December 30, 2005

Home School Report

Now that Christmas is over and we are nearly finished with our "vacation" (which has consisted of Ted's being off work all week this week and working short days last week), it's time to start thinking about home school again! I decided it would be good to give ourselves a general assessment of where we are and how we are doing.

I think perhaps the most telling thing is that Charis has been begging me this week to start school again! We did a light school schedule last week--just Sonlight reading, no math or handwriting. This week, while I had thought we could go ahead and do the Sonlight reading, we have been doing so many other fun things that I decided to just skip a week completely. We've enjoyed putting together new puzzles from Christmas, reading new books (both Christmas presents and new selections from the library), playing new games as a family, and generally relaxing while the kids construct some new creation out of their various toys. So, all in all, we have still had educational experiences throughout the week--but we have not done a thing as far as continuing our "official" curriculum, and that's just fine with me!

So, here is our report card:

Charis is on lesson 28 out of 30 lessons in the Math-U-See primer book. I'm so glad I got the Alpha book when I placed our order, as it looks like we will be starting it sometime in January. However, we will be taking some time to thoroughly review what she has gone through, since it has been 2 weeks since we've done any lessons or practice pages. Plus, we kind of left off in the middle of the telling-time lesson, and she still gets the hours and minutes mixed up. There's no need to rush her through anything, especially when I think this math book was supposed to last during the whole kindergarten year! Other than a few problems with telling time, Charis can now do the following:

* Count by 2's
* Count by 5's
* Count by 10's
* Determine area of a figure by skip counting by 2's, 5's, or 10's
* Convert a numeral to tally marks and vice versa
* Determine place value--units, tens, and hundreds--and even do simple adding (no carrying yet, though!)
* Add tens and hundreds (40 + 40 = 80, 200 + 300 = 500)
* Solve for an unknown (What plus 3 equals 10?)

Her adding is coming along well. She uses the manipulatives, so it is self-correcting. This level does not get into memorizing addition facts, though she has picked some up on her own just through the practice.

So, all in all, math is coming along well. It is one of Charis' favorite things to do, and we begin our home school day by doing math. The boys both love to play with the math blocks as well, but they aren't allowed to play during Charis' lessons!

Charis is nearly finished with the kindergarten level of A Reason for Handwriting. This book focuses on one letter per day, with periodic review pages. After practicing the letter on one side of the page, Charis colors a picture on the back side that begins with the focus letter. The emphasis for this year is God's creation, and we get to read a short paragraph about whatever animal or part of nature she is coloring that day. Since Charis has previously learned to write her letters, she is going through this book faster than she would if she were starting from scratch. But I don't mind her doing a lesson every day, and I already have the next level of book when she's ready. However, the next book takes a big jump as far as the line spacing...the kindergarten book has nice, wide lines, and the next book has the lines about half the distance from top to bottom as the ones she is working on now! It seems a big jump to expect her to begin writing such small letters so soon, so I think we will do some transitional activities using practice manuscript paper before going on to the next book.

We finished Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons back in October, and I didn't start anything else after that. When we had time, I would just have Charis read some stories to me that she picked out or that I picked out for her. However, I recently purchased Phonics Pathways and just today read through the introduction and skimmed through the first part of the book to get a feel for how it is laid out. It was recommended as something to use following 100 EZ Lessons, though it will take some getting used to on my part. I plan to start at the beginning, even though it will be very elementary for Charis. But it will soon begin giving her practice with blends, and we can work as quickly or as slowly as we want to. I've noticed that since we have stopped the 100 EZ Lessons book, she can get kind of lazy with sounding out new words, instead relying on Ted or me to tell her what a word is. I'm not opposed to doing that, but there are definitely words that I think she should be able to sound out on her own! This book also introduces spelling rules and incorporates dictation exercises into the instruction. I think this will be helpful (and will double as handwriting practice), as she is into writing letters and notes (and "lists" like Mommy does!) and asks us how to spell things all the time, words that I know she would easily be able to read and can probably spell if she just takes the time to think about the sounds. So, I look forward to seeing how this will enhance her reading skills and introduce her to new concepts. She does read quite fluently, and I must confess that we are not so surprised anymore when she sits down and reads us a new library book for the first time! But proud, oh, yes!

All 3 children get pretty much the same Bible instruction every day. During breakfast we read a Bible story from a Ken Taylor book (we have several!) and discuss it. Actually, we usually read 2 stories, though we "cut back" to one story during December when we were also doing our advent calendar and daily Christmas story readings. In addition, Charis memorizes at least one verse a week for her AWANA program, and there is also a memory verse each week through the Sonlight program. We recently began a book called Right Choices, which has a reading once a week that teaches a moral choice and incorporates the memory verse. Recent concepts have included the importance of telling the truth, not stealing, and giving thanks.

Social Studies, Science, and Literature--
Sonlight's curriculum gives us the rest of the "stuff!" We have readings every day from a wonderful variety of books. We are nearly finished with the Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature, so soon we will begin reading other science books. Likewise, we are almost finished with Usborne's delightful Things People Do book that has introduced the children to a variety of occupations. (I've even learned a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff with various careers!) Literature readings include pages from The Real Mother Goose, a Treasury of Children's Literature, a Treasury of 20th Century Children's Literature, and a Treasury of Little Golden Books. We recently started looking at pages from an art book for children, too, and that has been pretty neat. All in all, I am very pleased with the selections we have received from Sonlight! Next year I'll be going through them again with Tobin, though I will probably follow a different schedule, one that is themed each week, just so we have some variety.

Well, that's an update, for the bravehearted who were interested in our home school progress for the year!

December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas to All!

Our family enjoyed a wonderful Christmas! On Friday evening we went to the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Cactus Gardens for an amazing light display (about a half million lights, draped about 300 varieties of cacti...not something you see any old place at Christmas time!). It was so warm out Ted only wore short sleeves! The kids and I still wore light jackets, but it was nice to enjoy strolling about the garden without shivering. We went inside for a brief tour of the chocolate factory, but as it was past operating hours, we could only read the displays on the walls. It looks like a fun place to go back and visit, and based on the free samples we enjoyed, I'm sure we could pack away a few extra pounds if we visited too often!

Our church did not have services on Christmas Day, holding instead one service Friday evening and six--yes, SIX--services on Christmas Eve. I volunteered in the pre-school department at the 6:30 p.m. service, and Ted and the children, along with some neighbor friends from down the street, joined me for the 8 p.m. service. Ted and I had wrapped all the remaining presents Friday evening, so all we had left to do when we got the kids in bed was assemble the Radio Flyer wagon my aunt Judith sent for the kids, stuff the stockings, and set the table for breakfast.

We allowed ourselves to sleep until about 6:45 a.m. on Christmas Day, then both showered and did our quiet times while the house was still quiet! At about 8:15 we decided we were ready to wake the children up. As we don't expect they will stay asleep on Christmas morning for too many more years, we enjoyed waking them with a Merry Christmas and watching the realization dawn on their faces--yes, TODAY is CHRISTMAS!!

As has always been the tradition at my house growing up, we allowed the children to open their stockings first. Charis, in her excitement, gave her stocking a great yank, not thinking about the fact that the stocking holder just might not stay in place. So she began her day with a few tears and a couple of scratches on her chin, but that was forgotten as she discovered the goodies tucked away in her sock.

Next we enjoyed a simple breakfast with homemade crockpot applesauce and toast, followed by the final reading of our Christmas advent calendar. The kids had been looking forward to putting Baby Jesus in the manger, the final of the 25 figures on the calendar. However, now that the Big Day had arrived, Tobin found himself much more interested in the colorful packages under the tree, and it was all we could do to keep him from tearing into them. Charis and Arden took turns putting Baby Jesus in the manger, and then we handed out the presents.

We did pretty well the first few rounds, starting with Arden and taking turns watching each other unwrap gifts. Then Arden unwrapped what was probably the least expensive gift he received--a package of 3 little nerf-like balls--and he was finished! He is a ball fanatic and spent the rest of the time running around the house happily announcing, "I got football!" "I throw the ball!" and so on. So we continued in our opening, losing Tobin when he got to the Bob the Builder Leap Pad book. (Insert Bob the Builder theme music here.)
Charis, Ted and I continued unwrapping, asking the boys now and then if they were ready to join us. Tobin eventually did, and we ended up "helping" Arden unwrap his remaining presents. He did leave the balls for awhile so he could work a new puzzle, but then went right back to his running, kicking, and throwing.

Having gone through 5 Christmases with children now, we were prepared for that to happen--losing interest in unwrapping presents because of the excitement of one just opened. I remember a couple years ago I was so stressed out because Tobin was not feeling well and didn't want to open any presents at all. I've learned a lot about children since then, and I was prepared for us to open presents all day if necessary, or to not even worry about opening them. And so it was a much more enjoyable experience, and I honestly feel that I delighted more in watching the children with their new treasures than in the receiving, though I must say that I am thankful for the gifts that I did get. Still, I can't help but think that the best gift is that the children have some NEW activities, including a plethora of puzzles (ranging from 24-piece to 100-piece), books, building-type blocks, and family games. This is a lifesaver for a home schooling mother, especially with pre-schoolers to keep busy!

I just have to include this picture here--Tobin went through a lion-roaring phase back in Maryland, about the time that Ted's brother Joel and his wife Sarah were visiting us. When Joel and Sarah took a trip to Las Vegas (long before we moved here), they spent some time at MGM Grand and found this lion hat. Of course they had to get it for Tobin, who loves it even though he hasn't been on his roaring kick in awhile.

After some of the noise and excitement had waned, we popped in a new Veggie Tales DVD, The Lord of the Beans, and enjoyed watching that as our ham finished baking and the make-ahead potatoes were heating. As HUGE LOTR fans, Ted and I got many a chuckle out of the parody, and the kids seemed to enjoy the episode too, though Charis got a little upset at seeing the evil sporks. When she realized that they were simply utensils, AND that they became nice in the end, she was satisfied.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner of ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and dressing. Too bad the kids only liked the ham! Actually, Tobin did say he liked the green bean casserole, though he didn't completely finish it. Still, he was the only one to eat any! After dinner we set out for a walk with the boys in the new wagon (Charis wanted to ride her bike), only to come back when Arden threw a screaming fit because I wasn't carrying him. Ted had been pulling the wagon, and Arden seems to think that if my hands are empty, he needs to remedy that. The whole point of a walk was NOT to wear myself out carrying a toddler, so we decided that Ted should stay home and put Arden down for his nap while I went out with Charis and Tobin. The weather was sunny and beautiful, probably 65 degrees or so, and the exercise was nice.

When we returned home, I enjoyed a 2 1/2 hour nap!! Didn't think I was so tired, but obviously I was! Ted had fun with a computer game, the boys napped, and Charis colored happily in a Nativity coloring book the kids got at church on Christmas Eve. Then our neighbors down the street invited us to come over for munchies, so we headed down there to help them eat up some finger foods and enjoyed dessert and conversation as well. Before putting the kids to bed, we read the entire Advent Book, opening up ALL of the 25 doors. It put the finishing touch on the Day as we remembered together that Baby Jesus came into the world because GOD so loved us that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. [You can see Charis here with her special gift from Mom and Dad, her very own Bible!]

So, all in all, it was a very full, fun, blessed Christmas Day! We hope you all had as much of a wonderful celebration as we did.

December 22, 2005

Peace on Earth

This afternoon the children were playing outside. (Yes, outside on December 22...winter in Las Vegas is a good thing, unless one is hoping for a white Christmas!) Several times they came bursting into the kitchen to tattle on one another. I finally said, "Look, you guys need to be peacemakers. You need to learn to work things out with one another. Be kind to each other and please stop tattling!"

Awhile later I heard voices through the open window. Charis was shouting at her brothers, "You MUST have peace on earth!" I guess they are taking our words to heart! Plus, the words of the Christmas story that we've been reading daily!!

December 21, 2005

Cute Charis

A couple of cute things Charis said yesterday:

After listening to the sounds of Bing Crosby singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" on the radio in the van, Charis decided, "That must be Santa!" (Note that our children do not believe in Santa...I guess she decided that even though he doesn't bring us presents, he obviously records Christmas songs!)

Tobin asked, "Charis, do you want to be a princess when you grow up?"

Charis replied, "NO! A MOMMY!" (This said with a look that clearly indicated Tobin was silly for forgetting her one ambition in life!)

December 20, 2005

Christmas Is Comin'!'s been over 2 weeks since I last posted anything on here. We are past the mad whirlwind of baking, shopping, wrapping, and mailing--at least, we are for the most part--and so far this week has been a welcome change to the hectic activity of the last 2 weeks. I vow that next year I will at least finish stamping our Christmas cards by the end of November! Getting our cards out is the last major Christmas project (unless you count wrapping the children's presents, which will probably happen Christmas Eve...we don't yet trust them to leave gifts alone until the big day!), and I am working on those in small batches throughout the week. At 148 names, our mailing list just keeps getting longer with each place we move to!

One of the joys of this season has been having children old enough to remember Christmases past--their enthusiasm started the evening of Thanksgiving when we went to the Magical Forest Christmas display at Opportunity Village and hasn't waned since. We have begun two new Christmas traditions this year. The first is a special advent calendar we got from Desiring God ministries. It is burlap with velcro for placing the nativity figures on, one figure per day. It comes with a story written out that you read every day--beginning with Day 1, you read the first paragraph, then Day 2 you begin again and add the next sentence, etc. It is brief enough that the children's attention stays rapt, and they love shouting out the words of the figures we have put up on the calendar already, kind of like a fill-in-the-blank story. It's been fun to watch them progress from following my lead to following Charis (who could probably quote the whole story by now), and now the boys don't even need to wait for her before chiming in. They all, even Arden, shout out the words on cue! (Although Arden is about 2 beats behind on the more recent words, which is also very cute.) We do the calendar activity after breakfast in the mornings, and the kids always know whose turn it is to put up the day's figurine!

The other new tradition we have begun is the Advent Book. It is similar to the calendar in that the story begins from Day 1 every day, adding a new part at the end. The book has beautiful illustrations, with doors to open each day that reveal the illustration for that part of the story. The language for the storyline is beautiful and rich--taken directly from Scripture for the most part--whereas the calendar story is geared more toward young children. We gather on the couch after dinner in the evening to read in the Advent Book, and the children take turns opening the doors and turning the pages. This has become a treasured time as a family and helps us center our celebration on Christ, the reason for Christmas!

December 05, 2005

More Cute Quotes

OK, I have to type this out before I forget it, because it is too precious. I was tucking Tobin into bed for his nap (praise God, he has been doing extremely well with naps lately...I'm so glad I didn't give up!) just a little while ago. He always wants me to give him "hugs from the people," which means a hug from Mommy and Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa K, Grandma and Grandpa J, Grandma and Grandpa F (never mind that two of the grandpas are in heaven already), Uncle Joel and Auntie Sarah, Uncle John and Auntie Beth, and Uncle Clint and Auntie Ski. I've learned to say these names really fast, by the way. :-) Today we chatted a little bit more after our hug session. I asked him who loved him most of all, and he said, "God!"

"That's right! Because God made you, and He has a special plan for your life."

"Really? What is it?"

"We don't know, sweetie! We just have to wait and see what God wants to do in your life."

He gasped, and his eyes got very big. "Is it a surprise?!"

I laughed. "Yes, I guess you could say it is!"


Another cute thing said recently, but I forgot until I was typing out all the names above...this one is a Charis quote. We were making Christmas presents for her to give to the grandmas, and she said she wanted to make one for Grandpa K. I told her that was fine, but to be aware that our materials were not going to last if she wanted to make a present for EVERYONE she knows. (I could just see her wanting to make something for everyone on our mailing list.) She said, "I know, 'cuz Grandpa J and Grandpa F are in heaven."

Then she thought a minute. "Is Grandpa K going to heaven soon?" I guess she thought that because 2 grandpas (Ted's dad and grandpa) are in heaven already, obviously the other grandpa may be headed there soon, too!

At any rate, how does one answer this?! "I hope not?" The children know we look forward to being with Jesus and our loved ones in heaven some day, but I'm not ready to lose my dad yet! I don't exactly remember what I told her, but I think it was along the lines of God knows, and we don't, so let's not worry about it!!

December 02, 2005

Kid Funnies

I've been wanting to start a notebook with cute things the kids say, but it hasn't happened yet. I thought I'd share a few funnies that have come out of the kids' mouths over the last few days...

Ted, looking at a painting Charis did of our family in which the Daddy figure has three long strands of hair sticking up from his head, observes, "Oh, my, it looks like Daddy has a red mohawk."

Charis, who has no idea what a mohawk is, corrects him: "No, it's orange like Mommy's."

Driving in unfamiliar territory, I spot a Cheesecake Factory. When I murmer "Oh, yum," Tobin asks me what I'm saying. "Oh, I just saw one of my favorite restaurants."

He gasps. "Burger King?!" OK, just 'cuz it makes your top 3 list doesn't mean it's even ON my list of favorites, Sweetie! I think Tobin is just enamoured with the paper crowns he can get from BK.

Wednesday evening Arden had a cold, and I didn't want to put him in the nursery. I took him to the service with me (Ted just started helping with the youth group on Wednesdays), and he was awed by the church experience. I don't believe he has ever been in a service, other than when he was a newborn, and he was fascinated with the music and lights. When the music began, however, he turned to me and said with a very concerned look, "LOUD!" Is this really Ted's son?!

He was also interested in the lights--when they would dim, he would shout, "Lights off!" When they came back up, he informed us, "Lights on!"

The last song we sang, which was during communion, repeated the chorus several times. By now Arden had gotten the hang of things, and with each repetition he looked at me and grinned, "Do it again!" Yup, kiddo, we will do this again several times before all is said and done! Probably more times than your Grandpa K would like, but hey, we're worshipping here!

Last night I took the older 2 kids to a friend's house for a gingerbread-house decorating party. I've never made one before, and I was very excited to share this new experience with the kids. Tobin and Charis had "helped" (or at least watched with oohs and aahs) as I "glued" the house together the day before, and I had been prepping them for our decorating party by explaining what we would be doing. However, at Julie's house Tobin was off in his own little world. I pulled him aside and asked him, "Aren't you going to help us decorate our house?"


"Then why did I bring you?"

His absolutely serious reply: "So I could eat candy!"

And eat candy he did...when he realized Mom was no longer allowing goodies, he discovered the plates in the kitchen with various treats we all brought to share for the decorating. Who knows HOW much sugar the child consumed when I wasn't looking!!

I'll post a picture of our masterpiece after I get around to taking one. It turned out very nice, and Charis at least had a grand time helping me. :-)

December 01, 2005

Encouragement from Paul

A couple of days ago I read 1 Timothy 5-6 as part of my devotions. The Bible reading program Ted and I use goes through the Scriptures in one year, with the New Testament repeated. I remember back in May or June stumbling across a verse that was very encouraging and sort of forgot about it until I read it again this time.

It's funny how you can read something numerous times and it won't strike you until you are in a different life phase or circumstance. Such is the case with this verse, 1 Tim. 5:10. The context involves exhortations and advice written by Paul to Timothy regarding widows, elders, and slaves--so no wonder I didn't exactly jump on this in my younger days. :-) If you back up to verse 9, actually, here is what the NIV says: "No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds" (emphasis added).

Did you catch that?! Bringing up children is a good deed! And it's at the top of the list!!

Never mind the fact that I'm not a widow--this passage speaks to me loudly and clearly. I am doing what God wants me to do: I am being faithful to my husband and bringing up children. If, like me, you have days when you wonder how your life can possibly matter when all it seems to consist of is laundry, groceries, and whining, take heart! You are doing a good thing...WE are doing a good thing!

November 26, 2005

Blessed Thanksgiving!

This post is two days after the fact, but we wanted to wish everyone a belated happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! We had an absolutely wonderful day. We started our week emphasizing thankfulness with the children...Charis helped Rhonda and me trace and cut out construction-paper leaves, and each night at dinner we would all write something on a leaf that we were thankful for. Then we taped the leaves to the pantry doors, near the verse Charis wrote for handwriting practice, Psalm 105:1, "Thank the Lord for all the glorious things He does." The kids looked forward to putting more leaves on the doors each day, and I think it will become an annual tradition at our house!

On Wednesday Ted got to come home around 10:30 in the morning to pick us all up and take us back to the squadron for their Thanksgiving lunch. They did the whole deal, with multiple turkeys and hams, etc.! People brought in dishes, and it was quite a spread. There are a lot of young, single airmen who can't afford to go home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so this WAS Thanksgiving for many of them. We enjoyed our food and a tour of the TTF (threat training facility) afterward, in which the kids went wild and crazy climbing on tanks, trucks, helicopters, etc.! So, if you ever come to visit Las Vegas, you can take a tour with Ted and see such things for yourself!

On Thanksgiving Day we hosted our friends Brad and Dana and their children Matthew and Gracie. It was fun to share the cooking, and we enjoyed turkey and gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin cheesecake courtesy of their family, and we contributed a ham, cheesy potatoes, butternut squash puree (a new recipe, and definitely a keeper!), and an apple pie. YUM! We spent time in prayer beforehand and then dug right in! The R's were planning to leave for California later in the day, so we ate around noon, and just after they left it was time for naps (for the kids) and a relaxing afternoon cheering on the Denver Broncos--woohoo!

After a very light dinner, Rhonda, Ted and I took the kids to the Magical Forest, sponsored by Opportunity Village, a Nevada charity. If you go to the web site you can view a video of some of the activities. But anyway, it was a beautiful night, not too cold at all, and the children really enjoyed the amazing displays of trees, lights, and decorations. Since Thanksgiving was opening night, it was actually not too crowded, so we got tickets for the carousel and re-used them (with permission!) for a total of 3 rides! I think that was definitely the kids' favorite part, though the walk through the "Forest" itself was also a lot of fun.
Having seen candles blown out on my birthday cake and at the Thanksgiving table, Arden apparently assumed that the Christmas lights were also meant to be blown out, and he spent quite a bit of time trying to do just that as soon as we stepped inside the forest! It was very cute to watch him huffing and puffing and then turning to us with a puzzled look to say, "Blow it out!" Once he realized his efforts were in vain, he turned his attention to every spherical ornament or decoration on the entire campus. He is obsessed with balls, and he found plenty to keep him happy!

On Friday the fun continued. Ted's Uncle Rande and Aunt Jo had driven from Montana to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day and crashed at a hotel that evening, so they came over to our place for breakfast on Friday. Then we loaded everyone up and drove down to the Strip. We saw the white tiger and "rain forest" at the Mirage and had lunch at Planet Hollywood (NOT our first choice, but unfortunately, there was a 90-minute wait for the Cheesecake Factory. We also watched the fountains at the Bellagio again, but this was the kids' first time to see them. It was neat, because the song this time was "O Holy Night." Interesting to hear THAT song in the middle of Sin City!!

After much walking around and seeing the sights, it was time to come home. We enjoyed dinner (yummy leftovers!), then put the kids to bed early and learned how to play 5-handed Pinochle! It was a great way to end the week.

Rhonda flew home this morning, and we are now winding down from all the festivities. I've done some Christmas shopping online and am getting excited for the holiday season!

November 23, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me...

I haven't posted much here lately, but there's good reason for that--we've been busy doing fun stuff! Ted's mom, Rhonda, flew in on Saturday, and we are all thrilled to have Grandma J here for Thanksgiving. The children kept her hopping as they did the ol' show-and-tell routine..."Grandma, come see my room!" "Grandma, look at this!" "Grandma, I want to show you my..."

Sunday afternoon I did a stamping party, and when I returned the kids, Ted, and Rhonda surprised me with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." They had gone birthday shopping for me while I was out, and, figuring the kids would not be able to keep a secret until my actual birthday (the 22nd), decided to begin the birthday festivities early. I received a Baby Blues treasury, which is fitting since Ted and I have grown to love this comic strip now that we are parents, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal does not carry it. Also in my bag was an "Anguished English" daily calendar for 2006, which should provide much amusement if the blurbs on the back of the box are any indication. Among the bloopers and blunders are:

"Handmade gifts for the hard-to-find person."
"The manager has personally passed all the water served here."
"This is Leningrad Airport, and You Are Welcome to It."

And then we all enjoyed ice cream cake from TCBY. Chocolate and peanut butter...mmmm! They know what I like!

So yesterday, my actual birthday, Rhonda had a card waiting for me at breakfast that said new stamping shelves would be arriving that day. Yay! The shelves I had previously been using to hold my stamp sets toppled over one day, and my stamp sets have been in disarray since. The shelving unit was not actually designed to be used for holding stamp sets, as it was made by my dad during my college days to fit on my college desk, with space right above the desk for my bulletin board. We then used foam tape to secure it to the cinder block walls, which made it quite useful and sturdy at the time. But a free-standing shelf holding thousands of stamps...not so much.

In the evening Rhonda babysat for us while we went to the Strip for dinner at the Excalibur's show, "Tournament of Kings." It's in an arena where we watch and participate in a highly imaginative display of medieval antics. We feasted on tomato soup (drunk from tureens, as there is no silverware here!), a cornish hen (yes, a whole one, and no, I couldn't eat all of mine), broccoli spears, and potato logs, with apple danishes for dessert. We were assigned a section and cheered for the appropriate king--or, in our case, the evil dragon knight. It was strange cheering for the bad guy!

Anyway, the show was lots of fun, and we were impressed with the choreography, as each sword clank coincided perfectly with the sound effects. Definitely one of the more family-friendly shows in Las Vegas, I am sure!

During this time Ted gave me an envelope with a cute card (no, not stamped, but cute nonetheless!) saying he had had a difficult time shopping for me since I had said I didn't really need anything. He decided that time would mean the most to me, and he was right! He plans to reserve time for me at a spa for a massage and whatnot, followed by a date night, with him making arrangements for the sitter and everything! That is definitely a wonderful, thoughtful gift, and I am very thankful for such a dear husband!! He knows my love language is quality time and conversation!!

After the show, we walked down the Strip and watched the fountains at the Bellagio, then went through the maze of Caesar's Palace, heading for the Cheesecake Factory. We stopped to look around in FAO Schwartz and spent quite a bit of time looking at toys! But this was our downfall, as we realized when we went to the Cheesecake Factory and discovered it was a half-hour wait to get in. And this on a cold November Tuesday night!! Since it was 9:00 already, and we had a long walk back to the car, we decided to skip it and just come home for more ice cream cake. :-) We caught another fountain show on the way back and managed to avoid eye contact with the men trying to pass out girlie flyers. Sigh... There are fun things on the Strip that don't involve sin, BUT it is impossible to escape the evidence from the things that do.

So, that was my birthday. Oh, and I also received a VERY lovely collection of stamped cards (thank you, everyone who took time to stamp for me!), plus some birthday money that I will likely use to either purchase a table for my stamp classes or else new shoes. :-)

November 18, 2005

Bonnie Springs Field Trip

On Tuesday we went with our play group to Bonnie Springs, a beautiful place about 30 minutes outside of the city in the Red Rocks Canyon area. There is a petting zoo, an old mining town replica, horse rides, a miniature train, and more. Unfortunately, most of the attractions are now weekend only, so all we did was go through the extensive petting zoo area. The children were delighted, however, and we spent a delightful hour wandering around, petting, feeding, and chortling at the animals. Among the critters we saw were burros, llamas, rabbits, roosters, chickens, pigs, goats, deer, miniature ponies, cows, wolves, hedgehogs, guinea pigs...and a few who were distinctive enough that I don't remember them, never having heard of their species before!

The animals are well fed, as you can see. The deer here were so fat that there would be no running away if danger were imminent, so it was a good thing the wolves were NOT free to wander as so many of the other animals were. Although we didn't bring any coins to buy food from the dispensers, other moms were generous enough to share with Charis and Tobin, who felt no shame in begging quarters so they could feed the greedy animals nuzzling at their hands. Arden just toddled along, squealing and patting wherever he found a soft patch of fur. I personally enjoyed the drive to and from Bonnie Springs, and we decided that we definitely must go back on a Saturday when Ted can go with us and when the train is running and other things are happening.

November 16, 2005


I finished my early morning jog with my new running partner and was walking the half-mile or so back to our house, breathing in the crisp, cool November air. As I turned onto the street that would take me to our neighborhood, I noticed the bright moon, a full moon, or "cookie moon," as we call it at our house (not to be confused with a "watermelon moon" or a "banana moon"). The moon was beautiful, and so bright that it almost hurt my eyes to look at it.

The heavens declare the glory of God...

When does the moon shine the brightest? When it is a full moon--this is the only time it can fully reflect the glory and brilliance of the sun. Of course we can still see reflection from a half moon or crescent moon, and we can faintly trace the outline of a new moon. But to really see on a dark have any glimpse of how bright the sun must be on the other side of the world...we look to the full moon.

When can I shine the most for my Heavenly Father? When I am full of the Holy Spirit--this is the time I can best reflect the glory and brilliance of the Son. Oh, I may reflect a little glory, a little light, here and there, but only when I empty myself and allow the Holy Spirit to fill me up can I shine completely for God's glory.

Dear Lord, fill me with your Holy Spirit today and let me reflect You to everyone I meet.

November 15, 2005

The Invisible Woman

Yesterday at MOPS we watched a video clip of...a really funny lady whose name I can't remember...who was speaking at a Women of Faith conference. She did a sketch called the Invisible Woman. I won't even try to reproduce her humorous take on being invisible in the family, such as when she tells kids to turn the TV down and nothing happens, or when no one says anything about a wonderful spread at the dinner table other than "There's no butter."

What really spoke to me was when she shared about the time a friend of hers who had traveled to Europe gave her a gorgeous book about cathedrals. As she was going through and looking at the pictures of these beautiful, amazing structures, she noticed that nearly all of them said "Builder: Unknown." It struck her what she was really doing with her life was not simply cooking and cleaning...she was building a cathedral, a work of art that would continue to be worked on long after she is gone.

This really convicted often do I clean the house hoping to receive earthly praise for it? Or "sacrifice" my time for my family so that I will be thanked for it? Shouldn't I really be working for my Heavenly Father, serving my family because I want to serve Him? The speaker noted that invisibility is not the disease--it is the cure for the disease of self-centeredness. When I am honest with myself, I realize that much of my "service" is really self-driven. May God remind me everyday that I am building a cathedral for HIS glory.

November 13, 2005

Veterans Day Air Show

Being in Las Vegas for Veterans Day definitely has its advantages. For one thing, the weather here was absolutely beautiful! But more importantly, we had the opportunity to celebrate and remember our veterans by attending the last air show of the season, Aviation Nation. November 11 was a special Military Appreciation Day, so we were able to attend without the overwhelming numbers of people who came in on Saturday and Sunday, which was very nice with our three little ones. Tobin was thrilled by absolutely everything, from the 37 mm anti-aircraft cannon to the SA-8 Surface-to-Air missile system (which all 3 kids and Daddy crawled inside) to the MH-60 rescue helicopter. You can see his cheesy grin here as he sits in the front of the rescue helicopter, showing his delight at being able to push all the buttons and not get in trouble. :-)

We spent a total of about 5 1/2 hours wandering around on the flightline, way longer than I thought we would last, but the kids loved every bit of the show--with the exception of the extremely LOUD Harrier demonstration! Well, to be fair, they liked watching the plane but didn't like the noise. We found ear plugs after that, though Charis was the only one who would wear hers. As Tobin was able to cover his ears by himself, I was mostly concerned about Arden...he let me cover his ears SOME of the time. Anyway, the Harrier, for those who don't know, is a jet that can take off vertically, hover, and fly sideways and backwards. It is very cool to watch, but quite hard on the ears.

We sat in the stands to watch some of the demonstrations after munching cheeseburgers and corn dogs (mmmmm, a little slice of America right there, albeit a greasy one). A lady had given us all little flags to wave as we were looking at some of the static displays, and in the bleachers the kids finally got into holding theirs and waving them about. It's actually a small miracle that no eyes were poked out, since Arden was by far the most enchanted with his flag and waved it vigorously for all to see. I don't even think he was watching the planes at this point, which is probably a good thing, because then surely someone would have been blinded before it was all over.

One of the coolest demonstrations involved representative planes from different war eras: a red-tailed P-51 from WWII, an F-4 from Vietnam, and an F-22, the newest fighter being used today.

But probably the highlight of the day was seeing the Thunderbirds in all their glory. Their show was at the end, and of course well worth the wait. I think the last time I saw their show was when we were stationed in San Angelo. Even waiting for them to take off was exciting--a movie-like soundtrack played, with the announcer waxing eloquent about our freedom fighters. Watching the six F-16s zip into the air and perform their amazing stunts kinda makes ya proud to be an American! When the show was over, we headed home, and during the half-hour drive, Arden conked out and didn't even wake up when I unbuckled him and carried him up to his bed. He was one tired little guy. In fact, we all were! But it was a wonderful way to spend the holiday.

Thank you, Veterans! Thank you, active duty soldiers! God bless you and your families, and God bless America!

November 11, 2005

A Good Home School Day

Recently I've been singing the praises of a home schooling mom's resource titled Managers of Their Homes. I finally finished a draft of our family's schedule on Tuesday night, and Wednesday we officially implemented it. Of course, we had been roughly following a basic routine, but having everything written out brought things together more tightly and actually allowed us to do more than we would "normally" do. Plus, having activity changes about every half hour meant the children were not getting restless and bored, which usually leads to LOTS of sibling rivalry!

So I thought I'd outline how our day went, for those who are interested in what our daily schedule looks like. It will be interesting to save our schedule worksheets over time and see how our routines change as the children grow older, but for now, this seems to be a reasonable schedule for us, one that allows us to participate in a variety of activities on a regular basis, rather than whenever Mom feels like it!

First, a caveat: This schedule is a "typical" day for us. Unfortunately, we often do not have typical days! Every other Monday morning I attend MOPS at our church, and on the off Mondays our group likes to get together, which I will do if it involves meeting for lunch or close to the lunch hour so that it doesn't cut into our school time. Tuesday mornings I sometimes meet with another group of friends for a play group. Sometimes it is just letting kids play together at someone's home, and sometimes (like this coming Tuesday) it is more of a field trip, and I do like to participate in those--very educational! Next week we are going to Bonnie Springs, and that will surely warrant a post on here with pictures! Thursdays we like to go to the library for story time at 11 a.m. and to get new books, but I try to keep it to every other week simply because of the distance to the library here. Gas has come down to $2.45 a gallon, but still... And then there are trips to the commissary for groceries, a two-hour ordeal with drive time and shopping time. Still, it does seem that we are home more often than we are not, and that is a good thing.

So here is how our day went on Wednesday, and how typical days will likely go unless I discover that I need to change something about the schedule...

5:30 a.m. I wake up and shower. (This has to change...I'm supposed to get up at 5 a.m. to exercise!)

6:00 Quiet time while sipping hot green tea, made by my dear husband

6:45 Computer time--check email

7:00 Browse the newspaper, begin setting the table for breakfast

7:15 Boys wake up; change and dress Arden; guide Tobin in picking out clothes that match; set out puzzles for Arden to work on while I finish getting breakfast ready

7:30 Wake Charis up; remind her to make her bed and straighten her room before she comes down for breakfast

7:45 Eat breakfast together; read and discuss Bible stories (they are so eager and have so many questions!); review memory verses; clean up. I start a load of wash--today it's just towels and kitchen linens.

8:30 Charis begins her handwriting practice page plus a page from Developing the Early Learner; I take the boys upstairs and get them settled into "playpen time and room time." Tobin picks two drawers of toys to play with and we carry them from the play area to his room. I remember to have him use the bathroom before he starts play time. Arden has (as usual) a stack of books and asks for more puzzles. I set everything plus some blocks in his playpen and put him in. He settles down and happily begins working his puzzles. Playpen time and room time actually starts around 8:45, and I start a Veggie Tale CD for the boys to listen to and head downstairs to check Charis' work.

8:50 Math time! Today we do two review pages. The lesson is on tally marks, so the first review page is simply converting tally marks to numbers, then drawing tally marks for the numbers given. The second page is a systematic review and includes skip counting by 5, using the manipulatives to solve for the unknown (___ + 3 = 5 and my daughter is doing algebra!!), and adding tens and hundreds.

9:10 Reading time! Today Charis chooses some A Beka readers that used to be mine when I was her age and reads them to me.

9:25 I give a shout out to the boys (I love the cathedral ceiling in the living room) to start cleaning up.

9:30 Charis and I finish reading, and she goes to help Arden put away his playpen toys. I check Tobin's work--today he did a great job of cleaning up, probably because I had told him we were doing a surprise for his school time.

9:35 Charis and Arden play together in the boys' room while Tobin and I do pre-school downstairs. Today he does a new letter in his pre-handwriting book, capital A. He practices the slanted lines in big, broad strokes on one page, then practices making the A's on the other page. He keeps tracing the middle line from right to left instead of left to right, but though I gently try to get him to switch, I decide it is really not worth worrying about. Then we do two math pages. He loves his math book, which is actually a kindergarten/1st grade workbook. I wasn't sure if he'd be ready, but he can certainly count, and it has been very basic. Today's pages include practicing writing numbers 1-12, which he does surprisingly well. I don't think Charis was writing numbers at this age, though I do remember we had started teaching her to write letters. The other page introduces pennies, and we count pennies and write how many cents. Then we put away the books and come to the computer (the aforementioned surprise), and Tobin sits on my lap while we go to and click on letters to see silly little animation while hearing the letter sounds. Tobin LOVES this activity, and we do letters A-G before it is time to finish.

10:05 We get Charis and Arden out of the boys' room by removing the gate--they seem to have mostly been doing puzzles while Tobin and I were working downstairs. We go down and pile on the couch, where I read our stories from Sonlight (the curriculum we purchased this year for Charis). Today we read "Selfish Sand Frog" from The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book and "The Twins" from the Treasury of Little Golden Books. We talk about how Grandma Keist and Auntie Iola are twins, and cousins Maelin and Joyella are twins, just like the twin girls in the story.

10:30 We are finished with our "official" school activities, and now it is outside play time. I open the garage door that goes to our back yard and allow the children to play inside the garage or go out to the backyard. They like to ride their bikes and trikes in the garage. Now it's my time to make phone calls, and I have the chance to chat with my dear friend Monica, whom I miss after moving. We chat beyond my allotted phone time, but that's OK, because next on our schedule is lunch prep, and I can do that while talking! The children play amazingly well together while I'm on the phone. I guess we can call this "recess!"

11:30 We sit down for lunch, and I remind the children of what we will be doing the rest of the day. We discussed the new schedule at breakfast, and I want them to understand that there are specific things we will do at specific times. Up until lunch time, our activities have been more or less what we normally do anyway, but there are a few differences in the way this afternoon will go than the free-for-all that afternoon time has become of late.

12:00 After cleaning up lunch, Charis and I prepare to do some chores. Tobin's job is to play outside with Arden. Charis helps me take the laundry out of the dryer, and I show her how to carefully fold the napkins and dishtowels. She takes great pride in lining up the corners. This job is much more pleasant with my daughter to talk to me! When we finish, she begs, "May I please do more chores?" How can I refuse such a request?! So I tell her she can help me clean our bathroom, and we head upstairs after a quick peek on the boys to make sure they are all right. During our bathroom cleaning spree, Tobin comes in no less than 3 times asking if he can help! I tell him that today he is helping me by playing with Arden, and tomorrow will be his turn to do chores with Mommy after lunch!

12:30 Now it's time for Charis and Tobin to play together. They choose to play in the garage. This is good, because now I get to spend one-on-one time with Arden. All he wants to do is read, so we read a pile of books and then get ready for his nap.

1:00 Arden is in bed for nap time; I set the timer and tell Charis and Tobin they have 30 more minutes to play. They are playing so well together and enjoying riding around in the garage. I'm glad I thought to move the van out to the driveway so they would have lots of space! I take advantage of the play time to work on the computer a little, answering email, particularly for business-related issues. I have two stampers' clubs meeting next week, followed by a home workshop, and I am excited to get things rolling again.

1:30 The timer goes off, and I bring the big kids back inside, where they get drinks, go potty, and choose stories. We snuggle together and read some more, and then it is off to bed. Tobin naps in my room, and I am hoping that today he will go to sleep without a struggle. I am expecting a phone call from our financial advisor at 2:30 so we can review our portfolio, and I NEED Tobin to be asleep during this time!

2:00 Tobin is now in bed, so that gives him half an hour to fall asleep. I tuck Charis in, telling her I will set the timer for 30 minutes so she can rest her body and her brain. She is agreeable. I listen at Arden's door--sound asleep. Good boy!

2:30 I check on Tobin--asleep! Woohoo! I go to Charis' room and tell her she may play quietly in her room. I remind her that I will be on the phone, and when her quiet room time is over, we get to have Creative Activity time. Her eyes light up at this thought!

2:40 The phone rings, and for the next 45 minutes I discuss our financial situation with our advisor, who seems to think we are in very good shape, though we do decide to switch funds for various reasons. We have worked with Shane for over 5 years now, and we trust him completely.

3:30 Time for Creative Activities! I check in on Tobin...still sound asleep. So is Arden. Charis and I go to the kitchen table to work on making some beaded bracelets with a kit she got for her birthday. First we must repair one she made for her friend. Arden stretched it out yesterday. Then I get Charis started on making a necklace. I have to help her towards the end, since the rope is getting frayed and we can't keep snipping the end off. The elastic bracelet string is much easier to work with, and she makes a coordinating bracelet. She gives me permission to make a bracelet, too, so I enjoy pulling out letter beads and make one for myself with the kids' names on it. I am pleased with the results, and Charis oohs and aahs as well. Her necklace and bracelet look nice, too, and we delight in our shared time together.

4:00 I get the boys up...sure is hard to wake Tobin up! Arden is always ready to begin working on puzzles whenever he wakes, so I get him up first, change him, and then turn him loose on his choice of puzzles.

4:30 Finally Tobin is awake. It takes lots of prodding and pushing and holding, but eventually he is coherent. The kids play while I begin dinner preparations.

And that's pretty much it! This is a Wednesday, so after dinner we pack up and go to church for AWANA and the adult celebration service. We are going through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights--the series title is "Power to Change Me, Power to Change the World." I especially like this because the next Bible study I'm to write for the Commission youth camp is power-themed, as in superheroes. I'm getting ideas everywhere!

Charis earns another jewel for her Sparks crown, plus AWANA shares for bringing food for Good Samaritan night. Tobin and Arden apparently do well in their rooms, and then we all head home and hit the sack!

November 10, 2005

A Day of Service

Two days ago the children and I took part in a home school group service project. It was a project that is close to my heart, as I have been involved in doing this (off and on, admittedly) since college days. Operation Christmas Child involves shoe boxes, odds and ends that make a child's heart sing, and the love of Jesus. Our family went shopping together for items to put in our boxes: Charis shopped for a girl 5-9 years old, Tobin gave lots of interesting ideas for a boy 2-4 years old, and Arden just went along for the ride while Ted and I chose items for "his" 2-4 year-old-boy. It was such a delight to talk with the children about what we were doing and to hear them say things like, "Mommy! I think The Girl would really like this!" or "Daddy, can we please get The Boy this?"

Tuesday morning after our official school time was finished for the day, we packed up our treasures and met with several other families at one house for a box-assembly process. It was a beautiful day, and the children enjoyed playing on the wonderful swing in the backyard while I sorted out items to put in the boxes. Charis joined me and helped pick out the wrapping paper for each box. She then helped me with the wrapping (she loves tape) and put the tag labels on. When we were finished with our boxes, the whole group stopped to pray for the children who will be receiving our love gifts.

Later in the day we took a meal to a friend from play group who had surgery last week. The children and I discussed that we now had the opportunity to help someone else with a home-cooked meal, just like the ladies from church helped Mommy with meals when Daddy was away. I'm thankful for opportunities like this that help me show Charis, Tobin, and Arden just what it means to love other people and to demonstrate our love for them in practical ways.

November 03, 2005

You Know You Have Toddlers When...

1. You find a spaghetti-sauce handprint on the carpet stairs.

2. You sweep daily underneath the table but haven't dusted in two months.

3. You are moved to action by 7 words: "Mommy, will you please wipe my bottom?"

4. Your idea of exercise is running up the stairs whenever you hear a crash...or whenever you hear absolutely nothing.

5. You live for nap time, praying desperately that there will BE a nap time because you need one yourself.

6. Six days later, the spaghetti-sauce handprint is STILL on the carpet stairs.

7. When driving, you view the passing world through a child's eyes. "Oh, look! A horsey! What does a horse say?"

8. You plan meals based on what your children are wearing and whether they will be seen in public after eating.

9. You can quote Bob & Larry's ABCs, Goodnight Moon, and even Scuffy the Tugboat.

10. You forget about all the struggles and battles of the day as you watch your little ones sleep, their little chests rising and falling, mouths slightly open, feet curled up under their tummies, looking for all the world like chubby little cherubs, blessings sent straight from God into your home and heart.

October 31, 2005

Daddy's Home!

On Friday evening the children and I drove to the Las Vegas airport for the long-anticipated arrival of Ted from his 26-day trip to Texas! It has been a long month, but we are so thankful that he is home again. We were so blessed by our church family, though we are so new to the area, as they provided meals for the children and me the last couple of weeks Ted was away, plus sent a housekeeper to clean the entire house the day before he arrived home! Wow! Being separated is always a growing time, at least for me, as I must rely solely on my Lord to carry me through every decision and every difficult circumstance. And believe me, with our three kiddos, there are difficult circumstances daily, if not hourly!

Saturday evening we had a small family celebration for Arden's 2nd birthday. He was so enthralled with each and every gift that it was hard to pull him back to the stack o' presents to unwrap more! Looking back on this, I am thinking that in the future we should not save up all the packages that arrive in the mail from family members and have our toddler open them all at once. Instead, it would probably be better to let the wee one open a package every morning during the whole week of celebration so he can savor each new treasure along with the joy and delight of having a special celebration. Still, Arden's party was a fun time for our whole family, made even more special by Daddy's presence. (And Mom is happy to have some new toys to swap out with some older ones for the "toy library!") You can see Arden enjoying his new blocks from Grandma and Grandpa Keist here.

Sunday afternoon was the long-awaited Princess Party for Charis' 5th birthday. Seven little princesses arrived to help celebrate the occasion. Glitter, tiaras, and swishy dresses were everywhere. We played "Pin the Crown on Cinderella," had a coloring contest, made star wands, ate munchies and birthday cake, listened to "The Princess and the Pea," and went on a treasure hunt. Charis was overjoyed, and her shiny eyes, plus the oohs and aahs of the other princesses, made me feel the time and effort that I spent in planning this party were definitely worth it. I remember special birthday parties at home that probably weren't any big deal to the average onlooker, but they were super special to me as a kid--even the corny games were fun! Now, here I am, playing silly games with my daughter and her friends, and feeling almost as delighted as the Birthday Princess Herself!

So, Ted is home again, our October birthday boy and girl have had their celebrations, and life will now begin to settle back into a routine. Oh, how I love routine! I am looking forward to completing a specific daily schedule for the children and myself as I work through the Managers of Their Homes book and worksheets. The last week and a half or so has had us completely off track as far as daily activities, including (and especially) school. While we have still been "doing school," it has not been as consistently and orderly as my type-A personality would like, and while I appreciate that I can have flexibility while home schooling, chaos is not exactly my idea of being flexible! So hopefully the next week or so will find us settling back down into a more predictable schedule. I think this will help tremendously with the boys' behavior issues that were erupting like mad, especially toward the latter part of Ted's TDY.

October 24, 2005

The Duck Pond

A couple of days ago a friend brought her daughter over, and together we drove to a nearby state park. We had been saving bread scraps for awhile, and the children were eager to feed the ducks. We had planned this outing originally for a couple of weeks ago, a field trip of sorts with another group of moms and children, but since we were having some home repairs done that day, it didn't work out. But Saturday dawned bright and beautiful (the weather here in Vegas has been wonderful!), and we enjoyed getting out and exploring a small part of the park.

Our first "customer" was actually a peacock. Tobin was so fascinated by the bird that he dumped out the entire contents of his bread bag on the ground in front of him. We rescued the majority of the buns and were able to spread the wealth as we walked around the pond some more.

The ducks seemed rather coy, not at all like the ducks at the pond I remember frequenting with my family as I grew up. Those ducks fairly attacked us when we arrived with our bread bags in hand. However, on Saturday we didn't even have one duck leave the water! Dana and I tossed bits of bread as far out into the water as we could...the kids mostly littered the shore with crumbled bits, calling, "Quack! QUACK! Come here, Duck!"

We ended up feeding about half of our bread to a flock of birds, who were more than happy to entertain us as they gobbled up every crumb in sight. By this point Tobin had apparently had enough with the sharing already...I caught him stuffing his little cheeks with his remaining bread!

October 23, 2005

Jack and Jill

About a week and a half ago we braved the wind and went to a nearby orchard to pick pumpkins. The pumpkins sat on our table for a few days, then moved to the wall by our back door for decorative purposes, and finally made it to the kitchen counter for butchering. A friend gave us a little kit with colored pegs and patterns so kids can hammer them in the right spots. I decided we would try on our smaller pumpkin, so dutifully cut the lid off and scooped the ick out, only to discover that the pumpkin was TOO small for the pattern. Sigh. So we carved a simple face and dubbed him Jack.

As the children dashed outside to play, I decided to go ahead and scoop out the insides of the larger pumpkin so we could do this all at once. I felt noble, sacrificing my clean hands for the sake of my children's memories. I wonder if someday they will remember these moments and rise up to call me blessed?! Soon the children were back inside to check on my progress, and together we marked where the holes were to be. Tobin and Charis took turns pounding the pegs with the small wooden mallet included in the kit. (I got them started with a few good whacks--very fun.) Arden helped by handing us the right color of peg at the right time. In between whacks he was kept busy picking up all the pegs that he dropped. Because we chose the girl face pattern, we dubbed this pumpkin Jill.

The whole project took about 45 minutes, but you'd think we spent days on it to hear the children talk about it! They love seeing the faces, although we haven't actually lit them from the inside yet. It makes me wonder how we might get up close and personal with other foods at different times of the year...might we make a grapefruit face? How about a pineapple with dredlocks? If you like to talk to tomatoes...if a squash can make you smile...

October 18, 2005

Birthday Babies

Where has the time gone?! Five years ago today Charis Noelle was born, and two years ago today Arden Daniel joined our family. I can hardly believe that I really don't have a "baby" anymore! Arden is most definitely a little boy now, running, jumping, talking, coloring, puzzling (he's been doing 25-piece puzzles lately!), singing the ABC song, counting to 13 (skipping 5 usually)--hardly baby activities!

And Charis is quite the little lady. Even though she was sad that today wasn't her princess party (that will come later this month), she still wanted to dress the part. I let her wear her crown with play clothes to our play group get-together this morning...we took cupcakes and had a mini-celebration there. Though she had quite the pout session this morning when she realized that TODAY was not actually the party day, she seemed appeased when everyone sang to her and Arden before devouring the cupcakes. We worked on stamping and coloring her party invitations this afternoon and will deliver them tomorrow.

October 17, 2005

The Nuts and Bolts of Our Home School

You've read the story of how we came to be a home schooling family; now it's time to talk about what exactly we're doing! This is an issue that still is not fully resolved, but at least I know what we are doing for this year, and I'm pleased so far with everything.

I'll start with math--that's the easiest. I absolutely love the math program we chose: Math U See. My dear friend Melinda (from Virginia, home schools 7 children) was the one who first told me about MUS, and I later met a couple of other families who use it. I was initially impressed with what I saw of the program, though I dutifully did much research into other programs. Prior to this, I was leaning toward Saxon math, simply because that's what I had used in high school, and my mother-in-law, a high school math teacher, uses and likes it as well. However, once Ted and I watched the demo DVD for MUS, we were completely sold! The manipulatives and teaching style are just beyond anything I've ever seen. The picture here shows the kids playing with the manipulatives. Charis begs to do a new math lesson every day, though we're supposed to do review pages in between the lessons. I started her in the primer (30 lessons), and we are already on lesson 18, adding tens. She knows place value and is learning to skip count. Even though some of the primer book was review for Charis, I'm glad I started her in it, as it is giving her a solid foundation. We are set on MUS for her entire math schooling at home, and I'm confident the boys will enjoy it as well, as it is very hands on as well as appealing to visual and auditory learners.

As for reading, we just finished Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons on Friday. (Yay!) Once I realized that I didn't have to do every single part of every lesson, this became much easier for me to use. Charis enjoyed everything, but so much of it was repetition, and she was beyond much of it, that I just couldn't make her do it all. We skipped the writing of letters, and I combined some of the activities at times. But it was very good for giving her the tools she needed to sound out unfamiliar words. She is well on her way to reading completely on her own, and I now know that she truly is reading and not just guessing at the words based on context (though that still happens with new words on occasion). As she is just turning 5 in two days, I am more than pleased with her progress so far. Now that we are finished with an "official" reading book, I plan to just spend time listening to her read during that time block, and maybe after the holidays we will go back to phonics lessons of some sort. Although I can't say for sure, I am guessing that she is reading at about a third grade level, just based on the information I got from reading the 100 EZ Lessons book.

This year we have chosen A Reason for Handwriting for her writing program. I like the emphasis on Scripture, though that doesn't begin until next year. This year we are learning about various animals God made, and after she practices her letter for the day, she gets to color the animal we read about. She is really enjoying this, though I have to remind her to SLOW DOWN on the writing part! (She mainly just loves to color!) She has been writing for a year and a half now, but this program is helping her think a little more about letter formation. It's a bit early yet to tell if this is the program we'll stick with, but at the moment I see no reason to change.

And as for "the rest," meaning Bible, read alouds, science, and social studies, we chose to purchase the Sonlight pre-K curriculum, designed for learners ages 4-6 years. All of the children have enjoyed the books that are part of this package, though Arden perhaps hasn't sat still for as many stories and readings as Tobin has. I don't make the boys sit still for any of it, really, but they are welcome to join us whenever they are interested. Charis particularly adores Things People Do, an Usborne book about the fictitious island of Banilla. The characters all have funny names--Mayor Naze, Manuel Labor (a builder), Honor Toze (a ballerina), Les Chatter (a teacher), and so on. Tobin loves the stories from the Treasury of Little Golden Books, and Charis enjoys The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book. Charis is learning a verse and character trait each week, and Tobin and Arden are listening in, as we do those with Bible stories around the breakfast table. (Arden especially makes sure that we do NOT forget the Bible stories!)

Even though this sounds like a lot, we only spend about an hour to an hour and a half at the most on "school" each day, and some days not at all if we have something else going on. The Sonlight books alternate by days, and some of them we only read once a week. I've looked through the entire Sonlight catalog and am very impressed--Ted is, too, and he would be content to simply purchase the Sonlight packages and appropriate MUS workbooks each year. However...I am also interested in a more classical approach, and I would prefer to do The Story of the World before junior high, which is where Sonlight has placed it. Still, we have lots of time to investigate things, and I think the important thing is that our children develop a love for learning overall.

Perhaps later I will outline a schedule of what a typical day looks like for us so you can see how this all falls into place. At the moment, however, it is approaching my bedtime, and I'd like to do some reading before going to sleep.

One final tidbit that has absolutely nothing to do with anything else on this post...A nickname we've had for our children since Charis was first born is Pumpkin Doodle. I was praying and singing with Arden, doing the nightly ritual, and afterward I was hugging him and called him my little Pumpkin Doodle. He began repeating the phrase after me, and I could hardly stop laughing when I realized he was saying "Pomp-kin Doo-doo!" How's that for an endearing term of affection?!

October 14, 2005

Pure Bliss

It only happens once in a blue moon--Tobin slept until 8 a.m. today. Arden was the first child awake, talking softly to himself around 7:15. I whisked him out of his crib so as not to disturb Tobin (who has been having sleep issues lately) and took him downstairs to do his favorite morning activity: puzzles. We spread the puzzles on the floor, and he dumped out his current favorite (Jack and Jill), then sat there holding one piece and staring into space. I watched him, waiting to see whether he would begin working on the puzzle, but he didn't move. He didn't respond when I asked him if he was going to do the puzzle, either, so I scooped him up and put him on my lap. He didn't fact, he snuggled his head onto my chest, and we just sat there together.

After a few moments, I began talking to him. I told him how much I love him, how much God loves him, how God has a special plan for his life, and how Daddy and I pray for him every day. Arden was a good listener! We cuddled for a long time, and I just savored every moment. I rubbed his little feet and toes through his footy pajamas, I gently squeezed his chubby knees and elbows, I held his soft little hands, I stroked his freshly cut hair (it's so fun to rub the extra short fuzz in the back), and I kissed his head probably a hundred times. I remember times like this with Charis, when I was just so overwhelmed by the blessing that she was that I simply could not put her down. And I know there have been times when I've enjoyed cuddling Tobin as well. But with three children who all seem so needy, I somehow feel that Arden gets a little shortchanged at times. It's during moments that we had together this morning that I try to fill up his little "love tank." I thank the Lord for that precious time together. All too soon it came to an end, and he was pushing himself off my lap and squawking for breakfast.

Some people seek 15 minutes of fame. I seek a way to etch 15 minutes with my son into my heart and mind forever.

October 10, 2005

How We Came to Choose Home Schooling

I thought it appropriate to take some time to reflect on just how we got to this point in our parenting journey, the point at which we have made the commitment to home school our children--not just for kindergarten, not just for elementary school, but for their entire school experience up until college.

I had not heard much about home schooling during my own school years. I knew a few students in my high school who had been home schooled at one point or another, and my college roommate of two years was a home school graduate. She, like the few others I had met, seemed perfectly normal, with above average intelligence and a well-rounded resume. So I never really understood the concern about the "stereotypical" home schooled child.

During my student teaching experience, I lived off campus with a home schooling family. At the time, Laurie, the mom, was about where I am now, with a kindergarten-aged daughter, a toddler son, and a third child on the way. Even though I was gone during the hours Laurie was actually doing school work with her children , I truly owe much of my foundational commitment to home schooling to her and her family. Laurie was an example to me of what a stay-at-home mom might look like. I had never really put much thought into it previously, but by this point I was newly engaged, and thoughts of marriage and family occupied my mind as never before. Of course, I realize much of my parenting skills were actually instilled by my own dear, godly parents, but as the daughter, you can imagine how often I objectively observed their actions in order to prepare myself for my future roles as wife and mother: never!

So my quarter with Brian, Laurie, and their children was probably the single most influential aspect in what I have come to view as my calling as a home school mother. Meanwhile, Ted was attending Bible studies while at the Air Force Academy, being mentored by a captain who was a father of (at the time) four children, all home schooled. Our letters to one another discussed our ideas about home schooling, so even then the idea was germinating.

Years later...we began "home schooling" Charis when she was about 3 1/2. I thought I would try a pre-school workbook from Sam's Club, and as it turned out, she loved doing her pages and begged for them every day. We continued doing workbook after workbook. During this time we moved from Ohio to Maryland, and I knew that during our one-year assignment there, I needed to do some reading, talk with home schooling families, and learn all I could. God graciously put me in contact with a wonderful group of women, and I joined their home school group Godly Home Educating Mothers during the year we were there. I learned much from simply talking to the moms, and a couple of them particularly mentored me during that time. I am so grateful to have had the privilege to get to know these dear women and their (rather large!) families and see various home schools in action.

Meanwhile, Charis was thoroughly enjoying her "school time," and as I saw her writing becoming steadily better, along with her math and thinking skills in general, plus the fact that she was beginning to read already, Ted and I began to discuss when we might "officially" start her on the home schooling journey. I don't remember a time when I ever thought that we would NOT home school, although I believe Ted would probably share that he had some reservations in the beginning. But as this blog is written from my perspective, I will leave the explaining of that to him, and if you want to know more about how the Lord has led the head of our home to the commitment to home school, you are welcome to ask Ted himself about it!

As the time for our move from Maryland to Nevada approached, I found myself knee-deep in a pile of home school catalogs, searching the Internet and asking questions of anyone who would put up with me! The time was drawing near for the ordering-materials-and-making-a-school-schedule part of home schooling, for, as many home schoolers already know, we have been doing this since birth, really. We read to our children; we spend time with them; we answer questions; we share life experiences. But this fall marks that official time where we can say YES! We are a HOME SCHOOLING FAMILY!

This makes me very excited, if you couldn't tell! It has been my dream since I was little to be a teacher. I adored teaching English in Hungary during two summer mission trips, and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching Speech, Composition I and II, and American Literature at a small business college in Mountain Home. However, after being disillusioned by life in the public school (my one year of teaching at Mountain Home High School was more than enough for me!), I now consider that I am truly doing what I was made to do. This is not to say that the year I did teach high school was a waste, by any means. I trust the Lord had me there for a purpose, and I do pray He was honored by the work I did there. However, when I look back on that experience, I feel that there was much I would change if I were to do it differently. My passion for teaching has only increased as I have learned more about the ins and outs of home schooling, and, Lord willing, I plan to never go back to a classroom, public or private, again. Instead, our home will be the classroom for all the children the Lord gives us, and when I am yearning for a different teaching setting, I will simply look forward to my stamping workshops, at which I get to teach excited women the art of rubber stamping and scrapbooking!

October 09, 2005

Charis Noelle

Dear Charis (pronounced CAR-iss), our firstborn. What a joy and blessing our daughter is! In just 9 days she will be five years old. She is everything a firstborn typically is--helpful, dependable, diligent, bossy, and headstrong! She can be a loving Mother's Helper one minute and an annoying Mother Hen the next. Her current favorite activites include reading by herself or to someone, caring for babies (her dolls, stuffed animals, and ponies as well as Arden), painting pictures for anyone she has ever met, helping Mom with any and all kinds of chores, and doing schoolwork. It's hard to say which part of school she likes best, as she seems to enjoy it all!

Her imagination is quite vivid--sometimes in a bad way, as she is often troubled by strange dreams. This morning, however, she ran to meet me with a huge smile on her face, telling me she had dreamed about Jesus meeting her at church! We pray every night for her to have happy dreams that please and honor God, and thankfully the nightmares are coming fewer and further between. It warmed my heart when she told me that she prays to God when she wakes up at night with a scary dream--at least she knows Who to turn to! "What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee..."

But on the plus side, her imagination leads her to all sorts of amusing scenarios with her dolls and stuffed animals, whom she often lines up in a row so they can listen to her teach or read to them. She calls them all her "kids," and she is faithful to take care of the Baby of them all, whose name changes depending on Charis' mood. She also leads her brothers in exciting romps of the imagination. At this moment, she and Tobin are in the backyard (Arden is napping), and I hear them singing "Happy Birthday" to Mr. J. I'm quite sure they have also made a sand cake, and pretty soon I'll probably hear about the presents Mr. J got. A couple of days ago Charis informed me that she and Tobin were married, and I heard them calling one another Ted and Beverly all day! (Don't worry, we did tell the children that while it was all right to pretend, we are not allowed to marry our siblings in real life!)

When I think about Charis, I think of a girl who has a passion for life and all that it holds, as well as the Author of Life, Jesus Christ. Her enthusiasm for anything we do--from schoolwork to church activities to grocery shopping--makes anything an adventure, and it is heartwarming to hear her talk about her Savior in such an intimate, personal way. Since her decision to pray and ask Jesus into her heart on August 26, 2005, we have seen more spiritual growth in this young child than in many adults who take salvation for granted. She continues to make up songs about heaven and Jesus' grace to save us from all our sins, and the fact that I hear her singing one of those songs now (she is outside, and I can hear her through the windows!) tells me that she has fully taken to heart the message of the gospel, and, Lord willing, will touch the hearts of all those within earshot!

Her dearest ambition in life right now is to become a mommy, and let me tell you, there is no greater compliment she could give me! This dream of hers has not changed since we first wrote those words on a little worksheet in a kindergarten workbook we were going through almost a year ago. Recently I asked her again what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she just looked at me as if to say, "Have you forgotten already?" What she actually said was, "I'm going to be a mommy," and if she were a little older, she might well have added the word "Duh!" from the look on her face!

One of the "scary" things about having a daughter like Charis is that I often hear her repeating admonishments to the boys that she hears me say! She does mother them (sometimes "smother" might be a better term), and while her authoritative statements often make me chuckle, they also make me very aware of the fact that I have a Little Shadow, and, oh, be careful little mouth what you say!

Charis. Her name is the Greek word for fitting it is that she reminds us every day of the grace our Lord Jesus pours out on us.

October 06, 2005

Keeping Busy...

I had hoped to get some background posts on here but have fallen "behind" where I thought I might be by now! Ted is very busy doing his intel thing, and I am knee-deep in kid activities. I thought I was going to pull my hair out tonight when we got home from AWANA and we had to just about peel both boys off the ceiling, they were so hyper! All is quiet now, though; guess they finally conked I'm hoping to do myself within minutes!

If you're reading this and know Ted, please keep him in your prayers. He specifically asked me to pray for his attitude about work to be godly. I personally am praying that Christ will shine through him and that he might be able to testify of God's grace to someone who needs to hear about it.

And prayers for the children and me wouldn't hurt, either! :-) We've had mostly good times, but you know how it goes. I'm grateful that we have a semi-predictable schedule now with home schooling, MOPS, play group, and church, and I feel that I know enough people that I could call on if I want to get out of the house because I need a break.

Well, I guess my log of the start to our first year of home schooling will have to wait. I must get to bed before I fall off this chair!

September 30, 2005

Tobin Michael

Whew! I could write a whole book just on Tobin! Let's see...where to start...well, he is just about 3 1/2 years old exactly and looks like a mini-Ted. He definitely has his father's sense of humor and makes silly jokes and statements all the time. Of course, I forget what they are when I am talking with other people! I really need to keep a notepad on the kitchen counter to record some of the funny happenings and sayings from all our children. Anyway, Tobin makes me laugh, and that's a good thing...because just as often he makes me want to scream!

I do try to focus on his good qualities, his strengths and gifts, so I don't get bogged down in the daily muck of dealing with his tantrums, whining, hitting, stealing, lying...oops, here I go again! Time to change direction!

God has blessed Tobin with a how-does-it-work mind--again, just like his father. He loves to take things apart and (sometimes) put them back together (and other times leave them strewn about the floor for me to step on). He finds heroes in everyday situations and is currently obsessed with George, the dishwasher repair man who has visited our house twice and needs to come back at least one more time, to Tobin's delight. Yesterday Tobin strutted around most of the day with his play tools stuffed into his pockets and waistband. He informed me that he was George, and he was here to fix my dishwasher (and later my desk, the sink, the table, the wall, and just about any other surface he felt he could bang on or poke). "George" ate lunch with us, painted a couple of pictures, and then proceeded to pull as much as he could out of the hole the plumber made in the outside wall. I can't leave this boy alone for a minute, it seems!

He does have an active imagination, and he loves to be read to. He takes the facts from the daily Bible stories we read and personalizes or embellishes them to suit his fancy. He has played "Jacob" and "Joseph" (both of whom were dogs). Today we read about Balaam's donkey and the angel, and Tobin decided that if anyone tried to do anything bad to him, his angel would be there with a sword to stop him. At least that idea is biblical!

Tobin has shown much interest in "school time," but I'm still trying to work out exactly what it is he wants and is ready for. He loves playing with the Math-U-See blocks when Charis is doing her math lessons, and he begs to do pages in his Handwriting Without Tears pre-K workbook. I've been excited to see him develop more control with his writing in just the couple of weeks we've been doing pages. The workbook is mostly coloring with big, broad-stroked capital letters throughout. It seems perfect for him, and I have to try to slow him down or else he'd do the whole book in one day! As for math, I think he'll be ready to start something soon--whenever he seems inclined to use a workbook, we'll do something semi-official. He seems to enjoy it, but I don't want to push him by any means. I just want him to have fun learning and exploring, and if he wants to "do math," which he has actually been asking for, then hey, we'll "do math!"

He also listens in on Charis' school stories, currently from the Family Treasury of Little Golden Books, the Real Mother Goose, and the Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book. In fact, he'll sit still for just about any kind of story!

In Maryland we had all but given up on getting him to nap, because it seemed that when he did sleep in the afternoon, he'd be awake until 11 p.m. and up at 6 a.m. With the boys sharing a room in our Las Vegas house, they do tend to keep each other awake later than we might like, but it has definitely gotten more reasonable--more like 9 or 9:30 p.m. rather than 11 or 11:30. Yesterday I tried to see what would happen if I allowed Tobin to play quietly during the afternoon rather than try a nap, since he had napped well on Tuesday and Wednesday both, plus woke up at 8 a.m. Thursday instead of the usual time (6:30 a.m.). Well, I guess I should have known he wouldn't be able to do anything QUIETLY, nor would he be content with one activity/play area for long! So, back to naps we go. Overall he has done fairly well--we put a sleeping bag on our bed, and he curls up with his "Ellie" (the elephant) and blanket that Grandma Keist made. More often than not he does fall asleep, but the days he doesn't, it is a real battle to keep him quiet and still! My stamp room is in the sitting area just off our bedroom, so I usually try to work in there so I can keep an eye on him. I guess I should just be happy that he is napping fairly consistently--I don't know that that ever really happened the whole year we were in Maryland. Sleep issues have abounded with this child, and I'm sure that is much of what contributes to his difficult behavior. He does need a predictable routine, so I have decided that, nap or no, he will at least lie quietly in bed for a rest time. We will not be trying afternoon quiet play time for QUITE awhile!

Tobin is definitely the child who will probably cause me to grow the most spiritually! I pray every day that I will be conformed to Christ, because I cannot be the mother He wants me to be on my own. It is a humbling experience, parenting a strong-willed child, because I see myself in him so often. It makes me realize what a patient and loving Father I have, to put up with my tendency to push for my own agenda instead of His all too often.

Well, nap time approacheth, so it is time to quit here and get ready for naptime stories...