Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Grand Adventures

Well hello again! Today's blog post is brought to you by some major family updates, super exciting stuff like we have never done before, stuff we have always wanted to do and talked about maybe doing, but this time, God has lined it all up!

As you might know, we sold our house this past summer and came to live with Mark's mom & dad for a time. With all the Covid restrictions and life-events that were cancelled or put on hold, we figured it was the prefect time to sell, spend time with them, and take advantage of Mark's working from home. It’s been beneficial for all of us, but we can’t stay forever. 

After spending SO many hours looking for houses here in Oregon, we decided to branch out a bit and explore moving somewhere we had both talked about before, a place that seemed to have events and people and an energy we wanted to be a part of. So, in September Mark began a long interview process with Ramsey Solutions in Franklin, TN. A few weeks ago we both got travel there for Mark to have his final interview, to check out the area, and for me to get any of my questions answered as well. 

The day after we got back home they offered him the job! He will be their new Director of Product Engineering. We had been waiting to make this announcement public until Mark gave his notice this past week, but now it’s officially out in the open. In fact, it’s so official, we just signed on a home that will finish being built in early March! We are still figuring out housing between when we fly out in January and that date, but we have some plans in the works.

It was an interesting trip. Traveling during Covid is weird and nice - the airports were sparse and no strangers sitting next to us! The weather was dreary one day, and snowed the next. My gut was pretty unhappy as I discovered I am probably allergic to ibuprofen the day before we left. Still, despite all that, we got to attend the church we had been tuning into on YouTube (Refuge Franklin) and the pastor and his wife there (and numerous others they have connected us with) have already been super helpful. We drove through neighborhoods, looked at the houses we could, ate at some amazing restaurants (I know, so taboo), and tried to make the most of the short daylight hours.

We don’t know how to navigate getting to see people before we leave, and since I am so great at good-byes (read my sarcasm there), it feels easier just to drop off the side of the earth and pretend it's not a problem. Of course we really would like to see people and say something, but I just don't know how to navigate that with holidays and Covid.

With all of these unknowns, we would love your prayers as we try to get all packed, live for at least 10 days out of suitcases here, then who knows what exactly after that. We are also trying to figure out taking the cat, which probably means getting mom & dad Armstrong to bring him to Delta and ship him cargo after we get at least a little settled in our first temporary place (wow, it's a good thing I am good at planning these types of things out). We would consider leaving the cat with Mark''s parents if they could stand him, or giving him to a good home, but the kids are 100% against it, and I don't know who would want a cat with such an attitude, who cries at you to come pet him while he eats, and doesn't like to cuddle... answer, only us! Ha!

Anyway, we are excited for this new and big adventure, and we know that God has been preparing us for this. Of course, we’ll be posting pictures and sharing how it goes along the way. Follow me on IG @joellen.armstrong or just tag along here on the blog. I will try to keep everyone up-to-date. It's been weird for me to be so quiet, but since I couldn't share much, I just didn't know what exactly to share. It feels SO good to have it out in the open!

I am excited to see what God will do with our family there. I honestly have no clue how our life may or may not change! I'm planning on still homeschooling and am getting connected with people there, but who knows what exactly is ahead. All I know is, God is totally worthy of my trust and I look forward to walking in His best laid plans.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Waiting for It.

 Funny thing, I've been meaning to write a post about waiting, not realizing that this week would include a lot of waiting for the ENTIRE country. Waiting for counting ballots, waiting to know what the future might hold, waiting for the reaction of the general public: we are all doing a lot of waiting over events that are fairly pivotal. At least, many people think they are.

I don't want to disparage anyone who sees this presidential election as one of the most pivotal in history; it might very well be! I'm sure that whoever is elected will make a difference in our country, for better AND worse to some extent, depending on what you see as the important or what you desire for our nation. But this is not at all what I set out to write about. 

As many of you know, with how much of our daily life was disrupted by how Oregon is handling the Covid-19 pandemic, we decided to sell our home this summer. Mark was working from home full-time, all the kids' sports and activities either got cancelled or went virtual, and the housing market was great for selling. Mark's parents also were living in a home with 2 kitchens, and basically two of everything you need for two families to live together. We had lived in this home before when the boys were tiny, so we had a pretty good idea about what it would look like to move back out to McMinnville and live with them again. 

The road to selling our home was pretty uneventful. It sold above asking very quickly, with only a couple minor hiccups along the way. There was some waiting in the midst, but it all had a clear deadline, and ending point with a certain, particular reward. At first, we thought maybe we would just buy again soon after, so we were stalking Redfin and Zillow almost every hour, hoping, wishing, and dreaming. 

If you live in Oregon, you know that right now is also not the best time to buy a home. We are at an all-time low for what percentage of homes are on the market, which made the pricing great for selling our home, but not so much for buying. And being that we are fairly picky home-buyers, that has also limited our choices. So, we continue to wait, and wonder, and sometimes, when I feel really brave, I dare to dream.

But how does a person wait well when they don't know what they are waiting for? 

I dare say, it's near impossible. I've struggled to figure out what to turn my mind to, what to turn my energy to. We're living with someone who is immune-compormised, so we have been more isolated than most, and when you share a smaller living-space with three home-schooled children, that isolation can start to wear on everyone pretty quickly. We are people and we are wired for motion and movement and the company of other people, so naturally we are waiting for the opportunity to have those things to a fuller, richer, more varied degree than we do now. That wait seems like it might be farther away than most of us expected.

In all of this waiting for an unknown deadline, I have had to turn to something more definite. It's pretty funny really, because so many events lately have shown us just how little in this world is definite. Jobs, homes, safety, security: we tend to think of these as things we can obtain and hold on to, but they are as fleeting as the smoke from a match. In the current state of our world, there is almost nothing I can turn to and hope in. An end to the Covid shut-down is so far away. An end to the crazy housing market is completely unknown, or may come at the expense of a market collapse or a huge percentage of people losing their homes. There just isn't much else to hope in except for that glorious kingdom I will inherit after my death.

Maybe that sounds a bit morbid, and I want to clarify that I am not in despair or giving up on life in general. It's just that I have had to put that end-goal as my highest, most prized goal in order NOT to despair over the wide variety of things limiting all of the other pursuits I might normally look forward to. If I was hoping in the housing market, or job-security, or the success of my kids, or my own ability to be the "best mom ever," or any number of things that I am not able to ensure 100%, then my hope would be constantly thwarted. Instead, I have to hope in something so permanent and so wonderful that the circumstances of this life won't be able to crush it. 

See Hebrews 11:13-16, speaking of our forefathers of the faith:

"These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place - a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." 

The last few months have been proof that hoping in earthly circumstances and outcomes doesn't work. My hope has to lie beyond what I can attain here on earth. So many lives have been incredibly altered with this global pandemic, however severe or not severe it really is. We have all felt the impact to some degree and will likely continue to feel it for some time. We will all feel the impact of this election, we will all struggle with our children's choices and the circumstances that brings upon them, and we will always struggle with our own inability or failure to be the person we wish we could be. We don't have it in ourselves to bring about the life we wish we were living. 

Maybe Covid has made you see that more clearly for the first time, and maybe it has tempted you to despair. It has certainly brought me to that brink over and over again. However, in all the waiting, I am reminded about what it is I am really waiting for. It's not for the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect endeavor, or the perfect children. It's not healthy for me to hope endlessly that all of these things will mostly turn out okay. If my hope is on these things, it will eventually fail. And the only safety net is the one promise that will never fail. The promise Jesus gave us when He conquered death. The promise that with Him, God will give us all things, things that no human, moth, or rust can destroy.

If you don't have that kind of hope in life after death, in a city that God is building that is completely untouched by sorrow, suffering, and disappointment, I urge you to consider Christ. It's the only promise in the world that no pandemic, election, or person can alter. It's the only thing that can possibly make all our waiting worth it. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

So, You Want to Know About Homeschooling...

 It's been a while since I've sat down to write something specifically to share here on my blog! While I have been writing fairly frequently, it's been for other projects that will hopefully come about soon. So here I am, ready to share just a few thoughts on some books that have inspired and informed me on my homeschool journey. There are affiliate links for these books too, just FYI :)

I only chose five books (I only have the physical copies of 4), which I think will keep you busy for a while. These books have all inspired or encouraged me in some way and I'm confident that at least a few will give you what you need to homeschool with more joy and less stress. Be sure to comment below and let me know if you've ready any of these and what you think!

First up, and the first legitimate homeschooling book I ever read (and finished), is For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.

If you have never heard of Charlotte Mason, or just want a general overview of the principals and reasons why she saw education the way she did, this is a great starting point! Or, if you want to refresh your mind and need to get your heart back on track toward educating this way, you will find this book highly encouraging. 

Susan gives you the perspective from her own experience as well, so there are pointers along the way of what it has looked like for their family, as well as lots of advice and input that is so gentle and beautiful. This book is worth reading many times over! Not only will it give you tangible ways to interact with your children and approach educating them at home, it will give you the hope and direction you need to help teach them how to set their hearts on Christ. 

Here is another book I read early on. Actually, I had started educating classically before reading this book, then once I read it, I was SO glad that we had chosen this path. This book is from the founder, Leigh Bortins, of the organization we homeschool with, Classical Conversations. It's called, The Core, and is the first of three books she wrote about the stages of development and educating classically, with a Christian Worldview. 

I have read this book almost every year since I have been homeschooling, and each time I gain new insights, fresh ideas, and lots of confirmation about being on this path. She lays out what it looks like to educate classically, how her family got started on this path, and how we can pursue it with our littlest learners. If you want a basic overview of educating classically that is not too "heady" or filled with words you don't understand, this is the book for you! You'll learn, get an example of what it could look like in your daily life, and have the tools you need to start. I can't say enough good things about this book!

If your kids are older and you are just jumping into homeschooling, check out her other books The Question and The Conversation. She gives a short overview of classical education in these books too, so don't worry about needing to read The Core first if you don't have the time. (Note: you CAN get these books on Amazon, but you will find them priced better at .)

Next up is a book I only read recently, and I suppose since it is relatively newer, I shouldn't be in too much trouble about that. But I think for anyone who is looking for alternative approaches to education, it is a MUST-READ! I hope you read those caps right... seriously, a MUST-READ. I had read plenty of other study from Susan Wise-Bauer before; The Well-Trained Mind, The Well-Educated Mind, her Story of the World history books "for children," plus other various curriculum she has put out. All of her stuff is so helpful, and has the perfect balance of enticing and educational. I found this exactly the case with her book Rethinking School as well. 

She goes over a lot of basics about homeschooling rights, testing needs, school's aims, and even how to go about getting your child the extra help they might need while they are in an educational system, private or public. If you are looking for the tangible, real things you can do to pursue educating at home (or supplementing in some way) and you want to make sure you have all your bases covered legally, you will find this book super helpful. There is encouragement tucked in here too, but most of it is through looking objectively at what is expected, required, and what is truly in the realm of possibility for our kids. Hint: there's a lot more out there than you think!

A couple years into my homeschooling journey I read this wonderful little book, but back then it was only available via PDF. You can now purchase a physical copy in various places and even listen to the audiobook (which is what I recently did), and this is definitely a favorite among MANY homeschooling groups. Sarah MacKenzie has quite the following with her business Read Aloud Revival, and for good reason! She has SO many great recommendations and has found an important key for connecting with our kids and helping them connect with the world. And it really does begin with rest. You'll find her book Teaching from Rest such a pleasure and balm to your soul.

Sarah has such an easy way of writing - it really is just like hearing her speak! She is gentle and thoughtful in what she recommends, and most importantly, points us toward truth. It's not in scurrying frantically, or trying to check off every single box, or creating a hectic atmosphere for our kids full of appointments and every single educational endeavor we can cram into their lives. Teaching well must come from faith in the one who sees it all, knows it all, and truly has good plans for our kids... better plans than we could ever make. I find this book centers me and helps me trust that all the interruptions in my day and in my plans have a purpose. Maybe they are all there just to shape me! No matter, her words bring me back to hope and confidence in my Maker, and that is well worth the few dollars you'll spend on her book.

Last is the book I most recently finished. Not only is the book gorgeous and filled with beautiful pictures and full-color pages, the words remind me of the immense freedom I have in educating my children. Ainsley Arment is the founder of the organization Wild + Free, and their core aim is to help parents give their children a quality education while preserving the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood. This organization has SO many wonderful helps, whether it is connecting with other local moms or just being inspired by beautiful projects you can do with your kids, what she has put together is truly inspirational. Her book, The Call of the Wild and Free, offers nothing less.

Whether you are more drawn to a classical approach to homeschooling, unschooling, montessori or other methods, this book still has so much good stuff to offer. It's not always just about the method or overarching plan for your schooling, but more about the mindset. What is your overall aim? If it is to expose them to beauty, have them learning and growing, and give them tools for navigating the world once they fly the coop, you will find encouragement in these pages. It's not always about how, but there are many suggestions offered here that will help point you in a direction you can start walking towards. While I tend to be pretty structured, this book helped remind me to relax a bit, plan in some open space for adventure, and recognize that my children are just that... children! They are growing, and they need some help, but maybe not always the dogmatic instruction I assume will be most clear and best. Sometimes letting them struggle and wade through difficult ideas on their own is best, sometimes they need a guide, and sometimes they need direct instruction. But being open to what they need and different ways of giving that to them will help fuel a family atmosphere that breeds hope, joy, and enthusiasm. 

It was really hard to only pick five books. I love to learn, and learning about teaching is pretty much one of my favorite topics! I won't go into details on these books, but here are a few more that maybe you might enjoy too...

- Consider This and/or Know and Tell by Karen Glass
- A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille
- Repairing the Ruins by Douglas Wilson
- The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart
- The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson

Plus these books that are sitting on my shelf, just waiting to be read...

- Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson
- Awaking Wonder by Sally Clarkson

I hope this gives you some great places to start! If you've read some of these, leave and comment and let me know what you think! Got any others that have encouraged you lately?