Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Quick Update without pictures

I know I promised pictures about the outfits I've been making, but I haven't finished one of them and I only want to take Halloween costume pictures once, so expect pictures around Halloween.

I have completed the Tiger costume for the Pillowfight Fairy. I'm still in the fabric cutting stage with the Adrenaline Junkie's fancy dress (It's a lot of fabric and I can't do it safely and sanely when the kids are awake, so I wait until I'm in the mood in the evenings... I haven't been in the mood tonight so you get an update instead).

We just came off a week's vacation from school. I find these vacations every six weeks to very good for us to relax and remember that we like to do other things too. I also find that the first few days back to school are horrible. The Fairy manage to drag her heels worse than usual the first day back and as a result we both had a really bad day back. A wise man I once knew had a saying that grated on the nerves: "There are no bad days, only bad attitudes." The older I get the more I understand why that saying bothers most people. It is because it is true and we know it, we just want the comforting thought that the quality of my day is out of my control, so I can blame someone other than myself. So with that in mind, I will rephrase my statement, we both had really bad attitudes by the time the day was over.

Sometimes I wonder if the joy of the vacation can make up for the first day back at school. Fortunately, I see improvement in just a few days as we get back into a routine. I know my kids. They like the freedom they get with vacations, and therefore want it to continue. When discipline returns, they fight it like it is the enemy. However, I can soon tell that they are actually happier with a disciplined life. In the disciplined life they know what to expect. In the disciplined life they do a variety of things and get things accomplished. That feels good. On vacation they get to watch more and longer videos. On vacation they get to play computer games. On vacation they get to do so much more of their favorite things. They also seem to get bogged down in making choices among all the fun things they could do. They find it suddenly appealing to read whole books for fun, when they used to complain about being asked to read a paragraph of schoolwork. They write stories for half the day when they usually complain "how many sentences? That's too many!" I'm amused at how much school they incorporate into play when they no longer feel the daily school pressure. So if they love it when we aren't doing school, I suppose the question is why don't we follow the "unschooling" approach. Basically, It's because we know our kids. They only love the stuff they already know. They hate with a passion anything they still have to learn because it is a) unknown, b) harder than what they are used to, c) they aren't good at it yet, d) they would rather have an easy, ignorant life, and e) all of the above. Our kids are pretty lazy when left to their own devices. I would love for my kids to be willing, eager, self-learners. However, that requires self-discipline. Self-discipline comes with self-control and an awareness of the different outcomes resulting from disciplined behavior and undisciplined behavior.

During our school times, I provide discipline to accomplish the schoolwork to help our kids improve their skills. When they cooperate, things go smoothly and they make rapid progress. When they don't cooperate, they don't make progress and the monotony of Mommy telling her child to get back to her work is an annoying, repetative drone. One day I was so fed up with the distractableness of my daughter that I stopped nagging and simply told her that I would make a tally mark for everytime I saw her distracted from her work. When she was done, she would have additional work in writing sentences for every tally mark on my sheet. It was amazing how focused she was after that. That particular day she only had to write two extra sentences. One of which was because she stopped her work at one point to ask me if I had done a tally mark. My goal is that I provide the discipline until they are mature enough to choose to discipline themselves. I also have to provide them with opportunities to see both sides of the choice, so that they understand the results of the choice. So we will continue to have school weeks and holiday weeks, even though the transition can be bumpy.

As of this last holiday, we are a third of the way through our school year. Our half-way point comes at Thanksgiving. This is a perfect time to stop and evaluate how things are going. The Fairy has been reading real chapter books from the library. They are short, but they have real chapters in the story, not chapters that could be stand alone stories. So far I've managed to find two at the library she really loved. The first was about a Llama named Harley. The second was a book titled "Birthday Pony." Both were stories from the real world not a make believe world. I am very pleased that she has been enjoying these. She has completed her lessons in cursive writing. From here on out we will be practicing what she knows. Three days a week I will be having her write her assignments in cursive. Two days a week she will be doing assignments in print. I am doing this so that she gets continued practice at both methods for a while. She is still a new enough writer, that I don't want her to lose one method so early on. She has been enjoying her science lessons. We have been concentrating on weather in the last six weeks. We will move on to studying how natural forces effect people around the world for our next segment of lessons. Her least favorite subject is math although she is actually very good at it. She doesn't like the repetition, but she needs it to really solidify her understanding.

As we begin a new six-week segment of lessons, I try to challenge her a little more. I'm being more of a stickler for proper capitalization and neatness of writing (before I would let her get away with writing her name in all capitals). As previously mentioned, I am alternating days for cursive and print use to give practice in each. I am adding an additional sentence to her written narrations. She now must write seven sentences to tell me about what we have read. I have noticed that her retelling abilities have improved with the added sentences. Last year when she was writing only three or four sentences at a time they were very disjointed. With six and seven sentences she actually has enough space to tell more of the story, so she does a better job. I can also say that 1001 Arabian Nights is a hit in the literature category. The book we have chosen for this is by Geraldine McCaughrean. It seems to be a good version that keeps the stories appropriate for kids while still keeping them interesting. She has also enjoyed some Norse myths as well as some Chinese, Japanese and Korean folktales. Stories and Art seem to appeal to her a lot as well as Science (where she is learning about real stuff). So I am trying to keep those elements strong in our lessons.

The Adrenaline Junkie is mostly enjoying her school work. She has a lot less to do. She is reading better, but she still complains about having to sound out words. She wants to read effortlessly, but to get there she has to do the work of sounding out now. Four-year olds don't understand these things. She also wants to spell. I force myself to be patient when she keeps asking me how to spell words. Her spelling really is supplementing her reading skills and is helping her understand that words are spelled the same way every time. It also helps her be more familiar with some of the words she likes to use. I am still taking it a little slower with her than I did with her sister. It isn't so much a difference in ability as it is a difference in interest and focus. The Junkie looks at the world differently than her sister. She just has more priority on relationships and less of a priority on knowledge. I have seen evidence that if the Junkie applied herself, she could do better work than the Fairy did at the same age level. But the Adrenaline Junkie is a very active whirlwind of a girl. It is hard for her to sit still very long. In fact, she and the 2.5 year old Happy Boy live life at about the same speed (hurtling through space as fast as their little bodies can carry them). I'm not going to be too quick to try to advance the Adrenaline Junkie until she has gotten better with her reading and writing. She still thinks a lot like a preschooler. The switch in her brain that makes her think like an older kid hasn't happened yet. Until that happens, It would be folly to try to take on a full day school schedule.

So what have we be up to besides school? Flu shots, Dentist appointments, taking walks, household chores and shopping trips. I've been grinding grain with my mill and baking homemade wheat bread. I also experimented with millet. I've come to the conclusion that Millet bread is a lot like corn bread and can be used in many of the same ways. I've been cleaning up some of the toy areas and weeded out a few items to be given away as well as brought out a few things our youngest is old enough for now. Besides my sewing project in progress, I started a small needlepoint that is going quickly. The Fairy is knitting scarves in hopes of selling a few for spending money. The Junkie is begging me to teach her to sew. I have a whole lot of craft project ideas lined up in my mind. The big one being quilting again. It's just about time to teach the oldest of my girls how to do hand sewing. Hand sewing patchwork sampler blocks would be perfect to teach her. Then maybe next year sometime (if not later depending on how fast she sews) we can start basic machine sewing.

This is my rough outline for how to teach a child to sew:

  1. Lacing cards used to practice a running stitch, a whip stitch and a blanket stitch.
  2. Teach plastic canvas needlepoint half-cross stitch projects.
  3. Teach hand sewing using patchwork projects and any small crafts that come up and interest the child.
  4. Teach basic machine sewing using simple projects (such as putting patchwork into a quilt).
  5. Teach basic sewing procedures by sewing from a pattern (stuffed animal, simple article of clothing, etc.)
  6. Try harder projects little by little until child has developed desired level of mastery.
  7. Child becomes self-taught and self-directed in sewing projects (or any other craft projects for that matter)
That is what I plan to try anyway. I also plan to teach both the girls and the boy to sew. I think their Daddy plans to teach them all to do wood working and any other interesting creative and building skills we can thinking of.

Ok, so this wasn't all that quick. But it was an update. I hope you enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Progress... A Little Bit Every Day

I had a victory today. I finally finished the Pillowfight Fairy's fancy dress that I promised her back in May. She will probably be very overdressed for church someday soon. She will probably attend the ballet in the fancy dress too. As a result of this victory, I now have a conundrum. Do I immediately start making the Adrenaline Junkie's fancy dress, or do I take a break to make Halloween costumes. I'm leaning toward the Halloween costumes. One reason for this is that I'm sick of sewing fancy clothes (oh!...those gathers!...yards and yards of gathered netting...gathered ruffles...gathered skirts...uuuugh!). Another is that I suspect I'm running out of steam with the sewing projects, so I'd better get costumes done while I can.

I also noticed with surprise today that as of this Friday we are a quarter of the way through our school year. What with everyone else just starting their school year, I forgot that I've already been at it for nine out of 36 weeks. It wasn't until I noticed the Math lesson number that I realized that we had made that much progress. It is very true that progress is made one little bit at a time, not usually in leaps and bounds. I was so focused on the daily aspect of school that I forgot to look up as see where we were.

So where are we? Glad you asked. I made some good estimates on what the Pillowfight Fairy's schedule should be for this year. We are on schedule and trying to maintain the balance between challenging her and not overloading her. As for the Adrenaline Junkie, I'm still figuring her out. As noted in earlier posts, some of her lessons were getting too advanced for her so I slowed things down a bit. We are taking it at a little slower pace than I originally planned. But that's OK. We have room for adjustment in the schedule. But, at the slower pace, she still gets needed practice and I can be sure that she is really learning her subjects. She won't be five until December and still has the preschool wigglies. She is different enough from her sister that I can't predict how far along she will be for next year yet. So far her favorite subject is Math. She seems to have a love/hate relationship with reading and writing. She wants to read and write, but doesn't like the work it takes to learn it. While the Fairy is a perfectionist, the Junkie is more of a free spirit. She doesn't care about making her letters and numbers the same way every time and it causes her problems with her writing. She may start a letter at the top one time, the bottom the next time, backwards the third. I'm trying to be patient and not get angry when she writes a sentence completely backwards (both in the letters and from right to left) because she also spelled everything correctly and was consistent in her execution. I still have to correct her of course, but I try to be gentle. She is getting more comfortable with sounding out words and will spell words phonetically on her own. As her pseudonym suggests she is a very active little girl. She has trouble sitting still for very long. Fortunately she doesn't have to. Thankfully she and her younger brother, The Happy Boy, are able to play together a lot better now.

The Happy Boy is growing and changing too. I'm having a hard time remembering that he is not yet three. He is acting older and can do so much. Lately he has been fascinated by doing simple jigsaw puzzles (24 pieces) and he is getting better at figuring out where to put the pieces himself. He still loves to be read to and I've noticed him speaking more understandably lately.


Well, I just had a conversation with my husband about Halloween costumes. It looks like the costumes will come before the other fancy dress. The reason being that not only does the Fairy want to be a tiger this year, but my husband is making an elvish princess chain maille outfit for the Junkie which will need a special under-dress made for it. So, I guess I'll be visiting stores soon to make these new items.

I will try to get a picture of the fancy dress posted soon. My husband will probably do a post on his latest chain maille endeavor when it is finished. It is pretty fancy itself. I think it falls more in the category of full body jewelry rather than armor.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Frustration Inherent in Doing Things Differently

It hit me today that one of the things that I am doing with my kids is not the standard way of doing it. Now, that should not be a complete surprise. "Normal" is not what I'm aiming for so I shouldn't be too surprised when I miss it. The thing that I have been doing is teaching basic phonics and reading at the same time as teaching spelling.

I was getting frustrated with how the spelling curricula I'm using is not well matched to my daughter's level and how it was not as well designed along a phonics method as I would like. We are using Spelling Workout from Modern Curriculum Press. It fit well with my oldest daughter, so I thought I would give it a try for our second daughter. But, our second daughter is in a slightly different situation. Our oldest daughter was starting to read at 3 1/2 years and by 4 1/2 years was a confident young reader. Our second daughter has all the phonics basics in her head, she just didn't have interest in reading until recently. She is now 4 1/2 and begining to work through the sounding out phase of early reading. The older daughter was able to read her Kindergarten spelling lessons without much help and it seemed easy. The second daughter has just as much desire to learn to write words as to read them, so I thought the spelling lessons would be helpful in reinforcing the reading and phonics.

But, this time around I am more sensitive to the irregularities in lesson progress. The first Spelling Workout level (A) is geared for a first grader. A first grader is more likely to be further along in reading and spelling abilities. Although the book starts out simpler than the Adrenaline Junkie needed, it quickly became very challenging for her. I was also taking it at a faster pace than it was designed for. I'm having to break up the lessons in half and take only half a lesson per day. I suspect that the lessons were meant to be covered in a week. As a result we are already a little past the halfway point in the book and it is expecting half a year's growth to have taken place when we have only been doing the lessons for five weeks. Am I pushing too hard? Maybe, but that doesn't change the fact that she is still able to complete the lessons and I am seeing her make progress. I just have to be right there to read the lesson to her (the parts she is unable to do herself) and encourage her to sound out the actual spelling words and practice writing the actual spelling words. I am also having to teach her how to take each excercise and step by step talk her through it. I find it frustrating that she is unable to do the reading sections on her own yet, mainly because the reading sections mix more advanced words with the current spelling words. They even throw in a few spelling words that are harder than the most common phonetic form that they are highlighting (long o sound includes the harder "toe" and "road" and "fold" as opposed to the simpler "home"). It makes me wonder if there is a better fit out there for my second daughter's ability level.

So I spent a little bit of time today websearching results on "phonics" and "spelling." I've come to realize that most spelling programs follow some kind of phonics approach, but they are not geared to the level of a four year old who is needing phonics spelling practice at the same time that she is learning to read. I looked at a few that looked promising at first, but at closer inspection had similar issues as the ones I was dealing with. Either the teaching method was geared to an older child or the material was mixed with more advanced words than the current lesson addressed or the material took the lessons at such a slow pace that she would become bored with them and tune out. Within a month she has figured out the differences between long and short vowel sounds, why would I limit her to learning only short vowel sounds for an entire year?

I think one of my foundation issues in all of this is that I don't wait to teach a topic when everyone else teaches it. I teach it when it appears that my child is ready to learn it. So far my two oldest children were ready to learn reading and writing before their public school peers are traditionally introduced to it. They are learning the topic before they can understand some of the teaching exercises used in the prepackaged curricula (For instance unscrambling letters may be a fun exercise for a first or second grader, but incomprehensible to a four year old just sounding out her words). Sometimes the material is inappropriate age-wise or brain-maturity-wise, but would otherwise be covering what they are ready to learn.

If anyone out there knows of some curricula that would work for a four year old who wants to be able to spell and write as well as read, please let me know. I would love to find something that would be a good fit for her. Otherwise, I'm beginning to think that I may just have to figure out my own home-made lessons for her. I already use the old MacGuffey Primer for teaching her to read. She likes the pictures and stories. I like how it only uses words that have already been introduced in the prior lessons or the current lesson. I also have a Blue Back Speller and considered using that this year. I couldn't figure out how to use the syllabary in a day to day fashion for learning to read. Maybe I should take another look to see if it would work better for what my daughter needs. It is designed to be used to teach spelling after all.

I don't really want to create my own lessons. I'm doing that enough already with art, religion, and literature for my oldest child. It would be nice to get on track with something that I knew what comes next once we go from point A to point B. I also suspect that my son who is still only two will be ready early too. So this problem will undoubtably come up again with some new twist that is unique to him. I just get tired of hitting road blocks when I'm trying to find something to make my life easier. Silly me... homeschooling isn't about easier. It can be about tailored lessons; it can be about relationship-building; it can be about focused training; it can be about flexibility. I wanted my kids to be challenged in their educations. As a result, I find I have to participate in the challenges too... like working through frustrating curriculum mismatches.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Slowing Down With My Ambitions

A few posts back, I talked about all of my ambitious plans. Well... the weather has been hot and we are back in school so I find myself slowing down on my projects.

I used to love summer... back when I was a kid... when I lived somewhere where you didn't need air conditioning for most of the year. My parents still live there. Only about two weeks every year is it hot enough to wish that you had air conditioning, then it cools down to reasonable levels again and you find you can make do with a box fan just fine. Where we live now in the Sacramento area, it gets beastly hot during much of the summer. Even this year which has been milder than usual, it has been over a hundred plenty. Even though we have air conditioning here, the house still radiates the heat after dark and I feel wilty.

As for the schoolwork, it has been going fairly well. I have managed to get two girls to do their work all month, with only one day off to play with cousins. Even so, schoolwork takes up the majority of the day. When I'm not activity working with one child, another needs attention, housework needs to be done, life goes on. It still surprises me how much time work takes up. Intellectually I understand that since I am homeschooling my kids that I am effectively a "Working Mom". I have a full day's work beyond the general homemaker tasks. Emotionally, however, I still think that my time is my own since I'm my own boss and I have flexible hours. Reality is that being one's own boss means that you have to be the disciplined one and flexible hours means that if plan A falls through, use that flexibility to make a plan B. I find myself bouncing between overworking myself and goofing off when the kids go to bed. As a result my extra projects have slowed down and I tend to save some jobs for school holiday weeks. We've been doing school for four weeks that means I have only two more weeks before our first school break. I have a huge list of things I want to get done in that week. But anyway, what kind of progress have I made so far on my ambitious plans?

1. reclaiming the garden: We did put in drip irrigation but, we still are having a bad garden year. I harvested the few remaining carrots and one miniature cabbage. We still have the peppers, garlic, tomatoes, corn and beans growning. But, weeds are still a problem (they like the heat and I don't). Of the remaining veggies the corn and tomatoes are doing the best (though the corn is spindly and small). Our fruit trees have been doing well. Though we are thinking we need to take out our pear trees (they keep getting hit by blight).

2. We still need to frame our final remaining picture of baby E.

3. I have made good progress at putting away baby things. Very few things are still out.

4. The Fairy's fancy dress in still in production. I'm down to getting the skirt attached and final details. It isn't as much fun as when I started the project, so I'm having to force myself to work on it. It needs to be done soon, she just had another growth spurt. I'm a whole month behind since I planned to be finishing up the Junkie's dress this month.

5. I did clear off some space for the current school year's books.

6. I have cleared up a kitchen counter pretty well, but it is in constant danger of being inundated again. I know what I want to store in my plastic bag cabinet, so now I just need to find a way to make it happen (in a easy to work with manner).

7. I didn't put it on my previous list of ambitions, but we have been wanting to redo our garage. Someday we would like our garage to have the walls and ceiling finished with drywall and have appropriate storage and electrical outlets for our preferred uses for it. In preparation for this I inventoried our haphazardly piled garage stuff and put like things together. I also discovered things that we don't want which can be tossed or given away as appropriate. The next step in the process will be to dismantle a really awkward work bench that we don't want and which gets in the way of using a big chunk of wall for storage of tools. After rearranging things, it looks almost civilized in there.

I haven't gotten everything done, but I haven't given up yet. At least with a big to do list, I can work on whatever fits my convenience the best at the moment. I am trying to not add too many other new projects on until I finish a few more that I already have. I have lots of ideas waiting around in my head though.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dress update and the first day of school

I mentioned that I was going to post pictures of the completed dresses I made for the girls. The matching summer dresses were completed at the end of May. Here's a picture:

I think they turned out well.

The fancy dresses are still in progress. I am in the middle of constructing The Pillowfight Fairy's fancy dress. If I worked on it faithfully every night it would be done by now. But, I am not up to working on it every night.

We also just had our first day of school for the new school year. What? Early you say? What better time to be indoors than during a Sacramento summer. I'm pleased to say that it went well. The lessons went quickly. The kids were happy to be doing school again. They had structure and purpose in their lives again. As a reminder this is the first year that I am doing two kids in a structured format, with the toddler as the wild card. The Fairy is starting second grade and the Adrenaline Junkie is starting Kindergarten. The lessons were mostly review for the Fairy today. They were more challenging for the Junkie, but not too difficult of a stretch. The Junkie got plenty of play time (often with her little brother) to get out her wiggles. The Happy Boy managed OK too. He did try to get me to turn on the computer for a video or a game, but could be convinced to play with other things instead. He and his sister spent a good thirty to forty-five minutes going back and forth between the kitchen and dining room while opening and closing the sliding door in between while pretending they were characters from Bugs Life. They did make a tremendous mess of play food on the kitchen floor supplemented by a dozen board books and a toy alligator. But they also were able to clean up the mess without help. About an hour later I did discover a half-eaten nectarine on the floor of the kitchen. But these days, that is a blessedly small mess compared to what the Happy Boy is capable of. He is getting tall enough to reach things on the counter tops and has snacking tendencies. On the whole I am pleased with the day and hope we have many more that go as well.

For those wondering about when my husband is going to update his blog, I have no idea. He just got a new shipment of rings and has started making a chain maille outfit for the Adrenaline Junkie. He loves his new hobby. So your guess is as good as mine.

We seem to be in a crafty mood lately. He makes chain maille. I make dresses and am planning some crocheted shawls to go with said dresses. The Pillowfight Fairy has been knitting a scarf (hopefully the first of many) which she hopes to sell close to Christmas for extra money. No special craft for the Junkie yet (though I am contemplating fulfilling a promise to make a toy "church mouse" and getting her to help). The Happy Boy has obsessions too. He likes to put foam letter stickers on paper in mostly straight even lines. He can easily do this for an hour a day (or until his two year old body has to wiggle out of his seat and go running around the house in circles).

With all of our idiosyncrasies I think I am losing track of whether our daily life is amazingly dull and boring or odd and exciting. Or maybe we are oddly boring or dully exciting. I can't actually say that I've ever been normal, but I think our family is continuing to be different but in many ways that are different for us. Does that make any sense? Well, at any rate, we are managing to maintain routine life while adding in a little variety. And yes chaos is still alive and well in our household and I am still working on finding order in the midst of it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When News Hits Close To Home

I couldn't help noticing this story recently. It is a story about a woman who blogged about having a terminally ill baby. What do you know, we had a terminally ill baby. When I read more, she claimed that the baby was a trisomy 13 baby. We had a trisomy 13 baby. She claimed that her Christian faith kept her from aborting the child, but to carry it to term. We made the same decision. Lots of people followed her blog and sent her encouragement... same here. The key difference was that she perpetrated a hoax... it was all a lie. Our story was true. Many people are upset with her. Some want her to be prosecuted, but there isn't really any way to do that. She apparently did it to work through some issues that she did actually have in her life. The article states:
In her apology, Beushausen said she began writing the story as therapy but became addicted to the attention it generated. She said she lied "to a community of people whose only intention was to support me through this time and that is wrong, and for that I am sorrier than you could know."
I saw references to this story several times, and the angle seems to be that lying on the internet is just wrong and should be treated as a heinous crime. I would like to say for the record that whether or not lying is a crime it is still wrong. But people have lied for various reasons throughout history. As a librarian, I have always been amazed that people seem to understand someone lying verbally, but they are aghast if it happens in print. Somehow they believe that newspapers only print truth. Book publishers only print truth. The Internet only prints truth. Hello out there! There is not some magical process that prevents lies from entering print media. You have to evaluate truth or falsehood the same way every time. Consider the source and how reliable it is. If you don't know the source, you can't tell how reliable it is. If you follow a blog site for a long time, you may get a better feel for its veracity. Is it backed up by supporting facts? If the story is a very personal one, it is harder to tell.

I also wondered how many people would start second guessing our story since it sounds so similar.

But I am getting off the topic that I really wanted to pursue here. All of that is dealing with the issue of lying to the public. I really wanted to deal with the object of temptation. Before I saw that story, I had already noticed that there was a temptation to people who go through tough issues like we did. Until you are in that situation you may not realize it. And if you are in that situation you may give in to the temptation before you realize it is there. The temptation is to take undue advantage of people's good will to you. Let me take you down the road with me for a while and maybe I can show you what it is like.

When I first got a call from the hospital that they noticed something unusual in our ultrasound, I was proud of myself for having the presence of mind to sit down while they described what they found and why they needed to have a more detailed ultrasound to determine more fully what the situation was. I told Tim what they told me and we were very concerned. We knew that something bad was likely happening, but we knew nothing more than that and we started telling people that we needed prayers.

At our appointment for the second ultrasound, they described the concerns they had based on the first ultrasound and then we had the second one. The pictures were much better and they confirmed the problem. As another avenue of information, we decided to have an amniocentesis done that day, which did confirm trisomy 13. We were shell shocked at the time. We sought information hungrily. I felt like I was moving through a haze going through life and our kids kept pulling me out of this hazy world of seriousness into the present where I still needed to play with them and feed them and love on them. I still had to prepare for Christmas. We shared with everyone our news so that they could pray with a little more information. As a result we were inundated with prayers, concern, love, and good wishes.

The fact that we still had to get on with our lives helped and so did all of the attention people were showing us. I am sure the prayers we didn't even know about helped too. During this early time period we had to make basic decisions like continuing the pregnancy. This is the time when I did most of my mourning for our daughter. Because of the discomfort of the pregnancy, I often found myself awake in the wee hours of the morning. That is the worst time for a troubled person... everything seems bleaker then. It was also the time when we were first public about our trouble and had people coming up to us to find out what was happening. We frequently had people telling us how heart-broken they were for us. They kept asking us how we were doing, asking how we could possibly be managing through it all, and volunteering to help in any way.

Before long we had people telling us how amazing we are and how strong we are. Not all that long ago I had someone I barely know tell me "you're a good christian woman" (out of the blue, as we passed each other, with no other context). Not only do I not really know what she meant by that, both Tim and I are puzzled by these things.

Now we would like to think that we are all the nice things that people are saying to us. However, from our perspective we are simply trying to do the best we can and didn't have a whole lot of choice in dealing with the diagnosis of a trisomy 13 baby. Yes, we did have to make a few choices along the way, but that doesn't change the fact that it had to be dealt with one way or another. We were getting a lot of attention. People were being very good to us. People were making us dinners nearly two months after our baby died. When my doctor asked me (over and over again) how I was managing, he was impressed by the support we were getting.

Do you start to see where the temptation comes in? First you get lots of attention. Then people start saying really impressive things to you and about you. People decide to put their desire to help into action and you get physical help in one way or another. Before you know it, you get kind of used to getting the attention. Then you start getting a big head over how wonderful people say you are. Then you start to receive physical benefits from people who are showing you their love for you. That can be addictive. Apparently that was what happened to the woman in the news story.

Now the reaction to this woman who lied seems to be that people are feeling that their good actions were given to the wrong person, who benefited from it and they feel burned. I want to say that just because someone committed a hoax, should not keep people from doing good things. But I will say that people in the real situation do have a temptation to take undue advantage. So, I will also say to those doing the good works for them, "don't be taken advantage of." I have seen someone wrap herself in what seemed to me to be a cloak holiness. She was frequently used as a motivational speaker who was guaranteed to make people cry as she would tell her story. I knew someone with a terminal illness that rubbed me the wrong way, when I saw her wanting to be treated extra special by everybody all the time. I saw a couple who seemed strong at the beginning when they lost a child, but who went through a very troubled time for many years after because the strength was more show than substance. In all of these cases, I had a little bit closer dealings with these people than a passing acquaintance so I saw a difference between public behavior and private behavior. I don't want that kind of thing to be part of my story.

I would rather people see me for who I am. I am not extra holy. I do not consider myself somehow stronger or especially blessed to handle trouble. I like to think that what we all face in life is common to man. The rain falls on both the godly and the ungodly after all. Instead of saying "why me?", I think the more appropriate question is "why not me?" So, all the extra special treatment felt a little odd to me. It was very helpful. It did do us some good. But I think it is appropriate for a season. It shouldn't become a lifestyle. At least it shouldn't be a lifestyle for the person receiving the special treatment. It is very appropriate for the person giving it as long as they spread it around to everyone.

Friday, June 05, 2009

I'm getting in that mood again...

This blog is supposed to be about my war with chaos and how I keep trying to bring order to my world even though having three young kids works against my efforts. I must be feeling better lately, because I've been getting in the mood to start another assault on chaos. I've been noticing a large number of toys that aren't getting played with much and toys that are being out-grown. I've been trying to finish up some left over projects (though I did start new ones of sewing dresses). I'm trying to retake the garden from the weeds. Every time I turn around I see some area of the house that can use some heavy-duty organizing or simplification.

Maybe this mood is prompted by my renewed energy now that I am no longer pregnant and have made good progress in recovering from childbirth. Or maybe it is caused by my realization that if I'm going to start school with the kids in July, I only have this month to get some things done before I "go back to work" as it were. Whatever the cause, I have the itch to be productive. Here is a look at some of the things going on lately:

1. Reclaiming the garden. I've actually been working at this for a few weeks now. I've been trying to get out and weed the garden a few afternoons a week while the kids play outside after lunch. I don't always get a lot of time at it, since the Happy Boy has been wanting more attention from me lately. But I've pulled the weeds out of a few rows that were actually producing vegetables. Then I went to the plant nursery and the girls helped me pick out some vegetable plants to fill up the empty spaces. I've also been a little more regular in watering the garden. Perhaps we can get some drip irrigation put in to help with that soon. The plants that still survive the Spring planting are: cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and onion. We did have spinach and snow peas, but we finished those up already. We also have a clump of chives that came up from last year's garden (which never came up last year). The new vegetables are a cherry tomato plant, some pepper plants, some garlic and several stalks of corn. I also planted green beans in place of the snow peas.

2. I finished and framed my last needlepoint project. Now I just have to find a place to hang it. That will have to wait until we have framed a picture of Baby E. then we can find places for all our new framed pictures at the same time.

3. I have been putting away baby things that we plan to keep a while just in case we need them again. I have also been planning what things can be gotten rid of (like some baby toys) since the Happy Boy is outgrowing them. I'm hoping my umbrella strollers will hold out until I can trust him to walk with me obediently. With all of the walking we do, they are showing the wear.

4. I have made two summer dresses for the girls within the deadline I had for myself (sorry, no pictures available yet). Now I am starting the Pillowfight Fairy's fancy occasion dress. So far it is merely a bag of fabric and a cut out paper pattern. I will try to have it done by the end of the month so that I can spend July doing one for the Adrenaline Junkie.

5. To help free up some shelf space for the coming year's schoolwork, I bought a comb-binder machine to help me bind old schoolwork in preparation for storing it away in the garage. Unfortunately, with the Adrenaline Junkie starting school with me this year, we still need more space for books and binders. I'm still investigating what possibilities are left to us to solve the problem. Tim and I have already thinned out our books as far as we are comfortable with. I think I will just have to clear off the top of a filing cabinet we have in the living room and make that the designated school work stacking spot. It is either that or buy new bookshelves to replace some smaller ones currently in use.

6. I'm also thinking that some of our kitchen is not utilized properly. It would be nice to clear off some counter space and reorganize some of my cabinets for better storage. The kids' craft supplies shouldn't be in the kitchen. Neither should I have an entire cabinet for storing plastic grocery bags. Food preparation would be so much easier if I didn't have half my counter space covered with clutter. And one of these days I really ought to put up the curtains I bought for the kitchen (five years ago!).

So what do you think? Is it possible to get finished with all this before July? Maybe not all of it. But I hope to do most of it. I was slowed down a little this past week by sick kids (and me too). My biggest problem is putting too many things on my to do list. I haven't mentioned all of the other things that I dream about doing but don't think will get done any time soon. Ah... maybe I'm learning to be content with those things I can't change right now. It is hard to have contentment when you're trying to change the status quo.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I've finished the planning stage

I am happy to announce that I have finished planning for the coming school year. This is a really big thing for me. To understand why, you need to understand what I mean by planning. For some people, a plan is a nebulous idea of something they might do sometime, somewhere in an undetermined place. That's not me. When I have finished planning something, it is complete and detailed.

Our new school year will start in July. The reasons for choosing this time are varied. First, we did it that way last year and it worked well. Second, the kids can only stand so much vacation until they get antsy for school (Really! They do! My oldest is already reading ahead in her new textbooks). Third, their grade levels change at our church in July. Fourth, Starting that early helps in scheduling our nearly year round school. The only catch in this schedule is that the Adrenaline Junkie will not immediately move up to Kindergarten in the church class although I will be doing Kindergarten with her at home. That change will take place when she is more able to sit and listen for more than a few minutes at a time. I can work around her wiggliness here at home, but I don't expect another teacher to do so with a full class of kids.

I've spent hours and hours over that last five months, planning the new school year (I got an early start since I knew I was expecting a baby and didn't want to do intensive planning right after giving birth.) The Pillowfight Fairy has a year that will be just as full as last year was and slightly more challenging. The Adrenaline Junkie will be starting some basics. How to juggle their lessons will probably be my biggest challenge this year (that and how to keep the Happy Boy from feeling left out).

The Adrenaline Junkie will be following a course of study that includes reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics. Her reading program will start with McGuffey's Eclectic Primer and continue with practice reading in a variety of books that we have or can get from the library. She has gone through a phonics program and knows how to sound out words, but she still considers it hard work and prefers to have people read to her. My goal is to get her to do enough practice of sounding out words that it becomes easier and therefore something she wants to do herself.

For writing lessons, I am going to try Handwriting without Tears. She is actually very good at forming letters that are readable. But she has some work to do at drawing her letters the same way every time with proper size and spacing. She actually does a better job on blank printer paper than she does on lined paper. She also has no consistency in method. Sometimes she writes left to right, sometimes she writes the letters and words backwards from right to left. She may start writing a letter at the top or bottom and never the same way twice. She doesn't follow a consistent pattern of writing curves in clockwise or counterclockwise directions. Maybe this is because she is more of a free spirit than her sister was, but she needs to learn consistency for her own ease of writing.

I am including spelling lessons because I find that they reinforce the writing and reading lessons. Besides... she is always asking me how to spell things that she wants to write. If she is wanting to spell words, she should be learning basic spelling. We will be using Spelling Workout.

For math, we will be using Horizons Math. This has worked well for our first daughter and we like the teaching method and pacing that it uses. It is also flexible with students with different learning styles. The Adrenaline Junkie gives the impression that math is not something that she thinks about. However, this is a deception. I have noticed in her play with her older sister, that she has shown a better understanding of simple math than I had expected. She also tends to have more of an engineering personality than the Fairy. I expect that her learning style will be different, but I think she can handle a challenging math curriculum.

Some of the curricula we plan to use, will finish relatively quickly in the school year, so we will continue reading, writing, and spelling practice in various ways through the rest of the year. I will need to space the Junkie's lessons out a bit during the day to give her time to run around and play.

The Pillowfight Fairy will be having the following subjects in her new school year: spelling, grammar, vocabulary, memory work, penmanship (cursive), mathematics, medieval literature, medieval history, Earth science (1st semester), astronomy (2nd semester), religion, art, and music. I am fully aware that this is a lot. However, the way it is arranged in her schedule, it really is manageable.

She will be doing spelling lessons four days a week. Grammar and vocabulary will be trading off days (three days grammar, two days vocabulary). Memory work will be a combination of memorization from other subject areas and her church memory verses. Penmanship will be five days a week to start and then adjust to three days a week as she completes the formal lessons and moves on to practical application. Math will be five days a week. Literature will no longer be daily (as done last year), but instead will be selected stories to match up with what she is studying in history and to be read concurrently with them. History will be three days a week. Science will be two days a week of readings and lessons combined with daily weather observations for earth science (nightly sky observations during the astronomy section). We will continue our Bible readings where we left off. According to my schedule we will pick up in the book of Numbers and finish in I Samuel (yes I did really read ahead and break up the readings into appropriate chunks). Her art lessons will be a combination of art technique (using Drawing for Young Artists), crafts to match her history lessons, and history-themed coloring books. Music lessons will be piano practice five days a week, a weekly piano lesson, and a weekly music theory lesson.

This is a challenging schedule, but it looks more daunting on a daily basis than it really is since she is such a quick learner. She is a good enough reader that I will be having her do most of her own reading rather than me reading to her. She will have plenty of opportunity to practice writing in various ways. She loves memorization of poems so I will have to make sure that she gets some of that as well as memorization of drier information. She is good at math and picks it up quickly, but she hates the math practice that is necessary to internalize it. She is very excited about her coming science lessons (especially the daily/nightly observations). Art is a favorite subject of hers, so I will try to incorporate it as much as possible in our lessons. She also loves music, but as with math, she doesn't like practice.

Beside having her read more of her own lessons, I want to have her narrate back her lessons to help her process the information to retain it better. For literature, history, science, and religion she will need to do some kind of narration. She needs to work more on doing verbal and written narrations. I am thinking of letting her have some choice in what kind of narration she will do. Of those four subjects I think it would be reasonable to have one of them verbal, and one of them written every day (her choice of subject). Any additional ones could be her choice of verbal, written, or artwork. With the schedule I have made, some days would have only two, some would have three. I don't think we would be doing any more than that during a day unless we were trying to play catch up after a sick day.

To make my life easier, I think that I can plan our days in such a way that I can have the two girls doing workbook work at the same time so that I could bounce between them instructing and guiding as needed. I can also probably do a reading lesson with the Junkie during the Fairy's Piano practice. I'm hoping that having the girls doing some of their lessons at the table together (even though they are different levels) will help them feel like they aren't having to do all the work alone. That was a bit of a problem this last year when the Fairy had trouble concentrating because her siblings were busy having fun while she was stuck with schoolwork. Also, whenever the Junkie wants to listen in or participate with the Fairy's other lessons, she can. She can listen to the stories, she can listen to the history lessons, she can do art and crafts, she can listen to the science lesson and learn about how to do weather observations. She wants to be a big kid so badly, listening in to the lessons can help her feel less left out.

The Happy Boy will be running amok, most likely. He will be doing his best to find ways to monopolize Mommy's attention. In addition, we will probably need to eliminate our current habit of watching a video after the Happy Boy's nap. As the kids get older, there are so many other things that they can do to fill that time more productively. That will also give us a little more flexibility in scheduling during the day. By the end of next school year, the Happy Boy will probably be giving up naps anyway.

So that is a summary of the plan. I have a folder that contains 46 pages of detailed lesson plans (including books and page numbers). I'll need to double check craft supplies and library books about every two weeks. Then I'll look over each day's plans the night before. This kind of planning isn't for everyone, but it works for me. I like being able to do all the work and decision making ahead of time. That way the actual accomplishment, is less stressful to me.

Another lesson learned and other rambling thoughts about life and death

This time I'm talking about a lesson I have learned rather than one I've been teaching to my kids. After the death of our baby, we have been inundated with well-wishers and sympathizers. People have been very good to us. They've been feeding us and praying for us. This being the first time we have had a child die (and hopeful the last time), it is all new for us. I have encountered death before. But, those cases were more distant: acquaintances, former teachers, a baby niece, grandparents who had lived long and good lives, and first trimester miscarried children. Of those others, the grandparents hit me hardest. That was because I knew them longest and best. I have found that now when I grieve, I am no longer grieving just for one person. I am grieving for all of the losses I've known. I also have found that when I hear of another person's loss, I feel an echo of that in my heart. I'm hoping that in the future, I will be able to be as helpful and supportive as people have been to us.

That echo in the heart seems to be common. When people hear of our loss, I have noticed that there will always be some who then share about a loss they have had. They are the ones most likely to have tears in their eyes for me. I have found that if I can set aside my self-centeredness for a time, those are opportunities to help others know that it is safe to grieve or share current struggles with me. Our next door neighbor is struggling with his wife's failing health. Another neighbor lost his wife about two weeks before we lost our baby. A church matriarch still mourns the loss of two husbands. One of my Aunts still mourns the loss of a baby son who died 50 years ago. Different people deal with death in different ways. For some the grieving process is a long one. I really don't know how long my grieving will go on. Perhaps I will be one of those that grieve for the rest of my life. So far, though, my grief has been fleeting in the few free moments I get from day to day.

It is a recent realization to me that I don't mourn the individual as much anymore as I mourn the reality of death. Death is the enemy that we all eventually have to face. Life by life, people are taken from us. Even though as Christians we know that death of a Christian loved one is a temporary separation, it will last for as long as we ourselves live in this life. As a result, we still suffer the loss of those people who have been taken from us. I no longer feel the need to try to cheer someone up. It is enough to recognize their loss. I have found that letting them talk of their grief or just holding a hand and being silent is enough. They know that I have had a loss and that I understand. It is OK to grieve.

However, I do not feel even remotely sad most of the time. Does this mean that I'm not getting enough grieving time? Does it mean that I'm shallow or heartless? Does it mean that I'm forgeting our daughter? I don't think sadness has to always accompany grief as a neverending mood. I'm a pretty optimistic person in many ways. I'm married to a fun loving guy. We have three wonderful kids ages 6 and under who live in the present and who force us to live in the present. I find it hard to be depressed for long. Life brings joy to us in the midst of sorrow. God knew what he was doing by putting so much beauty in the world. If you find yourself constantly sad, I think you need to evaluate why. If you can't see joy in the beautiful things around you, you probably need some help to bring yourself out of depression.

The fact that I'm mostly happy, does not change the fact of my loss. It just makes it easier to bear. But I've also learned that if I want to be mostly happy instead of sad and fearful, I have to make some choices. I choose to live life for today and not dwell on the past which I can't change. I choose to live for the possibilities in the future and not dwell in fear what might yet happen. I also choose to avoid news stories that describe what horrible things people do to each other. I know my heart is not calloused when I encounter one of these by accident and my blood runs cold. I choose to avoid violent movies (I used to watch them all the time, but now I'm too sensitive to the evil that they depict) and instead try to use my time more productively. I remind myself that it is harder to build up than destroy. Still, I want to be a builder in life. I want to make a difference for the better. So I hope that the loss that we have been through really is building our character. Sometimes I feel like our world is lacking in the character department. Perhaps if we let our character be built by whatever hard times come our way, we will be the better for it and so will our world.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Summer ambitions

Our school year is almost over and summer beckons to us. I know that we will be taking it easy with lessons. Mainly the Pillowfight Fairy will continue piano lessons and the Adrenaline Junkie will be practicing reading and writing. But beyond that the possibilities seem endless. There are all of those craft projects that we never got done during the past year but we still have the supplies. The Pillowfight Fairy is contemplating a business plan of manufacturing scarves to sell come fall. The Adrenaline Junkie wants to paint and play computer games. And Mommy? Mommy just promised the girls homemade dresses today.

I may be nuts, but I've missed sewing and I had some fabric set aside that would make wonderful summer dresses for the girls. So today, we all went to the fabric store. While I and the girls were picking out appropriate patterns, Daddy and the Happy Boy were investigating Belt Buckles for the chain maille belt he was making for me. I finally came up with a dress pattern that the girls agreed to, but they had fallen in love with another pattern of fancy dresses as well. It turns out that this was a good day to shop for patterns at this store (All Simplicity patterns were just $1.50 each). So each girl got a pattern for a simple summer dress and a pattern for a fancy occassion dress.

The Fairy in particular is fascinated by this and wants to be in on all of the process. Which I think will be a very good thing. I intend to teach her to sew. So this is a situation where she can watch the process happen and learn how clothing is made. After this (and the completion of a few projects that are still in process), I hope to start teaching her how to sew patchwork by hand to make a small quilt project. So far she likes this idea. I'm not sure how much she will like it after about a dozen seams.

I'm looking forward to sewing again, but I wonder if I can get all four dresses done in a reasonable time so they can wear the dresses before they outgrow them. I am going to aim for getting the summer dresses done in a month's time. The fancy dresses will take longer. I will aim for no later than the beginning of August for them. Of course with dresses that fancy, we will need an occassion for them to wear them. If we don't come up with any special occassion, then I suppose they can always be princesses for Halloween.

Then maybe I will have my figure back in trim again by fall so that I can make something nice for me... Hmmm... I like that idea.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

End of School evaluation

I've recovered enough from childbirth to go back to doing schoolwork with the Pillowfight Fairy. We will be finishing up our last week of school sometime before the end of next week. As a result there will be much rejoicing (by her as well as by myself). Since we are so close to done, I thought I would reflect on what we accomplished, what was short-changed, what changes had to be made to the schedule, and what I learned about teaching my daughter in her first grade year.

What we accomplished: I and my husband are satisfied that our daughter had a productive year and learned an appropriate amount for her first grade year. She progressed in her writing ability from fighting the effort of putting one sentence together to writing several sentences at a time with ease (even doing so for fun from time to time). She did well with her spelling curriculum, such that I was a little concerned that it wasn't challenging enough. I've decided that we will stay with it, because I like the pacing and think that she is getting a fairly good foundation with it. She has enjoyed the readings we have done for ancient literature (particularly the Aesop's Fables). She has a good memory and often retells the tales she likes best. Some of the mythology we covered had longer more complicated stories that were hard for her to follow without confusion, but she still enjoyed many of them.

She did well with her math curriculum, but she enjoyed that less. She picks up the concepts quickly, but hates the repetitive practice she needs to get good at some of the skills. I insisted she do it anyway and she did get better at learning her addition and subtraction facts. She prefers word problems and has been teaching her younger sister to do simple word problems aloud.

We will have covered all of our history curriculum for the year in just a few more days. I have tried to keep the focus on introducing these new ideas from people and places from the past, without getting too caught up in too many details. Everything we are learning in history is brand new to her, so I want her to just concentrate on learning the main points. I was pleased that she was able to make a connection between her history lesson and her Bible stories this past week. It dawned on her that some of the place names in those lessons were the same, so I was able to point out that the events in the Bible were real events that happened historically.

As for her religion studies, we took it slowly to keep the readings short. We are about mid-way through the book of Numbers. She prefers the narrative stories in the Bible best, but most people do. I wanted to get her reading through the Bible instead of just jumping from story to story, so that she would have a more chronological feel for what happened in the Bible. It is also a good habit to develop in general.

As for art and music, she has progressed with both. She can draw well for her age, but she often chooses not to use the realistic style, so that she can use the more stylized look that she finds easier and faster. I've decided to change art books again to try to follow an interest I've seen her display for picture construction. So far we have tried "Draw Write Now." This was helpful in getting her motivated to write using art, but she wasn't making any artistic progress. Then we used "Drawing with Children" which has many useful ideas and tips. However, she avoids following the technique presented in the book. In the meantime, I've noticed that she enjoys the "How to Draw" segments on her Veggietales Videos, where the artist shows how to draw a character from the video using basic shapes and construction lines. We have noticed her incorporating some of these techniques in her drawings. So, to try to follow up on this interest, I decided to pull out an art book I used as a kid that follows the same techniques. It is called "Drawing for Young Artists", by Mary Black Diller. It shows how to do some of these techniques at a very simple level. I also have a more advanced book titled "Drawing for Girls" that she could work on should she master the first book.

She is doing well with her piano lessons and Tim has started teaching her some basic music theory. She loves the piano and the music lessons, she just hates practice. In all of these areas, she has made noticeable progress.

What was short-changed: Despite our daughter's reading ability, I didn't make her read much of her own lessons. At first it was a time issue, then I realized that she was getting away with minimal effort at listening and then was at a loss when it was time to narrate back what I read to her. In the coming year, she will have to do more of the reading. I had grand ideas of having her write letters to people once a week. She did a few letters, but not many. On a positive note, those letters were her idea, rather than mine, so she enjoyed the process more. I didn't do nearly as many craft projects as I had planned. This disappointed both girls most of the year, but Mommy was so tired during the school year that craft time (when the Happy Boy was down for an afternoon nap) became Mommy's nap-time. I hope to make it up to them by doing more crafts during our summer break. We didn't do as much Music listening or Art study as I had planned. Somehow, other things crowded it out. But, actually playing music and making art took up that time, so I'm content. I had the Fairy do memory work, but wasn't very good about going back and reviewing the memorized work. That is something that needs correcting in the coming year.

What changes had to be made to the schedule: After we started, I realized that we needed breaks from time to time or we would all go nuts. So, we took breaks every six weeks (six weeks on, one week off, etc.) I also found that writing a narration for every reading assignment was fine at first when it was just one or two sentences each. But, as she got better, I had her write more sentences for each assignment until it was becoming a source of conflict. I finally decided that since she was writing more anyway, I would have her write all of the narration sentences for just one of her day's reading assignments. That helped diffuse the conflict we were having and she still got practice at sentence writing and narrations. I found that I needed to change the rate at which we did some of the work. For instance, she did better with doing her spelling work in four days rather than the five I had planned for. She also went through her favorite subjects quicker (such as art) and I was unprepared for how to fill the void when she finished the work I planned earlier than I expected. I'm going to try to correct some of these issues as I finish up the plans for the coming year.

What did I learn by teaching our daughter in her first grade year: Our daughter's perfectionist tendencies lead her into trouble sometimes. She can paralyze herself by indecision if she is afraid that she will make a mistake. She won't shrivel up and die if I force her to do work that she doesn't want to do. In fact, some of the things she enjoys now, used to be the things she complained about the most. She thinks more clearly in the mornings and is crankier in the afternoons. She works better with a constant daily routine. If we mix up the routine, or delay school work, she becomes less cooperative. If I can involve her imagination using stories or art, she will learn faster, retain the information longer, and enjoy the process more. You never know in advance what she will key into and remember from a lesson. When she keys into something, I need to be flexible and follow it up the best I can (even if it means departing from the lesson plan). My own teaching style requires me to plan the year in detail from start to finish before we start. But, I have learned that I am capable of making appropriate changes as we go along. I don't feel the need to be a slave to the lesson plan.

So how will this effect my plans for the coming year? I'm still trying to figure that out. I just have some fine tuning to do on next year's lesson plan. I'm still adjusting how the day to day lessons will flow. I'm trying to figure out how to set up the science observations I want to do. I'm trying to allow for a slightly more relaxed structure than what we had this last year. But I will try to maintain continuity with this past year by keeping successful curricula and follow routines and patterns we developed in first grade as we transition to second grade.

In addition to working with the Pillowfight Fairy, I was starting phonics work with the Adrenaline Junkie. We are finishing up with some of that this week too. She has been begging to be in Kindergarten (which is not a given, since she is still only four and won't be five until December). I've decided to start her doing Kindergarten this coming school year. For us this means beginning reading, writing, and math. The trick with her is that she is a very wiggly, active girl who doesn't like to slow down for anything. Her lessons have to be either very brief or very active, to keep her interest. I will probably have to spread her lessons out throughout the day to allow her enough run around time in between.

All in all, we've had a good homeschooling year. I had a few trepidations going into it, since we were going to be covering so many more subjects and I knew that it would take up so much of our day. But, we made it through the year and our daughter learned what we set out to teach her. Now we just have to figure out how to do that with a second grader and a kindergartener (plus a young preschooler tagging along).

Friday, May 01, 2009

Life Without a Baby

Yesterday morning we buried Baby E. Tonight we had a memorial reception and got to visit with a lot of people who have been praying for us for the past few months. Our official goodbyes have been said, but we will continue having goodbye moments for a long time to come.

People keep asking us how we are doing. We are doing OK. We have each other. We have our family. We have a good church family who love us. We still laugh and play. The sadness is still there waiting for its turn, too. In the meantime, I seem to be recovering physically, though I'll hold off on any extra exercise for a few weeks yet. Watching our three kids everyday is exercise enough.

Beyond that I've noticed I keep thinking about how life feels different without a baby in the house and without the impending prospect of one in the house. We were successful in spacing our kids two years apart. As a result, every time a baby reached toddler-hood, a new baby was on the way. Even this last time, Baby E. was about two years younger than her big brother. But this time the baby is missing from the picture. We have a baby-less house for the first time since we started having kids. I've been putting away things that were set up in case we got to bring her home for a time. As I do that, I keep thinking how strange it feels to be putting away the baby stuff. I look at the Happy Boy and see how fast he's growing. He's two going on preschooler. I can usually understand what he's saying now. He wants so much to be a big kid like his sisters. He already is fascinated with letters and numbers. We know he's going to be an early reader, too. I can see that I'll be starting to teach him in a more structured way soon. Before I know it, all my kids will be "older" kids and the childproofing of our house will be obsolete. I see it coming like a tourist about to experience a strange new land.

I feel like our home is about to make a transformation as the little kid things get retired and the older kid things take their places. It won't happen overnight, but as I glimpse the future, it feels like that time is nearly here. And it feels strange to me.

Now, we have had a few brave souls (who know us well and therefore know that it's OK to ask) whether we are going to have any more children. Our answer for now is that we haven't made a final decision on that yet. It is never a good policy to ask a Mom to make a final decision on that too close to giving birth, the memory is too fresh. There are pros and cons either way. The Adrenaline Junkie is actively lobbying for a new baby. And, we had baby E. precisely because we wanted another child in the family. But, for now I need to get my strength back. We are not going to rush that decision.

Until that decision is made, we are in the strange world of baby-less households. We have yet to decide if this is a temporary condition or a permanent abode. Somehow the empty crib adds to the sadness I feel at times, but I'm not quite ready to move it out to the garage yet.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Are You Familiar with the Book of Job?

Since I've been able to catch up on some computer things lately, I find that I have a few things to post on my blog. So while my husband is busy with chain maille, I'll share some of my recent thoughts.

I have found myself contemplating the book of Job lately. Now, I don't know many Christians, let alone non-Christians who are very familiar with this book of the Bible. They may know the general story line that Job goes through a lot of suffering, but if they look any closer, they tend to get bogged down in the language and give up reading it. Tim has actually taught the book of Job at church a couple of times and I have found his approach helpful in understanding the flow of the book and the big ideas presented. So, I'll share his method to give you some background on how I came up with some of my ideas I wish to share later.

First, When you read the book of Job, you need to read the whole thing in large chunks. It is a story with an introductory narrative and ending narrative. The main portion of the book in the middle is a series of speeches in the form of a debate between Job and his friends where God gets in the last word. If you read the book more like a Shakespeare play than a storybook, you have a better idea of how to go about it. Most people stick with the easy reading of the beginning and end, but leave out all of the meat of the middle. Almost all of the main points in the book are made in the debate section. They are big issues on suffering, justice, wisdom, God's involvement with mankind, and life after death. Job is a man who through no fault of his own is placed in the midst of suffering that most people never experience. He is a man of great faith and trust in God, and his suffering is a test of that faith. In the debate section of the book you see him progress through his struggle from a why me? attitude to nearly grasping the need for the resurrection. Along the way his friends debate with him using all of the various arguments people have used throughout history to explain suffering and the justice of God. They even use what is considered orthodox theology against him. Job points out that their arguments don't hold water and don't fit his situation and what he is going through. In the end, God himself speaks approvingly of Job and his struggle to understand, but blasts his friends for maligning his name.

In reading the book of Job, you have to be willing to wrestle with the big issues of life and not be content to fall on platitudes. There is a lot to make a person squirm in this book if you think that you have everything figured out nice and tidy.

So, with that as a brief background. Let me say that I've been feeling lately that I've been gaining insight to the dynamics between Job and his friends. Many of you know that we are expecting a baby who has the chromosomal anomaly "Trisomy 13" and as a result of this she is not likely to live long. Since we were hoping for a healthy baby to cherish for many years to come, this was a big shock. Since learning of this diagnosis, we have come to terms with it and are doing the best we can by living life in the present. We are not ignorant about what this means for us or our baby. We have researched what it is and what it will mean for our lives. We understand the underlying causes and what medical hope there is. Yet we do not feel ourselves to be suffering in anything like Job's situation. In fact, it sometimes feels like we have to encourage the people around us who are suffering for us. We know that when our daughter dies, we will grieve. Knowing about it ahead of time, just seems to provide glimpses of the grief we will have later. But in the meantime, we find ourselves on a completely different page than the well meaning people who are trying to encourage us. They seem to think that they have to bolster our faith (since we don't give the answers they expect to hear). It reminds me a lot of Job talking with his friends. Let me try to explain it for you.

I can see now how Job, having to live with his suffering on a day by day basis, has a different perspective than those who see it and its ramifications on a purely theoretical level. We are living with this trial in our lives in a similarly daily way in which we will live with it from now on, no matter what the outcome. We have had to make life and death choices for our daughter. We have to face the prospect of her highly likely death and that it would have to take some very big miracles to change that outcome. We have to face explaining the death of a little baby to her big sisters and brother. The reality that not all babies are healthy and thrive has come home to us. Life in America with good health care and low mortality rates has insulated us from how common this used to be and how common it still is in the rest of the world. We feel our faith providing us an anchor that holds us firm as we negotiate this unknown territory. We feel the need not for the big miracle to "fix" the problem for us and cause it to disappear, as much as we feel the need for the strength of simple faithfulness to get through what lies ahead.

Whenever I encounter one of these well-meaning friends, I am not offended by their comments. I am not insulted by insensitivity. They usually ask if there has been any change in the baby's situation. Or without asking any questions, start talking about how we need to keep praying for a miracle. I am simply struck by the thought that they don't understand what they are saying.

Now I am not one of those people who disbelieve in miracles. I have seen enough miraculous stuff to know that God still does miracles. I had an elderly friend who was literally going through kidney failure with the expectation that he had only hours or days to live. After much prayer by the people who cared about him, he mysteriously recovered. It amazed his doctor whom he then preceded to outlive by another 10-15 years. I knew a student where I worked who struggled with the difficulties of having one leg shorter than the other. She sought healing for years and was miraculously granted that the length of her legs would match and she no longer suffered the effects of the problem. I also knew briefly a young woman who was struggling with the physical recovery from having been hit by a car several years prior to my meeting her. She had the un-nerving way of mentioning how God talked to her. She kept praying to God for healing. One Sunday she told us that God said that he was going to heal her. Three days later she died after being hit by a car as she crossed a street. Sometimes miracles don't happen the way you expect them to. There are numerous stories out there that people can tell of miracles that have happened in their lives. But, when you are dealing with miracles, you are dealing with exceptions to the rule. If miracles were routine, they wouldn't be miracles and they wouldn't have their intended effect. The Bible is full of miracle accounts. The Bible is also full of accounts where miracles didn't happen and people were expected to live faithful lives anyway. I am convinced that God doesn't just hand out miracles like a fairy godmother, if we just believe enough he will do the impossible just to make us happy or save us from some of the unpleasant things in our lives. I think God wants his miracles to make a difference in the big picture. We tend to be looking at a much smaller picture than God is.

Knowing what we know about our daughter's condition, it would not only have to be fixed in her chromosomes in every cell in her body, it would have to be fixed in the multiple organ defects that have taken place as she developed in the womb. That would be a big miracle. Would we be happy to have a healthy daughter? Absolutely! So why don't I pray for the big miracle? Because I can't see what "big picture" good it would do. People in our society are very skeptical. When faced squarely with a miracle like that, they do not decide "OK... God must really exist after all." They assume that the initial diagnosis was wrong, the tests were messed up, the ultrasound pictures weren't accurate or any number of excuses to avoid believing a big miracle. Would a big miracle in our situation do much good beyond our little circle? Somehow, I don't think so.

On the other hand, what about the small miracle, which is what I pray for. If God grants us the ability to live simple faithfulness through our trial, what good would that do? How many people are hurting and struggling in their lives? A lot. How many of them expect a miracle to save them from it? How many of them would instead find greater hope in their own lives by seeing someone go through a struggle successfully relying on God through simple faithfulness rather than that person being one of the few who are granted a special miracle? Somehow, the small miracle seems to me to fit better into doing the most good in the big picture.

So when I encounter these people who are trying to encourage me by telling me that God can do anything, don't give up, we're praying for a miracle, and so forth, I get the feeling that they are doing the same thing that Job's friends are doing. Unlike us they are not intimately connected with the situation, so they haven't really needed to wrestle with it and think it through deeply. It is very easy to sit back and rest on cliches and platitudes. It is easy to say what you think God should do, but that doesn't change the fact that God does what he does in each situation based on that situation. The moving of God's Spirit is not controlled by us to do as we wish. We are the ones who are supposed to be sensitive to God's Spirit to be thus moved and controlled to do as He wishes. It is so easy to have a surface conversation, say the "right" things, and be completely wrong.

So what are the real right things to do and say? It is good to listen. If you aren't sure if someone wants to talk about it, ask them if they care to talk about it. Until you hear the person who is going through some suffering or trial talk about it, you don't really know how they are doing. Only then can you figure out how to respond appropriately. If the person says something that shocks you or conflicts with your sense of the way things are or should be, don't immediately try to correct them. Try to understand that they have a different view of things based on their personal experience. Until you have a better understanding of their experiences, you may not have a complete view yourself. It is OK if people spend time wrestling with the big issues when they are going through struggles. Look at all the major figures of faith from the Bible, not one of them had an easy faith experience. They argued with God. They ranted and raged. And God worked with that. It was the people who thought they had all the answers, that God had trouble with. So if you are tempted to stop people from struggling with their faith, and just hand them the clean-cut answers you like so much, stop. Don't do it. Let them struggle. Instead, you might point them to examples of others who have also struggled so they can see something that they can relate to. It seems that in the midst of our struggles, we have the opportunity to understand things much more deeply and better, than we would otherwise.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Is this nesting instinct?

I've always had trouble differentiating my normal level of wanting to get things accomplished from the overdrive version most often referred to as the "nesting instinct." The nesting instinct is supposed to be where a pregnant Mom starts to be compulsive about getting things ready before a baby comes. For some women it occurs as late as when they begin labor. For me, I think it is not much different from my normal behavior where I'm planning ahead before I'm even pregnant.

This past week, however, has been pretty busy and I've begun to wonder if I'm pushing the limits of sanity. Over last weekend, we finished up our taxes and I sent them out as soon as I could. We've been doing schoolwork, much to the Pillowfight Fairy's dislike. We've finished our math curriculum and grammar curriculum and as a result, I'm speeding up our history lessons to get as many of them in as possible before the baby comes. The Fairy told me today that she thinks a better schedule would be school on Saturday and Sunday and the rest of the week off. She has a bad case of spring fever. I've been staying up late nearly every night working on next year's curriculum, not just for the Fairy but for the Adrenaline Junkie too. Last night I took the time to do some much needed mending. Yesterday, was Tim's day off and I scheduled us for some new family pictures, which took a big chunk of the morning. (It was about time, the last time we had family pictures made was nearly three years ago.) So family will be glad to hear that we will have new pictures for them very soon.

Today felt like a bit of a marathon. I added a trip to Target to return merchandise to my usual trip to get groceries. By the time I got home, unloaded the groceries, and put them away, it was lunch time. After lunch we all went outside to play and I decided to go ahead and weed the garden. Now our garden is relatively small (compared to what it could be). I've only planted about a third of my garden area this time. But, I've neglected it a bit and it has gotten rather weedy. Those of you who have seen me in person lately know that I am... ahem... really big right now. At nearly eight months pregnant, I make people nervous that I'm going to have the baby any moment. Perfect strangers come up to me and ask if I need help, when I'm doing what to me are perfectly normal things (like lifting my two year old out of his stroller and into a car seat). I have a definite waddle when I walk. I can't move quickly or easily. Watching me get up or down is either painful or comical to watch (or both). But yet, I determined to weed my garden. Now, I do have a nice long handle cultivator that I could use to get between my rows. But, I needed to get the weeds out where they are growing alongside my veggies. I needed to do close work. How in the world was I going to do that? The garden cart didn't have enough room to be used since I have narrow and close rows. I couldn't stand and bend over long enough to make much progress (I did that a few weeks ago and I wouldn't be able to do that again). Kneeling would be impossible, I would need a rescue to get me back up. I finally found a way. We have some plastic stack able patio chairs. With a little experimentation I discovered that if I place one just right, the legs of the chair just fit within two neighboring troughs. I could place my chair so that I could sit in the garden with each foot in a trough and a row directly in front of me. If I sat at the front edge of the chair, I could pivot so that I could reach one row to the left, and one row to the right as well as weed the one in front of me. I wasn't too high to reach the ground, and I wasn't so low that I had trouble getting up. It worked. So I spent the next three hours weeding the garden. As a result, I know what veggies are actually growing in half of my garden. The other half of the garden will have to wait for another time. I exhausted myself.

So what am I growing? Well, the snow peas are doing fairly well and are about eight to ten inches high. I found one lone plant of broccoli, five or six cabbages (better than my one cabbage last year), a few celery seedlings that are barely visible, and a dozen or so onions. It looks pretty pathetic. In the half of the garden that hasn't been weeded yet, there should be carrots, parsley, spinach, and two kinds of lettuce. Among the profuse weeds I have so far only identified a few bits of carrot leaf and one spinach. I haven't seen one lettuce despite the fact that I planted three rows of them. It doesn't look like our garden is doing that well this year. Our fruit trees and other berries seem more promising (except that we seem to have a dying cherry tree). Also our recently planted flowers and bushes around the patio are growing and looking good.

So, it kind of begs the question: Am I going through some kind of extreme nesting instinct? or am I simply off my rocker to be concerned about my gardening at eight months pregnant?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Responsibility? Is It Counter-Cultural?

OK... now that the tax forms are done and in the mail, perhaps I should bring up the topic of responsibility.

This is one of those topics where I'm not sure if I am diverging from the larger society or if I am just holding to a traditional view while society is diverging from me. But, I have noticed more and more that our general society is severely lacking in an understanding of responsibility. The lack of responsibility is becoming so mainstream that otherwise conservative, traditionalist individuals are showing signs of behaving in ways that, if not irresponsible, are an abdication of responsibility. What do I mean? Hmm... let me give an example.

What has parenting looked like in the past? A few centuries back parents would raise their children by their side, teaching and guiding them in life until they are capable of living independently. Perhaps some elite wealthy families would hire help for doing this, but even then, the parents were still responsible for the raising of their children and would be judged as successful or unsuccessful in that endeavor by surrounding society. As our society has become ever more complex, we have become used to the idea of specializing in an occupation and hiring experts to do certain tasks. That in itself is not bad. It makes good sense. But, the flaw that I have been seeing so much lately is that in outsourcing our job of raising and teaching our kids, we are not retaining the responsibility for raising and teaching them. We have started to expect others to be responsible for that. That is what I mean by an abdication of responsibility.

This is not a problem just in the area of parenting. Let's see how many areas I can find and list off the top of my head.
  1. Children not learning to be responsible with money, because someone else always provides it for them (parents, grandparents?)
  2. Teenagers given a car to drive without having to be responsible to provide the car, the insurance, and the income for maintenance.
  3. Students not taking responsibility for their own education. Instead they "do time" in school until they are "free." Actually earning their grades and taking an active part in their education because it is theirs and will shape their future is an unusual display of responsibility.
  4. Young employees taking the "doing time" mentality of school to their workplace. So many seem to have the idea that showing up is all they need to do earn the paycheck. I remember several years back when I worked as a Temporary Secretary. I would have a day job here and a week-long job there and would consistently have supervisors who were surprised that I actually expected to do useful work instead of filling an empty desk chair while pretending to be busy (like the usual temps. they would have).
  5. Young lovers expecting to find their romantic ideal who is of course perfect and will fulfill every wish and dream, but forgetting that they have an obligation to be the type of person worthy of that dream. Relationships involve two people and both people have the responsibility for making the relationship good or bad.
  6. I've already mentioned raising children. How many people put their children in daycare and preschool, not because they have thought through their choices ahead of time, or have a clear necessity, but because they simply want to have someone else do that for them. I suppose if they don't want to spend that time with their kids, it might be better off for their kids to be taken care of by people who do want to be around the kids. But too often I hear an attitude expressed that suggests that some of these parents want kids, but don't want to be troubled by raising them. That is someone else's responsibility.
  7. I'm a little biased about teaching kids, being a homeschool mom. Before I list my next item, let me say that homeschooling is not for everyone. I see plenty of benefit in all of the choices for teaching kids. But, how often are parents abdicating their responsibility to be in charge of their children's education. My husband and I are taking it upon ourselves to educate our children. We are responsible not only that they are being educated, but that we are actively pursuing what is needed to give our kids the best education we can, and doing it ourselves whenever possible. Not all people homeschool, but they still have the responsibility to be in charge of their children's education. How many parents communicate with their kid's teachers and help out when needed at school? How many are involved with decision-making in PTAs or School Boards? How many parents don't even know what their kids are learning from day-to-day? It has become someone else's responsibility. Parents have become too used to letting "experts" or politicians tell them what kind of education their kids should have, when those people have never met their kids and don't have the responsibility for raising them.
  8. Responsibility for our individual or family budget/finances. If you don't understand money, you need to learn. Even then, there are basic concepts that most people know, but they ignore. Things like "don't spend more than you earn." These simple truths are ignored, not because they can be gotten around, but because people have convinced themselves that it'll be taken care of somehow. If they aren't responsible, someone else will take care of it (a bailout) or someone else will have to take the consequences (like bankruptcy). Yes it is possible to get into bad financial situations while doing all the right things, but it is less likely. Most of the time people get into bad financial situations because they made bad decisions, listened to people who told them what they wanted to hear, and rationalized that everybody else is doing it. The bottom line is that each person is responsible for their own finances. Outsourcing some of the managing of those finances is OK, but don't try to outsource the responsibility.
  9. Political abdication of responsibility. This can be politicians not taking responsibility for their actions (whether personal or professional) or it can be citizens giving up their rights and responsibilities to the government.
I'm sure you have noticed ways in which people in our society give responsibility to others that ought to be their own. I cannot say that I am a perfectly responsible person. But I can say that I have struggled with societal norms for most of my life in this area. As an American, I have a cultural tendency to want to be independent. As a Christian and a Conservative person in general, I understand that their are some important ways we need to depend on each other for the good of the whole. As a youngest child (and the only girl), there was a temptation to be overly dependent on my family and get away with what I could. But, I felt my conscience nagging me that I needed to be responsible for my sake and for the sake of those closest to me. My parents won't always be available to help me when I need help. Other family members have other commitments and obligations, too. If I am abdicating my responsibilities, I put them either on the people I love and don't want to burden or I put them on inappropriate surrogates. Is it appropriate to expect an employer to pay me money, if I don't provide work or service in return? Is it appropriate to expect my husband to be the person who makes my dreams come true, without taking responsibility for my part of the relationship? Is it appropriate to expect someone else to be responsible for the children I chose to have? Is it appropriate to expect the government to take care of any bad decisions I've made and be responsible for my happiness and welfare?

I do not want to abdicate my responsibilities. I will still have to outsource some things, but I need to be the one who is responsible in the end. I guess my point in all of this is to encourage you to consider how you might be tempted to follow the crowd and abdicate your responsibilities, too. Adults take their responsibilities seriously. To give them up is to return to the position of the child. I don't know about you, but there were a lot of things I didn't like about being a child.
Besides, do you really want to live in a society where no one is responsible for their actions?