Summer Reading

One of the greatest challenges for me, during this stage of life in which I have a good number of fairly small children, is in balancing all of my primary roles and responsibilities. Being a wife and a mom can, even on a good day, threaten to overwhelm all else. Yet I know that it is crucial for me to have time to think, to pray, to reflect, and to be a person in my own right.

Something I’ve always enjoyed is reading books. I love both non-fiction and fiction, the former offering countless opportunities for learning and the latter providing a glimpse into the minds and hearts of other people and thereby helping to expand my own. And while I’ve never entirely stopped reading, it’s been something that has ebbed and flowed, generally in inverse proportion to the demands of my children.

I really started making reading a priority again this past spring. Before we went to Omaha for FangFang’s surgery, I’d solicited book recommendations from friends on Facebook and received quite a few and downloaded several into my Kindle app. That was fortunate, since she spent much of her time in the hospital sitting on my lap, often sleeping, and I could do little besides read.

I’ve discovered in the last few months that I really do retain non-fiction better if I read it in actual book form, so I’ve been sticking to that, but I’ve been borrowing fiction books from the library through Overdrive to read on my Kindle app (and occasionally purchasing books from Amazon, as well). I’ve actually put the Kindle app on my phone, and I’ve read so many books that way over the last couple months. It’s not really my preference, but I always have my phone with me, so I’m able to pull it out and read for a few minutes while waiting for water to boil when I’m cooking or sit and read while waiting in the bathroom with a potty-training toddler. And a side benefit is that I’m less tempted to look at Facebook 50 times a day when I have something else interesting I can pull up on my phone instead!

As far as serious non-fiction, I greatly enjoyed reading Hannah Anderson’s Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, and I even got to go to a book discussion evening with some other ladies to talk about it. I’ve been wanting to grow in humility, and this book was a great encouragement to me. I’ve also been reading Raising a Sensory Smart Child, by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske. It has given me some good information as I’ve been learning more about sensory processing and about ways in which our body’s sensory-seeking or sensory-avoiding tendencies can affect our lives and how we can use that information to make good choices for ourselves and our children. After finishing Humble Roots, I started reading Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry and am looking forward to digging into it more as I prepare for some upcoming ministry opportunities with our church. Next up after that is going to be David Powlison’s new book, How Does Sanctification Work?. David Powlison is my favorite Christian writer and speaker, and I’m really looking forward to reading what he has written. I’m hoping also to get into Praying Together, by Megan Hill, which a lot of the people from our church are reading this summer.

Matt and I have been consistent in our reading together – since our dating days, we’ve always read books together, sometimes both of us reading the same book separately and then discussing it, more often reading out loud to each other. In recent years we’ve been going through sagas – we read almost all of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction, then read through Harry Potter, and we just finished The Lord of the Rings. The other day we started Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency, my first Douglas Adams book, which, so far, is odd – I’m looking forward to seeing what I think of it after we get into it a bit more, since so many good friends have such a love for Douglas Adams!

I’ve really enjoyed being able to venture beyond our reading together into copious amounts of fiction reading on my own, though, sprinkling in some heavier reads among a lot of lighter, happier books. I read two excellent World War II era books: The Nightingale, which crushed me; and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which at first I thought I wouldn’t like, due to its form of story-telling via letters between various characters, but which I ended up loving. I also loved Wonder, an adolescent fiction novel, which is beautiful and definitely a tear-jerker. My children will be reading all of those books as they reach ages at which they’d be appropriate!

I read some Nelson DeMille books, which were generally good stories, but most of his main characters just annoyed me, so I couldn’t truly enjoy immersing myself in them. But the only book I actually stopped reading before I finished was The Handmaid’s Tale. I may come back to it someday, but I found myself far too creeped out by its dystopian world. I was having weird dreams about it at night and having a hard time jumping back and forth between its world (while I cooked dinner) and my own (as children invariably came into the kitchen to make one request or another). While they’re lighter and probably less respectable as literature, I’ve enjoyed much more the thoughtful, engaging novels of Sara Donati and Christa Parrish. At another time, I might have pushed through the Handmaid’s Tale, because I feel like it’s a book I should be able to say I’ve read, but I’m learning that, just as I parent each child according to what they need at any particular moment, it’s a good idea to pay attention to what I need and want at various times. Right now I don’t need the harsh creepiness but am very encouraged by good, thoughtful stories, and I’m okay with that!

I’m so thankful to be able to grab even a few minutes here and there to do some more reading these days. I’d love any book recommendations you readers may have, as I’m always looking for more good books to read!

Homeschool Year in Review – 2015-2016

I didn’t post updates about our homeschooling progress this past year as frequently as I would have liked, largely due to all of the other craziness going on in our lives during the year 🙂 We finished the school year later than I thought we would, but we finished! And I think we finished reasonably well 🙂

Last week we wrapped up our final days of Kindergarten/Pre-K – or at least that’s what we called it based on the girls’ ages, since that’s what it would have been if they’d been in public school here in Missouri, though we don’t really base our curriculum purchases on their stated grades. You can read more about the curriculum we used this year in this post.

Overall, this was honestly a really good school year. I’ve actually found that in the midst of good times or bad, home-schooling gives us the structure we need as a family to function well. We do best when we have some structure, and not only is this structure, but it’s structure that connects us relationally. We read together, we play together, we do science experiments together, and we talk through our drama together. One of the parts we actually most appreciate about home-schooling is that it allows us to consistently work on character issues together. This year we’ve focused on kindness, self-control, and appropriate actions when we feel angry.

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And of course we’ve also spent a lot of time on academics, with much growth evident! One of the most fun areas of growth has been in the girls’ reading ability. Miranda started the year reading pretty simple sections of just a couple pages at a time, and Madeleine CaiQun started the year reading only consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now they’re both ready to tackle (at least) 2nd grade readers! I often hear both of them, Madeleine CaiQun in particular, sitting on the couch reading out loud to themselves, which so warms my heart 🙂 Their love of reading has even rubbed off onto Atticus!

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Both girls have also grown in their math abilities, and we’ve studied and enjoyed learning about different areas of science. Their favorite has probably been studying space – that’s the last topic we covered, and the house has recently been littered with innumerable diagrams of the solar system!

The only area of our curriculum that didn’t really work well for us was the Language Arts package. Because Sonlight’s Language Arts curriculum goes with its readers, you select its level based on your child’s reading level, and my kids’ reading levels and maturity levels don’t necessarily entirely line up! We ended up modifying a lot of its assignments and, toward the end of the year, just ditching it entirely. But for kindergarten and pre-k, I didn’t necessarily think a comprehensive Language Arts curriculum was an absolute necessity, so that wasn’t a huge loss!

It wasn’t all fun and games – one kiddo in particular sometimes tells me she hates school, but in reality, she mostly dislikes the reality that she is not in charge of all things at all times, and that is, well, reality 🙂 And learning about that is also part of home-schooling! And there are times when home-schooling with a toddler feels crazy – that boy is a monkey!

But overall I’ve so appreciated this past year, the chance to read with my kids, to have good discussions with them, and to be part of all that they’re learning. I’m grateful to have another year of home-schooling with these great kiddos under our belts!

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Our Atticus Boy is 18 Months Old!

Our little guy hit that big 18-month mark at the end of last month! He is an amazing juxtaposition of all things little boy – he is sweet and snuggly while also being an adventurous lover of dirt.

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He is resourceful, regularly pulling a chair from the dining room into the kitchen to expand his reach – sometimes to see what he might be able to reach in the China cabinets, but other times in an attempt to be helpful.

IMG_0035He considers the dishwasher his personal domain, certain that he is essential to both unloading and loading it. Fortunately this works pretty well for unloading…

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…though when it comes time for his mama to load the dishwasher, he often finds himself relegated to the Toddler Tula 🙂

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With his sleep, he proves the statement that every child, even within the same family, is different. He has always been a pretty good napper, and while he generally sleeps well at night, he is my only child who, beyond a few months old, would regularly wake in the night not just because he needed something but in order to spend a couple hours playing. We’re hopeful that he’s growing out of that phase!

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He is a climber and an acrobat and a builder of block towers.

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He’s also an avid reader. He loves to listen in on his sisters’ reading, bring books to us to read, and look at books himself.

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Due, in part, I’m sure, to this reading, he seems on the verge of a language explosion. He doesn’t say “this” all that much anymore, but he does have a few other words. His favorite word is “moon,” and he also offers directions with a few words – “up” and “down” and “out.” Before he takes naps and goes to bed, he approaches each person in the room to wave and say, “night night.” In true boy fashion, he had multiple sound effect words – “boom” and “bump” – before he ever said “mom,” but the other night I did get a definitive “mom” from him, which made my day! He also occasionally says “ball” and “dad.” And he makes signs for more, no, and touchdown. He’s a fairly able communicator, employing pointing and grunting in addition to his words, but we are looking forward to his having more actual words!

One effect of his status as a third child is that at even 18 months old, he recognizes Star Wars paraphernalia and, much to his sisters’ delight, any time he sees it, he starts humming and dancing to the Imperial March!

His hair is still one of his defining features – it was the first body part he learned to identify 🙂

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It can be tamed somewhat, though, and he cleans up pretty well! He was the ring-bearer in my brother’s and sister-in-law’s wedding last month, and he LOVED the pocket watch they gave him!

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Though his presence in our family certainly makes life somewhat more complicated, it also brings so much fun. We’re so thankful for these past 18 months with our little buddy, and we can’t wait to see what the coming years hold!

on identity and hope

I’ve been thoughtful, these last few weeks about my identity and about the source of any hope that I have. Honestly, these recent days have been discouraging. Matt and I started winter break talking about everything we’d like to accomplish during these weeks in which he had no teaching obligations and I had no extra baby-watching obligations. At the top of the list for me were getting Atticus’s room more organized, cleaning out my closet, working some extra hours, finishing up thank you notes that I’d meant to write over the summer but never finished for people who helped us after Atticus was born (you know, a mere 13 months ago) , and maybe even reading some fun books or writing some blog posts.

And with about a week of winter break left, I’ve accomplished exactly zero of those things. Matt threw out his back the weekend after Christmas and was in excruciating pain for days afterwards. Just as he was beginning to be able to move around a bit, we were struck with the great plague of 2016 – Miranda woke up at 4:00 am on New Year’s Day with a stomach bug, which ran its course through all 5 of us before departing to the homes of some of our friends (sorry). Due, in part, to those unanticipated events, we’ve been far less productive than we’d hoped during these Christmas vacation weeks.

As a naturally task-oriented person, it’s so easy for me to fall into frustration and discouragement in this situation. I want to catch up on all of these items that perpetually occupy my “to do” list. And while I love my husband and children to no end…

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who could resist these cuties?

…I also like to feel like I exist as my own person, distinct from them and from my serving of them.

I’ve been wondering, lately, how do other moms stay themselves? Particularly other homeschooling moms, who are with their children 24/7 – what do they do? How do they take time away from their families as a blessing, enjoying it but equally enjoying their reentry into family time, taking care of the dishes that have piled up in the sink and the crumbs that have covered the floors during their few hours away, without complaint? What do they do that is their own, not about their husbands and children, and how do they do it while still caring for their husbands and children?

As I’ve contemplated these ideas, I’ve become convinced of a few things –

  1. My life doesn’t begin the instant I move outside of serving my family but exists in serving and loving my family. I can (and do!) find joy in building a train track on the living room floor, curling up on the couch and reading together, tickling my baby, and hanging out with Matt at the end of the day. That those moments constitute a large majority of my time is a blessing and fulfills the calling I believe God has on my life.
  2. In many cases, I can choose the lens through which I see my life and circumstances. I can accept with gratitude and thanksgiving whatever God sends my way, or I can spend my time wishing for something else and becoming increasingly discouraged.
  3. My sense of self and ultimate hope cannot be based in my checking tasks off my list, in meeting budget goals for the month, or any other earthly accomplishment. When Peter exhorts us to be prepared to give an answer to “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (1 Peter 3:15), he’s referring to nothing less than our trust in Christ. If I am binding my sense of self and hope to anything else, I am setting myself up for disappointment. Only if I center my life around God and being and doing what He has called me to can I live a life filled with true hope and joy.

Lord, please help me to live a life of gratitude, even if my hours are filled more with cleaning up vomit than with accomplishing tasks on my to do list!

Homeschooling 2015-2016 – Curriculum and Plans

Given that we started our school year over 4 months ago, it’s about time I share a blog post about what we’re doing this year 🙂 When pressed, we say that this is Miranda’s kindergarten year and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k year, but for the most part we just work with each child wherever they are and work on learning and growing.

We were super happy with our Sonlight curriculum for two years ago and last year, and we’re using Sonlight as the primary basis for our school curriculum for this year, as well. Sonlight packages together several primary subjects as cores – Bible, History/Geography, and Read-Alouds – which allows you to explore the year’s main theme from each of those angles. This year we’re using Core A, which is Intro to the World: Cultures.

We’re finishing up the 12th week of the curriculum, so we’ve made it through about 1/3 of the material, and we’re really enjoying it. We’re always looking for more good kids’ Bibles, and this one is pretty good. In history and geography, we’ve been able to read about ancient societies (Greece, Rome, and China), and we’re now up to somewhat more modern times (Spanish explorers, Dutch traders, Pilgrims and Native Americans). The books present the material in interesting, age-appropriate ways, and honestly, all 3 of us are learning about these different cultures and enjoying doing it! The read-alouds are awesome, as well. We’ve already read everything from The Boxcar Children to Curious George to Dolphin Adventure to Little House in the Big Woods. My biggest complaint about the read-alouds is that we love them so much that we’ve read through them faster than the curriculum guide dictates, and I’ve needed to supplement them! That seems like the best type of problem to have 🙂 Beyond that the only modifications we’re making have been to the Bible curriculum. Our girls are participating in Awana this year, so they’re memorizing the Bible verses that their Awana groups are working on instead of those from our school curriculum. I’m also supplementing the Bible curriculum by having the girls memorize answers to catechism questions, as well. Going through this book is helping them synthesize some of the Bible information they’re learning, and they are learning about ways in which God’s truth applies to our daily lives from the accompanying stories in the book.

For science, we’re doing Sonlight’s Science A package, which focuses on Biology, Botany, and Physics. I’m pretty impressed with it. There’s interesting science reading, some of which comes with links to internet videos about the topic at hand (Madeleine CaiQun’s favorite part), and each week there’s information about how to do at least one science experiment, sometimes more. In and of myself, I’m not super creative or hands on, so I very much appreciate the activity suggestions!

experimenting to see which substances from our refrigerator will freeze when put in the freezer
experimenting to see which substances from the refrigerator will freeze in the freezer

For Language Arts we’re also using Sonlight packages – Language Arts 1 for Miranda and Language Arts K for Madeleine CaiQun. This is the part of our curriculum about which I’m most ambivalent. This is probably my girls’ least favorite part of our school day – they say they enjoy it, but it’s the aspect of school about which we have the most conflict. I think that is in part because the choice of Language Arts level is dependent upon the child’s reading level, but reading level and maturity level are not necessarily the same. Additionally, there is a big jump in the expectations between the kindergarten and first grade packages, both in the types of assignments given and in the amount of work included. I find myself altering specific assignments in both girls’ programs, and I’ve pretty systematically altered Miranda’s first grade package by removing the spelling component. She just isn’t ready, at 5, to do a spelling program, and she really doesn’t need to be – she’s only 5! I actually suspect that she’ll pick up these spelling words without any effort just given some additional time reading, and if she doesn’t, we’ll come back and pick them up later.

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What I do really appreciate about the Language Arts program is that it has been a great tool in teaching both of my girls to read. It moves slowly enough that they build a lot of confidence in their reading abilities as they go, but it also introduces them to increasingly complex words, so their abilities really are growing. On top of that, because the Language Arts and the reading aloud portions of the curriculum are linked, the Language Arts concepts we discuss often show up in the reading, giving the girls experience dealing with punctuation, compound words, etc. as we discuss them.

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Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun love reading out loud and are continually growing as readers, which is so fun to see. And we do have some fun Language Arts activities, as well. Both girls love playing Sight Word Bingo!

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All that to say, Language Arts is going pretty well this year, and everyone is definitely learning and growing, but I probably will explore what other options we might have for next year, just to see if there’s something else out there that might work even better.

The last piece of our main daily curriculum is math, and we very much enjoy our math curriculum! We’re continuing with Singapore this year – grade K for Madeleine CaiQun and grade 1 for Miranda. Both girls love, love, love math – most days I have to cut them off and announce that we need to move on, or they’d just keep working their way through lesson after lesson.

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It’s really fun for me to see them growing in their understanding of numbers, simple addition and subtraction, and other math concepts and truly enjoying it all. It happens quite often that Miranda will run up to me and announce excitedly, “Mom, I thought of a number sentence for you!” She’ll tell me an addition equation, smile, and run off to play again. We’ve also been playing some games like Shutbox, in which they can practice their addition skills without even realizing it, and they could not be happier.

Overall, we are really having a great time with school and with these materials in particular. We love the reading – frequently my favorite part of the day is curling up on the couch with the girls with some books. The girls are learning about science and history, they’re learning language skills, they’re learning to read, and they’re growing in their math abilities. It’s so encouraging for me as a teacher to see them developing in all of those ways, and I pray these years of quality time plus foundational development will be a great blessing for them in the years to come!