A New Activity for Me

My two older girls have been taking horseback riding lessons at Columbia Equestrian Center for almost a year and a half now. My regular readers may remember that, about six months ago, Miranda had a fall that was pretty scary for her, and we had to take some time to work through that. At that lesson, our amazing first instructor, now friend, Courtney, asked if I wanted to get up on the pony Miranda had been riding while she took a few minutes to compose herself after her fall, so I did – and, to my surprise, I found it to be both challenging and fun! Due to the pricing structure, I realized it would only cost me $15 per lesson to ride with them, so I started doing that. I needed to be there with them anyway, so I might as well ride, too!

And over the last six months, I’ve discovered that riding is more than just “fun” – though it is that, too. In so many areas of my life, I am in a role of authority. I spend a significant portion of my life teaching my kids, coaching other parents, and meeting with and listening to and offering advice to other women.

In horseback riding, I am the student. I’m not the expert. As Miranda told me one day this summer, “Mom, everyone at the barn is better than you!”

I need to be the one asking questions, needing to have someone check my saddle to make sure I’ve tacked up correctly. I need to try to weave at a trot but drop into a walk before the last pole three times in a row and have to ask Emily, our awesome current instructor, what I’m doing wrong and why that keeps happening, so she can explain it, and I can go back and try it again and fix it.

I find that I lack even the self-awareness of all the things I don’t know, and this week was a prime example. I had had only a vague idea that which saddle you use matters, but this week I rode with a close contact saddle, which I’d never done before. When Emily asked me to post without stirrups, I burst out laughing the instant I tried – it was so much harder! There would have been no better way to learn that which saddle you use really matters!

There is a sense of vulnerability inherent in being the one who doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t have the answers. I ask other people to be vulnerable all the time, and I have no right to do that if I’m not willing to sit in that place, too. I need to practice being vulnerable myself, and in learning to ride, I’m doing that. I take lessons from Emily and go ride with Courtney and try to follow their instructions and put myself in a position to learn and try to grow a little bit more each time.

Having to listen to and learn from someone else is good practice for me. It keeps me humble. I need reminders that I do not know all – or even most – of what there is to know. And those reminders carry over from horseback riding into the rest of life.

I need to practice perseverance, practice literally falling off and feeling stupid but then getting back up and trying again…and then calling Courtney to talk through it with her. I need this experience of working at something and growing and getting better but so slowly.

And over the last six months, I’ve found that I’m having a lot of fun. I enjoy riding itself. And I enjoy learning new skills and being challenged and having new experiences. This new activity has been good for me, and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and grow through it.

(And if you’re looking for a fun activity for yourself or your kids, I’d absolutely recommend riding lessons with Emily at Columbia Equestrian Center or, in the St. Louis area, with Courtney at Longmeadow Rescue Ranch!).

Bookends to Our Travels: A Night and a Day in Chicagoland

It has been a little over 10 years since Matt moved to Missouri from Chicagoland and almost 10 years since I made the same move. We’re content where we are – but still – my heart longs for Chicago. I love this city.

We headed north to celebrate Christmas this year, and while most of our time was spent in Wisconsin with family, Matt and I were able to make 2 trips down to Chicagoland, one at the beginning of our trip and one at the end.

Every year my office has a holiday party, and most of the time, it would be nearly impossible for us to attend, but this year we thought it could work! My mom agreed to watch our kids, so Matt and I headed down to the city for the party.

Even traffic in Chicago is romantic to me. You feel like you’re part of a huge monolith, something greater than yourself, pushing on toward progress. You can watch the city skyline, not knowing the story of each person in the cars or trains around you, but knowing that you are all part of this grand city together.

Eventually we made it to the party, which was so much fun! We had a private party at Bespoke Cuisine, where we worked together (with actual chefs) to create an appetizer, a salad, a main dish, and a dessert, all of which were exquisite, for our dinner. Many of the employees with my company have joined in the years since we’ve moved away from Chicagoland, so I don’t know them well, but I’ve known some of my colleagues for years and years, and it was such a joy to get to spend a few hours catching up with them in person!

I’m so thankful for the ways in which my job has flexed with our life over the years, and it has been a huge part of facilitating everything we are passionate about. It was really nice to get to spend some time with these people who have been a huge part of our lives for nearly 15 years!

The next time we went to Chicagoland, we brought the whole crew! One of Matt’s and my favorite places in Chicago is the Field Museum. We knew that with our kids’ current fascination with dinosaurs, they would be ecstatic about the opportunity to see Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex. Given our flexible travel schedule this trip and the fact that Sue will soon be taken down, not to appear in her new location in the museum until 2019, we thought this would be the perfect time to make the trip.

All of the kids were suitably impressed 🙂

As a homeschooling mom, I could not love stuff like this any more. We’re exploring the kids’ interests and passions and all learning together. SO COOL.

We did see some of the other collections (notably the Egyptian area), but we spent most of our time in the rest of the dinosaur exhibits 🙂

It was an expensive day, but we place a high value on experiences like this one. We love to spend time together, and we love to learn and to provide our kids with the opportunity to explore, in person, topics they’ve been reading about. They had many thoughts about dinosaur sizes and strength and time periods and other details they were learning about as we were making our way through the exhibits. It was an amazing day of exploring and learning together, and we were so, so glad we took advantage of the opportunity to make it happen!

And on our way back up to Wisconsin, we got to drive along my favorite Chicago route, Lakeshore Drive, and stop and see some good, long-time friends!

I’m so thankful for that day and thankful it all came together! It was nourishing to my soul to be able to spend some time in our old city this trip.

Homeschooling So Far This Year

My last few blog posts may have given the impression that my life these days consists entirely of adoption-related activities, but that’s actually not quite true! While my time and my heart are quite occupied with adoption, as the mama of three kiddos here at home, I have a lot of other things going on, too!

We are about mid-way through our 7th week of homeschooling, and when I shared about our curriculum for this year, I promised I’d write about how our school year was starting, so I want to do that now!

Honestly, I’m really happy with all the curriculum we’re using. The girls are plugging along with hand-writing, not really learning anything new per se, but continuing to hone their skills.

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Math is going well. Miranda regularly reports that math is her favorite subject, and she does well with it, though as she’s gotten older and the lessons are longer, she sometimes has a hard time staying on task and motivated for long enough to finish an entire assignment – but she understands the material and loves learning new concepts.

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I think I may have let Madeleine CaiQun speed through Kindergarten math a bit too fast last year, so this year we’ve taken some time to slow down and make sure she is really grasping the concepts being taught – I’ve had her use manipulatives when she isn’t coming up with the correct answers for addition and subtraction questions right away, and that helps her tremendously. Singapore Math seems to be very heavily a mental math curriculum, and while it’s awesome for Miranda, I’m not sure it will continue to work well for all of my kids all the time, but we’ll continue to re-evaluate that for each child as needed. One thing I love about homeschooling is that we have the freedom to do that 🙂

One area in which Madeleine CaiQun truly shines is reading. This girl loves to read and has grown in leaps and bounds in her reading ability in the last year and a half – I started her last year reading consonant-vowel-consonant words, and now she excels at the grade 2 readers I have her doing and could really probably be tackling more advanced books! She does enough of that on her own, though, that I think it’s good for her to hang in there with the grade 2 books for school, just getting some practice slowing down and enunciating as she reads out loud with these. Her consistency and desire to learn have really paid off in this area.

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It’s interesting to me that both girls recognize their own strengths and weaknesses and see where the other shines, as well, but neither appears to be jealous or angry about it.

We’re all enjoying the Bible and Language Arts curriculum we’re doing this year, and I see the girls learning in both arenas. We’re studying some characteristics of God this year, which has been cool. And in Language Arts, they’re beginning to learn about some simple grammar (i.e. nouns), memorize some poems, and acquire the basic building blocks for learning to spell. This Language Arts curriculum feels more focused and straightforward than what we were doing last year, so I feel good about making the choice to switch and try something new, and the girls like it better, too.

And, of course, we’re enjoying Sonlight’s read-alouds, the literature books I read out loud to the girls each day. We started off with Charlotte’s Web, and when we finished, we had a family movie night to enjoy the film!

I wasn’t sure what studying ancient history with 6-year-olds would really be like, but so far, it’s going well! We’ve learned about archaeological digs (and had a conference call with my brother, who spent a summer working on a dig in Italy!), and this week we’re reading about ancient Egypt, mummies, and King Tut.

In science, we’re learning about animals, and the girls are really enjoying that. The internet-linked capacity of our animal book is something they really love, getting to watch videos of many of the animals about which we read each day. We also took a day recently to drive to St. Louis with some friends and visit the zoo to see many of the animals firsthand (and, of course, to ride the train).

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I’d say the biggest struggle for me is fitting it all in each day – and the result is that we usually don’t fit it all in each day! I’m constantly going back and forth about whether that’s okay (they’re six! they learn through play! they don’t need to spend 5 hours a day doing school or hit every subject every day!) or whether I really need to get us on track now (we’re going to bring home another toddler soon, so we need to accomplish as much as possible before then! we should have a solid routine that allows us to accomplish everything each day! we should check things off our lists!). Being a checklist-oriented person, I still cringe inwardly every time I think of taking 8 days or so to do 5 days’ worth of scheduled work, but I also think it’s what’s working best for us now. We’ve had a number of doctor appointments recently, we’ve had adoption paperwork to do, we’ve taken advantage of some nice days to meet friends at the park, and I don’t want to sacrifice those things in order to guarantee that we hit every subject every day.

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The girls are learning and growing. We’re taking time to talk about character when needed – it may not be on any checklist, but I have to remind myself nearly every day that addressing character issues and teaching my kids about what it looks like to follow God is so much more important than getting through every subject on the list each day.

I do worry about how we’ll all adjust once we have two little mischief makers underfoot instead of just one, but I imagine we’ll figure it out 🙂

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And if it takes us more than a year to get through this year’s curriculum, but we do it well, so be it. They’re six, and it’ll be okay – or so I keep telling myself 🙂

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We’re spending time together as a family, learning about God and life, learning about the world, and (even if not as quickly as I’d like), checking off the boxes on our curriculum 🙂