Saturday, August 25, 2012

One of those gratitude posts

Today we had a third birthday party for my daughter. She'll be three this coming Wednesday and we spent the day immersed in pink princessness. Pink cake, lots of pink balloons, pink crowns to decorate and plenty of pink wrapping paper.

As I sat rocking with her and reading Curious George Goes to the Beach for about the 800th time, I had a rush of gratitude. I know the book by heart, and my mind was wandering as I recited it to her. I looked around her room and thought about how cute it is and how sweet it will look when we get her new big girl bed and fun new bedding in a few days. Then I thought about how lucky we are to have this great house with plenty of space for all of us, full of fun toys for my kids and everything we need (and more!) to live a cozy, comfortable life.

I thought about how lucky I am to have the kids I do. There was a time in my life when I feared I would never be where I am now; a time when having kids was not a certainty. We weathered that road and God blessed us with three wonderful children. It may not have happened according to my schedule, but it turns out, God's timing was perfect. I know, right? Imagine that.

I am in a season of life that is busy, sometimes difficult and oftentimes tiring. But each day is such a gift. My aunt's recent diagnosis with terminal brain cancer has really reminded me to enjoy each and every day, because we truly don't know what tomorrow holds. I am a hopeless optimist, so I don't usually spend too much time in worry or fear for what might happen. But I can also face reality, and the reality is, sometimes those bad things do happen. On the days that they don't, we have to remember to be grateful, to thank the Lord for the day we've enjoyed, and treasure the time we have on this earth with the people we love.

I'm listening to my boys play outside with their friend who is spending the night, even though it's past their bedtime, and their squeals and shrieks are music to my ears. My daughter was tuckered out from her big day and she's cozied up in her bed, all tucked in with her new mermaid dress laid out on her floor, ready for tomorrow. My husband is downstairs vegging out a little bit to an XBOX game and I'm enjoying a few blessed moments of solitude from an otherwise busy (but fun) day. My heart is so full. I am humbled and honored that my life is filled with such magnificent people and such peace and comfort. Things aren't always easy, but God has blessed me so much.

I need to remember to live up to these gifts He has given me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the face of bad news

As anyone who has faced a serious hardship will tell you, sometimes life is going along just fine and then WHAM! you get terrible, horrible, awful news.

This week has been one of those times. On Tuesday, I found out my aunt has brain cancer. Each day that goes by, the news has gotten worse. She has a brain tumor, but they will do surgery. They have to postpone surgery because it is larger than they thought. It is fast growing and clearly malignant. And today we learn that without surgery, she might have a couple of weeks. With surgery, maybe a couple of months.

Out of the blue. Just like that, her whole life has been turned upside down in the most awful way imaginable. I think the only blessing in the way this is unfolding is that she wasn't hit by a truck and killed instantly; she has time to see her family, her husband, her children.

But it's the kind of news that hits you in the gut and makes it hard to breathe. A terrible and stark reminder that tragedy and heartache are out there, and sometimes they happen to you.

I had to tell my boys about what is happening tonight. After a rather long discussion I had to just lay it out there for them. There are bad things in this world. There are horrible illnesses and accidents and bad people who hurt others. Those things happen, and eventually, everyone has to go through times that are hard and make us hurt. But the good news is, most of the time, life is good. Most of the time, we are happy and things are fine and we have good friends and do fun things and we don't feel sad. But yeah, sometimes bad things happen, even to the best of people.

Right now, my heart hurts for my aunt. It hurts for her husband and her kids. It really hurts for my grandma, who is going to have to face the horrible pain of losing a child. I don't care if you are 85 years old, no one wants to bury their daughter. My heart hurts for my dad who is losing a sister who he is very close to. My heart hurts for all the people who's lives she has touched, and for all the people who are hurting because of her illness and who are going to be devastated when she passes.

This life isn't the end, and I take comfort in that. Whatever the days ahead have in store for her, I hope she can take a little comfort in that too.

Tonight I pray that God will care for my aunt Debbie. That he will hold that boisterous, outgoing, and funny soul tight and help her through this terrible trial. I pray that He will guide the hands, hearts and minds of the doctors and nurses who are entrusted with her care. And I pray that He will grant comfort to those who are suffering alongside her and who will miss her so terribly when she is gone. I pray that she has at least a bit more quality time with her family and that her pain and suffering won't be too great. I pray that when He finally does call her name, that all the angels and saints in heaven and loved ones that have gone before her will be there to welcome her home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If my boys planned their own curriculum

Today I had a fun conversation with my boys (they are 7 and 5) about what they are interested in learning in the upcoming school year. I asked them two questions - what do you want to learn about this year and what do you want to learn to do this year? They thought for a bit and came up with some fun ideas. A few were silly, some sweet and insightful, but I plan to find a way to incorporate as many as we can (legally... see Grayson's #7).

David, age 7

  1. How to bake a cake
  2. Learn about different types of metal
  3. How engines work
  4. How computers work
  5. Do new dinosaur art projects that are life-like
  6. How to build things with wood and real tools
  7. How to be patient and read a whole chapter book
  8. How to cook
  9. How to sew
  10. Photography - how to take nice pictures
  11. How to play piano
  12. Do parachute experiments (this was after he suggested "learn how to jump out of an airplane, which I had to say no to)
  13. Learn about the human body
  14. Learn how people make things sharp
  15. Learn about moss on trees
  16. Learn about all kinds of bugs
  17. Learn about cats, especially why they have big ears and why our cat chews on grass
  18. Learn how hair grows

Grayson, age 5

  1. Art projects using paper towel rolls
  2. How to build new lego sets (I think he was just hoping for new toys with this one)
  3. How to get money and have a job
  4. How to play basketball
  5. How to put fossils together
  6. How to make cupcakes
  7. How to drive a car
  8. How to build real toys with wood like a toy car
  9. How to use a real camera
  10. How leaves fall off of trees and all about trees
  11. How pencils are made
  12. How to write and read books
  13. How to count to 100
  14. How to make firewood and build a fire
  15. Art project with clay bricks (he had some elaborate ideas with this one, so I think I'll just ask him what supplies he thinks he'll need and let him go to town - I wasn't sure where he was going with it, lol)

I'm so glad I asked for their input. I told them we won't be doing all those things the first day, but I'm going to make a solid effort to refer back to these lists and come up with activities for them. I may revisit this idea again during the school year and see if they have new ideas as well. Granted, we still have our basics to cover, but this just struck me as so sweet and I'm excited about the concept of getting them involved in planning their education, laying the groundwork for a more collaborative effort in the future.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Plans... and changing plans

Sometimes being a planner is a good thing. I like lists. I like research. I like calendars and planners and excel spreadsheets. Of course, being a planner doesn't mean my life is all organized and tidy. I'm actually kind of messy. But when it comes to information, dates, routines - I like to plan.

But sometimes the best laid plans have to be thrown out the window.

Last spring I penned out a rough schedule for our school year. I thought it sounded like a super nifty idea to start school early, in August. It would give us a whole extra month of leeway, I thought. We could take a week off in the fall, for any reason. We could slow down at any time, take day off without guilt or worry. We could start slow, with just a couple of subjects, to get into the flow of things.

Plus, all the cool kids are doing it, the year round school thing. If I had a nickel for every lovely homeschool blog that talked about year round schooling, well, I'd have enough for a diet coke or something. But seriously, I was beginning to feel like "most" homeschoolers do some form of year round, or at least a partially year round schedule.

The year round idea does have appeal. I like the idea of the kids not forgetting all they learned and having to spend weeks catching up. I like the idea that we'd be integrating our learning more fully into our life, so the line between "school" and "life" gets a little more blurry. I like the idea of shedding the traditional school schedule and embracing a schedule that works for our family.

But oh, what was that last one? A schedule that works for our family. Right.

The first week of August rolled around and we did a few days of school. It was ok. But the weather was glorious outside and it just didn't FEEL right. Not that I kept them in, slaving over workbooks all day, while all the other kids got to play outside to their heart's content. We just did a little work in the morning. But even that wasn't working that well. Everything felt... off.

I remembered my well thought-out plans. After all, it had sounded good last spring for a reason; probably a bunch of reasons. But the gap between how it sounded back in May and how it felt to live it in August was pretty large.

I held out for another week, trying to integrate some school time into our days. But it just wasn't working. We had other things going on, or our best friends' kids were outside playing by 9 a.m. and it felt crazy to keep them in to "do school".

So I admitted to myself that this probably wasn't going to work the way I thought. Now feels like summer and September feels like the time for school. Maybe we won't always run by the traditional school calendar, maybe we will, I don't know. I'll worry about next year when it comes around, but for now, we're bagging "formal" school time and just getting dirty outside. After all, we do live in the Pacific Northwest, and we're in the absolute best time of year weather-wise. Another month and a half, and it's going to cloud up and rain for about 9 months. We may as well embrace this lifestyle we've chosen and create a schedule that works for our family. For now that means the shiny new school books and projects I have planned will wait just a little longer; and that's ok by me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Working together

In the past I've written about getting my kids involved in doing chores around the house. Thrilling topic, I know. But I'm having a bit of success at this and if for no other reason than to record my progress to refer to if (when?) I fall of the wagon on this, here's what's working for us at the moment.

Do chores in the morning.
I have a window of motivation that lasts through about lunchtime. Not that I do nothing all afternoon; far from it. But mornings are good for getting things done. Last year, mornings were all about school. I felt like I couldn't cram in anything else in the pre-lunch hours, but that meant I was trying to do housework in the afternoons and wound up procrastinating a lot. And forget getting the kids to do any of it. I often feel like I'm herding cats, and that doesn't just apply to those times I'm trying to round them up as we walk to the car and they want to go in three different directions. At home, there's a rhythm to the day that tends to break apart into a mess of free-play-don't-try-to-make-us-do-anything-according-to-your-schedule time in the afternoon. Trying to bring everyone back together to be productive, whether for schoolwork or chores, is difficult in the afternoon.

All that is a long way of saying, we're doing chores in the morning, even before we do school. They already are in the habit of helping me unload the dishwasher after breakfast. Now we've added one "job" to do each day, and we get it done after the kitchen is tidied up, before we start school.

Do chores together.
I can't claim credit for this idea. I read it somewhere, and I wish I could remember where. I think it was a blog post someone pinned on Pinterest. (See, further proof that Pinterest is most definitely not a waste of time). Instead of assigning chores for the kids to do while I do something else, we're focusing on one thing or area and working on it together. Monday is vacuum the downstairs day, so one of us runs the vacuum while the others pick things up and move chairs, that kind of thing. The boys fight over who gets to vacuum first. Tuesday is bathroom day, so we all squeeze into the upstairs bathroom; they wipe down the mirror, sink, counter, and floor while I clean the toilet. Working together makes a huge difference. They're actually excited to help me and they want to do a good job.

Be consistent.
We've only been trying out this new "system" for a couple of weeks, but I was amazed at how quickly they adapted. The biggest killer of this is honestly going to be me, not them. I need to make sure that I don't start foregoing our chore time because I don't really feel like cleaning the kitchen floor that day. I've had a couple of days when I was very tempted to tell them, "Nevermind, let's just go read!" But doing our one daily job doesn't take very long at all and once it's done, it's done and we all feel good for having accomplished something. Plus, I know myself. I'm lazy and if I get off track on something like this, I have a hard time pulling myself back up and starting again.

Forget perfection.
Ok, this one was super easy for me. My house is cleaner than it usually is because of them helping, even though they don't do as thorough of a job as an adult would. Things are getting cleaned on a much more regular basis, so I can easily overlook the fact that they missed a huge streak on the window or that only half the floor got mopped. I can let my daughter walk around with a spray bottle full of water and a rag, spraying and wiping anything and everything. It's fine. They're doing a good job and it doesn't have to be perfect.

I feel good about this new addition to our routine. And the crazy thing is, they do too. Not that they don't complain sometimes, my oldest especially. Actually, only the oldest has complained, now that I think about it. My five year old asks every morning what our job of the day is. I had to buy two more swiffer dusters because they were fighting over the one I had (using a plain old rag is so not as fun) and we're going through an awful lot of windex. Time to head back to Pinterest and look at all those natural cleaning posts I pinned and then they can go to town spraying everything with some combination of vinegar, water and, well, who knows... But I'll make my Pinterest time worthwhile once again!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Swimming upstream

Lately I've been feeling like life would be so much easier if I were to just swim with the current. It would be easier to go along with "the norm" - do what everyone else seems to be doing. I could feed my kids goldfish crackers and cookies and cook lots of pasta and serve bread with dinner. I could send my kids to public school and hover over their homework in the afternoons before shuttling them off to some class or practice or activity. I could spend my mornings after they're gone sipping coffee and watching TV. I could simply agree with all the noisy cultural messages we hear - muddled ramblings about tolerance and to-each-his-own. I could skip church and stop worrying about why my prayer life falters or whether I should go to Reconciliation.

It would be a lot easier to simply stop caring and be "normal."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not bashing on people who eat crackers and bread, or who send their kids to any kind of school, or even who embrace the socially liberal messages of today. I'm not bashing on people who don't go to church or go to a different church than I do. This isn't about them; it's simply about me.

The current that is our culture, what is considered normal or typical, meanders on, flowing downhill in an endless torrent of ease. I feel like I'm always swimming upstream. I face little bits of criticism in so many of my decisions - whether it's how I feed my family, how I educate my children, what church I attend, or that I attend church at all and hold to my beliefs regardless of their seeming lack of popularity. I have my defenses up so much of the time, ready to explain my decisions, launch into all the "whys" to help people understand. Or at least convince people I'm not crazy.

I simply feel tired. Tired of feeling self conscious that I am called to do some things differently from many of the people around me. I'm not a rebel. I never have been. I don't do things differently for my family because I want to be different, or want to stand out. I just want to do what I think is right.

Sometimes that's hard.

I guess no one ever said it would be easy. To follow Christ is to take up His cross, isn't that what they say? Perhaps lately I'm feeling the weight of some very little crosses of my own. They are not so serious that I must give my life for them, at least not in death. But I do give my life to them in other ways; in staying true to what I believe and making the choices I feel God has led me to.

No, it isn't easy to swim against the current. But swim on I must. And I guess the thing to remember is that I'm not swimming alone. I'm in pretty good company.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On the eve of a new homeschooling year

We are about to embark on a new homeschooling year. No, it isn't quite fall, but last spring I mapped out a rough calendar for our school year and decided to experiment a little with a slightly different schedule. Starting early will give us ample time to spread out, be flexible, and take time off. I've enjoyed having the last 8 weeks off, but I'm excited about the prospect of a new year and ready to put all the plans I've been making into action.

It occurred to me, on this eve of a new school year, that although I am rather prepared in an organizational sense - I have the books, new pencils and paper and supplies - I am sorely lacking in the more important preparation that needs to be done. There are things I'm concerned about, things that are weighing on my heart. Will I be able to handle more formal schooling for my younger son in addition to my oldest? Will our days flow the way I'd like them to, or will it be a battle to keep everyone focused? Are my expectations reasonable? Am I going to regret this?

I haven't really prayed about any of it. I've been happily researching, ordering, and pouring over curriculum and books, buying notebooks and paper and sharpening pencils. I have good ideas and good plans in the works and I think we do have a lot to look forward to. But those nagging doubts that won't seem to go away are eating away at me, making me question whether I'm doing the right thing by having them home.

I haven't prayed.

My prayer life has been less than stellar lately anyway and I don't feel good about that. So tonight, on the eve of a new school year, I am taking some time to connect with God and open my heart to Him so we can really start things off right. No amount of planning and organizing on my part is going to substitute for that. There aren't any checklists or inspirational blog posts that will help put my spirit in the right place with God. I simply need to pray.