Friday, March 14, 2014

Monkeys in Gymnastics

Tey just completed his second session of gymnastics. He is loving it! It is the perfect outlet for him, and his little strong body of endless energy seems to fit the sport well. 

He just figured out climbing today and this was as high as his fear of heights would let him go. It's much higher than I would have thought!

For the past few weeks he's been working on controlling his landings for cartwheels. Ya know, instead of just throwing all your weight and power into a movement and not thinking about the outcome. Yeah, that. He's also gotten his legs a bit straighter too!

He loves doing these little releases. He's been doing them since day one.

My personal fave: the balance beam. He gets good exposure to this because his homeschool gymnastics class is co-ed.  I love that they cover each apparatus, even boys doing beam and girls doing rings. 

Mei just completed her first session and I am so glad that she enjoys it a lot too. She is naturally flexible. Flexible beyond belief, really. She is also a complete clown in the gym. Thankfully she is just silly enough to make the class fun, but she really listens to her coach so she learns more and more each time we go. I got mostly her on the beam, but she can do some cool stuff on bars and the rings too.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Better than Harry Potter?: Bean's 13 Reads of 2013

Last year Bean and I started what I hope will be an end-of-the-year tradition. He told me what his favorite books were of the past 12 months and posed for a picture with them.  We're doing the same this year, but I still need to go to the library to take that picture because so many of his faves were borrowed. I do, however, have the list of his top 13 picks of 2013! So, without further ado...

Peter Pan
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie tops Bean's list for 2013
 #13 Harry Potter and the Socerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
#12 Paul Bunyan Swings His Axe by Dell J. McCormick
#11 Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series of four) by Patricia C. Wrede
#10 Always Neverland by Zoe Barton
#9 Stuart Little by E.B. White
#8 Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
#7 Ralph S. Mouse (series of three) by Beverly Cleary
#6 The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
#5 Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#4 The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
#3 The Littles by John Lawrence Peterson
#2 Tumtum and Nutmeg (series of six) by Emily Bearn
#1 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

We only included new books of 2013 and not ones he reread from last year, like The Chronicles of Narnia. Also a series was only included if he completed it in entirety this year. This sadly excluded several series that he's currently reading, such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians (on book 4 of 5) which would have ranked #1, The Dimwood Forest Series (on book 3 of 6) which would have come just after Peter Pan, and Peter and the Starcatchers Series (on book 4 of 5) which would have come in just before Always Neverland (so much about Peter Pan!). I have no idea how he keeps track of them all! Anyway, it does give us insight into what might top his list of 2014.  Ok, so you might have noticed that I made an exception for Harry Potter. Though he read the first two in the series, he was really frightened by Chamber of Secrets (Like claiming he could hear whispering from the walls in his room) and will likely not pick up the series again in 2014, or so he claims. I was surprised by how many books he read this year that he liked better than the first Harry Potter.

I was not surprised about Peter Pan, the boy read it a couple times, and then all these spin offs like Always Neverland and Peter and the Starcatchers. He started pretending that Peter Pan visits him at night and they fly off to Neverland. Tey was getting jealous because he was missing out on the travels Bean was talking about :)

He also read a lot of books about adventurous mice and other small animals. It seems quite fitting for him to be reading about small, unsuspecting heroes and heroines. I particularly enjoyed Tumtum and Nutmeg's recipes in the back of the books. Bean requested Nutmeg's famous strawberry creams for his birthday treat, and we also made the lemon pancakes when for one breakfast while we were hosting a Safe Families child. We suggested some heroic mice literature in preparation for his birthday present, his first role-playing game Mice and Mystics, which is extremely story driven. He enjoyed it so much, he read the storybook aloud to our friend while he was over painting our master bathroom. Thankfully our friend enjoyed it too.

Do you want to know what didn't make the chopping block but he also read and liked: The Little Prince, Mary Poppins, Pinocchio, Bedknob and Broomstick and Holes. He obviously tends to enjoy classics, fantasy, adventure, and stories with animals, or some combination of those. Do you have any faves like that? Please do share!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Mat

As I walked through the chapel doors, I was about knocked over by the palpable sense of strength and courage that filled the room. It only intensified as we worshiped in song together. It so overwhelmed me, I almost had to sit down, but I remained steadfast in prayer, thanking God for bringing everyone there that night and for the opportunity to be in their presence.

My fellow worshipers were not pastors, nor church leaders nor any famous Christians. No, I was surrounded by substance abusers, addicts and people who have done time, people who were abused and those who have abused, some who have torn apart marriages and some who have had their marriages torn apart, others who have been sexually abused as children and still others married to pedophiles.

There was definitely desperation, pain and grief in the room as well, but it was infinitely overpowered by the strength these people brought with them to simply cross the threshold of that church and participate in this attempt at recovery. At least that's what I felt.

Did they feel it too? Did they know just how courageous they were to bring themselves there, broken, bruised, abandoned, addicted and betrayed, yet armed with hope for a better life and the will to DO something about it. Never in my life had I felt so honored to share in worship with a group of people.

I love them. They are real people. They are messed up. And so am I. And so are all of us because we are human. But they are admitting to it and seeking freedom from their mess. They are not weak for wanting help, they are heroic. I am blessed that a handful of these same people are my friends from my church. A couple of them have grown to be like family. Indeed, I am blessed beyond words.

But me? I'm a scaredy cat. Until my faith and hope outweigh my fear and concern, I am stuck here. Like those who I've heard come and park their car in the parking lot of this church we were visiting and can't will themselves to enter it, or those who drive into the parking lot only to circle back around to the exit. No, I don't have similar life histories as these folks, no big trauma or tragic event or addiction. Still, why can't I swallow my pride and regularly admit I need help or that I messed up, or that some part of my life just plain sucks and I want it better? I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this. We all need to rub shoulders more with people who motivate us to keep it real.

After experiencing this worship service and recovery ministry, and meeting with the pastor and other leaders, those of us from my church left feeling inspired and convinced that this was a necessary ministry for our church to start. Many also had a clearer sense of how they could minister to those who are experiencing what they have recovered from. I, for one, am excited about a ministry like this. I have no idea how I would be involved, all I know is that it is amazing to be around people who are willing to surrender so much of themselves at the foot of the cross. They get it. They totally get it, more than the Christian who "has it all together." *Points at self*

Friday, June 28, 2013

On Earth as It is In Heaven

The week before last was unbelievable and I was on a spiritual high. It was such a gift from God because I could just feel heaven breaking through in very tangible ways and through me as an agent!

On Monday, Tey prayed to ask Jesus to be his forever friend. On Sunday night before bed we had read a book about Jesus and he asked a lot of questions. He told me then that he wanted to pray the next day to ask Jesus into his heart. I had completely forgotten about it, until out of the blue he reminded me. I played devil's advocate to make sure this was what he wanted to do and he didn't feel pressured or anything. Then I re-explained salvation in terms he could understand and drew him a picture. Corban drew a different one and explained it in his words, which were very similar to this:

Then we all held hands and I led him through prayer. That instantly changed the mood of the day, when it started off with me being a total crabby pants.

On Tuesday, I had my last Disciple Bible study through my church. It has been an intensive past 10 months, but I have grown so close to a handful of powerful women for God. I've also delved more deeply into scripture than I ever have before. This study has brought up several more questions for me and several topics that I am still chewing on, but overall it has strengthened my desire to follow the way of Jesus Christ as I have come to understand it and his call on my life. On this last day we took turns talking about each other's spiritual gifts. I was enlightened, challenged and inspired as each of these women concurred with what another said about how God uniquely created me to contribute to my community and my world. One gift was being outspoken and truthful on social justice issues, so I think I need to gain more confidence in sharing about what God lays on my heart, particularly about what is not mainstream among Christians. Thanks, gals for seeing me how God sees me!

On Wednesday, we got to take care of our second Safe Families child. Another family is hosting and we volunteered to provide childcare during the day as both host parents work full time.
Do not forget to entertain strangers, 
for by so doing some people have entertained angels 
without knowing it.

- Hebrews 13:2
Indeed this newborn is an angel and I know it! 

Thursday was insanity as I prepared for the weekend ahead. On Friday I brought the children to the Prairie Wildlife State Park because I won tickets to Enlightenment Day of their Olde English Faire. Basically it's like a Renaissance faire, but a greater focus on teaching. Then we raced home in an insane storm to prepare for a our Great American Backyard Campout to celebrate Bean turning seven and Tey turning five. The rains didn't dampen the spirits of my kids and their friends during the 16 hours we spent partying (well, some sleeping too). 
Making and maintaining friendships is an important lifelong lesson that has been an intentional but difficult process for my kids. Seeing my children enjoying their friends' company and having fun outdoors together is an answered prayer in the making over the past handful of months. I had fun too! Who wouldn't love it when you're scarfing down grilled meats, catching fireflies, finding nature's treasures in a scavenger hunt, roasting s'mores, and just having a lot of free play?

After our friends packed up their tents (and one camper) and headed home, I headed to Indianapolis to the airport. Friends of ours were arriving from Ethiopia with their adoptive son. Talk about answered prayer! I've been praying for their adoption journey longer than my own children's social development! It was quiet an honor to be there to witness this most precious moment when their four year old daughter came running to welcome them home and to meet her little brother for the first time as they passed through the arrival gate.

I still can't help looking at this and getting flooded with emotions. The love of this family is just overflowing out of this picture and is contagious. I just happened to capture this shot, turning my simple camera phone into an instrument of spreading God's love to and hundreds of people who saw it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and felt a joy come over them.

I'm not sure if I will ever fall into a pit of despair when my faith will be tried and I will doubt God's existence or love for me. If I ever do, please refer me to this post. It is just so clear to me that when I am willing and commited, God can use me...imperfect, broken me, in community with other believers, to help his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Update: So that picture got a lot of exposure between my friends and I through our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Then Jeremiah tweeted it in response to Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch's question to his followers if they had a pictures of the single best moment of their life. Because of that one tweet, my picture of them has been on national television! First on Good Morning America then on CBS Evening News, and Fox and Friends Weekend. It was included on BuzzFeed too. Deitsch started a website called as a collection of the pictures that came in. How unbelievable is that! It's great to be part of Good News ;)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meeting Ryan Chalmers of Push Across America

Our family has grown to be huge fans of wheel chair athletics. It started with noticing athletes training on Windsor Road with orange warning flags flying high.

When the Illinois Marathon began several years ago, we got especially excited to see them in action, even though it meant getting up extra early as they are the first to leave the starting line. We're so not early risers here, friends, so you know we love these guys.

Last summer we had the privilege of meeting several paralympians face to face and geting autographs, touching real medals, and trying out a real racing wheelchair!  One paralympian we got to meet was Ryan Chalmers. What a sweetheart! As with the rest of the team, he took time to chat the kids, answer their questions and listen to their encouragement about us watching on our computer and cheering from afar.

Yesterday we met Ryan for another huge event: his arrival to Champaign-Urbana on his trek across the country in his racing wheelchair called Push Across America. We waited about an hour at DRES, but Vinny's Pizza helped pass the time and as did running around on the shaded grassy area. Just about when I thought we might not be able to wait any longer, we heard and saw a campus police motorcycle leading Ryan and many other Illini wheelchair athletes down Oak St. We were thrilled. I couldn't contain my fist pumping. Even Mae was announcing "Ryan coming!"

The kids were eager to ask him questions and Ryan was super gracious again. Bean wondered if he crossed any bridges. Tey wondered if he got cold because it was breezy. Meanwhile, I was chatting with Ryan's coach Adam Bleakney, who is a friend from Bean's preschool days as both our sons attended the same school. WCIA caught this picture of us at the time. Yay, a pic of me with my old school glasses on! Allergy season sucks, but I digress.

Before we left, Ryan agreed to pose for a picture with Bean (the other kids were too shy). Bean really looks up to him and blogged about meeting him. When Ryan was on the radio today, Bean e-mailed in these additional questions. "What do you find difficult and what do you enjoy?" He loved that Ryan remembered him and answered his questions on the air!

Tomorrow Ryan pushes out again, and we plan to be up early to cheer him on as he leaves Urbana and heads east. This young man and all wheelchair athletes totally inspire me. They are great reminders to me about the importance of setting goals and not focusing on what you CAN'T do, but on what you CAN do when you set your heart on something. For myself and being a homeschool mom, I appreciate that message. Thanks, Ryan and best wishes!

Update: We missed him this morning. I wasn't inspired enough to go out in 40 degrees when I've packed away the kids winter clothes already. :( Our best wishes and prayers for safe travels are still with Ryan!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Priceless Christmas 2012

Better late then never: Christmas post. So why and I posting this now? We just finished hosting our first Safe Families child and it brought to the forefront of my mind how nourishing to a child's development it is to be in an environment marked by peace and joy. And cuz I've been busy, aiight, and this was mostly written.

Bo and I challenged ourselves this year to have a priceless Christmas. We wanted it to be filled with happy family memories, but didn't think that needed to cost anything. It's not because we can't afford to, but because we didn't want to participate in a lot of the commercialism, consumerism and stress that can surround the holidays that are supposed to be characterized by peace and joy.

We are blessed to have extended family who give gifts to our children for Christmas. In fact, there generally is an abundance and outpouring of generosity throughout the year but especially for Christmas, birthdays and Chinese New Year. We truly appreciate this demonstration of love. It gives our children something tangible to enjoy while remembering a loved one who cares so much about them that they spent their hard-earned money on presents our children would like. So it's not like our children are lacking in what has become the traditional gifts of Christmas.

So how did we come to this practice of giving gifts at Christmas anyway? From a Christian perspective, I wrestled this past season with the tradition of gift giving at Christmas. Is it because the wisemen gave gifts to Jesus? But, they were scholars and from a distant land who did not know Jesus personally nor did they interact with him ever again. They gave him extravagant gifts mostly for symbolism of who he was. Is it because God gave us the gift of Jesus? That was the most perfect gift! There's no competing with that. This year, I was more reflective on what Mary's gift was to Jesus, as she was his mother. Mary is a rockstar. Her life gets completely turned upside down, and still she maintains her cool. Peaceful. Joyful. You can't buy that. You can't wrap that.

Being their mom and the #1 person around them the most, I'm in a very unique position to give my children the three priceless gifts that no one else can give as much as I can: attention, affection and appreciation (thanks, Facebook, for the inspiration). Isn't that what all kids want from their parents the most?

Starting in the month of December, I laid the attention, affection, and appreciation on thick for my kids and we experience more peace and joy in this house than ever before. People feel listened to, loved and like they have a special and unique contribution to our family and the world, so there's a whole lot more getting along and fun. It's like magic, but it does take a lot of intentionality and least for me. It was a change I wanted to make to our home life not just for Christmas, but for our lifetimes because I want my children to remember that kind of mom and that kind of home and not just what I put under the tree.

So yes, we did put gifts under the tree too, but they were few and from the heart. They had minimal cost, but lots of love went into making them.

You can kinda get an idea of the sparseness of the gifts under the three here. This includes our family gifts as well as what my side of the family gave to the children (more on that later).
Bean and I made dough for cinnamon rolls and Tey a I baked them for Christmas breakfast. He learned how to make orange icing. The secret is in the zest! 

I made Mae a button monogram. Look how cute she is saying "M."
I got the buttons cheap from  the I.D.E.A. store and some from a generous friend.
Bo drew a snowy owl for Tey. I love their expressions of awe. 
A couple months ago Bean asked me to draw him a tiger. I took 5 seconds and drew him a cartoon one in markers.  I didn't know until later that he also asked Jon to do one and the result for Christmas was this. My husband never ceases to amaze me with his talents and his dedication to our kids. 
Tey learned to read this year, so I made some  bookmarks of some of his favorite books with the scrap paper from their book jackets.  This will be a encouragement to me too to keep reading to him a bunch. 
For Bo, the younger two and I made carmel corn from Bean's Boy Scout popcorn that were just popping kernels. 
Jon helped the kids make me marshmallows
Mae is the official taste-tester. Yum...soft, pillowy, sweetness, and the marshmallows aren't bad either!!

I also made Bean a shadowbox that holds his Tae Kwon Do belts that he's earned so far (white, yellow, orange and green. I wanted him to know how proud of him I am of his hard work with that and before this they just laid in his closet. Bo made me the most delicious brownies in the world and though I've been sharing, I think I've eaten half the pan just myself. A chocolate treat is a great motivator during the day :) I think Bean spent the most money this Christmas. He bought got everyone but me used books from the Urbana Free Library Book sale.

Mae loved her new book, which was in the style of some others she has. Tey immediately started reading his book. For Bo he picked out an AWESOME vintage edition of all of John James Audobon's paintings. It was perfect because just last week as Bo was finishing his animal drawings for the kids he was contemplating what it was like for JJA to draw all those birds. 

Months later, looking back, I'm so glad we challenged ourselves to do this. We can see the HUGE positive results for our family dynamic, which has helped prepare us to be available to share our peace and joy with another child, if only for a couple weeks. Hosting a Safe Families child reminded me the importance of loving and secure relationships in the lives of children, regardless of amount of their possessions or toys. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Becoming a Partner with Safe Families

It's so much easier to blog about the little new things going on in our lives that document the huge changes that are taking place.

Our newest biggest thing is that we just finished our application process, background check, interview, home inspection, reference check, and training to become a Safe Family. Safe Families for Children is a Christian ministry of Biblical hospitality that serves local families in crisis situations. We will be opening our home to children who need a temporary place to stay while their parents get back on their feet. The parents voluntarily place the children in our care while they work through illness, addiction, job loss, or any other number of struggles, and they do so with the help of Safe Families programs, staff and volunteers.

We first heard about Safe Familes about a year ago at church. At that point, we had only recently decided to homeschool, but after some thought, prayer, and conversation, it was clear that this was something that God was calling us to do too. It wasn't until this summer, however, that we got the ball rolling on the process. It was also right after that we decided to make an offer on our current home, so it was a little chaotic with packing and moving very quickly.

This new home offers many more opportunities for hosting children in need, but it also came with additional challenges that were non-issues in our former home. We also had a delay on getting internet here, and then we had an accident that broke my laptop, so our online training got postponed. After these few setbacks it is expected that our file will have its final review very soon and then we'll be contacted anytime after that when there is a child in need that is in our area.

So that's just a quick update on things, but I do hope to fill in some more thoughts and details as time allows. Right, like I expect to have more free time now! Well, in the meantime, your prayers and other support in this new endeavor are most appreciated. We're excited and nervous and everything in between, but are confident that overall and in the end this will be a benefit to all involved!