Sunday, December 11, 2011

Surprise Boston Visit

We did it!!! With the help of my sister and her husband, Air Boss and I (along with the kids) were able to surprise my parents in Boston with an unannounced trip. Just a week after Thanksgiving, we boarded the plane and took our homeschool on the road (or in the air) for the first time.

In a series of elaborate surprises (more elaborate in the planning than the execution), the four of us surprised 'Shroom and Lolli's younger cousin as he came off the kindergarten bus. We quickly piled into my sister's minivan to skirt two towns over to surprise my parents in their new condo. After loud and repeated "I don't believe it!!!!" and "How did you get here?!?" exclaimations, we all hugged, high-fived each other (that would be my sis and me for not spilling the beans), and grabbed some lunch before we all boarded the surprise-mobile (a.k.a. the minivan) and drove to my older nephew's school and surprised him at the end of his school day.

'Shroom and Lolli were so pleased to have this "extra bonus" cousin hang-out time.

They exchanged Christmas presents early, decorated a gingerbread house, had a sleep over, visited the nearby LEGO store and made a take-home toy soldier, and 'Shroom even donned his Cub Scouts uniform and joined his cousin on his monthly Cub Scout pack meeting.

Homeschooling became "clubhouse-schooling" as each morning the kids and I would bring our books to the clubhouse floor of my parents' condo. We took over a 12-seat conference room each day and packed in a lot of learning (I think I may have worked them harder than our usual school day). I've discovered that the kids were quite adaptable in their schooling environments and even the bustle of Christmas shoppers didn't distract our ADD 'Shroom!

Our last day in Boston, we worked in a field trip and walked a bit of the historic Freedom Trail. We had lunch in Quincy Market where Lolli got to eat one of her favorite foods - chicken pot pie. Apparently she enjoyed it quite thoroughly as I heard her say on the way home, "Wow - that pot pie was really good! I just burped pot pie and it still tasted good!"

Well, it was a great feeling to be back in Boston in the chillier season (no, we didn't see any of that white stuff). And I'm surprised that we were able to truly surprise my family. It's not easy planning surprises these days!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Past the halfway mark (barely)

Today marks Day 16 (of 31) of my family being dairy-, egg-, nut-, and gluten-free. The first week was totally rough as it seemed like there was nothing in the house we could eat except the drywall and hardwood floors. The second week was a little bit better as we even ventured out to some local "restaurants" (okay, I know some of us consider El Pollo Loco a fine dining establishment). Now that we're just beginning our third week, it's just plain torture.

How Are We Feeling?
Towards the end of last week--just as we were beginning our second week into this diet--I began noticing some changes in 'Shroom. I was cautiously optimistic about making some correlations but I was oh so hopeful. His spelling seemed to have improved. Instead of getting more word incorrect than correct, he had one spelling test where ALL the words were correct! Woo hoo! On top of that, he was cranking with his school work. Last Thursday and Friday, we managed to complete our usual six hours of homeschooling in about 4.5 hours. Was this the turning point?!?! Did this mean that we wouldn't have to medicate him in order to get him to focus and concentrate?!?!

When I complimented 'Shroom for his great work and his perfect spelling test, my just-too-bright-for-her-own-good Lolli shrieked at lunchtime, "No, no, no! 'Shroom, you have to do a horrible job! Otherwise we'll be on this diet FOREVER!!!"

What Went Wrong Over the Weekend?!
Well, that feeling of turning a corner in this whole process was short-lived. Air Boss took 'Shroom camping with his Cub Scouts pack and while they had to drive off the campsite for their meals, something must have changed. By Monday, school productivity and 'Shroom's spelling score were at an all-time low. Even Lolli was acting rather antsy and it took her more than half an hour to finish two pages of (rather easy) math. Yesterday was the worst day in homeschool history for us. When I had mentioned this to Air Boss and the supporting details, I teased him about not being too disappointed (lack of academic improvement --> lack of need for diet). I think abstaining from wheat has been the hardest for him. Lack of "results" in the attention span department only meant that come November 12, we'll all be back on a normal diet.

The Real Question
Okay, so I know you're all concerned and deeply interested in how my kids and husband are doing, but I know your real burning questions is, how am I doing? =) In a nutshell, I think I've become crabbier and nastier. Really.

One morning this week, I got a late start in cooking breakfast. Since we've been eating steel cut oatmeal, I've been cooking it on the stove top. And since I was behind on the morning routine, I had the heat on high. As I was dicing apples with my back to the stove, the pot of oatmeal bubbled over and made a huge mess. Lolli had been patiently waiting for her breakfast up until this moment. When I had to drop everything to clean up the mess, she commented, "If only I could just eat a piece of bread!" It was an innocent remark and she really wasn't asking for much - just a piece of bread and some water for breakfast - something simple and something fast.

Well, I flipped. As in flipped out.

"What are you complaining about?!?" I yelled. "At least you're not cooking!!!!"

Whoa. I realized then that this DF/GF/EF/NF/ABC/XYZ diet thing was really getting to me. The poor kid didn't deserve that. I guess the stress of planning special meals, shopping at special markets, and cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner for my ENTIRE family (remember, we homeschool and Air Boss works from home) each day was beginning to get old. And if cooking hot meals wasn't enough, our dishwasher is broken so now I spend an additional half hour hand-washing all the pots, pans and dishes.

Yeah, diet schmiet. I am so ready for this thing to be over. Maybe it's not such a bad thing that there isn't any noticeable improvement in 'Shroom's attention span.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One week into the DF/GF/EF/NF diet

Technically we're not quite at the one week mark but we're close enough to it.

The Weigh-In
I'm happy to report that 'Shroom's weight has remained the same for the most part - he's gained about half a pound but that can be attributed to the fact that he's wearing jeans today. Lolli on the other hand, has lost almost half a pound but that can also be attributed by her clothing. Okay - in the spirit of full-disclosure, I've gained about 0.2 pounds. Let's just say it's due to my hoodie that I'm wearing (but I won't tell you I took it off before weigh-in).

Perhaps the hardest part of this dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free and nut-free diet is lack of snack foods around the house. I'm a huge snacker. HUGE. I graze all day. My meals are smaller but I probably eat another meal's worth of snacks throughout the day. Lately I've noticed my meals getting much larger. Uh oh.

Costco Shopping
To combat my meal-time binge eating, I've decided to stock up on some diet friendly foods. Instead of my usual shopping cart (or "carriage" as my New England friends would say) full of bulk-items, I walked out of Costco yesterday with less than half a dozen items: steel cut oatmeal, cranberries, mangoes, case of soy milk and edamame. I now have some dried fruit and veggie chips (thanks Trader Joe's!) for my snack options.

The Temptations
The kids smelled the Costco hog dogs and pizza and were soo sad they couldn't have any. I guess I didn't plan the day well as we were shopping right around lunch time. To make matters worse, all the sample ladies were out in full force in the shopping aisles. We managed to make it through the gauntlet without a taste of anything.

I didn't plan on eavesdropping on the kids' conversation this morning but I did hear a cute dialogue between the two of them as they made their beds.

Lolli: I can't wait for this diet to be over.
'Shroom: Me too.
Lolli: If today was the first day off our diet, what would you like to eat?
'Shroom: I'd love to eat donuts! [laughter] What about you?
Lolli: I would stuff my face with a chocolate alligator!

[Incidentally, our friends had returned from visiting FL and brought back two solid chocolate alligators so hence the reference.]

Well, 6 days down and another 24 more to go!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Our New "Free" Diet

Several months ago, Air Boss and I had taken 'Shroom to see a neurologist in order to figure out once and for all "what was wrong with him" - to put it bluntly. Ever since he was 15 months old, he was labeled as "developmentally delayed" and that has translated to a lot of different things over the course of his life.

We went to the doctor with the assumption that 'Shroom may have Asperger's Syndrome but wanted further medical insight into this possibility. The long and short of it was that the doctor didn't think 'Shroom had Aspergers. Instead, he cited Attention Deficient Disorder (ADD) as the probable issue at hand. While 'Shroom doesn't have the typical Hyperactive Disorder that oftentimes goes hand-in-glove with ADD (otherwise known as ADHD), the doctor did prescribe medication to help 'Shroom with his ability to concentrate and stay focused in school.

This appointment was back in June, just a couple of weeks before school was scheduled to end. Since I wasn't too keen on medicating 'Shroom to verify the ADD diagnosis and school was ending shortly, we decided to do nothing about it.

Now that we are more than a month into homeschooling (gasp! did I just say we were homeschooling?!?!), I am a first-hand witness to how easily distracted and unfocused my boy is. Sometimes when he's retelling or narrating a reading passage we're working on, he has a hard time getting a complete sentence out. His mind has already moved on to something else (or, more likely than not, his mind wasn't really paying attention to what we were discussing). Word problems are difficult because he reads about half the problem and then tries to solve it. I wonder if he's more concerned about putting down some answer so that it looks like he has something to show for.

In the past couple of weeks, discussions about medicating 'Shroom have come up. Air Boss is all for filling the prescription for Adderall (a stimulant typically used to treat people with ADHD and narcolepsy). I've been reluctant to medicate 'Shroom from the moment we received the prescription and I'm still very hesitant to do so. Part of the reason is the known (and unknown) side-effects. Another reason is that I don't want 'Shroom to have to depend on a chemical stimulant for him to function "normally." I believe that there are coping mechanisms out there - somewhere - that may help him focus and overcome his difficulties without resorting to the use of medication.

Well, this all brings us to our "free" diet that my whole family will try for a month. 'Shroom has tested positive reactions to certain food groups. While he does not have any life-threatening food allergies, we are going to try to eliminate his reactive foods groups from our diet for a month to see if it will increase his attention span (or in any other positive way). We will be doing this as a family and we are going to try our best to be positive about it and not complain about giving up ice cream (me), chocolate and cheese (Lolli), beer (Air Boss) , and yogurt and quesadillas ('Shroom).

We've just about finished all our perishables in the refrigerator that fall under our "free" diet. "Free" - beginning tomorrow, includes: dairy-free, egg-free, wheat-free and nut-free. I guess that leaves us with water and beans to eat for the next month!

My concern is that my 47 pound nine year old with visible ribs from the front and back may lose weight. I'll have to keep monitoring both 'Shroom's and Lolli's weight to make sure they're okay.

In the meantime, I hope this momma doesn't get too crabby from having all her favorite snack foods put "on hold!"

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bye-bye Skye

Ironically as Air Boss gets super active on Facebook and updating his status, I find myself shying away from FB. Partly because everyone who has Air Boss as a friend on their FB knows that Skye is no longer a part of our family.

Although my husband loves me and has been great in this "finding Skye a new home" process and the kids have been awesome in praying faithfully that "Skye will find a nice family," I feel like people are judging me for wanting to give Skye to another family.

I've contacted a couple of local husky rescue groups and did some research on their websites. Luckily one rescue group didn't return my call because I found out later from their website that owners who give up their huskies are "bad owners." Yikes. Glad I never connected with them. The other rescue group was just inundated with dogs and couldn't take ours so we had to find our Skye a new home on our own.

Anyway, judge away. I did what I needed to do to preserve the sanity in my life and put my priorities and energy in the right places.

It hasn't even been an hour since Skye was adopted into her new family and the house somehow feels a bit different. I am sad that things didn't work out with Skye but I am happy that she is with a great family with two fun kids (the boy totally plays with Skye the same way as 'Shroom and the girl seems ultra-responsible like Lolli). This family has a shepherd-malamute mix who will be Skye's new playmate so I have no doubt that Skye will have lots of fun frolicking in the yard with her new canine friend. It also is heartwarming to know that this family has had a husky for years until it passed away just last year from old age. Their shep-lamute (I just totally made that up) lost close to 25 pounds since the death of their husky. He was grieving for his loss. I hope Skye can fill a little of that sadness.

We took a family photo before Skye walked out of our house. I'm hoping to post that on here shortly. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing how she is adjusting to her new home.

Bye bye, Skye. We had our moments almost from the get-go, but you were a good dog. Be a good girl and make your new family happy and proud.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Bit of Boston in LA

“Why did we have to move to LA?”

Uggh. Not a difficult question to answer (on most days) but on this particular day as we dropped off my sister and her family (with my kids' dear cousins) at LAX and my parents later on this evening at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, it was a hard one to answer.

'Shroom and Lolli, along with their cousins from Boston had been looking forward to this summer reunion even before dates and plane tickets were settled. The first of 10 days together was pure bliss for them. I even smiled as I drove our Blackhawk with four screaming excited kids (not sure my sis in the front passenger seat was smiling as much though)! To be truthful, I think my smile faded and eventually disappeared by Day Three (maybe even by the end of Day Two).

My parents came out to LA several days earlier than my sister and her family. 'Shroom and Lolli loved catching up with Poh-Poh and Goong-Goong and having them all to themselves for a few days before their cousins came. My parents were here early enough to celebrate my milestone birthday so that was special. My sister and her family eventually made it in before midnight so they technically were here for my birthday, too!

We all had fun parading around parts of LA and Orange County in our various Angry Bird shirts (okay, some of us had more fun than others). It was a vacation of “firsts” in many ways:
- first time vacationing with Skye
- first time kids tried out a jacuzzi
- first time going to the local farmer's market twice in one week just to get the kettle corn
- first time hosting my So Cal cousins and their families for a backyard BBQ

Anyway, it was a fun visit (and a very sad and quiet ride back from the airport). 'Shroom and Lolli are already looking forward to next year's reunion!

Photo credits: sis, Air Boss

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Not a good day to be a dog in our house

I don't know what is up with dogs and toilet bowls!

As an upfront warning, I'll state that if the topic of toilets (or the matter that is usually deposited in them) makes your stomach feel queasy, then you'll be better off skipping this post.

It turned out that today was a bad day to be a dog in my house. A very bad day. Our rescue mutt (who looks a lot like a Siberian husky and is affectionately called "Skye" by my husband and kids and is not-so-affectionately called "dog" by yours truly), decided that this would be the day that she would drink, lap and essentially dine out of our downstairs toilet bowl.

Let me set the stage for this very short (but action-packed) one act play. The downstairs bathroom usually has the door slightly ajar but mostly closed. Additionally, the toilet seat cover (as is the case with all our toilets) in this washroom is always in the closed position unless 1) we have guests who don't know about our "keep lid closed" policy, or 2) we are going to be away for a few days and don't want icky stuff growing on the underside of the seat or lid due to trapped moisture. An important detail is that we have been without water since 9 AM in the morning due to DPW turning off water to repair a water main (or something) down the street.

It is after lunch and about 2 PM. One more hour before the water gets turned back on. 'Shroom and Lolli both need to go potty even though they had just gone about two hours ago at a local church restroom. Well, they just ate lunch so with Air Boss' permission, they are instructed to each take a separate restroom and do their business but don't flush. We had the hand sanitizer ready once they were done.

I didn't think anything of it all other than "note to self: do NOT step foot into bathrooms until AFTER water is turned back on and AFTER kids have flushed their own mess down the toilet." I was about 10-15 minutes into giving Lolli her piano lesson when I was wondering what that soft lapping sound was. I told Lolli to keep playing while I quietly got up from the piano bench and stealthily walked toward the downstairs bathroom (I had a hunch--but, oh I was hoping my hunch was wrong--what was making that lapping sound).

I caught "dog" lapping from the toilet bowl!!! Gross!! The bowl was not filled with water (Air Boss had used the one flush after the water was turned off so the bowl was empty) but it was filled with--

I won't go into the details but I'll just say there was both liquid and solid. "Dog" immediately knew she was in trouble because she quickly scuttled out of the bathroom to get away from me. In the process of doing so, her wet dirty muzzle (which coincidentally matched the two hues of the toilet contents) dripped . . . stuff . . . all over the floors in the foyer and part of the living room.

I'm yelling up the stairs at Air Boss about what's going on and Lolli had stopped her playing to engage in the much-more-entertaining act of spectating. There is no water in the house. I couldn't even clean the dog with the hose outside. I grabbed the disinfectant wipes under the kitchen sink and no-so-lovingly grabbed "dog" by her collar and wiped down her face. It did briefly occur to me that the chemicals in the wipes may not be so "pet-friendly" but I figured that the wipes were the least of dog's "not-pet-friendly" worries (like an extremely angry and grossed out human). I was so utterly disgusted with the mess that came off and appeared on the wipe.

I did the best I could, threw the dog in her crate (yeah, yeah - a crate is not to be used for a place of punishment but WTH, I was trying to contain the unsanitary mess), and tried my best to wipe down the floors with the disinfectant wipes.

To his credit, Air Boss gets kudos for cleaning the bathroom.

Later on when the water came back on, I tried to get "dog" to drink some water to rinse out her mouth (I didn't even want to get a whiff of her dog breath nor did I want to stick my hand anywhere near her mouth to brush her teeth). When she refused, I hauled her outside and turned the hose on her head.

If you think I was traumatizing the dog with the forced washing of her mouth, well, consider us even.

dog: 1

human: 1

At least I didn't make her eat soap.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

May and June Reading Books

As usual, I'm a bit late reporting in the books I've read for the months of May and June. I've been really trying to focus on non-fiction. Surprisingly, it's been quite an easy transition as I have a long list of subjects in which I want to learn more! Feel free to comment on any of these books.


1. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Paul Miller): 4.0/5 stars
2. The Successful Home Business Guide (Wil Limkemann): 3.2/5 stars
3. Soul Cravings: An Exploration of the Human Spirit (Erwin McManus): 3.6/5 stars
4. The Teachable Moment: Seizing the Instants When Children Learn (Rebeccca Branstetter) 4.1/5 stars
5. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (James McBride): 3.9/5
6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick): 4.1/5
7. Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills (Carol Bradley): 3.7/5

8. Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Todd Burpo): 2.9/5 stars
This father's accout of his almost 4 year old son's near death encounter is a quick and easy read. While many may not believe in the after-life or the presence of heaven, Colton's brief time in heaven seems very real to him. The Burpo family is a God-believing family and Colton's matter-of-fact explanations of what he saw in heaven are not Sunday School facts embellished to sound believable. Quite a story but the story-telling (or writing) is a bit weak.

9. The Homeschooling Option: How to Decide When It's Right for Your Family (Lisa Rivero): 3.7/5 stars
The title and subject matter perhaps gives an fairly accurate indication of the possibilities our family are considering with regards to 'Shroom's and Lolli's eduation. This was a good and fairly succint book on weighing the advantages (and some disadvantages) of homeschooling. There are many books out there (and I've borrowed a few from the library) on the topic of homeschooling and the wealth and volume of information presented in these books are simply overwhelming. Rivero does a great job selecting key issues for families to consider. I would recommend this book for any family considering homeschooling.

10. The Homeschooling Book of Answers: the 101 most important questions answered by homeschooling's most respected voices (Linda Dobson): 3.3/5 stars
I read this book from cover to cover (I know, I'm a geek like that - perhaps this was intended to be a refernce book but I treated it like a trashy romance novel by carrying it around the house as I did chores here and there) and it did address some very pertinent questions running around in my mind. What I didn't really like about this book was that it made no qualms about bad-mouthing public school education. The asnwers to these 101 questions were provided by various people who have been deeply involved in promoting homeschooling. It's no doubt that they favor homeschooling over public (and even private) education but some of the responses where just so obviously biased.

11. A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling (John Taylor Gatto): 3.1/5 stars
This book, which is a collection of essays and speeches Gatto (former NY city school teacher with 30+ years of teaching experience and numerous Teacher of the Year awards) had compiled, had rave reviews. One reviewer said that "after reading this book, you will never view public education the same again." I thoroughly enjoyed the first third of the book and boy did it open my eyes to what is going on in public schools here in America. The remaining two-third of the book sort of peetered out and kind of ended on a wimper for me. It's true though, the more I read about the topic of homeschooling, I can't NOT homeschool now, it seems.

12. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (Malcolm Gladwell): 2.4/5 stars
Perhaps it wasn't fair to expect nothing short of 5 stars for Gladwell's latest book but I was sorely disappointed with his collection of more memorable The New Yorker articles. The book felt slapped-together random even though it was divided into three chunks. There were sections and chapters that were riviting and what I have come to expect from Gladwell's books. Perhaps I have simply come to expect nothing but great and this book fell a bit short of that.


1. Always the Baker, Never the Bride (Sandra Bricker): 2.8/5 stars
2. The Help (Kathryn Stockett): 4.9/5 stars

3. The Memory Keeper's Daughter (Kim Edwards): 3.4/5 stars
This is the heart-wrenching story of how a young baby born with Downs Syndrome is sent away to live in a special home. While this may not seem all that extraordinary for a story that begins in the 60's, what makes this story remarkable is the fact that the father (a doctor who is forced to deliver his wife's twins) hides his Downs Syndrome daughter from his wife and instead informs her that the girl died at birth. Years go by and the family is still affected by the repercussions of this lie. This was an intriguing story but the writing itself wasn't consistent. I enjoyed the first third of the book but then it seemed to lose its hold on me.

4. Cold Fire (Dean Koontz): 3.9/5 stars
It was Mr. Koontz's Velocity book on CD kept me awake and alert (and driving white-knuckled) during my cross-country drive as my family relocated from MA to CA. Sure enough, Cold Fire had me nervously glancing over my shoulder as I read the book. I even had to read in the same room where Air Boss was hanging out -- I was close to getting freaked out. It was hard to put this book down but part of it may be due to the fact that I have been reading so much non-fiction, this brain candy was a good break from the cerebal volumes I've been consuming.

Books Read Aloud to the Kids

1. The Lightening Thief (Rick Riordan): 4.8/5 stars
2. The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan): 4.7/5 stars
3. The Titan's Curse (Rick Riordan): 4.3/5 stars
4. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Rick Riordan): 4.0/5 stars
5. The Last Olympian (Rick Riordan): 4.2/5 stars

6. The Lost Hero (Rick Riordan): 4.5/5 stars
This is the first (and so far, only) book of The Heroes of Olympus series. While familiar names and faces from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series were a part of this story, this book was primarily about a new cast of characters. The kids and I loved this book but Lolli still prefers Percy Jackson over Jason Grace. We'll have to wait for The Son of Poseidon to come out this fall to see if she'll warm up to Jason.

7. The Maze of Bones (Rick Riordan): 3.9/5 stars
Okay - I'm looking over this seventh book the kids and I have read aloud this year and I realize I need to introduce more authors. I'm a little heavy on Mr. Riordan's tomes. Anyway, this is the first of ten books in The 39 Clues series. I like how it incorporates so much history and culture into the story. This first book focuses on Benjamin Franklin and a good half of the book takes place in France. While I pre-read the book, the kids and I listed to this book on CD as we shuttled 'Shroom to and from his summer school classes. We've already begun the second book (One False Note) in The 39 Clues series!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

[a very late] Happy birthday... a very special woman,
You've taught me more things than probably any other person in my entire life.

~ Your "classroom" never had a chalkboard (or whiteboard or Smartboard).
~ Your classroom was never limited to one room or one building, for that matter.
~ Your homework assignments were a killer - especially the ones in summer (reading dictionary pages to improve my vocabulary or typing on a manual typewriter to improve my wpm).
~ You never gave grades but you cooked up food and fed me three times a day (and during growth spurts, four meals a day).
~ You never complained when you shuttled me from baton lessons to swimming lessons to violin lessons.
~ You didn't even raise an eyebrow when you would pick me up after marching band practice with a few other band mates (and assorted instruments).
~ You did, however, raise more than an eyebrow when I tried to hide my daily vitamins in my toybox.
~ And I'm sure you raised something else when you found I had eaten some of the poo out of my diaper as a baby.

~ You taught me algebra and trig from an unconventional desk (the kitchen table).
~ You fed me dinners on Wednesday nights in an unusual setting (the front seat of our station wagon on the way to my violin lessons).
~ You even dragged me kicking and screaming to a church youth retreat where I knew absolutely nobody (but ended up loving absolutely everyone three days later when you came to pick me up).
~ You sewed and fixed so many things for me with your famous aqua blue Singer sewing machine (school bag, music bag, music stand bag, prom dress, tailored wedding dress, countless Halloween costumes...)
~ You took care of my 3 month old son so I could go back to work.
~ You introduced my 2 hour old daughter to her proud big brother.

The things I've learned from you and perhaps remember the most are things you never "taught" me. They are things I've learned from simply watching you. I have learned about what it means to love your own flesh and blood. I have learned that patience can be much more powerful than action. I have learned that even in tragic events--like burying your 12 year old daughter--God is still in control.

You are a tough act to follow but an amazing source of inspiration.
Happy birthday, Mom!
I love you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

There's (not) 104 days of summer vacation

Is there a better way to start summer vacation than with a home mani/pedi? Part of Lolli's birthday pack of goodies included a bottle of nailpolish. On this first day of summer vacation, she picked her favorite color (out of my collection) and now she has matching toes and fingers in "Pink Chrome." I'm glad the color looks so much better on her than on me.

A couple of days ago, I had 'Shroom write thank you notes to all his teachers (being in the Learning Center and receiving special ed services at school, he had four thank you notes to write). It was a good thing I had him start a week before the end of school. He utilized every day until the night before to finish off his thank you notes. It involved a three step process:

1) he would write a draft on scratch paper
2) I would correct his spelling (insert step 1A before this: he would "decipher" his message for me so that I could correct the spelling)
3) he would write the final draft on the blank notecard

One of the step 3's looked like this:

Oh dear. I've always known he's struggled with reversing his "b" and his "d" and even his "3" in math. Okay, his seventy-one would come out as "17" and when asked to write thirty-seven, he would write "73" but still, I figured it was still on par with 8 year olds who ocassionally reverse letters and numbers.

He was copying this text from his draft. Should I have reason to worry that this is something beyond "typical" mistakes of an eight year old boy? His Learning Center teacher, in a recent conference, mentioned that he may benefit being screened for "d-y-s-l-e-x-i-a" as she had spelled out since he was within earshot. She needn't worry as 'Shroom has a hard time with auditory processing.

Well, this may be something we'll need to pursue with the neurologist as we look to find out more about his learning disabilities. I'm sure more to come on this topic will be forthcoming . . .

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

They grow up so quickly

Lolli Turning 7! by radioflyer007
Lolli Turning 7!, a photo by radioflyer007 on Flickr.

Can't believe Lolli is another year older. At the same time, I can't believe she's only seven. The poor girl had to share her birthday with the royal wedding of some obscure prince in England and the largest fundraising event of the year at my workplace.

All in all, she had a great birthday and due to scheduling delays, she had the opportunity to celebrate her birthday over the span of a week!

Yay Lolli!

March and April Books

Apparently I'm a bit behind in reporting books I've read each month. Here's a quick summary of the very few books I've read during the months of March and April (seems I was too busy working a part-time job and vacuuming up dog hair from every nook and cranny in my house.

1. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Paul Miller): 4.0/5 stars
2. The Successful Home Business Guide (Wil Limkemann): 3.2/5 stars
3. Soul Cravings: An Exploration of the Human Spirit (Erwin McManus): 3.6/5 stars
4. The Teachable Moment: Seizing the Instants When Children Learn (Rebeccca Branstetter) 4.1/5 stars

5. The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother (James McBride): 3.9/5 stars
I think the subtitle of this book succinctly summarizes McBride's autobiography. In my attempt to read more non-fiction this 2011 year, I've enjoyed realizing that biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies are considered non-fiction. This is an amazing story of an amazing woman who battles racism and poverty while raising her 12 children as a single mom. Makes my worst day as a mom of two seem like a walk in the park.

6. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Barbara Demick): 4.1/5 stars
Demick is an award-winning journalist who puts her craft and skill to work in this amazing book that peeks into the lives of six ordinary North Koreans. The stories of the struggle for survival in this communist nation left me shaking my head in astonishment and disbelief. My eyes welled up with tears when I read about a young teacher who shared about how difficult her job was. The challenge wasn't in unruly children or demanding parents but rather, it was in watching her students starve to death.

7. Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills (Carol Bradley): 3.7/5 stars
Our dog Skye should thank Gracie for this book. Ironically, I read this book while I was really struggling with whether or not to keep Skye (oh, the dog drama in this house is like a soap opera -- it just keeps going and going). Gracie is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was born to produce litter after litter of puppies (two litters a year for seven years). That's probably close to 100 puppies she's birthed before she was rescued. If you've ever been tempted to buy a puppy from a pet store, read this book and you will never do that. If you've been tempted to buy a purebred from a breeder, this book will convince you to do your homework and make sure you're not getting a dog from a puppy mill. The conditions of some of these puppy mills will make you gag and retch and yet, these puppy mills somehow stay in business because there is still a demand for their dogs. This a good read and a good eye-opener to what's really going on out there (and on Craigslist, too).

1. Always the Baker, Never the Bride (Sandra Bricker): 2.8/5 stars
2. The Lightening Thief (Rick Riordan): 4.8/5 stars
3. The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan): 4.7/5 stars
4. The Help (Kathryn Stockett): 4.9/5 stars
5. The Titan's Curse (Rick Riordan): 4.3/5 stars
6. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Rick Riordan): 4.0/5 stars
7. The Last Olympian (Rick Riordan): 4.2/5 stars
The kids and I finished the last book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. The action and the tie-in of the characters came together nicely in this last installment and while things did wrap up rather neatly, there was still room for more plot lines. We are all looking forward to starting Riordan's next series, The Kane Chronicles.

My next project in the next week or so is to come up with a reading list for the kids. During the summer months, 'Shroom and Lolli devour books and I'm more than happy to read along with them. If you have any recommendations for classics, series, or new books (fiction and non-fiction), let me know!

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Journaling" through photos

This first month of spring has seemed to have been a busier month than usual for me (as evidenced by lack of blogging). For some reason, however, when I look back to the past several week, what have I done with my time? It didn't occur to me until a week ago that I should take more photos if I don't have time to write. Perhaps the photos will help jog my memory as to what has happened - or in some desprate cases, replace my writing.

Para Los Ninos

Part of my time has been consumed by my new employer, Para Los Ninos. Hired as a temporary assistant for their upcoming fundraising event, I've greatly scaled back my time wtih the kids' school. Instead of helping out at the kids' school four days a week, I'm now working four days a week with one day at the school. My one day at school, I still manage to meet with Lolli's advanced reading group and do guided reading in 'Shroom's class (while he's in the Learning Center).

If you're not going to be part of the one billion people expected to watch the royal wedding on 4/29/11 and are local to the Los Angeles area, feel free to purchase a ticket and support a good cause through our Cinco de Mayo celebration event!

A Potential Second Westward Migration?!

A couple of weeks ago, my parents came out to visit us and "scout" out possible retirement communities. It was a busy four days but we managed to make the most of every day. Between Air Boss taking a day off to show them a retirement community in Orange County and me taking a day off to tour local retirement communities closer to us, I think my parents got a good feel for the areas. 'Shroom and Lolli of course relished their time with their grandparents. Regardless of where my parents choose to live, they have both decided that it makes sense to downsize and say good-bye to the home that has been theirs for 40 years. It will be a huge undertaking to whittle down their life's possessions to a new "down-sized" home. I'm sure I'll be blogging about this topic in future days to come.

Some Good (Dog) Days and Some Bad (Dog) Days

Since my last blog, I'm sure you're wondering if Skye is still living with us. In a nutshell . . . yes. She's been with us for two months now and I still miss my dog-free days of sleeping in without having to walk a dog, vacuuming no more than once a week, and untainted unmarked green lush grass.

Somehow Skye managed to fool us all and graduate from her intermediate dog obedience class. She had to complete an "obstacle course" consisting of orange cones with doggie treats on top. She had to stop at each cone, perform some commands without touching or eating any of the treats. The first time through, she was prompted with both voice and hand commands. The second time through, she was prompted with voice-only commands. And the final time through, she was prompted with hand-only commands. It was a silent and tense last run of the course.

So now you're wondering, is she the perfect well-behaved dog? A show dog with enviable skills and well-adapted social behaviors that make her seem more mature than her puppy dog look?

Well, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This photo was taken just yesterday. I'm surprised the photo wasn't more blurry as my hands were shaking from rage at what the dog had just done in our backyard. While this is not the first time she's gone digging in our backyard (and tearing up the grass), this is the deepest. She found the buried sprinkler pipe and dug even deeper for who knows what. We caught her in the act and I made sure that I made the most of that opportune moment.

Since the grass is gone in that spot and she will likely dig in the same place, we have one of our patio chairs standing "guard" over the hole until we can figure out what to do. As I'm still trying to reconcile if this dog is worth it all (read: "should I turn her over to the shelter or post her on craigslist?"), someone did remind me that the damage could have been worse. She could have chewed the PVC pipe in half.

But Let's Not End on Such a Downer

The kids are finishing up their spring break. They both came down with fifth disease just before the start of their vacation but luckily they both bounced back rather quickly. I miss spending their spring break week with them. We're looking forward to the weekend ahead before school resumes again next week. [note to self: call orthodontist to schedule consult for 'Shroom]

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Does anyone want a husky?

our husky by radioflyer007
our husky a photo by radioflyer007 on Flickr.

It's been almost 5 weeks since we've rescued Skye from the local shelter. After several "bad days" with the dog, I'm ready to give her back. Before I send her back to the shelter, I thought I would see if there is anyone out there willing to take on a challenge, with a capital "S" (as in Skye).

Before you forward this blog post to friends of yours whom may be interested, I will provide you with full disclosure on the "issues" I've had with this particular pooch.

First of all, we found her at the local county shelter with no paperwork. All that was provided was that she was a female Siberian Husky mix about 1 to 1.5 years old. Her intake form noted that she was a stray. That probably explained why she was so thin.

Anyway, let me add my bit to the above now that she's lived with me for over a month now. She is a picky eater. She dislikes her dry kibble and would much prefer table food, wet dog food, treats, or even grass and plants (bad news for those of you with a green thumb). Perhaps that's how she survived on the streets.

She is destructive (again, this is all in the spirit of full-disclosure). Now before all you dog-lovers blame me for her destructive behavior, let me fill you in. This pooch gets 2 - 3 walks a day. She walks and runs with me or my husband. The walks/runs range anywhere from one to three miles. She gets as much outdoor time as she wants because one of us is home to let her out and back in. She has a backyard to run around in and we play fetch/catch with her as well as train her (we are taking obedience classes). She gets feed two meals a day, treats, has toys, chew things, and sticks to do with whatever. Up until recently, she wasn't even crated on any regular basis.

Now, that we know that she will destroy something while we are gone (she is inside the house and not crated), I don't trust her in the house unsupervised anymore. Bye bye freedom and hello doggie crate. She is never left home alone for more than 1 to 1.5 hours. She will chew things she wasn't even interested in before we left the house. Each time we've left the house, we've made sure she just went on a super long walk.

So, if you plan on being out of the house for more than, say 10 minutes, you need a crate for this dog. Why don't I leave her in the backyard while we're gone? Well, my backyard isn't built like Alcatraz (nor is it surrounded by water). I've watched her try to jump our fence. Even though she hasn't yet, I'm quite sure she can do it if she's super-motivated and can do a bit of problem solving. I used to think that's how Skye ended up as a stray on the streets. She escaped from her owner. Haha - now I think otherwise . . . .

Today, I was chatting with a woman at a school meeting and when I told her about my dog woes, she sat bolt upright when she heard that my "problem child" is a husky. She later confessed that she had been given a husky and after trying to live with its howling (oh yeah, another thing to mention, she HOWLS as well as barks and whimpers - she seems to have more in her "repertoire" of dog noises) and biting, she told her husband to get rid of the dog. He did and he told her, "just don't ask me what I did with it." I suspect he may have set the dog loose. By the way, this was the second story I heard about an owner having "husky regret." Another person told me her family returned their rescue husky to the local shelter for very similar reasons. Hmm . . . coincidence?

So . . . . if I were to summarize in the form of an advertisement, this is what it would be:

Young female Siberian Husky mix about 1 to 1.5 years old. Up to date on shots, spayed, and in general good health. Super active dog that MUST be exercised multiple times a day (or have a good long run). Running around in an enclosed yard is additional to the walks. Very high maintenance and tends to get destructive when left alone, even for short periods of time. While not an outdoor dog, this dog is not to be trusted alone in your house unless all objects of any worth to you are stashed away (good luck putting your favorite couch in storage). Picky eater and likes to beg for table food. Needs a strong leader to put her in her place and even that is not a guarantee of a well-behaved dog. Jumps on people, hurls herself at dogs and generally chases at anything that moves and breathes (sometimes a breath isn't even a factor as falling leaves may catapult her towards oncoming traffic). Loves, loves, loves to pull on her leash so wear leather gloves so you don't get leash burn (a head collar is effective but it leaves indentations on her face after walks/runs). Oh, and if you don't like to vacuum, like say twice a day, this isn't the breed for you.

Well, there you have it. Check back in with me in a week to see if this offer is live. Until then, I've got to figure out how this dog and I can co-habit a space in harmony.

P.S. In case you were wondering if the "honeymoon" period has worn off with the new dog . . . yup, I'll say it has.

Monday, March 7, 2011

February Books

For the second month in a row, I am late reporting in the books I've read. I didn't get to read as much as I had hoped (the short month did affect the amount I read - yeah, with two more days, I could have read another dozen books!) but nonetheless, every book I read was great. It was a great month in books:

1. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (Paul Miller): 4.0/5 stars
2. The Successful Home Business Guide (Wil Limkemann): 3.2/5 stars

3. Soul Cravings: An Exploration of the Human Spirit (Erwin McManus): 3.6/5 stars
I've had the privilege of hearing Erwin McManus speak on numerous ocasions and I love the way he draws his listeners in with humorous recounts of moments in his life. Even the mundane gets a fresh twist and his perspective always catches me off-guard in a compelling way. His book is written as a collection of brainstorms/journal entries which are categorized into three cravings: intimacy, destiny, and meaning. While I loved how each of his stories seemed so relevant, I found the entries a bit obtuse and difficult to "compartmentalize" in my brain. The entry headings were spot on but yet making each entry connect to an overall larger picture wasn't so easy. His book is filled with weighty thoughts that one could ponder for awhile (and if I were one to mark-up books, I would mark this one up). Overall, a great read but somehow not exactly what I was expecting.

4. The Teachable Moment: Seizing the Instants When Children Learn (Rebecca Branstetter) (4.1/5 stars)
This is a collection of stories from educators and para-professionals who share their teachable moments in the first person narrative. Some of these stories really warmed my heart (like the story of young Astin who would come to school with a thousand little objects in his pocket and how a school psychologist made an awkward new student become self-assured and confident). I liked the section on Reaching the Special Needs Student as it made me reflect on how I am (or am not) reaching MY special needs student. I think this should be a must read for every educator, whether private, public or homeschool teacher. It sheds so much light on the relationships that are inevitable when teaching and learning are involved. While some of the stories seemed heavily edited (teacher recounts talk about countless hours working with an individual student with much patience and love - hmm . . . I would have resonated more with "break-down moments" and feelings of despair), overall the compilation of stories makes for an enriching experience peeking into the classrooms of these teachers. A good take-away for me is that "teachable moments" are not necessarily spontaneous - often times they are created and planned with specific children in mind.

1. Always the Baker, Never the Bride (Sandra Bricker): 2.8/5 stars
2. The Lightening Thief (Rick Riordan): 4.8/5 stars
3. The Sea of Monsters (Rick Riordan): 4.7/5 stars

4. The Help (Kathryn Stockett): 4.9/5 stars
What a great book - so rich in descriptive narrative and multi-dimensional relationships, it's hard to believe it's a work of fiction. This book came so highly recommended that I was ashamed to let my recommending friends know that I just wasn't that interested in the subject matter (black/white folks in the South during the 1960's). Well, I thought I would give it another try this year and I'm so glad I did. The first time I tried reading the book, I must have been sitting on a roller coaster or watching a movie in a theater. I couldn't put the book down and with the little self-control I have with good books, I finished it in two days (but poor 'Shroom and Lolli didn't have a decent dinner in those two days).

5. The Titan's Curse (Rick Riordan): 4.3/5 stars
This one was read aloud to the kids and is the third book in the Percy Jackson. While this third books has become somewhat formulaic (as can be expected even with great writers), we still thoroughly enjoyed this book. We didn't like so much that Annabeth was missing throughout most of the book but there were a few new female characters to fill the void. 'Shroom is even having dreams about slaying monsters!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

String Quartet Rules

I was sorting through some string quartet music in my old violin folder when I came across a sheet of paper outlining the "rules" for our quartet [incidentally, The Doppler Shift Quartet was how I met Air Boss--he was a violist and I, a violinist].

Anyway, I read these rules with a chuckle, sure that I had swiped them from somewhere and then modified them for our very amateur (but fun-loving) group.

I present to you:

Golden Rules for The Doppler Shift Quartet (March 2000)
1. Everyone should play the same piece.
2. Stop at every repeat sign and discuss in detail whether to take the repeat. The audience will love this a lot!
3. If you play a wrong note, give a nasty look to one of your partners.
4. Keep your fingering chart handy. You can always catch up with the others.
5. Carefully tune your instrument before playing. That way you can play out of tune all night with a clear conscience.
6. Take your time turning pages.
7. The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note (and vice versa).
8. If everyone gets lost except you, follow those who get lost.
9. Strive to get the maximum NPS (Notes Per Second). That way you gain the admiration of the incompetent.
10. Markings for slurs, dynamics and ornaments should not be observed. They are only there to embellish the score.
11. If a passage is difficult, slow down. If it's easy, speed it up. Everything will work itself out in the end.
12. If you are completely lost, stop everyone and say, "I think we should tune."
13. Happy are those who have not perfect pitch, for the Kingdom of Music is theirs.
14. If the ensemble has to stop because of you, explain in detail why you got lost. Everyone will be very interested.
15. A true interpretation is realized when there remains not one note of the original.
16. A wrong note played timidly is a wrong note. A wrong note played with authority is an interpretation.
17. When everyone else has finished playing, you should not play notes you have left. If you have notes left over, please play them on the way home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Does this house look familiar?

If this is your house, are you aware that it's being "rented" out for $440 a night?!

This post is perhaps one of my more embarrassing posts as I'll share how I was almost scammed of almost $1000. Yep - I even called my mom to apologize that the Ivy League education she paid for still didn't "guarantee" me from being suckered by a scam artist.

To make a relatively brief story tediously (but hopefully helpfully) long, here are the details of my near loss (with the many mistakes I've made notated for your learning benefit--or at the very least, your amusement).

I was tasked to find a summer vacation home for my extended family. We all wanted something comfortable, clean, ideally near a beach or with a pool, pet-friendly, large enough for kids and adults alike, and reasonably priced. I found a few options on Craigslist (in hindsight, not the best place to be looking) and inquired about availability. As I waited to hear back from the home owners/listing agents, I forwarded the links to my family to see if they had any preferences.

One particularly responsive listing agent was a man by the name of "Richie." His quick email response was littered with tons of typos and spelling mistakes but he did get back to me quickly. I just assumed that he was quickly emailing from the road on his smart phone (Mistake #1).

His particular listing was the most attractive of all the options because of the sheer size of the house (8,000+ SF) and the very clean contemporary furnishings. The kitchen island in this house was bigger than my ENTIRE kitchen!

It was a good thing I did a bit of sleuthing (read "poking my nosey nose around in other people's business") as I found out more information on the property--information that lead me to discover the property was for sale and had been on the market for over a year. I figured the agent was trying to recoup some cash through renting it out as a vacation home (Mistake #2).

The agent informed me to reserve the place quickly as "there is a rush for this apartment this time" (Mistakes #3 and #4). In the 26 emails between me and Richie, he kept referring to the place as an apartment. Since when does a mansion with over 8,000 SF of living space on a lot size of 11 acres (that would be close to 450,000 SF....450 thousand!)constitute an apartment?! I kept noticing these little details but each one didn't really raise a red flag in my mind (Mistake #5) at least, not right away.

My desired dates were confirmed to be available (surprise, surprise) and the contract was emailed to me. The contract had tons of spelling and formatting mistakes (Mistake #6) - the teacher in me even corrected the formatting and spelling as I filled out the form. There was a pet clause in the contract and it wasn't filled out. I inquired about how much the pet fee would be and a couple of other things that were even downright ambiguous on the contract. Richie now seemed annoyed. He responded that there are no additional fees even with a pet and the cleaning fee was already included as with all other expenses. When I tried to call him on his number, which turned out to be an obscure upstate New York Magic Jack number (Mistake #7), I didn't bother leaving a message. I tried to Google his business and his name and check the Better Business Bureau website but nothing came up (Mistake #8).

Perhaps what clinched it for me (as if all the other indicators weren't enough) was the dollar amounts on the contract. Dollar amounts were notated with a colon, so my security deposit of $300 was notated as $300:00 and my nightly rate was notated as $440:00 (Mistake #9).

What a dolt! The light bulb above my head began to flicker on (granted it was a low 20 watt bulb). I went back on Craigslist and found several other listings with Richie's name on it. All his "rental properties" coincidentally were high-end properties for sale with photos posted on the internet. Undoubtedly he lifted the description (verbatim), details, and images straight from the listings.
Anyway, I'm now steering clear of Craiglist postings unless they also have listings with a reputable rental site. I feel like suck a sucker. Att least there wasn't a Nigerian Prince involved, right....?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I'm learning these days

Okay - so "dog" is very much on my mind these days. Guess it has something to do with having a dog in the house and the fact that I've never owned a dog before. Let's just say that old dogs (me) CAN learn new tricks (or how to co-exist with a canine in the house).

What I've learned about myself:
1) I'm not OCD (I already knew this but others may not) as I only wash my hands only after I've petted Skye, or after she's licked me, or after I've touched her food (or toys or anything else she's touched), or after I've groomed her, or after I've looked at her. All other times, I don't bother to wash my hands.

2) I do not need to have a SUPER clean house as I see dog hair all over the floor. I only vacuum once a day (with the pet cleaning system attachment on the vacuum cleaner). Kids using the light-weight vacuum don't really count. Swiffering, using the vacuum without the pet attachment, and hand-mopping do not count toward the daily vacuuming as well.

3) I am not a control freak as I do let Skye come into and out of the house as she pleases, provided she rings the bell by our back slider and sits and waits for permission to enter/exit (and gets all her paws wiped before she enters the house).

What I've learned about Skye:
1) She's very sweet and mild (as long as there are no furry creatures around)

2) She is very well-behved (as long as there are no furry creatures around)

3) She loves stuffed furry creatures which (sadly) may already belong to 'Shroom or Lolli [note to self: I better tell them not to bring their precious George and Mimi downstairs where Skye will claim them as her own]

4) She does not care to fetch (with or without furry creatures around)

5) At the dog park, she loves other dogs to chase her so she can have an excuse to run top speed

6) She can jump really high (which is kind of scary)

7) She can poop white crumbly stuff after eating bones

8) She can howl (when furry creatures are around) and bark (which has happened very rarely so far)

What I've learned since becoming a dog-owner:
1) A mild, dainty dog can have a nasty snarl when another dog tries to take away a stuffed animal

2) Many people do not like dogs and are scared of "wolf-looking" dogs (our neighbor); Air Boss thinks it's the black "eye-liner" that makes her look fierce

Skye with her "black eye-liner" fierce eyes.

3) The staff at PetSmart are super helpful and great with dogs (I wonder if dog-ownership is a pre-requisite to employment with them)

4) Dogs do not necessarily die when they jump over huge dogs charging at them and land sideways on their head (another scary moment)

5) People are not shy in coming up and complimenting on how beautiful Skye is (I had an impromptu conversation by the side of the street as a truck pulled over; there was a 5 minute one-sided conversation as the driver gushed about huskies)

My favorite Air Boss and Skye photo taken over the weekend

(The Strand, Hermosa Beach, CA)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The doggie search has ended

Our search for a family dog ended rather unexpectedly. What was supposed to be a quick trip to the local shelter during Air Boss' lunch break last weekend (just to see what new dogs have come in during the two days since our last visit), ended with a dog coming home with us.

We showed up three minutes after the shelter opened up and we were amazed at the full parking lot and the TONS of people who were already there--it was busier than on the weekend! We walked up a down the sad, dark corridors of dog kennels and saw some familiar faces and some new. And then we saw her . . .

We had seen her on our first visit and were disappointed to discover that someone was in the process of adopting her. On our second visit (it was just Air Boss), Air Boss noticed the dog was still there but this time with two families standing "guard" in front of her kennel and blocking others from seeing her. Someone had even removed the paper with her tag number and information, as if they didn't want anyone to discover this dog.

Well, somehow, she still wasn't adopted by the time we came around on the third visit. What?!?! What happened? Turns out the "hold" on her from the first family expired and her back-up family didn't know she was released back for adoption. She was ours for the taking if we wanted.

Long story short, we brought her home and didn't "tell" the kids until they walked through the door and saw her in the dining room. They couldn't believe their eyes!

Lolli's mouth sort of hung open and she later told us that she thought it was "a picture of a dog" (I'm assuming she meant something like a cardboard cut-out). Air Boss video taped their reaction when they met the dog for the first time.

We didn't have a name for her and the shelter didn't have a recorded name for her either (she was a stray found on the street). We took a big gamble because we knew NOTHING about this dog. Since she's been with us, we've discovered that she is house trained, does know a few commands, and is very dainty and polite--provided there are no furry animals around. She loves stuffed animals and will not fetch even if her life depended on it.

After booking a vet appointment for the following day (I had named her "Sami" on the fly in order to have an appointment under SOME name), I let the kids choose a name for her. Lolli thought it would be quite apropos to name her "Skye" because of her eyes. So . . . Skye it is!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Looking for a friend (of the four-legged variety)

Today marked our second consecutive weekend we spent looking for a dog to add to our family. As a family, we've been looking to adopt a rescue dog since the end of November/beginning of December. We've held off getting a dog for Christmas (we knew we would be traveling during the holidays) and during the month of January (Air Boss would be away on business for almost two weeks and I didn't want to figure out how to "work a dog" while he was away).

Now that we're planning on staying put for awhile, our dog search has ramped up. We've--I guess it's been primarily me--been combing through and even Craigslist to see what is out there. In addition, I've been looking into different breeds to see what would be most compatible to our lifestyle (i.e. which dogs don't shed, don't gnaw, don't poop, and don't require more exercise than walking from dog bowl to bed and back). Alas, I'm still looking for that elusive dog . . .

Kidding aside, we've narrowed our choices and started checking out websites. I've made several phone calls and inquiries about specific dogs. We were believing that doggie would be coming home with us last weekend that we bought the biggest Costco-sized doggie bed and threw it in the back of our Blackhawk van. 'Shroom and Lolli had a blast riding through Costco in the big over-sized shopping cart on a doggie bed.

No dog. Our top two dogs were already adopted.

Today, I told the kids that if we don't find a dog today (Saturday is a popular day to find adoption events at local pet stores), we may need to postpone the doggie search for another month or so. Even though we don't have any trips planned, I'll be starting a new job soon and I don't want to add a changing schedule to a newly-adopted-possibly-high-strung-dog.

Two adoption events, a trip to a local county shelter, and a phone call to a foster home yielded no dog. It was a tough day emotionally as we came very close to closing an adoption. At the local shelter, we had spent close to a half-hour with Shelly, a four year old shepherd/lab mix, in a private enclosed yard. As Air Boss and the kids stayed behind to continue playing with Shelly, I went to the office with checkbook in hand ready to close the deal.

As the paperwork was about the be processed, I had inquired about the reason why Shelly was turned in by her owner. A form was produced which the previous owner had filled out. To my dismay, I read that she was an outdoor dog, does not walk well on a leash (I figured this out), had no training (figured this out too), and could not be trusted to be indoors. My heart sank. I don't have the confidence to untrain 4 years of habits and retrain a dog. It was a no-go for me and for Air Boss (after I showed him the paperwork). Shelly was our third choice at the shelter (previous two had adoptions pending).

After we walked around a bit more to see if we could find another dog (as expected, no new dogs had been turned in during the 30 minutes we were with Shelly), I remembered I still had an ace up my sleeve. I had been provided the name and number of a woman fostering two beautiful huskies.

As I suspected, the foster mom would only adopt them to a family willing to take the pair. I think adopting one dog is already enough of a big change to our non-dog family. Air Boss and I weren't feeling up to the challenge in taking in two very active dogs.

Five hours after we saw our first dog of the day, we were finally heading home with no dog for our doggie bed. 'Shroom started crying in the car and his tears showed the disappointment for all of us. When we got home, he took out his bucket of dinosaur bones (which I had made him clean up before we left so that they wouldn't pose a choking hazard to our dog), and dumped the contents all over the floor. "I don't care if I make a mess because we're never going to get a dog!" he cried as he--well, made a mess.

Right now, he's sleeping in his bed with his stuffed friend, Teddy, who is a Webkins pug (complete with a real dog collar). Lolli has been dealing with her disappointment in a different way but it's just as present for her as it is for 'Shroom.

For now, I'm going to lay low on the dog search. It's been so disappointing for the kids--I didn't realize how much I've gotten their hopes up. In the meantime, we're a dog-less family with an empty doggie bed. Maybe we'll use it as a big floor pillow while we watch the Superbowl tomorrow. =/

Sunday, 2/6/11 Update:
This morning, 'Shroom woke up and drew himself this picture. He's been carrying it around all day today. It's a picture of the dog he'll have one day.

Friday, February 4, 2011

January Books

I'm a little late in recording the books I read this past January. But, better late than never!

1. A Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller (4.0 out of 5 stars)
I don't typically read books on prayer cover to cover but this book was a great reminder about the persistence of prayer. Focus and intentionality were highlighted and I especially appreciated Miller's personal anecdotes and struggles with his daughter's autism. It resonated with me and reminded me that the most valuable thing I can do for 'Shroom as he struggles with his learning disability is to pray for him.

2) The Successful Home Business Guide by Will Limkemann (3.2 out of 5 stars)
I put this book on my reading list because I wanted to explore home business options. This is the most current book (2009) that I've read on this topic so already it was a good read. While there were some very basic tips (make sure you have a business plan written, see who your competition is), there were some tips that were new and helpful to me (websites for search engine optimization (SEO's), the difference between marketing and sales, the importance of mission and vision statements).

1) Always the Baker, Never the Bride by Sandra Bricker(2.8 out of 5 stars)
This was a cute romance with the main character being a single 34-year old diabetic baker. It's a sweet (in more ways than one) story of how Emma (the baker) and Jake (owner of a destination hotel) meet and fall in love. It's a very wholesome book (no make-out scenes and I think the furthest they "go" is first base) and it's sprinkled with recipes, wedding planning advice and tips. The story itself is a bit bland and somewhat predictable but then again, I typically don't read romance books so consider this a good rating from me for this genre.

2) The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (4.8 out of 5 stars)
This was a great book to start of Lolli's and 'Shroom's 2011. This is perhaps the longest book I've read aloud with them (almost 400 pages and all of it text - not one little picture in it). This first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (5 books in all) was a page turner and the kids wouldn't let me read "just one chapter" in a sitting. During the 10 days Air Boss was away on business, we would often have snacks and or dinner reading from the book. It became a great incentive for them to quickly do their homework so we could read the book together.

3) The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (4.7 out of 5 stars)
We are definitely hooked. One great book may be a fluke but the second one is just as good. 'Shroom and Lolli (and okay, I as well) loved the humor in this book. Now we knew what to expect (lots of trouble and monsters) and the characters were well familiar (Percy, Annabeth, Chiron, Luke), we jumped right into the story as if there was never a break. To this day, the kids still say "Honeypie" in Polyphemus' voice (at least the way I read it to them) and "Yes dear?" in a high falsetto (which was my imitation of Grover acting as a nervous bride. We can't wait to start The Titan's Curse which is the third book in the series.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Science fair links

This year, 'Shroom and Lolli will be participating in their school's annual science fair competition for the first time. Last week, we picked up their display boards and we're combing through some websites to find project ideas.

I thought I would post a few links here in case some of you are in the midst of doing your kids--er, helping your kids--with their science projects. =)

1) Super Science Fair Support Center - this is a great all-inclusive site that calls itself "the ultimate science fair resource"; you can purchase project downloads or complete kits; it has over 1,000 science project ideas

2) Fun Science Gallery - this site is great if you're interested in building your own scientific equipment (telescopes, batteries, microscopes)

3) All Science Fair Projects - this site is helpful as you can choose if you want to search among the 500 ideas, browse by topic (elementary, middle or high school projects), or jump to a link

4) Science Fair Project Ideas - this site provides ideas based on your child's grade level and also lets you choose topic categories to help whittle down your options

5) Science Buddies - this site was recommended by the kids' school; it has project ideas, separate teacher, parent and student support resources, and even an "Ask An Expert" section

Anyway, there are tons of resources out there and I'm sure your local school district has online resources as well. In the meantime, I'm beginning to realize that science fair projects are very much a family event. Air Boss and I are going to try our best to be as hands-off as possible (while still being available to help and guide) but helping the kids select a topic and introducing the scientific method to them is already a whole lot of involvement! The process and end result will be something interesting to see . . .

Lolli and 'Shroom with their school mascot

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 2011 reading lists

I have a special call-out on this post to friends who have recommended some great books for me to read during this 2011 year. Thank you: Alice, Angela, Erika, Ernie, Jennifer, Karen, Marie-Claire, Prashant, and Stephanie! Part of the reason why it's taken me so long to get both fiction and non-fiction reading lists together is that I went through each and every recommendation and read the synopses on Amazon. I totally appreciate the recommendations because without them, I would be missing out on some great books my friends (and cousins) have already read and enjoyed.

12. The Story Factor by Annette Simmons

2011 Fiction
Unlike my non-fiction reading list, I don't have a set number of fiction books I would like to read as part of my 2011 goals. Most likely, I'll have a running list of books I've read this year and post it here on my blog. For now, here are some books I know I would like to read this year if I can land my hands on a copy . . .

1. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
2. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
5. The Known World by Edward Jones
6. Unaccustomed World by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
9. The 13th Tale by Diane Setterfield
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
11. The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan*
12. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan*

*I've committed to reading these first two books of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with 'Shroom and Lolli. We are almost done with the first book The Lightening Thief and we love it, love it, love it!