Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy 9th Birthday, TM!

Today is TM's 9th birthday.  We celebrated last night.  Of course, as my children tend to do, he chose a birthday dessert which did not lend itself to candles.  A. and P. did the honors.

Here is the birthday dessert TM choose.  Owl cupcakes.  He and A. wanted to make them and had a grand time decorating them yesterday.  Aren't they cute?  (The eyes are oreo halves.)

G. waiting for her dessert

Presents came after cake.  Here he is opening a gift from A.

Laughing at a card from Grammy and Grandpa

More and more people helped with the presents as the evening went on.  He loved all his gifts.

L. and G. looking a bit worse for wear at the end of the evening.

So, happy birthday, my son.  I love you very much.  I can't believe you are 9 years old. We have both come a long, long way from where we began.  It has been a wondrous journey.
Go over and check out 4 Kids or More where I have been interviewed as 'Mom of the Week'.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Log-in date!

We have heard the news the we have an official log-in date:  Oct. 24, 2011.  This is a big hurdle and now we settle in and wait.  It would be wonderful to hear that we have our Letter of Acceptance by Christmas.  This would put us on a timeline to travel around March.  Of course, I wouldn't complain if it all happened sooner, but I've learned to expect things to take longer, so we're back to not really knowing.  (If you're confused by all these terms, here's my adoption lingo explanation.)

As excited as I am to be making this progress, I wouldn't be completely truthful if I didn't also share the anxiety I'm having as a result.  The anxiety isn't about what you would expect, either.  I know there will be challenges ahead as we integrate H. into our family.  I know there will be moments that aren't easy; moments where I wonder what we've done. But there will also be moments of joy and wonder as well.  That isn't the source of my anxiety.

No, the source of my anxiety is purely monetary.  Usually I'm not one to worry overly about money.  (Well, unless it's bill-paying day, but who doesn't worry about it a bit then?)  We live frugally and try to be careful with the money we do have.  But sometimes things come up that weren't anticipated (or were) and you are left wondering how it is all going to work out.  After looking at the travel costs now that we are one step closer and then combine that with our property taxes being due, discovering J.'s car needs a very costly repair that we can't put off, and that our pledge to our church was more than I had been budgeting (I don't know how that happened), things are feeling more than tight.

I don't want to just whine, though.  (OK, maybe just for a minute.)  I have told enough people this past month that God has always provided what we have needed over the years as our family has grown.  Looking back, I can't really explain how it all works except that God has taken care of us.  You would think that after years of this I could relax and know things will be fine, but it's hard.  I am making an honest attempt to take God at His word and to be thankful in everything... even high taxes and car repairs.  I'm trying to remember that seemingly hopeless-feeling situations are God's specialty, and that the problem isn't too big for Him.  I'm back to getting to practice the character traits of serenity and fearlessness... again.  (My word of warning for all of you?  Be very careful in choosing the traits you wish to develop in yourself... because those are the ones you will be practicing again and again.)

So, I will leave you with my pathetic attempt at Pollyanna's glad game.  I'm thankful that we live in the house we do (which by it's very nature and location causes the astronomically high taxes) because it was the equity we have in this house which helped us to be approved to adopt H.  I'm thankful that J. has a car which he can drive to work and that except for the catalytic converter, is in very good shape.  I'm thankful that I even have to worry about travel expenses because there was a time when I thought God had closed all doors to us adopting again.  I'm thankful that we have the church home that we do and am happy to give them what we can to help support it.

It's just money, right?

Friday, October 28, 2011


I, who have no love for math, spent two hours last night calculating how big the pyramids would all be using a 30 meters to 1 centimeter scale.  And not only did I figure out the dimensions, I then cut them out of paper.  Why would a supposedly sane person do this, you ask?  Well, I am scheduled to teach the younger group of our history co-op this morning and we're all about hands-on learning.  What better way to get a sense of scale than to lay out a section of the Nile River valley on my third floor and place the pyramids where they would be found?

Did you know that at this scale the Great Pyramid is 4.9 cm tall, the Statue of Liberty is 3 cm, a person is the size of a grain of salt, and the Nile River is 8 FEET wide?  I did the math over and over, but it's true.  And somewhat unbelievable.  Since we can't take a field trip to Egypt, we can at least get a sense of the immense size of the place.  And at this scale, we really can only lay out a portion of the Nile, because it would still be longer than my house.

Even though this is my third time to study ancient Egypt with my children, I am still learning new things.  It's great fun, and I feel so blessed to be able to share this joy of learning with my children.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Aurora Leigh

I have a newly discovered poem.  At least it's new to me, but it is not new by any stretch of the imagination.  It is the poem Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I came across a snippet of it when I was preparing for the chapter of Isaiah we were working on and was immediately smitten.  Here is the bit I first read:

"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck black berries,
And daub their natural faces unaware."

Don't you love it?  We were looking at Isaiah 6:3 where Isaiah is in God's throne room and the seraphim are saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."  The poem came into the discussion with the idea of the whole earth being full of God's glory.  I love the image of earth being crammed full of heaven... if only we have eyes to see it.  (Which also fits in quite well with Isaiah 6, by the way.)

So I was intrigued and looked it up.  It turns out that Aurora Leigh is an epic poem about a woman named Aurora Leigh and how she became a poet.  That means it's a poem that is book length and divided up into 9 sections (books).  I found the full text online, but am quite sure that there is no way I can read the whole thing on a screen.  This is something that requires an actual book with pages and ink.  Reading the whole thing does seem intimidating, but then, the little bit I did read has me curious enough that I just might make a go of it.

Here's a little more:

"Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret-room
Piled high with cases in my father's name;
Piled high, packed large,–where, creeping in and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,
Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning's dark,
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books! "

Don't you want to read it with me?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Idle hands

Here is how a group of girls keep their hands busy while discussing the book of Isaiah.





Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sewing machine? What sewing machine?

After a very long hiatus, I have found my sewing machine and have actually used it.  I don't know why I had gone so long.  I enjoy sewing and don't lack for people to sew for.  Really I think it boils down to that huge ironing pile I dealt with on Saturday.  Clearing that out has made me realize what a huge mental block it had become.  It was as though I couldn't do anything because I had to take care of the ironing first.  I was punishing myself for not meeting my own (too) high standards.  By giving myself permission to iron as needed, I was suddenly free to do other things.  It all sounds a bit silly to write it out, but there it is.  

And here is the fruit of my rediscovered sewing machine:

This is a knit shirt for P., who had picked out this pattern and material early in the summer.  The idea was that it would be short-sleeved and she would wear it for the warmer months.  But the beginning of summer was also the beginning of my little ironing mania-thing (as well as being a bit mentally distracted about the lack of progress with our homestudy), and it didn't get made.  I was relieved to see that there was another version with long sleeves which P. also liked.  It fits her quite well and even better she likes how it looks and feels.  (If you know P., and her very specific taste in clothing, you'll understand what a feat this is.)

I even broke a few rules and used a woven binding on the knit for the trim.  It was cut on the bias, so it stretches a bit, plus the back closes with a hook and eye at the neck so it still goes over her head.

I had forgotten how much I love creating things.  It's good to have rediscovered that now, since the holidays are quickly approaching and I have projects to work on!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scenes from Saturday

It's just a normal Saturday around here... cleaning the house, running errands, playing outside.  Sometimes what people are most interested in is just what a normal day looks like around here.  I'll stop by the computer every so often to update on whats been going on.

Everyone has been doing their Saturday jobs and they are nearly almost done.  That is except for A., whom J. is picking up from a sleepover.  She still has all of hers to do.  I've been working on cleaning up my bedroom, which is sadly neglected.  My newest brainstorm is about the growing piles of ironing which I haven't been able to keep up with.  The pile is making me unhappy and feeling as though I can't allow myself to do anything else because it is sitting there.  I have actually been praying about what to do about the ironing.

I'm thinking that for this season in life, I need to readjust my priorities.  I just am not able to only put away ironed clothes.  I've decided we are going to try to move to an 'iron on demand' model.  Things will get put away wrinkled (picture me breathing deeply here) and will get ironed the night before as needed.  It will take a little practice to get into the habit, but it's worth it to not stare at the enormous pile.  It will probably force me to take the time to teach the older children to iron as well.

Ironing project interrupted by a very sad L. who had been playing with pine needles outside.  Both she and G. do NOT like to have sticky hands, and poor L. had very sticky hands covered with pine needles.  My tip of the day... non-stick cooking spray takes off the sap.  Spray it on, rub it in, wash well with soap and water.  L. had so much sap on her hands that it took a couple of applications.

A. is back and P. is off at a play date.  Lunch was leftover spaghetti and most people have eaten.  Little girls are sitting at the table waiting to be cleaned up and entertaining themselves by pouring their water on the table and splashing in it.  I have hung up all the wrinkled clothes and am enjoying the clear surface.  It meant I could actually find the napkins and tablecloth which were in the pile and ironed those and put them away.

I am realizing that Halloween is about a week away and have done nothing about costumes for G. and L.  (We do Halloween... dressing up in non-scary costumes and accumulating candy... but we emphasize the family togetherness aspect of it.)  Usually I make costumes (or reuse the ones I have already made), but I don't have a pair in the size the girls are.  I must be getting old because I'm actually considering purchasing costumes for the girls.

Little girls are heading upstairs for a nap with J. and K. is happily playing with Duplo (now that he has been left in peace with the removal of the little girls).  I have had lunch and made an unsuccessful attempt at the Sudoku puzzle.  (I can complete them 75% of the time.)  J. has also cleaned up the kitchen from lunch and loaded a dishwasher.  A. is doing her Saturday jobs and the other boys are off playing.  I need to start a load of laundry and then work on cleaning of a table that upon inspection made me realize that most of the stuff on it was mine.  There is a pot of chick peas soaking on the stove because I have an article due about cooking with legumes and I need to do some experimenting.  I am optimistically hoping that I can also do some major cleaning in my bedroom this afternoon.  We'll see...

Having got off the telephone, am now going to start the things on my list.  But first, need to find some boys and remind them to check their daily job list.  A. has started making bread.

Time to have some tea.  K. continues to build amazing buildings with the Duplo.

The boys were raking leaves outside and now B., A., TM, and D. are all playing soccer outside.

It's nice enough that we can have the doors open.  I got the laundry put in, which catches me up in the first time for forever and have spent a good chunk of time wandering around the house returning things to the correct spot.  I pick something up, take it to where it belongs, find five more things that need to be returned, put them away, and so on and so on.

My tea is gone and I'm done catching-up on other people's blogs.  A. has taken her six loaves of bread out of the oven.  (B. was tired of making bread, so has taught A. to do it so he can pass the job along.)

The soccer players have all come back in the house, telling me they are having half time and rooting around for drinks and food.  I am now going to get up and start the chick peas cooking and vacuum my bedroom so that I can stand to walk across it barefoot again.  Normally at this time I would start to be thinking about dinner, but J. and I are going out and I have frozen pizza for the children.  Nothing to think about... or do... right now.  It's a welcome break and means that I can keep working around the house.

My room is much cleaner.  It still could stand a good dusting, but there are no longer herds of feral dust bunnies roaming around it.  A. is starving and has requested they eat early, so she is downstairs getting the pizza.  I am going to put away my cleaning supplies and head off to pick up P.  J. has had a couple of hours to work on a paper that is due next weekend.

Everyone has eaten and J. and I are getting ready to go.  We are going to his sister's house for dinner, along with his other sister.  We have an annual tradition of having a grown-up dinner together to celebrate his mother's birthday.  Everyone has their church clothes laid out so we are set for the morning.  J. picked-out a movie for everyone to watch before bed.  (It helps with the transition of J. and me leaving.)

This has been a remarkably calm and productive day here in the big ugly house.  I may have to do this again on a day when I am fighting frustration or having everything interrupted or when a child (or two) is having a particularly difficult day and requires much of my attention.  Otherwise you may get a skewed view of what our life really looks like.
And a completely self-serving reminder to go check out my article on saving money on your meat budget.  My editor expressed a hope that it would do really well in the number of times viewed, which makes me correspondingly a bit nervous about it.  One likes to keep her editor happy.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pie crust recipe and tutorial

Pie crust is so incredibly easy to make that I'm not sure how it got its reputation for being difficult.  So, instead of just giving you my basic pie crust recipe, I thought I'd take a few pictures as well to show you exactly how easy it is.

First, here's the basic recipe, this will make a two crust, 9-inch pie:

2 1/2 C. flour
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C. shortening
6-7 TBSP cold water

That's it, just four ingredients.

First, mix the flour and salt into a bowl.  I'm using whole wheat pastry flour here, but you can can use white.  Then add your shortening.  For shortening you can use vegetable shortening, butter, or lard.  I'm using lard for this pie crust.

Really, you can buy it in the store.  (Or, if you've bought a side of pork, you can render your own.)  Lard gets a bad rap.  (Check out this article, if you're interested in reading more.)  I buy it in boxes like this:

But back to the pie crust.  Once you've added your shortening, use your pastry blender to mix it in.  You want the fat completely mixed in with the flour.  Sometimes the pastry blender will get clogged up and you'll need to scrape it off with a knife and keep going.

Eventually it will all get worked in and look like this.  Often this will be described as the mixture forming pea-sized bits.

Now you need to add the water.  The water needs to be really cold to keep the fat from softening.  (You want it to wait to do this until after it's in the oven.)  Go ahead and put an ice cube in your glass of water and keep it in the refrigerator until you need it.  Measure in the water.  I always measure in the smallest amount first and see if that will do it.  You want to add the least amount of water possible.  Once you can form it into two balls, you're set.

At this point, you could wrap up the dough and freeze it for later if you want.  Just thaw the dough thoroughly before you continue.

Now it's time to roll out the dough.  This can be a frustrating step.  The dough is sticky, but you don't want to add too much flour or your crust will be tough.  I solve the problem by using waxed paper.  It's not the most frugal method, but I'm not making pie crust everyday and it saves my sanity.  Tear off four sheets of waxed paper; two for each crust.  On one sheet of paper, place one of the balls and press slightly to form a disk.

Cover with the other sheet of waxed paper and roll out using your rolling pin.  The dough will roll easily, not stick to your rolling pin or work surface and it's easy to do more than one crust as a time.  I roll all the crusts I'm making out in a row and then stack them up so they're ready to use.

Here's my helper, L.

When you're ready to make the pie, place one pie crust in the pan.

Fill with your choice of filling... we made apple pie last night.

Drape the second crust over the filling.

Using a sharp knife, cut off the excess crust from around the pie pan.

Crimp the crust using your fingers.

You need to cut vents in the top crust to let out the steam.  Sometimes I write words.

And it's ready to bake.  When I have extra crust, I sometimes make pie crust cookies with them.  Roll out the extra dough between some wax paper.   (I reused some from the crusts.)  Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  You could add some dots of butter as well.

Roll up into a long tube.

Cut into slices and put in a baking dish or a baking pan or even a piece of foil.  Bake with your pie for about 25 minutes.

When I'm baking pie, I always put either a piece of foil or a baking pan under the pie because the fruit has a tendency to bubble out.  The finished product:

Now you try!

Friday, October 21, 2011

College success

J. and I have been having a wonderful time watching M. succeed in her first full semester of college.  She is doing quite well in her classes, was cast (in one of only 6 parts) in the fall show (Hideous Progeny, about the Shelleys and the writing of the book, Frankenstein), and is making some really good friends.  All in all, she is having a ball and learning a lot.  What more could a parent hope for?

And I know the burning question in many people's minds (homeschoolers in particular) is, "What did we do?"  How do I know this is the burning question?  Because I've received it more than a couple of times and I came across it once again today.  In truthfulness, the question is more along the lines of what did we do to get our child into college.  This has always struck me as a slightly odd thing to worry about.  (Odd that is, after I survived homeschooling our first year of high school and realized it wasn't the huge deal I had made it out to be.)  Because, really, there are so many colleges around the country that there is a place for everyone if you are flexible in your choices.  If a child (parent?) has their heart set on an Ivy, it's a different story.  There are only so many spaces and you're in good company if your child is rejected.  Since I am of the firm belief that wonderful educations can be found in many places, not just the ones that come with bragging rights, that wasn't really a concern.

By focusing on getting into college, it's as if parents (and consequently children) forget there is an entire four years of learning that comes after that.  Learning that is the student's responsibility.  No longer are Mom and Dad there to be sure that the learning happens.  Isn't this what we should be concerned about as parents?  Or why stop at just getting through college?  Why are we not all asking how we can prepare our children for living a purposeful life?  College is only four years out of many; the years spent out of college are far greater than the ones spent in.  Why not focus on how we can prepare our children for living their life in a meaningful and productive way?

We get caught up in the hype and fear that is promulgated around the whole college application process.  We buy into the idea that there are only a handful of schools which can give our child a sound education.  We forget to enjoy the process of watching our child learn and grow and instead fixate on whether what they're doing is going to help their college application stand out.  And we leave God out of the whole equation.  Do we think that God doesn't care where our child attends college?  Do we think that the college application and acceptance process is outside of God's control?  There are some days we certainly act as though we believe these things.

But that still doesn't answer the question of what we did to cause M.'s success.  My answer is going to disappoint you.  I don't know.  And really, the success is M.'s and not her parents.  It is her choice to work diligently in her studies, to audition for shows, to make friends.  We didn't tell her to do these things, they were her choice.  And maybe there is my answer.  We gave her the opportunities in high school to gradually take charge of her own life and learning.  We tried not to make use of the threat that if something wasn't done it would jeopardize her college acceptance.  We spent time with her. We listened to her.  We gave her space to pursue her own interests.  We read books together.  We made suggestions (some of which were listened to).  We discussed ideas, big and small.  And we were not perfect, any of us, and we made mistakes.

My one piece of advice to parents who ask about how to homeschool high school has become this:  Don't let fear take over.  The thousands of homeschoolers who have attended college, done well, and graduated show that it is not an impossible venture.  Fear causes us to make choices we would not naturally make.  Fear causes us to not enjoy what should be enjoyed.  Fear causes us to mistake who is in charge.  Fear causes us to give away time in worry that could be used in so many other ways.

Fear does not come from God.  He is with us; we have nothing to fear.  Even high school.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Saying yes

I don't know about you, but as a parent I sometimes get into bad habits.  One of these habits is a knee jerk reaction of saying no whenever my children ask me to do anything.  'No' is easier.  It requires nothing of me and makes no messes.  It is not inconvenient and I can continue on with whatever my plans were.  And while 'no' can be a reasonable response sometimes, it is often just selfishness and thoughtlessness on my part.

This has been an area I've struggled with all my parenting life, but it has really been brought to the forefront of my mind this past week.  A good friend of mine went to the Empowered to Connect conference a few weeks ago with Karyn Purvis.  I had really wanted to go, but with J. being gone one weekend a month it just didn't seem wise for me to be gone one as well.  (Plus, I could have made some more 'imaginary' friends into 'real' friends, so many people I know via the internet were there.) But, I've been hearing all about it and doing some reading and listening on my own.  So much of it I already knew (or had known at one point), but it is a good reminder.

What has struck me most forcibly in my immediate situation is that children who have suffered trauma need to hear the word 'yes' a lot.  The point being that young babies and children in stable situations hear the word 'yes' over and over and over.  This makes sense to me as I think about how we all interact with G. and L.  We are thrilled with everything they do.  (Well, almost everything.)  We applaud them, we smile at them, we laugh at their jokes and funny faces, we watch transfixed as they learn a new skill and cheer them on.  These girls get the best of us all the time.

Would you consider me a horrible mother if I admit that this is not how I have treated my adopted children, even when they first came home?  But, I'm realizing this is how they should have been treated.  These are children who not only desperately need this kind of interaction, but have most likely never experienced it in their lives.  When I think about all the times I've said 'no', without purpose and often not in a pleasant voice, to the two children in my house who are literally starved for something else, I cringe.  I ask myself, would I want to attach to me?  I'm not so sure I would.

I has been convicting and humbling.  Parenting sends you to your knees.  I resolved last week to make a change.  I would say 'yes' as much as possible.  I would begin to treat these two boys with the same wonder and amazement and joy as I treat the little girls.  It is not always easy.  I like to be in charge and I am having to learn to let go of some things.  Clothing, for instance.  I let TM wear the shorts and a t-shirt he put on yesterday, even though it was cold and rainy.  If he was cold, he would change, and by not harping on it, I was able to tacitly say yes to his clothing choice and avoid yet one more strain on our relationship.  I am learning to let go of the negotiables.  I will say it again, it is not easy.

There was a bright spot yesterday morning to encourage me, though.  My habit is to sit in bed, sipping coffee (delivered by J.) until I am sufficiently awake enough to attempt rising.  I am often joined by a child, or two, or three, but TM has never been one of these children.  Snuggling with mom--just because--has never been at the top of his list of desired activities.  You can imagine my surprise, when through my waking blur, I realized that TM had bounded into bed and had lain his head on my shoulder and just sat there, his body still.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Game day

When I was making our schedule for the school year, I decided that every now and then I would add in a day where we played games together instead of doing our regular work.  I love to play games, but often don't think about playing them with my children in the busyness of the day.  By scheduling it, I could be sure to remember.  It also solved the problem on what to do with the days that I knew were going to be interrupted for some reason, such as doctor's appointments.

Yesterday morning was our first scheduled game day since G. and L. had a doctor's appointment first thing in the morning.  We were back in a little over an hour (because I've learned to book the first appointment of the day), which left us plenty of time for playing.  I started out with the three youngest and with P.'s help, G., L., and K. played Lollipops (what K. has always called Candyland).  The little girls were very excited to be playing a game, but they are still just a bit too young.  I moved L.'s man and P. moved G.'s.  By the middle of the game, L. had lost interest and gone to play something else.  K. enjoyed it, but I will admit to stacking the deck so as to put P. and I out of our misery sooner rather than later.  After this excitement, the little girls were quite happy to play with the dollhouse in the pen.

For out next game with the older set, I had wanted to play Settlers of Catan, which is one of my favorites, but there was a heavy lobby for Apples to Apples, which won out.  Part of the deal about game day is that everyone participates.  I decided to make it one of those 'enforced family fun' moments.  (I wish I could take credit for the term 'enforced family fun', but I have blatantly stolen it from a good friend.)  There was one touch and go moment, but by keeping my tone light, TM came and joined us.  He is not as fluent a reader as the others yet, and I knew part of his hesitation was that it was a reading game.  I had him sit next to me so I could help him with words he was unsure of.

Everyone had a good time and it was a delightful way to spend the morning.  I was struck once again with the amount of learning that happens when children play games.  First there is the social interaction of doing things together.  But there are also lessons in patience, humility, good sportsmanship, and self-control... all under the guise of fun.  Play some games with your children.

While I am on the topic of games, I wanted to share one that one of J.'s co-workers gave him for our children.  It has been a fantastic hit and has been played nearly constantly since it arrived.  It's called Tally Rally and is a math game.  Now normally my children don't really go for the overt 'educational' games, but this one is the exception.  There is a board on which number tiles are placed in a random order.  A timer is set and everyone writes down as many math equations as they can spot.  (The equations have to be from adjoining numbers and can use any function.)  Once the timer is done, each person reads off his equations and if someone else has the same one it's crossed off.  Only unique equations get counted and whoever ends up with the most points wins.  It has been great for my children's mental math skills.

And for those interested, G. and L. are within two pounds of each other in weight, but are the same height.  We are blessed with two very healthy girls.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sometimes insight comes from unlikely places

"Do not think of it, he ordered himself.

To forget it he began to run, almost colliding with a group of glassmakers as he turned into the main thoroughfare that paralleled the Nile.  He dodged in and out among the homebound workers, shouting greetings to Kai the baker's boy and a few other urchins he knew.  He was turning his whole attention to physical activity so that he might not notice the nagging uneasiness beginning to force its way into the conscious part of his mind.  It grew stronger and stronger the nearer he drew to the Street of the Crooked Dog, but the stronger it grew the faster he ran, refusing to let it in, shoring up the bulwarks of his mind against it."

   -from The Golden Goblet by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

As I read this at lunch (it's our current lunchtime read aloud) I was struck by the imagery of the physical motion and exertion in order to avoid thinking about things that were unpleasant and uncomfortable.  Another small piece to a very large and complicated puzzle seems to have fallen into place.

And it's a good book.
Hey, homeschoolers... don't forget to nominate your favorite homeschooling blogs for the 2011 Homeschool Blog Awards.  Click here for the direct link.  Nominations are open until the 21st.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New household job schedules

I was finally motivated to redo my children's household job assignments, mainly because I was asked to speak at the moms' group at our church about this topic and thought I should get myself in order first.  We had gotten into a bit of a slump as far as cleaning and housework, and it was beginning to show.  Everyone was doing the bare minimum and I had stopped really checking.  We needed a change to energize us all again.

The hurdle I had to face was how to make the jobs evenly distributed, especially since I had lost one very competent person (M.).  A. and B. are equally able, but it didn't feel right to just keep assigning them the time-intensive jobs just because I knew they could do it and would get it done.  I also wasn't quite ready to assign the more major jobs to the middle group because I didn't think they were quite ready to handle them on a full-time basis.  I was in a quandary.

Up until now, I had always assigned jobs for the full year, believing that it increased mastery and made for a simple schedule that everyone could remember.  I still like that method, but have discovered that it only works if you have a nice match of ages and abilities for the jobs which need to be done.  My available children were not matching up with the jobs which needed to be done.  I knew I needed to create a new system.

As I looked at what needed to be done, I discovered that I had five large-ish jobs which needed to be done on a daily basis.  Some of these usually ended up needing to be done more than once a day.  These were things such as moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer and sorting the clean clothes into everyone's baskets, unloading the dishwasher, clearing the table and wiping it down, and sweeping the kitchen.  One other job, folding towels and putting them away, was not difficult or even had to be done everyday, turns out to be one that no one enjoys doing.  (I have no idea why.  It's a mystery.)  So, five jobs, five children... should have been easy, but I didn't want to saddle any one of them with a big job all the time.  The two oldest because they've been doing them for a while and I didn't think the next three were quite ready for it all the time.

Here's my solution.  Instead of keeping it simple, I've made it more complex hoping that the constant changing will keep them interested and focused while at the same time allow for breaks from the most time intensive jobs.  I set up a rotating, five day schedule with everyone doing a different job each day.  I made a chart to show who does what, when and labelled the family calendar so everyone would know what day we're on.  Since we do daily jobs six days a week, there is not a set day a person does a certain job.  It should keep them (and me) on their toes.  I also hope that they will each be doing the jobs frequently enough to continue to allow for mastery.

We began this past Saturday, so we'll see how it works this week and if I need to change anything.  As well as these rotating jobs, everyone has another permanent daily job (such as setting the table) which they are responsible for.  Also included is putting away clean clothes daily and helping to pick-up the house at set times.  On Saturdays, everyone has Saturday jobs which will stay the same for the year which help keep the house clean (bathrooms, vacuuming, dusting, etc.)  Even K. has a daily job and a couple Saturday jobs, plus I will be teaching him to put away his own clean laundry this year.  It won't be perfect, but I'll be happy if his clothes at least get put in his dresser.  The little girls get a pass for one more year since their assignment is to entertain us.  I think they can handle that.

I'll let you know how my experiment is working after we've been using it for a while.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a log in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3-4 (ESV)

It probably won't surprise you if I tell you I am a bit of a perfectionist.  I always have been and even though it is a character fault, if I am honest, I have never really been bothered by it.  Perhaps I have even cultivated it in myself  thinking that it helped me strive to do the best I could do.  Over achieving is always praised in schools and I was a student who learned to over achieve because I enjoyed the praise that came with it.  Why should I dislike something that brought me praise?

It wasn't until a became a parent that I started to see the negative effects of perfectionism.  One of my older children is very much like me.  I started to see how perfectionism stopped this child from even to begin trying something because of the fear that it wouldn't be done as well as the child hoped.  Part of me couldn't understand this.  In my mind, it just made me try harder in order to be the best.  I thought.  I then I started thinking about what I don't do.  There are certain games I won't play because I don't enjoy them... because I can't win.  And I don't do sports.  At all.   I don't enjoy them.  Because I'm not the best.  It's a vicious cycle.  But I'm OK with not playing sports, so my contentment with my perfectionism remained.

And then came this past week when I was helping TM work through some stuff.  (That sounds so benign, huh?)  But as a result I think I am getting a bit of a glimpse of the ugliness of perfectionism... mine included.  I now have seen how perfectionism can ruin things.  I have had glimpses of it in this child before, but it was one of those things that I wasn't clearly understanding at the time.  The desire to crumple up a picture, to throw away a toy, to choose not to join in some fun game that everyone else is playing.  I knew these actions stemmed from some unhappiness and insecurity, but was at a loss as to the root.

I think that the lie at the root of all of this is perfection.  A two-fold perfection.  The first was easier to figure out and more obvious... personal perfection.  The routine failure of not living up to what you think you should.  The "My picture is not good enough" idea.  The second part is more insidious... that if my external situation is not perfect then I cannot be happy. If things are not perfect than I have excuse to be unhappy and angry.  Perfectionism is a cop out because nothing this side of heaven is going to be perfect.

And so I come back to the statement of Jesus at the beginning of this post.  I cannot help my son to see the fallacy of perfectionism if I still indulge in it myself.  The illusion that my house will be perfectly organized at some point in the future if I just work hard enough or come up with a brilliant enough system.  That even though I tell other people that a homeschooling mother cannot do it all, I am the exception.  How many times has J. come home and I have complained to him about what I haven't done because my internal expectations are so unrealistic that I never measure up to myself.  How many times have my children hear me do this... that I haven't done enough?  How many times have my children watched me spend time pouting because things didn't work out as I thought they should?  How can I help my child have realistic expectations if I do not model this myself?

Because this is going to be difficult, I am telling the world of my resolution.  I am going to try to not complain about what hasn't been done.  It seems a small thing, but I want to be able to succeed.  Just as I have been trying to give my son an abundance of experiences with success, I will start the same way with myself.

More and more I see parenting as a spiritual discipline.  Without all these small (and not so small) people around to care for, my illusions about myself and my spiritual state would be able to remain intact.  Parenting, especially parenting many, is a humbling experience.  And as the girls and I learned in our Bible study of Isaiah last week, to be humbled is to be emptied of everything.  Everything that is not God.  And it is when you are emptied that you have room for God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pokey tails

Look how long the little girls' hair is getting!  Two pokey tails (G.'s name for pony tails) on either side of the head... one of my favorite little girls 'dos.

L.  (excuse the runny nose... it didn't get wiped before the picture)


Happy Friday... enjoy your weekend.  This is the first day I've had in a long while where I don't have to go anywhere, nor does anyone else for the afternoon.  The plans in my head as to what to do with that time most likely will fill the time three times over.  But hey, I can dream, can't I?

And, Happy 9th Birthday to H. today.  I really wish we could celebrate with her.  This is going to be a momentous year for our newest little girl and she doesn't have any idea.  I'm hoping to hear our dossier was shipped to its final destination today.   Log-in date here we come!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sometimes parenting is hard

And while this is true for all parenting, there are aspects of adoptive parenting that are more difficult than parenting birth children.  Dealing with all the grief that comes with the losses in adoption can be really, really tough.  For everyone.  It's one of those things that you can think you are prepared for intellectually, but until you have actually lived through it, you don't really have a clue.

I can say that I know my child will have to deal with losses in his life.  That it will be rough for him to have to come to terms with the fact he was left in an orphanage and moved through two different foster families until landing half-way around the world with people he might not have chosen to be his parents if he had been consulted.  But saying that and actually knowing what it looks like to walk with a child through that process are two very, very different things.  And I'll just tell you, it stinks.  No child should have to deal with this.  No child should have to deal with such ugliness that affects his very core.

I am also surprised by my feelings.  I am angry.  I love my son and am angry at anyone who hurt him, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  I am angry that I couldn't be there to protect him.

Don't get me wrong.  I am still an adoption advocate, but in a perfect world adoption wouldn't exist.  Every child would be able to stay with his family of origin.  But we don't live in a perfect world.  We live in a world infected by evil.  Adoption is a way to redeem an ugly situation.  (I am not naive though.  There are more than a few instances of people using adoption for evil purposes, monetary gain included.  Please do your research!)

Adoption is not a man-made idea, it is a creation of God to be used for redemption. Christ redeemed us from an ugly situation and God adopted us into his family.  But while we know this, we often don't believe it.  How often do we listen to the lies being whispered inside our heads?  The lies that say no one could love us... that we have no worth... that we will never be good enough... that God doesn't really want what is best for us... that God is just out to get us, otherwise He would give us anything we want.  The lies that say if we were just in a different situation... or if we had a little more money... or if we were more popular... or better looking.... or if we had been raised in a different place, home, way... then, our life would be better.  How often do we believe these lies instead of the truth?

This is what I have to remember as I listen to my son spew out his pain and hurt at me.  That this is often what I do with God.  Does God give up on me or punish me for what I am feeling?  No.  And so I am comforted and take His cue in dealing with my hurting child.  This is not the end, it is the beginning.  Because if these things are no longer hidden, they lose their power.   We can speak the truth to our son and tell him he is valuable and loved and cherished.  That we love him.  Always.  And that God loves him even more.

We have no need to fear.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


"Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Small miracles

K. wrote his name... all by himself.  (It's the first time one of my children performing this feat has made me cry.)

And... the 2011 Homeschool Blog Awards are starting again.  Here's the link:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Expecting too much of our children?

As I have mentioned before, our church has changed the format of Sunday mornings so that we have one service, with everyone worshiping together, followed by an education hour where everyone goes to some type of Sunday school class.  The biggest change for most people is that children are in the service for the entire time instead of being excused part-way through to go to Sunday school.

As you might imagine, this has caused a little discussion.  This is not really a change for our family, since we have always kept our children in worship with us.  (We actually end up with a shorter morning than we had with the former schedule.)  But, since we have experience with this, I was asked what tips I have for helping children sit through the ~ hour long service.

In thinking through my response, I realized that the answer lies in so much more than just that hour on Sunday mornings.  Our children have little difficulty with sitting and paying attention (more or less... they're not perfect!) for that hour because of the training we do in that department the rest of the week.  If children have not had practice in sitting (relatively) still and listening for extended periods of time, then to ask them to suddenly be able to do it one hour a week is indeed asking too much of them.  They have not had the practice and experience to be able to pull it off.  An inability to attend to a worship service is not the problem, but is merely symptomatic of a greater issue.

What do we do throughout the week that allows our children to practice the discipline of sitting and attending to something?  First, I believe, it all starts with dinner.  We sit down together for dinner every. single. night.  Even if one parent cannot be there (and that happens at least once a week due to J.'s teaching schedule), we still sit down together and share a meal.  We serve our children and insist that they wait for others to be served and God to be thanked before we eat.  If they finish before anyone else, they must sit and wait for others to finish before having seconds.  If the rare occurrence of dessert happens, everyone is served dessert and must wait until the hostess (that would be me), raises her fork (or spoon or cookie) to begin.  If someone is talking, they must wait until there is a break in conversation to speak.  And, everyone must wait until everyone else is done to be excused from the table.  Our dinners routinely take an hour.  J. and I do not like to rush through a meal and so our children must wait for us.  Every single night our children practice the skills of waiting, sitting, and listening.

But this is not the only practice they have.  We read to our children a lot.  By its very nature, reading out loud, especially long books, is a slow activity.  And since both J. and I enjoy reading to our children, we are willing to read for quite a long time... especially if we are caught up in the story ourselves.  There was one afternoon on vacation that we all settled in and I read a story we were in the middle of.  It was a long book, and we were at an exciting part.  Because we were on vacation, there was no need to stop, so we kept going.  When my voice finally gave out completely, we looked at the clock and were surprised to discover that we had been reading for three hours!  What's a 20 minute sermon compared to that?

This reading aloud-thing also has another benefit.  J. and I choose good books to read to our children and often the books are older, so the sentence structure and vocabulary is a bit more advanced than modern chapter books.  It takes a bit to get into the rhythm of it, but eventually everyone is able to to follow the story.  This also provides excellent practice for listening to something, such as a sermon, where content and vocabulary might not be readily understood.

Back to Sundays, though.  Even with all of this practice, J. and I still don't just assume that our children will be able to sit through the service just because we tell them to.  We also want them to get something out of it and to understand what is going on.  We position ourselves strategically between children, dividing up those who will need our help the most.  We are constantly whispering to them about what is going on and why we are doing it.  Even K. can understand the time for corporate confession if someone whispers to him that this is when we tell God about the things we are sorry for.  We use worship notebooks during the sermon.  Not to entertain our children so we can sit back and relax, but to help them understand what the pastor is saying as well.  With our readers we will use them to ask questions back and forth and sometimes ask them to draw pictures of what is being talked about.  It is a bit more challenging with non-readers, but J. and I have had quite a bit of practice now drawing (somewhat pathetic) pictures to show the child what is being said.  Our children treasure these books and have kept the filled ones to look back on now and then.

I know I've heard parents say, "But what about me?!  I'm not getting anything out of the service because I'm constantly bothering with my kids."  Can I just be perfectly honest here and admit to the not-so-Godly emotion of not being sympathetic?  If being a parent of many children has taught me one thing, it's that it's not about me.  None of it.  This life.  What I do on a day-to-day basis.  How I treat others.  What my children do or don't do.  How people view me.  Any of it.  None of it is about me.  What it is about is Jesus.  How can I best show Jesus to others?  How can I be Jesus' hands and feet in any situation?  How can I best do what God wants me to do?  Sometimes that means I spend the day cleaning up poop.  Sometimes that means spending time encouraging a friend on the phone.  Sometimes it means hearing every third word of a sermon.  God tells me to disciple my children and bring them up to know Him.  Teaching my children to worship... during the whole service, and not just the easy bits... is an important part of that.  And no, some days it's not easy.  But worship is sacrifice and this is my sacrifice.

Now I don't want to come off all holier-than-thou, because I am a very imperfect parent.  Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking when He blessed me with these children.  I am impatient.  I am selfish.  I respond in anger.  I don't always act in a loving way.  Really, I am a mess.  The truth is the only way I can do what I do is because through God's grace, He helps me.  In His graciousness, He sends the Holy Spirit to indwell me and work through me.  If I let Him.  (And on some days, that's a really big if.)  In my own human-ness, I cannot raise 9 children.  I cannot give them everything they need.  I cannot keep all the balls in the air on my own.  Thank you Jesus that I don't have to do any of this on my own.  And knowing this, that I have the Creator of the Universe wanting to have a relationship with me, how can I not want to share every bit of it (even the parts that may not be easy) with my children?

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tapped out

It's now nearly noon and I'm not quite sure what I have to show for it, seeing as how I'm still not dressed.  In my defense, I have finished an article that was due and sent that in; tried making coffee in two different coffee makers only to discover that they are both broken (finally gave-up and sent B. to the local coffee shop to get ma a large cup); made apple cider donuts; and have done all this with interrupted sleep.

L. was up a lot last night, having difficulty breathing.  I think it was just a cold that we have all been passing around, but it sounded weird.  Not really like anything I've heard before and it crossed my mind to wonder if she was having an asthma attack.  We've never had to deal with that, so I don't know what it sounds like.  I do know, if she hadn't started breathing better, I was planning on heading to the ER with her.  She seems fine this morning, but I will be definitely mentioning it to her doctor at her physical later this month.  I don't think I slept very deeply when I was asleep, because I think I was keeping an ear out for what sounds she was making.

My plan for the day includes getting dressed, cleaning up the kitchen, laundry, and finally shifting around everyone's household jobs.  This means I need to plan out what really needs to be done and figure out who to assign each job to.  I'm also going to make lists this year of exactly how to do each job (there always seems to be some discussion as to what I actually told them to do) and LAMINATE them.  Because I can.

But, I'm a little tapped out blog-wise.  What do you want me to write about.  Since someone asked, I think I'll put together a little pie crust tutorial with recipe and pictures, but other than that and the regular pictures of the little girls, I don't seem capable of any more ideas at the moment.  Help me out and throw some suggestions my way!  Please?

In the meantime, you can go read another article I wrote and is up at another website.  It's about saving money on your meat budget.

Friday, October 07, 2011

When it's nice in Chicago...

especially in early October, you really need to spend the day outside.  With the thermometer going up to at least 80 degrees today, we decided to head to the Chicago Botanic Gardens to enjoy the last bit of warmth we will feel for a while.  We had nothing planned, just enjoyed walking around the garden.  We saw a pair of swans who evidently don't seem to mind humans based on how close they got.

This one got a little too close to one of the little girls for my comfort, but then turned around, displayed his(?) wingspan and walked back into the water.

A. then took my camera and played around with it.  I think she might be a budding photographer, what do you think?  (The next photos are hers.  I may just assign her the 'family photographer' job.)

And, if I have a recipe published on another website, can I call myself a 'food writer'?  Here's my recipe for Beef with Asian Greens Stir-Fry.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Nice surprises

I realize that I have neglected to brag about one of my children.  The other day I had gone out grocery shopping and had left the kitchen in some disarray.  OK, that's an understatement.  It would have been incredibly embarrassing if anyone had seen it.  Dirty dishes all over the counters and so much stuff piled on the table that I wondered how we were going to unload the groceries.  It wasn't pretty and not the sort of scene that one looks forward to returning to.

So imagine my surprise (and joy) in finding the kitchen looking like this when I walked in:

No dirty dishes out.  Clean and wiped-off table.  Empty sink.  It was wonderful.  Really, truly wonderful.  And you know the best part?  It was done by one young-ish boy, all on his own without being asked.  Just as a surprise.  Do you want to guess who did this wonderful deed?


Life doesn't get much better than that, huh?
Other randomness--

My near brush with hipness wasn't quite as close as I thought.  It has been pointed out to me that hanging upside down by your toes is called 'Batman-ing'.  Just thought you'd all want to know.

And... I'm very excited to share that I have been asked to be a contributor to the homeschooling website:  Heart of the Matter (online).  This is a really great website that I've been reading for a while and am thrilled to write for it.  My first article is up:  Apron Strings.

It's also not too late to read my article on our field trip to the Grosse Point Lighthouse.  I know I continue to badger you about this, but this is a paying gig and they like those clicks!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Toddler hipness

I have moments of near brushes with hipness.  This is mainly due to the fact that my older children share hip facts with me and so I have actually heard of them.  Without their influence, I wouldn't even achieve that much.  (I'm pretty sure this has nothing to do with my age, as being on the far side of trendy has been a theme throughout my life.)  My little girls on the other hand, seem to take to current trends naturally.  My evidence?  This:

This is G. who along with L. decided to do a little planking.  (In the time it took to get the picture, L. had moved on to other things.)  Don't know what planking is?  Well, the best thing to do is just do a search for it on YouTube, but it seems to be people imitating planks, often while holding themselves by their toes upside-down.  No, I don't get it either.  I am rather taken with the toddler version, though.

And isn't this so much more amusing than (another) rant by me of how parents have lost the knowledge of how to train children? Or one on the difference between discipleship and entertainment when worshiping with children?  Or one combining the two themes?  Count yourselves lucky that I have so much laundry to catch-up on, because that's what's running through my head today.
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