Tuesday, November 5, 2013

There's No Place Like Home

This weekend, I'm going home. Home-home. Not Minnesota. Not Rockford. My little, wonderful, for better or worse, hometown, Winnebago.

Photo by Mary Kate Skaggs
You can laugh if you think it's the name of an RV. It's actually an Indian tribe. Or I guess nowadays they probably teach the kids to call it a Native American tribe. But we're still called the Indians, so there's that.

When my parents moved away almost ten years ago, I didn't really look back. I thought if I broke all my ties with the first 18 years of my life, I would somehow erase any mistakes of my past or bad memories associated with my formative years. In some ways, it did. I have been able to slowly forget some of those less than fond memories, but at some point I also started to forget how many good, great, awesome memories I had there.

This weekend, I'm going home. I'm going to take in the familiar sights and sounds of my youth. I'm going to grieve some losses of friends there, and grieve my losses of innocence too. But I'm also going to celebrate.

I'm going to bask in the greatness that is a public school district in which all the kids go through one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school, where there are no boundary line battles or property tax wars. We're one town, one school. Many teachers live in the town and have for generations. They are just as invested in the education of the students as the parents are. There is a sense of being held to a higher standard among students, parents, teachers, and everyone in the community. The arts are supported, and so are sports. I'm not sure there's another town this size in America that can compare to our triple threat of academics, athletics, and arts, especially music. Want to know the best part? We can still pray. I'm not sure how much it happens during the school day (of course, they say as long as teachers give tests, there will be students praying!), but we always have and still do pray before all our games.

Photo by Bekki Neal, 10.25.13, taken before their final regular season game to go 9-0.
It's not all roses (or rainbows or peaches). There are always some thorns. At times, it seemed cliquey. Occasionally, politics got ugly. There were some competitive undertones between families that had been there forever and those who came in and built the new cookie cutter subdivisions. Small towns gossip, and the gossip's not always nice or true. I made some bad choices there, and a lot of other kids did too, that we might not have made somewhere else. Or, we might have. Or, we might have made even worse mistakes. It wasn't perfect, and since, you know, I'm a perfectionist, I wanted to forget all that imperfection. The truth is, it can't be forgotten, and I wouldn't want to. There's too much good that I want to remember.

I've never felt at home anywhere but Winnebago. 18 years of fall, winter, spring, and summer were spent there. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and graduations, all in the same house. All with the same neighbors, who became like family. Some of the same friends from kindergarten through senior year. Years and years of watching high school football on the same field, riding bikes around town on all the same old streets, ordering the same pizza that I can still taste today.

As the seasons came and went, I didn't realize what I was experiencing. We never really do as it's happening. But what I know now is that I'll never wish those memories away again. There's no place like home, and sometimes home is what we need. This weekend, I'm so glad to be going home.

The photos were taken by people who still live in Winnebago and posted these in a group I'm in. They made me cry!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Family-Filled Month

The next few weeks will be pretty busy for us, but in a good, family-filled way.

This weekend we are making a quick trip to visit my grandparents. My cousin and her husband will be there with their 1 year old, and I think the kids will have a good time together. The boys are excited because we are camping in their backyard.

Sunday is Steve's birthday, so we'll be heading home to celebrate here in the afternoon. His gifts are all from the thrift store, but I think he will like them.

Lucas has a field trip to the apple orchard next week. Steve's aunt - who is so wonderful with kids - is going to watch Tyler so that I can go on the field trip. I am eager to see how Lucas interacts with his classmates and how Tyler does for a morning by himself. (I think he will love it!)

Lucas turns 4 1/2 this month - how did that happen?! It seems like his birthday was last month! Since his half birthday falls on the Feast of St. Luke, we'll have a little celebration that day in the midst of everything else going on.

Next weekend is my sister-in-law's wedding. I need to finish up the programs and find some jewelry for my dress. Weddings are stressful for everyone involved, but I think it is going to be a really nice day. My parents and Ashley are also coming to the wedding, so we are looking forward to spending some time with them.

My parents will leave on Monday morning, and my brother will arrive here on Wednesday afternoon. He will be here through the weekend, and then he will head to Chicago for a work trip. I am thinking we will visit the pumpkin patch with him, which is something we've never done before.

A few days after he leaves will be Halloween, and another month will be gone!

Along with all of this, we are getting very close to announcing the speaker lineup and opening registration for the 2014 Behold Conference! I am putting some finishing touches on the registration forms and website, and once we are sure we've dotted all our i's and crossed all our t's (ie contracts are signed!), we are ready to go! It is always fun getting back in the swing of things and seeing my Behold friends.

I may or may not be quiet on here for the rest of the month, but if I am, it is probably because we are having a lot of fun with family and friends. I hope you have a great month too!

Friday, August 16, 2013

August, so far

The fair
The zoo
Lots and lots of peaches, blueberries, and strawberries
Homemade water park

Visiting cousins in St. Louis
Camel rides

And a Cubs game

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

To Ty-Ty, our sweet two year old

To my sweet two year old (a month after your birthday).


If I had to guess your favorite color, it would be blue. That's what you say every time we ask you what color something is. If everything in the world were blue, I think you'd be happy.

You love Mickey, but you'd happily watch almost any cartoon or animated movie. You like Franklin a lot too.

You are into "things that go" - cars, planes, trains, fire trucks, helicopters, diggers, motorcycles, buses. You hear sirens from a mile away and tell us "wee-oo-wee-oo." Just like big brother, you are a big sports fan and are getting pretty good at basketball and baseball. We're so impressed by both of you!

You also love all animals - farm animals, zoo animals, pets, even bugs. You want to pet every cat and dog you see, and you do a really great job at being nice to them. You know all your animal sounds too. One of your favorites is hee-haw for the donkey, which you were really excited to hear in person last week at Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa Jansen's house.

Your favorite foods are cheese, blueberries, strawberries, meat, and rice. We're glad to have a meat-eater this time around! You are a big fan of salsa and guacamole - yum! You actually will eat just about anything. We're lucky, and we hope you keep it up.

It's so fun to hear you say new words every day. A few months ago you called Lucas "Yoos" and now it is "Yoo-cas." You enjoy yelling at him when he trails too far behind us or isn't doing what he is told. You call yourself Ty-Ty which is so cute, although I'm sure you'll never admit it when you're ten. Most recently you finally turned Grandma into a two syllable, somewhat recognizable word. We don't know why that one took so long when you are speaking so well!

You also really enjoy singing and have all the words memorized in Animal Serenade, a book from your last semester of Kindermusik. You also like to sing "You Are My Sunshine," which is usually the last song we sing before nap and bed.

Your ABCs and 123s are coming along too. They are kind of garbled sounding, but most of your letters are there. We recently learned you can count to 13 and we had never even asked you to count before!

You are very good at feeding yourself, and you can take your shoes and pants off by yourself. You like going on your little potty chair, but so far you are not telling us when you need to go. You have mastered the iPad though! You also know how to do the Sign of the Cross (sort of), and you love singing Alleluia in church. You even try to genuflect when we enter and leave the pew - so cute!


Your personality is developing every day, and I love every bit of it. You are a little bit adventurous, but you also look for our guidance when you need to. You really love playing with other kids. Even though you are "all boy" when you roughhouse with Lucas, get dirty in the yard, and play with all your trucks and balls, you are still my sweet baby boy at the end of the day. You give the best hugs and say "I love you" in your precious little voice. With a big brother around, sometimes it seems like you are growing up way too fast. You can only keep up with him for so long, though, and then you remind us that you are still a little boy who needs our help and love and attention. I love you so much and will happily let you be my baby boy for as long as you'll let me!

I love you, Ty-Ty!


Monday, April 1, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Preschool at Home - Our Favorite Non-Fiction

We have hundreds of children's books in our home, ranging from the simplest of board books to young adult novels. There's no such thing as too many books, right?

The Children's Book of HeroesWhat's Out There?: A Book about Space (Reading Railroad)The Clock Struck One: A Time-telling Tale (Math Is Fun!)

Today I'm going to share some of the non-fiction books we enjoy and read often. These can be read just for fun, or for a more focused, educational purpose. We have several books on time, the calendar/months/seasons, the solar system, weather, animals and natural science, history, geography, biographies, cultures and civilizations, and religious topics. Most of them have been picked up at garage sales or thrift stores for around a quarter, and you can usually find a huge selection of non-fiction at your local library.

The Kingfisher First Picture AtlasScholastic Children's Dictionary: (2010 Edition)DK First Encyclopedia

These aren't the exact versions we have, but children's dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books provide countless learning opportunities. Even though he is not reading yet, Lucas likes to flip through the biggest books on his shelf and notices something new every time. His interest has been piqued in different areas of science, geography, and history by looking through these books. They also help increase vocabulary and develop the idea of alphabetical order. We usually focus on one letter or a few pages at a time, as they aren't meant to be read from cover to cover in one sitting!

The Story of Saint Patrick's DayThe Story of Valentine's DayThe Story of Thanksgiving

We love this series of board books that explain the Christian roots of American holidays that have become secularized. There are many more including The Story of Jesus, the Ten Commandments, Christmas, Easter, America's Birthday, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. (Disclaimer: I have not read every book in the series, but we do enjoy the three pictured very much.) These are short and simple enough to be read to a 1 year old, while still providing a good explanation and possible discussion starters for your preschooler. I highly recommend bringing these out with your seasonal decorations each month!

Hickory, Dickory, Dock: And Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes (Padded Nursery Rhyme Board Books)Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: And Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes (Padded Nursery Rhyme Board Books)This Little Piggy: And Other Favorite Action Rhymes

These three padded board books published by Tiger Tales are technically fiction, but have gotten a lot of use in 3 1/2 years. Filled with common and not so common nursery rhymes, both our boys enjoy reading, singing, and playing along. I don't know if children are still required to memorize nursery rhymes in kindergarten like I was, but if they are then our boys will have no problem with it! These books help spur my own memory when I'm out of words for the day. Right now "Piggy" is Tyler's favorite book. He requests it multiple times a day and does his best to keep up with all the motions.

As a former math teacher, you know I'm not going to ignore all the fun books and other materials you can use to teach your young children early math concepts! I'm actually saving my math books for another post coming next week. Math can be daunting for many people, and I want to share with you a few easy ways to make it a part of your day.

What are your children's favorite non-fiction books? Particularly if you homeschool, what have been some of your longest lasting, most used books? (I'm not committing to homeschooling past preschool, but we love books in our house and we are always looking for recommendations!)

On our 4th birthday wish list so far:
Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Preschool at Home - What Works So Far

In my next few posts, I'll be writing about some things we're doing or will be starting in our preschool at home. These are all things you can do whether or not your child is in any preschool program, and whether or not you have any background in teaching. When I was teaching 4th and 5th grade Spanish, everyone I told had the same question: "Are you fluent?" My answer was, "No, but I know more than they do, so I can teach them something." The same is true for parents. As long as you know more than your preschooler (and you do!), you have something to teach them too.

Use flashcards in fun ways to practice letter and number recognition.
I know some people are anti-flashcards, but if you can integrate movement or make silly up silly games, I think they can be useful, effective, and fun. If you don't want to go out and buy flashcards, you can easily make your own or print some out. Here are some of the fun ways we use flashcards.

  • I scatter them on the floor and say a letter or number and he has to jump to the one I say or the next one in alphabetical or numerical order.
  • I hold up a card, and if he correctly identifies it, I "fire" it at him (frisbee style). This is his favorite game. He pretends to be dodging it, but actually he wants it to hit him. He laughs the whole time and is motivated to give the correct answers.
  • Once in a while he is willing to go through a few cards in typical flashcard style, especially if we are "playing school" and he gets a turn to be the teacher and quiz me too. He doesn't seem to mind that most of the time my answer is, "I don't remember what that one is, Teacher. Will you tell me?"
  • I hold up a letter and gave a "prize" to whoever identified the letter first (yes, Tyler is in on this too - amazing how much he learns from watching big brother). The prizes are as simple as tickles, hugs, kisses, races around the room, being tossed in the air, spun around, or danced with. At the end, when I am exhausted and hoarse, the last letter is M and we get a family prize of a few M&M's.

Use toys to practice writing and letter formation.
Using a toy is less intimidating to a beginning writer than a paper and pencil. Use a MagnaDoodle or other drawing toy to practice writing letters and numbers. They also enjoy writing with and on different mediums - think chalk, finger paint, forming letters with Play-Doh, bending pipe cleaners into letters, tracing in pebbles/sand, etc..

Gradually introduce activities that require focus.
Attention-building activities are frustrating and must be used in small doses. As soon as your child begins to get overwhelmed, stop! I try to have I Spy and Spot the Difference type books available for car rides, waiting rooms, and quiet time. He also enjoys simple mazes and puzzles. Sometimes he really enjoys them, but once he is frustrated, he does not want anything to do with it. Problem solving skills are important, and that includes how to express frustration.

Buy a few inexpensive workbooks or print out materials from free websites.
As with flashcards, some people are anti-workbook, but my son is at an age where he takes delight in having his own books to write in and completed pages to show Daddy and Grandma. These are mixed in with other books, and it is up to him when he wants to pull it out and do a page or two. Ours are all from the dollar section at Target, the Dollar Tree store, or garage sales. He also enjoys these cutting and folding books, which he got for Christmas last year.

Lastly, a fine motor skills trick I learned from friends who work with children with special needs:
Don't bother buying the jumbo crayons or pencils for your toddlers. Their hands are little, and they need little things to hold onto! It is better for them to learn how to hold a regular crayon and a golf pencil correctly than to learn how to hold onto something bigger when their hand is little and then how to hold onto something smaller when their hand is bigger. You may disagree with this or have been given conflicting advice from someone else. I'm not an expert and am just passing on what they explained to me. So far it has worked for us.

Next I'll be sharing a few of the books we are reading and how you can develop pre-reading skills with your young children.