Friday, June 25, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday {#3}

More Quick Takes courtesy of Jennifer at Conversion Diary.

1.) We were up WAY too late last night moving furniture around. Yes, moving furniture. We've switched up some of the rooms. Kevin is a good sport and most always willing to do some heavy lifting with me. (In case you've been to my house, the room that used to be our bedroom is now Mary Lu's room. We are now in the other main-floor bedroom, and the guestroom will be the other downstairs bedroom--that used to be Mary's, but that she never slept in, because I don't trust my other kids down there not to wake her up or carry her around without my knowing. Everything is moved except for two beds. Tomorrow we'll do that. Shhh, don't tell Kevin.)

2.) I'm getting close to switching over to Wordpress. It's nothing fancy but change is good (see Quicktake #1). I even joined Twitter...not sure how I feel about that...but kinda fun to have status updates on my blog page.

3.) I FINALLY found a place that will make Biniam's lenses. (In case you hadn't read, he has extremely poor vision, and needs such a strong eyeglass prescription that most labs won't cut the lenses.) That place is...Walmart. No joke. Frames: $9. Lenses: $29. Extra-strength prescription charge: $12. Having a son who can see without breaking the bank: priceless.

4.) Today we're meeting Kevin for lunch. We LOVE this. Back in our California days, he commuted over an hour each way to work, so obviously this was never an option. He worked a world away. So it is extra special for us that we can grab lunch, pick up Kevin and go sit at a park in the sunshine.

5.) Today I'm also returning some throw pillows to Ross. I buy throw pillows a lot. And then promptly return them, because I don't like how they look on my couch. I'd been wanting to find the perfect ones, but I just plain need to stop buying them, because I never end up happy. Thank goodness for return policies!

6.) Yesterday we went to a friend's birthday party. All but one of my kids found a swimsuit to wear. All but one of my kids wore shoes that fit. I call that a success.

7.) I have all these empty picture frames sitting around my house that I need to fill! Ever since we got our first digital camera, I never develop pictures. Did I mention home decorating is not my forte? I have this dream of having wonderful pictures and things around the house, but do I ever do anything about it? No. My goal for the weekend? Have a few prints made at Walgreens and put them in frames. I'll let you know if I actually follow through.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To be more

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments (Centesimus Annus, 36).

Isn't this so beautiful? I thought so. I stumbled upon it this past week. (If you're like me and have no clue what the Centesimus Annus was, it's an encyclical that was written by Pope John Paul II back in 1991. I used my mad Wikipedia skills to figure that one out. If you've never read anything by John Paul II, you really should. His stuff is amazing.)

What really is determining our choices, savings and investments? What type of lifestyle are we creating? I have to say that I love his use of the word "create" in this context--the idea of being INTENTIONAL in our way of living. Not just living according to our means (if we make a lot, we spend a lot), but striving to really craft a lifestyle that is pure and good and self-sacrificing.

Over the years we've tried to be a bit more intentional about how we live. It seems much easier (for us anyway) to be intentional in the big picture stuff vs. the everyday small stuff. Because it's in the everyday where my intentions meet my exhaustion. But perhaps that is where intentionality matters the most.

Hmmm. There is some food for thought there. As I contemplate the path God has us on with this adoption journey that is so not turning out the way we thought it would--at all--I'm wondering if we're being nudged in a new direction, or called to be intentional in a different way than we'd expected. Instead of feeling frustrated that I don't know where this is headed, or what we should do...maybe it's an pursue truth, beauty, goodness. Creating a lifestyle.

Yes, food for thought to be sure.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

{8} years

Eight years ago today I got married at the ripe old age of {20}.
I'm so, so glad that I did.
I'm married to my best friend and I would not trade our years together for anything in the world.
{first year of marriage} was spent living in Santa Barbara, carefree and young and staying up way too late, dining on State Street, laying out by the pool and going to the movies.
{second year of marriage} found us leaving Santa Barbara, buying our first home in Santa Maria, and giving birth to our first baby: a precious little girl.
{third year of marriage} included the joys of parenting, facing the devastation of miscarriage and beginning the process to adopt from Ethiopia.
{fourth year of marriage} took us to Ethiopia where we met our two sweet sons.
{fifth year of marriage} brought the birth of another beautiful baby girl.
{sixth year of marriage} took us from the Central Coast of California to Denver, Colorado.
{seventh year of marriage} we were gifted with TWO pregnancies. We look forward to meeting one of those babies in Heaven.
{eighth year of marriage} brought the birth of our THIRD baby girl, and also the beginning of another Ethiopian adoption process.

It is funny to look back over that list and compare our first year together to, well, the rest of them.
Life was simple in 2002, but it was, well, not full. And even amidst the fun and the ability to run quick errands, we knew it. I think about that time we had together, before pacifiers and skinned-knees and time-outs. Before Kevin was a dad, and before I was a mom. I treasure those memories, but I'm glad it didn't last. I'm glad the Lord gifted us with a sweet baby girl, who we discovered on our one-year-anniversary.
Our life together, like any life, has been filled with joys and sorrows alike. As the years and adventures slip by, I'm more and more convinced that I made a good choice, or rather that God made a good choice for me. The vocation of marriage and motherhood is a profound gift and today, I'm celebrating eight years with my best friend.
(Tonight we're all going to dinner at an Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. I can't wait!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Anne Rice, Fabio and Francine Rivers on a Monday

I just started Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Have any of you read this? I'm LOVING it! (In a nutshell, it's a novel about the early life of Jesus. There's a second book too called Christ the Lord: Road to Cana. I look forward to reading that one next!)

Having been a Christian my entire life, it's really fascinating to think about Jesus' early years, His childhood...things I'd never much considered before because they're not recorded in the Bible.
Anne Rice actually has an interesting story herself. (Maybe not on the same level as Jesus, but still. :) ) Author of Interview With a Vampire and various other works of dark-ish fiction (none of which I have read or seen on film--I know, I'm probably one of the few), she converted (back) to Catholicism some number of years ago. (Though rejects many of the social positions that the Catholic Church holds.) And made the decision to stop writing about vampires, witches and the like. You can read a little about her conversion and her process of writing these latest novels here.

Who'd have thought that the same woman who wrote the Vampire Chronicles would go on to write about Christ's life? Kinda weird.

{Total side-note, but does anyone else think Twilight is a slight ripoff of the aforementioned Vampire Chronicles? I know, I know, I haven't read or watched Anne's stuff--though I HAVE wasted, er, taken the time to read Twilight--BUT I know the plot and it seems pretty similar. Granted they're all pulling from vampire legend, but still. Maybe I'm just biased against all things Twilight. Another post for another time.}

Even MORE of a side-note (I heart tangents)...did you know that the Christian author Francine Rivers used to exclusively write nasty romance novels? Heehee. Since making that happy little discovery (no, I did NOT stumble upon one of her earlier tomes while perusing the Fabio-on-the-cover section at Wal Mart. Somebody TOLD me about Francine) I've thought about the books of hers I've read, and I can totally see it. Somehow it fits with her writing style. For some reason I got a real kick out of this. (Consider the above picture of Fabio a total bonus. Completely unnecessary to post his photo, but whatever, it's not every day you have an excuse to put him on your blog. That hair is just.too.much.)

I definitely want to share at some point about another book I'm reading, Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath. I'm not too far into it but I'm thoroughly enjoying a peek into Jewish culture and religious practice, from the perspective of someone raised Jewish but who later converted to Christianity. But I'll do that later, because Fabio is a tough act to follow and somehow this just doesn't fit.

For now though I'm off to make some phone calls to try to find some glasses for my son. Did you know that most labs won't make his lenses because his prescription is so strong? Frustrating. So far it has resulted in many dead-ends, hours of wasted time, and much hair-pulling on my part. But today is the day: I am DETERMINED to get this figured out!!! (Then I think I need to escape into one of the afore-mentioned books. With a glass of iced tea or a Diet Coke. Because I will have earned it. And I'm referring to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Mudhouse Sabbath. NOT Twilight or, worse yet, something with Mr. I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Butter on the cover. Just so we're clear. Ew.)

Have a great Monday!

Friday, June 18, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday {#2}

Here we go again, thanks to Jennifer at Conversion Diary. In no particular order...

1.) Last night we headed to a nearby town to celebrate an extended family member's birthday. We met at a concert-in-the-park, and it was a Beatles cover-band that was playing.

I love the Beatles.

When I was a kid, my parents would listen to the oldies radio station anytime we went somewhere in the car. Every.single.Sunday, on the way to church, we listened to "Breakfast With the Beatles", on that station. (Basically just a lot of Beatles songs in the morning.) I remember getting soooooooooo tired of oldies, and being none-too-impressed with The Beatles at eight and nine years old. BUT, apparently at some point I fell in love with their music.

Anyway, we had a great time at the park last night, the company was wonderful, the kids had a blast dancing to the music, and I loved getting to hear songs like "Nowhere Man" and "Imagine" while sitting in the warm sun looking over the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

2.) Yesterday I had some fun things planned for the kids and I. Library program and meeting Daddy for lunch. I got all the kids loaded into the van, ran back to grab my keys (I hadn't locked the van up last night, thus they were able to get in without my keys)...and couldn't find them...and finally had to tell the kids to come back inside, that we would NOT be going to the library program magic show, but hopefully I'd find the keys in time to meet Kevin at lunchtime.

No such luck.

I looked and looked and looked for HOURS. Hours. Where could they be??? I offered a prize to whichever child could find my keys. Nope, none of us could find them. I scoured the house, the yard, the van...nothing...and finally gave up, defeated.

Later that evening though while I was on the phone with my mom, I found them!!! In a totally random place that either I absentmindedly set them, or Kaitlyn somehow put them there (in a linen closet wedged between some towels!) Whew!

3.) Since becoming pregnant with Mary well over a year ago, I have become a bit of a soda addict. Yes, I admit it. I know it's not organic (at least, not the kind I drink!) or remotely healthy. In fact, it's the opposite of healthy. But I craved soda (from a fountain--it's just better that way) my entire pregnancy, and hoped it would subside once Mary was born. Well, Mary is eight months (!) old now, and still I want it. And drink it. My favorites are Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper and Root Beer. It is really pathetic and I am incredibly embarrassed to admit that at age 28, I'm completely in love with soda. But, it is what it is. Cheers!

4.) Anna cries at movies. She has done this for as long as I can remember. If a movie is remotely emotional, sad, heartwarming, what-have-you, I can guarantee that if you look over at my six year old daughter, she'll be crying. She bawled during Astroboy on Wednesday, when Toby died...and when the dad sent Astroboy away...and when the dad was going to deactivate's hilarious. She's really not a huge crier in general, and I wouldn't say she's a particularly emotional child, but movies get her every time.

5.) I had something horribly creepy happen at a park on Tuesday. Let's just say I pulled into a parking spot, looked over and this guy in a van was, well, leering at me. Wouldn't stop staring. In a super awful, creepy way. Then I noticed a huge sign hanging from his rearview mirror that read, "I {heart} my _____" (you can all guess what part of the male anatomy completes that sentence). Um, yeah. He just kept intensely looking at me, and right before my precious, innocent children (including one who can read) piled out of our car, I put that puppy in reverse and circled around again to find a different spot. I felt so incredibly violated. I know exactly why he was parked there and how he was spending his afternoon. Yuck.

6.) Being an at-home mom to many children is hard work, but I'm so glad I'm not in the workforce. Honestly, the thought of having to get up every single day and go in to work does not appeal to me in the least. Sure there are jobs I'd enjoy, and I loved working in a legislator's office (the only "real" job I ever had--incidentally, my former boss is now Lieutenant Governor of California), but the day-in and day-out of a 9-5 type job seems none too fun. Kevin works so hard to provide for our large and seemingly ever-growing family and I don't envy him at all. (I need to reread this tomorrow when I'm frustrated by all the crumbs on the floor or by the child that pees their pants for the umpteenth time!)

7.) I love summers in Denver. So many fun things going on, gorgeous weather, free kids' movies at the movie theater, late afternoon thunderstorms...the beautiful mountains...picnics with is great. I miss the ocean, but summer is magical in its own way here.

Okay, I'm suddenly really sad that I can't see the ocean whenever I want to.


Good thing there are so many other fun things to do.

But, still, boo.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Everybody poops

Yesterday we had just gotten home from seeing a movie and running some errands.
We'd been out all day.
And upon returning home, I needed to use the bathroom.
While in said bathroom, I heard a knock on the front door....some muffled talking through the door...and then my six year old daughter matter-of-factly informing a solicitor,
"My mom is here, but she's pooping."
Wow. Just wow.
I haven't felt quite that embarrassed (or vulnerable and helpless) in some time.
But everybody poops, right?
Maybe, if nothing else, that company won't come by again to leave me a flyer.
Because I'm pretty sure my home will forever after be known to them as
So there you have it. Another day in the life of me.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Diary of a homeschooled kid

A friend asked recently if I'd share our daily homeschool schedule. I must admit that it was not uncommon for our days to vary quite a bit. Still, we definitely had a routine. We'd start each day with oatmeal for breakfast, and I would read a Bible story aloud to the kids at the table. Then we'd do some Catechism questions.

While I did the breakfast dishes, Anna would generally start on her Handwriting book, and do a couple of pages, while my other kids played--outdoors if it was warm enough (bikes, in the playhouse, trampoline), indoors if it was cold. (They love dressing up, coloring, playing with toys and puzzles.) My kids are *generally* very good at entertaining themselves and playing together, so this aspect of homeschooling (what do I do with my other children while I'm schooling Anna?) was really not challenging at all. Most days. :)

After Handwriting, we'd usually move on to Math. Depending on the lesson, we'd do two or three.

Then, Anna would spend some time reading independently--sometimes science (I love the Usborne books), sometimes classics, sometimes The Berenstain Bears. :) Sometimes she would read for hours on end.

In nice weather we'd all go for a walk or a bike ride around the neighborhood. Then it was time for lunch...and "school" was over!

Honestly, I think the words "education" and "learning" are often misused and misunderstood. Children are learning and educated any time they pick up a book, go for a walk, or help in the kitchen. Yes there may be specific "work" to be done on any given homeschool day, but there are also many (most?) days when the best "learning" is done during a discussion sparked by the breakfast-time Bible reading, or while snuggling a new baby sister. They learn at the grocery store...when we meet Daddy for lunch...when we play games. Anna really enjoyed helping me bake desserts for our weekly small group each Wednesday. Homeschooling affords us lots and lots of these "natural" learning opportunities intermingled with the book work and instruction.

And next year will be a bit different. We will be starting our exciting study of History, and there will be THREE little ones in school. I will have more to juggle. But I know we'll find our groove and fall into a routine that works for us. Some days that routine will fall apart. Some days it will work. (Right??!!)

I'm currently brainstorming ways to keep everybody organized. I'm thinking one basket per child, that will contain their respective schoolbooks and a pencil pouch to hold pencils, pens, glue etc. and a box of crayons. That way everyone will have their respective things in ONE spot, and when they know it's time to do Handwriting, they can go grab their book and pencil.

We have a schoolroom in our home (that's connected to our kitchen/dining area) that used to also be a playroom...but I've recently moved the toy bins downstairs in hopes of JUST using the upstairs room for school. There's a table in there with four chairs and I'm looking for a computer desk on Craigslist to hold the computer my dad gave to the kids. Between the table in the schoolroom and the dining table, there's lots of space for kids to work.

But some days, the best place to work is on the back of your younger sister's tricycle. Yet another joy of homeschooling.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The graduate

Here are some sweet photos of Anna's Kindergarten graduation. Yes, I got all teary-eyed...she was so cute (!), as were her classmates, and it was a fabulous year! (And she's my first-born. Where has the time gone?) The above photo was taken in our backyard. By Yosef. :)

The Class of 2010.
So excited.
So proud.

Congratulations Anna! Mommy and Daddy are so proud of you and all you've accomplished this year! Your love for reading, and successes in handwriting and math, are so wonderful. Most of all we are so proud of your kind heart and sweet spirit. You are such a special girl and we love you "to bits"!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The weekend's bounty

Before I tell you about my thrifting adventures on Saturday, I have to tell you about my exciting find on Friday. (It's the little things in life, right?)

We live in a fun, old, walkable Denver neighborhood. Our home is in close proximity to a street filled with lots of quaint shops and restaurants.

The kids and I were enjoying a sunny walk down said street when I noticed a bin outside of a little boutique that read "FREE". Well, of COURSE I had to go see what was in the bin!

Inside were a few pairs of shoes. Nothing fancy, but I thought they were pretty cute...and even if they're a tad big, they work. So I helped myself to a pair!

On to the next day. By the time I got to the school garage sale in Lakewood on Saturday, most of the good stuff was already gone...and the pony rides (???!!!) were over...pretty much just a lot of old, dusty junk remained. BUT, I DID score 13 sweet little white dessert plates (technically saucers) for $1. Not bad! (They'll come in super handy, because now I can serve dessert to our community group on matching plates. They are on the left in the picture.)

Then, I was able to find a few fun things at the ARC: four books for the kids (and one book for us that we've already read but wanted to own), a Tupperware collander (perfect for washing all the strawberries I buy during the summer), a brown hat (totally random, I NEVER wear hats, but this one was cute and cheap), a 1.5 quart pitcher in a funky retro color, a fancy dish (shown with my dessert plates), a jar from Target, a cute mustard-ish yellow decorative urn (which I forgot to include in the picture for some reason!), and a fun tablecloth that I plan to use for our weekly picnics at the park with friends. I got everything for under $30.

Books (I owned The Fat Cat when I was little!)

Collander (I heart this color)

Pitcher (nice and small)

So as you can see, another weekend of thrifting has come and gone. Not pictured is my partner-in-thrifting-crime, Anna, and the pink Barbie horse she bought with her very own money. (Oh, and my urn. I can't believe I went to the trouble to take pictures and forgot about it!)

And one of the best parts of bringing home my wares?
Watching my sweet three-year-old, Kaitlyn, set out all the little dishes for a pretend party.

What can I say?
I love free shoes and thrifting!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday quoting #2

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.

--henri nouwen

Saturday, June 12, 2010

a-thrifting I will go...

Getting ready to head out to a garage sale at a school that's closing down in Lakewood, and to a thrift store. Looking for:

an armchair
small deskchair
boys' dresser
baskets for homeschool materials

Most likely I will find none of THOSE things, but may come back with OTHER things.

The weather today is rainy, and cold, and DARK. I really kind of just want to curl up with a book on the couch, but instead I'm off to find some treasures. (Maybe once I come home I'll do that!)

I'll let you know what I pick up!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday

I'm a HUGE fan of Conversion Diary. I even have a post in the works all about how I think it's so awesome, and how Jennifer and I could totally be friends. Yes, it's shaping up to be a bit stalker-ish. Anyway, she does this "7 Quick Takes Friday" thing and today, I'm jumping in on the action.

1.) I'm going to a big garage sale tomorrow at a church across the street from us. I'm so excited about this for some reason. (Extra exciting because my friend is going too!) I heart any sort of sale where I get to peruse other peoples' junk.

2.) About ten minutes ago, I found a huge, nasty black spider crawling on me in our bed. I started screaming and, in my haste to get away from said spider, knocked two cups of water over on my nightstand.

3.) Yes, I always have to have a glass of water when I go to sleep at night. Sometimes I end up leaving it there...and bring a new glass the following night. Kevin finds this highly amusing, the fact that I'll end up with a cup collection in our bedroom.

4.) Our peach tree is going to have peaches this year, which I am SO excited about! It bears fruit every other year, so we had peaches in 2008, but not in 2009. Yum! (I REFUSE to let the squirrels take a bunch of them this time, though.)

5.) Yesterday we played with friends at a fountain and then got ice cream. SO fun. But why is it that within about five minutes of getting his, my five and half year old son dropped it on the ground? Not even a cone, but a CUP of ice cream! No worries though, he just grabbed the scoop, stuck it back in his cup, and ate it. I've apparently raised some hearty kids. (That, or they're desperate for ice cream.)

6.) I just cannot begin to understand how someone can sit and watch a 3+ hour basketball (or football...or baseball....) game. Kevin LOVES sports. I hate them. This is probably our biggest difference. He'll often tape the game if he can't watch it live, and then he'll periodically rewind and tell me I need to watch this or that play, because it's SO impressive. Um, actually, it all looks the same to me.

7.) Last night I was doing some laundry, and a yucky smell was coming out of some of our vents. Ew. It smelled like...and this is SO GROSS...the thrift store. (Ironic because I was JUST talking to someone yesterday about how our nearby thrift store is really stinky.) Anyway, now that smell is in my HOUSE. What in the world?! I HATE weird house smells, and our house is old, but it doesn't smell bad. Excuse me, it DIDN'T smell bad. NOW it smells like the Denver ARC. Ugh.

So there's my seven random thoughts for the day. Have a happy Friday! I love Fridays!

Kitchen make-over in progress, Heldt-style

I've talked before about how when we moved to Denver, we left our new-construction-when-we-bought-it-in-2003 home for a built-in-1912-and-poorly-added-onto-in-the-1970s brick bungalow. We wanted to live in Denver, in this neighborhood in particular, and this house had 5 bedrooms, and was a good size, so we bought it, even though it needed some work.

We've been here a little over two years now and have gotten a lot accomplished. Kevin has gotten a lot accomplished, I should say. Part of buying an older home that needs some love is making lots...and lots...of decisions. During the home inspection, the inspector stood there and said, "I wouldn't run away from this house. The kitchen's he--, but I wouldn't run away from it..." Ha! He was right.

{THE ABOVE PHOTO IS OF THE KITCHEN BEFORE WE BOUGHT IT. That's not our furniture, we have since painted, and it already looks much, much different than that. But those are the cabinets, and the counters.}

We have since replaced all the yucky, barely-working, decades-old appliances, leaving behind cabinets and counters that, quite frankly, drive me NUTS. The cabinets are old, they don't close, the type of wood annoys me. The countertops were okay, although they have grout--why anyone would put grout in their kitchen is beyond me. Yes, tile looks nice. But who wants to clean the grout??? But here is the real kicker when it comes to the countertops: they hide crumbs. Why is that a problem, you ask? Well, because I can't see the crumbs to clean them off! It freaks me out! I'll think I've cleaned them properly, then I'll be sitting at the table and from a certain angle I can see a ton of stuff I missed. Creepy!

SO. We have been having "the kitchen discussion" off and on for 2+ years now. Do we...

resurface the cabinets?

paint the cabinets?

rip out the cabinets altogether and have someone else redo them?

rip out the cabinets AND the countertops AND the backsplash and have them redone?

You get the picture.

And, we Heldts have this issue with spending a lot of money on things like remodels. And when you take one thing out, you start taking other things out. It all pretty much snowballs. We really, really want to live simply. We want to be free to pursue adoptions. And so in the end, we just could not justify a total kitchen remodel.

Instead, we're painting our cabinets black. Getting special magnets so they'll stay closed. They randomly DID have some nice hardware on them so we don't have to buy new. For the cost of a gallon of paint and some magnets, our kitchen is getting a makeover.

And, guess what? Our countertops look super nice against the black wood! I'm realizing that they just did not go well with the previous color. Sure, I still can't see the crumbs too well, but I'll deal with it.

Anyway, I'm so excited about our happy little kitchen! I spend a lot of time there, as you can imagine. Kevin is painting as I write this, so I don't have any "after" pictures yet.

I'm not good at home decorating. I see things that I like other places (peoples' homes, catalogues, etc.), but I'm horrible at putting stuff together myself. Plus, I don't like spending a ton of money on it. BUT I must confess that I'm pretty excited about my cabinets!!!

Even though we've invested a lot of time and effort into our home, we're happy to live here. Our neighborhood is great, and it's been a really valuable experience doing home repairs and such. Eventually I might like to own a home whose washer and dryer vent somewhere BESIDES the downstairs area...but for spite of the humidity, I'm really excited about those cabinets. :)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Homeschool curriculum review

Someone had asked if I could share about the various curriculums we used this past year. We are really fortunate to be part of this homeschool program, because we have access to free curriculum.

We used the Saxon Math program for Kindergarten, which included manipulatives. No workbook or anything, just the teacher's guide which leads the child in activities that utilize the manipulatives (counting bears, dominos, tangrams, etc.) We learned about measuring and money, shapes, and playing cards. I skipped over lessons on things that Anna had already mastered (we have our own really cool set of tangrams and picture cards that I found at a thrift store for fifty cents last year, so we didn't do those pages, for example.)

I was mostly happy with this curriculum. As of the beginning of the year, handwriting was not one of Anna's strengths, so I'm glad I didn't choose a curriculum that required a bunch of writing. (Yes it would have given her practice, but I didn't want her math skills to be hampered by her handwriting skills.) Overall though, I don't think I would ever BUY Saxon for Kindergartners. It's expensive (oh, you didn't know I'm a CHEAP homeschooler?), and the skills are totally things you can do with your child WITHOUT the book...or manipulatives. Basically I think there is PLENTY of everyday type stuff you can use to "do math" with a 5-year-old...setting the table, for example: "How many napkins do we need? If two more people were to join us, how many would we need?" The game Uno is great too, as are other boardgames.

Okay, moving on. We used Zaner Bloser Handwriting for Kindergartners. This was something I found on my own, and ordered online. I LOVED it. The way they teach handwriting (lots of practice making the lines, etc.), and the illustrations (colorful and fun but not overwhelming), were wonderful. You could do one page per day and complete the book in a year, although we usually did two pages, and then skipped some days.

I will confess that at the beginning of the year, Anna HATED handwriting. She dreaded doing it...there were tears...declarations that she didn't like being homeschooled. This was a little discouraging, but my wise mama reminded me that if you're not particularly skilled at something yet, it's frustrating and cumbersome, and not fun at all. Kids' gross motor skills are still developing at this age, and it's just hard. SO I tried to be patient, and within a couple of months...Anna randomly announced that she LOVED handwriting. She started doing it happily, without complaint. And she improved soooooooooooooooooooooo much in a year! She is now our family's designated birthday card writer, she's written a couple of thank you notes, and really does enjoy writing. I'm proud of how far she's come, if you couldn't tell. :)

As for reading/phonics, I did check out Sing Spell Read Write (Kindergarten level) from the school (it was free, remember?)...but I didn't use it. :) Moving the car around the track, singing the songs, playing the games...yeah...that is just too complicated for me. :) Anna taught herself to read before the school year began, so that wasn't an issue. I know some people have a lot of fun with it, but it's just not my style.

(I've attempted using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading with my sons, and while I think it's a good method for many, it just doesn't work well for them. So we've recently begun How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and so far I'm super happy with it! My boys have fun doing the lessons, and it actually appears to be working. We're only on Lesson 7, so I'll let you know more when we're further along. We don't do the writing component, however--I like to teach writing seperate from reading, because of the motor skill stuff I mentioned earlier.)

For Bible this year, we went through a couple of children's Bibles. This was one of my favorite parts of the day, oftentimes, because my kids would ask amazing questions and we'd have deep discussions. The Jesus Storybook Bible and Elle Lindvall's children's Bible were the ones we used.

I also used First Catechism: Teaching Children Bible Truths. We'd sit around the breakfast table (where we did our Bible time) and go through the questions. We haven't finished it yet, but I hope to continue. It's a neat way to set a spiritual foundation for a child, and they enjoy the memorization. And there's something really funny about your four kids skipping through Costco reciting, "There is only one true God!" (I found this book on our church's bookshelf, for free.)

Well friends, I think that about sums it up. I'll also quickly share that I have really, really loved The Well-Trained Mind, as it has given me many practical ideas and helped shape much of my homeschool philosophy. At this point I think I'm a bit of a mix between that, Charlotte Mason's approach, and unschooling/delight directed learning.

Ruth Beechick's The Three R's is a great resource too, and I've also enjoyed looking through the Sonlight catalogue for book ideas.

The Bob Books are GREAT for helping kids with reading. I've found the sets to be available at Costco sometimes--you get around 18 small books for $10. These were the first books Anna read (it's been about two years now). is an excellent place to buy used or new books for a fraction of what you'd pay at a bookstore, or even Amazon sometimes.

And, finally, this post would just NOT be complete without me giving a shout-out to probably my all-time favorite resource EVER...the Denver ARC, our local thrift store. We have scored some wonderful literature for pennies. It's awesome. Roald Dahl, Little House On the Prairie, Greek myths, you name it. Love it. Really. Thrifting has become my favorite hobby, thanks to the ARC and their rockin' deals. (It just so happens that there is one a mere five minutes from my house. Bliss.)

Hopefully this was helpful, or at the very least, mildly tolerable. :) My personal view on homeschooling is, find what works for your child AND for you, and go with it. Everyone will have different methods they prefer, and what works for one person, may not work for your family. (I for example am SO not a hands-on-activities type of girl. Sorry kids!) Keep the focus on good books and look for learning opportunities in the everyday. Happy homeschooling!

Monday, June 07, 2010

The homeschool year in review

I've really been wanting to do a homeschool wrap-up post to talk about our first year of homeschooling. So I'm finally sitting down to do it.

And I honestly have to say that it's been great! Not really as seismic a shift in life as one might think, because I am committed to having learning happen as a mostly natural part of family life.

Anna did a great job. She completed the Kindergarten Saxon Math program, Kindergarten Zaner Bloser Handwriting, taught herself to read, and we went through a children's Bible. Worked our way through a bit of catechism. We finished our math and handwriting months (and months) ahead of schedule, so we did some copywork for handwriting and some fun word problem workbooks for math, to round out the rest of the year.

Anna loved homeschool (most of the time :) ) and made HUGE strides in every single subject. I LOVED getting to see her learning new concepts, and one of the biggest benefits was that she had the time (and desire!!!) to read independently for 2+ hours on any given afternoon. My biggest goal for the year was to instill in Anna 1) a love for reading and 2) a love for learning. That is what I would consider a "success" for her at this point. Well, this mission was more than accomplished. Pretty amazing really. Just to clarify, I'm not taking credit for this. :) It IS something I believe CAN come naturally (I think God made us to be inquisitive and to want to learn), and something that is enhanced by homeschooling, in my opinion. Children are able to learn at their own pace, there is less pressure, they can pursue their own interests, and there is simply more time for play and for things like independent reading.

Another major blessing of homeschooling this year was giving Anna the ability to spend lots and lots of time with her new sister Mary. Anna did not leave Mary's side for the first few months of her life, probably. She's an amazing big sister. New baby aside, it is also pretty great having my kids doing life together on a daily basis. Plus, I like Anna's company. I'm selfish that way. :)

Then the final piece of our homeschooling was the one day a week program that Anna attended in a nearby suburb. It's a regular Kindergarten class (for homeschooled kiddos). And Anna LOVED it. She was so excited to go, so proud of her work, and over time classmates became friends. I was regularly scheduled for lunch duty, and what a transformation from my first day there (about a month into the school year) vs. my final day (the last day of the school year). Anna was a little shy and reserved around the other students back in early October, but oh my, by May she was pretending to be a fire-breathing dragon at recess and chatting NONSTOP with friends at the lunchtable. She was comfortable and self-assured. My mama heart was so happy and proud. The photo is of Anna during lunch recess one day.

I think this program's primary strength (and there were many strengths) was that it built Anna's confidence and self-esteem. She learned how to skip, how to play soccer, received four awards throughout the year for conduct and academics, got to perform with her class in a school-wide talent show and at the graduation, painted pictures and wrote stories...yeah, just a really great experience all the way around. The above photo is of Anna (on the far left) and her class performing "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" at the talent show. She was SO excited and took it all SO seriously!

And yet, she remained centered at home. Couldn't wait to get back to play with her brothers and sisters. When we'd show up for lunch duty, she was EXCITED to see us (and to show off her baby sister to anyone who would listen.) Looked out for Kaitlyn on the play equipment at recess. It was really precious. This was Anna right after performing her song with her class--she was beaming! (And thrilled that her daddy and siblings were able to come and watch too!)

All in all, I am in love with homeschooling. Yes there were a couple of challenging moments (with many more to come I'm sure) but at the end of the day, I'm a huge fan and am looking forward to next year. When I will have THREE kids doing school! (What was that I said about more challenging moments to come? :) )

We're officially taking a break for the summer, although Anna is doing some fun workbooks and I'm teaching Yosef and Biniam to read. (Hmmm, that doesn't really sound like a break.) I'm so excited about what the fall will bring and my kids are too. They'll be returning to the weekly homeschool program (Anna will be in First Grade and the boys in Kindergarten) and, in addition to the usual subjects at home, we'll be diving into History (starting with the ancients.) I can't wait. Yay for homeschooling!

The two "E's": Easter and embarrassment

The kids.

The girls.

The boys.

The above pictures were taken on (a very sunny and bright) Easter Sunday. Yes I am just now sharing Easter photos. I figure I have until NEXT Easter to share THIS year's pictures. (You take all YOUR Easter shots outside of your old, detached garage too, right?)

Yesterday I randomly encountered two situations where people made a huge deal over the number of children we have. I think the word "crazy" was used in both scenarios. Maybe it seems crazy to most (neither of these people had any children), but honestly, when I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of what cool people my kids are. Each and every one of them. They crack me up every single day, and they make me really proud, too.

All of my kids have a great sense of humor...sometimes a little TOO evidenced by the fact that one of them just recently joked to my friend that, "Mommy likes to drink alcohol and smoke cigarrettes." Um...WHAT?! I do drink alcohol on occasion but I do not smoke. And here's a tip for you: kids say really, really embarrassing things. The more kids you have, the more embarrassing things get blurted out. Being out in public is a liability. If you're in, say, Costco with your brood of children, and you walk past a man with no legs in a wheelchair, I can guarantee that no less than two of them will exclaim, "Mom! That man has no legs!" as they point their fingers in awe. OR, when you're in Home Depot and a woman with short hair walks by, your three year old will say, "She looks like a boy!" A liability, I tell you. And don't think that you will avoid this. Don't be fooled into believing that your sweet, shy, mild-mannered child won't ask for prayer in Sunday School for your rash. They will. If they haven't already. (I now feel the need to tell you that all the other scenarios happened recently, but I promise I don't have a rash. And if I did, I would so not tell my kids!)

Okay how on earth did I get onto that tangent? Oh, something about how my kids are funny and cool and people thought we were crazy for having them all. Which maybe we are. Because now that I think of it, life with five kids, while awesome, can also be really, really embarrassing. Hmmm. At least they look cute in those Easter pictures!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sunday quoting

"The reason why we are tormented [by our restless spirits] is...that we are congenitally overcharged and overbuilt for this earth, inifinite spirits living in a finite situation, hearts made for union with everything and everybody, meeting only mortal persons and things. Small wonder we have problems with insatiability, daydreams, loneliness, and restlessness!"
--Ronald Rolheiser

I love quotations. Always have. In fact, I remember asking for a book of famous quotes for Christmas one year in high school, and receiving it, and loving it. I still have the book, in fact! They make me think and, for some reason, speak to my heart and soul in a unique and powerful way.

The above quote was included in our church bulletin this morning. What a good reminder for me--that sometimes earthly dissatisfaction and frustrations are merely a reflection of the greatness we're made for.

Anyway, I'm hoping to share a meaningful quote here each Sunday. And if you have related thoughts, you can share them. Did I mention that I love quotes?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Saturday stuff: a new favorite blog

Are you like me at all? Do you love love love discovering an amazing new blog? I don't know what your favorites are, but I love blogs that make me think and leave me inspired.

Recently I found just such a blog, written by an amazing woman who very recently went from having five children to seven children. Because she just brought home two precious little girls from Ukraine. Both girls were born with Down Syndrome.

Oh my goodness. I LOVE.THIS.BLOG. Maybe it's the fact that we are in process to adopt children with special/medical needs, but I love this family's story, and I cannot get over how precious these sweet girls are.

So please go take a look. I find myself hanging on every word and getting teary-eyed by simply looking at the beautiful pictures. (I also find myself wishing that she had not just moved from Colorado to Virginia. We could have been friends! Come back Adeye!)

God is so good. Adoption and love and family are so beautiful. Just go read. :)

No Greater Joy Mom

Friday, June 04, 2010

The weight of adoption (and of having a blog)

My poor, defunct blog.

I feel like my happy little corner of the internet has fallen into major disrepair.

The posts are few and far between, I never know what to write about, I am slow to get my pictures uploaded, and Blogger drives me crazy.

I'm thinking about switching to Wordpress, and I'm also thinking about committing to one post a day. But I don't want the posts to be lame "filler", so we'll see.

Truth be told I love the concept of blogging and I've always enjoyed writing. I also have random opinions on various topics so blogging is probably a decent outlet for me. (On the other hand I hate confrontation and get my feelings hurt sometimes, so maybe it's NOT the best outlet for me!)

Today for example I'm thinking about adoption. Big surprise, right? Well, more specifically I'm thinking about the heaviness of adoption, the ethics involved, and the risks. Yes, risks. (Life is a risk no matter what you decide to do, I suppose.)

I love truth. Well, most of the time. (Sometimes truth is hard.) I want my children to tell the truth, I want my relationship with my husband to be based upon authentic commitment where we are truthful with one another, I want to live in such a way that I am pure of heart and honest...with myself, with others, with God.

And yet, sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes it is not something you really want to hear. Coming clean is hard--for everyone. But the alternative, to remain in darkness, to keep secrets that fester and eventually bleed over into bigger and deeper wounds, is much worse. I know this from my own life experiences.

How does this relate to adoption, ethics and risk, you ask? Well, because when you bring a child into your family, there are many, many unknowns. It is, like most things in life, a calculated risk.
My boys lived in three different orphanages during their first 16 months of life.

I wasn't there.

So I can't say for certain that they were always fed.

I can't say for certain that they were never hurt in some way.


They were what people would call "vulnerable children." And, as much as I hate to even think that something horrible could have happened, well, it's possible.

Lately I've felt burdened by the fact that some things will never be brought into the light. I'm not really talking about my sons anymore--they are healthy and happy kiddos who can't wait to start Kindergarten and get new backpacks. They had a life before I knew them and I treasure that life, even as I know that it wasn't ideal in many ways. I'm okay with the fact that I wasn't there.

Really I'm speaking in generalities about the idea that, in general, orphans are vulnerable.
Recently, several sad stories have come to my attention, stories of hurting children struggling to pick up the pieces. Families struggling to pick up the pieces.

This is all part of the adoption conversation. Or at least, it should be. If I advocate for adoption, I need to advocate for a lot of other things, too.

This is where ethics comes in.

This is why we chose the adoption agency we did.

This is why I believe in education and training for adoptive parents, and why I believe in churches and organizations providing resources to families in crisis.

This is ultimately why I believe in adoption. (No, it's not because we as Christians are "adopted." Honestly that analogy has NEVER resonated with me. In the least.) It's because we are commanded to care for the widow and for the orphan. It's because God sees the fatherless and He loves them. Left to languish in orphanages, the fatherless remain vulnerable. Most likely without a future. God created children to be raised in FAMILIES. AND, I believe that God created children to be a BLESSING and a healthy, natural part of marriage and life.

Basically I'm in this strange place right now where I'm just feeling the weight of adoption. I'm thinking about situations where I desperately want the truth to be known. So many dark places that need the light of Jesus, illumined by truth so that darkness can no longer win. Part of me wants to run and hide and back away from orphan care altogether. It's messy and can be so discouraging--and I'm not even dealing with any of this in my own home. Still, I feel it, as we prepare to adopt again and continue processing our change in direction.

Yet I don't think hiding is really the answer. I don't think shutting my heart and home down to children in need is what God is wanting me to do. These kids are vulnerable. They need families, and healing. Four-plus years ago my sons needed a family to walk their respective roads with them. One was decently developmentally delayed. Couldn't walk. Hardly any teeth at nearly a year and a half old. Two months after joining our family he was walking, and all of his teeth came in. In some ways I believe he is still in the process of healing. We're getting there, I think.

All of this to say, I refuse to give up. God wants to use what we have to give. Adoption is a beautiful thing. Even when it's hard. Children, vulnerable children, are precious in God's sight. What if we had buried our heads in the sand and not brought our boys home?

So that's my blog for today. No fancy pictures, no brilliant insights. Just random thoughts I've been having about the pain and beauty that I see all around me.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The many faces of Kaitlyn

Make a sad face.
Make a mad face.

Make a happy face.

My kids love this game. It's so fun seeing them make different faces to go with each emotion.
We have really been enjoying the warm weather, and have been doing lots of playing at the park and in the backyard, and lots of bike riding. Biniam just learned to ride a bike without training wheels (!), which brings us up to two official bike riders in the family (Yosef learned to ride last summer.)
And by "learned to ride", I mean they taught themselves.
Now we're working with Anna. (Who currently has her nose in a book. She is plowing through Roald Dahl's Matilda.)
I love summertime. I've got my three oldest signed up with Denver Public Library's reading program (in addition to one through Borders that Anna is participating in), we're looking forward to trips to the pool and free kids' movies at the theater (one or two a week!), and lots of Otterpops have already been consumed. Throw in weekly park trips with wonderful girlfriends, visits from loved ones from California, and it has the makings of a fabulous summer.


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