The end of another year

I have a little ritual – to write an end of our year review for homeschool. I started these posts for my mom, but they have morphed into a memento of sorts for me too. I love looking back and seeing how far the kids have come over the year….and even taking a peek at years past.

With a son who will be entering his 3rd year of high school, now more than ever, I feel the need to really slow down and recognize how far we have come. We started this homeschool journey when Soccer Dude was entering 1st grade. With a few years off while we lived in Kentucky, we have been at this for 8 years. Actually, I should write a post about how far I have come as a home educator. I knew nothing back then! Maybe I will add that for next year. For now, I am celebrating the end of another year.

Here is a peek at what the kids have learned this year, where they are headed, and some encouragement to myself that we have accomplished a lot during this crazy year. Wohoo for another year in the books!

Moe: Age 3 (our pre-school comic relief) This guy is everyone’s favorite. Each of the big kids take a turn playing with Moe as I homeschool. That really is one of the only ways I can keep sane while homeschooling 5 children with a pre-schooler under my feet. What started out as a chore (babysitting) turned into the privilege everyone fought over. Moe is just fun to be with. Play dough, reading picture books, forts, light saber fights…the kids all love finding ways to keep their three year old brother entertained during school time. You can bet that he also entertains us as he pretends to be a cat or a kangaroo.

Favorite subject: trucks and tractors

What he wants to be when he grows up: Grandpa

Favorite food: hot dogs

Biggest accomplishment: Moe has been in our family for just a bit over a year. Hard to believe when you hear him talk. He rocks English. He narrates EVERYTHING. “Look. There is a truck coming. That is a big truck. I like trucks. Mom, do you like trucks? Trucks can go over speed bumps.” On and on it goes, in perfect english. He is amazing.

Little Man: (Our 2nd grade graduate.) This guy is as smart as he is hilarious. He has taught me more about dinosaurs and the Jurassic period then I ever have cared to learn. He also can pronounce more dinosaurs names than I can.

Favorite subject: Math and geography (because he can do it fast.)

What he wants to be when he grows up: Archeologists

Favorite food: Chinese noodles

Biggest accomplishment: Little Man attended an art class that I taught for local kids. This year I have seen his Chinese language skills improve, his ability to make local friends has improved and our outgoing dude is blossoming. During one class I caught him challenging the boys to see if they could stomp on his foot hard enough to make him cry. I couldn’t help but laugh at all of the boys who were in awe over how strong Little Man is – none of them can stomp hard enough on his fake leg to make him flinch! I wonder when he might show them that he wears a prosthetic! That is our Little Man for ya.

Little Monkey: (completed 5th grade) It might be time for a new nickname for this sweet young lady. She is growing and maturing so quickly. It is fun to see the person she is becoming. We spent a chunk of time this year helping her determine her talents, gifts, and what she enjoys doing. She feels most comfortable following her big sister’s footsteps – but it has been fun to see her come into her own a bit this year.

Favorite subject: Geography and literature. It is even better if those two things are combined.

What she wants to be when she grows up: unsure

Favorite food: rice

Biggest accomplishment: urged on by one of her best friends, Little Monkey has determined to practice piano enough hours to make herself an expert. Based on the idea that 10,000 hours of practice can make you an expert in a field – she has upped her piano practice time in hopes that she can be an expert before she is mom’s age!

Roo: (will be starting High School in the fall!) This girl loves the arts. Painting, drawing, playing piano, knitting, crafting….you name it. Our home would not be the same without this creative spirit who is always pressing us to do school in a new way, bringing a creative twist to our lessons and thinking of some new fun way to entertain her brothers.

Favorite subject: She would say art and that she hates math – but really she is very good at math and language. This girl can diagram a sentence better than her momma.

As a family we based our homeschooling on My Father’s World’s curriculum “Exploring Countries and cultures.” Roo has loved our family read a-louds that are based on expats who have lived and worked around the world. We were all inspired by the series “Christian Hero’s: Then and Now.” We plan to read many more of them. This year, I have watched this tendered hearted girl fall in love with and have a heavy heart for a particular country and people group. Makes me wonder where she will end up one day.

Favorite food: ice cream

Biggest accomplishment: I will let this photo of one of her art projects speak for itself. I love seeing her art skills develop. This is was an assignment she did after studying famous artists including Van Gough.

B: (Surprise addition to our homeschool crew.) This guy is so very smart. I can’t even begin to put it into words. Our original goal was to slowly introduce him to our educational ways – let him hang with Little Man with 2nd grade work as he learns english. No pressure for him or for me. HA! I saw in the first week that wouldn’t work. We did placement after placement test for math. When he aced the 5th grade placement test even though he has had little formal education, I knew it was going to be hard to keep a head of this kid. He is learning words in math like parallelogram, is racing through Rosetta Stone English and is being diligent in his Explode the Code series.

Favorite subject: Math

Favorite food: gan ban (A Chinese noodle dish)

Biggest accomplishment: acclimating to our family. He has rocked this life change. I can’t say enough about how strong, flexible, kind, and tender-hearted this kiddo is. So thankful that he has joined our homeschooling crew this year.

Soccer Dude: (10th grade graduate – he is half way through High School!) We made a lot of changes in homeschooling this guy. Last year he was enrolled in an online High School. It was a good solid program and he did well, but it was hard on all of us to have him at the computer all day long. So this year, he took two classes online and we went back to traditional homeschooling the other courses. I was nervous at the beginning of the year, but it has been so much better for all of us. I am thankful to be more involved in his schoolwork again, he has taken more initiative in his learning, and we are having some big and good conversations. Who says parenting and homeschooling the teen years are hard? I am learning with them and enjoying this journey….even with the bumps along the way.

Favorite subject: Science (that is a new things this year!)

Favorite food: grilled bratwurst (can you tell he spent more time in the states this year?!)

Biggest accomplishment: Grieving well. This might sound like a weird thing to put here, but seriously this guy has been an example to me. He is leaning into Jesus as he has walked through the grief of saying goodbye to a foster brother he adored and loosing both of his grandmothers. When we transitioned to the States for the spring semester he did it with strength that rarely is seen in a teenager. He has handled it all well and is finishing his 10th grade year with all A’s. I am proud of him – not just for his high grades, but for setting aside his life and friends to help his Papa. It gives me a glimpse into the great man he is becoming.

I have never been so ready for our summer break. It has seemed like a long year and I have often felt that I could not meet all of the educational needs of these 6 souls – not to mention keeping our home going! I appreciate looking back over the year and seeing how God has met all of our needs – the needs of the kids and mine!

I am taking a deep breath and enjoying the beach before it is time to start another round of the Williams academy.

Dinosour moments

Sitting in church on Sunday morning so thankful to be with friends, singing, praying, and thankful to have the opportunity to take communion. I looked down our row with tears in my eyes as Hubby was explaining what was about to happen in communion to our newest son. That is when I happened to glance at Little Man who was happily serving part of his communion bread to his plastic dinosaur.

There are moments. Moments when I shake my head and wonder if all that we are teaching our kids is sinking in.

With my sternest mommy look and my “I mean business even though I am whispering” voice I said. “Little Man, Dinosours do not get communion!”

There are moments. Moments when things come out of my mouth that I can not even believe that I am saying. Really? Do we need to explain this? I looked nervously around to see who was catching my son in the act. While traditions surrounding kids and communion differ, our heritage has allowed children to particiate when ready. We have always been firm believers in explaining sacraments to our kids, and when they believe, we have them participate alongside us. In that moment I could see the other side – why our practice could be questioned!

Little Man’s response to my stern whisper in not such a whisper voice. (He really is our loudest child and is not capable of whispering.) “Mom, EVERYONE needs to be reminded of what Jesus did for us.”

Schooled.

So I let my seven year old finish his communion and share the juice with his favorite T-Rex. There is room in our traditions and rituals for children to show us the way.

There are moments when I realize that this parenting thing is hard, but these kids might turn out okay after all. But then again, as I am typing this my three year old has a plastic triceratops stuck up his nose digging out snot. No spiritual justification for that one. My work is not done.

Miracle Soup

My mother-in-law has shared stories with me on how she managed a home with four kids on a budget. One thing she did – freezing left overs in a carton.  Once the carton was full she would pull it out and make soup.  You never knew what fun soup creation would result.

I kinda feel like this blog post is a bunch of tid-bits from the month of September.  Not really sure what the end result of this post will be, but want to save these precious moments and share them.  Mostly so I won’t forget.

We have celebrated an anniversary this month, Little Man’s 6th birthday, family day for both of our youngest kiddos and some milestones for our upcoming adoption.  It has been a big month.

 

My baby is 6 years old!  We had fun celebrating him with gifts, chocolate cupcakes, and his first ever birthday party.  So much fun to plan a Dragon Training Camp that ended with a piñata (created and painted with much love by two older sisters) that was fought with a sword.  Nothing like watching a bunch of kids swinging a wooden sword while your husband holds a piñata from a broom handle in the living room.  Fun times.  We may also have launched stuffed sheep across our living room at the book shelves and made our own version of corn hole…or feed the dragons.  The whole thing was a hoot.

I was having so much fun celebrating our big, 6 year old, funny, first grade guy…not one tear.  Then a couple of days later he lost his first tooth!  I must admit, that is when I lost it.  He is six.  He is missing a tooth.  My baby is all grown up.  Sniff.  Sniff.

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Maybe that is why I was savoring our “Family Day Celebration” with more vigor and focus.  Little Monkey has been in our family for 6 years this month – Little Man for 4 years.  On the outside it seemed that we celebrated by going to a huge ball pit/playground.  We then ate our favorite Chinese meal out – Hot Pot.  Fun times. Good food.  But, as I watched Soccer Dude carry little Man to the top point of the playground, I delighted.  When I had a little in my arms for a few moments of rest, I savored the warmth of my space in time.  I felt the joy and the miracle of my family that afternoon.  I wanted to hold on and take in the moment. Not to keep the kids from growing up, I have longed since learned there is no trick for that.  I just wanted to remember – never forget – our family that was brought together through pain, sorrow, redemption, joy and a lot of paperwork.

I felt the miracle of it.

I truly feel that every adoption is a miracle and as I watch our children grow and blossom, shaped by adoption (not just my younger two, but all four of my children…heck, me too) I am filled with awe and thankfulness.

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We are on a journey that will take another miracle.  I see the miracles our first two adoption were and I expect nothing less this time around.

We have completed all of our paperwork to submit to China for our next miracle.  It is being authenticated and soon will be on its way from our adoption agency in the US to our side of the ocean.  The next step….to be matched with the child God has for us.

Would you pray with us?  We know that Father has a child in mind for us….and He will confirm who the next Williams will be during this next step.  This will be part of the story of the miracle of our family.  It will be miraculous, life changing, and we are praying hard.

Thank you for standing with us, following our journey and praying. Can’t wait to share our next miracle with you.

17 years and counting

We had been living out of suitcases for at least 5 weeks by the time we hit Ohio.  The kids were fighting in the van and I was nervous about the friends we were about to see in our state of mind.  That is when Hubby pulled onto Brice Road.  We looked at each other and smiled ignoring the chaos.  At a church called Brice 17 years ago, that is where it all began.

We have moved 8 times, finished degrees, experienced two births and three adoptions, lived in 3 countries, learned two languages, and worked countless different jobs since that hot day in September.  I had no idea what I was getting into!

That is exactly what I was thinking as I asked our kids to tumble out of the van to take photos on the steps of the church.  We have a photo of our young selves all dressed up in a tux and white dress on those very steps.  I still am amazed that at 24 I made a good decision like marrying this redhead. The grace of God.  That is all I can say. I have been thankful for and marveled at that decision every year since.

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Here’s the thing.  I would do it again.  Not because it has been easy.  It hasn’t.  Good but not easy. We now have tasted and seen sick, poor, bad, sad and a bit of ugly. But, there is something about choosing to do life with the same person.  I never doubt who is going to be by my side during each season.  He keeps on choosing me and I choose him.

Our new photo on those steps – we for sure are not as pretty.  Those capri pants were wrinkled from travel and I had been sweating over my peacemaking efforts as momma to my crew.  I am pretty sure I wasn’t wearing any make-up and I no longer can count the gray hair in somebodies chin strip.  But, I think I will treasure this photo more.  It shows us 17 years into this thing called marriage.  I know what I am getting into now.  I held his hand, gazed into his eyes and said yes again.  It grossed out my teenagers and did all of our hearts some good.

We have come a long way in 17 years.  I wonder what the next 17 might hold and am thankful that this redhead will be by my side.  Choosing him one year day at a time.

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that is a wrap.

The day that seemed so far away last August….it has arrived.  We have wrapped up our school year and celebrated with some of our favorite Chinese food, hot pot.  We survived.  Another year of homeschooling in the books and I do believe that we all are a bit smarter.  At least, I am smarter.  That is something to celebrate! (My 5th time through Kindergarten was the charm.  I think I might have passed this time!)

Here is a peek at what we accomplished and how much our kiddos have grown.

 

IMG_0272-2Little Man: Our Kindergarten graduate (kinda)

Age: 5

We started Kindergarten with this kiddo because he was dying to do school with the other kids and frankly we homeschool so we have the freedom to start when the kids want to learn.  Another layer of honesty, he is a busy kid.  Giving him things to learn keeps him busy with the rest of us.  Win.  Win.  Now – what to do next fall?  My grand plan had been two years of Kindergarten, then he informed me that he had passed kindergarten and sure hoped 1st grade would be more of a challenge.  HA!  Now, if he could just learn to sit still in a chair.  Hmmm.

Favorite subject: Geography.  This kid knows crazy facts about the States and can put together a State puzzle faster than I can.  Need to know a capital or in what order a State entered the union?  Ask Little Man.  I am not joking.

What he wants to be when he grows up: A baker or a dragon trainer.

Favorite food: Noodles

Biggest accomplishment: He is well on his way toward reading and knows his basic math facts.  He claims knowing how to add and subtract is not an accomplishment – “You just use your fingers.  Everyone knows that.”

 

 

IMG_0226Little Monkey: Our 3rd Grade Graduate

Age: 9

Favorite subject: Reading and art.  Little Monkey also added piano to her list of studies this year.  She is whizzing through the first book, but isn’t so sure about playing in front of people for the recital coming in a few weeks.

What she wants to be when she grows up: A baker or a teacher (Not sure what is up with my kids all wanting to bake.  I told them I would hire them now!)

Favorite food: Rice

Biggest accomplishment: Learning to read music and completing a special science course that she chose.  If I was giving out end of the year awards, “most diligent” would be hers.  She is so good about staying focused, going down her list of daily work.  She is becoming more and more independent in her work.  Maybe that is what I should have put for biggest accomplishment; she is growing in confidence and character.

 

 

IMG_0316Roo: Our 6th Grade Graduate

Age: 12

Of all of our children, Roo loves homeschooling the most.  I often find her sitting in a corner of her room working away on a school assignment with headphones tuning out the rest of the world.

Favorite subject: Art and piano

Biggest accomplishment: Roo has learned how to use iMovie and is using this new platform to extend her creativity.  Many afternoons, you will find her along with her two best friends dressing up for roles in the latest film they are producing.  She might be creative, but she also is rock’n sentence diagraming.  She can tell you the difference between an IO, DO, OPN and PN faster than any kid I know.  Helps to have a daddy who is a whiz at languages.  (Have I mentioned that my kids are smarter than I am?  Makes homeschooling more and more challenging!)

What she wants to be when she grows up: An artist, film maker, or a beautician.

Favorite food: Broccoli soup and French bread

 

 

IMG_0321Soccer Dude: Our 8th grade graduate

Age: 14

This kid will be in High School this fall.  What?!#  He started his school career going to a Chinese emersion preschool in Michigan.  It seems like yesterday…kinda.  We have all come a long way since then.

Favorite subject: History

Biggest accomplishment: Surviving online classes with North Star Academy.  He took two online classes this year – Math and Language Arts.  It was a huge learning curve, but by the end of the year we were getting in the swing of things.  We are leaning towards him taking a full course load at NSA next year.  It has its pros and cons, for sure, but they offer classes he wants like Latin and advanced science classes.

What I love about homeschooling at this age…the great conversations.  There is nothing like sitting down with your teen and hearing their perspective on what went wrong during the Civil War.  I love hearing his passion for equality, human rights and what he would do differently if he were in leadership.  Add that to his volunteer work with the disabled children at the orphanage….he is going to be a world changer.  Okay, I am a proud mom.  A proud mom who is struggling thru the teen years, but seeing the beauty of them too.

Favorite food: Coke and candy (Keep’n it real, folks!)

What he wants to be when he grows up: He isn’t sure. Actually, that helps this momma’s heart.  He might be entering High School in the fall, but he isn’t ready to launch into the world yet.  We still have some time!

 

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Homeschooling four kids at once.  Check.  Makes me think I can handle five.  Just say’n.

 

 

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye

IMG_6016There was a well worn path in the dirt road from our house to my grandmother’s two bedroom home.  I could make it there on my purple bike with the plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars in five minutes flat if the red-winged black birds in the oak tree at the corner didn’t take me out.  Grandma knew I was scared of those birds.  I told her everything.

 

On one of my visits, she proudly pulled out a large pinwheel.  I was confused when I first saw it. Then she told me I should hold it over my head as I rode to her house.  The pinwheel whistled as I rode my bike and scared those stupid birds.  Nothing would keep us from our afternoon visits.

I’m not really sure how we filled all of the hours we spent together.

She helped me with my homework.  I always was up for a ride to “the city” to help her buy groceries.  We ate red licorice together and painted our nails….always with clear polish.  I watched hours of Gospel Sing TV with her, and she attended every band concert, play, and art show.  She taught me to drive and took me on my first airplane ride to visit the cousins in Florida.  When I was all grown up and traveling on my own, she wrote to me weekly on her old typewriter and mailed me phone cards.

When I was a self-conscious middle schooler, she taught me to sew.  She had this way of making me feel like the most talented kid while at the same time telling me truth without sugar coating.  Her words still ring in my ears: “You don’t have to be perfect.  It will all iron out.”  What seemed like a lesson in stitching a seam on my latest 4-H project, really was so much more.  She knew me and my struggles.

This week, I lost part of my heart.  Alzheimers (what I now call the cruelest of all diseases) has slowly been stealing her from me.  Robbing us of any new memories.  But, I guess I am still the little girl on that purple bike….hoping to race faster than the black birds.  Every time I was able to sit next to her on the couch in her nursing home, I was hoping for one more moment.   We had always been good at sitting together and not doing to much.  I could take in her smell, feel her presence, and pretend we were just watching the Gaithers together.

Even that is now gone.

I have gone back and forth about writing this blog post.  I usually save this space for stories about living and teaching cross-culturally and how that affects raising my family.  I wasn’t sure if writing about the death of my grandmother fit that.

This week, as I have cried over her death, the miles between my childhood home and Asia have felt even longer. I wanted to stand at her graveside.  I wanted to cry with my family, who would understand why I am 40 but a weeping mess over losing my grandmother friend.

 

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But, it is even more than that.

Some of my tears this week are over my mother and my own children.  I am crying because my kids can’t ride their bikes down the road and eat licorice with a grandparent who loves them with extravagance.  In my grief, I question the stolen moments that might shape my own children.

Living cross-culturally, it is what we are called to, but man, sometimes the cost is high.  I want to write and say it is all worth it.  But, honestly, I am not sure if I will ever know if it is or not.

What is worth something…following Jesus and trusting him with my heart.  I guess that means I should trust him with the heart of my kiddos and be thankful for video chats.  So much easier to write that then to truly live it out.

Years ago, Dr. Kinlaw gave a sermon at a summer camp that included a story of a young single woman who was living cross-culturally.  She was asked if she was scared of living so far from home in a strange land by herself.  Her response.  “I am more scared of NOT living where God wants me to be.”  I can’t remember the rest of that sermon. Actually, I am pretty proud of myself for remembering anything from 20 years ago!  Funny, the things that come to mind as you are grieving.  The simple answer that young woman gave….I want it to be my answer as well.  With all my heart, I want to be where God calls us.

Lord, help me in my weakness. Help me when the days are hard and my tears fall in abundance.

Often, when I sat next to Grandma at church, tears would gently slip from one eye.  She joked with me that she had a leaky eye and not to worry.  The one time I really remember seeing Grandma cry was when she said good-bye to me as I was leaving for college.  She sobbed – deep heart wrenching cries as we hugged in the driveway.

Now, I am the one sobbing as I have to say good-bye to her.  There are no promises about Christmas and spring breaks….but I am thankful to know there is the promise of eternity.

 

Another Year

A lego set being put together, a blanket tent in the living room, audio books and an afternoon baseball game all mean the same thing….homeschool is done for another year and my kids are enjoying their free time today.  We haven’t just survived 7th, 5th, 2nd and pre-school…could I say that we have thrived this year without sounding prideful?  I am proud of what I have learned as a homeschool parent and am thrilled to see how the kids are advancing.

It has become a yearly tradition to post the milestones of each child at the end of our school year.  Here goes for 2015!

 

IMG_9081Little Man our 4 year old pre-school graduate

biggest accomplishment: knows all the letter sounds, knows all the books of the Bible and stopped sucking his thumb!

favorite food: noodles

What he wants to be when he grows up: a race car driver

I am kinda against homeschooling pre-school….but, he wanted workbooks to use when the other kids were doing school work.  I gave in and bought him workbooks.  It is crazy how much he has learned just by “sitting in” and listening to the big kids.  I really think we could not school him at all.  The last one is the easiest….I guess! 🙂

 

 

IMG_9096Little Monkey or 2nd grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: reading everything she can get her hands on!  We also are proud of her for pushing through her shyness to take an art and dance class.

favorite book: Pippy Longstocking

favorite food: a Chinese dish made from sliced potatoes and rice of course.

What she wants to be when she grows up: a baker or a teacher

Proud of this girl who is learning to be more independent.  Her favorite thing is still to be close to mom.  She is our rule following, stable, steady one.  She is stepping outside of the box and creating things with legos without a manual and she loves to go on adventures through reading in books.

 

IMG_9059Roo our 5th grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: she fell in love with science through astronomy this year.  She also continues to improve her artistic abilities adding music via piano to the mix.

favorite book: The Bronze Bow

favorite food: dumplings (the Chinese kind not the southern kind)

what she wants to be when she grows up: a beautician or an artist

It is crazy how artistic this girl is.  She is always thinking outside of the box and pushing to do it like no one else.  She and little monkey truly are best friends and they compliment each other so well.  She loves listening to audio books as she is painting.  We finally found a spelling curriculum that has helped her (and her mom) – Spell U See.   Love it.

 

IMG_9119Soccer Dude our 7th grade graduate

biggest accomplishment: He has always hated writing, but this year decided for every writing assignment he would write a poem….because they are shorter! HA!  Turns out he really can write some amazing poetry.

favorite pass time: training and playing with his lovebirds

Soccer Dude is our history buff and he loves reading anything he can get his hands on.  It seems so crazy that we are starting to plan for High School.  But then again, I knew this was coming….it is taking me longer and longer to prep his lessons.  There are a lot of cob-webs I have needed to dust out to remember what I learned in 7th grade!  We are planning on him doing North Star next year.  We are hoping this online school might be a good fit for him and will be what he does for High School.

 

I close with sharing one of his poems with you.

I Made a Big Decision – by Soccer Dude

I made a big decision a little while ago.
I don’t remember what it was, which probably goes to show
That many times a simple choice can prove to be inconsequential
Even though it might seem essential.

I must have been distracted when I left home because
Left or right – I’m sure I went (I wonder which it was!)
Anyway, I never veered; I walked in that direction
Utterly absorbed, it seems, in quiet introspection.

For no reason I can think of, I’ve wandered astray
And that is how I got here today.