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.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Yes, I shop at Salvation Army.

     For six years, Elisha was our only child. We could have splurged on her toys and clothes, but we didn't. Most of her toys and clothes were either hand-me-downs or from thrift shops. Kids grow so fast, and I do not see a point of buying new clothes that would be worn just for one season only to find out next season that Elisha's grown too big to wear them. Also, for those times when Elisha had brand new clothes from family friends or relatives, I often found myself being too worried about keeping her outfit spotless. However, with hand-me-downs and thrift shop clothes, I have never minded even a bit about her getting her clothes dirty or torn. So, for my sanity and for her carefree childhood, second hand clothes work better.
     We have been saving for Elisha's college expenses, and I would rather put in more money into that saving than spending that money for brand new toys or clothes. We're doing the same thing for twins. They are almost 11-month old now, but I haven't bought a single piece of brand new clothes for them yet. Deborah wears hand-me-downs from Elisha, and Enoch wears either gender-neutral-colored clothes from Elisha or clothes that I get from Salvation Army stores.
     Over the years, I discovered that thrift shops in certain areas tend to carry higher-quality clothes, and their clothes tend to be in better conditions. I often find nice, never-worn button-down dress shirts for CJ at the Salvation Amry store across from UTSA. Also, I always look for play dresses that Elisha can wear for dress-up plays. 'Once Upon A Child' is another local resale store for kids, where I buy Elisha's shoes and my clothes. (Yes, I wear junior sizes!)



Monday, February 20, 2017

Childlike Faith

     Elisha and I were on our way home from our weekly Classical Conversations gathering. There was an unusually heavy traffic on 1604 South. We saw 'Road Work Ahead' sign, and, instead of complaining about the delay, we enjoyed our mommy-daughter date which we have not had for a very long time. Around halfway home, all cars started moving to the right lane, and that's when we saw a small passenger car wrecked in an accident.
     It looked like the car span and crashed into a boulder or something. Its front was totaled and airbags were in full display. I gasped and sighed. Elisha blurted out, "Mama, let's pray", and she began to pray out loud: "Dear God, I pray that no one is seriously injured. I pray that nobody needs surgery. I pray that everyone will be healed quickly. In Jesus name we pray, Amen." What she said next stunned me: "Everything will be OK now. We prayed and God hears our prayer." The simple faith...this must be what 'childlike faith' actually looks like. It was so powerful and beautiful that it made my eyes twinkle with some liquid.
     Why do I worry and live in fear while praying? Why do I still carry the heavy burden after I said I lay it all down at His feet in my prayer? I needed to hear that...that everything will be alright, that my heavenly father will take care of everything, that I need to rest knowing that My DAD is in control.
     And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3, NIV)

Everyday is a Miracle    

Friday, February 17, 2017

Garage Door Grace

     Today, I need something to remind me of how blessed I am to be married to a man who always accepts me with so much grace which I do not deserve. If you are a good mind-reader, you might have already figured out that I am a judgemental, feisty, insecure human being.
     Last year, I was on my way home from my physical therapy session and I was listening to a radio station while driving. When I got to our driveway, I tried to adjust the driver seat so that it would be ready for CJ. I was multi-tasking: listening to radio and adjusting the seat...and the car was on Drive mode! Guess what happened. Yes, I drove into our garage door and made a dent. I panicked and could not believe that I did what I did.
     If CJ drove into the garage door, I would have made sure that he knew what a bitch I am. If CJ got angry at my stupidity and stomped around the house for weeks, I would have thought I deserve it. However, the first thing that came out of his mouth was, 'Are you Ok? I am glad you are not hurt.'. You see, God really wants to teach me something: to show grace towards all those imperfections around me.
     Our car insurance covered the repair cost, and I believe it did not affect our insurance premium for the new year, which was a big relief. This accident really made me realize that I need to work on showing grace towards my husband, my children, and even myself.

Everyday is a miracle.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How much did I make by raising questions?

     When you receive bills from your doctor, what do you do? Do you ever suspect there could be a mistake? Believe or not, a lot of times, the amount on the bills that you receive from your medical service providers are incorrect.
     We do have a very good health insurance called Foreign Service Benefit Plan (FSBP). We became eligible for this insurance when my husband was working overseas as a part of DoD system. We used to have BCBS for a long time, but FSBP is much more superior than BCBS and other insurance plans we are eligible for as a federal employee.
     As y'all know, I gave birth to twins last year, which means lots of doctor visits. For each bill, I compared what the bill states with what I see on the EOB (Explanation of Benefits) on FSBP website. Believe or not, for most of those bills, I found the provider charged me much more than what the EOB states as 'member responsibility'. Why couldn't they figure out correctly how much I owe them? Are they hoping that I would be naive enough to succumb to their fancy bill and 'just' pay whatever they charge me?
     Frustrated and annoyed, but I picked up the phone to call my insurance company. To my relief, the customer service representative agreed with me that I owed $0 instead of $1,130, $5.80 instead of $90.79, etc. Then it took another few weeks or sometimes several months for FSBP to talk to/resolve the issue with the provider.
     Do you want to know how much I saved last year by being me, the TAPO mama? $1562.94
     Ha! The morale of this story is ' NEVER, EVER pay your medical bills before checking your EOB'. You don't want to bother? Well, let me do the work for you and you pay me 20% of what I save for you. Just shoot me an email. 


Monday, February 13, 2017

Something's Got To Go

     I got sick over last Thanksgiving week. It was meant to happen. I was running on an empty gas tank for a while, and just...crashed. I have not been sleeping nor eating enough to survive the pressure of motherhood. Everyday seemed to be just way too short to take care of the four human beings living with me.
     Lying sick in bed, I decided to let go of something that has been dear to me. Cooking. Cooking everyday. I decided it is okay to feed my family a few frozen meals each week as long as they are free of harmful ingredients.
     Now that Elisha is 6 years old, homeschooling alone is a daunting task. With twins crawling and being introduced different kinds of solid food, I have been spreading myself pretty thin. I had to think over: what can I give up without compromising the quality of our lives? No more cooking EVERYDAY.
     I still cook quite a bit, but now I spend about three half-days to prepare for two-week's meals, usually right after our every-other-week grocery shopping.    

     Here is a list of what I have been doing to streamline and simplify cooking:  
1. Chop, marinate, freeze chicken thighs. I would thaw and use them to make spicy chicken with carrots and potatoes or honey glazed chicken with potatoes.
2. Marinate chicken thighs with soy sauce, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and then freeze them. I would bake/grill them in a toaster oven, and then shred the meat to add to burrito bowls.
3. Fry and freeze bacon, and add them to our Sunday sandwich lunch.
4. Make pork cutlets and freeze them. We eat them either with rice or a big bowl of salad.
5. Make burritos (baked beans, shredded cheese, bacon, egg), and freeze them. These are mostly for CJ's weekday breakfast, but they come in handy as an easy lunch menu for Elisha and me.
6. Cook a big pot of chili. This is solely for CJ's weekday lunch.
7. Bake bread pudding with lots of egg, milk, and honey. This is also for CJ's breakfast. (Yes, somebody eats A LOT!)
8. Bake, slice and freeze 2 bags of sweet potatoes. I add them to breakfast oatmeal, which makes kids gobble up their otherwise plain oatmeal.

     Here is a list of frozen food from Trader Joe's we have been trying and enjoying:
1. Meat lasagna
2. Kalbi (Korean style short ribs)
3. Organic grilled vegetable pizza
4. Tilapia cutlets

     I would love to hear what y'all homeschooling mamas are doing to feed your family well without killing yourselves.

Everyday Is a Miracle    

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bible Geography

     This past Summer, Elisha and I started studying from Genesis using Grapevine's Stick Figure Through the Bible. As you can see from my review of the curriculum, we really enjoy this study. I plan to do one lesson over two days, but, most times, Elisha does not want to stop in the middle and we end up spending a good hour to hour and a half at one time.
     For a long time, I have wished I had a map showing all the different journeys occurring in the bible. And this bible study with Elisha made that desire even stronger, especially with Elisha loving geography so much. Well, I found a wonderful book which is so fit to our needs, and we found it at our local library!    
     Children's Atlas of the Bible is the one. Tonight, as Elisha and I sat down with this book, we were so mesmerized that  we didn't even realize it was past her bed time. Being able to trace Abraham's journey, Joseph being taken to Egypt, Exodus, desert wandering, Israelite's conquer of made everything we have learned from the bible study, Story of the World,  and Classcial Conversation (CC) come alive.
     This is one of the books I would like to purchase and keep on our bookshelf someday. There goes my Christmas wishlist, honey!