Tuesday, December 29, 2009


text later

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Christmas Eve

For Christmas Eve we had planned to go into Manhattan and ride a carriage but we stopped at Rockefeller Plaza first.


Hannah took this pic.


The tree and the main entrance to 30 Rock is behind them.

Posted by Picasa


The Empire State Building had red and green lights. Also in the background is the entrance to Macy's.

Posted by Picasa

So while we were at 30 Rock, there was a guy promoting a Cirque du Soleil afternoon show. We got tickets for all three of us for less than the regular price of 1 ticket. It was Wintuk shown at Madison Square Garden. What a great memory. We went home tired and happy with our first NYC Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our First NYC Snow

Hannah was eager to play in the snow. We got about a foot of very fluffy, very hard to walk in snow. Friends advised us not to try to walk the 11 blocks to Prospect Park and the really cool sled hills because no one had shoveled their sidewalks yet and it would wear us down to try to get anywhere. So we went to the park near us with a little friend and put snow on the slide and the girls "sledded" down the slide. They made a little snowman, but the snow was so dry that it was hard to make it hold together. Soon we were all very cold and we went home for hot chocolate.

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 18, 2009

Q & A

Gretchen asked:
Edward and Gretchen has left a new comment on your post "Baby it's cold outside":

He is so stinkin cute!!! How is he doing? How much does he weigh? What is he like? Sleeping? Are his eyes brown, I can't tell? Is Paul a baby hog or does he share? We need the life of Elijah update.

Amber responds:
Elijah is doing great! He weighed in at 9.5 pounds the other day. He is still taking donated breast milk and loving it. Heather Jo just picked up some milk from a friend in Dallas for when we visit in a couple of weeks. That way I don't have to deal with TSA trying to make me drink it or something like that when we go through airport security.

He's a very happy baby. He is smiling lots. He has found his hands, but he hits himself in the head often. I guess that's normal. He laughs at Hannah and he likes to have his toes and ears tickled. Paul loves to see him smile. Elijah's eyes are still blue. I've heard that sometimes babies' eyes can change colors after a few months, but his are stuck on blue. And he sleeps about 4-5 hours at night and takes a few naps during the day. He likes to be in the baby wrap and he passes out right away in there.

I am sure that all moms think their baby is the cutest in the world, but I just happen to be right.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Tree

This tree fits nicely in our apartment.

Posted by Picasa

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Hannah bought

Hannah used her birthday money from Grandma Cheryl, Greatmother, and Anthony to get this fun DS game. She's really enjoying it.

Baby it's cold outside

Elijah's coat. He's smiling lots now.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Teaching Hannah - educational gadgets, videos, websites, games, and MP3s

I want to start with a disclaimer to say that I am not getting any royalties, commission, or any other type of compensation from anything I am about to list.

I try to only have toys that reinforce learning concepts we're working on. Same for DVDs, Kids' TV shows, and websites Hannah surfs. I want her to be surrounded with opportunities to learn.

So my favorite gadget to date has been Leap Frog's Leapster. Heather Jo loaned us one for a car trip and WOW did it make the trip more pleasant. I bought a couple for the house and all the kids had a grand old time. I also found a couple of various types of LeapFrog Twist and Shout toys at the thrift store. Those are pretty awesome too. We also like LeapFrog's Bank. But that one has been discontinued. I think maybe the person at Fox who canceled Arrested Development and Worst Week went to work at LeapFrog and pulled the plug on my beloved bank. But that's a different story...

I mentioned some other great LeapFrog products in my reading post.

Our latest gadget acquisition is a Nintendo DSI. I have only gotten educational games for her like My Chinese Coach, Animal Genius, and My Personal Trainer: Math. There are tons of educational games available for the DSI. Sometimes I play the language games when Hannah's asleep and I'm feeding the baby.

Videos and TV:

We like to watch Mei Mei and Me videos to learn Chinese. Signing Time was on PBS for a season and we still have several episodes on the Tivo. Little Einsteins is actually pleasant because of the classical music and art. Sid the Science Kid is a great little show. And don't post comments about how Sid's the devil because of the Sid gets a shot episode. All the other episodes have been great. Zoboomafoo is a good one to have in the rotation too. And I already mentioned Curious George. We don't watch all of this every day. But if Hannah watches something during the day, its one of these shows.


Hannah has her own gmail account so that I can sign her into the google toolbar. All her incoming emails are forwarded to my account. She has only her favorites available on the toolbar. She calls it the "Hannah Star" and she doesn't even know that you can type in a web address. Lately she's really enjoyed this Signing Time youtube playlist. One day I will figure out how to make my own youtube playlist, but this will do until then. Don't freak out. Hannah's not allowed on the computer unless we're in the room with her. She often surfs at the kitchen table while I'm cooking. She still enjoys Starfall. That site has good stuff for many age groups. Here's a fun typing website.


Shut the box is a fun game the Goodalls introduced us to. Hannah loves Blokus and Blokus 3D. Cranium Triple Triumph is another good one as well as Sequence States and Capitals.

CDs and MP3s:

Ellen, did you notice I didn't make CDs and MP3s possessive? That was just for you.

Hannah can memorize almost anything she listens to a couple of times. I try to take full advantage of that and find educational CDs and MP3s for her to listen to. In Dallas, it made a bigger difference than here though because we had the van and she was a captive audience in there. Here, I often have various MP3s going, but they seem to be more backgroundish to her and she isn't activley listening like she was in the van. Geography Songs is catchy and fun. Here's a fun addition MP3. Seeds has yet to come out with a song that I don't like. This is very well done music, mostly scriptures. And it really sticks with you. I find myself singing these verses and being encouraged throughout the day. I have classical music playing in the background while Hannah's doing her schoolwork though.

If anyone out there has more suggestions for cool educational gadgets, videos, websites, games, and MP3s, please share!

Teaching Hannah - motivation

If left to herself Hannah would spend the day watching Curious George while she folds foil into interesting shapes or sorts things and stuffs them into bags. I have no idea why she likes George. She doesn't want to play with Curious George toys. She just wants to watch him on TV. As far as cartoons go, it's ok. The background music is jazzy and soothing, not all hyper and irritating. He's not disrespectful and he can't talk, so he doesn't lie like other cartoon characters that have been banished from the Tivo list. But watching George won't prep her for those CLEP tests that are a big part of the grand plan. So we have to find a way to get her motivated.

She is a very smart kid. But she can be quite stubborn. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we pray each night that the kids will enjoy learning. If I go head to head with her and make each lesson a battle, no one enjoys anything and she ends up dreading her lessons. I have also learned that Hannah will work FOR a goal much more easily than she will work to avoid a consequence. I remember when she was potty training. She'd ask for something and I'd tell her that she could have it as soon as she went potty. And it worked.

I use this same technique with school. She gets little rewards for completing lessons and a big reward for completing the day's work. These rewards are often things only Hannah cares about, like checking the mail. She loves to check the mail and she can hear it when Miss Julia comes in the front door and opens up the community mail box. Hannah goes nuts and runs for the keys. So now, Hannah can only check the mail if she's completed all her school work for the day. Some folks might accuse me of bribing. I call it teaching her delayed gratification. Plus, I don't care what you call it, if she'll do her work and enjoy it along the way, I'm all for it.

Hannah also loves getting a bagel from Has Beans in the morning. This has nothing to do with the bagel. What she wants is to go to Has Beans and greet her fans. Her math work was getting to be a source of contention for her plus she was getting into trouble first thing in the morning each day because she would wake up demanding to know the plan for the day. She doesn't care about my plan. She wants to argue with me and try to convince me that we should go to Has Beans, Target, the park, and come home to watch Curious George. So now the plan is this. Wake up, groom herself, dress, and get right to work on math. If she can complete her math WITHOUT COMPLAINING before it's time to walk to the corner with Paul, she can have a bagel. This will hopefully eliminate two of her biggest bad attitude temptations, the temptation to fuss about the day's plan, and the temptation to fuss about doing homework.

So the first day we tried this was Tuesday. She complained throughout her assignment except for the last 5 problems. When she asked if she could have a bagel, I threw Paul under the bus by telling her to ask her Baba what he thinks. When he told her she didn't make the cut that day, she was devastated. What a HARD daddy moment. But he pulled it off beautifully. When she wasn't around he said I had turned him into a sitcom dad who is melted by a sad little girl's tearful "please." Yesterday she sailed through her math. Today she did well too so I hope this keeps working.

There are days like today that Hannah zooms through her work with very little complaining or distractions. Sure, there were times during reading (I have her read to me while I am feeding the baby) that I'd look away and look back to find she had put a shoe on her head or she was almost completely upside-down and she required some readjusting, but for the most part, she hunkered down and did her work.

But there are other days when she is quite distracted. We break things into smaller chunks on those days and give little rewards for each task completed. Like she will get to watch a little bit of C. George or play with a new piece of foil or something. And I constantly remind her of a big reward that will await the completed school day - like mail time or something else she's wild about.

One more trick I've learned is to offer her choices. I select twice as much work as I intend for her to do and I give her choices for each lesson. Somehow, this helps her embrace the lesson a little better. She is given choices about each part of the process from what color marker she will use to which math sheet she will do. She can't make a wrong choice. Each choice leads to the same end result, but it she seems to feel a little more included in the plan and she gets a kick out of it. Sometimes she tries to talk me into a completely off the wall choice, like C. George or something, but I remind her that's a reward, not a choice and she eventually makes a choice that leads to progress.

Even though she often has other plans for the day, she's proud of her learning. She loves it that she can read most anything now and she feels so grown up. It is so rewarding to me to get to watch her learn and grow. I posted a comment on a friend's fb wall the other day that teaching Hannah has been the best DIY project I've ever undertaken!

Teaching Hannah - Math

Hannah completed the Math U See Primer last year. This helped her learn to use the manipulatives. These manipulatives teach her to see how the addends work together to form the sum so well. We aren't doing any store bought math curriculum right now. We are focusing on memorizing her math facts. She does a worksheet with 130 problems on it each morning. She has her manipulatives handy and she knows just what to do. She does the exact same worksheet every day. It's in a page protector and she uses her trusty dry erase marker. She is required to correct any mistakes and she gets a little reward if she does her work with a good attitude. Once she masters the problems on that sheet and can do them all by heart, I will make her a new worksheet to conquer.

I will address how I motivate her in a different post. But she does require MOTIVATION, unlike JoJo who probably snuck a workbook, pencil, and flashlight to bed with her last night.

In addition to the worksheet, I always have flash cards with me and we often do them on the subway. We also play math games. I will tell you about that in a later post about educational gadgets, games, and websites.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This kid stole MY plan!

My plan at work. This sums up my plan - I mean right down to the degree from Thomas Edison State College! This is my lofty plan for the kids' schooling, undergrad anyway. I like to say that if you're going to study something, you might as well study it to the point you can pass a CLEP and get credit for it. And Paul says that even if the school they end up at doesn't accept CLEP tests, the kids will have the confidence that comes in knowing they can pass a college level test. She's a little early in her execution of the plan though. I wasn't planning on the kids taking their first CLEP until age 10. I am glad to have this kid paving the way. I will probably still sound like a weirdo when describing my plan to Joe*, the 50 something year old perennial college student at the coffee shop. But now I know that I am not alone and I can tell Joe* all about it when he tries to proselytize me with stories about how great PS 321 was when his kid went 12 years ago.

* Name has been changed to somewhat obscure his identity although anyone whose ever had coffee at Has Beans more than twice knows exactly who I am talking about. So I don't know why I bothered.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Teaching Hannah - Reading

Hannah's reading has really taken off in the last couple of months. But this did not happen overnight. It has been a process that has been years in the making. When we first got home from China, Hannah and I would sit at the computer and play at Starfall.com. Vicki Miller introduced me to this site years ago and we have really enjoyed it. Hannah learned to click on the letters herself and she was delighted. She learned to sign "apple" for "A" from this site and she would pull on my hand and sign "apple" and point to to computer to try to convince me that it was computer time. We also had Leap Frog's Fridge Words
on the fridge which Hannah and all the cousins made good use of. Then a neighbor changed our lives and gave us a Leap Frog Letter Factory DVD. The older cousins knew all their letters and sounds and this reinforced them while the younger cousins learned all their letters and sounds very quickly. We bought the follow up DVDs Word Factory and Code Word Caper and everyone learned basic reading in a flash!

Hannah still wasn't convinced that reading was the best use of her time though. There were cousins to be played with and backpacks to fill with random toys and carry around, dominoes to sort etc. Each day for school we had to use the same technique for reading as for writing - her in my lap, my legs on hers, my hands on her hands. And we had to be somewhat isolated to keep distractions at bay. It was still a struggle to get her to look at the words but I would make the first sound and she'd look because she was curious and we'd work though it even though she would say "I want to be done." A couple times per page. For new books, I would read them with her the first time and she'd read them by herself the second time. By books, I mean level 1 Bob books to start out with. Now she can read pretty much anything if she focuses. After she finished reading, she got a couple of MMs. Me too. Yum!

In Dallas we had only 1 car and we'd take Paul to and from work. We'd do flash cards and reading while we waited for him to come down to the car. We also did flash cards with the cousins and made all sorts of games out of that. This is tricky with her. JJ is fast and focused and he can read anything. Paul says "How do you know JJ's been to your house? There's peanut butter all over your Wall Street Journal." And JoJo was also a very early reader. So there was lots of competition. If Hannah managed to focus and win a card she'd celebrate and look around to see who all noticed her victory. By the time she looked back the other 2 cousins had won several cards and she would despair. But this was a good opportunity to train her to be gracious and we worked through it little by little.

Now she wants to read. She uses a combination of sounding things out and memorizing those weird words like head, laugh, neighbor, etc. She loves the story of Esther and she looks for it in her Bible story books. She reads it over and over. She is learning the 10 commandments for Bible class and she can read pretty much any word in the Exodus 20 NIV 10 commandments. She is very excited about all this. She still gets a little lazy sometimes and just wants to guess at words but, if she concentrates, she can read anything that has a regular phonetic pronunciation. We are quite proud of her progress!

Hannah's 7th Birthday

Hannah turned seven this past Wednesday. She's been looking forward to this for weeks. My sister's daughter JoJo looks forward to turning seven too. She's presently 5. But JoJo plans her birthday parties in advance. Every time I talk to that girl she's planning her birthday. And every time I see her she's making a list of who to invite or what the theme should be. Hannah's never really cared about her birthday like that. On her birthday last year we asked her where she'd like to go for her birthday and she said "Schlotzsky's." We called a a few relatives and 18 people showed up at Schlotzsky's.

This year is different as we aren't so close to relatives. Her birthday fell on a Wednesday which was AWESOME as far as she's concerned because Wednesday is co-op day. Co-op is 5 miles from our apartment. But using the MTA it takes an hour to get there. We ride 2 trains and walk for 11 blocks unless we're lucky enough to catch the bus as we exit the subway station. Cake and cupcakes were out of the question as they wouldn't survive the trip. So we made little candy grab bags for everyone at co-op. We made them 2 weeks ago because she was so excited about it. They sang "Happy Birthday" to her in her drama class and she giddily passed out candy to everyone she saw. She told everyone on the subway that it was her birthday and she finished the day off at her favorite restaurant, No Strollers (Toby's), where Miss Chris gave her a special table near the kitchen and her own ice cream.

Here Hannah is showing off the card her buddy Anthony in Corsicana sent to her along with 5 dollars. The card is a noisy card that says "Happy Birthday." She LOVES it.

Hannah made herself a gift bag. She loves aluminum foil. She also loves tape. She taped bits of foil to the bag and colored the patches with markers. Looks great to me.

I wrapped her gifts in foil. That was like having bonus gifts as far as she's concerned. Pastor Matthew at Trinity Church Dallas sent up a DVD of video taken during this year's VBS. And she got a new game for her DS.

The next day Hannah got a package from Miss Brenda. It had 2 crazy awesome outfits.

Posted by Picasa

Then today we got a couple more cards. The one from Grandma Cheryl had money!!! $7 from her and $7 from Greatmother. We didn't get a picture of that $ yet, but I wanted to get these pics up since I'm being harassed by Stephanie Mac. We will be in Dallas at the end of the month/beginning of next month and Hannah and JoJo will share a proper birthday party with cake and relatives and friends and such. I don't know the details - I'm leaving them in JoJo's capable hands.

Hannah signs "Thank you" for all the gifts.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Teaching Hannah - writing

For a few days I've been thinking of a post about how I homeschool Hannah. This has very little to do with where we live, but its on my mind so I will write some things down for you. It could be that you have a little student with a learning style similar to Hannah's and you find a trick that will help you, or that you've discovered a trick I haven't and you tell me and I write a new post next week about how your trick has revolutionized our lives. I will break this up into separate posts about different aspects of the process so you don't get bored.

Hannah is a very active child. I used to say that she was like the very active and independent Gerald character in Sid the Science Kid. Now I am thinking that comparing Hannah to the Matrix's Neo would be more accurate - she's just so fast and I am not. She is easily distracted and when I am tempted to get frustrated I try to keep in mind that there are probably some underlying developmental and sensory issues left over from her 2 years of living in an orphanage.

One thing that has has developed on a different pace than many kids we know is the desire to color or write. I remember how Autumn (one of the cousins who lived with us for 3.5 years) used to write anything just to write. She'd copy the ingredients from the cereal box just to have something to write - seriously! And Joshua (Autumn's brother) and his ambidextrous self decided to write one day and then he was writing with both hands. There were times that all of the cousins would be at the table coloring and copying cereal ingredients, you know fun stuff, and Hannah would be way more interested in moving the crayons from bag to bag than coloring.

One thing that helped her along was getting those coloring pages with the raised felt and markers that helps kids stay in the lines, you know, they are in the dollar section at Target all the time. She likes the dollar section and she'd always at least put a little color on the pages before she turned her attention to chewing the markers.

This leads me to another residual effect of having lived in an institution for 2 years. Hannah is constantly chewing things. I have put all kinds of bitter things on her favorite chew victims, but this leads to her finding chew things that are even more inappropriate and to Paul getting a big dose of bitter when he goes to gnaw on his pens that have gotten mixed up with Hannah's. So I try to have things that she can chew on that are less likely to kill her than the random things I fish out of her mouth. Little plastic eating utensils or straws work well.

Because of the chewing issue, pencils don't last long here. What seems to work well for Hannah is dry erase markers. There are several reasons for this. First, Hannah just likes dry erase better. She thinks it's fun.

Let me take a break from the details here and talk about making things fun. We actually pray each night that the kids will enjoy learning. I'm not going to hire a math clown or anything, but if dry erase markers go over better, I will use them. If she gets a kick out of funny colors of ink or paper, I will use them.

Back to dry erase markers. So it has taken Hannah a long time to want to write. This time last year I remember that everything she wrote was actually traced. I would write out her memory verse on a handwriting tablet and she'd trace it. She would sit in my lap, with my legs over hers, and my left hand on hers and my right hand on her forearm and she'd write. I also tried putting ankle weights on her lap and her legs. This is because she squirms so much that I honestly think she had no idea that her foot was behind her ear and it's just really hard to get your writing done with your foot up there. I had to teach her how to sit and give her body the sensory cues to settle down. Lots of work, but it paid off. Now I write her memory verse for the week on a piece of tablet paper and put it in a page protector sleeve and she traces it with a dry erase marker and she likes it. There are days when she squirms and I put her in my lap, but those days are the exception now, not the rule.

Another advantage to the dry erase markers is that corrections are easy if you make a mistake. Hannah HATES making mistakes. She gets really upset and frustrated. With a pen, the evidence of the mistake lingers and she looks back at it and scolds herself. Pencils are just out of the question since the erasers were ingested long ago. So dry erase markers are perfect! If she makes a mistake, she wipes it away with her thumb and moves on with her life. No big deal!

All this has been discovered by trial and error. It has helped that we like to cruise Target for fun and we look for things that might spice up school time and are cheap. But it seems to have paid off. The other day she wrote something on her own, just because she wanted to. What a day! Now she is trying to spell things all the time and she is more adventurous in her writing. She is starting to color more too. She's so proud of herself and I am proud of her too.