Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

This year, we did Christmas Eve at my in-laws. It was slightly chaotic because Bo was playing the band for church and we were trying to meet up with his grandarents and his brothers who were all arriving at different times.

Mae quickly made herself cozy on Great Grandpa's lap while the rest of the food was cooking.

 The food was awesome as usual. My mother-in-law's ham was especially amazing. I made challah bread, and it was ok, it needed more yeast. After we had some Christmas cookies!


Our family went off to church for a great service. Tey even sang on stage (usually he either doesn't go, or just stands and doesn't sing). Bean, I think feels too old for this already. Please! He's 6. Actually he's been coming with us to "big church" where he gets to sing each week, which he likes, and he surprisingly get a lot out of the messages. We talk about it a lot more during the week than we did when he used to go to kids' church. After church we returned back to my in-laws for dinner and opening presents.

Bean got a lego set from Grandpa and Grandma, which he built immediately when he got home (right). From Bo's older brother he got a Batman car, which shoots out Batman. He opened that once he as done unwrapping presents and was playing with it. He also got some fun animal gifts from Bo's younger brother: a grow-a-frog, and an ant pod (ant farm type thing pictured left). We are going to send away for the frog next week and the ants we have to wait until warmer weather to collect them from our yard. We'll be doing some studies of the animals too for homeschool.

Tey asked for Domino Rally from his grandparents and he's been playing it with Mae at home in the evenings. His older uncle got him a spy set (right) and he and Bean have been enjoying way too much. It's so cute seeing him in all his spy gear. His younger uncle got him a magnetic drawing thing (left). We're all addicted to that. It's an awesome thing to bring to a restaurant or in the car, and Tey has made good use of it at quiet time too.

Mae has been cooking up a storm for us with a new tea set she got from her grandparents. Bo, in particular plays with her a lot. It's a sight to behold! We haven't had a chance to play with the gifts Bo's older brother gave her. I think she's going to most love the stickers. She's been liking those recently. Bo's younger brother got her a game, which is awesome, because it's easy and fun enough for toddlers to play and it's hard to find something that ALL my kids can play. It's basically like a Simon Says game but it teaches colors, numbers, emotions, animals and other fun stuff. She LOVES the phone she got from her great-grandparents and I love the antique chair they got her. She mostly just tries to stand on it to reach things that we try to keep away from her :/

It was great to see family that we normally don't get to see and most special of all was finally meeting my new nephew! Omigosh, he is so adorable and really smart and fun. Bo and I agreed that that was the best part of Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pics of Me

I am never in pictures. That's on purpose. But in going through the last couple weeks of pics on my camera, I found some that I'm be willing to share. These loved ones of mine make me so happy, no wonder I'm smiling so big in all of them!

Shaggy Sleepover

Tey brought a friend home from co-op that we got to take care of and have adventures with so that Tey could make an oral presentation to his class. Shaggy the Bear enjoyed a nature walk with us in the back yard. First we found some evidence of beavers. We have a couple of these old stumps on our yard near the creek. They are all old, so we don't plan on seeing any beavers anytime soon. :(

That day we also spread some seeds. I collected them off some asters growing along the side of the road near us. Earlier in the summer, we removed some invasive brush and this is our first attempts to restore that area with some native plants. We'll see how they grow. A couple days later we had some pretty strong winds. 

That Sunday we have some special pancakes with craisins and chocolate chips. How funny is it that Tey is concerned about getting Shaggy dirty from food, but was just dancing him around in dirt a couple days before? Silly old bear!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tey's Thankfulness 2012

On the day before Thanksgiving, Tey and I made a little craft called the Tree of Thanks. Our homeschool co-op provided the supplies, including the pic of me. I love how they captured my true essence by not announcing that they'd be taking our pictures that day...adorning my McNair hoodie, pony tail, bags under my eyes, and possibly the wrong name tag. At least Tey's a cutie.

Anyway, I wrote down what he was thankful for on the leaves and now I have a sweet keepsake of my thankful Tey at about age 4 and a half.

I cherish his simplicity:

  • We have shoes
  • Food
  • Trees help us breathe
  • Games
  • Homeschool
  • Daddy teaches me chess
  • We have a house
  • We have a backyard
  • Outside chairs (he likes dining al frescso)
  • Trees with colorful leaves on them
It touched my heart that he even mentioned homeschool. I struggled so much this semester getting us organized, scheduled and on a good routine but felt like I fell short. Tey wants to do so much more and I don't always have stuff prepared for him. Still, he is fairly flexible and understanding and still prefers homeschooling to going to school. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Teaching the History of Thanksgiving

While preparing for teaching about Thanksgiving last November, I'm pretty sure I did more research and with more enthusiasm than I ever had in any month of my life, even as a PhD student. Something about feeling solely responsible for my children's education motivated me to get my facts straight before passing it on to them. It was also my first month homeschooling too, so I was just plain freaking out.

When it comes to teaching social studies and history, I generally feel incompetent and underprepared, perhaps because as compared to other subjects, I am more critical about what and how I was taught it in school. For my own children's education, I definitely want to provide more context and also emphasize more about social justice, cultural studies, diversity, inclusivity, tolerance, and the link to our Christian faith (whether that paints Christians in a positive or negative light).

Below I review some resources that helped me and my children think more critically about the historical event that we've come to know of as a first Thanksgiving.

For ease and accessibility, I recommend anything by Plimoth Plantation. Plimoth Plantation located in Massachusetts is a museum/recreation of what the first colony of the same name would have looked like in 1627. For those of us in Central Illinois who are not close enough the take a field trip there, their online resources are fantastic. Children will especially enjoy the video game (I use that term loosely) "You are the Historian", where they will virtually explore the Plantation, investigate one of only two only primary sources of information about the first harvest feast, and hear about the Wampanoag people and their culture, particular their traditions of giving thanks. Last year, my 5 year old learned and remembered a lot from these online videos and from another one that we checked out from the library.
Bean's drawing of The Warrior Counselor of the Wampanoag, Habbamok
after watching some videos last year
Everything I've encountered so far by Plimoth Plantation attempts to teach history by encouraging asking questions, investigating primary sources and considering multiple perspectives while respecting cultural differences. These are great foundations to lay for students. It prepares them to investigate the complexities of American history, which is not always to peaceful, friendly, and neighborly as the stories of the first Thanksgiving would have us believe. In addition to the Plimoth Plantation materials, I just piece-mealed what I taught about colonists, Native Americans and Thanksgiving.

I used some basic guiding principles that I read about in this article called "Teaching Young Children about Native Americans." While I don't think it is a comprehensive list of what to do and what not to do, it really got me starting to think about how the history and culture of Native Americans are generally taught. If my child were in regular school too, I think this would help me guide (be it supplement or challenge) what my children are learning outside my home about America's native peoples.

For a more Native perpective on the holiday, "The Real Story of Thankgiving" on the the Manataka American Indian Council website is informative and heart-wrenching. The first two sections are difficult to read, mostly because they are so full of violence, (but isn't our history?). The final section "The Plymouth Thanksgiving Story" however, is geared toward children and tame enough for young and/or sensitive students to read. This should be required reading, really!

"Thanksgiving on the Net: Roast Bull and Cranberry Sauce"can be read on the website for the Society of the Descendants of the Mayflower (I didn't even know there was such a group). It attempts to set the record straight about common myths surrounding Thanksgiving by reviewing over 200 websites. It is cumbersome read at times, but well worth the read if you have the time and interest. If nothing else, I'd skim the main headings and some text. It certainly helped me identify some myths that I incorrectly assumed to be true. As with the previous reference, knowing the bias of the author is important in assessing the value of the piece, and a good lesson to pass on to the kids too!

As we approached Thanksgiving week this year, my husband commented that we haven't really "taught" anything about it yet. No, we have not done any formal lessons on the historical event and national holiday like we did last year. Instead, we have focused on truly being thankful and reflecting on what we are thankful for, as a family and as individuals. It has become part of our daily discussions and prayers. It's so simple I almost feel guilty about it, but it has set a great tone in our household that is so needed to replace the usual hecticness that generally surrounds our winter holidays.

While we may never know the exact and full historical truth about what happened in 1621 that lead to the holiday that we celebrate this week, we certainly can start writing our own stories about what this holiday means or could mean for each of our families. Lately I've been feeling challenged to rethink the deeper meanings of each holiday instead of just going with the flow of what everyone else does. This also includes delving deeper into the history of the holiday and tying that into our current traditions. It just seems that we've gotten too far from that with every holiday on the calendar. I'm completely convinced that having kids is the perfect opportunity to tweak our holiday celebrations if need be so we can better pass on the culture and traditions that are most dear to us. Which are most dear to you? How do they pass on your family history or stray from it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bean has "The Jesus Talk" with Tey

It's almost Bean a year since Bean's been baptized and I still really haven't blogged our our faith journey. I'll get to it eventually.

Today he had a great conversation with Tey about inviting Jesus into your heart and I was sneaky enough to get it on camera. I can't believe my camera happened to be within reach, charged, and had memory left on it (like that ever happens with me!). I uploaded here onto YouTube, because I can't figure out how to embed it.

*Heart melts*

How awesome is that? I'll keep you updated about if/how this progresses. In the meantime, please join me in prayer that Tey continues to ask questions and grows in his faith. And that Bean continues to be contagious Christian and not a scary, judgemental, beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-Bible-Christian.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Not so Scary Halloween 2012

 It's November 10th and my kids have yet to ask about their Halloween candy.

It's a good thing too because I've already eaten all but a handful of their loot. 100 Grands are first to go. Thankfully there's none of that cheap, nasty nougat stuff wrapped in orange or black wax paper. Who actually likes that?

My kids have never eaten their Halloween candy, nor asked about it. Clearly they can live without it. I could too. We never buy candy so I rarely eat it, but it's here, so I eat it. I have stellar self-control for not buying stuff, but not for not eating it once it's in my house. Everyone has their weaknesses.

I hate to sound like the scrooge of Halloween, but I was actually a little relieved to learn from the previous owners of house that no one trick-or-treats in our neighborhood. I'd rather kick it old school where you trick-or-treat at a few neighbors' or close friends' houses and have a homemade treat or cider or something and then spend a little time visiting.

We have a second best thing going to Bo's work. We already know everyone there. The treats aren't homemade, but at least it's decent candy. The kids had a blast going from cube to cube and it was indoors (no braving Illinois fall evening weather). They also provided pizza and other food, so it was a fun party.

This being our first year no in preschool/daycare, I was solely responsible for my kids' costumes. I wasn't thrilled with the prospect. Tey wanted to be a skeleton and Bean initially wanted to be a lion, but then changed his mind to a raccoon because he wanted to be something nocturnal. He also said that instead of taking candy, he was going to tell people facts about raccoons. That idea fell through as soon as he spotted the colorful candy wrappers.

Anyway, Good Will proved to be a lifesaver for Tey's costume. I really didn't want to buy a new costume and the kids' consignment stores didn't have skeletons. While we were there, we spotted the most adorable tiger costume for Mei. It fit her perfectly and she even wore it around the store spreading Halloween cheer to everyone who laid eyes on her. I figured that it would come in handy when she played animal games with her brothers. Everyone once in a while I can get her to growl, "I ma-mo" (I'm an animal).

Bean's costume was a little more challenging, not even because he changed it at last minute (I hadn't even thought about it or planned it until a day or two before anyway). The greater challenge is that I'm cheap, didn't want to buy it new, and probably couldn't find it used, which leaves making a homemade costume.  Great...I am totally not creative in the craftiness sort of way.

On the day of Halloween, between an eye doctor appointment, Tae Kwon Do, and picking up the younger two kids from my in-laws, Bean and I pulled this awesome raccoon costume together. Go team work and focusing on a task (we're really working on honing those two skills)! We got the eye mask (I cut it to shape), nose, and ears at Dallas & Co. and the long gloves are mine. The clothes and raccoon slippers are his, with a pair of long underwear stuffed with plastic shopping bags and tucked in his pants for a tail. He has Ringo, his raccoon baby, pinned to his back so it can ride on him when he's on all fours....or should I say, "ride on her"?

Yes, my son went as a female, mother raccoon and I couldn't be prouder. He knows that only females can have babies and its the momma who takes care of the little ones. I'm so glad he sees such a value in that (and to the extent which most kids his age admire the strength of a super hero, or the beauty of a princess), that he wants to embody it for Halloween.

I don't know what I was so afraid of for Halloween. I guess I imagined that we'd feel the pressure to spend a lot of money on candy or costumes or whatever, my kids' costume demands being over the top and them not being satisfied with what we could pull off, them getting wound up on sugar, and
hyper, thankless kids grabbing candy from my candy bowl when they trick-or-treated at my house. Next year, I know that Halloween doesn't have to be that scary. We can keep it simple and not rob it of all it's fun getting bogged down with details and spending a lot of money...but isn't that the way it is for every holiday?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Family Camping Trip

What's the best way to top off a week of the husband being away on a men's retreat then a business trip? Another night away from home, of course!

So this past weekend our whole family went on a camping trip the day after Bo got back from New York City (praise the Lord that he got home safe before Sandy hit). He was such a rockstar buying us a new 6-person tent to fit our family and getting the kids' stuff all packed while I attended a friend's virtual babyshower for her twins. 

We arrived at the camp site in early afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to set up our tent. It was quiet a family affair.

Up until sundown, the boys went for a hike while the older sister of a fellow Boy Scout and I got a fire going stronger. When everyone got back, we made foil packs of burgers for dinner. 

Thankfully the kids fell sleep really easily at bedtime. I couldn't believe how easily it went. I was then free to gaze at the beautiful almost full moon in quiet. Then I headed back to camp and had a really great, long conversation with another Boy Scout mom. It was awesome. And that marked the end of awesomeness for the evening.

I snuggled up close to Mei to try to sleep and that was fun for a little while, but then she keep inching into my space, cramping my style. I was out of a sleeping bag and cold and almost freezing (the temps got into the mid 30s). Then I was up all night worrying about the kids being warm enough, because I wasn't. I kept checking on Mei and she was fine...and cute. Tey told me before he went to bed that he was warm and toasty, plus he was wearing like 4 layers, so I wasn't as worried about him. Plus we was lost inside a thick sleeping bag. There was no finding him even if I wanted. Bean, on the other hand was only wearing one layer, and he only had one blanket. I woke up Bo to wake up Bean to ask him how he was. Both were fine. I felt bad for waking them up. Kinda. Why weren't they as miserable as I was?

They'd be up and at 'em in the morning and I'd be dragging. I decided that it would be best to slide Mei back to her side of the sleeping bag, reclaim my space, and get control of my warmth. I needed to shift focus to myself and my night's rest because everyone else was just fine and dandy and keeping myself awake worrying about them was doing no one any good. From then on I enjoyed a mediocre night's sleep, but at least I was not freezing and getting a stiff neck. Oh I forgot to mention that I also began to steal a corner of Mei's pillow pet because Bo and I forgot to pack our pillows.

Anyway, I'm stoked about camping with the fam and can't wait to do it again. We learned a lot from this first attempt at camping. Apparently there's a winter camping trip with the Boy Scouts in January-ish. Do we dare?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Tame Day that became Wild, as Wild as Wild Could Be

Yesterday morning Bean work up with a swollen eye. He did fall on his face the day before, but there was no bruising nor scratches. Was it allergies? Maybe a bug bite? A stye?

So, today was the day of doctor appointments to figure out what was going on, plus he had Tae Kwon Do as usual. Basically our whole day was spent away from home from 10 to 3, with no time to do what I had originally planned. 

After an initial worry about being off schedule, I reminded myself to chill out. Homeschooling gives us just the flexibility we need to work around unexpected issues such as this.

So, in the car we listened to Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. I know we have been doing that a lot lately, but I had no idea that both my boys that the stories memorized! 

This made me laugh out loud for about 40 minutes (or however long that story goes on) because throughout the rest of it, the boys did all the voices and everything. It was quite entertaining to hear them be the dog, the horse and the cat. Oh my best beloveds!

In the doctor's waiting room, Bean read Charlotte's Web. The nurse and I cracked up about how he immediately made himself at home on the examination table.

Meanwhile Tey and I thought of words that began with different sounds. I have no idea why. It was all I could think of with no props, because unlike Bean, he didn't bring in anything with him from the car to keep busy. Ah well, he was entertained and out of trouble.

When we finally got home at around 3, I was feeling guilty that my kids had only snacked and had no real lunch, so I booked it inside to get something going. Bean yells out in excitement to come back out. I knew it was something awesome, and likely an animal, because he just gets a certain tone in his voice when it is. He found this smooth earth snake right outside the door of the van.

The kids immediately wanted to record it in their nature journals. Now they were the ones racing back into the house to get their journals and colored pencils. Be still my beating heart! I love my little naturalists.

Someone pinch me. Is this my eldest? Holding a writing instrument of his own accord? It's hard to believe that just a year ago, I thought I'd need to buy stamps and pads for him to do his work because he refused to write when he was in preschool. Seriously, the disdain this kid had for writing...

Tey examines the detail of this snake with a magnifying glass.

I think he got too close for the snake's comfort because then it started to curl up and lift its head off the ground. I don't really know. I know zilch about snakes, except that we don't have any venomous ones in IL, so I wasn't concerned overall.

After a very late lunch, I got Mei down for a very late nap and the boys have been playing outside for the rest of the afternoon. Last I heard, they were making mud pies, and making wishes in a wishing well. I interpret that to mean they are playing in mud and water. I'm going to run the bath now.

Not a bad day at all, considering that everything we did was completely off the cuff!

As for Bean's eye, the doctor prescribed some antibiotics. Bo's going to pick it up on his way home from work, but Bean's eye is so much better now, I'm deciding whether or not to even give it to him at all. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Avoiding Patriot Day 2012

September 11th will always be a horribly sad day for me.  My dad worked at the World Trade Center just months before the attacks and on this day in 2001, I couldn't for the life of me remember if he still worked there. I couldn't get a hold of him. All lines were down. Where was he? All I knew was that he was in the city. Would I ever hear from him again? Hours and hours past with too many questions and emotions to bear. Later that night we connected on the phone. He told me how he made it out of Manhattan on foot through smoke and over bridges while chaos and fear surrounded him as densely as the thousands of people trying to escape for their lives along with him.

I can't even look at the lower Manhattan skyline nor the 9/11 Memorial without tearing up. Those are tame compared to images of smoking towers, people running, rescue attempts at ground zero and everything else that just gets more graphic from there. Forget about video footage of that day. It's too much.

Honestly, for 11 years I've actively avoided most news coverage about the attacks because I just can't wrap my head around idea of how such an event could happen, and the media's spin on it makes it worse. Being from New Jersey, I have friends and family too closely connected to those events. I respect  and appreciate hearing and reading their personal stories, remembering both tragedy and heroism. It's not like I don't think Patriot Day is important, I just want to remember the day quietly and through loved ones with true ties to that event.

As a homeschooling parent, I've also decided to postpone covering this topic for a while. There is enough other history and social studies out there for my kids to learn, and we already have to discuss tragedies such as war and slavery at a most basic level just to understand other things. It is difficult to learn about innovation without also discussing war, because they are all too often so interconnected. And I refuse to teach about American history without also teaching African American history, and emphasizing that the current injustices today have roots in American slavery. So Bean knows what war and slavery are in general, but I've spared him the details of rape, lynching, brutal violence and the unnecessary loss of innocent lives that tend to go along with those atrocities. 

I just can't think of a way of explaining 9/11 at a basic level to young, optimistic and sensitive children. There is nothing in their world to remotely compare it to that would help them make any sense of it. Then there is the question, of "Why?" I don't think I can begin to touch on that. It goes deeper than the greed, power struggles and selfish desires that they understand even in their own lives and I can use to help explain why war and slavery exist. Books won't help. I really don't want my kids seeing those images from that day that I still have visceral reactions to. Video documentaries would just haunt their thoughts, as both boys are highly sensitive to visual media. This topic is just too intense to just touch on without opening a can of worms that I'm sure would leave my kids questioning humanity.

So for now, a remembrance of 9/11 by our family is on the back burner. With the kids not in school and us not big TV watchers, today is a typical happy and simple day like any other for the Eaglets. With cooler weather, we anticipate the coming of fall and the special blessings that has to offer. Today we enjoyed extra snuggles under warm blankets in the morning and we made our first batch of squash soup of the season. 
Bean shaves nutmeg for our first squash soup of the season
There is a slight guilt I feel for not even mentioning that today is Patriot Day to the kids. Greater is the relief that I have control over what they are exposed to at this young age. They only have a short time to be kids and not have to worry about such things. There will come a time when it would be ignorant of them not to know what happened on this day eleven years ago. I just hope that I can be a good judge of when will be a good time to discuss it and that I have the words to help them understand this most tragic of days. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Video Highlights from the Summer

For some reason, if I don't frequently and repeatedly do tasks that have steps that need to be followed in a specific order, I just can't remember it. This is the case with storing our pictures and videos on our external hardrive. Bo ends up doing it each time because I can't remember how to do it and he hasn't taken the time to write up instructions for me. Now that our memory card is about full, he'll be doing that for me soon, which brings me to the reason for this montage-y post.

I also can't remember how to take pictures OFF the hard drive to upload onto blogger or facebook. So, I'm putting a bunch of unrelated videos all in one post, before they are out of my reach FOREVER! Ok, not forever, but basically to me, they are gone. So here goes!

While we do try to emphasize manners, Tey takes saying "Excuse me" to a whole new level. He'll say it even if you are in the middle of a one-on-one conversation with him, and even while circling around on a carousel at Indianapolis Zoo. (5/22/12)

Summer memories with siblings. Melts my heart. (5/26/12)

When we decided to homeschool, one of my biggest worries was how to teach Tey to read (Bean already knew how by the time we pulled him out of preschool). In some ways I feel like I can take no credit for Tey's reading. We didn't use a curriculum or anything, just read together a bunch and it seemed like one day he could do it! Here he's reading a library book for the first time with Bo, so it's not memorized.  Hopefully teaching Mei to read goes this easily. (5/28/12)

In this video, Bean wanted Mei's attention. Trying to get it was proving futile. I asked him to look as boring as possible. He kept giggling about it, BUT IT WORKED! She went right for him. (5/31/12)

Bean just adores his little sister. He specifically remembers praying for her a little sister and having his prayers answered. He frequently tells me that he thinks that she is the most beautiful in our family and in the whole world (he never hears this from me, I try to never talk about her beauty). Here's more big-bro-lil-sis love. (5/31/12)

Mei has been doing pretty well keeping up with two bring brothers. She has a pretty good roar as you can see here. Bean also demonstrates the strength of a dragon by picking up a brachiosaurus. Pretty impressive stuff, huh? (6/8/12)

Bean has been enjoying Rudyard Kipling. Here he's reading Just So Stories, specifically, How the Whale Got Its Throat. (7/2/12)

Speaking of reading, here's another of Tey. While I'm sure we had read this before, it was not recent enough for him to have it memorized as you can tell because he skips a line and then as to go back. (7/2/12)

Some Tae Kwon Do highlights from his last belt test. (7/14/12)

We had our church's first vacation bible school and it was our kids' first too. It was INSANE because it was during the week of our move. Still, it was an amazing experience for our whole family. Bean was very timid in doing these songs during the week, but for the performance on Sunday, he rocked it out! Tey opted out of performing. (7/15/12)

Mei loves "Tey!' Excuse the boxes and random junk everywhere, we just moved in. (7/24/12)

This clueless fawn visits daily, sometimes as close at 10 feet away if you are still and quiet. This video also gives you an idea of how big our new backyard is. Thankfully, our neighbors mow for us. (7/30/12) 

I've become a brave soul and these shells don't bother me any more. It took much courage on my part, convincing myself that they are empty and lifeless and won't hurt me. Meanwhile, the kids love them, especially Bean. (8/3/12)

There was a picture of the final result of this, but here's Mei falling asleep at lunch. (8/3/12)

In another life, Bo and I used to teach dancing together. Starting simple with Mei, I cheorogpraphed this little number for her. (8/30/12)

Tey and Mei covered a box with paints outside one day. We actually spent the whole day outside because Hurricane Isaac was about to hit us keeping us indoors for a couple days. Torture! My kids have really grown accustomed to getting out every day. (8/31/12)

Yay! Now we're all caught up with videos. I'm going to try not to get so behind anymore, but I make no promises.

Dreaming of Chess

Last week Bo taught Bean how to play chess and one night they went to the library together to pick out some books on the topic. Since then, Bean has been OBSESSED with the game.

Every night he can't wait until Tey and Mei go to bed so he can have special time with his dad to play chess. During the day he's reading chess books to learn strategy. Yesterday, during quiet time, any time I peeked in on him in his room, he was playing chess by himself. Then he told me that he's been dreaming about chess every night. No surprise!

On Sunday night I went to to tell him "lights out" and this is what I saw. He had fallen asleep reading one of his chess books. The others were close at hand.

This morning I went into his room to wake him up for our homeschool co-op orientation and I found that he had gone to bed with his chess pieces. There were more under his blankets!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Multiplying Mozarts

"When Wolfgang got married he had six children. That's two times our children," exclaimed a surprised Bean while reading a biography of Mozart.

As predicted math has turned out to the the only subject that we have a purchased curriculum for and we use regularly (about daily). We actually have yet to reach the multiplication part, but we start it tomorrow. Bean has been very looking forward to it. We've been working through the Singapore math curriculum in order and in entirety because I'm afraid to skip or jump ahead, and he has thankfully been patient with that. 

He has zipped through most of the previous topics else with ease. I just have to explain something once and he gets it. It makes me wonder if he knew it before I "taught" it. He almost never makes mistakes (it's like weeks in between mistakes), so we move on . Only recently with subtraction with borrowing (e.g., 36 - 8 = ?), have we done multiple days of practice. He was figuring it out problems in his own unique way and not using the strategy taught in the book. So while he was getting the answer right, I wanted him to get used to the strategy because I've found that with Singapore math, strategies are generally built upon in later books. Still, I'm glad he has a level of comprehension of math that he can quickly and correctly do mental calculations. Admittedly he's better than me; more that once I thought he was wrong and it turned out to be me!

This just reminds me of a quote I saw on Pinterest a couple months ago:

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.
If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Bean sure is determined to multiply and there is no stopping him from making sense of his world with multiplication. It will be fun to see how he takes to it tomorrow. 

Tey has really been enjoying math too. This year we got him his own Singapore math books, so I think he's feeling extra studious. Today he kept wanting to do more and more. Eventually I had to tell him that we had to stop because I need to get some other stuff done around the house and he can't quite work independently yet.

Meanwhile, Mei was at the table coloring in a coloring book and pasting Tey's leftover cut-outs into it. It was so precious. She always loves copying what her brothers are doing. A part of me feels like I should have more organized activities for her, but so far she enjoys coloring, drawing, and play doh type things while we do table work with the boys.

Monday, August 20, 2012

First Day

My Facebook feed has been filled with cute pics of my friends' kids having their first days, mostly first grade, because that's the age Bean is.

I love their eagerly smiling faces and their backpacks that are generally too large for their bodies. Their outfits are picked out specially for the occasion, as well as their lunch. I can just smell the anticipation of a new box of crayons and hear the crack of a composition book being opened for the first time. I miss that. Honestly, I mourn not having that exciting day that kicks off a new school year.

Yet, I am also rejoicing that the first day or any day of a brick and mortar school is not currently a part of our lives.

Bo and I were woken up at 9am. Bean came bounding into our room with excitement that he taught Mei three new words, which she then recited after him. I can't even remember what they were because my mind was still cloudy with sleep. Sleep. At 9am. Awesome. Note: Tey spent the night at my in-laws, which is why he is noticeably absent from this post.

We were at the library soon after 10 because I had a homeschool meeting. Bean read independently just outside the door, but I could see him through the glass walls of the meeting room. Another mom and son arrived later than we did and the boy took a seat in a chair next to Bean. Though he was a couple years older than Bean, they hit it off immediately and were talking, smiling, giggling and otherwise planting seeds of friendship. Later I came to hear from Bean that they were discussing the book he had brought to read, a retelling of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which the other boy had also read. Let's recap: two boys of different ages began a friendship on their own by discussing an opera. I'm pretty sure that generally doesn't happen at school. Bean's excited to play with this boy again at next month's "Not Back to School Party" where he's also going to learn his name. We're still working remembering to ask people their names.

We got to spend another hour at the library because we had some time to kill before Tae Kwon Do. It was a perfect opportunity for Bean to thumb through a copy National Geographic Kids. In our planning about what to learn this year, Bean specifically said he wanted to learn about geography. So we've gone back and forth with the idea of getting him a subscription to that magazine (he wants it, but we could save the money just going to the library, and he hasn't decided about that yet). Since watching the Olympics and finding the countries in our atlas, he has also been really interested in looking at maps and atlases, learning about the legend, compass rose, scale, symbols, and state flags, and imagining what it would be like driving across various states. We're biting the bullet and going to buy this map of The Essential Geography of the United States. If you want in, I'm looking for one more person to buy with us to get the 6-pack discount. We still need a globe too. We've also been reading Paddle-to-the-Sea, and taking notes on the geography, animals, vocabulary, and imagery in the book. We take turns writing, because he's still not a big fan of that. It's hard to tell how long his interest in this topic will last, but his current geographical knowledge already exceeds school standards before what would have been his first day of school. We're gonna be ok. I still have to remind myself a lot.

After an hour of Tae Kwon Do and a picnic, we spent most of the rest of the day outside with Bean riding his bike and me weeding. After two or so weeks of borrowing a balance bike from a friend, we tried his bike with no training wheels and it was like he's been riding a two-wheel bike forever! He's gotten over much fear, and also personal struggle. So many things come very easily to him that it's difficult for him to stick to something that takes practice and that he can recognize right away that things are not going well (e.g., writing, bike riding). This is a great accomplishment for him because it took time investment and there were many bumps and scrapes along the way trying to convince him to give up. With no school schedule or homework, we can enjoy much more time outdoors, exploring nature and engaging in physical activity, which are good for the body and the soul.

There are even more reasons that I've grown to really love homeschooling, but this is just what came up based on what happened today. Yes, some days are hard but overall, I wouldn't trade this ever. At the same time, I'm so happy for all my friends whose kids started this week and I hope they have a blast this year.

Today my thoughts and prayers were very much with all the teachers who are back-to-school, especially the moms who are away from their own children to teacher others' children. It humbles me to think about the multiple and huge sacrifices teachers make to educate masses of children when I compare it to the small personal sacrifices I sometimes feel like I make to teach my three kids at home. It's easier for me to focus on all the hardships and struggles of homeschooling and being a stay-at-home-mom, but today, I choose joy.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


There are at least two circumstances in which I find my children to be undeniable adorable. One is after a long tiring day of mommy working really hard and they are all peacefully sleeping. Can I get an AMEN? 

The second is when they are eating, especially when they are feeding each other. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

While I Was Ignoring My Kids

Today one of the homeschooling moms I follow on Facebook posted about a pet peeve of hers: "Moms who spend all their time online chatting with friends ABOUT homeschooling/unschooling while not actually interacting with their kiddos! Makes me crazy!"

I have been plenty guilty of finding pet peeves in others when I should not be one to judge. When I was a working mom, I sometimes wondered how SAHMs found time to tweet, update their Facebook statuses or blog. Aren't they supposed to spend every second with their kids? I know I wanted to use my nights and weekends to spend as much quality time as possible with my kids. It wasn't until I majorly shifted lifestyles that I realized just how much I can't use my standards to make assumptions about other people's lives. Wasn't I supposed to be working anyway, and not worrying about other people? 

I pray that in other aspects of my life God peels away my ignorance and replaces it with compassion. I still have a long way to go. 

This homeschooling mom shaking her finger at other homeschooling moms was pretty shocking to me. Up until now, I have found the homeschooling community to be some of the most open-minded and tolerant people of each other, even the extremists. EVERYONE has been encouraging of one another and me, even when there were differences in opinion, philosophies, strategies, religions, etc. I'm indescribably grateful for all the support, including the online ones, I've received for almost a year. I also appreciate challenges for improvement, when delivered with care and understanding, not condemnation.

I'll be the first to admit that my homeschooling schedule/routine/whatever is nothing to brag about. We're still figuring things out, but we get done what I feel like we need to get done everyday. On days like today, which are most days, the academic stuff gets done well before lunch. So, the kids got to spend from 11ish until 4ish outside riding bikes, exploring nature and playing on the play structure. I spent more time than usual on the internet on the front porch and on the back patio just being available to them if they needed me. Thank you wireless internet. Yes, I was messing around on Facebook a bit, but I also researched how to care for luna moth caterpillars (we got a dozen today from a new homeschooling friend), how to eat black walnuts (we have a ton in our yard and I was wondering how edible they are), and I tried to identify a fragrant bush growing in the garden adjacent to our patio (still unsuccessful). 

During the times when I was not directly interacting with my children, the boys grew tremendously in their independence and interdependence, coming up with games and rules and role plays. They really strengthened their sibling bond, acting mostly like two peas in a pod. This was a welcome change from earlier this week when they were at driving each other nuts. Mei also learned a lot while I was not directly interacting with her and much credit is due to her big brothers. At dinner, Bean and Tey took turns listing off to their Daddy all the things their little sister learned today. It included what tic-tac-toe was, how to say "balance," how to climb up the stepped ramp of the play structure, how to climb up the slide and how to go down the slide all by herself. 

They are so proud of her!

Though I felt like I was on the computer for a long time today, I am confident that giving them their space was not detrimental for them but beneficial. We're so ready for these luna moths! Plus, we collected a huge pile black walnuts, though I'm not sure if we'll actually eat them. :) Most importantly, my children they  grew together and because of each other. I am so proud of them too.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meeting the Paralympians of CU

We LOVE the community in which we live. The people here rock and there are so many fun things to do. The flatness in the Midwest has its benefits too; it's great for accessibility. We love watching wheelchair racers speed through town, especially in the Illinois Marathon. We haven't missed a race yet. We still need to figure out what to do for next year now that we've moved.

Anyway, today was our chance to meet the Paralympians of our community face-to-face before they head to the Paralympics in London next week. I knew it was an opportunity that our kids would not want to miss. Boy, was I right. 

I had forgotten about it until soon before it started, but when I mentioned it to them, they were ecstatic and extremely cooperative. We had to quickly pile into the tub as we had just spent a long day outside because we also had a going away pizza party for some friends to attend right after. We made it in time! I'm brilliant! (occasionally)...

As soon as we got there, we ran into one of Bean's friends from preschool who is the son of Adam Bleakney, the wheelchair racing coach. After catching up with our old friends the boys got to try a racing chair!

So Bean has been wanting to be a wheelchair athlete for as long as I can remember, and it's hard to explain to him why he can't be, at least for now. I don't want him to hurt himself on purpose! He was so in his element here, really, he loved this chair. 

Tey did surprisingly well on it too given his size, but my camera died, thus the short video above too. I know, momfail.  The media were there so maybe there will be a video of Tey they captured that I can post later. Afterwards, we got autographs from the athletes and the boys did fab introducing themselves and asking amazing questions.

We even touched real medals (a gold, a silver, and a bronze) won in Beijing four years ago by Jessica Galli. They are HEAVY! We are privileged to have these athletes representing our country and our community in London. Last time, Champaign-Urbana Paralympians brought home half of the US medals. I wonder how many more they'll earn now that they are sending twice as many people. Our family will certainly be watching online (details here) and cheering them on in our own home as NBC will not be televising the events. I look forward to a welcome back party, because I know this team is going to make us all proud!

Update: Here is the news coverage of the event. No video of Tey.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mei's First Nature Exploration

You know those vacation days where you spend all day outside on a hike, at the beach, at the zoo, not paying attention to the time or the temperature? We had one of those days today and it was blissful. We headed out to explore the backyard right after we were done with breakfast and morning chores. At first we were going to collect nature treasures in a little wheelbarrow that the previous owners left for our kids, but that proved to be futile with a little Miss Mei dumping things out regularly. So, instead, we took pictures and the boys ran the most interest treasures to the patio to leave for later investigations.

I took other pictures including some of the boys, but this post focuses on our Mei and her day. She copied everything that her older brothers did today, so you can guess what they were up to. She's a little naturalist in the making.

The first tree you encounter just beyond our patio is this Boxedler Maple Acer negundo. I learned that after discovering that it was host to a bunch of red boxelder bugs. The boys enjoyed finding them all over and soon Mei was wanting to poke them and have them crawl on her. Yay for a dry summer, which these insects love. Hopefully they don't decide to winter with us.

The oldest and largest tree we have in our yard is a beautiful oak. I asked Bean to pose in front of it and she just followed along. Maybe I'll take their pictures each year in front of it or something. I do really hope this tree lives forever. It gives a great vibe to the backyard.

Next we found acorns from our oak tree. I think it's a bur oak, just like the small one we had at our former home. Mei was calling it a "ball." You can see her beginning to make a "b" sound. 

Then onto nature journalling. I was surprised that Bean just whipped his materials from our backpack and started drawing our oak tree without my prompting. Tey followed suit. Mei felt left out as she didn't have a nature journal nor a roll of these colored pencils made from branches (Bo and I made the former and bought the latter for the boys for Christmas). Note to self: colored pencils that look like sticks are going to be hard to find at clean-up time after journalling. The boys shared their materials with her and she was in her own world for a while.

I didn't realize that it was after one when we got back into the house. We did quietly observe a fawn explore our back yard for a long time. We also picked up a bunch sticks to toss on the burn pile (maybe S'mores tonight?). And had a nice chat with our neighbor. Anyway, it was later than usual for lunch, and Mei never quite made it all the way through her meal. 

I have never seen her fall asleep at the table before. I'll take that as a sign that she had a good time on her first nature exploration in our yard.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Puddle Play - Delving into Self-Directed Learning

"Are you homeschooling through the summer?" It's a question I've gotten a lot the last several weeks. 

We are. Why? For a number of reasons. 

As for me, being their teacher is not something I need or desire a break from, at least not for a weeks at a time. Just a few hours here and there to recharge is all I need. It's fun to watch them continue to learn through another season, which offer different experiences, especially if you are outdoorsy types like we are.

My children do better with regular and predictable habits. So I've kept up the expectation that we will continue with life as usual up until about a week before our move and continue now in our new home. I am confident that it works better for us than abandoning everything to then try to start up again from scratch.

We generally take things easy, so it's not like they are burnt out by homeschool. In fact, they are invigorated by it. Bean and Tey don't switch off learning mode nor take a break from asking a billion questions just because it gets hot outside. In fact, quite the opposite can be true, as evidenced by when it rained yesterday and let them play in the puddles (normally, I'm specifically pointing out puddles for them to avoid to not make a mess of my van, my house, my LIFE!).

The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.
- e.e. cummings

It was so helpful that we could actually see the water evaporating off the driveway. Yay, for natural science lessons that I don't need to set up or clean up (just toss kids in the bath as usual)! The boys took to helping it evaporate by kicking it in the air. We have some visual and kinesthetic learners in our family.
Then we moved over to another part of the driveway where there was some shade. Tey noticed that the puddle was colder on this side, then inferred that it would take longer to evaporate. I couldn't believe he could make that conclusion on his own! I kept my cool and just asked him more about it.

And lastly, they learned about getting along with each other and playing together. Always a good lesson. Tey makes up some fun rules. "I do a big kick to you, and you do a big kick to me, and if it's too far, just keep on practicing." I love his encouraging words: "Just keep practicing." Like Dori, "Just keep swimming."

While I don't consider ourselves "unschoolers" in general, I do try to capitalize on naturally occurring opportunities to expose the kids to something new or interesting for them to explore. It never ceases to amaze me how much children can figure out by letting them freely delve into what's before them (sometimes literally), and not starting or stopping them based on some clock, calendar, or lesson plan set by myself or someone else.

I think summer is a perfect time for encouraging self-directed learning in your children homeschooling or not. I'm sure many parents at home with their children this summer are naturally doing this anyway, but you don't think of it as homeschooling because your role seems too simple and easy and the kids are having too much fun! :) Well, just keep it up, fellow homeschooler!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Nest - Humbleness in Extravagance

Sorry for being quiet for so long, but I have a good excuse.

As you know Bo and I are not ones to make hasty decisions, but we decided to move. Within a matter of a week in mid June we contacted a realtor, visited the house, made an offer and had it accepted.

Then there was 6 weeks of me packing, decluttering and staging our house to sell. Bo took care of a lot of logistics with ordering carpets cleaned and other services, taking care of all the lender stuff and details with our realtor. He also repainted our whole house and did a ton of yard work and house repairs. He was amazing.

Last Saturday we moved in with the help of friends and Bo's brothers and then celebrated with sushi and sake, then frozen yogurt or bubble tea. I can't believe how fast it went.

We are currently in our new home and today was the first day we have internet access!  Huzzah! NOW this place has everything.

Honestly, this new home is unreal. It blows my mind that this is even ours. We are so blessed. I am overwhelmed with a feeling of unworthiness to live in such a beautiful home with beautiful land.

We're on almost 2 acres with mature trees and a stream that runs along the length of the property. We share this place with several lovely wild animals, including 3 feral cats, whom we feed everyday. I call them "The Beggers."

And here's a clueless fawn that we saw yesterday. Where's its mama?

The boys went crawdad fishing in the stream last Sunday with Uncle Joel and caught these little critters.

Our new home is like a little bit of heaven on earth. All these daily glimpses into God's glory, reminds me of His magnificence. And though I feel completely at home here and we plan to live here until retirement, I also know that this is NOT my home; it's His home for His glory. There is so much potential here to serve God. It's starts with our own family and with homeschooling, but extends to opening our home to others in ways we hadn't been able to before. We also have a greater responsibility now in protecting a larger piece of God's earth and the wildlife that live here. I am keenly aware that by worldly standards our new home can seem extravagant, but it is my hope that we can be use it to humbly serve our creator.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bean Earned his Yellow Belt

Bean's first belt test for Tae Kwon Do was today. He's been looking forward to testing for a couple weeks now and has been really practicing his form. It paid off because he earned a yellow belt and I felt confident that he really earned it and it wasn't a formality. 

At the last test date when he knew his friends were testing he said, "I hope everyone moves up a belt." I responded that I hope everyone tries their best and if that deserves a belt, then I hope they get it, but if not, then I hope they don't give up, but try again next time. This seemed like a perfect time to remind him of the importance of trying your best, but that you don't always get credit for effort but sometimes you have to earn it by showing mastery or at least improvement. I also wanted to re-emphasize the value of perseverance, which we do a lot anyway in our house.

Here he is sparring. 

I wish I recorded what his sparring used to look like. He would hop all over the place, run away from his opponent or turn his back on him or her. He was also slower and less agile. Today he was fully engaged and diversified his kicks. He did all four that he knew, but I started recording after he had already done some others. I'm surprised they didn't have him do his poomsei, because Bo and I have really seen some improvement there. I might need to have him do it and I'll just record it.

In the meantime, look at this proud little man in his yellow belt :)

Lemon frozen custard to celebrate...cuz it's yellow
Update from Monday April 16th:
Today was his first day of class as a yellow belt. He got to state his name in front of the class and give everyone a high-five. 

Today also goes down in history as the first time that when I asked the question, "How was Tae Kwon Do class today?" he said "Great!" In general, his response to most questions like that is "good" despite the fact that Bo and I discourage the use of that vague word. It's it's like pulling teeth to get any clarification or descriptions about it too. He said today's class was great because he got to learn new things and he specifically mentioned a new yellow belt kick. Eureka! Has he realized that if you pay attention and focus you can actually have fun learning something new from someone else? Time will tell.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Tey's Words: Sweet and Sour

Several friends have told me that they find my "things my kids say" posts on facebook to be pretty hilarious, especially if you know my kids. I'm so glad people find it as funny as I do. Sometimes what comes out of their mouths is just so darn sweet too. Those quotes don't always make it on here because they are so short and random, but here are some from Tey I've been collecting.

After spending ONE night at his grandparents and wanting to come home the next day I asked him if the missed me. His response, "I didn't miss you, I just wanted my mommy."

While riding in the back of the van singing Cosette's Castle on a Cloud from Les Miserable "There is a lady dress in white, holds me and sings me a lullabuy...(then makes up his own lyrics)...I don't need a lady, I need a mommy..."

While the kids were playing in the playroom I overheard Tey try to convince Bean, "Mommy knows everything." Bean didn't buy it unfortunately.

I knew there was a good reason for recording these quotes in a draft post over the past couple months. I needed it as perspective today to stand in contrast to the harsh words barked by a frustrated and tired Tey during a fit right before naptime, "Why do you do everything to make me sad?!" 

He needed perspective too and he got it as I reminded him that today I took him out for pizza, we spent the afternoon at the park, and oh yeah, I taught him the commutative property of addition. 

Tey and I do math on the bathroom mirror a few mornings a week
Perspective, it was what we both needed to cool down that heated moment. A couple minutes later he apologized and we were snuggling in the rocking chair exchanging words of love while Bean and Mei cuddled on Bean's bed. 

Only with kids can you have the worse insult of the day hurled at you unprovoked, followed soon after by genuine reconciliation and a scene of complete bliss, like heaven on Earth. Oh, it's never a dull moment over here.