Our Non-Pinterest Holiday

This year was a holiday like no other.  And by that, I mean that it was probably the least impressive.  Here are a few ways that our holiday differed from the holiday I had planned in my head.

1.  The tree-cutting disaster.  We have always gone to a tree farm to cut down our own tree.  It’s always been a fun outing that gets us in the Christmas spirit.  That was, of course, when we lived in Florida and could get overheated wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt.  This year, our tree-cutting expedition took place in some sleety snow when it was 17 degrees.  We had to ride a tractor out to the lot where the good trees were, which meant cold wind whipping us in the face.  We grabbed the first tree we came to, whacked it down, and waited for the tractor to retrieve us.  Everyone was miserable.  Next year we’ll buy a tree at the lot across from the gas station.


2.  The Missing Gifts.  With the halls decked, I was more into the Christmas spirit than usual.  Our new house has an awesome staircase, that we wrapped with garland.  I even got a second Christmas tree (artificial) for the entryway.  The place was looking good.  But wait…what about presents?  Usually I am done with my Christmas shopping after Black Friday.  Cyber Monday at the latest.  This year, I actually did buy many things ahead of time, then hid them.  And forgot where I hid them.  Thankfully, I had my trusty spreadsheet so I knew what was missing, but I spent two days searching for items that I already had.

3.  The Power Outage.  We awoke to the major ice storm on the morning of Dec. 22 happy to see that we still had power.  Lucy and I settled into the recliner to watch a little Sesame Street while the rest of the family snoozed.  Then, at 6:04 am…no more.  So, instead of getting all those last-minute things wrapped and cookies baked, we snuggled up, built our first fire and tried to keep warm.  We were without power for 45 hours, but luckily, it came back in time for Christmas Eve.



4.  Christmas Cookies.  Since we hadn’t gone to the store (not knowing when we would be able to refridgerate anything again), we didn’t have the ingredients to make any Christmas cookies, which is usually our Christmas Eve tradition.  So, I went by the store and got some of that instant cookie mix.  The kids had a great time, but the cookies sucked.  I mean, really sucked.  Oh well, it’s all about the memories, right?


5.  Christmas Eve Lobsters.  Usually, our family has a lobster dinner at home on Christmas Eve.  This year, we didn’t get around to ordering the lobsters till the power was out, and by then we decided not to get them since we might not even be staying in our own home.  Instead, I bought ingredients for Andrew to make chili.  He cooked a huge pot and we had an impromptu party with some friends and neighbors.  It was wild and crazy with kids everywhere, but totally fun.  Maybe even more fun than watching a live lobster go into the boiling pot.

6.  Photos.  I spend a lot of time on Christmas trying to take the perfect, artful photo of each child opening a gift.  This year, I put down the camera.  Actually, I put it on a tripod and set the timer to take a photo every 30 seconds.  This allowed me to be more present for the presents, and to actually be in some Christmas morning photos.  So, there are no beautiful photos of my children with shimmering lights in the background, but here is a time-lapse sequence of the kids finding their Santa gifts.

7. Christmas Cards. Some of you may be asking “Where the hell is our Christmas card?” Well, friends, this, too, changed a little this year. Since it’s our first year to have a white Christmas, I really wanted our family pic to be in the snow. First there wasn’t enough snow. Then one or two kids weren’t around. Then Andrew went out of town. Then we were without power, so I couldn’t blow dry my hair. (Yes, this matters.) So, we didn’t have a chance to take the family pic until Christmas Day. That’s right. After the Santa presents were opened, we had a little breakfast (during which I ruined the sausage ball tradition), and I made the kids get dressed up. Therefore I spent Christmas night editing, uploading, and designing our card. They arrived this afternoon. I will get them in the mail on Monday (well, who are we kidding…maybe Friday). So, for those of you who have put away your Christmas card display for the year, you’ll just have to leave us on the fridge for a while. And for those of you who only know us in blog-land, I’ll post the picture after everyone has received their card. You’ll be amazed how good we look despite everything that didn’t go “right.”

Which leads me to the point of this lengthy blog post. It doesn’t matter. There is not a single picture in this post that anyone will want to pin to Pinterest. It doesn’t matter. Things didn’t go as planned. It doesn’t matter. We didn’t do things that my kids consider traditions, but it didn’t even matter to them. We didn’t start any new traditions, even though this was our first year in a new place. It doesn’t matter. We were with each other. We got to relax. The power outage was a time when we could have stayed busy or done things (like maybe clean the bathrooms), but instead we just hung out. It was kind of nice. I’ve seen a lot of people posting about Christmas stress and Pinterest envy, but we had the most low-key Christmas ever. And I have to admit that I kind of liked it. Next year, we will definitely make Aunt Joy’s cookie recipe instead of that nasty store mix, but otherwise, we may just sit back and relax again, even if there is power.


Help Me Make Friends

Before I move on, let me share my thoughts about internet relationships.  I used to laugh.  Really, I did.  I just didn’t see how you could be friends with someone you’d never met in real life and didn’t ever see.  But adopting two kids, one of them an older child, has definitely taught me a thing or two.  You see, as great as “real friends” are, this is really one of those “you had to be there” kind of things.  If you haven’t completed the endless amounts of paperwork (in some cases twice) and then waited for a referral, then you just can’t understand the pressure and stress that causes.  Then, if you haven’t had your life turned upside down by little creatures that you are supposed to love from day one, then you just can’t fathom how hard that is.  Sometimes, you need to be able to reach out to friends who can understand.  Friends to whom you can share you deepest fears (I think my kid is a serial killer) and desperate thoughts (what if we’ve made a terrible mistake)*.  You also need someone you can bounce things off, like the fact that your five-year-old child refuses to tell you ANYTHING about his life before he joined your family.  Is that normal?  Does he need therapy?  Is it too soon?  Or has he split into multiple personalities to shield himself from the pain?  So, yes, I love my real friends.  I especially love the ones who I can sit down and have a drink with, because you know I DEFINITELY need that, but my blog friends have started to play an increasingly important role in my life, too.

In an effort to connect with a wider blog audience, I’ve joined Top Mommy Blogs.  It would help me immensely if you would click on the link below and “vote” for me.  It only takes a second.  You will be taken to the site, and then you can come right back.  That’s all there is to it.  This will help drive more visitors to my site and help me make more wonderful blog friends.  There is also a link on the right sidebar, so any time you drop by and want to vote, please take a second to help me out.  Thanks to all my “real” and “blog” friends.

Vote for me @ Top Mommy Blogs - Mom Blog Directory

*Upon consultation with my blog friends, I have decided that my son is not a serial killer and we have NOT made a huge mistake.  Just FYI.


My Secret Weapon

I had several alternate titles for this post:

Why I’m Judging Your Parenting

The One in Which I Brag About My Verbal Child

Why My Kids Are Smarter Than Your Kids

Take your pick.  But, seriously, this is a post you should read.

There are probably a lot of things that I could have done better as a parent.  But, occasionally, I have hit it out of the ballpark.  Baby sign language has got to be among the top 10 of my successes.  I have NO IDEA why not everyone in the world does this with their babies.  We started it with Sam and used it with Eleanor.  I felt like it was very successful and our kids had a larger-than-average vocabulary when they started pre-school.  But here’s where I have to brag.  We brought Lucy home at 10 months of age.  She spoke no English and had not been exposed to it at all.  She spoke no words (according to the nannies) in her native language.  At 12 months, she was evaluated for speech (along with a slew of other things) and was found to be way behind in her verbal skills.  Never fear.  We started using sign language, and by 18 months she had completely caught up with her peer group and now (21 months), she is ahead of where Eleanor was at the same age.  I attribute all of this to our use of baby sign language.  If you’re not using this with your toddlers, you are making a parenting mistake.  Yes, there it is…I am judging you.

Here are some facts:

  • Research confirms that signing babies have fewer temper tantrums.  This makes sense, because if babies are able to express themselves through a sign, they can tell you what they want.  It takes the guesswork out of your job.
  • Baby signers speak earlier than babies who don’t sign.  Babies learn that a sign is something that stands for something else.  This leads to the natural next step, using a word to represent that same thing.  Babies can understand words before they can say them, but sign language provides a bridge until they learn to vocalize.
  • Studies shows that babies who sign, have larger speaking vocabularies earlier than their peers. They even do better as they get older and start school. One study showed that eight year olds who learned baby sign language as infants had an average IQ 12 points higher than non-signers.

Here are some clips of Lucy using signs.  Most of these were in November, so she would have been about 19 months.  These are a little random, because I wasn’t very good at capturing them, but let’s face it, any video with Lucy in it is always popular.

Sign Language Clips from Kristin W on Vimeo.

The amazing thing about this is that it’s EASY to do.  It doesn’t require a big investment or a lot of time.  You simply start by doing the sign when you say the word.  Then repeat.  Eventually, the baby will start mimicking the signs.  Easy peasy.  There are a ton of books, websites, videos, and apps that can help you get started.  After you read up on how to introduce signs, I’d recommend the app “My Smart Hands.”  Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.33.01 PM

It has video clips of most of the words you’ll want to use and she explains why the sign looks the way it does (to help you remember).  I kept it on my phone and when we wanted a new word, it was easy to find.  I would not recommend the tons of flash cards that are available.  Learning signs shouldn’t be schoolwork, it should be incorporated into your daily routine, using the words as you would normally use them.  That said, if you want a video to keep the little one occupied, we used “Talking Hands,” which all of our kids liked.  It’s a little slow, but the repetition is important and as an added bonus, the signers are multicultural.  I think it’s out of date, but I found a DVD on ebay (to replace the VHS we had when we started with Sam…it’s been a while).

Lucy is now 21 months and we’re starting to move away from sign.  She can now easily pick up new words and is rapidly adding to her vocabulary.  Last month, we tracked all the words she could say (and use appropriately), and she was up to about 80 words.  As a comparison, Eleanor had 62 at the same age.  I am truly astounded at how a baby so far behind can so quickly catch up.  I think sign is fabulous for any child, but especially for those whose language acquisition was interrupted by international adoption.

App Review – Pocket Phonics

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We’ve done a lot of apps with letter sounds, but this is one of my favorites.  Although it’s not an app that he normally chooses to play, if I start it for him, it’s one that holds his attention for the longest period of time.

It starts with a small group of letters.  Children hear the letter sound and trace the letter with their fingers.

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Then it gives them a sound and asks them to touch the letter that makes the sound.

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I like the voice – it is clear and easy to understand.  Since the kids just heard the sound when tracing the letter, the probability of success is pretty high.  If they do hit the wrong letter, it disappears from their choices and they get to choose again, so eventually they’ll get it right.

I will say that the graphics in this game are not very exciting, even for me.  A highlighter and a pencil that clap aren’t really that engaging.  So I think that it must be the ability to successfully spell words that keeps Ayub entertained.  He can do this one for quite a while.  I like that it teaches letter sounds, and never mentions the letter names.  He is having trouble distinguishing between the two, so this is more obvious to him.  There are also a ton of parent options and settings that you can control, including how many letters to include, whether to focus on just sounds or also words, and even the writing style (including cursive, if you’re into that).  You can also set how sensitive you want it to be when checking the child’s writing.  Ayub tends to stray outside the lines sometimes, and it won’t let him continue until he gets it back under control.  However, if you were playing this on an iPhone, it might be nice to relax it a little since the lines are smaller.

Pocket Phonics is currently $2.99 in the app store, which I think is a pretty fair price for this.  I wish the graphics were a little stronger, but I very much like the concept and the order of activities.  And, since Ayub sticks with it for a while, I think it has a greater chance of teaching him something.

Park Math – App Review

I had a request for a good math app, so this week I’m reviewing Park Math.  We have the HD version for iPad.


I really like this one, although it’s very simple.  There is a blue bear who walks you through the park, doing different math activities at each stop.

  • On the swings, the bear counts the number of times a rabbit swings.  (This one is kind of boring, but good for learners who need to hear counting out loud.)
  • On the slide, the bear asks for simple addition.  Since the ducks are all lined up, it’s easy for the player to count them all and get the correct answer.  Or, if they want to actually have the ducks climb up, the can touch the ducks and the numbers at the top actually change so they can see the right answer.  This made it easier for Ayub, since he could count, but not recognize the numbers to get the correct answer.

  • On the seesaw, the learner has to put the same number of mice on each end to balance.  I thought this would be too easy for Ayub, but he actually struggles with it occasionally, mainly because he just starts moving the mice around before he thinks about it.
  • The apple tree asks for basic subtraction by asking how many apples will remain if a certain number fall.  Again, the child can knock off the fallen apples and count the remaining ones.  It even changes the apples so they can tell which ones they’ve already counted.
  • There is sorting on a park bench where kids have to put the dogs in order from small to large.
  • In the sand box, there is a pattern which the learner has to complete.
  • And finally, there is a picnic blanket where the kid has to feed the hippo the correct number of healthy foods.

There are three levels of difficulty, so it can grow with a child.  The description says the three levels correspond to preschool, Kindergarten, and first grade, but we’re still on level one, and it is the same level of addition he’s doing in school.  The graphics are bright and cute.  The game is pretty easy to navigate – even Lucy has played this before.  The instrumental music is tolerable, although anything repeated for more than a few minutes tends to grate on my nerves.  I will admit, this game doesn’t hold Ayub’s attention for as long as some others, but I think that may be because he really has to think on this one.  He has only just recently started playing this, so I’m not sure if he will outgrow it quickly.  It seems like some of the games could get a little repetitive.  For $1.99, I’d say go ahead and give it a try.




There’s An App For That

One of the things that Ayub loves is time with my iPad.  We have used it in a variety of ways since early on.

This was bedtime the first night Ayub was in our custody in Ethiopia. We read his bedtime story on the iPad. He learned to say “Hello, Everybody!” just like Grover.

Watching a movie during Sam’s baseball game…which allowed us to actually see the game.

Playing games while waiting for the doctor to take his mind off of the impending “ouch.”

Although it looks like we use it a lot, it is still a “special” thing that he doesn’t get to use all the time.  And since it is a good way to reach him, I’ve invested in quite a few educational apps.  I thought I’d share some of his favorites so that those of you coming home with older adopted kids might have an idea of what works and what’s a waste.  So, I’m going to try to review at least one educational app a week.  Not saying that I’ll be able to stick to that, but I’ll give it a shot.

First up…one of our favorites:

Dora ABCs Vol 1: Letters and Letter Sounds

Ayub knew Dora when he first arrived in the US…I’m guessing at one point they had seen the videos at Horizon House.  So, this was an instant hit and a good way to introduce him to the iPad touchscreen.  The app gives you a letter to draw and you trace it following the path of acorns.

This was great for Ayub, since his fine motor skills weren’t that great.  Holding a pencil was tough, but he could use his fingers to make letters here.  The program is fairly forgiving, so if he went outside the line a little, he could still be successful.  You can also choose uppercase, lowercase, or both.  Once you complete the letter, it gives you a “cloud” which is actually the shadow of something that begins with that letter.  You have to bounce acorns around the screen to complete the picture and guess what it is.  This is a nice change of pace from other programs where you only write or trace letters.  I think that is why he likes it better…in addition to tracing letters, you also get to play a little and guess what picture you are making.  We have tried other “writing” programs, but he always comes back to this one.  I’m not sure how much he relates the letters to the letter sounds, but I even without that piece I give it high marks for motor skills and letter recognition.

Dora ABCs Vol 1: Letters & Letter Sounds is currently $3.99.  Totally worth it.