Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cooking with Elizabeth: sort of spicy spinach chicken Alfredo with penne

A friend suggested posting good recipes when I didn't know what to write about, so I decided to take her up on it. Last night, as I was cooking, I looked at my pot and thought of all those fast-forward videos that show up everywhere showing you how to cook meals. This was because I have the same pot! Since I had the correct pot, I thought, "Hey, I'll share this recipe with everyone." But I don't know how they do that fast-forward video-thing, so you get still pictures. (And MY still pictures,.. even better, huh?) At at that point in the game, I wasn't even sure it would be a good recipe since I was totally making it up. I took pictures anyway. 

Here we go. Imagine me cutting up some chicken breast and throwing it in my cool blue pot. Oh, throw in some chopped garlic, too. A lot of it. And I heated up some olive oil before throwing in all that stuff. Clearly, I'm really good at this, huh? Here we are so far:

OK, first lesson learned. You can't take a photo directly above a cooking pot as it steams up the camera lens. How about this instead?

I walk to the pantry to put something away and see this on my shelf. (No, I actually have no idea where it came from. That happens a lot around here.)

I think to myself that just spinach and chicken sounds a little blah, and decide to throw in some of this. So I do. I probably put in two or three spoonfuls. (In the end, it could have used more, though my less spicy people might have complained.) I threw it in after the chicken cooked a bit... I forgot to take a picture. You could also use just roasted tomatoes... or roasted red peppers... or nothing.

After I stirred that around a moment or two, I threw in a giant bag of baby spinach. It was a lot of spinach.

Oops... that's for the cook, not the dinner.

It was a lot of spinach. Now it's just an adequate amount of spinach.

I forgot to mention that you should start a pot of water boiling before you begin in order to cook the penne. I wondered to myself why no one shows a picture of the pasta cooking, so I took one. Now, I know why. It's not terribly interesting. That's two pounds of pasta, by the way. I can't think of the last time I cooked less than two pounds at a time.

About the time my pasta went in, I poured in a pint of heavy cream to my chicken mixture, reduced the heat (you really want to do this or bad things will happen to the sauce), and let it simmer, stirring it occasionally. It will thicken a bit.

While this simmered and the pasta cooked, I took the French bread I had thrown in the oven out to cool.

Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I added it to the cool blue pot with the chicken mixture in it.

To serve, sprinkle on some Parmesan, or as in our case Romano cheese. (Romano isn't made with cow's milk, so my people who can't do cow's milk dairy can eat it.)

The results? It was pretty good. Pretty good as in everyone had seconds. To review, that was one package of chicken breasts, some red spicy stuff, minced garlic (as much as you want), a little olive oil, a huge bag of baby spinach, two pounds of penne, 1 pint of cream, and some hard grating cheese. This served 9 people with some leftover for lunch today. I'll let you make the necessary adjustments for your size crew.

I think now I'm supposed to end it with some cute word like yummy or something.

Oh, I want to brag a little about A. Yesterday, a package arrived in the mail. When she opened it, she discovered that she received a letter for being on the varsity crew team. (Although we did have to have a discussion as to what it was, poor homeschooled child.) She also received a star pin from the life guard accrediting agency at work for doing so well on the life guard inspection.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

They walk among us

Everywhere you go, you come across them, whether you know it or not. They are school teachers. Swim teachers and life guards. Math tutors and scholarship recipients. Moms raising children. Interns at the Smithsonian and children's hospitals. Camp counselors. Students TA's on international student trips. IT workers. Artists and musicians. Pre-med students in exclusive undergraduate programs. Researchers at botanic gardens. Babysitters. Dog walkers. They are on your children's sport teams, scout programs, music schools, and dance ensembles. You probably come in contact with a few every single day.

They are...

[Cue ominous music]


[Cue frightened screams]

Yes, it's true. homeschoolers walk among us and you probably aren't aware of it. Contrary to what you might think, they are excellent at blending in to surrounding society. If you want to be safe and identify them, stop looking for foil being worn on the head. Stop looking for the unwashed person staring at the wall whenever someone approaches them. Stop looking for the person who obviously cannot cope with everyday skills and needs individual assistance with everything. Start looking at the functional people and ask, "Could they have been homeschooled?" Take a deep breath. I know it's frightening and this truth really does turn your world upside down, but you need to know and understand this if you are going to continue to avoid these loathsome, uneducated, socially backwards creatures.

Oh, I know there are always some aberrant examples; the few that everyone points to and exclaims, "See!? See?! Homeschooling is a failure and a curse upon society!" But I have to tell you that homeschoolers are, as a whole, much sneakier than that. You will have to dig a little deeper in order to identify them to ferret them out and show them for what they truly are. You might have to engage in a conversation with some of them. This is not an endeavor to be taken lightly, though. You must protect yourself first. Be sure to put on your contamination suit and mask. You wouldn't want to be infected yourself. They always sound so... normal. Without proper precautions, you may be swayed by their arguments and go to the other side. Be careful. Only discuss things long enough to gain the necessary information. They are very good at logic and will use it without hesitation.

I don't mean to alarm you with this, but it is better to be prepared. In order to fight your enemy, you must be prepared. Knowledge is power.
I don't know why I read comments on posts. On the comments on a link to a new Amazon product for teachers, it quickly degraded into an illogical, name calling, fact eschewing homeschooling bashing fest. It was so bad that it could have been excellent fodder for The Onion. Truly, do people really think that homeschoolers are collectively so unsuccessful that they deserve that kind of abuse? And to the supposed college professors who proclaimed that the only homeschoolers who had come through their classes were so woefully unprepared that they liken homeschooling to child abuse... Well, I can say for a fact that every homeschooler I know who has gone to college would never (unless asked) tell a professor they were homeschooled. It's not as though a student walks into a classroom, goes up to the professor after the first day of class, and says, "Hey, I just thought you should know I was homeschooled." Who does that? These particular professors have probably had dozens of successful homeschooled students in their classes and never known it. We're sneaky that way.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ladies who lunch

I very dear friend of mine is a sort-of honorary grandmother around here. One of the wonderful things she does for us is to every so often come and take a child or two out to lunch. G. and L. have watched older siblings go to lunch with our friend for a very long time and have been asking and asking when they will get to go. Well, today was the day! They dressed up and were ready to leave hours before she was due to get here. F i n a l l y (to them) she arrived. I was able to get a picture before they all headed out the door.

You can be amazed at the general cooperativeness for the picture taking... it also show just how excited the girls were to go that they would agree to something they would normally balk at.

I have some other news from the morning and another item to be filed under the heading of siblings and play is good therapy. Nefertiti has quickly become a favorite around here because of her liking of attention. I was sitting in my bedroom trying to quietly sip my morning cup of coffee when a parade of cats comes mewing and crawling through. I wasn't surprised at all to see H. and Y. being cats, but what completely shocked me was to discover R. at the end of the cat parade crawling (CRAWLING!) and mewing with the other girls. People... she was CRAWLING voluntarily. Now, to be honest, if a real cat walked like she was crawling you would be scooping it up and running to the pet ER before I had finished typing this sentence, but it was still a genuine crawl. Knee, hand, knee, hand alternating. The only time I have ever seen her do this was after working with her for a bit, moving her limbs for her. Her initial tries were always parallel instead of alternating motion. And the fact that in addition to the real crawling she was imagining she was a cat... Well... I'm kind of speechless. And thrilled. And more than a wee bit relieved because sometimes it feels as though real progress is hard to find and slow to come. Trust me, I will be smiling about this all day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

How to schedule your homeschool year

Yeah, that title makes it look as though I know what I'm doing, and after 18 years, you would think I did, huh? I've done different things over the years, but much of it involved doing a more traditional nine month school schedule with the summer months off. Well, actually, what I planned was a nine month traditional schedule with a very light schedule in the summer, thinking if we didn't quit completely those first few days back wouldn't be quite so torturous. What really happens is that the "lighter" schedule last all of a few days and then we totally let things slide and fully embrace a non-academic summer.

This schedule isn't bad, and I know that the children and I can use the mental break, but here is what has always bothered me about it. By the middle of summer, the idea of completely structure-less days have lost their shine a bit and people could use a little mental stimulation. This usually happens long about the time I am knee deep in books planning for the next school year and so while I have the structure that I have been craving, there are feral children prowling around the edges of the book castle I have barricaded myself in.

It is a bit of a relief when our regular school schedule starts in again. For a while. We do great for a few weeks, but then everyone is kind of ready for a break long about the four or five week mark, but our schedule says to keep going. We do, but with less enthusiasm. Now, if you are homeschooling, it is true that it takes precedence over other things, say, keeping the house clean. We do pick-up, but that really heavy organizing and cleaning is put off. Thus by the time the actual break in the schedule happens, the house is in a rapidly declining state of disarray. This entropy does not help with anyone's enthusiasm about school, because, frankly, it's hard to think in the midst of chaos.

I have always thought that the perfect schedule would be four or five weeks on, with two weeks off. I don't know why I've never tried it. Yesterday, I counted and five weeks on, two weeks off still gives the legally required number of attendance days. (Though, since my children are learning all the time, even when they don't have a textbook open, I find the whole idea of a homeschool attendance day to be, shall we say fluid? at best and ludicrous at worst.) I might toy around with on and off weeks, particularly around the holidays, but it actually seems workable. I think we may actually try it this year.

As I think about it, it would give us one summer term, where we would finish the things from last year. The first half of 2016 was not calm and peaceful, and sometimes school was put on the back burner in favor of mental health. There are still some things I'd like to cover before we move on. Then we would have a break right around the time when others would be going back to school and be able to take advantage of the empty museums and beautiful weather. September in Chicago is possibly the very best weather month in the entire year. I might even play around a bit with the five/two ratio and change it each time. This would be for more me, as I seem to tire easily of routine.

So, that's the plan for now, I'll keep you updated as to how it goes. Plus, I get to play with stacks of books sooner. I like books. I like making schedules. It's my own little geeky version of summertime fun.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

A broken and messy people

There have been more than a few instances in the past week, when I have been reading something, and just have to shake my head at our collective inability to stop pretending that any of us even remotely has things together. The majority of these posts have to do with adoption and adoptive parenting. Some others have to do with parenting in general. I think this is because parenting, and particularly adoptive parenting brings us face to face with our own shortcomings. It is very humbling work.

The story line goes something like this. A parent writes a post sharing something hard, something not perfect about themselves or their relationship to their child. It can be a little raw; a little soul bearing. And suddenly, you see it everywhere. Comments abound with phrases such as, "I thought I was the only one!" The relief that follows when someone learns they are not the only one to struggle is immense.

The flip side of this is the type of post which encourages parents, particularly of children with difficult backgrounds, when other people judge them or don't understand the type of parenting these children require. Once again, the comments are filled with comments of, "I feel completely misunderstood most of the time." The sad thing is the most judgement comes from inside of the church. Oh, and the grocery store. A book could probably be written about bad conversations which happen at the grocery store. Evidently shopping for food does not bring out the best in us.

I've tried to be pretty open about our struggles and imperfections on this blog, and if you think I have it all together most of the time, then I have failed in that endeavor. Because the truth is, I don't. I am just like anyone else in the world. I mess up. I make mistakes. I don't do things I'm supposed to. I don't treat people nicely all the time. I don't always do the best things for my children, and sometimes even when I think something is the best thing, it turns out not to be, so my judgement is impaired as well. If parenting twelve children has taught me anything, it is that I am not perfect. I'm not even close to perfect. Perfect and I are not even in the same universe. My children are not perfect, either, and I have given up trying to get them to play along with that little illusion. I am a very different parent than when I first started out 23 years ago. I knew more back then, but there's a lot less pressure now.

Here is what I really want to tell all of you. I know you are not perfect either. I know your children are not perfect. We are all allowed to have bad days. Heck, we're even allowed to have bad years. Think how much more pleasant life would be if we could all just get over ourselves.Think what it would be like if we could all just sit back for a moment and remember not any one of us is perfect... that we all make mistakes... before lighting the proverbial flames throwers. I don't know why someone's mistakes, imperfections, humanness, throw us all into such a tizzy. Is it because we are all so afraid that someone will find out we are not perfect that we have to lash out to avoid contamination? I don't know.

What I do know is that no one should ever have cause to write that the place they feel most judged is inside the church. We are all a broken and messy people. Most religions of the world spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out what to do about that. There are all sorts of plans for getting around the messiness... rule following, mental and physical exertions, learning to completely deny oneself so as to become separate from the messiness. But this is Christianity's ace in the hole. Jesus acknowledges our messiness. He doesn't ask us to change because He knows we can't. No matter how hard we try, we just cannot attain perfection. Yet Jesus loves us anyway. Loves us enough that He substituted His perfection for our imperfection. We just have to let Him. We don't have to become perfect or pretend to be, we just have to let Jesus be perfect for us.

Because of this, instead of trying expect ourselves and other Christians to be perfect... or pretend to be... we should be doubly accepting of each other's imperfections and love them anyway. Changing a person is not our job, and just as we cannot make ourselves perfect, we certainly cannot make someone else perfect, either. We're all messes. We sometimes forget our role in the whole salvation department is to share how Jesus entered our own messiness and loved us anyway. We are not someone else's salvation. Yes, God can use us, but He really doesn't need us. We often take too much upon ourselves and lose sight of the greatness of Jesus in the process.

Instead, let us remember our own messiness first, before commenting on the messiness of others. We should never expect from someone else what we are incapable of doing ourselves. The joy of knowing we are loved greatly despite our imperfections should be what people see in the church first. And the joy is great... if we allow Jesus to carry our burdens for us.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Beach pictures

I have sat here and stared at the computer for longer than I should have hoping for some inspiration as to what to write today. And I've got nothin'. Then I remembered that there were some pictures on the camera from when J. and TM took the littles to the beach a week or so ago. So you get beach pictures.

L. and H. (who had decided for some reason she didn't want to put on a swimming suit.)




L. and G.



TM took these pictures and I also discovered that he had taken some other non-people shots that look pretty good to me. So now I will share those and upgrade the quality of photographs on the blog significantly.

Facing northward

Facing southward... yes, that's Chicago. We live in a very urban area remember.

It's a smallish sand beach, so he must have been over on the edge to take this picture.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Cats: An annotated reading list

J. and I had a wonderful time last night. We ended up going out with very good friends to a nearly-new seafood restaurant in Chicago and ate our weight in crab, lobster, mussels, etc. It was very good and the company even better. Our friends even brought some champagne along. (It was BYOB.) We had such a good time that we ended up closing down the place. Yes, they turned the lights out as soon as we exited through the door. It was a great way to celebrate 25 years, especially since these friends have been a part of our lives for 20 of them. (Thanks, P Family!)

In other news, Nefertiti is settling in. All three animals have the run of the house now and Kenzie has stopped barking at the new cat and the new cat has stopped hissing (it's an impressive hiss) at all four-legged residents. She is also showing herself to be a true lap cat. If you sit down for any length of time, there is a good chance she will end up in your lap and purr. Just what I hoped for. Her name, though seems to be a bit fluid. While her official name is Nefertiti, more often than not, the little (and some not so little people) end up calling her Fat Cat. As in, "Look! I'm strong enough to pick up Fat Cat!" Another child evidently has 'Nefertiti' and 'Aphrodite' filed in the same folder in his brain and Aphrodite usually is what comes out first. To save effort, he has decided that he will just call her Aphrodite. This is what comes of teaching your children ancient history. Nefertiti seems happy enough with her new family, though I think she wishes the food were more plentiful.

Speaking of cats, I want to introduce you to a new blog project I've been planning. When I was younger I kind of assumed that I would be a librarian. I loved books. I loved reading. I even cataloged my own personal library during the middle period of grade school. I also loved recommending books to people... and still do. (There's a connection between all of this, I promise.) Prompted by several emails I've received from grandmothers thanking me for the book recommendations which they use to supply their grandchildren with books, I've decided to occasionally take a topic and create an annotated book list based on that topic. This is my compromise position to a bigger project of creating an occasional unit study based on a topic and posting it on my blog. I love the process, but perhaps don't have quite enough time to do that particular project properly.

Thus, my inaugural annotated reading list topic will be.... Cats! (See, I told you there was a connection.) With the new cat joining our family, people around here have been all about cats and it is fresh in my mind. I'm happy to take suggestions for future topics as well. I should also add that I do not even begin to imagine that this is a definite list, just the books I'm aware of and that we like. (Oh, and I think legally I have to say every so often that the links are to my Amazon Associates account and I receive a teeny tiny bit of money if those links are used for purchases.)

Picture Books

The Zoom Trilogy: Zoom at Sea - Zoom Away - Zoom Upstream by Tim Wynne-Jones -- This is probably the least well known on my list. These are charming stories about a little white cat (named Zoom), whose uncle is a sea captain and who longs to go to sea. He does go to sea in the first book, followed by trips to Ancient Egypt and the North Pole in the following stories. The style is magic realism for the picture book crowd and they have been highly popular around here. More people should know about them.

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag -- A much older book, but one my children have enjoyed. A little old man goes in search of a kitten for his wife. Not being able to choose which cat is the prettiest, hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions of cats follow him home. When asked to choose among themselves which is the prettiest, they eventually eat each other up, leaving one sad, scared little kitten. The pictures are fun and the rhythm of the book makes it enjoyable to read out loud. (Though with our older children we sometimes discuss that one little white kitten who was left.... we don't trust him.)

Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley -- This was a newer discovery for us a couple of years ago. A tom cat in Venice suddenly finds himself in charge of three kittens. It is a cute story with Venice definitely being one of the characters.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel -- I'm adding this book because it was so popular with some of my girls. I'm not entirely sure what the appeal is, but I'm pretty sure that J. and I read it hundreds of times in the month we had it out of the library. We eventually started hiding it just to give us a break every now and then. It doubles as a kind of alphabet book with the list of things the bad kitty did being organized as an alphabet list. It is incredibly silly, but evidently hits just the right note for 7 - 10 year olds. (I would highly recommend checking this one out of the library so that if it drives you as batty as it did me, you always have a due date to save you.)

Cats by Seymour Simon - We are huge Seymour Simon fans around here. His photographic non-fiction books for children are excellent and filled with gorgeous photography. This title is no exception and everyone enjoyed looking at the photos of cute cats as well as learning about them.

Easy Readers - Is there any animal more suited to being the subject of easy readers? C-A-T is practically the first word a child learns to sound out. There are many, many, many options out there. These are just our favorites.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Suess -- I wasn't sure I should even add this to the list since it seems self-evident. Is there even anyone out there who hasn't heard of it? I would be very surprised. But it is still one of the best easy readers out there and doesn't grow old. Depending on how often I've read it or heard it read in a week, I do find, though, that my speech patterns start to mimic the rhythm of the book.

Pete the Cat by James Dean -- This is a new series for us. I found it when I was looking for birthday gifts and so far G. has enjoyed them. She particularly likes the little carrying case all the small books come in.

Early Chapter Books (for early independent readers)

Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin -- The first of a series (always a plus for this age), it introduces cats who have wings and their adventures. Most of my children have loved these books upon reaching this stage of reading. Plus, they are well-written by a good author.

Chapter Books (For an independent reader or as a read aloud... it really depends on the child.)

Socks by Beverly Cleary -- The adventures of a little black cat told by Beverly Cleary in her wonderful style. Parts can feel a little dated since it was originally written 1973, but it doesn't detract from the story told from the cat's point of view.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden -- I know, it's not a cricket list, but Harry the Cat is a key player in this story about a mouse who lives in the New York Subway system. This is one of my favorite books from my childhood and I am always excited when I have a child who is ready to read it. Plus, once you've read this one, you've met the characters and can then ready Harry Cat's Pet Puppy.

Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks -- Once again, though the title character is not a cat (he's a pig) Jinx the cat plays a key role in the narrative of this book and all the subsequent ones. If you haven't discovered this series you are missing out. They are loads of fun, if a little silly. We have traveled many, many miles listening to these books on recording.

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech -- Like its predecessor, Love That Dog, this book is told in poetic form. Each part of the story is told in a different poetic form, based on the style of poem the class in the book is studying. It sounds a bit odd, but works exceptionally well. Highly recommended.

I'm editing to add the adult selection that I forgot I was going to share. (I'll also come back and add books to the correct categories as I come across them... I can't help myself. I like a complete list.)


"Good-bye to All Cats" by P.G. Wodehouse -- This is a short story that was originally published in the collection called Young Men in Spats and is a Drones Club story. If you have never read any PG Wodehouse, you really, really need to get yourself to a library and check some out. It is terribly funny and this particular short story is possibly my favorite out of all of them, the Jeeves and Wooster stories included. I find it completely laugh out loud funny. I love it so much that if I ever have the chance to name a male cat, his name is going to be Freddy Widgen just because of this story. Do yourself a favor and go find a copy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

25 years

Today J. and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Kind of one of those big milestones, huh? Twenty-five years ago, J. and I had just graduated from graduate school on the same day a week earlier (from different schools at either end of the Chicago area), and thinking since family were all in town already, we would have the wedding a week later.

It wasn't a small wedding. We met when we were both doing youth ministry and dated in a veritable fish bowl of junior and senior high youth. When that many young people feel a part of your story, you can't not invite them to the wedding, so we did. I'm not sure J. or I either remember much of the wedding or the following reception itself, except that we stood for what turned out to be several hours in a receiving line. Everyone told us it was lovely and they had a wonderful time.

But as nice as the wedding was, it was truly window dressing. (Those who are planning weddings right now, realize that, right? That you probably won't remember much of it and in the end it doesn't really matter. It helps to keep things in perspective.) What really matters is the commitment you are making to each other. We had no idea that afternoon in June what our future life would look like together... which end of better or worse, richer or poorer, sick or well our life together would be our story. We just knew that we wanted to take on the adventure together.

I don't talk much about J. and what a fantastic husband and father he is, though I should, because he is. I'm sorry everyone, but I truly did win the husband lottery. Not only did I get to marry my best friend and he has stayed my best friend throughout the past 25 years, but I also married one of the finest men I know. He is intelligent, kind, patient (very patient... a nice foil for me and my impatience), funny, unselfish, calm, and extremely caring. I admire him greatly and truly can't fathom how I got to be so blessed as to end up with him. I am truly better with him then I am without him. I am blessed.

Happy Anniversary, J.! I would do it all over again in a second. Here's to another 25 years. Adventures are better with you. I love you.

We plan on going out to celebrate tonight. Somewhere. At a restaurant. If we can decide what that restaurant should be. Before the time for dinner is over. Big things we can decide on; little things, such as where to go to eat? Not so much.
Edited to add: A reader asked for some pictures. I found a couple of loose ones that I took some bad digital photos of. Here you go...

Here I am with my Maid of Honor, who is also J.'s sister.

At the beginning of the ceremony with me, my dad, J., and J.'s brother who was his best man.

A picture of the ceremony and the very full church. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It was fun until it wasn't

I finally broke down and bought something that I've been wanting for a long time. (It's always nice to do one fun thing with the tax refund.) Managing our picture book collection has been an ongoing struggle, especially without those nice forward-facing bookshelves designed specifically for picture books. Well, I finally solved the problem by buying the actual bookcases. They arrived yesterday and I spent some time putting them together. 

I am exceedingly happy with them. I guessed at the size we needed and am happy to report that I guessed right. Our books are divided into seasons and I rotate them through. When I was reorganizing the school room, I did some purging and resorting to make sure the amounts were about the for all seasons. This means that if the summer books fit (which they do), these shelves will work all year 'round. 

Here they are. 

I put them on the third floor landing.

Someday, when I find one, I think a nice beanbag chair would work here as well.

Now here's the second part of the story. The bookcases came in that thin, crumbly Styrofoam. It proved to be more than a little irresistible to some little girls I know. It was a hot day and fairly unpleasant to be outside in. The little girls decided that making snow was the perfect activity for such a hot day. Normally, I would be hiding that Stryofoam immediately, but today it seemed like a fun activity while I put bookcases together.

And it was fun. These pictures don't even show the extent of the "snow" that covered the front hall and drifted into other rooms. But then it was time to clean it up and then it wasn't so much fun. My transition-challenged, easily frustrated children both didn't want the fun to end and were overwhelmed with the extent of the clean-up.

We were all still at it when J. and TM arrived home. It only took another half an hour with two adults, one 13 yo boy, and three (more or less helpful) little girls working. Dinner was a little later than planned. We may also be finding little Styrofoam bits roaming the house for months to come.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy 13th Birthday, D.!

Today is D.'s 13th birthday, though we celebrated it last Saturday. H. and K. started church camp yesterday and both were a little upset at the thought of missing a birthday celebration.

Strawberry pie for dessert and TM holding the '13' candles.

Gift opening

A book! I love R.'s reaction.

Other than books, D. asked for many decks of cards. To do magic tricks with, you know. 

What was going on on the other side of the room.

Y. worked very hard and made D. a crown.

And some picture from church camp drop-off.



And the non-campers spending some time looking at fish and bugs in the lake.

Today, we started off D.'s real birthday with donuts and (my plan, at least) a movie at the theater because I thought the summer dollar movies were on Mondays and Tuesdays. Thus, we loaded up everyone with the promise of a movie. But...

we got to the theater and I had read the webpage wrong. Movies are on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. No movie today. Which is why at approximately 10:20 this morning you would have seen me walking down the street with two very disappointed and sobbing 7 year olds. We went home, found a movie on Netflix, made some popcorn and redeemed the rough start. We'll have to see what else we can do to make D.'s day special. Give him a balloon and then pop it? Eat all of the rest of the leftover strawberry pie? So many possibilities... I'll have to think about it. (You all know I'm joking, right? Things are just fine here now and D. is enjoying his day.)

Happy Birthday, my dear D.! I love you!! You are kind and caring and a joy to have around. I am amazed at all of your talent and love seeing what you'll do next. I love you and am so proud of you!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Just a normal sort of day

Not much going on around here...

J. took some little people to a nearby street fair this morning while I taught. L. got to try doing silks at the circus arts tent.

M. has been making life size children puppets, a boy and a  girl, for a show. These puppets are now done (I think) and we keep finding them sitting around. It is more than a little disturbing to walk into a room and find a child you weren't expecting to see and at the same realize that it's not really a child. It takes a moment for all the information to meet in your brain and I think nearly all of us have been startled by them.

And to top it off, P. and I drove a ways west to bring home our newest family member. Meet Nefertiti... whom we found through a Doberman rescue.

Cutest Doberman you've even seen, huh?

She reportedly adores people and loves to sit on laps.

If that's the case, then she will become my own personal therapy cat.

That last picture is deceiving. This girl is weighing in at a hefty 14 pounds and is pretty solid around the middle. I'm thinking a little reducing will be in order, though roaming a three-story house won't hurt, either.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pushing and loving

There is a tension that is a constant companion when parenting children with more than your average number of challenges. That would be the ongoing challenge of balancing the desire to help your child achieve all that they are capable of and accepting your child just as they are. I find it to be such a fine line that I am continually veering off the edge on one side or another, given the situation at any moment of the day.

I have a pretty continual running dialogue in my head over what is best at that moment. If I just push a tiny bit harder will I encourage her to get past the hard and do it? Am I asking too much? If we give up on this now are we stopping just short of a new skill? Shouldn't I just accept my children as they are and be patient about what the future holds for them? These are the types of questions that echo in my head. And usually the answer is I have no idea; I'm really just making this up as I go along and relying heavily on my gut instincts.

Sometimes the decision is based on how much energy we all have at a given moment. Some days I just accept where everyone is. No one has the energy to do anything else. Other days (and I can't even tell you why exactly) are more pushing days. It just feels as though the child is ready for something more, and so we work. And then there are the days where I just can't allow this child to stay in this place and I push a little harder than usual.

I always feel a little mean, pushing a child. Staying at one developmental level is easy and it is hard work to learn new skills; to try new and uncomfortable things. Yet, sometimes that little extra push is what was needed because suddenly the awareness that they are capable of more grabs hold of them. They have caught a glimpse of being able to do new things and the next day I will discover a child trying out the skill on their own, voluntarily, that we worked so hard to do the day before.

R.'s most recent accomplishment is case in point. Body awareness and movement is a struggle for her. She doesn't move through space easily and often seems to not know where her body is. Yesterday as we were working (again) on not stepping on things or walking into people, I realized that while she can walk, in reality she has very little independent leg movement. It is very difficult, if not impossible for her to lift one leg for the duration it takes her to figure out the best place to put her foot down. Until a child can do that, it means living with Godzilla stomping through Tokyo. There is nothing physically wrong with her legs (yes, I had it checked out with the doctor... put the flame throwers away), so I decided that it was worth the sanity of the entire family to work on leg independence in the form of standing on one leg.

And so we worked on it. Even just me holding on to her and lifting one leg elicited unhappy shrieks. (Shrieking is her default mode of showing unhappiness.) We worked for a little bit, her shrieking, me feeling rotten and encouraging her, with the angel child phenomenon twirling around us. You know this phenomenon, right? Where one child gets in trouble or can't do something and suddenly every other child in the house has polished their halos and points out how good they are? Well, this time, it was every other child in the house, including Y., "helpfully" showing me how they can stand on one leg. H. also used the moment to process her own development asking if I had to teach her how to stand on one leg since she couldn't remember. I told her that yes, I had to teach her. She was just quieter.

Today? R. has decided that she is going to figure this out. I have caught her practicing multiple times this morning. (And the fact that she is taking the initiative to do this is as huge as the physical skill. Maybe bigger.) Finally, R. called my name and I looked and see that she is on the balance beam (voluntarily and got up on her own) and she is practicing standing on one leg. See?

Now, we still have some work to do to achieve actual balance, but the fact that she is voluntarily standing on one leg, especially after our experience yesterday, is pretty much beyond words.

Sometimes baby steps are really, really big.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Promised pictures

All the birthday people were celebrated last night. I sometimes forget how unusual it is to have three children all share the same birthday until we are on round 3 of singing Happy Birthday. Here are some pictures.




L. clutching the present she specifically asked for.

A Cubs hat.

Here's why I have better pictures of L., G. was on the couch surrounded by many sisters. And look! Kenzie was able to come to the party and not have to be excused. We're still getting used to having a calm dog.



G. who was a little excited about the Shopkins. 

Both girls asked for Shopkins and they received them with great enthusiasm. I really don't get Shopkins, but when is it practically the only your children ask for, it's what you get. And now some other girls in the house also think that Shopkins are the exact thing they need for our next gift-giving occasion. I still don't get them.

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