A large family, homeschooling, adoption, special needs, whatever strikes my fancy, sort of blog.

A large family, homeschooling, adoption, special needs, whatever strikes my fancy, sort of blog.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Y is for Yesterdays

I had an interesting conversation with Annaliese that made me think back over my adult life.

I made the comment in passing that I was pretty much mortified by everything I'd said and done between the ages of 14 and 25.  She said there must have been SOME good things about those years, and I replied, yes, that was when she was born.

I was then asked when was the best time of my life.  Oooh, that's a toughie.  Looking back, it's easy to say, "oh, this time was so great" and forget the hard parts.

For example, the Early Married Years were good, because the babies were born, and we had a sense of community where we lived and with the church we attended.  However, the Early Married Years were hard because we were really broke and I was still so immature.  That was also when we lost Baby E.  Talk about hard times.

The Farm Years were good because the kids had space to run and play, more babies were born, we lived in a HOUSE instead of an apartment, and Paul got his dream job.  However, The Farm Years were hard because we had a whole bunch of little kids and Paul was working and going to school and working a second job and volunteering and gone a lot.

Then we moved out of Sonoma County, away from everyone we knew, and it was good because we bought our first house, and because Paul was happy at work, and because I feel like I finally grew up and mellowed out in that home, but it was hard because I missed my friends and realized that to many people, we're freaks.

Oh, harmless freaks, to be sure, but freaks all the same.  The lots of kids, homeschooling, home-birthing, extended breastfeeding, cloth diapering thing raised some eyebrows when I tried to break into the playgroup scene here in town.  Unfortunately, we're also freaks in the homeschool community for sending our kids to school.  Nothing like having a mom who's oldest kid is 4 tell you that she's going to homeschool through high school, and why aren't you homeschooling your older kids??  (Our motto:  Education is a year by year, child by child decision.)

Adopting is another way we're freakish.  Although we're starting to see more and more families with a blend of biological and adopted children, there are still people who asked why we were adopting, since we obviously weren't infertile.

6 months ago, we moved here.  In this chapter of my life, the kids are starting to grow up and leave the nest.  It's bittersweet.  Paul's dad once said, "Once they get to the point where they're actually helpful, they leave."  I can see his point.  Zachary's absence left a huge vacuum of quiet at first until we found our new normal when he went away to boot camp.  I'm sure it will be the same as the other kids grow up and spread their wings.

The best time of my life?  I think it's about attitude.  I look back at pictures of the kids and smile, seeing the fun memories and forgetting the pain and frustration interspersed between images.  If I can do that for my yesterdays, and choose to see only the good--not in a revisionist history sort of way, but in a choosing to focus on the happy times, the blessings--what's to say I can't do that for now?  This!  Is the best time of my life.  And the past 2 decades have been, as well.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for eXtracurricular

eX is for eXtracurricular.  

In my 20 year parenting career, we've done many extracurricular activities.

Off the top of my head, I can remember:  4H, ballet, cooking, sewing, t-ball, soccer, softball, baseball, basketball, general sports camp, art, Spanish, AWANA, VBS, Mandarin, and sign language.  

Even better, we've done some truly amazing field trips.  

From purely fun places like Nut Tree

To educational places like the Nimbus Fish Hatchery

The Aerospace Museum

And countless trips to firehouses

Plus many annual visits to pumpkin patches and apple farms.

Turtle Bay, in Redding

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is the chance to get out and see all the amazing things around us without having to compete with weekend crowds.  

Hilmar Cheese Factory

USS Hornet, aircraft carrier

We're blessed to be able to explore and go and do and see.  Other places we've been to include:  Sutter's Fort, the state Capitol, 2 Native American museums, 2 children's museums, a couple of missions, a sticker factory, a jelly bean factory, a history museum, a science museum, a military museum, botanical gardens, zoos, and more.  

X is for eXciting eXtracurricular activities.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Wonder

5 years ago, I was looking forward to taking my girls to Disneyland.

5 years ago, my biggest worry was transitioning my 3 year old Furby from private speech therapy to speech therapy at the local public school.  I was scared about the whole IEP process.  (Silly me.  God was using this experience to prepare me to advocate for Hannah.)

5 years ago, Zachary and Eli were going to BCS, and I was homeschooling Annaliese, Josiah, Samuel, and Brianna.

5 years ago, Josiah was in braces.

5 years ago, we were not even planning to adopt yet.

5 years ago, I had NO IDEA that on the other side of the world my daughter was taking her first breaths.

So, today, as we celebrate her birthday, W is for Wonder, both for the Wonder that she is to me, and for all the things I Wonder about surrounding that special day 5 years ago.

How much did she weigh when she was born?  It makes me so sad not to know that basic bit of information.  I took for granted that every mother knew their child's birth weight.  My child was 26# when I got her.

Was Hannah's first mom older or younger than me?  Was this her first baby?  Or had she been through birth before?  Was she single or married, did she live in a rural or urban setting?

Did she cuddle Hannah close and sob over her, or shrink in revulsion at Hannah's deformities?  Who made the decision to give Hannah up?  Did her first mother want to keep her, but her husband or mother in law insisted that she would bring the family bad luck?  Did they feel she'd get better medical care in a Social Welfare Institute than what they could afford to give her?

I wonder if her birthmother remembers her this day in some special way, or if the day passes without her thinking of Hannah at all.  I wonder if she sees 4-5 year old children at the park and wishes things were different.  I wonder if she's gone on to have another child since then, and whether or not she is parenting, and how that impacts how she feels about not parenting Hannah.

She has no idea that the tiny "handicapped" infant she bore is amazingly capable, totally hilarious, and full of potential.  I wish I could tell her.  I wish there was some way to let her know that Hannah's okay.  That she's more than okay, she's really great.  I wish for a moment, Hannah's birthmother could have a window into our lives and see her daughter, my daughter, our daughter laughing and playing with her siblings.

And I wonder what the next 5 years will bring.  When Hannah is the age that Eli is now, what will she be like?  Will we be homeschooling?  What activities will she be involved in?  Will she have a best friend that accepts her just the way she is?  What adoption issues will she be processing at that point?  How will she feel about being Chinese? Adopted? Different?  Will she still be the baby in our family?  If not, how will she handle younger siblings?  What kind of big sister will she be?  Will it be a comfort to her to have adopted siblings like her?

I wonder if Hannah will want to search for her birth family when she's older.  I wonder if she'll find them.  China is changing so rapidly, I wonder if there will be more and more first family reunions as time goes by.

There are so many things I wonder about.  The unknowns in adoption are endless.  But what I do know is, we have been so blessed to have Hannah in our family.  Hannah is a very special girl, and I can't wait to see what God has planned for her.  Even though I can't give her answers to all the questions she will eventually ask about her origins, I can give her love and care and happy memories.  And I can cry with her when the not knowing is too overwhelming.  Because, believe me, I wonder, too.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Vacation

We don't do a lot of vacations in our family.  It tends to be a Big Deal when we go somewhere.  Our last vacation was China, of course, in 2010.  But that was just Paul and I (and Hannah from the time we got her).

Before that, it was Zach's BMT graduation in Texas.  Also just Paul and I (um, and Zach, of course).

There have been a couple of quick trips to Monterey for the homeschool free days at the aquarium (a couple times as a family, once with friends, and once just me and the homeschool kids).

When I took the kids by myself, we stopped at Mission San Juan Bautista on the way home.  Someday, I want to visit each of the 21 California missions.  I've only been to 3 so far.  

Our last FAMILY vacation was an 11 day roadtrip through California, Nevada, Oregon, and (briefly) Washington.  This 2007 trip was a chance to visit family on both my side and Paul's side, and an experience the kids STILL talk about sometimes.  

This shot was taken at Crater Lake.  

Also in 2007, my mom and I took the girls to Disneyland.  
(Zach got to go to Disneyland with school, and the rest of the kids haven't gone yet.)  

Before that, it was a 2006 trip to Legoland for the whole family, which was pretty much our first family vacation.  

So, now that you see how rare vacations are for us, you'll understand how very excited I am.  Annaliese was going to Disneyland with her ASL class at school when she came down with chicken pox and didn't get to go.  Her teacher said, "Well, her ticket is good through June, you guys can go another time."  I didn't really think that would happen, but it's looking like it will!  Not the whole family; just Annaliese, a friend, another child and I.  Nothing is set for certain yet, but it's starting to occupy my thoughts.  

Now that I've got a passport, I've been bitten by the travel bug.  There are so many places I would love to see if we could afford to go.  

Ah, so many amazing things to see in this big, wide world we live in!  Someday, perhaps.  But for now, I'll be content with getting away to Disneyland for a couple days.  I'm most looking forward to watching the wonder of a child experiencing Disney for the first time, and Annaliese getting the chance to make up for what she lost out on.  Crossing my fingers that this trip works out!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unfinished

U is for a number of Unique words, and at first blush it might seem a little depressing to pick a word with a sort of negative connotation.

But I'm choosing to think of Unfinished more as "work in progress" than perpetually Undone.

I'm talking about... my school room.

We moved in October, and the school room was one of the last rooms to be worked on.

But it quickly went from this to...

...a working school room, albeit a messy, unfinished one.  

With lots of boxes.  

Lots and lots of boxes.  (Mostly books, honestly.)  

One of my first purchases for the new school room was the 3 turquoise cubes you can see in the pictures above.  The lids come off, so they're seating and storage!  I got them at Target.  
Currently, one holds books, one holds reams of printer paper and binder paper, and one holds botany supplies/science stuff.  

These pictures are much more recent.  After Paul finished the bookcase, I was finally able to unpack the last of the boxes!  

The "clothesline" has Christmas card and other photos of friends & family.  The pink bucket holds the overflow from the summer sales at Staples.  I stock up every year when things are super duper cheap.  The drawers under it are art supplies.  

The "family tree" hanging on the left came from a craft booth at Apple Hill.  The kids enjoyed picking out faces to represent themselves.  The apple wreath under the clock was a group homeschool project from 2007.  Each of my students painted their own apple and I added our school name and year.  

As you can see, the 3 cubes have become a faux window seat.  They're easy to move around, though, and the kids rearrange things when we watch something together on the computer.  The basket on the floor and the tub atop the milk crate are board books.

Even though it's looking better all the time, it's still Unfinished.  
Work in progress.  (kinda like me)

But I'm very happy to have a dedicated school room.  
And I'm excited about the changes that I'm making to our curriculum next year and how that will impact how we use this room.  
The thought of the memories we'll make here makes me smile.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Thankful

We have so much to be thankful for!  Today I'm thankful that Paul picked up the kids' pictures for me so that I wouldn't have to go to the mall.

I'm also thankful for a great couponing trip this morning.  I needed dishwasher detergent, so I stopped at the store on the way home from dropping A & J off at school.  I had my coupon binder and my weekly ad, and I got:

2 packages of dishwasher tabs (on sale, 2/$7, plus used 2 coupons)
2 deoderants (on sale, 2/$3, plus used $1 coupon)
2 bottles laundry detergent (B1G1F, plus coupon)
2 big bottles fish oil capsules (B1G1F, plus coupon)

I had $5.50 in receipt cash, and I had $5.42 left on a FREE gift card I got from MyPoints.

Receipt says, You saved $41.19.  I spent under $20 bucks.


I'm thankful for my family, of course.  But you knew that, I write about them all the time.

I'm thankful that Zach calls home almost every week.  It's good to hear his voice.  Makes it seem like he's not so far away after all.

I'm thankful for a huge breakthrough we had with one of the kids last week.  :)

I'm thankful for the chance to educate my kids as I see fit, and the opportunity to try something different next year.  I'm actually pretty excited about that.  AND I just found out Hannah is going to have PM kindergarten next year, so she'll be able to do the first couple subjects of the day with us at home.  Should be interesting!  I'm planning to have her go through the cutest K handwriting book EVER.  And possibly some math, both of which we already have, woo hoo!  Hopefully, that will make transitioning from school to homeschool the following year for first grade a little easier, since she'll be familiar with the routine.

I'm super thankful that Brianna is on a baking kick!  YUM.  She's been making these cookies out of an American Girl book, and they're so good.  We've taken to dipping them in melted chocolate chips, too.  Purrrr!

I'm thankful for my friends.  It's so great to have people in my life who understand the non-mainstream choices we've made in so many areas.

I'm thankful for the internet.  Although the "facebook culture" is decried by some, there are people I've reconnected with that I might never have without being online.  I love my "friends in the box" as Paul calls them.  Even ones I haven't met IRL yet.

I'm also incredibly thankful to see the nice weather starting.  Not thrilled to have run the a/c once already, but delighted to be able to wear shorts and feel the sunshine.  I guess it's time to coupon up some sunscreen so we don't feel it too much!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

S is for Special Needs adoption

There are some people who say that all children have special needs. While I understand where they're coming from, it reminds me of Buddy in The Incredibles, thinking that once everybody has a superpower, no one will be super any more.

There are generic, run of the mill, average kids. And then there are special needs kids. Sure, your average kids are going to have their quirks. An aversion to cheese. Maybe some mild sensory issue, like not wanting to wear socks with seams. Seasonal allergies. The little things that make us individuals.

Special needs kids, are first and foremost, kids. They're just like other children. Except they add a depth to your parenting that you didn't possess before. For our family, adopting a special needs child has been a very easy transition. Hannah fits into our world well. She's the most adaptable person I've ever met. She personifies Go With The Flow. For other families I know or follow in blog world, adopting a special needs child is much more of a challenge.

Sometimes a child's special need is not known before the adoption. A friend recently found out that her little girl is very sick with a serious organ malfunction. My heart breaks for her, but I know their family is strong and they will pick up the pieces and move on and forge a new normal for their family.

Sometimes special needs are more serious than parents knew or hoped. One or two issues turns out to be a syndrome. A "repaired" heart defect, turns out to need more surgery.

Adoption is full of unknowns. And special needs adoptions are not for every family. But most of the families I know would agree that their child's biggest special need was their need for a family.

Really. These kids need homes. They need mommies and daddies to teach them how families operate. They need their own, non-communal belongings to take care of. They need someone to care about how they do in school. Someone to cheer for them when they accomplish something. Someone to cry with them when things don't go well. Someone who loves them.

My own belief is that every adopted child is a Special Needs child. First, they needed a family. That's a pretty big need! For whatever amount of time they were without a family of their own, they had unmet needs that shaped who they are. Those things don't just vanish when you sign adoption papers. Second, they need someone to help them navigate all the emotional stuff that goes along with being an adopted person. That may come right from the start, with rocky attachment and other post institutionalized issues, or that may come years down the road when normal teen "who am I?" thoughts bring up all sorts of unresolved grief and anger. For most of us, it comes in little spurts along the way, like several months ago when Hannah saw a baby at church and announced, "I was a baby at China!" and my heart lurched with the unexpectedness of it.

If you've thought about adopting, my prayer for you would be that you consider some of the "less than perfect" children who are waiting. So many families want that healthy newborn, that "clean slate" so to speak that they can shape from the earliest days. But there are no guarantees, and many of us know children adopted in infancy who turn out to have special needs, yet bring their families great joy.

A dad we traveled with when we adopted Hannah recently wrote this about adopting special needs kids:
When we adopted our first child, a 8 yo girl, waiting child, who happened
to have an SN - it was in essence an easy SN, a no brainer, because we both
knew someone in the USA with said SN, who led productive lives.

While in China, to adopt her, I saw several children with cleft lips and
palates. I remember saying, I could never parent a child with that SN.

Seeking a sibling we found our second child, a boy, age 7, in Taiwan,
listed as waiting child, mental delays. Since my wife had worked with many
SN children in her career, reading the medical evals, we felt we could
parent him. We were not prepared when he came home 14 months later. We
did not understand the energy level boys have over girls..... :)

Funny thing that - in the summer of 2009, midst his adoption, my wife
indicated the desire to adopt two more children. Then my education of SNs
began. I joined the various China adoption lists, some specific SNs and
other general lists and asked a ton of questions and slowly SN by SN I
widened our list of particular SNs.

When our 3rd child appeared, who had a cleft palate / lip repaired, my
thoughts from the spring of 2008 came to mind. Yet this child grabbed a
part of me I'd left unguarded - my heart.

When she had listed another SN, of which we had no clue, we widened our
list to include as best we could what we thought would cover what the
medical report stated - even though a surgeon here, was unsure what it was.
Love did that.

Even now 4 adoptions under my belt, my list is expanding. This last time,
in China, I met a girl adopted by first timers, brave souls, braver than
me. This girl, barely into double digits of age, by her tender, light
touch, taught me, spirit to spirit, values that only spirits can
communicate and translate to one's heart - that even though I have this SN,
yet there is unconditional love, friend to friend.

Thus by her touch, she opened my heart and mind to yes, I can parent to
this SN, because now I understand

On the one hand, it pains me to know that my Hannah was passed over by several families who reviewed her file. On the other hand, I know something they'll never know. She IS perfect. Sure, she may have to strap on her leg every morning (which she can now do all by herself, Little Miss Amazing!), but from that moment on, she's pretty much just like every other kid. In fact, we'd been her parents for less than a week when I told Paul, "Somebody forgot to tell this kid she was handicapped." She's feisty and funny and sweet and helpful and bossy and adorable, and some days I still can't believe that she's mine.

If you're in the paperchasing part of an adoption, you have my sympathies. It's hard; I know it's hard. But what really hit home for me in that Civil Affairs office in Nanjing, Jiangsu was that, you do all the paperwork, you jump through all the hoops, you pay all the money, you get all the signatures, stamps, seals and stickers, you fly thousands of miles, and THEY GIVE YOU A CHILD. They hand you a human being and say, okay, she's all yours. All the work fades away. Yet, in another sense, the work is only just beginning.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

R is for RECESS

The weather has just turned beautiful.  Today is the first day I've worn shorts this year.  No one wants to be inside doing school work.

R is for Responsible.  Which means I really shouldn't blow off school and go play all day.

R is for Resigned.  Pass the chocolate, I'm about to give a spelling test.

R is for Recital.  Tonight, Josiah's singing with the school choir at a big multi school event.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Words With Friends

Okay, not really. But I have learned some amazing Q words while playing Words With Friends, and I thought I'd share them here.

QAT - a tropical plant

QI - also known as CHI, means energy flow

QUAG - short for Quagmire, a problem or sticky situation

QUAY - pronounced KEY, a wharf

QUARE - an Irish dialect of English


SUQ - an Arab open air market

This doesn't include all your average, run of the mill Q words like Quad, Quiver, sQuare, and my very favorite of all (preferably played on a triple word score) QUIZ!

WWF may be "just a game" but I've reconnected with friends by playing, and even made new friends.  I'm so glad there's a chat feature.

If anybody wants to play me, I'm grtlyblesd.  :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Pictures

Part of my latest picture project, excuse the lousy cell picture.
I'm slowly filling up wall space in the new house with all of my favorite people.

I love pictures. More specifically, I love pictures of my kids.

I took all my babies to the portrait studio once a month for their first YEAR.
Now most of them have portraits done once a year.
Some of them also have annual sports pictures.

Sometimes they actually get tired of me taking pictures of them.

Below, Eli signs, "STOP"

While portraits are a wonderful annual keepsake of the ages and stages, there's something to be said for candid shots, too.

I have a simple point & shoot camera that I usually carry in my purse.

But Paul got a nice DSLR camera for our trip to China a couple years ago, and I've decided I like playing with it. He's not so crazy about the idea, but he indulges me from time to time.

I'm not a great photographer, but I have fun with it.  I like to capture the fleeting everyday moments of life.  5 years from now, I won't remember the nice bus driver's name, but I'll look at this picture and remember how much he adored Hannah.

I look at this picture and hear my mom singing, "You're gonna miss this....!"
Because I know the next few years are going to go by in a blink.

My manly man out conquering the trees with his chainsaw.

Bri's K teacher really pegged it when she said Brianna was "vibrant."

Hmm, I wonder where Hannah is?

Oh!  She's in the tub!
Can you believe how long her hair is getting?

P is for Pictures, and Pictures are Priceless.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Overwhelmed

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?  How do you balance work/home/self/others?

Tomorrow will be more interesting, I promise.  Today I want to solicit your thoughts on being Overwhelmed.  

Personally, I find I'm more likely to get overwhelmed when I'm not taking care of myself.  Eating well and getting enough sleep go a long way toward making me feel like I can handle what the day has to throw at me.  How about you?  

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Not Me

We have a horrible person living in our house.  If you have two or more kids, maybe you have the same unwanted guest.  His name is Not Me.

Not Me in our house is referred to as a boy, simply because I have 5 sons and only 3 daughters, so Not Me's antics are *usually* although not always male in nature.  Not Me is in touch with his feminine side, however, and thinks nothing of stooping to get into my makeup or rifle my bathroom drawers when it suits him.  Not me is responsible for lost socks, bikes left out in the rain, and other misfortunes.  

"Who ate the last cupcake?" I ask.  "Not Me!" the children chorus.  

"Who broke this chair/cupboard/dishwasher/plate/zipper/fence/picture frame?" my husband will ask.  "Not Me! Not Me! Not Me!" the kids respond one by one as he questions them.  

If I ever catch Not Me, there's going to be hell to pay for all the things he has stolen, broken, eaten, drank, and destroyed.  

My one consolation is that someday my sweet innocent children will grow up, get married, and have little ones of their own.  And when I'm visiting, I'll invite Not Me to stow along for the trip and then conveniently forget to bring him home.  Not Me will be passed down to the next generation, and they, too, can curse the interloper.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

M is for Mandarin, sort of

M is also for Manly, Mother, and Miscellaneous.

Originally, I was going to write about Mandarin. The challenge of keeping Hannah exposed to her first language when we don't know anyone who speaks it.

Lango Mandarin preschool
April 2010

I was going to write about her mandarin DVDs and mandarin preschool and Chinese summer camp as a prelude to starting Chinese Saturday school in the fall.

Then I was watching Paul Manhandle his woodworking Masterpiece into place and teased him that maybe M should be for Manly. After 18 years of Marriage, I could probably come up with some material there.

I'm SO excited to have this bookcase and unpack the last few
school room boxes!

 But his Mother (and her sister) happened to come for a visit yesterday.

This was her first time seeing the new house, and her first time Meeting Hannah.

 And My Mother is here for a visit today.  We took the kids to the children's Museum.

It turns out M is for Miscellaneous around here. All the Meaningful people, the Matters of importance, the Menagerie of ideas.