Music of Her Own {Friday Photo (AND Audio!)}

Madeleine's been tinkering a bit on the composing side and above is a sampling of the results.
I posted an imperfect version to remind myself
that she's just a kid in a house full of noisy distractions. 

And still....



The Promised Land (is in Our Front Yard)

(Monday management post on a Tuesday.  Read on to see why....)

The yard was a mess.

And in spite of our good efforts, its large size coupled with unending weeks of summer rain had made for an autumn train wreck in the beds, shrubs, and hedges.

But we had a bigger problem. David's increasing work responsibilities (plus coaching two football teams, chairing two boards, raising five children) have kept him from the yard, which he actually seems to enjoy after the intense quantitative wonder powers he burns through in the office.  And although I have been spotted on the riding mower once or twice, you can imagine it's not practical with a baby in tow.

And, I have to admit, the yard has been a point of contention for me.  I frankly have wanted to get outside help for 17 - yes, seventeen - years.  My upbringing included paid lawn crews, his...well, didn't.  I think the worst argument we ever had involved my ill-fated attempt to hire a lawn man when David was still in his suit-and-tie job in South Florida. While I'm not a marriage expert by any stretch, I have learned from experience when not to push him for things that will never happen. 

So I pray instead.

And yesterday, God came through for me in a big way. In His perfect timing,
our maxim of saving not spending and
our values of joyfully giving and
our desire to serve those in need and
our real-time problem of imminent lawn disaster
all converged to one point with the triumphant arrival of the white van of Promise Land Ministries.

Sure enough, Monday morning, my lawn-saving chariot rolled down the lane laden with scruffy men and a lengthy trailer of equipment.  But this was a different sort of group.  They're from a halfway house down south of Tallahassee, and, while I don't know their life stories, most are former drug or alcohol addicts, trying to gain a second chance and transition back into the world.  The ministry offers yard work in exchange for donations of any amount, and uses funds to provide these young men with a Christian environment, some sort of income, food, shelter, and the focus of a structured day's work.

They arrived, piled out, and, to be perfectly honest, my initial reaction was one of trepidation.  This was not exactly the typical crowd that's come down the driveway to visit, I'm embarrassed to say.  There were teeth missing and ratty clothes and soiled ball caps and a lively assortment of tattoos.  But as I stood watching them cheerfully grabbing their various equipment and getting to work, the fear dissipated and was replaced with this heartbreaking thought:  that young man is someone's son.  There is a mother out there somewhere worrying about him.  He might look world-weary to me, but I am a witness to how he is trying his best on our unwieldy hedges, taking extra care to shape and trim, not knowing how much the final "donation" is going to be.  How can I thank him for this willing act of service?

Unexpectedly, I stood in my front yard on a random overcast Monday morning and was being offered the chance to minister to someone's son. To His Son. 

All the while, they reciprocated by being an answered prayer to me and blessing our family with their labors. 

This man is the group supervisor.
He likes ice cream sandwiches, come to find out.

They are watching us,
these sons of the world.

So I decided to put away fear and the culture gap between this WASPy housewife and those workmen who have been held by addiction, and to treat them as guests.  At the same moment, David came downstairs and verbalized my thoughts: "Why don't you go ahead and order them some lunch?"  We were finally in a place of unity over an initially divisive issue (yard work) rather than stuck in a place of consternation and frustration.  

We search with complexity for how to know the Lord's will, and He reveals it to us in simple Monday moments.

Out came the table cloth and plates, and when the food arrived, they eagerly sat down and with one action, clasped hands and prayed. 

That's about when I started to cry.

Oh Lord, thank you that have brought these guests and willing workers to my table and they have acknowledged You before me.  I am grateful that after seventeen years of hoping, it has led to this worthwhile moment in time.

When Josh woke up from his nap, we joined them at the table and, wouldn't you know it, most of them are fathers themselves.  Seeing our baby in their midst brought up tales and descriptions of the little folks in their world that they happily shared with me.  The two year old twins, one boy and one girl.  The 53-inch tall five year old (whoa!).  The common thread of children was the bridge between our worlds.  Reading between the lines, Josh's presence seemed to inspire them and remind them of why they are fighting back to normalcy: those children they have brought into being who need a strong and healthy father in their lives.

And when my kids jumped in the car at school pickup later on, it was great fun to recount the day's strange and wonderful events.  I teared up a little at the touching moments; they teared up a little that they would be off of yard duty for the near term.  Score one for Monday.

P.S.  One nice fella found something in the pool's overflow tank.  You guessed it.

For more information about this charitable way to get yard work done, contact Ed at www.promiselandministries.org.


The Swing {Friday Photo}

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do! 

~Robert Louis Stevenson


Writings on the Wall

I suggested here that on Mondays, I would give some insight into my trials (and failures) relating to household management.  Funny that I should put that out there, considering how I would not describe myself as having the luxury of time on Mondays.  Just trying to get the kids up and at 'em, finding a missing sock or shoe (Kate Middleton, our black lab, is usually to blame), signing four planners, loading backpacks, water bottles, and lunch boxes--all between big gulps of heavy caffeine--leaves me flagging a bit by 9am. 

As a friend and I have joked, "Mornings at my house are like being shot out of a cannon at 6 am."  Monday mornings feel like this times 100y + z.  (I had to throw in some variables since we had algebra homework frantically being finished before the sun came up today).

But keeping to a blogging resolution, I want to share something practical yet spiritual that I've done in our household.

I put God's holy word on display in our home. 

Not because it gives me warm fuzzies, or goes seamlessly with my d├ęcor, but because I believe in the matchless power of the Word. 

I've believed this even as a young, naive kid. Whenever I was scared, I took to sleeping with my Bible because I knew that I knew that I knew that God's Word would protect me.  That it meant something and was powerful beyond anything my young mind could imagine.  That with just a word God spoke creation into being and by wrapping my arms around the Bible's pages, I could lay claim to its beautiful promises of protection, unconditional love, and grace and find rest.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

In Roman times, a double-edged sword was a serious weapon.  Precise, lethal, not to be messed with.  Powerful in the hands of its user.   When I think of Scripture as arming my children and outfitting me for my life, it makes common sense that I would want it written in my home.

Keeping it simple, I have a flexible spot where any of us can post a verse to share--in this case, a small chalkboard near our dining room table.  The kids like to pitch in their suggestions or commandeer the chalkboard scripture altogether.  Kids and chalk are like peas and carrots, you know.

We also have a family bulletin board where I have been known to post verses, although in this season of our lives, it's blanketed with classroom newsletters, football schedules, birthday invitations, and the most recent edition of The Roberts Family Fiesta (ahem, M's in-house publication).
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young,
but set an example for the believers in speech, in life,
in love, in faith, and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
In my kids' bedrooms, I've placed a scripture that I feel will be important to them in their life.  It's right up there on the wall, making it the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see at night.  It's God's message directly to them, set before their eyes and in their midst daily.
My source for the vinyl wall art:  The Old Barn Rescue Company on Etsy. 
The owner is a talented calligrapher and was willing to customize any verse I sent her.
For a long time, Collin kept a simple piece of white paper taped near his bed with a scripture that I typed up and handed to him during a difficult parenting moment.  He happened to be feeling low about something that had happened (for which he was forgiven ), but he clearly needed words of reassurance.  The sign read, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17"  He couldn't read those words without smiling.  It stayed up on the wall for almost a year.
Practically speaking, one thing I'm not a big fan of is the flip-calendar of scripture.  It's a source of unnecessary Mother Guilt for me.  I look down and thirteen days have gone by without me reading and flipping.  Then, having a tendency to overthink things, I am caught in a small dilemma of whether to read each missed day or to just skip chunks of scripture that could've been a heart message for me that I had missed in my busyness.  Flip calendars equal anxiety for me---that's my little quirk.  One of many, ya'll.
My children have taken note of all this, and it seems to be rubbing off.  M recently had her room shift around and found herself with a walk-in closet, where she promptly whipped up some simple scripture decoration of her own. 


Above all else, my hope is that these small things happening in our home today will be continued by my children when the time comes for them to establish their own home culture apart from us.   I do pray that my children and grandchildren will be surrounded by God's Word--that it will be spoken over them and set before their eyes-- in the midst of an increasingly anti-Christian world where the truths of scripture have been largely set aside. 
And that last phrase, my friends, is a post for another day!


Well, I Do Declare {Friday Photo}

I do declare these books are bigger than bricks. 959 page bricks. 
Hers 'n hers copies for M and me to read and discuss together.
Spoon included for scale and 'cause she will have a fresh appreciation for the family sterling.
And for her great-great-great-great-great grandfather, former Governor of Alabama and
Attorney General of the Confereracy.  Fiddle-de-dee!


Answers: Is Christ in Me?

There are some videos that stay with you forever.  This is one of mine.

Here's the link to YouTube if you can't view within the blog.



A Tuesday Concert

Today the most startling thing happened. 

David's had little sugar ants plaguing his desk and I finally called our pest control group to come out and take a look.  The technician came around 4:30, right before I pulled in from school pickup.

Madeleine rushed in with her plaid skirt flying and started to play the piano, which she does every single day.

The other kids slung their backpacks down and raided the refrigerator, like they do every single day.

Then the "Bug Guy", as I will call him because I don't know his name, came down the stairs with David from the office. 

In a very unexpected move, he spotted the 90-year old piano and asked if he could play.

We all looked at each other awkwardly, and I said too loudly: "Of course!"

What followed was one of the most marvelous piano performances I've ever witnessed.  He played with such force, elegance, tone--I had to go in the kitchen and wipe the tears away.  It was like the heavens opened up and the music rained down, right in our living room.  When he finished, there was a moment of corporate silence, then all seven of us began to applaud loudly.

Who was this hard-working, blue-collar man making that piano sing in his pressed khaki uniform shirt with his name neatly stitched in cursive and blue protective booties still covering his shoes?  I almost have to pinch myself that it happened.  He came, killed a few bugs, played a masterpiece, then left quietly in his yellow truck.  He very easily could have passed right through the living room, asked me to sign a form at the front door, and vanished without another thought in my head.  We almost didn't see the musical gift he carried hidden within.

I am forcefully reminded that within every human being is complex beauty, no matter their walk in life or their mundane daily job.  In His image we were created, both fearfully and wonderfully. 

We are his masterpieces walking the earth. I forget that.

"God made the world for the delight of human beings-- if we could see His goodness everywhere, His concern for us, His awareness of our needs: the phone call we've waited for, the ride we are offered, the letter in the mail, just the little things He does for us throughout the day.

 As we remember and notice His love for us, we begin to fall in love with Him because
He is so busy with us -- you just can't resist Him.

I believe there's no such thing as luck in life,
it's God's love,
it's His.” 
(Mother Teresa, paraphrase)



Mr. Squirrel to Mr. Clean: A Tribute

This weekend we found a dead squirrel in the pool.

Which might not be such a gross thing, but I spotted him down in the overflow tank, where the fancy infinity edge drops, and that's not an area of the yard I walk around much.  So I'm not sure how long Mr. Puffypants was a-floatin', but it was a sad, sorry sight.

Made even sadder by the visual of our long-handled pool net lying in a watery grave right below. 

Uh oh.

Being a girlie-girl, I freaked out a little and once the kids got wind of it (or down wind of it, however you look at it), there was much debate about how to proceed.

Turns out, big sister was feeling fearless, and pulled Mr. Puffy out with a big short-handled net that we first purchased to rescue a live snake out of the same overflow tank (don't ask).  There was continual shrieking and the critter was dropped a few times and actually brought up to the back door at one point, but was finally disposed of after much dripping dead squirrel being carried to and fro.  Puffy was taken to his final resting ground outside of our yard fence, where daddy thought he might secure a more final-final resting ground when the bigger critters found him.

All of which to say that after this strange incident, we were trembling a little and felt the overwhelming need for some massive household sterilization.  Of pretty much anything.

In big family logic, a dead squirrel in the pool led directly to a thorough cleanout of the refrigerator.  By thorough, I mean that every single item, shelf, and drawer was removed, scrubbed down, reorganized, and replaced.  It was a six-person job, I tell you.

Although I have a personal rule to wipe the shelves whenever I come home with a new load from Publix, it was quite alarming how nasty our fridge was in the far back behind the old salsa and crusty hummus.  I also think a Coke exploded on the top shelf and trickled down not too long ago. Remember how I told you that none of us are Type A here?  Well, you could probably guess that from this project.  I am embarrassed to report that the kids found 3 bottles of A-1 sauce, 6 or 7 salsas, 3 canisters of Kraft Parmesan, and 3 bottles of the exact same salad dressing.

In my defense, I buy it when I need it because going back to the store for one item with five kids is NOT. FUN.

Madeleine decided to up the ante and make some handy labels. 

You know your husband has been on a heart-healthy diet for a long, long time when
his daughter makes a label for "Butter" and "Butter Alternatives."

I hope you can appreciate M's hard work with the little labels.  The idea pictured below with the pink bin (in spite of the unacceptable grammar, which I totally deserve after this prideful post) is worth sharing.  I would give credit to some magazine, but I can't recall the actual source and suspect is from one of the myriad of clippings my mom thoughtfully mails to me. 

The idea is to put all the refrigerated things your kids need to pack their lunches right into one basket that can be pulled onto the counter at 6am when you haven't had enough coffee to find the doggone Mickey Mouse go-gurts.

So I'd like to pay tribute to dear Mr. Puffy, who unwittingly helped me get my fridge sparkly spic 'n span and nicely organized for the week ahead. 

The littles also cleaned the kitchen baseboards
with hot water and Q-Tips after we finished the fridge.

In a bizarre twist, the kids turned on an episode of Duck Dynasty later that day (I do believe some TV time was merited) and the plot involved Jace and Jep carrying a truckload of rancid, stinking raw meat around West Monroe.  It seemed like an appropriately ironic closing to the weekend, one that found me thinking once again that you never know what a day in this family will bring.


How I Got Schooled: Goodbye Public

When our firstborn, the unfortunate guinea pig that she is, came of school age, we thought we were good to go.  We had purchased our home in an A-rated district, had a bright child, and had four college degrees under our mutual belts.  We felt prepared and had confidence we were doing the right thing.  But as her first grade year went on, we saw an ordinarily extremely peppy, outgoing, and bright girl wilt a bit before our eyes.  She was learning a very average amount—nothing exceptional—but seemed swept over by a combination of the large school environment, the extremely varied home environments that her peers were emerging from each morning (read: behavior problems abounded), and frankly did her smarts did not work to her advantage because there wasn’t much teaching that was being directed at her (individualized learning), much less challenging her.

It seemed day by day through my intuitive mama eyes that she was changing, that her sweet spirit and eager curiosity was being caged in and unwittingly cut at the quick.

Soon after, her brother entered the same school, and having tested gifted in Pre-K, was put right away in the K-2 gifted program alongside his sister.  This experience consisted of 20-30 minutes each morning of board games and group competitions intended to stimulate their minds.  Fun, but I couldn’t help think—wait a second, ya’ll!  Is this ALL there is to learning?  Shouldn’t it be more?  I watched them go from mind games to random writing prompts (in preparation for FCAT) to black history month instruction to my favorite time-waster, Guidance (that's my job, public school).  Isn’t there a rhyme or reason to all this random and piecemeal stuff you are putting before them?

Hush, hush, I thought, as I assured myself that we had done our absolute best for them.  Here they were, in a roundly-perceived “good” school, in a gifted track—but folks, it was just blah.  It wasn’t interesting.  They were spending precious days with not much to show for it.  Collin’s only goal as he understood it from the teacher was to “get a marble in his jar.”

I was bothered that they were apart from me for all their best hours, when they were the most alert and energetic, and yet there was nothing productive going on.  In many cases, they were sitting around waiting for others to learn what they already knew.

What was the breaking point for me?  Was it the crying on the playground as former preschool friends teased Madeleine for her good grades?  Was it the fear she felt at a tender 7 years old of the self-described “gang” of three mean-spirited, rowdy girls in her class?  Was it the way she placed into the highest reading level of Accelerated Reader, which catapulted her into books in the library that no young child should be reading, and caused her to experience confusion and frustration in her reading as the teachers only rewarded the volume of books read (and AR points gained) and disregarded quality of content as long as they had a black dot on their spine?  

I think the writing was on the wall when Collin came home with a simple single-digit addition worksheet that he had essentially failed (I admit I can’t recall the exact grade but there were red marks all over it).  I asked the teacher why he had a poor grade since the numeric answers were spot on.  Her reply was that he had to draw little bubbles for each digit and bubbles under the answer, which, as she explained it was “how they were starting to teach math under the new national standards.”  She didn’t want to see any exceptions to how she was teaching the math, either.  Now, this was several years ago, and Common Core was very slowly being rolled out in Florida, so this was the first I had heard of it.  But I tell you what, every parenting instinct I had told me to turn around and run.

Time to insert a visual here.  The following picture is a (different) math worksheet independently completed by my son, in which all the answers are “wrong”:

So, tell me, how many ways CAN you subtract from 3?

Isn’t 3 minus 100 negative 97?  Isn’t 3 minus 400 negative 397? 

According to Collin’s logic here, there is an infinite number of ways to subtract from three. THIS KID KNEW MATH INTUITIVELY. He was all of five years old when he did this worksheet by himself.  What was this federally mandated approach to math going to do to his natural skills?  When someone instantly knows 5+13=18, are you really going to make them draw bubbles to correspond to the numbers? 

Doesn’t this kill the fun of math for a little kid, possibly for good?

Another great example of the dangers of one-size-fits-all education was the computer challenge lab that allowed students to work above their grade level through a program that monitors correct and incorrect answers.  This lab works as a placebo for mothers like me who fear their children are not challenged during the day.  “Well, at least they’ll get some tough questions in Challenge Lab.”

I finally sat in on the actual lab one day, and one question I will always remember:  “How many rectangles are shown?”  It was a series of overlapping rectangles and the student had to master the visual tricks and sort out the correct quantity.  Madeleine got it wrong.  I watched an expression of total confusion cross her face.  She counted again.  Wrong again.  She turned to me, “Mom, what IS the right answer?  I counted 13 but when you look at the rectangle surrounding the question, it’s 14!”  Well, she was right but how could I argue with a computer?  What means of discussion did she have to justify her answer? Was there even a teacher around on all the other days that she got the "wrong" right answer?  Such experiences end in tears and extreme frustration for children who care.

They certainly did with mine.

So I’ve laid out a the warning flags that I was getting as a mother: many times the instruction didn’t make common sense, it was completely segregated by subjects, there was no consideration of alternative patterns of thought or problem-solving, there was a labyrinth of social and behavioral issues to contend with each day, but worst of all—and this is the crux of Common Core--there was a one-size-fits-all mentality towards educating the wonderfully unique, creative, and one-of-a-kind minds that God had given to my children. 

Mother's instinct blared in my head with each passing day: this is wrong and I am allowing it to happen day-in and day-out to those I love best.

Public school and that first wave of Common Core seemed, at best, like a mediocre and generic path and, at worst, a poorly thought-through experiment in education that would squander my children’s gifts, abilities, and potential for the future.

And the fact is that regardless of where and how my children are educated, I remain personally the one accountable for their education before God.  They have been given directly and with specific divine reasons into our care, entrusted to our decision-making and supervision by the Lord Himself.  Am I going to say on that day of accountability that we were victims of the public school system and this Common Core was unavoidable stuff and gosh that principal was stubborn and the teacher cared but was too burdened by federal expectations to help, so hey now--what could we do?

Am I honoring my holy stewardship of these precious children with such wild justifications?

So, with all these things in mind, I prayed a whole, whole bunch and set out to find an alternative.  Because when we felt the door closing on something that had become unacceptable, Christ was faithful to guide us to the next step, one unknown to us at the time: to classical education.  Through the recommendation of a friend, I started reading The Well Trained Mind by Susan Bauer.  I saw my children's dilemma and such a brilliant opportunity for learning spelled out and explained throughout those first few chapters.

And, wouldn't you know it, there is an exceptional classical school right here where I live.  The tuition is low and the standards are sky-high. The deal was sealed, and we've never looked back.

Thursday Night Bath Awards {Friday Photo}

Nah, we're not competitive around here. 
Wait a second....that means I'm in last. 
(Somebody call the grammar police stat)

PS Someone just emailed and asked if they only bathe once a week. 
Answer: Ick! Heck, no!