Monday, June 24, 2013

School Planning Brain Dump

Every few  months, I need to write an angst ridden post about what to do for school with the kids.  So, here it is.  After this, I should be good for about six months.

I’m taking the time (summertime) to evaluate how last school year went and figure out what to do for the coming school year.  The difficult thing about homeschooling isn’t so much WHAT to teach, it’s WHEN and HOW.  If there was one thing I could drive home to folks who don’t homeschool, it’s this: homeschooling is not like public school.  No matter how you try, you cannot, cannot, CANNOT schedule your time like public school.  Believe me, I have TRIED. 

I bought a homeschool planner and filled out a week’s worth, almost to the MINUTE with a school schedule and assignments. It was beautiful.  It was even color coordinated.  I trained my kids on how to read the schedule, so at least the big kids could follow it on their own while I worked with the younger ones.  You want to know how long that schedule lasted?

An hour and a half.

After that first ninety minutes, we were already behind on assignments, and I was so stressed out I was screaming at the kids to get back on task.  Not awesome.  And I hadn’t taken into account things like the dentist appointments that I’d scheduled during math and grammar. 

I tried again the next day, but again, I was so stressed out trying to stay on schedule (with resistant kids who didn’t want to get up on time, at a generous 9 freaking o’ clock!) that we abandoned the stupid thing.  It was a matter of all or nothing, and in order not to kill anyone, I abandoned the schedule to go with nothing.  To use an art analogy, I’m more Jackson Pollack than paint-by-number.

I struggle with this.  I can accept that I’m not a meticulous, detail oriented person, but my children (some of them, anyway) need more structure to feel successful (and not drive me crazy demanding to know what we’re going to do next and when.)  I feel like I need a more measurable, results-focused plan, and I need to stick with it, but I suck at making flexible plans.  These are the times when I sink into despair and think “I can’t do this.  I’m ruining the kids. They’ll never get into college and it will be all my fault.”

I think my biggest issue is creating boundaries.  I am so easily distracted and such a bleeding heart that I will say yes to just about anything—to the detriment of schedule and plans.  I don’t want to be left out, I want to try new things, I don’t want to be bored.  I want the kids to have fun and lots of life experience.  But at the expense of academics?

My kids are very well read and articulate.  But they are behind in some of the more “technical skills” like math and science.  This stresses me out—but I HATE math and science.  I don’t want to.  I am trying to figure out how to love and be excited about math and science, but those are the subjects that killed me in school and turned me off to continuing in college. I was afraid of math and science.  I don’t want that for my kids, but I don’t have the mental fortitude to forge ahead with them.  Even the thought of making a baking soda volcano or raising butterflies from mail order caterpillars makes me want to run screaming from the room and hide in a dark closet somewhere.  Gloria is coming up on learning the times tables and I’m breathing into a paper bag over this.  I just don’t think I can do it.

And yet, I don’t want to put the kids in public school—I want to conquer this.  Do I hire a tutor? Do I join a co-op? Succumb to an online school? Do I just give up and put my precious, amazing, kids back in public school, where I won’t see them for hours and am beholden to a schedule not of my own design (including school events, homework, and the dreaded homework folder???) 

See? Angst.  It’s awful.  It makes me want to hit something. But, I’ll figure it out.  I may have to declare a moratorium on everything BUT math and science for the coming year.  I can’t imagine that will go over well, but I need to do something. 

Fortunately, I know these feelings are just part of a cycle---and it will roll around again and I’ll feel on top of the world and the kids will be doing just fine—but right now, at the low point—worried about what I’m NOT giving/providing/teaching the kids makes it hard to see what we’ve gained, what we’ve learned, and how much we’ve accomplished. Part of the cycle involves sitting at the bottom for awhile, fretting and stressing until I can’t stand it anymore, and finding inspiration and hope.  I’m not trying to wallow in a pity party, here—it’s just part of the rhythm of our lifestyle.  While I’m down here, I’ll explore my options, re-evaluate my methods, and my desires, and take the kids strengths, weaknesses, and desires into account.  We’ll figure it out.

The kids will be fine.  They’ll be successful.  They’ll get what they need.  For now, I just need to breathe into a paper bag.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Way to Go, Idaho! The Cornerstone Bistro

cornerstone black and white

For Mothers’ Day, Julio surprised me with a “chef’s table” dinner at the Cornerstone Bistro in downtown Caldwell. (Quite a drive for us, but SO VERY WORTH IT!)  The restaurant is on the second floor of an old building and is touted as “elegant rustic.” I love the description from their website:

“For the epicurean adventurer, our Chef's table is a unique dining experience focused on seasonal, regionally sourced ingredients. Unlike dining in a typical American restaurant, our guests are seated European style at a communal table. This is designed to foster exciting  conversation with new found friends, over an expertly prepared meal. Our Chef Benjamin Thorpe will be joining you to personally present each course and to discuss the inspiration behind each menu selection.”

“Elegant rustic” certainly sums up the décor and the ambience. After hiking up lumpy, carpeted stairs of an old small town building, we arrived at what appeared to be the remnants of a Mexican restaurant. There was a large stucco water fountain (empty) and the floor looked like it had been stripped to the subflooring and painted over in trendy colors. There were alcoves with clay tiles, hacienda style. The lighting was low and intimate and the tables were set with fancy placemats and mismatched flatware.  I am always amazed at people who can pull off that kind of thing—if I try to do “elegant rustic” I end up with “messy” but this place was immaculate. Once in the dining room, we were seated at one end of a table for 12.  We were the first to arrive, so it was fun to watch the other diners arrive and choose their seats. We knew no one else, but that didn’t stop us from making introductions and chatting.

Chef Ben came out and talked with us about what we’d be having for dinner. He was big, friendly, and excited to have us. (He looks all GQ in the photo, but he’s so approachable.  In fact, one gal at the table asked if she could take Chef Ben home with her. (Ben’s wife informed us that he regularly gets marriage proposals from folks who love his food.)  He talked to everyone about their preferences (there were two vegetarians and one gluten-free person) and made substitutions for them that made the rest of us wish we were vegans and allergic to wheat!  Ben told us we would not go away hungry and if we were still hungry after dessert, to let him know and he’d make sure that was solved.  He needn’t have worried.  All courses were portioned perfectly.  (Ben told us over dessert that he always makes extra and his servers love it, because if his patrons don’t eat it, they can have it!)  I was half tempted to say I was still hungry just so I could take extras home!

chef ben thorpe

The food was amazing.  Our menu:

Spring greens salad with gin vinaigrette and lime relish
Roasted pepper and tomato bisque
Seared scallop with root vegetable mousse finished with herb white wine creme
Prime rib loin with Cabernet gastrique over Pommes gratin
Cannoli limonatta

Everything tasted so light and fresh! I wish we’d taken pictures, because everything was beautifully presented.

We loved the food, the atmosphere and our servers (some teen boys in jackets, black toques, and board shorts.)


I will say that the group of folks we ate with were older, foodies, and a bit stodgy, except for the gal that sat next to me, who got more entertaining with each wine pairing.  Everyone was fascinated by Julio, which is natural, given his exotic good looks, charming hint of an accent, and his wit. 

At any rate, we loved the ambience, the food, Chef Ben and his tribe, and can’t wait to go back (only next time, we’re inviting friends, so the conversation can be as stellar as the food!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

To Love Another Person is to See the Face of God

gla older kids

A few years ago, my husband and I looked into adoption and in our research into international programs, discovered God’s Littlest Angels, an orphanage in the mountains above Petion-Ville in Haiti.  I spent hours on their website, reading everything there and then on their various blogs. We learned that we didn’t qualify to adopt from Haiti (because we had more than one biological child at home) but I was taken in by the passionate writing of the then NICU nurse, Susan Westwood, who served the sickest, smallest children at the orphanage itself and the surrounding areas.

Eventually, our adoption exploration ended, but I’ve kept up with the GLA blogs and followed the experiences of the staff and children.

Last year, on May 31, the orphanage saw a huge influx of extra children (21 of them!) brought over from another orphanage that had been shut down due to abuse and neglect. Reading the blog posts about the impending arrival, the actual arrival, and the initial struggles of trying to assist and settle the new children just crushed us.  The orphanage was already home to 65 children and babies—who now had their world interrupted by the new arrivals AND had to be protected from the illnesses and issues the new kids had.  GLA was in need of financial and spiritual support.

They posted pictures of each of the new children, who all looked angry at best, dead eyed at worst, and severely malnourished.  It was impossible not to be moved by the desperate state the kids were in.  (Side note: go HERE to see how far many of these kids have come in a year’s time under the care of GLA!)

Because we had followed GLA for years—had a “history” with it--via blog posts, e-mails, and photos about the kids, the staff, and the building projects, we knew it was a legitimate place to send aid.  We contacted the sponsorship coordinator and committed to sponsor a child---helping to pay for food, clothing, medication, or other needs specific to that child. The sponsorship program has been in place for years, and I wish now that we had done it years ago instead of waiting for a crisis to move us to action.

We were given the option to choose which child we wanted to sponsor—one of the new kids or one of the established ones—but we didn’t feel that was our decision to make.  How do you look at the photos of so many souls and make that kind of decision? We asked the staff at GLA to choose a child for us.  They know who needs what most.  We waited impatiently for a couple of weeks—checking our e-mail inbox several times a day, speculating which child would be chosen for us.  We started praying for our sponsor child, even though we didn’t know who it would be.  It felt like an eternity before we got the e-mail!

On June 25, 2012, our family fell in love with her:


This is Rosegaelle. She is one of the 65 “established” children at GLA.  She was there before last year’s influx of children.

She is three years old in the photo above, and she speaks Kreyol. At the time this photo was taken (last June) she had been in the orphanage for about eight months.  Her mother was extremely ill and her father couldn’t provide enough for her, so they took her to GLA and relinquished Rosegaelle for adoption.  I cannot even imagine their agony over this.

As her sponsors, we provide 30 dollars per month toward her care.  We are given a monthly update on her growth and development, including her height, weight, a photo, and any anecdotes about her that the staff have to share.  We have been asked by the GLA staff to pray for her, and often the monthly updates ask us to pray for specific needs she has.  We have taken these prayer requests very seriously.

And we don’t just pray for Rosegaelle.  We pray for the staff at GLA, the nannies, and we recently learned that Rosegaelle has been matched with an adoptive family.  (We will remain her sponsors until she is able to go home to them….which could be weeks, months, even years!)  And we pray most fervently for Rosegaelle’s birth family to find comfort, peace, and the resources they need to provide for themselves and their family so they never have to relinquish another child.

Prior to becoming involved with GLA and the sponsorship program, my knowledge about orphans was limited, my compassion for birth families minimal.  But as I have gotten involved with GLA, I have discovered a whole world of information and issues surrounding adoption, orphans, and poverty—especially as it relates to international adoption and the orphan crisis.

I used to think that orphans were kids whose parents were dead. I now understand that poverty creates orphans whose parents are still alive.

I used to think that birth families must not have really wanted their kids if they gave them up for adoption. I now know this is hardly EVER the case. 

I used to be so inspired by stories of folks heading to far off lands to build orphanages. I now know that is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb.

I used to think that poor, third world families were ignorant and irresponsible.  I now know this is untrue.

I used to think that international adoption was ALWAYS the best option for orphaned children. I now know that is only a good and realistic solution for a few, and that taking a child out of his native land, away from his native language and culture is not always in the child’s best interest. A loving family, who has only the resources to provide just the barest of essentials is better than ANY orphanage or adoptive situation.  We do not have a corner on the market of parental love and privilege does not automatically make us “better” to parent someone else’s child.

I also know that there will always be a need for safe havens for orphaned and abandoned children. God’s Littlest Angels is one of these.

This is a big, fat post about issues I have become passionate about.  I am still learning, and I want to say that I am NOT anti-adoption.  I just know that adoption is not the answer for everyone and I am passionate about dispelling the myths and prejudices surrounding adoption, poverty, and finding ways to truly help the most vulnerable people in the world.

We will likely never meet our sponsor child, Rosegaelle, nor her adoptive family, nor her birth family—but we have been so blessed to be a part of her life.  It feels unfair, because through sponsoring her, we have gained so much knowledge, so much more compassion.  People often tell me we are wonderful for sponsoring, but I think I will slug the next person who says that, because it’s SO not about us being awesome.  What we have gained spiritually and intellectually from doing this…it has opened our eyes to a whole world of need and awakened and fueled a desire to respectfully assist and listen to the most vulnerble, most needy people.  We are learning to listen to their needs and work with them and advocate FOR them, rather than swoop down and try to FIX them.

I hope in reading this, you feel moved to DO something. In fact, I’m asking you to please DO something.  Please, please consider assisting and advocating for these children and families:

God’s Littlest Angels: Child Sponsorships Click on the link to learn more about the sponsorship program, and click on the photos below to be taken to that child’s page.  GLA’s hope is to have ten sponsors for each child.  There is also a school sponsorship program through GLA, which helps poverty stricken children attend school—something only 1 in 3 Haitian children have the opportunity to do.  The school sponsorship program is currently undergoing some changes, so I’ll post the updated information as it becomes available.

AbygaelleBeatriceBeny and Chantel (Nanny) - July 2012 Take 3


CarineChristianDavidson The Older


DjenyloveErick MarkensonFaland

FedoGethro Guerson


JackyJeanRismondJohn Love

JudelineJulenord JuniorKendy

LauroreMarie ThereseMario



Osmaika and MakiPetersonRainika




YvensonChristian (ti) - February 2013Elysèe - February 2013-08