2 Bigs + 4 Littles under 1 Midsize Roof = Life As We Know It

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A Half-Dozen …

… things we’re celebrating this season:

1. Our faith in a loving God who meets our every need when times are tough. We are not always grateful for the lessons we’ve had to learn, but we know where our trust belongs: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” —Jeremiah 29:11

2. A family life that not only keeps us busy but also allows us all to be together as much as possible. We’re also thankful for grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who help us juggle a tight schedule and meet responsibilities both at home and on the job.

3. Friends! We’ve kept our current ones (whew!) and made several new ones (yay!) — and reconnected with a few old ones, too (thank you, Facebook). 🙂 All have inspired us in some way. We’re making it our goal to return the favor.

4. There’s no shortage of work to be done around here — and that’s a good thing! Shawn just took a new job as a project manager for a Tempe company, and he continues to do small handyman jobs on his own. Sonya is still a homeschooling mom and free-lance writer/editor, as well as a tutor and writing teacher.

5. And then there’s school. Kellen (11), Kerrick (9), Kennah (6) and Keillor (4) still do most of their learning at home, but the three oldest also attend two enrichment programs each week for extras like art, history, Latin, music, P.E. and science. It definitely keeps us all hopping — and our brains popping!

6. We actually hope to play more in the near future. Sure, Shawn and the boys have hiked and camped with the Scouts, and Sonya and Kennah have tried to squeeze some girl time in here and there. But we’ve resolved to soon do more of those things that refresh our spirits and keep us going. We hope that’s your plan, too!

Merry Christmas from the Hemmings Half-Dozen!

December 23, 2011   2 Comments

The World on a String

The seventh-grade homeschooled students I tutor once a week for a program called Classical Conversations are learning to draw the entire world from memory this year — and label at least 200 countries, capitals and features. It’s no small feat! They’re halfway there, so I thought I’d give them this little memento to help keep up their momentum. I photocopied a world map onto 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper and cut it into half-inch horizontal strips, making sure I preserved one strip in particular with the words “The World” printed on it. I played with that strip to form a circle (secured by tape) that would neatly fit the inside diameter of the clear glass ornament. Then I curled each of the remaining strips around a pencil, smoothing the curl out a bit before pushing each strip individually into the ornament and inside the band formed by the first strip. Each time I pushed in a new strip, I shook the ornament and all of the strips naturally curled around each other to form a jumbled globe shape that I thought looked really fun. My handy husband shortened up and sharpened some Christmas pencils and drilled a hole through each one so that I could tie it on — along with a little jingle bell — with embroidery thread. I hope my students enjoy the ornaments. I liked them so much that I made one for our tree, too. 🙂

December 6, 2011   No Comments

Farewell to Prairie

We said a sudden good-bye to one of our guinea pigs, Prairie, yesterday. She was 2 1/2 years old and belonged mostly to Kerrick (holding her in the photo above, taken about 1 1/2 years ago), but we all thought she was pretty cute. We buried her in our backyard next to our pecan tree. Kerrick is heartbroken — which, of course, breaks my heart. Certainly, there are bigger losses in life. But this kind of little loss is tough, too — for Kerrick, because it’s really the first time he has lost something he loves; and for me, because he has so many questions that I can’t answer (“Why did she have to die right now? What made her die? Can’t God bring her back if I ask him to?”). I want so much to handle it the right way. I want him to know that it’s OK to be sad that she’s gone. I want to help him remember how much fun it was to play with her. A part of me also wants to relieve him of the guilt he feels about the times that he didn’t play with her because he was busy with school work or Scouts — or because he chose instead to play the Wii. But I can’t do that, and I know I shouldn’t anyway. How else will he learn to deal with the same issues and questions when the next loss — inevitably a bigger one — comes? Mostly, I want him to know that despite the pain he’s feeling now, it was worth it to love Prairie with all of his heart.

Prairie, a true home companion (all of you Garrison Keillor fans know what I mean!). 🙂

September 18, 2011   No Comments

A Half-Dozen …

… fun facts about Kerrick:

1. His first name is English and means “the king’s rule.” His middle name, Andrew, means “manly, courageous.”

2. He loves playing with his dog, his LEGOs and his nine Webkinz (including the newest, a red squirrel named Redwood) — and he collects Playmobil knights.

3. His favorite song is Get Back Up, performed by Toby Mac. To hear it, click on the audio player at right under Song of the Day.

4. He’s super-smart, super-funny, super-outgoing and super-adventurous — all of which makes his parents super-proud (and super-exhausted from trying to keep up with him).

5. He developed our menu for today:
• Breakfast: sprouted spelt raisin cupcakes.
• Lunch: Grilled grass-fed beef burgers on spelt sourdough English muffins.
• Dinner: Pizza (not a healthy version).
• Dessert: a gluten-free (so his older brother can eat it), double-layer chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and strawberries.

6. If you haven’t already guessed, he turns 9 today! Happy birthday, second-biggest Little!

August 27, 2011   1 Comment

A Half-Dozen …

… Homeschooling Life musings to share (answering prompts from The Homeschool Mother’s Journal):

1. In my life this week I was once again reminded that time simply won’t stand still, no matter how much I might like it to. Ever since my oldest son (Kellen, now 11) was of kindergarten age, we’ve participated in C.A.S.A. Vida, a once-a-week enrichment program for homeschoolers offered by local a public-school district. Two years later, he was joined by his younger brother (Kerrick, now 9). And this year, as the traditional school year began, I realized that we had approached some major milestones. Thursday marked not only the first day of Kellen’s last year of the program (which ends after sixth grade), but also the first day of the first year for his younger sister (Kennah, 5), who shares the same beloved kindergarten teacher that her two older brothers had. I managed to keep myself busy while they were gone all day — especially with the help of my littlest Little (Keillor, 3) — but all I could think of was how empty our house (and my life) would be if I they went away to school every day. Author Elizabeth Stone likens motherhood to having “your heart go walking around outside your body,” and that is exactly how I felt as I watched Kennah — dwarfed by her brand-new, sparkly-pink princess backpack and matching lunch box — walk into the classroom with the other kindergartners. Of course, she had a terrific time and can’t wait to go back. And of course, I know I need to let go a little. But that doesn’t make it easy. I don’t even want to envision what it will be like when Keillor heads down the same hallway two years from now — though I’m betting the backpack in that picture will look a bit different. 🙂

2. In our homeschool this week I began teaching my third child to read — something that in my pre-parenthood days I never imagined I would do. What’s interesting is that — thanks to my retired-teacher mom, who saved some of her favorite curriculum from her teaching days — I’ve been using the same program that was in vogue at my small-town public school when I was learning to read: Open Court (the 1973 version), which differs from most other reading programs in that it teaches long vowel sounds before short. It’s so fun to see the light come on in their little brains when they start to understand the ways that letters work together to express words, sentences, paragraphs, stories and ideas. Kennah’s first reading words (which form her first oh-so-simple reading sentence) are “See me.” (The accompanying illustration shows a clown looking into a mirror as he gets ready for a circus performance.) Can’t wait to hear her read the rest of the story.

3. Things I’m working on include our homeschool room, which I’ve spent much of the summer purging, cleaning, organizing and streamlining. I’m still not finished — there are a few more big piles to tackle as I decide what works, what doesn’t, what’s worth keeping and what to pass along (there’s that “letting-go” thing again!). But it’s a much neater and more welcoming space for all of us to use as we get back into a regular school routine. I’m also gearing up for another year of tutoring for a tuition-based homeschool program called Classical Conversations. This is my second year tutoring seventh-graders in six different subject areas: math, Latin, writing/literature, geography, science and rhetoric. I’m pretty sure I acquired as much knowledge as much as my students did last year, and I can’t wait to do it all again. This week, I’ve been busy reworking my personal stash of Latin flashcards to make them more user-friendly. Though it’s not a part of the curriculum, I’m throwing in a phrase supposedly uttered by Michelangelo toward the end of his life (and that I’ve adopted for my class motto): “Ancora imparo,” which means “I am still learning.”

4. I’m reading two books: Lumber Camp Library, by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock, and The Peacemaker, by Ken Sande. The first one I’m reading alongside my sixth-grade son, with plans to discuss its characters, setting, plot and theme using a simplified version of the Socratic method as outlined in Teaching the Classics, by Adam and Missy Andrews. The second I’m reading as part of my Classical Conversations training, with the idea that I’ll gain some wisdom for handling conflict effectively and from a Biblical viewpoint.

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

5. I’m grateful for the encouragement of a new friend, Sue (a k a The Homeschool Chick), to get back to blogging. Her prompts — shared every Friday in The Homeschool Mother’s Journal on her site, www.thehomeschoolchick.com — helped me pull this post together. I’m sharing it in today’s link-up, along with some other homeschool moms who’ve written about what’s happening right now in their lives.

6. A video link to share that pretty much sums up my thoughts at the end of this momentous week is Stephen Curtis Chapman singing Cinderella (who, incidentally, is the favorite princess of my own little growing-up-all-too-quickly princess).

August 13, 2011   6 Comments

A Half-Dozen. . .

. . .fun facts about Kellen:

1. His first name is Irish and means “mighty warrior.” His middle name, Joseph, is after his great-grandfather and means “God will increase.”

2. He loves pirate stories and pirate movies, and he collects Playmobil and LEGO pirates.

3. Despite having multiple food allergies, he loves to eat! Favorite foods include banana-chocolate-chip muffins, spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, turkey sandwiches, strawberries, and coconut-milk ice cream.

4. This year, he earned the highest Cub Scout/Webelos honor, the Arrow of Light, before crossing over into Boy Scouts.

5. Kellen has played the piano for two years. To hear his performances at one recital, click on the audio players under his photo at right under “Songs of the Day.”

6. He turns 11 today! Happy birthday, not-s0-little Little!

July 9, 2011   No Comments

Easter Dress-up

Last year, Kennah and I made super fancy matching Easter dresses for her and her baby doll, Mary (click here to take a look back). We wanted to continue the tradition this year, but we didn’t have time to make anything elaborate. So we were amazed and grateful when a neat opportunity came along for us to not only carry on our tradition, but also to participate in an upcoming project at our place of worship, Grace Community Church in Tempe, Arizona. Two weeks from now, Grace will host an event called Dress a Girl Around the World. Kennah and I will gather with a whole bunch of other girls both big and small to sew dresses for an organization called Hope 4 Women International, which delivers handmade dresses to impoverished girls in almost 40 countries worldwide. Our goal is to make 200 “pillowcase dresses” (so called because they can be made with a pillowcase and just a few other supplies) in just two hours! After exploring the organization’s website (click here to view it), Kennah and I were inspired to make some of these simple dresses for her and Mary to wear on Easter (we didn’t use actual pillowcases, but selected our own fabric and sewed it into pillowcase shapes before making the dresses), as well as a matching one for an unknown girl whom we’ve been calling “our friend around the world.” Maybe someday we’ll find out the name of the girl who receives the twin to Kennah’s dress, but even if we don’t, we’ll know that another little girl somewhere, as Kennah puts it, “has at least one dress, and we match.” 🙂

April 24, 2011   2 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2011   4 Comments

Season of Survival: How We Lived Through a Layoff (a Series)

It was a year ago today when we got the not-exactly-unexpected-but-still-sudden news that my husband Shawn had lost his job. He’d come home early from work that day (which should have been my first clue) and seemed to be in a cheery mood (which didn’t strike me as out of character until later), so I was completely caught off guard when he told me he was home for good—at least for the time being.

I remember feeling slightly panicked. After all, Shawn was (and still is) our family’s biggest breadwinner—not quite the sole provider, but just about. We’d already made a lot of financial sacrifices so that I could be at home with (and homeschool) our four children. And we were right in the middle of a big plan to pay off debt and put away whatever extra savings we could manage (a key to our survival strategy—but more on that later). All around us, people (including friends and family members) had been losing jobs and homes, so we weren’t oblivious to or unfazed by the effects of the economic downturn of the previous year. I think it was just human nature to hope it wouldn’t happen to us. But when it did, we quickly begin to gain a whole new perspective.

We faced a lot of unknowns—from little things like how we were going to pay the utility bill to big things such as how long it might be until Shawn found another full-time job (which, as it turns out, was exactly nine months to the day!). We also learned a lot about ourselves and our priorities—important things to know in both good times and bad. My goal is to share in this series of posts over the next few weeks how we managed to make it through a pretty rough year—and how we continue to recover from it. As is customary on this blog, I’ll share a half-dozen things that helped us not only to survive, but in some cases to thrive, during the most difficult days. (First up: How We Got By With a Little Help From Our Friends.)

If you happen upon these posts, I hope you’ll find inspiration for surviving your own tough times—whatever they might involve and whenever they might arise.

January 26, 2011   1 Comment

Canine Playtime

Our dog, Sweetie, is enjoying her first playdate ever, as we are hosting Daisy, our friends’ Portuguese Water Dog for a two-night sleepover. This high-energy pair has played hard all day, and we’re pretty sure they’ll sleep just as hard tonight. 🙂 Though they look nothing alike, their personalities seem as well matched as their identical collars and pink heart-shaped tags.

December 27, 2010   No Comments