Friday, July 29, 2011

Take me out to the (t)ball game

My sons just wrapped up a season of t-ball.  Their first-ever (semi)organized sport.  :)

They loved it!

And I (hater of all sports) actually enjoyed it too.  Because it was through Denver Rec, it was super low-key--one practice per week, and one game per week.  The games were fun (and entertaining!) to watch, and my boys came a long way from where they began.  (This was the second season for many of their teammates, so Yosef and Biniam were definitely on the less-experienced side.  Even though they were probably the oldest on the team, nearly too old to play.) 

I'm not sure how we'll navigate this stuff going forward.  We decided the boys would do t-ball this summer, Anna would do some horseback riding lessons, and then Kaitlyn, Anna, Yosef and Biniam would all do swimming lessons (which are currently in progress.)  But I can see how activities like this can take up a lot of time, when you have so many children.  I don't know if I want my kids constantly doing sports, but they certainly enjoy getting out there and having fun!

At any rate, our afternoons at the neighborhood ball fields have come to a close, and I admit I'm going to miss it just a little bit.  Who'dve thunk?  :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nordstrom and Target have style!

I was so excited and touched to see that the anniversary edition of the Nordstrom catalogue includes a child who has Down syndrome.  He's the precious boy on the far left.  (Look how hip he is--check out that jacket!)

And the Target ad also currently includes an adorable little girl who has Down syndrome.  I don't know her, but I want to hug her--I love her sweet hair-do!

I have to tell you that seeing these children acknowledged and affirmed makes me really, really happy.  It's as it should be.  All of us, and all of our unique giftings and challenges, together.  Wearing cool clothes and playing with Dora.  Perfect as-is.  Just typical kids.

And because they're just too cute not to share on here, I'm also posting photos of my own two sweeties.  They each have an extra chromosome too! 



I know that "Down syndrome style" may have initially been intended as some sort of passive-agressive insult--but looking at all of these precious, beautiful children, I'm thinking it's actually a pretty big compliment!

So, way to go Nordstrom and Target!  Thank you for recognizing that children with Down syndrome are, simply, children.  As a soon-to-be-mama to two little girls born with Trisomy 21, I love seeing these sweet smiles in your catalogues!  (And, if you're looking for two additional models, I'll let you know when my girls come home.  'Cause I doubt anyone could resist buying whatever either of them would be selling!) 

Monday, July 25, 2011

(Part of) why I use words

People, I have to tell you there are some things in life that I'm just not so great at.

(Gourmet cooking, any sort of athletic activity, getting places on time.)

But there is one thing in particular at which I am downright horrible.

And it's drawing.

Yes, drawing.

Last night we attended a talk at church about the benefits of said activity.  Which culminated in each of us drawing a series of two rectangles in which we were supposed to tell a story that happened that day.  (Then we had to share them with each other in small groups.)

And let's just say that, um, mine was awful

The first (uneven) rectangle contained a pathetic stick figure, laying on a pathetic bed, with "zzzzzzzzz" written above them, and the second simply held the words, "Why do kids only sleep in on Sunday's?".

It's okay.

You can laugh.

I'm simply not an artist.  Not creative in that way.

The funny thing is, my kids LOVE to draw.  Love, love, love.  They'll spend hours gathered at the table in our schoolroom, sketching and dreaming and telling lovely stories with their pictures.  It makes me so happy.

But, it's not for me.  That's not how I express myself.

For years I've believed that I'm not creative, period.  Because I don't craft, sew, or create anything that could be displayed on my wall without much embarrassment.  But last night I was reflecting on the idea that there is something I enjoy, that is both creative outlet and therapeutic device. 

And it's writing.  Blogging.  I've always loved to write.  As a child it was dorky poems about butterflies, and then in college I would write long, amusing emails to the fellow I was dating in hopes of making him laugh.  Sometimes they were more serious musings on life.  I've just always loved literature and the written word, the way nouns and verbs and adjectives are woven together on a page to rend a smile or a laugh or even tears.

So I suppose I am creating afterall.  Perhaps not in an artistic way, or in a way that earns any money, but I like doing it nonetheless.  And most of the time?  My writing is more analagous to the stick figure I sketched than to Michelangelo's masterpieces.  But that's okay.  I do it for me.  It makes me happy.

Because apparently I'm a nerd that prefers writing to making pretty hand-made goods and pieces of art.  :)

How about you?  Is there something that you're terrible at?  What is it?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome

I am SO excited to tell you about an aMAZing, brand new book that you

It is actually written by a friend of mine, Devin Rose.  I first "met" Devin online (when I shamefully requested a review copy of his book), and then he and his wonderful wife Katie, along one of their sweet sons, stopped to visit us for a bit when they were in town on the 4th of July.  I cannot say enough about this wonderful couple--they have four children (including three who are adopted!), are incredibly fun and interesting to spend time with, and they love Jesus.  I'm so glad I sent that email!

Now before I get into the book, I'll tell you that:  a few years ago I became interested in the history of the church, in order to understand where the tenets and distinctives of my own faith came from.  (It has been quite a journey that is still very much in process, and I look forward to sharing more about it with you sometime soon.)

So I was THRILLED when Devin sent me his new book, If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets RomeI literally could not put it down.  Finished it in about three days.  (And it only took me that long because we had a bunch of places to go that week!)

If you are a Protestant and are curious about (or skeptical of!) the Roman Catholic Church, or about how the Protestant faith came to be, then this book is for you. 

If you are a Catholic and are wanting to better understand why the Church believes what She does, then this book is for you.

The book is for everyone precisely because Devin writes in an accessible, friendly, charitable way.  He has clearly and concisely crafted a book of apologetics that is part memoir, part passionate exploration, and part history.  It is, quite frankly, a fascinating read.  I highly recommend this book to any Christian wanting to explore their faith.

On a personal note, I wish this book had been available years ago when I first began questioning why different Christians believe what they believe--and when I started oh-so-cautiously and with-much-trepidation researching Roman Catholicism.  If Protestantism is True cuts through the rhetoric and sound bites, and presents an honest but gracious picture of the Christian Church throughout the centuries.  It answers every.single.question. I had about the evolution of the Church.  Every one.

The sacraments?  Indulgences?  The papacy?  The Bible?  Martin Luther and John Calvin?  Yep, it's all in there--and much, much more.  Plus, it's a total page-turner.

Oh how I wish I could give every single one of you a copy.  Truly.  And while I obviously can't, the good news is that you can download the e-book version for...are you ready for this?...$2.99!!!  Devin is pretty much giving his book away at that price.

You can also buy the paperback version here.

The cover art is absolutely stunning and I have a feeling I'll be referencing back to these pages for years to come.

And I know, I know--maybe you don't read many non-fiction spiritual books, and maybe you avoid anything bordering-on-apologetics like the plague.  Maybe you're a Protestant who has never read a book by a Catholic author, or maybe you're convinced that the Roman Catholic Church is pure evil. 

My challenge to you is to read this anyway.  It's worth your time.  Then let me know what you think,  because I like talking about books, especially books that I love.  And this is my favorite work of apologetics by far.

But consider yourself warned: you might actually be changed by what you read.  The truths Devin shares in If Protestantism is True: The Reformation Meets Rome are, well, difficult.  Because they dispel a bunch of stereotypes and myths and, at times, are uncomfortable for us Protestants as we look in the mirror and examine the faith peering back at us.

Read it anyway.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How do I do whatever it is that I do. :)

I'm still working through all of your wonderful questions, even though I already turned 30.  :)

My sweet friend in California, Joanie, asked me this question in the comments section on a previous post:

WHAT do you do for "me" time? How do you get some space to think some thoughts to yourself? How do you parent with such Grace, Brianna?!? you keep your sanity? You know me, so you know I'm not saying it with undertones of how you do it "with all those kids." No, I only have two and I'm convinced I have gone off the deep end long ago, so it isn't that. It's just that you seem to be quite happy and smooth where I seem to be faltering and grumpy. I admire you, Friend! (And yes, I am thankful for my little sweethearts - even when they flood my house in the name of "cleaning" and "soaking feet!" But still I wonder how you do it!)

First of all, I have to say that I am so often not much of a grace-filled parent (though I try), but I DO know that I am receiving God's grace each and every day, and that's how we stay afloat!  (I'm often faltering and grumpy too, just for the record.  :)  )

But yes, I'm big into keeping sanity.  :)  I won't do anyone any good if I'm completely at the end of my rope.  I do sometimes reach a point where I feel overwhelmed and beyond stressed out, but it's rare, and usually happens either when I happen to be sick, or when my kids are not getting along.  Neither of those things happen all that regularly, thank goodness!

Being an introvert, I do need "me time".  But I get "me time" at home and I carve it out during the day, every day.  My children are known to play make-believe or draw together for hours on end, and if they're playing happily in the next room (or the same room), I'll kick back, read blogs, write blogs, read a book, or sit and stare.  :)  Mary takes a nap after lunch, so that's a two hour window where I can do things semi-independently.  Sometimes the older kids will watch a movie, though not usually.  They know that Mommy does not solely exist to entertain them, and they don't really ever get bored.  Whew!

I am also blessed to have some wonderful girlfriends that I meet for coffee or at the park at least once a week, on average.  They are also adoptive parents, and they also homeschool and love to thrift, so we have a bit in common.  One of them even lives in my neighborhood now.  We also try to get drinks and dinner out together once a month with another friend who lives south of us, just us girls.  (And, we miss you Jody!  And Cassie!  Come back!  :)  )

Maybe this will surprise some of you, but I am a low-energy person.  Oh yes, I am.  I'm raising five kids and attempting to keep my house relatively tidy, but you should see the inside of our detached garage.  Still a disaster of a mess three years after moving in!  Desperately needs to be organized, and we've done some, but mostly it's a mess.  Because after doing the things that need to be done, I just don't have the gumption to get out there and take care of it.  We hope to have it done by the time our girls come home, but I don't know.  So some things we just have to let go, and hopefully we choose the right things.

I am a bit of an optimist by nature, and I am pretty happy and content.  NOT to say that there aren't times where I'm (unfortunately) yelling angrily at my kids and wanting to pull my hair out.  But, I'm learning to accept my vocation in life, I'm learning to delight in motherhood and I do really love being home.  I honestly feel like my life has great meaning and value, even when I'm having a miserable-ish day.  And I always know that worst case, all the kiddies will be in bed by 8:30 and at that point I can make a margarita and curl up with a good book.

I am choosing day by day to believe that I have been called to be a wife and a mother, that this is part of my God-given purpose.  So not vogue to believe this but I do, and I think it's healthy.  It's the path God has given me to make me holy.  And it's not easy, so it must have the potential to work!  I try to surround myself with friends who also value motherhood and who, while being real about the challenges, have a positive outlook when it comes to being home raising children.  I try to read books (typically by Catholic authors) that hold motherhood in high esteem, and that affirm this calling.

And perhaps more than anything else, I am a very simple person.  A wonderful friend from high school used to laugh and say that I am "easily amused."  SO TRUE!  And, I always have been.  Chock it up to me being an only child, or an introvert with a characteristically "rich inner life", but I am content with quiet, simple days spent at home, and equally quiet evenings with Kevin watching "Frasier" on DVD.  We have a good time no matter what we're doing.  We're boring.  Yet we have so much fun being boring!!!!

A very wise person, probably a saint (who shall not be named because I can't find a definitive source for the quote!) said that God's truth comes with graces attached.  In other words, as we follow God He will give us grace to carry out His will, as we need it.  Thus I did not have the grace to parent four children when I had but three, or five when I only had four.  But as they come, they bring grace with them.  (In some ways that's an oversimplified way of looking at it, because I DO think something can be incredibly challenging and that it won't always feel like you have the grace to carry something out.  Especially when we start talking about post-partum depression or other clinical issues.  But in our weakness, He is strong.  Somehow, He is doing something beautiful.)

Let me give you an example of this.  In April we traveled to Ethiopia and then to Rome with our youngest, Mary Lu.  Our four oldest stayed home with Grandma.  At first we felt so footloose and fancy free, just having one baby to care for and love.  But a few days in, it didn't feel like such a break, and I began stressing out about coming home and how-on-Earth-have-we-managed-to-care-for-five-kids-in-the-past and how-will-we-do-it-again!!!  So you see, we adapt.  Both ways.

All of that to say, when people with one or two (or three or four) children tell me they don't know how I do it with five, I always tell them that no matter how many children you have, it is challenging and feels at-capacity as you're doing it. 

And the truth is that I don't get out by myself a whole lot.  I actually don't like doing that much because yes, I miss my husband and kids when I do!  If I'm itching to leave the house during the day, I'll typically load up all my kids and set off for Target or Costco or the thrift store.  We have a blast!  Ultimately though my heart is at home (it helps that I'm a homebody anyway!) and while there will always be things about keeping a home that I dread, it's still a pretty darn good life I'd say.

Other moms do a better job than me at lots of things.  I'm not crafty, I don't throw elaborate birthday parties, I still don't have a good meal planning routine and I waste too much time on Facebook and Twitter and blogs.  I'm not perfect.  But, I'm Mom.  And I love my kids.  Sometimes "good enough" is good enough, you know? 

Of course the reality is that I couldn't do any of this without the amazing support and love of my husband, Kevin.  He is an actively engaged husband and father, an amazing help, and definitely a full-fledged partner in this adventure.  After putting in a long day at work he comes home and changes diapers, wrestles with kids, reads them stories, and listens if I need to complain.  :)  Then after all of that he's always up for an animated discussion about theology or politics or what the kids did that day to drive me to the brink of insanity.  So the journey of motherhood may be hard, but for me it's never, ever lonely.  Because we're doing this together.

Thanks for asking!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oops, GQ did it again

I'm afraid that it's time to beat a dead horse. 

Yes, we're gonna have us another little talk about GQ.  Sorry.

Remember when I shared those offensive statements they made regarding parents and adoptive families?

Well, now they've gone and insulted people with Down syndrome.

I know, right?

In an article arguing that Boston is America's worst-dressed city, GQ included this little gem:

"Due to so much local in-breeding, Boston suffers from a kind of Style Down Syndrome."

Now, I know GQ is a random magazine that probably none of us reads.  And I don't expect anyone to ascribe to my personal ideas or beliefs.  Especially the writers at GQ.

But people, this is just not okay.  Not.o.kay.

I'll start by pointing out that it belies some major ignorance on the part of the author: does he really think Down syndrome is the result of in-breeding?  Really?

Yet more importantly...why on EARTH is he using Down syndrome as an insult?!  Comparing bad fashion to people born with an extra chromosome??!!

Let me tell you, in case you didn't know, that people do not "suffer from" Down syndrome.  Down syndrome is not a disease, and it is not an illness.  It is a term used to classify a group of people born with some extra genetic material on their 21st chromosome.  This group of people tends to share certain characertistics, but they do not "suffer" from Down syndrome.  They will face some challenges unique to them, but then don't we all face challenges?  Good grief.  People born with Down syndrome are PEOPLE.

Stuff like this makes me fighting mad.  (If you couldn't tell.)

GQ or not, dumb men's magazine or not, you don't say things like that.  It's ugly.  It's ignorant.  It's mean.

As if those with Down syndrome in the US aren't fighting enough of a battle as it is.

92% won't even be born, because they will have been eliminated by their own mothers and fathers, thanks to a medical establishment that does not value life as it should.

Then the 8% or so fortunate enough to make it to birth have to put up with stupid comments and mean people.

So, I'm speaking up again, because I think this is a dialogue worth having.  Sure we can write off these statements because they come from a less-than-honorable publication, because we don't expect a worldly magazine to have the corner on morality or, you know, basic human decency.

Or we can address the unfortunate fact that these attitudes aren't limited to the pages of a sketchy periodical.  They are alive and well in our communities, our schools, our churches, and yes even our homes.

That 92% statistic?  Yep, that says it all. 

I now need to share some time-sensitive information with you.  (And yes, it relates to what we've been talking about).  This beautiful little girl, born with Down syndrome in Eastern Europe, is living on majorly borrowed time.  She needs a family.  In order to live.  Please spread the word.

When I read her story the other day, my heart broke into a million and one pieces.

Then, reading GQ's article today, it broke again.

Because people who trivialize the very existence of God's precious, most-vulnerable, made-in-His-image children are participating in a grave evil.  Maybe this journalist working for GQ thinks he has nothing to do with an orphan living on another continent, or with a pre-born baby in the womb, but the truth is, our world is a hostile place for children with Down syndrome.  And attitudes are shaped by what we see and hear in the media. 

So every time someone diminishes the life of a person with Trisomy 21, it is a nail in a child's coffin.

And that's no exaggeration.  It's the truth.

In addition to the horrific abortion rate for these children in our country, there is also the reality that orphaned children with Down syndrome world-wide have a horribly difficult time finding a family.  Most adoptive families want healthy young infants.  So these precious, especially vulnerable children sit and wait and, in Eastern Europe, are transferred to mental asylums where they eventually die.

So, yes, it's all related.

And, yep, I have a vested interest in this.  Oh yes I do.  Because I now have two daughters who were born with Down syndrome.  And they may be only 4 years old and 2 years old respectively, but they've got awesome style, and we have seven people here in our home who can't wait to get these girls here and start living life together under one roof.

GQ, I think it's time your magazine put more effort into whatever it is that you are supposed to do, and leave parents, adoptive families, and now people with Down syndrome(!) alone. Comments like the one above make you sound ignorant, but far worse, they're hurtful and cruel. Words matter--and for goodness' sakes, people who write for a living should know that!

(And if for no other reason--PLEASE stop saying such ridiculous things--I've got other stuff to blog about, yo!)

Monday, July 18, 2011


{You can read the background on our adoption journey here.}

Friends, I'm so incredibly beyond excited to tell you that...


after so very many delays, hang-ups, and mishaps...

after a trip to the other side of the world...

after coming back to even more roadblocks and delays...


And see this cute baby girl?

She's our daughter!


Her name means "patience".

She's social as all-get-out and a total kick in the pants.

And do you see this beautiful young lady?

She's our daughter!


She's sweet and self-assured and .tack.  And she loves to blow kisses.

It's more than a little surreal, after a long year-plus of paperchasing, praying, and wondering if we'd ever bring these sweet girls home, to be able to announce that Mekdes and Tigist are our DAUGHTERS!  My other kids' siblings.  Mekdes and Tigist Heldt. 

We do still have a potentially long road ahead.  It can take eight to twelve weeks to get an appointment at the US Embassy to obtain the girls' visas...and that's if there aren't any more bumps in the road.

Still, we're another step closer.  These dear, precious little girls, who have waited so-very-long for a family, have a mommy and a daddy now!  And five siblings (not counting each other.)  And grandmas and grandpas and aunts and an uncle and cousins too. 

As I've mentioned before, both Mekdes and Tigist were born with an extra chromosome.  They have Down syndrome.  And yet when we met them in April, I looked at Kevin and told him that nothing is keeping these girlies back in life.  They are determined, sweet, and  happy.  I have a feeling they are going to succeed at whatever they do.  Best of all though, they're awesome.  Really, really awesome.

Need some proof?

Tigist LOVES to laugh.  And not just giggle, but really LAUGH.  Love this girl!!!

Mekdes gets SO EXCITED about things.  This is the face she makes, and this is what she does with her hands, when she gets excited.  So, so precious!

My mind is SWIMMING with all of the things I need to do before Tigist and Mekdes come home.  Rearranging bedrooms, getting closets stocked and beds set up, doing some additional organizing.  But first I'm trying to really drink up the moment and rest in knowing that Mekdes and Tigist are our little girls now, that there really is a light at the end of this crazy-tunnel.

And, how awesome is it that I can use ther names and share their photos on my blog now??!!

Anyway, these are our girls.  I'll be sharing more about our trip to meet them back in April in the coming days, now that I can show you photos.  Thank you, sweet readers, for your prayers and your support during this process.  I'll keep you updated!

And in the meantime, I'm simply happy to say that Tigist and Mekdes have a mom and a dad, and we are them, and we are blessed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Adoption is SO middlebrow (because GQ tells me so!)

"Ultimately, adoption, like all forms of parentage, is about narcissism. Stop being a human hoarder."

Oh, GQ.

Harbinger of wisdom and truth.

By all means parenting is

That time when my kid puked all over his siblings in the car and I had to clean it up?

How downright indulgent of me.

When my baby girl was suffering from repeat infections that the doctors couldn't diagnose?

Pure, unadulterated self-centeredness.

You caught me.

Being a mom to five children is classic, textbook narcissism.

In fact, I think my upper-division class on Abnormal Psychology included a lecture on that.

Titled something like, "Psychopathology of the Soccer Mom."

And while my "hoarding" of human beings for my museum-like collection is a rather expensive, exhausting, completely inappropriate hobby, my "middlebrow", minivan-driving mom friends and I seem to have a lot of fun with it.  Some of us also even like PF Chang's and Chipotle and Alec Baldwin too. 

And the Seinfeld reruns?  Yes, please! 

I'm middlebrow.

Fo sho.

In all seriousness (not that I wasn't being serious about PF Chang's, Chipotle, Alec Baldwin, and oh my goodness definitely Seinfeld!), I cannot imagine a more offensive statement about motherhood, in general, and adoption. 

I suspect that the writer of the aforementioned article has no children, not even one (or at least not enough where he actually has been unjustly accused of hoarding), because if he did he would know that a day in the life of a mom is a far cry from sitting around looking at what you hoarded, whilst eating bon bons and eagerly planning the next addition to your collection--er, family. 

And he would know that most adoptive moms are struggling in the trenches parenting children from the very-hard-places.  And that adopting a child doesn't automatically mean you have romantic notions about "saving" that child.  (If you do, you will probably be disavowed of said notion within 24 hours of meeting your son or daughter, as you realize that he or she may not even like you, much less be grateful for what you did to bring them home.  Savior complex?  Not so much.)

That being said, it is true that many formerly-waiting children would be in a desperate, not-very-good place were it not for the act of adoption.  Is that okay to admit?  I think so.  I think adoptive parents instinctively know that while the desire to adopt must stem from a (narcissistic and hoarding, according to GQ) genuine desire to parent, there is also the component of meeting a need.  Or at least there should be, otherwise everyone goes on the waiting list for that healthy infant girl, which eventually creates a demand, and eventually leads to unethical practices.  Boo.

I almost didn't write this blogpost because really, people, I couldn't care less what anyone on GQ's payroll says or thinks.  I've never read their cheesy glossy magazine-for-men and I don't expect them to have remotely similar values as me.  Plus, it's Saturday.

I don't like to blog on Saturdays.

But, when someone writes something so utterly ridiculous, offensive and, quite frankly, they compare adoption and motherhood to shopping at the Gap and reading The Huffington Post...I gotta weigh in.  Just showing up and all that.

You can't lump all adoptive parents together and say we're wanting people to notice how noble we are.  We're just regular moms and dads!  Who love being parents, and who see a problem with the local and global orphan crises, who figure we can help by receiving one (or four) of these children as our own.  (Now do some people hope to be canonized as saints for adopting?  Probably.  But not the people I know.  So there.) 

I wonder where this writer thinks all the foster children should go. 

I wonder if he'll write an article saying it's totally legit when orphanages are so full that children are left to die on the streets, or become beggars and prostitutes before they die on the streets.

And, I get that this piece was written tongue-in-cheek.  Most of it made me laugh.  Pretty astute and timely observations (the Freakonomics and Words With Friends references?  Priceless).  But why such vitriol when it came to this issue? 

Why call it "human hoarding"? 

Why play into society's hand, reinforcing the notion that families with children are disgusting and dysfunctional?  At best, it's irresponsible, and at worst, outright anti-child.

But, you know, it's GQ.  Whatevs.

And so maybe tonight, after my five kids go to bed, my husband and I will grab some Chipotle, pop in a Seinfeld DVD, and reflect on our many children we've been blessed with collected. 

Sleeping babies, burritos, and Fusilli Jerry.  That actually sounds like heaven to me. 

I'm so middlebrow.  Proud to be, actually.

But don't accuse hard-working parents of being narcissists.  Don't tell adoptive families that they're hoarding children.  Even if you're joking, people really think that. 

It's kind of offensive.

And pretty low-brow, if you ask me.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Now I am 30 :)

Well, the day came and went and now I am 30.  Eek!  :)

Thanks to my dear, wonderful husband Kevin for his sweet blogpost, and to you readers who left such kind comments here and on Facebook.  I felt like I was at my own virtual birthday party!  (And I got to stay in my pjs that way!)

I spent my "in real life" birthday having a quiet day at home, and then went out to dinner with Kevin and the kids last night.  I can't think of six people I'd rather share my birthday with!

And while I don't feel any older, I have to admit that 30 sounds so much more grown up than I am.  (Because apparently having five children isn't being grown up?  Weird, I know.)  My life today is so much richer and fuller than it was the day I turned twenty (living with roommates, about to be engaged, still in college) and as I look back on my last decade of life, it has been really, truly blessed.  Nothing wasted, lots of fun, I've seen some amazing places, and known some amazing people.

I'm still working my way through all of your excellent questions and will be answering each of them.  It's taking me awhile, because they're so good!  If anyone has anything else they'd like to ask, please feel free to do so.

And, I have a super duper exciting announcement to make!  But you'll have to wait until Monday.  I promise it'll be worth it.  Because there will be much rejoicing.  And photos.  So come back Monday morning, because you won't want to miss it!  (Think best.birthday.present.ever.!!!)

Thank you again dear readers for your sweet comments, and for faithfully reading along for a long time or for a little time.  I've so enjoyed getting to share my life with you in this space, and now I get to blog as a 30 year old.  Yay!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

In which my wife completes another decade

I'm commandeering this blog without express authorization to publicly wish my wife, Brianna, a VERY happy 30th birthday! I feel honored to be the person she has spent the most time with over the last decade. 10 years ago I was secretly brainstorming proposal ideas in hopes of getting her good and stuck with me for the rest of our lives. God blessed me with success in this endeavor and she's been mine ever since.

I thought it would be fun if her blog readers would post in with their favorite memory about Brianna from the last decade. Some laugh you shared, some great moment you witnessed, or, if you only know her in Blogland, maybe your favorite thing she ever wrote. Brianna, I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Countdown to 30: Homeschooling

{I'm doing a series of answering peoples' questions about me and my life as I count down to my 30th birthday. If you have something you'd like to ask me--anything!--please leave a comment or send me an email. It's not everyday I open myself up to answering any and all random questions, so ask away!}

Today's question comes from my sweet blog friend Jenny.  Who writes:

My oldest is 4 and will be starting his second year of pre-k this fall. We've decided to HS kindergarten. So what's your HSing day look like? What's your school schedule like? How do you do it with multiple children? How do you defend your choice to HS to others who don't agree?

Yay for homeschooling! 

The decision to school your child at home is a brave one, for sure.  It's countercultural and intimidating and people are going to think you're weird.  :)

But I am so, so glad we decided to do it anyway.

We see homeschooling as simply an extension of our family's typical day-to-day activities.  Our ultimate goal is not to raise Harvard graduates (though that would be fine with me!), but to raise women and men who love Jesus and love others, who know how to learn and who love to read.

We start our day around the table where we do our Bible/Saints reading over oatmeal.  We read a Bible story (alternating between different childrens' Bibles--the Jesus Storybook Bible is my favorite!), and then a reading about a Saint.  We like the Children's Book of Saints, as well as any of the Loyola books.  We have also done a missionary biography or two, although I'm a little choosier with those.  Don't ask.  (I'm just not always thrilled with the underlying messages regarding culture and salvation in those stories.  Sorry.)

Then while I load the dishes into the dishwasher and wipe down the table, my kids go get dressed and make their beds if they haven't already.  Once they're done we usually move on to Math--Anna works mostly independently because she can read.  My sons do math with my guidance, because they aren't reading fluently just yet.  As for curriculum, we like to use Saxon Math.  (Which some think is boring, because it doesn't have cutesy pictures etc., but I actually like that.  Less for my more-distractible child to be distracted by, and a focus on the basics.)

My youngest two, who aren't in school, head off to play independently.  Sometimes they are underfoot or nearby, but it has never been much of an issue.  (And no, they don't head off to play independently in the front yard.  This is just a photo I took of them last week.  When I was with them in the front yard.  :)  )

After math we do History.  We are using Story of the World (LOVE!!!), which I read aloud--we studied ancient history last year, and will be studying the middle ages this year.  My kids love hearing the stories, and I always have a basket filled with library books corresponding to whatever we're currently studying.  Sometimes I photocopy coloring pages for my kiddos, out of the accompanying activity guide.  (And sometimes I even take my youngest on a field trip to Rome.  :)  )

Then there are the other things, like spelling, handwriting, and reading instruction. 

Spelling:  Used Zaner Bloser for first grade.  I like their sweet illustrations and their stuff seems affordable.  This next year I'll be using Spelling Power for my second grader, but my sons will do ZB like she did last year.

Handwriting: Zaner Bloser for kindergarten, and not sure what I'll do for Anna this upcoming year.  Last year we counted her spelling workbook as handwriting.

Reading: Anna taught herself to read shortly before her fifth birthday, so we never did phonics or any sort of anything for her.  I've tried different things with my sons, with limited success.  Until I scored a set of Reading Rods at the thrift store ($3!!!!!)--and my boys are doing SO WELL with them!  They love being able to hold the blocks in their hands, manipulate the words etc.  I cannot say enough about this curriculum!

I have to tell you that I am super excited to begin catechizing my children at home this upcoming year!  (Essentially, teaching them the faith.)  In fact, I just ordered the Faith and Life series for first and second grade today--can't wait for it to arrive!

As far as the schoolday goes, I like for us to be done by lunchtime.  Sometimes I'll read to the kids from a classic children's book like Paddington Bear or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while they eat.  After lunch is naptime for my youngest, and the rest of the kids have free time.  Occasionally I enforce a rest time for them too.

We are structured, but flexible within that structure.  I don't run my home like a bootcamp (usually) and I don't try to emulate a public school classroom.  Because we are a home.  A family.  And I believe learning should be a natural outflow of our home.

My kids attend a full-day enrichment-type program on Thursdays in a nearby suburb, where they get to enjoy a typical schoolday (for homeschooled kids.)  They have lots of friends and get to take fun classes like art and drama and science and dance.  This program is free (!) because it's through the public school system--what a blessing!  (It's also pretty sweet to have one day a week with just my two youngest girlies!)

And yes, I do occasionally encounter someone who is openly hostile towards, or skeptical of, homeschooling. 

The truth is that I live my life differently than the vast majority of people I meet--and this is just one more thing to tally up in the "those weird Heldts" column.  :)  I honestly think our family size (five kids ages 7 and under) and make-up (two adopted) really breaks the ice.  Because by the time it comes out in conversation that I homeschool, the person is already so beyond being surprised by anything about me.  :)

People wonder about socialization the most.  In a family with five children and two parents who, quite frankly, talk a lot.  I know, right?  The funny thing is that an.y.where.we.go., my kids set out to make new friends.  No joke.  Every event, every BBQ, even at the 4th of July fireworks show, they take off and by the time we've left they've made several buddies.  I also have to tell you that I was public schooled K-12...and I knew COUNTLESS socially awkward people.  So I think it has very little, if anything, to do with public vs. private vs. homeschool.  When someone asks about it or expresses concern, I politely tell them that my children are quite social and well-adjusted.  And occasionally I throw in my anecdote about social awkwardness in the public schools.  :)

People also wonder how it's possible for a mom to teach kids what they need to know, academically.  How can my children learn from me (college drop-out that I am) as well as they could from a certified teacher?  I always tell people that a mom is actually in a prime position to teach her children.  That it is really quite a natural thing and while it's perfectly fine to delegate your child's education to a public school, it's also fine to do those things at home.  I am able to teach quite efficiently without a huge classroom to manage, we're able to avoid the pit-falls of peer pressure and negative influence, and guess what?  There's no homework.  No sitting around the table every night with three tired, cranky children slogging through packets of worksheets.  In the same amount of time we would spend doing that, we're able to do an entire day's worth of schoolwork.  Done by lunchtime.  The rest of the day free for playing, reading or resting.

I believe God creates us with a capacity and desire to learn, and as a parent I attempt to facilitate and nourish that.  This summer, my seven year old is averaging a huge long chapter book every one or two days, on her own.  She's blowing through Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, has read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Indian in the Cupboard series...the list goes on.  This is all of her own volition.  And it makes my heart happy, because it encapsulates a good portion of my dream for schooling at home: a child who loves to learn and who has the freedom to explore his or her own interests.

My two favorite books on homeschooling are A Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and Catholic Education: Homeward Bound: A Useful Guide to Catholic Homeschooling.  The former is excellent whether or not you plan to school classically, and the latter whether or not you are Catholic.

Support and encouragement are also so important on this journey, and I would urge anyone schooling their children at home to seek out a group of like-minded mamas.  It can be through a co-op, church group, homeschooling group, or even online.  Somewhere that you can ask questions and connect with women who totally get it.  I am blessed in that some of my closest friends also happen to be homeschoolers.  (I met these dear women before any of us were schooling at home, too!  And, not everyone in the above photo homeschools--this was taken at one of our awesome girls' nights.  Four of us pictured in the photo do school at home.)

Remember that homeschooling is an extension of mothering, and so there will be hard days where you wonder why on earth you set out to do this (and when you might even reach for the phone to enroll your child at your neighborhood school, ASAP!)  I confess that when I drive by our local elementary school, I occasionally have wistful feelings about what my days would look like if my kids were away for eight glorious hours.  But deep down?  I am so, so glad to be teaching my children at home, so glad for the life they are living and so glad that our typical day is not a series of pickups and dropoffs--especially for the sake of my two youngest.  And, I love having my children around.  Truly.  I miss 'em when they're gone!

Hopefully this sheds some light on what we do.  Good luck on your journey, and thanks for asking!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Countdown to 30: My parents, my childhood, and the closest I came to rebelling

{I'm doing a series of answering peoples' questions about me and my life as I count down to my 30th birthday. If you have something you'd like to ask me--anything!--please leave a comment or send me an email. It's not everyday I open myself up to answering any and all random questions, so ask away!}

what did you love most about your parents growing up? How did they shape who you are today with the way that they raised you? And what did you pick up along the way that did not come from them? Okay, that's 3 questions! But hey, I want the juice! Ooh, I thought of one more: did you ever go through a rebellious phase? If so, how long did it last and what brought you out of it? If not, wanna go clubbing with me and get it out of your system? HA! Just kidding!

Today's question comes from my sweet friend Candice, who I've gotten to know through church. As you can see, she asks some good ones!

Me with my parents in 2007

I am an only child (I know, right?) and grew up in the itty-bitty town of Creston, California. My dad was an elementary school teacher and my mom was an at-home mom. Our family of three was very close--we did everything together and my childhood was quite happy. Some people assume that children who grow up without siblings must be lonely, but I was not. I've always been independent and able to entertain myself, both qualities that I am glad to have been able to develop.

My best friend Rebekah and I at our high school graduation, Atascadero High School, Class of 1999

Plus, my parents were always quite supportive of my friendships and so I've always had dear, wonderful friends--many of them more like sisters. One in particular has been my BFF for 22 years. (Pictured above.)

It's hard to pinpoint what I loved/love most about my parents. They're wonderful people who provided a warm, loving home for me to grow up in. They gave me the gift of faith, a sense of humor, and an intact family life. My dad is funny, deeply caring, and ever-supportive. Always has been. My mom is a lot of fun, a great conversationalist, and makes me laugh really hard pretty much anytime we embark on some sort of adventure. They adore my children and my husband. They are two of my best friends.

As far as how they've shaped me, they taught me to love and obey Jesus, which is huge. We attended (and were very involved in) church every single Sunday, and I learned that committing to a faith community is a crucial part of the Christian life. Some of my fondest memories, in fact, are of church events--potlucks and Christmas Eve services and 4th of July campouts.

My dad was passionate about advocating for the developmentally delayed and differently-abled. My parents would regularly visit fellow church members and friends who were hospitalized or in nursing homes.

We did a lot of laughing in our house, and our family was very laid-back and relationally-based, if that makes sense. We spent a lot of time at home--not running from activity to activity. My mom and dad gave me a love for good books and for reading. We lived pretty simply and were not always buying the latest, greatest things. My parents never, ever tried to fit in or keep up with the Joneses. My mom stayed home to raise me and this was a huge value for her--what an incredible gift and legacy. They taught (and modeled for) me that marriage is for life.

As for things I've picked up along the way that did not come from them, the most obvious would be the fact that I have five, soon to be seven, children, while they had one.

As an adult I love to travel--which we never did when I was a child, except for the once every one or two years when we'd go down to Orange County to visit family and go to Disneyland. (LOVE Disneyland!)

I'm horribly un-punctual as an adult, but growing up, we were ALways on time. Usually early, actually. I hated always being the first kid someplace and was always so embarrassed, heehee! (Now as an adult I wish I was more on-time like that, but sadly, I've pretty much given up. :) )

Me being baptized on Palm Sunday, 1989, 7 years old

Finally, when I was growing up, my family attended a small, casual, non-denominational community church, but for the past few years I have been researching historic Christianity, which will surely eventually culminate in my joining the Catholic Church. So, that's different. On the other hand, both of my parents were more or less raised Catholic and I remember my mom had this ornate (and, looking back, rather beautiful) painting in a gold frame stand (with doors on it) of the Blessed Virgin Mary--so maybe I somehow actually picked some of that up from them. (As a kid that little painting terrified me though, and I would purposely close the little doors! Ha!) My mom has always had a love, I think, for high church and for the Mass, and there are things my dad misses about the Catholic faith as well. (He also has some GREAT stories about growing up in a parochial school, as many in his generation do.)

Now, on to the really good stuff: did I ever go through a rebellious phase? :) I would have to say no, not really. In other words, I never rebelled by drinking too much, sleeping around or doing drugs. I did have a nasty, selfish adolescent attitude that surely made me not the easiest kid to raise. I wanted to do my own thing and be with my friends all the time and, as I'm sure is true for many teenagers, it was hard to walk the line between belonging to your family and achieving independence. I was excited to move out for college, but by the end of the year felt dreadfully homesick and somehow that time away cured me of my peer-oriented-ness and grouchy-towards-my-parents-ness.

As a high schooler I did begin, for the first time in my life, to have occasional doubts about the existence of God. The whole thing, the whole idea, just began to seem really...crazy. (Probably because it is!) Nearly impossible to believe. God seemed distant and I sometimes wondered if it was all just made-up. I wondered how my faith would look once I left for college. Still I went to church and believed, but I would often doubt.

As a college freshman I lived in the dorms at the public California university I attended. The girls living next door loved to party (and to deal drugs--but that's another story), and one Saturday shortly after we all moved in they told me they were going out that night, and invited me along. All afternoon I had this horrible, nagging feeling inside. I felt Jesus telling me in my heart that I had to choose. And that He loves me and that I can't live a divided life. That either He was real and I needed to live in light of that fact, or He wasn't real and in that case I could just walk away.

And suddenly, I just knew. I knew God was real. I have not doubted Him in that way since. (I've also since decided that doubt is incredibly normal, and can turn out to be a healthy thing in the end. More on that another time perhaps.)

Later, when one of the girls came by to say it was time to go, I told her that I wouldn't be going. I was a little embarrassed, but not particularly disappointed. (I've never been one to cave to peer pressure, thankfully.) I felt a renewed sense of love for Jesus, and I sensed more than ever His love for me.

Sweet Stacy and I, sophomore year of college

The next morning I got up early to go to church, and ran into someone else in the bathroom getting dressed up. "Are you rushing sorority?" I asked her (it was rush week.) "No, I'm going to church," she said. I felt as if God had given me such a sweet gift and--Stacy became a dear friend that I would live with, along with two other dear Christian girls, the following year. And, I realize it was just a typical college party, but it signified so much more for me.

My wonderful roommates sophomore year: Stacy, Paige, Lindsey, and me

I have to tell you that every time I walked to and from my dormroom that year and passed by the condom dispensers, everytime I got up Sunday morning only to be greeted by large amounts of vomit in the shower or toilet stalls from drunk residents (yes this happened every.single.week.), everytime I saw girls walking back to their dorm rooms in the morning laughing (or crying) about how they didn't know where their bras and underwear were after last night's party, I was reminded of God's amazing grace, faithfulness and mercy to me. He never gave up on me, even in spite of my ambivalence.

And I have always had friends living a different lifestyle from me. I love and respect them dearly. Differences in religion or ways of living never mattered to the friendships, and I'm under no misapprehensions that I'm better or smarter than anyone else. And I'm so grateful for that year in the dorms. I had a blast. But when a nervous college freshman read her pregnancy test in my room, breathing a sigh of relief when the results were negative because she had no clue which person, among many party hook-ups over the past month, would have been the father, I was inwardly grateful to God that He spared me from what I believed to be destructive decisions.

So that was the closest I got to being outright rebellious, and I'm so thankful it did not come to fruition. I have really had no desire since to go live what many would call the "good life", because I saw the other side of that life many times over that year: panicked young women and youthful mistakes, potentially bearing very grown-up and serious consequences.

Then of course I married my husband when I was but 20 years old, and some people say you shouldn't do that because you miss out on the carefree "fun" of your youth...but I knew I wasn't missing out. And that there's nothing fun about most of those things in the end.

I credit God's mercy, and the good foundation laid in both word and deed by my parents, for keeping me more or less on the straight and narrow. And now you all know that I'm a pretty boring person, but I kind of really like my boring life. :)

Oh and Candice, if you're up for going clubbing, I'm totally there. Just kidding! (Even though it would be incredibly entertaining--can you imagine?!)

Thanks for asking!


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