Sunday, February 28, 2010

Eden has bangs

I got Kristin to help me cut Eden's hair in front so she can have bangs. She has begged for them for years, and I finally decided to give it a try.

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Kristin helped her style them, too:

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Ok, I'm kidding...we are not going to style them that way...she was simply getting them a little wet to see what might happen.

I think Eden looks good with bangs, but we need a little practice getting them to look just right. She and I have differing opinions on what looks good. (Any moms of girls want to sympathize with me here?) :)

Sunday Drive

I took my camera with me to church today so we could get pictures of the huge piles of snow melting around town. What was going to be a quick stop actually turned into a fun Sunday drive. :)

I handed my camera to Patrick and said "Just take pictures. Take a picture of anything you want." And this is what he took as he said, "Really?" LOL, gee thanks.

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That was unedited. Needless to say I quickly changed the settings on the camera so my pictures would not all be so blue. :) Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about the look on my face.

Next is one of several massive piles of snow in the back of the Cashwise (grocery store) parking lot. Can you just imagine all that snow pushed off the parking lot then left there until spring? That's a LOT of snow and a LOT of cold weather!!

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Got a little ice in their shoes from climbing.

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How this snow looks is both ugly and beautiful. It's so dirty yet so incredibly fascinating!

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Next we drove over to the paper mill in Sartell to get pictures of the frozen Mississippi River. I was surprised to see people walking on the ice and actually ice fishing down below the dam.

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This guy was ice fishing above the dam. There were snowmobile tracks all over the snow on the river too. I am terrified to even walk on that ice, it still dumbfounds me that anyone would want to go riding on it!

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Hard to believe we were just right there fishing in our "summer clothes" 5 months ago. Has it really been that long???

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Our mailbox, which was so entombed with ice, is just about free (the ground is still quite frozen) and dying its last breath (notice the door has broken off). This spring we will get a new one...just hang in there a little bit longer!!

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Funny story about the river in Sartell. When I first arrived here in Minnesota 13 years ago, there had just been a fairly large snow storm.  I was in a brand new place and tired from a long journey. I stared out the window and tried to take it all in.  It was a little overwhelming.  As we passed through Sartell, I looked out the car window and thought, "I wonder what they plant in THAT field?"  It was a valid question.  After all, I came from the mountains, where there wasn't a lot of flat land.  Flat land held good crops most of the time--can't let it go unused.  I never imagined--really--that a river would freeze completely over.  Especially not a large river (and though the Mississippi is "small" up here, it is a decent size in comparison to the creeks that run through my hometown).  So we have loved laughing at my naivety ever since. 

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I'm hoping that we will be able to catch the ice going out at the right time so we can take Patrick back to see it. They will open up the dam and those huge chunks of ice will slide over...it's massive and crazy!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Choosing the Right Path

Josh has been REALLY into drawing lately.  Seriously, I don't know where his interest comes from.  I always watch my friends' kids draw like little prodigies, but my children didn't really develop an interest in drawing and writing until they started school.  We were doing well to have them trying to color inside the lines.  :)  Ok, I'm exaggerating.  Micah probably wrote his name earlier than any of the other kids did, and all of them have had an interest in drawing at some point in time.  Josh just seems to be pretty creative at this point.

Today I decided to give him a maze to see what he could do.  If you think about it, completing a maze actually requires several skills.  Here are a few I thought of:
discipline (to not cheat, and to stay in the lines)
dexterity (to control the pencil)
comprehension (so you actually understand what the goal is)

fore-thought (so you don't try EVERY possible path)
perseverence (so you don't give up, even when things don't seem to be going the right direction)

Right away he "got it" and was doing so well that I had to grab my camera and capture the moment.

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I could see that he was almost to the end, so I got where I could see his face and anticipated his joy...
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He was so excited and started clapping!  :)
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Tirzah learned something new this week too--she can now stand up in the middle of the room without hanging on to anything.  She turned 10 months old on Sunday.

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These last pictures aren't really related, but I think it's pretty cool.  I want to remember to take my camera with me next time I go to town, but for now this is from our front yard.  The temperatures are finally warming up and slowly starting to melt the snow.  The ground underneath is still frozen, so that creates some issues with water pooling and refreezing overnight.  The way the snow looks along the side of the road, though, is wild!  There are enormous piles of snow in the parking lots of all the stores.  I remember back in November or so, when there hadn't been "much" snow yet, Patrick thought it was really funny.  I wonder what he thinks now!  (He's probably just as sick of it as the rest of us.)

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The kids dug this cave earlier this year, and now the back side of it has melted through.  Cool!

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Finally, I have been asked a lot recently about my camera and the pictures I take.  I am learning, and loving every minute of it.  To recap--I have a Nikon D80 that I bought used on ebay (or Mitch bought for me, rather).  It came with a 50mm F/1.8 AF prime lens, which I love.  Since then I have been blessed to receive 2 more lenses, which really opens up more possibilities for me.

Learning to take good pictures (or at least better pictures) has been easier with digital cameras--I shoot and shoot and shoot to my heart's content.  Don't ever be afraid to shoot!  Try something different and take the picture again.  A long time ago a friend of mine gave me a wonderful little book called, "How to Take Great Photographs with Any Camera" by Jerry Hughes.  And they mean ANY camera.  I think anyone who would like to take better pictures should start there.  I am now on a waiting list at the library for a couple new books geared for digital SLR cameras...I can't wait!

But I wanted to show you that you CAN take great pictures with ANY camera.  One of my favorite blogs has a cool post today showcasing photos taken with a Blackberry cell phone camera at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado.  Go check them out!  The Great Epic Blackberry Shootout of Awesomeness

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Switched-On Schoolhouse


I've been using all my free time the past couple of days to play with some new computer software. A few weeks ago I heard about a c.d. based homeschool curriculum published by Alpha Omega Publishers called Switched-On Schoolhouse (SOS). We started researching this as a possible curriculum for our oldest kids.  Here are some of the features we like:


  • With 4 kids in school and a 5th one ready to start this fall, lesson prep and grading are overwhelming.  SOS will automatically grade a lot of the work for us.
  • We will always know if our kids are done with their day's lessons or not.
  • We can set whatever days we want our kids to do schoolwork on the computer, and the program will automatically distribute the lessons over the time period.
  • It is highly customizable--we can delete/omit lessons, override grades, or even add/create our own lessons.
  • The lessons incorporate different technologies to help different-style learners (ie: audio vs. visual), and we still have plenty of manipulatives, etc, on hand to help tactile learners.
  • It can be reused by multiple children--even by 2 or more children at the same time.
  • We can install it on our home network, so the kids can work at different computers with one central computer as the database.


We have been using A Beka for the past 3 years and have loved it for the most part.  It's the same curriculum that is used primarily at the Christian School, at least in the younger grades. We feel confident that our children are challenged and able to keep up with (or be ahead of) their peers.  I have noticed *some* weak spots in the curriculum, but love the fact that I am in control and can do something about it.  For us the hardest part has been staying on top of the kids' work--making sure they understand everything, complete their work correctly, etc.  I don't even want to talk about the difficulties of keeping track of numerous books, teachers' books, answer keys, test books, and so on.  (Remember, this is for four children in four different grade levels).  We had some issues last year, but I figured that it would get easier this year, our third year in.  In some ways it has gotten easier--Micah, Eden, and Caleb are much more independent and can figure out what they need to do for each subject, plus I know what to expect.  In other ways it's not any easier--they are not always responsible to do the right thing.  So we had been thinking about finding something different.  Mitch wanted to research an online public school option, but we both also wanted the "Bible based curriculum".  I was intrigued when I found SOS.  I couldn't believe I'd never heard of it before--I was even on a mailing list from Alpha Omega Publishers for a couple years.  So I looked online for any advice I could find.  Mitch called the company and talked with a Rep.  I joined an active yahoo group for families using the software.  There are certainly some drawbacks to every curriculum, SOS included, but so far it looks like it will be a good fit for us.


We received a huge blessing in that a family with only one child offered to give us (no strings attached) their used 4th and 5th grade SOS curriculum.  (This is permitted according to the EULA--but it can only be gifted once, so now we cannot give it away).  It's nice because it is non consumable, and we can keep passing it down from child to child.  I received the curriculum in the mail Tuesday and have it all set up.  I set myself up as a student and have been learning the ins and outs as a teacher and as a student.  Eden is currently in 5th grade A Beka and on about lesson 108 in most subjects, and lesson 135 in arithmetic (of 170 lessons).  We talked about starting her to do 5th grade all over again, but that doesn't really seem fair.  Instead I had her take some placement tests, and I will eliminate lessons/units that she clearly does not need to repeat.  She is itching to get started.  I also started all 3 of the older kids on Mavis Beacon typing lessons so their schoolwork will be easier.  Mostly it's just so nice to be able to sit and try things out and see how it will work for us--the logistics of it all.


SOS for the computer doesn't start until 3rd grade, and we will keep doing our A Beka curriculum for our younger children. We will also use A Beka for handwriting through 5th grade.  Children will be encouraged (and sometimes required) to use notebooks to take notes from their lessons, work math problems, etc.  One way to encourage a child to take notes is to allow them to use their notes on a test.  My college/university professors even allowed that at times!

So far the first lessons that I have done make me very excited.  I have some nosy children who have sat and watched over my shoulder, and I've heard a lot of "I want to do that!"  So I can't wait to get them started.  I think I have something that each of them can do to try it out.  :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In My Head

I write so many GOOD blog posts in my head.

There should be a support group for people like me.  :)

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{All kinds of trouble}

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Malachi, Diapers, and Pictures

We started potty training Malachi last summer.  Things really got off to a great start, but then stalled out.  He clearly had no motivation for staying dry.  Still I gave it my "best" effort.  I use sort of an eclectic approach to potty training.  I read a book years ago called "Potty Training in Less than a Day" and I highly recommend it.  While I don't use that approach per se, I do use many tips from it.  Things were looking promising as long as we reminded him to go, so I happily retired Malachi's way-overused one-size pocket diapers.  I was so sick of them!  I hoped he would eventually remember to go on his own.  Alas, it was not to be.  After too many accidents (there's nothing like sitting down on the couch in a wet spot), we gave up.  I was not about to drag out the old diapers, so we resorted to using disposables.

Now I am sick of paying money for disposables.  Malachi spends most days doing some peeing in the potty, some accidents, and some wearing diapers.  On days when we're really on our game we manage to keep him in a diaper all day long.  Since I am feeling better, and also need a size large AI2 pattern, I finally drafted a pattern and made him some cloth diapers again.  I am happy to report they fit well, considering he is on the upper end of the size range.  It's kind of nice having a daycare, because I have a few other babies to try diapers on too to see how to adjust sizing (NOT FOR PICTURES...I do not do that...that would be wrong).

So once I had my pattern down, I made these 4 beautiful diapers for MJ this weekend:

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He woke up Monday morning, and I asked if he wanted to put one of his new diapers on, and guess what?  No, of course he didn't!  Ugh.  The little stinker stayed dry ALL DAY too, until supper time.  Unbelievable.  He woke up this morning the same way.  We'll see how long it lasts.  If it does last, then I'll sell the diapers.   In fact, he just walked in the room to tell me he wants to go poopy.  Cool.

That reminds me of something else.  Back in the summer when we started training him, he didn't speak much at all.  Right around Thanksgiving/Christmas he started talking really well and talks all the time.  It has improved things in many ways for him (more talking = less frustration = less "Mala-cry").  It also may have something to do with his improved ability to go potty.  He has also taken a new interest in being like Joshua, and I've used that to my advantage to say things like, "Does Josh wear diapers?"  :)

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We kittysat for Kristin last week.  Our kids LOVED the poor kitty.  She was so scared of them.  I hoped the newness would wear off.  It never did.  They chased her everywhere.  Malachi is holding a jar of barbecue sauce because Mitch had fun making a lot of jokes about eating the cat.  It was SO fun reading on facebook.  For example, here is one of his status updates from last week: 

"Ok, cats are suppost to have 9 lives, right? So...when does the second one start? Do I need to wait till after midnight, or a full moon...I am confused... "

Very funny.  Kitty is happily back at home now, safe and sound.

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Tirzah is doing remarkably well with her walking.  She learned to turn corners!  She has also stood up in the middle of the room a couple of times--it's not a regular thing yet, but she's working on it.

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I love this pic of Patrick with all the kids around him.  He sometimes studies in my crowded, messy sewing room to get away from the noise.  I'm not sure that was working out so well for him last night. 

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Tirzah was cuddling in and close to falling asleep...way too cute.

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And proof that Patrick still knows how to do dishes.  Each meal has a "helper."  Currently Caleb is breakfast helper, Micah is lunch helper, and Patrick & Eden are supper helpers.  90% of the time Mitch washes the dishes, while the helpers rinse and put them away.  Yes, we have a dishwasher.  No, it doesn't work.  So much for maytag!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Go Global!

If you've been reading my blog for a while, or have looked through the archives, you probably know that we've been hosting an exchange student since August.  It has been SO incredible!  If you haven't read the story of how we came to add Patrick to our lives, go read it here.

Here are some of the GREAT reasons to host an exchange student, listed from the YFU (Youth for Understanding) website:

  • Gain a global perspective
  • Learn about other cultures because its fun for all ages
  • Expand your family and it expands the fun
  • Create exchange memories that last a lifetime
  • Enrich your school and community by adding an exchange student to your family
 We have certainly experienced all of the above.  I would add a few:
  • Stretch your comfort zone (Why would you want to do THAT??)
  • Challenge you to think about things differently
  • Challenge you to learn new things (like baking bread--grin) and care for someone who is not a father, mother, brother, son, daughter, etc.
  • Share the Gospel
We are on the downhill slope now--we are a little more than half-way through Patrick's exchange year.  We knew it was coming, but when the letter came telling us his departure date (June 24) there was a sadness and reality that hung around my shoulders.  I immediately thought back to the first night Patrick came here.  The night that Patrick's flight arrived in to St. Cloud, I tried to mark every moment.  As we drove to the airport, I wrung my hands in worry that we would not get there in time and he would be sitting in the tiny airport alone.  I tried hard to balance my emotions to enjoy the moment.  I KNEW that in the months to come I would wish I could go back and relive the first day all over again.  So now with the departure date in our hands, there was a solidity and confirmation that he would be leaving.  I wouldn't trade the joy of having him here for anything, even though it means the difficulty (for all of us--kids especially) of saying goodbye later.  {We are also thankful for internet and skype.}

This blog post has kind of a double purpose--to hook you in emotionally and appeal to you to consider hosting an exchange student.  There is a new, fresh group of excited students who are getting ready to come to the USA for the 2010-2011 school year.  We talked and prayed, and finally decided we would like to host an exchange student again.  We have had a lot of fun looking at all of the students' profiles on the YFU website and reading their letters.  Our children are particularly excited and have enjoyed being part of the process.  We've even had Patrick give his input!  :)   There is always a need for new families who are interested in hosting an exchange student in the program. Our family is far from perfect.  In the beginning we really doubted we had anything to offer an exchange student.  In fact, we had many objections, which is very common, but we still expressed an interest in hosting.  We weren't opposed to the idea--we were in favor of it--we just didn't think our situation was ideal.  Our Field Director gently helped us see that host families are very diverse and answered each of our objections.  Perhaps our expectations about the exchange program changed.

Why would you want to stretch your comfort zone, be challenged to care for someone outside your extended family, or change your way of thinking about things???    For us, one reason is to provide a home for a student...meeting basic needs makes the program work.  We are compelled to do such a simple thing.  We also enjoy the chance to share our faith and our values, while learning about those of others.  It has been fun to get to know Patrick's family through him also.  We plan to keep in touch with them when he goes back.  Through this experience we have grown as people--we are better able to relate to others as we become more flexible/adaptable/trainable.

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You may argue that our situation has been exceptional.  And you are right.  There will never be another student like Patrick.  ((big grin))  But there are a LOT of bright students waiting for a placement.  Perhaps a student that will fit just right in your family. Mitch works as a volunteer with YFU and has had the opportunity to meet quite a few students currently placed in and around central MN.  There are many students he and I have gotten to know that we would be excited to host in our home.

YFU will be hosting several Go Global! events across Minnesota in the coming months.  From our Field Director, Marilyn Hostetler: "These are casual, social gatherings for neighbors interested in international education to meet each other and learn about hosting.  Interested families can learn about the benefits of hosting a foreign teen by talking with experienced host parents, YFU volunteers and students currently on exchange."  There will be one in St. Cloud on March 22 from 6:30-8 pm.  Save the date!  If you are interested, but can't come (or are located somewhere else--YFU operates all over the United States), feel free to ask me for information, and I can help get you pointed in the right direction.  Don't be afraid to check out the YFU home page and register so you can look at some of the great new students.

This is a great opportunity to impact the life of a student. The joy you experience may catch you by surprise. :)

And keep watching for more about Patrick. :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grass

Zeke was playing outside today.  He came running inside and shouted jubilantly, "Mommy, I see GRASS!"

Patrick came home from school.  He said, "Guess what, I saw some grass today."   

LOL  It's a phenomenon!  And it's only February!  Spring is on the way.  :)

Joshua's Drawings

Josh came to me with a stack of drawings and asked if I would put them on my blog.  So please welcome guest artist, Josh.

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"Plant"

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"Plant spitting its tongue out"

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"Numbers" (traced from the opposite side showing through)

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"Mushroom and box where we trap small animals and mouses."

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"A good apple. It's bending itself."

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"A cross"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quiet Days (too many pictures)

It's been pretty quiet here the past couple days.  I didn't even pick up my camera!  I got back at it today, though, and tried to get some good photos while learning how to use a couple new buttons on my camera at the same time (mainly metering and exposure).  Tirzah was dressed in an adorable dress, but she wasn't super cooperative (cranky baby).  She's working on her eighth tooth, and she was ready for a nap, so that probably had something to do with it!  I learned a little, but need a LOT more practice to be good enough and quick enough to make the right decisions for a photo when I need to.  :) 

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I know she's crabby, but she has loved walking anywhere...she usually takes only a few steps, then falls, but today we counted quite a few (15??) without falling.  She's getting better fast!  What amazes me is how motivated she is--she doesn't need a person encouraging her, she just walks straight into the middle of the room.  She's doing it simply for the thrill of walking.  :)
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Malachi has something important to tell me.
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"Mom, why aren't you listening to me?"  Because Mom is studying her camera and changing settings.

I love these next set of pictures.  I think they're self-explanatory. 
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"I'm done taking pictures now, Mom."
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It must have been a REALLY interesting part in the story!