Monday, April 30, 2018

On Belay: Lost and Found in LA

I am incredibly excited to add a new Blogger to my rotation. Shelby Mathis will be posting every Monday. I'll be sharing more about her in the future. Stay tuned!!!

I went to a personal growth conference called RISE the first weekend of April and it was amazing and challenging and I hardly have words for all I heard and learned. I do keep being asked about my biggest takeaway. It is this: The kindness of strangers and radical hospitality are holy and beautiful. I am so full of gratitude if that's the only lesson learned that weekend.
I had to make a gratitude list on a bus I never intended to take. I was tired, frustrated, anxious, and near-stranded in an unfamiliar city without a phone.
But I remembered that I can't be anxious and grateful in the same breath. So I dug out a pen and scribbled down all the things I was grateful for from the last few challenging and exhausting hours.
Just like that, the anxiety was gone. I was not lost. I was not stranded. I was sleep-deprived out of my right mind, but counting the blessings of the rough morning snapped me out of it.
Here's where the chaos began: I had arrived in Los Angeles without a working cell phone. I couldn't even get in an Uber and figure it out at the hotel. I decided -- at 30,000 feet -- that my options were 1) take a $150+ taxi across the city to the venue or 2) figure it out when I got there.
I am not new to solo city travel, even sans smartphone, but when I've taken this on historically, I deplaned with a plan. That is not this story.
I learned of a shuttle that could get me halfway there for $8. I knew where it picked up but had no clue where exactly I'd be dropped off. Hollywood and Vine, as it turns out.
I wandered into Starbucks across from the deserted bus stop and starting asking caffeinated patrons if they mind calling me a cab. One kind Katie asked where I was going and how long I had to get there and she told me which metro bus to take, where it left from, which stop to take it to. I ventured back out onto the street and noticed Katie a few paces behind me. When I caught her eye she said she'd looked up the status of the bus and the next was on its way, that I'd be on time, and that I was going to be fine.
I was 1.5 stairs onto the bus when the driver asked where I was going and if this was my first time. I wondered if I looked the part: lost. He just assumed because I put too much cash in the meter that I couldn't be a local. No change, apparently.
Half an hour later I had to ask another rider where to get off and she told me to follow her. Still lost, but still resourceful. I made it to the venue while the line was still queued around the building.
All weekend at the conference, bands women let me tell the story of my phone's epic tank dive into a public bathroom toilet and unexpected journey across the city, and would pull out their phones and ask if I needed to call someone. One called me a Lyft one night for the trek to the hotel. One called the tech store to see if they could take a look at my phone.
But the magic happened on the second day of the conference. It had occurred to me briefly throughout the first day I did not have a solid plan to return to the airport, much less get to my house from the Denver airport in the middle of the night. I noticed the woman seated next to me booking a flight. I admit I was totally being nosy but I wanted to make sure she wasn't leaving early because she felt out of place, or worse, left out. I'd been praying all weekend to make connections with like-minded women myself, and I know what it's like to be alone in a crowded room.
But holy divine appointment. She didn't need me like I needed her.
She was from Denver.
On the same flight as me.
Could take me to the airport in her rental car if I agreed to go to the beach on the way (twist my arm.)
Had a car parked at the Denver airport.
Would take me home to Aurora way out of her way home.
She saved me not only a ton of money and time and heartache, but she saved me from making the weekend all about me. I am so grateful. Thank you thank you thank you.
My favorite quote from the conference is from the RISE founder and New York Times best-selling author Rachel Hollis. She was mid-key note and literally mid-sentence and asked "who is that sitting by herself back there?" [points to the accessible platform, crowd assures her it's a facility staff member] "GOOD," she shouts. "NO ONE sits alone at my conference."
LIVE. THIS. WAY. Make sure no one sits alone at your conference.
I am writing this as a reminder to myself and to you: be brave enough to disconnect, ask for help, expect the kindness of strangers, practice radical hospitality, and adopt a tribe mentality. If you're lonely in a crowded room, invite someone in (or invite yourself into their rental car all the way home!) but refuse to sit alone and expect the world to come to you. Go find your angels.

These are the only three known photos of me from the weekend. They were all taken by other people with cell phones or cameras that hadn't gone swimming, obviously. I am grateful for this group of women who refuse to let other women sit alone at their conferences.

Climb on,

Tuesday Truth

Sunday, April 29, 2018

We Bought a Farm: Did I seriously just castrate a ram?

We returned home from our trip to D.C. 
Within one hour we were out in the fields ...
castrating our 12 male lambs. 
I "kid" you not. 
(Kids are goats, I know, but it sort of works here.)
Have I ever done this before?
Certainly not.
Was I planning on participating?
(Are you even asking this question?)
My job was to help catch the little lambs and bring them to the castraters. 
(Is castrater a word?)
But there were 12 boys to castrate, and for crying out loud Sidge had already done a few.
So I decided to add it to my list of the things I'd never dreamed I would do.

P.S. We currently have 12 boys and 4 girls from 11 moms. Wow! That is a lot of boys! We still have 7 more moms who haven't given birth. We decided to do castration this year as a different approach so that the little boys could stay with their moms longer. (You have to move them out at four months otherwise as they are old enough to mate their mothers at this point.) We also thought this would allow us not keep our two big daddy rams, Captain and Admiral, for another season, and not run a third paddock. We are going to try it for a year and see how it works out. There are different schools of thought, and we thought we'd try this one this year.

P.S.S. I will have many more pictures from our week in D.C. But I wanted to quickly share a picture of me with my girl, Arabelle, and her seven puppies. Much more to come on both of these topics in an upcoming post.

Friday, April 27, 2018

We Bought a Farm: Helping Grama with the planting

We Bought a Farm: While the family is away, the farm will play!

JB, myself, and the kiddos are enjoying a much-needed family vacation in Washington DC right now. Normally I refrain from saying we aren't home until we get back, but since there are a gazillion people on our farm right now, I'm not worried about it being a target to anyone.

It was VERY hard to leave the farm while lambs and puppies were due to be born. But Arabelle's due date came up after the trip was planned, and we just felt like we needed to take this trip together.

We have a great friend, Anni, who has come to the farm for a long weekend specifically to help with Arabelle. In addition, we have a great wwoofer at the farm, Nico who has been an invaluable help. My in-laws are all-stars as always, and John's sister is also present and has been a tremendous help. And at the same time, his brother is there doing farm work. We are well taken care of!!

Here is a picture of Arabelle and the pups in the back of my van to head to the vet today.

And while the puppies are busy enough, we have sheep popping out everywhere. In the last 24 hours we have had two sets of twins born. All boys AGAIN! I believe our current count is 11 boys and 3 girls!!

Yesterday, one of our good friends, Erin, came by with her daughters to see the puppies.Erin and her family lost everything in a house fire last year. This included many of their precious pets. When this happened, they began discussing getting a new dog, and their oldest daughter, Hailey, got her heart set on one of our puppies. They will be picking the first girl of the litter. I am so blessed to be able to help rebuild their family in this way. Here's a picture of Erin in the whelping box:

Here is a picture of the eight pups and then a picture below with their sex color on their back. (This isn't really there. It was done just on the photo.) Unfortunately, our little runt passed away last night. So we have a total of eight puppies: there were four boys and four girls, but with his loss, we have four girls and three boys.

In the meantime, while all this is going on, we are enjoying touring and being together as a family in DC. It has been hard to be away from the farm, but we have so enjoyed spending quality time with our family and some dear friends. We are staying with the Connors family for a few nights and will then spend a few night with the Stebbins family. We also got to see my friend Claire and her kiddos while we were here.

Yesterday we went into DC just the six of us to tour around. It is the first time we have ever done a "big outing" without a stroller and without a single diaper. Quite a bit excursion for us!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Snapchat pictures

I don't have snapchat on my phone. I've sort of purposely avoided it. But when my kids get together with someone who has it (this time Aunt Danielle) they have a blast putting pictures together.

I must admit, this one is pretty cute!!!

Review: Planet 316

Planet 316

If you want an amazing present for your godchild or grandchild for Christmas or Easter, I have the product for you. This is seriously one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and I want to start by saying I am reviewing the Planet 316 Story Bible and the companion Planet 316 Story Bible App from Planet 316 and WorthyKids/Idealsthis with every single thumb I have shooting up in the air!!

I want to start by saying I tried to get a video of my kiddos watching this video. I simply could not capture its full essence with any of my video taking skills. So I did some googling and found that Planet 316 had posted a video that realllllly showed how amazing this app and Bible are.

(A quick note: when they lay the pages down, it looks like a thin Bible. This is not a thin Bible. It is a thick book, almost as big as a real Bible. I think they did that just to make it easy to show.)

So how does this work? Basically, you buy the Bible. Then you download the app onto your iPhone or Android. After that, your kids read the Bible and hold the device and watch the Bible stories come to life. It is really that simple.

And that AMAZING.

All of my kids loved this product. I find it is really hard to get kids to verbalize why they love something, but I tried to have Sidge share what he liked. 

You hear him mention the "sounds." There are many pages where you can hear characters or things moving and saying things. It's so cool! It features more than 100 favorite Bible stories from both the Old and New Testaments told in child-friendly language. The purchase of the Bible includes the FREE downloadable app featuring augmented reality. The App, as I mentioned above, allows characters and objects to spring up in 3D and include audio  and and humorous illustrations that ads fun and and context to the stories.

This product is great for kids of all ages. However, my youngest, Hannah, who is 4, was a little too young to manage the hand-eye requirements by herself. So I would put the ages of this product right around 5 and up. Hannah could do it, but I really think this is a good choice for school-aged children.

As always, if you have a question about this product, please let me know. Feel free to email or message me personally.

Oh and did I mention it is under $15?!

Check out this amazing product at: Facebook or Twitter.

Planet 316 Story Bible and Bible App {Planet 316 Reviews} 
Crew Disclaimer

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The puppies are here!!!!

Well Arabelle waited until the day after we left for vacation to have her puppies. We debated cancelling our trip time and time again but ultimately, we have amazing people staying at the farm right now (including John's parents, two of his siblings, and a wwoofer) and my friend Anni is coming tomorrow. We had left things in great hands and just didn't feel like we should cancel so we went.

And all eight puppies are here!! Puppy four is a little smaller and weaker, but they all appear to be doing great. 

We have nearly all the puppies already accounted for so if you wanted an Australian Shepherd for half the price of what they are normally sold for, please let me know!!

Much much more to come!!!!

We Bought a Farm: Sleep Drama

We are barely fitting in our room right now. But everyone does have a bed. Why Hannah would get out of her bed during the night and go to sleep between Isaac's bed (blue stripes which are actually king sized sheets but who is paying attention) and Abigail's (pink flamingo sheets which are size and child appropriate), I have no idea. But not only did Hannah sleep there the whole night, Abigail then woke up to tell me that Hannah was blocking her path to the bathroom! That was bogus. The bathroom is in the top right corner of this photo. Abigail just had to step over the big pink stuffed animal and she was home free.  Sheesh!

P.S. We should have the kids out of our bedroom ANY DAY NOW! But who is counting!

Review: A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc).

Today's review features A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc). This program was fantastic and by using their Adaptive Math Curriculum, we were able to identify and correct some of the learning gaps in the math knowledge of my six-year-old daughter (first grade) and my nine-year-old sons (third grade).  

Adaptive Math

When doing this review, we were given the possibility of reviewing two different "aspects" of this program. I want to touch briefly on the two different options and then focus primarily on the second one, which was the one that I was assigned for my review. 
The Family Math Package does not pre-test students. It is instead a package for grade level 1-6 (and then for Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1). Basically each grade level is an entire curriculum featuring: 
  • video lessons
  • interactive review
  • practice worksheets
  • chapter tests 
  • automatic grading 
  • and much more!
A student can be placed in any grade level. However, they can also move forward or backward as needed!

The Adaptive Math Curriculum Online is the program we used. I will therefore be spending the remainder of my time on this review, discussing this particular aspect of  A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc)

In this program, the parent (me!) enrolls each student in a target grade level. I chose third grade for my nine-year-old sons and first grade for my six-year-old daughter. Then, each of my kids logged on themselves and took a "mini-test" for each major math concept. And here's where the program gets cool!
  • The program automatically adjusts the difficulty level based on how the student is answering and then creates an individualized plan for the student. 
  • The program then gives a mini-test for each major math concept to gauge student’s skill level. 
  • The program automatically adjusts the difficulty level of questions based on the answers provided by student. 
  • If the program detects any learning gaps between the “target” grade level and student’s current skill level, it automatically creates an individualized plan for the student. 
  • The plan includes: 
    • video lessons
    • interactive review
    • practice worksheets online
    • automatic grading etc. 
For the sake of this review, I wanted to randomly pick one of my children and fill you in on how this worked for him. Since Sidge (age 9) was a willing participant in my picture taking prowess, I'll choose him.

After setting him in the third grade, Sidge logged into the program.He then comes to a screen that (after doing some work with the program) ends up looking like this.

So Sidge started with the first item: "Number Sense." The first time he took the test, he didn't do so hot on it. So we went over all the questions he missed, and he attempted the test again. This time he did totally great and had reached his goal. In fact, if you look closely, he even passed the goal. Go Sidge! (This is pretty typical for Sidge. He simply goes too fast and knows the answer to many questions he missed.)

I especially loved that while reviewing the questions he missed, it showed how much time Sidge took on each question. There was one question he missed that he had answered in 7 seconds! He couldn't have even read the question in 7 seconds and he agreed that maybe he needed to slow down a bit.

Since I was pretty confident he knew what he was doing on that program, we moved on and did the same with "Addition."

Sidge has since gone on to take a test on "Subtraction" and "Multiplication" and he has scored "below goal level" for those two items. He can then click on the buttons out to the right of those to spend more time learning in an individualized lesson format. He can also "Retake Test" at anytime!

There are many items that Sidge has not gotten to, and we will continue working through.

So what do I love about this program?

Well, I love that I can fill in homeschooling gaps first and foremost. That is a huge worry for homeschool parents. "What if I am missing something?" This assures that you aren't! You can spend the time and make sure you have covered all the bases.

I also think this program is priced VERY reasonably. There is a 30 day money-back guarantee which is always nice. But if you have anywhere from 2-10 children, the program is just $149 for the year. For someone like me who has four children, this works out to about $37 a year per child for them to take math! This is about $3 a month. And if you happen to have 10 children (the Lord bless you and keep you), well, you are spending just under $15 per student and just over $1 a month!

The program is not perfect. They are still improving their interface and there were a few stumbling blocks to my kids. (A quick example, on one test, if they clicked "enter" instead of a button that said "next" it sent them out of the program and made them start again.) However, these were easily overcome and after the first day, they really didn't impact us again.
You can read more about this great option for math by visiting A+ Interactive Math (by A+ TutorSoft Inc) on:
Family & Adaptive Math Online {A+ Interactive Math Reviews}
Crew Disclaimer

Monday, April 23, 2018

On Belay with Shelby Mathis

I am incredibly excited to add a new Blogger to my rotation. Shelby Mathis will be posting every Monday. I'll be sharing more about her in the future. Stay tuned!!!

"On belay?" a climber asks of her partner on the other end of the rope. They're both still on the ground. The climber is asking, "are you ready to catch me if I fall when I'm up there?"

This brief exchange opens the line of communication between the climber and her belayer. The rest of the commands will be single-word shouts, rope tugs, and hand signals. The rope is in the belayer's hands, but she is in control of what happens next.

"On belay," the belayer assures. This "on belay" is a touchstone. It is when the climber decides if this security is enough, and if it is, she answers, "climbing!" This is the moment when the ascent begins.

For me, this also is where I have to stop thinking about what could happen to focus on what is happening. Being belayed is not meant to be the hard part. The climbing is the hard part. I switch gears to be intentional about what I'm going to do to not fall off this wall. The word "fall" has to remain on the ground too, or so will I.

Because climbers have one job. Don't fall.

That looks a lot of ways: careful footwork, redundant anchors, calculated gear placement. The most important thing is trusting the rope to my belayer. I won't ascend if I'm unsure the rope is what is going to break my fall.

Climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. Photo credit: The Evoke Group
I still fight security. I wrestle with safety. I suppose you may not believe that if you heard of the thousands of vertical feet I've climbed over the years, but it's true. I'm a chicken. I'm not a hardcore climber like my husband, Lane. But I am hardcore into the lessons of faith and endurance and growth that climbing imparts to me.

In this way, I think climbing and life are the same: we are held, even when we think we're falling. We can know we will be caught before we even slip up. We have assurance this gear system will not falter or fail no matter what mountain we've been asked to move or which walls we've been asked to climb.

We are always asking, "are you going to catch me if I fall?"

On belay?

Rappelling in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
I spent the first two decades of my life "climbing" without a belay. By that I mean I was just going about life without real purpose or intention. Without security. Never really safe. When I was 21, I met my Creator and realized I was already tied in. I finally got to stop second-guessing that I was being belayed on any real lifeline. 

And so, I got to get on with climbing. REALLY climbing. I don't have to waste precious time and energy wondering, "on belay? will You catch me when I fall up there?" The answer now is always, always of course. This security is enough.

Climbing in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon.
Even when I'm scared, I'm secure. Even when I do slip up, the rope's tension will find me eventually. I can hate, hate, hate the sensation of falling and failing, but I'm trusting my Belay. Even when I can't see Him, He's got me. Even when I can't see the anchor above me, it's still my aim.

When I'm already on the wall now, I can triple and quadruple check that my knot is still secure on my harness. I can check my end of the system. But I don't get to control it all. I don't have to. My one job now is to not fall and to cheer on the climbers to my left and right to keep putting one foot above the other, reminding them they can do hard things and may fall but will be held.

So now, "on belay" is my prayer. "Climbing!" is my baptism into trust and surrender. And so we climb.

I hope you'll join me at this little crag over here every week where I share how I'm learning to be intentional to not fall off my walls, trust the great Belayer, and use too many climbing/life metaphors!

Climb on,

Climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado. Photo credit: The Evoke Group