Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of 2013

This has certainly been a crazy year!  Jon and I both turned 30, Carolyn started school, and Jon started a new job.  I've looked now and then at different career opportunities.  I learned how to sew and kind of how to knit.  I'm looking forward to some new sewing projects in the next year, hopefully a fun party dress for Carolyn.  Or perhaps just a fancy skirt.  We will see where life takes us.  I reflect on life frequently throughout the year, so I don't feel the need to reflect a ton tonight.  But I have been thinking about a few things I plan to change as we head into 2014.

I want to focus more on the here and now.  I want to stop focusing on what we don't have (money to fix the roof) and start thinking about what we do have (too long to list).  I need to stop looking for jobs that I'm not really sure I want.  I love being home with the kids, and until James is in school at least half-day, I need to be happy with the job I have.  I can always start putting in tutoring hours if I still have time left in the week.  I always think about plans to do with the kids - crafts mainly, but never get around to it.  So I think rather than spending lots of time baking things we shouldn't be eating, I'm going to do more craft projects with James.  We'll keep reading tons of books, and now that we have tons of blocks and big train set we will have that to play with as well.  I'm going to put down the computer unless I'm billing hours while the kids are awake.  I need to stop checking email when I don't have time to work.  Nothing is really that important.

Two main things I am going to do for me:
1.  No sugar in January.  This does not include honey and maple syrup.  But does include ice cream and anything else with sugar in it.  After the end of this year, my body needs this.  I may use this month to try out some Paleo recipes that make yummy things without processed sugar.

2.  Get back to lifting.  I am going to choose a lifting program and stick with it.  I do need to decide which one to go with.  But I am going to start tomorrow.  It's going to hurt at first.  But I am going to commit to lifting at least once every 3 days.  I need to do this both physically and mentally.  And once we get light back in the evenings I will be walking again in the evenings.  No more soccer, so no more scheduling around that night.  I'm going to lift in a way that feels good - similar to a crossfit type style.

I'm ready for what 2014 is going to bring.  I have a great family and I look forward to bringing the stress level of the house down as we simply learn to live with what we have.  I know that God will provide us with what we need when we need it.  And deep in my heart I know He wouldn't want me to be distracted from James when he needs me to be here with him.  I'm excited for the adventures that lie ahead!

Saturday, December 28, 2013


On my way to soccer about 2 weeks ago I heard some story about people winning the lottery.  And since I Was in the car, my mind began to wander.  What would I do if I won the lottery?  I began to dream of what things could be like.  And mostly, I thought about how things could be easier if we didn't have to worry about money.  But a dream of what could be also started to form.  And even with Christmas, my mind hasn't been able to let go of this dream.  The tough part is, it really won't happen unless we do win the lottery.  And to win, we would have to play first.  I'm hoping that by writing out this dream it will let my mind rest a little.  Because for now, we are prioritizing home repairs so we clearly don't have money for anything more than where we already are.

If I were to win the lottery, I would rebuild our house.  There are so many problems with what the previous owner did to fix things that I often think about just tearing down the house.  But in doing so, we would build a larger house.  I would get the kitchen, media room, exercise room, and huge family room I've always wanted.  But we would also need some more bedrooms.  Because the biggest part of my dream is to adopt 2-3 more children.  I would look for siblings that are younger than my kids but hopefully 2yrs or older.  I know these kids aren't adopted as often, and we could bypass that up every couple of hours infant stage.  I would be able to stop working, so I could spend my day reading these kids books and we would have the funds to enroll them in a few activities as well.  We would fully fund college accounts for all kids.  And I would know that a few more kids are getting what they really need.

With the other money we would buy 2 new cars - 1 electric, 1 hybrid.  We would pay off mortgages for a few people around us, to help their lives be a bit easier.  We could change to a 100% organic, grass-fed diet and grow a large garden since I would put in space in the new house to start plants inside each year.  We'd likely have enough produce to donate to the food pantry and/or some other families.  We could donate some money to schools to help with tutoring programs, counseling programs, and to expand offering to gifted students as well.  We would of course fully research anywhere we donate money to be sure it's being spent appropriately and not paying salaries of administrators.

But none of this will happen since we don't play the lottery.  I just don't understand why this dream keeps coming to the front of my mind since it's so far fetched.  I would really like to have a big family, but we just can't afford more than we have right now.

So back to reality!  Thanks for dreaming with me for a while.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A New Direction

I've been contemplating a bit more the wisdom from my high school AP physics teacher.  He sent me quite a long email and spoke about a few different things.  Jon and I discussed some of them.  I think part of my push with the kids is to feel like I'm doing the right thing.  Although I also feel like, as their first educator, that I need to be sure they have everything they need to be successful.  But when I step back and look at the atmosphere that was beginning to be created, it was one of some tension.  So we are going to head in a new direction in our home.  I'm still going to meet with the principal on Tuesday to see how the school can push Carolyn's critical thinking skills.  But at home we're going to keep reading, expanding our books to different cultures within whatever the kids' interests are.

The big step we took today is to cancel our subscription to Reading Eggs.  The kids don't need to push their skills in reading or math.  They enjoyed using the program, but I could also see the frustration at times.  So we are going to dial back the electronics (although we never used them all that much) and turn to interactive things.  Christmas lists this year will consist of plenty of blocks to build large towers.  Some of my best childhood memories are of building towns with Lincoln logs.  The kids seem a bit young for these yet, but we might look into expanding our set for birthdays or next year's Christmas.  I'm debating about some of the math manipulatives I currently have on the lists.  I think that the kids might enjoy having them to make up their own games with.  The shapes I think they'll enjoy creating pictures from, so we'll keep those.  Neither kid wants much of anything.  But we want to continue to encourage imagination, and get away from single function toys.  If I look at what they play with the most, I could get rid of a lot of things in the toy room.  And after Christmas, we may go through and have them decide what we really want to keep, and what we should set aside for a garage sale this summer.  They have some great things that we could probably sell and put the money in their college accounts.  But the main thing is, we're going to stop doing anything "educational" at home.

I gave this a try today and the results were interesting.  The kids played while we were still in bed this morning.  Pretending to babysit their bears.  After breakfast we brought out the playdoh and they rolled and made "cookies" with small cookie cutters we have.  When they grew tired of that everyone but me got a haircut.  And then the kids had a bath to brush off the hair.  We settled onto the couch and read 2 chapters of Mr. Popper's Penguins before lunch.  During lunch Carolyn noticed the labels on the tomato jar we were putting the orange peels into.  So we walked about what 1/2 means, and expanded to 1/4 and she went through taking parts of a pizza.  Then they took a nap.  We snuggled in bed some and both kids asked to play on their iPad/Tablet.  They brought them into bed and Carolyn chose sticker Sudoku to start.  She'd never played it before but was quite quick to catch on.  When she started guessing we suggested she move on, and she chose the Tangrams app.  I showed her she could choose the have it show her what pieces to use and she enjoyed piecing them together onto the picture.  After about 30 minutes we turned everything off, had a snack, and headed to the mall to walk around and have dinner.  On the way to the mall, Carolyn counted from 2 to 80 by 2's.  No prompting by us, she just wanted to see how far she could get.  Interesting what will happen when you don't have a video screen in the car!  We had a nice evening and dinner, let the kids run around in the play area for a while and then came home.  Without any effort on our part, Carolyn did some math "learning" and game strategizing today.  I'm sure there were a couple other conversations to explain things throughout the day that I'm not remembering as well.

So from here we focus on more exposure to lots of topics.  I'm looking forward to our library trip on Wednesday both for the craft and because Carolyn will get to pick some of her own books for the first time since this summer.  First tomorrow we have another day of rest at home and then Monday and Tuesday both kids have trial ice skating lessons for the first time.  This will be a new journey, but hopefully one that keeps us close as a family and decreases the stress on everyone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Some hope

Despite a very rough start to the day, Carolyn had a good day.  At school they did their usual stations since it was Friday.  One of the stations they were drawing pictures and writing single words to create a story.  In other words, leaving out the connecting words.  It looks like perhaps something a Native American may have written on the teepee.  She enjoyed telling us her story when she came home, and proceeded to write out the story with all the words on our easel whiteboard.  She also came home with an assignment to take pictures of shapes around the house.  We found trapezoids, pentagons, octagons, hexagons, triangles, squares, rectangles, circles, and made our own rhombus.  I added an extension where we went through and wrote down a list of what shapes are in each picture.  It was good practice writing letters and numbers, as well as spelling the mathematical terms.  All those words that are "le" are so hard to remember.  So Carolyn has a better feeling about school at the moment.  We'll see how things go next week, although with only 2 days of school they can't be horrible.  I have sent email asking to find more extension activities for Carolyn to do to push her critical thinking skills.  Hopefully we can look over the curriculum next week and identify where that can be done.

At home we are going to focus on reading rich literature as much as possible.  This week I got some books that are stories that incorporate math.  I found a list of the top 100 children's book and another of the top 100 chapter books.  So we'll work through each list.  I'll probably get 5 or so from the children's book list each week.  We started reading Mr. Popper's Penguins today and got through 6 chapters in one sitting before we took a break for snack and other things (like the shape hunt).

I received a well-timed email from one of my former HS teachers today.  He has always been very level-headed and was very supportive as I started teaching.  He raised 3 kids in Glenview as well, so can give advice from experience.  Interestingly, he suggested the Mindset book I read in August.  He also said he got some great insights from Nurture Shock, so I have put that on hold at the library and will pick it up on Wednesday when we go.  He made some statements to try and get me to think.  I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation further, even though through email.

Feeling in at least a little better place right now.  Looking forward to a weekend of snuggles, reading, popcorn, and probably some games.  I wish it was warm enough to spend a bunch of time at the park!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Disappointing conversation

So at 9:30 last night the principal emailed me to postpone our meeting.  Something came up, so she offered 2 times next week.  Considering I slept horrible last night thinking about what to say and how to say it, I was pretty frustrated.  But I sent my request for babysitting on to Jon's dad and luckily he's able to oblige.  So we rescheduled for next Tuesday.  We did agree to talk on the phone as well.  So after a great morning with James, I spoke with the principal for about 20 minutes.  I shared with her my background and my concerns of what is happening.  I let her know that the goal for meeting next week is to come up with specific plans of how we're going to help Carolyn.  I'm disappointed with some of the things said during the conversation.  She emphasized the social importance of the classroom and learning to work with other people who don't understand.  I get that it's important, I do, but not all the time.  Every student should have some time (10-15min?) every day where they feel their needs are being met.  Right now, that is absolutely not happening for Carolyn.  I am worried that school for her is going to become a place where she has to go and follow directions, I am worried she is going to lose her love for learning as I see it fizzling some already.  The principal's only suggestion for now is to have her meet with the social worker to see how she's feeling about school.  I agreed, but don't think it will help in any way.  There are no social-emotional issues at school, her teacher reports great behavior and didn't have anything to criticize at her conference a month ago.  But if we can get something going, I'll jump through whatever hoops.  I hope that the message I got from today's conversation - that Carolyn just needs to learn to help her classmates learn - is not the only choice.  Because if that's going to happen, my only real option is going to be to bring her home.  She likes the social aspect of school so at this point I don't want to do that to her.

I noticed today that there is a night and day difference in Carolyn when she has time to do something that is mentally stimulating.  Today they had their usual explorations, which are stations around the room.  Once of the choices is independent reading and so Carolyn chose a book to take to school and read that.  But that is something she could be doing at home.  And today I know she was not well rested because she was up twice last night. 

James and I had a wonderful morning today.  After dropping Carolyn off at school, we came home and he helped me put the soup together for dinner.  Then he brought his football and crab catch items into the living room and we listened to music and played catch, with an intermission to dance.  When he got sick of that we played Cooties for a bit, then he cut out the pieces to work with Bob book 1.  He knows all the sounds in the book (although there are only 6) and can sound out all the words.  It's going to be interesting to watch him progress with his reading since he's so different from Carolyn with learning.  He got to talk on the phone to Kathi for a while, which he loved.  We also, of course, read a bunch of books.  Just a nice, low key morning at home with lots of hugs and laughs.

Looking forward to 5 days with my family next week with no interruptions!  And can't wait until winter break so we have even more time together.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Frustration Mounts

Carolyn forgot her iPad this morning.  So on our way to soccer, I dropped it off at the school so they could deliver it to her.  She got off the bus without it in her backpack.  I come to find out that they won't deliver them during instructional time, so Carolyn didn't get hers today.  And because there's no lunch break for kindergarten or anything, she is without it tonight.  We were never informed of this policy and it makes me angry.  I wasted 15 minutes of my day so that my child would still be without her iPad and then be without it tonight.  There was no mention of the policy when I dropped it off.

Carolyn has now gone 3 days without anything to challenge her at school.  Her behavior is quickly deteriorating at home because she has to try so hard to behave appropriately when she's bored.  She has such excellent company manners but it should not be this hard for her.  There has to be some solution.  Maybe I'm being naïve, but I see SO many opportunities for differentiation that are being ignored.  Comparing numbers?  Use numbers bigger than 10 for the kids that can.  Identifying pictures?  Let them see the words to read them!  Working on writing? Encourage kids to reread and edit their own work - it takes seconds to tell a kid to reread what's there and be sure it has the right sounds.  We will work on some more math this afternoon, whether it be worksheets or games.  But at the moment my heart is breaking because I can see how hard she is working to hold everything together.

Hopefully my meeting with the principal will turn something useful up.  She doesn't want to leave school because she does like the social aspect.  But I can't keep fighting these behavioral issues when all that she needs is some mental stimulation.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Easy Math Game

Carolyn loves to work on math, but I'm trying to pull back a little on teaching her new math facts.  She is really good at "counting on" or subtracting by counting backwards.  I came across this game,, and have adapted it for our needs.  We are using some of Carolyn's necklace beads as markers and I pulled out a couple hundreds charts.  Each person gets a marker for the game board and one for their chart.  We move around the board according to the original directions.  The hundreds chart has turned the game into a race to 100, but also an easy way to work on addition.  We have a chance to talk about how adding 10 means you just go down to the next row.  And when you land on top of someone else, you add that number twice.  This shows you can have multiple addends within a problem.  And as we play, I restate the addition problem to emphasize that is what we are doing.  Carolyn really liked playing and has already asked to play again after lunch.  As a twist in the future, we might count down to work on subtracting.  My hope is that this type of game will help her work on her adding/subtracting and satisfy her need for numbers without obviously working on math.

I heard back from the principal and am waiting to see if I can arrange for someone to watch the kids for a meeting at 11:30 on Thursday.  I must admit that the more I read about homeschooling though, the more I think it's for us.  I'm going to try and go in with an open mind and see if we can find things that will satisfy all of us.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Now what?

I have a bunch of work to do today, but I need to write this out before I can even begin to focus on work.  I met with Carolyn's teacher this morning and now really don't know what to do.  Carolyn is showing what she can do at school.  In 2 days, she wrote a three page story and started a new one, complete with illustrations.  She is not afraid to read in front of her class at all.  Carolyn is not the most independent learner, but I would imagine most 5 year olds really aren't.

The "answers" I got were less than promising.  Her teacher said she would nudge and push Carolyn to do a little more when given a chance.  There was no discussion about this in regards to any math, where they are studying shapes and will later this year look at solids.  Carolyn already knows those and we've done them at home by chance, with math seeds, and with magnatiles.  She emphasized that she really only likes to use picture books in the classroom, suggesting that they can have as much difficulty as longer books.  I just don't see how the plot difficulty of a book with 20 sentences can be the same as a chapter book, and Carolyn really enjoys the extended plots.  She did say that Carolyn can bring in books to read if she would like.  So I'll be discussing that with her this afternoon.  I just really didn't get many concrete answers for the plan for the year.  I asked if we're likely to have this boredom issue each year and she just said possibly.  So without many answers, as we were rushed at the end, she said she would understand if I pull Carolyn but that she doesn't want to lose her. 

Almost felt like an endorsement that the classroom can't meet her needs because they are so specific.  This is one of those things that frustrates me.  The kids that are behind get all the support in the world, but the ones that are ahead get less than even the average student because they are already so capable.  It looks like the next step is going to be meeting with the principal.  I think I'll give it a week and see how things are going.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fall fun

I continue to struggle with what to do for Carolyn and school.  The last couple days we've been doing some learning activities at home and the kids have been loving them.  We've been creating a list of questions that we'll get books to find answers.  I spent the morning looking for things that I can confidently do at home.  I found some great reading and writing lessons on and some good math ideas on It will be easy to pick and choose from these activities things that are at Carolyn's level and that she finds interesting.  I think I'm going to start with looking at "The Snowman" and writing a story to go with it.  Then I'll have Carolyn make some of her own drawings and write a story to go with it.  We'll give it a try tomorrow afternoon.  I'm going to switch between reading/writing, math, and science working on one project at a time as time allows.  I'm also going to speak with Carolyn's teacher about what is happening in the classroom.

I also reached out the high school principal, since I've kept in touch with him for a while.  And I emailed my other former HS physics teacher.  I asked both of them their thoughts on homeschooling and how it might effect HS.  I found out my 4th grade teacher and 4-5 principal are still at the school and contacted them as well.  I just said hi to them since it's been a while and I'm not sure they remember me.  But once we reconnect I'm going to ask what they think.  I'm guessing they'll remember me since my mom was pretty memorable.

Today we played in the leaves, made leaf rubbings with chalk on the driveway, cleaned up the backyard for winter, and then brought some leaves inside.  Making leaf rubbings on paper turned into cutting the steams off and forming straight letters with them.  Carolyn made her own and I made some for James to identify.  We took a break for dinner and now we're going to make thankful turkeys out of tracing hands.  It's been a nice day, even if I didn't get the PJs made I was hoping to work on.  The best laid plans... I know it'll get done!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Schooling Dilemma

I should really be working right now, but I have to get this out before I can focus.  I am really unsure what to do for Carolyn right now, and James in the future even.  Carolyn has been coming home lately riled up from the day, and it's clear she isn't being challenged at all while at school.  I wrote to her teacher and the response was that they've been doing some benchmark testing lately.  Yet I feel like they were just doing that a few weeks ago.  So how much time is being spent evaluating these kids?!  And how often does Carolyn have to sit around while they check on the abilities of all the kids?  Yes, she can count to 100, knows all 42 sounds, can write all the letters in lowercase, can identify a square, circle, triangle, and their vertices.  For that matter she can count by 2 (to 20), 5, and 10.  And yes, it's only November.  She hates guided writing where she just has to fill in a couple words that match a picture and doesn't get to use any of her own ideas.  She can complete a level L story and questions on RAZ kids by only listening to the story once.  She often wants to practice learning her math facts.  I can't help but feel like her time is being wasted each morning when she goes to school.  I've written her teacher again to see if we can meet or talk on the phone about what the rest of the year is going to look like and how to proceed from here.

And all of this makes me miss my mom so much because she was good dealing with all of the school stuff.  I'm fighting back tears right now because I just wish I could talk to her right now.  I want what's best for my kids, but I don't know what that is.  If I had all the money in the world we could send them to Montessori or an academy some where.  But we can barely pay our bills and fix the things that break.  But right now it seems my heart is breaking for the frustration that Carolyn faces each day.  People do need to learn to be patient with others and that not everyone learns at the same pace, but I guess I don't feel like learning at 5.5 that you are supposed to wait around while others catch up is appropriate.  And it's the exact problem with the education in this country and why we're falling behind in math and science.  I see Carolyn's love for learning slowly fizzling and I hate that, but I don't know what to do to give her the best results in the long run.  And it makes me crave a phone call with my mom like nothing else.

I love you Mom, and I miss you more than words can say!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Just Tired

So I've been writing about some difficult times in our house lately.  Carolyn has been having some difficult behaviors, which I think are likely due to her being overtired and exposed to more rude behavior through school and playmates.  And the emotional difficulties of last week, combined with a heavier than usual work schedule are weighing on me.  I really would like to book a vacation and just take even a few days off from life.  But the reality is, you never get that chance as a parent, especially not in the beginning of the school year.  It simply is that parenting is hard and exhausting, especially if you do it the right way.  And by that I refer to our minimal use of technology and TV.  James asked countless times today to watch TV and/or play on the tablet.  It would be so easy to plop him down on there most of the day.  But that's not what I want him to experience.  So I exhaust myself by sitting with him and doing preschool activities, where I do have to prod him to stay focused.  But he can now identify half of the alphabet.  We tried playing Simon Says today, but he didn't quite get that he should not do things when I didn't say simon says.  He thought it was fun anyway.

We even took a short break on Saturday, sending the kids over to Jon's after Carolyn's soccer game.  We went to Panera for dinner and sit and talked like adults.  But I knew we needed to go pick up the kids so I could scan my paperwork for the new job and get them to bed.  So I never fully relaxed.  And now I'm just tired, mostly emotionally though.  I don't know how to help Carolyn stop these behaviors.  She had more trouble today, this time not listening at gymnastics.  And tonight she had to change her underwear twice.  I'm thinking we may visit the doctor as these issues are becoming quite concerning.  She's 5.5, she shouldn't be having issues with staying dry during the day.  But I don't know how to help her, anyone have any ideas?  I don't want to have to pull her from afternoon gymnastics, but if she needs that rest time, I might just have to.  There's only 2 weeks left of soccer, so at least there will be more rest time on the weekends soon.  But I know then we'll have to withstand the barrage of wanting to play with friends when what she really needs is just some time to build legos, draw/color, or read.  Anyone else facing the same issues?  Anyone else just exhausted being a parent? 

I'm hoping tomorrow brings a better day with better behaved children.  Otherwise I may just turn on the technology in the afternoon and hide in my room.  I know one afternoon wouldn't kill them anyway and this weather is too cold too soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Anniversaries - Happy and Sad

I meant to write on Thursday, but life was just too busy.  Thursday was both the 10 year anniversary of our engagement and the 8 year anniversary of losing my mom to her cancer battle.  Our engagement of course is a fully happy memory and I can flash back to walking down to the river by Augie and spending some time chatting on the rocks.  We carved our initials into the small dock and then hiked back up to the car and went out to dinner.  We finished that night by going to the boys' soccer game so I could show all the girls the ring.  But not having my mom is hard.  And this time of year it's really hard.  I wish she could go to the pumpkin farm, see the kids in their costumes, join us for turkey at Thanksgiving, and of course be around for the holiday baking and Christmas.  This time of year I think about the time spent looking through wedding magazines for floral arrangements, and considering a rushed wedding so she could attend.  In the end I had to settle for the few memories and knowing that she helped me choose my dress, the bridesmaid dresses, the flowers, and the reception hall.  I still wish she could be here to help me navigate these tricky years with the kids, and remind me of what I was like as I entered school.  I tried to keep myself busy this past Thursday to push the painful part away just a little.  I wore my necklace that was hers and I think of her every time I touch it.

I started the day with Carolyn's first school conference.  Her teacher focused on behavior - whether the student was functioning well in the classroom since this is Kindergarten and at this point that's what she's worried about.  Everything was marked on a scale of 1-3, and Carolyn received 3's on everything they are currently working on.  Carolyn even set a goal for herself to work on something that her teacher isn't concerned about yet.  We talked about how we can continue to challenge Carolyn, and her teacher said she would get out some poetry books for her to read during reading workshop.  It sounds like things will get more personalized as the year goes on now so Carolyn should be even more challenged.  Looking over curriculums, it looks like Carolyn currently has everything through first grade except for telling time on an analog clock.  The iPad is allowing for more personalization as they started spelling (Montessori spelling) and math (Find sums) this weekend.  We may start seeing the iPad come home each day, which would allow her to play for 15-30 minutes, the small practice that's great at this age.

James and I then went to the store to do the week's grocery shopping, picking up ingredients for some special treats.  After a usual lunch with the kids, I had a job interview on the phone.  As happened last time I interviewed for an online teaching position, I was offered a job while still on the phone.  It sounds like a much better fit and I am optimistic it will end up working well.  But only time will tell.  It may be a position I can grow into, perfect for this time in our lives and the kids are becoming more independent.  I miss teaching and developing relationships with students and I'm hoping this new job will give me that opportunity again.  I don't need more to do, especially since Jon is considering a coaching opportunity this Spring.  So we'll see how things go.

After naps the kids helped me to bake a cheesecake.  We weren't patient enough and had some for dessert after dinner.  The inside ended up quite runny, but it still tasted delicious!  I'm thinking that cheesecake is the dessert that I just can't resist.  I'm hoping to find a recipe that uses less/no sugar - but nothing artificial.  So I might play around with honey or maple syrup.  I think if I make it flavored - strawberry or chocolate or something, that those sweeteners would do just fine.  After the kids were in bed Thursday night I had a bunch of work to get done, so it was a late night.  But I did find several moments throughout the day to pray and talk to my mom.  Jon brought me flowers which are beautiful and sitting on the kitchen table.  It was great to see how much he tries to understand how much I miss my mom.

Everything else continues to go well and the kids continue to grow.  James is identifying a bunch more letters now, which is often.  At his current rate he may be identifying them all by Christmas, which would be amazing and awesome.  I'm going to activate the 5 week Reading Eggs trial in a week so it's active over Thanksgiving.  I keep debating about purchasing a subscription because I think it would be awesome for James.  But Carolyn is kind of beyond it and I don't think James is quite ready for it.  So we'll do this 5 week trial and then the craziness of the holidays will be here.  If I get a good discounted offer in January, I might sign him up then because it's likely that would take him through beginning to read.  He's less of a spurt kid and more steady growth, but I'm guessing he'll start reading around 4.5 like Carolyn.  Only time will where things are headed!

I'm looking forward to a more relaxed week and helping in Carolyn's classroom on Thursday.  Then next weekend Halloween activities start!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Intellectual and Emotional Mismatch

This is something that most parents don't often talk about, although there are many books written about it.  Watching Carolyn this weekend has reminded me of just how young she is.  She has the "brains" easily of and 8 or 9 year old.  But she has the emotions and ability to control those emotions, of a 5 year old.  She is struggling to assert her independence.  I believe we give her quite a bit of freedom at home.  The kids are allowed to play inside or outside, and we generally don't feel the need to supervise them.  Of course, scissors and glue are kept up high and there really are no dangerous objects around.  We provide plenty of engaging things for the kids and they have a plethora of vehicles to rid on outside.  But then Carolyn feels the need to assert what she perceives her right, to show us she can get what she wants.  Tonight was another reminder that she really is only 5.

James and Carolyn have decided recently that doing flips on the couch is fun.  We tell them not, they do it anyway.  I tell them that if they get hurt I'm not going to kiss and make it better as I usually do.  I spent part of the afternoon helping Carolyn after she was stung by a bee.  I held ice on her foot, put baking soda and vinegar on the sting and within 20-30 minutes she was feeling fine again.  If you ask her, it probably felt like hours.  But we sat on the couch and had some nice time together.  Later, after ignoring my directions to stop the flips, she bumped her cheek on the side of the couch.  I refused to give her kisses and a total meltdown ensued.  Lately these meltdowns show clear signs of feeling out of control and wanting to assert control.  She pushes furniture around, kicks the couch, and will refuse to do anything we ask.  We use the language we've read about using... "I understand you are angry because" and all that.  But really she needs a good 30-40 minutes to yell and scream.  As she gets stronger, we get concerned about her safety.  We emphasize to her that trying to hurt things/people isn't going to help.  If she didn't have these meltdowns when James was trying to get sleep, we could easily just wait her out by sitting patiently.  Tonight Jon felt the need to restrain her, sitting on the couch and holding her in his lap. 

It is clear from the episodes that she feels out of control and that her brain is working so fast that she can't control it.  She gets fixated on the one she wants and seeks to manipulate us to get it.  But her manipulations fail and she feels powerless.  This happens the most when she's tired, so has been happening more lately with a busier schedule.  But I hope and pray that as she gets older, we'll see less of this.  Otherwise, despite having a social worker as a father, she's going to end up in the social worker's office at school.  I'm going to discuss these issues with her teacher this week as well to insure there are no issues in the classroom already.  Time to try and help her feel even more independent in daily life to release some of the frustrations!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

2 months in to Kindergarten

It's hard to believe it's mid-October already and Carolyn has been in kindergarten for nearly 2 months!  It seems like we've been crazy busy lately, although to most families we're don't do very much.  I'm realizing that as a family we really value time to relax and just be together.  Carolyn and James don't handle constant activity well and require a day to just be, weekly preferably.  It gets hard to manage that as kids get older though.  With soccer on Saturdays and Sunday school, we have been stuck with weeks with seemingly no rest.  Tomorrow, though, we will get a day of rest.  A day to read books, go for a walk to collect sticks, leaves, and acorns, go to the park, ride bikes, just enjoy having no plans.  And I spent tonight putting together 4 different craft projects the kids can do.  I looked through the Oriental Trading catalogue and then sat down with some construction paper.  It'll be a little trickier since we'll need to use glue to put things together, but it'll be fun to put together these projects and then hang them around the house.

Carolyn has an amazing teacher at school.  She is being exposed to some new topics, and I am able to support and enhance that learning by bringing home extra books from the library.  They do continue to plod through the alphabet and phonics sounds, which she mastered a while ago.  But they also are working through Handwriting without tears and she is learning to properly form lower case letters.  They also have the opportunity to do some writing in class.  Conferences are this week and I am looking forward to a conversation of how we can continue to challenge Carolyn and what can be done at home to support her.  We are looking forward to expanded use of the Ipads as well as the year goes on.  We received Carolyn's STAR early literacy score today, 771.  775 is the cut-off between a "transitional" and "probable" reader.  A chart I found online puts her grade level at 1.8.  However, it appears that as the score approaches 900 (the top score), the test is less reliable because the child can read.  This is a pre-reading test and Carolyn is definitely reading.  I wonder if the district switches any of the kindergartners to the STAR reading test after this first round and it's proven the student can read.  We have been exploring poetry lately, to change things up a bit.  Carolyn is enjoying Shel Silverstein and Jack Perlutsky.  I am looking forward to some suggestions from her teacher as well, as it is difficult to find books that challenge her thinking/vocabulary yet have appropriate subject matters.  I was amazed when she read a poem recently that used the word "brigade" and I asked her if she knew what it meant and she said "army".  We can not figure out how she determined this because no one taught it to her.  Amazing that she is able to decode language this early! 

James continues to do an awesome job at home with me doing his preschool lessons.  We start each morning reading books in bed after putting Carolyn on the bus.  I love this snuggle time and I know James is getting some great things from it.  He had a rough start to the school year and some severe separation anxiety issues.  But we seem to have moved beyond this now and he is okay staying home with Jon's dad when I take Carolyn to gymnastics or volunteer in her classroom.  I am very glad that we canceled his soccer and very happy we did not enroll him in any preschool classes.  He is developing at his own pace and it's great to see his development.  He asks to do preschool several days a week, where we read Bible stories, books, trace/color letters and numbers, work on sequencing, counting, coloring, cutting, as well as do gross and fine motor activities.  We are using the ABC Jesus Loves Me 3 year old curriculum, supplemented with some other things, and it is going great.  We are currently on week 18.  Carolyn is also teaching James some of her Jolly phonics from school and he is learning some letter sounds.  He is able to trace very well when he focuses and can form nearly every letter by doing so.  He can identify J, O, C, B, Q, and probably some other letters as well.  Being 3, his biggest struggle is staying focused on the task at hand, but his concentration is pretty good considering his age. 

I sometimes sit back and think about how well my children are doing learning the basics and I wonder what sets them apart.  I never felt like I was doing anything special, just what a mom should do.  I usually put their needs before mine, and I will admit that I am sacrificing money/a career to help them get the best start possible.  We read countless books and my kids can often retell the stories because we read them so many times in one week before new books come home from the library.  I admittedly turn every day activities into learning - counting objects, describing why something happens, or asking my children to observe things around them.  Jon often reminds me that I choose the hard road.  And the main choice that I've made that makes things hard?  My children rarely watch TV or interact with technology.  They can effortlessly work an Ipad or Tablet, they love to play on Starfall or Reading Eggs.  But we put an emphasis on free play and getting outside.  Even on rainy days, they do not get more than 30 minutes of screen time.  Their imaginations are great and as they get bigger they are coming up with their own ideas of things to do.  My favorite recently is using blankets and furniture to create a hideout in Carolyn's bedroom under her desk.  I'm looking forward to what else they'll come up with this winter when I'm no longer forcing outdoor time in the afternoons because it'll be too cold.

Your kids will learn technology... if you make 2 choices to give them the best start they can have... play outside and read books.  The rest will write itself.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fixed vs Growth Mindset: Teaching Children to Succeed

After curriculum night at Carolyn's school, I emailed the teacher.  She had mentioned the element of fear, and how that can really hold child back from learning.  Since Carolyn first started talking, we have been trying to figure why she won't try new things.  Somehow, she learned a fear of making mistakes.  When her teacher spoke about this, I felt she was talking about Carolyn.  So I emailed, asking for any advice on how we can help Carolyn overcome this at home.  He response was to suggest a couple books to read - 1 for me, 1 for Carolyn. 

The book for Carolyn is "The girl who never made a mistake."  We picked up both books from the library yesterday and Carolyn read it in the car as we went to the grocery store and then her soccer game.  I'm not quite sure she got the right message though.  She said, but the girl did make a mistake.  We asked what happened after that, did anyone get mad?  She admitted the girl ended up being fine.  She really likes the book though and we're thinking about purchasing it for her for Christmas.  We'll keep it for a couple more weeks and see how she feels about it.

I spent the last 24 hours reading "Mindset: The new psychology of Success" by Carol Dweck.  Her main focus is that we can choose which mindset we approach life with - fixed or growth.  In other words, with each thing in life we decide whether we have to rely on our talents or whether we can learn something new.  I think this is a book that every parent, teacher, and business executive need to read.  It speaks right to the latest culture of telling everyone that they are the best, and handing out trophies to every kid.  The biggest take home for parenting for me is in the type of praise to provide.  And it's very similar to what I've been reading in the books on parenting a gifted child, but applies to every single child.  Do not praise a child for being smart, for doing things quickly, or for expending little effort.  Praise the process and the effort.  If the child completes an assignment very quickly, one could even apologize for wasting the kids' time because it wasn't challenging enough.  This helps children to value the effort expended and thereby be more accepting of a challenge.  They won't feel the need to constantly show how smart they are, and will realize that it's good to work hard and it's okay to struggle. 

So from here we'll avoid saying things like "You're so smart", "That came so easy for you," or anything that compares children.  Instead we'll say "I'm so glad you kept trying", "What did you learn today?", or "That was tough, what could we do differently next time?"  I hope it will encourage Carolyn to take on more challenges.  I had begun to consciously make this change after reading the other books, and I think I've started to see small changes already.  She figured out how to spell "girl" yesterday, trying out a bunch of different letters before getting it right, and we celebrated the effort she made to figured it out.  And tonight she tried a hula hoop and kept trying more, even though she wasn't a super star right away.  She also walked on a "high wire" (2ft off the ground). 

I suggest you check this book out, it might just change how you view what you say to your child and how you view the challenges and set back you encounter in your own life.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kindergarten begins

I'm not sure who was most anxious this morning for Carolyn to start school.  I had a horrible time sleeping last night and James was up at 6:15.  Carolyn got up just before 7.  I made her a special breakfast of strawberry soufflé, which Carolyn put cheese on top of and had a glass of milk.  She took a banana as a snack.  Jon stayed home to put her on the bus, which was tougher than we anticipated.  We took many pictures and had to fight back tears.  She was just fine though and climbed onto the bus and sat right down.

While Carolyn was at school, I had time with James.  One of Carolyn's classmates came and played with him for a little while, allowing me time to put together a few more folders for preschool.  Once she left he asked to work on preschool right away, so we got down to work.  He can identify nearly every letter of his name and order them correctly.  We put together a 10 commandments train and then worked on some of his sequencing pages.  Once he reaches capacity for that, we gathered up all the pillows in the house and he crawled over them.  Then he made new patterns and crawled, jumped, and flopped around the room.  We were silly, pretending to hide from a monster, and just enjoyed our time together.  We went outside so he could pick berries to leave out for the birds.  And we read a book before heading to the bus stop.

James gave Carolyn a huge hug once she was off the bus and told her he missed her.  It was really cool to see.  We hurried inside since it was raining and went straight to make lunch.  As I was making lunch, Carolyn suddenly got upset.  Then she told me something "horrible" happened at school.  She had trouble finding the correct line to get into to go inside.  We talked about this for a few minutes and discussed how tomorrow if she has trouble she can look for some of her classmates.  It sounds like they didn't do much today, but she did get to meet the class guinea pigs named Cookie and Brownie.  So day 1 is over and she'll meet everyone in her class tomorrow. 

My little girl is getting big!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Overcoming Perfectionism

We noticed when Carolyn was very young that she had a tendency towards perfectionism.  She doesn't want to try new things and is constantly nervous that she's going to get something wrong.  We often think that the reason she didn't speak until 18 months was she was afraid to say something improperly.  Where did this come from?  We really don't know, and I don't think it could be learned at such a young age. 

I read a book this past week with ideas for how to help your child overcome these tendencies and a big part of it is to identify an perfectionist tendencies in yourself.  I've never considered myself a perfectionist.  Yes, if I'm going to do something I think it should (needs to) be done well.  But since reading this book I've been keeping an eye on my own actions to see if I am forcing any perfectionist ways onto the children.

Lo and behold, we set out to make cheese crackers this last Friday and I found myself needing to hold back.  I let the kids help with grating the cheese, although they struggled to do it very well.  I used the mixer to put everything together.  And then we started to form the crackers.  To avoid the mess of last time, we decided to just make balls.  They should all be similar in size and smooth balls, in my mind.  But allow a 3 and 5yo to participate and they will not come out that way.  I had to resist picking them up and rolling the balls just a touch more to be smooth.  After all, lumpiness wasn't going to affect the final taste.  I let the kids just put their work down on the pan, moving them only to assure they didn't bake together.  When Carolyn decided to move on to cheese sticks, we had some issues with the appropriate thickness and I did step in to assure they were thin enough to cook properly.  But in the end, the kids got in some great fine motor work and we have a wonderful finished product that is very yummy and healthy.

I will keep watching for my own innate perfectionist ways.  It can be hard with kids this age to not correct mistakes, since I like to use them as learning opportunities.  But I did learn from the book how to word my responses to their accomplishments to diminish the drive toward perfectionism.  I think this was a useful book to read just before Carolyn starts kindergarten.  I hope that by carefully crafting my responses I can diminish Carolyn's drive towards perfection and foster a new desire to try new things.  I encourage anyone reading this with small children to take a look at themselves and see if you are conveying hidden perfectionist messages toward your child.  There's enough competition in this world, let's make sure we are showing our children that as long as they try their best, it's good enough for us.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Summer 2013 is ending

It's been a long time since I've written, and quite a busy summer!  We started the summer with painting the kids' bedrooms.  After finishing those, we headed to Blue Harbor for 3 nights with Jon's parents for vacation.  It was pretty nice and fairly relaxing.  The kids had a blast at the waterpark.  When we got home we continued to paint the rest of the house - master bedroom, living room, kitchen, and playroom/hallway.  It feels really nice to have the house feel more like ours.  There's still a long list of changes we'd like to make, but finances will determine that as we go forward.  We're growing some tomato plants out front, which are huge.  We went to some sporting events, played at parks, and just enjoyed being together as a family.

The last 2 weeks Carolyn attended Safety City through the park district.  It's a program my mom was part of starting and teaching when I was little.  Carolyn had a lot of fun and enjoyed telling us all the new things she learned each day about how to be safe.  I let the staff know today who my mom was, and almost cried as the director remembered her.  I miss my mom a lot, but having the kids get to experience some of the things she helped create makes it a little easier.  Carolyn did an awesome job at camp and her teacher was amazed that this was her first drop-off experience.  Bodes very well for starting kindergarten.  They even took a field trip on a school bus, so that won't be a foreign idea for her.

Jon started his new job this week with new staff training.  He seems to really be enjoying himself and those around him are very nice.  He has a great big office and we're discovering some nice perks along the way.  We got free microsoft office for our new desktop computer.  And the insurance, although we're selecting the HMO, is about $200/month cheaper than his old school.  Looking forward to seeing his new paycheck at the end of the month.

I have been given a raise, which means I don't have to work as many hours this school year.  I'm looking forward to being able to spend more time with the kids and not tied to my computer.  They're also starting a 401k matching program.  It's the typical 50% of your contributions up to 6%.  So I'm putting in 7% to end up with 10% in there.  If Jon switches his stuff away from fidelity, I might do the same and move all my stuff to CharlesSchwabb.  But we'll what happens.  The guy he was using wasn't very helpful and rarely, if ever, actually responds to our inquiries.  It took him over a month when I wanted to increase contributions... you'd think he'd be right on that.

Carolyn starts school in 10 days.  I still have mixed feelings about whether public school is the best option for her.  Everyone that sees/hears her read is amazed.  Whenever we use any of the online tests she ends up at a 4th grade level.  We continue to work on her math and that I would put about half way through 1st grade.  We've spent less time on it, so she isn't as far as I think she could be.  I'm going to give this a whole hearted attempt though, and we'll see how it goes.  I'm hoping that the Ipads will provide her with the opportunity to excel beyond her grade level.  I looked over the curriculum last night and she has every item listed mastered.  There are 3-4 things not yet mastered for 1st grade only.  And those are things we haven't spent much time with - clock reading, money counting, numbers beyond 100, and parts of a sentence.  So we'll definitely work on those in the next couple months and then start tackling the 2nd grade curriculum which does have more for her to work on.

James is really enjoying the preschool work we've been doing.  We're through the first 7 weeks and will start on week 8 soon.  He likes how varied it is and I think he enjoys that he gets to sit in my lap for a lot of it.  He can sing his alphabet, count to 10, identify all the standard colors, and knows his shapes (square, triangle, rectangle, circle).  We're working on identifying the letters and numbers, of which he does know a few.  So he's trucking right along.  I'm interested to see where he is just before entering kindergarten himself.  I'm looking forward to spending time with just him when we don't have to go anywhere as well.  He starts soccer in September and then story hour isn't until October.  I figure we'll still go to the library once a week though.

I'm looking forward to enjoying this next week with just the 2 of them.  We don't have a ton planned and that is going to be nice.  Tomorrow we have no plans and will just enjoy time as a family, since from here Saturdays will likely involve grocery shopping.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happy 3rd Birthday James!

Dear James,

Happy 3rd Birthday!  I am truly enjoying watching you grow into a wonderful young boy.  Daily I feel as though you are learning new things and can't wait to show them to the world.  I love how you play so wonderfully with your sister and put up with her oft bossiness.  You are learning some wonderful things from her.  Don't be in a hurry to grow up and do everything that she can do though, it's okay to make your own decisions and follow your own desires.  I know you want to read like she can and do math problems like she does, and that will come with time. 

I am really looking forward to the special time we will get to spend together with Carolyn in school this fall.  I can read to you, we can play cars, do yoga, and you can fully decide what the plans are in the mornings.  We can snuggle in bed, head to the park, work on reading/writing/math, whatever is in your heart that day/minute.  This is when you'll get to make more of a mark about who you are, to make your own decisions.  And I can't wait to see more of your personality emerge.  From what I can see now there's a lot of personality waiting to bust out.

You've had a wonderful 3rd year of life.  I enjoyed listening to you recite your ABCs tonight, completely unprompted.  Watching you ride your bike and spray your water toys was a lot of fun.  The smile on your face was priceless.  I love watching how excited you get about the small things in life from peanut butter and crackers for lunch to a squirt gun to your preschool workbook.  Watching you color with more precision and start to identify letters and such a young age has been great. 

I'm excited to see what the 4th year will bring for you.  Just remember always that I'm here for snuggles and kisses whenever needed.  Thanks for being an amazing, happy little boy.

Love always,

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Time to Enjoy

This past month has been incredibly stressful.  Jon will be starting a new job in the fall, which is awesome.  But the interview process was stressful.  I will not be working FT, and the interview process was beyond stressful.  But I suppose all is well that ends well.  God has a different plan for me, and I think I know just what that is.  With Jon's $14k raise and possibly lower insurance costs, my income will be completely extra.  So I will be cutting back on work, down to 8-10hrs/week and instead focus on our family.  With a lower overall stress load, life should get easier and more enjoyable.  I'm looking forward to having some time to relax while James is at his activities and Carolyn is at school.  I'll get to read a lot of books I suppose!  I'm also looking forward to getting a chance to work on academics with the kids more, as well as not worry about work things being scheduled so we're stuck at home.  James is still a long ways from giving up his nap, so that should give me some time each day to work with Carolyn.

Carolyn is now reading at a 3-4th grade level.  She regularly picks up a chapter book and will read through it.  Of course, she continues to love being read to and we do a ton of that.  She officially has over 600 sight words.  I've been pushing spelling a little more lately because I am running out of notecards, haha!  She also is enjoying the math computer program that we have, came with the workbook I bought her for Christmas.  It's just called Math 1-2, for first to second grade.  I can tell that she's memorized most of the addition facts for 1-5, and she can add or subtract pretty much any number if she has the right manipulatives - counting items, her fingers, or a number line.  It's amazing to see her brain developing so rapidly.  I received a letter from the school that she will indeed be receiving an IPad next year.  I'm excited to see how they will use it to keep her challenged.  Her K teacher is definitely in for a challenge I think.  I'm interested to see what the screening she has at the end of the month will be like.  I really should try and get her to the dentist before then and maybe even the eye doctor.  Will have to see what our insurance covers.  Sign up for summer gymnastics is also next week, so we found out yesterday what level to sign up for.  Carolyn was very happy to hear that she gets to stay in the advanced class.  We'll only do part of the summer, but that means 2x/week starting in the fall.  She seems to be enjoying soccer as well.  So in the fall she'll do gymnastics and soccer, then we'll replace soccer with something else during the winter.  I might let her try ice skating if it fits into our day.

James is doing great and showing interest in learning his letters.  I think he sees how much Carolyn enjoys reading.  He wants to play his "games" often, which is looking at the letter and song stuff on  In the fall I will start more of a formal program with him like I did with Carolyn, starting with getting books for a letter each week.  Maybe I'll try to pick an animal for each letter to get books about as well, he loves to read the books with facts about animals.  He's doing well with numbers and can easily count to 10.  So we'll continue to work on getting to 20 and see how he's doing from there.  I think he'll really enjoy the one-on-one time with me, even if he'll miss Carolyn.  He's already telling people "Carolyn go to kindergarten, I'll be sad".  He continues to enjoy his gymnastics, which we'll continue into the fall.  I'm planning to drive him out to Lake Zurich for soccer as well, since no where else seems to have an outdoor program during the day.  We'll likely just do the fall though and switch to swimming after that.  If finances end up being better than I'm currently anticipating, I might consider letting him do gymnastics, swimming, and soccer.  With story hour that would still leave us 1 morning with nothing.  But for now I'm figuring 2 is probably good.  He'll enjoy the museum and other fun places where we get to spend time together when we're not at home or a park.  It will be interesting to see his personality really take shape once the focus is entirely on him and Carolyn isn't around to boss him around.

Enjoyment continues tomorrow with another trip to Brookfield.  3 adults and 2 children, I think we'll have it all covered!  Supposed to be a gorgeous day.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why does God think I'm so strong?

I've always told people, and truly believed, that God would never give me more than I could handle in times of trial.  And that He always knows how long we can bear the trials for.  And so today, I wish He didn't believe that my family and me are so strong.  We've been through some pretty difficult financial times in the last couple years.  Along the way we've had blessings at just the right time.  I felt like we were really making progress by getting to our "forever home".  But as I start to look around, I feel as though we may have made a huge mistake.  There's much work to be done on this house, and not much money to do it.  I slacked off a bit last month, believing Jon would be paid for track and that check didn't come in.  We'll get that money, just not until next month.  We had to pull from saving a little to pay the credit card in full.  It will be close this month after needing a new tire for me and a new headlight assembly for Jon.  Things we literally could not avoid paying for.  And of course the usual payments for car registration don't help things this month.  We thought the washer was done over the weekend, but thank God it started back up again and seems fine.  With the terrible storms last night, though, we have leaks inside the house.  We're pretty sure it's related to water entering a vent in one spot.  But then I looked up and noticed a water mark on the ceiling.  Now, I could be imagining this, but I don't think it was there before.  I also think it grew throughout the afternoon, when it wasn't even raining.  I've drawn on the ends and will take another look in the morning.  But it seems we will need to replace the roof, and we don't have $10k to do that.  We will get one more estimate.  I really would like to have it done properly, which would also mean new gutters and soffits at the same time.  But with no major change in income, I'm not really comfortable committing to lay that much out when we know there are also other repairs (plumbing) on the near horizon.

A decision regarding my full time position has been delayed.  Due to the tragedy in Boston, flights were messed up for the VP, and final interviews were then delayed.  It looks like I won't hear until some time next week.  Jon had an interview today as well.  It would be a good raise ($12k), but not as big as other places he's interviewed.

I continue to be torn about whether I want this full time position at this time in life.  The money would be great and the mental stimulation was be awesome.  I've been feeling somewhat stuck lately and am certainly ready for a new challenge.  I think I could perform the job very well, possibly better than they would anticipate since I am very efficient with my time and great with technology.  They know me well and should have a solid idea of my abilities since I've been with the company for 5.5 years, and 4.5 years in some type of management role.  But, then there's James.  He deserves to have me full time until he reaches kindergarten.  I love the type of kid Carolyn is turning out to be.  Yes, I'd like it if she would stop getting up at night.  But she won't be 10 and getting out of bed just to be tucked in again.  She's a terrific little girl that excels in everything she tries, and I like to think I had something to do with that.  I know James isn't the same kid.  But if I'm honest with myself, I think he'd miss something by being put in preschool during the week.  I know he won't have Carolyn home to play with in the mornings.  But she'll be home before noon.  By the time she's picked up the bus, we'll have time to get him to an activity and home, he'll barely miss her.  He likes having time to just play around the house too.  If I send him to preschool, he'll miss that time.  I was just thinking that a great schedule for him next year would be 2 activities, library, a day with me at home, and then a day with Jon's dad or out at some fun activity or another day at home depending on how he's feeling.  I was just telling his swim teacher today how I don't think kids this age really learn anything but bad habits from each other.  And I do believe that.  Am I just convincing myself of this so I'll be less disappointed if I don't get the job?  Or do I really feel this way?  I'm not sure I'll ever really know.  Tough spot to be in right now.

Dear God, you know what we can handle.  I feel like I'm at my breaking point.  I'm waiting for your blessings to come pouring in our family right now, but I feel like I'm barely above the water.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Turning 5 today!

Dear Carolyn,
Today you turned 5 years old.  It's hard for me to imagine that it's really been 5 years.  But then it's also hard to remember life before you arrived.  It's amazing to watch you grow and learn new things every day.  You are developing into a wonderful little girl, and I love that you are quickly picking up on the important things in life.

It's been awesome to watch you learn to read in the last couple months.  You already have well over 400 sight words and can spell at least 100 of them.  You can do many math problems and love to do science experiments.  It's fun to read with/to you about the presidents and different science topics.  Your love for learning is contagious and breeds an attitude of love for books within our home.  Your energy when you run around the house, splash in the pool, climb at the park, or swing at gymnastics knows no bounds.  It has been amazing to see you learn so many athletic skills in such a short amount of time.

You have quickly learned what's most important in life - spending time with those you love.  It's a joy to watch you play with your brother and see how close the two of you are.  I hope you maintain that relationship as you grow older and have different interests.  I appreciate that you tolerate his desire to do everything you do.  It's a sign of how much he loves having you as a big sister.  You're doing a great job showing him excellent manners.  Seeing how excited you were about every present yesterday and your eagerness to give each person a giant hug and say thank you immediately was fantastic.  I could tell you really appreciated the time each person put into choosing your gifts.  Seeing you spend time with each person who came yesterday was fun too.  It's fun to have a lot of people share your life and enjoy playing with you.

You bring a lot of joy and energy into our house, and I thank God every day he brought you to me and Dad.  I hope as you go off to school in a couple months that the foundation we've provided you will serve you well.  I will continue to enjoy watching you grow and learn new things.  And I will continue to be here for you, forever.  You'll likely hear many new things once you start school, and I hope you know you can always come home and ask me or Dad questions about what you heard.  Keep doing what you're doing, sweetie, because it's really working.  When you meet some harder obstacles, know we'll always be here to help you out. 

Love always,

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So many possibilities

I haven't written in a while, and things have been crazy.  Easter was last weekend and we had a nice family celebration with both sides of the family.  Jon was back to work last week and had 2 meets.  I was surprised with a full time job posting and interview.  I locked us out of the house and so we replaced the locks as we had been intending.  But today was a calmer day and we had a great afternoon at the park.

In an attempt to calm my mind, and thinking it was a warm day (it was chilly), we headed to the park this afternoon.  Both kids enjoyed the swinging, climbing, and sliding.  A group of kids were there and they played follow the leader with them for a while.  Once those kids left, we played with our kids as the leaders.  I followed James and Jon followed Carolyn.  They both seemed to really like being in charge, and everyone got some great exercise out of it.  I'll definitely be pulling this idea out when there aren't other kids to play with at the park.  It's always awesome and amazing to me how well James and Carolyn play together and with other kids.  I also commented to Jon today that I love that our kids do not need electronics to keep them occupied.  When we got home, the kids and Jon read about James Madison and Monroe while I started dinner.  After dinner, the kids went into their playroom and played nicely together.  I suspect we'll get some good sleep from them tonight as well.

Jon is of course anxiously awaiting a call from HS where he interviewed over spring break.  Other openings have popped up, or are anticipated soon, which gives him hope to escape his current school.  He just feels very beaten down and that he's not able to service kids appropriately.

Unexpectedly, about 10 days ago I received an email regarding a full time science manager position with my current company.  I submitted my cover letter and resume, hoping to get an interview.  I interviewed this last Thursday and now I sit and wait about another 10 days to see if I'm chosen.  Of course, I have mixed feelings about the position.  It's perfect, everything I would hope for, but not perfect timing.  I never envisioned going full time again until James started first grade - so 3 more years.  But this is too good of a position to pass up, especially after I found out it pays ~$60k - to work at home!  It could even give us the option of Jon taking a year of parental leave while still coaching.  We would end up having a higher total income if he even just kept his track position.  Plus our expenses would shrink without his commute.  In the meantime, we'd hope for another opening.  But that all depends on whether he finds another position this year.

There are just many possibilities of where our lives could lead right now.  And the good news is that we should have a pretty firm grasp on where we're headed by the end of the month.  We have been blessed with some amazing things over the years and pray that God continues to pour out his blessings in the coming weeks.  I'm not sure what the plan is for our family, but I anxiously await the results.

Ready for another crazy week with Carolyn turning 5 next Sunday.  It's hard to believe so much has happened since she was born.  But when I sit with her, it's hard to believe she's truly only 5.  I look forward to continuing watching her develop as well.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Life's been busy...

It's been a few weeks since I've written.  But I've really been trying to focus on the kids and truly enjoying my time with them.  Often we all get caught up in what's coming next or telling others about what we're doing.  I've been trying to watch my children, play with them, and snuggle with them.  We found out this week that Carolyn will be in morning kindergarten.  She was disappointed to find out that the other gymnastics days are full, so she will continue with one day a week.  But then we started talking and decided it will be just fine.  I've spent some time gathering ideas for places to go and science projects to do.  We'll keep working on her reading, writing, and math, as well as reading science books as well as about all of the presidents.  This is likely her last chance for a while to do what she wants without school getting in the way.  So I'm looking forward to enjoying this Spring with her.

Thursday would have been my mom's 65th birthday, so it was a tough day.  But I made my first cheesecake with the kids and they made me smile all day.  James sang happy birthday to "grandma angel" and we offered her a bite when we enjoyed some together.  I miss my mom every day, but I know she's watching us closely and keeping us safe.

James has been struggling with sleep lately and I'm not sure why.  Twice this last week he's climbed in bed with us at night and today I had to take him into our bed to get him to nap.  When I ask him why he says "because I miss you", so what do you say in response to that?  I tried to talk with him a little at nap time, wondering if the kindergarten talk has him worried.  I jokingly said something about daycare this week, so maybe that has him worried.  Just not sure, so I'll keep snuggling him and after an hour of him in our bed at night we'll shuffle him back to bed.  He won't be this little forever, but I also do horribly on interrupted sleep.

Carolyn has been doing great lately.  We're almost completely through the Dolch sight words, with I think 3 left on the final list.  She has around 100 spelling words mastered, and we keep working on addition/subtraction as well as telling time.  She'll likely be at a 2nd-3rd grade level in everything by the time she starts kindergarten.  But it's simply because she loves to learn.  She's playing very nicely with James and is becoming a much more polite little girl.  It's really cool to watch her choose her words very carefully and say things like "Excuse me Mom, but when you have a minute could you..."  I look at her when that happens and marvel that she's only 4!

I've been trying to pay more attention to not yelling lately, and I'm going to commit to this a little more going forward.  I recently read a blog post about someone commiting to not yelling for a year.  I'm not ready to do that.  But, I think I can commit to a week, and from there I can extend it further.  I know the kids are better when I'm calmer, so I need to keep focusing on this so they can the best possible.  Anyone else want to join me in this?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Amazing Sibling Interaction

Among other reasons, we chose not to send Carolyn to preschool this year so that she and James would continue to have a large amount of time together.  Once they start school they won't have unending hours together very often.  We wanted to try and create the best sibling bond possible, without forcing it.  What I have witnessed over the last few weeks shows that this was definitely a good decision.  We can only hope that this bond persists over time.  But at least for now, I can declare that they are just perfect for each other.  I won't deny that they fight and I have to remind one to say "I'm sorry" and give a hug to the other.  When getting along, though, they shine.

Last week I spent the first few days reminding James that by Friday he would be wearing underwear (at least for that day).  Carolyn must have heard me reminding him.  On Thursday afternoon she asked him he wanted to use the potty.  He said no, but she pushed further.  She told him she was create an X chart (I had already hung a sticker chart to no avail).  She then proceeded to write x's on the white board easel in the living room and let him know she would circle one each time he went on the potty.  To my amazement, he went in his room and took his diaper off.  Over the next couple days she helped him pick stickers for his chart and reminded us to dispense the m&m's and chocolate balls when James was successful.  He's had 2 accidents since, directly related to being sick on Tuesday night.  Amazing sibling bond at work as she stood by and encouraged him.

I haven't worked on much development with Carolyn until this school year.  Sure, we've done A LOT of reading to our children.  But I never did any work sheets and really not many art projects.  Since we moved I've really stepped it up, mostly because she loves it.  Most of the time when I print things for Carolyn to work on, I print a copy for James so he can feel included.  Well, his writing and cutting skills have developed simply by watching.  James can already trace some letters and he's pretty close to cutting in a straight line.  So much for boys and slow fine motor skills!  He'll definitely always be a king of gross motor, but it's great to see these skills along with color identification and singing the alphabet coming right along.  I'm considering the same, very laid back approach as I had with Carolyn for James next year and then working when he's 4 and preparing for K.

The icing on the cake for sibling interactions was at swimming today.  Carolyn has been working hard the last couple weeks and overcoming some of her fears.  She can now put her face in the water and this is allowing her to work on actually swimming.  They spent the play portion of the lesson "diving" for rings on the bottom of the pool.  James was apparently watching.  During his class, he took the rings off the toy cart, drop them into the pool and then reached down to get them, putting his full face in the water.  It was really cool to watch this and even his teacher commented on it.  I'm sure she says similar things to the other parents, but each week she comments on how smart James is to make connections.  Other weeks he's recreated a game at home with the toys in the pool.  It really is awesome to see the rapid fire connections that he makes.  With him absorbing so much from Carolyn it makes me wonder if he'll learn to read and write on a more accelerated schedule or not.

Many of the benefits here are for James, but I think Carolyn is benefiting from this relationship as well.  She has a built in buddy and someone who generally is willing to listen to her read at any time.  She enjoys playing teacher and he usually will go along with whatever he's suggesting.  I also think that his development is causing Carolyn to pick up the pace a little to ensure he doesn't catch her.  The next few years are going to be a lot of fun to watch these two continue to develop at lightning speed.  I wonder what this next week has in store!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where I Struggle

Ah, a quiet house on a Thursday night with my work email inbox empty.  Who would have thought I could accomplish on a day when Jen isn't home and I took a 30 minute nap this afternoon?  But the peace is really nice.  I even had a pretty great day with the kids, aside from almost burning down the house.  Oven mitts should not be left in the oven while baking cookies.  Note to self: don't work on a math lesson while baking.  In any case, crisis averted and the smoke has now dissipated - cookies even turned out fine!

But I learned something about myself today.  I struggle with unstructured time with the kids.  I sit and plan what they should work on learning each day, generally to not end up doing it and wondering if they're then falling behind.  Then I remind myself that my nearly 5yo can read, write, and walks around saying things like "2+2=4, 1+1=3, 5+5=10" along with "Mom, I can't read that sign, it says Do not block" and that my 2.5yo can trace letters, has memorized nursery rhymes, has great gross motor control, and amazing compassion.  So what could they possibly be falling behind on?  Yeah, that's my mind in its usual overdrive, planning what will happen next.  I'm trying to focus on the here and now, since Carolyn goes to kindergarten in <6 months and I only have 2 more years with James.  But I think that's what gets me thinking about homeschooling as well.  Then I would get to keep enjoying time with them, but that sounds awfully selfish!

I struggle though to think that school will give Carolyn (I'm not sure about James' learning style yet) what she needs to grow and thrive.  Some of what I'm noticing may simply be differences in age and ability, but I see patterns repeating.  When Carolyn was at Cary gymnastics, she was okay but not great.  Her class size was big and she didn't seem to make much progress.  We switched to Lake Zurich and she took off, quickly amassing many new skills.  Her progress seems to have slowed at Buffalo Grove with a bigger class.  Yes, I have considered switching her back to Lake Zurich, but I do think that Buffalo Grove will be better for her in the long term.  Swimming has proven to me that Carolyn makes amazing strides when she has individual attention.  There is only 1 other girl in her class, but she wasn't there today.  With the inidividual attention, Carolyn put her whole face in the water and was "swimming" (noodle under her) putting her face in the water.  This may have been a natural progression, but I think that this close attention helps her focus and work harder.  She even skipped the play portion of the class to keep working!

So I wonder how she's going to do in a school classrom with 20+ other kids her age.  I chuckle a little inside when people tell me they send their kid to preschool for the socialization.  Yes, kids need friends there age or at least similar in age.  But what is my 4 year old likely to learn from other 4 year olds, other than bad manners?  Maybe I'm missing something here, but I honestly think a room full of same-aged children for 6-7 hours a day is a bad idea for all involved. 

As I cooked dinner tonight and after we ate, I read 3 books to the kids about the nervous system.  These weren't super technical, but they also weren't simple versions.  They use the proper terminology - cerebrum, cerebellum, hypothalamus, brain stem, axons, dendrites - and be using various inflections Carolyn thought the books were exciting.  I know she's storing all the information away as well, that's just how she works.  I do think I might change up how we're working through school topics though.  I'm going to keep picking a topic each week, but I'm going to be sure and check out 7 books.  Then each morning before breakfast we'll read one.  This will spread the information (that is somewhat repetitive with slight variations between books) out over the week.  Both kids are loving reading about the human body since they can relate to it so well.  I'll likely be checking out plant books as we get later in March as well and start to think about planting our garden.  I know that's a kindergarten topic, but I love to have the kids learn real things about what we're doing.  It'll be interesting to see what they remember from last year too.

I'm enjoying working with both kids on learning related activities.  I'm not sure what will happen once they start school, although I'm sure I won't stop helping them investigate whatever they're interested in.  In my secret dreams Jon will get a job that allows me to stop working and we'll discover that the kids really do need the individual attention only an education at home can give them.  Then we'll proceed to provide them with the K-8 education only 2 highly educated parents could provide, to send them off to a high school that can provide the finishing touches before college.  But I don't know what the future will hold, so we wait and see.  For the next 6 months we'll continue the exploring through books and activities.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kindergarten Registration!

We've completed another crazy week in our house.  The days at times are quite long, by the weeks seem to pile up rather quickly.  We had a lot of fun this week, while Carolyn tested boundaries and James battled a cold.  It was nice to have Jon home on Monday and he enjoyed attending gymnastics with us.  James is just about ready to start class on his own, but has to wait until he is 3 to do so.  That limit is a little frustrating, but it is what it is.  James got to attend his own story hour on Tuesday (with me and Carolyn) and did fantastic.  I am sure he will do awesome once he turns 3 and is able to attend that on his own as well.  They do a very good job of incorporating movement and listening into a 30-45 minute time slot.  Wednesday we went to the museum and both kids had a lot of fun as usual.  They played in the vet area, which they hadn't ventured into before.  James is working on improving his attention span and staying in one area for longer.  It's fun to see him growing in this regard.  Thursday we had swim lessons and both kids continue to improve.  Carolyn is becoming less afraid of the water and getting closer to really putting her face in.  James is getting braver as well and enjoys jumping off the side and doesn't put up a huge fuss going under.  He even asked me to dunk both of us.  I hate getting the chlorine in my hair, but want to encourage his feeling safe under the water so we went under together.  Friday we had a day of rest with James developing stuffy nose.  Only a couple days though and today he's feeling much better!

Thursday night was kindergarten registration.  It was weird to be in Westbrook to sign my own child up, after having been there as a sub so many times.  I had all the paperwork done and signed Carolyn up for a screening at the end of May.  I hope that helps put her in a classroom where the teacher will push her.  The most difficult part was meeting someone who knew my mom.  The secretary there was helping put everything together and we chatted a little, during which she said she knew my mom and loved her and missed her.  I think our file may be flagged now, but it is always great to hear stories of how my mom impacted those around her.  I do still miss her everyday and these interactions help to bring her a little closer.  I found out that we might be able to get Carolyn into a spanish class before school.  Once I know for sure whether she is morning/afternoon we'l make that decision.  I think it would help her to definitely be learning something new a couple mornings a week.  They also have an awesome program to deliver school supplies on the first day.  Great to see them offering this, and I hope they do it also to help provide for lower income families and help those kids feel not so singled out.  About 6 months before Carolyn is scheduled to start!

Carolyn has really been testing limits lately.  She is trying to give up her nap, but ends up making poor decisions in the afternoon because she's so tired.  We'll be talking about the need to sleep later in the morning if she's not going to nap.  She's also testing on responses when people are talking to her.  So we'll be working on maintaining eye contact and being sure the person knows you are listening.  This is an important skill for her before she heads off to school anyway.  But I do worry about her a bit in regards to learning new and difficult skills in a higher pressue environment.  I'm hoping this is just part of development and in a few weeks we'll be over the hump.  She's also been growing a lot taller lately, so she may just be in the middle of some huge development and having trouble managing herself.

And so we're ready for another exciting week.  It's nice to have a long stretch here where life isn't too stressful.  Hopefully we'll see some job openings pop up for Jon in the next few weeks and have an exciting Spring including job interviews for him.

Friday, February 8, 2013

What a week!

This was one crazy week and I am glad we are entering the weekend.  Although, to be honest, things don't feel like the weekend until about lunch time on Saturdays.  I'll get about half a day of rest before working nearly all day Sunday.  Jon coaching is a lot harder than I had anticipated, and we're only 3 weeks in.  The kids seem to really be missing him too.  But so goes life.

We continued with our learning activities this week.  Carolyn continues to work on writing, this week I had her work on tracing some lowercase letters because she definitely has uppercase down.  She gets the basic idea, but is reluctant to write anything lowercase.  So we'll continue to do more tracing next week.  We did another book from the Bob series, so we've completed 4 of those.  And Carolyn did some more work in her math book.  We've slowed on coloring the numbers to get up to 100.  There are so many things now to color on each page that it takes a while to do each one.  She's currently working on 32 and James has lost all interest.  We had an art day where I encouraged the kids to use different objects to paint with.  They both had fun with it.  We played out in the snow quite a bit and built snowmen for the first time.  We all enjoyed that and used Carolyn's old snow gear and scarf to dress one up.  This morning after playing outside we read all about skin.  I like how the books overlap each other but each one seems to add a new bit to the topic at hand.  They seem to be enjoying reading about body parts.  Next up is cells!  Tomorrow morning I'm thinking either obstacle course or another Bob book.

We attempted bread this afternoon.  I'm not sure my oven is reaching the proper temperature and so while the outside cooked very nicely, the inside was still doughy.  I tried to cook it a bit longer, but it really didn't work out.  I bought an oven thermometer and now I'm going to give it a try to see if temperatures are off or something else wacky is going on.  I really liked the part of the bread that cooked well though.  I'm wondering if this is something that I could make in the breadmaker that we have as that would make it much easier and more likely to make more often.  Could be a great way to get the last wheat hold out in the house out if I can bake fresh bread for sandwhiches each week.  We'll see how it goes.

I've become concerned about Carolyn's level of anxiety this week as she has been asking some interesting questions.  Add in the nail biting, swimming fears, and fear of heights and I become worried that her anxiety is more than just passing curiosity.  I will be keeping a close eye on her over the next few weeks and we'll see how things progress.  She seemed interested in the idea of painting her nails tonight, but I told her they need to get longer.  She was intrigued when I was tapping my finger on the counter this afternoon, and I explained that only works if they're long.  So if the nail biting is not anxiety related, I'm hoping I've found a good way to get her to stop.

Early to be tonight, for I'm simply burned out.  Ready for spring and trips to the park and watching the kids ride their bikes in the yard!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Life is just beginning... 30!

I read a post on facebook this week that talked about someone who wrote a famous book at 40, I can't remember who that famous person was.  Yesterday I turned 30 and I honestly feel like I'm just getting to the best part of life.  My kids are now old enough to truly interact and going places is getting to be more fun.  We still have to work around nap schedules, but I cherish this part of the day as a time to refresh.  I am gaining a bit more independence and over the next couple years I will have more time to focus on me and getting to where I want to be physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Sometimes I actually think that my 40s will be the prime of my life since James will be 12 and Carolyn 14 so very much so independent and when I turn 45 he'll be graduating from high school!  But life seems to truly be falling into place at this point and we're getting rewarded for our willingness to try and follow God's plan.  I'm ready to take on the challenges of being 30 and can't wait to see what God has in store for this year!

Carolyn had a powerhouse of a learning week.  We did reading and writing earlier the week and math towards the end.  She is really enjoying the math workbook that we gave as a Christmas present and starting to memorize some of the math facts.  She seems to have down the idea of adding 0 means you keep the original number and has some random facts such as 5+5 down pat.  It's so cool to see her love working and understanding.  I pulled out the easel this week and the kids spent some time painting with watercolors as well, for their artistic side.  I left it out with the dry erase markers and chalk for them to draw on as well.  Carolyn has started to write sentences on the board at random.  Last night she wrote "The cat has a hat" without any help.  So awesome to see the connections firing away in her brain.

This explosion of learning keeps me a bit worried about kindergarten.  If she's reading, writing, and doing math well above kindergarten level before she starts school, I wonder how it will go.  I'm not crazy concerned about kindergarten since it's only half day and we can of course continue to work at home, but what happens as she gets older?  If she's continuously ahead of her grade how bored will she be until she hits high school?  Will she never really learn to learn difficult concepts and push herself?  This is something I have forever struggled with myself and so it really concerns me.  There are definitely some things I think Carolyn will learn from being in kindergarten, but it's a pretty short list.  The 6-8 months are going to be a bit nerve-wrecking for me as we await the beginning of school.  I'm interested to see if the registration packet will ask about the abilities of the child at all, but I'll be picking that up on Tuesday morning so not too long to wait to find out.

James is finally back to eating a bit more as he had a banana, 2 eggs, blueberries, spinach, and a strawberry for breakfast.  He really struggles to sit down and eat and Carolyn seems to truly try to distract him from eating.  He got on the scale today and I think he may have actually lost weight.  I'm going to be keeping a close eye on how much he eats and how much milk he drinks.  I'm wondering if the milk is what is bothering his stomach and causing a mild case of eczema (sp?)  While I think getting rid of all dairy would be hard, we might be able to replace milk with another form of milk like goat or almond (definitely not soy!)  I'll be keeping close tabs on this and see how things progress over the next few weeks.