Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Behavior bootcamp

I find when I have had a stretch of being preoccupied that it's as if I wake up one morning and realize that my children have become hooligans.  Because of my preoccupation, this time with getting M. off to her mission trip and B. leaving for scout camp and then figuring out how life is going to work without these two very capable people, I don't parent quite as actively as I should and our home life starts to look a bit like Lord of the flies.  This is particularly true with the younger boys.  In the past few days the incidences of whining, complaining, blaming, and general unpleasantness has escalated significantly. 

As a result, we have to go back to basics, starting with first-time obedience.  There are two boys in the house, who over the next few days, are going to have a boat load of opportunities to practice this skill.  I also predict that my house is going to be very, very clean by the end of it.  This is because in order to practice obedience there needs to be some request which required obedience.  And because I am a firm believer in physical labor (particularly for boys) as an antidote for bratty, selfish behavior, I see floor scrubbing happening.  J. also has some outdoor jobs for later in the afternoon as well.  But no fun is going to be happening.  Of course, I say this as I listen to great peals of laughter coming from the lunch table... don't feel too badly for them.

This is intensive, time-consuming parenting, but it is the only way I know to curb egregious behavior.  The poor behavior must be corrected every time and the child must know it will be corrected every time.  It is the only way that the child is forced to think about what he is doing and new habits can be formed.  There must be no pay-off for the child at all, and every time there is it just reinforces the old, bad habit.  For instance, take the child who whines and whines for something in the store while the parent says, "No" over and over until eventually the parent is so worn down that the child wins and the item bought.  What did the child learn?  That given enough whining the parent will eventually break down and give in; it just takes patience and tenacity on the part of the child.

So the boot camp is for me as well.  I need to look carefully at my parenting and see the blind spots I have where I let poor behavior slide.  I know I cannot take credit for all of my children's poor behavior; all people are quite able to sin all on their own.  To take complete credit for all of my children's behavior, poor or otherwise, is prideful and does not fully acknowledge either the power of sin or the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  But, I do have a responsibility to train my children so they can learn to control their sinful impulses.  If I do not, then I am doing them no favors, I stunt their ability to function well in society, to make friends, and to be liked by others.
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Update on M.:  We received a postcard yesterday which she wrote the morning of the first full day.  They were able to sleep in air-conditioning the first night since they got in too late to set-up tents.  She really likes here leaders, which I'm glad about.  She is on Merritt Island which it turns out is spitting distance to Cape Canaveral; her postcard had a space shuttle launching on it which thrilled her little brothers to no end.
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After I hit publish, I thought about this post some more and realized that it was full of solely negative examples.  Clearly an indication of how my day was going, but I couldn't leave it this way.  When I am not distracted, I am better able to make use of positive training techniques.  We still practice first-time obedience, but I am more purposeful about it.  For instance, I will ask a child to come to me and if he or she does right away, saying, "OK, Mommy!" I make sure that they are coming for a positive reason... a hug and kiss, a treat, a story.  I am also more on the lookout for positive behavior and am able to point it out to the child and praise them for it.  This is perhaps why I don't have to hold boot camp when I am more fully aware of how I'm parenting.  There is no need because positive behavior gains my attention, but when I am distracted, it seems only negative behavior garners a parental response.  Hmmm... the things I learn about myself when I blog.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sometimes I wish my house were bigger

I'll just pause here for a moment so that those of you who have seen my house can clean-up the coffee you just spewed all over you computer.  Perhaps I should have said, "I wish my house had more usable space."  Is that better?  Marginally?  For those of you who haven't been to my house, it is big.  Really big.  Embarrassingly big.  But we really only use a fraction of the space.  What I wish is that we had the resources to turn much of the unused/unusable space into something useful.  We have an entire third floor which could be turned into bedrooms, both for some of our children and for use as guest rooms.  Right now, it is three rooms and a bathroom, all of which are completely unusable, and an over-sized play room.  Yes, I know having the huge playroom up there is nice, but does it really need to be this big?  It just invites monster-sized messes. And then there is the attic above that...

Anyway, why am I thinking about this?  I have started having that dream again. In our previous house, which was very small with two bedrooms where we lived with 4 children, I would have a recurring dream where I would find extra rooms which I had 'forgotten' about.  For obvious reasons, the dreams stopped when we moved to our current house.  But, in the past week or so, I have been having it again, but this time, I'm finding guest rooms that I had forgotten about.  You see, recently, there have been several instances of people needing a temporary place to stay.  There was another single mom and her two daughters who possibly needed lodging while they worked out other arrangements and there was a family who was stuck between leases who needed a place to stay.  I would have loved to offer a place in our home, but we are full-up.  Our house guest and her daughter are here through August and there is the possibility that we will have 3 children from the H-S family staying here depending on when their parents travel to China to adopt a son.  I also would have liked to offer rooms to fellow Holt families when we have our Holt Vietnam reunion here in July.  It is frustrating to know we have the square footage, but not the usable space.

I hope that when we eventually move onto other lodgings that whoever lives in this house can make use of it that way it should be used and not just be a couple of people knocking around in an over-sized house.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Book discovery and other things

I have found a new book that I am loving so much, I want to share it with you even though I'm not done with it yet.  It is Keeping House: the litany of everyday life by Margaret Kim Peterson.  Here is a little excerpt:

     "Although my husband and I hardly had two nickels to rub together, we agreed that I would not seek paid employment for those few months and would instead devote my time to getting us packed and moved.  I would in other words, be "just a housewife."

     Around that time my friend Donna gave birth to her second child.  Lily turned out to be severely affected by Down syndrome.  She spent the three months of her brief life in a pediatric intensive-care nursery, and for those three months Donna practically lived at the hospital with her.  I sat and visited with them for a couple of hours two or three days a week, sharing with them in that searing experience of love and loss.  Lilly died just a week after we moved; we had been gone from church only one Sunday before we were back for her funeral.

     All that fall I mourned for Lily, and I wondered how it was that her life and mine and Donna's had touched so briefly and so deeply.  I had, in fact, hardly known Donna before that summer.  Why was it that I had spent so much time at the hospital with her and Lily?  I realized eventually that to a large degree, I did it because I could do it.  Donna and her family were surrounded by a large and supportive church community, but I was virtually the only person who was not busy all day with either work or child care.  I was just a housewife.

     Those months with Donna and Lily reminded me that time deliberately set aside for keeping house is never just about "making a home for my family."  Of course housework is about making a home, but a Christian home, properly understood, is never just for one's own family.  A Christian home overflows its boundaries; it is an outpost of the kingdom of God, where the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and there is room enough for everyone."
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And for those of you who have mentioned there are not enough baby pictures on the blog, here you go.   (Please excuse the rather runny noses.  G. and L. are teething in a  mighty way and their noses run like faucets.)

G.

L.

As far as other blog-related housekeeping-type things, a reader asked for my recommendations for math activities for young children.  Look at the comments on this post for another reader's answer.  She has some great ideas.  I am also going to blog about my answers in the near future. 

Cherry butter is very, very good.  It is also very, very time-consuming, though not difficult.  Six cups of sweet cherries yielded 2 pints of cherry butter and it took nearly two days in the crock pot to cook.  We're trying another batch with a different slow cooker to see if it goes any faster.  Either way, this stuff is highly addictive and worth the constant cooking.

I'm still working on getting our games organized, though thanks to everyone's suggestions, I have a few ideas I'm going to try.

And lastly, there is a new feature on my sidebar... a link to Amazon which lists some of our family's favorite read-aloud books.  Check them out. And if you're so inclined buy a couple using the link, I receive a percentage of the sales.  It's a shameless plug, but every bit of income helps.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Plinkety, Plinkety, Plinkety, Plink*

That's the happy sound of canning lids sealing.  A sound one wants to hear after having spent a good portion of the day in the kitchen making and canning jam.

Our house guest and her daughter went to Michigan yesterday to pick cherries.  And pick cherries they did... to the tune of nearly 100 pounds of cherries; half sweet and half sour.  When you've spent that much time driving and picking, you don't want the cherries to go bad.  We needed to do something with them. Today.  And to add to the fun, (and because I'm a tad bit compulsive) I went to the farmer's market this morning hoping to find the last of the strawberries and brought home 6 quarts.  I really do think they were the last; they were very sweet and very ripe.  Waiting to do something with them was not an option either.

As you can see in the picture above, we ended up with 6 1/2 pints of sour cherry jam.  (This was new for me and I have to say I'm pretty proud of how it turned out.  It is way yummy.) There is also 6 pints of strawberry jam.  But wait... that's not all.  We also froze 6 pies' worth of sour cherries and 6 more cups of sour cherries for making more jam at a later date.  And... in my crock pot are 2 quarts of sweet cherries slowly cooking down into cherry butter.  I've never had cherry butter, but it sounds incredibly wonderful and if the recipe reviews are to be believed, eating it is truly a life-changing experience.  There are still several more pounds of sweet cherries to eat, but I believe we will be able to handle that.

*Raise your hand, all you Frances fans out there.  You know this reference is from A Baby Sister for Frances and this is the beginning of one of Frances' songs, "Plinkety, plinkety, plinkety, plink.  Here is the dishrag that's under the sink.  Here are the buckets and brushes and me.  Plinkety, plinkety, plinkety, plee."

Friday, June 25, 2010

So, do you stop for the summer?

This has been the question du jour recently.  I know everyone means do we stop doing "school", but each time I am sorely tempted to ask, "Stop doing what?  Living?'  At the root of these two questions lies the fundamental difference between those of us who teach our children at home and traditional schooling.  At this point in our homeschooling journey, I find it nearly impossible to separate what is just "life" and what is "school"; there is very little difference between the two. 

We may take a break from doing intense grammar lessons in the summer (sentence diagramming and stuff), but we certainly do not take a break from reading, or discussing what we've read, or talking about how words work, or writing stories, or... It's just a part of how we live.  We do not take a break from working on math books, because to do so causes such distress (on the part of both parent and child) when it comes time to resume that it isn't worth it.  Plus, waking up and doing math is such an ingrained part of everyone's day, that really, no one thinks twice about it.  It's just what we do.  We don't take math books on vacation, but we don't ignore math either.  Using numbers and math occurs somewhat naturally throughout the day.  For instance, when we were driving around Iowa a couple of weeks ago, B. and A. got it in their heads that they really needed to know how many feet were in an acre.  J. knew the conversion for feet to miles and my father knew the conversions between miles and sections and between sections and acres.  With that information, B. and A. spent the car ride hovering over a piece of scratch paper figuring out the answer. Math happens.

My children are constantly learning new things; often things they discover for themselves.  Since the traditional purpose of school is to learn things, then perhaps we are in school all of our waking hours.  How do you stop that?  And would you want to?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane, or sitting around O'Hare...

it just depends on your perspective. 

J. just called me and told me that M. is safely on the plane.  So she is off on her big adventure.  Now, the alert reader is asking herself, why did J. have to call E. to tell her that?  Wasn't she at the airport, too?  In fact, I was at the airport.  I was at the airport for several hours.  But when we were checking in, we assumed that we would both be able to get security passes to go to the gate.  We assumed wrong.  We could have one. 

I decided to let J. go to the gate since he is a bit more emotionally stable than I am at times.  I said I would go wait at the coffee kiosk until J. saw M. onto the plane.  So far, so good.  I ordered a coffee and sat and alternately people-watched and prayed.  And then my cell phone rings at about the time the plane was supposed to be loading.  I think it must be J. telling me he's seen her off.  I was half right; it was J.  But he was telling me that though her flight was supposed to be boarding, there was no activity at the gate yet.  He would call me back when he knew more.  So shorten a long story without much action, M.'s flight ended up being delayed over 3 hours.  We both thought it was important that J. stay with her until we were sure it was leaving, since many, many flights had been cancelled.  But what was I to do in the meantime?  I couldn't leave because though I had car keys, I didn't have the parking ticket.  (J. had it in his pocket.)  I didn't really want to hang around baggage claim for several more hours because I HAD NOTHING TO READ!  What to do?

My answer was to start making phone calls to my friends and see if I sounded pathetic enough for one of them to make the trek out to the airport and pick me up.  I tried the P family first, since both P. (the mom) and P18 drive.  I must have sounded pathetic enough because P. came and picked me up.  (Bless her!)  Which is why, I was home and J. needed to call me to say M. finally made it on the plane at 2:10.  I asked if she was concerned about being late and it seems it is not a problem.  TMI has a pick-up point which is manned until 10pm tonight.  All she has to do is collect her baggage (cardboard box) and go meet up at the pick-up point.  She will easily make it there before 10.

As I receive updates from TMI and letters from M., I will update all of you on how she is doing.  Thanks to everyone for your prayers as M. travels this summer.
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M. just called from Orlando... she (and her box) made it safely and she found the TMI group.  All is well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

19 years

Today is our 19th anniversary.  I am so blessed to be married to my best friend; a man who is a wonderful husband and father.  The past 19 years have been a fantastic adventure and we have done things we never dreamed of when we first married.  (For instance, we both thought that having four children sounded just about right.)  God has continued to work in our lives and I am excited to see what the future brings.

Though, currently, the future is taking our oldest daughter on an airplane in the morning.  And while I am dreading her being gone, I am also very excited for her to have this experience.  I'll be okay.  Really.  For times such as these, one of the pluses of having many children is that there isn't a lot of down time to obsess.  I know the seven weeks will fly by and everyone will be home again.  I will be hovering around the mailbox on the lookout for letters.
The past few days have been a flurry of last minute packing details.  There are just a few more left to take care of and I'm confident that we'll be all ready to walk out the door at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  One of the last minute details was a swimsuit cover-up which M. hadn't realized she needed until a day ago.  And not just any cover-up, but one that had sleeves and went to the knee.  It wasn't something that we had just laying around the house.  But M. had a brilliant idea.  She took two old T-shirts, cut the top off of one and gathered it like a skirt.  I then showed her how to use the serger and she connected the two parts together:

There was a happy accident afterwards, when she looked at what she had made and realized the serging was on the right side of the cover-up.  But I think it actually looks better that way.  I liked it so much, I may find some old T-shirts for the younger girls and make some for them.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fresh strawberry pie

Four birthdays down and one to go.  When I made D.'s strawberry birthday pie yesterday, I was reminded how much I love this recipe.  So, I thought I would share it with you.  This is a recipe from my mother-in-law, who got it from a college friend of hers, who got it from her mother, who took it out of 1956 issue of  a Ladies' Home Journal.  (As a complete aside, I love family recipes that include a story...who it was from, who loved it, when it was always made.  I try to make notes in my cookbooks and recipes to help preserve family memories for my children.)

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Prepare and bake a 9" pie shell.  Cool.  Wash and hull 1 1/2 quarts of fresh strawberries.  Reserve best looking half; mash the rest.  To mashed strawberries, add 1 c. sugar and 3 TBSP cornstarch.  Mix well and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly, until thick and clear.  Stir in 2 TBSP lemon juice.  Cool.  Add remaining berries, saving 4 or 5 as garnish.  Pour into pastry shell.  Chill.  Before serving, top with a ruff of whipped cream and garnish with berries.


Enjoy!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My inner sheepdog is happy,

at least for the next five days.  A. and P. came home from camp today.  They are happy and tired and we're glad to have them home.  We will now spend the next five days celebrating five birthdays, one anniversary, and one send-off.  Whew, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

Speaking of tired, it's hard to transition from napping to not napping.  Just when you're are having fun playing with your cars,


you get so tired that you just have to fall asleep:


And instead of your mother whisking you off to bed, she gets out the camera instead.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ugh!

A bre*st infection is no fun.  The babies love all the extra nursing, though.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lots of links

(Added one more link at the bottom.)

I've come across some interesting posts at various blogs I read and thought I would share them with you.  First, my friend at His Hands His Feet Today has an interesting list of the benefits of large adoptive families.

Next, there are the latest doings of The Manns who adopted triplet boys from K.s orphanage.  These posts are so funny. I would just read all the entries... but be careful about drinking anything while you read, your computer may be damaged.

Generation Cedar has had a series on living on one income.  Here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Do any of you have children who like to make things?  Then Ikat Bag will be an inspiration, especially what she does with cardboard.  How about hats?  Or a mailbox or boat?  I can spend hours at this blog marvelling at her creativity.

And finally, homeschoolers, did you know that there is a weekly Carnival of Homeschooling that moves from blog to blog and lists interesting posts about various homeschooling topics?  Here is this week's... though you might notice that my blog is now called, "Ordinary Tim".  I wonder who Tim is and what makes him ordinary?

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I knew there was one more I wanted to share.  Here is what I think is the funniest comic about nursing I've ever seen.  I want it on a T-shirt, and a bag, and...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Busyness

I've been reading The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.  (I've also enjoyed his book, Blink.)  I find them interesting for what he has to tell us about how humans work... ideas about how we make decisions, know things, interact with one another.  (I feel the need to add a disclaimer here.  The books are written from a purely secular viewpoint and there is no room for God in Mr. Gladwell's worldview.  While what he has to say is interesting, believers need to filter the books through the lens of Scripture.)  I just finished reading a section where the author recounts a study that was done called "The Good Samaritan study".  I've read about this experiment before, but was more struck by it this time for some reason.

Shortly, the experiment took a group of seminary students and asked them a series of questions and then requested each of them prepare some sort of lecture.  Some students were asked to prepare a lesson on the story of the good Samaritan.  The students were then asked to walk to a different building where a group was waiting for them to deliver their message.  Half the students were told they were running late and the others were told they had a bit of time before they were needed.  Between the buildings a man was stationed who looked homeless and who was in obvious physical distress.  The experiment was designed to discover who would stop and help the man.  An unfortunately small number of students stopped to help.  In looking at the results, the researches found that it didn't matter why a student chose to enter seminary, or what they had recently studied (the Samaritan story for instance), but what mattered was whether the student felt rushed or not.  Those who were told they were late nearly all walked by the man in distress. 

It seems the aphorism is true:   If the devil can't make you bad, he'll make you busy.  And it would also seem that by making you busy he makes you bad in the process.  I guess this strikes me so much more reading about it this time because I am becoming more and more convinced that busyness is dangerous.  I know when I am feeling rushed or harried or as though I have too much on my plate I am a more impatient and short-tempered mother.  I am less likely to take the time to talk with my children or read books to them or, sadly, even find time to make eye-contact.  I have things to do.  And they are important.  Evidently more important than my family.  My children are left behind, possibly in distress, if I am too busy rushing from one task to another.

But often it is not just the parents who are too busy, but the children as well.  Parents rush their children from one activity to another.  And while the activities may be worthwhile, they are certainly not worth the stress and disconnectedness that results from all this rushing.  When do families get to just enjoy each other?  Why do we have such an aversion to having time that is not scheduled?  What are parents afraid of that they must schedule their children's every moment?  Oddly, it is at the beginning of summer where I feel the most out of the mainstream.  I have had to drive M. various places for the past two mornings and both days have come across mini-traffic jams of cars as children are dropped-off for day camps.  School has been out for less than a week and the day camps are in full swing.  Not signing my children up for endless camps feels a bit more counter-cultural than not sending them to school.  Perhaps it's because camps are purely voluntary while school, in some form, is compulsory.

So, I will continue to fight busyness.  There are so many things that are good, or interesting, or educational.  But sometimes the best is to relax, slow down, and just enjoy the presence of each other.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, B., G., and L!

G. (on left) and L. turn one year old today,


and B. (here with his cousin) turns 15.

Boy, this past year has gone by quickly.  Or perhaps, it just feels that way since I spent a good part of it significantly sleep deprived.  Either way, my tiny little babies are now crawling, personality-filled, little balls of energy.  They continue to be so much fun and I'm so madly in love with them.  I am in no hurry for them to grow-up and I am relishing their baby-ness.  With my older children I was always looking forward to the next milestone, not fully aware how fast they would each come.  But 15 and 17 come so fast, and I want to enjoy every minute I have with these babies... yes, even the sleepless nights.

Because I will blink and they will be turning 15 just like their older brother, B., whom I am also madly in love with.  He is becoming such a wonderful young man... funny, thoughtful, helpful, a great cook and gardener, and a pleasure to have around.  I can't wait to see what he does in the future.  And did I mention we call him "The Baby Whisperer"?  He loves babies and can calm a fussy one with remarkable ease; he is completely unflappable.  It is a joy to watch.

I do admit to finding birthdays a bit bittersweet, though.  I really don't mind my own; I am not bothered by getting older.  (It just allows me to be more opinionated.  OK, perhaps I can't become more opinionated, but gives me more license for my opinions.)  But, I don't like the thought that my babies (all 9 of them) are one year older and that much closer to being adults and being out on their own.  I want a time travel machine!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Home again, home again

L. (on left) and G. (notice the new farm outfits I made for visiting Iowa)

We have returned from a quick weekend trip to Iowa.  My parents own a farm there and occasionally go out to see it.  My brother and his family decided to meet them, so we joined the party as well.  We had a nice time, despite some rain, and the cousins had a great time catching-up.  We saw the Living History Farms and the zoo in Des Moines.  The highlight for many of the children was feeding the koi in the children's section of the zoo.  There were so many koi that they were swimming on top of each other to get to the food that was being offered.  It was such a feeding frenzy that the children discovered you didn't even need food for them.  Just putting your fist into the water would cause many fish to start investigating what was there. 


All the cousins waiting for the tractor to take us to the historical farms.


In the school room




The koi pond


M. and TM at the zoo


K. during lunch

Today we drove home by way of Wisconsin to drop A. and P. off at church camp.  It wasn't exactly a direct route, but it was a pretty drive.  Either J. or I will drive back up on Saturday to retrieve them.  Tomorrow begins the week of birthdays at our house, which consequently means a week of baking as well.  So far, I've had peach pie, strawberry pie, and blueberry pie requested (the peaches and blueberries are frozen from last year), and I'll make a carrot cake for the babies' first birthday.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blanket training

Have you heard of blanket training?  I think it's a large family-thing because I only hear it mentioned by mothers of larger than usual families.  Essentially, it is training your older baby/toddler to stay seated on a blanket for a time and not leave the boundaries of the blanket.  Sort of like a playpen without sides.  I have to admit that when I first heard about it, I thought it was a bit over the top.  Really, who needs to go to that amount of trouble to train a baby to do that?  Isn't it easier just to purchase some baby gates? 

It's time for me to eat crow and say I think I'm going to try it.  These two mobile babies have pushed me over the edge.  They are everywhere, all the time, often in different directions.  We spend our days chasing babies... taking them down from stairs, bringing them back to the room we're in, taking things away from them they shouldn't have.  You get the idea.  Because of how our home is built, it is nearly impossible to baby gate stairs and doorways.  And because there are so many other young children, barricades don't always get put back and doors don't always get shut.  Plus, the babies have figured out how to push aside all but the heaviest of these.  Training them to stay on a blanket for periods of time when we can't be watching them with 100% of our attention is starting to seem necessary.  (Don't worry, I won't make them stay on their blankets all day!)

I am realistic that this is going to take some time.  And patience.  It seems you start with practicing for five minutes at a time, several times a day.  You put the baby on the blanket (making a big deal out of it), and continue to give the baby your full attention while redirecting them back onto the blanket.  After five minutes you call blanket time all done and praise, praise, praise your baby.  You can also have a special toy that comes out just for blanket time.  I have a feeling one baby may need to start with a three minute period.  I plan on starting this coming week.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Painting

It's funny that I should have mentioned our nature journals and painting bag the other day, because suddenly everyone became interested in it again.  We discovered a long line of ants moving back and forth across our front porch.  At first I thought they were busy carrying food, so I looked closer wondering where this food was coming from.  (We've had a problem with ants in the kitchen over the past few days.)  When I looked closer I discovered it wasn't food they were carrying, but some sort of larvae.  Evidently they were moving an entire nest... to under our front porch, but we won't dwell on that right now.

Everyone became so interested in the ants that we decided to paint them.  Here are a few pictures from the afternoon:

A.



P.


TM and D.

B., who has my perfectionist tendencies and decided he needed to read a book about watercolor painting before he could begin.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anxiety

Have I mentioned before that my besetting sin is worry?  (Well, I'm pretty sure pride is up there, too, but that would be another post.)  I am a world-class worrier.  My main mode of operation is to immediately jump to the worst case scenario and worry about it.  And it isn't a vague sort of worry; it's a sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach worry.  I am fully aware that this is sin; the Bible tells us that it is.  To worry is to wrest control from God.  To worry is to fundamentally not believe that God knows what is best for us and that God has the power to make that best happen.  It's as if I truly believe that my worrying will change things.  And on some level it does change things.  It steals my joy.  When I am worrying I cannot let myself enjoy what I have in the present.  Instead I am too busy focusing on the 'what ifs' of life.  The perfect example of this is right after P. was born.  She arrived with a very odd looking swollen spot on her face between her eye and nose which caused her eye to be pushed up and out of alignment with the other eye.  (Bad birth moment:  When the attending resident [who had to be around even though I was using a midwife] asked J. if we had a history of facial deformities.)  She was also having trouble maintaining an open airway and ended up in NICU for 24 hours.  It was discovered that the swollen spot was actually an enlarged drainage duct between her eye and nose which was filled with fluid.  We were to watch it to be sure it did not become red and infected.  At two days old, this is exactly what happened, causing her to need surgery under anesthesia at a week old.  That entire first week I clutched at her, so worried about what was going to happen.  I couldn't enjoy her.  I feel as though I missed an entire week of my newborn's life because of worry.

So you would think I had learned my lesson.  I wish I could say I had, but I continue to fight worry.  Some days it feels more of a battle than others; one I find myself fighting moment by moment.  What is causing me such worry today?  It's the anticipation of all of the separations I am facing with my four older children this summer.  Church camp, which A. and P. are attending, is all next week.  The week after, M. leaves for Samoa for seven weeks.  The week after that, B. goes to scout camp for a week and later in the summer leaves to go to Philmont Scout Ranch for ten days.  Starting on the 23rd, I won't have all my children at home with me until the middle of August.  I don't like it.

I am excited for them and the things they get to do and experience.  I know that it is healthy for them to start to go off on their own.  In fact, it is one of our parenting goals that we will raise children who are mature and independent, functioning adults.  But I won't lie and say I enjoy it.  Selfishly I want them all around me all the time, as if proximity to me will keep them safe.  But I know that's not true... being home does not guarantee safety.  And I know that safe and good are not the same thing. 

This parenting thing is hard.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Conference loot

One of the best things about going to a homeschooling conference is the vendor hall.  (But not the best thing for my bank account!)  I was actually pretty restrained this year.  I didn't have any major curriculum purchases, since I use nearly all non-consumable materials.  Consequently I was able to get a few bonus items to use.

My first 'extra' was The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.  This is a huge book which was written about 100 years ago.  It is chock full of information about how to study nature and fits in really well with keeping nature journals.  We have kept nature journals off and on for years.  I have a canvas bag which I keep stocked with watercolors for everyone, water containers, small field guides, and journals which I can grab as we are going out the door.  If I had to collect it all every time, we would never be able to do it.  I have been wanting this book ever since I came across this website.

Next I found a couple of things at Joyce Herzog's booth.  I found some really cool dice games for both reading and math and a set of "Mental Fitness Cards" which contain open-ended, flexible thinking type questions.  Both of these items will live in my purse and we will use them whenever we find ourselves waiting for things.  (A description of both items can be found here.)

I also found a neat little chart by Ginger Plowman, called Wise Words for Moms.  It is used to address the root causes of poor behavior and has Scriptural references to teach right responses.  I'm going to hang it on my wall.

Finally, I bought a biography called Ludwig Beethoven and the Chiming Tower Bells by Opal Wheeler.  I liked it because not only is it a good retelling of Beethoven's life, it includes music in the text so you can play the music when you get to it.  (There is also a CD of the music available if you don't happen to play the piano.)  Recently I've been feeling as though I have been neglecting my children's training in appreciating and knowing about classical music.  This is somewhat ironic since I was a music major in college and taught piano for nearly 20 years.  I'm hoping that reading this book together will encourage us to explore this area more.

A few consumable italic workbooks and a good helping of birthday presents rounds out my purchases.  Considering my love of buying books and learning supplies, I'm pretty proud of myself for my restraint.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reading

(Edited to add:  I keep thinking of other activities we use, so I will add them as they come to me.)

I have been asked what I use to teach my children to read.  In answering, I realize I have a short answer and a long answer.  The short answer is that I use a combination of the Explode the Code workbooks and Alpha-Phonics.  They are both books that teach straight phonics and I have yet to finish them with any child because we stop when they are actually reading.  I also make a lot of use of easy readers as real books in conjunction with these.  But, I realize, to stop there is not to tell the whole story.  There is so much more that we do to encourage reading.  I thought I would share some of the other non-workbook types of things we do, both to help give others ideas and to remind myself of all the different things I've done for when I get in a rut.  I'm sure this will not be an exhaustive list, but it's a start.

So much of reading is based on knowing how language works and on having a large vocabulary.  When I was first teaching M. to read, I was struck by how closely reading and vocabulary are tied together.  English is not an easy language to read.  (Think of the different pronunciations of thought, through, tough, and though as just one example!)  As we worked on sounding out words, often we would come to a word and the letters did not make the "right" sound.  She could tell me if what she said was actually a word or not and then we would play with the sounds until we hit on the sound that was actually a word.  If a child does not know a great amount of words, there is no way he could even begin to tell if what he has sounded is a word or not.  There are other things about words and reading that have to be in place as well.  Some examples are:  letter recognition, tracking left to right, rhyming, alliteration, and the understanding that stories are enjoyable and worth reading. 

With that in mind, here are some of the things we've done to encourage reading readiness and foster a love of reading:

1.  We read to our children.  A lot.  We start when they are babies and never stop.  And we read a wide variety of books to them... fiction, non-fiction, poetry, magazine and newspaper articles, you name it.  I think I have even read the cereal box to a child who wanted to know what it said.  I recite poems to babies as I'm changing diapers and to older children as we work in the kitchen.  We saturate our children with language and words.

2.  We model reading for our children.  Our children see J. and I read all the time and they hear us talk about what we've read.  They observe that reading has value and purpose to adults, and children are drawn to practicing things that adults do.  (Playing house, store, etc.)

3  Play rhyming games.  This was particularly difficult for TM for a long, long time.  He just could not hear the endings of words and consequently had no idea if they rhymed or not.  (I imagine it is similar to how I cannot hear the different tones in Vietnamese.)  Informally, I will ask if two words rhyme, or how many words rhyme with another word.  This is where reading poetry, especially poetry which has a rhyme scheme is so useful.

4.  Play alliteration games.  Once again, informally ask how many words can you think of which start with a certain letter.  Or, go through the alphabet matching to word to each letter.  Both these and the rhyming games are great for when you are waiting in doctor's offices, restaurants, etc.

5.  Have your child dictate a story to you.  I will write it down, exactly as she tells it to me, and then I will have her illustrate it.  All my children have loved reading from their very own books.  We've even used these as Christmas gifts for grandparents.  This is a particularly good activity for children who need work with sequencing.  This was another skill which my adopted children have/had difficulty with.

6.  Poetry puzzles.  I will pick a poem and write it out on tag board and then cut the words apart.  On the inside of a file folder I write out the poem again.  The child then uses the written poem to put together the cut apart poem.  (I first have the child memorize the poem.)  This allows them to get used to matching the words to their meaning and encourages the act of poem memorization as well.  (We have also done this with Bible verses.)

7.  Play with letters.  I have a great set of connecting metal letters which I absconded with from my parents' garage.  (My father was a 1st grade and kindergarten teacher and I have acquired many of his materials.)  I will have a child play with the letters and either practice spelling words he knows or make up his own words and have me (try) to pronounce them.  It's a fun way to experiment with how letters combine to make words.  (You could do this using any number of types of letters, I just happen to have some really cool ones.)

8.  Make alphabet books.  This is particularly popular with the preschool set as it involves cutting and glueing.  Make a book out of blank paper, allowing one page for each letter of the alphabet.  Then go through old magazines and have the child find pictures which he likes.  Cut out the picture and then find the page where it should go.  (A picture of an apple would go on the 'A' page.)  We will often work on something like this over the course of several months, adding to it a little each day.

9.  And what I consider to be my best motivation to learning to read... having older brothers and sisters who read all the time.  Learning to read around here is often an act of self-defense.  There are times when everyone who knows how to read is deeply involved in their own book and the only way to get a story read to you is to read it yourself.
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10.  Poster of sight words.  I will often make a poster of words that one cannot sound out.  Everytime my child and I are near the poster, I will ask him to read one or two of them... keeping them in a different order every time.  We will also add words that caused difficulty to the poster as we come across them in our reading lessons.

11.  Sequence cards.  Have the child retell a story back to you and make an index card of each event.  Then mix the cards up.  The child can practice either reading the cards or putting them in order or both.  The child could also illustrate each card to match the event.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Scattered

I'm still digging out from being gone so much of the weekend.  The conference was good and I'm inspired for next year.  I'm still processing some of the things I heard and learned.  Perhaps I'll write some blog posts about it once I get things all sorted out in my head.  But, I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the weekend.  One of the speakers (Marilyn Boyer) who is a mother of 14 was speaking about training children and she mentioned how she has so many able-bodied children now that all the of cooking duties are divided up and she rarely cooks anymore.  A friend told her that her child announced one day that when she grew up she was going to have 14 children.  Because, she explained, Mrs. Boyer has 14 children and she doesn't do anything! 

Maybe I need more children.

Friday, June 04, 2010

We're all mighty tired here

This is the weekend of the Illinois Christian Home Educators conference.  M., B., and I spend all day there while J. spend all day watching many children.  We're all exhausted for varying reasons.  I'll be going back tomorrow while everyone else stays home.  It's a good conference, especially because Dr. Voddie Baucham is one of the keynote speakers.  He was the main reason I took my young adults with me today.  He is an amazing communicator of Biblical truths.  If you're not familiar with him, I strongly suggest you listen to one of his messages or read one of his books.

The conference is also the place where I do all my shopping and planning for next year's schoolwork.  I love a good vendor hall!  Later next week I'll share what I found.  But, for now, I'm off to nurse a couple of cute babies who need their mommy for a bit and get some rest.  Seven in the morning, our departure time, will come all too soon.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Games

I have a love/hate relationship with games.  I've always loved playing games (well, the ones I'm able to win), and I love it when my children play games.  Even games that are just for fun teach so many lessons:  good sportsmanship, taking turns, counting, strategy, and how to stack the deck to make the game of Candy Land finally end.  What I don't love is that they often have so many different little parts to them.  Parts that are evidently very difficult to put back into the box and put away.  At least that is my assumption since so often I walk into a room only to discover half empty game boxes with their contents strewn about the floor.  I then commit the grave parenting error of making threats that my children are well-aware that I have no intention of carrying out.  You know the type:  "If you people can't keep the games organized and all the pieces put away I'm going to throw them all away since we won't be able to play them because they are all missing pieces!"  (I have a tendency toward run-on sentences when I've worked up a steam.)  I know I shouldn't, but sometimes I just can't help myself.  And really, I don't want to throw away the games.  I want to have my children play them.  I just want them to put them away when they are done.

This is one of those areas of parenting that I just can't quite get a hold of.  I need suggestions!  How do all of you keep your games organized and kept together?  Or do you?  I need help or my head may perhaps explode and then I'll have to clean that up, too.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Adding two more

No, don't get all excited, not two more children, but two house guests.  A single-mom friend of ours called a while back asking if we would consider allowing her and one of her daughters to move into our guest room for the summer.  Financially it would help them out considerably.  It will help me out as well.  With M. leaving in 22 (!) days for most of the summer, having two more pairs of able-bodied hands will be a help.  So now we are in preparation mode... cleaning the guest room, clearing space in the pantry so they have room to store their food, getting caught up on the laundry (or at least trying to... this will be my motivation to reform my somewhat slovenly laundry habits), working out plans for how this living arrangement will work, finding clean towels (see laundry note above), and other such things.

We would appreciate your prayers that our summer arrangement would be a positive experience for all and for loving and Godly communication and understanding between all members of the household.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Moving subjects

I realize that there have been a lot fewer baby pictures recently.  I can explain that. You see, they move.  All the time.  I get the camera out and one of two things happen.  Either they get excited and come crawling toward me as quickly as possible, so all I can do is get a close-up of a face.  Such as Miss G. here:

Or, they find they need to practice their mad stair climbing skills... well, mainly Miss L. sees the need to do this.


All this to say, it is very difficult to get good pictures of these girls these days.  And why I'm showing you the newest baby dresses I made for them on hangers instead of on the actual bodies.

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