Sunday, February 11, 2018

I Am Back to School

     We arrived here in Egypt on August 3, 2017, so it has been six and a half months since we got here. Our household goods arrived in October and the unaccompanied baggage arrived in November. It was so good to have some new (old but felt like new!) clothes to change into, toys to play with, and blankets to comfort our homesickness.
     Elisha joined a ballet class and I was able to find a Suzuki violin teacher for her after a long search. Twins adore their big sister. We jokingly describe Enoch's affection toward Elisha 'a piece of gum stuck on Elisha'.

     In October, I started my doctoral study through University of Florida's distance learning program. A few years after I received my master's degree in audiology from Northwestern University, a doctoral degree became the entry level to practice. Those who received master's degrees prior to that point like myself can either grandfather or go ahead and pursue a doctoral degree through distance learning programs.
     Well, after we decided to move to Egypt for a few years, I got to thinking what I can do for myself during that time. I had come across an article written by someone who was living overseas, and she mentioned something like 'I'd better accomplish something significant instead of sitting around for idle talks'. I wholeheartedly agreed with that idea of 'accomplishing something significant', and here I am - back to school.
     I usually have about 1.5 ~ 2 hours to myself at the end of the day or early in the morning. It's tough not to have that time to unwind and let the guard down, but what comes without cost? I finished my very first class last December, and now I am on my second class.
     I don't know how, but I plan to go back to work when we return to US. One thing I know for sure is that one of us, either CJ or myself, will stay home with kids. Only God can work out such complicated situation, right? Looking forward to witnessing His handiwork again.

Everyday is a miracle

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wonder World of Audiobooks

     When Elisha was 4 years old, someone I met at a library told me how articulate Elisha was. A few months ago, at a church we were visiting in West Virginia, her Sunday school teacher told me how rich Elisha's vocabulary is. I believe her clear articulation and rich vocabulary come from listening to hundreds of audio books over the years.

     English is not my mother tongue. Before Elisha was born, I read the biography of Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State. One of the things that impressed me was her parents' emphasis on speaking proper English. I wanted Elisha to speak good English.

     From the day she came home after birth, Elisha and I spent many hours of our awake time listening to audio books. Mostly, in the beginning, they were for me. I wanted to do something productive while nursing Elisha or rocking her to sleep. However, as she got older, CJ and I downloaded children's audio books to a small tablet and let them play throughout the day. Elisha is 7 years old now, and even now, the first thing she does in the morning is to turn on her audio books.

Some of the benefits of audio books are:
- they stimulate and improve aural memory
- they improve a child's ability to pay attention to spoken messages
- when started early, they help a child to develop good pronunciation thanks to young children's tendency to copy and repeat whatever they hear (parrot stage)
- they are flexible: children can listen to audio books anywhere, anytime
- they pair well with quiet play times: Elisha listens to them while playing with Legos, during bath, while coloring, etc.
- unlike visual entertainment such as videos/movies, audio books stimulate imagination and creativity

Free audio books:
- our favorite ones are Librivox & Overdrive
- BOOKRIOT lists 11 websites to find free audio books

Everyday is a Miracle

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Classical Music Appreciation for Homeschool

     I haven't really learned anything about classical music, and I really had no clue how to introduce classical music to Elisha. I would turn on classical music station on a radio, but Elisha didn't seem to be very interested in it. Before starting piano and violin lessons, I wanted her to be 'drawn' to classical music.
     After a long search, I found Classical Kids CD Collection. It introduces classical music weaved into fun, engaging stories and that is exactly what Elisha needed. This girl who spends every minute of her alone time listening to audio books just fell in love with these CDs. Listening to Vivaldi, Elisha was persuaded to learn how to play violin. Listening to Mozart, she became interested in opera.
     It's been over a year since we first got the CDs, and even now we enjoy listening to them. Without twisting her arms nor stretching myself too thin, classical music entered into our home so very naturally.

Everyday is a Miracle

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Veritas Press Self-Paced Courses Review

     This summer is not a typical summer for our family. As you all know, we are in the middle of moving overseas, and I had to figure out how we would still do some, not much, school work done in the midst of this huge transition. I decided to focus on two subjects during this summer: math and history/bible.
     For math, we are going to continue working on Saxon Math 2. We plan to finish it by the end of August. For history/bible, we are using a Veritas Press (VP) Self-Paced Course: Old Testament and Ancient Egypt this summer. We started the course early May and we are aiming to finish it by the end of August as well.
     History is one of the many subjects that I am not confident. Throughout my school years, my study in history was very shallow and I never got to retain much of what I had learned. For this VP course, I am taking the class with Elisha, which means I sit down with Elisha for every lesson and we learn together.
     We love this course and here are the reasons:

1. Very engaging - The narrators are very articulate, funny and often hilarious.
2. Adds details to pegs - This course helps Elisha to add a lot of details to the memory pegs she has nailed down past two years at Classical Conversations.
3. Plenty of reviews help retention - there are a lot of quizzes and games to help us retain what we have learned
4. Aha! Moments - Elisha has been putting together all the pieces from The Story of The World audio books, CC timeline, CC history sentences, hundred of library books she has been reading past 2 years and bible studies.
5. Cross Referencing - I am enjoying how the course makes references to the new testament and classic literature such as Shakespeare. It once quoted a line from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and I saw Elisha's eyes sparkle with excitement. (She read and listened to Shakespeare's plays last year)
6. How timely! - This is a personal reason. As we are moving to Egypt this summer, this course seems to be so timely for us. I am learning so much about Egypt's history and culture through this course.

     By now, some of you must be wondering how much the course costs. We purchased this course late spring when all their Self-Paced Courses were on sale. Instead of paying the full price of $199, we paid $99. There are 160 lessons in this course. Each lesson takes anywhere between 15 minutes to 30 minutes and, most likely, it will take us 4 months to finish it. All in all, I am happy with this course and hope to continue with their next 3 other courses.

Yes, We Got the Visas!

     Yesterday (7/28/2017) we heard from DC office that our visas arrived from Egypt Embassy. When CJ called me to share the news, kids and I sang a song of praise dancing around in our hotel living room.
     God is so amazing: Our new home in Egypt will be ready next Monday and we will arrive in Egypt on Thursday, which means we do not have to stay at a temporary housing when we arrive in Egypt. By the time we leave Winchester, VA, I will have seen the massage therapist 4 times and CJ will have seen him 3 times. The therapist has done a great job diagnosing and treating my & CJ's chronic pains. We are so thankful that the delay in our visa processing, which at times seemed to be too hard to bear, actually gave us a chance to find healing in our physical pains.
     We had a lot of rain last night, and today, the air was so cool and fresh. Rain is something we will rarely see in Egypt. As we took a walk at the Museum of Shenandoah Valley garden, I tried to soak in all that after-the-rain freshness. I am extremely thankful that we are finally going to have a place to call our home, but I also know that we will miss the mountains and green space we have enjoyed here in Winchester for the past 8 weeks.

Everyday is a Miracle

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tracking His Handiwork

     As I am putting final touches on this post, we are in Winchester, VA. As you will find more below, we are in the middle of moving overseas, and I wanted to share how God has been leading us thus far in this journey of another trans-continental move. I don't know why, but, early on, God laid on my heart to track this. Here we go:

January 9, 2017     
My husband, CJ, received a tentative job offer for a position in Cairo, Egypt. There was an initial honeymoon period filled with excitement. However, soon doubts, anxieties and all kinds of worries (aka the reality) hit me and I started pouting, snapping and an attempt to make CJ give up this once-in-a-life-time career move.

January 25, 2017   
CJ received an e-mail that due to POTUS executive order of federal hiring freeze, CJ's job offer is on hold...Ha! Did my wish come true? Was I overjoyed? Believe or not, I didn't feel peace. My heart must have known before my head figured it out.

January 30, 2017  
It was Monday morning. Elisha was in the Classical Conversations weekly meeting and I was walking outside her classroom building for twins' nap time stroll. To be 'productive', I was praying while I was pushing the double stroller around the block. That's when God told me to support CJ and to be on the same page with him. It was too clear to doubt and immediately I texted CJ 'God wants   us to be on the same page'. I guess it would have been much nicer if I added some apology for having been so grouchy, but I was such a proud coward. Anyways, this is when God prompted me to start tracking this journey.

February 20, 2017
Still hiring freeze with no updates regarding CJ's position. Limbo. We are anxious to have some kind of closure for this job so that we can make plans accordingly. On this particular day, through Elisha, God told me 'everything will be ok, because you've been praying and I hear your prayer'.

February 28, 2017
This 'on hold' situation seems to bother CJ a lot. I sense that CJ really wants this job and he is almost gripped with fear. Aha! I see what God is doing - He is teaching CJ lessons: that it is possible to wait in peace, that He knows what he needs. I texted CJ 'God wants you to let go of gravels, so that you can hold the diamond God wants to give you'.

March 7, 2017
While looking through her old workbook, Elisha found a note she wrote a few years ago. It said, 'Don't worry. I will take care of you.' I got it from her and taped in on my kitchen cabinet.

March 10, 2017
Not consistent nor really serious, but Elisha plays with the Arabic language learning app CJ installed in January. I feel so sad to put her in this uncertainty.

March 14, 2017
CJ sent me a text: he will have a job interview with Minneapolis office this week. I found out this position does not pay for PCS cost and that's a clear sign for NO.

March 19, 2017
I read about Abraham's servant's quest to find Isaac's bride. Everything went so smooth, so seamlessly. It reminded of our trip to Korea in 2015 to try IVF. Things were planned and executed at the last minute, in such a hurry, but God put all things together in such a manner that all the details worked out so well. Also, it reminded me of how I got my work permit after Northwestern University. I was literally on pins and needles...the permit did not arrive until the day before I had to leave the dorm. BUT it did. It did arrive. Why? Why on earth did God have to make it so hard? Did he want me to wait in peace? How could I wait it peace when the due date was fast-approaching? How could I be still when the clock is ticking?

March 20, 2017
While driving to CC this morning, I continued the conversation with God from where I left off last night: Why did God put me in such a scary wait in 2002?...All of a sudden, it became very clear that what happened at the end of 2002 was to prepare me for this time, this wait in 2017. What does that mean? A precedent. Something that will guide me during this uncertain, blindfolded journey. He wants me to know that He WAS faithful in the past, He IS faithful now, and He WILL be faithful
in the future.

March 22, 2017
Early morning, I checked emails and found an email from his supervisor Dr. Masoud regarding CJ's job....they submitted exemption request for CJ's position in Egypt and he is expecting a positive result!

March 22, 2017
CJ texted me...CJ's position is approved for exemption from hiring freeze!

April 3, 2017
Unlike we've been assuming all along, we won't be authorized to ship our POV to Egypt. Originally, our plan was to ship Camry to CJ's parents in Chicago and take Odyssey with us. Disappointed, but thankful that we are not completely unprepared for this. Just to test the water and out of curiosity, last Friday, CJ took Odyssey to a few dealers and we were able to get an idea of how much this car is worth,  if we decide to sell. So, tonight, CJ spent a few hours to take pictures of the car and listed it on a few websites for sale. We've done our part: maintaining the car in excellent condition,                doing enough research, taking a prompt action, praying. Now, we will see how God's going to work this out. If CJ agrees, I plan to post here how much we paid for the car and how much we sold it at.

April 9, 2017
It's Psalm Sunday, and early in the morning, I read news that two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt were bombed by ISIS. One of the churches is located in Alexandria, which is considered a 'relaxed, expat-favored, Mediterranean beach city'. It's not far from Maadi where we will be living. My knees shook and I just wanted to sit down and cry. Not wanting to ruin this day, I made it to church with CJ and kids, but my mind was wandering: will we be able to come back in one piece? will we be able to go to church on Sundays? will every day be spent in fear? will we be able to lead 'normal' life? One may think I am morbid, but I am just being realistic.

April 11, 2017
It's twin's birthday. Later in the evening, we received PCS order via email. PTL! A few weeks ago, CJ was told that POV shipment is not authorized, but PCS order showed POV shipment is authorized, which is an answer to our prayer!

April 12, 2017
CJ emailed to verify  POV situation, and yes, POV shipment is authorized! We decided to ask CJ's parents to take care of Camry and take minivan with us. We will take care of the van, but would not 'use' it daily. CJ will be provided with a SUV for personal use, and, from what I have read so far, I do not think I will ever want to drive in Egypt. So, we will use the SUV and when CJ's out of town, I will use taxi.

June 4, 2017
A lot of things have happened. Mostly logistics related to moving. I started packing in January, but I guess it was not early enough. Every night, after we put twins to bed, I would organize, pack, throw away, organize, pack, throw away.....If I didn't see the acupuncturist and massage therapist every week, I would not have survived the past two labor-intensive months. We moved into a hotel on Memorial Day and movers came to pack and load our household goods last week. We cleaned the house squeaky clean, and left it much cleaner than when we first moved in two and a half years ago. I did not have a minute to sit down and relish the thought of moving to Egypt.

As I sat at the church today, I had a brief panic at the thought of what's really happening...the 'reality-kicking-in-moment'.

June 8, 2017
We left San Antonio and arrived in Virginia.

June 11, 2017
After spending a few days touring DC area, we arrived in Winchester, VA. As soon as our visas are processed, we will leave for Egypt.

July 21, 2017
My back pain got worse and I saw a local massage therapist. He used a very unique method called Capstone and during and even right after the treatment, I wasn't quite sure if it worked or not. He was very knowledgeable and was able to pinpoint the source of my chronic pain.

July 22, 2017
I had a lot of soreness last night after the treatment. However, today I feel much better overall. I thanked God that due to the delay in visa situation allowed me to see the therapist. I plan to see him again early next week.

July 23, 2017
We have been here in Virginia for 6 weeks now, and we are still waiting for visas to fly out to Egypt. We have been feeling discouraged and often sad missing home. It has been hard for me to see Elisha crying homesick. Nonetheless, some good things have happened as well: Elisha made a few good friends during our stay at Capon Springs and Farms; twins got their table manners down and eat very well by themselves; we got to enjoy a long, very long summer vacation that we had never dreamed of!

I had a dream last night: we were all hiking on a mountain. Elisha and I arrived on the top first, and we were hugging and crying so excited. CJ was right behind us pushing a double stroller with twins. During lunch today, I got to talk to Elisha about this dream and asked what she thought of it. Elisha said the dream meant we will be receiving our visas soon and will go to Egypt.

Everyday is a Miracle

Monday, March 13, 2017

$55 in 9 and a half month

     It's a big day here in our home. Bigger than a book award day. Bigger than birthdays or anniversaries. It's a day our 6-year-old accomplished something neither myself nor CJ have done. It's the day Elisha finally got her long-waited Emma's House Lego set with her hard-earned money. Elisha has been saving money for it for nine and a half months (aka Lego fund). Can you believe it? Nine and a half months of waiting....for a six-year-old.
     Last June, for her birthday, my brother bought Elisha a Lego set. Inside the box was a small pamphlet that showed other Lego sets, and that's where Elisha first fell in love with Emma's House. It was obvious that she could not take her mind off of it, and Elisha told us how much she wanted to have it.
     We are not rich, but we are not poor, either. We don't have debt and we save significant portion of our income. What I'm trying to say is that we could easily afford to buy that Emma's House, and actually we did think about getting it for her as a Christmas present. However, CJ and I agreed we do not want her to become a child with a sense of entitlement and decided we will have Elisha work to save money for it. At that time, we had no idea that this experience will teach so much valuable lessons not only for Elisha but also for CJ and myself.
     About half way into this journey, one evening, CJ and Elisha were reading a newsletter from a missions agency we support. Then, Elisha suddenly broke into tears saying God told her to give $21 from her Lego fund to the agency so that they can purchase a water filter for a family in India. Right there and then, she gave CJ $21 out of her fund, but I had to wonder why she was crying so hard. When I asked her that night on the bed, Elisha said she cried because she wanted to obey God but she did not want to give her Lego money away. What God was trying to teach Elisha and how Elisha was responding to His just melted my heart. As I'm writing this now, I feel like my heart is being filled with thousands of pink butterflies again.
     Also, this journey certainly instilled a good work ethic in her. Elisha worked hard to earn the money: helping with laundry, sweeping garage and patio, pulling out weeds from the yard, helping with sorting/organizing clothes, cleaning up/organizing wherever messy, watering plants, etc. She has learned to look for work that needs to be done around the house, and she has grown to prefer tidiness/cleanness over messiness.
     The other day, I noticed someone organized shoes so neatly on our shoe rack. It turned out Elisha was that beautiful person. I had to compliment her for tidying up the messy shoe rack, even though I never asked her to do so. She has made a habit of always asking if there is anything she can help with. She would say, 'Mama, I will be reading in my room. If you need any help, just whistle, and I will come right over.' How sweet!
     Delayed gratification. According to Wikipedia, it is 'the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward'. So many times, Elisha would ask us if she can see Emma's House on our laptop. She would ask CJ to print out a detailed picture of Emma's House. She memorized what's inside that tiny house...all the details...she dreamed about it...she wanted to build a house like that on top of a hill for me with Lego pieces! Looking at the picture, she studied the house so meticulously and found out there is no staircase leading up to the second floor of the house. What an oversight!
     It was not easy for me to see her having to wait so long, though. I often wondered if I am asking too much for a six-year-old. CJ and I would talk how we ourselves never had to save/earn money for a toy and we would feel so disqualified to demand such a high standard for Elisha. Neither of us said it out loud, but I know we both so wanted to forget the whole thing of 'teaching a lesson or two' and just order Emma's House right there and then.
     Doesn't God often do the same thing for us, making us wait for a long time? When He makes me wait for so long, I would balk for a while but I know there is something He wants me to learn and grow. I would kick and scream demanding an 'immediate' answer, but I know that's the very reason God puts me on hold. Patience. Faith. Trust...I often wonder if I will ever be able to perfect these qualities while here on earth, but then I am reminded that what God wants is to see me 'grow', not necessarily 'perfect' it. More patience. More faith. More trust.
     My 6-year-old never threw tamper tantrum demanding immediate purchase of the Emma's House. She waited and waited while learning priceless lessons, while growing in her character, while growing closer to God. I admire this girl. I admire her patience which allows God's hands to chisel and mold her character. I admire the intimacy she has with her heavenly Father. God, you are doing a great job raising your daughter Elisha! Neither I nor CJ can claim any credit for this girl's beautiful, tender heart.

Everyday is a miracle


Friday, March 10, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect

     Mercy worked for us as a mother's helper for 7 months last year. When I hired her, I knew she played violin, and once she got used to twin's routine, I asked her to teach Elisha violin during twin's nap time. Mercy herself was not a professional, advanced violinist. She was a 13-year-old home-schooled girl who used to take violin lessons at the public school she used to attend. She was barely intermediate level in violin. However, she gladly jumped into the quest of helping  Elisha become interested in playing violin.
     Initially, what made it work was that Elisha really enjoyed 'playing' with Mercy and that good rapport flew into 'playing with violin' part. Elisha did not fall in love with the violin from the beginning, though. She hated the 'squeaky' sound. She was frustrated she does not know how to play like the 'violinist'. However, once she was able to play the 'hot cross buns' all by herself, Elisha found playing violin more interesting. Elisha kept asking Mercy new piece of 'real' music almost every week, while CJ and I tried to start a routine for Elisha to practice on her own 15 minutes a day. When Mercy ran out of simple music pieces, I gave Elisha some from the hymn book.
     Due to the demand of her school work, Mercy left us at the end of the last December, but Elisha has kept on practicing almost everyday. In addition to the daily practice routine, what really has helped Elisha improve her violin sound is her innate competitiveness with herself. She is eager to produce 'beautiful' sound. If a note does not sound 'right', she gets frustrated. Many times, she would put down her violin and announce she would quit. However, the routine we had started kept us going despite all that falls and slips. After each song, she would ask me if that was good, if that was best for the day, if that was better than yesterday, if that was best ever. When she picks up her violin, I make sure I pay attention to her so that I can provide critique when asked for it.
     This week, I am so pleased to find that her violin sounds so beautiful. Elisha and I were even able to play 'Jesus Loves Me' duet - Elisha on violin, I on piano! Yet the best thing happened was when she said, 'I love playing violin now'! I could see that she is really gaining confidence and enjoying the fact that her violin finally sounds 'real'.
     This whole thing about violin was a kind of experiment for me. I wanted to see if she can learn to play violin WITHOUT a professional instructor. I wanted to see if 'practice can really make perfect'. In his 2008 book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell wrote that "ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness." I do not think Elisha has put in ten thousand hours playing violin yet, but I can say with confidence that, from what we have witnessed, daily practice and grit has done much more than a skillful teacher could do.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The more you go, the more you spend

     With the arrival of twins, we started grocery-shopping every other week instead of every week. It meant more planning, but it also meant less hassle and less wasting of food, which helped us save about $100 a month in food cost.
     Once we became settled into this new grocery shopping pattern, there has been almost no last-minute grocery store trip and no just-because kind of impulsive food purchase. By the end of the two-week, you can see our refrigerator becoming quite empty, and it feels great to know that we put everything to the table.
     However, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, every-other-week grocery shopping presents a challenge. I figured we can use frozen fruits and vegetables during the second week and it has been working great. Kids actually love frozen fruits more than fresh fruits! Also, since it's almost impossible to find an organic milk that does not expire until my next grocery shopping, CJ usually makes a trip to HEB in the middle of the two-week period for another gallon of milk.
     I make and pack CJ's breakfast, lunch and snack to take to his office, so there isn't really any spending on food while he is at work. Also, Elisha and I do not like eating out, so we rarely gets to eat at restaurants. All in all, we are spending a little less than $500 a month for food (without counting in twin's formula cost), but, more than the saving, I really like the simpleness and peace this every-other-week grocery shopping has brought to our family.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Homeschool Mid-year Slump?

     Recently I've come across a few articles on how to overcome mid-year slump in homeschool. It's been only four years since we started homeschooling, so I don't think I have a really 'brilliant' idea on this topic. However, there are a few things I've found helpful for us to keep going without feeling exhausted or bored.
     We do not have a strict schedule. Whether it's an yearly plan, monthly, weekly or daily plan, we do not have the 'set-in-the-stone' kind of plan. I have a big picture of where we're heading for the next few years, where we want to land by certain time of the year or month, but I do not make a so-called 'detailed plan'. To me what's most important is that we school as much as we can on any given day. Very often, we do two chapters on math plus either one science lesson or one spelling lesson. On the days we choose to do Grapevine's stick-figure through the bible study which takes one to one and a half hour, we get to do only one chapter of any of those three subjects.
    We try hard to keep the routine. During twin's morning nap time, Elisha willingly stops whatever she is doing, and joins me for home-school. Both Elisha and I know that's the only time we will be able to sit down for school work. Also, Elisha knows that some homework is waiting for her after shower in the evening. There is a homework folder we keep on the dining table, and she knows she is expected to work on it after taking a shower. There has been no arguing or pouting about this routine and, actually, Elisha shows great diligence and self-discipline in completing her homework.
     Usually, people plan the lessons in such a way that they finish each subject by the end of the school year. However, I've found that there is no need to stretch out when it can be done earlier. We finished All About Reading 3 last month, and we want to finish Nancy Larson Science 2 and All About Spelling 2 by the end of March. Also, I've found that finishing a curriculum early give us the mental 'boost' that helps us keep going. Whenever Elisha finishes a curriculum, we celebrate with a book award by having a special dessert after dinner. (We tried to take her out for lunch, but Elisha does not like eating out!) I really wanted to finish Saxon Math 2 by the end of next month, but, after skimming through the remaining lessons, I realized we won't be able to do 2-3 lessons at a time any more. However, we're going to see if we can finish it by the end of April.