Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Big Red Box: A Homeschool Win

Sometimes it's just so hard to fit it all in! Math, science, religious studies, handwriting, history, geography, foreign language, art, music, writing, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, health, PE . . . the list goes on for miles! Lately I've felt like there may be some gaps in my kids' learning. Not huge unfathomable canyons, but just some little things that we might be missing out on. After trying out many different approaches with not much luck, I finally came up with an idea that seems to be working. 

It's not one of those amazing, "wow!" kind of ideas, but it is one of those ideas that made me go, "Why didn't I think of that years ago?" 

We go to the library about once a week, or at a minimum, once every two weeks. Usually I just let the kids get stuff for them and I get stuff for me, and we go on our merry way. A couple of weeks ago, though, I got an idea. I would let the kids pick out their own books but I would also pick out some things for them. I browsed the non-fiction section for things I thought they might be interested in and took home a huge stack.

When I got home, I found an old plastic milk crate that was empty and decided it would be a great container for these books. I plopped them in, then hit the shelves at our house for even more books and filled it up. Then I implemented a new policy. On school days, the kids MUST read from the "Red Box" for at least 30 minutes each day. 

Right now, there are books on Greek mythology, classical art, a road atlas, karate for kids, the Negro baseball league, Samurai, WWII, the Constitution, Christmas, dragons, the Underground Railroad, the Avengers and more. There are some easy readers and even some old Kids Discover magazines. Some of them are read every single day (mostly the mythology and Avengers right now) and others haven't been touched yet.

On Monday, we'll head to the library, return most of these and pick up some new ones. Some will stay for weeks and others will never be seen again. Some will go away for a while and come back in a month or two. There are books on different reading levels and different subjects. They can easily be traded out.

The best part of this is that my kids are LOVING the big red box. They haven't fought me on this even once. The big ones read to the little ones and they are picking up books they may have never given a second glance to on their own. I'm calling that a homeschool win!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

There's No Crying In Baseball

You guys. Seriously. I don't cry over sporting events. Rarely do I have enough invested in a team to care enough to have an emotional response to wins or losses. Even when my own kids are playing, I can usually shrug things off with an "It's just a game" attitude.

As Tom Hanks so famously said it in "A League of Their Own," "There's no crying in baseball!" But this year, I have cried over the Kansas City Royals more than once. How could I not?

I grew up here in Kansas. And yes, the Royals are technically from Missouri, but no one here cares about that. The Royals are our team. I was just a kid in 1985, when they won it all, and I grew up with George Brett and Bret Saberhagen as my heroes. For a while, I had a dream of becoming the first girl to catch for the team. Considering that I won't even catch for my 11 year old son now, there is no way I would have ever been able to make that happen, but every kid growing up has a dream and wearing the blue and white was one of mine.

My dad watched the games and he even took me to my first MLB game. I was somewhere around 10 years old. We had cheap seats, high above left field. The Royals played the Yankees. I don't remember who won or lost that day, but I do remember looking out across the stadium at the flags and seeing the World Series Champs 1985 flag proudly flying.

I haven't been to a lot of games in my life. We're a couple hours from KC and growing up, my family didn't spend a lot of money on such frivolous things as attending Major League Baseball games. But if you asked us, we were Royals fans. We wore George Brett jerseys and had his autograph on our gloves. He was our favorite because he was great, but also because he was loyal. He spent his entire career in Kansas City and the love he had for the team and for the town were evident. For what it's worth, seeing him be excited about the Boys in Blue this year was a total bonus.

One day, in the fall of my senior year of high school, my dad spontaneously picked me, my sister and my friend, Laurie, up from school. He drove us the two hours to Kaufman Stadium and bought us tickets to George's final home game. Watching one of my childhood heroes round the bases a final time (in a golf cart, no less) is one of the best memories I have with my dad.

A few years later, I married into a big sports family. Unlike me, they're not native Kansans, but since he's been here for most of his life, Vance faithfully cheers for Kansas City sports teams.

We gave up cable over a decade ago but Vance has faithfully listened to the Royals on AM radio for years. This year he was able to live stream the playoff series for just $10. Like most KC fans, he can't stand the TV announcers, so he mutes them and still listens to the radio. Because of this, we don't watch together. I can't stand that high pitched hum that comes with AM radio but he doesn't even seem to hear it. So this year, I "watched" the games on my phone, via the MLB Live Update. I always knew when to check the score, as I could hear Vance screaming, "Yes!" on the good plays and "NOOOOOO!" on the bad. For the first time in a long time, there were more yeses than nos. More often than not, those games lasted way past bedtime and my poor husband went to work tired but happy.

My husband loves sports, but 2014 was a big year for my oldest son, too. This year, he decided that baseball is his sport and for the first time, was a part of a competitive traveling team. The confidence it built in him was phenomenal. He also played in our local rec league, which was another great experience for him. This summer, after playing for six years, my son fell in love with baseball. In July, he attended his first two MLB games on back to back nights at The K. It was perfect. That first night, the Royals took the lead in the division. They won again the next day, and E was there to see it. Those games solidified his love for baseball and he'll be a Royals fan for life.

For the last two weeks, my kids and I have walked around the house, the park and the supermarket singing the Matthew West version of "Royals." If you haven't seen it yet, you need to.

Did you see that catch Moose made where he literally fell into the stands? He says he never touched the ground. The Royals fans weren't about to let that happen.

And then there's Salvy Perez, who started an amazing 158 games this year. As catcher. There's no quit in that boy. (I say boy because he's like 24 years old. I'm almost 40, so that makes him practically a preschooler in my eyes. That's how it goes when you get old.)

There are a thousand more reasons to love the 2014 Royals. Try this link for some of them. I don't think you can read it and walk away anything but a fan.

So, while I didn't even think of crying when they lost, I did shed a couple of tears watching highlight reels. This is the team we've waited decades for. These are tears of joy and pride. Thank you, Kansas City Royals. You were worth the wait.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

3 Myths About Homeschoolers That You Should Stop Believing

Having done this homeschooling thing for a while now, I have found that there are some common misconceptions the general public seems to have about us.  I'd like to take a few minutes and clear up three of those myths for you.  (These aren't universal truths, as I'm sure you could find families that do fit these stereotypes. But the homeschoolers that I know don't and I would bet that most others don't either.)

1. We don't care about public education.
Nothing could be further from the truth. While most of my kiddos are not currently attending our local elementary or middle school (we actually do have one in preschool there this year), the majority of kids in America are going to public school. With the exception of a handful of homeschoolers and about three families who send their kids to private Christian schools, all the rest of my kids' friends go to public school. Most of their cousins and their fellow Scouts go to public school.  As do our neighbors and the kids on their ball teams. The kids we know at church and my own kids' friends as well. I have many, many friends who are amazing public school teachers. To even imply that I don't care about any of these people is absurd and to be quite honest, a little insulting.

2. Our kids are unsocialized.
Pa-leeze! This is such an outdated misconception. This week we had a back-to-school party for just our homeschool friends. They couldn't all attend, but we had over 20 kids and a dozen parents there. (If everyone we invited had come, that number would have more than doubled. And that's JUST our homeschool friends.) They swam, played games, jumped on the trampoline and a few of the older ones were even a little awkward around members of the opposite sex. Sounds pretty normal to me.

3. We somehow have more patience than other parents.
I cannot even begin to tell you the number of times I have heard, "I would homeschool, but I don't have the patience." And what, dear friends, makes you think that I do? Seriously, I lose my temper way more often than I am willing to fess up to. And don't even shake you're head and think to yourself, Maybe, Kelsy. But I bet you've never (insert your worst parenting moment here). Because short of things that would land me in jail, I probably have. And because the nature of homeschooling puts me in close proximity to my little dearies more often than some other moms, I probably lose it more often.  Don't believe me? Ask my kids. Wait. Scratch that. Don't ask my kids. They might tell you the truth.

The reality is, we're just normal people. Yes, we choose to teach our kids differently but our sameness is much bigger than our differences.  We all care about other people, even the ones who are not just like us. We all want need friends and meaningful relationships with others. Homeschool moms blow it with our kids and have to ask forgiveness (from them and from God) just as often, if not more so than other people do. So home, public or private schooled, let's all love each other and give each other a lot of grace.  We all need it. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kelsy Crutchfield's Busy Busy Life

I just read an advice blog that said, "Stay home as much as possible.  Not having to be running all the time is a gift you can give your children."  Sounds like good advice.

And you know what?  It probably is.  For some people.  For some seasons.  But right now, my life is pretty busy.  And by pretty busy, I mean it's full to bursting!  We have baseball, VBS, church, scouts, friends, family, parties, sleepovers, dance class, summer camp, swimming pools, and a million other things.  And you know what?  I LOVE IT. There are days when we all just need a break from it.  And we take those.  We stay at home and in our pajamas for entire weekends when it's necessary.  But for the most part, we are a family of goers.  We leave the house and we live our lives in this crazy, messed-up, lovely world.

I love this busy life.  It's crazy but I have no doubt that it's right where we need to be.

It's hours in the van, countless dollars in gas, and a lot of time away from home.  It's breakfast at McDonald's and supper at Pizza Hut.  It's hard to get the laundry done and impossible to even think about meal planning.  It's exhausting.

But it's also hours in the van with my family.  Conversations we might not have otherwise.  Time when we can't get away from each other and life gets real.

It's hot days on hard bleachers building relationships with people we have come to love.  It's being a part of our community and supporting each other.  It's carpooling and helping each other out.  It's sharing sunflower seeds and taking pictures together. It's building friendships that will last well past this season.

It's 90 degrees out and kids on a slip and slide.  It's moms drinking Pepsi in the shade and sharing their lives together.  Water gun fights and learning how to deal with people. Greeting the new neighbors with smiles and chatting with the ones who have lived close for years.

It's life lessons and disappointments.  Winning, losing, not getting to play, making the great catch.  They're all important things to experience, both for our kids and for us as parents.  Scraped knees and kisses on boo-boos. Not getting the water gun you wanted and having to wait your turn to run down the slide.

It's teaching kids, my own and those in my community, to live life in a way that reflects the love of Jesus.  It's showing that following Christ happens not just in a "church," but in our everyday lives as well.

It's serving others.  Staying an extra 15 minutes so that someone else doesn't have to stay an extra two hours. It's dropping by with a casserole and sending a card to friend who is struggling.

My life?  It's busy.  It's crazy.  It's exhausting.  And I wouldn't change a thing.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sometimes It's Hard to Remember

Oh, Pinterest.  A place to make you laugh, cry and be hungry all in the first 10 seconds.   A while back I came across a pin that was something along the lines of "Someone else would gladly have what you are complaining about."  It was pretty much a thought for mothers who are having bad days with their kids.

And it's true.  I know it's true.  I know that there are people out there who struggle every single day with infertility.  I realize that there are mommas out there who have lost their babies and would give anything, anything at all, to simply hold them one more time.  I know this to be true, and for those mommas, I am so sorry for your hurt.  I know that it is real and it is heavy and it can be all consuming.  I have myself mourned for a child I never got to hold.  I have watched people I love mourn the loss of their children.  It is the worst thing.  The very worst.

But just knowing that other people wish for the happy, healthy children that I have sometimes isn't enough to make the crazy go away.  Sometimes, dealing with the every day reality of having and homeschooling four kids is just hard.

Hearing the little man with whom you have just had a 20 minute struggle to put on his shoes and get his butt in the van call you the "worst mom in the whole wide world" sucks.  On a long day, it might be enough to push you over the edge.  It might cause you tell him to look for another mom because you are resigning from the position.  It may not be your best parenting moment.

When your Tigger is extra tired and extra bouncy and backtalks you in public and then bursts into tears in the buffet line, the last thing on your mind is gratitude.  The first thing might be wanting to burst into tears yourself or to go crawl in a hole and hide.

When your boys act like boys and your furniture looks like it belongs in a frat house, it's easy to forget that these little men are gifts from God.  Holes in the dry wall and rips in the couch cushions can be enough to make me wallow in a "woe is me" kind of pity party.  "Poor me.  I'll never have nice things. If I do, they'll just ruin them!"

In that moment when your daughter first rolls her eyes at you and you realize you are now raising a pre-teen girl and it's not all going to be sunshine and roses, it's easy to forget the blessing that children are.  It's easier to remember the mess of hormones that come with growing up and all the mess that entails.  And the funk.  Oh, the funk.  The funky attitudes and the funky smells are enough to make this mother question her own sanity.

It's easy to forget when I'm tired, hungry, stressed, and/or single-parenting because my hard working husband is on the night shift.

But it's easy to remember when the little man looks up at you and says in his sweetest voice, with his cutest face, "Hold me, Mom."  When Tigger wraps his arms around you and cries into your shoulder and says that he's sorry and he just wants his mommy to hold him for a minute, then you remember.  When your not-so-little girl willingly shares a secret with you, trusting you to keep her confidence, you know why you do this parenting thing every day. When your growing-up-way-too-fast tween looks at you and out of the blue says, "I just love you so much, Mom," you wonder how you ever thought furniture was important.  In those moments, you remember.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Review: The Usborne Book of World History

The Usborne Book of World History by Anne Millard, 2008 edition

I bought this book for the 2011-12 school year based on the recommendation from Sonlight.  Sonlight uses it as part of their Core B+C curriculum.  They pair this book with Hillyer's A Child's History of the WorldGeography Songs and the Bible.  I use it with my first and third graders.

The history aspect of Sonlight's Core B+C is focused on ancient civilizations, starting with the earliest settlers in Mesopotamia to the late twentieth century, roughly ending around the Vietnam War.  This book in particular chronicles life on the planet through about 1914, or right before World War I.

Each pair of pages in this book are a "chapter" about a certain time period and place in history.  There are no photographs (for obvious reasons!) but there are detailed, colorful drawings that depict the people and places well.  A warning for the easily offended; there is a LOT of nudity depicted in this book.  In accurately trying to depict the cultures of ancient people, the authors did not put clothes on people who probably did not wear them.  There are well over two dozen pictures of naked folks.  This doesn't bother me or my kids, but if it does you or yours, this is NOT the book for you.

There are also many violent scenes. Pictures show a gladiator fighting a bear, Christians being thrown to the lions, and soldiers with spears through their chests.  This visual history is not for the faint of heart.  They don't shy away from mentioning human sacrifices, executions (Mary, Queen of Scots is shown with an executioner about to chop off her head with an axe), or the horrors of war (there is no mention of sexual slavery or rape).

That said, this is a very interesting and well done book.  While this would not be a good stand-alone history text, the information given is excellent but brief.  They cover Joan of Arc in less than 40 words and a picture of her burning at the stake.  Obviously, there is more to her story, but this is a good introduction.  That's basically the truth of the entire book: It shouldn't be your only history text, but it is certainly a great supplement to one.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Packing for Camp

This year was my oldest son's first year to go to Boy Scout camp.  He was gone for an entire week and had the time of his life!  Over the next seven years, as he progresses through ranks and eventually becomes an Eagle Scout, I have no doubt that we will learn a thousand useful things from this organization. For now, though, I just want to share the one that has been the most useful for me, the mom, so far.

Packing for camp.  The BSA guys have this down really well.  Here's what I've learned from them along with a few tricks I've picked up on my own.

1. Forget the suitcase.  Pack in a hard plastic tote with a snap-on lid.  It's waterproof, stackable and will keep bugs out.  If you get a clear one, you can easily see through it and know what is inside.  Be sure to get one that is thick enough to stand up to camp use.  Thin, brittle plastic will do you no good.   A tote is especially helpful if you are tent camping and have a greater chance of rain or wildlife getting into your stuff.

If you will be using traditional bedding, you can include your sheets and blankets in the tote as well. For church camp, we were even able to fit my son's pillow in the tote, reducing his entire week's luggage to one container. If you have bulky bedding (like a sleeping bag) and can't fit it all in the tote, stick everything in a large trash bag.  This keeps sleeping bags and pillows together and makes it easier when transporting them.

2. Gallon size Ziplock baggies are the perfect size for packing each day's worth of clothing.  As he gets older and bigger, we may have to rethink this, but for now, we can fit a pair of shorts, shirt, underwear and socks all in one baggie.  As a mom, this is beneficial for many reasons.  First off, I can rest easy knowing that his clothes for each day go together.  I wouldn't want him tramping through the woods in a mismatched outfit.  :) Even better, this keeps the clean laundry separated from the dirty stuff.  If the clothes are still folded in the baggie when he gets home, I know they need to go back to the closet.  The rest gets dumped in the washer as soon as he walks through the door.

Toiletries get put in the baggies as well. Soap, shampoo, deodorant, along with a washcloth, toothpaste and a toothbrush are all packed together in a single bag.  Now, whether or not my tween boy ever gets them out while he's away from home is entirely out of my hands.  But at least I know they are all packed together, readily available if he does decide to use them. Please son, use them.  For the sake of those of us who have to ride home with you at the end of the week, please use them!

3. Include an empty trash bag for the dirty clothes.  If you can get all of the smelly, wet, and crusty stuff to stay in one place, you'll be better off.  Don't even look at it.  Just dump the entire thing in the washing machine with an extra bit of Oxy Clean.

4. Use a day bag.  It can be a simple messenger style bag or a large backpack or whatever is best for the type of camp your child is attending.  In it, pack useful things your kid may need to have close at hand; a flashlight, a journal, a pen, a Bible, bug spray* and sunblock.* (*Be sure to put these in a Ziplock as well.  No one wants their bug spray all over their pack.)  You can either have your child carry this to camp with him or put it in the top of the tote.

5. Pack a water bottle, even if it's not on the list.  If you can find one that snaps or hooks to the day pack, that's a bonus.  Dehydration is killer at summer camp. Be sure your child knows that WATER is what he needs to be drinking, NOT soda pop.  My kids have been to three different camps this summer.  Each place had its own rules on food and drink and some were more lenient than others about what I would consider healthy habits.  I made sure to stress the importance of proper hydration at each place, and to make sure my kids were having water at each meal (and in between).

6. Write your kid's name on everything!  Every towel, shoe and piece of clothing that you want to return to your home should be labeled. Things at camp tend to get thrown on the floor, left at the pool, and thrown under the bed.  If that random t-shirt someone pulls out of the corner has your kids' name on the tag, you'll probably get it back.  If not, well, probably not. If it's something you really, really don't want to lose, like a ball glove, musical instrument or expensive eyeglasses, put your phone number on it as well.  (On a side note, we've had more than one ball glove returned to us after someone found it, saw our name and number on it and called.  It's worth the twenty seconds it takes to write it on there, I promise.)

7. If you have to send medication OF ANY KIND with your kids, be sure to hand it directly to the adult responsible for it.  Don't just assume that your kid will remember to turn it in to the camp nurse once they get there. Having taken 22 kids to camp this summer, I can assure you that they will probably forget.  If it's a prescription, send it in the original container that has dosing directions included.  For OTC stuff, use a Sharpie and write your child's name and dosage directly on the bottle.

8. If camp will include water of any kind, you might want to include a simple drying rack.  I picked up a couple of these at Dollar General last year. I think they were around $1 each.  As a counselor at kids' church camp, I hung them in our shared bathroom and encouraged all of the girls to hang their wet swimsuits on them.  This kept the water out of their bunks and in one place.  Before bed each night I wrung out the suits and they were mostly dry before we had to put them back on the next day.

Veteran campers and packers, what have I missed?  How do YOU pack for summer camp?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Unsolicited Advice For Beginning to Homeschool

So, you're thinking about homeschooling?  Awesome.  I'm always up for adding more families to the homeschool community.  Here, in the order that they came into my head, are a few things I think you need to know before you start.

1. Your house is going to be a mess (almost always).  

Seriously.  Unless you are one of those crazy, organized, super moms like my sister, if your house is filled with little people all day, every day, it's not going to stay clean.

Books will be found on every conceivable surface of your home.  Under the couch? Yep. In the fridge? Had that happen once.  In the bathroom?  Duh.  Stacked on end tables and on the kitchen counter? Of course.

Art projects will dominate entire rooms of your house for weeks at a time.  Toys will take over your living room floor.  Laundry will go undone and you will wonder if you will ever see the kitchen sink without dishes in it.

People are messy.  Accept it.  Some people might tell you to just let the housekeeping go while the kids are little and learning at home.  And while that is fine in theory, it is impossibly hard for most people to accept.  My advice?  Let some of it go. Decide what you can live with and what you can't live without and go from there.  If you absolutely must have a clean kitchen before you can work, then clean your kitchen.  If not, let it go.

2. You will hate it (sometimes).

There are days when I would love nothing more than to walk a child the six blocks to our local elementary school and enroll his little butt into the public education system.  These days are usually the days when I'm already tired, hungry or hormonally imbalanced.  Or days when the kids are tired, hungry or in the mood to test boundaries.  Admittedly, those days are fewer and further between now than they were at the beginning of our journey, five years ago.

Now that I'm a little more veteran in this, I have figured out how to cope on those days.  Coping looks like a lot of things in our house.  Sometimes it looks a lot like a nap and other times it looks like a trip to the pool.  It can also look like housecleaning (see #1) or shooting my kids with the sprayer from the kitchen sink.

3. You need to figure out what your homeschooling philosophy is.  

Research.  Learn about unschooling, classical education, co-ops, spirals, and all the other buzz words.  Decide which one best fits with your family.  Try it.  But there's one really, really important thing you need to keep in mind.  Are you ready for it?  Here goes: Be prepared to change 100% of your plan.  Really.  You might think you want to unschool in the beginning and realize six months in that you can't stand giving your kids that much freedom.  Or try a structured co-op and realize that you can't stand being that controlled by someone else.  And you know what?  That's okay. You're not locked in.  You don't even have to wait until next year to change.  You can do what works for your family, even if it's not what you thought it was four months, six weeks or two days ago.  Which leads me to the next point . . .

4. Don't go crazy when the latest curriculum catalog comes in the mail.  

You really don't need all of that stuff to teach well.  Especially when your kiddos are small.  With a few exceptions, most people could teach through elementary school with a library card, a computer, a printer, some paper and pencils.  For my now seven year old, we use a ton of stuff from the library, homemade flashcards, an old abacus, workbooks from Dollar General and a copy of "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" that I got on for less than $8.  That's it.  The math workbooks were under $10 total.

My older kids have math texts (we use Saxon) that we are actually able to share with another homeschooling family who has a child a year ahead of my oldest.  Our kids are currently in 7th, 6th, 5th, and 4th grade math texts. We bought the 4th grade book, but have been abundantly blessed to be able to borrow their books for the other years.

Over the years I've bought some other things but generally speaking, I don't think things have been that much better in the years we spent more money.

5. People will question your decision.  You need a plan dealing with this.

It may seem silly, but you will be amazed at how many people will weigh in on your decision to educate your kids at home. I've been asked by Wal-Mart checkers, dental hygienists, my 80+ year old neighbor, public school teachers who understand, public school teachers who don't know me and think I must hate them and the system they represent, waitresses, complete strangers in the grocery store and more about why we homeschool.  Overall, the experience has been positive.  Most people seem okay with the idea for my family but almost all of them feel compelled to tell me why they personally couldn't do it.

I say you need a plan because, well, you do.  It can be difficult to come up with compelling sounding reasons on the spur of the moment, especially if you have just spent the last two hours grocery shopping with four kids in tow, are hungry and have to pee. Knowing ahead of time how you will respond is helpful.  I used to give lengthy dissertations on the benefits of homeschooling to anyone who would ask.  Now, I mostly just say, "Yep.  We do homeschool." And might add in the occasional, "It doesn't work for everybody, but for now it's working really well for us."  That, and I let my kids speak for themselves.  They all love homeschooling and can give their own dissertations on why it's the best way for them to learn.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Weary Moms

This NLT says it this way,

Without oxen a stable stays clean,
    but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.

Hold on to this verse, dear mommas.  When you look around all you see is the horrible mess of the "stalls" in your life.  Those little mess makers are the power behind your abundant harvest.

This picture is of my actual laundry pile . . . errrr . . . part of it, anyway.  There was more than would even fit in the frame, so I cropped it a little.  The laundry "stall" is almost always overflowing.  With three little boys, the bathroom "stall" doesn't always smell so good.  The kitchen sink "stall" is a mess, and you certainly wouldn't want to eat off my floors.

But these "oxen" that we're raising, there is power in them.  They are world changers.  By the grace of God, we will raise them to be strong and we will see the abundance of the large harvest.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Being in my Life

This has been said by just about everyone under the sun.  I know that.  And yet I'm going to say it again.  If you want to be in my life, please be IN it.  Please be with me when we are together.  Here's how I think you should do this.

1. Put down your phone.  Better yet, leave it at home or in the car.  At the least, leave it in your purse or your pocket when we're having a conversation.

If you have a loved one in the hospital or you left your kids at home without an adult, you may need to take a call.  It's one thing if you are waiting for lab results or your deployed family member who only gets to call a few times a month.  I'll happily wait while you take that call.  Just tell me up-front, before you answer, that you need to take it.

I can't tell you the number of times lately that I've *tried* to have conversations with people who were constantly texting or checking Facebook while I was trying to talk to them.  It's rude.  It's disrespectful.  It tells me that I am not as important as whoever or whatever you are looking at on your phone.  It's all too quickly becoming the norm.

I've been guilty of this.  More than once.  I'm sorry for that.  If I've disrespected you in this way, I'm asking for your forgiveness right now.  I'm also asking for you to call me on it if I do it again.  Seriously.  If we're in conversation and I whip out my phone while we're talking, please ask me to put my phone away.

That's it.  There is no number two in this week's advice.  Number one really sums it up.  If you want to be in my life, be in it.  Put down your phone and let me know I'm more important that whatever is on that screen.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Your Wedding Registry - Kitchen Edition

This time, the advice is not totally unsolicited.  My dearest Kate, who was once one of my fifth grade students, is now a real grown up and is getting married soon!  She asked her Facebook friends advice on what to include and not to include on her registry.  Always a bastion of wisdom, I chimed in and decided to expand on it here.

Gift registries have come a long way over the years. They used to be paper pencil things you could fill out only at your local businesses.  Now they are electronic, world wide accessible and way more fun to fill out.

But somethings are the same.  If  you're getting married today, you're probably going to get towels, dishes and sheets, just like your momma and her momma before you.  Here's what else I think you should ask for.

Today I'm going to focus on things you will want for your kitchen:  Don't register for most of this stuff at Wal-Mart or Target or JC Penney.  Find a consultant and get Pampered Chef.  Their products will be so much better and you will use them forever.  A lot of it even comes with a lifetime warranty.  They do wedding showers and registries and what-not.  It's worth the effort!

 Specifically, get these:
  • Forged cutlery.  If you spend any time in the kitchen at all, you will need a good knife set.  I highly recommend the chef's knife, butcher knife and small paring knife.  I use them almost every day.
  • Stoneware.  Get the covered baker and a pizza stone.  If you plan to have a large family, get two.  They're so worth having.  Everything tastes better when cooked on a stone. 
  • Salad spinner.  I don't have one of these, but I wish I did.  My mom has one that I've used many times and it makes washing fruits and veggies a breeze.  It's a great way to let the kids help with meal prep, too.  
  • Can opener.  Get the one that actually breaks the seal rather than cuts the edges.  So much safer than having sharp metal in the kitchen.
  • Cutting boards.  Get a couple of sizes.  The mini ones are great for quick snacks and the larger ones for bigger meals.
  • Kitchen shears.  Get a pair.  Use them for cutting up chickens.  They are awesome.
  • Garlic Press.  Connie Seibel turned me onto these many years ago, when we were neighbors in Gridley.  I have used mine almost non-stop since then.  Garlic has about a million and one healthy qualities, so go ahead and stick it in everything.  Makes stuff yummy, too.
  • Mix-and-chop.  It's a funny, kind of star shaped utensil that makes chopping up ground beef, onions, etc such a breeze.  You want one of these.  Trust me on this.
Here are a few other, non-PC things you should have in your kitchen.
  • A Ninja.  No, not a Jackie Chan movie extra; a blender/food processor combo.  It's so fantastic, I cannot begin to tell  you how much I love this thing.  It's as awesome at chopping onions as it is at making smoothies.  Get one.  You'll thank me later.
  • Pyrex bowls and dishes with lids.  You're going to want a couple of these.  Glass is so much better than plastic.  You can freeze it, microwave it, and eat right out of it.  Be sure to get the ones with lids.  Lids are so much better than covering something with plastic wrap.  When you can, get the lids that snap on.  They are awesome!  We use these in my husband's lunch box almost every day.
  • A crockpot big enough to cook an entire roast or 10 pounds of ground beef.  This can be your best friend in the kitchen, especially if you work outside the home and when you have little kids to take care of.  
  • I love, love, love my Zyliss brand ice cream scoop.  It's the one thing I have that I love this brand more than the Pampered Chef equivalent.  It's that good. 
I will probably have more unsolicited advice for you on the rest of your list soon.  Be looking for it!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Homeschooling Little Ones

Over and over and over again I see and hear loving, caring, hard-working mommas who are contemplating homeschooling their preschool and kindergarten kiddos ask the same question; "What curriculum should I use?"

My answer is very simple:  "None.  You do not need to buy an expensive big box curriculum for a child that age."

Give me a minute before you think I'm advocating the impossible and I'll expand on some things I think you should do instead.

1. Read to your child.  Follow the words with your finger while you read aloud and help your son learn that English tracks from left to right.  Ask natural questions as you read.  Have your child predict what will happen next.  Count the number of dogs on the page.  Ask which has more, what color the balloons are, or what time of day it is in the story.  Little ones love this and these are the prereading skills they need.  An expensive curriculum won't likely give you much in this regard that you couldn't figure out all by yourself but they will charge you an arm and a leg.

2. Go places.  Go to the library, the grocery, the zoo, the park, the museum, the firehouse, city hall, the aquarium, and to church.  While you're there, talk about what you see and what you're doing.  Even if you think your kids are too young to understand, with time and repetition, they will pick up on so much more than you can imagine.

When you're at the grocery, explain to your daughters and sons that you are picking cereal based on what is on sale and the nutritional content.  Let them see the difference in price between red delicious and Fuji apples.  Let them help you put the produce on the scale and learn to read it.  At the checkout, explain the difference between paying with a debit card, credit card, check and cash.  Explain why you choose to pay the way you do.  It doesn't need to be a formal lesson or one that takes very long.  A few sentences here and there add up!

My kids have all been to the voting booth with me more than once.  They know how the process works and why it is important to me.  Hopefully, by the time they are 18, going to the poll will be such a natural thing for them to do that they won't miss a single chance to have their say in the world.

3. Use what you've got and what's around you.  Point out letters and numbers you find in your home and around town.  In the car, have the kids look outside for the letters in their names or the alphabet.  At home, have them search through magazines for letters.  Cut them out and make an alphabet book or wall with construction paper and glue.  Make or buy some simple and inexpensive letter flash cards if you must.

Sing the alphabet and count as part of your bedtime or bath time or whatever time routines.  Make it a natural part of the day, not "school time."  Learning can take place 24/7, so don't relegate it to 8-3.

4. Let kids be kids.  There is much knowledge to be gained in free play. This is something any preschool or kindergarten teacher worth listening to would tell you.  They would probably also tell you that they are getting more and more pressure to leave this out in lieu of formal learning.  They probably hate that.

5.  I'm a big believer in the "better late than early" philosophy.  I had a friend once explain it to me this way: It is possible for a farmer to work his field in the cold, snowy, frozen ground of January.  It can be done, but at a great cost in time and resources for the farmer.  The ground itself does not necessary benefit from this either.  However, if a farmer waits until Spring and works his ground when it is ready, it is a much, much easier process for both the farmer and the field.   The same is true about our kids.  If we force them to begin formal schooling before they are ready, the process is long and hard and often kills the natural love of learning the child once had.  If however, we wait until the child himself shows some signs of wanting to begin, it all goes so much more smoothly.

I have four kids and they have all learned to read at different ages.  At age 5, my oldest wasn't ready for kindergarten.  He didn't show the least bit of interest in learning to read.  At age 6, we started our formal homeschooling and he still wasn't ready then.  I didn't understand all that I do know and I probably pushed him too hard that first year.   At age 7, when he decided he wanted to be a reader, he became one.

My daughter read early.  She listened to me teach her brother that first year and when I started with her the next, she really had very little to learn.  She had picked it up from listening to me work with her older brother and basically taught herself to read at age 5.  She has been a voracious reader since.

Tigger is almost 7 and still learning to read.  At age 5, he had zero interest so we didn't do much.  This year, he started taking an interest and we have used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons along with sight word cards to teach him.  Once he saw the value in reading, he started wanting to do it, with less fuss when I told him to get his book out.

My youngest just turned four and we have done zero formal schooling with him.  He watches a lot of Leap Frog videos (The Letter Factory is our favorite!) and has a Letter Factory toy of his own.  He sits with Tigger and me when we do our reading lessons and he's learning.  A few weeks ago my dad handed him a pen and told him to write his name. He did. All by himself with not one single writing lesson. You will be surprised at how much your kids will pick up just by living.

Seasoned homeschoolers, would you agree or are you big fans of the big box curriculum?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off to the Vet

So, the other day I decided that I needed to take my dog to the vet to get his shots.  They were, after all, due in December.  It was February 28 and I thought I would bite the bullet and take him in.  Why the delay, you ask?

Well, you see . . . Flash has this thing about getting in the car.  Once upon a time he used to like it but now that I won't let him sit in the front seat and hang his head out the window it's a different story.  Don't think I'm awful, but when he was a puppy he jumped out of my arms and out the window of our moving car.  Since then, I've never trusted him to be smart enough not to fall out and I just don't think I could handle it if I ran him over.  So I don't let him hang out the car window.  And he hates that.

So....Friday we have an appointment with the vet.  It's just short of a 20 minute drive.  And the dog howls the entire time.  I am not even exaggerating.  The. entire. time.  Even better, my four year old decided to "sing along," so we got the full stereo effect.  Big E and I could not stop laughing.

My daughter, however, who had her ears closest to the canine symphony, was less than impressed, as you can see by the photographic evidence I captured that day.

As horrible as this excursion was, this still wasn't as bad as when we had to take him in last summer.  He'd slipped a disc in his back and I thought he was dying.  He wouldn't move and the howling started at home.  I hauled his 50 plus pound beagle butt into the van and he continued to serenade us with the music of his people as I pulled out of the driveway.  Lucky us, there was summertime road construction on the highway and no way to evade it.  Even luckier, we managed to be first in line for the wait for the pilot car.  Yep.  We had to sit, looking at the highway worker holding the stop sign, for 15 entire minutes.  Like that's not awkward enough without Flash baying like he's on the scent of the world's largest rabbit.  The poor guy didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Honestly, neither did I.  About ten minutes in, or maybe it was only two, either way, it felt like we had been sitting there for hours, I let my then nine year old son walk the dog along the side of the highway in a construction zone.  Because, you know, at the time it seemed safer than leaving me in the car with that insane beagle.

Like my sister says, "that dog is a mess."  And oh, my goodness, he is.  He is a mess.  A giant food stealing, stinky eared, gets up on the furniture when he's not supposed to and drives my mother crazy mess. But he's almost 14 years old and I think his days are numbered.  He's totally deaf and mostly blind already.  But he still follows me from room to room and sits at my feet.  He whimpers until I pet him and if he gets out, I'm worried out of my mind until he comes home.  He's my dog and even though I hate to admit it, I love the smelly, bratty beast that he is.

One day, long from now, my kids will recall their childhoods and tell my grandchildren of that crazy mess of a dog that howled the entire way to the vet.  Every. single. time.  And they will laugh and they will smile and they will know that they share something that only their mother and their siblings can fully understand.  And they'll laugh again and tell their children that "Flash was a good dog. . ." most of the time.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My Miscarriage Story

A while back a blog post was circulating on Facebook.  It's an incredibly personal story that challenges pro-life people to reevaluate the way they handle women (and men) who experience loss through miscarriage differently than they do the loss of life from an abortion.  It's worth the read.  In fact, go read it now, then come back and read the rest of this post.  

I didn't click the link the first couple of times I saw this because I didn't think it would apply to me.  I am pro-life and I've had a miscarriage but I didn't know the direction the author was going to take with this post.  I just thought...I don't know what I thought, really, but I didn't feel compelled to read it.  And then today, I did.  And whoa.  I should have better prepared myself for the mental onslaught that ensued.  

After reading this blog from Mrs. Lewis, I sat in front of my computer just bawling my eyes out, filled with the pain of my own experience with miscarriage. 

Just a few days after Christmas 2008, we lost a baby, or at least the hope of a baby.  The doctor told me that I probably wasn't really pregnant, but body thought I was...there's some medical term for that happening that I don't remember. I've never known how to deal with that part of my experience. I was 12 weeks along. 

Because of some incredibly serious complications, I ended up in the ICU and nearly died. The single scariest moment of my life was when my heart rate dropped down into the 30-50 range for the fourth time in an hour and I knew I was going to have another seizure.  I remember looking at my husband and telling him to make sure the kids (we had three under age six at the time) knew that their mom had loved them.  I meant it and I really didn't think that I would get the chance to tell them myself. By the grace of God and the skills of the correct doctor that was finally called in, within a few very long days, I was able to come home and hold my babies in my own arms, to whisper my love to them in my own voice.

My parents were there.  My in-laws and my sister rushed to see me.  People from my church came.  In the days and weeks that followed, they brought us more food than we could even eat.  They loved on us and did all that they knew to do to make life easier for me as I recovered from a horrific ordeal.  They were amazing and wonderful and a blessing that I still treasure today.  So very many people prayed for me during that time and so many worked to meet our physical needs that I’m sure I don’t even know them all.  I have rarely felt so much love as I did during the weeks after my hospital stay.

People were taking care of and praying for ME, my 30 something self, but really most people barely acknowledged that we had lost a baby, a life, a person. There was one nurse in Topeka that I remember.  I was in over the New Year and the hospital was packed.  I'd been moved from the ICU to the PCU and she hadn't yet had time to read my chart.  When she asked me why I was there, I told her. She immediately stopped what she was doing and said, "I am so sorry.  Do you need anything?  Do you want me to get someone for you to talk to?"  She was the first and the last of the medical staff to do so.  That was my second day there.  No one else there spoke of the baby or my loss again.  The emotional aspects of the miscarriage didn't matter at all.  The only thing that mattered was my current physical condition.  And I understand why.  It was bad.  It was "I almost died" bad.  As horrible as that was, someone else did die.  Not just almost, but totally, even before drawing a first breath.  My baby died that day.

I had a dear friend who came to the hospital and brought with her a small statuette of an angel holding a baby. On the bottom she wrote, “Baby Crutchfield 2008.” 

At the time, I didn’t know what to do with it or how to respond.  I don’t remember what I did when she gave it to me.  But in the five years that have passed since then, I have more than once sat crying, holding that small figurine. It's the only tangible link I have to tie that pregnancy to the rest of my world.  Had I seen it in a store or at someone’s home, I wouldn’t have looked twice.  It isn’t the kind of thing I normally would go for but because of the circumstances surrounding my receiving it, it has become one of my most valued treasures.

There were others who acknowledged the loss, I'm sure, but I just don't remember. I was exhausted, not just physically but emotionally.  Overall, the extreme nature of my own medical problems allowed us to practically bypass the loss of our baby.

Even my husband and I grieved separately; alone. It was too hard to talk about and it was so busy, with three kids who were so little and me just trying to recover, that even I blocked out the thing that had landed me in the hospital to begin with. No one else talked about it, so I didn't either. If they tried, I just told them that I was fine and let myself believe that it was true.  I simply didn’t think about the baby we had lost. 

But every once in a while, when I read something like the story on The Lewis Note blog or hear someone's story of loss, it brings all of those suppressed feelings to the surface. And I sit and mourn the loss of a child I never held in my arms; a child whose face I never saw, a child to whom I never gave a name because that would have been too weird.

I never know how to count my children. Is my baby boy my fourth or fifth child?  When I talk about being pregnant, I know I was pregnant 5 times, but is it worth explaining to complete stranger or a new acquaintance why I only have four kids with me at the park? Is it horrible for me not to acknowledge that precious life that once dwelled in my womb simply because it is easier than explaining my loss? 

Adding another layer to those feelings is the fact that I honestly don't even know if my baby actually existed. The doctor told me that my body lied to itself and tricked me into thinking I was pregnant when I wasn’t.  This has always been a struggle for me to accept.  I don’t know if it is true. I know that I lost a lot of blood and tissue before I went to the hospital and that I was too afraid to look at it for fear of the worst.  I know that I felt sorry for the sonogram tech working the ER that cold December morning.  She didn’t want to tell me there was no baby but we both knew what we weren’t seeing on the screen.  I do know that the HOPE of that child was once very much ALIVE. And I know that the pain of losing that child, even if it was only the hope of a life, is real and long lasting.

Tonight as I watch my living children, I am reminded that if our miscarried baby had survived, our youngest child would not have been born.  He was conceived three months after our loss, over three months before our other baby would have been born.  There is no way that they could both exist.  But here he is, giggling with his big brothers, dancing with his big sister, snuggling with me in my chair and wrestling with his daddy.  He is here and he is loved.  No, he doesn’t make up for the child we lost and I don’t think of him as a replacement child.  He is an extra special blessing all his own.

As I write this, I know that there are hundreds, thousands of women who have felt the loss that I have.  Some of them once, some twice and some more times than I could probably handle.  To those women, I say this. I am so sorry, Sister.  I am sorry that you are going through this.  It is hard and it is painful and it is not, no matter what people tell you, God’s will.  He does not hate you nor is He punishing you.  The wages of sin is death.  Because of the sins of humans, death became a part of our world. We can’t change that.  But we can know that there is hope in Jesus.  I know that I will one day rest in His arms and if there was a life growing inside me, he will introduce us.  On that day, I will hold my unborn child close and whisper to him or her, “Momma loves you.  Momma has always loved you.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Unsolicited Advice: Books You Should Read

There are a lot of really great books out there.  So, so many things that are worth reading.  In my opinion, here is a list of fiction that is MOST worth reading.  These are my favorite books, in no particular order, except the first one.  It's my all time favorite book.  Everyone should read it at least twice.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I first read this while staying with my Aunt Jean for a few days in the summer.  It was the shortest of the classics on her shelf and the only one I thought I could finish in the allotted time.  I think I was in the eighth grade.  I stayed up all night reading and cried more than once.  I reread it in high school English class and again in college.  I've picked it up a few more times since then and it never fails to move something inside of me.  The old black and white movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is very much worth seeing.  (*I wanted to name one of our boys Atticus, but Vance vetoed it every time.)

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Vance recommended this to me when I was in college.  I remember that I literally laughed out loud and cried like a baby within a few pages.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My first introduction to the Enderverse was this book on CD.  I happened to pick it up at the library when I was looking for books to keep me entertained on my hour and a half commute.  I'm pretty sure I drove around extra and sat in the garage with the car off just to hear a few more minutes.  OSC had me from the first few lines.  There are about a million sequels, some of which I love and others that I couldn't make myself finish.  The best of them are the Shadow books, which are about Bean and Petra.

4. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Just fabulous.  A great read aloud for kids.  When you finish it, you should go ahead and read The Lord of the Rings.   Entire fandoms have been created around these great works.  Read them and find out why.  And no matter how great the movies are (and they really are amazing!) the books are better.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis (all of them)
These are also great read alouds.  They make for great discussion of sacrifice and the love Christ has for his people.

6. Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck
This one will make you laugh until you cry. I read it with fourth and fifth graders and my own kids when they were 8 and 10.  Grandma's antics will leave you with a stitch in your side from laughing so hard. Bonus, it gives kids an idea of what life was like during the Great Depression.

7. Charlotte's Web by EB White
It's a classic.  Kids love it.

8. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Ms. Ritter read this to my class in fifth grade.  I bawled like a baby.  So did all the other girls.  The boys tried to be tough, but I remember seeing many of them wiping their eyes as well.  The love story between the boy and his dogs and his family is well worth reading.

9. You Are Special by Max Lucado
Every kid should know that he is loved by his maker and that alone is enough to make him special.  We love this book so much that we named our oldest son after the woodcarver in it.

10.  Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
If you want to know just how much God would do to prove his love for his people, read this book.  There's a good chance that it will change your life.

11. The Mark of the Lion Series by Francine Rivers
My mom introduced me to these books.  Reading them was the first time I was able to really picture what the world looked like around the time of Christ.  The courage of the central characters makes this more than a romance, but an epic tale of adventure.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reasons We Love Homeschooling #1-9

There are a lot of reasons we love to homeschool.  A lot.  For this post, I even asked the kids and they were happy to share what they think are the best things about being educated at home. Some of our reasons are totally obvious but some of them may surprise you.  In no particular order, here are a few of our favorites.  

*Please know that I am in no way implying that families who don't homeschool cannot do some of these same things or that they must have horrible relationships with one another.  I do not think that for even one minute.  These are just some of the benefits that I see in our home, with our family.  

1. On days when we're just really sleepy or don't feel well, we get to sleep in.  There are no tardy slips to fill out.  We sleep until we're not tired and then we do our work when we're rested.  That may mean sleeping in until 10:00 or taking a nap at 2:00.  It also might mean doing school at 6:00 PM.

2. On a related note, we don't have to get up and out of the house in a presentable fashion by 8:00 AM.  In fact, most of the time, we're still in bed then.  And as you can see here, clothing is totally optional during school time. (Apparently, so is cleaning the carpet.  Eh, a girl can only do so much in a day.)

This means we get to stay up later, too.  Because of that, the kids get more time in with their daddy, who doesn't usually get home from work until around 5:30. If they go to bed at 10:00, they have the chance to get some time in with him that they would miss if they went to bed at 8:30.

3. EZ - "I get lots of breaks."

4. Truly differentiated instruction. If you're not in education, just know that it means this: Each kid gets to learn at his own level and own pace.  Or as my oldest said when I asked him what his favorite parts of homeschooling are, "I get to learn what I'm ready for."

5. Reading lessons = snuggle time.

6. Our kids like each other.  I mean, really, really like each other.  At this point, if my "school aged" kids left the house during the day, it would just be AJ at home.  He doesn't even want to think about how bored he would be with just Momma around to entertain him all day.  

Right now, they even like spending time with their parents!  All three of my big kids gave more family time as one of their top reasons they like homeschooling.

EZ - "I get to stay home with my family!"

Big E - "I get to see my family every day."

Baby Girl - "I get to see my family."

7. On snow days, we can ditch the books and go outside or stay warm and not get behind. Either way, we don't have to make up a day over spring break or in the summer!

8. Big E - "That it's AWESOME!" I would say that's a pretty great endorsement coming from a ten-year-old boy!

9. We get to take more field trips.  Once a month we take a class at the zoo.  We've been to museums, government buildings, planetariums, and nursing homes.  We don't go just once a year.  We go whenever there is an event we want to attend.  We also get to go places during the week and avoid the weekend crowds.  Recently we celebrated a birthday at Chuck-E-Cheese on a Friday afternoon.  There were less than two dozen people there.  So, so much better than fighting the crowd on a Saturday.

Big E - "I get to go places with my homeschool friends that I wouldn't get to go to otherwise." 

Baby Girl - "We get to go on field trips more often, like once a month.  I don't think we would do that as often in public school."

There are lots of other things we love about being able to educate our kids at home.  We'll try to share more of those with you soon.  For now, if you're a homeschooler, what do you love about it?  If you're not, what do you think you would love?