Saturday, December 1, 2012

'Tis the season

The tree is up.

Stockings are hanging from the mantle.

Lights twinkle cheerfully around our front window once the sun goes down.

It is December 1st, and we are looking and feeling quite festive here in the Crouch household. I am even (almost) ready to order our Christmas photocards! But this year, we are doing something a little different.

It is easy to remind my grown-up self that Christmas is not about presents and the lights at Rhema and stuff.  (Don't even get me started on the monstrous amount of credit card debt that is wrapped so prettily under millions of Christmas trees across the world.) A little harder to remember is that Christmas is not about feeling merry and bright, drinking hot chocolate (/ mulled wine!) in front of a cozy fire, and time spent with family. It's not even about the look of joy and excitement on my kids' faces when they wake up and realise it is Christmas morning.

Obviously I'm not saying those things are bad. We are buying our kids gifts, we will be taking them to see the lights, and I do love a mug of homemade mulled wine when the weather is cold! :)

But I don't want to get so sidetracked by the festive fun stuff that I miss out on something even more amazing. And I definitely don't want my kids to grow up with Christmas memories that only involve the festive fun stuff.

So starting this year we are observing advent. I am so excited. This is something that was stirring in my heart and mind last year, and I just didn't quite manage it. But this year it is happening! And I am learning as we go. There is so much richness in this season of anticipation. A friend shared this resource with me, and I am loving exploring it! Listen to this:

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live "between the times" and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which "all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption," it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and to "love your neighbor as yourself."

Big quote, I know. But isn't it awe-inspiring?

So this year, here is how we are celebrating Advent.

Each morning during breakfast we are lighting our advent candle and reading a daily advent scripture, either from my Bible or from one of Anna and Levi's children's Bibles. I have the corresponding Jesse Tree printables (you can find them here) for Anna to colour and display on our kitchen window. We are talking about the scripture as we read it, since metaphors about the root of Jesse are still more or less lost on my three year old :)

Since the focus of our advent celebrations is the gift of Jesus' birth and second coming, I want to incorporate the sentiments of giving and excitement into our December. So I have come up with a list of advent activities that I wrote on pieces of paper and put in a gift bag for Anna to select from each day. It was so much fun to think up 24 activities that captured the spirit of advent! For example, today's activity was to bake and decorate cookies which we will share with someone outside of our family. Other activities include choosing some of our toys (and for me, clothes) to donate to people needier than ourselves, giving a gift to a stranger, and a variety of Christmas-themed games and crafts that will help us to give the gift of our presence to each other.

I also gathered up all of our Christmas-themed books and stories and CDs, and the pieces to the kids' Little People nativity scene. I wrapped all of the books & CDs and put them in a box under the tree. Each night we'll unwrap one and either read or listen to it, and in the 10 days leading up to Christmas Day (since we happen to have 10 pieces to our set!) we will unwrap one character from the nativity scene.

I am so excited to see how our advent season goes and how the kids gain a richer understanding of the weeks leading up to celebrating Jesus' birthday. But more than that, I am excited to spend this season celebrating God breaking into history and my life, and giving Him the gift - small and imperfect though it is - of a heart turned more towards Him.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Food dye, Bingo and my little drummer boy

Here are some of the things we've been up to recently :)

 Learning about what colours do when mixed with each other. We half-filled two glasses with water and added red & yellow food dye. We used kitchen roll as a wick to draw the water into the third, middle, glass. Water (slowly!!) collected in the middle glass, and it was orange!

We played flash card bingo to practice writing her letters. She has been good at writing her name and a few other select letters for several weeks, but I'm wanting her to gradually expand her little repertoire! A good teacher friend of mine, Katie, suggested in her Toddler Preschool blog providing a spoken description of letters when teaching a child to write. (By the way, if you're interested in preschool ideas at home, I'd highly recommend checking out her blog!) For example, 'B' is a letter she has trouble with, but wanted it on her bingo card. Rather than holding her hand while she wrote it, I said "down, back up, around in a semi-circle, and around again to the bottom." She wrote the first and third rows of her bingo card herself.  It was pretty time-consuming, so I did alternate rows to prevent her from losing interest :) I pulled out our (neglected!) flashcards and started calling out letters, and she coloured each letter I called out as she found it on her card. It was a much funner way to use flashcards, in our opinion. When she got every letter on her card, she got a little chocolate treat as a prize :)

Levi provided musical accompaniment for our game of bingo by going to town on his little Leapfrog drum! Cutie patootie.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Mama, can you tell me about the world?"

*gulp* -- the whole world...? Right now??

Turned out she actually only wanted me to tell her about how the world spins - that seemed a little more manageable! She had asked me earlier in the day where the sun went when it went down. So I had explained that actually, the sun wasn't going anywhere - the earth was spinning around so it just looked like the sun was going somewhere when really our part of the world was just turning away from it.

 I don't think she quite got it the first time, so I used a little visual to help her.  We talked about how it's very dark in space, but the sun makes the things that are close to it, bright. I drew a (not quite to scale!) picture of her two familiar countries on a balloon that happened to float past us, got out our little in-case-of-a-storm lantern, turned off all the lights ... and voila! We took turns spinning our little world around and looking at what was going on in different part of the world depending on whether it was facing the bright sun or dark space.

So there you have it, Anna. I have told you all about the world :)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Snips and snails and spiders and bugs and.....

..... that's what my little girl is made of right now!!

As I chronicle her desire to learn about her world, I sense that my journey along with her will quickly take me to unfamiliar and maybe even uncomfortable places. However, since I don't want to squelch her interest in something, I'm going to do my best to get over my discomfort!

With that said, today I will be sharing about her recent pets. This little girl wants a pet. BADLY. A puppy or kitten would be ideal, but since we live in a rental home whose owners are much less into us having animals than she is, anything furry is out. So she decided to bend the rules on what does and doesn't constitute a pet.

We found a spider in our kitchen. One of those big ones with a body so fat that you doubt your ability to even squish it, should you ever summon up the courage to attempt it. Mark was at work and not due to return for hours. So I did what any other terrified person would do - put a jar over it and left it there for Mark to deal with later! Somehow, over the next couple hours, I was talked into keeping it in the jar. We looked up what kind of spider it was (a wolf spider, whose venom, I learned, is poisonous but only very mildly; not dangerous to people, phew), and attempted (failed) to catch bugs for it to eat in its new home. We kept the spider for three days. Anna carried it around in its jar, read books to it, slept with it next to her bed, and was just pleased as punch to have acquired a little pet. When it became apparent to us that the spider (who Anna named, to my absolute horror, 'Anna') would not eat any of the bugs we caught, we released it back into our yard. This launched a minor grieving process ...

... until -- we found the lizard! In almost exactly the same place as we'd found the spider, no less - a sure sign that we should consider a second pet. The lizard needed a larger home than a mason jar, so we dug out Anna's little fish tank (which, before you suggest it, will shortly be brought back into use as a fish tank to house a fish or two, since we desperately need a real pet!). Mark helped her look up the lizard on a classification chart, and we determined it to (maybe!) be a Four-lined Skink, also known as a Plestiodon Tetragrammus. Again, the fish tank accompanied Anna wherever she went, and little lizard was introduced to all of her toys.  Again, though, it didn't seem to want any of the food that our research promised it would love. So, after a few days, back outside it went.

We have since caught and released two other forms of spider, and today she asked about the colour of blood of both spiders and fish. Back to the computer we went (one day I will be on the ball enough to go to the library and get books out for her rather than just consulting google!), and went through these two pictures, at her request, in pretty significant detail:

We went over the pumping action of the heart, pointed out the heart and brain areas in each picture, and translated this information to her own body.

And now that she is awake, this post is done :)

I'm back ... maybe!

Well, my last post on here was about 9 months ago, and began with a desire not to let time slip away from me.


Since that post, my little brand new baby boy has turned 10 months old and is now pulling up on everything taller than himself, eating markers and stickers that Anna leaves within reach, and winning this mama's heart more every day.

Anna is three and a half, and is learning learning learning about her world! (More on that in a minute.) She is so stinking smart. This is getting both of us in trouble as she tries to reason me around to her point of view MANY times each day! She is a fabulous big sister who loves her little brother (except when he is impatiently and loudly waiting for his meal in his highchair) and helps me take care of him.

Mark has graduated from residency and is working in St John Urgent Care sites around Tulsa. His hours when he's working are loooong. BUT - he only works 14 shifts a month, praise God! So we are seeing a LOT more of him than we used to. This has been a learning curve, and we are still working out how to adjust our home routine on days that he is here. But it is fun :) We are chipping away at our school debt (both medical and nursing), and should have it all paid off by this time next year. Again - praise God! We're looking at our options for overseas missions once we're debt free.

And me? Well ... every day looks a little different for me. I love - LOVE - staying home with my babies. One morning a week I work on a mobile medical van for Good Samaritan Health Services. We function out of a church in North Tulsa (on Tuesdays, at least), and I am very much enjoying being a part of clinics. The rest of the time I am managing things on the home front! I certainly have my rough days, and struggles or challenges running around in my mind, but on the whole I am so happy with where my life is right now.

Part of the reason I have decided to try blogging regularly again is that Anna seems to be entering a new phase of learning. I want to record this somehow, and I'm not sure whether it will be on this blog or on a separate one. For now, it's here.

In the last couple of months she has started asking questions that have involved me looking up answers for her. Actually, what this more often looks like is the two of us sitting down at the computer and researching her question. For example, she has a book that tells the story of a little girl who had to kill a dragon. The dragon had green blood ... and this prompted questions today about the colour of other animals' blood. (She already knows that blood travels around the body in little 'tubes', and that when one of the tubes gets cut, we bleed.) So we got online and looked up the circulatory system of a fish and a spider. How fun is that?!

Now - I know that this is not likely to be information she retains into her actual 'school years'. But right now her desire to learn is very strong, and I want to capture some of what we learn together so that one day she (and I!) can look back at what she achieved and was interested in during these months.

And if I have extra time and energy, I may even try to post semi-regular updates on the rest of our lives too! We'll see... :)