Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Cat

I am the cat.



Fierce and silent.

I wait for my prey.

I am dark as shadow.

No one sees me hiding, lurking, waiting.


Waiting for the moment...

the moment when I pounce.

I come from no where, unexpected, as if appearing from nothing.

I attack.

My fierce jaws grabbing and clutching at the unsuspecting matter of my desire.

I run, taking my plunder with me.

Behind me all is noise, chasing, shouting.

They did not suspect.

They never suspect.

They do not notice the sly, slinky shadow.

The proud and stealthy hunter of...


Monday, May 30, 2016

The beginning of the good byes

Over the entire life of this blog, two other families have figured prominently on it... the P. family and the H-S family. All three families have more than the usual number of children, we all have some biological and some adopted children, and we all homeschool. We have watched each other's children when the others of us have been out of the country adopting. We have spent holidays and regular days together. If you look at any one of our family's photos, the children of the other two families figure prominently in them. Our children have grown up together and sometimes joke about the actual size of their family.

And in ten days, the H-S family packs up and moves to the west coast, which was originally home for them. We all knew this was coming, but it always seemed so far off. One of the future events that you can't quite imagine happening. And now it is upon us and and none of us can still quite fathom that it is happening.

There are no words.

Tonight, we will all get together for what could very well be our last dinner with just our families.

There are no words.

Instead, why don't I play the goofy flashback music like they do on TV shows and share some of our past history. As you can see from the probably incomplete list, we have a lot of history between our three families. And this is the stuff I wrote about... it doesn't include the everyday type stuff that never makes it to the blog. Even if you don't read every word, it's kind of fun to click through if only to see the children grow up.


Happy Birthday, P.!

The Battle of Antietam

That will be a table for 25 please

He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Cute Pictures

Painting at the Zoo

Tet Trung Thu

Apple Picking

Off the church camp

December outing.. or doing some large family myth bashing

Day 15 (part 2): I have the best friends in the world

Easter 2012

Camping, large family style

Ahoy, Mateys!

Happy Not-back-to-school-day

An afternoon at the zoo

Miscellaneous Friday

Lots of pictures - part 1 - egg dying

More large family joy

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival - a day late

Apple picking 2014

Heading downtown

Sing with your children - part 2

Just your typical American-Chinese-Vietnamese Celebration

Artist Trading Card Party

Old World Wisconsin

All together again -- or I need a camera with wide angle lens

First day of school

I picked 8 apples today

Stay with your chaperones

Instant wedding

I've tagges this post as 'family life' and 'large families', but at the rate I'm going this year, I should really add another tag... 'grief'.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Play therapy

Last night we saw the most engaged, extended pretend play from R. that we have ever seen. Airplanes are something the figure strongly into her day-to-day observations, no doubt because of the momentous place they have played in her recent existence. Knowing this, I bought her a pretend airplane thinking it would be a way to work through all that upheaval. When we first showed it to her a couple of months ago, she was vaguely interested, but after having pushed it around a bit and looked at the people inside, she was pretty much done. So I put it away for a while. Last night while we were fixing dinner, R. was looking for something to do so I suggested the airplane. R. thought that sounded like fun, so I flew it over to her.

From there, she took off. (Pun intended.) Suddenly, she had named the people in the airplane and announced that they were all going to China. "I hungry! I go China! I see J-- Mama and K-- Jiejie [the names of two very special people whom she lived with]!" she said as she flew the airplane around the room. "Long, long time!" she added as she continued to fly the airplane around the room. "I go home!" R. repeated over and over as the plane flew around and around.
"Oh... where is home, R.?" I asked.
"China! I go China! I go home!" R. said.

And that pretty much sums up the last five months. It is both heart breaking and encouraging to hear these words. Heart breaking because there is such untouched grief inside there that only time will dull, but so encouraging because grief acknowledged is so much better than grief buried. A much more verbal parallel grief is being played out by Y. "I want to see my China family, Mama," she will say to me at least once a day.
"I know, Y. I wish we could fly to China to go visit them," I reply.
"I want to send my China family a picture, Mama," Y. says.
"I think we could do that," I say.
"Oh, thank you, Mama!" R. says as she gives me a big hug.

The airplane is out again this morning. R. has even drawn a picture of the airplane which looks actually similar to an airplane. It feels like a giant step towards healing and I anticipate many, many more trips to China via our new favorite toy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

First class

Last night, TM advanced to the rank of First Class Scout in Boy Scouts. Congratulations, TM! I'm proud of you. 

Can I brag about him for a moment? Racking up service hours is a big part of advancement. One of the things TM has been doing this spring is to spend two hours a week volunteering at a local soup kitchen. According to the adult in charge, he works his tail off and become a valuable member of the volunteer team.

First class, indeed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A dog story

Because writing about frontal lobe injuries and executive function remediation research isn't terribly interesting (well, it is to me, but I'm going with it's not likely to be interesting to the general public), I will tell you a Kenzie story instead.

Kenzie loves me. And since I love Kenzie, that's very gratifying. Except that when I'm around, Kenzie has got it in his head that I am the only one who understands him. I will be in another part of the house (or in bed, asleep) and he will come and nose my hand. Thinking he wants some attention, I will pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. (And he is.) But then, he continues to nose my hand, and this quickly escalates to him doing little hops on his front legs and barking. Have you ever seen a dog movie and the dog is desperately trying to get the person to follow him because, "Timmy is in trouble!" It's just like that. I eventually clue in and get up to follow him. He is happy, though a little wary that I might get distracted and keeps checking back with me and giving me encouraging little barks to keep me moving. He leads me all the way to the back door and then looks at it, wagging his tail happily that he has finally brought me to where he wants. I let him out and he runs out the door.

This would all be terribly endearing if not for the fact that there are usually no less than three people sitting in the kitchen within sight of the back door every single time this happens. I'm not sure the problem lies more with the people or with the dog, but I think the solution is a bell to hang by the door.

With our first dog, a Bouvier des Flandres names Simone, we trained her to ring a bell whenever she wanted to go outside. She quickly caught on and would happily ring the bell whenever the whim struck her to go for a walk. This would have been grand except that we lived in a third floor walk-up and didn't have a fenced yard for her. Sometimes we would come upstairs and within five minutes she would ring the bell to go out again. Eventually the bell lived on top of the refrigerator where she couldn't reach it and we checked the box, 'humans trained.'

With Gretel, dear dog though she was, we were quite sure that ringing the bell to communicate what was going on inside her fuzzy head was a non-starter and never tried, but Kenzie seems to be a different story. When we were visiting my friend a couple of weeks ago, she had a bell by her door. After a while, Kenzie went purposefully over to it, rang it with his nose, and waited. Of course we took him out. (And by 'we', I mean I asked P. to.) He obviously knows what a bell is for and maybe, just maybe, other people in the house can learn what it is for as well, and I can stop having to rescue Timmy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Today's lesson is brought to you by the stag beetle

I apologize to the non-homeschoolers among my readers. I realize it's been a lot of homeschooling posts in a row, and now I'm going to add one more. Evidently, this is currently a season of trying to get back into our homeschooling groove. Ever since coming home from China (and then a month off for our Arizona trip and then another bit of time off for house renovations) I haven't really felt as though we have a good rhythm. It is really beginning to bother me, and so I've become a little fixated on trying to sort out the problems. Thus the number of homeschooling related posts.

I also don't want to leave people with the impression that every day sails smoothly along with cooperative children and fantastically creative educational ideas. If only....  Yesterday was particularly dire and by the end of the day I was feeling pretty much like a consummate homeschooling failure. Yes, it was that bad.

It was so bad that I really wasn't looking forward to starting again this morning. I was putting it off. I was bracing myself for more unpleasantness. It was a recipe for a continuation of yesterday's fiasco because feeling pressed for time is a guarantee of a bad morning. Not a great start, especially when you add in a small girl screaming on the front porch because her father had to leave for work and leave her with the crabby mother. 

Yep, life is just rainbows and happy trees around here all the time.

I headed out to the porch to carry in the screaming girl with another child happened to spy a very large beetle on the sidewalk. Who would've thought that when in need of extreme parenting help, God would send you a beetle? I'm convinced that is what happened because this not-so-little beetle turned our day around. 

Our beetle so engrossed everyone that the screaming stopped. I decided that he was such an interesting (and large... about an inch long) beetle that we should bring him inside and spend some time looking at him and drawing pictures. This made the children very happy and everyone sprinted upstairs, colored pencils in hand. Having a well-stocked library, I grabbed our insect field guide to see if I could discover what kind of beetle we had. 

It turns out he was a stag beetle (just Google it for a picture, I forget to take one before we let him go.) and we were all amazed at how strong his pincers were. Everyone spent time looking at the beetle and drawing. We talked about what makes an insect an insect and labelled body parts. We read about stag beetles and discovered what they eat. Everyone participated. Everyone worked hard. It allowed us to move on to other things and we got through the rest of our usual subjects.

It's hard to see the drawings, so I only took a close-up of K.'s.

I hung everyone's work up on the wall. Like the blue painter's tape? It turns out that it is the only tape we have in the house at the moment.

(K's picture is labelled ground beetle, because we didn't realize it was stag beetle at this point.)

Even R. gave it a try. This is pretty huge that she was aware of what everyone was doing and was even able to approximate what they were drawing. Hers is on the bottom, below. She definitely got th idea about bug-shaped bodies with legs sticking out.

What I had really planned on writing about, before the terribly, horrible day happened yesterday, was how I'm rethinking how we do math. Sometimes revelations come from the oddest places. A week or two ago, I finished a book called, Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. It is a memoir about an American family who goes to China to teach English. There was one little bit that has completely changed my relationship to math. Really. Well, at least to teaching it. I've written about my lack of enthusiasm for the subject, so I won't go into that here. As much as I love creating different projects and resources to use in teaching my children, math has never played much of a role in that. In the memoir, the author recounts asking her students if they ever felt they could be creative in school since most of their schooling involved rote memorization and writing the correct answer on the test. Her students all agreed that math was one area where they felt they could be creative. She was shocked... and so was I. I had literally never thought about the ways math could be creative.

I was an AHA! moment. Math could be creative. Who knew? Just that one idea has opened up the possibilities for me. I feel as though I should have put these things together long before this, but, no such luck. I was too busy focusing on the sheer facts of math.

Since my children love to write stories, we were going to begin to figure out how to write math stories together. Our little stag beetle seemed to be the perfect introduction. I drew some stag beetles and some leaves (it's what they eat.) Then we started to make up some stories, followed by how to put those stories into a number sentence. I realize that this is hardly earth-shattering for many of you, but it felt as though I was really able to integrate math into what we were doing in other subjects in a meaningful way. And for at least one child, I saw the light bulb click that and and the '+' sign were pretty much the same thing.

Not bad for one little stag beetle, huh?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


You'll remember that when Gretel died, no one had any idea what had happened. It completely mystified our vet and he was very upset that he didn't know what was going on with her or how to help her. As a result, he volunteered to do the autopsy at no charge so he could try to figure out what happened.

Last night, J. received an email from the vet with a diagnosis. It turns out that Gretel had multifocal lymphosarcoma. Yes, it was as bad as it sounds. It was a rare form of cancer that had infiltrated every organ of Gretel's body. The fact that she died as calmly and quickly as she did was a blessing. She was very sick. It is also something of a relief to know that no matter how much money we could have thrown at treatment, it wouldn't have made a difference.

So now I think that having two animals die within six months of each other, both from not terribly common diseases, means that we have had our fill of 'animals dying from rare diseases', can check it off the bucket list, and never have to worry about it again.

Right? Isn't that how it works?

Humor me because that's what I'm running with.

Monday, May 23, 2016

How to manage out of control laundry

When I don't do at least one load of laundry a day, the laundry starts to develop a life of its own. When I don't do laundry three or four days in a row, say because I'm sick and am not doing anything, it becomes completely out of control. (This picture is after having done four loads, and you can see the pile that fell behind the laundry cart.) It kind of makes me not want to descend to the basement.

So yesterday, when the weather was gorgeous and everyone was home, I did what every self-respecting person would do. I ignored the laundry. Yep, not one load. Instead, having become a little obsessed with my paper mache book boxes, I sat out in the sun, while the children played and painted around me, and made another one.

And what do I have inside? Well, the title kind of says it all. There are little plastic cats.

And 3-piece cat word cards.

See? Some of the cats can even be matched to the pictures on the cards.

And they all fit nice and neat inside their box.

This is ever so much better than doing laundry in a basement, right?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Night at the Museum

Last night was one of the Field Museum member open houses. We love this and look forward to it every year. Essentially, the museum is completely opened up. You get to wander back behind the scenes and through offices and departments that you would never usually get to see. There are museum workers showing what they do and there are displays of collections that are normally not on display. It is a lot of fun and it's FREE! I'm not sure there is more to like.

Due to family schedules, we didn't get down to it as early as we would have liked, so we didn't get to see a huge amount. The bulk of our time this year was spent in the insect department. Everyone loved looking at the hundreds of different insects from the collection. H. was thrilled at the huge amounts of butterflies. There were even some live insects, such as these huge cockroaches.

These are Y.'s hands. I was amazed that she was willing to hold it, as any type of insect has caused her to shriek up until now. Nearly everyone held one... even R.

It was just a fun night. The icing on the cake, though, was as we were leaving. R. had been pretty attentive and involved in looking at the various things we were seeing. That alone would have made me happy, since engagement with what everyone else is doing has not been a high priority for her. But it gets better. After we left the museum and were heading for the car, I noticed that R. was just a little bit behind me and we were coming to a street. I call to her, "Hey, R.! Come on... catch up to us!" AND SHE DID! She RAN and caught up to us! Sorry about the shouting, but that is how excited I am about it. This was huge! Huge! Huge! Huge! Actively acknowledging that she is part of our family has not been something she has felt comfortable doing. In fact, anything but acknowledging this fact has been pretty much where she has been. And coming when called at any time has been something we have been practicing. A lot. There are moments when I would be happy with even an acknowledgement and slow shuffle when I call her because we haven't even been seeing that. So for her to come and RUN... well... there are just not words.

Friday, May 20, 2016


I am feeling better. Much better. As in I got dressed and even left the house better.

There are certain things which stink about being sick, especially when you are a parent. I'm pretty sure I don't even need to elaborate on that. It's just not fun. (Though, it is made a whole lot better when a dear friend shows up with dinner one night!)

But you know what no one talks about? That whole re-entry period after you've been sick. I can't believe we are the only ones to experience this. (Please tell me we're not the only ones to experience this.) I find the day after being sick, that first day when you seem to be back on your feet and life is returning to normal again, to be just about as bad.


Because having a sick parent is stressful to children. Even if it seems as though people weren't holding it together, they really were. Once the parent seems to be well, then all that stress comes out in less than pleasant ways. It has not been a quiet day around here and I've been spending a lot of time holding children and reading stories and diverting (or trying to divert) meltdowns.

It almost makes me want to be sick again.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Moral: Friends don't eat other friends' species

The joys of using a reading program written around 1967 is coming across things such as this. I think I would find it is pretty odd and hilarious even if I didn't have a post-fever addled brain.

This is verbatim, and no, I'm not making it up.

Pig Wig and the Ham

Kit Kat met his pal Pig Wig. Pig Wig was fat. Kit Kat was not.
"I can get a bit of jam," said Kit Kat.
"Get a lot of it," said fat Pig Wig.
Pig Wig and Kit Kat had the jam. "It was not a lot!" said Pig Wig.
"I bet I can get the pot Dad had," said Kit Kat. Kit Kat got it. The pot was hot. In the pot was ham.
Kit Kat began to cut a bit of ham.
"HAM!" said Pig Wig. "Get rid of the ham!" Pig Wig was mad.
"A pig IS ham,"said Pig Wig.
"And I am a pig. Get rid of the ham." 
Kit Kat set the ham in the pot. Kit Kat got rid of it.
"Kit Kat, get a lot of jam. Get figs and nuts. I can get fat. I am not a ham in a pot yet!"

I mean, what else is there to say?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Definitely veering toward the 'un-' side of school

I am not better. I am sitting on the couch in my pajamas, grunting answers at children every so often. In an effort to make myself feel even marginally better about what my children have done today, here is my list.

L. has been carrying around her stuffed rabbit, announcing every 5-10 minutes that she wants a pet bunny. She is also carrying around the list of rabbit care rules which she insisted that J. copy out of the rabbit care library book we read yesterday. (You know, that day when I wasn't feeling as horrible as I would today, but didn't appreciate it.) She randomly announces how she will care for the rabbit when she gets it by sharing one of the rabbit care rules. L. becomes extremely upset when a sibling picks-up the stuffed rabbit but doesn't adhere to the proscribed 'how to carry a rabbit' instructions.

G. has read to me from two more guided reading books. When I redid the schoolroom, I got out the set of SRA supplemental readers a retired teacher friend had passed along to me. (If you are of a certain age, I'm sure you will remember SRA readers... the little cardboard "books" which get incrementally more difficult as you go along. I even have the nifty school bus box they live in.) G. has become obsessed with these books. I think she likes that she can see her progress with the book number getting higher and higher. She has read more in the past two days than ever before. I can manage beginning readers in this state. In fact, it might even be preferable. Usually I find it a wee bit trying to sit still and patiently while the reader s - l - o - w - l - y sounds out each word. Today, I was more than happy to wait for as along as it took her to sound things out.

G., L., and K. all spent some time playing with my new Arctic activity box. They loved it.

K. spent a long time looking at/reading all the car and truck library books he checked out last week.

H. spent time using the 3-part Arctic cards that I made to go with it. She had to work a bit, but successfully sounded out each animal name and matched it all up. I think this style of learning card is going to be good for her. Once again, all this required was to sit catatonically patiently.

P. completed the rest of her biology homework that she had to have done for a class this afternoon.

A. helped Y. figure out how to do sit-ups and planks and they spent quite some time working on that.

B. took D. to a movie that D. had been wanting to see. (I don't mind D. having a day off, he tends to be my most productive child, school-wise.)

R. spent some time continuing to work on how to get up on the balance beam by herself. She has yet to really be able to do it, but she was doing some good work this morning. She is currently looking at library books here next to me on the couch. This is a win in my book, since looking at books voluntarily hasn't happened until now.

TM, who really needs some outside guidance to organize schoolwork, had a morning off. He is now at a doctor's appointment with J. so he can go to scout camp this summer.

There was also a good bit of coloring, trampoline jumping, lunch making, and story listening (thank goodness for CD players), plus all the discussions and questions and make-believe that happens on a daily basis.

I think I feel better.

No, not better. Possibly less guilty, but definitely not better.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

ER trip #9

I least I think it's the ninth ER trip for our family. It could be more and I just lost count. My cold is not better and my brain is exceedingly foggy. You'll understand why it's not improved in just a moment.

[Edited to add, I did forget a trip... A's little skiing adventure. So this is actually trip number 10.)

(For those wish queasy stomachs, make sure you are not eating while you read this. It's not bad, but thought I'd give a heads up.)

Last night at bedtime, and J. and I were going around to the various rooms doing the nighttime tucking in routine, I hear a wail from R. and then J. asks me to come. My immediate thought is, "Oh dang, it's seizure time," since I'm expecting one imminently. But it wasn't a seizure. Instead, somehow, and we will have to be baffled and without answers for the rest of our lives, R.'s stud earring on one ear got pushed into her ear lobe. Yes, that's right. You couldn't see the front of the earring, but you could see the back. And a lot of blood.

J. at first tried to just push the front of the earring through again. The only thing that accomplished was to elicit more blood and lots of screaming. (I'm sure it hurt.) We stare at the ear for a moment and I remember that I have a lifetime supply of Emla cream (Lidocaine... a topical numbing agent) leftover from tissue expansions and so apply a very large dose on her ear lobe. I'm thinking, if we can just get it numb enough, then we can push the earring back through her ear. While the Emla cream helped with her general pain, it wasn't enough to allow us to fiddle with the earring without causing anguish. We stop and stare at R.'s ear again. I take a turn trying to push it out and realize that you can't even feel the front of the earring through the front of her ear lobe.

That's when we knew... yes, it was time to head to the ER where they had anesthetic shots and doctors who could pull the thing out. J., my sainted husband, volunteered to go and headed off with a very sad R. in tow. At least it wasn't the weekend, but still we both have enough experience with ER's to know that an earring caught in an ear would not rank terribly high on the triage list. It looked to be a long night.

And it was. They left about 9 pm, and didn't get into a room until around midnight. Then, J. had the fun of "getting" to watch Frozen yet one more time in a hospital. Yes, the entire thing was viewed before a doctor came to start treatment. Eventually they gave R. several shots in her ear lobe and then pushed the earring right out. We have to keep an eye on it and apply some antibiotic ointment twice a day for a while, but everything will be fine.

If we get through the day, that is. Miss Early Bird, having gone to bed at 2:30 am, was up and not-quite-at-em at 7 am this morning. Her ear hurts. (Understandably.) But lest we forget her ear hurts, we have been informed of this fact approximately 2.5 millions times already. I shall endeavor to be the kind and patient parent, even though I wasn't really sleeping while I lay in bed waiting for them. This did not improve my cold.

The only thing that will make the next 24 hours even better is if R. does happen to have a seizure tonight. It will be like a cherry on top of the ice cream.

(Hmmmm.... evidently, there is a direct inverse correlation between my use of sarcasm and my physical health. I do feel for R., really, I do.)

Monday, May 16, 2016

I'm a bit sick, I haven't paid the bills, or done the laundry...

but the day wasn't a total bust. I also sat quietly outside in the sunshine and did a little painting while people played. Want to see what I made? (And sorry about the picture quality. Evidently I care even less about the photographs I take when sick than when I'm well.)

This is what happens when I go to the craft store and see cool things... such as those Toob-things which have nifty homeschool friendly themes, such as, "The Arctic" on sale for half-price. And then I walk down the next aisle and see more cool things, such as brown paper mache boxes in the shape of books. I suddenly had visions of school activities. I just needed to paint the box and fill it with things. Which is what I did this afternoon.

The spine

The side where the pages should be.

But look! It opens and inside are the Toob figures...

plus I made some foam ice floes and open ocean so the polar bears and seals can play.

And it all fits in the box to go back on the shelf for another day. 

The only thing I still need to do are to make some 3-part Montessori word cards that match the figures in the box to add one more activity angle to the whole shebang. 

I'm kind of smitten. I may need to make more.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Classical un-unit Chardorfissori Method... or my new schoolroom and realizations

I want to show you pictures of my new schoolroom that has consumed the better part of several days. But first, I probably need to explain my title, especially for the non-homeschoolers among my readers who might not see the joke right away. A common question when homeschoolers get together is to ask what method a person favors. I always dread this question a bit because I don't like to be pinned down, using a few ideas from a wide variety of techniques. "Eclectic" just sounds so... meh. As I sorted through all of my homeschool supplies, I realize that eclectic doesn't even begin to describe what I do, because it makes it seem as if I blend all these techniques into a whole rather than careening from method to method depending on what feeling I'm currently reacting against. 

Our average homeschool year looks more like this:

Classical (the method that believes education should be rigorous and focused on the trivium, the three stages of learning [grammar, rhetoric, and logic]. Latin is a big part of this as well as memorization, such as a grade school child memorizing the forms of 'to be'... am, are is, was, were, be, been, being, if you're curious.) I head in this direction when the panic that I am not preparing my children well enough for academic work sets in. While in this extreme, we have been known to work on memorizing The Lord's Prayer in Latin.

Unschooling (the method which says that children are natural learners, and given the time and freedom and resources to explore their world, they will learn just as much, or more, than children sitting at desks in a school room.) Inevitably, after a brief stay on the classical end of things, I veer heavily towards the other end of the spectrum, unschooling. This usually happens because I feel a little too trapped by the structure and rigidness of the classical method as well as the feeling of missing out on all the opportunities to follow the varied interests of my children. 

Unit studies (the method that takes one subject and studies it in depth, relating as much as possible all the branches of learning to the subject at hand.) This is my middle ground, and where I often land after veering back and forth between the first two. We live in this method quite a bit, but usually incorporating the next three aspects into it.

Charlotte Mason (the method based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator who believed in using real books for learning. There is a focus on living books, nature studies, narration [telling back what has been read or heard], and learning about the great artists.) I really like a lot of Charlotte Mason's ideas and tend to use real books (non-text books) in our learning. I just can't pull off a full Charlotte Mason, though, because there is very little allowance for students with significant special needs.

Waldorf (While not necessarily a homeschooling method, it is an education method started by Rudolph Steiner. A man whose personal philosophy is not one I can really agree with, but do like some of what Waldorf schools do.) I like the emphasis on play, handwork, delayed academics, and the role of imagination in the learning process. Plus, some of the Waldorf-based play and art supplies are just really, really lovely. 

Maria Montessori (Probably the best-known person or method of all I have mentioned. Her method focuses on real-life work for children, choosing the thing to be worked on, and independent learning.) I really love the use of word cards and free-choice in this education method. This is especially true for my children who did not have a lot of early experiences in choosing. I also really like the emphasis on using real tools and the belief that children are capable of doing real and helpful work.

There you go. This is going to be my new go-to answer the next time someone asks me what homeschooling method I use. Besides, Chardorfissori is so much more fun to say than eclectic. Chardorfissori... Chardorfissori... Chardorfissori...

Oh, sorry...

I was going to show you pictures. We are now back to having a dedicated schoolroom, this time on the third floor. I've lost track of which version of doing school this is. Like my homeschooling method, where we do school seems to veer between extremes as well. The short story is that I was tired of having to look at all the school stuff which was living in the kitchen day after day. It wasn't restful. Now it can all be upstairs where I don't have to see when we aren't hitting the books.

This picture shows the school area from the door of the 3rd floor. It is in the same place as my resource area which was previously housed up here. You can also see the addition of more bookcases to help delineate a larger space. The opening between the two brown cases is the official doorway.

Here we are looking in at the area on the other side of the large white bookcases in the picture above.

The same area from another angle. These books are all our non-fiction books, organized by subject. (Yes, I wanted to be a librarian when I was little.)

Looking the other direction in the same room. You can see the small table that I am going to display special things for children to look at or do on a weekly basis. Being able to do this was really the impetus behind going back to a dedicated schoolroom. I want to get another table to put in the center so people can be more spread out for doing actual work. You can also look through the funny little angled passage and see more of the dedicated room.

Here we are heading down that passage. The chapter books, alphabetized by author's last name begin on that bookcase in the foreground.

Here we are in the work area. We plan on figuring out how to create walls between the tall white bookcases, making it a more separate space.

Looking at is from the other side. When we are finished, you won't be able to see into the school space from this side.

One final view.

You can see that even by taking a larger chunk of the room, there is still plenty of room left to play.

There you go. Now to make it really work, I just need a couple of cheap rugs (the sound is still very echo-y), a clock, and some better lighting above the table. I'd also like to paint the brown cases white, and then there's that extra table, and the picture book shelves and bean bags for our picture books, and....

Friday, May 13, 2016

If you can't laugh...

The day didn't start out badly. We got up and had breakfast. I had already decided that life could just not continue until I finished putting the school things back together, so that was first on the agenda. I also needed to plan the week's menus, get to the grocery store, and shuttle people to a party. (We tried to get some school done yesterday, and let's just say it was not our most successful morning.) Everyone ate breakfast and headed upstairs. Little people played and I, with the help of D., started in on shelving books. The phone rings, and it's the orthodontist's office. Once again, we had to cancel the appointment for K. to get the panoramic x-ray that he needs because we are having continuing difficulties with getting the approvals from the supplemental insurance. Sigh. At least it gave me more time to work on the third floor.

The next phone call was a friend inviting D. and TM to something in downtown Evanston. They wanted to go and so I said I would usher them out of the door at the correct time so they could walk there.

After shelving a few more books, the phone rings again. This time it is someone at the supplemental insurance apologizing for the approval not coming through for K.'s x-ray. I thank her for her time and then go on into a long rant about my other children and how we are still waiting for approvals for the tests and things that they need. I realize toward the end that the other end of the line is very quiet. I say, "Hello? Hello?" a couple of times and then think a not-so-nice word. Yes, once again, my phone has stopped working.

We had no phone and no internet. Right in the middle of a phone call with a person I really, really, really needed to talk to. I call J. on my cell phone and he offers to call AT&T. He then spends far more hours than any one person needs to spend on the phone getting it worked out. As in, all afternoon.

I go back to my books. The boys leave for their outing with instructions from me about where they are going. Forty minutes later, the boys are back. They are panting because they ran. I ask what happened and, long story short, they tried and tried, but couldn't find the place they were going. Then when they realized the time, they were worried that the parent would call to say they weren't there, and they didn't want me to worry.  Sweet, huh? Well, they were only a bit late, so I put them in the car and drove them, to see if I could find it. Since it was on the third floor of a pretty anonymous office building with no signage (and it had the empty, deserted feel, which a boy might or might not have declared, "spooky," I'm not surprised they had trouble.) Boys deposited, I drove back home to my books.

P. goes to her guitar lesson and I continue to sort. P. returns from her guitar lesson and I load up H. and a friend to take them to a birthday party. While I am gone, J. comes home along with B., who is moving back home for the summer, having finished his last final yesterday. My front hall is filled to the brim with... his sister's stuff. A. is moving home as well and her stuff went in the van first. B. then leaves one more time to go retrieve his things. From experience, it will take a bit to sort all of this into various storage spaces and out of my front hall. (You can read about this seasonal migration here.)

J. realizes that the internet and phone are still not working, so he gets to spend another 45 minutes on the phone with AT&T. Isn't this how everyone wants to spend a late Friday afternoon? Well, as you can see, it is finally working now. At least at this moment. I'm not holding my breath.

So today, I fielded phone calls, or didn't as the case may be. I drove people around. I did not, however, go to the grocery store, or do any laundry, or clean up the kitchen. J. went and picked up some take-out so we could eat. I do have a dorm room and an apartment's worth of stuff in my front hall.

But... I did get the schoolroom sorted out and completely put back together. Pictures tomorrow. Assuming the internet is still working, that is.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Drive-by blogging

I am knee deep in the midst of getting school things back to being organized on the third floor. It feels like a never ending process and is challenging my compulsive tendencies of wanting to do a job completely and without stopping.

Your blog post for today is to briefly tell you about the cute little laminate pocket guide I got from TM's therapist today. It is called, Trust-Based Caregiving: A TBRI Pocket Guide, and published by the TCU Institute of Child Development. It is a cool and handy thing. It has the basics of trust-based, connected parenting condensed down to the essentials and then has a referral page for each level of intervention from Playful Engagement all the way up to Protective Engagement. It was a great $10 spent. If you want one, and don't have a handy therapist to sell you one, I did a quick Google search and discovered that ShowHope is selling them. Probably other places are as well, but I'll let you do the looking.

I'm hoping that I will have pictures of the finished project soon. Boy, do I hope that!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Just doing a part to help out at the library

After a couple of months of not going to the library, we finally made it there today. And it was a good thing because there were a couple of books that J. and I had taken to hiding because we just couldn't face reading them one. more. time. Yes, it was that bad.

In general, it was a relatively calm and easy trip. The new girls have gone enough times that they know the drill and I don't need to micromanage their book selections. R., who has become best buddies with H., has even learned exactly where in the library the origami books are and can find the section and pick out new origami books on her own. Thus, we chose our books, put them in bags to cart to the check-out, and began the process of heading home.

This is not as simple as it sounds. First, we need to fit all the books in the bags we brought, which, though I think I'm bringing enough bags, is always a close thing and sometimes people need to carry the books which don't fit. Then we shuffle towards the check-out desk while trying to keep smaller people moving with us. Herding cats is hard enough without being encumbered by 100 books. Next, the small people need to be settled in a corner, under the supervision of the bigger child whose turn it is not to help at the desk. Deciding whose turn it is to help at the desk provides its own bit of drama as people negotiate and announce who did it last. It is not a coveted job. After all this, we can begin to check out our books.

Most of the circulation workers know us and we often have the same clerk, who knows our routine, so the process is pretty speedy. We got someone new this time. It turns out it was a trainee and we were the ultimate patron. He got a lot of practice with all sorts of different issues that come up when checking out books. We were kind of a one-stop training session of our very own. I was happy to help, but it did take a little bit longer than usual.

After we left, having thus checked-out and reloaded our books and shuffled our way along to the van, D. says to me, "You know how you sent me upstairs to check out those mysteries?"
"Yeah," I answered, not having given it any thought because I saw that he had the entire series in his bag.
"Well, I asked one librarian to help me find them, and she looked at me and said I wasn't allowed to check out adult books because I was a child. I didn't want to argue, so I stepped over to the other librarian who hadn't heard our conversation and asked her where they were because my I was supposed to check them out for my mom," he told me.

Well, points for D. for working the system, but....


I did send him upstairs to the adult books because he was in need of a new mystery series and has reached a reading level where juvenile fiction just doesn't cut it sometimes. I stood for a moment racking my brains as to what mystery series I recently read that could be considered appropriate for a not-quite-12-year old. Not that I'm reading particularly lurid or graphic novels and mysteries, but still, 12 is pretty young for certain themes. I decided he could probably handle and enjoy the Vish Puri series. I kind of wish he had pushed back a little, or come and got me, or something.

I would think a librarian would be thrilled at a 12 year old boy who is interested in reading adult books. (Particularly since the genre of young adult fiction is too often a vast wasteland of poor writing... not that I have an opinion or anything.) I have always encouraged my young adult readers to jump YA books and head directly to adult books. The themes are hardly different, but the writing is often far better. Plus, all the classics are housed in the adult fiction section and a librarian was telling a young person they couldn't check them out? I'm just baffled. And a little annoyed.

Finally, one of the picture books we checked out is a sequel to one we already had. The Day the Crayons Quit has been a favorite here for quite some time, so everyone was very excited to discover The Day the Crayons Came Home. I think it is very funny. I'm not sure the story hangs together quite as nicely as in the first, but there are some extremely amusing bits. A word of warning, though, if you are checking out the second. It does have a wee bit of scatological humor in it. Not much, but some. So if that is something you don't do as a rule, be forewarned. I personally think it is worth it to read about the adventures of Neon Red Crayon and Esteban.... the Magnificent (the crayon formally known as Pea Green.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Therapy brought to you by IKEA

A couple of weeks ago, after a quick trip to IKEA because I needed storage containers, I did a little impulse shopping. As we were walking through the store, I saw this balance beam set up. It looked cute and I had everyone try it out to be sure it was as sturdy and stable as it looked. It seemed to be. On a whim I decided to get it. 

It has been set up in our kitchen for a couple of weeks now. (Excuse the mess of cars. This is a perpetual state here.)

The reason I succumbed to impulse shopping is that I hoped this would fill a need we had. When we were last at the neurologist, she asked H. to walk toe-heel-toe-heel, placing each foot directly in front of the other. She has come so far that I was surprised when this was a struggle for her. When I saw the balance beam I thought it would be the perfect tool to help with this skill.

It turns out to have been one of the best impulse buys I have ever made. Currently it is still living in the kitchen, but at least it doesn't take up much room, and it also means it gets fairly constant use. Here's my success story of the week for you. First, H. has not only learned to walk toe-heel-toe-heel easily, but she can also walk the balance beam backwards. This alone would warrant a success, but there is more.

Y. was very interested in watching everyone walk on it when we first put it together. When she tried, though, it was completely beyond her capabilities. Not only was balancing an issue, but just putting one leg up on the beam, much less use that leg to lift her whole body onto it was an impossibility. Y. was a little put out. The other day, I moved a kitchen chair near to the beam and had her use that to help balance. She has been working (being a wee bit competitive) on getting her leg on the beam, and with the help of the chair, is now able to lift herself up onto it. Yesterday, she balanced standing on it for the first time.

R. is very hesitant about it. Currently she has no interest in even trying it. It's just too scary. So, yesterday, I decided to spend some time helping her. Eventually, I was able to get her up and on it. She actually balanced for a second or so on her own. As I worked with her, I also discovered some other large motor skills that need to be developed and we worked on those, too. For instance, just stepping over the beam, is still a skill that she really needs to practice.

Right now, I'm thinking that it was a very wise investment, and after nearly constant use by some not-so-small people, it seems to be holding up extremely well.

Monday, May 09, 2016

A note to myself after Mother's Day

We are not really a gift-oriented family, and events such as Mother's Day and Father's Day tend to fall by the wayside, especially if one of those holidays happens to fall on a show weekend as it did this year. But, since I had all my people home and together (including the bonus of my own mother being here), it counts as an excellent Mother's Day. Anyone with grown children knows exactly how rare having everyone around really is.

Anyway, the whole honoring Mother-thing got me thinking. I sometimes get so caught up in doing everything right, making sure I don't fail my children and ruin them for life, that I forget what's really important. So here is a note to myself, so I can be reminded how I want my children to remember me. Because really, if I only focus on preparing them for life and forget the intangibles, how much is that preparation really worth?

I want to be the mother who...

  • jumps on the trampoline
  • plays games
  • smiles and laughs
  • joins in the fun
  • doesn't stress about the little stuff
  • can be trusted to listen without immediately reacting
  • gives lots of hugs and kisses
  • allows my children to pursue their own interests and not just mine
  • dances in the kitchen
  • breaks into song
  • tries new things
  • is quicker to understand than to yell (still need to work on this one)
  • is interested in many things
  • is funny
  • shows God's love to my family and others in tangible ways
  • can handle disagreement
  • provides good food
  • realizes the occasional non-healthy treat is not the end of the world
  • is willing to make a mess
  • puts people ahead of stuff
  • creates a joyful home
It's a start. Essentially, I want my children to remember a joy-filled home. It is so easy to lose the joy when checking boxes on to-do lists and making sure to get everything "right". Instead, how much better to relish the people whom God has put in our lives? 
And and article that published last month and I missed it. Am I Too Old to be Adopting?

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Happy 11th Birthday, R.!

Yesterday was R.'s birthday, but due to family schedules, we celebrated this afternoon. Since we're still not at a point where we can ask R. what her preferred meal is, we decided to order take-out Chinese. It was a hit. Then, I bought a cake, because she has been aware of fancy cakes and we thought she would be happy with a fancy one. I think she was. Some pictures.

She couldn't quite get the candles blown out...

so M. stepped in and helped.

Then it was time for presents.

The benefit of celebrating today was that everyone could be here, including my mom.

Does it surprise you that G. spent the present opening in B.'s arms?

I have now reinvested in some quality early childhood toys. 

This present was particularly interesting.

Notice Y. and her camera right there?

Checking out the new toy.

I am in love with the gift my mom gave R. (Y. is a little in love with it as well, and that not-so-friendly green-eyed monster has made several appearances over the course of the afternoon.) It's a Three Bears house, complete with porridge, bears, and Goldilocks. It fits together like a puzzle, thus can be stored flat if it needs to be put away for a while. Isn't is adorable? It will be great for acting out fairy tales. Plus there are two other story houses that can be added... The Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel.

We think R. had a good time with her birthday celebration. She is particularly taken with the little house that has the locks which open the doors, and has even been successful with figuring out which key goes to which lock and how to manipulate the locks. It doesn't stop her from asking us to help her every three minutes, but she is doing it on her own which is a pretty big win in our book these days.

Happy Birthday, dear girl. I look forward to watching you grow and develop and to really learning who you are in there. I love you.

Then, because we had everyone here (a very rare occurrence these days), and because tomorrow is Mother's Day, I insisted asked that we get a family picture.

This is the only way we can do a family picture... spur of the moment before anyone can think about it too much and start to complain (or not participate). No matching outfits. Heck, some of the children don't even have on clothes that match. It started out OK. Nearly everyone is looking at the camera... sort of.

So you try another, and each time you miss one or two people.

So you try again. This one is actually pretty good.

But then you let it go too long and people start to become tired of it. Keep an eye on L. in the bottom left corner.

And then we did one with everyone, including Me and J. It's our first family picture of all 14 of us.

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