What Worked & What Didn’t This School Year

What Worked & What Didn’t This School Year

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetWe are wrapping up our fifth year of homeschooling! This one was the best one yet. There were hard days, certainly, but there were also a lot of really great moments we had together. I thought I would share a list of what worked and what didn’t work for us this year. I like to take some to reflect on the year we just finished before I launch completely into planning for next year. (But let’s be honest, I had my master plan for next school year mostly ready in February. I can’t help it. I like to plan.)

What worked…

  1. School Room- The biggest change that worked was definitely our new school room when we moved houses in December. Our home was built in the sixties, so it has what I think would have been used as a formal sitting room. We aren’t formal, and we don’t sit a lot, so that would have been wasted space. It gets the best morning light, and it’s a wonderful size, so we made it our school room. We’ve got a big white board that Lydia puts up our CC grammar work each week. We have a big oval table and four rolling chairs around it, one for each girl. The table is almost never clean. It is used for art projects, play dough messes and lots of learning. I have a little desk and rolling chair too. Right now we have one small bookcase which is overflowing with school books, so we plan to do a wall of bookshelves in there this summer. And some paint, but I don’t know what color yet.
  2. Our Classical Conversations community- This was our second year with this community, and I loved how much our friendships got to grow this year. I tutored the youngest class this year, and getting to know the parents of my kids was such a blessing not to mention the fun, crazy, wonderful group of tutors I got to know and love so much.
  3. One day with nowhere to go- When I was planning out dance classes and violin lessons, counseling sessions, etc., I tried to make sure we had at least one day per week that we didn’t have anywhere to go. This allowed us to have a slow morning and linger in our read-aloud for a bit longer or explore an interesting composer for a few more songs. One of my primary reasons for homeschooling is so I can set the pace for what our mornings look like, but if I’m not intentional with the planning of our week then it can start to feel very choppy. We prefer days with a bit more margin and fluidity.
  4. No TV until late in the afternoon. (I would include all screens. My kids don’t have any screens other than the TV, but if they did then this would apply to all screens.) This has been a rule in our house forever, but I’m including it because I can tell on Saturdays how much morning TV drains them of their creative and learning energy. Really, I think this would be a good thing for me to adhere to as well regarding social media.
  5. Read-alouds. This is everyone’s favorite. We love books so much. We are currently reading The Green Ember, and it’s fantastic. I’ll include this below but we need to figure out a better system for our morning basket time. I’m hoping to improve this next year.
  6. Caring as much about emotional growth as intellectual growth. This is an area God has really impressed upon my heart as my girls get older. It’s an area where I’ve gotten to see fruit this year and also an area I want to continue to pour into. In that vain, we are working on habits this summer. I talk more about our summer plans at the end of this blog.

What didn’t work…

  1. Saxon math for Lydia. This is our biggest didn’t work this year. Lyd did Saxon 5/4 in the fall. I ended up getting videos for her to watch to make it better. (The videos we had were not the Nicole lady who I heard great things about but another person. They were so boring.) I was thinking we would try the Nicole math videos, but then I heard about Teaching Textbooks. They had a free trial, so Lyd gave it a try and we both love it. She loves it because it’s more engaging than before. I like it because it grades all her math stuff for me, and since I’ll have three students next year and four the year after this was a big deal to me. The price was reasonable, and it still teaches using the spiral method which I like. We just made this change a month or so ago. I’ll update after we’ve been using it a while, but so far we love it. (I am still using Saxon for Lottie and Georgia next year.)
  2. Late night Wednesdays + early morning Thursday. Our community met on Thursdays last year, and our Missional Community meets on Wednesday nights. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world by any stretch and certainly kids in traditional school deal with it all the time, I’m not sad at all that our community day is moving to Tuesdays. I’m grateful to not feel rushed to get littles to bed on Wednesday night so they aren’t grumpy for CC day.
  3. My school planner. I used one I got at Target. It was fine, and I made it work for two students, but I need something a bit more for three students with three different workloads next year. I’m going to try Emily Ley’s Teacher Planner that launches tomorrow.
  4. Planning for two semesters. For the past five years, I’ve treated our calendar like a traditional school calendar–start mid-August, fall break, two week Christmas break, spring break, end for summer before Memorial Day. It’s worked okay, but it felt like there was room for improvement. Come late-July we are all craving some sort of structure and also all the air-conditioning. January and February always feel weird because we are prepping for state-testing, and this year Lydia was prepping for Memory Master. In December we want to sit by the fire and read and sing Christmas carols and bake yummy things. All that to say, it felt like we were imposing the same structure on every season even though seasons are just that–seasons. December isn’t like May, but it felt like we were trying to make it be. My friend Erin shared how she does mini-terms instead of two semesters. Each mini-term is 4-6 weeks depending on the calendar and holidays. I thought this was brilliant, and immediately decided I wanted to give it a try with our master plan for school next year. I will still get in the same amount of school days, but they will be spaced out differently, and our areas of focus will shift with the seasons. I really like how it’s looking right now, and we’ll see how it feels when we live it out. I can share more about our specific master plan for mini-terms in a future blog.
  5. Morning basket time. We struggled with this this year, and I think it has something to do with the planning for two semesters I described above. It feels like there is so much I want to fit into this time and I struggled to do that in an intentional way. When I was reworking our master plan I reworked our morning basket time too, and I’m hoping it will be more meaningful next year.

There you go! (I should mention I felt the need to have the same number in each list, but I curbed my perfectionist tendencies and left you with 6 and 5. That’s growth, people.) I’ll share more about next year’s master plan and the plan for morning basket time in a future blog.

Our summer term will be 8 weeks long. We are going to read some great books through Read Aloud Revival, work in the garden a lot and learn about habits using Sean Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. On rainy days we will watch Our Planet on Netflix and Monty Don’s Gardeners’ World on Britbox. And, of course, time with grandparents and cousins and friends and ice cream… lots of ice cream.

It’s been a really good year, and I’m incredibly grateful for the memories I’ve gotten to make teaching my smart, creative, delightful girls. Lydi and Lottie, you make me a better learner. I’m so glad we get to do this adventure together. All my love.

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I changed my word of the year four days in.

I changed my word of the year four days in.

It’s true. Four days into 2019 I changed my word of the year. In December I was prepping  my PowerSheets, and I came up with the word establish. I liked that word. It linked up with my goals for the year–things I wanted to accomplish–like establishing our new home, establishing a new training plan for the races I wanted to complete this year, establishing better rhythms with my girls in the morning and at night. These things felt very good to my Enneagram 1 self. Changing, Improving, Reforming.

But then on January 4th I was at my counseling session. (I started going back to counseling in October.) I was telling my counselor that the blindsided feeling I faced when Ethiopia announced their suspension of inter-country adoption right after we got our last piece of paperwork to go get our girl was following me. A couple more things happened last year that reinforced that blindsided feeling–losing my uncle eight months after he was diagnosed with ALS and some stuff that happened at our old church. I realized that I was waking up every morning waiting to be blindsided again, and that wasn’t a healthy spot for me to be in.

My counselor asked me to talk about when I feel most at peace, and I told her for me it’s on a run or a bike ride. Somehow when my legs are doing a repetitive motion, my brain gets a chance to see the big picture, and somehow being outside surrounded by things growing, the Holy Spirit starts weaving things together for me so I can see God’s sovereignty over my life in new ways. My counselor asked me what I felt at the end of a run or ride. I thought for a second and the word that came to mind was held. I feel completely seen and completely loved, not because of any pretend perfection but just because I have a Father who loves me unconditionally. I feel secure not because I know what hard things are coming but because I know I have a Father who will never leave me.

I left my counseling session and ran to Lowe’s to pick out paint chips, and while I was comparing various shades of greige I realized my word of the year needed to be held. With my personality, there’s no worry that I might not achieve this year. No worry that checklists might not get made or tasks accomplished. No, I wake up ready to go on those. But I realized what I might miss out on was being held by my Heavenly Father. Taking my fragile broken heart and letting him heal me. Taking my racing, to-do list self and letting Him give me rest. And a very literal holding of hands with my man and our girls.

So, while it’s the most normal time of the year to accomplish and achieve, this year I’m letting go and leaving undone. Every day I want to not finish something or mess something up. A strange goal, I understand, for personalities different than mine. But this feels necessary and healthy for me because all of this links up with my understanding on a heart level the grace my Savior bought for me when He died for me. To live striving for perfection is to abandon grace. When I say something awkward and wonder if people will still like me, when I really, really burn the meatballs for dinner, when I tell someone about counseling, when I have to apologize to my girls or my husband, when I admit I need help, every one of those is an invitation to be held by my Heavenly Father.

 

A secret project- Grace for the Journey Book

A secret project- Grace for the Journey Book

I’ve been working on a secret project for over a year now. In early spring 2017, my friend Melody Cain asked me if I would pray about being involved in a project she was spearheading, a one year devotional for adoptive moms that would encourage and inspire. After some prayer and thought (and, if I’m being honest, fear) I said yes. Then, the suspension happened in Ethiopia, and I realized how crucial this type of book could be. When you’re in a dark, scary place, you need to know you aren’t the only one. Sometimes, the most life-giving words come from someone who has walked a similar journey. Along with thirteen other adoptive moms, I started writing.

Last fall, I woke up at 4:30 am several days a week to write in the stillness of a house that isn’t often quiet. I had the joy and hardship of writing in the thick of it, when attachment was a struggle and weariness was high. Then in the spring, we moved into editing, and I realized what a gift God had given me in capturing those raw, vulnerable days in words. He didn’t let me write from a place of success or achievement but, rather, from a place of weakness. As I edited and deleted and rewrote and deleted (brevity is not my strength), I realized His strength was abundant in my weakness, and that’s a story worth telling.

The book is called Grace for the Journey: A One-Year Devotional for Adoptive Moms. It releases on December 11, 2018. You can pre-order the book starting this Thursday, November 1st. For the first ten days of pre-orders (November 1st-10th), every copy purchased will also send a copy to an adoption agency to be given to a new adoptive family. (Updated: Pre-orders are live. You can pre-order at www.graceforthejourneybook.com.) For now, you can learn more about the book by visiting www.graceforthejourneybook.com.

If you would *really* like to help me out, please join our launch group on Facebook. You can search for “Grace for the Journey Book” on Facebook. You can also message me or leave a comment, and I’ll be happy (and thankful!) to add you. If you know of an adoptive mom, would you please share this book with her? Your support means the world to me. So many of you have sent kind messages over the years, and it’s those messages that helped me say yes to this project. I’m incredibly grateful for you.

I also have to give a shout-out to my eight year old for taking my picture for the website. Thank you, Lulu! And another shout-out to my dear friend Heather for writing my bio. I texted her last weekend saying I needed help. If it was up to me, my bio was going to read, “Hot mess. The end.” She, of course, wrote words I don’t deserve. Thank you, H.

To all of you, thank you for your help, support and encouragement!

A little reminder to myself as early voting begins…

A little reminder to myself as early voting begins…

Have you ever watched someone become a US citizen? It’s incredible. One time when we were getting fingerprints for USCIS, I walked out of the fingerprint room in time to see a group of men and women standing with their hands over their hearts to say the pledge of allegiance for the first time as US citizens.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Their families surrounded them and when they finished with “liberty and justice for all” they erupted in cheers and celebration. Tears sprung, and it was such a special moment to behold. May we never take the opportunities we’ve been given for granted. May we talk less and listen more to those around us, hear their stories, and appreciate the unique gifts they bring. My girls and I say the pledge every Thursday at our homeschool community day. That isn’t a me-centered pledge I take with my hand over my heart. It’s a commitment to the greater good. It’s a fire in my belly to fight for freedom and justice for all, not just for people who look like me or talk like me or help my bank account.

I’ll leave you with these two quotes I’ve been mulling over from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes but have yet to learn the simple act of walking on earth like brothers.” And also, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Father, show me how to use my opportunity to vote for the greater good, for the broader concerns of all humanity. If it should cost me something, may I give it freely and sacrificially just as you modeled for me. Help me make decisions not out of fear or mob mentality but out of respect for You and the life Your Son Jesus lived on earth. May I recognize the privileges I’ve been given and use those as a means to lift others up and give others a voice. Guide me, Father. Amen. 

 

Changing Seasons

Changing Seasons

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetLast month we went to the beach, and I didn’t have to take swim diapers. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but for eight summers I’ve had to mess with swim diapers. But now all my people use a potty, so I no longer needed swim diapers. Who would have thought that would feel like such an accomplishment? But it did.

These last few months I’ve noticed a shifting, the daily movement seems subtle like the darkness creeping up a few minutes earlier every night. Then, one day you look out your window at 6:00 and notice it’s nearly dark, and you realize just how much the seasons have shifted. This new season carries its own challenges and its own delight. My oldest is nearly half-way through her time at home with us. She is cooking dinner for us and giving me book recommendations. Sometimes when I look over at her I can imagine her at college, books and papers surrounding her and that furrowed look on her face she gets when she’s concentrating. She needs honest answers to her questions. She needs freedom to mess up and try new things. She needs an empty kitchen and the chance to grapple with hard things.

These seasons require much growth from my children, but they also require growth from me, the willingness to surrender control and embrace the messy. I remember when Lydia was a baby, and I would put out her outfit every Sunday so Matt could get her dressed since I would already be at church–a beautiful smocked dress, matching monogrammed bloomers, and a color-coordinated bow. Those days are long gone and not just because I got too tired, but because they grew up and they have an opinion and a style and a personality. I’m not here to make girls who grow up into women just like their mom. I’m here to help cultivate and nourish God’s unique purpose in each of their lives.

I hear a lot of times that girls always this and girls always that as though gender decides far more of our lives than it actually does. While I certainly think there are some things that inherently come with our femininity, one of the gifts of having four daughters is getting to see how different each of them was made. While we still have a heavy pink influence over here, we try to make sure the books and toys and shows we allow in our house remind our girls that they aren’t cookie cutters, they aren’t damsels in distress, and they aren’t princesses who need to be coddled. They are unique, woven in their mothers’ wombs for a kingdom purpose.

When I see one wanting to take charge, I can remind myself she is craving responsibility and leadership. When I see one whose room looks like a bomb went off after rest time, I can recognize she is merely trying to keep up with her explosive imagination. When I see one who needs a longer glance or a reassuring wink, I can acknowledge the value of her presence not for what she does but simply for who she is. When I see one take steps backward, I can remember that growth is hard and messy and sometimes we just need to be held and told it’s okay to try again.

It’s true what everyone tells you when you first hold your baby. You blink and it passes by. It’s also true that this parenting thing is hard and exhausting, and you mess up a lot. But somewhere along the way we realize those shards of growth we have fought for–the moments when we think we might lose it (or actually do, in fact, lose it), the moments when we just sigh and go to sleep so we can try again tomorrow, the moments when we look up and see a young lady where there used to be a child, the moments when we no longer have to pack swim diapers for the beach–have been fitted together just right to make the masterpiece the Father always saw.

34

34

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetAnother cake in the candle. Another spin around the sun. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for years. I was still a teenager sitting beside my cute boyfriend when I quickly did the math… if we went on our first date right before my 17th birthday that meant when I turned 34 I would have spent half my life with him. And now here we are, and it’s a thousand times sweeter than I could have ever imagined. I find it immensely rewarding to grow old with someone–to have known each other when gray hairs and wrinkles weren’t even on our radar, to have started our relationship with pagers (if Matt got a page that said 14389 he knew it was me) and my Nokia cell phone with the customizable cover and now have children who stare at us blankly when they see a commercial in the middle of the football game (Mom, what is that and why is it coming on in the middle of our show?), to have grown up beside each other and with each other and towards each other. It’s a gift, and this is a special birthday for me because of it. Thank you, Matthew Hudson Roberts, for spending half my life with me.

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A few highlights from this year… Running outside again. Wearing a watch. Learning French (just the beginning but it’s something). Growing heaps and heaps of zinnias. Mine and Matt’s epic victory dance when Bama won the national championship. Eve singing Amazing Grace. Teaching the Pre-K class at our CC community. God-chosen therapists for Eve. Seeing the little girls play for hours in the morning while the rest of us do school. Sticking to our budget. Casablanca tea, especially with dear friends. Bluebirds in our box. Exploring Seattle with Matt. Tulips abundant in the front yard. A king bed. Finding out my sister is going to be a mom. Watching Lottie ride her bike without training wheels. Hydrangeas that survive a late frost. A new church family. Our Missional Community. The rainbow arcing through the sky as we drove away from my uncle’s funeral. Watching the grass spots fill in after we accidentally used weed and grass killer. Getting book recommendations from Lydia (yes, she was right, and Harry Potter is as wonderful as she said it was.) Text conversations with my brother. Clearance plants from Lowe’s. Perfect ripe peaches. Cold watermelon. Pigtail braids in Peach’s hair. The six of us going round and round the lazy river.

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But the biggest and best thing from this year is we became a family of six. All the official stuff was the previous year, but it was sometime this summer when I was spying on the girls playing together that it hit me. We are a family. We don’t walk on eggshells anymore. Eve knows we aren’t going anywhere. We do all the normal things, and it wasn’t until this adoption journey that I realized what a gift the normal things are. This isn’t to say trauma doesn’t still show up. It does. And it will. In all of us. But it’s like deep in our core we know–this is family. This is us. And that’s a gift my 17-year-old self could never have imagined.

 

My Word for 2018

My Word for 2018

Altar. A year ago when I chose my word for 2017, I could not have imagined just how that word would come to encapsulate this past year. It really wasn’t until the last few days in December when I sat jaw-dropped in front of my Bible with the Holy Spirit putting all the pieces together before me. I chose the word altar because that’s what I desire for my life, a place to meet with God, a place to draw near to Him, a space for awe and worship. During the final days of Advent, I was reading about Abraham and his testing, of his carrying his miracle child, the one he prayed and waited so long for, up the mountain and on the altar. There was the word I had focused on all year. And the pieces came together. The things we had walked through the past twelve months resonated with Abraham’s journey. While Abraham’s faith was mighty, mine certainly has never felt mighty. But I have a mighty tribe. I am surrounded by mighty warriors of faith who held me up when I was faltering. Who pushed me on when I didn’t think I could keep going. I got teary seeing Eve’s picture in the #bestnine photos of friends and family at the end of the year. You climbed the mountain with us. You believed in our Jehovah-Jireh alongside us. You let us borrow your faith when ours felt so weak. Together, we invited God to meet with us in our fear and begging. And He did. He drew near to us in ways that can’t be described.

And now we find ourselves in a new year, and I find myself thanking God for the ways He revealed Himself last year and praying for the ways He will reveal Himself this year. This word I pray for every year is no small thing. This year’s word is one the Holy Spirit kept bringing to my attention for several months, since my birthday in September really. Matt gave me a beautiful framed print by an artist whose work I love. In Clare’s tiny handwriting at the bottom of the painting is the title of the piece–Hidden. Reading its title reminded me of the book I had recently finished by Sara Hagerty called Unseen.

“Noticing and tending to my roots–my inner and hidden life with God–seemed secondary when there were important ministry branches to climb and spiritual fruit to produce and pick. But God was ever so gently inviting me back to the soil. To hide in Him rather than perform for Him, to shift my attention from branches to roots, from my visible work for God to my unseen life in God.”

Last year felt very much like a time for reaching–giving God my yes and letting Him take me far outside my comfort zone. But this year I’m feeling an invitation for rooting. Digging in. Planting. Nourishing the soil. Giving God my yes and letting Him hide me. My prayer for this year is that my greatest work will be done within these four walls we call home and within these four girls we call daughters. And that His great work will be done within these four chambers I call heart.