31.8.09

One Thousand Gifts-Week 31

I've been thinking recently about how much changing the way I tell my story has changed the way I view my life. This list here, this deliberate seeking and treasuring that which is good, has opened me up to so much joy. You might want to try it. Let me know if you do.

  • sweet juicy peaches
  • the way her hair flips up at the back
  • sun-kissed cheeks
  • the way we have the swimming pool all to ourselves on the week days
  • Little's undisguised pleasure greeting a favorite friend
  • the use of a car for the weekend
  • the joining of two friends for life on ocean cliffs with the setting sun behind them
  • little girls dragging brand new grown up friends onto the dance floor
  • the quiet maturity that sometimes settles over the Boy
  • how exciting it is to discover together that rays are flattened out sharks
  • Little telling her brother and sister, "Me want MY mommy."
  • a tidy floor that I didn't have to nag about
  • the way a neighbor's child runs to hug me each time she sees me
  • the Girl picking lemon verbena to make us all tea
  • the fearless way they asked every single person who walked by this weekend if they wanted to buy some lemonade, and the casual acceptance of the occasional no.
  • real time status updates from my man on the other side of the globe
  • "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow"
The gratitude community is here.

27.8.09

Thailand Again

It's been a year since I announced here on my little blog our plans to start The Charis Project move to Thailand and take care of refugee kids and provide resources for the refugee villages there.

The response was overwhelming. Truly it was. That first month you all donated about $1000, which was enough for Chala to move the kids to Kamphaeng Phet where they could get Thai documentation and go to school. It was you, people we have never met in person, who made us believe that this could happen, that we could take care of these children, that there are people who care and are willing to help.

So much has happened since then. There have been some rough times. But now, thanks to sponsors and donors we're meeting more than half of the monthly budget for the children, Chala and his wife are reunited, and there is enough to feed the children every day. (We still need more sponsors, but it's a lot better than it was.)

We are still not living in Thailand. That will come when the time is right.

Today, the GH boards a train, and then another train, and then a shuttle to get to LAX. Tonight he will be returning to Thailand yet again. He says that he's looking forward to sleeping on a woven bamboo floor in a village again.
This time thanks to donated resources, he'll be helping Chala start two agriculture based micro businesses for the children's home to run. Growing mushrooms, and raising fish or pigs. This will not only provide another food source for the children but will give them something to sell to move them closer toward financial self sufficiency. It will also provide the children with an education in business and agriculture.

(Our brother Sean who lives in Thailand and takes care of foster children there, has perfected the mushroom growing technique. He was going to go with the GH to the children's home but his wife is expecting and may go into labor any second.)

He'll also be meeting with some of our community workers for a few days and spending some time with them in training.

I can't help but marvel at where the events of the past year and a half have taken us. I want to thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your love and support this year. It's largely thanks to you that any of this is possible.

26.8.09

Dreaming





For words about husbands go to my post a Blissfully Domestic.

For a great recipe using black beans and rice that your kids will want to eat check out the real food revolution-volcanoes.

24.8.09

One Thousand Gifts-Week 30



  • All of you for the love in your comments on this post. I cried while reading them but in a good way. It is good to know people understand.
  • Making cookies.

  • Green spaces to run in.
  • The delight on the Girl's face when I bought her a $3 bouquet of flowers at the farmer's market.

  • A Boy who pushes the stroller when Little wants him too because he's more fun than mommy.

  • The noise that means we're all together again.
  • Little, hard at play in her aunties old playhouse.

  • Family returning from far away.
  • MIL's and friends who plan adventures. (The Boy is paddling the Girl around on his first day ever in a kayak while the GH looks on.)

  • Brave, brave kids, who are eager to try out new things.

  • Dirty little chubby feet.


  • After beach gathering for tacos at a friend's house.
  • Work tomorrow.
  • Hugs from friends.

  • The gratitude community is here.

    21.8.09

    Aw crap

    I gained a lot of weight during my very brief pregnancy with Shiloh, and since then, rather than lose it I may have gained a little bit more. I don't like it. It's hard to go through my closet and only have 3 or 4 tops that fit and one pair of pants. I'm not that fond of looking in the mirror right now either. But it's not an all consuming thought for me.

    I know what needs to be done. I need to not have that second portion after I'm no longer hungry. I need to stop having an extra piece of dessert. I need to be more mindful and snack less.

    A few days ago the GH, for the first time in the several months that this has been going, on said something. Very gently he asked if there was anything he could do to help me. So I told him a few ways that I thought he could help. After that I thought of other things. Just as I was drifting to sleep it occurred to me to pray about it so I murmured a prayer for help to be aware and disciplined the next day.

    The next day started out fine. It was a very good day in fact. Just after lunch I laid Little's sleeping body down for a nap and knelt, as I often do, at the piano bench to pray. (It doubles as a prayer bench for me since we have no space.) Two slow breaths to quiet myself and suddenly I was weeping. Silent long wracking sobs that came out of no where and for no apparent reason. Why was I crying?

    A friend's twin sister died last week. She was my friend too. Maybe it was that? But it wasn't.

    I asked similar questions, all the while sobbing, until I wondered if it was about Shiloh again. And then, welling up out of some hidden place inside of me came this thought, "I don't want to be my normal weight again! I don't want to look like I did before I was pregnant! I don't want to look like it never happened! I should be pregnant right now, not trying to lose weight. I should be getting ready for a baby to arrive."

    (I had to stop 4 times while typing that last paragraph to just cry. I'm still crying.)

    I know that this is irrational. Being fat will not bring my baby back. It will only make me unhealthy and tired all the time. I don't want to not do things with my kids just because I'm not strong enough any more. But this is how I feel, though I didn't know it until now.

    Every time since that I have knelt at that bench the sobbing has overtaken me once more and I am overwhelmed. It's like praying about it opens a door that I have been holding shut until now. I have to believe that the crying is healing something. I have to believe that there is a way through to the other side of this pain.

    But I have no idea what to do past that. I have no choice but to see it through.

    20.8.09

    7 Quick Takes


    1. Thanks to twitter, CherylSmith999 to be exact, I have now discovered the comedy magic that is literal music videos. For example, they take this video of Rick Astley singing, Never Gonna Give You Up 1987 (man I'm old) and they voice over it literally describing what is happening in the video. Watch it here. If you can't figure out how that could be funny just wait until, "enough of me, let's cut to my shadow." I also recommend Total Eclipse of the Heart-The Literal Version and With Arms Wide Open - Literal Video Version. You can manage on your own from there, I'm sure. Hours of free entertainment.

    2. I just found out that people pay anywhere between $200 to $400/month for cable/internet. That kind of shocked me. What's more shocking, to me, is that that people in my neighborhood who are on a fixed income, unemployed, on public assistance, etc, are the ones paying these bills. Yikes.
    I pay $25/month for highspeed internet. The wireless modem router was about $200. That's one month of cable, for the lower cost. In six months of paying your $200 cable bill you would be able to purchase a brand new MacBook and download your TV for free. Add the cost of a netflicks membership, which is way less than $200/month and you have all the entertainment you need, don't you? Why would you pay that much for cable when you can't afford gas or groceries or laundry? How do you have time to watch it enough to be worth it? Did you fail math?

    Mind boggling y'all.

    3. I got to go to SummerFest Under the Stars at The Cove in La Jolla with the GH last week. It's a free outdoor classical concert on cliffs overlooking the ocean for those of you not wanting to click the link. It was lovely, even though there was no sunset. It may be the first time I've ever been at the cove in the evening that there has not been a spectacular sunset. But it was too overcast. The music was good though, and hearing the waves crashing below and the cry of seagulls in the silent places was a really beautiful combination. A friend who plays viola in the orchestra told us about it. I think it may be the first classical concert I have attended without needing to run after children since the Boy was born. Totally worth the hour long train ride to meet the GH after work, just for the pleasure of sitting and listening uninterrupted. Having a handsome guy for a date wasn't that bad either.

    4. I keep meaning to find out if there is any reason humans shouldn't eat birdseed. I keep thinking this because a 5 pound bag is only $4 or so at Target and from what I can see it's all really nutritious grains and seeds like millet. That stuff costs a lot at the grocery store. It looks like if you washed it and cooked it it would make some really good porridge. Now wouldn't that be a healthy frugal tip. Perhaps I'll try it and let you know.

    5. The GH came in this week and collapsed into a chair in that way that lets me know he's messed up. He was listening to PBS on the way home and they aired, from a documentary, a domestic violence call, made by a child. He said he was wailing all the way home. The worst thing he has ever heard. I can't find it online, though he assures me I don't want to listen to it even if I did. Did anyone else hear it?

    6. Number 1 reminds me of a conversation that was relayed to be by a friend who was at that time the director of a nonprofit in Vancouver Canada known as Jacob's Well. (It's a really cool story how it started so you should click over and read about it.) One of the street guys she was friends with asked her for money one day so she answered, "Is it true that on a good night, Friday or Saturday, panhandling you can make over $100 bucks?"
    "Yeah, sometimes."
    "And even on a bad night you still make a little right?"
    "Yeah."
    "So you can make up to $400/week doing that. Right?"
    "I guess."
    "And you get your assisted living check so when you add that all together, you actually make more money than I do. I should be asking you for money."
    "But you have a car."
    "Yes, I do. That's because I don't smoke all my money up a crack pipe. When you're ready to quit that you know you can come and talk to me and I'll help you."
    "Yeah."
    She qualified that by reminding her listeners that she was actually friends with the guy, and that's the kind of conversation you can have with someone if you are in relationship with them and they know you care about them that you couldn't as you are trying to ignore them when they approach you on a street corner.
    I've always remembered it for some reason.

    7. The GH and I joke around about how we should start a Husband for Hire business. He's really good at all those little things that wives hate nagging their husbands about; repairs, maintenance, taking out the trash, foot rubs... All we need is a catchy slogan and paying customers and I think we're set. Of course if this were to happen I would probably end up like the cobbler's wife, you know, rubbing my own feet, or something, while he takes out someone else's trash... (Man I tried writing that without it sounding suggestive and there is just no way to do it. You can see the trouble we're having coming up with the slogan.)

    And that completes the mind dump for this week. Thanks Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday.

    19.8.09

    It Sucks to be the Little Guy

    There is a story I haven't told. I don't know why I'm telling it today. Perhaps I'm just sick to death of dealing with the fallout. Perhaps it's because a friend told me recently that reading my blog makes her feel jealous of my life. Which surprised me. It's a good life. I like it. This is the space where I try to savor all the good that has been given to me. But that doesn't mean that I never have to deal with crap. I choose to not dwell on it as much as possible, but it's there. So in the interest of a more complete picture of my life, I'll share this story.

    It involves a man who has a lot of money, and two men who don't.

    The man with a lot of money, and I mean, a lot of money, has a very big mansion in the midwest. He's a commercial developer. He builds private clinics onto hospitals with Saudi oil money. He has 600 million dollar meetings. He owns an 8 million dollar "beach house" in La Jolla, CA. He has a temper and he's proud of it.

    He owes my husband's boss(MHB) $8000 dollars. He has violated the terms of their contract. MHB doesn't think he will ever see that money again. He can't afford the legal battle to get it.

    It started when MHB told one of this man's long term employees that his boss was behind in payments by $8000 for custom renovations they have been doing for him. THis man got angry and accused MHB of slandering him and lying.

    It continued with this man trying to renegotiate the contract so that it would be more favorable to him, in the the middle of the job. It ended when MHB, a good man with a newborn at home, refused, and was fired.

    Of course there is legal recourse. He could put a lien on the home, so it can't be sold until he is paid. But this man, who shall remain nameless because we can't afford a law suit, is vindictive. He has a history of destroying people, and he has the money to do it. Lawyers call it f*ck you money. He could sue for slander, he could take out frivolous lawsuit after frivolous lawsuit until MHB is bankrupted by legal fees. His lawyers tell him this man has done it before, to other people who have tried to bring him to justice.

    So, it has been hard, very hard for the whole company for several months. For two months after that MHB paid his employs, but didn't pay himself. Since then they've been struggling to find work that is steady enough, which happens. You expect unsteadiness in the construction business. You plan ahead. But when you've lost a cushion of oh about $8000 there isn't much to fall back on. Four times since February he's not been able to pay us on time. Like right now. Jobs need to be finished before contractors get paid. So how do you pay your employees every two weeks when you don't get paid until the end of the month and you have nothing left in reserve? It's never happened to him before this year. He is terribly undone by it all.

    Yet, we've been fine. We've made it through so far. There is work tomorrow. Don't know about the day after that.

    But it chafes me. It's wrong. This man should not be able to get away with ruining lives just because he's wealthy enough to do what he wants. There shouldn't be such a thing as wealthy enough to do what he wants. There should be justice. But there isn't. I find myself less than pragmatic today about the whole thing. It may or may not have to do with the way our rent check bounced recently because of not having a steady income anymore. Just one of those things when all the bills came out at once and a deposit wasn't made when it usually is.

    It makes me angry.

    It is wrong.

    It doesn't seem there is anything to do.

    Any ideas?

    18.8.09

    Life with Little


    We have a friend over for lunch. During the meal we are talking about our plans to go swimming afterward.

    "Me want to go swimming!" Little says, abandoning her meal to climb out of her seat. "Me get ready."

    "No, not yet," I tell her, "First we have to finish eating, then we can go swimming."

    "Okay," she says.

    30 seconds later...

    One of the other kids says that word, swimming.

    Little starts to get up. "Me want to go swimming!"

    "After you finish eating, first eat, then swim."

    "Okay." She takes another tiny bite of food.

    "Me all done. Me go swimming now."

    "No you are not done, eat some more."

    "No, me go swimming now."

    "Eat first."

    "Okay." Takes a tiny bite.

    "Me go swimming now?"

    Repeat all that another 20 times and you have an idea of how lunch was that day, and pretty much what any day with Little is like.

    *******
    Her birthday isn't until December. She saw a princess cake at the store, you know, the kind with the doll in the top and a cake for a dress. "Me want dat for for my my birfday cake," she said, eyes alight. "Me want a pwincess cake."

    "I can make you one," I responded. "Oma used to make me cakes like that all the time when I was a little girl. If you still want it when it's your birthday I'll make it for you."

    In the meantime several neighborhood friends have had little parties at the playground. So now she has it all mapped out in her mind.

    "You make me pwincess cake! We eat it at pwayground! I eat it all. (This said with a shake of the head and downward inflection intended to mean the opposite of what she just said.) I share it! Mama, you make my cake now?"

    "No honey, it's not your birthday yet."

    "Oh."

    Then I made the wedding cake.

    "You make my pwincess cake mama?"

    "No honey, this is a wedding cake."

    "Oh. Yeah. Fo mwissa's wedding. Me fowa giwl. Me fow dem onna gwound for mwissa to walk on."

    "Mama? After mwissa's wedding you make my my pwincess cake?"

    "Yes, honey, when it's your birthday."

    And so it continues.

    **************

    Last night Little was talking in her sleep a bit.

    Then she sat straight up in her bed and said, "Mommy. Me, me, me... mommy, me... mommy me want... Mommy, me want... Mommy me want... sumfing. Me want sumfing mama."

    "Do you want your water?" I asked, puzzled.

    "NO! ME! WANT! SUMFING! GIVE! ME! SUMFING! MOMMY! GO GET IT FOR ME!"

    "But I don't know what something is. What do you want?"

    "ME WANT SUMFING!"

    After a few identical rounds I finally said, "OK, lay down and I will go get you something."

    So she laid down and went back to sleep.

    Good thing she's cute.

    17.8.09

    small and orange

    I felt a bit of a pang as I looked at the beloved bright orange dress lying in the trash can one more time before shutting the lid. It was a gift for the Girl from her Beema, purchased in Thailand years ago. Just that morning I eyed it's tattered too shortness as she ran, bare legs flashing, and thought, "It would make a cute baby doll top if I just repaired that torn side seam."

    Then I saw the holes in the back where she used a concrete banister at the beach as a slide. Holes I repaired last summer, now returned. Still I thought I could save it once again, preserve it's usefulness yet another year. After all, I had thought it beyond hope after a camping trip rendered it filthy, but that washed out with a bit of hand scrubbing.

    But that night, as I picked it up off the floor, covered in stains from the blueberry cobbler, I was just too tired to think of washing, patching and sewing this rag of a dress anymore. Without a word to anyone I quietly dropped it in the trash and there it lay, bright and impossibly cheerful against the dirt and scraps beneath it.

    She will miss it eventually. She has a mind like an elephant that one. I wonder if I did the right thing. I hope she will remember the 3 dresses I've sewn her this year, the countless times I've repaired her hopelessly dirty and damaged playthings, and that this one discarded dress, however well loved, will not weigh too heavy in her childish mind. I need energy for other things this year, like listening and being present more often. I know this. I know that will be a better use of the hour I would spend in repairs.

    But still, I wonder. In my mind's eye is a bright, fluttery little dress floating away from me where I can't reach it anymore. Not unlike this childhood of hers that drifts slightly further away from me every single day.

    15.8.09

    In Search of a Red Tent

    A long time ago my MIL and I somehow got on the topic of Old Testament law. Particularly the bits about a woman being unclean during her menstrual cycle. I said something about how that seems so archaic and unfair to women.

    "Unfair!" she responded. "Think about it. While you are hormonal and holding rags or straw between your legs to catch your blood, you don't have to cook for, fetch water for, clean up after, or even be around your husband or any of your children who are old enough to not be nursing. You get to leave and spend a few days outside of the camp resting, all by yourself, or with a few other women, until your period is over. That sounds really great to me."

    All that to say, I could really use a red tent right about now.

    Once again, Tamra's way ahead of me. Check out her idea. I want to be her neighbor.

    13.8.09

    Home Schooling-How we do it. Part 3 schedule and routines

    Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 as well.

    In my heart I am an un-schooler. I would love for everything to be spontaneous, all learning child directed and based on burning interests. In my experience, total spontaneity leads to doing nothing all day. Boredom is good for kids, it gives them a chance to be creative. I'm all about downtime. But I have learned that structure is necessary if you want spontaneous moments to happen. There needs to be an underlying routine and rhythm to it all. In essence you are forging space for learning to happen by establishing a routine.

    I've finally learned the power of a routine, versus a schedule. A routine is something you do automatically, flowing without thought from one thing to the next. A schedule feels artificial, is tied to the clock, and is work to maintain. The difference is the time it takes to sit down and figure out where things already naturally occur in the day and fit other things you want to do in with them. Then you need to remember to do them for a week or two and they become habit, something you do without thinking. This is especially important for kids. Other people have written about this far better than I. So I will leave it there.

    Our Day.

    The kids have chores to finish before breakfast that are age appropriate.

    • get dressed
    • make bed
    • empty dishwasher
    • water plants
    • wipe down bathroom counters and toilet
    • take out trash
    Little enjoys helping the bigger kids with their work, and they are usually happy for the help. They are able to do all this on their own. (I make sure to thoroughly teach them everything I expect them to do, going very slowly until they can do it all. I learned that from the Montessori people.)

    During this time I am, hopefully, spending a bit of time praying, and exercising and stretching for half an hour. Then I shower and get dressed, and do my chores.

    I almost always have muesli and yogurt made ahead of time and they get their own breakfast. We usually end up eating about the same time anyway.

    After breakfast chores.

    • clear the table
    • load the dishwasher
    • brush teeth
    • quickly pick up anything laying around.
    They are pretty well trained to go through this all on their own and don't need much help from me. Except, I still load the dishwasher.

    Reading
    Once things are cleaned up the Boy reads a chapter of his assigned reading, if he hasn't already, and I read to the girls.

    Writing
    For writing practice I have them copy out another verse in the passage we are memorizing. The act of writing it out helps with memory. I write it for the Girl to copy as well, even though she doesn't really read yet, she loves to draw letters.

    Singing
    We all sing together a few hymns. We learn new hymns as the desire seizes us, or I decide it's a good thematic tie in, and talk about what the words mean. This also tends to function as a small voice lesson as well, because I can't refrain from giving pointers, and so far they enjoy it.

    Memory and Recitation
    We recite the passage together, adding the new verse of the day and then they each take turns saying it alone. We focus during this time on diction, projection, posture, etc. No laying on the floor yelling it out, I'm trying to teach more than a passage of scripture, just as I'm trying to make the most of writing time by having them copy out something they need to learn.

    Prayer
    We say The Lord's Prayer together. We learned it a line at a time last year talking about what it meant. Sometimes I'll throw in another liturgical type of prayer from time to time as well. And then we spend a little bit of time specifically praying, for each other, daddy at work, the kids in Thailand, that sort of thing.

    This all takes about an hour. I have staggered it; doing some things one day, and some things the next if it seems we need more time.

    School
    Then it's time for "school". We usually do only one subject a day, or two related subjects. I like to let them have enough time to really work on it.

    After school time, we put away the books. They get to play games together or have free play. This is when I get a half hour to get things done. Check my email, sweep up the post school mess, write a post, pay a few bills. Whatever is at the top of the list.

    Lunch
    I keep it simple. I'll start dinner at lunch if needed; fill a crock pot, defrost something, soak lentils, etc.

    After lunch we clear the table, put the dishes in the dishwasher and then it's quiet time.

    Quiet Time
    Those who need it, sleep. Those who don't sit quietly in their rooms and entertain themselves. Reading, toys, etc. It gives us all a break from each other, a good things when we're together all day. And it gives me about an hour to myself. Hooray. Since I read A Mother's Rule of Life I spend 10-15 minutes praying. I wouldn't have even though of it before then. Then I jot a few things in my gratitude journal and the rest of the time is mine. I usually work or make a dent in a project. Little still sleeps more than an hour so I can keep working once the kids wake up. They usually have a bit of tidying to do in their room before they may come out.

    Afternoon
    I'm done with school for the day by this time. The kids may have more work to do. This is when they finish anything they ran out of time for in the morning. If they are all done their work they can play outside, or play inside, it's free time for the rest of the day. If they aren't finished, they must work until they are before they get free time. This helps motivate them to make the best of their time in the morning.

    One or twice a week this time is needed for outings. We like to walk to the farmer's market and Library, and we walk to the stores and post office that are close by.

    I try to stay away from watching any kind of TV on weekdays. It's too tempting for us when we're home all the time. Shows are reserved for the weekends and days off. Sometimes, if the weather is bad or they've done everything and played outside a long time already, I'll let them watch Planet Earth while I make dinner. But that's usually it. Their lives divide into two categories, show days, and school days.

    This would be the time of day when my kids fulfill their Phys Ed requirement, by playing outside. Well, "technically" they are supposed to receive some sort of structured instruction in this, it's required. I think family walks count. As do after dinner treks to the school across the street to they can run around the track and shimmy up the climbing pole and stuff, and playing catch, and then there is the bit where they always abandon their chores to run and stretch with me in the mornings when I'm exercising. Or the 5 laps around the building when they are restless. We get it in. Just looking at them will prove that.

    At some point I try to go over the next days lessons, make sure we have what we need. It's a good idea to look ahead at the whole week at least once, especially if you have any projects that you need to purchase supplies for.

    Weekly Schedule

    Monday
    • Bible
    • History-geography naturally falls in here as well.
    Tuesday
    • Math
    Wednesday
    • Science
    Thursday
    • Reading and writing (Explode the Code)
    Friday
    • Music
    • Art
    That's pretty much it.

    Teaching 3 at once
    Now, in ETC and math I have to teach two different lessons, one each for the Boy and Girl. So I need filler activities for the Girl to keep her quiet while I teach the Boy. She finishes way faster than he does and wants to do more rather than run off and play. She would love it if I let her do several lessons in one sitting. Once the Boy is set, he can work independently. He is often distracted by teaching his sister how to do her work however. This is otherwise known as shouting out the answer before she has time to figure it out.

    I fill in for her with computer games, flashcard assignments, scavenger hunt clean up items, a little Montessori style work cupboard, etc. (I can't wait until she can read to herself it will be so much simpler.)

    As for the resident toddler, Mary has some great ideas for how to accomplish anything (at all) with preschoolers in the house. Little however is a social animal, and doesn't care how fun an activity is if she has to do it alone. She squeezes herself right in at the table and yells, "ME DO IT!" I keep old workbooks and give them to her to scribble on. She's happy because they look like the big kids work and works on them a long time. She's starting to enjoy the work cupboard as well if she can do it with the Girl.

    Where does school happen?
    Usually at our dining table. (We only have one.) There is a child sized table in the bedroom as well and anyone who is too distracted, or distracting, can take their work in there. They generally prefer to be all together though, even when their work is different. Fortunately, we only have two days a week of different work. The rest is all done together.

    An Encouragement
    It may feel daunting to try and get all of this to happen in a day. But it only takes a couple of weeks of dedication before your kids will be dragging you along through the routine you've established. "Mommy," in shocked tones, "We forgot to sing." On holidays, "Why have we not done school all week?" "Today we're supposed to do science not math." We moved to year round school when less than a week into summer they started to say, "I'm bored, can we do school now?"

    Also, as smooth as this may or may not look on paper, it never goes just as planned in real life. I've learned to stop expecting it to. Things always come up. As well as school, you are living life together. So relax a little when your plans get derailed. There's always tomorrow to get back on track. Sometimes we all need a change of pace. That's one of the advantages of home schooling. You can take the day off and go to the beach just because. You can also say it's a field trip and learn about stuff while you are there. Or read more when you get home. There's a lot of room for creativity.If you feel overwhelmed, relax. Remember, you have to do what works for your family. Your main goal is the same: to create space and an environment in which learning can take place.

    PS. I just found this post on homeschooling by Anne Voskamp that's well, way better than mine. Go be inspired.

    12.8.09

    Home Schooling-How we do it. Part 2 Curriculum

    Yesterday I mentioned the curricula that we began with when we first started homeschooling. Please go and read for a better understanding of our philosophical approach to learning as well. This post isn't a neat and tidy list, though I tried. It's hard when what I'm trying to show is how different things we did all worked together in harmony with each other. There are no walls between one subject and another. They all work together.

    To review:
    The first year we just used

    An early reading primer: Explode the Code. The boy still has three books to go in this series. At the end of which he should understand all of the pronunciation and spelling rules at least. Each of these books costs about $7 US. And I splurged on the $20 or so dollar flashcards as well.

    Early math that continues into a full k-12 Singapore Math curriculum: Early Bird Kindergarten Mathematics I also inherited a big box of math manipulatives from a home school family that was finished using them. I pull them out every time I'm explaining a difficult concept.

    You should understand that learning was happening in much of the rest of our day as well, outside of the half an hour we spent with curricula, but I have found them to be a good guide for me, and useful in making sure we cover specific subjects.

    The second year we added history, and Bible.

    For history, if you can afford it, I covet Tapestry of Grace. But I don't have a $1000/year school budget even if you can reuse it. I usually get by on $200 or less, and a lot of that is school supplies. I love Tapestry because it's a history based program and it centers around reading real books. All the subjects except math are incorporated into the study of history.

    However, I can't afford to buy Tapestry. So here's what I do. We started out reading Story of the World. It's an adequate introduction to history for small kids. We just read it, and avoid the endless busy work involved in the activities you can get to go with it. I don't want them to be bogged down with busy work.

    I also found as many books as I could at the Boy's reading level that were about the same historical era. The tapestry website has a book list that you can look at, even if you don't buy. Or it used to. It uses real books, that you can find at the library. I picked up some second hand Veritas Press readers that went nicely as well. The Boy read these during reading time and often interrupted me as I read Story of the World to them to tell me all about something in one of his books that related to what I was reading. Remember, it's really about the conversation you are having. Don't rush along past these moments when they are connecting the dots in their head and want to tell you about it, just so you can finish reading a chapter. Pause and talk about it. This is what learning is all about.

    Here is a really good example of a literature based curriculum that two homeschooling moms put together for their preteen daughters to accomplish specific teaching goals.

    Along with that we were keeping Biblical Feast Days and had been for a few years. (If you click that link please understand that while I consider it a good information source, though it's occasionally wrong, I'm not a totally rabid, this is the only way to do it ever, person like they can be.) I realize many people probably aren't interested in doing this with their families, but I include it in order to demonstrate how much of what you are already doing with your kids can be a natural supplement to what you are trying to teach them. We were learning about what it was like in ancient Israel at the same time as we learned about the the rest of the ancient world, it overlapped nicely. What keeping feast days also taught me was that kids learn by doing. "Why are we doing this mommy?" is the greatest lead in to an educational moment ever.

    At the end of the Feast of Sukkot (you can look it up) there is supposed to be a celebration of the Torah, and the completion of the year long reading cycle. My MIL once wrote a year long Sunday school curriculum, inspired by the book, 30 Days Through the Bible. It has 52 different coloring pages, one for each week of the year that cover a sequential overview of the entire Bible from a historical perspective. We had the kids glue each of these onto long sheets of newsprint and rolled them up like Torah scrolls. That has been our Bible curriculum for the past year. They color, I read the corresponding passages and we talk about them. I was surprised at how much I learned along with them.

    (I keep telling my MIL she needs to publish it somehow, and I think I've convinced her, provided the publisher of the book that inspired her doesn't have a problem with it, to upload the whole thing as PDF files and allow people to download it for a small fee. In fact, I may have talked her into blogging too about teaching children. Stay posted.)

    I would like to take credit for how well everything meshed together like that and played out like a fully integrated schooling program. But honestly, at least half of it was an accident. Now I try to do it intentionally.

    The other thing about Tapestry that I like is that it's cyclical. Every four years you start at the beginning of history again and go through to modern times in 4 years. This adapts really well to homeschooling with several different ages. You can be sure they will all get it by the time they graduate your school, and 4 years is enough of a gap that their ability to understand and deal with the subject matter will be much more advanced. The books the Boy will be reading on ancient Mesopotamia in 3 years time will have a lot more information in them. And he will be interacting with the material in very different ways.

    (This is an aside, probably more for me than anything else. I wrote at Easter about the traditional church calendar making more sense after keeping feast days. And so I want to keep the church calendar this year. I intend to cycle through, keeping feast days every two or three years perhaps, so the younger kids get the benefit of them and then the church calender the other years. I'm still figuring this one out. So I'm not sure if it will work yet.)

    So that's it. I used some cheap books, a whole lot of free resources, (Join a home school group, if only so you can share and borrow tools and stuff. It helps.) and I adapted everything to fit the needs of our family.

    But what about science, spelling, music, and art? That was on Fridays. Well, Music and Art was.

    I'm teaching them piano, voice and music theory using the Alfred Piano Method. This was my favorite curriculum when I was teaching piano for a living. Honestly, you don't need to know how to play to teach out of these books. They explain EVERYTHING! You could probably get your kid to level 4 all on your own, learning along with them.

    I really like the book Drawing With Children as an approach for art. Though I'm frustrated that I have to come up with my own lesson plans because I don't want to take the extra time. I'm looking for a supplement that makes lesson planning easier. But the warm up exercises have been effective for my kids. I also take them through the big grownup History of Art texts that I have and we look at art from the time period we are studying. As well we use the internet to find art images, which is a great resource and doesn't require storage.

    We listen to music from the time periods as well. I knew I kept the History of Music CDs I bought in university for a reason.

    Spelling isn't a big deal for us yet. And Explode the Code explains a lot of the spelling rules as we go along. This year I will add two identical spelling tests per week on the new vocabulary and spelling rules to help. In a few years I intend to use Spelling Power.

    Science continues to be learning about things that interest us. This year we've covered the solar system, the earth-physical properties, weather, geology, volcanoes, birds, wasps, life cycle of a seed, tide pools, sharks, the ocean floor, etc. I also give the boy old appliances and a screw driver so he can take them apart, figure out how they work, make new stuff, etc. He dismantled a blender, to a point, and then managed to put it back together again so that it still worked. This is how I teach science.

    Finally, I can't post this without telling you that at least half of the curricula I've mention here were recommended by my MIL who successfully home schooled 8 children. When I started homeschooling I went to her and asked, "If you had to do it all over again, what would you use to start with?" So it's thanks to her that I know these things. She did all the work.

    Coming tomorrow-What our day actually looks like.

    11.8.09

    Home Schooling-How we do it.

    Since it's about time for another season of school, and I need to file another course of study with our home school administrator*, I figured I would write a few posts about how we home school. Every family does it differently btw.

    (One of the first home schooling books I ever read, and still one of my favorite was called, Fundamentals of Homeschooling. The author paints such a lovely picture of what it can look like and how it can work. If you are thinking of homeschooling and don't know how to begin I suggest reading it.)

    We started out knowing that we would home school. Because of that I was able to see teaching reading, writing, science and arithmetic as a natural continuation of the conversation that parents have with their children in the years leading up to school age. During those years children learn to walk, to speak, to get dressed, how to put their dishes away in the sink, where their shoes go, how to wash their hair, set the table and peel carrots, etc. They learn all these skills through constant interaction with the grownups and other children in their family. They learn what spiders are, and flowers, they pick up a vast wealth of information from asking and being answered. Formal education is simply a continuation of this conversation.

    (If you didn't know toddlers could learn these things, or want to know more about how to teach them I recommend Mommy Teach Me, by Barbara Curtis.)

    I have two very simple home school goals.

    1. Teach them to read.

    2. Don't kill the natural curiosity about the world around them and love of learning that they are born with.

    Once they can read the entire world is theirs to discover, and I don't have much else to do other than guide, provided they still enjoy learning.

    With this in mind, I'll tell you about how we started. We started out with reading, and talking, and discovering. We started out when the Boy was three with spiders. He liked to watch them, so we signed out all the library books we could find on spiders. I read them to him. He memorized facts, and we also had to learn about habitat and predators, etc. I still tend to teach science this way, in spontaneous units that are driven by the kids own interest. At this age, it's all new and exciting, and they absorb tonnes of information.

    Eventually we moved on to other subjects too.

    I have two early curricula that I am devoted to, because they have worked so well with both of my children I have taught so far, who are extremely different in learning styles.

    As a reading primer I used Explode the Code. With these books the Boy practically taught himself how to read. As a seven year old his summer reading has been The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and the Hobbit. Though he put the Hobbit aside for the moment because he was trying to read 3 books at once.

    The beginner primers teach them to recognize, write and read the letters. Each lesson is one letter. We tried when he was 4, and he wasn't ready yet to do them. So I put it aside for several months, and then brought it out to try again. Again he wasn't ready, so we put it away again. When he was 5 he was ready. I think waiting until they are ready and interested in learning in crucial at this stage. He didn't finish a whole lesson at first, just a page or two, but he loved it. I was sure to stop before he got tired or bored, so he was always excited to do it again the next time I brought it out. Once he was really familiar with the workbook format, which never changes, he felt very proud of his new expertise. He would wake up in the morning and do a whole lesson without me. (The Girl is the same way. Though she wakes up in the morning and copies the letters in her story books onto sheets of paper, even though she can't read them yet.)

    Then I introduced math. Early Bird Kindergarten Mathematics This is the primer for Singapore Math which is the curriculum I wanted to use based on the recommendation of my MIL and several home schooled teenagers who by and large preferred that to the others they tried as kids. The starting point is pre numbers. So even if your child can't count yet, they can begin these books, and they will be counting, as well as many other things by the end. There is some overlap from the primer to the first text book but I think it's alright as it reinforces what they have already learned. (I've complained about math this year, and how long it's taking us to get through the grade two curriculum with the Boy. I'm still trying to not make school something he doesn't enjoy and finds punishing, so I backed off of the heavily repetitive equations in the work book. As long as he understands and can do it, I'm happy. Also I had a reality check when I saw the homework of a neighborhood kid in the same grade. He was learning basic addition and subtraction, and the Boy has been learning how to add and subtract with substitutions and how to add and subtract double and triple digit numbers in his head. I'm less worried that he didn't finish the whole book last year. We will pick it up again when we start school. I'm confident that he will test far above his current grade level.)

    This is all we did the first year, in addition to a lot of reading and learning in the pattern we had already acquired. That of them asking me questions, and me answering them and reading lots and lots of books together. I am excluding in this the way we celebrated feast days, because that was an education in itself and part of our curriculum. But there is no space to write it here.

    Tomorrow I will talk more about curriculum. In part, how you don't always need one. And the day after that I tell you what our homeschooling day actually looks like.

    *California law is different than most places.

    10.8.09

    Duty before Happiness

    On Tuesday Jen@conversion diary wrote a very interesting and insightful post on Duty before Holiness. (You should go and read it, I'll wait.) She discusses the temptation to do something great and interesting for God to the neglect of our true duty and vocation.

    I have referred to the concept of duty before as faithfully doing what is in front of you that needs doing. Elizabeth Elliot says, as advice to overwhelmed mothers, "Do the next thing." This usually involves something mundane and unexciting, like making sure the house is picked up, holding the crying baby, or going to bed at a decent hour rather than staying up enjoying "me time" and then being too tired the next day to do one's duty as well as could be done. (Why yes, I am preaching to the choir here. How observant of you.) Remembering one's duty is a safeguard against taking on things that we are not supposed to do, because those things conflict with what is clearly our primary duty.

    Now, I would venture that not all of us are as ambitious as Jen. We may not be tempted to abandon our duty in pursuit of greater holiness. But we abandon our duty all the same. Sometimes it's in pursuit of comfort. Or happiness. Or because we resent the work we need to do. Often it's because we don't believe that what we are doing has any intrinsic worth. A dear friend of mine asked this weekend, "How can cleaning up an endlessly messy house be any thing other than frustrating and tiresome?" (Or something close, I don't remember her exact words.)

    Or when we do do our duty, we resent it. We indulge in angry and bitter thoughts as we go about our tasks, and we live for the moment when we can get away from it all.

    Then we wonder why we are unhappy; why every break leaves us, not refreshed, but craving more breaks, resenting even more the duty in front of us. We neglect the house in order to "rest and recover" from a late night of web surfing. We nap at work in order to recover from a late night out. We turn in shoddy workmanship at school because we wanted to hang out with friends instead of study. And we find ourselves frustrated, and stressed, and depressed.

    It's because we are neglecting our duties. It's because we don't believe that doing our duty matters. Especially us mothers. Everything around us screams, "You are wasting your time and your life!" Some don't know what this feels like and that's wonderful. But most mothers know what I'm talking about.

    What was the point of my education when all I'm doing is wiping butts day after day?

    Anyone could clean a house. Yet why do I find it so difficult to keep it clean?

    I'm too smart to pick up after people who speak in grunts all day long.

    I should be spending my time and energy doing something about the injustices of the world, rather than reading story books to a few privileged children.


    Jen hits at the crux of the issue with this sentence.

    I've found rest and peace in the knowledge that what God wants first and foremost is that I simply, lovingly fulfill the basic duties he's set in front of me as a wife and a mother.

    The key to being happy in our roles is to trust that what we are doing matters. But that means understanding life from a perspective that isn't found much in modern culture. It's the idea that relationships matter more than accomplishments. That serving others is an act of love. That people are more important than things or tasks. At the end of our lives what will matter is how well we loved God and each other.

    Jen also had this to say.
    Too often I've insisted on forcing through my plans for holiness at the expense of my duties -- and almost every time all those big plans end up fizzling in front of me, leaving me in a worse place than where I started. Yet on the occasions that I've managed to be obedient to my duties first, it's been stunning to see how God has opened one unlikely door after another to allow me to fulfill those desires within the constraints of my vocation.
    In my experience it is the same with whatever I am seeking; happiness, peace, fulfillment, contentment. The path toward those good things lies through embracing and submitting myself joyfully to the duties I have before me and doing it with all my heart. The more I squirm and try to wriggle around them, the more miserable I become.

    Faithfulness is the path through, and gratitude, I think, is the path to finding joy in those things that we have previously resented. If we can make a beginning in these two things, with the grace of God, the rest will follow.

    to clarify: I'm not advocating working and serving to the point of neglecting one's own needs and health. I'm talking about balance, but that's for another post. Most often we are out of balance in the opposite direction I think.

    9.8.09

    One Thousand Gifts-Week 29

    I'm still stringing them along, one day at a time, these gifts. Choosing to pause and treasure that which is good.

    • Three little bottoms lined up on a bench at dinner time.
    • Apron bows tied over sundresses.
    • The Girl looking more grown up and pretty than ever with her new bob.
    • Little asking me, "What dis mommy?" every time she hears a new sound.
    • Children watching birds, heads together, giggling with delight.
    • Early summer evenings on the green chatting with the neighbors.
    • The scent of sun dried laundry
    • Clear nights in the country where the breathtaking vastness of space becomes visible.
    • The unshaven smile of a spouse at home coming.
    • An after dinner wander with all of us together.
    • Watching the Girl run a half mile, barefoot, like she was made to do nothing else.
    • The Boy reaching the top of a climbing pole in less than 10 seconds.
    • The Boy and Little holding hands as he helps her run.
    • The silly, funny, twisting way that Little tries to make her body move faster.
    • Cinnamon sticks to chew on.
    There is a lot of good in my life.

    The gratitude community is here.

    7.8.09

    Seven Quick Takes



    1. I was feeling a little bit stir crazy yesterday and couldn't figure out why. Then I realized that except for Wednesday, when my MIL watched my children for a few hours so the GH and I could go our for lunch to commemorate our anniversary, I've not been more than 1/8 of a mile away from my house for more than 3 weeks. One walk, one trip to the store and a few forays to the community swimming pool right next to the laundry room have been the extent of our wanderings. No wonder. We'll all be happy to be out of quarantine I think.

    2. Next year for our tenth anniversary I want to throw a party. None of these fancy date like things that we keep trying. We're both extroverts, we love having people around and our marriage plays out day to day in the community we have with our friends and family. Why not have them celebrate with us, just like they did when we married?

    3. The GH and I have been talking adoption recently. There was a specific circumstance that inspired it, which I won't tell you about. It's just interesting to find out as we talked, that we had both been thinking the exact same things, and our hearts were in the same place about it. Open. No we have no concrete plan to adopt or anything. We are simply open.

    4. I signed a new lease last week, for another 10 months. One year ago I said we were going to move to Thailand to work on The Charis Project. We still plan to. But there is still work that we can do, that needs to be done, here in the US. Like gather a large enough donor base to make sure the children's home is well provided for. We've learned over time not to rush these things or force them. It will happen when the time is right. It seems like it's God's timing, since there is a person here that we have just started caring for who we are committed to and if we left now we wouldn't be able to be here for them when they needed it.

    5. I got our rent reduced. I did a bunch of research before talking to the manager, because I was convinced we were paying more than market value on our apartment. They are leasing them now at much lower rates than 3 years ago when we moved in. When I brought it up she just walked away, got out her little book, and lowered our rent. Which, over the course of the lease, saves us almost exactly what the orthodontist fees for fixing the Boy's jaw will be. (I had been wondering how we would afford that.) Needless to say, I am pleased that it was so simple. I know for certain that if I hadn't asked, I would be paying the same rate I used to. I share in case anyone else can benefit from my story. Ask. Who knows what may happen?

    6. I have been seized by the desire to write a book for teenagers and 20 somethings. The theme of it will be something along the lines of, "The search to find yourself is a silly pursuit. Knock it off. The more introspective and self absorbed you get the less you will have any kind of true self knowledge, and the more skewed your perspective will be. You will find yourself by looking at Jesus and living in community with others who are looking the same way. Also, you will fail. So stop trying to figure it all out before you try something. No one who did anything worth doing ever did it without making a few mistakes along the way. Get used to it." I will title it Get Over Yourself. I think it's going to be a best seller.

    7. I am steamed at UPS. I shipped a breast pump to Lerin two weeks ago, and they broke it in transit. The only way that could have happened is if someone drop kicked it into the truck. Really. It's not like it was made of glass. Grr. Shipping Fail.


    7 Quick Takes is hosted by Conversion Diary

    5.8.09

    9 Years Ago

    This picture, taken at a wedding a few weeks ago cracks me up. We are so totally not cool. We are having a lot of fun.

    9 years ago today I married the man I knew was the one for me. He's stayed by me through better and worse. (And I gave him a lot of worse in the beginning.) He's supported, encouraged, taught, and corrected when needed. I know that I owe a lot of who I am today to who he is, his patience, and firm belief that I am strong, that I can be more, even when I wasn't so sure.

    A smile and a kind word from him still makes my day. I love working with him, I love parenting with him, I love the life we have together. I'm glad that most of the time he still likes me.

    And he seems to be getting hotter as he ages, though that could just be me.

    Happy Anniversary hon. I love you more now than I even thought was possible back then.

    The photo above was taken by Courtney, the lovely bridesmaid in this photo with the Girl. Her mom took our engagement photos, and now she is grown up and married and lovely and taking pictures too. I had this photo scheduled for Wordless Wednesday today before I realized what day it was. It's fitting don't you think?

    My beautiful sister in law took this photo. I love it so much.

    3.8.09

    Dilemma

    I don't know what to do with it.

    For some reason I didn't throw it away. Normally I do. Somehow I felt the need to keep it around. It didn't feel quite real that I was pregnant again. Maybe. Whatever the reason, I still have it. It rattles from one place to the next. Usually turning up when I am cleaning or need to take it out of Little's hand, again, and put it somewhere out of reach.

    I have no where to put it. I mean, it's a chemical reaction on a strip of urine soaked fiber. Doesn't exactly fit in the memento box.

    But it feels wrong to throw it away, like if I do it will be like Shiloh never existed. Already I go days at a time without really remembering. Or at least, the memory is no longer a fresh and aching wound. More like a scar that doesn't hurt anymore, and I only remember when I catch a glimpse of it.

    I know this is silly. Of course I was pregnant. And now I am not.

    And I have this,
    the tiny box the GH made to put Shiloh's remains into,

    and this,
    to remember by.

    So why can't I throw this away?

    Multitude Monday-2

    holy experience
    • I won free carpet cleaning last week. So when this round of illness is done I don't have to worry about the traces of it sitting in the rug.
    • Little, in her tired little croaky sick voice saying, "Ganku (thank-you) mama", when I get her water in the middle of the night. Sad but sweet.
    • Two out of 3 kids are on the mend. I'm still cleaning up vomit, but less frequently, and they are sleeping through the night at last.
    • A very long full body massage from my Genius Husband, who once trained as a massage therapist. I had no idea that my muscles were that sore and tired. I feel much better now.
    • The smell of trees. I know, I say it a lot. But not a day goes by when I don't, at least once, stop and take a deep breath and savor the scent of green growing things around me. It's one of those pleasures that is so simple, and simply wonderful.
    • Cool breezes on warm days.
    • Odd looking seed pods on the side of the road.
    • The sight of a child who is ill in those rare moments when they have the energy to play again giggling with excitement.
    • The satisfaction that comes with getting something done, and knowing I did it well.
    • Machines that do laundry. Even though I have to walk a ways to get to them. Imagine cleaning up all of this mess by hand.
    • This poem makes me smile.

    2.8.09

    Fleeting

    We are walking. It's a good way to get recovering kids out of the house, get some exercise, and not infect anyone else with the plague/whooping cough.

    The Girl is walking along a low retaining wall, treasures gleaned from roadside bushes clenched in her hand. She crouches down, and just as she does the wind catches her dress and her golden hair and the purple jacaranda blooms in her hand and my breath catches in surprise.

    She moves with such easy grace, and she is lovely. If I could paint I would paint that moment, and go back to it again and again.

    That girl over there, that's my daughter. She is 5. She is a middle child. She craves attention. She is never still and always plotting something. Her anger is quick if she doesn't get her way, and lately she has taken to revenge, quietly destroying something someone else cares about as "payback". (Where did she even learn this word?) I am often exhausted by her.

    Her heart is wide and generous, she gives away her toys all the time. She is funny. She is thoughtful. She loves without reserve, and she expects to be loved the same.

    It's only a moment, and she's down off the wall and we continue on our walk together. I wish she would go back, so I can pull out my camera and record it. Instead I struggle to string an image into words, to wrestle the ephemeral into some concrete form. But it is good for her to go forward. She has so much to grow out of and into.

    I only pray that as she leaves the childish things behind she can keep her loveliness about her.

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