Life Updates & Homeschooling!

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We’ve had a lot going on since school started!  We decided to start homeschooling with our oldest, to give him more freedom and a better environment to learn through adventure and doing.  His grades were excellent, all A’s and one 89 this last 9 weeks, but only getting to have 20 minutes for recess (which was sometimes not even outside if it was a little wet or cold), 25 for lunch, and sitting there for hours and hours just wasn’t working, he was starting to strongly dislike school – even though he was good at it!

I spent some time looking online to find if there were other boy moms who had solved this issue of their boys needing more time to play and learn through movement (and less teacher criticism), and found this woman’s amazing blog Building Boys!

Having 3 boys herself, Jennifer Fink intimately understands that being in the typical school environment, with all-female staff who sometimes don’t understand themselves how hard it is for boys and label them “problem children,” can break a boy’s spirit and make him not even want to try at academics in the later years.

Perhaps needless to say, spending seven hours in a day an environment that squelches his natural instincts and disrespects his interests has not exactly engendered a love of education in my lad.

Two years ago, his re-entry after winter break was so tough for him – and so heart-breaking for me – that I wrote a Washington Post essay worrying about the effects of school on his spirit. I wrote:

Re-entry after winter break has not been easy for him. The rules and restrictions of school – Sit Still. Be Quiet. Do What You Are Told, Nothing More, Nothing Less. – have been grating on him, and it shows. His teacher recently emailed me; she’d noticed a change in his behavior (more belligerent, less likely to cooperate) and wanted to know if there was anything going on at home.

My guess, I said, was that he was upset about having to be back in school after break. I was right.

The lack of movement and rigid restrictions associated with modern schooling are killing my son’s soul. (Read More Here)

On that note, switching to homeschooling has been AMAZING.  It’s like a night and day difference, too, with his attitude and emotions at night (he was starting to cry a lot, not wanting to go back the next day – just heartbreaking for us as parents not knowing what to do)!

But now his classes only last until lunch!  He gets to do a woodworking class that’s part of the curriculum I chose in which his OWN DAD is his teacher (he’s so stoked)!  He gets to actually learn an instrument in music class, instead of having to stand there for 45 minutes listening to a lecture and singing what he called “baby songs” (they really were nursery rhymes).  We even went on our first field trip this week as a family to the planetarium since we were studying about the earth, sun, and moon in our sciences classes this week!

And the best part???  Absolutely NO HOMEWORK!!!!!  No more having to do an hour of homework after he’s already been in school for 7 hours.  That hour, having to help him and sometimes re-teach him what they learned during the day so he could do it, was sooooo hard for our family.  The baby would often be screaming and wanting to be picked up or play with her oldest bubba, and our 2nd son would also be trying to play and distract him.  They love him so much, and just wanted to play with him a little before dinner.  Now, they get to play with him so much more, and it’s beautiful to see the creative games they’re coming up with that incorporates all of them together.

It’s also solved our problems with my husband’s schedule in that he was only getting to see our oldest for 1 hour in the mornings (he works afternoons through evenings and comes home after their bedtimes).  NOW our son gets to see him for 6-7 hours a day, and have him as a teacher!  The flexible and relaxed feel of teaching my own son is just incredible, how different from feeling pressured and anxious in having to force 20+ students to understand math concepts and move all at the same pace – I’m not sure how teachers handle that.

If anyone reading this has experience with homeschooling, please let me know!  I’m currently reading a couple of good books that are teaching me how to make it the best experience I’m able to, but I’d LOVE to hear from other families how it’s been (or even not) worked for them.  The good and the bad issues, what to expect in the future, etc.

Thank you for reading!

Stephanie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breathe… Even When Your Children Paint Themselves with Chocolate

This time of having a sweet, adorable, can’t hold long enough little baby has just been so wonderful.  He’s already 3 weeks old, and I’m wondering how he’s gotten this far already without it seeming to have taken that long!

With all the new changes that come with adding a new little family member to your mix, one of the hardest things for me is finding balance between nurturing the two of our sons.  I was worried about this beforehand – how would I spend enough alone time with my oldest, how would he respond to having me less – having to share his mommy that he’s had all for himself for the past 4 1/2 years?

I found a surprising answer to my worries one day soon after we’d brought our baby home.

It was time for my husband to go back to work, I was calm and peaceful – I could handle this!  My husband usually leaves after lunch with us and we watch him leave outside as my son races his dad to the end of the block.  He comes back to our cozy house like a little warrior and it’s nap time.

This time though, he really didn’t want to take a nap… and after days of us letting him forgo naptime, I decided maybe he was old enough to play on his own while the baby and I settled down in the bedroom.

I popped in a movie, snuggled up close to our baby – smelling his heaven-like scent – and we drifted off into a deep, much-needed sleep.

Maybe an hour or so later, I was woken up by the sound of water rushing & my son screaming for my help.  In a serious daze and confusion, I stumbled into his restroom down the hall expecting some kind of emergency and found the sink, the floor, and my SON all covered in dark brown…

CHOCOLATE???!!!

Seriously?!?!

He was standing there at the sink, furiously scrubbing away at his dark-brown colored arms and legs, with a look of terror, crying and shouting at me that it wouldn’t come off!  Still in confusion and bleary-eyed from sleep, I shouted over his crying “What on earth did you do?  What IS that???”

“CHOCOLATE!!!!  It won’t come off!!!!!

Why… OH WHY did you paint yourself with chocolate, Baby???”

I thought it’d make you laugh” (he said to me crying).

At this point, it was so hard not to laugh, and yet I was upset that he would do something so crazy while it was naptime & I was so exhausted caring for a newborn.  I wanted to be mad at him, but it was so hilarious!  I took the washcloth from him and started scrubbing his arms – it really WAS hard to get off… this boy had really, REALLY rubbed the chocolate into his skin!  I worked at scrubbing him inch by inch until we finally got him cleaned up… the chocolate disaster bathroom would have to wait for later – when I had more energy to scrub again.

We had a talk about it – a “you know what you did wrong, right?  You won’t do this again, right?” kind of talk, and decided we would forget about the incident.  I think him enduring the shock and horror of thinking he might be chocolate-covered for his lifetime was punishment enough!  😀

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And now I’m in a Bible study to learn how to Breathe…  how to find freedom.

To not let things consume me – like worrying or stressing over my time with each child or being addicted to the glow of social media.

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This is a journey of finding freedom.

Freedom to write with more purpose.

Freedom to choose my words more wisely…  instead of feeling enslaved to keep on arguing.

Freedom to choose to be respectful, even toward someone who’s been really disrespectful towards me (that’s a difficult one).

Freedom from being enslaved, worked up, stressed out… freedom to breathe.

(Bible study is Breathe by Priscilla Shirer 2014)

Candy Shop Adventures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found a beautiful little candy shop at our mall last week called Lolli & Pops (website found here).  Exploring and finding new places is one of our favorite things – and this shop was pretty amazing!

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Surrounded by wood on the floors and the beautiful, high-ceiling shelves, it reminded me a little of Willy Wonka’s shop.  The chocolate assortment they had would make you think that too 😉

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They had trays of delicious looking fudge & in the back had a room entirely dedicated to CHOCOLATE.  It was like a dream come true!

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My son tried one of their signature big, spiral lolli pops… while I headed for the chocolate room ❤

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They had various eclectic kinds of candy such as Japanese, Hispanic, & European – a great place to get candy that is typically very hard to find.

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I fell in love with their soda collection – they sell them by the bottle or by the case.  We will definitely be coming back to try a flavor or two.

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We totally agreed with this sign 🙂

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And of course… showing off your lolli pop & blue tongue.  Boys….

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I ate some country-style tacos from home (Egg & Sausage) & we went home to enjoy lunch & our treats.

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Totally sweet fun!

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Delicious Eclairs Homemade!

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Best Homemade Pastry Ever!

Our family loves to eat… and cook, but I’ve honestly never been strong at baking anything, I don’t know why, but baking has always seemed more of a mystery to me.  When we were at the bookstore about a month ago, I saw this cookbook cover and was immediately taken in by the eclairs.  They are hands-down my favorite pastry, and I couldn’t resist looking at the recipe to see how exactly they are made from scratch.  Pretty easy… I thought.

 

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The recipe was done by a woman who had worked in a professional French bakery… she clearly knew her way around pastries.  I thought I’d let you readers in on our adventure through making éclairs… it took longer than I imagined it would, but it wasn’t really hard at all!  They make for an impressive dessert for a party, and you can always make them into Cream Puffs if you’d rather serve them that way (it is the same recipe).

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The Cook

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The Ingredient List (You can print it!)

So… you make the eclairs in the order that is on this page: the Pate a Choux (crisp breading), the Cream Filling (the St. Tropez cream was her own version of the perfect pastry cream… I absolutely LOVED it… much lighter than the traditional version), and then the Chocolate Ganache (which is much much tastier than just melted chocolate… it is only 2 ingredients, but you’d be surprised how hard it is not to eat before using on the pastries).

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To make the dough, you first have to cook it on the stove and then bake it – so it’s really cooked twice… which creates the hollowed out inside, and crispy texture of the pastry – perfect for easy filling.  Below is how it should progress: add flour & salt to the melted down butter, mix until it pulls away from pan and forms dough, and the 3rd step is mixing in the eggs one at a time until the dough is nice and shiny:

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Then you pipe the dough into a bag with the tip cut off (or pastry bag), and make the eclairs a little bigger than a hot-dog size onto a greased or foil-covered pan

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Bake at 425’F for 10 minutes then lower it to 350’F for another 25 to 30 minutes until the pastries are dry inside and not still wet (they should visibly turn light golden).  You then leave them in the oven (with it turned off of course) with the door propped open so that they can dry out longer

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You can use a knife to gently poke a hole into the tip, or like the chef in the cookbook did, slice through the éclair completely to make almost like a sandwich.  Since some of mine came out not as wide, it was easier to slice them through.

The St. Tropez cream really is unique, it is basically traditional vanilla pastry cream mixed with a whipped cream.  We had a lot left over – which was great!  We used it over our coffee for the next few mornings – it was quite a lot!  (Use the directions in the video attached if you want to know exactly how to make it – it is not hard, but it is easier to watch)

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You have to cook the Vanilla Cream first & also chill it in the freezer, Vanilla Extract works just as well as Vanilla Bean

 

 

After the vanilla cream is chilled for at least 30 minutes, you can literally just whip up heavy cream in a bowl to create a beautiful, light, fluffy whipped cream that you then add into the thicker and heavier vanilla cream – once mixed it is a divine combination!

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Chocolate ganache can be quickly made by microwaving your chocolate chunks or chips, then adding the heavy cream and mixing with a fork.  Dip the filled eclairs and allow to dry thoroughly on a cool table or counter.

Enjoy your heavenly homemade Eclairs!

Video used in making our pastries (perfect instructions… and she makes the St. Tropez cream):

Thankful doesn’t even begin to cover it….

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I can’t even really put into words the immense joy, peace, and thankfulness I feel.  Today is America’s Thanksgiving holiday, but the overwhelming gratefulness has been growing inside me for a few weeks!

I am not really in a position where you would expect someone to be overly joyful or thankful… I was recently fired from a job, where many of my colleagues asserted I was one of the hardest working and one of the best contributors to their team.  Even though it was deemed I was being terminated “through no fault of my own,” and was able to receive unemployment income, I still watched my associates receive raises as my family lost my precious income that we depended on. 

I’m so immensely thankful for all the lessons I learned through enduring something that had the potential to make me bitter!!  I’m thankful I stood my ground and fought my case, I’m thankful I didn’t do anything to ruin my good reputation or debase my self-dignity.  I learned so many truths and was given so much advice from people who saw what was happening.  I learned how I would deal differently with a situation like that in the future.  While I was enduring that trial, I fully trusted God knew what He was doing.

He did.  He was removing me from a situation that I didn’t need to be in anymore.  He brought me out to a beautiful existence of joy, peace, and happiness!  I’m getting to give myself to my family, my son, and even to others who need help and assistance that I simply didn’t have time for before.  I’ve always been grateful, but this experience taught me to be even more so – not to take anything for granted!  I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced more contentment, my heart is so full its overflowing with love and grace.

I’m thankful for the lessons God’s shown me – the wisdom He’s given me, and how He’s constantly changing me into a better woman.

I’m so thankful for my husband – he is human, but he is so good.  He treats me like his queen, and has sacrificed for years for us as a family working in a job he truly disliked in order to support us faithfully.  I’m thankful that he’s pursuing what he truly wants now, and that I’m able to support him emotionally.

I’m thankful for my son – he makes life worthwhile.  I’m thankful I was able to get pregnant at all… I’m thankful that we both want more children and that we both deeply care about orphans.

I’m just so thankful for life.  It is so precious and everything I have is such a gift.  These gifts are so precious, and again, I am so very thankful.

May God fill you with this same joy and grace. 

May He help you experience ultimate contentment and happiness in doing what He wants you to do in life.

May you find your purpose that only you were destined for, whatever it may be.

Our European Stay-cation

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“Cruelty & wrong are not the greatest forces in the world.
There is nothing eternal in them.
Only love is eternal.”

“Failure means nothing now, only that it taught me life.” -Elisabeth Elliot

These few weeks being home and getting to enjoy my son and be a woman who takes great care of her life and house and family – have been so beautiful! My son is learning more with me being the one to teach him – he was in an “advanced class” at his daycare, his wonderful teacher who loved him like a second mother urged me to let them bump him up – she was afraid he would be bored. But when I started to really work with him at home that first week, I could tell he was having major trouble recognizing numbers and letters (which would put him behind and not advanced right now, even though he is incredibly smart). He’s always been ahead mentally, I think he fooled his daycare teachers! He’s an incredible guesser, but with me tutoring him one-on-one, he is actually learning everything – and learning it incredibly fast!

I teach him Reading, Writing, Math, Music, Science, Art, Cooking, Geography, Languages, and World Culture. Sounds intense for a 3 year old? I only do 2 hours of “classes” a day, and usually one of those classes is a soft class like Music, Art, Culture, or Languages. I want him to have more of a European upbringing, they take raising their children very seriously. Women in Europe usually take 1 to 2 or 3 years of maternity leave just to be able to focus on this new change in their life and family, here you are lucky to get 2-3 months! Taking time for your family is valued in Europe. Being a wife and mom is valued in their society. The average work week (even for men) is 35 hours – not 40+… they know how to enjoy their life – and a major part of their enjoyment of life, is enjoying it together with their family. Not to mention they drink wine all day and eat carbs. 😉 That’s paradise right there.

Fridays are our field trip days with no classes – I want him to understand how important having fun is, which I believe, is just as important as academics. What use is having all the scientific knowledge in the world without the ability to enjoy your life? I take him anywhere and everywhere – downtown, Sea World, the Zoo, to beautiful gardens, to stunning museums, to parks – we have a blast together.

Here’s to living life simply, in beauty, with delicious home-made pizzas and frittatas, scones and pastries. Thank you Europe, I appreciate the impressions you’ve made on my life.