December 23, 2010

Hopechest Video

Ethiopian Orphans from Simon Scionka on Vimeo.

This video is an incredible picture of the children that Hopechest supports through sponsorship. The care point I just wrote about, Kechene, is shown--two years ago when this footage was taken.

It's been bouncing around for days

For the past month I've gotten this song stuck in my head. I am busy with something and before I know it, I'm humming. Then, before I stop myself, it bursts right out, "No mohr! Mohnkeys! Shumping on da behd!"

I blame the adorable children at Kechene. The beat of the song seems almost as if their teacher read the words and made up a tune. It's much more catchy than the version that I sang to my children. Now they sing this newer, jazzier version along with me. I apologize for the quality of the recording as my video camera froze up during the trip.

These children, singing with their amazing teacher have been waiting for sponsors for two long years. The program here never got off the ground, and, thankfully, Greta Byers has stepped in. She's working to find sponsors for the 55 children at this school. Karen and Greta were busy getting individual photos of the children for sponsorship packages during this impromptu concert. Fifty children in ratty turquoise sweaters sang their hearts out as we watched from the edge of the room. We sat with our mouths agape reveling in their fantastic show.
Our visit to Kechene came after a day visiting the Fistula Hospital. We weaved through small side streets until turning right onto what felt like an alley. The driveway ended at a tall blue fence, and sitting in front of the fence was a woman with woven baskets in different stages of completion lining both sides of the drive. She was coating them with dung as we got out.

This was just a quick visit for Greta to get the information she needed to start sponsorship. It was hard, to me, to make such a quick visit after we had been spending several days at the other care points. It was the end of the day and we barely made it before the children left. The engaging teachers are in love with the kids and their excitement is striking. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by all of the needs...
Right now, Greta has 20 children sponsored. Please consider sponsoring one of the children who have been waiting so long for someone to offer them hope!

December 16, 2010

Trees of Glory Stole My Heart

Have you ever been to a place that has a tangible enchanting quality? Maybe a church--busy doing God's work. Maybe even your home--a haven from the chaos of the world. At Trees of Glory the pace is slow and the children slightly reserved. I felt like we stepped into the middle of something very special. Maybe it was the exhausting drive from Addis. Once we arrived I couldn't have been more thrilled with getting out of the van with my limbs intact.
Maybe it was Simret and Girma, who run the care point. I couldn't resist Simret, she is an Ethiopian version of my own mother. She enfolded us in hugs as we arrived, thanking us for coming. She grabbed my mom's arm as we trudged up the path from the river and assisted her in the climb. I think she enjoyed seeing an older woman on the trip (don't tell my mom I called her 'older').They are working hard to make a difference in the lives of children who have little hope in their lives. The property itself is incredible with breathtaking views and several buildings. They were built by a Japanese construction company while they worked on the winding road we took from Addis.

There is so much potential for an even more amazing work, but they truly need help. The government requires that they utilize the land or they will reclaim it. A stable is in mid-construction and awaits animals to fill it. A well that was used by the construction crew has long been abandoned and is filled with debris from vandals. There are many opportunities to be a help and blessing. Right now, a family who sponsors a child at Trees of Glory is doing a fundraiser to finish the stable and buy livestock. This would be one way to use the land that they have, ensuring that they don't lose it. One family who sponsors a little girl at Trees of Glory has taken the initiative and I'm sorry I didn't hear about them earlier to pass their fundraiser along. For just two more days you can purchase a "tree" to help Trees of Glory finish their stable and buy the cattle they need to finally utilize all of the land they have. Such a small thing from us will make a huge difference for Simret, Girma, the teachers, and so many children.

Karen has children who need sponsors here also. The difference of sponsorship in the lives of these children is apparent in a post Karen wrote a few days ago. I did not recognize any of the children from their 'before' pictures. I scrolled down, saw the 'after' and had to go back, astounded. It's absolutely breathtaking. If that doesn't convince you that sponsorship works, then I give up.

I had the wonderful opportunity to deliver a care package from my in laws to their sponsor child, Edelam. She was so shy that she wouldn't meet my eyes as I shared her new gifts. Edelam reaped the benefits of my mother-in-law's shopping skills--several clothing items, sunglasses, hair bows... The next day she was at the playground with her grandmother. She smiled brilliantly at me as she proudly showed off her newly braided hair adorned with bows, sunglasses in her pocket, and each set of clothes on her body.

December 4, 2010

Kind Hearts

I am not a writer so I will admit defeat before even beginning to describe each of the care points. Pictures will do much more justice to the lovely chaos that greeted us at Kind Hearts. The property is in Addis, though once you pass through the gates it seems like you have stepped into another world. Gone are the fumes, beeping horns (horns don't honk, they kindly beep), and buildings in a perpetual state of construction. They have been replaced by fields of teff, acacia trees and rolling hills. It's an amazing transition.

Upon opening the doors of the vans children are everywhere. It may seem that each child has several extra arms with which to grab your face smothering you in kisses while singing, "Selam!" It's beyond comprehension. Karen warned us, but I scoffed thinking, "Daily I have five children pulling, hugging, sitting on me. It really can't be that wild." It was so much more than I expected. These children were thrilled to have visitors. After the initial greeting, things slowed to a more manageable pace of just four or five children vying for a spot on or near a visiting adult.

These children have been sponsored longer than any that we visited. This time last year Karen was arranging for sponsorship to begin through Hopechest. Since last year several projects have been funded and the care point has exciting plans to become self sustaining. The children are being fed daily, plans are in the works to get a nurse to visit on a regular basis. Sponsors purchased uniforms in the spring so the children could come proudly to school. Things are coming together, but there is still so much to be done!

Before we left, Karen was notified that more than thirty new children would be at the care point when we arrived. Our team scrambled to make sure that these children would have a package to open. They did--and were so happy to have all of the little odds and ends we collected from our incredible group of friends back at home. These children were so happy to have a package of goodies, but they lacked the one thing that was cherished by the other kids--a photo of a smiling family back in America.

Karen has details on her blog for sponsoring a child at Kind Hearts.

November 30, 2010

The Trip

The post that I'd like to write is not bubbling up to the surface.

That amazing post reflecting on the trip...I still haven't written the one I intended to write after my first trip to Ethiopia well over two years ago. I would like to say that I have many brilliant tidbits to share. I don't. This trip was at least as overwhelming as our adoption trip, though for very different reasons. I still haven't just sat down and thought about it. I locked up the raw emotions that might come pouring out. Just like two years ago. Home with two new children, medical issues, attachment and bonding going on, trying to understand how to parent five children...the busyness alone kept us from really trying to understand Ethiopia. Thanksgiving and Black Friday greeted me on this return trip. I had to guard myself against becoming Scrooge to my children. Will Christmas be pared down this year? You betcha. Did our children get an earful of, "The kids in Ethiopia were ecstatic to have a marker..."? I haven't gone there with them. Though it does seem like I mentioned to one of the kids something about lack of clean water and please stop letting that faucet run like that...

I'm so trying not to be a lunatic.

And that means I'm kind of avoiding writing anything meaningful. So, I decided the best way to explain what we did is to just introduce each of the care points that we visited and perhaps one of them will tug on your heart and you'll feel compelled to sponsor one of these beautiful children.

November 22, 2010

Meeting Jirigna

One of the most amazing opportunities during our week was meeting Jirigna, our sponsor child. He's been a part of our life since earlier this year. We've prayed for him, talked about him, and written to him. But, he still seemed so far away. When we arrived at Kind Hearts we were overwhelmed with the dozens of children scrabbling for our attention. I scanned the little faces in the crowd and didn't see the one that I had become familiar with. After the chaos died down, we found out that Jirigna goes to a school for older kids during the day and comes later to Kind Hearts.

Later in the afternoon some of us went down to the polluted river that acts as a boundary for the care point's property. The property is dotted with acacia trees and in the distance you can see rolling hills covered with fields of teff. The once beautiful river is now black because of pollution from the local tannery. The tributary coming into the blackened water along the other side of the property comes from the alcohol production factory. As we discussed the director's hopes for a self-sustaining care point, I saw one lone child playing soccer in the schoolyard. I couldn't see the little boy's face, but I immediately recognized his sweatshirt. The sweatshirt that Jirigna is wearing in the photo on our fridge at home. And here he is, nine months later, still wearing that shirt. I was thrilled to see him, but he was standoffish. After talking to the translator, he posed for a photo, still uncertain.
The next morning we arrived at the locked gates. Children ran alongside the van and a crowd had formed in the alleyway. As the guard unlocked the gate, I saw Jirigna's face in the crowd. When we got out of the vans, I could see that he was still outside of the gate, his face peering through a hole in the fence. He watched me as I spoke to our translator, who took me to the guard to open the gates.

A moment later, Jirigna was at my side, fiercely holding my hand and fending off children who might try to get my attention. I had made a friend. The afternoon was busy with activities for the children, but Jirigna would catch my eye and wave whenever he saw me. Late that day, it was my turn to give Jirigna his care package.

I was emotional looking at the care package. It signified a little piece of home for me. It was such a small bag, no sacrifice at all for us to fill it. We made an afternoon of picking out things we thought he would like, then crammed it all into a gallon bag with a letter and pictures. I teared up as I introduced our family to him and read the letter explaining that we pray for him and are proud of his hard work. He smiled and nodded. As he held up our family photo for a picture, he grabbed my face and kissed me on the cheek.

"Thank you, thank you!" he said.

On the afternoon that we were saying goodbye, I brought Jirigna the picture that we had taken the first day that we met. He protectively held it in the air, away from smaller hands and I carefully slid it into his pocket. A little later, he held it out to me asking me to keep it safe as he played. The time passed quickly and we gathered to say our final farewells. Jirigna stood before the entire group and asked, "When will you come again?"

I left a little piece of my heart standing on a sandy schoolyard in Addis Ababa clutching a photo of a smiling American mom and an uncertain Ethiopian boy.

November 13, 2010

It's here!

After months of anticipation the day is finally here. I wasn't ready to say good-bye this morning. I'm always the one leaving with a full van, waving to Seth as we pull away from the house. Early this morning, racing around I held onto them a little longer than I should have. Extra hugs and kisses...reassurances that they will, indeed, be able to have fun without me. I think, because I am such a huge jovial presence.

Have I packed? If you count the five suitcases that drove off this morning. Yes, I packed. I packed all week. Am I ready to leave in a few hours? Nope. My suitcases exploded into the kitchen after the family left. I'm weighing and moving and drying clothes and making my thirtieth list of the week. I work well under pressure. Figuring that the donations I'm bringing are more important than what I'm wearing, I have waited until the absolute last minute to pack for myself. I may be in the same outfit for the entire week because notebook paper is really heavy, folks. I'm talking, REALLY, heavy. And, Bibles, let's not even go there, because those guys are like three pounds a piece. I won't even start on crayons.

So, if all of the pictures of me show that I'm wearing the same jeans and shirt then you can assume I managed to fit both boxes of notebooks into my carry-on. Or the dryer didn't get my other clothes dry before I had to leave.

Either way, today is the big day. Tomorrow we'll be in Ethiopia. My mom, and I, and a team of people we haven't met face-to-face, spending a week with an amazing group of children.

November 2, 2010

A Dream Realized

Elijah became obsessed with horses while Seth and I were in Ukraine getting Ella. He was 18 months old. He couldn't even say 'horse'. He made this windy, sloppy horse sound. We guessed that he was emotionally a mess because his parents disappeared for a few weeks. He got a plastic horse shortly after our departure and carried that Clydesdale around with him for the next three weeks. For years all he wanted for birthdays and Christmas were horses. Stuffed or plastic, brown, black, white...all were greeted with jubilation. His obsession has cooled, but his one 'sport' request last year was for riding lessons.

Last month his dream became a reality when we found a perfect (low cost) program. He gets to spend two hours a week at the stables and ends each lesson with an hour ride on 'Smokey,' his pony of choice. I know a cowboy doesn't want his Momma calling him (or his steed) cute, but...shucks those two are real cuties!

October 30, 2010

I. Am. Freaking. Out.

Is it okay to admit that?

Just two weeks until we leave. Last night I let myself think about leaving the kids for 9 days.

Nine days is a long time. Will Seth remember to make them shower? And take their vitamins? Will he be able to drive alone in the van with the kids for 14 hours? What about going to the bathroom at the gas stations?! How can he manage boys and girls for a bathroom break?!!

Deep breathing and realizing that my hubby is indeed a very qualified, responsible father. He can manage taking five children to the bathroom. It may end up that they are all urinating on the side of the road from the back of the van. If I'm halfway around the world, then it's really just not an issue, right? As long as they get to go potty. And if they don't shower or take vitamins for nine days it's not like they will drop dead. Life will go on. They'll be stinky, they may be sick, but they'll probably revel in the freedom that comes with spending nine days with Daddy.

Good thing he's spending the week with his parents. I don't think my mother-in-law will allow the children to spend a week without bathing.

Give me a few minutes to remember something else I can worry about. Like forgetting to buy pull-ups or bring Ella's epilepsy meds to the beach. I better start packing their bags right now...

Still freaking out.

Lessons from the Ten Year Old

When Everett was five years old, long before we ever talked about adopting from Ethiopia, he confidently told us that he was going to be a missionary to Africa. He never said he wanted to be a missionary, he said he was going to be a missionary. For the past five years, he's continued to say, "When I'm in Africa..."

I never expected my five year old to declare that he did indeed know what he was supposed to do with his life. I watch this oldest child for indicators that he will grow up to be a missionary. I watch from afar and hope to see some sacrificial behaviors or maturity beyond his years.

But he's TEN. He loves Lego's and reading fiction. He sword fights in the backyard and pretends to be mortally wounded as the dog bounces on top of him. He reads his Bible every morning, but an hour later is yelling at his sister for using his mechanical pencil. He is TEN.

It's so hard to remember that he's got incredible aspirations and hopes, but he's still just a little boy. Yesterday, we had a very busy day. Classes for three hours with our home school co-op, then a fall party that I had to help coordinate. Following the party things had to go without incident in order for us to make it to the missions conference after dinner. The kids left the party with Seth and I had to stay to clean up. On my way out, so far without incident, Seth called. Sally had zipped her belly into the skirt she was putting on. I could hear shrill screaming in the background. Seth, trying to get dinner for the kids, was a wee bit frantic. I told him that he just had to pull it off, or Google a solution. Thirty minutes later, I show up at the house with less than two minutes to grab dinner and get into the van so we could make it to church. I was greeted by Sally, in panties, at the table eating. She looks at me and starts sobbing. Tenderly, she lifts her shirt. She's got a ragged square of skirt and zipper hanging off of her belly.

Okay. This is so something I would do, like crazy. Not at all what I expected to see when I got home. Seth, looking rather sheepish, shrugged and said, "I felt too bad to do anything but cut the weight of the skirt off of her. Then I gave her dinner and decided to wait for you."

So we decided that we weren't going to make it to the missions conference. I heated my dinner up. We told the kids to just go ahead and put on their jammies. Everett, already wearing his coat with his Bible in hand, couldn't believe what we were saying. He stepped into the hallway and looked back with tears in his eyes.

Wait, is this what I've been looking for? These signs that our child really does care about things beyond fun times? He's visibly upset about not attending church...on a Friday night? Tears make their way down his cheeks and he solemnly looks at Seth and I.

"I'm just very sad about missing the missionaries tonight."

Severely chastised, Seth grabbed his coat and the keys and took both boys while I stayed behind with the zipper. A few hours later three very happy guys return. A Haitian pastor had preached, a Filipino couple had sang with such passion many were moved to tears, and a family from Spain had presented a video of their work.

"Mom, it was the best night ever. I'm sorry you missed it."

And he's only ten.

October 19, 2010

I Love My Hair

I saw this today and loved it. I read the criticisms and, honestly, I still love it!

Let's be realistic-- We can wax on eloquently about the hairstyles that this little muppet has. We can discuss that she sings one thing and her hair is doing something else. Or we could just be happy that Sesame Street produced such a cute, affirming video for African-American girls who have hair envy.

I don't think the Sesame Street crowd notices that our lovely muppet's hair gets a 'relaxed' look halfway through for a few seconds or that she gets incredibly long braided extensions towards the end. She's singing about loving her afro and cornrows. She's a lovable muppet! How could you be so upset and read into this song so much as to get angry. This is a great thing for my afro-wearing daughter to see! Affirmation that she does have wonderful hair that she can wear in so many amazing styles. It's great.

The story behind the video makes it even better. Here's the article from NPR:

A little Muppet girl has started a sensation. The unnamed puppet with an afro sings a love song to her hair.

"I Love My Hair" debuted on the Oct. 4 episode of Sesame Street. It was posted on the show's YouTube page — and then women began posting the video on their Facebook pages.

African-American bloggers wrote that it brought them to tears because of the message it sends to young black girls.

Joey Mazzarino, the head writer of Sesame Street, is also a Muppeteer who wrote the song for his daughter. Mazzarino is Italian. He and his wife adopted their 5-year-old daughter, Segi, from Ethiopia when she was a year old.

Mazzarino says he wrote the song after noticing his daughter playing with dolls.

"She wanted to have long blond hair and straight hair, and she wanted to be able to bounce it around," he tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Mazzarino says he began to get worried, but he thought it was only a problem that white parents of African-American children have. Then he realized the problem was much larger.

In writing the song, he wanted to say in song what he says to his daughter: "Your hair is great. You can put it in ponytails. You can put it in cornrows. I wish I had hair like you."

That simple message has caused an outpouring of responses from women. Mazzarino got a call from an African woman who told him the song brought her to tears. "I was amazed, 'cause I sort of wrote this little thing for my daughter, and here this adult woman, it touched her," he says.

Mazzarino says he's happy to report that Segi loves the song — and her hair.

October 18, 2010

Building Fund

Our team just reached the goal for building projects that need to be completed for Trees of Glory! I'm amazed at the generosity of people--a $4,000 goal met! Incredible!

Hopefully, after 4 guys spend 4 days working, these buildings will be transformed into a church, dormitory, and classroom.

If you were hoping to donate funds for this trip, you still can! Visit Hopechest online to donate, specifying ET101101T-PROJECTS in the notes. There will be plenty of opportunities to bless these children and their caregivers beyond the building project. We are planning a full meal at each care point and also plan to bring fresh fruit with us. It's nice to have a little cushion in case of an unexpected emergency. Karen posted recently about a young boy suffering from an abscessed tooth. The team who happened to be visiting Kind Hearts that day funded a trip to Addis to visit the dentist.

October 16, 2010

4 weeks!

My Mom and Dad were here this weekend to help with some home repairs. Actually, we had a door behind our fridge that needed to be closed in. I take full responsibility for deciding to put the fridge there. I do things without thinking about the reprocussions. Like the hole in the kitchen wall that is also waiting to be closed up. But I won't go on down that rabbit trail, it will only end badly.

A day of madness and chaos and lots of dust...the project is nearly completed. As my parents were leaving my Mom hugged me and said, "See you in D.C."


Whoa, we are really that close to leaving for Ethiopia. The next time I'll see my mom we'll be boarding Ethiopian Airlines together.

October 12, 2010

School Uniform

I never thought we would become that homeschool family.

When Eli got up Monday morning and announced that he would be 'Wolverine' for...ever, I thought, "We are going to be that family."

I wondered how brave Eli would be in this Wolverine suit. It's one thing to wear it around the house and write "Wolverine" across the top of his math papers. It's a completely different ball game when it's time to step outside of our little world.

The boy proved himself a very courageous soul. He wears his school uniform to the doctor's office, flower shop, plate painting event...Yesterday, I had become so accustomed to seeing him in yellow and blue polyester that I forgot he was in his uniform until someone asked if he was a power ranger.

Today is our school picture day at our co-0p. I asked him this morning if he was going as Wolverine and he looked at me as if I had three eyes. "No, that would be too much. I really like wearing my jammies underneath and getting away with it."

And all along I thought it was a middle child trying to assert his independence and show himself different. He's just seven year old who wants to stay in his jammies all day.

October 9, 2010

Josiah's Birthday!

Terrible Twos, Goodbye! Could the pithy saying be Terrific Threes? Dare I beg for this year to be a bit easier than the past?

Too smart for his own good, too cute to get in real trouble, and too rotten to care about any of's hoping for obedience and maturity in the coming year. We are off to a grand start!
Yes, he did spit on half of the cake. Happy Birthday, dear sweet (salivating) boy!

October 7, 2010

Mission Trip Giveaway

Crazy Kari Gibson had a wonderful dream. When she woke up she decided to trust God and just go ahead with this wild business.

She's giving away a mission trip. An entire trip. To Ethiopia.

I've seen some great giveaways on blogs. This one takes the cake. For the next month each shirt purchased will grant you one entry, the purchases will funnel into a scholarship covering the cost of the trip in February with Visiting Orphans.

You can buy an awesome shirt, wear a shirt that will spark many conversations, and know that the purchase of that shirt sent someone on a lifechanging trip that they otherwise wouldn't have been able to take. A great concept. Check out the details on Kari's Crazy Adoption Blog.

September 24, 2010

I'm Going Back

I have butterflies in my stomach just typing that title.

I sort of invisioned myself standing on an empty stage tapping a crackling microphone as I whisper, "I have an announcement to make. I'm going back to Ethiopia." I've kind of been waiting to mention it. Not really believing that it would all come together. But, it did. I mean, it really did, the money came, the time off for Seth came, and the airplane tickets came a few weeks ago so there is absolutely no turning back.

I'm going back.
And my mom will be joining me.

We aren't going to be bringing back any new family members. Though I think Seth fears this will ignite the adoption fires again.

We are going to meet Jirgna and all of his friends at Kind Hearts. I'll get to introduce my mom to the mother who cared for Sally and Josiah before they became ours. We'll get to hand a care package to the darling little girl that my in laws support at Trees of Glory. It will be an amazing trip. I was beyond excited when the confirmation came that I would be joining the team. When my dad asked if it was too late for my mom to join us...disbelief! I get to share this awesome thing with my mom (and she gets to hold my hand when I get sick because that's just inevitable).

I've been slow in writing this post because I just didn't know what to say. Astounding, since I am rarely at a loss for words. After giving it thought I realized that I was letting busy things get in the way of writing this post.

We are going to leave November 13 with a group of over a dozen people. Karen has organized the trip and is doing a wonderful job. We will spend a few days at the two care points that she coordinates, Kind Hearts and Trees of Glory. A group will be doing a construction project at Trees of Glory, donations are needed to purchased materials once we arrive in Ethiopia. The rest of us will be spending time with the 152 children there. My mom and I are purchasing canvas bags for the kids to decorate with fabric pens, ribbon, and gems. We are also collecting donations of school supplies and clothing. I have personally gone bonkers at back to school sales and probably have filled both suitcases to the limit. I can't turn down a box of crayons for under a quarter!

If you are interested in getting involved, Karen has detailed the trip with beautiful pictures of the children she met when she traveled last year. Samantha is an incredible 11 year old who has made a difference by making bottle cap necklaces (incidentally, they are so cute!). Between now and November 13, all of the proceeds will go towards the construction fund for our trip.

September 23, 2010

Make that eleven...

Returning home from vacation to find seven more eggs.

Tonight we hear squeaks coming from the nest box. Two baby birds have hatched!

My house sounds like a rainforest with juveniles chattering across the room to their father who sits atop the cage guarding the new eggs. Daddy squawks and gets his kids roused and squealing. Soon it's too loud to even think.

Just like a father.

I'm certain Momma is sitting on that nest thinking, "Doesn't he know it's bedtime?"

Our last little girl is leaving Friday morning. Then the search for families for the new babies will begin. Hopefully, it will be the last time!

September 20, 2010

"Where have you been lately?"

To California...if I would have been driving due west. Instead I went in a triangular shape and spent 42 hours driving, but ended up back at home.

It seems far easier to just post pictures. I'll have to set it up for you first so you can fully comprehend why I would temporarily lose my mind and take part in such traveling shenanigans.

My dear hubby spent two months responding to the oil spill in the Gulf.

The week after he left, I packed up the dog, the kids, and a new dvd player and visited friends on the East Coast. We came home, started school, learnt a phew thangs and then packed up again. This time we visited relatives in the Ozark Mountains, went to the Gulf for a week, and then grabbed that guy we've been missing and hit the road for home.

Along the way we picked up the dog from my parents, and the birds from a friend (who, incidentally, laid 7 more eggs once they got rid of their last clutch). It was a baptism by fire re-introduction to the family life for Seth. That last leg of the trip, five wild kids, one stinky ear infected dog, and 4 birds plus a nest of 7 eggs.

We lived to tell the wild tales though. My neighbor had the audacity to ask, "Did you school those kids any while you were gone?" I smiled and said, "We crossed the Mississippi River three times in that many states, saw Civil War battlefields, and saw that New Orleans still hasn't fully recovered from hurricane Katrina. We may have learned a few things."

Tide Pools in Rhode Island
Tubing for the first time
Marine Mammals in Connecticut (with a fabulous personal tour guide)
Hay Bale Jumping on Grandma's Farm (Mom had to leave the premises)

Admiring the Beautiful Beaches on the Gulf
The Van, The Van, The Van...
(notice the dog crate in the fourth row--he traveled to New England with us)

Yeah, we are crazy.

August 27, 2010

Six Parakeets and Counting

To hear Eli tell the story it all began back in January. He had birthday and Christmas money burning a hole in his pocket. And he wanted a pet. We already have a dog and cat. Evidently it's all about 'personal pet' vs. 'family pet'. I vetoed rats, mice, gerbils, hamsters, and anything else small and furry that might escape and reproduce in the walls. I also vetoed snakes. Without any explanation. Lizards might have been okay but they are pricey. The maintenance on fish is a no-go and the boys both agreed that I have proven myself unworthy in the test of keeping fish alive. So we visited the pet store just to look around.

And we met the nearly perfect pet called a parakeet.

Then we left the pet store and looked for a little guy on craigslist. Including a cage and already friendly. Then Eli started wondering if his little guy (who is actually a girl) was lonely. So he read up on parakeets and decided to get his little lady and male friend. Stage 1 in parenting decisions gone wrong.

Stage 2 would be when I encouraged Seth to help Eli build a nest box. He had read so much about the birds he decided to try and 'get some eggs'. But I figured that was really unlikely. I mean, come on, really? So they spent an afternoon putting this wooden box together. We stuck it on the front of the cage and Petey (the girl) immediately began making herself at home. Then the week of VBS the birds began...ahem...'getting married' during breakfast every morning. It was rather shameful. The squawking and fluttering amidst cries of, "Look at them!! Will it work, are they married if he can't balance?!"

Though I tried to explain that there may not be eggs, though I hoped there wouldn't be eggs. One afternoon, an egg showed up. Then four little siblings followed all one day apart. So our summer plans quickly changed and shuffled around because the eggs would begin hatching and we certainly couldn't miss the big event.

I also tried to explain that the eggs might not hatch. But they did. Mom and Dad are so proud of their babies that they are trying to have more. This time they are working on it during lunch. Right before they sit at the side of the cage and beg us for more food. It's scandalous.

August 23, 2010

First Day of School

I have sweaty palms...

butterflies in my belly...

and a dry mouth.

Sitting here waiting...

for the first day of school to begin.

I'm a nervous wreck.

Even when you teach your own children. Even when they are eager to start learning. Even when you have been doing it for years.

They look so eager and innocent, don't they? Give me about two weeks.

August 7, 2010


Ella is constantly capturing small
animalscreatures in the backyard and turning them into pets. Pill bugs, caterpillars (that were eating my roses), and most recently slugs. At Christmas, I bought a butterfly habitat. Incidentally, that was kind of funny. Seth and I were shopping at the Toys-U-Don't Need. I had a list of things the kids thought they might need. I also had a list of things I thought they might need, ie. educational stuff. Like a super cool butterfly habitat. Surprisingly there weren't any on the shelf. Disbelief--but figured I'd order it online for a higher price. Later, Seth saw a man holding one and approached him just as the guy said to his buddy, "Butterfly Habitat, who would want something dumb like that?" Thankfully he put it down and my brave hubby snagged it.

So...we've been eagerly waiting for the right time to order caterpillars. We ordered. They came. Not so thrilling. Little black caterpillars. In a plastic container. Sort of like what Ella does in the backyard everyday. Except I paid for this tub. They ate the gooey food in their container. We waited. Then one day we looked in and they were all suspended from the top. Soon we got to see our first chrysalis.Little more waiting and one butterfly emerged. It was truly very neat. Even for the not-nerdy bunch. This butterfly in the house thing was a dream come true for Ella. Oddly, she's terrified if they fly near her, but in the mesh cage. Heavenly.

Let the obsession begin. Day after day of butterfly viewing. Special chair pulled up to the habitat. Oh, the antics of those butterflies. Endless entertainment!

All good things must come to an end. In butterfly habitat world that would be Release Day.
One by one, all of the butterflies flitted away except one little guy. To Ella's delight we kept him, named him "Flyey" and gave him some more time in the miracle butterfly habitat. A few days later, after having the nectar buffet all to himself, Flyey made his way out into the wild, dangerous world known as Our Backyard.

August 2, 2010

Call me the firegirl (Ella did)

Today, I tried to set the house on fire.

Until today, I've never actually put out a fire. Ironically, late last night I was typing up our homeschool curriculum for the superintendent and wondered 'what will we do for fire safety this year?'

Well, we got that one checked off. According to the discussion I had with the children after the blaze was out:
1-Never turn on the stove and walk away.
2-Never fill a pot with oil to make popcorn, turn on the stove and walk away.
3-Making a phone call from the backyard while stove is on and oil is heating is always a bad idea.
4-Having a serious discussion with husband during heating of oil is a terrible idea.
5-Ignoring the blaring smoke alarms coming from the house, thinking that it is the microwave beeping will only make matters worse.

6-If ever, you are engrossed in a new library book and you hear smoke alarms while breathing in smoke in a smoke filled room. You SHOULD ALWAYS interrupt the book reading to save yourself. You most certainly can bring the book with you. (That one was for Everett who was reading in the living room and managed to ignore the circumstances until he heard mother screaming).

I did all of the above. My kids will probably never let me live it down.

I finally realized that smoke was filling the dining room and saw the blaze on the stove. Yelling into the phone, "There's a fire in the kitchen!" I chucked the phone and ran inside. Can't imagine what Seth was thinking. Probably something along the lines of, "Can't believe I'm married to such a nut case." Or "She's SO overdramatic."

I can't recall what happened next, I probably broke many more fire safety rules. Like yelling and losing your cool. Using the garden hose to douse flames is probably not up there on the "to do" list. But I did it.

Right now five children are sleeping on the floor of Josiah's bedroom because it was the only room smoke-free. We were all rather worked up. I was ready to head to a hotel. They were ready to sleep on the grass in the backyard, since obviously the house is far too dangerous to enter. Ever. Then the sensible husband chastened me (via phone) and told me to "Calm down, it's just a little smoke." Only because he wasn't here to see the leaping flames. And because once he caught the neighbor's trees on fire. That's way worse.

July 29, 2010

These are a few of my favorite (homeschool) things

We are (sort of) coming to the beginning of the school year. It's the right time to think about what worked well this year and what needs to change. Recently, a friend emailed me with some questions about homeschooling and that got me thinking. I always enjoy hearing from others who school at home, because their experiences help me to determine what curriculum might work for us. What worked when I had one first grader and two toddlers won't necessarily work with a fourth grader, two second graders, barely kindergarten, and a toddler. Life changes over time! We have used Sonlight, Story of the World, and Tapestry of Grace. I've used exclusively Sonlight and then became crazy brave enough to build my own curriculum. By no means do I have it all figured out, but here are a few things I thought I might share.

Since my list of favorite things has grown I'm going to do a few installments.

Websites and Blogs:
Homeschool Share this is a neat resource for lapbooking--all free.
Dianne Craft I'm always looking for a new way to teach Ella. We haven't been able to discern what happens when she's learning, but traditional methods aren't that great. I bought Right Start Math for everyone a few years ago thinking that was the solution, but it wasn't. Dianne Craft's website has lists of ideas and tips that have helped me understand what I'm doing wrong (ie. Saxon just won't work for her) and how to fix that.
Nature Study I *wish* I could be this habitual about being outdoors.
Art Projects I am far from an artist. I wouldn't hesitate to say that I'm pretty far from creative. When I stumbled onto this website--an art teacher and her projects--I was delighted. It encouraged me to take on several projects that I wouldn't otherwise (paper mache and pastels to begin?).
Practical Pages I *wish* I could be this focused and organized! She uses Charlotte Mason's methods and has all sorts of wonderful downloads that are...well, wonderful. Studies of artists, projects, templates, timelines...all of those things you would like to put together if you were talented and had time. She does!
Homeschool Freebie of the Day Sign up, it's just what it says. FREEBIES. They send out an email at the beginning of the week listing freebies for each day. Audiobooks, e-books, cool websites...the freebies never end!
Spelling City Spelling is so. Boring. I use Spelling Power, but it's nice to have something else for practice. Free, easy to use, my kids think they are playing since they are using the computer...
Vegsource It doesn't make sense, perhaps it's a well hidden homeschool secret. This is a vegetarian website that has a homeschool forum for selling stuff. Used stuff that you buy right from that lady a few states over that used it and liked it but doesn't need it anymore so she's willing to sell it for CHEAP.
Curriculum Sites that I continue to visit (though we are using Tapestry, doesn't mean I stick strictly to their stuff, I *love* Sonlight's book lists...)
Tapestry of Grace
Well Trained Mind
Vision Forum
Veritas Press
Ambleside Online (this is a very cool group, free--seems to be a returning theme--curriculum based on Charlotte Mason's methods).

When the catalogs for these guys come, my boys sit down and circle everything they want.

July 14, 2010

In My Own Backyard

She makes the quiet statement about a boy who has been spending his days in our yard. "I don't like him."

It's obvious she's been thinking about what she just said. She's visibly upset, her eyes fill with tears as she finishes her thought, "He said he didn't want to play with me. I have this skin. Brown skin. He doesn't like brown skin."

She's pointing to her arm with disgust. The emotion I see is so strong and terrifying that I hug her tightly and start sobbing with her. I have no words that can undo the hurt she feels.

On the kitchen floor.

Cradling our six year old in my lap.

Both of us crying.

I can't believe our daughter met prejudice for the first time swinging on her swing set.

July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Sally!

A far cry from the little girl who, two years ago, was not interested in opening presents or eating cake. "Looks nice, but tastes so...unfamiliar." We have ruined our Ethiopian beauty! She turned six and had a list of friends, party activities, and desired presents. I think she hoped for a more 'Strawberry Shortcake' cake than the big strawberrish shaped cake I produced. It even tasted weird.

Squirt guns, water slides, presents, and cake...overall the birthday diva had a blast.