About Me · Faith · Family

An Up and Down Sort of Week

After months and months of the cold Manitoba winter and the heaviness of Covid restrictions, I have to say, I see a light at the end of the tunnel and feel fresh hope that hasn’t been there for a very long time.

I mean, it’s almost spring.

This week, the sun has been out, the birds are chirping and I’ve gotten to reconnect with many people who are very dear to my heart. As the current rules are still quite strict, it has been tricky navigating it all, but I think I have found a semblance of balance and sanity.

A couple days ago our provincial government proposed a few changes to the current restrictions. They say this is the biggest jump in freedoms since our circuit breaker lockdown started back in November. Here’s the list of those that would affect me (there’s a huge list of other proposals that make little to no difference in my current stage of life):

  • Only two designated households allowed to meet, both have to choose each other exclusively.
  • Only groups of ten (plus those living at the household) allowed outside on private residence.
  • Churches open at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less.
  • Businesses, retail, restaurants open at 50% capacity.
  • Sports, swimming pools, libraries, recreation, day camps, gyms, etc. allowed to open in varying capacity.
  • Masks mandatory in all public buildings.

Seeing as one of our only ways to legally see people right now is outdoors, we’ve been having a LOT of outdoor hot tub nights and winter firesides, which I have to say is an entirely new concept to me. I live in Canada; firesides are for summer. However, as long as the wind isn’t strong and the temperatures are close to zero Celsius, I actually have to admit that it has all been quite lovely. This is being said by someone who despises winter. I wish I could live some place warm, by the ocean, but my family is here… So I put up with winter.

I like winter firesides.

Something about the crisp air, the smell of wood and smoke, the heat radiating off of all the faces I love. Pair it with a cozy blanket and a cup of hot chocolate, it may just become a new hobby of mine. If sitting by a fire can count as a hobby. Maybe it’s because I just miss people so much that I’m willing to put up with the cold. Whatever the case, I have now gotten to visit with my sister’s family, our wonderful neighbors, three seperate groups of friends and our parents.

Suddenly life doesn’t seem so lonely anymore.

On Monday the younger two boys and I were alone for the day and we got to go on a walk. It was so warm, sunny, and peaceful. I even brought my sunglasses. Afterward we came home and enjoyed tea together. Then the boys played outside in their snow castle.

On Tuesday, my youngest boy Emerson turned seven!! I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. I remember there was one point that I felt like I was going to be pregnant or carrying around a carseat for the rest of my life. Now my baby hardly needs my help anymore! We were going to go celebrate by eating at a restaurant with the family for the first time since September… but unfortunately we were not allowed to sit together, as a family of seven, even though we live in the same house hold. Gah!! Moments like that make me wonder if the government is purposely trying to crush our businesses. I don’t seriously believing that of course, but please, tell me why a large family sitting together at a restaurant will increase the chances of Covid spread, more than a lot of smaller families sitting in the same restaurant?? There is no reasoning behind rules such as these. And whether people realize it or not, a lot of these rules discriminate against larger families. It is technically against regulations for our family to be invited anywhere (even an outdoor fireside), however, a family of five can be invited places. So I’ve been battling through some angry feelings toward the government, who seem to think life should totally stop forever. Over the past year, it was – in fact – their job to hire more workers, build more hospitals and equip our already overtasked healthcare system to handle an increase of patients. But, as always, they prefer to blame this virus on the average citizen that for months were doing their absolute best to follow all the rules, while trying to live life.

Manitoba, Canada has now been in CODE RED lockdown for 16 WEEKS now. We were told around thanksgiving that if we were “good” for another 3 to 4 weeks we could celebrate Christmas! Ha! We’ll be lucky if we’re legally allowed to all see our parents by Easter, which we also missed last year (at which point we were told “there’s always next Easter”). It’s blatant lies like this that make me wonder why anyone is fully trusting the government at this point.

Ahem…

Back to the birthday. We ending up making pizza at home, ate at home, watched a movie at home… well, you get the idea. I’m making it sound bad. We actually had a lot of fun together and ended off the evening with cake, a “hide-and-go-seek” in the dark game, followed by worship with the family. My boy was a trooper, he just smiled and said: “Well at least my birthday wasn’t cancelled!” But this mother’s heart hurt, even though I put on a brave face and smile for him.

Wednesday and Thursday were busy with homeschooling, more walks, a discouraging meeting that I would rather not get into, and a fireside (which got moved into our garage because of the cold and wind.)

Friday I hit a low.

A I-don’t-want-to-leave-my-bedroom-all-day kind of low.

It started as it usually does these days: with the announcement that our government is only making small changes and these will be in effect for 6 more weeks.

Six weeks. This means that code red will continue until April, even though my area now has ZERO cases. IT literally can’t get any better here. I cried. It’s just not fair. It’s not right. I feel completely helpless and hopeless that things will ever change. It’s like my free country has become a communist one. I haven’t seen my whole family together since October. The next time we will possibly be allowed to meet is in April… if they decide to lift restrictions… or, at this rate, more likely it will be June or July, outdoors.

It’s just not right.

Yet kids are allowed to go to day camp… some sports are allowed to resume. Work and school is allowed. But no still no church and still no family, the two most important things to me.

As the day went on, I spent the day asking God: “Why?”

Finally, in the afternoon, I felt his gentle spirit impress upon my heart that these trials are actually his mercy. I am not ready for any kind of persecution, especially not the kind that the Bible warns us will happen in the end days. Lots of things have been exposed in my life through this past year. I have a lot of anger, resentment, impatience and sometimes downright hate in my heart. He doesn’t want to leave me in that state! These things need to be exposed through hardship so that I can move forward and actually grow in kindness, gentleness, love, joy, patience and endurance.

Oh, I just wish I wasn’t so slow to learn! I wish I was more patient through it all!

Hurry up and teach me Lord!

So I press on: grateful for the hope of spring, prayerful about the current state of this world and certain of God’s goodness.

COVID-19 · Faith · Family

The Day of Small Things

A Sudden Change

         “‘Mommy! Mommy!’ Her chubby two-year-old hand stretched out towards the familiar church building as we passed it by. ‘Church?’ she asked hopefully.

         ‘Not today honey, maybe next time,’ I soothed from the front seat.

         It had been weeks since she’d been to her favorite weekly outing and she was beginning to cry every time we passed the place that she had come to know and love. It was absolutely heartbreaking for me to see, but I reminded myself that it was only temporary. 

         ‘Soon we will go back,’ I kept telling her. Yet as the weeks turned into months, we kept passing the vacant building which was once bustling with activity and she began asking less and less.

          ‘No church,’ was always the reply. 

         And then one day she stopped asking. As hard as the tears were to hear, the most heartbreaking thing of all was that she had forgotten. My daughter no longer remembers church.”

A young mother I know shared this situation with me a few months ago and it has run through my mind many times. After almost a year now of closures, how is the next generation going to view faith and community? How are they going to view God? Are they going to realize the importance of gathering, of spurring one another on?

A Different Sort of Church

            As we adjust to life in all the ups and downs of 2020, one of the greatest challenges we’ve had to face is no longer being able to gather in the ways that we used to.

             Maybe the scene above feels all too familiar for you. Or maybe, for your family, it was a welcome change to be able to watch kids church, sporting your comfiest pjs at the breakfast table, avoiding the usual chaos and rush of Sunday mornings. Whatever the case, we all have to admit that online church is just not the same

            We all miss something about meeting together… whether it is seeing your child make it through kid’s church without your number being called for the very first time, seeing the parking lot packed from end to end with each weekly activity, visiting with friends in the café, listening to an uninterrupted sermon, or missing LIVE worship (let’s face it, worship on a screen is just not the same). As the heartbroken mother above shared about her little girl’s fading desire for church, she brought up some very real and valid concerns many of us parents are facing: Is my child growing up without experiencing the church? Who will teach them about Jesus? Am I enough for them in this season?

            Where do I even start? 

            The church’s strength has always been in working together, becoming the “village” our children need to develop a love and understanding of God and others. But what about when we are apart? Can we still be the body of Christ and raise the next generation to become passionate followers of Jesus? 

We Are the Church

As a mother of five myself, I have to say that this year has been one of the most difficult and stretching years of my entire life. Not only have I had to deal with my own confusing emotions, I have to help my kids navigate these same thoughts and feelings as well. As a routine person, not being about to make concrete plans for the next week, never mind the year – has made me feel like I will lose my mind. Add distance learning to the mix (HELLLOO CHAOS!!) and my capacity for anything else is at zero…

And I’m doing this mostly alone. 

We all are.

Never before have we felt so isolated and far apart when we need each other more than ever before. We hear words like: “we’re all in this together” but it’s really difficult to feel “together” at all. But… we are still the church. We are meant to shine now, more than ever before. We believe this. How do we live it out?

Don’t Despise the Small Things

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10 (NLT) 

            When the Israelites began rebuilding the temple after the exile, it was a pitiful sight at first. Those who remembered the former glory and beauty of their place of worship must’ve felt complete despair at the sight. The task before them was enormous. Their workers were so few.

 Which makes it so incredible when God encouraged them with these words: “Do not despise the day of small things.”

I would dare to say that God is speaking a similar word to parents today. He sees the tears, the struggle and the stress. He sees the overwhelm and the loneliness. He sees the despair of having nothing on the calendar to look forward to. And he’s calling us to remember the small things. God’s not expecting us to rise up in impossible and grand ways. He’s looking for the little things and rejoicing at each act of worship, no matter how small.

Maybe its picking up your little one and telling them once again about the powerful wonders that God performed for his people in slavery. Or about the many miracles Jesus did on earth.

Maybe it’s turning on worship music and dancing around the kitchen, just to lighten the mood.

Maybe it’s taking an afternoon with your kids to make cookies and cards, then going on a drive together to drop them off for someone who is struggling with sickness or loneliness.

Or maybe it’s simply the broken moments. The moments where you fall on your knees, exhausted and at your wits end, begging for God to help you through another day.

Don’t despise these moments, however small. Let the Father, who sees the small things, speak to you. The small beginnings are important, they are valuable and he rejoices over each effort to come to him.

Canada · COVID-19 · Faith · Family

Good Surprises

“Oh great,” I thought, “More bad news to pass on to my already discouraged family.”

 It was a couple weeks into November 2020. I waited most of the day, dreading the thought of telling them that more restrictions were being made… once again. Upon hearing the news of schools being shut down again, my son burst into tears of frustration: “It’s like the month of bad surprises!” 

The thing is, he wasn’t wrong.

There were so many disappointments and we were all having an extremely difficult time navigating all of it. Our grandmother had died. Our family of seven had all gotten COVID-19. Schools were closed. Life was once again grinding to a halt. We were all stuck at home all the time. And this had just been the past month! Hadn’t we tried again and again to “make the best of it?” 

There was just nothing to look forward to anymore.

So many thoughts ran through my mind. I was tempted to wallow in my grief, but I’d been in that pit of depression before, a place so dark that life seems to fade into a black and white blur. It is in this desperate place that I called out to God: “Father, I need a plan to lift my family out of this. Please, give me the gift of creativity; ideas to bring joy to our family. I need something that will brighten our cold, dark winter nights, so that next few months aren’t just filled with disappointments for my kids.”

What about a month of good surprises?

The idea took root and began to grow.

Yes! That was it! We could, within the walls of our own home, create an atmosphere of anticipation each day of the month, with a new surprise to look forward to every evening. Sort of like a twist on the typical advent calendar, it would be a bit of work on my part, but, with proper planning I knew we could pull it off!

Now I was excited. As fast as I could, I grabbed my day planner and made a rough sketch of the month:

There were games nights, worship nights, and nights to “get out” and drive around, looking at Christmas lights or simply blessing others. There were activities for me (like ice cream sundae night) and some purely for the kids (games in the dark and “make up our own recipes” …as I shudder… SO. MUCH. SUGAR.)

By the time I had finished filling in the calendar, I was grinning from ear to ear. It was, in many ways, so simple – but I knew it would brighten our evenings. Here’s a list of a few of the “good surprises” our family enjoyed at home:

25 Good Surprises

1. We had a create our own recipes competition. Everyone in the family grabbed ingredients to make a small portion of their own creative treat! The evening ended with us rating each other’s creation on a scale of 1 – 10. First of all, my oldest son created the funniest recipe. He called it “Dr. D” – I’ll leave the ingredients to your imagination. (And not to brag or anything… but I won 😁)

2. Grabbing bags of popcorn, we got in the van for a tour of Christmas lights. Complete with Christmas dubstep music. It was a blast! Except for vacuuming up the popcorn from the backseats later on… not so fun.

3. One night we pulled out old home videos and watched them together. We had many laughs and my heart nearly burst when I watched the cute videos from their toddler years. So adorable! 🥰 Then each person wrote a note to a grandparent, thanking them for some of the fun memories we’ve had with them. (This ended up being one of my favourite evenings!)

4. Family games in the dark night. There’s nothing like running full speed into the wall as you get chased in the dark. These nights are sure to get everyone excited. If you’re like our family and like some added intensity, put on a soundtrack from Lord of the Rings and bingo, you’ll have kids so terrified that no one will want to venture into the basement. “Sardines” and “No Bears Out Tonight” are our favorite!

5. Skating on our backyard rink has been a highlight this winter. Our family is seven total, so we don’t make an even split for a team… almost makes me wish we had just one more… 😉Thawing our feet in the hot tub afterwards completed the fun.

6. We skipped a few days of school to go sledding at a hill nearby. Sometimes it was just us, but sometimes we met up with friends. The fresh air did us well.

7. Family worship night! Dad grabs a guitar, Isaiah a drum, Bella plays the piano and we sang our hearts out. There’s nothing quite like worship to lift a discouraged soul.

8. Christmas Coloring contest. Print out a Christmas picture to color and everyone colors their absolute best! Then we each pick our top two favourites and the one with the most votes win (Dad won this one!)

9. Family card or board game night. (Our current favorites are Dixit, Wizard, Jenga and Settlers of Catan)

10. A day in the wilderness with friends. Okay, this one creeped me out a bit. We were in the bush, in the middle of nowhere, off trail and our kids were running every where. It was a bit terrifying for me at first and I prayed they wouldn’t get lost. However, once we settled in and made a fire in a ravine I settled down. The kids took their sleds down random hills. Of course, we brought hot chocolate and hand warmers. The adults chatted and snuggled in our blankets around the fire. Snacks were passed around. The peace and stillness of the forest was amazing.

11. Facetime call nights with the grandparents or family. I’m getting tired of so much stuff online, but it is always wonderful to see the smiling faces of the people we love.

12. Make and decorate sugar cookies. Yes, kids always add far too much icing… and if you give them anything else to decorate with (smarties, chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc) it gets WAY out of hand.

13. We went on a few outdoor walks, followed by hot chocolate and snacks of course.

14. Winter fireside night in our backyard. We actually started the fire with flint and steel! I felt like a true survivalist. And then I went inside to make hot chocolate with my electric kettle, because it’s too much work to boil water over a fire. LOL!

15. Ice cream sundae night! We had dozens of toppings to choose from and could each choose THREE ONLY because, let’s face it, my kids would’ve put on every topping if allowed. My favourite toppings are caramel, dark chocolate and sea salt!

16. Family movie night with popcorn and Nibs. We have now started doing a movie night each Friday and we take turns picking a movie. IF anyones complains about the choice, they miss their next turn to chose. Finally, no more arguing about what to watch!

17. Family snow ball fight. (Which ended in a real fight! Surprise, surprise.)

18. We played “Wink Murder” and “Mafia” which is quite morbid now that I think of it, but we have a great time guessing the murderer. It’s amazing how convincing some of our kids can be when they are claiming their “innocence”…

19. Decorate a gingerbread house. (More candy… there’s a theme here.)

20. We picked up pizza one night and dropped one off for our parents as well and had a quick front door visit.

21. Random acts of kindness night! We picked up 3 dozen donuts and delivered them to some of our friends/family we missed so we could see their faces for a bit. The kids came home so happy (but it was a lot of driving!)

22. Sleepover by the Christmas tree. Probably the best and worst thing ever. I wouldn’t recommend it if you like your rest. We fell asleep listening to Adventures in Odyssey together around midnight. In the middle of the night the couch felt like I was sleeping on rocks. My back still hurts. And we all woke up at 5am. This will most likely never happen again.

23. On Christmas Day, my husband led us in some Christmas Carols on his guitar and then we read the Christmas Story. Afterwards we ate our traditional family Christmas brunch and opened presents.

24. We had a fancy candle light dinner one night. Complete with a four course meal, the fancy table cloth, and mandatory table manners (yes, with a family that has four boys, table manners is a special event!)

25. I planned a Minute to Win It Game Night. Again lots of work to put together, but it was so much fun! A few of our favourite games include “Mad Dog” and “Dizzy Mummy”. We also laughed pretty hard at “Junk in the Trunk”.

 Yes, it’s a month into 2021 and we’re still mostly at home. However, we’ve been doing our best to be at peace with where we’re at.

Best of all: I have seen the joy returning to our family.

They have something each day to look forward to and for that I pray with a thankful heart: “Jesus, THANK YOU, for the gift of creativity. You know it doesn’t come naturally to me… Thank you for bringing joy back into our home.”

Family · Loss

A Life Worth Remembering

I used to wonder how it would feel to observe my own funeral. How many people would be there to mourn? Would they be sad? Would they be relieved? What kinds of things would they say about me?

What would I be remembered for? My fancy cakes? My blog with a handful of readers? My lame jokes?

And now, I see the funerals of 2020 and 2021.

Five people allowed. Masks, which cover our faces. No hugs permitted.

And I am suddenly glad that the departed don’t have to watch from above. Would they wonder if they were loved? Would they even know how much they are missed? Would they understand that it pains us inside, to say goodbye like this?

My grandpa passed away last week, at the age of 92. As the restrictions are still quite tight here in Manitoba, Canada, my biggest prayer was that we would be able to honour the memory of this very loved man in a way that did justice to his life; a life well-lived.

It looks like these prayers are being answered and my heart is filled with peace, even as I mourn the loss of this very special man.

I got the privilege of putting together a video of our family giving tributes about Grandpa. It was touching to see a large family (he had five children, like we do) with so many different hobbies, careers and personalities all sharing about what “Dad” or “Grandpa” meant to them.

As I wrote mine, I found it hard to sum up all that this amazing man meant to me in just a short, one-minute paragraph. So, of course, I turn here to expand my thoughts. Surely, a one minute tribute doesn’t do justice to how I feel about my grandpa.

“Grandpa Reimer” as I called him, was always very special to me, and I don’t think that I can properly put into words everything I felt for him. I remember my Grandpa from young on, as a man who cared deeply for me. I can still close my eyes and see him jumping up from his chair, with energy beyond his years, rushing to help me with my school projects. He, like myself, loved history and books. He had shelves full of them, many old ones too, including an 800 year old Bible.

Unlike most other grandfathers I knew, my Grandpa was a “techie”. He loved new technology and was somewhat of an inventor himself. I was always impressed with his innovation and willingness to try new things, which most other people his age either feared or rejected altogether. He also collected antiques. I remember his juke box, also a phonograph. I remember his old phone which dialled with a crank and had a long earpiece attached by a cord.

He collected so many odds and ends. I loved looking through his spoon collection, his stamps, his hockey cards and licence plates.

I remember caring so much about what he thought of me. I wanted so badly for him to be proud of me.

Family was a priority for Grandpa Reimer. This was evident in the way that he spent his time and money. I remember often showing up at his house on Sundays. If it was hot, we would swim in my grandparents in-ground swimming pool.

I went on two very memorable trips as a child, which I could very well say are the clearest and best memories of my childhood… you guessed it, he was the one who took us on them. He rode right along on the rides in Disney Land. He dragged us along to flea markets, always searching for new treasures… an old record, a valuable newspaper, a book.

My Grandpa was a man of such diversity himself. He loved music, I remember him playing the accordion at our family gatherings. He was a turkey farmer and a grain farmer. He loved hockey and game shows.

No he was not perfect. He struggled emotionally with anxiety in ways that make me feel all the more love and tenderness for him. I’m sure, like I’ve seen in myself, at times this great storehouse of emotions has hurt or even manipulated the people around him. But the important thing is, he knew this about himself. He would often exclaim, with depth in his eyes, “How God must love us, that he would save a sinner like me!”

If I have inherited even an ounce of his passion, faith, wisdom, authenticity, and gifts, I would be blessed.

My love for Grandpa goes far beyond these few experiences, reaching to feelings expressed in fragments, rather than full thoughts:

-A sparkle in his eye

– The imprint of his body in his favourite spot on the blue couch

-A bright blue can of Pepsi

-A deck of Skip-Bo cards

-A soft heart

-Tears not afraid to fall

-His thumb held up as he says to me with a grin, “Right on!”

-His body curled up, almost childlike, in the hospital bed as he slept.

-A trembling hand, writing shaky words

-His voice as we sang hymns, still remembering all the words

On our last real visit almost a year ago, before Covid restrictions came into effect, I picked up a joke book on his table to read to him. He warned me: “It isn’t very funny,” but I proceeded to read the jokes anyways. Turned out, he was right. As I turned to leave, for my rushed lunch break was over, little knowing that it would be the final one… he grabbed my hand and said: “Thank you for coming.”

I smiled and flippantly said, “I was happy to come! See you again soon!”

Sorry that it was so much longer than I imagined, Grandpa. But I am confident I will see you again.

COVID-19 · Faith · Family · Homeschooling

Boredom and Projects to Stay Sane

It’s month two of “the end of the world” and I’ve been feeling all the ups and downs and everything in between.

Somedays I love the new snail pace of our world, the next days I hate it and feel like I’m stuck 20,000 leagues under the sea (or worse… reading about it!) Sorry to any fans of the classic. Sorry… that you have such terrible tastes in literature!! Haha.

Ahem.

So, I don’t mind being alone so much, what I hate is being alone with five kids and forgotten… which is precisely how many mothers have been feeling!

Yet, how dare I complain? There are so many elderly and sick people right now who haven’t had close human interaction for this whole time! I can hardly stand to think about it! However, my kids have been unusually out of sorts and at each others throats constantly. So after a week of yelling and threats and more grey hairs popping out than I care to mention, I decided enough was enough. After all, there’s only so much “VonTrapp” family in me! Sometimes I just need some peace and QUIET!!

I AM the mother over here, am I not? And five precious (out of sorts, whiny, grumpy, complaining) children are my responsibility, right? So therefore, how can I keep getting upset at them when it is really up to me to give them SOMETHING ELSE to do?!?

Enter my cries to God at 6am.

The prayer I kept repeating? “God, give me the gift of creativity!! Please!!” And so after a week of praying for ideas and scrounging the internet, the result was projects, idea boards and kids enjoying each other again. Whew!

So – anyone tempted to say I’m “super mom”- just, no. I’m not. I pray. I try. I copy others. And by some miracle, it sometimes works out!

First project: THE TABLE

I really do kick myself for not taking proper before pictures, but I am always so eager to start that I couldn’t possible bother to take five seconds to do so. But here was a picture of how our kitchen table looked a week ago:

And after taking turns sanding it (at first by hand, but then my incredibly generous neighbours saw how ridiculous we looked and borrowed me their power sander) and adding a few coats of varnish:

I was so pumped on how it turned out! It feels so much better wiping a table that actually looks clean when you’re done!

Second project: THE IDEA BOARD

Ok, so not every single thing we do has to be together. And after project number one, I desperately needed some “ME” time!! So this board was created at 6am after waking up in utter agony that I was just not creative enough to give the kids ideas on what to do. So I looked through idea books, googled “how to entertain kids” and desperately tried to remember things I loved to fill my hours up with as a kid! The result was an entire idea board for my kids when they come to me and say: “Mom. I’m bored.”

Voila! Now I just turn to them and ask: “Have you done everything on the board yet?”

Project 3: THE FIRE PIT

We’ve been burning stuff “country style” for four years. What I mean is this… instead of bringing furniture and boxes to the dump, we burn them. Shredder? What for? We burn paper. We burn old cat houses. We burn excess branches and leaves and grass… we burn it! The result was an old concrete slab with a pile full of ashes and soot so high that one could not see there was actually a pit underneath. (Again… no proper before picture. Sorry!)

People. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The sludge!!

It wasn’t ash anymore. Just hard, rock like substance, filled with nails, bits of metal, burnt pop cans and broken glass! I even found bones in it, presumably buried there by my dog… hopefully… either that or I really don’t want to know!

We sorted out the garbage, emptied the sludge and picked out the rocks. Then we swept it off and washed the rocks down, setting them out nicely in a circle. Finally we built a little fire and had a weiner roast.

Now, I know it’s not magazine worthy or Pinterest worthy or even internet worthy, but I just loved the country, rustic, relaxed feel of our new fire place. It was just so rewarding to set up!

Project 4: BLESS OTHERS

Two women in my cell group just had babies. Since I am 6 years past the itty-bitty clothes and nappies, I just had to go out and buy something for them! Baby shopping is my FAVOURITE!!

But wait! I thought. What about the “new” little older brother and sister? They are often missed in the excitement for baby. And how about the Mama’s?? So what started out as a simple baby gift, ended up being a family care package:

  1. An outfit and toy for the new one.
  2. A care package for mom: A chiller cup, facial mask and body scrub.
  3. A small, wrapped present for the older sibling.
  4. A gift card for the dad.

Other things we’ve been up to:

A pick up and walk down our road.

Outdoor water games and sandbox play.

My plants are almost ready to go in the garden.

A school community parade.

Oh, and my husband’s new purchase:

So that’s it folks! My world just keeps shrinking these days, but it doesn’t stop us from living. I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What have you been up to? Any projects or fun ideas keeping you afloat?

Education · Family · Homeschooling · public school

Homeschooling vs. Public School – from a Mom who Loves Both.

Autumn has come and gone and we’re already two full weeks into March! I have now had my all five of my children in school for a little more than six months. After 13 years of having non-stop chaos in my home, I used to wonder how these days would feel… No kids at home for half of the day. Only one around for the other half (he’s in kindergarten).

I had dreams of what this would look like.

Heavenly dreams of slow mornings, hot coffee, settling down with a good book in hand and a bowl of chocolate covered almonds in the other… Or maybe I would go on a run each morning.

Or strike off a few more books on my never-ending “to read” list.

I definitely thought I’d finish editing my book by now. And that it would be published already…

I had grand plans of organizing every single room in the house; touching up the worst of the nicked-up walls with a fresh coat of paint. Plus it was going to look clean all the time as there are no kiddos around to mess it up…am I right??

Even now I’m chuckling to myself because what was I even THINKING?!? Did I actually believe that the moment my kids got on that bus, time would just magically multiply for me? My ideas that moms with kids in public school must have nothing to do… yeah, those are quickly getting squashed.

If anything, this year has been a good reminder about the reasons I decided to homeschool in the first place.

So now that I’ve had a fair chunk of time with my kids in each, I want to give an honest look at homeschooling and public school. Hopefully, with taking a deeper look, the large wall that seems to hang between homeschoolers and those who go to public school will come down.

And we’ll realize how similar we really are. Our differences aren’t so bad either. My hope is that we begin to see that the “other side” isn’t crazy.

Or lazy.

Or bad for your kids.

One isn’t necessarily easier than the other. And honestly, both can be impossibly difficult but amazingly rewarding if done well.

Oh, and I almost forgotaren’t most Canadian’s going to be homeschoolers now for the next three weeks or more?

I had to chuckle to myself about this, because now all the people who have told me they could never homeschool… will actually get the opportunity to test that theory out. I’m willing to pay money, that at the end of the next three weeks, the children in their care will have learnt more under their intentional direction than in a public school setting. 

A Typical Homeschool Day… was not at all what my dream homeschool days looked like.

I had visions creating a curriculum a where science, social studies, ELA projects all worked hand in hand together. I also thought it would look more like the public school setting that I was raised in. And to some point I was able to achieve a bit of this. Don’t see what I mean?

To homeschool, erase much of what you know of public school. Set time schedules, hand raising for help, line ups, waiting for the kids that are ruining it for the rest of the class and subjects that follow a little bit of everything. Only to repeat and go more in depth year after year.

Homeschooling is actually much more freeing then this. And I found that it took considerably less time. Teaching my kids took a third of the time then a school day actually takes. This means I was able to pack more information into my kids before lunch then public school is able to do all day. This isn’t bragging about my teaching abilities, this is just honestly how much faster teaching goes with students who get real discipline when they misbehave and who would rather spend the afternoon playing outside with siblings, then sitting at the table alone working on unfinished assignments.

The most difficult thing was that I actually had to work out character clashes between me and the kids. This not only helped shape them and gave them opportunity to find their place in our family, it sharpened me as well! Impatience and outbursts of anger had to be worked on. It could no longer stay tucked safely away.

What I mean is this… when you only have to “behave” for a couple hours each evening it’s easy to never deal with character issues at all, rather go from “break” to “break”, merely surviving in between. But when you’re always with five children who are testing your patience ALL day long, you actually have to come up with a solution in order to function well.

Pros of homeschooling:

-Students learn at their own pace

-Less distractions

-More one on one teaching

-Flexible Hours

-Flexible curriculum

-Less wasted time

-Closer family connections

-Better values being taught

-Limited exposure to negative influences

-More affordable (You bet, more affordable! At least, it is for having five kids! Even when I spend $500 a year on curriculum, it saves me unnecessary school supplies, indoor/outdoor shoes, School fees, instruments, field trips, mandatory gift exchanges, teacher gifts, lunches, book fairs, etc). Public school is expensive!

Cons of homeschooling:

-Negative sigma- feeling isolated or discouraged from other friends and/or family members

-Lack of support

-Extra sensitive kids with uncontrolled outbursts (Which can also be a positive thing, when children are taught to properly express their emotions.)

-Some children struggle to respect other authority

-Narrow perspective

-Lack of Independence or ability to solve relational problems on their own.

-Difficulty with clashing personalities

-Very little down time or quiet moments

-Bored children

**Notice what ISN’T on this list? Socialization. Quite simply, this is a NON issue. In fact, in this day and age I would argue that most homeschoolers are more socialized than public schoolers. They are able to talk with a variety of ages… (adults, peers AND younger children) most of them aren’t glued to their personal devices, unlike most public school children. Especially those with siblings and support groups, in my opinion are FAR ahead socially. The real argument is do they “fit in”? And my response to that would be… do you want them to? Do you want them to gossip? Show disrespect to teachers? Mock those who are weaker than them? Look up inappropriate YouTube videos?

No, in this sense, my kids do not fit in. And I’m 100% happy with that.

A Typical Public School Day:

So let me just clarify a few things:

– There are no leisurely mornings… I run around like a crazy woman making sure everyone has clean clothes, lunches packed, homework done, books to return for library, gym clothes for class, flute or trumpet for band, clean shoes, washed faces, clipped finger nails, breakfast eaten, and on and on and ON!! My neighbours can probably hear me yelling through the walls, “HURRY UP! YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE BUS!!”

– There is no extra time….After the kids are gone it looks like all my possessions were thrown into a topless blender and vomited all over the house.

– My days are more chaotic than ever.

So yes, you probably understand the chaos in the mornings and the homework/ extra curricular schedules in the evenings. But what do Mom’s really do between those 7 hours from 9-4pm. That’s a lot of time!!!

First I clean up. Dishes, lunch meats still sitting on the table, breakfast items, socks thrown around on the ground in a panic. Forgotten papers for me to sign.

An hour or two later, the house is finally tidy (not clean, tidy, there’s a HUGE difference).

Then the phone begins to ring…

“Mrs. Bergen, I have your son here in the office with chest pains..”

“Mrs. Bergen, your boy really injured his foot today at recesss…”

“Mom I forgot my…” click.

It is now 10:30 and I have approximately 1 hour left before my youngest son comes home on the kindergarten bus. And yes it’s only one kid, but can we just acknowledge that one child is often harder than having five??? I am his only entertainer ALL afternoon!!

Anyways usually, it’s halfway through the morning before I can even start my “to do” list.

Where is this “Glorious Freedom” I was told about? I have come to realize, it is there. I really just have to stop and notice it.

It’s in the peaceful silence as I work and clean.

It’s in the mornings I decide to push off the cleaning and go for a run.

It’s in the cup of coffee I drank that stayed hot.

It’s in the muffin I did not have to share.

There is a difference to being alone, and it is most refreshing!

I established early on that if I was staying at home while my kids were in school I would not waste my time. The temptation for moms to “Netflix binge” is all too real. To safeguard myself, I established firm rules for the days I do find myself with extra time:

1) I do not watch Netflix while my kids are at school and my husband is at work. I do not turn on the T.V. Period. I do not spend time on social media while they are at school. (WordPress is the only social media that I’m currently on). Wasting time on my phone or other devices would be incredibly unfair to my family.

2) Only one social outing a week while the family is at school/work. Again, how is it fair if my children are working all day and my husband is providing all day for our family and I am lounging around?

3) I get all the housework/cooking done while the family is away so that we can make the most of our family time together in the evenings. Yes I make most of our meals and lunch snacks from scratch. It’s healthier and it saves us A TON of money. The secret to living off of one income: Budget well and eat at home. Seriously.

4) The only shopping I do during the day is for necessities. Therefore, I do not waste time browsing stores for my enjoyment.

You may wonder, why all the rules? Quite simply, because our society sees stay at home moms as lazy, particularly once kids are in school. I know this can be true. But I also know, that if done well, stay at home moms are vital to the family unit and to society.

Who else has the time to volunteer in the school system and help struggling children learn to read?

Who else has the time to visit the sick, give meals to the weary or babysit for those who desperately need?

How about public schooling on the students side of things?

The first thing my kids noticed about public school was the noise. It was so loud and distracting! The kids were constantly interrupting the teacher and showing disrespect. My kids honestly felt terrible for the teacher and found it hard to work.

They did enjoy having weekly activities that we did not get to do at home (for instance: music class, phys ed, science labs, after school sports, track and field, etc.) I just simply could not fit all these things in for them, but the school system can!

They also enjoyed making new friendships, hearing new perspectives on life, having recess and lunch with kids their own age, being able to have friends their ages to relate to their struggles on a new level! This was all very wonderful to see!

I also appreciated that there were areas I never taught because I didn’t know how like French and art. Our kids have grown to love these subjects, and I’m so glad that they’ve had the opportunity to study them!

Pros of public school:

Consistent routine and schedule

-Close friendships

-Unique opportunities

-A larger worldview/different perspective

-Space away from parents (Yes I listed this as a good thing! There are some homeschooled children who are smothered by their parents in an unhealthy way.) They do need space to make their own choices and freedom to grow!

-The variety of subjects/courses

-Independence

Cons of public school:

-Homework

-Less Free time

-Overly busy schedule

-Negative influences

-Costs and pressure to do more outings

-Distractions and noise

-Disrespect to teachers

-Lack of individuality in teaching that is often needed for students, especially ones with minor learning disabilities (Although to be fair I think the school system has improved tons in the last few years in this area).

-Lack of supervision

So there you have it! I know I’ve missed some of the pros and cons and there’s so much more I could write. But this is a starting point to better understanding both sides. I’ve learned to appreciate both public/private school and homeschool and I’m so thankful that I live in a country that allows me to choose!

About Me · Family

Parties, Carrots and a Cute Little Pirate

I’ve been finding it hard to find time for WordPress these days. I do apologize for missing many of your wonderful posts. Hopefully when life slows down a bit, I can scroll back and read them.

“What’s so busy?” you may ask yourself.

First of all, our family celebrates two birthdays one day apart at the beginning of the month.

Our second youngest is now eight and requested a hot wheels themed cake. (I love making special cakes for my kids, another hobby of mine). I also planned a party for him with eight very rambunctious kids in the house.

Our only daughter turned 12 and went with an Aladdin themed cake to go with her movie night. She had five (much calmer) girls over, but it was a sleepover so it still took up half a weekend.

To top it off my eldest son had a tournament that same day. So we’ve been in recovery for the past week.

Also, I’ve been dealing with carrots.

A lot. Of. Carrots.

I’m trying to sneak them into pasta sauce, soups, casseroles, carrot cakes… our kids get them for snack.

And to be honest, I’m not even a fan of them. But they’re healthy and free… so… there’s that.

This is half of them:

I am currently shredding and freezing them. Hopefully I’m done by next spring. If there’s ever a world shortage of carrots, I will be a very wealthy person.

We are also running around in circles for Isaiah’s volleyball practises and games.

This lovely schedule will go right into November. But we love our kids and so we love investing in their interests.

I leave you with a picture of my cute little Pirate. Although he doesn’t look very frightening, don’t let that charming smile deceive you… those plastic knives really hurt when dropped from a balcony onto an unsuspecting mother.

Happy October Everyone!!

Faith · Family · Parenting

Remember the Little Guy

Growing up in a conservative background, one of the most remarkable trademarks of the adults around me was how selfless they were.

Traditionally, where I grew up, even clapping for others was seen as prideful and vain. Bragging about or praising anyone but God was unthinkable.

These people lived out what they sang: “I will not boast in anything, no strength, no power and wisdom. But I will boast in Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection!”

I loved that line… I still do! What I’m writing about today is in no way putting down these beautiful truths because I do believe we live a time where people are way too self focused (…just see my previous post haha)!

We live in a world that praises many things.

It glorifies power, money, sex, careers, possessions, fame, yet places very little value on family, time, connecting, caring for the needy or serving without pay.

Why, even those in the church are beginning to buy into the idolization of wealth and power.

And I think the reason is quite simple:

We’ve forgotten what’s important, because while the world boasts loudly about what it sees as valuable, those who value true worth remain painfully silent about what really matters.

And we’re beginning to buy in to what the world is saying.

When I write about motherhood and how vital it is, about how valuable family is, and how important stay-at-home-mothers are in our society, I’m not just trying to toot my own horn and to gain recognition for what I’m doing.

My purpose isn’t to get praise for myself.

It’s alright when people misunderstand me, because if I was the only one affected by misconceptions about moms who don’t work outside the home, I would just keep my mouth closed. But the truth is, our lack of understanding and value of families… of stay at home mothers in particular, is changing a whole generation.

Every single comment about what I am doing with all my free time makes me understand more and more why women are ashamed to stay at home. It feels awkward to try and justify the value of cleaning, cooking, organizing, grocery shopping, driving around… it would be so much easier to just say, “Oh I work AND I am a mom of five.”

It just sounds better!

No one would flat out say stay-at-home moms are lazy. But… what are they doing at home? We wonder.

Sometimes even ask.

Have you ever asked that about someone who is at work?

Have you ever asked someone in an office, “Just what are you doing with all your time at work?” Have you ever asked someone at a workplace, “Sooo, what do you do with no children around?!?”

Did you know that right now there are women working their tail off, with no children at home, and, there are also women at work scrolling through their Facebook feed?

Did you know that laziness is a heart issue, not an occupation issue?

This goes both ways people!

Of course there are stay at home mothers who don’t spend their time wisely! Just like there are students who skip class or don’t do their work, just like there are employees who take advantage of their employers by taking a ten minutes smoke break every hour. There are also leaders who live in luxury, taking advantage of taxpayers hard earned money to go on elaborate vacations or hire not one but two expensive full time nannies… ahem. Not naming any names here.

Yes there are people who take advantage of others. Some of them are on welfare, some of them are in the workplace, some of them are stay at home moms.

Working hard has very little to do with capacity or position… it has everything to do with the heart.

I know people who physically could not be a firefighter or a labourer. Yet they work incredibly hard in an office. Just like there are people who are physically strong but who would not have a hot clue how to navigate what many people do in an office.

Personally, I could never do what my husband does. As a part owner of an Internet company he’s smart, incredibly efficient and able figure out problems that I would stare dumbly at. He’s able to deal with hundreds of emails in a day. He’s able to maintain a cool when there’s power outages and frustrated customers who are depending on him.

However, he admits that the coordination of finances, schedules, meals, gardening, cleaning, and taxing people around is something he could never do.

Working hard, with or without pay, deserves recognition. Period. It’s about time we stop valuing people for their net worth.

Let’s boast in the janitor who shows up every single day and works with all his might for the whole shift. We need him! Let’s recognize the children who take their schoolwork seriously and do their best in each class. Let’s praise the stay at home parents, who do all the unseen things to keep the families lives running smoothly. Let’s give honor to the cooks, the artists, the singers and writers who bring enjoyment to life. Let’s bless the truckers who keep the shelves stocked so we can eat and the volunteers at the soup kitchen, who care for the needy.

For when we recognize the forgotten ones in society, it’s then we remember that the little things often hold the greatest worth. And some of those we hold in high regard, when stripped of the fame and power, may seem very small indeed.

It’s time we remember what and who matters the most. Then, let’s boast in it.

Autumn · Family · Food · Parenting

My First Week of “Freedom” – It was all a Hoax

Back to school! All the Mom’s cheer…

Really?

Don’t believe it for one second, I tell you!

That cup of coffee never got finished…just saying.

First week back, well, you heard about our first day, but let’s just say the next two didn’t go any better! On the third day of school I received a call that Dallas (in grade 2) had really hurt his foot during recess. Being laid back (and also, having dealt with many twisted ankles, sore legs and bruised bones), I sort of shrugged it off until the next day. Dallas still couldn’t put weight on it the second day, so away we went to ER and, long story short, he is in a cast for two weeks.

How we are going to keep him from wrecking the other leg…I do not know, because literally this is what it looks like a week later:

Yeah… he somehow decided to go on the zip line and jumped off into my garden. Barefoot!!!

Boys, I tell you! It’s like they have a built in self-destruct button!

The second week I have had some busy moments and some calm ones, but I’m in the process of harvesting the last of my vegetables for the season and canning takes SO much time! But I got to canning some pasta sauce, which is my least favourite thing to can, so now it’s just salsa!

I also did a lot of baking because, oh my word, are school lunches ever expensive!!

And last but not least I am making cakes for others again!! This is something I have a love/hate relationship with. I love it because it is like doing arts and crafts…but I hate it because I literally make about $4 an hour for my time. Here’s a sneak peek at what I’ve been working on but I think I’ll do a separate post about it later:

And burger week! I can’t forget burger week!!We have such a thing in our small city as burger week and participating restaurants each make their own specialty, limited-time, burger to be voted on …so of course Ryan and I had to go to try at least one:

It was amazing!! And I still feel full. Yes, I did finish the whole thing. 😋

So there you have it! My first four-day-week of having half-days with no kids around in over 13 years!! It’s amazing how much I can pack into a day with them gone. However, when they come home the life returns to our house and once again it’s chaotic and loud….and I realize that I truly have missed them.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from them. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the one whose quiver is full of them…”

Psalm 127:3-5

Family · Parenting

I was Almost Supermom…

The key word being almost.

That is my back to school line up of kids…such a good looking bunch! The photo was taken after school, because, well, I literally flopped the first morning of our family public/private school experience.

We were up at 6am. Every last one of us. Breakfast was eaten. We even did family devos. The kids made their own lunches. I looked like Super Mom!

Can I stop right there?

No.

Because that, my friends, is where life came in. My daughter was full of nerves and was stressing about what to wear and such. She wanted her hair curled so I offered to do it for her. Her hair is thick, and I’m no hairdresser (there’s a reason the good Lord gave me four boys and only one daughter). So, granted, it took a bit longer than I expected. But we had time…I thought. When who should pull up but the bus driver a good 5-10 minutes early. My daughter was horrified (the boys were ready faster than her) and she ran out with one shoe on halfway.

Ok. Whew… three down. Two to go.

My older son, now being in a private school, comes out in sweatpants that could fit my youngest. I stare at him, aghast. Where did I go wrong?!?

“Your not wearing that.” I say shuddering. It’s a command, not a statement.

“It’s all I have.” He shrugs.

I look through his selection. Sure enough, he must’ve grown half a foot over summer. All of them are ankle pants. Every single one of them. It’s too cold for shorts. How did I not notice this before today?!?

So I grab the keys. I’m about to go on a spontaneous shopping spree, 25 minutes before school starts. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I stare back at the morning glory that appears before my eyes. Hair sticks out in all the wrong places, circles under my eyes reveal the true story behind getting five kids ready for the day.

Shouldn’t have looked.

Oh well. It’s my kids that matter, right?!? I mean, if they look good, I look good – I reason to myself. So away we go. We arrive at Superstore.

15 minutes. I have 15 minutes to find pants and get my son to school.

I’m not fussy. We’ll make it. I know we will.

Except for one problem. Superstore, the clerk informs me after a frantic 5 minute search, does not sell clothes for teenage boys. Yup. You heard me. There are about 5 million pairs of pants for women and girls. But not one single pair that fits my boy. Nor do they sell belts (I asked).

Now frantic, because my son is wearing sweatpants that I wouldn’t want to be buried in, I grumble out a thank you to the clerk and rush out of the store. I am now in overwhelm. Nothing else is open in my small town that calls itself a city. Wally’s world it is.

I run in as if I’m participating in an Amazing Race Episode, grab the first pair of $8 pants I see and race back to the car (stopping to pay of course, because if I’m going to steal, it definitely won’t be an ugly pair of Walmart pants).

I force my horrified son to change as we drive. We pull up to the school. Five minutes late. My mind flashes back to the Gilmore Girls episode where Lorelai brings Rory late to her first day of fancy private school dressed in a slutty cowboy outfit. I have become Lorelai Gilmore. I am literally the world’s worst mom.

Sighing I lead my son to his new classroom. Empty. I exhale hard. Ok fine then. Desperately, I search for any sign of life. The children are in the chapel. Poor Isaiah gets escorted to the front of the room to his classmates in front of the whole school.

And as I watch this scene play out before my eyes in deep shame, my gaze falls down to my boys new pants, which are sitting right above his ankles…

Man, and I thought homeschooling was hard.