Saturday, January 28, 2017

A bend in the road...

You just don't know when the next bend in the road will come sometimes. You think you see the road stretching out in front of you all the way to the horizon, and it's a good road that makes you smile with contentment. You're walking it, thankful for what you think is ahead. But then it twists, and your eyes widen with surprise. This one looks good, too. It's just very, very different. 

My new road involves palm trees, coconuts, and the crowded streets of a city halfway across the world. 

David grew up a military kid. When he was right around the ages that our boys are now, he moved to Germany with his family. As a teen, he lived in Turkey for about a year. 

He was different from a lot of guys I knew, and I was intrigued. I suspected that some of that difference came from the way he'd learned to see the world and interact with it from living all over it.

When David took a job here with a local branch of the Justice Department, we heard about an opportunity for our family to go overseas on a detail and serve developing democracies. We both knew we wanted to try and do it one day.

He started sending in applications occasionally over two years ago, and the more we learned about the process, the more impossible it seemed that he would ever be selected. I took that dream and told God that it was OK. I'd give it up. 

I honestly really meant that. I'd been restless after we found out another baby wasn't in our future, and I'd wanted to travel. But "travel" shouldn't mean "uproot your life because of discontentment," and I figured that out over a year ago, thank God. He has helped me dig in deep and enjoy my growing boys and planting roots in new church and homeschooling communities.

So when David got an interview out of the clear, blue sky one day last October, I wasn't prepared. We'd even agreed that he should just put in applications without telling me because I didn't want to know a thing about it unless he actually got an interview.

And now he has accepted an offer for a detail that is taking us far from home for at least 14 months. Realistically, we're probably going to be away for 2 years. We're moving to Asia. I found out right after Christmas, and the office is talking about getting us there by sometime in March.

I'm cleaning out every closet in the house, thinking about getting our home ready to rent, checking into medical clearance forms, and praying over our housing application that has already been sent to the Embassy where David will be working.

I've woken up almost every morning for the last two weeks scared to death. But David says I'm way tougher than I look. He says that Jesus told a parable about me. I'm the son who said he wasn't going to work in the vineyard, but then he ends up going anyway. He's right, I guess. I struggle and argue and tell God it's too hard, but then I usually end up heading out with my vine dressing tools. Usually. :)

I'm not waking up scared every day anymore, and I'm thankful for that. I'm starting to get more excited and grateful for the chance to grow in my trust of God. I'm being given the chance to see the world He's made in new ways with my husband and my excited little boys. Homeschooling in a land without libraries doesn't feel as impossible as it did a week ago. :)

God has made it very clear in a few different ways that this is what He has for us. I can't deny it. I don't know all the reasons yet, but I haven't been sorry when I've stepped out into the scary unknown with Him in the past. He has been faithful, and I know He loves us all. 

And fortunately, we all love rice and mango. :)

Monday, October 03, 2016

Family camping...

Cub Scouts= camping, and we've gone camping with our local troop about twice a year since Seth was a Tiger cub. David started out taking just Seth, then Seth and Evan, and finally Ben was old enough that we could join them instead of having Mommy and toddler time at home. 

This fall was the first time we've camped on our own as a family since that one time when Seth was tiny, and we sat him on a blanket next to the fire pit because he wasn't yet mobile. :) I loved this trip. Loved it, I tell you. 

The boys prowled the woods around our campsite, hunting up kindling. That kept them busy until darkness fell on Friday evening. 

Saturday morning, we all headed out to hike to the falls. I am proud and happy to report that we all hiked, mostly uphill, for about 2 miles, and no one had to be carried. I'm liking this big kid thing a lot. We got back to the campsite pleasantly tired and appropriately hungry for lunch.

This campground has a creek running along the edges of it, so water play was the order of business after that. I was a little worried when the temperatures in the NC mountains were looking like they'd be close to 90 while we were on our trip, but camping and hiking near water make a HUGE difference. We were comfortable, and it wasn't too cool to splash, so I think we got the best of fall camping.

Our adopted college student, Josh, is all grown up now and living in Charlotte. He met us on Saturday night with his large black lab mix, Stetson. The boys excitedly chased him as he bounded through the woods, easily outpacing them whenever he felt like it. Josh brought his tent, a truck bed full of firewood, and bacon. You can see why we love him.

Seth read us "The Sign of the Beaver" to us around the campfire because he wanted to. I think this should be listed on the page under "How to know when you've arrived" in the "Overachieving Homeschool Mom's Handbook". :)

We had too many s'mores, didn't take showers, and nobody got poison ivy. I can't wait to go back again, but Cub Scout campouts will probably take precedence between now and winter. BUT I've caught the vision for family camping, and friends, it is very good.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Our Wonder Book...

It's July, so that means it's time for me to start thinking about school stuff again! :) My brain needs a summer break. (It gets this long break after the excitement of planning in May for the fall while sighing over the stuff that we're still finishing up).

I do some fall planning in May, but I wait to finish up our current Wonder Book in late summer. There's a good reason for this. Finishing up the Wonder Book before finishing school prep for the coming year reminds me that we actually accomplished a ton. I can see it there before me, a much needed visual reminder that my sons have been doing many things other than fighting over Legos and groaning over their 3rd spelling curriculum of the year.

I start with a quality 1 1/2- 2 inch binder. It's got to have nice inner pockets for stuffing in fliers from events we've attended, random brochures, and things that won't easily be hole punched. Then I get the 5 divider pack. At this age, we don't need more than that. I label them History, Language Arts, Science, Music and Arts, and Misc.

I keep a list of books read for different subjects in Microsoft Word all year long, so at the end of the year, I can print that off. Books that the boys have really enjoyed get noted here. I also type up what resources we're using for table work.

I keep a few samples of copywork and math worksheets here and there so I can see how they've progressed.

I just sat here and typed up what we'd done for composer study and picture study and the resources we used, and I hit "Print." I forgot to mention the art class we'd taken through Parks and Rec, so I wrote it under that in pen. It's a super classy and professional book, y'all.

It's been a goal of mine to print out pictures and put them in the book using these handy dandy clear photo pages. I even bought them. It hasn't happened yet. We'll see if this is the year. :)

If the house ever catches on fire, I'm grabbing these books. The boys may never care to go through them, but they're a priceless record for me of the years we've been learning together at home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Sweet Mr. Fred let us use his front yard for their very first lemonade stand. (We live at the back of the cul de sac, and I didn't think anyone would come all the way back to our house.) Evan wanted to spend his own money on supplies, and we typed up a list of expenses. He had to get a business loan from Seth of $1, and I rented him the table and chairs. He made $6.86 in profit! And we all got to enjoy standing around with neighbors that generously came out to buy and talk. Friends drove by on their way to run errands. The boys had a fabulous time, and I was reminded of some of things I love about the community where we live.

It's a testimony to how busy our spring and early summer have been that the plant hangers I so excitedly bought have been sitting in a corner collecting dust for a month. David put them up for me during a "date night" (yeah, he was thrilled), and now the shade loving plants Mom potted for me are enjoying their new home. There's something very soothing to me about puttering around and watering plants, usually with hair still damp from the neighborhood pool.

First photo booth. These goofballs. Ben hung around this booth at the local festival for 30 minutes after the other boys had moved on, trying on wigs and hats and glasses. He's our dress up king.

Dinner most evenings happens at these tables. We've even figured out how to use the grills at the pool. I know why people in Florida always seem so relaxed. Two words: summer laundry. No socks and long sleeves and coats and gloves and pants. Combine that with picnicking all the time and not having a kitchen to clean up? Man, that's living. :) 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Aldi Friendly Spaghetti Sauce...

My kids are eating a lot more spaghetti lately, so my Mom's recipe that I used to make and freeze isn't stretching as far as it used to. I decided to modify it, and now I'm making a pot of sauce and having leftovers for later in the week. I can get what I need at Aldi most of the time, excluding the minced garlic in a jar I keep in the fridge and possibly the Worchestershire sauce?

Olive oil
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 t. minced garlic
1 onion, finely diced
1 bell pepper, finely diced
1 t. sugar
1 heaping t. each basil and oregano
a generous splash of Worchestershire sauce
1/2-1 lb. of ground beef, browned

Brown the hamburger and remove from your large pot. Put some olive oil in there and add the garlic, onion, and pepper. (I mince mine in the mini food processor that lives on my counter.) Saute until softened, and then add all the other ingredients except beef. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Add ground beef and simmer another 1/2 hour.

Feeds 4 hungry males. Maybe.

First 4-H presentations....

This year, I decided to get my act together and get the big boys to do their first 4-H presentations. My mom will tell you that 4-H was an important component to her homeschool, and I agree that it was really useful for me. The public speaking skills that I gained from having to give a talk with visual aids from the time I was pretty young have stood me in good stead, and that's just the beginning, really.

So what was stopping me from doing this before now? Daily life. A full schedule. Adding one more thing to the to do list. (And I kept telling myself I had time because I only had one Cloverbud.) BUT, it's worth it, so we pulled it together in time for our county presentation day. I had the boys tell me what they wanted to present, and I helped them organize their talk and make posters. We printed off text and images and Seth was able to arrange his how he wanted. (I admit to doing Evan's posters for him. Sue me. He's 6.)

Seth's presentation was called "Seth's Wacky Gadgets." He talked about famous inventors that inspired him, showed a couple of things he'd come up with, and then gave a step by step demonstration of his rubber band crash car game. The judges had lots of good questions and made him feel really encouraged. He told them that when he invents something awesome one day, he'll give them a discount. That's my boy.

Evan's presentation was called "Critter Catching School." He mostly showed how he catches a variety of wild creatures (like frogs and lizards and bugs), complete with gardening gloves, a box to keep them in, and a few little plastic bugs and toads and snakes. The last poster was about safety, and I included large pictures of copperheads and black widows. We have taught him not to try and catch anything with patterns because it might be poisonous. (We have decided that telling him that he can't catch things because he might get stung or bitten isn't the way we want to raise him or his brothers. This article sums it up pretty well.)

I really enjoyed how Evan kept trying to pack up all his things and walk off while the judges were still asking him questions. I guess I should've covered that part of presentation etiquette. Next year. :)

David said he could see why I thought presentations were worth it after seeing the boys at our county day. A tired end-of-the-year-homeschooling mom likes to hear that from the principal. :)

Saturday, March 05, 2016

On trying again...

I've meant to write about this a few times, but I have been paralyzed by wanting to explain perfectly, so I haven't made a start. I give up. It won't be perfect, but here goes. :)

I'm singing again.

I was raised by an opera singer. Mom has a M.A. in Vocal Performance from Cincinnati College Conservatory, and she was a coloratura soprano before I was born. She sang lead roles in operas, including the Queen of the Night from Mozart's "The Magic Flute." I've heard recordings, and I remember flipping through her photo albums of performances, watching her strike a dramatic pose in flamboyant costume on stage, her mouth formed for an impressive high B.

Now, this means that I was a classically trained singer's child. :) My brother and I sat with her at the piano while she taught us to sight read music. We were blessed to live near the well ranked music school where she got her undergraduate degree, and there was a really good children's choir in town, so we both joined when we were old enough. I sang in that choir from ages 10-18. I went to international children's choir festivals, and I was a street urchin in the "La Boheme" chorus and a shepherdess for "Ahmal and the Night Visitors". When I went to college, I joined the choir.

Then I got married and started moving around, and singing in a choir just didn't seem to be something I could find time for anymore. The babies started coming (thank the Lord), and I woke up one day and realized it had been about 15 years since I'd sung classical music.

I have a sweet friend from my Mothers of Preschoolers days who sings classical music, and I was watching her on Facebook talking about singing in an opera chorus, and something just snapped in me, I think. I realized that I didn't want to let this part of who I am just die away from neglect. My youngest is now 4, and it suddenly dawned on me that I might be able to rehearse in the evening for the first time in years.

I contacted my friend, and she suggested that I try out for the choir that sings with our symphony. That sounded totally intimidating. (I suspected it would probably be full of musical professionals, and I think it is.) She said the director was really kind and encouraging, so I contacted him, and I went for an audition last September.

I sang a bit of an old choir piece a cappella. I did some sight singing, and he had me vocalize to assess my range. He told me that I needed to "get the cobwebs out." He also told me to see a voice teacher a couple of times and come back and re-audition in January.

Yeah, I cried on the way home.

And then I realized that he hadn't told me "no." He'd given me clear and concrete things to do, and I could do them. So I pulled myself together, threw my shoulders back and put my chin up, and I called my friend (who is a voice teacher). She gave me a classical aria to learn to sing for my audition. This is it. (Not me singing.) I decided that she must have a lot of confidence in me. :)

I practiced a little each day for a few months, mostly during nap time or while David was putting the boys to bed. I saw my friend again for another lesson. And I scheduled an audition for January.

When I got there, I listened to the others auditioning in front of me through the sanctuary doors, and I wanted to just stand up and walk out. I'm sure I didn't only because I decided that this whole experience was about facing my fears and doing my best with the time and resources I had and leaving the rest to God.

When I walked down the aisle, the director recognized me. I told him what I'd been doing, and I sang for him. He said, "I think you still need a little work on your upper range.... so I'm making you a second soprano." And then he said, "Most people don't come back."

Every rehearsal feels like a gift to me. I still can't believe I get to make beautiful music with talented singers. Sometimes I feel like the worst one there, and I might or might not be, but I also suspect I might be the most grateful singer in that room.

I was afraid to try to do this, so afraid that God would say "no" to this desire.  But He said "yes" instead, and in that "yes," I feel like He said, "I see you, Ellen." Me. Not "mom" or "wife" or "homeschooler", but this person that He shaped through the experiences that she had as a child and the things He allowed her to do and be because of who she was born to and where she lived and the space that He created for the works that she would do.

My mom and dad and my husband and oldest son are coming to my first concert. I hope that Mom pats herself on the back. I can sing with this choir because she gave me the tools. I hope my 9-year-old boy hears Beauty and remembers the prayers he prayed for me when I wanted to give up. I want him to see that perseverance sometimes pays off in the ways we hope for.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Winter days and Caddie...

As the boys get older, winter days get more pleasant. I notice a change every year. Sure, there are still times when our house feels very small, and I'm putting people in time out for sword fighting in the living room. But we're also having days when all of them can handle a calm activity all together for an hour! 

This afternoon we sat at the kitchen table and colored (Seth drew) for an hour after rest time. (Ben kept begging me to let him have coloring sheets from the nice books I got as birthday presents, and I kept insisting he finish out the page he had instead of leaving three measly marks on there and declaring himself done, but that was the most drama that happened. Very minor.) We get a lot of books on CD from the local library, and we're going through one of my childhood favorites, "Caddie Woodlawn." 

I painstakingly brushed with markers while Caddie's father told of his childhood in England to his family gathered around his hearth. We heard how Caddie's teacher put Obadiah in his place, how she fixed the circuit rider's clock and became her father's partner in clock repair, and how the family ended up eating turkey all winter because her mother wouldn't part with her birds for the Civil War prices...  

The boys occasionally made comments. "Why would she do that?" "Uh oh." I wondered about the things they didn't say. Were they internalizing the ideas about English inheritance law and how American pioneers differed in their thinking? Good books teach. I believe that.

Now I'm making chicken soup and corn muffins. (David loves Jiffy, so I've stopped trying to make cornbread from scratch most of the time. ;) They'll head off in the rain for Cub Scouts after dinner, and maybe I'll read with the little guys under each arm, letting them head to the book case to pick whatever they want. Maybe I'll get Evan and Ben to play UNO with me, Evan with his cards laid out on the table so I can help him with them, Ben on my lap "playing" my hand for me.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Things that are working for me....

Hello, blog. It's been a long time. But I may have to reconcile with you now that I have discovered that I can upload photos from my Android phone with ease. ;)

So, a few things that are making this winter season enjoyable for me....

1. Agatha. That is the name that I've given my cheery little space heater. She is a cozy mystery to me, what with her realistic looking flames and the fact that she doesn't have to give heat unless you flip an extra switch. I can see her sitting there on my hearth from the kitchen, calming me with her soothing, light bulb induced flames that are realistic enough to slake my fire lust.

2. Duraflame logs. They are good for our marriage when Agatha just won't do. There's no trudging out to get wood and painstakingly building a fire with enough kindling and paper to ensure success. I have a basket of them beside the fireplace. They're about $2 a log, but David thinks it's worth the price not to have to do the aforementioned as often as I'd like a fire.

3. Spiral bound pads and good pens. I've begun keeping a daily gratitude journal, usually writing in it when I sit down after the kids are in their rooms for rest time. Assessing the morning with gratitude in my heart for what has gone well (especially if it's a day when many things have not) has really been a good exercise for me. I like that spiral notepads mean that I can keep the little notebook open a lot more easily, and a V5 Precise fine point is a little luxury that means I write more than I would with a Bic.

4. Fair Trade Fridays. I got a subscription to Fair Trade Fridays because I wanted to help provide these courageous ladies a regular source of income through making something that they can take pride in. Well, I got way more than I bargained for. I've gotten some lovely things in my monthly packet, including 3 lovely necklaces that I wear all the time and a really cute black and white tote bag that I'm saving for spring.

What are some little things that are helping you enjoy winter just a wee bit more?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Every time I climb a tree....

Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants all over me

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don't they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?
I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
or maybe three

And then I skin
The other leg
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Though climbing may be good for ants
It isn't awfully good for pants
But still it's pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree.

- David McCord

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Hand blasting mushrooms and stars are we. :)

Halloween 2015