Friday, December 29, 2006


Our first homestudy visit is scheduled for January 11. I am excited, nervous, thrilled ... you name it!

My understanding is that these are totally normal emotions. We are half way through the process. The homestudy should be short (about a month) and then we are on to foster licensing. We will also be submitting our profile for birthmother adoptions, so it's possible that we could be selected that way. Praying that 2007 is the year we add new little hearts to our home!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Snow school

In honor of our most recent snowfall--and the fact that I find it too painful to do school when the sun is out and the ground is white--here is a brief list of things my children learned today:

1. Do not throw hard snow at one another. It is actually ice, and it really hurts.

2. Our family corresponds perfectly with the little "family" in Ereth's Birthday--the kits being a girl and two boys--as long as mom doesn't mind being the grumpy porcupine who barks orders now and then.

3. Mom tells you to cover your ears in cold weather for a reason. Ears left uncovered really do start to sting after a bit.

4. Digging a burrow is no fun in knit gloves. Note to self: purchase actual water-resistant ski gloves next year.

5. It is possible to see water in three states all at once. A brief look around our hill gave us views of it as a solid, liquid and even a gas as it evaporated off a fence post.

6. Sledding on icy snow is even better than sledding on powdery stuff, if you don't mind crashing into the blackberry bushes every once in a while.

7. German Shepherds love the snow. (Well, o.k., we already knew that one. But it was reconfirmed today as we saw our 120 lb. dog dance on his hind legs in an effort to catch the chunks of snow he was tossed!)

8. Frozen bird tracks are really, really cool!

Punch and Judy

I loathe violence. I don't like hearing about it, watching it or being near it.

I am one of those mothers who vowed that my sons would never play with guns. (This has, actually, come to pass so far, but only in a convoluted way: neither Atticus nor Logan owns toy guns per se, but they do have an armory of toy swords and an assortment of plastic soldiers and cowboys and indians.) I can't stand wrestling, and I spend at least twenty minutes out of every day trying to convince my boys that they are not actually puppies, so they really don't need to roll around on one another. And words, I hold, can be violent, too. We don't use any of the following toward one another in this house: kill, stupid, dumb, shoot or hate.

Obviously I am aware that I am swimming upstream in this battle. Our culture is steeped in violence as a way of life--not in the horrifyingly authentic sense that those living in war zones have, but in the glorified, "this is cool" casualness of a people who live with the knowledge that most of us will never be bombed in our beds. It's almost inescapable. Some days, that fact is very, very disheartening to me.

It's not that I don't understand a certain amount of rough-and-tumble in life. I do, after all, have two boys. There is plenty of role-playing that goes along with that; most of it centers by default on testosterone-fueled pursuits like nabbing the bad guys. What I'm talking about here is over-the-top, response-provoking eye gauging and the like. I just don't like it.

So imagine my horror when, at this morning's library puppet show, a "Punch and Judy" routine is announced. You know Punch and Judy--the Medieval husband and wife duo who bash each other on the head and call each other horrible names for laughs. In other words, the epitome of everything I really, really dislike.

For a split second, I thought about dragging my three kids out of there. Really. How lame am I? Very. And honestly, I probably would have left were it not for two things. First, my friend J. was there with her three little boys, one of whom she had just commenced to nurse. What was I going to do? Leave her there with her shirt up and her boys following me out the door like so many ducklings? No way.

But the second thing, the one that really gave me pause was this: we have entered that phase in our family. The one I always knew we would get to down the line: innoculation.

See, my theory has always been that our home is a boot camp of sorts. We are here to fortify our children, to reinforce in them godly character traits. My husband and I work hard to impart discernment and Scriptural wisdom in our kids, so that down the road, they will be able to spot poor choices ten miles ahead and think them through clearly.

I have thus far kept my children away from many things that I consider to be beyond what they need to know about. This doesn't mean we walk around with blinders on; on the contrary, we see good and glorious things all the time. And we see bad stuff, too. My children know about divorce, they know about murder, they know that there are poeple out there who hurt children, and they know that drugs and alcohol can be abused very badly. They don't live in a bubble.

But my husband and I have been seeing signs lately that we are ready to move into that innoculation phase--the phase where the children are exposed to little bits of the bad stuff so that they can compare it to the good stuff. I am in constant prayer over this because believe me, I would love for God to give me an out on this. This is not the timing I saw for this. But clearly, it's God's time.

So back to Punch and Judy. Yes, there was punching and name-calling and lying and stealing. There was mockery of a police officer (an über no-no in our house) and even a great character that represented "the boogeyman." What a delight!

The children watched. All three of them giggled and found it mostly funny, although they enjoyed other bits of the presentation much more than the Punch and Judy skit. I noticed that Logan didn't laugh nearly as much as Atticus, who turned beet red from his ears to his toes. Later he told me that he didn't think it was that funny because they were "being naughty" (which tells me that we may be working on Jo and Atticus and leaving Logan to dance for a few more years in innocence). But it was the words Atticus spoke that were music to my ears:

"I knew it was bad stuff, mom. But it was just pretend. And they're puppets. If people acted that way, it wouldn't be funny at all."

Bravo, son. Keep that spirit.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


This is the post where I admit one of my deepest secrets. Are you ready?

I am a dentophobe.

Lest you think I am creating a phobia that I alone suffer from (and that, therefore, the fear is utterly invalid) I provide you with this link:

If you are one of my brethren in the dentophobe category, then not only do I welcome you, but I invite you to pull up a chair. And I promise .... it does not recline, and no one will hand you sunglasses as the glaring light drops from overhead.

Yes, I am afraid of the dentist. Afraid of the actual person who performs the procedures, afraid of the place where the procedures take place, afraid of the little plastic-wrapped tray of pointy tools and, oh ... let's not even get into the procedures themselves.

Unfortunately for me, not only do I harbor an irrational fear of dentists, but I have awful teeth. Anyone who thinks that the Lord doesn't have a sense of humor is free to email me for details.

I inherited weak enamel from my father and bad gums from my mother. Couple that with a childhood literally drowning in Coke and Twinkies and you get the picture. I discovered healthy eating and meticulous oral care in college, but alas, the damage was done. I am now an adult woman with fillings in every single molar. Since I've got a full set, that comes up to 14 nuggets of silver leaching chemicals into my mouth and three porcelain bandaids doing who-knows-what to me in the name of arresting decay.

Yesterday I got to experience my second root canal. And while I happen to have a very good provider to perform such acts of horror on my mouth, I still approached the idea of having my root canal-ed with something akin to cold sweats and night terrors.

Enter my friendly, smiling dentist and his magical prescription pad. "You know," he said on Monday as he pronounced the sentence on my aching, swollen mouth, "there's no reason to put yourself through this. I can give you something to take the edge off."

Take the edge off? Oh, boy. Sign me up.

So yesterday morning I went in for a root canal looped on 5 mg of Valium. My understanding is that this is a very low does, which is appropriate because I don't tolerate most medications very well. I wasn't incoherent by any means, and I can't say I was relaxed when I slipped my headphones on and waited for the drilling to stop. But you know, it could have been much, much worse.

So I guess I'm a convert. "Sedation dentistry" is what they call it. Hey, I'm all for it. Three natural childbirths and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. One medicated root canal and ... well ... next time I'll probably ask for 10 mg.

Friday, December 15, 2006


For some reason, we have never taken a Christmas break. Now, before you call me un-American, un-Christian or both, hear me out. We do plenty of fun stuff in December. We also focus even more heavily on Christ than we do in the other months--mainly on the fact that God made a promise, and God kept a promise His time. I like to point out that fact to my kiddos because I think as Christians is can be hard to hang in there for the month or two or twelve that we pray for something. Imagine how long the Jews were waiting! Boy, that measly year looks like a drop in the bucket, doesn't it? We've established that I am still very much a Christ-follower. I am also still a proud American citizen, though I will admit that I place that designation firmly behind my status as a Child of the Living God. This rankles some people, who see the two as one in the same. Sorry if you're one of them; we can agree to disagree. So why, why do we not take a Christmas break? Because we like school. We really do. No joke. My children will literally ask when we're going to do school if they see the sun creeping too high in the sky on any given day. They feel like they'v emissed something valuable in a day if they aren't read to over lunch. They also can't wait to listen to the pieces featured in "Story of the Orchestra." This is what we do. For them, it's life. Not school, but life. You don't actually take a break from that, do you? This mindset is totally foreign to most traditional schoolers. To tell the truth, it was totally foreign to me when I was a child. There would have been no way I'd have traded in my Christmas break. If someone had even suggested it, I'd have no doubt that that person insane. But here I am, on December 15, planning out next week's school. It looks like a good one. We're studying Benjamin Franklin, and reading "Johnny Tremaine" with SL. We're also doing some fun stuff with "Beautiful Girlhood," a unit study, and Atticus will be notebooking with WP. I've got a few educational videos planned, and Jo will keep flexing those math muscles with some QM Math drills. I've got a whole day planned for a craft party with homeschooling friends. That's Christmas-y ... but it still counts as school. So, who needs a break? Not us. We'll give it a rest Christmas Day, and probably the day after. But then we'll be back at it. Homeschooling is like breathing. It's just what you do.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Confessions of a box-checker's mother

Atticus is a by-the-book kind of man. He's a straight arrow. A good guy. Even-keel. Dependable. Steady. Mr. Nice Guy. A law-abiding citizen in the making. You tell this boy what to do, and nine times out of ten, he does it. Correction: he doesn't just do it. He fulfills the request to the letter. Then he waits (not always patiently) for you to check to make sure he has dotted every "i" and crossed every "t" before he considers himself excused. You can almost see the list behind his eyes when you give him the nod: Math ... check!

Some days, that's a little too much for me.

I am clearly not a box-checker. My style of everything is pretty free-form. Some people (usually those who don't know me very well) don't realize this about me simply because I somehow manage to get things done. What they don't know is that what drives me is not actually organization. It's habit, pure and simple. And habit, my friends, is not actually a personality trait. It's inertia.

But Atticus is not a creature of habit. He is a creature of rules. Everything is literal for this boy. Life--and it's circumstances--and categorically black or white for him. You see why I worry about this kid so much?

Sometimes this adherence to the rules is very, very good. When it comes to homeschooling, Atticus is a dream. You tell him what to do, and he does it--usually nose-to-the-grindstone-style--and he does it well. I know that he would absolutely thrive if I took the time to write out a weekly schedule for him. I know that down the road I will have to do that just to keep him sane; dealing with a mom who gives options is going to frustrate the tar out of him eventually. Typical dialogue: "What's next, mom?" "Well, you can do your journal. Or you can do your math. Or I put out the letter tiles for you practice spelling. What sounds good?" "Umm... I ... well ... which has to be done first?" "Doesn't matter to me. What do you want to do?" "Can't you just pick one, mom?" See where the schedule would help here? ;-) But for now, I figure, he's in 1st grade. He can humor me, just like I humor him, right? Plenty of time to be a box-checker later in his educational career.

Sometimes having all these boundaries--real or perceived--can really be a hindrance. The other day we were in the grocery store after church. It was well past lunch time, and everyone was on the verge of getting crabby. Desperate, I grabbed a big box of goldfish crackers and opened them, setting them in the back of the cart and telling the kids to snack as we shopped. Atticus was horrified. I told him that it was okay--I was going to pay for them, and eating them didn't change the price like it does with say, bananas. "Are you sure?" he asked, clearly calling my judgement into question. After all, we have a Rule about eating in the grocery store. Namely, we don't do it. If we did, I'd have to weigh Logan before going into the produce section and on the way out. But here I was ... the maker of The Rule ...wantonly disregarding the very rule I had laid down. Just to be safe, Atticus refused to eat any of the goldfish crackers. He wasn't wading into the grey area that the rest of us so gleefully embraced.

I do worry about Atticus. Someday the Lord is going to yank the rug out from under him. I hate to see that happen, but I know it's best for my son. He needs to learn that the Lord owns the rug. The Lord makes the rules about the rug. Being a box-checker can be a very, very good thing. Being honest and dependable and rock-steady ... all good things. But being pliable before the Lord is valued much higher than any human consistency we can applaud. Anything less is a Pharisee in the making.

Sunday, December 3, 2006


I don't know which is worse: the constant asking, or the inherent defeatism in not being asked.

I've realized lately that people have quit looking at me sideways every time I say my stomach is feeling funky or that I have to run to the restroom. I don't know if they've tired of asking or what. Chances are good they're just not hardy enough to keep hearing the answer. I know I wouldn't want to hear it over and over again.

In other words, no, I am not pregnant.

Eleven months. Sometime in early summer I quit keeping track of the months as they slipped by. I was all too aware that I was costing myself a shred of sanity every 32 days or so. It just didn't seem worthwhile.

And I'm o.k. that the Lord has closed my womb for this season. I'm o.k. knowing that this doesn't mean He won't give us a biological child down the road. And I'm o.k. knowing that He may never grant us that blessing again.

Well ... except when I'm not.

Pursuing adoption has been a bit of a salve. It's a separate but equal kind of thing--one doesn't outweigh the other and one isn't more on my heart than the other. But I will admit that it takes my eyes off my own belly and keeps them on the Lord.

So no, I'm not pregnant. And it's o.k. to ask. Or not. Whatever works for you.

Friday, December 1, 2006


Jo has too many teeth. Well, to be honest, the number of teeth in her mouth is exactly what everyone else has. It's just the space that she has to fit them all in that's lacking.

This news isn't surprising. Dh--who was born with a cleft palate--had extractions and braces and who knows what else, all in the name of lining those choppers up to do the most good. On one particularly rough day, he had 8 teeth pulled. He doesn't have especially good memories of all that dental intervention. I know you're shocked to hear that.

But back to Jo. She had her first orthodontic evaluation today. Not even ten years old and already sitting in the big chair and having teeth counted and x-rays examined and "care plans" formulated. The girl came through with more than flying colors--as usual, she charmed the socks off of the staff. This is the girl who asks if offices have anything they can donate to the poor and goes out of her way to invite folks to church. The girl is a born evangelist with the added gift of encouragement and mercy to go along with it. The orthodontist took an instant liking to her, which almost made it worse when he gave us his final conclusions. I think it would have been easier for him if he hadn't liked her so much.

Five baby teeth have to come out. Five. Can you hear me choking?

After those are out for a few months, Jo will go back in and they'll see if the added space has lessened any of the pressure of the adult teeth that they are surrounding. Regardless, when all of her adult teeth finally come in, they will "selectively remove" a handful to make room. Then they'll start with the braces to realign the rogue teeth that keep sprouting up where they oughtn't.

Even thinking about it hurts. And looking at my dear, sweet Jo in that big chair as the goofy orthodontist pronounced the sentence ... well, to be honest, I thought I was going to throw up. While I have only had one tooth pulled in my lifetime (and it was an abscessed wisdom tooth that I was ready to yank out on my own), it was an experience that I don't want to even imagin my baby going through. The orthodontist looked pained when he told me, and kept apologizing to us both. The boys stood at Jo's feet, each one holding on to the tip of one of her tall barn boots. We were all quiet. All but Jo.

"Well," my little Pollyanna piped up, "at least I get to wait a few years on braces. And by then, they'll have cooler colors for rubber bands, I bet." Jo gave me an inquisitive smile, and I knew what she was thinking. Perched on her little freckled nose are an exceptionally bright pair of glasses (offically, they are "cherry red") that suit her personality--if not my personal sense of style-- to a tee.

The hygenist piped in that our insurance coverage has a higher flat rate for that kind of braces. The good old-fashioned metal studs and wires are still standard.

I told her I didn't care. If my baby girl is going to have to go through that kind of extraction marathon, she can most certainly have whatever kind of braces she wants.

I wonder if rubber bands come in cherry red?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Snow day

When I was a kid, snow days were fairly hard to come by. During the school year, I lived with my parents in Michigan. Folks there don't blanche at the thought of driving in a couple of feet of the white stuff, let alone braving subzero temperatures for months on end. The only way that school was called off was if it was literally impossible for the buses to make it out of the barn. It happened once or twice each winter and oh, how I loved those days. Listening to the radio with my dad in the morning and waiting to hear if my school was one of the ones closed. Eating a leisurely braekfast. Suiting up in more layers than the kid from "A Christmas Story." Playing until I was so cold that I lost feeling in my nose and toes, and then coming inside and waiting for the burning sensation to start as I pressed my fingers to the heating grate.

The very best part of snow days, though, was curling up next to my mom on the couch and listening to her read to me while I drank hot chocolate and she sipped hot tea. My mom wasn't big on reading aloud, and she wasn't overly keen on a lot of cuddling. I have no idea why, but something about snow gave life to all the affection she kept inside every other day of the year. She would absolutely lavish me with love on those cold afternoons, and I basked in it. One winter we read through "The Long Winter." Another, it was "Alive in Wonderland." My mother would hold the book just above my head as I leaned on her lap, fingering the fringe of one of the afghans she had made. The book dipped down to reveal illustrations, then bobbed back up to resume reading. My mother's tea pot--a real, porcelain pot--was snug inside a quilted tea cozy that sat on a huge silver tray that only came out on the most formal occasions. To this day, the smell of orange rind tea takes me back to those afternoons and makes me more homesick than just about anything else.

As an adult, I spend probably more than my fair share of time with my feet tucked under me and children crowded around as I read from the throne that it my couch. I really don't need an excuse to haul out a special book, or the hot chocolate that I buy in huge containers from Costco. But give me a good snow day, boy, and I pull out all the stops. Not only do we hit the sledding hill with a vengence, but we relive that family tradition of reading time, too. We pull out every warm blanket we can find, flip on the gas fireplace, add extra marshmallows to the cocoa and luxuriate in winter. Each of my children has their own special mug, and I drink from one that has each of their names and handprints on it. We don't just stop answering the phone ... we turn it off. Family time is family time, after all!

I'm so grateful that my mother took those opportunities that she did to love me through the coldest patches of winter. And I'm equally glad that I don't have to wait for snow to do it with my own children. But that doesn't mean I appreciate those times any less.

Monday, November 20, 2006


We're involved in a ministry called Alpha. Designed to lead people to Christ, or to answer the questions of those new to faith in Him, the program runs for 10-12 weeks at a time. Last night was the final gathering of this session. Ten people were baptized. Me, I always get emotional when someone takes that leap; the most teary I've ever gotten was actually in the last session, when my best friend J. (who was, I think, 8 months pregnant at the time) was baptized. Now that was emotional!

Last night, though, all my tears were saved for the special presentation that the children perform at the end of each full Alpha session. We have a wonderful, spirited music director that teaches the children songs, handsigns and skits. This go-round, to keep things fresh (for those of us who have been through nine Alphas!) the director added in an essay component. The children were challenged to select a name of God and to write about it, backing their thoughts of with verses that spoke to them about that name.

Jo was absolutely in love with the idea of the project. Being the resourceful homeschooling mom that I am, I realized that the challenge would make a perfect writing assignment while we were out of town and she was staying with friends. Jo wrote her essay at their house, and turned it in on the evening that we picked her up. I never saw it.

So imagine my surprise when the music director called last week and let me know that Jo was the only one who had actually done the challenge. She would be presenting her essay, called "Bread of Life," at the big performance.


I could tell you all sorts of wonderful things about that performance. I could tell you how Atticus actually remembered the sign language, which was amazing given his usual stoicism on stage. I could tell you how Jo danced, with her hands spread high, without a shred of self-consciousness. I could tell you how Logan made faces and exaggerated signs the whole time, cracking me up.

But you know what got me? What really, really got me? Right before my daughter climbed down from the risers and took her place at the microphone, the projection screen over the heads of the choir lit up. There, in letters 4-feet high, was my little girl's name.

It took her maybe five seconds to walk to that microphone. She was lanky and lean, with her funky pink Converse All-Stars and her bright cherry-red glasses and the smattering of freckles on her nose that I couldn't make out in the stage lights. In that brief moment, I remembered the very first time I said her name and looked at her fat, naked little body in my arms. I remembered the taste of that name, the unfamiliar sound of it in my ears. Nearly a decade between that moment and this, and yet ... that name. Who I had wanted her to be. Who she was. Who God intended her to be. All of it, tied up in that name for me at that moment.

Of course, I was crying before she even picked up the mic. She handled herself beautifully, stumbling here and there over her own handwriting, but maintaining an enviable decorum. The words that she had written were mature beyond her years, and expressed a faith that stuns me even now. And they were hers--all hers. No word suggestions from me, no direction or form pre-decided. All her.

Like her name. And the Lord's. So much meaning tied up in just a few letters.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Curriculum development

Dh comes from a family of professional educators. I make this distinction because they make this distinction. In other words, I am not a professional educator. (If you're reading this, chances are good you're not a professional educator either. So sorry.) Professional educators spend many, many years learning about classroom management, learning styles, child development and learning outcomes. As near as I can tell, I fit that description. What I am missing is the piece of sheepskin that grants me standing in a union that can barter my salary. There's the rub, of course.

As I've mentioned before, my mil is a kindergarten teacher at a fairly elite parochial school. Fil was a teacher for 15 years before moving into the business world to bump the family from the lower middle-class to the upper middle-class rung on the social ladder. All of mil's siblings are teachers, and one of them is also married to a teacher. Dh's younger sister is a speech pathologist ... in a public school. Her husband is also professional educator.

And we ((gasp)) homeschool.

If we lived nearby, no doubt the holiday dinner conversation would be rife with long pauses and raised eyebrows. But we don't live nearby and you know, I can't say that I lose sleep over the lost opportunity for showing them the light on home education. The conversations we do engage in on the topic are enough, thanks. It's enough right now that we are begrudgingly accepted, our children are mostly pitied (for their lack of recess experiences and their inability to play BINGO against anyone but their siblings when learning phonics) and their eyes are keenly on the calendar that will tell them when Jo reaches junior high and they will no doubt put on the pressure to pry our over-protective fingers from her coattails.

Things have taken a turn for the worse recently. The climate of "don't ask, don't tell" is being challenged by my brother-in-law. I don't really know my bil all that well; his wife was only 15 when dh and I got married, and they live a life that is not only geographically removed from our own, but also philosophically foreign to us. What I do know about him is pleasant enough. He teaches high school history in a public school. He coaches wrestling. He is a raving liberal, but tends toward fiscal conservatism.

He is also, coincidentally, getting a master's degree in curriculum development.

I'm going to be honest and admit that I had no idea such a thing existed. I knew that there were specialized degrees for folks with aspirations of "education administration," ie, they want to be principals, etc. But "curriculum development"? Surely something as scattershot as public school curriculum isn't actually developed? And if it is, isn't it the textbook publishers who mostly call the shots?

Apparently, not. Learn something new every day, huh?

Bil is knee-deep in this whole curriculum development thing. He's becomes quite vocal about it. I wouldn't normally mind, but the fact is that 90% of what he is spouting flies directly in the face of what I feel education is actually about. For example, the mere fact that bil is working on curriculum for children he has never even met falls short of educational excellence as far as I'm concerned. How can you plan a course of education for someone who you know nothing about? Sure, you can generalize ... but isn't someone (probably a lot of someones) going to fall through the cracks? Bil says no--in teacher-speak, he outlines the "inter-disciplinary methods" and the "interest-driven activities" and the "outcome-based systems." That's what makes a curriculum successful, he says. That, and a degree that says you're qualified to be putting one together.

The family brushes off my stance on these things with a simple comeback: "You're not a professional educator. You don't know what you're talking about." I guess they don't realize that I have absolutely no interest in being a professional educator. I'd rather worry about child-centered methods over inter-disciplinary ones. I'm more of a "what are you interested in?" kind of gal. And I certainly don't have any outcome systems--or not any that I'd label, anyway.

I'm just a mom. A mom who spends hours looking for the books and tools that excite my children. A mom who loves her kids first, their schooling second. A mom who has a a commandment to teach written on her heart instead of hanging on her wall.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. So pass the turkey, please.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Language Literacy

We are a language-oriented family. That's kind of a no-brainer. In my spare time (insert insane laughter here) I write fiction and short non-fiction pieces. Dh is a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the nation. We are always in the act of learning something, reading something or firing off missives outlining our stance on things. We read, read, read, and write, write, write. It's in our blood ... the very same blood that we've passed on to our children. They have books everywhere: in their beds, under their beds, in bags, on tables, stacked in corners. ((sigh)) It's a messy habit, this home education business.

I'm not really surprised that our children have taken up the cause of all learning all the time. Honestly, I think I'd be surprised if they weren't interested in something, KWIM? I really don't care what it is. Obsess over elephants. Research rabbits. Unearth Asia. Whatever floats your boat ... just learn.

What has surprised me is the interest each of the children has in foreign languages. When I say "interest," what I mean is a desire to speak and read in that tongue. Insane, huh? Where did that come from? Must have been all those books we've read from infancy that don't involve talking bunnies reciting the ABC's. ;-) At any rate, my children are each engaged in learning languages. This poses a bit of a problem for dh and I, who mastered French and German, respectively, before closing our college texts and never again chancing to diagram another sentence that started with the masculine or feminine articles.

In other words, I wouldn't say I am fluent in anything but English--although I will admit that my Spanish is better than most Americans. Same for dh, who can tell you a few off-color phrases in French and not much more despite five years of study.

Thankfully, homeschoolers have the time to dedicate to these random interests. And the resources ... oh, the resources. We happen to live in an area where Rosetta Stone language software is accesible online for free. Yes ... for free! This opens the doors my children to indulge their lingophile tendencies without putting dh and I in the position of having them prioritize. Can you imagine the conversations: "Look, son, you can learn Latin or Swahili, but not both. Maybe next year, o.k.?"

So, if you come by my house in the pre-lunch hours, take a moment to stand underneath the open front window and listen. Chances are good you'll hear beginning Japanese (Atticus's current favorite), followed by French (Jo) and Spanish (Logan), then advanced Spanish (Jo), then more Spanish (Atticus), then Greek (Jo) followed by U.K. English (Logan thinks its a hoot). If you're lucky, you'll hear my children call for our dog using the nine different words they know from various languages. And if you're really, really lucky, I'll remember how to greet you in German.


I don't come from the most encouraging family. Both my mother and father are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to pouring out praise. They come by it honestly; neither of their parents were apparently cheerleaders when it came to the accomplishments of their children.

I tend to swing in the other direction. Granted, my predilection to praise is probably directly rooted in the fact that I hungered for a morsel of "atta-girl" from my own mom and dad. I like to think it is just because I am generally pretty aware of the effort others put forward and like to acknowledge that. Wherever the tendency springs from, I know it's noticed. My kids give me a wonderful mirror to look into every time they echo: "Wow, that was hard work, but you did it!" or "How did you figure that out? You sure are smart!"

But as I said, I don't come from a very encouraging family. The best you were likely to get in my house growing up was a "You're better than that" or "I guess that's alright." I still don't count on a whole lot of "You sure are smart!" comments when I talk to my mother. She may very well tell others that she thinks I'm the bee's knees, but she'd never admit it to me. And the closest thing I hear from my dad (when I talk to him once every quarter) is that I made a wise choice in buying a Dodge.

As a result, it takes a lot to really burst my bubble. And I really don't rely on the feedback of others to make or break my mood or day. Growing up without much "building up" leaves you either oblivious or bitter. I picked oblivious. And for the most part, it's not a terrible way to be as long as you pray to keep your heart from growing hard.

So I was caught completely off-guard on Sunday when I hung up the phone and felt the sting of an obvious cut-down.

The perp was one of my mom's sisters, an aunt with whom I spent many a summer growing up. I'll call her Aunt Bea, though she has nothing in common with Andy's beloved aunty in Mayberry. Aunt Bea has never really liked me--as far as I can tell--but then again, she's never really seemed overly fond of anyone in my generation. She is nice enough, don't get me wrong. She housed me and fed me and entertained me for quite a lot of my childhood memories, so I can't complain too much, KWIM?

Aunt Bea has always had the same acidic tongue as my mother. She "nit picks" as we Southerners say; she finds a sore spot and hones in on it. Then, like a child who can't keep their hands off a loose tooth, she wiggles and waggles it until you just want to snap. I'll be fair here and say that I really don't think she is aware that this bothers people. I really don't think she is a terrible, awful person. I think it's just ingrained in her--like it's ingrained in my mother--and she doesn't think twice before she sets to picking.

When the phone rang on Sunday and I saw her name in the caller id, I admit that I braced myself. Aunt Bea honestly only calls me when she and my mother are at war, which happens about once a year. I had low expectations when I answered the phone, and I was rewarded. Aunt Bea never asks how I am. Never wants to hear about my kids, my husband, my life. She usually gets right to unearthing the ugly things every family has in its closet ... which is precisely what she did. I dodged and ducked the comments. Finally, after Aunt Bea had pumped me for information about when I might come east and why my brother isn't working, she gave a long sigh and hit me with this one:

"Well, I have to say, you sure seem like you're doing good out there. It surprises me. I never thought you had it in you to turn out o.k."


Did she just say that?!?! She did! She just told me that I was a big old loser in whom she had no faith, and was completely amazed that I'd managed to pull myself up to some level of civility that she deems acceptable!

I answered very sweetly. I'm pretty proud of my reply actually, because it's usually only after a day or two of reliving any given situation that I come up with what I wish I had said. I told her, "Thanks, Aunt Bea. I sure am glad you waited until now to tell me that. You know, if you had said that to me back when I was first married and trying to figure out my direction in life, it would have really hurt me."

She didn't say anything back, of course. She got off the phone pretty quick, asking me to send her a Christmas card. Uh ... o.k. Sure thing.

I write this not to make any big statement. No, maybe I am making a big statement: encourage someone today. Take the time to tell them something wonderful about themselves, or to thank them for the way that they love or live. Even if it feels weird, just do it. Because you just don't know. They may have just hung up with their Aunt Bea. And if she's been spreading her style of compliment, they may really be blessed by yours.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Babies "r"n't Us

I went to Babies 'R' Us today. It was the first time I'd been there in years. I can remember haunting the place when I was expecting Jo; eyeing the adorable little crib sets I couldn't afford, dreaming about the perfect bassinet and wondering if the wee person growing in my belly would prefer the monitor that had sound and lights, or just sound. Somewhere around her first birthday, I found that it just wasn't very fun to take her there anymore. The baby of my dreams and the little soul entrusted to me by God didn't actually line up all that well, and I was beginning to see that that was precisely the point the Lord was trying to impress upon me. As it turns out, she didn't care which monitor we chose anymore that He did.

But I digress.

So, I went to Babies 'R' Us today. It was very much the same as it was a decade ago, when I was venturing into new motherhood. You can still buy wipe warmers and a frightening number of appliances meant to mimic the sensation of being in a mother's arms. There are things you actually need there, too. Like ... well ... diapers. Although, I admit I'm not as keen on disposables as I used to be. But again, I digress.

So ... I went to Babies 'R' Us today.

Oh, come on! Aren't you going to ask what I was doing in Babies 'R' Us?!?!

I was there with my best friend, J. She is the proud momma of three of the cutest boys I've ever seen that don't live under my roof. We were there to look for a shower gift for a friend of hers. And to see if they had any adoption-themed baby books.

For my family, of course.

Yep. After walking away from a disasterous Russian adoption proccess nearly two years ago, we have decided to quit putting our hands over our ears when God talks to us about adding to our family through adoption. We attended a retreat about foster/adopt last weekend and are going ahead with the process. God willing, sometimes in 2007, our family will expand by a little one or two.

So I went to Babies 'R' Us today. And for the first time in a long time, I was an expectant mommy, too. ;-) And while I don't see myself springing for the Guaranteed-To-Soothe-Your-Cranky with Brain-Enhancing Music and Stimulating Colors Deluxe swing ... it was kind of fun to look.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


As of today, Jo is no longer "dd8." She is now "dd9," which somehow seems so ...big!

Nine years ago, I held 10 lbs. and 2 ounces of black-headed baby girl in my arms and wondered who in the world thought I was qualified enough to parent this unbelievable gift. She was--and is-- the most amazing lesson the Lord has ever given me; I have learned more about Him--and myself--in my years of being Jo's mother than in the 23 years that came before.

Thank you for letting me be your mother, Jo. Welcome to the last year of single digits!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Birthday preparations

Birthdays come in batches in our house; Atticus and Logan celebrate theirs in a three-day time span, and Jo's falls just after dh's. We're currently gearing up to fete the birthday girl with her very first slumber party.

I had a slumber party once. My parents wre not really big on birthdays in general, so to have a party was a huge deal to me. I made out the invitations myself and my mom had no idea how many girls to expect. Imagine her surprise when 16 of my closest friends called to RSVP! Needless to say, the list was whittled down a bit (to this day I have no idea how she revoked those invitations) and the party went off with only a few minor hitches. The biggest glitch was the sheer lack of anything to do. Left to our own devices, the whole gaggle of 5th grade girls at my party ended up prank calling people all night.

Hey, I never said I was a good kid.

Not wanting to repeat the same mistake with Jo's birthday bash, I've lined up a variety of hopefully enthralling but not-too-structured activities. There are 7 girls--most of them homeschooled--on list. Tomorrow night, we'll be making fleece scarves with fringe, they'll be in charge of rolling out and fashioning their own mini-pizza for dinner, and I've got a movie lined up that corresponds with the horse theme. (Yes, the scarves are horsey, too. They have a horse print on the fleece!) I've even got reinforcements coming in to keep the crafts rolling and the popcorn coming in the form of my best friend J. (Hey, if Jo can have an evening with her girlfriends, I can, too, right? ;-0)

Jo is beside herself with excitement. She realized at the craft store this morning that tomorrow is the big day, and you should have seen the grin on her face. I figure that with that kind of anticipation, the day just can't be a flop.

If it is ... well ... I'll just remember to hide the phone.

Thursday, September 7, 2006


Is it just me, or is teaching a child to read about the coolest thing you can do?

Both Jo and Atticus caught the reading bug early and are well above "grade-level" (the public school gold standard for achievement, right?) when it comes to their reading and comprehension skills. I naturally assumed that I'd have at least one dc who wasn't as eager to pick up a book ... but, no. Logan is just as ambitious when it comes to the written word.

He is now reading simple things like "That rat is mad! Scat, rat! Scat to the mat!" and other insipid phonics-based stuff. And while I thought that somehow my enthusiasm for teaching sounds and sitting through those awful readers would have waned by the third go-round, well--it hasn't. Teaching a child to read is one of the joys of my life. Watching that lightbulb go on, seeing that spark as they swing the door open on a whole new world ...

It's better than chocolate. Better than lots of chocolate. And that's saying a lot.


Monday, September 4, 2006

A three (and a half) hour tour

I am still just dumbfounded at how easy school has been! I'm not sure that any one thing has made the difference--more likely, it's been a series of things coming together to make my life that much easier. In any event, I am praising God for this newfound joy in homeschooling.

Once again, school took us all of 3 and a half hours. When I look at the list of things we got done today, I am amazed.


Horizons math

A Beka God's Gift of Language A (2 pages)

Rosetta Stone CD Rom, test

Bible reading

Indian Prayer Guide devotional

Lifepac science (rocks and minerals)

"The Corn Grows Ripe," (reader) 2 chapters

The Story of the USA, on echapter, plus all exercises

Easy French, list to voabulary and do a character sketch

Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek! (kappa lesson)

Spelling Power, oral review of words missed yesterday on initial test (3)


Horizons math

A Beka Letters and Sounds 1 (2 pages)

A Beka Language 1 (2 pages)

Bible reading

Indian Prayer Guide devotional

"Astronaut" (DK reader), all--I counted this as science, and he also listened in on the rocks info his sister was reading

Make Your Own History book, one page

Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek! (kappa lesson)

Spelling Power, oral review of words missed yesterday on initial test (2)

Logan worked on his Rod and Staff preschool book today, cutting out mother and baby animals and coloring them to make a barn scene. When he tired of this, he moved on to the big blocks his daddy made him from leftover 2x4s, constructing a fabulous barn and yard. Later he dabbled in bristle blocks, before moving on to diggers & rice--an old favorite resurrected when he discovered the tiny vehicles this morning. He also did a lesson in 100EZ, but he was far more interested in playing quietly. You know ... I didn't complain! ;-)

So, 3 and a half hours. Not bad. Not bad at all! Now on to reading a little more "Peter and the Shadowcatchers" and playing in the sun!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Start day

Don't you just love it when the day you have set aside in your head as "Day 1" goes really, really well?

Since we school pretty much year-round, picking any date as the "First Day of School" always feels a little dubious, but I keep at it--mostly as a nod to that warm, squishy feeling the phrase gives me. Reminds me of an undented metal Strawberry Shortcake lunch box and jeans so new they're still stiff. ;-) It's a mystery to me that the phrase doesn't remind me of high school, where I worked two or three jobs over the summer in a scramble to save money for college and greeted the First Day of School exhausted and leery of teachers who assumed I had spent my summer "vacation" lounging at Key West. But I digress ...

Today was (drumroll please) our official First Day. I was determined to swing back into last year's schedule of trying to have all chores out of the way by 9 a.m. Amazingly, God showed extreme mercy on me and allowed that to happen! Not a single catastrophe--broken glass, spilled dirt from potted plant, dog food scattered all over the garage, etc.--occurred before 9 a.m. We finished breakfast in record time and I got the chorepacks going. I even snuck in a phone conversation with my best friend, who also coincidentally chose today as her homeschool start date. It was a good morning!

We retreated to the schoolroom and set about working. I got Jo going on her math first thing--usually a good idea, because she is slow as molasses and needs the lure of the next planned subject to keep her moving forward. Atticus hit the computer upstairs for Rosetta Stone Spanish, something he can do on his own. Logan decided that watercolors were far more exciting than Rod & Staff preschool workbooks and, because he is my third, I thought that was a pretty nice idea, too. ;-)

Thanks to the fabulous planning tools available on Donna Young's website, I had been able to begin synthesizing SL Core 3 with a few components of WP American Story 1. I worked on this while everyone was otherwise occupied. I adit, I was floored that I had ten minutes to sit and work on something on my own. I guess this is what schooling "older" kids is like!

I was able to keep everyone alternating to me all morning--another new thing for us. As their independent skills are increasing, I am seeing that I can spend one-on-one time with whoever needs me while the other two work away. I am amazed to be at this point. Jo worked through a section in commas in A Beka's God's Gift of Language A while Atticus sat with me to have his math corrected. Attticus worked on his A Beka Language Arts 1 while Jo and I looked over her LA. It felt so different from the beginning of last year, when everyone was clamoring for me at the same time, it seemed.

After finishing the "basics," we moved into our Core work. We started with Bible reading and the American Indian Prayer Guide. The first day in a SL schedule is always just enough to tease you! We read a snippet of another book ... and everyone wanted more! (Keep in mind that my dh does the read-alouds as a bedtime story for the kiddos.) I stuck to the schedule today, though, because I really wanted to fit in WP's Animal Worlds for Logan, who had spent the past hour and a half painting his heart out. We did that, then Jo retreated to her favorite hiding spot to start her SL reader, "The Corn Grows Ripe," while Atticus read aloud to Logan and I from "A Mare For Young Wolf" (a WP reader).

We fit in everything I had planned for, and it only took a little over 3 hours. I know that not every day will flow as smoothly, but still ... a wonderful beginning to the 2006-2007 school year!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tail end of summer

We'll be starting our official "school year school" on Monday. Why Monday? Ummmmm... why not Monday? ;-)

This summer was pretty productive. It isn't so evident by looking at in terms of what I can show you, but rather by what my children have shown me. They have shown that they are extremely flexible little people. They have shown extreme compassion and extreme joy. They have shown a fierce love for this area that I didn't realize they had (I guess it really is their home, even if I don't feel it is mine).

These things alone, I think, are worth calling the summer a success over.

In the book lairnin' department (to quote my Poppy), my three little bookworms have read an astonishing 89 books (combined) this summer. These aren't read-alouds; we managed just six of those, but ohhhhhhhhh, boy ... is "Peter and the Shadow Thieves" loooong!

The older two kept up their work on Rosetta Stone Spanish. Jo started Easy French and flew through "Times Tales." We're half way through "Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek!" level 1. We're worked our way through lots of fun facts and activities in WP Animal Worlds. Jo and Atticus tackled math semi-daily (is that a word?) and Logan is a third through his first Rod & Staff preschool book. Countless plays were performed. We also studied and collected rocks. Lots of rocks!

Oh, and we took field trips.

That's my post-summer wrap-up. Bring on the rain!

Crying ... at the fair

This is a new one, even for me. I tend to get teary-eyed at the drop of a hat. Atticus will look over the top of his book as I walk by and say, "I love you, Momma Bird" (one of his nicknames for me) and I'll feel my eyes well. I walk in the room and see photos of now-4 year-old Logan on the screensaver as a toddler and I get misty. I see a puppy being loved to death by a little girl and I have to look away. No joke: I am a crier.

Yesterday, though, I hit a new low even for me. I started crying at the fair. Really. At the fair. Yep, right in the middle of the Synchronized 4-H Equine Drill Team. No, Jo wasn't riding. She was, however, leaning on the very edge of her seat, eating up every hoofbeat and flash of saddle she could catch. The look on her sweet face ... well ... it brought tears to a momma's eyes.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


O.k., enough with the emails. ;-) I am fine. Just been avoiding my blog because I associate it with Gloria ... and the due date was Tuesday ... and I don't have a little baby girl in my arms ...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Too hot outside? How about the air conditioned ER?

According to two thermometers I encountered this afternoon, it was 100 degrees here. Now, I'm not one to squirm when the heat index soars; after countless summers in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia, I am no stranger to heat. I can do it all: sticky hot, dry hot, curling-my-stick-straight-hair hot, even the infamous "I am scorching my lungs with every breath I take" hot.

I realized today, though, that I am a novice. After all--I suffered all those Southern summers with air conditioning.

Here in WA, a/c is a seldom-used luxury that home builders don't even throw in on the 3,000 sq. foot McMansions. Needless to say, my 1,500 sq. foot townhouse isn't appointed with such. Thankfully, the builder did throw in a lovely garage with concrete floor, as well as a window on the other side of the house for cross-ventilation purposes. Ahhhh ... the good life! Lounging in the garage, water-coloring with the children and listening to "Treasure Island" on CD (again).

When we tired of the decadence of garage living today, my little family and I packed up the sunscreen and headed to our friends' house. They are blessed with a large-sized inflatable kiddie pool, as well as a batallion of other water toys to delight the under-9 set on a blistering day.

This seemed like the perfect way to wait the too-hot day awa. And it was. Until the fateful moment when Logan misjudged the size of a rather large stone he was lugging and somehow managed to chunk it on his hand. I was thrilled to hear him scream (really! He has a frighteningly high tolerance to pain, so acknowledging is good!), but more than a little troubled when I noticed that his middle finger was facing the wrong way. YIKES!!!

So we ended our sweltering day in our van--which boasts a fabulous air conditioning system--and our doctor's emergency appointment room--also more than adequately cooled! Logan is none the worse for the wear, though he suffered a dislocated finger (not his first) and a compression fracture on his hand (first time in that body part). He took it all in stride. Honestly, I think he was as happy as I was to have an excuse--albeit painful--to sit in the frigid air long enough to peel one's shirt from one's back.

Hey, I'm not advocating this as the perfect way to spend the fiery days of summer. But it sure beats hiding in your garage!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Room schooling

Today we utilized our schoolroom for the very first time! I have to say it was a little odd having everyone in one spot. Normally I have one working over at the kitchen table (that's usually 4yo Logan, who will color, cut, tape and paint to his heart's content for hours), one on the couch with me (most likely 6 yo Atticus, who is my lap reader) and one sprawled on on the floor (that'd be 8 yo Jo, who can read and write in positions that yoga devotees spend years trying to master). What a switch to have everyone in one spot, even though we weren't always doing the same thing!

We started off at 9:30 this morning with "Hey Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek!" It's been a fun program to use. We're all learning at the same time--even me, because I most certainly never picked up on the Greek alphabet in school! Everyone hit the wicker couch for a reading of the primer, which they all adore. (Confession: after a dozen read-throughs, I no longer adore it quite so much!) Then we sang the alphabet, which even Logan has mastered. The "big kids" (as Logan calls them) went over to their desks to work on the workbook pages corresponding to today's letter--delta--and Logan and I stayed on the couch. Since he really needs to cement those English letters before he moves on to Greek, I've been matching the Greek sounds to the English alphabet. Therefore, today was the letter "D" for him. He happily made the "What Do Dinosaurs Do?" cut-and-paste book I had printed out for him, filling in witty things like "This dinosaur is ...." (answer: squishing a balloon)

After Greek, Atticus got to work on reading a Three Cousins mystery to add to his library list for that coveted summer reading prize (a free paperback book). I offered him any cozy corner he could find, but he chose to stay in his litle desk (can you say "novelty"?). Logan got interested in the castle dig kit he had recast yesterday afternoon, so that gave Jo and I a chance to finish the Times Tales program--which we did. She passed through each flashcard with flying colors, and was so proud of herself that she decided she needed a scratch-and-sniff sticker from the bin. I, of course, agreed--and gave her TWO. ;-)

We all came back together for a math puzzle. Instead of gathering around the coffee table--our usual spot--we were in the middle of the schoolroom floor. It felt different, but not bad. Maybe we need a coffee table out there, too.

We finished up with Spanish, which has to be done in my bedroom upstairs because that's where the Rosetta Stone is installed on my computer. Logan decided that he didn't want to go upstairs just yet, though, so he set up his big wooden blocks in the schoolroom and worked on a masterpiece while I sorted books onto shelves.

Not bad for an easy-going first day summer schedule.

And I'm still grinning!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I just realized that I hadn't posted about this little guy. Everybody, take a second to say a prayer of thanks for the gift of Simon, my friend J's new baby boy. Simon entered the world Saturday in a beautiful, peaceful homebirth which I was honored to attend. A very special prayer of blessing over their whole family!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Half a House

I currently have no living room.

Well, to be honest, the living room is there, it's just under a fairly thick layer of sawdust and cluttered with big saws and trimmed planks of wood. In other words, it is there, but it is useless.

We are replacing our carpet downstairs with some nice, easy-care laminate flooring to hopefully rid me of the daily chore of vacuuming dog hair and kid dirt in order to keep some semblance of clean. Of course, that will replace the vacuuming with dry mopping. But seeing as how that's Jo's chore, I'm more than willing to make this trade. ;-)

In addition to not having a living room right now, I am also without a dining room. All of my living room furniture is currently living there--the stuff, at least, that isn't in the garage. Speaking of the garage, the new schoolroom (completed except for final wiring) is filled to the brim with the items that will be housed there, as well as the big carpet remnant that will complete it's livability. In other words ... it's useless, too.

So--no living room, no dining room, no garage. In other words, half a house.

I'd like to think I'm handling it all with ease and characteristic unflappability. Truth is, I'm not. The urge to finalize plans for this coming fall is overwhelming, and there is no way I can concentrate on any of that fun stuff when I am snowed in under a pile of wood chips and couch cushions. My cousin has sent me some of the most fun unit study materials for American Girl books that I'd love to be contemplating, but instead I'm trying desperately to create enough wiggle room in the garage to begin putting the carpet down in the school room. Frankly, I'm getting frustrated!

By nature I am a fairly patient person (some people say a little *too* patient), but God has surely dished up a big ol' plate of Hurry Up and Wait for me right now ... and it doesn't taste very good!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

School room

My back is aching. My legs are sore. My arms are stiff. And I can't wipe the smile off my face. Why?

We have a schoolroom!

I spent yesterday afternoon emptying the room, rolling out carpet padding and carpet, moving everything back in and stapling things to the walls. The end result--one mostly complete schoolroom that is compltely habitable as we speak.

In other words, if I felt like it, I could march my littles downstairs right now and cuddle on our donated wicker couch with a good book!

I have no idea how to post pictures, so I can't share any with you. I'll make a point of figuring it out so that I can give you a peek into our new room!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Math ... because you have to

Jo does not like math. No, I take that back. Jo hates math. If given the chance between working on math or getting stung by a hornet, I really think it would be a big choice; at least, after you get the hornet sting over with, there's the silly loopiness of the Benadryl and mom is pretty likely to pull out the ice cream and make milkshakes. After math, well ... there's just the satisfaction of knowing you've got about 24 math-free hours coming.

We have, for the record, tried more math programs than any family has a right to have sampled. Thankfully, most of these came from my beloved cousin, who is a homeschooling mom to her own die-hard Math Aversion kiddos. Not paying for the programs has not made them any better, trust me. The promises ("painless facts drill!" "seamless skills!" "fun!") are equally as unfilled whether it's your $40 being forked out or someone elses.

For the record, we have tried Calvert, MCP, Math-U-See, Miquon, Singapore and Horizons. We have a small army of math CDroms, including QM Math, Reader Rabbit and Zoo Zillions. We have dozens of math games. While these are well-used and probably the best tools for teaching Jo, she tends to stay stuck on the same games, not advancing her skills at all. Horizons (now carried by SL!) has worked the best for us, although I still can't say that Jo has any real enjoyment of the topic.

So ... any stories of math morphing into fun out there? Anyone dying to share that one, elusive secret of turning math torture into math joy? C'mon ... I'm ready for anything!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Two doors down from us lives the most delightful little family. They have an adorable 3yo boy who talks a mile a minute and obsesses over balls and bikes. They have a 5yo girl who is about the sweetest thing I've ever encountered. They play beautifully with my dc. As a matter of fact, they've become about my favorite children to have over without mommas around because everyone plays with everyone and no one gets their feelings hurt.

They also just so happen to speak about a dozen words each in English.

Both of our families moved in about 3 1/2 years ago. We were fresh from the South and they were fresh from the way south, also known as Mexico. For a few weeks, the mom and I made huge efforts to gather in the common area and watch the children play. Pretty quickly, though, the language barrier became too much. The mother told me in broken English one afternoon that trying to talk with me made her "shy." Yikes! I had no intention of making her uncomfortable, but somehow I had managed, in my enthusiasm to have a friend in the neighborhood, to freak her out. I apologized profusely. She finally said that it wasn't me (thank goodness!), but rather, the problems of communicating with someone whose grasp of her mother tongue went as far as what Dora the Explorer had introduced on that morning's video. For her part, while I found her English to actually be quite good, she said she could only understand "tiny, tiny" of what I was saying.

Needless to say, the friendship never took off. I met a group of moms in the neighborhood, and she connected with a church of fellow Mexican nationals. While we wave at one another on our way to get the mail, we've rarely spoken in 3 1/2 years.

Somehow, though, the most amazing thing has happened this summer. Our kids, neighbors for most of their little lives, have discovered each other at last!

My older two children use Rosetta Stone Spanish, and my 4yo listens in and has a pretty decent vocabulary as well. I've picked up enough Spanish in the past three years to get by in a casual setting thanks to overseeing the Rosetta Stone and helping dh fund-raise at a Spanish-language only church near-by. In the meantime, the children down the street have gotten a few key phrases in English down pat--mostly things about Batman and Dora, but English nonetheless. Put all of us together and we can tell someone when their pelota es debajo de un carro or whether or not Batman can go in the water.

It's a start.

Jo, Atticus and Logan are so tickled with their newfound playmates (who like soccer as much as they do!). They've taken joy in comparing Mexico and Georgia, in riding their bikes at break-neck speeds and in kicking, kicking, kicking that football all over the street. It's absolutely contagious. Their mother has yet to venture out and watch them play this summer. I'm sure she is still uncomfortable with the idea of trying to labor through a conversation with me and is staying snug inside her house. But, you know what? I'm going to make a little gesture anyway. I baked some cookies this afternoon and we're taking them over for their family. Maybe the spirit of acceptance and love our children have kindled with one another is catching.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cup Crazy

Apparently, I could have titled this entry, "How to Make Just About Anything Educational."

At our house, the main sport is football. No, no--not that football, the one with men in big pads doing set plays and patting each other on the tush. The other football: international soccer.

My husband's family is steeped in soccer history. Dh's great-grandfathers played in Germany and Hungary, respectively. Dh's grandfather picked up the ball in St. Louis, MO, where his sons followed in his kangaroo-skin footsteps. My father-in-law played on a Hall of Fame college team, continued semi-pro in young adulthood and finally became a coach. His brother played professionally, kicking against greats like Pelé in the short-lived U.S. league. By the time my husband's generation came on the scene, there was no question as to whether or not he'd play soccer ... just how good he'd be at it.

As it turns out, Dh is good, but not great. He played through college, but is now content to coach 6yo Atticus and his friends to victory on quarter-sized fields with mommies for cheerleaders. Does that mean that soccer isn't his passion? Not for a minute.

While DH is a sane, but passionate man 99% of the time, soccer is his 1% lunacy. (Actually, he's really only sane about 2% of the time, because that other part of his life is spent being crazy for JESUS.) Most people never see this raging weird-o ... but he's there.

Enter the World Cup.

In case you live under a rock (or in America), right now the world is smack dab in the middle of the culmination of four year's build-up in the soccer-crazed community. I, for one, am thankful every day that my dh is not crazy about U.S. sports because frankly, if he expended as much energy on say, your average baseball season as he does on international football, I think our marriage wouldn't have survived very long.

But, blessedly, the Cup comes only once every four years. And during that 6 week period, my husband becomes so consumed with soccer that he literally plans his life around the games. And guess what that translates to? Yes, that means that the lives of every person in our family begin to center on soccer.

Since I have essentially four year's warning, I'm able to prepare somewhat. For the last Cup, when our kiddos were 4, 2 and newly birthed, I figured, what the heck, let's try cuisine from each of the countries as we watch the games. This is my attempt to stay connected to the goings-on, because while I can now spot an off-sides attack and know the difference between a yellow card offense and a red card offense, soccer just isn't the intoxicating elixir for me that it is for my husband. I choose the role of help-meet in his soccer La-La land, as in, "Honey, can I bring you some chips?"

So the last Cup was the one that we learned to love a Brazilian bean stew (still popular in our house), sampled an African peanut dish (no longer on the menu) and made crepes for breakfast one morn (why not?) The kids loved it, and while I don't think they learned a lick of anything other than how long it takes for dried beans to soak, it enhanced their World Cup experience somewhat.

This year I was determined to mine the Cup for every bit of educational value. The kids are older, after all, and frankly, they don't need a primer on ball skills or penalty shots. I think Jo could ref at this point, although she hasn't worn a jersey since an ill-fated season when she was 4 and attempting to play in the Georgia heat. Atticus already plays, and while he enjoys it and understands the game, he hasn't yet found his groove--which I'm thinking is goalkeeper. We shall see in a year or two. Then there's Logan, who has ball skills--and tricks!--that leave both dh and I wide-eyed in wonder ... as in wondering where he learned that.

At any rate, the Cup stretched before me like a huge blank-slate of educational opportunity. I dug in. Within the past few weeks we have learned about Ghana, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Argentina, South Korea and the other 27 countries (including the U.S.) that have been competing. We made flags, counted how many countries have sort of bird on their flags or in their crest (you'd be amazed), counted how many speak Spanish, French, English or something altogether different. We've been riveted when countries have gone head to head in games that have pitted them against their long-time colonizers, we've cheered for countries whose teams display outright devotion to God.

We've had fun.

And while I've known all along that I was meeting my goal of tying the business of school with the pleasure of soccer on some level, I really didn't think my kids had learned anything that earth-shattering. Until today.

Our church's kid's program this summer is focusing on missions. We know the family that gave today's presentation on Chile. Imagine our surprise when, as we picked our kids up after service, we were met with, "Your kids are amazing!" How do you not answer that with an agreement? ;-) Anyhow, when I asked why she thought my little ones were so smart, she said, "We've done this for three services now, and not one child has known anything about Chile. But this time, as we got started, we asked, 'Does anyone know where Chile is located?' And Jo and Atticus raised their hands and found it on the map." I smiled and said, "Sonlight."

"Well then, " she continued, "we asked if anyone knew any of the history of Chile. And Jo told us about Magellan and Pedro de Valdivia founding Santiago, the capital of Chile. And Atticus told us about the war of independence from Spain. So I said, 'Does anyone know anything else about Chile?' and Logan said, 'Yes, they speak Spanish and they're not fielding a World Cup soccer team this year.'"

So I guess I really can't complain about being a soccer widow. My children, after all, are learning.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Cast

I met a lady IRL who reads this blog (talk about a surreal conversation with a stranger!) who had just one comment: "I have no idea who your kids are! You really need to call them something."

When I pointed out that I do call them something, she said that letter and number combinations do not count. What she wanted was some insight into who they are, and a way to instantly recognize what kiddo I was talking about.

So, after some pondering, I decided that she was probably right. I mean, anyone can have a dd8, right? But if I call my dd8 Dorothy, you get an image of her in your head. (And no, my dd does not have ropey braids, talk to scarecrows or sing to her little doggie Toto.) Why not come up with a call name for the wee ones, something more personal than dd8, ds6 and ds4. Something that speaks a little bit about who they are. So, without further ado, I give you...

Ds4--Logan If you've never encountered the X-Men series (movie or comic book form), this one will mean very little to you. My little brother collected these comic books as he was growing up, and I made a point of reading them alongside him as an attempt to span the 7 year gap that separated us. As a result, I really enjoy the big Hollywood movies on the characters. Which brings me to Logan. Logan is the X-Men Wolverine's real name. I was tempted to call my boy Wolverine for the purposes of this blog, but it really only covers one side of his personality--the "I feel no pain, I can do anything, get out of my way 'cuz I'm gonna do that thing I'm looking at" side. But that doesn't really give a full picture of my 4 year old. He is also an amazingly complex little man who broods over things others have long since forgotten, will fight fiercely for those he loves and problem solves in ways that leave his older siblings and me standing gape-jawed at his prowess. So Logan he is: part wild man, part bad boy, part guardian angel, part genius.

Ds6--Atticus My middle child is nothing if not a champion for the cause of justice. He also has an uncanny ability to see inside people and approach them with just the right blend of humor and love. He knows when you're hurting, he knows when you need a hug, and he always, always knows when someone needs Jesus ... and he doesn't hesitate to share Him. I was especially drawn to the name Atticus for my 6 year old because, in the book "To Kill A Mockingbird" Atticus' character is revealed in layers. That's my son. He seems like the bookworm, but it turns out he's a sharpshooter. Who knew?

Dd8-Jo This was a hard call--my daughter could have easily been Jo or her big sister Meg from "Little Women." She loves proper things, things that appear on the surface to be in keeping with the way she things they ought to be. So clearly, she's Meg. But she also has a spirit that is irrepressible, so lively and joy-filled that it runs over sometimes. She is a reader, a writer and a creative heart. I figure that bit of Jo-ishness rates as more engaging than her Meg-ishness. So Jo she is.

Hopefully as you read about our family's adventures, these names will give you a few more cues into who we are and where we're coming from.

And if nothing else, the kind reader here in WA will be happy. ;-)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Camping, and other things we'll laugh about later

This past weekend was our family's summer kickoff--which is something of an oxymoron considering that in WA, it is no where near summer, and we homeschool year-round anyhow, so ... what's to celebrate?

Anyhow, being the hearty souls we are (or thought we were), we've planned a camping trip each year about this time to revel in the not-quite summer weather and ensuing break. Simple enough, right?

Now, my husband and I are not idiots--at least not on paper. Dh has more degrees than you can shake a stick at (and one remaining student loan to prove it) and I, myself, have a couple of BAs under my belt. Too bad there really are some things that no one can teach you. Common sense being among the most valuable of those, obviously.

Our plan on Friday was simple: wake up, watch the first World Cup match, pack the kiddos into the car and journey up to our favorite camping spot, where we'd stay until Sunday afternoon. On our agenda was some quality time on the rocky seashore, s'mores over the campfire, a little fishing and a few trips out in our trusty canoe.

Unfortunately, our plans had started falling apart long before Friday morning. As mentioned earlier, I have been in the grips of a terrible fatigue for a couple of weeks. This has meant that keeping my sunny attitude has become more of a chore than usual, and keeping up with my daily responsibilities has been nearly impossible. I have been leaning quite heavily on the Lord, and He is certainly bringing me through. A camping trip, though, had started to sound like an exercise in terror. Not the best way to start out the festivities.

Also working against us was a particularly nasty intestinal virus that swept through our family Thursday night. Without being too graphic, let's just say that we knew that it was a good thing our campsite was near the public bathrooms; no doubt someone would need them, if things kept up as they were.

But still we soldiered on with our plan.

Friday morning dawned gray and gloomy. Frustrations seemed unusually high in the house, with my oldest two children being told to stay away from one another, period. DS4 was also in a foul mood, seemingly going out of his way to trip people who walked past and "accidentally" use other's names in ugly-sounding rhymes. By the time my dh lapsed into his Deutschland football-induced coma, I was pretty well certain that we'd be waiting another day before casting off to our camping trip. But wait! Maybe I forgot to say that out loud? Dh certainly didn't notice it, because as soon as the game was over, he flipped the t.v. off and ordered everyone to the van ... without noticing the red lasers coming from my eyes or the tears on the children's faces.

But on we went. I look back now and wonder why the Lord didn't just string a huge banner across the windshield of my van saying, "STAY HOME!!!"

I could tell you tales about this camping trip that would curl your hair. I could wax poetic for hours on the words that came out of dd8's mouth as she pouted and huffed, or the way that ds6 pushed his brother off a log on purpose and watched him fall three feet to the ground, or the way ds4 spun so fiercely that he nearly fell into the fire not once, not twice, but three times.

But I wouldn't want to scare you away from camping, so I won't go there. ;-)

At one point in the trip, I literally dropped to the ground laughing so that I would not cry. See, I know the children I saw this weekend, but they certainly were not my little brood. Oh, no--they belong in some twisted sitcom where the siblings bicker over things as if sticks meant life or death and the serving size of a marshmallow actually is indicative of a parent's love and affection. No other way around it, folks ... this weekend, my kids were B-R-A-T-S.

Needless to say, we left the campground early. At 9:30 Saturday night, dh and I officially hit critical mass and strapped the kids into the van, loaded our belongings and headed home. The kids cried and fussed and whined, acting as if they had been denied some essential experience and we were just being ogres.

As we pulled out of the park, dh and I looked into the backseat to see our three children with heads flopped over, mouths agape and eyes, blessedly, shut. The little demons had fallen asleep almost as soon as the engine was started. Left in their place were our beautiful little angels, who we hadn't seen in three days.

The ride home was peaceful. Dh and I whispered back and forth about the upcoming events of the week and what we needed to do when we got home. We had a giggle a minute, I tell you. Driving in the dark always has been one of our silliest times for some reason.

But one thing we didn't laugh about: the camping trip. Because while it will some day be fodder for some great tall tales, it really isn't funny ...yet.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

American History

We're down to three weeks in SL Core 2. Two years of world history is finally (blessedly) coming to an end. I say finally not because it was bad or overlong or awful but because, well...two years of anything is a lot.

The kids are ready to move on, as well. American History is looking pretty good after such a stretch of studying areas we'll likely never see. (Even a missions-based family can only cover so much area, ya know?) As I sit down to plot out the year ahead I find myself mourning the fact that we live on the West Coast. Most likely it's only because I am ignorant of the history that surrounds me in WA, but I still find myself longing for that long car ride up to the Smithsonian, or to Colonial Williamsburg, or to Plimouth. My kids are going to miss out on experiencing Kitty Hawk and the Old South and seeing the Liberty Bell unless God provides with some pretty major funding ... or the airlines start giving seats away.

I know there's stuff here. There has to be. It's been a part of our nation for a good, long time. I just don't know the history, so it seems lifeless to me. So maybe it's time to do American History ... so mom can learn something.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Statistically speaking

Each of my children has a 50% chance of being mathematically challenged.

Thankfully, it's a nice, round 50% ... otherwise, I'd have no way of calculating it. Yes-- I am the reason the odds are so iffy. I'm no good with numbers.

My husband actually studied engineering in college before veering off into the Liberal Arts sector and becoming a writer. People are usually amazed that he can do better than the average creative guy when it comes to more advanced operations. Personally, I'm thankful that he has the skill. How else would I be able to take a recipe and not actually double it, but just add an additional half. (And you know, there's probably a name for that ... but I, of course, do not know it.) Dh stands at the ready, just in case those 1/3 tsp. need to be halved. Because you don't even want to know the decidedly unscientific method I'd use to do it.

As it turns out, 2 out of our 3 children are pretty good when it comes to math. Both boys seems predisposed to it in some decidedly un-me like way. Ds5 can already perform mental addition into the tens place, and ds3 isn't too shabby either, being able to read numbers into the hundreds quite easily.

Dd8, however ... ((sigh)) ... she inherited not only my grey eyes and long feet, but also my lack of understanding when it comes to anything relating to numbers.

We've tried just about every math program under the sun, it feels like. Calvert, Miquon, MCP. And Math-U-See? Don't even get me started there. It sounded good enough in all the reviews (some of which came from very trusted first-hand sources). You get your hands on all those little blocks and the concepts just click! Problem is ... they didn't. Dd was so frustrated that I think she had nightmares about units and choco-EIGHT and the big castle for the hundreds.

Currently, we're using Horizons. I have to say it's working pretty well. We moved dd back one level. Did I just say that?!? Yes, ma'am, I did. With no regard whatsoever for her self-esteem we started our third grader on Horizons 2 this past fall. Praise the Lord, it seems to be working! Dd is only a little more than half-way through the year's worth of work, as we have been taking it nice and s-l-o-o-o-w.

Dd is thrilled. The whole "2nd grade math" thing hasn't bugged her at all. O.k., it did a little when she first got the book and saw the big bunch of balloons and the giant "2" on the front. But within a few weeks, she was relishing the approach and the gradual acquisition of skills. She finally seems to be grasping concepts that she herself was pretty sure she'd never get. And that, she has decided, is much better than having a "3" on the book and being lost all year.

We realize that we're fighting nature with nurture here. Some people were just never designed to be human calculators. But maybe, just maybe, we can turn the tide in her favor. Beat the odds as it were. Not that I'd know how to figure them.