Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

We had a great time for Halloween this year! Instead of just a ward activity, it was a multi-ward affair. There was a huge carnival with face painting, cookie decorating, bowling with pumpkins, blowing through a straw obstacle course, doughnuts on a line, Meet a Princess, popcorn and a pirate ship. And there was a trunk or treat, but in an effort to keep the sugar to minimum for mom and dad, and for the girls as well, we offered the girls a toy instead of candy. We are thrilled that they picked the toy! Whew! I don't think they felt jipped in any way, though. They ate plenty of candy and cookies at the carnival. So much so that Monica said, "Uh, I don't feel very good, Mom. I think I'm going to throw up." To which, Leah replied, "My tummy hurts a little bit. Actually it hurts a lot." We had a great time dressing up and mingling with our friends. We sure love Las Cruces!

Monica and Leah both wanted to be princesses this year. I think they were far more excited about wearing some makeup than their actual dresses!  Ryan and I decided to be Gnomeo and Juliet. And we were going to have Jillian be a garden bush, but I couldn't find enough green for her. So she ended up being a gnome with us. Blue dress, red hat. (If you haven't seen "Gnomeo and Juliet", it's the Reds against the Blues. Super cute movie!)

 When I finished doing Monica's eye makeup, she opened her eyes and I was just awestruck. I told Ryan we were in trouble. I almost had to redo Monica's makeup. She thought I said she was in trouble!

 Our sweet girl.

 Oh, Gnomeo, Gnomeo. Wherefore art thou, Gnomeo?

 Sweet Jill! She didn't quite know what to think of her hat.

Beautiful, Leah. She fell asleep while I was curling Monica's hair, so she was a "get ready right before we go" girl. She didn't seem to mind. 
 Cinderella (Sara Hicks) and Snow White (my visiting teaching companion, Michelle McDonough) sewed their dresses. They turned out amazingly well!

 Leah kept cracking me up. She'd blow through the straw and then toss the ball forward with her hand!
Got it!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A New Direction

Today is Sunday, October 23, 2011. I feel like I am standing at the precipice of a monumental move in my family's life- the undertaking of my children's education. I feel divinely inspired to take on this task. There is so much that I feel. This post is specifically for me, to remind myself of the feelings and pondering that have led me here in the moments I want to throw it all up in the air and declare defeat.
First of all, it is not the teachers' fault that we have made this decision. I must not blame them. I believe that the vast majority of them feel the call to arms and have a great passion for teaching our nation's children. But they are stuck in a system that stifles their natural talents for teaching and inspiring. I believe, that if left to their own creativity, without the demands of national standardization, the great equalizer, our teachers would be far more effective, our children would be far more inspired to learn and study, and they would be far more successful. 

Secondly, I need to remember my resolve to create a sure foundation for my children to stand on. When questions that don’t seem to have answers build stress along the fault line between the world and the gospel, the resulting quake can cause casualties of faith among those whose foundations are weak. In spiritual tectonics, it is not our proximity to the epicenter that determines the quake’s effect on our testimony but our proximity to God.- Adam C Olson I don't know exactly what kind of pressures my children will be called upon to face. But one thing is sure, the line between what is right and wrong is being grayed at every turn. General social acceptance, or being "politically correct", has led to mass confusion among the youth. There are more and more voices just talking and saying that anything goes, morality has no value, so that the minority of voices shouting of truth can hardly be heard. 100 years ago, things that were morally taboo were generally discovered in the late teenage, early adulthood years. 50 years ago, they were commonly accepted in the college years. 40 years ago, it began its infiltration of common acceptance in the high school years. 20 years ago, the middle school years. And in the last decade, the formative elementary school years. And the age they are exposed to the most vile filth continues to get younger and younger. 

There are some wonderful things about our world, outside of school. It is not all bad. The social pecking order, negative social constructs of those with morals, bullying, and overall negative influences are something my girls will have to eventually face. And they may likely face it in places I haven't even thought of. But I want them to have a sure foundation in the teachings of the gospel before they do. I want their education to be at their pace, to not be held back when they are ready to run, and to not be sped up when they need a little more time. I want their love of learning to be fostered in a loving place where they are free to be silly and free to not be the same as everyone else, to develop their own individual strengths. The prophets have warned that there will come a day when reading scriptures together as a family and having a family prayer once a day will not be enough. I think that day is already here. It's not about how evil the world is, because there is an equal amount of good and that is what we want to focus on. It's about building a testimony, where they have the knowledge and know how to put it into practice, of how to discern right from wrong. It's about them remaining sensitive to right and wrong.

Next, it's absolutely about education. I remember the day I realized I knew nothing. Random bits of information, here and there. But overall, I felt cheated that in twelve years, I came away with very little actual knowledge. I learned how to get good grades. I learned how to be likable, and do the minimum input to get the maximum output. I had a small handful of teachers who really inspired me and pushed me against my own potential, not everyone else's. But school was most definitely a social game that you could not pay me to go back and do again. Now, as a mother, I vehemently believe that my children deserve far better. And with the sheer amount of books written on the "dumbing down" of America, I really am my children's best hope of getting consistent, quality education.

This decision is not a commentary on my parents. They did the best they could with the resources they had and by all accounts, I got a decent education comparatively. I'm a stellar reader and have a natural gift for spelling. I was encouraged to develop my talents and they shelled out good money for me to, as I believe, learn at the feet of a master in my music studies. My values and standards are already established. I chose them for myself, wholly and completely while I was in college, out on my own after having been taught righteously. I am truly grateful. But I think the day will quickly be here when my children will have to choose for themselves before they leave my nest. 

And they will shine brightly. Of that, I have no doubt. They will be beacons of light for their friends who struggle. They will help to heal a broken society. Monica will bring empathy and comfort. Her heart is naturally tuned that way. Leah will bring laughter and peace. Her heart is naturally tuned that way. Add confidence to them both and I foresee a powerhouse between them. Jillian is yet to be determined, but I have no doubts that Heavenly Father has entrusted to me bright minds, willing hearts, and trusting spirits to guide back to Him. I cannot fail. And right now, this, homeschooling, is our greatest hope for success. I know it isn't for everyone. And I need to remember that. 
When I consider if I have the ability and strength to follow through, I need to consider that I have been blessed to teach and promised special blessings for my efforts. I will need to read my patriarchal blessing. I will need to remember when Ryan deployed to Iraq, after I'd only been in Germany for a few weeks, it would have been really easy to turn right back around and go back to the United States and either stayed with my parents or in-laws for that time. But I stuck it out. And I had some of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had, through both deployments. I will need to remember that I went back to school when I was 27 and slowly finished a liberal arts associates degree. I'm still working towards my bachelor's degree in English in creative writing. I haven't given up on that and I will be thirty years old in February. When I learned that my diet was the root of a lot of my issues, I had to cut out the vast majority of my favorite foods. But I haven't given up on that either. I started a family blog in early 2008. We are nearing our fourth year of keeping that going. And with every single one of these endeavors, I have felt a sense of obedience to God's will for me, just as I feel it now with homeschooling. And have felt His hand leading and guiding me and at times patting me on the back as if to say, "Well done. Keep going." I have been creating a new habit of following through. So I really need not fear that I will just give up. 

Finally, I need to remember my enthusiasm and excitement for this endeavor. Not only do I get to teach my children, I get to learn alongside them. I get to study with them and discover the world and share those discoveries with them and witness firsthand their excitement or boredom. With Heavenly Father's help, I can tailor their curriculum to their individual needs. Sharing a learning experience, watching the light bulb flash on is a treasured experience I have shared with many students at the piano. I look forward to that with my own precious children!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Family Photos

It's been a tradition over the last four years that we take a family photo when we select our pumpkins. There is something about Fall photos that I love. 
Maybe it's just because they are easier because no one is freezing their tushie off, or burning up. The weather is just asking for you to take a photo. So we kept the tradition alive and have this year's pictures at the pumpkin patch. 

I love this shot that Ryan got of Jill. Look closely in her eyes. You can see a beautiful scene!

Mesilla Valley Pumpkin Patch 2011

Probably the cutest outlaws the West has ever seen.

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had three girls and couldn't keep 'em...

Headed to the top of the mountain...
Can you see Leah?

Isaac, Monica, and Leah
This picture reminded me of the evolution chart.

Lesa and I went to the top of the slides to see if Ashlynne and Leah needed our help. 
Yeah, we weren't necessary. Mom? Pssh. That's what big sisters and big brothers are for. Those slides were actually pretty fun!

This is how we roll.

The Miller bunch. 
And Leah.
Who we did not see behind them until later.

Even right there as I took the picture, I didn't recognize it was her until they reached the bottom of the slide. HAHA!

Lesa and Chase.

Jillian loved gnawing on this apple. 
It kept her occupied while the rest of us went on a horse-drawn ride to see the pumpkins. Ryan opted to stay and watch all our stuff and contemplate the universe.  

Ashlynne, Leah, Chase and Isaac in front of the horses.

Jillian, Music Maker

Why is it that only babies can get away with seriously mismatching and still be cute???
Anyways, Jillian is loving the piano. She stands just tall enough that when she reaches up she can play the keys. I tried getting a picture of her reaching up for the keys but she kept turning around every time she heard the camera focus. I'll keep trying because it is seriously adorable!

Our Little Artist

Every week at the Farmer's Market downtown, there is an artist who draws on the street. He is amazing and Monica asked if we could talk to him the last time we were there. We asked him a few questions about how he got so good and how old he was when he started drawing. I expected the normal, "practice makes perfect" response, which is what we tell Monica when she is disappointed in her work, but he said something that stuck with me. 

Not only was art regularly encouraged, but he said his mom sat down and drew with him and his brothers every day. He said she would get huge sheets of butcher paper and then just tape one to the kitchen table and everyone would take a side and draw. Leah likes to draw and color, too. But I'm not sure we can do the whole butcher paper thing just yet. However, we do have a nice-sized patio. And lots of colored chalk. During piano lessons this last week, Monica set to work. Monica has been getting better, for sure, but this drawing was the first time Ryan and I have been really impressed. She has two sides of artsy fartsy in her genes. I'm excited for her! Her skill is really starting to be honed.

Nothing is safe!

For months, Jillian has been a pro at Army crawling. She really makes her daddy proud. But at 9 months old, she discovered real crawling, up on her knees, with its accompanying speed. Now she really takes off and this girl is fast! I honestly cannot recall Monica or Leah crawling as fast as Jill does. At least not without being chased. So now I have to be even more on guard, because not only is she fast, but she has been standing and pulling herself up on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! I was in the garage changing laundry, for maybe a minute, and when I came back in to the living room, Jill was gone. I found her in my bedroom and she had already had some fun emptying Ryan's bottom drawer!