Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Break Part I

Since the family was separated over spring break (Caleb, Anna, Lydia, Seth, and I at home and Russ and Nicolas in Kentucky with the youth group) I though I would give the spring break report in two posts.  This post is what spring break was like for the stay-at-homers.

We experienced the most beautiful weather we have had all spring during spring break week.   It was it the upper 50s or 60s and sunny all week long.  Only towards the end of the week did we see a few sprinkles of rain.   The tulips began coming up, the crocuses were blooming, and the robins were singing; it just felt and smelled like spring!

The kids were more than ready to take a week off from school work.  I had been pushing them pretty hard and they were ready for a break.   Caleb still needed to attend his college class at Cornerstone (the reason he did not go to Kentucky with the youth group--he had already taken a week off when he went to Guatemala), and he faithfully went to the track every day to do the work-outs his dad/track coach gave him.

We thought of several things to do during spring break, but dismissed almost all of them knowing that since everyone else was also on spring break those places would be busy (Public Museum, Meijer Gardens, etc).  One of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to go to those places during school hours and basically have the place to yourself.   So we didn't do much, but we still had a great week.

1.  PJ Hoffmaster State Park
     We wanted to take cousin Andrew's Flat Stanley to Lake Michigan and let him experience dune climbing.  So when Monday appeared to be a beautiful sunny day, we packed up a few snacks, water, and the camera and headed to P.J. Hoffmaster State Park near Muskegon, MI.  Except for a few people way down on the beach, we had the beach and the dune to ourselves.  The lake was thawed by the shore, but several yards out it was still frozen and with the sprinkle of sand on top of the snow, it looked like sand dunes in the middle of the lake.  Caleb (with Seth on his back) and Anna decided to wade the freezing cold water out to the "sand dunes".   Just as Caleb realized these were not sand dunes, but frozen, slushy snow piles, he fell through the ice, just up to his thighs. Since we were the only ones on the beach, he just took off his jeans and spent the rest of the afternoon in his boxer shorts climbing dunes and walking trails with us.  

Those are not sand dunes, just snow and ice piles with a fine layer of sand on them.

A large portion of the lake was still ice covered

Wading out to the faux "sand dunes"

Lydia didn't make it across--the water was just too cold!

From the top of the big dune

Dune climbing!

Caleb wanted to make sure we all knew he wasn't peeing behind a tree; he just didn't want his picture taken with his boxers.

2.  Riverside Park
     We all got up early one morning, ate a quick breakfast and headed to Riverside Park to take Zoe for a walk along the river.  It was such a beautiful morning and we just enjoyed the beauty of the river.  An outing just enough out of the ordinary to be special.

3.  Cleaned up the backyard
     Our backyard looked like a war zone from all the dead twigs and land mines (Zoe poo).  So we all took rakes, gloves and plastic bags and went to work.  Since we all worked together and the weather was so awesome it was actually fun!  We could sit back and appreciate all the work we had done later that night as while we enjoyed the smores we roasted over the fire pit.

4.  Read lots of books
     We made a trip downtown to the Main library where the book selection is quite impressive.  All the kids stocked up and had plenty of reading material over the break.   Caleb recently made a list of books that he wanted to read and was able to cross a few off the list.
5.  Started research on Spring Review Project
     The FRC homeschool group put together a Spring Review for  kids to showcase their schoolwork.  Kids can participate in a handwriting or poster project on a grade assigned topic that will be scored by judges.  They can also display their projects or crafts from the school year (no scoring).  Also, a portion of the evening will be set aside for a program in which the kids can recite, sing, play an instrument, etc.  My three homeschoolers all signed up for a poster project and Lydia would also like to display some of her handwork.  We began to work on these during this week so they didn't seem to be extra work on top of our daily work later.

6.  Babysat Miles and Elin
     On Friday we helped out one of the Bleeker cousins by watching her two little ones for a few hours.  We had a great time with them, and had to laugh when after they left Lydia said, "Little kids are a lot of work!"  

 Next:  Spring Break Part 2  The Kentucky Trip

Monday, April 7, 2014

Nicolas' Birthday

Nicolas was happy his birthday landed on a Saturday.  His favorite place to be is curled up on the corner of the couch with a good book and some sort of a drink (hot chocolate, sweet tea, homemade lemonade, juice and ginger ale, but never just water).  He's working his way through Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, the unedited version...for the second time.   When he doesn't have a new book to read (and he can't be without a book!), I think he just grabs his favorite classics and rereads them.  I wonder how many times he's read The Lord of the Rings

Except for Seth, all of the kids have moved away from traditional birthday cakes for their birthday.  Instead of asking them what kind of cake, I now ask them what kind of dessert they would like.  I have had many requests for pie, "dirt" cups, and other pudding based desserts, but until this birthday I have never had a request for coffee cake.  Nicolas requested Aunt Alyda's (Michigan Grandma's) Cherry Almond Coffee Cake.

Oh, when Nicolas isn't doing homework or reading a book, he loves to play games.  We thought he could use a new one to bug everybody to play.  

The afternoon of his birthday Nicolas joined Lydia, Seth and I at the Derby car races to see how "his" car performed.  Seth didn't want to participate this year, ("I won the whole thing last year...what's the point?") but Lydia picked up a car, chose a design, and Nicolas helped her with it.   I may have mentioned to a few of his church friends that is was his birthday and right before awards were handed out and the end of the races everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to him.   No derby awards for the car this year, but I thought it was the cutest one there...both the car and the girl.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Blessings and Challenges


  • It has been a blessing not to work the last few weekends.  Two Saturdays ago I was able to attend the Cornerstone URC Women's Conference with Martha Peace.  Her talk paralleled her book Attitudes of the Heart.  I was blessed by her messages and also convicted that the call to holiness in a Christian's life is hard work, and some of those attitudes that we need to cultivate (gentle and quiet spirit, love, gratitude, etc) we don't really labor over.  Many everyday life situations don't lend themselves to these attitudes, so to work on these would require as the Puritans would say, "holy sweat". 
  • Just this past Saturday I was asked by the FRC youth group to participate in their "mall hunt" activity.  They selected four individuals to disguise themselves and "hide" in the mall for the youth group kids to find.  After much anxiety (I really am not good at this type of thing) I followed advice from others and decided to only slightly disguise myself.  By making yourself look ridiculous you stand out even more.  So, I straightened my hair, wore make-up, dressed in a business suit, and put on fashion glasses.  I looked different enough that you probably would have to take a second look, but "normal" enough to blend in.  As I came out from the bathroom in my "disguise" I said, "I look more like..." and just as I was saying, "my cousin Maria", Russ said, "your Aunt Joanne."  How funny is that!?  One of the youth group girls told Anna the next day that "your mom looked really pretty yesterday."  If you connect all those if/then logic dots I think that is a complement to Maria and Aunt Joanne!  We won't even consider what that means for me every other day...  Anyway, it was a blessing to connect with the youth in the church and despite having to be in the mall on a busy Saturday for two hours it was fun.
  • Since the boys both received Division I ratings on their solos at District they were able to move on to State.  Last Saturday morning (after BSF and before the mall activity) the boys played their solos (violin and cello) at State.  Both received Division I ratings.   Russ and I consider it a blessing to see some rewards for all those lessons!

  • This year's track season has been a huge challenge.  Not only have we had only a handful of days where the temperatures have been above freezing, but when we do have a warmer day the roads/sidewalks are incredibly messy (2-3" puddles!).  I have forbidden the boys from wearing anything white to track practice!  All those little dots of mud/oil/slush just don't come out of clothes very well.   As of yesterday, the track had only one lane open all the way around.   Athletes could probably run a 200m workout on the track.  But since we had over an inch of snow last night and it is snowing on and off today who knows when it will be clear enough to use!  For now we have been using the parking lot which is not only messy and dangerous, but provides a pretty hard "injury-producing" surface.  Russ said even the radio weatherman was a little "short and clipped" in his forecast report.  "Current temp 26.  High today 28.  Low tonight 10.  Normal lows for this year 30.  Yes, our high today is lower than the normal low."  Since we had so much snow, maybe this extremely slow melt is a blessing?  Otherwise, all our basements and roads would be flooded? 
  • Caleb had running clothes stolen at school this week.  This is extremely frustrating since both were expensive items and there was really nothing he could have done about it.  He had a quartet gig over the noon hour on Monday so quickly ran from his college class back to the locker room at NorthPointe to change into his all-black quartet "concert" dress.  Evidently, NP does not clean out the lockers each year so there are no open lockers with locks on them. So he just left his duffle bag with this track clothes inside unlocked in the locker room and realized when he dressed for track later that day he was missing his Under Armour shirt (a necessity this cold spring!) and Adidas pants.  He was planning to address it with administration today so will see how that goes.   
  • Russ officiated his first funeral today.  A 21 year old woman from the church in Kalamazoo was in a car accident and sustained a severe head injury.   The family was faced with hard end-of-life decisions that made this especially difficult.  It is no surprise to realize that pastoral ministry is no different than many other professions in that schooling or seminary training can not always completely prepare someone for the "real" world.  I learned in PT school how to treat a patient with a hip fracture, but then I began working in the "real" world and found it was never that easy since the hip fracture patient would probably be an amputee with dementia (or something like that).  I guess this was just a taste of what is to come.  This week I happened to read this passage in Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber and it kind of resonated with our experience these last few weeks:

I initially thought pastors just married and buried.  But now I began to realize that they weathered the trenches.  Drinking, drugs, disorders, divorce, debt, despair--they saw it all, and yet they aimed in spite of their own struggles, to remain confidants of the darkest secrets, upholders of families, hubs of social wheels.  All the spokes circled around them madly, while they learned to be still.  To be present.  To give both momentum and stability.  A lot like parenting, I imagined.  I had never before equated shepherding with love, or soldiering with pastoring.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Crochet, Cookies, and ... Hockey

I couldn't think of a "C" word to go with hockey.  Maybe "Canada's National Sport"?  

Crochet:  This winter I experimented with a few new patterns for birthday gifts for all those nieces we have!  I made two of the little purse, one a little bigger than the other.  The one pictured is the one I gave Alexandra and it is pretty small, just big enough for a little notebook and mini-pen and maybe you can slide in some church candy.  I made a slightly larger one for Nora.  I have always wanted to try my hand at amigurumi and found some cute patterns here.  My creations are far from perfect, so don't look too close.  

Cookies:  The girls have an American Girl baking book complete with cookie cutters and lots of ideas how to decorate those cookies.  After many days of begging, we finally rolled out sugar cookie dough and made pretty little prom dresses.  Even Seth enjoyed this!  The idea of rolling out dough, cutting, baking it, making frosting, etc always seems so daunting that I put it off as long as I can.  When I see how much fun they have decorating, I always wonder again, "What took me so long?"

...and Hockey:  Last week we went to our first Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game.  Another home school family from church had extra tickets to a Wednesday night game and invited us to join them.  We enjoyed the game and the time of fellowship, and the boys all came home with hockey pucks that they were giving away.  Too bad we don't skate well enough to play a great game of hockey.

After working three weekends in a row, I am happy to be off for several Saturdays.    This weekend I am planning to attend the Hudsonville URC women's conference on Friday night and Saturday.  The speaker this year is Martha Peace.  I am planning to attend with an older lady from our church, but also found out last night at the MWI meeting that many seminary wives are also planning to attend.    Russ and I won't see much of each other since he plans to leave Saturday for London, ON as he is preaching at the FRC there on Sunday.  

Our elderly neighbor called us last night to tell us she was moving out of her home this weekend into an apartment.  She says she just can't do steps anymore and even fell a few weeks ago.   We will miss having her across the street and will have to make sure we visit her in the new apartment.   She is not planning on selling her home right away and has asked Caleb to mow her lawn this summer.  He can add that to his growing list of mowing jobs...

And...track season started on Monday.  Hard to believe with so much snow on the ground and the below freezing temps.  What a nightmare for the track coach (Russ).  Guess he will just have to be have more creative practices. in the snow!

Homeschool Weeks 18-24

I can't believe over seven weeks have gone by since I last gave a home school update!  This may be a long post, so you may just want to scroll down and look at the pictures.

In history we began week eighteen with the Revolutionary War.   We read how the discontent in the colonies grew until the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord.  We studied the important events and places of the war including:  The Battle of Bunker Hill, the Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin's trip to France to acquire their assistance, Valley Forge, and the surrender of Cornwallis.

Other people we studied in more depth included:  Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Adams (also his time in France and as ambassador to George III), Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, Benedict Arnold, John Witherspoon, John Muhlenberg, and John Jay.  

We saw how the new country's beginning was a little rocky until the U.S. Constitution was written and agreed upon.  There were still many who were not happy until the Bill of Rights was added several years later.  We watched the Schoolhouse Rock version of the preamble of the constitution and learned what each of the phrases meant through the help of the book, We the Kids.  The kids also completed a worksheet and watched a short video to help them understand the branches of our government and how they check and balance each other.  

Of course, we studied George Washington in more depth, including his time as general and as the first President of the United States.  

Activities for the Revolutionary War unit:    We made yummy hasty pudding (Lydia really liked this and still asks me to make it), read the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Longfellow and tried to find which things were historically accurate and which were not, made paper quilts with scrapbook paper (I thought the needle and thread thing with three kids would just be too much!), and made silhouette portraits that were popular in the time of George Washington.

The kids laugh about Seth's square head.  He had such a rooster tail the morning that we did these that I just traced it right in!

After this we "left" the United States and went back to Europe to see what else was happening in the world at this time.   Captain Cook founded Botany Bay in Australia without realizing he had found another continent and the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille.   We studied the Reign of Terror in France and the end of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  We then traveled to Russia and learned more about Catherine the Great.  

Activities:  I made Baked Russian Manyick a popular Russian dessert that is quite tasty and we cut out paper dolls of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.  

Louis XVI complete with a removable head.  Sick, I know, but that kind of thing intrigues a 7-year old boy.

In week 24 we studied how the world was progressing in terms of science and inventions.  This included Robert Fulton and the steam engine, Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, the rise of new factories and the idea of "interchangeable parts,"  Noah Webster and his dictionary, and Dr. Jenner and the smallpox vaccination.

During this time we also began a study of the fifty states and the presidents.  This year we have just a brief overview of the states in the order they join the union and will continue to study them in more depth next year, memorizing their capitals and geographic locations.   We are filling out little booklets on interesting facts of all the presidents that we can eventually compile into a bigger book.   This year we will only complete the pages of the presidents up until 1850 and plan to continue this project next school year.  

In our botany unit we studied flowers, pollination, different types of fruit and various ways seeds are dispersed (wind, animal, water, human, mechanical), leaves and photosynthesis, and roots.  The kids also classified leaves (simple or compound, venation, shape, and margin) using Caleb's old leaf collection.  On one extremely cold snow day we went to Meijer Gardens to see some of the plant characteristics that we had been studying.  I think this was when Caleb was in Guatemala.
The kids were especially intrigued with the carnivorous plants

Because it was a snow day, Nicolas was able to join us!

Dissected flower

Our read aloud during this time was about William Carey, missionary to India.  He lived at exactly the the same time period we had been studying so it was fascinating to see how political events around the world impacted travel and missions at that time.  

Both Lydia and Seth finished their book units.  Lydia made a diorama of Misty and Phantom and Seth still has a few projects he plans to finish up with mom and dad's help.  Stay tuned for those...

Lydia was so excited big brother Caleb had a snow day and was willing to help her with the diorama.  

"Leather" covered Indian word dictionary of words used in Sign of the Beaver

Last, but not least, we are now on chapter 4 of our memorization of the book of James.  Chapters 1 & 2 go pretty well, chapter 3 is a little shaky at the end, and we are just into the first few verses of chapter 4.    I review it in my head as I fall asleep at night.  It is the only way I can keep up with the kids!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Activity Update

1.  Snow (are you sick of this topic yet?)

A couple days ago (Monday)  Seth and I decided to walk Zoe while the girls were at piano lessons.  When I initially went outside it was not snowing, but when I came back out after grabbing Seth's inhaler it was snowing buckets.  We decided it would be an adventure so took off on our walk anyway.   We had only gone 3-4 blocks when we realized it was snowing harder than we thought and the wind was blowing it right in our face.   For a little while we pretended to be Charles Ingalls trapped in a snowstorm while trying to get home to Laura and Mary for Christmas.  But that could only distract us for a few blocks.  After trudging in silence for a few minutes Seth turns to me with his red cheeks and snow plastered to his glasses and stocking hat, "Hey, Mom.  Good book? On the couch?  Hot cocoa?"  Warmed me up enough to make it to the end of the road where we turned around and had the wind at our backs and a much warmer walk back home.   Love that kid.

Anyway, we spent quite a bit of yesterday cleaning up after the last 5-6" of snow.  Russ helped a few neighbors clear out their driveways and we both helped neighbors that had cars stuck on the road.  I think the consensus is that we are all just tired of moving the stuff around.  Especially, as I mentioned before, because we are having trouble figuring out where to put it.  Seriously, we could crawl (Seth could probably walk) on the sidewalk and no one would see you because the snow walls are so high.   On a more positive note...we are having fun sledding and doing other fun snow things.

Seth is standing on the sidewalk!

Ice marbles.  The kids love to throw them in the snow and then dig to find them back.

Zoe likes to chase and dig for them too.

Snow Volcano

2.  Blandford Nature Center
Seth is loving his one afternoon a month at the nature center.  This semester I have the privilege of being a parent chaperone for three of the five sessions.  Last month I joined the kids while we walked through trails in the woods and looked for signs of animals:  scat, tracks in the snow, broken twigs, etc.  I learned so much!  Just last week they learned about simple machines and how they helped make the lives of the pioneers easier.  They taught all this while in the country school, the pioneer house, and the old blacksmith shop to make it all seem "real".  Looking forward to sugaring next month!

3.  Canada

Russ made his second preaching trip into Canada last weekend.  This time he took both older boys along with him to hear Paul Washer speak on "The Gospel and True Conversion" at Redeemer University College on Friday night.  On Saturday they traveled to Niagara Falls.  They thought it was pretty cool, but would like to go back when it is warmer!  They stayed with church families on Saturday night and during the day on Sunday when Russ preached at the Brandtford, ON FRC.

The mist from the Falls leaves a layer of ice on everything

4.  MWI

Last semester we enjoyed having the speakers address topics related to the "Pastor's Wife--Reaching out in the Congregation."  This semester we will hear topics related to the "Pastor's Wife--Reaching out Beyond the Congregation."  The first evening the wives met at the Omega House which is located right next to the only abortion clinic in Grand Rapids.  The Omega House performs sidewalk counseling and also offers post abortion counseling.  They are always looking for volunteers to assist with and pray for them.  I did not attend this evening as I had already toured the Omega House and was familiar with the ministry.  The next evening was cancelled due to snow, but last week Sandra Barrett spoke on the ministry of Amy Carmichael and what we are able to learn about service from her life.   As always, I appreciate the fellowship afterwards just as much as the speaker.     I was able to connect with the two new Brazilian wives and enjoyed getting to know them a little bit.  

5.  Solo/Ensemble

Both boys played solos (violin and cello) a few Saturdays ago for the District Solo/Ensemble Festival.   Caleb did not play in a quartet this year as they lost their viola player and did not have enough time to practice with a new one.  They both did well and will move on to the State Solo/Ensemble.  At least Caleb will... Nicolas is still undecided.  Evidently, the format is the same as districts for freshmen so Nicolas isn't sure he wants to repeat the same thing.  The upperclassmen not only play their solos, they also play scales and sight-read a piece of music.  

When they are not doing school work, practicing their instruments, or playing outside in the snow, the kids enjoy computer or Kindle time, playing on the Wii, reading books, playing games, fixing puzzles, or playing Playmobil.  I wish I had taken a picture of the homeschool room floor before we cleaned it up.  Every puzzle we own that has 25 - 100 pieces was fixed on the floor.  Any space not taken up by puzzles had an entire Playmobil village set up on it.    Lydia also likes to do handwork, either crochet or, as she is doing now, counted cross-stitch.  Anna would prefer to go to the other puzzle table in the family room and work on the 1000 piece puzzle that we usually have set up.  I think we have made 4 or 5 in the last few weeks...mostly Anna's work.  And of course the last few weeks we have enjoyed the watching the Olympics.  

We are all looking forward to Spring, but not for the mess that it will bring with all the melting snow.  Caleb has been trying to run outside 3-4x a week to prep for track season.  He had to cut his mileage just because it is much harder to run through snow (not everyone shovels their walks).  I think it will take many, many warm days before we find a track, though!