Monday, September 23, 2013

big kids, birthdays, bicycles, and more: a family update

My kids are getting so old! This year we decided to give sports a try. The Y here has a very laid back intro to soccer program, that meets once a week. Hannah and Charlie are in separate groups, but they both play on the same fields, so it doesn't complicate the family logistics too much. Caroline and I sit on a blanket and watch both of them. (Actually, I sit on the blanket and get up every 5 minutes to pull her kicking and screaming off the field so she doesn't get kicked in the head by some of those seriously intense 6 yr old soccer players who seem to have gone to some private prestigious sports camp over the summer. Caroline then expresses her appreciation by going as far away from me as she can (without getting in trouble again), turns around, sits or lays down on the ground (or parking lot, etc), crosses her arms, and pouts for an impressively long time for a 2 yr old. Then we do it again. Its loads of fun! ;-) 

Last weekend David and Des came up, and we celebrated Charlie's and Des' birthdays together. The birthday peeps with their birthday waffles. Due to that most unfortunate aspect of real life called work, they didn't get to stay very long, but we had a special time while they were here! 

They took the kids for a bike ride. . . . and how does this always happen on the way back? Nobody can turn Caroline down, when she wants to, she can be just about the sweetest thing. All the kids are doing so great on their bikes, its so fun! We took Charlie's training wheels off too, and he picked it up really quickly. They ride their bikes alot here, which we have never done before. Our house in Kansas (which we affectionately refer to as "the yellow house", and actually miss quite a bit :-( was not well situated for bike riding. Here, they have alot of bike paths, and parks all over the place, its one of my favorite things about this town.

love, sweet love (this is PopPop, btw. I know, it can be hard to tell the difference between David and Patrick sometimes! :-)

Last weekend was "King Turkey Day" in Worthington. A longstanding tradition involving racing turkeys down Main Street. (At least I think; I missed the actual turkey race because we were too busy eating fair food at another location.) There was a 10k I had considered doing, but decided to do the 5k with Hannah instead. (did I use her as an excuse to wimp out? yes, pretty sure.) It was called a Family Fun Run, but any family fun run I've ever heard of is only 1 mile. So we weren't sure how it was going to go, especially because she wasnt that thrilled about it. I just wanted her to try, and she had quite a few little friends doing it with their parents as well. I, at least, had a blast, sharing something I love with my daughter. I told her I would slow down for her over the next ten years if she would slow down for me in the following ten years. It is apparently a non-issue, as she informed me she never wanted to do it again. We'll see . . . 

It was a big day for me and Hannah; later on we went on a zip-line together. She wasnt thrilled about that either! 

Patrick loves his dad. . . 

but I'm the one with whom he shared the deep fried oreos! (we shared them with everybody, actually. you can only eat a few bites of those things before wanting to throw up!) And do I see anything strange about running in a road race at 9 am and going to eat fried oreos at 2 pm? Well no I don't, actually. ;-)

You know what's funny? Last year, on Charlie's birthday, we also had a very busy day, beginning with running a race. Must be the season. So, we had Charlie's 4th birthday party, with just us family, and it was fun. Many thanks to Patrick's co-worker Miss Kim, who provided all these awesome decorations as a special gift to Charlie. Who loves superheros. (Although he has never seen any movie or even read any book about it. He just likes them because they save people. He even calls them 'savers.')

I love Caroline on the left. She is something else. Hannah is still the only self-regulator in the family. The rest of us are missing that gene. Every time Caroline gets upset about something (which is quite often), she often goes to the floor kicking and screaming, "I eat Charlie birthday cake, Charlie birthday cake!" (Emotional eater? Can't imagine where she got that from. Surely not me?) When I inform her it's all gone, she always blames someone who she remembers being there. "Nana eat all Charlie birthday cake?" "Daddy eat all Charlie birthday cake?" "Hannah eat all Charlie birthday cake?" (I, of course, refrain from telling her that I'm pretty sure I did most of the damage. The child, after all, can be quite violent.) 

I know many people find this strange, but we feel so grateful to be living within a days drive from two sets of grandparents! That is a rare thing. Any time we can spend together is precious. 

at my moms. 

The kids have made great strides in their swimming, in addition to their bikes. It does seem like our family changed alot this summer. They swam so much at my moms, during our two trips up there. And it's great because its so clear, they arent nervous. There were alot of older second cousins around to show them what life could be like when they enjoyed the water. Now, we can go to the pool at the Y and actually swim in the deep end. They have a climbing wall, a diving board, and a basketball hoop. Charlie has floaties, and doesn't need anyone to hold him. (Which is an incredible change, he used to be glued to the dock/edge of the pool). Caroline has always done her best to drown herself, or so it seems, but she actually does pretty well in a lifejacket, even without anyone holding her. So we actually have fun doing things together. (Families with babies: life gets easier. I promise!) Now, if we could just kick those diapers to the curb. . . 

I started a new tradition today, on this beautiful first day of fall. We made cake donuts (with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg, dusted with a little cinnamon sugar), and had them with cider. 

The other two still had to be kept from getting completely covered in very sticky donut dough and falling into the hot oil. But Hannah can be a real help now. It is rewarding to see all those times I've had her on the chair next time, for the past 4 years, finally pay off. In another few years, maybe she'll be cooking for us! 

Enjoying our special snack. . . and then what happens after too much special snack! (It was 9 oclock before Caroline finally went to sleep. I think she came down stairs 5 times. Surely this was unrelated to the scary amounts of pure sugar she digested, on an empty stomach? Caused by refusing to eat any supper except a hard boiled egg, and then licking all the sugar off her donuts.Come to think of it, I cant remember the last time that child ate a vegetable. Except for the green tomatoes she always steals off my plants. 

 I love her so much! (by this point we were both COVERED in cinnamon sugar.) 

Two steps forward. . . One step back. . . yet onward and upward

It was not the first time I had found myself in this situation during church. Unable to stop the tears from running down my face,  I quietly slipped out the back and headed to the restroom to take a deep breath and compose myself. As I opened the door to return to the service, I nearly collided with another woman whose eyes were as red as my own. She, in fact, was the reason for this emotional Sunday morning. Neither of us had any words as we hugged, wiped away tears again, and parted ways. I may never see that woman or her family again, because they are a missionary pilot family leaving for Brazil, and our church here had just commissioned them. As I thought about the next six weeks they have before their (long, long awaited) departure, I was overcome with how difficult leaving is going to be. For them now, for us later. It is at times like these that the reality of this life we have chosen hits me full in the face, and the thought makes me feel as if my heart were being ripped out. 
One year ago this month, we took a very real step away from our former lives and towards the future, by selling our house and nearly everything we own, and leaving a good job, church, and family. We are in between right now: still in America, but not at "home", working towards missions, but not quite full time missionaries. A time of preparation (both spiritually, financially, and professionally) and anticipation, of prayer and planning. I know it is important, but sometimes I just want to pull the band-aid off. 
It's hard to stay focused, too. Its hard to be living here in America, where people have and use all the things we already got rid of, and not wish we still had them! Its hard to be here but not plan on staying, and so feel like you're holding back a little, not allowing yourself to feel too much at home, not knowing how much to invest in the present and how much in the future. 
It's hard to hear things that make me think twice about the decision we have made. Horrible things happen here, for sure, but for some reason when I think about something happening there, it feels so much worse. Like the massive fire in the Nairobi airport a few months ago. I don't believe anybody died, miraculously, but hearing the eyewitness accounts reminded me just how good our country does things like disaster management and handling emergencies. (Instead of, say, not even fighting the fire for a few hours until private security forces are rounded up to help). And now, of course, I will think twice about going to the mall while living in Nairobi. Hearing these stories does scare me sometimes, if I let it. 
And most recently, hearing another kind of news altogether, the news that my stepfather has colon cancer. Patrick and I were not prepared for cancer just one generation above us, I still am trying to wrap my brain around this. Not only does it drastically change the next 12-18 months before we go, and the amount of time we will be able to spend with my mom and Bob, but it just reminds me, there will be no perfect time to leave. Not even a good time to leave. But how can we leave our families when they are going through a difficult time? We love our families so much, even though mine and Patrick's families both have been spread out across the country (or 2 countries), we love being with them and want to be there for and with them, in good times and bad. 
(I don't know where I'm going with this, except that at some point in time I said this blog was supposed to be an honest look at a missionary in training! It may not always be professional, may not always be spiritual, may not always be interesting, but I hope it's always honest.)
The only thing, absolutely only thing, that could possibly keep me on this path, is that HE who called us is FAITHFUL and WORTHY. And as hard as it is to live sometimes, I really truly believe that compared to Him, nothing else even matters. So, let's keep on truckin. And one day, everything will make sense. And everything, every pain and every loss and every sacrifice made for His sake, will be worth it one hundred times over when we see the Lamb lifted up on the throne, glorying in the worship of every tongue, tribe, and nation. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Back to (home)school days! (and My Father's world reviews)

Due to our "connectedness", we have become a culture of reviewers and reviewees. Whether its Amazon, Ebay, Angie's List, or TripAdvisor, we want to know what other people think before we buy something or go somewhere, eat at a restaurant, or try a new recipe. I have never written a single review, but have read thousands upon thousands of them. (Or so it seems). So, out of gratitude to the many many people who have shared about their school at home experiences, we are returning the favor. I realize this is "departing the pattern", as my pilot-husband would say, from our usual blog topics. This has nothing to do with missions, so feel free to skip this one. Unless you happen to be interested in homeschooling or considering using MFW (My Father's World). 

We have been homeschooling for a few years, which sounds strange considering my oldest is only 6, but for some reason we decided to get a jump on things. We used Horizons Preschool (very informally, not with the teachers manual), then started MFW kindergarten when Hannah was four and first grade last year. Now we are about a month into the 2nd grade curriculum. We, as I mentioned, explored a ton of options. I stayed up many a night reading about different educational philosophies, people's experiences, and looking at the enormous amount of homeschooling options available. (It can be quite overwhelming. Especially when you start receiving catalogs!) Here are a few things we like about MFW 
  • drawing from the Charlotte Mason philosophy, it emphasizes "living books", or books that are about people and their lives. Not just textbooks with numbers and facts. This is true even for math and science. Obviously there is a need for textbooks eventually, but at this young age, living books about the subject are enough. in my opinion. After all, the goal is not to get them to actually learn facts and figures and dates or anything else. The goal is just to give them a taste of the incredible world they live in, and to foster a love of learning. 
  • there is a bit of a unit study feel to it, which I love. The history/geography, art/music/crafts, literature and oral/written narration are all on the same topic. This emphasizes a multi-sensory approach to learning, which makes it not only more fun, but sticks with them more, and hopefully encourages them to want to continue to learn. (Its also more work. Way more work. Is it worth it? I would like to take a poll, because I dont know! But we try to make it fun and interesting, when we can.)
  • It purposefully includes the whole world. MFW contributes a big chunk of its profits to worldwide Bible translation, and the curriculum strives to remind the students that they are part of a big world. We, obviously, found this helpful!
  • we havent gotten to this point yet, but you are supposed to be able to easily add in younger siblings, teaching them the same thing at a different level. So we all have the same focus and the same enrichment activities, I just have different expectations of their work. Because teaching everything different to 3 different kids sounds overwhelming.

 This year Hannah has a few different notebooks where she will keep her work. The curriculum comes with a Bible, and this is the first time she has had a real Bible, not just a storybook. It is SO exciting to see and hear her reading her own Bible herself. Narration is a big part of this curriculum, both oral and written. I want her to really learn something, so instead of just a fill in the blank worksheet, she needs to recap, to me, what we read together, or she read on her own. Then she writes a few sentences about it, with help, and sometimes draws a picture. She decorated her notebooks herself, and has one for science as well. 
 Science this year is just exposing them to the natural world as much as possible. I will be honest and say this area needs more attention. Not because I dont like it, but because it takes more time and effort than sitting down on the couch to read a book. We have a few different Usbourne books, which have simple experiments and easy descriptions of things. Also, on the Usbourne websites, there are links to a wide variety of activities on other websites to help reinforce the topics. We document the experiments in her science journal, and the other thing that goes in there are her nature study pictures. We are supposed to go once a week for a nature walk. That is a great idea, but in the interests of full disclosure, i have been known to send her to, say, the driveway to study the tomato plant! (Its a growing thing, right? ;-) Ideally we would come home and learn a little more about whatever caught her eye. MFW does not have its own science, they recommend Apologia, which I am really excited about starting next year, I think.

We made foil sailboats to represent Colombus' three ships. Dont know how seaworthy they were. . . 

The first year, first grade, was based on the Bible. Our timeline began at creation, and continued from there. (We will continue to add to this timeline for the next few years, so they can see how it all works together). Now we are studying American history, and a (very) brief overview of each of the states. We are learning the Pledge, various songs, and other things.I think its really neat that it worked out this way, since this year we are spending ALOT of time on the road, and we have a children's atlas with maps that she follows along in as we drive. We will be able to cross many many states of our list! Then next year, third grade, is an introduction to the world. Which is neat, because we will be transitioning out of the US and on to Africa next year. (Yes, Caroline is wearing only a pajama top. If you are not a stay at home mom of a toddler, please don't judge! There is no point in getting her dressed. She's usually naked or still in her pajamas ;-) 

Not school per say, but this is why I like homeschooling. We were studying Vikings at the beginning, since they were the first to come to the shores of North America (Canada, actually.) Then the next week we were at a street festival and found this guy there. It was not easy to get Charlie to take this picture. We had learned all about how brutal they could be! I told Charlie this was a friendly Viking, like Lyle. (if you dont live in my little world, that would be Lyle the veggie tales character. :-) 

 Native American week was fun, and one of our activities was making these instruments, with beans on the inside of the rattle, and beads. We also made teepees and paper mache wigwams.
Maybe. just maybe. Caroline is going to get easier to have around. While we were doing an activity, she actually sat and did her own craft instead of tearing apart the others'. progress! 

 My favourite part, predictably, is finding a recipe from whatever group/time period/state we are studying. This is fry bread, which we used to make Indian tacos. (Thankfully, my kids were at my mom's the week after, and they were able to try the real thing, called bannock where they were, and it is much better than our attempt.) Every Friday we try to cook different. 

On the left are some of our history books. We also get a bunch from the library every week. Now to switch gears. I wasnt thrilled with the math that came with the first grade. Dont remember what it was called. I dont know if we went too fast, or she just wasnt ready, but we came out of first grade without a good grasp on basic addition and subtraction. I did some research, and decided to try out Math U See. I thought it was expensive, but we will reuse the teacher's manual and manipulatives. It is very different. It goes very slowly, in my opinion, but I think that is important to really grasp the concepts. They use a spiral method of introducing a topic, getting to know it down cold through alot of practice, then review. Every lesson has review questions from all the previous topics. (Obviously, we don't have to do every single question every single time.) The blocks are really neat, they help her understand much better. There is also a dvd for the teacher, to help me learn how to explain things. (This is helpful because I, along with the vast majority of homeschool moms, do not have a teaching background.) Just a note, MFW suggests using Singapore Math, which I have heard good things about, and will probably transition to. But it is supposed to be challenging, so I wanted to try this first.

There is a spelling book included with second grade, and an English primer as well. The English book was very Charlotte Mason, old fashioned with alot of picture studies and narration. I decided to drop that after the first week. Instead of her doing copywork with random things, I thought she got enough copy work with things like her memory verses, and enough narration practice with her history and science books. I think I like Shurley English, I know I've heard many good things about it, we may start that next year. For this year, I didnt think she needed anything additional. We try to include a writing exercise every week, either a story or a letter to a family member. It is not her favourite thing, but I think its really important. I am thinking about some book for that, or just some creative writing prompts, for her to have ideas to write/journal about. Maybe then it wouldnt be such a fight to get it done!

There is also an art book, which is not really my thing, because I am a terrible artist, and dont remember ever choosing to do any kind of art once I got out of the second grade. But maybe the kids will take after Patrick, who is a really good artist and enjoys that more than I do. As long as they have some creative artistic expression, be it drawing or music or something else. So we try to do the formal drawing lessons once a week or so. They also recommend starting a foreign language, and Rosetta Stone has a great homeschool curriculum, from what I have heard. But I didnt know if she was ready for that kind of formal language program, so we are looking into The Easy French, which is for homeschoolers and has a strong focus on evangelism using your newly acquired foreign language. (Is it cheating if I start them in French? I sort of feel bad, but then again, I have used my (very) basic French schools many many times in the 28 years I have known it. So I hope it would be useful to them as well.)

So that is our curriculum. I love the actual school part of our life, but I won't lie, most days are really quite challenging. (ahem, Caroline!) We are not exactly superbly scheduled and organized, I am also about an hour behind schedule. (Like tonight: it's 12.40 pm, and I am supposed to be in bed by 11. because 6.30 comes much too early in the morning.) Homeschooling with a toddler is just hard. I know other people do it over and over again. We, however, only have to do it this year, and then she will be easier. (fingers crossed). So I'm basically trying to get through this year! One very very busy day at a time.