This present joy

July 21st, 2017


Nearly every weekday morning so far this summer, Josie has attended her ESY (Extended School Year) class to keep her math and reading skills fresh.





In Pennsylvania, where we live, home educators are required by law to log 180 school days between July 1st of one year to June 30th of the next year.  I decided with three days’ notice to commence our 2017-18 academic year on Monday, July 3rd.  I had previously removed every possible item from our calendar for the summer to help us transition into life without Laura.  As a result, I’ve only had to leave the house a few times, and we’ve made a satisfyingly strong start to our new school year.

With our current family configuration and logistics, full-fledged intentional learning creates an unparalleled civilizing influence on our middle sons and is therefore my favored defense against otherwise inevitable chaos among the ranks.  A close runner-up is the performing of necessary household chores.  Since we have no communist leanings, all work is duly rewarded with highly desirable Mom Bucks.  Did I mention that these middle sons outnumber me by four, out-energy me by a sight more than that, and are in dire need of intensive civilization?    

I’m taking an unabashed childish delight in the fact that we already have 14 school days down.  Only 166 to go!  Maybe we really will be able to plant a vegetable garden and clean up the property next spring while the three girls are still in school?

Because each one of the four boys is now reading well at his level, we have re-instituted Fridays as Reading Days; the four are assigned an appropriate amount of individual reading in addition to my afternoon read-aloud.  This allows breathing room on Friday mornings for necessary appointments, phone calls, and other tasks.

We’ve collectively read over 60 books since the beginning of the month, counting the 6 books I’ve read aloud to them so far. James is the reading fiend who’s responsible for 36 of those, but the others’ lists are growing respectably.  Last year, in contrast, I managed to read 15 books aloud the entire 9 months of our school year.

One of our first 14 school days consisted of a field trip to Longwood Gardens with Dad.



Between breakfast and lunch, the children accomplish their chores and whatever arithmetic and grammar or logic they’ve been assigned.

These proceedings probably don’t resemble the picture that may have formed in your mind as you read that statement.

The scholars tend to congregate around me as I care for the four little children and keep the necessary household operations running smoothly.  My mornings often feel similar to slogging up a steep mountain during a mudslide.  I remind the boys (and myself) often that accomplishing schoolwork at our house is not going to be easy.  It’s going to be a challenge every moment because of all the obstacles that continually rise before us, so we’re going to have to fight over and over to get back on the path and not to allow the obstacles to make us give up.


Listening to Stephen classify his sentences out loud.  He’s doing several days’ worth of English grammar each day in order to catch up to his grade level.  Stephen is heavily dependent on me at this point in order to stay focused.



Yes, at the same time, I’m listening to Peter classify his sentences aloud.  He’s doing a whole week’s worth of English grammar each day in his ongoing attempt to catch up to his grade level.  He also needs my help often to keep moving along, but he’s now beginning to take his academics seriously, catching on to concepts faster, and making noticeable progress toward becoming an independent learner.



James is highly motivated, focused, and independent in his work.  Here he’s working on Saxon Math 6/5.  He and John Michael both finish their independent work sooner each morning than the other two guys, so they are able to earn some Mom Bucks by accomplishing helpful tasks like reading to the little ones or pushing them on the swings, folding laundry, making lunch, et cetera.



The mental discipline required to focus on math in the midst of four busy little people…and by the way, this little person has suddenly begun getting dressed completely independently without reminders every morning after breakfast.



Keeping an eye on these two.  They spend a lot of time together and are generally peaceable companions but do occasionally engage in minor spats.



Meanwhile, feeding Katie some thickened juice while 18-month-old Nathaniel climbs on and off my lap.  Developmentally, Katie is now the baby of the family.  Such a pretty girl.



Katie has been making noticeable progress toward bonding during the past several months; I could enumerate half a dozen examples of this.  One of them is that she’s jealous of Nathaniel and is miffed when he interrupts my interactions with her.  He’s completely unaware of her feelings about him and unreservedly showers affection on her.  “Ah-ah,” he says while hugging her, unconscious of her visibly unenthusiastic response, ha!



After lunch, the middle kids clean up the kitchen and gather a few activities while I lay a cranky Nathaniel down for a nap then review the alphabet letters and their sounds and play a few thinking games with the other littles before settling them down for a rest/quiet play time.

Then!  Oh, then…!

Thanks to my beloved BiblioPlan curriculum, organized, written and published by my good friend Julia Nalle and her husband Rob through blood, sweat and tears, I have come to adore the teaching of history to my five children.

They’re fond of it, too.  Overheard in the past few days…

“History is my favorite subject!”

“I like history best.”

“Hurray!  I love history!”

“I like to listen to Mom read out loud even if I’ve already read the books, because of all the other conversation.”

“Yeah.  We get at least twice as much out of it if Mom reads it than if we read it ourselves.”


The aforementioned middle sons and Josie.  From left, Stephen, 8 1/2, John Michael, 11 1/2, Peter, 10 1/2, Josie, 14, and James, 10 1/2.



In addition to the basics of history, on any given afternoon these five and I are discussing Bible, religion, philosophy, ethics, apologetics, science, language, culture, vocabulary, geography, government, civics, economics, and more.  I don’t let these kids off the hook; I ask them tough questions and expect them to come back with thoughtful and logical answers.

My cellphone is close by as we read and discuss, so we can look up quick facts like the classification system or where the dividing line is between Europe and Asia, listen to Google Translate pronounce unfamiliar names or words in other languages, compare maps, and even find obscure historical video footage or any number of related demonstrations on YouTube.  After each section, the children label maps related to our week’s history focus, work on their timelines, and answer quiz questions.

The mom I used to be would be focusing on everything we don’t accomplish in the course of each day.  The mom I am now marvels to witness nine young lives learning and growing here every day; how exhilarating that I get to help that happen in this sizable and complicated family.  Not long ago, I wondered whether I would ever again experience the emotion of happiness.  God has granted me the gift of this present joy.  I don’t take it for granted.






Upside Down: A book review

July 14th, 2017

If I could recommend one book to every person who’s close to an adoptive family, this would be that book.

What might attachment problems look like in real life?  What’s behind the counter-intuitive parenting strategies and boundaries adoptive families might set in place around their adopted child?  Shannon Guerra answers these and other questions in her recent book, Upside Down: Understanding and Supporting Attachment in Adoptive Families.  Guerra has a forthright, wryly humorous writing style and includes plenty of quotes from other adoptive parents.

This book hits close to home for me.  I was intrigued by the subject material and requested a free copy in exchange for an honest review. The author and I each have a child who spent those crucial early years in the same infamous orphanage in Pleven, Bulgaria.  Infamous, that is, for depriving its inmates of nearly everything a human being needs to thrive.  Our children were hardwired to relate to other people in pathological ways in order to survive.  Turns out, there’s no simple fix for some kinds of broken.  Progress toward a solid, healthy child-parent bond can be exceedingly slow. “Like watching hair grow,” the author wrote to me.  Every centimeter of ground is hard won and easily lost.

Weighty, scholarly volumes have been and will be written by experts about all aspects of attachment in adoption.  Thing is, most of us will never read those.  Guerra’s book covers the essentials in seventy-five readable pages.

To the adoptive parent, Upside Down says, “You’re not alone.  We’re in this together.”

To the onlooker, the book says, “Here’s the problem; here’s how you can help.”

Do you know an adoptive family who’s dealing with attachment issues?  Do you want to be part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem?  Upside Down.  Buy it.  Read it.  Pass it on.



Spring into summer

July 10th, 2017

Daniel and Laura birthday-gifted Jane a set of window boxes for her room–Laura funded them, and Daniel built and installed them. Jane planted one with edibles, such as miniature cherry tomato and pepper plants and herbs, one with shade plants, and this one with succulents.  We’re making tentative plans to plant a small vegetable garden next year and put Jane in charge.  She’d be happiest with a small farm, tending plants and animals, but we haven’t been able to manage a garden since before Katie came home in 2011.




Verity has a newfound love of playing games and helping with chores.  Here she is cheering for herself after folding and sorting her own clean laundry, shirts, pants, and pajamas.




She loves to wipe down everything within her reach in the kitchen with a Norwex kitchen cloth.  She does a pretty good job, too, with reminders to stay on track and be thorough.




She doesn’t have the propensity for negative self-talk that many of us struggle with.  Haha!  Here she is cheering for herself again!




Wow, seems like yesterday I took the next two photos.  We started our new school year a week ago, and I am again passionately loving BiblioPlan history which I do every afternoon with the four boys (and Josie, until she goes back to school)!  Right now, any day I get to teach history to the children is a very good day!




Ironic that a few feet away from that blackboard, these two guys were hard at work catching up on their English!  They need a good bit of help and supervision with it, so they come join me wherever I am working.


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Because my skin has become extremely sensitive to chemicals in our environment, I began making some of my own personal care products.  A good friend of mine was opening a brick-and-mortar gift shop in a nearby town and asked me to make my solid lotion bars to sell in her shop, Pebbles and Lace.  I use organic ingredients and pure essential oils.  They have become one of her three top-selling items. So, can you believe it?  For a few hours a month, I’m an artisan with a microscopically-small home business!  Creating lovely things is therapeutic, and I’m enjoying it immensely.




With the help of the four boys, I finally conquered the new basement.  Not the prettiest room, but are we ever grateful for the indoor play space!  I still have long-term (very long-term!) plans to paint the concrete walls and hang fabric to cover the rock walls.


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In May, I was able to go to Longwood Gardens for a day with my very dear friend Jennifer.   The beauty and peace of that day soaked into us and rested and renewed our souls!  I guarantee you that neither one of us would have beamed so peacefully for the photo at the beginning of that particular day!  This was taken right before we left the gardens.




On this evening, I just had these five children at home.  They are treasures to my heart.




Sweet little people.  But don’t tell Stephen I said that.  Haha!




This is Katie, proud of herself for being a big helper and handing me only *one* item at a time.  Go, Katie!





Girls’ Night was haircuts and the best burgers in town!  Those are fried green tomatoes on Josie’s burger and it was served with spicy bam-bam sauce on the side.  Her choice and she loved it!




Speaking of beauty, this corner feeds my soul by its presence in my room, although I’ve only managed to have a friend for tea twice this year so far!




The children crammed so much fun adventure into the few weeks between family vacation and Laura beginning her full time job.  I miss her like I would miss my right arm if it left me; we’ve cleared the calendar as much as humanly possible and are finding our balance in our new normal.  The children loved introducing Josie to one of their favorite spots, Sam Lewis State Park, and Josie did a fabulous job with her first experience at rock-climbing!








Verity has the birthday thing mastered now, at the great age of seven years old!





Here she is trying to be patient until it’s time to open her birthday presents!  (Every time she opened one, she looked it over, laid it aside and said, “Next one!”  Ha!)  These seven years of Verity have been one of the very best gifts God has ever given our family!  We’ve enrolled her in first grade in our local school this year and are excited to see her begin this new adventure!  We finally feel like she’s READY.




On this day, I found out less than forty-five minutes before leaving the house for an extended appointment with one of the boys that our helper wouldn’t be available to babysit, so I took all nine youngest children with me.  Now, that’s nothing for some of you power mamas out there, but with many older children here I’d never had to do that before.  The children did a super job!  I was so proud of them, especially considering I’d had no time to feed them beforehand and the appointment went well past lunchtime!  It was a gorgeous day, so we stopped for food afterward and went to our favorite park and had a blast!  Josie said, “See, Mama, it turned out to be a fun adventure!”  (That doesn’t mean I want to make a habit of it, for sure!)

For some reason, all nine children congregated on this one piece of play equipment this time.










Of course, being us, we had to throw a bit more excitement in there.  Sure enough, after getting all nine children loaded up, I found the van battery had died, so we unloaded and fit in some more fun while we waited for Joe to come to the rescue!  (And how about pizza for supper tonight, dear?)  Neat thing was that while we were waiting, a woman and her two children stopped by the park, and she recognized me from this blog.  She’s a missionary and adoptive mom in Eastern Europe who’s home on furlough and just stopped in at the park half an hour before we finally left for home.




A thunderstorm arises just as we finally get all the children into their swim suits?  Let them play in the rain instead of the pool!

And that’s how we roll around here.  We quit waiting for perfect a long time ago and just get as much fun as we can out of where we are right now.  Hope this post brought a smile to your face wherever you are right now!