January 31, 2010

School days

Here are a few random pictures of the first grade, pre-K, and nursery school classes at the esteemed Himstedt Preparatory School, taken last week.

Sometimes Amelia likes to do math with her favorite blanket. I guess it helps the brain work more efficiently. Perhaps I should choose a favorite blanket and carry it with me wherever I go.

We passed the 100th day of school a little while back, and are on the downward slope toward summer. Amelia just finished her math book for the year, the second book from a wonderful company called Math-U-See. She can now add and subtract all single digits, and has memorized her addition math facts. We're still working on getting the subtraction ones down cold, but she's at least at a point with them where she can figure them all out by adding up. We'll spend the rest of this school year practicing addition and subtraction and playing math games. Math is NOT my forte, and never has been. I've always known where it all went awry for me (first grade), and just the other day in the basement I found my PERMANENT RECORD from first grade with a teacher's evaluation of my progress to prove it. "Does not grasp basics in mathematics. Has no understanding of the number line." I fell through so many cracks early on that I finally got to where I could hide my struggle, squeak by mostly with C's, and attempt to make math go away altogether once I was through school. Then I started home schooling, so here it is again! I've been very pleased with my progress in first grade math, and have (truthfully, honestly, and sadly) learned a great deal. I'm even looking forward to second grade math. :) Oh yeah, and I'm really proud of Amelia too. She struggles with paying attention to her math work and finishing it in a timely manner, mostly because she seems to be wired like me. WAY more to the reading/writing/language side of the spectrum, stuff she does with no problem.

Shannon is officially pre-K age though with an October birthay he's been five for four months already. He and I do reading lessons each day, er, most days for about 20 minutes with the book Amelia and I used, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We're now on Lesson 76 and he's doing great. I figured if we could knock reading out of the way before he is officially a kindergartener, then next school year will be a piece of cake for him (and me!). I can also do more with the two of them together if he's already reading.

Shannon doesn't like for me to point at the book to help him keep up with where he is, he'd rather do it himself.

Today's pointer of choice is a tank.

For the second time now I'm getting a front row seat to the process of a child learning to read. (Third time, if you count when I learned to read...which I don't remember, so I guess it doesn't count.) It's amazing! The brain is truly an incredible creation.

This particular day Amelia decided it would be fun to do math in Elizabeth's seat.

She's a bit oversized for it these days.

Though it started out as her seat just six short years ago.

I love this one from her first birthday. All of the siblings who've been through this seat liked to hook their toes under the rim of the tray. Not a chance of that happening now!

These are just for fun.

She made some great faces.

Here's the prodigy. Here you can see her working on her second novel in a historical fiction series about the Civil War.

Her writing is a little messy and scribble scrabbly, so maybe that's not what she's working on. It's hard to be sure.

Please excuse the ridiculous hair, she kept taking her hair bows out and throwing them into forsaken areas of the Himstedt home, so I grabbed the closest thing I could find. She wore her hair like a fountain for the rest of the morning.

I think I'll try out every color...

And with a final touch of blue...voila!

Elizabeth likes to draw and color while we do school. She also likes to pull out every game and puzzle we own and take out all the little pieces. Pulling out all the coloring books is fun too, as well as getting out the play dough, which she can open herself. It usually looks like a toy and game warzone when I'm finished with school, because she knows I'm not paying close attention to what all she's doing. Fourth children everywhere know that their mamas are always busy doing something, and as long as they're not crying they can do a lot of what they want, JUST SO MOMMY CAN FINISH A TASK! (I used to think I'd never be a mom who would let my little ones play in the Tupperware cabinet because it's so much to clean up. Then I realized it could buy me at least ten more minutes to finish making dinner most nights.)

Before bed the other night Amelia gathered the other kids for "Amelia's storytime." All that hard work teaching her to read has paid off. Look at this.

They all climbed up in the chair with her of their own accord. I love seeing them snuggled up together, and with her taking on the big sister role. One of my prayers for them is that they will grow up close to each other and have terrific relationships as adults.

After finishing Gone With the Wind, War and Peace, and the Bible, Elizabeth picked up some lighter reading for the evening.

The lack of Avery in school photos is because Avery doesn't do school of any kind yet. I realized the other day that he doesn't even know most of his letters. He can sing the ABC's (even the "angry ABC's"), but he doesn't know which one's what. I have a feeling he'll pick up a lot of it before the two years leading up to his official Kindergarten year are over.

It's funny how when folks ask about our life and they learn what we do and how many kids we have, they nearly always automatically ask, "So are you home schooling?" I guess we fit the part somehow. I kid with friends that as soon as I grow my hair out enough for a long ponytail I'm going to make myself a denim jumper for each day of the week, don my white Keds, and go plant that organic garden. We'll probably get some chickens and goats too.

I do get asked if I think I'll keep on with home schooling all the way through. I answer that I don't know yet, right now it's what's right for our family. I feel God led me into it (especially since there was a day I was pretty vehemently against it- before kids arrived), and has given me a heart for teaching our kids. It took me awhile to realize that keeping them home isn't unnatural- sending them away kind of is. Folks question how they'll learn about the real world. I would counter that school isn't anything like the real world, with classrooms full of same-aged folks, walking in lines hither and yon, being taught the same stuff at the same pace regardless of learning style, and working mostly independently without the collaboration of others. We're working to learn about the real world while out in it- at the grocery store, the bank, the post office, and, of course, Walmart. Most importantly we're striving to see it all through a God-shaped perspective.

It has given me a real appreciation for how hard school teachers work. I can't imagine teaching over 20 little folks to read or do math at one time, especially if parents aren't particularly helpful at home. Wow!

Home schooling does take a committment, as it's something that has to be done everyday whether you're in the mood or not, and it takes up a couple of hours each day. I wouldn't trade the time for what I see taking shape though. The Bible says for us to raise our children in the admonition of the Lord. I think it would be hard for me to do a good job with that if they were gone 7-8 hours everyday, giving James and i just five busy hours each evening (if they didn't do other activities) and weekends to hang out with them, talk with them, and influence them. I like that they are spending extended time in their early years with us. In my life I think being in public school created detachment issues between me and my parents. (Well, that and my dad worked a lot of hours.) I either didn't go to them with issues I was having, or rejected some council when it was offered because I knew they weren't in "my life" each day, and wouldn't "get it." I knew school and life were different (and issues were harder in some ways) than they were back in my parents' day, just like the world my kids are growing up in is different (and harder) from what I grew up in.

I also remember in high school thinking it was normal to throw around sexual innuendos and inappropriate banter because everyone did. It was better to come back with a remark of your own rather than look all embarrassed. It was hard to reconcile daily life and church life, where we as youth were reminded that we were supposed to be different.

That's how it was for me, and as much as a mom's heart wants to shield her kids from the world's crap, I don't think that's the right approach either. The crap's there, and always will be, it's up to us as parents to expose them to things as they are mature enough. Keeping them at home while they're young makes that a little easier.

I could outline a REALLY BIG list of things I love about home schooling besides the stuff mentioned above, but I'll spare you. (I could also make a list of some drawbacks!) At the end of it all, I'd love to just be able to say that we have a relationship, our kids and us, and more importantly that they have one with God. I'd say that's every Christian parents' hope.

Well, I've got more pictures and updates to post sometime soon, and hopefully I'll get to it before next year. In the past few weeks it's snowed again, we've been skating, had friends over, and more. Maybe you'll get lucky enough to hear some more of my rambling philosophical outpourings as well!

And...tomorrow...is...my...birthday...whether....I...want...it...to....come....or....not. I'd just as soon not. The day can come, of course, but it can leave off the part where I have to increase the number to 36. Ugh.

Well, I'm off to bed, and to prepare for a day of the kids asking when we're going to go to my party, and being confused that there wasn't one.

So long!

January 30, 2010

It's your birthday

Friday the 29th was James' 36th birthday. Because we are such sophisticated people, we went out BIG TIME. Papa's Pizza here in town sent him a free buffet coupon for his birthday, so we loaded up the young 'uns and off we went! The weather people were threatening us with talk of ice and snow, but that didn't keep us from piling in the vehicle for a birthday celebration, the likes of which have not been seen since, oh, last year on James' birthday.

Looks like we went to a CLOSED restaurant, but only the section with the video games was closed. So we went in there anyway after we ate, of course.

I told James to make sure he didn't complain about not getting to do what he really wanted to do for his birthday. He got to HUNT, and it's not even deer season anymore!

As we were getting in the car Avery said, "I thought we were going to have Daddy's birthday there." Having been a part of only fun activities, neat presents, and lots of sugar at most birthday celebrations in his three years of life experience, I can see how he might have been confused. I had to explain that sorry birthdays are one of the trade offs for gaining the freedom that comes with adulthood.

James and I did enjoy a fun Saturday morning together in honor of his birthday. Alison and Carlton graciously kept the kids so we could enjoy a leisurely breakfast at IHOP and a visit to the new triathalon store in Gainesville. At the restaurant I went ahead and threw some food on the floor, turned over my water, and used every napkin in sight to clean it up, just so things would feel a little more normal. We actually had a very nice time talking and a very big breakfast, both enjoyable.

Next we spent awhile in a new store opened for triathletes or those wishing to become triathletes, or those interested in at least one of the components of a triathalon- swimming, biking, or running. They have some cool equipment that measures how you put pressure on your feet, and a camera that views how you move on the treadmill. That way they can fit you with the right shoes for the job. So for James' birthday, I got a new pair of running shoes. He and I enjoyed hanging out and it was fun seeing what it's all about, even if I am merely a poser. Hopefully I won't be for too long, as I'm going to attempt to build up to actually running on our treadmill here at home. I'm hoping there is some magic in those new shoes that will help.

I thought the kids did a nice job on Daddy's birthday cards. Here's Shannon's:

He had to ask Daddy how to spell "Happy Birthday," but he did write it himself, and drew the E.T. Himstedt family on the front. He's still perfecting his humans.

Here's the inside, which I believe really got to the heart of what James is about. From a little man to a big man. This was his first attempt at drawing a gun, his idea, and I think he did pretty well.

Here's Amelia's, and I thought it was great, especially considering she wrote and spelled everything herself.

And here's the latest photo of me that I had made especially for his birthday:

Ha ha ha ha ha! Hee hee hee hee! Ho ho ho! Hoo boy, that's a good one. Actually this week somebody on Facebook thought it should be "Replace Your Profile Picture With A Famous Person People Have Said You Look Like" week, so this was mine. Jamie Lee Curtis 20+ years ago. In the past people said I reminded them of her. I think it was just the hair back in those days, since at one point I had a very bad version of this hair do. I won't post that picture for your hilarity *here.*

Ever have a weird week where several people in your circle or the circle of someone close to you pass away? Last week was one of those for us. Between family friends and folks at church, five deaths touched us last week. The most notable in our circle was that of Chuck Connor, the founder of Christian Missions Unlimited. This is the missions organization James, I, several of my family members, and no less than fifty from our church have traveled with to Brazil. Chuck's vision was to build churches for Brazilian congregations that needed them, and at the same time provide opportunities for folks to do short-term foreign mission work. Because of him, lives were changed forever in both north and south America. He was a friendly, genuine, and compassionate man, who loved God deeply, and this world is a little dimmer for his loss. James and some guys from church went to his funeral in Montgomery, Alabama Thursday.

Sunday morning we woke up to a winter wonderland. The early service and Sunday School were cancelled but the kids and I went to the late service. James headed off to Greenville, SC for a camp fair.

These pictures don't capture how pretty the ice was on the trees, but you can kind of get the idea.

On the way out the front gate the mountain was so beautiful with thick ice all over the trees and the sun shining through. I was pointing it out to the kids, expounding on how wonderful God's world is and how great it is that He is so creative. The windshield wipers scraped over the dry windshield and Avery interrupted my thoughtful monologue with,"Hey, did you hear that pooting sound? What was that pooting sound?"

It's been a good week for kid quotes.

At lunch one day I was chastising Amelia about burping at the table. She was snickering when I was finished, so I asked her if she needed some help with taking me seriously. She said, "Oh, that's just leftover laughing from something else."

Shannon came downstairs with a giant claw toy Avery got for Christmas, and was holding Amelia's stuffed cat in it. In an ominous voice he said, "Say goodbye to your little friend." Stuff like that cracks me up because I don't know where they get it, since we don't have TV coming into the house. On cue Amelia said very dramatically, "Oh no! Don't drop her into the river!"

I was outside with the kids this week (on the one nice day we had for a change), and Shannon said he wanted to do something with just me. I asked him what we could do, and he paused, looked up in the sky for several seconds, and said, "I know! We could clean together. It would be like a date!" Man, if that doesn't just get straight to the heart of what I really love to do most. Back before Christmas the kids were on a game website and saw an advertisement they had to tell me about. Amelia said, "Mom, there's something you really need on your Christmas list. It's called New Tide Stain Release, and you add it to your regular detergent to lift off the toughest stains. It would really help you." Shannon was beside her, nodding earnestly. I was actually touched that they thought to tell me about it because they thought it would make my life easier.

I was getting Avery out of the car yesterday and he said (out of nowhere), "I just sang the angry ABC's." So of course I asked him how that was done. He clenched his teeth, narrowed his eyes, and sang them in an angry voice. I'm not sure which cracked me up more, the song itself or the randomness of it.

We have a rubber duck in the bathtub that sports a fireman's hat and jacket, and holds a firehose. We've had it forever, but last night during bath time Shannon picked it up and said, "Is this a fire duck?" I said I guessed so, and he said, "It's a fire quacker!"

Elizabeth is learning to communicate very well, and has really taken off with talking this week. She repeats everything, but has a lot of original thoughts as well. She also LOVES to eat. She cleaned her plate one night last week, pointed to the middle of it, and said, "Uh oh, uh oh!" I asked her if she wanted more and she clapped and said, "Yay!" That's how she lets us know when we get the right answer. "Want a bath?" "Yay!" (clap clap). "Want help with your shoes?" "Yay!" (clap clap). It's pretty cute. A few words she says very clearly are "pizza," "milk," and "wanwich" (sandwich). It pays to learn the food words first.

Gotta start a new week in not nearly enough hours for me, so I'm off to bed. I'll be facing the COLD morning first thing at the barn in a jacket with a broken zipper. The old barn jacket finally bit the dust. Or maybe the zipper finally busted because it has consumed so much dust. A bummer anyway, because I am cheap, and spending money on something that will be covered in dirt and spotted with green horse slobber and poo is not easy for me. Anybody got an old (read, "free") jacket they want to donate?

January 24, 2010

Less is more

Here are the last remaining pictures on my camera for the week.

Before I get to them, I'd like to say one of the reasons I'm very proud of my husband. In three short months he's lost 28 pounds! During the worst eating season of the year, might I add. He's been watching what he eats and is eating healthier. Getting back into cycling has been a great thing for him also. He's particularly enjoying road biking, which isn't something he had done before a few months ago. He got a good deal on a really nice road bike right after Christmas and has been putting it to good use, even when it's crazy, stupid cold. Thanks to the magic of eBay he was also able to acquire a trainer, which basically turns your bike into a stationary bike so you don't actually have to go out on crazy, stupid cold days, but can still ride. He also insulated and hung sheetrock in the part of our basement that has the treadmill and some of the kids' toys in it. It was harder to get motivated to exercise down there when you could see your breath, so it's much better now.

Here he is, riding miles but going nowhere.

Going nowhere even faster.

Look ma, no hands!

That TV is in trouble if the back wheel breaks free of the trainer. James has been riding with his friend Chris from church, who competes in Iron Man triathalons. They consist of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride, THEN followed by a marathon, a 26 mile run. No rests between. I thought Chris must have a few screws loose to think this is a good idea until I realized how many people compete in Iron Mans. He's got James thinking about it, though he would start with much shorter versions. Pretty good for someone who's halfway to legitimately being old. :)

Thursday evening we partied at the Davidsons with a house full of folks. I always look forward to Thursdays. It's hard to tell who looks forward to them more, me or the kids.

Friday we had a birthday party at Monkey Joe's in Gainesville for two friends from church. It's a huge space full of inflatable jumpy things and slides of all kinds. I wanted pictures of the kids playing, but they were off and running. Elizabeth is the only one I could keep track of. The oldest two kids were the official party invitees, so I paid for Avery to get in, and they didn't charge me anything for Elizabeth since "one-year olds don't do much here anyway." I thought to myself that they hadn't seen my one-year old. She thoroughly got our no money's worth out of the evening.



Wheee!!! Repeat 57 times. Then go to the REALLY big slides at the back.

Shannon and his friend Andrew.

After twenty minutes worth of shoe and jacket round ups and potty breaks at the end of the party, we got in the car and headed to McDonough for the night. James had a camp fair in Alpharetta Saturday and the family was throwing my cousin Brooke a baby shower. We rolled into mom and dad's about 9:30 and put everyone to bed. Mom and Dad were keeping Jordan and Reagan so Jonathan and Lisa could go use their Atlanta symphony tickets. They were both band nerds, and took it a step further to both become band teachers, one of the highest forms of band nerddom. (If you guys are reading this- just havin' some fun! Love you guys!)Truly the ultimate band nerd is a guy Jonathan marched with at UGA who had been in the Redcoat Band for TWELVE years! He took the stay in school message a little too far.

The shower was at my Uncle Danny and Aunt Lynn's house, the grandparents to be.

The boys stayed with my dad and brother, and the girls went with me, my mom, and Lisa to the shower. This is Amelia with second cousin Bailey and little Caroline, my cousin Ashley's daughter.


Ashley and Brooke are sisters.

Brooke only has about four weeks left until her due date and she's just so HUGE! I mean, look at her! I believe Bailey thinks this is a big stack of diapers. Those should last about a week and a half.

Mom and Lisa.

Aunt Polly helps Amelia demonstrate the versatilty of gift ribbon.

Amelia came up with a few ways other ways to wear it on her own.

Elizabeth thought that looked like a good idea, and being the mimic that she is went and got her own bow and brought it to me for some help.

She pranced all over the room and clapped and looked very proud of herself. I see a little Amelia starting to emerge, she loves putting on things out of the dirty clothes basket and is happiest with aabout 15 bead necklaces around her neck.

Darn thing's trying to fall off. I'll get it back up there.

I just know I'm cute.

Aunt Angela (my dad's sister) and Mom. Because Mom and I have such an honest relationship I felt free to tell her she looked a little smirky in this picture.

She didn't like that too much.

A picture of Pa Pa because he's cute.

One more of Elizabeth I took earlier in the week. She watched the older kids play a fishing game we have and sat down and tried to play it herself. You'd expect a one-year old to take out all the little fish pieces and run off with them or eat them or something. She'd rather play the game the right way.

Maybe it's just boys that do that stuff. Come to think of it Amelia watched and learned really well too. Our boys were generally bent on chaos and destruction from an early age.

Well, that's all I have for now. I'm trying to figure out how I can block off large sections of time this week to tackle a way over due job- reconciling the checkbook and credit card statements. It's a project that requires uninterrupted time and for no one to touch the receipt mountains, which is why it got behind in the first place. I don't dread the actual task, I dread the interruptions!

Camp preparations are also underway big time right now. January kicks off getting serious about camper recruitment, hiring staff, and planning certification clinics. All this in the midst of running weekend retreats and attending to crises like busted water pipes and other such nonsense. Oh yeah, and trying to keep the place afloat on an ahem, slim winter income. God's got it, so we go forward on faith.

See ya in a few weeks when I get around to more blogging fun!