November 27, 2011

Do whatcha can.

The holiday season is fun and beautiful and it’s also stressful and not without a certain pressure of its own. Because we’re Christians, we want our boys to take more from the holiday than just a list of toys they want and a sugar-soaked parade of treats.

Last year I saw this thing going around all the Christian mom-blogs called a Jesse Tree. It’s like an advent tree and has been around forever. It’s for counting down to Christmas with little stories connected to symbols you hang each day on a small tree. It’s called a Jesse Tree in reference to the tracing of the lineage of Jesus. Isaiah, 11:1 is: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

Last year I tried to do a big, poetic, fancy version of the Jesse Tree. I collected little things. Stuffed camels, crowns, hearts, jewels and all kinds of gew-gaws. It got overwhelming before I even got started, and my boys were only flippin’ 2 and 4 at the time. The bag of stuff is still in the closet, so I suppose there is some chance that one day there will be a super fancy super mom super Christian tree.

This year I found a printable online of Jesse ornaments that the kids just color in each day. We’ll glue them on a square of cardstock with a hole for a string and call it good. Coloring with a very brief story & verse, this I can handle.

Silly Faces- these we can do.

So the short story long, I have come up with some advice for moms of young kids. Only read the blogs that inspire you because you can actually take something from them and only read them as long as they inspire you. I get like my boys in the Lego shop: I want to do everything artsy and deep to bring my boys closer to Christ. Then I realize I can’t do it and I decide not to start. Pretty soon I feel like each amazing mom post is making me feel like a short order chef next to Julia Childs.

November 27, 2011

How long, Oh Lord?

I bet from the title you thought this would be an adoption post, but it’s not. Ha.

Actually, I’ve just been thinking about how long to school each year. Many states require 180 days minimum.

Bookstores pop up just about everywhere these days. Awesome.

This year my 5 year old boy & his 3 year old distract-inator brother and I began schooling at home. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few weeks as we round the stretch into our first big holiday break. We’re doing it pretty much every day and I am loving that.

I think we’ll emphasize reading now, and probably always, and keep that on our plate daily. Because we’re still at the letter recognition/BOB books level, it’s pretty work intensive for me at this point: he can’t work independently yet, unless he’s just tracing or doing copywork. Even then he does better with me sitting nearby. I have a somewhat unpredictable schedule, a mashed-up SAHM-WAHM teaching music and playing gigs. So my philosophy has become “do reading & some math every day we can”. That has worked out well, and I think my son actually appreciates the predictability of what will be in the first couple of workboxes each day.

I still labor under a bit of a shadow of the school curriculums. I want to be sure we are at least on-level with the public schoolers and I don’t want my son to suffer academically just because I’m so new at this. For that reason, I think schooling every day is helping me relax a bit and let us take our time. I find myself much less snappy with him when he gets tired or distracted, too. Maybe I should have listed that as the best reason to school 365!

We aim to be chill. It's a lofty goal.

November 27, 2011

Why do you homeschool?

A friend whose wife is a school teacher has been poking some fun at homeschoolers on facebook, and I had replied to a couple of his threads. He then asked me directly why we decided to do it, and I thought I might post my response here. This blog exists in part to organize my thoughts and in part to keep my memories of our lives. As I wrote that answer to my friend, I realized my memory of how we came to homeschool was already becoming fuzzy and it spurred me to get it out here before I forget entirely. So here, in short, is why we have become homeschoolers.
Oh, I just realized I didn’t answer the “why”. In retrospect it feels like a complicated thing to answer.

Our five year old is really excited about/distracted by action around him. He’s bright and when he’s interested in something he’s borderline happily obsessive. The combination can be frustrating when a teacher has a big group of kids to work with. We learned this about him in preschool and at church.

Also, as we approached fall and had a decision to make about school (his birthday being in January meant it was optional to start this year), I started researching the neighborhood schools. They aren’t horrible, not great, they have large classes and aren’t strong in reading. I had a couple of friends who homeschool and started looking into that, too. At first I thought I’d just make sure he got a good reading start.

Mixing "gamillas"- vanilla banana cookies.

I also read a book called “How to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child”, and “The Well Trained Mind”. Those began to really tip me toward sincerely considering it. That was a shock even to me.

We went to an info meeting about a virtual public school but much of their system really is just like public, including grades from teachers and needing to complete subjects in grade level lock-step. Also, they wanted us to log 6 to 8 hours a day, which with one-on-one attention is just dumb in kindergarten. My impression was that it is mainly for people having trouble in public school.

Then I went to a huge homeschool conference here in portland. I could not believe the diversity of families there. Everything from head-covering mennonites to freaky tattoed people (that’s us). There were so many transracial families, too. I remember being struck by that. Last month when we had our social worker interviews for the adoption she also mentioned how huge adoption is in the homeschool community. I think that’s awesome. It was a beautiful thing to see.
The other kind of diversity I saw at the conference was the wide wide range of curriculae. There are some excellent statistics on homeschooler achievement, but I know it’s not the academics that are generally criticized. The socialization factor has also been debunked, but I’m thinking it’s more the insular nature of families with crazy ideas/ideals that you’re thinking of…

PJ's are the best.

Anyway, sorry to ramble but it was a curvy road. I love it now that we’re doing it. We’re in a “Classical Conversations” group and that is incredible. Very broad.

This is Toby's group, memorizing the history sentence: The war of 1812 gave confidence to the US to write the Monroe Doctrine, warning Europeans not to attempt to colonize the Americas.

After writing this response to my friend, I looked around for some good statistics on homeschool graduates. The statistics are overwhelmingly positive.

November 26, 2011

The waiiiiting is the hardest part.

We have finally completed all of our adoption homework, jumped through every hoop and are now just… waiting.

Our agency has all our info, our approved report from the social worker, and our family profile book. We used Blurb to make it and it turned out just the way we wanted. I can’t imagine making it without a program like that, it was super helpful. The other thing that lead to me completing the profile book without huddling in the fetal position under my bed was a class we took online through Adoption Learning Partners. Extremely practical, if you are going to be making one of these or writing a “Dear Birthmother” letter any time soon I would sit yourself down with a nice latte, run on over to their site and take the class.

Yup, now we wait. It’s not that bad, really. I’m not a patient person but even I can see that we have privileges and graces that other families long for. We already have two monkeys, and they are awesome little humans. We have a stable and supportive extended family. We have the luxury of believing in a Creator and in the existence of absolutes. All these things put us in a great position to wait gracefully for the process to work itself out.

A friend said something so smart about it, though, “To hold an adoption loosely requires the heart of a robot. I am convinced.” She and her husband are waiting, too, and have had many more jarring ups and downs so pray for them if they happen to come to mind. Can’t wait for our kids to meet theirs a few years down the road.


June 20, 2011

We’re off and running, right?

Here we are, filling out forms, taking numbers, kicking apps. Here are some things I’d advise that everybody else probably already figured out about applying to adopt a human being from somewhere in the greater United States area.

1. Get ready with a small office space stocked with the latest computers, printer and mailing supplies. Perhaps rent something modest with an inspiring view and a built-in childcare professional for the kids you will ignore while you fill out page 3 of form S.

If this is not possible or you are trying to go green and don’t want to support some nanny who might forget to recycle the kids juice boxes, at least get yourself an accordion file. Everyone feels smarter holding one of those things. And you’ll absolutely need a label-maker. One of those spinny round-topped ones with a squeeze mechanism for marking each letter will entertain your two other kids for at least half of an address and part of a social security number. An added bonus: Once you’ve labeled their shirt, glasses, sippy cup and each appendage you’ll have a handy reminder of their names. Believe me, when you reach that golden hour of paperwork where your last brain cell packs up and vacates the premises you’ll be grateful you don’t have to keep saying, “Hey, kid wearing blue shirt, please stop drawing robots on your certified original birth certificate.”

2. Make copies BEFORE you start filling out the forms. Because, duh, not like I already screwed up in the line for our names or anything.

3. Prepare to involve lots of other people in your inconvenience. Just get over it and assume they are darn near glowing with the honor of this duty. You’ll need people you actually know to swear they think you’re great parents, fantastic Christians, practically magical. You’ll meet new doctors and insurance officials you never knew existed. Even the postal workers can thank you for singlehandedly supporting your neck of the woods, just as soon as they recover from the last time you had to stand in line for thirty minutes with a three year old tornado who is going to be the perfect big brother (on paper anyway).

4. Prepare to write an autobiography that is sincere without sounding too braggy, too glamourous, too goofy, too suburban, too desperate, too open, too closed, too manipulative. And, GO!

5. Get a bunch of pictures of your current family ready. These should follow the general propriety guidelines as listed above and should additionally show the children always smiling but natural, the parents fit and friendly but natural, the friends numerous and close but natural. In summation: Look Awesome!, but natural.

Have fun with it! It can be a time of deep bonding and fodder for lengthy future therapy for all. Take notes, but keep it natural. Don’t be intimidated by the depth and breadth of our knowledge and experience. Soon you’ll be using Wite-Out like it’s 1999, too!

May 30, 2011

So my friend says, “Why DOES it cost so much?”

Yeah, because dude, it is a LOT of money, isn’t it?!

Disclaimer: We are adoption neophytes, and we know it. Here is the extent of our experience, and then my answer about the money side of this equation.

I have always been drawn to the idea of adopting. We’ll chat soon about how that idea became reality for our family.

On the practical side, three years ago we nearly adopted a distant relative through the state but as our second son arrived before we could get all the ducks in a row, we did not end up adopting that child. She was placed with a distant member on the other side of her family. I’m still surprised how painful that whole thing was, and how much it brought me to the cross in the sense that I had to deal with deeper anger and frustration with God for the first time as a believer. (I became a Christian as an adult, about 12 years ago.)

We’re at the infancy stages of adopting now through a private agency. We went to the meetings about state adoption, and realized that there were several things that made it clear it was not for us.

      First: why we don’t just go through the state.
They simply don’t have nearly the need in our state now for adoptive parents of children under 2, and will just about not process the paperwork for a family with that age restriction. The child’s distant, remote and never-even-met-you relations are first approached about placement (remember, that was US a few years back). When a blue moon rises and they do have one arrive with need of a family, there are literally 60 to 80 dossiers waiting and ready. Three are selected and considered by a committee that may include the child’s birth family. So it takes years. It can take years just to get processed if you restrict it to a young child. One other point of concern with us is that they absolutely will not work with families who are not comfortable with a fully open adoption. Keeping in mind the circumstances that bring children to need for families, I find that to be potentially disconcerting. The workers didn’t tell us “do not go with us” but they made it pretty clear we would be unlikely to have a child placed with us through them. They even gave us names of agencies to check out!

I can’t say that “losing” the state option wasn’t a bit of a disappointment. On the bright side, at least on paper, social services must be doing a bang-up job in the Northwest! And the kids are rarely waiting like they used to, so that’s a huge big awesome deal. I hope things continue to be streamlined and reformed in ways that truly benefit those children.

     So, today, off the cuff, here is my answer to “Why DOES it cost so much?”

I assume you’re talking domestic. International costs fund the orphanages, agencies, sometimes social services in the community, and indeed in some cases the bribery involved for the greasing of bureaucratic wheels.

So, domestic, best case scenario: You are funding the highly trained counseling pre- and post- placement for the birthmother and potentially the birthfather as well. This includes (as it should) funding that same counseling for families who in the end choose to parent, thereby garnering no fees for the agency outside of state funding. You are funding the advertising and outreach an agency does, and probably some of their political outreach as well (re: abortions, adoption law, etc). Social workers must have a masters, minimum, and most agencies have their own on retainer. A home study is required to adopt from anywhere in/to the US, and the licensing for the people who visit families to approve them, grilling them and their children, is necessarily extensive as well.

That said, it’s still free to adopt through the state and I’ve heard that some states have more need than ours.

The agency we found finally (through the super-chick who played piano at our wedding), is incredible at first blush and we hope they’ll continue to impress us. They charge $15,000, pretty much one of the lowest fees we’ve seen.

This agency requires adoptive families to sign a Christian statement of faith, which we are all over and glad to see. In the swirl of adoption information, intensity of issues and opinions, it is really a source of comfort that we share that belief. Most of their adoptions are semi-open, meaning the birthmother often meets the family before placing with them, updates are sent from the adoptive family on a regular basis, and the families communicate through the proxy of the agency, but there is not usually direct contact between the birth family and the child. While I understand the affront that is felt by some birth mother advocates at this form of “open” (which they would called closed), I was impressed by the consideration and respect this agency showed to potential birth mothers in answers to several of my questions.

There are agencies whose fees start at twice or more what ours will be. Perhaps they are affected by the region in which they operate. The cynical side of me has other comments, but for now I’m going to focus on where we are in this marathon process and on the things I’ve found to be beautiful therein. Later maybe I’ll dig a bit deeper with sharper claws, and I do pray for the whole system and the kids in need at this point in history. Adoption always begins with loss. You should pray, too, or dig, as needed.

I hope the movement gaining momentum in the Christian church that calls people to support adoption and adoptive families will continue to grow. Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life is a good place to start if you’re interested. The short of it is: it would be great if the church were to be known for supporting its members in adoption. There are programs that start short term loan or small grant programs for church communities to fund, and I heart that concept. The IRS gives us certain tax credits which also helps a LOT, but tax help only comes after you’ve shelled out your clams. So it’s hard and sometimes seems unfair. Bleh.

So, there’s the long of it from our viewpoint. More is likely to come!

May 14, 2011


Today I attended a teacher training for a curriculum for teaching children to read. It’s primarily used for homeschool kids, and my fellow students today were Christian homeschooling parents from all varieties of life.

Huddled around the plastic tables were ten students, including a homeschooling 10 year-old dressed in gingham and braids, a couple who had themselves been homeschooled dressed in flannel and claiming to raise goats for a living and a couple of former teachers with whom I kept getting into trouble for chatting our way out of confusion. Then there was the trainer herself who told me all about her water barrels thoughtfully stockpiled in the backyard by her husband for the coming apocalypse. I found myself, as you can see by the details provided, fighting the urge to stereotype these fine folks as… well, as oh so many things.

It’s a funny thing being part of the family that is the church. People decide they know things about me, and I them, based on our doofy perceptions. We forget not only their status as image-bearers made for the glory of the creator, but our obligation to love them as members of a family. Without this membership, I see no way to reconcile myself to, let alone work with these people for the cause of Christ. I can barely imagine agreeing on a radio station or a take-out order.

I wish I could say I was able to encourage and learn from each of the folks at class. The truth is that even with all the break time in the world I’m sure I would have failed. I get busy thinking of my own agenda, my interests, my opinions, my image.

This opportunity to homeschool has already forced me to broaden my perception. I didn’t think of myself as a homeschooler, and had definite ideas about what “those people” were like. I’m excited to see what other developments come our way as we refuse to accept the assumptions we have held.

Here’s to phonograms and faux perceptions. May one take root even as the other dies with one more small layer of my immaturity.

May 10, 2011

Just tell me what you’ll do, then gimme what I want.

I read a good blog today about why it is God doesn’t just let us know what to do clearly at all the crucial junctures in life. Spinning from the thoughts there while the boys have their afternoon naps, I realized deep down I know exactly what I’d do with a God who revealed everything. Despite this post, I confess that I still want that god, just like our toddler still hated getting his immunization today despite our explanation that in the end it’s for the best. Childishness is right up there with my sense of entitlement and worship of personal comfort battling for Mimi’s Top Idol.

Why a transparent god is probably bad for me even though I think I want one:
1. I don’t actually want Him telling me “what to eat for lunch”. I’d like Him to be available, but not too close. If God were a genie, he’d be pretty confused right now as to exactly what part of my life plan he should let slip to me. This highlights the fact that my freedom is ultimately more important to me than my God, which means it is an idol in itself. Submission to an all-powerful creator is a foreign concept, making it appear to be a great internal fight and a struggle when ironically the Bible says again and again that true freedom is in Christ alone.
This pulls my mind back to our lives being lived well only from and not for the cross. More than just a nicely turned bit of Christianese, this phrase reflects the difference between a tiny god who would be manipulated by my mere human actions and a holy God, entirely different in his just-ness. By living every day in light of (love those words… maybe I’ll write more on that later) the way He has shown us His love despite ourselves we focus on the things that make life worthwhile and ultimately good (redemption). If I really believe God did xyz, how should I then go about my everyday life? It’s amazing what matters and what doesn’t when I try to peek through that lens.
So in short: Lunch-Menu God and only-reveal-stuff-just-when-I-need-you God are two sides of a fantasy false god coin. Both ultimately serve me.

2. I would instantly begin to worship the “plan”, the information, its method of conveyance, etc. The God of the Bible asks us to turn, to follow, to do, to work, and a whole raft of other verbs. With a listing of what is to come in my life I’d surely switch off as though at a conference where the speaker is only reading from Powerpoint slides. This knowledge itself would draw me away from rather than to Him. God the creator is no such being, stranger and more able than any analogy I can find.
I see this when my kids get gifts, too. They clamor at the gift itself, obsess about it. One of their grandmas showed the 5 year old a couple of toys she’ll bring him in a few weeks and he had not. stopped. asking for them. As parents we try to instill gratitude and a focus on the giver, but we see clearly that those are most certainly not our native state.

3. Glorifying God forever is a beautiful concept fraught with the concepts of striving and constantly turning back. This constant turning reminds me of the way string players (and any other non-fixed-pitch musicians) work their entire careers to have good intonation, to find just the right inflections of pitch for a phrase. It makes hearing a well-tuned performance that much more thrilling to witness. Did you know that you can improve the way you hear intonation? Training and listening carefully, methodically, regularly (“regular” being key as always) gives the human ear the ability to hear smaller and smaller differences in pitch. I find that amazing. I wonder if it’s the same with close study of color. I bet it is for flavors, judging by the way my palate changes depending on what I give it most often and by the fact that there are people out there who like liver. We ARE wonderfully made!

4. Most of the prophets were at least a little fried by their proximity to the creator and the glimpses he gave them of their future. As proof I give you Isaiah, laying on one side for more than a year, going around nekkid, and getting sawn up inside a tree. See also John the Baptist’s fantastic beard filthy with honey & locusts, and pretty much all the others… and they usually didn’t really get what it meant despite the revelations when it was close to their own lives.

The thing is, the way sickness and death were injected into this world, the fall itself, was played out in such a way that we cannot get back to “good” without fleeing to God’s ultimate strength. This set-up (that the consequence itself draws us in) is beautiful. If we were given the cheat-sheet, the crib notes to our lives, how would we be given the gift of struggle and even pain through which we grasp the depth of this love? We would run from it, or slouch away by inches. This gift of grace, and this alone makes the horror of this world meaningful.

May 9, 2011

Mother’s Day Rocketh

*To see the video below without it being cut in half, click on the title of this post before viewing. Pity me and my WordPress noviceness.*

I have decided to make my first post here a tribute to my evah lovin muthuh. My mom is awesome on so many levels. Having pretty much taught herself to weld with her friends, she makes art out of reclaimed pieces of junk metal. Another group of friends creates huge cement leaves that everyone wants to buy but mom rarely sells hers because it “takes something out of it”. A master gardener, she and Dad meticulously resodded their lawn 4 years ago and yet left a large pile of dirt bare simply because our boys love to play in it.

She mispronounces words in fantastic ways, ruthlessly mixing metaphors and ordering fajitas in such a way it becomes practically scandalous.  Despite having thoroughly proven she can still chase me down and spank me as an adult, she’s even cool when we tease her about these things.

Here’s a video that pretty much explains how great she is. This video was for a contest J entered, was shot in her backyard, and Mom enthusiastically participated as you can see. After we shot the video I believe we roasted hot dogs and drank her favorite Black Butte Porter while hanging out watching the sun go down. Yay, Mom!