Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday bullets, January 18, 18

It was one of those weeks where I thought it would be fairly relaxed, but turned out to be just the opposite. I'm so glad it's Friday, because I could use some down time.

  • We had our social worker visit for the two year post-placement report for Y. and R. I love our social worker. Visits usually last a couple of hours because we are having such a good time chatting. It was also our last social worker visit, since the next three reports are self-reported. This makes me kind of sad. It's been twelve years of social workers... some were great, some were mediocre, and I fired one. It seems odd to be done with that season.
  • Our local Sam's Club announced it would be closing. Darn. That's really all I have to say. As a result, last week everything was 25% off and this week everything (well, what was left of it all) was 50% off. I waited for the frenzy to die down and did some kitchen pantry stocking. My personal rules were to only purchase what would store and things I would have bought at full price anyway. Unsurprisingly, the things I was interested in were still on the shelves when I went. My pantry is starting to feel happy again. I had pared it down so much for the move, I've been slowly trying to build it back up again. This helped a lot. See?

  • Here is my frugal outerwear tip for the day. K. was playing in the snow earlier in the week, but his gloves were short and wouldn't stay tucked under this sleeves. This made for very cold wrists and he was not happy. I went upstairs and raided the odd socks that will never have a partner, and I wonder why I bother to keep them. I took two longer socks, cut off the toes, cut a slit in the heels, and handed them to K. They worked perfectly. His thumb went through the slit in the heel, the toe being cut off meant his fingers could go in the fingers of his gloves, and the tops of the socks reached up under his sleeves and stayed there. It was a total win.
  • Speaking about outerwear, I am in love with my new snow pants and snow boots. I have never been so warm in the winter outside in my life. I actually took Kenzie through the forest preserve on a long walk through the snow, and was comfortable. There really is something to this whole idea about proper clothes. Here are some pictures from one of our walks.

  • We did get quite a bit more snow. Here is what our drive looks like.
The drive is going across the middle of the photo... I don't know if you can see the faint tracks in the snow.
  • Discussions about Fifi the pig are still on the table.
  • D.'s new passion is chess. Well, technically it's a renewed passion. He wants to play me in chess, and I suppose I will have to break down and agree to a game. But the truth is, he is very much better at chess than I am, and he doesn't so much want to play with me, but beat me. I've been putting off my downfall.
  • We are now in the 12th or 13th spot for TM's husky puppy on the husky breeder's list. He (TM, not the puppy, nor the breeder) has a whole schedule made up for getting ready for the puppy, and figuring out how to get in all the walks/runs the puppy will need.
  • On Tuesday, we left Easter Island and flew directly to New Zealand. It is amusing to me that everyone is most interested in what the meal will be for each country. We say a picture of a Pavlova dessert in one of our New Zealand books, and based on the exclaiming over how good it looked, I think that will have to be our dessert for that meal. (Any NZ friends want to chime in on meal suggestions? I was thinking some type of lamb [did not excite the masses] along with roasted sweet potatoes [also did not excite the masses]. I thought it sounded good. Any other suggestions?)
  • I really do think we are starting to hear a bit more language from R. since we started the seizure medicine wean.
  • I sliced up all those red peppers I showed you last time and ended up with three large bags full of them. I also roasted half the poblano chiles and have the equivalent of 9 of the little cans of diced roasted chiles. I roasted a lot of chiles last week. I think I have finally figured out the easiest way to do it. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and lay the chiles on. Put in the oven for 10 minutes. Check. You may need to turn them. If they are not roasted over 70 % of the chili, put them back in. I found I only needed another 5 minutes or so, but oven tends to be hot. Take them out and immediately put them in a bowl with plastic wrap over the top to let the skins steam off. Here is where I went wrong the first time. Don't let them sit too long. If you let them get cold, they are nearly impossible to work with, After about 10 minutes or so, check to see if you can hold one of them. I found it easiest to peel off the skins if the chile was just barely cool enough to touch. Any cooler than that, and they started to get too slippery. Once you have them peeled, slice them open and take out the seeds and membranes. You can then move along to whatever you were going to do with them.
  • One half of the chiles I turned into chiles rellenos. They are so very, very good. They are so very, very time consuming. I think I only make them every nine to twelves months because it takes that long for the craving for them to overcome the memory of who much work and how many bowls they take. I never took a picture of them, I was too busy eating.
  • Finally, after having taken a brief hiatus, I have a new article published. My checkbook would be thrilled if you clicked on it and shared it. What Can We Do to Address the Current Problems in International Adoption
[Edited to add... the link to the article isn't currently working due to issues at's end. When it is all sorted out, I'll let everyone know. Thanks!]

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Once upon a time...

Sorry to continue to debrief my reading with you, but you may have to put up with it for a couple of weeks while I get my non-fiction stack back down to manageable levels.

I've been thinking about this all day.

"Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act." (p. 52) from Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What if it is not just enjoyment, but also true learning that also happens in this thin space between anxiety and boredom? I think this is so thought provoking to me today, because once again, I had the experience of trying to teach a child something I knew she could do, yet she wasn't sure herself.

H. reads quite well. Sometimes. Last week she zipped through a Dr. Seuss book with nary a problem, and she enjoyed doing it. I've caught sight of her sitting and reading the same book to herself over and over. Since that book went so well, today, I thought we should try another easy reader. I know she really likes it when we read 'real' books, as opposed to readers, so I went and found one that I was pretty sure she would have no trouble with.

She read the title, The Cow in the House, with no problem, and laughed at the title, eager to start reading. (It's a great easy reader, for those who have children at that stage, by the way.) Well, now I know that the first word in a book has got to be one that she can read with no effort. The first word of this book was 'once'... as in 'Once upon a time..." She stumbled on 'once' and never got back on her feet again. We eventually, after a few attempts which become more and more random and ridiculous as her brain went further and further off-line, put the book down and moved on to something else. No forward progress, or anything positive actually, was going to happen.

So what went wrong? I've been doing triage on it ever since. First, we came smack up against a cultural issue that any native born child would have sailed through. If you are given the word 'once' at the very beginning of a book, the vast majority of children who spent their entire lives here, would know in an instant that the three following words will be, 'upon a time'. They wouldn't even need to sound them out, and probably they wouldn't even really look at them. How else would a story start?

H. doesn't have that knowledge. While we've certainly read our share of fairy tales (and re-read and acted out and re-told) over the past nearly six years, it has not been enough to ingrain the phrase into her being. 'Once' is not always followed by 'upon a time'. In fact, it's anybody's guess as to what would come next. H. sees the phrase as four separate and distinct words, whereas many of my other children would see them as one inseparable phrase.

The second thing that went wrong, is that by choosing a book she didn't have immediate success with, I triggered her anxiety about her ability to actually be able to read it. She may have lived with us for nearly six years, but she still has lived the majority of her life somewhere else. A somewhere else that was not always kind to her. A somewhere else where she learned, and learned very well, that unless you are very sure about something, it is far, far better not to try at all. A somewhere else that taught her she was not capable. It is very slow and painful work to show her that she is capable, that trying is of value of not something to be afraid of, that we are on her side.

When we read the book again, I will spend some time talking to her about the phrase, 'Once upon a time'. We will read some easy words, probably in something else. I'll probably also write the phrase, 'once upon a time' out and we'll practice finding the words, and figure out how to read it. Only after we have done all of this will I get the book out again and have her attempt to read it.

And I know she can read it; it's why I picked it. But once she determined that she couldn't, or she might get something wrong, or she might make me unhappy or disappointed in her because she couldn't read it right away, then it might as well been Finnegans Wake by James Joyce for all she was going to be getting out of it.

Let's go back to that quote I first shared. Anxiety or its emotional compatriots... fear, shame, anger... are very close to the surface in our children from hard places. They are the default emotions for a great many situations. It takes years of a child feeling safe before these emotions are not the first ones out of the box. If enjoyment, and I would add learning, since true learning is so closely tied to enjoyment, can only occur past the edge of anxiety, then is it any wonder that our children struggle so much with learning? That their learning appears so mystifyingly jagged? That there is the constant feeling that they could do so much more if they only would?

We want to push. We want to make up for the lost years, and not have them lose any more time. It is a worthy goal to want a child to succeed. But what if the most healing option is to do just the opposite? To give them time to learn what safety and love feel like. To keep things simple as they learn they are capable and they don't have to be anxious about every single thing. To let them go back and get a giant do-over for all the things they missed over the years. To help them understand that to hear the words, "Once upon a time..." opens up a world of wonder and adventure that they can participate in.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pleasure and enjoyment

One of the things I've been working on this month is to read down the pile of books next to my bed. These would be the books that I've started, but haven't finished before picking up another book. They are all non-fiction. In general, I like to have one non-fiction and one fiction book that I am reading at a time. I'm not quite sure when or how the non-fiction pile got away from me, but it did, and it's been bothering me. How can a person who only likes to have one book from one genre going at a time have so many books with book marks in them? I don't know, but I've decided that something has to be done.

I finished one yesterday, and am now working on the next in the pile. Currently, I'm working on Flow: the psychology of optimal experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (That would be pronounced: Mee-high Chick-sent-mee-high, emphasis on second syllable of the last name.) This is one of those books which appears on nearly every bibliography I come across in my light, neuroscience-brain stuff reading. It seemed as though I should actually read it, so I asked for it for Christmas.

The jury is still out as to what I think about it, but today I came across this quote:

"During the first few years of life every single child is a little 'learning machine' trying out new movements, new words daily. The rapt concentration on the child's face as she learns each new skill is a good indication of what enjoyment is about. And each instance of enjoyable learning adds to the complexity of the child's developing self.

Unfortunately, this natural connection between growth and enjoyment tends to disappear with time. Perhaps because 'learning' becomes an external imposition when schooling starts, the excitement of mastering new skills gradually wears out. It becomes all too easy to settle down within the narrow boundaries of the self developed in adolescence. But if one gets to be too complacent, feeling that psychic energy invested in new directions is wasted unless there is a good chance of reaping extrinsic rewards for it, one may end up no longer enjoying life, and pleasure becomes the only source of positive experience."

Before I discuss this, you need to know that Csikszentmihalyi defines pleasure as a feeling of contentment when outside experiences meet expectations. Pleasure is short-lived; it does not cause growth in an individual. Opposed to pleasure is enjoyment. Enjoyment is reached when the is novelty and accomplishment; it causes growth and helps to create a more complex person. Pleasure takes no effort, whereas enjoyment can only happen with 'unusual investment of attention.' Pleasure can be obtained by the use of drugs, while drugs are the antithesis of enjoyment.

Knowing this, go back to the quote I shared. A child starts out learning naturally, and gaining enjoyment from the ongoing struggle and eventual mastery of new information and skills. We all know that if we feel enjoyment while doing something, we are that much more motivated to do that same thing again, and often at a deeper level, even if it felt hard initially. Or maybe because it felt hard, and we kept going and mastered it.

But at some point the child stops feeling enjoying from learning new things. Csikszentmihalyi proposes it has something to do with starting school. As I think about this, I would propose that many traditional classrooms (please notice I didn't say all, before you click that comment button) teach children to enjoy the easiness and quick fix of pleasure over the hard work and more intensive effort of enjoyment.

The child in a traditional classroom is learning on someone else's time table. The content of the learning is dictated, as is how it is to be learned. It doesn't really matter if the child is interested or even ready to learn what is put before him, that's what's on the plan. Instead of being invested in the learning for its own sake, the child then learns that pleasing the teacher, by turning in appropriate work, is what is going to be the most rewarded. An 'A' on a paper or test provides a bit of pleasure at the end of the work. Or, for a child who does not fare well in this environment, she learns that there is no pleasure whatever, and that just finishing or ignoring the assignments will provide the most pleasure because it will be done, or even just ignored.

These are two vastly different students, but ultimately they learn the same lesson. There is not intrinsic enjoyment of learning. The idea that there is something positive to struggling to master something, or to accept an intellectual challenge other than the sheer enjoyment which comes with success.

It is a damning statement he makes at the end, and it is actually a chilling indictment of modern schooling. Extrinsic rewards can eventually rob a person of enjoyment of life. It's something to ponder, isn't it?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Words matter

I receive relatively few questionable comments as I go about my day, especially when I compare notes with other mothers of adopted children or many children or many adopted children. Maybe I give off a scary vibe, though I don't feel particularly fearsome. Maybe people are just so overwhelmed by the opportunities presented as to which avenue to take when making thoughtless comments, that they are speechless as a result. I don't know. But whether I'm at the receiving end of the comments or not, people's words do matter, especially when talking about other people.

In that spirit, I'm feeling as though it is time once again to give a quick run-down of words and phrases which just shouldn't be used, pretty much ever. I'll even give the reasons why. Onward with my public service announcement and plea to always put the person first in your speaking and comments.

1. "Your own"

This would be in the context of, "Do you also have children of your own?' or "She adopted a child, but also had children of her own," or "I can't decide whether to adopt or have children of my own." This is perhaps also one of the most abused phrases, and one I am actually going to hear on a fairly regular basis. I realize that for the most part, at the root of it, is a lack of appropriate language. The speaker usually doesn't mean anything by it, but is merely trying to differentiate between an adopted or biological child. If I am by myself, I will usually give this a pass. If my children are with me, you can be sure I'll do a little education.

The difficulty is, in every instance I've ever heard it used, it makes it quite clear that the adopted child is not 'my own.' How do you suppose this makes that child feel? I'll tell you... pretty rotten. My children are all my own, regardless of how they arrived in my family. My children are all, equally, full members of my family. They need no qualifiers. So, people, unless you are specifically talking about an adoption issue, there is very rarely ever a need to differentiate between how a family was formed. The children are all their own.

2. "To get"

This phrase is also adoption related, used in the sense of "What kind of child can you get from [insert country name]?" or "I want to get a child from [insert country name]," or "Can you still get babies from [insert country name]?" I find this phrase to fall off the lips of potential adoptive parents, new adoptive parents, and the general public in equal measure, and every time I hear it, it sets my teeth on edge.

Why? Well, the phrase implies shopping or picking out or otherwise obtaining, usually an object. It commodifies the adoption relationship and the child at the center of it. To go to a country to get a child, makes it seem like a business transaction. It does not even begin to carry the weight of what is actually going on... the losses which the child endured or the level of commitment the new parents must make to the child. It also tacitly tells something about the country the child is from, and that something is not good. It implies that the country is not our equal, that their children are ours for the taking, that we have some right to them. This is not true, of course, but this is what is implied by such a seemingly innocuous verb.

3. Any number of phrases other than congratulations

When you are confronted with someone announcing that they are either pregnant or pursuing an adoption, there is one and only one phrase that is appropriate: Congratulations! That's it. Nothing else. Not what you think about over population. Not a joke asking the person if they know what causes it. (Trust me, they've heard it.) Not asking if they are crazy. Not expressing concern over that person stretching themselves too thin. No comments about how the other children in the family will suffer. Do I need to go on?

Just stick to congratulations. Really. I don't even care if you mean it. Just say it. Because really, a new baby or child joining a family is a cause for celebration. And no one is asking you to raise the child, are they?

4. "Retarded" or "Spas[tic]"

I was reminded just yesterday, that the last bastion for vaguely publicly acceptable 'jokes' are aimed at those who are least able to defend themselves. It would seem obvious that overt jokes at the expense of the intellectually disabled are bad, but sometimes people still use these two terms that I've written to indicate that something is stupid or out of control.

Yeah, don't do that, either. The English language is rich in descriptive words. Choose words which don't immediately denigrate a person. Do I really need to expound any more on this particularly item?

5. "Shithole of a country"

Oh, please tell me you knew I was heading here. Setting aside the singularly unimaginative use of language, let's just talk for a moment why this is a problem. It boils down to people, and how we perceive them, because what's being talked about here is not just a place. To parse the phrase a bit, what would you find in a shithole, but shit. It's nearly impossible not to get to this conclusion. It's just never good form to call another person that. It's even more egregious for a represented official in charge of a country to liken another human being to excrement.

And you know what (because I've been hanging around social media far too long to know what comes next), it doesn't even really matter at this point whether or not this is exactly what he said. It's enough that the vast majority of the public doesn't have to tax their imaginations to imagine that him saying it is possible. He has not made himself above reproach. Far from it. Now, say if Fred Rogers were still alive, and someone made a statement to the media that he had said this phrase, it would be different. It would not be something people would believe of him, and he would be given the benefit of a doubt. This is the benefit of living your life above reproach; to be honorable. It doesn't mean you are perfect, but you've not jumped head first into the pig sty of your own volition. And once you are sitting in that pig sty, it hardly seems worth the effort to point out that some small part on your body is clear of... filth.

If you are a follower of Jesus, I find it appalling if you can find it in yourself to defend this. This is not who we are supposed to be. We are to love people. We are to love all people, even our enemies. We are to be so outrageous in our love that people will mark it and ask why. We cannot sit by and allow our fellow humans to be denigrated. Ever. No matter what.

"Whoever keeps covenant. Whoever does the will of my Father. Whoever believes. Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul all sing variations of the same song. What the prophets hinted at, Jesus says straight out. And Paul recognizes it, seeing how God is weaving this family of belonging from the time of Abraham. Anyone can become a member of God's family -- this is the base line for their song.

Jesus embodied this kind of family largess. Watch him, and you'll notice the company he kept. He was at ease with street kids, sick people, prostitutes -- the outcasts of society. He welcomed women, foreigners, and Roman functionaries. He dined with religious elite and partisan politicians. This is what you'd expect from someone unlimited by the boundary markers of ethnicity, class, and clan. Anyone could be close as kin to Jesus." from Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday bullets, Jan. 12, 2018

It's been one of those crazy weeks where I seem to only barely manage to keep my head above water. This inevitably happens on weeks with doctor's appointments, especially ones which involve driving 100+ miles. Having a couple of people down with various illnesses didn't help either.

  • I know more than a few people, both with children requiring lots of appointments and without, wonder how homeschooling works when you do need to take time out for appointments. Well, first of all, I find it is all easier to change our style of homeschooling based on what life is looking like at any given moment. Times that are calm with not a lot of appointments, we can be more schedule and workbook oriented. Times with craziness or appointments or surgeries or any of the other surprises life tends to throw about, it is useful to think of education in different terms. This has been a more unschooling sort of week than is typical, but then, I've never even pretended to subscribe to any single homeschooling method. Why be constricted? I know that unschooling (learning without prescribed curricula or textbooks or plans), makes more than a few people nervous, and I'm not sure I could even do it full time, But that said, it is often during our unschooling seasons that I am most aware of what my children are learning. Maybe it's because it is more organic and driven by the individual? Anyway, I took some pictures to show you what I mean.

As I had mentioned earlier, we have made a brief stopover to Easter Island/Rapa Nui on our way to New Zealand. Nova had done a really great series about lost civilizations where various experts and scientists tried to recreate how different things were accomplished. The moai on Rapa Nui were one of them. We watched the show on Monday, because that's what was on the schedule, but also because more than a couple of people were sick, and it seemed like a low key activity. 

So back to the photos. Everyone was very taken with the island and the statues. The top picture are moai created out of Lego by K. (Really, in K.'s world, something doesn't exist until it has been recreated in Lego.) The bottom two photos are G.'s work. One of the hypotheses of how the moai were moved, was that they were put on a sled and rolled over logs. The next day, G. had built the top set-up, then she calls to me and announces, "This would not have worked because they could never have turned the sled!" She then proceeds to show me how the sled could not have turned. The second picture shows the moai on the sled. 

There was quite a bit of other learning that happened, and this was just a small bit of it, but it does show how life and learning go on, even in the midst of other stuff.
  • I have been working on getting the amount spent on groceries under control. This means paying far more attention than I had been to sales, and planning my meals around those things. I will admit to having gotten out of the habit, and it showed. I've also decided that I need to be a little proactive in taking advantage of those sales for future use. You know, buying a lot of something at a good price and storing it for later. Here is what I came home with on Wednesday.

Yes, that is a lot of red bell peppers and poblano chiles. They were both on sale, with the red peppers being really quite low. I'm in the process of slicing half and dicing the other half in order to freeze them. You can't eat them fresh that way, but I use them enough in cooking that they will be really useful. The poblanos, at least those that don't get turned into chiles rellenos, will be roasted, diced and frozen.
  • H. read all of Green Eggs and Ham to me today. She had absolutely no difficulty on any of the words, and she was understanding it. I know it's not a difficult book, but it is not entirely made up of easy words. You have some 'would's and 'could's, and you need to know what 'e' on the end does as well as what happens with two vowels to be able to read it. Another milestone was that I think the rhyming was actually helping her. Anyone with a child whose first language was not English knows that rhyming is one of the last things to develop. 
  • There is a grassroots campaign among children for us to get a pot-bellied pig which is at an animal shelter. I think a good part of the reason is that it's name is Fifi. Well, that and the cachet of having another extremely unusual pet. As A. mentioned last night, we left normal behind a long time ago. There are some bad stories about dogs and pigs, though, so... 
  • The second session of the women's Bible I'm in started Wednesday night. You know what was the most exciting thing to me? I wasn't the 'new girl'! I knew people, they knew me, it felt like a huge relief.
  • P.'s second semester French class at the local community college was cancelled at the last moment due to low enrollment. I'm both annoyed and frustrated. Anyone local know of someone who would like the money that the community college would have gotten, to tutor P. through the second half of her French book? I could do it, but in reality it is more likely to happen if I outsource it.
  • Olive is now up to 80 pounds. She can easily rest her head on the dining room table without stretching. Not that we encourage that behavior.
  • Q. continues to lay eggs. I have quite a full glass of them in the refrigerator now. She is laying an egg at least probably twice a week these days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

It's been two years

It's been two years since we added numbers 11 and 12 to our family. It's hard to believe that it's been that long. It's just as hard to believe that it's been so short. Time is funny like that.

It seems as though the two year anniversary is a good time to do a little catch-up post about how everyone is doing. I'll do Y. first. It's a little more straight forward. Maybe.

Y. fits right in. She is bright, imaginative, engaging, curious, and more than a little stubborn and a bit perfectionistic. This pretty much describes a great number of our children. And since I'm also a (ahem) little stubborn and perfectionistic, I get that about her. I think it would be fair to also throw in the word driven. Driven as in, don't get in her way if she has decided she is going to do something.

In the past two years, Y. has developed a lot of muscle, and can now walk and run for great distances without getting tired. She can jump on the trampoline and ride a two-wheeler. These are certainly two activities she wasn't even close to being able to do when she first came home. She can read phonics-rule-following words as well as quite a few sight words. And due to her driven nature, she can still read quite a bit of Mandarin. Her receptive Mandarin skills are quite good, though I fear her expressive skills in her first language have plummeted. It was one thing we lost in the move... good friends who could speak Mandarin with her on a regular basis.

She loves her family, but still misses China and her friends there. It's completely understandable and normal. I'm all for normal emotional responses. In short, Y. is doing great and is a joy.

R. is, as always a little more complicated. Putting on my detached, clinical hat, R. has actually made quite a bit of progress over the past two years as well, especially if you consider where she started. We just had a neurologist appointment yesterday, so the realization of this is fresh in my mind. It helps to have the eyes of someone who only sees her twice a year.

R. is significantly stronger than she was when she came home, and she is slowly gaining some muscle control and proprioception. Her vestibular awareness has also increased. Her list of physical movements that she can do now, which she couldn't when she came home include: crawling, high kneel, standing on her heels, alternating feet down stairs, and... standing on one foot! This last was done for the first time in the neurologist's office when she asked R. to do it. R. even did one sort of hop on one foot... being able to do it with both the left and right feet. I admit to cheering when she did. It's what we've been working on (and on and on), and there has been much shrieking and side eyes. Followed by the inevitable statement, "In China, no me do this!"

When she came home, she carried her right arm as if it were palsied, with a claw-like hand. Over the two years, we have worked on that, and now she carries it down at her side, though her wrist still wants to turn up. That's a work in progress. The neurologist also noted that her RH finger dexterity was much improved over last time.

Other gains: We're hearing more English language, with less Mandarin thrown in, though it's still there. She is also still very heavy on the nouns, with verbs being nearly totally absent from her speech. She gets her clothes on the correct way nearly the first time every time these days. We have a lot less of her trying to clutch small items in her claw-like hand and carry them around and fiddle with them. (They were definitely an aid in disassociation.) She is better at looking at where she is going, and less-frequently runs into, through, or on things. There is less disassociation.

Academically, I've been doing a little more traditional preschool level work with her, rather than just straight toddler play. Perhaps I will actually be able to use all the books I stored away just in case, some day. I certainly didn't feel much hope in that direction six months ago.

Probably the biggest hurdle has been to figure out the whole seizure-thing. We are weaning down her second seizure medicine a bit to see what happens. Her neurologist is wonderful and puts up with my crazy ideas. But really, for her, it does seem that the more we can lower her stress and anxiety, the fewer seizures or auras we see. In her recent history, being in the same family every day of the week for two years is the most stability she has had. A brain that is relaxed and calm can learn (or begin to learn), because it is not on high alert and disassociated all at the same time.

R. still has a long way to go. There is so much I hope for her. I look at H. and would love for R. to reach the same level of cognition and functioning. I would love for R. to develop the same emotional knowledge that H. has gained over the past few years. But really, I would just really love to know who R. is under the results of all the pain and fear and hurt. When I look back at the list such as I just wrote, I think perhaps someday that might be a possibility. And that's good to know, because in truth, she is not an easy child to parent. What I've also learned, though, is that the issue of whether I perceive her as being difficult or easy, really lies with me, and my attitudes, and really has not a lot to do with the child herself. She is what she is. It's the learning to accept that which can be challenging.

I'm actually amazed at where we are, if I think back and remember carefully this day two years ago. One child couldn't stand us, did not want to be in our family, and loathed her new sister. The other child was a shrieking, flapping, essentially non-verbal, mess of anxiety and fear and trauma, who wanted to nothing except to cling to us, her only tenuous link to safety. We've all come a long way.

If you missed out on the circus the first time around, Here we go, is the first post of our three weeks in China to bring home R. and Y. If you click 'newer post' on the bottom, it will take you to the next installment. For those of you who don't want to wade through three weeks' worth of posts, here are the links to the posts about meeting each of the girls for the first time.

We now have 11 children

An even dozen

Rereading these two posts, I need to clarify something. Boy, I did a nice job of glossing over the hard bits. It all seems so pleasant and manageable to read about it. Usually I'm all about telling the whole story, yucky bits and all. I think it was because I was in shock as well as my girls. It's one thing to experience it, it's another thing to be able to process it to write about it. I couldn't actually write exactly how terrifying it was, because that would somehow confirm it and make it more real. I can be much more brutally honest about the hard now, because I am sufficiently removed from it, and my worst imaginings have not come real. Heck, I can even laugh about most of it. But not then, and not for a while afterwards.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Winter walk

The holidays are over, the temperature is not only in the positives, but in the double digits as well, so it seemed a good idea to get back to walking Kenzie in the forest preserve every day. 

This is made more comfortable by the fact I bought myself some new winter boots. We had credit card point, so those combined with a great sale, gave me a wonderful pair of boots at an affordable price. You can't tell, but they are red plaid. Very woodsy.

Winter out here is proving to be far different from winter in the city. It seems much more manageable. First, there are more places for the snow to go, so I am not continually trying to back my van out onto a busy street, while avoiding the piles of snow which narrowed my driveway. With no turning radius, this always made me hate leaving the house. Now, I have no narrow driveway to back out of onto a snow-narrowed street. It is so much easier, and so much less stressful. Also, with a lot more open space, the snow stays pleasant to look at. It's been since Christmas since it really snowed, and for the most part the snow everywhere is still white, rather than dingy grey to black.

Also, I don't have any idea if we have had more than our usual amount of snowy days, but my typical descent into the winter blahs has yet to happen. With the three large sliding glass doors all along the south side of our house, the amount of light that is let in is amazing. Even with cloudier days, I feel as though I'm getting more light than I used to. This is a very, very good thing.

Having this place to walk, even in winter, has also been fabulous. Walking and being outside, always lift my mood, and to be able to do so with real scenery as well... I'm feeling very blessed this winter.

Our house is right there in the picture below... just over the rise. I'm hardly that far from home, though it feels like it. Children have come to find me, if they suddenly need my presence.

Kenzie really enjoyed his walk. Both he and Olive are feeling a little housebound. Kenzie usually has pretty good leash manners, but today, he just couldn't help himself. He was so glad to be out and walking and sniffing. He is much more of a scent dog than we've ever had, and spent most of his time with his nose to the ground like this. I think there is very little Labrador in him.

I am looking forward to spring, but mainly because of what spring brings: continuing to fix up the property, adding some animals, finally working on doing what we need to get horses. For once, though, it's not because I cannot take the weather for one minute longer.

Monday, January 08, 2018

A little more about large families

In church on Sunday, the pastor used a quote by C. S. Lewis to illustrate why it is important that the Church be comprised believers being corporately together. It was an interesting discussion, but I was struck by the quote.

"In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets." C. S. Lewis from The Four Loves

This is the closest I have ever come to being able to explain what having many children is like. It is not just that there are many individual people in a large family, but on top of the individuals, there are all the connections between them. Each child brings out something different in each of the other people in the family. Things about that person that might not have been brought out in any other way. Of course, sometimes it happens that these traits are not altogether positive, but mostly they are. We are all more ourselves because there are more of us.

The converse is also true. Lewis goes on to say that when one of his friends, Charles Williams died, not only did he lose that friend, but he also lost the part of J.R.R. Tolkein that Charles Williams brought out.

I've always noticed that when one of our children is missing, the hole seems far bigger than one out of twelve should be. But Lewis nailed it. Because that one person is missing, we are missing little (or big) chunks of each of the others. Ask any parent of a large family. Even one child not being there creates an enormous hole.

More children does not just mean more children. It brings a new level of depth to every member of the family. This is what many people miss when looking in from the outside. They just see numbers, and perhaps laundry and food. But the actual experience is different. In a functional family, the uniqueness of each member is reflected in every other family member. It's like a giant family version of a Fresnel lens. Each person is more who they are, because of the others. Notice I said functional. I know full well there are dysfunctional large families. Family size does not guarantee health. But the flip side is also true. Having a small family does not guarantee family functionality, either. There are plenty of dysfunctional small families, too. It turns out health is not really a size issue.

We need other people. Yes, even us introverts. Not only do we need other people for companionship and all those other good people things, but we need them to show us aspects of ourselves that we might not have known otherwise.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

2017's annotated book list

As like last year's list, I will annotate this one as necessary. Also, I will ** any book I recommend. This doesn't mean that the other books were horrible, just that they were average, and if you were having to actually purchase your books, rather than checking them out of the library, these would be worthwhile to add to your library. I will link to any previous blog posts, if I wrote about them at another time.

1. The Little Paris Bookshop - Nina George
     Enjoyable, though vaguely annoying underlying theology which makes me hesitant to add the asterisks.
2. Mine in China: Your Complete Guide to China Adoption - Kelly Mayfield **
     If you are adopting from China, or interested in adopting from China, you need to pick up my friend Kelly's invaluable book.
3. The Relic Master - Christopher Buckley
     The blurbs all stated how extraordinarily funny this book was. I read the whole thing, waiting to laugh out loud. I believe the reviewers' senses of humor must be very different from mine. That said, it was a really interesting work of historical fiction. It was a little rawer than I usually read, so if you don't mind that, I recommend it.
4. Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences - Kitty Burns
     I love sentence diagramming. I loved it as a child; I love to teach it to my children. If you are geeky in this same way, you will like this book.
5. The Underdogs: Children, Dogs, and the Power of Unconditional Love - Melissa Fay Greene **
     I loved this book. Read it. Read it if you like dogs. Read it if you have children with special needs in your life. Just read it.
6. The Power of Habit: why we do what we do in life and in business - Charles Duhigg **
     I also loved this book. It was fascinating to read, and made me look at what I do and what my children do with different eyes.
7. Shattered - Dick Francis
8. Tree of Freedom - Rebecca Caudill
     Tea time read aloud.
9. Second Wind - Dick Francis
10. The Edge - Dick Francis
11. Wild Horses - Dick Francis
12. The Insanity of God: a true story of faith resurrected - Nik Ripkin **
     An extremely powerful book, as the author talks with those who have been persecuted for their faith. Highly recommended.
13. To the Hilt - Dick Francis
14. Odds Against - Dick Francis
15. Flying Finish - Dick Francis
16. Knitlandia: a knitter sees the world - Clara Parkes
17. Blood Sport - Dick Francis
18. Rat Race - Dick Francis
19. Cocktails for Three - Madeleine Wickham
     Evidently this book was such fluff, that I have no recollection of it what so ever. I think this was at the beginning of the moving mayhem.
20. Bernese Adventure - Jane Shaw
     Tea time read aloud
21. The Whistling Season - Ivan Doig **
     Set in Montana, with the main character being the master of a one room schoolhouse. I fell in love with the author and the characters.
22. The Little Book of Hygge: Danish secrets to happy living - Meik Wiking
     I know A. named her Great Dane, Olive, but I've decided if I ever have a Great Dane, I'm going to name him Hygge.
23. What it Really Takes to Start and Run a Horse Business... and how to do it right the first time - Sheri Grunska
24. Miss Bunkle's Book - D. E. Stevenson
     Fluff. Fun, but fluff.
25. The Body Keeps Score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma - Bessel van der Kolk **
     If you are interested in the brain at all, you will find this book fascinating. If you have anything to do with children, particularly ones from hard places, you need to read this book.
26. The Metabolism Plan - Lyn-Genet Recitas
     Snake oil, with a side of bait-and-switch.
27. Then There Were Five - Elizabeth Enright **
     A tea time read aloud. It is part of the Melendy Family books.
28. The Decider - Dick Francis
29. Miss Bunkle Married - D. E. Stevenson
      More fun fluff
30. Traumatic Experience and the Brain: a handbook for understanding and treating those traumatized as children - Dave Zigler
31. 101 Things I Hate About Your House: a premier designer takes you on a room-by-room tour to transform your home from faux pas to fabulous - James Swan
     I don't think the author and I would get along, nor would the author love my house. And I'm good with that.
32. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: how a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks - Kathleen Flinn **
     This was great. It was like a combination of cooking lessons and transformation stories, with a hint of worst cooks in the world. Fun and educational.
33. The House Always Wins: America's most trusted house columnist's guide to creating your (almost) perfect dream house - Marni Jameson
     I have no patience with people who take months to pick out the exactly right shade of paint, and have that be their sole purpose in life for months at a time. Especially when that same person going on and on (and on and on and on) about how they just don't know what they're doing.
34. That Quail, Robert - Margaret A. Stanger
     Tea time read aloud, while we were waiting for our own quail to hatch.
35. Troublemakers: lessons in freedom from young children at school - Carla Shalaby **
     An extremely powerful book, that will cause you to rethink what you mean when you use the work, 'troublemaker'.
36. The Overflowing Brain: information overload and the limits of working memory - Torkel Klingberg
     Interesting if you are a brain geek.
37. English Creek - Ivan Doig **
     Also set in Montana, but with a different set of characters. I fell in love with these characters, too.
38. The Cozy Life: rediscover the joy of simple things through the Danish concept of hygge - Pia Edberg
39. The Learning Brain: memory and brain-development in children - Torkel Klingberg
     More brain geekiness
40. Dancing at the Rascal Fair - Ivan Doig **
     The second in the English Creek trilogy
41. Organized Simplicity: the clutter-free approach to intentional living - Tsh Oxenrider
42. The Sound of Glass - Karen White
     Chick lit
43. Orphan Train - Christina Baker Kline
     More chick lit
44. Saving Grace - Katie Fforde
     Fluffy chick lit (I believe I was in the middle of packing)
45. Work Song - Ivan Doig **
     The second book with the some of the same characters from The Whistling Season
46. The Thin Woman - Dorothy Cannell
47. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome **
     Tea time read aloud. I've now read it out loud three times, and it doesn't grow old.
48. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
     Flavia de Luce
49. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
     More Flavia de Luce
50. Murder with Peacocks - Donna Andrews
51. Murder with Puffins - Donna Andrews
52. Down the Garden Path - Beverly Nichols
53. The Widow's Club - Dorothy Cannell
54. The Ides of April - Lindsey Davis
     A new series with the detective being the daughter of Marcus Didius Falco, for those who are familiar with those Roman mysteries.
55. Enemies at Home - Lindsey Davis
56. Wired to Create: unraveling the mysteries of the creative mind - Scott Barry Kaufmann and Carolyn Gregoire **
     I found this a really interesting book to read.
57. Deadly Election - Lindsey Davis
58. Swallowdale - Arthur Ransome **
     Tea time read aloud. The second Swallows and Amazons book.
59. The Story of the Amistad - Emma Gelders Sterne
     Tea time read aloud
60. The Graveyards of the Hesperides - Lindsey Davis
61. The Venetian Bargain - Marina Fiorato
     Historical fiction about Venice. Actually much more accurately, extremely romanticized historical fiction about Venice.
62. The Secret of the Andes - Ann Nolan
     Tea time read aloud
63. Sweet Thunder - Ivan Doig **
     The third book following The Whistling Season
64. Red Shirts - John Scalzi
     If you enjoy Star Trek, you will probably find this book a lot of fun.
65. Horse Keeping on a Small Acreage: designing and managing your equine facilities - Cherry Hill
66. Complete Horse Care Manual - Colin Vogel
67. The Dante Connection - Estelle Ryan
68. Silver Pigs - Lindsey Davis
     Having read all of the new series, I wanted to refresh my memory of the first one.
69. The While Rider - Witi Ihimaera
     Tea time read aloud
70. When Bad Things Happen to Good Knitters: an emergency survival guide - Marion Edwards and Ahza Moore
71. Still Life - Louise Penny **
     The first of the Inspector Gamache mystery series. Much meatier than usual mystery fare.
72. Shadows in Bronze - Lindsey Davis
73. The Braque Connection - Estelle Ryan
74. Venus in Copper - Lindsey Davis
75. A Fatal Grace - Louise Penny **
76. The Cruelest Month - Louise Penny **
77. The Return of the Twelves - Pauline Clarke **
     Tea time read aloud

So I know I said I read 78 books, but evidently I cannot number correctly, because it's really 77. I can tell it was a vaguely stressful year by the number of candy books I read. That would be all the mysteries, plus some actual chick lit, which I don't usually touch. It's kind of fun to go back and relive my year in books. I see each of the titles, and I can usually visualize exactly where I was and what was going on in life when I do. I hope some of you will pick up the starred books. They are all really worth reading.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Friday bullets, Jan. 5, 2018

It's been a busy couple of days, and I'm just now getting to the computer.

  • Wednesday night we had the opportunity to see the musical, Elf, at the Paramount Theater. It was a great show and everyone really enjoyed it. It was a treat to be able to take everyone to see professional, live theater. Thanks to my Mom, who was the provider of this little jaunt, as part of her Christmas gift to us.
  • After the high has not gotten above -4 degrees F. for several days, when it climbs up to 14 degrees, it can feel positively balmy. Grocery shopping was almost pleasant. It's all about perspective.
  • We discovered that K. and L. can fit through the cat door. I watched them both do it, and I'm still not quite sure how they manage it.
  • J. took the dry Christmas tree out to the fire pit to burn it last weekend. They aren't kidding when they say dry trees can go up in a flash. J. has started a fire, and then put the tree on top. He said it took no time at all, once a spark hit the tree for it to go completely up in flames. Next year, you can be sure our tree will be watered a little more compulsively as a result.
  • We have briefly landed on Easter Island on our little 'round the world, homeschool tour.
  • A while back, I shared that my mother had sent me the entire set of mysteries by Louise Penny that are set in Quebec. I am now on the fourth one, and am loving them. Like some of the best mysteries, these are closer to novels than just about the puzzle. There's a lot in them to enjoy and think about. For instance this line that I read today, "It's a shame that creativity and sloth look exactly the same." I've often felt this way, and it was a lovely moment to come across it in the book. 
  • One plus of having moved is that we are living in a warm house. Children have actually commented on it. The Big Ugly House was lots of things, but warm in the winter was not one of them. Old drafty windows, huge spaces, and no insulation will do that. We are not missing being cold inside as well as outside.
  • We have actual social engagements on the calendar. That's a big step forward from this summer where I felt as though no one would ever notice if I never left my house.
  • I read 78 books in 2017, with having decided to not finish another ten. This is up from 74 the year before. That year had a double adoption in it, but this year had a move. Both years had at least a month where very little reading happened. I'll be curious to see what this year is like. I'll also be posting my reading list for those of you who are interested. Maybe I'll do that tomorrow since I'm not sure I have something else to write about.
  • Last week J. and I finally watched Hidden Figures. It was so, so good! If you, like us, are slow to get around to watching movies, watch this one. 
  • I made sort-of homemade ravioli the other night. Instead of making my own pasta dough, I used wonton wrappers. It is so much easier that way. The only problem is, that one package is just barely enough to feed everyone, I discovered. Next time, I'll have to double it all. The filling was ricotta, basil, and lemon zest. It was a bit like spring in a ravioli in the dead of winter.
  • Why, why, why was milk 95 cents a gallon at one Aldi, but well over $2.00 a gallon at another Aldi just a few miles away? I am baffled. Guess where I will be shopping next week.
  • I'm not sure D. is feeling the love for Olive at the moment. In the past week, Olive has both peed and thrown-up on D. on separate occasions. We don't know why.
And now it's late, and since I'm out of things to write about, I'm going to say good-night.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The importance of rest

We started back to our regular school schedule today, after quite a bit of time off for the holidays. Every January, I am a little trepidatious about how things will go when we start back. And every year, I am happily surprised at how well everyone is doing. You would think I would remember by now that this January jump in ability is a 'thing'.

I've seen it with piano students. I've seen it with my own children. I've seen it in children's choirs. There is something about coming back from Christmas break that brings about a burst of maturity and ability. You want to hear my own pet theory about this, founded on nothing more than my own experience and musings?

I think there is something about three months of fairly intense learning, followed by a relatively short break (2-4 weeks) where something completely different is done. There is a lot to learn in the fall. New grade levels, new ideas, new things to think about. It can be both exciting and a bit overwhelming. It is a lot for a brain to take in all at once.

And then comes Christmas (or winter break if you do not celebrate Christmas). It's a time when people generally do things very different from the academic activities of school. They spend time together, play games, decorate cookies and gingerbread houses, give and receive gifts, go on vacations, spend time with family, play outside. In a way, it is just as intense as the previous school semester, but in a very different way.

Our brains like nothing better than to do sorting and organizing of one sort of information while we are engaged in another type of activity. So while families are doing all of this celebrating and vacationing, it gives children's brains a chance to sort and organize all of the material they had been working on during the fall semester. I don't see it as much different from when my desk becomes rather chaotic with the business of the school year, and I take some time in the vacation weeks to sort things out and get them back under control. It makes me more productive when I've done that, and for brains, the sorted, thought about, and stored information also becomes more useful. Having done something different from regular academic work, children are then ready to start back to school learning fresh.

I keep saying I'm going to do this some time, but just have never taken the time to figure out the logistics, but I think the perfect schedule for learning would be six weeks on with two weeks off. (I could also be persuaded that six weeks on, three weeks off, or five weeks on, two weeks off, would be just as positive.) Six weeks is a manageable time to be focused on something, and the two weeks' break would provide enough rest and different activity to process everything.

Our culture doesn't like to rest, though. We tend to see it as wasted time. We are particularly uncomfortable with children having free, unstructured time; time when they could be learning something. I fear we've become a bit too driven on the academic end of things and it has ceased to be useful because there is no time for thought or reflection or processing or a chance to do something completely different.

I know this is partially my own bias because this is how I know I function best. I will focus very narrowly on one thing for a while, grow tired of it at some point, set it aside nearly completely for a while, and eventually cycle back to it. While I did well in school, there was always the tension of not being able to learn and focus on the things which were of high interest to me at that moment. And truly, there is nothing that will remove my desire to learn something than someone telling me I had to do it. It's that whole excel in the class you're taking pass/fail-thing.

So my point? Be aware of your child's schedule. Provide breaks. Do not be afraid of unstructured and unscheduled time. Become a student of yourself and how you learn best, because chances are good your children will function in similar ways. Live the Monty Python line, "And now for something completely different!"

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

We had a very low key New Year's celebration last night. We played some games, some people watched a movie, we made root beer floats, and several people faded and went to bed well before midnight. I was awake at midnight, but was in bed, reading a book. A pretty ideal way to ring in the New Year, if you ask me, when my first choice of celebrating with friends doesn't work.

Today, I got a lot of pesky jobs done, plus made a dress for L. J. took many people to see Star Wars, while I stayed home with H. (who was not feeling well) and R. (who was too young for the movie.) You now understand how I managed to get a dress made.

One of our New Year's activities was to do something about the dog and cat situation, specifically, how to keep the big dogs out of the cats' food and litter. (Just eewww!) J.'s solution was to make a cat door into the utility room where these things are stored. Now the dogs cannot get in, the cats can, and it gives the cats some place to get away from Olive when she is being overly enthusiastic about playing. It's working well. The cats seem to enjoy jumping through the door, and Olive cannot get through. That's not to say she doesn't try.

We are back to real life tomorrow... it may be a shock to everyone. Happy 2018 all!
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