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.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Brains and play

The trouble with being gone, is the amount of time it takes to dig out and get things back under control again. Between K.'s surgery and my trip, I have this nagging sense that I will never get things back under control. I know I will, but the process to get there is not a lot of fun.

One good thing about being gone is that I got a lot of reading done, including knocking out a chunk of some of those non-fiction books that had been piling up. Since I'm not working my way through a different one, it means you get front row seats as I process the information.

First read some of the things I found interesting. These are from Smart Moves: why learning is not all in your head by Carla Hannaford. Those of you who have been hanging out here for any length of time, might see a recurring theme.

"When we play, dopamine is released which induces elation, excitement, and orchestrates nerve net development and alignment all over the brain. ... We [author and other researchers] are finding that 'play' also helps to stich individuals into the social fabric that is the staging ground for their lives. It assists the vestibular system in growing brilliant, creative, healthy brains through cross-lateral, spiral movements that also increase the levels of dopamine important for neural plasticity and optimal learning. Play provides the touch necessary for nerve growth factor to assist the growth the health of massive inteconnected nerve networks throughout the body, and production of oxytocin which assists learning, focus and a sense of safety. And, play teaches us how to be with each other in a way that fosters belonging and safety at all levels." (pp. 73-74)

When the author uses the idea of play in this passage, she is referring to the broad definition of play... not only imaginative play, but outside play, music, acting, and games as well. This is peek-a-boo, hopscotch, piano practicing, backyard circuses, chess, tag, playing house, as well as so much more. This is what we think of as early childhood, and it is, since it forms the neural foundations for later academic learning and emotional health. But it is also for older children and adults as well.

Did you catch that line about play promoting oxytocin (a neural transmitter, which regulates social interaction) being needed to promote neural plasticity? This seems pretty huge to me. If you want your brain to continue to make connections, to continue to learn things, then you want to promote neural plasticity. Play is what is going to do that. Is it any wonder that the stereotype of a crotchety set-in-their-ways older adult is also one that we would not think of as playing? Play is good for us for our entire lives. Play will quite literally keep our brains young.

The other thing that this confirms to me is in regards to our children who have had a hard start in life, often missing early chances at playing and feeling safe. If we want to do what is best for our children, particularly if they have joined our families at later ages, we will help them to learn to play. It is the rare child coming out of a deprived background who knows how to play. It is a skill that they never had a chance to learn because life was too precarious.

Parents spend so much time worrying about how to get their new child caught up academically, that one of the most important skills is overlooked. It seems counter-intuitive, but I strongly believe that focusing on play... in all of its forms... especially with the new parents, would not only build a strong foundation from which to learn academics, but also to create a sense of safety and attachment which will also help the learning process. Jumping to academics before these foundations have been laid, seems to me to be a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

I know there are children who do succeed in school right away, but so often I hear of students who are struggling. I would suggest to go back and put things in their proper order.. let them learn to play and to do the work of childhood. There is plenty of time for academics, an entire lifetime, in fact. Life and education are not a race. There is not prize for getting there faster, and no one looses out if you take a little longer. But by pushing and missing important life lessons and skills, there is much that can be lost.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Back from the sun

I'm back after my long weekend in Arizona. With the Chicago area's forecast for snow today, I did wonder if I would get in, but my plane was an early morning flight, so I made it with time to spare before the first snowflakes fell.

It was a lovely weekend. I visited with my mom, judged many young pianists, and had three dinners with three different groups of friends. My mom and I also spent part of Sunday just walking around and enjoying the Phoenix Zoo. It's a gorgeous zoo, particularly this time of year, and it was great to just sit and enjoy it.

I'm now unpacked, and ready to start back into our regular schedule tomorrow. I think.

Phoenix Zoo:

Scenes from the piano festival:

My mom's dogs. The bulldog is the newest addition and is 8 months old... the same age as Olive.

Orchid tree in my mom's backyard. I spent quite a bit of time out here. A good weekend is one where I can read and finish a 450 page book.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Bullets a little early

I am about to head out of town to Arizona to both visit my mom for a long weekend and to do a little piano judging in the process. So, I'll do some bullets now, and this will have to tide you all over until I get back on Monday.

  • Our shed arrived, all 1000 pounds of it, disassembled on a pallet. Now all we need is some warmer weather on a weekend to start putting it together.
  • Olive is 8 months old today. I don't have a recent picture, but she is big. Very big. And still a baby. Just a great big giant baby. Oh, and she's pretty cute, too.
  • K. continues to recover quickly. He is still a little limpy when he walks, but he hasn't needed pain meds in nearly 24 hours, and I've noticed his speed picking up and he has stopped using Y.'s old crutches. I'm considering hobbles to slow him down.
  • We have a large commercial greenhouse across the street from us. We are used to having the lights on in different buildings during the night, but recently we've noticed that one of them is bright pink for a few hours each night. It's pretty, but baffling. Anyone know why they would use pink lights to grow plants? 
(Photo credit TM. I tried... and failed... to get a good picture.)
  • L. still will not sit on the red cushions I bought for the dining room. She will either choose a youth chair which does not have a cushion, or she will push the cushion up so it's behind her back and she does not have to sit on the offending item.
  • I am not good at packing, and tend to over pack. I am the queen of the what ifs... For instance, in my small carry-on bag, I have crammed four pairs of shoes. I hate to be unprepared.
  • It is not the shoes which make it heavy, though. I have also crammed four different books. The horror of running out of something to read while in an airport or on an airplane is to great to contemplate.
  • Yet another internet service provider has told us we cannot be provided with internet. The reason? Too many trees to see the cell tower. Sigh.
  • You want to know the absolutely most difficult thing about raising 12 children? It's the paperwork. All of the paper for medical appointments, prescriptions, forms for camps, forms for mission trips, registration forms, evaluation forms from all the doctors' appointments, insurance (THE WORST!), forms and papers, forms and papers, forms and papers. I think I just have it taken care of, and then another pile appears that has to be dealt with. Raising the children is the easy part. Fulfilling every other person's paper needs is truly horrible. I'm surprised I don't have nightmares about literally drowning in paper.
  • Here is my small PSA for all parents. Remember, when your child is exhibiting anger, it is 99% likely that the anger is a convenient emotion to avoid dealing with the sad and/or scared feelings that is really the issue. Not that we have been dealing with this over here at all this week or anything. Heh.
  • Q. keeps laying eggs. We have over a dozen now. I'm going to have to do something with them soon. I have a plan; you'll just have to wait and see what it is.
And with that, I shall have to stop and continue on with my to-do list in order for me to leave town. Enjoy your weekends!

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