Monday, February 28, 2011

Huckleberry Finally Gets It!

We are big believers in having children do assigned chores, but there are just some chores that cannot wait until they get home from school (definitely an argument in favor of homeschooling).

This past week there was no school, so the boys had to help with more tasks than usual.  After being asked to unload the dishwasher for the 2nd day in a row Huckleberry exclaimed:

"It's like the dishwasher has to be unloaded every day!"

Well, yes, it does.  In fact, sometimes twice a day.  Chore time is still not perfect, but there is a new willingness to help that I hope is permanent.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Zoo--Sunday Snapshot

On Saturday we took our friend, Captain Awesome (the friend who missed Thursday dinner), to the zoo to see some animals and for me to practice using my camera.
We all had a great time, though it was very, very cold.  I believe the technical term is below freezing (28 degrees).
Yes, the duck is standing on ice.  In fairness to the zoo, they are not in anyway restrained to staying here.  They could have flown south.  Though maybe they are from Canada, and they did fly south?
The polar bear thought it was perfect weather.  (I thought this came out pretty well through 3 panes of polar bear resistant glass.)
There was some snow and ice around.
The red wolves cuddled for some warmth.
We spent a lot of time with the walruses.
Because, well, it was indoors.
We needed a little break from the cold.
Though the arctic foxes were having fun
as were the otters.
He totally posed for me
as did my SnapDragon.

Then we spent a lot of time in the Aquarium; again for the warmth; but my camera fogged up because of the drastic temperature change, so I took a break from taking pictures until it cleared.
By then we were at the sea horses; my favorite exhibit in the zoo.  It was a great opportunity to practice indoor, no flash, through glass pictures.  However, I wasn't very successful; I had trouble focusing with my 55-200mm lens and didn't want to change it.  I'll definitely have to go back and practice some more.  Sea horses are pretty.
After taking 600 pictures at the zoo I definitely have a lot more wisdom on how to use my new camera and am happy to have it.  
We eventually left, running for the warmth of the car.

Ni Hao Yall
 (It was apparently picture day at the zoo because for the first few hours the only other people we saw had really, really nice cameras (sometimes 2 or 3) and no kids.  I felt a little guilty bringing my rowdy kids to spoil their shots, but I still had a blast.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

My New Camera

I mentioned yesterday that I had a serious post about cameras, and I did.  We have been talking about getting a new camera for about a year and seriously researching it for the last 3 weeks.  I love my camera:
However, we bought it in 2004 and it is only 3MP.  We chose it because of its small shutter lag (for its time) and great lens.  It can usually capture the image I want but it has the same limitations of most point and shoots for indoors and I was starting to find 3MP limiting.  

So the question was, do we purchase another really nice point and shoot now or splurge and get a DSLR?

We could not decide because the point and shoot we liked the best because of its reputation for great indoor shots due to a better sensor only had 3x zoom and I LOVE my 12x optical zoom.

But if we bought a DSLR would we actually take advantage of its flexibility and use its different settings or would we be lugging around a large camera and continue to take basic shots?

So my husband started researching cameras and I started researching photography.  I found 31 Days to Better Photos at Life with My 3 Boybarians (can I just say I love that blog name) and started working my way through the lessons with my Panasonic.  I found the series about a year after she posted it, so I cannot get feed back from her, but I've been doing the lessons and I've learned a lot.

It took 5 different photo shoots and the help of my husband to get my camera to capture the differences changes in aperture can make:
My Panasonic only ranges from 2.8-8 which we have learned is not a very wide range.  We took pictures at all the options in between, but only by looking at first and last could we see a big change and learn what she meant by depth of field.

Anyway, this is what we were pondering and wondering what other people thought when our friend could not come over last night as we were hoping.  Because he wasn't coming we went to Costco and bought the Nikon D3100.  (We had researched many, many cameras and had the Nikon, Cannon T1i, and a Pentax on our wish list at our price point, but Costco had the D3100 kit for $200 off).
I feel a little ill about it and I blame our friend.  I am not a real photographer.  I only took like 3000 pictures last year, not over 10,000.  I really don't have a lot of time to adjust settings when taking pictures of my zing, zing two year old.  And honestly, I think I got a better shot of my Nikon with my Panasonic than of my Panasonic with my Nikon--though that probably has more to do with the color of the cameras, the lighting (same spot but time passed) and my familiarity with the Panasonic than the quality of the Nikon, but I worry.  I could sponsor a child in a third world country for 27 months for what we spent.

However, we bought it at Costco, so we have 90 days to return it, but I am cautiously optimistic we will keep it (unless the T2i kit drops by $300).

This picture from my Panasonic:
is more interesting than the same shot with my Nikon today:
But that has more to do with the weather than the camera (though I never would have taken the Nikon into the falling snow, so I never would have known what it was capable of capturing.)

But I am liking the vibrant colors that still look natural, the lack of any shutter lag, and all the math that goes into photography.  
And since we got the camera yesterday my husband and I have taken over 300 pictures so I'm thinking it won't go to waste.

Now if I could just remember that the smaller F-stop number means larger aperture and larger aperture means smaller depth of field (I think) because:
I wanted her feet to be crisp and the rest of the picture blurry.  Oops.  I guess I've figured out how to keep busy while waiting to go to China.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Truly Random

I am frustrated today.  Nothing funny has happened to me for over a week.  Even my children haven't been particularly amusing.  They have been pretty cute and sweet at times, but not funny in a way that would amuse my 10 readers.  Really, I want to laugh and make others laugh, but I got nothing.

I don't really feel like taking the time to write a serious post though I do have several ideas I want to touch on soon.  You know, serious stuff like education choices, race, meant to be, and cameras.

Technically that means I shouldn't post anything.  However, February only has 13 posts which ties it for last place with December for number of posts (August is excluded from the running since I began my blog in August).  It doesn't seem fair to allow February to lose just because it is a short month.  Perhaps I should grant a handicap.  I will contemplate that for next year.

I am excited that China apparently sent matches that covered LID of 6/3/2006-6/9/2006.  That is a whole week and they came only 3 weeks after the last batch.  I don't expect it to be a new pattern, but if they do start doing a week at a time consistently our LID is only 10 batches away.  If they started doing batches every 3 weeks (which is even more unlikely) that puts us 30 weeks away from a referral.  It is fun to pretend for a moment.  More importantly it brings some people I cyber know with June LID's even closer to a match, and I am very happy for them.

Am I the only one that has a husband that grows creepy things in the kitchen window
in order for your children to learn about things?
Apparently it is salt crystals and the kids had a blast breaking it up back into salt.  I just wish that when I asked "is it edible?" Huckleberry just said yes instead of popping a piece in my mouth.  Bleh!  I guess the new growth is the sugar crystal.Photobucket

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

School Matters

We received this letter from SnapDragon's school on Saturday.  It made us so angry that for a moment I even contemplated homeschooling--which I believe is a great option for certain families and certain children, but not my SnapDragon at this time.  I believe we overreacted, but it is still unsettling to me, so what do you think?

Dr. Mr. Oak and Mrs. Cedar,

We are so glad that SnapDragon attends X Elementary.  At X, we are doing everything we can to encourage students to achieve their best by attending school every day and by reaching each class on time.  We are asking you for your help in accomplishing these goals.

We have noticed that SnapDragon has been absent 6 days so far this year.  Each day SnapDragon is absent he misses out on instruction that builds important skills.  Consider this: for every 5 days missed, your child loses up to 30 hours of learning time.  Whatever your child's goals may be, he will need basic skills such as reading and math, to be successful.

We would like to partner with you to help SnapDragon get to school, so if there is anything making it difficult for your child to get here, please let us know.  It is my sincere hope that we can work together to avoid filing a Truancy petition with the juvenile court.

Please don't hesitate to call with any concerns or questions.  Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.


SnapDragon's Principal

Perhaps you feel the letter was completely justified--after all he has missed 6 days--but let me give you my feelings about this.

First, 4 of those days he had a fever.  We are not allowed to bring children to school if they have had a fever of 100 degrees or more in the last 24 hours.  1 day was the day his grandma died and 1 day was while we were gone for the funeral.  All 6 days were Excused absences with notes.  I would have been happy to bring him to school for the 4 days of fevers thus bringing him down to only 2 absences, but I don't break rules.

Second, most of the school staff know me and all know SnapDragon.  He is not struggling in any of his classes.  In fact, especially in math, he isn't even being challenged.  His teachers acknowledge this but have no plan.  With a new principal this year there have been several changes in how the classes are run--all geared to the benefit of the average and below average students--including 4 hours a week of enrichment for SnapDragon (and other bright students) while bringing other students up to speed on core principles.  Yes, our school system is failing many children and perhaps all of these changes will help them, but don't yell at me about attendance when I allow you to waste hours of my child's time every day.

Third, the Truancy law is for 10-12 UNEXCUSED absences.  Are you seriously threatening me with a juvenile court petition for 6 EXCUSED absences? 

It is my sincere hope that we can work together to avoid filing a Truancy petition with the juvenile court.

It is this line that has me all worked up again.  If the letter was about the importance of attendance, I can accept that we do not value his attendance at school as highly as they do.  We could have sent him the day his grandma died; we could have come home from his grandma's funeral a day early.  We did not.  

The condescending attitude in the middle of the letter that assumes because we do not value attendance we do not value education, I can forgive, because while it does not apply to us, generically, it is a reasonable assumption.

Now the problem is that while offering help the letter threatens.  Filing a petition with juvenile court is not a slap on the wrist, it is a scary, frightening idea.   I did not have our state's truancy law memorized.  I looked it up on the internet and was quickly able to sooth my fears--after all, how can I promise that SnapDragon won't have 4 more fevers?  

I wonder about the mom who received the same letter on the first day of a week long vacation for similar absences but doesn't have internet or cannot find the Truancy Law in her native tongue. (Over 10% of students at my son's school is considered transitional bilingual and even more speak a different language than English at home.)  What fear is she still contending with until she can call the school next Monday?

Since my child's absences were excused it is an empty threat and completely inappropriate to be used in this context.  But even if his absences were unexcused, the wording of the letter makes this document a threat not a warning.  

A warning would explain the law and that at 12 unexcused absences the school is required to file a petition.  The results of this petition would probably be a requirement for family counseling and for the parents to receive training.  Usually, unless other problems are discovered, the child remains with his parents.  A warning would explain the danger and provide ways to avoid it.  

A threat uses a person's ignorance and fear to achieve a desired behavior--in this case better attendance from your child.

Maybe that is the only way to improve attendance roles.  Maybe parents do need to be threatened to care.  Maybe patronizing newsletters about table manners and behavior is the school's only option.  Maybe a kinder letter would yield no results. 

But it feels an awful lot like bullying to me.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Waiting to Hold

Ni Hao Yall

In October 2005 we went to our first adoption agency meeting.

We had two little boys at the time:

For Christmas 2005, I was given a Prayer Box necklace:
I started wearing it and said when asked "It represents all of our prayers for our adoption.  I'll give it to my daughter when she comes."  I have gone through 3 chains and need a new one.

In January 2006, we went to our International Adoption Training at our agency.  They gave us 3 stuffed bears.  2 for the boys and 1 for the baby girl we were planning to adopt from China.  
They have sat on top of bookshelves, our entertainment center, and our piano for the last five years.

We received a LID of 8/15/2006 and started to wait.

Then we had a daughter by birth:
And we took a trip across the country:
(Anyone know how to fix fingerprint on lens after taking the picture?)
And still we wait and pray:
(Picture from Sunflower's Dedication taken  and edited by a friend)
And we live our life:
We work on Huckleberry's Science projects,
And we have long, confusing conversations with SnapDragon,
And we watch Sunflower learn how to be a big sister.

And we wait.  We wait to hear about our agency's changes to the Waiting Child Program.  We wait to apply for our I-800 so we don't have to renew it six times.  We wait for a referral from the CCAA.  We wait to hold a fourth beloved child in our arms.

All the while praying and wishing that adding a child was as easy as adding a fourth bear to our dusty stuffed animals.
(This 4th bear is photo-shopped in.  Does anyone have a recommendation for what to do about having 3 bears to give to 4 children when we finally do adopt?  They are all the same and very soft.  I've been pondering what to do for 3 years.)

Who Said Being a Parent Was Easy?

Today at lunch SnapDragon said, "Did you know George Washington owned slaves?"

"Yes," said Huckleberry.

"But he treated them well.  More like servants than slaves."

"I'm not sure.  He probably didn't know all of his slaves and didn't have control over how some of them were treated," I said.

"I know he treated them well.  I read it in a book."

"Okay...but remember it doesn't matter how nice you treat them, it still isn't right to own people," I answered. 

There followed a brief conversation from Oak about length of ownership, slaves being freed in the Bible at certain set periods of time, indentured servants, and that we don't own even our children.

"Then I don't think we should adopt!" declared SnapDragon.


"Well, we are buying a child and that means we would own it and that's wrong."

That was quickly followed by a discussion about fees and travel expenses but not buying a child, but he had lost interest.

Goodness!  You never know which direction a conversation will go.  Here I thought it was race related, but turns out it was an adoption issue.  Too bad I picked up "Can We Talk about Race?" By Beverly Tatum today at the library and not "Can We Talk about Adoption?"

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

"Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book" has been a favorite in our house since it was given to us.  It is about a child who wants a pet and their truly remarkable zoo sends him an animal.  Would your zoo send a child an animal to be a pet?  Clearly this book isn't about teaching the realities of life. 

The first animal is an elephant and quickly sent back because it is too big.  The giraffe is sent back for being too tall.  The snake is too scary.  The camel is too grumpy.  The lion is too fierce.  The frog is too jumpy.  And here's the biggest problem--the monkey is sent back because it is too naughty.

Finally the zoo sends a dog and it is kept because "he was perfect!"

Perhaps you are wondering why this book was ever a favorite.  Well, because it is a flap book and the kids love saying which animal is in each box and flipping the flap.  Also, every page only has about 13 words and with a drive-by listener like Sunflower short books score some major points at our house.

However, after reading about racism, I think this book has to go.  Sure, animals are not people.  Some facts about animals are just facts.  An elephant is too big to be a pet.  A giraffe is too tall.  But some of the differences this books teaches about animals falls more into the stereotyping category--camels are grumpy, lions are fierce--granted for animals these stereotypes are mostly true.  However, a snake is too scary?  Who says so?  Well, I do, but still...

And then the book calls for actual judgment.  A frog is too jumpy to be a pet, but a dog is perfect.  Really?  Perfect?  I would sooooo prefer a pet frog to a pet dog.  Frogs go in cages.  Now my children don't get to have either animal for a pet, but still...

Now maybe I am overreacting and the book won't teach children that differences are bad.  After all, animals are not people.  However, when most childrens' books designed to teach children that diversity is good use animals to teach that lesson, I'm not sure I'm willing to risk this book countering that lesson.

However, the negative way differences are portrayed is not the only problem in the book.  It is the phrase "I sent it back" which is repeated on every page except the last one about the dog.  My children have no problem with it, but after watching "Despicable Me" I cannot bear it.  After we adopt, I think I'll like it even less.

Can I convince my daughter that she is going to be kept because she is like the dog, perfect?  Do I want to?  Can anyone promise me that no one will call my daughter (or any of my kids for that matter) naughty...ever?  Does being naughty mean they should go back?

Yep.  I've convinced myself.  This book has to go.  There are lots of books that fall into the gray area, but this one isn't one for me.  Aside from teaching children that Elephants are big and giraffes are tall--both facts we can learn at the zoo with better visuals--I don't see this book as having anything of value to teach my children.  

At minimum, do I really want 4 out of every 13 words to be "I sent it back"--especially with my drive-by listener?  I'd much rather those 4 words be "I love you so."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lost Daughters of China--a book response

"The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past" is written by Karin Evans, a mom who adopted her daughter from China.  She wrote and researched it in the hopes of giving her daughter some of the answers to the questions she expects her to eventually have (I believe the daughter is only about 3 years old when the book was published).   China and the picture of China adoption has changed quite a bit since the book was published in 2000.  For instance her comments on special needs adoption and the availability of boys has no reflection in the reality of today.  However, I still believe this book is worth reading in addition to other more recent books like China Ghosts.

For one thing, history does impact the present and understanding the past, even immediate past, can help frame understanding of the present.  I do believe this book relatively accurately reflects the state of China's orphans and adoption practices as it pertains to the late 1990's to mid-2000's.  Knowing this information will aid me in helping my child form answers to her own questions.

Another thing, possibly only personal to me, is that I read this book 5 years ago and just reread it.  I have been feeling a bit defensive when reading first mother's blogs and adult adoptee blogs and hearing their anger that pre-adoptive parents think only about the child they will be adopting and not about how it came into existence.  I hear their concern and feel a little defensive for myself.  I think about the parents of my eventual child a lot.  I pray not only for the birth of the child and her safety, but the sorrow of the family, the social injustices that benefit me, and for families to stay together.  However, reading this book again, I realized reading this book in 2005 was what turned my eventual child's first parents, especially the birth mother, into real people to me.  If I had not read this book in 2005, I would not have had my heart softened towards first parents and the people of China in general.  

So do I recommend this book?  Yes.  Just don't let your heart be broken for all the little girls in orphanages she talks about.  I don't personally believe the situation has changed as drastically in the last 5 years in all areas of China as we are told, but whatever the reality behind the closed doors of China's orphanages, I do not believe China will ever go back to adopting out Internationally 7000 precious little NSN baby girls a year again.  However, if it makes you want to look into SN adoption of boys or girls from China, I say go for it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Firefly Mothers Are Superior

Some of you may remember when this article in the Wall Street Journal came out about Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  It created a maelstrom of blog posts, comments and arguments.  I even joined the fray.  Today by following a rabbit trail of links starting at Our Little Tongginator, I found my favorite response to it of all time.  It is not serious at all and I know my real life friends will find it worth the read.  It is also the reason that some days I contemplate becoming a blog of links instead of writing my own posts.

By the way, we are Babylon 5 parents or maybe Stargate SG-1 parents though we are failing even in that since we haven't let the boys watch the shows yet.  No!  We are Firefly parents--we were already planning on learning Mandarin.

Blogger and Italics have defeated me today, but you cannot take the sky from me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dominion--The Alpha and Omega (or Beginning and End)

We had a long and full weekend, and I debated not blogging about it because I don't have pictures and really who wants to know what we did last weekend.  Then I realized this is my blog and I can do what I want.  Plus our activities are not any more or less boring than my opinions--in fact for the few family members swinging by our activities are more interesting.

Friday was playing Dominion at a friend's house--totally fun because I wasn't the one taking care of her sick kids while her husband is out of town.  I'm really not a very good friend.  I even won most of the games.

Saturday morning was toddler gymnastics for Sunflower with Daddy, swim and snorkeling for the boys, and elliptical and bike for me--all at the Y.  Then drive by two houses for sale which we will not be buying.  

Around noon we arrived at the 13th Annual Asia Pacific New Year put on by the Asia Pacific Cultural Center.  We didn't know what to expect, but we wanted to go.  There was a stage with different performances throughout the day.  The ones we were able to see where from Thailand because this year's focus was Thailand.  There were booths sponsored by different groups.  There was food, crafts, and clothes from a variety of Asian countries.  We bought food from 5 different places trying a variety of things--all of which were very tasty though recalling the name of some of them is difficult.  The boys really enjoyed their Samoan pancakes and I loved my potsticker from the Chinese Christian Church booth.
The children made lanterns at the Korean Buddhist Temple booth.  Sunflower started one with the help of the lady running the table.  The lady would put the glue on and stick the paper next to the glue and then tell Sunflower, "Push it, baby."  After awhile Sunflower got bored and Huckleberry finished it.  They were out of the colored paper at our table, so their lanterns didn't look quite as amazing as some of the other ones we saw, but it was a cool project and the kids had fun.

Overall we had a good time though it was a little crowded and we had to leave before the Chinese Language School kids did their dance.  I did see the children in their outfits and with their parents, several of which were Caucasian.  The school teaches Mandarin, art, and dance for all ages.  It is probably where we will go with our children someday.  It made me a little sad we aren't there yet.  We might have Huckleberry and I take some classes there this summer or next fall.  SnapDragon said he'd like to learn the dance but he didn't want to learn Mandarin yet though he is probably the one that would find it easiest to learn.

Then we met my dad at my grandma's new assisted living apartment.  It is a nice place and she seems content.  Really making it until 91 in her own place was an amazing achievement and mostly do to my aunt's hard work.  Then Dad took us out to Red Robin for dinner, and I had the Teriyaki Chicken Burger.  I thought about ordering something different but decided I had expanded my openness to different food enough for one day.

Sunday was another nice day--church, talking to friends, a quiet afternoon at home with the boys actually cooperating with the cleaning and Sunflower sleeping.  In the evening we went to the first in a six week small group series for church.  The kids went to childcare at the church while the adults met at a house.  A lot of people were there, so a little overwhelming, but a challenging video and open discussion, plus nice people many of them I do know.  I am looking forward to the rest of the sessions.  

The weekend ended with 2 games of Dominion--the board game!--with my husband in which I crushed him and a little T.V.  Here's to more nice weekends--though I promise not to blog about each one.