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.