Thursday, September 12, 2013

Getting into the Swing of a New School Year

Do you ever look at your calendar for the upcoming week and think, "I'm gonna die"?

On Wednesday, we'll do school in the morning - prayer, memory work, morning basket, math, and a read aloud.  Then it is off to enrichment classes for the older two while I take the younger two to a midwife appointment.  Then the younger two and I will hit the grocery store, head home for lunch, and I'll put the toddler down for a nap.  At 1:30 we'll be back out again to meet with our contact at the local charter, then I'll pick up the older kids, and head home again.  Then we'll have an early dinner at 4 so I can leave with the three older kids at 4:30 to drive 45 minutes to Atrium, where I'll volunteer and the kids will be in their various Atrium levels.  And then it will be another 45 minutes back home where I will eat something and then promptly collapse.  In order to make all this happen, I need to have lunches packed for two kids, an easy early dinner planned and prepped, and paperwork already prepared for the charter.

As anyone who knows our family is probably noticing...  we have some new things this year.  We're signed up with a local public charter, the two oldest kids are in four hours of enrichment classes one day a week, I'm pregnant (oh, but you all knew that - 30 weeks next week, by the way!), and we're driving to a different parish so the three older kids can all participate in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  (BTW, there is an awesome video about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd here - this isn't our Atrium, but it features some friends of ours)  All good things, and all things I'm glad we're doing (well, the jury is still out on the charter, but I'm trying to maintain a positive attitude.  Right now the paperwork is killing me.)  But I'm rather wishing they weren't all coming to a head on the same day!

Oh, and this is the busiest day of the week - they aren't all like that, thank goodness!  But there's also a field trip on Friday, a great opportunity for the kids to go to a local event with some family on Thursday (which includes all sorts of switching around of people and cars!) and a kid birthday on Tuesday.  Again, all great stuff, but phew - just thinking about it makes me want to take a nap!

If anyone has noticed that I've just about stopped blogging, perhaps this will help you understand why!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Year End Pictures and Interviews

I'm going to spare you the tired and grumpy 7 Quick Takes I could be writing right now, and instead share with you one of the things I've been working on this week.  I love picking out the pictures and putting these together with the kids (Emma designed her own picture this year).  I also put together lists of accomplishments for Emma and Gregory - books read, curricula used, field trips, that sort of thing - and it is so rewarding for the kids and for me.  As my daughter said, "Mom, you're making me feel like I've actually done something!"  To which I responded, "Me too!"

I am so thankful to Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things for coming up with this and for sharing it with everyone!

I also had my older two fill out Sarah's All About Books journalling prompt, but I still need to gather samples of work and art and make some photo pages.  Yes, it is definitely some work to do, but I think it is so worthwhile.  It is good for all of us to be able to see what we've done together and to have the opportunity to reflect on the year rather than hurtling into summer and the next school year. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 4

--- 1 ---

Isn't it funny how much bigger kids look when you move them up a size in clothing?  I am in the process of moving Nathan to size 5 and Justin to size 2T and they look so much taller and older now.  

--- 2 ---

Nathan is turning five next week, and it is gradually dawning on me that I need to be doing a little more planning for him too.  I know what I'll be using for reading and math and he will be participating as much as he is able in our Classically Catholic Memory work, and a part of me is content to leave it there.  I know he'll listen to the read alouds and get lots of good tag-along exposure to the older kids' work...  but five is such a special time too - still a little guy wanting to cuddle up and listen to stories but yet starting down the road to big kid skills like reading and writing.  It seems like a neat opportunity to plan at least a little bit of something beyond the practical, something a little special just for him.  And he's the type who loves one on one attention too, so it would really warm his little heart.  I'm thinking something along the lines of a special read aloud, just for him, I'm just not quite sure what I want to do.

--- 3 ---

Today is our last day of school.  We're going out for frozen yogurt after dinner to celebrate.  Overall I'm pretty pleased with the year, especially considering the rough first trimester I had.  The kids are looking forward to a little more free time, especially Emma.  She loves to putter and futz with this and that, and she's looking forward to being able to do that without her checklist hanging over her head.

--- 4 ---

We are going to see Much Ado About Nothing in a park in Roseville tomorrow night.  My mother-in-law will watch  the younger two, and Matt and I will take the older two.  I'm really looking forward to it!  Coincidentally, it is the Shakespeare play we were studying in the second part of the year, so the kids are very familiar with it.  It is supposed to be 109 degrees in Roseville tomorrow, but the park is supposed to be very shady and the play doesn't start until 7 pm.  I'm hoping we won't roast!

--- 5 ---

When your midwife or OB/GYN asks you to fill out a form recording everything you ate for three days, do you do it?  (Do OB/GYNs even do this??)  I decided not to bother in my last pregnancy, and I'm thinking I won't bother with this one.  It drives me nuts - not that I'm embarrassed about what I eat, but my very literal brain can't take the part that instructs you to be very specific about quantities.  I drive myself crazy with, "oh, was that a half cup of yogurt or less?  Was that a 1/3 of cup of granola, or more? etc. etc. etc."  I really don't want to measure everything, I have a hard enough time keeping up with the dishes already.

--- 6 ---

This morning I took the boys down to a flat spot on our private road so they could practice their bike riding.  Cycling is an activity that really highlights the differences in my children's personalities.  I have one who is a complete speed demon and one who travels slightly faster than a snail, so he can "stay safe".  One who is very cautious and careful and one who will aim towards people so he can swerve away at the last minute.  And yes, the speed demon drives the cautious one completely to distraction!

--- 7 ---

Justin is getting to that age where he will occasionally pitch a huge fit if things don't go the way he wants.  It is interesting to watch it happen, now that I'm on my fourth iteration of this.  It is still unpleasant, but experience has made it a lot easier.  Today he was completely determined to walk down the road with me, and when I wouldn't go as far as he wanted...  oh my!  Thankfully, it doesn't happen very often, and there are a lot of fun developments too.  He's talking a lot more, he is starting to want to have people read him stories, and he absolutely loves to draw.  If anyone is sitting at the table, he will be there with a box of crayons and a piece of paper so he can, "draw!  draw!"  He also likes to have people draw for him, both of which remind me a lot of Emma.  

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Friday, May 31, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 3

--- 1 ---
Rats!  Yes, we have rats coming into the garden.  There's a blackberry bush just outside of the garden that they seem to have tunnelled under, coming out in the evenings to forage in our garden.  We are trying to block them off, cover the plants, and we're trying a non-poison bait involving oatmeal and quick setting mortar powder to control them.  At this point we've lost all the peppers, all but one of the cucumbers, and about a third of the tomatoes.  Does it sound to you like we're winning?  The only bright point is that the remaining tomato plants seem to have gotten too big for the rats to chew off and drag away.

I kept thinking about the Rats of Nimh, and not in a "oh, there just little creatures who are trying to survive in this cruel world, maybe we should try to figure out how to coexist", but rather I keep thinking, "they are too smart for us, we're doomed!  We'll never get rid of them, we might as well give over the garden and the property to them right now!  We're doomed I say, we're doomed!"  The kids chopped out the blackberry bush - I was too squeamish too tired to tackle it - and I fully expected stolen Christmas lights, elevators, and libraries.  The two nesting areas and a few little tunnels were kind of a let down, actually.
--- 2 ---
And while I'm on the topic of the joys of country living, we had a rather exciting predator night last night.  First I heard what sounded like a cross between a hoarse bark and a strangled growl? shriek? I don't know, it was weird.  I pointed it out to my husband, who likes any excuse to use his super powerful flashlight was curious about the noise too and went to investigate.  He saw a small bobcat prowling around, and in the course of this morning's research he found that this is the sort of sound they make during courtship.  Then a few hours later we heard a full coyote pack chorus closer than we've ever heard them, probably on our property in the gully.  Then they moved off down towards the creek, yipping and howling and making their unearthly banshee noises. Thankfully we no longer have any animals, so I could listen to it all and cheer them on, mentally encouraging them to pick up a rat or two as they went about their business.
--- 3 ---
I had my first midwife appointment on Wednesday, and all is well.  I got to hear the baby's heartbeat, which is always fun and reassuring.  I'm looking forward to working with this midwife again.  She is a great person to talk to and extremely knowledgable.  I'm slowly starting to feel better, but I'm still having some not so good days.  I'm at the frustrating stage where I am lively enough to notice how my house has deteriorated in the last month and a half or so, but not energetic enough to do much about it.  I am at least working with the kids to get them to be a little more thorough in their work and scrubbing an occasional sink or other trouble spot, but that's about all I can manage.
--- 4 ---
Matt and I went to see a movie in a movie theater last weekend.  Together!  Isn't that amazing?  It is the first time we've done that since Batman Begins came out.  Yes, that one.  In 2005.  Another big thank you to my mother-in-law, who took care of the kids while we went out!
--- 5 ---
We saw the new Star Trek movie, which we both really enjoyed.  My husband noticed that all of the original Star Trek episodes are available on Amazon Streaming, so we've watched a few of those this week too.  I watched many of the original episodes in late night reruns while I was in high school, and I am finding these darker and more suspenseful than I remember.  But then again I don't think I ever managed to catch these beginning episodes.  It is a different experience to be able to watch them sequentially, rather than in the random order the TV Station decides to air them in.
--- 6 ---
Here's a great breakfast recipe - Baked oatmeal with apples.  I made it this week and last week, and serve it with a choice of strawberries, blueberries, cream, and applesauce.  I do decrease the maple syrup to 1/2 cup and the honey to 2 T, just to make it a little less sweet, but still delicious.
--- 7 ---
Wow, third week in a row I've done this.  I'm strangely pleased with myself.  It is nice to find accomplishments where I can.  Even if they are meaningless blog posts...

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes, Vol. 2

--- 1 ---

I felt almost surprised to be celebrating Pentecost last Sunday...  where did the Easter Season go?  We left for a week immediately after Easter, and then all the fatigue and pregnancy sickness kicked in a day or two after we got home.  I just started feeling a little more like myself about a week ago, which makes me feel like I sleepwalked through the entire Easter season.  Quite a change from last year, when we had special teas each week and lots of little Easter celebrations.  Oh well, growing a baby is certainly very important too.

--- 2 ---

Just after putting the kids to bed tonight, I was startled to feel the bed shake and the window rattle.  Earthquake!  I called out to the kids to make sure they were feeling it, because none of them have ever felt an earthquake.  The few we've had up here have been too late at night for them to notice.  It ended up being a 5.7 magnitude earthquake located up near Lake Almanor.  I'm guessing it is around 100 miles away, as the crow flies.  The kids were pretty excited to finally get to feel an earthquake.

--- 3 ---

During Holy Week I decided to take the plunge and eliminate white flour from my diet.  I've had persistent aches and pains in my left hip for quite awhile now, and I kept seeing articles online suggesting that white flour (and refined sugar) could be acting as inflammatory agents in my body and causing these sorts of problems.  Frankly, I was rather skeptical, but I finally figured it was worth a try.  Well, it has been almost two months now, and I have been almost completely pain free.  Completely!  The only times I have had hip pain are the couple occasions when I did eat a quantity of white flour (like several pieces of pizza for dinner) and when I was at a party, drinking copious amounts of lemonade.  Interesting, don't you think?

--- 4 ---

Something else I've recently discovered is white whole wheat flour.  It makes an almost completely acceptable substitute for white flour, at least in muffins, pancakes, waffles, scones and the like.  I think I'd get complaints if I tried to make a cake or brownies with it, but for everyday baking, it is working quite well for us and everyone is happy eating it.  And I can eat it without any inflammatory issues, so it works well for the whole family.  Which is a good thing, because I just bought fifty pounds of white wheat berries!

--- 5 ---

Something else I've been experimenting with is making Thai food at home.  I can't say it is restaurant quality, but we've all been enjoying my creations.  And I've found that making spring rolls at home is really pretty easy!  I did some shopping at Amazon to get some basic ingredients (spring roll wrappers, hoisin sauce, fish sauce, rice noodles, curry paste, and red chile paste), and I was amazed at how much cheaper it was to do that then to buy the items locally.  For example, I can buy 7 oz. of hoisin sauce at my local store for $4.80, or I could buy 20 oz. at Amazon for about $5.80.  Ah, Amazon, what would I do without you?

--- 6 ---

I was reading a potty training discussion on the 4Real Forums recently and in it a woman was talking about potty training her 21 month old son.  It went really well for her, and she posted a two years later follow-up just recently saying that it continued to go well, and of all her sons he's the one with the fewest "potty issues".  I have a 20 month old son, and ever since I read that discussion I've looking at him in a new light.  I know a lot of it is likely going to involve training me to put him on the potty at regular intervals...  but still, with the diaper rash this kid keeps getting and with a new baby coming at the end of the year, the thought is tempting.  But I should probably wait until he can at least say "potty" don't you think?

--- 7 ---

Today I'm off to Costco, which is probably more than I can do at this point in time, but I'm going to do it anyway.  I really wish Costco wasn't 1 1/4 hours away!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

2012-2013 Hits and Misses

I've really enjoyed reading Jessica, Sarah, and Charlotte's hits and misses posts and I thought it would be fun to write my own.  Not that I'm in the same league or of the same caliber of a blogger as they are, but at least it might be a useful record for me down the road.  I think I'm going to focus more on our curricula in this post, and do a separate post with some of our hits and misses in the books we read.

So, without further ado...


MEP Math - I am so pleased with this excellent math curriculum!  As Gregory (1st grade) has worked through the curriculum he's gotten lots and lots of practice with basic addition, but in a way that doesn't feel as stultifying as the endless pages of addition most math programs offer at this level.  Right now he's working on a set of problems where he is practicing basic addition, but instead of just writing the answer, he's having to color one part of the shape a certain color depending on if the answer is greater than or less than 12.  Then another part of the shape has to be colored depending on if the answer is even and odd.  Now isn't that much more interesting and engaging than a straight page of addition problems with maybe a few word problems thrown in at the end?  And I love how it also involves critical thinking and evaluation as well as addition practice.  And the program is free, which certainly is a plus as well.

The main drawback to this program is the amount of hands-on time it takes.  There is definitely more coaching required to help a child walk through the critical thinking aspects of the program.  And to a certain extent, isn't that what I'm here for?  Yes, handing my son a sheet of basic math problems would be a lot simpler, but in the long term I don't think it is nearly as effective.  However - and this is a big however - if I had a few younger kids who all were in MEP as well as some littles, I just don't think I could pull it off.  There's only so many hours in the day, and there's a lot of other work to be done as well!  When my oldest was this age I used Math-U-See, which isn't much more than a glorified "here's your page of math facts to fill out" program, albeit with a nice DVD and manipulatives.  And really, considering I had a toddler, a baby, and we were building a house, there's no way I could have done  anything more.  Did her development in abstract mathematical thought suffer?  Actually, yes, I think it did, and we're doing what we can to try and mitigate this.  Could I have done anything differently a few years ago?  No, really, I couldn't...  so I refuse to beat myself up about it!

Life of Fred - I started using this with my daughter last year when it was becoming quite apparent that Math-U-See was not helping my daughter develop her critical thinking and analytical abilities in math. The transition to Life of Fred was a little challenging because now she did have to think critically and try to figure out the problems, rather than just solving the problem plunked down in front of her...  but thankfully the story of Fred and his various dilemmas was engaging enough to make the struggle less frustrating.  She started with Fractions mid-way the last school year, completed that and is now about half way through Decimals.  She's still happy with it, I'm pleased at how she's improved in her ability to think through problems and all in all it is a great fit for her.  The main reason I didn't start Gregory in the Life of Fred books is the cost - it is still pretty teacher intensive, but there's a lot of books required and that all adds up pretty quickly.

CHC Little Stories for Little Folks - I have been extremely pleased with this reading program.  We liked the little books, the gentle progression of the stories, and the content of the stories.  My first grader finished the program a couple of weeks ago and is reading quite solidly now.  I'm looking forward to starting Nathan on the program next year.  The little book format is so much more interesting and appealing than the big book style program that I used for my daughter (I used 100 Easy Lessons with her, which I would not recommend for several reasons) and the stories were something you actually wanted to help your child read.


Apologia based science lab class - This one is specific to our area, but since it was a miss, and since I'm my main audience, I'll write about it anyway.  I didn't use the Apologia books for the class because I already had our own science planned by the time I heard about the class.  I initially wasn't going to participate because I don't particularly like the Apologia texts and because the class was aimed at families who have trouble doing hands-on science at home.  But when I was assured that the kids could participate in the labs even if they hadn't done the reading, I thought, well, it might be a good opportunity to give them some classroom-type experience as well as a little more hands-on science.  I was also trying to start a natural foods/gardening discussion group, and it seemed like the class time was a good time to also get some people together for this.  So, in the aim of two birds with one stone, I went for it.  Well, the discussion group was a total flop and the classes, in our opinion, were not that impressive.  I should have remembered two things I already knew - it is extremely difficult to start anything in this area, and I have a very high bar for what outside activities are worthwhile for my family.  Lesson learned...  (again)

My Chemistry Program - Now this one is a little embarrassing to admit, but I'll do so anyway.  Over the summer I put together a program for my 5th grade daughter that was supposed to be an introduction to Chemistry and the Periodic Table.  My hands on books were Messing Around with Baking Chemistry and Fizz, Bubble & Flash.  I also used Mystery of the Periodic Table and a biography of Marie Curie called The Story of Madame Curie, as well as a gorgeous app called The Elements.  I used the experiments in Messing Around with Baking Chemistry as a way to introduce lab reports and the scientific method as well.  We started off well, but making the different cakes became repetitive...  especially when we weren't seeing much of a difference between them.  Then we got to the part where we were supposed to be experimenting with gas collection and the gases collected.  And even though I had ordered what I thought was the right equipment, we just couldn't get it to work correctly!  It was very frustrating, and eventually we gave up.  We were supposed to have started on Fizz, Bubble & Flash in March, but between some extra activities (Journey North Mystery Class, Papal Lapbook) it got pushed aside...  and then April and May have been very low effort months for me because of my horrible fatigue and pregnancy sickness.  And when I can't do much, science experiments is one of those things that doesn't get done.  But really, I don't expect great things from that book, because while the premise is interesting (experimenting your way through the Periodic Table) the implementation is somewhat lackluster.  And really, some parts of the Periodic Table do not lend themselves to easy home experimentation!  But it hasn't been all bad - Mystery of the Periodic Table was well received, and my daughter is really enjoying the biography about Marie Curie.  The Elements app has also gotten a lot of use and exploration, sparking a lot of good discussion and interest.  I think that while the hands-on chemistry part did not go particularly well, she has gotten a good introduction to the Periodic Table as well as how to go about setting up and writing about an experiment.  So perhaps not a complete flop, but not nearly the success I desired!

Friday, May 17, 2013

7 Quick Takes - Vol. 1

--- 1 ---

We took the plunge and planted our garden last weekend.  Well, I sat in a chair and advised and everyone else planted, but at least I was out there!  We usually wait until June, since our foothills climate is notorious for sending us a sleet/hail/snowstorm after days and days of mild and beautiful weather, but since the weather has been so settled and pleasant we decided not to wait any longer. Since then we've lost six tomatoes, eight peppers, a cucumber, and a bunch of plants we put in the ground over a month ago.  The country always sounds like the perfect place to have a garden and maybe some livestock, but with the deer, rabbits, voles, rats, bobcats and bears it is awfully hard to keep anything alive for any period of time!  The problems this year seem to stem from voles and rats (although I think a rabbit got in last night) and the vole repellent, poison bait, and traps just aren't doing the trick.  I have no idea if we'll manage to have a garden this year or not.

This is the most depressing time of the gardening year.

--- 2 ---

I was never more pleased with my unfinished concrete floor than when I read Jennifer's #5 entry this morning.  Hooray for concrete!

--- 3 ---

I woke up this morning and my second thought (after why oh why does Justin have to wake up at 5:40??) was the realization that I only felt hungry, not nauseous.  Isn't that amazing?  And I read aloud to the kids today instead of taking a nap this afternoon!  Could this mean I'm turning a corner?

--- 4 ---

I have a Facebook account.  I know, I know.  I still find it rather confusing, and I haven't posted anything on my own page (or whatever it is called) but I am really enjoying the Mater Amabilis Facebook group.  There's something about the Facebook format that makes for livelier conversations than what I've found in Yahoo! groups or discussion forums.

--- 5 ---

Matt is taking the two older kids on an overnight backpacking trip this weekend.  Isn't that cool?  Someday I hope I can backpack again...  maybe when I'm 50.  Still, I'd rather have these little folks around than be able to go backpacking.  But I am glad my husband is willing to take the kids out by himself so they get to experience it!

--- 6 ---

I've made great strides on my homeschool planning.  I had the revelation that since history is the subject I'm most passionate about, I'm probably not going to find a curriculum that covers history to my satisfaction.  Once I gave myself permission to ignore the history part of Mater Amabilis, I realized I really like it.  (I feel I should add, not that there's anything wrong with it... it just isn't as complete or slow paced as I would like)  So I'm using almost all of it for the kids next year and that has really simplified my planning!  It also helps that this is my third time around planning a Charlotte Mason style curriculum for the kids.  It really does get so much easier with experience!

--- 7 ---

Could I please, someday soon, find someone who homeschools like I do?  I mean, really, I've lived up here for over five years already!  But then I try to figure out how I would go about trying to meet someone like me, and I realize that someone like me probably wouldn't leave the house much either which makes it awfully difficult.  I guess I need to get out more.  Humph.  

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Our School Days Look Like Now

Due to my astonishing lack of energy, our highly structured school days had to change.  I have shifted from a very Mason inspired structured day to a much looser and freeform checklist for Emma (11 - 5th grade) and Gregory (7 - 1st grade).  Lessons are definitely taking longer, as they no longer have the schedule and the momentum of the day keeping them moving reasonably smoothly through their various subjects.  The school day is also more scattered, a little school here, a little running around, a little more school, some time outside, and back to the schoolwork.  For the most part the work is being completed, although sometimes things bleed into the next day(s).  I have continued to leave Friday without a checklist (it used to be our Fine Arts and Nature Day, but that has gone by the wayside too) and we tend to take on a garden project, finish up lingering checklist items, and I do math and reading practice with Gregory.

The biggest difference in our school day is the lack of read-alouds.  For whatever reason, reading aloud makes me extremely nauseous.  I've never had this happen before, and I'm not sure how to adjust.  I'm making a supreme effort to still read Gregory's school assignments with him, but I'm not even able to do that twenty minutes or so every day.  We bought the kids inexpensive MP3 players so they could still hear good literature, but it has thrown a monkey-wrench in many of our family studies.  They generally listen to their players for awhile after lunch, and again in the evening as they are doing their after dinner chores.  We were in the midst of a number of good books together, and they have all been put aside for the last month and a half while I've been in the throes of the first trimester.  We've also had to stop our morning time, because if I do morning time with the kids, I then have to go back to bed and cannot help Gregory with his math or anything else.  Seriously.  Since I'm generally going to bed hours earlier than the kids, I'm no longer available for evening prayer either.   My husband is generally reading the kids a bedtime story, so at least they are getting a little bit of reading aloud around here!

Thankfully, it is spring and the kids are having a wonderful time with all their time available outside.  Now that I'm not reading out loud for about two hours a day and we're no longer involved in any outside activities, the hours out of doors, while never skimpy around here, are now vast.  They've built forts, planted seeds, fought the Hessians and the British (many times - they alternate between watching an episode of the Magic School Bus or Liberty's Kids during lunch), learned about new insects and plants, and just generally had a marvelous time running around.

My hope is that in another couple of weeks I'll be feeling stronger and less nauseous (please, Lord?) and we'll pick up morning time and our read alouds again.  The kids will largely be done with their other studies, but I think they'll enjoy spending an hour or so together in the morning and maybe another half an hour in the afternoon, reading, listening to music, and praying as a family.  I think it will   be nice to bring the kids together like that, even during the summer, and it will help relieve my conscience regarding my dereliction of duty this spring.

And moving forward?  Will I stay like this or go back to our daily schedules?  Really, I don't know.  I can't see myself going back to schedules until at least next spring.  I have a feeling I'll continue with checklists for the next school year and re-evaluate next summer.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

First Trimester

I'm 10 weeks into this pregnancy and so far it has been a pretty rough first trimester.  I don't think I've had such a sick and fatiguing first trimester since my first pregnancy twelve years ago.  Even though this time is difficult, I'm struck by how much more humane my life is now, and how much easier it is to weather this time and not have everything (including me!) go to pieces.  Twelve years ago, I was getting great advice like, "even though you feel awful, it is still important that you are at work at the right time.  Throw up in your wastepaper basket if you have to."  And then there was this gem from my midwife, when I asked her if all my sickness, fatigue, and long hours at work would harm the baby.  "Well, it isn't like you have several children at home already and you're working all day in the fields.  You'll be fine."

Now I have bigger kids who can to help entertain the toddler, clean and tidy the house, and even help with the dishes.  My husband works from home, so I can go take a long nap while the toddler naps and I know there is another adult that can help the kids if something happens.  He can also step in to help with dinner prep if I'm at the point where I can't do anymore, as well as help in a myriad of other ways.  I'm older and at least a little wiser and more experienced, which makes focusing on meals and laundry less daunting than it used to be (and it is easier to recognize the absolute brilliance of that particular blog post!).  Sure, there are sacrifices involved - lost income, a perpetually unfinished house, (very) modest vacations, few outside activities - but I'm very grateful for where we are and the general livability of our family life.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Little Encouragement

Thanks to Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things, I just read the greatest article about NFP.

You guys, we have fallen into a hole.  We've fallen into the hole of defining life the way corporations want us to define it.  "Family planning" has come to mean "child prevention" and we simply accept that, "natural" has come to mean "non-chemical" and we simply accept that and I, for one, am tired.  I'm tired of feeling obligated to feel embarrassed that our family contains children.  I'm tired of my friends having to tell the world that they "suck" at NFP because their families contain children.  I'm tired of everyone I know who knows about NFP having to constantly justify marriages resulting in children. 
I think this is my favorite paragraph, but really, the whole thing is so wonderful I'm rather hard pressed to choose.
But if you and your husband (or wife, if there's a guy reading this [yeah right]) have not discerned that preventing pregnancy is an absolute MUST for the survival of your family and you end up making lots of babies, YOU DO NOT SUCK AT NFP.  On the contrary, you rock at NFP.  You are planning for your family to be as robust as God wills it to be and are living in absolute accord with nature.  That is a perfectly wonderful, self-sacrificing way for your love for each other to manifest itself. 
Really, read the whole thing!

Oh, and have I mentioned we're expecting another little one around the beginning of December?  Yes, we're all excited, and yes, my daughter is hoping she might finally get a sister.  We shall see!

Friday, April 12, 2013

You Know You're Doing a Good Job...

You know you're doing a good job living the liturgical year when you ask your son, "hey, when's your birthday?"  And he responds, "Well, I know it is sometime during Advent..."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

Old news by now, of course, but I still wanted to post.  We were all surprised when the first tepid flurries of dark smoke suddenly turned bright white.  I was thinking we wouldn't have a Pope until tomorrow, especially since the smoke seemed a little late in going up. This was my first time waiting for the smoke, then waiting eagerly to see who would be the new Holy Father.  And I am so glad to be able to share the experience with my children too.  

Waiting...  Hooray!  Waiting...  Hooray!
My daughter is lobbying to watch the inauguration in real time, but I'm not sure that being up for several hours in the middle of the night then trying to get through a busy Tuesday is the right thing to do.  Memorable, yes.  A good idea?  Doubtful.

We are all so excited about Pope Francis, and we're looking forward to getting to know him better.  The kids and I are looking forward to learning more about him and about Argentina.  This evening we celebrated his election with grilled steak with chimchurri sauce, a classic Argentinian recipe (see below).  I have a few other recipes that I want to try next week too.  I think we'll have Milanesa Napolitana (Argentinian Fried Steak, Italian-Style) on Tuesday.  It seems quite appropriate to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph and Pope Francis' Inauguration!

I looked at several recipes for chimchurri sauce, and of course none of them were exactly the same.  I wanted something that wasn't too spicy, but still had cilantro so I opted to come up with my own variation, using ingredients found in various chimchurri recipes.  It was absolutely delicious, and the kids really liked it too.

Chimchurri Sauce
1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 bunch cilantro
6-8 cloves of garlic
1/2 t salt
1/2 t or so fresh ground pepper
1 t onion powder
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

After plucking all the leaves off the herbs, I placed them in the food processor with the garlic and processed until coarsely chopped.  I then added the salt, pepper, and onion powder, processing a little more.  Then I combined the olive oil and red wine vinegar, and added that to the food processor while it was running.  The result was a lovely green sauce that smelled (and tasted!) wonderful!  

To use the sauce, you could either marinate the steaks in half of the sauce overnight, or spoon some on before grilling.  I used a large top sirloin steak from our quarter of grass fed beef (appropriate for an Argentinian meal, don't you think?) and it was very tasty.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


As we begin the second week of our Papacy Lapbook, we are focusing on the Conclave.  Timely, don't you think?
Only an hour and a half until
 breakfast, Cardinals!

A friend mentioned she set one of their clocks in their kitchen to Rome time, which I thought was a great idea.  I also posted the Cardinals' daily schedule next to that clock, so we could see what the Cardinals were doing right at that moment.  This, along with our frequent prayers, gives a wonderful sense of connection to the events in the Vatican City.  I think it is the best and most reasonable way to wait for the white smoke.

Our Papacy Lapbook schedule for the week is as follows:

Finish the last three chapters of Lost in St. Peter's Tomb (A somewhat simple but fun book - we all appreciated the illustrations and I think the author did a good job weaving a story into all the information about St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican)
Where does the Pope live?  mini-book

Read Focus' Illustrated Guide to the Conclave - narrate and discuss
Smoke investigation (this was a lot of fun!)
Selecting a New Pope mini-book
Conclave voting activity at Religious Ed (more below)

Sistine Chapel Investigation (virtual tour, Khan Academy video, and this one too)
Where does the Conclave take place? mini-book
Vocabulary mini-book

Finish up mini-books
Picture study of a section from the Sistine Chapel ceiling

More about the Conclave activity I led this afternoon:

Set up:
  • Squares of paper, approximately as many as the number of children in the group - number one side sequentially, on the other put ages for the Cardinals, making sure to have at least a couple 80 or over.  (I used numbers instead of names to make it easier for the children to vote)  put all of these in a dish or bag.
  • A platter
  • A basket or container
  • A tally sheet with the sequential numbers from the first step on it for the count
  • The prayer used by the Cardinals when the vote, typed up and taped to the platter
  • Several copies of the Veni Creator prayer
  • Ballots
  • A needle threaded with colored thread and knotted securely
  • Pencils/crayons/markers
  • The room should have a table with three chairs at it, three chairs set to the side, and at least one chair set aside in another part of the room.  

I started by briefly going over what the Conclave is, what it is for, and where it takes place.

Then we talked about who participates, and I had each person draw a number, explaining that this number represented their "name" as a Cardinal.  I also had them check their age (on the back of their number card) to see if they were eligible to participate in the Conclave.

I then assigned people to various roles (you could do this by lot or by assigning, lot would be more accurate, but I had a range of ages and I wanted to make sure I had older kids doing the counting!) - the table was for the Scrutineers, the Infimrarii sat at the three chairs set to the side, and the sick sat in the chair set off by itself.  The Revisers stood behind each of the Scrutineers.

I then ran the children through voting on their ballots, placing them on the platter (and reciting the prayer - although I didn't have each one say it because I was a little pressed for time), putting them in the basket, getting the votes from the sick, counting the ballots and tallying the ballots.

Then we discussed the results and what sort of smoke we would be sending up given our vote.  After this we talked about what would have happened if we did have the 2/3 majority.

It was a great activity and fun and engaging way to present a topic with a lot of details.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Daybook for March 6th

March 6, 2013

(The pictures are from our papacy lapbook, which is going very well.  I'm so glad we're doing it! )

Outside My Window
We had two and a quarter inches of rain last night and another quarter inch during the day.  We also had hail, sleet and a little bit of snow.  Sometimes we’d look at the window and say, “wow, look at that...  precipitation!” because it was hard to tell what was falling from the sky.

I am Listening to
The crackling of the wood burning stove as the metal cools.  I like having fires in the evening.

I am so Grateful for
Oh, many things!  The chance to visit with a friend and pray the Stations of the Cross with them on Friday, the kids’ opportunity to spend some time with their grandmother up in the snow over the weekend, being able to watch Pope Emeritus Benedict’s last day as Pope over the internet, getting together with family for dinner on Saturday, celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday tonight...  really, there is so much I am grateful for in my life!

I am Pondering
“I am simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on this earth. But I would still—with my heart, with my love, with my prayers, with my reflection, and with all my inner strength—like to work for the common good and the Good of the Church and of humanity. “  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo on February 28th.  

I am Reading
Still reading lots of books, but I thought I would mention one in particular.  Yesterday evening I read Habemus Papam!  A graphic novel written in the Manga style about the life of Joseph Ratzinger.  I’ve never read a graphic novel before, and I’m not particularly attracted to that format, but this one was wonderful. The book is engaging, gently humorous, and makes good use of the format to tell the story.  I was so impressed.  

I am Thinking
There has got to be at least on other family in this county who doesn’t think it is crazy/unnecessary/downright strange to read Shakespeare with their children.  Right?  Maybe?  And if there is, how do I go about finding them?  How would someone find me? 

I am Creating
Hmm...  not much progress on anything.  I have worked on my knitted headband, but the pace is rather glacial.  I think I managed to knot one decade on my Rosary...   

Towards a Real Education
The kids are really enjoying Much Ado About Nothing.  The boys have (affectionately, I assure you) nicknamed it, “Nothin’ to do about Mutton”.  We have been listening to the two scenes where Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into thinking each is in love with the other, then we watched that scene in Kenneth Branagh’s version of the play.  The whole thing isn’t appropriate for children, but some scenes are perfectly acceptable.  I love the joyous exultation the actors show as they decide to love one another.  The two older kids understood the language, laughed at the jokes,  and greatly enjoyed the experience.  Emma acted out the scene with Beatrice, Ursula and Hero in Lego this evening - quite amusing.  Children can love the language of Shakespeare and they can “get it”!  And why would I want to save this for high school, when they can enjoy and savor it now?  And in high school they can take their familiarity with the stories and run with it, diving deeper into the language and all the allusions and poetry Shakespeare has to offer.

Towards Rhythm and Beauty
Ah, starting at 8 am is a challenge.  Some days are better than others.  But all in all, we’re doing well and making good adjustments when we need to start a little later.  I’m skipping singing too often though.  That’s always the first thing that goes in my schedule.

To Live the Liturgical Year
Ah, Lent.  We’re still moving right along in our various observances.  

I am Hoping and Praying
For the Cardinals, as they gather in Rome.

From the Kitchen
I was thinking about Sarah’s comment about oatmeal on my last post, and it made me thing about  why we eat oatmeal so often during Lent.  We don’t pick oatmeal for breakfast as a sort of “ok, lets make ourselves suffer by having to eat something we don’t like much more frequently”.  Instead we eat oatmeal because it is cheap, filling, and easy.  It gives me more time in the morning for prayer, and gives us some money that we save to donate at Easter to the charity of our choice.  Every oatmeal day sees another dollar in the box, and every simple supper puts in two more dollars.  We had seventy some-odd dollars last year, and I think we’ll have more this year.  There is a discipline in eating something more frequently though, even if it is something I like.  I think it is excellent training for my will, to help me to as I ought and not just as I feel in all manner of things.

A Few Plans for the Rest of the Week
Yesterday was our marathon out of the house day - science lab class, dentist appointments, and religious education.  I taught a class too, and the sum total of that day made me want to hide in a cave for the rest of the evening.  Instead I made it through dinner and prayer and read-alouds and bedtime then immersed myself in Habemus Papam.  Today was a little birthday celebration for my father-in-law, and on Friday we’ll be heading to my parents’ so they can take care of the kids while Matt and I celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary.  This will be the first night I’ve spent away from Justin, and only the second time I’ve been away overnight from the other kids (excluding births!)  We’re looking forward to it, but I’m also wondering how Justin will do overnight.  At least I  won’t be too far away if it really isn’t working!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Tail End of Winter

I recently stopped by my old college town to show the kids the toad tunnel and I was amused to see all the apartment complexes sporting their "Reserve for next year!" signs.  I remember how there was something about February that made all of us college students start restlessly searching for new roommates and new places to live, hoping that maybe this time we'd find the magic combination of cheap, close to campus, and a roommate that would always clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Alas, I was never successful in my search, but I remember that anxious and trying time well.

Funny how I still have that restless late winter angst...  just now it is heralded by homeschooling catalogs and blogs.  Now is the time to try this new curriculum!  Use this plan and your days will go smoothly and beautifully!  Look!  Shiny and New, New, New!  I must admit the siren call sounds but dully in my (five and a half year) veteran ears, but none the less there's still a few things that get me.  I recently came across the Schola Rosa site and spent some time in investigation and thought before being able to come to a resolution.  Thankfully I'm experienced enough to realize the futility of trying to start anything remotely coop-ish around here, but nonetheless, the Schola Rosa program at home has a definite appeal to my orderly mind.  However, a good conversation with my husband and some journalling about the balance between memory training, useful knowledge, and trivia helped me to  realize that while there is a strong place for memory work in our homeschool, it does not encompass lists of mountain types and prose paragraphs about historical happenings.  I will be buying the Classical Catholic Memory timeline cards as they look like a nice addition to our Book of Centuries.  I also think  they will be a fun way to get the younger ones to start thinking about time and the sequence of history.  I'm betting they will be more engaging and dynamic than my woefully underused timeline in the schoolroom.  (Really, should I just take the thing down and stop getting frustrated about it?  But every homeschool schoolroom has to have a timeline, right?!?)

I also wonder every year how on earth I'm going to have time to plan for the next year (especially since I'm going to - gack! - be adding another student).  Last spring I had the opportunity to ask Laura Berquist how she found time to plan when she had little kids.  She responded that her husband would take the kids camping for a long weekend then she would fit in a little more time here and there with the help of her husband and older kids.  But then she added something to the effect of, but you don't need to do that, you can use use my lesson plans and you'll be all set.  I wish I had asked, "but what if I don't want to use your lesson plans?"

I wonder too, "why oh why oh why can I not just submit to someone else's booklist and plans"?  After all, it isn't like I'm just winging it, doing a little of this and a little of that - I am an educator who follows the methods of Charlotte Mason closely, and there are a number of good plans and possibilities out there that take her writings very seriously.  So why do I have to create my own booklists, my own plans?  Flexibility is part - I like to combine my kids and do a lot of reading aloud, something most plans do not accommodate.  I also like to keep moving along our current historical path, which makes it hard to adopt someone else's plan wholesale.  But I think that the biggest reason why is summarized in this wonderful post from Jenn at Wildflowers and Marbles about building a considered booklist, because a considered booklist is one where "I am able to consider our year, consider the children, consider the topics and points of interest along this year's educational journey."  And so I will soon begin the booklist odyssey, selecting our books with care and consideration, reviewing all my various sources, thinking and praying and writing.  And really?  I'm looking forward to it.

If you are in the thralls of the late winter homeschool catalog dance, may I suggest you read Cindy Rollin's post?  And please read about the Mad Mothers' Tea Party.  And be sure to turn down your invitation, before it is too late!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante and A Papal Lapbook Plan

I feel a connection with our now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that is a little hard to understand.  I've received quotes from his various speeches and writings in my inbox for years, thanks to the work of the Benedict Everyday website.  I have a little picture of him in my kitchen that makes me smile every time I see it.  I've read some of his writings and always appreciated his wisdom, humility, great intelligence and kindness.  I've used some of his quotes for copywork, and others I have copied into my own commonplace book.  I have several quotes waiting in my inbox for copying.  Here's one, picked at random:  "We often recognize what is good without doing it.  With prayer we succeed in doing it."  And another:  "It is precisely in prayer that we become ever more aware of Jesus' presence with us and in us.  The more and better we pray, with constancy, with intensity, the more like him we shall be, and he will truly enter unto our life and guide it, bestowing upon us joy and peace."  He's the only Pope I have known as a Catholic.

And now he's no longer the Pope, no longer the Papa.  And I feel his absence at the helm, I feel the empty chair of Saint Peter within me.

And I have the privilege of sharing this time with my children, watching the footage of his last appearances, his helicopter flight from the Vatican, praying for him and for the Cardinals as they gather to elect his successor.  It is also a great opportunity to dive a little deeper into what the Papacy is, who the Pope is, and how the Conclave works.  Jessica at Shower of Roses has created a marvelous lapbook and unit study to help children explore these topics, and I am thrilled to use it.  We will begin on Monday, starting with an exploration of Saint Peter and the Basilica that bears his name.  We'll be reading, narrating, and working on several of the mini-books together.  I've rearranged our schedule to give us an hour each day to delve into this topic, and I think it will be a wonderful and enriching experience for us all.  Yet another reason I am so thankful that we homeschool!

In case it helps anyone else, here's how I broke down the first unit.  We'll probably do the fourth unit the following week, since that one is about the Conclave, then we'll complete the second and the third.  Next week is a little short, with our science lab, dentist appointments, and religious education all on Tuesday and an event on Friday.  But still, I think it will work well.  I'm also planning on reading St. Peter's Tomb later in the afternoon or evening as well.  I'm hoping to finish it that week.

Read Lost in St. Peter’s Tomb
Research St. Peter’s Basilica online
Make St. Peter’s Basilica pop-up book

Read Lost in St. Peter’s Tomb

Read St. Peter’s Story
Complete the page about St. Peter in the “Some Special Popes” book
Make St. Peter’s Keys (in the afternoon)

Thursday Read Lost in St. Peter’s Tomb
Read about the Primacy of St. Peter (My Catholic Faith)
Primacy of Peter Copywork
Picture Study - Christ Handing the Keys to Saint Peter

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Lenten Daybook

The Journeying into Lent Daybook
February 25, 2013

Outside My Window
A cool, dark night with an almost full moon glowing brightly in the hearth room window.

I am Listening to
The crackling of the wood burning stove as the metal cools.

I am so Grateful for
This nice, new, comfy couch.  

I am Pondering
“What temptations do I find hardest to resist?  How might this reveal God’s intended purpose for me? ... Learn to see in your temptations a perversion of God’s plan for you.  Try to discern what it is that God might be calling you to do by looking at the areas of your life where you are most tempted.”  The Power of the Cross, p. 23

I am Reading
Oh, goodness, lots of books.  Too many, probably.  The Power of the Cross, Northanger Abbey, some time management book of which the name escapes me, a book written by a teenage family friend, and, oh, about 15 books for the kids’ school - either aloud or reading ahead so I can better discuss them with Emma.  

I am Thinking
I’ve been thinking a little about the next school year, and changes I might make.  I have a draft of a blog post about that, perhaps I’ll get it edited and posted later this week.  

I am Creating
Oh, not too much right now.  I’m trying to make a knotted rosary, but I had to pull it all out because I ran out of cord prematurely.  I’m very slowly working on a headband, a scrubbie, and the swatch for a pair of socks.  

Towards a Real Education
I am really happy with our school year for the most part.  I decided to make our morning time a little longer and start a little earlier in the morning, because I realized that what we do in morning time is so enriching and vital.  So far, so good!  Now we get to read Shakespeare, listen to Handel’s Messiah, read Longfellow’s Hiawatha, sing, and read our world history read aloud every day!  This is in addition to our prayer, Mass readings, decade of the rosary and recitation. The kids and I are very pleased.  It takes about an hour and a half, in case you’re wondering!  But well worth every minute, even with a squirmy toddler and sometimes disruptive four year old.

Towards Rhythm and Beauty
Trying to get everything going at 8 a.m. is trying.  But worthwhile, extremely worthwhile.  But exercising, eating, showering, and making sure the kids are all ready to go is sometimes challenging.  I no longer read at breakfast (a bad habit anyway), the breakfast dishes are sometimes waiting until lunch, as is that first load of laundry...  but I think those are reasonable trade offs.

To Live the Liturgical Year
We are well into Lent at this point, and all is going well.  The children are going strong on their Lenten lapbooks and our Jesse Tree turned Lenten Countdown Tree is gradually becoming more bare.

I am Hoping and Praying

Around the House
Matt installed thresholds in all the upstair doorways recently, along with some trim on the stairs and in the open area.  It looks good!  

What do you mean, we're waiting until Sunday to have more birthday cake?
From the Kitchen
Trying to keep things simple, make sure I use up whatever is in the fridge, and just trying to be mindful of the season.  In our family, this means more leftovers for dinner, more soups, and more bean and rice dishes.  It also means oatmeal for breakfast five days a week - a particularly painful practice for Nathan.  Each morning he reacts with new shock and dismay, even though we keep reiterating that we’ll be doing this for all of Lent.  Time is still such a nebulous concept at four.   I find it funny how each kid is like this at four.  When they are younger they don’t mind, but at round four oatmeal becomes the worst thing ever, then they go to either not minding or even liking it.  

A Few Plans for the Rest of the Week
Orthodontist appointment, religious education at the parish, a visit with friends, and a much anticipated overnight trip for Gregory and Emma to my parents' cabin!