five things on friday.

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1. We’re recovering from two weeks of sickness. Not the flu, thankfully, but a bad virus that we all passed around and just lingered until I finally took the kids to the doctor on Tuesday. Turns out the three oldest had sinus infections and Noah had a double-ear infection. Poor things! It was kind of miserable, because I caught it on the front end, got better for a few days, then caught it again from someone else.

Thankfully I’m healthy again, and after a few days of antibiotics the kids are much more like themselves too, although let me tell you what, dispensing different doses of antibiotics twice a day for four children is not for the faint of heart.

Now we’re all more than ready to resume our normal routines next week. I consider myself a homebody but this bout of illness made even me stir-crazy!

2. Judah and Amelie finished their first swim competition season on a great note. They worked hard and overcame some fears and their last meet at the end of January was the smoothest yet. Still a little nerve-wracking, but no tears. More smiles and more thumbs-up to their cheering section in the stands. They’re both great swimmers and I love seeing them gain some confidence.

Before the meet, David said to Judah: “You know what buddy, after your very first race when you messed up and were embarrassed and wanted to quit? You know how you came back and swam again and finished the whole meet? Well, that was the proudest I’ve ever been of you.”

Later Judah said, “When Dad says stuff like that to me, I feel like I can do anything.”

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3. All eight of our chickies are alive and growing and as cute as they can possibly be. It turns out I’m a very happy chick-owner; and I’m more surprised about that than anyone.

I put off getting animals because I thought they’ve be a nuisance; one more chore that falls to Mom. But first of all: Amie adores her girls and, along with David, does most of the feeding and watering. Of course I think it makes a big difference that they’re outdoor pets. I just cannot imagine owning an indoor pet with all these kids.

But also, I care about them a whole lot more than I expected. I love their bright, curious eyes and how they each look just a little bit different. I like that some are feisty and wild and some like to be held. I even liked scrubbing their Tupperware bin home in the sunshine on Wednesday, and then making it all cozy again with a layer of pine shavings. I try to take time every single day to walk down to the basement and hold them and talk to them and freshen up their water.

It’s simply impossible to be in a bad mood when holding a baby chick.

4. Which brings me to my next point. This morning some fun plans we had were canceled and the kids were very disappointed. We had to talk through a couple of their reactions, but Judah came back said later, “You know what, Mom, after I heard the news I went to my room to build Legos because I knew it would make me feel more calm.”

And so that launched a discussion about things we can choose to do when we’re feeling angry or frustrated to help us calm down, rather than lose our temper. I was amazed that each of the three oldest had something that they knew right away makes them feel better.

Judah: “jump on the trampoline or build Legos,” Amie: “curl up with my stuffed animals, visit the chicks”, Gabe: “build a puzzle.” We all told Noah his calming activity is to go outside and dig for bugs (and when available, fire pits are a close second). Mom: “go for a walk, hold the chickies, go to the library.”

It was such a sweet, rambling conversations, one of those that made me think, Wow, my kids are actually becoming my friends.

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5. I’m making it a goal to learn names of native South Carolina trees and shrubs. My mom and Linda are a fount of information, and when I walk with them I ask them to tell me names of things. It feels very overwhelming to begin, so I’ve decided to focus just on what’s in bloom. Then I try to write what I learned in my bullet journal so I can practice on my run or when I’m driving.

Here’s what I learned to identify (and what’s blooming!) this week:

Forsythia

Camellia

Tulip poplar

Loropetalum

Nandina

What’s blooming where you live?

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Happy Friday!



winter bookshelf for the kids (and kids-at-heart).

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Friends!! I’m so sorry this took me forever, clearly I overestimated my ability to hammer it out really quick.

I hope it’s worth the wait.

I had so much fun writing this post. Children’s books are an unending source of delight to me, and the most amazing thing is how many wonderful books I’m discovering these days that I never knew existed. I read middle grade and young adult fiction to myself for fun (books my kids may not be ready for yet), but when I find a new picture or children’s book title I like to wait to discover it with them for the first time.

C.S. Lewis said that the mark of a good children’s book is that grown-ups enjoy it too, and I whole-heartedly agree with him.

This may be controversial, but I’ll just go ahead and say it: I let my kids check character books out of the library (like Tinker Bell, Star Wars, Lego Ninjago), but I don’t read them aloud to them. They can look at the pictures, ask a sibling to read it to them, or wait ’til they can read it themselves. By now they know the rule and now don’t even ask me to anymore.

I want to spend the energy I have reading really good, well-written books to my kiddos, but I also want reading to be delightful and fun for all of us.

So because of that, I also don’t give my kids a hard time if they don’t love a book that I love. Like, for some reason, they just haven’t been fans of Robert McCloskey’s picture books, like Make Way For Ducklings, which are on every classic children’s book list I’ve ever seen. But what can I do? I try introduce lots of great books to them, and give them space to form their own opinions. If they don’t like something I’ve been known to wait several months or a year and just try it again.

My current favorite sources for kids’ book ideas are Read-Aloud Revival and Sonlight (full credit to Sonlight for helping me discover most of the chapter books on today’s list).

Here we go!

Picture books

When it comes to picture books, I’ll typically settle on an author we like and work my way through their books, getting a couple at a time. Often this involves typing the author’s name into Google to see what all they’ve written, then requesting books from the library, but sometimes I’ll just find the author at the library and flip through titles there.

The following are tried-and-true authors that ALL my kids enjoy (and me too!); they are books we have read and reread and reread again.

I’d also like to point out that this list could provide gift ideas if you want it to (see how versatile it is!?). If we’re invited to a child’s birthday party I ALWAYS give books. They’re fun for baby showers too! I still remember books that people gave us when Judah was born. Do the recipient a favor, pretty please, and write the date and a message inside. It’s such a fun treat for them to discover when they learn to read for themselves.

Sandra Boynton

Thank you to our family: Pat, Cathy, and Annie for getting us hooked on Sandra Boynton when Judah was a toddler! These are family favorite board books and all these years later, we own most of them and still read them together. Blue Hat, Green Hat is the book that all four kids delightedly learned to “read” first, and it’s their favorite. We’ve also completely memorized Pajama Time! and Hey! Wake Up! Please just do yourself a favor and read them all.

 

Mo Willems

If you are down and need a pick-me-up, look no further than Elephant and Piggie. Their friendship reminds us that life is sweet and should not be taken too seriously, and that laughter is the best medicine. We own several of them but also always have one in our stack out from the library. They’re Gabe’s current favorites, and I tell him that Waiting Is Not Easy is the book we read over and over to comfort ourselves when we were waiting for him and Noah to come into our lives. It still makes me cry to this day (and is a great gift for any adoptive parent).

The Knuffle Bunny series by Mo Willems is a little lesser known but just as brilliant as Elephant and Piggie. These three books are ones the grown-ups especially love.

Finally, City Dog, Country Frog, is a hidden Mo Willems gem in my opinion. It’s a little more serious than his other books, but a beautiful, touching story.

 

Shirley Hughes

I stumbled upon Shirley Hughes on a website once, and couldn’t believe we’d never heard of this lovely English author! You’ll enjoy her artwork just as much as her writing. We’ve almost completely worked our way through her books, and there’s lots of them (don’t you just love prolific authors?). Start with the Alfie and Annie Rose series. The Tales of Trotter Street  series is a favorite of ours too.

 

Jonathan Bean

I discovered Jonathan Bean on a Read-Aloud Revival podcast episode and love, love his books and illustrations. I’ve been buying them over time because they’re the kind of books I want to share with my grandkids one day. His stories Building Our House and This Is My Home, This Is My School, are from his childhood (he includes family photographs in the back!). It’s so fun for our kids to have a picture book that’s about a homeschooling family. We love Big Snow and At Night too.

 

Jane O’Connor

These are hands-down Amie’s favorite books. She never gets tired of them, and heads straight for the Fancy Nancy books when we arrive at the library. I enjoy them because Nancy is, well, fancy, and her mom is plain, and somehow they find ways to meet in the middle. Sounds like another mother-daughter relationship I know of!

 

Rosemary Wells

Rosemary Wells is so fun! Yoko is story about a cat who brings sushi to school for lunch, and her classmates’ response. We have Noisy Nora in our stack now, and the Max books are sweet too.

 

Kevin Henkes

Our favorite is A Weekend With Wendell. We also love Owen, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. I’ve never met a Kevin Henkes book I didn’t enjoy! But they check out like hot potatoes in our library, so I usually have to get online and request them.

 

Henry and Pawl and the Round Yellow Ball, Mary GrandPre, Tom Casmer

This isn’t a series but is a sweet story of a boy who wants to be an artist. It was given to us when Judah was born and has been a favorite for a long time (Which delightful person gave this to us!? How I wish I could remember. If it was you, please speak up! See, there’s a good reason for you to write a note in the books you gift). I think I read it twice a day to Judah for a good long stretch. It has the added delight for him now of being written by the illustrator of the Harry Potter series.

 

Jaqueline Woodson

Jaqueline Woodson’s children’s books are thoughtful and compassionate.  Her stories touch on race, poverty, incarceration, and foster care in age-appropriate ways. I first found this book after our adoption and it helped me understand what my boys were feeling just a little better.

 

Chapter books

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

This is aching yet heart-warming story about a young boy with a facial deformity named August, and his transition from being homeschooled to attending middle school. It’s a beautiful example of the power of story to take us outside ourselves and allow us to walk in other people’s shoes. I don’t typically like books written from multiple points of view, but the effect was powerful in this case. Everyone can find themselves in the pages of this novel, which I’d say is for older elementary students or middle schoolers (and high schoolers! and grown ups!). I plan to have my kids read it in fourth or fifth grade, and I look forward to discussing it with them.

 

The Family Under the Bridge, Natalie Savage Carlson

This story about a homeless family and the stranger they meet takes place in Paris, and my kids immediately recognized the illustrator from the Little House on the Prairie books. I could see in their eyes that it was the first time poverty became personal to them, and we enjoyed this sweet story and also had lots to talk about.

 

Here’s a Penny, Carolyn Haywood

The adventures and misadventures of a young, adopted boy named Penny, set in the 1940’s. We thoroughly enjoyed this story (especially the ending), and it’s sequel.

 

The Princess and the Goblin, George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin was a favorite from my childhood; last month my mom gave me the beautifully illustrated copy we’ve had in our family for years, and it was our December school read aloud. This is a fantastic, fast-paced story for both boys and girls; even Gabe, who’s known to get bored of chapter books, was swept up (because I mean: goblins!!!).

 

The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes

This is a book for every young girl’s bookshelf. It’s about poverty and gossip and cliques. I want to reread it with Amie as she grows up.

 

Adventures with Waffles, Maria Parr

This was a bedtime read for Judah, Amie, and me this winter. Set in Norway, it’s about best friends Trille and Lena, who find themselves in one catastrophe after another. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and also had me choked up a couple of times. Judah loved it so much he chose to talk about it in a school presentation.

 

In Grandma’s Attic, Arleta Richardson

It made me so happy that my kids enjoy this series as much as I did as a little girl. In some ways reminiscent of the Little House books, it’s full of funny stories of a girl growing up on a farm.

 

No Children, No Pets, Marion Holland

Judah, Amie, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story of a single mom and her kids who inherit a ramshackle hotel in Florida.

 

Father and I Were Ranchers, Ralph Moody

We just finished this true story about a family who moves to a cattle ranch in the early 1900’s for our kid’s book club. Our kids have gotten hours of imaginative play ideas from it. A couple warnings: it has a sad ending, and there’s some “cowboy language” you’ll want to skip over, but other than that it was just about perfect. Little Britches is a whole series, and Judah’s just now starting the second book, Man of the Family. I want to read it too!

 

Finally, if you’re looking for more chapter books, especially for boys, here are:

Judah’s recommendations (age 9)

Captain Nobody, Dean Pitchford

Homer Price, Robert McCloskey

The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

The Wingfeather Saga series, Andrew Peterson

 

I already have enough picture books/authors for another post, so I’ll write you another in awhile (with my track record, better plan on it being a long while). In the meantime, you know I always love recommendations!

Even if you don’t have kids, may I suggest making time for children’s books? Go sit yourself in the kids’ section of the library and pull a few off the shelf. The great ones never, ever fail to move me and lift my spirits.

Happy reading!

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a birthday post.

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Hi friends!

Yesterday was my 35th birthday! Can you believe it!? It feels like a sort of milestone. I’m halfway to 70!

I’m really not one to be sentimental about my kids getting older (I love older kids!), but yesterday I had a sort of earth-shaking revelation: I’m 35. Judah is 9 1/2. That means I’ve lived exactly one half of the life I have with him at home, before he spreads his wings and flies away.

A few moments of heart-thumping panic, and then I moved on.

Here’s to seizing the next nine years with my boy and choosing not to be consumed by guilt!

Here’s to having lived one-third of my life married to David!

Here’s to barrelling full ahead to 40!

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I always like to know how people enjoy celebrating their birthdays, so I’ve decided to tell you how I celebrated mine.

The kids and I made an executive decision this year that everyone gets their birthday off school, including Mom. So I planned the school calendar accordingly.

I know it’s not possible for everyone, but if you get the chance, it’s fun to take the day off on your birthday!

David offered to pick up breakfast treats from a bakery, but I knew in the end we’d all prefer cinnamon rolls, so I whipped up a batch Monday afternoon.

I planned to sleep in, but popped awake at 6:30 and was happy for a chance to sit with a cup of coffee and my Bible before the kids woke up.

At breakfast time, we gathered for cinnamon rolls, and I got to open my cards and gifts.

David and the kids gave me Little Dorrit in hardcover and dark chocolate, a garlic press, and a gift card to the Nickelodeon theater downtown to see La La Land (David’s love for me does not quite extend to musicals, but he’s more than happy to send me with my mom).

I got birthday money from family, which I’ll use for books and to go shoe-shopping with my brother tomorrow. Hooray!

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This year each of the kids made me something special:

“A picture of Daddy on the trampoline” from Gabe

A “light saber” from Noah

Two friendship bracelets and a card from Amie

A bookmark for my new book from Judah that says “Julia for President”

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Even better than those sweet gifts is the shower of cuddles and hugs I got all morning from my two littlest boys, who weren’t doling those out so freely this time last year.

After breakfast, David and I needed to sit and have a conversation about our school path in the fall, because if you can believe it, open enrollment practically everywhere is now.

Like a total nerd, I made a huge pros/cons list in my bullet journal, and after processing it all, we unanimously agreed to keep on the exact same path for next year: Classical Conversations homeschooling.

Homeschooling makes me tired, but it is a good, worth-it kind of tired. I’m so thankful for all well it still suits all four kiddos.

It’s good to have that decision behind us, pay next year’s deposit, and move on with life!

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We played a few rounds of our current favorite game: Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and then David headed in to work. The little kids went outside and Judah and I settled in for a game of Battleship, sharing a box of Kleenex.

Several of us have a virus this week, so I was thankful for this very lazy morning at home, and turned on Sid the Science Kid for an hour before lunch so I could sit in the sunlight on the back porch with my new book.

It’s no fun being sick on your birthday, but here’s what is fun: a 70-degree day, eight growing chickies in our basement, and the two rows of onions David planted this week.

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The other sad part of the day was Noah’s 4-year-old doctor well visit at 3:30. We dropped Gabe and Amelie at Mum-Mum’s and headed to our pediatrician in West Columbia (Judah came along for moral support). We love our doctor, but if you’ve had a four-year-old, you know that this particular check-up is just the worst because: a finger prick and four shots.

I fortified myself beforehand by stopping at the Starbucks drive-through for a tall Cascara latte (have you tried it? It is divine).

Speaking of dessert, we have a tradition of stopping for a mini milkshake from Sonic after shots, which I remind my kids of beforehand, but Noah was still a little sad. My three older kids would’ve been crying from start to finish of the check-up, but he was very mature in his sorrow, just hung his head and looked depressed in a very 12-year-old way. The wailing started when the shots started though.

Poor buddy. Does anyone else get choked up when their kids get shots?

But we did it!

A trip to the Prize Box and a milkshake was very comforting.

That was my last four-year-old check up.

Sweet Noah is in the 19th percentile for height and the 6th for weight: the little guy of the family. We think he’s pretty darn cute!!

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We had plans to go out for sushi to this wonderful hole-in-the-wall place downtown that makes tiny California rolls for kids, but since several of us are sick, we’ll save it for another time.

My parents stopped by after work with homemade chicken noodle soup (made-from-scratch noodles!!!), and it felt good to just hole up all evening and go to bed early. I think you become quite boring when you’re 35.

David and I watched the first episode of the BBC show Sherlock, and enjoyed it but probably won’t continue with the series. I can’t explain why, it’s just the way we are. The only series we’ve ever completely finished is The Wire, and we came pretty close with The Office but fizzled out, and that was years ago. If you’re wondering about me, here are the series I’ve finished: Parks and Rec (two times at least), Parenthood, and Call the Midwife.

Anyway.

I’m excited about Little Dorrit!

Word to the wise: if you’re going to tackle a big long classic novel, try to find a nice hardcover edition. It sounds shallow I know, but it truly changes everything. And I love having my very own copy to underline!

I loved this birthday: thanks to everyone for loving me and making me feel special.

It’s good to be alive!

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our additions.

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Notice I said additions, not addition. I don’t have house addition news quite yet, but we got a few other additions in the meantime.

Eight, to be exact.

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David has been wanting chickens literally since the summer we moved back from India. That’s when he developed an enthusiasm for having a backyard homestead. He decided bee-keeping may be a bit ambitious, but built our garden the month we bought our house (number one priority). The time hasn’t been quite right for chickens (number two priority).

Thankfully David’s parents, Steve and Linda, moved from Pennsylvania into our neighborhood two years ago and got chickens soon after. We lived vicariously through them for awhile, got to help out with the chores, and loved being out in their “living back yard.”

The chickens provided a source of endless entertainment for our three youngest, animal-loving kids, especially Amie. The chickens were Mum-Mum’s girls, but I think they were also her girls.

Last and best of all, we got free eggs, and they were delicious.

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Steve and Linda decided to give away their chickens for a few reasons this winter, and we were all disappointed, but Amie cried and cried.

In the weeks since, we’ve been surprised by how much we really miss having them around, and we miss their eggs.

It seems the time is finally right.

And so here we are, today, with eight two-day old chicks, who will live in our basement for a few weeks until they’re old enough to move to a coop (which David will build). We are all enamored.

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Everyone will get to name one when they’re older and we figure out their gender (any roosters have to go away because of the city regulations). We will all learn how to help take care of them. I can’t wait to teach them to eat slugs, which are prolific in our yard in warm weather. Ugh.

Amie told us, “This is the best day in my whole universe. I’m begging God not to let any of them die. Can I sleep with them tonight?”

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P.S. I know I’m running late, but I’m just about finished with my children’s bookshelf post! Happy Friday!!



a new way to spend tuesday afternoons.

On Tuesdays at 1:00, my mother-in-law, Linda, comes over to sit with my kids. She reads or works while they have their afternoon room time until 3:00, then walks them two streets over to her house to play until 5:00.

Tuesday afternoons are one of God’s gifts to me in this season. For the past six months I have exercised, gone to counseling appointments, scheduled my trip to the dentist, and run errands in a blessedly quiet van.

My counselor is so great that she works herself out of a job; currently I’m seeing her once a month, which leaves many Tuesdays wide open. I guess ideally I would use those afternoons to write, but like I shared with you, recent attempts to do this have me sitting in Starbucks, drinking tea and staring blankly at my computer screen. Or even worse, browsing Pinterest and Apartment Therapy for two hours.

So this month I’m trying something different.

This week, before Linda arrived, Amelie and I scrambled to load up my purse with a stack of white paper, kids’ scissors, and scraps of dollar store stickers, then when she got here, we set out to visit our friends.

If we drive downtown south down Huger Street, we can hang a right on Taylor and find ourselves in West Columbia. Just eight minutes or so from our house, before you hit the string of restaurants and Lexington hospital on Sunset Blvd, tucked into a side street, is an apartment complex.

Our new friends from Afghanistan live there. God plopped them into our lives, literally out of the blue, last month. A friend at church spends a lot of time with refugees, and met a couple of families. One family was looking for an English conversation partner for the mom/wife, and the other some after-school tutoring for their sons.

David passed along the email and asked, “Should we meet them?” And I said “Yes!”

You may remember my New Year’s resolution of making friends with people different from me.

I had that growing feeling inside of me but looked around at my daily life and said, “Lord, can you help me with this? I don’t know where to start.”

And so David responded to our friend, and one of the Afghani families immediately invited us for dinner. All six of us.

This did not surprise us one bit. In our time spent in other countries, we’ve been enveloped by the goodness of cultures far more hospitable than our own. It has soaked into our very bones and changed us from the inside out.

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So Amelie and I pulled up to Shafiqa’s apartment on Tuesday and knocked on the sliding glass door and kicked off our flip flops as she opened it wide, beaming. She pulled us into big hugs and urged us inside. Her four-year-old daughter Ranna hopped around with glee and laced orange-coated fingers with ours to come see the big pail of cheese puffs she’d gotten into.

Shafiqa is expecting her fourth child this spring. She stays home with Ranna during the day while her husband goes to work and her two elementary-aged sons take the bus to and from school. And so her life is motherhood and laundry and cooking and boisterous children, just like mine.

Her apartment has no furniture, save a small TV stand in the corner, and a little round kitchen table. There are low cushions on the floor against the wall, which enchanted all of my children when we went over for the first time. What delighted the kids even more was the big vinyl tablecloth Shafiqa spread on the floor at dinner time, which we all gathered around, sitting cross-legged.

The plan is for me to visit Shafiqa most Tuesday afternoons for an hour and a half or so to practice her English. I text to make sure it’s good for her (it always is) or to let her know if I can’t come. Her English is limited, so I’m gathering ideas on the fly of what she wants to learn and what to focus on first. I neurotically pull out my bullet journal to record ideas, which makes her laugh.

I’m  discovering that she is an ardent student. This week we sat on the floor together and worked on English phrases (basic greetings) and some vocabulary for an hour. It’s slow going, mostly because we can’t understand one another. I downloaded an English-Pashtu app on my phone and attempted to translate sentences for her. That’s when I learned that she can’t actually read Pashtu.

She told me that in Afghanistan she was not allowed to go to school. She told me, in short words and mostly with hand motions, what the Taliban does to girls in her village who try to attend school, how glad she was to leave, to bring her children to a land where they can read and write and be free.

And then I had to somehow turn and explain to curious Amelie what all of this means.

Suddenly I understood everything, and said, “Shafiqa! Do you want to learn to read English?” and she said, “Yes!”

I said, “And then if you learn to read you can drive!” and she said, “Yes, yes!”

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You know what? There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I can teach someone to read!

Not only can I do that thing, but I enjoy doing it!

Now it’s crystal-clear in my mind. We will read and we will speak.

Mostly, I think, we will become friends. I can’t wait for next week.

You know what my seven-year-old was doing this whole time? Entertaining Ranna, making crafts with stickers, chatting, asking Shafiqa how to write her name in Pashtu. My beautiful girl, who not two hours before was sitting, crying over letters and numbers that get mixed up and turned around in her head, was just beaming and happy.

After our lesson, Shafiqa jumped up and served us fresh-made Pakoras with mint chutney. She loves that we lived in Bangalore, loved seeing photos of me in a sari and salweer kameez. Shafiqa learned Hindi by watching Bollywood movies. Her mother has spent time in India, and Shafiqa wears Indian clothing, with a simple scarf over her hair. Much like the Muslims in our Bangalore neighborhood.

She knows that I love Indian food, and so she makes it for me when I come over. Amelie, who cut her teeth on spicy masala dosa and sambar dal, gobbles it up too. She says, “Mom, I remember this Indian food!”

Too soon, the boys traipse in from school and ask in perfect English where my other kids are, why I didn’t bring them over, when they can come play at my house. We chat and Amie and I pack up and say our good-byes and promise to come next week. Then we run our errands together: Wal-Mart for an air-conditioning filter, and Grease Monkey for an oil change, with a quick, necessary stop at Dunkin’ Donuts of course. We have fun together, just the two of us.

You know that I’ve been in a bit of a tired slump lately.

I thought that what I needed was more alone time, but when I had those hours I didn’t always use them well. Sure I’d go for a run, but I’d also sit staring blankly at Starbucks, or drive to Target and Michael’s craft store to spend money I don’t need to spend. I’d coming home from my afternoons out tired and listless, not wanting to face my family and my chores.

Suddenly, like a light bulb, I realize that I don’t need more alone time.

What I need is to find the thing God wants me to do, something which will make me come alive, and do it.

In the past few months, my counselor has talked a lot to me about motivation.

She said, “Julie, commitments and relationships aren’t good or bad in and of themselves. What you need to start asking yourself is, ‘What is my motivation for doing this thing — or seeing this person?'”

We get ourselves into trouble by doing good things with bad motivation: because we feel guilty, maybe, or to impress people, or simply because we feel like we “should” do it. She asked, “How many of those things do have in your life right now? What needs to change?”

Sometimes we can have a great motivation, but it’s just plain bad timing. In this season, at least.

In another season, it may be the perfect thing.

And so, that is the long and short of how I came to spend Tuesday afternoons sitting on the carpet with my friend Shafiqa using exaggerated hand motions and short phrases and laughing a lot, and leaving her apartment with a spring in my step.

Now I want to bring one or two of my kids every single time. She adores them, and the feeling is mutual. I want so badly for them to find the joy I’ve found in making friends with people who are different from us; even if we live right here in Columbia, South Carolina, rather than in overseas. They are already doing it.

Maybe I don’t need to escape my children on Tuesdays so much as find something I’m passionate about, and bring them along.

And of course wonderful Linda says to me, “No matter how long it takes, drop them off at my place and go for your run at the end of the afternoon: I’ll just let them dig in the dirt a little longer.”

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noah is four!!

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Dear Noah,

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated your fourth birthday and discovered you have grown two whole inches since we adopted you.

When you came into our lives 20 months ago, you were simultaneously the most charming child we’d ever met, and you were angry and out of control. You constantly stopped strangers in delight just by your smile and your zest for life. But you also grabbed other kids’ toys and threw them in the trash out of spite. You hit your grandparents if they didn’t give you what you wanted. You knew very few words, but “no” was one of them.

You had a smile that lit up the whole room, but you wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes.

You and your brother Gabe hardly acknowledged one another’s existence.

Every.single.thing. was a battle. You were frustrated. We were frustrated.

You had the fiercest will of all our kids and tested every limit. Again and again and again.

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And yet. Your thick black eyelashes and ambling run, your gentleness with babies and animals, your exuberance over bugs and rocks and “snow-cones” (pine cones) melted our hearts. You could outlast your three older siblings on a hike (except when you didn’t want to hike. then you became a load of bricks). You made our whole family get outside and your enthusiasm for God’s great big world taught us how to live in wonder.

And then, little by little, you learned to obey. You began to stop hitting and stop grabbing (or grab less at least). You learned to come the first time we called, but you sure stomped those feet. You still argued with just about everything we said.

We kept at the discipline through your bad attitudes because we love you so much and we wanted to see the real you, the Noah that God created. We knew — through life’s many painful lessons — that living for yourself is a prison, and it’s only through obedience that you’re set free.

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Today you are four and I stare at you because you’re a different child.

The transformation has been in fits and starts, two steps forward and one back. Until lately. Nowadays it seems way more “starts” than “fits.” Not only do you obey, but more and more you obey the first time, with respect. The stomping and temper is giving way to wreaths of smiles and shrieks of laughter.

You still test the limits. You still have to learn to obey. But we also want to guard that fierce stubbornness that, when channeled properly, will get you far in life. You are so very loyal to the people you love. You’re compassionate and empathetic, patting your sister gently if she’s crying and saying, “I’m sorry, sweetie.”

Where at first there was indifference or just neediness, you now throw yourself at your Dad and me for hugs. You tell us you love us, words I at times honestly despaired of ever hearing from you.

You say “please” and “thank you.”

Where there was once sulking at family worship, your heart is now becoming tender toward Jesus. You say, “Mommy, Jesus gave me a clean heart.”

Last week we drove to the library and you said, “Where’s my Daddy? I want him to come too because I love him.”

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The best way I know to describe you today, at four years old, is this story from the little family birthday party we had for you and Papa on Saturday. You opened your gifts and we discovered that your grandparents and cousins accidentally gave you the exact same toy.

As you tore the wrapping paper off the second gift you said, “Oh wow! Here Gabe, this is for you!”

That’s just the kind of person you are.

We love you so much, Noah.

Love,

Mommy and Daddy

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homeschooling littles using charlotte mason.

Happy Monday, my friends!

Can you believe we made it to Christmas week!?

Today I want to answer another question from my recent homeschooling q and a series. I thought I’d separate it from the series, because I think there are some lovely quality-time ideas in here for any parent (or grandparent! or babysitter!) of littles, whether or not you homeschool.

Perhaps your child does part-time preschool and you’re looking for some ideas for the remaining days. Or maybe you’re thinking ahead to those long stretches of boiling hot summer days and what you’ll do with all that free time. Or you’re a nanny and would like to give your mornings a little more structure.

I’m inspired every single time I talk to my friend Annie about parenthood, so I asked her to tell us about how she discovered the Charlotte Mason model of homeschooling, which is a good bit different than the way I homeschool, and how that looks practically in her home with a five-year-old, three-year-old, and one-year-old. I enjoy learning from her!

Welcome, Annie!

So let me begin by saying that I feel honored and a little intimidated to be writing this post on the Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling. I am a new homeschool mom of my 5 and 3 year old daughters with a 19 month old son participating when he wants to.

I feel our homeschooling journey began blooming in my heart two years ago when my oldest daughter was just 3 years old. For some reason or another, I’d ordered a book by Clay and Sally Clarkson called Educating the Wholehearted Child. This book opened up a world of new thinking surrounding homeschooling that I didn’t know was possible.

So often I think that homeschool families try to literally bring a school classroom into their houses when I feel the beauty of educating at home is the freedom to be a family with a one-piece life … where your days and rhythms flow and change in the way you desire them to.In the Clarkson book, the Charlotte Mason way was delved into quite a bit…so being the “research lover” that I am, I got all the books I could about her and started reading.

I fell in love. To put it simply, the foundation of the method is built on Charlotte’s firm belief that each child is a person, and their education is an “atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

So many things about this method tugged at my heart. Charlotte Mason used living books rather than textbooks so that the things being learned were stories that came alive in the child’s imagination, creating an excitement and passion in them, rather than just a list of facts to be memorized or recounted.

I have seen this spark so much love for learning in my small kids. They connect, get excited and remember all kinds of wonderful things when they are in the form of a story!

We begin each day with our morning time crate/basket which includes a hymn we are learning, Scripture memory, poetry, a devotional (currently using Sally Lloyd-Jones Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing), a reading of a portion of Scripture and a read-a-loud (currently Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods).

Then we go on with our morning with our other “subjects” including history, math, reading, and science.

I feel the heartbeat of the Charlotte Mason way is in narration. This takes the place of traditional tests and worksheets … which I love. I use this in a small way (she doesn’t recommend children so small to do full narration) by asking my girls to retell whatever I have just read. So simple yet so profoundly impactful in their comprehension.

When they are older, a mix of written and oral narration will be included in our days. I also use something I call Writing Projects and this can be used for any subject. It ties in art, handwriting, narration and comprehension all into a neat little package. We read/learn something and I ask the girls to boil it down to one sentence (for Zoe, 5) and a couple of words (for Violet, 3). I write the words perfectly for them and they copy them and then illustrate what they have written using different types of art media.  Their favorites are oil pastels.

Another part of our days is handwriting. Charlotte taught this by using passages from books. I am using a resource from Simply Charlotte Mason for each of my girls. This is one of their favorite things to do each day, which I did not expect!

Our science time happens in the form of what Charlotte Mason called “nature study.”  We get outside and interact with creation and then learn about what the kids observe. We have nature journals and handbooks to look up what we have seen.

It’s a beautiful thing!!

When it is cold and rainy (or really just added onto any day because my girls love science) we read books about animals or flowers or space or the body and they learn so much!  Zoe loves encyclopedias and maps…so we embrace that and just read them!

Something that my girls look forward to each week is our artist and composer studies.  We look at a different one every 5 or 6 weeks and just discover their art or music together.  They are being exposed to beauty that will make a difference in how they view the world.

It is a common saying in the Charlotte Mason community that Charlotte wanted to spread a feast of ideas from vast array of sources.  We dabble in History and Shakespeare and poetry, daily habits and math, hymn study and Bible reading, reading lessons and reading aloud.

One reason I love Charlotte Mason’s teaching is her ability to take all of the disjointed subject of “school” and weave them into actual life. No more asking the question “When will I ever use this?” or “Why are we learning this?” It will make sense because it is a natural part of our days…it is in the flow of our life and in the fabric of our hearts.

We are learning because we love to do it, not because we have to.

I feel like I could write on forever about all of this and I know I have left out so much … but that is a very basic overview of how I use the Charlotte Mason Method in my days with young kids.

What has impacted me more than anything is the time spent cuddled up reading or enjoying beautiful art or poetry or music with my little ones. It is a beautiful, slow, steady life. One where they know the rhythms of our days and they can rest in that.

A lot of people ask what I do with my son while we are doing school … and the answer is … let him join!!! One of the best parts of homeschooling is letting my kids do life together! It is a little loud and messy at times, but it is good. Usually Jude is asleep for our morning time but is awake for the reading and other subjects … but he has just learned to listen or play or color and just do life right alongside us.

One of the things I want my kids to know is that learning is a life, not a worksheet or test with a perfect score on it.

As my husband and I talked about homeschooling, something that we agreed on was that we didn’t want our children to be known only as “smart” or “studious” or as a “straight A student”…we wanted them to be known as kind and loving and humble…always ready to help and care for others.

We are raising children who will one day be adults and we want them to have rhythms and routines formed that set them up for success, not of an “American Dream” kind…but success of heart and humility before their Creator.

That is our goal, and in my opinion for my family, the Charlotte Mason Method has been such an invaluable resource.

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swim team and adversity.

Our big kids had their second swim meet this weekend.

It went really well, both of them improved on their times from their first meet, and Judah swam two new events.

But this competition experience is challenging me in a new way as a parent. All four kids for the most part enjoy their swim practices. They like their friends and their coaches and have gained confidence in learning new skills.

But truthfully, the meets have been hard for Judah and Amelie. They are really, really intense experiences: noisy and crowded and competitive. David and I aren’t allowed to be on the pool deck with them, so we drop them off at the door into a sea of coaches and children, armed with bags of towels, swim caps, goggles and snacks, and they spend the day with their coaches and team. They have some help, but still need to remember where to line up and what heat they’re swimming in, what the whistles mean, when to start and when to end the race. They’re surrounded by kids who are way, way better than them.

We’ve had lots of tears, lots of requests to not do swim meets anymore, even requests at times to quit swimming altogether.

It hurts me so badly to see them scared and pushed beyond what they think they can do. In short, I want to let them quit. I want to wrap my arms tight around them and protect them from the hard things in life: from making mistakes and being embarrassed in front of their friends, from coaches who yell at them and from being told they aren’t doing it right.

But I know (largely from my husband, who’s much wiser than I) that it’s not the best thing for my kids.

I think that a real weakness of homeschooling is the ease with which we can shelter our children from adversity.

I see that desire in my own heart. I want to tell the kids that if they want to quit swimming, if it’s too overwhelming and scary, they can. When they face a bully or a clique in our homeschool community, I want to intervene or to pull them out, to search for another group where they’re treated better.

That’s a strength for those of you with kids in school. There are typically more built-in opportunities for adversity, less opportunity for you to just remove your child from classes and teachers and experiences that are hard, more teaching moments as you help them navigate difficult situations, more chances to learn to get along with people who are different.

Although I’m not saying it’s any easier for you to go through it than it is for me. None of us parents want our kids to suffer. All of us have this innate desire to rescue them from the hard things.

Lately, dipping my toe into the waters of parenting older children is testing my faith in a new way. It feels downright excruciating for the momma-bear in me to see adversity as a healthy and important part of growing up, and to even embrace it as an act of God’s love for them.

I’ve come to willingly affirm the way God has used suffering in my own life, to humble and change me and make His care for me more personal and dear. I’ve even reached the point of being able to thank Him for suffering.

But somehow when it comes to my kids, I feel the opposite. I fiercely want to protect them from any kind of trial. I want to straighten their paths and raise their valleys. I want to step in and micromanage circumstances and keep them from pain.

But we all know that does not prepare them for real life.

In real life, we suffer. We are lonely and misunderstood and sometimes we get made fun of. We fail and we get embarrassed and have to do things that are really hard. Sometimes we get sick or anxious or depressed. In real life we also sin against other people and have to face the consequences. We have to learn to see and admit our sin — our own bullying or cliques or unkindness — and repent and ask forgiveness from others. Our pride gets hurt as we realize we’re not quite as awesome as we once thought.

And so, David and I are asking God to give us wisdom to know how and when to put our kids in the path of scary new situations and possible adversity.

Does that sound crazy to you? We’re no masochists — of course if a struggle goes on too long or is affecting our child negatively over a long period of time, we’ll reevaluate and seek a different solution.

But thus far, we’ve seen good fruit from allowing our kids to face hard things. We’ve seen them grow a little more humble. We’ve seen them trust Jesus in new ways — to pray to Him themselves instead of just waiting for Mom and Dad to pray.

We’ve seen them learn to forgive. We’ve seen them grow thicker skin and learn some resiliency, to learn that they aren’t victims, that they’re stronger than they thought they were. We’ve seen them become just a little bit more compassionate towards other people.

If you’re a parent of kids older than mine, I’m sure you’re thinking right now, Oh this is just the beginning, Julie. I know you’re right. And while I’m tempted to fear the unknowns in my kids’ future, I trust that God will give us grace for the hard things yet to come, just as He’s helping us day by day right now.

I trust that He’ll give David and me the courage and wisdom to know when to push our children and when to gather them close and protect them. I know we’ll make mistakes — we’ll push when we should protect and vice versa.

Though it breaks my heart, I’m not naive to the fact that some of my children’s suffering will be caused by the two of us, who love them more than life itself, but who are broken and sinful. I beg God to somehow use even that in their life for good.

I’m so glad, with all our fumbling and failure and learning, that nothing is ever wasted with Him.

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