Daddy’s back in the saddle

As some of you know, Stephen has been contracting and working out of town every Monday through Thursday for the past 11 months. It was a well-paying gig that grew his resume substantially, but as you can imagine, it was very difficult on the entire family.

Well, as of yesterday, Stephen is back to working a job where he leaves in the morning and comes back home to his adoring family every night. The new position is a solid job with a reputable company. Plus, Daddy gets to work downtown in a big building, which is another major perk for the boys.

Daddy & the dudes enjoy our 4th annual mountaintop outing to Sugar Plum Farm for post-Thanksgiving fun & for getting this year’s Christmas tree, which Gabe lovingly named “Mountainy.”

Honestly, this career move seemed to fall into Stephen’s lap right out of the blue. We totally give this one up to God and praise Him for opening up yet another door. Amazing that just when you least expect it, He does that for us.

So, thank you, Lord, for putting Daddy back in the saddle where he is needed most. And thanks, Stephen, for listening to God’s call and not questioning His infinite wisdom.

Time off for “the last radicals”

Back in October, National Review published a poignant article, describing homeschooling as “the one radically social movement of any real significance” in America. Just as all good radicals should do, “homeschoolers drive the establishment bats.” It’s an interesting story and a pretty short read, so check it out if you can.

Our clan of radicals is already enjoying the official CC Christmas break. The last meeting was on 11/20 and our next community isn’t until January.

Our clan gathers for a surprisingly successful photo opp during our jaunt to the choose-and-cut tree farm on 11/23.

Yep, that’s a whopping seven weeks off from mandatory studies. I’m taking advantage of the hiatus to catch up to speed on any weak areas, solidify all the strong areas, and continue to do memory-work drills, math and phonics.

I’m also using the extra time to foster the twins’ growing interest in all the subject matter Houston has been learning this fall. Gabriel and Zeke have already picked us so much of the material and knowledge by pure osmosis. Children’s brains are truly remarkable.

On a related note, check out Tim Hawkins: A Homeschool Family. He’s a family-friendly, Christian comedian and homeschool dad who is actually quite funny — yeah, I was surprised, too — but the short video is sure to make you laugh. Let me know what you think.

Move it or lose it

Of course, our days are not filled solely with academics. Gabriel had his first basketball practice on 11/17. Overall, he did well. But there was a brief period in the middle when Gabe hurt another player by accident.

Mommy & the boys enjoy a close-up view from the pond @ Sugar Plum to watch the crazy ducks fight over food.

The kid immediately forgave him, but our sensitive boy felt compelled to stress and cry a bit over the incident. Eventually, Gabe regained his composure and the little guys were best buds by the end of practice. The blossoming of this insti-friendship was adorable to witness.

Zeke, who opted not to play ball, handled Gabe’s practice with surprising grace. I hope that his and Houston’s show of maturity continues at the Wildcats first game tomorrow. My guess is the event is sure to offer up a healthy does of madcap entertainment, both on and off the court.

In an effort to get this old body moving a bit more, Stephen and I took the boys to a family karate class on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it was canceled, but we plan to try it out again next week.

My hope is that it will be it an hour and a half of fun exercise for the whole clan in a disciplined environment, especially since I haven’t even done my pitiful once-a-week trip to the Y since homeschooling began. Plus, karate’s just a cool skill to know and the class is cost-effective as far as martial arts go.

Music’s in the air

I’m also taking advantage of the CC hiatus to focus more on engaging the kids in hands-on music. Houston loves his tin whistle, which is part of CC’s introduction to musical foundations. Surprisingly, we don’t practice it that much, so we will definitely be doing more of that over the holidays.

Doesn’t this look like it could be the album cover for a popular boys’ band? Perhaps “The Dillinghams Do Folk” or “The 3 Amigos: Return To Roots.” I’d buy it!

I also color-coded our piano in three different keys so the boys could teach themselves Jingle Bells. This consists of stickers in different colors on each of the fives notes of the Christmas classic. My “code” is actually working because Houston almost knows the ditty and the twins aren’t far behind.

The boys and I plan on going caroling again, but we’re urging Christie and company to take part in the zaniness with us this year. Not certain of our set list yet, but with tin whistles, recorders, lots of different percussive shakers, a guitar and a drum at our disposal, and vocals galore, it’s sure to be cacophony of merriment!

Sweet baby Aurora’s baptism

On 11/18, the family attended Rorie’s baptism in Winston-Salem. She’s the adorable 6-month-old daughter of our dear friends, Greg and Meredith (also known as Uncle Greg and Auntie Merdy).

Rebecca & Auntie Merdy strike a pose w/ beautiful Rorie @ her baptism on 11/18.

The Moravian church requires sponsors for a child’s baptism (similar to godparents) and Stephen and I, along with our pals Beth and Alan, were asked to fill this role. Wow, what an honor! The ceremony was lovely and the luncheon that followed was a great opportunity to catch up with our busy buddies.

Thanksgiving over yonder

We spent four days up in the mountains at Granny’s for Thanksgiving. It was a small affair, but that gave us all more time to spend with Granny and an increasingly and amazingly recovering Grumps.

The day after Turkey Day, we made our annual pilgrimage to Sugar Plum Farm. Well, I suppose fourth time’s the charm for us ’cause this year’s outing was spectacular from beginning to end (unlike year’s past, if you recall).

The dudes got to see Santa while waiting in line to ride up the mountain. Dutifully, Zeke asked for cowboy boots, Houston a camera (a Canon, no less) and Gabe a 100-piece puzzle of the solar system. Luckily, Santa has already scored said items, minus the Canon label.

The kids torment … uh, I mean, love on Stanley, who has in recent months become quite the prized pet. Gabriel (middle) is especially thrilled by feline contact & enjoys helping Mommy @ the vet.

The steep hayride to the choose-and-cut trees went off without a hitch, so we tooled around on the mountaintop for a while before heading back down, including some extreme vertical rolling on the boys’ part.

The stimulating hiking, tree picking, massive presence of dogs, campfire/marshmallow feast and duck pond all helped keep the dudes’ interest at the farm, making for a day of wonderment for the 3 Amigos and a worthwhile venture (finally!) for Mommy and Daddy.

Once we dropped off our grungy kids back at the the creek house (thanks a million, Granny!), Stephen and I treated ourselves to an impromptu date night in town. You can’t go wrong with organic hippie pizza, handcrafted beer made by Dry County Brewing Company and good conversation with your best friend.

First the bad news, then the good

Our beloved Woolly died back earlier this month. We gave him a proper backyard burial and said a prayer, which prompted a few tears on my part. I know you think I’m nuts, but that adorable critter had become part of the family.

Woolly maneuvers the expanses of the kitchen table as Houston, Zeke & Gabriel maintain a tight perimeter for our beloved furry caterpillar.

Luckily, the kids found another woolly worm on Liberty Loop a couple days ago. He’s small, but cute and spritely. And yes, I’m already attached to that fuzzy little bugger.

One more piece of good news: my guy Dan Forest was finally declared the victor in the NC lieutenant governor’s race. This is indeed a positive thing for the Tar Heel State.

Now if we could just get the UN and other busy-body bureaucrats to stop trying to tell the world how to parent, and the intelligentsia and no-doubtedly the class-warfare chieftains in Washington out of wanting our retirement savings, things would be even brighter.

Oh well, these days, I’ll take what I can get.

Brushfires of freedom

Halloween, the elections, day light savings and much of our Classical Conversations semester have come and gone since the last blog. Wow!

While I wasn’t at all pleased with the presidential results, many of my local, state and judicial candidates did come out ahead. North Carolina and its increasingly wise voters certainly helped brighten my sullen mood last week.

And I’m confident my choice for lieutenant governor, Dan Forest (who is up 10,000+ votes) will survive the thuggish legal challenges from his opponent. But experience says combining a sore-loser liberal and media-seeking lawyers can certainly be a recipe for disaster. Keep your fingers crossed or … donate!

Gabriel, Zeke & Houston hang out amid the political signs @ the local polling place after waiting in line for more than an hour, so that Mommy & Daddy could early vote on 11/3.

As for my native home of Virginia, it’s sad to say, but that place has positively jumped the shark. Thanks a lot, NOVA! (For those of you not in the know, that’s an acronym Richmonders use disdainfully when describing Northern Virginia.) So much for cherishing the state motto, Sic semper tyrannis.

Another positive aspect culled from the realization that freedom and individualism are no longer in vogue is that my phone will no longer be ringing off the hook. Being registered as unaffiliated, we constantly got surveyed, robo-called and lobbied for cash.

And one of Gabe’s newest obsessions (besides the cats) is answering the phone, regardless of his unpolished skills in the area. To cut down on the number of answered unwanted calls, I started saying, “Don’t get it. It’s probably Barack Obama!” Immediately nipped the problem in the bud.

“It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” — Samuel Adams

In order to get some necessary written-word therapy for myself, while not boring to tears those of you who aren’t fellow political junkies, I will simply include a few quotes from one of my favorite founding fathers, Sam Adams  — a patriotic radical of the finest sort.

Daddy took time off from work for celebrating Halloween with the boys. We began our festivities by heading to Westover with Christie, Logan & their crew. Our church hosts a popular fall fest, which features tons of games and activities for kids of all ages.

Logan’s costume is “young professional w/ a smart phone” (nah, not really), while Christie dons Asher’s pirate hat during our Halloween outing to Westover.

It was fun for the little ones, but I was glad to leave the packed quarters and head for the open range of trick-or-treating around our hood. Then we ended the night by devouring candy and playing It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which was Asher, Jackson and Piper’s first time watching the holiday classic.

Our media consumption has segued seamlessly, with the kids now viewing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and This Is America, Charlie Brown on a regular basis. In fact, the dudes prefer the latter, a historically-based show about the Mayflower voyagers. (I knew Stephen’s and my love of history would rub off on the boys!)

I often find it difficult to find quality animated children’s movies that aren’t anti-human propaganda. The theme of so many are animals good, people evil. Reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw around my college campus: Save the whales, kill the babies.

In fact, we had to try out three movies recently before I found one that wasn’t total nihilistic trash. And then you have the unoriginal bad guys that pepper so many of Hollywood’s movies, from the big-oil villain in Cars 2 to the greedy oil tycoon in The Muppets.

Now that he’s potty trained, Gabriel is the proud owner of a brand new Spider-Man bike. (Zeke got one, too!)

What’s next, a malevolent Republican or a diabolical preacher?! Oh yeah, those have been standard go-to foes in the unimaginative and predictable world of film for a long time now. How pathetic. I’ll stick with Peanuts, thank you very much. But I digress.

Since late October, the dudes have been in engaging us in deep discussions about theology. While Sunday school prompts some of the interest, we’ve also been learning about Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and other ancient religions for our CC memory work.

In addition, Jessie has been reading the boys Number the Stars (a fictional book about the Holocaust); we watched multiple times The Jim Elliot Story (an animated movie about the missionary martyr); and Houston and I finally talked about 9/11/01 (the event that ends the CC Timeline song).

“How strangely will the tools of a tyrant pervert the plain meaning of words.”

This is on top of the fact that the kids were already posing questions about war and peace, faith and atheism, God and the devil, and other light topics such as these, and we now have three intense mini-theorists running around. So, I suppose we’ve morphed from “The Zoo” into “Animal House” with philosophy majors.

In early November, Gramsey and Papa made their first visit since July. During their stay, Houston lost his second tooth. Well, actually Papa pulled it by trickery. Similar to my youth when he would promise, “This won’t hurt,” right before dumping peroxide on huge gash on my leg or forcefully digging tweezers into a splinter under my skin.

Zeke handily maneuvers an antique tractor while @ J. Razz & Tazz Farm during a CC field trip in mid-October.

Papa left Houston $2 (maybe to make up for his lacking bedside manner?!), so now the financial bar is set much higher for the tooth fairy’s next visit. Appreciate it, Papa. Seriously, thanks for the trek down, the beautiful curtains and the kids’ super-hero jackets!

On the behavior front, things have been difficult ever since the first Friday of the month. This is when Gabe and Zeke decided to chase a dog down the road and into a neighbor’s back yard, nearly falling into a large pond.

Imagine my shock when I pulled up from an errand and saw a man I didn’t recognize walking down the street (from a direction we don’t normally play) holding hands with the twins. I was freaked, to say the least.

Of course, the dudes were supposed to be playing with neighborhood kids in our backyard, while a cooking Daddy kept an eye on them from the kitchen window — a admittedly imperfect task.

Luckily, the stranger was a nice neighbor named Angelo and no one drowned in the chilly, deep water. But this incident has seemingly sparked a rash of outrageous rebellions, as well as an influx of everyday acts of disobedience.

Being quite the monkey himself, Houston expertly climbs this statue during our visit to the NC Zoo last month. (Doesn’t he look like Stephen in this photo?)

Another notable happened last week, when Houston, Asher and Gabe jumped the gate to the dairy farm (located at the bottom of our rear property), despite the fact that my boys knew this was a no-no. I found Houston stuck in a mud pit, crying and screaming his head off, with one shoe missing in the muck.

Did I mention that Houston ventured onto the farm again just a few days ago with a couple neighbor gals, despite his ardent promises not to do so? Uh, yeah.

The smaller stuff is too numerous to detail. Just imagine, Mommy says do one thing, kid does the opposite, all day long, every day for a couple weeks now, and multiplied by 3. Calgon, take me away!

“Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.”

So, Stephen and I have had to get strict on the boys’ typically free outdoor play, as well as ban some other privileges, such as using the kitchen computer and playing video games, at least for a month.

My guess as to why the dudes are being so naughty — and doing some insane things I don’t think they would ever otherwise conjure up in their little minds — is that they aren’t getting enough rest. I know that’s my standby hypothesis for increased levels of insubordination, but I think it’s valid.

With acrylic-painted shirt & toilet-paper-roll funnel, Zeke’s homemade Thomas the Train costume is a smash hit.

Since the time change, Zeke has getting up very early (sometimes well before 6) and then ends up waking his bros before they’re ready to rise. And it’s always a struggle to get the crew fed, bathed, administered meds, read to and prayed with, and have them all asleep by 7:30 at the latest.

But Stephen and Miss Jessie are on board with my aim of always meeting this bedtime goal, except for very extreme or special circumstances. Even if we have to start dinner at 4 or skip a bath more often than we’d like, that’s what we’ll do.

Fortunately, I think yesterday was a turning point. Houston returned from his first sleepover ever (for Asher’s 6th birthday) and got rave reviews for behavior and manners. Bear in mind, Christie is not one to sugar coat the truth.

“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil & religious liberty.”

Houston was Asher’s sole guest and the two were treated to a trip to a bounce house, s’mores on a fire pit, late-night Legos without any interruption from siblings, and then cupcakes for breakfast.

In addition to Houston’s favorable report, Gabriel was jealous of Houston’s position and prestige regarding Big Ashy’s birthday, but has handled it quite well — an impressive feat, considering his penchant for nonstop whining these last few weeks.

The only thing purchased for Houston’s awesome Hawkeye costume is the bow & arrow set; you can thank Sharpies & duct tape for the rest.

Yesterday was also a watershed moment for the twins. We went to see the kid-friendly opera, Amahl & the Night Visitors. (A CC mom who is a harpist for the symphony organized the group outing.)

There was so much room for error, misbehavior and frustration, from the trek across campus to the bathroom breaks in the large facility to the performance itself. Yet, Gabe and Zeke handled all the challenges like such big boys.

Houston, who was already making a recovery, did superb throughout. And the twins — despite some mid-performance fidgeting and complaining — overcame their naughty urges and pulled through with flying colors. Our opera outing was a success!

On the health front, Zeke had a debilitating neck crick last week, so much so, that Christie had to Gabe and Houston to CC that day. Then a couple days later, Zeke had a high fever at night and then slightly into the next day, but recovered from the minor bug quickly.

Gabriel’s simple, but effective “wobb-oh” costume consists of acrylic-painted shirt, & pillowcase mask & money (candy) sack. Stick ’em up!

I also had a mystery sickness, which began last Saturday during day 2 of my volunteer training at the local pregnancy care center (more on that later) and stretched well into Sunday. Also, Houston’s nosebleeds have been occurring randomly as of late, but luckily, none have been severe.

Fun end note: I treated Christie to a girls-night out last week as thanks for taking some quality family pics for us. (See, she’s a budding photographer ’cause she’s got a good eye and she’s married to a hugely talented professional photographer.)

We dined like queens at the Melting Pot — which I just discovered is the best restaurant in the world! — and celebrated friendship, motherhood, homeschooling and killer family photos. You rock, Christie!

Sad end notes: Grandma Bobby died on 11/6. She had been pretty ill and incapacitated for a while now, so it wasn’t really a shock. Plus, she was 92. But, losing a loved one is never easy. Please pray especially for her children: my mom, Uncle Bubba and Aunt Nancy.