Monday, January 31, 2011

Multitude Monday XII

The count continues, the awakening continues, the noticing of all that is beautiful about the mundane, the lovely, the shabby around me.

107. Eyes that see

108. Legs that walk, even with a sore knee after Saturday's 12-mile run

109. A cup of coffee in the morning

110. A cup of peppermint tea  in the afternoon

111. A homemade omelet at a friend's kitchen table after that 12-mile run, with laughter and tears to wash it down. Thank you Greta!

112. Unmerited favor from friends: Picking up their boys after hours at our house, they leave a bag of chocolate, coffee, apples and oranges. Thank you Joel and Laurie! May I be infected with such a generous spirit. 

113. Warm January breezes and afternoons at the park before the cold front rolls in

114. Takeout delivered by my neighbor to help feed all the extra kids at our house (including her own). Thank you Emily! 

115. The five year old improvising, full-throated, on the swing.
"Walking under the GOLDEN SUN!
Praising God for what He has done.
Praise Him for my money, so I can spend it
Praise Him for my nice warm house ... oh!
Walking under the GOLDEN SUN ..." 
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

116. Kids playing Capture the Flag at dusk in the yard

117. A husband who gets up at night to answer the puppy's bladder-call

118. Puppy love. 

119. The ultimate status update: Being released from sins (as a prisoner) to become a king and priest to God (Rev. 1:5-6). Because He loves us! 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"Life works better when we know how to glance at things but gaze at God. Seeing Him clearly will enable us to see all other things clearly." 
- Selwyn Hughes

Some links for you-all-everybody:
1. Distractible? Prone to multitasking? Join the club. That's why I loved HomeGrown Mom's post, The Sacred Hours. Applies to non-homeschoolers as well.

2. Ann at Holy Experience shared an incredibly honest snapshot of marriage ... and of love life in particular. Any moms relate?

3. Meyer Lemon Bundt Cake with Lemon Curd Filling -- I made this with regular lemons, made it gluten-free, and my dinner guests love love loved it. Go forth and conquer, my domestic divas. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tiger Mom and Me

Unless you've been living at the International Space Station for the past two weeks, you've probably heard of Amy Chua and the furor raised by her HIGHLY controversial Wall Street Journal article and subsequent book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Just the first two paragraphs of her WSJ article may have you convinced that this woman is the Mommie Dearest from hell -- a caricature of the stereotypical pushy Asian parent. Here's an abbreviated list of the many things her teenaged daughters have not been allowed to do: Have playdates. Watch television. Act in school plays. Play any instrument but the violin and piano. NOT play the violin and piano. Etc.

But here's the scary part: she's for real. So is the fact that she once called her daughter "garbage" for speaking disrespectfully to her and threw a homemade birthday card back into the other daughter's face when it didn't meet her standards for effort.

TIME magazine covered the whole fracas  in  this week's cover issue. And here's the deal. First, I COMPLETELY DISAGREE with various details of Amy Chua's approach (if for no other reason than that while they are young, my actions and attitudes reflect and represent God to my kids (eek! scary! I fail!) and last I checked, God doesn't call us garbage). But. In one respect, as the TIME article points out, she's onto something.

Have you read NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children? It's chock full of scientific studies that call into question all kinds of conventional assumptions about the way kids think and operate. And specifically, in one chapter the authors  debunk the whole more-praise-is-better myth that many parents buy into. The TIME article on Chua quotes the same research. Here's the Cliff Notes (TM) version: Slathering praise on your kids for being smart, clever, artistic, etc. can actually do more harm than good. It's way more helpful and effective to comment on their efforts, not their abilities.

It's not just that too much praise creates praise junkies -- kids who are never sure of how they're doing unless an adult compliments it. ("Do you like my drawing, Mom? Do you?" Yeah, I hear that.) It's that kids  who are told they're smart all the time often develop such a paralyzing fear of failure that they simply won't tackle anything too challenging, too fraught with frustration.

I've made this mistake. After we had our oldest child tested, I sometimes thought it might motivate him  to try harder and reach his potential if I let him know about that potential. "You are a bright kid," I'd tell him, alluding to his verbal IQ score. I don't I ever came out and told him he was smarter than other kids. But who knows what leaked out between the lines?

And sure enough, this child is my most frustration-prone. My most unwilling to stick with a difficult task. My most sensitive to perceived failure. Can I take  all the blame for that? No. But my bumbling attempts to beef up his self-esteem may actually have backfired. Perhaps he subconsciously believes that not understanding a tricky math problem or struggling with some memory work undermines his value as a "smart kid."

Since reading Nurture Shock, I've changed a few of the ways I interact with my kids. Most of all, I've made a deliberate effort to praise, or even just remark on, their effort, hard work, and persistence. Especially when they've had to push through a few obstacles to lay hold of success. I'm not going to go all Amy Chua on them -- I'm probably more Siamese cat than Tiger Mom -- but I do want them to reap the sweeter rewards of the higher-hanging fruit.

The TIME article concludes thusly:

Think of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a well-timed taunt aimed at our own complacent sense of superiority, our belief that America will always come out on top. That won't be the case unless we make it so. We can get caught up in the provocative details of Chua's book (did she really threaten to burn her daughter's stuffed animals?), or we can use her larger point as an impetus to push ourselves forward, the way our countrymen often have in the past.

Point taken. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project Life 2011: Who's With Me?

I know at least of couple of my friendly blog-reading peeps have taken the plunge with Project Life this year. Stand and be counted!

Don't roll your eyes, ye non-scrappers. This is totally the project for anyone who: 1)loves to scrapbook but simply doesn't have the time to stay "caught up," or 2)doesn't scrapbook, but feels sorta guilty about the pile of miscellaneous photos hibernating in a box or computer file somewhere.

I've done the project for two years now -- roughly one photo a day, with a couple sentences of journaling -- and it's been so worth it to have a finished album that preserves all the moments, a few extraordinary (vacations, milestones) but mostly ordinary.

Indeed, some of the photos can't get more mundane. What we ate for dinner. Our shopping cart at Costco. Kids playing with the hose in the yard. But these are the plain little pearls that string together our magnificent lives. Pick a random memory from your childhood. Is it that big trip to Disneyworld or, perhaps, the way you'd run out on the first day that felt like spring and pump on the swing as high as you could? I submit that both deserve commemorating.

Jessica at The Mom Creative has a Tuesday linkup where folks post the POTD's (Pictures of the Day) for the week. I thought I'd participate this week.

Oh, and this year I'm attempting a digital version for the first time.

Oh, and Amazon just got in a new shipment of Project Life - Amber Edition and Project Life - Turquoise Edition. No, it's not too late to start! (Or don't even start with January 1. Do your baby's first year, or your first year of marriage, or a few years with monthly highlights, or whatever works for you.)

Here we go.

Jan. 19: Building a crate for Pongo, our much-anticipated puppy. 

Jan. 20: Lunch with Nonnie (my MIL) at Panda Express. We do this mid-school-day every few weeks whenever the spirit moves her. It's fun. 

Jan. 21: Introducing our brand new puppy to our back yard. By the way, Pongo is a mix of chow, golden retriever, collie (we think), and we're-not-sure what else. He's a rescue from Austin Pets Alive. 

Jan. 21 (#2): Friday afternoon at our house with the whole neighborhood gaggle ... minutes before a hot chocolate party. 

Jan. 22: Visiting our neighbors' brand new (sixth!) baby, Margaret Sophia. Holding her is another neighbor, who was clearly pleased as punch to have a real, live baby in her arms. 

Jan. 23: My kids are weird. Need I say more?

Jan. 24: I posted this yesterday, but this is the POTD. Eliza has taken to the puppy like a little momma. Nurturing comes naturally to this one. 

Yes, friends, we are living in a puppy world. With difficulty, I resist becoming a blogger who simply blathers about her pet(s). Help me stay strong. Over and out. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Multitude Monday X

Sam notes in the Comments that the book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is taking the "Christian-lady blogosphere" by storm and wants to know if I think it's worth the read for guys too.

I think it's more-than-worth the read for anyone who has yet to master "in everything give thanks." Anyone who complains. Anyone who's stressed. Who's dealt with hard things. Who can't always trace the rainbow through the rain. Who doubts that there's a God or that His heart can be good toward us all the time.

So, yeah. Not just for chicks, Sam. Thanks for asking!

Today I'm thankful for ...

101. New life. New life! Every pregnancy announcement thrills me as mothers around me burst into slow bloom. For example:
            -The first friend I ever made  that very first day in high school, the day of sweaty palms and a few hours' certainty that I was alone in the world and always would be ... now expecting Baby Number One. Congratulations, Erica!
            - My good friend Greta ... at age forty-six, expecting Baby Number Six. Last time, during her homebirth, she went to deliver the placenta and out popped another baby. Undiagnosed twins! She's pretty sure it's just one this time. Her husband's response to the news? Not, "another mouth to feed!" but "Now we're even richer." Love that.

            - And most exciting of all ... dum da DUM ... one of my siblings is finally reproducing! Paul and his wife Betty are expecting their FIRST baby in July. Don't they make the cutest parents-to-be?

The morning after we heard the news, my mother and sisters and I rushed out to the mall to shop for a creature the size of my pinky. Good times.

102. The ease of homeschooling my daughters, snuggled up on the couch or clustered quietly at the table.

103. The challenge of homeschooling my son, which keeps me more prayerful than prideful.

104. Sweet neighbors who popped in to play with our puppy when we finally left him alone to attend our church meeting yesterday. And brought doggie cookie mix.

105. This:

106. The fact that at this very nanosecond, instead of being QUIET during QUIET time,  my kids are raising the roof ... because they're giggling hysterically together and blowing raspberries on each other's tummy tum tums. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Inspiration

"We will all have trials. The question is not when the pressure will come, but where the pressure will lie. Will it come between us and the Lord? Or will it press us ever closer to His breast?" 

- Hudson Taylor

(Image courtesy of wrestlingentropy)

Some Links for You-All-Everybody:

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Friday: For the Dog(s)

I dug this poem out of our beloved volume, A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children compiled by Ms. Caroline Kennedy. I bet you know why we read this one at the lunch table today:

The Song of the Mischievous Dog
by Dylan Thomas

There are many who say that a dog has its day, 
And a cat  has a number of lives;
There are others who think that a lobster is pink,
And that bees never work in their hives. 
There are fewer, of course, who insist that a horse
Has a horn and two humps on its head,
And a fellow who jests that a mare can build nests
Is as rare as a donkey that's red. 
Yet in spite of all this, I have moments of bliss,
For I cherish a passion for bones,
And though doubtful of biscuit, I'm willing to risk it,
And I love to chase rabbits and stones.
But my greatest delight is to take a good bite
At a calf that is plump and delicious;
And if I indulge in a bite at a bulge,
Let's hope you won't think me too vicious.

Note: Dylan Thomas, the premier Welsh poet, wrote this delightful bit of wry humor when he was only eleven years old! Ian, you've got six months. Better get going!

So, have you figured it out yet? In case you don't follow my every move on Facebook ...

... we got a puppy! 

It's all Pongo, all the time here at our household. Well, since last night. Is anything else happening in the world right now? Huh? I'm sorry, I just can't believe that could be. 

No word yet on whether Pongo will turn out to be  the mischievous  dog of young Master Thomas' ode. He does cherish a passion for bones already. Grassfed ones, from the cow we purchased

Other pertinent facts: 

1. I have never ever ever owned a dog  before, or anything else with four legs. 
2. Pongo is a mutt. He has some chowchow, some golden retriever, some collie, we think, and who-knows-what else. Mom was a stray, and he came from a rescue litter. 
3. Pongo's preferred Pandora station appears to be ragtime piano. 
4. As I suspect they would if I were ever to reproduce again in human spawn, the three kids are having power  issues over Pongo. Poor pup, he'll never figure out who's the alpha in this pack, because they can't settle that issue for themselves. 
5. Having  a puppy for the first night is much like having a newborn, but louder. Think getting up every hour and a half (hooray for the heroic Professor!) Actually, it's rougher than having a newborn because you can't just pop the pup into bed with you to cuddle and nurse. 
6. Pongo has white "socks" that are still white after a day in  our family, which is more than can be said for anyone else in this house. 
7. We wuv him. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Goals for the New Year

Oof. After passing a few days (weeks?) in a general glow, tonight I am slammed with fatigue and a bit of blues. And after I just crowed about how my One Thousand Gifts project is better than Zoloft.

Oh well. There are days. And there are days. And today was probably a great example of why I shouldn't fit in so many things without scheduling in downtime.

So guess what I'm going to do? I'm going to share my list of goals for 2011! Isn't that a perfectly logical thing to do when you're feeling a bit piqued?

Here are ten I came up with, in no particular order:

1. Finish a half marathon.
2. Finish the Life-Study of Matthew. And Life-Study of Mark.
3. Start a book club.
4. Master three good company dishes, so I don't make up excuses for not inviting folks over to dinner.
5. Start a family travel blog.
6. Write a family mission statement (we've done the brainstorming, but not the crafting.)
7. Learn to make a great salad (sounds lame, but I have salad-phobia. I make the world's most boring salads, and therefore I hate making them. It's a sickness. Please send help.)
8. Take a family vacation that is relaxing, memorable, mind-expanding and fun.
9. Take a class. Any class.
10. Do something regular with my partner-in-crime to care for the younger moms in our church community.

Oh, and here's one more that's embarrassing: Overcome phone phobia. I have a chronic reluctance to make phone calls, for reasons that are both logical and crazy. Also, I'm not great at checking voicemail. Hence, I exceed my text message limit. There. Now you know. And let's not even get into my other bad habits such as walking through the yard in sock feet, etc.

This post on SimpleMom today reminded me that to achieve goals, we just have to take that next baby step. The enemy of the big goal is the small procrastination, the elusive "tomorrow." What one small thing can you do today that will add up to a 2011 to remember?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Multitude Monday IX: Walker Wedding Edition

Time to get back into the Multitude Monday swing. Honestly,  y'all, this is probably one of the best things I've ever done for my mental health. Like Zoloft, but better because look Ma, no unpleasant side effects!

If you've been reading this for a while, you probably know that the dominant event of 2010 for our family was Caroline's swimming pool accident. Although God has been gracious in healing us in every way from the incident and we've been able to move forward, I feel like there's so much I no longer take for granted. And certain events throw our blessings into stark relief because of their connection to that June evening.

Friday night we attended the wedding of our friends Trevor Walker and Aubrey Tidwell.

(I know; what a shame they're such a homely couple ...)

We met Trevor the night of the accident. He was one of the ones praying inside while our teenaged friend breathed life back into our daughter's lungs. Less than 24 hours later, he showed up at Caroline's hospital bedside.

There are no strangers in the Body of Christ. Only family. 

Trevor joined a weekly dinner and Bible study in our home  during the fall, and brought Aubrey to dinner. Our kids fell in love with them both. 

So today I'm grateful for ...

95. Seeing my daughter, she who came back to us, dancing with the groom -- and both can really boogie! Knowing how close we came to this moment never happening makes it so precious ...

96. ... as was the Daddy/daughter dance. Aubrey and her dad graciously shared the floor. 

97. Dancing with my son during the mother/son dance ... even if he kept stepping on my toes and acting totally embarrassed. (Yes, we have reached THAT stage. I am no longer allowed to tell cute toddler stories, either.)

98. The impossibility of a perfect family photo. In everything give thanks. 
(Want to navigate somewhere at night using that reflection from my forehead? Be my guest.)

99. The groom's tearful vows, possibly the loveliest handwritten ones I've ever heard ... including the promise to be a loving father to their [future] beautiful children. These two have a passion for Jesus and for each other that's, well, electric.

100. Knowing there is One who will sustain them through whatever trials lie ahead, just as He has done for our family. 

One hundred gifts so far! And so many more to come ...

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Day in the Life 2011

Today over at Simple Homeschool, there's a call for posts about readers' typical homeschooling days. It's been a while since I've done one of these, so I thought I'd jump in.

Basically, we wake up in the morning, spend time in intense individual Bible study, and then float blissfully -- and harmoniously -- from discussions of free indirect discourse in Moby Dick to the making of scale models of the pancreatic system. Here and there, we conjugate Russian verbs, rehearse the violin concertos my eldest has composed for our family quintet, and fingerpaint geometrical proofs onto giant wall-sized murals. Then we have lunch.

No. Not really.

A fellow homeschooling mom, let's call her Shannon because that's her real name, recently confided wryly to me that she heard another mom refer to her home school, in all seriousness, as "The Peaceful Cottage." Shannon felt that a more apt term for her own environment would be "The Romper Room." I think it's fair to say that we're somewhere in the middle.

No day is exactly the same around here, so I'll describe the mythical "template" day. Ready? Here goes.

I wake up, feed my spirit with the Word of God, roll creakily out of bed, and go running or use the elliptical machine, unless we're going to the Y later that day. I shower, make the bed, start a load of laundry, etc.

The children stagger out around 7:30, and the girls (ages 5 and 7) usually kick the day off with a good little bickerment about something or other. I interject the customary pep talk about respect/kindness/peace while fixing breakfast. For some reason, fixing breakfast takes a while.

Around 8:00 or a bit later, we sit down to eat. At the table, we see where This Day in History leads us. Then, we read a chapter from Egermeier's Bible Story Book, discuss a bit, and pray for the day. We choose our chores and I send them off to do their morning lists (teeth, clothes, etc.) while I clean up the kitchen. We all do our chores.

Around 10:00, what we call "Kidschool" begins. (On a good day, I've written the day's order of events on our whiteboard.) Ian (age 10) usually has a list of to-do's, which may include some or all of:
2. Reading (Middle Ages-related literature; right now it's Otto of the Silver Hand.)
3. History: Currently he reads 2 pages of his  Kingfisher History Encyclopedia and marks 3 events on his timeline. 
4. Writing: Both he and his sister do one lesson a day from The Complete Writer: Level Three Workbook for Writing with Ease (Eliza does Level One)
5. Memory Work: AWANA, possibly a poem
6. Science Activity -- we do this all together from Pandia Press' REAL Science Odyssey

The girls don't have lists to work through, but we always have a daily read-aloud going (right now it's The Fledgling ). Eliza reads one page in her chapter book, which is a big deal for her but was her own idea, and Caroline does a lesson from Reading Made Easy or reads me a Bob book. Eliza does her Writing With Ease lesson (10 minutes tops) and maybe some mapwork from the country we're studying for geography club or from our The Story of the World chapter. She loves coloring maps. :-) Other than that, the girls like to do crafts, bake things when my sanity allows, or play imaginary games together, which I try not to interrupt. 

Around 12:30 or 1:00, we have lunch. One of the kids helps me fix it, and I'd love to say we all sit down to eat together while I read poetry to them or show them some paintings online, but in reality, that happens irregularly. 

After lunch, we have an hour of Quiet Time. In a perfect world, the kids read or listen to books on CD in utter silence, never interrupting my time to check email, write on my blog, read, etc. Note that I said "in a perfect world." 

After Quiet Time, we often have somewhere to go -- taekwondo at the Y twice a week, Cub Scouts two or three times a month, a get-together with friends, etc. Some days the neighborhood kids are over to play. And again, some days the schedule's a bit different because our extracurricular happens earlier, but in general I try to be home in the morning so we have a good rhythm to the day. And we often use the driving time for listening to The Story of the World or a longer book on tape.

Then it's home for dinner (we eat around 7:00), a quick cleanup from the chaos we've created along our journey of wonder and excitement (we often set the egg timer for 10 minutes), stories with Dad, a math lesson for Ian and Dad, and bed. Yeah, they go to bed kind of late. Later than I'd like, really. But since we rarely have somewhere to be first thing in the morning, it all works out. And we still get an hour or maybe two of downtime before adult bedtime, a.k.a. "Mom is Now a Zombie Time."

There you go! Your spy mission in our household has been successfully concluded. Thanks for coming along on today's Adventure in Dillerland! 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Must Remember This

Note to self:

When they fight over who gets the green (old, plastic, Ikea) plate ...
who adds the cheese packet to the pan of Annie's Mac 'n' Cheese ...
who gets the prime real estate on the couch first thing in the morning ...
or who uses the straws from someone's Brand New Box (because as we all know, straws are Very Valuable Stuff) ...

You must remember this. 

And this. 

And this. 

Forever and ever, Amen. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Inn at East Hill Farm

As y'all  know, I'm very bossy and like to tell you where you should take your families for day trips or vacations. Prepare to be bossed right now. Because I simply must tell you about the pinch-me-is-this-for-real weekend we spent in Troy, New Hampshire at the Inn at East Hill Farm.

Unfortunately, not only am I bossy, but I'm also a bloomin' idjit. Can you believe I left my camera battery charging happily away at my parents' house in Massachusetts while we drove up to New Hampshire for two days?

Fortunately, the nice folks at the Inn agreed to let me lift a few photos from their Facebook page. Also, I took photos with my phone, which should no doubt win some travel photography awards.

We arrived New Year's Day, right in time to catch the second half of the Inn's special New Year's Weekend for families (they have lots of Special Weekends for Families). And when I say "we," I mean the Professor, myself, the three little wanderers (ages 10, 7 and 5) and my brother and his wife. Here's what we did during the first 24 hours:

1. Eat (all meals were included in our room rate)
2. Make food sculptures (an organized activity for the girls' age group)
3. Drink hot chocolate and eat homemade doughnuts at a campfire in the woods.
4. Dip candles
5. Feed the goats, sheep and pigs with bags of day-old bread
6. Eat
7. Learn to contra dance -- yes, the whole family. My brother is currently down on his knees thanking the good Lord that that camera battery was AWOL the whole weekend. (But I loved how eager guests of all ages plunged into these activities!)
8. Play board games borrowed from the front desk
9. Sleep
10. Eat
11. Check for eggs in the henhouse
12. Enter a snowman-building contest (the boy)
13. Ride ponies (the girls)
14. Eat
15. Milk the cows and goats
16. Try snowshoeing in the woods with rented equipment, until the familiar yowls began: "My legs hurt ... Can we go baaaaaaack?" Kids these days.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, every single other guest left the premises. One minute they were there, filling the dining room with boisterous life, and then the next minute, it was just us, rattling around with the innkeepers. Innkeeper Sherri very nicely upgraded us for free to a deluxe suite of rooms where we had our own fireplace. Now, we're not really that hard to please? But let me tell you: We were very, very pleased.

We spent the next 24 hours or so continuing to eat -- alone in the huge dining room with our friendly servers -- and swim a little in the indoor pool, but otherwise hanging out by the fireplace, reading books, and playing board games. It felt like a family retreat: no distractions from chores, Internet, cell phones (limited service up there in the woods) -- just us cozied up in a room with the pleasure of one another's company. I think the memory of that time, and the perfect balance of wholesome, low-tech activity and warm repose will certainly endure.

Note #1: My grandmother took my family to this Inn when I was about nine years old. My brother and I were gratified to find that the important things (fritters at mealtime, for example) hadn't changed. Now my kids will have their own set of delicious memories, and they're already clamoring to return!

Note #2: This was not a sponsored trip. We were just regular guests, paying our own way, and no one at the Inn asked me to review the place. Just so we're clear. Over and out.