Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Long Silences

my girl and me

Since our big move, I've not been blogging as much as I used to. Part of this has to do with the amount of work it takes to move into a new space, in a whole new country, and part of it is due to simply being out of the habit. There is so much that I'd like to say that sometimes it's hard to pick one thing. And sometimes, when I do pick one thing, it opens a whole can of detail worms that I can't seem to organize or sum up neatly. I start to feel like I'm writing a research paper, because that's the amount of work that goes into it. It's not that this kind of writing isn't worth my time, but I seldom have enough time at a stretch to delve into it the way I want to. So I've been plugging away on some things, but otherwise largely silent.

There's also the matter of Zinashi getting older and her needs changing. As things get more specific, I find I don't want to share. It's too personal. At one time, the things that were occurring in our house were incredibly common in the houses of families who were raising kids with similar histories. There was some safety in that, and there was an element of being able to help others as well, to be able to say, "What you are going through, we are going through it, too. We are digging in to help our kids, and here is how we are doing it, and here is why it is expected and even normal given the circumstances." It felt incredibly important (and I still believe it is) to name trauma as the cause and to implore others to recognize the struggles our kids were facing, and to be a help to them.

There is so much new and exciting research now about trauma. I mean, some of it is depressing - it's never joyful to find out that the brain is negatively affected in more ways than I knew - but I feel that overall, there's a lot of hope for my kids and for other kids who have lived through trauma at a time when their brains were supposed to be plugging away, developing and growing and learning, and all those things that brains do in typical childhood situations. Researchers are learning things that can help kids heal, things they never thought to look at before, especially in terms of how those things would affect children differently than the ways that they affect adults. That the DSM V has a separate list of symptoms for PTSD in children of preschool age is beyond noteworthy, in my opinion.

At the same time, there are a lot of people who still don't know about the effects of developmental trauma, let alone how to approach a child who is suffering from it. Even many therapists are not well versed in this new research. The word is getting out, but not everyone is hearing it yet. I hope there is still a place for me to help spread the word. I feel more and more that I'd like to do that in person, but I know that right now, the platform I have is this blog. And so I am struggling to figure out how to offer a little childhood trauma education without revealing too many details about my own family life and without writing a research paper instead of a blog post.

I hope you'll bear with me while I figure this out. I think it's important to share. I want to keep sharing. I've just got to find the balance. I'll do it. It just might take time. But you're used to that by now, aren't you? If you're still sticking around after all this time, I'm pretty sure you are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Three! Years! Old!

If there's chocolate, it's a party. Is she right, or is she right?

Today, Elvie turned three years old. I can't believe she's already three. I can't believe how far she's come in just three years. Her day was full of chocolate and cheering and singing and telling anyone and everyone she saw that it was her birthday. We will have a party later, but today's small celebrations were just perfect. Three years old. Wow.

Happy Birthday, Elvie! We're all so lucky you were born into this world.

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Little Elvie Update: Doing Just Fine

elvie 1

Life with Elvie is pretty normal, as far as life with Elvie goes, anyway. She is exuberant and messy and demanding and altogether charming. For Elvie, everything is BIG. Big charm, big friendliness, big messiness, big helpfulness, big anger, big personality. It's not a dull life, but it's our normal, and I'm so glad to have it after two years of not-very-normal childhood. These days, no one would guess that she has had multiple medical interventions. I like it that way. It's really nice.

elvie 2

But still, she does need follow up care for some things, and we've been working on getting her medical care set up since we got here last July. I feel like we finally have everything in place to get whatever she needs, whenever she needs it. On Elvie's team, we now have a very good GP, a health visitor, and a specialist she'll see annually just to keep on eye on things. If she needs other specialists in the future, we've got good connections to make that happen. It took a little while, but we're all set.

elvie 3

Now we just live life, and start getting things set for the fun parts of Elvie's life in our new city. Up next: her third birthday, and the birthday party to go with it. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes on Homeschooling: Finding Our Way

home education has no uniform
A happy student, that's what I'm after.

The benefits of our move to London have been many. Especially for the long term, I feel that we are in a good spot to meet our goals and to have the kind of family life that we want to have. But there have been short term benefits as well, the best of which has been the opportunity to take a look at how we were managing our family life before the move and make intentional adjustments as we make a life here. I really want our home to be a place of peace, and to pursue a peaceful life overall, whether we are at home or not. For us, homeschooling is one piece of the puzzle, and I'll admit that some of our homeschool practices in years past have not contributed to the end goal of peace.

It takes time for all homeschool families to figure out what works for them, and it was a gift to me as the primary educator to have some months to observe my children in our new setting, without a lot of outside obligations or any firm plans. I also had time to reflect on our previous homeschool year, and to admit some things to myself that I hadn't been able to be honest about before, as well as make adjustments that I just couldn't see needed to be made until I took a step back. Moving to a place where we know very few people allowed me time to reflect without distraction, and it has been enlightening.

First of all, I realized that we were doing too many extracurriculars in too many different places. I felt run ragged in San Francisco, like I was always rushing Zinashi through something so we could get out the door, be on time, not miss out on anything. What we missed out on, it turns out, was the peace I wanted to create. As we settled in here, and I saw how much more relaxed the kids were, and how much easier it was for Zinashi to pay attention to her lessons and to engage with me in discussions, I knew that I wanted to limit the extracurriculars, and I knew that I wanted to wait until after the holidays to begin them.

Three Saturdays ago, Zinashi began performing arts classes. She does three classes all in one place, all in a row. There's the option to add two more classes as she becomes accustomed to the new place and the new Saturday schedule, and that will mean that all her extracurriculars are in one place, on one day. It's a dream come true. She is making friends and learning to hold her own in a group, learning to listen to a variety of other adults who are not me, and doing it in an environment that is supportive and positive. It's a win in every single possible way.

I've also made adjustments to how we approach the curriculum we are using. I've mentioned before that we are using the Charlotte Mason curriculum available on Ambleside Online, and I've also mentioned that instead of following their schedule, which divides the books up into one chapter of each per week, we are going through the books at a rate of a chapter per day, starting our next text when we are done with the one we are using. I've also decided to eliminate some of the books entirely; I want to do just two readings per day, and we are on a four day per week bookwork schedule. Zinashi learns best by doing a lot of questioning and discussing, and more than two readings per day really doesn't leave time to delve deeper into the things she wants to know.

We've also laid formal narration aside, after I discovered that she wouldn't engage as well with the story if she new she had to narrate afterwards. It always felt stiff and forced, and it kept us from the very productive discussions we were having at the end of each reading. The magic of this has been that, now that she is not required to tell the stories back to me right away, she engages so well and gets so excited about the text that she will tell Jarod about the stories after he gets home. She is doing narration, and she doesn't even know it. She just wants to share the story.

I've found similar things are true when it comes to nature study. I bought nature journals for both of us, and we took our nature guide to the park and read about squirrels, and then we got out our colored pencils, and...I never got to use mine, because I was minding Elvie, and Zinashi ended up crying because she couldn't draw a squirrel that was sufficiently realistic. But if we study animals at home, and look at tons of photos on the internet, later I will find her with a pencil and paper, drawing an animal we've studied. Absent the pressure of the Official Nature Journal and the very present, completely real animals, she is doing it on her own, and liking it, too.

The one thing I've kept that she isn't thrilled about is copywork. She copies one paragraph from each of the texts we're using during the week (four total - the two we are going through chapter by chapter, and two that are reference type books, and thus practical for reading just once per week), and she must complete it by the end of the week. I was wondering if this would truly produce the results I was hoping for - that she would be learning punctuation and spelling, and that she would start to recognize words as she was writing them, even if they were hard. This week she piped up, "Oh! I know this word that I am writing, and it is a hard one!" Success!

We are finding that same success in math as well. As much as I'd like to return to our Life of Fred books exclusively, we've found that Khan Academy works for Zinashi. She is building skills and is able to do a lot of it on her own. We would butt heads a lot over math when I was doing much of the teaching, and now she just needs a little help from me sometimes. I'm keenly aware of the homeschool math gap, and I want to make sure that she is getting quality math instruction, however we need to get it. Right now, we get it from Sal Khan.

Finally, there's the exciting part, the part where home education frees us up to explore more. There are so many things we can see or do that relate directly to our curriculum. We are reading Robin Hood and will go to Sherwood Forest in the spring. From a history standpoint, there's really no better place to see artifacts than the British Museum. We can do so much, and see so much, and really help what Zinashi is learning to come alive. We have time for this, and we don't have to rush to do it or cram it in. It's pretty much amazing. It makes me overjoyed to be a homeschooling family.

And the joy comes from the whole homeschooling package, really. When I sit across the breakfast table from Zinashi and start our readings with my coffee within reach and the morning sun streaming through the windows, I know that we're living the good life. When I see how rich and full her relationship with Elvie is becoming, I know we've been handed a good gift. It's been a tough couple of years, figuring out how to make homeschool work for us, and shedding the insecurities that others have tried to foist upon us, but now it is good. We are finding our way, and our way has brought peace.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How It Is, How It Goes

morning quiet

I have this theory that it takes six months of living in a place to really know what's working and what's not. At six months, some things you think must be changed have become all right, and some things you thought you could live with suddenly become the bane of your existence. We are coming up on six months here in London, and I am hunkering down most evenings with a can of paint or some eBay listings.

And in general we've been hunkering down, not going out much. It is dark fairly early still (though thank goodness those 4pm sunset days are behind us now), and it is cold, and I'd rather be here in my warm house, in my slippers. Zinashi approached me with a quizzical look the other day and said, "Mami? Why don't we ever go anywhere anymore?" I answered her honestly. It's pure selfishness on my part. Do you know how many extra things there are to lose when venturing out in the winter? We could easily drop £50 replacing hats and mittens by the time the season is over, if we were to go out as frequently as we do when we don't have to be bundled up.

Besides, we really need to stay home so that I can finish addressing the holiday cards. Yes, it's past the middle of January, and I have only about half addressed so far. I'd blame the children and be mostly justified, but I also have been taking a little break in the evenings, when I could be attending to such matters. We've had years of frenzied activity, since we first became parents, really, one thing after another to push through, to get done right. It's nice to have some evenings of normal, of a cup of tea and a little Netflix, of just sitting still.

Which is not to say that we're resting on our laurels entirely. Zinashi started a performing arts class on Saturdays (more on that when I do a little home education catch up post), and Elvie will be turning three (three! already!) next month, and we are hoping to get back to where we first came from, plus go to France*. Elvie has started asking me when we are going to "Ethiopia MY village - MY VILLAGE???" and I know I need to work that out, maybe take on a little freelance work on the side. But for now, it is quiet. And I'm going to keep it that way just a little longer, on purpose.

*Eurostar is going all the way to Marseille beginning in late spring, and it's not much farther to travel by local train along the coast to reach Nice. The fare sale occurred at just the right moment for our finances to bear the burden of a little trip, and our tickets are already booked, our favorite apartment reserved, our lists of ice cream flavor combinations begun.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2014 in Review

It's possible that if I say that 2014 was a full year for us, that would be an understatement. As I was looking through photos to do this year-end wrap-up, even I was stunned, and I lived through it. It was a hard year and a good year. It was an overflowing year. That's how I'll leave it. And now, here it is in photos, month by month.


We  began the year with Elvie still in her big brace. The people who made the brace for her called it a bobsled, but it wasn't nearly as fun as bobsledding, I'm pretty sure.

january 2014 1

And then she was free! And so were we. Those diaper changes were no joke. I'm just saying.

January 2014 2

Jarod and I also did a Whole30 during that month, because if your life is already really challenging, why not just add something else? He stopped snoring and I felt better than I'd felt since Elvie joined our family. I guess we did all right.

January 2014 3


In February, Elvie turned two. We gave her a bowl of nonpariels instead of a cake, and she was not disappointed.

February 2014 1

Shortly after that, we had a real party, with a farm animal theme and lots of friends and food and balloons.

February 2014 2

Once the celebration was over, it was time for another surgery, and Elvie did incredibly well. I think she might be an expert at having surgery. Should she get a special badge for that?

February 2014 3

Meanwhile, Zinashi was entering her bride phase. It was a lovely phase.

February 2014 4


In March, Zinashi was in her second ever ballet performance. She was radiant and confident.

March 2014 1

She also started guitar lessons in 2014 and wrote her very first song in March.

March 2014 2

Most importantly of all, we made our first batch of homemade injera. It wasn't much to look at, but it made us happy all the same. (Our skills have improved quite a lot since then.)

March 2014 3

Before the month was over, Elvie had healed enough from her latest surgery to begin taking ballet classes. There is nothing more adorable than toddler ballet. Nothing.

March 2014 4


In April, Zinashi turned seven, and I really couldn't believe it. Seven is just so old. We snuck into her room in the middle of the night to put a canopy over her bed, and she woke up happy. Whether you are turning seven or fifty-seven, I think waking up happy on your birthday is important.

April 2014 1

As soon as possible, we had a party. It was sea creature themed, with an Ethiopian feast on the side.

April 2014 2

And then it was time for Pascha, our favorite holiday of the year, when liturgy starts at 11pm. That's right, 11pm. And our kids stay awake for it. Mostly. This was the very first year that Zinashi was relaxed enough to fall asleep during the service, a veritable Paschal miracle.

April 2014 3


In May, I put in Zinashi's first ever set of yarn twists. It was thrilling for both of us.

May 2014 1

Both kids got ridiculous about having their photo taken, but I kept taking photos.

May 2014 2

And then something big and important happened: we ordered very large cat carriers for each cat. Wait, no, that wasn't the important thing. The important thing was that Jarod was offered a job in London, and he accepted the offer. That's when things really started to get crazy.

May 2014 3


In June we began the process of sorting out and packing up what we needed to ship to London. While we were busy, Elvie decided she would help out by dressing herself.

June 2014 1

I doubt she would've been so helpful if she'd known we were angling for one final surgery. Sorry, Elvie. It's the last one for years unless there's some sort of unforeseen emergency. We promise.

June 2014 2

The following Monday, we shipped off all the stuff we could live without, and that Wednesday, I flew to London to find a place for us to live.

June 2014 3

I found a house that would work for us, had some time to myself, and flew home just in time to unpack and repack for a trip back to Kansas City to see all who are near and dear to us there.

June 2014 4

The girls and I went on a road trip to Branson with my parents and a whole gaggle of kids, and Zinashi rode her first grown up roller coaster.

June 2014 5


Still in Missouri as the month flipped to July, we worked hard to catch up with as many people as possible and to have as much fun as possible.

July 2014 1

We had so much fun, in fact, that Elvie got her first chipped tooth on our trip. And I think we all know why I say first chipped tooth. The exuberance of Baby Godzilla is not slowed by one uncomfortable incident.

July 2014 2

We returned to San Francisco with just weeks between us and our departure date. We packed up everything that we were taking with us, and waited impatiently on our paperwork to be ready to leave. The cats' paperwork was ready before ours, so we sent them on ahead of us.

July 2014 3

While we waited for our visas to be ready, we visited all the things we would miss about San Francisco.

July 2014 4

And then, finally (yet so soon), it was time to get on the plane and fly off to our new life in London.

July 2014 5

We landed on the very last day of July, exhausted and disheveled (but excited on the inside).

July 2014 6


August found us making our way around London, figuring out what it looked like to be residents, not just visitors.

August 2014 1

We got really comfortable in IKEA.

August 2014 2

We fed a lot of squirrels.

August 2014 3


With a month under our belts in London and no sign of our things from San Francisco, we became accustomed to life with very little furniture.

August 2014 4

Zinashi played card games with royalty.

September 2014 1

The girls and I went to Paris for a day to see friends.

September 2014 2

And then, our stuff showed up!

September 2014 3

And it started to feel like a lot more like home.

September 2014 4


Finally settled, we started our school year in early October.

October 2014 1

Elvie and Brownie refused to be left out and insisted on their own class.

October 2014 2

I put in Zinashi's favorite set of yarn twists yet.

October 2014 3

And my children transformed into an elephant and a flying fox for Halloween.

October 2014 4


November ushered in cooler weather, shorter days, and a chance to get cozy.

November 2014 1

But before we got to used to it, we were off to Ethiopia.

November 2014 2

After a couple of days in Addis Ababa, we headed south to visit Zinashi's village. It was her first time back since she left, and the first time for the rest of us to see where she came from. It was a big, amazing, wonderful deal.

November 2014 3

Back in Addis a bit later, we took Elvie to see the people who knew her when she was the tiniest baby that was ever tiny. We were unable to see her family due to some scheduling conflicts and miscommunication, but we will be back. This time, it was good for her to see a little bit of the country she came from.

November 2014 4

We flew back into London on the last day of November, just in time to get really excited about Christmas.

November 2014 5


December was all about holiday magic. There was Christmas tree shopping and decorating.

December 2014 1

There were holiday lights everywhere.

December 2014 2

There were fancy Christmas dresses.

December 2014 3

There were reindeer antlers as we made our rounds for extra treats on Christmas Eve.

December 2014 4

And there were homemade treats in the evening, to leave out for Santa in a flurry of excitement and anticipation. Would he like the eggnog we made? We're pretty sure he did.

December 2014 5

And then it was Christmas, and there were presents, and all sorts of good foods, and candy anytime anybody wanted to have some, and even roller skating in the house. It was like magic!

December 2014 6

But the fun didn't stop there! Shortly after Christmas, we went to Canterbury to see where the Black Prince was laid to rest. (Homeschool nerd alert!) We went to evensong at the cathedral and had a hot drink to warm up from our wanderings.

December 2014 7

Before we knew it, it was New Year's Eve, and the sun had set on a most incredible year. We tucked our kids into bed, and they were fast asleep before fireworks outside our windows marked the start of the new year.

December 2014 8

2014 was incomparable. Thanks for being here to share it with us. Happy New Year!
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