Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Poem I Wrote

I had a tough day. It began with an early morning call from my baby boy, and escalated when the two older boys were fighting over who was going to make oatmeal. It culminated with me yelling and finally making a last minute decision to skip church. Which subsequently led Zeke to cry the rest of the day because we missed church. I was exhausted. I thought about dragging the kids through the rain into the van, then out of the van into church, then into each of their classrooms, then in exhaustion to settle into my own room...only to be interrupted halfway through to feed the baby...then again halfway through the service...and then wrestle with all of them while trying to enjoy a potluck and answer a dozen questions about how Mitch is doing. I was also angry. Yeah, the kids had some part to do with it. But mostly it's just a combination of everything. A person can only take so much, you know? I cried in the shower. I cried into my pillow. I cried while I nursed the baby. I cried while I begged the kids to do what they were told. I cried on the couch. I cried on the deck. I cried to more than one friend who called to see why I wasn't at church. I stared at the computer and cried. While I cried on the phone to a no-doubt frustrated Mitch, Mitch replied, "I don't know what you want from me. You don't like any of the solutions I have to offer." Humph. Since I am not a quick thinker, I just sat there silently until he decided he needed to go. I then composed the following poem. I know a poem won't magically make things all better. It may not ease his frustration or give him insight. But I hope it does. It's probably a little too pink (if you know Emerson Eggerichs, you know what that means). I tried, anyways! I don't know why I'm sharing it--it is kinda personal--but whether my transparency will help you to know how to pray or if it may be some kind of aid in your own family...for what it's worth, here it is.

What I Really Want from You

I don’t want a solution
Just a shoulder
I want you to sympathize with me
To understand
This is hard for me
I want to know you would save me if you could
I know you can’t
But would you if you could?

I want you to validate the job that I am doing
Not take it away from me
I want you to tell me
That you don’t know how I do it
That you admire me
That there is no better woman to care for your kids

I need to know
That you believe in me
Trust me
See how strong I am
Even though I am weak

I need you to pray for me
And remind me that I can trust God
I need to hear it from YOU
Not just from a book

I need to know that you miss me
That you want to hold me
Run your fingers through my hair
Or even rub my sore neck for me

I want you to make the most of this time
To find yourself again
To dream
To pursue a dream
Not just get by

DREAM!
Desire
Passion
Set a goal
Pursue it
Change the world
Or risk failure

But please don’t make excuses
That hurt me
And disable you

Because if you are not hopeful,
Then what do we have to look forward to?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Half a Person

I just remembered that this is one of the blogs that got lost in the dark recesses of my mind. =) It is so hard to go places that Mitch and I always went together (like church) or to talk to people who are used to seeing us/being with us together. I always feel like "half a person." I miss him so much.

Yesterday was ok. We have to work on getting our work done independently. Micah and Eden that is. So I'm coming up with a grading system to be able to keep track of their independent work that isn't really graded. We got caught up on the lessons that had been left unfinished...hopefully I'll see some improvement. If I weren't so distracted, I could probably do this a little better!! =) We took a walk. There are lots of fields around here with wild grasses growing in them. We found some thistles that had bunches of different butterflies and moths. Since Micah just finished a science unit on insects, we were quite enthralled. Of course, butterflies are beautiful all on their own...but we had fun trying to identify each.

I watched "The Ultimate Gift" last night. It was incredible. I found myself totally caught up in the story. Well done!! It made me miss Mitch even more, though. Really, I'm glad that I have these feelings for him. Not glad for the circumstances, but reassured that the desire for him is there.

Friday, September 28, 2007

"Momsense"

A gold mine here by Anita Renfroe!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

God doesn't need me

We had an interesting conversation in Bible class today. We were talking about polytheism (yes, at the grade 1 level!). There is only one true God. This put in my mind the song by Phillips Craig and Dean, "You Are God Alone." The first stanza says, "You are not a god created by human hands, You are not a god dependent on any mortal man, You are not a god in need of anything we can give, and by Your plan, that's just the way it is. You are God alone from before time began..." I pulled up the youtube video of the song and played it for the kiddos. In order to take Micah and Eden a little bit deeper (beyond the grade 1 level, you know), I pointed out the line that essentially states God doesn't need us. At that point, Micah was being belligerent and distracting. It is so frustrating. So I look at Micah and I say to him, "Micah, God doesn't need you to listen to me, God doesn't need you to obey, and God doesn't need you to learn about Him." That got his attention! I went on to say that God did not need to create us nor save us nor use us. BUT God loves us. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. Not because He's lonely. Not because He needs us. But because He wants us. And we can please Him. Now, not to ignore what Eden was doing here in all of this. She was a little taken aback. This was a blow and I think she felt sad. I can sympathize. I sure hadn't really thought about it before. But it is easy to get into a mode where I think that God needs me. Once I humbly admit that He doesn't, I can finally get into a place where I understand what my role is.

Craig Barnes says, "Our mission of service to God can never, never begin by thinking we have something to offer...We begin with the confession that whether we're a success or an outcast, we need mercy. Otherwise what we call Christian mission will actually be a disguise for remaining powerful...If we want to convert the world around us into a more holy place, we have to begin by allowing ourselves to be converted into lepers. Then we can join the voices of those who cry for mercy...(Luke 17:14)...If the first lesson on mission is to turn toward our suffering, the second is to then turn back to Jesus Christ in thanksgiving. All Christian mission is about gratitude for what Jesus has done in our own lives." One key premise to his book is that conversion is not a one-time event. It is on-going. Christ is using the events in our lives to reach us for Himself constantly. It is losing our lives so that we may gain a new life, and abundantly. And he guarantees it will not be the life we expected.

At another part of the book, he describes the journey the Hebrew people made from Egypt to the Promised Land, and all the rabbit-trailing they did "betwixt and between." He likened it to marriage and also to the Christian walk. He says, "The challenge to people of faith is to learn how to follow. Central to that task is giving up the expectation of knowing where we are going. Jesus delivered his most severe warnings on the cost of discipleship after he had already set his face toward Jerusalem...'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' One of the most frustrating things about Jesus is that He just won't settle down. He is constantly moving us away from the places where we would prefer to stay, like Galilee, and moving us closer to Jerusalem, where we do not want to go...We journey between the security of the pseudo-life we abandoned and the uncertainty of life waiting for us in Jerusalem. Along the way the gospel starts to change our lives...Sometimes we get to a place in life that feels so right...Well, we had best take a picture, because the chances are great that Jesus will invite us to experience more abandonment. That's because Jesus will not settle for our watered-down dreams that accept life the way it is. He keeps pushing us toward a promise that we cannot yet see...salvation will become clear there. That's how it changes our lives."



Knowing that restores the mystery and wonder to this long, difficult, unpredictable valley in my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who Did It?

Alright. Someone with 8 kids looked at my house on Monday. So which one of my cyber friends came to visit? =) There aren't many people out there with 8 kids. They said our house was too small. Go figure! Well, I agree--if I had the money and 8 kids or more, I would certainly rather have a bigger kitchen and dining room. That's the biggest drawback to our house. It's perfect for a family with 4 or 5 kids. Or some teenagers.

By the way, here's the latest pic of "the Spitter." I think he looks the most like Zeke. Nice and round and fat. :) Today he was doing a lot of standing on my lap. His fat little thighs have dimples in them. :) He loves to chew on his fingers and subsequently on his blanket. He doesn't really suck on his thumb, but he does get it into his mouth. Hmmmm....




Mitch needs prayer for his class. This is not an academic issue or even a behavior issue. More of a "reason for" the behaviors. He uncovered some baaaaad stuff today. I'm sick to my stomach, and his head is reeling. Talk about despair. If he could come home tonight, I know he would be hugging Micah tight.
I finished the Craig Barnes book. I'd probably share some insights, but I just popped in a LOTR dvd. I decided that I need to "escape" for a while. Gonna go listen to the wisdom of the hobbits. :)

Monday, September 24, 2007

8 x 0 = 24

Well, one of Mitch's kids gave a similar answer on a speed drill recently. It may not have been 24, but it was something equally absurd. It wasn't just that problem, but it was ALL of the problems. Out of 40, he only got 1 right. They were all basic multiplication facts. These are 4th graders. :( I think he said something like only 6 kids in his class had their homework done for today. One parent asked if her child could make it up. Why the need to make it up? Why not just do it in the first place?

Mitch had another frustrating day. So did I, and I can't even blame it on the kids or the weather. I am just so stuck. Worry and doubt chase me endlessly. The only relief is to take it one step, one chunk at a time. That book I'm reading by Craig Barnes, "When God Interrupts," is helping a lot.

We had a showing this morning, and got a call this evening to do one on Wednesday afternoon. When we got home after this morning's showing, the kids come unglued. They must have just been dying to mess the house up! It did get away from me once I let my guard down. =S

My hope remains in the Lord. He sustains me and gives me strength. I may not like it for right now, but I am glad that He is molding and shaping me! The cool thing is, I know He's working on Mitch too.

Well...short post tonight...I stink like baby puke (Malachi sure is a spitter) and I can hear my bed calling me from here! :)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Activity

I'm going for a record. My house, show ready, for 4 days in a row! We had a showing yesterday (Friday) am of course, then an open house today and another one tomorrow. Today there was a message on my phone to do a showing on Monday am. For clarification--a showing is where someone who really wants to see our house and is interested in purchasing it schedules a private visit with their realtor/agent. An open house is where a realtor/agent from our realty comes by and has the house open for a couple hours and anyone who wants to can stop by. It may be someone interested in buying the house, a nosy neighbor, people who have nothing better to do, you get the idea. The showings are exciting for me. I agree to the open houses because it helps me keep the house clean, and in general I know about the open houses before I have any idea there will be a showing.

We had a huge blessing today. I left the house with the 3 younger kids, while Paul and Marilyn took the older 3 to the apple orchard. It was warm, so I rolled down the windows. It didn't take me long to realize the button broke to the passenger side window. It was stuck going "down" and so would not come back up. Not good. I called Mitch and asked him what to do. He said to take it somewhere and get it fixed. Duh. So I drove over to Steph and Sal's shop (Fifth Gear) to see if Sal's dad would be in. Lucky Duck--both Sal and Jose were there! Sal took it apart for me and we got a new part and got it all back together. I am so grateful. God definitely worked out the timing of that whole deal.

Every day is difficult to keep going. But what other choice do we have? I never imagined it would be 6 weeks and counting...at least every day brings us one step closer. I keep praying for God to sell the house. I always follow that with a prayer that asks Him to give us what we need, and not what we want. It is still so hard. Mitch had a better but hard day on Friday. He was really tough on the kids. He started off the day by saying "We're going to get back to the basics." No one was allowed to speak about anything at all without raising their hands. Anyone who gets their conduct card full will be sent to the back of the classroom to stand and will not be allowed to work (receiving a zero for the day). I follow that logic--if your misconduct is so disruptive, then you will not be allowed to participate with the class. If you want to participate, then you will follow the rules. If you do not follow the rules, I will not allow you to step on the rights of others who do wish to participate in class. Sounds a lot like the Declaration of Independence, huh? At the end of the day one of his soft-spoken students indicated how much she enjoyed class that day under the new rules. :) Mitch doesn't like being such a big meany. At least he did it without yelling. He told the kids, "If you continue to perform poorly, you will fail the class, and you will return to fourth grade next year." He challenged them that he means what he says and he will endure by saying, "I have bills to pay and I'm not going anywhere." So let's get to work! He has a couple of writing projects that he is going to do with them coming up. He says he wants to get to know the students more and have a launch point for conversations. One of the projects is sort of like the "what do you want to be when you grow up" paper, only with a little more detail. He wants to take that and then use it to impress upon students the need to do well in school to do well in life. He is trying to find a way to light some fires and restart their desires to learn.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mitch's class

I had a fun phone call today from Mitch. I was confused at first, but then he quickly explained. He had arranged a special lunch for the students in his class whose conduct cards merited a reward: they got to eat outside with him. Somehow this special "picnic" was made fun by calling Minnesota via Mitch's cell phone. They all said "hi" to me, and I talked with my best northern accent. =)

Too bad he didn't know someone more funny to call! LOL. It sounded like he was having a good lunch with them. I can tell that he is trying to come up with his own incentives that are at levels that will be reachable for all students. A discipline system that is based solely on positive reinforcement will not deter all bad behavior, but it may spark a desire to learn in a higher percentage of his students. I just had to post this nugget, so that it doesn't sound like there is nothing good about his job. He did sound happy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sound Off

I am sooo tired, but can't go to bed without a small rant.

Mitch got the standardized test scores back for his class yesterday. They have the scores, but they also put on there the percentile ranking for each student in each subject area, as compares with the rest of the students taking that test across the nation. It was devastating to hear. Many of his kids ranked in less than 10% in multiple subject areas. I heard him say many times 1% or 2% even. Can you imagine? His class is made up of students that perform worse than 99% of students in the United States in certain areas!

Well, you know how I feel about statistics. (If not, refresh your memory here.) In this case, however, I feel that the numbers are deadening. It is heartbreaking. He read me a lab report that a student wrote. (By the way, he rarely, if ever, shares any names with me.) There was not a single coherent thought in the report. Zero complete sentences. The spelling was horrible (he spelled the words for me) and there were not even any phrases that I could understand. It was gibberish. The saddest part: it was not even an ESL student. :(

Now, this next part is my interpretation from what Mitch told me. I really don't want you to assume that this is exactly how it happened. It is poor journalism at best, and is truly a highly-opinionated "sound off."

To top matters off, Mitch was paid a visit by his assistant principal today. He had just given the class instructions to sharpen their pencils, take out their books, and get ready for class. He turned his back to assist the select students who would be giving the morning announcements (each class takes a turn giving announcements for a week), and in walked to the principal to see the pandemonium that was breaking out behind Mitch's back. It was all in a very short time frame. She criticized Mitch for not providing structure for his class. She spent over an hour and a half today "instructing" Mitch how to manage his classroom. Never mind that he has been a teacher for 7 years!!! And an excellent one at that! She told him how he needed to keep these kids "under his thumb" and that he sometimes needed to "be in their face" telling them what to do. I asked if he even had a chance to defend himself (as my own emotional temperature was rising). He said yes, but was met with plenty of sugar-coated talk, like "well, you need to get a hobby and relax at least twice a week after school." What?!? Even worse, she is going to be stopping by to provide more advice and assistance over the next two weeks. Duh. Here was the real clincher...Mitch began mentioning specific student names and behavior issues. The principal was like "He (or she) is in your class?" "Oh, him too?" "You have an inclusion class?" "Wow. They are feeding off each other." It was like she came in and attacked him, accusing him of some fault, and she really didn't even understand what was going on in there. He had kids fighting today and one kid even kicked him. They carry "conduct cards" and this is supposed to be some sort of incentive. The kids get marks on their cards and if they have marks, then they are not able to participate in privileged clubs such as "the principal's club." Or something like that. This is an ineffective and outdated method of discipline. Positive reinforcement is obviously not the answer for this class of students. They have so many marks on their cards that it doesn't even matter to them any more. Yet his boss's advice was to really drum up the clubs. Right. He mentioned the workbooks to her (or lack of workbooks) and she advised him to copy what he needs. Illegal copies. She says that the school district doesn't get enough money and can't supply all they need. (rolling my eyes). This is ridiculous!!! Can you tell I am angry for him? He mentioned that he will not yell at the students, get in their faces, or anything like that. He said that the children have become desensitized to this form of "management" and it is not beneficial. She responded, "Well, I suppose there are some who use those methods, but there are others who are soft spoken and handle their classes well." Mitch supposes there are maybe 2. I suppose that those teachers have "gifted and talented" students and that no one in this district is ready to accept blame for the problems that are going on.

On the flip side, I recognize many of my own faults here. I would not fare much better than any other teacher in this school. At home, with my amazing kids, I am sometimes reduced to yelling as a form of "classroom management." Mitch overheard me criticizing Micah for something he did to Eden. I said to Micah, "That makes twice you have done that. I said to stop." Mitch asked me, "So what's the consequence?" Fair question. I said I didn't have one. I supposed I could take the item away, but that would lead to more yelling from Micah who would tell me just how mean and unloving I am, etc etc. This is just one example, and the big issue is the questioning of my authority and how I dole out consequences. So Mitch says we will have some things to work on when we get back together. =) How I can't wait for that day!! I asked him if he would even have anything left at the end of the day to give to us. If he would be able to come home after dealing with the same stuff (only on a much larger scale) at school all day. He said he thinks it will be a relief in some ways. I hope so!

In other news, my house is clean again. That can only mean one thing: a showing. Yay! We have a showing scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday). We are also having TWO open houses this weekend on Saturday and on Sunday. I'm not sure what all the hullabaloo is about, but I'll take it! Let's get a move on!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not Alone

Mitch is not alone. I happened across this commentary by a teacher who tried to teach in a similar situation and quit. In case the link becomes "dead", his name is Matt Roberts, and the story was aired by npr.org.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=13992378

There are two commentaries on there that you can hear by clicking "listen." The one at the top is him explaining why he quit. The one under a picture with his family is him before he quit, while he still has a little hope.

In case you can't get the link to work, and you don't want to look through archives to find it, here is a paraphrase of the story: Matt and his family (wife and 2 kids) were from New Orleans and they decided to return there to teach after Katrina. He had been a teacher for 7 years. He was eventually overwhelmed at the inability to even teach the high school English class he was employed to teach. The discipline system for these kids was ineffective. The kids who had no desire to learn so that they made learning impossible for those who do want to learn. He said that he was no longer angry at the kids for not wanting to learn, not angry at the parents for not teaching their kids right from wrong, and not angry at the administration for not doing their part to follow through with discipline. He said he was "just plain angry." And tired of excuses.

It is sad how he describes his feelings and he sounds so much like Mitch when I talk to him. :*(

Monday, September 17, 2007

Activity?

We have had an exciting past few days as far as the "real estate market" goes. Last Tuesday I got a call from the realtor. He only wanted to schedule an open house for this weekend, but for a brief moment there I was dreading the thought that he wanted to schedule a showing for that day. My house was a wreck! I was relieved, and we planned the open house. Hahaha--not even 10 min later I got a call from his secretary saying that an agent wanted to show our house--in LESS than an HOUR. Yikes!! Not wanting to turn anyone away, I made a desperate attempt to clean the house as quickly as possible and scoot the kids out the door. It certainly wasn't perfect, but it was not terrible. It was definitely a miracle! When we got home after that showing I was a little deflated because the house appeared that no one had come in, and there was no card left from the agent. Our realtor says that he has not heard back from him yet.

On Saturday we had a fun day with lots of people stopping by. A friend brought her two kids over to play and we were all just hanging out. Around 4:30 there was a friendly knock on the door and the person just came on in (of course, that is typical for our house--knock and come in any time you stop by!). Imagine my surprise to see a stranger in the entry way! He asked if we were still doing the open house, and my eyes got very wide. I tried to explain that the open house was on Sunday, and he was obviously embarrassed. I invited him to come on in and look at the house anyways, and I apologized for the mess. (In spite of what I would LIKE to do to keep the house clean all the time, it is truely impossible to really do so). Wouldn't you know it, the kids chose this moment to have a screaming, crying fight over whose turn it was on the xbox. My turn to be embarrassed. The guests were very excited about the deck and about the basement, and I really tried to stay out of their way and give them as much privacy to look as possible (if that is possible with 8 kids in the house--did I mention Malachi woke up at that precise moment and decided he needed to eat as well?). The best thing I could do was encourage them to come back on Sunday during the open house to get a cleaner, and certainly quieter, look. They told me several times (english is their second language), "very nice house." :)

On Sunday my house was properly cleaned and left quietly for the open house. Another guy was filling in for my realtors, someone I did not know, so I left him a short list of things he may not know ("there is a laundry chute in the hallway closet, don't fall in," etc.). He left a note back saying that a couple of groups had come through the house and he had even called his wife to come over to see our "beautiful house." I can't imagine that they wanted to see my decorating (as if there is any), so that made me feel good that we did a good job on construction. :)

Sunday night I thought I was out of the woods so I messed up my sewing room really good again (I did sew some covers for someone online on Saturday--yay!) and made a skirt for Eden and a diaper for Malachi (piggy is growing out of his size small Growing Cheekies). This morning (Monday) started off terribly with a fight over who is really in charge and if a certain child in our family doesn't have to learn if he doesn't want to (ahem...won't mention any names...but he is apparently taking the whole "man of the house" thing much more seriously than he should). In the middle of dealing with this crisis--and thankfully Mitch was needed terribly and available to speak on the phone with said "man of the house"--we got a call from the realtor's secretary setting up another showing for today at 6 pm. So my house is clean again! This time there were definitely people in the house for the showing and they left a card. :)

Mitch is really struggling to hang on there in Texas. I don't care about being polite anymore. I am going to tell it like I've heard it from him. The way they are teaching these kids absolutely sucks. All they care about is test scores. They do not follow a curriculum that makes any sense whatsoever and they do not use their textbooks like they should. Mitch was given a sketch of lessons that he is supposed to teach each day (mind you, with no curriculum, he has to find all that himself) and the order does not even make sense! He is required to keep on track with all the other classes, so he cannot reteach a lesson if the kids did not grasp the concepts. He has an "inclusion" class and has 4 "officially" special-ed students. Two of these 4 scored among the highest on the last math test, so clearly there are some "unofficial" students in his class as well. He gets help for these students for 1 hour 1 day every two weeks. Otherwise, he's on his own with them. One girl was trying to do story problems, but she does not speak English and he had to translate for her (he does NOT know Spanish) because they do not offer translation after 3rd grade. Never mind that Arithmetic concepts should be taught in a certain order and built upon, no, he has to follow the same STUPID schedule that everyone else does. Who cares that his students are unable to learn at that pace! He is "not allowed" to give a failing score to anyone who is labeled "special ed" even if their score is failing. What is the deal here??? He does not have enough workbooks for his students, and he was told that he had to just copy the extra pages he needs. Every single page in the book has a copyright on it and says DO NOT DUPLICATE. Ohhhhhhh....but the school CAN afford to buy cool high tech new equipment like ELMO's and SMART Boards. The teachers all yell at the kids. That is how they CONTROL them. Mitch hates yelling, and this is a tough blow to him. But the kids respond to that and it appears to work. This is NOT ok. Is anyone out there who is listening? Doing something because it appears to work does not mean it is ok. The first week of school the administration sent home letters telling the parents that they needed to sign the forms to OPT OUT OF corporal punishment. Are you kidding me? This is a public school? Yes, the kids themselves are tough. They come from incredibly bad backgrounds. That makes them hard to deal with. But the district is not helpful in turning them around. Not all the kids are bad. Mitch trades with another teacher and takes her "gifted and talented" class to teach them math, science and history. This teacher, who has been there for 7 years, cannot believe the class that Mitch has. So, yeah, let's take all the "bad" kids, and put them together and then give them to the "new guy from up north" and then tie his hands so that he will completely fail but we won't have to deal with any of them. Mitch said tonight (and I hope he doesn't get mad at me for publishing this), "What they are doing to these kids borders on child abuse."

There it's out...that's what's really been going on. I know there are two (or more) sides to every story, but there are some dirty rotten nasty things going on in this district. A lot of bureaucracy and red tape that is not in the best interest of the students. Did I mention that Mitch got YELLED at for showing up the second day of school with no tie? Never mind that no one pointed out the dress code to him in the 3 days of new-teacher training he was required to attend that no one told him about. Yeah, you would think they could have pared down the 3-hours of "how to make a bulletin board" to maybe only 2.5 hours so they could go over "need to know" items. Because teachers fresh out of college haven't spent enough time doing cutesy bulletin boards. Ugh. It makes me sick. Sorry for the rant, but I want this to CHANGE! I want someone who can do SOMETHING to know about what they are doing to these children. It is maddening to hear how they make the children sit on dots on the gym floor with no talking and nothing to do for up to 50 min before school starts. It is maddening to think that the students get NO recess, and that they only have 2 phy-ed days per week. It is maddening to think that the only forms of discipline are to yell at the students or to take their phy-ed away. And maybe if someone gets MAD enough then something could actually change there! Think about it: would you put your child in a public school like that?

Pray for him especially. He is looking for a new job to be completely honest. Maybe this is why our house has not sold. But now with all the recent activity I am starting to get really worried that we will get an offer. Then we will be really confused on what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go. I can't imagine funding TWO moves across country.

Pray for the eldest kiddo here too. He obviously needs something I can't give him. :(

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Story

I keep hearing the same questions over and over again, and I figured I should get down as much of the story as I can. One question that people ask the most frequently is "Why Houston? Did you look at all the schools around here?" But this story backs up to long before we started looking for a new job.

About a year ago I came home from a Creative Memories convention excited about a new direction in life that I felt God was leading me. I blogged about it: http://stephsoundoff.blogspot.com/2006/08/fond-farewells.html. My weighty decision included closing my in-home daycare, which was a major source of income for us. But it wasn't just income, it was also a major source of stress. My health and emotions flourished after I quit. I felt better than I had in years and had a much better outlook towards the future. We knew that it would be financially hard, but Mitch supported my decision. We had no idea how we would make it. In October I shared about some of the struggles: http://stephsoundoff.blogspot.com/2006/10/problem-solved.html. Ultimately, God provided for us (and I feel it was miraculously) through October, November, December, January, February...well, you get the idea. We were never late on a bill and never missed a mortgage payment and our debt did not increase. Our grocery list was sometimes short (I remember not being able to buy sour cream at one point because it wasn't "necessary"), but we always had what we needed. I read through Experiencing God and received much encouragement.

This certainly did not mean times were not stressful. Faith wavers. Doubts prevail. We were constantly keeping our eyes open for opportunities to increase our income. Boy did we have some interesting ideas! One thing that I looked for on occasion was other teaching jobs where states desperate for teachers may offer hiring incentives. We were not opposed to moving out of state--I will remind everyone that Mitch and I are only "transplants" to the St. Cloud area, both of us are not from here (I am from Virginia, and he has lived all over but was born in Colorado). One question we always asked was, "What will we do about the kids' schooling?" Homeschooling did not seem like the right answer for many months, and we did not want to give up the Christian school. Finally during one "heated" discussion in March, we came to an agreement over homeschooling. With that out of the way, I informed Mitch that if there were "so many" states desperate for teachers then he needed to find them because I couldn't.

Monday came, and I was still steaming a little from our discussion. I sat down at the computer and typed a simple search in google: desperate to hire teachers. Finally, I got results! I was pointed to the Northside Independent School district in San Antonio. I researched salaries, I researched housing, and anything else I could get my hands on. It looked like we could easily make $20,000 more per year--and Mitch would not have to work any more part time jobs or summer jobs! What I didn't know, was at the same time Mitch was chatting with one of the secretaries at school and she said, "Mitch, I'm going to pray that God sends a flaming arrow to show you what to do." I couldn't wait for him to get home so I could show him what I had found. As we researched more, we discovered that there was going to be a teachers' job fair in Minneapolis in April. Many school districts from all over the United States were going to be represented, and many would be conducting interviews. Mitch called an uncle who lives in San Antonio (cool coincidence) to ask what living there was like--he was encouraged. The next day, Mitch went to school and requested time off to go to the job fair. At this point, I have to leave out an important detail to protect a friend.

We polished up Mitch's resume and completed online applications for districts we were interested in. I researched each of the many districts that were going to be at the job fair, ranking them by location and salary (I was determined NOT NOT NOT to move to Alaska, lol). Yes, I even researched Minnesota! The day of the job fair approached so slowly, and I was on edge the whole time he was gone that day. Finally he came home. He had a contract in his hand (sort of a pre-contract contract) for Aldine ISD in Houston. Houston? I was sure we were going to San Antonio! He called his uncle who lives in Houston (another cool coincidence). His aunt told him that it rains there all the time and the grass is green all year. Wow! I could get used to that! We still applied to other school districts (in Houston and San Antonio), but we never heard anything from anyone else. We were set on going someplace warmer. And the cost of living by all figures looked like it was going to be much cheaper there as well. Not to mention Texas was paying more than anyone else--usually as much as $10,000 more.

We worked quickly to get our house ready to sell. We packed up stuff we didn't need until "after the move." We had a garage sale. I got rid of all the snow pants and decreased our winter clothes by at least half. Don't forget that we had a baby on the way in early June! By the end of May we got our lower level carpeted and put in new carpet in the living areas upstairs. We had some realtor woes (more due to the really slumpy real estate market than anything), and didn't put our house on the market until June 28th. We thought we'd know for sure where Mitch was teaching by the first of June. Nope. He didn't get a "for sure" job until the end of June. That was stressful, let me tell ya. We know now that there was never any question of whether he would get a job with Aldine or not--it was just which job in which school. But for a period of time there, we had our doubts when we were unable to get anyone from the district on the phone. We couldn't get any phone calls returned. They would say "you can expect lots of phone calls this week" and then there would be no phone calls. But finally it happened, and he was hired in the position that sounded great to both of us.

In the end, there were no other job offers. Out of all the places we applied, this is the only one that really led anywhere. We felt a peace about the decision, and felt that we had been led by God to this area. Now we just waited for Him to sell our house--because clearly if this was the way He wanted us to go, then He would sell our house miraculously in such a down market, right? Sigh. "His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways." Did we make the right decision? Yes. Did God know that it would be like this? Yes. Could He have sold our house? Yes. Just before Mitch left we spent a day fasting and praying, and this is the peace that God gave us. We are constantly searching to see if God has some answer to the housing situation, but each hope and dream for that seems to fade away. If we had known that our house was not going to sell, we may have tried harder to get something within driving distance. But we were following our hearts and that is so much harder to explain.

But that's not the end of the story. This journey began with a financial search. The heartbreaking reality is that the financial increase seems to be shortening all the time. We find out that this costs more money or that comes out of his salary...and we are confused. The sale of our home, as wonderful as that moment will be, will bring us a $15,000 loss. At least that's what it looks like right now, and it could certainly end up being even worse than that. So will our dreams of paying off debt be taken from us as well? What does God want for our lives? He will make good out of every situation, and we strive to learn through this struggle. At times it seems like God is silent and distant, especially after guiding us so carefully on this journey. This is probably harder on Mitch than it is on me because he doesn't have the benefit of our friends close by to encourage him. I have "lost" him, but he has "lost" his home and his family. They have been replaced by a tiny bedroom with one window he has not even lifted the shades on and a cell phone.

But God is not silent. We have no other choice but to trust Him. It is the strengthening of our faith.

People ask, "Will Mitch come back?" And I am always a little puzzled by that. I say, "And do what? Work at McDonalds?" For now, no, he is not coming back. Yeah, it's tough there. It is not like we thought it would be and as it looks now, that's not a good thing. But we're not ready to give up, and we don't see God leading us in a different direction yet. So we'll hang in there.

I'm gonna go do some sew some diaper covers!!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Shirking my duties...

...to get a post in tonight. I'm going to try to be quick so that I can get in bed by 10 pm and get up "early" enough to be ready for the day. (Yeah right, tried the same thing last night and Zeke woke me up twice and Malachi was up at least 3 times. Ick!)

Josh leaned across the table to me yesterday and said, "I wub u!" It was absolutely irresistibly adorable.

As I write, I can hear Eden singing songs to Zeke (she graciously allows him to sleep with her--an arrangement I have hoped to wait until "after the move" to change). She started with "Jesus Loves Me" followed by "Silent Night" and now I am not sure what she is singing--possibly something she has made up. Her tender heart for taking care of her younger brothers really shines through more and more. I am often surprised at how she is growing. I know she doesn't really LIKE being responsible for the boys, but she is good at it. The fact that she is even singing to Zeke lets me know that she is showing a level of maturity where she will put others' needs before her own. I pray that God will bless her many times over for the sacrifice. Hehe...she just stepped out here to ask if she could sleep on the couch after I go to bed...she said, "I don't like getting peed on." :( I don't blame her! I can't wait to get Zeke into his own bed, and if we don't move soon I will have to rearrange furniture.

Micah has been letting Josh bunk with him since Mitch left. That arrangement seems to be working out well. I think Josh has really only come looking for me a handful of times. Otherwise, he pretty much stays in his bed.

In spite of the ups and down of life right now, we might actually get the hang of this homeschooling thing. My kids had a special treat today--a visit from Eden's 2nd-grade teacher--and I stood beaming as the kids proudly showed her their work and recited their poems.

Yesterday I had an AMAZING surprise. A large group of my girlfriends plotted to give me a treat I probably never would have given myself. First off, it's just plain too indulgent. Secondly, I have a large personal space. They pooled their monies and bought me a 60-minute massage. In spite of my personal space, I completely enjoyed myself. It was incredible. I spent a good portion of the time plotting how I could get Mitch to learn some of those fantastic moves. :) But I spent the majority of the time just absolutely relaxing. They worked hard to arrange all the details: one friend comes on Wednesdays after school to watch the kids so I can do my grocery shopping. One friend had to warn me ahead of time so that I could be "done" shopping early (ouch--that was probably the most stressful point) and she could meet me to give me the surprise and take the groceries home. She took Malachi home too. :) One other friend came to relieve the friend watching my kids. Her hubby picked up pizza for supper and delivered it. So when I got home, feeling all perfectly relaxed and starving, I was met with the warm aroma of pizza pie. Yummmm. Not only that, but my timing was perfect too--the baby had just gone to sleep and all the kids were sitting down eating already. So I was literally able to walk in and grab a plate (how rare is that!!). Ahhhhhh.

So, my friends, you know who you are, words cannot express my gratitude! Thank you for caring for me and forcing me to relax when I told you over and over again that I couldn't possibly.

It is bittersweet to be on the receiving end of ministry. It is hard to admit weakness and have a dependence on others. But it is amazing to be touched by God through my sisters (and brothers) in Christ.

I received a "new" book in the mail today that I bought from Half.com (for $1.02!). Kristin found it and thought I might like it, and I bought it after reading the reviews on Amazon.com. It is called "When God Interrupts" and is written by M. Craig Barnes. I have managed to get through 2 chapters already, and I can't wait to see what he will unpack in the next chapters! It is very helpful in our situation.

We are so grateful for the prayers. Just a few days ago, Mitch was spared from what could have been a horrible traffic accident when a loaded dump-truck went into the ditch to avoid hitting him while he was stopped at an intersection. School there is very hard. I don't know how much I am allowed to say here on the www, but you can always give me a call if you want details to know how to pray. He says he is determined to not be like other teachers who just yell at these kids to get them to do what they want. He says that is making it harder, but he hopes he will eventually begin to see a real difference between his class and others. (It looks so neat and easy in the movies, and always with a happy ending, but living it out in reality is heartbreaking). I just finished reading a book called "One Blood" that was written by Ken Ham and some others (sorry I'm not going to look it up). It gave me a very important shift in my thinking about races, even though a good portion of the information was not new to me, and I look forward to passing it on to Mitch. Not that it will be directly relevant, but the worldview exercise will certainly be distracting.

I'm glad and sad that tomorrow is Friday. This week seemed to pass quickly. But that will soon bring us up to 5 sad weeks without Daddy. It's so hard to feel. Both of us even just can't stand [hate] saying "I miss you." Earlier this week I cried while standing over the dishwasher, "Lord, I don't want to give up!" And I felt a voice within me as clear as day saying, "Then don't." I have found that I don't have to grit my teeth or clench my jaw or pull up my bootstraps anymore to go on. I focus on what's ahead. I continue to rely on Him. One by one each of my dreams and hopes and plans for the future seems to evaporate as a mirage. And we are left with nothing but that which God has planned for us. We cannot turn away from the path now. So we wait and cling to the hope in Him.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just when I think I can't go on...

I don't know how to express just how tough this is. I know it doesn't compare to the struggles of others. There was a Baptist pastor who got deported to Russia for some (unknown) reason, leaving behind his pregnant wife and 7 children. So, yeah, this doesn't even compare. But knowing that just doesn't help me feel any better. There are days--no, moments of every day--when I think I just can't go on. As if I were a runner in a marathon, I decide that I cannot move forward another inch. The exhaustion overwhelms me, and the hopelessness suffocates me. I cry and ask God to help, and sometimes He feels silent and distant. But I do go on. The moment passes. And He sends someone to help. Ordinary "angels" disguised as my friends. :) There is Kristin, who took Zeke and Josh over to my friend Tami's house to play all day on Friday. And Laurie, who shows up to mow my lawn or watch the kids so I can go to the grocery store. Then the phone rings and someone wants to stop by. These diversions--although sometimes short, like my friend Bobbi's stop by the other day while she had groceries in the car--are like the supporters who stand by the track with those little 4 oz paper cups full of water. It's not much, but the gulp is refreshing enough to get me a little farther.

This is insane. It feels so weird that it's happening to me. Because if it weren't happening to me, I'd probably think, "what's the big deal?" Ahhhh...but now I know! It has been 28 days. That might seem like "only" 28 days, but when I look at my kids I know that it is long enough--too long. As resilient as they are, it's obvious that they ache as much as I do to be held by their daddy.

There is no end in sight and I feel powerless to change the circumstances. That makes this feel absolutely impossible.

Sigh.

Change of subject! School went pretty well this week. As organized as I try to be, I really can't do everything. We accomplished a lot in school, and not so much in housework. =P The kids all had tests on Thursday and Friday. I promised Micah that if he did well on his math test I would brag about him on my blog. :) So, he scored 91! He also scored 90 on his History test, 93 on his Language test, and 92 on his Spelling test. Eden scored in a 92 on her Language test and 99 on her Spelling test. She has a math test and a science quiz on Monday. Both of them had other quizzes as well, which they aced. Caleb had a Phonics test and a Math test. He aced both of them. Micah and Eden are still scoring poorly on arithmetic speed drills, so I'm going to start pushing the flashcards pretty heavy. For their other tests we use index cards to make flashcards, and that is obviously working well. I made a schedule for each kid, since there are some things they can do on their own and some things they need me for. I have a "master schedule" that is my time with each kid starting at 8:45 and not ending until a little after 1 pm. So now we can stay on task and they know what they are supposed to do while I'm working with others. And I can make sure I get "everything" done. Some days they have homework until 3 or 4 pm, but that's when we have lots of interruptions. So it's not really bad.

During school time, Zeke and Josh pretty much just run around and make messes. So I am usually on "cleanup" mode vs. "prevention" and that really bugs me. I'm sure as we settle more into a routine, I will be able to get a handle on them. Or maybe when we're not trying to sell our house, the messes won't bother me as much as they do now. They are quite distracting, however, and Caleb is often itching to leave the table and go play with them. His work load is light enough that I can offer him breaks to go do that. Naturally, Micah and Eden get pretty jealous of this. I try not to use movies to curtail Zeke and Josh, but occasionally that works well--except that makes all 3 of my students just as distracted--so I only use it when I think I'm going to lose my cool. I can handle Malachi pretty well, and can teach with him on my hip if I have everything I need prepped. Well, I can't do arithmetic that way. =S

Here is a picture of the kiddos enjoying an ice cream treat. Eden is holding the cell phone--they were talking to Daddy on speakerphone. We eat in the kitchen like this because our dining room is one big room with the living room, and is carpeted. We are trying to keep it looking nice.



We all need this to be over soon. But I really am powerless. We rely on God's help and timing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Are you smarter than a 4th grader?

Shhhhhh.....

I'm hiding from them while they eat lunch...don't tell them where I am! I hear Zeke crying for me, but I'm sure it's a minor altercation. Unlike the major altercation that happened earlier when he was climbing on the chest of drawers and it fell on both him and Josh. My heart didn't slow down for about 30 min after that one!

So anyways, homeschooling is hard. 4th graders do have to know quite a bit of stuff. Eden is amazed at the thought that I have to "learn" everything they are learning. She asked this morning, "Do you even have to learn Caleb's stuff?" Yeah, I do. He has all these fun phonics charts with "special sounds" that help them all learn to read and write. Like "ck" in duck or "st" in stop. Micah is memorizing the American's Creed, along with tons of history facts that I managed to escape high school without knowing, and all these incredible details about insects, and the list just goes on. I can totally understand the promotion behind the show "Are you smarter than a 5th grader" even though I've never actually seen it. Wow, these guys are smart!

Did you ever hear that I used to think Germany was an island? I always wondered just how the Berlin wall worked out, and I guess that's how I rationalized it. Sadly, "The Sound of Music" never made sense beyond the songs as a child. So Micah and I are learning a little geography together too. =)

There. I told one of my deepest darkest secrets!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Update. Joann Fabrics + 6 kids = bad idea. I only picked up one bolt of fabric and two patterns. I had to put the bolt of fabric back (sob) and escape with the patterns while the gettin' was good. Zeke literally ran laps around every isle of fabric, even though I threatened to hold onto him by the hair on his head (it's pretty easy to get a grip on those cute blonde curls). Josh was not far behind him. On the way out the door, Josh was upset that I couldn't carry him (I had the carseat), and he ran straight out into the parking lot without caution. Micah was dragging along sulking that I would not let him buy candy. Arrrrgggghhhh. Eden struggled to pick up a screaming Josh and carry him to the van. Caleb was quietly plodding along, oblivious to his siblings' troubles, probably thinking up his next imaginary game. On the way home we stopped at the playground at a nearby elementary school and let them all run off their troubles there. We got home in time to eat the rest of the leftover birthday cake and get to bed on time. All the way home Micah was bugging me about why won't I take them shopping with me. Seriously? Like I would want to repeat that only at 3 other stores and for longer period of time! Sheesh. By the way, it is hard but they do go to bed after eating chocolate cake!

aha! I remembered another one!

A post from the dark recesses of my brain found its way out to the light! :)

"I can do everything. Just not all at once."

That sounds like an interesting blog, huh? I just HAD to come and share it before I forgot again. Sorry no post...no time...

Hahahahaha...the irony!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The title-less blog entry

I have written blog entries (in my mind) all week. All of them had great titles. Obviously, time seems to escape me lately.

Let's see. On Monday I was going to write an entry titled "Oh What a Night!" Malachi had slept over 7 hours straight. On Friday I was going to write an entry titled "Relief at Last." My sister in law, Holly, had taken the kids to the zoo for the day (all 5 of the older ones). Later on Friday I was thinking of another one titled "One week down." But that one didn't really make sense...it was celebrating Mitch "surviving" his first week of school (and what an interesting week it was). Of course, yesterday I thought I should write one titled "3 weeks down." I guess I could still title this one that, but it's too boring.

There were lots more, but they have slipped from my extremely short-term memory and into oblivion. Along with the grocery items I really should put on a list, but of course the list has disappeared as well. Bummer, because the entries were all "short" ones (in my mind anyways). Oh well. You get a long one instead. I am doomed to endlessly long blog entries I guess!

The point is I feel *quite* rejuvenated and ready to make a sprint at a full week of homeschooling. The kids are begging for one more day off, but I keep insisting that we should plow ahead. We will need days off to pack, drive, and unpack at some point in the future.

How soon I hope that is!

So yes, we will be schooling on Labor Day while the rest of the world buzzes around us enjoying holiday cookouts and store clearance sales. Oh how I would love to escape to Joann Fabrics tomorrow! Maybe I will.

In my bliss this weekend, I managed to get the house cleaned and ready for an open house on Saturday. Late Friday night Holly called and they had decided to keep the kids overnight if that was ok with me. (Ha!!) They kept them unil 5 pm on Saturday. I actually did a bit of sewing and stocked my store at http://www.pamperedcheeks.com/. I got some mending done, and paid bills in peace. Well, except Malachi put in his opinion every now and then (yeah, buddy, paying bills makes me cry too).

Josh's birthday was on Friday. He is an adorable 2-year-old. He has the tantrums that go along with, but for the most part he is cute as a button. He is nearing potty training time, but I'm extremely reluctant to "go there." He did wake up on Friday morning completely dry, and when I took off his diaper, he just peed on my kitchen floor. Hey buddy, come on! We got him the perfect gift for his birthday: 2 helium-filled mylar balloons, one of them with spidey-man on it. =) He even went to bed without a fuss when I let him bring the balloons in his room.

Malachi is doing fantastic. He is sleeping for very long stretches at night. Almost always for 5-7 hours. He is round and fat and yummy. He loves to be on his tummy and holds his head up really high. (He sleeps on his back at night though, for the record) He can roll over from his tummy onto his back, and does so purposefully. He missed the kids while they were gone and giggled with glee when he heard their voices coming in the door on Saturday! He will sit contentedly and play as long as he has someone around that he can see. He's definitely used to the action around here!

Mitch's first week was interesting. I cried as he told me about his first day. He took money away from a kid who was gambling and later had the same kid empty his pockets because he was stealing classroom stuff. There were lots of things that went on that made it tough. Mitch's style of classroom management is definitely different than these guys are used to. To put it bluntly, Mitch does not yell. They took this to mean that he is a pushover and they tried to see how far they had to go to push him to it. He said he stayed on them until they settled down. Friday was a good day. Finally. The kids come in dragging their feet and the weight of the world on their shoulders. It's not just one kid, but it's half of the class. Mitch is feeling very hopeful that he will make a difference there. He is excited about the challenge and the possibilities. He has found a church and has been there twice. He has enjoyed both Sunday school and the sermons. I was encouraged today to see an email from the pastor saying that he's praying for us!

In fact, I know that lots of people all over the country are praying for us, and it is a great encouragement and strength to me.

We dropped the asking price on our home. We had some good reasons for doing so, but it was still a hard decision to make. I hope this makes the difference we need. I need this to be over soon. My emotions are all over the place. In spite of getting enough sleep at night (which I really do), my body aches all over, especially in my back. I know that it is mostly due to tense muscles from stress. It is so bad in my neck that my vocal cords are obviously affected. I joke with everyone, "My voice left with Mitch." It's true though. If Zeke weren't in speech therapy for the same thing, I wouldn't know otherwise. I have had a "raspy" voice since the day that Mitch left. I cannot speak loudly or for long periods of time. On school days when I'm talking to the kids a lot, my voice is really bad by the end of the day. I have no adequate vocal range, and I cannot sing (I could not even sing "Happy Birthday" to Josh). I had to see the chiropractor and get my neck adjusted because the tense muscles finally pulled me out of alignment (and oh what a crack that was!). Anyways, most of my "forgotten" blog entries are those that I would write about my various stages of emotional unrest. So I'll save you the sob story and sum it up: this sucks! :)

God is my strength. I could not do this without Him. I hope that I will be able to sing praises again soon, because all praises and honor belong to Him!