Saturday, October 17, 2015

Our Week in Pictures

We've had lots of sick here this week, but lots of fun, too. Here are some highlights.

Greenhouse light came in the mail - may the venus flytraps live!
Our finds in nature this week.

Working on All About Reading...making progress. :)

Liam loves to catch me in candid moments. Does it look like I'm gritting my teeth?

No October is complete without a pumpkin patch visit.

A great time at Bi-Water farm! Photo by Izzie Montgomery.

Corn! Photo by Izzie Montgomery.

A nap was necessary.

I'm best at blurry photos.

My early morning coffee partners.

This boy turned six.

This girl knits, and knits, and knits. Etsy shop coming soon!

Godzilla and I almost conquered the boys' room.

Hope you've had a fantastic Saturday, friends!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Among Us

Do you think of Sunday as the first or last day of the week?

I've been making the conscious effort to consider Sunday the first day of the week so that I feel like I'm starting off relaxed. Because, you know, it's relaxing getting four kids ready to go to church.

This Sunday I woke up to a kid who needed his bottom wiped. He asked so sweetly I couldn't pretend to be asleep. The dark outside gave the illusion of it being much earlier than 6:30 - my body was certain it was 3 a.m. The cold had creeped into the house, my knees were stiff and my feet already aching. My eyes were like cotton balls;  dry, puffy, and unable to focus. My only thought was 'coffee, coffee now'.

That's actually my first thought every morning.

My second thought depends on where I set my sight.

Some days I choose resentment. Some days I think, "I can't dig any deeper." Some days I think that being an adult is a really stupid goal and that being a parent shouldn't be this hard.

Some days I just want all the noise and the need to stop.

Some days have been coming a little too regularly for me.

Sundays, though, are a weekly miracle.

I choose, on Sundays, to be refreshed, to drink deep of the living water.

Yesterday I was particularly weary and worn. The o'dark thirty wake up call didn't help, but other things had me twisted up. Things like the news, and choices for my kids, and so many changes, and jobs, and laundry - always laundry.

Then I cracked my bible open and read from Matthew 21:25-28:

But Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. but among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as ransom for many." (emphasis mine)

But among you it will be different.

Sundays are the day to gather with brothers and sisters, when we claim the truth that among us it will be different. Then we take that truth and live it at home first and then out in the world.

At our home this week, right now, forever,  I am desperate for the motto to be "Among you it will be different."

I want our lives to be marked by a different way of life.

It's too easy to fall into the trap of animosity and annoyance, to begin to treat one another with disrespect and to make excuses for that behavior.

"Oh, I just need a break."

"We've been so busy."

"I'm not sleeping well."

These are just anchors keeping us in the choppy waters of poor excuses, because among us it should be different. Among us the world should fall away and the Kingdom of God should reign. Among us serving should be our natural instinct and excuses should be few.

I've thought about this much for the last 24 hours. I've always known our family was different (no one should talk about bodily functions as much as we do), but I want to make sure our different is  because of Jesus. I want to know that the root of our upside-downess is because Jesus came in and made it so. I need to be certain that we are each seeking relationship with Christ and each other in an authentic way so that when we go out into the world our faith is credible. I know that it is not all on me, but I know that it begins with me. 

Some days Sunday's carry me through, some days I have to fake it, some days I don't and I mess up and I have to apologize. 

Today when I found weariness and exasperation shrugging around my shoulders like an old friend I repeated 'among us it will be different' in my head, as a prayer and plea. I tell you I could feel the transformation take place, feel my shoulders flinging free, feel resentment being replaced by willingness. 

I felt different, and I knew, at least, that kind of different was right.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Wardrobe Rules of Fall

October has come with quite a snap here in the southeast. We had 85 degree weather and then snap it's cold, wet, and 50.

I love it. The cooler weather makes me breathe easier, makes change feel right, makes me want to take walks three or four times a day.

It also means it's time to switch out my boys' clothes. Change does not come easily for these two.

In the summer my little men ( I should say little and tiny men since they are 11 and 5) wear the same clothes until their sisters pitch a fit. They know the Wardrobe Rules of Summer : if you have had sunscreen and/or bug spray applied you get a bath; the sprinkler counts as a bath; don't wear your clothes to bed;  flip flops mean more toe nail clipping; clean clothes for church.

That's pretty much it. Lee didn't know about the Wardrobe Rules of Summer and was spraying our littlest one down with bug spray a few weeks ago. The mosquitos love that kid so by the time August rolled around he looked like he had chicken pox. Anyway, Liam starts bawling, "No, no, no! Now I am going to have to have a bath!"

At least one of my men knew the rules.

The Wardrobe Rules of Fall  are not so laid back. My rules center around the fact that we are in close quarters more often and clean clothes mean happy noses. Not that these two care about the contentment of our sniffers. After all, they are most impressed with me when I fart and lock the van windows, or stick their head in my armpit after a workout. Boys are dazzled by bad smells, and that is for real.

My goal for Fall and Winter is for my boys to be wearing clothes that are clean enough and warm enough that people at church don't anonymously donate warm apparel to us.

I kid you not.

It's not that I'm opposed to donations. It's that I don't want the warm things to go to waste. In the darkest parts of winter my boys are in their room sporting nothing but their underwear as they roll around in Legos. I have pictures and can prove it. They stay in their rooms because their sisters won't sit next to them if all they have on is underwear.

I live in a constant state of tension, people.

Anyway, so as we prepare to haul out the tote holding the cold weather wardrobe I have to steel myself against the arguments, tears, and pulling of hair. Can you guess which ones of us will be arguing,  crying, and pulling out their hair?

These boys must have had a conversation about their tactic for this year because the oldest boy already had sit down conversation with me. If only he had been wearing a suit for the arbitration.

"I really feel most comfortable in shorts. I will wear shoes and socks and a hoodie, but I would prefer to keep my shorts out," said Spencer who will be 12 very, very soon. He then reiterated, "I'm just more comfortable in shorts and it's not my legs that get cold."

He entered negotiations with a really deep voice to show me he was serious and in control. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Also, he insisted his hoodie come from Walgreens because he saw one there for $10. His socks had sat useless in his drawer since April (we've been through 5 pairs of flip flops since then), so he's ready to go in the footwear department. Since we did indeed buy the hoodie, in his mind, he's set for winter.

The younger one, though, didn't mind starting out hard. All I did was ask him to try on some jeans and sweatpants from last year to see where we were size-wise.

Liam went all spaghetti legs as soon as he saw the jeans, crying real tears immediately, while moaning, "Please, not the long pants. Please, not the long pants."

"What is the problem?" I asked. For pete's sake, since when did long pants make children cry? He's happier to see the dentist than a pair of dungarees.

"They're too long. I step on them. They make me hot. The pockets are too tight to put stuff in," he tallied off, tears still streaming.

"Look," I said, "you've grown. They fit better now."

He stopped crying and looked down. After a couple of seconds his eyes re-filled with tears.

"But they're so long, mom," he cried. Then he noticed the snaps. "Oh, no. Oh no. Oh no. Not the snaps. Not the snaps, mom. And a zipper. No. NO. NO. NO." He could barely catch his breath.

I had a full on melt down headed my way over a snap and zipper so I had him put his shorts back on before he started throwing up or something ridiculous like that.

One or two lingering mosquito bites. No jeans.

"Is it just too hard to do the snap and zipper?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered as one single tear slid down his cheek, "and, if we're playing our game and I have to go to the bathroom I have to go fast and not get my pants wet or then I have to change again and Spencer makes us end the game."

Honestly, this makes it easy. The Wardrobe Rules for Fall will be: elastic waisted; deep pockets; not hot.

I'm thinking pajamas with deep pockets and treated with spray-on waterproofing.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday, Monday

Dang, it's Monday already!

I wrote a great post on Saturday that just disappeared. I've got no idea what happened, partly because I still kind of feel like the interwebs are actually magical and there's some kid(s) from Hogwarts who are in charge of making it all work. At any rate, it was a good post and it disappeared and I probably cried about it.

Tried to get a pic of my early morning partner. Too blurry

Then tried to get another. He would have none of it. Still blurry.

I wrote a post yesterday, too, maybe not great, but I wrote it. The day was done and gone before I had blinked. We had church, lunch out together, a quick power clean when we got home. Lots of playing outside. Our crazy dogs escaped the yard not once or twice but four different times. The last time we got them back home the odor coming off of them was so intense I wretched, then I gave them a bath. Why do dogs roll in nastiness? What is fun about that? 

We had a thrown together dinner last night of stuff I found in the fridge. One kid went to a friends house, one kid went shopping with me, two kids stayed with their dad at home for a movie. Then it was dark and we had to go out and check on the blood/eclipsed moon situation every thirty minutes. My husband and I and our older daughter watched Fear the Walking Dead. Anybody else a fan? I cannot explain why but I love zombie shows. I am mildly embarrassed to admit that when I am visiting different buildings I always check out my surroundings to consider whether it would be a good place to hole up in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Ridiculous but true.

I have suspicions that if not kept in check I could become a survivalist. However, my love of good food, a soft bed, and sitting around reading will probably save me from that fate.

It was very late and I was snuggled in bed before I realized I never hit post. You know why? Because I'm a recovering perfectionist.

Anyway, I woke up and it was Monday. How does that happen?

I don't always hate Mondays. We take it slow, putter around and read, go to the library so we can read some more. I usually get mean after lunch if no one is motivated on their own. Today I have only had to be mildly mean to one of my students. We've only had one major sibling brawl, and no one complained about chores. I was a grown up and made phone calls and had things faxed and even fixed my hair (kind of).

These two want in, then they want out. Dorks, but I love them.

There will always be shoes by the front door. They don't care if I cry.

Ooh, and I remembered that I have a date with my hubby tonight. That made the last hour and half of our school day go super fast. Woot woot! (The kids hate it when I do that so now it's a compulsion. I do it in real life, too.)

I am satisfied with this Monday. I can't ask for more than that, right?

Here's to Mondays, taking it slow, and satisfaction.


I didn't mean that to sound dirty since I just talked about date night.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teaching Myself

I love to read, as in I eat books for dinner. It's nothing for me to devour a book in an afternoon (just don't ask me to cook dinner). I think that I have always loved to read. I went to kindergarten knowing how to read. Since my husband also loves to read. I assumed we would have a house full of book worms, kids who loved to read, kids who, like me, stayed up late at night reading even at a young age.

I thought teaching my kids to read would be easy.

If only I knew then what I know now!

I have four kids and three of them have dyslexia. I strongly suspect that my youngest, who is 5, is also dyslexic. Teaching them to read has not been easy.. Teaching them to spell has been difficult. Teaching myself how to teach kids with special learning needs has been very, very trying.

In fact, shifting what I think of as 'education'  is the hardest part of my homeschool year.

I don't remember anyone telling me that learning required desks, chairs, worksheets, posters, and a chalk board but those were the things I believed were essential. I recalled being sat in a chair and then given information. My job as a student was to give that information back on worksheets, then again on tests. I never liked school but I assumed that there was something flawed in me. I never dreamed that it may have been the system that was flawed.

Until, that is, I started homeschooling my own children.

It's a long story as to how we got here, but the gist of it is this: I have three kids who are dyslexic and I suspect our fourth child is also. My husband is also dyslexic.

I spend A LOT of time spelling for my people.

I can laugh about it now, and usually so can the kids, but there was a time when we al though we were doing something really wrong.

I thought I was teaching wrong. I felt like I was failing my kids.

My kids thought that they were being kids wrong, that their brains were wrong, They thought that they were stupid.

I had to completely shift what I thought of as 'school'.

I bought the curriculum everyone said was the best. I followed the directions. I would not deviate from the plan. We schooled in desks during school hours. What my daughters didn't complete during school was to be completed as homework.

We were not having fun.

The year that I had fourth and second grade daughters, and a little boy in pre-school was the very worst. The. Worst. Ever. My oldest daughter, Kiley,  took a very long time to read anything and would avoid anything with reading. Her times tables weren't memorized and spelling was impossible. Her younger sister, Laurel, was struggling to read and write in second grade. I thought something was not right and called the elementary school in our district and expressed my concerns. "They'll grow out of it," the counselor said, "Everyone learns at a different rate." On one hand I was thankful for the relaxed approach, but on the other my gut was telling me something was really off.

Most days ended with all of us crying and/or yelling in frustration. I was threatening and demanding about them getting their school work done. I said some pretty crappy things to my girls simply because following directions was so important to me. I just wanted to do it right, you know?  I was terrified that I would do something wrong and they would end up missing out on college. Did I say that they were in fourth and second grade? Yet I was freaking out about college!

One afternoon, after lots of tears, I woke up to the fact that what I was doing was not working.

I thought about why I wanted to homeschool, I thought about what memories I wanted my kids to have from their childhoods. The crying, yelling, frustrated days that were filling in our pages were not   part of that story. The realization that I was misdirecting the boat was crushing. I cried very, very hard at what we had lost due to my fear of not doing it right. Then I wiped my face off and had a talk with my girls.

We stopped 'school'. Timed math tests, worksheets, copy work - it all just stopped. Immediately. We went to the library and I let them pick out whatever books they wanted. I checked out some books on learning styles and one on learning disabilities. I let audio books as reading. For an entire month we did whatever we wanted as long as it didn't involve television. We cooked together, went on field trips, played board games, card games, and I read out loud all of the time. We played lots of types of music, danced, and the girls practiced piano. The kids played outside a lot, too, sometimes all day. Finally the sweet memories I had been hoping for were being made.

In that month I saw my relationship with the kids, especially my daughters, healing. I saw them lightening up. I felt the weight of the worldWe all stopped being burdened by 'school' and just enjoyed our days. The knot in my stomach unraveled as I finally took charge of our homeschool. I let go of the worry that if I didn't use the 'right' curriculum- the ones that all the homeschool magazines said were the best - that we would fail.

We fell in love with unit studies and hands on learning. I tried different math curriculums. My confidence in my ability to teach grew exponentially when I walked away from boxed curriculums. I finally started to see what worked for my kids as individuals. Also, in the middle of all of my reading, I came across a book called The Gift of Dyslexia, by Ronald Davis. I remember reading portions of it out loud to my kids and having them gasp in recognition, with shared experience. It was such a comfort to know that there was a name for what they were struggling with, but also that there were some benefits to it. My husband, too, found relief in admitting that his battles as a child and an adult had a name.

It's taken time, but I am no longer afraid to homeschool.

I know that learning doesn't take place during a set time, that workbooks don't always work, and that relationship is the most important element of our homeschool. 

Figuring out that my kids have dyslexia freed me from everything I thought about education. Once I became aware that they struggle with a learning disability there was nothing I would not try. My mission became to empower them to achieve whatever dreams that they had. I encourage them to hone in on their God-given talents, to choose what they are passionate about, and to never be afraid to try something even if it doesn't turn out the way that they thought it would. Dyslexia has forced all of us to think outside of the traditional schooling box, but it turns out that's what dyslexics do best.

This is my 13th year homeschooling. While it's definitely gotten easier I still have to evaluate what worked in the past as well as what didn't work. I occasionally still struggle with how to do this thing, and to be truthful I sometimes find myself feeling envious of families whose children are able to just sit down and get their work done (do those families exist??). I sometimes find myself ruminating over the days when I tried to force my children to fit into a curriculum and allowing guilt to  paralyze me. At the end of the day, though, when I survey our stacks of books, projects scattered about,  when we have awesome impromptu history discussions in the car, I know that education, in my family,  happens best without a box.

Linking up at Simple Homeschool, one of my favorite homeschool blogs. :)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bring it on, September

I think that September is the month of false starts. July is just laid back, too hot to move much, so we  lay around enjoying nothing. August is when I start to feel excited about the return of the schedule. Even though we homeschool year round, August is when I envision a giant reset button that I get to push. We start new curriculum. I check out 80 books to supplement the new curriculum. I sharpen pencils and fill out calendars and schedules and print off lots of things to help me in lots of ways. I make all kinds of appointments, too. Dentist, check up, allergist, ophthalmologist. All of it. I make appointments for all of it.

In August I paint my toenails and vow to stop biting my fingernails so that I can paint them, too. I pledge that the boys will take baths every single night AND that they will use soap, and that they will wear clean clothes, and I mean it, little sirs!  I make six months worth of clean eating meal plans and exercise plans and chore charts. There is also more printing to be done. I read blogs about how to do all of these things the right way, not the wrong way, and I am secure in my new and improved plan for life.

August is like New Year's for me.

Then September hits and there is an explosion of paper and pencils and the printer ink runs out and we all realize that July was much more fun with the laying around doing nothing. The huge stack of library books I was so excited about are forgotten and returned 7 days late and I owe $3,508 to the public library. It takes me 3 days to download the software for the new science program simply because I hate calling tech support because I am intimidated by tech support. I mean, the thing I call the 'wiggly thing' they call a 'cursor' and that is intimidating. Seriously.

All of those appointments I scheduled with such verve begin and end with frayed nerves. None of the kids like check ups, it turns out. To top it off I apparently cannot stand to be in a 2x4 room with my children and a doctor. Who knew? I don't tell any of them about the doctor appointment until I have to, because all they want to know is: Will they have to pee in a cup? and Will there be shots?  They do not believe me when I tell them I do not know because I am Mom and I am the knower of all things.

I don't get their fear of peeing in a cup. I think it's because one time one of them (name being withheld to protect privacy), who has a bladder the size of their head and been hanging onto their urine since the night before the appointment, had a little accident. When it came time to actually fill the tiny cup with pee they went above and beyond. I think it was one of the appointments I forced asked my husband to help me out with because I have a vague memory of him kind of shouting, "No, stop, stop, it's going everywhere." Pants and socks were soaked, people in the hall got their shoes wet, and at least one hand had to be washed. Again, this was long ago, and they were very little and all the weirdness kind of blurs together.

My gosh what was I thinking scheduling so many appointments between August and September? I had such high hopes, such plans, AND new pens for my new calendar.

September is when I realize that I filled in the calendar with the wrong week. It's when I recognize that we haven't had one circle time for my kindergartner. It's when I grasp fully the fact that our socratic discussion revolves around farts. It's when I come into the full knowledge that printables can't save me.

September is the month where reality meets my dream world and slaps it in the face. Right in the face.

I think it was on our way to our fourth appointment, after all the kids had all their teeth dealt with at the dentist and two of the four kids had had their checkups, that I hit the wall. This was in between vet appointments for our new cat, mind you. I had the two boys with me, 11 and 5, and they were both kind of crying about having to go to the doctor and I just swerved into McDonald's and bought them Happy Meals (goodbye clean eating) and got myself a Coke. We still made it to the appointment on time,and  there was no peeing in a cup and I survived the 2x4 room armed with peanuts I found at the bottom of my purse and a People magazine from 2010. Booya.

We are 12 days into September, my toenails are still pink (but my fingernails are still nubby), we've only got four more appointments, and I am loaded with an arsenal of printables. The weather is cooling, the children have given in to the fact that I won't forget about math, and calling tech support was actually very simple and quite non-intimidating. Also, I've figured out how to pay off my library fine thanks to Craigslist and a few pieces of my parents furniture. Life is good.

Bring it on, September.

Bring. It. On.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Boy of Extremes

I found out about a month ago that I was the worst mother ever. I've often wondered about where my ratings fall.

I was laying in bed enjoying my sleep, which frankly doesn't happen often. Peaceful sleep is fleeting at my stage of life and that's where I was: peacefully sleeping. Usually my sleep ranges from fitful to comatose and neither of those are restful sleeps. So anyway, there I was peacefully sleeping when my five-year old storms into the room. Of course, I don't know that because I'm sleeping. What wakes me up is this:

"You are the worst mother in the world!"

I open my eyes and I swear I heard 'spluck' as my eyelids parted. I saw my kid's face and could tell that he was angry. Angry small people are scary, and this kid was ticked. I was still kind of asleep though and my mouth wouldn't work, and neither would be brain, so I just stared at him in confusion.

"I have been calling you (except he says 'cawing') and calling you and calling you. You do not hear me. I screamed your name. You just ignore me and ignore me and ignore me. You are the worst mother in the world!"

I'm starting to take in the world at this point. First of all, it's barely 6 a.m if I'm reading the clock right. Second of all, I realize that the kid screaming at me is naked from the waist down, which only deepens my confusion.

"What's going on, buddy?" I asked as I sat up.

"I'll tell you what!" he shouts at me. This kid is impassioned. "I had to go a big number 2 and a giant spider came out of the bathtub. I called and I called and I called for you. I screamed. You just ignored me. AND THERE IS NO TOILET PAPER!"

The nudity now makes a little more sense, although I am still completely bewildered.

"Okay, okay," I say, "Let's go upstairs and see what's going on."

"I'm not going up there!" my sweet boy exclaimed. "That spider wanted to eat me."

I took his hand and we went to the bathroom together. Sitting on the floor right in front of the toilet was a giant camel back cricket. Suddenly I understood his horror.

That sucker was scary. Super scary. I probably would have abandoned my pants to if that guy came crawling out of the tub while I was...well, you know.

Bugs do not typically bother me. My older son loves to catch and identify insects so I've gotten used to catching the critters. Camel back crickets, though, don't pin really well. I usually have a live and let live philosophy with the bugs but this one had crossed the line with me. He had entered our domain and  scared my kid. Two offenses meant he had to go. I didn't want to squish him, though. The crunch these guys make is horrible. Really horrible. I could only think of one thing to do.

My go to in a bug situation that cannot be handled immediately is a glass jar, so I went to the kitchen to fetch one. We were heading for the zoo that day and we had to get out the door quickly, something we're not great at and the mad rush was about to begin. However, the cricket was contained. Under the cover of the jar the cricket was safe to be examined so Liam got down on his hands and knees to get a closer look.

He looked up at me and smiled. "You are the best mother in the world."

"Thank you," I replied and went to go fix breakfast. We were having scrambled eggs so I was certain my position as the Worst Mother in the World would soon be occupied by yours truly.