A Random Wednesday Post

True confessions time:  I am completely burned out on running.  Like I think I could go the rest of this year without running another step and be perfectly happy.  Now, I know that this is not true and I would feel rotten if I attempted this, but the notion strikes me regularly and most often at about 9:00 the night before I’m scheduled to run.  And at 5:00 a.m (or earlier) when my alarm goes off.

One of my running partners has been gracious enough to walk with me the past couple of times we’ve gotten together and it has been so refreshing!  My other running partner is training for a half marathon, so she needs to run, but it seems we’ve been having a hard time connecting to run lately.  Still, I know she’s ready for a break too after months of training through injuries.  I’m so proud of her for persevering!

In other news, Grace’s broken arm prompted me to follow through on an idea I had on my own and then saw again on Pinterest:

Source: imalazymom.com via Sara on Pinterest

Grace has long been our family “sock folder”.  Well, this became a little cumbersome when she spent more than a week not really able to use her right hand at all and with limited movement still.  So, in our laundry cabinet each of the girls now has a hook with her initial on it and a mesh laundry bag hangs from the hook.  They are responsible to put their socks and underwear in their bag.  When the bags start to look a little full, I throw them in with the laundry that day and everyone gets to fold their own socks and underwear.  Unfortunately for Grace, I hate folding socks, so she still gets to do Matt’s and mine.  But since her work load has been cut in half, she’s not complaining.  (In case you’re wondering, the bags run $.99 at WalMart.)

It has occurred to me that I haven’t posted about my 40 Bags in 40 Days experience since early in Lent.  Well, let’s see…I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and the experience and I will do it again, but I confess it did not take long to cease being about making room for Jesus and become about checking another item off of my “to do” list.  Totally not the point, huh?  As we neared the end of Lent and I realized what had happened, I did a major slow down on my plan and refocused my heart on why I was doing this whole thing to begin with.

In the process of clearing out space, I did go through a lot of stuff and move it out of my house.  It also had a major impact on this adoption nesting thing I’ve got going on, so that + Pinterest have me in major “redecorate the house” mode.  Matt’s totally lovin’ this as our garage is now full of furniture to be painted and I’m regularly coming up with new things I’d like to do around the house.

I honestly need to do the 40 bags again this summer, as I only made it through about half of the house before I realized I was missing the point.  I like the idea of doing it for the 40 days leading up to my birthday, but that’s also the exact same time we are getting back to school.  So, maybe the first 40 days out of school?  Who knows…  🙂

In miscellaneous adoption news, IBESR in Haiti has recently closed to new dossiers in an attempt to “clear out current dossiers” by June 1.  Praise the Lord, we are one of those in there now, and who knows what will actually happen, but we are praying that ours would be processed in the next month and moved on.  How awesome would that be?!?!  When we entered IBESR in March, we were told 4 to 12 months.  To be out in less than two?  Only God!  Won’t you pray with us?  As we look at the things He is doing in our hearts and lives we can’t help but wonder if He’s not preparing us for her to come home soon.  We hope cautiously, as this road has been so treacherously long for so many.  But we see movement in Haitian adoptions, in the adoptions of friends adopting from the same orphanage, and we can’t help but hope with expectation.

That’s it for me today.  We finished up our school books today.  All except for Grace and her Sonlight, but that’s no big deal for me.   Thinking we may head over to KC and the Deanna Rose Farmstead tomorrow as a treat.  Woot!

For His Glory~

~ Sara

Being Present

I realize this morning as I lay in bed, wide awake and talking to God at 3:15, that I have completely checked out on this school year.  And, ashamed as I am to admit it, I have checked out of family life in a lot of ways the past couple of months.

This year started off well.  The first month was one of our best ever.  And then some switch flipped, or a series of switches, I’m not sure….but this has been, hands down, the most challenging school year we’ve done.  Not for any one thing or subject or child, just every day a waking up and realizing we are going to fight the same battles today that we fought yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  And I realized that at some point in the past six months, I threw up my hands in defeat and gave in to merely making it through this year, pinning all of my hopes of improvement on next year with new curriculum, new plans, and new possibilities.

As my children go through their day reminding me more and more of chickens in a barn yard – distracted, squawky, messy, and pecking a lot at each other – I wonder what on earth is missing, what am I doing wrong?  And I realize it’s me.  I’m at the table, but I’m not present.  I’m in the room, but my mind is two dozen other places.  And I believe that therein lies the answer, they sense my absence and surrender to the madness and they sense the lack of structure in spite of all the systems and structures I have in place.  They need my presence more than anything – not just physical, but mentally engaged, emotionally available.

And I believe that’s the hardest part of this.  To make myself emotionally available to people who daily have the capacity to hurt me, most often unintentionally.  To have their fleshly natures thrust in my face each moment of each day, thus baring my own sin nature as well….it’s hard.  And exhausting.  And that’s why I’ve withdrawn.  Distance is easier than dealing with it day after day after day.  And that’s a totally wrong way of handling my kids.

So, today, on this last day of the 3rd quarter of the school year, on this Leap Day 2012, we will do a little bit of school this morning, then head out on a couple of field trips.  I will do my best to engage my girls and set a new tone for the last nine weeks. I can’t pin all my hopes on next year.  Next year doesn’t need that kind of pressure.  I can only choose to be available to my family and make each day the best it can be.  And this is a scary thing to put out there.  Not only for the brutal honesty of it all, but also the accountability, because now I have to engage.  I can’t just think about it and ignore it.  I have to do it, knowing that I don’t have the emotional energy to do this day in and day out.  But God, He gives grace each day, mercies every morning.  And if He has called me to this, which I believe He has, then I can also trust Him to equip me for the task.  As I had my quiet time this morning and these thoughts all rolled around in my head, He gave me this as I opened the devotions on my phone:

“You are on the right path.  Listen more to Me, and less to your doubts.  I am leading you along the way I designed just for you.  Therefore, it is a lonely way, humanly speaking.  But I go before you as well as alongside you, so you are never alone.  Do not expect anyone to understand fully My ways with you, anymore than you can comprehend My dealings with others.  I am revealing to you the path of Life day by day, moment by moment.  As I said to My disciple Peter, so I repeat to you:  Follow Me.”  ~ Jesus Calling, February 29

There will be more hard days, but my Jesus is with me, every step, and my kids deserve to have me – all of me – here with them.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Book Reviews: On Parenting and Home Education

So a few weeks ago I had some time to do some power reading and burned through a couple of re-reads.  Here’s what I walked away from them with:

First, Parenting with Love and Logic.

I read this book several years ago and liked some aspects of it, but honestly felt like it gave too many choices.  I don’t really feel like my 3 year old (or 5 year old for that matter) needs to have a say in every aspect of her life.  Sometimes, it really is just because Mom said so.  But, we’ve reached a new stage with our older girls and they clearly need to be handled differently than I have been handling them.  I need to back off from authoritarianism (definitely not my goal parenting style, but if I’m honest, it’s probably my default) and start working more toward a coaching-style of parenting.  We’ve always been pretty “hands-off”, in that we let our kids own their problems.  But I have been failing at following up with them on why things are working out a certain way for them or why a certain behavior is unacceptable.  I already knew I needed to be doing those things, but sometimes reading something again helps to make it top-of-mind.  I still don’t agree with everything in Love and Logic, but I came away with some new ideas and a renewed vision that their problems are not necessarily my problems and I need to resist the urge to handle them simply because it would be faster but what I do need to do is talk more to them about the “why’s” of life and make sure to use those teachable moments without beating the proverbial dead horse.

Second, When You Rise Up.

Another re-read from a few years back, I grabbed this one off the shelf to remind myself why I am doing what I am doing.  Academically, this has been a pretty good school year but psychologically it has been brutal.  Every day feels like an emotional war zone and I have never so seriously questioned whether or not home education was the best choice for our children or for me.

Sproul articulates well our general philosophy on home education.  Yes, the academics are important.  Yes, I want my children to be bright and to excel.  Yes, I want them to be well-rounded and be exposed to a variety of opportunities and challenges.  But more than anything,  I want them to be Christ-like.  I want to influence their character and mold their hearts.  And not to say that those who go to school can’t be impacted that way, but for us this is the best method.

I agree with Sproul in theory that the Bible is the only textbook needed to adequately educate a child.  However, that may fail in application for most of us.  I know of a few families who could pull that off and their children would still learn science and math and modern history.  I am not one of them.  I need textbooks and structure or my kids will be rich in Bible knowledge (a good thing!) but academic dunces in every other way (a bad thing).  But if I am honest, I would rather have a child who fails every standardized test and yet loves the Lord with her whole heart, mind, and strength than to have my child accepted into the best schools on full-ride scholarships and not love Jesus.

The hard part about this book (and this school year) is that relationship and character are our goals and it has felt like we are failing miserably.  But I have to remember that this is not like learning short vowels sounds or simple addition, character takes years – sometimes a lifetime – to develop.  And while I can be encouraged by their academic growth and know that all is not entirely in vain, the other keeps me on my knees and in the Word, trusting God to take this broken vessel and use it to make these children into something beautiful.

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

The Back to School Post, Part II – What We’re Using

In the midst of all that we have going on here, I’m still trying to get a couple of series up and running around here.  I don’t know if there’s a whole lot of purpose in posting what we’re using this year when we’re already into the second quarter, but perhaps it will be of use in the future to myself or someone else.  Regardless, enjoy!

I hope to return next week with a piece on some digital tools I have discovered that have increased my productivity.

Art – the girls each take art as an outside class on Friday mornings.  Also, Grace and Emma are taking private lessons as they prepare for the MAACS fine arts competition in the spring.

Bible – the three older girls each have their own devotionals they are reading as well as individual Bible reading.  As we are moving through the school year, I feel like we need something more structured, so I’m thinking/praying about what else we can do.  They are each responsible to write what they learned that day in their journals, as well as two or three things they are thankful for.  As a group we are memorizing the book of James.  This started around February when Ann encouraged her readers to memorize Colossians.  I liked the idea but didn’t really want to memorize Colossians, so using the same format, I made cards for the book of James and glued them into a moleskin book.  We were solidly through the first chapter and well into the second when school ended last spring.  I had good intentions of continuing through the summer but it just didn’t happen.  So, we’ve been reviewing James 1 and are on to James 2. My goal is that we will have the whole book memorized by the end of the school year.

Geography – this is another class taken on Friday mornings by the younger three.  They are using Ann Voskamp’s A Child’s Geography.  Emma is also doing a study on the fifty states this year, which requires her to do some research and record certain facts about each state.

Science – a Friday class using Apologia’s Land Animals of the Sixth Day.  The girls love this class and I do too.  The teachers are wonderful and they are learning so many great things about God’s creation.  Science is one of those tricky subjects for home schoolers.  I know that we aren’t covering the broad spectrum of items I remember covering in grade school science, but I also don’t want to have science in the girls’ minds equal lots of boring workbooks just so we can discuss electricity and weather and plants.  I am confident we will get to all of those things as time goes on.

Handwriting – we are just using simple workbooks this year to work on this skill as well as requiring the older two to do more of their work in cursive.  Handwriting is a stupid hill I have decided to die on and so our girls will learn to write neatly even if it’s the death of me.  😉 

Language Arts – Ellie is using Rod & Staff’s Preparing to Build English 2.  Yes it’s a second grade book and she’s in first grade, but she’s up for it and we do it all orally.  Chandler is doing Rod & Staff Beginning Wisely 3.  Emma started out in Rod & Staff this year, but about a month in we switched to Shurley Grammar 4 as R&S just was not working for her and I had to be humble enough to make a switch for her sake.  So far, we are both much much happier.  Grace is using Rod & Staff Progressing with Courage 6.  This will be her last year with R&S, and it may be everyone’s last year with it to be honest.  It’s a wonderfully simple yet thorough program, but we’ve just had way too many tears over the years because of it and I’m praying about whether or not it’s worth all that.

Math – Ellie is using Horizons Math 1.  We have used Horizons for years and really like it.  However, having to personally grade math books for four students was becoming a little tedious, so the older three all moved over to Teaching Textbooks this year.  Oh, how I love Teaching Textbooks!  I think my love for Teaching Textbooks may be even greater than my love for my iPhone.  Even better is the fact that the girls love it too.

Readers and Read Alouds – Clearly this is a subject with far too many items to list.  We are practicing reading poetry aloud and I will be reading a variety of missionary stories and well as some other books with the girls this year.  The girls are reading through books on the Sonlight readers list.

Spelling – all the girls are using Spelling Power.

Latin – Emma and Chandler are going through Latina Christiana I and Grace is going through Latina Christiana II.  This is our second year using this program.  I’m not entirely sure yet if we will do it again next year or if we’ll try something else. 

Vocabulary – Emma is using Wordly Wise 3000 grade 4, Chandler is using Wordly Wise 3000 grade 3.  These are workbook style programs, which have pros and cons.  For right now they are good for getting the girls used to learning vocabulary words.  Grace is using her Sonlight Core 6 for vocabulary.  Each week I find key vocabulary words from the Instructor’s Guide for the books she’s reading and she looks them up, uses them in sentences, and is tested on them at the end of the week.

Writing – We using various things from Institute for Excellence in Writing.  We used the video program last year and I saw huge improvements in Grace and Emma’s writing ability.  We are continuing to work on this this year.

Anyway, that’s it for us. 

Pray for us if we come to mind, please.  We have made great strides against the head lice issue, but I am still doing regular checks and lots of laundry to make sure everyone is clean.  Nitpicking x 4 can wear a girl down before too long.  Not a huge deal and I’ve worked really hard to keep a balanced attitude (by God’s grace), but I would really really really like to be able to say with certainty that we are “lice free” in the very near future.  🙂

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

The Back to School Post (After Everyone’s Already Gone Back to School)

*I’m going to do a short “Time and Balance” series on productivity.  I’m starting with our back to school planning just as a jumping off point.  I know everyone is already back in the groove, but maybe this will be helpful to someone down the road.

So a while back I had a few people ask me what it looks like around here as we go back to school.  Well, we’re six weeks into the semester and I’m finally getting around to writing this process down.  I am not an expert at this and there are countless women who are far more experienced and gifted in some of these things than I am.  Also, I’m typing this while under the influence of a serious ragweed allergy and feel like I just downed about half a bottle of Nyquil (even though I haven’t had any), so take this with for what it’s worth.  🙂

Our “back to school” process truly begins early in the second semester of the previous year.  As we work our way through the year, I see things that aren’t working, or need to change or be improved upon or added in or whatever, and so I start my list of curriculum or skills or activities for the coming year.  Some years I will go to a home school conference to look at curricula and get ideas, other years it’s just more cost-effective to order on-line all that I need.  I typically like to have everything in hand by early July.

This year, at the end of July, the three older girls were all participating in an all-day day camp.  So, in an effort to help Ellie have a more fun week without her sisters and provide myself time to do some data-entry, I farmed her out two of the days (one day with each grandmother) and hunkered down with the girls’ school books and my laptop and entered all of our assignments for the year in Home School Tracker.  Typically I would encourage someone to only enter a couple of weeks, or maybe a month, to make sure what you are doing is going to work.  I was pretty confident, though, about what we were using and how I wanted to break it down throughout the year, so I went ahead and did it all.  Also, I knew I wouldn’t get those two full days again and I wanted to use them for all they were worth.

We started school on August 2.  I almost always start back to school after any kind of extended break on a Tuesday.  I do this because I have found that Mondays are naturally hard anyway, what with catching up from the weekend and everyone typically being tired.  Also, it’s nice, that first week back, to have it be a short week.  Starting the school year on a Tuesday works really well for us.

Each of the girls has a clipboard on which she keeps her assignment chart and a copy of our daily schedule.  The schedule was new this year.  I’ve tried a systematic schedule before but have never been able to make one work.  But, with the girls being older this year and knowing that a couple of them need real help staying on task, I spent a considerable amount of time creating one and then continually revising it until about two weeks ago when I think we finally came up with one that works.

I also have a clipboard with another copy of all of their assignment charts for the week.  (These charts are printed directly out of HST.)  Yes, we go through a lot of paper and I should probably be recycling it.  Someday.  On my chart, I keep track of points on graded work and mark off what has been completed.  At the end of the week, I go in to HST and enter points earned, mark work completed, make necessary changes to the schedule, and then print out the assignment calendar for the next week.  I will typically spend an hour and a half or so over the weekend updating HST, typing out questions for Grace’s work, and copying tests and non-consumable pages, but then I’m good for the week.

That’s kind of the nuts and bolts of my back to school and weekly planning.  Soon I’ll post on what we’re using this year.

~  Sara

On Being Blind

There are days I want to crawl back into bed and hide under my covers. There are days I will excuse myself from the school table, the room, and go find quiet solace somewhere, anywhere. There are days when I bite my tongue hard to hold back the poisoned darts and still they fly free.

Today was one of those days.

I’m learning that I have a hard time being the responsible, get-stuff-done mom while still maintaining my laugh-out-loud-isn’t-life-fun persona. It seems I can only be one or the other. And I think this is why I cling so hard to summer. No school means we can go have fun and the house doesn’t have to fall apart. Warm weather and abundant sunshine mean laying by the pool, sitting on the patio, family bike rides, and just about everything else in the world that I love to do.

And I really want to be that mom year-round. But then, we would never do school or anything else hard because it would interfere with my schedule and our fun.

Unfortunately (from our fleshly perspective), God hasn’t called us to a life of fun. He hasn’t called us to bask in the sun all day every day while children frolic in the water. No, He has called us to work, and good deeds, and to count it all joy.

Joy. It can be hard to find when all you can focus on is the clock ticking down to bedtime.

Joy. It sits all around me at the school table and calls my name a billion times a day and needs my love and attention like it needs air to breathe.

Joy. It’s not always fun and easy and laughter. Sometimes it’s hard and ugly and comes with tears.

I lost my focus today and missed the joy in front of me. I admit, it would have been hard to find, even if I had been looking, but it was there.

It was there in the child who begged me time and again to play Five Crowns and who I kept saying “later” to and never did play with.

It was there in the mess of recyclables and scrapbook paper and the girls made furniture for their American Girl dolls.

It was there in their delight over tacos and bread dough and my iPhone.

It was all around me and I missed my chance to soak it in, to live in it.

**Lord, help me to focus on the joy all around me. I am living my own dream. You have blessed me beyond measure and I daily take it for granted. Forgive me, Lord, for my arrogance and my ungratefulness. Keep my eyes focused on you and your countless good gifts, even the ones that are hard to see. For your glory and for their hearts….Amen.”

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to School We Go

After one last lazy day off (well, lazy for the girls anyway), we go back to school today.  The grumbling started already on Sunday with murmurings of “hating” school and how boring it is and not wanting to start.  And Satan wasted no time hitting me in the heart with those words, discouraging me, defeating me before I ever started the battle of second semester.

As kids were sent to rest for Sunday afternoon, I fell onto the couch next to Matt and asked for wisdom, encouragement.  We talked for a bit and then he shared a wonderful illustration.  Matt does construction for a living.  He helps others make their homes more livable, more beautiful, more valuable.  But he does remodeling, not new construction, so every project begins with demolition.  And one day, in the not too distant future, someone else will come through and tear out all that he and his crews have done.  Everything he does will one day be destroyed again.  But in this daily task of raising children I am partnering with God to build something that will last for eternity.

And I make the point that therein lies part of my fear.  I feel I’m walking blind in this day-to-day adventure we call home schooling.  I grew up in a traditional school setting and teaching is not even remotely close to being one of my gifts or skills, and yet this is what I feel called to trade my days for.  And thin-skinned as I am, I admit that it hurts when they say they hate it.  So how do I know that what I’m doing with them isn’t just wood, hay, and stubble that will be burned away?  How can I know that I am trading my days  for things of eternal value?

Honestly, a lot of days I don’t know.  I walk on in faith.  I seek Him daily and ask Him to fill my cup to overflowing so that I can reflect His love and grace more fully to these children who often times seem set on destroying me.  😉  And He carries me on with glimpses of grace, hope in a desert land.  He shows me the oldest gently playing dolls with the youngest.  He shows me 2011 goal lists that include desires to “read my Bible daily, even on weekends” and “be kind to my sisters”.  He shows me the child who volunteers to carry in groceries or clean the kitchen.  He sends hope in their words and actions.  He shows me laughter when I would normally want to scream or cry.  He shows me my own growth and theirs.

And it is on these glimpses that we carry on.  It is by clinging tightly to these things and God’s promises that we embark on the next sixteen weeks and really every day that lies ahead.

What about you?  What daily challenges are a walk of blind faith?

May you be encouraged today as you face those challenges.  Let us remember Romans 5 which tells us, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame.”

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Week in Review

It’s Friday….can I hear a woot woot!?!?

Life rolls on like normal filled with grace and goodness and hard days when I seriously wonder if I can just run away.  We’re already here, to the third Friday in November, the Friday before Thanksgiving.  The holidays and all their crazy, busy, wonderfulness are coming fast.

Random Sidenote – As I’m sitting here trying to steal fifteen minutes to write today I am reminded of Law of Parenting #385 – Sit down at the computer and do something productive and it is guaranteed that all hell will break loose.  Or at the very least, a minimum of thirty-seven people will need your attention.  Immediately.  Even though you only have four people in your house at that time.  🙂

Back to the week…..I don’t recall anything outstanding about the week, other than trying to get the girls to take personal responsibility for their productivity during the school day.  So, a chart was made promising ice cream and toppings for each day that a child had her school work done on time.  It was successful.  Not everyone made it every day, but they started to see some consequences for all the goofing around that occurs.  We’ll continue with that a while longer, maybe upping the ante as the weeks go by.

Today the weather is beautiful and I wish I could be outside, but too much awaits here in the house.  But the girls have been outside reading for at least two hours.  I love the afternoons when we go to the library.  I’m thinking we need to make another trip early next week, before Thanksgiving break.  And then I need to hide the books until the weekend so that we can all enjoy some leisurely afternoons of reading.

Christmas decorations are (mostly) up.  😀

God has been up to something incredible again around here.  I’ll share about that on Monday, when I count His gifts.

Until then, have a glorious weekend!  May you find time to be with those you love most!

For His Glory ~

~ Sara

Friday Photo Post

Well, so as to not be a total deadbeat blogger this week, and because I’ve missed you all, here’s a little photoblog of a trip to the zoo a few weeks ago when we took our “Fall Break”.  Enjoy!

I hope to be back next week with our regularly scheduled blogging program.  Until then, have a wonderful weekend!

Chandler with a rock

Ellie with a rock. And goggles. Because you never know when you might need goggles.

Four crazy girls on a wooden bear

She's really proud of that rock

We were all so happy for the change of pace!

You can't be serious all the time

Baby Hippo! Just too cute. But you have no idea how close I had to crop this to keep all the "poo" out of the picture. 😛


See y’all Monday!

~ Sara