Thursday, October 20, 2016

Acknowledging the Hard

This post is difficult to write, not because I'm nervous about how it will be received, but in the sense that my words may be construed to mean something else entirely.  I believe what I'm about to say is true, but it is not an excuse to wallow in pity or make excuses for ourselves.

We need to acknowledge the hard. 

I've admitted that life with a baby is hard, but this year has been hard in other ways, too. Buying a vehicle made finances a little tighter.  We started high school and had a bumpy start with our chosen curriculum.  In fact, we're still smoothing the bumps.  We've had to do extensive training, talking, and praying with two of the kids who have relationship issues with each other.  Another child has struggled with attitude over schoolwork. Brian has worked long hours.

I hesitate to share, even with my real-life friends. It's not necessarily pride or wanting people to see me as having it all together, but it is knowing there are people going through things far worse than what I'm going through.  And is it disloyal to my kids to say that their activities, growth, exuberance-- their very existence--  make some days difficult?   I choose this life, didn't I?

I believe it is important to acknowledge that what we are experiencing is hard.  We don't need to brush it off and paint a rosy picture for ourselves.  We need to understand that yes, this is hard.  The path I'm walking every day is not easy mentally or emotionally or physically.  Even if I've chosen it, or even if I believe it is precisely where God has placed me, it is hard

At the same time, I want to remember that hard is not the same as bad.  

"And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4 HCSB

One of my friends wrote recently about her strugges with singleness.  My mom wrote last year about the difficulties of walking the path of poor health with my dad 

God has given each of us hard things.  He says in His Word, "My grace is sufficient for you. for power is perfected in weakness."

Let's each of acknowledge our hard and then let His grace wash over us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hospitality and Community, pt. 2

I mused about imperfect hospitality about a week ago and shared how it is so easy for me to come up with a list of excuses why it would be easier or better to avoid having people into our home.  I talked about why I've decided it is important despite my shortcomings and how our family fits guests into an already full schedule.

Today I want to take a few paragraphs to address one of my biggest hang-ups:
  How am I going to feed these people? 

The food

The food itself can be a big concern when you are pinching pennies (me!) or when you don't feel like a good cook (me, again!). I've found in most instances, guests want to help contribute to the meal so no one person is responsible for the cost or the planning. We hosted lunch guests this summer and ate simple dripped beef sandwiches with potatoes and a bowl of watermelon.  One family brought tomatoes from their garden to slice and another brought a pan of brownies. 

We had friends for dinner the day my water broke with Macie, too.  (What an adventure! You can read more about that here!)  That day I made ham and poppy seed sandwiches and our friends brought a fruit salad, and we ate before I headed to the hospital!

Another time we invited over friends with small kids so each family made two pizzas with a variety of toppings.  (I have a trick or two for baking pizza at home.) We baked all the pizzas in our oven and paired pizza slices with a big salad.

At the beginning of this month, friends came for dinner on a school night so I simmered a pot of  chicken and rice soup in the afternoon and made a pan of garlic and herb flat bread (a non-dairy variation of this recipe, using olive oil). One guest brought a salad and another assembled dessert and baked it in our oven after she arrived.  

We've also hosted people and served only snack foods.  I had a ladies' game party and offered desserts.  Ben invited friends over on his birthday morning and had donuts.

I served a walking taco bar to a group of hungry kids and teenagers. 

Feeding a crowd does not have to be expensive.  I employ a few go-to recipes that I am confident taste good and I use them over and over. (There are lots of food ideas on my blog if you dig into the recipe archives.)

Setting the table

Our dining room table holds eight and there are eight of us.  Macie uses a high chair so that only leaves one extra seat at the table.  Our solution is to serve the meal buffet style from the counter.  Usually the kids claim the seats at the table (often squishing in more than eight!), and the adults eat at the living room coffee table or on their laps.  Other times we switch it up and let the adults enjoy the table.  Once we borrowed a folding table and a few chairs so all sixteen people could score a spot at the table. 

And you know what?  If none of those ideas appeal, inviting just one person to fill that one empty spot at the table is still hospitality! 

What about the plates and glasses and silverware for extra people?  I bought an inexpensive set of white plates to supplement the dishes I already have. I use mix-and-match bowls and glasses, too. Nothing is a perfect match, but it all coordinates. Sometimes it is easier to use paper plates and plastic utensils. That is more than okay. Plus it eliminates the need to wash dishes when my guests go home

It doesn't have to be about food!

I always assume that hospitality equals feeding people, but if my goal is relationship, being together is more important than what we put in our mouths.  One spring we invited three other families over to dye Easter eggs with us.

Other times we've had people over just to talk and visit, or to take a walk.

...which leads to the next topic...

Who should I invite and what do we talk about?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Macie turned 9 months old yesterday.  She has been on the outside longer than I carried her inside.(She was born over two weeks "early" so she had a head start on life!)

She is no longer a skinny baby, struggling to maintain her weight.  At her well-check today she weighed 19 pounds, 10.5 ounces.

She is a mover. She speed-crawls through the house, finding and picking up all the teensy-tiny specks on the floor.  She pulls up and cruises around furniture so not much is out of her reach. 

She loves books, but finds paper books much more fascinating than board books.  If we can draw her away from those, her favorite books have pictures of babies or animals.  I enjoy reading her books that we saved from when the older kids were babies and toddlers.

She sleeps through the night or wakes up once to cuddle and nurse. (And on a rough night, sometimes she wakes up two or three times.)

She has three teeth and two more on the way.

She loves to eat.  We've practiced baby-led weaning from the beginning so she prefers to feed herself. The only food she has turned down is turnip greens.  She loves chicken, avocado, applesauce, carrots, green beans, oranges, beef, banana, chicken and rice soup, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomatoes, eggs, Cheerios, and bread. The recommendations have changed since my older kids were babies so Macie also enjoys a thin spread of natural peanut butter. Her absolute favorites, though, are pasta with meat sauce and broccoli!

She loves the bath but doesn't like to get dressed afterwards.  She loves music.  She loves, I mean loves, the vacuum cleaner.  She loves to screech and hear her own voice. She says "ma-ma" and "bye." She waves. She has a temper and doesn't like to be told no.  She doesn't like to sit still for a diaper change. She doesn't like her car seat straps. 

She is 3/4 of the way to a year!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Notes on Hospitality and Community, pt. 1

I was all set to record my thoughts on imperfect hospitality when I logged on to my computer to see that my real-life friend, Ginger, had already expressed many similar thoughts here.   When I consider hospitality, I can come up with a list of excuses:

I have a baby.  My house is too small.  No one wants to drive to our house 15 minutes outside of town.  Our dining room table is already at capacity.  I'm not a great cook.  I don't know how to start small talk.  

Don't we all have a list of reasons why it is easier to say no to hospitality?  

The Lord has been showing me more and more the need for and the importance of relationship. I want my children to grow up knowing people, loving people, ministering to people, and simply sharing life with people.

Over several posts, I want to share what I'm learning about hospitality, not because I've got it figured out and have no insecurities, but because I am still stretching and learning myself.  

I'm going to begin with a few ideas on timing.  

Weeknight vs. weekend

I always thought entertaining was better on the weekends, but when Brian pointed out that our weekends were booked through October and partly into November,  I had to think outside of the box. In September, we had a dinner guest on a Monday evening.  After dinner, he played chess with my boys over dessert.  This week, we had three people over for soup and bread on Tuesday evening.   One friend brought a salad and another brought dessert.  After dinner, the ladies and kids chatted in the living room and played games with my kids while the men continued to talk at the table.  

I only mention the minutiae because it proved to me that we can have a regular school day, welcome people into our home, go to bed, and get back up to another regular day.  It also proved that we can eat simple food and do simple things and still have a good time because the people are more important than the details. 

Planning vs. spontaneity 

Sometime it requires advanced planning to get people in the same place at the same time.  Other times, a last minute gathering is best.  I am a planner by nature and I love penciling things onto the calendar weeks ahead of time, but at the end of the summer, my kids wanted to have a big group of friends over for a movie night.  I texted a few moms early in the week and was pleased that almost everyone was available on Saturday.  The kids played a bunch of Twister tournaments in the living room while I prepared a super-easy meal. Then they watched the movie and we sent them all outside until the party was over. It was a blast!  

10 of the 12 kids in our living room

Next up: How can I feed these people?

Do you have any thoughts on hospitality?  Share them with me!

Monday, October 3, 2016

a month of Firsts

We started our school year at the beginning of August. We do that so that we have enough days banked to give us a long winter break from Christmas through the end of January.  We do our best to keep August flexible if we need or want to take a day off.  Academics are important but so are relationships.  We want to be open to fellowship when our friends are still enjoying their summer breaks.

September, though, is the month to buckle down to our studies.  It's also the month when our activities start.  This thrills (most of) my kids. Maddie, especially, loves when her social life and academic life mix!

At the beginning of the month, Wednesday night classes at church started for the school year.  We share dinner and then break into smaller groups for an hour of missions-based classes.  This year  I am co-teaching the baby through preschool kids and I absolutely love it. 

I realized last year as I was homeschooling my own kids that I struggle with middle- and high-school learning.  Algebra and world history just don't thrill me. I find the early elementary ages-- picture books, animals, shapes, crafts-- a lot more enjoyable.  (That doesn't mean I give my older kids any less of me, but as they age out of elementary school, I miss it.)

On the first day of fall, we had the first day of gym. The air was a little warm and sticky for autumn, but there was a pleasant breeze so we walked with friends who live several blocks from the campus. Maddie reluctantly moved to an older class this year.  Alaine reluctantly stayed behind while her slightly older friends moved to new classes.  It's all about socialization for my girls!

Even though it didn't feel very fall-ish outside, we read a favorite fall book to celebrate the new season.  

Then there was the first day of book club.  Two years ago, the theme was decades.  Last year it was geographic regions. This year the girls are reading seasonal books so in September they could choose any book about school, teachers, or friends.  It was appropriate because one of Maddie's closest friends joined the club this year. 

And then last week marked their first day of homeschool choir.  Alaine, Ben, and Owen are in the "younger" choir with several of their friends, two cousins, and a smattering of kids they don't know yet.  Maddie is in the "older" choir with an aunt, several friends, and at least a dozen more potential friends.  (Gavin is choosing to sit this one out.) If the first day was any indication, they are going to learn valuable musical skills this semester, and it is going to stretch them all in the best way possible.

Happy October, everyone!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

In Which I Answer a Question About Homeschool Boredom

We invited a group of friends over after church one afternoon in August.  The after-lunch conversation turned to kids and school and the question was asked, "Do you get tired of teaching the same things to all of your kids?" 

My simple answer is I don't teach everyone the same things. Obviously they all need to learn to add and they need American history, spelling, and basic science, but there is great variation in how we achieve that learning.  It sounds selfish, but I do it for me.  I choose to teach them things I want to learn about, too, with books that look interesting to me! When we circle back around to an era in history I covered years ago with the older kids, I choose different library books to read and new ways to explore the subject.  In this way, we've covered astronomy, composers, nature study, ancient history, poetry, geography, grammar, missionary stories, hygiene, drawing, fractions. cooking, typing, creative writing, sewing, and the list goes on.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know we read a lot. One of my favorite things we're doing this year is purposing to read 10 minutes a day for fun.  This doesn't include what we're reading for history,  Bible study or our own personal reading.  This special 10 minutes is my chance to share a book I want to read with my kids... just because.  I don't have to finish a chapter each session and I don't have to read seven days a week, but I can almost always eek out 10 minutes.  Right now we're working our way through Little House on the Prairie and plan to keep going until we finish the series.  Do you know I've never read past the third book with any of my kids?! 

Learning is a lifelong pursuit so why not make it a pleasure for everyone-- including, maybe especially, the teacher? 

Whether you homeschool or not, do you get tired of teaching your kids the same things over and over?

How do you choose what to teach?

What are some things you want to learn with your children?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Reading For Writing and 'Rithmetic

Some weeks are jam-packed with planned activities and you wonder how you will find time to breathe, let alone fit in a decent amount of school work.  This was supposed to be one of those weeks for us, but then one full afternoon of activities was cancelled, and the relentless rain drove Brian home from work for two-and-a-half days so our week was more peaceful than anticipated.  

Some weeks it is easier to lower expectations anyway and be unconventional.  Games of Monopoly, decorating for fall, baking, trying a new soup recipe, and sorting fall clothes count as practical learning, right?

Yes, we did keep up with algebra and science, but we also read these picture books and called it school!


Math Curse by Jon Scieszka I picked up especially for Gavin who loves to say that math is something he will never use again.  Okay.  Granted, he may never use some of the more abstract concepts of algebra or trigonometry, but this book was a fun way to emphasize how much we use math every day. 


Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park was loads of fun for me, an person who loves words and grammar. It was fun to see my kids "get" the puns on each page.  For example, "kids kid"... as in, goats teasing each other and "slugs slug" in, slugs in a boxing match!  There are little notes on each page with definitions of words a child may not know. 


Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt is  about a boy who meets Vincent Van Gogh.  It is fictional and told in story form, but biographical details are sprinkled throughout, and reflections of Van Gogh's paintings and style of work can be found in the illustrations.  


Six Dots by Jen Bryant focuses on the childhood of Louis Braille, recounting the injury that caused his blindness. It follows him through school and  how he was inspired to create the Braille alphabet. My children have always been especially fascinated by picture books that tell a true story!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Get Out of a Reading Rut

A friend and I were discussing online how we had both fallen into a deep reading rut.  She was asking for book suggestions and I was telling her how I had nothing to offer because I had read very little lately and the books I had read were not thrilling me.  I was dragging through short books and returning books to the library unread. 

I turned to another (in-real-life) friend.  She is my go-to book friend.  We have similar taste, and she reads far more and more quickly than I do so she always has a book (or five!) to suggest. This is what she said: "My last rut, I just read a bunch of middle reader books, but it worked."  

I took her words to heart and got a few books from the library.  I started with Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.  After reading that, my friend told me to try Wonder by R. J. Polacio, a book in a similar vein. Both books are the stories of children with physical difficulties who must navigate the social world of school and life and also what it means to be different than what everyone else calls normal.  I love books that are well-crafted stories but also appropriate to discuss and pass on my pre-teens.

What makes this even more fun is that Wonder is being made into movie (April 2017).  A local group of friends got together earlier this month to watch another book-to-movie adaptation and I'm hoping even more of us can watch this one, too, maybe with our kids.

Right now I need books that are easy to begin and continue, even if I can only read in short bursts. These are a few of my other middle grade favorites: 

The Wednesday Wars and its companion (not sequel) Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt take place in the late 60s during the Vietnam era. Each follow a different young boy as he lives through a year of school, friends, and the emotional heartbreak of growing up.  I absolutely loved both of these books, so much that I would list them among my favorite books of all time.  These are not just stories for children. 

A Long Way From Chicago and  A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck are a different sort of book. They each are written more like a series of short stories. Set during the Depression era, A Long Way From Chicago comes first and recounts a string of summers when Joey and his sister, Mary Alice, leave the city to spend the summer with their Grandmother Dowdel who is quite a colorful character. A Year Down Yondera Newbery winner, focuses on Mary Alice, now fifteen.  Joey is grown up, and is sent to spend an entire year by herself with her grandmother. 

Do you read middle grade fiction or do you leave that to your kids?

What are some good ones you (or they) have read lately? 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Art Class

{This post contains affiliate links.}

My yearly post, giving the run-down of our curriculum choices may not happen this time, but I do want to share a few snippets.  I gave my thoughts on high school science last week. and now I want to discuss art.  

Some years we've chosen to focus more on art than other years.  Some years we've done a picture study of fine art.  (Go here to see how we did that for free!)  Other years we did crafts and hands-on projects.  This year it is a little of both.

Gavin (9th grade) is studying art history.  We are using Short Lessons in Art History and the accompanying book of exercises and activities.  (I bought both books used on Amazon.)  Since we are studying the modern era in history this year, we decided it would be meaningful to study the more modern era of art, too, so we began midway through the book with Monet.  Our first weeks of art history were rocky as Gavin enjoys the art part far more than the history part, but we soldiered through and he is learning to make this course his own.  He can't skip the history part but once he finishes the reading which he finds dull, he can spend as much time as he likes on the art projects.  

Maddie (7th grade) and Owen (5th grade) are using Draw and Write Through History: The 20th Century.  The book is divided into chapters, each with topics that closely mirror what we had already planned to study in our study of modern history.  Tuesday is art day and they work on their drawings a little each week, turning in a final product on the last week of the month.

In August, they both drew the Titanic, and this month they are working on Antarctic animals that Shackleton may have seen on his expeditions. 

Ben (3rd grade) and Alaine (1st grade) are taking online art "lessons" at  The Art Club Online.  They just finished a series of lessons on drawing faces.   They have inspired their older siblings to get in on the action, too.  This week, four kids (instead of two) gathered around the coffee table for the week's lesson. Next up is drawing animals.

How do you teach art in your homeschool?
Are you more an art-appreciator or an art-doer?
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