Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Today, February 28th, is the national day to recognize rare diseases. We became a member of this club when we adoped H., and then again when we adopted R. I feel a little like my experience with being the mother to two daughters with a rare disease is quite a bit different from other parents. When your brand new child is 10 or 11 and is diagnosed with a rare disease, you can already see what the functioning looks like. When you have an infant diagnosed with a rare disease, you have no way of knowing how it will play out, especially with the syndrome that H. and R. have, because it is such a wide spectrum of issues.

Since I have a lot of new readers, I thought I would take this day to do a little education about Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome. (If you've heard this before, feel free to move on.) We've met new people, and with new people reading the blog, they might see pictures of our girls and wonder. I know people are curious, but are often too polite to ask. I don't mind talking about the syndrome, and am happy to educate, as it is a rare disease, and not well known. Here's a tip as to how to tell exactly how rare a disease is... If you have to spell the name of it to a doctor's office, it's pretty darn rare. And yes, I've had to do this. More than once. It also has its own Facebook group now, which I think is pretty exciting. It's even up to a whopping 89 members from around the world .

Please, as I'm describing this syndrome, remember I am not a doctor or nurse, nor have I played either on TV, or even really wanted to have anything to do with the medical profession. This is completely a lay description of the syndrome, as I understand it.

Linear Nevus Sebaceous syndrome is a genetic abnormality. (A change in one of two different genes as I understand it, though because I don't really understand it, I'm just going to stop talking about the gene part of it right here.) It is a genetic issue which effects the baby in utero. As the baby is developing, the genes which are supposed to differentiate into skin, bone, and brain go a little (or a lot) haywire. Instead of growing as they are supposed to, they over grow on one side (thus the linear part of the name). The brain overgrows and develops potentially significant abnormalities. The bone can overgrow and become much larger than it should. The skin overgrows by becoming sebaceous (weird, bumpy skin where the glands that normally do a good thing, overdo a good thing) or develops nevi (plural for nevus) which are darkened patches on the skin. A child with this condition can be fully functioning with small amounts of skin issues on one side of the spectrum, or can be completely dependent of others for all care. And, of course, there is also everything in between. The other added complication can be a significant occurrence of seizures because of the brain abnormalities.

As this applies to my girls... First, the biggest thing to know is that the facial differences they both have are not tumors. It is solely tissue overgrowth or some weird sebaceous skin stuff. There is nothing growing, and their condition as far as this goes is static. Second, no, it doesn't hurt. Their faces feel as normal to them as ours do to us. Third, yes, they are both significantly impacted by learning difficulties due to those brain differences. But honestly, I absolutely cannot tell you where the syndrome stops and the trauma begins. Probably no one can. I am absolutely convinced that they are both significantly more affected by their past trauma than by any part of their diagnosed syndrome.

The other question I am often asked is about treatment, as in, what can be done for their faces. You know, in reality, when you live with someone with a facial difference, it really doesn't take too long before you don't see it anymore. Really. It becomes a part of who they are, and you don't think about it. But we also know this is not true of navigating the wider world. When H. first came home, her one abiding wish was to see a doctor so they could fix her face. She had already had numerous surgeries in China, but she was willing to undergo more. She has had six surgeries since she has been home with us. The first was pretty significant in that it involved a lot of tissue removal and bone reduction. If you are interested, here are some past blog posts I dug up about it.

Before and After, Plus a Story Writing Idea (this contains a picture of H. before any surgery had been done, anywhere).
Surgery Update
The Desire to Look Like Everyone Else
One Month Post-Op
Two Months Post-Op

As hard as that surgery was, I had no idea what the next five would be like. As well as over grown tissue, H. had some a significant nevus on her forehead. She didn't like it, and wanted it gone. Our plastic surgeon specializes in tissue expansion for removing things such as this. It is a grueling process.

The Low Down on Tissue Expansion

The short version is that it is a process involving putting essentially balloons under good skin, gradually filling them with saline over the course of weeks, so that as they expand, the skin over them stretches. When the new skin has stretched enough, the surgeon goes back in, removes the bad or damaged skin, and stretches the new skin over. It is just about as much fun as it sounds. Thus my anti-bucket list item of sticking a needle into my daughter's head and injecting saline. These are things that are probably better not known about when you sign up to be a parent. Here are a few old posts about it.

A Brief Surgery Update
The Good News and the Bad News

So where are we right now? Well, H. does not want any more surgery. When we were at the plastic surgeon's last, this is what she told him, and he was fine with it. He has quite a few more things he could do, but agrees with me, that by the age of 15, she needs to be the one to make those decisions. Neither of us has to go through it. This is what we've talked about, she and I. Every so often she will mention something face-wise that doesn't make her happy. I will remind her that the doctor offered some choices about what he could do, but it would involve surgery. She then says that she will think about it.

R. came to us with quite a few surgeries under her belt and some pretty significant medical anxiety. Her face is not as involved as H.'s and no one, me or the doctors feel that we need to do anything at the moment. Even in our brief meeting with the plastic surgeon a few months back, he could tell she was practically hanging from the ceiling by her fingernails. There's just no need to put her through further surgeries at this point. Perhaps if we ever reach a point where she has a more... um, let's say... developed sense of self, she may feel differently.

So there you have it. The low down on my rare girls. We are blessed to be their parents.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The beginning of the battle of the burrs

The day was glorious. It was warm and sunny, and everyone could be outside without a coat. That's pretty unheard of for the end of February. Certainly rare enough that I cancelled school so that everyone could spend the day outside... which they did. The most exciting event of the day was probably G. learning to ride a bike. Since it took her all of 15 or 20 minutes to figure out once she decided she wanted to, I think she was ready. Until today, she was pretty dead-set against every learning to ride a bike, so we just let it go. She knew when she was ready, and then just figured it out. There is probably a good metaphor for learning in general in there, but I'm too tired to work terribly hard at sorting it out.

And why am I so tired? Well, I spent nearly four hours in my initial campaign against the burr plants and just general overgrown-ness of our property. All around the edges of most of it, there were tall grasses and burrs and weeds growing, but because they had gotten such a foothold by the time we moved in, we just let them continue growing. There was plenty else to keep us occupied at the time. I had always planned on doing something about them as soon as I could this spring. With the warm weather today, it was my first chance.

Here are some pictures of what we are dealing with.

There really is a tree in there somewhere!

This is an apple tree that has pretty tasty apples, but was pretty overgrown.

H. and TM were big helps, so between the three of us, we trimmed and pulled and carted away much overgrown grass, weeds, burrs, and branches. Here is what we ended up with.

The apple tree (this was just trimming out the suckers and pulling off the vine that had wrapped itself all around the tree)

The is the tree you couldn't see at all in the first picture.

I don't know about you, but I find this terribly satisfying. Well, until I look at what we have left...

Monday, February 26, 2018

Great Dane update

It's been a while since I told you about Olive. Olive is big. Olive is still a puppy. Olive is still a very big puppy. Very, very big. Her tail alone is 20 inches long. A. loves Olive. A. loves Olive a lot. Kenzie does not love Olive. Nefertiti does not love Olive. Midnight doesn't seem to care, even when Olive thinks he's a very fluffy chew toy. A. takes a lot of pictures of Olive. Here is the most recent group.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reading thoughts

First, here's our little spring flood over our driveway from earlier this week. I though I would post it here, too, so everyone could see it. Impressive, no? We had someone suggest to us today that if we called the township, they may take care of replacing the culvert, as that is kind of under their job description. I think we'll be making a phone call this week.

But back to today's post.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now. In an exchange about books with a friend, I mentioned that there were so many books, but too little time to read them all. A light-hearted jest was made (and I knew it was a jest) about there might be more time with fewer children. I replied back, that yes, that might be true, but I still manage to get through an average of six or seven books a month. I believe something about bragging might have been the next turn the conversation took.

Do people perceive my book lists as being bragging? I really want to know. The only reason I mentioned it was that I feel compelled to point out that having many children does not mean that I don't have a life or continue to use my brain. There are so many stereotypes out there about large families and the women who mother them, that I feel compelled to push back against them when I can.

So to get back to my original question. Is it bragging to say I read a lot of books? Is it bragging because I have a lot of children and still read a lot of books? I wonder if that is closer to the crux of the matter. Does it add to the erroneous supermom title some people insist on handing to me? I read fast, and choose to spend a good chunk of my free time reading. Yes, sometimes there are seasons where I don't get to read as much as I would like. I didn't get much reading done right after we brought Y. and R. home. I didn't get much reading done when we were in the middle of the move. There are seasons where I'm so tired that when I get into bed I immediately fall asleep, and reading is an impossibility.

We all get the same amount of hours in the day, but what we choose to do with them is up to us. Sure, some of us have more free time than others, but unless you are so living on the edge that survival takes up every waking moment, the vast majority of us still have quite a bit of free time at out disposal. And ultimately we make time for what we really want to make time for.

Here's another thought to ponder. I've had seasons where life has been so difficult that I didn't have the mental energy by the time evening came around to do much of anything other than stare dumbly at something on Netflix. That was the season where the more frivolous the content the better... Psych, Frasier, House Hunters... and J. and I would sit and watch for an hour or two before hauling ourselves into bed. What started out as a habit due to sheer emotional and physical fatigue became a rather disturbing inability to actually focus on reading.

Reading is a skill requiring focus and concentration. Watch a child learn to read. At first, just reading a few pages tires them. As they grow in skill, their ability to read for longer periods of time grows as well. The books written for these growing readers reflect this. There are short, easy readers, moving to short chapter books. From these short chapter books, it is a relatively easy jump to series fiction. Sometimes children get stuck here. These books are predictable and comforting. The reader knows how they work, and aside from details, there is little difference between them. (Kind of like House Hunters.) If challenged, the reader will then make the jump to actual juvenile fiction and beyond. It is a process, both for the development of reading skills, but also of concentration.

In the neural real estate inside our heads, there is always a battle raging. Vacancies just don't exist. If neurons are not being used in one way, then another function will be quick to jump in and take them over. We are regenerating our neurons all the times, so this taking over process can happen rather quickly. If sustained reading is a skill that must be developed, then if it is not used, it is also a very easy skill to lose. I certainly experienced this after our season of mindless TV. Don't get me wrong, at that time, it was really what I needed, it was just difficult to get my skills back to where they had been. It took conscious effort.

Reading takes ongoing practice if it is going to continue to be easy and enjoyable for the reader. It becomes a viscous cycle. A person stops reading books for whatever reason for a time. It could be a new baby, a new job, a particularly stressful time in life, grief, whatever. Other, mentally easier, ways of passing the time will be utilized. After the worst of that period is over, a person might decide to pick up a book and try reading again. But it's, not so enjoyable. There are so many distractions. It's hard to concentrate. A few pages might be read, but it is a lot of work, so the book is put down again. After enough of this, the book might be set aside. And less reading happens, thus reading becomes that much more difficult and that much less enjoyable. I honestly believe that the distraction of neurologically easier forms of entertainment is causing people to lose the ability to do sustained reading.

Now, many hundreds of words later, I realize that you, dear reader, probably do not suffer from this. In fact, it is probably not to any person who routinely manages to make it through my blog posts, that I should be directing this. But I'll ask again anyway. Is reading broadly and deeply and frequently a bragging right? If yes, why? Is it a intelligence issue? Seen as elitist? A cause for guilt? Clearly, I haven't quite wrapped my head around the whole thing yet.
I have a new article published, talking about the ever riveting subject of adoption immigration forms. 4 International Adoption Forms You Need to Know About

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday bullets, February 23, 2018

A little late today, but that kind of sums up how the whole day has been... running just a little behind through the whole day.

  • B. came and joined us for dinner tonight. It was great to see him, even if he did happen to mention that his new job is listed as one of the most dangerous jobs in the US. 
  • A. got her acceptance letter to NIU today, and she will start back to college in the fall. I'm proud of her for working all this out on her own.
  • The worasaurus is still making the occasional appearance. This usually happens when the worasaurus is hungry. Graham crackers and peanut butter seem to do the trick for taming worasauruses and calming them down.
  • Earlier this week, on the heels of his earlier croissant success, D. decided to try his hand at brioches. These are an even more time consuming pastry. Thus, on Wednesday morning, D. comes and presents me with this for my breakfast.

They were very, very good.
  • On Thursday night, we celebrated Y.'s 11th birthday. She chose Chinese food for her birthday dinner and apple pie with whipped cream for her birthday dessert. That pretty much sums up her personal take on combining her two cultures right there. 

I cut her Chinese name into the top of the pie.

Chinese checkers... she had been wanting the game, and we didn't own it.

A copy of a picture book we own, but in Mandarin with a CD telling the story in Mandarin. 
  • We didn't have any doctor's appointments this week, and it was lovely.
  • Tomorrow we have a builder coming to look at our land and hear what kind of barn we hope to put on it. I'm more than a little nervous that what it will cost will far exceed our budget. It's hard when you have waiting for so very long for something and it's not a done deal yet.
  • We finished Winter Holiday this week for our teatime read aloud. This was my second time reading the book out loud, and I think I love it even more with this second read through. It is just so well done, with believable kid-sized adventures and imaginative children. If you haven't read it, you really, really should. Reading it in the winter this time did make it even better.
  • I have a new article published: Want to Adopt a Baby from China? 6 Things You Should Know Please feel free to click and read and share as much as you like.
  • We have been pretty soggy here. We had a lot of snow that all melted pretty fast, and then had a lot of rain. It made the little creek that flows across the front of our property pretty swollen. J. wasn't quite sure his small sedan was going to make it across the creek to the road. He did, but it was a bit exciting. A. took a picture.

Enjoy your weekends everyone!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Billy Graham, the woman at the well, Jesus, and me

With the news of the passing of Billy Graham earlier this week, all sorts of things have been swirling around my head. When I was 7, my grandmother took my whole family to the week long crusade when Billy Graham came to Tempe, Arizona and filled ASU's Sun Devil stadium for the week. I remember it being filled with people; I remember the very large choir; and I remember hearing Mr. Graham's message that Jesus loved me no matter what I was like, and that He wanted me to love Him. The first night, as Just As I Am was being sung and the invitation issued, I watched the crowds go forward to ask Jesus into their lives, and I wondered why we didn't. I asked my mother about it later, after we got home. She asked if I knew what it all meant, and the next night, I went forward.

When I think of Billy Graham, this is what I think about. His voice can immediately bring me back to my 7 year old self, and the joy I felt in being able to publicly say how much I loved Jesus and knowing how much He loved me. To be clear, it is Jesus who is the focus of those memories, Billy Graham was the vehicle by which I got there. Do I agree with everything Billy Graham had ever said or written. No, but then I don't agree 100% with anyone. I actually don't agree with God 100%, either. He is still working with me on that. I struggle and rail and argue, and He patiently, oh so patiently, teaches and guides.

Was Billy Graham perfect? Oh, for Heaven's sake, no. He was human. None of us is perfect. We cannot be. As human, we our prideful and short-sighted and selfish. We think we know more than we do. We think we are better than other people. We think we are right more often than not. And since we are human, we are mostly wrong. Every single one of us. Even those among us who achieve fame. If we think Billy Graham was supposed to be perfect because he proclaimed the salvation of Jesus, we are mistaking the message for the messenger.

In the past two days, I have come across references to the story of the woman at the well three of four times in completely different instances. When a seeming coincidence like this happens, I have learned to sit up and take notice, because more often than not, there is something there that I am to take notice of. I wondered, though, why this particular story? It's one I am very familiar with, but the story was not feeling particularly pertinent to what was going on in my life at the moment. So I sat with it for a while.

I have an extremely wide and varied readership, so some of you might not know the story. (If you want the real Scriptural version, rather than my admittedly idiosyncratic retelling, you can find it in John 4.)

Rather early in Jesus' ministry, Jesus and His disciples were up in Galilee, and people were being baptized. The pharisees (the religious rulers) heard about this, and were probably starting to cause a stir, so Jesus decided to head back down to Jerusalem in order to talk with them. To go from Galilee to Jerusalem, meant traveling through Samaria, which lay between them. [The Samaritans, while having Jewish roots, were separate from the Jews. They saw themselves as the practitioners of the true Jewish religion as opposed to a compromised religion which was brought back with the Jewish remnant after their return from exile. The Jews did not see this quite the same way, and saw the Samaritans as worshiping the wrong god at the wrong place. It would be accurate to say that they didn't really care for each other at all, even though they shared the same roots.] It was midday, and Jesus and His disciples stopped to rest and eat some food. While Jesus' disciples were off in the nearby town buying food, Jesus goes to Jacob's well to get a drink. At the well He meets a Samaritan woman there to get water. [Sorry, another aside. It is usually assumed that since this woman was gathering water in the middle of the day, when no one else was, that she was a shunned and looked down upon member of her society. Since she was also a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, it would be extremely unlikely and unusual for a Jewish rabbi to even notice, much less speak to her.] Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. She is surprised, and asks why He is even talking to her. Jesus replies with a seeming non-sequitur, about living water. After some back and forth, Jesus tells the woman some truths about her past and her present, and ultimately says that He is the Messiah. The woman is surprised and amazed and excited. She goes off to tell the village about who she has met, and ultimately many of the Samaritans come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, because of the woman's testimony.

I realize that many of you might be feeling as though I'm playing the bloggy version of the old Sesame Street game of, 'One of these things is not like the other,' with the story of the woman at the well being the thing that doesn't match in a post that seems to have started out telling you some of my spiritual journey to Jesus at a Billy Graham crusade. Bear with me, I promise to tie it all together.

There are some days that I feel as though the internet is powered by logical fallacies. Facebook should probably just admit what is already reality and create a tag line: Facebook, brought to you by Ad Hominem errors. If you are not up on your logical fallacies, Ad Hominem errors are those that attack the speaker rather than the argument itself. I hate to break it to you, but an argument or line of reasoning can actually be true even if you do not like the person saying it. With that in mind, let's go back to that idea that no human is perfect.

The Samaritan woman wasn't perfect. She was far from it, in fact. There was every reason in the world for no one to pay attention to her. Yet, they did. Billy Graham was not perfect. There are plenty of commentators this week who are rather gleefully pointing out how imperfect he was. Yet many, many people heard about Jesus from him, and let Jesus change their lives. I am not perfect; far from it in fact. Yet I hope that I have enough humility that you can see, if even faintly, how amazing Jesus is.

This is the upside down way, once again, that Jesus works. Jesus, was perfect. If you are looking for perfection, then this is where you need to look. Yet, at the same time, Jesus was also human. He got tired and hungry. He wept. He showed righteous anger. He loved. Oh, how He loved. He loved so much that He was willing to not only notice an outcast Samaritan woman at a well, but He engaged her in conversation. In doing so, He crossed ethnic/cultural boundaries, gender boundaries, and boundaries of sexual sin. (Kind of the outcast triumvirate, right there, huh?) He revealed He was the Messiah, the savior to her. He changed her, and then allowed her, even in all her imperfection to share the good news about Him.

Jesus does that not only for those people back in first century Palestine, but because He is still alive, He does this today. Jesus is still in the business of changing lives. He knows you are not perfect. He knows the burdens you have loaded yourself down with... past mistakes, regrets, errors, imperfections, failures, loss of temper, cruelty, addiction, laziness, selfishness, greed, harshness, self-righteousness, bigotry... the list is possibly endless, isn't it? And yet, Jesus loves you anyway. He is willing to lift those burdens, the burdens far too numerous and painful to name, much less admit to, and take them all onto His shoulders. He wants to free you from them. Jesus wants you to love Him, too. To give Him a chance to let you experience His love, to give you hope, to begin to change you from the inside out, slowly over time.

Does that mean that Jesus' followers are perfect? Not by any means. We are all still works in progress. The difference is that we have hope that one day, we will really be like Jesus. Known for our outrageous love.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Beyond power of speech

When the one thing you want
Is the only thing out of your reach.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Not the homeschooling poster child

Not all homeschooling days go well.

If you are an experienced homeschooling parent, with experienced here, meaning for at least one week or more, you will completely agree and resonate with that first sentence. I think this is important to say sometimes. Homeschoolers, especially newer ones, can fall prey to the assumption that other homeschoolers always have good and productive days. That they always get through their list. Their children are always cooperative. The parent is always on top of things and enthusiastic. If I were just to share the successful moments, you would think that this is true around here. But it's not. Oh, no, no, no... it most certainly is not.

Take yesterday morning for instance.

I got up late. This is never a good start to the day. It means that the masses are just a little too far removed from breakfast to be at the top of their form. And when it is also a Monday, well...  I had a feeling we were doomed from the beginning. Some things were hard for some people. Some people did not want to count by 9's like their math book had them doing. Some people did not want to count by 6's like their math book had them doing. Some people got to play for a long time with the activity boxes for the day because counting by 6's and 9's was taking other people far too long. Some people did not feel like doing their piano practicing. Other people managed to avoid doing their piano practicing because those 6's and 9's managed to derail everything. Some people's mother might have suggested that counting by 6's and 9's might be better done in an actual school. At the very least, some people's mothers would not then have to listen to the horrified screams of the children being forced to count by 6's and 9's; that someone else, in another building entirely would have the privilege. Or not, because it was also suggested that screaming about 6's and 9's might not even happen for another person. The question was raised as to why this mother got to be the one to enjoy the screaming about 6's and 9's.

Tomorrow, our schedule will be done backwards, so that the people who played all morning while 6's and 9's were not being counted get a chance to work. Maybe we will also be able to get to the travel journal and map work that we ran out of time for yesterday as well.

The morning was not a total loss. R. put together Mr. Potato Head in a recognizable face all on her very own. Everyone did their handwriting page, but it came before the 6's and the 9's. L. did a good page of reading for me, and is very nearly fluent. But, that's about it. The rest was a wash.

I expect today will be better. Days usually are after a really rough one. I know I don't enjoy days like that, but I don't think my children do, either. The key is to let the bad day go and not dwell on it. At least not until you've written a blog post about it. They happen to everyone, even to the people who don't admit to it.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blown quail's eggs

On Saturday, I decided to do something with the growing collection of quail eggs we were accumulating. We had been storing them in a glass kept in the refrigerator, and it was getting full.

My thoughts are to dye them and decorate them, turning them into cute little Easter ornaments. But before the fun of decorating could come, I first had to do something about the insides.

This is why I spent an hour Saturday morning doing this.

I blew 26 quail eggs in about an hour or so. The first few went pretty slowly as I got my technique down. Do you want to know how, just in case you have a bunch of quail eggs in your refrigerator?

1. Acquire a syringe with a little tube on the end instead of a needle. This is where having children who need surgery every so often comes in handy. K. was sent home with 2 such syringes, for him to wash out along his gum line while the incision was healing. He only used one, and when I saw them, I thought that this could be just what I needed, so I took possession of the extra.
2. Using a large needle, carefully poke a hole in either end of the egg. I found it easier if I did the pointy end first and then the rounded end. Otherwise, the shell wanted to crack a little bit. Make the hole in the pointy end just a little bigger than the hole in the rounded end. While the needle is in the egg, move it around to scramble the yolk a bit, otherwise it will be very difficult to get the yolk out.
3. Take your syringe and carefully insert the end into the rounded end hole first, to be sure the membrane is completely open, then remove it and insert it into the pointy end. If you have made the hole correctly, it should just split. Make sure to pull out the plunger before you do this.
4. While holding the end of the syringe in the hold, push down the plunger to blow out the insides of the egg. Do I need to mention you should be doing this over a bowl? Also, do not put your face too close to the egg as the contents also tend to escape up as well.
5. Repeat step four until the egg is empty. On easy eggs, it took just three or four times. Other eggs took a lot more effort.
6. Rinse the egg under cold water, giving a good shake to make sure it is empty. Set aside to dry.

When you blow 26 quail eggs, you end up with the equivalent of about 3 hen eggs.

Here they all are, sitting and drying. I put out a hen's egg in the second picture for size comparison.

Step one in the decorating process done. Of course, Q. laid another egg yesterday. I think when we've collected enough of these, I'll hard boil them and figure out how to make Vietnamese steamed buns, which feature a quail's egg inside.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Brain damage and stress

I frequent a few large Facebook groups related to adoption, and help moderate one of them. Consequently, I see and answer a lot of the same questions. Recently there have been a couple of themes that I wish I had a cut-and-paste response to, because it would save me time. One is just the sheer amount of time that it takes before a child feel truly comfortable in a new family. The other is the extremely widespread phenomena of children adopted at older ages being frustratingly jagged in their ability to learn.

Let me explain. It is a very frequent experience that older adopted children will be unpredictable in their learning from day to day. Along with some possibly significant working memory issues, a child can appear to be almost two different people when it comes to performance. One day, the child can be totally on top of things and seem to be making progress, while the next day the same child, for no discernible reason, appears to not only not be making progress, but has regressed what seems to be years As you can imagine, this is particularly alarming to parents who have not witnessed this before. Since my personal rodeo has included this times four, I always feel inclined to share and help pull parents back from the edge.

The trouble is, while I know from personal experience that this is a thing, and from my reading of brain-stuff I know that there are definite explanations as to why this is, I didn't have any actual details to share. That is, until today. As I continue to work through my stack of non-fiction reading that has piled up, I was both fantastically interested and excited to come across exactly the details I had been wanting. Listen to this...

"The hippocampus of the limbic system, key to memory and learning, is profoundly affected by stress. In research on rats, Solomon Snyder found that enkephalins, chemicals produced in the brain to numb pain, also increase hyperactivity and decrease memory. In addition, the stressed rats did not grow new nerve cells in the hippocampus (involved in memory) and lost more hippocampal cells than the non-stressed ones. Furthermore, only the stressed rats lost cells in the part of the hippocampus that suffers selective damage in Alheizmer's  disease in humans." (Smart Moves: why learning is not all in your head - Carla Hannaford, pp. 148-9).

Some of the specific sources of stress that can affect the brain listed by the author include:

"Developmental - lack of sensory stimulation, lack of movement, lack of touch (diminished Nerve Growth Factor), lack of interactive creative play and communication, unbalanced or incomplete RAS (Reticular Activating System) activation.
Electrical - inadequate water consumption, inadequate oxygen, excessive exposure to EMF's (electromagnetical fields).
Nutritional - inadequate amounts of protein, lack of essential amino acids and fatty acids, high carbohydrate and sugar diets.
Medical - low birth weight babies, chronic middle ear infections, allergies, medications, yeast overgrowth, inadequate diet or sleep, substance abuse, child abuse, poor vision or hearing.
TV, Computers and video games - which can lead to violence, decreased motor development, decreased motivation, and linear thinking that lacks comprehension of complex systems.
Competition - inappropriate expectations (at home, school, work and self-imposed), pressures towards social conformity, competition in sports and in the arts, learning in a winner/loser rather than a cooperative framework.
Rigid educational systems - developmentally appropriate curricula, constant low-level skills testing, lecture/writing formats for quiet classrooms, unawareness of or inattention to unique learning styles." (p. 148)

The author is not directly addressing the unique challenges of older adoptees, but lets look at that list and see in how many different areas our older adopted children could be affected. If a child spent any formative time in an orphanage, the lack of stimulation, movement, touch, and interactive creative play certainly are possibilities. As far as water consumption, few children, especially ones from hard places drink enough water. This is certainly one that probably affects most children. An inadequate diet is very often in our children's past, and poor sleep is certainly the reality for many older adoptees and their family's after they are home. Sadly, no one can truly rule out abuse. And endless hours of television is certainly the norm for the majority of children who live in orphanages. We aren't even dealing with the trauma involved in changing cultures, languages, and families in this list.

I find looking at this list to be sobering. What amazes most about it is that any child coming from a background of this many hurdles actually does well, because some do. But for most of us, our children struggle in one way or another. If stress causes the production of chemicals which numb our children's brains and depresses the formation of memories, is it any wonder that they struggle with academic learning?

There is a lot in this book about what to do about it... things I have been harping about for years. Going back and making sure our children can use their bodies as they should, and making sure they have learned how to play and have time to practice that skill, are two of my favorite hobby horses to ride around. I'm glad to see they make the author's list as well.

The other piece, which is not addressed by the book, mainly because she is not addressing it to parents of older adopted children, is to create safety. All those other activities are great and important, but if a child is stressed merely by living in their family, all the activities in the world are not going to help. Safety is first. Learning to ratchet back from perpetual hypervigilance is key.

As you may remember, I've mentioned that R.'s use of her eyes and body is not quite integrated. It is something we are working on, but while we are seeing progress, it is very slow going. Earlier in the book, I read a line that both supported my emphasis on working on this, and a glimpse into why she got to where she is. The next quote is in relation to exercises which have the eye follow the hand, and which require the eye to cross the midline in its field of vision. These exercises have been in my back pocket for a while now, but R. is still at a more basic level and is not quite ready to tackle them. Still, I found the following extremely interesting.

"This [the exercises she just mentioned, which I described] is often difficult for people who have been under a great deal of stress. One student I worked with, who had been in a sexually abusive situation for years, could only do a few of these at a time without pain in her eye muscles. It had been impossible for her to read, because in her chaotic state of stress her outer eye muscles had strengthened for peripheral vision and her inner eye muscles were very weak. In this condition she was unable to bring her eyes into focus for two-dimensional foveal focus or to track across a page of reading. With persistence, over a month's time, the muscular movements of her eyes become stronger and more balanced so she was able to achieve foveal focus and finally read." (p. 140)

R. is possibly the most hypervigilent child I have ever met, and I've known a few. This idea that hypervigilence strengthens some eye muscles and not others is fascinating, and makes total sense to me. She is always looking to her sides, and never in front of her. You cannot sneak up on this child. It explains the eye pain she has when she is particularly stressed, as she could very well be over straining her outer eye muscles. It is all so interesting and horrible all at the same time. But I will take every little bit of knowledge I can gain about what makes her tick, because all put together could make the difference for her.

Very few children are as extreme as R. in their physical reactions to their past. Few children are as compromised emotionally and cognitively as R. because of that past. Just because it is not obvious, does not mean that their brains have not become compromised. The extremely short version of this is that the stress and trauma that a child experiences essentially causes brain damage. Often this brain damage is the type which affects the memory and learning centers of the brain the most. In order to help them learn, we must first go back and heal the damage.

I can guarantee that more worksheets, more homework, a better attitude, less privileges, more time on task, and less play are not going to help with this healing. Instead, these types of activities, done with the best of intentions, are just going to exacerbate the damage already done. It is like asking a child to run a marathon when they are just learning to walk, and will be about as successful.

Please, please, please, take the time to fill in the gaps. Take the time to create a sense of calm and safety. I know it is hard and goes against every grain of your being, but don't worry when (or if) your child ever gets caught up in school. (And I have to throw in that 'caught up' is a pretty subjective term to begin with.) A child has a lifetime to learn. Learning doesn't stop just because someone hit the not-so-magic-age of 18. First heal the damage they should not have had to endure in the first place. Love them. Hug them. Play with them. Run and play with them. Read and explore and jump and laugh and get messy with them. Then, when they feel safe, when they can move their bodies, when they no longer feel the need to keep watch on what everyone is doing all the time, when they can relax, then, and only then, take those books out again.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Friday bullets, February 16, 2018

How on earth did it get to be the middle of February? I don't have any idea, but the year seems to be well on its way to zipping along now that we have surgery and my trip to Arizona behind us.

  • We are beset by worasauruses. Don't worry if you do not know what a worasaurus is, I didn't either until the beginning of the week. These are L.'s new creation, and they have completely consumed her imagination. Thus they have completely consumed the household. From what I can gather, there are three different types, all very fierce looking. The fire type can hold the sun, I'm told. L. is often a worasaurus which conveniently (for her) means that she cannot communicate using words, just growl-like sounds. (P. thinks L. sounds like a zombie when being a worasaurus, which does raise the question as to how P. knows what a zombie sounds like.) Last night as we were driving to their midweek program at church, and there was general chaos in the van, L. shushes everyone and announces that she is busy imagining what the worasaurus world looks like and they are disturbing her. I should probably make an entire blog category titled, "Life with L."
  • A. had some car trouble earlier in the week. Her car worked well one moment, and then the next it felt as though the steering wheel was not turning the wheels. She managed to safely pull to the side of the road, where she called me. Eventually the car ended up at the mechanics. It turns out there was a very significant steering issue going on, as well as something with the front wheels. It sounds as though it was incredibly serious and dangerous. I'm so glad she was safe when it all finally decided to fall apart. We're down to two cars at the moment, but she should have it back by Monday.
  • I forgot to mention in my riveting grocery store post that I picked up a new iron at Aldi. My old iron was old. At least 30 years old, if not more. It still ironed, but no longer steamed, and would sometimes, annoyingly, leave a small black mark on what was being ironed. I needed a new one, but was not excited about the price tag attached, so I ignored it. It was even almond colored. If that doesn't show its age, I don't know what does.

So, when I saw the bright and shiny new steam iron at Aldi, and it only cost $12.99, I figured why not? The worst would be that it works for a little bit, but it had to be an improvement over what I had. It seems to work really well, and it is so nice to have a steam function again. It is not almond colored.

  • Do you know how wonderful it is to have a 14 year old who is able to totally make dinner? Last night, D. offered to make calzones for us, and so he did. He even made the dough from scratch. It was delicious, and I enjoyed not making dinner.
  • I spent some time in my studio yesterday, making this.

It's a throw blanket that I made the binding for and then sewed on. It was formerly a bedspread that B. had which he didn't want any more. We needed a couple of blankets in the lounge for when people were watching movies (not a lot of sun in that room), so took the bedspread from B. I cut it in half to get two reasonable sized blankets, then put the binding on. This one has already been used, and now I just need to do the second one.

  • TM's ability to pick up instruments by ear and YouTube videos never ceases to amaze me.
  • P. jumped her first oxer last week at her riding lesson. That is a kind of jump that has two jumps, one in front of the other, to make a slightly wider jump. She was pretty excited.
  • Have a mentioned how much I adore the thrift shop near me? I dashed in yesterday, and did quite well. For just over $17, I got a clean coloring book on woolly mammoths, three pairs of socks for K., a pair of pants for Y. which looked like a pair that G. already had that Y. really, really liked, a pair of skinny jeans for L. (because she needs skinny and can blow out the knees of pants like no one I have ever seen), a pair of flowered jeans for G. which she really likes, a blouse for me, two yards of a pretty fleece fabric with bright fish on it (I will bind it for a blanket for someone), two yards of a pretty cotton fabric, two yards of a plum knit (will probably become a t-shirt or two for girls), and two yards of a blue plaid wool fabric. Not bad, huh? Oh, and all the proceeds go to a worthy, local ministry.
  • We were reading a couple of books about Japan this morning, and there were a couple of photographs of bento boxes. While the children were exclaiming over how cool they looked, I was suddenly struck with a resurgence of bento box fascination.
  • We have not done anything about either starting Lent or about celebrating Tet/Chinese New Year yet this year. Usually for Lent, we do nightly devotions and put a corresponding ornament on our Lenten tree, but that would require both finding the box with the ornaments (the holiday stuff is still not quite sorted out enough to make it easily accessible) and figuring out where to buy a nice spray of pussy willows. I realize that life isn't quite back to being completely normal when figuring these two things out leaves me feeling a little drained. The same with the lunar new year celebrations. Usually we celebrate with friends, but once again, this would require rethinking the whole thing as opposed to just hitting the auto pilot button of "celebrate Tet and Chinese New Year". The whole lack of good Vietnamese food options out here is another problem. I'm sure we'll get back on track next year, but this year I'm giving myself permission to take it off. Besides, Y.'s birthday is next week, and I'm quite sure she will want Chinese food for her birthday dinner. We'll get at least part of the food in this month.
  • I have been going to a women's Bible study at church since the fall. I have ended up in a group with the most wonderful women that I am thrilled to be able to get to know and spend time with. 
  • Finally, I wanted to thank everyone for their kind words they wrote to me on yesterday's blog post. I loved reading every single one. Thank you! I'll keep writing (because it's both therapeutic and I've done it for so long now, it feels weird not to). Also, I'll keep the ads off. I personally can't stand them, and have stopped reading more than one blog because the ads got in the way. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A not so snappy or SEO friendly blog title

K. and I got to drive into the city for a second day in a row, this time for his post-op appointment with his surgeon. On the plus side, he has a clean bill of health and has been cleared for activity and eating whatever. As you can imagine, this is thrilling to him. On the down side, our appointment took about 10 minutes, tops, with nearly three hours of driving to get there and back. But, we don't need to go back... possibly ever, so that is something.

Now, I want to spend a moment thanking you, my faithful blog readers. In an idle moment today, I was perusing the interwebs and came across an article about things you absolutely must do if you want people to read your blog. This seemed potentially interesting, so decided to read it. Well, based on those things, I should have no readers what so ever. Yet, I know I do. I see the stats, I get the emails, even if you are all not big on actually commenting.

Now, I bet you're curious as to what I'm doing wrong, aren't you? I wasn't breaking every rule, but some of them were pretty significant. Probably the most significant one was length. One shouldn't be too wordy on a blog, I'm told. There should be lots of white space and headings and a limit to the number of sentences in a paragraph. Considering I wrote over 500 words yesterday just about my grocery shopping bill, this is one rule I just don't see myself ever being able to follow.

A couple of the others were snappy titles (hmmm... yeah, not so much), diligent proofreading (I usually write everything as a first draft, it's often all I have time for, though J. will sometimes swing through and correct the worst), good pictures which have been appropriately tagged for search engines to pick-up, and along those lines, a heavy emphasis on writing for SEO.

Anyone who works with the internet probably knows what those letters stand for, but I certainly didn't until I began doing freelance writing. They stand for Search Engine Optimization. The short explanation is that if you choose words or phrases carefully (ie the words or phrases most searched for), then your blog or website or whatever will be higher in the search rankings and receive more hits. My first freelance writing job required us to do SEO searches for appropriate words and phrases to be used in our articles. I hated it. And I can't be bothered. Oh, I'm also supposed to pin every post to Pinterest. Then there is the suggestion to be sure to share each post at least five times onto Twitter. Of course, this would require I actually get a Twitter account, which is just not happening.

This is why I am thanking all of you. You read my wordy posts (or at least pretend to). You are forgiving of the typos and poor photographs. You manage to keep coming back even though everything here isn't new or hip or trendy. Thank you for coming back. Thank you for reading and letting me know you appreciate what I wrote. Thank you especially to those of you who have told me that what I have written has been helpful to you and your family. Without readers, there wouldn't be a whole of reason for me to write. I'm glad your here!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Solving my grocery budget mystery

Yesterday, I drove K. into the city for his orthodontist appointment. Since I was already nearly there, I decided to pick up a few things at my old, and much missed, grocery store. I came away with quite a lot, but either they were things I have been having trouble finding, or they were super on sale.

As I was walking around, missing my old grocery store very much, I came to a realization. The prices in this store are very, very good. Now, I knew they were good when I was shopping there regularly, it's why I shopped there. What I didn't really appreciate was just how good they were. It goes a long way towards helping my understand why my grocery budget has seemed to be out of control every since we moved.

The Aldi milk puzzle also helped me to figure it out. Remember when I mentioned that I discovered that one Aldi near me had milk at 95 cents a gallon while another Aldi near me (yes, we live in Aldi-Land), had milk for $2.50 a gallon? Well, I figured out (with the help of an Aldi management employee) what the explanation is. Each Aldi prices their items such as milk differently, using a variety of factors to determine the price. The Aldi with the cheaper milk is very close to a Walmart. Thus, to stay competitive, their milk is priced accordingly. The other Aldi is slightly farther away, so it is not in direct competition with another store.

Here's where it all came together for me. My beloved grocery store shares a building with Aldi. They are the only two grocery stores within several blocks. For the grocery store to remain viable, they must compete with Aldi's prices. This explains why their prices are so significantly lower for many items. When I was shopping, I would first go to Aldi and buy the things I usually buy there, and then go next door and buy everything else. Yet, even though I was shopping at two different stores, I was benefiting from their extremely low prices because of their proximity.

And then we moved. While we may feel as though we now have an Aldi on every corner, all of the other grocery stores are farther away from any particular Aldi. Thus, like the Walmart influence on the Aldi milk prices, there is not immediate effect on a grocery store, especially one that sells the more ethnic foods I'm looking for, to keep their prices in line. There was no one item that I would look at and think, "Wow, that's high." Instead, it was 50 cents higher here, 75 cents higher there, and by the time you fill your cart, all those cents really add up. Instead of spending my usual $600 a month on food, I was routinely spending $800 a month.

I may never be able to keep it at the $600/month level, but I have figured out how to avoid the $800/month. I'm going to actually just do my weekly shopping at one store. Aldi's prices are the lowest, with good quality, so that is where I'll do the bulk of my shopping. When I need to stock up on things which I can't get at Aldi, I'll do a stock-up run to another store. With the ongoing orthodontist appointments, I'll probably be able to run to my old grocery store for a while yet.

So, my point in all of this to you is, don't assume you have figured out the cheapest option for your groceries. Look around and see what prices other places charge, and if those places are by other low-cost options, it might be to your benefit. And I do like to have a mystery solved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

J'aime manger des croissants délicieux

Assuming my French has not taken a nose dive due to lack of use, that title says, "I love to eat delicious croissants." And I do. To me there is no better breakfast than a good cup of coffee and a croissant. Actually, that's not true. The best breakfast has brioches instead of croissants, but good brioches are very difficult to come by, so I am happy with croissants. J. made me brioches once for my birthday, I think it was. He stayed up all night to do it. They were delicious, but he has yet to repeat the feat.

But why I am writing about French breakfasts? Because on Sunday D. comes to me and announces that he wants to bake something. He does not want to bake bread. He does not want to bake a cake. He does not want to bake cookies. He was looking for something a bit more unusual complicated and pastry-like. After scouring my cookbooks, he decided to bake croissants.

He started in the middle of the afternoon, and had it all planned out. By the time it was time to leave for youth group, his dough would be ready to do its long rise in the refrigerator. When he got back from youth group, he then did his next round with the dough, including baking the croissants. He pulled them out a little early, though, so that he could finish them in the oven the next morning, so they wouldn't get overdone. His little pastry project had him up until 11:30 Sunday night.

He was tired, but we all appreciated his efforts when yesterday morning, he was able to pull out these beauties. They did not last long.

For a first time effort, I think these turned out extremely well. I enjoyed my French pastry at breakfast. I don't think I will be able to convince him to do this frequently, though. It's probably just as well, since these represent an entire box of butter.

And yes, that is more butter on my plate. I realize it's gilding the lily a bit, but how often does one get to enjoy a homemade croissant? My only regret is that we didn't have any homemade jam to go with them.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The chair and other things

Well, the weekend was a bit of a whirlwind, as is usual. But I did manage to get most things caught back up after my two weeks of craziness.

The first cool thing about the weekend is that friends invited us (J. and I) to go see Cabaret with them at the Paramount Theater in Aurora. I had never seen the show before, and found it really interesting. The show was great, by the way, but if you aren't familiar with it, definitely a bit PG-13. What I found most interesting was the historical aspect of it. Even though the musical was written in 1966, it felt extremely modern, which is a bit surprising since it is set in 1931 Berlin, at the beginning of the rise of the Nazis. It was both incredibly interesting and incredibly disturbing all at the same time. I'm glad I got a chance to see it.

The other cool thing about the weekend is that after months of searching, we finally found an affordable reading chair for our bedroom, thanks to our church's garage sale group. No more having to sit on my bed for everything, because the floor was the only choice. I'm so excited. I'm even sitting in it right now, using the laptop. It is a definite improvement. Want to see?

It looks like someone actually lives in this room, doesn't it? Now that we have a chair, I can figure out what to put on the walls behind it. I was putting off doing anything about that corner until I knew what was going to go there. Just ignore the hideous vaguely orange-y tan paint. That's what I do. As much as I would love to paint every single room in the house, that just isn't on the docket any time soon.

On to my next item of furniture to keep on the lookout for... a small bench to go at the foot of our bed.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday bullets, Feb. 9, 2018

Today was a much better day, and I got a good night's sleep. This always helps.

  • R. did get up once, at 4:45 am, and my fantastic and wonderful husband got up with her and took her on a long walk. By the time they got back, she was ready to go back to bed, and J. tried, but was not terribly successful. He was pretty tired today. But when she got up for real this morning, I could tell she was significantly less anxious and much more communicative. I'm glad she doesn't do that very often...
  • We've had some snow. J. even had the day off because his school closed along with nearly everything else in Chicagoland. Well, except the restaurants. A. still had to go to work today.
  • Here are some pictures J. took while people were playing outside and he was snow blowing the drive.

  • Before A. went to work, she was the fun big sister and helped people make snow ice cream.
  • And remember how I mentioned how much light this house gets, and how much I was enjoying it? Here is an example. It is completely overcast outside because it has been snowing pretty steadily, but look at how bright it is inside. 
  • It wasn't all fun and games, though. I had bills to pay, and I had let the checkbook get to a shocking state of neglect, which meant I had to sort it out first. This is not fun. It was also the part of the bill paying cycle where I had to reconcile all the credit card statements. Also not fun, especially when you discover that Amazon had charged you silly little amounts, like 15 cents here, and 30 cents there, various times. What the heck? So I also got to spend a lot of time with customer service sorting it out. Or not. Here is what I wrote on the customer service satisfaction survey I received via email later in the day.
"There seem to be systemic Amazon billing issues, but I'm not sure it is the customer service reps' (yes, plural, I talked to three of them) fault. So here’s the story: I bought something with points three different times. Three times, I was charged a minuscule amount, like the silly 13 cents I was refunded. (The other silly little charges were not refunded because the rep and I just couldn't communicate sufficiently.) I was told it was because I didn't have enough points to cover my purchase. Yet, points are only added once a month, and two days later I had enough points to order something else. How on earth could I have been 13 cents short? No one seems to be able to tell me, and instead imply I have no idea what I'm talking about. So instead of actually fixing the problem... and yes, it is a problem on your end... I am left with the impression that Amazon is phishing its own customers to see if we notice little charges, so you can tack on bigger ones without notice. Frankly, the customer service rep with Chase, whom I got shunted to by the first Amazon rep, even though neither of us knew why, agreed with me. I am not enjoying my little monthly phone fest with Amazon because either you have made an error or your billing is so confused that I need clarification as to what you did. (And once again, it's not me. The customer service reps those times, took quite a while to figure out an answer to my question and have agreed that it was complicated and not obvious.) So, my patience with Amazon is wearing thin. There are so many other internet shopping outlets these days, that I am actually quite sure that if I were to get rid of my Prime membership, I wouldn't even notice. Well, except for the time I gained by not having to sit on the phone once a month while the customer service reps leave me on hold while they take up to a half an hour to answer my question. I'd like that a lot. Am I a satisfied customer? No, not really."
  • Rest assured that D. is keeping me abreast of all the breaking chess news these days. I would hate for anyone to worry that I was missing out.
  • We discovered that Q. loves millet seeds. On a whim I bought a small spray at the pet store when I was picking up cat food. She adored them. However, I seem to have bought the wrong flavor of cat food, and the cats are non too pleased. Who would have thought chicken and turkey would taste so different?
  • Y. got her new night time AFO's, and is grudgingly wearing them. She got to pick the pattern this time, and she chose a very bright comic book style pattern. She does love that.
  • Our next stop on our round-the-world trip is Japan. We'll arrive on Monday, and I'm already being asked when the dinner for that country will be.
  • H. has started to try to work ahead in her piano books. We'll have lessons tomorrow, but yesterday I heard her trying to figure out one of the pages that introduces lines and spaces, and she was getting it. I am amazed. When we started in the fall, she could manage one small piece which focused on one white key at a time, and now I think she will be reading music by the end of the school year. Can I say again how amazed I am?
  • D. is really enjoying his cello lessons, and he's sounding pretty good. 
  • To continue with music news, TM now has J.'s old banjo and has decided to teach it to himself, as well as violin. It's very musical around here these days.
  • I'm really missing working on my language studies, but can't quite figure out how to fit them in my day. As much as I would love to give up something like the laundry and replace it with practice French, I think there would be some problems with that eventually. 
And with that, I must finish up, since I have an article due tonight as well. TTFN

Thursday, February 08, 2018


Phew, is it bedtime yet? I was probably asking this long around 1 pm today. It was not a good day. Not for R., and thus not for me. For whatever reason, R. has regressed nearly totally to an 18th month old level, complete with temper tantrums, pushing boundaries, inability to do self-care, and just general unpleasantness. I sat with her on my lap for over 4 hours this afternoon, because it was the only way I could stop her from following around siblings and animals in order to whack them. When she wasn't whacking, she was shrieking at the top of her lungs.

The party started at 5 am this morning. That does play into my general fatigue. All day long there was the push-pull of disorganized and anxious attachment. I want and need you! The second she had my attention, I was the absolute last person she wanted to be near. Push, pull, push, pull, all day long. Even for most of those hours spent on my lap, she was not calm and content, but hypervigilant, and not relaxed against me. It wasn't until the last half hour right before dinner that she even started to relax.

All day long was the pushing of boundaries. I would tell her not to do something, and seconds later, I would see her waiting until I was watching, and then she would start to inch towards exactly what I asked her not to. If I wasn't watching, she wasn't pushing. It was another reason for keeping her on my lap... curbing these desires to yank my chain. (And I'm so far from perfect; my chain was yanked. A lot.)

At one point, she told me she was going to go to Daddy, who happened to be 20 minutes away at work. I was curious as to how this was going to work, so followed her downstairs. Before she could work on going to Daddy, she got distracted by following H. around and whacking her. Back on my lap she went. When Daddy did get home, you guessed it, he was exactly NOT the person she wanted to see.

J. ended up feeding her dinner. She had completely lost all volition at this point (not that she has a lot under the best of circumstances), along with virtually any speech, aside from screeching. I have tagged out, and passed the child along to J. for him to get her ready for bed.

As well as being exhausted and frustrated at what didn't get done, I am also extremely sad and angry. Sad that this is her existence. Sad that she has to go so far back in her past to make sense of it; in order to have any hope of moving forward. And I am angry. Just really stinking angry. I am angry at a world that could so abuse and mistreat a child that she ends up at this place. How much abuse and neglect does it take to create a child who has so shut out the world for so long? It feels as though we are only now starting the process of pulling her out of the deep, deep pit where she currently exists. It feels as though we will never be able to lift her out of the pit, much less even begin to make forward progress.

I became acquainted with another child from China with the same diagnosis as my girls. This child was adopted at a much younger age, and is doing phenomenally well. I look at my girls and grieve for all the years they lost. Lost to neglect. Lost to abuse. Lost to being shuttled from place to place. So much loss.

Pray for good sleep tonight for everyone. If we're going to have a repeat of today's rodeo, I really need to be rested.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

When mistakes are beautiful

I think that mistakes and errors in learning don't get the attention that they deserve, because I kind of love them. That sounds a bit goofy, I know, but it's true.

We are in the midst of emerging fluent readers around here. For the most part, all phonics books have been dropped (hooray!!), and we are working solely from real books. You know, the whole reason we teach reading to begin with. K. is a fluent reader, but scattered, so he and I still read a chapter aloud together every morning, so I can help him practice focusing on the page. G. is reading the American Girl book about Kaya, and L. is reading Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin. Both of these girls are just teetering on the edge of being completely independent readers. Y. is the only one still using a phonics book, but that is my choice not hers. English vowels are the ever troublesome equivalent of Mandarin tones. They are just stinking hard to hear, and it takes a lot of concerted practice and listening to begin to distinguish them, so we are using the phonics books to perfect her ability to hear vowels. I am also using them to increase vocabulary, because without an appropriately large vocabulary, reading fluently is nearly impossible. I've explained to her why we aren't reading chapter books together yet, and she is grudgingly accepting. I'm also using the phonics book as speech therapy, because her diaphragm support, while much better, still needs work and strengthening. Once again, she is grudgingly accepting. On my side is her understanding of long term goals and her need to completely master what she wants to do.

This brings us to H. For nearly all of last year, she and I read through the All About Reading graded readers together. This was a good choice for her at the time, though she knew they weren't really 'real' books, though they are bound to look like real books. This year, with everyone reading chapter books, and knowing that H. is highly aware of when others are able to do something she is not, I decided to use easy readers for her reading books. This has proven popular, and we started Are You My Mother? today. H. can actually read this level of book quite fluently, far surpassing what I anticipated she would be able to do three years ago. What is just as exciting is that I think that she is finally beginning to understand the meaning behind the words she is reading. How do I know this for sure? Well, it was the mistakes she was making today.

Most early readers, and actually it's a thing most fluent readers do, is to pay attention to the story and anticipate what the next word is going to be. Often when a new reader does this, the word is wrong, but is close enough in meaning to the actual word so as not to interfere with the story. Before this year, this has not been the case for H. She would guess at a word, but it would be a totally random guess, often due to worry. It never had any bearing on the context of the story. But today...

Today was the first time that I have heard her make a guess in reading a word, and have it be in context with the story. She was following the story she was reading enough to begin to think ahead and make an educated guess about what the next word was going to be. It felt like a momentous occasion. I'm beginning to have hope that at some point, she will indeed become a fully independent reader.
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