Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Laura Ingalls Wilder & Adoption


'LilDude and I have been reading through the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Lovin' 'em. So we're currently on our sixth, Little Town on the Prairie. Imagine my surprise when this pops out of the text:

Ida was as warm and friendly as she looked. "I'm only an adopted child," she said. "Mother Brown took me out of a Home, but she must have liked me to do that, don't you think so?" [p. 133]

and again...

Ida could not go. She said cheerfully, "I ought not to waste time. Because I'm an adopted child, you see, I have to hurry home to help with the housework as much as I can. [p. 193]




P.S. In answer to "what did you say?"...I took the chicken way out and mostly edited them as I read. I think I left the "only" out of the first one and totally edited the reference to "adoption" out of the second one. He usually follows along while I'm reading, but wasn't in that moment. I was personally shocked into speechlessness. That doesn't happen often!

Monday, December 28, 2009


"This mine?" is a phrase I hear a lot lately. GG sits on the slide. "This mine?" He points to the wading pool, in storage for the winter. "This mine?" He looks at the kiddie riding cars. "This mine?"

"Yes, they are yours."

He nods and grins.

This is worthy of an entire sermon, but here's the summary... It has taken GG seven months to begin to comprehend all the privileges of ownership that come with adoption. He is one of us. He belongs. What is ours is his.

How different is it when we join God's family? The difference? For most of us, it takes a lifetime to comprehend. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

GG Says...

Twice today GG says to me, "You're pretty nice!"

And, for the sake of contrast, last night he sang the "Mommy Loves You" song that I sing to both boys each night at bedtime. I always include each of their names. It usually goes like this:

"Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.
Yes, she does. Yes, she does.
Mommy loves _____('LilDude's name.) Mommy loves ______ (GG's name.)
Yes, she does. Yes, she does."

GG's rendition:

 "Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.
Not ______ ('LilDude's name.) Not _______ ('LilDude's name.)"
Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. (laughing)

Domino Rally Fun!

After much consternation, I found a perfect gift for 'LilDude...a wooden domino rally, $20 on Craiglist. The whole family enjoys it!

China Foster Family Skype #5

I'm sad because a young couple in China broke up. What a small, small world this is...

We've had relatively little contact with GG's foster family since August. I attributed it to our busyness and the passing of time (meaning that they weren't missing him in the deeply painful way they had initially.) Come to find out there are other reasons...

You'll recall that my primary contact has been through Ayi--"Auntie"--who is actually the fiancee of the foster mother's third son. In GG's eyes, Ayi was almost as much a mother to him in China as Nai Nai, his foster mom. I've emailed updated photos and video links to Ayi and she's set up several Skype sessions for us with multiple family members.

She sent us an email Christmas greeting. I replied asking to Skype. At the planned time, no one answered our Skype. Two hours later, she came on, alone. We couldn't hear her, but we had one of the best pictures qualities we've had so far. GG was thrilled with her entertainment. She donned a Santa hat and played with stuffed animals in front of the camera. He sang her song after song in Chinese and she sang along. (We could see her mouth moving to the right words even though we couldn't hear any sound.) GG was in his element. He laughed uproariously at her antics, saying, "You are a little bit funny, Aunt." Later he said, "I love you, Ayi," to which she replied, "I am also, I love you, love GG." (Throughout the session we used the text feature to send messages back and forth. Both of us had our on-line translators up and running.)

About twenty minutes into the session, GG asked where Nai Nai was. Ayi replied, "Because her son broke up with me, I have moved out from her home." Shock doesn't even begin to describe it. I quickly asked her if she still had contact with Nai Nai. She reassured us that the grandparents love her and that she's in contact but they now live twenty minutes away.

My mind went a million places at once. First, it was like divorce. GG's China family is not what it was. I've felt guilty about taking him from them. They loved each other so, so much and I always thought that there was a possibility that Ayi (with her husband-to-be) may have wanted to adopt him, had she been given the opportunity. But with this "divorce" his life in China would have been turned upside down. Apparently they broke up four months ago, so he'd only barely left with us before Ayi would not have been a significant part of his life anymore. I'm so glad that he missed that pain.

It's also left me to wonder how we'll ever maintain contact with the foster family. Ayi agreed to bring Nai Nai to Skype next week. But long-term, I don't know of anyone in the immediate family who is interested in helping Nai Nai to maintain contact. Ayi IS the contact.

It was the longest Skype session we've ever had. We moved the computer into the living room so that we could Skype in front of the Christmas tree. I asked GG several times if he was done, but he was having a marvelous time and only wandered away after we'd "talked" for 55 minutes. Today, on reflection, it feels like we had Ayi over to our house to play for an hour last night. It's like she was here and part of our family.

What a small, small world we live in.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kids, Homeschool, & Schedules

Since I began homeschooling NINE (gasp!) years ago, I've tried any number of different schedules. For many years we didn't need a schedule. But I've found that sometimes we need one for various reasons... Young siblings on the sidelines. A particular personality who craves order. (Sometimes that's ME!)

The last time I used a schedule, I wrote it and everyone else followed. This time I'm doing it a little different...and loving the results!  Here's what I did...

Gather supplies:
  • pocket chart
  • old business cards or small pieces of cardstock in 3 colors
  • markers
As part of school today I had LilDude make labels indicating every half-hour. On orange cards I listed the parts of the school day that are landmarks: breakfast, lunch, and (sometimes) nap. On blue cards LilDude wrote down each of the things he does independently during the day. On green cards he posted things that he needs my help with during the day. Then, in the bottom right of each card we listed how much time (in 15 minute increments) each job takes.

He then placed all the time cards in the pocket chart, followed by the orange cards. It was then his job to make the schedule for our day, using the blue and green cards. I really didn't care what order he put them in (which gave him a lot of control!) as long as all the jobs made it on the chart. I did suggest that he put the "school" type cards before lunch as much as possible. I also explained that during the blue card (independent work) time that I would be doing household jobs.

As he finished each job, he turned the card over so I knew it was complete. This worked great! He does well on a schedule, but especially if it's a schedule that he has some control over. The fact that he has to think through what he must do each day and analyze just how much time it will take to get it done is an incredible life skill. He'll do this each morning so that the day's schedule is fresh in his mind.

Bierrock Potato Pie

Bierrocks used to be a favorite food in our household. But with the gluten issues around here, I quit making them. This gluten-free substitute was a hit...

Bierrock Potato Pie

4 small potatoes, peeled, sliced
2 T. oil

Slice potatoes thin. (I use a food processor.) Toss with oil and arrange in bottom of 9x13 dish as crust. I also spray the dish with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

1 lb ground beef
onion, to taste
3/4 cabbage head, chopped
1 t. g/f Worcestershire sauce
1 t. pizza seasoning (I buy this in bulk)
1/4 t. pepper
3/4 t. salt
garlic powder, dash
1/2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1/2 c. grated Jack cheese (pepperjack is great!)

Brown ground beef with onion. Add cabbage and cook until cabbage is limp, about 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire, pizza seasoning, pepper, salt, garlic powder. Cook 3-5 minutes, turn off heat, add cheddar cheese, toss.

Place meat mixture in potato crust; top with jack cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes at 350.

Everyone in the family had seconds. LilDude had fourths. I think I did, too! ;)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Finger Food Lunch!

We've been cooped up in the house a lot this past week with highs around 30 degrees. So I decided to try and make lunch a little more fun today. I put an assortment of finger food out (carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, cheese, meat, almonds, pickles) and let the boys fill their own personal muffin tins. Both boys were thrilled and, in comparison to other meals, it sure was easy to get GG to eat! :)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Gift Ideas II...Wikki Stix

Thought of another one...

Last Lenton season my kids were introduced to "Wikki Stix" at church. During children's time each week the kids were given a single stick. The "sticks" are bendable, waxy, and sorta like a candlewick without the candle. We collected them until we had a baggie full. They have been playing with them ever since, bending them into people, words, shapes, names,...anything they can think of! I LOVE them for quiet times and use them every week at church, but they could also easily be entertainment in a car, on airplane trips, while sitting at a restaurant, etc. (I've heard that some restaurants hand them to kids to play with while waiting for food.)

Ours have now been played with for about 8 months and they're getting gummy. I bought a new set at Learning Palace (wish I hadn't because for the price you can get a lot more on-line.) Amazon has a wide selection including books and sets to go with them. The Wikki Stix Book of Wiggles, Squiggles & Curlicues has a five-star rating and includes 36 sticks. They are quite inexpensive and have a lot of play value. Made in the U.S.A. Ages 3 to adult. (Confession: we ALL play with them during church!)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Gift Ideas

At Ni Hao Y'all, they are compiling a list of good Christmas gifts. So now that I've ranted about what I won't buy, here are some of the best purchases we've made for our kids over the years. Our kids range in age from 3-19, so if it made the list, it's probably stood the test of time. And kids. ;)

The Chronicles of Narnia, Audiodrama on CD

When Anakin was about 8, we bought him this radio theatre CD set. We thought it was a good deal back then at about $30. Now I see you can get the 19-CD boxed set, 22 hours total, for less than $20. That's crazy cheap. And hours of entertainment for the entire family. Ages 6 (depending on how sensitive your child is...some content is scary) to adult.

I've mentioned the most played-with toy in our house before...the over door basketball hoop. This SERIOUSLY gets played with EVERY DAY. All ages. My 3-year-old can shoot and make baskets and the bigger kids play some pretty serious ball with it. If you do a search for "basketball hoop door" you'll find a LOT of options. Ages 3 - 12. (Although my teens still play with it!)

SET is one of the best games out there. I recommend it when I lead teacher workshops and those who are familiar with it always sing it's praises. Basic concept? Lay out 12 cards and look for "sets"...a set comprises 3 cards in which all the characteristics are either completely the same or completely different. But there are many characteristics and therefore, many possible combinations. Some sets are very simple, others very complex. Kids as young as 6 can play...and sometimes beat!...adults. Any number of people can play. I've used it in homeschool co-ops before, spreading it out on a table so kids can look for sets as other kids are arriving. It's an awesome family game and is wonderful for developing mathematical skills (like looking for patterns). But it's so fun that no one notices that they're learning. Ages 6 to adult.

Fisher-Price Crazy Combo Horn Set...
While this is no longer made, you can still find it cheap on Ebay. I bought ours years ago at a garage sale. It has been played with a TON. A couple months ago I considered buying another one because the two youngest were constantly fighting over it. They use it in the way it was intended, to build and play their own unique instruments. But Anakin had a whole 'nother agenda. He'd pop pieces together to make his own toy gun. That toy has seen a LOT of use! Ages 3 (or younger...I don't think the parts are too small, but not sure?) to 7 years old.

Lego Mindstorms NXT...
Two of my kids spent 4 years in organized Lego Robotics. They used the LEGO Mindstorms NXT on an almost-daily basis. Our NXT was sponsored by a local company, thankfully, but we would have considered investing in one ourselves if we hadn't had that support. They grew tremendously through the Lego Robotics program. Highly recommend it. Our two younger kids will likely do the program as well. Ages 10 to adult.

Our favorite family game is probably Settlers of Catan. If you aren't familiar with Catan or haven't been bitten by this addictive game yet, it's well worth checking out. Over the years we've added the 5-6 player extension as well as Cities & Knights. Ages 10 to adult. (I think our kids played at younger ages with help.)

And, while we do not own this, it's what I'm coveting...a Quadrilla Marble Railway. I don't actually know anyone who owns one, nor have I touched one personally. I just think it looks very cool. ;) It's what *I* want for Christmas. :) LOL. Ages 3 - 12. (Although it's ME who really wants it!)

Other "most played with" toys in our household:
  • Legos!!!!!! (age 3+)
  • Playmobile (age 3+)
  • Fisher Price Little People, vintage (I realize that they were taken off the market for safety--choking--reason, but if kids are supervised and/or older, they are a great toy. Lots available on Ebay. My kids did not tend to put toys in their mouths and enjoyed them from ages 3 to about 8 or 9.)
  • Balls (all ages)
  • Playdough (all ages, with supervision)
  • Bubbles (all ages, with supervision)
  • Wooden Puzzles (toddlers)
  • Dolls (all...my big girls still have their collectible dolls)
  • Art Supplies of all kinds (all, Lizzie especially loves Polymer Clay, ages 8 to adult)
  • the OUTDOORS!

I'll post more if I think of them. What toys stand the test of time at your house?

Zhu Zhu Pets (...or You've GOT to Be KIDDING ME!)

If you don't want to listen to a rant, stop reading.

If you want to know how culturally out-of-it I am, keep reading.

For the last few days, I've been following CraigsList, looking for a couple of used toys. The name "Zhu Zhu" pets is posted after about every 5 or 10 entries. Curiousity got the best of me, and I made the mistake of googling it. Here's the commercial that I've been missing. Don't push the link unless you're ready to puke commit yourself. When I played the commercial, LilDude came running in to see what it was. He'd never seen it before either. (I think this must prove that we aren't watching much t.v.) We looked over the site, watched a YouTube video of the thing in action and looked at each other like, "You've got to be kidding me!" But, alas, a mere look online will tell you that:

1. Many parents in the U.S. are giving their kids a Zhu Zhu for Christmas.

2. Most of the remaining parents in the U.S. are desperately seeking Zhu Zhu pets and will give their child's college education to obtain one.

3. A significant number of people are making a FORTUNE off these inane toys. They bought 'em up, cornered the market, and are now charging insane amounts of money to the people in #2 above.

I seriously don't get it. The toy has little educational value. (Actually NONE, in my opinion, but no one asked me.) It's use is extremely limited. And it costs a small fortune. I read one YouTube comment that said, "America deserves the coming financial meltdown. Should've bought a real hamster. At least you could've eaten it when the food runs out."

Like Cabbage Patch Baby and Tickle Me Elmo of the past, I'm quite sure that this insanity will end, probably within hours of Zhu Zhu being opened. Zhu Zhu will be the Goodwill buy of the week. And parents will be reassured that Little Johnny is indeed the happiest child on earth.

Oh, and btw,...for exactly the price of one Zhu Zhu house and pet a child in GG's orphanage can be placed in foster care. For a month.

Just sayin'.

Friday, December 4, 2009

New Uses for Train Table

I've sometimes regretted buying a train table. It takes a lot of space. Becomes a collection space. Gets dusty. And monotonous.

We bought ours when LilDude broke his arm when he was three. His cast made it hard to play on the floor, so a raised toy surface was ideal. But since then, it's only seen scattered use.

In the midst of "New Year, No Stuff" (which has largely turned into an organization project) I came up with a plan. I want to rotate toys in our play/school area. So each week, I'm clearing the table and bringing in something different...something that both the younger boys can play with together.

This week I got out Playmobile, Noah's Ark and the barn. Despite the fact that these toys have been accessible for, say, THE LAST FIVE YEARS or so, they were played with more in the past five days than they've been played with since we bought them. I love the fact that the table "contains" the play. No one has to pick up the floor. And, since the focus changes each week, I hope to prevent it from becoming a dumping ground.

I've been thinking about what to rotate. I'd love suggestions. Here's what I've got so far:
  • Legos
  • Playmobile
  • blocks with plastic animals (to make a zoo)
  • Fisher Price Little People sets (the "old" kind...which means I'm old???)
  • dinosaurs (thought we'd get out the dinosaur books and tapes that week)
  • trains! (LOL)
  • cars w/ a plastic mat showing roads
  • Lincoln Logs
  • puzzles/games/math manipulatives
That's two months worth.  Sheesh. And I'm buying stuff for Christmas???

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stripped Clean (or Stripped of Star Wars??)

Black Friday. I didn't hit the stores, but I sat at the computer. Equally dangerous. On Amazon, I watched a StarWars helmet go on sale for $19.99, regular (or MSRP) $49.99. I snatched it. For at least a year 'LilDude has commented on that helmet each time he's seen it at the store. Since it was now suddenly within our $25/person Christmas limit, I though it was a good idea.

But then I started having doubts. It's not a creative toy. It has limited uses. Takes up a lot of shelf space. And has the potential to cause HUGE arguments between two little boys.

But I was still stumped as to what to get LilDude. Although we don't have tons of toys (though I guess that's relative!), we have what we need. With five kids we long ago decided on what we wanted to focus on and what we didn't. We have the usual basics: balls, blocks, dolls, puzzles, games, books. And items of focus: Legos, Playmobile, and gads of the old kind of Fisher Price Little People (from my generation.) We really aren't in need of more stuff...especially if it doesn't lend itself to being:

1. Educational (at least in some way!)
2. Group oriented rather than single person oriented.

I started searching the internet. Again, dangerous. I found a fantastic marble roll system that seemed like the perfect thing for both little boys. Unfortunately, it would more than double the budget we set for the two kids.

But I considered doing it anyway.

Then, on Sunday, I was challenged by our youth in a wonderful service. They've been doing a book study, Stripped Clean, challenging them to think about how stuff gets in the way of a relationship with God. They did a powerful drama based on this:

...but changed it to reflect more "stuff" getting in the way of the girl's relationship with God. Quite a few people in the congregation teared up. They lined the stage walls with ads from black Friday.

But I kept thinking about that marble roll.

Then I went to swim lessons. Talked to another mom who used to be a preschool teacher. I asked her if she knew anything about this particular marble toy. She reminded me of a few things that I already knew but, in the throes of purchasing, had forgotten...

1. Children will use whatever is in their environment to explore a new level of development. They do not have to have the latest, greatest and most expensive. When I mentioned a cheaper marble system I'd considered she said that even though LilDude was close to being developmentally past it that he'd still get tons out of it, just in different ways. When I mentioned that even this system was expensive she laughed and said she only buys them at Goodwill...and over time she's built up quite a collection.

2. The least expensive stuff can be the most fun. Homemade playdough (at $3 for a huge mound) will see far more play than a Star Wars helmet. And it's cooperative, creative, and imaginative. I told her that this situation was particularly hard because 'LilDude rarely asks for specific toys. She smiled saying that her daughter doesn't either but has now mentioned a "bee helmet" several times. I asked if she was getting it. The reply? "No. Because I know what she needs."

3. Relationships are more important than stuff. Her family has a limit of $100 to spend at Christmas, but when they give something, they attach it to relationship...tickets to go somewhere together. A sled and other outdoor snow toys to go with a day at the mountain.

The Star Wars helmet will be under someone else's tree this Christmas. It sold 1 minute after posting. And the spendy marble roll still belongs to the store. So far.

Alternative to Christmas Wrapping Paper

After Christmas morning, my living room is not littered with paper. It's littered with pillowcases and  ribbon.

For years, we've avoided purchasing wrapping paper. Although frugality usually tops my reasons for not buying something, this time it has little to do with it. I simply hate wasting that much paper. It literally turns my stomach to see all the garbage (and yes, even piles of recycling) that line our neighborhood street after Christmas. I hate the thought of discarding something that has seen such minimal use.

So every year we get the pillowcases out of the linen closet and dig through a bag of ribbon I found at a yard sale. If an item shows through the pillowcase, we double up the fabric or box it prior to wrapping. If an item is truly too large for a pillowcase (which rarely happens with a $25 limit per family member), we put it in a box or a large popcorn tin (also saved from previous years). For small gifts I reuse wrapping paper we get from packages outside the family. Or we use the old standby, newspaper comics.

It's just as fun to "open" a pillowcase as it is to open paper. Perhaps more fun. You can't hop around in torn wrapping paper after all the gifts are opened! :)
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