Over the weekend John and I had a really sweet getaway to attend the Refresh Foster and Adoption conference put on by Overlake Church near Seattle.  It’s always a little nervous-making to leave the kids at home and take off for a weekend.  But with a combination of teens supervising and a variety of friend/grandma/adult sibling visits, and a few LONG phone calls home from me, everyone seemed to have survived our absence and not starved.

Blue sky over Seattle

Refresh was just as good this our second year as it was our first.  We love the church family there, and the chance to visit with old friends and meet new ones, and play a tiny part in encouraging other families.  Always when I am getting ready to share with a group, I become so aware of my own imperfection and inadequacy.  I so much want to bless others, but I feel certain that others could do it much more eloquently.  Which certainly is true.

Seattle SunshineBut you know what? The weekend I was reminded in many ways how important it is to reach out and connect honestly and share hard and offer hope to the ones God places before us– even when, especially when, we don’t have it all together ourselves. Even if our voices sometimes quaver as we speak truth.  Because when it comes down to it, it’s not about us speaking perfect words. It’s about allowing the light of Jesus to shine into the heart of another fellow traveler.  And certainly that happened so many times, in so many ways this weekend.  We really did feel the presence of Jesus everywhere.

Last fall I met a neat group of adoptive mommas at a tiny retreat on Camano Island.  It was a sweet weekend of bonding and refreshment.  At the tail end of that lovely weekend, Darlene shared a bit of wisdom that an older lady had once shared with her:  “We’re all just dumb sheep, but we have a really, really good Shepherd.”

We all laughingly christened ourselves the Dumb Sheep, and this past weekend we had the chance to reconnect. Thanks to Refresh, some of the husbands are getting to know each other too– so neat. I think that sometimes husbands have a harder time making connections with other men and the fact that the Refresh conference gives men that opportunity is a real blessing.


The photo above is of some of the ‘dumb sheep’ Saturday morning at a breakfast where we chatted with a delightful group of earlybirds about nurturing passions and friendships amid the busy-ness of motherhood. (Toni, Tara, me, Jennie, Lisa, Darlene and Jen are in the photo.)  I’d never met Jennie before, but it was a pleasure to make her acquaintance.  She also did a fabulous job sharing encouragement and telling her adoption story in one of the general sessions on Friday.

Lisa and meI also had some precious visiting time with my dear friend Lisa, who recently lost her precious daughter Kalkidan in a car accident. Of course there is still much sadness in their home, but the light and strength of Jesus is also showing so clearly there in her whole family.  Her children shared at the conference and their precious sweet hearts were very evident.  Do keep praying for their family, will you?  It is a hard path they are walking.

A few other core highlights of the weekend:

~Relationship is central to this parenting journey– we need to keep reaching out to our loved ones even when, especially when growth is slow.

~God is the instigator of all growth and change, so we need to hold on and stay close to Him and trust His perfect will and His perfect timing, even in the middle of suffering, especially when the road is rough.

~Giving all our children voice is a powerful and important thing.  We need to keep checking in, keep connecting, to find out how they’re experiencing life.

~ Community is a gift from God– we need to remember the importance of reaching out to others, finding ones who are safe, and sharing honestly so that they can encourage us and that we can encourage them.  Yes, even in our weakness we can bless others.


Refresh next year is once again going to be the last week in February.  I’d encourage you to save the date and attend if you’re an adoptive or foster family anywhere near the Seattle area.  You will be blessed!

When you’re parenting teens

This weekend I am at the Refresh adoption conference in Seattle, speaking about older child adoption and about hanging onto joy in hard times.  Here’s just a taste of what I’m talking about in the older child session.


I started this post two and a half years ago, at which time I stared at the blank screen for a few minutes before deciding I wasn’t enough of an expert on teens to write a blog post about parenting teens.  These days– bad news–  I am still not remotely an expert.  The good days come only by the grace of God.  And there are definitely plenty of hard ones to go along with the good.  But here are some things that do seem to help, when I can just remember to do them!  I thought I’d write a few of them down here in case some of you might be like me– working hard to make this time of our kids’ lives as good as we can help it to be.

Get good at apologizing.

Even if you’re sure the problem is 80% your kid and only 20% you, there is huge power in humbly admitting that you had a part in an interaction that didn’t go well.  I am continually amazed at how soft my kids will get when I am willing to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry I lost my cool.  I should have been kinder.  Will you forgive me?”  Often a kid who was quite angry a while ago will at least accept my apology graciously, sometimes even adding their own apology.  This is SO hard to do, but so worth doing.


Try not to assume that your way to solve a problem is the best way.

Again, this is something that is very hard for me.  And I still don’t believe that every conversation should turn into a negotiation, but when a discussion with a teen isn’t going well, I’ll sometimes say, “How do you think we can solve this?” Or, “I want x and you want y. I’d love to hear your ideas for a compromise.”


Say yes as often as possible.

Sometimes we as parents get in the habit of a default no, just to simplify life. (This is a big problem for me as a mom of many– I can only handle so much complication, after all). But, wow, yes is a great word to be able to give a kid, even if sometimes it needs to sound like ‘yes, after you clean the bathroom’ or ‘yes, if you’re willing to be home by 10,’ or yes, let’s do that next week.’  Especially in the teen years, we should be thinking of ways to give them more freedom AND more responsibility (in finances, time management, work skills, etc) so that when they do head out into the world, instead of it being a bone-jarring thud, the leap will be as graceful and as prepared as is possible.


Ask yourself if a consequence or a decision will build relationship or hinder it.

This is a fabulous question to ask yourself when you’re wondering how to handle disobedience and rudeness. Certainly there are times when kids need consequences for their actions. But almost always there are options to choose from– and some will build relationship, and others may hurt it. You can have a teen skip an activity as a consequence for disrespect to you, or you can offer him the chance to redeem himself by redoing an interaction with you kindly and appropriately and also doing an extra task alongside you.  The former may lead to more resentment, and the latter is a chance to have a good interaction AND reinforce what should happen next time. I would much prefer connection than a young person whose heart is far from me.  Tho I don’t always succeed, I try to aim for connection, and I trust that kindness will have results later even if they’re not evident in the moment.


 Avoid assumptions and communicate clearly. 

Often hard moments come when you expect something that seems obvious to you, but turns out to be not so clear to your teen.  For example, I assume a 10PM curfew means the kid will be in the house no later than 10.  If a kid thinks 10:15 is close enough, that could make for some unhappiness. I still sometimes slip up and forget to clarify details, but just taking a minute to talk through assumptions and ask a few questions before a teen drives away makes for lots less misunderstanding.


 Ask your teen, “Who are you pleasing? Yourself or God?”

When a teen has a serious attitude problem, this question sometimes helps him see his motives more clearly.  We can all get so intent on our own desires that we forget our responsibility before God, and teens especially can be prone to selfishness.  Another question to ask when selfishness rises is, “Are you being a good friend?”


Find something you like to do together.

I have a daughter who doesn’t seek time with me, but she will offer opinions on clothing, and she enjoys looking at clothing on Pinterest with me. It’s not huge, but it is one thing we can do together and that’s a win! Speaking of individuals and interests, remember to praise your teens for any special strengths or skills that you notice.  This is especially crucial for kids whose talents are non-academic.  They need to hear they’re good at things!


Memorize the Word Together!

Our family spends maybe 5 minutes at breakfast on school mornings reading a section of memory work and usually within a month or two, everyone knows it pretty well. This spring we are memorizing a couple chunks in 2 Corinthians 4.

2 Corinthians 4: 7-9, 16-18  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My hope is that these words will stay in their hearts forever, and (like the words of praise I also try to speak), I know God can call them to remembrance in hard moments throughout their life.   I may fail daily in parenting.  But God never does.  I’m so glad this is not all up to me!


I’d love to hear ideas that you have for making life easier while parenting teens.


Winning family movies

One thing that’s almost inevitable when you’ve been a mom for a few years, is that you’re going to watch and re-watch a lot of kid-movies. This week we happened to watch a couple movies that are a few years old but that I still enjoy after multiple watchings. It got me thinking about the rarity of a decent family movie that’s still fun for both kids and parents even after you’ve seen it half a dozen times. Here’s my short list. Have any to add? I’d love to see your additions in comments.

Winning Family Movies



Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Ramona and Beezus


Follow Me, Boys!

The Karate Kid


We Bought a Zoo



The Incredibles

Eight Below



National Treasure


Mary Poppins


The Adventures of Tintin


Fly Away Home


Jump In!



Aladdin (with Robin Williams)


Akeelah and the Bee



Treasure Planet




Several of my kids have assured me that Big Hero 6 belongs on this list too.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m adding it because it went on sale yesterday!


Have any to add?  Add them in comments below.  Do you find lists like this helpful?  If so, I’d love a pin on Pinterest!


(This post contains affiliate links)

Monday news

I only have a minute to check in today, because I’m hard at work getting ready for the two talks I’ll be presenting at the Refresh adoption conference in Seattle at the end of the month.  So excited to be going for my second year.  I have no idea how to pick which breakout sessions to attend– there are so MANY good ones!  Overlake Church does an amazing job at orphan ministry, and I’m so honored to be a part of their plans this year.  Are you going?  I’d love to hear from you.

I did want to tell  you who won the free samples of the Drain Wig– I had no idea so many people would be interested in this gadget!  According to the winner is commenter #47, Alea.  Alea, email me your address and I will get your Drain Wigs to you.

And for those of you who buy (or who have bought) Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families (my just-released e-book!), remember to email me to request the 5 free bonus pages of transcript-writing info.  I’d love to send it your way.

I’ll check back in with you Wednesday– hopefully I’ll be all prepped for Refresh by then and have a bit longer to write!  Thanks, as always, for reading here!




a story of Saturday

After a long sleep-in and a quiet morning and a walk in the afternoon with my girls, mid-afternoon came with a scurry of pizza-making.  We were having the whole clan over for dinner, so we made three big pizzas, and then while waiting for everyone to arrive, we set the tables.  Not quite everyone would be there – two teens had to work– so that brought our total to 17.

They all seemed to come in a flurry–Daniel alongside Erika and Israel with their two toddlers in tow. Then came Jared and his fiance Erika bearing a huge salad to go with the pizza.  Into the oven went the pizzas to cook hot and fast.  By the time pizzas were done, Amanda and Ben had arrived with their two (going on three– they’re expecting a new little one in April!)   I alternated sitting on the floor with little ones all over me, and hopping up to check pizza, usually with a little one on my hip.

Then it was time to cut pizza and  fill plates for little ones, cutting food bite size and putting on bibs and finding sippy cups.  And eat.  And visit.  And fill plates again.  And let little ones down to run and play.  But all evening, wherever I went, wherever I sat, there were toddlers holding arms up to be picked up by me, coming to sit on my lap, bringing me their stories to read and their Hot Wheels to admire and their sweet cheeks to kiss.  When they’re here I’m a celebrity surrounded by affable beaming cherubs. Who occasionally swipe toys from each other and fight over my lap.

a story of Saturday

We bejeweled little ones with hair clips and necklaces and bracelets.  We played Ring around the Rosie until I had to sit down and let my stomach recover.  And in the middle of it all, we looked at Jared and Erika’s just-done wedding invitation, and heard about Daniel’s homework, and told funny electricity stories  (horses and people zapped by hot wire fences and parents zapped by kids coming down plastic slides and a computer tech with so much static electricity in him that he shut down a computer screen.)

Near the end of the evening, John gave flashlights to the little guys and we tromped out in the dark  with the four little ones to feed the cow whose dinner had been forgotten in the flurry of people-feeding.  The little boys (both almost 3) took great delight in shining their light toward the cow so grandad could see while doing the feeding, and the little girls were big-eyed in the dark, sitting in the arms of Emily and me.  Then we came back inside bright-eyed and pink-cheeked, with the feeling of having had an adventure.

Soon bedtimes were approaching and little ones were tucked back into shoes and jackets and goodbyes were said, with hugs and kiss-blowing and waves from the front step.  The few who remained came back into the house, living room littered with Hot Wheels and baby toys, and spent a few minutes putting the house back together before sitting down with a sigh. This I want to remember always.


PS– Today is your last chance to get Practical Homeschooling at the super-low price of  $3.49.  Anyone who shares about it on facebook and then sends me their email address will get a 5-page bonus supplement with extra information about creating a homeschooling high school transcript.  Thanks to all of you who’ve already spread the word.  I really appreciate it!   I’d also hugely appreciate a review of it on amazon once you’ve read it. (Crossing my fingers for 5 stars!)

Have a great week!



Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families

Practical HomeschoolingHooray! Finally, after years of living only in my head, my very first e-book is complete and officially releases on Monday. It’s called Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families and is chock full of my best tips for doable homeschooling (translate: ideas that won’t make mom nutty trying to do them).

I think every mom benefits when she has at least a little time for things she enjoys doing.  But to find that time, we need to work smart at homeschooling–otherwise it can very easily take up the whole day.  And that’s not good for parents or kids.

It can be tricky to find the right balance– the place where you’re getting enough school done to keep everyone moving forward, but not so obsessed with homeschool perfection that nobody’s happy.  A huge goal of this book is to help you find that happy place for your family.

What’s in the book?

In Practical Homeschooling, I’ll talk you through selecting curriculum that works for you and share my favorites, including lots of ideas that don’t cost a penny. You’ll learn about homeschooling short-cuts, games for little ones, tips for teaching essay-writing, ways to encourage resistant learners, and even how to create a high school transcript.  And along the way, you’ll hear more of my family’s homeschooling story.

What if my kids are in school?

This book also contains tips useful for non-homeschooling families.  There are homework helps, ideas for choosing books to suit your kids’ reading level, and lots of tips easily applicable to summer enrichment.

Here’s the link for pre-ordering.  Order between now and Monday, and you’ll get a special sale price.  So grab it now!

Share, please?

Will you take a moment and click the buttons below to share this post on facebook  or  on Pinterest ? Thanks so much for any help you can give me getting the word out!

P.S.– Here’s a special deal just for my readers. 

Order this week and share about it on social media, and I will send you a sample transcript — just like the one I’ve prepared for my five kids who’ve already graduated.  You can fill it in (and modify it) to use for your own children during the high school years.  To get the freebie, email me at, put transcript in the subject line, and tell me where you shared about the book.  I will get that sample headed your way!



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Goodbye, old gold. You served us well.

Probably the most exciting thing that happened yesterday was the arrival of the new light fixture that I ordered at Joss and Main.  A friend who is a home stager  (is that a word?)– anyway, she does home staging to help houses sell—mentioned that she loves the site, and while checking it out, I spotted a really fun light fixture.  I immediately thought of the aging light hanging in our entry, and since the price was fairly reasonable, I snatched it up.

Here’s a photo of my fearless hubby taking ‘old gold’ down.  Why, yes, that is dust on his shirt due to my fabulous (lack of) interest in dusting.

Taking out the old fixture


Here’s a photo of the new fixture from about the same angle.  It proved to be ridiculously hard to find an un-busy background against which to get a photo.

Seen from the front door

Here’s the fixture in the dark.  I forgot to get a photo showing the very cool light that this throws on the ceiling due to all the criss-crossing lines, but it is really fun– and crazy-bright for only fitting tiny 60-watt bulbs.  The entry is a great place for a little more light, since we have a small desk there where teens often do homework in the evenings.

Love the chandelier bulbs- this fixture is very bright!

Then here’s a shot of the light from the stairs– such a nice difference.  It’s really fun to look at.


New fixture seen from the stairs

Now I’m looking at my dining room light cross-eyed– isn’t that how this type of thing always goes?  But  since I still like the shape of that fixture, and don’t have a budget to replace things around here willy nilly, I think what I’ll do is try spray-painting it in a color similar to the oil-rubbed bronze.  Then it will match my entry light tone-wise if not in style.

I’ll probably also paint my front door handle.  It is bright brass too– but getting worn looking– and a fresh coat of paint would really improve its looks.  Here’s a tutorial I saved with info on how to do it.


Walking up the driveway to your front door yesterday, the very first thing I spotted was your face down low, peeking through the tall narrow window next to the front door, grinning out at me with your million candle-power smile, delighted that I’d come to visit you. You, the person in the world who first made me ‘Nana’.  Your hug after I walked in the door was as big as toddler arms could give.


I turned to hug your sweet sister and chat with your momma.  You hung close, waiting as I spoke to others, but then grabbing my hand to pull me in and show me your airplane and be certain that I intended to stay for awhile.  I sat on the floor and you bopped around, playing and showing me things.

Later we went into your room to play, and you were all exuberance, all appreciation, all shrieky-happy laughter as I made an over-the-top silly gasp each time a ball popped out of a slot in your toy.  You came up to me and turned around and backed up to seat yourself on my lap and I whispered in your ear that I love you, that you’re a good, good boy.  You didn’t look at me and you didn’t speak but you pressed your ear close, and your body was quiet as you soaked in my words.

When your sister came to sit on your lap, on my lap, making you the unwilling middle of a lap sandwich, you pushed her off.  But when I asked you to scoot over, to make space for her too, you did so willingly.  As long as I kept space for you too, you were happy.  It’s hard being an older sibling, isn’t it?  From one first born to another, I know how hard it is when you’re little to have siblings pressing in close, competing for everything.

Later when it was time for me to go, I didn’t want to leave.  But you were resigned, and came willingly when I asked for yet another hug. You opened your arms wide for me and snuggled in.  I whispered in your ear that you’re an awesome boy, and that I love you so much.  You turned your face to me and I thought you were going to say something, but instead you kissed me right on the lips, and my heart melted into a puddle.

You’re not the only child-of-my-child who I love as if you were my own.  With each new grandbaby, my heart expands a little more and each time the love is just as big.  But you were the first one to show me  that’s how it is to love a grandchild.  There’s a special Ranger-sized place in my heart and it will always only be all yours.

I know God made you for great things, but I’m convinced that at least one tiny purpose in your life, and in that of your sweet sister and your precious cousins, is because God knew I needed your kind of love. With my house full of wing-flapping, boundary-pushing, squawking-on-the-edge-of-the-nest teens– people who seem perpetually displeased with me- – God knew my battered heart needed toddler-love too, the uncomplicated, wholehearted embrace that teens just aren’t in a place to give.  I needed little ones to see my heart truly, to affirm who I really am.   To show me Jesus-love in a way that only you can.

Oh, what a gift you are.    Straight from Jesus.  I am so blessed.

Weekend happenings and book winners

Somehow I got through the weekend without ever getting to Frugal Friday.  There was a wedding in there, plus three meals where family came to visit.  Good times there.  The teens had some cousins over and they made pizza together– always fun.  We had a nice chat about wedding details with our oldest son and his fiance.  July is coming!  Also we had grandbabies over to play– oh, the sweetness.  The photo here is one I took a couple weekends ago.  The four of them can destroy a living room faster than anyone I know, but they are shining lights in my life. Pure joy.

toddlers everywhere

I also made some serious progress on my homeschooling e-book.  Still on track to get that done by the end of the month– hooray!   I’m really excited about it and am trying to cram in all the secrets and wisdom and shortcuts that I wish I’d known in my early years of homeschooling.  It’s funny– I envisioned this as a short lil 20-page thing.  But each time I start in on a topic I get long-winded, thinking of more and more that could be useful to other mommas.  It’s looking like about a 40-page book at the moment, but I’m sure there’s still more to write.

Despite being a 20-year veteran of homeschooling, the first week (month?) after Christmas break is always painful.  Sigh.  It is SO hard to get back into the habit of rising dragging teens out of bed at 8 AM.  And I do think that is a lot of the pain– just getting so many sleepyheads moving. Other years I have let kids sleep til 9. But a couple of them have jobs, some starting as early as 2, plus they’re juggling college classes that happen two days a week.  We really need those morning hours to get things accomplished.  Ironically, the younger ones who could afford to sleep later pop up like daisies every morning.   Figures, huh?

Anyone else struggle with homeschooling in the winter time?  What keeps you going?

Finally, the winners of the book More Love (Less Panic) are commenters #18 Katie P. and #30– S.  Email me your addresses, ladies, so I can get those books headed your way. Thanks for commenting and sharing your parenting wisdom.

Book giveaway!

In Ethiopia with our two youngest daughters

I haven’t done a book giveaway for awhile, and I’m really excited about this one. The book is called More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia.  Claude Knobler and his wife adopted their son  just five months after we brought our first Ethiopian daughter home, and a year before we brought home our second daughter  (pictured on the right).   So it was really interesting to read about their experience in Ethiopia, and also about his parenting journey since then.  As it turns out, his book is more about parenting than it is about adoption.

While reading the book, I found myself nodding (sometimes ruefully) because so much of what he’s learned is also part of my own learning curve.  So often early on in parenting I think we see it as our job to somehow ensure that our kids will be successful by making all the right parenting choices.  And then we discover that they’re already so much their own people (especially when we adopt them past infancy) that our best hope is simply to influence them.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m excited to have two copies to give away.  If you’d like to win one of those copies, just comment below and tell me something that you’ve learned along your parenting journey.  Or if you prefer, you can share something that you vowed you’d never do as a parent.  (Do you find yourself slipping up and doing it anyway?)  Parenthood is such a learning journey, isn’t it?  For an additional entry, ‘like’ this post (using the buttons below) on facebook or twitter and then comment again, telling me you shared it.  I’ll pick a winner on Friday!