Room at Our Table

It was about a year ago that my husband, Andrew, and I decided to start hosting Sunday dinner parties at our house. Just writing this right now makes me laugh because we are such unlikely dinner party hosts. I’m a total introvert who avoids most social situations like the plague, we have three small, very loud children and we live in a house that’s about 1,600 square feet. Sounds like a really awesome place to have a nice dinner, right? I should also mention that my husband’s only day off is Sunday and it’s not unusual for him to work 10-12 hour days. He’s absolutely exhausted by Saturday evening. 
In spite of all this, we knew opening up our home was something we were supposed to be doing so we started inviting people to dinner and they just kept coming. We’ve hosted a neighborhood block party, cooked meals for multiple friends and coworkers, had barbecues and held a running men’s AA book study/dinner. This is our Sunday evening normal now and surprisingly, it has been so incredibly fruitful for our family. 


Our children have witnessed men both cuss and cry at our dining room table. They’ve learned to listen intently to adults and ask thoughtful questions. They’ve heard stories of addiction and faith, of sorrow and of hope. They’ve seen how sharing a simple meal with someone can break down walls and build beautiful, unlikely friendships. Our home is filled with new and old friends almost every Sunday evening now. Instead of draining us, these dinners somehow restore us. And what an incredible opportunity it has been to get glimpses into the lives of unlikely friends. Sometimes the conversation is casual, sometimes funny and a little inappropriate (I’m pretty sure my husband missed his calling as a comedian) and sometimes conversations lead to unexpected places. About a month ago we had once such dinner. Andrew’s coworker (who actually was a comedian once upon a time) and his family came over along with another couple they were friends with. We had only met the other couple briefly a few weeks before but they seemed awesome and they lived in our neighborhood so I was excited to get to know them better. Dinner conversation was hilarious as you can imagine and we enjoyed a simple meal on our patio in unseasonably cool weather for Texas in June. 


After dinner, Anna (one of our new friends) helped me clear the table. Our conversation turned to children and she told me of her desire to adopt. She spoke passionately about the number of older children in the Texas foster care system who are at a high risk of aging out and having no family to ever call their own. She shared with me their dream to open their home to foster teens with the hopes of adoption. We must have stood in my kitchen for half an hour talking about the broken system and how she longed to do something and then suddenly the light went out of her eyes. She stated quite plainly that none of this would happen for them here. I looked at her in disbelief as she began to tell me about a bill that had been approved and was expected to pass in the Texas Senate later in June. The bill, HB3859, would allow publicly funded foster care and adoption agencies in Texas to discriminate against applying foster families for a number of reasons that would conflict with their religious beliefs. See, our friends Anna and Joy are gay and this bill’s supporters are completely against placing children in the homes of same-sex couples. I was appalled and quite literally embarrassed for not even being aware of the legislation but Anna didn’t even blink at my ignorance. She told me they were planning on moving to the northeast in the next few years so they could start their family in a more welcoming state and how she was thankful they had the means to do this. “But,” she asked, “What about those who don’t?” 


It was getting late so we said our goodbyes and the last thing Anna said to me was, “Thank you guys for being so awesome.” I’m not sure why she said this. I certainly didn’t feel awesome. If I was awesome, I would have known about this completely unconstitutional bill. If I was awesome, I would have called my representative and told him what I thought about the blatant discrimination the bill would allow. If I was awesome I would have done something, anything. But I did nothing. And a few weeks later, the bill passed in the Senate and went on to be signed into law by Governor Abbott. 

This bill that not only allows state funded agencies to discriminate against families like Anna and Joy’s but also allows them to deny services to foster kids they disapprove of based on religious grounds (i.e. transgender, gay, atheist or non-Christian children) passed. Let me say that again. State funded agencies can now discriminate and refuse services to children based on religious grounds. 

And my heart breaks for them. 


So now what? In case you were wondering, my family and I are Christians but we don’t see anything Christ-like in protecting agencies over children or denying rights to others because they don’t share our beliefs. I tell Anna and Joy’s story because they are our friends, real people who are affected by this legislation. There’s nothing just in denying them the opportunity to be parents on the grounds that it would “violate the religious beliefs” of a group in power. I may have missed my opportunity to change a representative’s mind in June but my hope is that by sharing Anna and Joy’s story, we might at least gain a greater understanding of one another. And maybe, just maybe, we might even become advocates for each other.

So I encourage you to share a meal and your story with those around you, especially those you think are different from you, and listen and be heard. You may just learn something about another and about yourself. 

You can view House Bill 3859 here

To learn more about the disproportionately higher number of LBGTQ children in the foster care system, visit hrc.org

Immeasurably More

It’s a Monday morning in October, just over two years ago. My husband, Andrew, and I had just submitted the final paperwork to become licensed foster parents in the state of Texas the night before. We had been working with a wonderful agency in Austin for the past few months and though the process was tedious, the agency staff had navigated us through everything seamlessly. We had finally completed all the necessary steps and were ready to welcome children into our home. I remember being both excited and nervous to start this new adventure and I was certain our family would end up adopting from the foster care system. Not only that, but I had seen the children we would adopt; two precious, black, identical twin girls. I had envisioned their beautiful faces for almost a year and prayed for these children I didn’t even know yet. They filled my dreams, playing and laughing with our other children. It was all so vivid and clear to me – they were meant to be part of our family.


But as Andrew and I were getting ready to go to work that October morning, I suddenly had a strange feeling. What if I’m pregnant? Before we started the foster care journey, we had talked about conceiving a third baby but it wasn’t part of our plan anymore. We knew we couldn’t effectively care for a newborn, our two boys and fragile children being separated from their family and placed in a strange new environment. I couldn’t be pregnant, I thought. Or could I? I found an old pregnancy test under the sink and in 3 minutes my initial thoughts were confirmed. I was pregnant. What a strange feeling that was. I was incredibly happy but at the same time my heart longed for those two twin girls. But we knew fostering while bringing a new baby into this world would be too much for our family, so we called our agency and gave them the news. The day we made that call, we had no idea how tough the next year would be for our family.


We had our daughter, Storie, the following June. She was perfect in every way and we all fell madly in love with her. I left my job of ten years to stay home with our kids and began homeschooling the boys as well. We went from a family of four with two incomes to a family of five with one income. Needless to say it was a strain financially but it also took a lot of time for me to just adjust to my new role. Navigating homeschool curriculum with a newborn constantly attached to me was a little overwhelming and at times just plain lonely. If that wasn’t enough, about a month into our school year, Andrew lost his job and was faced with some pretty serious health issues. What was exposed through these tough experiences was that our relationship was extremely fragile and we needed to do something about that fast. We were forced to take a hard look at ourselves and our relationship and worked tirelessly reevaluating priorities, praying together and pushing through tough conversations to save the marriage that was so precious to us both.


That time in our lives seems like a lifetime ago. Last month Andrew had his one year anniversary with a new job that has been a financial blessing to our family, his health has never been better and our marriage, while certainly not perfect, has become a supremely sacred relationship we both treasure. The kids and I have also found our own unique way of homeschooling and have met so many wonderful friends along the way. I’m just amazed at how far we all have come.

My friend Susan was one of the people who walked through that difficult time with our family. She is one of my dearest friends but sadly last year, we just didn’t connect that much. She had a baby and was busy growing her non-profit, Austin Angels. I was busy homeschooling and just running our household. So when she asked me to meet her and the kids for a play date last week, I was so excited. While our kids played, we talked about our lives and how much they have changed in the last year. She filled me in on her hopes and dreams and for some reason I felt compelled to tell her about the twin girls I thought we were supposed to adopt. In the last three years, I had never told anyone about the girls except Andrew. I confessed to her that I still thought often about the girls and dreamed that they would be part of our family one day. As soon as I said this out loud, I was immediately embarrassed. It just sounded so silly to say it out loud. But then Susan said something I’ll never forget.


“I know those girls,” she said, “and they need you.”

See, a foster mom of two twin girls had applied a few months earlier to be part of a Love Box program through Austin Angels, Susan’s non-profit. Austin Angels helps facilitate Love Box teams that sponsor individual foster families to provide them with love, support and much needed supplies. It’s a beautiful program that helps care for families walking in the margins with extremely vulnerable children who often times have experienced neglect and abuse. The impact of a friend visiting regularly each month that cares about the children and is interested in what they are doing is incredible. I truly believe Love Box teams are changing the course of many foster kid’s lives.


Susan told me the twins’ foster mom had been put on a waiting list because she lived farther from Austin than most people were willing to drive. In addition to this, she was the girls’ mother’s godmother so she was not financially compensated for caring for the girls and she was struggling, really struggling, to make ends meet. At that moment I knew this was what God had been preparing my heart for. It all made sense now.


Less than a week later, I met the 9 month old twin girls. They were just as I had imagined them; gorgeous, black, twin girls. It was surreal. What’s more, I also met their incredibly brave and selfless foster mom, whose hope is that ultimately her goddaughter will one day be able to care for these precious girls. The foster mom is an absolute gift to the twins and I’m so grateful to be waking alongside her and witnessing the girls flourish the way God intended. I must admit this story doesn’t look quite like I imagined but I have a feeling it’s going to be so much better.

And these words my husband and I clung to desperately two years ago just continue to astound us:

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

Immeasurably more friends.

Halloween, Homeschool and Hot Buttons

If you read my last post, you know we started studying Asian culture at the beginning of the school year. I anticipated this study to last a couple weeks at most but the boys just kept asking for more. Much of their interest was fueled by their love of martial arts so we started our studies learning about ninjas and samurais. This evolved into studies of early Asian civilizations and what the lives of Chinese and Japanese children look like today. 


We read tons of books and learned about Japanese kite making and a beautiful form of Japanese street theatre called Kamishibai. Our favorite story was about a dog named Hachikō whose owner was a professor at the University of Tokyo. Hachikō waited for his owner everyday at the train station and was well known and loved by the daily commuters. When he passed away, the town erected a statue of Hachikō and it still stands today.


 Draven, who is seven, is now reading a biography on Bruce Lee and we’re planning a trip to an Asian market so we can try our hand at preparing a traditional Japanese meal. 


It’s not uncommon for me to walk in the boy’s room to find them playing ninjas or samurais or pretending to be Bruce Lee. So when the boys asked me if they could be ninjas for Halloween, I thought it was a natural fit. I suggested that we find Storie a kimono so she could join the fun and they were ecstatic. 


I didn’t think much else about our decision until I saw an article from The NY Times on costume correctness. The pretense centers around racially and culturally insensitive costumes that are meant to exploit specific groups of people or reinforce certain stereotypes. The article mainly references college students wearing offensive costumes but I couldn’t help but wonder if my kid’s costumes could be sending the wrong message. I know both my children and I came from a place of complete admiration and respect when choosing their costumes but I certainly wouldn’t want to offend someone unintentionally. 


There are different views on where the line lies and it’s definitely blurry. I mean, the University of Washington sent out a video to it’s students and used the example of not wearing a karate uniform with a black belt unless one earned it. If we’re playing by their standard, my kid’s costumes are totally unacceptable. They certainly don’t have Japanese heritage much less ninja blood running through their veins, just complete admiration of the culture. But until they head off to college, I get to draw the line and their joy wins. I know if anyone asks them about their costumes, they’ll get more facts about a ninja than they ever wanted and that’s good enough for me. 

So what were some of the acceptable costumes mentioned? A Starbucks coffee, a Crayola crayon, Where’s Waldo and Spider-Man. While these costumes might sound perfectly harmless on the surface, I actually have a big problem with all of them. They are all heavily marketed consumer goods. $17 billion is spent annually by companies advertising to our children friends. They are bombarded by it constantly. Consumerism can’t be the solution. Not in my house. 

Homeschool Planning, Expectations and Child-Led Learning

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our first year of homeschooling and what worked best for us. There were days that went so well and others that went terribly. I have a tendency to force things sometimes, particularly art and handwriting. I have this idea of how things should look and sometimes I forget that I’m working with a 7 and 4 year old…

The two things that could ruin a perfectly good day were – not planning our day out and having unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. As I plan for the upcoming year, I am constantly taking these two things into consideration. 

A few living history books we will read this year. Many more are on my Amazon list or will be checked out from the library.

Last year my oldest, Draven, was in 1st grade and we used Ambleside’s curriculum guide that follows Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching. I have really grown to love the use of what Charlotte Mason describes as living books to teach children a range of subjects from history to geography to science and beyond. Oftentimes you can combine subjects with living books. 

A few months into last school year I made adjustments as some of the books have difficult language for a six year old, and sometimes for his mom as well. This year I’m feeling a bit more adventurous and have created my own syllabus based around living books and tailored to our interests (a copy is at the bottom of this post if you can’t wait). I did keep a few books Ambleside suggested and we are following their bible guideline because I think it’s spot on. 

Read aloud literature selections for Draven. The third book from the left is My Side of the Mountain, one of my husband’s favorite childhood books.

We won’t follow the syllabus exactly every week but it will be used asmore of a guideline so we don’t leave anything important out and stay on track for the year. We may not even get to everything because sometimes we end up spending longer on a book or subject matter or discover something else that interests us. This is where child-led learning comes in and where it’s important for me to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve created our curriculum around my children’s current interests, I’ve also left room for things that spark new interests and am willing to deviate a little from our original plan. So keep in mind as I share my syllabus, that it is a working document and will most likely be edited several times as our interests develop. My plan is to share resources, successes and failures throughout the year. 

Independent reading for Draven based on current interests.

Our day starts around 7:30 with breakfast. I typically read a few poems aloud while they eat. We don’t analyze anything at this time, just read and enjoy the words. We also work on memorization before leaving the table. For September we will be reciting The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and Karate Concepts 1-4 (something they must memorize for belt tests at their karate school). After breakfast we move to the backyard or living room to practice yoga. My kids love doing yoga with me and especially enjoy meditating. This doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes and it’s a great way to get focused for the day. They may practice their karate forms at this time as well. We always end our yoga time with prayer and daily intentions. 

Give Your Child the World has over 600 book recommendations from around the world. We will be studing a continent each month using these books and also working through our Pin It Maps curriculum.

The majority of our work is done between 8:30 and 12. Draven will work on math independently after a little instruction (we use Math Mammoth) and I will give Cullen his reading lesson (we are working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). I realize it’s early to teach reading (Cullen is 4) but he is very interested so we will through the lessons as long as he stays engaged. I will read aloud several stories for both boys and we will work on a map project (using Pin It Maps) or watercolor painting. We use Waldorf’s wet on wet water coloring technique. It’s quite easy and always turns out beautiful (expectations friends).

Examples of Draven’s original books, narrations and science diagrams from last year.

The kids will then have a bit of free time to play while I get lunch ready. After lunch, the paintings are dry and we use them as base for Draven to write his narration and Cullen to write letters and simple words. They create beautiful backgrounds for their work. If you’re unfamiliar with narration, it is simply the retelling of a story back in your own words. This is our writing, grammar and spelling rolled into one activity. Last year, I had Draven tell me each narration after a story while I wrote it down. I read it back to him and we made changes together before he copied it onto his paper. As he copied, we focused mainly on handwriting and punctuation. This year he will be writing his narrations from memory which is much more difficult but will allow us to go deeper with grammar and sentence structure.  After the boys are done writing, they will add an illustration to go with their story.
A few of our favorite science resources. The open book on the bottom left is Cellular Biology by Super Smart Science Series. I highly recommend these books! The boys also enjoy working through the Awesome Science Experiments and playing with their circuit board.

After narrations are complete, the boys may work on a science project, craft project, or Spanish, which is done Online through Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids. This is their only source of technology in our school day and a treat they look forward to.
Read aloud selections for Cullen. The top right book is The Jesus Storybook Bible which has the sweetest stories and most beautiful illustrations. My other favorite is Over the Hills and Far Away, a collection of nursery rhymes from around the world.

Mixed in throughout the day, the boys are helping with household chores and their baby sister. Cullen may play with Storie while Draven and I read a difficult book and Draven may read books with Storie while Cullen and I practice sounding out words. 

Several of our nature study resources. Much of our free play will be centered outside in the garden or on nature walks. The brown nature journals are by Molskin. We use colored pencils to draw and label plants and animals.

We are so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful co-op this year that meets every Monday for additional literature, art and science studies. We also attend classes at our local library and parks, lead a Wild Explorers Club, regularly go on field trips, train in karate and Draven will begin guitar lessons this fall.

Below is our syllabus for September which outlines our core reading, written work, memorization and all other activities. I also created a weekly schedule to reference until we get back into the flow of regular school days. I’m happy to send one or both in excel form if you comment below with your email. Currently, I’m researching Waldorf methods for Cullen and Storie and plan on sharing our daily rhythm soon. Happy homeschooling friends!