Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We're Alternative Education Rebels

Surprise! I don't believe I've officially announced that we are bailing out on educational institutions and fully exploring my inability to facilitate craft projects.


James is of the kindergarten age. So instead of going through the ritual of sending my darling baby off to school, I decided to keep him all to myself and try to educate him that way.

I could not get a good picture to save my life on our first day of school. There are so many funny things about this picture I can't even begin to explain...
Good luck to me, right???

I brace myself a little bit every time I announce this. While a few people accept this method of education as completely normal, many respond with astonishment, skepticism, admiration, fear, confusion, pity and/or wonder.

So I have to explain and defend myself to some extent. But it's okay. I had to get over my own skepticism to begin with. You see, I married a homeschooler. If it had been any other way, I probably wouldn't have even considered it. But after years of hearing him explain his upbringing and advocating for this odd educational technique, I decided to do at least look into it. And I never really looked back.

It was already a huge step for me to leave the workforce when I had kids, but the homeschool thing just takes me to a whole new level of domestication. It's rather frightening.

So why, you ask. WHY? 

It's not because I hate public schools or think they're going to ruin my children's lives. I love a lot of teachers, I admire their work, and I think my kids would be fine in a classroom. I excelled in public school myself.

It's not because I want to smother my children and hide everything evil from their eyes and ears for as long as possible -- although I have to admit I'm glad their exposure to topics too mature for them will be limited for at least a while longer. So call me overprotective if you want, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion.

It's not because I've had this lifelong dream to sing songs and draw rainbows and butterflies all over my house, reliving some lost childhood fantasy.

It's not because I think homeschooling is the end all be all, superior method of education for everyone and that my children are better than everyone else's and anyone who thinks otherwise can take a hike.

So here's why I'm choosing to homeschool, although I don't think I can fully explain it:

There are several good education options for my kids in my community. However, this option seems the best -- for us -- at the current time. I can provide my kids with a lot of individualized attention, help them learn at their own pace with their own style, explore their interests, and foster a love of learning. I don't know that we're going to do this for the entire K-12 stretch, but I think it's a good place to start.

Homeschool is an extension of our parenting. We can seamlessly blend our family's values with everything the kids are learning. This isn't just about being able to read the Bible or pray together during school hours. This is about talking about heart issues, life's challenges and the real world in every context (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Kids grow up fast and I want to take every opportunity I can to help them excel in life -- not just in academics and work, but in relationships and character. There are some wonderful teachers out there who can help kids in this way to an extent, but nobody does it better than a parent.

Oh yeah, and as I mentioned, Marc was homeschooled and I think he turned out pretty good. Plus if this just doesn't work (as homeschooling doesn't work for everyone), we fortunately have other options.

Isn't it great that we have options to help our kids learn and grow?!! I think so. We're trying this one first.

Now I know you might be thinking things like, "But aren't you worried they won't get enough socialization? I could never do that, I'm not that organized. I couldn't be around my kids all day. Have you been trained as a teacher? Aren't you afraid they'll miss something? Aren't they going to turn out naive and unprepared for life? How could you possibly teach while you have a toddler running around?"

Sheesh, it's just kindergarten. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

4,000+ Miles Later: Surviving an Epic Road Trip with 3 Kids

Well, obviously I haven't posted in an embarrassingly long time. I'm still here, doing great actually. I thought I'd re-enter the online universe by sharing about the most epic trip we've ever taken, completed successfully about a month ago.

It all started last winter as we were planning out our year because I was feeling a little homesick. I hadn't been west of the Rockies in four years. Four years! I've had a couple of kids since then and I was due to see a few folks and show them off.

Road warriors

Why fly when you can drive a few thousand miles and multiply the fun?

Here was our route:
We took the southern route out and the northern route home.
In case you didn't notice, Google Maps estimates 64 hours of road time. This doesn't include stops or any excursions at some of our destinations. Don't you think we're crazy? I thought I was. But the hotels were booked, the plans were made and we were going.

The number one bit of advice I'd give to anyone planning this kind of trek with children under five is to take it slow. The whole purpose of this trip was to visit our family in the Northwest, including in Boise, Spokane and Priest Lake (see above). But we figured, as long as we were headed out that way, why not enjoy the journey and see some old friends along the way?

Fun stops: I won't detail every leg of our journey, but the drive to the Spokane area took seven days, including a full day in Denver and two days in Boise. If there was an interesting place to stop on the road, we took it. This included places on the way out like a model train museum in Missouri, a natural history museum in Kansas and an unplanned side trip to Arches National Park in Utah. We gave ourselves enough wiggle room in our schedule to enjoy some spontaneity (although the Arches detour took four hours and we didn't get to Boise until about 2 a.m. that day. Whoops!).

Arches National Park was one of my favorite scenic excursions!

Trains. Lots of trains.

The ride back wasn't as fun, but we made the most of it, particularly in South Dakota. Our favorite stops were Wall Drug, the kitschiest tourist trap on the planet, and Badlands National Park.

Just one of the attractions at Wall Drug
The Badlands

Oh, and if there was anywhere interesting to eat, we found it. And ate it. I highly recommend Trip Advisor for finding good restaurants.

Surviving the Ride: In spite of our frequent stops, we spent a lot of time in the car. We were loaded with games and activities. When it came down to it, I sheepishly admit that the iPad and the Leap Pad made everything much easier. I limit their exposure to electronics at home, so the fact that they were given a lot more screen time was a special treat. And it kept them quiet so Marc and I could enjoy books on CD! Hey, it was long ride for us too!

And just so I don't feel like a complete sellout to electronics, I'll mention that we sang songs and played road games and had "quiet time" every afternoon after lunch. We made them turn the games off when the scenery was interesting. They also actually self-regulated at times and turned the devices off themselves (gasp!). And of course they did a lot of coloring and played with little gadgets that I stuffed into their backpacks like the Etch-A-Sketch and a magnet board.

Grace, being 16 months old, did miraculously well. She dozed, she looked out the window, she looked at me in her little mirror, she watched her brothers. We also had a huge bag of board books and manipulative toys. As long as her diaper was clean and her tummy was full, she wasn't terribly miserable. Except for the worst diaper rash I've seen in my life. That was the worst problem of the whole trip, and she was a little trooper.

Friends and Family: Seeing the people we love was by far the highlight of the trip, including my college roommate in Kansas City, friends we knew in Anchorage who now live in Denver, and of course parents, siblings and extended family in Washington and Idaho.

Warning: photo dump! And there are tons more I'm not posting!

My sister! And me on the left looking very tired after a full day of driving

Having a firefighter uncle is awesome

Nana trying to coax Gracie to sleep

Papa teaching James manly skills

My other sis and her husband (and unborn child, heehee!)

At times I felt sad or guilty that I didn't get to see everyone I would have liked to, especially in the Seattle and Portland areas. But we had to press on. Maybe next time!

Scenery: If you have not taken a road trip through the western U.S., you are missing out. The Rocky Mountains, the red rocks of Utah, the wilderness of Idaho, the inland lakes of the Northwest, the Badlands of South Dakota...all of them are absolutely breathtaking. The kids didn't appreciate it as much as I did, but I hope that we can foster in them an appreciation of nature as they grow up.

Lucky Peak just outside Boise, probably my favorite scenic shot taken by Marc's aunt.
So that's my story that I lived to tell. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Advice From a Toddler

Dear Mommy,

We need to talk. I have a lot I need to communicate but it seems like you're just not hearing me. To make things easier for you, I thought I'd compile a list of thoughts that go through my head each day. Perhaps this will help us come to a better understanding and make our days run a little smoother. Enjoy.

Grace (12.5 months, in case you forgot)

My Thoughts

We're out of the house and you forgot to pack me a change of clothes? This is an opportune time to execute the biggest poop of my life.

I don't know why you bother cooking dinner. This is clearly the time of day when I need to pull your pants off and graft myself to your leg.

Your head is turned! I gotta climb something now, GO GO GO!!!

I see you're on the phone. I GOTTA SCREAM!!! Can't you hear me?! I gotta do it LOUDER!

Did you just change my crib sheet? I want to make sure it's clean before I vomit all over it.

That particular brand of cereal is not at all appetizing unless it is on the floor.

I know you work so hard to keep choking hazards off the floor. Don't worry, let me help you...I'll immediately find all the tiny little pieces you miss. You're welcome.

I don't understand why you are always messing up the house. I am constantly putting my toys and other things away, right in the middle of the floor where they belong, and you keep messing them up by putting them in bins and baskets. Can't you see how hard I work to keep things organized?

Why on God's green earth would I ever willfully go to sleep? Are you crazy?

My older brother has left his carefully crafted masterpiece just within my reach. So clearly it's mine and I'm going to destroy it with glee.

Socks. I NO. Just so we're clear on this, I'm going to leave one in the corner under my dresser and the other in stuffed into the back of a cabinet. Okay?

Hats. Seriously? They suffocate my three strands of hair. You expect me to keep this on for more than 1/25 of a second? Are you crazy? You seem to like hats, so I'll leave a collection for you under the back seat in the car.

Shoes, on the other hand, are wonderful. I love shoes. They're unmatchable for teething.

Someone left the toilet lid up! GO GO GO!!!

Someone left the baby gate open! GO GO GO!!!

Someone opened the dishwasher! GO GO GO!!! (I have uncanny intuition for these things).

Pick me up, pick me up, pick me up, waaaahhh, pick me up!

Put me down, put me down, put me down, waaaahhh, put me down!

Don't you dare, under any circumstances, rub the bristles on that toothbrush over my precious teeth or I will scream bloody murder. I'm warning you now. I will clamp my mouth shut with the strength of a vise to prove my point.

Don't you dare, under any circumstances, attempt to clip my fingernails. You should know better by now.

Pouring water over my head. Do we even need to discuss this? Are you insane?

What to you mean, I'm a "picky" eater? I think it's pretty clear that I dislike pretty much everything.

Now that we're clear on all of this, I just wanted to let you know that I love you, Mommy. Don't leave me for a second. Not. Ever.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One Thing Almost Every Mom Does Wrong

Well friends, I've made it. Somewhere.

Highlights of the last few months include my baby turning one, surviving bitter cold for weeks on end, annoying chronic back pain, surviving the stomach bug from Hades and writing a lot of things that people pay me for, like what type of underwear to wear with a bridesmaid dress (not kidding).

And here we are, it's spring, and I've arrived. Right here.

Happy birthday, Grace

In the meantime, during my pondering, pontification and philosophizing (usually occurring in the shower or while cleaning), I've come to a place where I simply enjoy where I'm at. I take one day at a time, some good and some extremely tiring, but overall I watch with wonder at these little beings called my children.

I was talking to fellow mom soldiers about a month ago when I noticed a pattern in our conversation. We went back and forth with the same dance, worrying about our worthiness as mothers and trying to console each other to no avail.

Things like:

"I let my kids watch too much TV and play too many video games."
"We don't get out enough."
"We don't have enough down time."
"I don't spend enough quality time with my kids."
"I'm not reading to them enough."
"I'm not disciplining them the right way."
"We don't eat healthy enough. They get too much sugar."
"They don't play outside enough."
"I'm too exhausted to talk things through with them."
"As a parent I am failing at __________."

And so on. In other words:


(And then there's my personal favorite: feeling guilty about feeling guilty. O vicious cycle, we hate thee.)

So I'm going to say it, friends: STOP. Let's stop the madness.

Guilt is a joy-sucking evil and you know what? It doesn't work. It might motivate you for a little while, but kids are just too needy and demanding for us to be fueled by guilt and fear and succeed in the long run.

I have a lot to say on the subject, and hopefully I will soon.

For now, I've got this gem for you:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Too Cute Not To Share

Conversing with individuals under five years of age can interesting, to say the least. For all the times my kids or I have felt frustrated or confused by our communication skills, I have to remember these gems...

Read on to discover why they wear themselves out...


"I'm not breaking it, I'm just jumping in it."

Said from Grace's crib. Try that logic again when you jump on her stuff in 13 years.

"Mom, you don't like to talk to me mad when I take things away from other people, do you?"

Well, I don't particularly like being mad at all, but I don't think you're focusing on the real problem here...

"Garbage trucks are really strong. I bet they carry mountains."

Yes, unfortunately, mountains of garbage, son. Mountains of garbage.

"I just have to get a little taller to see God, right?"

Nope, you've got it backwards.

"If it were one thousand, one hundred degrees, our house would melt, and then we would need to eat a lot of popsicles." 

I'll have to remember to stock up on popsicles next summer.

"Doesn't Santa need healthy food?"

That's my boy!!! But no, not tonight. Tonight Santa needs cookies.

"You don't have to tell Mommy what to do. It's not an option." 

Wise words to Jonathan about being demanding. Apparently I say the phrase "it's not an option" a lot.

"Haha! Mom, Grace is playing in my pee!"

This one happened this morning. And now I know we need to work on consistently flushing and putting the toilet seat down.


Me: "Jonathan, get out of Grace's crib. Cribs are for babies. Are you a baby?" Jonathan: "No. I'm a monkey."

I can't argue with him.

"I'm going number three!" 

Said from the bathroom. I have no idea...

"Waaaaaahhhhh!!! I want to ride the train!"

Screamed in the middle of the night. Apparently this is Jonathan's worst nightmare.

Jonathan: "I'm not awake!" Marc: "Oh, you're not?" Jonathan: "No, I sleepin'."

Well, he does talk in his sleep sometimes...

"Uh oh. I missed." 

Said from the bathroom. Is that what number three is, a missed shot? I think it happens more often than I know.

"Owww!!!! I bumped my knee on the ceiling!!!"

I really need to supervise this kid more closely.

"We're going to put candles on them and then put fire and then we'll blow them up."

I like your vision for your birthday cupcakes, but I think you mean blow them "out."

"Are we gonna look for Santa in the window?"

Spoken January 13th. Sorry, kiddo, not for many more days. In the meantime, keep working on your aim and please don't blow anything up.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Assessing Social Media and Life's Priorities

Hi. Remember me? I used to write here somewhat more frequently than every other month.

We've been really busy. So busy that some of us forget to fully dress.

When you've taken some time away from blogging, it's difficult to know where to start again. I have about a million half-baked ideas but lack the time or interest to write about them.

I'm mostly okay with that. During this time I've done some reevaluation about what I'm trying to accomplish here. And I have about zero ambition to be the Next Great Blogger, work with a bunch of sponsors and attract thousands of followers. When I focus on those things, I quickly lose the joy in the process.

So for those of you still following me -- I'm truly grateful for your interest and I'll do my best to keep up with you on a personal level when you respond to my writing.

It's hard to say what 2014 will bring to this space. I'd like to post at least once a week, but these days when free time is so rare and precious, I only want to post content that is interesting, meaningful and well-written. I also want to read and comment on other social media posts that are interesting and meaningful. I simply can't keep up with everything everyone posts, but I am not going to feel guilty about it.

Social media is a funny thing. It's a great tool -- it has helped me find adult human connection during some of my lonely times. It helps me think; it helps me laugh.

It's also a time-sucking, soul-dulling vortex. Shame on me for the times when I ignored my children or snapped at them because my day's first priority was "me time" on my phone or laptop. "Me time" is certainly important, but its purpose is to help me recharge so that I can focus on what's more important.

So what is my purpose here? I started doing this two years ago and jumped in completely blindly -- primarily out of curiosity and the desire to put some of my work out there. Now, I've gotten a good feel for this whole realm and I think I know what I want.

  • Create.  As I wrote about a few months ago, I need to be in touch with my creative side in order to thrive as a human being. This blog is a great outlet for me, regardless of who reads it, likes it, comments on it or shares it.
  • Connect. Blogging has helped me stay connected with old relationships and forge new ones in ways I never would have imagined. While my first priority is the people I can connect with in the flesh, social media is a tool for connecting with the rest of the world.
  • Encourage. There's a lot of stuff I could write about, but as I said above, I want to post what's interesting, meaningful and well-written. I hope you never feel like I'm wasting your time as a reader. While content will resonate in various ways with different people, my ambition is to make you smile, help you think outside the box and feel connected to me on some level.

I don't have any goals to attract followers or sponsors -- although I will continue to make effort to connect with other websites and creators when I can.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming year. Hopefully I'll have lots to share. We'll be in touch!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Too Close To Home

Yesterday was really weird.

Today's local paper.

We were at church and there was a buzz about a tornado warning. Service was over and most of the congregation quickly dissipated to the safety of nearby homes.

I had to stay a little later, as I had been teaching in the kids' ministry and had to close up shop. We meet inside of a mall with no immediate outdoor access -- thus, no windows. No view of the storm.

We walked to the exit and were faced with one of those crucial decisions: stay or go. Others around us were looking at their phones, listening to the radio and trying to figure out what to do. The storm was to the west of us. It was hard to know how much immediate danger we were in because a tornado warning for the whole huge county could leave certain areas untouched.

Home was a five-minute drive.

A break in the rain translated into "go-time." We piled into the minivan and I fought Jonathan into his carseat, despite his protests to do it himself (stubborn independent stinker!). We started driving with tears flowing inside the car and rain slamming the outside. My mom followed nervously behind in her car.

It wasn't pretty out. The clouds were dark and low and glowed somewhat eerily. My heart quickened as we pulled onto the main street and the rain came harder.

The streets had little traffic but the going was slow as more and more water came crashing on all sides. I had never seen flash flooding in my life but it was suddenly apparent how it happens. I said a quick prayer and then was at a loss for words. Because what else can you say beyond a simple "help"?

The rain was pounding loudly and I heard an alarm. "Are the sirens going off???" I panicked, regretting our decision to leave. Marc stayed calm and gripped the wheel, though we could hardly see more than a few feet in any direction. 

It wasn't the tornado sirens after all; it was my emergency weather app, which was angrily shouting at us to find cover. It went off several times and I wanted to smash my phone on the dash. As long as the real tornado sirens didn't go off I had at least a little sense of security in my head.

"Where's my mom?!!! Is she still behind us?" I couldn't see her but Marc assured me she was okay. I felt terrible that we convinced her to drive instead of ride with us. Every decision seemed bad, very bad.

Marc held steady and the kids quietly commented on the rain. He had us all sing "Jesus loves me" while I continued my subdued panic attack. And then...the eternal stoplight. We were so close, only a few blocks from home! I stared down that traffic signal with my best death look but it didn't turn. I was relieved to see the blurry outline of my mom's car pull up behind us. I hadn't given her a death sentence after all.

I strained to hear the sirens -- would we be able to hear them with the howling wind and the rain pounding so hard?

Green light! And we turned down our street, pulled into our driveway in one piece. Hurry kids, hurry! Inside! Inside!

Getting kids to hurry is like herding cats.

But just like that we were inside...soaking wet but presumably safe. I hugged my mom and thank God I hadn't killed her -- or any of us.

I was shaking from the adrenaline. And then, minutes later, the sun came out. It almost made me angry. Really, after all of that? We should have just stayed a few more minutes?!!

After some serious relaxing I sat by window and looked out at the leaves, which were still blowing around furiously.

I tried not to think too hard about what this scene would have looked like under different circumstances.

Over the course of the afternoon, the power flickered and we heard about the stories from around town. Hail the size of baseballs. Trees and branches down everywhere. Tens of thousands without power for most of the day.

And then...Washington. F4. Only forty miles away. Complete devastation.

I'm shaken up but grateful. Feeling stupid but grateful. And eager to help. Eager to build up my community.

If there's a silver lining, it's that. Community. 

Everyone in Bloomington, Normal and the surrounding areas has a story from yesterday. And we're all waiting to see what's next, wanting to help our neighbors. 

Post by Illinois Tornado Recovery.

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