Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happenings Around These Parts Lately

 Here is a little bit of what is happening in the small moments of my life lately.  I sorted my bags of beans and rice into clean jars. Then I got inspired and taped the bag labels on the jars. Just a small piece of organization in my home that all the cupboards and shelves wish that they had.
 This is a snapping turtle caught by my nine-year-old son with the help of his older sister. This turtle was caught in our 'creek'. It's not really a creek. It is the drainage water from the neighborhood and yet a snapping turtle lives in it and so do crawdads. We love our creek and it has provided hours of entertainment for these suburb-bound kids.

While my nine-year-old was catching snapping turtles, my 16-year-old was off for the weekend checking out a college. Eeek! How has this happened? How have they grown up? Because the oldest was off checking out a college, I can't even believe how much joy the catching of this snapping turtle in our yard brought me.


i
 I am finally getting brave enough to venture out on my own and purchase flowers and plant them. I think of my flower friends and gardening in-laws who have come alongside me to help me learn how to plant things. I've learned  a few things, especially how important water is to growing things. As in, you must remember to water your plants.

I can't even believe how happy it makes me to have planted flowers in my yard. I'm not very good at gardening because I am not too good at paying attention to when it is time to plant and taking advantage of good weather. So, I love my perennial bushes and trees that provide most of the color in our yard. But I am so excited about this small amount of flowers in my yard. It is a huge accomplishment for me.
This pictures is simply because it happened to be green shirt day for us and it wasn't even St. Patrick's Day! Three of the kids randomly selected green shirts so my oldest son put on a green shirt and told me that it was green shirt day. He even got wet mowing the lawn and changed into a second green t-shirt. The best surprise of the day was that Daddy was wearing a green shirt. He leaves for work before any of us are awake and so we never know what he is wearing. So it was a fun surprise that he, too, was wearing a green shirt. So we had to take a selfie to commenorate this very important moment.

What's happening in your world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Books to help grow deeper with God

I've been pondering for quite some time a post about my top favorite books. My top favorite fiction books are quite hard to narrow into a neat & tidy finite number that can be easily scribbled about on these pages.

However, as I have been thinking and writing and sharing some of what I am learning recently, I've realized that I am drawn again and again to the same books that help me in my walk with God.

These are the books that I read again and again. In some of them, I have taken to writing in the margins the date next to something that spoke to me and maybe something of the current circumstances that go with that date. As I reread the books, it is encouraging to read the longings in my heart that I prayed about that have been answered and to re-read the words that encouraged me during a particular season or challenge in my life.

The books I have found myself in repeatedly are the  Read Through the Bible in a Year checklist from Discipleship Journal, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot, and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

I have recently added two books to the rotation that I can see becoming regulars. They are 31 Days of Praise and 31 Days of Prayer, both of which are by Ruth Meyer. Another book on the honorable mention list is Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor.

Even as I write these few books down, I feel compelled to begin to mention the many other books that have helped influence and shape me.  

However, truly the biggest impact has been the encouragement to read the Bible directly for myself.

I read a passage of Scripture and then try to write the verse or verses that have stood out to me for that day. I say try because the writing doesn't happen every day. Yet, I like those days best. So that even when I am using a devotional such as Jesus Calling, I usually read the bible verses first, write the two or three verses down that are referenced and then read the devotional. Sometimes when I do this, I find that I spend more time -- or feel more spoken to -- in the verses referenced than in the devotional. Sometimes it is the other way around.

Before I began using devotionals more regularly, I read through books of the Bible, instead of the jumping around that occurs in the devotionals. I highly encourage this reading straight through of books of the Bible, and to reading all of it for yourself. It is good to understand the big picture, the whole word of God. Just keep reading bit by bit, day by day, year by year, for yourself. Read verses here and there due to devotional direction. Read verses in a book by book plan through the Bible. Read the passages that your pastor is teaching about. Read your Bible.

Though I find myself in the morning, reading devotionals, I still read through the Bible. I often use the read through the Bible in  a Year List and check off the books. 

If I am doing a Bible study or a devotional that day, I do that, but then, when I don't know what to do, I go back to my checklist of reading through the Bible in a  year and just pick up where I have left off.

It helps prevent me not reading my Bible just because I don't know what to read. So sometimes it has taken my three to five years to actually 'read through the whole Bible' due to my diversions. There have been other seasons when I have been determined to finish it in a year. For my son, who reads very fast, he finds a year is too long in which to read the whole Bible. He reads it much faster than that. I'm pretty sure that I have never done that.

However, my point is to find a pace that works for you and read through the entire Bible. And when you finish, begin again: either to read it in a year, or 3 months, or on the diversion trail that I have described. Do whatever pace works for you, especially for whatever season of life that you are in. Be encouraged that His word does not go back to Him void. He is faithful to bring forth fruit in your life due to the faithful reading of His Word.

In my reading times, I read a passage of Scripture, copy a verse or two that I really liked, and then I write some thoughts about what I read. Sometimes as I go through a particular book or passage, I will answer a few questions, selecting one or more from this list:

* What did I learn about God?
* What did I learn about Jesus?
* What I did learn about the Holy Spirit?
* What did I learn about man?
* What did I learn about believers?
* What did I learn about non-believers?
* Is there a promise to claim?
* Is there a command to follow?
* How can I apply this Scripture to my life?

Sometimes I will write down my prayer requests. Sometimes I will write down questions about the passage that don't make sense.

Also, when I read the Word has changed throughout the years. For many years, I read just before bed. Then, when I got married and started a full-time job, I found it hard to read at bedtime so instead I read in the nooks and crannies of my time. When I was a mother with young children, I often read during nap time, if I could stay awake. Now, with older children, I find that I can take a leisurely time reading the Word in the morning again. It sure seems luxurious; I am trying to enjoy it because life has proven that it changes. There have been seasons when I have been able to read a lot and study the Word for hours several days a week. There have been seasons when I read the verse taped to my mirror each morning and dashed off to my responsibilities for the day. And everywhere in-between (including days, seasons of laziness).

Just keep reading the Word for yourself. No matter how long it has been since you last picked it up, just keep reading: Day by Day, Week by Week, Year by Year. I hope this encourages you to do that. If I can do it, so can you. Really you can!

How about you? 
What tips do you have  about how to spend time in God's Word in order to grow deeper in your walk with Him?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some thoughts on teaching writing




As I've been thinking about how to teach writing, I've scribbled a couple of thoughts about it here. I'm no expert on how to teach writing; I love to write, I love to teach., and I am teaching my four children  how to write and so I thought I would share a part of my  journey with you.

Content of writing versus form of writing

There are two basic layers to teaching writing: content and form. There is the WHAT of what you want to say, or the content, and then there is the HOW of what you want to say, or the form. One of the difficulties of teaching how to write is just this: learning how to write while trying to figure out what to write.

In one sense the form or rules of writing can appear easier to teach than the content of writing. Somehow the rules of writing: grammar, spelling, capitalization, and commas seem easier to correct than content but they are closely related to content because WHAT you want to say influences HOW to say it.

Yet, I do agree that Content is more difficult to teach because how can you teach someone to think and to articulate ideas if they haven't already been thinking for themselves. As I pondered this difficulty of the tension between how to write and what to write, I asked another homeschool mom in passing how she taught her children to write. She said, "They write every day" and then she had to dash off.

I wasn't sure how that helped me. But I took that little nugget and came up with a method for them to write every school day. Now, after a few years, I see the beauty in this. The way to learn how to do something, is to do it.


So it is in writing that one can learn to write. 

Learn how to generate ideas
So how do we write to learn how to write? A simple form is a 10 minute journal. Find a notebook and a pen. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Find a prompt: such as a word or a question. Start the timer. Begin writing and don't stop writing while the timer is timing, even if it means that you write: "I don't know what to write but I have to write for 10 minutes: over and over again. There is no worrying about spelling, grammar, handwriting. Just write without stopping for ten minutes.

This simple exercise teaches you how to get ideas out of your head and onto page or screen. You can use a pen and paper or a computer. This exercise is somewhat like playing scales on the piano. It gives muscle memory about how to write.

Getting to the ideas in our minds is one skill set while organizing and editing those ideas is another skill set. When I began this idea, I was surprised how much my children enjoyed doing this and asked to do this and often write longer than the prescribed time.

Later on in our schooling, the students have had writing assignments when they simply stared at me with no idea how to begin. Then I told them to set a timer and write on the topic for 10 minutes without stopping -- idea generation! Immediately they got unstuck.

I also have them edit journal entries once a week. They take one of the free-writing sessions and give it form and structure, proper spelling and punctuation along with other editing as needed, so that it can become a piece of writing that they are proud of.

The next part of learning how to write is to read. It is important to read great books, great fiction books. It will introduce the children to books that have something worth reading both because of its content and its form. It therefore becomes important to:

Find great books. Read great books. 
Read them aloud; read them quietly. Read great books.

Finding great books does not necessarily mean the top 100 classic books that every child should read before going off to college. There may be some books on that list that are great, however, not all books are great just because they are on that list.

You need to learn how to find great books that are worth reading again and again.

It starts by finding the books that impact your heart, mind, and emotions, leaving you a changed person. Now, there are those books that many love. Those are good places to start but don't worry if that book isn't for you. You will find your way in time. Although I do need to caution you that a lot of the great books were written in a time and an age where time was slower-paced than our world is so some of the great books need to be given time to warm up -- maybe even halfway through the book. Yet, even after giving it some time, you may find that the book still doesn't resonate with you. That's fine. Set it down and keep looking.You'll need to learn some discernment and learn which books are great books by reading them.

It is hard work finding great books. It is hard work to find the type of book that impacts you both with its message and with the way it is said, but keep looking because it's worth it!

When you find the great books, read them aloud and  give them to your children to read them to themselves and read them yourself and don't get in the way. Enjoy the story for the story sake. Do NOT make your student write a book report.

Do take time to discuss favorite treasured parts of the book, as long as it's not forced. Keep a quote book of favorite pages. Keep a book journal, making a list of the books you've read and what you do or do not like about them. Read what your children are reading. Ask them what they like about it. Let them enjoy the story for the story sake -- just like you would enjoy a movie without dissecting it. Read it. Enjoy it.

Remember that every great book you love or that your favorite English teacher loves or your aunt that is always reading loves just MAY not be the book that you love. But find the fiction books that craft a story that draws you in. But is imperative for you to find really great books and have your children read really great books. Writers read.

And it is in the reading great books with great ideas that it will stir and generate ideas in your students. Childhood is a time to instill in children what is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and true. Children are curious quite naturally. They are fascinated with dandelions and bring them to their mothers. Fan the flame of their interests. Talk with them. Answer their questions and ask them questions. Spend time together and these activities will build experiences, thoughts, observations, and perceptions that they can then begin to put on paper.

There are many more aspects to writing but these two are great places to start. The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a great book to read to be inspired to read aloud to your children and includes a book list in the back. I have found some treasures in his book and at least one of his books that he went on & on about, I didn't like. I didn't read it aloud. BUT, the rest of the book inspired me and made me want to change the world by reading stories aloud to children, adults, to all the people of the world. It gave me a great perspective.

As far as editing writing, I use Strunk & White's Elements of Style. It is not a complete how-to manual but it is concise and helpful.

Any other thoughts that you may have about teaching writing? 
Did you have an inspirational writing teacher that taught you?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

One of the ways to find joy

A snow concoction made by Jack.
In my last post I wrote about how savoring memories is my pathway to joy.  Then, I read another blogger's post about tracking what she learns each month. She mentioned a tip about how she looks back over her pictures from the month to help her remember what she has learned.

As I read that and thought again about my recent post about Christmas in February (yes, you read that correctly, I was writing about Christmas in February and the post wasn't even inspired by the snow and ice), it occurred to me that this is a very good place for me to start: reflect on the photos from the month. This practice will keep me on the path of gratitude which then leads to joy. 
Sophie & Jack built a snowman.

I need to spend time remembering. I need to remember the fun, the delightful, the special occasion moments, and the ordinary moments.

Many times Scriptures urges us to remember. Isaiah 46:9 says, "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me."

It is so easy to forget! This makes sense doesn't it? Our lives are full, right? Full to the overflowing cup, aren't they? Usually they are so full that I can't ...er...rather, more like... I don't make the time to remember.

Look! I can help decorate a table!
We run this way and that way. Recently our family has been running this way for a debate tournament and that way for a choir concert. Then while they are practicing I run to the grocery store for food and then to Target to get shampoo and dog food while my husband takes the recycling and works extra hours. Then, we race back to the tournament for the awards ceremony. Then after church on Sunday, we race to the choir concert. Whew! No wonder I am exhausted.

Gifts of love.
K&K Weekend Away
So, it is a given that when we're iced in for a week and all events are cancelled, I collapse. I'm thankful from the break of running around. Thankful to rest. However, when I arise from my sleepy stupor, I see the clutter, the walls that need painting, the light fixtures that need fixing...and many more 'things' that call my name and soon I begin to feel a different kind of exhaustion. This weather-imposed rest exposes how I live. I enjoy the time off but it is not enough time off of the hamster-wheel for me to tackle the clutter and the projects that will make my house more of the home that I would like it to be.

It is in this context of a running this way and that way life that I am finding that it restores my soul to look at my life that has recently flew past me. To stop, pause, and remember. I need to remember, lest I forget just as it says in Deuteronomy 6:11b-12a: "...then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord..."

I've been watching a love of reading burst into full flame with this one this year! As a primary goal of my homeschooling, this brings me such joy and is worth of much noticing!
For me I have found this pondering of photo moments so helpful. Remember it is my path, not all take pictures to remember. I can think of several joyful friends who don't take pictures and don't scrapbook yet they are joyful people. We each need to remember what the Lord has done for us; we are given much latitude in how we do that.


Hosting a friend of a friend at our house. She played games with the kids.


Barking & jumping to catch the tree.
This posting of pictures to highlight joy, thankfulness, and pursuing contentment is a tribute to the many bloggers who do a similar thing. It is not a new idea.







* Ann Voskamp's blog and her book 1,000 gifts. She writes about gratitude and offers many practical ways to make gratitude a practice.


*  The Like Mother, Like Daughter blog hosts { happy, pretty, funny, real }about pursuing contentment. She also has practical posts about managing a household of lots of children.


Our crazy dog can be sweet at times.

Debate partners.
Making cabbage bundles.




Fun taking pictures of the ice.

A closing thought about the pursuit of joy is that joy comes and goes. It comes as a byproduct. Let me close with these thoughts by Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection:Let Go of Who You Think You're Suppose to be and Embrace Who You Are. This is what she says about joy:
Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments--often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we're too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Sometimes we're so afraid of the dark that we don't let ourselves enjoy the light.
A joyful life is not a floodlight of joy.That would eventually become unbearable. 
I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.




Oh, how she glows after she's done singing!


God's gift to us. These couples that represent life to me. We were hand-picked to be together. So many times in my life, I am lamenting the friends with whom I can not be with and miss the beauty of the new friends he has given me in my life. Life moves on. People move to different cities, or across town, or to different churches. The friendships can stay alive but they are not there in your day-to-day life anymore. I am so loyal that this aspect of friendship is hard for me. The bummer is that I allow it the lament to skew my focus and I miss the people he has given me. This photos is from a couple's night on Valentine's Day and what a great time we had. So good to be thankful for those here with me now.



In Nashville, when the snow and ice arrive you must play and picture quickly.

This one is after her mother's heart: taking pictures of the ice!


This post of pictures and thoughts is my attempt at being thankful for these moments that have been strung together gracefully for me in the month of February. One simple way of putting myself into the pathway of joy.
 
How about you? 

How are you intentional about finding joy?







Monday, February 16, 2015

Savoring the memories, captures the joy



Yep. It's true. You are seeing Christmas photos in February. In a culture that speeds ever forward, I am tempted not to post these pictures. The voices in my head say: 'This is not current. This is not what we are doing today. Social media is about the ever-present now.Who is interested in this?'

As it turns out, I am.  I'm posting these pictures of our recent Christmas celebrations to capture joy. It brings me great joy, not just now but long into the future, to reminisce about special celebrations. Not only is it easy to move on in the technological world and not post pictures of something that seems like old news, it is easy to speed on in life. The next item on the agenda comes so quickly, begging to be checked off the list. It makes it hard to savor the good times.

Since it will be awhile before I put them in a book, I will savor these memories in a blog post. It was a special time. I live 1,000 miles from my family. I used to take for granted that I could get to see them whenever we had planned. Then, my husband lost his job. Our situation changed. The first Christmas that I didn't make it to Minnesota to see them I cried hard.

But it taught me a great lesson. Don't take it for granted. So in the that spirit. Posting these Christmas pictures is also about being thankful and grateful that we were able to go. 

I asked my kids what they liked best about our Christmas trip. We saw our cousins and went to a basketball game, pizza party, went ice skating, and snow tubing. I assumed that those would be at the top of the list. But they really enjoyed the time being able to read at Grandma and Grandpa's house and play games with them. They liked the events, too. But they also liked time to just hang out all together.

So enjoy the trip of getting to know us a little better and the highlights of our Christmas. Perhaps you can also think of ways to remember and be thankful for the good and perfect gifts that you have been given.

***
I met two new members of our family: our great nephew (yep, it's true: I'm a great aunt!)  and our newest nephew. What joy it is to welcome new members of our family and also play with younger members of the family.






***

We enjoyed some winter activities: snowman building, snow shoveling, ice skating, and tubing!
























***
We enjoyed extra family time: we watched my nephew's basketball game with a pizza party at my brother & his family's house, and a sleep-over at my sister's house. We played board games with Grandma and Grandpa.



***


We enjoyed traditional Christmas celebrations: looking at a Christmas photo album of my mom's that highlights 50 years of Christmas, eating our traditional polish sausage & poppyseed bread for Christmas eve dinner, conversations, and gift exchanges.











***



We enjoyed time with my extended family. We had a chance to join the annual Christmas party so I was able to see aunts, uncles, and cousins that I hadn't seen in 6 years. My children hardly remember meeting any of them so for them it could count as meeting my relatives. Santa even makes a special appearance every year for my relatives. See how special they are?






***
We had time to enjoy sleeping in, reading, playing games with my folks, and I even slipped away to see just a couple of girlfriends. So good to have down time to breathe.


Upon our return, we celebrated  our Christmas here back at home. The glow sticks were one of the biggest hits of the night. Truly it is the little things that turn out to be our favorite thing of all. It is so good to take pictures. It is so good to stop and savor the memories. It is so good to be grateful. I am thankful that pictures help me remember the good things in my life.

****
Here's to the joy of creating and the joy of remembering!
What have you created or remembered lately?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick & Easy Chicken Salad



Chicken salad is my new favorite quick & easy meal. I am always looking for these kind of recipes due to life always seeming more and more busy. Isn't it that way for everyone? How can it be that life continually gets busier and busier even with efforts to slow down? Well, I don't know that answer to that but I do know that lately it has been even more tornado-like than usual. I suspect it has to do with the holiday season.

When life gets busy, I'll buy more convenience items from the store, such as frozen pizza, to save money on ordering in pizza or going out for fast-food. Life may get busy, but my people still need to eat. So I love it when I come up with quick & easy recipes. This one has green stuff in it, which is always on low supply when life is busy, so it already had that going for it and then it was also a big hit with the family. It actually surprised me how much they liked it!

But because they liked it so much, we've had it several times in the last month.   It is also super easy to prepare right when I get home from the grocery store. It helps to have an easy meal after a trip to the grocery store; it's kind of like a reward.  This recipe took 15 to 20 minutes from in my door to sitting down and eating. Amazing!

So this is it:

Chicken Salad

1 package frozen, precooked chicken, 22 o.z. Servings said about 7. Cook according to package directions. This package said bake @ 400 for 8 minutes.
1 bag of romaine, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces. Our package had three stalks.
fresh veggies, whatever I have on hand, cut into bite size pieces; last night it was  carrots, cucumbers
croutons, if available
peanuts, if available
salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese
salad dressing, most of us prefer a creamy kind, such as ranch

This fed my family of six. We also ate pears and Christmas cookies and we were satisfied. There was certainly requests for seconds so it definitely could be doubled, especially if we wanted a second meal out of it.

I love filling my recipe box with quick, easy, delicious, and nutritious meals. 
And I need to be careful that I don't wear them out on this one. 
So what meals do you have that are super quick & easy? 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas cheer: It's worth it!




My nine-year-old son has been initiating Christmas cheer around here. Not the teenagers. Not the parents. It has been the joy and wonder of the youngest that has motivated us to put up our tree, to read our Advent calendar, to decorate our house, to bake Christmas cookies.

I am thankful for this encouragement to find Christmas joy in the nooks and crannies of our home and our busy lives.



I get stressed at this time of year -- what mother doesn't? Yet, I don't always realize how much my children know that and dislike a stressed out momma.

During the past few years when life got a bit more topsy-turvy than usual (read about that  here and here), I haven't had the drive to create all of our usual Christmas traditions. This year the kids were asking to bake cookies again since we hadn't done it in a few years. My oldest noticed the look on my face; he said that he would rather not do the cookies if it was going to stress me out.

His comment caused me to pause.

I know that the look on my face was partly due to the sigh in my heart at letting traditions, such as the cookie decorating, fall to the wayside. I love the rituals and the traditions. I want to be able to say that we decorated Christmas cookies: Every. Single. Year. But... I can't.

So part of my look was that disappointment and part of it was wondering: 'How can we fit it all in?' My oldest took the look to mean: Mom is stressed by this request.

I'm glad he spoke. It got me thinking.

First, I realized this: Life is stressful.There is a lot to do in this season, a lot of which hinges on the momma. But taking out the meaningful or fun parts will never reduce my life to being completely stress-free. Therefore, I must make time for joy. We must do I the activities that give our lives meaning.

However, this is where discernment is needed. These 'must-do' activities are not to be confused with pressure, or the obligations or the images I have of  'just how things are suppose to be.' They need to be the essential ones we really love.

I need to examine in order to reduce how much I need to do; having less to do also helps to reduce my stress level. Keep it simple. Keep the list short. Then, I need to be sure to keep the activities that give meaning and energy to our lives do not fall by the wayside because I am too stressed.

Secondly, I realized this: not only do I need to do those important, meaningful life giving activities, such as decorating Christmas cookies. I also need to participate in them with a non-stressed look on my face. It would be best if I would be light and free spirit and truly enjoy the moment. 



It helps if I remember I have chosen this moment and it's worth it. I can do this by remembering that the fun, the memories, the traditions, they are not what add stress to my life.  Life is just stressful.

So instead of throwing out all of the fun we're making time for a few of our favorite traditions this year: Christmas cards, birthday parties, and cookie decorating. We are filling our lives this season with opportunities for joy, laughter, and memories due to a momma listening to the desires of a nine-year-old boy and letting it inspire her to keep on, keeping on the very best things in her world.

How is this season going for you?
In this busy -- often stressful -- season:
Which activities bring you and your loved ones energy & joy? 
Could you reduce your list to a small core of the 'most meaningful'?
What activities are the most important to keep doing for you and your family?
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