Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mama Merit Badges

I've been blog stalking this cool lady named Mary Grace (not her real name, but I think I heard a rumor she actually answers to it IRL). I love her writing style, and I find the foster/adopt process interesting, and, well, mainly, I like her writing style.

So, as I was combing her archives, I came across a post she did on Merit Badges for Mommys. I love 'em! I'm actually, seriously thinking of getting some to put on the tail of my Maya Wrap next time I have someone to carry in it. Okay, maybe not, but it's a cool thought.

Until then, I thought I'd steal the idea and share the ones I feel like I've earned*. In no particular order (actually, they ended up in alphabetical order, because that's how they were where I saved the images), they are...

Birthday: For the themes thought up (with no repeats). The presents coordinated (often months in advance to ensure their presence in-country on the appropriate date). The cakes baked. The icing ideas given (because, you know, I don't do the decorating, but I do give ideas). All with very little ready-made available.

Diaper: For the multitude of diapers changed, mainly in locations without changing tables. And, most recently, for using cloth, especially in a country where I am probably literally the only one. Nah, I'm not a rebel or anything.

Medical: For coordinating doctors visits on at least three continents in as many languages (German being the third, in case you're wondering). Keeping my own records so as to be able to pass information along to the doctor-of-the-month (or at least that's how it felt for a while; it's much more settled now; we only have two or three peds). Oh, and giving birth in a second language.

Travel: Do I really need to elaborate? Okay, in the summer of '07, I traveled internationally with four children ranging in age from 18 months to 8 years. Alone. And this last summer, we flew without a lap child for the first time in 9 years (you can travel with children under 2 in your lap). And, when we came to this country originally, we had two lap children to save money on airfare.

Shopping: I don't deserve this nearly as much as many of my international peers. I now shop at Safeway (and Cozmo and Carrefour when we get to the capital). But I have chosen live chickens and gone home with them warm in the bag. And I have gone shopping less than a week in a new country with almost no language skill. And I have spent two hours in HEB jet-lagging after having just arrived in the US, yet unable to leave without examining each and every aisle, just because there might be something that we might need (a very common occurrence for internationals upon returning; either that or leaving in tears due to too many choices). So, I guess maybe I've earned this badge, too.

Sleep: The Lord blessed us with one phenomenal sleeper as a first child. I would share an example of his daily schedule from when he was 6-8 months, but you would all hate me, so I won't. Even Second Child, WM, (the one who is no longer with us), slept through the night at 2 weeks. And then came JW, who, due to undiagnosed medical issues, slept horribly for about the first year of his life. MA was good. And then came ZL, who, probably due to food allergies that we didn't know about, slept horribly until, oh, last year sometime. I know I'm blessed to have had some good sleepers, but, still, there were the months on end of sleep deprivation, so I'll claim this badge, as well.

Storytime: Whew, I'm glad there was this badge, and not one with blocks or dolls or something, because, well, I'm not the best about playing with my kids. I struggle with this. Be it board games or Legos or Polly Pockets, I have to force myself to enter in. And it just doesn't happen that often. But books? Oh, yeah. I'll read books. For hours on end. Or at least until there's another meal to be made or an appointment to keep. Heck, our whole homeschool curriculum is books to read. So, "Storytime," yeah, I've got that one down.

How about you? Which Mama Badges have you earned? I'd love to hear.

*Now that I read back through this, it sounds an awful lot like I'm tooting my own horn. I hope it doesn't come across that way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reading Day

As I have mentioned before, I don't require my kids to read their readers on any particular schedule. I put them on the shelf, give them a list of books to check off, and let them loose. Their list includes their leveled Sonlight readers and the multitude of period-related history novels and non-fiction books I've bought to correlate with the given quarter of history for that year (this year being the "modern" quarter).

At some point during the year, I usually have to crack down and push reading through their list. The problem is not that they don't want to read. It's that they want to read one of the myriad of other interesting books in the house, especially when grandparents show up several weeks into the school year with all sorts of great new books. Or they want to re-read some of the books from their list that they picked already and really liked.

Then, I become Mean Mommy, who makes them read nothing but "school books" (and, I have to specify, school books that they haven't read yet). Books that they wouldn't pick up themselves. Books that they can't put down once Mommy makes them pick them up.

You see, it's not that it's torture to read the books. Just start them.

I can think of exactly one book so far in MS's school career that he actually didn't finish because he didn't like it. And, because I was reading his readers along with him, I didn't fight it. I thought the book was insipid myself. (And, no, I'm not telling you which one it was. I don't want to turn someone else off to a book that they might actually like.)

So, today I declared a Reading Day. The idea occurred to me when I was pondering both what to do with our day and what to do to prod the kids along their lists.

ML was leaving about 1 to go on a picnic with some friends and wouldn't be back until this evening. We had a leisurely morning. MS and I made muffins. The kids watched a few DVD's.

And then ML left, I put ZL down for a nap, and we dove into reading. I sat down with MA and JW and went through their lists, updating them. MS updated his own and chose a book he wanted to read today. I then picked a couple of books off of JW's list that I knew he would like and sent him off with them. I also picked a stack from MA's list and told her to get started on those. Then, I picked something for myself. I'm roughly keeping up with MS's readers, so I picked All-of-a-Kind Family and went to join the kids.

We read in the family area and in the play area. We read through lunch. The kids moved into the kitchen and read while I baked cookies. MS made hot chocolate, and they read while eating their cookies and drinking their hot chocolate.

And then I released them. They probably read for 3-4 hours today. And they all found new books that they're enjoying. And they all are aware of new books on their shelves that look interesting.

It was peaceful (mostly) and fun (a lot of the time).

All in all, I think my mission was accomplished.

And I think we definitely have a new family tradition. Reading Day is going to become a regular part of our life.

Oh, and I loved the book I read. I was able to finish it, and I'm really glad I read it.

You know you live overseas if...

Tracy/LatteMom on the SL International Board started a thread with the theme "You know you live overseas if..." along the lines of Jeff Foxworthy's "You know you're a redneck if..."

Because it's late, and I think they're funny, I'm going to cut and paste my contributions as my blog post for today.

...your children are considered smart for having learned English at such a young age. have to coordinate two sizes of paper in your homeschool records.

...your child already speaks and/or writes the "exotic" language featured in this week's history project. can explain in two (or more) languages why you are not even attempting to potty train your approaching-three-year-old yet.

...your children make "falafel-men" while playing with their dinner (think a stack of three).

... even your elementary-aged children think in years when planning ahead, and it's always more than one year out (as in, "We'll see so-and-so again in 2010." "We get to go to Disney World in 2012." etc.)'ve ever send an e-mail of numbered items with a de-coding key similar to the following:
1=please bring
2=bring, if possible
3=bring, only if there's room
4=bring, only if you need something to take up room have names and addresses in your Amazon address book of people that you only vaguely remember (so and so's cousin's aunt's sister's stepson who was coming on a tour and offered to bring something to you). read threads on what people consider to be ridiculous products and totally see a use for them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Full disclosure

Anyone remember a while back when I wrote about the elaborate behavior system we were using with the older three kids?

Well, um, we chunked it. Actually, it was a little tapered, a little chunked, but it's gone. I figured, since I'd had a decent amount of interest in it, in all fairness, I needed to report that.

And part of its demise was related to that talk we heard this summer, the one I mentioned a post or two ago by the two young ladies regarding parenting, based on how they were parented, etc. Wanna know what #1 was? "Spank your children."* Seriously, they said it was the most significant part of their upbringing and in the upbringings of the kids they babysit and went to school with.

Now, this was to a crowd of people who'd all had plenty of teaching on "how." This was just a reminder "to." And "how" includes not in anger, with reconciliation, and a host of other things. But it was significant enough for them to put it as #1.

We'd already been tapering the whole elaborate system, but that kind of put the final nail in the coffin. We needed a lot more immediate consequences, so we announced that spankings were back (not that they completely went away, just that they had seriously declined). And, just to clarify, spankings at our house are usually swats on the back of the hand or the palm. Only in severe circumstances (lying, mostly, but repeated disobedience, as well) do we spank on the bottom. That's just how we've shaped our discipline system.

And you know what? Life's been a lot more peaceful (I said "more peaceful," not "peaceful;" you take what you can get). And that includes my own heart. One of my famous sayings with my kids is, "No, I'm not going to get angry [a little self-talk there]. I'm just going to give you spankings." Consequences, reconciliation, and move on. It works wonders for my stress level.

Basically, boundaries are firmer, obedience is up. I think it's working for us.

There. I said it. Now, you all know I'm not nearly as erudite as previous posts might have suggested. But we're going with what we feel led to do, and I guess that's more important than my esteem in the eyes of the internet world. :-P

And, just to balance the heaviness, I'll share a fun incentive system we used this summer when we were traveling: each older child got a mini package of Skittles per day (12-15 Skittles included). For each act of disobedience, they gave up a Skittle. At the end of the day (which turned into the next morning, because we were having some bedtime issues), they got to eat what was left. The best part? Guess who got the Skittles they gave up?

*Caveat: If you have anger or past abuse issues that prevent you from being able to safely (whether that be physical or emotional safety) spank your children, or even if you're just flat opposed to it, please hear me: I'm not saying that your children are not going to turn out. I think any child given firm boundaries and a lot of love is going to be fine (okay, I'm not promising that they're not going to make sin choices, not promising that about my own children, either, but I just don't want this to come across as a formula; just our choice for our family at this point).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

He's got mouse skills.

My just-turned-three-year-old has mouse skills. I've never had a three-year-old with mouse skills. I've seen them (LGG and AJM come to mind). I've just never had one.

From about age 2, Z knew that hitting any key on the keyboard (kids' computer; he's pretty well trained to leave mine and ML's alone) would take it out of sleep mode. He liked to see it light up. He also learned around that time which button turned the screen on and off, in case it was off when he was hitting said keys.

At about 2 1/2, Z figured out that pushing the space bar would stop and start whatever episode iTunes happened to be resting on. If he was lucky, someone would have left the computer on iTunes and an episode clicked. Then, he could just tap and watch. Only once did he watch a teensy weensy bit of a LOST episode.

A few weeks ago, he discovered the scroll wheel on the mouse (he'd realized a long time ago that the mouse did something; he just hadn't coordinated it all yet). If the computer was on iTunes with either "Movies" (mostly things I've ripped off of DVD's) or "TV Shows" clicked, he would use the scroll wheel to select what he wanted (from the "album cover" shots), and then press the space bar.

Last week sometime, I realized that he had discovered which button on the screen took the "album covers" to full-screen mode so that he could see them better. And that he could maneuver the mouse to that button, click on it, and then use the scroll wheel to pick the show he wanted to watch (LOST was off of their section of that computer a long time ago, don't worry).

So, I decided to give his Dr. Seuss's ABC CD-ROM that I'd bought as his "school software" for this year a trial run. Sure enough, he totally got moving the pointer around the screen to get the different items to do their thing (it's just a point-and-click software; no game to it). And he got that clicking on the arrow in the bottom right moved it on to the next screen. That is, of course, if it wasn't the "B" screen with the bubble that was blown huge and popped. That screen we do.not move on from. Unless forced. Which happens when the rest of us in the room can't take it any longer.

After reading on someone's blog that their three-and-a-half-year-old was playing on, I was curious. So, today with a little extra time I had (read: when I had planned to exercise), I sat Z in my lap in front of the computer, and we checked out Starfall. I really had a hard time believing it. He even gets the fact that you can't click when the cursor's not a hand. Where did he learn that?!?

I let him choose which letters he wanted to play through. One of them had a puzzle as the final section. He very deftly clicked on the pieces and put them in their places (just a simple shapes puzzle, lest anyone be too impressed). (Fortunately, the program grabs the pieces when you click on them. I think click-and-drag would be a little much even for Mouse Boy.)

I apologize to anyone who's thinking, "What's the big deal? All my kids were playing on the computer already at that age." None of our older three were, although they're all fine with it now, so it just took me by surprise.

Plus, it's really cute!

I'm sure some day some girl will be impressed with his great skills.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cute Sayings

I received the following e-mail from my father today: Would you send me some cute things the kids, you, and/or ML have said lately? We were talking about that at lunch today—me, S, and B—and I was having to dig a bit.

S & B are the ladies he works with. S has elementary-ish-aged kids at home. B has grandkids. Apparently, to be cool, you have to have cute kids sayings to share at the lunch table. Kind of like junior high, only different.

Seriously, S & B are awesome ladies and love to hear all about my kids and send them things when my parents come to visit, etc. I wouldn't want to let them down. Plus, I recognized the potential for a two-for-one: an e-mail to my dad, and a blog post topic*. Cha-ching (in spite of the fact that I write that out all the time, I actually never/rarely say it IRL [in real life], just so you know).

So, here was my response (only I typed out the names; I'm not so concerned with security in my e-mails to my father):

Cute things the kids have said recently:

ZL, when asked how old he is will say, "Ba three!" I have no idea what the "Ba" means, but he says it every time. He will also sometimes say, "Ba three!" when you ask him how he is. You have to really emphasize, "How are you?" if you want to get "Fine, thank 'oo"

We did some Christmas shopping this past weekend. While agonizing over a selection of Berenstain Bear books for JW to choose from to buy for MA (he has enough trouble making choices for himself, much less others), I had the great idea that he could just get all of his siblings iTunes gift certificates. They would all love getting to choose show episodes, and he wouldn't have to make any choices himself. His response? "Do I still have to spend any money?" :-l The child hates to let go of a single kirsch. He's saving it, because he might need it when he's an adult, you know.

MA, after reading a couple of the American Girl books, now has a Polly Pocket named Jo-Hanna. I gently explained that, even though the name is written Johanna, it's pronounced Joanna. Nope. The Polly's name is Jo-Hanna.

MS, hm, he doesn't say that many "cute" things anymore. Witty, yes, but none are coming to mind right now. Unless you count the fact that he delights in holding up gruesome video games or DVD's at stores and saying, "Look, I found one that's just perfect for our family! Let's get it!" To which I always reply (with false cheeriness), "Oh, wonderful! Let's!" or something like that. Kind of a reverse psychological way of letting me know he's internalized the family values.

So, there you go. I realized as I was cutting and pasting, that he asked for cute things that ML and I had said, too. Not too many off of the top of my head. I'll have to ponder that for a little while. I'll get back to you, if I think of anything.

*Beats telling about the dental visit today during which all six of us got our teeth cleaned and only two threw fits (not me, this time!). Although my dad would probably be pleased to hear that I'm taking care of my expensive, more-straightened-than-they-would-be-without-those-braces-that-mom-went-back-to-work-to-pay-for teeth, too. No cavities! Woo hoo!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A *new* van!

(Read the title with a game show host voice, and you'll get the emphasis I was going for.)

No, the van's not "new," but it is the newest car ML and I have ever owned, and it is truly above and beyond what I could have asked or imagined. I never dreamed I would be driving such a vehicle here in the Middle East.

A little background: we arrived in this country in May of 2003. In October of that year, we finally had enough money to purchase a vehicle. And I use that term loosely. :-P It was a 1985 Peugot 505 station wagon (and I love the fact that I found a link with great pictures and a reference to which movies the car had appeared in :-).

Okay, it was a vehicle. And it was a very strong vehicle. One that collectors groups form around, especially on the internet, and people seek out parts for to keep theirs going. It was just that ours had apparently previously been a long-distance taxi (unbeknownst to us at the time of purchase), and had been jury rigged to no end to avoid putting money into true repairs. It was not super reliable. However, it had nine seats, three in each row, and we knew we wanted that.

At the time, only gasoline vehicles (as opposed to diesel ones) could have seats for more than six passengers to keep people from running illegal taxis. Diesel was much less expensive, because it was government underwritten, and the theory was that no one in their right mind would run a taxi on expensive fuel. For the most part, that was true. We think ours was used in another country. Or between ours and another country.

Oh, and did I mention that it was the best we could afford at the time that would fit our family (with a little room for expansion/guests)? And that we were really tired of taking taxis with three small children? And the little fact that we felt strongly that we were being led to purchase this particular type of car and even this specific one, warts and all?

Slight problem, though, it was a standard, and I didn't know how to drive one. However, to get an automatic, which would have meant a newer, much more expensive car, was out of the question. I made a couple of attempts at learning, but the car was never really reliable enough for me to want to risk being out with the kids and it breaking down, so there wasn't much incentive. ML does all of the driving while I ride along, bum rides, or take taxis when I need to be somewhere while he's at work or home with the kids.

Fast forward a few years: it's 2006ish, and we're thinking we might be about ready for a larger, more reliable vehicle. We start looking into the options, and a Mitsubishi L300 or a Toyota Hiace are what meet our specifications. Again, we want ample seating, but this time we're looking for a van. The above to options were the only ones sold locally at that time without looking at the American mini-van imports, which are way out of our price range.

And even the Hiaces are a little expensive. Slight problem with the L300's: they didn't make them past 1985. Newer would have been nice. :-l

However, once again, we were led to just what we could afford, and it was being sold right in our neighborhood. So, we bought. Again, nine seats, three in each row, and a "bench" behind the front row on which children can perch in a pinch, to boot. We took six adults and four children on a road trip to Jerusalem in this van one time. Oh, the memories!

Only, once again, it's not super reliable. And it's very difficult to shift gears. For people who already know how to drive standards. Not the best car to learn to drive a manual on. Did I mention that the gear shift was on the steering column (reminds me of the Aggie joke about the brights dimmer)? ML continues to do all of the driving (riding, bumming rides, taking taxis continues).

Fast forward again to this past spring: we go through an evaluation point at which we seek to understand whether this is still where we're supposed to be. We feel like it is, but we feel like a part of staying and thriving, both for the kids and for me personally, is me being able to drive. That would either mean us buying an automatic vehicle or an easier-to-drive manual.

Originally, we toyed with the idea of getting a small automatic for me to squish the kids into for daily running around as a second car and keeping the L300. The L300 was having more and more mechanical problems, though, so we decide a newer, better van is the best idea.

In our price range, the Hyundai Santamo or the Kia Joyce seem to be the best options. Both have three rows, but only seat seven, because the front and back rows have just two seats. The Joyce is roomier, but supposedly less reliable (as in, a dealer who had both to sell told us not to buy the Joyce, even though it would have netted him more money). The Joyce is also available newer, as the Santamo's imported into this country only go up to 1997 (apparently, the demand increased in some other country, and the importers here stopped being able to find them). We were hoping for something newer.

We also looked at a Kia Carnival, but it was just flat out out of our price range, so we dismissed that option.

At this point, our plan was to transfer all of the money we'd saved/been given into the country, and then head out to the "Free Zone" where all of the imported cars go first. The advantage to shopping out here is that they are all in one place. The disadvantage is that it is huge (as in, a couple of square miles of individual dealers with a variety of vehicles each). However, we thought that this might be a good opportunity to practice learning to listen to "to the right or to the left" with the kids, so we're up for it. :-P

However, while we're waiting for the first part of the process of transferring the money, our ex-pat friend LAKG saw a mini van for sale along the route she takes back and forth to her kids' school. She wrote down the phone number and reluctantly passed it along to us (while she would love to have a new van herself, they've decided that this is not the right season).

It was a Kia Carnival. And the asking price was just above what we'd been hoping for (significantly less than the other one we'd looked at). And that was before negotiating. And it was a pretty color. :-)

We took a friend of ML's with us to look at the car. We *loved* it. The price was fair (he came down a little, but it was really a good price to begin with). It had nine seats (sensing a theme here?). And we felt like it was truly a gift. As I said, I never thought I'd be driving this kind of vehicle in the Middle East.

Then, began the arduous process of transferring the money into the country to pay. I won't bore you with the details, but the whole thing went much less smoothly than we'd hoped.

ML's parents arrived September 30th, and we still didn't have the money/car. So, we took one last trip to Petra in the old van, which was probably just as well, because at least we already knew its quirks/what to look for.

Finally, on October 8th, we took possession of our new van! What a blessing! I've enjoyed being able to take the kids to the park, drive to visit a former neighbor at her new house, run to the grocery store, etc. Yay!

Hanging out in the new wheels.

Saying goodbye to the old. We annointed it with bubbles. And we had to have at least one picture of ML where he has spent many, many hours getting us (and himself and our various paperwork, etc.) to and fro.

Do all things...

A few days ago, I came across the following verses in Psalms: As for me, I shall call upon GOd, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice. Psalm 55:16-17

And my first thought was, "Now there's some grumbling and complaining I could put up with!" :-P

You see, we have recently cracked down on grumbling and complaining in our house. We've never allowed a lot of it, but after hearing two godly young women (16 & 18) speak this summer on what they felt like their parents had done right (as the oldest one was leaving to go to college) and what they were grateful for parents doing well when they babysat and what they saw their friends struggling with (without naming any names or being in any way specific) due to ways they'd been raised differently, and one of the top things was "Don't allow whining," we took a good look at what we were allowing and started calling a spade a spade. No huge punishment crackdown. Occasionally there's punishment, but mostly it's just pointing out that someone's grumbling, complaining, or whining and that it's not allowed.

As per Philippians 2:14-15a (I used to hate it when people truncated verses that way, until I realized that it's not like the numbers were put there from the beginning or anything. :-): Do everything without finding fault or arguing. 15 Then you will be pure and without blame. You will be children of God without fault in a sinful and evil world.

And, of course, the Steve Green song (which was apparently a paraphrase, since I can't find a version that says exactly that): Do all things without grumbling or complaining. And prove yourselves to be blameless children of God.

So, when I read that verse, it made me smile at first, but I also realized I should help them to make their requests known to Him (as well as their thanks).