We picked up Valentine (the 10-year-old orphan from Eastern Europe we’re hosting for the summer, not his real name) from the airport on Tuesday afternoon, on our way back from a two-night trip to Ontario in our RV. It was Clara’s first trip in the RV, and unfortunately, she was not a happy camper.  She had a hard time going to sleep in a strange place, so her nap schedule and bedtime were completely disrupted.  There wasn’t enough space in the RV for her porta-crib, so we put her on the big bed between Don and me.  We don’t normally co-sleep, so that made it harder for us to get a good night’s rest.  All this to say, I was not exactly well-rested when we picked up Valentine, and when we got home we had all the unpacking and laundry and stuff to do from coming home from a trip.  It was not the ideal situation, but with everything else going on, it was the only time we could squeeze in a trip to Canada before Valentine came (he’s not allowed to leave the United States while he’s with us; he has a single-entry visa).

2.  Although I would have liked to have taken a day off to get caught up, I figured it would be best to jump right into our summer weekday routine to set appropriate expectations for all the boys. Thus we started “summer lessons” on Wednesday.  During Clara’s morning nap, we had “together time” with a song, a prayer, a short Bible story, and a nursery rhyme (it’s quick—I don’t want to bore Valentine because I know he doesn’t understand most of it).  Then Peter and Simon went to another room and Peter read the first chapter of A Bear Called Paddington out loud to Simon.  Meanwhile, I read Where Is the Green Sheep? to Valentine, pointing and using gestures to clarify the important vocabulary words.  He laughed at some of the pictures.  After that, I introduced the first two phonics flash cards and he practiced the sounds, then I showed him how to write the letters and he practiced writing them.  I had debated whether or not to work on reading with him; I think improving his oral English is more important, but for a small investment of time, I think it’s worth building a foundation for reading in English.  That was it for lessons for the day for Valentine; Peter and Simon had a couple other things to do, but everything was done before Clara woke up from her nap except for Peter’s saxophone practice.  Yesterday was much the same; we re-read Where Is the Green Sheep?, reviewed Wednesday’s phonics flash cards and added the next two, and practiced writing the new letters along with a review of the first two.  I also taught the subject pronouns “I” and “you” and used a PowerPoint presentation with eye-catching photos (adapted from one that I made when I was a French teacher) to introduce ten useful verbs.  We had fun acting out “I eat”, “you drink”, “I play”, and others.

3.  On Wednesday, I made a point to stay home during the day to give Valentine time to settle in. He had fun playing with our toys (we have lots of toys!).  His favorites so far seem to be the Nerf guns and the Hexbugs.  After dinner, we went for a walk to a nearby lake.  On the way, we saw a turtle laying eggs.  We also found several holes littered with empty turtle eggs and a turtle that had been run over.  Valentine found a frog and we saw a fish that someone had just caught.  We were buzzed by innumerable dragonflies.  Valentine’s orphanage is in a city, so he probably hasn’t had many opportunities to experience nature like this.

4.  Yesterday, I took Valentine shopping. We were told to expect him to bring little or no clothing besides what he was wearing.  He actually brought a backpack with more than we expected, though still not much.  Fortunately, we are able to mostly outfit him with hand-me-downs from Peter.  A friend generously gave us $100 to purchase the clothing items he still needed, along with other things.  We bought underwear, socks, shoes (he came wearing sandals), and a matching swimsuit/swim shirt set.  I gave him 3-4 choices for each item and he enjoyed picking which color/design.  He asked me (through pointing and making begging/praying hands) for a Lego set, a fidget spinner, and candy in the check-out lane, but didn’t seem upset when I said no.  Our hosting organization stresses the importance of not spoiling the kids during their first week so as not to set up an expectation for the rest of the hosting period.  Besides that, because he’s limited to an airplane carry-on in what he can take back with him (and is expected to return with the clothes he brought), we’re planning to focus on giving him experiences rather than “stuff.”

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5.  Communication is limited, but we’re getting by. My cheat-sheet definitely helps.  The visual display I made for the morning routine (eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc) is handy—I can just point to a picture instead of trying to pantomime everything, and I saw Valentine looking at it on his own to remind himself what to do.  Google Translate has been useful for things that are harder to act out (like, “You can play outside when you want, but tell me before you go and don’t go beyond the white fence.”)  Unfortunately, our internet has been excruciatingly slow for the last couple days, which makes Google Translate hard to use.  The boys are getting along well; you don’t need language to make funny faces, poke someone, steal their pillow, shoot Nerf guns, clown around, play tag, race toy cars, or lots of other things that boys like to do.

6.  We set Valentine up on our Wii; Peter helped him make a Mii and we registered him on Wii Fit Plus. That was my surreptitious way of finding out his height and weight.  I looked them up on a CDC growth chart; his height would be at the 50th percentile for a boy who is about 8 years and 3 months old.  I’ve heard from a few different people that the kids from the orphanages in his country tend to be about the size of American kids who are two years younger; Valentine is 10 years old so that seems accurate.

7.  After three biological kids and a developmentally delayed 3-year-old foster child, it’s kind of nice to welcome a child to the family who is already potty-trained.  🙂

More 7 Quick Takes here:


Busy, busy

It’s hard to believe that Peter finished school just a week from yesterday.  We’ve had things going on pretty much non-stop since then.  He left on a Boy Scout camping trip that night and was gone until Sunday.  Both boys went to Totus Tuus (the Catholic version of vacation Bible school) this past week.  However, there were different shifts for younger and older kids.  Simon went during the day and Peter went in the evenings, which meant four trips a day into town for drop-offs and pick-ups, not counting trips into town for other reasons (grocery shopping, library, immunizations for Peter).  Don was super busy and stressed as he was preparing for a major work event Thursday night, so I did most of the driving.  Poor Clara had to have her nap schedule shifted around because of it and didn’t get as much of my attention as usual.  Wednesday night was a Totus Tuus potluck, which was fun but meant that Simon and Clara were up past their usual bedtimes (and Simon was already tired from all the stimulation of day camp).  Thursday night was Don’s work event; the kids and I made an appearance there before I had to drop off Peter at Totus Tuus and get Simon and Clara home and to bed.  Yesterday (Friday), my dad arrived in the late afternoon.  He is riding his motorcycle to Alaska; yesterday was the second day of his journey, as he started in southeastern Michigan.  Today we hung out with him and did some repairs on our RV; we’re leaving tomorrow for a short trip and my dad will be heading off in the opposite direction.  I would rather stay home and relax for a couple days instead before “Valentine” (the orphan we’re hosting this summer, not his real name) arrives on Tuesday, but Valentine can’t leave the United States while he is with us, so we’re taking a quick trip to Canada while we can.  We’ll be picking Valentine up from the airport on our way back home.  I can imagine that it will blow his mind to be picked up from the airport in an RV.  I did say in the welcome letter I wrote to him (which one of Don’s colleagues helped translate into Russian and which he will receive tomorrow) that it’s a two-hour drive from the airport to our house, and I showed our house in the video I made for him, so he should understand that we don’t live in the RV, but I’m sure it will still be somewhat shocking.

I plan to share the hosting experience here on my blog.  Realistically, though, it’s hard enough to find time to blog now, and I’m sure I’ll be even more tired when I have another child–and one who speaks little English and is not used to living in a family setting–to take care of.  So I’m not making any promises as to the frequency of blog posts or the level of detail that will be forthcoming.

In less than two weeks, the child we’re hosting this summer, “Valentine” (not his real name), will be here.  I got an e-mail from the organization we’re hosting through saying that they had their appointment with the embassy this morning to get the visas for the kids and all went well.

He will be flying into New York City.  For reasons that are too complicated for me to want to explain, he will be staying in NYC with another family for two nights before flying here.  I put together a care package for them to give him after he arrives and mailed it to them today.  It includes a toothbrush and toothpaste (because he probably won’t bring any), a variety of snacks (mostly to eat the day that he flies here), photos of everyone in our family, and some items he can use for entertainment while he’s in NYC and while he’s traveling (pencils, colored pencils, eraser, white paper on a small clipboard, and a book of mazes).  I put it all in a string backpack to make it easy for him to carry.

Care package

On Saturday, I did all the filming for a short video (~3 minutes long) to introduce our family and house to Valentine.  I edited the video on Saturday night and did the narration (in my best attempt at speaking his native language) on Sunday night.  The family that he will be staying with in NYC can show it to him after he arrives so he will have a better idea of where he’s going.

I put together a three-page-long cheat-sheet of useful words and phrases in Valentine’s native language.  We’ll also be making use of a bilingual visual dictionary along with Google Translate and charades to communicate.

The biggest thing I still need to do to prepare for hosting is trade the boys’ bedrooms.  Peter and Valentine will sleep in the bunk beds in what is currently Simon’s room, and Simon will move to Peter’s room.  I’m not going to do it until after Peter finishes school—he has two more days.  Then our summer adventure will begin.

I decided to do a themed 7 Quick Takes this week: “Why Next Year Will be the Best Year of Homeschooling Yet” (or, “Why I Think Homeschooling Peter Will Work This Time When I Gave Up in Frustration and Enrolled Him in School in March Two Years Ago”).

For those who don’t know, I have been homeschooling my son Simon for the past two years (preschool and junior kindergarten); he will be in kindergarten next year.   I homeschooled Peter for grade 3 and most of grade 4 before giving up and sending him to public school because I was completely burnt out.  We are going to try again next year, when he will be in grade 7.  Here’s why I think it will work this time:

  1.  I have read several books that have changed my perspective, and I think the insights I’ve gained will help me keep a better attitude when the going gets rough.  In particular, I was inspired by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté’s Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers.  As a former high school teacher, their descriptions of the dangers of peer orientation brought back vivid memories of former students and situations.  I am now consciously aware that while getting schoolwork and chores done is important, maintaining a healthy relationship with my kids is more important.  Although I do slip sometimes when I’m tired and frustrated, I’ve gotten reasonably good at using techniques from Hold On to Your Kids and No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, which takes a similar approach.  Finally, I also bought and read Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace.  It’s a short book and an easy read, but very apropos.  I expect to flip through it for inspiration at challenging times during the school year.
  2. My spiritual life is in better shape.  A stronger relationship with God makes it easier for me to find the strength, peace, patience, endurance, et cetera that I need to successfully spend a lot of time with my kids.  One of the resources that has been most helpful to me is reading Regnum Christi’s daily meditations.
  3. I am going to use a more flexible approach in scheduling.  When I homeschooled Peter previously, I made a complicated chart every week with every assignment for every subject for each day.  When life happened, as it does–when someone had a dentist appointment or got sick or there was some special event going on–and we couldn’t finish all of the assignments for a day, it would throw everything off.  This time, I’m going to set up some basic routines; for example, reading, writing, and math will happen every day, while science and history will alternate.  Each subject will be scheduled separately, so if we miss a day in one subject, we’ll just pick up with it where we left off and it won’t affect the schedule for the other subjects.
  4. I’m going to put the boys to work around the house.  Peter did have chores to do before, but now that he’s older, he can do more.  Simon also can do some useful chores now.  The work they do will help lighten my load so that I have the time and energy to instruct and supervise them.  I’m also going to try off-loading some of Simon’s read-alouds to Peter.  I figure that it’s a positive way for the brothers to spend time together, reading aloud is a good experience for Peter, and it will save me some time.  I will still do some read-alouds with Simon because it’s one of my favorite parts of homeschooling and I don’t want to miss out on it.
  5. I am streamlining the curriculum.  I pared my subject list for Peter down to what I felt was the bare minimum.  Then, after reflecting on my mission and vision for homeschooling, I carefully added in only two other subjects, both of which will be done for less than half the year.  In addition, I’m integrating several subjects.  For example, not only will Peter’s literature selections be coordinated with his history/geography studies, but about a third of them will be in French.  A good chunk of Simon’s read-aloud and science books will be in French.
  6. I’m going to be using some great curriculum resources.  I won’t go into details now (maybe I’ll do a post around the beginning of the school year), but I am looking forward to using some exciting new materials for both boys as well as some tried-and-true materials with Simon (I’m enjoying homeschooling for the second time around, getting to repeat the good stuff and replace the stuff I didn’t care for as much).  Of course, every year I’m enthusiastic about the resources I’m planning to use and sometimes I end up disappointed once we get into them; we’ll have to see how they go.
  7. Finally, I have gotten better at self-care.  I recognize when I’m starting to get run-down and I take steps to get back on track.  I know that when I get really tired, I feel sad, so I have learned to tell myself not wallow in my sadness when the real problem is that I’m tired.  I know what kinds of activities rejuvenate me and I find time for them at least semi-regularly.  On the whole, I’ve been eating better and doing a better job of not staying up too late, so I have more energy and don’t get run down as often.

And that’s my first themed 7 Takes!  Maybe it would have been better to write at the beginning of next school year, but all these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since we decided we would homeschool Peter again, so it feels good to get them down in writing.  Perhaps it will be useful to look back at this post in a few months when the new school year is getting underway.

You can find more 7 Quick Takes here:


  1. A hospital hand-out on “Laceration Care, Pediatric” was not on my reading list for the week, but unfortunately, it was thrust upon me.  After a delicious Mother’s Day dinner of chicken marsala cooked by my husband, we decided to go for a family walk/bike ride.  The boys rode their bikes ahead (Simon’s first time riding on the road, only allowed because we were supervising) while Don and I walked with Clara in the stroller.  The boys stopped and were climbing on some large rocks while they waited for us to catch up.  Simon fell and cut his hand on a piece of broken glass, thus winning a trip to the ER, where he got three stitches in his right palm.  😦
  2. So Monday, I had the joy of a large pile of dishes left over from Don cooking chicken marsala (he would have washed them, but he took Simon to the hospital).  I also had the joy of spending the day with a cranky Simon, who was up way too late (even in a small town, an emergency room visit is never quick) and was frustrated by not being able to use his right hand.  It was not a fun day.  Then Clara was inexplicably up twice during the night (she has been sleeping through the night regularly for months now), so I was exhausted on Tuesday and barely made it through my weekly grocery shopping.
  3. Let’s move on to some happier news.  Today was Simon’s last day of homeschool junior kindergarten!  It’s been a wonderful year and I’m proud of what he’s learned.  When we started in September, I wasn’t sure how well I was going to be able to homeschool with a baby, but it has actually gone very smoothly.  Now we transition to “summer lessons” (much lighter than during the school year, focusing on maintaining literacy, math, and French skills).
  4. Peter has only 14 days of school left before he’s done with grade 6.  He will do summer lessons also; he’s done them since he was in preschool, so he accepts that they’re just part of his life.  Then he will be homeschooled next year for grade 7.  He hasn’t been homeschooled since grade 4, so homeschooling for middle school will be a new adventure.
  5. I am about to finish something also.  Over two years ago (Palm Sunday 2015), I started a one-year Bible reading plan (not the whole Bible, just selected verses/passages, but 52 weeks’ worth of daily readings).  I fell off the bandwagon many times, sometimes for months at a time, but I never gave up.  Tomorrow is my last day!
  6. Don and Peter are gone to the Dayton Hamvention, the world’s largest gathering of ham radio operators.  I haven’t been since I was a teenager, but Don has attended many times, and Peter went last year for the first time.  Maybe in a few more years, we’ll make a family trip out of it.
  7. I got a call from our optometrist.  He will donate an eye exam and a pair of glasses (if needed) to “Valentine” (not his real name), the orphan from Eastern Europe that we’ll be hosting this summer.  Valentine has an appointment scheduled for mid-July.

More 7 Quick Takes here:


  1. I may be in the minority here, but I actually like Monday mornings.  It’s a relief to get back to the routine and structure of weekdays after the relative lack of structure on the weekends.  Don’t get me wrong–I like weekends too and look forward to them every week, but I wouldn’t want every day to be like the weekend.  (Yes, I know it’s Friday, but I think about this every Monday and wanted to share, and it didn’t seem worth an entire post.)
  2. Simon has one more week of junior kindergarten and then we’ll be done homeschooling for this school year.  Three weeks after that, Peter will be done with school not just for this school year, but for who knows how long, because we’re planning to homeschool him again next school year.  A week and a half after that, the 10-year-old orphan boy we’re hosting from Eastern Europe will arrive.  I’m doing my best to be prepared, but I must admit that I’m a little nervous about how we will all adjust to these changes.
  3.  “The orphan we’re hosting” is lengthy and impersonal, so henceforth, I will refer to him on my blog by the pseudonym Valentine.  (I’m not sharing personally identifying information about him on my blog, which is why I’m not using his real name.)
  4. Our dentist has agreed to donate his services to Valentine.  I’ve heard multiple stories about children hosted/adopted from his country needing dental work as they don’t get regular dental care in the orphanages, so I am glad we will be able to do that for him while he’s here.  Our optometrist is on vacation, so I don’t have an answer from him yet.
  5. The only real department store in our area is going out of business, so I made myself go to take advantage of the clearance prices.  I bought a pair of blue jeans and a pair of dress pants, so I am no longer in the wardrobe crisis of not having a single decent-looking pair of pants that fit.  The blue jean selection was overwhelming–so many sizes, leg styles, fits, colors!  I just picked a pair that sounded around my size and style and figured I would try them on and then go from there.  They fit great and I liked them!  I felt like I had taken Felix felicis.  Unfortunately, it was the only pair of jeans in the store in that size and style, and since they were going out of business, I couldn’t exactly ask them to order me more.
  6. Simon has pretty much got the hang of riding his bike without training wheels on our gravel/dirt driveway.  The problem now is that we live out in the country and there are no sidewalks for him to ride on, but we aren’t comfortable having him ride on the road yet.  I plan to drive him to a bike path in town one of these days, but we haven’t gotten there yet.
  7. I’ve been enjoying planning homeschool curriculum for next school year.  I have a generous budget to work with, which is wonderfully liberating.  I’m planning to buy a number of French-language resources that I wouldn’t have considered purchasing in the past because the cost adds up fast.  I’m looking forward to doing our best year of bilingual homeschooling yet.

More 7 Quick Takes here:


Several weeks ago, I went to a parents meeting for the local school district-homeschool partnership program.  Simon will be enrolled with them for kindergarten next year and next year’s schedule was one of the meeting’s agenda items, so I figured it would be worthwhile for me to attend.

What I didn’t appreciate was that developing mission and vision statements was the main purpose of the meeting.  Getting a roomful of people (maybe a couple dozen) to try to formulate and agree on mission and vision statements in less than an hour is unrealistic to begin with.  Add to that the poor conceptualization of the process and the instructions we were given, and it was doomed before we even started.  We were told that the vision was suppose to describe what we wanted to achieve and the mission was supposed to describe how we would make the vision happen (I’m not sure I agree with that, but let’s leave that aside).  Then the room was split in half, with one half told to work on developing a vision statement and the other half to work on a mission statement.  Hello?  How are we supposed to describe how we’re going to make the vision happen if they’re still figuring out what the vision is on the other side of the room?  We tried anyhow, but in the end, we had about five statements proposed by different people (one of them mine) and no consensus.  Then we got together as a large group again to share our work, and their vision statements sounded suspiciously like our mission statements.  I asked whether we really needed to have separate vision and mission statements and was brushed off.  On the whole, it was a frustrating experience.

However, the experience did have value in that it got me thinking about mission statements and defining the purpose of the things we do.  I had come across a quote online that I have not, for the life of me, been able to locate since, so I don’t know the exact wording and I can’t attribute it to its original author (it may have been St. Katharine Drexel).  It seems like a great mission statement (or is it a vision statement?), so I have adopted it for my homeschool.  It was something like, “The purpose of education is to prepare our children for whatever service God may someday call them to.”  This is rich; there is a lot there to ponder on.

Then I went on to make a list of my goals, what I want my children to be able to do as a result of their education (dare I say, a vision statement?).  In no particular order, here’s what I came up with:

  • to think critically
  • to value truth and reason
  • to communicate effectively
  • to be respectful and empathetic to people in diverse situations
  • to have a well-developed conscience; to be honest and responsible
  • to appreciate beauty as found in nature, art, and music
  • to know, love, and serve God
  • to have the skills to carry out projects independently—to plan a project, locate resources, use resources effectively, keep materials organized, manage time wisely, work diligently, and produce appropriate results
  • to make choices that promote health, both physical and mental
  • to understand the interconnectedness of human lives with each other and the environment; to value social justice and environmental responsibility
  • to apply knowledge to real-world situations; to do “hands-on” problem-solving

Next year will be a challenging one for homeschooling.  Not only will Simon be in kindergarten, but we have just decided that Peter will return to being homeschooled for grade 7.  He will still go to school every day–he will be in band and Science Olympiad at the middle school he currently attends.  We believe that this will give him the best of both worlds.  However, it will be an adjustment for all of us.  I am hopeful that defining my mission and vision before we begin will help me make good decisions as I plan for next year and deal with issues as they arise.