Sunday, February 28, 2010

Fine Motors Skills and Boys

When One was beginning 1st grade - 3 1/2 years ago - we were told by his teacher and the lower school principal that "unless we did something about his horrible handwriting, he would fall farther and farther behind his classmates." We were a little confused at the time; he was six, he was a boy, and we didn't think six year old boys were known for their handwriting. But, apparently, it was a major problem for these two women, and he was threatened with falling behind in a class that was already far too easy for him in terms of learning materials. No flexibility was suggested at all; instead what they offered was punitive more than anything else.

What did we do? Well, this was maybe the 5th most important problem we had with the school, so we did what most parents who have already paid way too much in tuition would do: we pulled him out of the school. I home-schooled him that year, and we didn't worry too much about his fine motor skills, at least not while doing school work. I would fill in the addition and subtraction problems that he could do in his head, he would narrate book reports to me while I typed on the laptop, and we did spelling verbally as well. It was a short-term fix, but we didn't want him to miss out on learning because his hands weren't ready to catch up with his brain. In his free time, he participated in sports that involved hand/eye coordination and hand strength: baseball and fencing. He didn't notice that this was helping, but it was.

The next two years? That's when we worked on his motor skills at school as well - it was time for it at that point. He learned cursive in Montessori, and suddenly his handwriting was completely legible. He did a lot of art in Montessori as well, and doing an enjoyable task with his hands - everything from drawing to painting to weaving - was a painless way to build motor skills. He also began to take after school art classes, something that continues to this day. Taekwondo helped his upper body and arm strength, which in turn has helped him write and draw for longer periods of time without tiring.

None of this was really planned by Husband and me, but it has worked wonderfully in helping One to "catch up" on his fine motor skills. Not that I ever really felt there was catching up to do; some skills develop before others, and this was what lagged behind for him. What solved the problem was time, encouragement, and an enjoyable way to work on the skills he lacked. He didn't need us to have a complete parent freak-out when he couldn't print perfectly at 6; he just needed us to keep an eye on things and look for ways to work on the problem whenever we could.

I write this because I know we're not the only parents who have had this message delivered to them. Sometimes it comes in a tone of "go fix this child so we may teach him properly" and sometimes it is delivered more compassionately. Regardless of how the message is conveyed, I would encourage you to trust your instincts as a parent and look for alternative solutions to the perceived problem. If what you've been told seems to you as non-sensical as a 6 year old boy with perfect penmanship seemed to me, do your homework: get some books from the library, read on the internet, talk to some friends with older children. In other words, educate yourself in order to test your initial instincts. If it seems like you may be right, then go with what works.

And while I know he's still no Rembrandt, here's what works for me:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Team Rubicon Recon: Chile

Team Rubicon is headed to Chile, to scout out areas along the coast where their help may be most needed. Prayers and donations always welcome.

They have a fan page on Facebook, and you can sign up for updates directly from them (on their website), if you are so inclined.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Catching up on Reading

I’ve actually been doing some reading these days – not all that usual anymore, with my schedule. Nothing weighty and important, but some good books nonetheless. Here’s a list of what’s been keeping me awake at night:

The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan: yes, I borrowed them from One and dove in, in part to console myself for having to miss the movie, since by all reports (including Kate’s) it was terrible. The books are anything but terrible. They’re exciting and fast-moving; I can see why One and his friends devoured them. More interesting to me are the messages implicit in them. The books make it clear that no matter what position you’re in, you never back away from a challenge. This is great stuff for kids to hear – boys especially in this day and age. The books also present a complicated and interesting picture of parent/child relationships. Someday when I have some free time (!) I want to have One write down for me whether he thinks those relationships are portrayed positively (overall) or not, and his examples for that conclusion. I think it would be an interesting exercise for him, especially since he’s getting to the age when he’s going to start asking that question about his own relationship with us. My conclusion? Overall the parents come off quite well in these books. There are some duds, but most of them seem to love their children and help them, given the constraints that bind them. For the parents in the books that are Olympian gods, this means “hands-off” most of the time – but when a child is in need even these parents manage to come up with a helping hand, even if it doesn’t look like that to the child at the time. I don’t want to be a spoiler and give lots of examples, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan: I just started this, egged on by One and his love of the young adult version. Interesting stuff – and yes, I am ready to learn more about where my food comes from. I want to know because I’m perfectly willing to change where I get what we eat; I’d just like help knowing how to start.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: This is a recommendation from Melissa Wiley (who you should all read regularly, like taking vitamins), and it is indeed a good one! I already have the next book in the series waiting in my Amazon shopping cart. A mystery with a young girl as detective: she makes some wild mental leaps to get to the solution, but overall those only add to the fun of the book.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: Another mystery, even better than Sweetness. The story takes place in two time frames: the 17th century, during the Salem witch trials, and modern times, where a Harvard PhD candidate is researching colonial American history. There’s mystery and danger in both story-lines, and the end is an explosion of “oh my goodness, I didn’t think it would resolve itself like that!” Fun fact: the author, Katherine Howe, is from Houston.

Midnight Fugue: This is the latest from Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series, a detective series as old as I am. It was as excellent as all of the books this long series are, and I would recommend the series to anyone who loves a good mystery. The character development over the life of the series has been one of the most fascinating parts of these books, but that doesn’t taken away from the fact that these are A-1 mystery stories as well. You could pick up any of them and enjoy it, or you could start at A Clubbable Woman and read forward, and wrap yourself into the lives of some fairly interesting characters.

On deck: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I've owned the former for years and never gotten around to it; the latter is a James Lileks recommendation.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Best Brother Award

Tonight, I heard a crash and a cry upstairs, and One started hollering "Two is hurt!" This happens not that infrequently, but I still run like mad every time. This time, however, rather than sporting nothing more than a small bruise, Two met me at the top of the stairs with a mouthful of blood. Oh geez. We got to the sink and determined the cause was a split lip, and lots of cold water on a washcloth was immediately applied. Two couldn't stop crying, though, and I really wanted to get downstairs and call Husband, as well as Google "split lip stitches" to see if we needed a trip to the doctor (answer: no). At that point, One rode in on his white horse and rescued me. He raced into Two's room (where Two was still crying) with a bird book, and proceeded to find the funniest looking birds to show to Two. He read snippets of the book - "this one eats snails - ugh, like French people" - and before I could get back upstairs Two was giggling hysterically into his wet washcloth. We then went to Chick-fila for milkshakes (what else could a boy with a lip that fat eat?) and One, of course, had a very well-earned strawberry shake himself.

He is my hero tonight. He ran to the rescue and calmed his brother down, when all the "shhhhing" and "baby it's okaying" from mom was for naught. He showed real empathy, and did so in a way that actually made things better. Crying tears for his injured brother would have been sweet, but not very helpful. He went beyond that, and stepped in when both Two and I really needed him. He did what God made brothers to do, and I'm so proud to be his mom.

(The boys reading together on our Disney trip)

"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Proverbs 17:17

Mark your Calendars

The Beach Family Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is set to air on Sunday April 4th, from 7 to 9pm. That's Easter Sunday, so get your DVR queued up and make sure you record it!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Hazards of being a Woman in Ethiopia

Are many - read here for some enlightening details. Some excerpts:

"In Ethiopia, almost 60 percent of women have been subjected to sexual violence including rape. Abortion is linked to violence, as approximately 25% of women seeking an abortion are pregnant as a result of rape. Ethiopian women face further violence in the form of early and forced marriage or marriage by abduction. Although it is hard to believe, an estimated 72% of women are married by abduction, a practice that often involves rape. According to one study, 85% of women believe their husbands have the right to beat them if they burn food, refuse sex, or go somewhere without their husband’s consent."

"Rural women in Ethiopia may need to walk an average of sixty miles while in labor to reach a medical clinic where it is unlikely there would be an OB or midwife. ... 94% of women in Ethiopia give birth without the help of a doctor or midwife. It takes women in Ethiopia an average of 2.5 days to reach a hospital where they could have a c-section if needed."

Sobering, no?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dreaming of Mother's Day

And the possibility of this lovely little biometric gun safe for my very own.

I like to plan ahead.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

So it's Armed Rebellion you Want?

If something like this happens, that's what you'll get.

"... the Treasury and Labor departments are asking for public comment on 'the conversion of 401(k) savings and Individual Retirement Accounts into annuities or other steady payment streams.'"


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Things are Better Left Uninvented

Like this:

The Divorce Industry.

"A fortnight today, London will play host to the Starting Over Show, a divorce fair for those who have been through or are considering a break-up that was first staged last year in Brighton. The show proved such a success that this year, much enlarged, it is being held in the capital and again on the south coast. As well as inspirational speakers (“No more ‘if onlys’”), family lawyers and estate agents, the exhibitors include life coaches, a cosmetic dentist, a photographer and several dating agencies."

Get the bucket: I'm feeling nauseated.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Team Rubicon Documentary

The trailer is here from their trip to Haiti:

This organization was established right after the earthquake in Haiti as a team of first responders who could get on the ground faster than larger aid organizations or even the military. Their mission in Haiti was such a success, they have decided to stick around.

Official Diet Update: Five Weeks

After five weeks of dieting my way through 2 boys' birthdays and my wedding anniversary, I have lost 8.5 pounds and have 16.5 lbs to go to my goal. I wish it was more, but given the amount of cake I've consumed so far on this diet I have to admit it's pretty darn good after all. Hopefully with all the celebrations behind me I'll be able to be just a tiny, itsy-bitsy bit more disciplined.

The one thing I find most helpful, but which I haven't been able to do as often as I'd like, is lifting weights at the gym. I know that sounds strange (really, really strange if you know me in person) but it's working all the same, and I enjoy it much more than I thought I would. Based in part on this book, I do 10 minutes of interval sprints on the treadmill and then spend 30 minutes working through every weight machine in the Y: 3 quick sets on each machine, no more than 5 reps in each set, all as heavy as I can stand. Hey, muscle burns fat, and since I am not over-burdened with muscle, I can use all the weight-training I can take.

The narcissism is over for today. Thanks for putting up with it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Well-Armed House

Is the best defense against intruders. Toward that end, we've beefed up the boys' supply of weapons:

May the Sheriff of Nottingham beware!

Of course, 2 wild dogs, Husband's shotgun and my lovely Beretta 9mm might help a little as well. Just in case the boys run out of arrows or fail to kick an intruder in half with their taekwondo skills. Maybe.

Prayer for the Beginning of Lent

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of slothfulness, discouragement, lust of power, and vain talk.

But give rather to me the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and king, grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; For thou art blessed always. Now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

--- St. Ephraim the Syrian

(One studied this in Sunday school this week)

Without Counting the Cost

Please read Katie's latest post from Uganda. Not easy to read. As she says, not easy to write. But the truth is neither easy to tell nor easy to hear. And it is hardest of --- most, most, most hardest of all --- to live. I can tell you that, because I'm the one who hardly ever lives it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quotes from the Birthday Boy

I woke up with Two in my bed (not an uncommon occurrence) and Knight the wild boxer was stamping all over the two of us, trying to convince us to feed him, NOW. Says Two:

"Why is that dog being so mean to the birthday boy?"

Later, he was trying to pick a show to watch from TiVo:

"Redeye? I think that is highly inappropriate for children."

Yes, indeed.


"i thank you god for most this amazing day." - ee cummings

Stolen from Meg and Marcus - thanks guys.

I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving to God today. For the weather, which is finally warm and sunny (praise God!) for my perfect (in a human sense) 2nd child, whose birthday it is today, and for my church and its liturgy, which casts a veil of peace over every Sunday. In more detail:

Yes, it is warm today! This transplanted Yankee with thin Texas blood is going out in the back yard to bask in the sun. It has been a long time since I've seen the sun, and even longer than that since the sun has seen my legs. Eeek.

Two is 7 today. Seven years ago today, our family as we know it now became complete. Happy birthday to my creative, sensitive, beautiful and giving son. I love you bigger than the universe.

And as on every Sunday, Thanks be to God for the gift of the most beautiful liturgy, and the ability to celebrate it every week in freedom. Thank you for the prayers, incense and songs, and the peace it showers down upon us all.

And now, that the whole day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and sinless, let us ask of the Lord.

Valentine's Day Replay

I wrote this last year but I just can't help repeating myself:

I Hate Valentine's Day

There. I said it. I hate it with absolutely primal passion. The sight of red candy hearts fills me with loathing, heart-shaped Whitman’s samplers make me want to buy an Uzi, and don’t even get me started on pwecious wittle stuffed bears. Red lingerie, I loathe you. “He went to Jared!” commercials: let’s go outside and settle this like grown-ups.

I hate Valentine’s Day more than I hate Rachel Ray.

And after I get done hating it for all these grown up reasons, I get to hate it all over again as a mother. I hate Valentine’s Day parties. I hate cartoon character Valentine’s cards – cards my children aren’t even supposed to write on, since they will be shoved in backpacks willy nilly without a thought as to who they are for. I am hopping up and down right now, hating the whole made-up, Hallmark holiday.

Why so much vitriol? Well, first of all, couples shouldn’t need someone else to tell them when it’s time to declare their undying love for one another. In reality, the best “undying love” declarations come at the end of a hard day, when your loved one holds you as you come in the door beaten down and exhausted. When they wake up with you and your stomach flu at 3am, and bring you a cold glass of water without saying a word. When they tell you the same silly joke they’ve told you 4 million times, and then wait for you to roll your eyes and laugh at them. These things can’t be manufactured, scheduled, coated in red paint and delivered with a bow.

And why am I also so bent out of shape about a harmless children’s party? Well, part of that probably has to do with the fact that I have boys – boys who don’t tell me they are having a party or need Valentine’s cards until they’re on their way out the door for school on party day. But aside from that – what does it tell our kids that we celebrate one day of the year when we tell all our friends that we “like” them? Do they learn from this that they need special occasions and frosted cupcakes before they can tell a friend “you’re better than candy, you’re so sweet”? Shouldn’t we be teaching them to appreciate the simple, sweet things their friends do for them every day? The friend who grabs the book you drop and runs after you to give it back, the one who stands up for you on the playground when you’ve having a bad day, the one who loans you his sweatshirt when you’re cold?

The fabric of our lives is made up of these infinitesimal events; these tiny stitches put an entire quilt of relationships together. We don’t need garish Snoopy cards and cheap roses to show appreciation and love for one another. We have our valentines in our hands and our words every day; we should use them, and teach our children to do the same.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Random Week

Two received a birthday present today. As you can see here, he doesn't have a firm grasp on the value of money.

Can you believe this has only 400 calories but 48 grams of protein? Neither did I. And it was good.

I attempted to sabotage my diet this week unwittingly; do you see the word "diet" anywhere on this package? No? Neither did Husband, but not until I drank 3 or 4 of them.

Friday was "reading camp" at school, and a half day as well. Here is One, wearing jammies to class and "camping" under his desk with a book. He was in heaven.

A random week, as I said. And now to get ready for Two's birthday weekend plans. Given where he's chosen to eat dinner tonight, I'm either (A) eating dinner before we go, or (B) exercising until 3am to make up for the calories I'm about to consume.

Have a great long weekend.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Little More than Lamentable

Breitbart reports that the US has frozen spending on a HIV treatment program in several African countries. The program, which gives free antiretroviral therapy drugs to patients, was begun by President Bush in 2003. It was up for renewal this year, and the Obama administration decided to cut the program to the point that now it will be unable to accept new patients.

"We are heading to carnage. Carnage which had been put to a stop," [...] "There is no prevention programme that can succeed without treatment."

Your tax dollars, not at work doing good.

I'm juxtaposing this today in my head with a request I received at work. Will I review a lengthy and completely inapplicable document? asked an internal client. You see, the customer in question has received bailout funds, and one of the many strings attached to the money is that this particular agreement must be disseminated to and signed by all, no matter how inapplicable.

Your tax dollars, hand at work making scores of people deal with something wholly unnecessary.

If the Federal government doesn't revolt you, you're really not paying close enough attention.

Prayer Behind the Ambon

This is my favorite prayer in the Divine Liturgy:

"O Lord, who blesses those who bless thee, and sanctifies those who put their trust in thee: save thy people and bless thine inheritance; preserve the fulness of thy Church; sanctify those who love the beauty of thy House; glorify them in recompense by thy divine power, and forsake us not who hope on thee. Give peace to thy world, to thy Churches, to the priests, to all civil authorities, to our Armed Forces, and to all thy people: for every good and perfect gift is from above, cometh down from thee, the Father of Lights; and unto thee we ascribe glory, thanksgiving, and worship: to the Father and to the Son and the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen."

The Best Cookbook Ever

After 4 million cookbooks, I have a hands' down favorite.

The best recipes in here?

Beef Short Ribs braised in Beer
Oaty Chocolate Chip Cookies
Manhattan Buffalo Wings
Blue Cheese Dressing (perfect for the chicken wings, of course)
Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce and Poached Eggs
Summertime Creamed Corn
Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
Stuffed Shells with Ricotta and Proscuitto
Macaroni and Two Cheeses (but kill the onion and garlic)
Grilled Quail
Chicken Potpie
Oven-Roasted Barbecued Ribs
Butternut Squash and Bourbon Soup

And those are only the recipes I've tried. Honestly, the only thing I didn't like in here was the turkey dressing, and that's most likely because we all have our favorite Thanksgiving dressing, and this just wasn't mine.

The cookbook is a collection of recipes that David Waltuck and his staff at Chanterelle in NYC served for "staff meals" - the family-style meals the retaurant staff ate together every day before they opened for dinner. They make perfect family meals; some are easy to cook and some are great for a special Sunday dinner.

Try and enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

What we Know of Love

Debra Parker's post today: a must-read.

I have to confess, I haven't met Ernest or Debra. I've simply been captivated by their story of sacrifice, of love, of abandonment of all else to the goal to bring hope and love to one child. Does this story resonate with me more because I, too, dream of bringing a child home from a far-away place? Without a doubt. But it is a story of love, as Debra says, and as such it should resonate with all of us. A father eagerly seeking out his child is a story as old as -- well, as old as the Bible. And since all of us look (whether we know it or not) for a heavenly Father who seeks us when we are lost, so we can all look at Ernest's journey to Haiti and see ourselves.

My cup runneth over today, filled with hope and love - all because of the love I have seen others pour out on one another in the past weeks. God bless, y'all.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brown Belts

The boys passed yet another test tonight at taekwondo: they are now brown belts, four tests away from black belt. Four looooong tests away, but that's for another day. Tonight was celebration all around: the boys passed, Two knew the meaning of his pattern for the first time, and both of them broke boards for the first time. Actually, it was the first time they'd ever tried. When they brought them out to the children I crossed every digit I have; I couldn't believe they were going to try! But they did very well - One succeeded on his second try and Two made it after several more than that. He's small and quick, but he doesn't have those tree trunk legs that make One so. darn. strong.

Here they are in their triumph:

Amazing. Truly amazing. They grew in my womb, small and defenseless, and now they can kick in doors. A day for miracles, to be sure.

He is Coming Home

For the two of you who aren't following the story of Ernest and Debra Parker and their son Ronel even more closely than I, let me be the one to tell you:

Ernest and Ronel are coming home to Houston. Tonight.

Praise God!

In case you don't know what's happened, here is Debra's blog. And a quick summary:

The Parkers were working their way through the paperwork to adopt Ronel from Haiti when the earthquake struck. Unable to get Ronel out with other orphans who had been cleared to leave, Ernest flew to Haiti and camped in the US Embassy. Literally. On the floor of the lobby for over a week. Through the intercessory prayer of hundreds (if not thousands) of people, and the selfless work of Congressman Ted Poe and Senator John Cornyn, Ernest and Ronel flew to Miami on a military transport plane last night. Now they are through immigration, through the children's home that needed to check Ronel out, and the word is they will touch the blessed ground of Texas sometime tonight.

Miracles are beautiful things, aren't they?

"We, thy thankful and unworthy servants, praise and glorify thee, O Lord, for thy great benefits which we have received; we bless thee, we thank thee, we sing to thee and we magnify thy great goodness, and in lowliness and love we hymn thee: O Benefactor and Savior, glory to thee."

UPDATE, 10PM: Ernest and Ronel had a race for their flight, but they made it and flew to Houston tonight in first class. Welcome home to Texas, wonderful Parkers. Thank you for letting us participate in your adventure ... and your miracle. God bless you and keep you well, now and evermore.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Official Diet Update: Three Weeks

Three weeks into the diet I have lost 5.5 lbs. I have 19.5 lbs to go.

Week one: 1.5 lbs lost
Week two: 2.5 lbs lost
Week three: 1.5 lbs lost


Monday, February 1, 2010

One's New Hero

One has a new hero:

Yes, that's Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms in Virginia. It's my fault, as I bought One the young reader's version of The Omnivore's Dilemma* recently. He argued against spending his own money on it, but I insisted and bought it for him myself. He then proved me right (did I tell him he would love it? Yes, I sure did) by staying up past 11pm reading it ("But Mom, I can't put it down!") He now spouts wisdom (and a fair amount of disgusting information) about what's on the table at practically every meal. I am now considering buying meat that has been properly raised at a local farm, and he is full of energy and excitement: can we visit? does it look and operate like Polyface? will they know about his hero?

I love it when he's passionate about important things. I am eternally grateful that at 10, humane and healthy farming techniques get him more torqued up than the latest Green Day release. He has his "blah - I'm ten and everything bores me" moments, the ones when he practices being a teenager, but most of the time he's excited about and involved in everything that's important to him. How he got this way? If I could figure that out I'd write an instructional manual and retire early. But it's inside him, not out; it's not the result of something Husband and I forced on him as some cool parenting technique. It's simply what makes him his odd, endearing self.

It's hard to be odd, and passionate about different things, especially when you're ten. I'm glad he has the courage to do it, even though it can mean being alone more often than he'd like. He doesn't know he's brave - not yet. Someday he'll figure that out - or at least realize that he's capable of being brave when it counts - and that will be a great moment indeed. One of the ones that makes parenting the most satisfying, if I had to guess.

Although these ordinary, everyday moments - they seem to be quite satisfying enough for me most days. If I go to bed fairly sure I didn't get it wrong, it's food for the soul.

I got this one right. This time.

*Buy, buy, buy this book for your avid reader (or hunt it down in the library at the very least). If a generation starts to care where its food comes from, one of the right kinds of change might get here at last.

Another Random Blog Absence

We had a lot of life last week; consequently blogging was even lighter than usual. It was all good life: Husband's and my anniversary on Tuesday and One's TENTH birthday on Thursday. Both required dinners out, of course, and the latter a sleepover this past weekend. Now things are back to normal, at least until Two turns 7 on Valentine's Day.

I have several things to blog about churning around in my tiny little brain, so I promise something more substantial, fairly soon.