The joy of homeschooling…

…is that we get to do a lot of hands of learning.  And our days are flexible.  So when my friend Holly invited us to come play today and help with chores around her farm, we were delighted to be able to say yes.  She breeds and sells puppies and the kids got to play in the yard with the puppies while they got some playtime.  I’m quite sure the kids enjoyed it as much or more than the puppies.

Audrey learned that puppies quickly go from this:

audie & pup

To this:

Audie & pups

And that she could do this:

audie picking puppy

But that someone would swiftly do this:

a day at the farm 021

And after puppy time, we learned about caring for horses.  And what all the different brushes are for.  And we got Trusty all cleaned up and ready to work.

rylee and holly
horse tools
audrey and tools
brushing Trusty
kyler working

Then we watched and listened as Holly showed us all the parts and straps the go on so that Trusty can pull a cart.  Rylee took it all in and though she looks serious in all these pictures, she truly was in heaven.  The girls lives and breathes animals.

learning about bridles

Once the cart was on, everyone jumped in their seat for a ride.  They had such a great time!

4 riding
four from behind

Audrey took a hammock break after she was done sitting in the cart:

audie in the cart
audie in hammock

Caleb isn’t in most of these pictures, he was very content to jump on the trampoline or to use the horse whip to obtain pinecones from the trees.  He is so happy in places like this where he can explore and roam freely.

We also watched the hay truck come and set up their conveyer belt to transport 5 tons of hay into the top of the barn.  Very impressive.

learning about hay

We fed treats to the horses and the kids loved the feeling of their lips on their little hands.

feeding horse

We found more puppies in the barn and though the pics aren’t as good, Rylee is in pure bliss in case you can’t tell.

rylee and more puppies

What a fun day!  Here are a few more since I’m already way overboard with the pictures, who’s counting?!!!

kyler pups
rylee & pups 1
Kyler & puppy
holly and audie

The last time we explored the Kohls farm was in February for Rylee’s birthday, that post ended with a picture of Holly and Audrey too.  My how time passes quickly and definitely not content to sit in the grass anymore, Audrey was walking all over the place for hours today!

Not me Monday!

Confession is good for the soul.  After a long hiatus, I’m joining in MckMama‘s weekly blog carnival just for fun.  So in case I haven’t bared enough of my true self this week already, here are the things that I most certainly did “not” do this week:

I did not hear these words from the mouth of MY children in the car on the way home from church on Sunday:

Rylee:  “I wish there were bad guys here.  Most of the bad guys are in Africa and other places.”

Mama:  “Oh not true.  There are bad guys here too that do bad things but we don’t tend to here about them or see them.” (I’ve been talking with the kids about poverty and about religious persecution “bad things”, they somehow assume those happen far away but not here, even though I’ve told them otherwise).

Kyler:  “I wish I could find a bad guy, like Darth Mader.  I would find a sharp knife and cut off his head.  Yeah I would.  I would get him with my sword.”

Mama (starting to wonder if watching Star Wars was a good idea):  “It’s not our job to get the bad guys, the police and people in the military have the job of protecting people.  What would you like for lunch today Kyler?”

Kyler: “I just wanna find some bad guys and get them.”

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By late Sunday night, I did not eat my words about bad guys as my husband and I watched drama unfold outside in our suburban neighborhood that included camo-clad SWAT team members with assault rifles walking through our backyard.  I subsequently did NOT contemplate how I would withhold the truth from my children when they woke up the next day asking why we had moved all four of them to sleep in our back bedroom (all ended well, don’t worry!).

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I do not have a punch card in my wallet for McDonald’s coffee.  That is so not ‘classy’.

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I did not finally muster the confidence when asked for the umpteenth time “Wow, four children!  Will you have any more?”  with an honest “I hope so.” instead of the typical “Maybe, we’ll see, I don’t know, not sure, hmmm”.

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I did not act like an immature and whiny wife when my husband WON tickets to a sold out NFL opening day game on his BIRTHDAY!  Nope, I always manage with grace and diplomacy.

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I have definitely not mapped out my day by coffee breaks figuring out how on earth to make it on less than 3 hours of sleep.

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I also did not stand in front of the toilet paper display last night at the grocery store for 45 minutes with a full cart, just to buy myself some time away to talk uninterrupted on my cell phone.  I did not grin sheepishly when my neighbor gave me a knowing glance and walked quietly by me as I talked.

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And I did not, really surely not (I’m telling the truth for certain here) wear a girdle to yet another church again this Sunday.  I learned my lesson last week.  The blasted undergarmet truly made it’s way to my dumpster after this post.

Are we really in our thirties?

Having dated since we were 15 years old Christopher and I have spent more birthdays together now in our life than not.  My husband is graced with the dilemma that he looks significantly younger than he is, so it may not seem possible that we are delving into our thirties but it’s true.  When he pastored the jr high group at church as a young twenty-something,  I often found a parent looking around the room for who was in charge-just sure that it couldn’t be the guy up front who looked like he was still in high school.  I had the pleasure of telling them, yes it was.  Always made me smile.

This is us the year we started dating April of 1995-the night of our first date actually, don’t laugh too hard…

c and k 1995

Two years ago in 2007 as he turned the big 3-0,  I wrote these words to my love on his birthday, a gift that I’m quite sure I’ll never be able to top:

It is quiet in the backyard with just me and Kyler today.  He seems a tad restless.  His entertainers are asleep.  I think for a minute of what life would be like with only Kyler.  It would be peaceful and quiet and quite simple.  But then it would be missing so much.  It would be missing Rylee’s deep belly laugh and her soft silky hair.  It would be missing Caleb’s boistrous tackles and his gorgeous blue eyes.  It would be missing a tremendous amount of beauty and wonder and life.  Just as we have been exhausted, frustrated and pushed beyond what we imagined we could handle-so also have we been blessed beyond measure, cared for by God’s provision and overwhelmed with joy.

We have been forever changed by their presence in our lives.  In the same way that God has expanded our hearts and multiplied our love, He is faithful and He will do it again.  I know this isn’t your plan or timing, it isn’t mine either.  But in His infinite wisdom, generosity and abundant love for us, God is sharing another one-of-a-kind reflection  of His creativity and glory with our family.

Yes.  On today, your 30th birthday I am telling you that on May 17, my 30th birthday-our fourth child is due.

That gift was Audrey Rose.  Born to us at a time of chaos and brokenness, her life drew us back together in a way that is beyond words.  She is a daily reminder of God’s goodness to us.

audie 9-09

Happy Birthday Christopher-I hope for many, many more years to celebrate with you!

Five-in-a-Row bliss

I realize it’s only week one of our homeschool adventure.  But honestly, with two other little ones who I was sure would be underfoot the second I tried to work with the older kids, I had low expectations for the week and figured we’d spend a while working kinks out and finding a groove.  While we will undoubtedly still do that, I have been blown away by what an incredible week this has been.

In shifting mindsets and really embracing the idea of learning at home and learning all the time (which has been a process for the past year), I knew that come fall I would need to intentionally set aside most other things to focus on homeschooling.  I even deleted my facebook account because I wasn’t disciplined enough to not spend more time on there than I should.  With our new organization plan in place and having been able to spend the money to get the curriculum and supplies that I wanted and ultimately knowing that this was what God was asking our family to do, I felt armed and ready.

I adore reading posts about what people are using in their homes to teach their children and I have several friends just starting in the same journey.  So here’s what we’re doing this year (Part I):

We are using Five in a Row for the base of our learning.  It is a rich program, one that I was instantly drawn to when I heard about it.  I agonized over several other options but this one seemed to fit best.  It is based in literature and for one week, the children are immersed in a classic story.  They experience all the angles and aspects of the story, the manual gives direction and ideas and I am free to do as many or as few as I would like each week.

The books are classic, many are old fashioned, they include vocabulary words that no one uses anymore, they are beautiful, timelss, inspiring stories that open the door for so much possibility it completely blew me away this week as we began our Five in a Row journey.  My sister (a teacher) has always said that repetition is hugely important in teaching young children.   At first Rylee thought it was strange that we’d read the same story every day.  But as we did, the kids anticipated the next pages and finished my sentences and saw different things in the book as we read it again and again.

Monday we snuggled on the couch to read The Story of Ping, written in 1933, which takes place in China.  We then ran to the map, pointed out China and the Yangze river where the whole story unfolds.  We talked about distance and maps and used our fingers to measure different spans across the world.  We talked about consequences and what happens when we try to get out of them.  The kids made all kinds of observations about the different culture that the book portrayed.

As the week went on, life took a theme of its own and after we enjoyed the learning activities given as ideas from the book.  The hours of free play for imagination and creativity were filled with new things that stemmed from our learning about China, houseboats, boat boys and a family of ducks that lived on the Yangtze River.  We went on a walk to a duck pond and brought bread and made trails for the ducks to follow us like Ping does in the story.  We experimented with what would float in the river by making lists of things that sink and things that float and talked about why.

I honestly don’t even think the kids had a clue we were ‘in school’ most of the time, truly neither did I.  We just had ridiculous amounts of fun together, learned all kinds of new things and enjoyed each other more than we have in a long time.  The structure and routine was so good for all of us.  And after we completed our ‘tasks’ the kids had ample time to be kids.  To run, to make messes in the yard, to sing loudly, to make cookies with mama, to take naps when they needed, to make beautiful artwork and so on…

A few weeks ago I wondered if we were doing the right thing.  I was nervous and tired and a little afraid.  I know we’ll have hard days and weeks but this week has been such confirmation that we’re doing what we’re supposed to for our little family.  I am so thankful.

Organization = success (sort of)

In the weeks that preceeded our formal beginning of homeschooling this past Monday, I spent a great deal of time trying to brainstorm ways to streamline our daily life and ways to set myself and the kids up for success as we prepared to dive into learning together.

The phrase that kept churning around in my head was that I wanted to “set me up for success”.  I wanted a plan.  I like plans.  Much as I like to let chaos rule sometimes and just make messes and play with the kids, it isn’t conducive to a happy home for very long.  Much as I also like to obsess about cleaning sometimes and get every tiny thing picked up, it isn’t conducive either to a happy home with happy children.

Middle ground.  It always seems to be my goal in most areas of life.  Finding the balance between a cleaning maniac mother who can’t let one thing get out of place and a disorganized, frazzled mother who can’t even find her shoes is the place  I am shooting for these days.

So to help in getting there, these are the things in place that may (or may not) be helpful to anyone else that I wanted to share…

I asked Christopher (nicely) about 3 weeks ago to help me get the house back under control every single night of the week.  I asked that we commit to reigning it in before it got out of control because I don’t believe my kids can learn well when there is complete disorder.  I put very specific stipulations on my request, namely that neither of us go online until the dinner dishes are done, the laundry is put away and the house is generally picked up.  This is a big, BIG sacrifice during fantasy football season and I knew it.  But I also knew it might have benefits that outweighed that hit.

I am amazed at what has taken place since we agreed on that.  If I slack during the day (and granted some days are so darn hard, it’s not slacking it’s just survival), then I am choosing to spent at least an hour maybe more late at night helping regain order.  If I keep myself going on the hour by hour tasks of the day, I am choosing to have little left to do at night and go to bed early or read a book snuggled in my bed for 2 hours.

In 3 weeks I’ve read more fiction books than in the past 3 years of my life.  Not kidding.  I have chosen to do a load of laundry every single day instead of save it all for the weekend, thus creating a monumentous task that I have grown to hate.  I have chosen to spend time each morning and afternoon with the kids doing a quick pick up instead of ending the day with a battle of who’s going to clean which room.

My kids are still getting used to what it feels like to find clothes in their dresser instead of in the ‘clean pile’ in the family room that was usually taller than they were.  So is my husband.  He recently asked me where to find a clean shirt, I replied “folded, in your dresser” and he said “Really??”.  Yes.  It was true.

I also spent several hours two weekends ago organizing our homeschool closet.  I bought rubbermaids in all sizes for each subject and genre of supplies and magazine holders that serve as a spot to put the materials that we’ll use daily.  I did a big run to the goodwill with stuff we don’t need.  I got myself back to planning dinners for the week too, knowing that with school at home I’d need to be really to feed the masses on a constant basis.

I am well aware that the spectrum of daddy’s/husbands runs wide.  Some help a lot, some hardly help.  Some work long days and some don’t have a job.  But the feeling of being on the same page with the one who made this family with me is touching a deep part in my heart.  It is worth the effort and the several tries at communication that it’s taken to forge a new path in this area of our life.

I have two more posts about homeschool and daily life coming up later this week!  We are having so much fun I can hardly stand it.  The biggest reason for that is everything I wrote above….and extra measures of the grace that only God can dole out.

I can’t breathe, but my jeans fit

After just posting yesterday about working hard at not complaining about my physical imperfections, especially around my children, I thought I would make sure you know what a work in progress my “be content with me” endeavor is.

Two years ago I wouldn’t have dared blog about my body or any issues I might have about it.  But for me, part of being content is talking about it and not fussing over what you might think about it.  That’s why I love blogging.

We are in the middle of a looking-for-church season, we’ve never done that before.  With Chris’ job requiring what it does of his time, leading a house church does not fit in with our life and our intention of having a healthy family and marriage.  So after enjoying our time doing that, we felt God asking us to move on.  I could write a small book about my thoughts and observations from our church visits.  Maybe you’ve read the book Jim and Casper Go to Church.  I told Christopher I’d call it The Strovas Family Goes to Church.

Instead of a book, here is our story from this past Sunday’s visit which also unveils my work-in-progress self, for the umpteenth time…

We had visited 5 churches already in less than 2 months.  This one was big and not close by but we knew some people there so we thought maybe it would be a good fit.

Since it was a Sunday morning service, we felt more compelled to dress nice.  Don’t ask me why, I have no idea.  Saturday/Sunday night services feel more casual for some reason.

And since we might see people we knew but hadn’t seen in a while, I wanted to look nice.  The trouble with that is two-fold:

  1. Church isn’t about looking nice and impressing everyone, though some might argue about that.
  2. Looking nice involves fitting clothes that don’t quite fit.

I won’t open the can of worms about putting on a church face and looking nice on Sundays.  Instead, I’ll just say that what I subjected myself to on Sunday morning to ‘look nice’ was unreasonable.  I put on my one and only ‘church shirt’ as my kids have dubbed it.  It has sparkles and is flattering and fun to wear.

But what went underneath was not fun to wear.  In an effort to smooth out everything and put things in the right places, I pulled out the girdle from my sister’s wedding to wear under my shirt and jeans.  I locked the door while I worked up a sweat trying to get the darn thing on.  When I bought it I was 20 pounds lighter.  The extra pounds did not want to make their way into the girdle.

The straps over the shoulders were removable.  A lovely feature I’m sure at some point but it left me feeling spring loaded and if I moved wrong, someone might get hurt.  I shimmied into my nice jeans and donned my brown shirt.  Pleased with the ‘support’ being provided I was keenly aware that my ability to breathe had just been significantly limited.

All for the sake of…what?  Yes, I know how ridiculous it sounds.

In the car on the way to church one of the kids needed something, instead of being able to reach back and help them, Christopher had to get out at a stoplight and do it.  I told him if I moved too much it might be like undoing a bungee cord off a full truck load and I might lose an eye-or something.  He smiled and helped the kids for me.

We arrived at our destination, me only slightly light headed and did the kid drop off then wandered around the back of the church looking for seats.  As we did, I was struck by how alone I could feel in a room full of people.  When we finally found some stray chairs and tried to sit, we were quickly scolded by an usher saying we couldn’t sit there.

I held back tears and the ability to breathe would have been quite helpful in that moment.  We left and sat outside the remainder of the service trying to catch parts of the sermon which sounded wonderful.

Upon our return back to the house, I ran to my room, peeled off the girdle and put on some sweats.  There were purple imprints of the straps and hooks on my back.  It literally felt bruised.  I promptly hopped around the house squealing as I enjoyed the feeling of my skin on soft clothes.

Why in the world did I subject myself to such pain?  And for what?  I really would like to say that I don’t care what people think about me and I just want to enjoy looking nice sometimes.  Which is true, somewhat.  It IS fun to dress up.  But it ISN’T fun to fret and worry about what other people think.   I care less now than I ever have, but I still do care.

Hence the girdle.  But I’ll have you know that the girdle has found a happy home in my dumpster today.  So next Sunday when we venture to yet another church, I may wear my nice shirt and I may enjoy a bit of makeup but I will be my lumpy, happy, able-to-breathe self when I go.

Little girl watching

Talking with Rylee today I was amazed at the words that came out of her little 6 year old mouth.

“Mama, when I look in the mirror, I don’t feel very beautiful.  I don’t see pretty.”

I was taken aback and carefully calculated my next words and talked with her at length about why she felt that way.  It came down to teeth.

“My teeth are missing, people always talk about it.  I think it looks different.  I don’t think my mouth is pretty.”

Honestly, I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to be sincere.  I wanted to speak words that affirmed her little sweet self in a genuine way.  Having been on the receiving end of more ‘pat answers’ in life that I’d like, I didn’t want to give her one.

I told her I could imagine how weird it felt.  I told her those new teeth would be on their way in by winter.  I told her that she was indeed beautiful with or without teeth because I believe she is.

What I now wish I had said was: “I know what you mean.  I understand what your heart feels like when you don’t see pretty.  The truth is, even when you don’t, you still are.  God made you beautiful and He sees you as lovely every day of your life.”

It made me realize, yet again, how powerful the words and glances of others impact the way we see things, especially ourselves.  Even as a 6 year old.  The tiniest little words that mean no harm but somehow convey – “You look strange and not quite as pretty as you would if you had teeth”.

If I counted the times in a day I commented or looked on at something or someone that was in some way ‘different’, I’m ashamed to say it would be more than it should.  And I make a great effort to keep those thoughts/feeling to myself.  I think they still get communicated to others somehow.

The idea that different is bad, even when it comes to something as simple as lack of teeth, is such a hard one to nip.  Modeling instead that (most) differences are part of our God-given uniqueness is what I long to pass on to my children. It is one thing that I sure intend to keep working on.

I also renewed my commitment not to complain about my looks or my body at all, especially not in front of Rylee.  She is soaking in my every word and I don’t want her to learn to pick out all her flaws from me.  She’ll get enough help from that elsewhere.  My heart longs for her to learn to be comfortable in her own skin and content with what she looks like at each stage of life.

Toothless grinned 6 year old stage.

Awkward, pubescent 13 year old stage.

Skinny, long legged high school stage.

Round with a baby belly stage.

Still round after baby stage.

And whatever other body stage that might find it’s way around.

Let me just say, this is easier said than done.  I have a whole post coming about this topic.  It involves a girdle and a sermon and it might make you smile.

It’s not the first time I’ve said it, parenting is such hard work.

It is such a training ground.  And a refining, blazing fire some days.

Music to my ears…

Family Listening

On Saturday, we had Karissa’s parents piano delivered to our house.  When one of the movers was leaving he said “with four kids there goes the peace and quiet!”  Well, he could not have been more wrong.

When Karissa sat down and began to play, all the kids (Audrey was in my arms) came running over to listen to her play.  As she played and sang, the peace did not leave, but the peace came flowing into the home.  It was great to sit, watch, and listen to her sing and play El Shaddai for all of us.

With some consistent rules set up, each of the kids have had turns playing the piano and all three of them love it.  It is amazing to hear their personalities come through as they play in their own way.  We are delighting in their delight of music.  We are grateful for the gift of the piano and look forward to them developing their passion for music.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Conversation on the way home from Grammy and Grampy’s:

Rylee, age 6 – “I want to be a farmer and take care of animals and sell them”

redbarn

Caleb, age 5 – “I want to be a race car driver”

nascar

Kyler, age 3 – “I want to jump over big mountains!”

Jump

We thought it was interesting to hear what each of the kids said to this question.  Rylee has said that she has wanted to be a farmer for quite some time now.  Who knows how that will play out in life.  Now that I am almost 32, I have some ideas of what I want to be when I grow up, and they don’t usually involve crawling under houses.  I will now pose the question to you, no matter how old you are now…

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What a little color can do…

I’ve been hard at work the past few weeks making sure we have everything we need to beging homeschool this fall.  It’s been fun but part of me has been in a bit of a funk that I couldn’t quite figure out.  There were the predictable, normal reasons for that.  But there was more too.  That I didn’t have a clue about.

When it became clear last week that Audrey was too sick to travel on our family trip north with the rest of my family, I was sad because I knew I’d be missing out.  But in the hours that followed my decision to remain behind, something sparked in my mind and I was so exhilerated at the thought that I could not sleep (something I never have trouble with!).

I hatched a lofty plan that I hinted at to Christopher just to test the waters for his approval, the water was warm, his words were “Awesome, do whatever you want!”.  So with his blessing and a weekend with a sleepy, sad baby to care for alone in my house, I set out to do something even I doubted I could complete.

I was hungry for color.  I thought at first I’d break out our paint and cover every scrape and every crayon mark on the wall.  But that seemed silly.  I wanted more.  Heading into a dreary, gray Seattle winter sooner than I’d care to admit and knowing that with homeschooling we’ll spend a LOT of time here, I wanted some pizazz.

So after I got the rest of the family on their way, I said a prayer for my oldest three who would spend an entire weekend with their Dad and headed myself to the paint store.  I didn’t pick from the strips of color where you compare the shades and the darker ones seems crazy drastic.  Instead I grabbed single color samples so I couldn’t see the contrast.  I wouldn’t even touch anything that did not make me smile just looking at it.  Bright kiwi greens, lemon yellow, cheerful minneola orange.  You get the idea.

I settled on a vibrant but not fluorescent green for the family room/school room and a shade of bright orange called ‘Fresh Persimmons’ for the hall bathroom.  Both had been boring shades of light green, the family room being especially gray-green.  And instead of touching up the dingy white bathroom cabinet, I painted them ‘Gardener’s Soil’ brown.

Painting always evokes cleaning because you have to move furniture.  Cleaning leads to organizing because you have piles.  No piles left and organized, clean spaces make for one happy mama.  What transpired last weekend as I conquered a large family room and a small hallway bath was much more than painting.

It felt surreal.  I felt bold.  I felt capable.  I felt talented.  I felt excitement bubbling out of me.  I felt proud of myself.  I completed something I started.  I made something beautiful for my whole family to enjoy.  I did something drastic.  I got to spend time with my neighbor while she helped me finish the family room task.  I scarcely ate or slept for 2 full days.  My daughter got to rest and get well in her own bed.  My other kids spent a weekend soaking up time with their daddy whom they simply can’t get enough of (and visa versa!).  Honest truth?  The kids were tired of me.  And the feeling was mutual.

So much good came out of a weekend gone wrong that it became abundantly clear to me that I was never supposed to go on the trip in the first place.  I just didn’t know that.  I needed to orchestrate Extreme Home Makeover in my own house. I was so over the top about it all that I could not sleep after painting and working about 12 hours on Saturday.  Several times all night long I got up and ran out to turn the light on to see if it was really complete and really ‘Peaceful Leaf’ green.  It was.  And I was happy.

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My lessons learned?

Even when you get redirected and you’d rather stay on the course, good things might happen.

Moms with lots of little people need a break more than 3 hours a week to grocery shop from said little people every once in a blue moon.

Every now and then moms with little people need to participate in something inspiring, something beautiful – alone.

A few gallons of paint and a few cheap home decor items from Target and Walmart can work wonders for a tired home that is shot to pieces every day by-yes, you guessed it-lots of little people.

Brighter is better.  Brighter is cheerful.  This green room I’m sitting in makes me feel like I’m outside on a sunny day.

Making my husband proud is one of the best feelings in the world.

Do something bold and crazy today.  It might just turn out to be amazing.