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!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A picture

It started with a picture in my head.  I described it to a family friend who drew it out for me. Unfortunately, the drawing is either gone or misplaced. I looked, believe me.

When it looked like the picture in my head, she helped me transfer the drawing to pattern and we started cutting out the prototype using a little of this and a little of that including (if memory serves me well) a sheet set that had been a wedding gift to my parents. My apologies to the giver of that sheet set whose gift only lasted for 25 years.

The result was this lovely creation.

Which I wore for the wedding rehearsal. Why not?

And then it became this...

Which became this.

It was exactly as I had pictured and what I was looking for - simple, no train to break, get stepped on or ripped at the outdoor reception, and a one-of-a-kind creation that was short enough for my stature and for me to wear ballet slipper-ish shoes rather than heels. My kids make fun of it all the time. They don't realize that their clothes will be just as dated when their children look at their pictures.

So imagine my surprise when, on a whim, my daughter tried it on one day and announced, "Wow! I like this a whole lot better than I thought I would."

And to think it started with a dream to make my wedding dress and a picture in my head.

Happy Anniversary to The Good Doctor and me.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Field trip

At least one day of every vacation needs to be an educational day. We did have that unique lesson on the Native Mermaidians but it wasn't quite enough so today was deemed educational day. We decided to try out the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ. Whether you believe in educational days or not, this is a great choice. It is perfect for all ages and very family friendly. The only downside is that it is not wheelchair or stroller friendly; you will be going up and down several sets of steps and the path isn't flat or even.

We were able to get up close and personal with fiddler crabs, a red-winged blackbird, turtles, and other sea creatures.

And a rare opportunity - a terrapin digging a hole for her eggs. The Wetlands Institute then numbers the hole and covers it to protect the eggs from predators. When the eggs hatch they will weigh each baby before allowing it to return to the water.

Take your lunch; they have a nice little picnic area.

And for families with blind children, there are plenty of hands-on opportunities; a rare find in these days of don't touch the exhibits or the animals.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The tide is turning

Four days into our beach stay and the tide might be turning.

It started on Day 3. Isaac took Victor to the edge of the waves, Victor in water shoes this time. He sat down with Victor in his lap and allowed the waves to just lap at their feet. While Victor continued to be cautious, putting his feet up on Isaac's legs as often as Isaac would let him, he did manage some smiles and laughs. Every now and then a bigger wave would come and Isaac would warn Victor of a big one. If it fizzled, Isaac said, "Oh, false alarm."

Yesterday, as soon as Victor and The Good Doctor joined us on the beach and Victor heard Isaac's voice he asked, "More false alarm?" I had to translate for Isaac, "I think he wants to go into the water with you."

And that was it.

He ran in and out of the waves, getting mad at us each time we touched him, trying to shield him from the bigger waves. He also yelled at waves that came up too high on his body. Knees only, seems to be his mantra.

This time around, it was Eden who scored a private swimming hole. Two lifeguards for one child isn't a bad deal.

And maybe it's something in the air, but these two can rarely be found in the same 12 foot radius without fighting, but here they are, working together.

The result? The perfect spot for a cool dude to sit and chat on his (I use that word very loosely) phone. I did put an end to the phone conversation quite quickly (we did not come to the beach to call friends at home, or to work, ahem, Good Doctor) but it doubled as a good reading spot.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Native Mermaidians

We decided to take a walk through a state park. We didn't get far before realizing the paths were overrun by poison ivy and it wasn't worth the discomfort for the rest of vacation. So, to make the change of plans (Hey Kids, let's do something different while we're at the beach; let's go take a walk on the beach!) more fun, I put on my state park gone wrong turned beach walk pseudo nature docent hat so I could share lots of fun and formerly unknown information with my kids.

We learned that this was an ancient burial grounds of the Native Mermaidians. All of the broken pieces found surrounding the site are remains of shells they used as dishes.

And these items? Well, how do you expect to eat without silverware? The Native Mermaidians were actually a very advanced group of people. They invented the fork. And if, like my children, you want to know why it's plastic, well just look around. Do you see any metal native to this area?

The Sharpie lid was a remnant from one the last of their civilization and an attempt to communicate with whoever or whatever would come after. Unlike the Lost Colony, they didn't want anyone to have to surmise their last days.

The kids thought they had stumped me by asking if this broken Native Mermaidian cup would be worth anything to a museum. Unfortunately, it is not. This was actually just a common cup to the Mermaidian people so a cracked and broken variety is not worth anything at all. However, if they had found one with four simple letters, W-A-W-A, then it would be invaluable whether whole or in pieces. Whole, we could sell it and buy the entire beach. Even in pieces we would be rich. You see, the Native Mermaidians worshipped the water and made it a god. They called him simply, Wawa, and since he was god over all their land (water), his name was in scribed on all their most valuable drinkingware.

I reminded the children that they could not step on or break any seashells because as the legend goes, every time a seashell is broken, a Native Mermaidian loses her fins, similar to a modern version in which an angel gets its wings every time a bell is rung, or something silly like that.

Now this was quite a find. Not one, but two pairs of ancient Native Mermaidian glasses washed up on shore. Again, not very valuable since as everyone knows the Native Mermaidians had very poor eyesight, and it is very common to find glasses that came in on the waves.

The remnants of the burnt out forest which was the beginning of the end of the Native Mermaidians.

And quite possibly my favorite find of the day - some very old yet very rare Native Mermaidian hieroglyphics. Trying to stump my brain on Native Mermaidian trivia, The Good Doctor asked me to translate. I explained that it was a bit long and it's been quite some time since I've found characters in this style so I might be a bit rusty, but I was able to decipher that it was somewhat in poem form, describing a walk on the beach but then only finding one set of footprints only to hear someone say that it was at this point that the poet was carried. You could probably look it up online somewhere as there are some more recent poets who argue over the true authorship of this piece.

Another fun day was had by all.

I read this earlier this morning that in July and August you can go on guided tours of this area. I think I'll apply for a job.

Monday, June 22, 2015

This is how we beach

This one used to be afraid of the water and spent her days in the sand. This year she not only ventured into the water but decided to try a bit more as well. Every now and then she'd come out crying from an especially vicious wave but she went right back in.

This one reminds me of myself at that age; she's always in the water.

Disclaimer: This one was told that since it was Father's Day, he could turn on the TV, open up his laptop and fall asleep. He politely declined and decided to join us on the beach where he could still enjoy one of his three suggested gifts.

These two who are often together, also spent much of their beach time together. 

Except that Mr. Victor wasn't much of a fan this year. So when you struggle with sensory issues, this is how you spend your time in the water.

So this is how he solved that problem: He procured Isaac's chair and rented his own private pool. 

No need to order drinks delivered poolside when you prefer the taste of salt water.

And this one used to spend all of his time in the water. I'm not sure if he's feeling the loss of older brother who is his motivation for play or if it's just feeling too cool in the new shades he purchased. Either way, this year he just chills in his beach chair.

And me? I take pictures.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A dilemma type of problem

I have a problem. Now, I do know that "problem" is probably on the list of dead words and I should use something more grown up like dilemma but this is more of a problem so I'm sticking with it. Or maybe it is a dilemma?

My son has been made famous by hedgehogs and if you haven't yet seen his documentary, it's way past time for you to do so. But his endeavors have earned him a student Emmy. If you didn't know such a thing existed, neither did I so don't feel bad.  Anyway, I will be accompanying him to the awards ceremony where he will be thanking the little people in his life (that would be me, his grandmother, and his sister), and the ones who brought him into this world (that would also be me and I guess The Good Doctor, too), and the ones who made him the wonderful, creative, and talented person he is today (again, moi). Except that he just informed me that it is a black tie event.

I have never, ever, ever been to a black tie event in my whole entire life. Remember, my preferred clothing choice would be jeans and a sweatshirt or even sweats and a sweatshirt. Also keep in mind that my sweats are hand-me-downs from my brother (I still don't even know how that happened since we are separated in height by at least a foot) from way back in my college days and my favorite sweatshirt is also at least 7 years old. And do keep in mind that this Mennonite has never owned anything even close to a black tie event dress.

We need to also remember that I hate to shop. Hate. To. Shop. And it would also behoove us to remember that money does not grow on trees at my house; children do. We do not have the latest technology, or electronics - or clothes - we have children. A dress for a black tie event was not in the budget for this month. Or for this year. So this thrift-shop buying, hand-me-downs wearing mother of eight needs to find a dress that will allow her to eat for the next month. Don't worry, all children will be fed every day of said month, just as they have been fed every day of every month in every year of their lives. Except when they have the stomach flu. At those times I try to discourage any eating unless it is small sips of water or ginger ale or miniscule bites of any of the four items in the BRAT diet. Any other time my children are well fed. If it comes to this, I would be the only one sacrificing for the sake of the dress.

Oh, and on top of all of that, I'm shorter-than-most and this body has housed five children. Any dress I would find would need to be short in stature and flowy enough to conceal that which needs to be concealed.

Now, The Good Doctor told me not to worry; to just pick a dress out of my closet. He doesn't understand. He, too, grew up Mennonite. Now, it is true that he was a more liberal Mennonite being a member of the General Conference Mennonite Church and not just The Mennonite Church. We were a mixed marriage, he being the very kind of man Gertrude from my church warned me about when she scoldingly asked me how I could go to that college? So he may have been allowed to dance, and go to proms, and have a flag, but he grew up in Indiana, in the middle of nowhere, where no one has ever gone to a black tie event. He has no idea what he's talking about. My closet. Funny.

So this is my dilemma. Or problem. Yes, it's definitely a problem.

Monday, June 15, 2015

God keeps His promises

As our family travels around to different churches playing with The King's Strings or in speaking engagements, I always take time to peek around the children's ministry. As an outsider, is it inviting? Is it easy to find? Do I feel welcome? Are my children enthusiastically accepted into their classrooms? Do I feel safe leaving them with people who are strangers to me? Are they in secure areas? What will they be taught? Will they be taught Biblical truths? And more recently, Is there a place for my special needs child? Having a vital children's ministry that teaches all children Biblical truths, at all ages, and in a safe environment are issues that have been important to me for a long time.

I was once asked to help a church update their children's ministry. It was a time when churches were just starting to realize that the old model of Sunday School, with children sitting around a table for an hour, and where they were given free reign to roam as they pleased where anyone could come and go, was no longer going to work in a world where parents were more concerned with safety in what they deemed a more dangerous society and where children were used to being entertained in bigger and bolder ways.

I was provided a team of women from the requesting church and I added a children's pastor from a local church. I had watched him and his church's ministry team as they recently remodeled what was already a state-of-the-art children's ministry so that it could be more secure and safe for the children, and more appealing to newcomers needing to know that their children would be protected by these the volunteers who were strangers to them.

He met us at the church one day and inch-by-inch we went over the available space and current practices. He gave sound advice for securing the children's ministry areas, for implementing safety practices, for making play areas safer, and for updating curriculum so that it was Biblically sound yet would engage the minds of a new generation, particularly those children who may be new to church.

We created a proposal and prepared to take it to the church board but before we got there, word started to get out. One day I received a three page letter from a woman in the church. She didn't just oppose the plan, she believed it was the exact opposite of what should be found in a church. She believed the proposed safety measures would make the children's ministry look too much like a daycare and that there was no place for that in her church. She took issue with the curriculum, particularly the fact that we would be introducing monthly Bible verses, stories, and themes for children from age 2 through 6th grade. She insisted that toddlers were too young and that it was asking too much of the teachers. She saw no need for change in a church where, as she saw it, everyone knew everyone and sign-in and sign-out procedures were unnecessary. Her words were hurtful and clearly meant to stop the changes that she saw coming. A few days later, I received a phone call from a friend who attended the church. She was angry because she heard that in the proposed plan, children under the age of 12 would no longer be allowed to volunteer as teachers or helpers and this would mean that her daughter would have to discontinue serving for a few years until she was old enough under the new plan. She also opposed the changes.

I listened to both of these women, and spoke with each of them separately. I explained that the new safety proposals were meant for the safety of all children, but in particular, to make any new families feel safe and comfortable. And while established families might chaff at what they deemed "daycare standards", these measures would help visitors, who didn't know the ministry volunteers, feel safer in leaving their children. I also explained child development and that it was appropriate to present Bible stories and truths to very young children. But my hopes to create awareness and a partnership within the parents of the church was off to a bad start; they knew what they did and did not want, and to them, the familiar was perfect, change was not.

Things didn't go any better with the church board. The woman who wrote me the hurtful letter had a sister on the church board. Whether or not they had discussed their opinions ahead of time, I will never know. But I do know that this woman was the most out-spoken in that meeting. She agreed with the views I had already heard from the parents that contacted me and believed that changes didn't need to be made to rooms, safety measures, or curriculum or teaching practices, at one point looking me straight in the eye and condescendingly told me, "Two year olds can't learn."

I realized I had a choice to make. I had been asked to help create something that it was clear the church was not ready to implement. As I've often told my children, when faced with opposition, you need to prayerfully consider whether God wants you to a.) Stand your ground and continue to push for something that might take much, time, energy, and emotional strength or b.) Recognize that your job was to introduce something and then to walk away.  Our family had a vacation coming up and I spent much of that time in prayer, in Bible reading, in talking with The Good Doctor, and in tears but at the end of the trip I knew what I was supposed to do. I told the church that I was not the person to lead their team. Their team disbanded and for several more years, their children's ministry remained just as it had always been.

I appreciate our church's ministry to children. It's not perfect (and as they say, if you find the perfect church, don't go there because it will immediately become imperfect), but I know that my children are safe and that what I teach at home is strengthened on Sunday mornings. And yes, even my 2 year old is learning.

Yesterday afternoon, when Isaac picked Victor up from his class, he carried him through the hallways looking for me. Victor has a habit of putting his hands on both sides of someone's face, turning the face to look right at him when he wants to say something important. As Isaac walked, Victor did this to him and then pronounced, "God keeps His promises," and then he was done. Sure enough, the accompanying paper told us that that was the theme of the morning. And Victor got it. My 2 year old got it. Don't think 2 year olds can learn? Have you ever heard a 2 year old say please or thank you? He doesn't fully grasp the concept of gratitude but learning to be respectful with his words is a first step. In the same way, Victor doesn't fully grasp God's goodness but speaking the truth in "God keeps His promises" is a first step in hiding God's word in his heart. And at this point in his life, he couldn't possibly understand how true this has already been for his own life. But we know. And his words to Isaac, "God keeps His promises," were possibly more for us than for him.

Many, many heartfelt thanks to the preschool director and kids' pastor who get it; who know that teaching our littlest ones is just as important as any other ministry.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


Given free time, as in say, 2 hours during nap time, I figure I have three choices: 1. I can do those things that I have to do 2. I can read or 3. I can sew

There are days when I make the adult choice and I find something to clean or cook or bake or fix or whatever. Some days, however, I just have to make the self-preserving choice and do something for myself.

This school year's nap time project was, of course, Jesse's Jean/T-shirt quilt. The kids know it's coming and express their displeasure at having to wait til their senior year in high school. Until then, they fight over John's which was a gift from his sister back before we were a Mr. and Mrs. Let's just say that one is very loved. I'm pretty certain Jesse saw his jean quilt a time or two in process as there just aren't many hiding places in this house that aren't already occupied by a human being or his/her stuff. Eden and HopeAnne even helped to create a few of the squares adding a new dimension. And since I inherited my mom's quilting rack, we were able to knot this quilt the real way. It's certainly less back-breaking than leaning over the quilt on the floor. It's a lot of work but always a fun project to relive the memories and to see it all come together.

And then I was on a roll.

An apron by request. Have fun baking, guys!

Three doll quilts and pillows.

Two pillows for a college dorm room.

And with a baby shower on the horizon, I decided to try out some bibs I saw on etsy. It might have gotten a little out of hand but those monster bibs were just too much fun. I finally had to stop because I ran out of interfacing. And the jean bibs, well, I do have a lot of jeans. The woman from whom I got the idea said she made them out of her maternity jeans but since The Good Doctor made me get rid of mine a long time ago, I had to dig into one of my bins of jeans. But if anyone is interested, it did sound like a cute idea to repurpose those maternity jeans into bibs for the baby. And I only made one of those bowtie bibs because I could only find one shirt ready for repurposing but it's just so cute I might have to steal some more shirts out of someone's closet.

I think I'm finally really cleaning out those sewing shelves and bins. Now I either need to find someone who will let me share a table at a craft fair or I need to reactivate my etsy account or I'm soon going to have to start cleaning out the finished projects cabinet.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Don't worry, I won't post any humans-sitting-on-the-potty pictures. As an adult, I for one, am happy to know nothing of the sort was ever posted during my rite of passage from diapers to big girl underwear. Just a little thing I have, I know, but I just want my children to have the same luxury.

Over the past year I've watched with personal interest as numerous parents have posted potty training questions in forums for parents of blind children. Unfortunately, the best advice given is usually a simple, "Good luck." Apparently we're all treading in new waters and no one knows how to get our kids from simply treading to actually swimming. And in their defense, since many of our kids have multiple disabilities, there obviously isn't a one way fits all approach in this area.

But I'm a planner. And a teacher. I like goals and lesson plans. I want to know the steps that will need to be taken to get from lack of skill to mastery of skill.

I've gotten lots of advice from parents of sighted kids. Hello, people, I have been through this 6 times and had 100% success. My problem is not how to potty train, it's how to potty train a child who can't see.

Think about it: Your child developed readiness by seeing other family members use the bathroom and by recognizing (again, read: seeing) that adults and older children don't wear diapers. While training, your child could look into the toilet to see the fruits of his labors. Like my first 6 rounds of this potty training thing, you never thought about how much of the process is visual.

So I document our journey thus far not to gross out those who don't like to talk about these things (although think about it, aren't you glad someone took the time to do the not-so-fun in your childhood?), not to be placed on super hero status (Heaven knows I've been a miserable failure to this point), but to have something to share with other parents of visually impaired children. I recognize that one child's process is different from another's but maybe there's something to be gleamed here.

Victor is not only visually impaired but also sensory-challenged. Taking these two disadvantages, I knew that any success in this area was going to have to be step by small step. And the first step? Just learning to sit on the toilet. Not knowing which kind of seat was going to work best, we started out with two; one for the floor and one for the toilet seat.

The first attempts at getting his tush to even touch that seat with the hole in the middle was  quite comical. You'd think the commode had been filled with slithering butt-biting eels. So Step 1 was rewarded when he could successfully stand 1 square millimeter of his bum touching 1 square millimeter of the seat. Never mind that he was hanging on to me for dear life, give the child an M & M! And that was the first step. After a month and a half of that, he is a real pro at sitting on it now. In fact, I'd put him in the gifted category. He is well aware that sitting will get him an M & M so he requests to sit multiple times in a row.

And I think that's the pace that we're going to have to take throughout this whole process. I recently had 3 whole days with just Victor so instead of attempting to work on various projects that needed to be completed, we worked on the next step, understanding that those things you usually put in your diaper are really supposed to go somewhere else. My goal was just the next step but I have to admit there was a part of me that really hoped for a miracle.

It wasn't to be. At the end of three days, Victor was just slightly more successful than Elmo. But it's small steps, right?