Thursday, May 30, 2013

on a rainy spring saturday...

Camping when it's raining, and ya can't camp...

"These aren't marshmallows? I've been robbed..."

Creating a fire hazard for our sons' pleasure. (P.S. Ben got a real marshmallow. Or 2. Or 12.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

birthday boy...

4 years ago today, I was so excited to finally hold my second son in my arms. He was such a beautiful baby. He's still a beautiful baby, just much dirtier and scabbier, but still pretty snuggly. :)

I totally wimped out on the cake this time around. I didn't have it in me to make the dino cake that I made in January for Seth, but Evan wanted a dino cake, too. Enter Dollar Tree. That's possibly an alligator hat (which we're calling a t-rex head), and he's chomping down on a stegosaurus while another t-rex and his friend the triceratops run in terror. I smashed some red jellybeans and laid the steggy on top of them for bloody authenticity. The end. (My mom insisted on making the cake. Well, if you twist my arm....)

I LOVE having a party where I grew up. (We go to do that this year because we were staying with my parents for the homeschool conference.) There are still some times when I wish we could've built a house in the back 40. I grew up on 20 acres, and the house is 500 feet off the road. I can let the big boys go outside and ride their bikes without stress that they'll get run over. I love a lot of things about living in the city, but the lack of privacy and green space isn't one of them.

My friend, Rachel, was homeschooled with me. We graduated the same year. She has 4 kids and one on the way, and we're both homeschooling the second generation. She lives about 5 minutes from my parents. You add in their family and a bunch of riding toys, and you've got a party. :)

Hay ride, courtesy of Papa....

Monday, May 27, 2013

reflections on the homeschool conference....

... my view as we bike and walk on the local greenway trail.

This past week was our state's homeschool conference. We went last year, and David LOVED it. (I liked it, but remember, I used to go as a kid, so it wasn't really new to me. :) Last year, I was able to keep perspective. I bought very little at the gigantic book fair. I said to myself, "It's just kindergarten," over and over and over again....

This year? Not so much. I can't say "It's just kindergarten," this year. So all of a sudden, I started panicking. The workshop on burnout that suggested that the reason I'm overwhelmed is that all my students are currently very dependent on me gave me some perspective, but it didn't help enough. There were times when I felt like if I didn't start making a plan and mapping out our homeschool career for all 3 of my sons, I would be doomed. 

Yes, I said doomed. Because I'm nothing if not a type A, over- reacting stress ball at times.

I would think I was all calm and being rational about it, and then I would crack open my new copy of "A Well Trained Mind," and I would spaz. I would tell myself that I'd only bought it for some broad guidelines toward a classical Charlotte Mason education, but that didn't always help. Apparently, I have no business reading "The Well Trained Mind" right now. :)

David picked it up and read several pages in the beginning, and he was stressed out. He came to me and said, "Well, we're already behind. We didn't teach Seth to read when he was 4. He was supposed to be reading chapter books right now." And all of a sudden, he had some perspective on why he came in the kitchen after finishing his novel to find me moaning and gnashing my teeth to my mom. "You read "The Well Trained Mind" right before that? That totally explains it. You were fine when I left you to start reading an hour before..." 

Here's the thing: The Classical People have it all laid out for you. It's far too much detail, and its nutso amounts of work, and you look at it and think, "If I do all this, eventually they will have to put me in a rubber room. I'll be mumbling, 'Must follow the trivium,' and singing Latin declensions when they put me in the straight jacket." BUT, they give you a plan. They tell you if you teach history in a 4 year cycle, then eventually all your students will have gone through it 4 times, and you'll be set.

The Charlotte Mason people are so concerned about not limiting your freedom to pick living books and implement them, that they don't give you enough of a plan. They talk about how Charlotte did it, and they suggest Ambleside Online, but they're not giving to give you a 4 year plan for exactly how to do science. 

So I'm mad at both of them. And thrown back on myself to figure out what I should do for history. I bought "Story of the World," and then I returned it the second day of the conference. I couldn't get behind doing ancient history for 1st grade. I just couldn't. I know how many great children's books there are for early American history, and I had a sense of how hard it would be to find good stuff on the ancients for this age, and I couldn't do it. Now I'm considering a curriculum guide for American history from Beautiful Feet. Since my local library has almost all the titles, I wouldn't have to buy much.

I'm realizing that this year of homeschooling needs to look different. I need to plan more but differently over the summer. And I need to do less hands on stuff. The boys LOVED Five in a Row, and I  loved a lot about it, too. BUT, it required a lot of planning on my part every week to do it the way I wanted to. I spent a lot of time running back and forth to the library, and we did things like make butter and paint pictures of canals and bee dancing. And I just don't want to try and put that much effort into it every week.

So I think I'm going to try and go back and forth between "rowing" a book and doing a pre-planned literature based curriculum for history with a simple animals science curriculum for social studies on the off weeks. This way I won't have to think about or plan that. I'll have the books already, and that will be enough. I'll have a very active toddler that won't be napping in the morning this year. I'm going to have to be creative anyway because of that with when we have school. 


Not following the 4 year history cycle will not kill us. All the boys will somehow get American history and Ancient History and Medieval history, even though I don't know how right now. I don't have to know how right now. It's ok. 

But sometimes one of the hardest parts of homeschooling is knowing that its me having to pray about it and figure out what they need and when. That is hard. It's beautiful and rewarding and a way that God is working in my heart and life, but yes, its hard. 

Thanks for letting me work that out on "paper." I figured there might be some others out there struggling with the same thing or something similar, so I thought I'd blog about it tonight.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Minutia and the end of the school year...

A little Gator action. All the neighbor kids climb on when they go tooling through the cul de sac, especially the curly headed girl from next door.

I'm sitting here alone this morning. It's so quiet that I can hear the fridge running. I had heavy whipping cream left, so I made coffee to so I'd have an excuse to drink it. I slept ridiculously late for me (8:30!!!), and I'm going up for a shower soon.

David took the boys up to VA with him on Thursday for a work trip and dropped them off with his parents on the way. They're spending the weekend there, and I'm leaving today for the first girls weekend I've had in oh, I don't know, 7 years? I'm packing up the strawberries and brie and books and girlie movies and facial masks and nail polish in a bit. 

If it wasn't for grandparents, I don't know what I'd do. (Well, I might slowly go insane.) I got to eat lunch with a friend, go shopping for shorts and sandals for Evan, and wander through Target quietly. This meant that I actually got to think about the things we're out of that are the "extras" that don't make the grocery list sometimes. Oh yeah, we need more sunscreen. Oooh, more ponytail holders! 

The times without kids are a chance for my brain to play catch up, and it feels good. I clean and fold laundry while watching Netflix. I watched a movie and a comedy special and an episode of The Office, all in a row. I haven't watched that much tv in a very, very, very long time. But since I actually can't remember the last time I watched tv (maybe last month?), I think I just made up for it all at once and got  to see things that David isn't as interested in watching. It was fun! I love Netflix. :) (We don't have cable, and we don't use our antenna, but we get our $7.99 a month's worth out of streaming.)

The last time I went on a weekend with just me and my bestie, I'm sure I took books. I probably took a couple of novels, maybe a magazine? This time, I've got a Lord Peter Wimsey that I've already read. (Why did Dorothy Sayers die? I want more Lord Peter Wimsey!!!!) But I've also got two books on the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. And I'm just as excited about reading those as the other. Times have really changed.

I refresh and recharge myself now to prepare myself better for this job that I have. I prep a little for the coming school year just as this one is ending, and I'm ok with that.

I declared Wednesday our last day of Kindergarten. In N.C., you don't have to count 180 days of school for the kindergarten year. Although I suspect we got that many in because I didn't take random teacher work days or spring break, I'm not worried if we didn't. We'll be having "Summer Learning" all summer long. We'll read books like we always do, and I'm going to do math, reading lessons, and handwriting with Seth a few days a week. BUT 1st Grade doesn't start until the fall. :)

On our last day, we went to the local city park that has a train, kiddie boats, and a carousel. They got to ride all of them. I gave them ice cream for breakfast. We picnicked with friends and discovered an awesome play area under a huge magnolia tree near the picnic shelter. Of course, it was the ice cream for breakfast that they're still talking about.

It was a blessed 1st year of homeschooling. I am really peaceful and content with how it all went, and I'm very thankful to God for a pleasant first step into this new phase of life. We looked through our Wonder Book together in the last few days, and Seth asked me often if we could do this activity again or that one. When I asked him when he liked best about Kindergarten, he said, "I liked all of it, Mommy!" 

Monday, May 13, 2013

One of my passions, part 2

I really felt like the work I was doing at the CPC was worthwhile, but it was hard on me emotionally. Some nights, I would come home drained and troubled. I prayed for each one of the women that I saw, and there were times that I would cry for them and their babies.

And I saw such a wide variety of women. There were so many different stories and so many difficult situations.

One thing that I learned through seeing so many different young women was that there was a lot of pressure on them from their families and friends. I think that many of the women I saw did not want to abort their babies, but they faced tremendous pressure to do so. Their boyfriends threatened to leave, or their parents threatened to kick them out if they didn't abort.

I learned early on that the mothers of teenage girls are often not the allies of their unborn grandchildren. When these women got involved, the result was often abortion. From what I could tell, they didn't like the idea that they would have a large role in helping their daughters to parent, and because they didn't want the responsibility, they would threaten and push abortion. I saw this a lot, and it made me really sad.

I met one woman who had had too much to drink on a trip overseas. She wasn't even sure that she'd consented to have sex with the man she'd met at party. She was pregnant, and she was mortified. She was a young professional, and she was afraid of what everyone she knew would think of her getting pregnant this way. I saw her once, but she didn't come back for her scheduled ultrasound.

I counseled a young, newly married couple. They had gotten pregnant unexpectedly, and they were very worried that the baby wouldn't be healthy because the wife that been very tired around the time the baby was conceived. They told me they were considering having an abortion because of their worries that the baby wouldn't be healthy. I was able to explain that pregnancy makes you very tired, and that tiredness didn't mean that there was anything wrong with the baby. I scheduled an ultrasound for them, and I heard that they decided to keep the baby.

Right before we moved, a teenage girl came into the clinic visibly pregnant. She signed in and asked for a pregnancy test, and I was a little stunned. Of course, it was positive. She had very irregular periods, so she hadn't thought much of it. She was at least 6 months along based on her last period. She wanted to have an abortion, and I told her that she was probably too far along to have one in that state. I showed her pictures of fetal development, told her all the amazing ways her baby had developed, and scheduled her for an ultrasound.

I guess you can see why I felt so burdened for all these clients. :) I'm glad I got to help then, and I feel like I'd probably be a more informed counselor now that I've had 3 pregnancies, but finding the time is difficult. But one of these days, I hope to return to this.

For now, I'll pray, and we'll give to help fund our local CPCs. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Baking and mirrors...

The other day, I decided to see if I could make good homemade sub rolls. So I found a recipe, put the ingredients in the bread maker after breakfast, and had a finished product around lunchtime. When I told David this, he said, and I quote: "Clearly its time to have another baby. You've got way too much time on your hands." Hah!

I was actually having a really good day with Ben. He hadn't climbed up on the table 12 times before 10 a.m. or spilled anything all over himself, so I was firing on all cylinders.

Though he does have a point about the gratuitous bread baking. I do sense a trend. It seems like around the time I have an older toddler, the urge to bake bread comes on me strongly. It's something I like to do, but since I don't mind buying bread from the store, it's something very optional.

I do have plenty I could be doing. But lately, I'm sometimes choosing to ignore that to do what I want to do. Call it spring fever. Figure out who to call to get bids on painting the house? Nah, not gonna. I HATE having anyone work on my house. Finishing up putting together the kindergarten wonder book? Nope. I'd rather read a book about books.

I just finished "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader" by Anne Fadiman. So instead of sweeping the floor and doing the lunch dishes, I typed up this quote by Holbrook Jackson for our schoolroom wall: "In reading aloud, you are greatly privileged, first to consort with all that is noble and beautiful in thought and imagination, and then to give it forth again. You adventure among masterpieces and spread the news of your discoveries. No news is better worth the spreading; few things are better worth sharing." I think I made the right decision.

We spent a lot of time outside this morning. The boys decided they wanted to plant a chewing gum tree in the backyard (per "My Father's Dragon.") We took some sick supplies to a friend on bedrest a couple of miles down the road, and then it was back to playing again. When Evan accidentally pulled out one of my daffodil bulbs, Seth got a better lesson in shoots and roots than he'd ever get from the gardening books we've been reading. Lunchtime saw us gorging ourselves on jack cheese and "Stuart Little."

When Ben took his usual opportunity to climb on the table while my back was turned and dumped my water on himself, I put him in crib timeout after stripping him to his diaper. And during that 5 minutes, the large mirror on the mantel fell to the floor and shattered into a thousand pieces.

He'd been playing near the fireplace a lot this morning. There was no warning. No slamming doors, nothing. I almost never put him in timeout. If he'd been there instead of upstairs, we'd be at the hospital right now.

So when I took him out of his crib, he got more than one extra hug and a whispered prayer over his handsome and infuriating little head. Oh, my beautiful boy, I want you with me, driving me crazy all day long, for many, many years to come. Yes, oh yes, I do...

Monday, May 06, 2013


.... I got my boys back today. My parents wanted them for the weekend, so we took the chance to celebrate our 12th anniversary early. That celebration included "Iron Man 3", finding a beautiful hike on a local river, and yes, some cleaning and yard work.

And then I went to get them this morning. After they were all buckled in their carseats, I paused for a second to look at them in the minivan before I climbed in. I had the unbidden thought, "I have my life back now." Because as much as I love the time alone with the hubster to talk and dream and handle stuff, they are our life. This is what we're called to be doing. They are the life I've been given, and I'm grateful for them.

Beef stew is bubbling away on the stove, and I hear them out in the cul de sac with Daddy. Evan wanted to tell him that he got to watch "Cars" at Nana and Papa's, and he wasn't even scared this time at the car crash part. They both sang me a song that Nana taught them when she had "tea time" with them. :)  The sun is finally out after many days of clouds. I have caught up on cuddles and snuggles post naptime in Ben's room where they all played at my feet as I sat in the rocking chair.

God has been good. So I'm taking a moment to say so...

Saturday, May 04, 2013

One of my passions, part 1

The kids are with Mom and Dad for the weekend, and I took a nap when I got back. So I was lying in bed tonight wide awake and thinking, and I thought I'd share my thoughts... :)

Everybody has things they get excited about, but a lot of the things I love may not trip your trigger. There are also plenty of things that I just don't care much about that others find quite compelling. Epidural vs. natural birth? Don't care. Organic food? Nope. Cloth diapers vs. disposable? Nada. You may feel strongly, and that's just fine, but I'm probably not going to get excited with you one way or the other. :)

There are so many great and wonderful things that God can call us to give a lot of time and energy to doing. For me, that's homeschooling. I'm passionate about it, and I enjoy spending my days on this. Another family might get really passionate about adoption, for example. I think its great that people adopt, and I read adoption blogs, but I don't feel called to adopt. I'm doing something different that God has called me to do, and those that adopt are doing the same. If we all got excited about exactly the same things, the world wouldn't be very interesting, and I like variety. :)

But its not like I have only one thing that floats my boat. :) Homeschooling takes so much from me right now that I don't have much time to indulge other passions, but a major one for me is caring for the unborn. One of these days, I hope to get more involved with that.

Once upon a time, over 10 years ago now, I was a volunteer counselor at a crisis pregnancy center. Because it was so long ago, and because I am not disclosing the city or any names and detailed descriptions, I feel like its safe to talk about this now.

I wanted to work with a CPC from the time I was in high school. I helped some other teen girls clean the one in the town close to us as a way to help out, but teens weren't allowed to counsel. So when I got the chance to take the volunteer training the first year that I was married, I jumped at that. I counseled at night after work once a week until we moved a year later.

I loved working at this center. It was a converted house in a downtown area, and everything had been done to make it as inviting as possible. The counseling rooms were decorated in soothing colors, and there were soft chairs and sofas. There were lots of lamps giving it a warm glow in the evenings.

When a woman came in, we would give her a pregnancy test to take on her own. Then she would come into the counseling room to talk while we waited for her test results. We had a standard form to fill out, and I'd ask the typical questions like name and birthdate, etc. We asked what she would want to do if the test was positive- parent, place for adoption, or abort. I thought this was really helpful because it helped her to think about her state of mind before she knew the test results.

If the test was positive, I would take out a wheel that would tell me her due date based on her last period. I would ask her about her concerns, about who was a support to her during this time, and ask about what she might need.

I always asked to pray with each woman, and I never had a single one refuse that. Each time I prayed, I would mention that God knew her, that He created her and loved her, and that He had a plan for her. I prayed for peace for her and for wisdom for her.

If a woman was leaning toward abortion, we would offer an ultrasound. The ultrasounds were done at the clinic by volunteer doctors and ultrasonographers. They would come in one night a week usually, and I would try to come back and be there if I had a client who was signed up for one. The doctor was male, and there would be another woman in there with him when he was doing an ultrasound.

I can't speak for all CPCs, but at this one, the goal was always to show gentle love to every mother and unborn child. Nobody pushed the mother to make a decision not to abort. If they asked about abortion, we told them that we didn't provide or refer for abortions, but that was about it. We asked questions and provided information about what was happening in her womb, spoke about the child as a "baby," and showed her pictures of fetal development. Anyone leaning toward abortion was told that they were always welcome at the CPC, no matter what decision that they made. I know that there was a post abortive counseling class available.

The whole goal was informed consent, and the prayer was that a woman would see the life in her as a life just like hers. Ultrasounds were crucial to this, and I saw firsthand how in awe some women were to see their baby's tiny heartbeat on the monitor.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


"Evan and His Sticks"

Sooo, I'm realizing that I'm not quite as interested in my blog as I used to be. When I started it, there was no such thing as Facebook, and I didn't have 3 children. Short little status updates fit this stage of life better.

But also, I'm realizing that I'm tired of self censoring. I worry that if I get really excited about something about homeschooling, the non- homeschoolers may take it the wrong way. And I'm not interested in fighting that mommy war. And its not just that... there are many other ways I can self censor. 

I don't want to subject all of you to the mundane of my every day, I guess. I repeat myself a lot. And I don't want to wonder whether or not you think my mundane is interesting before I start typing. 

My memory is horrible. David remembers far more of the details of our last 12 years together than I do. I was disturbed the other day when he remembered a children's ministry training we did when we were in AL that I had absolutely no memory of. 

So I'm going back to the old fashioned journal for some of my chronicling of life. I don't want the tiny moments to slip away from me, so I type them quickly into a Word document. My plan is to print it out in 1 year volumes and put it in 3-ring binders. And it'll be password protected on the computer as soon as I figure that out.

I feel like I've gotten so deeply into blog sharing and social media that I haven't thought about the value about having something just for me. It's been years since I kept a journal, but looking back on those, I find out so much about "younger Ellen." I find that I now crave someplace where I just write down what I want to remember for me and no one else. No self censoring. I need an outlet for my grumpy thoughts, my potentially judgmental looking thoughts, and my very tender thoughts.... and this ain't it. 

We'll see what this blog becomes. Maybe doing this will free me to write differently and better... and maybe it won't. But if I become more scarce around here, you now have a clue as to why. :)