Thursday, December 30, 2010

Catch up

By Heather

We had our Alex here from Monday through today. We all love having her here, and wish she could stay longer, but dern that growing up and getting friends and a job and living a responsible life, she had to go back.:( Our house is quieter now, with fewer JieJie Alex! 's filling the air. When she's here, the kids are constantly calling her name, trying to get her attention and to share all the good things they know, with her; toys, food, songs, you name it, they want to share it.

Acer, well he loves her so much, that he starts planning all the things he wants to show her, in order, from early morning until she arrives. The instant the car pulls up in the driveway, the bouncing starts, and no one can get a word in edgewise until he has his say. His whole face is one big smile and he wants her to carry him everywhere.

Alex has a special place in Calli's heart, I think Alex was the first one of us she bonded strongly with while we were in China. Bill was only there for a few days, so she sort of bonded with him but then he had to leave. Alex was the one who broke through Calli's shell and got her to laugh and play. Calli is as excited as Acer, just calmer about it. Calli has to wait for Acer to go to bed, and the Alex is hers. Calli and Alex share Calli's full sized loft when she's here. It's one reason we got the full sized one, instead of just the twin.

Bill was pretty bummed this trip because he was flat out sick for so much of it. Alex only visits a few times a year, and for him to miss whole days.... They talk on the phone frequently but it's not the same as a good visit.

Me, I miss our Alex, I wish she could be here all the time, but she has her own life. It's good to see her growing up so well, getting the grades she needs to, making plans for the great unknown of her future.

Alex's Christmas was a bit more subdued than normal, as her big gift was her trip to China, and now she mainly gets smaller ones. I did find her a Chinese Tea set, like one we saw at the Bell Tower in Beijing where we saw the Tea ceremony, I also found two ornaments in her High school colors, large ornately decorated ornaments. Other than that, it was the standard stocking stuff.

My wonderful Nephew Brandon Joined us on Tues and will be staying through Saturday, much to the kids' delight. When the kids are awake, there is at least one kid near him at all times, and like the JieJie Alex's we hear, the Cousin Brandon's we hear are almost constant. It's always good when we can have Brandon and Alex at the same time, since Bill and I married, we've tried to arrange it that way, and they've grown into cousins who care about each other and talk at least once a week. Brandon's at University now, in his own apartment, so it's harder to get him here now too. Sigh, dern kids growing up.

When Brandon is here, Acer never wants to walk, he wants to be carried everywhere by his beloved Brandon. I think, despite 12 years difference in age, they have a special bond. Acer just totally thinks he is the best. Today in the car, Acer wanted Brandon to stop reading so they could have 'Good Conversation'. Acer's first question for Brandon, 'How do you make pools!' yep, never quite sure what exactly is going to come out of Acer's mouth, the things he thinks of...

Calli loves her Cousin Brandon, wants to snuggle right up to him and talk to him. If he's not walking and carrying Acer, he's walking hand in hand with Calli. She made him a couple special art pieces for him to take home to his apartment even. She worked really hard on them yesterday and today.

Brandon's Christmas present was a huge knitted blanket that took me forever. I'll (probably) never make another blanket that big with such small needles ever again. I actually started it in Fall of '09 but had to take breaks from it as it was driving me crazy at 20 minutes a row!

On the way to drop Alex off, we stopped in at Ikea. Calli had only been to Ikea in Guangzhou with Alex and myself, so it was new to her. We didn't have much time to do more than power walk through, eat, and power walk back. Acer was bummed because he wanted to go in smalland, but it was full. I picked up a few things, and then we left. We all like ikea, Acer, Alex, Brandon, Calli and Myself, but we do need more time to be able to enjoy ourselves.

On the way back, we stopped in at the church where Bill was practicing with the Praise Band. The kids waited until break time and then sang their infamous duet 'Rainbow Connection'. Calli has a clear voice, easily hitting the notes, Acer has a cute raspy voice, that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling about the song, like when Kermit the frog sang it. Combining them is just wonderful, Calli, so calm and composed, Acer so excited he literally bounces his way through the song (louder parts require faster bouncing). When they were done, the band clapped and whistled and cheered for them, Calli, happy and calm about it, Acer's his face was just glowing with the joy of the feedback of his performance.

We did discover a couple things, 1) Acer bounces faster than a camera click, either a cell phone or a stand alone camera, and 2) even in a video, he's a blur.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pictures from the Recital

Here's Acer during his "Warm Up's" before he played. He wanted to go first and showed no stage nerves or worries about performing at all. Note: This is his 'Sharp Dressed Man' look.

Here is Acer at his drumset. You can see how we just moved it down the supports so that it was short enough for him to play. He's too short to reach the Bass Drum pedal on a normal drum throne, so, Thank You Ikea for the perfect sized stool. This was during the "jazz fusion of Little Drummer Boy" which went something like.... Come they told me parum.. crash cymabl, toms toms snares, bass beats Rum Pa Pa Parum, King to See crash, ride, snare snare bass etc. He was having a Blast and grinning from ear to ear at the thought of people watching him. We counted down the songs between his Piano piece and this one, and I think he clapped more at the thought of another one down, than for any performance skills of the other students.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Standard night around here, more or less

Hopefully, I'll be able to post the video, My phone version is okay, but I need to check out my nephew Brandon's video. Both kids sang Rainbow connection to Brandon and Alex. Acer is constantly in motion; jumping, moving, wiggling with excitement. It's just so sweet, Acer's raspy voice with Calli's clear voice, his tigger esque self with her calm.
Afterwords, Acer shared a most precious part of his Christmas loot - Lychee Jellys. Yep, Teeny cups of a Lychee jello that his aide had given him, from the Aisan store. He got 5 and shared them all around. He did eat both small tofu pieces she'd given him, both the Hot and Tea flavored earlier by himself, but he was just so excited at the thought of his 'Jelly Party'. He waited and waited for Brandon to arrive, so that all of them could share it together.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Humor, insights and stubbornness; life with the Little Man

By Heather
Our two children compliment each other so well, they bring different spices to our family life. Calli brings sunshine to people, Acer brings joy and humor. Calli is almost always happy; Acer is is frequently grumpy, but his reflections on life make you smile, and his joyful grin just invites you to grin along at life with him. Some examples of his views: He will talk about life "when I was Little" or 'When I was Medium sized", he asks questions like 'How do they make Turkey? in a Turkey Maker?'; When asked about something in his ear 'It's ear grime, it's just the way God made me, to have ear grime all the time'. He makes me smile many times a day with his take on life and the world as he knows it.

This year, Acer's total blindness has been of interest to the scientific community. He's in an on going study of sleep habits, he has to do certain things every two weeks, and he earns money towards things that he decides he wants, Toys and Drum accessories mainly. He knows how many weekends it will take to earn the next toy on his list and eagerly counts down until we can get it. This has been a good tool for him to learn fiscal responsibility and I'm proud of how hard he works for these. We also were flown into MIT so they could take an MRI of his brain. Yep, they flew in the whole family, and we spent three days, two nights there and met some great people.

Acer was also the focus of a TV show, even if you only saw him for about 30 seconds. The show Noodle and Doodle on sprout/PBS contacted the MPVI, Michigan parents of Visually impaired children. The notice said that the show needed a blind/VI child about age 3-6. Well, who could be cuter than Acer? We drove out to Holland, MI, and Bill and Acer were filmed and shown at the very end of the episode. The whole episode was about cooking something Yummy for him, and designing a card he could touch and smell. It was pretty funny because 2 of the kids didn't eat any of the dessert, they didn't record any of Acer's voice, and they designed a card for him to smell (using jello powder) but he couldn't let it block his face!

Acer has always been a bit behind on his social skills, how he interacts with peers in particular. He was really only around them in half day pre-school last year in school; His other half days for the past two years have been pretty much one on one with the teacher and an aide. This, combined with having no kids his age on the street, meant he was used to being the center of attention, and being with grownups all the time. Having Calli at home has helped somewhat, he is more used to sharing now, and he is especially sharing with his food and treats. This fall, Acer started Kindergarten and that has helped his social skills, in fact right now, we think that social skills are about the most important thing he can learn in Kindergarten. He's already spent 2 years in school, his academic skills are not a worry, it's the how to get along with others part we're working on. He's definitely making progress there, slow but steady.

Acer is attending a different school this year for the same reason that Calli is, the VI classroom was shut down. The school he is attending is one I have to drive him to, because of a program they didn't want to admit him to. It's a half day Mandarin Immersion Program, all they speak in the classroom is Mandarin. They learn Math and Science in that class (Eastern Class), and the other subjects in the English classroom (Western Class). This is a groundbreaking program, one of very few in the Nation, and they just weren't sure how to teach him. They talked to people all over the country, and even in China to try to figure it out. They really wanted me to pull him from it, but I felt I owed it to Acer to give him a chance to learn this language again. When Acer came home with us, he spoke at least 3 Chinese languages, I wasn't too worried about his ability to pick up Mandarin again. Being a translator is a career field he could go into and do well in, if we can work together to figure out how exactly to teach him, it will continue to head him down the road to a possible job in the future. His Teacher and his Aide are both Chinese Natives, and I know they both care for him a lot, even on days he misbehaves. Acer is totally loving the school, I have heard so many memories of China since he started class. They're memories I never heard before, ones I didn't know he had. He walks around spouting Mandarin words and singing Mandarin songs. He loves to snuggle up with me in bed and ask me to tell him about China.

I think Acer gets bored in school, and then think of something interesting to do, and then, because most of those things are loud and inappropriate at the time, he gets in trouble. Slowly he is learning to make better choices, and his 2 teachers and 2 aides are learning that it's okay for him to have fidget toys in his hands, that he really is listening even as his fingers are moving. I had to be 'That Parent' in the beginning of school, as they were actually holding him and stopping him from playing on the play structure. I wrote an email to the principal, and explained that it scared Acer when they did that, and to let him roam the structure like the other kids do. Acer is slowly making friends, he has a girl who is infatuated with him, and the kids in the school have stopped staring at him as he walks by, and just treat him like a regular kid more and more every day. The art etc teachers are getting used to him too, of course music is the best class as far as he's concerned! The gym teacher has a bit of a problem, doesn't even want to have Acer in the class. We're working on this, as Acer is so active, not including him is just cruel. On the other side of the spectrum, Calli's gym teacher is even writing grants to ask for adapted materials. She has also really done a great job on adapting the games that all the kids play and even plans on teaching the kids how to play goalball. So, you can see how great the contrast between the two is. One again, I was 'That Parent' and wrote an email to the principal, slight improvement, but not a great one.

Acer is still not a reader, I'm sure he has the tools, but that he just prefers others to read for him. We have lots of books, and he gets a lot of stories, but still hasn't made the leap to liking to read. Calli made huge strides in her reading ability this year, Acer, Not so much.

Acer had a great Halloween costume this year, he was Two Patch the Pirate. Yep, two eye patches at once; it was pretty dern cute. We found a pair of Pirate Pj's, added a hat, used foil and a take out cup lid to turn his cane into a sword at there you have it, instant Pirate. He's not the trick or treat maniac like Calli, he's usually only good for a block or so before he is on Bill's shoulders or in the wagon. He likes the idea of it though, when you're little all candy is good.

Acer grows very slowly, barely breaking into size 5 at 6 years old. He's pretty balanced, 42" and 42#, much of it muscle. He's the only little kid I know with well developed calf muscles (all that drumming). He is very charismatic, he has a grin that lights up his whole face and makes you want to smile along with him. He is extremely musical, loving all instruments preferring percussion, but delighted in everything that helps him make music. He started taking Piano lessons this fall, and enjoys them but doesn't enjoy practicing or learning the proper fingering. He learned how to sound out songs on the piano by listening to Calli do it, he will then sound out the songs she's practicing but use funny fingering. He prefers her songs to his because his are too basic, he has to play them tho' to get the fingering down for future playing. Because Calli gets voice lessons, he assumes he gets lessons, and happily sings away at their teacher who gives him gentle suggestions and no real practice. He has the cutest raspy voice, and he is always on key. It's not your standard voice, but you have to grin when you hear it. He's so good at learning the pieces that he tells Calli where she missed. She used to disregard it until I told her that he was usually right. For the Christmas Program at church, Acer refused to go up on stage with the other kids until he knew the song they were singing. The first song he went up for, he approached from a different direction than the other kids, because we were sitting in the pews, and stood up beside them, singing away while facing the opposite way. A funny, sad moment for a parent, but it didn't bother him at all. He was just up there singing and happy.

For his recital, Acer played 'Jolly old St Nicholas' on the piano. He was supposed to play it twice, but once he got up there he informed everyone that he had to play it 4 times! I guess he was thinking about practice, where he supposed to play it 4 times. He decided he was going to sing too, about two weeks before the recital, much to his teacher's and my surprise, After some discussion, it ended up that he played his drums and sang in his own Jazz Fusion version of 'The Little Drummer Boy'. I bet you could have called that one eh?

All in all, Acer is a joy, his NO's are becoming less automatic and he is beginning to be able to do more things because he is more mature and behaving better and better in public so we can stay out longer before his good behavior quota for the day runs out! He still has tons of energy and generally hops and jumps along instead of just walking, but he runs away far less and uses his cane far better.

The good Lord Truly blessed us with him. Of course the Lord has a sense of humor, he blessed us with a Morning Person for a son!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blessed and busy year, Calli's year.

Hello to all,
Thank you to those of you who are still following. I needed to take a break for a bit to down stress, and this was an easy thing to drop out of my loop of 'Have to's'. Heather.

We've done a lot of things, been places, learned a lot, and laughed a lot. We've been giggly, grumpy, gleeful and glad. We've stayed in Fancy Hotels and camped where there was no running water or electricity, and the kids were up for all of it.

Calliandra has grown so much this year, In every way you could think of; It's almost incredible to watch. Last May we found out that the school that she and Acer were attending, wasn't going to be hosting the VI classroom anymore; it was a schools of choice school in a different district so we needed to find them new schools. We decided to have Calli attend the local school, which she could walk to once her canework skills were up to it. This school Really Kicked into gear to get ready for her. They totally went all out, gave her equipment a room slightly bigger than a closet, started having her books and assignments Brailled right away, assigned her a teacher (unheard of I know, but they did this so the teacher could prep well). Last year, I'd enrolled her in Brownies at this school, so she went in knowing a few girls already. She Loves it. Her teacher is more strict, which is more in line with what Calli's expectations of a teacher are, the kids are better behaved, and she has friends who are as active as she is. It's been fun listening to her tell the tales of learning how to jump in to the jump rope, and then challenging the SE teacher and the Principal both to a jump off. She's chugging away in school, with 1-3 hours of homework a night. She's on the A-B honor roll and has worked hard for those grades. Her hardest subject is Social Studies because almost all the concepts they are teaching are brand new to her. She is very happy there, and making friends who live close, not 45 minutes away. She even decided to run for Student Council and made first alternate for her class. Not bad for someone who just started at the school. This was a particularly good year for her to start there too, as there were many new students because of a district wide restructuring. She didn't stand out as THE new kid, she was just one of the bunch. She and Acer go to different schools, and that is a good thing, as she would be known as Acer's sister as I am known as Mrs Acer's Mom at his school, being her own person is just great for her.

Physically, wow, she is growing and growing, it's about a steady half inch a month. Last Year she was a size 6, this year, she's a size 10-12, but very slim. Her hair has gotten longer and we've grown out the bangs into a face frame style that is really flattering. She's finished losing all her starter teeth and now has all her permanent ones. She'll need braces because she has an overbite, but it doesn't detract from her beauty. She has always been beautiful, and it looks like she's staying that way. It's a bit disconcerting for a parent to be constantly told how beautiful their daughter is in this day and age, so I'll be glad when she qualifies for a guide dog. Even though they aren't technically guard dogs, just having one around will ease my mind a bit. Calli is also physically very gifted, she masters concepts like balancing on the bicycle or turning a cartwheel in an afternoon. Blows my mind, one afternoon and she's turning a better cartwheel than I ever did.

Mentally and emotionally she is just incredible, she is a smart, funny, caring girl. She put up with sharing her bedroom with Mum for 8 months, They went along well enough, but having Mum around did give Calli some bad habits, and we're working on stopping them. I love my Mom, there are just somethings that she never seemed to have learned about arguing with people (don't turn it back on the other person, don't dig up past events etc) and also how to respect people's choices and belongings. We did survive, and Acer loved having Mum here because he shrugs off things that would reduce Calli to tears, and Granny Pat would play piano for him to drum along to. They played band a lot and he misses that.

Back to Calli, she loves her family, her little brother best of all. They are best friends, they argue, but they would be lost without each other. When Calli went to summer camp for two weeks this summer, he missed her, and was happy to get back to 'Our Normal Family'. Calli teaches him, encourages him, berates him and is his biggest cheerleader. She taught him how to swing up onto the trapeze bar on the swingset; she'll cook him an egg for breakfast or oatmeal if he requests it; play piano or sing to his drums and play band with him; she'll read him books, and snuggle with him (about half the times he asks for) .

Calli had an incredibly busy summer; she had a day Goalball camp for a week which she loved; Summer camp for two weeks, which she loved; a Life Skills Day Camp for two weeks, which she loved. We went camping as a family up on Drummond island for a week, and she was the number one help for the cooking chores. We camp where there is no running water or electricity, and she did great, adjusting to the terrain changes well. This is another reason to get her a dog, the dog would help guide her places, and she'd be able to explore the area even better than she did this year.

We were blessed this year by a friend of mine, who gave Calli piano lessons. She has worked very hard on her lessons, and Heather her teacher, has worked at being able to teach Calli, her first blind student. Calli puts in about 1/2 hour - 45 minutes a day practicing. It was good when Mum was here as she could really help Calli with the notes. I don't play piano and barely read music, Mum's been playing for 70 years! This fall Calli added voice lessons, in a short time I could hear a difference. She wasn't sure about taking them, but as she is asked to sing a lot I said she might as well learn how to make the best of her voice. We decided to talk about it again after the Christmas recital, to see if she wanted to continue. She did a great job in the recital, and has really enjoyed learning the songs and techniques Heather has taught her. Her piano technique has improved loads too, her recital piece was really a 3rd book level, she mastered it despite being in late 2nd level book in her lessons. She'd chosen her piece, and was determined to get it down. She has decided to continue with both piano and voice by the way.

This year and last year wee have been blessed by our local thrift store, particularly when it comes to finding things for Calli. This year for Halloween, Calli was going to wear last year costume, and was not complaining about it it was a bit small on her, but she was okay with it . I was looking for something else in the store, and I found someone had donated some dance costumes. I called her and let her choose. She chose a ballerina outfit and it was just a lovely cream with gold, with a longer flowing skirt, not a fluffy tutu. She looked great, it was a perfect fit. God was good to let me find that. We all went out for Halloween and she lasted twice as long as Acer, and when we all came home, she asked Uncle James to take her out for longer! She was on fire for trick or treating!

Calli actually had both her Church Christmas Pagent, and her Piano and Vocal recital on the same day both at our church. In the pagent, she read a piece, and then sang a solo, 'What Child is this?'. I was so proud of her, she'd only know she was singing tit for two weeks, and worked at it hard to learn the unfamiliar (archaic almost) words. She forgot part of the second verse, stayed up in front of the church, listened to the Piano and Violin and joined back in when they got to a part she knew. To me, that was even better than if she'd done it perfectly, She stayed calm and used her head, and kept performing. Moments like that show you the mettle of the person, and our girl, she did well.

We dashed off for lunch with our favorite family from Church, and then they came back to listen to the recital. Josh, their 14 year old son is Calli's best friend at church. Despite his being older and sighted, when they cruise around hand in hand through the church (Calli's mode of walking with any friend is hand in hand) Calli is leading. (Josh and Calli played Silent night last year in the Christmas Musical show, he played Violin to her Piano)

At the Recital, Calli played 'What Child is This' she'd been practicing it on the piano for a month longer than she had for singing it, and did okay, she started in the wrong key for some reason, and that threw her off, but second verse she recovered. She sang 'Mary Had A Baby', and did much better, she has a good voice for that song, clear, not the heavy vibrato that is frequently used, but it was perfectly in her range. Check out her performance in the video post below this one.

Last week, was the Christmas Musical show at church, anyone can sign up to play music, we had a bell choir, the church band, other people doing solos, and Calli and Josh playing a duet of 'What Child is This'. She played extremely well this time, the music director at our church was extremely impressed with the complexity of the music, and how well over all she played. No mistakes at all this time!

We're down for Christmas Break right now, and Calli is happy because she loves the snow. Last year I wasn't able to find any snow pants for her, so she'd wear jeans and long underwear out to play. This year, wow does she love her snow pants. She has better mittens, a small pair of mine, and has learned how to wear her scarf over her nose and mouth for warmth, and with the snow pants is quite happy to play outside for a long long time. I've also taught her how to make tea by heating the water in the microwave, so she'll come in and make herself a cup to warm up with afterwards. She goes out and she's all pink and black. Pink Hat, scarf, boots, and accents on her coat, everything else is black. All you can see of her face is her eyes, but she's warm and happy.

Emotionally Calli has come so far from the sobbing Little Girl we met in Hefei. She loves us, and gives us big hugs and smooches before bed, snuggles right up beside us when we sit down. We've talked about how great a job God did in matching us up as a family, how her sense of humor, and love of music fits right in with us, as she is constantly fitting new words to songs we know, whenever the mood strikes her. China is still 'Home' for her, but she knows we are family. She worries about things to, relating to us in the future. When Mum was sick in the hospital, and we were visiting her, Calli started to worry about how she would get me to the Dr's if I needed it when I was old. It let me know she was planning on being a part of this family for a long time, not just until she was old enough to move out on her own. She is always trying, always learning, loves helping out. She loves being a part of the family unit, and that includes doing chores. She is still learning things about living in a family, but I am totally sure that she is more and more starting to think of America, and not just our house, as home.

Wishing you the best of the season, report on the Little Man to follow hopefully tomorrow if I'm not running hither and yon on errands.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Yes, I am bad

at keeping this up lately. Hold tight, I will be blogging again. I promise.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Pictures of the Day-O Man

Thankfully he did not start it off with the first verse of 'work all night on a drink of Rum' That would have gone over really well on the State Capitol Building steps!

With Acer is Tim Paulding, the vocalist, who also happens to share one of Acer's eye conditions, Bilateral Microphthalmia.

Finally able to catch my breath; now to work on catching you all up!

By Heather

Wow, We've out of school for 2 1/2 weeks and boy have we been busy! We've only had 3 days of down time, and we have been all over the city and even across the state.

On June 21st, Calli started GoalBall day camp. Once again, we traveled down to Detroit early in the morning. Acer accompanied us, and played on the playground and in the auditorium while we waited for Calli. This year there were 9 kids, much better for teams of 3 than last year when there were only 6 (one of whom didn't want to play and would quit mid-game). Calli was happy to be playing again, although she was not happy with her blocking and said she was going to do better. On the way home I ran over a chunk of tire, and it took out my power steering cooling, Sigh, More money.

June 22 was the Braille-A-Thon on the steps of the capitol in Lansing. Calli kicked the event off by singing 'The Star Spangled Banner' with about 2 minutes warning. She sang at a podium that was almost as tall as she. It was an event to bring awareness of Braille to the elected officials, and to put a face on users of Braille. We'd thought it was a competition, and Calli had bought a full page slate and stylus with her own money. She loves it, but I don't know if we'd have ordered it if we hadn't thought she'd be using it to compete. The kids' godmother Steph and her son Rain met us there, and there were events that got him interested in Braille himself. It was a good setup and the kids were able to earn tickets to buy prizes. Two men provided the entertainment, one with an elaborate keyboard and the other with vocals. At one point, Acer decided to take them up on their open mike offer and he stood their on the capitol steps, singing Day-o. The cuteness factor was pretty overwhelming at that point and many formally dressed people walking by had huge grins at the sight. Here is an article, with Acer's picture prominently featured. If you look just to the right here, on my FB badge on the sidebar, you can see him standing with an microphone, iintent, singing in his raspy voice,and you'll understand why people were so amused.

June 23 was the Technology sizzler put on by our local BVI agency. Cousin Brandon was with us, and we had a good time. Acer won a toy in the drawing, but the was put out that it didn't come with batteries :( we connected with a few places to but nifty tech toys, and Calli saw a lot of people she'd met before and exchanged phone numbers happily. After lunch, we had the mist exciting time of the day. I'd decided to put the kids leftover soda into their water bottles to keep it safe and so that we didn't have to carry it around. well, who knew that Acer's camelback bottle would be pressurized and when he finally opened it it would squirt two feet up into the air, all over Acer, splashing the stair he was sitting us on, and setting Brandon and myself off into uncontrolled laughter. We used Acer's shirt to mop up, and then I got another shirt for him from another booth. Thank heavens we'd gotten him Sprite! I think the look on all our faces must've been priceless - I mean soda - 2' up in the air from a water bottle! Oh yes, when Acer's name was called, he told them he would be up to get his prize later as he was eating. He had potato chips, a treat and didn't want to be interrupted. It's all about priorities!

June 24 was back to Goalball camp, this time with Brandon as a Shanghaied assistant. Earlier I'd noticed that they had few helpers and more kids this year and as he is looking for a job, I volunteered him. I have a great nephew in case you hadn't figured that out. So we went all went down and Acer and I amused ourselves again and Brandon and Calli had fun. Calli said she played better and was happier with her blocking. Her coach said he could easily see he making the state team in the future, quite the compliment! We took my car back to the car place, the power steering pump was damaged on Monday too, more money yet.

June 25, The last day of Goalball camp, and Calli was very pleased with her playing. She wore hip pads, I think they're from hockey, and played center. She blocked all the balls except one. She was really doing well. Brandon put on blinders and got to play too, a little one on one, and found he liked it himself. Maybe he can help her practice now when he comes over!

Acer and I went on an adventure, we went to the local public radio, our favorite one that plays classical music, WRCJ, and toured the studio. The air conditioning was out, so we didn't actually spend much time in the booth, but the DJ, Jack Goggin, showed us around between numbers. Thankfully, classical pieces tend to be long so we have plenty of time. I didn't realize the extent that computers had taken over the job. I thought that they at least had to put cd's in and push buttons, but no, it's all computerized and the DJ just has to make the interesting little bits of info announcements in between. Acer was kind of disappointed that the traffic guy wasn't there live in the studio, but our host, Jack Goggin, piped in an announcement from earlier in the day to show Acer how it was done (not broadcast, just in the studio).

After we picked Calli and Brandon up from Goalball, because we were relatively close, we went to Guitar Center for Acer. He loves to go and try out all the drums, he moves from one to another, just listening to them, checking out their cymbals all those percussion sort of things. Oddly enough, instead of the normal 3 brands of electronic drums, they only had one brand. As we were leaving, he told the salesman 'thank you!'. When the salesman said come again, Acer said 'Someday we will, someday we won't.' Accurate, but funny.

June 26th We went to a large local park to hear the Symphony. Target sponsors a series of these concerts and we try to go to at least one every year. Afterwards, Acer went up and met the new Principle Percussionist, Jake Nissly. Jake was very nice and showed Acer all sorts of different instruments and sticks. Acer loved it. We also stopped and handed Jack Goggin the hand made Thank You card Acer had made him. It was Acer's concoction of crayon, stickers, and Calli's Braille, but it was a Thank You card. Nice concert, the conductor from previous years was back, I thought he wasn't going to be, that he and the DSO had parted ways, but there he was again.

June 27th. Church, Softball after church for Bill and Calli, nap for Acer so home for me. The game got rained out, and that was a shame because Bill was doing really well even if the team was losing. Our friend Beq came over and ate dinner with us, and then we were off to meet Curtis and Teresa for another evening of DSO concert. It was interesting, the difference between being there by ourselves, and being at a different park with the others. the music was the same, but when people enjoy something with you, you can enjoy it more yourself. It was a stormy evening, but most people stayed. For some reason, about every other year it rains at this park, so perhaps we're used to it. People just covered up, put their umbrellas up, and stayed. the conductor was amazed. the orchestra kept huddling closer together so that the instruments didn't get wet, but they kept playing.

June 28-30 Were stay at home and catch up on things days. We could sleep in a little later, except Acer really doesn't sleep in, but usually he tries to be a bit quieter until he knows I'm up. We worked on a bit of Mandarin, and a bit on telling time on an analog watch.

July 1 Calli had a Dr's appointment, nothing major. Calli and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some portable food and then we packed up and then went to pick Bill up from work. We headed off to Holland MI for our adventures on July 2. We got to the hotel late, and the kids only had time to swim for half an hour before bed.

Every time we pack up for a trip, whether I do most of the packing or Bill helps, we forget something. This time, i forgot to pack underwear for Acer! Yup, one of the most important things possible and I forgot it! Bill headed out and got Acer his first pack of Boxer briefs - too cute on the little man! He calls them 'big underwear' and briefs are now 'little underwear' He loves them and wants to wear them all the time!

July 2 We were up and at 'em early, and I discovered we had indeed forgotten something, even if it had been right on the bed next to the suitcase! Yes, I forgot clothing for Calli! She had underwear at least, but not a single change of clothing. Sigh. We went over to the Hope College Campus, and then followed someone to a house where Acer was going to be filmed as a part of this PBS show. We waited for a long time, and then they finally filmed Acer's bit last. He was the recipient of cards and dessert that 3 other kids had made for his 'Birthday'. They made scratch and sniff cards, and then a pudding, fruit, jello, yogurt concoction. Acer loved it, two of the others, not so much, they wouldn't even touch it. Oddly enough they didn't give him any speaking parts, just filmed him looking at and eating everything. Then they packed up and left and so did we.

We took the scenic route back and had a very pleasant drive across the state. We looked for something special to do on the way home, and finally, when we stopped for dinner we figured it out and went across the road to a music store. This was more of a classical music store than Guitar center, so the kids were able to look at a lot of instruments they've only heard before.

July 3rd was another busy day, up early to drive to the town Bill works in so we could walk in the parade to show our support for his library. We all had shirts reminding people to vote in the milage. Acer walked for about 100', and then rode the rest of the way on Bill's shoulders. Calli did fine, loved tossing suckers to people, and ended up pulling the wagon that carried the group's supplies. Afterwards, we came home and napped and then worked a bit in the yard. Calli worked on a fruit salad with Mum, for bringing on the 4th.

July 4th, we all headed off to Bill's parents after church. Everyone had their own assigned bits, and it all came together. Calli and Acer both started out in the pool, but after dinner, Acer went to play on the drum set and Calli went back. I also had a delicious blueberry birthday pie - my favorite, instead of cake. It was good to see and talk to everyone as usual. Acer also had a run in with a brick paver and scratched up the bottom half of his nose. Good thing it happened on the 4th and not the second - he would have looked awful on TV.

July 5, My real Birthday, Bill had the day off and we slept in as much as Acer would let us. We worked in the yard, and then took a break, worked in the yard etc. It was HOT! we got a lot accomplished and were able to play in the pool afterwards, because finally, the pool was done! Hurrah for BIll! We fed the kids, our friend Carl came over and then Bill, Carl and I went out to eat. Yum, Lebanese food! Carl and his wife Beq are our camping buddies. They own 40 acres of woods up on Drummond Island on the east side of the UP. While we had just seen Beq at the DSO concert, it had been months since we'd seen Carl. He also brought over a Tent pole fixing kit, but ended up taking the pole back to his house to fix it. Also, we put up a tent that had been a friend of mine's tent, just to take a look at it. So, with that tent, the tent he's fixing the pole on and our new tent we'd bought to replace the broken pole one, we have 3 fairly large sized tents - perfect if you're going to stay someplace for a week. This year, Calli will come home from summer camp, we'll wash her clothes, and then we'll leave then next day for Drummond. We are looking forward to it a lot. I will admit that I accidentally swiped Carl's knife during the tent assembly. Need to send that back ASAP!

July 6, a nice day of rest. We worked on Mandarin and then I went to renew my license plate tabs while the kids rested. Not too much else exciting except we'll hit the pool in a little bit.

Whew! I caught you all up. I'll post pictures as I find them!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adopting the Waiting Child from China.

I love the Waiting child Program. Both our kids were in it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


By Heather
Today, Bill took a day off and we went to Lansing for the second annual Braille-athon. We didn't know about it last year, so we missed it, but this year we were there bright and early, and made it through the whole thing. Yes, Acer lasted the whole 4 hours, though, at one point he told Bill "We should go home now", when Bill told him we were staying for another hour and a half, Acer said "Then we should go to the potty now'. Not sure how he felt he was going to make the 2 hours home, but at least he made a good call in the end.

We thought it was a random Braille competition, using slate and stylus instead if braille writer or technology. That didn't appear to happen, so Calli was a little disappointed but seeing people she knew made up for it. We've now made it to 4 statewide events since this winter, and we are starting to recognize people, and be recognized. Calli saw Taylor, the one other girl in her sports camp group of 5 kids, and they continued making plans to meet at summer camp the end of July. She also saw Chelsea, a very sweet college freshman who loves goalball as much as Calli does. Calli did have to miss a day of goal ball camp to be at this event, but had a good time nonetheless. Calli also sang the star spangled banner to open the event, with about 30 seconds notice. She forgot a teeny bit, but got back on track quickly. She was singing into a microphone on a portable podium, and the podium was about as tall as she, high on the cuteness factor there.

Calli and Acer's O&M (orientation and mobility, canework) intern was there and both kids were really pleased to see her. Interestingly enough, she's getting her O&M, and TVI and comes to this out of the world of hearing impaired teaching. She is going to be so well rounded when she is done with school.

Acer continued his fallback plans for what to do if you don't know what's going on or where you are. Yes, he climbed flight after flight of stairs. Outside the capitol building, inside the building, the parking garage, you name it. If he feels there's nothing else to do, then it's off to find stairs. Acer was a bit overwhelmed with all the noise under the huge canopy, but was able to sort it out later and enjoy himself more. Because we were on the stairs, and the keyboard player and singer were in front of the stairs, we were right there when Acer said he wanted to sing into the microphone.

They let him, but did not, to Acer's shock, know Day-O! So Acer sang, thankfully omitting the first line of 'work all night on a glass of rum!' which he usually starts it with. He stopped twice, and Tim, the singer, went to take the microphone back, and then Acer said 'There're more words!' and continued singing. Not sure why he stopped, maybe for a breather in the heat, but he completed the song. Now this was probably the cutest thing all day at the event. Firstly, Acer is just so dern cute. Plus, he was wearing a tan bucket hat and sleeveless tie die tee shirt and orange board shorts, which just was super cute too. Then, when you add in Acer's raspy little voice singing happily away... well, we'll just say that none of the people walking in to the capitol building right then were able to resist a smile.

Later, Acer was homing in on a bell he heard ringing, it was an ice cream pushcart run by the local NFB chapter. Acer then cute'd himself into a free dove bar. Yes, his cuteness is such that even blind people can sense it. One picked him up and tried to let him pick up his own ice cream, but Acer was too short, his arms didn't reach despite almost being headfirst into the pushcart. Heat, Ice cream bar = sticky messy Acer. Thanks to the ladies at two tables, we were able to combine paper towels and water bottle water to make him presentable again.

We were blessed because the kids' godmother Aunt Steph, and her son Rain (6) made it to the event too! Rain had a good time and tried all the tables. As all the kids went to the different tables, they had different things to do to help them understand Braille, whether they are blind or not. At each table, they were given tickets, and were able to buy things using those tickets. Hurrah! they all got got things to bring home. Good job vendors and service org's who showed up, the kids loved it.

We came home and picked up my van, HiHo. Poor van, I drove over a tire chunk yesterday on the way home from goalball camp and took out the power steering pump, Ouch! Yes, we made the trip in Bill's car. it was tighter than we were used to, but it worked just fine.

Here is a link to a Newspaper article about it and a video, Bill's back is on the left, about 3 seconds in,

pictures as I get them, Hopefully soon!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The end of an Era

Rugby loved it when his people were in the kitchen, there was always the chance that food might fall.
By Heather
The year was 1998, and I was living alone in a one room house on the Lewis River in Yacolt, WA. I shared three acres with two other houses, and it was beautiful. I decided, with my landlord's okay, to get a dog. I wanted a dog that would be big enough to be imposing, have short dark hair, be a mixed breed, be full grown but not old. I looked several places and ended up in the Portland OR Humane Society.

Enter Rugby. He was so dirty, muddy and skinny. He was about 10 months old, and only weighed about 55 pounds, and had been given up because his owners could not afford to feed him. His personality shown from the very beginning, even though he was very scared and confused. I instantly became his person. So much so that on the 45 minute ride home from the HS, he actually sat on my lap, crossways, between me and my steering wheel. It wouldn't have been so bad except, I got pulled over for a burnt out headlight that just happened. I couldn't move him off my lap so that I could reach my purse! I told the policeman that I had just gotten him, and he said "He sure looks like he's bonded to you!' and that started us off on our life together.

Rugby has been just about the perfect dog. He doesn't get on furniture. He didn't, until Lobelia taught him how, get into garbage. He was relatively quiet, until Lobelia got him barking. He was funny, had a great sense of humor, and thought every conversation in any room that he was in, was about him. He would wag his tail whenever anyone in the room talked. He always had to be in the room with people, making sure they were okay. Unfortunately Rugby, well... he had legendary flatulence. Yes, he could clear a room with his silent but deadly emissions. When we had people over, we would simply hand our friends scented candles to light as needed. Today I laughed at the memory of Rugby's being able to fumigate the entire top third of the house. I thought Mum had had extremely bad tummy, but no, he managed to get three bedrooms and the bathroom from the hallway. It was literally like walking into a solid wall of smell as I went up the stairs. Poor Mum, she was sick and stuck in the recliner, and I didn't know she needed windows opened to rescue her, and then I blamed her on top of it!

He was part Rottie and they are herding dogs, so he was happiest when his people were all clustered together He once herded Bill and myself until we were nose to nose in the hallway, then he was satisfied. Once on a hike, Rugby wore himself out by trying to herd the group, plus going slightly ahead to check the path, and going slightly behind to make sure that was safe too. We think he traveled 3-4 times the distance the rest of us did. Unfortunately, this herding technique meant he'd shoulder check people in the knees, causing pain, knee buckling and standing still, not the moving into a clump that he hoped for.

Rugby was the dreamingest dog I've ever seen, running and making funny dream barking noises, not just every night, but during naps and several times a night. Once he woke Lobelia up, and she looked over her should at him, and then at me as if to say, 'What's up with him?'

Rugby was the least dominant dog, he once ran into a tree as he tried to run away from another dog. He was not cowed by people, just other dogs. When we got Lobelia, she instantly ruled the roost. He was lonely without another dog in the house, and he liked her, but she stole all his toys and bones and he wasn't allowed to have fun with them anymore (according to her). Good thing Rugby was still allowed to have his people!

Rugby didn't like the water too much, but would brave it to be with me. Once he found a solo dock piling in the middle of a shallow lake. Rugby climbed a top it, and was happier, but then pawed the water around it in a circle as he unsuccessfully tried to find another piling to move onto so he could follow me through the water. Another time, he braced himself for dear life as a friend and I canoe from one island in Lake Huron to another, I couldn't paddle very well, he was backed right up into me, but there was no way he would have let himself be left behind.

One of Rugby's few bad habits was what we called 'armpitting'. My bed is just about the same height as the middle of Rugby's chest, so he could stretch out and reach almost to the middle the bed. If he woke up, and saw you sleeping with an arm above your head, he'd come over and start liking your armpit. Dern wierd way to wake up, I will tell you, sort of gickfull too. Poor Bill, he seemed to get more of it than I did.

Rugby loved car rides, He traveled from Portland to Boston with me, Wisconsin to New Mexico. We had to curtail his rides over the last few years, because he would simply step his 85 pound body all over the kids to get to the windows. I never expected Rugby to live so long. As a big dog, I expected 8-10 years out of him, not the 13 that we got, I never expected him to live to see Acer, much less Calliandra.

Rugby's been having leg problems, one back, one front, on opposite sides of his body. He actually fell over twice, when something or someone ran into him. He hasn't been able to go up and down stairs easily, and most importantly, he hasn't been able to move fast enough to dodge the kids. It not that they want to step on him, it's just that he's so big that his feet take up a lot of space, and the kids do their best, but he still gets stomped on several times a day. This past fall, Rugby noticeably got happier when school started and the kids weren't there passing through the room all the time. I just couldn't see putting an increasingly slowed and in pain Rugby through another summer. I owed him a good send off, not a tortured time when he kept getting grumpier.

and so today, I fed him ham leftovers we'd saved, and the kids stuffed him with all the dog bones he could hold. and off we went, and I cried, and I cry as I type this. Rugby, herd clouds 'til I get there, time'll go by fast and then I'll see you again.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Striving for simplicity

By Heather
A blog I follow, A Place Called Simplicity, has started a new bit called Striving for Simplicity, little bits that people do to try to make their lives easier and less stressful. I've decided to join in this week, and so here is my little bit I do to make my life easier for this week.

This is a lovely decorative and colorful basket of underwear that I have on the back of the toilet, there is a different one on a different toilet. These baskets make Acer's and my lives easier. Acer is indeed potty trained, but sometimes he's just too distracted to pay attention to the signs in a timely manner. For those times, we have the basket. All he has to do is simply reach into the basket, and pull out a fresh pair of clean dry underwear.

For the record, Acer has about 30 pair of underwear. Only about a half dozen have we bought for him, if we were out and it was an emergency. The rest are hand me downs that don't seem to wear out. The result, they last forever, and Acer walks around wearing Sith underwear. Yes, the darkside resides on Acer's butte.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Hello New Breadmaker (and other stuff)

By Heather
Thank heavens the thrift store had the bread machine I've had my eye on still in stock. It was way up on a top shelf, and two others had come in, priced at twice as much. My bread machine only cost $7.50 instead of the $15 that the others would have. I know it has a smaller capacity, but instead of the cylindrical loaves our old one had, this one bakes rectangular block shaped loaves. The first loaf was indeed tasty, but at about 1/3 smaller volume than the other, I'll be baking more often. One thing with using the breadmaker, Calliandra didn't like sandwiches until we started making our own bread. Now she likes them just fine for lunches.

The thrift store was a treasure trove today, I was able to pick up the breadmaker, a used Lazy-boy desk chair for Bill (to replace a broken one), a garden scoot for me, some highball glasses for the kids (harder to knock over with the thick bottoms), and a couple other things. Mum picked up a very nice assortment of 6 tops to go with two new pairs of pants. Later Acer and I went back and he was able to buy a drum toy (I'd spotted it earlier) and a Simon game with his own money. Thank Heavens for patient cashiers, and two registers open as Acer pulled 81 cents out, coin by coin, 3 quarters and 6 pennies. Acer had already handed the cashier his 'Paper Money', all his money, he didn't bother to count that out for some reason.

I like our thrift store, it goes to support local homeless shelters, it has better prices than the big chains, SA or SVdP, the current Manager thinks that the kids, Acer in particular are just the greatest. So, because he came over and talked to Acer while Acer was delving for coins (Acer gave him $2 'to look at') I asked Acer if he wanted to play piano for him. The Manager's seen 'the Cold Spaghetti Band' video, but in that, Acer is drumming. It was a surprise for him to see Acer playing the piano. Acer chose one of our church band songs 'Strength will rise' and made it through 3/4's of it before declaring that he didn't know any more and was done.

Both our kids are so musical, but in different ways. Calliandra is straight out hard work and practice, playing songs already written. She is very quick to figure out how to play just about any instrument put into her hands, and usually the first song played will be 'Ode to Joy'. Just today she played a hammer dulcimer at her piano teacher's house. Within about 15 minutes there she was and there it was, 'Ode to Joy'. Calli can take any song she knows well, and within one or two tries, play the melody smoothly. Acer is naturally musical, he listens to Calli do something and figures out how to do it, but he's more Jazz and improvisation, taking pieces of music he knows and adding to; them swooping off into other pieces and then back to the original. He is almost as talented on the piano as he is on drums, but drums are his love. Last night, while he was in bed (with a toy piano) we were downstairs and suddenly we heard the Marine corps hymn. Yes, he'd heard Calli practicing it for choir, and suddenly he was sounding it out clearly enough that we had to check to see who was actually playing the piece. I know there will always be people more talented than they, but I think that those people may not be as well rounded as our two. Our two have been blessed with more than average talent in many things, not just music and we have been blessed by them,

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Bye Bye Breadmaker

It's been almost a year now that we've been making our own bread. We may have purchased some during this time, but it's probably no more than half a dozen loaves in the whole year. We'd obtained out bread maker for free, when our neighbor across the street had moved, and left it by the curbside. It has been a good, loyal machine, churning out loaves of bread, at least one a week for the past year. Tonight however, it evidently tried power plug bungee jumping and failed severely. Bill had a loaf in, it was just at the end of the mixing stage, when Kerplunk, Crash, Bang down it went. Obviously, the power cord did not have enough bounce power to bring the bread machine back up to the counter, and it smashed on the floor. If it had been a week night, I could have run out and gotten another and at least saved the loaf, but no, it's Sunday, and the stores were closed. Bill's bread, a rye, corn and wheat mix, will have to be totally remade, another day. Here's hoping that the one bread machine I've seen at our local favorite thrift store is still there tomorrow.

Busy Busy BT's

This week, aside from having the joy of a family celebration of Memorial Day at Bill's parents, was particularly busy especially towards the weekend.

On Friday, Bill went with Calli to a pen-pal meeting day. I'm not sure if other states/areas are doing this, but in our area, children are getting pen-pals from other schools. They write back and forth all year and then meet in the end. Calli's pen-pal was named Devon, and we weren't sure if it were a boy or a girl. This is especially tough for Calli to figure out as she doesn't know a lot of the social signals that would say boy or girl to the rest of us. In Mandarin, there is no pronoun for he or she, him or her. There is is just one word for he, she, it. This whole year, Calli would tell us about children in her class, using the wrong pronoun, and we would just guess from the name. She's far better at it than in the beginning of the year, but in the case of a name like Devon, she had to ask her teacher.

This year, the pen-pals met at a bounce house, where Calli'd been for her second Honor Roll field trip, and then went to a park later. There was much excitement, talking, laughing and hanging out. Both girls gave each other stationery, and their home addresses to keep in touch. I think it was a really good experience for Calli.

After dinner that whole family had a treat; Calli's school next year, our neighborhood school had a fun fair. I was pleased that so many teachers greeted Calli by name, the school had sent 6 to Forest Park to observe, and they all remembered her. She was also greeted by some of her fellow Brownies, and new friend Mya. There were games in many rooms, paid for by tickets, and Calli and I cruised from room to room while Bill and Acer generally wandered around outside and played on the playground. Oddly enough, there were many older kids, 5th and 6th graders, who knew Acer by name. I think some of them had met him through Band, when Acer visited, or had watched him one day in music class when Acer played Fur Elise on the piano. Some knew him because they were aides, helping get him on the bus in the afternoon. It was cute to see how many did know him. Usually the younger child is known as the older one's sibling. In Calli's case, it's the other way around.

Saturday morning, we got up at 4:30 to be able to leave on time to go to a VI sports day on the other side of the state. We arrived a tiny bit early but not much. The kids were the first on the climbing wall, and on the horses. Our Alex was able to join us and the children were thrilled to see her. Alex got to see Calli in action in Goalball, Calli's favorite sport. Calli is good, almost up to playing with the high school kids good. Her first game, she scored all three points for her team, and won the game for them. She was playing wing, not center that time, and there was a high schooler playing center on the other team so I think she did well to get the balls past him. In his defense, his cross throws in the next game, when he was a wing and she was a center, were the hardest throws for Calli to guard against. Calli would block on a line with the impact sound of the ball, and the ball would be continuing off on an angle. She was able to figure it out, but it took a few throws for her to get it.

After the Vi sports day, we went back to Alex's grandparents house and enjoyed the pool. We left just after three, stopped for a Sonic on the way home, and arrived later than Acer's bedtime, but figured it wouldn't be too bad because he could sleep in, in the morning.

Nope, Not our Acer, he was up at 6, just like any school day. sigh. He does try his hardest to be quiet, but there are certainly things that he needs to talk to us about. After church, Acer ended up staying home, to his great dismay. He was going to go to Bill's softball game, but when Bill looked out the house and saw that Acer had not gotten into the car to get ready to go as requested, but rather had gone out to the middle of the road and was spinning around like a top. This was a first, and there was no excuse, Acer knows exactly where the driveway ends and the street starts. Bill and Calli went off to the game (we lost) and Acer went down for a nap. When Acer is too tired, or too hungry he cannot regulate his actions. He knows he's making bad choices, but it doesn't matter, his regulator is gone and the behavior is not good. Even if he tries his hardest, he can only manage to be good for a matter of minutes before he acts up again. He can only go about 2 hours before he needs to eat again.

So after he had his nap, Lo and Behold, the well behaved loving Acer was back and there was peace in the house. While were at the VI spots day, the kids, including Alex, had been given T-shirts and goody bags. The goody bags were great for Acer because everything in his made noise. The good bag was Acer's entertainment for the day, I let him get out one toy after another and he was just as happy as could be.

Yes, all those toys that other parents hate, those New Years Eve noise makers, whistle,s all those things were in there and Acer loved them. We do have the Loud House, just in case you wondered, we have all those toys that other parents shun, and try to get rid of, pianos, drum toys, you name it. In fact Acer's discovered both money and garage sales this year and he has learned to simply go in and ask if they have any toys that make noise. It saves time and effort on his part. So far he has only bought one guitar toy, telling me it was his 'Final Choice' and carefully counting out eight quarters into the person's hand. We have now been to 4 garage sales and Acer cannot be pushed into buying something he doesn't want. One about 12 year old boy tried, but it didn't work. For me it makes walking around the neighborhood with him worth it, he is learning both about money and making choices about buying.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Operation Sweetness and Light

By Heather
That's what we've re-named the Fake it 'til it takes idea. It has a much better sound about it doesn't it. Tonight, Mum, Calliandra and I sat down and discussed how the past three days had gone. All agreed that life was more pleasant, and that it was worth continuing.

I surprised them by telling them how I knew whether they were practicing it or falling back into old habits, I told them I didn't even need to hear what was being said. I could tell from another floor simply by the undertones of their voices. Mum's would get deeper and angrier, and Calli's would get sharper and whinier. When I hear that I simply sing out 'Sweetness and Light, Sweetness and Light' and the voices change back into normal caring voices. Sometimes, If I'm close, I will suggest alternative phrasing so that the Sweetness and Light shines through better.

Interestingly enough, it seems to have opened up something in Mum. A storytelling bit that she hasn't used in years. She will start bringing up her past, stories about her Mother, and other relatives that she remembers from her childhood and young adult stage. I've heard stories I've never heard before, or if I've heard them I feel more able to ask questions to draw more of the stories out of her.

They've also discovered a commonality in their early lives, Calli lived in the foster home, and Mum in a boarding school. Because of this new peace, they were able to exchange stories an compare similar experiences. It was really nice to hear the excitement in Calli's voice as she asked questions and exchanged memories with Mum. Mum told her bits about the boarding school that she'd never told me, because I didn't know to ask about.

All in All, Operation Sweetness and Light has been a good thing. I'm now thinking about how to implement something similar with Acer, something he'll understand and like too.

Please keep this on your long term prayer list

Prayers about Acer's schooling next year. The teachers and support staff are really worried about how this will work. We really need to find just the right person to be Acer's full time aide. Mandarin Speaking, Pinyin writing, willing to learn Braille, creative on how to explain subjects to Acer by making touch pictures. Keep this on your permanent prayer list, and spread the word to others too.

The Coke Zero & Mentos Rocket Car

Because they are so dern cool

Sunday, May 30, 2010

National Parks, Free Lifetime pass

By Heather
(copied from a yahoo group)

Happy Memorial Day.

Here is something that I thought you might be interested in and want to take advantage of. It is a great opportunity for the whole family to travel through the wonderful National Parks in the U.S. Take a look at the National Parks website: as well as read the note below which is from that site.

Click below to visit the site.

America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass
Access Pass - Free.

This is a lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities (including legal blindness). Documentation is required to obtain the pass. Acceptable documentation includes: statement by a licensed physician; document issued by a Federal agency such as the Veteran's Administration, Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income; or document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency. The pass provides access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity. The pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder + 3 adults, not to exceed 4 adults, at per person fee areas (children under 16 are admitted free). The pass can only be obtained in person at the park. The Access Pass provides a 50 percent discount on some Expanded Amenity Fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services. In some cases where Expanded Amenity Fees are charged, only the pass holder will be given the 50 percent price reduction. The pass is non-transferable and generally does NOT cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessionaires.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fake it 'til it takes

By Heather
In March 14th, Mum slipped twice in the bathroom and smashed her head against the tub each time. James took her to emergency, and I came later. James went home and I spent all that night until the next afternoon with Mum. She was concussed, and running a fever, and her brains just weren't working. Mum spent 8 days in the hospital as they tried different antibiotics to bring her fever down. She had bronchitis, and wasn't sleeping well on top of it, and they just weren't really able to get her stabilized quickly at all. Every time her fever went up, her brain power went down.

When it was time for Mum to come home, she came here. We didn't want her to be on her own and she needed a recliner to sleep in, and the only one in both households was here, in the space under Calli's loft. So Calli and Mum became roommates. It's working out okay, Calli likes having someone sharing the room with her. Also,as soon as she felt rested and able, Mum decided to take over laundry duty for the family, she likes doing a load a day instead of my having a big laundry day. She also has taken charge of the dishwasher. It's her way of giving back.

Mum's bedroom also needed a lot of sorting and revision to make it safer for her. Whenever we can, which turns out to be every couple weeks, Calli, Mum and I go over to sort. We have to go when there is someone to watch Acer, and all three of us are available. We each have our assignments, and are able to work on them for a couple hours before my allergies send us back home.

So, Mum has been here for two and a half months, and things have been going pretty well, except now we find we need to do some major attitude revising.

As far as I know, this is the closest that Mum has had to 'normal' family life in about 60 years. Growing up, she was sent to a boarding school, and in our house, Mum made lots of dinners and froze them so we just ate whenever, we didn't have assigned chores, and our rooms were as clean or as messy as we wanted. Even the idea of all eating together took Mum some getting used to when she got here.

Now about the attitudes, there is no one who can push my buttons into explosion mode faster than Mum. Acer and James run a very close second, but Mum takes the cake, so this has been a strain for me. Bill has lived with it well, but eventually he had to step and mention her attitude to me too, to protect Calli. Mum is almost automatically negative, it's a habit she doesn't even realize. She picks and pokes at the kids, Acer fires back, bellowing at her (which is not right, but he is protecting himself). Calli doesn't, she has very little protection, she tends to just get quiet and hang her head. These last two days, Calli has started sounding like Mum as they go back and forth, and towards Acer. So it was beyond time to get this under control. I tried introducing the bucket book concept to Mum last weekend, it didn't work. She just didn't internalize it.

Today, she and Calli had an exchange of snipes when both were trying to do a good thing together. There was no reason to have it, and I had to tell Mum, that I felt she had infected Calli in only two months. Calli did not behave like this before. I needed a plan to help them both, I needed a simple one and I needed it fast. So, Fake it 'til you Make it came to mind. Both seemed to ike the idea, and I said that they needed to act (Glenda the good witch was Mum's character) like they were polite and loving and encouraging even if they didn't feel it. I told them we would practice it until Monday night, when we would discuss it and how it felt. So, Prayers about this, because I don't want Mum bringing us down, I want her to be able to learn and change even if she has resisted it all these years.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Follow the Miao Miao's blog

I wrote earlier about the woman in Seattle who had run out of funding for her degree and was needing help.
She has decided to finish her degree at a less expensive college, but still needs help. Check out her blog Here

Using Money

Exciting day here at the BT household. First, Morley Candy/Saunders candy gave away FREE Mackinaw Island style fudge. Yes, I got up early and drove right over there to get our half pound of 'Chocolaty Goodness' (Acer's term for anything delicious and chocolate). They gave away 2010 half pounds of fudge to kick off summer - gotta love that.

On my way home I stopped at the county Library for the Blind and Embossed Calli's church liturgy for Sunday. Our pastor emails it to me, and then I simply stop by and quickly translate it into Braille (just like changing fonts) then instead of hitting print, I hit emboss. the Embosser makes lots of noise, think Dot matrix printer on steroids, but it does a very fast job far more accurately than I could Braille it out myself.

Acer came home, and to his joy, he did not have to dash right out again after lunch to go to school. Nope, he had a half day and we took advantage of it. We took his bike out, and he biked, I walked backwards in front of him to a garage sale on the next block. It was pretty far for a bike newbie, but her made it. He'd also brought piggy bank money of his own to spend. I thought he'd not find anything, but there were two toys that made noise, Acer's main consideration is any toy. He ended up spending * quarters of his own money, carefully counted out one by one, for a toy guitar. This was the first time he'd ever paid for anything on his own so I fielded a lot of questions on the way home. The one answer that made him the saddest was the answer to the question, 'When will I get my two dollars back?' He was sad to learn that the other people kept the money so he could keep the guitar. He came out with a few other questions like that the rest of the afternoon, and now seems happy with his first purchase.

When we came back, it was time to make pulled pork for the local homeless men's mission. The men move from church to church each week, and we pair up with a church that has the facilities to house them. Volunteers drive the men to bus stations, cook, clean and do whatever assigned tasks we can to help them get back on their feet. Tonight is something our church likes to do, called men cooking for men; Grilled food, burgers dogs, and Bill's pulled pork. There will be other things, including a lot of dessert from our Family day potluck. we decided it would do better in their tummies than in our tummies! When we dropped the Pulled Pork off , we stayed a bit and Acer and I helped shuck corn.

Acer decided we needed to have corn on the cob tonight for dinner, and I decided it was a good idea, we went off to a local store, sort of an old fashioned place where they bake breads and pies, have a deli section, good produce, and a small greenhouse. they used to have their own apple orchard, but it's been turned into houses now :(.

Calli was home when we came home, and I sent them out to play in the sprinkler while I watered my flowers. Much fun then!

I'm sure there will be more fun later tonight, but we're caught up for now!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This Land is Your Land - With MM solo

Calli has been practicing since January, they memorized 11 songs, and she had this solo. One Year, One week, and 4 hours after she became a citizen she performs a concert of all patriotic songs for her new country. Calli is in the red shirt and blue pants performing the second solo.

Acer and Bill's voices are in the beginning.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Is this the end of dream for Chinese orphan?

Her Story touches my heart, if it touches yours, be sure to pray for her, if you can, please follow your heart to help her.

Click the title to get to the article

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Calli's Baptism

Today we celebrated Calli's baptism, We had loved family and friends with us and it was wonderful. thank you Brandon for video-ing this for us! You can hear a sleepy Acer in the background. He conked out during the service.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MM's Recital, accompanied by LM

Calli had her first piano recital in April. She got to play on an $80,000 piano that sounded incredible. She did two pieces on her own and then played 'Ode to Joy' with Acer as 'The Cold Spaghetti Band'

Due to unforeseen weirdness, Acer's drums weren't all working :( He did perform tho', the best he could, 'for the sake of the band'

I now present 'The Cold Spaghetti Band'

The Cold Spaghetti Band!

Acer just loves to play band, he asks everyone who visits to play with him, and Mum and Calli frequently play the piano for him. Earlier today he asked his cousin Brandon to play the Uke, while Acer drummed, but Acer decided that Brandon should not play anymore (not sure if Brandon got a lucky break, or got his Uke skills dissed)

LM's first Bike Ride

Acer got a bike for Family day, he loved it! Now, time to teach him how to steer. Brandon took him all around the block, with his ipod turned on at Acer's request. Acer had no trouble figuring out how to pedal, he just hopped up and went, so I think some time in a local parking lot may do him a world of good on the steering side.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Big Sigh of relief

By Heather
Whew, just off the phone with the Director of Special Services for our school district, they are having a second class in the kindergarten Mandarin Immersion program! Yes, this means Acer is in the program!

Now, All I have to do is find a Mandarin speaker, who writes pinyin, who would learn Braille, who wants a school year job to be Acer's aide.

Thanks for your prayers!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


By Heather

Last June, I did everything I could to make sure Calli was enrolled and there would be NO problems come fall. Nope, it didn;t work and she missed three weeks of school while pass the buck was played.

This year, I have done everything I could to make sure that Acer either got into the Mandarin Immersion Kindergarten Program, or into an All Day kindergarten at the same school. I handed in my paperwork on the very first day I could, and have been to two meetings about it. Right now it sounds like (unconfirmed) Acer did not get into the Mandarin class, and that they've lost the application for him to get into all day kindergarten.

Please Pray, for the paperwork, and for me, because all I can do right now is mutter incoherent prayers .

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Acer and school

This has been a year of huge growth for Acer. Most of it has come with maturity, but also a lot of social growth came with his starting a second half day of school each day, with 11 other kids his age.

Last year Acer started going on the bus to a school that had the county VI classroom. It was a half day every day, and he had his teacher and aide almost to himself. Four other children used the room too, but Acer was the only one there the whole time, the others just came in for extra help as needed. At the end of the year Acer's Teacher and OM suggested that the next year Acer go to a regular pre-k class too.

It was a wonderful idea, within a month of starting the second half day, with the new teachers and all the other students Acer was speaking normally, no longer speaking in second and third person. He has friends in that class, friends who tap on things to let him know where they are. He has learned how to interact with others and share toys better. Despite having one on one care in the other school in the mornings, these were just things that Acer couldn't get in that solo session. He has no little friends on our street, the children are all older, and none in church either. He needed to get in with peers, to get socialization. Believe it or not, socialization/social skills are part of an IEP, that is how he got into the pre-K class. It's funny, most of the kids in the class have speech problems, and are far less verbal than Acer. I think it was a shock to their systems to have someone who was so incredibly verbal.

In the VI classroom, Acer did the pre Braille work that is now paying off, yes, he is learning to read! He asks how to spell things all the time, and can even read simple sentences 'I can go' etc. I am very thankful that Acer has had these two years in that class, he has had great learning experiences there, I don't think I could have asked for a better situation. I am sad that they are closing this program down. The school Acer, and Calli, attend is in another district, and that district is not going to be a schools of choice district next year. Since all the kids in the VI program are from other districts in the county, there will be no kids in the program. It was a blessing to us, for both Acer and Calli.

Next year's school is still up in the air, unfortunately. I am praying that Acer is able to get into a Mandarin Immersion all day kindergarten. It is a schools of choice program in our district, one of just a few in the whole nation like it. They would spend half a day with a teacher speaking only English, and Half a Day with a teacher speaking only Mandarin. With schools of choice, children who go to that school as their home school get first choice. Children who are from the same district (as we are) are put into a lottery to fill remaining spaces. We won't know for about a week if he gets into the Mandarin program, or a full day kindergarten program at that same school, or even at another school. Our home school, where Calli is going next fall, doesn't have a full day kindergarten program so we don't him to go there.
So, prayers about his schooling please! it would be great if he could get into that program.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three Whole Years

Yes, it was three years ago today that a small, confused and scared boy was put into my arms. Someone must have instructed him to say 'I love you' because he did, and the entire room of 13 couples had a collective heart melt moment. Acer was the first child to arrive, the other 12 were coming from a different orphanage. Our guides asked the group if it were okay if we got Acer ahead of the rest because he was already there. They all said yes, and waited while he was brought in, and then the hand off, and the three words that changed our lives forever.

We had a rough start, Acer was grieving and upset that we didn't speak ANY of the languages he did, except for a small bit of Mandarin. He didn't want to sleep unless we were holding him, and we couldn't sit and hold him, we had to stand. We brought home a slightly happier boy, but we then had to take him in for Hernia surgery. We found out his eyes were not going to get any better with surgery, and it didn't matter to us really, thought we'd hoped for his sake that something could be done.

Soon we discovered Acer's gift of Joy. He spreads it with his smile, with his love of life. He is not all sunshine, he is stubborn, loud and sure that everything needs to go his way, but he is just so full of life he makes you want to be too. He is so fast and so fearless, that he makes people doubt he is blind; he is an excellent ambassador of what blind people CAN do.

Little Man, you were the best gift God ever gave the two of us, and we are proud to be your parents

Monday, April 26, 2010

Calliandra and school

Calli showing off the ornament she chose herself on the Christmas Tree. I had already made sure she had ornaments of her own, one ornament for every year, an angel theme, plus a couple extra special ornaments. I give the kids ornaments every year and so when they're out on their own, they'll have enough to start their own trees off well decorated.

School was a big culture shock for Calli, to have so many kids, about as many in her one classroom as in Bethel altogether. She was dismayed at how unruly they were, and how long it took for them to calm down in art, gym, music. She had trouble with math, evidently the symbols she learned were not the same as used here, once that was translated off she went, she loves math. She has since blossomed, excelling and having fun. Every term she has made the A-B Honor Roll, the Citizenship Honor Roll and the Principal's Honor Roll (for making both of the other two) After each report card, the Honor Roll kids have had a field trip, Roller skating, to a Bounce house, and to the movie Oceans. She had an excellent time roller skating, never fell down once, despite it being her first time. When she would start to fall, she would move into a squat position, and then pop back up. By the end of the time, she was even able to skate backwards - That's our athletic girl!
The trip to the Bounce House was chaos and fun, She dragged around the boy who was supposed to be leading her, too impatient to go at his slower speed. It was a blast for her and she was all over the place, going down the slides bouncing in the trampoline like area. It was great.
Later her class went to Pewabic Pottery, Bill accompanied them, and made plaques. It was really cool because the teachers had applied for a grant so it was a free trip for both third grade classes. Bill said if he ever decided to go on a bus with 55 screaming kids again, just to shoot him first! I'm not supposed to know, but they made the plaque for me for Mother's day, I can't wait to see it.
She just went last week to see the film Oceans, she enjoyed it, and enjoyed learning about the different sorts of life in the ocean. Neither Bill nor I were able to attend with her, so I can't say exactly what it was about, her Parapro went with her.
The first month of school, before her math Braille was straightened around, Calli had to take the MEAP, the Michigan Educational Assessment Program Test, she had to read the questions and then her Teacher would fill in the scan tron. She did so well, we are really proud. Her Reading score was 297 out of 421, partially proficient, 300 would've been proficient. Her Math score was 300 out of 425, Proficient. Incredible, and I know her scores would be so much higher if she were to take it again today, she has come so far.
The first term, Calli's English skills were not graded, but everything else was, and after that term, English was graded too. Her grades on her report cards, for all terms, are; Oral Language, 1,1,1; Writing NA, B-, B-; Spelling A, A, A, Reading, she went up 10 levels, she is still behind her age group but is catching up rapidly; Reading NA, B, B; Math B+, A, A; Science A, A-, A-; Social Studies, the class that is the hardest and most foreign to her, B+, B+, B. Her Other classes were only graded at the end of the second semester and she got Art, B; Music, A; Global connections, A; Media, A, Phys ed, A. Her citizenship grades were 1's across the board in all her classes.
We got these notes from her teachers on the report cards: Calli works hard every day. She has shown nice improvement. Keep up the wonderful work Calli! and Calli is a polite, kind and well mannered child.she makes an effort to learn in all subject areas. Keep up the great work!
Calli was also given the 'Polite and Proud' award for her class this last month. It's just incredible, she gets so many awards we've started a binder for her to keep them in.
Calli also joined her school choir, it meets every Tuesday, and this year the concert has a patriotic theme. Yep, Star Spangled Banner, Fifty Nifty United States, This Land is your land, America the beautiful she's learning them all in one fell swoop. she even has a solo verse in This land is your land. She's also in the school district choir, this is probably her toughest bit, these are some fast songs, sung faster than she can read the words. We've taken her other music off her MP3 player, and only put these three songs on so that she can practice and not get distracted. It's very tough for her but she's up for the challenge.
That's our Calli, loving a challenge, learnign all she can, and still being well behaved and happy. She is a joy this girl of ours.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Little joys in life

By Heather
Calli and Acer in church. She takes very good care of him, and he fell asleep on her.

Calli has been home for almost a year now, and hasn't really had much luck finding friends. There's Josh, the 8th grader at church, whom she sees 3 times a week, but they aren't anything more than buddies; McKenna also from church, probably her best girl friend, but who also lives further away and goes to a different school and is already booked with acting and dance lessons; Brianna a 5th grader at school who is also blind, but who is not an active running and jumping and having physical fun girl like our Calli.

Calli's been in Brownies, meeting once a month at a local school, since October. Some of the girls still don't talk to her, but others greet her with a shout when they see her come in. We come in about 15 minutes late because of Calli's bus ride home from her school. Still, there weren't any great overtures, until last month, when a Mya mentioned she thought Calli would make a great friend. This was a good meeting to begin with because it was the day before Calli's birthday, and they sang to her, adding Mya's comment, and finding out they lived a couple blocks away - Hurrah!

I emailed Mya's mom, and made plans for the girls to get together some Friday for Bike riding. Mya's backyard faces a large church parking lot, and I knew they could have lots of fun. This afternoon, after school was the day. We all went, Calli, Acer, Mum, Me and walked over. As we approached the house, I remembered meeting the husband and talking adoption with him while we were out with Acer. Yes, it was the same family, and the kids are adopted. The husband even works IT like BIll does. It's so cool to find someone who gets it, and to find such similarities.

It was nice, Mya has a little sister who is almost as tall as Acer even though she's only 3.5. The littles played together, and the older girls had a great time, we went in their back yard where they have a swingset. Mya taught Calli how to flip backwards off the monkeybars, Calli taught Mya how to use a hula hoop as a jump rope and jump it frontwards and backwards. We parents talked, and directed and encouraged as needed. A good time was had by all. When it was time to go, they walked back with us, so they now know for sure where we live. Both families are now looking forward to summer fun between the houses, they have the trampoline, we have the pool. So nice to click with someone, even the girls play styles - active!, match well. I'm looking forward to their being in school together next year.

As an aside, I was pleased to see Calli having fun on their monkeybars as she misjudged them today at school and faced her face on a post - bloody nose and a bruise near her eye. Somehow she didn't even get any blood on her white shirt. Guess a kid playing with her told her to keep her head back. I thought she might be nervous, but she'd shaken it off and learned some new tricks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reading breakthrough for the Little Man

Acer, just because it's a cute picture.

When a sighted child learns to read, they are constantly surrounded by letters, words and numbers. They are everywhere on signs, mail, cereal boxes, all over, you can look and see letters. For a blind child, it's the result of hours and hours and days and days of hard work and physical practice, they have to learn how to follow lines of dots across the page (not as easy as it sounds) , they have to learn how to differentiate between the six different dots of a Braille cell, they then have to learn the combinations of dots and how they translate into letters. Braille is only available in Braille books, homework sheets, and the occasional elevator. You can't just go to the cereal box and start reading the ingredients, you can't go to a Hallmark store and read the cards there, you can't even read what's on the shelves in grocery stores. You just have to practice, practice, practice.

Furthermore, as you get more advanced, you start to learn contracted Braille. Yup, Braille takes up a lot of space so they use as many shortcuts as possible. For example, td=today, tm=tomorrow, tn=tonight, so there are 189 Braille contractions that are use commonly. That's where Calli is, almost all the way through learning those. She learns those as she learns to spell the words, and then spells them both ways during practice for her spelling tests. I'm learning them too, as I translate her spelling words into print, but it's not an easy thing, it's just something I need to do to help her with her homework. BTW she generally gets 100% on her spelling tests, 2 wrong is about the most she's gotten wrong on a test.

The other end of the spectrum, learning wise not smarts wise, is Acer. He has been in the VI classroom for two years now, and I am happy to say that he now knows how to read all his letters! PLUS, he is now understanding that letters are put together into WORDS, yes, Acer has now read words to me. Granted, they were all the same word, and those words were one of two or three words on a page, but he found them and read them! He could also read all the letters on the pages, one letter at a time, but the word he could read, thanks to author David Carter - BUGS! yes, 'Feely Bugs' is our new favorite book for Acer to read to us. and, what is more appropriate for a child of mine, than that the first word he reads is Bugs?