Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Almost Done!

We finished our family New Testament studies yesterday. 

I feel like singing.

Not because we're done and it's over (because we will, of course, stay immersed in the scriptures year 'round), but because we actually persevered and finished this particular course of study. 

It was such a sense of accomplishment to pick up all of those full journals and plunk them in the "2013-2014 Completed Schoolwork" box.

It's so fun to turn my attention to planning for the summer and the coming year. 

We're still working our way to the ends of our math books.  And our current literature books/journals will be completed at almost the exact same time.  There might be a difference of a few days, but for the most part I think we're really done next week.

We'll loaf about--sleeping in, reading long hours, hiking, going to the zoo--for a week or so.  We'll just kind of rest and stretch for a bit.  Perhaps just long enough to get bored and start looking for something interesting to do.

Then we'll dive into botany for the summer. 

It will keep us just organized enough to prevent us falling into utter chaos, and it will keep us out of doors for significant quantities of time.


I love that expression.

I love to be there.

I love knowing that we will have hours and hours and hours of time out-of-doors in the days and weeks ahead.

Monday, April 28, 2014


I have only 4 children at home this afternoon and evening.

The big girls are away at a soccer meet.

The house feels so quiet.

 The quiet is both soothing and odd at the same time.

Only 5 of us at the dinner table.  Though we chitter chattered through our meal, it still felt so . . . small.

It makes me realize that we're soon to be on the shrinking end of family life as children grow up and will leave home.  I know there will be growth in weddings and babies to come, but before that, there will be a lessening.

Makes me a little melancholy.

And glad that my husband and big girls will be home in an hour to fill the house with laughter and bickering, talking and activity.

This afternoon was peaceful. 
We went to the library. 
We read stories. 
We made dinner. 
We flew kites. 

We're closing up the house for the night and settling in.

It's a good life I have the privilege of living.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Out All Day

I woke up dreading yesterday. 

I am a homebody, and yesterday was an out-and-about day.  It was a day when I had to consult maps and drive somewhere new.  It was a day when kids' activities kept us from having a family dinner.  It was a day when I had to be well-organized and cheerful and adventurous, even though I wanted to be relaxed and quiet.

But it was a fun day.

Together the kids and I met some friends at the zoo.  We all learned all over again that we don't enjoy field trip type outings (we had 17 kids between us).  It is far more fun to go to the zoo just as a family, but it was good to see our friends.  It was good to talk, to visit, to put our own desires aside for a short time to meet the needs of others.

But next time we'll just invite them over to our house. :)

Later the kids and I packed up and headed out to E14's soccer game.  There are 2 weeks left in the season, and we are all ready for it to be over.  Instead of being invigorated and inspired by soccer, we feel overwhelmed and tired. 

I really thought this team (a homeschool team for which all of my daughters could eventually play) might be a good fit for us.  The practice field is close to our home; the coach is experienced and patient; the girls can play from grade 7 through to grade 12; all of my girls could, in various combinations, play together.  It sounds perfect!

But I'm not sure.

E14 is ready to be done and says she probably won't go back.  M12 and some of the younger girls really want to play.  I won't force E14--the cost is too high, both financially and emotionally, to push it, but if M12 wants to give it a try,  I won't stop her.

It's funny how I was dreading the game that turned out to be so much fun last night.  Our team was severely beaten--and fairly, too.  The other team out-played them.  But once we were out in the beautiful spring evening it was fun!  It was fun to watch and cheer.  It was fun to play at grass-wars with I2, H4 and A6.  It was fun to watch kids run and shout and be outside soaking in the sunshine and breeze instead of inside doing dishes and the same-old-same old. 

(Though I missed my husband and our family prayer time.)

We make family meals a priority, as we do family scripture study and prayer.  One missed night--or even 5 missed nights during soccer season--isn't the end of the world.  In fact, I wonder if it nourishes our love for our regular routine.

We ate a picnic dinner of toasted cheese-bread, apple slices, carrot sticks, and oatmeal cookies.
We came home for baths and showers.
We treated our sunburns with fresh aloe vera (note to self--buy sunscreen!).
We gathered for (almost) family prayer and read together from The Book of Mormon.
We read stories.
We talked.
We were together.

We were together all day--whether in the house or out. 
We enjoyed one another. 

That day I was dreading? 

It was a good day.

Record It on Earth

This morning I read from The Doctrine and Covenants section 127.  It is about the need to properly record ordinances that are performed on earth.

Standing out in particular to me this morning is verse 7:

"That in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven; whatsoever you bind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven;"

I've had this very verse floating around in my head for a few weeks now.

And today I came accidentally across it in my personal studies.

I don't think it is an accident.  I think it is inspiration . . . even command . . . to do a better job at keeping our family history.  To write intentionally and purposefully.  Not to waste time at the computer--not to spend more time at the computer--but to sit down and write.

That the treasured (and mundane) moments of our family may be preserved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S11's Scripture Questions

The oldest 4 girls and I are reading and journaling our way through The Book of Mormon.  Each of us has a composition book, Book of  Mormon, and a reading chart.  We read and either write about what we've read or copy a scripture we particularly liked in that day's reading. 

Without fail the kids have all chosen to copy a scripture . . . every day.

I wanted to fuss a little, but I held my tongue, and I'm glad.  Though the kids sometimes are thoughtless about what they copy, and they're often clearly searching for the shortest possible verse, at least they're copying the word of God.

Once in a while as I check off their work, I'll add in a tiny comment:

"That's beautiful."

"How sad"

"This verse makes me want to grow a garden!"

Nothing astute or fabulous or insightful--just a little something more than a check mark on the top of the page. 

Over time the kids began to write little notes back to me:

"It makes me happy, too."

"I hope I don't make this same mistake."

"I want a garden, too."

I've been tickled to have this small bit of communication over the scriptures.  We talk about the scriptures all the time as a family, but there's been something special about these little, written notes.

And then "special" grew to profound. 

Yesterday S11 copied 2 verses and asked me a question.  A real, probing question that showed that though the verses were short, she was reading and thinking.  A question that showed that she knew I read her words and would care about them.  A question to which I was happy to spend time writing an answer in her journal.

She's got a good heart, my S11. 

These scripture journals are the beginning of something better than I ever knew.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Day in the Life--April

 I'm linking up with Tristan at Our Busy Homeschool :)

The kids have loved reading over our past few “Day in the Life” journal entries.  They think I choose  boring days, though.

“Mom!  You need to choose a day when something happens to write about!”  they nearly chorus.  “Write about a day when we go to dance!”

Today--Thursday, April 10--is a dance performance day.  

It is a day when much will happen.


Frustratingly enough, my day begins at 2:46 am when I2 wakes up thirsty.  He takes it upon himself to bring his empty cup to me, which doesn’t seem like a problem at all as I fill it, give it to him, and tuck him happily back in his bed.  He seems perfectly content.

Before I can even go back to bed, H4 cries out.  She’s fighting a cold . . . and losing.  She has to dance today, so I gave her garlic and honey before going to bed last night.  She’s sleeping better than the night before, but now she’s awake and afraid, “I heard a dog, Mom.  I think it is the men who broke into our van.”

(I suppress a flash of anger; our van has been broken into 4 times in 3 months.  It won’t fit in the garage, so it has to be left out in the open.  No one has been hurt, and only a few dollars have been stolen, but clearly my 4 year old’s sense of safety has been violated.)

“It’s just the neighbor’s dog.  Our van is safe.  You can sleep.”

She trusts me, “Okay, Mommy.”

I hope I have told the truth.

I go back to bed only to have I2 come join me.  He’s wide awake.  “You can sleep with Mommy, but you may not talk,” I whisper, “It’s sleeping time.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he whispers back around the binky in his mouth.

He’s restless.  We lie in silence, but I cannot sleep because I feel him moving, moving, moving near me.

After 45 minutes H4 cries out.  I wait to see if it is a sleep cry or if she needs me.  

It is just a sleep cry.

I2 climbs out of bed.
“Where are you going?” I ask.

“My hrhoom” he says.

“Okay.  That’s a good idea, “ I reply and follow him down the hall to his bedroom.  I tuck him happily into his bed once again.

It lasts less than 30 seconds.  Before I can even lay my head on my pillow he’s back, climbing into bed with me.

“It is night time,“ I say firmly.  “It is time to sleep.”

“Okay, Mommy,” he sweetly answers.

But he cannot sleep.

And H4 needs me again because her cold symptoms are irritating her and she cannot sleep.
Sometime after 5:00 am I doze off.  

I wake at 6:19 am.

Time to get up.

I head to the kitchen.  I give in to temptation and take a few leftover picnic cookies and a cup of milk over to the computer where I begin drafting this post.  I would normally start my day with prayer and scripture study, but I am tired and unfocused.  I realize I will focus better on my scripture study if I get these words out of my head and on paper, but I have written long enough.  S11 is awake, and because my scriptures are not out, she is talking to me.  
It is 6:52 am.

I spend the next half hour reading and journaling Mosiah 8 from The Book of Mormon along with Doctrine and Covenants 103.  They aren't necessarily related, but I'm reading from The Book of Mormon because I'm doing Personal Progress with 2 of my daughters, and I'm working my way through the Doctrine and Covenants because I've wanted to for a long time.
After that more kids are awake and doing chores around me.  As I2 sits at the counter eating some graham crackers and milk, I start printing copies of the show order and directions to the show location.  I get very frustrated trying to find the emails I need as they are embedded in long email conversations between members of the performance group.  

E14 is only 6 days away from being allowed to wear makeup.  She’s been experimenting with it this morning.  She comes to show off her artistry.  She wears it well—accenting her best features with a subtlety that surprises me.  I compliment her.

I also get another request from E14 and S11’s birth mom to visit them.  For a while we stopped visits because she got so unstable, but she’s claiming she’s in good shape again, and has been pleading for visits for over a year now.  Happily we have a family wedding to attend in August, so I’m able to tell her we’ll be in her neck of the woods at the end of the summer.  I copy the social worker in on our email so that she can reserve the conference room at her office on one of the dates I suggest.

E14 is furious.
S11 is curious.
I’m caught in the middle.   Visiting her is both a blessing and a curse.   I know the blessings outweigh the hurts, but I wish it were easier . . . for all of us. 

Map, instructions, and show order finally printed and stowed in my bag, I turn to prepare breakfast.  But for a moment I pause because M12 comes up behind me and starts braiding my hair—heaven!

While I get oatmeal and blueberries set out along with the necessary dishes and toppings, E14 practices the piano, S11 works on her math drills on the computer, and J10 teaches I2 how to empty the dishwasher.  He is perched on a stool, and she is the picture of patience as she hands him one utensil at a time and waits for him to find the right place in the drawer.

We have our morning devotional and review the day ahead while we eat.

After breakfast I gather the girls to practice their “Sisters” number for the show.

Then Daddy gets home from work.  I welcome him, give him some breakfast, and clean up the kitchen while he eats.  He talks about his night (a patient coded and died!) while A7 plays with her gem and mineral collection, the older girls work on their independent school work, H4 gets dressed, and I2 plays with his Nemo puppet.

I try to get dressed, and get as far as brushing my teeth and hair, but H4 begins crying when S11 tells her to stop playing the piano.  I have to uphold the “No piano during school hours” rule (a frustrating rule, but the sound can be heard all over the house and distracts the older girls).  She is really mad, so I hold her on my lap.  She seemed to be feeling better when she woke up this morning, but I wonder if she’s still fighting that cold.  I’m about to offer to read her some stories when she says, “Can I just do my school?”

I answer that she indeed can, and the tears dry up as she hops happily off my lap.

At 9:56 am we sit at the table together to practice handwriting, phonics, and story narrations.

While we do that A7 and I2 play independently with games—Princessopoly for A7, Fancy Nancy Perfect Parfait for I2.  They just have fun manipulating game pieces in patterns.
At 10:33 I call A7 to do school with me.  E14 finishes her schoolwork in record time and then happily(!) changes and dresses I2 for me. 
Just before A7 and I read Betsy-Tacy and Tib together J10 comes downstairs with math questions.  I pause to help her. 
E14 does her math drills on the computer.
S11 turns in her school work.
M12 has a math question, too.
E14 spends 10 minutes on Facebook, then starts making bagel sandwiches for us to eat on our way to the show.

 M12 finishes her school work and starts collecting hair-doing supplies.

S11 reads the grocery ads.

H4 is finally allowed to have a turn on the piano.

A7 and I take turns reading until I2 slips and bashes his face on the corner of the kitchen table.  It’s pretty bad—a bruise immediately starts swelling and turning colors, and he’s bleeding in his mouth.  I hold him and croon to him as he cries.  M12 grabs a cold, wet washcloth and the binky he’s usually allowed to only use at bedtime.  A7 finds a favorite car and tempts him into playing.

11:26 am.  It is time to get ready for the show.  But first I need to get dressed and run to the dollar store for new water bottles; ours are all broken or missing their lids.  (How does that happen?)
12:37 pm.  Costumes are organized and bagged.  Kids all have their tights, camis and shorts on.  Time to do hair!
4:30 pm.  We’re home.  Show’s over and Daddy has just left to take E14 to soccer practice.  I forgot the camera, and I couldn’t have taken pictures anyway, because I never stopped moving even once. 
We did hair until 1:00.
We packed all of the costumes in the car—6 bags, each with 5-7 costumes
We all went potty one more time, kissed I2 and Daddy goodbye, and then packed ourselves in the car.
As we drove we ate our bagels and apple slices.
We arrived right on time at 1:30.
Once we found the right room at the nursing home we hung up our costumes on the garment racks the group directors set up and chose a spot for changing.  Everyone changes in the same room—boys, girls, teens, tweens, littles-- so everyone wears underclothes that can worn in “public.”  For the next hour moms posted performance schedules, got kids dressed, set up the prop table, arranged the performance  hall, ran last minute rehearsals, passed out costume accessories, and herded kids.
2:30 pm.  Show time!  25 song and dance numbers showcasing American music through the 19th and 20th centuries.  I had 6 kids performing in 22 of the numbers.  The whole show passes in a blur of costume changes, entrances, and exits.  I’ve never seen the show because our group is run by volunteers, and if you’re in it, you’re a volunteer.  It’s high energy . . . even higher for the kids who are dancing and singing in it. 
3:36 pm.  The final number ends.  The next 45 minutes are full with cleaning up, finding the right hangers, packing up costumes, and sorting out the props and accessories.  Older kids help put the nursing home furniture back the way we found it.  Another mom, done packing up her two daughters, helps me pack up my last two.  I’m grateful for the help.  As we work, discussion flies back and forth about next week’s show.  What time do we rehearse?  When should invited guests arrive?  Are we expanding the show or not?  Decisions are made and changed.  Just as we start to get frustrated, final decisions are made and we know to show up next week at 11 am for 2 hours of rehearsing.  My older girls shuttle bags of costumes out to the van, and then make sure all of our kids are in the van.  I help the group directors get the last boxes of props and accessories out to their cars. 
It takes several trips to bring everything into the house.   At the same time E14 has to change immediately into soccer gear and leave almost before arriving home.   I need to make sure everyone has taken off their tights, camis, and shorts so I can hang them up and air them out for next week. 
I also have to make dinner.  I am usually a champion cook and household organizer, but I’ve been in a slump for the past few months—ever since we moved, actually—I haven’t found my rhythm or joy.  I send the kids on a treasure hunt to search through fridge, freezers, kitchen cupboards, and pantry closets for something motivating.  I think S11 has some ideas. 
J10 is entertaining the little guys with her tablet.  M12 gave everyone half a bagel as a snack because they’re hungry after dancing.  I2 is fussy.  I don’t think he feels well.
I look over S11’s list:  granola bars, pumpkin bars, sweet peanut butter and graham crackers, quesadillas, pork chops . . . hmm, breakfast foods get me thinking, and I remember that I have 2 pints of homemade syrup in the fridge . . . pancakes it is.
Everyone but E14 gathers around the computer to play games while I do a load of dishes and start the pancakes.  A tiny light in my brain inspires me to grate some fresh apple and add cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter.  The house soon smells very good.  J10 joins me at the stove.  I take advantage of her help and set the table.
The time passes quickly.  Soon I hear the garage door open; Daddy and E14 are home. I call everyone to eat.  E14 shows up in her pajamas.  She’s tired after school, dancing, and soccer.
We pray and read from The Book of Mormon during dinner.  I2 cries because it is not his turn to pray.  Sometimes scripture reading is a struggle, but tonight it is fun.  We’re reading from 2 Nephi, when he quotes Isaiah a lot.  The kids all respond to the poetry of Isaiah’s writing and recite favorite parts along with Daddy’s reading.  It is a spontaneous moment of shared joy in the scriptures.  H4 raises her hand to ask, “What does ‘sorrow’ mean?”  Daddy answers her question, but E14 whispers, “Good question,” to her little sister.  I am thankful for her encouragement.
Poor I2 is exhausted after staying awake so much last night.  Daddy whisks him off to a bath.  I work in the kitchen.  A7 finally gets her computer turn because everyone got a turn before dinner but her.
I remember that Thursday is “Kids Clean the Kitchen Night.”  Knowing that they’re all exhausted I offer to help them out and just get the job done really fast.  They’re too distracted by the Wonderopolis videos A7 is watching to even be aware of me.  I get irritated and tell them they’re on their own in the kitchen.  I clean the living room.
While Daddy bathes H4 and A7 I read Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book to I2.  He refuses to pray, instead deferring to me to pray on his behalf.  I acquiesce quickly tonight.  He’s half asleep already.  After kisses and a good night song I leave him in his bed, cozy and happy to be there.  I hope he’ll sleep better tonight than last night.
I come out of his room at 7:30 pm to find E14 at the piano, picking out a song as she sings aloud.  S11 is trying to harmonize.  I hate to stop them, but with I2 in bed, music is over for the day. 
I send girls off in four different directions to get pajamas on and brush teeth.
S11 told me earlier that she left her MP3 player in the van.  It is locked up tight, and as she left it open earlier today I refuse to give her the keys.  I go out to look for her treasured little device, making sure to relock the van—H4’s concerns about “bad men” who break into our van are my concerns, too.
We’re gathering for read aloud time now.  We’re reading a chapter a night out of B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood and two chapters a night out of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  We tried to read Alice  twice in past years and had to put it away for lack of interest.  Something is right this time.  We have a paperback copy of Cooper Eden’s edition.  The illustrations are to die for, and the kids gather around close to see what’s coming next.  I thrive on hearing the spontaneous laughter from E14 as she “gets” the jokes.  The other kids simply love the odd, odd twists and turns this story takes.
Tonight Betsy gets a puppy of her own, and Alice talks with the gryphon and mock turtle.  The kids are nearly rolling on the floor as they laugh over lines like this:

'Well, there was Mystery,' the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, '—Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling—the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: HE taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.' 

'What was THAT like?' said Alice. 

'Well, I can't show it you myself,' the Mock Turtle said: 'I'm too stiff. And the Gryphon never learnt it.' 

'Hadn't time,' said the Gryphon: 'I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, HE was.' 

'I never went to him,' the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: 'he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.' 

'So he did, so he did,' said the Gryphon, sighing in his turn; and both creatures hid their faces in their paws. 

'And how many hours a day did you do lessons?' said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject. 

'Ten hours the first day,' said the Mock Turtle: 'nine the next, and so on.' 

'What a curious plan!' exclaimed Alice. 

'That's the reason they're called lessons,' the Gryphon remarked: 'because they lessen from day to day.'
 8:35 pm.  I close the book and send the kids off to bed to be tucked in by Daddy.   It is a little early, but the smallest girls are tired, and the big girls can read in bed on their own for a time.  They don’t rush off, reluctant to see the end of what has been a happy day. 
H4 reminds me that Percy, the guinea pig, hasn’t had his bedtime treat of fresh veggies.  I get some broccoli out of the fridge, and as I walk over to his cage he tweetles and squeaks happily.  But he is disappointed by the broccoli—it is not his favorite.  He keeps sniffing around for something he likes better but finally settles for what is in front of him.  S11 and I laugh because his resignation is so very obvious.
I settle into bed with a copy of Words Their Way.  E14 struggles with spelling.  This summer we’re going to dive into intensive remedial spelling.  I’m preparing now.
Kids tucked in, my husband joins me in the bedroom.  We talk about whether or not to let E14 and M12 go stay with their aunt and uncle for a week this summer.  We talk about whether or not to sign up for Google Fiber—budgets and goals forever struggling for balance.  Our discussions are not conclusive, but at least we have more food for thought.  My husband goes to call his brother and gather some more information.
10:26 pm.  I try to wait for him.  I can hear him laughing and talking in the other room.  He and his brother are good friends.  I cannot keep my eyes open.
I fall asleep.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Winding Down

Last night was our final show for the 2013-2014 American Rhythm year (that's our dance troupe).  It was a friends and family recital, and some friends did, in fact, come.  My hands are so busy in rehearsals and during the show that I have no pictures at all.  My husband says he filmed most of the numbers our kids are in (22 of them!) with his phone, so we'll see how they came out when he gets a chance to upload them to the computer.

The kids are sleeping in.  Yesterday was long with rehearsals all through the middle of the day and then the show set up, show itself, and show clean up in the evening. 

I'm tired, too.  I'm glad for a break, but I can honestly say that I look forward to signing up for another year.  I'm so very nervous about it because it's a lot, a lot, a lot of work, but the rewards are good.  Really good.

At one point H4 tripped and fell.  She fell hard, and it really hurt.  I picked her up to comfort her, rocking her and crooning to her, but also reminding her that we were backstage and had to cry softly.  Bless her little heart, she really tried to be quiet!

I set her down when she seemed to feel better, but just as she was lining up with her class for their next number (Toot, Toot, Tootsie) the tears she'd been trying to control escaped.  Poor little thing!  Just 4 years old--over-tired, over-excited, over-wrought--and trying to hard to put on a great show.  I knelt beside her, took her sweet face in my hands, looked into her tear-filled blue eyes, and helped her breathe in and out, in and out.  All of her little friends were holding their breath as they watched us, their eyes filled with compassion and concern for my girl.

The breathing helped.  I felt everyone sigh in relief--not for fear of ruining the show, but genuine relief that little H4 actually felt better.  I'm so thankful for their sweet compassion.

In the car on the way home the girls laughed and laughed over E14's mishap.  During the Mary Poppins medley E14's hair got caught on her umbrella.  As she flipped the umbrella from behind her head to the front of her, her head jerked forward, too!  She recovered quickly, smiling hugely for the audience, and the dance went on smoothly, so it was not an incident that caused tears or embarrassment--just a funny story to remember. 

Daddy made popcorn for everyone while I oversaw costume tidy-ups and the putting on of pajamas.  We sat around the family room munching and talking until we were too tired to munch or talk any more.

We will miss singing and dancing this summer . . . at least formally.  I'm sure that singing and dancing will always go on.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Few Things I Like About Life Lately

We got up to watch the lunar eclipse last night.

J10 read a book about Helen Keller that had a copy of the Braille alphabet in the back.  She voluntarily spent hours writing messages in Braille (not actually raised dots--just drawn dots).

We didn't have dinner until 7:00 pm yesterday because the sun eventually came out, and my husband was building bunk beds, and I had to return an overdue book to the library, and no one had anywhere to go, so we didn't have to have dinner at a certain time.  I offered apples to anyone who got hungry before that.

I2 likes games.  He's destroyed our games closet because he knows how to carry a stool out of the kitchen, but he spends long hours arranging and rearranging pieces of games.  The floor is a mess, but my boy is so very happy.

H4 is learning to read.  She asks me almost every hour of the morning, "Is it time for my school yet?"  Her happy blue eyes fill my spirit with light.

We went barefoot on Saturday. 

It snowed on Monday and E14's soccer games for 2 days were cancelled.  Our busy week got very quiet very quickly.

I'm reading A Girl of the Limberlost.  It is satisfying reading.

M12 works on her Personal Progress every single day.  She has such a sweet, conscientious air.  Her journal is filling rapidly, and I love to see how happy she is as she works.

The woods are green and purple and white and yellow right now.

We're almost done with math books for the year. 

Our house is filled with music at all hours of the day and night as kids sit down to the piano to pick out tunes, pick up recorders and puff away, or pick up a violin and see what happens.  It is noisy, noisy, noisy, but it is beautiful, too.

My husband wasn't assigned Sunday night shift at work for the first time in weeks.

 I baked bread and made chicken noodle soup last night.  It felt good to be in the kitchen.

Everyone is healthy.

We've committed ourselves to a no-lessons, no-classes summer.  We actually have nothing on the calendar for all of July, and we're keeping it that way.  We're going to use that time to thoroughly explore the lake that is closest to our house.  We'll invite some friends to explore, too.

We just started The Swiss Family Robinson for family read aloud time.  The kids LOVE it.  I love watching them love it.

It's a good season, this spring time season.  We're rather a happy bunch.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Who Is She?

I've been thinking and thinking and thinking about my oldest child.  She's been a puzzle to me ever since she was old enough to voice her own opinion (and she did that rather early).  I love her.  I love her so much that I am often blinded to both her faults and her strengths.  I pray daily that I might see her as God sees her and that I might be a blessing to her.

She's 14 now.  She has a season of monumental growth right on the horizon.  Of late, she and I have been deep in question-asking and decision-making.

The other night Daddy was frustrated with her.  "She won't do anything!" he huffed.  "I'm trying to help her out, and she just refuses."

Because I wasn't the one she'd been difficult with, it was my job to listen to him blow off steam and to be the voice of reason.

Except I wasn't reasonable.  "I know!  I can't understand it either.  She just refuses to work at anything on her own.  I've been watching and waiting and letting her try new things, but nothing interests her enough to work for it!"

But I've been thinking (and praying) since then.

I did not speak the truth.

She begged for gymnastics, but didn't try.
She begged for guitar lessons, but wouldn't practice.
She begged to join a soccer team, but says it interferes with her free time.
She begged for voice lessons, but refused to sing in the church choir (my prerequisite for expensive voice lessons).
She begged for piano lessons, but wouldn't practice.
She begged for dance lessons, but said they were boring.
She begged for a job, but tried to find excuses not to report for work.

All of these are true, and they sure paint her in a bad light, but they do not highlight who she is--only who she is not.

If she is completely free to choose what she does, she does her hair and the hair of others.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she builds things.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she sings and messes about at the piano and taps out rhythms with her hands and feet.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she shops for cute clothes and high heeled shoes.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she makes beautiful wildflower bouquets.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she reads.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she makes animal habitats for lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs--any wild creature she finds and successfully captures.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she spends time with friends.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she bakes.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she makes up games and adventures for other kids.
If she is completely free to choose what she does, she practices putting on make up.

She's actually a rather interesting person.

She's rejected so much of what she's thought she wanted, and I've been frustrated to watch money be spent and feel that it has been wasted, but it hasn't.  At least we've found out what doesn't work. 

She could be so good at anything she's tried if she would only try more, if she would only risk failure to achieve greatness.  I want her to realize that!

We'll keep trying. 

Perhaps it will be volunteering at the local nature center that lights the fire I know is waiting to be lit.  Perhaps it will be a theater make up class that looks interesting.  Perhaps she will someday embrace the astonishing leadership skills that are latent within her.  Perhaps she will design houses or clothes or weddings or  . . . whatever her heart desires. 

I don't know.

But she's not impossible
She's not a failure.

She's only growing, trying, testing, learning, accepting, rejecting, wondering.

And I'm going to really look for who she is rather than fuss over who she isn't.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Family Friday

Yesterday was a joy. 

I woke up with absolutely not one item on my calendar.  Nothing framed our day, not even Daddy's work schedule.  And I milked it for all it was worth.

We didn't even have a proper breakfast.  Instead as soon as kids had their chores done, they were allowed to fix themselves a pancake left over from last night's dinner.  As I made large, whole-grain-apple-and-cinnamon pancakes that the kids piled peanut butter, applesauce, and homemade syrup on top, this was more filling than one might imagine.

Once everyone was awake I sent the big girls off to do their independent school work while I discusses triple bunk bed plans with Daddy.  We're building the green ones, only switched so the doubles are on the right with the single on the left, and we're modifying them slightly using these plans for inspiration.

H4 asked if she could do school, so we did.  She read her first 4 words--at, fat, mat, rat.  We called Grandma to read them to her over the phone.  H4 read for Daddy, for sisters, for me, for herself.  It was one of those moments when the whole world simply sparkles for joy.

I made some pumpkin bars for a snack and had devotional some time in the middle of the morning.  Once older kids were turning in their school work, I pulled on my work clothes and put another coat of paint over as much of the 2nd basement bedroom as I could before we ran out of paint. 

Then I worked outside.  I'm creating a border along our front walkway.  I'm eventually going to fill it with native flowering plants (and probably a few bulbs), but I'll take my time about it.

I allowed boredom work its wonderful work.  Any child that said, "I'm so bored.  I have nothing to dooooooo," was acknowledged, but not helped. 

There was much complaining for an hour or so. 
A7 fell on the floor in desperation. 
 I stepped over her and went about my work.
E14 followed me around for a while, asking me to solve her boredom problem by taking her somewhere else. 
I just kept on working.

Eventually I noticed that everyone was busy doing things:
--E14 had gathered tools and scrap lumber and was banging away in a tree.
--M12 helped me paint and then bathed the cat.
--S11 pottered about outside and helped M12.
--J10 read books, played board games, and pottered with S11.  She also made quesadillas for us when we got hungry.
--A7 sulked in the hammock until she got up and put on her roller blades.
--H4 helped me dig in the front yard.
--I2 swung on the swingset, dug in the dirt, drew with sidewalk chalk, played Legos, and managed to cross the street into the soccer field without me seeing him even though he was standing right next to me 5 seconds earlier!  (I sent J10 after him.)

Daddy headed to the hardware store to buy wood for the bunk beds and paint for the bedroom walls, then to Aldi to grab take-and-bake pizzas for dinner.  He took the three oldest girls with him. 

I was still working in the yard when they got home, so M12 took the initiative to oversee the pizzas while S11 got the card table out of the garage and took it up to the deck.  We ate out pizza outdoors--the first picnic of spring!

Daddy took everyone but I2 over to the soccer field to play while I bathed a very dirty, very tired, small boy.

As the sky turned purple in the twilight, we gathered together for family reading and went thankfully to bed.

Family days are the happiest days.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"Going" to the White House

Today a conversation with E14 about the common core turned into questions and answers about the president and his family.  We had to google some answers.

As M12, S11, and J10 joined the conversation we kept talking.  They asked if Daddy could run for president.  The answer to that question turned into a lecture/discussion about how presidents are elected and why some people claim you're "throwing away" your vote if you vote outside the two main parties. 

I was amazed to see the lights in the kids eyes as they listened, and I loved the intelligent questions they asked for clarification.

By that time we were at the table having lunch, so the little guys were listening.  They wondered how big the white house is.  We googled that one, too.  We clicked various sites until we found one we liked.  Because I was in the room and directly supervising their searching, they were allowed to click on a featured Youtube video that looked promising.  The kids were glued; even E14, who was claiming indifference and boredom by this point, couldn't stay away. 

Eventually an hour had passed from the first question about the common core.  We had imperative errands to run, so we had to cut off our research.

I wonder where we'd have gone if we'd had the freedom to just keep going . . .

Finding the Right Bird

J10 came to me a couple of days ago, "I'm allowed to spend unlimited time looking up things on my tablet, right?"

I wondered where she was going with this.  "Umm, not really unlimited, but you can spend extra time beyond your regular turn if you're doing research.  And you know you can only do that in a common room of the house that has other people in the room with you," I answered cautiously.

"I want to look up a bird I saw in the field yesterday.  It was beautiful--black with red markings on it."

I don't know why I was so cautious--this is my least-likely-to-try-something-sneaky child, "Yes, you may look it up."

She then spent some time looking for it.

And she found it!

It is a Red-winged Blackbird.  She pored over the site she found, reading all about it, feeling so proud of herself for what she'd accomplished.

She inspired her sisters, too.  They all ran together to our bird-identification posters to study and compare.  They looked at the pictures J10 found.  They talked about birds and hiking and playing outdoors. 


Now where are those nature sketchbooks I put safely away when we moved?

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Favorite Part of General Conference . . .

 . . . was seeing my children's faces light up in spontaneous recognition of a favorite/memorized scripture and listening to their cries of delight when a story or moment of inspired instruction touched their hearts.

We all loved hearing Elder Aidukaitis tell us, "One should not roam through garbage!"

I think it will be our new family watch-phrase. :)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Growing Up With General Conference

--I receive  printables about General Conference in my email inbox every 6 months.

--I stumble across ideas on blogs.
--My kids come home from church with handouts and challenges from their primary leaders/teachers.

All are great ideas.  I have no criticism of them.  I've even printed a few of them out and let my own kids have a go at them.

But I've found that for the most part they are distractions from the real event.

If a kid is playing conference bingo, I'm usually hearing, "Mom, Mom, did he say 'faith?'" instead of hearing the talk about faith.

It's the same for the kid playing conference bingo--listening for isolated words instead of messages.

E14 has received numerous packets encouraging her to use her general conference experience as a Personal Progress value project.  She has successfully ignored every one of them, choosing to nap instead of listen or take notes.

Nevertheless, I've felt faintly guilty over the years for not throwing myself into building tents so that my kids can experience general conference like the people of King Benjamin did ever so long ago, or for not having activity baskets for each child.  I've wondered if I've been denying my children something that would strengthen their love for conference, increase their opportunities to develop faith, and generally make their childhoods joyful and memorable.

Our whole tradition for conference has been: everyone has to stay in the room where conference is on.  Kids may play with quiet toys, draw pictures, take notes, listen, or completely tune out as long as they're in the room.   Mom and Dad watch conference, take occasional notes, and care for whomever is the baby at that time.  When our internet was slow, we dressed up, packed bags of toys and snacks and went to the church.  Now that our internet is fast we stay home.  Either way, we all stay in the same room together.

And I make cinnamon rolls on General Conference Sunday mornings.

That's it.

But not really. 

We've never done fabulous Family Home Evening lessons preparing the kids for conference, but my husband and I have talked openly about how excited we are for conference.  He's made sure to request vacation days if it was possible he might be scheduled to work that weekend.  He and I have pored over the General Conference editions of the Ensign, sharing aloud those words that have touched our hearts.  We've talked around the dinner table about talks that apply to life.  We've made General Conference part of our daily lives, but without any fanfare.

As my kids have napped, played, bickered, drawn, and snacked their way through General Conference year after year, I've looked around the room and wondered, "Have I failed them?  Should I have done more?"

Yesterday I received an answer.

We set up the computer.
We reviewed the rule.
We sat down to watch.

In a quiet moment I looked around the room:
E14 had a notebook and pencil out--for the first time!  And it was by her own choice.
M12 had her journal and a pen taking copious notes.
S11 had a notebook and pen.
J10 had her tablet--trying to take electronic notes.
A7 had a sketch pad and crayons--she was drawing General Conference scenes.
H4 was cutting and pasting quietly in a new workbook (a recent homeschool conference present).
I2 was playing a matching game on the floor.
I had my scripture journal and a pen.
Daddy had his traditional piece of notebook paper and a pen.

The room was quiet, reverent, busy.  Everyone was engaged in their own way.

I have not failed.

I'm glad there are clever, creative, inventive, fun people who share their ideas for making General Conference a memorable family tradition.  I admire their energy and enthusiasm.

I am not one of them.

But that's okay; it is not necessary to have an in-home laminator to make the most of General Conference.

We have learned and grown in the manner and time appropriate for our family.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Magic from The Magic Flute

My little girls requested princess books from the library.  Among all of the Cinderellas and Rapunzels we found a copy of The Magic Flute.

We've read and read and read it.

This morning I found A7 reading it aloud  to H4 and I2.

On a whim I did a quick YouTube search for The Magic Flute.

First return--a full length version by The Metropolitan Opera House with James Levine as conductor.

2 hours 46 minutes . . . hmm . . . a little long . . . but I gave it a shot.

I called my littles to the computer just to see what would happen.

They sat, mesmerized, for the whole 2:46 as the opera was performed in its entirety in German.

They knew the plot, so they were never lost. 

As the final curtain fell, they turned to me with shining eyes, "That was fun!  Can we do more?"

Water Safety Field Trip with Underwater Rescue and Recovery

I was dreading going out.  The rain and dark skies had left me rather listless.  Part of the field trip was supposed to take place outside, and there was thunder and lighting. I2 and H4 were adamant that they wanted to just stay home.  I seriously considered skipping the whole thing.

But Daddy was home for the day, and he offered to come along, so after gathering enough rain/cold weather supplies for a small army off we went.

I'm so glad we did!

One of the moms in our local homeschool support group is a diver for Underwater Rescue and Recovery.  We have the only team in 5 states!  They used to be under city jurisdiction, but the city moved them to the county.  After a while the county set them free.  Now they are non-jurisdictional and completely funded by donations.  All members of the team are volunteers.  They recover everything from human beings (by the time they're on the scene, though, it's too late for saving a life--they said, "all we can offer is closure to a grieving family"), to police evidence, to boats, to wedding rings.

Our friend said that they recovered 27 bodies last year--most of them teens NOT under the influence of alcohol.  She said the worst thing is peer pressure.  Teens daring teens to take risks that seem silly or fun and adventurous but ultimately end their lives.

The field trip took place at the actual Underwater Rescue and Recovery headquarters.  There were so many of us (50 or more) that we were divided into 4 groups and rotated through stations. 

1.  A lesson on basic water safety with our mom friend member of the team--it is key to remember to relax when in trouble in the water.  Panic is what causes people to drown.  A relaxed body will float.
2.   A lesson on water rescue--"Reach.  Throw.  Row.  No Go!"  It was heavily emphasized that even parents should follow these rules because even a very small child who is panicked can drown a would-be rescuer who is in over his/her head. 
3.  A chance to see and touch the equipment the team divers wear.  Interestingly they wear "dry suits" most of the time--Haz-mat level protection over a long-sleeved t-shirt and long pants.  They use extra insulation when they're diving in cold water.
4.  A really cool station in which we practiced searching for a small tool in a bin full of muddy water--just like the divers do.  Then we plunged our hands in ice water--seeing what the water the divers actually swim in is like.  Then they took us into their rescue truck and showed us all of their equipment there.

All 4 stations were set up indoors (water safety in the office, the other stations in their training/equipment garage), so no one was out in the storms.  It was a little loud and crowded, but totally manageable.

My 4 big girls went with other older kids, so the discussions/lessons they received were tailored to older kids, while those of us in little kid groups got lessons geared toward their attention spans and interests.   My big girls also started the first tentative reaching out to make new friends with this new group.  (I want so much to attend another event soon and help those friendships grow!)

At the end there were handouts of all kinds on water safety--everything from coloring pages to buoyancy science experiments.  For 7 kids I took a stack an inch thick and stapled together packets of interest to their varying ages.  Already I've seen a couple of my kids pull out their packets and spend time reading.  We had a great dinner table discussion of the day.

I'm so glad we went!!!!

**Today's family school assignment:  Write thank you letters to the team members who shared their time with us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Best Moments

This morning, as part of her phonics lesson, H4 and I were supposed to make a silly shopping list for items beginning with the sounds /m/, /f/, and /b/.  We took turns coming up with items.

We laughed.

A7 joined us.

I2 joined us.

S11 joined us.

We all came up with the goofiest items we could imagine buying at a store:  Babies!  Monkeys!  Moms!

Perhaps they're not very goofy, but we laughed and laughed together.

Today I had to do some shopping. 

I hate shopping.  It sucks the life out of me and leaves me more drained than dealing with several crying toddlers (I know this because I'm the nursery leader at church.)

Today's shopping took far longer than planned and left me listless, foggy, and frustrated.

We barely had a proper dinner, and when it was over I simply could not face the kitchen.  I was trying, trying, trying to remember that if I just put one foot in front of the other it would be fine, but I couldn't. 

I asked everyone to help for 5 minutes.

They did!

They were wonderful. 

I felt new life as we worked together.

Tonight the big girls went to the church for activities.  Daddy didn't have to work, so he took them while I stayed home with the littles.  They each chose a stack of picture books, and I read and read and read with small people cuddled close to me. 

One treat was that A7 and H4 each chose to have me read their "special" books--the Shutterfly books I made for each of them about their babyhoods. 

I tucked them in after singing to them and listening to their personal prayers.

Sometimes being the mom is the best.