Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sometimes I Pretend I'm TJ and that TJ Loves to Blog

I'm replacing the engine on our little Corolla this week.  I started yesterday and hopefully I'll finish tomorrow.  Because I'm awesome like that.  

Look how crazy my wife is about me!

How do you get seminary students to read the Old Testament?  Why, you build an ark out of popsicle sticks, of course.  The students put their names on a stick for each book they completed, and then if they and their partner finished all the reading assignments, they placed an animal on the ark.  Is that an engine on the back, you ask?  Why, yes it is.  And yes, it did float.  With the seminary president inside.  

Did I mention that I'm awesome?  The door of our van stopped opening for some strange reason, so I took it apart and fixed it.  We found a penny inside, courtesy of Isaiah, who didn't even show the slightest bit of shame. 

Ezra and Eliza have just finished their second year of strings with Robin Keith.  They have learned so much with her and we're so proud of their progress!  She is retiring this year and we will miss her a lot.

Paul just finished his second year of Let's Play Music with Rachel Cox, who is a total pro.  We had a cool breakthrough with him recently.  Kari realized that his progress had slowed a lot recently on the piano, and asked Rachel if he should continue in the coming year.  She said that it's common at this point for kids to lose enthusiasm as piano goes from play time to work.  She said if he's willing to work hard, it'll yield rich results.  So Kari talked to him, told him she was fine if he didn't want to continue, but that if he did, it was time to work hard.  He chose to continue and he showed a lot more determination and attentiveness in his practice from that point on.  We're proud of our boy for working hard!

Speaking of hard work, the wood shed is finally done.  It turned out great!

We took the boat out for the first time and caught a couple of bass.  It was a lot of fun!

Fifteenth Anniversary

This picture sums up how lovely and chill our fifteenth wedding anniversary was this week.  We left the kids with Georgia and Mom and headed for Ivins, which is at the mouth of Southern Utah's glorious Snow Canyon State Park.  We ate overpriced but delicious food.  We swung in the hammock for an hour longer than we had intended. The weather was unseasonably cool--ideal, really.  Our bike ride up the canyon only got warm enough for us to love the cool breeze as we coasted all the way down.  To the pool.   And the atmosphere was so quiet, that we spoke in hushed tones the whole time.  It was heaven.

A lady at the pool asked us if we were on our honeymoon, and we got a kick out her shock when we told her that we had been married fifteen years and had five kids to prove it.  It is really funny!  A lot of people are just settling down at our age, and we already have so much life experience together.  We have done the hard work of college, starting careers, having babies, and becoming financially independent, together.  I can't imagine waiting until all these things were in place before finding someone to walk the road with me--having fifteen years of adventures without the most important person in my life.    

When we met fifteen years ago, I knew I might never get over it if TJ didn't love me.  He united every best quality from every guy I had ever dated in a way I didn't know was possible.  He was passionate about the gospel.  He was fun to be with.  He was smart and capable and full of big ideas. He was unselfish and generous.  He was a hard worker, a pragmatist, and a dreamer all at once.  I was hooked.  

How could I have known at that point in my life that he would only become better?  That as much as I loved him, the years ahead would refine him and bring out even greater strengths and beauties?  As much as I needed him then, I had no idea how much I would need him when babies cried all night, or when loved ones died, or when the demands of life ran me ragged.  His strength and faithfulness have saved me over and over.  TJ has seen my greatest triumphs and my bitterest defeats, and he has proven true through it all.

And he loves me.  This amazing man who sings like an angel, picks up new skills like most people pick up groceries, is an idol to thousands of students, and runs the best scout troop in the state--this man loves me with all his whole heart.  

I am one lucky girl.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tree of Knowledge: Celebrating Four Years of Home School Awesomeness

We have been wrapping home school up for the past several weeks--one recital, one last makeup assignment, and one last meeting with our co-op at a time.  But really I called it quits at the beginning of the month.  Really, being a home school family has great perks, and quitting when we're burned out is right up there at the top of the list.

The younger kids are going to a great charter school this fall, probably.  I keep holding out for some sort of last-minute change of direction, but I really feel like this is where God wants us to go.  It will be a transition for all of us.  The kids are thrilled and I'm sure they'll do great.  We'll see how I adjust to civilian life.  Luckily for me I'll still have Ezra at home, and Isaiah will be in half-day kindergarten.

I've done my share of weeping and wailing over this decision, and when I was finally ready to give this one the Lord, he traded me for a great idea: To help us all finish strong and look back with happy memories, I created the Tree of Knowledge in the kitchen.  (If you think this is nothing but a seasonally adjusted Thanksgiving Tree, you're right!)  We took a whole month to reminisce about the past four years of home school and reflect on all the blessings it's brought into our lives, and we wrote them on the leaves and apples.

Here are the things we wrote:

Anne of Green Gables!! (read the WHOLE series) -Eliza
Wonder -Naomi
Naomi has become a voracious reader. -Mom
We started each home school day with a prayer and then watched for God's help throughout the day. It always came.  :)  -Mom
The Borrowers -Mom
My favorite things are legos and drawing and kissing Mama and Jesus.  -Isaiah
The Dinosaur Museum -Mom
Learning to sight read -Eliza
Reading -Naomi
I'm getting good at spelling, misc, math and poetry and reading. -Paul
"The Lord of the Sword" -Mom
"Studio D" -Mom
Weaknesses into strengths -Naomi
Paul has learned to read music and books! -Mom
Rifles for Watie!  -Ezra
Noisy, creative, fun-loving, mess-making brothers who have big ideas and lots of free time -Mom
I am much better at math.  -Ezra
Reading James and the Giant Peach, and Danny, the Champion of the World, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Twits to the kids! -TJ
Creative Writing: make up a continent- Mom
Eliza has become a lovely musician. -Mom
I loved reading time the best. -Ezra
Little Women and Little Men. -Mom
We learned the Articles of Faith and the books in The Book of Mormon! -Mom
A Child's Garden of Verses -Mom
A Child's History of the World -Mom
Eating Lunch Together -Mom
Barefoot Wars -Mom
The awesomeness of being with...EVERYONE!!! -Ezra
I loved the river conservation trip in 2015 -Paul
Loved history! -Ezra
Drama -Naomi
I love learning words: harbinger, spectacular. 
Reading "Witches" to the kids -TJ
I loved being together! -Naomi
Reading The Chronicles of Narnia to the kids! -TJ
Cello! -Ezra
Students whose chief distractions are books and wrestling with their siblings -Mom
Picnics and bike rides -Mom
#2 And you are improving at reading upside down.
Doing math and counting -Isaiah
I loved learning about german accents by watching Despicable Me.
"Oh, How Lovely is the Evening," and "Early to Bed and Early to Rise" -Mom
We cleaned up every day right before lunch.  My favorite tradition.  The kids would jump to claim the least messy rooms to be cleaned. -Mom
I can now do a lot of things I couldn't do then!  He -Ezra
Ezra has become a lifelong learner. -Mom
The Blue Castle -Eliza
Being together! -Naomi
The Lord of the Rings -Ezra
Getting out for summer 2 weeks earlier than the school kids!  -Eliza
Going to the wildlife museum was the best field trip ever!  -Eliza
The Animal Atlas -Mom
Latin, World History, Shakespeare, Geology, Math, American History, Zoology, Plutarch, Creative Writing, Art, Drama, Literature -Mom
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm -Eliza
Picture books before naptime -Mom
Getting good at sculpting!  -Eliza
Bullfinch's Mythology -Mom
Isaiah has learned a lot about animals and plants. -Mom
The Little House Series -Mom
I am getting good at praying. -Mom

Home school has been hard, sometimes even brutal.  But more often the work has just been fun, interesting, challenging, flowing, connected, cozy, and sweet.  I have loved learning alongside the kids.  Keeping each of them immersed and challenged without overwhelming them has been a constant concern.  And keeping up on other responsibilities has always taken a back burner, but I've been okay with that (mostly.)  

TJ and I noticed right away that home school eliminated a lot of stress from the kids' lives, and that they were easier to connect with and to enjoy because they just didn't have so much to worry about. There was way less fighting, right off the bat.  We had a lot of fun playing, eating, talking and reading together.  It was hard to see the progress on a day-to-day basis, but hindsight shows that they've each made huge strides.  Ezra has gone from a burned-out, frustrated student to a young man who never stops learning and who is truly wise beyond his years.  Eliza, who was always a good student, has gained character: she is a leader among her friends in doing what is right, and when she is home, she nurtures and blesses those around her. Naomi has proved to herself over and over that she can turn weaknesses into strengths as she tackled each new challenge with consistent hard work and with trust in the Lord.  Paul has grown from a little baby to a whip-smart, hard-working idea man.  His creativity and knowledge have really blossomed this year!  Isaiah, too, has never known anything but home school.  He is well-equipped for kindergarten and probably engineering as well, since he has spent most of the past year doing legos and playing in the dirt.  

The heart of our home school, as you may have guessed, has been great books.  And those great books have blessed my kids with amazing vocabularies, good reading comprehension, a lifelong window to the world, and a clear idea of how to live the good life.  Reading together has been everyone's favorite part of home school, and it will always be a big part of our lives.  

Luckily for me, the best part of home schooling is being a mom, and that will never change.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Naomi had her piano recital, and here's a picture of her with her wonderful teacher, Tauna Buckway.  Paul can't wait to start with her because she gives great prizes.  We love her because she truly loves every one of her students.  

Naomi has made a lot of progress this year!  We are so proud of her!

I can't remember the story that goes with this picture Isaiah drew.  Something about a lady bug who won't cooperate?  He had me do the writing, but the artwork is all his.  Haha, what a spaz!

My awesome brother Taylor just turned 19.  We thought the least we could do was to take a goofy picture and send it to him.  

Grandma and Grandpa Dick came up for a visit while they looked at a house in the area.  We are so glad they're going to live in St. George!  We have never lived so close to them and we know it's going to be awesome.

The woodshed nears completion.  Ezra has been a huge help and Paul has helped as much as we was allowed to.

This awful set of lab results for Isaiah nearly sent me into anaphylactic shock.  If you read the fine print, it says he's not allowed to eat anything tasty ever again in his life.  We're working on that one.  

I'll never be as good as my Mom was about one-on-one time with the kids, but I'm not giving up.  
Eliza and I had a great afternoon together, complete with ice cream.

At first I couldn't figure out why I like this picture so much, but it must be that these three rooms are so abnormally clean.  Also, there are Naomi's crutches.  She strained a tendon and had to hobble around on those for a couple of weeks.  It was awful, but she was a really good sport!

We finally got Isaiah up on two wheels, and he is pleased as punch!  It's so much fun watching him ride around the circle or in the park.  It's nearly like the joy of learning to ride a bike myself. 

Praise God For Hope

This picture used to be my pride and joy, but the past six months or so, I've tried not to look at it too much.  This family of mine has been through a pretty rough period, and it's not over.  

I never knew before that one I loved so much was capable of causing so much pain.  

But the healing process has begun.  We are rebuilding.  And would you believe it, we're already celebrating.  Tonight for Mother's day some of the siblings and their families went to Mom and Dad's house.  We had great food.  We shared laughter and memories.  We talked to Elder Monnett via Skype.  And when the guys were cleaning up in the kitchen, they randomly paused to serenade me in the living room.  Dad got Youtube to play accompaniment while Kendall sang the Philippino national anthem and Spencer danced the River Dance.  It took me straight back to the good old days. Growing up in a family of entertainers, there is never a dull moment.

And the truth is, the good old days weren't as good as I thought they were.  There was pain I couldn't see.  And now that pain is out in the open where the sun will dry it up once and for all.  We are moving forward and there is hope.  

Praise God for hope.