A threefold cord

Last night Mark and I had this conversation:

(me)  Honey, do you realize that I get asked a question every four seconds?

(Mark)  Yes.  I do.  When will you figure out that you should just adopt my strategy, which is just NOT TO ANSWER their questions?

It's kind of true.  Sometimes he'll just delay answering and they'll either
a) give up and go away, or
b) figure it out for themselves, or
c) persist, and then he'll answer

I personally don't want to hear the same question (or the persistent, "Mommyyyyy!") four times before I answer.  I might literally go crazy.  So I just answer right away.

I love them.  So much.  But all the talking and questions, it's exhausting sometimes.


Today Mark had the day off.  I had Bible study this morning, and the kids had piano lessons afterward.  Mark told me to go to Bible study and then take a break, so I did. 

And this is what I did for my break:  I lingered after Bible study and visited with the ladies there for about half an hour. 

Then I went to a nearby scrapbook store and bought some fun new paper and some washi tape. 

Then I went to a cafe and had coffee and lunch and just sat there and journaled. 

As I drove from place to place, I was able to listen to the Valentines CD Mark made for me.  I was able to listen through an entire song without having to turn down the volume to answer a question or respond to someone chatting with me. 

Then I went to a bookstore to pick up the British Country Living magazine, which is my favorite.(About twice a year, I'll splurge and buy one.)  But they didn't carry it, so I just browsed.  I walked around and jotted down some book titles or authors to check out at the library (because I'm cheap that way). 

Then I wandered around another shop that has mainly cards and gift items. 

And then I drove to the consignment store and tried on a few things but didn't get anything. 

I did all of those things all by myself.

No one asked me a question that entire time. 

The quiet was refreshing.

And then I came home. 


One of the songs Mark put on my CD is a song by Josh Garrels called Bread & Wine.  I love that song.  This verse is my favorite:
And if I fall, I fall alone
But you can help to bear the load
A threefold cord is hard to break
And all I have I give to you
If you will share your sorrow too
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads, my friend
You really have to hear the song to appreciate it.  It reminded me of how grateful I am for Mark.  I'm thankful that he's my best friend, that he shares this life with me; that he weaves his heart into mine (another phrase from that song).  I am so thankful that we are a threefold cord: God and Mark and me.  And that we're strong because of that.  I am thankful that we share sorrows and joys.  I'm so thankful that God has given me the gift of someone to share it all with.  I am married to a fine man, and I love him and I am grateful for him every single day.

A day in the life.... of us

Today is Tuesday.  Last night I wrote up on our dry erase board:
wake up, devotions
Bible, narrations

Ella, Isaac, Isaias- math @ table, 20 min
Audra & Adelia- school with mommy: birthday thank you's

memory work
picture study spelling: Isaias
dictation: Ella & Isaac

mommy: sourdough
These are the things I wanted to get done before we ate lunch, did our after-lunch chores, and headed for our daily quiet time.  Yet even as I wrote all of that on the board I had a sneaking suspicion we wouldn't get it all done.

Here's how it went down: 

Mark and I got up at around 7:20, thanks to Audra- who hollered from her bed to tell us that she wasn't feeling well.  :(  [Side note: I am positively longing for spring, hoping that by then the germs will leave us be and we can all be healthy again.  I don't think we've had three days in a row where we've all been healthy at.the.same.time since December.  Currently, Ella and I are getting over another nasty cold that started for us on Friday- the coughing, congested variety.  Isaias and Adelia are a couple days behind us.  Audra and Mark came down with it yesterday.  Isaac keeps telling me he doesn't feel well but I have yet to hear coughing or see him blowing his nose so I'm not believing he has it yet.] 

Anyway, back to our morning: I think Mark had already snoozed his alarm once so it was time we were up anyway.  Mark checked on Audra and then we headed out to the kitchen to check the ant situation.  We have little black ants that are invading our home.  I think they live in our walls, and a few times a week they find another way in, and before long, a whole trail of ants are traipsing across my counter, or walking through my cupboards, or on the floor, or up a wall.  Delightful.  So we head to the kitchen armed with caulking and try to find out where they are coming in so that we can seal that spot shut (and keep the ants out until they find another way in). 

I left Mark killing ants while I made him coffee, got him breakfast (leftover lemon-poppyseed bread from yesterday morning's breakfast) and packed his lunch. 

After I saw him off, I killed some more ants, and began making breakfast.  [I'll stop mentioning the ants from here on out because they're gross, but as you read on, just know that every 10-20 minutes I'm walking through the kitchen, noticing more ants, and killing them.  And puzzling over where they're getting in.  Okay.  Enough about them.]

I then told the boys it was time to start devotions, (and set the timer for 15 minutes, for the oatmeal and the boys) and headed back to my room to do the same. [I do my official devotion-time later in the day, during quiet times, but I always try to sneak in a little Bible reading in the mornings while the kids do theirs, too.]  The little girls were out of their room by then, and I invited them to come sit quietly in bed with me to do devotions.  Adelia opted to go out to the living room, but Audra cuddled up next to me, all stuffy and a little feverish, and colored in my journal while I read my Bible.  She drew a picture of us in bed side by side, and the rest of my room.  It's very cute, her drawing, and I love it that it'll be in my journal so that I can look back on it as I flip through.

The timer went off, I took the oatmeal off the burner and told the boys they could be done. Then I asked them to please go let the chickens out, check their food and water, collect eggs and bring in some firewood.

I checked in on Adelia and Audra again and then hopped in the shower.  I prayed for our day while I showered.  Ella slept on, and I let her, because she's been sick and I knew she was up past ten writing a letter to her cousin last night.

The girls went to get dressed, the boys came in and when I checked in with them about what they'd done outside, I discovered they'd forgotten to collect eggs and bring in firewood.  Okay, so... those things still need to be done.  But later.  Because it was breakfast-time and I felt like we were already running behind.  The little girls joined us and we all set the table, Audra prayed and we started eating.  Ella joined us early on.  My kids love oatmeal.  I've never liked it.  Maybe it's the toppings?  We always have butter, brown sugar, craisins, grape nuts, yogurt, and cream on the table to go with it.

I finished eating first.  (I'd skipped the oatmeal and fried myself 2 eggs.)  I started reading from our Bible story book.  We're reading in Joshua when they crossed the river Jordan to finally claim the land God had promised them.  We talked about it for awhile so I skipped the narration part.

Next up: chores.  While the kids did chores, I loaded the dishwasher and started my sourdough.  When the boys finished their regular chores, I sent them back outside to collect eggs and carry in some firewood.  The girls finished their chores are were waiting on the couch with library books, so I sat down and read to them.  Ella got her letter ready to be mailed out while I read, and Isaac read his book on my bed.  Isaias joined us.  Three library books later, and we were done.  I wondered if Ella and Isaac would end up joining us-- they often do-- and thought to myself that I should make it my goal to be so engaging and animated while I read that they cannot help but come over and join us on the couch.  :)

Then it was time for the older kids to do math at the table.  I realized that we (Mark and I) hadn't assigned math the last time we'd corrected [*groan*], so I had to quickly (as in 10-15 minutes, so actually NOT quickly at all) go through each of their books, figure out what lessons they were on, and assign them problems for the day.  Isaac's math book is not the kind you write in, and since writing is laborious for him, and it's not really the point, I usually write out his problems into his notebook and he solves them.  So I wrote several division problems for him, jotted down what else he should do, and noted on top of Isaias' pages which ones I wanted him to do (4 pages worth) and then I started to assign Ella's.  As I was doing this, Isaac noted the grade levels listed on their front of their math books, and that each of them were working a grade-level behind in math.  True.  [Side note:  Maybe if I had stuck with one curriculum the whole way through, we'd be on target, but for the past few years Isaac was doing another curriculum (Math-U-See) and last year we had Ella try Teaching Textbooks for the year.   When we decided to switch all the kids back to Rod & Staff this year, which is where we began years ago, we realized Ella (after only ONE year away from it) and Isaac were behind in learning some concepts, so they're both a grade-level back, playing catch-up.  Isaias is behind simply because we didn't have the right books at the right time or something so he started with what we DID have on hand and that was a grade younger than where he's at.  But he's nearly done with those books so he'll move to his regular grade soon.]

Anyway, as I was assigning Ella her math, she asked me to please proofread her letter to her cousin because she REALLY wanted to get it into the mailbox TODAY, before the mail lady came, and she might come any time, so please????  So I did that first, pointed out a few spelling/grammatical errors, which she fixed, and then assigned her math work to her.  I set the timer and went to join the girls, who were patiently waiting in the living room.  [I'd instructed the little girls to gather a few things we'd need while I was assigning work to the older kids, and they'd done that.]

I then got out several stamps and stamp pads, white paper and envelopes, and instructed the girls how to use the stamps again and told them we were making thank you's for their birthday gifts (both of their birthdays were last week).  They happily stamped.  Well, not so happily when Adelia kept vigorously stamping and in her enthusiasm, kept stamping on Audra's paper.  And not so happily when the damp paper towel I'd gotten out to clean the stamps with got Audra's paper all wet.  But mostly happily.  :)

There were NO QUESTIONS FROM THE OLDER KIDS DURING THEIR MATH TIME TODAY.  And that right there deserves all caps because that happens exactly never.  Usually there are tears (Ella) and confusion (Isaias) and interruptions from each of the older kids.  Not so today.  YAY.

They all finished up somewhere around that 20-minute timer going off.  [This is new this year, setting the timer for math.  And it's working.  The focus is short lessons (Charlotte Mason), and attentiveness to the task before them.  Last year one of my complaints was all the dawdling and doodling and distraction that came with math time.  This year: I set the timer, they have 20 minutes to finish their math, so they'd better GET TO IT.  It helps Isaac particularly (my main Distracted Dawdler) and it completely stresses Ella out (the pressure of being timed), but I'm sticking to it because it's made such a difference for Isaac.  Isaias is speedy and always finishes early so the timer doesn't really affect him.

Isaias finished first, and headed into the living room to observe.  I took advantage of his down time (and mine, mostly... the girls had the hang of the card-making with stamps by then) and asked him to get his spelling stuff.  We started Sequential Spelling with Isaias this year.  Ella and Isaac are great spellers.  Once they've seen a word, they can generally remember what it looks like and spell it.  Isaias reads well but does not apparently notice what the word looks like or remember it when it comes time to write it, because his spelling is atrocious.  [Examples: today one of his spelling words was out.  He spelled it: awt.  For words with -er endings, he omits the e and just adds an r, as in dinnr, instead of dinner.  (Except that he'd likely drop the extra "n", too, in that word.)]   Thus, when he writes, it takes a good deal of time to figure out what on earth he's written, as nearly every word is misspelled.  So I bought this workbook because I think he's a little young yet for dictation.  Although I'm confident in the method of dictation for teaching spelling (which is what I do with the older two), all the writing it entails would be too much for him.  But I wanted to a) get a better grasp of the areas in which he's struggling, b) have him think about the words and practice spelling things correctly.  And I wanted it to be cheap and teacher-friendly (meaning, not a lot of prep time for me, but rather something I can open up and roll with).  So this was a good fit for that.  I'm undecided as to whether or not it's working.  But he likes it and I hope it's sinking in.

So he and I did spelling on the couch while the girls finished their cards.  Isaac joined us when he was done (and started playing Solitaire), and then Ella came in (and stamped with the girls).  Then I had to transcribe what the girls wanted to say on each of their cards (8 total) and address the envelopes and get them into the mailbox.  So that gave everyone else some down time for a bit.  And because this took so long (it was nearly noon) I decided then and there we'd be skipping some things on our school list.

I really wanted to do dictation because I knew Ella, at least, hadn't done it last week.  I have to do dictation separately with the older kids, so I began with Isaac while Ella took a shower and Isaias and Adelia headed outside to play in the snow, and Audra played by herself.  I chose a selection from The Jungle Book (one of Isaac's assigned reading books this year, and one I know he enjoyed.)  I chose a short paragraph- maybe three sentences, total.  I purposely select one that has challenging words and something interesting grammatically (this one had quotation marks).  Then he looks it over, finds the words he thinks might be a challenge for him, and tells them to me.  I list them on the dry erase board and then he studies them until he can picture the word in his head.  I have him write each word in the air (eyes closed) until he's confident to begin.  Then I have him look over the paragraph one more time for grammar, checking for commas, apostrophes, capital letters, etc. and when he's ready, I erase the words on the board and we begin.  I slowly read the passage from the book to him- four or five words at a time- while he writes.  When we're done (and this takes awhile), he checks his work one last time and then he gets the book and corrects his own writing.  He uses a red pen, making a dot under any errors, and then he goes back with white-out and corrects each error.   

I start heating up lunch, talk with Isaac about some books he likes, chat with Audra, check on the kids outside, and then begin dictation with Ella (repeat above, just with a different book and a longer passage).  Mark calls to check in and I chat with him for a bit (10 min?), then I tidy up and realize it's 1:30 and we need to eat and get on with quiet times.  So we do.  I heat up some curried lentil stew but serve it as a dip with chips, sour cream and salsa, slice up some apples, and we eat.  Then: after-lunch chores, and quiet times.  Which is where I am now, writing this.  :)

It's now nearly 4 o'clock and Mark will be home within the hour.  My sourdough is rising in the oven with the oven light on.  I have no idea what we're having for dinner.  Again.  And I still have "memory work" and "picture study" on the board that we didn't get to today.  So either we try to tackle those tonight (unlikely, unless Mark is game) or we try to fit them in another day this week (possible, we'll see) or we simply skip them for the week (probably the most likely scenario).

Amazingly, we didn't have any discipline issues in our day today, either.  That and the no-questions during math time makes for a smooth day.  :)

How was your day?

Happy Valentine's Day!


I think this is the first year we have made little mailboxes for Valentine's Day.  We put them up yesterday and had exactly one day to fill them.  We all loved this so much that Ella and I have declared this a new tradition.  Simple envelopes decorated and taped up on the mantel.  Everyone made their own (Except for Mark.  He was at work so I made his.)

See that little CD tucked into my envelope?  That's Mark's gift to me, every year.  A mix of 14 songs reflecting our year together.  I love this.  He writes a note to go with each song- why he chose it; his favorite line from the song, etc.  Basically a nice long love letter.


We went to a little Valentine's Day tea party today with some dear friends, and that was a treat.  (Amy~  That should be a tradition, too!  I should have mentioned it to Ava today. ;))  We had tea and scones and little sandwiches (and yummy salads for the mamas), and some games and crafting, all with wonderful friends.

OH.  And my kids still love me even though we had a harried morning and I hollered at them.  That's true love.

Blessings to you all and Happy Balentime's Day, (as Audra says it. :))


Adventures in sourdough bread-baking

When I was in the eighth grade, we traveled through Europe as a family.  My dad had been invited by some missionary friends to speak about Jesus to the university students there.  In addition to his speaking engagements, we got a Eurail pass and visited every possible museum, church and castle my dad could get us to.  (In the eighth grade, I was not particularly excited about all of that.  I was looking forward to Paris and was hunting for a new pair of shoes.  Truly.)  But in college I did end up studying art, and art history classes were my absolute favorite.  Perhaps all those museum trips ignited a love of art in me after all.

One of the other things I remember about Europe is the bread.  My fondest memory is a trip we took along with two missionary families up to a little guest house in the Austrian Alps.  Each morning during our stay there, our hosts hung a drawstring bag full of fresh rolls on the outside of our door.  Maybe it was the luxury of freshly baked bread- still warm- delivered right to our door, or maybe it was simply the result of sleeping atop a downy feather bed, but it was my favorite place in all of Europe- that little inn in the mountains with the homemade rolls. 

In December I read Stones for Bread, and in the book the main character is an artisan baker.  The book was full of recipes and a narrative of the history of bread.  I finished the book and wanted to bake.  So I checked out several books at the library and started perusing them, to learn how.  I was contemplating beginning my own wild yeast starter.  The more I read, the more I realized just how MUCH there is to learn, and what a science the art of bread-making is, and it just all seemed a little overwhelming to add to my already-full plate.  So I announced to Mark that someday, maybe when the kids are older, maybe when we're old, I will learn to bake bread.  I think I'd really love it.

When I miscarried last month, a friend of mine brought us a meal, and with it a loaf of homemade sourdough bread.  It was so delicious, that bread- and so generous of her to share it.  I asked her for the recipe and when she emailed it to me she said she'd drop off some starter the next time she was in town.  And she did.  So then I had this unfamiliar liquid in a jar and no idea what to do with it, except for her recipe and instructions. 

So I followed her instructions and fed my starter daily and tried my first loaves.  They over-rose, if there is such a term, and went flat.  I baked them anyway and the bread was delicious.  And I learned that the next time I would use three pans, not the two.

The photo below is from my second batch of bread.  This time I mixed in a bit of wheat flour with the white, and folded parmesan cheese into the round loaf.


Take three: (photos taken pre-baking)

Isaac and I added feta, garlic and dill to this loaf.  It has been our favorite loaf so far.

We made two loaves with chocolate chunks and peanut butter swirls.

I still don't know what I'm doing.  (I want to figure out how to make my bread more porous, for instance, and I have no idea what I'd need to do to make that happen.)  Someday maybe I'll have time to figure that out, or maybe I'll accidentally happen upon that as I experiment.  But for now, I am doing what I know to do, and changing things up a bit as I go, and happily surprised every time my bread turns out!  (Oh, and we're all probably getting chubby, too.)  ;)

This morning's loaves.

Math drills


We're back at it.  Schooling, I mean.  The official stuff.  I pulled out our schedule last week to remind myself what we do-- seriously, we were that out of our routine; I forgot what we were even doing this year!-- and we're slowly getting back to our schedule.  The kids are still sort of in vacation mode, as evidenced by the fact that after they wrap up their morning chores, they all disperse to play and I have to round them up for school, but we're easing into it.

One of the things we've recently added is a new system for drilling our math facts, and I am SO thankful to have stumbled across this method that I'm going to tell you all about it.

A few months ago, while perusing a Pinterest "Homeschooling- Math" board, I clicked on this link and was intrigued by the concept of drilling students in math who are all at different levels at the same time.  This sounded like a dream to me.  Currently, I have Isaias (8) working on his addition and multiplication tables, Isaac (10) still practicing multiplication while he does division, and Ella (12) working on division and fractions and other such things but still needing to brush up on her multiplication tables-- especially since we took two months off school and she's a little rusty.  If I work with each of them daily, that time adds up.  So here was an idea to have them all sit down and do it at the same time- but still work on their level. 

I made up these "practice sheets"- multiplication for Ella and Isaac, addition and subtraction for Isaias, and slipped them into page protectors.  They each keep their page in their school binders.


I have a stash of dry erase markers that we use only for this purpose.  So, when it's time to drill, all the kids will grab their sheets and a marker and each child will circle the number they're working on. (I've been keeping track so I usually know where they're struggling and what they need to work on the most.)  So, for example: Isaac will pull out his page and grab a marker and circle "4's" and then write 4's in one of the squares for each of the twelve problems.  (Ella will circle 9's or whatever she's doing, Isaias will circle another number)- and they each write the number they're working on across their page.


Then I write the numbers 1-12 on the our big dry-erase board and randomly assign a number (1-12) to each problem, and then read it out loud.  (Sorry, I don't have a picture of this step- but if you watch the video I linked above it will be clear.)  That becomes for them their second number to fill in their squares.  So at this point each of them have before them twelve problems to solve.  Then I set the timer for a minute or two and say GO! and they all work on their individual sheets.  When they're done with that round, they'll correct each others' sheets or I'll correct them and mark on a separate page how they did- how many they completed and how many they got correct, and then they wipe their sheets and we choose another number and do it all over again.  They get lots of practice and it's all very fun and they.love.this, and it saves me a LOT of time drilling each child.


The thing I didn't expect (but really, I should have) is that the little girls would want to join us for this drill time.  This has worked out beautifully, actually.  I just gave them their own "page"- blank paper with a sheet protector over it, for them to color on.  They choose their colored marker and happily work while we drill.  Adelia likes me to assign her a number to practice and then she works along with the "big kids" during the timer, just practicing that number.  (Many times I'll assign her a number and she'll try it, decide it's too hard, and announce that she's going to practice "1's" instead.  So she makes a whole page of 1's as the timer is going.  It's hilarious, really.  Then I'll circle my favorite 1's on her page at the end.  ;))  Audra will often just draw on a blank page, but in the picture above she is coloring in a big G, which is the letter I've been working on with the little girls.

Anyway, this has been a great tool for us.  I realize this won't always be handy for us- at some point they'll all have these facts mastered and move on from here, but in this stage, it's been extremely helpful! 

ps- I'm happy to email you any sheets I created for this.  Just shoot me an email if you're interested.