Monday, October 20, 2014


Nice mouth, huh? K. lost one of his front teeth the other day. (He also has a missing tooth on the bottom; you just can't see it.) But between the missing tooth and the cleft on the other side of his front tooth, it gives him a particularly holey grin.

A funny boy to brighten up your Monday.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The place where hotel furniture goes to die

J. and I didn't mean to go on this quest. In fact, we didn't even really care if we ever discovered the hotel furniture graveyard... or if it even really existed. But some adventures are thrust upon you and you have them whether you want to or not.

Yesterday started out normally enough. Children were fed. Weekly meal plans were made. I went grocery shopping. The only thing that was different was our revulsion at the state of the couches in our front living room had been raised to such a level that J. and I felt as though we needed to actually do something about it. The trouble is, we wanted to replace our decrepit and collapsing couches but we didn't want to spend very much money to do it. OK, we don't have any money to replace the couches, but yet we are tired of living with urban blight inside our own home.

This leads to searching terms such as, "cheap furniture in Chicago." J. found a place that looked promising. Big sale and photograph of a warehouse with dozens of couches stacked up. We (and by we I mean J., TM, and D.) took three benches out of the van in order to enable us to bring our plunder home and we set off in search of that elusive beast: cheap furniture.

The first leg of our journey involved Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon. It technically wasn't time for rush hour, but someone forgot to tell all the cars on the road. Our little venture was already taking longer than we anticipated. After 30 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Stevenson, we were hoping this was going to be worth it.

But we persevered in our quest and arrived at the warehouse. We walk in and find ourselves in a little room with no one there. Thinking that this can't be all of it, we see a door and wander through it. This leads to a slightly bigger room with more furniture, still no people, and not really the furniture we are looking for. We continue on, finding open doors and entering them. After another couple of rooms, we finally find the warehouse. The warehouse is big. Really big. It is also filled with a lot of furniture. Now, the thing is, while there are literally hundreds of pieces of furniture in the warehouse (at some really ridiculously low prices), there is not a lot of variety. For instance, they probably have close to five hundred couches... but in only two styles. It is the same couch over and over and over. Trust me when I say that they didn't start to look better the twelfth time we came across them. There were a lot of upholstered arm chairs (which we weren't looking for), but once again, the variety of chairs was slim. The whole things was a little odd. TM and D. had a ball wandering huge piles of furniture and playing hide-and-seek.

You see, the thing with the warehouse is that it buys furniture from hotel chains who are redecorating or closing and sells it off cheap. If you have ever had a hankering to own the framed art you come across in hotel rooms, I know where you can get some. (Or 100.) I can also tell you where to get bedside tables, conference and desk chairs and console tables. If you have multiple rooms you want to furnish exactly alike, this is the place for you. There was one lone pool table which J. and I thought we'd buy just to make the trip worthwhile, but it was sold. The large mirrors were a really great deal ($15), but J. and I couldn't think of a place where we needed one.

Thus, the end of the story finds our adventurers empty-handed... of furniture at least. We did stop to get donuts to appease the young boys who thought the warehouse was little compensation for the drive through traffic and removing and returning van benches. Just a hint. If'you happen to be visiting, only sit on the left side of the brown couch in our front living room, you will be less likely to get poked by a spring.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Some plans don't work

This was to be one of the weeks that we did our five in a row style activities with a picture book. I had the book and the plans and I was ready. What I was unprepared for was the reaction. I had thought they would all be excited about setting our workbooks aside and reading a new book and doing activities. I had thought wrong. There were complaints right off the bat. The little girls in particular were rather upset that they didn't get to do their workbooks. Grudgingly, they sat down to listen to the new story. I thought for sure once we were reading the story they would become excited.

The book was, The Giraffe Who Walked to Paris, by Nancy Milton. I thought it was good. It is a retelling of a true story about a giraffe that is a gift from the pasha of Egypt to the King of France to promote goodwill between their countries. The giraffe then needs to get to Paris. After a voyage by ship across the Mediterranean, the Giraffe then walks from Marseilles to Paris. I thought for sure everyone would love it.

Well, I just wrong all across the board. They listened to it the first time, but were not entranced by it. They still complained that we hadn't done any workbooks even after we started the story. And no one wanted to listen to it a second day, even though I insisted. The activities were even less well received.

So on Wednesday, I threw in the towel and went back to workbooks. Everyone was happy. I was left wondering if I needed to rethink my bigger school plan. Here's what I've decided. My experiences from last year tell me that the success or failure of this venture is highly dependent on the book. Some books we read last year they loved and couldn't wait to read again. Others, they didn't love and it was not as successful. (Though I didn't have outright rebellion like I did this week. I think that's due to everyone being older and liking their current school work.) Since not every book worked for us last year, I'm going to try a couple more times. I think they will like the books I have planned. Of course, I thought they would like the giraffe book. We'll see if it is just a mismatch between book and children or if it is a style of learning that just doesn't fit anymore.

If it just doesn't fit, I will admit to being a little sad. I've loved sharing these books and doing projects. I think I just really like teaching the preschool age. This is the first time I've "run out" of them. It's good that they grow and mature; it's what they're supposed to do... but, still... It's right up there with noticing that G. does not always reverse her letters and write backwards all the time anymore. I told J. the other day that you can tell she is #10. In an earlier child, say #1 or #2, consistent backwards writing might have caused me concern, but in this one, I was just charmed and was 99.9% sure that it would straighten itself out. It is, and I will miss the backwards writing. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's your purpose?

This question is the prompt for the Hearts at Home link-up today. As I've thought about it, the short, easy, obvious answer is, well, to raise and teach my children, of course. But for some reason, this didn't seem satisfying. It's not that I think raising children isn't important. I do. I spend a lot of time doing it. I spend a lot of time supporting others who do it. If you asked me what I spend the vast majority of my time doing, raising and teaching my children would be the answer. So why did I find it an unsatisfying way to respond to the question, "What's your purpose?"

I think there are a couple of reasons I've come up with as to why this is. First, when I think about the phrase, I can't get away from the idea that purpose and results are tied up together. To have a purpose implies that there is some end goal, some result. This becomes a little tricky when you add parenting to this. Of course, we all have dreams for our children. What parent doesn't want their child to be happy, successful, and following in their faith? The trouble is, despite what multitudes of parenting books would have you believe, you can influence your child but you don't have total control over how they turn out. There is no guaranteed formula that if you do A, B, and C that you well get the results you want. It doesn't work that way. To tie my purpose to my parenting implies that if my children do not turn out as I desire that I have failed.

Would I even want that power anyway... the power to mold my children into my own creations? There is a line from the musical, "Into the Woods", that goes, "How do you know what you want 'till you get what you want and you see if you like it?" This flits through my head more and more often. There are some things that I have really, really thought that I wanted. There are things that happen that I think, I would have chosen a much different path. There are those times that God has said no or take this path and not the other one. I have complained and railed and cried over my these things. Yet after time has passed and I look back, my way was not best and I am thankful that it really wasn't up to me. It is kind of a relief that, ultimately, the results of my parenting aren't up to me.

The second reason I'm uncomfortable with choosing parenting as my purpose is that despite the many hours I do devote to raising my children, it is not all I do. Like everyone else, I wear many different hats and just because I don't have each of them on all the time, that doesn't mean I don't see them as important or valuable. I am also a writer, piano teaching, homemaker (yes, that is different from parent), friend, wife, etc., etc. The trouble is, these are all things that I do. Is that the same thing as who I am? If having a purpose in life is important, than can a purpose only be something that someone does? What about people who for some reason or another cannot do things? Do they have no purpose? This is where we need to be careful. We can come perilously close to equating purpose with value, especially if we define purpose in terms of what we do. I don't think we want to go there.

So where does this leave us? We all still want, crave even, purpose in our lives. Since this is not a new problem, I think it is helpful to turn to some historic church writings. (Sometimes I think we forget that Christians have been trying to tackle these problems for centuries and have much to say to us.) Let's look at the first question from the Westminster Catechism. (A catechism is a series of questions and answers used to teach people about the Christian faith, in case this a new word for you.) The first question states: What is the chief end of man? (Man used in the unversal human sense, please don't get caught up on this.) Essentially, it is asking what is a person's purpose... the exact question we have been dealing with this whole purpose question. The answer is: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

I think this sums it up so beautifully. My purpose is to glorify God; to point to Him and give Him the credit. It is to acknowledge that He is in control and to not usurp His authority. But this relationship is not just one way, I am also to enjoy Him. Enjoy means to take delight or pleasure in. If we are in right relationship with God, there is joy and delight. Jesus says Himself that His yoke is easy and His burden light. (Matthew 11:30) What a delightful purpose! To glorify our God and to enjoy Him. Everything else we do flows out of this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A girl and her family

Here are the promised pictures from H.'s birthday.

Here is the cake that D. and TM made. It says "Happy 12th Birthday" and has a butterfly.

This was a kit to make pom-pom dogs. I think she liked it.

I think you can see that we are seeing her personality is blooming. I don't claim to have any special abilities, but feeling safe and loved and challenged (in a good way) is good for a child. Institutional care, no matter how good, can never provide the same level of safety and love that being in a healthy family can. Remember these two girls?

Tina - If you go to the Twenty Less site, there are several new videos of Tina. Please go and look at them. 

Every child deserves a family. Every child deserves to be loved. Could you provide that love and safety for a child? For one of these children? They wait and wait and wait. I know Grace has been waiting for years because we met her when we brought H. home. I believe Tina has been waiting just as long. No one has chosen them. These children won't just be referred to a family, they will wait until they are chosen. 

And do you want to know what it's like to wait for a family to choose you? Go and read the my friend's daughter's blog, The Flower that Blooms. (She has written it in Mandarin, but there are translations after each post.) Just go read it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy 12th Birthday, H.!

Today is H.'s 12th birthday and we'll be celebrating tonight. (So that means no pictures until tomorrow.) It's quite the different child who is celebrating. H. still has challenges ahead of her, but we have seen such growth in the past year. I looked back at the post of her two last birthdays (10th and 11th) so I could refresh my memory. What strikes me in looking back is the difference in emotion. Her first birthday here made her so happy. And while I think she was genuinely happy with her celebration, to my eyes now, she has that 'deer in the headlights' look about her. Everything was so new and different. New family, new country, new language, new level of attention and care. I find the photo of her clutching all her new gifts to be particularly poignant. This is a child who is happy to have stuff, is clutching it to stop others from taking it from her, and while happy with it, doesn't really have any idea what to do with the things she has been given.

Fast forward to the next year. She looks more relaxed and more comfortable. But as I read through the post I am remembering that this was when I really discovered how terribly passive she was in her life... just a by stander, not a participant. Things happened, she didn't why, sometimes they were good and sometimes were bad. Why bother remembering it? No one tells you in adoptive parenting classes how to help a child get off the sidelines and be a participant in their own life. We started with just remembering what happened the day before and went from there. We talked about what had happened, what was happening and how she could join in, what was going to happen.

The trouble with having a very polite, happy, passive child is that they can be perfectly content sitting in a chair observing life while the louder people garner all the attention. I know that a quiet, well-behaved child doesn't sound like a problem, but over time, you realize it is odd. When every other child in the house sees something happening and wants to jump in, you start to realize that one child never thinks to jump in. When life isn't going well, other children will moan, complain, and cry. You start to realize that one child never moans, complains, or cries. Now, I'm the first one to say a good outlook on life is a positive thing, but when pleasant passiveness is a child's only note, it begins to stand out. So, we worked on that as well. We did a lot of talking about emotions. "Boy, I would be really upset if that happened to me. I might even cry." This and similar sentences came out of mouths. We also become more aware of the quiet child on the sidelines and helped her to see she could join in.

This birthday I find myself looking at a different child. As she intellectually and physically gains new skills, she is also starting to take possession of her own life. The range of emotions she is willing and able to express is widening. No longer is she quietly happy all the time. There is annoyance, frustration, sadness, and even a little tiny bit of anger. I cannot tell you how much easier it is to attach to a child who has real emotions. Real emotions you can engage with. It is like watching someone slowly become real.

So Happy Birthday, H. I am privileged to be your mother and to be a part of your story. You are one of the bravest people I know and you have weathered so much in your short life. I am filled with joy watching you grow and learn and become the young woman God created you to be.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big weekend

This past weekend was one of those that is full of good things but leaves you feeling as though the arrival of Monday will be relaxing. There was the usual Saturday stuff... piano teaching, house cleaning, errand running, signing a contract to write for but we also had some extra events.

A. and P. rode in another horse show. Here's P.

And A.

Both girls placed 2nd and 3rd in their respective classes.

And then we celebrated HG's birthday. We're so happy to have this young woman in our lives.

Happy Birthday, HG! We love you.

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