How Do I Know What to Assign for Reading?

Here’s the most successful way I’ve found to assign reading to my kids.

1. Pick a book that’s a good fit for your child’s age, interests, and reading level. Start with what you have at home since many libraries are closed right now. You could ask friends or family too for books to borrow. Non-fiction books are good too. Sonlight* and Read-Aloud Revival book lists are great.

2. Get a post-it note. Write out one or two chapters for each day of the week, as shown in the picture. The child can use the post-it as a bookmark during the week. If this is your first week, get started with just one chapter a day.

3. Help your child get started. If they haven’t been reading daily or the book is challenging to get into, I’ll sometimes sit and have my child read out loud to me and stop and ask, “What’s going on?” every page or so. That helps them at least get to know the setting and characters and they can usually keep going on their own.

4. Require them to complete their reading before free time.  In other words, don’t let them whine their way out of it. When my children tell me the book is too hard, too long, they can never read the assigned amount, I say, “Just read for 20 minutes and see how far you get.” Usually they are almost done by then. Sometimes I’ll modify, but usually the next week because I don’t want to reward the whining. They can always finish up at rest time.

And often it’s the fear of not being able to do it. Once they start (and you help them along as needed), they see they can do it and it’s not so scary.

5. Ask them, “What happened in your book today?” This can be at lunch or dinner. When they have to put into words what they read, this is called “oral narration” and is the first step to written composition. You are teaching them to think.  No questions or analysis are necessary. They will learn from reading, talking, and thinking.

Once they are used to putting their thoughts into words, you can start having them write a few sentences to half a page, depending on age, as a writing assignment.

* Sonlight book lists are excellent for book ideas. On the Sonlight site, click on “by grade,” then look for the “literature” part of the curriculum. Then click on “what’s included,” for example, this is the 4th grade reading list

Also, children can listen at a much higher level than they can read. I highly recommend audio books for during rest time. Audio books increase comprehension and vocabulary, count as school, and keep them off screens. Libraries often have audiobooks online through Hoopla or a similar app. Once they open back up, books on CD are great. Meanwhile, has great ones.

But even children who struggle with reading will benefit from reading every day. It might need to be aloud to you. It might need to be a few levels down from grade level. It might need to be paired with a snack, but the more they practice and come to enjoy reading, the more they will improve.

Happy Reading!

What I’d Tell My Younger Self

If I could go back 8 years to when my son was in 1st grade (or 10 years to when he was in pre-school) this is what I would tell myself. I’d be very blunt and that’s okay because it’s myself. 

Stop doing school.

Just stop. Put away your schedules and Charlotte Mason books and Sonlight book lists and CC Scope & Sequence and dreams and goals and pressures and worries. Stop doing school.

Focus on heart attitude and obedience first. We will get to school in a few weeks. Or months. But we need to get some things in order first.

Your children need to obey you and they are not. If you ask them to go sit in a chair, they argue and complain or throw fits. Work on that. Get them to sit in a chair when you ask. Or for the toddler, get him to stay in a pack and play when you tell him and not climb out. Here’s a great talk about that.

Now, at this point I know you are getting worried, younger self. You are thinking maybe this is too harsh, maybe you can distract or cajole them into doing what you want. Why do they need to sit in a chair anyway? Can’t you just make this work?  In fact, couldn’t we just take everyone to the park and ignore this whole thing?


I’ll tell you why. The chair isn’t the issue. Obedience is the larger issue. Respect is the larger issue. Who is the one in charge of the home is the issue.

If your children don’t obey you, you will spend the next 5, 10 years in constant battles. You will not be able to enjoy them. They will be discouraged that they are constantly in trouble and you are constantly mad at them. There will be very little joy. You will be exhausted that no one listens to you. You will know they are brilliantly smart and so frustrated that school takes forever. You will feel like they are in control of the house but you won’t know what to do about it.

So focusing on requiring them to obey isn’t mean. I know all the stuff you read in parenting magazines, and our American culture really makes it feel mean and to let the kids decide everything but that doesn’t end well. That ends with spoiled, rather obnoxious children.  It ends in you exhausted from their demands and them moody when they don’t get their own way. It ends in depressed teenagers. So even though this seems like a small issue, getting them to sit in a chair, it isn’t. It’s the foundation.

Also, the Bible says for children to obey their parents. God is very clear. So, go back, younger self, and do a Bible study on Proverbs. Who is in charge, the parents or the children? Who is teaching? Who is listening? Who is called wise, the parents or the child? Who is in charge?

Copy Ephesians 6:1, Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19. Who’s to teach? (And if your children aren’t listening to you and respecting you, and they’re NOT, which is why you’re frustrated all the time, then you can’t teach them, can you?) 

Good. Now copy Hebrews 12:11. Is discipline fun? Is it fun for you, my dear younger self? No, it is not. But you know what’s really not fun? Stressful dinners for 10 years because no one listens to you. Conflict with your child so that your relationship is fraught with anger, tears, hurt feelings. It is so much better to deal with these little weeds before they choke out your garden.

So, this is a huge deal. Yes, the world says all these academic, social, things are critical. You are worried you will be behind.

You are worried you’ll be mean. You don’t have to be mean. You can be loving, gentle and sweet. You don’t need to yell. It doesn’t have to be a fight. You just need to get your child to sit in that chair and you need to win that battle. (Maybe do it when Dad’s home. Maybe have a friend pray for you that day. Maybe get some extra chocolate.)

Start with one minute. They are not in trouble. They just need to sit in a chair because Mom says. Then praise them and go on with something fun and enjoyable. Repeat 5 times that day. Then increase the time the next day to 2 minutes. Nothing fun happens if they don’t do this. No park, no reading, no free time. Just work on this, praise, and build for a week or so. Get to 5 minutes in a chair just one time a day without them climbing out. (* HOW did I actually do this? See the end of this article.) 

Before you start this, listen to these talks about: First Time Obedience, and limiting choices (the funnel). And these talks for toddlers, preschoolers, and older kids (Understanding Freedoms part 1 and part 2).

(These talks are extremely helpful. And yes, I know it makes you a little nervous because these Mom’s Notes Talks are based on Growing Kids God’s Way. I know you don’t agree with their baby feeding advice. But just listen for the practical wisdom here. The Links are very balanced. They have the experience of hundreds, maybe thousands, of families. You don’t have to be legalistic. They have lots of practical advice. Listen to them! It’s like a Christian Supernanny. Use what God prompts you to use. Walk in the Spirit. Pray. These talks have so much wisdom in these practical areas. And they know what to do with middle year kids and teenagers too! Finally, someone does!)

Okay, now your child will sit in a chair when you tell them to! This is huge! This is foundational! This is great! Celebrate!

The next thing, younger self, is plan on a training time with your children first thing after breakfast. You can work on a few things: obedience (yes, Mom), patience (sitting and listening to something for a couple minutes, stretching this out), self control (sit time again). For toddlers you can work on blanket time or coming when they call you. Or whatever other issues you see.

(And don’t feel badly that they have to play alone for 20 minutes maybe twice a day. They are surrounded by loving family the rest of the time. It’s okay for them to have a little alone time and learn to be content with that. You’ll be amazed at the imaginative play they come up with.)

Just set aside some time to be proactive with your teaching. Instead of reacting to misbehavior, start using this time in the mornings to teach and train. You can teach a Bible verse and then a practical skill to help them. You can ask them to do a chore and use this as a training time in obeying cheerfully, giving them another if they complain. You can play the Yes, Mom game.

Okay, so now after a few weeks your children should be obeying better.

Oh, and limit their choices during this time. In fact, give them almost no choices.

Because they pretty much think they are in charge of everything. And in case this seems like just mean Christian fundamentalism, read this book, Bringing Up Bebe. In France they call this the ‘cadre’ or the frame. And they say “It’s me who decides.” The parents have a tight frame, structure and control over their children’s day. They proactively train their children in waiting patiently, in being respectful and polite and in developing a taste for healthy foods. It reminded me of how parenting was in the U.S. in the 50s. Or what I know of it from Mrs. PiggleWiggle books.  

So, since you like curriculum so much, younger self, think of this as a curriculum for the preschool and kindergarten years. Here’s what you’re teaching and training them in

  • ·         Obeying cheerfully, quickly, and completely (you know, most of the time)
  • ·         Waiting patiently, not interrupting, not demanding attention by climbing on your head
  • ·         Ability to play by themselves (blanket time and pack and play time)
  • ·         Self-control, the ability to sit still and listen (sit time) – this will reap huge benefits in read aloud time, on airplanes and at stores.
  • ·         Contentment with what Mom chooses: food, activities, clothes, etc.

And academic work and chores are a tool to teach them these skills. I don’t even want to call them character qualities. I mean, they are, but they are also skills that can be learned and practiced. Starting small and building up from small successes.

So yes, with your toddler, start with one minute of sitting with his hands in his lap, on mom’s lap, not squirming to get out. I know it seems mean. But oh, the dividends it will pay! The few minutes of training pays off on a plane ride. In the grocery store cart. When he has to sit in a class with you because someone’s late. On and on. I know you don’t see it now. But I’m telling you from the other side, do it!

And the benefits are amazing. Not just to you, for whom of course this makes life, school, your home easier and more peaceful.

But this is also amazingly beneficial and comforting for your children.

They will be happier when they don’t feel like Mom is mad and frustrated at them all the time.

They will be happier kids because they don’t expect to get their way in everything. They will have learned, because you will have taught them, how to be content.

You will not be afraid to go places with them because you never know what they will do. You will be able to minister to people because you know your child will not be out of control.

It truly does bring a harvest of righteousness and peace.

So, stop reading all those homeschool books, my dear younger self. Put down the parenting magazines. Read these two books: for younger kids and this one for older kids. Get the French book from the library (it’s really fun and entertaining too). Listen to these MP3s and then these when you work out at the Y instead of watching HGTV. (I mean, you can still watch the video while you listen to the MP3 if you want. Or you can watch HGTV after each MP3 as a treat.)  And dig into what the Bible says about parenting in Proverbs. And I know you didn’t have podcasts back then but if you did, this one is really good.

Pray God would help you obey, even if it feels risky. Even if it feels counter-cultural. Even if it feels hard. Even if you’re worried you’ll ruin your relationship with your child. You won’t. You’ll strengthen it, because they will listen to what you want to teach them. You can be gentle and kind and loving (2 Tim 2:24). But be firm. Require respect and kindness in your home. Require obedience in your home.


You don’t have to spank to do this. It’s okay for some people, and it’s certainly an option, younger self, but since God has led you to use mostly other methods of discipline, that’s okay. You may have to spank a handful of times when you are training them to stay in the chair or pack and play, but that’s it. It won’t be as bad as you fear.  Once they get the basic idea, the chair will become the discipline, or consequences, or loss of freedom. You won’t be spanking much at all.

(In fact, I’ll whisper to you, younger self, you only had to spank your middle children less than 10 times in their lives. And most of those were training to sit in the chair (or stay in the pack and play). After that, you used sitting time as the consequence, or losing something, or an extra chore, as the consequence. So, you can be very firm and require these things without using much spanking at all.)

Now, you can start to structure your day because they actually obey. Before, you could come up with any schedule you liked, but it never worked because everyone argued with you about everything.

But also, once you have some of these things going, don’t be afraid to pause.

Even if you had other plans that day. Just pause.

If your child isn’t doing school with a good attitude, ask him to just go sit in the chair until he’s ready to obey with a good attitude. It might take 4 hours the first time. And 30 minutes the second time. And 5 minutes the third time. They learn really fast.

But don’t go on. That’s what I want you to hear. Don’t press ahead, getting madder and madder.

If they roll their eyes, have them sit.

If they argue or whine, have them sit.

If they complain about why they have to do it and brother doesn’t, have them sit.

Maybe give them a warning the first time, but after that, just kindly ask them to go sit until they are ready to work cheerfully.

Same if you’re out. Pull the car over. If the kids are arguing and screaming, pull the car over, quietly talk to them, and work it out.

And if you’re thinking, we’d never get anywhere, they’re always yelling and screaming, well you may need to stay home a few weeks. You may need to train them in not yelling at each other at home. You may need to do a few trips around the block as practice. You may need to plan a trip to the park, fully intending to go back home when they start yelling, calm down, apologize and play nicely. Then try again. (This is not a day to plan to meet friends. This is a training day.)

You don’t need to put up with this. They can learn not to scream at each other, demand the things they want on the CDs, and act silly to get out of things. They can act nicely at dinner.

Stop putting up with it.

It can be different.

With God’s grace and kind, firm teaching and training, it can be different.

And also, I’d tell myself, it’s not too late for the oldest. It’s not too late at 9 years old. Or 12. Or 14.

These talks on understanding freedoms will help. (The most helpful things were: responsibility + good attitude = freedom. My son earns the right to stay up late or go to a friend’s house when he’s responsible in what his Dad or I have given him with a good attitude. Not before.)

That’s what I’d tell my younger mama self. She might or might not have listened. But I think she might have, because she really was at a loss in the discipline area for a looong time and people don’t want to tell you what to do. She wanted someone to tell her what to do, with helpful practical information that worked.

I’m so thankful for the resources God has brought my way. I’m thankful for the wisdom of older women. I’m thankful my relationship with my older children is better now after so many rocky years. My oldest especially seemed, oddly enough, to really thrive when I really required respect and kindness in our home instead of letting things go and constantly reminding him.

And with my toddler, I’m spending way more time proactively training him in all kinds of things: Yes, Mommy game and practice, Blanket Time, Pack and Play time, Sit time (on my lap), how to interrupt politely, how to like healthy foods, No Touch, etc.

But I’m spending way less time frustrated and exhausted with a demanding toddler. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy! It’s so much work!!! Taking the time to correct yelling instead of ignoring. Taking time to practice the right behavior instead of just going on. Taking time to correct him if he gets off his blanket during Blanket Time.  But as a result, he is a sweet, relatively obedient child.

And he’s so happy! He’s content on an 8-hour plane ride. He makes friends everywhere. He can sit on my lap for 30 minutes during brother’s co-op class. He can be in the room listening to Trumpet of the Swan (for very short periods, like 5 minutes, but we’re working on it!) or just be around us more because he’s not a constant disruption.

And my third-grader actually obeys, praise the Lord! (You know, most of the time.) He gets his school done so we can actually have read aloud time and nature walks and art and play soccer. We can have days with truth and beauty because the foundation is pretty solid. The fun things can happen because of the work on obedience on the front end.

So, the time you put in is worth it, Moms. It’s hard, but when you’re being proactive instead of reactive, it’s not so exhausting somehow.

I pray this was helpful and you’d benefit from some of my many and varied mistakes. Blessings on you and your sweet children.

 EDITED TO ADD: So HOW did I actually train them to sit? With my 4th, I was terrified about an upcoming trip to Kenya and we had just been camping and this child would not sit still and I was exhausted, so I really focused on it for about two weeks. I sat him down in his tiny wooden chair and told him we were going to practice “sit time.” I wanted him to sit in the chair and not get up until Mommy’s timer (my watch) beeped. I sat next to him on the floor. I gave him a book that had an audio CD with it so he could listen to the CD and turn the pages of the book. (But any CD or book would probably work. I thought this video was helpful for the concept, even though I used a chair instead of my lap.) 

We started with 30 seconds. When he stood up, I’d say, “Oh, no, no, sit until Mommy’s timer beeps.” and I’d gently push on his shoulders to help him sit. And I’d say, “Let’s try again.” or “I’m going to start the timer over.” Not mad of course, just in a happy relaxed tone, and with the attitude we’d keep practicing until we got it. So the first time we had to keep resetting the timer to even get to 30 seconds! So it took maybe 10 minutes. But when he did sit for 30 seconds, I really praised him, told him what a good job he did, clapped and celebrated, then went off to play or do something else.

I also kept a little chart on a piece of notebook paper that showed me progress because it was mind-numbingly slow! And pretty boring for me to have to keep sitting by him and working on this multiple times a day.

I started keeping my hand lightly on his legs to gently push down when he’d want to stand and say, “Oh, no, no, sit until the timer beeps. This is sit time.”

After a day or two he could sit for 30 seconds without a reminder. Then we went up to 1 minute. When he could do that successfully we went to two minutes. It felt like it was taking forever, but after two weeks we were up to 7 or 8 minutes, which actually was long enough to be really helpful at times when I needed him to sit.

And it truly was a great help on the plane ride (and in 2 hour Kenyan church services), because he was used to the concept of “sit time” and I’d just remind him when he wanted to stand up and jump around that this was sit time. So it didn’t seem to matter that it was hours instead of minutes, it was the idea that he had to sit until Mom said time was over that was helpful.

Some people continue using “sit time” daily, but since we do Blanket Time and Pack and Play time (with toys and a CD), I don’t have this as part of our daily schedule. But I am transitioning to this as a consequence. Instead of putting him in the pack and play if he scribbles on a book (on purpose) or screams at or hits his brother or something, I’m having him sit in the kitchen (or wherever I am) with his back to the wall and put his hands together  for 1-2 minutes until he “has self-control,” then we talk, he says he’s sorry to brother, we pray, and he can get up.

Also, for my others, they did go through a few days where they were just defiant about sitting where I told them. I mean, after they’d had plenty of practice and clearly knew they weren’t supposed to. That’s where I spanked. One swat. I’d warn them very clearly that if they got out of the pack and play or chair they’d get a spank (one swat). They tested a few times and decided quickly they didn’t want to do that. And with my middle two, that was the only thing I ever spanked them for.  (My first one I was generally confused and don’t remember except that I didn’t do it very logically or well.) But once they’d sit, that became the consequence I’d use. Plus maybe extra chores or something if they needed an additional consequence.

Hope all those details are helpful! :)





Preschool Area

I’m not writing regular posts for this blog anymore, but I just have to show you pictures of my now 4-year-old’s preschool area.

My goals with it were that he would a) have something to do during school time b) have it be in the same room as the rest of us, but be his own space and c) be as quiet as possible so it didn’t distract my son (9) and daughter (7).

After some Pinterest inspiration, here’s what I came up with:



His little “house.” The others aren’t allowed in unless he invites them.


The front flaps close with a clothespin. That’s the “door.” (You can see I used whatever sheets we happened to have in the closet.)


Inside there are:

House/cooking area: wooden vegetables and an old pot and spoon.

Dollhouse: made with duct tape and cardboard by big brother & sister for his birthday.

(This is such a great project for kids. They had so much fun making it. Basically you duct tape some shoeboxes together, paint them, add special things (the kids wanted stairs, a trapdoor and the stable attached by a slide!), then glue felt down for the carpet and fill it with premade furniture or make some out of cardboard.)


Fare Well

I wanted to blog for a year after the book released in March 2012. Mostly because I haven’t been a homeschool blogger so nobody really knew who I was, or what I had to say, or if they were at all interested in reading anything I’d written.

I wanted to give people a glimpse into my writing and life to see if they connected.

Also, I wanted to share snapshots of our life over the course of a year, thus the “A Year In The Life” section.

My original plan was not to build a big blog audience. It takes a tremendous amount of time and mental energy to do that right, and I know that’s not what God is calling me to do right now. Every time I pray about it, He confirms that. It’s not the season of my life to take on another job. I need to have fewer things on my to-do list and more time to sit around with my family and listen to them undistracted. Un-plugged.

I love writing. I love putting words together. I love seeing the miracle in the little moments and painting a picture with poetry. But a year has come and gone and it’s time to say goodbye. I went a little past a year because I wanted to tell you about the planned trip to Africa, then I needed to tell you about the unplanned trip to Africa.

But now, it really is time to say: Fare Well.

Fare well in your homeschooling journey, your mothering journey, your wifely  journey. May God bless you and give you peace.

My intent is to post updates on Facebook every week-ish or month-ish, just interesting things we’re doing or funny things you might enjoy. Also I may do guest posts on other blogs very occasionally, so I’ll post links to other writing I do on Facebook .

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, friends. I know there are lots of other homeschool blogs, so I pray you would be encouraged by those.

 Seek peace and pursue it.   Psalm 34:14

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease.
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace.
-         John Greenleaf Whittier

Many Are the Plans of a Mom’s Heart . . .

I had planned to go over to a friend’s house one Friday afternoon to hang out. Instead, I got to call her and say, “So, um, we can’t come over. My husband has been having headaches and is having a CT scan today, so we’re going to sit with him at the Urgent Care for a few minutes. I’m sure it’s nothing serious.” And then I got to call her back an hour later and say, “Actually, they found a mass in his skull pressing on his brain. They are admitting him to the hospital. Please pray.” She did.

We had planned to go out to dinner with another family. Instead, I got to call them and say, “Turns out, my husband is in the hospital. They’re keeping him for a few days and probably doing brain surgery on Tuesday. Please pray.” They did.

My husband had planned to play basketball Saturday night. I got to call his friend and say, “Best excuse to get out of basketball ever! Brain surgery!” And his friend said, “Wait, what?” After he figured out we were serious, he offered to donate half his brain to help the cause. I almost told him I didn’t think he could spare it, but I didn’t want to insult him, him being so kind as to offer us half his brain and all. (We both apparently deal with stressful situations with questionable humor.) Then he said he and his family would pray. They did.

Friday morning I had read on the church sign, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.” And thought, yep, sure are. Even those hard paths. Not that I really have any of those.

Then Friday afternoon came. And Friday evening with the MRI that confirmed the growth. And Sunday with the discussions of risks of surgery and potential negative outcomes, you know, like blindness and death, and the talk of oncology. And Monday morning with the meeting with the surgeon and seeing the growth, the size of an egg, fat and white, right near my husband’s optic nerves. And hearing the surgeon say, “It could be an abscess. Or it could be a malignant tumor. They can look just like that.” (An abscess is a brain infection, I learned, which you would think would be bad, but compared to cancer, looks pretty good. They remove it and treat with aggressive antibiotics.)

Still mercy and truth. I didn’t like it, I didn’t like this path at all, but this was the path we were now on. And God was still there. We decided after much prayer, and a whole two hours to make a life-or-death decision, that we needed to go ahead with surgery on Tuesday in Tulsa. A friend who had been in many brain surgeries encouraged us with a good report about this surgeon, and looked at the MRIs and helped us feel a bit better. It was still completely terrifying, but we had to do it.

My main fears were that 1) my husband wouldn’t wake up from surgery. It was brain surgery after all. Things happen. 2) It would be cancer and 3) I’d have to explain to my kids, and hold them sobbing nightly, why Daddy was gone. That was the worst. Me, my own grief, was one thing, but my kids. Oh, my kids.

I realized, those sleepless nights in the hospital, that no one can love my kids like their Daddy. Oh, I know God can heal, and many step-dads can be wonderful and love their kids so well, but I wanted my husband. I wanted him to be Daddy for my kids.

You know what else I realized? If he did nothing else but live, that would be enough. He is a humble man who loves the Lord, and cherishes me, and adores our children. No one else can be Dad like him.

How many times have I gotten annoyed because the backyard hasn’t been mowed, or he hasn’t done every single thing on my long list? I really saw how much I take him for granted and how very blessed we are to have him in our lives.

So. We hung out at the hospital, my husband and I, a lot that weekend. (The kids came up too, but didn’t stay too long.) We ate the hospital food, which was actually very good, and read books and worked crosswords, read and prayed and cried, and watched a few movies. It was kind of like an extended date! With a little life-and -death drama thrown in just to keep things interesting.

The kids came up on Monday evening and we all signed Daddy’s arms with a Sharpie marker, so he’d have us with him in surgery. He wrote love notes on their arms so they’d know he was with them. (And we were being very casual the whole time so they weren’t scared, “Just going to get that thing out of Daddy’s head so his head doesn’t hurt anymore.” We were blessed to have family and friends taking care of them during most of this.)

Tuesday morning came. They wheeled him into surgery. I kissed him goodbye. Then I cried for an hour. My friend was on her way up but meanwhile I cried and prayed. Every 30 seconds or so we’d get another text (I learned how to text because of all this!) or Facebook update that someone was praying. Oklahoma, Asia, Africa, Texas. I knew people were praying around the world. Which I really appreciated because I was a basketcase.

I tried to read a magazine and just kept thinking, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read. Who cares?” But then I’d put it down and start feeling like I was going to pass out or throw up from the stress, so then I’d have to pick up a stupid magazine again.  I read my Bible and a bit out of a Spurgeon book that was great. Those were good. Psalm 25. Psalm 59. “You are my refuge and strength in my day of trouble.” Day of trouble? Yep, that would be today. I’d pray again. Then cry. Then pray.

Finally my friend came and brought me McDonald’s breakfast (bless her). Then we alternated crying, praying, and playing Book Lover’s Memory, which would be really fun to play some time when my brain is capable of working.

The phone in the surgery waiting area rang and it was the surgeon’s assistant telling us they were in surgery and just found that it was an abscess. (This meant that it was NOT cancer, so no chemo/radiation and much, much easier to treat.) “Oh, thank you. Praise the Lord,” I gasped. I have never been so happy in my life.

I hung up and sobbed. I mean sobbed. Then more praying, crying, playing Memory. Another friend came, then another. They brought me snacks and games and most importantly, shoulders to cry on, quite literally.

The surgeon came out and told the surgery was over and it went well. I gave him and his assistant a big hug. Then lots of people came, lots of stuff happened. ICU, more doctors, family, friends.

My husband is home now and recovering very well. I’m giving him IV antibiotics three times a day (for 8 weeks total, and we’re almost done with week 4 I think). It’s going well except for the time I filled him with an entire tube full of air. Not a problem, they told me after the fact. After I had called the hospital in a panic, then cried for two hours about almost killing my husband. Apparently a little air in the veins (right near your heart) is no big deal. Who knew?

It’s kind of like when you leave the hospital with a new baby the first time and you’re thinking, “Why are they just letting me walk out of here? I have no idea what I’m doing!” And they act like it’s as normal as getting a pizza. “Here you go, here’s your IV pole, three bags of medical supplies that you hadn’t seen until an hour ago, and dressings for the head wound. Have a nice night!”

So my husband is still alive, despite my questionable nursing skills, and I’m really glad. I know God would have been faithful to walk with us through cancer, or death, had those been the paths He chose. But I’m so thankful for his mercy to us.

I don’t much care what happens right now. My husband’s alive. It’s a pretty great thing.

One thing I’m going to do my best to do is to remember how it felt to have him at the top of my list. You know how in all those homeschooling seminars they say to keep marriage on the top of your list and you’re like, “Blah, blah, blah, can you tell me a little more about how to plan my schedule? That’s what I really need to know.”

But this brain surgery thing got my attention. That, and the fact that I keep seeing marriages dissolving all around me.

It’s like we’ve been given a million dollars: husbands who love us and love the Lord, precious children, and Jesus. And we’re just so busy cleaning the kitchen we forget to notice and be grateful.

I’m going to do my best to have less on my list. I want to sit and just look at my husband and be near him. I have a hard time doing that because it feels like a waste of time—I have so much to do! I can’t just sit here!

But at the hospital I was forced to just sit there and it was a wonderful time of connecting with him. He needs me to be around, and I need him, and our kids need us to be together. I’ve got to focus less on the tasks and more on the relationships.

I was walking in the woods yesterday and I finally noticed the scent of honeysuckle. It took me a while. I realized how that’s like my life so often: I am so busy trying to stack up all the twigs in the forest perfectly, or worrying about which tree might be deficient in which area, and noticing the litter or the sound of cars nearby, that I forget to enjoy the honeyed air.

I get sidetracked by my self-imposed tasks and forget to notice the sweetness and beauty all around.

Our family had planned to go to Kenya this summer. Instead, we got to sit our two older children down, explain that our ways are not always God’s ways, but that His timing is always best. We trust Him. It’s not safe for Daddy to go on that trip right now. So instead of Africa, we’re finding ways to serve here in Oklahoma. People who need things like homes or blankets or hugs.

Bottom line, my husband is still here with us. Who cares what our plans were? He’s here. We are so thankful.

Karibu Rafiki! (Welcome Friend)

Sometimes I wonder if our house is actually on the moon, unhindered by so much gravity. Because my children tend to float up onto the furniture with no warning and, at least according to them, entirely by accident.

Today I looked at my nine-year-old son, whom I had just gotten out of time out for climbing all over the couch and setting a bad example for his brother during reading time, and he was climbing up the arm of the couch. Thirty seconds after he had promised he would sit still like a normal human. “Oh! Mom! I don’t know how I got up here! I’m sorry!” And he genuinely was. He had no idea that he was floating up the furniture. Again.

Anyway, despite the fact that no one seems to stay attached to the ground or sitting for more than 30 seconds, we’ve been doing a lot of reading around here lately. Mostly about one topic: Africa. Because we’re going.

That sentence strikes fear in my heart. Also, excitement. And trepidation. And joy. And terror. Sort of like homeschooling.

No, I’m thrilled we’re going. I want my kids to see the world, more than our little tidy piece of it. I want them to serve others and learn compassion and have practice being uncomfortable. And yes, we could do all those things here in Oklahoma. But we have the chance to go visit some friends, serve them and just do whatever we can (working out some details still) to refresh their hearts (I hope).

The other day I started to make a list of a few minor concerns such as:

  • lost luggage
  • lost children
  • civil war
  • malaria
  • food allergies (mine)
  • food avoidance (children’s)
  • mosquitoes
  • children getting speared by a rhino
  • children getting eaten by a lion
  • husband not returning from safari
  • robbery
  • having to eat a big pot of goat meat
  • listening to 2 weeks of nonstop whining about things my kids don’t like
  • death

Then I decided to stop worrying about it. I went to the website to find out what immunizations we needed. There I read about a travel alert to Kenya that warns people to be alert after a few instances of kidnapping and murder. Fabulous.

I’m not going to worry about it any more. As the events from this week illustrate even more, there is no place that is perfectly safe, even those we’d like to think are. God is in control of our lives here, our lives there, and everywhere in between.

A Unit Study

In preparation for our trip I found whatever our library had about Africa. We found some picture books, a DVD on the food there and some Swahili CDs. I’ve made one Kenyan recipe. I want to make “ugali and sukuma wiki” but haven’t done it yet. I need to find out where to get goat meat.

We’ve been reading those, listening to some CDs and generally trying to soak in what we can. I feel like we haven’t done much because we’re still trying to do those pesky subjects like spelling and math, but I’m hoping to focus on it more this summer.

Wherever you are going this summer, you can do the same, just get some books, learn a bit about it ahead of time, and dig into whatever interesting culture you can find about that place. So much fun!

(If you happen to want to learn about Africa, I’d recommend all the resources in the picture. They are great! Chai Tea Sunday and the DVD are for grown ups; the others are for kids. Also this David Livingstone book. )

Cookie Map

And of course we had to make a cookie map, because you say Geography and I say Cookie Map. Here’s how we did that:

  1. Bake some Pillsbury sugar cookie dough into one huge flat cookie. I covered the entire pizza pan.
  2. Cool. Frost in white. Trace shape of continent, country, or area in toothpick (so you can correct mistakes) into the frosting. Cut out shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect, as evidenced by my weird-looking Africa.) Put wax paper or foil around edges of cookie (to be the water or boundaries of the area).
  3. Have kids help decorate (my kids didn’t help until this point). We used chocolate sprinkles for the Sahara Desert, frosting for rivers and some country boundaries, red hots for mountains and one piece of spaghetti for the equator. Licorice would have worked if we had had any.
  4. Take pictures, share with friends and enjoy!

 Are you planning any trips this summer? Are you doing any fun learning before you go?

Easter: Resurrection Rolls

{This is a repost from last year. We’re planning to make these on Saturday.}

“He is not here; he is risen!”   Luke 24:6

This is the one Easter activity my children think is mandatory. They did it in their Cubbies class in Awana, and thus it must be  performed every Easter, without fail.  Today is the Friday before Easter, and we just remembered, so when we went to the store to
get Easter egg dye and a salad kit for Easter dinner, we picked up some rolls and marshmallows too.


Get some yeast freezer rolls, the kind that have to rise for 3-5 hours.  Let them rise.  Once the rolls have risen, your kids can flatten them out hide a big marshmallow in the center of each one, wrap the roll around, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and put it on a cookie sheet.

Isn’t this a great picture? I have no pictures of the finished product, so I looked online and found this at

Bake the rolls according to instructions on the bag. When the rolls are done, the marshmallow is gone! It symbolizes the empty tomb! These rolls are a great, easy, fun activity and can be served with the Easter meal or as dessert.




Here’s a link that shows doing it with Crescent rolls. Either type of rolls would work fine, and Crescent rolls are probably easier since you don’t have to wait for the dough to rise. We just have always done it with the frozen kind.

He is not here; He is Risen!


Easter: Simple Passover Dinner

From top, clockwise: horseradish, Charoset (apple mixture), Matzoh (unleavened bread), parsley.

{reposted from last year}

If you have small children and/or are overwhelmed with life and its responsibilities, feel free to skip right over this. I don’t want you to feel like it’s one more thing on the list of things to do.  Our family chooses not do some other traditionally Easter activities, like visiting the Easter Bunny at the mall, or elaborate Easter Egg hunts, so that we (I) have time and energy for things like this.

I dug into the whole subject one year and was fascinated by the seven Jewish feasts and their symbolism of Christ. If you want more background on them, and why they matter to Christians, along with a more traditional (and complicated) Seder dinner,
here’s a document on the Background of Jewish Festivals and a Passover Seder for Older Kids. I typed it up several years ago when I apparently had lots of
time on my hands.

Now that I have three kids and very little time, I keep this document (the steps below) in my spring box in the pantry with the Resurrection Eggs, and I follow it word for word (since I’ve forgotten everything from the year before), and it still works. I have to say, I recommend this way.  (We’ll try to do this tonight or Saturday night. These pictures are from several years ago.)

This whole meal is called the Passover Seder. Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the Thursday before he died. When your kids read that, they will now
understand what it means.  It also important to note that Jesus died at the exact
same hour
as the Passover lamb was killed. What are the chances of all the
days of the year, that he would be crucified that exact hour? And Jesus is
called our Passover Lamb. Coincidence? I think not.

Buy at the store:

  • matzoh crackers (usually there is a Jewish display around now, with all the kosher food). These are crackers without leaven. They’re good!
  • horseradish, the smallest jar possible (refrigerated, by the cheeses or deli area)
  • parsley (produce section, by the lettuce probably)
  • apples (2), walnuts or raisins, honey
  • juice -white or (more symbolic, but potentially messier) red, grape juice
    (Note: This year I forgot to buy grape juice, so we’ll use apple juice.)
  • You’ll also need: salt and water (you probably have these!)


  1. Chop up the apple, mix with honey and raisins or walnuts to form a sweet mixture.
  2. On everyone’s plate put a little piece of parsley, a small dab of horseradish, three pieces of matzoh crackers, and a spoonful of the apple mixture. Give everyone a glass of juice. Mix up a cup with water and salt, enough salt so it tastes salty. You can just have one for the table.
From top: horseradish, Charoset (apple mixture), Matzoh (unleavened bread), parsley.

1. Gather the
family around, light a candle to show the feast has begun.

2. Read Old Testament.  Have
the husband (if he’s there) read Exodus 12:3-14, 17 and 21-27. Or just retell the story of the final plague, that “the Israelites were in slavery, God was going to deliver them. They had to kill a perfect, spotless lamb, spread the blood around their door with hyssop branches, and eat unleavened bread because they were in a hurry and didn’t have time for the
yeast to rise. So, they did this, God’s Angel of Death PASSED OVER their houses
and their sons were saved. Then he brought them out of Egypt and saved them.
Who saves us? That’s right Jesus. Jesus is sometimes called the Passover Lamb.”

2. Read New Testament – “So the Israelites kept having this Passover meal every year to remember how God saved them. Did you know Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples right before he died?” Read Luke 22:1-22 or summarize. We’re going to celebrate this Passover meal just like Jesus did.

3. Parsley & Saltwater (Hyssop & tears) – “First the parsley reminds us of the hyssop they dipped in the blood and put above the doors. The saltwater reminds us of the bitter tears they cried in Egypt and how hard slavery was. Everyone, get your parsley and dip it in the saltwater, and pretend to brush it
across the top and sides of your door. Now eat the parsley.”

4. Matzoh (Unleavened Bread)
- The leader (your husband or you) holds up the bread, explaining, “This
is to remind us of how they had to eat unleavened bread, because they were in
too much of a hurry to let the yeast rise. I will now break it into three pieces,
wrap it in a napkin (or linen cloth) and put it under my plate. We will come
back to this later.”

5. Horseradish
(“Maror” in Hebrew, bitter herbs) – next, the horseradish reminds us
of the bitter herbs the Isrealites had to eat with their meal.  It reminds
us of how bitter their lives were in slavery. Dip a small (very very tiny, it’s
spicy) piece of your matzoh bread into the bitter herbs and taste it. (They can
spit it back out if they want. Have juice ready.)

6. Apple mixture (“Charoset” in Hebrew) – Now, this one tastes good! This mixture is
sweet. It reminds us of how sweet God’s love for them was to bring them out of
slavery. It also reminds us of the mortar they used to put in between the
bricks when they were slaves.  You can dip your matzoh cracker in that and
eat it. God’s love for us is sweet, isn’t it?

7. Grape juice (wine, symbolic of Christ’s blood) – re-read the part in Luke where Jesus said, this is my blood, shed for you.  This reminds us of how Jesus loved us so much
he died for us. You can drink some.

8. Unleavened Bread (again) - Take out the matzoh from under the plate. Jesus took the bread and broke it, just like I did, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you”. So, let’s eat a bite and remember how Jesus gave his body
for us.  Now, notice how this bread is striped and pierced. Jesus was
whipped and nailed to the cross, so the bread reminds us of his body that was
also (striped and pierced). And there are three pieces, just like the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth and put in the
tomb, just like I wrapped this bread and put it under my plate. But then, what
happened? That’s right, he rose from the dead! So we can celebrate that he’s

9. Finish the story – So, Jesus finished this ‘Last Supper’ with his disciples on Thursday night, then prayed in the garden of Gethsemane,  then Judas betrayed him, then he died at the same time as the Passover Lamb died in the temple of Jerusalem on Friday. Isn’t that amazing, the one day, the one hour of the year that the Passover Lamb died, Jesus also died. That’s another proof that he’s our Passover Lamb. He saves us from our sins, just like God saved the Israelites from Egypt. Read I Cor 5:7 (Jesus is our Passover [Lamb]) After 3 days (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday
morning) he rose from the tomb.

You could eat a regular dinner now (or one without any yeast/leaven if you want to be
traditional) and talk about the Resurrection, letting each child open a colored
egg and retelling the story of Jesus’s Death and Resurrection.  A soup dinner would work well because you could dip the crackers (unleavened bread in it). I think traditionally it’s a lamb stew, but we only did that one year. This flows in the story right after the Passover, so it fits perfectly to do those eggs next. Just talk about it
while you eat dinner.

Then, finish up with the first verse of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”.

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Now, when your children read about the Passover Feast, and later, take communion at church, they will know the history of it a little more.

Here’s a version of the Seder  from the Focus on the Family magazine. I would say it’s medium-complicated. So maybe start with the simple one above if you have young kids, then graduate to the Focus on the Family one.

Please let me know if you try this, or if you already do it, and how it goes!

Birthday Ideas

A cute cutting board for making fruit salad. Kids younger than 6 or so can use butter knives (not these sharp paring knives) and can cut bananas, apple slices, and strawberries with help.

I love when God just orchestrates things so I have a few extra hours to get things done. A friend ended up watching my two little ones today so our sons could play LEGOS (and argue about Battleship). I got to wrap birthday presents and now even have time to sit and write this blog post that I’ve been thinking about for weeks but haven’t had time to write!

I was sort of dreading getting birthday presents this year because I feel like we already have so much stuff that we don’t even have time to use. I prayed about birthday gifts and traditions this year for the first time and God gave lots of great ideas.  Here are some I thought I’d share:

1. Special Birthday Book – I got a journal for my son and daughter and my husband and I wrote a note to my daughter (and plan to do my son’s tonight) on her birthday. We mentioned skills she’s learned this year, areas we’ve seen her growing, gifts we see in her, and verses we are praying for this next year. I really want to take the opportunity of a birthday to cherish the uniqueness of each of my children, not just let it be a day for gifts and cake. I want them to feel so important as a part of our family.

2.  Post-It Notes with Encouraging Words - my husband, my son and I all made seven sticky notes (my daughter was turning 7) and put them all over the house for her to find when she woke up. The look on her face was priceless as she woke up and started finding all these notes with things we love about her. The ones from her brother were especially precious, since many days they doubt whether the other one even likes them! :)

This is mainly a gift of time. We probably spent two hours the night before my daughter’s birthday writing the notes and in the book.

3. Gifts that encourage a wholesome interest - Sometimes it seems like all the toys are violent, or battery-operated plastic junk, or just encourage frivolous things. We try to give books or toys that encourage a wholesome interest – this year for my daughter was horses, and my son it’s train tracks. We found several books on horses, and asked Grandma and Grandpa to give horse riding lessons (my daughter said that was all she wanted in the whole world) instead of a toy. She got a stuffed horse, a horse-shaped purse, etc. My older son surprisingly wanted wooden train tracks, but I jumped all over it because I think he will enjoy building intricate tracks and my younger son will enjoy lining up the trains. We found a Thomas train table with tracks, trains, buildings, etc. for $50 on Craigs List.

For toddlers, I love the Melissa and Doug wooden dolls, wooden fruit and vegetable and other foods (healthy) to play with, play-doh, balls, and stickers.

SOURCE: Lessons in something, Educational Stores (typically have more wood, better quality toys), Craigs List

4. Art/Craft Supplies - These are the kinds of things that encourage creativity. My daughter got play-doh, Grandma got her a doodle book, sometimes she’s had jewelry-making kits, paint, watercolors, and paint-a-birdhouse or model airplane type projects. For my son this year I got a real sketch pad, graphite pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, and a little art box to put it all in. It was fun to get to pick out some “real” artist supplies.

Fabric can be interesting for dress up. One year we gave my daughter about two yards of: floaty rainbow fabric, blue sparkly fabric, and red satin fabric. The fabric has been made into capes, dresses, tents, and room decorations and is still used.

SOURCE: Hobby Lobby or Michaels, JoAnns for fabric

5. Tools that teach a useful skill  - For example, cooking, building, gardening tools. My son is turning nine this year, so I’m getting him kitchen knives and a cutting board to help make fruit salad and to acknowledge his growing responsibility to handle things in the kitchen. In the past we’ve gotten him a hammer, screwdrivers, duct tape, heavy string and other building supplies. I like that gifts like these encourage kids to develop useful, helpful skills, and not just look for things to entertain them.

In the past we’ve gotten gardening gloves, small spades and watering cans for both my son and daughter. My daughter has received cute aprons, pink spatulas, and mini-muffin tins for past birthdays.

For toddlers I LOVE to give mini-squirt bottles, cute broom and dustpan sets, and tiny aprons. They love to be big helpers.

SOURCE: Pier1 has great broom and dustpan sets, kids scrubbers, and other cute kids stuff. It can be pricey, but they often have an area for end-of-season marked down stuff. I get most of our friends’ birthday gifts at Target, not in the toy section, but in the cooking or tool section.

6. Books. I love these, but feel so behind with great books that we haven’t even had time to read yet that we haven’t done these as much lately. I like to get the more unusual ones that the library doesn’t have, like the missionary biographies at Grace and Truth or the easy-reader ones at Mardel. My friend had the brilliant idea of audio books, which I meant to do but didn’t get around to this year. She says they also do this at Easter and other holidays, and specifically mentioned Focus on the Family radio theater as being excellent. My sister sells Usborne and I can’t help myself at homeschool conferences and used book sales, so we’re usually covered on great books.

SOURCE: Grace and Truth Books (Christian hero bios and Christian heroes DVDs), Amazon, Focus on the Family radio theater.

7. Coupons for Mommy or Daddy Time – We did this last year, but this year didn’t because spring is such a busy time for us I can’t think about adding another event right now. But things we have done in the past include: Date with Daddy to a regular restaurant, then a fancy one for dessert, laser tag with Dad, tea party with Mom, and I can’t remember what I did with my son! Something boyish, I’m sure.

One thing that has been completely magical to the kids is Moon Walks. I want to write a whole post about this. Twice a summer I get up at the unkind hour of five o’clock, grumbling in my head the whole while about how crazy this idea is, wake up ONE child, and take a special walk with that child as the sun rises. We live in the city, so we just walk to Quik Trip ( a gas station near us), but we walk hand in hand looking at the stars and moon, talking and listening, and then hear the “first birds of the morning” begin to sing. Sometimes we see ducks, geese, or rabbits. I try to ask my children heart questions and just connect with them. We then get juice and donuts (those nasty packaged ones that I think are disgusting but they think are the hugest treat ever) and walk home. This is honestly one of the things they remember and talk about and we should do it more but I hate getting up that early! I’m trying to rope my husband into doing it to double our moon walks without further encroaching on my sleep time.

Another related special time we do doesn’t have a name, but it’s Sit Up on The Fort, Snuggle In a Sleeping Bag, and Watch The Sun Come Up Time with Mom. Again, this involves getting up early (maybe that’s the appeal to them? I mean they are virtually never up when it’s still dark outside, and certainly not sitting outside on the fort). For some crazy reason we did this when it was freezing, thus the sleeping bag part. Anyway, my kids just shine with joy being there with me all alone and having that amazing experience of watching the sun come up. (If you go camping, this probably would happen very naturally. Maybe some day we’ll go camping again.)

My whole point with that is just: make a special time with your child. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just a few hours of your sleep and a quiet time (maybe outdoors) with them is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give.

That’s all the ideas I have for today. What are the most special or well-loved birthday gifts you give at your house?