Friday, December 4, 2015

A Restful Christmas: How Our Family Celebrates Advent and a Book List!

(NOTE: The links below are affiliate links. Your purchases through these links help support our homeschool and my own growing book habit. ;))

It is December, the beginning of the end of the year 2015. It is also the month of Advent! For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the word "advent" literally means arrival or coming. Christmas marks the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men" for the sole purpose of "[humbling] Himself and [becoming] obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). In Church tradition, Advent consists of the four Sundays (and the weeks following them) that lead up to Christmas. It is a season of waiting then -- of anticipation for His second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and reflection on God's faithfulness through the ages (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 98:2-4).

I did not grow up in a liturgical church tradition, but as an adult now I can see some of the value in it, or at least in certain aspects of it. So a few years ago, a dear, sweet mentor of mine introduced me to the idea of Advent and its celebrations, how that might look in a more Protestant culture, and how her family partook. I loved the idea and was eager to share the same types of traditions with my husband and children, so we began implementing it that very same year. Now, my family is not Catholic so how we celebrate might look different from how you celebrate or how you've seen Advent celebrated. That's because they are our traditions (now) -- this is what we do because they mean something special to us -- and if it's something you're interested in, we would encourage you to tweak and adjust to best fit your family as well. The goal being to hold Christ's first and second coming in the forefront of your minds throughout the month, so you don't lose sight of the real reason we even celebrate Christmas at all.

Family Devotions

Each year has been a little different in this arena. Most nights throughout the whole year, we gather as a family right before the kids' bedtime and read a Bible story from one of their children's Bibles, sing our family song (Psalm 23), and pray together. During Advent, we use this time to do a little more intentional study. This has looked like a borrowed, homemade devotional study, Phil Vischer's What's In the Bible? Why Do We Call It Christmas? DVD with Everyday Emmanuel activities, Truth in the Tinsel, and simple Scripture reading of Luke 2.
Last year, during the Christmas season, I finally purchased the book Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent, by Arnold Ytreeide, and we are reading this for our family devotion time now. It came highly recommended from several folks that I trust very much, and now that we are reading it I can see why! It is a wonderful adventure story that paints a vivid picture of Christ's first coming from the perspective of a 10 year-old boy. It does have some intense scenes, so I am glad we waited until this year to introduce it. However, my kids are entranced as much as I am as we read, and I know it will be a treasured story for years to come.

Something we are also doing this year for family devotions is singing Christmas hymns. I've had this book for years, knowing it would be a useful resource for homeschool down the road. I let the kids take turns picking one or two carols from it each night that we then sing, in their entirety, together. They are loving it! We aren't going through the history of the songs at this point, but it's a great way to introduce these Christmas classics that are so rich in verse... you know, something a little deeper and meaningful than"Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."
The book and songs have become a beloved fixture in our family worship!

Light the Candles

There are four or five candles that are lit, one at a time, on each Sunday during Advent. They can be colored (purple, pink, and white), or not depending on your tradition. We typically do the colors because we like to talk about the symbolism.

First Sunday
Candle of Hope (purple)

Second Sunday
Candle of Love (purple)

Third Sunday
Candle of Joy (pink)

Fourth Sunday
Candle of Peace (purple)

Christmas Day/Eve
Christ Candle (white)

I have made an advent "wreath" each year in the past, usually just by arranging some fresh evergreen and my candles on a platter. This year, I've asked my dad to fashion some nice tree limb tea light holders for me, so until he is finished with those, we are just lining the candles up along the top of our piano where my big nativity set lies and lighting them at the beginning of our family worship time.

Homeschool: Advent Term


You might be wondering how we fit our homeschool into all of this... If we're doing so many special things for the Advent season, how do we have time for our regular school work? My answer is simply, "We don't." Way back when my oldest was in kindergarten, I adopted the notion to take a full month off of school for Christmas. There are just too many extra activities, too many other THINGS, that I want to devote our time to and no matter how hard I try to fit it all in, it's just not possible. And I'm okay with that. I would rather be saturated in the season, steeped in family traditions, stimulating a spirit of goodwill, and shaping special memories with my kids. So I take more of an "un-schooling" approach to this month-long term in our homeschool. Books on every subject are always readily available around our house, and of course we are not neglecting our regular library visits. We color in Christmas coloring books, make Christmas cards, write addresses on envelopes, bake and decorate cookies, design and put together handmade gifts, and minister to our neighbors with special treats and a simple Gospel message. This year, I decided to keep math in the mix on a regular basis just so my second grader stays on top of her facts, but I left the format up to her: she can choose her regular curriculum worksheets, Xtramath (online computer drill), or brush up her rough spots with Khan Academy (online lessons). It's simple, mostly child-led, and easy for mom, which is important for my sanity during this busy time!

Morning Time

We are keeping up with our daily "circle time" (or morning time, as we call it) during this school term, but even that looks a little different. I have pegged it to our breakfast because: 1) we always eat breakfast together, and 2) at this stage it is easiest to do give group instruction (with 7-, 5-, 3-, and 1-year olds) while hands and mouths are kept busy. ;) 
Normally we pray, and while the kids eat I read aloud a portion of Scripture or a short devotion and then a chapter from our family read-aloud. By then most of them are finished eating, so we do our memory work all together. This gets them up and moving around, but it keeps them engaged too. Then we sit back down and they can do their special activity books (coloring, stickers, or the like) that they use only for Morning Time, or grab a quiet busy bag or toy off the nearby shelf. While they keep their hands busy, I'll read from an "extra" book. It could be Shakespeare, hymn study, Christian hero stories, or a picture book... whatever work I have planned for that specific term. When we're done, the little ones move on to start/finish their morning chores and I keep my oldest for a few extra minutes to do map drill.
During Advent, our Morning Time table looks much the same: we begin breakfast with prayer and a devotion. I purchased Ann Voskamp's Advent book for children last year, so we are reading through it this month. Ya'll, it is wonderful!! Her poetic language is magnificent and I love how she connects some of the intricate details throughout Scripture to tell the story of Jesus. It's so neat to see arrows pointing to our Savior in places that I'd never noticed before! Some people are distracted by her style of writing, so it's not for everyone but I would at least recommend giving it a look-see. I have a few read-alouds on my list for this month. We're beginning with The Best Christmas Pageant Ever because I snagged it from my favorite used bookstore for cheap cheap cheap (BOGO Christmas books?! Can I get a "Halleluyer!") and had barely heard of it let alone read it before, so why not? We are loving it! It's pretty hilarious actually and the plot & characters are very engaging. We're set to finish it up this week, so next up is the Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol. I also have borrowed Bambi: A Life in the Woods from our local library, so we will finish out the term reading that. I cut out our daily memory work, extra studies, and map drill, but we still do a full review on Fridays. In the future we may integrate some Christmas-specific memorization and some Christmas carol history, but not this year.

Nature Walks

One new thing I do hope to incorporate this month is a few nature walks. We do these regularly during warmer weather, but I'll be honest, I don't enjoy going outside in the cold and snow with four children in tow. Heck, I don't even like doing it on my own most of the time! It can be bitterly cold in Iowa this time of year, and with December stuck right in the middle of cold & flu season it can make for a miserable month. But I am determined to at least try to get out with them this year. We've been very careful to stock our closet with quality WARM gear to make it a little more bearable, so we're going to give it a go. There are so many wonderful things to observe outdoors during the winter! And if we 
shoot low, say one or two short walks on the nicer days, maybe we can actually make it work.

Book List

By far, the reason Advent has become such a treasured pastime for me and my family, is all the BOOKS! I have mentioned a few that we have used and read during our family worship and Morning Time, so here I would like to add the lot that we are reading outside of that. I don't own a heaping ton of Christmas books (though my book addiction is slowly closing in on this season too!) so I borrow a bunch from the library; I make a list and request them all to be delivered to the one closest to my home, so I'm not scrambling all over town to find them. The books I do purchase are, by and large, used, either bought online from one of my favorite retailers or from a local used book shop. Because when you have a penchant for children's books but also have a limited income, it's important to find good deals!

Once I have my stack of books in hand, I pull out my Christmas wrapping paper and get busy wrapping! Each book gets wrapped individually, numbered (1-25) and placed in a basket just for Advent reading. The kids then take turns each day unwrapping the book for the day and we snuggle on the couch or wherever and read together. Some days are allotted more than one book because there are just SO many great ones that it's hard for me to limit our options to only twenty-five. The kids don't seem to mind. ;) So these are the books that we're reading this year. It does vary a bit year-to-year, except for the ones that belong to our family's collection -- those are the tried and true-blue favorites! Now without further ado... my Top Ten, followed by the rest of the basket's contents (in no particular order):

Advent Book List
A Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco
One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham
The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry
The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Anderson
The Tale of the Three Trees, by Angela Elwell Hunt
An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco
Night Tree, by Eve Bunting
Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck

The Birds of Bethlehem, by Tomie dePaola
The Christmas Candle, by Richard Paul Evans
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree, by Robert Barry
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: an Appalachian Story, by Gloria Houston
Christmas Cricket, by Eve Bunting
Christmas in the Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown
Gifts of the Heart, by Patricia Polacco
It's Snowing!, by Gail Gibbons
Jacob's Gift, by Max Lucado
The Legend of the Christmas Rose, by William H. Hooks
Saint Nicholas, by Ann Tompert
Song of the Stars: a Christmas Story, by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Tacky's Christmas, by Helen Lester
This is the Stable, by Cynthia Cotten
Toot & Puddle: I'll be Home for Christmas, by Holly Hobbie
The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Jan Brett
The Crippled Lamb, by Max Lucado
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola
Humphrey's First Christmas, by Carol Heyer
The Big Snow, by Berta & Elmer Hader
The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett
White Snow Bright Snow, by Alvin Tresselt
A Shepherd's Gift, by Mary Calhoun
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
The Jacket I Wear in the Snow, by Shirley Neitzel
The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs
The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, by Stan & Jan Berenstain
A Very Marley Christmas, by John Grogan
Mickey's Christmas Carol, (by Disney)
Board Books:
Christmas in the Manger, by Nola Buck
What Am I? Christmas, (author unknown)
Look Who's Jolly, (author unknown)
Baby's First Nativity, (author unknown)
Christmas Peekaboo!, (DK publishing)

I hope this gives you a good starting place! Remember to check out your local library and favorite used bookstores first, whether local or online. There is typically a high turnover for holiday books, so you should be able to grab a few great bargains to get you started on your own Advent library collection. Happy reading!

Community Outreach

In years past, we have made conscious efforts to get out into our neighborhood and community and reach out our hands with goodwill and kindness and the Gospel during the month of December. We have participated in simple random acts of kindness, non-profit and food bank donations, Operation Christmas Child shoebox parties, and the like, but I was convicted this year to take a step back from these activities. Don't get me wrong, these are all admirable, kind-hearted, and even critical things to do! Many ministries rely on this "season of giving," when people are feeling a bit more generous than other months through the year, to bolster their efforts and make a greater dent in fulfilling their outreaches' needs. And if you participate in some of these activities, please do not stop! Supporting missions in your community and abroad are incredibly important and the impact they can have for the Gospel is far-reaching. But my husband and I have decided that for our family, the best coarse of action is to spread our outreach across the full year instead of localizing the majority of our efforts, both physically and financially, to a single month. There are a myriad of opportunities to give or get involved at any given time, and when we allow ourselves the freedom to choose our involvement as occasion or need arises and as the Spirit leads, I think we can be more effective in our chosen partnerships. So, setting aside the "burden" to do ALL the things, we are able to then devote more of our time now to training our mindset to be one that is focused and intentional with the Gospel continuously. Because as we set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2) and the return of our coming King, we align our wills with His and are more prepared to DO the thing He calls us to.
Now with that said, we have chosen to participate in a couple of activities this month, including a nursing home outreach with our church and Christmas caroling with our homeschool co-op. We don't have to remove ourselves completely to have peace. ;) But you do what's right for your family.

These are the things that form the spine of our family's Advent traditions. There are, of course, other activities that we like to do... like movie nights, Polar Express night, or own very own Night Tree! But at least you have a taste now, and hopefully some ideas of how to make the Christmas season more meaningful for your own family.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Personality By Any Other Name Wouldn’t Be As Sweet

Rose Far And Wide by Ave Lainesaar

I’ve been AWOL for a while now, dipping deep into the well of family life, getting caught up in life’s happenings, that I haven’t checked in on the blog for a loooong time. But it’s okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re all gonna be OK.

It’s been an incredible summer and I’m all too sorry to see it go. There seems to be so much more I wanted to do: experiences I wanted to share, memories I wanted to make. Yes, we started school on Monday. Strangely, I’m kind of all set on the planning side of things, but I’m just not mentally ready to transition back to “school mode.” So in one last ditch effort to postpone the inevitable, I want to share a bit about my summer. Perhaps if I keep talking about summer, it will stick around longer? (See how many times you can spot the word “summer” in this post!)

I started this summer well organized and ready. I prepped a summer binder stocked with monthly calendars clearly labeled with all our family’s pre-scheduled activities, daily schedule, cleaning schedule, chore assignments and rotations, summer rules and discipline strategies, personal goals, summer reading program papers including book lists and reading logs, a simple sort of “bucket list” of fun places to visit in our fine state, fitness forms and menu plans for myself. This baby was well oiled and rip-roaring to go! And I used it… for about two weeks. Maybe two and a half. It was a beautiful creation and wonderfully handy, but I just didn’t use it! Why?!

Well, one of my personal goals this summer was to implement some time for Mother Culture. If you’re not familiar with this Charlotte Mason concept, basically it’s about making time for Mom to personally engage in learning through literature — for me, this equated to just about 30 minutes to quietly read to myself during my kids’ afternoon quiet time. Miss Mason encouraged moms to always have three books going at a time: an easy read (novel), moderately easy read, and a difficult (stiff) read. As I have not been able to complete a book on my own in under 12 months for the last 7 years, I jumped on this idea! It wasn’t difficult to find material. I have a plethora of written treasures patiently waiting on my bookshelves. So I made my book list, downloaded audiobooks, and plotted my priorities.

One of the books I chose, a "moderate read” on my list (though it really was rather easy), is If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby? by Carol Barnier. It is hilarious and I felt like she was writing directly to ME… How’d she get inside my head anyway? I mean, she described me to a T! Remember my post on Driven Distraction? Yeah. Totally me. Basically, this book was written for the highly distracted mom — a “how-to” of sorts, you could say. She very empathetically describes the personality and sort of inner-workings of said woman, and she gives many tips and tricks on how to make it work FOR you & not against you (which is tricky business, I tell you!) I saturated myself in her wisdom, gleaned all I could of her practical advice, and contemplated her rich (and hysterical) thoughts on just what it’s like to live life as a distracted mom. I took so many great things away from this book! But perhaps the greatest is a deeper understanding of who I am & who God created me to be. How incredibly freeing it is when you can finally understand that you are who you are and it’s okay to be that way... Not that we should stay that way, because we should always be growing in our walks and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of God (Romans 12:1-2). But this little bit of acceptance -- I cannot even begin to express the joy it brings!

Not only did I receive a beautiful gift of personal freedom, but I was also deeply challenged. So many times I (and I’m sure many of you) have looked at and studied the examples of Mary and Martha in Scripture (Luke 10:38-42, specifically), and I’ve always viewed myself as a Martha. I’m a mom of four young ones. There’s simply too much to do to be still and sit there! I’m constantly working, working, working, setting things in order, taking care of messy kids, cleaning a messy house, too busy to just sit and be at the feet of Jesus. I have to at least fold laundry or sort mail or organize my contacts on my phone while I sit. It’s all about the multi-tasking, baby! Carol brings the Biblical sisters out again for examination in the last chapter of her book, and for the first time I was able to see a bit of Mary in myself. Now, I’m not all there. (Ha! in more ways than one, to be sure.) But it’s like I’m seeing myself through different glasses now. 

"We need to be reminded that every gift comes with responsibilities and that every responsibility comes with a gift. If we only see the work, we’ve missed the best part.
If you find yourself truly at odds with something in your life, step back for a moment and see if you can’t find a new lens, one that finds the gifts in your circumstances instead of all the challenges. Aren’t you glad that this is exactly how God see us?” (p. 83, If I’m Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where’d I Leave the Baby?)

And it clicked. As a highly distracted, unregimented person, I have resorted to controlling my environment (physical things, i.e. organization) to compensate for my lack of mental  organization. This can give the appearance of “having it all together” (*cough* Martha *cough* summer binder) and is, apparently, often perceived by others as such, but it is merely a facade — a white wash over the jumbled, tumble-down "mess" that is my interior. I have embraced, or rather clung to, this exterior structure and regiment as a sort of means to atone for my true personal “deficit." But there is still a part of me that longs to be able to be fulfilled in my natural, albeit sometime chaotic, tendencies (hello, Mary). I am still trying to figure this out. It is an ever back-and-forth song and dance between the two, and I struggle to find the balance.

I’ve been tapping into the different personality assessments out there lately — I can’t remember all the varieties out there right now as there are far too many! — but I think I’m gaining a little insight as I read & listen. I VERY much identify with this particular book on an almost cellular level. I mean, she nailed it! So I think that this highly distractible character is truly me. However, it is when I am under STRESS that I resort to the polar opposite: structure, regiment, orientation toward tasks, etc. This can be external stress (usually) or even internal stress, because somehow my natural tendencies can even overwhelm me sometimes causing me to retreat into the stronghold of order.

It’s all so confusing to unfold… My personality is so stinking complex! A virtual origami of personalities. Shoot. But I am vastly grateful for the assistance in learning more about myself thus far. (Thank you, Carol Barnier!) And I’m even more thankful for the peace and joy that my own acceptance of God’s acceptance brings! It’s been a long time coming. Thank you, Jesus!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Glosser Chronicles: Summertime Review

Well, if you follow my blog at all, you know that I've taken the last three months off from my monthly reviews to soak up the summer with my husband & kids while we adjust to being a family of six! Then last month we started our new school year, so my last few posts centered around homeschool. I hope you enjoyed the peek into our family's education! If you missed it, you can catch up here.

But now the summer months are over and autumn's official beginning has taken its place. While we transition to a new season, it sounds like a good time to reflect back on the past few months and thank God for the many blessings He so richly bestowed on us this summer! Sit back, relax, and prepare for a multitude of photos as you ride along down Nostalgia Lane with me.

I have to begin this photo series with the biggest event our summer: the addition of our sixth family member (seventh if you believe in dog-children)! Madelyn Chara Glosser was born to us Tuesday, June 17th. And our world will forever be changed for the better.
(I posted a blurb about her on Facebook, which I will share below.)

Pictured here visiting her Great-Grandpa George
for the first time. (He is my paternal grandfather, 
whose wife Madelyn was named after.) 

The newest member of our family joined us on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, at 11:20pm. Weighing in at 7lbs, 13oz, and measuring 20in long, she's the second largest baby of our four. Labor & delivery was THE BEST experience we've ever had thanks to, literally, my team of helpers. My husband, mom, and 3 sisters (one joining us via Facetime in Reno, NV) were my incredible support team who I am intensely thankful for. In fact, my midwife wants to hire them to be at all her births! :) 

The Name:
She gets her namesake from my paternal grandmother, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women of God I have ever ever had the pleasure to know. She has been an inspiration to me in many areas of my life and a pillar to my spiritual walk. Her death when I was in sixth grade was a pivotal time for me and a driving force that finally sent me running to the loving arms of Jesus. I pray that our little Madelyn will love the Lord & serve Him all the days of her life as my Grandma Madelyn did.
A note about her middle name, Chara, (pronouced kar'-uh): The Greek word chara means "joy" and is from my personal devotions in the days following the hard news that she was transverse & then breech in my eighth month of pregnancy. The Lord led me to John 16 & Luke 11 where I was encouraged in the Spirit to simply remember to ASK. I was worried and frustrated and had completely neglected asking my most gracious heavenly Father for a good outcome & a healthy baby! Now I know that God's will is perfect, but, as I so often do, I had placed my own will above His. I had to surrender to Him and take comfort in the fact that He gives GOOD gifts to His children! It only when I had surrendered my will that His Holy Spirit brought me such amazing peace and comfort... and gave us our baby's middle name: Chara (John 16:24). Madelyn is a beauty and a blessing! And I can honestly testify that our joy is indeed full.

June is insanity at our house. No joke. You know the definition of insanity, right? It's "doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results." Well, apparently, that's our approach to family planning, because all but ONE of our kids was born in June. Oh, and it's also the month of my birthday... aaand our wedding anniversary. So yeah. Kind of busy. It wasn't on purpose, but it certainly would appear to be "something utterly foolish or unreasonable."

But you know what? June is a big party! We get to celebrate the precious lives of three of the most amazing people this world has ever known AND the union of a certain super handsome, unbelievably gifted, agape loving man to this certain goofy, giggly girl. And I get to blow out candles and eat cake. We may be utterly exhausted come July 1st, but who can complain? June rocks!

Berry picking and nature centers were top picks for summer fun this year. I am so thankful we have such a fantastic U-pick farm not-too-far from home! We had PERFECT weather (for the first time ever?!) so we spent the morning out there and loaded up on blueberries... that will hopefully last us through the winter. My husband's been begging (politely) for a blueberry pie ever since!
We also enjoyed a splendid day at a nature center near our home where we learned about local habitats and wildlife. We'll definitely be revisiting soon! 

We followed up our nature exploration with a picnic lunch and some "beach" time just down the road from the nature center. (In Iowa, that means lakeshore.) The kids LOVE anything involving dirt, so the majority of the afternoon was spent digging in the sand. :) However, I do have one little fish that enjoys the water very much, so she spent a lot of time going back and forth getting the best of both worlds.

My grandpa lives on a farm down in southern Iowa, so when harvest time came my dad drove down, picked some sweet corn, and carted it back here for us. Yep, my grandpa still farms -- at the ripe age of 86 & still going strong!
Even though this year with the new baby wasn't a great time for corn-picking, I tried to involved them in the shucking process. (You can imagine how well that went.) Actually, my oldest did very well & persevered even when she thought she'd had enough! That may have had something to do with the quarters I promised for every bag she shucked... Shhh!! There's a place for bribery in parenting, I tell you.
I have so many great memories of times spent growing up down on the farm. I hope to impart the same sweet fondness of the country to my kids!

Mmmm. Some Sunday mornings we like to do Dunkin'. Because they're donuts, people. And we're donut people.

Some of my favorite highlights of the entire summer were spent with our families. Have I mentioned how incredibly blessed we are to have both sets of grandparents and {most} aunts & uncles within a short driving distance? Much leisure time was spent with them: popping by Dairy Queen on a whim some hot summer evening for a frozen treat and chasing bubbles, snuggled up on the couch reading a good book, family night dinners with games & great conversation. It's absolutely wonderful.
But I would be remiss not to mention the fantastic time we spent with our far-away-family! My older sister and her family (including my only niece and nephew) came to Des Moines to spend over a week with us. We had a blast soaking up every ounce of time we could with them before bidding adieu. We miss them every day but are thankful for the delightful memories created this summer!

This summer was one of frosty heat. Ok, mostly heat. So we cooled off the way many families do... in the water! With so many littles and no swimmers (yet), we don't do the public pool much, but we do enjoy our share of backyard water play! 
And as a special treat, we attended the Frozen festivities at Barnes & Noble one evening. It was a pajama story time, complete with make-your-own snowflakes & face paint!

OUTDOORS! That's why we love the summer. So much to be done in the midst of God's glorious creation! We drink it up 'til we're full to the brim with summer goodness, and it lasts us through the frigid winter long enough to soak up the spring rains.

Oh... how did this get in here? And who are these weirdos? ;) Eh, this is just how we do.

I had the joy of passing down a summer tradition to my family this year. Snookies is one of those community landmarks and one of my favorite places to dip my finger (and tongue, as it were) in summer's sweetness. I used to frequent it with my besties in the "good ol' days," and now I hope to do the same with my kiddos!

My summer could never be complete without at least one trip to the Iowa State Fair. It is for sure one of the best summer pastimes! I think it improves every year, too. They have a magnificent team working year-round to make certain that "Nothing Compares." I think they've nailed it!
This year's visit actually corresponded with our first day of school and, not-so-coincidentally, the Fair's Homeschool Day! The kids explored and discovered many different things about Iowa culture, including agriculture, sustainability, leisure activities, and the arts. There were many many hands-on opportunities, and the girls even milked a cow!

August just wouldn't be August without Dows Corn Days. I've been going since I was a little (and I mean little!) girl. It's a simple farming community sweet corn and watermelon smorgasbord, but it excites me every year and I'm so glad I can pass on the tradition!

Well, I hope you've enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane with me! Truthfully, August & September have hit me like a ton of bricks as we've been dealing with what seems like difficulty after hardship after grueling challenge. So I needed this more than anyone. It has been both refreshing and encouraging to review what Good Things God has given us, and my soul feels uplifted! This was just the boost I needed. Thank you, Jesus!

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning." 
-- James 1:16-17 (NKJV)

What did you do this summer? Have you taken a moment to thank the Lord for the Good Things He's given you?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Get Organized! Using Workboxes for your Homeschool

We've been using workboxes in our homeschool for two years, and they've been extremely helpful in keeping me organized and helping us stay on task through the homeschool day. They have also been useful to promote independent learning with my first-grader this year (which enables me to spend more time with the three littler ones)!

I LOVE this system and I've received a few questions about it, so I wanted to share with you all how we use them in our homeschool. I'm a visual learner and I know there are more of you out there like me, but sometimes photos just aren't thorough enough for me. I benefit greatly from someone walking me through something and showing me how to do it or at least how they do it so I have a better idea of where to start. For this reason, I put together a video tutorial! Now, this is my first video ever, so please be gracious. It's far from perfect. :) However, if you bear with me, I hope you will have a better understanding of Sue Patrick's system and maybe even walk away with some ideas of how to make it work for your family. I broke it up into two videos so you wouldn't get too bored. ;)

In the first video, I share with you exactly what is "The Workbox System." It's mostly informational, but very important if you want to give workboxes a try. After I talk about Sue Patrick & her work a bit, I show you our workbox carts and introduce how they work.

In part two, I walk you through how I set up for each day the night before and get our workboxes ready to go!

Here are some links for things I mentioned in the videos (some are affiliate links):

Sue Patrick's Workbox System: A User's Guide
Ten Drawer Cart
Calendar Notebook
Elementary Daily Learning Notebook
Velcro dots
Task Cards
Subject TRIO

If you would like access to my own subject/activity cards, shoot me a comment and I'd be happy to share my link! I'm also happy to answer any questions you may have.

For more information on this system, or to order Sue Patrick's ebook, go here.

To look at my other homeschool posts, look here:
Our Curriculum, 2014-2015
Tour Our Homeschool Room
First Day of School, 2014-2015
Our Typical Homeschool Day

Have fun discovering this new way to organize your homeschool days!

Do you use workboxes in your homeschool? Have you modified them at all to fit your family? Share in the comments below!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Breaking Dawn: A Mommy's Midnight Musing

Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one. - Dr. Seuss

But if it's not, I'd be okay with it. It's been quite a night... 
A late start for sleep around midnight insured a tired morning to follow, but I was surprised to wake much earlier than expected when Madelyn needed a diaper change at 1 am. And of course she was wide-awake after that. (Could this have anything to do with my rare non-decaf coffee treat at 4:00 that afternoon?) So I lay with her and nursed her on one side, and we both fell asleep. Fast forward a bit to 3:30 am when M is getting restless again. I slide her over and roll over myself to nurse her on the other side, but she won't latch & then projectile vomits all. over. my side of the bed. Nice. I mop up, lay down cloth, remove both if our pjs, change another diaper, burp baby well, wrap her up and lay her in her bed before returning to my resting spot. But neither of us can get comfortable and the dog is busy shaking her head over an itchy ear in the next room. It's now 4:15 and we're both still restless. I cave. I pick up Madelyn, swaddle her tight and attempt to nurse again to fill that emptied belly. This time I'm sitting up. I read an article on exercise & hormone balance on my phone. I must post this to Facebook. Click. 4:30 rolls in as I type this. Husband is snoring, baby is lolling off to dream land. And I am awake. Now I have to pee and am starting to feel hot. Did I turn the air back on before turning in for the night? It was such a cool evening. Get up one more time to check... and turn it on. Ahh. It's Sunday: the Day of Rest. Back to bed I go. 6:30 alarms are going to come all too quickly. Good morning mommies of the world. Happy Sunday.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Typical Homeschool Day, 2014-2015

The final week of iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop is here! So take a seat, grab a cuppa, and join us for a day in the life of this homeschool family!

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."

This famous quote by the poet, Yeats, inspires me. It extinguishes all the formality & drudgery that can be associated with traditional learning and kindles the excitement and passion that I desire to be the trademark of my children's learning. It's what drives me to teach my kids every day.

Don't misunderstand, I know plenty of excellent teachers that work in the traditional school setting and do an amazing job at making learning a fun adventure! (I'm sure they would agree with this quote as well!) However, I love the freedom that comes with homeschool. We are not bound to a particular district, a building, a room, a desk. I have a "superintendent" (my husband) that is on the same page with me 100% of the time, because we took the time to saturate our decisions in prayer, lay out short term and long term goals for each of our children, and he inquires of our progress daily so we can discuss any changes that may need to be made. He does not micromanage but is a constant encouragement & pillar of Biblical wisdom and strength. If we have a disagreement, we can sit down together over coffee and pour over Scripture til we are pointed in the right direction... together. I have freedom to choose our curriculum (praise the Lord!!), to alter it as I see fit, and formulate a scope & sequence suitable for each one of my children so they can learn at their own pace, in their own way. We schedule field trips and outdoor activities, playgroups, and co-ops. But we are free to be flexible -- changing our plans at a minute's notice because the baby got sick this morning or there's a need in our extended family or attitudes need adjusting so we focus on training good character & instilling good habits instead of doing the day's "book work." It's something I'm even willing to fight for. As William Wallace so memorably said (albeit in a slightly different context ;)), "FREEEEEDOM!!!!!" And I love it.

With this freedom, you can imagine that not every day looks the same for us. As we add more precious babies to our crew through the years, I'm finding that it's much more difficult to hold to a rigid schedule. So we roll with it. Each day flows a little differently, but they are usually fluid nonetheless. With a general plan and some preparation, we can easily move from one thing to the next, embracing the bumps along the way without completely giving in to them and losing focus altogether. No, I am not perfect, nor are my children, nor is our schooling. But every difficult day leads to an easier future, even if it is not the day immediately following. And that's okay. Great comfort is steeped in the words, "...for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

Our Schedule

Still, I'd like to share what a typical day looks like in our homeschool (and I use the word "typical" loosely). Walk with me...

7-7:30 a.m.           Children are waking, Mom nurses baby
8-8:30 a.m.           Breakfast/Bible reading
8:30 a.m.              Morning chores
9:30-10 a.m.         Begin school day
11:30-1:00 p.m.    Lunch/Bible reading/Finish up school work, if necessary
1-2:00 p.m.           Free time, Afternoon clean-up
2-4:00 p.m.           Naps/Quiet time
4-5:00 p.m.           Reading/Free time, Mom nurses baby & begins dinner prep
5:30 p.m.              Daddy's home!!!
6:00 p.m.              Dinner
8:30 p.m.              Bed time/Family devotions

I hesitate to assign specific time frames to our day, but I think I can honestly say this is generally how our days go, with lots of wiggle room. When you're nursing a baby, you're at her beck and call 24/7, so other things have to give way. Thankfully, much of our learning is done through reading, so the other kids can just pile around me on the couch while I nurse and I can read aloud to the group or big sis' can read aloud instead.

Our Subjects

I like to try to begin at least every other day with "Circle Time" -- a time to gather all the children together to pray and work on our Calendar, Morning Board, memory verse, sing a song or two, and discuss our virtue/habit. Then, big sis' will begin working in her Daily Learning Notebook independently while I read some picture books to the younger two. If she finishes before we're done, she just joins us on the couch! Once we're done reading, the little ones go off to play and the first grader and I get some time to work alone together.

As far as subjects go (see Our Curriculum here), I took a cue from The Unlikely Homeschool and we are working in TRIOS this year. Meaning, we break our work up into subjects like this:

1. Core (Language Arts or Math -- requires Mom's assistance)
2. Living literature (Reading, Read-Aloud, History -- reading based)
3. Project (Science, Handwriting/Copywork, Handicraft -- hands-on or independent)
BREAK (short, 5-min), Repeat with another TRIO

So far, I'm loving this method as it allows naturally for brain breaks and the work doesn't seem to pile up and overwhelm any of us.

Now, things will be changing up a bit next week as we start integrating more preschool work into the day. I have a stack of ocean books we'll be reading, & we'll begin a little math and pre-reading practice with workbooks and games! I'm a bit nervous for this transition and am praying things go smoothly & that my toddler doesn't begin to feel left out... She is welcome to join us for anything, but it doesn't take much for her to become hard-up for some Mommy time! Hopefully, I can figure out the best way to help her stay involved and close by without boring her, stifling her own creativity & sense of adventure. It will just take more practiced planning on my part, I think!

There you have it! A quick look at these precious days at home. I hope you've enjoyed this journey into our homeschool life. Don't forget to pop by the iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop to check out what other families are doing this year! It's been a pleasure to be a part of the adventure.

Come back next week when I hope to share more about our workboxes and delve into more of the nitty-gritty of how we do school! And, get this... there might be a YouTube video or two!!

Thanks for joining us this month! Now I'd like to hear how YOU do things. Share in the comments below!

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day of School, 2014-2015

We've been back to school now for two whole weeks. I wasn't even 100% ready for the school year to begin, and we've already put in 2 weeks?! Yikes! Time flies.

Like many families, we like to commemorate our first day with a fun photo. And, though bad hair days and pajamas are frequent and even welcome parts of homeschooling, we do try to "class" it up for that first day. (My kids still pick out their own clothes & dress themselves, so matching, trendy outfits are definitely not guaranteed but at least they're not on backwards *today*. And maybe, just maybe my daughter combed her hair... Ok, I'm not that classy peeps! Still keepin' it real.)

At any rate, we pull ourselves together for the day, then Mommy frantically positions the children in various loci around the front yard, trying desperately (and rather unsuccessfully) to avoid the glaring sun and subsequent shadows and sweeten any souring attitudes (and faces... gotta have gorgeous smiles for that "special day!") The results of this race? See for yourself.

My new 1st grader was beaming all morning. Praise the Lord for one who is excited about school!

This guy is starting pre-school this year. (Curious what that means for us? Check out our curriculum this year.) He seems pretty happy about it. :)

Here are the sibs together! Jenna was insistent on getting one with her brother and specifically directed him where to stand, how to smile, etc. Our little bossy-boss. But I'm glad she did.

And, of course, little sis had to get in on the action. She's not in school yet, but as I was scooting everyone inside, she struck a pose and said, "CHEEEEESE!" I couldn't pass that up, now could I? Sadly, her pose lasted only as long as her "cheese," so I missed it. Ah well.

Now our days aren't quite so "put together" as that first day (if you can call that put together), but they are getting more and more enjoyable! Boy, do I love this homeschool thing.

Cheers to a rockin' school year! Whether you're just now starting, have been at it for weeks, or are still kicking up your summer heels. Whether you school at home, co-op, on the go, public, or private. Whether you send them on the bus, carpool, or do all the shuffling yourself. Here's to bright mornings and smiling faces (and even those gloomy days and not-so-smiling faces). Have a great year!

This post is part of week 3 of 4 weeks on iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop. Don't forget to check out Our Curriculum (week 1) and the Homeschool Room Tour (week 2) too!