Friday, July 10, 2015

Hannah's Blog

Hannah has been very busy with many art projects lately.  But being the artist that she is, her blog has not been updated in many months.   We finally have it updated to an extent.  For those who are interested, please feel free to browse through her projects.  She is already taking orders for Christmas gifts if anyone wants a unique and personalized gift.  Or just take a peek at some of the things my beautiful girl does between her job as an instructor, and helping me to raise and keep track of these kids.  

 Hannah Baker Creations
click on the link above


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Carrying On...

I haven't posted in a while, but of course a lot has been going on.  I left off at Canaan and Candice's gender reveal party, where Candice bit into the cupcake and we learned that baby Baker is a boy!  Little Finley is growing well and all is going smoothly.  Only 15 more weeks to go!

The chicks are growing.  They really aren't chicks anymore.  Here's some shots of them back in early June.  And I'll show you later how big they are now!

Biscuit has a lot of interest in the chickens, and tries to herd them.  

And our two reds are getting huge.  Can't wait til they start laying because I am hoping for some big eggs!

I love the coloring on the red chickens.  We have three white ones, that I think are leghorns.  And man, are they fast!  Not many of us can catch them.  Maggie can.  And they can fly too.  Our little chicken coop has expanded and expanded, and Art finally finished off the whole hawk-proof enclosure, complete with a latching door.  We have nine chickens all together right now, all begun because one boy loved chickens!

This is what Memorial Day looks like at our house.  

School is out for the summer.  This was Kiki's "graduation" from kindergarten awards ceremony.  Do you want me to tell you what I think of "awards" ceremonies for kids who don't have a choice about going to school, and "graduations" for grades less than 12?  No, you don't.  
Kiki was cute though.  She received a "principal's award".  She has no idea what it is for, but she loved being up front and being special, which is all good.  She has learned a lot this year, and has come a long way.  She is continuing to learn at home this summer, and is reading up a storm.  She loves to read, and is asking me all the time to sit and do her reading book with her.  
About a year after Kiki came home, we had to resign ourselves to the fact that she was behind mentally, beyond the expected orphanage delays.  I did not want to believe it when the doctor told us, and I would not believe it for a while.  When we realized it really was true, this was hard.  But we did our best for her. And we adjusted our expectations drastically.  But her year and a half in school with her wonderful teacher has given us so much hope.  She is doing things that I had feared she might never do (like reading!).  She has many interests, and quite a personality.  She is always on the go, and I am excited to see how she is going to progress this next year.  She is very loved by all of us.

And here's my little ball of joy....

... always the ham.

She cracks me up.

Kiki's 7th Birthday!!!

Kiki wanted an Elsa birthday.  So, here is my attempt at making Elsa cookies for her to bring to school.  I saw them on Pinterest, and fear that I may have committed another "nailed it" failure.  I almost wasn't going to post the picture, but they are not terrible, and as far as Kiki was concerned, they look like Elsa to her, so it's all good.  

And here is her Elsa birthday cake.  I liked how it turned out pretty much.  It is not so easy to do detail in buttercream, but buttercream tastes a whole lot better than fondant or royal icing, especially since I discovered a copycat recipe for Publix  buttercream frosting.  yum.

Candice trying to help Kiki put up seven fingers.  This took a little while.  Let's skip forward....

Yay!  I did it!  I think!

Happy, happy girl!

Can't believe she's seven.  She was such a little butterball when we brought her home four and a half years ago.

Living with my kids means that nature is not scary.  Even if it is.  You can't let is show.  Yesterday Levi ran into the house and said, "Mommy!" and he handed me something.  I looked in the palm of my hand and it was a plump, curled up millipede.  Oh!  Isn't that nice!  How cool Levi!  Here, you can have him back now!  
I've come a long way in thirty years, let me tell you.

And just this morning Maggie came in with a jar that held a hornet that is at least an inch and a half long.  And it was mad!!  (mad as a...  ummm...)   HOW did she catch this thing?  I am so impressed.  

 Hannah has taught us all that snakes are cool and interesting and feel smooth and cool to the touch.  Kiki is enjoying this little baby Hannah found in our yard.  All the kids enjoyed it...

Well, maybe not "all" the kids....

Gotta love the expressions here.  Micaiah was not impressed with the snake.  

Too funny.

So on to some homeschooling pictures.  And yes, we homeschool all year round, on whatever days are conducive to doing it.  The days that we school and the days that we do not school have completely nothing to do with the public school schedule, and everything to do with our family schedule.  When we have doctor appointments, or sick kids, or special opportunities, we don't do school, regardless of whether others are doing it or not.  When we have a full day stretching before us, and learning opportunities awaiting, we have school, regardless of whether others are doing it or not.  Which is completely logical to me, and one of the many reasons for homeschooling in the first place.  No bored kids in the summer, wondering what to do, and no spending a month reviewing what they forgot over the summer.  It's very logical.  And that's why so many people don't do it this way.  

Here they are rolling out clay to write their names in cunieform.

We are doing Mystery of History for the most part, supplemented by some other resources.  I love the chronological approach to history.  I did the same approach with my first three when they were about this age, beginning with Streams of Civilization, and proceeding forward over the next four years to the present.  Back then we did not have the internet, Google, or YouTube, and it is a delight to go through all of this again with these resources at my fingertips!





Making zigurrats out of Lego.

Making mummies.  First they made their figure out of clay, and then we used plaster strips to create our own sarcophagus.  Then they painted them the next day.

The finished sarcophaguses:  Maggie, Isaac, Silas, Eden.

One of my favorite things Maggie said to me during one of their activities...  she was working on something with the others and stopped and looked up at me and said, "This would be really boring without anybody to do it with."  I smiled.  She went on to say how much "funner" it is to do all these school things with her brothers and sister.  

Once again, the best thing I ever gave my kids is each other...  

Learning to fresco paint.   Painting on wet plaster.  It is a cool technique, and interesting to experience that it is not as easy as you might think. 

While the Minoans did some very interesting frescoes, it was also interesting to recall that Michelangelo did the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in fresco, which, if it were not impressive already, this is almost an incomprehensibly magnificent achievement.  

Isaac's Minotaur.

Eden's owl.  
(I am sure there must have been owls around at that time...)

Silas's dolphin 
(interestingly, the Minoans did paint a lot of dolphins.)

Maggie's octopus.  
(They also painted octopuses.)
Maggie's was cool because she played with the idea of the plaster drying.  She let the paint sink into the wet plaster to make her background, and then as the plaster dried, she made texture on it for the octopus and the grass.  It's hard to see in the picture, but it was cool.

And welcome to the Chopped kitchen!

Have you ever watched Chopped on the Food Network?  It is one of my kids' favorite shows.  Hannah and I have been planning to play Chopped ever since Christmas time.  We had many activities planned for December that had to be put to the side when Micaiah had his accident.  Pretty much all of our plans were on hold.  But we are trying to make up for some of it now.  The kids walked into the kitchen above, with no idea of what we were going to do.  I wish I had been filming.  When Hannah said, "Welcome to the Chopped kitchen" I thought they would explode.  They were so happy!

I clearly didn't take enough pictures, but it was absolutely hilarious watching them, and listening to Hannah's commentary throughout.
For the first course, their baskets contained a rotisserie chicken breast, a cup of yellow corn, a cup of precooked rice, and a bag of Cheetohs.  We opted to just have an entree and dessert round, and Hannah and I were the judges.

They got right into it, and within a few minutes the table was covered in ingredients.

Eden's non-winning chicken, corn and rice sandwich on white bread with cranberries and a Cheetoh on top and an inordinate amount of mayonnaise.

Maggie's chicken and rice salad with ranch dressing and not so crispy Cheetohs.

Isaac won the entree round with his chicken and rice burrito with a side of lemon pepper corn.

For the dessert round, they had fresh strawberries, a small box of Frosted Flakes, half a cup of chocolate chunks, and a quarter can of canned vanilla frosting.

This was Isaac's creation.
Maggie actually repurposed the ingredients and made a semi-successful mug cake.  She won the dessert round, and ended up winning overall as well. 
Now that we see how well they handled it all, Hannah and I are planning another round, with more difficult ingredients.  Although, since we are the judges, we do want to be a little careful of what we might have to taste!

We made ice cream in bags, learning about how the rock salt helps make it ice cream and all that.  We invited Kiki to be involved in this activity and she did very well.  She loves being included with the big kids, and she is getting more opportunities where she is able to.

They were allowed to pick their own flavors.  We had chocolate, rootbeer, chocolate mint, caramel, and peanut butter cup.

Maggie is in charge of the garden this year.  She grew tomatoes and zucchini (amongst other things) and here she is slicing up green tomatoes to make my Nanny's green tomato ketchup (like a relish).  This relish is amazing with tortierre, and we grew up with this delicious recipe in our family.  My Dad's mother canned several jars every year, and I was able to have the recipe from my aunt, and continue to can it myself, and now with Maggie.

We also made zucchini and yellow squash pickles.

I love Maggie up on her little tiptoes to see into the canning pot.

Eden reading to Levi and Kiki.

And of course, there is lots of swimming going on at our house this summer!

Perhaps they were in a little too long?

Maggie is an awesome big sister.  She spends time teaching them and playing games with them and encouraging them to do things.  They all have different personalities, and some of them need a lot more encouragement than others.

Laz has no idea what he's doing here, but he is loving being a part of it all. 

Maggie is good at simplifying games so that they can succeed.  

On Father's Day Waffles was barking at something outside which is not unusual, but when I glanced out the window to see what it was, this was unusual!  Two baby fawns in our front yard!  So cute!

They seemed confused, but made their way to our neighbor's back yard where Momma deer found them and led them away.

Well, I don't even know what to say about this.

Baxter delivery.  This is how much we have delivered for Micaiah's dialysis every month.  It fills up his whole room until I get in there and organize it all.  And the boxes are heavy!  That's my workout on those days.

Any Battle Bots fans out there?   Canaan was a huge fan of Battle Bots back in the day.  When he was a little tyke in Florida it was a big thing, and he wouldn't miss the show, and would build his own creations out of Lego or whatever... it's hard to remember now.  Well, the show is back on the air now.  Perhaps Big Hero 6 brought it back in style or something, but the show is on again, and with it, I now have FOUR kids busily creating Battle Bot creations.  And when Canaan comes over, the competition begins!  Canaan and Candice participate too.  In fact, Canaan may be the biggest kid of them all!  They compete, and they laugh a lot, and then they watch the Battle Bot show.  Good times...

Don't you just love this picture?  

Canaan squats down and does Lego exactly the same way he did when he was six years old.  Do you know how hard it is for a sentimental, menopausal, over busy, emotional mom to see stuff like this?  It makes me so happy!  My little Bear Bear... love you forever and forever, love you with all my heart... love  you whenever we're together, love you when we're apart...  

Ruby supervising...

Love this Lego creation.  Si calls it "Don't let the Pigeon drive the Starship."  teehee...

I am a big one for letting my kids dress themselves to express their own personality.  But I think on this day Kiki may have expressed a bit too much personality.

Well, here I will share something that makes me deliciously happy.  My little Asians who gets so carmelly brown in the summer.  Their skin is just deliriously gorgeous.  And on Sunday Eden wore this super cute sundress and I was a puddle.  

My beautiful daughters.  I would do anything for them.

This month I was able to do something I really didn't think I'd be able to.  My sister goes to visit my parents in Florida on a regular basis.  On a whim, she invited me to meet her there on her next trip.  She was going the next weekend. Well, knowing what I have to do every day, of course I couldn't go.  I couldn't see a way.  Then I mentioned it to Art.  And of course he said, "Why not?"  He said he would handle it all, and that this would be a great opportunity to see my parents and my sister at the same time.  So I booked some last minute economy flight tickets, and the next thing I knew, I was crouching in the bushes outside my parents' house, ready to surprise them!  My sister often surprises them with her visits so that they don't feel they need to prepare.  She will call them from the Toronto airport and tell them she's coming for a sleepover that night.  Well she did that this time, but what she did not tell them was that I was coming too.  Boy were they surprised!  We had a great couple of days together, and I have fond memories until the next time we are able to pull this off!

I am posting one picture, because I don't have very many.  My dad has the rest of the pictures on his camera.  
(hint, hint Daddy!)

Fourth of July cookies I made with Maggie!  Maggie learned how to do the decorating!

Maggie making chalk creations on the Fourth of July. 

Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, followed by a bonfire and s'mores, and then SC fireworks courtesy of Canaan!
And when it is all over, to wash the sticky marshmallow off, Canaan threw all the kids in the pool, in the dark!  
Fun was had by all. 

It is really hard to take pictures in the dark.  This is the best I could do with my phone to show the kids up on the play house roof, watching the fireworks.

Levi was cute.  He said that Canaan was "magic".  He loved the fireworks.

Now see how big Beans and Rice have gotten!  They are such sweet chickens.

Ruby likes them.  Don't you Ruby?

I think Rice looks like Phyllis Diller.

I like this guy.  

 And let's end with a shot of Ruby sleeping on Hannah's butt.  Love this kitty.  She is one of the things in my life that make me happy.

If Only We Had a Wheelbarrow…

I always wonder how much to say, and how much to post.  I could write a book, and maybe someday I will.  I think one thing that confuses me is when I write a blog post and I feel that I have been very, painfully transparent (IMO) about how hard things are here, and then people post comments to me about how much fun we all are having and how wonderfully happy it all looks and how they even wish they were in my family.  Well, I scratch my head to be honest.  

Of course I understand;  I post photos of the fun things, and the exciting things.    I am not going to post photos of the one who has raging, furious tantrums.   I'm not going to post pictures of another one sitting in a corner for hours on end, doing nothing, and not wanting to do anything regardless of what all the other kids are doing or how hard they try to engage him. I’m not going to post photos of the blood, sweat and tears, or in my case the vomit, poop and urine.  I'm not going to post the doctor appointments or the medical procedures or the many, many other parts of every day that are hard and yucky and painful and sad.   Who wants to look at that?  

And we DO have fun.  There are happy times, and there is joy, but I work for it.  I work very hard to sculpt out these moments in our lives these days.  Stuff is hard.  It has been hard, and some days are better than others, but it is just a difficult time.  I did not know it would be this hard, and I could spend a long time explaining all of that to you, and figuring out who is to blame for where things are now.  But it would be fruitless at best, and most of it would point back to me anyway. 

I work hard to provide experiences in our home for my wonderful, patient, loving kids who have had to put up with waaaay too much over the past couple of years.  I hate how many times I have to say "no" to them because of things I didn't know we were getting into.  You don't see pictures of us going on vacation or hiking or going to the beach...  These things can't and won't happen, at least for now.  Even the simple things we do outside the house take a lot of planning. It’s very hard to be spontaneous and fun, and I don’t know how I would ever do any of it without Hannah to help me make things happen.   But I mourn for the things my kids don’t get to do because of the others.

I have kids who are intellectually disabled, and kids who are physically disabled, and those who are both and those who are neither.  Over the past couple of years, I have come to have a completely different perspective on this.  And most of it has to do with the way society treats them all.  I am tired of a society that pampers and panders to some, while completely ignoring, if not robbing others.  I have witnessed first-hand how my "disabled" kids are treated in stores, school, church, and hospitals.  They are patronized, condescended to, babied, and treated like rock-stars; they are sent on countless field trips and life-enhancing activities, given boat loads of baby toys and gifts that they don’t want or need, and get loads of attention everywhere they go.  People fall over themselves to “help” them, talk to them, baby them, and totally undermine any attempts we make in our home to treat them like normal kids and expect normal things out of them.  These people mean well, but in the process have completely obliterated any possibility for some of them of being  able to understand and experience healthy family and home relationships, and transition successfully in the future to as independent a lifestyle as possible.  Sometimes I want to just yell, “Stop Being So Nice to My Kids!”

While we strain enormously to undo years of neglect and institutional life, every time we go outside the doors of our house, people want to reinforce the idea that these kids are extra special, the constant exception, the rules don’t apply to them, they don’t have to do anything, and life is impressed that they showed up at all. 

These disabled kids don’t need our pity.  You can’t make up for what they lost.  To become healthy, they need to be given normal.  If you take a starving person off a desert island and stuff them full of all the food they missed over the years, you’ll wind up killing them.  These kids need a healthy, positive, normal.  And doing so is compassion, not pity.  They are already mentally challenged, and then we tell them that in our house they are expected to do chores, take care of themselves and their own things, and that they are treated with the same regard as all the other kids.  They go out of the house and everyone kisses and hugs on them inappropriately, talks to them like they are three years old, and does everything for them.  How will this help them when they are adults, and they are not so cute, and nobody wants to hug on them anymore?  They must be completely confused.  If anything, I think they must be wondering, “How come when I go out of the house, everyone is impressed with me, but when I am in the house, I am treated just like everybody else?”  It’s confusing.  And I can’t do anything about it. 

Meanwhile, my other kids, who I could argue should be living a normal, fun childhood, are experiencing all sorts of things that you would never want a child to experience.  I have a ten year old who can set up dialysis and knows what “UF” means.  I have a twelve year old who knows how to give shots to her brother.  I have kids who know how to distribute medications to their siblings in the morning and can take your blood pressure and tell you what it means.  I have kids who know they don’t get to do things other kids get to do, and they don’t complain about it at all.  Ever. 

This morning I got up and found one disabled child completely dressed, with braces on, and ready for camp.  This is not the first time this has happened.  I said, “Wow!  He was so quiet I didn’t even know he was up yet!”  And one of my kids answered, “I know.  We know how hard things are for you so we kept him quiet and got him ready this morning.  We planned it all out last night!”  How do I feel about things like this?  Well, it’s amazing and wonderful that these kids have learned to be so compassionate and kind and helpful and self-sacrificing, yes.  They have learned good things.  But at the same time, my heart hurts for the things they have had to learn, so young, and in such miserable ways at times.  You may have your opinion of this, but you don’t live it, and I could not possibly write enough to describe it all.

One day during the school year, as we were getting a child ready for YET ANOTHER field trip, and I stuffed money that we don’t have into his backpack so that he could experience bowling or some other such thing, one of my kids said, “I wish we could get to go on a field trip some time.”  It hit me hard.  So I am trying hard to make experiences for these kids, as much as I am able to.  And I wish I could make society understand what a disfavor they have done to my other kids because of the way they have treated them.  The task we took on with some of them, was massively greater than we were told, and we clearly were not prepared for what we brought home.  But I am not one to shy away from a difficult task.  We could do this.  It would be all uphill work, clearly, but it could be done… IF it weren’t for those outside the house undermining our every effort.  For one of them, at least, society has made an extremely difficult task, impossible.  There has been too much damage, and too much time has passed.  It can’t be made up for.  You cannot teach a mentally disabled child, who has lost almost all of his childhood to an institution, what healthy family dynamics are when every time they encounter another person your lessons are being annihilated.  I have wasted hundreds of hours digging ditches, just to have them filled up again in one morning by those outside the house. 

Whenever I try to figure these things out, I can’t help but think of Wesley in The Princess Bride, when he is outside the castle with Inigo Montoya and Fezzik.  He says, “Impossible.  If I had a month to plan, maybe I could come up with something.  But this?  <head shake>”   I am just waiting for someone to say, “If only we had a wheelbarrow, that would be something….”  But there is no wheelbarrow, no holocaust cloak, just an impossible task.   I don’t know why things are the way they are, and I am not looking for suggestions either.  But I am standing up for my sweet, awesome, ever-giving, wonderfully compassionate and kind kids, and trying to give them the best summer I can with what I have to work with.  We are blessed in many ways.  I try hard to not look back, because I can’t do anything about the past.  “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”  Phillipians 3:13