judah’s room and chores for kids.

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We moved into our new master bedroom on our 13th anniversary, May 22. Shortly after, Judah and Amelie finally got their own bedrooms.

I thought I’d show you around Judah’s room today, and tell you about our chore system.

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Judah’s one request for having his own room was to have “a library.” So we promised him one of our tall pine bookcases from the living room for his growing book collection.

You may remember back in May 2016, we gave Judah and Amie a bedroom makeover. It was a fun project, and as you can see, little changed in the room for Judah once his sister moved out.

Even though they were nine and seven, and truly needing some privacy and space of their own, a big part of me dreading giving our two oldest separate bedrooms. I just love Judah and Amie’s friendship. They’ve been through thick and thin together over the years and are best buddies. I didn’t want them to miss out on shared afternoon play-times, whispering at bed time, waking up and spreading out Lego’s before breakfast.

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But really I didn’t need to worry.

If anything, having a little space has helped their friendship. Now they aren’t tripping over one another’s things. Judah, who is very neat, isn’t frustrated by his slightly-less-neat sister.

It took a few weeks to get used to the new arrangement. We had to have some talks about selfishness and using bedrooms to exclude one or more siblings. We had to ask Judah to come out and play with his siblings. You know, the usual family stuff.

But now we’ve found our rhythm. We have a two-hour afternoon playtime. Judah and Amie spend the first hour alone in their rooms, and the second hour together in one of their bedrooms. They draw, play Lego’s, or sneak out to jump on the trampoline. They always have an audiobook going together and will sometimes listen before bed if they aren’t hanging out with David or me.

I also regularly ask them to have special time with one of their brothers in their bedroom. I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes, send Noah in with Judah and Gabe in with Amie, and tell them to play together. Then another day we’ll switch. Maybe that seems contrived, but it really does help sibling relationships in our home. And the little boys love it.

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Judah keeps his bedroom very neat, and loves having a place for all his books.

He nearly always has a Lego project going on the floor. He alternates between building back sets he’s gotten over the years, creating scenes from his imagination, and looking up Lego instructions on the iPad to try and copy a set (he doesn’t own any of the Harry Potter Lego sets but has built most of them in some form from internet instructions).

The painted white IKEA dresser and lamp came from our old master bedroom. We got him the Wingfeather Saga map poster as a “room warming gift.”

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I feel that this closet is a bit wasted now that Amelie has moved. I wish we could have the closet in her room, because she needs it more than her brother, but oh well. I’ve settled by stowing some of her things in here.

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Judah set up his bookcase all by himself, and I think he did a pretty great job. My favorite part is the Harry Potter glasses.

He requests books for Christmas and birthdays now and often has family members find used books for him.

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Now let’s talk a little bit about chores.

I mentioned awhile ago that my friend Kelly shared her chore system with me. I have tried so many different systems, charts, schedules, and we just don’t keep up with them.

A good thing about David and me is that we have great house-keeping habits. We work as a team to keep things clean and picked up inside and outside, and have done it so many years that it’s just second-nature. I’m so very thankful for his helpfulness around the house.

It’s a great thing … until you’re trying to share the load with your kids.

We can both be a little controlling about how we want things done (i.e. no messes!!), but truly most of the time we just forget to make the kids help us out. We jump up and load the dishwasher automatically after breakfast. We take out the trash as soon as the can becomes full, grab an armful of books to put away as we’re walking through the living room.

What I really want is to impart these habits to the kids. I want keeping house to begin to feel like second nature to them too, because that’s just what we do as a family.

So it’s taking some intentionality.

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We started with this list. I’m focusing on just the big kids at the moment until they really get their chores down well.

They do a great job by now with the daily chores at the bottom of the list. We do those weekends and weekdays, day in and day out. Gabe and Noah also clear their dishes, put away laundry, clean up their room, and make their beds. All the kids help unload the van on grocery day.

After a few months of practice (and yes, finally, some consequences of losing a dollar out of his allowance jar), Judah now automatically begins the lunch dishes every day. I never have to remind him. It’s amazing! Amie is reaching that point with caring for the chickens too.

The only thing I can say is we’re learning to tackle just one new habit at a time, and to keep it simple.

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By looking over the chart, I know there’s more our kids could be doing. I have friends who kids are doing all their own laundry by the time they’re eight!

But I’d rather get these few habits down pat and build from here.

I add “Daily chore” to my kids’ school list so they’ll remember to check the chart. And I still do some reminding.

I really need to update the chart, but I’ll just clarify that my kids do not remove their sheets every Friday and I do not wash them all every Friday. It’s a nice idea though, isn’t it? We’ll get there!

Finally, the biggest help from this system has been the bathrooms. I keep a container of Lysol wipes and a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s spray under each bathroom sink. I taught Judah and Amie how to wipe down the sink and toilet (using separate wipes!), and clean the toilet bowl.

Are they cleaning the entire bathroom? No.

But it’s amazing what walking into a nice-smelling bathroom with clean counters and toilet will do for your mood. I’ll take it!

I’m still getting used to cleaning my own house again since we decided to stop using our beloved house cleaner. And by “getting used to cleaning,” I really just mean “not cleaning.” I have this daily chore schedule posted for myself on the fridge:

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Isn’t it great? So thorough!! Well. I rarely follow it. But I do water my plants! And I do vacuum when we have company!

How about you? Do you have any chore advice for us?



august.

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Can you believe it is already September?

In 5 days my oldest child will be double-digits.

I glanced back over my blog entries … posts were kind of patchy this summer, I know. I really struggle with blogs and the internet and social media in general. I think they have wonderful benefits. But they’re also one-dimensional. The things that are most photo-graphable are the fun, exciting things. Not the messes. The tempers. The two-hour period before dinner when I want to pull my hair out.

The internet is fun, but it’s not real life. It’s a snapshot. I think we’re at our best when we can stop and realize this, when we celebrate one another’s snapshots, but also remember we as people are more than our internet presence. Nobody’s life is perfect. The older I get, the more stories I hear, the more I believe you cannot possibly judge a person by the way they look or by their Instagram pictures. We hurt people when we do it, because we don’t give them space to be real, to suffer. Everyone suffers.

The truth is, I struggled a ton with anxiety and depression all summer long, like a choking black cloud that wouldn’t leave. There were days that I got out of bed to put food on the table for my kids and switch the laundry, and that’s about it. In many ways, this summer felt like survival.

That’s why all these trips God brought our way, that I’ve posted about, were a gift. I needed them, I needed someone to grab me and make me go on an adventure when all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark room alone.

I don’t share this to make you feel sorry for me, truly I don’t. Each year I accept a little more that this is simply the story God is asking me to live in. I believe that He can use people who are very weak. I believe that He can redeem anything.

And in the meantime, I just plead with you to bear in mind what David tells me often, “A blog isn’t real life.” Don’t think that because of my sporadic fun pictures I’m this super-mom or I’m doing everything right. I’m not.

Just because I spend seasons posting about cool things we’re up to or show you how tidy our house looks doesn’t mean we don’t have days where we’re bored and snap at each other and I turn on Netflix, afternoons I don’t sit and read a novel instead of playing games with my kids, mildew on the shower wall (yes! even our new shower!), and a layer of crust on the stovetop. Just ask my mom, who deep cleans my stove top every time she comes over.

One more thing: I’m still not against the internet and social media. I love our blog, because in my low moments, I make myself read back over old posts. They are a beautiful, big-picture reminder of God’s faithfulness to our family. Even in our hard times, every single day, there are always, always bright spots to thank Him for. He never leaves us alone.

And now, a few of those fun things from August:

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On August 21, we had a little Solar Eclipse party with David’s folks. Grandpa made a real life model of the eclipse for the kids, we pulled lawn chairs outside, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular sights nature has given us in my lifetime. We were right in the path of totality, and it was breath-taking.

Then we came back inside to the air conditioning and feasted on pimento cheese and crackers, carrot cake, iced coffee and fruity drinks for the kids and beer.

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There’s a new coffee bar in the student center of my alma mater, CIU, and I’ve already been twice to visit my parents at work and drink coffee. It’s delicious! The kids love seeing Papa and Nina at work, picking out a treat from the gift shop, and visiting the playground by Pineview Apartments.

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Some friends sent David and I to a fancy hotel in downtown Charleston for a night last month. We left in the morning and returned the following evening, so it was a nice, long date. Our favorite thing to do in any city is to walk everywhere, and stop often for good food or drink. We walked eight miles each day!

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We always recommend The Ordinary for a nice dinner out. I say “always,” even though we’ve been there exactly twice. But it continues to be our favorite restaurant ever. Workshop Charleston was a really fun, upscale food court that we tried this time. And the hidden gem a friend sent us to was Xiao Bao Biscuit. I beg you to try this place if you visit Charleston. It is family-friendly and affordable, they describe themselves as “Asian soul food” and everything on the menu looked good. But there’s really only one thing you must eat: the Okonomiyaki. It will change your life.

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I’m on a Willa Cather kick right now. How had I never read My Antonia before? It made me happy from beginning to end. If you were a fan of the Little House books as a kid, please give My Antonia a try. I’m enjoying O Pioneers now.

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Judah is currently reading both the The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Heroes of Olympus series. Amie is thrilled to finally be delving into chapter books and is obsessed with the Critter Club series, which are perfect for your beginning chapter book reader.

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Our homeschool year has gotten off to a really, really good start.

This is one of those gifts from God that I absolutely do not deserve.

I thought long and hard this summer about what was best for our kids: I’m a mess myself, I don’t even deserve to try to homeschool them. Should we put them all in school? But David gave me a good talking-to, and I took the risk, and it’s been so wonderful. Not perfect, but wonderful. I’m coming out of the darkest season, and I find that it’s good and right for me to now pour my energy into learning with our kids. My husband knows me really well.

It’s a daily, constant juggling act, getting through everyone’s work and keeping Noah constructively occupied. Most days I don’t get everything done on my list. But still, somehow, we love it. We all do. I’ve heard more positive feedback from the kids in this one month of homeschooling then in the four previous years.

Yesterday Judah said, “Mom, you’re really good at homeschooling us. You know how to make learning fun.”

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We met the boys’ birth mom and her boyfriend at Isle of Palms on Thursday for the day and had beautiful weather. They bought boogie boards and we played in the water and made lots of sand castles and new memories together.

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I found some fun wall art for our living room wall just in time for New Members’ class, which started last Sunday. Actually, I’ve had my eye on those prints at Target for months and months, and finally found the perfect place for them. They’re my favorite shade of blue and remind me of batik art from Barbados. They make me happy.

Our new members class itself is making me happy too. I love the enthusiasm and genuineness of a new wave of people excited about being apart of CPC. I love cooking turkey chili for them. I love having two bathrooms to offer. Their stories never fail to inspire and challenge and humble us.

And the last fun thing I have to show you is a little before and after of the front of our house:

February 13, 2017:

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August 21, 2017:

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That’s right! The outside is completely finished!

Last week we had our new shutters hung, and Scott and his crew updated our front porch columns from circular-shaped to square. Just a couple things on the inside of the house and he’s finished. For the year at least. We planned to have the windows in our house replaced this fall, but got a van instead. Maybe next year!

Next up in the front is a driveway and some landscaping, but we’re on our own for that. We’ll get there!

I’m excited to give you a post summing up our addition experience, and of course I know I still need to show you Judah and Amie’s bedrooms.

Thanks for bearing with me, friends. I hope to blog more regularly in the coming weeks. Thanks for your sweet texts and emails. They mean so much to me!



new van.

Three weeks ago David flew to Nashville for a pastor’s training conference. Quite unexpectedly, as we turned onto the airport drive, our van began making very strange noises. Minutes later, it wouldn’t transition from first gear. We had to turn it off and turn it back on multiple times to limp to David’s departure gate.

And there we were, all six of us. Thankfully, it didn’t happen on the highway. Thankfully it didn’t cause David to miss his flight. Thankfully it didn’t happen when I was alone with the kids. Or on our road trip to Pittsburgh that weekend.

There are a lot of things to be thankful for! Still, our dear Honda Odyssey van, which we bought a mere two years ago — the day before adopting the boys — was dead.

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David raced to catch his flight, and his parents came to our rescue by calling a towing service through our auto mechanic and driving to pick us up. The process took awhile, and so I treated my kids to lunch in the Columbia airport lobby ($15 for four bags of Cheez-Its and a Clif bar). And we waited!

David spent the week in Nashville, and the kids and I used his Civic. Our mechanic told us that the transmission died (at just over 100,000 miles), and took a few other parts with it. The amount it would cost for all those replacements was close to the amount of money the van was worth. Ah well.

Judah isn’t quite heavy enough to sit in the front seat, but was an emergency. David arrived home Thursday night, and Friday morning we rented a van for our long weekend in Pittsburgh.

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It was actually fun to test drive a completely different van: a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. We’d gotten a little spoiled by our Odyssey’s DVD player, so it was also nice to take a road trip and realize we really don’t need one. We listened to How To Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell, on audiobook (highly recommend!), and brought toys and books for the kids and listened to lots of music.

After we arrived home we car-shared with Linda, and were very thankful we didn’t have to rush to find a van immediately.

Our mechanic told us his top choice for a reliable minivan is the Toyota Sienna; Consumer Reports and lots of our friends seemed to agree, so we began looking for one after our Pittsburgh trip. After much deliberation, we decided to look for something newer with lower mileage, because we’re dreaming of some big family road trips in the next decade.

We found it last week! It was a rental owned by the local Toyota dealership. They gave us a loaner car while it was cleaned and detailed for us, and we brought it home yesterday.

We’re so excited about our Sienna — especially after squeezing into sedans for nearly three weeks (isn’t it crazy how you take things for granted until you don’t have them?). Our new van is more spacious and has more leg room in the back two rows than either the Odyssey or the Pacifica, which feels very important looking ahead to three teenage boys. We were a little bummed to lose the leather seats and some of the amenities of our EX, but the feature we’re most excited to gain is the Bluetooth and GPS.

As we drove the van home, I told the kids I promised their Dad I’ll drive it until Noah goes to college, at which point Noah became very depressed and said, “But I’ll be scared in college. I don’t want to leave you and Dad.”

Noah, I wish I could record those words. We’re so happy college is a long way away!

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Save





a new school year.

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Here in South Carolina, most schools don’t start back until after the solar eclipse on August 21, but we officially began the new school year yesterday. We’re traveling this month and next month, so I wanted to give us a little bit of a buffer to get in our full 180 days.

I take that back — I wanted to give us a huge buffer. We finished last year at the end of April, and I had every intention of starting us back at the beginning of July. Or earlier. I just adore those school-year-round, the-world-is-our-education homeschoolers. I want to be them. But I’m not.

Wait, this sounds familiar. Haven’t I told you this before?

Yep. Okay, please remind me of this in the future: we’re just a traditional school-year kind of family. We like to have a real summer and hang out with our friends who are off school. Also our swim practices change from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and it throws off a school routine.

All of that to say, here we are!

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If you’re still in planning mode, a word to the wise: please give yourself a good chunk of time alone to plan out your year (or semester), either in a quiet house, or at the library. David offered me that, but I was disorganized and ended up squeezing all my planning into the cracks. It was so stressful.

The above photo is what happened when I spread out my books and planner at the table this weekend: Amie, Gabe, and Noah instantly had their own “planning” to do. Amie want to make her own calendar and needed lots of input. The boys want to try out the new glue and markers and create ninjas and bad guys, and give me a play-by-play of their battle scene.

I love my kids. They really are the best. They’re creative and motivated and funny.

But trying to make a plan for our year in the midst of this happy cacophony made me want to pull my hair out.

So I file that away for next year.

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In the state of South Carolina, I need to document what we do for school each week, so this year I bought the Debra Bell homeschool planner (left) for 20 bucks. I’ll let you know what I think. The main perk in my eyes is that it allows space for multiple children’s study schedules and curriculum. Right now, that makes it a winner.

I mentioned this before, but I just don’t prefer to do any homeschool planning in my bullet journal, although some people love it.

In celebration of the new year, I also bought myself A Gracious Space, by Julie Bogart, which is full of very brief daily readings for the homeschool parent. There’s a volume for each season, and it’s so inspiring.

And finally, I’m attempting to follow Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours for personal prayer. She use and consolidates The Book of Common Prayer into brief daily readings (also in four volumes). It’s mostly Scripture, and I realized that when my head’s swirling with tasks and school and people to care for, I need a guide for prayer. It’s a comfort, and I plan to use it as a reset throughout my day.

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Can you believe this is my fifth year of homeschooling? I just don’t feel that old. I have an almost-ten-year-old!

The biggest change for us this year was deciding not to be apart of Classical Conversations anymore.

That was a huge decision for me, kind of a roller coaster, and my apologies to David for all the obsessing and reading aloud of pros/cons lists. CC served us well for four years, and then suddenly, it stopped serving us. This past year it felt like it was a burden, instead of a help. Isn’t it funny how seasons of life change and things you once loved suddenly cease to be the right fit?

Frankly, I became bored with the curriculum, but it took so much time that I couldn’t pursue the things I really wanted to do with my kids.

I am such a by-the-book, Type-A person, that I was truly terrified to quit CC. It was my security blanket; it ensured my kids were getting an education. I didn’t realize how much fear and insecurity would surface inside me giving it up.

I’m homeschooling on my own now. What if I fail?

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Well, I’ll never know until I try, will I?

And deep in my heart, I really, really want to try.

We’re using mostly Sonlight curriculum this year: I purchased one core (D: American History, Part 1) for Judah’s grade: it covers our History/Bible/Geography/Literature and Poetry. I also bought the Science core.

I plan to modify it for all the kids, and use past Sonlight books I’ve purchased for the younger boys.

I just can’t speak highly enough of their curriculum. I’ve used the read-alouds for years and they’re almost always guaranteed winners.

I’d like to say here that the four years of Classical Conversations memory work we did are already serving us well, just a week into our school year. The kids know when Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas, they know the animal kingdoms and classifications. So I do love the CC program and am thankful for how it’s helped us. Now it’s time to dive a bit deeper.

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This year will be a challenge because I’m teaching three legitimate grades (I’m very laid back with kindergarten): fourth grade, third grade, and first grade. We have a diagnosed learning disorder this year (Dysgraphia). A friend from church is working with us to make some modifications for that.

But.

There are so many things I’m excited about. Here are a few:

1. We’re kind of easing back into our subjects over the next two weeks, but thus far every curriculum change I’ve made has felt right. After studying U.S. History one morning, Judah said, “This is going to be my favorite school year ever!” I’ll give more specific reviews later about the different books we’ve chosen, but it just feels so good to have my kids excited about school.

Does that mean they love every subject? No. But I want to have enough inspiring material in there to keep them engaged with learning.

2. David’s dad, Steve, will be doing weekly Science experiments with the three oldest kids that correspond to our Biology curriculum. This week they planted radish seeds and are returning to check on them and make drawings of the progress. Has their own father planted radishes in our garden and shown them? Yes. But everything’s cooler when Grandpa is the teacher.

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3. I’ve been studying Charlotte Mason’s educational methods this summer through podcasts and Wild + Free, and asking my CM friends lots of questions. We’ll begin doing narration and artist study as part of our school week. My parents are in the process of moving, but once they get settled, we’ll resume nature watercolor with my mom.

4. The kids were terribly disappointed back in April when I told them we wouldn’t be continuing with Classical Conversations. Mostly, it’s because they love the social aspect, and I get that. Also, it was familiar. But the field trip and book club group we were also apart of last year is expanding into a twice-monthly homeschool co-op (and includes some of their CC friends). I’m really excited to have more time to be involved in it and I know the kids are going to enjoy it.

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5. Finally, it just feels really good to be back in our routine.

I had so many grand plans for our summer. I accomplished very few of them. I don’t use my time well without structure. Also: I was tired. It’s funny, I’ll probably get way more accomplished with the healthy pressure of a school year than with all the free time I had during the break.

Homeschooling is definitely a challenge, but gathering around the table this week, laughing about our new Latin vocabulary songs, drawing pictures of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, reading about Llamas in the Andes Mountains, reminds me why I do this: at the end of the day, we just really enjoy learning together.



living room update.

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I’ve taken a couple of blissful months off thinking about house projects; no scouring of Pinterest or spontaneous trips to Home Goods. It’s a very restful feeling to find myself not even really caring that things still aren’t completely finished.

And it’s true: they aren’t. Our builder still needs to come wrap up a few items, and we’re going to have all the windows in our house replaced. And we still haven’t touched up the paint in our bedroom or put the final coat on the baseboards. But Scott’s working a job now that he said is over two times the size of our bedroom addition, so we’re squeezed into the cracks of his time. Oddly enough, I’m okay with it.

David and I just really, really needed a break from house projects.

But we did get the living room back in order and Judah and Amie’s bedrooms finished, so I’ll show you our progress!

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We’ve always loved our long, spacious living room. It was a non-negotiable for us when house-hunting, because we have groups of people from church over. Our living room is perfect for New Members’ class, during which we’ve been known to squeeze 35 people into this space.

However, surveying it post-addition, it just didn’t feel right. Losing our reading corner made us suddenly feel like there was a lot of wasted space.

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So we made the (for me) excruciating decision to transfer our wall of books to a different place to make way for another little seating area. We decided to give away our India bookcase as well, to simplify.

Call me superficial, but I mourned.

That glorious color-coded book wall felt like our trademark. It set the feel of our home when you walked in the door. It made me happy every single time I looked at it (am I being dramatic? yes, of course). But it just wasn’t practical for us anymore. So it had to go.

Thankfully that IKEA bookcase is easy to rearrange, and we stowed the extra column of shelves in a closet in case we change our minds down the road.

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After the construction, I knew that every single book needed to be removed and cleaned anyway. The dust was overwhelming. If I did this addition process again, I would’ve used more tarps, but oh well. The truth is all of that would’ve needed to be cleaned regardless. Thankfully the kids were troopers and pitched in to help.

We also took the opportunity to purge books. Again. All the books in our dark glass-front bookcase are David’s theology books and will eventually have a home in his new office. Want to know where they are now? Well, the trunk of his car and here:

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While rearranging, I took the opportunity to admire our Wendell Berry collection. Um, yes, I may have added to it since this photo was taken:

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It was actually fun and therapeutic to go through all our books, to choose which we love most, and which we’re okay with passing on.

Some books remain classics in a family, but isn’t it funny to flip through others and feel that you’ve kind of outgrown them?

But now, here we are!

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Does the new bookcase location make the same statement? Not at all.

But I do love that cozy new reading nook. We talked about getting a loveseat for the space, but actually like it just the way it is.

We had our electrician add an outlet to that wall, and eventually I’ll figure out some art to hang.

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When I thought about updating our living room, it was really important to me to create a space that’s inviting for the kids to play; especially our little guys. So we have a basket for their Magna-tiles, a basket of wooden blocks, and a book basket.

The decorator in me wouldn’t mind finding another chair to round out the sofa area, but then my kids wouldn’t have room to spread out. I want them to know this is their space too.

When they saw the wide open floor they said, “Mommy! Did you make a play place for us!?”

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If you look back the other direction, the room hasn’t really changed.

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Our living room felt really chaotic for months. We love that it’s relaxing once again!

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summer 2017 bookshelf.

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Happy August, my friends!

How are you doing?

Thanks for your patience with me and the blog. How is it already August and I haven’t written you a summer book post? Sigh.

The good news is that even if I haven’t been writing about books, I’ve been reading them! So I have quite a few to share with you today. I hope there’s something in here for everyone. There are others I read but haven’t included in this post because I value your time (you can find me on Goodreads for a complete list). These are some of my favorites. As always, I invite your book recommendations!

First I need to thank my friend Hannah: last week she sent a group email to some friends asking for book suggestions. The first friend “replied all” with her ideas, and others of us followed suit. So fun! I don’t know her friends but came away with some great ideas for fall reads. You should try the same thing sometime. Thank you, Hannah!

And now, here we go:

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

You may or may not remember that I received a lovely hardcover edition of Little Dorrit for my birthday. I’ve read most of Dickens’ works; he’s my very favorite classic author. There are a few of his novels that I return to again and again, and every time I discover new treasures.

Little Dorrit took some commitment to get through. It is 826 pages long and the plot moves quite slowly. It’s not my favorite of his books, but was well worth my time. I just love that Amy Dorrit. And Arthur Clennam is pretty great too. If you’re looking for a Dickens novel to start with, try Great Expectations. But if you’re willing to make a bigger commitment, length-wise, then read David Copperfield. I know you’re tired of me talking about Charles Dickens so I’ll stop. Bleak House is my absolute favorite.

 

The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

If you read the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, you’ll probably notice that several titles in this post come from her recommendations. This is a quiet, beautiful, terribly sad memoir of a family who survived the Hmong genocide in Laos and immigrated to the U.S. I wish I could say that it has a happy ending. In some ways it does, but in others I felt more deeply disturbed than ever. Life for many, many immigrants to our country is not like ours. They work long hours in factory jobs and still hardly make ends meet. They’re often the victims of racial and economic prejudice. I honestly don’t know the solution except to try and befriend immigrants whenever I can. Please read this important book.

 

Own Your Life: How to Grow a Legacy of Faith, Love, and Spiritual Influence, Sally Clarkson

This is my favorite Sally Clarkson book; maybe it just came at the right time. It spoke to several issues I was struggling with in life and gave me clarity. This book will challenge and encourage your faith. It will give you a warm, firm nudge along the path of living a life of purpose.

 

The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson

My mom and brother Danny have been begging me to read this series for years. I can’t tell you how many times I tried On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and just couldn’t get into it (sorry, you two). Well sometimes it takes your kid to give you the nudge you need. I finally promised Judah to read one of his favorite series ever, and to take him on a date to Barnes and Noble afterward to talk about it.

If you’ve struggled to really enjoy this series, I urge you to press on! I’m really not a fantasy person, so I thought the first book was just okay. About halfway through the second book I started to see where the plot was going, and from then on I was hooked. By book four, The Warden and the Wolf King, I was blown away by the depth of character, the wisdom, and creativity in these stories.

Andrew Peterson has long been one of my favorite musicians, but I discovered this year that he’s an extremely gifted writer. What made reading these books even more fun is that in the midst of them I got to see him speak in Greenville about his writing process. I’m adding the Wingfeather Saga to my all-time favorite series list.

 

Love Walked In, Maria de los Santos

Okay a break from the heavy stuff. Maria de los Santos is a lovely writer. I also enjoyed Falling Together, and will be picking up her YA novel Saving Lucas Biggs next. Her books are light with characters you cheer for and satisfying endings. Aren’t we all grateful for books like that? Perfect for your beach vacation.

 

Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge

While we’re on the subject of light books, Jane in Austin is a very cute modern day adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Predictable and a little forced sometimes, but I still enjoyed it.

 

That Distant Land, Port William books, Wendell Berry

This summer I re-read almost every single one of Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. His stories are profound, wise, and thought-provoking. Truly, if I wrote fiction, I’d most want to read like Wendell Berry. He has a definite agenda in his writing, but it doesn’t detract from the characters he builds around the fictional town of Port William. They’re the kind of people I miss when I stop reading about them. I read That Distant Land for the first time, and bought a few more used because our library doesn’t carry them: Remembering, Andy Catlett, and A World Lost. Judah looked at our bookshelf and said, “Mom. How many Wendell Berry books do you really need?” Lots and lots, Judah. Lots and lots.

These novels aren’t part of a series. Any one of them can stand alone, and you can read them in any order. Start with Hannah Coulter if you like. Or Jayber Crow. Those are the two most beloved. This is a series I return to again and again.

 

Lucky Boy

I’m still kind of reeling from this b0ok, which I literally could not put down. Household chores definitely slipped while I devoured it, and I’d sure like someone to discuss it with because I’m still processing. In a nutshell, it’s the story of an illegal immigrant to the U.S. from Mexico, and what happens to her and the child she gives birth to in America. I’ll give a caveat: this book has some hard subject matter. It was painful to read. But I absolutely loved the compassionate way the author tackled some enormous issues like immigration, infertility, foster-care and adoption. It’s one that’ll stay with you.

 

Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally Clarkson

Another non-fiction title from Sally Clarkson, this time with her son Nathan. I’m so grateful for this book. As a teenager, Nathan was diagnosed with a wide array of disorders, the most pronounced being Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The author and her son write honestly about their life together with his unique challenges. It was — and still is — hard and messy. But this is a book of hope and victory and God’s presence in the midst of ongoing suffering. I highly recommend it if you have an “outside-the-box” kid, or even if you don’t. Chances are you know a family like the Clarksons, and this book will help you understand and love them better.

 

The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar

A story about the two most unlikely of friends: an Indian woman in a desperate state of depression, and her therapist. Sometimes I struggle with stories written from more than one point of view; it’s hard to pull them off well in my opinion. But Umrigar manages it beautifully. You feel hurt, anger, hope, and gladness for both of these women.

 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See

This is one of my favorites from today’s list. I just really, really enjoyed this story. Thanks to my friend Tressa for the recommendation; she told me, “I know you’ll love it,” and she was right! Isn’t it nice to have book-friends who know you well?

You’ll see a definite theme in my summer reading of immigrant stories, many of which I found on this list. They’ve given me so much to think about lately. And some very intense dreams (David said, “Whoa, you may need to lighten up your book choices for a bit”).

But mostly I see how very much there is to feel grateful for. I don’t like the entitled mentality I slip into far too easily: thinking I somehow deserve for my life to be easy and smooth. Instead of complaining about things that just don’t matter, I want to open my eyes and find people around me — people who are can be “invisible” — for whom life is not easy and smooth. I want to do something small to make them un-invisible. To make them feel welcome here. Reading books won’t change the world. But it can be an awakening.

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orlando trip.

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One of my mom’s great-aunts passed away recently, and she wanted to go to Florida for the memorial service. The kids and I jumped at the chance to take a road trip and see our family, so my mom took a couple more days off work to help turn it into a little vacation.

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We spent the first two nights in a little guest condo at Good Samaritan Retirement Village, in Kissimmee, which is where we attended my Grandma’s memorial service last year. A retirement village full of golf carts and double-wide mobile homes and a sprawling nursing home may seem like a strange spot for a vacation, but both sets of my grandparents logged years living there, and the place is brimming with memories.

I miss all four of them so much, and it feels like one small way I can share them with my children, who never had the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents well. We rented a golf cart for the two days, which the kids loved, and I showed them once again the different places my grandparents and their siblings lived, the bedroom I slept in when visiting my mom’s parents as a kid. We told them stories that they’ve heard lots of times.

Life slows down traveling around in a golf cart and we loved moss-hung trees and the cranes and ducks and turtles, the tropical flowers so bright they almost hurt your eyes. Even the daily rolling summer thunder storms felt cozy.

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I sat through the memorial service for a great-aunt that I did not know well, but who’s part of my big family. I was reminded that God’s faithfulness to me has extended generations before I was born. It’s a gift that my four children are swept up into that story, and I felt my heart welling up with gratitude for the love that is all around us.

We ate lunch with my mom’s sister and her husband who drove up from Tampa for the service, and enjoyed catching up with them.

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On Friday we drove to meet family at Disney Springs. It’s an outdoor shopping center that’s part of Disney but doesn’t charge admission. We packed a lunch to eat in the parking garage, and spent several hours roaming around. There are so many fun things for kids to do . . . if you’re in Orlando, I highly recommend it.

Our kids haven’t been to Disney World and we have no plans to take them any time soon (we’re currently saving our money for a trip to the Grand Canyon). The only time this bothers them is when they hear of friends going, but for the most part they don’t seem to mind. They loved the huge Lego store at Disney Springs, the Disney Store, free samples at Ghirardelli Chocolate.

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There’s also a couple of splash pads and a Dino Dig.

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We planned to buy ice cream there, but when a huge rainstorm hit, we opted to head for our cars and find a less expensive ice cream place in Orlando. I love how we’re all on the same page with saving money!

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We spent the next two nights in Orlando. The three youngest kids and I stayed at my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s house, and Judah spent one night with his cousins, Tristan and Gavin, and one night with my mom at my Uncle Ken and Aunt Susan’s house a few miles away.

David told me later, “One thing I love about your family is that when anyone comes to town, they drop everything and are ready to celebrate!”

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It’s true. They always make us feel special. We all gathered for burgers at Uncle Ralph’s the first night, and taco’s at Uncle Ken’s the second night.

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Judah said, “Mom, I love when we have memorial services and weddings because it’s so much fun getting to see our family.”

My whole big extended family isn’t perfect and would never ever claim to be, but they are a gift. It makes my heart happy to see my children recognize that gift and get to know their second-cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

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They did lots of swimming in Uncle Ralph’s pool and Zach and Allison’s neighborhood pool. They played Settlers of Catan and Mexican Train and caught lizards. They adored Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s golden retrievers, Sam and Sophie, and fed turtles in the pond.

I chatted with my aunts and uncles and cousins and drank lots of decaf coffee. When we got home I was definitely in need of introvert time, but it was well worth it!

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Thanks to my Mom for making the trek with a van full of kiddos and helping me make it a really fun week. We brought a small bin of toys and books, but also stocked up twice at the Dollar store, for sticker books and coloring books and marbles (marbles=endless entertainment for little boys).

On a long trip David and I let the kids watch one movie, usually something we find at Redbox, and then we have them play or read books, and we listen to lots of music. On this trip we listened to all of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on audiobook, which was a delight. Amelie said, “Mom! This is my new favorite story!” Anne Hathaway narrated and was incredible.

We packed grocery store snacks and fruit, and stopped for treats at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

And my sweet husband hired our former house-cleaner to deep clean our house while I was gone (which I still hadn’t gotten around to doing after the addition). It was lovely to walk into a clean house at the end of it all.

I’m a person who has always loved travel, but I spent a long two years after adopting the boys where travel of any kind felt sort of like torture. It’s very fun to begin to discover that part of myself once again — where a road trip feels like an adventure.

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interview with judah: summer camp.

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Tell me about your camp. What kind of camp was it?

A Christian camp

How many boys were in your cabin? How many counselors did you have?

Ten boys and two counselors

What major did you choose for the week?

Outdoor survival

What’s one thing you learned about outdoor survival?

That clay can be used as a bug spray

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What other activities did you get to try?

Archery, climbing, GaGa ball, zipline, jump on the Blob, kayaking, water games in the lake

What did you do during chapel?

Talk about Jesus being the Vine

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What did you do to celebrate 4th of July?

Big fireworks on lake

What’s something that surprised you about camp?

That everyone was so nice

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Did you get homesick?

Yes

What was the hardest thing about your week?

The showers weren’t very clean

What was your favorite part of your day?

I liked it all

Do you want to go back next year?

Yes!

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Was the lasagna as good as your mom’s?

Not quite as good

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about going next year?

It’s very fun and there’s nothing to worry about

Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

Not too much, I would if I felt better

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And there you have it, folks! Poor Judah has been sick ever since he got home Saturday and wasn’t quiet up to this interview. We’re headed to the doctor this afternoon to see if he has strep throat. He still insists, “It was worth it!’

I felt like he came home about a year older and a foot taller. He is just growing up so much.

The senior counselor pulled David aside Saturday when he picked Judah up and said, “I want to tell you what an amazing kid you have. He was so nice to everybody and so respectful. We love Judah!”

Thanks to Bethel Christian Camp for an awesome first camp experience!!!