Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gathering Moments

The month of May was gloriously simple.  Simple meals, simple plans. Normal days at home with nowhere to go.  Trips to the library. Catching up on reading and thinking about plans for summer.

Coming on the heels of the coldest, windiest, dampest, most lingering winter I can remember, May was a throw-the-windows-open kind of month.

It brought a few simple seasonal pleasures. 

We celebrated a quiet Mother's Day with our traditional fried chicken and picnic-y spread.  We took a few pictures before dinner and lingered at the table for conversation after dinner.  I made a new dessert-- peaches and cream bundt cake-- but missed snapping a photo of that.

We completed our school year on a random Tuesday in mid-May and celebrated with pancakes for dinner. Many of our memories center around food.  Is that a good or a bad thing?!

And now that school is out, let the games begin!

We enjoyed the chance to get outside without being overly cold or overly hot!  May offered days where both a jacket and a pair of flip-flops was acceptable. By the end of next month, I fear the mild days will be replaced by heat and humidity.

During one of our jaunts in the outdoors, Owen learned to ride his bike without training wheels.

I'm waving May a reluctant good-bye.

I'm linking to my mom's monthly series, Gathering the Moments, where we reflect on the month that has passed.

Thinking About Home

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How Do You...Help Your Children Choose Books to Read?

How do you help your children choose books to read?

When I choose books to read aloud to my kids whether it is for school or for leisure, I have an advantage.  If the vocabulary is a little difficult, I can stop and explain.  If there is inappropriate content, I can skip over it.  If we all agree it is boring or odd or too long or whatever, we can decide to stop the book altogether.

When I'm helping my children choose books to read in their own free time, though, the job is tougher.  I don't have the time or desire to pre-screen every book they find at the library that interests them.  If they ask for suggestions, I will often recommend familiar authors or books from a series that we trust. The kids will also tell each other about books they have read and enjoyed.

But what a books that I know nothing about? I generally start by reading the book description on the back of the book.  If that seems okay, I'll skim a few pages and look at any artwork in the book. Sometimes I say no.  Either I don't feel comfortable with the content or I can't pick up enough clues to form an impression.  Often, though, I have to trust my kids.  I allow them to make books choices on their own, knowing that they understand our family standards and asking the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them.

How do you help your children find reading material?  On Monday, June 2,  I'm releasing the 2014 edition of my Summer Reading Guide for Families here on the blog.  Let me save you the work of  choosing books for everyone! 


My How Do You...? series is back for a few more weeks.  I'm in need of some fun ideas for topics.  What do you want to know?  Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page

In the meantime, you can browse the archived index of past topics.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dana's Valley

I read Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series about 20 years ago and I didn't like it.  That statement makes me feel incredibly old, by the way. The books were (and still are) wildly popular, but they just were not my thing.  I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction,  plus I remember thinking the stories were a tad fluffy.  Perhaps I simply got burned out with the number of books in the series. Whatever the reason, I never read anything else by Janette Oke. 

Fast forward a few years.  One of my sister's favorite authors is Janette Oke.  She included an Oke book on the first Sisters Book Challenge that I never got around to reading, and when she included another on this year's list, I knew I needed to give the author another try.

Dana's Valley by Janette Oke and her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan is the story of an average Christian family-- average income, average jobs, average kids-- who faces a tremendous trial that tests their dedication to each other and makes them question their faith in God. Saying any more about the plot will give away elements of the story.  The book is told in first person, from the perspective of one of the children, an adolescent girl.  As the story unfolds, we hear details and thoughts from several years of her life.

This is not one of those books that introduces a dilemma and has you on the edge of your seat waiting for the outcome.  It does, however, bring you back wanting to go alongside the narrator and her family as they walk their journey.

I did not find the writing light or shallow so perhaps my impression from 20 years ago was inaccurate.  The time period was modern, too, so I didn't have to get around my fear of historical fiction.  Did this book mold me into a new Janette Oke fan?  Probably not.  But the story was well-written and enjoyable. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Do You...Get Everything Done and Start School on Time?

How do you get everyone up, chores done, breakfast made, eaten, and cleaned up and still start school on time?

I love to live by a schedule.  It keeps me disciplined and it lets my kids know what's coming next on a day-to-day basis.  Our mornings follow a flow.  Brian and I get up at 6 and the kids get up at 7.  Brian eats breakfast on his drive to work, but the kids and I eat an easy breakfast before we dress or do chores.  After clean-up, we scatter to tackle our individual responsibilities.  Because each child has a set list of things to accomplish and because they have a time limit, I am free to wash the dishes, do a load of laundry, make my bed, or finalize school plans without worrying if work is being completed in the rest of the house.

As much as I love my schedule, being too rigid is a detriment to us all.  Our goal is to finish our work and begin the school day at 9, but does it happen every day? Absolutely not!

A schedule is for our benefit.  We are not slaves to the schedule.  Some days Alaine needs more of my attention in the morning or Brian goes into work late or we get a phone call or any number of things may happen.  Maybe a child didn't sleep well the night before or someone has a cold.  Whatever the reason for the delay, we simply begin school when we're able and continue to follow the flow of the day.

My How Do You...? series is back for a few more weeks.  I'm in need of some fun ideas for topics.  What do you want to know?  Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page

In the meantime, you can browse the archived index of past topics.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Signs I'm Not in My 20s Anymore

I have read that red heads don't go gray.  Instead, red heads maintain their color for much longer than blondes and brunettes before it  fades to a sandy shade and eventually turns white. So far it's proving true.  I'm almost 34 and no gray (or white!) hairs as of yet.

That being said, there are other signs I'm not in my 20s anymore.

  • I watch Jeopardy almost every night. With commercials for arthritis medication and dentures dominating the breaks, I'm guessing the audience generally skews older than 25.

  •  Brian and I used to be night owls, frequently staying up past midnight, but now we're in bed and asleep by 10:30.  I can blame it on the fact that several weeks ago we started getting up almost an hour earlier in the morning, but it still makes me feel old to want to go to bed so early.

  • My oldest child will start 7th grade in August.  How did that happen already?!

  • Given the choice, I choose staying home over going out on the weekend. Unless it means I don't have to cook. Then we can go out as long as we're back home before dark.

What about you?  Are you showing your age?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer Break?

Wednesday was the first day of our summer break.  And how did we fill our day?

We took a morning trip to the library, getting there right as they opened. 

Then we met my mom and sister and spent several hours of our afternoon on a nature walk.

The kids studies the plants and trees, growing along the water's edge.

They gazed at ducks across the pond and fed the geese.

Then we had a chocolate chip cookie picnic while the kids drew in their nature notebooks.


I guess this goes to show that summer break does not mean we stop learning, but this is what it does mean for us.

Summer means not adhering to a tight schedule.
Summer means the wading pool and the sprinkler.
Summer means sleepovers and library programs and coloring books.
Summer means Wii time. 
Summer means catching frogs.
Summer means salads, popsicles, and frozen bananas.
Summer means piles of books and more time to read. 

Often we use our summer weeks to check off a subject from our fall list.  Two years ago it was health.  Last year it was geography. This year I didn't have plans so I asked the kids if there was anything they would like to learn about.  One child asked to read more about the Vikings.  Two wanted to learn about cats-- both domestic and wild.  Another child asked to continue working through his typing program. 

What are your plans for summer?  Are you looking forward to a break from routine?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Do You...Set Bedtimes When Children Are Different Ages?

How do you juggle multiple bedtimes? 

I answered this question during the original run of this series and much of what I said remains the same, but as my kids have gotten older we've made slight changes.  (Click here to read what I said then.)

Since my 3-year-old and 5-year-old no longer nap, they are ready for bed by 7:00-7:30 pm.  They brush their teeth, get a drink of water, and sit on their beds while I make the rounds.  I usually take a few minutes to read Alaine a story, talk to her about her day, or discuss what is coming up tomorrow  She also likes me to lay out her clothes for the next day.  (She has a touch of OCD like her Mama.)  Then I move on to Ben's room. He reads aloud to me for about 5 minutes before I turn out the lights. Both kids listen to music as they fall asleep. 

My older kids (ages 7, 9, and 11) aren't ready to sleep at 7 pm, but we need quiet in the house so as not to disturb the younger two.  Since Alaine occupies the girls' room and Ben occupies the boys' room, the older kids are allowed to hang out in the master bedroom after 7.  They each read for 20 minutes and then they rotate nights choosing an audio book.  While listening, they are allowed to look at books, draw, or color, but no playing or loud talking is allowed. When they finish a disc of their audio book, they have to straighten the room and head to their own bedrooms-- usually around 9 pm.

My How Do You...? series is back for a limited time.  I'm in need of some fun ideas for topics.  What do you want to know? Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page

In the meantime, you can browse the archived index of past topics.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Etc., Etc.

This is part 6 of my Based on the Book series. First I talked about 4 books that I thought were superior to their movie counterparts.  The following week it was 2 movies that I liked better than the original books.  I also shared a few choices that were too close to call, wrote a book review, and discussed 3 books that will be made into movies this year.

Today I'm talking about 2 books that don't fit neatly into any category so far.  {All book and movie titles are Amazon affiliate links.}


I loved the Ramona series when I was in elementary school.  Ramona Quimby, Age 8was the very first chapter book I read on my own, in the summer between kindergarten and first grade. Except Ramona's Worldwhich wasn't published until 1999, I read the entire series more than once!  As a parent, I've shared the series with my kids.  We've read all the book out loud together and Owen is currently reading one by himself. 

The movie version, Ramona and Beezus, is very different from the books.  A few plot points are the same, but much of the content is new or rearranged and yet I love the movie, too.  It's one of only a handful of movies that I enjoy re-watching and it's clean enough to watch with my kids.


Until a couple of months ago, I had never read To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee.  It was on my to-read list for probably ten years, but I didn't get around to starting it until my dad told me that it was one of the best books he's ever read.  So I read it.  And loved it.  But I've never seen the movie!

Is it worth watching?  Or will it ruin an excellent book for me?


Next up in the series:  The Best of Your Comments and Tying Up Some Loose Ends

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How Do You...Keep Young Children Occupied During School Time?

How do you keep your younger children occupied while helping the older ones with their school work?

As of today, we have only five days of school left {woo-hoo!}, but Alaine won't begin kindergarten until our 2015-2016 school year so I have another year of preschool-age fun ahead of me. Alaine has always been content to stay near me during our school time.  She'll sit on my lap to listen as I read or she'll play in the living room, happily occupying herself.  She also enjoys a collection of preschool workbooks I picked up at the dollar store. However, there are moments in every school week when I need a quality independent activity to keep her hands and mind busy.

Benjamin is finishing his first year of kindergarten so his pencil work takes less than 30 minutes so it's handy to have a few activities at the ready for him, too.

Over the years, I have pulled together 12-15 busy bags that are simple enough for my little ones to do without my help and also clean up without a lot of hassle. In the second part of this year, I had to update my stash when I realized that bags that were the right fit in the fall-- matching shapes, counting, sorting buttons by color, and ordering lids by size-- had become too easy.

I chose to focus on the alphabet, letter recognition, and letter sounds.  I picked up a set of dry-erase alphabet cards at Target.  Some of the cards have the kids tracing upper case and lower case letters and some of them are about matching common objects with the letters they start with.

Another favorite is this ABC Busy Bag which also focuses on identifying beginning letter sounds. This free printable has 3 sets of cards-- upper case letters, lower case letters, and pictures. I have options when I give my kids this activity.  I can ask them to match the pictures to the lower case letters or the upper case letters.  I can also ask them to match the upper case letters to their lower case counterparts.

Around Easter, I picked up a jumbo bag of plastic Easter eggs at Walmart. I selected 26 eggs of a variety of colors and with a Sharpie, I printed an upper case letter on the top half and a lower case letter on the bottom half.  Then I separated the eggs and put all the pieces in a gallon bag. I chose to make the matching letters the same color (ex. P and p, both on green halves), but for an added challenge, you could print the letters on different colors (ex. P on blue, p on red).  (See the original busy bag idea here: Upper Case and Lower Case Matching.)

Do you have ideas for activities young children can handle independently?


My How Do You...? series is back for a limited time.  I'm in need of some fun ideas for topics.  What do you want to know? Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page

In the meantime, you can browse the archived index of past topics.

Friday, May 2, 2014

a Half Marathon Report: Details, Details

On Monday, I shared a few things that surprised me as I ran my first half-marathon last weekend.  Today I'm ready to delve into the nitty-gritty and tell you more than you'd ever want to know about my experience from way before the start and all the way beyond the finish line.

Preparation: Last fall, I began contemplating training for a race longer than a 5K.  I assumed that a 10K was my next step, but while talking with my sister-in-law, Sarah, on Thanksgiving I expressed doubt that I could increase my mileage and she said, "I know you can run a half-marathon!" It watered the seed that had been germinating in my mind.  I gave myself more time to think about it, but by Christmas, I knew that it's what I wanted to do and so in early January, I registered for a late April half-marathon.  The race I chose was not an out-and-back course.  It was a point-to-point course that went from one beach to another.

Sending in my registration made it official so I jumped into preparations. I put in many, many hours of training.  I chose a 3-day-a-week training program as a guide, and also cross-trained two days a week. I ran in sleet, snow, wind, rain, and sun.  I read books and articles about running.  I listened to podcasts from other runners. I talked to other runners.  I got up early and completed 4- and 6-mile runs before Brian ever left for work in the morning.  I put in Saturday morning hours completing long, lonely 10- and 12-mile runs. I motivated myself by saying, "I can do this for 7 more weeks (or 6 more or 5 more...)."

Goals: Having only begun running less than 18 months before and having never run a race longer than a 5K, I was hesitant to set goals that were too ambitious. I looked at several online race calculators to get an idea about a reasonable time goal for me.  I wanted to push myself, but I didn't want to set myself up for failure. Based on my previous 5K times, the calculators recommended running a pace of between 9:42-9:48 per mile which would have me running the entire 13.1 mile course in about 2 hours, 7 minutes.  Knowing that the wind blowing off the water, my inexperience, running with a crowd, or other factors could affect my goals, I decided to make my goal finish the race somewhere between 2 hours, 7 minutes and 2 hours, 10 minutes.

During my training, I heard the advice that you should also set non-time goals so I set a few of those as well: 
  • Finish the race.  
  • Run the course without stopping for any walk breaks. 
  • Maintain even or negative splits (meaning that each mile is run at approximately the same pace or faster than the one before it).

The Starting Line:The morning of the race was damp and windy.  Though the thermometer read low 50s, it felt far colder. I debated about what to wear.  I get cold easily, but I also didn't want to overheat once the sun came up.  I ended up decided on pink shorts with knee-high socks to keep my legs warm and a green and white long sleeve tech shirt that had loose sleeves so I could push them up if I got too warm. I threw on a light weight black tech pullover before I left the house, meaning to gear-check it along with my phone and have it waiting for me at the finish line.  However, when I turned in my bag, I forgot to include the shirt so I was stuck with it.  (This will come into play later in my story.)

The first thing I did when I got the starting destination was get in line for the bathroom.  I waited and waited and waited for twenty-five minutes. The longer I waited, the more nervous I got that I wouldn't get to the starting line on time. I passed the time chatting with a friend who was also running the race, and making small talk with runners around us in line.

Go!: As it turns out, I needn't have been worried about my long wait for the bathroom because the race was delayed by thirty minutes. That gave me more time for my hands to start shaking-- whether from nerves or the cold, I don't know.  

When the race finally began, the mass of people started to inch forward. We were told that there were 2751 registered racers, representing 35 states and 2 countries. (There was also a 5K that morning with over 700 runners.) The race was chip timed, meaning every runner had an electronic strip on the back of their race bib which did not start keeping time until that individual reached the starting line. It stopped calculating once he or she crossed the finish line.

The first part of the race was exhilarating.  There were so many people surrounding me that I didn't have time to think about how many miles were in front of me.  Running only a few feet away was the youngest runner of the half-marathon, a 9-year-old boy.

I had to keep my speed in check, though.  It's too easy to let the excitement of the race get the better of me and start out too fast and then burn out before the race is complete. I set my watch to beep if I started running faster than my goal pace.

Within the first mile, we faced our one and only hill, but with fresh legs, I hardly felt the incline.


By mile 3 the runners began to thin out and I started to dwell on the run ahead of me.  At this point, I turned on my iPod and focused on setting a steady pace.  At mile 4, the race course left the main road and took a 1-mile loop through a neighborhood. As I was entering the neighborhood, there were runners of all genders and ages exiting the neighborhood, almost a full mile ahead of me. Many of them were cheering for us and we cheered for them.  I love how the running community is so encouraging!

Half Way Point: A few minutes past the hour mark,  I ran by two women in the middle of a conversation. One girl said to the other, "How are you doing?" to which her friend replied, "I don't know. I'm dying out here." I looked down at my watch and saw we were at the 6.5 mile mark and thought, "Wow!  I'm halfway through!" and then I thought, "Oh, I've still got halfway to go."   In reality, though, I was still feeling great.  My legs weren't tired and my breathing was even.

That was until I looked down and saw that my shoelace had come untied. I moved over the edge and squatted down to quickly retie. It took no more than 15 seconds, but when I started running again, my legs were like lead.  It took about 5 minutes to loose that heavy feeling and get back into my groove. 

Around mile 8, I was starting to long for the finish line.  A boy on the sidelines held a sign that read "You thought this was a good idea 4 months ago."  It made me chuckle.

The Finish Line: At mile 10, I hit a wall. I didn't feel like I could go on, but stopping would leave me 3 miles from the finish line. I felt my legs slowing down and I felt cranky, but I did my best to push through the negative feelings. At mile 11, we ran onto the bridge that would take us to the finish line and my spirits buoyed.  Coming off the bridge there were spectators lining both sides of the street-- cheering, waving, and holding signs.  I loved the sign that read "Run, stranger, run!"

When my watch rolled over to the 12 mile mark, I knew I was almost there, but that last mile was hard. The course took us down the boardwalk, away from the finish line. I couldn't see the turn-around point and every step away from my destination was torture. When we finally turned and starting heading back to the finish line, it was easier mentally, but my legs were asking to be done.

Finally we rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight. I looked around for Brian who had planned to be watching from the finish line, but I couldn't spot him among the crowd. I gave a extra push (which didn't amount to much) and crossed the finishers' mat!


I made it!  I  reached the end of the road-- not just the one I had started down 2 hours previously, but the one that truly began 4 months ago.

Beyond the Finish Line: The minute I stopped running, my legs started to cramp. Members of the Coast Guard stood by the finish line handing out medals.  I immediately put mine around my neck and kept walking toward the snack tables. My first thought was that I needed water. I also took a bag of pretzels and a granola bar even though I wasn't hungry.

Moving was the only thing that helped my aching legs so I began walking around looking for Brian. When I found him, he still had his eyes on the finish line.  I startled him when I walked up behind him and touched his back.  He had missed my finish and was still waiting for me to cross. Remember how I didn't gear-check my black shirt but left it on instead? He was looking for my green and white shirt so he never saw me pass by.  As the time clock ticked farther and farther past my goal time, he started to feel disappointed for me, thinking that the race had been harder than I anticipated. Though we were both sorry he had missed my big moment, he was relieved that I was not crying back at mile 12, struggling to finish!

Evaluating My Goals: So how did I do? My goal time was to finish with a time between 2:07 and 2:10.  My official time was 2:10:04 ! According to my watch, I ran 13.22 miles (a little more than the typical 13.1) and ran it at a 9:52 minute per mile pace.

I also had three non-time goals: 

  • Finish the race Yes!
  • Run the course without stopping for any walk breaks. Unless you count that brief stop to retie my shoe, I did not stop.
  • Maintain even or negative splits (meaning that each mile is run at approximately the same or faster than the one before it) I did really well with this until I completed ten miles and then it started going downhill. The next time I run a half-marathon, I'll attempt to improve that and finish just as strongly as I began. However, I'm still pleased with how long I was able to maintain.

Afterward:  Post race, my body was tired all over. I was ravenous. I couldn't get enough to eat, and eating a snack just made me want to eat more! My leg and hip muscles were stiff and achy. My toes were sore, though the worst I suffered was a bruised toe and chipped toe nail polish.

On Sunday I was still unusually hungry. My muscles were no longer stiff but they still ached. Monday was much better and on Tuesday, I went for my first post-race run-- an easy 3 miles-- and felt wonderful. It's funny how after all the intense running of the previous months, 3 miles felt short.

Now I'm facing a few post-race blues.  For months I've had a training plan guiding me and it's hard to adjust to not having a direction or a major goal.  How often do I run? How hard?  How far? Where do I go from here?

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