Day in the Life

I’m always glad when I scroll back through my posts and drafts and find old Day-in-the-Life notes. A day was so different with infant twins and a husband worked long hours in the Army, with four kids two and under, and now with two kindergartners and two preschoolers. Those snapshots in time have turned into unexpected treasures for our family, although probably boring to others! There’s no such thing as a typical day here; the Man works an irregular schedule, some days are for errands, some for school, and on some days we have appointments or therapy. This, though, is one day in our life right now.

5:30 The alarm goes off. I like to be up well before the kids. This introvert has a much better day when it starts with some quiet time before my crew spills down the stairs. The Man is sick but thankfully doesn’t have a shift today so I get up quietly, dress in the dark, then head downstairs to make myself half a bagel and tea. I start to lay out the kids’ breakfast at the same time.

5:40 Sit down at the table with my breakfast (or half of it – I’m saving room to eat a bit more with the kids). I start with Bible (Psalms, right now), then catch up on Facebook, email, and my blog feed. I realize it’s September 11th when I see someone else’s post. Seventeen years later and shock still lingers at the edges for most of us. I don’t know anyone in this country who can’t remember where they were when they heard the news, and almost all of us know someone who escaped that day, or someone who died, or someone who lost or nearly lost a relative or friend. It changed my husband’s life (he joined the Army in the middle of med school) and mine, as well as our nation’s course, for better and for worse. There’s also lots of news in my feed from friends in the Carolinas preparing for Hurricane Florence. After catching up on internet news I read my current book (Dinner, a Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach), preheat the oven for breakfast, meal plan, and place our Walmart grocery order.

6:45 Mix up a baked German pancake and pop it in the oven.

6:50 Get kids up, help them potty, wipe down, lotion, dress (we lay out clothes the night before), and brush teeth. Jack is pretty independent (albeit reluctantly so) about getting himself ready, the others all still need a lot of help.

7:10 The Man is up, though sniffly and tired from poor sleep. He takes over the last of the kid prep while I finish making breakfast and put the dining room to rights after last night’s cleaning. I print a picture for Annie to share with her driver, pack the last cold items for her lunch, and do a final backpack check.

7:25 Kids are in chairs at the table for a breakfast of apples, German puffed pancakes, and milk. They listen to the Same Page podcast for Shakespeare, poetry, scripture, and presidential facts, then listen to the first half of the Wizard of Oz, Chapter 10, from the same podcast. I sit with them to eat a slice of pancake. Carl reads Genesis 3. One child heads to timeout for relentless interrupting. I unload and load the dishwasher then read a picture book to Annie, who is done with breakfast before the others, and put on respectable clothes (see “dressed in the dark” above) to take her out to the bus.

8:00 Out the door to wait for the bus. Annie rides her bike for a few minutes. The bus is early.

8:05 Text a neighbor to see if she and her kids are free to play this morning. They’re busy. Respond to a teacher’s email. Meanwhile the Man clears the dishes, tidies the kitchen and dining room, and sits down to read a stack of picture books with Jenny and Josie.

8:20 I do a reading lesson with Jack. Could’ve taken 10 minutes, takes 22 due to bouncing, sulking, and a tantrum 🙄. I release him for a couple minutes then call him back for:

8:47 Right Start Math. Jack does two lessons with me. The Man is still reading a stack of picture books to the little two, then switches them over to Magnatiles. Schoolwork is so much easier when there’s another adult in the house for crowd control! If he’s not around I put the little two in the sunroom with blocks or trains.

9:17 Little ones playing with Magnatiles. Jack joins them and I free the sneezy Man from kid duty to go rest again. I pull out art supplies and a book and prep the kitchen table for painting with a wipeable plastic table cloth.

9:30 I call the kids to the kitchen for a book and painting. This activity comes from A Year of Playing Skillfully. We read He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by the fabulous Kadir Nelson. Then the kids make their own “worlds” by using pipettes and dripping blue and green liquid watercolors onto coffee filters. The kids love it. I’m not much of an arts and crafts mom but my kids adore painting and creating so I appreciate that AYOPS provides a steady supply of great process-oriented art projects for our kids. After painting the coffee filters they switched to paper towels and had fun watching the paint absorption patterns. Jack has been in a bad mood all morning, but as I’d hoped working with his hands settles him and snaps him out of it, as it usually does.

That child on the end isn’t smiling, she’s tantrumming because she can’t get her dropper to suck up paint. Thankfully, big brother to the rescue:

10:00 The kids wrap up painting. I help them scrub up and change out of painting clothes, then wipe down the table and put away the painting things. As the kids hit the restroom and put on shoes I clear the fridge a bit for groceries and grab a quick piece of cheese for each kid.

10:25 We’re on the road for the park a bit later than I’d like. The Man woke up from his nap right before we left and agreed to finish clearing the fridge and make lunch for everyone while we’re out. As we drive the kids listen to Mozart and I listen to my current audiobook, Just Open the Door. It’s so-so – some good ideas on hospitality, but with a “hey, girlfriend!” tone that is not my cup of tea. The statistics are what strike me most. A full 1/3 of all Americans don’t know their neighbors at all. About half of all American children eat fast food for at least one meal a day. Most American families only sit down to a meal together once every five days. It’s so foreign to the way I grew up and the way we run our family. [For really thought-provoking writing on hospitality I prefer Rosaria Butterfield’s The Gospel Comes with a House Key, read earlier this summer. Butterfield is definitely stronger with narrative than with explanatory/connecting sections but there’s a lot of meaty food for thought in her book.]

10:45 Park. I run into a lady I know casually. There’s the usual assortment of young moms with preschoolers and babies, one in snow boots because his mother has wisely chosen to pick her battles, 75 degrees or not.

11:04 The grocery order is ready. We leave the park to pick it up. More reading time via audiobook for me.

11:11 Arrive at the grocery store, wait for our order to be brought out.

11:18 Done and on our way with a week’s groceries in the trunk. Hooray for online grocery shopping! There’s no fee and I find I save money because I don’t make impulse buys as I walk through the store. The drive home is beautiful – blue sky, golden-brown corn and soybeans, and early fall colors on the trees.

11:30 Home. The man and I unload and put away groceries with varying degrees of “help” from the kids.

The Man sits down to eat lunch with the kids while I keep going to get all the food unpacked and put away. Once they’re done with lunch the kids go down for naps just in time for me to…

12:16 …Step out to pick tomatoes and wait for the bus. I say hi to the driver, spend a few minutes with Annie, then leave her to ride her bike on the driveway for a bit before nap. We’ve found the transition home goes much more smoothly when she has a few minutes exercising outdoors before coming in. I step inside to put some soup in the freezer and unpack Annie’s backpack. The Man heads up for another nap himself, feeling no better. I bring Annie in to wash her hands and get ready for nap, then read her a book (Ox Cart Man). Annie goes to her room for quiet time with a stack of books and a box of wooden trains.

12:40 Everyone in bed at last! I slip down to the kitchen to make my daily hot cocoa. Jack pops out of his room. I return Jack and sit down at the table with a book. Annie pops out of her room. I return Annie and sit down at the table. Jack pops out. Annie pops out. Finally, all children are back in their designated quiet time spaces and peace reigns. I sit down (again) with cocoa and Dinner, a Love Story, check the internet (still there…), and update this log.

1:40 Prep dinner and collect library books to return.

2:05 Kids still napping except Annie who is loudly singing in her room but playing independently, so good enough. I hand off the last bit of veggie chopping to the Man and head to the library to drop off books and pick up our holds. One the way home I pull through two grocery stores hunting for an elusive ingredient. No luck.

3:05 Home. Wake any still sleeping kids and help them with toilet, socks, and shoes. The Man buckles everyone up as I quickly whip up a pie crust and put it in the fridge to chill.

3:30 We hand the kids their afternoon snacks and waters in the car and pull out for a family hike. On the trail there are early fall colors, lots of races, rocks thrown in the creek, near misses with poison ivy, and a peaceful trek back to the car.

4:45 Home. I go in to get dinner in the oven (thank goodness we prepped in advance!) and assemble an apple pie with apples from our orchard trip the day before. The Man supervises the kids while they bike on the driveway.  I enjoy listening to a podcast while I cook and work on dishes. The Man brings the kids in and changes them into pajamas as I cook since dinner will be later than normal.

5:30 Dinner. It’s Arroz con Pollo from Dinner, A Love Story. I increased the quantities so we’d have enough for two nights. The Man and I plus two kids like it. One more kid tolerates it, and the fourth resists but eats politely enough when reminded there’s fresh apple pie for dessert so it’s a net winner on the family dinners front.

6:00 Dinner is done. We hand off back and forth with wiping up kids, brushing their teeth, doing dishes, and packing up food. One twin is assigned to wipe the table and chairs with the little two while the other twin vacuums the dining room. They’ve gotten a lot better at it over the summer! I check last minute to see if my parents can drive over for pie but they’re busy. The kids are getting antsy as warm buttery cinnamon smells waft out of the oven. The Man reads the kids some bedtime stories early since the pie is still finishing in the oven: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and The Apple Pie that Papa BakedBoth are fall favorites around here.

6:40 Pie! And vanilla ice cream! And paper plates because Mommy and Daddy are tired of dishes!

7:10 We clear dessert dishes. The Man takes the little two up for bed while I pack lunches for the next day. In addition to Annie’s regular school it’s co-school day for the other three. I start reading picture books to the twins.

7:35 I run out to drop off unused extra diapers at a donation drop in the next town because the Man feels too sick and tired to drive. The Man takes over story and hymn time for the twins.

8:03 Home, help put the twins down for bed. The Man and I finish packing school lunches, changes of clothes, etc. as well as doing final tidying around the house.

8:30 I join the Man at the table with a cup of tea and a book. We both read a bit and chat about the next day’s plans, then he keeps reading and I fill out paperwork for Lucy’s school.

9:00 I check that doors and windows are locked and close down the kitchen. We get ready for bed a bit earlier than usual since we’ll need to make an early start to get everyone out the door for school in the morning. We read a bit. The Man checks kids one last time before lights out at 9:40. 

Advertisements

(Third) First Day of School

After sending Annie off to kindergarten two weeks ago and getting back to homeschool work last week we had our last first day of school this fall earlier this week. Jack, Jenny, and Josie headed off to a Charlotte Mason cottage school. Their classes meet once a week. Jack’s class has a full range of subjects, while the little two have a low-key preschool class with lots of play, stories, and time in nature. Afterwards everyone gathers for lunch and recess. There’s no homework but they do send home the schedule and suggested readings (modified from the Alveary curriculum) so that you can build a full Charlotte Mason home curriculum around the program if you like. I was impressed with the books, the teachers, and the kids, and appreciated how orderly and timely everything was – not always the case when homeschoolers gather!

We were also pleasantly surprised by the school’s diversity. When I was growing up most local homeschool groups were 98% white (actually, those were the diverse ones 😉). This tiny school has a significant proportion of African American and Hispanic students as well as an African American teacher. In addition, this school is doing a good job of modifying the set curriculum to offer a more diverse and global perspective versus a narrowly white perspective. While we appreciate the benefits of homeschooling, classical education, and Charlotte Mason, many  classically-oriented curriculums focus almost 100% on white authors and individuals, particularly those curriculums that insist on only using books Miss Mason would have used. When they do give a nod to diversity it’s only in connection to slavery or the Civil Rights era. What a loss! What kind of “feast” are we spreading for our kids when we only ever serve “food” from one place or category? I think it’s possible (critical, really) to embrace the richness of European cultural heritage while ALSO embracing the richness the rest of the world has to offer. Likewise, it’s important to teach our kids that not only white Europeans or North Americans (or Australians, or colonizers, or what have you) have contributed to their countries.

For example, two commonly recommended books for lower elementary students in Charlotte Mason curriculums are Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin and Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston. To be honest, I’m not sure I would’ve thought twice about them before adopting African American kids. They’re similar to curriculum books from my childhood. The stories are well told and offer rich ideas for young children. As books, there’s nothing especially wrong with them at first glance. I’m all for reading classics, while occasionally verbally editing the author’s tone or antiquated viewpoints for my kids. Even now, I’ll happily read most of those stories to my children. However, used in isolation or read only with like books, they offer a painfully narrow view of the world. Out of fifty stories, only two specifically referred to non-European characters (Genghis Khan and a “lazy king of the East”, while two more were not specific to any nation). Likewise in Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans mention is made of Native Americans but every hero is white (and almost every hero is male, but that’s another issue…). When we think we’re teaching history, we’re also teaching viewpoints. In this case, that only white Americans have been “great Americans.” Used exclusively such books build a myopic view of history and the world. At worst, they implicitly teach white supremacy and racism, quite often without parents’ awareness. I grew up with similar books and until embarrassingly late I thought we didn’t learn about, for example, Africa or Southeast Asia because nothing important had happened there. I thought that everything that “mattered” had occurred in the Middle East or Europe (plus gunpowder and paper from China) because that’s all my books discussed. I want my kids, black and white, to grow up with classic stories of Washington or Audubon or King Arthur or Socrates. I ALSO want them to grow up with stories of wise and heroic kings and queens from Africa and know Mexican folktales and the history of India. I want them to know about the history of European settlers in our area. I ALSO want them to know about the Native American who had cities and villages here for hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived. All that to say, in a roundabout way, that I’m happy this school is embracing western classics while giving the kids a wider viewpoint. We’ll continue to work on the same goals at home.

As someone who experienced both the rich benefits and the pitfalls of homeschooling myself I’d encourage you (homeschooler or not) to inventory your own bookshelves and your children’s bookshelves. What kind of faces are reflected in their books? What usually comes home from the library? Is one group usually the main character and another always relegated to sidekick? Which heroes are your children learning about on a daily basis? Once in a while? Not at all? What perspectives, explicit or implicit, will our children take in about themselves, other citizens of our countries, or other people around the world from the books around them?

Back to School

And just like that, we’re back to school. It’s still hot and humid outside, but the first trees are turning and we’re getting the occasional cool crisp morning warning that fall is on its way. We wrapped up the break the same way we started it with surprise ice cream for lunch.

We milked summer for all it was worth despite a full calendar of work and medical appointments. Water play, hikes, popsicles, day trips, ice cream, fresh garden vegetables, berry picking, bonfires, picnics, parks, porch living, friends, bike rides, boats, walks, parades, festivals, vacation, birthdays, and more filled our days to the brim. On many days the kids spent every moment outside from breakfast to bedtime with a midday break for naps.

Annie started kindergarten last week in a public school special ed classroom just a few minutes from home. We’re missing her wonderful special ed preschool classroom but we’re cautiously optimistic about her new teachers and class and appreciate that it’s so close! Although it’s a full day program we required only half day in her IEP and the district has been very accommodating with special transportation and therapy services scheduled for mornings. She stays for lunch and recess to get a little unstructured play with classmates, then comes home in time for reading, nap, and an afternoon of open play and family time.

We started homeschool kindergarten for Jack in a low-key way last week and officially kicked things off in a big way on Monday with our now-traditional hot air balloon day. He benefited from the summer lull. His reading came together for new levels of fluency and independence and he’s now working on a 100 books challenge while continuing phonics lessons from Alphaphonics (using the same battered book my mother used to teach me!). We’re implementing more math this year with Right Start as the best fit for his needs and personality. We’re kicking off breakfast each morning with The Same Page podcast as an easy way to start our homeschool and public school days off on…well…the same page with Shakespeare, scripture, and poetry. I like that we’re all listening to beautiful language even when I’m running around braiding hair and packing thermoses. We often listen to a chapter book at breakfast as well, and I’ll sit down to read poetry, picture books, a devotional, or play music at the piano (in the same room as our dining table) if we have time. We’re keeping things very informal and low-key academically. Jack’s fine motor has really come together in the last month. He likes to practice letters and writing so I supply opportunities but don’t push. We read a lot of good picture and chapter books from a wide variety of subjects. We memorize poems, folk songs, and hymns in a casual way, and spend most of each day with unstructured play as well as more structured play and art opportunities from A Year of Playing Skillfully.  We used many of their ideas last year and can’t speak highly enough of the program. He’ll probably do a once a week sport or swimming as well. It sounds like a long list but I probably spend 20 minutes a day in “formal” academics with Jack. The rest just fits in as play and stories, which I think is perfect for a kindergartner.

Next week Jack and the little two will start at a one day a week Charlotte Mason cottage school. The little two will be in their very low-key preschool program that focuses on play in nature, good read-alouds, and art. Jack will be in the 6-11 year olds group. It’s scaled by age with much lower expectations for the younger kids. I think he’ll benefit from the older kids’ example as he’s used to being king of the hill with his siblings. He quickly made friends with half a dozen other kids at the open house and can’t wait to start. They’re all three very social kids so it will give them a good low-pressure opportunity to learn in a group. Bonus, it will give me one morning a week child-free!

We don’t worry about preschool academics but Jenny and Josie will be more-or-less preschoolers at home with lots of free play and books and some supplements and art prompts from A Year of Playing Skillfully. They join in most of our morning time and read alouds but I don’t worry if they leave to play.

As with any other area of life “the best laid plans of mice and men…” saying applies. I watched my parents homeschool for 12 years and no year, or even month, looked the same. For now we know our general direction, with plenty of flexibility and freedom to change built in as the year progresses.

New Books Finished in 2016

Catchup post – since I skipped summing up the year between my 2015 and 2017 book posts I thought I’d jump back and fill in the blank. I’m a list checker and the gap was irritating me ;). In 2016 I read 41 new-to-me books – very low for me. We started the year with kids who were 3, 3, 1, and a baby and the first half of the year was intense. We house-hunted and purchased a home in another state, prepped our home for market, went through the process of showings and closings, prepared to move cross-country, had some really nasty illnesses, temporarily lived in a hotel, moved cross country, had some more awful illnesses, weathered a major spike in special needs issues, and gradually settled into our new home. It was good year, but certainly not a relaxing one for lots of deep reading. I’ve marked favorites in each category in bold.

CLASSICS

  • Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

FICTION

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Morningside Heights by Cheryl Mendelson
  • The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
  • The Revolving Door of Life (44 Scotland Street series) by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  • Father Elijah by Michael D O’Brien

NONFICTION

  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic by Ruth Reichl
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally and Nathan Clarkson
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory Keck and Regina M Kupecky
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
  • My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir by Clarence Thomas
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

CHRISTIAN

  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim’s Journey to Christ by Nabeel Qureshi
  • Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
  • Give Me This Mountain by Dr. Helen Roseveare

MYSTERIES

  • A Great Reckoning (Inspector Gamache Series) by Louise Penny
  • Firestorm by Nevada Barr
  • Liverty Falling by Nevada Barr
  • Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  • A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie
  • All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie
  • Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie
  • Mourn Not Your Dead by Deborah Crombie
  • Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

CHILDREN’S/YOUTH (READ-ALOUDS MARKED WITH AN ASTERISK)

  • All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke*
  • Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke*
  • Good Luck Anna Hibicus by Atinuke*
  • Have Fun Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke*
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White*
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
  • North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
  • The Monster in the Hollows by Andrew Peterson
  • The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary*
  • Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House #1) by Mary Pope Osborne*

(There were other read-alouds, but they weren’t new to me so they’re not on this new books list)

 

New Books Read in 2017

I’ve tracked my reading since I was 15. In my teens and early twenties I wrote all new titles (re-reads and picture books don’t count) in a small blue notebook. These days I use Pinterest and write an end-of-year summary. I missed summarizing last year’s reading here. This year’s total is 78 books, up significantly since our days of four kids aged two and under! While the exact number of books read isn’t significant it’s a good indicator of a balanced life for me with time for personal development and relaxation. This year I read fewer classics than usual, mainly because I’ve discovered so many great current reads via the What Should I Read Next podcast and the Read Aloud Revival podcast. This year’s reading tended toward lighter and fun vs. longer or more heavily theological or intellectual books. I had a few specific areas of deliberate exploration. I wanted to read more books by African diaspora authors, some Australian mystery novels, finish all the novels written by the Bronte’s that I’d yet to read, and read more (read: any) poetry than I have in recent years. Mysteries made up a solid chunk of the reading, as did memoirs and autobiographies. I also read a lot of chapter books out loud to the kids, but only counted them if they were new to me. I’ve put my favorites at the top of each category in bold, and a few notations as applicable when a book crossed categories or met one of those sub-goals. If I strongly disliked a book I’ve noted that as well.

CLASSICS

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (African American)
  • Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
  • Dr. Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (DISLIKED. Oh my word…all THAT for THAT ENDING? I don’t feel bad about all-caps loathing because the author is long-dead.)

POETRY

  • What Work Is by Philip Levine
  • The Last Shift by Philip Levine

NONFICTION 

  • The Connected Child by Purvis and Cross (truly outstanding if you’re an adoptive, foster, or special needs parent)
  • Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir in Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen
  • Startle and Illuminate: Carol Shields on Writing edited by Anne and Nicholas Giardini
  • Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
  • Bill Peet: An Autobiography by Bill Peet (an unusual book, but a fun time machine)
  • Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography by Stan & Jan Berenstain (like Peet’s book, a visual and imaginative treat)
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (African American)
  • A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Birds, Beasts, and Relatives by Gerald Durrell
  • At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
  • A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
  • The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
  • Earthly Pleasures: Tales from a Biologists Garden by Roger B. Swain
  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
  • Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Paine
  • How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
  • Neither Here nor There by Bill Bryson (Disliked. I thought this was very weak for a Bryson book. Interaction with locals is often the highlight of a travel book but this was just an extremely crass litany of what he ate, where he stayed, and how the weather behaved)

FICTION

  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
  • The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyase (African)
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
  • The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (African American)
  • The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
  • My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

MYSTERIES

  • A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders 
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
  • The Likeness by Tana French
  • The Dry by Jane Harper (Australian)
  • A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders
  • A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders
  • Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache series)
  • The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (Australian)
  • A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (African/African-Australian)
  • Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie
  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King

CHRISTIAN

  • The Life-Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson
  • He Gave Us a Valley by Dr. Helen Roseveare
  • Catholics and Protestants by Peter Kreeft
  • One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (Disliked. If you like Voskamp’s blog writing – sort of stream-of-consciousness, ethereal, gushy – you’ll like this. However, I really have to grit my teeth for that kind of writing so it was a slog for me. I did really like individual parts and her theme of thankfulness and awareness of God’s gifts)

YOUTH NOVELS

  • 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson
  • Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson
  • The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson
  • The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (listen to the audiobook, the narrator is fabulous and we laughed so hard we cried. Highly highly recommended. The next two books in the series are fun but not as strong)
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (African American)
  • Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
  • The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood
  • Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (African American)

CHAPTER BOOKS READ TO THE KIDS

  • Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat
  • Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
  • When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
  • A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The following books don’t count toward the total. They were read-alouds to the kids (mainly the twins) but either I’d read them in the past or in the case of a couple, I thought they were too short to count toward this list even if they were chapter books. It’s still fun to record what we read together though:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (this is the first book I remember my Mom reading aloud to me. I loved it then and it’s special to have my kids, especially our son, fall head over heels in love with it now.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (The Man read this one and they LOVED it)
  • Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo (this one’s so simple even the toddlers loved it)
  • Pirates Past Noon (Magic Tree House #4) by Mary Pope Osborne (The kids like this series…I find it almost unbearable to read aloud)
  • Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (I don’t have a date so it’s possible we finished this in late 2016, not 2017)

 

Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Currently Reading – Late April Edition

IMG_1057.JPG

The Man: Still reading the Wingfeather Saga. He’s on Book 3 and loving it. This being an ICU week, it’s more “reading” than reading. He’s only actually read his patients’ charts and sympathetic “I’m sorry you had to stay all night with a sick patient and catch two hours sleep on the office floor”-type texts from his wife

Me: Just finished the last of the Morningside Heights trilogy, Anything for Jane, and moved on to another book in my TBR stack. The kids absconded with it this morning, so until I dig it out from under a couch or in a cupboard your guess at the title is as good as mine…

The Kids: As always, we read big stacks from the library and our own stash every week. I only record the standouts worth revisiting here. Our current chapter book is Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty McDonald. I’m reading half a chapter or a chapter out loud after the twins’ bedtime picture book and hymn each night.

This week’s big favorites from the library (repeating the picture here because I’m too tired for hyperlinks tonight and I trust your google skills) are Lola M. Schaefer’s One Special Day and One Busy Day, Jonathan Bean’s Big Snow, and Elisha Cooper’s Train. 

IMG_1057.JPG

Schaefer’s books were such a fun discovery this week.I love her whimsical and engaging art. Her stories are simple but creative. One Special Day tells the story of a little boy named Spencer who is strong, wild, funny, and muddy,yet oh-so-gently welcomes his brand new baby sister with love. Sweet but not saccharine, funny, and the art is delightful. Each page is full of tiny little details that kids love to spot. I think this is an ideal book to give a new big brother or sister. Unlike many “a new baby is coming” books it doesn’t give a list of negatives about baby siblings. It’s completely positive.

One Busy Day follows Spencer and his little sister a few years down the line as they play together through a long and imaginative day. Again, great art, and the grownups and the kids in our house both enjoy it. Both books are ideal for the 2-5 age group.

IMG_1058.JPG

IMG_1059.JPG

We’ve already read and re-read Jonathan Bean’s wonderful At Night many times. His book Building Our House made waves in children’s publishing circles in recent years (though I’ve yet to read it). He was homeschooled and his new book This is My Home, This is My School is the first traditionally-published picture book about homeschooling. I’d never heard of his Big Snow until I saw it at the library last week but I’ve fallen head-over-heels for it. The kids adore it too. It follows a little boy through a winter day as he alternates between”helping” his Mom in their home (with disastrous results) and checking outside for snow. This book perfectly captures the impatient anticipation little kids feel for snow, the pleasant warmth of a cozy winter home, the quiet wonder of a blizzard, and the contentment of a happy family. It’s set around Christmas but never specifically mentions the holiday so it’s a pretty good all-around winter (or anytime) book. Each outdoor page has fun little details to spot around the town. I liked that the Mom is dark-skinned with curly hair. It is so hard to find good Christmas books with black main characters for our kids!

IMG_1060.JPG

IMG_1061.JPG

Last but not least on this week’s library favorites list is Elisha Cooper’s Train. We’ve borrowed it in the past and it’s always a pleasure to revisit. This book takes you across the United States by a series of trains. The book opens with a commuter train leaving an East Coast city, hands off to a passenger train en route to Chicago, continues on through the great plains by freight train, hands off to an overnight train through the mountains, and completes the last leg to the west coast by high speed train. Cooper’s beautiful watercolors and evocative text are pleasing for kids and adults alike. This book strikes just the right balance between keeping the story moving and introducing informative details about trains and railroads to young readers. Bonus, this book depicts a wide variety of races and families. We also borrowed another of his books, Beach. That story dragged a bit and the art felt less varied (though beautiful) but it, too, did a great job depicting racial diversity.

IMG_1063.JPGIMG_1062.JPG

What are you reading these days?