Holiday cat

Still playing catch up with my many photos. And since it’s almost March and I have yet to publish any from December (not to mention January or February), I shall begin the arduous process with some light-hearted fun.

My pic you should click. You see, it’s no trick. I float in a parade. This feat is no charade. So, one bright day, the kids came out. My float, it made them scream and shout. Yes, I am a festive cat. A holly-jolly cat in a hat. So take a peek, please have no fear. These fun pics are quite full of cheer.

Becoming

“A mom who is able to learn a new path and then respond. A woman who does things differently because God is growing her up.” — “Becoming,” as defined by Angela Thomas, author & speaker

That pretty much encapsulates the increasing effect of my recent spiritual transformation. Sure, it takes diligent, intentional work on a daily basis, and of course, an understanding that there is still so much more ground to cover on this journey.

But it has already given me a resilience I have never known before. I now feel a growing strength, which has in turn given me a greater flexibility to begin changing some old ways of thinking (being a perfectionist) and patterns of behavior (feeling defeated when perfection doesn’t materialize).

Live “boldly, yet wisely”

That was the message from last Sunday’s sermon from Ecclesiastes 11: 1-6. For those of you who know me well, I have rarely had trouble with the boldly part. I get my mind set on something and there is no stopping me from reaching that goal. Sometimes it’s a blessing, such as my determination to make a long-distance relationship with a guy seven years my junior work or managing to earn a degree from UW-Madison.

Zeke talks Thomas the Train w/ Santa while @ Sugar Plum Farm.

Rubber meets the road 

But my tenacity has many times hindered the wisest execution of a plan (past examples are too numerous to cite). “I will homeschool my kids no matter what … I will never put my kids in public schools … it would be a dereliction of my duty as a parent to do otherwise” were all refrains I have said over the years. But when you have a kid who should be entering elementary school in a matter of months, soliloquies don’t cut it anymore. Pragmatic action is required.

Covering my bases

During my pre-becoming funk earlier this year, I realized (with the help of some much-needed advice) that I may not be able to pull this homeschooling thing off, if I didn’t get my act together. Ever stubborn, I ignored the wisdom at first, but soon realized that I should take the opportunity to check out all my options.

And I have. Houston is on the lottery for a National Heritage charter academy and will also be on the list for a Spanish-immersion magnet school, once I attend its open house next week.

Growing confidence

Thankfully, my maturing spirituality has led the bold-but-wise me to do a lot of homeschooling homework, as well. Point is I have never felt more optimistic about officially taking on the new role of kindergarten educator.

Houston requests a globe & video game from Mr. Claus.

On 2/9, I attended a Classical Conversations open house at Westside Chapel with Christie and her hubby, Logan. We learned a great deal, asked many questions, met other homeschool families, and got Houston and Asher onto the waiting list for the weekly tutorials for this particular CC community. It’s called Abecedarian (Latin for learning the alphabet) and is the first part of the Foundations curriculum for ages 4 to 6.

We also contacted Central Baptist and found out that this CC community has no waiting list for Abecedarian students. So being the proactive gals that we are, Christie and I visited them yesterday. It is an incredible organization: structured enough to get things done in a timely mannerly, but relaxed enough to have a down-home feel.

Case in point, the morning group lesson was about orchestras. The CC tutor who led it — a harpist with a music degree — had the kids conduct concertos with chopsticks, talked to them about what instruments comprise an orchestra, described all the woodwinds (since that was the day’s emphasis), and of course, taught them about classical music in the process. Very hands-on and very cool.

If nothing happens, as Nanny Quate used to say, it looks like the 3 Amigos will begin CC homeschooling next August, and Houston will be attending Abecedarian tutorials at Central Baptist, while the twins have fun in the Little Learners program. And if something (drastic) happens, hopefully the charter or magnet school will pan out.

Santa can hardly contain a wide-eyed Gabriel. (Click to see all the Thanksgiving fun.)

Mommy & Miss Jessie’s Pre-School of Hard Knocks 

The boys finally completed their Amazing Word Wall. So now we’re kicking off Mondays with one letter and concentrating on the chosen letter for the rest of the week. Miss Jessie has been getting extra books from the library and printing out related activity sheets all on her own time, and the boys are showing great progress. Houston even caught me the other night skipping some words in a lengthy bedtime book.

We’re still teaching the calendar, time and the solar system, as well as other science stuff here and there, like nature, the properties of cooking, etc. In early February, Miss Jessie started math with the boys, mostly addition with some subtraction sprinkled in, and I’ve been working on the fundamentals of money, fractions (splitting coins into thirds) and general sorting.

Last week, we began our “lessons in other cultures” with Mexico. Jessie went over some basics about our neighbor to the south and brought in a few fun props. I cooked taquitos and rice and beans for dinner, we listened to Los Tigres del Norte while eating our Mexican feast, and then the boys played Go Fish (with numbers in Español only) with Jessie. Daddy rounded it all out by doing Spanish flashcards with the 3 Amigos over the weekend.

Zeke & Houston are ready to find the perfect Christmas tree.

All work & no play makes Rebecca a dull girl

Despite the grind of it all, we still know how to have a good time. And February has been a fabulous month …

  • 2/6: Miss Christie and her kids (Asher, Jackson and Piper) attended their first play date here at “the zoo.”
  • 2/8: I scored some cheap circus tickets through GMOM and took the boys to opening night. “Whoa, cool!” exclaimed Gabriel and Zeke initially, but soon morphed into “When are we going home?” They were polite and patient, especially considering this was their first circus experience, and we made it through the long first half of the performance. This was Houston’s third year, so he really enjoyed the show, most notably the Shaolin (warrior monks) and the lions and tigers.
  • 2/9-2/10: Gramsey and Papa visit. They also gave the boys walkie talkies, which have since provided tons of entertainment on Liberty Loop.
  • 2/10-2/12: Granny and Grumps visit. That Saturday, we finally rewarded the boys with a jaunt to Chuck E. Cheese. (Remember, they earned 30 marks on the Chuck E. Cheese chart for exhibiting good manners at the kitchen table?) Miss Jessie met up with us for the greatly anticipated celebration and, despite the throng, we all had a blast.

Gabe thinks getting a choose-&-cut tree is the No. 1 Thanksgiving family tradition.

  • 2/16: I had a girls-night out with Miss Lorrie. Too much food and libation were consumed, but good times abound.
  • 2/17: Stephen and I had our first date night in a long, long time. Again, too much food and libation. We hope to mix up our dates a bit and not purely do typical dinner dates. Perhaps an afternoon outing to the gun range?
  • 2/18: It’s a boys-only Saturday, so Daddy took ’em to the Natural Science Center. The kids showed courage in the dinosaur room and even attended a dino-related film. And a diligent Daddy then treated them to lunch at the International Market food court.
  • 2/19: In another show of bravery, Zeke got over his “man on the donkey” fear while dining at Rio Grande, and Gabriel almost fully conquered his trepidation over the longhorn skull. We also ran into Miss Christie and her kiddos while there. Random post-church fun.
  • 2/19-2/20: It snowed for the first time this winter. We only got about 2 inches, but we definitely made the most of it. Sledding, snowball fights, snow angels, a lame-looking snowman … any recreation that derives from snow was done. Gotta love the white stuff.

The art of leaving things undone

 “Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” — Lin Yutang, Chinese writer

Poet Jill Briscoe added that letting things go not only simplifies our daily existence, but the skill also opens us up “so that the greater things can be done.” For me, those paramount deeds are maturing in my spirituality, and in my roles as wife and mother.

Houston & Gabriel love their homemade Indian headdresses. (Click to see November – Part 1 pics.)

Sometimes I make leaps, while other times I dodder along, baby-stepping it or just falling down flat. But practicing the art of leaving things undone — however futile an effort it often seems — has helped me regain a sense of strength and sanity I had been (intermittently) lacking. Thank you, Lord, for helping me focus more on the essentials.

ClanDillingham.com

In fact, I have on occasion been tempted to give up this blog. It has always served as a therapeutic way for me to vent, celebrate, reflect and update, all while helping me stay on top of my writing skills. Considering all the time it takes away from other things, I have questioned whether the blog and gallery were worth the hassle.

But a chapter in “52 Things Kids Need From Their Mom” points out that a family blog is more like a letter to your loved ones. The author, Angela Thomas, goes so far as to say that it “will become the treasure that helps shape (your kids’) lives and the way they parent their children.”

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think the boys will one day cherish the reminiscences, hopefully giving them a better understanding of their Mommy and Daddy as people and parents, as well as a peek into their early childhood and a few laughs to boot.

Zeke dons his fine-looking homemade pilgrim hat.

Travels

Daddy had some job-training in Raleigh and the 3 Amigos and I decided to travel with him to the Capital City and spend Sunday night, 1/22. This was the boys’ first time in a hotel and they loved the entire experience, from eating in the hotel restaurant and the guy buffing the hallway floors, to the TV at the foot of the bed and the full-length mirror on the closet.

The fancy elevator made the biggest impression on the boys. Initially, Zeke was scared of it and made me walk the stairs with him a time or two, but by the end, he was overcame his fears.

That Monday, I took the kids on a driving tour of NC State and the capitol grounds. They still thought the elevator was cooler. Gabriel even said he wanted to move to Raleigh just so we could have an elevator. Houston concurred it was a nice city, but that he didn’t want to move there because we wouldn’t have a DVD player. I guess they think the Marriott is the only place to live in Raleigh.

Then Gabriel spent his first solo weekend in the mountains with Granny and Grumps from 1/27-1/29. Daddy drove all the boys up to the half-way meeting place on Friday for a big family dinner, and then Houston, Zeke and I picked up Gabriel on Sunday after church. Granny had nothing but praise for G-man’s behavior.

During the hands-on Thanksgiving lesson, Miss Jessie teaches the crew about maize.

Gabriel had a blast, but said that two nights away was enough and that he was ready to get home. It was also really touching to see how much Houston and Zeke missed their beloved bro. They pined for him much more than I thought they would. Too cute.

Family focus

As mentioned in the last blog, we’re attempting to make the most of the more limited time that Daddy’s home. This, of course, takes a little planning and sticking to the agenda, but also flexibility when weather, health, naps and anything else life can throw at us gets in the way. Here are a few of the basics:

  • Friday family dinner night: This is sometimes a struggle, but it is definitely a battle worth fighting. Our new tradition is to discuss topics that the boys have been collecting throughout the week. We totally forgot to do that for this Friday’s mealtime, so we had to wing it and talked about our highs and lows for the day instead.
  • Stephen and I are determined to be more diligent in doing date nights. Our hope is to have at least one every couple of months. As of now, our first night out is on the calendar for a belated Valentine’s dinner. No kids, lots of romance … what’s not to love?!?
  • Stephen will continue with boys-only fun, but he’s also working one-on-one time into the mix. He still owes Gabriel his pool date from the second “diamond” competition, and Houston, who won the latest round, also wants to go swimming. Gabe’s outing is now on the calendar.
  • Of course, family jaunts are crucial and have to be woven into weekends when possible.

Gabriel shows off his “caught fish” from our makeshift teepee. (Click to see November – Part 2 pics.)

Last Saturday when Gabriel was away, Stephen and I decided to take advantage of the lighter load and took the boys to the greenway for some fresh air and exercise. Houston rode his bike (quite expertly, I must say) along the paved trail, and Zeke enjoyed the lakeside views while on foot or from his leisurely spot in the the red wagon.

Then we did Lebanese fare for lunch. Houston and Zeke devoured everything from stuffed grape leaves and hummus to spanakopita and falafel. Granted, the boys are used to this kind of food, since this joint is one of our favorite restaurants, but I think that their one-eighth Arab blood probably has something to do with it, as well. A successful family outing all around.

Education

Due to her spring semester classes, Miss Jessie is here for schooling on our MOPS days. And since the church has pretty great children’s programming, we’ve been doing an alternating schedule of who (Houston or the twins) goes to MOPS with me and who stays home for pre-K fun with Miss Jessie. This gives the MOPS kid(s) some less competitive Mommy time, while allowing Miss Jessie to do really focused, age-appropriate activities for the at-home kid(s).

On 1/31, I visited a Classical Conversations community with my pal, Christie. CC is a method of homeschooling, but the families who utilize this classical model of education meet once a week at different campuses (usually churches) around town for tutorials. This gives kids the experience of learning in a classroom setting and allows them opportunities to make friends. Parents also use the gatherings to organize co-ops, play groups, field trips and the like.

A group photo I snapped to use for the grandparents’ Christmas gifts.

Christie, a former private and public school teacher, has helped me shed much of the self-doubt that had been creeping in regarding elementary homeschooling the boys. Even though that has always been our plan, the thought of it now that Houston is a rising kindergartner was becoming a little scary. But learning about CC and its wonderful local community (many of whom are Westover members) is helping me regain my confidence.

I’m still trying to cover all my bases by simultaneously looking into magnet schools. My county actually has an impressive list of alternative public schools. Of most interest are the Spanish immersion, science and technology, and Montessori academies. I will be attending an upcoming magnet fair, as well as a CC informational meeting, and then we’ll see how things pan out from there.

Health

Gabriel and Zeke recently had a check-up for their cough-variant asthma, and the specialist said we can start weaning them off their antihistamines and inhalers in April, but she wants them to back on the prescriptions in August for one more season. The hope is that they will have outgrown this type of asthma (a very common occurrence in kids) and that they can kick the meds for good in spring 2013.

Last Thursday evening, Gabriel started puking around dinnertime and the spell lasted till just before midnight. I assume it was some sort of short-lived stomach bug because he was doing much better by the next morning. Luckily, none of the rest of the family caught it, and G-man has gotten back his appetite and is doing great.

Gabe still wears the pantyhose from a fun Miss-Jessie game.

Phonics

This Sunday at a restaurant, Houston used his mad phonics skills to sound out “exit.” Amazing to see your kid actually read a word all on his own. Daddy says he also spelled out “buffet” and then expertly figured out what the word said, despite the fact it doesn’t read the way it sounds. Smarty britches.

What’s in a name?

As mentioned previously, Stephen recently encountered another kid named Zeke at Chick-fil-A. Soon thereafter, a lady at MOPS told me she has a 10-year-old son named Zeke, short for Ezekiel and everything. Then there’s getzeek.com (a website similar to Groupon), Disney Channel’s “Zeke and Luther,” and Zeke the little bro on the PBS show “Sid the Science Kid.” Who knows, maybe “Zeke” will end up being the next “Aiden” or “Ethan.”

Now, it’s not a stretch to say that there’s often another “Gabriel” running around at the places we visit on our adventures. His name used to rank in the 30s of top 100 boys names, but apparently has moved its way up into the 20s. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind.

We have yet to cross paths with another “Houston.” In fact, it’s just a weird enough name that people often mistake him for the increasingly trendy name “Hudson.” I’m sure we’ll run across a “Houston” sooner or later … probably whenever we visit Daddy’s home state of Texas.