Mandarin box, a card could have a character that I either need to know the definition of or the pinyin for. Or, it could have the pinyin written for a word that I need to know the character for or the definition of. Or, it could have an English word that I would either need to know the character or the pinyin for. For each Mandarin word, because of the alternate writing system, there are six different cards that I make.

Assuming I get the answer right on the card in front of me, I will then move it up to the next level. In this case, level 3. If I get it wrong, it goes all the way back to level 1 regardless of what level it was in. When I'm finished with level 2, then I will move to level 1 and review those cards, adding in a stack of new ones to start their journey through the box.

To make this really work, you need to spend a chunk of time every few days making new cards. I use frequency dictionaries and grammar books to make most of the cards. I also use the website Fluent U. to hear spoken language from native speakers and if there is new vocabulary, add those words in as well. For French, because I can read it, I'm also working through a grade school level mystery, adding the new vocabulary from that as well. It is rather time consuming to make the cards, but I find it really helps with learning the words. The Fluent Forever author, Gabriel Wyner, suggests having no English at all on any of the cards and using pictures for learning vocabulary. This is to stop the translation aspect that can happen and slow a language learner down. I don't do that, mainly because one of the good things to come out of my school language learning was that I figured out how to see an English word and force myself to see a picture in my head to go along with the foreign word. It's just faster to do this than to try to draw pictures for every card. Others may be more successful sticking with pictures.

It seems to be working. We'll see what happens when day 28 rolls around and it's time to review level 5 again. The cards have been stacking up in there and it looks as though I have 200 to 300 cards waiting for review. I have no idea how many will get to advance to level 6 or will instead get to play the Leitner version of Snakes and Ladders and slide back to level 1.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How'd it get to be 5 pm?!

I don't know, either. Consequently, the blog post, with real content is just not happening today. Instead of a blog post, I have the laundry completely caught up,shopped at four different grocery stores, made the week's menus, made an unexpected trip to J.'s place of employment because I forgot to send some important papers with him, have all of our I800 paperwork turned in for our new girls, and did our full school schedule this morning.

Either I'm feeling such relief at having this adoption progressing that I can finally focus on things, or because our adoption is progressing, I am having some severe nesting instincts kicking in. Or both things at once. Yesterday, along with church and taking P. to a horse show (she placed, 1st, 4th, and 5th in her classes; her first over fences), I made a huge dent in the laundry, cleaned off my sewing table, ironed some fabric so I can cut out some patterns, did the mending that had piled up, caught up with my language learning Leitner boxes, vacuumed, and tried to teach H. how to use her rainbow loom. H. could completely do the rainbow loom if I could make heads or tails out of the instructions. I have never seen such poorly done craft instructions in my life! Now I need to carve out some time to look up real instructions on You Tube, so I can really teach her.

While this level of productiveness makes life function pretty darn well around here, it really does nothing for blogging interest. Maybe 'write interesting blog post' will appear on tomorrow's to-do list.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Shopping with Boys 2

I love my boys. Boys are wonderful. Little boys are really easy to dress as they tend to be content with some jeans, t-shirts, and the few dress clothes their mothers insist on adding to their wardrobe.

And then they grow. Sometimes overnight. Suddenly, those little boys turn into great, big boys with feet the size of small boats. They also start to develop opinions as to what they put on and are no longer quite so content to just randomly pull out whatever is at the top of the drawer top of the pile on the floor and put it on.

None of this would be so bad if there was such a thing as hand-me-downs for great, big boys. It also wouldn't be so bad if the clothes still cost the same as it did when the great, big boys were little. Instead, one day you wake up and discover that your cute little boys have become great, big boys, wearing men's sizes, and they have nothing in their wardrobe which fits, especially as the weather is getting colder.

That is why I have spent the entire afternoon shopping with two boys in tow... for clothes and shoes. It is really not my preferred way to spend time, but it had to be done.

What did we end up with?

2 new pairs of men's size sneakers
1 new pair of men's size dress shoes
2 pairs new boots for G. and L.

8 pairs of jeans/dress pants/ corduroys - men's sizes
1 button down shirt
And since I was at the thrift store, I also found,
2 skirts for me
1 dress for me
1 shirt for me
2 sweaters for me

Lastly, because TM really does not care for much cold weather clothing, I found a new, heavy zip-front hoodie that he likes and will wear. (This was a particular success.)

What I did not find were dress shoes for K. Evidently, little boys do not need to wear shoes any longer because not a single store was selling them. I came home and found a pair online that were a decent price.

I think I did pretty well, price-wise, but it was still a fairly hefty amount all totaled up. How much would you expect that I paid? (I'm hoping that your totals will make me feel a bit better, so if you want to guess on the high side, go ahead.)

Friday, October 16, 2015

I'm giving a yell and that rhymes with 'L' and that stands for....*

L O A!

Remember, LOA is the acronym for Letter of Acceptance, the official document giving a family permission to adopt a specific child.

We received ours yesterday for both girls. Well, technically, it is the 'soft' LOA, because the hard copy still needs to arrive at our agency, but it is on its way. We have official permission to adopt




This weekend I will be working on immigration paperwork for both of them. (The next step is to apply for each girls' individual visas so they enter the US.) I will also be making photo books to send to them because now that this adoption is a sure thing, they can know about us and that we are going to be their family. Not a bad to-do list for the weekend, huh?

*I'm afraid you'll have to get used to The Music Man references, in not too long, it will start to take over our life.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some H. birthday photos

We celebrated H.'s birthday last night.

With  three away and unable to join us last night, the party looked a little small.

Waiting for cake

When I asked H. about her birthday dessert, she was insistent upon a cake with flowers. So, in a rare birthday move, I bought a cake knowing exactly what kind of flowers she was talking about.

TM and D. put some trick relighting candles on the cake. It took a little bit before H. realized they kept relighting.

Waiting to open presents

A craft set

TM, K., G., and L.

Grammy and Grandpa sent a fancy party dress that twirls. The twirling aspect is extremely important.

Moon and Midnight joined us. They tend to follow P. around like dogs. Gretel started out at the party, but she was disinvited when she wouldn't stop bouncing and barking. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Happy 13th Birthday, H.!

Today is the beginning of the trio of 12 year olds turning 13. H. is the first, quickly followed by TM, with D. bringing up the rear in 8 months.

H. is very, very, very excited about her birthday. She has been counting down for a couple of weeks now. It's hard to have one of the last birthdays of the year, because it seems as though it will never come. But is has. Phew!

I cannot really fully convey the changes we have seen in this child over the past year. The best I can describe is that it is like watching a pretend child turning into a true and real child. She has awareness of her surroundings, honest emotions, more language to convey her thoughts. There are thoughts to convey!

The simplest example I can tell you about happened last week. Now H. has ridden in the car with me a lot. We go to a lot of doctor's appointments together as well as when we're going to places as a family. Yet the last time she came with me to the grocery store, something was different. (I rotate through H., K., G., and L. coming to the grocery store with me each week. It is an anticipated event. D., TM, and P. do not seem to share in the excitement over this event and choose to stay home out of the rotation.) On the way home from the store, it was as if she suddenly could see things. I was asked many questions about why the road was like it was and what each thing on the dash board of the car meant. Turn signals (ours and other cars') suddenly started to exist. The next few days saw her drawing pictures of roads. Just roads... with lines (yellow and white) and sidewalks. She wanted to talk about the different parts of the road and the different colors of the lines, all while making original artwork. It may not seem earth shattering, but it marks such a different level of awareness and engagement with the world. It's huge.

She is also making progress academically. Another small example. About two years ago, no matter what I did or tried or manipulatives I used, I couldn't help her identify the names of the numbers past five if she saw them individually. Last year, she cleared that hurdle and could identify numbers 1 - 10. Then over the summer something new happened, and when we started work again, not only could she identify numbers 1 - 10, but she could read numbers between 1 and 100, plus skip count by 5's and 10's. I know I've mentioned these things before, but I wanted to give you a timeline for the length of time it usually takes for something to stick. Two weeks ago her math book started to introduce three digit numbers. I took a deep breath and we started to learn what they meant and how to read them. As I anticipated, the first couple of times she tried to read a three digit number, such as 145, she tried to read it as '14', '5'. So we talked a little again and went over the drawing I made. The next time (and the times following), she could read the numbers. She may try to read it the other way first, but catches herself and then reads it correctly.

A real child. She has a range of emotions... happy, sad, angry, annoyed. She pesters and loves her brothers and sisters just as they do to her. A real child.

Happy Birthday, my dear H.! I love you very much and think you are one of the bravest people I know. You love everyone with open arms and an open heart and accept them as they are. We could all stand to be a bit more like you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Sorry, been a little distracted

because I've been listening to the Cubs game on the radio. And since they just won their National League Division series, I can do other things. Such as blog.

You may have picked up on the fact that I'm not a huge sports fan. OK, not really a sports fan at all. Except I do like the Cubs and have spent more than one game in the bleachers. That would have been back when you could just walk into a game on game day, and even though tickets were cheap, the bleachers were cheaper.

Plus, who doesn't like a really good underdog story?

Go, Cubs, Go!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Day 43

That would be 43 days since our dossier was logged-in and we've been waiting for our LOA's. That would be "Letters of Acceptance" that officially give us permission to adopt R. and T. I'm starting to get just a little antsy. At least a couple other families who are on about our same timeline have their LOA's, so we should hear soon. I hope. I would really rather not be the seemingly random family that occasionally has a 90 day wait.

I want to start making photo books to send to the girls so they can be told they have a family coming for them. I want to start picking up a few new clothes for each of them. (And yes, I actually leave the tags on. Who doesn't like brand-new clothes?) I want to be able to start making real plans for being gone for nearly three weeks. With and LOA, we will have a much better idea of when we'll actually travel. I'm just very ready to leave this limbo we've been living in for nearly a year. That would be the limbo of having a child in another place and being unable to reach her.

I sometimes wish that I could be L. for just a moment and flail around on the floor venting my impatience and frustration. But I'm a grown-up and I'll behave.
I have another article published. Six Incredible Programs Working to Help Orphaned Children in China 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

At least I know they're listening

D. was kind enough to take some pictures for me yesterday. Because I really wanted to document this...

Can you tell what it is? It's G. with her sled dog team. We've been reading a lot about the Iditarod and sled dogs and sled dog racing and Alaska. Because of the wiggle factor, I'm never quite sure what the youngest are getting out of all that we read and talk about. But I think I can put those concerns to rest. All yesterday afternoon and into this morning, the play has been sleds and sled dogs. In the picture above, you'll see that G. has harnessed her dogs together and is always very careful to keep her lead dog first. She also made her own sled, that the bunny is driving. Look closely and you'll see that out of the materials at hand that constructed it pretty accurately... storage up in front with runners for standing on in the back. She did have a handle for the rabbit to hold on to, but tape is a finicky constructing system and she couldn't get it to stay.

L. decided that she, too, wanted a sled for the small husky puppy she has suddenly become very interested in, so G. made one for her as well. Blue Teddy is the driver and perhaps needs a bigger sled... and more dogs, but L. insists on using only the right type for her team.

K. also wanted in on the action. In the pictures above and below, you'll see his Mac truck open with a stuffed anteater sitting on it. This will quickly become a sled with the anteater harnessed to it. K. is more of a big picture kind of guy rather than being really detailed oriented.

At dinner last night, L. said she thought it would be fun to run in the Iditarod. G. then announced when she was older she was going to ride in the Iditarod.

Some older boys have grand plans for constructing a dog sled and hitching Gretel to it this winter. I'm not convinced that will end well... for anyone. It figures that the summer we have grand plans for all sorts of winter related activities that they are predicting a mild winter. Normally I would shout, "Hooray!" but how on earth are we supposed to construct an igloo without any snow?

Friday, October 09, 2015

Shopping with boys

I had promised TM and D. a trip to the local game store and Vietnamese market this afternoon, so that is what we did. They love this particular trip, going out without a whole bunch of little people, and were in quite pleasant moods. I only had to ask them to put their antlers away once. The trip pretty much sounded like this.

Boys: Vaguely inane and specific discussions about various cards in their deck-building strategy game they love (and the reason for the trip to the game store). I try to tune it out because it makes no sense and I don't care enough to try to have it make sense. They understand this about me and only once in a while do they attempt to explain the game. I will abbreviate this ongoing and endless discussion by just writing cards, cards, cards. You will get the idea.

Me: Silence. My super power is to be able to tune out all but the most vociferous arguments or screech of pain.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

A boy: How many miles to where we are going?

Me: I don't know, I'll see if I can watch the odo...

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

A boy: Do you know what I've never liked about Popeyes? That they don't serve spinich.

Me: Silence. Because, come on, what does one say to that?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards.

We arrive at the game store. The boys head straight to the cards to stare and plan and discuss the best cards to have and how much they should be worth. I wander around the store looking at the boxed games. So many of them look so cool and so fun, I could seriously spend far too much money here. (As an added plus, in the next room you can actually play any of the games to try them out.) On my third time around the store, though, a clerk asks if I need any help. I point to the boys and say that I'm with them. He says, "Ah," and goes back to what he is doing. D. finally decides what he is going to buy and TM decides he doesn't want anything. D. pays, I buy the birthday gift I needed, and I start to head out the door. The clerk points to something and both boys' head swivel, they say, "COOL!" in unison and I wander around a little bit more. The clerk did apologize and we both laugh about how close I came to actually leaving.

Finally, I drag the boys out of the store and we head to the Vietnamese market a couple of blocks south. The few blocks consist of more talk about cards, this time the cards D. got in the packs that he bought.

Now, one reason I love the Vietnamese market is that the things I buy don't cost that much so when a child says, "Oooh! Seaweed! Can we get some?" I can say yes. We bought seaweed snacks, pandan cakes, dried pineapple, wasabi peas, a lot of instant pho, prawn crackers, banh xeo mix and the herbs that go along with the banh xeo.

We get in the car and head home. This time the boys' discussions are punctuated by the crunching of seaweed snacks by one and prawn crackers by the other.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Can I have one of those? said to his brother.

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Mommy, do you know what dark matter is?

Me: I have no idea what dark matter is.

Boys: You don't know what dark matter is?!?!?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

Boys: (Their heads swiveling in the same direction at the same time) FLASH!

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

A boy: Can I have one of those?

Boys: Cards, cards, cards

All the way home... which it turns out is about 5 miles. I did answer their question, but I'm not sure they were interested by the time I had an answer.

They were good, if comical company, but by the end, I often feel the need to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank. You know, where it is absolutely silent and no one is talking about trading cards.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Tea Time

I've learned that sometimes a schedule that has worked for years, suddenly doesn't make sense anymore and needs to be reinvented. Ever since M. was in kindergarten, I have read a chapter book at lunch. It allowed me to read interesting books that my children wouldn't normally sit through, but because they had their lunch in front of them, they were virtually a captive audience and I could get away with it. Usually we ended up loving the books we read, but sometimes we gave up on one by general consensus. I loved those times with my children.

As we began our homeschooling schedule this year, something seemed off. We had made it just a few pages into the book we were reading at lunch and I was getting complaints about the whole process. We had done this for so long that I was a bit stymied. As I thought about it I realized a few things. For various reasons, much of our group time this year is spent in reading books. That is going very well, People are engaged and interested and its working. But it also means that to turn right around and read a lunch chunk from another book is less appealing, both for me and for my children. My voice is tired, and they have already expended all of their listening energy on the last book. This means I needed to put a small break between the two times. Yet, then my whole 'captive audience' thing flew out the window and we kept running up against people needing to leave for various afternoon commitments. I didn't want to give up our chapter book reading, yet it wasn't working.

I then had a brain storm. Tea! As in tea time. A quirk of this year's schedule is that except for Mondays, everyone is home and available at about 4:15. This also seems to be a time that is the beginning of the long, slow descent into the late afternoon malaise of tired children who would like to be entertained. Having tea together and reading a book seems to solve both problems. I pitched my idea to my children and everyone thought it sounded fun. (I'm sure my promise to add to our collection of teas and a small cookie every day didn't hurt.)

We've been at it for two days now. And while as P. has dryly suggested that anyone can be successful at something once or twice, I think this is going to work... as long as I keep the tea cupboard well stocked and remember to pick up a small treat for our four tea times a week. A small price to pay for having them sit and listen to a book for 45 minutes. And that is how long I read yesterday. The book everyone said they disliked and was boring, when read for a much longer chunk turned into something everyone loved. (It's Gary Paulson's Winter Dance, by the way. It's funny in a Bill Bryson-ish sort of way. It's also not one I would hand to a child to read as I do more than a little on the fly editing for language as I read. I have 6 year olds in the audience, remember.)

It has also helped with that late afternoon malaise. Buoyed by tea and cookies and a rest as they listen, everyone has seemed to be quite ready to go back to playing as I fix dinner. I love it when a plan works. Plus, it fulfills my Anglophile desires to say, "Children, come and have tea."

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Help me out here

I'm trying to figure something out. This isn't meant to be snarky or back handed, I just really do not understand. I've been reading and hearing in lots of different places about parental frustrations with homework. I'm not in that world. We don't have homework here. We are able to get the bulk of our schoolwork done in the morning and we move onto to other things. I truly do not understand homework.

When I was in school, until I got to upper grades, the only time I had homework was when I didn't take the time to get the work done in class. I never had specifically assigned homework. There might have been a special project assigned every so often, but in my memory those seemed rare. (And the only reason I spent hours on a report on horses in sixth grade was because I wanted to. Turning in a multi-page report complete with multi-page bibliography and illustrations says far more about me than about the assignment.) I don't think the children of the human species have changed so much in the past 40 years or so that they need different education techniques.

So, I don't get homework. I don't understand the purpose of it. I mean, what child is really going to get anything beneficial out of more book work at the end of a long day? And I really don't understand why, if parents hate it so much, they put up with it. Perhaps this specific question, once again, tells far more about me than about anything else. What would happen if parents just said no? We are done with homework. We want to reclaim the lives of our children and our families. We want to be free to pursue other interests and activities that are just as important as book work.

Really, I don't mean these questions in any derogatory sense at all. I'm really trying to understand why parents cede that much control over their lives to the schools. Yes, I know I don't play well with others, by the way, but I still wonder. This really is a genuine question. Why?

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

One of the problems of a voracious reader

The other night I'm happily reading a book. I was ready for a new mystery and this was proving enjoyable. As I got further into the book, I start thinking to myself, "Gee, this seems a lot like another book I've read. You would have thought the similarities between the two would have been mentioned in the somewhat extensive introduction." I chalk it up to an interesting, yet inconsequential coincidence and keep reading.

I reach a part that is particularly exciting and continue to feel as though it really is very similar to another book. Well, I think it is similar until I get to a part and suddenly realize I know exactly what is going to happen. I am proved correct as I continue reading and slowly have to face the fact. I have read this book before.

I have no recollection of having read it before, but since I exhibit ESP in no other realm of my life, I have to assume that I have. As I continue to read the book, I remember details as I get to them, but still have no idea how it will end. It is a very odd feeling of not knowingly knowing what is going to happen. It's a little unsettling.

And it has happened before.

More than once.

One time I suggested a title for a book club because I thought it sounded interesting and I had always wanted to read it. Evidently I wanted to read it so much that I already had and didn't figure it out until about a third of the way through, very much like my current book.

When I expressed concern to J. over the state of my mental healthy, he pointed out that it didn't seem surprising. I read so much, so fast that sometimes something doesn't stick. At least, as far as I know, I have never done this a third time to the same book.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Just sayin'

You know, I can see the stats of how many people have looked at a particular post. It is always interesting the things that garner a lot of attention. Sometimes I can predict what will be popular and other times I am completely baffled. One thing I have learned though, is what is not popular. I can guarantee that whenever I write a post advocating for a child or children who need a family, the number plummet.

I know cats and dogs are cute. We like cats and dogs around here. I'm sure once I have something that takes pictures again, you will get to see more pictures of our three furry friends.

But the posts that get ignored are about children. Real, live, living, breathing children who do not have a family to call their own. Children who will spend the rest of their lives in some sort of institution if they do not find their family. I know it is hard. I know it is painful. I know what it costs to give a child such as these a family. I know.

I am begging you to do the hard thing. Look at the posts. Really look. Think about your favorite nine year old or thirteen year old and imagine that precious child in the same situation. I know it is hard to allow your heart to be broken. I'm sure the children wish they had a choice.

Here's a second chance. Because I can't un-know what I know

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Because I can't un-know what I know

It's one thing to know the huge numbers of orphans in the world. (Current estimates put the number at between 500,000 and one million in China alone.) It's another thing to know the actual children behind those numbers. The statistics alone can be overwhelming, so overwhelming that it is very easy to lose the humanity they represent. This is especially true for anyone who has not had their world rocked by spending time in an actual orphanage. And while I certainly don't advocate orphan-tourism, because of the negative effects it can have on the very real children who must live in them, there is no escaping the positive effects it has on the adults who visit. Because all at once those huge numbers and daunting statistics have a face... a personality... a deep, deep need to be loved and to belong to someone who will call them son or daughter. Everyone needs a place to belong, a sense of permanency, a promise of unconditional love.

It is impossible to meet even one of these children and not be changed. It is impossible to see their reality and not compare your own with theirs. And at least for me, it is impossible to view my abundant blessings and not wonder why I am hoarding them; to ask myself what my life is all about anyway. Be careful with those thoughts and questions, though, if you value comfort and ease, because the answers are anything but comfortable and easy. What do you want your life to say was important to you when you get to the end of it?

I hate the fact I am a finite person with finite resources. Advocating for children means hearing about them, knowing their stories, seeing their faces. It means I am confronted time after time with the enormity of what I cannot do. And sometimes there is a face or two that haunts me, who makes me wonder, "What if...?" even as I know the little fantasy I have created in my head has no bearing on reality. So I do the only thing left to me... I share what I know. I pray that someone else will see this child and need to make a difference in his or her life. To long for someone to say, "That is my child," or "I can't adopt, but I can make it financially possible for someone else to." Because, the cold hard truth is, if either of these children's adoptions were fully funded, there would be no difficulty finding a family for them. Reality stinks.

First there is Gracie. I've written about her before and even shown you a video that was made. She needs a family. Really, really needs one if her future is going to include more than being in an institution for the rest of her life. (And trust me when I say that would be the better of the two possible scenarios.)

She has cerebral palsy and needs a walker to move about. But should this physical challenge forever doom her to a life without a family? Since when does family membership come with physical requirements? She needs a mother and father to love her and make her their beloved daughter. Click on the link embedded in her name and read more about her.

And now Peter, the boy who keeps me up at night.

Peter is 13 and will turn 14 in just nine short months. For most children, turning 14 is exciting. It means they are getting older, high school is just around the corner, and a learner's permit is just a year away. For orphans in China it means the possibility of losing everything they've known. Once a child turns 14, they are no longer eligible to be adopted. It also means that depending on their living situation they are turned out of their orphanage. This does not happen to all, and there are organizations working to make the lives of older orphans better, but it is not a happy story. Can you imagine being considered completely on your own at 14? Can you look at your own 13 or 14 year old and imagine that beloved child in the same situation? It is wrong.

Peter will forever lose his chance of a family in seven months. Peter is blind, but has been living in a foster home which has taught him life skills. He can get around on his own. He can care for himself. He is bright and personable. And he is a musician. He sings and plays at least two instruments. He does not have a family. Seven months is time for a family to start from scratch and bring him home. It is not too late if you start now. How can any of us say we love children and let this boy age out?

Please, read about this child. Do something, for Heaven's sake. Because he breaks my heart.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Truth and consequences

(Don't read more into this post than is intended. We're fine. I actually can't write coherently when we're not.)

I've discovered this is a thing. Parents who have successfully raised biological children who then adopt and are thrown for a loop when those traditional parenting practices don't work. More of the same doesn't work. (Isn't that one of the definitions of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting different results?) I'm certainly a founding member.

I've also discovered it's a thing as well, that while some people are willing to change, there are more than a few parents who are so committed to traditional parenting practices that they just can't bend. Often this is to the detriment of both the child and the family. It takes a huge amount of humility to say everything you thought about parenting is wrong and change. Especially if that change is to a method which on the face of it seems at odds with everything you thought was true.

I know I've hinted about at what these new methods we use look like, but I don't think I've ever really addressed them directly. Now, traditional methods work just fine with emotionally healthy, secure children. It's just that these methods do not work with children whose brains have been changed, for whatever reason, through trauma. (Some children, even biological ones, can have a very underdeveloped emotional system, and traditional methods don't work with them, either.) If this is a child's starting point, not only are they not on the same page as you, like your other biological children, they're not even in the same book. Through no fault of their own, they experience the world differently.

Now trauma can affect the brain in utero as well as at birth. I'm not making this up or making excuses. Do the research. These are actual physical results of brain changes due to extreme stress and trauma. The brains of children who have experienced trauma show the same types of changes that soldier's brains who have PTSD as a result of trauma show. And just the fact that I need to make this disclaimer shows the adult bias to assume that all children can behave as we expect them to, they just choose not to. If we just punish them enough, they will soon see the error of their ways, or at least the benefit of doing as told, and tow the line.

Well, the problem with this is that a child whose brain is changed through trauma is unable to see or understand cause and effect. They are essentially operating in a different universe.... one that is chaotic, illogical, full of things to be afraid of, and is out to get them. When the parent says something along the lines of, "Do this or else that will happen." It's as if the universal translator that trauma placed in his brain hears, "I don't love you and something bad is going to happen." That's not a nice thing to hear, so the whole fear cycle starts. Fear is something to avoided at all costs; it's scary after all. The single best way to avoid feeling afraid is to get angry. Really good and angry. It's impossible to be afraid if you are preoccupied with tearing a room apart. Of course, there is a part of you that knows tearing a room apart isn't a good thing, so the shame cycle then starts. Why can't you do anything right? No wonder no one loves you.

Rinse, repeat.

No amount of trying to punish the bad behavior and reward the good is going to work because you're not working from the same script. Someone needs to change the script and your child isn't capable of it, so it has got to be you, the parent. You have to be the one to bend. To bend down to your child and slowly show him that he can trust you. To slowly make new connections in her brain that the world is not quite the scary and chaotic place she thought it was . (Just turn off the news, or you'll land right there with her.) You have to bend. To stoop down out of your comfort zone, out of what you thought was right, and be willing to make adjustments that seem wrong. That will certainly get you kicked out of the "good parent club."

Because, frankly, connecting with your child first so that he can experience love and safety from you, looks backwards. It feels backwards most of the time. But I have here to tell you that it can, given enough time, begin to work. What does it look like in practice?

It may look like picking up all 2 million legos off your child's floor that were thrown in a rage. More than once.

It may look like ignoring the words, as much as it kills you to do so, and look deep at the meaning.

It may look like asking your child to do something (that is no big deal and something everyone else is expected to do) and when she starts to balk, offer to do it for her.

It may look like buying a dozen of a small something that was stolen from another child and giving them to the offender.

In short, it looks like grace. A huge over flowing outpouring of grace that even your child in the different universe cannot ignore. Slowly trust builds. Slowly shame recedes. Slowly. Slowly.

And if you think about it for any length of time, it is how God, the perfect and ultimate parent, parents us. Sure, he lets us experience natural consequences, but even though we extremely imperfect humans mess up all. the. time. God still showers his grace upon us. Even those of us who are supposed to know better mess up all the time. It's one of the things that drives non-believers bonkers... that fact that we don't do what we know we're supposed to. But once again, we've focused on the wrong thing. Once again the human focus is on the human, when it should really be on the divine.

We should be in a perpetual state of thankfulness that God does not parent us as we so often parent our own children. Who could stand? And if we can't do it, why do we expect our children to be able to? By bending toward your child, you are not losing a battle. You are not giving in. You are not in a position of weakness. You are playing out in a very small and microscopic way the entire message of the Gospel. You are remembering who your real enemy and you are winning your child. Isn't that worth picking up a million legos or so?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

A bullet point kind of a day

Mainly because it is easier to write short, unrelated comments rather than trying to force my brain into something coherent.

  • The brain space was already used up on the article I (finally) finished... a mere four days late.
  • D. has already revised the beginning of the story I shared and it is significantly improved. He is thinking doing NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) in November might be something he wants to try his hand at.
  • I took my iPod in today to see if it could be fixed and, sadly, it is down for the count. Do not expect any photos on the blog in the near future.
  • The dog and the cats have made brief acquaintances. At least Gretel has stopped the perpetual whining outside P's door. The few times we've let them socialize, Moon just sits and stares at the dog. It's as if he is the dog hypnotist. He stares and Gretel just stares back, transfixed. Midnight, on the other hand, runs which Gretel interprets as, "Hey, I'm going to play your favorite game. Come and chase me!" and they're off. Moon just stares at the two of them. Moon is very good at staring.
  • The CCCWA (the government body that handles all the adoption stuff in China) is on vacation for five days. Five loooong days. We are on day 31 of waiting for our Letters of Acceptance. We should be hearing something soon. I hope. But not until after vacation. I've noticed a significant decline in my refreshing of my email as a result.
  • When you take a field trip in the middle of the week it is difficult to get back into your schedule the next day.
  • H. has begun the daily countdown to her birthday. Only 13 more days to go. 
  • The middle of the upstairs hallway has been an obstacle course for the past several days. Using blocks from the third floor, the three little people have created a raised platform that is Pandy's house. (Pandy is G.'s favorite stuffed animal.) Pandy has a bed and toys and food. Pandy has to get tucked into his bed in his house every night. J. and I avoid that part of the hallway in the dark as it has suddenly become a deathtrap. As long as Pandy gets a good night's sleep...
  • I cannot cook for just 9 people anymore. Some of these nine are lighter eaters and I keep ending up with masses of leftovers. I had almost forgotten what a leftover was. I think I'm reducing the amount, but I'm not. I may forever only be able to cook for 12 - 15 people.
  • I still have to do something with all these apples. I have clearly lost my canning motivation.
Fascinating stuff, huh? 
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