Saturday, July 30, 2016

Library love

We use our library a lot. I mean really a lot. Routinely we will have upwards of 80 books checked out at a time, and when I'm doing research on something it can be significantly more. As a result, many of the librarians at both our nearby branch library and the main library know us. (It also doesn't hurt that we are a very conspicuous family.) I love that since it just makes the library easier to navigate for everyone... and makes it easier to check out the 80-100 books that we do.

One of the great perks of our library system is that I can reserve any number of library books and have them sent down to our branch library, which is just two blocks away and an easy walk. I can even send a child to get them for me if I need to. I'm pretty spoiled in the that respect. It also means that the librarians are well aware of what we are currently studying or what topics I'm planning because they see the mountains of books which come in with my name on them.

But today, I have reached a new level of library usage. I ran over to get the new pile of books that was waiting for me and the librarian mentions that she knows what we are learning about. I tell her I'm in the middle of planning the next school year and that yes indeed, we will be learning about birds. She gets very excited as only a good librarian can be and says, "I have some great books. Do I want to see them?" What a silly question. Of course I want to see them. We look at the books she brings and I add them to my pile. I mention that as well as birds we will be learning about the US presidents. Once again she gets excited and runs and gathers more books. I add those to my pile as well.

As I'm getting ready to leave, she says she'll keep thinking about what other books might be good and could she reserve them for me. Of course I said yes. On a whim I also add that she can add whatever books to my reserve list that she thinks I will like. Her eyes gleam at the carte blanche I've just handed her and I'm sure my eyes gleam in return thinking of the books that will appear as if by magic for me at the library.

It's like having my own personal librarian.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Assistance devices

Yesterday the bright pink forearm crutches arrived in the mail. A. was here and helped Y. get set-up with them. (I was with another child at another doctor's appointment. It's what I do.) When I got home, Y. was very excited to show them to me and how she could use them. Plus, they could also double as toy guns and as baseball bats. They seemed to her like a really cool toy. J. and I decided that the transition to using them was not going to be as bad as we were anticipating. Sometimes I love it when I'm wrong.

And then this morning came. As everyone was getting themselves ready to leave for VBS, I told Y. that she should remember to grab her new crutches. There was a pause as she stared at me and then said, "Why?"
"Because they are for you to use so you can keep your balance and move faster."
"I don't want to. There are stairs."
"Well, hold them while you go up the stairs and then use them again."

A pouting face and stink eye was then directed towards me. I'll spare you the rest of the downwardly spiraling conversation and leave it at she did ultimately leave with the crutches in hand.

I feel for her. I know she hates anything that sets her apart from everyone else. I can't blame her; who does? Y., we are learning, is fantastically smart and along with that comes a keen awareness of others, her surroundings, and how she fits into it all. She knows other children as a rule don't use crutches and given a choice she would rather fit in than use them.

I wish I could give her that choice. The truth is, though, that without them she will have a harder time just keeping up and not using them will limit her more. Without them she falls... a lot... since her balance is one of the things affected by the CP. She also moves slower than the other children and has complained about this to me on more than one occasion. The crutches, once she learns to use them effectively, will help her increase her speed significantly. They may make her look different, but in the end they will allow her to keep up with everyone.

This is why we had to play the mean parent card this morning and insist she take and use them, even though it wasn't making her happy. Blessings on our church family who all reacted extremely positively to their appearance with positive statement all around. This is going to be a stretch for Y. as she learns to use the tools available to her, even if she is not in love with them. I wish I could wave a wand and erase the need for them.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Take me out to the ballgame... and the Father of the Year

You may or may not be aware of L.'s current obsession with baseball. (And when L. has an obsession, it is so all-consuming, that everyone in the house is sucked into her obsession vortex.) She wears her Cubs hat, can tell you who the Chicago teams are and if they are doing well or not, and actually looks at the sports section on purpose (a section which around here usually stays in its pristine, just-delivered state.) Her goal this summer was to get to go to an actual real live ballgame.

J. enjoys watching a baseball game, so he was up for taking her. He looked into Cubs tickets and decided that a minor league game might be a better option. This is why he found himself driving 1 1/2 hours last night with five young ones in tow to watch a Kane County Cougers game. L. was more than a little excited, and H., K., G., and Y. all thought that it would fun to go along as well.

That would normally be a 1 1/2 hour drive, if it weren't for having to go during rush hour. From J.'s description, the drive sounded miserable, not because of the children, but because of the traffic. They made it by the middle of the first inning and found their seats. I should really have J. writing this post because then he could regale you with actual stories of how he never really got to watch the game. He did get to stand in line for food and to take people to the restroom, and to stand in line for drinks and to take people to the restroom and stand in line for ice cream and to take people to the restroom. The little people got to watch the game.

L. (who had brought her mitt) and Y. were particularly excited by the foul balls that flew over their heads and were convinced they were going to be able to catch one. Sadly, they never did, but I think the Cracker Jack, peanuts, hot dogs, ice cream, and the actual game made up for it.

When it was time to go, the fun didn't end for J., though. Because they arrived after the start of the game, they had had to park quite a ways away. I can just picture J., carrying a tired Y. on his back who wouldn't have made it otherwise, herding the other tired four children towards the car to head home. Then he got to drive another 1 1/2 hours. At least the traffic was better at that time of night. They hit the house at about 11 pm, where L. pretty much collapsed. I had to carry her upstairs and put her pajamas on her. They were very tired and happy children and J. was a very tired father.

Yet this morning, all five of them were up bright and early in order to head off to another day of Vacation Bible School. I think I may resort to an afternoon of quiet movie watching for them followed by an early bedtime. I hope we all make it till then.

L. is now talking about the next time she goes to a ballgame...
I have a new article published: Does Older Child Adoption Equal Special Needs? I greatly appreciate everyone who reads and shares my articles. It means I make a little more money and my editors like me. Thanks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pick a card, any card

I've threatened to have this made into a t-shirt for D. to save him the energy of saying it repeatedly. This summer, D. has decided to renew his attempt at learning sleight of hand magic. I'm his mother and may be a bit biased, but I have to say, I'm impressed. When he first started out I could usually see what he was doing and how it did a trick. For the past few weeks... ? Well, more than once he has performed a trick and it was both surprising and baffling. At first, I could usually tell what the 'magic' part was going to be. Now, I just don't know half the time. Also at first, even if I didn't see how the trick worked, I could usually figure out how he did it, but there have been a couple of time now that he has completely stumped me. It's been fun to watch the self-teaching process.

It also takes a fairly thick skin, especially when you are practicing for siblings. Siblings, especially siblings who have gotten over the whole do-a-magic-trick-to-me phase, are a tough audience and do not hesitate to point out any mistakes. It has all paid off, though, in that it pushes D. to practice harder. It is rare to see him without a deck of cards in his hands. It is also rare to find a surface in my house without a stray playing card adorning it. I had no idea that magicians were so hard on cards and needed so many. If anyone has spare decks that they don't want lying about their house, I know a boy who could make use of them.

A funny story is that Y. is pretty much D.'s little shadow. She adores him, and anything he does. Consequently, she has gotten him to teach her some magic tricks. It is pretty cute to have her come up to you, hold out the cards, and say, "Pick a card, any card." Of course, she is not as practiced and it is a bit like watching a magic trick in slow motion. I will admit that I have now figured out how D. does some of his tricks by watching Y. perform them. 

I will now attempt to share a very short clip of D. doing a magic trick. If it works, it is only two seconds long, but it is cool watch. If you have the sound up, that's TM playing in the background.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The wonderful world of orthotics

Y. had an appointment with the people who are going to make her leg braces (AFO's -- ankle-foot orthotics) today. You would think, at least I did, that getting Y. sorted out was going to be fairly straight-forward. I learned long ago that seizure disorders and tissue and bone overgrowth are not so quickly sorted out, but R. and H.'s issues are part of a very rare syndrome. I figured from the outset things would be complicated and time- consuming. Cerebral palsy does not fit in the rare disease category and providers treat and manage it all the time.

Well, it turns out that would be true if Y. were a small child, in whom the CP was recently diagnosed, which is what would happen if she had been born in the US. It seems that seeing a nine year old with moderate CP and making a treatment plan is an anomaly and everyone is a little hesitant to be the one to start anything. It thought it made the most sense to get the AFO's and then starting therapy, since the orthopedic doctor thought the therapy would be useful in helping her figure out her assisted-mobility devices. At the orthotics place, though, they were hesitant to make anything before talking to the therapist because she seems to have two different needs. They did take molds, though, so once the therapist and orthotist talk, we don't have to go back in before the AFO's can be made. So, now I have a call into the pediatric therapy place to get Y. a screening appointment, so that the therapist can talk to the orthotist, so that the AFO's can be made, so that she can use them in therapy.

The other little May Pole I have been dancing around it trying to get forearm crutches ordered. The orthotics place (which was where the orthopedist thought I could get them) doesn't carry them. They did give me the name of another supplier, so I called them. That place has forearm crutches... but not for children. They suggested the orthotics place, which had recommended them. Well, today at the appointment, I was given some names to try online and was able to come home and order some hot pink ones for Y. At the rate we're moving, I'm quite sure these will have arrived before the therapy appointment.

Compared to this, making MRI and EEG appointments is a breeze. I know, because I've done this times two this past week as well. The second half of summer is shaping up to be just one fun-filled event after another. I know you're all jealous.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Ooooo, look!

It's that time of year again... time for homeschool planning for the next school year. I am so excited in a totally nerdy sort of way. I get to make lists and do research and look at books and plan art projects and make schedules. I love this. I think I love it more than actually acting on the lists and schedules and plans. I decided to start this week, since the noisier half of the children are at Vacation Bible School every morning this week and I can get a jump start on the planning. 

In preparation, I headed out to the craft store yesterday to pick up a few things. I should not go to the craft store. I am not one to impulse buy except at just a few places and the craft store is one of them. But look! How could you pass this up? I've never seen anything like it before and I think you should be impressed that I stopped at purchasing just one.

It looks just like a cute little blank box. If this were all it was, then chances are I would have just walked past it. But it is not just a cute little blank box, look at what it does!

You take the lid off and it opens up. Looking at the picture on the packaging, I thought its walls just folded out, but it is even cooler than that because as you can see, it has pages, too. It is totally the coolest things ever!!!

Think of the possibilities for school room activities!!

Well, I had to buy at least one, so wandered around some more to see if I could decide what to do with the first one. One of the things we will be studying is birds, which gave me an idea when I saw these cute little birdies hanging out in another area of the store. I can't wait to put it all together.

I'll show you the finished project once I have it done.

I love homeschooling planning. Do you think anyone would pay me to make custom unit study plans? That would be fun, too. More planning! Probably it wouldn't be cost effective. It's not that I buy particularly expensive items, but by the time you add up supplies and time, it would either be too expensive or I'd be making pennies an hour. Oh well, I'll enjoy my smaller people who will still play with things like this while I can.

Now, off to use the laminator.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Yahtzee and the ZPD... and a happy H. update

When you do enough reading in early childhood education, child development, and play theory, there are certain names that you start to see over and over again. Lev Vygotsky is one of those names. He is the educational theorist who developed the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZPD. Essentially what this means is that all of us, and children in particular, have things we can do on our own, things we can do with help, and things we cannot do. The Zone of Proximal Development are the things a person can do with outside help, or mediation. In terms of child development and education, this means that the teacher (or parent or facilitator) is noticing what the child can do with help, and then providing that help until the child can do it on his own. As you can imagine, the ZPD for anyone is constantly moving and changing as the child develop new skills and abilities.

I'm in the middle of a fantastic book about children and executive function (I'll blog about it when I'm done), and there has been a lot of discussion about development and ZPD, so it was fresh in my mind the other day when I agreed to sit down and play Yahtzee with K., Y., H., and L. Boy, talk about a game that is smack dab in the middle of each of those children's ZPD's. Skip counting and by extension multiplying, graph completion, holding multiple numbers in ones head as you write them down, translating English words into numerals, heck, just remembering how to write numerals, are all things this particular crew is working on at the moment and I don't think I could have designed a game that hit so many skills all at the same time. Plus, they are all really enjoying playing it, so it doesn't seem like a school activity to them. It's a win all the way around.

As I thought about it more, though, I have become more and more astounded that H. can play it. And she does, with very little help. If you are new to our family and with H.'s journey in particular, you might find it interesting to go back and read a few posts to catch-up, in order to fully appreciate what I'm going to share.

H. has been home 6 months
Another update on H.
Learning there is comfort
Loving and fixing
One year ago
My science experiment report

I can't quite believe I was writing about the same child then, who is currently sitting behind me doing one of those dot-to-dot puzzles which have hundreds of dots in them. And doing it accurately, I might add. This same child who could not identify numbers or had any idea what a number stood for four years ago, and just two years ago couldn't remember how to write and identify numbers past '6'.

I can't believe that this is the same child who was just telling me all the different ways she can jump on the trampoline, the child who runs without trouble or effort, the child who has complete and total control over her body.

I can't believe that this is the same child who would disassociate at the drop of a hat, the second anything seemed stressful, and by anything I mean everything. She spent a good chunk of her first year here, not really here at all. Now, she is present, does not hesitate to share her current emotional state, tries things that may be hard, is aware of the people around her and what they are doing, and joins in without being prodded. I remember telling J. a few years ago that I will be thrilled if the day ever comes if when at the dinner table H. was aware of the conversation and joined in of her own volition. Well, somewhere along that line that happened and I didn't even notice.

We are particularly struck with how far H. has come since bringing R. home. The contrast is stunning. And it happened so slowly that we weren't even totally aware of the magnitude of change. Even the smallest members of the family have commented on it. It's truly as if H. has jumped ahead by years in every area of development in the past year. She has reached a level of achievement that in my worst moments four years ago, I couldn't even imagine her reaching.

H. also 'gets' R. as no one else does. She is so incredibly helpful and patient with her and has truly become my right hand where R. is concerned. H. watches what things I am working with R. on, and I will come across her later on encouraging her to do the same things.

And the best yet? I am absolutely over-the-moon in love with this daughter of mine, just as with the others. There were also days... years... where I wondered if I would have to fake it for a lifetime. But truly the best gift in all of this is the deep feeling I have for her.

I wanted to encourage R. in making big pictures. I asked H. to sit with us and draw a big picture of her own. Here is what she drew.

These are trees in fall, and on the ground are leaves and a little dog. Completely original and made up from her own mind.

I wish I had more of her early artwork to compare it to. Essentially the early stuff all looked like an early toddler's drawing. This picture makes me so happy.

Realizing that I am missing the 'before', I am going to share some of R.'s work, which she worked on at the same time. As you might have guessed from the rather vague radio silence, life with R. is currently challenging. If I am honest, I would assess much of her current abilities at an 18-month old level. Big change often causes regression in a child, and I'm afraid that for poor R., regression came with a vengeance. We are hopeful (usually) that by meeting her where she is emotionally and cognitively, that we can encourage growth and development.

So for comparison's sake a few years from now, here is her first drawing from the afternoon.

She told me it was a dog. I decided that we needed to back up a step or two (something I find myself doing in just about every area with her these days.) We worked on drawing circles instead.

Here is her first attempt on her own.

So we did some drawing together. After a while, she drew these on her own.

After a while, though, we were back to the non-circles again. If I learned anything from H., it is that the same things need to be repeated over and over until they are firmly lodged in the brain. So that's what we will do. In short spurts... for both our sanity.

Whenever I feel discouraged about R., it does help to spend some time with H. and remember how far she has come. It gives me hope.

And my last little bit of really good news? Well, first go back and read that science experiment post I linked to up above if you haven't already. When I was going through old posts to share here, I saw that one and on a whim decided to see if the gap in H.'s understanding of conservation was still there. We got out the glasses, we poured, we talked, we measured, and then I held my breath and asked the question, "Does this have more?" She pauses, looks at me for a moment with a look that says, "I'm wondering if my mother has lost her mind," and says, "No, it's the same amount of water."

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, July 22, 2016

But how will I practice my mad kick boxing skills now?

Laundry is a perpetual issue for every family, and the more children you have, the more laundry you have. It's just something that can't be avoided. If I am on top of my game, as as long as I do laundry every day, I can keep it down to just one load a day, only having to do more than that if, a) a child has hoarded their laundry and an entire wardrobe comes down the laundry chute at one time, or b) we (or some portion of us) have been on vacation, or c) there have been particularly messy activities enjoyed. 

Or my life for the last year, your washing machine is breaking and you cannot afford to either get a new one or fix it. (From long experience, the computer brain of new washers is almost, if not more expensive than a new washer.) Our washer, a very generous gift from a friend when out last old washer wore out, has been teetering on the brink of exhaustion for a while and it's particular quirk was that there was a short in the electrical system (we think) and a good swift kick in the upper right hand quadrant would shake everything back in place and the cycle would finish. We limped along together like this for months, the washer stopping mid-cycle, me coming down to move the laundry to discover it had stalled, delivering necessary "encouragement", it continuing and finishing. Then it would decide to cooperate and I would have a week or of normal functioning. 

The past couple of months the teetering increased, so that it was truly only possible to do one load a day because of our little dance. Then finally, on Tuesday, it fell off the edge of functioning and I came close to falling off the edge of sanity. No matter what I did, it would not start or stop or unlock. When I seriously thought about finding a lead pipe to beat the washer into submission I realized we had reached the end, the washer and I, and I stopped from adding a room and victim to the Clue game. 

Instead, I walked upstairs, picked up the phone, and dialed our local appliance store. Pretty much I told the saleswoman, "I need a top-loader (I'm done with front loaders), as big as possible, nothing fancy, it doesn't even have to look nice, and I don't want to pay a lot for it." She found a 4.0 cubic foot washer and I replied I was doing laundry for 12 people. She found a 4.8 cubic foot washer, told me the price, and asked when it could be delivered. I gave her my credit card number.

Today was the day. My new washer is here. It is big and fancy and I'm very excited. Now I can finally catch-up on the laundry. I do not have to have anxiety every time I go down to the basement wondering if the machine has cooperated. Plus, along with my very, very good deal on the washer, I also bought the four-year warranty. That's four years of not worrying about the machine breaking. 

Warranties for large families are a very worthwhile investment, I've discovered. We just use our machines more, thus they reach the end of their lifespans sooner. For instance, on Monday, both of our dishwashers which are still under store warranty are getting fixed and that will be $1000 that I will NOT be paying. Four years seems to be the top end of the life expectancy for a washing machine. I keep saying I would be more than happy to become a durability testing sight for appliances, but so far no one has taken me up on it.

My new washing machine. So shiny. So pretty. So functional.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Timelines - how to do it

I had a couple of people ask me more about the how-to's of doing timelines. Not being one to miss a prompt, here are some of my thoughts.

First, how I marked off the years. For the BC era, in the books I use, there are five dark slash marks per page, so each of these is every forty years, which makes the space between them divide up into fourths, with each line being ten years. If you click on this picture in D.'s book, you'll see what I mean.

For the AD years, each dark slash is every five years, with the space between divided into fifths and each slash representing one year. Like this:

You'll also notice that I didn't always bother to pencil in the slashes between the dark lines unless we needed them. If I did write them in, I did not label the years as this would be too many numbers on a page.

What you'll also notice is that you can document the event or person any way you like. The items that were written were most likely from what we learned together as a family. The small pictures were most likely from covering that material in our history co-op that we were involved in for years. These pictures were found and printed by the parent teaching that lesson, usually just by doing an image search on Google and doing some cutting and pasting. My children have pictures of people, of works of art, and of events scattered throughout their books. Since we use them for the length of their school career, there is also a visible difference in the writing over the course of years. I write for the youngest ones, then move to a combination of me writing and the child writing a bit, advancing to the child writing everything.

Now, I don't want to leave you with the impression that I am such a fantastic homeschooling mother that I came up with this all on my own. As if.... No, I first heard about it at a conference where Maggie Hogan was speaking. I fell in love with everything she did and talked about and probably only attended her sessions as a result. I still incorporate a lot of her ideas that I learned. She was making the rounds because she and Cindy Wiggers had a new book out, The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. If I had to keep just a handful of homeschooling resources, this book would make the cut. I love it! It has so many ideas and resources that I refer to it often, even though I bought it years and years ago, way back at the beginning of my homeschool career. It has maps and cards and ideas and these timeline line figures, which you can copy and paste into your timeline books. If this type of activity appeals to you at all, I highly recommend the book.

sample of timeline figures

A couple of other notes, we do not put every single date/person/event we come across in our books. I think that would suck the joy right out of it. At the beginning I copied the blank timeline page from the book I just told you about and put them in three-ring binders. It was a lot of work and while being able to move pages around or add pages has some benefit, I was never quite satisfied with how it looked or its durability. About five years ago, I discovered the timeline books we are using now at Miller Pads and Paper. They make a fantastic printed and spiral bound book that is very reasonably priced. I linked to their order page if you are interested. (I don't receive a thing for this, I just love the product.)

So there you go, timelines in a nutshell.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Timeline notebooks

I have used timeline notebooks with my children for years. If you haven't heard of timeline notebooks before, essentially, it is a book (I've used everything from a binder to a specifically made spiral bound book) with the years of history marked and blank lines to write down events. I love them because it makes it so easy to see what else was going on in the world and also where in history the event happened. It makes it much easier to visualize one hundred years verses one thousand years.

While I am in love with adding the dates of the things we have learned about in the books (each child has their own), my children are not quite so in love. They dutifully write down what I ask them to, but I wouldn't say they were excited about it. And they certainly don't think to themselves, "Oh, this is interesting. I'll add it to my timeline."

They may never be in love with the concept of keeping a timeline notebook, but I realized I was. You know I read a bit, and often there is some bit of history I find interesting, and I do think to myself, "If I had a timeline notebook, I would put this in." I few months ago I realized there was no reason why I couldn't also have a timeline notebook. (Don't you love it when the obvious takes so long to enter one's brain?) So, when I was at the homeschool conference in June, among my homeschool purchases for the next year was a timeline notebook for myself.

On Sunday, I spent some time getting it ready.

Can I just say I love it when I can actually reproduce the idea I have in my head? It doesn't happen all that often, but it's nice when it does.

Inside, gives me room to write and illustrate the events and people that I come across in my reading. For instance, earlier this year I read the book, Pompeii by Robert Harris. (It was really good, by the way, even if you do know what happens at the end.)

I'm really looking forward to adding to this as I read. It can be a little frustrating to read something, find it highly interesting, and then have nothing to do with that interesting bit of knowledge. This helps to give me an outlet and a way of recording things. I also hope that my interest in keeping a timeline notebook will transfer itself to my children. It usually doesn't fail that if I just start doing something interesting, most children will want to join in. We'll see if this happens here.

Monday, July 18, 2016


You know that feeling when your toddler decides not to sleep and stays up all night, so you have to stay up, too, so other household members can sleep?

Yeah, we have that going on today. Except our toddler is 11 on paper and probably 14 in reality. The disconnect between the age you expect and the age you get is particularly discordant at 4am.

I am not at my best at 4am and it was not my best parenting moment. Is it dinner time yet?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dear City of Evanston,

I woke up this morning to see someone posting the news that on July 11 the City Council authorized the City Manager to negotiate the potential sale of the parking lot next to the public library. This means that 74 outside parking spaces will be lost in a lot immediately next to the library. Once again, it seems, the city is putting financial gain above the quality of life of its citizens. How do I figure that? Well, the population of Evanston is currently 75,570. The number of parking spaces underneath the public library is 39, with five more handicapped spaces. That's not a whole lot of spaces compared to the possible patrons.

And for some of us, we don't even have access to those 39 spaces. You see, I have a few children. I have enough children that in order to cart them about safely, I must drive a 15-passenger van. Trust me when I say, if I had any other options I would take them as it's not much fun to have your personal vehicle be so large. But, since I happen to like my children and I like to go places, it's a small price to pay. It also means that I cannot park in the underground parking garage at the library. The van just doesn't fit, so we park in the lot next door to enjoy the library paid with our significant tax dollars. Without a place to park, I'm not sure we will be able to come to the library. That would be the library we help pay for, and would probably be forced to travel to Skokie instead.

Why don't we just walk, you ask. I know we like being green here in Evanston, but sometimes life just doesn't work exactly as we would like it to. You see, on top of having a few children, one of our daughters has mobility issues. In fact, if I asked, we would qualify for a handicapped placard for the van. She is mobile enough for the distances we usually walk, so I haven't yet, preferring to leave those spaces to those who need them more. But even if I did have a placard, it wouldn't make any difference at the library, because, as I mentioned above, our van doesn't fit, so we couldn't use the handicapped spaces.

And let's talk about those spaces for a moment. If the lot next door is developed into yet another condo building, I wonder about the library's compliance with the ADA. If someone were needing to use a van for, say, a wheelchair, there is no way that it would fit underneath the library. Instead, like us, that van would have to park in the above ground lot, in the handicapped space there. Without those spaces, so much for accessibility. Or perhaps the City of Evanston doesn't believe people who use wheelchairs should use the library... it makes you wonder.

I'm so glad that the City Council has really thought about all the ramifications of their decision before chasing the all mighty dollar. It just makes me proud and happy to live here, in a city where my family is really supported.

I will amend this to add, that the all time favorite excuse for raising taxes, cutting services, and charging excruciatingly high property taxes is already being trotted out like trained ponies in a circus.

--But the tax revenues will go to fund our schools.
--It's for the children!!
--We can't deny our children a decent education!!

Yeah, it sounds good. Sort of. The schools already spend over $8000 and $10,000 per student in the elementary and high school districts respectively. How on earth is the tax revenue from one condo building going to make that much of a difference? I don't even need to resort to the fact that the library is a key way I educate my own children with those numbers.

No, it hasn't been a good day, why do you ask?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hospitality 3.0

M. has moved back into an apartment and out of our guest room, the best residence of choice for being between leases. Today I decided to put it back together and do a bit of cleaning. (Ewww... does anyone else have children who don't believe in doorknobs and instead grime up door edges and door frames?) I try (emphasis on try, it doesn't always happen) to have it made up and ready in case of emergency guests.

As I was cleaning, I realized that having your life in upheaval, means that practicing hospitality definitely takes a backseat. There haven't been a lot of guests around here for a while, dinner or overnight. That makes me a bit sad because I do love inviting people for dinner and having house guests. One of the very best things about living in the Big Ugly House is that we have a dedicated guest room. It has allowed us to welcome a wide variety of guests for both short and longer term stays. 

I realize that this may be a room of the house I haven't really shared before, so since it is now clean and orderly, I thought I'd take advantage of it and take some pictures.

This hallway is on the other side of the butler's pantry from the kitchen. The stairs down go to the basement, then next door is the guest bathroom, and straight ahead is the guestroom.

From the doorway.

The other side of the room.

It has a lovely view of our neighbor's beautiful garden. It's a nice perk because looking out the other side of the house, into our own yard, is not quite so lovely a view. We're just not terrific gardeners.

And I love these so much I wanted to share them, too. They are three little framed paintings that I bought in Vietnam. The top is the One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi and the other two are street scenes. They make me happy.

The title of this post has an added 3.0 at the end because I discovered that I've already written two posts titled, "Hospitality". Here are some links to past posts about hospitality. Some were from our time hosting a young mother and her two children, which lasted for 18 months. Maybe some time in the future I will write about that, but I'm still not at a point where I can. I only mention it for newer readers who might not be aware of who I was talking about in some.

Who You Are When Nobody's Looking
Radical Hospitality
Hospitality  (See?)

So all this to say, you friends who live far away... come and visit! I have room for you! Chicago is fun to visit. Let me know when you'll be here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

And then you really have to say your last good-bye

When one of your very best friends for the past 18 years is actually moving, you and other friends go and help as much as you are able.

But then the morning comes where you realize that the truck actually drives away this morning and you can't be in denial any longer.

Safe travels my friends. I hope we can manage to come out and visit some day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Searching for Pokemon

You know a popular culture phenomenon is huge when it enters my field or awareness. Usually I remain somewhat blissfully unaware and my children amuse themselves by asking me questions such as, "Do you know _______?" When I reply no, I've never heard of them, they stare at me mystified and wonder how such a thing can happen. 

But back to Pokemon. That would be as in Pokemon Go, the new video game where you wander aimlessly and hopefully not into traffic, looking for little, imaginary Pokemon creatures. I'm still a little unclear about what happens to them once you catch them, but since my brain begins thinking about other things any time one of my children starts to explain it all to me, I will probably never know. I'm OK with that, really. I probably won't read any comments that try to explain it, either. 

The whole crew got a taste of Pokemon Go this past weekend because some of my older children had downloaded it and at rest stops and such, were busy searching for imaginary creatures. It surprised no one that the little people were also very excited by this imaginary creature hunting... it is right up their alley in a major way. The only trouble is, once the trip was over, their access to older siblings phones was cut short. 

Never fear! Imagination came to the rescue! While I was spending all day cleaning the dining room, I was vaguely aware of extreme imaginary games going on. I wasn't quite sure what they were, but children were occupied and I was able to continue with my task. It wasn't until bedtime that I fully came to realize what had been happening. G., L., and Y. (K. was at a day camp and H. and R. were involved in their own activities) had spent the day, knapsacks in hand, searching for Pokemon. By the end of the day, each girl had a knapsack full of stuffed animals which they had 'caught'. Y. was particularly excited by all of this and spent a long time when I was tucking her in telling me about her plans for future hunts in the morning.

We had two wins for yesterday. Lots of play which allowed me to really clean the dining room... removing pictures, dusting walls, etc. See? This clean dining room is brought to you by Pokemon Go. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Generations of information junkies

I'm deep cleaning the dining room today. When under stress, eating in the dining room seems to be the first to go, thus we have eaten nearly all our meals exclusively in the kitchen for the past six months or so. When you are not using a room, it is so easy to neglect it. And then you don't want to use it, because it is not a pleasant place to eat, so you tell your oldest child who is camping at home between leases, that yes, of course, you can turn the dining room into a props studio, and the spiral continues. Today was a free day, so I decided it was time to conquer the dining room. 

As I was working my way around the room with the dust cloth, I decided on a whim to open and look through the giant dictionary that was my great-grandfather's. See it down there on the bottom of the dictionary stand? (Here is a not complete tangent. The dictionary stand belonged to my grandmother. The large dictionary that is being used belonged to J.'s grandparents. Having a dictionary available is a 'thing' from both sides of the family. Our children have a heavy-dose of genetic word obsession from both sides of the family.) But back to the giant dictionary...

It is a Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary from 1910. It truly has everything. Inside the front cover, I was reminded that my great-grandfather had glued a photograph of my grandmother (of the library stand) inside the front cover and inscribed his name on the other side.

Did he not have the most amazing handwriting?

You would think a dictionary this size would have everything, but as I was flipping through it, I discovered that he had very carefully written out on thin paper extra information that he had found and wanted to add. This is so something I would do. For example, he wanted to add information about perpetual calendars, so copied the information and taped it into the dictionary under 'calendar'.

 Note the amazing handwriting and pathological neatness. I find this so very satisfying.

I have a large bin under my bed of other things from my family which I want to go through at some point. So many letters and diaries... I love getting a glimpse into family that I wouldn't have otherwise. It also makes me think of what my children's children will have of us as a generation. Everything is electronic. Anyone with an extensive VHS or cassette tape collection knows how transient the methods are for storing things electronically. What will be there for them? I am as bad an offender as anyone. Any letters that I write.. and I'm not a letter writer... are emails. My blog is as close to a journal as I've ever gotten, but it, too, is electronic. (And as much as I keep meaning to have each year bound into a real book, time and cost have kept me from doing this.) Historians will probably despise us. I did go through a period where I wrote a short postcard to each child once a week. I couldn't keep it up and would get behind and eventually it fell by the wayside. But I see my children keep those cards as precious items and I think about starting it again. I need a better system if I do.

Thoughts? Do you write letters? Keep journals? I just wonder what we owe, if anything, to future generations about sharing personal glimpses to what life was like.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Pictures and good news

First the pictures from the weekend.

My children and my brother's children

My whole side of the family

Y. in the barn looking for...

kittens!! This activity took most of the girls' time. (That's L.)

K., at the pond down the road.

More pictures from the park down the road.

G. and L.

We buried my father's ashes under a new fruit tree that was planted on the farm. He always loved it there. It is a good choice.

Then, this morning, L. and I sat at the doctor's office. Last Wednesday, friends invited our whole family to dinner at their house. I really should have blogged about this earlier. It's not often we are all invited and we had a great time. (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) Plus our friends live right next to a small park, so children got to play and eat. That was when L., who was climbing on top of one of the play structures fell off.

On her arm.

Visions of ER's danced in my head as I took a look at it. But, it wasn't visibly broken and she had full range of movement without screaming. So, I suggested that it was bruised and it would feel better after a bit. (Because you know, my whole shake-it-off-method of dealing with limb issues has proven so successful over these years... There was M's knee surgeries... and A.'s knee surgery... ) Well, over the entire weekend, L. complained about her arm hurting. Possibly every half an hour for the past four days I have been told her arm hurts. So, remembering my track record of ignoring more serious injuries, I called and got her into a doctor this morning. He looked at her arm, and while he also thought is was bruised muscles, he decided that based on her level of complaint, she should have an x-ray. I did chuckle when he asked if I knew where radiology was, mentioning that L. was number 12. He then laughed and asked if there was a room named for us yet.

L. was excited to have another x-ray. She loved seeing the bones in her thumb the last time we visited, though I think she was a little disappointed that a lollipop was not involved this time. Anyway, long story a little bit shorter, there were no small breaks to be found in either her radius or ulna or her wrist, which was another possibility. Hooray! I was really, really not looking forward to living with L. in an arm cast. Really. And now, my overly dramatic child can stop imagining that something is horribly wrong with her arm and relax a bit while the bruised muscles heal.
I have a new article published: 5 Tips for Transitioning an Older Child into Your Home  Feel free to click and share as much as you like.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Taking off

We're about to head out the door for the weekend. We're going to Iowa to bury my father's ashes. The animals all get to stay here with their very favorite person in the world, our wonderful pet sitter who dotes on them all. I won't be taking my computer to give myself more of a break. The news is all so awful, I'm not thinking I will miss it at all.

In the meantime, please take the time to read this article. It touches more upon the facts surrounding the misguidedness of color blindness... or color muteness as the article calls it and I think is a far better term.

How Silence can Breed Predjudice: A Child Development Expert Explains How and Why to Talk to Kids about Race

Thursday, July 07, 2016

What adoption has taught me

It's no secret that adoption changes you and your family. Adding another child to one's family always changes things. That's not a surprise. I don't think I fully anticipated exactly how changed it would make me, though. How have I been changed?

1. I know 100% that I don't have all the answers. I used to be a good parent. I used to know exactly what to do in every situation. I used to have it all together. Now? Not so much. I know I get it wrong. I know that each child is different and that good parenting looks very different for different children. I know I do not have all the answers and I'm usually making it up as I go along. In fact, I know we are all just making it up, even if we realize it or not.

2. I am a much more humble person. This comes of not knowing what the heck I'm doing. And trust me, it's a much better place to be. Easier. Less image to maintain. Plus, it's more fun. If you are not always right, there is room to be wrong. There's room to make mistakes.

3. I am better at seeing someone's humanity. I'll admit it. Before I had children with visible challenges, it kind of frightened me. How does one talk to someone with challenges? Interact with them? It's not terribly flattering, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one to feel that way. I am not perfect at this (see point 1), but I am far more comfortable than I was. Living with someone who just happens to have challenges will do that to a person. It normalizes it. It makes you realize that this person really is just a person... good and bad, happy and sad... just like anyone else. How do you treat them? Like you would any other person you interact with. Like a human.

4. There really is such a thing as white privilege. For those of you about to pick up your rocks, hear me out for a moment. I am about as conservative as you can get. (Well, aside from that whole bizarre-Trump-thing. Hell in a hand basket is a phrase that comes to mind on that score.) Anyway, before raising children of a different race, I was right there with you. I wanted to be color blind. I wanted to the world to be color blind. That would be great. We're all people aren't we? And then a funny thing happened. I became a mother to a child of color and things changed. Not always, but often, people treat my children of color differently. And this is the mild, model minority (a problem in and of itself) version. No one ever comments on the race of my white children. More often than not, the race of my Asian children is noted, sometimes in less than ideal ways. Thank you to the person, who upon meeting my three year old son, looks at my son, puts his hands together and bows. (Insert sarcastic emoticon.) Oh, he must be so athletic. Oh, they're (meaning Asian) so smart. I didn't want to see the difference, but at some point, being with them, you realize you are not making it up. It is a thing. You cannot avoid it. It is particularly noticeable when I'm out with just my white children and in general am treated differently... or just ignored... because we get a huge giant pass. This is all very mild compared to what others experience, those friends who happen to be parenting children of African descent. Those stories are not so benign.

5. We humans are just not that good at imagining compassion. All of these experiences with my perceived self-concept bumping up against a broader reality tell me something. I thought I was good. I thought I was right. I thought I was compassionate. And I was wrong. (see point 1). We have to meet and learn to care about others... a wide variety of others... in order to become truly compassionate. We can't stay where we are, imagining what others are like, and understand. We must interact with real people. People who are different from us. We have to learn to care about them. We have to learn to be wrong.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

The Boston Tea Party

This post could have also been titled, "Out of Desperation" or "If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them" or "Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures". You get the idea. The day after a holiday, especially one that involves a late night can be hard. On everyone. This is especially true when you have a child with a big imagination who is easily carried away with her current obsession and easily sucks multiple other children down her rabbit hole. It led at one point yesterday morning to L. crying on the couch because not enough people wanted to play Boston Tea Party with her. 

I had saved the large box that our new bookcases came in for such a time as this. Grabbing scissors and packing tape, I created a ship. One of the Boston Tea Party ships, to be exact. L. and G. later decided it would be the Dartmouth. (I can now tell you that there were three ships involved in the Boston Tea Party. The other two were the Beaver and the Eleanor.) Having a good prop was all that was needed to convince others to join the tea party and peace was restored for a while.

L. and G. in the Dartmouth

Look closely and you will see they are holding cardboard axes. They needed them to break open the crates of tea.

A crate of tea. On the plus side, G. and L. can now spell and read the word 'tea'.

And then they wanted a flag. So I drew and they colored the Union Jack. Because it was a British ship, you know.

Play on the Dartmouth continues today. The ship has only had to go into dry dock once for repairs. G. wants some paddles because she is concerned about steering. L. has listened to the Yankee Doodle book (the book that started this whole escapade) multiple times and I've already read it once before my second cup of coffee. I also found a children's cartoon online which tells the story of the Botson Tea Party and it has been watched at least five times. L. follows me around telling me she wishes she could go to Boston to see the Boston Tea Party ship recreation. (Which, I grant her, she would enjoy immensely.) And since it is rainy and I have bills to pay, the youngers are about to sit down to watch Johnny Tremain.

A funny anecdote. At one point yesterday afternoon, the Dartmouth had been taken outside and a harbor found in the shade in the front yard. A woman walks by, pauses, says, "Excuse me, but are you by any chance homeschoolers?" It turns out she will be starting to homeschool her children in the fall and we chatted for a bit. But inwardly I was laughing because at that moment we really did look like stereotypical homeschoolers with the cardboard ship flying the British flag in the front yard complete with somewhat wildly dressed children who didn't quite make it to the hair brushing stage that morning.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

4th Pictures - 2016

Among our holiday festivities...

The parade...

Walking to the parade

G. (on left) and L. (you could tell by the Cubs hat, right?)

R., J., and Y. 

We didn't make it through the whole parade. I guess we saw the first quarter or so. Can I just kvetch a moment? It's been a couple of years since we've been to our own city's parade. We either skipped or headed to another city's. Now I remember why. I realize it's a little sacrilegious, but this particular parade is just darn boring. (And I don't use that word very often. Ask my children.) Aside from the infrequent band or dance group, the vast majority of participants are just groups of people of various sizes who walk along the parade route in a clump holding signs for their various cause or organization of choice. It doesn't make for terribly compelling viewing. It would far better if each cause or organization were required to make a float or something that would be interesting to look at. And there's no candy. (Oh, please. Don't post the comment. I know it's bad for you.) 

For dinner we headed to the H-S family's house. They are back in town briefly to pack everything up, so we took advantage of spending time together. TM was on the spot and got some great pictures.

TM, MY H-S, and P13

Some of the middle school group

Then we all headed back to our house to go to the fireworks. It's hard to tell, but here we are all getting ready to walk to the lake.

The day ended as expected... with fireworks sitting on the beach. It was the boat beach, so we were looking in between some boats, but fireworks were seen.

Towards the end of the fireworks, both G. and L. had come over and were sitting on my lap, saying things like, "I'm tired!" and "Can we go home now?" Since we had a fifteen minute walk ahead of us and there were hundreds of people on the beaches and parks, I knew that it would make a not-too-long walk into a slow crawl. J. had the wagon for Y., so she was set and the rest of the children were managing OK. At the last firework, I told J. I had the little girls and, with instructions not to let go of my sweater, we bolted for the street to get ahead of the crowd. When these little girls get tired, it is not a good thing and it was vital (yes, vital) to get them home and into bed. So, with the focus on not getting separated and keeping up a pretty good pace and constant, chirpy chatter on my part, we made in home and straight up and into bed in one piece without a meltdown. Phew!

Today we are recovering. Loudly.
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