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.
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