The Flawless Christmas Card

Parenting is the most competitive gig on the planet: who's kid is the smartest, the cutest, learned to read the earliest, has the most friends, is the best on the soccer team, watches the least amount of television, etc. and, nothing appears to convey those messages more than "the perfect Christmas family photo card." But I'd like to offer another thought, because that is definitely not the message that this flawed, very less than perfect Mom and family, is trying to convey when compiling our Christmas cards.

You see, Christmas just screams beauty. Everything in my world feels more beautiful around the Christmas season. I love the way my house looks and feels, the decorations, the lights, the sounds, and the smells of the season. It all leaves me incredibly giddy.  It's a massive celebration of Jesus' birth and I think it's a small, tiny glimpse of the beauty we will experience for eternity.

Along with Christmas beauty comes Christmas cards! It is one of my absolute favorite things about Christmas. Jon knows not to open a single Christmas card without me, so he usually just brings them in a huge stack and lets me go to town. The mailbox in the days before Christmas becomes my stalking ground for Christmas happiness- pictures, yearly highlights, handwritten letters, and family announcements. It's all happy and beautiful and for a moment highlights the resounding beauty that DOES reside in every single family regardless of difficulty or struggle. Sure some of the beauty people display via their Christmas card cheer, may be disingenuous, but maybe it isn't. So before you criticize and assume people are trying to be perfect, maybe just look at it from a different angle. We're all living life and not all of it is filled with beauty. And yes, there is beauty in the mess and the difficulty. We all know that way more than we're probably even willing to admit. We all know life, and marriage, and children, and families are far from perfect, and often come with great struggle. We all know our stories are laced with joy and sorrow alike. That's not what I'm talking about- I often post about the struggle of life, the craziness of raising kids, and the very not so perfect life we live. So at Christmas we desire to display the beauty that does exist among the chaos of every day life.
So that is why I torture my family, mainly my husband, with coordinating outfits, the perfect location, bribing children, and taking a million shots to get one where everyone is looking at the camera and at least sort of smiling.  Pictures mean a lot to me. They document life and that's one thing I think I do fairly well as a mom- document my kids lives. So for me, the Christmas card is very meaningful. It displays the beauty that is in our family. Once a year, it displays the grace of God in our lives and shows the love that runs through the fabric of our family unit.

So the next time you receive a "flawless Christmas card" in the mail, don't jump to the conclusion that they're trying to portray the "perfect family." Maybe instead, see it as the time of year to celebrate the beauty of families sticking together and walking in the daily grind of life as one. That, is true beauty and should be celebrated and displayed.

So without further ado, here's a picture of our Christmas Card of 2014. We did not send out cards to everyone this year because we chose to clamp down our Christmas budget. We sent them to a few non-internet family members and friends. If you normally receive a card from us, please don't be offended! We plan to fully resume the ginormous Christmas card list next year.

Dear Family & Friends,
2014 has been quite the year for us. Looking back, I can't believe all we crammed into one year. To kick-off 2014, Jon and I took a babymoon vacation to Jamaica. We left at just the right time as Indy was experiencing its coldest winter in decades. We had an awesome trip and had such a great time celebrating all the good that God has done in the life of our family over the last few years.

On March 28th Evie turned 3 years old! She continues to be a lover of babies, all things princess, and twirly dresses. She can be found at almost any moment of the day in her yellow "Belle" dress she got from Ethiopia ("because it twirls the best, Mama"), all while bouncing a baby on her hip. The detail with which she cares for her dolls is probably one of the sweetest things I have ever seen. Evie was promoted to Big Sister this year and takes this role very seriously. She is our more independent child, but certainly loves to snuggle. She loves bathroom humor, laughing, and playing with Mekonen. She took her first ballet class this year and almost exploded with excitement. She loves it more than I ever imagined.

On April 6th, the sweetest chaos we ever met arrived on the scene, at our schoolhouse, at 11:11am weighing 7 lbs 11 oz, and 20 inches long. We named her Penelope Mae after her Great-Grandma Penny Castro, and her Great-Grandma Nellie Mae Oren. Sweet chaos is a good descriptor for our little peanut as she has had quite the colicky start to her little life. We are praising the Lord that she started turning a corner around 6 months old and is no longer crying and fussing all the time. She still definitely has her moments where no ones sleeps and no one gets anything done. But we know, this too shall pass, and she'll be running behind her brother and sister in no-time. She is almost 9 months old and her personality is starting to show. She is starting to babble and it takes little effort to get her to smile and laugh. She's starting to stand independently now and we expect that she'll be walking and running before we know it.

We spent the summer traveling to visit family, working on our 100 year old schoolhouse, and enjoying our kids. Jon planted a huge vegetable garden this year and I canned for the first time- green beans, tomatoes, soup, salsa, pickles, and grape jelly. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and look forward to it next year. We (a.k.a. mostly Jon) continued caring for our egg laying chickens and this past fall raised 20 meat chickens that we had butchered just a few weeks ago. Who knows what other animals will show up in our yard this coming year! I'm hearing talk of pigs and turkeys, oh my!

In much sadder news, we lost our beloved golden retriever, Macy, this year. It was the one of the most heartbreaking things we've experienced, and way more devastating than I ever imagined it would be. Recovering from that was extremely difficult as pets truly are part of our families.

This fall, Mekonen started kindergarten and left me asking myself more than once, "where did the time go?" We are homeschooling and attending a classical co-op. Mekonen loves it. His favorite part of the week is going to school with his friends. We are blessed to walk this homeschooling year with some good friends and it has been so fun watching our boys go to school together. Homeschooling is genuinely my favorite part of our day. Watching Mekonen learn to read has been so much fun. We have found that he loves history, geography, and math. He's learned the 50 states and capitals, along with their location, the Presidents of the U.S., and is working through organizing what he has learned in history on a history timeline of world. I love that these things continue to fascinate him.  If you're wondering why we homeschool and what classical education is, check out my blog posts, here, and here. 

One of the things we loved most about 2014 is that all of my family came to visit us! The Bakers came this past summer on their way to moving to Wyoming, and my parents, and the Daniels family came for Thanksgiving. It was so much fun being able to host everyone.

On December 28th, Mekonen turned six years old! He is our extreme extrovert and is the most relationally driven person I have ever met. He might even surpass me. Haha! He loves any and every activity involving Daddy, loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superheroes, and Legos. The highlights of his days are playing with friends and wrestling with Daddy. He played baseball on a team for the first time this year and seems to prefer baseball over soccer! An entirely new part of his person came out when Penelope was born and it is incredibly special. Mekonen has not only taken his baby sister's colic in stride, but has genuinely embraced his protector and care-giver role as big brother. He's constantly trying to soothe her, love on her, and do whatever he can to help. He takes his sibling leadership role seriously and we are excited to continue to watch that grow.

We thank you all for your love, support, and involvement in our lives. We don't take it for granted. We wish you a Merry Christmas and very happy and healthy 2015.

With much love, 
The Orens 


Santa Claus?

Santa Claus....every year he comes up, and every year we have conversations about it. Jon grew up with Santa and I did not, so we come from both sides of the story. I'm a great fan of make-believe, imagination, and fun, fanciful stories. Several weeks ago, Mekonen lost his first tooth and I got flack for telling him about the Tooth Fairy, and letting my kids walk the streets of Disney World thinking the characters were real, but not having my kids believe in Santa Claus. For me, there's a big difference in both of those scenarios, and many don't agree, and that is totally okay. But I know my kids....I have one extremely sensitive one, and one very logical one, and I have always felt a little unsettled in my heart about blurring the lines at Christmas when Jesus is supposed to be the focus. If Santa had been at a different time of the year, having nothing to do with Christmas, or Jesus' birth, maybe we would've been Santa believers in full. Who knows!

At Christmas time, there are two very prominent figures (and one culturally more prominent than the other), Santa and Jesus. I have felt very strongly about not wanting to blur the lines between real and pretend within those two people. I got criticized for being ridiculous, over the top, and the like. (Which in one sense is funny because why do others care if my kids believe in Santa or not)? But anyway, my concern was confusing the lines, and I saw the perfect example in a conversation with my 3 year old on Friday while we drove to the children's museum. Evie says from the backseat, "Mommy, if Santa Claus is pretend, is Jesus real?" Of course I responded that He absolutely is, that He is the reason everything and everyone exists, that He is God, etc, etc. Then she said, "well if Santa flying reindeer and bringing presents to all the kids is just pretend, did Jesus really die on the cross?" Oh my. Her little mind trying desperately to make connections and discern reality and truth. I mean when you think about it, I don't blame her. Santa Claus and Jesus aren't "seen," and their stories both display omnipotence and omnipresence, as well miraculous feats that seem impossible. So why wouldn't she question that? There's already the big job of wading through questions like that during this time of the year. We want our children to know the absolute solid truth about who Jesus is, and I don't want to add to that already existing job, by mixing Santa and Jesus too much at Christmas.

Please hear my heart....I am not condemning or criticizing, or anything of the sort, those families who do believe in Santa Claus. I know lots and lots of wonderful, godly, great parents who present Santa to their children as real. Their kids are just fine. I'm simply expressing our feelings on the issue and hoping to offer a grid for people to think through when it comes to deciding whether or not to include Santa as real in one's Christmas celebrations. I think the problem comes into play when we buy into so many cultural traditions and things without ever thinking them through.

So what do we do with Santa?

We've used a little system written about by Justin Holcomb about how to wisely think through cultural practices. When we come across a cultural practice and we have to decide whether to participate or not, he suggests the 3 R's. Reject, Receive, or Redeem.

But before we dive into the three R's, it's important to remember, that we as parents must research for ourselves. We can't just piggy back the practices, beliefs, and methodologies of those around us (Christian or not). It's our responsibility as Christians not to be clueless about the history or origins of the cultural practices we so easily reject or receive, without thought, simply because our church, family, or friends do such things. God has equipped us with the ability to think and discern and we should use that wisely.

So there are three things Christians do in regards to Santa Claus.
1. Reject Santa- have no association with anything Santa. He is often demonized and even declared "sinful" in this category.
2. Receive Santa- fully accept everything Santa, portray him as fully truth, partake in all the "this is real" Santa activities, while reinforcing "his realness."
3. Redeem Santa- talk about Santa Claus for who he was, tell the truth as the truth, and the imaginary as the imaginary, and allow our kids to have fun with the fanciful imagination and enjoy this aspect of the holiday season for what it is

We've chosen to redeem Santa. We talk about how the story of Santa Claus as we know it today came to be. Because the truth is, there is some truth to the story of Santa, but obviously a lot of make-believe too. We want our children to understand that Santa Claus is a mix of real and make-believe. Here are some parts of the real story of Nicholas.

Some ancient records reveal that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family and was raised a devout Christian. His parents died tragically when he was young and he spent much of his wealth taking care of the poor which involved giving gifts to children and sometimes filling stockings of presents for them. One record shares that he helped save three sisters from a life of prostitution by paying their wedding dowry that their family was too poor to pay.

He was a Christian leader who became the Bishop of the port city Myra that the apostle Paul visited in the book of Acts in the Bible. He also was part of the Council of Nicaea that defended the diety of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325 (I thought that was fascinating. I didn't know that at all!)

He was canonized as a saint after he died on December 6, 343 and St. Nicholas' holiday was celebrated by giving gifts. This eventually became synonymous with Christmas since they were celebrated within a few weeks of each other.

Other folklore of the time became entwined with St. Nicholas and is where it is said we got the fanciful stories of going down the chimney, flying reindeer, and delivering presents to all the children of the world in one night. And what fun stories! And that's what we tell our kids! We tell them the true story of the man St. Nicholas and have fun with the pretend stories. We read the Night Before Christmas, we have a few Santa ornaments on our tree, and we visit the children's museum to participate in all the Christmas activities, which always includes sitting on Santa's lap for the classic childhood Santa picture. 
(I cannot believe Penelope didn't absolutely freak out)
No, I don't believe our children are missing out on childhood, as a few have argued with me. We talk about the truth and majesty of God sending His Son Jesus to rescue the world, and how that deserves a celebration even bigger than we can make it at Christmas. We also talk about and enjoy some of the cultural practices of our day that happen around Christmas as well. We are not against make-believe and allowing our kids to believe in certain things that aren't real. We just want to do that outside the context of mixing spiritual truths and make-believe. 
(and how cute is she with her two front teeth)


So Much Joy, So Much Pain

The "adoption holidays" on the calendar- things like Orphan Sunday, birth mother's day, and today, national adoption day. They always stir up such a mix of opposite emotions that I find myself lost in thought most of the day, trying to make sense of them. Like today when a Mom at school says, "Hello?!?!" as I had a dazed look on my face while politely nodding in response to what I don't even know she was talking about. It's driving the whole way home and never remembering even driving home because my mind is fixed on my deep joy of being the forever parent to the little Ethiopian boy in the backseat, all the while being fixated over the deep pain it took for this child to become mine.
 To those truly committed to adoption, these "holidays" never come with simple, celebratory ease. They actually highlight the always existing incredible tension...the tension of unspeakable pain alongside the deepest joy. You see, adoption is not just joy- the moment you are matched with your child, the moment your skin finally touches their skin, the moment you step off the plane as a new family, giving a child what every child deserves- a family. Adoption is full of great pain. Horrible tragedies have occurred in the life of your child to bring him to a place of needing adoption. They are things that families and children should never have to face. They are the unspeakable horrors of a broken world that is not the way God originally intended it to be. And not only that, adoption is hard. Walking alongside a child and helping him understand the story he is walking, and trying to help him see Jesus and the redemption of the Gospel through some of the most difficult details, is a road that I pray I travel well...for his sake, for the honor of his birth family, and for the opportunity for people to see what Jesus is really like. Through great pain, difficulty, and loss comes some of the most deep and profound joy I have ever known, and I hope that my son too, also comes to know that deep joy. We won't try to hush the tension away, or paint it with rainbows and unicorns, but we will let it rest where it is, because in that tension, we want other people to see the great tragedy and therefore great need, leading to great blessing. It's a mystery how all of those things can simultaneously exist, but this side of heaven, that's how it is. I can say, I am looking forward to the day when Jesus redeems this shattered world and the tragedies my son and his birth family have faced will be redeemed by the Redeemer Himself. Of that, I am confident.
So in the meantime, on national adoption day, what do we do? Two things.
1. We live in the tension. We celebrate adoption holidays with joy and gusto, we embrace our son with all the hugs and affection every child deserves and we tell him how incredibly blessed we are that he is ours. And then in the next breath we stop and thank God for his birth mom and his birth dad, we pray for their hearts and the pain that I imagine never goes away when your child is calling someone else Mama. We let our son see the joy and we let him see the pain because it teaches him he's safe to question, safe to feel sad, and safe to feel joy exploding out of his being, all at the exact same time. This, we believe, is how kids grow up to do great things.
2. Advocate. I continue to be blown away by the things I hear and witness when it comes to children and families. "Can we go to the orphanage and pick a child out that fits best in our family?" Or if you're a Christian, "I'm not 'called' to adopt." Yes, yes, I know, not everyone is supposed to adopt, but that entire mantra is overused and is way more than the breadth of this blog post. And quite frankly, it's much more simple than that. Children need families. You're a family. Period. We wrap SOOOOOOO much around the "decision" to adopt. It's simple. Especially if you're a Christian. Millions of the most vulnerable image bearers of God live unprotected and unloved. It's simple. Christians have been taking care of kids for centuries. Children need families. It's simple.

So I walked out of church on Orphan Sunday, sat at lunch, and I cried. Why? Lashauna, Michael, Caleb, Helen, Terry, Michael & Greg. 7 children whose portraits and a mini bio hung in the hallway of our church. 7 kids who live right in our county who need families. Rights terminated. Waiting. Waiting for someone. Anyone, to call them "mine."  It's simple. They need a family. Out of 600+ Christians we should be able to find families for 7 kids. What would those children have burned on their minds about who Jesus is, if they knew that on November 2nd, they were presented to a group of over 600 Jesus-loving Christians and not every single one of them were ultimately given a family by the end of that day. My heart cannot even handle the ramifications. You see, we also support a ministry to homeless teens in our city. We bring meals, we volunteer, we do other ministry things for this organization. But we miss the biggest part...preventing the need for these kids to ever walk through the door of that ministry in the first place. Kids need families.

We often sit back and think, "Maybe it's us. Maybe we are missing something? Are we the crazy ones?" But I don't think we are. These are children! Not some justice cause. Jesus was radical. Why aren't Christians? It seems to us, that the families with older children, with highschoolers, and children just off to college would be a perfect fit for any of the 7 older children in the hallway needing families. But instead, we are left wondering if we are supposed to do something radical. In the textbook world of adoption, our current very young family, is not the prime setting for domestic older child adoption. BUT...children shouldn't be without families, especially among hundreds of Christians. Maybe one of these days, you might wake up to us doing something crazy. If I've learned one thing in my short 31 years it's, "never say never."

And back to adoption. It's glorious. It's messy. It's filled with pain and joy. It's really no different than life in general. I get choked up every time I think of how gracious God is that this child calls me Mama. And it's days like today, when I get his kindergarten school picture and I cry, because his birth mom is missing another milestone.
Mekonen Jack
5 years
Kindergarten 2014-2015


Penelope's Baby Dedication

Yesterday was a special day for us as we celebrated Penelope's baby dedication! We stood in front of God and our church family, and committed to raise Penelope with the truth of the Gospel and knowledge of Jesus and His Word. 

Penelope Mae Oren
Born: April 6, 2014
Dedicated on October 26, 2014
Life Verse: Lamentations 3:22-24
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

Dear Penelope,
Daddy & Mommy chose this verse for you because you are a picture of God's redemption and intense mercy and faithfulness in our family. We pray that through your story you come to know the relentless pursuit of a steadfast and compassionate God. We want you to see that each new day represents another opportunity to experience God's grace and faithfulness. We pray that these attributes of God give you hope and strength to walk out your days seeking to truly know, love, and serve Jesus.
Daddy & Mommy 

This day was truly special for us because it is by God's miraculous grace and pursuit that we stood together, as a family, holding the representation to us that God truly is a God of restoration and redemption, that God is a God who does GREAT things. None of us deserve God's goodness to us, but we are forever thankful for His mercies. They truly are new every morning! We are also incredibly thankful for our families, many friends, and church family who have walked beside us, in the deepest trenches, and on the highest peaks. 
Without you, this right here would not have existed...
Psalms 136:4
To Him who alone does great wonders, For His lovingkindness is everlasting;

We had such a great day celebrating God's grace in our lives and enjoying our family. It was an incredibly beautiful fall day! After church, we went to lunch with Jon's parents, and then spent the afternoon playing by the river, catching crayfish, throwing rocks in, and playing at a local park where we enjoyed a hilarious game of tag. Our hearts are full. We are so blessed.

A Letter from our Pastor to Penelope...
Dear Penelope, 
It has been my privilege over these past few years to get to know your Mom and Dad as they have been attending Harvest Bible Chapel. My wife Laura and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know your parents, your brother Mekonen, your sister Evie, and you. It really is an honor for me to be the Pastor for your whole family. 

Today, I was able to pray for you in church as your parents dedicated you to the Lord. By dedicating you to the Lord, they are promising to help you know about Jesus and learn to live for Him as you grow and mature. They chose Lamentations 3:22-24 as a Bible passage for you because they want you to know you are a picture of God's faithfulness, mercy and redemption in your family; and they pray for you to truly know, love, and serve Jesus. Penelope, God has been good to you to allow you to be born into such a fine family where you will always be taught that God loves you and has sent His own Son to die on the cross for you. It is my prayer that as soon as you are old enough to understand, you will accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and that you will live your life to always please Him. 

You have a lot of exciting days ahead of you as you mature and grow into a lovely young lady. Remember to be a woman of God's Word and to be careful to obey the Lord who loves you very much. You really are at the beginning of a life full of adventure! I trust that through all your experiences, you will mature into a fine young woman whom the Lord will use for His service. 

Your Pastor, 
Brian White 

What is Baby Dedication?
It is taken from the story of Hannah in the Bible. Hannah was barren and past child-bearing years. She fervently prayed every day asking the Lord to give her a son. She told the Lord that if He did bless her with a son that she would "give him back to the Lord" and diligently raise him to love and serve God. God did just that- He blessed Hannah with a son and she named him Samuel. Hannah gave him back to the Lord, teaching him to serve God all the days of his life.

Baby dedication is a commitment of the parents to teach their children about Jesus with the hope that when they are old enough they will choose to follow Him and serve Him. It is the parents placing themselves under the humble position of accepting the guidance and direction of their church and other Christians as they seek to nurture their children to come to know Jesus.

(Just so you can see it, this is the Certificate of Dedication that we receive on our child's dedication day. 
This one is actually Evie's because I've yet to take a picture of Penelope's).

What Baby Dedication is Not.

It is not salvation. Baby dedication is not a means by which a child can go to Heaven. Salvation is an individual matter. When the child is old enough to understand that they are sinners, realize they cannot make themselves perfect enough for Heaven, and need to Jesus to forgive their sins, they then accept salvation as a gift from God, not something they earn by going to church, being born into a "Christian" family, being good, being dedicated, or being baptized, etc. 

It is not a means by which a child becomes part of the church-
The "universal church" is simply all Christians (those who have believed in Jesus to forgive their sins) all over the world. The "local church" is the specific group of Christians that you worship Jesus with on a regular basis. Being part of a local church does not mean you go to Heaven, nor does it grant you any special rights. 

It is not Baptism. Baptism is simply a public profession of the fact that you know you are a sinner, cannot be perfect enough for Heaven, and therefore need Jesus to forgive your sins so you can spend eternity with Him. Baptism is an individual choice a person makes after they have understood and accepted salvation. This happens at any time in a Christian's life, but it is usually right after a person has asked Jesus to forgive their sins and has decided to follow Him.

What Do You Do For Baby Dedication?
I imagine different churches do things differently, but this is how our church does it. We take a short "class" with the director of children's ministry as they explain baby dedication and the importance of parents being the ones who teach their children about Jesus. Our church does a wonderful job of expressing that we as parents, have the first responsibility of pointing our children's hearts towards Jesus. It's not the job of the church, the Christian school, or anyone else. The church exists to come alongside parents to encourage and help equip, but it is not their responsbility.
During the Sunday morning service, they called each family up with their child, announced the child, their birthdate, and read the Bible verse the parents chose for their child. Then our Pastor read 5 commitment statements that if we agreed to we answered, "we will." Then our Pastor called family and close friends to come up and gather around each family to pray with them as they committed to teaching their child about Jesus. We are so thankful for the church body where are known, loved, and encouraged. We are truly blessed.

The 5 Commitment Statements 
  1. Do you desire to dedicate your child to the Lord and publicly commit to parenting them in a way that honors God?
  2. Do you promise to raise your child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” through instruction and discipline that is defined by God’s Word? (Ephesians 6:4)
  3. Do you promise to lead your child to an understanding of salvation and his/her need for Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior?
  4. Do you promise to work diligently and consistently to instill in your child an understanding of God and His Word? (Deuteronomy 6:4)
  5. Do you promise to conduct your home in a way that models Christian love and heart-felt commitment to Christ and his instruction? (Psalm 127:1)


Happy 1/2 Birthday Pip!

It's her 1/2 birthday! Craziness I tell you! We are halfway to being one year old and seeing her smash cake all over her face! This is one of my favorite ages. The pudgy, not quite as fragile stage, where they smile at almost every eye contact, and where their personalities start to come out. I cannot wait to see how it continues to unfold being #3 in this crazy crew.

Happy 1/2 Birthday Pippi!

 6 months! 
I love her soft little smile
(a tad fuzzy and off colored because I took a picture of a picture instead of scanning it!)
You are crawling and sitting up by yourself (although still not totally trustworthy sitting without falling). You learned to crawl before you learned to sit up. You have perfected the tripod sit, where you are in a crawling position and try to push up to sit. You haven't gotten to full sitting by yourself. Here's the closest picture I could find of your tripod sit. It's super cute. Looks like I'll have to capture one on camera now. (Daddy says your after bath comb over looks like a German boy). 
 Your little personality is busting at the seams. You smile 99.9% of the time when someone makes eye contact with you and gives you attention. It's the cutest, biggest, open mouthed smile ever. You are beginning to love watching Mekonen and Evie. You sat out here for almost an hour watching them ride their bikes. You can also see the little bit of red tint in your hair in this picture. 
You had your first haircut, because let's face it, this rat tail had to go! 
You officially suck your fingers. We've tried very hard to switch you to a paci, because you can always take the paci away, but lo and behold, you refused. We would stick the pacifier in, walk away, come back in the room, and you would have your fingers. Oh well! Hopefully you'll give it up as easily as Mekonen did! 
You still prefer your belly to all other positions! 
You had your first swing at the park and LOVED it!!! We got video of you laughing and giggling like crazy. Such a sweet girl you are! 
You are an excellent sleeper, sleeping from 7:30pm-7:30am with one feeding around 10:30pm. You're taking 2-3 naps a day and are still eating at 7:30am, 10:30am, 1:30pm, 4:30pm, and 7:30pm. You've gotten into a great rhythm and mostly prefer to sleep in your bed now instead of other places. But you are still quite flexible, which is almost not an option being kid #3. 

Your bouts of screaming and unhappiness are fewer and farther between and you've also mostly stopped sreaming your brains out in the car (give or take a few rides here and there). Sometimes, I whip around in the car expecting to see an empty spot where your carseat should be because I don't hear you screaming and I fear I'm one of those moms who just left her baby in the grocery store. So far, I haven't! You're just so quiet back there now I panic! Once I yelled, "Where's Pip?!?!?!" as I whipped around and Evie said, "Mom, her carseat is right there." And I said, "yes, but is she in it?!?!" HA! She was. 

You add so much softness and tenderness to our bunch. We love you and thank God every day for you! 


What is Classical Education Anyway?

We have gotten the question "so what is classical education anyway?" many, many times, so I figured I'd write a post and add it to the homeschooling list. You can read about our main reason for homeschooling here...we desire time with our kids and are working toward a "one-piece life" experience for our family. But in addition to that, we are homeschooling to give our kids the kind of education we believe in. (Again, this does not mean you too, must choose classical education for your family, and it does not mean that we have to choose classical education indefinitely). 

What is classical education...here we go! 

Classical education is all about training the brain and uses a three-part process to train the mind. We call that three part process the trivium...
Grammar Stage- teaches the information, or the facts. (The mind is supplied with facts and images).
Logic Stage- teaches how that information or facts go together, what they mean, their purpose. (The mind is given logical tools for organizing those facts and images).
Rhetoric Stage- teaches them what to do with the information- how to analyze information and how to express what they know in speech and written language. (The mind is equipped to express conclusions).
(and because posts are more fun with a picture)
Process 1- The Grammar Stage 
This stage is approximately grades K-4th. This isn't called the "grammar" stage in terms of doing English. It is laying the grammar in each subject, or the foundation, as the building blocks for all the other learning. (Just like grammar is the foundation for language). The "grammar" is basically the learning of facts: rules of phonics, how to spell, grammar rules, poetry, vocabulary of a foreign language, the stories, literature, and timelines of history, descriptions of scientific fields of study such as animals, the human body, etc, and things like math facts, math properties, etc. 

Children are naturally very, very good at absorbing and retaining information, and most of them thrive on repetition. How many times has your child watched the same movie over and over again, or wanted you to read the same book to them over and over again. Their minds love information. Their minds love to retain. So this stage of classical education capitalizes on this stage of their brain by training their brain to memorize, retain, and recall information. This is done through a lot of fun activities, songs, and timelines. This does not mean the kids do nothing but memorize. There are formal regular classes like reading, math, etc. They are not just memorizing random things and doing nothing else. 

The biggest push back people have when they hear about this stage of classical education is that "You can't memorize just to memorize. What a waste." Which yes, that is true to an extent. They aren't memorizing just to memorize- the information all comes back around in the logic stage, which I'll explain next. But even so, the act of training the brain, like a muscle, teaching it to memorize, retain, and recall, is teaching a child HOW to learn, more than it is teaching them WHAT to learn. 

Process 2- The Logic Stage
The logic stage is primarily 5th through 8th grade and can be characterized by "why?" Students in this stage of development are more interested in asking "why" than they are interested in finding out about facts. In this stage, students are starting to analyze information and understand cause and effect. They begin to make connections between different fields of knowledge, and they start to see how all those facts and things fit together. Here are some examples of the logic of subjects. In English/writing the student learns how to form a paragraph properly and how to support a thesis. In history, the student learns why the war of 1812 was fought instead of simply reading its story. In science, the student learned the scientific method rather than just learning what plants are, what animals are, etc. 

Process 3- The Rhetoric Stage
This final stage builds on the first two. So you see, it's not just "memorizing, or learning facts, just to learn them." "The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in 5th-8th grade, to the foundational information and facts learned in the grammar stage, and expresses his/her conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant, language."  At the end of a classical education, students in the rhetoric stage have been taught how to learn something and then how to express it in written word and spoken word (which includes properly arguing for their point of view, and being able to discern and understand the view point of others). 

In addition to the 3 phases, there are a couple other characteristics of classical education. 
1. Language focused. This means that most of the learning is focused on written and spoken words as opposed to images, such as pictures, videos, and television. Language focus is sought after in classical education because it uses a very different part of the brain that requires the brain to work harder. 
2. Interrelated knowledge and history intensive. Subjects aren't taught in isolation. "For example, astronomy isn't studied as an isolated thing, but rather it's studied along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church's relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history." There is so, so much knowledge out there and finding the links between fields of study is not easy. Classical ed. makes that process a bit easier by organizing information into timelines and progressing through learning in a distinct, orderly way. This leads to coherence in areas such as history, science and literature, which in traditional settings are often scattered, unorganized, and fragmented. 

Phew! So, there you have it! Classical Education in a nutshell. Hopefully I didn't leave you more confused than when you started! Next post in the homeschooling series will describe what our typical day in the grammar stage looks like! 

(Also, most of the descriptions of classical education above are the ideas, phrases, and direct quotes of Susan Wise Bauer- in her books and various podcasts I have listened to). 


Homeschooling- But What About Socialization & Friends

Oh this post..it's been mulling around in my mind for months, actually, longer than that. It's been mulling around ever since we first said that we would homeschool our very social 5 year old. I've been told by homeschool skeptics time and time again that I need to put Mekonen in school because he just LOOOOVES people. That is very true. My five year old son THRIVES on being with people. He wakes up every day and wants to know what's on the agenda and who he is going to see.  He just LOVES people. The worst punishment for that child is being put in his room alone with no one. Even when he has to play quietly in his room alone, he puts on an audio CD. He just can't stand being "alone." Even when his sisters are napping he asks every 5 minutes, "Mom, when is Evie going to wake up?" And as soon as Daddy walks in the door, he is glued to his side, like his little shadow, just following him around everywhere, talking, asking questions, just wanting to be with someone. It's a wonderful quality, but sometimes it can be quite frustrating b/c it is insatiable! :) He never reaches the point of enough!
 I can't  even begin to tell you of the horrified hilarious looks we receive when people hear we are homeschooling. They are worried about why we are homeschooling, if our kids will turn out weird, and then another big one, "WHAT ABOUT FRIENDS?!?!?!" You would assume by people's opinions on this that we hole up our children and allow them no friends and no interactions with anyone outside our family of five. This is simply not true. In actuality, our kids have quite the busy life. There are only two out of the 5 school days where our kids are not around other kids outside our home, and that is not including soccer, baseball, and dance class. School is one part of life. We want our kids to be life-long learners and not see learning as simply the 8 hours of a school day. We hope to finish work in a timely fashion and spend the rest of our day enjoying hobbies, sports, work, and other activities.

Some people respond as if our kids are being denied the most wonderful, rewarding, and enriching relationships by not making them privy to daily interactions with their peers...and by peers, I mean, thirty other kids their exact same ages.

No, this does not mean we don't value "same age friends." Clearly we do. The majority of our children's friends are their ages. But we don't feel like daily, 8 hour long interactions with 30 other kids their same age is necessary, and in many cases, wise. We don't believe this is where "socialization" occurs (or at least the kind of socialization we are looking for). The dictionary defines socialization as "a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills. appropriate to his or her social position." No offense, but I prefer my son not learn the norms, values, behaviors, and social skills appropriate for his age from 30 other five year olds as equally immature as my five year old. He has more than enough immaturity all on his own! Sure there is a teacher. But realistically, the influence is more heavily the other kids than the teacher. Cramming thirty 5 year olds in a room together for 8 hours a day, does not magically impart a specific desired level of social etiquette to one another. Not very many real life social boundaries are established due to the examples set by children who have not yet mastered social boundaries themselves. (And another disclaimer: we are not homeschooling to shield our children from the influence of others. I'm simply trying to point out why the socialization/friends argument people use isn't very valid).
SO, rather than worrying about satisfying my son's love of people with 30 other kids his same exact age, we prefer to give our kids several good friends their age as well as continued contact and relationships with people of all ages. and growing deep friendships with their siblings. They see this modeled from us as Jon and I have and highly value friendships across varying age groups. Isn't that what socialization is all about? Being able to interact and function in numerous social settings? It seems like the only social awareness you get from traditional classroom schools is the ability of one five year old to interact with another five year old.

One of our goals in educating our children is to prepare for them for life. Using the "what about friends" argument as a reason for sending our kids to school makes no sense for this goal. There are a lot of reasons we may consider sending our kids to school, but just friends isn't one of them. When in life do you ever experience a room full of people the exact same age? Adult circles are not set up this way...not socially, not in church, not in the workforce, not in your neighborhood, and not in your community. If age segregated socialization is so important than why don't we see that in the "real world."

Historically, in world history and church history, life has never been "age-segregated." People respond to the homeschooling friend issue as if we are haphazardly sheltering or denying our children of the ideal childhood. In our opinion a truly healthy social setting, and good social aptitude involves people from all ages, stages, and walks of life, where older teach the younger, the younger inspire the older, and we all learn together the strengths and weaknesses of generations that came before us, and we all learn new things from the generations coming up under us.
In our opinion, providing our children with good, solid friends their age, as well as a wide variety of relationships will lead to a well-rounded and enriching childhood. Thirty five year olds, 8 hours a day, is not what accomplishes this.

(Obviously, I am not arguing for the one room schoolhouse, etc. I have a teaching degree and taught in school. Clearly, age segregated classrooms are born out of necessity in educating so many kids in one place, and it's the way it works best in a traditional school setting. I get that. I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing against those who claim that my kids need to be in an age segregated classroom, i.e. traditional school, in order to be socialized and have a socially satisfying life. For the above reasons, I completely disagree).

(And again, we are not saying we will never put our kids in school or that parents who do are unwise. I'm just trying to shed light on the ridiculous arguments for why people say we shouldn't homeschool. There are reasons not to homeschool, but FRIENDS, is not one of them).


The 5 Month Old Pipster

Okay, so this picture and post is 2 weeks late. Oops. Life has been crazy. But nonetheless, finally done. This sweet pea is 5 months old. And in full disclosure, I spelled her name wrong AGAIN, but I just couldn't make that mistake TWICE on these pictures that will eventually go into her baby book. So I had to re-do it. I mean once is funny, but twice? That's just plain ridiculous. Maybe all those strangers at the grocery store who say her name is too long are right after all!

 Here's a pic of the actual board because the lighting was bad and you can't read it very well on the other picture. 

 Looking very concerned about this new to sitting by herself thing. She only last a few seconds. 
We cannot believe how big she's getting! Isn't she cute? :) She has a little old man toupe flop on the top of her head and a little rat tail growing out the back that I desperately need to cut! No mullets or rat tails allowed! 

This little lady has really upped her tricks in the last month or so. Since everything seems to happen at Grandma's in Pennsylvania, Penelope decided to continue consistency and learn how to crawl during our last visit. It was crazy. She was just shy of 5 months old at my moms. We left her in the middle of the floor, she got up on all fours and started rocking like crazy. Then, she was off. It's the scoot crawl where she takes one or two "crawls" on her hands and knees, then falls on her belly, goes up on hands and knees, takes a couple more crawls and then falls on belly, repeat, repeat, until she reaches desired destination. It is hilarious and super cute because she's so tiny. She was doing this before she could even sit! Crazy girl. Then, just a few days later she started sitting unsupported for several seconds at a time. 

So we have been saying that maybe Penelope will have a more quiet, soft personality (I don't know how three of my older two's personalities can co-exist in this family), but we are having second thoughts while watching Miss Pippi play. She gets soooooo frustrated with her toys. I'm not exactly sure what she is wanting them to do, but clearly, they aren't doing what she wants, and she yells. I mean yells. It is hilarious. Sometimes they end in crying, but sometimes she just yells, like she is ticked off at the world. 

These days she is loving the johnny jumper and the exersaucer. Although again, when she plays with the toys hooked to the exersaucer, she typically just ends up yelling at them. She is blowing little bubbles and making the cutest baby gurgles, and she giggles too! Mekonen does raspberries on her belly and she just cracks up. 

Almost any time you catch her eye she gives you the biggest open-mouth smile. It's adorable! Even when she's crying, if you lock eyes with her and smile, she will often go back and forth between crying and smiling, like she doesn't know which she should do. haha. 

And PRAISE JESUS the child has mostly stopped screaming in the car. I say mostly because I don't want to jinx myself, and because she still randomly decides to scream her brains out. But, it's no longer 100% of the time. 

I'm thankful the "novelty" of a new baby hasn't worn off for Mekonen & Evie yet. They just adore her. Here is one of my new favorite pictures. Mekonen and Pip both fell asleep in the car and we opened the back door to get them out and found this....he is so, so tender with her. She's cried a lot in her little lifetime so far and this guy has never shown any angst towards her crying and fussiness. He's a keeper ladies.


School Days, School Days

Our first week is almost done! Here's a recap of his first two "first days" which were a big hit- his first day at our classical school co-op, and then his first day at home. I love that this boy just oozes excitement over life so it was no surprise he was up at 6am the last few days because he was so excited about school. Part of that is that it's one-on-one quality attention, which he THRIVES on, and the other part is that it's simply "something new" (although wouldn't it be great if he loved school that much?! haha! I'll just have to remind him when he doesn't how much he looked forward to it)!

Here are some snapshots from our "firsts."

Mekonen Jack
1st Day of Kindergarten
September 9, 2014
Weren't we just here? 
(Did I not say he always oozes excitement? Oh I LOVE him).

We are in love with the philosophy of classical education and have begun that for our kids. Mekonen's going to a one day a week classical school co-op. He LOOOOOOOOVED it. And bonus, two of his best buddies Jacob and Josiah are at his table. He especially loved recess and lunch. What boy doesn't?!?! He came home happy and exhausted, chatted the majority of the way home, then konked out cold in the backseat.
(A post on "What is Classical Education Anyway? coming soon!!)

1st day at home the next day. 
Here's our morning meeting board. This is where we do all the miscellaneous educational things like learn how to read a calendar, learn about weather, telling time, place value, our address, and do things like our monthly poetry reading, monthly artist study, etc. I'm such a teacher nerd and just love all this "teachery-stuff." 
 Most curriculums have a paper edition of this kind of stuff if you are homeschooling, but I didn't want more worksheets and he gets a kick out of doing it on a huge board. I made it portable so I can put it away when school is done so it's not just sitting in our living room. 
 Little Sis just had to join in. Which is fun because I'm getting in some preschool stuff too and she just thinks she's so cool. 
 We got a new to us table that seats ten people from some good friends and I just love it. We find ourselves spending a lot of time in our open dining room/kitchen. It's the brightest portion of our house and the morning sun coming in is just amazing, even if you can't see it here. The kids usually pull their toys from their room into this area to play. It's the perfect spot for now to do school (until we get a great big schoolroom, right Daddy? haha).

 He is quite excited about the fact that at the end of kindergarten he will be able to identify on a map all fifty states and their capitals. So far he has nailed down the first five. 
 Signs of a great morning. 
Daddy wants to be involved with the kids school too, which Mekonen LOVES. He saves the back side of his math paper to do with Daddy in the evening. Daddy is also memorizing our classical grammar work each week alongside Meko. 
We've had a great first week. My heart is full, so content with where we are in life right now. I'm sure there will be hard days, and days so stressful and difficult that I want to send them to school and quit this homeschooling shin-dig. But this week wasn't one of them, and for that, I'm thankful.

(Although, both our kids were running around this evening making all these weird noises and "play fighting" motions. We said we might need to take back our previous post on homeschoolers being weird because their parents are weird. Maybe we will need to write a new post on how we couldn't handle their weirdness and had to send them to school). 

If you're interested, "Why We Are Homeschooling" is also up on the blog.