Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The grace seat

Does anyone know the statute of limitations on a child-imposed gag order?

Me neither. But I'm pretty sure it has run out. If not, just don't tell those involved and no one will get hurt.

In the spring, The Good Doctor and I attended an adoption summit. We split up during the break-out sessions so we could get more bang for our buck. I attended a session on loving your hard-to-love child. The speaker was excellent as was the topic. At the end of the session she held a question and answer time. Since she has a large household with many personalities and issues resulting from kids from hard places, one of the questions that came up was about handling sibling conflicts. I took copious notes as she answered, knowing that this was going to be a great idea to try out at home.

It didn't take long before I had my chance. I stalled the two offenders just long enough to grab my notebook for a hidden refresher course.  And then we began...

First, I sent the two children (for simplicity's sake, let's just call them Child A and Child B) to the grace seat. In your home, it may be called a love seat, or even a sofa, but thanks to this wonderful speaker, we now have a grace seat.

Next, I gave Child A and Child B a list of questions that they were to discuss together while on the grace seat and told them to let me know when they were ready to discuss.  The list of questions, again thanks to the speaker (or at least to the best of my note-taking abilities), were as follows:

1. What happened?
2. How did you feel?
3. What was your part?
4. What do you need to apologize for?
5. What would you do differently next time?

Lo, and behold, it worked. They discussed together, they called me when ready, the three of us had a delightfully eye-opening conversation, and we were ready to continue our day...

...when Child A blurted out, "You can't tell your parenting class about this."

Child B added, "Or Facebook."

And the final blow from Child A, "And not on your blog, either."

But like I said, I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out.

*With thanks to Susan Hillis for this most excellent idea.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Clean genes

When I was growing up, we didn't worry so much about killing trees and catalogs came in the mail a-plenty. My favorite catalog, by far, was the Lillian Vernon catalog. I guess it was the variety that kept my interest. A quick google search found that Lillian is still going strong; she kept up with the times and went online.

One day, when looking through my mom's newest catalog, I saw a cookbook with 101 ways to cook zucchini. Not wanting to find those little green specks in anything else my mother cooked, I found myself a black marker and carefully placed a nice big X over that product and in my best typewriter looking handwriting wrote, "Out of Stock."

One day, another item caught my eye. It was a little soap squisher, invented so that you never again had to waste that tiny little end of the soap. My mom, being the thrifty mom that she was, always saved the ends of the soap. I don't know if she had a plan for them or not. Maybe she was hoping that someday someone would get the hint and buy her that soap squisher from Lillian Vernon so she could maker herself a nice round "bar" of soap ends.

Being thrifty myself, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Who needed to buy a soap squisher when you could just melt the soap down, put it into some type of mold and make a new bar of soap? Yes, I know that soap doesn't melt - now - but not when I was a wee little thing. So one day when we were left home alone, I convinced my brother to help me melt those little soap ends.

It didn't work. The house smelled like burning soap which smells nothing like Dove or Ivory or any other soap bar for that matter. Despite opening all the windows in the house, it still smelled when my parents got home so the secret was out. And there was no longer any need to buy the soap squisher from Lillian Vernon because my mom no longer saved her soap ends.

Fast forward about 35+ years and I've discovered that there must be a clean gene or a soap gene and even though all of my biological children look decidedly like Kings, they have inherited more than bad eyesight and overcrowded mouths from me; at least one of my children has inherited that fascination with soap. And the flawed thought processes when it comes to creating with the substance.

Last week a friend taught a lesson in hygiene to her children and my youngest family members as well. The lesson culminated in the making of soap, using a kit (no soap squishers here). After they had left, we discovered that one of the bowls that had contained melted soap maker (don't worry - this kind was supposed to be melted), still had some soap residue. One ingenious child, the one who inherited the soap gene from me, took it upon herself to remelt this soap stuff. That would have been fine except she also decided that it needed some coloring. Since our friend had taken the rest of her kit home, including the soap-approved colors, my child decided to use food coloring.

Yes, soap made out of food coloring. The stuff that discolors hands and kitchen counters and everything else it touches.

Thankfully I found the soap before it was used on any bodies. We can all breath a sigh of relief.

I can't wait to see if this child's future children also inherit the clean gene!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The creative inventor

Our last family night was all about inventing. Two children were involved in the planning of this party with each child clearly showing their own strengths. Shoun was in charge of the food theme and Eden - everything else. Together they decided on macaroni and cheese. Shoun googled "creative macaroni and cheese." He settled upon Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese. This idea was nixed by him and he didn't admit until it was too late that it was because he didn't know how to make pulled pork. Silly boy, if you know how to google the idea in the first place, maybe google can tell you how to make pulled pork.

No problem, though, because his partner is the master of creativity and ideas. She took over from here. Since they decided upon inventions as their theme, she decided that each family member could invent his or her own macaroni and cheese. Having a concert that day, I helped her with most of the work ahead of time so that we could start as soon as we came home from the 4PM concert.

We put the macaroni and cheese in the crockpot. She also cubed ham, baked the bacon ahead of time and crumbled it, cooked and cut hot dogs, cut scallions, crushed chips (regular, Bar-B-Q and Doritos for good measure), made sure we had extra cheese, salsa, hot sauce, and ketchup. There weren't any options in the way of vegetables but you have to take the inventor of the meal into consideration; Eden is my pickiest eater. We did add some left-over cooked broccoli at the last minute.

In between dinner and dessert she paired up the family members and gave them a quiz that she had prepared. They were given a time limit to look up the answer on the internet. Questions like, Who invented the toilet? For what purpose was bubble wrap originally invented? When were Crayola Crayons invented? She made this quiz all on her own as well as the prizes.

Dessert was, of course, Invent Your Own Ice Cream Sundae.

And her movie of choice was Meet the Robinsons.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Back to the future

Because I grew up on Back to the Future, I'm well-versed in what it means when your family starts to fade. I haven't, however, been able to figure out which of my children was involved in time travel and was signifacantly altering our family's configuration.

But no fears, all is now well.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Like winning the lottery

I just love these emails.

Good day.

Hello, My name is Ms. Prisca Ark, I hope this email will not bother you? I'm from Canada, a dying widow suffering from cancer leukemia and has decided to donate some of my wealth to a reliable individual or cooperate Organization that will use my finance in the amount of $7,200,000.00 Million for charity work because i don't have any child to inherit the fund when am no more alive, So if you are also interested and willing to accept this offer and do exactly as I will instruct, kindly reply back to me for more explanations

Prisca Ark.

Such exotic names, especially those Canadian ones like Prisca Ark. Do you think it's more French Canadian or from the coast? Such concern for my well-being, so thoughtfully asking if I am bothered by this email. And poor souls, always doing their best with the English language.  How terribly difficult it must to write in English for Canadians, living so far from English language speakers as they are.

I got so excited when this came into my inbox today. I just had to forward it to The Good Doctor immediately and ask him if this might be God's answer to my prayer for funds for our next adoption. Seriously, now, just look at all those zeros.

Oh, pick your jaw up off the floor. I'm not that crazy.

I know very well that Canadians don't really say, "Kindly reply back to me for more explanations."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The poor orphaned vole

Once upon a time there was a vole in my laundry room. Alas, it was unable to tell us its tale so we may never know exactly how or why it ended up in my laundry room. But let me surmise...

The vole, poor little soul, was an orphan. Hearing that the Mrs. of that barn-looking house on the curve had a soft spot for orphans, he decided to give it a try. One day when the garage door was open, he made a run for it and made it. Hours later the big garage door slid down and shut and he realized that the first step had been accomplished. A day or two later, he noticed a child enter the garage from the next room. It appeared to be a small room, a laundry room possibly. To his great delight, that child neglected to shut the door into that room. Under cover of darkness, and with an entrance so easily provided to him, he entered the room which did, indeed turn out to be a laundry room. He enjoyed the warmth of this room for a few days while figuring out how to get up the few steps into the next room of the house. Suddenly, the door at the top of those steps opened and a young but beautiful girl dumped a whole load of laundry onto the floor of the laundry room. He hid behind the washer just in time but  realized that if he didn't make it into the next room by nightfall, the bottom of this pile would make for a cozy place to sleep the night away. Unfortunately, for him, the members of this household do not seem to notice a pile of laundry on the floor and tend to step right on the pile as they go back and forth through the laundry room.

As I mentioned earlier, all points in that last paragraph are but conjecture since the poor vole is decidedly deceased and unable to give us an accurate account. I, however, happened upon the scene at this point and can provide all sorts of sordid details.

Saturday morning, laundry day, I was up bright and early to start on this awesome task. Two washers were complete and the clothes were ready to be taken outside. I was working on getting that third load into the washer when my handful of clothes actually found that I had reached the bottom of the pile. I could see floor! But then I spotted a brown mass of something. Knowing that my children like to collect everything in the room along with the laundry (this is clearly much easier than separating trash from toys from doll clothes from actual laundry), dump it on the floor of the laundry room (rather than in the baskets provided although admittedly, they are often overflowing even when used), and let me sort through it all, my immediate thought was that it was something that I needed to deposit in the trash. I bent down to pick it up and thought,

Are those legs?

No, can't be legs. I bent down again.

Is that a tail?

Definitely a tail.

No, can't be a tail.

Isaaaaaaaaaaaaacccccccc, can you come here a minute, please? What does that look like to you? Would you concur that it was once a living thing?

He concurred. I turned off the light, shut the door, and halted my laundry endeavors for the time being.

The Good Doctor disposed of the poor orphaned creature when he came home.

If only the vole had just shown up at the door and asked for a home instead of sneaking in.

Moral of the story: God gave you a mouth, use it.

Alternate moral of the story: Never step on a pile of dirty laundry.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some days...

Some days are like that. Even in Australia.

I woke up at 2:00 because someone was snoring very loudly. I couldn't fall back to sleep.

I found a half-eaten bag of almonds on the floor. I picked it up and mentioned to the Good Doctor that it was a good thing the dog apparently didn't like almonds. I assumed that since the bag was not empty, the dog had not sampled and gorged himself. I was wrong. Later in the day as Isaac and I were having a conversation over baking cookies, the dog did his business right there on the floor beside us. I'll spare you the details but yes, almonds were involved.

I drove by Panera Bread and decided to treat myself. The kind lady at the register told me that I had a free soup on my Panera card. Sure, I'd love some soup with my chai. But the chai dropped out of my hand as I opened the front door. I came in, put the soup on the table, went into the laundry room because a mom's work is never done...and returned to find our formerly blonde dog now a nice calico red and blonde. The soup container, of course, was empty.

During his nap time, Victor found out that he had grown and could now reach the window shade. No, I don't have cords hanging from my shades. I may be an over-the-hill mother but I'm not that stupid. Let's just say that the shade used to have a bottom section with a piece of wood going through, to hold onto when pulling but it no longer has a bottom portion. And the reason his bed was this close to the window? I had moved it away from the wall where Mr. Victor was playing with the pictures. So he decided to play with the shade. I threatened to move his crib to the middle of the room. He promised to stop getting into trouble.

The phone rang off the hook today. The land line rarely rings. One of the phone calls was from a certain child's bus driver. My heart sank. I thought the worst. This child can't get kicked off the bus; I don't have time to drive all the way to the other side of Harrisburg and back. Twice. Daily. She was calling to tell me that this child wears too much deodorant and it gives her a headache. Now, before you assume that this employee of the bus service should have more serious things to worry about, let me provide some background. I have told this child the same thing, more than once. In fact, I have come to believe that this child wears this much of this kind of deodorant simply because it gives me a headache. I have refused to replace the empty deodorant bar with the same kind so the child simply coerced the Good Doctor into going shopping to buy another when the time came. Now we get to have a delightful conversation about hygiene; not the lack thereof, but the super-indulgence of. It does beg the question, if it's not the enjoyment of giving me a headache that motivates the caking on of scent, is there someone who we are trying to impress?

My teenagers have not been very responsible about school information. And somehow I did not receive a school calendar this year and my friends have given me mixed reviews about whether or not such a document actually exists. So I had to consult Facebook to find out what time Back-to-School night was to begin. I then had to decide which child's schedule I wanted to follow. Do I play favorites? Or do I try to guess which teacher is most judgmental and would peg me as an uninvolved parent if I don't show up to receive the same papers that my child brought home on the first day of school? Or maybe I just follow the junior's schedule since the senior has two periods of internship followed by more study halls than a football playing slacker? I chose the junior. All she had to do at this point was send me to her advisory group. She knew his name (good thing) but sent me to the wrong room. The correct room, mind you, was on the other side of the building. The math teacher tried to convince me that algebra is understandable to all students. I didn't audibly argue with her; just in my head. Then in choir, someone forgot to inform the choir director that maybe, just maybe, not all of his students got their vocal talents from their parents. Or maybe, just maybe, the parent who passed along the musical genes just happens to feign an allergy to Back-to-School night? He made us sing. But the chemistry teacher blew something up, a prelude to my child's Fire Friday spectacle. So maybe that made up for everything else?

And then I took some silly little time-wasting quiz on Facebook, Which song was written about you?  Survey says... Wild Thing.

Ummmmm, no, I don't think so. No one has ever used those two words as descriptors of me. Maybe it was referring to my day?

Note: These may or may not have all happened in the same day but since a day is like a thousand years... and it made for a better story this way, too.

Always look on the bright side of life...

Monday, September 8, 2014

Freedom and sacrifice

"Remember that your home may be a safe place, your church may be a safe place, your community may even be a safe place, but to many people in this country, your son is always going to be seen as Trayvon Martin."

These words were spoken into the packed break-out session of an adoption conference that The Good Doctor and I attended, the title of the session being, Can Black and White Mix? While we knew many of the realities of being a transracial family, no one had ever put it so bluntly before, at least not in our presence. So far, we have not dealt with face-to-face racism due to our multi-colored family and neither have our children. We are thankful that for our son at least, he has Kenyan relatives who can speak from personal experience and can help him navigate the world in which he lives. Because we do know people who have been followed around in stores, their only crime being that a white father brought his black teen-age son. Just today a fellow adoptive mom posted an incident that happened to her at Wal-mart. The store's alarm appeared to be malfunctioning and was going off as each customer left the building. This mother, at the store with her biracial child, watched as the caucasian greeter allowed each person to leave with a wave of his hand, until it was her turn. Everything was searched from bags to pockets, hers and her daughter's. After leaving, she chose to watch for a period of time to see if she had been imagining the discrimination. To her horror, every single white customer was allowed to leave without a problem. Another mixed family was searched as well as an African American mother and son. Yes, it happens. We can't ignore it.

Today we took some of the children to Gettysburg. No matter how many times I visit Gettysburg, I am sobered not only by the reality of some of the reasons for the battles that made the town famous, of what took place there and the human lives lost, but also by the reality that if the battles had ended differently, the lives of some of my children could be drastically different.

While browsing in the bookstore at one of the museums, I came across a picture book titled, Most Loved in All the World. The story, of a slave woman who gave her child to others so that she could begin the journey to freedom, was heart-wrenching. It was the "Author's Note to Parents and Educators" that compelled me to buy the book.  It reads:

"Although it might be hard for some people to understand how a mother could send a child off into the unknown without her, it was a common fact of slavery. Even in our modern times, for so many reasons, women are forced to do the same - give up their children for adoption or put them into foster care - not because they do not love the child, but often because they simply do not live in conditions in which they can give the child the life he or she deserves. In a way, these mothers place their love and value for their children's future over their own feelings. When I wrote this story, I envisioned a woman, a spy and secret agent on the Underground Railroad, a woman who valued freedom so much that she would desire her child's more than her own. Because the lives of the enslaved were so uncertain, for this woman there could be no false hope of reuniting, although she would desperately want to. Her only concern is that her daughter grows up free and far from the bonds of slavery. Although the documented history about the Underground Railroad has been cloaked, I believe there might have been many 'secret agents' like the mother in this book who sacrificed being with their children for the greater good. I think that the hope in this story is that the little girl gets a chance at freedom knowing that her mother loved her and was unselfish enough to give her that chance even if it meant that they'd never see each other again..." Tonya Cherie Hegamin

This was a perspective I had never thought of before. I realized that this book would not only give me an avenue for helping my younger children understand the plight of slaves but that it would also give me a vehicle for talking about birth parents and the extreme sacrifice that they make. Not a day goes by that we don't think about the birth families of our children. They hurt, they grieve. They continue to live in the conditions which forced them to make the ultimate sacrifice; helping their children gain freedom.

Freedom doesn't come without sacrifice. Oh how our hearts break for the women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their children. We pray for our birth families. We honor them. We love them.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Science with Mom or Dad

Okay, this is for everyone who keeps asking how to educate your children about the facts of life...
You have to first understand the irony of people asking me this question as there are certain words and topics that I have always had difficulty discussing. My brother would purposely walk around the house naming body parts just to cause me to blush. A psychotherapist could earn a lot of money trying to figure out all the whys and roots of my innocence but it is what it is. So when God gave us two boys first, I came up with this wonderful plan: The Good Doctor would do the bulk of the sex education with our boys and I would take the girls. Since there weren't any girls, I thought I was safe.  I was wrong.

Now, before you start composing your letters warning me that both parents must model and teach healthy sexuality in the home and that it can't be left to just one parent or to limited times in a child's life, let me assure you that I have done my part with both the male and female children and we do try to maintain open communication at all times. But when it comes down to some actual teaching of the birds and bees and mens-of-the-nation, we do make sure we cover our bases by using a book series and we do separate into male parent/male child or female parent/female child subgroups. This is to make the child more comfortable. Or maybe it's to make Mom more comfortable. Either way, it works for us.

After The Good Doctor had a few successful rounds of education with his sons, it was my turn with a certain daughter. While The Good Doctor was able to read the chosen book with little drama, no further questions and a simple "good" answer to his final question of how do you feel about this, it was not to be for me. Had I known then what I know now, I would have made a different plan; The Good Doctor would teach the girls and I would teach the boys. Consider this your warning. I can read the exact same book, to a child of the exact same age, get questions right after the first page and continuing well after the last page has long been turned. He reads and is done.

So, for all of you Moms and Dads who might be as squeamish as me with this topic, let me introduce you to the series that has saved me: The New Learning About Sex series published by Concordia. And even if you are not squeamish, this series helps you figure out what to teach and when it is appropriate to teach it. The six book set is separated by age. They used to have videos but I never recommended them to anyone as they were old and as corny as the word corny. The introduction to each book gives a little explanation and rationale into what is being taught at that age and why.

A few years back, 2 male children found "Science with Dad" written in that column of their lesson plans. They were excited for days, not believing their good luck in bidding Mom's teaching a brief adieu while Dad, the more fun parent, was obviously taking over. Suffice it to say, they were blindsided. I came home after that particular lesson to two very sheepish looking boys who were not quite as excited as they had been. When I asked about their science class, one child said in a deep, manly voice, "We had science with Dad. We learned how babies are made," and the second very quietly whispered, "It was disgusting." They didn't mind returning to Science with Mom the next day, even if it was a boring lesson on astronomy.

Sometimes Mom wins after all.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

One light

Life often doesn't go the way we planned. We know the words; loss, death, disability, sickness. One moment the journey is going exactly as you thought it would and the next you are, as I often say, the member of a club you didn't ask to join.

For Marie Monville, life first sent a curveball in the death of her premature daughter. Next came a miscarriage. But on October 2, 2006, Marie's life sent her into a club where there were no other members. Her husband, Charlie Roberts, called her to tell her that he wouldn't be coming home that night. He told her to look for a letter on the dresser. She read it and called 9-1-1 as she realized that it was a suicide note. She was left with more questions than answers but the next several hours would reveal that before killing himself, Charlie had entered an Amish schoolroom and started shooting. Other than that morning's call, Marie had had no warning.

Yet as she processed the events of October 2nd during the following days, weeks, months, and years, she realized that God had been preparing her in ways that she couldn't comprehend, for events that were unimaginable. Eventually her healing led her to write a book, One Light Still Shines.  I picked up this book thinking I was going to read more of the events of that day, from a different perspective than earlier books I'd read on the subject, Amish Grace and Think No Evil. What I found instead, was an encouraging collection of kisses from, to Marie and her family, demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that He was right there with her in the midst of the most unimaginable storm. I couldn't put this book down.

She begins her prologue with these words:

I'd love to tell you a love story.

And ends the prologue with these:

No matter how tragic your circumstances, your life is not a tragedy. It is a love story. And in your love story, when you think all the lights have gone out, one light still shines.  Step into my story and I'll show you how to see that light.

How does one face the inevitable pitfalls of life? If Marie can see grace and redemption in the midst of finding herself with the unwanted title of "wife of the Amish schoolhouse shooter," then I can most certainly find grace, redemption, and light in each and every one of my life's twists and turns.

At one point she tells her children that they are going to go on a treasure hunt to find all of the gifts that God is sending their way, just for them, to remind them of who He is and that He is still with them. Want to join me on the same hunt?

Friday, September 5, 2014

3 new quilts

It's been a bit busy (duh) but I did manage a few clean-out-the-sewing closet projects this summer.

I'm a sucker for adoption fundraisers. Have you seen John's T-shirt collection? It's a little heavy on  orphan themes. But all for a good cause! So when I heard of a friend (umm, actually, I used to babysit her) who received word that her adopted son's birthmother was expecting again and wanted them to parent, I knew I wanted to help out. A baby quilt and pillow for their fundraising night was what appeared from the sewing pile.

The caregiver for a visually impaired youngster came across my blog and read about Victor's Quilt of Many Textures. She asked if I would make another. Absolutely! So to all of you who donated fabrics, know that your gift continues to give to those who need it most.
This one was so fun!  I wanted to make a baby gift for the expected son of a wonderful friend who loves both drums and dinosaurs. I tried to figure out how to incorporate the two into a baby quilt but in the end decided to stick with dinosaurs since I wasn't talented enough to create dinosaurs playing drums. I had the whole thing together and was working on the binding but had put it aside for a few days. Then one morning I woke up to find that our friend had posted #hatchingdinosaurs on his Facebook page. The first comments showed that not everyone was awake enough to catch the real meaning of this, but I was pretty sure I knew. I got right to work, praying for Mom, Dad, and Baby as I did so. What a blessing it was to have a tangible reminder to pray with each stitch up and down. Poor Dad ended up in the hospital just a day after his wife and son were discharged but all are home now and while Baby is still in that grub stage, just being cute, all is going well.

Ahhhhh. This is my self-care.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A great story

Victor had his yearly evaluation with Early Intervention services yesterday. While still lagging behind in many areas (you can't copy a facial expression if you can't see it and you're less likely to use a pincer grip if you can't see the tiny object you're trying to pick up), we discussed how amazingly well he is doing.

Earlier that morning, perhaps subconsciously pondering the up-coming evaluation, I was thinking to myself about how far he's come. When we were still in the NICU, so many people told me success stories of their children, or nieces, or grandsons, or children of friends, anyone who started life as a peanut, often ending with, "You'd never even know that he (or she) started out less than 2 pounds." And while we were afraid to be too hopeful, there was always the thought that this could be our story, too.

But it was not to be. This isn't the story that I would have chosen for Victor or for his older siblings, or for myself, but it is the story that God was writing long before I was even born.  Recently, a friend and I were praying together, asking God to show me truths, and one of the first ones that came to me was, "I was writing you into my story all along."

There is a plan here and it is good. The story may have struggle, it may have plot twists and turns, the characters may have flaws, but isn't that what makes a great story?

And of course those cheeks are just perfect, aren't they?