Beautiful autumn

I have a love-hate relationship with autumn. I love all the beautiful colors, the  cooler weather and the fun things the season brings like apples, cinnamon, pumpkin pie and hot chocolate. But… autumn is the start of a long cold spell that only keeps getting worse for about 5 months before it starts getting better!

But let’s focus on the positive instead and let me show off the pretty colors in our neighborhood and some cute pictures of the kids!

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Ben enjoying our rope swing (it’s great for kids AND adults!)

We took a field trip to a pick-your-own farm about an hour’s drive from our home where we had loads of fun (blog post to come), and picked some apples. Some of them turned into yummy apple pie. Can’t really go wrong there!

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One afternoon after church, the light on the porch was just so pretty, and when Laurelin sat down on a pumpkin and started playing with the little pumpkins, I just ran to grab my camera and snapped a few shots. This was before the squirrels started attacking our pumpkins, making them look like the apples my kids start eating and then leave lying around the house: a bunch of bite marks, but no real attempt at finishing what’s been started.

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What we’re doing in homeschooling this year

We’ve been back in the full swing of the regular school year for a few months now, and I must admit that I find it hard to make the time to blog. It’s great to have the routines of school, but it does leave very little time for extra things, like blogging and other fun stuff.

This post will probably not interest most of you, but for those of you who homeschool, or are interested in doing it, or have an interest in education in general might find it interesting!

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* Bible — We use Leading Little Ones to God,  and we memorize Scripture passages and hymns. I hope to soon add in some of these character building topics too.
* Math — Singapore Math. Marica is doing Grade 3, and Esther is doing Grade 1. To enforce what they learn, they play NumberShark on the computer.
* Grammar/Writing — Esther is doing the Sing, Spell, Read and Write program which also includes spelling and comprehension; and Marica is doing Shurley English, supplemented with some writing from the Logos curriculum. They also write in their Thankfulness  Journals every day.
* Reading and comprehension from the Logos curriculum (for Marica).
* Stories and an appreciation for literature is important to us, so I read to the kids from a wide range of books: I pick books from the Sonlight Read-Aloud lists;  and every time we drive somewhere we listen to audio books (so far since the summer we’ve covered Ralph Mouse, The BFG, Little House on the Prairie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and a couple other ones I can’t remember!)
* Spelling from the Logos curriculum.
* Handwriting — Zaner-Bloser. Marica is doing Grade 4 cursive, and Esther is doing Grade 1.
* Typing — The kids do a touch-typing program called English Type, but we haven’t done that for a while.
* History — Story of the World. We all love it. I’ve learned more history doing this with the kids than ever before!
* Science — Noeo Science, Biology 1
* Spanish — Rosetta Stone Homeschool Edition
* Art — Lessons from Deep Space Sparkle
* Music — Weekly piano lessons and daily practice. Marica is quite likely going to start on violin next year too.
* P.E. —  Running outside, jumping on the trampoline, and weekly homeschool gymnastics classes (in which all three girls are progressing very well! I keep being impressed with their various jumps and contortions.) Esther will be adding ballet to the mix after Christmas.
* Socialization (the ever-present worry of outsiders!): Our bi-weekly co-op where they are in classes with peers, and a weekly lunch date with friends after gymnastics class, plus playdates. On top of that we host a lot of people for meals and through that and church the kids get to interact with people of all ages. No, they’re not in a group with peers for 6 hours a day, and that is one of the big reasons why we homeschool! :-)

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Of course, we don’t do all of these things every single day! We generally do school from about 8.30/9am till about 1.30/2pm, with a short break for morning tea. By lunchtime I’m DONE and need a break! During the afternoon we take an hour of quiet time for reading or playing or crafts and after that the kids have free time to play, create, put on shows (Ben and I are regularly invited to shows of their creation, and they’re usually hilarious), etc.

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Marica making her own flashcards now that she knows all of her times tables

Some days we get a lot done, sometimes not so much — largely dependent on how Laurelin is doing and whether she’s entertaining herself or making a nuisance of herself!

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For someone who said that she’d NEVER homeschool, I’m grateful for the journey God has brought me on. I’m loving it (most days!), and so are the kids. Of course, there are days we all just want to quit, but that happens with kids who go to school too! For us, this is a year-by-year thing that we’ll keep evaluating, but for as long as this suits us and our kids, we will keep doing it. :-)

CCEF’s 2015 conference

A couple of weekends ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel down to Virginia Beach for this year’s CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) Conference. The topic of this year’s conference was Side by Side: How God helps us help each other. I was incredibly blessed by the speakers who were knowledgeable and so humble in their presentations. I learned so much, and grew in my understanding of how I could come alongside others in their walk through life’s difficulties — not with all the answers, but to be there with and for them.

I drove down to the conference with 3 friends from church. It was a really beautiful drive!

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I was really thankful that we drove down instead of flying (not that that was really an option), because it gave us a total of about 16 hours’ worth of talking time in the car (plus more over the time we were there!). Conversation ranged from serious to hilarious, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there was no more than 15 minutes of total silence during our trips! I’m thankful that I could get to know Julie, Naomi and Jen better — to learn from them, to laugh with them (there were some gut-splitting laughing times), pray with them, and just enjoy them.

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I don’t know how much longer this will be available online, but for now you can view many of the sessions here. If you don’t have hours to dedicate to watching these, and want to choose just one, then choose the first talk by Ed Welch on Our Neediness Is God’s Gift.  I have often felt ill-equipped to help others because of my acute awareness of my own failings and struggles. And then the very first session I get told that my failings and struggles — my neediness — is something that I should even grow in, that when I feel inadequate and weak, that’s a perfect start for ministry. Because having a keen sense of my own neediness eliminates a lot of potential hurt because I’m not approaching others with an “I know what you need” mentality. It made me realize that my feelings of inadequacy and my failings are not and should not be a hindrance to walking alongside others in ministry. In fact, it is necessary and beneficial. It was such a blessing to hear that!

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Oh, I should add a little something about our nighttime excitement. The first couple of nights we had super loud planes from the nearby  Air Force base. On the night we arrived, we were unloading the car when one of them flew over us and it shook everything — I thought the plane was about to crash on top of us, it was so loud! Then, on the last night we were woken up by the hotel’s emergency alarm. Let’s just say that it’s very disorienting to wake up to that sound and to then think clearly enough to throw on some shoes and a jacket and grab your valuables. Yes, I know, you’re not really supposed to do that… but I did. I’m such a rebel. We went outside with the whole rest of the hotel and stood outside in the cold in our pajamas waiting for the fire department to arrive. They came and we were eventually allowed to wait in the lobby. After a long wait, we were given the all clear. We went back to our rooms, got nicely settled in bed, switched off the light, and then literally 2 seconds later the alarm went off again (!). Both times turned out to be a technical fault (or that is what we were told, anyway). Still, a fun little add-on story of the weekend!

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If any of you ever have the chance to attend one of CCEF’s annual conferences, I’d highly recommend it! Next year’s conference is going to be on the topic of emotions, and is set to be in Chattanooga, TN.

Marica’s newest yummy dish

Marica recently got a cookbook out of the library and was looking through it one afternoon. She came to me and said, “I’m going to make Stromboli, and I don’t want you to help me.” Sure! I told her to go ahead and call me if she needed any help, but she didn’t need any help. Look at the awesome results! Both beautiful and tasty.

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Marica’s recipe repertoire is growing and there are now a few dishes she can make without any help. I love that this is something she wants to do all of her own volition. She enjoys it, she’s good at it, and I get a night off! Win-win, in my book!


I was recently talking with Ben about a blogger whose blog I follow. I really respect her and appreciate her blog immensely, but the frequency with which she puts out quality blog posts about stuff they’ve done or made, and about the amazing things they do in their homeschool was making me feel like she must be some super woman. And then I remembered… we bloggers only show you the stuff that we choose to show you.

So, here’s my disclaimer:

You don’t see the bad attitudes, the melt-downs, the fussing (of both children and adults),

you don’t see our bad habits,

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you don’t see our messes,  our failures, our disrespect, our selfishness, our brokenness.

We do this partly because the daily and the mundane just doesn’t seem worthy of sharing, and partly because here on our blog we’ve chosen quite deliberately not to share mopey stuff. Sure, I’ve been tempted numerous times to have a moan about how hard it can be do be far from family, or the challenges of homeschooling, or whatever. And I might even write about that stuff sometime in the future, but I’ll work hard at it not being a rant or a complaining session. Because mopeyness encourages more mopeyness, and who wants to read a discouraging blog?

Ironically, on the other hand, a blog that always portrays only the good stuff could also be discouraging to the reader. They might think that they don’t do xyz like such and such a blogger does, so they must not be good parents, or homemakers, or that they’re not giving their children what they need, or whatever.

Also, we keep this blog alive for the main purpose of staying in touch with lots of people we love who are spread all over the world. We don’t really fit a blogging theme of “homeschool blog” or “theologically thoughtful blog” or whatever. We’re just sharing what we’ve been up to, some of the stuff we’re reading or thinking about or experiencing. Now that the weather is cooling down and we have a more structured daily life, we actually do fewer exciting things and you might see more thinky posts. If I get time to write them. :-)

While we’re on that topic, what kinds of things would you like us to write about? Anything you’re burning to know, or might find helpful? Let us know!

Summary of summer, part 4

So, last week I mentioned how we traveled to Indiana for cousin Sharon’s and Vijo’s wedding in August. Despite the 13 hour trip each way, we were so happy that we could go and also that we could spend time with other Hoyt family members. We drove out on a Thursday and back on a Monday, so that meant that we had three full days there, which was great. We wanted to make the most of hanging out with family as much as possible!

Some roadstop sights: the pretty wings of a dead butterfly, a bird pooped in Laurelin’s hair, and a living room on wheels.

On the Thursday evening I got to attend Sharon’s lingerie party, which was fun. It was nice to meet some of her friends and help fold some origami birds for the reception decoration.

We helped a little with the set-up for the reception, many others helped a lot. There were tables and chairs to set out, about a million table cloths that needed ironing, and I think 300+ place settings that had to be laid out. It turned out pretty nicely, I think!

On Friday a friend of Sharon’s had been barbecuing loads of pork, which we got together and pulled in the afternoon after set-up for the reception the next day. The flowers were also getting put into vases at that point, so I managed to snag a few nice shots of them. The reception dinner was a lovely low-key affair with pizza and soda (Ben and I did that too!).

Saturday morning a bunch of us got together at a nice park next to Center Lake where the children played and the adults got some catching-up done over a potluck picnic.

Then, for the big event! Sharon and Vijo’s wedding was a lovely relaxed affair. However, I’m afraid that Ben and I were having a rather eventful time instead of a relaxed time during the ceremony. As we walked into the sanctuary, I noticed that Laurelin (who had been getting increasingly cranky over the previous two hours) was breaking out in hives. I realized at that point that she must have consumed some sort of peanut product at the picnic in the morning — it usually takes her about two hours before she breaks out. She was crazy itchy, so I took her out to hunt for some Benadryl. A kind lady who was there to help with the reception preparations went out and bought some for her, as her hives were turning into one massive body-covering hive. I had an epipen with me, but didn’t really want to use it unless she started having trouble breathing, which she was not. So, finally the benadryl came, and I gave her some. At this point she was super unhappy! Ben came out so I could see a little bit of the wedding. He took her to the foyer so he could see the last bit of the wedding. Just as the happy couple were preparing to walk back down the aisle, Laurelin threw up right where they’d have to walk! Ben grabbed a loose rug and threw it over it so they didn’t have to walk through vomit, at least… It all got cleaned up in the end, including Ben and Laurelin. As a result of the Benadryl, Laurelin then peacefully slept all through the reception in a pack and play next to our table and woke up much better! So, all that to say that I’m sure the ceremony was lovely — the 10 minutes or so I saw certainly was!

Oh, and in case you were wondering what caused the reaction: I had bought some cashew nuts (which she can eat with no problem) for the picnic. What I didn’t realize was that the cashews had been roasted in peanut oil, and I didn’t even think to check. Ugh. Lesson learned!

I wish I got more photos of the ceremony and reception — especially of Sharon’s immediate family, but that couldn’t really be helped!

On the Sunday we attended Sharon’s home church, then went back to our lovely hosts’ home for naps after which we joined the rest of the family for a last chance at hanging out to chat, show off strength and prowess, sing, and swing dance.

We were so thankful to be able to go to Vijo and Sharon’s wedding! Thanks for inviting us, you guys! And while a 13 hour drive each way with small children is not what I (or anyone, I think) would call fun, it was totally worth it — for the wedding itself and for the opportunity to spend some time with some pretty awesome people.

A summary of summer, part 3

August was filled to the brim with activity. We said goodbye to our Chinese exchange students, and celebrated Ben’s birthday.

We swam a few times in our friend’s nearby pool, but also did a fun day trip out to go swim at a water hole our friend Sarah knows about. We joined Sarah and 3 of her kids and our friends the Wassermans and enjoyed a beautiful day out in nature under the trees. The water was very cold, but it didn’t seem to stop the kids!

One day, I took the three girls to all get their hair cut. It was Laurelin’s first time at a hairdresser, and she did remarkably well and sat surprisingly still. This was serious business! Esther was adamant that she didn’t want a haircut, but she needed a trim, so the hairdresser cut off only a little bit. Marica, however, was sick of having long hair again and had been begging me for months to get a haircut. So off it all came again, much to my dismay… seeing those beautiful blonde curls scattered on the floor! But I have to admit that her new haircut suits her well and looks pretty, so I can’t really complain.

One evening we went and used some vouchers for fast food that the girls earned through the reading program at the library, and ate it in a park across the street. The food was awful (from WhiteCastle), but there was this butterfly that kept landing on Esther, and she loved it!

Summer also saw Laurelin getting potty trained. All I can say is that I’m glad we have hardwood floors! The beginning was slow, but then she got the idea. Poopooth (as she calls them) took a little longer to master. One time she got them *on* the toilet — the toilet seat! (I’ll spare you the photo!) But now, a month or so later, she’s doing really well and going everywhere in undies (mostly without accidents) except to bed at night. :-)

Our friends the Wassermans invited us to spend a weekend with them up in Vermont at their family’s holiday house. In New Zealand we would call this kind of house a bach, but I don’t know what they call it here. Other than awesome. :-) It was wonderful to wake up and look out the window and see the sunlight filtering through all the green. It was quiet and restful and altogether wonderful!

We also had a fun day at the zoo with our friends the Rodriguezes,

and a beach day with our friends the Murphys and my friend Kristen and her kids. I added that last photo simply for those who like to people-watch (it’s a double whammy). New York beaches will just never disappoint when it comes to people watching!

Ben has dreamed of putting up a rope swing in the big tree in our front yard almost since we moved in, and it finally happened in August! Since these photos were taken, he’s put a better seat on it. Let me just say that this swing is even fun for adults!

However, the biggest event in August was probably our roadtrip out to Indiana for cousin Sharon’s wedding. I have quite a lot of photos from that, so I’ll share them in next week’s post.