Friday, May 30, 2008

This Summer in Nazareth!

On July 3, Jeff will be flying to Israel to serve in Nazareth by teaching English for a few weeks. I am overjoyed that he has this opportunity...proud beyond words that he's making the sacrifice to do this...and already looking forward to July 21, the day of his return! It will be, by far, the longest time we've been apart during our marriage. While Jeff was deliberating about whether to take this trip or not, I encouraged him to go by reminding him of our motto when we first met in Jerusalem as students: carpe diem. His response made me love him even more: "But I haven't carpe diemed without you in a decade!" That man! He brings me so much joy.

For more info about Jeff's trip, you can click here.

Today at David's Music Class...

...I had the familiar sensation of "Wow, out of all the kids in the world (or in this room), mine stands out to me like a brilliant flash. He is the cutest, smartest, best behaved, absolutely most wonderful child here!" Even while I was having those thoughts, I realized that each parent in that room was probably having those same thoughts about their own child...and that's such a good thing. How amazing that in a well-functioning family, our little kiddos have two (or more, counting grandparents and other relatives) grown-ups who are their biggest fans. It doesn't matter that the whole world fails to realize how incredible my kids are. ;) Because I realize it, and that's the most important thing. How sad to think of those kids who don't have parents that stand in their corner and cheer them on, no matter what.

Meanwhile this morning, while I was thinking such thoughts as "David is behaving so well--sitting on my lap when he's supposed to, holding my hand as we march around the circle, saying the rhythm patterns so least, my child isn't lying on the floor in the middle of the circle having a fit (although there have certainly been situations in which yes, it was my child doing such things) least, my child isn't still using a pacifier...etc," I happened to take a look at my child, and this is what I saw. A ragamuffin of a boy: arms and feet still dirty from the sap that he got from crawling around beneath and on the pine tree a day or two ago (should have had a bath last night, but didn't)...bruises up and down his shins (he is forever banging into something; yesterday I jokingly suggested that he wear his bike helmet inside because he was hitting his head on stuff so often, and he took me up on that suggestion!)...shorts on backwards (due to his recent surge of independence and self-dressing, they were reversed; I didn't realize they were backwards until the middle of class when he stood up to go get some rhythm sticks; even I know that cutting down his dignity and self-esteem by insisting, in the middle of music class, that he fix his shorts is a bad, bad thing, so we just went with the pants-on-backwards look until class was over and we were sequestered away in the bathroom)...thumb in his mouth. Just a small, sometimes dirty boy that I love so much it makes it hard to breathe.

I continue to stand in awe of God's plan to give every child someone to love him/her unconditionally, someone that loves that child so much that it hurts. I know this mother-love is a grand part of God's design for humanity, and I think it's one of the most wonderful things of His creation. But I do realize that not every child has that, and my thoughts continue to turn over ways to change that, for at least one child.

So these were some things I was thinking about, all during music class. Between the shaker eggs and the frog song and the animals sounds...deep thoughts. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

All Aboard!

More pictures from our fun-filled day at Cass Scenic Railroad...

By the way, I don't know how we ever survived without digital cameras! Want to guess how many pictures/video clips we took during our Cass trip? 133. Let's many rolls of film would that have been? And how much would each of those rolls have cost? And the developing? I don't even want to think about it. Of course, if it wasn't for our digital camera, we wouldn't have taken nearly as many pictures...but we would have missed capturing on film some great moments. So to whoever invented digital cameras, thank you!
~ Tobin, all set to go on his first train ride
~ doesn't this picture just make you want to roll down this track, just to see what's around the bend? doesn't it stir up the adventurous spirit in you?
~ because the mountain we climbed was so steep, the train had to use several switchbacks to the above picture, we're waiting for another train (which was going up) to come and go into the switchback first; then our train (which was going down) went into the switchback, then headed down the track...a neat way of "passing" each other on the track
~ my mother making sure David didn't fall out of the train!
~ a moth decided that Grandma's white shirt was the perfect place to land...of course, I had to take a picture before we shooed it away
~ our train taking on water before we got to the top...Conductor Bob, our very generous friend, is the man in the khaki shirt
~ train hats make the adventure even more fun
~ out of all the beautiful things we saw that day, I love these dear faces the most: Josiah's...
~ ...David's, Jeff's...
~ ...and Tobin's
~ the gorgeous view from the top

~ Josiah and David playing air guitar by a caboose

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Top Ten...for My Dad

As I previously mentioned, Dad had a birthday on Saturday--his 68th. Doesn't he look young for a 68 year-old? :)

For his birthday lunch on Sunday, I made a German chocolate cake--from scratch, of course--and it was so yummy, if I do say so myself. And I do. I can hardly wait to eat another piece tonight (but not after 7:00 p.m.). I let Josiah and David put the candles on his cake which accounts for the lopsided glow coming from it; they didn't think too highly of evenly-spaced symmetrical spacing. And we didn't have enough candles in the house for Dad's real age, so we just put 8 candles on the cake. :)
In honor of my dad, I've compiled a list of things about him which I appreciate, special memories I have, etc. Here's a Top Ten list, all about you, Dad!

1. I'm the youngest child in my family; and during the time when I was the last child at home before starting school, Dad would play UNO with me when he came up from the office to have lunch at home with us (his office is just down the hill from the house, so he always ate three meals a day at home). I remember Dad pretending to be so sad when he lost; he would pull down on his lower lip and make silly boo-hooing noises, and I thought it was so much fun. :)

2. Once during my childhood, I was sick and had a high enough fever that I was sort of delirious, I think. At that point in time, Dad dispensed medicines from his office; but he didn't have the right kind of medicine that I needed (the fact that I couldn't swallow pills at all made the task of finding the right medicine for me more difficult) so he drove into town to pick up some medicine at a pharmacy. Apparently, it was right around Valentine's Day; and when he came home, he had a heart-shaped box of chocolates for me which was highly unusual (the only time he ever did that, if I remember correctly). I was thrilled! I'm sure that contributed to my speedy recovery!

3. We always had so much fun during our summer vacations to the beach. I loved having family time to relax, play games together, fish, swim, read, etc...just to focus on each other, rather than on the myriad of work/home responsibilities that usually were present. I appreciate my dad taking time off work, paying for the trip, and simply having fun with us during those vacations. Many happy memories...

4. During my teen years, my mother often needed to travel to Pennsylvania to help to care for her parents. When she was gone, I was the lady of the house and was given invaluable opportunities for hands-on learning to keep a household going. I especially remember that Dad was a very willing guinea pig when it came to my experiments in cooking. Even when my first attempt at solo biscuit-making ended with objects more appropriately called "solid" rather than "fluffy," he never uttered a word of complaint but gamely tried everything I concocted for him.

5. During high school and college, as my schedule got busier with various sports or music events in which I participated, I knew I could always count on my parents to be there for those events. It didn't matter if I was playing basketball an hour away from home in a snowstorm, they would be there. It didn't matter if my choir was singing a program that my parents had heard 20 times before, they would be there. It didn't matter if Dad had stacks and stacks of paperwork at the office, he would be there. It didn't matter that I went to college 3 hours from home and was accompanying someone else during a senior recital (it wasn't even my own recital), they would be there. As I look back, I'm in awe of how committed they were to being there for my activities.

6. My dad welcomed Jeff like a son (well, as soon as he and Mother got over their initial--um--"reluctance"). :) From their man-to-man talk at a little restaurant in Speculator, New York, during the summer of 1996 when Jeff and I were trying to figure out our future, until today when Jeff appropriately considers my dad one of the most important men in his life, they have enjoyed a very good relationship. I know in-law relationships are so stereotypically bad that countless jokes are made about them, but that doesn't describe Jeff's relationship with my parents AT ALL.

7. At my wedding, Dad, not being content with the "her mother and I" line, planned to give a little speech in response to the question of who was giving me to this man. How much he intended to say, we'll never know because he got all choked up and simply couldn't get further than the first few lines. My dad doesn't tend to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but I knew from his response that day how much he loved me.

8. My dad has always been an outstanding provider for us as children--certainly not indulging all our whims and thereby spoiling us, but making sure we were always taken care of. I think one of the reasons I never, ever worry about money is because I've always felt like I have the biggest, softest security blanket as far as finances go. Fortunately, Jeff is also an outstanding provider, so we haven't needed Dad's bank account to be our security blanket...but I can't count the times Dad has said, when he knows we're facing some kind of financial challenge, "If you need help, I've got a little extra money in the account now." :)

9. Is it always true that basically undemonstrative dads become gooey grandpas? I love watching my dad cuddle with my boys, telling "Mickey Monkey" stories to them, quizzing Josiah on math facts, holding Tobin so naturally on his lap, expressing his love to them. I delight in this.

10. Unlike so many women of my generation, I have never had to doubt my father's existence or love...and consequently, I have never had "issues" with seeing God as a father figure ("of course, God is my Father; that's a good thing!" but not all women can say that). All because of who my father has been to me.

~ Dad on top of Bald Knob in West Virginia yesterday

Happy birthday, Dad! I love you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Where Do I Even Start?

Do I start with our project of making strawberry freezer jam on Saturday?
~ no, we don't require helmets to be worn while making jam; but in case of flying debris, it could prove helpful
~ Josiah loved pouring the jam into the jars--and, of course, licking the spoon when we were done
~ 7 beautiful pints of delicious jam


Or do I start with our overnight guests on Saturday, Dori (one of my college roommates) and her husband Marvin and our delightful time with them?

~ Dori being an attentive audience for Josiah and David as they show off their "new" typewriter


Maybe I should begin with our Sunday morning service, and how much I enjoyed leading hymns for it, especially "Guide My Feet"? It was an inspired moment, standing up front, listening to all those harmonizing, worshipful voices.


I can't forget to mention our dinner guests on Sunday who came to help us celebrate my dad's birthday (which was actually Saturday...but more about that later!). We thoroughly enjoyed having our distant relatives Wayne and Debbie over on Sunday. They are a couple that we had seen at family reunions; but until we became part of the same church, we didn't know them well. We completely enjoyed getting to know them better on Sunday, and we finally figured out exactly how we're related! As it turns out, Wayne is my 3rd cousin...though don't ask me to remember all the names of the ancestors who connect us. (It all started with a Jacob somewhere, but after that, I get a little lost...)

~ Wayne's wife Debbie holding Tobin, shortly before he drifted off in her arms to a peaceful sleep


Oh, I know. Maybe I should write about the absolutely outstanding EMHS Touring Choir concert that I heard Sunday evening: the glory of the music, the joy of seeing old friends, the pride I felt as Josiah searched after the concert for Laura Anderson (one of the members of the choir and the daughter of Josiah's beloved Mrs. Anderson, the teacher of his choir class), the specialness of being able to stand with all the alumni who joined the choir for the last piece. We knew it would be incredible, and the evening did not disappoint.


Today is Monday, so of course, I must mention my weight today. 156.2 pounds, down almost a pound from last week. I'm satisfied that I'm heading in the right direction!


Today is also Memorial Day, of course, so I'd better write about what we did to celebrate. One of Jeff's customers is the conductor of a train at Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia, and he had invited us to come back and ride on his train today...which we did...and couldn't have asked for a better day. The weather was perfect while we were there (and poured buckets on our way home), and we were given the royal treatment by Conductor Bob. It was fantastic!
~ I'm so grateful to live in this country...I've always enjoyed my time outside of the USA, but what a privilege it is to always be able to come home

~ two of my favorite little trainmen


Whew, so much I could write about! But as it is, I'm almost dizzy with fatigue, so off to bed I go, with grand hopes of writing more tomorrow... ;)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Last Day of School

School's out!!!

Today Josiah finished his math book, the last thing he needed to do to "officially" finish kindergarten. What a year it's been! Such growth in so many areas: knowledge, character, physical size, etc. What a privilege to be the one to share these days with him! I'm so very proud of him!

Josiah and David on the first day of school:
Josiah and David on the last day of school:
My big boy, a rising first-grader, showing off his completed math book:
Did I mention that I'm proud of him? ;)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Next Step

Just for fun, here's a picture from our trip to Norfolk last week. This is what we woke up to on Wednesday morning. Such serenity!
And now, what I really wanted to write about. :)

I (we) am (are) becoming increasingly convinced of the fact that the next way we grow our family will be through adoption.

To give some background, adoption is prevalent in my family. My parents adopted 2 children, my sister adopted 2, my brother adopted there is definitely family support for adoption, but also family realization of the unique challenges posed by adoption.

Jeff and I have always been open to the idea of adoption, and I'm sure we discussed it before we were even married. But when biological children came to us so easily, adoption got put on the back burner for a time.

Recently, however, two things have "haunted" (for lack of a better word) me.

First, I read somewhere that if only 7% of the world's Christian population would adopt one orphan, there would be no more orphans. Don't quote me on that, because I can't remember exactly where I saw it...but I read it on the Internet so, of course, it's true, right? ;) Seriously, I've ordered a book that I think the quote came from, so I'll soon know if my info is correct or not. But regardless, the point is that even a small percentage of Christians could make a huge difference in the plight of orphans if we would simply decide to do so.

I recognize, of course, that there are many orphans in the world who are "unadoptable." I have vivid memories of working in an orphanage in Mexico, close to the U.S.A. border town where we lived, and longing to take the children home with us...but being told that it was impossible because we're not Mexican citizens and the Mexican government doesn't allow non-Mexicans to adopt their children. The same longing stirred within me when we were in an orphanage in Bethlehem when we lived in Israel, and we inquired about possibly adopting a Palestinian child. The answer again was no, because we are not Muslim. We would have adopted one of those children in a heartbeat, but instead faced the frustration of impenetrable roadblocks. So I realize that even if thousands of families suddenly started the adoption process, there would still be orphans. But still... The point is that there are so many children who are waiting for their "forever families," and what are we doing about it?

At this point, let me pause to say that I'm not chastising those who haven't adopted. I'm not saying I'm the voice of God to everyone, telling them to adopt. I'm not pointing fingers or applying this particular call of God that I feel to everyone else in their individual situations. But for us, it's something that we need to consider with seriousness.

Second--and perhaps, more importantly--Josiah asked me recently, "Mommy, why haven't we adopted any children?" Ummm...well...because...we just haven't...hmmm...I don't know. This innocent question has circled in my mind like a tornado and forced me to re-evaluate my desire for more children and the possible process for having them.

Let me be clear. We have not chosen an agency. We have not made any of the one thousand and one decisions that adoption entails. We have not talked about any kind of a firm timetable for doing this. In fact, we haven't even decided for sure that this is what God is leading us to. So don't be surprised if you read this...and time goes by...and more time goes by...and we haven't adopted a child! Only God knows how the path will unfold for us in this area. And my fervent prayer is that Jeff and I will walk this path in complete unity, with me not jumping ahead of him (or vice versa) or pressuring him to do things the way I think they should be done--but having an amazing level of unity that surprises even me. :)

My reason for writing this down, however, is simply for my own remembrance of it. Five years from now, I want to be reminded of how I was feeling and what I was thinking in terms of growing our family.

For now, the future is foggy and the path unclear. But I think of the verse in Psalm 119:105 that says that God's Word is a lamp to our feet. A lamp doesn't illuminate the path a mile ahead of us; it doesn't show us what's coming around the next corner. But it does shine light on where our feet are now and where our next step will land. I pray for the faith to walk by the light of God's lamp...and the peace in my heart to take the journey one step at a time.

Have I Mentioned... much I enjoy shopping at thrift stores? When I can get a Caldecott Medal book for less than a dollar as I did today, it's a good thing. And this bath ring for $1.50 is a bargain, giving Tobin the opportunity for longer baths (which I'm convinced he will thoroughly enjoy, as he did tonight) but saving my back from breaking as I lean over the edge of the bathtub to hold him up (our previous mode of operation). I'm startled by how big he suddenly is--able to sit in this thing (well, lean to the side) like a baby, but not a newborn anymore.
David kept Tobin company in the bathtub tonight, and I could hardly get Tobin to look at me because he was so focused on his big brother who was showing Tobin his boats and actually pouring water on Tobin's arms and legs with them. As long as it wasn't on the head, I was OK with it...and so was Tobin. :)

~ how much I enjoy living close to my parents? Of course, there are great grandparent moments like these...
...but here's another example of the benefits of living close. Josiah happened to mention after supper tonight that if Grandpa ever got rid of his typewriter at the office, Josiah would like to have it. Grandpa said, "Well, I have an extra typewriter stored in one of the closets at the office. Would you like it?" Of course, Josiah would like it! So a quick walk down the hill to the office to get it and back home again and Josiah was all set up to type on a real typewriter.
He had so much fun with this tonight, although to tell the truth, he took it very seriously. When he was a baby, we used to call him "Mr. Retzini" (the Hebrew word for "serious") because even when he was having fun, he was scholarly about it, full of focus and concentration. He was that way again tonight. You should have heard him click, clicking away on this old thing! Thanks, Grandpa!
Now, if I could just teach him to type the correct way since he's so interested in doing this. Anybody know of any typing programs for children? I remember way back in my childhood when we had a typing program for our computer that was like a car race. I sure loved that thing! But I have no idea what's out there these days for teaching children to type. I'll have to look around and see if I can find something...

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Weighty Issue

The time has come.

When this year started, I didn't have many resolutions for the new year. In fact, basically all I was focusing on was the upcoming birth of Tobin. I did know, however, that I wanted to lose weight. :) And since he was born 12 days after the start of 2008, it wasn't difficult for that resolution to come true!

But now...sigh... Now it's time to really pay attention to what I eat and what I do so that I can lose weight--more weight. My weight dropped pretty quickly after his birth (obviously, VERY quickly immediately after his birth), but since then it has actually bounced back up. Up! Not the direction I want it to go. I really would have liked for it to keep melting away with no effort on my part. Ha! Dream on, girlie.

Since I've come to grips with the fact that it's not going to happen that way, I've decided to take some small steps to help that stubborn ole weight depart in peace. Or depart kicking and screaming. Either way is fine with me, as long as it LEAVES. :)

I had been mentally debating about whether or not to actually reveal my weight on this blog, as well as how much I want to lose. I tend to be pretty open about most things, so writing my weight publicly didn't bother me at all...but I know some women would never do that and I thought maybe something was wrong with me that I was so willing to disclose it. :) But then, while we were in Norfolk last week, I happened to see a segment on one of those morning shows (that I never watch at home because we don't have a TV); and it was about a woman who wanted to lose some weight, how she did it, how much she lost, etc. She told her weight openly to the whole world, and I thought, "If she can do it, so can I!" Plus, I know a little accountability is good for the goal of losing weight, so here's my perfect opportunity, right?

When I got pregnant with Tobin, I weighed 140 pounds. I was 157 pounds when I weighed this morning. So, simple math: 17 pounds to go. I'll probably mention on this blog about once a week what my weight is doing, and hopefully we'll see some movement in the right direction!

I'm not taking any drastic measures to lose weight though. I know that dieting too early can diminish milk supply, and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize that. But little by little, baby step by baby step, I'll start working on bringing it down.

My plan for this week is to simply eliminate the eating I do after 7:00 p.m. (or so). Since I'm a night person by nature, I have a bad habit of relaxing after the boys are in bed with food of some sort; and everybody knows that's a no-no as far as weight management. So, no more!

Weight issues and body image issues are funny for me. I dislike intensely the way our culture promotes seriously unhealthy, skinny women as models; and I do NOT want to fall into the thinking behind that--that you've got to be a size 2 to be beautiful. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to be happy in my own skin, grateful for the body God's given me (even these hips which obviously are made for child-bearing) :), and realistic about the toll that pregnancy and childbirth has taken on my body. On the one hand, I feel content with who I am.

On the other hand, I know that if I gain even a few pounds a year, that adds up; and the end result can be fairly significant health problems that could be lessened or eliminated by losing weight. I'd rather fight the weight battle at age 32 than keep gaining weight and have to fight it more intensely 10 years from now.

But it seems like a balancing act to keep a healthy perspective about it all, and I don't know how good of a tightrope walker I am.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with one of the midwives who saw me throughout this last pregnancy. This particular situation actually happened when I saw her after my miscarriage. As she was moving around the small examining room, she bumped into a nurse-in-training who was there to observe. When she apologized, she said something like, "When I was 20, I thought my body was actually much bigger than it really was. But now I imagine that I'm smaller than I really am, and I keep forgetting how big I am!" So true, at least for me! When I look back at myself in previous years, I remember moments of anguish about my weight then; and I tell myself, "What were you worried about? You looked fine!" And now, things have changed. Sometimes I see myself in a mirror at an unexpected angle or I see myself in a photograph, and I think, "Woah. I had no idea there is so much of me!" :)'s to less of me...but a healthy smaller me--still content, still grateful for the changes that motherhood has brought to my body, not obsessing about every ounce of weight. This issue is just part of my life, not the most important thing.

I do, however, believe that my open confession here and the subsequent follow-up will keep me from walking upstairs right now and having cookies and milk as a bedtime snack! ;)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Father & Son

I realize that I haven't yet posted any pictures from our trip this past week to Portsmouth and Norfolk. Here then is a start.

I absolutely loved these pictures of Jeff and Tobin together in the Children's Museum we visited because the photos are just so "normal." Just a daddy and his son being together, hanging out, looking, learning, sharing life. Only one of the countless moments that make up Tobin's life, but part of the fabric of love and fun and security that he gets from his father.

It reminds me of a quote that I read this week from Jean Paul Richter:
The words that a father speaks to his children in the privacy of home are not heard by the world, but, as in whispering-galleries, they are clearly heard at the end and by posterity.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Lily of the Valley

A while back, New Mom mentioned in her blog about the lily of the valley (in reference to a song). Ever since then, I've been extra impatient for our lilies of the valley to bloom this year. And now they have. I love these delicate, graceful little beauties!
~ lily of the valley in the kitchen
~ lily of the valley in the guest room, where my sister Donna stayed last night...she was greeted by the typical enthusiastic adoration that my boys lavish on her :)...the picture above is of her sometime in the 80s...I always looked up to her so much and really, really, really wished I could have her nose! :)

The Bible mentions lily of the valley in Song of Songs 2:1, although I'm fairly sure it doesn't mean the flower we now call lily of the valley. However, it does indicate that the lily of the valley is something really I want to jot down some things that are really special to me. (How's that for a seamless transition?) ;)


This morning, he and David were getting ready to watch The Wind in the Willows movie. I overheard Josiah say to David, "If you get scared, I'll just snuggle with you, OK?" :)


Big news from yesterday: he had a nap (a long nap, in fact) in underwear and didn't wet the bed, for the first time. I'm thrilled!!! :)

A few days ago, we were talking about various cousins, and the boys were trying to figure out what last names they all have (since obviously, they don't all have the same last name as us). Then David said, "What are their front names?" (instead of first names); and I just had to smile.

He's been so interested in word and letter sounds recently. Once he asked, "What does 'fan' start with?" When I asked him what he thought, he sounded out, "Ffffffff..." and then announced proudly, "F!" He did the same with "paint" and probably other words that I didn't write down and have now forgotten. He's also tuned into rhymes and told us the other day that "Reena rhymes with Sheena." Sheena is one of David's cousins, but I don't know who Reena is--a sound in David's mind, I guess!


Before I'm done with the nursing stage with Tobin, I have to write down a few things about it. Sometimes when Tobin is beside himself with hunger, he will try to "latch on" to whatever exposed skin he can find, while I'm fumbling around trying to...well, arrange my clothes. ;) Most often when he's in this state, he'll start sucking vigorously on my arm before I can make other "more productive parts" available. It cracks me up!

The other thing that makes me laugh is how sometimes when he's so completely focused on sucking that he's almost oblivious to anything else, he'll occasionally pop off suddenly and look up at my eyes in surprise, as if to say, "What? Are you here, too? What fun! Isn't this a great party???" Then sometimes it's back to sucking...and sometimes it's time to gaze happily into each other's eyes.

At this stage of life, I LOVE breastfeeding. In the first few weeks of my babies' lives, it drives me to tears (literally) from the intense pain. But now, I can sit back, relax, soak in the sight of my little one, and enjoy the special moments of togetherness. At this point I can say--and really mean it--that I'm so blessed to be able to breastfeed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Winding Down and Wrapping Up

Recently, a new blog reader, Sally, asked me about how we do homeschooling at this stage of life, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect over the past year and jot a few thoughts down. We're not quite officially done with school for the year since Josiah has a few more math lessons to finish, but we're very close, and that's a fun feeling!

(Sally, by the way, may be new to the blog, but she's not at all new to me. Her older sister Gail was in my kindergarten class, so we go waaaaaay back. In fact, besides my parents, Sally may be the blog reader who has known me the longest. Oh, except for Aunt Elaine, who has known me all my life...and also Aunt Helen who keeps tabs on us from her home in Chicago through this blog...and my Aunt Joyce in Canada who reads along, too. It's nice to have all these caring aunts, :) and I guess they've known me since birth...but besides them, Sally just might be the one who's known me the longest. Anyway...where was I? Oh, yes, I remember...)

Experienced homeschooling mothers would nod and smile when I told them I was teaching Josiah for his year of kindergarten. They'd inevitably get a far-away look in their eyes and say something like, "I remember when I taught my child kindergarten. That was so much fun! We read so many books and had a great time snuggling together on the couch. Those were the days..." I have a feeling that will be me in five or ten years because--wow!--this year of kindergarten really was fantastic; and I've got wonderful memories in the storehouse of my heart to show for it.

What's the first question two homeschooling moms ask when they get together? From my experience, I've found it to be: what curriculum do you use? And since I ask others that a lot and get asked that myself, I'll write a little about that here.

For this past year, I used a hodge-podge of materials rather than a single curriculum. Through the generosity of various people who found out I was planning to homeschool and through my own purchases of materials at various places (mostly, discount places or our local book fair) and through consistent use of the library, we quickly had more than enough materials for this year. Before we got started, I had several trusted friends with solid educational backgrounds look over my plan for the year and give suggestions, just to make sure I wasn't missing anything vitally important. That was very reassuring to me!

Here are some things that we did that worked well (and that I would do again in a heartbeat):

~ Read-n-Grow Picture Bible - this was a Bible that I had as a girl and LOVED it...after doing it this year with Josiah, I love it still, and so does he...we read one of these stories a day, except for the times when it was too exciting and we couldn't stop at just one...a lot of meaningful discussions were sparked through this book

~ Horizons Math K - I found this simple to use and attractive with bright colors and interesting things to look at on these pages...the teacher's manual suggests various math activities to supplement the written work, but I found that Josiah didn't need the extra work with manipulatives, etc. because of his good mental grasp of math concepts at this stage

~ Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons - I liked the simplicity of this and the solid building bit by bit on a strong phonics foundation...of all the things we did this year, reading was the one area that Josiah fought me a little; and I realize that it was because in his perfectionist nature, if he couldn't do it perfectly, he didn't want to do it at all...throughout the year, I used various "extras" to help him through this and spice up the blandness of it...sometimes we would pick an unusual place in the house to do his reading lesson (like sitting on the floor behind the door of Tobin's room or lying under the kitchen table--anything to make it silly and fun)...sometimes I would have a special activity page that he could do after his reading lesson, if he kept a good attitude...recently though, he was doing so much better with his attitude towards this and even showing eagerness to do it...another thing that helped was getting a little notebook for him to use as a reading journal and helping him to begin reading "real" books that he could record in his journal and get paid for (his grandparents pay him 10 cents per book...lucky boy!)...doing that really spurred him on in his more thing about teaching reading, particularly with this book: looking back, I think I probably should have pushed him a little more towards the beginning of the book to take the time to sound things out like the book asks...we skimmed through some of that, and I didn't emphasize that as much as I probably should have...I feel like Josiah has a good grasp of phonics, but that he also learns a lot through whole-language learning...he has such a good memory that if I tell him what a word is, he often remembers it just from that...makes me wonder if some students just do better with whole language, and some do better with phonics...although I'm certainly not about to abandon phonics!

~ Five in a Row - we did not do all the books in Volume One, but the books we did study in this way have become friends...looking back, I wish we had done more (in fact, we still might!)...I love the integration of various subjects that are learned through reading a book...and I also love the fact that when I pull out Blueberries for Sal or Caps for Sale (from Before Five in a Row which we did in our Learning Time sessions when Josiah was four years old), Josiah still says excitedly, "Oh I love this book!" :)

Well, there's more I could say, but these are some of the things that stand out to me as I look back over this year. I think most of all, I'll remember all the reading we did together: story after story, book after book, from our own shelves, from the public library, from Anna Kathryn Eby's house (a former public school teacher who is more than generous with her teaching materials).

In the picture below, Josiah reads his last lesson of his reading book to Jeff one evening recently. That was quite an exciting accomplishment! :)
Another thing I learned during this past year is that hands-on experiences are so important, and we as homeschoolers can enjoy more hands-on experiences through the flexibility that we're offered as part of our way of life. I remember one day back in the fall, there was a Saturday activity in town that I knew would be interesting for the boys. However, we were using Saturday as a "school day" (and Wednesday as a non-school day because of Jeff's work schedule), so in the end I decided that we should skip the activity and stay home to "do school." I've regretted that ever since. Not that the particular situation I'm referring to was such a big deal, but I learned my lesson to not worry so much about completing workbook pages and having sit-down-at-your-desk-and-study times, but rather embrace the lifestyle of learning that true homeschooling is all about. I'll probably need to be reminded of this in the future, since my style of teaching (and living life) tends to be more schedule-oriented; but it was a valuable lesson for me that stands out in my mind--and will hopefully stick with me as we go on to first grade for Josiah in the fall.

Speaking of first grade, we are planning to use Sonlight (got a super deal on it on e-Bay some time ago) for first grade which I'm excited about because of all the great books we'll get to read! :) Most of the people I talk to that have used Sonlight really liked it, but the one criticism is that it was A LOT OF READING. Sounds good to me! :) But again, with the flexibility of homeschooling, I realize that if it gets to be too much, it's not absolutely essential to read every single word of every single page. (Shhhhh...did I just say that? Don't tell anyone!) :)

Speaking of extra activities (which we were speaking of a little while ago), last night we had the privilege of going to a chicken farm to see the little chicks that were a day or two old and had just been delivered to this farm. There were 35,000 of them. That's right. 35,000. That's a lot of balls of fluff in one poultry house. One of Jeff's customers from the barbershop owns this farm, and he had mentioned a while back that it would be fun for our boys to come and visit when he got a new batch of chicks. He was right--it was fun, although I'm not sure which of us enjoyed it most. I grew up in the country, but I had never been inside a chicken house with 35,000 chicks before, and I was fascinated by how the whole operation is run. Besides that, there were deer in the forest right next to where we were, and the farmer even put out some grain for them so we could watch them eat. Beautiful creatures!

~ David with a chick ~ Josiah with a chick~ chicks in the feed troughs
~ piles of chicks...they were so soft and cute!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Playing in the Dirt

Some people call this gardening. I call it playing...or renewing my springtime soul...or dirt therapy.

With the eager assistance of our two young helpers, my mother and I planted 24 tomato plants and some herbs (basil, cilantro, and dill) today. We originally planted 18 tomato plants; and after I finished pounding the stakes into the ground to hold them up as they grow, I and my aching arms were DONE. And then I walked back onto the porch and saw another 6-pack of them staring me in the face. I had completely forgotten that when we were at a nearby greenhouse to buy plants a few days ago, I had been unable to resist the "Mr. Stripey" tomatoes, so they came home with us, too, and needed to be put in the ground. In the late afternoon, after the boys had quiet time, we again went outside and finished up the job. What a good feeling to look outside and see our rows of young tomato plants...although if they all grow, we'll be having tomatoes coming out of our ears this summer!

~ "The Professor" getting ready to mark out a row...if only he was a little taller and stronger and could actually move this contraption! (for the past few days, David has been thoroughly enjoying this pair of silly old sunglasses with the lenses popped out...he looks so hilarious with them on that I can't keep a straight face when I look at him, which is not a good thing when I need to correct him or comfort him but crack up instead!)
~ my painted toenails in the dirt...sometimes I love being a girlie girl drinking tea in a flowing skirt, but other times I love getting my hands (and feet) dirty in the soil
~ our friends, the earthworms...according to David Kline or David Alleman--and now according to David Fisher as well--it's such a good sign to dig up a shovel of dirt and find a few of these squirmy fellows crawling about~ these are NOT our friends!...I couldn't believe how huge some of the rocks were that we found today...I don't think they were there last year...I was reminded of how the earth beneath us is constantly changing and pushing up new materials to the I know why my parents joke that we grow a good crop of rocks!
~ ah, yes, a newly-planted tomato plant...I can almost taste a tomato sandwich: two slices of wheat bread spread with mayonnaise on either side of a thick slice of tomato sprinkled with salt...that, along with fresh-from-the-garden corn-on-the-cob and just-cut peaches from the nearby orchard, is the taste of summer

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Four Months

Since yesterday was Tobin's official four-month birthday :), I've got to jot down a few things about him.

He is at an absolutely delightful stage where he loves to look at people and break out in huge grins...and besides that, he's started to laugh. April 29 was the first day he laughed, and he did it while I was changing his diaper and clothes. He tends to be quite the communicative little guy when he gets on the changing table! He also laughed the following Sunday, May 4, in the nursery, according to the testimony of the women in the nursery; I didn't hear it because I was in Sunday school, but they were all delighted by it! Last Tuesday, he laughed again when Josiah was paying attention to him in the morning. There is nothing--absolutely nothing--like the laughter of a child. I'd have to say that it's probably my favorite sound in the whole world.

I've been realizing recently that compared to his big brothers, Tobin hasn't traveled very far at all in his young life! Josiah went with us from California to Israel for vacation when he was 2 months old, his first--but by no means, last--big trip (it was so funny planning that trip while pregnant and doing things like getting plane reservations for him before his birth...because he was our first, it seemed so unreal that we would actually have a child with us when we took that trip--and strange to have a ticket for "Josiah Fisher" before he was born!). David was born in Israel, of course; but by the time he was 4 months old, he had been to the country of Jordan for a conference, to England for vacation, and to California to visit family and friends before we moved to Virginia. Tobin has been to...well...West Virginia...Pennsylvania last Saturday...and today (much later today, since I'm writing this in the middle of the night) :) we're heading to the Virginia Beach area because Jeff surprised us by taking the day off so we could have a family get-away (which I'm completely thrilled about!). West Virginia and Pennsylvania aren't exactly Israel and Jordan, but that's OK. Tobin's day will come when we finally get him a passport and actually travel a little further from home. But oh my, it sure is harder--and more expensive--to travel with 3 little ones!

My favorite nickname for Tobin is "Little Bear," although I call him all kinds of silly stuff. Sometimes I hear Jeff crooning to him, "Tobin, Tobin, ata ben tov," which means "Tobin, Tobin, you're a good son," and is a play-on-words because in Hebrew if you switch the syllables for Tobin's name, you get the words for "good son." Recently, Jeff mentioned that Tobin is an "angel child," and I couldn't agree more.

The level of adoration that I have for Tobin astounds me. I shouldn't be surprised by it because I experienced it with Josiah and David, but it still is somewhat shocking to me how much I love quickly that love flowed from deep the sensation of the mix of pleasure and pain that love satisfying it is to me to simply look at the laughter bubbles up in me sometimes when I hold him--laughter from the sheer joy of being his mother and having him as my son. I know this "honeymoon period" eventually ends, but I'm enjoying every bit of it and am amazed by how, out of all the babies in the world, my heart overflows with love and admiration for him...because he's mine. God knew what He was doing when He made these maternal instincts. They are powerful. :)

~ Tobin with his Aunt Lori

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pennsylvania Pictures

Here are a few more pictures from our visit with my brother and his family on Saturday. I had fun experimenting with natural light for these photos, due to Lisa's inspiration...and Pete's inspiration...and the book How to Photograph Your Baby by Nick Kelsh (recommended by Lisa). I'm absolutely convinced that natural light photography is superior, but I sure do get a lot of blurry pictures. Oh, well...I'm working on it...having fun in the process...and rejoicing in the fact that I have a digital camera and can shoot 50 pics to get a few decent ones without the expense of developing them all!

~ Jacob playing a soccer game with Josiah and David...Jacob is SO GOOD with his younger cousins!
~ Grandma and Elizabeth at the case the picture looks like it's not straight, you can blame it on Lisa...she said we should try shooting pics at an angle, so I did...she also said we should never, ever use the flash, so I didn't, and my mother's clapping hands are blurry...she also tried to teach us things like shutter speed and ISO (whatever that stands for!) which would probably resolve the blurry hands issue, but I haven't gotten that far in my free tutorial from her ;)~ I love this picture (even though it's not technically the greatest) because it captures a sweet moment when my brother came upstairs to lean against the half-wall behind the piano and listen to his daughter and his mother play the piano together
~ Isaac in a quiet moment
~ I always like to get a picture of the two Davids, Uncle David helps my David get the wrapper off his cupcake...
~...this cupcake, which David thoroughly enjoyed!