Prayers for baby Morgan

Morgan is a 3-month-old girl who I’ve never met. She is the daughter of our dear but rarely seen friend, Jennifer — a warm, bubbly, caring woman who we instantly befriended during a Disciple class we took back in ’06-’07.

Unfortunately, Morgan has been fighting for her life for weeks now due to an undiagnosed severe lung infection. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, they are unsure of what the condition even is, and all the varied attempts at treatment have been ineffective.

My three beautiful miracles before heading off to a Vacation Bible School celebration.

So Morgan will be removed from her heart-lung bypass machine tomorrow. “We choose this day because the Lord gave Morgan to us, and we will return her on His day,” wrote daddy Kyle on Facebook.

Barring a miracle — which have been known to happen — Morgan will be going to be with Jesus soon, so please pray for her and those she will leave behind. Morgan will be missed by her parents, two sisters, grandparents and others who were blessed to love her during her brief, but cherished life.

Since the blog begins on such a serious note, I wasn’t going to mention some of the things I had originally planned to write about, like Zeke’s naughty-behavior issues of as late; the return of Houston and Gabe’s cough; and my slow, but steady progress in conquering the backyard kudzu.

Parents like to comfort themselves by saying, “Sure, I’m not the perfect mom, but I don’t think my kid will grow up to be an ax murder.” Well, maybe we need to rethink that one with Zeke : )

But then I realized these seeming irrelevant items prove the larger point that we are definitely not in control. God is. It is He that wove Zeke into a strong-willed child — definitely a characteristic that served him well when fighting for his life in utero, in the NICU and during his lobectomy surgery.

Obviously, we’ll continue to discipline and try to shape Zeke into a more obedient, respectful child, but God will ultimately be the authority on to what level we succeed. And perhaps his willful nature will again serve him in some greater capacity later in life. Only God knows.

Likewise, try as you may to do seemingly simple tasks, such as help your children get over a common cold or eradicate a pesky weed from your property, God is the final arbiter of even the smallest things that touch our lives. His plan is the plan, no matter how hard we sometimes fight it.

This reminds me of something I read in an article recently published in Greenhouse, the e-zine of North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE).

Four eyes are fashionable: Houston models Daddy’s glasses.

“As I went downstairs, I thought of Frodo (the protagonist in Lord of the Rings), who when the weight of carrying the ring becomes too much for him, says to Sam, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” writes homeschool mom, Konnie Hall.

“I was so bent over with the heavy weight of my children’s education that the top of my head could have landed right on the kitchen counter. I must have looked like a wilted French fry.

“I said, ‘Lord, I can’t do this anymore. Ten years of it. I’m exhausted. I’ve failed them. Just plant the big letter F right on my chest for all to see!

“And then I heard the gentlest voice tenderly say, ‘Of course you can’t do this, my dearest one. You never could. Do you remember what I said?

“If I have called you to do this, I will also bring it to pass. Rest. Relax. I will take the full responsibility of the children’s education on my strong shoulders. Your burden is light.'”

“I want to be just like Daddy,” says Gabriel.

No, I haven’t already gotten to Hall’s point of frustration with homeschooling, but I do get burned out on just being a mom sometimes. It’s an ever-challenging and always-changing job, but it’s what God has called me to do.

He wouldn’t have blessed me with the 3 Amigos if He didn’t know I could handle them, warts and all. And most times, I do love being a mom and do a pretty good job. But with every job comes stresses, headaches and hassles … and yes, lots of mistakes.

So, learning to relax and put things in God’s hands is always the best antidote to a thorny situation. Example: Getting frustrated when one of the boys backtalks. My gut feeling is to say, “Oh, you WILL respect me!”

Or getting angry when someone exhibits irrational behavior and yelling to try to fix it. Well, that’s pride, not parenting. And I need to use the tools God has given me to better cope with such inescapable struggles, thus, increasing my peace and perspective.

Rebecca & baby Rorie: Auntie Merdy and Uncle Greg’s beautiful miracle, who survived the trials of being born 10 weeks premature.

“Be prepared and keep it simple,” says The Successful Homeschool Handbook, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. That uncomplicated truism can work not only in homeschooling, but also for parenting and living in general. After all, it’s probably the only thing we really can control.

If you would, please pray for two other loved ones: Grumps and Grandma Bobby. The boys and I made impromptu midweek trips to see both of them recently. (Gotta love the flexibility of homeschooling.)

Grumps has had a couple falls and can’t travel anymore, so we trekked to the mountains to visit him and Granny a couple weeks back. His’ spirits are up, but he is exhausted and hurting physically.

Then this past week, we drove to Virginia to see Grandma Bobby, who is the boys’ great grandmother. She is not only weak and in pain, but she is also demoralized. Please pray that both Grumps and Grandma find some comfort and peace. Thanks.

Learning curves

Defined as “a graphic representation of progress in learning measured against the time required to achieve mastery,” our lives have been marked by an uncommon number of learning curves lately.

The blog & gallery upgrades

Since Stephen made the necessary tweaks to our sites, blogging has become more difficult as we get familiar with the new software, and determine what subsequent plugins are necessary and how to use them appropriately.

Unfortunately, we don’t yet know how to export iPhoto pics into gallery. Therefore, these photos aren’t linked to albums where you can view all the images. Luckily, I at least figured out how to include single images so that my post isn’t totally void of fun visual content.

I’m sure we’ll figure it out … eventually. But with three kids and loaded schedules, piecemeal progress is as good as Stephen and I can do these days.

The dudes check out cattails alongside the Bodie Island Lighthouse boardwalk.

Classical Conversations & homeschooling rock!

Although these education methodologies get my ringing endorsement, each and every day includes innumerable learning curves and subsequent lessons. But then again, that’s part of the fun of schooling at home: it’s never dull and it’s full of surprises.

I have been officially homeschooling Houston for two weeks now. The CC grammar curriculum for Foundations (the program name for elementary-age kids) includes: history, geography, English, Latin, math and science. Students are also required to give a three-to-five-minute presentation in front of their CC class every week.

Additionally, we’re doing a more in-depth math curriculum, as well as phonics. For math, I chose the tried-and-true Saxon. A favorite of homeschoolers for decades, the program produces great results. In fact, my neighbor, Shawn, has used Saxon Math for all three of her kids, ranging in ages from 6 to 16.

For phonics, I chose Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons, a popular book I picked up for $5 at a homeschool book sale in the spring. We’re also supplementing with having Houston “read” lots of Dick & Jane — classic and effective.

The woman who sold me the phonics book said it worked wonderfully for her first two kids, but not her third, proving again that all children and their learning styles are unique. So, I’ll give it a whirl.

If I find it doesn’t work with the boys — yes, I’m attempting to teach all three to read — I’ll use The Writing Road To Reading, which is what Christie’s using for Asher. That gal is a research fanatic so I know anything she approves of is a winner. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and ideas with me, Christie!

Gabriel rocks his sunglasses while everyone checks out the marsh (yep, that’s the lighthouse covered in scaffolding in the background ).

See, one of the cool things about homeschooling is that if something doesn’t pan out, you stop using it and try something new. No big deal ’cause you’re not locked into any curriculum.

And that’s how CC operates, as well. Does the program have expectations? Yes. But it is ultimately up to mom and dad, not the weekly tutor, to determine how much or little the student delves into the subject matter. CC is totally parent-driven.

Soaking in the knowledge

Another cool thing is that Houston and I are learning together. Obviously, for this old atrophied brain, some of the rote material is even challenging for me to memorize. Yet because I often struggle right alongside him, Houston sees that learning is sometimes difficult, but is also so rewarding once you attain the knowledge.

Moreover, he sees that we can get creative when we’re in a bind, coming up with our own silly tricks or mnemonic devices to help us learn the material. It’s fun and it works. Whatever it takes to “train the brain to retain,” as CC founder Leigh Bortins describes it.

Sure, there has been some sighing and eye-rolling over the course of our short school year. But so far, Houston is loving the structured learning process, especially all the CC timeline stuff, which includes history recitation through song and hand motions.

Time management

The night before each school day, I try to create a loose lesson plan. This is when I hop on the Mac to find any appropriate printables, videos, maps or ideas that would compliment the materials. I also look for neat worksheets and/or easy crafts for Gabriel and Zeke to do to occupy their time in a constructive way.

Old pals (literally): Ashley & I strike a pose on the beach in south Nags Head.

They’re always invited to do the phonics and even sometimes the math (especially when we’re using the teddy-bear counters or the pattern blocks) if they show an interest. But if they’re disruptive or don’t follow directions, one or both has to leave the lesson with no reentry allowed.

Houston and I spend extra time on the drills that are more demanding and less time on the easier ones. If we happen to run out of time, we try pick up with the left-out material the following day. So far, this organic approach is working well.

I’m also trying to take it easy as far as the academic extras go. See, homeschoolers are some of the most creative and motivated people around, and they’re always coming up with additional ways to flush out the studies or even tacking on new curriculum to the already-existing subjects.

More power to ’em, if they can handle it. But I want to avoid the “activity addiction” that so often consumes our culture and stay focused on the task at hand: to know God and make Him known through understanding His truth, beauty and goodness.

“Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” — G.K. Chesteron

Hence, I want schooling to be a joyous things for the entire family. And if making the effort to avoid over-scheduling the calendar or jam-packing the curriculum is what helps meet this end, I know I won’t be errant in providing a good education for the kids.

As our friend, Max explains, if I’m doing “one percent above zero,” I’m still beating the efforts of most government-run schools. As the dad of three homeschooled kids, he’s biased, but his sentiment is instructive in keeping me focused.

The sandiness of the sand perturbs grumpy-boy Zeke.

Moreover, I’m spending WAY more than two hours a day — the purported amount of time kindergarten takes, according to some veteran homeschoolers in my CC community — on all curriculum combined. Sure, much of that is due to late starts, interruptions, disciplining, food prep, mealtimes, cleanup, etc.

But I’m hoping this will take care of itself as we get more into the groove and become more streamlined and efficient with our homeschooling style, structure and daily rituals. My practicing better prioritization of to dos will also aid in this hopefully natural evolution.

The proverbial curve ball

And then again, some days just don’t go as planned. Like last Thursday …

I woke up with a migraine. As I struggled to even read words on a page, Gabriel puked all over the living room. I sequestered him to the tub so I could clean up, when all of a sudden, Houston went diarrhea in his undies.

How could this be? These things weren’t  on my schedule!

Luckily, Zeke was not sick and not as much of a troublemaker as he had been in recent weeks. Once my migraine morphed into a tolerable headache, Zeke and I did laundry, and Houston and I were able to complete the math and phonics.

“Okay, we can pull this day together after all,” I said confidently. Then I heard the bathroom sink running and thought, “Who the heck left that on?” Turns out, I did.

Fortunately, Zeke likes the OBX surf more than he does the sand, as does Houston.

When I was filling up the sink to hand-wash a shirt, I stepped away for what I thought would be a moment. Of course, mommies constantly get side-tracked, so I was gone for a good five minutes before I realized my error and discovered the flooded bathroom.

Fortunately, I had a ton of dirty clothes right there in a hamper and was able to quickly sop it up. Plus, our bathroom is apparently a bit uneven, so the brunt of the water was up against and around the toilet, the tub and one wall, never making its way to the laminate in the bedroom or down the air-duct register.

I checked the crawlspace and the water doesn’t seem to have leaked under the house, so I think we’re okay on the possible major-water-damage front. Thank God for stinky laundry and shoddy homebuilders!

Speaking of stinky, sickness stinks!

Gabriel and Houston’s illness lasted a few days, but the puking and diarrhea have subsided, and both boys finally ate some food today. Not quite sure what it was that they had, but I think they’ll be in tip top shape by tomorrow. And we’re blessed that Zeke, Daddy and I were spared the ravages of the sickness.

A steep learning curve down the toilet

In other words, what we finally accomplished for the clan: two more potty-trained boys!

In fact, Zeke has been wearing undies to bed ever since 9/5 and has yet to have a nighttime accident, and Gabriel is wearing undies to bed for the first time tonight.

Gabriel thinks the ocean (i.e. the “rough beach”) isn’t much fun at all; luckily, he is entertained by the giant sand hole Cousin Kara dug.

Gabriel was slower in his big-boy maturation, having to do naked training and pull-ups on outings and at night for a bit longer than Zeke, but I do believe both twins have surpassed the major milestone once and for all. Hallelujah!

To reward the twins, Daddy and I ordered new Spider-Man bikes for them yesterday. Since he was potty trained first, Zeke got to pick his color; he chose the comic-book-looking white bike and Gabe will get the more movie-esque black bike. Yay!

The mastery of enjoyment

Luckily, there is no learning curve for fun and we’ve been having a great deal of it lately.

  • Houston has had two t-ball games. He loves going to practices with Daddy and putting on a good show when the family comes to see him play. Houston is quite good and quite ready to move on to pitch ball in the spring.
  • Last weekend, we hosted a “Welcome Home, Rorie” baby shower for Uncle Greg, Auntie Merdy and their sweet girl. The outdoor party got rained out half way through, but it did give us an opportunity to see some friendly faces of yore.
  • Every week after CC class concludes, there is a park gathering with all the other Foundations families. It’s a good post-studying release for the young ones and a good occasion for all the moms to relax and socialize.
  • Christie and I hope to do a bi-monthly park outing, where one of us will do CC memory work with Houston and Asher — Big Hashy, as the twins lovingly refer to them — while the other tends to siblings. We has such an outing this week and it was a nice diversion from schooling at-home.
  • Stephen and I attended a fundraiser banquet for my favorite local charity, the life-affirming Greensboro Pregnancy Care Center. I hope to one day soon volunteer at GPCC. I’ve already turned in my application and done the in-person interview to be a peer advocate, so I pray that God will enable me to carve out the time to do something I truly believe is a calling.
  • I forgot to mention in the last blog that Stephen and I also started a new Sunday school class on Promotion Day at church. We’re now attending Grace Under Fire (GUF). It’s a good fit for us, with mostly older parents who aren’t planning on growing their families. And it just so happens to include tons of homeschoolers and charter school parents to boot.
  • I just finished another storybook with the boys: Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. It is an incredible read and the first in a trilogy. We’re now getting deep into the second of the series, Shiloh Season. Thanks, Aunt Lisa, for sharing your sizable children’s book collection with our family … we’re putting it to good use!

Our newly designed blog

It’s official. Zeke has made it 16 full days without any accidents. On 8/20, he simply decided to be potty trained and hasn’t looked back since.

In fact, Zeke has awakened every morning since my birthday on 8/30 with a dry pull-up. I wasn’t even going to tackle nighttime wetting till we got this whole daytime thing under control, but Zeke had a different plan.

Consequently, he has been wearing undies on outings and going swim diaper-less on wet playdates. Another by-product of Zeke’s accomplishments is finally earning that carrot we’ve been dangling in front of him for nearly a year now: a bike with training wheels.

The whole clan went shopping for it yesterday, but the store didn’t have the one we wanted in Zeke’s size. He was cool about the delay — I guess he figures he has waited this long, what’s a few more days — and Stephen plans on buying the reward this weekend.

Cousin Kara & Houston on the 16th-century replica English ship, the Elizabeth II, during our Outer Banks vacation in July. (Click to see Roanoke Island – Part 1 pics.)

Zeke, who can be mean as a snake sometimes, exhibited some genuine empathy recently during a nighttime prayer, saying that he wanted to ask God to help Gabriel be potty-trained so he can get a bike, too. It was very touching.

Interestingly, it was Gabriel who began the accident-less trend a day before Zeke and continued on for a few days, but then suddenly regressed. He up and unapologetically pooped when in pull-ups, peed on the floor while au natural and even took a dump in the living room.

But considering that immediately following the latter mishap, we found Gabe in the bathroom, attempting to wash the dooky off of his hands, I think it’s safe to say he knew he had done wrong and needed to try to make things right. Poor thing.

It was a back-and-forth struggle for Gabe, having accident-free spurts mixed with days of pooping-in-pull-up abandon. That is, until my birthday, when he decided to finally take a cue from his twin bro and give potty-training a genuine try.

Yep, our other reluctant potty-trainer hasn’t had an accident since then, so today makes six days for Gabriel. I’m getting him to wear pull-ups on outings for a few more days before making the switch to undies, but I do believe that G-man is on his way!

Gabriel checks out the nautical knots below deck on the English merchant vessel.

My birthday also provided another monumental gift: Houston saying, “Mommy, you’re always right.” Of course, this proceeded me warning him not to climb on the slippery equipment while we were at the spray-ground with Christie and crew, and him ignoring my instructions, ergo hurting his private parts.

Other than Houston’s minor injury, my 41st birthday was lovely. The 3 Amigos exhibited good behavior all around — something of a rarity these days for the twins — and Jessie and the boys surprised me with a yummy homemade cake.

“Double trouble” have earned their moniker being quite consistently disrespectful, whiney, disobedient, rude and unmannerly for a few weeks now. Like when the two of them sprayed Glade all over the bathroom, to the point that the sink and floor were drenched with air freshener.

This is a minor example, but it exemplifies their general mischief while they’re supposed to be doing an easy, everyday job, like washing their hands or eating a meal. This makes it all the more frustrating because these are simple things; they know how to do the tasks, so why not just do them properly and make life easier and happier for everyone?

Although Gabe and Zeke are normally great on outings, they chose our Classical Conversations orientation on 8/28 to have meltdowns. Luckily, it wasn’t until the last five minutes of our two-hour gathering, but it was in Houston’s class, in front of his CC tutor and his new classmates and their moms and siblings.

Zeke gets as low as he can go to ring the bell on deck the Elizabeth II.

Moreover, these are homeschoolers we’re talking about, so most of these kids are extremely well-behaved; hence, the twins’ antics stood out more than they usually would. Plus, our CC community meets in a church that is extremely echoey, so the whole pointless exercise was dramatically sucky.

Houston, however, gets major kudos for holding it together at the CC event. Not only were his bros exhibiting horrible behavior, but his best bud, Asher, was also leaning toward the naughty side. Way to go for not caving into the intense peer pressure, Houston!

Luckily, the twins were able to redeem themselves this morning at the first CC community weekly meeting of the 2012-2013 homeschool year. Although, they are in the Little Learners nursery, while Houston and I attended his Abecedarian class with six other (all-boy) students, their moms and the tutor, Ms. Murphy.

I can’t believe we’re officially homeschooling Houston as of today! I will write more on all that later, as I have to wrap up this blog of older info and then need to prepare for tomorrow’s CC, phonics and math lessons: the first at-home kindergarten class for Houston, while brothers (hopefully) play merrily, yet quietly in the living room.

Sure, it’s going to be a challenge, but others make it work by taking it one day at a time. Case in point: Ms. Murphy is a single mom of four homeschooled boys. Can you believe it? She and the other veteran homeschoolers are such inspirations. They’re just normal folks who have a passion educating their kids and know God will equip them for the journey.

Gabriel leaves his mark while checking out one of the tents in the English Settlement Site. (Click to see Roanoke Island – Part 2 pics.)

Another inspirational story: While shopping a few weeks back, I struck up a conversation with a man on the pull-ups aisle. “You’d think after three kids, I’d know how to price these things,” I said with coupons and calculator in hand.

“I still can’t and I have six kids,” he replied, adding that his three boys and three girls range in age from 3 to 21. “Anyone who says it’ll get easier is lying,” he continued with a chuckle, as two of his young daughters frolicked about.

He left as I did my price-by-the-unit math, but returned. “Back so soon?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m tired, man,” he said with a half-hearted sigh, picking up the forgotten item. “Well, next time I’m complaining about being tired, I’ll be sure to think of you,” I said. Amen to a little perspective, right?!

On 8/19, the 3 Amigos attended the church sermon, since their Sunday school teachers had the day off. They actually did surprisingly well. This vacation for staff was in preparation for Promotion Day, which took place the following Sunday on 8/26.

Gabriel and Zeke’s new room is about the same as their previous pre-school class, but Houston’s kindergarten class is drastically different. The Elementary Ministry focuses on Bible stories and how they relate to the kids’ lives, scripture memorization, and building rapport with their small group leaders.

Gabe, Kara & Houston battle it out New World-style.

I wasn’t sure how Houston would handle the more mature class setting — especially since his new room has no toys and the older kids gets no outdoor play — but he is enjoying it. “I can’t wait to go to my new class on Sunday,” he said excitedly before last weekend’s trek to church. So far, so good.

Houston is also involved in t-ball again. This was Daddy’s doing, as I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew this fall with additional activities on top of kicking off official kindergarten homeschooling.

It has been a great opportunity for Houston and Daddy to spend some quality time together, and Stephen loves the sport to boot. There has only been a meet-and-greet and two practices, but Houston and his Oriole teammates have their first game this Saturday.

Our Labor Day started out a bit rough with Houston’s 5 a.m. nosebleed. Man, was it a gusher. He hasn’t had one in a while, so Stephen and I were out of practice with what to do, but Granny set us straight and we stopped the bleeding pretty quickly.

Before our history adventure on Roanoke Island, we enjoyed a seafood feast @ Stripers in Manteo.

Then after shopping for Houston’s school supplies and Zeke’s bike, we headed over to Christie and Logan’s for a cookout and good conversation. We had a wonderful time with our newest awesome friends and, of course, our six wild children had a blast getting muddy in the back yard.Some other fun items from late August:

  • I took the boys to see The Adventures of Tin Tin for the last film of the free-kids-movies summer series.
  • We made our first visit to the aforementioned spray-ground with Christie, Beth and the kids. It’s a beautiful, new facility and is only 15 minutes from home.
  • Daddy, the kids and I attended Dixie’s 6th birthday party. It was a nice afternoon of neighborly fun.
  • Daddy took the BB gun shooting in the back yard. Houston actually hit a can and the BB made its way clear through the can and out the other side.

Lastly, as many of you know, losers hacked both this site and gallery and used it for nefarious purposes, namely sending out unsolicited bulk email. Stephen “the computer super star” worked all day for two days last weekend to fix the problems. Not only did he clean up the code and upgrade our plugins and software, but he managed to protect all past blogs and photos, as well as beautify the site.

But if things look a little off or don’t work exactly right, please be patient with us and our growing pains. And in the meantime, let’s all give a hardy shout out to Stephen: THANKS A MILLION, BABY!