Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Art

We had a nice, laid-back Memorial Day. The only downside was the walk of shame as I tried to nonchalantly slink back into house with no one seeing after I absentmindedly checked the mail. James and Cadence were touched to learn the meaning of the holiday, and wanted to do some painting in memory. 

James - A forest. He's all about the Revolutionary war, and said the American soldiers are blending in to the forest waiting for the British to walk by. 

ReC - Untitled.

Cadence - George Washington Without His Wig. She also really likes the Revolutionary war. Cadence was asking what color clothing soldiers wore, so we talked about parade dress and camoflauge, then I found out she really wanted to know what colonial soldiers wore. We had a fun discussion about how uniforms have changed since then, and how not having bright uniforms really helped Washington's army. She and James thought it was hilarious that the British wore bright red. 

Tony - Arlington. The kids had never heard of this, so Tony had them try to guess what he was drawing. When he was almost done Cadence finally figured out it was a cemetary, and was very sad to realize how many men and women have died - and are still dying - in war. I think it really helped make war less glamorous in their minds to see. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Three Weeks - Part Two {Sort of a Post About Harmony}

Harmony was three weeks old last week, which is what made me start thinking about Baby K again last week. I've been thinking about how hard it's going to be to leave her for a couple days - and then not be able to take care of her, really, for a little while longer after that - when I have my surgery in a month. But in spite of knowing it will be very hard, I didn't feel completely stressed or anxious. And that's when it dawned on me... God didn't just bring Baby K to us for her parents' sake.

It was for me.

If we had never had Baby K, I don't know if I would be able to do this. I would be a complete wreck right now, worrying, anxious, nervous, afraid. See, my only experience before Baby K was breastfed babies who wouldn't take bottles, and cried if anyone else tried to put them to sleep. The only stories I had heard about breastfed babies being away from their mothers was that that was the end of breastfeeding - and how on earth were we going to fit formula into our budget? I would have been heartbroken, thinking about my baby crying and crying, hungry, not eating, and then the stress of not being able to re-lactate, and how stressful it would be for my baby to be away from me. But it wasn't like that with Baby K. She had never had a bottle before - but she took one just fine for us. She had never been away from her parents - but she didn't cry and fuss any more than any other newborn. In fact, she was super laid-back and easy to care for, at least compared to my other newborns! When she went back to her parents for visits, she didn't seem stressed, and she latched right on and nursed great, even though it had been five full days before the first visit. By the end of that week, her mom had been able to pump enough that her milk supply was almost completely back already, even though that first big gap almost completely dried it up. And seeing how God helped this incredibly traumatizing even in Baby K's life not be traumatizing to her really helped my faith for our family too!

And so I am thankful, that God was able to use hard times to bring a blessing to me - a blessing of peace in my heart.

And a gratuitous picture of Harmony's first bath, since I haven't blogged enough pictures for my nephew :) 

As a side note, I talked to a lactation consultant while I was in the hospital, and she doesn't think it will be a problem at all. My doctor already said we will pump while we wait for surgery that morning, and then again as soon as I'm out of recovery, and then as often as needed while in the hospital, so there will never actually be a gap in my supply to worry about. The only stressful part (other than having a major surgery, haha) will just be being away from my kids, and trying not to worry about Harmony and the 'big' kids :)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Three Weeks - Part One {Not a Post About Harmony}

I've been meaning to write a post like this for a while, now. It's not really my story to tell, but I'm going to. It's about the little baby in this picture -

and this one -

She was three weeks old when we got her, and we call her Baby K. You see, sometimes when God does something in our lives, we wonder and wonder and question and never know why. We know we can trust Him and His plan, and we can have peace without knowing why. And then other times, we get a pretty crystal clear picture of why. It was pretty obvious right from the start why God brought Baby K to our family for a couple weeks.

It was for her parents.

We'd never done parent visits before, because we were only short term emergency foster care. But this time we agreed to it, because she was breastfeeding, and because we knew we would only have her a little while - we thought until six weeks, when she would move to a long term foster placement. I felt so incredibly nervous and clueless when I showed up for the first visit, and confused and emotional when I left. Baby K's parents were so obviously hurting, but after all, there must be a reason *I* had their baby instead of them, and I didn't really trust their emotions as being sincere love - at least, not the kind of love that sacrifices, that gives things up and makes changes to prove itself.

Over the next week I saw them almost every day. And every day they came in, eager to tell me everything they had done and accomplished in those twenty-four hours. Nervous. Anxious that it wouldn't be enough. A little angry at a system that had more power than them, and scared - so scared they would fail. They worked themselves ragged. They didn't rest. They had appointments, meetings, paperwork, more appointments, checklists, she pumped round the clock, he worked overtime and fixed a salvaged truck to sell so they could buy some things they needed to care for a baby. They sacrificed. And every day when I saw them they were so happy to have their girl in their arms for an hour, and looked so haunted when they left.

And every day they told me, in varying phrases, "We made mistakes. We're getting them fixed so we can have our baby back. But we wouldn't have survived this without you. Thank you so much for loving our baby today. Thank you so much for being here. It was so scary when they took her, we didn't know where she would end up, and we worried about her so much, but then we met you, and we saw your kids with you, and the way you held her, and it was a little more ok. Thank you. We're so thankful she's in a loving home, and that you were willing to do this." And every day I prayed for them, because I didn't know, really, how to help them, but I knew God could.

The story ends well - Baby K's parents were able to get the help they needed and they were reunited after just 10 days. I still pray for them, because life is hard and messy, and I don't know where there story went from there, but I know God brought Baby K to us - for their sake.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Answers to Prayer {Not a Birth Story}

I am so grateful to God for all His blessings over the last month. Our sermon tonight at church was based around the verse "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." And He certainly is a rewarder! I wanted to share just a few of the specific prayers we had before Him about Harmony's birth and my health, and the wonderful ways He answered! Some are small, some are big, some were a special blessing to our family that wouldn't seem like a big deal to others, but all were evidence of His love!

Being able to take care of the kids through the end of the pregnancy. In some ways I actually felt better through the last trimester than I did with the other kids - certainly better than the first trimester! I was able to finish out the school year with Cadence, take them places (even to visit Mommy), and play outside with them. Talk about a change from the fall and winter!

That being induced would not make delivery more complicated. We do not ever take for granted that labor and delivery will go without complications, and especially so with an induction. But, God definitely had His hand in this! My labor was only about 4.5 hours from when they started pitocin, and only 3 hours from when the doctor came and broke my water. It did not feel any harder or intense than any of my other labors, which was also an answer to prayer, because many people say induced labors are more painful.

That I wouldn't be sick from not eating before they induced labor. This is one of those prayers that I felt a little silly praying - but I was still battling morning sickness a little even at the end, especially if I didn't eat breakfast. I really didn't see how I could cope with the strain of labor without sustenance, but I didn't feel at all hungry the entire time, let alone light headed or sick.

I was not required to have an epidural. When things first started getting strange in my pregnancy, it was mentioned that it might be wise to have an epidural, just in case of surgery. Now... to some people it will be weird that I didn't want one, but... I hate needles. With a passion. And have you seen an epidural needle?! They are huge! Getting my IV in was the worst part of the whole process (more on that, next ;)), so when my doctor said there was no medical reason to have one, and he certainly wouldn't push me to get one if I didn't want it, I was so thankful!

I didn't pass out getting my IV. I know, I'm a weeny. But the whole room was spinning, everything was going black, I was getting cold sweats, and the nurse was on her second try - if I passed out she would have to stop and start all over again. So I looked at Tony, and he mouthed "I know, I'm praying". And I didn't pass out! Not only that, when the nurse had to dig around even more in my other arm to draw blood, it didn't even really bother me.

That I would have strength, and that Harmony would be safe. This was a spur of the moment, biggie sort of prayer in the middle of labor. Harmony's heart tones kept dropping during contractions, and there was a little bit of a delay (seriously, little) in progress. I was feeling pretty tired and weak, and a little worried about Harmony. There was a moment though, when the nurse had to step out to call the doctor, to see what he wanted us to do about these problems, and I looked at Tony and said, "We need to pray." "Yup, we do." So we prayed while it was just the two of us, and God immediately answered prayer. I felt strengthened, progress picked back up, and Harmony's heart tones smoothed out.

That delivery wouldn't cause any damage that would make it harder to deal with my other problem while waiting for surgery. This was another sort of biggie - I knew I wouldn't be able to take care of the kids if this happened. And guess what? Harmony literally fell out onto the bed with no pushing, and no tearing or bruising. They kept saying, "Don't push, the doctor is almost here!" And I said (or probably yelled, because 'not pushing' is hard work) "I'm NOT PUSHING but she's coming anyway!" About then she plopped onto the bed, and that was that. Apparently she didn't really think having a doctor there was all that important after all.

And of course, that my complications wouldn't hinder delivery. By the time it came right down to it, we were pretty sure it wouldn't be an issue, but we were all still a little paranoid - including the doctor. So we are very thankful that things went smoothly.

I could go on and on, because there were so many little things that God helped with, but I wanted to mention just one more - help with the 'big' munchkins. We were particularly worried about ReC, because we found out just a few days before Harmony was born that she thought we were leaving forever when we went to the hospital - that we would live there, and she would live at home with her grandmas. Needless to say, this idea was making her pretty emotional, and while we had been able to mostly calm her fears, it was still concerning. So we were very thankful to get the report that she woke up happy and stayed happy and peaceful the entire time we were gone! Thank the Lord for all His blessings!

Waiting for things to start happening...

New bundle :)

She has hair!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Morning Meeting {Homeschool Circle Time}

Morning meeting was one of our favorite school routines this semester. We've always started our day with morning worship, and that didn't change when we started homeschooling. I really felt like our family needed another part in our routine though - a time we could check the calendar, talk about our day and week, practice good school manners, and maybe learn something new and fun. So we started what we call morning meeting. It's the same concept a lot of preschools and early elementary classes use, sometimes people call it circle time, rug time, etc. 

Sitting on the 'rug' waiting for the teacher...
Now - I love themes, decorating, organizing, making things all... school-ish. But I knew we needed something simple and flexible or we wouldn't be able to maintain it. My goal was not to recreate the classroom, but to have fun and learn. So I stayed off Pinterest for this one, and forced myself to think in small chunks - and to not plan ahead! One thing I know about myself, if I have time to plan ahead, I over-complicate things. 

So here were my goals in planning and starting this:
1. a meeting time to talk about our day and week
2. a time to practice "school rules" such as sitting still, not talking while the adult is talking, raising your hand and waiting to be called on*
3. work on calendar skills for James, because he was very interested in learning about time
4. work on character traits, citizenship skills, and patriotism
5. learn something fun - little chunks of somewhat important stuff that needed just a little review each day to sink in, but didn't really have any big part in our daily routine

Some tips on what helped our family make this fun and easy to keep up with, since we have a toddler, a preschooler, and a 'big' kid:

1. Keep it short and simple. It would not have been pleasant or conducive to learning if we had tried to include a full blown Kinder or first grade circle time routine, with a long calendar time, songs, weather, counting, themes and letters each day. So instead we did a short calendar time, and I would pick one or two other things to focus on each week or so. Our whole morning meeting usually lasted 5-10 minutes. 

2. Follow the same routine each day. Ours went like this - sit on the rug, criss-cross-applesauce, spoons in your bowls. Call up the leader for that day and hand them the marker. Have them tell us the date and day of the week as they mark it off. If the toddler was in a good mood, ask questions such as what day was yesterday, tomorrow, etc. Leader does activity such as adding to the days of the year count, passing out money to look at, telling the fruit of the Spirit - whatever we worked on that week. Leader sits down while I talk about the theme briefly, then stands to lead us in Pledge of Allegiance. 

The leader marking off the day on the calendar. This was while we were learning coin values, so next he would lead us in saying a little chant about the coin of the week, then pass out a nickel to each student to look at for a minute.
3. Have clear expectations. I really wanted this to be a time where they learned to be respectful of other learners and teachers, so we enforced 'classroom rules'. Now I can just say "Classroom rules, guys" under other circumstances too, and they know it's time to follow those rules. Ours were sit criss-cross-applesauce, spoons in your bowls (feet and hands to yourself - it's hard to learn if people are bumping you!), don't talk when other people (especially the adult!) are talking, raise your hand and wait to be called on before you talk or answer a question, participate, and listen with your eyes, heart and ears. 

4. Keep it fresh by having a part of your routine that changes every week or so, like a theme. This does not have to be elaborate or complicated. In fact, we only spent about 3-5 minutes a day on this part, and I did almost no advance prep... maybe 10 minutes or less total for each theme? 

One of our themes was fruit of the Spirit, so we would tell what fruit we were working on, and see who had earned their initials on our chart the day before. 
5. End with a fun song. The last part of every meeting was standing to say the Pledge, then moving to the living room to 'get our wiggles out' with a fun song. The first one we learned was the days of the week, then when they mastered that we did months of the year, then later in the year the continents song. Most days we just did the one we were learning right then, but if they wanted to I usually let them sing them all. 

Leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance
6. Move on. The next part of our day was always the same too, so there wasn't a chaotic, wild, kids running everywhere yelling and taking forever to calm down after our hyper song. Cadence went straight to math & science on the computer, ReC to get a snack from her box, and the little's could either watch Cadence or play outside. Or on errand days they would line up at the entryway right away. The rest of our day was not so structured, but if we didn't follow this first part, everyone usually wound up in trouble! 

After a week or two establishing the routine we added one more part - counting the days of the year. We counted that day in money, then added one straw to our jar, then wrote it in tens and ones and as a whole number. It took about 4 minutes, and this way Cadence and James both learned to count money, take apart numbers, and put them back together.  They already knew how to count by tens, but this showed them how to apply it to real numbers. ReC also did it, and learned to count objects to ten, and that you can bundle up sets of numbers. Plus, it was really fun! 
Fun side project with Tony - our family Responsibili-tree. Everyone put some of their responsibilities on leaves and they talked about how responsibilities affect others.
*Our homeschool day is pretty informal. I don't make the kids - even Cadence - do a lot of sitting still, and we don't follow a super strict schedule. We don't do public school at home - it would never work for our family, especially right now! She works at her desk sometimes, and sometimes she works with a clipboard on the couch, or we all gather at the table for a project that needs more space, or we snuggle on the couch to talk about a new concept or read, or we go outside to work on something, she brings her laptop or where I'm putting the toddler down for a nap to get some help, or... you get the point. I don't really feel like it's important for them to sit still all day, but I DO feel like it's important for them to learn to be polite, respectful students. They need to know how to act in a classroom setting, because we all end up in a classroom sometimes - school, Sunday School, extracurricular classes, co-ops, zoo trips, college, training, orientations, church... the list is endless. And they need to know how to learn in those settings without interrupting others or being a distraction! We also line up to do things, and walk in a nice neat line, because let's face it - life is easier when your children are lined up instead of scattering like squirrels. Seriously.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

As Unto the Lord

Today Tony took the 'big' kids to the library without me, so they could get out of the house for a change and I could rest. Before they were even out of the driveway, Harmony woke up. My first thought was, "Here I needed to rest, but instead I spent the morning serving my family instead of myself, and now I don't even get to rest while they are gone!" Then I reached down to pick her up, and felt that soft little bundle, and didn't feel so bad for myself anymore :) I was thinking though, back to when we had a foster baby about this age, and in some ways it was easier to serve then. For me, it felt more like 'working for God' and 'serving others' than just 'taking care of the baby.' But when I started feeling that way I was abruptly reminded that caring for our own family - you know, the one God put in our care, and the one God instructs us in His word to be good stewards of - IS working for God and serving others. Sometimes we get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to see motherhood as the valuable service it really is! We've been trusted with precious, tender souls, and we must serve God and others by nurturing those little hearts with all the fervency we would if 'someone else' was watching or motivating us!

"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ." - Colossians 3:23-24

This blog post was quite eye opening for me, along these same thoughts. I don't feel at all unappreciated at this point in my life (just tired, lol) but I neeeded to read the reminders about serving God. Just click on the picture to go read it - it's pretty short, and worth your time :)

Do you feel unappreciated? This post is for you.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Christmas at Mommy's {Cause, ya know, that wasn't 5 months ago or anything}

First complete family picture since before James was born - and now it's missing Harmony already! That's the way life goes I guess! Well, technically she was there *eyeroll* that will have to be good enough.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Homeschooling With a Sick Mama

One of the biggest reasons we hesitated to start homeschooling Cadence when we did was time - my time. I would love to devote it all to educating this eager, bright young mind, but the simple fact is I can't. I didn't feel like I could give her the education she deserves by myself right now. You know, the right now that involves a four year, a two year old, and me being completely incoherent for three solid months, followed by being very physically limited for another nine months. But when it came down to our choices, it was made pretty obvious - stay where she was and learn nothing, plus grow progressively more sick and anxious, or come home and learn a little, and more importantly, regain her love and thirst for learning. As it turns out, that love and thirst came back fast, and combined with abruptly becoming a fluent reader, meant that she has soaked up massive amounts of learning in spite of my lack of time, because she reads so much.

It definitely has not been the school year I would have envisioned for us, but it has turned out well, and has had surprisingly positive impacts on our family.

Some things that helped us survive and shape our routine with a sick teacher:

1. Don't worry about how much you are doing, or sticking to a schedule - one of the blessings of homeschooling is that you can have a light 'school year' and then do more school work in the summer if needed. Or you can have 'the principal' do school in the evening. Or you can take a month off (well, if your kids would let you ;)) and call it summer break. Or whatever. As long as you do what you can, when you can, there is little chance of falling behind in the long run. 
2. Use an interactive, computerized program for part of your curriculum. Now, I hate the idea of having a video game teach my kid - we just don't do screens around here. Period. But this has been a life saver. The bulk of her math and reading are on the computer, and the program is very adaptive, so it keeps pace with her almost perfectly. If she gets something right, she moves one with little to no repetition, and if she doesn't, it has her practice it in a variety of ways until she demonstrates understanding. Which means that she's being challenged for an hour every day, without me lifting a single finger to plan, prepare supplies, teach, or even speak. I can lie on the couch and doze, just being available in case she needs help or the computer messes up. 
3. Call in reinforcements. Our state (OK) has an awesome online charter school called EPIC. We are loving it. It is free, comes with a 'learning fund' for each enrolled student that covers curriculum, supplies, classes, lessons, activities, and basically anything you can think of for enrichment. Best of all, it comes with a teacher. That's right - we get to guide the pace, scope, and sequence of everything our student does - and a teacher comes to our house to give her what I can't right now. She gets one-on-one time with her teacher for an hour almost every week, that they spend reading, brainstorming, learning, playing games, and learning about anything they want. Our teacher has also been a huge help in planning and pointing us to resources. She also gets all of her same grade students together once a month to do a class together, so they can play games and learn with other kids their age. We ADORE her teacher!
4. Call in more reinforcements. Some weeks I let her go on nice long playdates with her kindergarten (read: half-day) age BFF/cousin in the afternoons. Sometimes she goes and reads to a grandparent for a while, or to the library to read to therapy dogs, or to the zoo to have a class. All these things fill her bucket, and give me time to either rest or spend some time with just the younger kids. Or both :)
5. Relax. I'm not sure how explain this one - but let it go. Let go of any big plans, let go of crafts, detailed lessons, etc. Young children learn so much from play, and older children learn so much from reading. Cadence happens to be right in the middle, so she still pretends and plays, but also likes to read. It's been good for this year, that's for sure! One thing that helped me emotionally was realizing that all the things Cadence was 'missing out' on because of me being sick - she'll still be interested in those things a year from now. We can sew, and cook, and do elaborate science projects next year. Which takes pressure off of me to give her every experience in the book right now.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Harmony Grace

Welcome Harmony Grace! You are such a sweet gift, and we are so thankful you have arrived safe and sound!