Praying Together as a Family

Monday, June 24, 2013

I’m not sure where I thought of this idea.  I’m sure I didn’t actually “think of it” – I probably saw it somewhere at sometime. I’ve incorporated our own version of the “Prayer Box” into our family life and we love it!  It helps us focus our meal-time prayers and open up the world of praying for others to our children in an easy, applicable way. 

Join me over at The Better Mom today to read more! :)

Questioning Food and dropping SUGAR... eeek!

Friday, June 21, 2013

I'm on a bit of a kick right now when it comes to habits.  I've been really challenged from within to make some big changes and what better place to share than here?  :)

So... food.  I love food.  I love all kinds of food.  I have especially been drawn to food that isn't at all good for me.  Sugary, fatty, salty - you name it.  For years, I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  I was very (VERY) addicted to sugar and I would think nothing of eating two bowls of ice cream and a chocolate bar for a 'bedtime' snack.  Honestly.

This wasn't THAT long ago but it feels like it's been years since I ate like that.  Really?  It's only been about 5 months.  Can I share with you some of what has happened in the past five months?

Not because I'm 'there'.  But because this journey just HAS to be shared, in hopes that it could positively affect another person on this planet.  I feel I just have to share the transformation I've experienced over the past few months.  It's like it's my civic duty.  Ha.  But I'm also just really pumped!

And, just to emphasize that I'm still journeying, still seeking... and, yes, a little crazy - here's the pile of reading material I picked up at the library this week:


So, my tendancy is to question things.  Question the school system, question how we think about parenting, question how we look at media and pop culture, question what society tells us is 'normal'.  The one area I've really neglected to REALLY question is food.

We were Vegan for about a year when our youngest was a toddler, and I really knew this was a healthier option to the typical meat, milk, cheese and potatoes diet in most Western homes.  But I was young, uninformed, and didn't do the research needed to really go Vegan in a healthful, sustainable way.

I believe most of us have the best intentions for our families.  We want to be healthy and for our children to be healthy.  We want to cook great meals full of nutritious foods.  We envision what kind of healthful, mindful kids we'll raise.  But - so often we lack the knowledge, time, ability, resources, you name it, to really make it happen as it should.

So, some of us (ehem, me!) give in to the 'norm' and start buying a lot of processed foods, allowing our children to have too much fat, sugar, and just plain junk.  We start thinking potato chips are an acceptable 'side' dish with a sandwich.  We lose sight of that great vision we had for our family's health.

I get it.  I've been there.

But there was one thing that kept haunting me that I really couldn't ignore any longer.  Despite our children being healthy, active, and vibrant - I knew the way we were eating wasn't optimal.

And sometimes, it takes something drastic and persistent to wake you up.

 

For me, it was the headaches.


Since our first child was born, I'd had chronic headaches that only got worse with each child and remained awful after our third.

Almost daily I'd have pounding headaches that I just didn't understand.  I had been to the chiropractor about a sore neck, my adjustments helped a bit but didn't get rid of the pounding head.  I had talked to our Naturopath on several occasions and we'd figured out I was anemic.  I started increasing iron and taking a supplement.  Felt better but still had headaches.

Then, I remember what had been suggested to me by our Naturopath in the past:

"Cut out sugar and drastically reduce fat from your diet.  
Try that."

Oh.  Just, try that.

It sounded like a death sentence.  No SUGAR?  No FAT?

But, as I took time to really think about what I was going through with the constant headaches, fatigue, and how much weight I'd gained (30+ pounds), I started to really consider what might happen if I did *gulp* drop sugar and much of the fat from my diet.

When I realized I was taking up to 8 Advils every single day, I just knew something had to change.  Fast.

So, I decided, I had nothing to lose.

About four months ago, I went cold-turkey.  I just stopped eating sugar.  No added sugars in my coffee (and I was a double-double kind of girl), no sugary treats (NONE- yikes, I know...), no sugary cereals, snacks, jams, drinks, on and on.  Just as little sugar as humanly possible.

(Yes, there is added sugar in many processed foods, I know.  So, I dropped most processed foods from the diet too.)

I also dropped fat.  I stopped eating any fatty, empty calories and stopped eating things like butter, chips, snack foods, etc.  All, by the way, my usual go-to snacks for a pick-me-up.

Guess what?

I mean, GUESS WHAT?

I lost about 5lbs in the first WEEK.  Oh, yes, I did.  And that was enough motivation to keep on going.

And by week two, not only had I almost dropped 10lbs, my headaches?

My headaches were GONE.

I mean, not just sort of gone or a bit better.  GONE.  Completely and utterly vanished.  I couldn't believe it.  It was like a haze had been lifted from my whole body and especially my head.  My eyes were opened wider, I felt so alive!  I couldn't believe how the headaches were stealing my life and my joy.

I'd lived YEARS with chronic 'pain' and was relieved of it in mere days by simply CHANGING MY DIET.

Wow, imagine that.  Now, I should add - this is something I knew inherently.  I'd been raised in a home that was somewhat health conscious.  I understood there was a relation to health and food.  We ate pretty well - most people would probably say we were a pretty 'healthy' family.  But, that's comparing ourselves to the norm.

Friends, do we EVER want to compare ourselves to society's norm?

Society's norm is seeing more heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimers, and dozens of other highly food-related illnesses stealing our children and our loved ones too soon.  Society's norm, well, it sucks.

And once you realize what a MASSIVE change can take place based on what food you are choosing to put into your body, you can't deny the truth.

We are what we eat.

Eat crap - feel crappy.  Maybe not right away,  but eventually, what we eat will catch up to us for better or worse.

So, I share these things and all these sentences starting with "I" (man, I hate that...) because of this reason - I hope my story (as it evolves) can inspire and positively affect other people.  Other Moms.

Our journey to optimal health is only beginning.  Hubby and I are talking heavily about Veganism and going Veggie (I've been meat-free for several weeks and feel AWESOME!).  We're reading (hence the crazy pile of books) and we're praying for direction.  Praying for the best for our family and for our health.

Hopefully you can tolerate some posts about our journey to getting healthier and questioning our culture's food norms.  I'm excited.  Really, really excited.

I'm gazing out the back window watching our organic garden growing, thanking God for His bounty and His beautiful creation.  He has given us EVERYTHING we need in plant-based foods that we need for full health.  What would a diet based solely on what God gave us from the VERY beginning (Eden) look like?

Life is a hoot.  How this sugar-addicted girl who wanted to be a TV Producer has changed... haha!  I was saying last night that if I could start a 'new career', I'd focus on health, organic farming, and missions work.  (Imagine bringing sustainable, organic farming to the mission field?!)

Wow, how things can change.  I used to get excited about watching a great TV show.  Now, I get really, really excited about walks knee deep in creeks, and the sight of fresh, organic produce from a local farm share...


Have a happy, healthy, and simply beautiful weekend, friends! 

xo

Cass

Mama, it's okay to take care of you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013



My life, probably much like yours, is (for the most part) lived on high-speed.  Keeping up with an eight, six, and four year old all day long will do that.  It's better now than it was three years ago (yes, there is hope for those of you in the baby and toddler phase...) but it's still a little crazy some days.
 
Busy parents have to strive for peace, for calm.  We have to deliberately seek after that "center" place where all things come together and make sense and we are seeing that all-to-easy-to-miss big picture.
 
For years, I lived in survival mode. (Are you there right now?) 

My life looked like this:

Wake up in a groggy stupor to three children bugging me to get up, get up, get up.  Roll out of bed once they irritate me long enough (my husband would be long-gone for work at the crack of dawn), feed the kids, cater, clean, cry, feel overwhelmed, run, chase, fumble, yell, cry some more, apologize for yelling, put some kind of lunch together, read some books, try to do something fun and educational with the kids, put some kind of dinner together, bathe little bums, sing endless lullabies and get endless cups of water for children who stall bedtime for hours.

Then - fall into bed after all the work was done (usually some time around midnight).

Sleep.  Wake several times in the night.

Start again the next day and basically hit the repeat button.

Mama, if you're there right now, I understand.  I cry for you and feel the weight of everything you're going through in this season.

Don't let anyone tell you that it's not hard.  It IS hard. It's the hardest thing you'll probably ever do.  But, it doesn't last forever.  I promise.  It really, truly doesn't.
 
Please, don't misunderstand, I loved many parts of it - the baby/toddler/preschool stage when all was crazy and beautiful.  I love my children to the 'moon and back' about a billion times (as Alex says).

I loved the crafts, the songs, the hugs, the walks, the discoveries, the rare quiet moments with all three around me.  Family life is beautiful.  But, let's be real, parenting - it's hard.
 
But you know what?  I think I made it harder on myself.  No, I know I made it harder on myself.

I used to wake miserably.  I was unhealthy, exhausted.  I was making poor choices with what I ate.  I wasn't drinking enough water.  I wasn't taking time to nourish my body.  I had gained 30lbs of extra weight.  I wasn't LISTENING to what myself was telling 'myself'.  Something was awry.

I wasn't healthy in body.  I wasn't healthy in mind.  And I wasn't healthy in soul.  I was neglecting to find my daily center.  My daily inspiration.  My mornings were wasted in a grouchy stupor, my afternoons were spent catching up with what I didn't do in the morning.  My evenings we spent cleaning up the mess from the chaos of the day.

I was over-committed and overwhelmed.

Can you relate?



Friends, I've had to walk the moments of defeat to learn this truth -
habits have to be deliberately altered.

 It's not easy, but that's what I'm trying to do.  Take a good, critical look at my life and re-evaluate.  What needs to change?  Where are the 'bad' habits?  What habits need to be nurtured?  (I wrote about screen time habits recently... and that's still in process as well...)

But, honestly, I'm very intentionally changing the way I live within my family and within my own skin.  I'm not fully 'there' yet, but WHAT a difference in the way I feel.  About everything.

I used to think 'those Moms'  who got up before their kids were crazy.  In my house, that means getting up before 6:30am.  I'm NOT a morning person.  Or, at least, I wasn't.  Now, there isn't a morning I'm not up before the children and outside running or (on rainy days) downstairs in our make-shift gym, moving my body and rousing my spirit.
 
Sometimes, we just have to listen to our minds and our bodies and force ourselves to do what we know is needed but what we really don't want to do. (How's that for a run-on sentence?)  Then once we DO it, we'll realize how good it is for us.  Now, I can't imagine sleeping in past 6:30am.  The feeling of being up and moving before everyone else FAR surpasses the extra hour of groggy sleep.  (Hey, it only took me eight years to figure this out...)

There's something about us Mamas who really, really care about our families.  We can really get topsy-turvy about our role as a Mom.

I had to sit back and look at myself and realize, every one else was okay, but I wasn't.  The kids were doing great but Mama wasn't happy inside.  Mama was overweight, had constant head aches, and felt very trapped.

For YEARS I barely took time to recharge.  To refresh.  To step away.  To breathe.  To listen.  I got lost in baby and toddler world and refused to allow myself the chance to take care of me.  I would proudly proclaim, "ME TIME?  Pfft.  I don't need 'me' time."  Right, as if I was one step more noble than every other Mom who needed some time to herself I played the martyr and it nearly put me in an emotional grave.


 
Mama, if you're doing this today, in this season - stop.

It's okay to take care of you. 
 
You need to take care of you.
 
Please, take it from a self-proclaimed, 'independent Mom',  you need help and you need time to recharge.
 
When our kids were little, I didn't even let my husband help.  I was on crazy-Mom delusional juice.  It was so bad I didn't sleep for over 72 hours when our first son was born.
 
I thought, if I took time for 'me', I was somehow abandoning my kids.  I'm STILL fighting this feeling, eight years later.  Trust me, I'm a homeschooling Mom - there still isn't much time for 'me' but even taking 45 minutes in the morning to get up and exercise makes a world of difference.
 
I'm with the kids, hands-on, by myself, for at least 11 hours every single weekday.  Weekends we're together to, albeit, with hubby along for the ride.
 
It's intense.  I know, you know.  It's sacred, it's beautiful, it's amazing, but it's intense!
 
Another thing?
 
You need time to find your center, regroup, and power up for the challenge of Motherhood.  You need time with Jesus.  You need time to gaze at His glory and be filled so you can overflow.  For years I lived on empty and wondered why I had nothing to give.  Why are was so grumpy and so lost in my 'calling' as a Mom.

Go for a walk.  Alone.  Take in God's creation.  Hey, maybe even start jogging?  You will be doing a world of good for yourself AND your family.  They need you happy and healthy.  Don't be full of fear that if you take some time for yourself, everything will fall apart.  It won't.  In fact, things will likely fall into a much better place.

So, the big picture is this - your kids need you for the long haul.  Oh, yes, they do.

I'm encouraging you, Mamas - inhale and look around and realize, your children need you to be healthy, happy, and whole.  They NEED you to take the time you need to find your center and recharge.  So that you will be ready to serve them wholeheartedly and invest in their spiritual, educational, and emotional health.

You are so important, Mama.  So important that you need to take time to take care of you.

Go ahead,  it's okay.





Love you all,

Cass



PS. Tune in tomorrow to hear about some of the BIG dietary habits I've changed and how these choices have CHANGED MY LIFE....  honestly...


 

Listening.

Monday, June 17, 2013

 
So, I run now.  Ha!  Me.  And, if I can run, ANY ONE can run.  (I'm just adding that as a preface, in case you think I'm some fitness guru - I'm not.  Four months ago, I hadn't 'formally' exercised in years.)

But now?  In the mornings, the alarm beeps quietly at 6:00am, and I sneak downstairs and slip on my running shoes and I run. For years and years I was a self-proclaimed 'non-runner'. But lately, I've caught the bug.
 
I love running because I feel more healthy than I ever have (in my life).   But I love running especially because of the peace, the calm, the total solitude of the early hours.  When we sat in a circle at a homeschool meeting, I shared that this is where I find my center.  Where I re-group.  Some do it on a recliner, snuggling up with God's word, some look out a kitchen window and gaze at God's creation – I run through the woods.  Yeah, I'm a bit of a tree-hugger but I wouldn't trade it for anything. 
 
Another thing running has taught me, is to listen.

I tried a few times to put music on the ipod that clocks the kilometers. I tried worship tunes, the radio, even a sermon. (Go me, eh?)  But I could always hear the faint chirps of birds and scurrying of chipmunks and calls of loons drowned out in the background. I would end up taking the ear buds out every single time. Now, I don't ever bother with them.
 
Instead, I run and I listen to the nothing.  The nothing which is really such a magical something.
 
The sun rises in the distance and its rays glimmer through the trees on the horizon. I'm in sweaty, non-runner bliss. I even run with my arms raised to the sky.  I'm loopy, I know.  But, how can I not worship with the mourning dove and the hawk?

How did I miss this for 29 years of my life?

(And sometimes, I slow down and snap photos, like these ones from the other morning...)

 
 
 
 

 
When you're in nature, everything around you is calling you to surrender and re-align, and adore the creator.  That's why Charlotte Mason was so keen to have children spend at least three hours outdoors daily.  Daily.

So, in the mornings, I run, and I adore, and I listen.
 
To the sound of my feet hitting the pebbled path.
Thank you, Lord for a healthy body that moves. That I can choose to move.
 
To the sound of a that calling mourning dove, waking on a country roof.
Thank you Lord, for the song of nature's flight.
 
To the sound of a soft brown rabbit, leaping out of sight as I draw near.
Yes, thank you, Lord for fluffy things that hop.
 
To the sound of a creaking bridge as I cross.
Thank you, Lord for the bridges you build and for fixing the ones I burn.
 

 It has taken me almost thirty years to learn this truth - the quiet times aren't there waiting to be filled with noise. 

They are there to be welcomed and embraced, just as they are.

 
They are times to listen carefully to the symphony all around us. Rustling leaves and scurrying chipmunks. A heron lifting off the water's edge. The bubbling and gurgling of the creek in early morning light. These are all gifts, the most precious gifts we can open our hands and receive.

The gift of quiet.
The gift of nature.
The gift of hearing.

God's voice is found among the chirps and the waking and the flowing, ever-flowing waters. I find Him there.  You can too.

And He is here as well. In this kitchen. With chipmunks peeking in the screen door and chickadees at the birdfeeder and three children, healthy and laughing.

Friends on the other end of the phone, trucks moving outside, the neighbors ducks and geese making themselves heard.

Listen. Not to the TV or the radio or the music. Turn them off and surrender to the quiet. Encourage your children to do the same.  Get out in God's creation and open ears to the natural sounds that are all around you. You will hear the gifts and you will find the miracles.

Just tune in.




 
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Staying Small and Finding Wonder

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Every Spring, some time around mid-June, we wait for them. Week after week we march over the bridge and through the woods.  We gaze at the bogs and slowly moving river and hope for their return. Then, one day, the awe and wonder falls all around us as we stare at the ground and those tiny hopping miracles.
 


 
 
Toads. No bigger than your pinky fingernail. Everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE.
 
Today, I watch from a distance and wait for the high-pitched 6-year-old scream.

“MAMA!!! THEY'RE HERE! THEY'RE HERE!”

Yes, they're here. I smile wide, almost tearing up as the boys chase after her at top speed to witness the toad bog wonder.

She's beyond elated. I think she might fly as she bounces around waving her arms, hollering and motioning for her brothers to come witness the beauty.

The sun breaks through the clouds for a moment and shines bright on their backs as they crouch low to take it all in. I catch up and stoop with them. Yep. Thousands of toads, emerging from the mossy waters, finally, they have their legs and arms. They're ready to escape the bog and discover life's wonders. And just as they think they've found their freedom – one of my kids catches them and gently places them into a nature viewer. Oh, the irony! I chuckle at the thought of it.



 

 
 
 
“Mama, these toads are hoppin' everywhere. Be careful. Don't step on 'em.” Our littlest child scoops the hoppers from a gravel footpath and places them back in the grass and into an open bucket. He crouches low and peers into his catcher, poking and chatting up his new-found friends.

This is our weekday afternoon, and this is homeschool.  And I love every moment of it. I'm just as blissful as they are. These small wonders, it's what makes life rich. Because life is about miracles like this, the small, the precious, the unaltered-by-man miraculous. It's about leading children to a faraway place and showing them how to find the awe-inspiring and consequently, they find God at the very same time.  Because God is in all things beautiful and all things awesome.  Teaching them, by example, how to be over-taken and over-joyed by the littlest of things. Like the tiny hopping miracles that surround us on this pebbled path today.
 
 
 
 
 
Yes, they really are that tiny.
 
My attention leaves the micro-toads and I'm instantly enchanted by the breeze in a little girl's flowery dress and the raspy voice of a 4-year-old, in love with the dream of catching a dragonfly.

“Watch him, Mama!”

“THERE he is!”

“Over there!”

“THERE!”
 

I giggle as he bounces here and there following the path of a buzzing dragonfly. He wants to catch him so badly. Just to get a closer look at those beautiful wings. I get excited with him, prancing around, trying to chase an impossible to catch insect. We grab a net. I fail miserably, so Audrey takes over. She's incredibly talented at catching all things insect and amphibian related. She's an expert.  (Self-proclaimed, of course.)  Six years in the making, my friends!
 
She sneaks through the bulrushes and tiptoes towards a perched dragonfly and easily (and gently) captures it in a large net.

“I'VE GOT HIM, ALEX!!! Come quick!”

“MAMA! She got HIM!” He's screaming and bouncing on tip-toe now.

“That's awesome, Audrey, way to go!” I grab the Nature Viewer and help Audrey carefully slip the net over the top and in goes that beautiful creature.

 

 
 


We let it go and watch it buzz away, back into the thick of the swampy waters.  The kids gush over how 'beautiful' it was.

Our children are over the moon to catch a dragonfly. And I think part of this awe of nature is born in us. I believe we have an inherent desire to commune with God's creation. I just think most people stamp it out of themselves and consequently, their children. I know this because I've met enough children.
 
For me, Nature Study (the fancy term for being outside and taking a hands-on look at all things nature related) is among the most important 'subjects' we study. Why? Because I believe we need to put far more emphasis on nurturing a love of nature in our children than we do. Children today spend so little time outdoors and even less time just 'being' with God's creation. Just kneeling low with Mom or Dad and breathing in the smallest of wonders. Touching and feeling the slimiest of frogs or the fluffiest of caterpillars. Learning, by experience, that our world is full of wonder and that wonder isn't found at a shopping mall.
 
How do we inspire awe in God's little things? In the small miracles? In the humbling reality that we are just one of God's many, many creations? Instilling it deep in their souls that this universe is a gift and we are here because the Creator wills it and we can find him everywhere. We can find him especially in His creation. And we find Him when we seek and when we humbly get low with the ants and the toads.
 
“Mom!” Our eldest calls to me, a hint of worry in his voice.

“What's up, bud?”

“These tadpoles – they're trapped.” He points to a pathway that has flooded over from the recent rain.

“Look, Mom.” He gets closer and swishes his hand in the water. “They'll die here.”


 
I know what's coming next. We will have to find a way to save several hundred tadpoles from dying an unfortunate death on the pebbled path of doom. I smile wide and can't help but feel full of joy. All this nature romping has done something for these kids' souls. They care. They deeply care about God's creatures.

And I've spent many a-day caring for a sick bird or a lost baby mouse or a dog with no collar.  And now, tadpoles trapped on a path – this is a new one.  But, isn't that what the peace-makers do?  Make peace?  With people and with God's creatures?  I want our children to be blessed peace-makers.
 
The sun breaks through the clouds and shines bright on their backs as they crouch low to take it all in. Swiftly, they start strategically planning and scooping and moving pebbles to relocate the little slimy tadpoles. It takes nearly an hour, but, they do it. And I mostly let them do it alone. They need to accomplish the task independently. As they are scooping and rerouting water, I sit close by and talk to them, all three.

“You know what this reminds me of? That beautiful story about the little boy and the starfish. Remember? Once there was a little boy who saw hundreds of starfish abandoned on the sandy shore, unable to make their way back to the ocean. The boy was overwhelmed with sadness for the dying creatures.  He was also overwhelmed by how many starfish there were, but still, he started slowly placing them back in the water, one by one. An old man came by and made fun of the boy, saying: 'Are you crazy? You'll never save all these starfish. How can you possibly think you're making a difference?' And the boy replied...”
 
Simon interrupts me.

“And the boy replied, as he placed another starfish in the water – 'It made a difference to THAT one.'

 


 
I breathe deep.

“Yes, I love that story.”

“Yeah Mama,” Audrey looks up at me. “We're like the little boy. Only we're saving tadpoles.”
 
“Yes, hun... you are like the little boy.” We fall silent for a while, just taking in the breeze and the water and the little bitty jumpy things and the little bitty wriggly things.
 
This is the school of the little things. Because this is something we learn. To search for the little miracles. To care about the little creatures. And to do the little things we can to make this world a better place. Even if it seems like it won't make any difference at all. It will and our children must know these truths. I want our children to be like that boy saving starfish.  Like the boy, who in his saving, was really loving.

Whether it's starfish.

Or tadpoles.

Or people. Especially people.
 
After a long time, we stand and gaze down at the puddles which were once full of struggling tadpoles - now nearly empty of anything wriggling.

Audrey leans over and pushes the water with her little hand.  “I think we saved 'em all, Mama.” She whispers it, smiling proud.

“I think you did,” I look at the beauty around us. “And I'm sure God is smiling.”
 
And I'm sure He is.

Crouch low friends. Get small. Find the miracles in the little things and inspire your children to embrace the simple, small truths that wonder is something far too valuable to forfeit and far too priceless to be purchased.
 
It really is true – the lower we get, the wider we open our eyes – the more we see God. The smaller we stay, the wider the wonder.




 


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When you feel like you've flunked. {About learning to read...}

Thursday, June 6, 2013



Three weeks ago, out of nowhere, our outgoing six-year-old daughter clings to me and refuses to go to Sunday School.  I'm baffled.  She loves her teachers, the lessons, her friends, the songs, the crafts.  We sit quietly together during the service and draw pictures to each other.  I wonder what could be wrong.

Later that night, she sits close on her pink bed spread and tells me the 'why'.

"I can't write words, Mama," she wells up instantly.  "All the other kids can write words except me.  I want to know how to read too..."  Her lip quivers and I sit silent, heart broken.

Oh, baby girl.  My sweet, sensitive, soul-girl.  Artistic, expressive, emotional, so compassionate.  She's six and she can tell you who DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt are but, she can't write words on her own.  No, not yet.

She loves insects and caterpillars and toads.  She's precious in God's sight, and in mine.




She does Math a year ahead and can write four pages straight of copy work, but she still can't really read fluently.  And with the struggle to read comes the struggle to spell.

And it didn't matter one bit until she had to sit in a room full of other children and feel centred out (probably mostly in her own sensitive mind) because she's different.  Because she's "behind".

And in that very moment, in her quiet room, with her big blue eyes in tears - I feel it heavy on me. 

That big, fat word - Failure.


The thoughts flood in:

If she was in school, she would be reading fluently.

She's behind her peers.

I'm doing something wrong. 

If she was in school, she wouldn't be struggling.

Cass- You're not doing what you should as a homeschooler.  You're failing.



The onslaught hits me in less than a minute and my heart falls to pit bottom.

I kiss my girl and tell her I love her and that every one learns at different times and in different ways.  I hug her long and whisper:

"Oh, sweetie, you'll get it!  We'll work on it together.  We'll work on your reading every day as much as you want.  You'll be reading like a pro in no time, love."

She smiles and nods and hugs tight.  Trust.

I sit in the hallway after saying goodnight and wonder, maybe I've been wrong.   I mean, Simon was reading at five.  He practically taught himself once I gave him the very basics.  I never pushed phonics, sight words, and language arts because I felt if they weren't ready, it wasn't positive. 

It might sound strange, but I didn't push reading because I value it so highly.  


I have always been far more concerned about our children's LOVE of reading above their ability TO read at an early age.  I've met far too many children who learned to read in school at 4 or 5 and now HATE reading.  Some felt pushed, prodded, forced and reading became a chore.  I wasn't going to do that to my children.

I wanted reading to be a slow, easy, natural progression.  They would read when they were ready and willing.

But now look, a daughter in tears because she's not at the same 'level' as her peers.  Was I wrong all along?  When things like that happen, it makes you question your choices.  

And sometimes, it just makes you feel like you've flunked the whole deal. 

I sat, brow furrowed for a long time that night.  Then I marched downstairs, booted up the computer, searched 'sight words',  'popcorn words' and word families and started printing lists, laminating, pulling out phonics games and our Sonlight LA for grade 1.  I made a plan and we started the next morning.

For days and days we snuggled close and read words and made it happen.  I showed Audrey how to read word families and hugged her tight when it finally clicked that all the endings are the same...

We spend a lot of quality time together and I give her HEAPS of encouragement. 

And guess what?


It's been three weeks now and this girl - she's made progress.  And she's writing more.






She was ready and willing and she started picking things up.   She isn't reading fluently by any means, but she has made a good start.

We're  still very much in the process of continuing to learn and add to what she knows but I can't BELIEVE what she's gained in a mere three weeks of working hard.  She WANTS to do it and her success is all hers.  What a beautiful thing to walk alongside your child as they learn something so beautiful, so life-altering, so joy-filled.  I wouldn't miss this for the world.

This morning, she calls me over.  Her little box of sight words is in her hand.

She beams, "I know them ALL, Mama."

"Do you!?  Let's hear them!"

She lays them out and reads them with ease.  I squeeze her tight and she falls into safe arms.  Mama arms.  Teacher arms.

She's practically bouncing on her toes as we hug.

And the lies come rushing back and I remember how I felt that night on her bed:

Failure.
Loser.
Not good enough.


I shake my head and hold back tears.  No.  I won't believe the lies.  I'm shoving them out that low-lying country window.  How could this possibly spell 'failure'?

A curly haired girl in my arms, giddy that she 'did it'.  That WE did it, together.  Excited to learn more with Mama.  I am humbled.

And I've realized it.

Just because our journey is different, doesn't make it wrong.   And if your journey is different, friend, that's okay too.  And if your child is different?  Even better.  Because every child's path is unique and sacred, isn't it?  And isn't that just how God wanted it?





Yes, our daughter is learning how to read a little later than some others but that doesn't make her or her Mama a failure.  We are so far from failing when we're giggling and learning together in a cozy kitchen.

She's safe to learn at her own pace and in her own readiness.  Prompted by an experience that might have felt negative in the moment - but inspired also.  And that's okay too.  But she's still given the freedom to be embrace where she's at and if she wasn't ready to read yet - that's still be alright with me.

It is sad that our daughter felt so pressured by the comparison with her peers.  Sad that kids like her, the sensitive ones, are often broken down by their differences.  I never want her to feel like she has to 'keep up' with some one else.  But if that some one else inspires her to want to know something, that can be a gift.  How many times have I been prompted to grow as a person by meeting some one who knew more than I did?  Or by being introduced to a concept or skill I hadn't yet mastered?  It is a bitter-sweet experience, this 'peer group' deal.

She confides more to me the following Sunday when she again chooses to opt out of Sunday School.

"Mama, I just don't like big, huge groups of kids.  Like, gym day and Sunday School..."

She pauses and waits for my reaction, then adds in her little voice,

"I find it stressful."

I can't help for chuckle.  What six-year-old says something like that?  I love this girl.

I hold her close and whisper reassuring words:

"I understand,"  a grin spreads.  "I'm a grown up, and I find large groups of people stressful!  So I can understand why you would too."

She giggles and smiles and cuddles in to me.

"I really like to be with you, Mama."  She exhales.  "I just really, really like to be with you."

My heart melts.  And she's six.

Why shouldn't she just really, really like to be with her Mama?

Society wants to rip our children from us.  Tell us what they need to know and when and how they'll learn it.  Children in boxes.  But what child fits?

Real education is about finding ourselves on the pebbled path.  It's about relationships being strengthened and nurtured and minds being inspired.  It's that lighting of the fire and the stoking and the love sparks that ignite the soul and entire being.

And hey, if you've ever felt like you've 'flunked' this parenting thing or this homeschooling thing - you're not alone.  And, can I encourage you that perceived failures are just being part of the journey.

 They are an opportunity to reevaluate and either start again or keep trudging. 

And I've realized even more deeply that this crazy off-road adventure which is homeschooling is full off bumps and dips and valleys and beautiful peaks. 

An adventure where it's okay for a six-year-old to stick with her Mama, and it's okay for a six-year-old to blossom a little later, and it's okay for a six-year-old to tell Mama when she's ready for something.

An adventure where Mama learns just as much as the kids and family means growth and discovery together. 



A journey where right when you feel like you've FLUNKED, you realize, you were right where you needed to be.



Humbled.

Refreshed.

Renewed.

Realizing nothing real fits in a box and every child will surprise and delight again and again with their ability to triumph, discover, and inspire.

Realizing that no journey deserves a label. 

And embracing the truth that every child can and should delight in their own path.





(hug)



*An update on Audrey's reading journey can be read HERE.  To encourage you - she didn't fully start reading (early chapter books) until 2 years after this post!!!  It takes TIME, friends.  Rest in the truth that God has a plan and He is faithful.  Read more right here.

 
 

About Mama's Screen Time

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The hilarious thing about this post is this -  the entire thing was written once and got deleted somehow.  So, I'm now needing to spend MORE screen time to re-write it.  Oh, the irony.

You may have noticed that I've been quiet lately.  I certainly don't win the award for 'most consistent blogger'.  I can't figure out how some Mamas blog DAILY.  How?  No, really...?  I don't even know how to think of something worth saying 'daily', let alone finding time to put fingers to keys!  But, I've been quiet because I've chosen to take some active steps towards reducing my screen time. 

I mean, this post alone has taken me nearly two weeks to write.  Just because EVERYTHING else comes first.  Not that I don't love blogging and connecting with other Moms online, but because real-life HAS to precede screen-life.   And, friends - it has been really, really nice to spend less time sitting and more time gardening, playing, jogging, exploring, creating, researching, reading, cooking, visiting,  and actually putting old fashioned PEN to PAPER!   So, I suppose this post is about the journey of making my screen life less and my 'real' life more.

The first thing I should mention is this - our house is pretty void of screens compared to most, so I sometimes have a hard time truly relating to what many families deal with on a daily basis when it comes to screen time struggles. 

We tossed TV years ago.  Best thing we ever did.  So, that's not even an issue in our home.

We don't really watch 'programs' or movies.  Hardly ever.  If we do, it would be about 1 hour per week, I'd guess.

We don't have video games and will never have video games.  I won't get started on that one but will instead leave it for another post... *wink

But, we do have a computer.  Oh, the computer.  What a window it can be - to good and evil.  And it needs (NEEDS) to be monitored heavily, friends.  In our house, and in every house.  I say all this because this post about reducing my own screen time is heavily geared towards computer time, because it's the only screen I use.


Oh, about monitoring the kids' screen time...

In our home, there are many days when the kids will have zero screen time.  It's easy to spend all day playing, working on 'school' work, and enjoying active things like hiking, hunting for toads, and checking out waterfalls.  And because we have no hand-held screens with us anywhere we go, it's easy to keep screen time very controlled.

The thing about children and media is this - the more they watch, the more they WANT to watch and the less they watch, the less they WANT to watch.  I've seen how negatively media overload can affect our children and on the other hand, I've seen how positive it is for them when we drastically reduce media time.

So, that got me to thinking... what about me?

Sure, there were many days the KIDS weren't screen-gazing, but, there was barely a day that passed without ME spending time on the computer.  Why was I so concerned about monitoring the kids, yet, showed no initiative in challenging my own habits?
 

About Mama's Screen Time...

Over the years, I've run various businesses that required a lot of work online and on the computer.  I write.  I take courses.  I blog.  I work with an organization in Uganda, which requires a lot of emailing and promotional work.  Lots and lots of things have begged me to sit in front of this glowing computer screen.  And I have.  Oh, I have.  There have been nights I've jumped on the computer the moment the kids were in bed and stayed there for 3 or 4 hours straight.

It's not that I was doing anything bad.  It's just that I was spending HOURS in front of a screen.  It started to wear on me and I really saw the negative affect it had on my body, my mind, my mood, my overall productivity.

I realized I needed to make some major changes in my own media life.  And that's what I've done.  I'm still not 'there' or by no means perfect, but, wow, have things changed for the better.  That's why I share this with you.  Not to say, "look at me", but rather, to share my mistakes, my short-comings and encourage you with how I've been inspired to make changes.  And those changes have made SUCH a positive impact on our family.


Why bother controlling our screen time?
Some of the big reasons I changed my media habits:


1.  Because I want to focus on what's really important.

I really want to live a life focused on the things that truly matter. 

I know it's kind of shocking but, Social Media isn't reality.  (I know, I know...)  There are many positive aspects of connecting with friends and family online (look at this amazing little community, for example!) but the truth is, it isn't the firmest depiction of reality.  Often, what's going on 'online' is truly not that important to our daily lives.

I mean, did I really need to see another video of a giggling baby or read ONE MORE description of some one's dinner menu?  Through social media, we really get sucked into a lot of random jabber.  There's the uplifting and educational posts and articles but there's a whole lot of fluff too.  There is so much 'stuff' flying at us constantly that we go on overload.  And most of that information is not important in the grand scheme of life.

I want to spend my days and my nights focusing on the things that are eternal.  (This is a work in progress, friends!)  But really, focusing on the things that will really matter at the end of life.  Relationships.  People.  My walk with Christ.  Servanthood.  Deepening my friendships. Reaching out to those in need. Some of that can be done online, I admit.  I've had good chats and stayed connected with friends and family who were far away through Facebook, email, etc.  But nothing beats a real conversation, a real hug, a real moment.  The feeling of a cool breeze on your face during a early morning jog.  The sound of bullfrogs at twilight.  This is life.  These things are real.  Time to reflect and give thanks and look up - these are the things that are so hard to do in front of a screen.

Online we get pulled into so many distractions that the 'real' gets skewed and the 'eternal' often gets lost.

2.  Because our children are watching.
This is HUGE.  I want to model the kind of behavior I hope to see in my children.  This includes many things, but it definitely includes media habits!  How can I rightfully ask them to monitor their own media time and be responsible with their use if I'm not doing the same?

I want our children to remember a Mama who was engaged in real life, not lost in front of a screen.  I want them to see me present with them, enjoying time reading, creating, moving, exploring, hugging, writing, talking, engaging with friends and neighbors, serving - living! 

 A couple of years ago, one of our kids told an acquaintance that, "Mama is ALWAYS on the computer..."  I was mortified.  It wasn't necessarily reality, but it was the child's true perspective and it really made me aware of how our children were seeing things.  I don't want my children's memories of me to be of a back turned and a face stuck in the computer.  That makes me shudder.

I knew changes HAD to be made.


3.  Because I want to be in control of my habits.
Ah, habits.  Yes, Charlotte Mason, I love you!  How convicting to look inward at my own habits rather than constantly trying to form those of my children.  Our habits form us, friends. 

Reaching for the computer on a constant basis is a habit. If we feed that habit, our computer use (or TV, or iPhone, or whatever screen) will start to take over.  The habit will form how we live our days and ultimately who we become.  This should be a sobering thought, friends! 
Changing a habit takes action and discipline.  We have to be willing to move towards a different habit. 
There's a reason why there are no screens permanently visible in our home.  It's a form of habit changing and habit building.  The more screens you see, the more you are drawn into them.  The habit being formed is that of contentment and focus on real, living things and people.

4.  Because I don't want to miss the moments around me.

I know I write this to so many Mamas.  And among you, there are so many homeschooling Mamas.  We all want the best for our children and families.  As a home educator, I'm so gifted and blessed with the opportunity to see my children grow and learn every single day.  It is an honor and not one every parent gets to choose or experience.

It's easy, though, to get sucked in and lost in the online world of blogging, writing, researching, looking at Facebook, you name it.  I think a huge reason why homeschoolers blog and go on Facebook is for community.  Many of us can feel a little isolated.  But, friends - don't get pulled in.  Choose to connect at the appropriate time and work towards building real-life friendships with other Moms.
 
Here's what I found - the more I used the computer during the day, the more I missed the things around me.  The discoveries, the snuggles, the funny story, the joke I didn't have time to laugh at.  I was really, really missing it.  I saw the children's faces when I said, "Just a sec..." one more time.
I just got to a point where I had enough of that lifestyle.  It wasn't worth it.  There is nothing happening in this screen that is more important than what is happening right here around me.  These people - my husband, these children - they are not forever.  They are here for today.  How can I possibly let media time compete with family time? 

5. Because I want to be balanced and healthy.
I want to strive for a healthy soul, body and mind.  I want to nurture positive lifestyle habits in myself and my family.  Hours of screen time just doesn't lend itself to a full, balanced life.  I'm sure most people can see and understand this truth.  There is an epidemic of obese parents and children at the same time there is an epidemic of media overload.  Inactivity does murder to the mind and body, friends. 
As a follower of Christ, I believe I'm called to live a healthy life.  The healthiest one I know how to live.  And for me, I've been convicted about screen time for various reasons.  Too much sitting around.  Too many distractions.  Too many times getting lost in what isn't important.  Staying up too late doing 'work' on the computer.  Becoming lazy in front of the screen.

Also, I really want to be working hard within my home.  It is my job to be a productive homemaker, educator, and wife and mother.  I just don't feel I'm doing the best I can do when I'm spending too much time in media land.  It just isn't healthy for me.


Three of the BIGGEST (and BEST!) 
Media changes I've made:

1. Drastically reducing or eliminating computer use during the day.
I used to log on to the computer several times during the day.  I'd browse Facebook or Pinterest.  I'd search recipes and look for craft ideas.  I'd check messages and emails.  When I was working from home, that would lead to returning phone calls or placing orders.  I'd get so distracted and lost in this stupid screen that the kids would start drifting from their tasks and start arguing, running around, doing anything to get my attention.  It was very, very negative for our family.  Even if I was only online for 15 minutes, it never ended well.
When your eyes are opened to something that just isn't healthy for you, it's so important to listen to those convictions and act on them.  So, I started asking myself why I was going online or trying to get 'work' done during the day when the kids really needed me.  And I started realizing that it was just a bad habit I'd trained myself to do.  If things were quiet, I'd gravitate towards the computer.

For about a year now, I've completely limited my day-time computer use.  (I try not to go on the computer at all and if I do, it's for the kids' homeschooling.  If I need to check a message or update Facebook, I set the timer for 2 minutes.)  Because we educate at home, these limits are so important.  Our kids need me fully present and fully engaged during the day. It has done WONDERS for our productivity and the children are far happier and more engaged in our homeschool.

I'm also far more at peace, joyful, and WAY more effective in homemaking and homeschooling, as I've learned to use quiet times and times when the children are busy to get meals prepared, the next lesson prepared, tidy up, get laundry done, etc.


2.  Setting an over-all daily limit on Mama's screen time. 

No more than one hour per day is the goal.  This refers to the evening hours when the children are in bed.  I challenged myself to no more than 10 minutes on Facebook and 5 minutes on Twitter and Pinterest.  So far, it's been completely doable and very freeing to not be trapped in mindless Facebook gawking or time wasting social media traps.

I've also had several days/weeks where I've challenged myself to reduce Internet even more.  Either I've fasted completely the internet (namely Facebook, social media, blogging, etc.) or reduced it to ten minutes just to check email.

And you know what?  It's been WONDERFUL.  There is something very beautiful about not even reaching for the computer for days at a time.  We even took away our home 'office' so that computers are not easily accessed.  We actually have to pull one out, plug it in, and boot it up every single time we want to log on.  Our Mac is stored in our room and has to be lugged downstairs to get it going.   I've found this really helpful in keeping us from mindlessly surfing the web, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

(This is also why you haven't heard from me as often lately...)


3. Prioritizing and planning screen time.
This has been incredibly helpful in reducing and streamlining my time on the computer.  It's as simple as this: I make a list of what needs to be done on the computer and when I log on, I stick to the list.  I usually try to put the list in priority order.  My list could look like this:
1. Respond to email from Jenny
2. Email Brad from PAOC
3. Email James regarding school fees in Uganda
4. Check Facebook messages
5. Add image and publish blog post
6. Update Facebook blog page with new blog post

And done.
I simply sit down, follow the list, and check off the tasks as they are accomplished.  No deviating.  It works wonders when I stick to it.  *cough*


I really hope this post is informative and helpful.  I'm just another Mama striving to do the best job I can do.  I'm nowhere near perfect and struggling every day to find the most peaceful, fruitful, and meaningful path.  Big love and blessings to you!







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