Friday, March 31, 2017

Happy 11th Birthday, K.!

K. turns 11 today. Not only does this advanced age surprise me a bit, some some of his older siblings are completely taken aback by it as well. I think we are all so used to K. being our little, little boy, that him suddenly being a big boy takes some getting used to. When you bring home such a delayed, infant-like two year old, that it is difficult to imagine the next year much less an eleven year old. But here's the proof that it does happen. 

We celebrated last night since D.' s show that he is in (The Miracle Worker) opens tonight and plays all weekend. K. ordered potato pancakes for dinner and cherry pie for dessert. 

TM is holding the candles and that's one of K.'s good friends, P9, next to him, who came and joined us.

Of course, when your big brother holds your candles, he's going to tease you a bit as well. K. is trying to blow it out while TM keeps moving it away.

Thank you, Grammy, for the Hot Wheels monster trucks!

And a new skateboard, which had been a fond desire for quite a while now. Of course, I only heard about this fond desire less than a week ago...

P9 came back again today to play. This is both boys happily staring at all the new toys they would play with in the morning.

Happy Birthday, my darling boy! I love you to the moon and back. You are funny and creative and full of energy and imagination. You amaze me with what you have overcome and how far you have progressed. I know you will continue to amaze me in the next eleven years, too. I am so glad I get to be your mommy and that you are my son!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Annotated reading list on trauma

A friend asked me to post my reading list of trauma. Who could resist such a request? I'll admit, that like all my reading lists, this one is a bit idiosyncratic. I'm also going to focus for the most part on actual books. There are plenty of websites out there with lots of up-to-date, accurate and helpful information. I would suggest Googling 'trauma parenting TBRI' to get a good list to start with. TBRI being Trust Based Relational Interventions. But sometimes you want something more in depth, or not on a screen. Books have their place. I'll list the book, say something brief about it, and also include a link to a previous blog post if I've written more in-depth about that particular book before. The book title itself will be linked back to Amazon via my Amazon Associates account, which if you click through and actually purchase something, you help to support in a small way my little book habit.

Ready? Here we go.

First, general information about trauma.

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk - (I recently wrote about this on More Brain and Trauma Stuff) - If you want to really understand what trauma does to a person, read this book. If you understand the pervasive and systemic effects that trauma has upon a person's body and brain, the rest of these books, especially the parenting ones that often appear upside down to people, will make more sense and be more accessible. This book also has a section on EMDR and its use and success.
  • Traumatic Experience and the Brain: A Handbook for Understanding and Treating Those Traumatized as Children by Dave Ziegler - This is possibly the best technical description of what happens in the brain as a result of trauma that I've read. (Note, it is not the best written description. The author's sentence fragments and comma splices made J. put it down.) While some of the information is probably more of use to therapists, it is still helpful as a parent to really understand what is going on and that these are actual physical effects that the child cannot help. If you're a brain geek, you will enjoy this book.
  • The Body Knows its Mind: The Surprising Power of Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel  by Sian Beilock - (I wrote about it on Don't Be a Sea Squirt) -  This is not necessarily about trauma, but about how the brain and the body are interconnected. The more we understand about how a person needs to be viewed as an entire entity, the better we can meet that person where they are. Plus, it's just a really fascinating book.
  • Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen - If you want to understand trauma experienced by adopted children, you also need to understand attachment theory, since the severing (or complete lack) of attachment is so often one of the first traumatizing events. This book is pretty comprehensive. I'll warn you, it can also be a slog at some parts, but afterwards you will have a pretty thorough understanding of the basics of attachment theory.
  • Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio R. Damasio - A book and an author that you will see on many bibliographies of other brain books. It has some interesting insights into the how the brain works, and if you are totally obsessed with brains, this would be a good one to read. You will reach the point, if you read enough brain theory, though, where you will not rejoice at the name Phineas Gage (the guy who had the spike go through his head) or at reading about the marshmallow experiment... again. 
Theory is great, but what do you do with it? How do you parent a child who is affected by past trauma?

Related issues. The tricky thing about trauma is that its presenting behaviors can masquerade as other conditions. The behavior is real, but the cause is different. An example is ADHD. The hyperactivity and hypervigilance are caused by the trauma, so that things such as medications which do work with true ADHD don't touch the trauma-induced variety. Trauma invade every area of a child's life, so there are a lot of related issues. These next books are a collection of some really interesting and useful books that address some of these less-obvious realities of living with trauma.
  • The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene - This book is a game changer for anyone raising a child whose frustration point is somewhere around negative one. The child doesn't necessarily need to be an exploder for this book to be helpful and useful. I would strongly suggest any prospective adoptive parent read this book ahead of meeting their new child. You don't know if your child will be explosive, but you will be at least a little bit prepared. At its heart, this book is actually about a lack of executive function, which is why I believe that the next book I will discuss should be sold as a boxed set with it.
  • Executive Function and Child Development by Marcie Yeager and Daniel Yeager - (I wrote about this book on Executive Function, Trauma, and Play) - This is such a fantastically useful book. It gives the practical how-to to The Explosive Child's theory. I would strongly suggest reading both books together.
  • The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Play: Brain-Building Interventions for Emotional Well-Being by Theresa A. Kestly - (I wrote about this on The Need to Play) - Since many of the techniques the Yeagers recommend in the above book are play based, that leads us to this little gem. Here it is: the brain science behind why play is so important to a developing child and how play can help a traumatized child heal. There is a lot of brain theory in here which is explained very well. Well of my favorites.
  • Attaching through Love, Hugs, and Play: Simple Strategies to Help Build Connections with Your Child by Deborah D. Gray - If you don't feel totally comfortable with playing with your child or if this is an area which is a challenge for you, get a hold of this book. There are many concrete examples of ways to play with and engage your child to develop a close and nurturing relationship which will aid in healing.
  • The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter: The Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom by Vivian Gussin Paley - ( I wrote about this on Story Telling) - I love Ms. Paley. She has amazing knack at meeting children exactly where they are and helping them to move forward. I have no idea why the little boy who wanted to be a helicopter behaved as he did. What I do know is that Ms. Paly gives us a beautiful picture of connecting with a child and then drawing that child out in a patient and thoughtful way. Stories have power.
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn - This book was written a while ago and was never written as a handbook on raising traumatized children. What is interesting, though, is his case against consequence-based parenting in general, even in a healthy child population. If something is not great for emotionally healthy children, then it can be devastating for hurt ones. Another book which will bump hard against many people's assumptions about parenting and working with children.
  • The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Todd Rose - (I wrote about this on An Autodidact's Fan Letter) - Once again, this is a tangentially related book, but one I think is extremely important. If our children who are affected by trauma have one thing is common it's that their brain is jagged. What I mean by that is their consistency, strengths, and weaknesses are all over the board. We live in a society which wants everything to be standardized and our children are not. For a child having a hard time at life in general, this expectation makes it even more difficult. This is a book to read if only to expose your own unacknowledged expectations about how things should be.
Finally, some narrative stories about living with trauma.
And one more.
  • Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom - Heather T. Forbes - First I want to say, I have never read this book. But, yet it makes my list because I have seen it recommended by people whose opinion I value as being extremely helpful in dealing with schools and teachers. Many people suggest buying copies for your child's teacher and principal and whoever else works with or has influence over your child in a school setting. If your child is struggling in school, it would definitely be worth looking into.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mea culpa

This is my open and blanket apology to all my friends and correspondents to whom I have not been in contact with or replied to.

I'm sorry.

You should see my inbox and answering machine messages; things are really piling up. I've been rotten at reaching out and replying and pretty much anything else which requires me to leave me little introverted and overwhelmed bubble. I feel pretty darn guilty about it all, but evidently not guilty enough to hit reply on an email or message or to pick up the phone.

I wish I could tell you what is up... because then I would know, too. I think it's a variety of factors. Still adjusting to our two new girls, adjusting to more of my children getting older and becoming adults, J.'s job change, the stress of contemplating moving, the stress of actually doing something about moving, missing good friends who have moved away, cold weather in springtime, too many unknowns, etc., etc. It all makes me want to curl up in bed with a stack of books and hibernate. I'm just not myself.

I tell you this because I really do mean to call or write or reply. Really. And then the day goes by and it's 11pm and it's too late to call and I'm too tired to write. And another day of guilt for not getting in touch with people I care about piles up. Please don't take it personally.

So there you go. The sad and pathetic story of the woman with no emotional margin at the moment. I'll get back to you all, really I will. I want to. Maybe it would help if I just had a card printed up that said something along the lines of:

  • Yes, we're moving to the far western suburbs.
  • No, we don't know when we're moving or exactly where.
  • Yes, it will be hard because we've lived in our big ugly house for 16 years and in this area in J.'s case, his entire life or in E.'s case, over 30 years.
  • Yes, our children are both excited and nervous.
  • No, the house isn't on the market yet, we hope in another couple of weeks.
  • Yes, it will be fairly horrible to have a house on the market with 10 children at home.
  • No, I don't know how you do it, either.
  • Yes, it's a special house, which means we will need to wait for a special buyer.
  • No, the 1 1/2 hour commute is not fun or enjoyable.
  • Yes, this is a huge change, and we will miss everyone here.
  • No, there is not the diversity out there that we have become used to.
  • Yes, we still need to find J. a different car.
  • No, I can't plan a single thing because I just don't know what we're going to be doing.
This about sums up nearly every conversation I've had in the past couple of months. I guess I'm just tired of talking about it. I'm tired of saying out loud how up in the air our lives feel at that moment. It might be different if we had any sort of time line or details. 

Thank you for joining my virtual pity party. I'll just crawl back into my little bubble now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

More brain and trauma stuff

I just finished reading The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Boy, talk about a fascinating book. I might actually break down and buy myself a copy just to have as a reference.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for people to wrap their heads around is how systemic the affects of trauma can be. Even for those of us who live with people affected by trauma, we can sometimes forget or not understand what is really going on inside our child. From the outside looking in, it seems like a simple problem. Yes, what you experienced in the past was horrible and rotten. But now you are in a good place, with people who love and care about you and will be sure that your needs are met. You are now safe and secure. That should do it, let's move on. It can feel frustrating when the person affected by trauma doesn't seem to want to get on that particular train.

What recent brain science is learning, though, is exactly why it is so very difficult for a person who experienced trauma to move on. The trauma has changed everything about them. It has rewired their brain, their nervous system, and even their cells. One of the most interesting studies that Dr. van der Kolk discusses is the fMRI (functional MRI) tests that were performed on a couple, both of whom were suffering from PTSD as a result of being in a horrific car accident. The couple both survived, but couldn't move on. In the MRI, each individual was read a scripted scenario which they each had written as to what it was like to be in that car crash. As a result, each person began to experience flashbacks to the accident. What the doctor's discovered was that in the midst of the flashback, the brain was reliving the experience as if it were happening right then. There were not brain functions visible that would indicate it was a memory, those parts of the brain had essentially shut down. Our children cannot just 'get over it', because their brain is constantly telling them that the trauma is happening RIGHT NOW, whenever any sort of memory associated with it is triggered.

It this one little bit of information alone doesn't convince you to read it, here are some other little excerpts that I marked as I was reading it.

"When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. But because their left brain is not working very well, they may not be aware that they are experiencing and reenacting the past -- they are just furious, terrified, enraged, ashamed, or frozen. After the emotional storm passes, they may look for something or somebody to blame for it. They behaved that way because you burned the potatoes, or because you 'never listen to me.' Of course, most of us have done this from time to time, but when we cool down, we hopefully can admit our mistake. Trauma interferes with this kind of awareness..." (p. 45)

Connection and felt safety are crucial to moving out of this pattern.

"One thing is certain: Yelling at someone who is already out of control can only lead to further dysregulation. Just as your dog cowers if you shout and wags his tail when you speak in a high singsong, we humans respond to harsh voices with fear, anger, or shutdown and to playful tones by opening up relaxing. We simply cannot help but respond to these indicators of safety and danger.

Sadly, our educational system, as well as many methods that profess to treat trauma, tend to bypass this emotional-engagement system and focus instead on recruiting the cognitive capacities of the mind. Despite the well-documented effects of anger, fear, and anxiety on the ability to reason, many programs continue to ignore the need to engage the safety system of the brain before trying to promote new ways of thinking. The last things that should be cut from school schedules are chorus, physical education, recess, and anything else involving movement, play, and joyful engagement. When children are oppositional, defensive, numbed out, or enraged, it's also important to recognize that such 'bad behavior' may repeat action patterns that were established to survive serious threats, even if they are intensely upsetting or off-putting." (pp. 85-86)

And finally, for those of us who have noticed how terribly out-of-touch some of our children can be with what is happening inside of them.

"However, traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies. The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.

The more people try to push away and ignore internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ashamed. People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or by going into a panic -- they develop fear of fear itself.

We now know that panic symptoms are maintained largely because the individual develops a fear of the bodily sensations associated with panic attacks. The attack may be triggered by something he or she knows is irrational, but fear of the sensations keeps them escalating into a full-body emergency. 'Scared stiff' and 'frozen in fear' (collapsing and going numb) describe precisely what terror and trauma feel like. They are its visceral foundation. The experience of fear derives from primitive responses to threat where escape is thwarted in some way. People's lives will be held hostage to fear until that visceral experience changes." (pp. 96-97)

Obviously, there is a lot to digest in this book. But it is ultimately extremely hopeful in regards to the future of people affected by trauma with new discoveries in regard to how trauma affects the body and what treatment is ultimately helpful. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The further adventures with boxes and cats

J. finished painting The Folly this weekend and it looks great. I want to paint an unfinished wood bookcase that was in it before I show it to you, though, so you'll just have to wait another few days to see the final product. In the meantime, I have more cat pictures for you.

Here is a picture of the recycling piled in the mud room. I had some things to add to the pile, so did what any person would do, threw it into the empty box.

The empty box which then meowed in an annoyed tone of voice.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My to do list in pictures

Just a typical Saturday around here. I taught piano lessons while J. wrangled children and made pancakes. Not much cleaning has happened, but we've done some other things.

The folly is all primed and ready for its real coat of paint.

We have a new mailbox all ready to put up, to replace the hideous (and breaking) plastic one that I have detested from the moment I saw it 16 years ago. (Nothing like taking care of little things right away, huh?)

I got to the library, because (oh, the horror), I was out of any fiction that I wanted to read.

I also made it to the grocery store so we have food for tonight and the rest of the week. That always makes my children happy.

This is going to be turned into dinner.

While I was at the store, J. took the younger six to the park. It sounds as though it was a more exhausting trip than usual. I think I got the better end of the bargain this time.

D. also made his weekly bread and it is cooling on the kitchen table.

Thus, we have nearly made it to the end of the day. It was a close call there for a bit. The combination of having 70+ degree weather one day and 40-something degree weather with drizzly rain the next, is not making the masses terribly happy.

Now, to go and try to keep myself away from that stack of library books, and instead tackle the enormous laundry pile in the basement. If one was placing bets, it would probably be even odds as to which activity wins out.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday bullets, March 24, 2017

This will be quick, I have a lot of painting to get to.

  • J. is enjoying his new job, though much of the it feels as though he is drinking from a fire hose, as far as trying to learn everything he needs to learn. Yesterday was a momentous day, and possibly a turning point, when J. mentioned that only two people started their conversations with him by saying, "So, is it true that you really do have 12 children?"
  • The internet is not always a bad thing. Yesterday, we were reading our teatime book, and one passage had one of the children wandering around her house reciting Ophelia's mad scene from Hamlet. Not wanting to waste an educational moment, I paused and asked the assembled children where the quoted lines were from. D. made an educated guess and said, "Shakespeare." I then asked which play. TM then chimes and and says, "Hamlet. Is it that part where she goes crazy?" We all pause and look at him a moment, and P. asks, "How did you know that?" TM replies, "Oh, I watched it on YouTube." 
  • Part of cleaning out The Folly meant that I found a one foot stack of financial documents which were well past their expiration date. Some of the middle girls have sat endlessly feeding these documents through our shredder. I would pass through the kitchen and I would see Y. and H. sitting with chins propped on hands, slowly feeding through the paper. Clearly, Dante missed a level of his inferno. And then the shredder decided, it, too, was done, and stopped working. They then started ripping, but now R. was able to join in. There is nothing she likes better than to be given a pair of scissors and cut paper into very small bits. She can do this endlessly. For obvious reasons, we don't always indulge this desire, but yesterday she was happy to get to help and to cut paper into little, tiny bits. 
  • I found yet one more school binder of A.'s, and in going through it, she discovered many stories and magazines she had created at about the same age that my younger crew are now. This has created a positive frenzy of writing amongst them. Each child has been carrying around a notebook and diligently writing... and writing and writing. Even K., for whom writing has never been a whole lot of fun, has filled a minimum of 4 pages of densely packed writing. When I announced today that it was going to be warm and possibly 70 degrees, he asked me to pause, got out his book, and recorded the fact in it. 
  • This writing frenzy has had its funny bits, too. Well, funny if you know what is being written. One of my children, one who is still figuring out English sounds... 'th' still comes out as 's' sometimes and 'a' and 'e' sound interchangeable to her... is also writing. Most of it is discernible. J. did come down and warn me about one particular spelling, though, and I'm glad he did. Y. wanted to write 'thanks'. Now, stop and think how this might be spelled if you are still working on the above sounds. Also stop and realize that 'nks' sounds a lot like 'x'. This is why when you read any words written s-e-x, you need to pronounce them 'thanks'. 
  • We never know what L.'s imagination is going to come up with next. Last night, L. had conscripted K. into being a stretcher bearer and we see the two of them carrying Blue Teddy (L.'s precious stuffed animal) down the stairs on a long under bed bin lid . L. then announces that Blue Teddy is very sick. "His heart went from 33 to 12 to 2. That's not good." She then wanted someone to do something about it. J. dug out something from the kitchen that could (very) vaguely pass as a defibrillator, and shocked Blue Teddy's heart back into working again, and told her he would be find, he just needed to rest. So L. and K. cart Blue Teddy up the stairs again to go rest in the hospital. As we were getting everyone tucked in, L. repeatedly informed me I was being too loud because Blue Teddy was trying to sleep. You'll be relieved to hear that Blue Teddy made it through the night, and K. and Y. have now become the designated doctors. It has been touch and go all morning, with L. coming to me to report Blue Teddy's heart numbers. This is a tricky thing, you realize. Before uttering the appropriate remark, you must first determine if these numbers are good news or bad news, otherwise you run afoul of the game... and L.'s annoyance. So far Blue Teddy is still with us, mainly because I told K. that death wasn't an option.
  • Finally, because every post with an animal picture seems to be far more popular than the ones without, a Kenzie story. Kenzie does not like thunder. He is terrified of it. He will either cower under my legs if I am sitting at my desk, or hide in the basement, or sometimes we will find him sitting and shivering in the pantry. He is definitely a storm early warning system, as he will know a storm is coming long before we have any idea. This is why sometimes one of us will open up the pantry door to find this.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A work in progress

I don't think I've ever shown you one of the really, truly, ugly parts of the house. It's that room I've been talking about, which we've called 'The Folly' ever since we moved in. It earned its nickname because it is the room above the little garage which was (mistakenly, in my opinion) added on to the side of the house sometime in the 1920's. Wanna see?

The entrance to The Folly is through the living room. Here's the doorway. We're pretty sure this doorway used to go out to a lovely wrap-around porch which was taken off to make room for the ugly garage.

You go in and have to go up a short flight of stairs.

Here's the view of the room from the bottom of the stairs.

Oh, don't forget to look up to see the snazzy ceiling. This particular covering was also on the roof of my former kitchen when we first moved in. I don't miss it.

The room itself, before we pulled up the carpet. Yes, the fireplace works, but there is no flue covering and the insulation is an attempt to keep the cold air out.

The other side.

And continuing around the room. That doorway is at the top of the stairs.

Don't forget to overlook the paint job. I find it particularly mystifying why these colors were chosen to go with the brown carpet and the peach walls.

And the stripes around the ceiling. What you missed seeing were the orange and green plaid curtains that were in this room when we moved it. It was enough to make ones eyes bleed.

Here is the view out the windows to the front.

And the view out to the back. It really is just stuck on the side.

I had some helpers this morning. A ninja (G.)

and Superman (L.)

So we pulled up the carpet.

Because nothing can be simple or easy in this house, we discovered that the radiator was installed ON TOP of the carpet. We still need to cut it out.

The paint prep is nearly done thanks to my helpers.

I'm hoping we can start slapping carefully applying paint tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lesser of two decorating evils

I posted this on my Facebook page, but thought you'd all like to play along, too. TM and I have been working all day up in the folly to make it look just a little more attractive. (It was... and is... the worst room in the entire house.) We have it all empty now, which was no small feat, and are moving on to slapping artfully applying paint to the walls. Like everything else in the house, we have chosen a lovely beige, the color which delights realtors and house buyers everywhere. That leaves us with the floor. The room has vaguely shag-like carpet laid down (not actually installed) on brown industrial-like tile. You know, the kind that was found in your school cafeteria. The whole packages is... not so attractive. Here's my question, which is worse? Leaving the carpet, which makes the room feel a little warmer and cozier, or taking up the carpet and showing the tile, and maybe finding a throw rug to put on it.

Ready? Head to the comments to vote. I honestly don't know which one is worse, as they are both pretty bad.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canning dreams

Even in the midst of current and future upheaval, our late afternoon read aloud has remained constant. I think it is a big reason as to why the vast majority of the children around here have been navigating the changes better than I expected. Everyone needs constants in their lives.

The book we are currently reading is Then There Were Five by Elizabeth Enright. It is actually the last book of the Melendy Quartet, four stories about the four children in the Melendy family. I will admit to really only being familiar with the last two, this one and The Four-Story Mistake, which is one of my top favorite books from childhood. In The Four-Story Mistake, the family moves to the country into a delightfully odd house, where they find a hidden room, the door of which had been boarded over. This story fuelled house fantasies for me for years. I love these stories because I like the children. They were written and set before and during World War II, and I long for their uncomplicated existence.

Yesterday, we read about the children taking over the canning due to various circumstances. The victory garden had exploded and something had to be done with all the food. Here are some excerpts which tell the story.

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes. She rose early for the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book. By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart. She and Randy were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermillion fruit, still beaded with dew. The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror."

Ah, I know that feeling all too well... when the apples never seem to be done, or the peaches start exploding in a sticky mess all over the counter. The Melendy's first attempt at canning was a bit hit or miss, but then they were rescued by a neighbor who came to help.

"Daily at eight-thirty Mr. Titus arrived and presided over the culinary rites like an aproned Buddha. Randy and Mona, his handmaidens, peeled and washed vegetable after vegetable; hovered about the stove till their cheeks were crimson, opened the oven door and frowned in at the contents, lifted the lid of the enormous boiler on top of the stove releasing great steaming fogs; and gradually on every hand appeared the result of their labors. Jars upon jars of tomatoes, of tomato juice, and yellow tomato preserves. Jars of dill pickles and of India relish. While the fever was on them the girls spent their pocket money (and whatever they could wheedle out of Rush and Oliver) on crates of peaches and plums, and put up quarts of each. Intoxicated by the great sacks of extra canning sugar which Cuffy had stocked, they went even farther; experimenting with jams and conserves."

I love the line, 'when the fever was upon them' because it is so what it feels like, this madness to put food into jars for the winter. And the results are so satisfying.

"It was something. The quart jars were arranged on the shelves, and the window sills, where the light could best reveal their amber, purple, and vermillion splendor. In front of the quarts stood the pints, filled with pickles and preserves."

I love the look of row after row of canned fruits and vegetables. Summer before last, the summer of compulsive canning, yielded dozens of quarts and pints and half-pint jars to sit on my pantry shelves. Last summer? I think I may have made a little bit of something, and at this point, I don't even remember what that was. Last summer was a blur. It was a long and hard adjustment bringing home two new girls. It didn't leave much room, physically or emotionally, for doing much of anything. And now my pantry shelves are nearly empty. I can feel the madness starting to well up inside, but instead, I need to find some large boxes and start packing it all away. Canning supplies are not essential at the moment, and they will join all the other non-essentials upstairs in the pile of boxes.

And I'm back to the unknowns. Will I be able to unpack these boxes I'm about to pack this summer? I just don't know, and don't want to think about it too hard. If I can, then it would be a lot of angst for nothing, and if I can't, then I don't think I want to know ahead of time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

What it's like inside my head

Last week was not great, if you hadn't already figured that out. I don't do change well, and, frankly, this is a lot of change. Plus, right now we are in the lot of change part which is not terribly enjoyable and has far too many unknowns to be at all relaxing. I pretty much spent the past week alternating between panic, despair, and depression. I wasn't a lot of fun to be around at all. I certainly didn't enjoy my own company.

You want to hear a little of the soundtrack to which the hamster in my brain endlessly ran on its wheel?

We're moving soon.... there's so much to do... I need to pack some boxes and clean and make things look nice... we really need to get some rooms painted... when are we going to get that done?... J. sure is gone a lot with this horrible commute... I suppose we could pay someone to paint... is it worth it? ... is anyone going to want this house? ... they probably aren't going to want this house... why are putting money into things if no one is going buy the house? ... if on one buys the house, how on earth are we going to be able to move? ... we're never going to be able to move, and J. will be stuck making this commute forever... why doesn't anyone want to buy our house? ... it's a nice house, lots of room, sure it needs some work, but where are you going to find this much house at a reasonable price? ... I do like this house... I really like this kitchen... we probably won't find another house with enough storage or room or a nice kitchen... I'm not sure I want to move... but we can't make the commute work forever... and maybe we could have a horse... having a horse would be great... I've never owned a horse... what if the other horse people out there aren't nice? ... what if they laugh at the city slickers who don't know what they're doing? ... maybe no one will like us... what if we don't make any friends? ... I don't think we're going to make any friends... and how will we find a new church... I really like our church, it's going to be hard to leave....

Had enough? I have. It's really hard to turn it off. It was a pretty miserable six and half days. Finally, I realized that some of the obsessing was coming from just not knowing the area at all. It was like a big black hole. So, yesterday afternoon, on a whim, TM and P. joined me, and we went and spent the entire afternoon driving past various houses that looked from their listings as possibly suitable. It was really, really helpful to see where these houses were all located. And they were everywhere. We had essentially drawn a circle around J.'s new job and included everything within a half hour drive. This little jaunt helped me get a sense of the surrounding areas, and I think it has also helped us to narrow down the areas where we would like to end up. For a research junkie like me, it also gives me a target to do research about. This is all reassuring. Plus, we drove around some incredibly pretty areas... far more attractive than my overwrought imagination was picturing.

It's still easy to let the hamster start running again, and I'm trying to ignore it. And we've checked some big items off our to-do list. J. was extremely productive this weekend and the hallway is all painted and the little girls' room is spackled and ready for paint. The hallway looks the best it ever has since we've lived here. Plus, the glass guys were out this morning and replaced the windows that had cracks in the old glass, so they are shiny and new as well. We're getting there.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Here, read these...

since I'm evidently not writing.

First, the smaller people have watched this video about how to make sugar bowls more times than I can count, and I expect I will be trying to make them for some birthdays eventually. Edible sugar bowls

Next comes an interesting article about children and unstructured play.

Related, sort of, to that is an article about the effects of nature on the brain.

Since we're outside, what better thing to do than to ride horses? Plus horseback riding can positively affect a person's brain.

Finally, I have a new article published: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry. Feel free to click and share early and often.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Homeschooling: How to make a lapbook

As I've been cleaning out, I've come across a lot of old school work from the oldest four. When we first started homeschooling, I took meticulous records. Writing down every single thing we did, and keeping every single scrap of work completed. It filled binders and binders. Somewhere, oh, long about D., I stopped. The meticulousness had already gone down hill and because we live in a homeschool friendly state, I didn't really need to spend my time this way. My blog, started a bit after that became my de facto record of previous lessons. Trust me, when I say it is far more interesting to read on the blog. My older children did mock me a bit for the amount of workbook type work that I kept. Funny, they didn't find it all that interesting to look at, either. The things they liked best were the stories they wrote and the bigger projects that they did.

My favorites looking back, were some of the lapbooks we made together. I know some people think that making lapbooks is too much work to even contemplate, but I think they're kind of fun, providing you go about it in a reasonable way. We're actually going to be making lapbooks about what we've learned about birds this past year, if spring ever comes. I also do not like the premade lapbook kits, and prefer to do my own thing. (I know that surprises some of you.) With the kits, you have to learn about what they've already decided in order to make the lapbook make sense. My way, you learn about the things you are interested in, and then make the lapbook to fit that.

I may be putting the cart before the horse, some, because some of you, especially the non-homeschoolers among you who have made it this far, are still wondering what the heck a lapbook even is. I kept two of A.'s old ones from when she was little. I'll demonstrate with those, since they're handy.

This is about Ancient Egypt

and this one is about the sea and sea creatures.

Essentially, lapbooks are a way to organize what a student has learned using small booklets, pictures, and maps, mounted on file folders. The name comes from the fact that you can look at them on your lap. I didn't name them. I didn't even invent them. I invented nothing that I will show you, but merely borrowed from the people who wrote The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook combined with Dinah Zike's books, especially, Big Book of Books

I realize they don't look like much from the front, but look what they do...

This is what it looks like when you open it up. It is filled with little books that open and more flaps which unfold.

This is the red flap opened up.

That red flaps also turns like a page to reveal more underneath.

And then the purple flap lifts up.

It reveals another little book to open and look at.

Here's the blue one when first opened.

It has a flap

which lifts.

And it has another page which turns.

Just from a construction point of view, they are fun to concoct. I would say that putting all the file folders together and figuring out how to make all the little books fit inside is the part my children have also enjoyed the most. I've never quite understood why someone would purchase one all put together, because I would have rebellion on my hands if I tried that.

Now, about all those little books. For each of these lapbooks, and for the one we will be making later this school year, these were the work of a full year of school. They were made gradually. This is the key to the parent not losing all sanity. They are a little fiddly and often have a lot of writing in them, which means getting the child to write it all. This isn't usually a big deal with older children, but when they are younger, it can take a while. Let's look at some of the ones inside A.'s lapbooks.

This is a little book titled, "Ancient People". Inside are two parts that lift. Under the flap you can read about farmers and nomads, respectively.

Here's a map that marks the Nile River and the pyramids.

The sarcophagus opens and you can read about the embalming process inside.

A pop-up book shows some of the pyramids.

We read a historical fiction book and made a layered book about it.

This pocket is a house for a long time line.

In the undersea book, this three fold book tells about underwater volcanoes.

A cut-away book tells about the different parts of the shore.

This page was about a bathymetric map we made. (No, I don't remember what exactly this means anymore.)

A small book with four parts has flaps about different mollusks.

And this little two-part book tells us about univalves and bivalves, provided you can open the flaps.

The trickiest part, and it's not all that tricky, is to decide what kind of little book matches the information you have. Usually information can be divided into groups of two or three or four facts. So, that's the kind of book we would make. Once again, I did not come up with this, and sometimes I will flip through the Big Book of Books book and get some new ideas. And as you can clearly see, these do not have to be perfect, and each of my children's are very different from each other, from neatness to number of books they were able to complete to how they mounted them in the file folders.

My last recommendation is that lapbooks should be done sparingly to keep them interesting. Too much of one activity can dull the enthusiasm of even the most avid lapbook maker. I've taken to making them no more than every other year.
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