Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy 12th Birthday, TM!

Today is TM's 12th birthday. He strongly dislikes the date his birthday falls on, so we will be celebrating this weekend. But today is the day he turns 12, so I'm writing my birthday post.

TM has come so far in the past year. He has worked hard and is so much better in control of the big emotions and feelings he has roiling around in him and is getting better able to identify and (sometimes) talk about those feelings. It has also not been an easy year as we have identified some past events that significantly alter how his therapist works with him. They are things that in the long run are good to know and address, but it's not easy.

This is all good stuff and it comes with ups and downs, but the best thing in my book is that we are more and more seeing the 'real' boy that has been buried in deep, deep pain and fear. We are seeing him smile more. We are seeing him able to laugh. We are seeing him able to help. We are seeing him slowly allow himself to become a part of the family. We are seeing him able to relax. None of this happens all the time, but even to have these things appear sometimes is more than we could have hoped for a couple of years ago. God is slowly healing this child.

So, my darling boy. Happy Birthday. The love I have for you is deep and strong. You have changed me and forced me to become a better person than I ever would have been if I had not fought to love you and help you. I may not have given birth to you, but you could not be more my son if I had. May this year be another of healing and growth and joy and peace.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With friends like these

We are blessed with some very good friends who take an active interest in us and our children. One friend came over once a week to watch little people while I took the older girls to their horseback riding lesson. Another friend has developed a great relationship with TM and D. and several times a year will take them out and do something fun. We are richly blessed to have friends like these in our lives and our children's lives. It makes our job a little bit easier.

Last Friday, was one of these boys' outings. Miss C. took TM and D. to Navy Pier. They had dinner. They rode the Ferris Wheel. They rode the carousel. They had a fantastic time. On top of it being a great time for our boys, it also allowed J. and I to go to that fancy dinner.

I think they had a really good time. What do you think? These are all from the Ferris Wheel.

It's even better that we have friends who will take my boys on the Ferris Wheel. I do not like them. (Ferris Wheels, not the boys.) I really have no intention of going on one with my children despite L. asking me every time we drive by it, "Momma, when will you take us to that amusement park so that we can ride the Ferris wheel?" Sorry, just can't do it, despite the lovely grammar and vocabulary.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


No, I wasn't in the bathtub and discover the theory of displacement, but it felt almost as momentous. Sometimes teaching children who have come from a different and deprived background is challenging. It stretches me in ways I didn't expect and sometimes it requires me to play detective. This morning was one of those mornings.

It is always a mystery to me when H. and I hit a road block in terms of school. We'll be going happily along and suddenly it's like a switch flips and we're not going happily along anymore. My first question is always: have we changed to a new seizure medicine?  As I've written before, that can play havoc with learning. But this time, no changes in medicine. I couldn't figure out where we stumbled. And the trouble with stumbling on one thing is that it sets in motion a chain reaction that then causes us to stumble on everything. With H., success causes more success and misunderstanding brings complete and total shutdown. I'll leave it at yesterday was a not a banner homeschooling day for either of us and I was feeling a bit of a failure by the end of the day as well. Pretty yucky all the way around.

Today I decided to start with something I new she would be successful at and then move onto math, which in a complete reversal from previous years has turned into a really good subject for her. Since we were on a roll, I decided to try one more time the thing that derailed us yesterday... accompanied by an enormously deep breath. At first, it appeared that we were going to get stuck again and it baffled me. Here is what was happening. (I share this because it might help someone else and we did figure out what was wrong so it is no longer an issue.)

It was a word in her Draw-Write-Now book, which she loves. It was 'arrived'. To help her decode it, I took off the 'd' and had her start with 'arrive', shortening it even further with the syllable '-rive'. This she sounded out and it seemed a simple matter to add the 'a' sound at the front. Seemed. It was mysterious. She could read '-rive' and 'a-' separately, but when I asked her to put them together she would inevitably says, "ave," leaving out the entire interior of the word. At first I couldn't figure out what was happening. Could she not see the inside of the word? Could she not remember what she had just said? What would make someone do this? After figuratively slamming my head into the table I tried something else. I used another similar word to see if the same thing would happen... and it did. She could sound out the parts separately, but when I asked her to put the two parts together, the entire middle was left out. Arrrhhh....

And then came the Eureka! moment. If you are trying to make a word with one syllable, one sound, you have to leave out the extra ones and it makes sense to say the beginning and ending and leave out the middle. This is what she was doing. In her mind, 'a-' was one sound or work and '-rive' was another. There is no way to say arrive with one syllable. So she did the best she could to make it into one. H. was operating under one set of assumptions and I was operating under another. English is awash with multi-syllabic words, Mandarin.. not so much.

To test my theory, H. and I talked about words having different sounds and having to say each sound in order. We counted sounds. We wrote numbers underneath each sound. And then we read the two different parts of the word and afterward, with bated breath, I asked her to put them together. AND SHE DID! There was great relief all the way around. For me, for the other children having to listen to this going on, and especially for H. We are all so happy I almost felt like throwing a party.

The moral of the story? I have found that 99% of the time, when I have a child making the same error over and over, there really is an underlying reason. It's my job as teacher is to figure out where everything went wrong. If I have a child failing, it's not their fault, but it's my responsibility. The moral is to keep digging.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not a nightgown... revisiting New Look S0595

Last weekend J. and I went to a family dinner downtown at a swanky club. It's a good thing I've been fooling around with a dress pattern so I had something to wear. Remember my first attempt at this pattern? The one where I accidentally made myself a new nightgown? Well, I was much happier with the second try. Happy enough to wear it out in public.

Monday, October 27, 2014

David and Goliath

I read Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, over the weekend. While I really liked his other books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers), I think this is my favorite one. While it is also more difficult than the others in terms of emotional content, I also think it is his most hopeful.

Like most of his books, the essential premise is that what we think we know is true, actually isn't. In this case, if we think the giants of our lives hold more power than the underdogs, we are wrong. Being the underdog carries certain advantages in itself and those advantages are not without strength. There are a lot of interesting topics in this book. Too much of a bad thing really is bad for you. Going to a very prestigious school is not always going to help you in the long wrong... and could actually hurt you. Being the underdog means you are going to have to expend more energy than those on top.

These topics alone would have made the book worth reading, but there were two others which really struck me. The first was his discussion of fear. It would seem that FDR was correct in his first inaugural address when he stated that the, "only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Having just read quite a bit about World War II and specifically the Blitz of London, I was particularly interested in his discussion as to why Londoners were able to live through the Blitz in such a stalwart manner. It would seem, according to the research that has been done, that surviving a 'remote miss' [a 'near miss', being too close to a traumatic event so that it leaves a deep impression as opposed to a 'remote miss' where you are affected but far enough removed to leave a lasting negative impression] of something you originally feared transmitted a sense of fearlessness and invulnerability instead of what we think would happen, which would be to make us more fearful. It would seem that it isn't the actual event we are afraid of, but the feelings we will have as the event unfolds. We are afraid of being afraid.

If you've ever done something that you were previously afraid of, you know this feeling. It is the idea that challenge courses are based on. You know, those ropes courses where they ask you to do terrifying things while being 30 feet off the ground? The Blitz was full of remote misses for its population (40,000 killed and 46,000 injured in a population of more than 8 million) and thus the vast majority of the population was emboldened rather than traumatized by the falling bombs. They weren't afraid of being afraid anymore. I found it very interesting.

But it is the last part of the book that is so powerful. It is the power of the underdog, the person who has been deeply injured, to forgive the injuring party. Mr. Gladwell contrasts two parents who had each lost a child to a violent attack. One parent became a crusader, constantly seeking justice, the other made the decision to forgive. The difference in the outcome of their lives and outlooks on life a great contrast. Forgiveness gives the underdog great power.

It's a good and quick read. You may not agree with all of it, but it is thought-provoking. Give it a shot.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Do not forget these girls

I won't let these girls be forgotten and miss out on a chance to have a family. Don't forget, a family isn't just for the growing up years. As an adult can you imagine not having a family? (And for those adults who do not have family... my heart breaks for you.) As adults we rely on our families almost as much as we did as children, but in different ways. Imagine not having that. It is the plight of many, many children. Do not let these girls suffer that fate... to not have anyone. Are you her family?

Or hers?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fun and Games

It's been quite a while since I've written about our game days. Three years ago to be exact. (Game Day, Oct. 2011) The idea of planning in game days to play those fun, yet educational games I have stashed away has continued. When I am planning our homeschool year I put one in every six to eight weeks or so.

Today was one of those scheduled days. Well, actually, Tuesday was one of those scheduled days, but we were all on auto-pilot and no one (including myself) bothered to open a folder to check what we were supposed to be doing. D. was the first to discover yesterday that we had missed it and the outrage was immense. I did some quick shuffling and changed it for today.

Once again, I started with the younger group first, though they are now all much more enjoyable to play games with. Everyone can move their own marker, they can count, and they will all stick around to the end of the game. We started out with the Dorling Kindersley game, Around the World. Someone had given it to us, and it has sat a shelf... waiting. When I went upstairs to see what I had, I saw it and decided we should give a try, and if it was a bust, I would give it away. It wasn't a bust and it is back upstairs waiting to be played again. It is a pretty simple board game with squares superimposed on a world map with various pictures of different places and animals on the board as well. It looks just like you would expect a game produced by DK to look. The children move around little cardboard airplanes as they move around the board. Some spaces have a Chutes and Ladders aspect to them where you follow the trail to a different space, though from an adult's point of view, it is wonderful that there is no long trail leading back to the beginning. There were some move ahead and lose a turn spaces with various reasons given, such as you stop to watch the penguins swim in the icy water. This aspect of the game really appealed to everyone and no one seemed to mind losing a turn if they were watching penguins. It was also a relatively short game to play. With all four people playing it took no more than 15 minutes, which was just about the right amount of time for this group. The other plus was that G. just came up to me and asked where the Taj Mahal was. (She had visited the Taj Mahal multiple times during our game.)

The downside? It seems as though it is out of print and the link I provided (which I receive a small percentage of, in full disclosure) shows that a new one can be purchased for $25 and a used one for $125. (Go figure. It doesn't make sense to me, either.) But, I can say, while we enjoyed playing the game, it wasn't worth $25, much less $125. But now, if you come across one, you know it is the the $1.50 that you would pay at a garage sale.

This seemed to be our day for playing games that cannot be purchased reasonably. The older people (P., TM, and D... A. was off memorizing Shakespeare and Spanish verbs) and I played Chronology, which I see is still for sale, but will set you back $86. For a card game! It is fun, though. The game has hundreds of different cards, each with an event from history and a date. You start out with one card and try to place the event in the correct chronological order around the cards in front of you. If you get it right, you get to keep the card. The first person to have 10 cards wins. It starts out pretty easy. Say you have Declaration of Independence - 1776 and you are read a card about the pyramids being built. It's pretty easy to say the pyramids come before 1776. It gets trickier, though when you have cards with the dates 1872, 1919, 1923 and there is an even read that you know happened about that time, but aren't sure where exactly it falls. The game is pretty heavy on the 20th century, so between that and having taught history to my children for 17 years I had a distinct advantage over them. To make it more fair, I handicapped myself by requiring 20 cards to win instead of 10.

Is it worth $86? Probably not, but you can make your own pretty easily. This works especially well if you are studying a certain period of history. I have a lovely deck of chronology cards I made to go along the Renaissance. As we learned something, I would make a card... event and date on one side. We would then use these to review the events we learned about. At the end of the year, I think the deck is at least 150 to 200 cards thick. If you do this, you need some rules. Shuffle your deck and put it face down on the table. To begin, each person draws one card and puts it face up in front of them. Then the first person draws a card and reads it without revealing the date. The person on his or her left then says where in the timeline in front of them that even would fall. If they are correct, they keep the card and add it to the timeline, if they are incorrect, the play passes to the next person and they have a chance to figure out where it goes. If no one gets the card, it is set aside. The play moves around with the next person taking a card and reading it. The first person to reach 10 cards in their timeline wins.
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