June 15, 2015

Summer Goals – 2015 Edition

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, God, homemaking, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, money, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 1:40 pm by alison

While my girls continue to insist that it is not truly summer until we hit its official start later this month, Matt is done with his semester, we have finished our homeschooling school year, and the temperature is regularly surpassing 90 degrees, so we’re going to go ahead and act like it’s summer :) To that end, I’ve been thinking about how we can best spend these summer months, and I’ve come up with some goals for us. In no particular order, they are –

1. Work with the girls on moving toward learning how to swim.

Miranda is 5 and Madeleine CaiQun 4, and I’ve done approximately nothing to help them learn how to swim before this summer. I think swimming is a valuable life skill to have, though, so this summer, we joined a pool, the girls are enrolled in swimming lessons, and hopefully we’ll be making some progress toward swimming!

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2. Be consistent in working with the girls to develop self-control, kind words, and gentle hands.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory :) These are growth areas for us, and while I can’t force hearts to change, I can be consistent in encouraging good behavior and addressing issues that arise.

3. Work through 4-6 weeks of school curriculum.

I’ll share more about our plans for Miranda’s kindergarten and Madeleine CaiQun’s pre-k school year soon, but for now, I’ll just say that I think year-round schooling works best for our family at this stage, and I’d love for us to get a solid start in our curriculum for this upcoming year before the fall actually arrives!

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4. Get set for a mobile baby – and some days, 2 mobile babies! 

One reason for us to cover some ground with school this summer is that we’re going to be watching a friend’s baby two days a week starting in the fall, and obviously 2 babies require more care than 1! I’d like to have a better idea of what our school days are going to entail and be able to plan accordingly. Beyond school, though, we’ll need to make some changes to the set-up of our house, doing some child-proofing, etc.

5. Organize the playroom.

A few weeks ago I did some de-cluttering of the playroom and a bit of re-organization, but I’d really like to get it set up more fully and organized in such a way that is conducive to mobile babies!

6. Blog!

I really enjoy writing and blogging, and I’d love to be more consistent in writing this summer. I have some ideas for some posts I want to share with you all, and feel free to let me know if there are topics you’d like me to cover here!

7. Read more, in particular the parenting books I ordered this spring.

Another of my loves is reading, and with 3 little ones for whom to care and a multitude of tasks to accomplish, it’s easy to push it off to the side. I think it’s important, though, for me to expose myself to ideas outside of myself. Right now I’m finding it really encouraging and helpful to study parenting and learn more about strategies I can employ in shepherding my kiddos. I have a small stack of books I ordered this spring about parenting, and I’d like to make my way through them during the summer.

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8. Make it a priority to have fun. Say yes to things like walks, time at the park, and time at the pool.

We are doing some school and trying to keep some semblance of structure to our days, but I still want to enjoy and facilitate our kids enjoying this summer. I want to take advantage of nice weather, when it appears, and get outside and have fun.

9. Enjoy Atticus.

Our little guy is so incredibly adorable and sweet. I’m such a task-oriented person by nature that it can be easy for me to take advantage of the times when he is content to accomplish something from my “to do” list, but I also want to make sure I take time to snuggle with him, tickle him, smile and coo at him, and just enjoy the little person he is.

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10. Write in each child’s journal at least once.

From before our kids were born or joined our family, I’ve maintained a journal for each in which I write letters to them. I know that I won’t always remember each little thing they do that makes me smile or how I’ve thought about them at different times, and I want them to have a record of those things. I want them to know how much I’ve loved for and cared for them throughout their entire lives, how precious each one is to me. It’s hard to set aside the time to write, though, so my goal is to write to each child at least once this summer.

11. Finish writing and sending thank you notes to people who blessed us around the time of Atticus’s birth.

I’m generally pretty awful at writing thank you notes (as evidenced by the fact that Atticus is now 6 months old and I have still not sent out these thank you notes!). I truly believe it’s important to thank people who have taken time out of their lives to bless us, though, so I want to finish writing these and get them out to people.

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12. Go on at least 2 dates per month with Matt.

Matt and I just recently celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary :) I think the first year after adding a child – whether through birth or adoption – is always challenging for a marriage, and we want to be intentional about sustaining our relationship.

13. Replenish our savings.

We’ve had several significant expenditures recently that have depleted our savings beyond the level we like to have it, so we’d like to earn and set aside some funds this summer to replenish that fund.

14. Build a more consistent prayer life.

This is something I consistently find myself struggling with. I find that parenting has driven me to prayer like nothing else, but I still am not sure when to set aside a specific time (or times) to pray, and I find myself often, in the moment, responding before praying, and I’d like that order to be reversed! Moms of littles, any suggestions??

 

This feels like a pretty ambitious list, but I’m hoping we can get a good amount of it accomplished before the summer is through!

June 5, 2015

Home-Schooling 2014-2015 – Year in Review

Posted in family, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , at 12:56 pm by alison

As of yesterday, we have finished our 2014-2015 school year! Miranda completed her pre-k year and Madeleine CaiQun her pre-school year.

"Why, yes, Mom, we'd love to pose for a 'last day of school' picture for you!"

“Why, yes, Mom, we’d love to pose for a ‘last day of school’ picture for you!”

The work they did was sometimes in line with those grade levels, sometimes not (for more on our curriculum choices for the year, see this post), but everyone worked where they were at and grew, which, I think, will always be our goal!

Hand-writing is an easy area in which to see progress, and this morning I was looking back at some of the girls’ early work and was encouraged to see how they have grown. It can be hard, in the day-to-day, to notice the ways in which they are learning and growing, but looking back over the course of the year, I can definitely see it!

Madeleine CaiQun really could not write recognizable letters on her own at the beginning of the school year, and now she can write her name (though she still needs help remembering what all the letters are toward the end)!

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Note also the addition of “Anna” to her name – we’re just slightly obsessed with Frozen these days!

And here is a sample of Miranda’s copywork from week 4, followed by some of her copywork from week 34!

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Miranda has been practicing reading, and CaiQun is ready to start reading out loud, which is definitely exciting for this book-loving mom! Both girls have grown in their understanding of math and numbers, as well. We’ve all been memorizing some Scripture together (we’re trying to finish up 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 right now). Another cool development has been the lengthening of their attention spans, such that we are able to read longer chapter books now. All in all, I’ve really enjoyed doing school work with them this year.

Of course, character is king, and our big growth areas continue to be kindness, gentleness, and self-control. We’re working on it!

I took the girls out for ice cream last night to celebrate the completion of our school year :)

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When asked what her favorite part of the year was, Miranda replied enthusiastically, “Math!” That’s also what she reports she is most looking forward to about our upcoming school year. This girl loves her math :) She says her favorite book that we read this year is our final science book, Why Do Tigers Have Stripes, in particular the part about panthers. I asked CaiQun what her favorite part of this past year was, and she told me it was, “L, because I like doing the down and then the over.” Funny girl :) She said she was too busy eating to talk to me about what she was most looking forward to about next year or about her favorite book from this year. Overall, though, some of the books both girls really enjoyed were all of our science books and The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook.

I’m also thoughtful about what I’ve learned about teaching my kiddos this year. It really isn’t a problem to do school with Atticus around (which I’d been worried about before he arrived!), but I need to be careful not to start something new with the girls when he’s getting fussy but instead to wait until I’ve gotten him to a good place. Both of the girls like having choices – choices about what work to do first, which books to read first, what writing implement to use. Miranda responds best to my setting out my expectations in some external way from the beginning – if I give her a list of all the work she’ll need to accomplish on any given day, it goes over better than just telling her verbally (CaiQun likes having a list, too, but I think that’s mostly just because Miranda has one). And sometimes, even if they have choices and have their lists, things don’t go well. My personality is to love checklists and love challenges, so I need to be thoughtful, in those moments, about whether I’m pushing too hard and setting us up for problems or whether they’re being rebellious and need to be shepherded through that.

We’re all learning together, and I’m looking forward to diving into our next school year with my girls! Kindergarten and pre-k, here we come!

June 1, 2015

a great parenting resource: No-Drama Discipline

Posted in adoption, books, family, God, life, parenting tagged , , , , , , , at 4:32 pm by alison

Several years ago, as Miranda was growing out of the baby stage and as Matt and I began preparing to embark on our journey to become adoptive parents, we started reading and researching more about parenting. Interestingly enough, it was the resources aimed specifically toward helping adoptive parents raise their children that we found most compelling. Those books rely heavily on the latest research about child development, neuroscience, and the ways in which children learn, particularly with regards to the skills necessary for the ability to develop successful relationships.

One of the tenets of the philosophy we have embraced is that the purpose of disciplining children is to teach them – not to punish them – and within that context, nurturing our relationships with our kiddos is of paramount importance. I just finished reading No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, a book that subscribes to that same philosophy, and I found it to be an incredibly encouraging read with a number of examples that offered timely application for our family.

Siegel and Bryson describe how many of us default to punitive discipline strategies that our children experience as pain or rejection, and they discuss the ways in which our children’s brains respond to those disciplinary strategies – primarily by shutting down their higher brain functions (which are the areas that enable them to learn) and instead staying locked into more primitive, reactive areas of the brain. However, we as parents can instead choose strategies that focus on setting healthy boundaries while also respecting and nurturing our children.

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Our children’s brains are still developing, so, as we give them practice using their higher brain functions, they’re learning the very process of how to use those functions and even structurally building their brain in a way that predisposes them to be able to calm themselves, exercise self-control, think rationally, and have empathy in the future. Hebb’s axiom tells us that “neurons that fire together wire together” – in essence, as neurons respond together to various experiences, the connections between those neurons grow, making it easier for them to respond together in the future (p 42-43). When our kids experience a problem, we can train them to calm down and be thoughtful about potential solutions, and then their brains will be wired in such a way to encourage them to default to those modes in the future.

If we focus on connecting with our children and making sure that they – and we – are in a good place to address any issues that arise, we’ll be cultivating our relationships with our children and we’ll be much more effective in teaching them. I remember it feeling like a revelation to me when, during one of the CCEF courses I took, the instructor discussed the ideal that the driving force behind our approaching anyone about an issue we see with their behavior should be their good – it shouldn’t be about getting something off your own chest or making you feel better, but about whether it’s actually in that person’s best interest for you to discuss the issue with them. It’s interesting to me that many of us who are Christians embrace that idea when it comes to our interactions with other adults but feel perfectly comfortable expressing immediate frustration or displeasure with our children. I want to be treating my children with at least as much care as I treat the adults in my world, though.

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Of course, children are not adults and need to be treated appropriately. No Drama Discipline encourages us as parents to “chase the why.” Behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is the outflow of what exists inside of a person, in their heart. Our children may not be able to express to us why they’re acting in a particular way, but we need to dig deeper and seek to understand the reason for the child’s behavior, because if we address only the behavior, we’re going to miss out on anything deeper going on with our children at the heart level.

And children need their parents to establish and maintain consistent structure. Our end goal, though, should not be to obtain mere obedience. We want to help our children gain insight into themselves, grow in their ability to be empathetic and thoughtful, and develop the capacity to participate in healthy relationships. In this book, Siegel and Bryson offer numerous strategies (and examples) to help parents do just that.

Matt and I are finding it both encouraging and transformative.

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The other day, one of my girls was getting out a plethora of art supplies to work on a project, and she carelessly knocked my beloved water bottle onto the floor (twice), thereby breaking its straw. I ignored my immediate impulse, which was to yell at her and perhaps impose some arbitrary restriction on the art supplies, and instead I just asked her to pick it up. Later, when both of us were calmer, I asked her to come talk with me, and I showed her where it was broken. She offered to fix it for me and immediately attempted (unsuccessfully) to repair it. When I told her I was sad that she’d broken it and I couldn’t use it, she offered a genuine apology and went to her cabinet to get me a cup of hers that I could use until my straw could be fixed or replaced. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that smoothly – but I’m confident that I wouldn’t have gotten a heartfelt apology or creative attempts to repair the situation if I’d yelled at her and tried to force her to say she was sorry in the moment.

I’m hopeful that Matt and I will be able to live out, more and more, parenting strategies that build relationship with our kids and encourage thoughtfulness and growth in them. And I’d definitely recommend the book No Drama Discipline to any other parents out there!

May 30, 2015

reflections from a week of solo parenting

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, God, homemaking, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, parenting tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 8:24 pm by alison

Matt was incredibly excited to be invited to be part of Wakonse again this year, and we both knew it was a great opportunity for him. Last year he found it to be invigorating, encouraging, and helpful for continuing to refine his teaching, as well as a good opportunity for networking. I knew a week of parenting our 3 young kiddos would be intense without him, but I agreed that the trip would be good for him, and so, a little over a week ago, he boarded a bus headed for the shores of Lake Michigan at 6:00 a.m.

During the time that he was away, I found myself reflective. How should I view my week at home with our kids? What was the marriage and parenting context in which I was setting it? What did it look like to love and parent well during that time?

I preached to myself over and over a truth that Matt and I always make sure to discuss with young couples when we meet with them for pre-marital counseling – marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. Viewing it that way is a set-up for disaster. You’ll find yourself keeping score, tallying everything that you’re doing and comparing it to what you see of your spouse’s contributions, and it’s nearly inevitable that you will see him or her coming up short. It was so easy to start slipping toward making a list of all that I was doing during this week that Matt was away – changing diapers, making dinners, putting 3 kids to bed each and every night, and on and on and on; meanwhile he was obviously not here and thus doing none of those things. And I would find myself thinking of the rewards that I felt I deserved for my hard work…only to have to hit the brakes hard. This is my family, the people I love more than anyone else on earth. It is an honor and a blessing to care for them. And what I’m called to and what I’ve committed myself to is very different from putting in 50% of the work required to sustain our family; it’s putting forth 100% of what I can, looking for ways I can love and areas where I can serve, and doing so joyfully. That is what our marriage is about.

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Another realization I found myself having over and over again was that, often times, proactive parenting is what constitutes good parenting. All of our kids had a hard time with Matt being gone, more than I expected. It felt like our days were often off course before they even began. I realized very quickly that, particularly within that context, I needed to be proactive, to spot potential difficulties before they arrived and do what I could to steer us around them. The sensory bins came out on multiple occasions.

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We kept up with our structure as much as possible, doing school most days. We turned errands into adventures. I said “yes” when I could and tried to set us up for success.

On a related note, I reminded myself multiple times that I was making choices about the narrative I was telling myself about this time. I could choose to focus on the hard – and there was a lot of it – or I could choose to focus on the opportunities for fun. As much as possible, I tried to keep the positive narrative at the forefront of my mind, to see the blessings of our time and to plan fun activities for us. One huge blessing was that my brother David joined us for the week. While no one can take the place of a parent, having an extra pair of hands and some adult conversation is undeniably helpful! In part because he was here, we were able to pack a lot of fun into our week without Matt. We visited multiple parks, which was so good for everyone.

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We all enjoyed being outside, and as an added bonus, the kids’ energy expenditure made them significantly more receptive to bedtime in the evenings!

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Another well-received activity was making homemade popsicles and then enjoying them out on the porch during a rainy afternoon!

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We really did have fun together!

Of course, I was still counting down the days until Matt’s return…which, of course, led to high expectations of what that homecoming would actually look like. I think probably the lesson I’ve most consistently needed to learn from Matt’s travels has been that homecomings are not all they’re cracked up to be. Yes, it was great to see Matt. No, he didn’t waltz in the door proclaiming his undying love and expressing profuse thankfulness for my efforts at home during his absence. And when I build up the moment of his arrival, counting down to it for days, I set us all up for disappointment.

All in all, it was an exhausting week, but it was great to get some time with my brother, and he and I and the kiddos really did have some good, fun times. And being jolted out of our normal routines gave me an opportunity for reflection – and, hopefully, growth, that I wouldn’t otherwise have had!

May 16, 2015

parenting is hard work

Posted in Atticus Garrett, family, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace, parenting tagged , , , , , at 10:48 am by alison

Parenting is hard work, my friends. I’ve always affirmed that, but I’ve been living it in a different way recently. We’re in a difficult season, and I frequently find myself physically tired and emotionally spent well before the end of the day arrives.

As I pray for and seek to cultivate self-control, empathy, and kindness in my children, I am seeing with new eyes my own need for continued growth. Their desire to quit when they aren’t getting what they want isn’t all that different from my desire to spend lunch scrolling through my Facebook feed when we’re having a difficult day. Their frustration when things don’t go their way is not so different from, well, my frustration when things don’t go my way. The struggle I see in them when I’ve asked them to respond kindly to a sibling who has just treated them poorly is not very different from the struggle I face to reach out toward them in love when they’ve been disrespectful to me.

I am learning to pray for and work toward self-control, empathy, and kindness in all of us.

And tonight I am thankful for grace – for the grace to lean in toward my children. It took a bit more time, but I gave up my chance to grocery shop by myself in exchange for bringing one of my kiddos with me for a one-on-one outing. The dinner dishes remain piled up in the sink, but I spent the evening playing games with one daughter while Matt took the other to an art show. I rocked Atticus to sleep and focused on his sweet little fingers, the swirl of his hair, and his gently closing eyes instead of looking at my phone. I haven’t gotten in as much work time as I’d hoped post-bedtime, but I did go up to comfort the daughter who was frightened of the booming thunder, and I got to hold her and sing her to sleep.

The girls and I are discussing and memorizing 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 right now, and today I am thankful for the opportunities and the grace to choose love.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

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Ironically enough, I wrote most of this post last night, and as I was finishing it, I heard the baby begin throwing up in the other room. This parenting gig is a 24/7 kind of thing!  

May 8, 2015

Happy Birthday, Miranda Grace!

Posted in family, God, life, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , at 10:51 pm by alison

Amazingly enough, last week my precious firstborn turned FIVE! It feels like just yesterday that she was born, and here we are at five, which seems like such a big age to me. I’ll probably continue to say that year after year, but five is definitely a milestone. She’s really “school age” now. She’s big enough to push her sister on a swing…

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…big enough to love her baby brother with incredible passion…

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…and big enough to be into chapter books. We started reading Little House in the Big Woods on a road trip last month, and both girls are hooked on “the Laura books,” as they call them.

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Of course, in other ways, five is really not that big. It’s big enough to feel ALL OF THE FEELINGS but not big enough to know how to deal with them constructively. It’s big enough to ask good questions but not always big enough to understand the depth of the answers. We’re working our way through all of that, though, and I pray that what we’re seeing are more and more baby steps of faith. We’re having conversations about how unable all of us really are to live our lives as we should and how Jesus offers to substitute His righteousness for our sinfulness. We’re talking about what love and kindness and forgiveness really are. Matt and I are praying that our little Miranda will continue to grow, more and more, into a girl and eventually a woman who truly embodies her name – a lovely and admirable woman of grace.

And in the midst of the soul-shepherding moments, we’re having a lot of fun. From us, for her birthday, Miranda got an adorable little shirt (a portion of whose proceeds go to an organization working with orphans in China) with lyrics from a song she loves…

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…and what is probably a lifetime supply of water beads, which she and Madeleine CaiQun very much enjoyed getting their hands into that afternoon!

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We made a cake…

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…and went out for ice cream (with my dad, who was able to be in town for a visit for the week surrounding Miranda’s birthday!).

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We’re just as in love with this little girl as we were on that sweet day five years ago when she was born :) I continue to be humbled by the responsibility of being her mom, and I treasure the time I get to spend with her!

April 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday – Our Trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum

Posted in adoption, family, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , at 4:21 pm by alison

One of the commitments Matt and I made to each other and to our then-future child when we decided to adopt from China was that we would pursue incorporating Chinese culture into our family’s life. From talking to and reading about the experiences of other trans-racial adoptees, we knew that our child, while fully part of our family, would experience the tension of living between two worlds. Raised with white parents in middle-class America, she would lose her ability to connect fully with the Chinese or Chinese-American communities, but neither would she fully experience life as a WASP. We want to do all that we can to help her navigate that reality. On top of that, we believe Chinese culture and history are fascinating, and knowledge and experience of them has so much to offer to us and to all of our children.

When we learned that the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, which normally has an exhibit focused on China and its culture, would also be hosting a temporary exhibit including some of the actual terracotta warriors crafted thousands of years ago in Xi’an, China, we were determined to make the trip. One weekend last September, we made it happen.

My brother David currently lives in Cincinnati, which is just a short trip from Indianapolis, so he was able to join us for the trip, which was an extra blessing. Even just the time at the hotel with him was a treat!

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We enjoyed some time at the regular China exhibit.

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We learned about the Chinese zodiac signs…

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…and about Chinese characters and calligraphy.

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The little market was one of the girls’ favorite parts of the day, and we went back there multiple times.067

We also took a little bit of time to check out the museum’s dinosaur exhibits.

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And then it was time for our entrance into the terracotta warriors exhibit! There was a short film about the terracotta warriors and their construction thousands of years ago and their discovery by local farmers in the 1970s, and then we were allowed into the exhibit. Matt spent some time studying and drawing this warrior.

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One thing I was very impressed by was the way the exhibit communicated information about the warriors and their history but also made everything fun and interactive for children of various ages. Both Miranda and Madeleine CaiQun really enjoyed putting together this three-dimensional puzzle to build a replica of the kneeling archer.

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We looked around at the various warriors…

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…and then we were able to construct our own miniature warriors using clay and molds!

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By the time we came through, a sizable army had already been constructed, and we added our figures to them.

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Then the girls put on some armor, and we practiced making our fiercest faces and being defenders of the emperor.

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We also enjoyed drumming, always a favorite activity, but especially with a large drum like this one!

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As the girls were only four years old when we took our trip, I’m not sure they retained a lot of information about the terracotta warriors or from the main China exhibit. That’s not really our goal at this point, though. Obviously any pieces of information they pick up and can recall later are great. However, what is important to us right now is that we are creating a family culture in which we are continually pursuing learning and, in particular, learning about China and its culture. As our kids get older, I expect there to be more and more opportunities for that, but we’re thankful we were able to take advantage of this one when we had the chance!

March 25, 2015

being a student

Posted in family, friendship, God, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , , , , at 4:06 pm by alison

Matt and I have often said that if money was no object, we’d be perpetual students. We love learning. So many of the experiences that helped shape me into who I am today took place during my undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, whether participating in discussions in Wendy Espeland’s Sociological Theory course, gaining a more comprehensive understanding of our country’s development through my Intro to US History course, essentially memorizing the textbook in preparation for Mark Witte’s Macroeconomics exams, or learning about the giants of Western Philosophy and their influence on contemporary thought in my Philosophy courses.

Recently I’ve decided to direct my studious nature toward a different arena – parenting and teaching young children.

I’ve found these recent weeks of parenting to be exhausting. It’s not so much the baby and the lack of a full night’s sleep; caring for Atticus requires much of me, but it’s usually pretty straightforward. Parenting the girls, on the other hand, is difficult beyond measure and draining in a different way. They need less help meeting their physical needs, but I devote hours each day to helping to shape their character, helping them to grow into the people they are going to be. And as much as I thought the stakes were high back when my biggest worries were about sleep training methods, they’re ever so much higher now. It’s not just, will she ever nap for longer than 30 minutes without me?, but, what kind of person will she grow up to be?

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We’ve had several hard days during these last few weeks. I’ve made multiple phone calls to Chicagoland to check in with my good friend / parenting expert there – she has raised TWO, count them, TWO children who are functioning as adults, doing cool things, and following the Lord today! She’s two for two so far! And while she’s quick to say that she doesn’t have it all figured out either, that’s two more than I’ve raised!

In our young church community, I may not be surrounded by a multitude of older women from whom I can learn, but in the spirit of these posts – from girltalk and The Gospel Coalition – I am taking advantage of what I do have.

I’m making sure I get in at least a few minutes of time in the Word daily. Moody’s Today in the Word is going through Romans this month – hard-hitting and thought-provoking even in just a few minutes each day. I know I need to make an effort to be more consistent in prayer, as well.

I’m making those long-distance phone calls to seek out parenting advice from those with older children and parenting philosophies I respect. I sincerely appreciate it when I’m told where I probably blew it, and I try out suggestions of ways in which I can be training my kiddos going forward.

And I’m devouring the parenting resources with which I’m surrounded. In addition to some great blogs, like those above, I’ve been diving into some good books. Recently I read Hands Free Mama, which offered helpful encouragement to be truly present with my kids throughout the days (as opposed to being home with them but preoccupied by my phone or my “to do” lists…though I am curious about when the author actually does accomplish those necessary “to do” list items like dishes and laundry!). I’m about to finish The Whole-Brained Child, and I was delighted to find that much of what it discusses lines up so closely with what Matt and I learned last year from Karyn Purvis and others at the Empowered to Connect conference, though I think it will be more helpful once our kids are slightly older. And I just received a box in the mail with the parenting and teaching books that are next on my reading list – No-Drama Discipline, The Three R’s, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

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I can’t wait to get into them and learn what I can.

As a college student, one of my worries when I contemplated becoming a stay-at-home mom was whether I would find it at all intellectually challenging. I’m discovering now that it’s every bit as challenging – and in heart-wrenching ways – as any other path I could have chosen.

What about you, readers? Any favorite books or other parenting resources?

March 4, 2015

Our Homeschooling Year Thus Far

Posted in family, God, homeschooling, life, Madeleine CaiQun, Miranda Grace tagged , , , , , at 10:12 pm by alison

This 2014-2015 homeschooling year has been a journey of learning for all of us. Since we’re well over halfway through our curriculum and our school year, I think it’s about time for an update here :)

The primary basis of our curriculum this year has been Sonlight’s pre-k package. I posted more about the specific choices we made for our school year this year here, but the basic idea is that I’m doing all of our reading and activities together with both girls, and that covers most subjects – Bible, Reading, History, Science, and World Cultures, and then I have them doing Language Arts and Math separately.

One thing I’ve very much enjoyed this year is seeing concrete developments in our girls’ knowledge and thinking. CaiQun is now able to count to 39 reliably (and needs just a little help thereafter). Miranda is now consistently able to count beyond 100, is building the foundations for understanding our base 10 number system, and can do simple addition and subtraction. CaiQun recognizes all her letters and knows the sounds they make and can read and guess spellings of some simple words. Miranda is able to sound out words that follow pretty straightforward rules of pronunciation and reads a book to CaiQun and me each day. Miranda’s handwriting has gotten dramatically better, and CaiQun is learning how to write letters and numbers. Both girls know the days of the week, months of the year, and the four seasons.

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They’re also growing in knowledge and understanding through our reading. We’ve read about types of matter, classification of animals (though they still express disbelief every time we discuss the reality that human beings are considered to be mammals or any type of animal at all!), and the earth itself. We’ve read about different professions, and both girls have developed ambitious goals in this arena – Miranda says, “I want to be half ambulance driver, half mom, half doctor, and half fire truck girl.” CaiQun is going to be a mommy (she’ll have Miranda be the doctor who helps her give birth), and she’s also going to be an ambulance driver, a firefighter, and a gymnast. They both want to attend college in China, though Miranda is only planning to take classes on Tuesdays so that she can live at home with us the rest of the days of the week :)

Another thing we’ve been enjoying together this year is Scripture memorization. Our curriculum suggests a weekly Bible verse to memorize, but I wasn’t always thrilled with their selections, so leading up to Christmas, we ditched them in favor of memorizing John 1:1-5. Once we had that passage down, though, the girls wanted to keep going, so we now have through verse 10 pretty solidly memorized and are working on 11-13. It has been fun to work on that with them during our lunches each day and to discuss what the verses are really saying. My hope is that it will serve them well in the future to have some good passages tucked away in their memories.

And we definitely enjoy reading the different stories, whether tales of Uncle Wiggily’s adventures or stories told by various cultures from around the world or Milly-Molly-Mandy classics. Both of the girls are really loving the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories right now. Their attention spans and interest in reading books without pictures on each page have grown tremendously in the last year or so, and I really enjoy that they’re now able to read and enjoy some longer and more complex stories.

We’re almost always able to accomplish our entire school day in under 2 hours, usually all before lunch time, though we often finish things up in the afternoons if we’ve had morning errands to run or spent some time with friends in the mornings.

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One of the things I enjoy most about home-schooling is the time. Because it is so flexible, I am able to allow the girls so much free time, time to do various art projects of their own creation, time to play in the playroom, time to play games or do puzzles with each other or as a family. And, as has been the case recently, there’s time to play out in the snow when weather permits :)

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And when weather isn’t ideal for outside play…we get to do things like meeting friends at Bonkers when it’s empty, because everyone else is in school :)

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I also enjoy being able to spend so much time with the girls. That is an area in which I’d like to continue to grow – I’m very task-oriented by nature, and the demands of caring for 3 small children and managing a household are pretty intense for me right now, so when we have 30 minutes free, I’m much more apt to think about what task I can accomplish than to come up with a fun activity for us to enjoy together. The lure of quality time does occasionally win out, though, and I’m grateful for the times it does! This year’s curriculum is actually very good at suggesting activities to do that tie into what we’re reading. Some of the activities aren’t appealing to us at all, but a lot of them are fun when we do them, and I’d like to take the time to do more of them.

There are some weaknesses in the curriculum. I actually wish it were more intense. The girls often want to read more than is scheduled, and I need to be better at indulging them in that, too. I thought there would be more content and more focus than there is, and those are some things I’m really looking forward to about Sonlight’s curriculum in future years.

Those words may come back to haunt me, as we embrace added intensity next year but have our growing little boy spending his days with us, too. Hopefully the challenge will not prove to be too much :) This year I have sometimes felt harried as I’ve tried, simultaneously, to introduce a math concept to Miranda, give direction on handwriting to Madeleine CaiQun, and bounce a fussy baby in need of a nap, but we’ve been managing to work through everyone’s different needs, and I imagine we’ll continue to figure it out.

And the hard times give us opportunities to work on and pray about character issues. We’ve devoted a lot of time this year to self-control, and while we still have a long way to go, I’m glad we’ve been able to focus on it so much. Home-schooling gives us an opportunity to talk about and pray about so many different things. Just the other day we had an extensive lunch conversation about a decision facing them in which they could choose to be selfish or to be kind, good friends to another child, and on the first day, they were 100% committed to selfishness, but after we talked, we prayed about it, and the next day they announced that they had changed their minds and wanted to choose to try to be kind.

Overall I really think the year is going pretty well. The girls continue to enjoy school, and I continue to enjoy teaching them and seeing them learn – and they are clearly learning. I think we’re seeing spiritual growth, as well as intellectual growth, and we’re enjoying our time together doing it all!

February 25, 2015

some thoughts on pursuing pregnancy after adopting

Posted in adoption, Atticus Garrett, family, God, life, money tagged , , , at 11:40 pm by alison

It’s funny how certain sights or smells can take you back immediately to another time and place, often the home of a poignant experience.

About a week ago I submitted our 2014 taxes, and being the detail-oriented person that I am, I then plugged our info into the IRS2GO app on my phone so that I could track our refund – and I was immediately taken back to this time last year, when I was tracking our 2013 refund, which we’d use to get our emergency savings account back up to a minimally acceptable level (we’d depleted it in its entirety to pay for the last of our adoption costs). And knowing we’d be back to a more stable place financially, we were talking and praying about potentially trying to get pregnant.

It felt like a strange place to be. After we began pursuing adopting from China, and as we learned more and more about the children around the world waiting for families, I began to think that perhaps we were done having biological children and would adopt all of our children from there on out. It seemed to me, in my black and white manner of viewing the world, that we were going to have a certain capacity, whether it was 4 kids or 5 kids or 6 kids, and any of those spots that we filled with a biological child was a spot that we couldn’t fill by adopting a child who needed a family.

But that perspective began to shift last winter. We knew we wanted to adopt again, but we also knew that we weren’t ready to do so yet. For one thing, we didn’t have the money even to start the process. More importantly, though, we didn’t feel like adding another toddler to our two toddlers at home would be a good dynamic for our family.

We were talking and praying and reading a lot about marriage, though. In that, I think I saw anew the beauty of procreation, of seeking God and of coming together to create new life. And I began to wonder if maybe that was actually what God had for us next.

I realized – for about the millionth time – that God’s ways are not my ways. He doesn’t work like I do, and I don’t always understand what He’s doing. It felt like He was saying, “yes, but not yet,” to adoption but was at the same time drawing us toward the possibility of having another baby biologically.

Honestly, I felt somewhat confused. I wasn’t sure if He really was – or even could be – leading us in that direction, and if He was, why. We talked about the idea of having another baby with some of our friends, and I brought it up with some of the other China adoption moms I’ve grown to know and trust, women who are also passionate about adoption and orphan care. Were we crazy? Should we avoid trying to have another biological baby in case doing so could limit our ability to adopt more children? But instead of a resounding, “yes,” to either of those questions, what we got were reminders that all children are a blessing from God, that all life is from Him, that we have many years in front of us to add children to our family through adoption, and that there is so much we can’t know – that God might intend for this potential child to be a special blessing to his or her siblings or to walk a path to do amazing things in the world.

In short, we were encouraged to go for it if that’s what we were feeling led to do. We did and quickly found ourselves pregnant with Atticus.

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This side of that pregnancy, with our little guy here with us now, I’m still not sure WHY. Why did God lead us in this direction? What does He have for us in parenting Atticus? What is the pathway He has laid out for our small son?

I don’t know. And yet I am thankful. I am so enjoying having little Atticus here – his smiles and coos and little laughs have already added so much joy to our household. And I trust that God is good and that He is at work in our little family.

I came across a poem the other day that begins:

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:
‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.'”

I’d like to live my life more and more in that manner…placing my hand into the Hand of God and walking forth into whatever may come with full trust in Him.

And I pray that He will continue to work in and through our little family, guiding us as He wills, and bringing us whatever adventures (and whatever children) He may!

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