Saturday, October 30, 2010

"God Dad"

So says Jaybird. Starling overheard her talking about "God the Dad -- you know, the one who made us all!" We think she meant God the Father, not, unfortunately, me. :(

Fun Run: A good first outing

Well, Starling is declaring that the "inaugural" Fun Run to raise money for orphaned special needs kids in Eastern Europe "went smoothly." Which is to say that attendance was nowhere near what we'd hoped for; chalk it up as a learning experience. However, thanks to the extra generosity of several participants, we raised $622.10. That, plus a substantial gift from our friends in Boston, brings Anthony's adoption fund up to $6,642.10. Not bad. It might even be enough to get him adopted; he now has the second-highest fund (out of two hundred kids) on the Reece's Rainbow website.

We're relieved it's done, since Starling basically got the notion to do this all by herself just about three weeks ago. She did an amazing job, considering she was also holding down a full-time job, creating a grant proposal, and taking care of four kids in the evening. She's already talking about next year! I bought her a Subway sandwich to celebrate afterward. As we talked, I learned a few new things -- like that the one-year survival rate for the kids who end up in the adult mental institutions is about 50 percent, according to Human Rights Watch; Reece's Rainbow, which has been more deeply involved there more recently than HRW, says the one-year death rate is actually higher than that. All the more reason to do it again next year, I suppose.

Here are some pictures:

Mudpuppy getting his feet painted

The kids loved singer-songwriter Amanda Hardy

Starling registering kids

I think there were more volunteers than participants!

Getting ready to run

Mudpuppy on the run -- it was cool and windy!

Montessori sharing night

It's been a busy few days. Thursday night was parent sharing night at the kids' Montessori school. Basically, the kids spend an hour showing their parents their favorite "works" -- the learning activities they're able to work on independently. It's usually fascinating to see what innovative tricks they have up their sleeves now. Mouse showed us some math work; Jaybird showed us the "movable alphabet," which she is really excited about these days, as well as a sand tray (copying letters and numbers in a tray of sand). Bear showed us his work on the Hebrew alphabet, as well as his math notebook. Here are some excerpts:

It's really quite amazing, every time, to see this unique learning environment: shelves full of well-planned and thought out learning tools; tables that encourage collaborative work; and when you walk in during their three-hour morning work time, a roomful of kids who have the discipline to work quietly -- either independently, or in collaboration with others. Or, sometimes helping a classmate who is struggling with a work. It's an amazing sight to see.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mudpuppy on the move

Yes, sorry for the blurry photo, but I had to act quick, since he doesn't stand up on his own for more than a few seconds (note the beanbag behind him for a soft landing!). Still, it's proof of his great progress in the last few weeks. He's able to stand up at furniture and move along it, plus he's able to stand up unassisted for a few seconds at a time. Also, he's really on the verge of crawling; we've seen him move from a sitting to a crawling position several times now. And he also "walked" across the room to fetch a ball he'd thrown -- with assistance, of course, but what's new is that he moved his legs on his own, without prompting. Occasionally on this ten-minute journey, he would even let go of one of my hands on his own.

It may be crazy for us to want him to start moving, but it's time. He'll be happier once he's able to get into mischief on his own, without the aid of his siblings. Yes, we'll have to throw up gates; yes, the Christmas tree will be bare on bottom, but gosh darn it, he'll be a happier kid for it.

If it weren't for all of Mudpuppy's progress in the locomotion department, I was going to name this post, "Here I sit in my messy house," because this morning I spent a good hour just working and playing with him. We played catch with a yellow ball, and falling down (he enjoys falling back on a soft surface), and I pushed him on his swing on the playset outside -- and I taught him to snap. Well, he's got the basic idea, if not the sound. I was snapping my fingers and singing with him and he started moving his fingers in the same way, as if to say, "Hey, how do you make that sound with your hands?" All of that playing in the sun -- even though the house is still trashed. Yes, the laundry was never put away today, but I will savor the memory of playing on the carpet in the sun with little Mudpuppy.

Here's his attempt to snap. As usual, he's totally distracted by the camera once I take it out:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We're way overdue to post here; life has been exceedingly busy. (What's new?) Thankfully, for my birthday, Starling bought me a retreat -- two nights at the Villa St. Joseph hermitages in St. Jospeh, Wisconsin. I leave tomorrow afternoon.

One last picnic
The kids continue to be a source of delight. Bear is getting ever better at the violin -- and growing up in so many ways, although his nutty upper elementary humor is on full display. He LOVES to tell a joke or to laugh at anything. Laughter or silliness are really his default modes. Mouse continues to read voraciously, and draw (she is a better artist than me!), and create elaborate imaginary play scenarios. She is also working on learning all her math facts, and was bursting with pride at having passed one of the benchmark math tests at school (100 math facts in under five minutes). We practice with flash cards for fifteen minutes every night, plus she is getting extra help at school through Title I. Jaybird continues to be a firecracker, and is also making leaps and bounds at school. She is so proud of her maps of the USA and the world, and her ability to write very simple words and to read a few words. But most of all, she is good at math. She will write out math problems for herself in very crude numbering and then solve them, too -- all of them addition problems that she can do on her fingers. And little Mudpuppy . . . what can we say about him? He continues to be the smilingest baby yet, a real charmer. And curious! He loves manipulating things and testing things out. Locomotion -- um, not so much. We are working very diligently, with the help of Early Childhood Intervention, to "move" him along. He loves to play catch with a ball, and to imitate you with hand motions; he just recently began waving "bye bye." He thinks it's the most hilarious thing. I'd really love to capture his giggles on video -- they won't last forever!

Well, this post is nowhere as good as my sister's regularly are, but there you go. It's the best you're going to get, unless I blog during my retreat!

Jaybird with her maps

Jaybird and one of her Twin Cities cousins

Who is cuter? (I vote for the baby!)

Let's all do a happy dance . . . or cry . . . or thank God . . . .

You might notice that the "Help for Tori" button is down in the sidebar. There's a reason for that: Tori's adoption is now fully funded.

For those of you who might have missed it, Tori is the little girl that Starling "adopted" this month on Reece's Rainbow. This is an all-volunteer organization that promotes and supports the adoption of special needs kids in Eastern Europe. In Tori's country, these kids live in an orphanage until they are five, then are shunted off to a mental institution intended for adults. They generally die from neglect. In fact, a little girl that was listed on RR died just a few weeks ago at an institution in Tori's country.

Starling and another woman had taken on Tori's cause because she just turned five and was moved to a mental institution. (She has cerebral palsy, which is not a mental issue anyway.) For the past few weeks, Starling has been working very hard to raise money for this girl. In fact, our family is apparently single-handedly organizing a run/walk/roll around Lake Winona at the end of the month. (!)

So this morning, as Bear and Jaybird are fighting with one another and Mouse is on the couch throwing up, I get a call from Starling. She says, "Are you sitting down?" Someone -- we don't know who -- gave Tori a major grant, pushing her fund up to $23,500. That should completely cover the cost of her adoption, meaning that the likelihood of her being adopted soon just went way, way up. Most of the kids, even those in worse shape than Tori, get an adoptive family within a few weeks of being fully funded.

After I got off the phone, the older kids wanted to know why I was crying. :)

Initially, we thought that our generous friends in Boston decided to fully fund her; they had already made a very big donation. But when we called, it turned out it wasn't them. The donor remains a mystery.

Now, we just need to pray for a "ready-to-go" family -- one with all the paperwork completed -- steps forward. And yes, the fun run is going forward; the money will go toward one of the many other kids who aren't as lucky as Tori.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Current medications

Current medications as of 11/16/2010:

Humira (adalimumab) every two weeks
fexofenadine 180 mg as needed
Arava (leflunomide) 10 mg daily
flaxseed oil 1000 mg daily
minocycline 100 mg as needed
clobestasol propionate as meeded
triamcinolone/ketoconazole as needed

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More fun with apples

Well, we had more fun with apples this past weekend. After harvesting our apple trees last weekend, we made those apples into applesauce using an apple mill -- something that we've never done before, but which turned out to be very easy. You just cut up a bunch of apples (we fill a good-sized stock pot), add a couple cups of water to keep them from burning, and cook them down for 20 - 40 minutes. (The smaller they are, the faster they cook.) I forgot to mention that you just throw them into the pot, skins, seeds, cores, stems and all. That's what makes this so easy. Then, after they've cooked down so that all the pieces are soft and mushy, you throw them into the food mill, which you place over a bowl or another pot, and you turn and turn and turn (or get your kids to do it), and the applesauce falls into your bowl, leaving the skins and other hard parts in the food mill. It took us about an hour and a half to make three quarts of really good applesauce. (We added cinnamon.) Even Starling thinks it's good!

Mudpuppy ate his first apple!

If you could see how hard he was working to bite into it,
you'd laugh. His sister ate a Golden Crisp.

The girls fought over who got to use the food mill first ... and
then after ten minutes said, "Dad, you can do the rest!"

And here the girls are playing in the hay pile
at the pick-your-own apple orchard.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Mudpuppy turns one

Mudpuppy turned one year old yesterday! Here at GraceWatch, we had a very simple celebration: Out to dinner (the China King Buffet, of course), followed by cake and presents at home. Also, everyone gathered around him first thing in the morning as he was being changed on the diaper table and sang "Happy Birthday" to him. And the class at ECFE sang to him as well. He responded to all of it with his trademark smile.

One custom that we have in our family is to go around the table and tell why we're glad the birthday person was born and is a part of our family. Here are some of the responses:

Bear: "Because he is the answer to my prayer for a brother."
Mouse: "Because I can't imagine him in any other family."
Jaybird: "His giggles, his smiles, the way he plays with me...."
Jackrabbit: "All of the delight he has given to so many hundreds of people already, just by being him."

Happy birthday, M!

He was much more fascinated with that tag than the actual present!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Picking backyard apples

The past week or so has been fairly busy -- we've been socializing, doing things at church, and HARVESTING. We got a nice ripe cantaloupe out of the garden -- a real treat, since we didn't plant any cantaloupe this season (it was a volunteer). And we also harvested all the apples on our two trees. Amazingly, there were still apples left to harvest. Last year, the squirrels stripped the trees clean.
Jaybird picking apples in our backyard.

Quite a haul! We filled a canvas bag with apples.

The last carrot.

Mudpuppy: Cuter than ever!
How did we keep squirrels from eating all our apples, you ask? I still think it's mostly luck, or lazy squirrels. However, we did surround the trees with chicken wire fencing, at the advice of the Bird Song store owner. We didn't stake the fence too firmly; apparently squirrels don't like it when things they're climbing move around too much. However, we did see squirrels in the trees even with the fencing. So we also added those metallic-looking toy pinwheels -- we hung a couple from the branches, so they'd blow in the wind. We also sprinkled coffee grounds all over the trees (apparently squirrels hate the smell.)

Now that we have successfully harvested apples, maybe we should look at growing peaches like my sister does:

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Help for Tori

This month, our family is campaigning to save the life of a five-year-old girl from Eastern Europe. Her name is Tori, and she has cerebral palsy. Because she just turned five, she was moved from an orphanage into a mental institution, where she will likely be kept bedridden and -- very possibly -- die. Starling learned about her through Reece's Rainbow, an organization that advocates for these kids by raising money to fund their adoption. We're trying to raise $19,000 to fully fund her adoption costs -- which significantly increases her odds of adoption. You can read more about Tori on the Reece's Rainbow website, or read up on our efforts at the blog that Starling created for it: Help for Tori. When you're there, you can link to the Human Rights Watch report that documents the plight of these children.

Thanks to Starlings' work, our priest mentioned Reece's Rainbow in his sermon this week (as part of Respect Life Sunday). She also has an article on it coming out in the popular Faith and Family Live blog on Monday.

If you feel called to help, there are several ways you can do that. First, you can make a donation to Tori's cause using the little app in the left-hand column. Second, you can spread the word, either by linking to the Help for Tori page or by copying the ChipIn code onto your website. And finally -- you can say a little prayer for Tori.