Tuesday, January 30, 2018

When we first stepped into our current house, Shawn and I both knew immediately that we wanted to live here. For Shawn, it was the open white kitchen at the front of the house with ample counter space and new appliances. For me, it was the middle bedroom with its enormous double windows. I pictured Liam (almost 2 at the time) playing with his trucks in his sun-warmed room. I pictured nursing our baby girl, due in a few months, in a cozy chair in the corner. I couldn't have pictured our beautiful third baby, light streaming onto his dimpled cheeks and chunky thighs. 
We went through some sad days before meeting this breathtaking boy. But today, his smile that beams brighter than this light-filled room makes it feel like these windows - this house - were made for this moment. 

Books from 2017.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Last January, I made a list of the books I hoped to read and purchased them all with Christmas money, stacked them on my nightstand, and started working my way through them. About half of them still sit unfinished - having a baby does that - but I wanted to share the ones I did finish. Instead of giving them each a star rating as I've done in the past, I will just say that I give each of these my recommendation. Do I endorse everything that's written in each one? Of course not. But they were all worthy reads, and I wanted to share a favorite quote from each to give you a taste. I'll be sharing my 2018 "to read" list soon. 

"If you are not experiencing His rest, if you are weighed down, put out, and resentful, you must ask yourself whether you're actually pulling under His yoke. If you're feeling burdened and heavy laden, you must question whether you're as humbly submitted to Him as you believe yourself to be."

From the author, about her novel: "I wrote about how you can love your child with something that surpasses logic and reason and words, and you can still screw up. Even with the best intentions and loftiest goals, sometimes, as a parent, you fail. I wrote about how so many of these moments stare back at you and say, See, you were told being a parent would be harder than you imagined, the hardest job in the world, and you didn't believe it. Did you?"

"We don't have to try to justify ourselves anymore. We don't have to try to make Him smile. He is already smiling."

"We need to lose the mental image of our pre-Christian state as a drowning person helplessly flailing about in the water, hoping upon hope that someone might throw us a life preserver. Outside of Christ we are, in fact, spiritual corpses rotting on the ocean floor among the silt and sludge." 

"Our home is not our refuge; God is our refuge. We nurture life in the face of death and leverage our homes for gospel work. For those whose hope is in the coming kingdom, our homes are less like retreats and more like a network of foxholes for planning and hosting kingdom advances into this present darkness. Our homes are centers of hospitality to show strangers and neighbors the light of Christ. And they are equipping centers for traveling ambassadors to help them on their way to doing the King's business." 

"There is no shadow in any valley so dark that his Word does not illumine. Sister, you're being followed. 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever' (Psalm 23:6). Held in our Shepherd's unflinching grip, we are safely his at all times and in every circumstance. Your constancy is Christ. And at the end of all things created, in the most beautiful paradox of the ages, the Lamb is shown to be the Shepherd, 'and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes' (Rev. 7:17)."

"The message we offer is not robust enough to address the opportunities, changes, and extremities of life in a fallen world. It is too small for successful women leaders in the secular world and too weak to restore full meaning and purpose who have been trampled. . . Instead of addressing the wide range of questions and situations women are facing today, we focus mainly on marriage and motherhood, and that within a two-parent, single-income family." 

"Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more, 
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again."

"We are line-crossers, boundary-breakers, fence-jumpers, carrying inside us a warped belief that our heavenly parent wants to withhold from us something that is needful or pleasurable. Even as we enjoy his good gifts, we feel a hyperawareness of the boundaries he has set, and we question their validity. Though he gives us nineteen gifts and warns us away from one danger, we suspect that what is withheld is not dangerous but desirable." 

"Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world." 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

It isn't our favorite month, to be sure. We miss the light that starts to fade before 5pm and have been staying mostly indoors, attempting to evade the flu. But looking at these pictures makes me so grateful for what we do have. A stack of library books and a boy who devours them. A deeply dimpled babe who smiles 99% of the day. A spunky little girl who eats hummus in a princess dress and keeps us on our toes. A cabinet full of art supplies. We've been given so much to make our hearts full and warm, even in January.

Homeschool preschool.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

In this season with a 5-year-old, an almost 3-year-old, and a 7-month-old, we're attempting to do less, and do it better. What I mean is this: instead of schlepping the kids all over town for soccer practice and play groups and even preschool, we've chosen to be home - together - the majority of our time. Even though it's exhausting to have so few mommy breaks, I honestly think it's less exhausting than if we had a schedule full of activities. It allows us to play with friends, to have lots of free time to let our kids be kids, and for us to be together the maximum time possible even as I work 20+ hours a week at the hospital. It doesn't always feel like a simpler, slower version of life (we do have 3 kids and 2 jobs, after all), but that is our goal.

In Fall of 2016, we began homeschool preschool. This year, we're doing a hybrid of preschool and kindergarten. To give a little background: Liam just recently turned 5 and is too young for kindergarten, so if he went to a traditional school next year, he would start kindergarten in Fall 2018. However, he is reading (voraciously) and comprehending at a 2nd grade level. I am planning to homeschool him for his kindergarten year next year, but using mostly 1st grade materials.

At this point, Shawn and I don't have a long-term vision to homeschool the kids all the way through. We are open to sending them to public or private or charter schools in the future. We root these decisions deeply in prayer and are asking the Lord to guide our family in this. At this point, our local school options are not ideal and with Liam's reading skills, it concerns me that he would be bored (I've seen this play out already). This is also such a short, impressionable season with our kids and we feel a deep conviction to be the ones teaching them, at least right now. We plan to use Sonlight curriculum as I desire a bit more structure and the prep to be done for me. A handful of trusted moms have highly recommended Sonlight (along with some additional curriculum to go alongside it), though I'm just learning about it all myself. Hopefully in a few more months I'll be prepared to discuss kindergarten curriculum in more detail.

I hope it's clear that I am no expert. I do not hold a teaching degree and am still extremely early in this journey, with my oldest child just 5 years old. But I am willing to share what has worked for our family so far and what hasn't, and to continue this ongoing conversation. I love the homeschool movement that is sweeping across our country right now and empowering mothers to teach their children at home. Almost every time we are at a playground, we meet another homeschool family, and there is such a wide variety of styles when it comes to schooling at home. I have already benefited so much from wiser moms who have shared advice from further along the journey (including my sister, who has 4 kids and currently homeschools).

For preschool last year, we used The Peaceful Preschool curriculum, which I love and recommend. Liam so enjoyed the activities and art projects and recommended books. I will probably repeat this, in part, again with Lanie next year. It does require some weekly prep, but apart from finding the books (which I either reserved at the library or purchased from, it isn't much. Most of the materials could easily be added to the weekly grocery list, and I love how hands-on this curriculum is. It involves art projects, lots of reading, cooking, learning to help around the house. It's the most beautiful aspects of homeschooling boiled down into a very doable preschool curriculum.

This year, I decided to do Playful Pioneers, the same company's kindergarten curriculum. It felt like a natural next step. We purchased the curriculum and the books and started reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We love Laura Ingalls Wilder (even giving our third baby Wilder as a middle name ;)), so I thought it would be a great fit since the kids were already familiar. After three weeks, I realized it just wasn't a fit for our family - at least not right now. My kids were minimally interested in Farmer Boy (or any of the recommended chapter books), and I think it was just too early to introduce some of the activities. We even tried listening to the audiobooks, but it just wasn't clicking. So we shelved it and started down our own path. There's little pressure because they're both technically in preschool and I didn't want to keep pressing into a curriculum they weren't interested in when I'd seen them thrive with previous activities.

So here is what we've done. We do have some routine in our house, but my work schedule changes from week to week, so we must remain flexible. However, there are a few things we do at least 4 days a week.

Reading: We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I know there are some strong opinions on this one, but it worked beautifully for us. We worked through this together over a period of 3-4 months and Liam went from recognizing letter sounds to reading fluently by the end. It was astounding to watch. Liam looked forward to our short lessons, and now reads level 2 and 3 readers with ease. We will work through the same book with Lanie in a couple years, but if it doesn't work, there are plenty of other approaches out there.

Bible: We read or listen to the Bible together daily, though this is something we would do whether or not we chose to homeschool. Our favorite Bible remains the Jesus Storybook Bible, and we also really enjoy the New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. It has simple questions the kids can answer to interact with the Bible story. A few days each week, we are reading a chapter or two from Missionary Stories with the Millers to teach the kids about Christian missionaries around the world and locate their stories on a world map. Each Friday, we also practice a family Sabbath (a day we both have off of work). We are working through memorizing the New City Catechism as a family, a resource I can't recommend highly enough. There is even an app that goes along with it that has kid-friendly songs to help us all remember each catechism. The kids are loving this time each Friday morning - accompanied by a special breakfast - and we love that it helps them form a framework for theology and the truths they learn in Scripture.

Handwriting: We used Handwriting Without Tears, though admittedly, Liam hasn't been thrilled with practicing handwriting. It isn't something I've hammered down too much as I don't want him to get bogged down in practicing handwriting and lose interest in learning.

Science: We have this science kit and we do some experiments from this book. But really... we don't do much science yet. It's still preschool, after all.

Free play: Honestly, this is most of their days, as it should be at these ages. Building with Legos and Magnatiles, play dough and sensory activities, playing outside at the park, playing with their play kitchen. It's all so wonderful for their brains and something we might miss if we were gone most of the day.

Math: I was clueless where to start when Liam asked for a math workbook, so I went to a local homeschool store and asked the lady to help me pick one out. The one she chose involves lots of coloring, some basic addition and subtraction, cutting and pasting, and some word problems that are slightly more advanced. Liam loves it and asks to do it during free time. I can't find it online, but this one and this one look similar.

Art: See this post and this post and this post. We do a lot of art around here.

Social interaction: This was always one of my main concerns and the number one reason I was always hesitant about homeschooling. We've all met homeschool kids that are just kind of... strange. The kids go to Sunday school at church every week, Bible Study Fellowship every Thursday, and we hang out with friends at least 3-5 times a week. Plus, they have each other. I'm less worried about this aspect of homeschooling than I ever have been.

Please don't let this overwhelm you. Writing it out makes it seem like we do a lot, but really, it's only a small bit every day and only when the kids are interested. It's just too early to enforce a regimented school, in my opinion. Like all moms - whether homeschool, private school, public school - my hope is to nurture life-long learners... not just kids who give the right answers.

Additionally, I'd love to hear from other homeschool moms in the comments with helpful advice, tips, curriculum recommendations, and encouragement to other moms considering homeschooling. There are so many ways to homeschool well and I think we'd all be encouraged to hear from you!


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

I could fill post after post with stories from my work as a nurse, but there are two issues. 1) I might risk violating privacy laws, and 2) I'd definitely risk turning your stomach. The other night, though, I had an experience I could share. Amidst the countless dark, difficult situations I encounter at work was this lighthearted moment I will carry with me.

I was caring for a dementia patient, and it was time to give her her evening medicine. This sweet lady was pleasantly confused and believed she was at her office, babbling on about deadlines and politely asking if I'd like a cup of coffee.

I tried in vain to gently reorient her to her whereabouts and to tell her it was time to take her medicine. I handed her a cup of pills while I held her water.

"Ok, it's time to take your medicine," I said.

"Wait, wait," she stopped me. "I want to give a toast."

She raised her pill cup in the air and nodded toward the cup in my hand, that I should raise it, too.

"I want to give a toast to my new best friend," she said, beaming. "You."

We clanked our paper cups together and my heart warmed all the way through.
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