Sunday, October 31, 2010

The end of October

It was a gorgeous last day of October!

We carved pumpkins...

Yep... It was warm enough to go barefoot, but I still needed a jacket. Go figure.

We finished the pumpkins just in time...

Our little pumpkin woke up from her nap...

And the snow princess, viking and desert commando were ready for action...

We were joined by a rock star and Jedi in search of CANDY!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

All in the name of fashion

I didn't want to say anything. But deep down inside, I knew this day would come eventually.

You see. I've tried to ignore it. I've turned the other way when the straight-leg jean started making its appearance in stores. I averted my eyes from the dreaded skinny jean. I ignored the leggings, knowing there was no hope that I would ever be able to wear them anyway.

But I'm a slave to fashion. And I can't ignore its evil, cyclical ways forever. I saw it coming a few years ago when they brought back the goucho. We were headed down a very bad path that could only lead us straight back to the one fashion decade I sword I would never revisit: the 80s.

I knew I wouldn't be able to hold my ground forever. And in this case, it was really about the boots.

You know how I love the boots. The high-heeled boots. The fur-lined boots. The cowboy boots. Even the shoots.

And my closet full of boots was starting to seem kind of pointless when they were always hidden underneath my boot-cut jeans. Tucking the wide stretches of fabric into the boot was pointless. It couldn't be done.

Unless, of course, I had...

You know...

Dare I say it...

Some... a-hem... stirrup pants.

It's true. And with a long sweater and some tall boots, I wouldn't look THAT fat, would I? I mean you can only really see the pants for about 12 inches between the top of the boots and the bottom of the sweater.

And yes. I know I do look a little like an English woman getting ready to mount her horse. I just need one of those equestrian sticks. What on earth do they call those things?

I have a very firm belief that I hold tight in the depths of my being: Most women look their best in a wide-leg trouser. No one looks good in a tapered leg. Not even a supermodel. And the only thing worse than a tapered leg is stirrup pants.

But it had to be done. Fashion was calling, and I had to answer. They are mine. The pant with the removable stirrup. Just feeling that stretch of elastic under my foot makes me want to break out into a Boy George song. "Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cr-y-y-y?"

Now, all I can do is hope and pray that no one in the fashion industry gets the bright idea to bring back the knickers.

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Our day, part 3

Our home school day is structured much differently from how I set it up last year. When the kids were in school, they always started the day with math so that is how we started our day at home, too. We ended our day with the subjects we did together — science, geography and history.

Then, last spring, I read some blog posts by a friend who was doing everything in reverse order. She would start her day with the subjects they did together and end her day with math. We decided to give it a try this year, and we are loving it!

We are able to get our day off to a good start with all of the subjects we do together (see my previous blog posts). Then we break off to do language arts, and I work with each child one on one. I do writing and grammar with one child while the others work independently, then we switch.

We end our day with math. This is going much better for us because, even though they need more energy for math, in the past, it was sucking up so much energy that they weren't able to put as much effort into subjects like writing and grammar.

So... after we get done with all of our reading and science questions, we jump into language arts. Our curriculum is set up with the hardest writing assignments of the week on Thursdays. However, I have found it works best for us to jump into writing on Mondays. Sometimes I also add in extra assignments in addition to what is recommended in our curriculum.

This Monday, for example, my 4th grader was working on writing a narrative using dialogue. My 2nd grader is learning to construct a simple outline that he can use to write about any topic. Today, he chose to write about why he loves his mom. Awwww... one of the benefits of home school.

My kindergarten daughter also has a writing assignment. Often, it is as simple as doing copywork or dictating a story to me.

I assign the kids pages in their phonics books and handwriting books or give them assignments with spelling words to keep them busy while I am working with someone else. On Mondays, the two younger kids usually put their spelling words in alphabetical order, for example.

I just started a new spelling curriculum with my 4th grader, called Spelling Power. It includes simple exercises to help him practice any words he missed. He is not a big fan of this curriculum, but I have noticed he is learning his spelling words more quickly, so I think it's working.

We also do phonics work during this time, vocabulary and grammar. I know that a lot of my friends who home school aren't big fans of the grammar curriculum we use, Shurely Grammar. However, my kids have always used it, even when they were in private school, so we are to the point that it seems natural to us.

I'm amazed at how much they know about grammar.

We have about 14 jingles that we sing covering every part of speech. After we sing our jingles, the kids usually diagram sentences. My kindergartner can label subject nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives.

My 4th grader can diagram more complicated parts of a sentence such as direct objects, prepositional phrases, helping verbs and possessive pronouns. Grammar also includes daily exercises to practice other concepts, such as similes and metaphors, pronouns, contractions and homonyms, for example.

Language Arts also includes literature. The boys often read their literature books the night before so they have less school work the next day. However, I have a set of questions I review with them to be sure they understood what they read.

We do most of our home school work in our dining room; however, the kids usually migrate to other rooms at some point. Often, one is working in the family room while someone else is in the kitchen to make it easier for everyone to concentrate.

Up next, math, typing and Spanish...

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our Day, not an ordinary day

Even though I'm in the middle of describing our days of doing school at home, not all of our days fit the cookie cutter model. I have realized that one of the reasons home school is difficult for me is that I am such a Type A personality.

I print out our assignment sheets every Monday, and I love to focus on that list and check off each subject with all of the fun and creativity of a drill sergeant. I don't like to slow down, get distracted or take days off. I like to keep moving full-speed ahead.

And as you might imagine, that is boring. And it's not very fun. And it's part of the reason that I am not in love with doing school at home.

So when we started the year this fall, I made a pact with my kids that we were going to enjoy our time together. I was going to try to laugh more. I was going to try to slow down when subjects were hard and find fun ways to make them understandable.

Because in the end, what will my kids remember more? That we did a sheet of math facts and a handwriting sheet, as usual on a gorgeous day in October, or that we blew off a few subjects and sat under a big tree surrounded by falling leaves and read about knights and castles? Will it really matter in the end that we skipped phonics for the day and that they got to climb a tree and sit high in the branches while I read Robin Hood?

Even though I think it's important to take our school day seriously and finish each subject, I'm also trying to be better about taking advantage of the time we have together by celebrating the beauty that is all around us. And that is why today we did our math in the car on our way to our outdoor classroom — the arboretum.

I'm pretty sure that we will remember this day for a long time.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Our day, part 2

Our next subject is history. This is probably the favorite of everyone in the family.

We are starting with the middle ages this year, which means we get a daily dose of knights, castles and vikings, and spend lots of time thinking about Iceland, Greenland, Norway and England.

We read from three different history books, but before you get too impressed, let me admit that our history curriculum this year is much easier than last year's. Although we did love Story of the World last year, we are all happier with our lighter approach to history this year. I think we are learning just as much, but the reading is broken down into bite-sized pieces that make it seem much easier to swallow. Also, two of our books are loaded with pictures, which the kids absolutely love.

Just to add some fun to our reading, I try to read the stories in the accent of the people group we are studying. Let me tell you, it's not always easy to switch from the Eskimos of Newfoundland to the Vikings of Greenland and then over to castle life in England. However, I do my best. Sometimes the kids beg me to do the accents, and other days they beg me to stop.

We also have a read-aloud book that usually corresponds to whatever we are studying in history. Right now, we are reading Robin Hood, which has been a blast. I honestly don't know if I have ever read Robin Hood up until now. (Don't tell my boys, but I'm secretly with them when they beg me each day to keep reading! I wish that's all we had to accomplish in a day!)

We will read more than a dozen read alouds this school year. The kids are holding the ones we have finished so far.

Each day, we also alternate between reading a story from Aesop's Fables and a poetry book called, Cornstalks, a Bushel of Poems. My oldest son absolutely loves Aesop's Fables. He loves any stories involving animals, and he can't get enough of this book. He equally dislikes the poetry book and begs me to skip it, which, of course, only makes me want to read it in a funny accent.

After that, it's time for science. We are studying Biology this year. So far, we have learned about cells, animal kingdoms and the unique characteristics of lots of different animals. Later in the year, we will build a miniature greenhouse and grow beans and radishes.

Up next, language arts...

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Our day, part 1

I've been wanting to do this for a long time. I'm going to write a few posts that detail what our daily life is like here in the home that we also call a school.

This will probably include more details than most people will care to read. But then again, there might be a few people out there who would love to know what our day is really like.

I will admit, it's not always pretty. And that is exactly why you aren't going to see any photos of me! We try to start our school day by 8 a.m. Often, we actually begin closer to 7:30. I have found that if I take the time to take a shower and get ready to go out in public, it delays our day too much. So, I'm usually either wearing my sweats from an early morning walk, my PJs or some other mismatched outfit I found lying on the floor until I have a chance to take a shower later in the morning. Just keeping it real.

As soon as at least two out of three of the students have swallowed the last bite of breakfast, we begin the morning with our Geography Songs. We have a CD with a song for every region of the world. We add one new song a week, so right now we sing about nine songs every morning.

This is a great way to help us all wake up as we finish our breakfast. (We always do geography at the breakfast table, but I forgot to take the photo until later.) I also clean up the kitchen while we are singing the songs.

The kids each have a workbook with a map of each continent or region covered in the song. They practice pointing to the various countries as the song plays.

We also do the geography songs first because Baby Jayda loves them. She smiles, claps and bobs her head to the music. We want to include her in our singing before she is ready for her morning nap.

Next is our Bible reading time. We read from The Child's Story Bible, which we really enjoy. The older boys are ready to move on to reading directly from the Bible, but I decided I wanted to finish the Bible storybook that we have first. It does a great job of giving background information and putting each Bible story into context.

After that, we read a book called Window on the World. This is a book we all look forward to reading. Each day, we read about a different country in the world. The book tells about the country's history, religion, culture and challenges faced by the people in that area. It also gives specific suggestions for how to pray for the people living in that region.

I love this book because it has given my children such a great worldview. We look up each area either on our globe or our world map, and it corresponds to the new geography song we are learning that week.

Up next, history and science...

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The light at the bottom of the mine

Like so many other people, I spent the day yesterday checking the progress of those 33 men who were trapped in a Chilean mine for more than two months.

I tried to imagine what it what like for them on that fateful day back in August when they heard the rumbling rocks and the crashing. Did everything go dark at that moment or did their headlamps still work? Were they all together in one area or did they have to search throughout the mine, calling out names, counting off to try to determine who had survived.

What next? What was that first hour like? Then the next and the next? Day and night surely blended together into long hours that seemed like they would never end. How did they survive the first 17 days when no one knew they were alive?

One day in the darkness would have seemed like forever. I can't imagine the hopelessness of 17. They must have banded together to try to keep a positive attitude. But, surely there were moments when one or more of the men burst into a panic attack convinced they would never again see the light of day. Buried alive. Could anything possibly be worse than that?

Did they cry out in unison, "Why ME?!?" Or were they somehow able to keep their hope alive even on day 16 when certainly they were losing energy from surviving on only bites of food and sips of water. How did they sleep? Where did they go to use the bathroom? How horrid was the smell?

But what if they had known, for a fact, without a doubt that on Oct. 13 a rescuer would arrive? A savior would descend in a capsule into that pit. Someone living a normal life on the surface would risk his life to save theirs?

In fact, scientists and experts a half-mile above their tomb would actually invent a system to rescue them. If they could have known that on Day 1 or Day 2, can you imagine how much easier it would have been to go on? Not knowing the outcome, how many times must they have wished for death to just come quickly?

As I have been thinking about those amazing men, what they went through and what lies ahead, I have been thinking of so many other people in my life who are trapped right now in a black hole of life.

They have lost their homes.
Their marriage is a struggle.
They have an illness for which there seems to be no cure.
Their child is sick with an incurable disease.

Their days are probably full of those , "Why, ME?!?" moments. I can't even imagine the doubt that creeps in. And many times I have sat with my mouth open as they ask over and over again, "Why doesn't God make this stop?"

The truth is, we live in a fallen world that is full of evil. Earthquakes wipe out cities. People get diseases. Relationships are difficult. Mines collapse.

God does not promise to make all of the pain and suffering go away. But he does promise to walk through it with us. He does promise that we don't have to go through it alone.

I can't imagine the joy and rejoicing the day a drill bit made its way through one-half mile of rock and a tiny ray of light burst through the darkness where those Chilean miners had been waiting for 17 long days. Could they possibly have held out hope for that long? Or had they finally given up and decided to huddle against the rock wall and fade into sleep, waiting for the end to come?

They still had 52 days to go. Fifty-two days. Now the care packages were dropped down into the mine. They were able to make contact with their love ones. And when the panic attacks set in, surely they would focus their eyes on that light from above.

And sometimes that hope is all we have. The light might seem small and dim. We get tiny "care packages" from someone who crosses our path.

But there is hope. There is a rescuer who has come into the darkness of our lives. And although it sometimes seems like the pain goes on longer than anyone can possibly bear, we aren't alone.

I love the words to this song by Jesus Culture, "Your Love Never Fails":

Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails

I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning

And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails

The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You're one cute cookie!

Last weekend, a friend invited a few ladies over to learn how to make cookie bouquets. I had no idea what this day would include, but I was in desperate need of some adult conversation and it sounded like a fun excuse to get together with some friends.

My friend's friend makes cookie bouquets as a hobby, and she agreed to show us the ropes. One of my many jobs in college was at a cookie store. I worked at the most popular cookie shop on campus and it was my job to decorate large cookies with inspirational sayings like, "Get psyched for formal!"

I wasn't in a sorority myself, but I was able to learn from the pros and perfected my sorority girl penmanship — or I guess you would say, frostingmanship — over time.

But that was back in the dark ages of cookie decorating long before the aisles of Michael's were packed with every shade and shape of sprinkles, not to mention cutters for every occasion. And I had not ever tried the art of "flooding", which, for the uninitiated, is how you give your cookie a super smooth coating of frosting.

Luckily for us, my friend had pre-made about eight batches of cookie dough and three enormous batches of royal frosting. She also supplied tons of cookie sheets, counter space, sprinkles, a huge assortment of snacks and her floor on which we could drop as many crumbs as necessary without being reprimanded.

We ended up spending about five hours making the cookies! It was a blast! I went home conjuring up images of how I could make cookie bouquets for birthdays and special occasions. Of course, it might not be quite as fun when I have to prepare all the dough and frosting myself. Or when I'm not surrounded by friends to inspire creativity.

But I do plan to try it again soon. Cookies, anyone?

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Little pumpkin in the patch

After finding our way through the corn maze yesterday, we had just enough energy for a few photos in the pumpkin patch. Our little pumpkin thought it was great fun to play with the big pumpkins.

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The corn maze

Today was an unseasonably hot fall day. The rest of the world was out of school for Columbus Day, so we decided to work hard all morning so we could go to the corn maze this afternoon.

We had not been to this place before even though it's not that far from our house. So, we were expecting a corn maze. You know... a little maze where you run through the corn stalks for five minutes, take a couple of wrong turns and then you are at the exit. Right?

Wrong. When they say this is a corn maze, they mean it is a CORN. MAZE. As in, you will get lost. You better use your map. And if you don't have a map there is no chance you will ever figure out what you are supposed to do or how to get through it.

The field of corn is 12 acres and is broken into three mazes. When we got there, we saw a bin full of maps and crayons. I told the kids the "map" seemed to be a coloring sheet with a maze we could do on the way home. Then I realized, the maze WAS the map. And once inside the maze, I realized our only chance of survival was to slowly and deliberately study the map and follow it carefully.

At first, I told the kids that all we needed to do was stay to the right and we would find our way through the maze. After wandering around aimlessly for about 20 minutes, I realized this was not going to work. This maze had so many opportunities to turn, we soon found out we had no hope of using this method.

Next, I thought we needed to use our crayon to work our way through the maze on paper and then follow that path through the corn.

FINALLY, I read the directions! The goal of the maze was to locate six coloring stations where we would use our crayons to rub a design on the back of the paper. We needed to walk ALONG the black lines. They didn't represent the outline of a path. They WERE the path.

NOW, we were starting to make some progress.

We were getting really, really hot. It might be Oct. 11, but it felt like Aug. 11. We were covered in sweat and needing a break from the hot sun. Baby was starting to get really irritable being bounced around the path in her stroller. But we were determined.

Finally, we found all six of our coloring stations and completed our pictures. We all wanted to try the other two mazes and a few of the other fun activities at the farm, but we decided we would have to come back on a MUCH cooler day!

This was our end product:

(Sorry, my photo keeps uploading this way, even though I turn it 90 degrees!) We did have a blast and came home with 3 pounds of honey, some cherry salsa and blueberry jam just to make the trip complete.

So, what kind of fun did YOU have today?

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

My upside-down neighborhood

I have a confession to make.

I think I'm in love.

With fall.

I love the cool mornings. I love the crisp evenings. I love the unseasonably hot reminders of summer. I love the turning leaves. I love the 7 a.m. sunrise and the 6 p.m. sunset.

I love the early morning walks and the late afternoon bike rides.

Everywhere I go, I can't resist the urge to take out my camera, as if I can somehow preserve this season and pull it back out in the middle of February when I am overcome by a world of cold and grey. I've been so enamored with fall that it's like I've never experienced it before.

And, in a way, I don't think I have really stopped to fully enjoy this gorgeous season for a while. Last year, I was in my third trimester of pregnancy and spent most days propping up my feet in the morning and sneaking in a nap in the afternoon. The six falls before that, I was immersed in the super busy season of my business.

This fall, if I catch a waft of burning leaves or that indescribable scent of fallen leaves, I want to suck it in and hold it in my lungs as long as possible before I exhale. I've been noticing the beauty all around me even in our cookie cutter corner of suburbia where the trees have finally matured enough to produce a slightly respectable pile of leaves.

This evening, our family went for a bike ride and on the way home, I had to stop and stare at these trees reflected off the still pond as the sun was starting to set behind us.

This weeping willow looked so happy staring at her reflection in the glass.

And what about these upside-down houses? I wish I could step right inside their doorways and walk with my body dangling from the floor.

What's your favorite part about fall?

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Friday, October 8, 2010

The shower

When my husband and I were newly married more than a decade ago, we started attending a church that was about 20 minutes away from our house. We went to a meeting of people who wanted to attend small groups. They broke us into groups based on where we lived.

All the central people should sit over there. The northwest people over here. The northeast people should go there... MOST of the people who attended this church lived in those areas.

And then there were the people who lived to the south. We got in our little group, which might have included three or four couples at most. The only ones I remember were P and G. They seemed to be maybe 20 years older than we were, but they had sparkling eyes, warm laughs and so much excitement in their voices that we barely noticed.

They had moved to the area not so long before that after spending 14 years living in Bolivia. We found out they lived only a few miles from our house. And so started a friendship that doesn't come along very often in life.

We don't have many friends like P and G. They just dig in and become part of your life without dancing around the outskirts or asking for permission.

They would drop by our little two-bedroom townhome without any warning. They asked us questions. They gave advice. They said things that needed to be said.

When we started having babies, they would show up at the hospital. For the birth. (I had three scheduled C-sections, so we could let them know the exact time to come to the waiting room.) They brought meals and checked on us.

We got to know their four children and celebrated with them through the good times and prayed with them through times that were more difficult.

We weren't the only ones who were so blessed by this couple. One of the great things about P and G is that they are sort of matchmakers. They would find little ways to introduce us to other couples who were about our age. We developed a circle of friends in the same stage of life we were. The babies of our friends were the first friends of our babies. And P and G were mentors to so many of us.

About four years ago, they felt God's calling to go back to the mission field. We are always blessed to be on their list of people they visit when they make their annual trip back home. And this time, we were ecstatic for them that while they were home their daughter got engaged.

It was a quick engagement — not much more than a month. And I realized that it would be so much fun to have a shower with this group of women who have all been part of their lives all of these years.

The only evening that would work was this past Thursday. And even though I knew my husband had a trip planned to China, I had to find a way to make it work!

I used to be good at putting together little social gatherings at my house. But I was feeling pretty rusty. Once I started getting some ideas, though, I remembered how much I LOVE doing stuff like this!

The bride made it so easy. She is getting married outdoors with many special handmade touches at her wedding. She is using lots of fall colors for her decor, so I got inspired to decorate for the shower.

I pulled out my stamp sets I haven't used in ages to make these party favors. They are little fall scented candles I found in the dollar aisle at Michaels. I stamped a little tag for each one with words like "joy" and "always".

I also stamped matching paper to go inside a book. The guests were asked to write a page of advice for the bride to go in the book. I always cringe when I have to come up with stuff like this on the spot, but my guests graciously complied (after I begged and pleaded about a dozen times). The book did turn out to be really cool in the end, and the guests all gave great advice!

I made simple snacks like pumpkin bars and an assortment of (store-bought!) cheesecakes.

At the last minute I decided to attempt to make cake pops. This turned out to be a far greater endeavor than I ever imagined. This is what the professional version would have looked like.

Mine were far from perfect, but still cute.

The bride to be looked gorgeous, and it was a joy to celebrate with her and her mom!

Happy wedding! We're so happy for you!!

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