Monday, December 31, 2012

Our Christmas Campaign

Each paper doll on the wall represents one person helped  by our Christmas campaign for Charity: Water.    

And here's a video of my daughter explaining the paper dolls to our 15 month old.  So cute!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On Christmas, Part 2

In November, I posted about our plans to dramatically change our gift giving this Christmas.  I thought I would report back on our experience and answer Sarah's great questions from the comments of that post as well.

In November we decided as a family to greatly curtail our gift giving and instead give money to Charity: Water. We also asked our extended family who usually gave us gifts to give us less, and if they were interested, to give what they would have spent to this organization.  We also invited anyone who was interested to join us.  Between our contributions and the contributions from our family, we have provided funding to bring clean water to 41 people.  41 people!  Isn't that wonderful?

We did give some little gifts to the kids (a small lego set each for the older boys, a few nice markers for Emma, a Glory Story CD each for the older kids, warm socks for all, chocolate for the older kids, and some Gerber baby treats for the toddler) and Matt and I gave some consumable gifts to each other.   We also bought a new game for the family, Catan Junior.  The Glory Stories and the warm socks I would have bought anyway for the kids, and I vacillated about putting these in their stockings.  Without those items, we would have spent a third less on gifts, although the money would have been spent anyway - just from a different budget category.  Next year I might not include that sort of thing in the stockings and just give chocolate and a small fun thing.  I am thinking it would be better to give things that are truly nice little extras as gifts, but I wasn't sure how it would feel to have so comparatively little in our stockings.  I think it would have gone unnoticed, but I'll have to keep thinking about it.

Our extended family giving has changed too, but not as much.  We are fortunate that we live in a family without strong gift expectations (and wow, when I shared what we were doing with friends I heard some incredible stories.  There are some adults out there who seem to think they require lots of presents, and if they don't get them they act in very un-adult-like ways .  Thank you, family, for not being crazy!)    Asking for less was a little challenging, as is any major change in family tradition, but with open communication I think it is all working out.

We had planned to spend most of Christmas Eve day getting ready for Christmas dinner, then having a leisurely dinner with the kids, playing a game afterwards, reading something about the Nativity, then putting the kids to bed.  We managed to do all that, and it was a great day.  On Christmas, we got up early, opened stockings, then went to the 8 am Mass.  After we got home, put the egg sausage casserole in the oven, rolled out the beignet dough, and had brunch with Matt's parents around 10:30.  We spent a couple of hours cleaning up and prepping for Christmas dinner while the kids played with Legos (and had a wonderful time together!), then gave the kids the new game.  We immediately played it together, then we set the table for Christmas dinner and did all the last minute things that had to happen before our family came over a little before 5.  We had a wonderful dinner with all our family in the area, visiting and playing with Legos.  I successfully set my Christmas Pudding on fire and I think everyone had a good time.

The day didn't feel like it was missing anything.  The kids were happy, we were happy, and it all went extremely well.  Everyone was joyful and content.  The kids remarked many times on how special and wonderful the day was, and that they were thankful for everything we did together.  They didn't seem to feel anything was missing either.  Matt and I remarked many times to each other that we were so glad we were celebrating Christmas this way - it felt so right and peaceful.

Sarah mentioned in her comment, "But at the same time, some of the little gifts we received from friends and family were so meaningful (a book given to Nell had me tearing up as I read it to her, for example), and I don't want to be closed off to blessing other people in a similar way if I could."  I agree with her, I don't want to be closed off in this way either.  What I plan to do is if I find something particularly meaningful or want to make something for someone, no matter when in the year it is, I will go ahead and do it and give it to them.  Even if it is not (or is!) around a typical gift giving occasion like Christmas or a birthday.  I find that I have good ideas for meaningful gifts for people throughout the year, but since it isn't near Christmas or a birthday, I'll shelve the idea and either forget about it, or run out of time because I'm trying to do a bunch of neat ideas all at the same time so I can give them all at once.  If a gift is something that is freely given, because you like the person and want to share something special with them with no expectation of anything in return...  why does it need to be only focused around birthdays and Christmas? 

When I first encountered the idea to radically change our Christmas giving a little over a year ago, I felt a tight knot of panic in my stomach.  How could I give up the pile of gifts under the tree?  Would that make me a bad mom who didn't care about her kids?  Would it mean I wasn't providing for them?  The idea stuck with me and I continued to ponder and pray throughout the year.  I knew there was something important here, something I had to face and understand.  I gradually realized that I could help lead my children - and myself! - to Someone greater by changing our focus.  My children had the opportunity to still have a joyful, beautiful Christmas but they also had their hearts opened a little more by being given the opportunity to give birthday presents to Jesus.  Because after all, whose birthday is it, anyway?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mighty Yuba

An impressive rainstorm passed through our area, bringing persistent high winds and amazing amounts of rain.  We measured at least 8" of rain in our gauge, and that doesn't include the two nights when the gauge fell over!  The storm finally started to let up late this morning, so we took advantage of the break in the weather to visit the South Yuba River.  I have never seen it running like this - it was truly spectacular.  And so loud!

The South Yuba River, from the new Highway 49 Bridge looking towards the old Highway 49 Bridge.

A little further upstream at Edward's Crossing

Hard to believe that this is same river...  here's my daughter swimming at Edward's Crossing back in August.  None of these rocks are visible now, except as faint bumps in the river current. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

On Christmas

It started here.
“What does Jesus get for His birthday?”
The words hung… strung me up.
I say the words into the black. Um… A cake? Our love?
I can hear him turn again in the bed, roll over on the pillow. Restless…
“But Mom…. if we get wrapped presents for our birthdays, real sacrifices from people who love us — they gave up other things to give something to us — then why don’t we do that for Jesus’ birthday?”
I stand at the door looking into all that light cast down the hallway.
Why is the sky blue, why do we blink, how do clouds hold all that water, the children ask me a thousand questions and the world spins dizzy on a million questions I don’t know the answers to.
I stand in the dark, the light right there, and I grope for the answer that could change the world…
“Why don’t we give up things so we can give to Jesus for His birthday?”
- “If it is Jesus’ birthday, why do we give each other presents?”
And then I found this.

Which led us here.

Care to join us?

Or start your own campaign!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Assigning Motives, Extending Grace

My husband's cousin, Jenn, had a post a little while back that keeps coming into my mind.  She describes a frustrating experience with an anonymous driver who was trying to jump the toll line, but then has this realization:
What if he didn't know? What if it was an honest mistake? The line curved - maybe he thought it split into two. Maybe he didn't mean to cut. 
Now, this thought certainly didn't come from me. I'm not quick to extend grace, though heaven knows how often I need it myself. But there it was. 
And in thinking about it now, I wonder how often I'm quick to think the worst of people, quick to judge their actions. It's possible, perhaps even likely, that those people cutting in line knew exactly what they were doing and were just trying to get ahead. But it's also possible that they didn't. Why did I jump to the worst conclusion?
And why do I think of this tonight?  Because tonight I was the idiot who drove 4 miles down a windy country road with my high beams on.  

Quite often when I've started to get annoyed at this or that little thing that someone does, a quick scene jumps before my eyes where I've done either the same thing or something very similar.  It has been quite humbling, but I am profoundly grateful for this self-awareness.  It instantly diffuses the situation in my mind and brings me to a state of profound gratitude.  There is a prayer that comes to mind, but I can only half remember it.  It goes something like, "Lord, thank you for allowing me to see the depths of my weakness, and how it calls upon the abyss of Your merciful love." 

But I still wish I could remember to turn off my high beams.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Day in the Life: A More Typical Day

As I look over my notes from today, I'm both gratified to have done this and a little intimidated at the thought of typing it all up!  It is a busy and full life, but it is a wonderful one too.  And seeing my day scrawled out on this piece of binder paper next to me brings this home in a way I hadn't expected or experienced.  And I'm so glad to have the pictures that go with this day too.

Here's a quick summary of where the time went:

Reading out loud (mostly for school, includes narrations):  1 hr, 55 min
Prayer (alone and with kids, includes spiritual reading):  1 hr, 20 min
Cleaning:  50 min
Laundry:  30 min
Dishes:  1 hr, 15 min
Exercise:  1 hr, 5 min
School (in addition to reading out loud):  2 hr, 5 min
Personal (personal hygiene, email, blogs):  55 min
Personal learning:  30 min
Cooking:  2 hrs
Eating:  1 hr, 30 min

And overlapping with many of these things...  time spent with a 13 month old on my back:  5 hrs, 45 min!

6:19 - Up, praying morning prayer, Magnificat and Letter to the Hebrews

7:00 - Dressed, ready for the day, and downstairs.  Rolling out dough for donuts (because we're into healthy eating around here, folks!  Actually, this is a surprise treat for everyone - usually donuts are only done as a birthday breakfast around here.  The dough was made last night and rested in the fridge overnight)  Frying donuts, making chocolate glaze (might as well go all out!)

7:20 -  Breakfast.  Read Matt's latest NaNoWriMo installment, chatted with Matt and the kids.

8:00 - cleanup, sweeping, read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Nathan.  Yesterday Emma was doing Alphabet Path with him and they did an activity about the life cycle of a caterpillar.  Nathan was so excited to see that we had a book all about this very subject!

8:25 - Trying to decide if I should change Justin or squeeze in my consecration reading.  Decided to change his diaper, then handed him off to Emma for dressing.  Read 33 Days to Morning Glory.

8:40 - Started prayer with the kids - Mass Readings, narration

8:55 - Justin goes in the Ergo.  Memory work for everyone, including me!  I'm working on the new translation of the Nicene Creed, Emma is working on "To be or not to be..." from Hamlet and Mark Antony's funeral oration from Julius Caesar.  Gregory is working on At the Zoo by A.A. Milne.  We also reviewed work they already know.

9:05 - World History read aloud - Augustine Goes to Kent, narrations

9:15 - MEP math with Gregory (or since it is from the UK, I should probably call it MEP maths) Lesson 48, Year 1.  Love this program - such a great combination of hands on, logic, problem solving, review, facts practice...  and it is free.  What a wonderful find, I couldn't be more pleased with it.  Emma did reading, Stack the States app for map practice, and XtraMath for math facts practice.  Nathan was crazy for a bit, then settled down to instrument 3 part cards, then building with sticks and blocks.  I practiced counting and grouping with him as Gregory worked on problems by himself.  Gregory also did the Dot to Dot app for some skip counting practice.

9:55 - Recess.  The boys played ball and Emma and I walked while she narrated from St. Columba by Forbes and Life in Celtic Times (not really narrated from this - more talked about pictures that she found most interesting)  Visited briefly with the UPS guy (delivered our new router, yay!) and my father-in-law.

10:20 - Copywork and weather observations for Gregory, and reading practice with his reader and with the movable alphabet.  Emma worked on Delta, and Nathan worked with letters.  I wanted him to do some letter cards, but he was much more interested in the letter magnets.  I bugged him a little bit, then seeing he was working industriously I let him work.  He fished out all the square letter magnets, carefully lined them up ("N leads the way on the happy parade!") then rearranged the magnets on the board to spell his name again.  Gregory wandered over to spell his name with magnets, then went back to his work.  After this Nathan seemed ready for another activity, so we did the letter cards together - he has the sounds for about half the alphabet at this point.

10:50 - Snack prep.  Half a homemade sourdough whole wheat bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, sliced pear.  (see, it isn't all donuts around here!)

11:00 - Snack and read aloud.  Today it is Tree in the Trail.  Discussion and narration.

11:15 - Read from Abraham Lincoln to the boys, nursed Justin.  Narration.

11:35 - Boys out to play.  Quickly typed Emma's freewrite from Monday (she was retelling a fairy tale from another character's perspective).  Discussed with her how to expand and improve it, helping her to find some places to add description and dialogue.  Left Emma to flesh out her writing.

11:45 - Huge diaper change.  Happier baby.

11:55 - From Emma:  "Mom, it is fun to write giant-talk, especially when they are arguing!"  Justin is back in the Ergo, and I'm picking up from snack.

Noon - Angelus.  We gathered outside to pray with the boys.  Took lunch orders.  (PB&J for two, quesadilla for one, Leftover chickpea and veggie curry with rice for Justin and me.  Apples for all.)  Working on lunch, chatting with Matt.

12:15 - Justin is asleep, but wouldn't transfer to his crib.  Back in the Ergo he goes.

12:40 - Starting laundry, finally serving lunch.  We watched a video from Discovery Streaming about Salmon spawning in preparation for our fish hatchery tour on Friday.

1:00 - Clean-up, Emma has programming class with Matt.

1:15 - Reading to the boys.  A River Runs Wild, Sword in the Tree, A Drop of Water.  Gregory also read for about 15 minutes.  Justin went in the Ergo at about 1:30 and I read while pacing.

1:55 - Water dispersion experiment - was supposed to be just the boys, but Emma wanted to join in.  Justin is finally(!!) asleep and transfered to his crib this time.  Phew!

2:10 - American History read aloud, Judith Lankaster

2:35 - Read Captain Small to Nathan

2:45 - Boys out to play again, I start a Rosetta Stone Spanish lesson.  Emma is finishing up some of her schoolwork then goes outside for awhile to boss around play with the boys.

3:10 - Briefly check email, answered one

3:15 - Folding laundry, doing dictation with Emma.  She's trying to populate her recipe box with recipes she likes, so I dictated a pulled pork recipe for her to record on an index card.

3:30 - Justin is awake and crabby.  I nursed him and read blogs.

3:55 - Justin goes in the Ergo while I put away laundry, put up chores, and got ready for a walk.

4:10 - Walked the deer path at the top of the property down to the 30 acre property and back by the road with Emma, Nathan and Justin.

Alas, poor Yorick...

4:50 - Cleaning chores - dusting, cleaning a few windows.

5:10 - Dinner prep.  I made a double batch of chicken and black bean enchiladas, one for tonight and one to freeze.  I also added diced tomatoes, bell pepper and onions to some plain brown rice from Monday night and made a salad.

6:25 - Dinner is finally ready.  I was tired and not moving as quickly as I usually do.  Thankfully Matt came down and helped at around 5:30.  He also rode herd on the kids as they did their cleaning chores and picked up.

7:00 - Dinner is over, time to do dishes.

7:40 - Dishes are done, kids are in PJs and Matt is reading Little House in the Big Woods to the boys.  Emma is helping with Justin.

8:00 - Bedtime for the boys.  I say prayers with the boys in their room, then nurse Justin while I pray the Rosary.

8:30 - All the boys are asleep.  Whew!  I had a little dessert (a piece of cake that Emma made), made some tea, added up some numbers and started typing this.  And now it is 9:30.  And now that I've dumped photos, made some photo collages, and uploaded photos, it is 10:15!  I'm not sure I'll be doing this very often...  but still, I'm glad I did.  I enjoyed creating this.  I hope someone has enjoyed looking at it!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Day in the life: Election Day and Pretend to be an Extrovert Day

My, um, cousin-in-law(?), Sarah, has been hosting two weekly themes on her blog and while I've wanted to join in, I either can't remember to do it until the day has passed, or I can't remember what I've done over the last week well enough to cobble together a post.  This has led me to reflect that perhaps I need to think a little more about what I am doing on a day to day basis!  It isn't that I feel like I'm missing out on life because I'm too involved in my to-do list, but rather I'm generally present in the moment but forgetting just about everything shortly thereafter.  Some of it, I'm sure, is due to my semi-permanent state of sleep deprivation (Justin is still up 2-3 times a night, ugh!) but some of it is due to my lack of down time.  It is so much harder to reflect when I am always caught up in the doing.

So I've been thinking it would be fun to do "a day in the life" sort of post occasionally.  I would like to have occasional records so I can better remember what this phase of my life was like, and I'm hoping by doing this I might be able to make better memories in my own mind.

So, without further ado...  My election day and pretend to be an extrovert day.

5:45 - woke up with a jolt, all of a sudden remembering that in last night's exhaustion I left my homemade enchilada sauce cooling in a water bath over night rather than putting it in containers to freeze.  Justin and Matt woke up a few minutes later and we decided to get ready to hike.

6:05 - Matt, Justin and I hiked our usual trail.  About 4800 steps and 40 minutes.  And thanks to the time change, we don't have to wear headlamps anymore.  Hooray!

6:45 - back at home, everyone is up.  Dish out crockpot oatmeal for everyone, and tried to read my email while feeing Justin and myself.  Gave up after a few minutes, but went back to it for a bit once Justin was done.

7:05 - cleaned up in the kitchen, headed up for a shower.  Left the baby in Emma's capable hands.

7:30 - back downstairs, did some gathering for our errands and finally put the sauce in the freezer.

8:00 - realized that if I didn't do my morning prayer now, it wasn't going to happen.  Nursed Justin to keep him happy, prayed the Magnificat morning prayer and reflection, skipped my usual Bible and commentary reading in the interests of time, and read day two in 33 Days to Morning Glory.  Emma, the 10 year old, worked on schoolwork so she wouldn't have to bring as much with her.

8:15 - Justin is done nursing and I'm finished with my short form of morning prayer.  More getting ready to go and also starting on dinner in the crockpot.

8:35 - gathered the children for our morning prayer.  Prayed the Mass readings with the children and had them narrate the Epistle and Gospel readings.

8:50 - told kids to use the bathroom and get shoes on, then take stuff out to the car.  Finished up the meal in the crockpot (black beans with tomatoes and pork, using some extra pork I cooked on Sunday - thank you Leila for reminding me how smart it is to cook a little more meat while I'm at it!) while they loaded the stuff.  Thought about making the coleslaw I had planned, but decided I was out of time.

9:10 - in the car and heading out to a friend's house.  Listened to a couple of narrations, then we started listening to The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (a Librivox recording I would recommend, by the way).

10:00 - At our friends' house.  The boys play and Emma plops down at the table to do schoolwork with the other kids.  My friend and I discuss California propositions as she finishes up her ballot.   The next few hours are spent visiting, helping kids with school work, and having a discussion about food and simplifying.  I'm trying to get a group of women together once a month or so to talk about these sorts of things.  This was our third meeting and while it went better than our second, I wish more people could have made it.  But sick kids, travel, and work schedules interfered.  But still, we had a good discussion about kefir, kumbucha, yogurt, trying to figure out which of these food things are worth doing.  We talked a little about simplifying Christmas, but that sort of petered out as people needed to leave and kids needed to be fed.  I also had a good conversation with my friend about how much I like being scheduled and following a schedule...  but I think to the point that I rely on it too much and it makes me anxious when it isn't there, or is there but isn't being followed and there's nothing I can do about it.  I tend towards anxiety anyway (especially since Justin's birth) and I am not sure I had realized how much I am managing anxiety by existing in my little scheduled world.  I don't think I'm on a fundamentally wrong-headed path, but I do think I need to open up our routine a little more so we can make more connections with other families.

2:10 - After a great conversation with the 15 year old daughter of my friend about her soon to be published book, we jumped in the car and headed out.

2:25 - Stopped in at the ranch and picked up two dozen eggs.  Since we've decided that a) we didn't want to keep a coop full of convenient bear snacks and b) we didn't want to build a concrete bunker chicken coop, we have been getting our eggs from a friend from church.  I miss the chickens and eggs, but I do not miss having to wake up in the middle of the night to scare off bears!!  And I like seeing my friend almost every week and getting a chance to keep in closer contact with her.

3:05 - Religious Ed. for Gregory, my 6 year old.  Justin and Nathan slept in the car while Emma and Gregory had a snack and played.  I chatted with some of the volunteers and tried to nicely explain why my family wasn't likely to ever go to the monthly Children's Mass.

3:25 - back in the car, and out to a local farm.

3:35 - picking strawberries - our last fresh strawberries until next June!  We picked 13 baskets and we'll be making jam tomorrow.

4:35 - Back in the car to go pick up Gregory.

5:00 - heading out again, now to the grocery store.  (So glad that most days don't involve this much running around!)  Everyone is in good spirits though, and we have fun shopping together.  I only ended up with one egregious purchase - two bags of Heath toffee chips.  They were on sale at least...

5:45 - off to the county elections office to drop off our ballots.  We went in and looked around - they were setting up to film local election announcements in the lobby.  It was busy, but by no means packed.  There were only a couple of people waiting in line.

6:00 - home!  Unpack the car, start some rice for dinner, quickly make the slaw in the food processor.

6:40 - Dinnertime.  Phew!

7:15 - Dishes, reviewing election results.  Emma starts in on her programming homework so she can be ready for her programming class with Matt at 1:00 on Wednesday.  Boys picked up and then played educational stuff on the iPad.

8:00 - I took Justin and hid upstairs for a bit to read a few blogs while Justin emptied out many of the contents of my bathroom drawers.

8:20 - feeling slightly less tired and overwhelmed, I got Justin ready for bed, and nursed him while praying the Rosary.

8:45 - Started typing this on my iPad, then remembered that Blogger doesn't get along well with Safari on the iPad.

9:00 - Gave up, came downstairs and remembered I was supposed to enter receipts tonight.  Sighed, decided to be responsible, and did it.  I was glad to see that there wasn't much to do.

9:20 - Checked out election results then switched over to typing this.  Now it is almost 10 and about time to go to bed.  I'll read this over once, add a few links, hopefully catch any truly horrible typos, write tomorrow's chores up on the frame, check the kitchen for anything that was left out, then head to bed.  I'll read today's Catechism section, maybe read a little of The Fire Within if I'm up to it, then go to sleep.  And I'll probably be up at midnight, three, and 5:30 again with a little guy who doesn't understand that 13.5 month olds should really, really, really be able to sleep through the night by now!!

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm so tired these days...  but you know what?  It is a very good life.  And I'm extremely thankful for it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Barbara Curtis

Today I read on Elizabeth Foss' blog that Barbara Curtis had a serious stroke and is not expected to regain consciousness.  I haven't read Barbara's blog in quite some time or followed it regularly for several years, but still the news brought me to tears.  I first "met" Barbara when she posted a comment in 2005 on an old blog of mine, saying she appreciated my take on an article we both had read and inviting me to read her take on it.  I read her regularly for some time, finding her such an encouraging voice as I, a new Christian, tried to figure out how to talk about God to my then three year old daughter.  Her words, especially in her book Lord, Please Meet Me in the Laundry Room, gave me a new and richer perspective on my life as a mother.  Tonight I am praying for Barbara and her family, and I hope you will do so as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Little Nature Walk - And Field Guide Failure

Isn't this cosmo beautiful?  And I am amazed at its height!  It is a volunteer and just came into bloom around the beginning of October.  I love that I can see it from my kitchen window.

We spent some time on Friday morning walking around our area and saw a red tailed hawk, seven turkeys, lots and lots of squirrels.  We also visited our animal graveyard (where my husband buries animals who meet their untimely demise on our property) and found evidence of grave robbers.  This is a skunk skull, remarkably clean considering it was only buried about four months ago.  The kids are trying to dig up more, but the ground was too hard for them to get very far.

And I sure would like to know what this is!  My husband found this lower down on our property on Thursday and showed it to me, and I showed it to the kids on Friday.  We have found two more in our general area.  They all are made on top of fallen trees or stumps, and have at least two entrances, one dug under the log or stump, and one coming up a little distance away.  Sometimes field guides are very frustrating!  I've had several things I have tried to look up but without any success.  And I can't even think of a good way to search for it on Google!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Debate

I wasn't sure what my kids would make of the debate last night, but we watched it streaming on the computer and used this presidential debate bingo card to make it a little more engaging.

The response?  Afterwards the kids spontaneously held a presidential debate of their own.  Here were their closing statements.

The four year old:  I will help mom!

The six year old:  I will lower taxes!

The ten year old:  First, if you vote for me, you will help make history as I will be the first woman president.  Second, I will lower taxes.  Third, I will help people get better health care.  Thank you, that is all.

My husband:  We're doomed.  (I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader if he's referring to the children's debate or the actual debate...)

The four year old has my vote - bread and circuses and what's in it for me wins out every time, right?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

20 Minutes and a Field Guide

 I am trying valiantly to carve out a little time here and there to do things that aren't just trying to get stuff done.  On Friday I took a little ramble around our property with a field guide and tried to identify a few of the common plants we have growing in abundance.  I decided I'd like to know that those oaks are California Black Oaks, that the little oak shrub is a Curl-Leaf Shrub Oak (according to one source, but Google doesn't seem to agree - need to do some more searching about that one.  And what a creative name!), and the evergreen oaks are Interior Live Oaks.  Knowing these names is deeply satisfying.

I did get into a bit of a quandary though when I tried to identify the two types of wild blackberries we have growing on our property.  I believe the one below on the right is the native Californian blackberry, and the one on the left is cutleaf evergreen blackberry, an invasive species from Europe.  I took a little walk this evening (see, trying!) and I was able to sample both types of berries.  I think I like the cutleaf ones better - the flavor is a little more complex and interesting, even if they are tarter and smaller.  And do you see the spider on the gaillardia flower above?  Thanks to Google, I think that's a flower spider (another creative name!), also known as a crab spider or banana spider.  They camouflage with the flower to lie in wait for pollinators.  Given how many bees visit those flowers, I think they have found excellent hunting grounds!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Personal Touch

I am so looking forward to listening to this!  I'd love to say that I'm going to sit out on the veranda with a glass of ice tea and enjoy, but alas I think it is far more likely to be my laundry folding companion.  I don't even have a veranda (although I love how the word sounds - do people have verandas in California though?  Or are they just covered decks out west?  The word doesn't sound like it belongs with this part of the country.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Things Well Read Children Say

10 Year Old to the 6 Year Old:  All I am asking is for you to help make your sandwich... It isn't like I'm asking you to fetch an apple from the garden of the Hesperides!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts From a Homeschooling Mother

I can learn a lot about my teaching techniques by watching my children play school (a favorite past-time around here, by the way).  Apparently I am very organized and offer my students a variety of subjects and lots of read alouds, but I also expect my students to catch on very quickly.  It is extremely mortifying to hear your 10 year old tell your 4 year old to "think!" when he doesn't catch on to the exercise after the first hurried explanation.  Yes, slow down, Amber, slow down.

To that end, learning a language with completely different alphabet is a fantastic way to gain empathy for the learning to read process.  Having my 10 year old teach me Greek is good not only for her knowledge and practice of the language, but it also helps me reflect on just how difficult it is to remember all the sounds those pesky letters make.  (Not to mention the letter names...  and why oh why do they have to look different in upper case and lower case?)

I also wonder if all the stories my children hear about virtuous children cheerfully helping their families is somewhat akin to the scene in Mother Carey's Chickens where the newly poor oldest daughter gives a servant a book to read in which the servant decides to stay with the family despite the family's change in financial circumstances...  only to have the servant in Mother Carey's Chickens return the book saying it was the best book she's ever read and by the way she found a great new job that pays even better than her current position.

And with that ridiculously long sentence, I think I'll stop.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Library Book Sale Finds

First, a little story.  My children ended up in this picture because my eldest didn't want to give up the book she absconded with soon after I came home.  She's holding her finger in her place in The New Golden Treasury of Natural History, in case you can't tell.  The boys, of course, couldn't be left out which is why you have cowboy Gregory shooting over the book blind with his popsicle stick gun and teddy bear Nathan with his bear ears just visible in the center of the photo.  Never a dull moment, I tell you...

I am such a fan of our monthly library book sale up here.  I used to go sporadically, but in the spring I started making an effort to go regularly and we are amply rewarded for my efforts.  This month I brought home six Landmark books:  The Story of D-Day, Hawaii, Gem of the Pacific, Robert Fulton and the Steamboat (which I was planning on using for school this year but hadn't gotten around to buying yet, hooray!), Gettysburg, Trappers and Traders of the Far West, and The Story of Albert Schweitzer.  All were in great condition and only two dollars each.  I also picked up two Dorothy Sayers mysteries for me (10 cents each!), a few books from the Young Folks Library (looks like a nice series - I skimmed and thought they looked good, although I don't think I've heard of them before), four Kjelgaard books (at 25 cents each), a picture book by Barbara Cooney (I love her books - Miss Rumphius was my 6 year old's favorite when he was three-ish and it was one I was happy to read again and again!), the aforementioned Natural History book, a lovely Best of James Herriot with beautiful photos of Yorkshire, a book called Wagon Scout which I haven't heard of but looked like a good story, I book about planting perennial gardens, and the first book of the Emily series by L.M. Montgomery.

Such riches, for so little money!  I sometimes want to take the parents who are browsing the horrid dreck (you know, the Mr. Dumbmuffin and the Big Wedgie, Jessica and the Mystery of the Missing Lunchbox, etc) with or for their children and shake them.  Don't they know there is so much more out there that is so much more wonderful and rewarding? Books that will inspire and create new and wonderful thoughts and connections in their children's minds?  Instead the comments I overhear are most often only based on the number of books their children hold in their deprived little hands, as if quantity is all that matters.  And why on earth should a 7 or 8 year old child be picking all of their own books, solely by the covers?  What sort of insanity is that?  It seems all we've managed to keep in our culture is some notion that reading is a good thing, but we have forgotten why it is a good thing.  Oh, but at least they're reading, you say?  Yes, they may be performing the mechanics of reading, but any of the greater work of reading is completely missed.  Perhaps someday I'll get grumpy enough to ask a fellow parent, "are you really going to let your child read that?"  But in the meantime I'll relish in the lack of competition for the good stuff.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mother Culture

This year I have been contemplating "Mother Culture".  As Karen Andreola quotes, "Mothers should cultivate their souls so that in turn they may cultivate the souls of their children." I desperately need this, but yet it so very difficult to make the time for it.  At the beginning of the year I started my own nature journal with a vow to update it at least weekly...  but this summer that has tailed off to perhaps every other week.  I try to steal away for little nature walks on my own, and that too has fallen away in the activities of summer.  Handicrafts too are an infrequent companion as I try to plan the next school year, reorganize the study, take care of the house and garden, and try to do a few fun activities with the children.

When a dedicated, hard-working home teacher takes part in Mother Culture she safeguards her enthusiasm. She will be better able to cope with her responsibilities. To take part in Mother Culture is to feed herself with the Word of God, with ideas from books, nature, art, music, etc., taking care to keep growing spiritually and mentally.  Karen Andreola, What Is Mother Culture?

I need to reclaim these moments of "Mother Culture" so I will be infused and ready to do the work set before me.  I had hoped to steal away for a little nature walk and journaling today, but last night was a rough night with the 10 month old, so I wasn't up for it.  But I did take a stroll around the garden with my camera, and I spent a lovely afternoon with my children on our extremely makeshift patio.  I helped my six year old weave his first pot holder, chatted with my daughter, watched my 4 year old water our few patio plants, and tried mightily to keep the baby entertained.  It was perhaps a bit chaotic at times, but still extremely rewarding to just be with my children, listening to them and enjoying them.

(As an aside, I see that Karen Andreola's CD on Mother Culture is on sale right now - $5.00, including domestic shipping.  I am sending out my order tomorrow!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 Pascal Candle Printout in Black and White

For those of you who do not have a color printer (and are a little behind, like me *ahem*)  Here's a black and white version of a Pascal Candle printout.  Thanks to Jennifer at Family in Feast in Feria for the inspiration.

Pascal Candle 2012

Here's the wrapper after my 10 year old colored it

And here's the finished product  
I covered it in packing tape to attach it to the candle and keep it from the flame

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Little Flowers, Wreath I, Love of God

In the Fall of 2010 - and I hesitate to even admit this! - a friend and I decided to create a Little Flowers club for our girls.  We had two meetings from the first Wreath, then went into a very long hibernation.  I was pregnant and constantly tired, they were busy, and it just didn't get on the calendar.  The girls were understanding but disappointed, and we decided to give it another try.  We started where we left off and met for our third meeting in January 2012.  This was a year late, but better late than never, right?

Our Talk

I briefly told the story of St. Agnes and invited the girls to do a picture study of The Miracle of St. Agnes.  From there I talked about Constantine's daughter who built a church in St. Agnes' honor, and showed pictures of the Basilica that replaced the original in the 600's.  I also showed a picture of the tomb of St. Agnes. We discussed the lambs that are blessed each year at this church and I showed pictures of this as well.  I had preloaded my iPad with all these images, and this was so helpful and engaging for the girls.

I used the theological virtues flower from Joy Filled Family to begin our discussion of the virtue of Love of God.  We talked about how St. Agnes exhibited this virtue and about how we can show our love for God too.  We briefly talked about the peony flower (again with pictures from my iPad, as none of the girls were familiar with this flower) and mentioned how big it is and how this relates to how much God loves us and how much we should love Him.

Our Crafts and Snack

I had used the notebooking page idea from Shower of Roses in our previous meetings, so I continued it for this one too.  For the notebooking page template I added a few quotes from my quotes from Saints file and gave the girls this template of a peony to cut out of construction paper (instead of felt, as the project was done originally).  The flowers looked lovely in construction paper too.  I was also inspired by the stained glass window of St. Agnes on the Joy Filled Family blog to create my own coloring page.  I've never done such a thing, but I think it turned out pretty well.  The younger kids enjoyed coloring it, and a smaller version of it was a nice addition to the older girls' notebooking page.

 For our snack and craft, I bought whole wheat dough and suggested the children make lambs, as St. Agnes is generally pictured with a lamb.  In Lithuania there is a custom that links St. Agnes with bread rolls, so there's another reason it is appropriate.  They made their lambs in a variety of different ways, and had so much fun handling the dough!  I had the older girls make their lambs first then as they moved onto their notebooking page, their siblings shaped their dough.  I baked the lambs while everyone colored, then the children quickly devoured their lamb rolls fresh from the oven.

It was a great meeting, and I'm glad we're doing it again!

My St. Agnes Coloring Page

Keeping House: Our Chore System

Now that we've gotten a good start on the new year and I'm at least a little used to being a mom of four, I thought I would spend some time on this neglected blog.  Jen at Wildflowers and Marbles recently posted a nice write-up about chore charts and systems, and since one of my first tasks of the new year was to revisit our chore system, I thought this would make for a nice topic.

In trying to design a chore system that worked for my family, I wanted something simple, flexible, and easy to customize for that particular day, while still ensuring that the necessary weekly and monthly chores were completed often enough to keep the house looking decent.  I've worked on this system for my family for at least five years now, updating and refining it once or twice a year.  I'm pretty happy with how it is working, although I'm still fine-tuning the individual lists of what needs to get done.

Our chore chart resides in my homemaking binder on top of a bookshelf near our kitchen area.  Above the bookshelf are two 12" square picture frames with scrapbooking paper in them.  The top one is for the week's menu, and the bottom one is for the day's chores.  I have labels written with a wet erase pen, and I write the chores and menu with a dry erase pen.  In my binder I have a master list of what needs to be done by which person on which day.  Each morning (hopefully, but sometimes not until just after lunch!) I write in the day's chores.  We all do chores together for about 45 minutes after lunch.  There's also time spent here and there picking up, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the cat, and doing other little things needed to keep the house in reasonable order, but this 45 minute period is where the bulk of the routine home maintenance happens.

Our chart consists of two pages - one that shows each day of the week and each person's chores for that day and the other that shows a list of monthly chores.  On certain days there is a spot for a monthly chore, and then I'll pick one from the monthly list, cross it off, and write it up on the picture frame.  Each month I'll print out a new copy of the monthly list.  This way those chores that don't need to get done every week aren't neglected and I have an easy system to make sure they get completed.

I like this system because it easy for me to assign an extra chore or skip something I have written in the binder without confusing the children or giving any cause for complaining.  (Not that my children would ever do that  *ahem*)  But it also makes it easy for me to make sure things get done regularly and that everyone has work to do during this time.  The writing is a little bit of extra work, but it really only takes me about 2-3 minutes and the flexibility is worth it for me.  And it is very easy to see if everyone is done, because after work is completed and inspected, it is wiped off the picture frame.

If anyone is curious, I've added our current lists below (click on the image for a larger version).  These change pretty frequently (every 2-3 months, probably) as children get older and more skilled at various tasks.  I also like to rotate what they do so they get experience with a variety of jobs.  I should also note that everything in Nathan's column is really done by Nathan and me - I have not subbed out all the mopping to the three year old!