Category Archives: The Kids
Today, I wrote to a “secret” group of homeschool (and former homeschool) moms, asking for perspective. I had a feeling they’d tell me that I’m doing just fine. So far, in fact, they have. But in this, and in other homeschool-related endeavors, I just can’t seem to find the right balance, where I’m pleased with what we’re doing.
My oldest three children are boys, and my youngest three are girls. I think I was/am pretty rigorous with my older boys. That approach has worked well on my oldest (now a university freshman on nearly a full-tuition scholarship), and for my 11th grader who is still homeschooling, but nearly independently. My rigorous requirements didn’t work fab on my 9th grader, who is thriving in his first year in a small, public charter school where they seem to value his… free spirit a little more than I do.
So, I’m really only schooling my 4th and 2nd grade girls. I also have a 2-year-old who makes things challenging and helps us to laugh and gives lots of hugs and kisses. Last summer, I told myself that I was going to make school FUN for my girls, after several years of really just focusing on my boys. I started a homeschool support/play group that has unintentionally ballooned — I now lead this group that has 179 families in it. It is a very relaxed group, a social network, really. Me “leading” is really a misnomer. I organize most events and communicate with everyone in person and online. With that group, we have weekly three-hour park days. We have one or even two field trips or activities with the group nearly every week. (This week, we’re going to the library for a decorate-your-own-journal art hour, and going to a local organic farm on Friday.) The girls are in weekly piano lessons and loving it. They play together more beautifully than I ever hoped. We spend lots of time outdoors every day. I have a veggie garden and they all putter with me. Our science yesterday was inspecting cilantro blooms and seeds in various stages of development, talking about how plants bolt, bloom, become pollinated, and develop seed that we can save. They also do seat work nearly every day (journal — writing and drawing; math; handwriting; and phonics/grammar). We have done lots of reading for fun — we’re working our way through the Little House series and are currently just beginning The Long Winter. The girls read on their own, fiction and nonfiction, a ton. My almost-10-year-old is the Arts and Crafts Queen and is working on some project all the time… She also is taking every-other-week drawing lessons from two ladies from church.
In other words, this school year is virtually everything I had hoped. HOWEVER… I’m not really an unschooler at heart. I feel much better with structure. I feel such guilt that we are on week 5 (FIVE!) of (old) Sonlight Core 2. Week five. We’ve barely gotten through anything, really.
When I read out everything I’ve written above, it seems like I should be pleased. But, honestly, I feel a little out of sorts, like I’m doing them a disservice for not being more regimented and rigorous. We are ENJOYING the school year. Yet, I have thoughts like, “I required so much more of my sons. Am I being unconsciously sexist by doing so little real schoolwork with them??” Seriously.
I don’t know what I need to be satisfied. This school year is one of the best, experientially, we’ve ever had — and this is my 14th year!! But, I just feel so uncomfortable not checking those boxes in the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide. I feel guilty.
At the other moms’ suggestions, I’m going to add more science and have them read aloud to each other and me.
But, mostly, I think I just need to adjust my own attitude and enjoy what is left of the year.
…actually write a blog post today.
But, I’ve decided to use my rare time on the actual desktop computer to look for plans for a chicken tractor, instead. (OK, I wrote a blog post.)
I will briefly update to say:
1. My oldest son, Ethan, is doing great at Arizona State. He is getting all As, and one of his professors loves his writing so much that he is keeping all of Ethan’s writing assignments to use as examples in current and future classes. While this is a particular win for Ethan (and for me, because — yay! I didn’t really suck as a teacher!), it’s a win for homeschooling, in general. Because what does this professor want? Analysis. Synthesis. Excellent grammar. Thoughtful, insightful writing. An understanding of the topic at hand. As a homeschooling mom, this is what I want, too! I’m not just looking for my children to regurgitate information; I want them to understand and to think. Apparently, professors enjoy having students who can do this.
2. My 16 year-old, Grant, is still mostly homeschooling in the traditional way. He is, however, taking two classes at a local two-day-a-week co-op. Honestly, he isn’t killin’ it like I thought he would; it’s a struggle for him. But, that’s a good thing to figure out NOW, as a junior, rather than in his freshman year of college. He still has the Air Force Academy as his goal, and is killin’ it in Civil Air Patrol Cadets, where he is a Staff Sergeant.
3. My son, Wesley, is a freshman at a small, conservative, tuition-free charter school. I have been extremely pleased with the school itself, and shocked, frankly, with how well Wesley has integrated into “the system”. There is one class in which he isn’t doing well — French II — and it’s mostly because of conflict with the teacher, who is pretty hard-nosed. But, I’m fine with that. I’ve told Wesley that, a) it’s an elective, and he’s still actually learning to speak French quite beautifully. And, b) for his whole life, he will encounter people who don’t “get” him, or are otherwise challenging, and learning to adapt and have healthy relationship is at least as important as learning particular subjects. So, overall: he’s doing very well.
4. Audrey is in 4th grade and Fiala is in 2nd. They are both doing excellently in school. Audrey is doing 6th grade math. Fiala can spell as well as a 4th grader. It was my aim for them to have FUN this year; to have a rich, full educational experience. That is happening. Because I couldn’t find a group in my area which was relaxed and social with no fees and no “statement of faith” to sign, I started a homeschool support group. We’re up to 95 families, which is crazy. Not everyone participates in every event, of course, but I organize a weekly park day, a weekly mom’s night grade-and-chat at a local coffee shop, and usually 1-3 additional events weekly. So, we’re busy, but it’s fun-busy. We’ve been to museums and on day trips and to art classes and more. This is exactly the sort of school year I envisioned for them, even if it means that we’re making really slow progress through the structured curriculum we’re doing (old Sonlight Core 2).
5. Jeanie is two years old and absolutely crazy. She is fun, chubby, happy, very active, doesn’t nap well, and has a thing for playing with her poop, which drives me absolutely batty. Yesterday, when I thought she was napping, she actually sculpted a faux hawk for herself with her poop. Yes, it was as gross as it sounds. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!??” I admit I yelled. Holy crap. Literally. It’s one of those things where my previous judgements have come back, in God’s humorous way, to bite me in the butt. Truthfully, when I had previously heard about other toddlers playing with their poop — since none of my kids had ever done that — that there must be something deeply wrong with the family, or with the child, emotionally. Or something. Playing with poop is clearly wrong and disturbed. Well, Jeanie is about the furthest a child could be from “disturbed”. But, she still plays with her poop.
6. Jeanie has been going to the home of a dear friend of mine for two hours, four days a week, and in exchange, I tutor my friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten. She also goes to weekly park day with us, and on field trips. This is the first time I’ve taught a child other than my own. In the past, I’ve declined such requests, because they’re mostly along the lines of, “Hey, since you’re already home and teaching your own children, and public schools stink and private schools are too expensive, why don’t I bring my child over and you can teach her/him for free!” Which I decline. However, this particular plan is going quite well! I’m paid AND my friend keeps Jean, which really makes the whole thing possible. I had intended for Audrey and Fiala to be doing their seatwork (math, grammar/phonics, handwriting, and journal) while I work with our Kindergarten-friend. However, we’re doing Five in a Row (plus Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Handwriting Without Tears). And, apparently, even though my older daughters are nine and seven years old, they still enjoy FIAR books and activities, which, frankly, I didn’t do enough of, with either of them. So, they are reliving kindergarten, and having a blast. (Reminder: Audrey is doing sixth grade math and can spell as well as a 7th grader, and is on-track with her other subjects; doing K won’t damage her education, thankyouverymuch.)
7. My garden is doing fab. The past summer, in my first — 8′ x 12′ — bed, the most successful things I grew were: Clemson Spineless okra — which is actually still growing, here in late October. My okra bushes — five of them — are nearly six feet tall, and still producing, though more slowly, as it has cooled a bit. I also grew Lemon Queen sunflowers, which were amazing — a good 7-8 feet tall. Armenian cucumbers grew wonderfully and were extremely productive. The next-most successful plant was Fonzy Melons, which I grew from saved seed from an organic melon I had purchased early this year. And flowers — Sulphur Cosmos. They made lovely cut flowers all summer and are self-seeding in actually a rather invasive way. It’s a nice problem to have, actually. Oh! And a volunteer spaghetti squash was quite productive. Less successful were banana squash, Tatuma Calabacita summer squash, and a musk melon. I had a number of tomato plants come up volunteer — which I’m still growing — as well as a tomatillo plant which grew humungous and was covered in flowers, but never fruited. Dumb waste of space. I yanked it. In the places where I have pulled out and re-prepped the soil in this bed, I have planted Atomic Red carrots, Greyzini summer squash (which will grow here in the winter!), Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, Super Sugar snap peas, white sweet Spanish onions, and zinnias, all from Pinetree Garden Seeds (which, yes, I know their test gardens are in Maine. But, I’m a sucker for small, family-owned seed companies). I have had a heck of a time getting the carrots and spinach to germinate, but the Greyzini has its first tiny fruit already growing! I have prepared a larger, 12′ x 12′ bed “next door” to my first bed. That sucker took ALL SUMMER AND FALL for me to prepare, as a) bermudagrass is so, so, so, so horridly invasive; b) our clay soil is hard and heavy; c) I worked on it in my “spare” time. The bed is now waiting for me to till in all the amendments. I haven’t done that because a) it has rained so much in the last week that the ground is too wet! and, b) I bought a rototiller and a friend from high school fixed it for me, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to meet up for him to return it! And, I don’t want to till 12′ x 12′ of heavy clay soil by shovel. In the new bed, I’ll be sowing more sugar snaps, Harris parsnips, Ching Chang bok choy, more carrots, Top Bunch collards, a leaf lettuce mix, Cardinal chard, Homemade Pickles cucumbers, more onions, Red Cloud beets, Gaillardia, and nasturtiums. Although I haven’t actually planned out the space exactly to see if I can fit all that into the bed… I might have to pull the okra, which I was considering trying to overwinter.
8. We’re still plugging away at our home remodel. I’m kind of weary of it, so I won’t say much about it, except to admit that it’s still in process.
9. We are still at Vineyard Phoenix and absolutely are in love with our local representation of the Body of Christ. (If you click the link, that is my hubby in the video on the front page.) God is good and moving mightily by His Spirit. People are getting saved and healed. It’s really an amazing church, and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m leading worship again at a small home group, which I greatly enjoy. I also am teaching the 4s and 5s Sunday morning preschool class once a month and singing on the worship team usually about twice a month. Our head pastor — whom I’ve known since I was 15 (I’m 42) — stepped down to a semi-decreased, semi-retired role in July, which gives him greater liberty to immerse himself in missions and apostolic ministry. As I type this, he’s in Zambia. My hubby’s best friend, Doug Scott, is now our head pastor. I adore Doug. I’m biased, but…. seriously…. I feel like God has given me absolutely GOLD with the church in which I get to participate.
10. As I mentioned at the beginning…. I’ve been given the go-ahead to start my chicken flock!! I’m super-excited. I just need to go now and get that figured out.
11. My husband is awesome, and I’m very grateful for him. NOTE: Awesome doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it mean that we don’t work, work, work, work on our relationship. We do. We have ups and downs. But, this November, we’ll celebrate 21 years of marriage that has been profoundly blessed and is the result of two people loving Jesus and not giving up on each other. HALF OF MY LIFE will be with that man, and it has been an honor.
My love and blessings to each of you who have read through this.
I truly still love writing. I’ve just been insanely busy. My load right now is somewhat lighter, which allows me the luxury of reflecting, here in my neglected blog. (Note: I have no idea why the sizes of fonts change throughout this post. Rather than taking the time to figure it out, I’m leaving it. Sorry-not-sorry.) Edited to add a few more things about Fiala, and to note that you may click on each picture to enlarge it, if you care to.
- My oldest son, Ethan, did receive the scholarship he was hoping for, to attend Arizona State University. I am part of a couple different groups where homeschooling parents support each other, especially where prep-for-college is concerned. I’m struck again and again how, as a homeschooling mom of a senior, it seems like the college admissions process is WAY more about how prepared and organized **I** have been as my child’s mother/teacher, and much less about how well-educated my son is. I’m happy to report that, even though I have discovered, in retrospect, that there are a hundred things I could have done better or differently, what Ethan and I did, together, was exactly right for what he needed. I’m feeling the mercy of God on that one, because truly, I’m not kidding about those “hundred things”. Ethan turns 18 this month. He isn’t altogether eager to transition to adulthood; it’s challenging for all of us, to be frank. I have told him, “We’ve never parented an adult before, please bear with us.” We’re all learning. It’s funny, because I have often urged him to DO HIS OWN RESEARCH AND MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, because, even though I’m complimented by the fact that he still likes the things I choose for him — it makes me feel like I really know him — it’s healthier for him to be at least a little more independent than where he’s comfortable. So, in light of this, I turned over to him the plans for his birthday party. And, whaddya know? He has planned it for a day when I’m going to be out of town. Not purposefully; that’s just the date that works best with his friends, who are hosting. However, it’s kind of good news/bad news, “You took charge? GREAT! But you left me out of it completely?? Sad face.” LOL!
Grant is my son who will be 16 later this summer. I don’t think I’ve blogged about this, but what I’m going to write about here, about Grant, is kind of a big deal to me. Grant is the opposite of Ethan; he has known for YEARS where he’d like his future to be, what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go to university… He really can’t wait to get on with his adult life. A big part of that includes his plans to attend the United States Air Force Academy. To be completely honest, up until nine months ago or so, I kind of blew that off. It’s hard to get into the USAFA. Really hard. It’s even harder for homeschoolers. And, they don’t just look at academics; they look at the whole person. I had decided, in my own mind, that the chances of Grant getting into the AFA were incredibly slim. However, early last fall, I started to feel convicted. I remember having dreams while in high school, and feeling like no one wanted to help me achieve them. I remember what it felt like to be blown off. So, I started checking things out, what I could do to help Grant gain ground on his goals. I decided that I didn’t want to be an impediment to his hopes; I wanted to assist him in every way possible. So, I signed him up for the Future Falcons at the USAFA website — which is kind of a Big Deal, as it is super-official; you need the child’s Social Security number, even! I downloaded the 21-page “Instructions to Precandidates” pdf and we mapped out his sophomore to senior years of high school accordingly. And, I looked into getting Grant involved in an Air Force-related program. I first thought of Junior ROTC… But, then, I heard about Civil Air Patrol Cadets from some other homeschooling moms. Long story short, Grant has only been in CAP Cadets for a little over six months, but he is excelling. He’s actually at a week-long semi-boot-camp experience called “Encampment” at Fort Huachuca as I type this. Grant still has a long way to go, and many smaller goals to achieve before we can even apply to the Academy. But, all of us feel pretty good about his chances, which is 180° from where we were, about a year ago. In this coming school year, Grant’s junior year, he will be taking two classes at KEYS — a two-day homeschool co-op — and the rest at home. Grant will be taking Honors Chemistry and College Lit and Composition. Frankly, these are two teaching-intensive classes, and I was looking to outsource the most mom-dependent classes for Grant. Additionally, we’re looking at having Grant take all of his classes for his senior year at a local community college, and we wanted to ease his transition. Other than American History, Grant won’t need much from me in the coming school year; his other subjects — French, Economics, Algebra II, and a couple of others, won’t need a lot of input from me. I’m totally OK with that.
My son Wesley will be in 9th grade in the fall, which hardly seems possible. He’s the youngest of our three sons, and it is a challenge for me to not think of him as “little”. He has had a massive growth spurt this past year, and his voice has dramatically deepened. Whether I’m ready or not, Wesley is no longer little. He is an excellent big brother to our toddler, Jeanie. He’s in the teen youth group at church. It just feels odd to me, still. Through much thought and research and prayer, we have decided to try Wesley at an “brick and mortar” school for this coming fall. None of our kids have ever gone to a “real” school before. But… I have long felt that I just don’t quite speak Wesley’s educational language. He hasn’t suffered under my instruction, and testing shows he is on course or ahead for his grade level. However, I don’t feel like I’m best-suited to maximize his potential, since his potential is in areas where I’m not strong. There is a charter school (publicly funded, privately run) less than a mile from us; I have checked them out before, and I like their literature-based, liberal arts approach. It’s a small school: this coming year, they’ll very likely have less than 150 students, only 9th – 11th graders. Most kids bring their own lunches (which seems trivial, but with Wesley’s celiac disease, dairy allergy, and peanut allergy, I didn’t want him to feel like he’s the odd man out, bringing his own lunch every day). And then, a good friend of ours took a job as the English teacher there. This man is everything you’d hope for in a teacher: brilliant, kind, patient, thoughtful, a good leader…. I do believe he’d be an excellent teacher for Wesley for English, which has long been Wes’ poorest subject. The daughter of that teacher, as well as another friend of Wesley’s, will also be attending the school. My husband Martin and I have discussed, toured the school together, talked on the phone with the principal, e-mailed back and forth with staff, read every click on the school’s website, and PRAYED. However, neither of us have felt any strong inclination or direction from God. We both feel like He’s saying, “All right. It’s up to you. You can give it a shot.” I’d feel a thousand times better if I had heard something more specific than that. But… It’ll do, for now. This next week, I’ll be enrolling Wes.
This past year was our busiest ever, for school. With Ethan as a senior, Grant as a sophomore, and Wes in 8th grade, there were far too many days when Audrey (who just finished 3rd grade) and Fiala (who just finished 1st) would just do seat work — phonics, math, journal, and a couple of other subjects where they can work largely independently, with little help from me. In other words: the bare minimum. I have no doubt that the girls’ educational skills are up to par, or perhaps beyond their typical peers. However, I want a richer, more robust school experience for them. With Ethan at college, Grant working mostly-independently, and Wesley enrolled in a charter school, I’m VERY MUCH looking forward to a hands-on school year for the two “big” girls: art projects, science experiments, field trips, actually READING THE READ-ALOUDS in our curriculum! It should be a wonderful year. As stated in the caption of the pic at left, Audrey — who turned nine years old a couple of months ago — is artsy, funky, fun, and LOUD. All the boys did Rosetta Stone French this year, and Audrey joined in, as well. I am tickled to hear her lovely little French accent. It’s charming. Fiala, who is six years old, is loving, thoughtful, intense, unique, and can be petulant and impulsive. She loves swimming, loves playing dress up and changing her clothes in general — her clean, folded laundry stack is ALWAYS taller than anyone else’s. She loves waking up earlier than any of the other children and coming into my bed to “snug” with me. It doesn’t usually happen like that, but it’s a good day for Fi when it does. All in all, she is a delight of a child, my little green-eyes-freckle-nose, as I often call her. If Fiala was in a public school, she would have been in Kindergarten this last year, as she has a late-fall birthday. That seems crazy to me, as she was well-ready for first grade work.
Jean will be two years old next week, which also seems crazy. I tell her that if it wasn’t for her screeching in restaurants and playing with her poop, she’d be a perfect child. Seriously: up until now, my sixth child, I have had NO children interested in their poop. Jean, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to understand what “gross” means. So, when she takes a nap, I have to put this ONE outfit on her, every time — it’s a BabyGap long-legged, button-up, one-piece, short-sleeved cotton romper. It’s the only thing that doesn’t allow access to her diaper area. Actually, “Pull-Up area”, as she is nearly completely potty-trained. We went from cloth diapers to early potty training in December, and I rejoiced, but it has taken her A Very Long Time to be serious about it. She just isn’t serious. She is a joyous little bundle of… everything. She’s still chubby and overall large for her age. She has a passion for Bubble Guppies, swimming, and dancing. She is bossy. Charmingly bossy. “Hum!” she will demand, which is Jeanie-speak for, “Come!” She will pull on your hand and do everything she can to make you comply. Or, “Hi! Hi!” she will insist, patting the seat next to her. For unknown reasons, “Hi! Hi!” means, “You sit HERE, NOW!” Or, “Tiss!!” meaing, “Kiss!” Then, “O’er side!!” Meaning, “I want a kiss on the other cheek, as well!” We all adore Jean.
- This past spring just about did me in. I always felt like families who couldn’t eat dinner together were doing something wrong. Well, guess what? We became that family in 2015. Sunday nights, Martin often has events at church to attend. Monday nights, I take Grant to CAP Cadets and usually sit in a nearby coffee shop, grading papers for the 2.5 hrs of CAP. Tuesday nights, Martin led worship at a weekly small group. I was leading worship just on Wednesday nights, until a group got too big and needed to multiply, but didn’t have a worship leader. I agreed — just for the spring — to lead worship in that group, as well. So, from the end of February to the beginning of June, I was gone both Wednesday and Thursday nights. Additionally, I started hosting a CSA/farm share again for a local organic farmer, every Wednesday. I had kind of taken an six-month hiatus, but started up again in April. And, Ethan works three nights a week at Sprouts. Martin has a fairly long commute, and often isn’t home until 6:00 or so… It became like passing the baton, and the 30 minutes we’d have together before one of us needed to head back out the door was usually not at the dinner table. When you have a family of eight, dinner is loud and usually fun, but it really isn’t the place for Martin and I to connect. I’d have dinner made, but we usually didn’t sit down together. Homeschooling, church, CAP Cadets, three weekly small groups, the CSA, Martin’s commute, Ethan’s work… Lordy, I was stretched. But, small groups take a break for the summer and school is DONE, so my load is infinitely lighter. I feel much freer!!
- My other big things for the spring are: my garden — which is a scaled-down version of my original vision. I have one 8′ x 12′ bed in, and it’s growing wonderfully. I’m working daily (or nearly so) to put in a walk around the bed, and hope to have a second bed ready for mid-August planting. It is so hot here (yesterday hit 115°!!!!) that there is little that will grow in the heat of mid-summer. The bed that is growing, I planted in late April. I can’t really sow anything else until there is hope for cooler temperatures. I have sunflowers, two kinds of melon, Armenian cucumbers, okra, two kinds of heat-tolerant green beans, summer squash, and a winter squash growing, plus a variety of flowers. I also have way too many volunteer tomato plants, whose seed came from my compost, I suppose. I have transplanted as many as possible, replanting and giving away about 20 tomato plants. There are still far too many tomato plants growing in the garden — growing too closely with the other plants. It’s not really the right time to grow tomatoes here — ideally, I would have had them in by January or February. But, I can’t bear to yank them. We’ll see what happens. My garden gives me joy, exercise, and a sense of fulfillment. It keeps me sane. To me, gardening really is a kind of therapy.Of course, all of this is barely scratching the surface. There is much more happening in our home… An upcoming camping trip, me traveling to the Portland area for a girlfriends’ weekend, sewing projects, lots of canning, Bible studies, small and large challenges and triumphs, a continuing home remodel, birthdays — including my own, baseball, me going low-carb again to lose weight, books to read, and more. But, I will call it a day and go swimming with my kids.Blessings to you and yours.
I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I think this might be the plan of God.
I have a reset button.
When my eight year old is crying that she didn’t get enough chocolate chips, and I’m thinking, “You have WAY more chocolate chips than you had a few minutes ago when you had NONE. Get a grip!”…
When the the five year old is crying that she didn’t get all her spelling words right, and is inconsolable, even when I tell her that she spells amazingly and is doing better at spelling than any five year old I know…
When the tasks before me for the week seem impossible, and stress is at my doorstep, even on a Monday morning…
When I just can’t seem to learn the things that God has for me to learn, even when the things He wants me to learn are “simple” things like how to be at peace and trust Him…
I go upstairs for a few minutes before Jean’s nap time. I nurse her and snuggle her chubby self; she is a very satisfying baby. I dig my face gently into her chest and belly and she howls with delighted giggles. Her face lights up and she loves me completely. The oxytocin is flowing, and peace returns to my heart, however briefly.
I am certain that this is God’s plan. He has provided a bit of calm in my everyday thunderstorm. He who created the ends of the universe even provided for a mama’s endocrine system. Perhaps that sounds weird, but knowing how intricately I’m created, and how even “just” hormones work for my benefit is a balm to my battered emotions and sleep-deprived strength. I feel cared-for by my almighty God, that He would create such a plan to reset my soul.
And, I’m just happy to be the mother to a chubby 15-month-old named Jean Marjorie Joy.
On a semi-related, please do read this wonderfully-written piece on extended breastfeeding by a mom I knew when she was just a girl. It is honest and lovely and real. Even if you think you have zero interest in the topic, you’d be blessed, I think, to read it.
I bought a yogurt maker and I must say, the first batch?? NOT a success. There are lots of conflicting instructions out there for making yogurt. Next time, I will SCALD the raw milk (not boil it, per the instructions I followed), use already-made plain yogurt as a starter (not acidophilus caps that so many places said you could use), and keep better track of the temperature. I’ll also just make plain, rather than the honey-sweetened blueberry yogurt I attempted. The results separated into yogurty curds and whey. The flavor was good, but the texture was horrible. We half-froze ours to make it palatable, and that worked all right. But the next go-round needs to be much more successful!!
- My oldest son now has a job: He’s a bagger at Sprouts, a local, natural grocer. It was really the only job he wanted, and though it took a few months of trying, he got the job! The day he was hired, he had to read 100+ pages of various employee handbooks (which he truly read, because he is thorough, like his father). I also took him to open a checking account, which had about 20 pages of various information and things to sign. As we were leaving the bank, his brow was furrowed, and I could tell he was on information overload. “So, Ethan, now that you have a job and a checking account, do you feel like an adult?” I asked. He replied, “Well, if adults regularly feel confused, then, yes, I feel like an adult.” Ha! Welcome to adulthood, my son. We are having him tithe 10%, save 50%, and the rest is his for spending and short-term savings. He looked at his first paycheck, which was for just one week, and proclaimed that the paper he was holding amounted to more than he had made doing odd jobs in the entire previous year. I had really wanted him to get a job for his own benefit — for learning how to be responsible with money; for learning how to be part of a team within a work environment; and to just take a step up in transition to adulthood… But, unexpectedly, I feel very blessed. He’s not a fully grown adult, but it blesses me, knowing that my husband and I have raised a young man who is an asset to a good company, and to the workforce in general. It feels very right.
Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and today, I have worked HARD in my yard for 2-3+ hours daily. I am trying to transform a section about 21′ x 42′ into my real, true garden. It’s difficult to explain to people unfamiliar with caliche JUST HOW ROCK-HARD our “soil” is. Technically, it’s not soil; it’s dirt. The Bermuda grass — the only kind that will grow in the desert’s heat and lack of water — needs to be removed, so I rented a sod-cutter last Thursday. Man-oh-man, that was SO punishing. So difficult. I put it at the deepest setting — 2½” — to dig up as much of the Bermuda as possible. Now, I am digging and toting the cut dirt/sod to other areas of our yard, making berms around trees. I’m only about 1/3 done with it being cleared. And here, it has mostly been in the mid-90°s. So, add “hot and sweaty” to physically challenging. I am keeping my eyes on the prize of having a productive, inviting, rewarding garden, some months from now. Once I finish clearing the area, I still need to soak the dirt, Rototill it, rake out as many Bermuda grass roots as possible, then cover the area with clear plastic to solarize — and thus kill — it. All of that is BEFORE I get to plant anything. I also need to put up a fence with a footer, not just to keep out the dogs, but to keep the Bermuda grass from creeping back in. I’m collecting interesting garden fence ideas on Pinterest.
- I was going to post about our new dog (a third Staffordshire Bull Terrier)… And about me going low-carb almost-Paleo again. But my baby Jean is waking! So, here are a couple more pics:
When I started blogging nearly eight years ago, I “only” had three children. Along the way, it has always been possible to squeeze out a number of blogs per month, often 3-4 per week! But, starting with baby Jean’s birth in June, these have been been my slowest months ever. Here’s why:
- Time and priorities. I love writing. But, I also love reading. I love keeping up with my friends and family on Facebook. I have other responsibilities, besides homeschooling my children and running my home — I still lead worship weekly at a homegroup, and I essentially have a part-time job as a host and coordinator for a CSA (weekly, local farm-share). I just can’t do everything, sadly. Most days, just doing school, laundry, and making meals about taps me out. I could drop any one of these things and have time for blogging, but I don’t want to. So… it’s just a busy season that precludes blogging. I have very often started drafts and by the time I finish, they’re just no longer relevant or pressing. So, slowly nibbling away at drafts doesn’t seem to work for me, either.
- The current culture of blogging. When I started blogging, most people hadn’t even heard the term “blog”. I wrote with the abandon of one who was pretty certain that no one was reading. In many ways, I was flippant and too-disclosing. I wasn’t careful at all. I could just dash off some thoughts without considering possible repercussion. I’ve become wiser over the years, and have realized that people ARE reading, and therefore, I need to measure my words. In addition, if I want to make a statement about health, science, Scripture, pretty much anything, the only responsible way to do that is to provide supporting links, which is the blogging form of end notes. However, gathering and inserting appropriate links is time-consuming. And THEN, you add Pinterest. If someone wants to post something on Pinterest, you really need a picture. So, I either hunt for a pic online with no copyright protection OR I hunt for a pic to upload and insert from my own. Both of those add snippets of time to an already labor-intensive process.
- My mind is blank. JUST KIDDING. Actually, there are more things than ever that I want to share… Inside my brain, my blog is crazy-active!!
Here, though, are a few small things happening around here:
- We are still slowly remodeling our home and redecorating. Both my husband and I are frugal, and our tastes overlap, but aren’t identical. That’s why the process is slow: if ONE of us didn’t care, we could get things done a lot faster. But, we both care. Here’s a shot (not a great one) of our living room. It’s a mix of new and vintage/Craigslist purchases.
- We finally had to buy our first new piece of baby equipment. Virtually everything on Jean’s body and which she uses here in our home is a hand-me-down, a gift, or purchased second-hand. Oh, wait! I did purchase a jogging stroller for about 1/4 the price of a new one, at a true outlet — a store that handles all the returns and overstock from Costco, Home Depot, and Rite-Aid. It was new in the box… So, I guess that counts as a new purchase. So, purchase #2: a highchair. I can’t wait until it arrives; baby Jean is six months and eating (limited) table food, but up until now, she has just been perched on my lap. That is becoming increasingly messy. I searched on Craigslist for the last month, looking for a chair that had some sort of modern appeal (to at least partially fit in with our updated decor), was well-reviewed, wasn’t too bulky, that both my husband and I like, and wasn’t too expensive. I struck out. So, this highchair is being shipped, as I type this.
- Just last week, I finished my favorite book of the last… year or so. I have a few current authors that I follow; I read everything they write. Those tend to be dependable authors; I like their craft of storytelling. However, they’re not necessarily books that, upon closing, I reflect, “That was so very worthwhile. I am enriched by having read that.” Not that they’re trash; they’re just entertainment, and not necessarily profound. The book I recently finished? Profound. I had read quite a few (nonfiction) essays by Wendell Berry, as well as a number of his poems. But, I hadn’t read any of his fiction. Following the families in a community in rural Kentucky? Sounded campy, à la Mitford (which I’ve never read, so, yes, I’m passing judgement based upon incomplete information). But, my oldest son, a junior, read Fidelity as part of his homeschool curriculum. When he finished, he handed it to me. “That was one of the best books I’ve ever read. I think you’d like it.” Which made me love him all the more… And he was right; I did like it. I plan on reading more in the series, after I get through the next two books on my list (Leaving Everything Most Loved — I like Jacqueline Winspear’s storytelling. However, as her works progress, each book seems more like “Zen Buddhist with an agenda, who is telling a mystery story on the side.” It’s rather annoying. I’m a Christian and I don’t even like it when CHRISTIAN authors try to proselytize via fiction. I like it even less when the author’s beliefs don’t parallel mine. And, An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch. I found Charles Finch, whose stories are set in Victorian England, when I had exhausted the surprisingly large genre of literary mystery serials set in WWI-era England.)
- And… This little sweetie. How I adore her. She is perfect, except she doesn’t like to sleep. Really, she doesn’t like to sleep at all. You can try your suggestions, but I’ve probably tried them all, short of letting her cry long enough to give up and feel abandoned. She is a darling baby, an absolute delight to our whole family. Everyone is smitten, still. She is beautiful and chubby, cheerful and funny, and loves to snuggle. So, so perfect. Except the sleep thing. I’m tired.
My days aren’t always wonderful. But, today has been smashing and I don’t want to forget it.
First, our mourning has been turned into dancing. Earlier this week, we discovered that the awful scraping sound emanating from my Land Barge’s engine was its last, dying gasp. It needed a new engine — to the tune of $3,500 or so. This morning, someone called to tell us that, essentially, he is going to pay for it. This “someone” is returning a favor for house plans that my husband designed for him. I must confess that I have groused somewhat about what I feel is people taking advantage of my husband’s generosity with his home-designing skills, which he frequently does for free, or very nearly so, on the side*. It seems to me that folks don’t comprehend the time, effort, skill, and flat-out genius that goes behind their remodel, or whatever. I have strongly suggested that he charge what he’s worth. He refuses. I pout and feel self-righteous about at least internally defending my husband. However, I will never breathe a word of complaint again. Even enters my mind I will remind myself that GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL and HE WILL ALWAYS TAKE CARE OF US and no kindness is wasted in God’s economy. I will give all future unkindly thoughts** a kick to the curb and not let them enter into the dwelling place of my ponderings. Seriously. My mind is changed FOREVER. My paradigm is permanently shifted.
Secondly, something over the last week or so, of which we didn’t hear until today:
- Last week at our dentist’s office, as always, my five year old daughter Fiala was unfailingly kind and encouraging. She told the dental assistant, Shawn, that she looked beautiful, and gave her a hug and a kiss.
- Shawn went home, and when asked about her day by her elementary-school-aged son, she said that a little girl made her day, describing the incident with Fi… They talked about the name “Fiala”.
- The son’s teacher is pregnant with a little girl and (bravely!) told the students that she would let one of them name the baby. She set up a suggestion box in the back. Shawn’s son wrote down “Fiala”.
- The teacher announced yesterday (I think) that her new baby would be named Fiala.
- Buh-bam! Darling girl is a trend-setter, spreading her sweet spunkiness and genuine affection, getting babies named after her.
*He is also paid to design houses in his full-time job.
**At least on this topic. 😉
My husband and I are nearing 19 years of marriage. I have been reflecting on our history recently.
That is partly because my own parents divorced after they had “celebrated” their own 19th anniversary, and I have had to
say, “SHUT UP!!” to the enemy keep my thoughts captive regarding this particular milestone, and have been purposefully dwelling on the successes of our time together as a family.
3 Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
4 Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
5 How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Psalm 137:3-5 (NLT)*
It’s a pretty common understanding in the Christian culture that children are a blessing.
Confession: For a long, long time, I did not feel that blessing. I felt overwhelmed, not up to the massive task appointed to me. I saw my every flaw replicated and magnified in my children. I felt like I was endlessly disciplining, when I really didn’t WANT to discipline; I wanted to snuggle on the couch and have everyone love each other, and everyone respect each other, everyone defend each other, everyone exuding kindness and loyalty…
I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore, and though I do see my flaws in my children, I am less horrified these days. Instead, I see that as the provision of God to accent my need for His holiness and his character, in both myself and my children; it shows me what I need to work on. However, I still feel, oftentimes, like that last sentence in the paragraph above. There is not enough kindness and love in our home. There is not enough of the presence of the Holy Spirit. There is not enough of His peace. His patience is frequently far from manifest in the lives and hearts of every member of our family.
I am still starting to get a picture, a revelation, of how much BLESSING I live in.
It is dawning on me from a number of different horizons.
- A mother came up to me after worship on Sunday and told me how she had seen my 14 year old son, Grant, enter right into exuberant worship and praise — nothing rote — and he urged a friend to do the same.
- I am meeting more women — it’s my age, I guess — who do not have the family they envisioned for themselves, earlier in their lives. They don’t have as many children, or none at all, or they don’t have a healthy marriage, or none at all… It’s not that my marriage is flawless, but I do have a good marriage. And I have six children, which feels… complete for the first time in my motherhood. It doesn’t feel as if anyone is missing. I am realizing how easily what I presently have could have never been.
- I do long for more loyalty and kindness in particular between my children; every time a child throws a sibling under the bus, so to speak, by tattling, my stomach hurts and my heart aches. But, there IS a lot of love present in our home. I am trying to treasure all these things in my heart — to remember the loving, tender moments.
- People whose perspectives and opinions I trust are increasingly encouraging me, pointing out the good fruit in our home. A maternal uncle visited this past weekend. He left a note for my husband and I to read. Part of it said, “You have accepted the challenge of raising a Christian family at a time in history when our culture, society, and even our government fights you. Good job. Keep going. You are being watched by people you don’t even know, and they do so with a yen for what you have.”**
- At my step dad’s memorial service last Saturday, many people came up to me to congratulate me on the good behavior of my children, and extended their blessings to our family.
- Baby Jean seems to have brought a new level of tenderness in our family — especially in my two other girls. My pastor’s wife keeps noting it to me. It has opened my eyes to the reality of the Father God blessing our family, specifically through this chubby, sweet-smiling three-month-old infant.
- Just in general… People keep encouraging me, especially about my motherhood and my children. I should keep notes and read on a day when I’m discouraged.
I’ve always kept with the notion that those who compare themselves among themselves are not wise. Therefore, I often take lightly the compliments of others, regarding my children. I see the best in my children, but I also see the worst, and I can’t help but often think, “If you only knew...” when someone says something flattering about one of my children.
But, I’ve decided this: It would be more repugnant to live in the blessing and not realize it. I think my perfectionist self rather disqualifies my motherhood, disqualifies my children, even, from receiving compliments and blessings. This makes me sad. I want to believe it! I should believe it! I want to embrace a life of blessing. I want to ENJOY being blessed! I think it would score one for the enemy if I really did live a blessed life, but didn’t have the revelation of it. What a waste that would be!
I’m feeling an increased longing for more of God’s presence in our home. In short, I’m longing for His blessing, His hand on our lives and in our hearts. I’ve always wanted this… but it seems like God is bringing me to a place of urgency in prayer and in seeking Him for this, and I have, a number of times in the last month or so, been brought to tears with HOW MUCH I LONG FOR this, long for Him.
So, that’s my new goal: To enjoy the Father’s blessing, which, indeed, includes my precious children, and to look for and acknowledge His blessing. I am a blessed woman, indeed, to have six children and a loving husband. Perfection is a long, long, long, long ways off. But I am still very blessed, and I want to have an increasing revelation of that, and live in its peace.
*For the curious, our family is not “quiverfull“.
** I was telling my pastor about how I was basking in this blessing from my uncle, and then, I looked over and saw my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, CHEWING on the note. CHEWING IT. She explained, “I’m pretending to be a puppy!” My pastor said with a laugh, “And then reality set in!”
***There is an old worship song by John Barnett called “In the Blessing.” Its words are: “Here I stand/In the blessing of the Father’s love/Washed in blood/Sweet forgiveness for a life undone… Knowing that Your love is all I need/To get by/Knowing that Your hand is over me/All my life/My Father, I love you…” I couldn’t find a recording of this song — which has often brought me to tears — to add to this post.
My stepdad, Joe, passed away last Thursday.
It was a shock.
I visited him with Audrey and Fiala the night previous, as we’d gotten word that he had taken a turn for the worse. He was mostly out of it, on pain meds, but we had some now-memorable exchanges… One was me asking him if he wanted music in his room — he LOVED music — and he did. I made a mental plan to follow up on that the next day. A sick man should have music. He taught my children all sorts of silly songs over the years — he and my mom started dating when my 16 year-old was an infant; they were married days after he turned one — and I asked him if he might have a silly song for my girls. He replied, “Not at the moment.” When the girls and I were about to leave, I told him I needed to go back home to nurse baby Jean. “Do you remember baby Jean?” I asked, not sure how connected he was with what I was saying. “Oh, yes!” he said, and his face lit up. The girls and I prayed for him, I told him that I loved him, and he said he loved me, too, and we left.
We got back home, and I told my husband, “He looks bad, but he doesn’t look like he’s on death’s door.”
I was wrong.
He died early the next morning.
Perhaps this seems odd, but I think his passing might be a testament to how much he loved my mother, and that makes me feel a little bit better.
It had been a hard, hard year with Joe. Well, hard ten months. My mother passed on October 18, 2012, and for the month or so following, things were good with Joe, although he was terribly — understandably — heartbroken.
And then things deteriorated.
Much of the deterioration revolved around my mom’s will and the way estate law works in Arizona.
The short version is that he didn’t think that myself or my three siblings should inherit anything from my mother. He genuinely felt entitled to everything she owned and saved, and felt that we weren’t taking care of him by signing our inheritances over to him.
My sibs and I couldn’t agree to his desires. My mom appropriated some things to her children… The bulk of the estate went to Joe. There was much that estate law would allow us to keep, or claim — property which wasn’t exactly specified in the will — which we didn’t. We siblings were trying our best to err on the side of generosity, to keep all fighting to an absolute minimum, to find common ground… We simply were not successful, and Joe remained upset at us. Angry, really. He was angry with us.
It had been a very, very hard time, a difficult year.
I had long said that Joe was the most involved grandparent that my children had.
And, it was true for 15 years.
And then, not true for 10 months.
There were a few, encouraging steps forward… and those would invariably be followed by some giant sliding backward.
I’m not angry at Joe. The issue of inheritance was a very difficult thing that was only resolved about a month ago. But, even when estate matters were resolved, things were still not good, relationship-wise, with Joe. While he was in the hospital, my brother-in-law suggested to Joe, “Can we call a truce? And then, when you’re feeling better, you can be angry again.” Joe thought that was hilarious — my brother-in-law is quite witty, and I think it was the perfect thing to say. And, Joe agreed, at least in spirit…
While my family was on vacation earlier this month, Joe — who had for months been complaining of an ‘upset stomach’ — was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And, less than two weeks after his diagnosis, he was gone.
I wrote to some friends:
Everyone handles grief so differently. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, “He just could NOT move on,” and that fits with something else I was going to say: he has always tended towards bitterness and suspicion and hoarding… and we didn’t realize how much my mom kept that in check. In so many ways, she must have compelled him to move on, to get past “it”, whatever “it” was. And with her gone, there was no one who could speak that into him, and he just spiraled out of control. I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but it seems like a testament to how much he loved my mom, how much influence she had in his life, what a difference she made in his outlook and approach to life… it makes me feel better. And even with his cancer diagnosis. I think he just might have given up. I think if she had been alive, he would have fought.
When my mom was hospitalized, my siblings and I frequently discussed how much my mom loved Joe, but how foreign to us were his ways of expressing love to her. I found myself rather desperately hoping that my mom was loved as deeply as she… well, I hate the word “deserve”… Needed? Should have had? I’m not sure of the right word there. I just wanted her to be loved by her husband. That was really, really, really important to me. And there were times when I found myself wondering.
Yet, this last week, I have been, indeed, struck with just how much he much have loved her… She made his life worth living. She compelled him to go on. She called out in him the things that were noble, and helped the ignoble to be manageable, far less noticeable.
I’m a mishmash of thoughts and emotions.
Such regret that relationship wasn’t restored by the time of Joe’s passing.
So sad… Sad for my children. Sad for Joe. Sad for myself.
But, strangely comforted about my mother, whose absence is a deepening hole in my life.
I’m comforted that he loved her.
The babymoon filled with tortilla chips* and ice cream** is over.
I won’t say that we’ve returned to “normal”, though that is what I was initially thinking… “Wow! We’re approaching normal!” There is no “normal”. And, upon further reflection, it was like thinking, “Hey, baby! You’ve upset our family’s routine! You rascal! How could you do that?? You’ve DISTURBED things!!” And, truly, I don’t think that.
But on the other hand, I have been working to re-establish a new flow to our family.
I wrote this to a friend yesterday, who probably instantly regretted asking me how I was doing:
But, just to be real, yesterday SUCKED. It was the worst mothering day in a solid year, if not more. Frankly, Jean cries a lot. That isn’t bad, theoretically. I was telling my kids that Ethan cried a lot, and he turned out just fine. Some babies are just… needier than others, and I am happy to provide that extra comfort, extra soothing, more careful… care. But, OTOH, it means a lot of time in my room with the door shut, nursing (not that I always nurse behind closed doors), soothing, trying to help Jean sleep… and then my children are like Lord of the Flies out there, unattended, giving into sin nature, selfishness, unkindness, sneakiness, bullying… Ugh. I kind of flipped out yesterday. For a valuable 45 min of time when Jean was napping, I sat the five down and we went over Colossians 3:12-17. We talked. I lectured. We prayed. But did things improve? No. I had to spank***. I called Martin. And today hasn’t been much better…. But, I’m trying. Played Bethel YouTube worship videos for four hours straight in the main living area of our home, both to worship and sing, and to just invite the Holy Spirit in our day. And I have nipped everything in the bud, as much as possible.
There would be days like these in the past and I would think that I have totally failed as a mother. The good news is that I feel like it’s a temporary failure from which we all need to recover. I need to pull the reins in on my kids after letting things coast, slide, for too long. And they need to be loving and to obey.
So, see? There’s no normal.
But, this morning represented a step in the right direction: For the first time in Jean’s six weeks and two days of life, I made myself a “real” breakfast. Granted, I absolutely gulped it down, so as to eat it hot, in case Jean awoke. But, it was: Three eggs, tomato slices, avocado slices, a cup of raw milk, and coffee. YUM. The first week of Jean’s life, I ate like a queen, because my hubby fixed my breakfast, and delivered it to me in bed. The time since then has been altogether spotty: A hastily eaten bowl of cereal (and I don’t even eat cereal!), a protein bar, a hastily-eaten pear, occasionally asking one of my boys to fix me eggs… Or, more likely, me looking at the clock at 11:00 a.m. and thinking, “Crap. I haven’t eaten anything yet today.”
Speaking of food… While I absolutely, 100% agree with the thought that post-partum mothers should not give in to an appearance-centered culture that pressures us, “How are you going to lose that baby weight???”**** I also know that I’m carrying 12 extra pounds from the pregnancy — not much, I know! — and
- It’s crazy how much even just 12 pounds can make your clothes NOT fit. Even tee shirts.
- I know that most of that wouldn’t be there had I not daily indulged in food I shouldn’t be eating in the first place: like the aforementioned tortilla chips, ice cream, and cereal.
- I just feel better when I’m trim, when I don’t to have to select clothes that hides one sloshy part or another.*****
So, unless I want to purchase a whole new wardrobe — which WOULD be nice, but
- Where would the money come from to do that?
- More importantly, where would the TIME come to do that??
I need to lose at least some of that weight.
Hence, the subtraction of the carb-laden foods, and the triumphant reemergence of healthier food…
*Organic, from Costco. I love those chips!!
**Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra. It was a lot easier to resist when I had to purchase it for $5/pint from the grocery store or wait for a coupon. In the last year, pre-baby, I probably indulged twice. But, since we discovered that the regular price at Walmart is $2.88/pint, and I got my hubby hooked on that particular flavor, it’s been MUCH harder to resist. “Babe!” he grins, coming in the door with a bag from Walmart, “I got you some ice cream!” Hahaha!!
***I probably just lost a good 10% of my readers right there. “SHE SPANKS???” Um, yes. On occasion. I can’t remember the last time I had spanked anyone, prior to Tuesday; a couple of months, at least. It’s not my go-to discipline; it’s my last-resort discipline.
****And if you haven’t read Sarah Bessey’s fabulous post on the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-partum hospital appearance, you should. Absolutely, you should.
*****And we’re not talking “skinny” here. I’m at 150 lbs now, and my goal is 140. Pre-baby, it was 138 lbs.