Anika Turns Sixteen

Anika turned sixteen this week. I’m trying really hard not to slip into the whole theme of “HOW can she be SIXTEEN??!! I remember my sweet baby, and what it felt like to be a new mom, and she is growing up too fast…” etc, etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about how that’s all focusing on me freaking out because she’s growing up, and not about celebrating the person she is becoming. Those are thoughts to work through some other time, because our sweet sixteen year old should most definitely be celebrated!

Ben keeps playing the song “Sweet Sixteen” because he delights in Anika’s reaction. She delights in rising to the occasion. And I delight in watching her – watching her change, watching her grow, and getting these glimpses of what’s to come.

She’s been the one who’s taught us a lot – first kid, going through all the stages for the first time. I often tell people that she’s been very easy on us. Not a lot of teenage angst around here. (Hormones aplenty, but we can deal with that!) She’s always been mature for her age, pretty much from the womb, which has helped. We could reason with her already when she was two, so we haven’t really hit anything that couldn’t be talked through. Sometimes it takes a lot of talking, but she’s teaching me the art of agreeing to disagree.

Once when we were discussing a clothing issue, she gave in to my guidelines so easily, I was surprised. “Don’t you disagree with me?” I asked. “Of course I do,” she replied, matter of factly. “But it’s not that long until I’m 18, and then I can do whatever I want. I can wait.”

I know that in the world of social media, it’s pretty easy to make everything sound perfect. Obviously, nothing is perfect, and we’ve hit a few bumps during these teenage years, but for the most part, it has been delightful.

In the language of Myers Briggs and all things personality type, Anika is a thinker surrounded by a bunch of feelers in this home. (We’re fairly sure Everett will follow in her footsteps, but time will tell.) Everyone has feelings, of course, but thinkers will put them lower on the list of priorities. Anika will often calmly evaluate a situation, and bluntly call things exactly as they are, and cut right through the muddled mess in my head. She gets a bit annoyed when people respond with too much emotion. I’m still learning how to speak her language, because it doesn’t come naturally (it’s ALL about the feelings for me!!!!), but it has taught me a lot about how people communicate in different ways. I enjoy her perspective.

As we move towards a different stage of parenting, the long talks at bedtime explore different topics, the inside jokes keep growing, and I remind myself to soak it all in.This year has brought huge changes and new experiences into Anika’s life – her first job, learning how to drive, going on her first missions trip, touring with choir, going to the Counselor in Training program at Red Rock Bible Camp and being gone from home for the longest stretch yet. It is fun and exciting and a little bit scary and hard, but so rewarding. I love seeing the direction this is all going. I’m so proud of her, and just really thankful that we get to be her parents.

This week, Ben and I are taking her out on a birthday date, just the three of us. It’s funny to think that for many years, we thought that’s how things would always be – just the three of us. I’m so very thankful God chose to make Anika a big sister, because it’s formed who she is, but also because Kaylia and Everett are so blessed to have a big sister like her.

It warms my heart when she comes home and needs to tell Kaylia all her secrets, or when Everett shows me dance moves Anika has taught him (completely hilarious). She might regularly drive him to frustration because of her many requests for hugs and kisses, but at least he’ll know how to sing all the greatest Broadway hits.

So this week, we celebrate Anika, delight in all the things that make her Anika, and ignore the fact that this is all going by much too quickly, because right now, it is the time to party.Happy birthday, Anika!!!

6 Things I’ve Learned About Marriage

This week marks 19 blissful years of being married to Ben!

A young couple recently asked for our best advice on how to have a good relationship. I guess I choked under pressure, because this is the answer I gave: “Being married to Ben is just really easy! I don’t have any advice.”They seemed disappointed with that answer, with good reason. That answer is helpful for exactly…no one.It’s haunted me ever since!! I’ve wanted another chance to do better, and I’ve thought about what answer I would give, if I could do it over.It is easy to be married to Ben – he’s super easygoing, very patient and kind, and the most selfless person I know. He’s tons of fun to be with, and makes me laugh all the time.Our marriage isn’t always perfect, but we’re very compatible, and that helps! Maybe my marriage advice is “Date very, very carefully!!”Beyond that, there are a few other things I would say, if I could have another chance to answer the question:

1) There is no other option.

Ben and I both committed to this relationship for life, so we will make it work. I think that changes everything about how a couple faces hard stuff. If you have to make it work, you will do everything in your power to do so. If there’s another option, it will affect whatever you do.

It’s like my planking challenge that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago – my muscle therapist once told me, “Never start planking until you’ve decided how long you’re going to go. You need to have that number in your mind before you even start.” Same with marriage! 😄

*I feel the need to acknowledge there are circumstances when this is not possible, and there are many, many stories out there full of pain and suffering. Obviously, life happens, and heartbreak doesn’t need judgement on top of it, so that is not my intention. Just wanting to promote an attitude of commitment, with a huge dose of love, grace, and empathy for those who didn’t get their happily ever after.

2) Pray together, even when you don’t feel like it.

When I was growing up, my parents prayed together every night. I always knew that if I went to their bedroom after they had gone to bed, I would find them reading the Bible together, and praying. There was nothing that made me feel as secure as knowing I would find them there together. I loved to crawl into bed between them and have them pray for me.

I thought all Christian couples did that, because it was so normal for me, so when Ben and I got married, that’s what we did. But over the years, I found out that my experience growing up had not been “normal” and I realized what a gift my parents gave to me with the example they set.

Ben and I have stuck with this, and it is such an important part of staying connected to each other, and to God.Sometimes, I do not want to do it. If I’ve had a really bad day, Ben has sometimes just prayed for me. But most of the time, we make it work. It’s difficult to pray together when we’re frustrated about something, so it means we have to work it out before we go to sleep.

It is not always easy, but it’s worth it.

3) Make time together that nothing else can interfere with.

This is easier now because Everett needs to be in bed by eight, so we have to be home a lot in the evenings, but it was harder before having kids. Life got so busy, we would go for long stretches of time without having an evening at home together.

But then I read a book about managing your home, and it included a chapter on scheduling. The author suggested that every couple or family needs at least two weeknights and one weekend night at home, in order to keep life balanced and under control. This may not work for everyone, but we started scheduling these times in. It was HARD, but we found that it made a huge difference for how connected we felt (especially for me, because my love language is quality time!).

But we also found that we had to keep it a secret from some people, because others wouldn’t always see it as “necessary”, and thought we should be meeting demands from other people instead of guarding our time so carefully. But we kept it a priority, and all these years later, we still keep an eye on the calendar, to set aside that time together.

Because our girls don’t go to bed at eight, we make sure to send quality time with them, and then they spend time in their rooms, reading and unwinding before bedtime, which allows Ben and me to have time together in the evening without it getting too late.This has worked very well for our family, and I would do it all over again. Guard your time, because no one else will do it for you!!

4) Honour each other with your words.

Ben and I try very hard not to say negative things about each other. We don’t make mean jokes, and we don’t use sarcasm. I can be critical about stuff in general if I’m not careful, but this one has always been a big deal to me in our relationship.

It probably stems from the example of my parents, as well as being in ministry for the first 10 years of our marriage. Setting a positive example in our relationship has always been a big deal, because other couples have done that for us. It’s not that we’re perfect, but it’s something we hold as important.

5) Work together.

One of my favourite things at Ben’s parents’ house is the way they make meals together. Ben’s dad especially loves to cook, but it’s always a joint effort, and I like watching them work together.

At our house, I usually do the cooking because Ben is working and I’m home all day, but if he’s around, he will always help get meals ready. When he notices that I’m getting overwhelmed by the mess in our house, he’ll round up the kids and be the energetic leader we need to get things cleaned up quickly.

It’s just more fun to work at things together.

6) Leave room for different ways of working through and expressing emotions.

This was my biggest lesson this last year. It’s taken me a long time to figure out that some people want to talk about their feelings, and others DO NOT. And that’s okay!I am a verbal processor. Sometimes I don’t even know exactly what I’m feeling until I’ve been able to talk about it. I feel so much better if I can get it all out, have a good cry, and clear my head.

Ben is the opposite. Most of the time, he does not want to talk about his feelings. He needs a chance to think through things before he’s ready to share anything. This is super hard for me, because I’ve always felt like I’m showing love and concern by asking him about how he’s doing. I actually feel cut off from him if he won’t tell me about how he’s feeling.

This last year especially, it became clear that we needed to get better at dealing with this difference in our relationship. Here are a few tips we figured out:

  • Be honest. It is helpful for me when I ask Ben something and he says, “I will answer that question, but I don’t feel like talking about it right now.” I can’t read his mind, so I appreciate when he communicates clearly with me.
  • Don’t take it personally. I’ve had to work hard at understanding that Ben is just different from me. He’s not trying to shut me out, he just needs time to be quiet with his feelings, as much as I need to talk mine out!!
  • Be brief. Sometimes I’ve felt so worried about Ben, I’ve really wanted to know if he’s okay, and how I can pray for him. But I also want to respect his need for space. A compromise that’s helped is asking him to give me one sentence summing up how he’s doing, and then dropping the subject. It helps him to know we won’t dig into his feelings, but he can still honour my need to know where he’s at.
  • Find other ways to show support. During rough times for Ben, I want him to feel like I care, but if I can’t show that by listening and talking through emotions, I try to look for other things he appreciates. I turn the lights on outside if he’s getting home after dark, just to make our home look more welcoming. I make sure his comfy sweat pants are clean and in the drawer so he can find them easily. I keep the container of homemade granola filled and ready for his favourite snack. Basically, I do anything I can think of to care for his physical needs, because I can’t do much to help with his mental or emotional needs.

These things have helped a lot, and I always appreciate when Ben talks about issues even when he doesn’t feel like it, because he’s also making an effort to adapt to my way of dealing with things.

That’s what I’ve learned after 19 years! A lot of this is wisdom we’ve learned from other couples we know, or from good books we’ve read, so I’m very thankful for the positive influences we’ve had throughout our marriage.

I’m also just really thankful for how fun it is to be married to Ben! We’ve had good, good years together. There have been some hard things to work through, like my health issues, miscarriages, infertility, and some tough transitions throughout the years. But when I look back, I’m really thankful for everything we’ve gone through together, and for all the lessons learned. We have a beautiful life together!

Kaylia Turns 10

Kaylia had her birthday last week. On the day of her party, this is where we were at:

The next day, I asked her, “So, was your party as good as you hoped it would be?” She sighed dreamily, and said, “It was even BETTER!!!!”

I feel like that is a very accurate example of what life is like with Kaylia – always full of elaborate ideas, but completely overjoyed with the smallest, simplest things. It doesn’t take much to make her very happy. Hers is a life of extremes.

She lives in the most colourful, imaginative world in her mind, where anything is possible and everything is beautiful, and my biggest challenge as her mom is helping to navigate through the emotions when her world collides with reality.

Kaylia leaves behind her a trail of paper, glue, tape, and fabric scraps. When she’s not producing elaborate craft projects or Lego creations, she is curled up with a book in a nest of pillows and blankets, or she’s playing with friends, moving all of her sewing projects and painted rock collections outside to build elaborate setups on our front step. I was not surprised to find pieces of felt in my flower pots. I don’t know what their purpose was, but I’m guessing some kind of toy had a bed or nest or den in my plants.

Kaylia has the softest, kindest heart. She can coax Everett to come around to any idea, no matter how stubborn his mood. She is a faithful and devoted fan of her big sister, and is always a willing listener and cheerleader.

Her thoughts run deep, and she is constantly surprising us with what surfaces after she’s had enough time to process things.

Her plans for the future include getting married, having kids, homeschooling them, and teaching art lessons in her home.

Whether that comes to pass or not, I am quite sure her life will include all the colourful dreams and creativity that she can possibly fit into it.

Ten years with our sweet girl! It’s always an adventure.

How Do You Homeschool?

When Anika started homeschooling, we were living at Red Rock Bible Camp. To get her to the closest school, we would have to drive 20 minutes to the nearest town so she could catch a school bus for a 40 minute ride to the next town.

Homeschooling just made sense. By the time we left camp, we’d been homeschooling for four years, and it had become a normal way of life for us. We loved the freedom and flexibility, the creative approach to learning, and most of all, the time with our kids. It’s the relationship aspect that makes me want to keep doing this as long as I possibly can.

When we moved to Niverville, everyone assumed we’d put our kids in school, but it was too late – we were hooked!😉

It was scary, back in the beginning, though – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and desperately wanted direction. I pounced on any experienced homeschooling parent I came across, to ask all my burning questions: “What does your day look like? How do you know what to teach your kids? Do they have any friends? What about high school?”

After ten and a half years, those are the same questions people are asking me, whether they’re considering homeschooling their own kids, or they’re just trying to understand why someone would make the decision to homeschool.

A friend asked me the other day why I don’t write about homeschooling on my blog, and I wasn’t completely sure how to answer that. This isn’t a homeschool blog, so I have a good excuse, but it’s more than that. I think part of it is because it’s such a deeply personal thing – we all love our kids, and want the very best for them. When someone chooses to do things very differently than we do, it can bring up strong opinions. It’s often felt easiest just to stay quiet about the whole thing.

But it was because people were so open with me many years ago, and were gracious enough to answer all of my questions that I began to get a picture of homeschooling as something that could be beautiful and life-giving, and something I wanted our family to be a part of. If I share about this journey we’re on, I could be doing the same thing for someone else.

So today I’m answering the questions about homeschooling I get asked the most. Let me know if I’ve missed anything you’re curious about!

Why do you homeschool?

If I had to pick only one reason, it would be the relationship. I know parents can have a good relationship with their kids even when they’re in school, but there is just no other way to have this amount of time with my kids. (Can you tell that quality time is my love language?!)

I also really love the way it grows curiosity, and provides so much flexibility and freedom to learn about what interests them the most. I love how my kids have so many extra hours in a day to just be kids, and pursue what brings them joy.

Another huge benefit is being able to learn in a way that fits my kids’ learning styles. Anika is an audio learner, so she needs to think out loud. She often talks to herself while she’s working, or mutters cutely and quietly under her breath as she tries to work out a problem. Kaylia is very tactile, and is always creating things. She draws while she listens to me read, or cuts and glues and creates things based on what she is learning.

It made a huge difference to figure out what they needed most to learn well, and I’m happy to have the freedom to meet their individual needs. Because I’m a hands-on learner, I remember how frustrated some of my teachers would get when they had just finished teaching the class, and I’d go up to their desk for individual help, and ask them talk me through it again while I tried to work it out. I always felt really bad for doing it, but looking back, I can see clearly how I just couldn’t learn the way I was “supposed” to. There are different ways to learn, and I love having the ability to pursue education in a way that’s specifically suited to my children’s needs.

I’m sure teachers try to address these needs, but I can only imagine how hard it would be in a class with so many kids.

Creativity is also a huge deal for me. I love watching my kids using their imagination all day long. A school guidance counselor I know once said to me, “Keep homeschooling your kids. Every day, I watch kids at my school going from class to class, listening to a bell signaling where to go and what to do, and I see them losing their creativity and individuality.”

I was listening to a podcast this week that had nothing to do with homeschooling, but I found it very interesting when CJ Casciotta, author of Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret Success, talked about how we spend all our years in school and college living by the rule that we must fit in to survive and succeed. The goal is to become like everyone else so we don’t stand out, but then we graduate and apply for jobs, and every employer wants to know what makes each of us different, unique, and able to offer something the other candidates can’t. He talked about how hard and confusing it is to find our individuality after spending years trying to hide it.

Seems to me it’s a better thing to keep it all along. In my experience, homeschooling is an excellent way to do that. 😉

How much time do you spend on school work each day, and what does your day look like?

Actual time spent on school work is a hard question to answer, because school work and everything else we do runs into each other a lot. Some school work becomes play, and lots of learning happens through life lessons, and not specifically during a set “school time”.

Anika keeps some school books right by her bed, so that when she wakes up first thing in the morning, she can get a bunch of reading done while she’s still cozy in bed.

Then she comes upstairs, we make breakfast and eat, and then she gets to work on subjects that require DVDs (for math), or the computer (for writing, French, or typing for answering questions for literature and science).

Kaylia takes a bit longer to get going in the morning. She would love to have hours for reading or playing when she gets up, but then it’s hard to pull her away from those things to focus on school, so we try to get her work done as early as we can so she has the rest of the day to spend as she chooses.

We get all her written work out of the way first, like math, grammar, handwriting, and spelling, and then we spend as long as we want reading social studies, history, and science. Sometimes there are activities or experiments to do, or we get distracted with looking up more information and videos on the internet about stuff we’re learning.

After she’s done, she spends time with Everett, who is very eager to play at this point, so I can spend some focused time with Anika on math.

Then we have lunch, do chores, and have “Rest Time”, which means napping for me (if Michael Hyatt naps every day, I should too!), writing fiction for Anika (I think she’s writing her 12th book), reading/playing/crafts for Kaylia, and audio stories for Everett in his room.

After that, it’s time for exercise or playing outside, and then Anika does some reading for social studies and history. I make supper while Kaylia and Everett play together, or have friends over.

Anika takes voice lessons, Kaylia takes art lessons, and I teach them both piano. They practice after supper, finish any chores that need to be done, and spend time playing, reading, or relaxing. After Everett is in bed, Ben and I take turns reading to the girls one on one. Anika is out more evenings now as she gets older, attending youth and worship team practice, or babysitting and hanging out with friends, but the majority of our evenings are pretty slow at home, just the way I like it! Staying home is the new going out.😁

Do you ever get a break?

Yes!! Everyone needs breaks! I get up early so I can start the day quietly, getting my mind and body ready for the day by doing devotions, meditating, and exercising.

We have “rest time” every afternoon, so we can all have a bit of time alone, and Ben and I enjoy quiet evenings after the kids are in bed. Our girls love books, so they enjoy having time to read and unwind in bed before going to sleep, which gives us a longer evening.

How do you have enough patience?

I don’t have enough, so I pray a lot! I also make sure to take care of myself so I am in a better place to take care of my kids – no one has patience if they’re eating junk food or not sleeping well.

But another important piece is that when my kids are very annoying, it can often be a sign that they need more attention and time with a parent. When I spend time connecting with them, they are more enjoyable to be with, and require less patience! Also, the less my kids use screens and the healthier they eat, the happier they are.

But the truth is that it can be really hard at times. There are good days, and there are very bad days, but we press on, and it is so worth it.

How do you know what to teach your kids, and are you qualified to do so?

You guys, the world of homeschool curriculum is a wild, wonderful place. There are SO MANY amazing options, and you can choose resources that do most of the work for the parent. In Manitoba, we’re provided a list of subjects we are required to cover, but we have complete freedom as to how we want to cover it and what material we use.

It’s up to me to find what curriculum is a good fit for our kids (using online reviews, recommendations from other homeschoolers, or by trial and error!), but once we choose our books, the lessons are clearly laid out and easy to follow. The curriculum is specifically written for parents to teach their kids, so it’s not hard to use. We’ve had some bumps along the way, but with all the resources available to us in the form of books, DVDs, or online programs, we’ve always found a way through.

Here’s the thing – the class doesn’t move ahead until the student is ready to move on. That means Anika WILL understand her math, for example, before we move on. Her lessons introduce concepts in small, manageable chunks, and we get each chunk under control before going on to the next thing.

I almost failed math in high school because I couldn’t keep up, and no one had time to help me. I wasn’t dumb, I just needed more time and practice. But I spent years thinking I was dumb, and couldn’t do math. I am so thankful that my kids have the time and one-on-one attention to learn, because it was what I needed.

Am I qualified? Well, I care about my kids’ education more than anyone else ever could (except Ben!), we have all the resources we could ever want or need, and all of us have the desire to make this work. I’m satisfied with those qualifications.😉

What curriculum do you use?

Anika uses Math U See, Essentials in Writing, Progeny Press literature studies, TruthQuest History for world history, Donna Ward’s historical fiction list for Canadian history, a boring textbook I wouldn’t recommend for social studies (I make up my own assignments using the textbook, or let her research topics she’s interested in), Discovering Nature Series for science, and Duolingo for French.

Kaylia uses Math U See, Growing With Grammar, Pathway Readers (Amish readers so good I have to hide them because my kids want to read them for fun but I want to save them for school!), Spelling Power, Donna Ward’s social studies series, Story of the World, Apologia science books, and Duolingo.

Is there any way in which their education is monitored?

I need to send our plan for the year to the Manitoba homeschool office each September, listing all the subjects we’ll be covering, and what curriculum we plan to use. In January and June, I have to send in progress reports to update how things are going.

There is no final homeschool exam before kids can graduate or anything, which is something lots of people ask about!

Do they have friends?

Our kids have wonderful friends, some who attend school, and some who are part of our homeschool group.

In the beginning, I was concerned about the social aspect of homeschooling, as well, but I don’t worry much about it anymore. I want them have great relationships with people, but I’ve learned this can happen in a variety of ways. As siblings, I think their relationships are much stronger than if they were in school, because of the time they spend together, especially considering the wide span in their ages. I also feel that they have opportunities for enjoying relationships with a wide range of ages – school can make us slip into thinking that “socializing” means spending time with kids the exact same age, but that only happens in school. In the real world, we spend time with people of all ages, and I like the variety our kids enjoy.

Will you homeschool your kids all the way through high school?

I hope so! Anika has decided she wants to homeschool all the way through, and Kaylia says she doesn’t ever want to go to school, either. I haven’t started any formal learning with Everett, but he picks up a lot from being around the girls all day. Because he’s a lot more active than the girls, I like the idea of him not having to sit still for most of the day in school, once he’s old enough to start. We’ll see how it goes, but we plan to continue with all of them.

Are you worried about hindering their chances of getting into college or university, or holding them back from any other opportunities in the future?

No! Colleges and universities love homeschooled kids, and I’ve been told they “roll out the red carpet” for them, because they are such great students. In general, they love to learn, and are very self motivated. Because they have such a different education experience, I’ve been told they receive a private interview when they apply for university or college, which allows their gifts and passions to shine through.

Anika is very interested in music, dance, and writing, so we’ll see where this takes her. These are interests easily explored outside of school, and we see homeschooling as an amazing way for her to have the time and freedom to focus on what interests her most.

Are you concerned your kids will be too sheltered, and not transition well to the “real world”?

Attempting to shelter our kids has never been our motivation to homeschool, and it’s a good thing, because problems come up wherever you are – that’s just kinda how life works. We haven’t locked our kids in Rapunzel’s tower, and we encourage opportunities which will be eye-opening, and expose them to different viewpoints.

But when Anika comes home after hanging out with friends who attend public school, and passes on all the stories about drinking, drugs, and sex, I must confess, we do not search out ways to expose her to stuff like that, so I guess she is a bit sheltered.

But that issue is easily solved, if we ever feel like she’s needing more drinking, drugs, and sex in her life.🤔 Innocence is hard to keep, and easy to lose, so our kids should be able to catch up quick.

But seriously now, our kids are sheltered from some things, and looking back, I wish I had been, too. There was a lot of junior high drama that I would have loved to avoid completely. Challenges make us grow, but some types of challenges can have long term negative effects. Someone once told me Anika should go to school because being bullied would do her good. I’ve never tried to find ways for her to be bullied, but she has been in some tough relationship situations that have been difficult to handle, and she came through beautifully. I think she’ll be just fine.

Life is tough in all kinds of ways, and problems don’t just happen at school. Also, homeschooled kids know they’re different, and they feel the strain of growing up in a way that’s different from everybody else. That’s not easy, but it’s a valuable lesson to learn. Raising strong kids who are willing to live counter culturally sounds good to me.

From the book Simple Parenting, I’ve learned that a lot of kids these days are very sophisticated, but that isn’t the same thing as being mature. Knowing about life is not the same thing as knowing how to handle it well. My kids may not grow up to be the coolest, most sophisticated in the crowd, but that’s not what we’re going for anyway.

Attending school does not guarantee a child’s success, but a kind heart, determination, creativity, a good attitude, and a willingness to learn will take them a long way. I believe they can learn those things very well at home.

Homeschooling is not perfect, and it also doesn’t guarantee success. Ben often reminds me there are pros and cons to either option, and it’s our job to keep reevaluating, looking for ways to bridge the gaps. So far, we have seen a lot of pros, not very many cons, and we really love the fruit that has come from homeschooling. 😊

We realize there are some things our kids miss out on because they don’t attend school, but there are other things they gain. In the end, it has to be a choice each family makes, and do what feels true to who they are and what they hope to gain from an education experience.

Like I said at the beginning, we all love our kids and want the best for them. We are so blessed and fortunate to live in a place where we have the freedom to pursue learning and creativity in the way we choose!

Healthy Again

Three cheers for a normal weekend and the end of the stomach flu!! I don’t know when I have ever felt so overjoyed to finally clean my bathroom. It feels GREAT to be healthy again. As horrible as it was to experience two weeks of everyone in our family taking turns getting sick with the stomach flu, there is nothing like sickness for making a person feel thankful for health! It’s so much fun to eat again! I’m a fan. Just like that, my life is complete simply because I can eat and clean things. Simple pleasures!

I woke up this snowy Monday morning with joy and anticipation in my heart, because this beautifully normal day is full of possibilities – I could clean out my fridge! Or bake something with my kids! Or get caught up on the laundry! Or all of them! Because the stomach flu is gone, and all is right in our little world. Normal has become a novelty, and I will ride that wave as long as I can, because it won’t seem quite this exciting forever.

What are you doing with your lovely Monday?

Ready or Not, Here Christmas Comes

This blog post is brought to you by the stomach flu, fevers, and knee surgery recovery, with high fives all around for getting the nasty stuff out of the way so we can all be healthy by Christmas. I was emailing with my mom today about plans for Christmas at their house, and felt a little weird asking if she wanted me to bring any Christmas baking, because as of this moment, there is no Christmas baking yet. But there will be. And really, getting Christmas baking done early is a pain, because then I have to hide it from my kids so they don’t eat it all before Christmas even gets here, so this will work out perfectly….

I’ve stayed remarkable calm about my lack of readiness for Christmas, because I blame everything on the fact that Ben just had knee surgery, so nothing is normal, but we’re getting there, and it will still be great. And really, people celebrate Christmas for like, almost a week after the 25th, right?! We might be late with everything, but it will feel festive whenever it happens, so this is what I’m telling my desire for organization and readiness. I’ll make up for it next year.

In the meantime, here are some more of the pictures I’ve been taking here and there for my little December photo challenge:

Glitter:

Outside:

working on the slide Ben built off our deck before he had surgery

Warm:

enjoying hot chocolate after playing outside

Stripes:

Shopping:

Look Down:

Green:

Happy:

I was going to get the classic picture with everyone smiling hugely at the camera, but then I realized that this IS the picture of her happiness – perched on this bench by the window, lost in her own quiet little world.

Wrapping Paper:

Bright:

Tree:

Peace:

How are you all doing? Feeling any peace, or is Christmas getting crazy in your home, too?

This Year’s Family Photos

You guys, every year I think I love our latest family pictures the most. I didn’t think it could happen again this year, because last year’s were my favourite by far, but our friend Morgan was amazing, as usual, and I love them! We explored a little part of Winnipeg I’d never actually been to before, and the fall colours made everything feel just a little bit magical.

And the last one I’ll share is kind of fun – when Kaylia was the age Everett is now, Morgan took this picture of our family:

We saw some steps and decided it was time for an update!:)

All the family feet, complete!

And now I have to somehow choose my favourite for our Christmas cards! I can’t wait to start receiving all the happy Christmas mail with everyone’s family pictures – it’s one of my favourite Christmas traditions.:)

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Sibling Love

My chicks are all back in the nest, where they belong.

Everett is delighted to be reunited with his “girlies”. Kaylia was at camp for a week, and then Anika was at camp the next week, and it felt like two weeks was a long time to be missing a family member. My thoughts keep going to my cousin, who lost her son in an accident this last week, and my heart feels heavy for moms who can’t be with their children.

These are the days to hold them close, and enjoy this stage. But at the same time, I always want to keep in mind that the whole point is for them to grow up, and eventually leave the nest, and I don’t want that to be a depressing thought. I want to learn to be fully present, and enjoy each stage, being able to look ahead with excitement and anticipation, and lots of trust that God has good things in store for the future.

But right now, it’s good to have them right where they are. There’s been some fighting already, but it warmed my heart to look out the window and find them chatting together in the play structure – so much to catch up on!:)

Other than the play structure moment, my favourite interaction would have to be this one:

Anika: Locked in her room, reading her book and wanting to be alone.

Kaylia: Knocking and repeatedly begging to play.

Anika: Repeatedly ignoring her.

Kaylia: Made Everett come to Anika’s door with her and started feeding him lines. “Tell Anika to open her door.”

Everett: “Anka, open my door!”

Kaylia: “Tell Anika to let you in her room.”

Everett: “Let you into my room!”

Kaylia “Tell her you want to hug her.”

Everett: “I want to hug you!”

Kaylia: “Tell her you want to kiss her.”

Everett: (long pause) “No. I not saying that.” And stomped down the hall. A kiss was going too far.

May you have better luck with your kiss requests this week. Have a happy Monday!

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Summer Bucket List

I made a summer bucket list with the girls a month ago. They had all kinds of fun ideas for what they’d like to do this summer, but I had only one item to add to the list – family float time at the lake. We used to do this before Everett was born: a hot summer afternoon + something to float on for everyone, and a few hours later, I had my all-time favourite summer memories, every single time.

But it’s been three years since this has happened! We’ve had some great weekends at the cabin since Everett was born, but we’ve never had a HOT weekend! It’s been rainy and on the cooler side every time we’ve gone out there the last two summers, and I was starting to get desperate! How was it possible to miss out for so long on my favourite summer activity??!

We finally got our hot weekend, and our family floated, and now I don’t care what happens for the rest of the summer, I have been satisfied.

We stayed at the lake until Monday so that we could drop Kaylia off at camp, which is five minutes away from my parents’ cabin. It’s her first time going, and we’re all pretty curious how this will go! It’s been awhile since we’ve only had two kids in the house, so Anika and I have a list of chick flicks to get through, and Everett is missing his little playmate, so he’s filling his time with “helping” me, which we all know is outrageously helpful. Although, he did empty the whole cooler when we got back from the cabin, which was legitimately helpful, so maybe it will turn out okay!

I hope your week is off to a wonderful start!

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Let Mothering Be Hard

A few weeks ago, while scrolling through Facebook, I came across a post written by a mother, publicly honouring her grown daughter, who is also a mom, by saying, “I’m always amazed by how you can do it all! You make it look so easy!” and went on to list all the many responsibilities her daughter juggles.

This bothered me. I love words of affirmation, and I think encouragement is a beautiful, life-giving thing. But I had a problem with this comment, because it’s what our culture always glorifies – doing it all, and looking perfect while we do it.

The problem is, it’s pretty much impossible to “do it all”, and not lose our sanity. If anyone is actually doing it “all”, and is able to make it look easy or perfect, they are either exceptionally gifted, or they’re faking it. If they’re exceptionally gifted, this should not be the normal standard, and if they’re faking it, it shouldn’t be praised and glorified.

Standards have been set so high, there is no room for admitting weakness, stress, or struggling.

There are a few problems I see with this:

  1. Moms who can’t do it all get the message that they fall short.
  2. It encourages comparison.
  3. It ignores the fact that each mother has a vastly different life-calling, personality, and number of responsibilities on her plate.
  4. It suggests that when women burn out and must take a break, they are “less than”, falling short of the times when they are able to do it all. It makes it hard to admit when things are hard.

Social media plays a large role in this, but it seems to be a message we communicate in a wide variety of other ways, as well. It’s an attitude which permeates our culture.

We praise the woman who can do it all, but where is the honour for the mother who goes slowly? Who dedicates her hours to the small, simple acts of caring for her family in ways which the outside world will never see? Where is our praise for women with strong boundaries, a good understanding of her personal energy levels, great wisdom and self-control when she decides not to spread herself thin by committing to too many things?

There are some women who do a fantastic job of working full-time, raising kids, and keeping the house under control, while making it all look easy, but I don’t know of very many. From what women have shared with me, a lot of these brave, hardworking mothers all have times of struggling and fighting discouragement and guilt. It seems that most of the time, something has to give. There’s guilt over hiring a cleaning lady, or guilt over not spending enough time with her kids. Always guilt about something, because she’s doing everything but doesn’t know if she’s doing it well enough.

Then there are women like me, who stay home, and feel guilty because we have the extra hours at home, so we *should* be able to keep the house cleaner, be more focused and attentive, do more crafts with our kids, and yet even with the “extra” time, we still feel like we’re falling short.

Why are so many women feeling guilty? Why is it so hard to be a good mom?

My guess is because it IS hard. As it should be.

This is the most important thing I will ever do. It should be hard.

I hope there are other important things I get to accomplish in my lifetime, but to bring a human being into this world, and to be a part of the process of them growing into mature, wonderful adults is a big deal. It takes a ton of work and growing pains of all kinds, for everyone involved. There are no shortcuts to growth and awesomeness, and yet we’ve come up with the term “Super Mom” – for the woman who can do it all, and make it look easy.

I read this quote recently which summed it up nicely:

Looking back on my childbearing years, it seems as if I struggled every step of the way. I interpreted my struggling as a sign that I wasn’t good enough. Yet now that I have the perspective of a veteran mom, I think that there are certain struggles that can’t be avoided in mothering, such as sleepless nights with a newborn or an older child getting sick the day you’re leaving for vacation. And there are others that shouldn’t be avoided in mothering — how to meet your child’s needs without negating your own, when to take charge and when to let go, how to balance getting things done with building relationships or having fun. Struggles like these serve as stepping-stones to self-development. It is through these struggles that a mother defines who she is and becomes the mother she wants to be. (MotherStyles, Janet P. Penley)

Instead of focusing on perfection, I love the idea of embracing struggles, because it is the struggle which strengthens and shapes us. It acknowledges that life is messy, and that’s a good thing. There is room for mess, pain, confusion and uncertainty. There is no such thing as a Super Mom – there are just a lot of beautiful, strong women, working hard to love and care for their kids in the best way they know how, and that’s going to look a million different ways.

Saying parenting is hard doesn’t have to be a negative thing. For the last while, I’ve been doing some physical exercise which is hard for me. There’s nothing wrong with the exercise, or with me for finding it difficult – it’s just hard because I haven’t done it before, and I haven’t built up my strength and skill, but I will.

The same thing goes for parenting. It’s hard, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the kids or the parents. It simply means we’re building character and skill, and it will come.

Hard things are rewarding. They bring wonderful truth to the surface, and show us that we can become more than we were before. Parenting does this more than anything I’ve ever done. It is most definitely rewarding and life-changing. There are such beautiful moments, there are no words to describe it. I love these children of mine deeply, in the hard times, and the good.

We will gain far more ground if we lean into the struggle, rather than wasting our precious energy denying its existence and hiding its reality from the rest of the world.

It is hard, so let it be. The struggle is right and good.