23 September 2019

Haze Season 2019

Current wind patterns are carrying a great deal of smoky air directly over the city where we live, meaning that last week, we were waking up to skies that looked like this:

(Note the vague shadow of a mountain behind the haze...usually it appears just as green as the nearby trees!)

There are often some hazy days around this time of year, but this is an especially bad year for the haze. Our first "fall season" here was in 2015, and we had just moved out of China. I remember wondering if we had merely moved from one location plagued by air pollution to another when the air quality was so bad at that time, but most of the time our skies are much clearer and bluer.

How does the haze affect daily life?

- Schools were mandated to close for three school days last week. This is particularly crucial for the many schools that have classrooms open to the air and no air-conditioning or filtration systems. Those of us from the USA liken the weather cancellations to "snow days," only it's been joked that kids in the USA might be encouraged to go outside and play on a snow day, if the conditions aren't blizzard-like. For a haze need to stay inside and try not to breathe too much! Angel had two half-days of meetings or office work and one day completely off of work due to the three days when the school was closed. Experiencing weather cancellations from the perspective of a teacher is different...tests have to be rescheduled, homework still has to be assigned, the class must not come to a screeching halt!

- Angel and I bought high-quality masks when we were moving to China and have dug those out of storage for use when we need to leave the apartment. Cyrus doesn't have a mask that fits him and I imagine getting him to actually wear one would be...interesting...but our main strategy is staying in the apartment as much as possible, keeping the doors and windows closed and turning on the air-con units to get some filtration. This is possible for us in the bedrooms and main living area of our house, but not in the kitchen and laundry area or in the bathrooms, those are more open to the air and smell of smoke. But many, many homes in our area are not at all designed to be "airtight" or even have any rooms where you can really block out the outside air, so for many families, even staying home is not providing much safer air quality than the outdoors.

- Cyrus started coughing on day 3 of the haze and continues to cough. It affects him most when he's trying to sleep, which means we've all had some rough nights recently. Angel and I have had some eye discomfort, headache and scratchy throats but remain mostly unaffected--younger children or those with respiratory allergies or those prone to respiratory problems for various reasons are most at risk when air conditions are bad like this. Thankfully we've not had to be outdoors! I'm glad that the baby isn't expected to be born for nearly two more months so that hopefully the haze season will be over before he arrives. We haven't taken Cyrus out to play and are learning the added challenge of keeping a toddler occupied when going outdoors or even going out to visit a new location is no longer a very good option.

When the weather takes a turn for the worse we learn very quickly how much we don't get to control the details of daily life...
11 September 2019

How Parenting Has Changed Us

Three years ago, I woke Angel up at 5 a.m. to tell him I was pregnant. Because I couldn't possibly wait five minutes, or until a reasonable hour, like 6 a.m. It was too exciting, I'd been waiting so long. He didn't believe me. Now, is it at all conceivable that your wife would wake you up at 5 a.m. to lie about being pregnant with the baby you've been hoping for? I don't think so. I still don't know why he didn't believe me.

Something about our lives changed then, even though that first baby was one who didn't get to stay. Even though that baby didn't quite make it to 8 weeks, in some sense, when I think about the different eras of my life, it feels like a new era began in September 2016. That first pregnancy changed some parts of who we are. More changed 18 months ago when we brought our Cyrus home and we got to actually begin experiencing life with a baby...who quickly grew into a toddler.

Here are a few of the changes, big and small, lighthearted and less-so, inside and outside, that I've noticed:

-  Our leisure activities have changed. Sitting in one spot, watching TV together, is no longer much of a thing, at least not between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Before, the end of the work day was the end of the day, for the most part. We'd eat dinner, watch a show, catch up on individual hobbies or work projects, and go to bed. Now? Angel thinks of what outings can happen between when he gets home from school at 6 p.m. and bedtime. We eat our dinners and then it's adventure time. On Monday, we went to the beach after school. On Tuesday, Angel and Cyrus went swimming in the pool. Other days they'll head out for a walk in the neighborhood or visit the park. We get out more, because we're more motivated to get out and do things now that we have a little guy to do them with. Sure, Angel and I went to the beach once in a while when it was just the two of us. We'd walk and chat...beach trips look much different with a one year old, but they occur much more frequently because something about this little boy's energy level boosts our own levels of energy for getting out and about.

- We eat more variety. Everyone has favorite fruits and veggies, right? And I can definitely get into the rut of cooking the same handful of meals over and over. But now we have another little body to think about. Angel has started to pick up random vegetables or fruits that we didn't eat often on a more regular basis, because he'll think, "Oh, Cyrus should try this!" I also share my food better than ever before. I still wouldn't call myself good at sharing food, but if you knew what I was like before when it came to my favorite foods, you would know that motherhood has changed me. ha!

- We save 'trash' a lot more often. We both skew minimalist, and don't like to have clutter in our home. Neat, clean, and somewhat empty is my happy place. But now, when I finish a plastic jar of chia seeds, my first thought is, "A new toy for Cyrus!" Many bottles and boxes hang out in our home for a few days or weeks beyond when they ought to have gone into the garbage or recycling, simply because we've found that Cyrus appreciates and plays with them so much that they are better off spending some time with him before moving on to their next life. The "beach toys" we brought with us on Monday consisted of a milk powder scoop (those are some of his favorites!) with a chia seed jar, and he spent a lot of our beach time dutifully filling up that jar, one scoop of sand at a time.

- On a related note, we aren't nearly so bothered by mess as we used to be. We're still neat by nature, and it's probably no coincidence that "dirty" is one of Cyrus's few words, and sweeping the floor remains a favorite hobby, but...I typically won't bother picking up all of his toys in the living room before Angel gets home from work. We are working to teach Cyrus to pick up his toys and to keep sets of toys together, so if he wants to get out something new, we try to pick up the toys that are out first...but it doesn't bother either one of us if megablocks are still scattered on the living room rug when we go to bed.

- We notice 'small things' so much more. I never remember hearing the calls of birds from my apartment until Cyrus started hearing them and getting excited to react to every bird call. I now notice the background music when we're in stores because Cyrus starts dancing to it. I actively look for cicaks (house geckos) to point out to him because he loves finding them--where previously I generally ignored their regular presence. I notice stray hairs on the floor that need to be swept up because he pays so much attention to the state of my floors. haha! I see the birds resting on powerlines now, even when I'm not with Cyrus, just because I'm so accustomed to him pointing them out while riding in the car.

- Time is more valuable. Few things can teach you the importance of not wasting the time you're given like watching a child change in the first 18 months after he's born. Wow. I definitely waste less time than I used to--both in the practical sense, as in, I've learned that I can accomplish a LOT of housework during a naptime, and in the emotional sense--spending time as a family all together has become so precious, and opportunities to do so are not ones we want to waste! Also, time for just Angel and I comes in occasionally, and we are certainly more intentional than we were when such time was much more easily come by.

- Decisions about going out to eat are very different than they used to be. We now consider what Cyrus can eat and the experience of being with a toddler at a restaurant. A favorite local restaurant of ours is a Chinese noodle soup shop. That restaurant is now reserved solely for the occasional date night as there aren't any high chairs and the only thing served in the restaurant is scalding hot stoneware bowls of noodle soup, to be eaten with chopsticks. Nothing about being in that restaurant with Cyrus sounds appealing, so we'll go to the local Indian breakfast shop where he can sit in his highchair and eat roti dipped in curry instead. The guys there love him, anyways. The cashier always insists that Cyrus "pay for the meal"--handing him the money and receiving the change.

- Watching a show takes way longer. I recently saw some joke about parenting being where watching a movie now takes place over the course of three evenings. I think that's pretty accurate. A lot of times, it might be two evenings for one 40 minute TV show. Both Angel and I are early birds, and that hasn't changed, so we are typically falling asleep not too long after 9 no matter what...but add in early mornings, occasional midnight wake ups, and the general child-induced tiredness, and there's plenty of nights that we both fall asleep as soon as he's in bed.

- I'm both braver and more terrified than I ever was before. I remember a time when I thought if I ever had a miscarriage, that I would never be brave enough to try again. Little did I know what lay ahead of me, and how that short, short time of loving a baby would strangely hearten me for the journey that lay ahead. I've done braver things and more physically challenging things than I thought I could do on the journey into parenting thus far, but I've also been almost overwhelmed at times with the realization of how very much we don't get to control the fates of our own children and how very much trust and reliance on God it takes when 'your heart is walking around outside your body.' Suddenly, the world seems so much more terrifying. The bookshelf could fall over, the kitchen scissors that have been in the drawer for years are dangerous, the glass door could slam and sever a finger. Endless decisions and bits of information lie before you, safe and unsafe sleeping habits, what should be done about a fever, take him in to the doctor or ride it out at home? Spoon-feed the baby or let him feed himself and make a mess? I can't count the times I've woken up to check on him in the middle of the night, for no reason other than to make sure he's okay. Angel has done the same. I feel braver than I imagined myself to be in my pre-parent days...and have also had more moments of fear in the past three years than I have ever had in life before these past three years. "To love at all is to be vulnerable," C.S. Lewis said, and I think he's right, it applies to all sorts of love, but I think it applies especially to a parent's love for their child. This love makes us vulnerable--it has made me vulnerable, ever since September 2016, and I'm so glad for the chance.
06 September 2019

The Great Rat Invasion of 2019

Cyrus and I were hanging out at my parents' home, waiting for Angel to get out of work and come pick everyone up to go out to dinner. I was helping my mom edit a document for work when we were interrupted by the sound of a screaming 12 year old.

Sarah ran into the living room and announced, "There was a rat in the bathroom! It was on the counter, but when I walked in, it ran away and ran into the drain."

Mom went to investigate the bathroom situation and closed the open drain cover, but we all took the news rather calmly and somewhat skeptically. Part of this is because unusual animal encounters of a close kind are hardly rare where we live (in fact, this is a major theme of my book, The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger, in which insects and various tropical creatures happily share a home with the human residents. Based on a true story.) In addition, for some reason, probably entirely unjustified, my family tends to treat Sarah's reports of animal encounters rather lightly. Everyone in the family scoffed when she reported seeing a monkey on the balcony outside the apartment a year ago. "Monkeys have never actually climbed onto our balcony!" we said confidently. Not long afterwards, my parents' home was ransacked by a wayward monkey who came in through the balcony doors, knocked over a computer monitor, destroyed a jewelry box, and committed a few other unmentionable desecrations. My dad went out and put up chicken wire as a monkey-deterrent measure later that day.

Maybe after this we'll start listening to Sarah.

{Clearly not a rat, but I have no pictures of the actual adventure, so I thought I'd include one of another critter spotted at the park just outside our apartment complex.}

Mom decided to boil a kettle of water to dump down the drain to make it seem like an unappealing habitat for any potential rats. I questioned Sarah as to whether it was a rat or merely a mouse. MaryGrace threw some drain-cleaning tablets down the drain when she saw Mom dumping the first kettle of boiling water down it--somehow she'd missed the ruckus entirely and thought the drain needed to be unclogged. We figured some toxic drain-cleaning chemicals probably wouldn't hurt the cause of discouraging rats from living in the drain, and hey, now it would be extra cleared-out. Cyrus watched the goings-on with great interest. 

Mom and I finished up our editing project and Angel arrived, ready to head out. We joked that he'd missed all the excitement with the possible rat sighting in the bathroom, and Mom remembered that she'd boiled a second kettle of water to dump down the drain, just to be a little extra on the safe side.

She brought the kettle to the bathroom while all of us waited, ready to go, in the living room. As soon as she began pouring the water into the drain, a rat jumped out of the drain, ran out of the bathroom and into Mom's bedroom. Mom screamed, ran, and jumped onto the bed. All of the little girls screamed and ran to the opposite side of the apartment. Pregnant me does not move very quickly and opted to stay on the couch, but I overhead the 8-year-old asking the 12-year-old as they ran away, "Are rats dangerous?"

The answer came, "Not exactly dangerous, but they're dirty, and you can catch diseases if they bite you."

Angel had acted quickly, slamming the door of the bedroom, trapping Mom and the rat in the room together, but making sure that the rat couldn't get into any other part of the house. He yelled to mom that he'd find something to use to help catch or kill the rat, and returned with a broom, a dustpan, and a bag. He'd looked for a box (Angel has a great record of being able to trap bats in boxes) but there wasn't one handy, and so he quickly slipped into the room with the tools to figure out what to do about the rat.

I was still on the couch, and my sisters and Cyrus were still as far from the rat as it was possible to get while remaining in the house.

Once Angel arrived in the bedroom to assist with rat capture, Mom was able to more thoroughly investigate the under-the-bed region that the rat had escaped to. To their great relief (and, somewhat, to their confusion), the rat had keeled over and was lying still. They weren't sure if it was dead, in shock, or temporarily unconscious...but they weren't taking any chances. Angel quickly swept it up and came out to the living room, planning to dispose of it by dumping it into the field outside the balcony. 

But the balcony door was locked! Immediately, panicked shouting for the keys began as everyone stared at the rat in the dustpan, waiting to see if it might show signs of life at any moment. It seemed an eternity before the keys were found, the balcony door unlocked, and Angel ran out to dump the rat off the balcony into the long grass where it'll never shock anyone again.

And then we re-locked the balcony, placed a rock over the drain cover to discourage any other enterprising rats from breaking in, and headed out to dinner.

As we walked to the car, I head the 8-year-old saying, "I think you can get diabetes from a rat bite."
And Angel laughing, "No, that's not how diabetes works at all."


May your weekends be rat-free and may you have productive discussions on the types of diseases that can be acquired from animal bites!

P.S. No, we are not at all sure how a rat can rocket himself out of a drain and end up on the other side of the adjoining room either dead or unconscious. Potential theory is that he may have been scalded to death by the precise timing at which Mom had suddenly remembered to use the second pot of water she'd boiled, and the rat just happened to be venturing his way back in again at that moment. Maybe? Who knows. We're not expert rat-catchers, just accidental rat-killers. Maybe. We're not even sure if it was dead. 

P.P.S. If you've read The Cactus Who Craves a Hamburger, do you remember what the rat's name was? If you don't, go back and have a peek at the story. Clearly, I tend to use my favorite names again and again. ;)
04 September 2019

Homeschool Recommendations and Advice

Homeschool has always been a part of my life, ever since I was a wee preschooler in the 90s reciting the Declaration of Independence in front of my parents' gigantic box of a VHS video recorder.

In adult life, my involvement with homeschooling has been assisting with the teaching of my youngest sisters ever since moving back to live near my parents four years ago, along with looking forward to the more-structured school days to come with my Cyrus (and geeking out over our daily storytimes and sticker/paste/playdoh/coloring activities).

(The sum total of Cyrus's 'school' collection thus far [plus two shelves of storybooks below these--about half of which are in Spanish]--some of the books and games won't be used till some future date when he's old enough. The one shelf on the left is the Sonlight Preschool curriculum, which I received in exchange for contributing articles to their blog.)

We're a funny fit as a family into the "homeschool" world. I and my family have a lot of appreciation for all modes of education--Angel and I taught in a public high school in China, he currently teaches at a large private school, and I have three younger sisters either teaching or en route to getting their degrees in education and teaching licenses. But we also see a great deal of value in the homeschool lifestyle, in siblings and parents spending their days together, and in one-on-one parent-to-child education for kids who struggle to learn in a classroom setting. Most of our homeschool experience has been abroad, which has certainly colored our view as we've primarily known homeschool only outside of the American 'bubble' where it is more widespread. The homeschool system I grew up in focused strongly on academic challenge and mathematics and science, and college-preparatory programs. We used a variety of curricula for various subjects over the years, but Sonlight curriculum remained a constant throughout my own education--I appreciated the attention paid to the history of the wider world rather than that of the West alone, and the inclusion of books with non-Christian worldviews and the encouragement to think critically about how to respond to and engage with the material we learned. I know my homeschool education set me up well to thrive at the college I attended, and it's been a joy to return 'home' and help with educating my youngest sisters.

This year, I was granted the opportunity to begin writing articles for the Sonlight blog, certainly a dream come true for this girl! I wanted to collect the links to my articles thus far in one spot on my blog, and will continue to add to this list as more articles are released on their website.

Articles on the Sonlight blog:

When You Are Disappointed By Homeschool - Let's just begin with the dark side of homeschooling, shall we? It's been my life for 20+ years, and I've seen plenty of days that look nothing like instagram homeschool accounts. The best part of this article, in my opinion, is that every example I included of the homeschool day going wrong is nothing more nor less than a precise retelling of true events from my homeschool career. Either I or one of my siblings were the culprit in each case. They shall remain nameless, but you already know me, so it's too late for me.

5 Ways to Make Your Family Vacation More Educational - It may be an old cliche, but it's true, homeschool families are always looking for ways to make non-school days educational (you should have seen the kinds of presents we used to get for Christmas or our birthdays!). The habit is so ingrained I've even implemented educational strategies into a few of mine and Angel's getaways...because you're never too much on your honeymoon to learn, am I right?

4 Ways to get Dad Involved in the Homeschool Day - My own dad wasn't much able to be involved in my homeschooling career, due to his work and his education, but has had a little more flexibility to get involved with his youngest daughters' education and has learned to love reading with them. I've already figured out exactly what subject Angel will be in charge of: Spanish.

The Quandary of Second Generation Homeschoolers - We experimental children of the 80s and 90s who grew up homeschooled are now beginning to make educational decisions for our own children. This article talks about challenges specific to 2nd gen homeschoolers--torn between loyalty to our own upbringing and wanting to turn homeschooling upside down and backwards.

4 Ways to Coax Your Reluctant Writer out of Blank Page Paralysis - This may come as a shock to you, but I was never a reluctant writer. In fact, my first "book" was written around the age of 6 or 7 and was entitled "Cowboy" and was dedicated to my cowboy-obsessed little brother. For better or worse, I haven't stopped. I have discovered, though, as I homeschool others, that not all kids desire to write all the time. Who knew? These are some of the strategies I've been using to encourage writing over the past few years.

Bible Time: The Most Important Part of the Homeschool Day - Where I confess that as an arrogant teenager, I once thought that my own impressive list of schoolwork responsibilities (calculus, AP Physics, and the like) ought to take precedent over Mom's lengthy Bible class. I have since learned that I didn't know as much as I thought I once did...

3 Reasons Homeschool Works for Families Living Overseas - Most of my own family's homeschool experience has been overseas, here are a few of the motivating factors behind our lifestyle choice.

5 Tips for Homeschool Organization in Small Spaces - Ideas for how to make homeschool work when you're living in an urban apartment and don't have a whole lot of square footage to make use of!

Keys to Foreign Language Proficiency for the Homeschool Family - How can you ensure that the foreign language you are teaching in your homeschool is really going to "stick" in years to come?

And one article featured on Life of a Homeschool Mom:

Is Lapbooking Right for Your Homeschool? - Lapbooking is a new addition to our homeschool in the past year, this is a look at some of the pros and cons and who this activity might suit the best.

This article is found on Homeschool Giveaways:

When Your Child Refuses to Learn - Discussing the options and tools we have at our disposal when a child is fiercely resisting learning a specific skill.


Let me know if you have any questions about our homeschool methods or any topics you'd suggest that I write about. Such ideas are most heartily welcomed!