Back to School {The First Week}

In my Back to School – Planning post I talked a little about what we were doing for the year and how we were fitting it all in. In this post I’d like to just recap our week. I’m not always good about doing this weekly but the first week is always important to me, even if I’m finally finished writing about it 3 weeks later! It is my way of scrapbooking digitally our year and there is just something indescribably special about the first week. The kids are excited for what’s to come. I’m excited for what’s to come. Everything is ripe with possibility even as we stumble through getting the daily rhythm down.

So how was our first week?

Math and Art were our biggest hits for the week.

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For math we’ve switched to Khan Academy this year for our oldest son. His dad started using it to sharpen his own Algebra skills over the summer and Gabe started sitting down beside him and helping him work out problems. He absolutely loves it. Khan is self-paced, independent, and FREE! We had already been using Khan for history, science, art, and math supplementation (they have great videos and now they’ve teamed up with the guys who do Crash Course whom my kids LOVE and we use for history and science) so this was a natural carryover for him. Since Gabe is already a year ahead in math, using Khan will give him the independence to move ahead at his own pace. He may end up doing two years in one this year and be into Algebra by year’s end. We also allowed the other kids to try it since Khan does have math all the way down to an early elementary level, but we found after a few days of trying that they still preferred their Teaching Textbooks for math.

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Although Teaching Textbooks is very pricey, I LOVE their program. It is set up tutorial-style so each kid is completely 100% taught on the computer without me. It is great for auditory and visual learners or for those that need someone to sit with them step by step through each problem. It does automatic grading and my kids love it. That is enough for me to spend the hefty price tag. Plus, we discovered that the book is actually just a repeat of what they are already doing during the lessons and a needless piece so we’ve eliminated that this year and gave each kid their own spiral notebook to use for working out math problems. That saves us $30 for each program. And you can use them with more than one child so we are only buying one year at a time and by next year won’t have to buy any. While the 2nd and 3rd grader are doing their math independently on the computer, it frees me up to work with Ivy and Eli with their Pre-K math and phonics.

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Art was also well received this week. Mainly, because we actually did it! Every year I have these great intentions for art and music and every year life gets in the way and then they get bumped for the more “important” subjects that are required. So this year I decided no more. Creativity is a must for me to flourish and it is extremely important for my ten year old girl as well. This year we bought everyone their own sketch pad and we labeled them all pretty and are keeping them organized in an inexpensive tote from Michael’s. For the two littles, I used a primary composition notebook and  covered it in pretty scrapbook paper and then laminated the covers to keep them sturdy for the whole year. This allowed them to be cheaper (twenty five cents back to school sale!) and keeps them accessible for their age range.

Our first week of art we read the Drawing Rules in Drawing in Color and talked about how their is no wrong way to draw. We read ish and Dot, which the littles especially loved and imitated immediately in their notebooks. Our first assignment was to draw whatever we liked. Each child shared their picture and everyone said one thing they really liked about each picture as well as one thing they would like to improve upon for the year. The kids did not want the afternoon to end and it has inspired Lily to check out several drawing books at the library and she has been practicing every night. This year we will be focused on learning to draw animals in pencil using a combination of youtube tutorials and Drawing Animals in Nature with Lee Hammond . This will mesh very well with our zoology science course.

Zoology, unfortunately, started off a little rocky. I was so excited to start the lesson with a great hands-on, visible way for them to understand the concept of classification through classifying legos. This ended up with mostly fighting over said legos and Norah ended up teething and crying for a huge chunk of our time. It was a bit of a letdown for me because I have such huge expectations for this year’s zoology lineup. Our second week fared way better after a trip to Fontenelle Forest to pick up our Vertebrate/Invertebrate Educator’s Trunk and the kids got to handle and feel all kinds of bones and animal skins. My favorite was the owl skull and bobcat skull. After examining everything, the older two got to dip into their first experiment and the littles played an online classification game, all was right again in our science world.

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We kicked off our first week of history by diving into Columbus and the Age of Exploration. The younger ones listened to me read from A Child’s History of the World, which I just adore, while they happily constructed ships out of our magformers. They colored and notebooked and then finished off their time playing an online game about Christopher Columbus.

The older two are doing history with daddy again this year. He is a huge history buff and has a wonderful conversational Socratic method style of teaching that our kids just love. They are watching the Crash Course World History and US History videos in conjunction with their reading and then join me on another day of the week for fun history where we get to watch the Horrible History videos, watch fun songs and do map work. Favorite song of the week: Fifty Nifty United States. I learned this song in fifth grade and it has stayed with me to this day. I am giddy passing it on to my children. They are song nerds in the same way I am. Okay, maybe I’m a bit more of a song nerd but they really do love this song. This has been our constant car-schooling anthem for the past couple of weeks to go with our geography study for the year.

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I’ve been most impressed with Ivy this week. Being 5 and “officially” starting kindergarten, I wasn’t sure how involved she’d be for the multi-age taught subjects like history, science, and geography. We always have stuff planned for the littles but beyond their basic 3 R’s in the morning, we don’t require them to do school. They are free to play or watch an educational video. But she’s stuck with us through much more then I thought she would. She played the Columbus history game like her older siblings, she’s colored history sheets while listening to the stories and she’s even picked up on the Latin we’ve been studying. And her coloring has taken a dramatic turn for the better since school has started. I perceive that she will show the most overall growth this year.

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Latin was by far the most unexpected successful subject of the week. We discovered Classical Academic Press by accident last year through their sister site HeadAdventureland.com which is full of fun, free latin videos!!! (Check out our fave…The Three Little Pigs!) The older two have totally resonated with the DVD chants in the Latin for Children, Primer A. They love doing the activities and discussing everything with their dad over coffee. And the younger 2-4, depending on if the two littles join us, are throughougly enjoying SongSchool Latin. It is SO kid-friendly and fun that the kids can’t wait to do Latin and have told all their friends they should too. Even I have awoken in the middle of the night with a catchy Latin song stuck in my head. Makes me want to check out their SongSchool Latin Spanish.

I also enjoyed doing Bible with the littles this week. We read out of Vos’s Child’s Story Bible starting again at the beginning. And I was once again captivated by the way she conversationally draws the little ones into the story while simultaneously weaving Christ’s redemption story in from the very beginning pages of Genesis. This is by far the BEST story Bible I’ve ever read. The children sat and listened spellbound and asked for more when I was done. Can’t ask for more than that!

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Some other fun highlights of our first week…

The girls temporarily dying their hair purple and pink.

Enjoying playing golf during recess time.

Building nanoblocks during free time.

Watching caterpillars emerge as butterflies!

Taking care of pet toads.

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I’m so excited to see how the rest of our year unfolds.

How was your first week of school?

Back to School – The Plan {2014-2015}

It’s time again. Everybody is posting first-day-of-school pictures on Facebook. Although I missed that deadline by 3 weeks (as I usually do with getting pictures up on Facebook…still have a whole summer’s worth of albums to put up), I did manage to take a first-day-of-school picture. Maybe sometime soon it will get to Facebook. Maybe…

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I’m ready and not ready to start all at the same time. I’ve spent the last month cramming to get everything done (we’ve switched doing all our lesson planning to OneNote but that is a post for another time) and still am a bit behind.

All in all though, I’m pretty happy with our schedule and our curriculum scope and sequence for the year. After running it for a few weeks it needs some minor adjustments, but overall we did good. The major goal I am setting for myself this year is to get up earlier and more consistently. Last year with having a newborn and being up most nights, I didn’t do very well at all with getting up at a consistent time. We still had a great year and accomplished a lot but I always felt like we were running behind all the time. Mainly, because we were running behind all the time. With Norah past the one year mark this school year, my nights are a bit more regular.

This year is a big adjustment for us schedule-wise in that it is MUCH more structured. I’ve always been a very relaxed homeschooler. I loved that we could start school at 10ish, be done whenever-ish and follow lots of rabbit trails, especially in history and science. But this year I have an official junior-higher going into seventh grade, a fifth grader, a third grader, a second grader, a kindergartner, a preschooler, and a toddler. To say my life is full is an understatement. Somehow I need to move my seventh grader into more challenging work to prepare for high school, which is really just around the corner, while also making the time to spend with my kindergartner who is just ripe for learning to read. But I also need to give extra time to my two middles, third and second graders, who still need more teacher-to-student time as they are transitioning into independent readers. I need to keep my preschooler busy and out of trouble and my one year old just learned this week (yeah me!) to climb chairs. I see impending disaster in my future with that one.

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So this year hubby and I sat down and brainstormed like crazy pasting and copying subject time slots until everything that we wanted to do meshed with everything that we needed to do. This was no small task. This is the most packed, structured schedule we’ve ever been on. I’m not going to lie, the day before school started I was trying not to have a mini panic attack at the thought of sticking to a schedule. Just ask my husband. I am NOT good at following schedules. I just love to make them. I adore planning for them. And they always seem so ripe with promise every year. And then I immediately deviate and forget I even made one. I like my rabbit trails and interest-led learning that takes place and I’m not sure if there is any room for that this year.

But I also know that more important than my need to have fun and go off on learning tangents, is the need my kids have for structure. The need I have for structure. There are too many of them and only one of me. They all need my time and each of them is equally important. So a structured schedule it is. And even though there is a small part of me that cringes at using a clock and a timer, the bigger part of me loved that we got to all our stuff and started on time every day.

Here is what we are learning this year.

MathTeaching Textooks (2nd, 3rd, 5th) and Khan Academy (7th)

Phonics – Bob Books, Starfall, YouTube (Pre-K)

Literature – list varies for each child (All)

GrammarFirst Language Lessons (2nd, 3rd) and Rod & Staff English (5th)

SpellingRod & Staff Spelling (2nd), Abeka Spelling 2 (3rd Grade)

WritingBasher’s Creative Writing and Writing with Skill (5th and 7th)

CursiveKumon Cursive: Letters and Kumon Cursive: Words (2nd, 3rd)

LatinSongschool Latin (2nd, 3rd) and Latin for Children, Primer A (5th, 7th)

SpanishRosetta Stone 1 & 2 (5th and 7th)

History – Age of Exploration and Early American History (All)

Geography – United States & Capitals (All)

Science – Zoology (All) and History of Science (5th & 7th)

ArtTechnique: Drawing in Color and Drawing Animals in Nature (All)

Art – Appreciation: Baroque, Romantic, NeoClassical, Pre-Raphaelite

Music - Theory: Basher’s Music: Hit the Right Note (All)

Music – Appreciation: SQUILT Technique with Baroque, Romantic, and Classical styles; Composer Studies

BibleChronological Study Bible (5th, 7th), Child’s Story Bible (K, 2nd, 3rd), Awana (All)

PhilosophyLittle History of Philosophy (5th, 7th)

LogicArgument Builder (7th)

Physical Education – Aerobics & Weights (Girls), Boxing & Weights (Boys)

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I am hoping to write a separate post for an in-depth look at each subject. That may or may not happen. I can’t promise anything. I always have way more blog posts floating around in my head than I ever get the time to sit down and write. But I can give you a glimpse into our year and our week. I’ve uploaded my Relational Subject Comparison 2014-2015 for the year to give you a small taste of what we are going to be studying for each of the 36 weeks.

History is the peg we hang our year on. It is the rudder that is driving everything else. We follow a chronological 4-year history cycle and literature, geography, art, music, and sometimes science are all, somehow, related to what we are studying for history. So this year I created the above 36 Week comparison sheet and wrote the key historical peg we’d be studying then, during my planning, I used that to determine which week we read or mapped or did what activity that correlated in a different subject. It makes the year flow better and allows me to pre-plan some rabbit trails without overburdening our schedule down. I can use this as a quick-glance guide for each week’s planning to remind me during the nitty gritty weekly planning, especially for pre-requesting library books. This style of planning also helps us to cement information in our head when it is presented in different ways throughout the week. This year we are on year three of the cycle which covers from Columbus up to the Civil War (1492-1860’s).

Here is a blank Relational Subject Comparison for anyone else who is interested in planning this way.

Some people look at the above list of subjects and can’t imagine how we get it all done in a week. Here is a small taste of what our Sample Week looks like so you can see how we make this a doable reality. Remember, we don’t do every subject every day and this is fitting in essentially 5 different grades into one week. Not every grade is doing every subject on the above list. And it is especially important for new homeschoolers of younger children to remember that our schedule was not always this full. We started out with years of 2-3 hour school days and lots of extra time for library and field trips, lots of nature walks and outside play and, most importantly, LOTS of interest-led learning. Enjoy your little ones. Enjoy the slower pace. There is a time and season for a busier, more challenged schedule but the early elementary years is not that season!

So, how did our first week go you ask?

Find out here.

PAYSON ACADEMY

2014 – 2015

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Homeschooling while in the Winter Rut

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We’ve all felt it.

Is he ever going to learn to read? Will she ever be able to grasp this grammar concept?Are these narrations ever going to lead to productive writing? Will my child ever learn how place value works so we can finally move on to double digit addition? Will my child ever do this chore right? Will my child ever go in the potty by himself?

Even I, a homeschooling mom of 7 years, still face these questions daily. I get frustrated, discouraged, and sometimes even panic especially as high school draws ever closer for my oldest son.

Will a dark winter season of homeschooling ever bear the hopeful sight of spring shoots?

This question weighs heavy as I wait out winter for the first signs of spring. Even as I sit here and type in the darkness of the last of winter mornings, I hear a bird chirping and my heart unexpectedly swells with joy. SPRING! The days may still be cold, the mornings may still be dark but hearing that first chirp is a very tangible reminder for me that darkness will quickly wane into the light of the sun kissing me awake and the feel of fresh breezes caressing my sleepy cheeks through open windows left open at night.

It is the same in homeschooling. It is in small, unexpected moments that I see growth, new shoots of understanding, and full blossoming of ideas that make my heart swell with joy as the tiny buds of learning unfurl.

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I found this poem. Just randomly penned in the middle of a notebook as I was looking for paper to write down some notes of my own.

Winter

Winter

With its cold, black claws

It freezes your face into nothing

And on your face

It feels like a saw

I sat there and read and then reread these words written by my, then, 9 year old daughter. I didn’t teach this. We didn’t have “poetry day” that ended up with this sweet little poem in her language arts notebook. I didn’t plan a day on reading winter poetry (although that does sound nice, come to think of it) and then have a creative writing session.

This poem sprung up on it’s own out of the fertile soil of her own mind.

I’ve watched this play out with other children too. This week I’ve watched my eight year old son finally make a leap with reading that I thought might never come. I heard about my twelve year old son talking logical fallacies with the elders from his pop’s church and have them flabbergasted that he could carry on an adult conversation on a topic they did not learn until college. My three year old boy is finally getting this whole potty thing. To me this is not bragging, it is celebrating. It is recognizing those moments when we see our kids blossoming into the fruit of our labor.

It is good for each of us homeschool mothers to search this out in our kids…to look for those tender shoots to emerge from the minds of our children.  Simply Charlotte Mason reminds us that,

“Children learn in order to grow, not just to know. And just as a winter woodland scene can appear to be bleak, so we go through some seasons with our children when we don’t see evidence of growth.”

But how do we remember this in the midst of our own seasons of winter?

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Consistency. We hear this word all the time right? With parenting, potty training, schooling, disciplining. But it’s true. A little bit consistently over the year will do more then the most planned out, well put together pinterest board on anything. This is true because we are there for them over and over and over again. It feels rough because being there everyday means we see all the mistakes, all the failures. Sometimes I like to beat myself up about not finishing that perfectly planned out pinterest – onenote- evernote board. We didn’t get to all the books. We didn’t finish all the assignments. We didn’t watch all the movies or youtube clips. But I sometimes (okay, a lot of times) forget that we did DO. Everyday. And all this doing adds up to a lot of fertile, nutrient-dense soil for learning to grow in.

Strewing. Strewing allows us to continually put a feast of ideas in front of our children. This is a natural carry-over of being consistent. It is not bad to plan. Planning allows us to allow for strewing. We may not have read every book I wanted to read by week’s end but one of my children will have, unprompted, picked up some book from some basket and read just because. Sometimes we don’t get to all my video clips I’d like to watch but one of my children will have picked up something just from me previewing during my planning stage. One day your daughter will walk downstairs and request the next Life of Fred book because she just finished the first and is dying to know where the story went and you didn’t even know she was interested in the Life of Fred books, let alone reading them. But here they were sitting around our house waiting for a child to discover their wonderfulness. While we must continue to set goals and design the track we want our school days to run on, I find that strewing sometimes blossoms into the most beautiful moments of unplanned learning.

Look at Past Growth Patterns. Simply Charlotte Mason reminds us that we don’t panic when the trees drop their leaves and appear to die in the winter. The reason we don’t is because we know from past experience that spring will come again.

“Just as we have grown accustomed to the cycle of the seasons in nature—spring turns to summer and fall and then winter,— so we must grow accustomed to growth seasons in educating.” 

Growth will reappear and always when we are least expecting it. Ever watch your children walk outside on a cold, bleak winter’s day and go completely ecstatic over finding the first sign of spring grass poking through the bleak, barren, brown landscape? Then walk outside the next day and almost, as if overnight, the whole yard is dotted with the first signs of green. The growth appears almost instantaneously.

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Rest is Required. We must also remind ourselves that winter is a season of rest. We may not see growth but that is because resting provides the perfect environment for absorbing. We only have to look at nature for this.  Consider what the Colorado State University Extension has to say about roots in the winter:

The root system of a tree performs many vital functions. In winter, it is a store-house for essential food reserves needed by the tree to produce spring foliage. Roots absorb and transport water and minerals from the soil to the rest of the tree. Roots also anchor the portion of the tree above ground. It is important to keep the portion above ground healthy to ensure an adequate food supply for the roots to continue their important functions.”

Did you catch that? Winter is a time to store up. When we are consistent, we daily feed our child with the academic nutrients that they need. But they need time to be absorbed and sometimes that is best done during seasons of rest. For us as homeschool moms that means we need to ensure two things. First, that we don’t get discouraged during what seems like a season of not getting it. We need to be confident that they are still absorbing and all that information will be used in a season of spring growth when everything will just click. Second, we need to remember to give intentional times of rest. This may be a much needed school break for the holidays, the summer, or just because. It can also come in the form of taking a break from a subject that has been causing stress. I’ve had to do this with two different children who were struggling with reading. Even just a couple of weeks break provides a jump in their ability that forcing twice as much studying never would’ve done. REST. It’s okay!

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Enjoy the current season. One of my favorite things about homeschooling in the winter is the ability to enjoy its beauty. If I’m not having to get my children up in the dark of the morning, rush to get something warm in our bellies, bundle kids up and scrape icy windows or shovel driveway snow then I can look around me and appreciate the softly falling snow or the perfectly formed ice crystals on the window pane.

Not only can we very tangibly enjoy the actual season of winter (can anyone say pajamas and hot cocoa while doing phonics?), we can choose to see the beauty in our own seasons of winter for a particular child’s learning difficulties. Instead of sweating over the fact that this child is working on the same phonics sound for literally the 100th time, focus on the fact that he is home with you snuggled on the couch feeling safe and secure in his mother’s arms. Instead of getting frustrated over your child’s blank stare at the same math concept you’ve been studying for weeks upon weeks, focus on the fact that you get to be the one to build her up with words of encouragement. Or focus on you, the mother, who knows your child SO well that you get to slow down, speed up, or stay put as needed because you have the freedom to decide as teacher. Enjoy library days, field trips, arts and crafts and the fact that you can kiss, hug, snuggle, or high-five your child without a school administration sending you the memo on inappropriate teacher-student contact!

The homeschooling season, in and of itself, will be a short season of your life’s journey. So let’s get out of our winter rut and start enjoying the process again. It will be spring soon enough. You WILL see growth…new life…out your cold window pane and inside your child’s warm heart.

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♥ Considering Love

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♥ Updated and reposted February 2014. ♥

As Valentine’s Day approaches we immediately set out to “do” something for our significant others. And, within reason, there is nothing wrong with this quaint tradition. We all long to give to those we love. Some say it with flowers, some with chocolate, some with jewelry.

At this house, we’ve never been much of a giver of traditional Valentine’s gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers and chocolate…especially chocolate…but it has never seemed prudent to spend our money on temporary things that don’t last.  Some years we dine out, other years – when tight on money – we don’t. Some years we buy cards, some years we make, some years we go without due to a season of busyness. We do try to make it special for the kids with activities and a small gift and much love through food and feast, sugar and sweets.

This will mark the 18th year our marriage has celebrated this special season. Our marriage is better than it ever has been and keeps getting sweeter every year. As I was reading in bed I came across this marvelous passage that struck me as utter truth and reminded me of why our marriage has sustained its sweetness.

I think that as the years go by, the same love would enrich any marriage as the love which builds and enriches a community of celibate monks; and that is the love which is pledged to lay down its own wants and preferences for the sake of the other. The marriage that was built on natural affection, and had nothing of such love would, in the end, sour, however promising its beginning, I think…if their love has not that Christ-like quality of humble service, then neither is it built to last for ever.      ~Peregrine’s conversation with Clare in The Dove and Hawk Trilogy (Boldface my emphasis)

We have learned on our walk together that serving the other is when love truly grows. As I aim to meet my husband’s needs (an ironed chef coat without asking, making the bed, picking up the house before he gets home, making sure I always have something I can make him to eat after he gets in late at night) without worrying what I will get in return, it is that precise moment through the humbling of those acts of servitude that my needs are fulfilled. I give out so that love may increase. And as he seeks to serve me (doing a load of dishes without being asked, making us breakfast whenever he is home, working three jobs to support our family’s vision) without seeking a need in return, he is blessed with his needs fulfilled. It is this beautiful ebb and flow created through our perfect Father and perfected through Jesus Christ.

Some days the yoke of Christ does NOT feel easy and light. But it is precisely those days when I need to stop and ask myself if my heart is truly serving the needs of my family. It is easy in this world of technology and information to become self absorbed. The moment I step away into myself, even an inch, love slips away and is replaced with selfishness and wanting to gratify my needs. It is only when I turn back to serving others and laying down my life (my wants, desires, needs) to lift up their’s, it is only then that love returns and the peaceful yoke settles around my neck like a breath of fresh air.

So on this day of love, may we remember an oft heard verse but read it with fresh eyes…the eyes of a willing servant.

Love is patient (even when you’re right), love is kind (even if you’ve been wronged). It does not envy (even if there is righteous cause to be jealous), it does not boast (for it understands that there will be low days too), it is not proud (for that is the perfect foothold for the enemy). It is not rude (even if they deserve the comment), it is not self-seeking (no matter how many needs you have that are not being fulfilled), it is not easily angered (even when you have every right to be angry), it keeps no record of wrongs (even if those wrongs are grounds for divorce). Love does not delight with evil (even though your friends want you to join in with the complaining of your spouse) but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (even when the relationship seems dead and lifeless for love is a choice, not a feeling).”  ~I Corinthians 13:4-7 (amplified interpretation all mine)

So, if any of you out there are saying to yourself that is impossible, you don’t understand, shouldn’t marriage be about give and take, fifty-fifty split? May I just offer you this small token of advice. Put down the Love Dare book. Look at your significant other and forget EVERY SINGLE one of your needs. Look at his (or her) needs only and find how to serve. I promise you the impossible will happen. God’s grace will grow love where you never thought possible, will spark desire where you never knew it was missing. Miracles will happen…jealousies will subside…hearts will soften…forgotten prayers will be answered!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my precious kids whom constantly teach me how to love!

Happy Valentine’s Day, my best friend, soul mate, and most cherished companion!

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day, World! ♥

♥ XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO ♥

Christmas Perspective

I wanted to share a beautiful poem this Christmas Day that was shared with me via our MOPS winter newsletter. In this particular season of motherhood this poem touched a chord that I think will also resonate with many other mothers I know. Read it. Print it. Frame it. Display it where you can reread daily and let’s start practicing love to our families this Christmas!

1 Corinthians 13 Christmas Style

©By Sharon Jaynes

 If I decorate my house perfectly with lovely plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights, and shiny glass balls, but do not show love to my family – I’m just another decorator.

 If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family – I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family – it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of your way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.  Video games will break; pearl necklaces will be lost; golf clubs will rust.  But giving the gift of love will endure.

Christmas 2013

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Merry Christmas friends and family!

May your day be merry and bright!

xoxo

The Silent Advent

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Advent and Christmas time is notorious for being filled with busyness. We are all subject to it and it is hard to escape even if we wanted to.

The malls are decorated and ready and waiting for shoppers not even a day after Halloween. We skip right over Thanksgiving and learning to be content and rush right into a season of the gimmies.

Pinterest abounds with ideas, ideas and more ideas. Delectable ideas, to be sure, but so many that we are either paralyzed into doing nothing or we try to be super moms and take extra lengths to crowd into every day an activity that will spark creativity, grow the minds of our child, inspire character growth, bring home the “reason for the season”. We advent our kids to death in the hope that this year our child will get it and not be duped by this Santa fella.

And when we are not using Pinterest for this, we use it to wow those around us. Surely our neighbors will be envious over our lights, our tree, our decor, our china, our food, our community gift-giving efforts. We do this all in the name of family and Christ. We are sure that this year we did Advent right. This is the year we will wake up December 26th full of soul satisfaction at a job well done.

But I know us. I know me. And we won’t. Ever.

Not unless we slow down. Not unless we stop doing. Not unless we allow God to pull us into forced silent retreat.

This was my Advent this year. My lights still aren’t all the way up. Parts of my home do look beautiful but among that is the mess of moving rooms around, school not put up for vacation, and boxes of Christmas decor still sitting in my living room that I walk past daily completely in denial and convinced that the last few things will get put up even if tomorrow is already Christmas Eve. My advent calendar never got put up. I did not get to do the Christmas Story Advent countdown. We didn’t do the Jesse Tree. We barely made it most nights to carols and quiet advent time as a family. There was no special activity for each day. No marathon of special Christmas cookie baking to hand out to neighbors or take to family gatherings. We missed the hometown Christmas-y stuff. We missed sitting on Santa’s lap or making Christmas lists or writing letters to the North Pole. Our Netflix box sits full of Christmas movies that we haven’t watched.

But it’s okay. At least that is what He is whispering to me. God chose to equip me with something more beautiful this year. A forced silent retreat. {I sense a reoccurring theme here.} And I panicked at first. I wanted to be a part of all those special Christmas events. I wanted my children to carry those memories. Instead I was graced with being forced to socially retreat. And during it I was blessed to have found this Advent book to read during this time of silent night, holy night. The only Advent devotional book available for me to check out at the library. God’s Advent gift to me.

Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent.

And daily (mostly) I read and wept and prayed. The focus was not on Mary or Joseph or baby Jesus but instead on Elizabeth and Zachariah and their forced silent retreat. God needed them both to stop, listen, prepare and to do this they were taken out of the busyness of life. Okara’s take on how God used them is beautifully, breathtakingly simple. Every day I took something very powerful away to ponder. And while I encourage you to pin this book to your Advent board to remember for next year, I’d like to leave you absorbing a few of it’s treasured nuggets for yourself this Christmas week.

Part One – Surprised and Silenced By God

Traditionally when we think of Advent we immediately call to mind Mary, Joseph, and the angel Gabriel. But in the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah and Elizabeth are the first two people we meet in the Advent narrative. Much as John the Baptist was the forerunner to Christ, his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth seem to be the forerunners for the holy family. The angel Gabriel comes to them first to astound them with good news. Yet, Zechariah and Elizabeth teach us that receiving divine good news can be fraught with all kinds of tensions and questions. It is an understatement to say that Zechariah and Elizabeth are caught by surprise. Their shock dumbs them into silence and seclusion, affording them time to dwell with the news.”

Lamentations 3:26

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

Lamentations 3:28

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.”

Day 2 – Lament

In America, we live in a pain-avoidance culture that rarely sees any meaningful significance in sitting with discomfort. When something feels bad, society and corporations have conditioned us to self-medicate with media, food, or shopping. It may take discipline and practice to learn to appreciate the importance of lament for our soul’s and our community’s health”

Day 10 – Silence

What if the silence God bestowed on Zechariah was not fully punishment but also an odd blessing. What if God was offering Zechariah nine months to sit with the news, to ponder God’s words, and to process the stupefied awe in which he surely found himself. What if the time of formal silence was God granting Zechariah the gift of some necessary internal solitude in preparation to receive the miracle and to dwell in God’s faithfulness…”

Day 12 – Divine Preparation

Most of us would consider a silent retreat an unreasonable way to spend our time when our to-do lists seem unending. But carving out space for contemplation and solitude can invite God to speak into our lives and offer us an opportunity for us to sleep in the depth of what God is already doing and saying. Elizabeth has five uninterrupted months of quiet solitude to take in the reality of her growing miracle. Not even her husband’s voice can intrude on this time of reflection. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah are forced into holy retreat to dwell on what God is doing in their lives.”

Day 13 – Holy Retreat

The more we inhabit silence, the better our hearing becomes. When we step back into the noise of our world, our hearing is a bit more fine-tuned and more likely to hear God’s whispers.”

Psalm 37:7

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…”

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As you sit with these words of encouragement and wisdom, I urge you to revisit Luke 1:5 – 2:40 and sit with the Christmas Story for a while. Allow it to penetrate your hearts this Christmas.

If you are, like me, in that season of forced retreat (health, kids, stress, depression, life!), consider also reading some more encouraging Christmas Advent posts from myself and other mothers who have been there.

the silent advent

A Heart of Thankfulness {A Blessings Photo Essay}

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This year season of my life has been hard…really hard. Since last August I’ve been struggling with various teeth and body issues that no doctor or dentist can figure out. I’m desperately trying to stave off new symptoms while trying to maintain life by masking current symptoms. Life has been hard. I’ve had to give things up that I didn’t want to in order to hang on to the most important stuff. (Do you hear the crickets chirping in this here blogosphere?) But despite that, I’m sitting here this Thanksgiving day looking around and knowing I’m blessed. I see His hand all around me and if I don’t look to the little things and count them then those blessings that fall like living rain can roll right off my back soaking into the ground, wasted.

So today I need to count because gratitude needs to be my lifeline during this time of not understanding.

Can I start with the beauty of the season? Just look at the simplicity of the pumpkin above. The shape and color, the contrast against my weathered porch, the complimentary fallish leaves strewn just so. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Perfect.

Then there’s the dying back of the garden that holds it’s own in beauty compared to it’s spring and summer counterparts. Sunlight bouncing off of maroons and mauves in the morning light. Tawny browns of seed heads contrasting against bronzed, dying leaves.

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And the mornings. Oh how I wish I could enjoy more of them but whatever is attacking my body seems worst then. The mornings that I do make it to my front porch are like an oasis to the chaos of my day.

Hot coffee.

Living words.

Feeding souls.

And this town…

I’m thankful for this small, midwest town. The community is strong here. The houses are mish-mashed and beautiful, ornate and simple. The business is small, local and cozy. The churches are reaching hearts and building family.

ashland library

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I love that my children can walk to the library or to the drugstore. I love that they can bike to a friends house or walk up to the park. I love the memories they are making. I love the security that a small town affords us for our growing family.

And my heart swells with thankfulness for my children. They are growing faster than the weeds in my yard. I watch them stretching their minds. I listen in on their sibling conversations. I inwardly smile at the first awkward stirrings of teenage years quickly approaching. I treasure the conversations in my heart. I laugh at little hands and little feet stirring up trouble. And I breathe deep baby fat and double chins. These are my legacy…my stories…my beautiful mess.

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lily 2

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lilah 4

ivy 5

eli 6

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And as Advent draws near, I am thankful for the Lord that provides. Our dollars are tight. They already have to stretch beyond our means to cover our chosen life-path. This month He provided a new couch set…well, new to us. Perfect in condition, color, and style to nestle into the space of our Victorian living room. A chance stop-in at the Goodwill. Under $100 for the whole trio. As Advent approaches and winter settles in, it means dark mornings, candlelight and the thankfulness of my heater as I curl up with His word and wait for the Christ-child.

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For to even open up the door these days invites in the too chilly air. Frost sparkles the world and for very brief moments I soak in the beauty of upcoming winter. My imagination runs wild with thoughts of silver fairies and legends of jack frost. And when I return to the warmth of the house, to the smells of fall cooking and fill my belly with the comfort of potatoes and pumpkin and squash, I am again reminded of how blessed I am compared to most. My house is old and I don’t know if I will ever find the money to make it whole and not broken, but even amidst it’s brokenness it brings me daily joy.

As does my husband whose very heart and commitment to our family sings of his sacrificial love of us. His talented hands feed us, sing to us, embrace us. He is father and still soul mate. I am lucky indeed.

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Let them give THANKS to the LORD

For His UNFAILING LOVE

And His wonderful deeds for men,

For He SATISFIES the thirsty

And fills the hungry with GOOD things.”

Psalm 107:8-9

happy thanksgiving