Houston’s “special eye”

Houston’s left eye is so normal that I often forget he even has Horner’s Syndrome. Monday, he had his annual checkup with our pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Young, who said that both of Houston’s eyes are doing great. Thank you, Lord!

The 3 Amigos brandish their homemade swords. (Click to see April – Part 3 pics.)

There are complications that can arise from the syndrome-caused ptosis — such as a damaged cornea, astigmatism, poor vision due to overcompensation by the right eye — but the good doc told us that as of now, none of that is happening. Unless any problems arise, Houston only has to get checked out on a biennial basis.

Houston underwent a battery of tests, some old hat, but some new-fangled. I sat back and let him handle the questions, hoping he would do fine, if I didn’t step on his toes. Well, I was right and big bro impressed us all with his maturity and courage — hence, the treat at Krispy Kreme post-appointment. Good job, Houston!

“Bearing fruit in wisdom, growing in understanding, soaking in knowledge”

I attended a three-day Classical Conversations practicum in Winston-Salem from 6/11-6/13. It was exciting to delve into the curriculum I will be using to “officially” homeschool Houston in just a couple months, and eventually the twins.

Mommy forces the obligatory cute photo @ RoboFest. (Click to see Part 2 pics.)

The gathering served as a primer for:

  • understanding more about CC’s God-centered (not student-centered) method;
  • its differences from modern public education, as well as other types of Christian education;
  • its core of teaching the Trivium = Grammar (knowledge), Dialectic (understanding) and Rhetoric (wisdom);
  • explaining each of those stages of teaching and learning;
  • and our responsibility as homeschool educators.

We also did some introductory Latin. The ancient language is part of the curriculum, since it’s structured, logical, deeply connected to Western culture, and the basis for many other languages.

On day one, learning about declensions and revisiting sentence diagramming (for the first time in a couple decades) almost made my head explode. But by the third day, the translations weren’t near as intimidating and I began to see a pattern, proving that my mind isn’t totally atrophied.

The thinking is that since the brain is an organ that was created for a purpose (learning), we must stretch it beyond our comfort zone. So not only will I be teaching my children, I will also be relearning or learning for the first time amazing things (namely for me: the “why” of math), thus, redeeming my own education in the process of teaching my boys.

I’m really lucky I’m starting off with kindergarten, so Houston and I can both begin at square one. We will be laying a good foundation and then building upon that year after year, bringing Gabe and Zeke along for the ride down the road.

Hangin’ with the homeschoolers 

Speaking of the twins, we actually met two other brothers named Gabriel and Zeke. Can you believe it? I suppose if there’s any place you’re likely to run into two siblings with such Biblical names, it’d surely be at a Christian-homeschooling event.

Ready to rumble, Gabriel does his best Chuck Norris.

While I did my thing, the 3 Amigos attended an on-site CC camp. They absolutely adored their teacher (an older homeschool mom), her “staff” (CC teenagers), the activities (oceans theme) and hanging with tons of other well-socialized CC kids.

Although Asher was in another camp, we did get to see him, Jacks and Piper during the hour lunch break. And since Miss Christie and Mr. Logan attended the event, I hung with them during the morning seminar and afternoon workshop.

Naps no more

Being that the practicum wasn’t local and the schedule ran from 8:30 to 4, it’s a good thing that Stephen and I had nixed the boys’ naps just prior to the event. Here’s what prompted the major change.

First, the kids’ ultra-naughtiness, as mentioned in the last blog, persisted for a few more painful days after that. With exceptions of their generally good behavior on play dates and most outings, it was as if they had never been disciplined before. Quite shocking, to say the least, and because it was all three of ’em at once, it was quite overwhelming, as well.

By 6/9, we had taken away video games for all, Transformers TV show for Houston, trains for Gabriel and chocolate for Zeke. But we knew something else drastic had to occur. My theory was that the boys had gotten way off their sleep schedule and were simply exhausted, which (strangely enough) keeps kids awake.

Houston proudly performs the butt-in-the-sprinkler move, while Zeke’s not too sure about it.

Two common reasons were that we often found ourselves skipping a nap ’cause the dudes fell asleep for five minutes in the car, yet awoke totally rejuvenated, or someone special would be visiting, so we forwent forcing a nap. But both instances had the caveat that the boys would just go to bed early — or at the very least on time — that particular night. But this rarely happened.

Another reason was that when I was able to get them to nap, I was often left tired and frustrated, needing a nap myself and not able to accomplish anything during this cherished down time. And when I would awaken them, so they wouldn’t sleep too late, whining and bad attitudes abounded.

Plus, on those “lucky” napping days, the boys would still be up way past any decent bedtime at night. So, even with a nap, they weren’t getting the necessary rest. (My research shows they should get anywhere from 10 to 13 hours of sleep a day.) Their fatigue was increasing, as was my patience, so we had to formulate a plan.

New & improved bedtime routine 

So, in addition to no naps, I now shuttle them into the bedroom very early at night, which also means starting the dinner and bath regimen well in advance. I get them into chill mode with even more reading and book discussions than had been the ritual.

Then the biggest change is that once it’s “lights out, heads on pillows and no more talking,” I don’t detach anymore. Instead of exiting their room, leaving them to their wild devices, attempting to (in vain) get some housework done, and getting increasingly angrier every time I have to march down the hall to quell an insurrection, I sit quietly and read one of my books.

Stephen helps the boys build a structure of toothpicks & cotton balls. (Click to see RoboFest – Part 1.)

Sure, I still have to keep the peace somewhat, but because I’m right there, I nip it in the bud. So far, the system is working because the drama has been diminished, the boys are getting the sleep they need, and I’m actually getting to read more than I have been able to in years. Plus, our daytime schedules are a lot more flexible as a result of going napless. It’s a liberating thing!

Comedian Jim Gaffigan, who is a father of four young kids, described bedtime this way: “It’s chaos. It’s like living with a bunch of drunk of people. Everyone’s wetting the bed, screaming, it’s like Jersey Shore really.” So true. And here’s his take on having so many kids so close in age: “Imagine you’re drowning … then someone hands you a baby.” Ah, the ingenious insight.

Firsts & (hopefully) never agains

I’m happy to report, that the boys’ behavior is back on track overall, so they’ve earned back their privileges, minus video games. (We think a hiatus from that totally engrossing, sometimes personality-altering activity will do them good, especially Houston.)

In mid-May, Gabriel swung by himself for the first time and has been diligently working it since. He is normally the first twin to branch out on big-boy physical activities. For instance, he had mastered opening doors well before Zeke even wanted to try.

Same goes with putting on socks and shoes: Gabe usually insists on doing that by himself and doesn’t get flustered when he does it wrong. Zeke, on the other hand, must be prodded into attempting such feats, often gets frustrated, and must be coached through the process. Just goes to show how different identical twins can be.

The kids do some post-sprinkler chilling in the back yard.

Sometimes Zeke likes attempting the unusual over the day-to-day. Like a couple weeks ago, he pushed a spherical-shaped bead up his nose — this despite the fact that Houston had put a flat, round bead in Zeke’s nostril the previous week — but immediately confessed.

I was barely able to get it out with tweezers (instead of the needle-nose pliers I had used with the first bead). So, hopefully, Zeke will stick more to the basics from now on.

Big hearts can come in small packages 

During a bedtime prayer last week, Houston said he wanted to pray for “that man.” Might it be the professor from current nighttime reading, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? “No, the guy you gave the coupon to,” he replied. “I want to make sure he gets a job.”

See, the day before, I had given some McDonald’s coupons to a man at an intersection with a sign pleading for money and help. So, considering that our conversation about the needy man was still fresh in his memory proves that teachable moments can come at any time. Wow, what a great heart Houston has!

On Father’s Day, the boys gave Stephen a Daddy’s Notebook, which was adorn with found objects and bling, as well as a hand-crafted measuring tape. Once you pull the tape out the decorated box, it reads “You can’t measure love.” Jessie came up with and implemented both of these clever ideas. Thanks, Miss J!

Good times about & around

Last Friday, Christie and Logan had us over for a cookout at their house. We had a wonderful time having some good adult conversation, in between keeping things as safe and contained as possible amongst our six vivacious kids.

The 3 Amigos are such a great match for Asher and company. Their playing styles are similar, and Christie and I are very much on the same page with walking that middle ground between helicopter mom (too stifling) and raising a completely free-range kid (too scary). We are lucky to have made such great friends with such a compatible child-rearing style.

Zeke finally earns his fancy-dinner celebration. (Click to see April – Part 2.)

We also saw Miss Christie and her posse when I hosted a MOPS play group earlier this month. Although only one other mom and kid showed up, we had a blast playing in the pool and sprinkler, hiking the trails and just soaking in the glorious late-spring weather.

Last weekend was Daddy-centric. On Saturday, he and the dudes went to Chik-fil-A before hitting Reptacular at the Natural Science Center. And then on Sunday, we went out for a Father’s Day lunch after church. The cuisine was Korean and the boys absolutely loved it. “This tastes better than candy!” exclaimed Houston.

I went to visit baby Rorie in the NICU on 6/9. She’s beautiful and doing well, and Greg and Meredith are so steadfast in their faith — what an inspiration! Keep on growing, sweet little girl, and we’ll keep praying for you.

Stuff their into

The 3 Amigos are flag freaks, so Flag Day was the perfect occasion for Daddy to lend his two small Scottish and one Texas flag to them for play. It’s amazing all the different types of fun kids can have with a piece of fabric attached to a pole.

The boys are also really into my old School House Rock! Rocks CD. In fact, the whole family has been jammin’ it out for a couple weeks now, and consequently, we find ourselves singing the catchy ditties throughout the day. I’m so glad my kids can appreciate both Veggie Tales music and ’90s college rock. Cool.

Bunk bed bliss

Gramsey and Papa came to town yesterday to spearhead assembling efforts of the bunk bed we’ve been saving up for for a long time now. As you can see by the link, it has a trundle bed, stairs, drawers and cubbies, so it’s a total space saver.

It only took Papa and I (mostly Papa) 11 hours to get 99% of it put together. There are still a few minor tweaks that need to be made, but the boys have slept quite soundly in it — and on their fancy twin mattresses and sheets — which was, of course, the main goal.

The other goal is to de-clutter and de-babyfy the kids’ room, finally move all of Houston’s leftovers out of the office (which was his old room), move his dresser out of our bedroom, and just reorganize the entire house, making it the most efficient space possible — a domestic chore that is way overdue.

Way to go, Marvels!

We tied up soccer a few weeks ago. The last game was on 5/19. As usual, Houston played his heart out, while Gabriel played feverishly, but then cried when it was his turn to sit out. Poor kid, he was so excited, saying, “Mommy, I’m going to play the whole game today.”

Jackson, Asher & Houston grub @ the park. (Click to see photos from our outing w/ Miss Christie & her kids in April.)

But what Gabe didn’t understand was that he was able to play the entire game the previous week because most of the rest of the Marvels were crying and couldn’t be persuaded onto the field. Oh well, understanding that you’re part of a team is one of sport’s most valuable lessons. G-man eventually got over it.

Zeke, on the other hand, dallied for much of the game, and cried and whined when he wasn’t playing. The misbehavior was so over the top that we didn’t let him participate in the post-game celebration, where the players received trophies and got goody bags from the coaches.

Luckily, there was a make-up soccer game the following week, and all the dudes played great. In a major redemptive effort, Zeke and Gabe put forth their best performances of the season. The 3 Amigos were positive, passionate and pleasurable.

Interestingly, I had to coach for the first 20 minutes. Everyone, except for us and one other teammate, was late. I explained to the referee that I knew only the basics, and she and the coaches from the opposing team were so cool about helping me out.

I suppose they were just glad that at least four Marvels were there and willing to play. We all made the most of it, eventually putting some of their players in with ours, just so no more kids than necessary were standing around bored on the sidelines.

Adiós fútbol, ¡hola papá

Now that practice and games aren’t taking a huge bite out of our weekends, Daddy has been taking advantage of the extra time with the kids. In just a couple weeks’ time, they’ve played at the park, enjoyed a hike, attended an international festival downtown, and gone to see the 3-D film, The Pirates: Band of Misfits.

Always fearless & ready for a challenge, Gabriel rocks it out on Asher’s scooter.

In fact, the latter boys-only outing was the twins’ first-ever trip to the movie theater and only Houston’s second. Stephen says things went swimmingly. He reports that the kids didn’t fidget or complain about the 3-D glasses, they did a good job sharing the popcorn, and exhibited quite acceptable movie-goer behavior on the whole.

Mother’s Day

Quite the action-packed holiday this year. First, Granny and Grumps came for the weekend. As usual, there’s rarely a dull moment when our mountain kin visit.

On the way home from church, we had a near-fatal car crash. It was one of those instances in which the driver (me) explains, “I don’t know what happened … the car just came from out of nowhere.” Long story short, I was trucking down a 55-mph, two-lane road; Stephen and I were singing; the kids were riding quietly and/or falling asleep when all of a sudden: there’s a car a dead ahead.

I’m a pretty defensive driver, always checking my mirrors and keeping a nice, big space cushion between myself in the vehicle ahead of me. Nevertheless, neither Stephen or I saw the car (which was yielding to oncoming traffic in order to take a left turn) so I slammed on the brakes and screeched my way toward the car.

Despite my efforts, it was clear I was still going to crash, so I reflexively pulled onto the grassy shoulder, which was luckily clear and free of all the stuff that lines so many parts of the this country road (i.e., phone poles, mail boxes, traffic signs, drain ditches). What are the odds, right?!

Folks, I’m guessing that this impact would’ve most likely taken the lives of everyone involved. Couldn’t you just hear the news bite?

“Mother’s Day tragedy. A mother of three crashes her minivan into a sedan, instantly killing herself, her husband and children, as well as the other driver and passenger. Story at 11.” Thank the Lord for whatever guardian angel was looking out for us that day.

“Chewing all this candy is hard work, but somebody’s got to do it,” say the kids @ the Moms Club egg hunt. (Click to see more Easter fun.)

Fortunately, there were no more life/death situations on Mother’s Day, only campout/sleepover fun with Miss Christie and the kids. Even though it poured rain, our backyard campfire raged, so we were able to cook hotdogs and s’mores. We opted to forgo tent sleeping, but the boys were able to play flashlight tag in the mud before coming inside to get warm baths and get comfy in their sleeping bags.

The “campout” continued to the next morning with some much-appreciated help from Miss Jessie. Even though not much sleep was had during our first sleepover with Asher, Jackson and Piper, I do believe the get-together with our newest pals was a success.

Later that day, Zeke successfully used a doorknob for the first time. Sure, it was an act of defiance toward a punishment. But if total sleepover exhaustion and the subsequent rebellion are what motivate him to try new big-boy things, I’ll take what I can get.

The kids also gave me some homemade gifts: colorful pasta necklaces and magnets made of puzzle pieces decorated with glitter and bling. Thanks, Miss Jessie, for helping inspire the kids to create such wonderful presents. And thanks, Stephen, for getting me a hammock … now, if we could just get that thing hung.

More play time

Speaking of hanging things, we finally put up our tire swing on Liberty Loop. However, it needs some readjusting, since it’s too low right now and the kids just kinda drag across the dirt — fun for them, but way too messy for me.

Miss Kelly from MOPS recently had a play date at her neighborhood pool. (The last MOPS meeting was on 5/15, but we will continue to have group outings throughout the summer.)

Friendly & Dinky get cozy in our homemade ecosystem. (Click to see early April pics, including shots of kids, not just caterpillars.)

This was the first time the boys have been swimming in months, and they all held their own, remembering what they had learned during our swimming craze of 2011 and exhibiting a whole lot of moxie and courage in the water.

Miss Christie says we are welcome over to her hood pool any time, and I’m going to take her up on it. If I can keep the boys consistently in the water for the next few months, I’m confident I can teach them all to swim by then end of the summer.

Speaking of Christie, she and her crew came over for ice cream cones and a more pre-nap playing after Kelly’s pool date. And then we saw them again today while attending a get-together at the house of our Classical Conversations (CC) community leader, Miss Jen.

Other recent play dates include Miss Amy, Miss Lorrie and the kids at our house for Moms Club; a FOG (our Sunday school class) potluck at the park; Daddy surprising us during a Moms Club jaunt at Bricks 4 Kidz; and a pre-Memorial Day outdoor party at Miss Heather’s.

Life is a classroom

In mid-May, we (sans Daddy) visited Gramsey and Papa for a couple days. Per my request, cousin Meredith gave the boys a presentation on the Republic of Senegal. She traveled to this western African country and former French colony a few years back and shared some colorful stories and lessons learned.

Meredith even cooked us homemade Ceebu Jën and taught us how to properly eat the traditional Senegalese fish-and-rice dish: on the ground and with right hands only, since left hands are used only for yucky things, like wiping your butt. Merci, Meredith!

Minus the cat’s sword-wielding stance, Zeke expertly pulls off quite the Puss In Boots impersonation.

On Memorial Day, I tied up the a few loose ends with Senegal, before the boys got to stamp their passports. They also discussed the American holiday a bit with Miss Jessie and made U.S. flags.

Stephen and I expanded upon the meaning and history of the day. And then Stephen gave them a Pearl Harbor lesson, including photos from our visit to the U.S.S. Arizona memorial in Hawaii back in 2001 and viewings of 1940s videos on You Tube.

On 5/24, I attended the North Carolinians for Home Education annual conference. I purchased the cheapest ticket possible, so I only got to attend the book sale and one workshop, which was given by speaker Carol Barnier, author of Seventeen Years of Homeschooling & I Hardly Twitch Anymore.

This is a phenomenal event. Next year, I’m definitely going for the whole weekend. (Attention grandparents: Mark your calendars for babysitting duties in spring 2013!)

Healthful stuff

Speaking of significant events, our great friends, Greg and Meredith, welcomed their daughter, Aurora Julianna, to the world on 5/29. Their beloved Rorie was a wee bit early (about 10 weeks) and wee little thang (2 lbs., 10 oz.), but mother and daughter are both doing well, I hear. Hallelujah!

The boys and I went to see a bed-rested Auntie Merdy at the hospital a few days prior. While there, we made stops at our old stomping grounds: the room where Houston roomed-in with me; the NICU where Gabe and Zeke spent their first couple weeks; and Maternal Fetal Medicine where I got tons of ultrasounds and non-stress tests, and one scary amnio-reduction while pregnant with the twins.

Wow, we all have come such a long way. So in that vein, here’s to a totally strong and healthy Rorie one day sharing her preemie stories as just distant things of the past. We’re praying for you, sweetie!

Like so many boys, Houston loves finding, studying & caring for backyard critters.

My orthopedic progress is coming along. I had an appointment a few weeks back and my specialist twisted me up like a noodle. This session got a few things worked out, but my twice daily stretches have to be a lifelong thing if I ever want to fully recover.

He suggested that I get a massage. Dutifully, I followed his orders, requesting that the massage therapist hit the main muscles of concern — the quadratus lumborum, pirifromis and iliopsoas.

My student masseuse kneaded my aching muscles for a generous hour, working out so many of the kinks. And considering that it was only $30 for the session, I do believe I’ll be getting massages on a more frequent basis.

Not the poster child of good health, Stanley is currently living large: literally. Our ornery orange cat weighed in at a whopping 15 lbs. during his recent annual check-up.

So now the fat cat is on a vet-ordered diet (sort of) … it’s just a hard thing logistically, since our other feline friend, oh-so-skinny Bob, is underweight and needs all the food she can get.

“Beautiful Life” 

Last weekend, I attended Angela Thomas’ women’s conference of this name at Westover. Granny was supposed to go with me, but was unable to make it, so Jessie took advantage of the extra ticket on Friday night, and I went solo on Saturday morning.

Check out Zeke’s unique version of a pirate w/ a peg leg.

As Angela says, “No matter where you have come from or the difficulty you face or even the sin that has plagued you, I want you to know that Jesus Christ has the power to make your broken life beautiful.”

The two-day event, based around Angela’s teaching of Psalm 84, was incredibly uplifting and inspiring. It didn’t hurt that the contemporary Christian music (much of which has really grown on me) was performed so passionately and expertly by Chris Billingsley, the Liberty Campus Band, and the gospel powerhouse, Mandisa.

Some not-so-beautiful (& beautiful) things 

Yesterday, I banned the boys’ use of the words butt, doo doopee pee and penis, except when used in the proper contexts of going potty or hygiene. It’s sad that it had to come to that, but c’mon.

And today marked the 3 Amigos’ fourth day of ultra-naughtiness, which was, interestingly, preceded by a weeklong period of wonderful behavior. Hmmm.

I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I’m chocking up this torturous spell (which I think is finally on the downturn) to the Transit of Venus and its rumored links to bad luck. Fortunately, the next time the terrestrial planet will pass directly between the earth and the sun won’t be until the year 2117.

And as of this writing, the rare alignment is almost over. So thank you, dear God, for your miracles both large (a stunning celestial eclipse) and small (the dudes’ hopefully waning misdeeds). Amen.