Monday, August 25, 2014

Year #3

 Zeke wants to be a part of the action so he decorated his own paper.

 Caleb is using the Letter of the Week Preschool Curriculum this year. 
 I'll be flexible with his schedule depending on the day he seems to be having. 

 Ellie is in 1st grade!
We're going to continue working on reading readiness.

 Noah is in 4th grade.  
Sniff, sniff.


I made a curriculum change in the last few weeks.  My original plan was to go through "The Prairie Primer" and I was really excited about it since it uses The Little House on the Prairie series and I absolutely love those books.  However, I came across some reviews that said it is best for ages 3rd-6th grades so I decided to hold off and wait a couple more years.
Then I came across KONOS Character Curriculum and when I looked through it I just knew that it was what I wanted to use.  We'll still use Saxon for math and I'm using some Rod & Staff for Noah's reading comprehension and workbooks for Ellie's reading readiness until I can get my hands on The Reading Lesson book.
Choosing curriculum is never easy (in my opinion!)  A friend of mine suggested the book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum and I also would recommend it.  I was able to assess my teaching style/goals/etc along with what kinds of personalities and learning styles each of my kids has and then put all that together to see what curriculum is suggested for our mash up.  One of the things I love about KONOS is that it's unit study based and Charlotte Mason style.  I like that it gives me some structure while at the same time letting me be flexible and adapting it to what works for our family.

Today was our first day.  I actually couldn't fall asleep last night because I had the-night-before-the-first-day-of-school-jitters, which felt silly because we're homeschoolers.  It's not like we had to leave the house and if the morning was turning out to be a disaster we could have just shelved it until tomorrow!  Nevertheless, anticipation of the new curriculum and getting back into a routine was keeping me awake and gave me a fitful night of sleep.  I also wanted to establish a morning wellness routine for myself so for the past month, I've been transitioning into early wake up times, exercise, and spending time in my Bible (aided by the ifequip.com online Bible study - check it out, it's great!  We're going through Galatians right now.) before everyone else in the house is awake.  This gives me a chance to prepare my heart for the day instead of being dragged out of bed by, "What's for breakfast?" or "Is it time to wake up?"

We still finished before lunch, which I had hoped would happen.  Everyone had great attitudes. Caleb actually did a little bit of what I planned for him and then he and Zeke played outside in the sandbox and on the trampoline, which made it easier for me to work with the older two, so that was nice.  Ellie told me she thought it was a great day of school.  After finishing up with Noah, I walked into the kitchen and as I left the room I could hear him say to himself, "I love homeschool."  Woo-hoo!

So Day 1 of Year 3 of Homeschooling has come to a close as they are in bed and I'm collapsed on the couch.  Our first character trait we're studying is Courage.  This week's verse is Psalm 18:2:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Have a wonderful night!  I'm looking forward to a solid night of sleep!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Let's Talk About...A Book

Not just any book, though.

My friend, Joy McMillan, released a book last month and I am thankful to be able to read it and write a review on it.  It's called "XES: Why church girls tend to get it backwards...and how to get it right."




First of all, let me tell you a little story:
During the summer following my sophomore year of college I did my internship at a Christian radio station in Lansing called The Light.  The program director at the time was the fantastic Mike Couchman, whom you may have heard before either in Lansing or Grand Rapids or Las Vegas or now in St. Louis.  All summer I heard about another intern at the station who was home in South Africa visiting her family.  Sadly, I only had a few short weeks at the end of the summer with a bubbly, friendly, warm young woman named Joy.
There is a strong memory I have of the two of us sitting on the floor in one of the offices after everyone else had left for the day.  We were probably working on something volunteer related, and as we chatted, the conversation turned to relationships and somehow my ugly past came spilling out.  Parts of her own past spilled out as well, although not all of what she reveals in the book.
Sitting there that night with Joy and sharing my guilt and shame and frustration and the fear that I still held, she helped me see God's forgiveness and the opportunity for redemption in making beauty from ashes.  My heart was light as I left the station that night.

Fast forward many years later and imagine my excitement when I heard she was publishing a book.  I had a feeling she would be open and raw on the topic and I was not wrong!  In fact, when I first started reading, I found myself blushing at some parts and thinking, "Well, I'm not sure if I can recommend this to________."

Here's the thing, though.  Joy's real writing is what the women who read this book are going to need.  She says things like they are, not tip toe-ing around topics and even tackling issues like pornography and romance novels in the chapter "Fifty Shades of Counterfeit."

I needed "The Joy Thief" chapter and could relate 100% to chapters like "Honey, I Have A {Life.}"  I laughed throughout the book and cried at parts as well.  It got to a point where I had a hard time putting it down and was staying up late to keep reading.

Another great thing Joy did in the book was put "Reflection & Action" questions at the end of the chapters.  This lets you dive in deeper and make it personal, not just an opportunity to read and maybe retain some of it the next day.

I would recommend this book both to married women and to singles.  You can learn more about Joy and the book "XES" at her website simplybloom.org.  While you're there, check out the recipes section.  Her Easy Baked Oatmeal has been one of our family favorites over the past few years. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Better?

Lately I've been bothered by the word "better."

It's all over magazines I see while waiting in line at the grocery store or walking around in the library:
Find a better career
Tips for a better sex life
Tricks for better hair...make up...skin
Exercises to help you get a better body

The Christian world is not exempt either:
5 more minutes to a better quiet time
Have a better marriage
Be a better wife
Worship better in church, the car, doing dishes in the kitchen

Be a better version of who God made you to be.

No wonder I spend my days beating myself up, stressing myself out, going over my mistakes from the day as I fall asleep.  I spend so much time trying to be better that I don't even know what I'm trying to be better than.  I don't even know who I am right now, in this moment, because my days are filled with trying to be more...better.  Because the literature all around me is telling me who I am right now is not good enough.

I'm calling this out as a lie.  I'm choosing to start focusing on growth instead of making myself better.  The words don't seem that entirely different until you take them by definition. 
(Definitions from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

*Better - higher in quality; more skillful; more attractive, appealing, effective, useful, etc.
*Grow - to become more developed, mature, etc.

I see being better as a competition and so I'm constantly comparing myself to other women around me.  I see growth being a beautiful process that takes who I am now and over time adds to this woman. 

I want to grow in wisdom.
I want to grow in knowledge.
I want to grow in strength.
I want to grow in love. 

Maybe this only makes sense in my head.  I don't know if anyone will relate.  But I know that coming to this realization and the desire to stop pressuring myself to be better and instead appreciating who God made me to be and how I can grow in the depth of that person is like a weight off my shoulders. 

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

House

I drive slowly by the house, on a detour while visiting a friend in Grand Rapids today.

The exterior looks the same as it did over 10 years ago when Tim and I purchased it and he carried me over the threshold.  A first home of newlyweds married just nine months.  Nothing special makes the red brick ranch stand out but still it tugged at my heart today.

Who lives there now?  I found myself wondering.  Are there kids running down the hallway?  Do they snuggle on a couch in front of the fireplace on cold winter evenings?

And it surprises me that while a flood of memories come back to me when I look at the house, the current owners know none of them.

They don't know about the painting party our friends joined us for to spend a day laboring as worker bees to get the house ready to move into.

They never laughed while Pippin, our first baby - a chocolate lab puppy - got into all sorts of mischief and tried to convince us as he grew that he was still just a 75 pound lap dog.  Love me, love me, pet me, love me, he would pant as he jumped onto the couch and curled up between us.  

They don't know that there was an evening where candle light framed a marriage proposal between two of our dear friends, one who was living in our basement at the time.  A marriage journey began in that living room and thrives today, years and two children later.

They never heard the shriek of happiness and joyful tears that filled the bathroom when a pregnancy test came out positive.  

They are not aware that there are spaces on the floor where I have crumpled, sobbing and crying out to God to heal my heart after the loss of my grandmother and soon after the loss of our first pregnancy.

They never saw how I stilled myself on beds in the rooms and stared at walls willing the hurt and grief to lessen.

Then, quick months later, more shrieks - hesitant this time - at another positive test, then one more, just to be certain.

That wainscoting in the back room?  It was a labor of love by Tim and a friend to prepare the nursery for a baby boy's arrival.  On the small wall in that room, I painstakingly painted a Hawaiian themed mural that matched crib bedding.

And in the wee hours of August 16, 2005, they never know my eyes flew open as I felt my first contraction...then more...and after a few hours of walking that hallway and timing contractions, Tim and I walked out the side door for the last time as just a young married couple.

They weren't there to witness our arrival home a few days later as a family of three, to have hearts full of joy and anxiety as we tried to figure out what to do with this small bundle the nurses let us bring home from the hospital.

Those rooms and hallways have been crawled through, walls have been used as support for a toddler learning to stand and then walk along.

Fires have been enjoyed in that fireplace, nestled between built-in shelves that made a young bride quite happy to have a place for her books.  

The dining room saw many happy gatherings with friends, family, and held a table graced with food for bridal and baby showers.

And yet, we were just one owner for a short time in a house that is over 60 years old.  What other stories and memories does that house hold?

I think that about the one we live in now, too.  What laughter, tears, fights, joy, parties, decisions, and growth have these walls held?  It is easy to think of our home possessively.  It's "ours."  But it hasn't always been and it probably won't always be.

I am certainly thankful for them - both the house we occupy now and the journey being lived here, and the first house we bought and the memories made there in our very young and early marital years.

I wonder if they know that...

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

This Girl of Mine






When I asked Eleanor about her "adventuring" outfit today (a wool hat, cape, zebra print bag, and walking stick topped off with a blue ribbon), she answered:

"Amazing adventures could be anywhere."

Friday, May 02, 2014

Dear Noah

I look at this boy who looks all arms and legs playing in the backyard and it takes me a minute to realize it's you.

How did we get here?

Are you not the 7 pounds, 9 ounces of beautifully formed flesh they placed on my chest, both of us crying as we looked at each other for the first time?  Are you not the whitish-blond boy with blue eyes staring so deep into the eyes of those around you that they felt you were peering into their souls?  Are you not the small child climbing onto my lap for kisses and hugs and snuggles after waking up from afternoon naps?

How can this small man-child be the same infant, toddler, preschooler?  How did you grow so fast?

And I don't know what to do!

You turn 9 this summer and I feel like that is on the verge of something big and I don't know how to let you go.  I've never had to raise a boy - or any child - before you.  I ask your dad, "How much more responsibility do we give him?  What responsibility do we give him?  How far can he ride his bike without us?  What kind of things is he capable of doing that we hold him back from because we don't know...we just don't know what we're doing?"

Forgive me, Noah.  I'm clueless.

I wake up every morning feeling blind to what to expect.  I expected the moodiness from Eleanor, from girls.  I didn't expect it from growing boys.  I never foresaw eye rolling, word snapping, silence of thoughts and self-doubt from boys.

I blame myself often.  Maybe I protect you too much.  Maybe I need to back off more.  Maybe I did this wrong or failed to do this right and I don't want to fail you!...I don't want to fail.

I'm sorry if I've pushed you.  I think sometimes I see strengths in you that you don't recognize and maybe I need to just shut up and sit down and really listen to what you want and don't want to do.  You're good at soccer, but if you don't want to do it...I won't mention it anymore.  I'm good at math and with numbers, but I sure don't like working with them.   After 4 years, you want a summer off of swim lessons?  Deal.  You want to try karate?  Big breath in...ok.  If that's something you really want to try then I want you to be able to try it.  What do I know about karate?  Maybe you're a black belt in the making!

I want to help water your strengths.  Those abilities and gifts that God has put in your heart and that make you who you are, I want to help you grow in those.  When you ask me if a master Lego designer has to go to college first?  I don't know, but I'll help you find out.  I see what a gift your mind has when you're working with those little blocks and if you want to create Lego masterpieces with your cousin, Cameron, and have a Lego store and share your love of them with other people, then who am I to hold you back?

I wish I could give you acres of trees to climb and land to run on.  There are few things that make my heart soar then when I see you up in a tree and even more so when there is a book in your hand and I know your mind is worlds away.  We may not travel much outside of visiting family, but you visit so many worlds with those books.  It brings me so much joy.

I know we butt heads often lately, Noah.  I know that I drive you crazy and you do the same to me.  Maybe it's similar personalities.  It's probably just that I don't know what I'm doing and you need a little more freedom but I'm still trying to fence you in.  I'm trying, Noah.  I am.  This is new territory for both of us.

You know what keeps me sane, though, even when I am ready to tear out my hair?  It's the little moments.  The moments where I know that you're still my son and you do still love me.  I don't want to raise a mama's boy.  I want you to one day leave our house and marry a wonderful young woman and form a life with her.  But for now?

Those moments when I'm on the couch reading, maybe "The Hobbit" aloud to all of you, or maybe just a book to myself, and you sit next to me...slowly creeping closer...ever so timidly resting your head against my shoulder to see if it's still ok.

It is still ok.

I love you, Mr. 8-year old.





Sunday, April 27, 2014

More Than Sweat



My alarm drags me out of a pleasant sleep that seems like it took forever to even fall into.  I hit the snooze button, just in case, but am already rubbing my eyes and stretching, quietly grumbling about morning coming too soon.

The truth is, I don't have to get out of bed this morning as the sun is also rising.  I would much rather remain warm and cozy under blankets than feel my feet hit a chilly wood floor.  Yet I get up, grabbing a pile of clothes and heading into the bathroom to change.

I leave the house, re-tie a shoe when I get to the end of the driveway, and immediately start quickly walking...in part to warm up my cold muscles but also to meet my friend, Carrie, who has already turned the corner we were supposed to meet at and is walking my way.

She suggests a different route than what we had talked about, and I agree because it's actually a favorite of mine, although I haven't traveled it in almost a year.  We walk to a corner before breaking into a run.

Running.  For so long I identified with the joke, "If I ever had to run for my life, I would die."  I wasn't athletic growing up.  Clumsy, yes.  Coordinated...not so much.  Seriously.  I twisted my ankle after youth group in high school on the sidewalk.  My only broken bone happened while I was in middle school.  It was a rib I broke.  While sneezing.  Pure athletic talent, right?

So when I decided a few years ago that I wanted to start running, it was a slow and non-consistent thing.  I didn't have anyone I was running with so there was no motivation.  Then last spring I kind of freaked out about running by myself and asked Carrie if she wanted to join me.

There was a long and hesitant pause on the other end of the phone.  I told her we could walk instead.  I just wanted to be out getting some kind of physical activity.  She agreed to that, and surprised me days later when she said she would be interested in working up to running.  Working between the C25K program and another program laid out in the book, "Running Made Easy", we took off.

We ran through the spring, summer, fall, and beginning of winter, until illness, harsh weather, and crazy schedules inched in.  I was surprised the first time we ran while the snow was falling lightly - I had never run in cold weather before, and surely not snow!

As spring has found its way back into Michigan, slowly, Carrie and I have started meeting up to run again.  She had continued running over the winter and I told Tim that I had to laugh when, starting back into it, I realized we had reversed roles from the previous April.  Instead of me encouraging her to go just a little further and letting her know what a great job she was doing, she was doing it for me!  I had definitely gotten out of shape, but at the same time it was kind of like riding a bike, my body wanted to run and seemed to pick it back up easier than I thought it would.

This morning she really pushed me.  We've been doing maybe around 2 1/2 miles and yesterday she said, "Hey, why don't we go a bit longer tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I was thinking it would be nice to get three miles in," I answered back.

"Or maybe four," she suggested.  "We can always take walk breaks."

"What?!  Who are you??" I didn't know how to answer.  I don't even know if we had gotten up to 4 miles when we were running together before.  "Sure.  I'll definitely need to walk a bit, though."

"No problem," she said cheerfully.

Miles 2-3 were the most challenging for me.  I was pushing myself further than I had in months.  Suddenly, an idea came to my head.  We had been talking about concerns in our lives and I asked if she wanted to pray about them.  So we spent that time praying out loud for each other and for our kids and friends and whatever came to mind.  We thanked God for a beautiful morning, the opportunity to be outside running, and healthy bodies.  That distance may have ended up being the easiest one for me in the end.

By that time we had decided to push ourselves a little further.  Actually, I should say that I stopped resisting Carrie gently pushing me.  She's a beast and has been training for her first 10K (see, I've created a monster!) so she is used to these longer runs.

From 4 to just over 4.5 miles, we talked about what running has meant to us.  She talked about how it brings her a peace and relieves stress.  We talked about how Jesus ultimately does that, but I think that where we feel it spiritually in our soul with Him, running embodies that and puts it into a physical sense.  We talked about how it's something that we can take the time to do for ourselves to help us focus on the day and be better moms and wives as a result.

Sometimes I picture my feet while running.  Every time a foot comes up, I can visualize the dirt and debris from the sidewalks and roads that is falling back to the earth.  I also feel like for me, it's a good illustration of how running relieves my stress.  I picture some of my tension, nerves, and stress falling away to the ground with the dirt for every step I run.  I feel lighter by the time I get home.

While saying goodbye to Carrie in front of her house, she mentioned how close I was to 5 miles (she has a watch that was tracking our distance.)  I decided to run the rest of the way home, past our house a little bit to the corner we started at to make it a full 5 miles, and then walked back home to where morning chaos had begun and the smell of bacon filled the air.

I never, ever, ever thought I would enjoy running.  Ever.  I thought I was too old to try, like it had to be something you had started while young and in school.  I thought it was silly to think I could run more than a mile, and then three.  I cannot believe the joy and energy it has brought.  Many days, especially weekends, when I return, Tim then heads out for his own run.

Pinterest is where I saw the running joke I mentioned in the beginning of this post.  Yesterday Carrie had pinned a statement that fits my life much better now:

"Run - it releases so much more than just sweat."