Our Double Adoption Story – When God Whispers – Part 1

Adoption 1Like many stories, ours does not have a concrete beginning. I think I have wanted to adopt since I was a child. But, this adoption…the one where we add two blessings to our family, began in early 2006. By God’s grace, we had found a buyer for our  small bungalow house right before the market crashed. Even better, the house I had always dreamed of buying was empty. Its owners were in a retirement home.  My brother was a house-flipper and title agent at the time, so he negotiated with the family for us to buy this new house. In so many ways, it was an answer to prayer because at the time, it was really more than we could afford. The mortgage was fine but the $50,000 in improvements was a bit out of our range. But bit by bit, even that worked itself out. (more…)

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A Crafty Sparkly Christmas

9781449414559_frontcoverIf you have closets full of craft supplies, save toilet paper tubes because they are useful, and can’t throw away objects that you plan to repurpose, then you might enjoy Christmas like I do. I love to make things. After I had kids, I had to scale back and not try out every kind of craft available because I didn’t have time and I’m not very good at cleaning up my crafty messes. If you could peek in my house, you would see the closets and corners and tables and desks with half finished projects. Crazy! Recently I was given a copy of Glitterville’s Handmade Christmas: A Glittered Guide for Whimsical Crafting!
, by Stephen Brown, and I have to say…”I love it.” Its crafty, sparkly goodness all wrapped up in a beautiful book sure to inspire.

Inside its pages are projects that reminded me of what a trip through Whoville might look like. The crafts are whimsical, sparkly and creative. There are templates for many of the items in the back which makes it even better. I think my favorites are the Glitter Village and all the chenille Christmas trees and snowflakes. I was ready to order some quick and easy craft kits for my kids this Christmas but I’m feeling inspired to dig through my stash and do some of these really unique projects. Most of these projects use basic craft supplies and then coat the finished project with paint and glitter. In other words, many of these can be done with the odds and ends you probably have around your house! Hooray!

(Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book to review by Andrews McMeel Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. Affliliate link included in post.)

 

 

C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of A Christian by Gregory S. Cootsona – A Review

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home complete with time in a Christian school and later college. Conveniently, that method of education meant that I memorized Bible verses, learned the right way to understand the Bible and didn’t have any idea that the Christian life has so many questions that don’t haveLewis immediately clear answers. I listened in class, took good notes, got an A on the test and voila…life was good. Until it wasn’t.  And when life wasn’t good anymore, I felt very unprepared to sort through the various emotions, spiritual struggles, bitterness and depression.

To many, C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. While many weigh in with differing  opinions, I think the reason his works are so beloved is that he approached the Bible from a different perspective  than a traditional faith experience. He wasn’t content with Sunday School answers and felt compelled to grapple with issues that don’t have easy answers.  Throughout his works, a thread emerges. Lewis seeks to find true joy in Christ but finds that he must wrestle with various crises of belief in order to find that rest and peace.

When I received a copy of C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian, I hoped that it would further my own walk with the Lord as I work through finding joy in my own life.  In this work, author Gregory S. Cootsona addresses the following crisis that are found in Lewis’ works:

The Crises of Atheism  which include: The Crisis of Materialism, The Crisis of Meaninglessness & The Crisis of Anomie

The Crises of Christian Faith which include: Jesus & the Crisis of Other Myths and The Crisis of the Bible

The Crises of Human Life which include The Crisis of Feeling, The Crisis of Suffering and The Crisis of Death

As Cootsona presents each crisis, he describes what brought about each crisis in Lewis’ life, how Lewis struggled with it and how he resolved it in his own mind. As he does so, he invites each one of us to wrestle with the same difficult issues.  There is no assumption in these pages that each of Lewis’ conclusions is 100% correct. It is simply one man’s process of resolving crises and finding joy.  There are a lot of points to ponder despite this book being relatively short.  I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys C.S.Lewis’ works or to anyone who finds themselves struggling with their faith. In these pages, you will find words for your doubts and a really solid place to start wrestling with faith.

(I received a copy of this book from Westminster John Knox Press  and  NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No monetary compensation was received.)

 

50 Things You Need to Know About Satan and Demons by Mark Muska – A Review

 

In our day and age, images of the demonic and Satan are commonplace. They find their way into our entertainm50thingsdemonsent, onto our yards as Halloween decorations and into various facets of our lives.  Growing up, I had little concept of demons. Satan was the bad guy that tempted Eve to eat a piece of fruit in the garden and I knew he was red with black horns because Halloween costumes don’t lie.  Seriously though, I had a mixed bag of impressions of what these dark forces looked like and how they affect our lives.  As a teen, I remember reading some of Frank Peretti’s books and having my interest piqued. But, I didn’t have any kind of framework for understanding these bad guys.  Several years ago, our family had a series of life changing events that brought spiritual warfare to the forefront of our lives. It became a daily conversation as we worked to understand this little known concept.

I believe that demons are real. With the Bible as my handbook, there are simply too many references to ignore.  In Ephesians 6:12, we read “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”(NIV)  As I started to learn about this subject, initially it was very confusing. It was hard to know where to start putting the puzzle together. When I meet people who are encountering the subject for the first time the way I did, they often get overwhelmed the way I did. However, I was recently given a book that I feel is a great one for jumping into the topic. Recently I read, 50 Things You Need to Know About Satan and Demons, by Mark Muska.  It takes 50 different questions  we encounter in our culture and in our churches and takes a logical approach to answering them.

Questions covered in this book run the gamut. They include things like:

Who is Satan?

What is demon possession?

Why should I believe what the Bible says about Satan?

Can Satan read my thoughts?

Is it possible to actually see demons?

If I ignore Satan, will he go away or just leave me alone?

What is spiritual warfare?

…and many many more questions.

As I read through the questions, I appreciated a few things about this author’s approach. First, he states clearly upfront that he is using the Bible as the source of authority on this topic. If you don’t accept that as a source of authority, you will struggle with this book, but at least he is up front about that. Secondly, he incorporates culture all through it. Most of the way we “see” the demonic is in our culture but it is often done with artistic license with no regard to its accuracy. He does an excellent job of addressing  those various areas and then comparing them to what the Bible has to say. Sometimes there is a clear answer and sometimes there is not. Either way, the information is presented in a factual way. I would highly recommend this book especially for those who are new to the subject of spiritual warfare.  For those who are very familiar with the topic, it provide a good summary and helpful talking points for interacting with others.

(I was given a copy of this book by Bethany House publishers for review purposes in exchange for an honest opinion. No monetary compensation was received.)

 

The Importance of Your Learning Style

A number of years ago, our family jumped into homeschooling with limited success. Sometimes our oldest son would understand the materials and sometimes our lessons would end in a fit of tears. He cried a lot over school. I had no frame of reference. I assumed the crying was just a stage. He would get over it.

After homeschooling for a couple of years, I attended a homeschool support group meeting one evening. There, the leader passed around some resources designed to help parents or other adults figure out a child’s learning style. It turns out, this was a huge breakthrough for us. By this time, our second was beginning to learn to read and if there was any other noise in the room, he would quickly get overwhelmed and start crying and covering his ears. It was by examing resources like this one that I realized my kids had ways they learned best. We actually used several different assessments, but the results were surprisingly helpful. It turns out my oldest son learns very visually. Having me tell him things verbally is overwhelming. He prefers to have things written down and is quite good at using a planner. My second son is very auditory. He loves audio books and learning by talking and hearing as well as doing. This has transformed how we homeschool. If a books comes on audio, I’ll get it for my 2nd son over making him read. He reads very slowly but enjoys listening to audio books while he does other things. My auditory son also gets overwhelmed by too much sound…his brain can’t process all that input which is why he used to scream when it was noisy (our house is almost noisy with 8 kids) and he was trying to focus. Thankfully that delightful habit has diminished significantly.

In addition to these two sons, the rest of my kids clearly fall into prefered learning styles which makes is a bit easier to tailor their learning so they can retain the most possible. Having focused on my kids learning styles, a year or two ago I started paying attention to how I learn. I did relatively well in school but I remember very little of what I learned. On the other hand, my husband struggled in school but remembers so much more. Moving forward, I want to do better…to obtain and retain learning in a style that suits me best. So I started thinking back to different contexts growing up in which learning occurred for me. Here are a few examples and what I observed about me:

1. Welcome to School – I did well in school but my form of learning looked something like this. I would take verbatum notes in class…you got it…every word. Then when the test came, I would reread my notes over and over and then spit that info back out on the test. I aced the essays. The teachers and professors probably didn’t realize I was giving their words back to them nearly word for word. If it was another kind of test like spelling, I either wrote them over and over or read them over and over for practice. Again…very good grades. Even so, my retention was relatively poor unless there was a hands on project involved. To this day, those assignments that involved meaningful or fun projects are what I remember and retained.

2. Welcome to Church – I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about this one because other than Sunday School with the flannel graphs, I remember very little of what I heard there. I’m sure I’ll share about my crisis of faith another time but as part of looking at my time in church, I realized it was a highly auditory experience. In our church, they handed out bulletins with outlines on them and blanks to fill in. So I actually wrote very little…and remembered almost nothing. On the other hand, we did do service projects and go on mission trips. That hands on serving and learning has provided part of the framework for how I view the world. It definitely made a huge impression.

3. Welcome to my Room – Growing up I had a bookshelf in my room. My dad made it and it was a prized possesion…partly because he made it and partly because it held my favorite thing ever….books. One Christmas, all I received was books…17 of them, which included a new Bible. By the end of the week, I had read them all cover to cover (except my Bible…I didn’t read it all in one week). I loved books and if I ever wanted to learn something, I would get a book to learn it. However, many times I did not recall what I read because I did not do anything with it. Novels that I enjoyed, I would keep on the shelf and reread every few months because I didn’t remember it well enough to make it boring the 2nd, 3rd or 4th time around.

4. Welcome to my Craft Table (yes I know it looked like a diningroom table but I assure you, that 10 foot beauty was better put to use for all my crafty goodness.) After learning how to do something (usually by reading or watching), I would do it…make it..sew it…or occasionally cook it. I loved crafting. I think my mom was secretly relieved when I moved out because she could have her table back.

After doing the assessment for myself and observing myself in daily life, I realized that I am a very visual/kinesthetic learner. I can’t process voices very well and have been known to be rather awkward in conversation.  I find myself easily frustrated when more than one person is talking to me. I process auditory slowly and will often have a large delay answering a question because it takes awhile for me to process. As an adult, if I want to learn something, I either read or watch videos. But in general I prefer reading because I can follow the steps at my own pace and write in the books if I want. If its is something truly meaningful, I then take than information and do something with it. For me that looks like trying a new cooking method or herbal remedies. It might look like writing a book review or memorizing a Bible passage. If I don’t do something with it, I probably won’t retain much of it.

The reason I feel this topic is valuable for mom’s and dad’s is that when we have little kids, many times our own enjoyment or “me time” gets pushed aside. We are busy working, doing activities with the kids and running a house. My knowing how I learn best (which is also how I enjoy entertainment /relaxation best) narrows down the potential activities I will pick from when I do have some time alone. For example, because I am visual/kinestetic, some things I really enjoy are reading, watching movies, learning how to do a new thing. Some things I do not enjoy are music concerts, listening to speakers or in many cases…eating in noisy restaurants. I rarely participate in noisy entertainment because I don’t enjoy it, and can’t process it well. This may not sound like an amazing discovery but by the time a  break arrives, I am usually numb and can’t even remember what I like so I feel depressed and don’t do anything. (nice right).

So, my encouragement to you is…figure out your learning style. Most people have a dominant and minor learning style. One you do that, make a list of potential activities/entertainment you are interested and use that learning style to help you screen your list. For me it helps me narrow down my options considerably. Additionally, I encourage you to never stop learning. Looking at your learning style and pick something new to learn that will help you accomplish a dream or benefit you and your family.

Teaching Textbooks Curriculum Review

 

Teaching Textbooks

Two years ago, my oldest son was in 5th grade. For years, we had used Math U See. But I decided to try something new, and he was struggling with the new curriculum. Math suddenly became a huge burden. I had 7 children ages 10 and under, and I felt like a sinking ship.  I needed him to be an independent learner, but he was becoming very needy because the materials we were using did not work for us. We struggled all the way until January or February. He had floundered all year and very little math actually happened. He started to get “behind” in my mind. I considered going back to Math U See, but I was realizing that we really needed math that was almost zero work for mom. I had 4 kids in diapers and no brain cells  to think about school.

That was when the idea of Teaching Textbooks started to really take hold. I actually really like Math U See, but I didn’t have time to make sure my kids were checking their work. We could go days…weeks without me checking it, and sometimes they were doing things wrong. We would have to go back and relearn the right way. So…nothing wrong with the curriculum…just me!  So when I looked up the sample problems for Teaching Textbooks, and it seemed like a good fit, I decided to try it…I was desperate despite the intimidating price.

We are now on our second year with Teaching Textbooks and here are a couple of things that jumped out at me and the reasons why I liked the style.

1. Each problem was presented visually and audibly. It seems that each of my kids has their own unique blend of learning styles. I like that TT blends both visual and auditory styles. I find it helpful that the teacher explains the lesson which provides focus for kids that tend to skim over the directions when reading.

2. Only one problem was presented at a time. We recently attended a class on ADHD. The counselor presenting the material mentioned that for kids with difficulty focusing, it can be very helpful to limit the number of problems they see at a time. With TT, only one problem is on the screen at a time. They complete that ONE problem before seeing another.

3. As each problem is completed, it is immediately graded. This has obvious advantages. Kids don’t spend an hour on a lesson only to find out they were doing it incorrectly. With automatic grading, they find out immediately and can relearn the concept before moving on.

4. The student has a second chance. When I was in school, I remember having a very real fear of failure. I saw my son stressing over the same issue. I love that TT has a built in method that acknowledges that we often need that “do-over” before we get it right. So, when the student completes a problem, if they get it wrong, they have a choice. They can either have the program “teach” them how to do that problem step by step…or…they can simply re-do it. They if they get it wrong again, they can choose to have the program “teach” them at that point. If the par

5. The parent grade book allows parents (not software) to ultimately be in charge. Whether you need to allow your student to redo a problem or a lesson…it can be done. If you want to change a grade for whatever reason, you can do that to. The automatic grading has plenty of options that allow the parent to override the system as needed.

6. If you sell it, it has a great resale value. To me, a product with a high resale value speaks to its quality (or its limited availabilty). TT is expensive, but I felt confident giving it a try knowing that it has an excellent resale value (via Ebay or online classifieds) if for whatever it did not work for us longterm.

7. Great Customer Service.  I’ve had a few times where I needed to contact customer service. A product can only be registered a few times before the code no longer works. The first year we used this, we had 4 of our computers die…so all of them! As one after the other died, we would reregister the software on a working computer and my son would continue to use it. When the program no longer allowed us to do that, we made a quick phone call and within a minute or two, the activation code was ready to use again. It was easy. No questions asked. I’ve been very happy with their service.

Prior to buying TT, we had read that it was a year behind other curriculums. So we did buy Teaching Textbooks 7 for our 5th grade son (because it was near the end of the year). He used it for the end of the year and then through 6th grade. We bought Algebra 1 for him in 7th grade choosing to skip Pre-Algebra. All I can say is that he loves it and I love love it! I’ve used at least 5 math curriculums and was homeschooled myself with another one. So I’m familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of them. We went from math being a tear filled, daily frustration to an independent empowering learning experience. My son often tells me how much he likes math. That alone makes its worth every penny.

Prior to buying it, I had great hesitation spending so much money on one subject. We are a single income family with a whole bunch of kids, so spending over $150 on math seemed extravagant. I did rationalize that if it “works” then I’ll reuse it for the rest of the kids which would make it less than $30 a year per child…but that up front hit is painful. Having used it for well over a year now, I can attest to its value…well worth the price. Math is essential for functioning in the “real world” and if it can be done in a way that is manageable and even fun, then to me that is worth spending a little more money.

We still use Math U See for some of our younger children and find that it is a great fit, but for our oldest moving into learning independence, Teaching Textbooks provided the quality learning we wanted with time saving convenience that made it a great bargain for me!

Foster Care “Bounce” In and Out Again

Foster Bounce

My husband and I have been foster parents for 4 years now but the first 3 years were just fostering our 2 children that we adopted. It turns out…that isn’t the norm. Recently though, we experienced a heartbreaking “bounceback” with a more recent foster son…we’ll call him Clint (not his real name). Clint, age 5, lived with our family for 2 months. He had been in foster care for over a year and a half  but had been staying with us for just 2 of those months after a move from his previous placement. He was a tough little boy….cute…but really tough. If he didn’t get his way, he would drop to the floor in a ball, scream a piercing scream or on a truly delightful day…go pee on another child’s bed or toy. He was in rough shape despite our best attempts and despite a weekly visit with a counselor. We knew that with his impending move home, there was nothing we could really do to stabalize him.   We were thrilled when the phone call came…Clint was going home with his mom, her new husband and his siblings. Things were looking up for this little boy!

After Clint went home. We fell into an easier routine. I would think of him often hoping he was happy.

Fast forward 2 months.

The phone rings Friday evening (it’s always a Friday evening with us…no idea why). The worker on the end of the line is someone I know from way back. She knew my parents when I was in middle school. An upbeat lady, I immediately start chatting…until she cuts in and lets me know this is not a social call. “I’m calling about your foster son.” My eyes immediately glance over at the sweet little blonde 2 year old cherub living with us right now. I expect this call is to tell me that he is finally moving in with a family member. “Remember Clint” I’m jolted back as a sickening sensation hits my stomach. I know what she is going to say. ” He needs a place to stay this weekend. His mom decided she couldn’t do this and she is placing all the kids (5 of them) back in care. We are calling all their previous placements to see if they can stay for the weekend until we figure out what to do next week.”

My eyes locked with our adopted daughter. She was listening to my half of the phone call. Her eyes grew wide as she figured out that Clint was coming back under such heart breaking circumstances. I knew this would bring up painful memories of when she too arrived home from school to find police and social workers on the scene that would soon lead her to a new home. Part of me wanted to tell this worker “no” he couldn’t come. He had been a particularly difficult placement and my husband wasn’t home so I could run it by him. Also, when Children’s Services says “Can they come for the weekend,” you know it will be longer. It takes several days at least to get things in order and that is if they move fast. Sometimes it takes weeks or months.  But of course, I couldn’t say no…not to this little boy.  He was the first foster child we had to “catch and release.” At the time I thought that meant he would stay and go home. But now he was coming back and we needed to “catch” him again.

When the worker pulled in, it was after 9pm. Clint was in the back of a minivan clutching the strap of his seat belt. The worker tried to coax him out. I tried to talk to him and then he started wailing. “I don’t want to be here. I want to go home….” We coaxed. He cried. Eventually we had to carry him in the house together. The exhausted social worker brought in his small bag of belongings and left. Clint stood and moved rather mechanically.  He hadn’t eaten since lunch so he had some leftovers from dinner warmed up. He seemed like he was in a bit of a daze so we got him ready for bed and I tucked him in and said his prayers.

Feeling exhausted, I sank into the couch. Only a few minutes passed before the small little boy came walking out, dragging his blanket with tears streaming down his face. He climbed up on the couch next to me and just cried.

He did only stay with us a few days until he could be placed with a sibling in his old school district.  I felt a sense of loss when he left but even more a sense of the long road ahead of him. These kids…the ones that land in the system, are often such transient little people expected to move at a moments notice. I pray that the little things we do will let them know they are loved even while their world stands on its head.