Double Portion of Grace

Our kids are growing like weeds.  That’s nothing incredibly new to report.  Not only do they eat more, need new clothes and shoes like crazy, there’s other things like bikes that they outgrow.

Knut decided this winter that David would need a new bike this year.  David’s bike will go to Elias, and Elias’ bike to Solveig, and so forth.  Silje and David are nearly the same size, so not a whole lot gets passed from her to him.

It would make sense to get him a bike for his birthday, but that’s in the fall, and since Knut loves to take all the kids out on bike rides, he actually would need it in the summer.  So to fight the attitude of entitlement (a heart issue) that seems to be ever prevalent in our kids, he told David that he would get a new bike when he completed a massive job that would be assigned to him.

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We use a bunch of wood in our fireplace to heat our house every winter.  We have learned that the wood burns hotter if it has been properly dried over the summer (something Knut doesn’t always have time to do).  This would require that David stack the whole winter’s worth of wood that Knut split and chopped for next year, and stacking it so that it could get nice and dry in the sun, and then this fall Knut and he will move it over to our wood stack nearer to the house.

This job would take David a few months of working at least an hour every day.

So Knut had already decided to get him the bike.  Dangling it as a carrot for David had less to do with David earning it, and more of a way to get David doing some heavy lifting daily.

You see, one of David’s diagnosis’s is 2 different kinds of sensory processing disorder (SPD).  I learned so many fascinating things last year about SPD, and started to get a bigger picture of what it was like for him to live in his skin.  I am not a doctor or expert, so bear with my oversimplifications.  There are 6 different types of SPD, and he has 2 of them.  David has ADHD, not autism, but both of those usually have 1 or more kinds of SPD attached to them, with combinations varying from kid to kid.  What this means is that David’s nerves communicate with his brain in an abnormal way that can easily overwhelm him.

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In David’s case, one of the things that calms his nervous system down is to get some pressure on his joints. This is why when he is struggling to concentrate, he will push against a wall, or pull hard on the chair he is sitting in, or want to jump or press against something.  He’s trying to calm down his nervous system so it stops overfeeding his brain.  Sometimes if we are anticipating a situation being difficult for him, we will have him move around some heavy things, so he goes into the situation pre-calmed.

Carrying around and stacking wood puts a ton of pressure on your joints.  This job that Knut has assigned David has gotten David through some challenging school subjects, and prevented some major meltdowns as he gets some consistent, daily deep pressure on his joints.  In one occupational therapist’s words, “Having David help outside on the farm is the most ideal situation for him to be in.”

But who likes to work every day stacking wood?  It’s a chore.  It’s work.  Work feels mean to kids (and adults) sometimes.

But in David’s case, he needs the work.  

What David doesn’t know, is that his dad was looking out for him, (and looking out for me, his teacher) by making sure that David had a daily dose of heavy-joint-pressure-physical-work so he could handle his spring semester better, and generally handle himself better.  Giving him this job was a blessing to our whole family, yes, because having dried firewood this winter will be amazing.  But even more so, it was a blessing to David.  It was what he needed.

And in the end, David will get a bike, so he can continue the family bike rides with a ride his size.

As I was walking back by the grain bins for my daily bit of outside exercise, I saw the enormous length of this woodpile.  I was proud of my son, and how he pushed through this enormous job.  I thought about how God gives us work to do.

We think we’re earning something from all the work that God gives us.  Maybe we’re earning his pleasure, our salvation, his good graces, his blessings.  But we’re not.  The fact that he was giving all of those was decided long ago.  God’s grace isn’t earned.  A father’s love is never earned.

But God does give us work.  

Why?  Because we owe him?  To pay him back? To get extra credit?  So he will love us?

God gives us work because he knows we need it.  As much as we resist it, we need work because we are designed for it.  It puts us in connection with him, it helps us develop how we should.  It builds our character and shapes our heart.  Doing God’s work means that we are in communion with God again, that we are working alongside him like in the Garden of Eden, that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves.  It helps us understand it’s not all about us after all.  It works on our hearts in that deep-pressure sort of way.

Plus it’s a blessing to others.

The grace was decided long ago.  The love is unconditional.  The work he gives us?  Well, that’s a gift too.  All is grace.

Baby Nesting Complete…I think

I remember when I was pregnant with my oldest child, my sister and I discussed how I was planning on decorating the baby’s nursery.  We didn’t have much money at the time.  I was going to do a gender neutral pale green with teddy bears.  It’s funny that now that I’m nearing  the last part of my pregnancy with our 6th, the desire to nest and prepare doesn’t get any less with each child.

I am however, coming into the nesting phase with still a bit of unrealistic dreams, but a ton of practical knowledge just of how I like to mother in those early weeks.  For one, now I know that the baby will sleep in our room for about 6 months.  We have a beautiful cradle that Knut’s dad made me when I had Silje, and all of our kids have used.  After the baby is born, we will move it over to my side of the bed, so I don’t have to go very far.  But in the meantime, I don’t want to trip over it or try to shimmy my big belly around it, as it can get tight. Very often, I prefer to feed the baby laying down in my bed, not sitting up in the chair.  (I have actually had a baby roll out of my arms from exhaustion while sleeping before and it scared me so bad, that I now nurse laying down, and have worked really hard to make that a safe situation.)  Sometimes we fall asleep this way, sometimes I crave deeper sleep and move the baby to the cradle if possible.

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I have a little trick for that too, that I’ll share with you.  Lots of new mothers that I have spoken to said it works for them as well.  The tough part of laying a baby down so you can get that deeper sleep is that first shock of the cold cradle sheets that wakes them up and you have to get them to sleep all over, usually with you crying this time.  So whenever I pick up a baby to feed him, before latching on, I lay an electric (or water bottle, I’ve used both) heating pad in the cradle, and turn it on.  Then I feed the baby.  When I’m ready to get the baby back to his bed, I remove the heating pad, put my hand on the bed to make sure it’s not too hot, and then slowly lay him down.  With the bed pre-warmed they actually stay asleep through that transition, and their own body heat keeps it warm.  Then I can sleep sprawled any way I’d like.

This isn’t intended to start a debate on co-sleeping or anything.  I co-sleep, and I put them to sleep by themselves.  I have learned 6 kids in that all mothers are trying to just survive this stage with both their baby and themselves intact, and what that looks like depends on the sleeping habits of the mother.  Like I’ve said, I’ve dropped a baby trying to stay awake to feed.  That’s the hard part about this newborn stage.  There’s just danger everywhere and exhaustion is a given.  If I stand on my little soapbox for a second, I think if we truly want what’s safe for baby, we as a culture will support our new mamas, so that they have adequate help to get adequate sleep (whether day or night) during this phase, rather than judge how that mother gets her sleep when she has no support.

Off soapbox.  Whew.  Sorry about that.  I want to also add that I’m so thankful for all the support I’ve been given in the past, most especially last time with the help of my husband and our midwife.  The care received from midwives is just so stellar in this department.  Her post-pardum care instructions and help were night and day different from instructions and care received from previous doctor care.

Shoot, now I’m really off my soapbox.  Sorry.  I’ll try to stay down this time.

I just know that it’s a few months of sleepless haze, and I basically live in this room.  Perhaps that is why I’ve been working so hard to finish up a bunch of projects in this room that have been years in the making.  I want my post-pardum space to be a sanctuary, not a prison.  I want it to be a place for me to breathe and relax and enjoy.

So I thought back to all of my pet-peeves that I threw together in past births.  For one, I usually have all the baby clothes set up in his or her own room.  (In this case, he will have a hanging dresser in the boys’ room closet, as the 3 boys will be sharing a room eventually.)  It just logistically makes sense because we can’t fit any more dressers in our space, and it’s not like the baby being in our room is a long term thing.  So what ends up happening is I throw some clean baby clothes in a laundry basket, and just have this basket full of junk that gets turned over and messed up multiple times a day, and it ends up looking like this mountain of laundry that is constantly there, with pacifiers, swaddling blankets and random socks in there somewhere.  This pile is just a presence in our room while the baby rooms with us.

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So this time, I bought one of those ridiculously cheap RASKOG carts from Ikea, and I’m organizing a space for just some of the baby’s things.  It’s not his whole dresser, it’s just some things so when I have to change his clothes in the middle of the night because he spit up all over everything, I don’t have to take him screaming into the boy’s room, and search in the dark for new clothes, or turn a pile of laundry over and over in an effort to find the thing I’m looking for.

Here’s how I have it set up:

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On top I have his first outfit: a little sleeper and hat.  I have a few extra hats, a few bibs, some receiving blankets (which I also use as burp rags) a large gauze swaddle blanket since he will be born in the heat of summer, and maybe he’ll sleep in that better.  I don’t know.  I have some pacifiers in here.  I also have a few washcloths, and my the socks that are my favorite to use as little mitts if he scratches his face.  (Silje was the only one of my babies to take a paci, and even then it was around 6-9 months when she gave it up.  The rest of my kids have thought the pacifier was a mean horrible monster and cried whenever it showed up.  I’ve always wished I had something to make my babies be quiet like a nice little paci, but alas, it doesn’t really happen for me.  But I will try again, in hopes that I will have that luxury again.)

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In the middle section, I have the nightgowns that have easy diaper access that they really only wear at night.  I also have a few of the newborn sized sleepers for those tiny newborn days when nothing fits, and a package of wipes.

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On the bottom, I have a bunch of flat cloth diapers, a few fitted newborn diapers, a few newborn diaper covers, and a few leftover disposable diapers that are good to use until that meconium poop has worked it’s way out.  I use pocket cloth diapers mostly with little ones. (confession, my toddler right now is in disposables because I haven’t potty trained her yet and I’m so certain I will soon that I haven’t made or bought her toddler diapers.)  But for newborns, I have found that I like the old fashioned flat diapers the best.  They are so absorbent, and they are so easy to work around the little umbilical cord stub, and it’s fun to get them good and snug around the thighs so not many blowouts.  I even prefer them to disposables, as I just get less blowouts to deal with.  Sometimes my kids have slept better in disposables, so I like to have some on hand for evenings, and the cloth for daytime.  But after a few blowouts in disposables at night always go back to the cloth at night too.  This is just my pattern.

I have tried prefolds in this newborn stage and I just get constant leaks no matter what I do.  So I save my prefold diapers to use as inserts for the pocket diapers I use once they’re a tad older.

I know I’m still idealistic that there won’t be a big pile of laundry in my room after the baby is born.  It won’t always look this nice and neat and folded.  That’s where the dreamy side of nesting comes out.  It’s folding the diapers so they have no creases, knowing full well that once the baby comes, it will probably go straight from the drier to the baby’s bottom.

But, on the practical side, maybe this solution will work, and I’ll have places to put the baby things for those few months he will be in our room besides a pile in a laundry basket.  Maybe, just maybe, this will be a peaceful place for me.

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For now, I’m at 27 weeks.  This baby isn’t here yet, and I don’t want to wash a couple months of dust off of it all again once the baby comes.  So a little receiving blanket is on top of it for now, promising that little one’s arrival is just around the corner.  I’m thinking that when I get closer, I’m going to squeeze in a bunch of granola bars and keep some water up in my room too.  I get so famished in the middle of the night while breastfeeding, and I hate wandering around the kitchen at 2am looking for food when I could be sleeping.  Granola bars in here will be a must.  I think that’s all.  I might think of more before he comes.

Wrapping Up Our School Year

I feel like it would be fun to document how this year went as a family, and how each of my kids did themselves.  It was such a year of ups and downs.  Sometimes I feel like I’m failing at what we’re doing.  Writing it all out is therapeutic.  I can see what we actually did.

Morning Hour

I first heard reference to the idea of Morning Hour from the Read-Aloud-Revival Podcast.  (If you don’t listen to it, you should, homeschooler or not.  It’s just so great.)  I have a morning basket of all the things that we do together as a group.  It’s here in my kitchen, so that a stack of books that I pull off the shelf daily aren’t just cluttering up my dining room and bookshelves.  I got some great ideas and inspiration from the Wildflower and Marbles series on Morning Baskets.  Now that I have been implementing these ideas for a few months, I feel like I finally found something that fits me, and my lack of organizational skills.  I try a lot of organizational ideas and they just drop off after a week or so.  Months of working is a huge success to me!

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I also got a little notebook to keep track of what we are doing for morning hour, on which days, and hold all the loose papers that might be involved.  I customized it at zazzle.com.

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The idea of morning hour is to start the day reflecting on things that are true, beautiful, good and lovely.  I usually limit it to less than an hour, depending on how the kids are doing, how antsy or late we are, and how much disciplining and correcting needs to happen during the hour.  Really, I just wanted it to set the tone for the day.  David often balances on a stool, or leans on his chair during this time.  It’s a time for inspiration, encouragement, and setting the attitude of curiosity and scholarship.  I fight the “sit down and be quiet and still” impulse, and instead, “set the feast, and fill them with inspiration.”

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During this time, we start off with devotions, do some memory work, read some history or literature-based history, and then we rotate through things like grammar, geography, art history (we do the portfolio studies from Simply Charlotte Mason), or anything else that we have time to do.  This year we went through How To Teach Your Child Shakespeare and it was fantastic.  We just have to finish up Hamlet and we will call it good for the year.  I cannot believe how much my kids got into it.  We aren’t totally done yet, and we skipped one or two stories, but it was the spine of our unit study.  This involved a lot of memorizing famous passages, and reading more child-friendly versions of of the plays.  (The kids’ favorite was by far “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”) I loved even hearing little Solveig memorize the passage from Midsummer Night’s Dream while she was coloring at the other end of the table:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine.

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,

Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight.

And there the snake throws her enameled skin,

Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes

And make her full of hateful fantasies.  

It cracks me up to hear my little 5 year old stomping around the house to the beat of this passage as she recites words of Shakespeare she does not yet understand, but she loves the sound of it so much that she keeps going over and over it.  This is the beauty of homeschooling, right here!

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For geography we went through Draw the USA this spring.  The kids really had fun with that too.  I think we’ll move right into drawing Europe after this without waiting for fall to come.  All the kids really enjoyed it, and it brought about a lot of discussion and them researching their questions.  It was a great jumping off point.

History is something that is often on in the car as we are running errands.  My kids love listening to Story of the World on audio.  There were some things that I wanted to read to expand that, and we didn’t get through as many books in that area as I wanted to, but I’m pleased with the one we did: Magna Charta.  It was a great background to Western history, and the background to the Magna Charta and how it set the footings for all future democracies.  The language was a bit above my kids, but they followed along still.  We had so many discussions about events described in this book, and that part is the gold.

For devotions, we went through 24 Family Ways this year followed by The Young Peacemakers.  Both of them were excellent.  More about them later.

Silje and David worked on cursive a bit.  Silje is now writing cursive all the time for her school, and David just got an introduction.  Elias is still working on printing.

Tea Times and Evening Read-Alouds

During morning tea times (snack time) around 10am, I read to all 5 of the kids some kind of literature as they fill their mouths and hopefully not interrupt and stay still.  We read through The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Railway Children, several of The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh short stories, and Kipling’s Just So Stories (especially the illustrations in this version.)  I thought we did more than that, but maybe that was just it.

After the 2 little girls go to bed in the evenings (yep!  School in the evenings.  Why not?), I read aloud from books geared towards the older kids.  In addition to finishing up the Narnia series, we read Little Britches, which the kids adored.  David actually is listening to the rest of the series via audible, as he’s pretty obsessed.  We also read The Green Ember aloud, which Silje had read before, but the boys hadn’t because they had deemed it a “girl book” because Silje was so obsessed.  They did find out that rabbits with swords on an adventure aren’t so bad after all.  We took a big break this winter to just read some Advent books, and our evening schedule just doesn’t always allow for a read aloud.  I fight with that.

As you can tell, we have a very literature-based approach to our school day.  I spend most of my teacher-prep time researching book lists, as I want to have the reputation with my kids that when I put a book in their hands they know immediately that they will love it.  Dry books are outlawed.  There’s just too many good choices out there to waste time on bad books.

Elias (6/7) 1st grade

I really feel like I dropped the ball with Elias this year.  It’s one of the reasons we are making some changes to our school next year.  He’s there for all of the family subjects, and learns alongside us very well.  I’ve just been inconsistent with his one-on-one time, specifically with his reading and math.  We have tried various readers with him, and the one that seems to be clicking is the old fashioned McGuffey Primer.  We tried Hooked on Phonics, we tried Bob books.  He likes the old-school primer that I just had because I thought it looked cool.  He is still not reading on his own, and I’m still having to help him a ton.  But he is eager to learn.  He’s also been working on Saxon Math 1, and he’s pretty good at math, but he still flips his numbers, and it’s tedious when he can’t read.  The number flipping and the lack of reading scares me a bit, because of the road we have been down with his big brother with learning disabilities.  On the other hand, he’s moving along so much smoother than his big brother ever did, that I think a lot of the problem is my lack on consistency, and him just being late on every milestone of his life.  (He’s my preemie-baby.)

Poor Elias.  He’s going to be my main focus this summer, and my top priority student for school next year.  He’s not going to know what hit him.  He’s going to love it.  I think that he’s been waiting for it.  He has been coming up with a ton of projects himself.  He writes and illustrates books nearly constantly (with the help of whoever he can grab in the house who knows how to write).  He is always drawing.  He builds inventions with Legos and anything he can find in our recycling bin, complete with drawn out “plans” of his prototypes.  When I’m overwhelmed with school with the older kids, I look over at him and check “Is he learning?  Is he studying? Is he using his brain?  Yeah, ok good.  He can do ‘formal school’ later.”  I signed up for a sketching class from Craftsy and we are going to do it as a family this summer as a fun activity.  He asks about it daily.

David (9/10) 4th grade

David finished up the IEW writing intensive A, and then their writing book “All Things Fun and Fascinating.”  As my struggling reader and writer with some learning disabilities, IEW has been a perfect fit for him.  I may have him do the intensive B next year already, as I think he’s ready.  (He doesn’t believe he is.)  He still struggles with spelling, and I let him “ask Siri” on my phone how to spell things while he writes, so he can focus on content instead of spelling, which is easier for his brain to handle, and that way he doesn’t ask me how to spell something every 20 seconds of the morning and I can focus on my other students.  Our goal this year was to get him up to writing at grade level.  Last year during his standardized test, his writing was so awful that it was deemed “un-gradable”  This year, he tested around the 3.7 grade level which was a huge leap from last year.  I was very proud of him for that.

Reading is still a struggle for him, and I have worked him up to reading 1 chapter a day, or the equivalent of 40 pages.  Then I check his comprehension daily.  The big change that we’ve made this year is to use an old iPod gifted to us from an uncle and downloaded a bunch of audiobooks for him, so that his whole school day doesn’t center around his most difficult subject.  History books, his science textbook, and massive amounts of literature have been downloaded to this iPod, and he listens to it constantly like it’s candy.  He listens to literature so much that we’ve had to put restrictions on him so we can actually talk to him.  He loves to listen to his science textbook over and over again until it’s practically memorized.  He’s made great leaps this year through this method, and has grown in independence as well.  I still keep him reading his mandatory 1 chapter/40 pages, and he’s gone through several Beverley Cleary books, Encyclopedia Brown detective stories, as well as some other detective short readers that way to just keep him moving forward with reading the words himself.

His other big leap was in math.  It’s always been his best subject.  He was doing 5th grade Teaching Textbooks, finished it in a hurry, and started the 6th grade program in an attempt to pass up his big sister and annoy her.  His standardized testing showed a 4 year math leap this last year, from 5th grade ability to 9th grade ability. When he saw that, he wanted to skip to 9th grade, which I said no to, because last time I let him skip a grade in math he found he had some big holes and ended up being quite frustrated.

So he’s been doing the 6th grade math, pushing 4-5 lessons a day in his free time to pass his sister, getting 100% on each lesson and talking about how boring it is.  I have started exploring switching the kids to Khan Academy for math next year.  The pros are that it’s seems to be more rigorous than Teaching Textbooks, and it’s FREE (perhaps the biggest bonus of all).  The con seem to be that it’s an online program and we have a history of inconsistent internet.  I hate the idea of skipping math for a week because our internet is down.  Of course, we could just declare those days “Life of Fred Days” which my kids love reading just for fun anyway, which are hilarious stories of math theory.

So my plan is to get Silje and David exploring Khan Academy this summer, just playing around, and then decide if we should switch.  The kids have been “playing” on that website for a week during free time, and they are so obsessed and love it that I think this will be an easy decision.  It IS harder than Teaching Textbooks because the kids are struggling with even being at the 6th grade level on there.  You can’t sort of know it on there.  You either know it or don’t.  So right now they are “playing” on the early math section, where it covers mastery of all elementary math concepts and checking for any holes in their learning, so the computer program can place them exactly according to their levels.  It’s a mastery-based program, which I adore.  I’d much rather see that my kids understand it totally and completely than to know they got a B- and are moving forward on a limp.

Silje 11, 6th grade

Silje and I have had a few problems with school for this year too.  There are 2 reasons for this.  The first is she joined the public school orchestra.  It’s a lovely orchestra, and she loves it.  But it meets on every 1, 3, and 7 days on an 8 day schedule rotation laid over a 5 day school week with holidays and teacher work days thrown in there.

So in other words: random days on our calendar with zero consistency.  Also, it meets over our lunchtime.  Having activities in the middle of the school day has proved extremely problematic to the “flow” of our work.  Knut’s mom has generously offered to take her in to town most of those days, and that has been a total lifesaver.  Interrupting 1 kid mid-school day is hard enough.  Interrupting everyone to take them to town is nearly impossible.  I like that Silje gets to see her grandparents more, and she often visits her great-grandma when they are in town, or run errands and help out.  Those are all good.

But the bad part is that she really has a tough time finishing her schoolwork when she gets home.  Sometimes she doesn’t get back until 3 or 4 in the afternoon because that’s when her ride comes back.  I’ve tried sending schoolwork with her to do in the car, but it is never done.  The other kids are done by then, and she has to spend the rest of the evening doing her schoolwork while the other kids play, which she hates.  It’s caused attitude problems.  Even when she does come home right after her orchestra practice, getting her back on task is a fight…every time…without exception.  I’m so tired of fighting.

The other problem has piggy-backed on that.  She has always been my list-maker, highly motivated student who I could trust to do a good job just because she knew no other way to do it.  I gave her probably too much independent work, because in years past she has handled it and thrived on that system.  I would check on some of her independent subjects every week or two, and give her a few suggestions for improvement, smile and say “as you were” as she continued to study away at her schoolwork.  She was just thirsty to know everything, and I just had to move out of her way.  It was a good system.  She was such an easy student.

This year, we’ve had some trust broken as she hasn’t been doing her work.  It totally came at me from left field, so to speak.  She says things are done, and when I check on them, I see nothing was done for 2+ weeks.  It started with math, her least favorite subject, and moved onto writing, and then she even stopped reading the books I assigned her.  And she loves books!  So why?!?! For a good month or so, every time I checked on her work it wasn’t done, when she told me it was.  You think at first it’s just a little mistake, or just a one time deal, and then you realize there’s some bigger, deeper things going on, and we need to restructure our system for more accountability.

So we’ve had to switch to a check work as soon as it’s done, every day, no matter what I’m in the middle of doing.  I’ve started shutting off her wifi access on her iPod touch until after schoolwork is checked and completed.  I’ve started to hover, to make sure her work is done at the time she says she does it.  Because I can’t climb stairs all day long with my big belly, she now has to do her schoolwork on the main level where all of us are and can no longer do it in the sanctuary of her room anymore.  That way I can tell if what she’s reading is what was assigned at a glance.  It’s turned into a doors open, fully disclosed school situation, and she could not be more displeased with this.

I’m kicking myself more than anyone that I allowed her this much freedom.  In past years she could handle it, though.  She always had her work done, and usually had even worked ahead.  We are in a new season now.

I have described the cons of this year, but the pros have been pretty fantastic as well.  She is really at this age where she is questioning everything.  Is what God says is really true?  Does God’s command to love our neighbor (even brothers) be trusted, or should we just look out for ourselves? Can God be trusted?  How do you disagree with your parents in a respectful way?  Is that even possible?  Is God really there for me?  Why are we baptized?  When should I start taking communion?

She thoroughly enjoyed the evening Lent services at our church this year, and hung on every word and took notes without us even asking her to.  Her brain is alive with questions on such a deep level.  She’s excited that next fall she will be joining the confirmation class for 2 years at our church that is lead by our pastor where we go over the “whys” behind so much of our doctrine.  A once a week discussion on theology with a seasoned pastor?  To her that sounds like the most fun ever.  She is definitely fully in the “logic stage” of our classical homeschool.  It reminds me of my weekends with my grandpa when I was in jr. high, studying confirmation lessons.  He was a retired pastor/missionary, and I was going through my own shaky season of being frustrated with everything in life.  It was fantastic.

We have these long 2-3 hour long conversations about friendships, her future, her life, her faith, God’s purpose for her, and all of her dreams…probably 3-4 times a week.  It has been consuming and exhausting for me, but at the same time I’m so honored that I can, and honored that she’s asking all these things, and though we don’t always see eye to eye, I love watching her brain work and her own opinions forming, and light dawning.  It’s been truly amazing.  What an exciting time!

I’m looking at doing some big logic books with her this next year.  We’re going to do The Art of Argument which talks about logic based arguments in a debate format.  It’s right where she’s at and I’m sure she’s going to eat it up.

As for her standardized testing this year, she didn’t do well as well in math, (she fell behind in that “season” we lived through of attitude issues) so she will be working on that a bit this next summer to catch up.  Fortunately she’s super excited about “playing” on the Khan Academy math this summer.  She is already really into their free courses on computer coding, which are excellent.

BUT!  All of her other subjects on her testing put her at a 11 or 12th grade level from reading, general knowledge, etc., with spelling being a bit lower, in the 9th grade range.  She asked if that meant she was soon ready to graduate.  Ha!  No.  That’s not what standardized tests are for.  Plus, standardized tests don’t even cover all subjects.  I see as her teacher as I’m moving her into more difficult books of high school literature that she’s really struggling to grasp them, as great of a reader as she is.  She can get the bones of it, but her brain is still developing the parts that will see between the lines to see symbolism, truths and lies, themes, etc.

In my opinion, she’s right where she needs to be in her schooling.  Like all students, ahead in some things, behind in others.  Strengths and weaknesses.  In the classical model of schooling, the first years of school (grammar stage) you just absorb a ton of information as your mind is a sponge.  The second stage (logic stage) is when you start questioning all the facts/information, and asking the “why” behind everything.  The third stage is still in front of us, (rhetoric stage) where you start arguing, or defending something to be right or wrong, true or false.  That will be her high school.

So we are not just learning information with her anymore.  We have a lot of “whys” a lot of argument and debate, and discussions, discussions, discussions.

It’s been hard on my throat.  Seriously, I’m drinking “throat coat tea” like it’s water this spring.  It’s been hard, but it’s been good.

Almost Ann Voskamp

But truly, we all end up (or should end up) back to the basics of the gospel and ho

Some readers who have been around this blog for a few years will remember “I’m Blessed” Monday link-up that I used to host.  It never really took off like I hoped.  I wanted to have a fun link-up on my blog, and when I brainstormed, the only one that really inspired me was one where we didn’t complain, but just thought about what we were grateful for in our lives.

In fact, thankfulness was a thought that I was very passionate about exploring, especially in times of stress in my life.  Just like I’ve been on the concept of “rest” for the last year or so.  I found the idea of thankfulness to be transformative.

It turns out, there was already an enormous link-up that had been going on for years on the same topic.  It was written by another farmwife, homeschooler even, with 6 kids.  So she had one-upped me there.  I am so oblivious to so many “big name” people, that I didn’t even find out about this woman until several of my blog readers said I was just like her.  So I googled her to see if this was a compliment or not.

It turns out that she had a bigger blog, and had actually written a book on thankfulness, and it was on The New York Times Bestseller List forever.

Her name is Ann Voskamp.

Ann doesn’t know this yet, but we’re totally going to be best buds in heaven.  We are soul-sisters for sure.  If we were neighbors here on earth, our husbands would grill together, and probably debate the merits of John Deere vs. Case tractors (I see her husband is a John Deere man…), and how their wives need to learn to just get to the point without using 20,000 words.  I read her book and cried.  I tried reading it to my husband and he looked at me confused so many times that I stopped trying.  He doesn’t like poetic language that much.  I loved to just dwell on the beauty of the words like I was soaking in a hot tub.  It was lovely.

Have you ever been driving in your car, and right before you turn on your right turn signal, the car in front of you turns on his signal?  Then just before you were going to change lanes, they change lanes first.  After a few miles, when you’re just driving home, this car is matching you move for move, but in front of you?  “Quit following me in front of me!” we say.  For a long time, I felt like Ann was following me in front of me.

She had written the book that I was brainstorming and had actually outlined chapters on my own (though hers was sooooo much better).

She had the photography skills that I was working on developing.

She had the use of poetic language that I had dreamed I would grow into.

She had the connection with her readers like I was trying to build.

Even her house looked like my Pinterest idea boards.  In fact, a lot of her pictures made it to my board too.  That woman has great taste.

As I’m having my 6th child now, I feel like I’ve almost made it to Ann Voskamp status.  But now I see she’s in the process of adopting a child.  I was so close… (snap!)  Seriously, though, I love following her heart on adoption.  I’ve been receiving email updates from a Chinese orphanage for 2 years, just so I could pray for the ministry there.  Why did she have to pick China?  That was my ‘secret’ prayer spot that I hadn’t even told Knut about.

I wasn’t following her.  If I wanted to be her, I’d start using words like “orb” to describe the moon.  Well… now I might.  It’s a fun word.  I just kept matching her turn for turn for awhile, and it just felt weird.

Plus, we both have “Ann” in our names.  I’m Gretchen Anne.  Though my Anne has an ‘e.’  I one-upped her there on that one.  I have to have at least something.

Well, maybe I’m not driving directly behind her.  I’m about 10 miles (years) back in progress.  It’s tempting to want to speed up to try to drive alongside her.  I think God put a speed governor on my life, which I’m grateful for…most of the time.  But I still see her, and keep trying to convince myself that I’m focusing on God’s leading, not some other writer’s footsteps.

Because really, the world could use multiple Christ-followers.  But the world only needs one Ann Voskamp.  And being Ann Voskamp was never my goal.  I just kept seeing her in front of me, and I’m not sure what that means, besides God saying, “I can use anyone.  Even a farmwife with 6 kids who lives in the middle of nowhere.”  To me, that is the great encouragement about “knowing” her online.  (I put it in quotations because we’ve never spoken online, except in imaginary terms.)

And sometimes I wonder, what in the world is God going to do with a Gretchen Ronnevik? Perhaps it will be smaller, quieter, and less on the radar.  Sometimes I think I’d be just fine with that.  I like my quiet.  God has taught me in the last 15+ years that his calling on my life is often as simple as sharing grace to the single person he put in front of me, whether that be my 3 year old, my neighbor, or my husband.  It’s the simple act of loving the person he gave me to love, no matter how glamorous that is, and often isn’t.

As Elizabeth Elliot said, “When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.”

And sometimes, I see these trends among writers.  I’ve been trying to write out my thoughts on “Rest” for awhile now, and now I see all these books coming out on rest, the Sabbath, and what resting in God means and looks like.  It’s tempting to say, “I was going to write that book, though probably not as well…”

I think it goes that way in the Christian writing world.  I think that means that we are all tapped into the same Spirit, and when the Spirit brings about revival and focus in one area of our culture, we all start talking about it in our own words like crazy, and the idea starts getting repeated from hundreds of mouths. Then all the voices get louder, and people start to listen.  I think we underestimate the power of numbers.

Being a Christian writer, it’s tough when you want to feel “special” or “different” or stand out in some way with your fresh ideas…and you realize that all your ideas are a couple of thousand years old already.

But truly, we all end up (or should end up) back to the basics of the gospel and how Jesus paid it all.  As a writer, it feels so redundant, so unimaginative, so copy-cat.  We each have our voice, but the message is just the same again, and again, and again.

And I’m learning, that doesn’t seem to bother God at all.  To him, it’s like looking at a field of mass daisies or tulips.  Each one is different, but the unity of their message is just striking.  I’m not actually following my “buddy” Ann.  We just happen to be traveling on the same road.