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 resist...in 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 grace...how 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 out...as 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!