Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Santa vs. Shakespeare

Recently, the following conversation / fierce argument was overheard at our house:

Henry to Bronwen: Santa's not real, you know.
Bronwen: He is too!
Henry: No, he isn't. He's just Mom & Dad.
Bronwen: Well, Shakespeare's not real!
Henry, indignantly: Oh, yes, he is.
Bronwen: No, he isn't! Shakespeare isn't real!
Henry, now hot (he ramps up quickly, in case you didn't know, particularly in such dire situations when heroes are threatened.): Bronwen, Shakespeare WAS TOO REAL! He wrote hundreds of plays! You don't know what you are talking about!

This conversation continued with much of the same back and forth while I laughed in the other room until I feared they might come to blows and had to break it up. Too funny! Ever since, when Bronwen wants to get his goat, (which basically means she's bored because her brothers are doing homework and she wants their attention,) she pipes up with "Shakespeare isn't real, you know!"

It gets them every time.

Funny, she just let the accusations about Santa roll right off her back and turned the tables lickety-split. Smart cookie, that one.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Nora's Birth Story

Introducing . . . Nora Allison. This sweet bundle joined our family on October 4th. She couldn't possibly be more adored by her brothers, sisters, and parents. 

    As her mother, I particularly feel that Nora is a blessing from heaven. You see, we were feeling pretty content (and at times, overwhelmed) with our family of seven. Five kids kept us busy as can be, and with three boys and two girls, I thought we really had the perfect family. Then, one day just over a year ago, when I was praying about something completely unrelated, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that there was one more baby waiting to join our family.

    Although I immediately knew that we would do what Heavenly Father wanted, I will admit that I spent a few weeks asking Him if He was sure, if I had heard correctly, if there wasn't some mistake. I felt inadequate. I was scared. I wondered how we could make room in our lives for a baby. But there was no mistake. Time after time when I asked, I felt a warmth and a peace that only comes from the Lord. I knew we needed to take a leap of faith and have another baby. I knew that we would be blessed by this child and would always be grateful that we had listened to the promptings of the Holy Ghost to expand our family. But I still didn't know HOW it was going to work.

    Throughout my pregnancy, I will admit that I mostly tried to not think of what life would be like when she was born. Not because I didn't want her, but because I still wasn't sure about the how. But I knew that it would be okay.

    Towards the end, I needed lots of help. My blood pressure started rising and my doctor told me to cut back my activities. Each week when I saw him, he told me to cut back some more. Thankfully, unlike two previous pregnancies when high blood pressure had been an issue, this time the baby seemed unaffected by it. Friends and family reached out to me and insisted they help. At first it was hard to accept, but I knew I needed to do what was best for the baby and my own health, and had to humble myself.

    Then, three weeks and two days before she was due, I had a miserable night. My blood pressure had been harder to control, even with rest, for the past three days, and on this night, I could barely sleep because I kept having contractions. I knew I needed to get checked out at the hospital-- they aren't really keen on having a woman with 5 previous C-sections labor because of the risk of uterine rupture-- but I had also been through this kind of thing before. I knew that I would get to the hospital and my contractions would stop, my blood pressure would drop, and after several hours they would send me home. So I waited for morning. After I dropped my kids off at school and preschool, I headed in to get checked out. Things felt different and I fully expected to deliver our baby sooner than her scheduled delivery date which was still over two weeks away.

    Sure enough, my contractions stopped cold as soon as they began monitoring me and my blood pressure dropped after about half an hour of resting. The nurses assured me that I'd be going home soon, but that my doctor had ordered some labs just to be sure. I am sure they get plenty of women coming in with a few weeks to go in their pregnancy, desperate to find a reason to deliver early and have pregnancy over with, but  I am not one of those women. I knew that Nora was going to make her entrance sooner rather than later.

    The labs came back with results that landed me an overnight in the hospital while they ran more tests. It seemed that my kidneys were struggling and that the PIH was affecting me, even though the baby appeared to be fine. They gave me one of those nifty steroid shots that help the baby's lungs just in case, and I spent the next several hours figuring out the logistics of my family's needs with mommy in the hospital. Even though they were saying I would be in for 24 hours, I went ahead and made arrangements for help with kids, meals, etc, through the end of the week, feeling like it would be easy to cancel if needed. (Wouldn't you know it, my mom was out of town, visiting my brother and his wife and newest baby.) Thankfully, I had many people offer to help and had it all figured out by dinner time.

    The next day, after more labs, my amazing Dr. S. and I agreed that we were not going to wait for Nora's scheduled c-section, still two weeks away. We decided to wait one more day to give the steroids the best effect, and scheduled the c-section for 5pm the following day.

     The next evening we welcomed our sweet baby into the world. It took the doctors quite a while to work through all my scar tissue after so many surgeries; we were all bantering about needing a saw and talking in a relaxed way. When they got to my uterus, I heard the tone of my doctor's voice change. 
"Have you been having contractions, Michal?" 
"I had them the day and night before I checked into the hospital, but they have mostly gone away since I've been in bed here," I replied.
"I think we are delivering this baby on the right day," he said, sounding somewhat solemn.

    Apparently, my uterus was so thin that he proceeded to open it with his finger, not even needing a tool. When he did so, it sort of fell apart. My friend, Kristen, who was there and who is a L&D nurse, said after one look at it, she was sure that I would need a hysterectomy on the spot, because they would never get that fragile, spent organ sewn together again. Miraculously, they were able to stitch up the silvery tissue just as it needed to be. We all felt that it was God's hand that prevented my uterus from rupturing earlier, during my contractions (which would have been extremely serious and life threatening to both Nora and me), and that allowed me to avoid hemorrhaging or a hysterectomy.

    I am so grateful for this sweet little girl in my life. I am grateful for the Lord's tender mercies in sparing her life and mine, as well as for the many, many people He has prompted to bless us with help over the past months. 

    Our life is crazy with six kids, to be sure, but blessed and wonderful. I love being a mother, even though it pushes me to my very limits sometimes; even though I make mistakes and have to apologize to my children; even though it wreaks havoc on my sleep, my body, and my patience. It is the best choice that I have ever made and I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to be a mother to these six wonderful kids. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Summer Incentive Program

Summer break began yesterday, much to my relief. Sending my boys to school this year has been wonderful for them. They have really blossomed socially and each has gained confidence in a new area this year. I can't say that this would be true for any neighborhood school-- our charter school is one that teaches values, studies the classics, encourages service, and emphasizes the heroes of the past and what made them great. Thus, not only are these things taught, but the families who send their kids to the school all support the same values at home. It has been a wonderful blessing for our family.

Contrary to popular opinion, it has not been "easier" for me with my kids in school this year. We spent lots more time in the car, doing homework while I was making dinner or after bedtime (which is a real drag), meeting other people's deadlines, volunteering, and attending all sorts of meetings, field trips, and class parties, etc. I would say we were busier than ever, had less time for the kids to spend on chores and piano practice, and spent less time together as a family for sure. It was the right thing for us this year and probably for a while, but it has not been easier. And I welcomed summer break.

My kids, however, were not as excited, particularly as they heard me rejoicing in how much work I would have them help me with around the house. However, when I unveiled my incentive plan for the summer, they were very enthusiastic. They didn't even realize that it was not only an incentive plan for them to get the things done that matter to me, but that it will help me regulate their media time while allowing them to self-regulate within my parameters. Perhaps since we have had a "no media on school days" policy for our boys this won't be a shock to their system.

It goes like this. Each morning, each school aged child (including Bronwen, who starts kindergarten in August,) must complete the list of our morning routine. This includes: family devotional, breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, make bed, pick up bedroom, do a chore (different each day, but assigned by me), practice the piano 30 minutes, and schoolwork (a 20-30 minute drill in math most days, also assigned by me. Bronwen is doing handwriting or reading practice).  If they complete this list by noon, (they can easily complete it by 10 am if they are focused), they receive 2 "Screen Time" Tickets, each worth 30 minutes.

In addition, they can earn up to 2 more ST Tickets each day. To earn one ticket they can do 30 minutes in extra chores chosen by me, 30 minutes of extra piano practice, 60 minutes of reading, etc. They can also earn a bonus ticket any time during the week by memorizing our Scripture of the Week and passing it off. Jared & I can also award one MVP ticket for exceptional behavior every day, although we may not give them every day-- it depends on the behavior.

To make things even more interesting (and to help them choose things other than Wii and TV for their free time), I am also offering a Buy-Back Program. They can turn in accumulated, unused tickets for other things. For 6 tickets they can go get an ice cream cone, Jamba Juice, or frozen yogurt. For 8 tickets they can skip a chore one morning and reduce their piano practice to 20 minutes that day. For 15 tickets, we will take them to a movie or let them choose a new book; 25 tickets gets them $20 to spend and a trip to the LEGO store (where I never want to go because it's half an hour away). 40 tickets earns a new Wii game. If they save up 50 tickets, they can have $50 cash or a day at a waterpark with their dad. We will probably have more Buy Back items and Extra Ticket options added as the summer progresses, but so far they are busy earning new tickets cheerfully and saving at least half of them for other things.

I know when things are fresh it is easier to be excited about them, but I am hopeful that this will keep us on track this summer to be productive, have fun, and not rot in front of the TV. I hope it will teach my kids the pleasure of delayed gratification and the importance of being industrious. Most of all, I hope this will help us have a great summer together.

What are your summer strategies with kids at home?

Monday, January 2, 2012


I'm the kind of person who is always setting goals and resolving to make improvements on the work in progress known as Michal, so New Year's Resolutions are right up my alley. I really try to make them realistic, but some years I am better at that than others. Not to worry-- I'll be setting new goals soon if these don't take!:)

This year, I am making some "more or less" resolutions. Instead of saying never, always, or making specific requirements, I am resolving to do more of some things and less of others. Writing it down and publishing makes me accountable. I'm also going to post these somewhere in my bedroom (the short versions) so that I can see them frequently and keep my focus.

  • Listen more-- to my children, my husband, and to the Spirit. This will also mean speaking less, and taking the time to really understand. It might even include listening to recounts of Arthur episodes or Calvin & Hobbes comics that I don't really care about, just because it is important to someone I love.
  • Learn more-- from the scriptures, the words of living prophets, and out of the best books-- classics and other books that will help me be a better person. Right after I finish the Hunger Games trilogy:)
  • Make more time-- to be the wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend that I want to be. This involves rushing around less, committing to less that will take me away from these important roles. I have been struggling for some time to figure out how to be less busy and to slow down. I think I've decided (for now at least) that I just need to make the time, take the time when I need it, regardless of the to-dos pressing down on me. I was inspired yesterday by a story I read about George Albert Smith, a very busy man and prophet in the 1940s. It spoke of an experience when he was running late to catch a plane, and came across a woman and her four children who were anxious to shake the hand of a prophet. He paused and spoke with each one individually, shaking their hands. This moment had great meaning in the lives of this family, and was time well spent. I also think of the Savior, who frequently took the time for individuals in the midst of all He was striving to do during his brief ministry. I hope I can follow these examples. 
  • Show more gratitude-- to the Lord in prayer, by recording His blessings and tender mercies in my journal, and by sending thank you notes (something that I am terrible about).
  • Spend more wisely-- money, time, and calories. I really want to be more mindful in these areas in order to:  afford a kitchen remodel I've been dreaming of (money), in order to accomplish all of my other goals (time), and in order to be healthier (calories).
What have you resolved to improve in 2012? I love hearing other people's goals and aspirations. Go on, inspire me!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Worm is an Understatement!

This evening Kimball and I worked together to make up his bed with clean sheets. Since has a full sized loft bed, I sent him up top and asked him first to pass down to me anything that wasn't bedding. I expected five or six books, but here is what I got:

  • Ivanhoe
  • 2 Roald Dahl books
  • Leven Thumps volumes 1, 2, and 4
  • The Bronze Bow
  • 2 Star Wars Cookbooks
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • 3 library books about magic (for his Halloween costume)
  • The Book of Think
  • Obessessed with Star Wars
  • A Star Wars Fandex
  • The most recent issue of Lego Magazine
  • A take out menu to our favorite sushi place (the kind with photos of all the sushi rolls)
  • Canterbury Tales (A kid's version)
  • Much Ado About Nothing (The Shakespeare Can Be Fun series)
  • Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites
  • a Kindle guide (yes, all these books, AND he owns a Kindle!)
  • The Time Travelers
  • 3 chapter books for 2nd graders that I'd checked out for Ian
  • 4 picture books he'd swiped from his younger siblings' bookcases
By the time he passed down the tenth book I was laughing, but by the time we got all of them down, we were both hysterical. That's 26 books, a magazine, a fandex, a users' guide, and a menu! Perhaps we need to change his bedding more often!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lunch Date

In a family with five kids, having quality one-on-one time with them can be challenging. I will admit that on a daily basis, they get a few moments of one-on-one, but not usually big chunks of time all to themselves. In order to guarantee a little more individual face time, Jared and I try to take them out on a lunch date one at a time. We are not consistent with it-- it seems to happen more in spurts-- but it is something that our kids really look forward to.

As long as it is reasonable, we let them choose the venue for their date. Sometimes a kid chooses to grab some fast food and go to the park together. The older boys like to choose a restaurant where they can get dessert or chips and salsa (or both). Bronwen prefers a cupcake date.

This Friday, it was Ian's turn for some one-on-one. He picked me (Jared usually gets these dates) and said he wanted to have lunch at Bel Air, our local grocery store. I was really in the mood for restaurant food, but we only had an hour before we needed to be home, and I reminded myself that this was HIS date, not mine, so off we went.

We perused their prepared lunches section. I chose a roast beef and fontina sandwich on a sourdough roll, Ian found a little lunchbox with a turkey sandwich, goldfish, applesauce, and a juice box. We also grabbed his favorite potato chips (gotta love Lay's), some shortbread cookies from the bakery, which we planned to share with the others when we returned, and a doughnut for him. Okay, so I never claimed that these dates were healthy.

We sat outside at a little bistro table and Ian talked my ear off. If you know Ian, that wouldn't surprise you one bit; but what surprised me is that he dropped the goofy act that he often uses to get attention. He wasn't babbling nonsense, he didn't use baby talk-- no signs of the silly personality he uses with the family (except when the camera came out). Instead, he talked about things that interested both of us. He told me all about school and his classroom (his favorite part is his teacher, he said), about new friends he has made, and about ways that he has gone out of his way to be kind to other kids in his class.

It was a delightful hour spent, and it reminded me how much we both needed some extended one-on-one time with each other. It also allowed me to peek at a side of my own son that I don't get to see often enough. I am so proud of the young man that he is becoming.

How do you meet the challenge of giving your kids one-on-one attention? Tell me I am not the only one who struggles with this!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Voices in My Head

4:30AM. The alarm clock wakes me up. Today, I get out of bed quickly and head for the bathroom, thinking, "That was a decent night's sleep. No one woke me up in the middle of the night." I calculate and realize that I slept for 6 1/2 hours. That's when the voice in my head, the one I've decided to name Fat Girl, pipes in.

FG: Six and a half hours!? You think that's good? You'll need more than that if you are going to get your to-do list done today, let alone get through the day without yelling at your kids!

Luckily, Skinny Girl was awake this morning, too, so the battle in my head commenced.

SG: Sure, it would feel good to sleep some more, but you have to be up by 6:00 anyway to get the kids up and off to school. You haven't been to spin class in two weeks. You need this.

FG: You can go on Wednesday. Your spin buddy is out of town, after all. And they may run out of bikes before you get there. You don't have one reserved, remember?

SG: Oh, brother. How many times are you going to buy that excuse?

FG: And what about your hair? If you go back to bed, you won't have to wash it today.

SG: What about your jeans? You want them to keep getting tighter? Maybe move up a size?

At this point, I am leaning towards Skinny Girl and begin getting dressed. Fat Girl gives up-- for a while. I am 20 minutes into spin class when she shows up again.

FG: I'm tired. Can't you switch to a lower gear? Maybe just stay for half the class and then go do some weight lifting? Or head home and get a head start on the day?

SG: Ugh. Would you please leave me alone?! If I made the effort to come, I might as well get a decent workout in.

This morning, Skinny Girl was louder than Fat Girl, but it doesn't always work that way. And they don't just put in their two cents about workouts. Oh, no, they have lots to say when I am grocery shopping, when I am home alone with chocolate in the house, or when I'm running errands a little too near the cupcake place.

That's why I've decided to give them such decisive names. I know that I should be aiming toward Healthy Girl instead of Skinny Girl and I don't have anything against fat people. I just thought I'd take a page from the spin doctors who come up with powerfully suggestive names in order to sway how we think of things. I thought of a few examples, but I try to keep this blog from being overly political, so I'll just leave it up to your imagination:) Anyway, I figured that calling that negative voice in my head "Fat Girl" might make it easier for me to find the strength to shut her up more often than if I called her "Relax and Enjoy Yourself Girl".

How do you stop the voices in your head? I'd love to use some of your strategies, so please share.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Seasons Change

"To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven." Ecclesiates 3:1

Four years ago, we started a wonderful adventure that we hadn't anticipated: homeschooling. I knew at the time that it might not be the right thing for us for our kids' entire educational careers, but we knew it was the right thing for our family at the time. Over the past four years, I grew to love homeschooling and the lifestyle it allowed us. I loved the time together the most. Sure, we had plenty of spats, of teasing, of crying, of all the typical sibling conflicts and mommy meltdowns, but we also had lot of fun together, lots of spiritual experiences together, and lots of learning together. We learned to cooperate more and to deal with our differences in a way that we might not have done if we were all going our separate ways for most of the day.

This year, the direction we got from Heavenly Father was different. It made me feel sad, scared, nervous, excited (for them), guilty, hopeful, and a slew of other emotions. At first, we only had the guts to commit Henry and Ian to returning to school in a new charter school, but as the school year approached, we began to feel strongly that Kimball should participate as well. Much like our decision to homeschool four years ago, this decision was one that we spent lots of time praying and agonizing over, and in the end, proceeded with the confidence that it was the right choice for our family.

So, on the day after Labor Day (which is the perfect day to start school, by the way), our boys donned their new uniforms, grabbed their backpacks, lunch sacks, water bottles, and set off for school. I am sure that I was more nervous than they, and I am the only one who cried that morning. I managed to keep it to moist eyes until I kissed Ian good-bye in his first grade class and had to bolt out the door because Ugly Cry was coming on fast.

So far, we have been too busy to miss them much during the day. Bronwen did remind me the first day about 100 times to go get her brothers from school, but once her co-op preschool and ballet class started up, we found ourselves quite scheduled during the school day. I also jumped into the new charter school with both feet and took a big role on the fundraising committee as we did a huge kick-off fundraising dinner and auction event last weekend. People ask me what I am doing with the extra time I presumably have because I am not schooling my children all morning, but I haven't found any extra time!

The boys are all making new friends, rising to new heights, gaining confidence, and learning loads of interesting things every day. Kimball even moved up to 7th grade after three weeks in 6th! We are all adjusting to them having less free time and more homework and deadlines, but I remind myself that they are learning some discipline that wasn't necessary when I was their teacher. It is good for all of us.

I am so grateful for the homeschooling season of my life, and look forward to the ways that my family will be blessed by this new season. Will we ever return to homeschooling? Maybe. We're just taking it one year at a time. But for now, I know that my kids are just where they need to be, and that feels wonderful.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things I'll Miss

 After months of studying, considering, and praying, Jared and I have decided to send Henry and Ian to a new charter school in our area next year. I don't know if this means the beginning of a new era for us or if it will just be what school looks like for one school year, but it means saying good-bye to some of the things that I cherish about home schooling the entire family together. I know that we want to do the right thing for them, and to help them gain the experiences that they will need in life, so we will keep an open mind through this school year and prayerfully consider what comes next, but deep down in my heart I am hopeful that the answer comes to return to homeschooling. Here are some of the things I will miss:
  • Moving at our own pace in the mornings. Even though we stick to a routine, it only roughly matches the clock. I do not look forward to having everyone ready to go in the morning and out the door before 8:00 am, especially since we need to have family devotional, breakfast, chores, and piano practice done by then! I will need to pray for a zen attitude, as rushing children who do not want to be rushed is a quick way to push my stress levels into the next stratosphere!
  • Studying world history together. This is one of our absolute favorite things to learn about together, and is a part of daily conversations in our home. Their new school is classics based and will include the study of world history, but I love doing it together.
  • Having so much time as a family. We learn together, work together, go to the park and the library and the store together, watch TV together, read books together . . . you get the picture. This family will be going separate directions each day. This makes me really sad and is probably the biggest reason that I hope we go back to home schooling after a year or two in school. I will be very protective of our afternoons and evenings when they are going to school each day. Family time is vital.
  • Having them do so much work around our home! This year they have really made a big difference in the day to day housework, and I know that if they are gone for a big chunk of the day, the morning chores will be rushed and rarely teaching moments. Hopefully, since this school is promising minimal homework, I'll be able to get plenty of work out of them in the afternoons!;)
  • Being able to take a day once in a while to just cozy up by the fire and read, or spend the whole day doing science experiments, or to give in to spring fever and go on a nature walk and look at birds instead of sitting around the table looking at math facts.
  • No homework! Do I need to say more? Beyond just not wanting to deal with homework and other teachers' deadlines, I love that our afternoons are free to participate in other activities, run and play with the neighborhood kids, or curl up with a book. 

I believe that lots of good will come from this experience. My girls will get more of my attention. I will be able to help Kimball focus on some fabulous things he has been wanting to do more of. Henry will have more opportunities to gain some independence and make some friends. Ian will get to be in an environment where he is not the middle child, where he can see his own strengths instead of always comparing himself to his older (and thus, more advanced) brothers. 

I hope that fellow home schoolers  will not feel defensive or judgmental about our decision. It has not been done lightly, nor without a certain amount of anguish. I know that it is possible to teach your children everything they need without ever sending them to school, but we really feel that this is the right thing, right now, for these two boys. We are not "giving up" on homeschooling. What will come the following year? Only time and inspiration will tell. But I promise that I will shed real tears on August 22nd when they start school and the rest of us return home without them for the day. And perhaps for a few days after that. I have really treasured these years with my children all around me, learning together.

(Photos all courtesy of Bronwen, who swiped my camera at the park.)