Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Thanksgiving for...

Let me interrupt the radio silence around here for a brief moment because Thanksgiving happened and I think it's in, like, the code of bloggers or something that "one must post the standard holiday post on or around the holiday that hast taken place". Also, I have much to be very thankful for (read on for the BIG thing), and I think true gratitude is expressed best through blogging. That's also in the the code, I think.

Ok, onward. We made the trek back to Steubenville for Thanksgiving, but not before getting all giddy over the first snow here in the South Bend...

Seriously, I sent them out for at least 3 snow romping stints in less than 12 hours, in full snow suit gear and all because the novelty was there and we were all loving it a little too much. I even made "winter cookies" with them, complete with cookie cutters and icing PLUS a hot chocolate party. It was splendid.

Then a couple days later we were off to Homol Thanksgiving Fest 2015:
      ^ Blurred faces from stolen iphone pic but you get the big family idea.

I was super grateful for the beautiful weather and my parents' giant back yard where the kids perilously sped riding toys at frightening speeds down their huge hill over and over and over again...

And grateful for a kick-a$@ sister who even raced them down...

Grateful for a dad who will NEVER say no to taking grandkids on a tractor ride...

Grateful for siblings pushing my kids on the tire swing with bourbon in hand, because we know how to do Thanksgiving...

And thankful for family, on both sides, who joyfully celebrated with us another life to add to this crazy bunch:

You knew something was coming, but I had to get in ALL the things I'm thankful for before the biggest. I blame little nugget for the blog-silence, and will just be honest and say it'll probably continue for a few more weeks until we're out of the constant-nausea-constant-eating-more-nasuea-more-eating phase, because I need to save my energy for all the eating.

I hope you and yours had a beautiful and blessed Thanksgiving!!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

back in the saddle (sort of)

The nice thing about this blogging community-- and I mean the smaller Catholic mom-blogging group-- is that life seems pretty equally crazy for everyone, because well, Catholics and their kids. So when I go many weeks without doing an original blog post, I don't really feel bad because I'm pretty certain that everyone has way too much going on to care or notice, and if they do notice, I know they're in the same crazy-boat and totally understanding. But then when I see a fellow mom in the thick of many little ones come out from the crazy rock and, despite the crazy, give an update and I get SO excited to read it, then I start to feel that long-lost desire to ignore the insanity, lock myself in a room and just type-it-out-B. (An off topic aside, did Blythe posting that wonderful article on the miraculous medal make anyone else dig theirs out, put it on and not take it off? I know I'm not the only one)

So here I am, on a morning where I decided to teach the older 2 girls to shower themselves completely independently of me, but forgot to teach them that the plastic shower curtain MUST STAY INSIDE THE SHOWER OR YOU WILL FLOOD THE BATHROOM and I'm just letting the bathroom stay soggy for a while to indulge myself because, a soggy bathroom never hurt anyone.

Here are a few anecdotes from the last month that have nothing to do with one another or really anything at all, but seem like they should be shared.

1: My girls are super huge wimps about bugs of any kind. From a giant spider to a teeny tiny fruit fly, their reactions are universally the same: total and complete terror and more hysterics than should ever be displayed. So one day after dinner, Mike and I were trying to shoo them downstairs to play so he could do damage control on the upstairs and I could clean the dinner dishes, but they wouldn't budge because apparently there was a fly downstairs and they simply could not play in the same vicinity of fly. However, Mike with his brilliant ways convinced them to get some paper and get the best look at the fly that they could and sketch some pictures of him so that Mike could more easily find and catch and kill him. They were all about this and off they went with their little composition books to do their own mug shots, which we still have and are pictured below:

It took Bernadette a couple of tries.

Naomi went above and beyond the call and even did a little question and answer sheet as to the size of the fly,
as well as a map of the fly's various routes and then sketched out just about how fast the fly was going when she saw him.
 My favorite is the little drawing of the person seized by sheer terror and Naomi's directive to "RUN!!!" (see the big black arrow), giving you a good idea of exactly how they react any time they see one.

All this lasted roughly 10 minutes before they demanded that he be found and put to death, but it sure did provide some laughs for me and Mike.

2: We had a romping good time at our local homeschool group's All Saint's Day party, where the kids dressed up as the saint of their choice:
Saint Mildred, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Lucy and Saint Joseph.
Bernadette received this set of Saint books for kids for her birthday, and in keeping with her mostly ultra-pious behavior, she looked for every woman saint in the books who looked like she was wearing lipstick or had pretty long hair, one of which was Saint Mildred. In the book she is pictured with beautiful braids and pink lips so Bernadette was completely set on being her, and I thought she'd be horrified to find that in real life Saint Mildred was a nun and is only ever depicted with her habit on-- no long hair, no lipstick, no nothing. I was sure she's go searching for another saint, but she surprised me by sticking to her guns, so Saint Mildred she was.

Lucy was completely unintentional with her squinty eyes in that picture, and was most excited about her eyeballs that she got to carry. This was year 2 of me drawing the stigmata on one of my children, it doesn't get less weird. I was most proud of my idea to sew those plush tools onto Joseph's robe, I felt really crafty with that one.

Moving on...

3: I overheard the girls the other morning-- before I had any coffee or had fully accepted the fact that I was not in bed anymore-- scheming about whether or not they could afford "a bed for 498 BUCKS", or a "couch with one of those things that you can put your feet up on". I peaked downstairs to see what the heck they were talking about and it turned out that they had gotten a hold of some throw- away ads that we get in the mail to a local furniture store and they were jotting down an extensive wish list. They were fairly confident that they could gather upwards of $1000 from their piggy banks to acquire some new home furnishings and then they were sorely disappointed when I broke it to them that they probably only have roughly $50 total in all three of their banks. In the end they compromised and found a fish tank that they are sure they're getting. After all, it is only...
I mean, it comes with a light!

SO basically, you get the idea. Life be crazy, kids be crazy, and neither of those things make allowances for things like blogging or "time to myself". Like, ever. Also, my babysitter had to quit and Lucy has suspended her attendance in Atrium, so those 2 precious quiet times in my week have up and disappeared. Alright, enough excuses, Ana, no one really cares.

Peace out, sistas, I hope to be back soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Here we are again with:

If you've missed the first 4 installments, head HERE for the first with Kendra of Catholic All YearHERE for the second with Lindsay of My Child, I love you, HERE for the third with Dwija of House Unseen, and HERE for the forth with Karen Edmisten

Next up is Elizabeth Foss.

She is mother to nine, count em, NINE beautiful children and while she looks younger than me, she is also a grandmother-- amazing. She is the author of Real Learning: Education in the Heart of My Home and co-author of the wonderful book Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Her beautiful blog captures pretty much everything that I hope for and dream of when I think of having a large family who homeschools, and I hope that I can same day get there, or even, like, 1/4 of the way there. I am so honored that Elizabeth is here today on the blog to share her plentiful wisdom with us, she is truly a gem of a woman.

1: The thought of growing our families, giving adequate attention and love to all of our children AND giving our all to home schooling can be so daunting. How have you managed being open to new life, having many little ones AND schooling so many at home?

I have graduated four who have homeschooled all the way through high school. The challenge you feel right now with many little ones only grows into a different flavor of the same as they get older. For me, it’s even circled back, since my current thoughts have been how to intentionally incorporate my toddler granddaughter who comes with her mother to my house a few times a week.

From the beginning for us, openness to life gave birth to home education—that is the decision to home school was made from the same place as the decision to be open to as many babies as God gave us. He was calling us to this particular vocation with these particular parameters. He still is.

In the years of lots of babies and toddlers, He asked me again and again to put away my Type A, highly structured plan and to open myself to His better plan. I learned to meet their needs instead of demanding that everyone march to my drum.

Educating them at home gives me time to truly “see” them all. Over the course of conversations about books or theories or theology, we genuinely learn from each other. There is no other lifestyle model that allows the quantity of time to do that. The babies know their big siblings and the big siblings understand babies and family life in ways that most children never do.

Honestly, the hours don’t improve. I’m not going to promise you more sleep. As they get older, they learn the magic of opening their souls to you in the wee hours. You want to be awake for it. As they get older, “school” becomes more demanding for both of you. My reading requirements for this week would make you shudder. They might even compare pretty closely with that of your favorite graduate student.

Let’s look at that a little more closely. Often, people advise “trickle down teaching.” That is, they want you to teach to the level of the olders and know that the youngers will learn in their own way. That’s not my style, mostly because I absolutely love the younger years. Selfishly perhaps, mine is “come along” teaching. I keep those little ones beside me and they do what I do. They learn so much by being close.

But then there comes a time when you are delving into C. S. Lewis’ argument against Naturalism and you are re-reading Miracles several times in order to have a conversation with your two oldest students and then to help them through constructing a paper reflecting thorough understanding. You are very much aware that no toddler is scrambling onto your lap because your toddlers are preschoolers or older now. You’re also very much aware that those younger children now need help with handwriting and long division. Your brain is so full of so much that has such importance and you have to stop and thank God that you’ve all been blessed with an extraordinary time together. The alternative is to fall to your knees in utter despair.

How to make it work? How to meet the needs of so many, all at the same time, over the course of a couple decades or more?

Die to self. Right now and every single day from now on. Recognize where you are being selfish and give it up. So the mindless clicking through Instagram several times a day has got to go. And you may never get to hang out at Starbucks with the neighborhood moms right after the school bus leaves your street in the morning. Honestly, some of your life goals may need altering. You will have to sacrifice in order to meet the needs of so many children and you will feel it because our culture isn’t organized around sacrifices of that kind.

Still, I have to remind myself almost daily that there is a difference between dying to self and killing oneself. It’s an important difference for homeschooling mothers to learn as early as possible.

I encourage you to review occasionally with your husband what are appropriate sacrifices. It’s reasonable to be reading across the curriculum in order to teach it well, and to have to not be reading Facebook in order to find time for that. It’s not reasonable to go without showering for days, or to neglect to eat well, or to miss your time alone in prayer. There is a fine line between the reasonable sacrifice we make for our families and the unreasonable neglect of self-care. Know that line and ask your husband to help you walk it well. You can meet the needs of many children over many years. You can be the first in your peer group to have babies and also the last (I am). But you can only do that well over time if you know what feeds your soul and what nurtures your body and what sustains your marriage and you make sure to attend to those things with great care.

2: Read aloud time with crazy babies and squirmy (sometimes needy) toddlers: how do you do it!?!

From my first little one to my ninth, we always had a “three books at bedtime” habit. I’d sit in their beds with them, nursing a baby (because there was always a nursing baby) and read three picture books to each of the ones I was putting to bed. They’d listen to each other’s as well. This ensured about an hour of read aloud time. As children got older and weren’t part of that particular bedtime routine, they were reading on their own before bed. We’ve read a lot of high quality picture books in the last 27 years and I really do believe that a good picture book is good for all of us.

Children learn a great deal about how language works and how stories are structured when they attend to high quality picture books. They also learn the content in the book. And picture books offer the dimension of the visual. Careful attention to artistic details trains children to appreciate art and to interact more competently with the visual aspects of gathering information.
That does raise the question, “What about reading chapter books aloud?” As more children approached school age, we spent more time in the car, driving to and from soccer practices and dance lessons. Those were always trips of at least half an hour one way, several days a week. We listened together to books on tape (literally-they were on tape back in the beginning). Now, I have two boys in college at different schools, each two hours away. We visit one or the other or both very frequently, so those littler siblings get lots of audiobook time traversing Virginia mountains on weekends.

I don’t personally read chapter books aloud very often at all. This might be heresy in the read aloud world, but it works for us. I have a well-established personal habit of listening to audiobooks while I run, and several of my children have adopted their own personal listening/exercise habits. Also, there’s usually a book being read aloud to us via Audible while we’re doing chores. We all get lots and lots of exposure to literature being read. It’s woven into the rhythms of our life together.

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?

I am a big fan of all things IEW. In the past few years, they’ve taken good materials and made them great. So, buy new, but do buy it. It’s worth the investment.

Up through fourth grade or so, I use picture books extensively. With the exception of math, I teach everything using picture books as a foundation and then expand using chapter books.  So, our extensive picture book library is truly priceless to me.

An absolute giant dining room table that was given to us by a friend’s mother. This is where the real education happens in my house. True, during the morning, it’s strewn with books. Many afternoons, there’s fabric or ribbons or posterboard happening there. Most importantly, it’s where family meals happen. The heart of home and the heart of education are the conversations we have around that table. The table faces our icon wall. It’s the center of a lifestyle of faith in a big, Catholic family.

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling?

I wish I hadn’t bought so much curriculum. I have shelves of barely used resources that do nothing but make me feel guilty. Those purchases have very little resale value now because they’ve been replaced in the marketplace by something slicker and more polished, but when I bought them, I was sure they were the next great things to solve all problems and teach all truths. The reality is that they are Death by One Click. Rarely will a product solve a problem. Usually, the problem is better solved by discipline—that is self-discipline. As in I need to discipline myself to sit down and help a child learn whatever it is they need to learn. It can’t be bought.

There’s a corollary to that regret: I wish I hadn’t listened to so many voices. I began homeschooling without the Internet. It was quiet and, honestly, it was very focused on my children and my faith. The rapid fire exchange of information—all the bells and whistles--just didn’t happen. Now, while it’s nice to be able to find your answer right away and there is plenty to inspire you, it’s really easy to be distracted by so many voices in your ear all day long. There are so many experts and they all make it look so enticing. You can really spend all day just reading about homeschooling, not actually doing it at all. Likewise, you can spend all day posting about homeschooling and neglecting to make your life authentic by actually working with the real people in your real house. It’s easy to compare and compete. It’s easy to lose sight of what the honest purpose of home education is. While it’s a blessing (and a luxury) to have resources and inspiration a click away, remember that you are the best expert on your children. The best thing is often a very simple thing—one that doesn’t need a login, can’t be captured adequately in a pinnable image, and requires the unique gifts you bring to your family.

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked?

For the first twenty years or so (with the exception of 2 terrible years in the middle), my husband worked mostly from home. That’s a little bit of a euphemism because he traveled extensively, but when he was in town, he was at home. We were really good at stolen moments throughout the course of the day. Now, he still travels a lot but when he’s in town, he works very long hours and commutes an hour each way.

We are intentional about the way we bookend the day. Mike’s not a morning person. When he comes downstairs to the hubbub of morning in our house, it’s not so much a good thing. Several years ago, I solved that problem. I make him breakfast in bed every day. I take it up to him, spend a few minutes in meaningful conversation, and leave him to ease in to his day.

Throughout the day, particularly when he travels, we text or talk or both. His days are so long that touching base a few times is a necessity. Sometimes those are actual voice conversations; sometimes not. I can tell when his day is busy, because his responses to my texts are the thumbs up emoji or the winky heart face. I can tell when it’s going to be an “at home date night” when he texts a glass of wine and heart eyes.

At the end of the day, when the kids are in bed (even though I have four teenagers, so they’re definitely not asleep), we take an hour or so enjoy a glass of wine and talk together. That’s the norm. Then,  we are  also masters of the in-home date night. A thoughtfully arranged fruit and cheese tray and a candle lit in our bedroom is a cue to focus on each other. Sometimes it means it’s been a really bad day and one or the other of us needs shoring up. Sometimes, it just means “I miss you.”  He’s as good at preparing that tray and initiating the evening as I am and the most recent one was presented to me on a random Wednesday night at 9:45 just after I returned from soccer practice. My thirteen-year-old daughter commented as I walked through door, “He been arranging cheese and apples for 25 minutes.” That statement translates two ways. For me, it means he wants my attention and he values my company. With regard to my daughter, it means she’s watched this ritual play out enough times to know we take care of each other in very simple ways, but those small pockets of time and attention are critical to the life of our marriage and our family. We got to that random Wednesday night in 2015 via years of carefully cultivated habits of attention.

There’s one more thing that I offer tentatively. Recently, as I’ve grown into having competent teenagers at home, I’ve been able to travel with my husband occasionally. It’s amazing what a night away together does to restore us both. I say that with hesitation, because we didn’t get away alone together until we’d been married 25 years, so it’s not all that practical for awhile, but when the opportunity presents itself, I highly encourage it.

Thank you so very much, Elizabeth!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Here we are again with more...:

If you've missed the first 3 installments, head HERE for the first with Kendra of Catholic All YearHERE for the second with Lindsay of My Child, I love you, and HERE for the third with Dwija of House Unseen.

If you're a Catholic mother who reads catholic books, you've likely heard of the amazing Karen Edmisten before. I remember reading her writing back when I was a faithful subscriber to Faith and Family magazine, and then being very thankful for her work in the realm of outreach to mothers who have miscarried- it is so needed. When I discovered her writings on homeschooling on her cleverly-named blog, and then discovered that, like me, she never saw herself as a homeschooling mother, I had to start reading. Then I kept reading, and reading and reading... she is a wise, wise woman. And funny! And full of such great ideas and tips! She is a phenomenal writer, as is evidenced by her blog, but even more in the plethora of books she has authored/co-authored- it is pretty impressive:

Again, you can find more of her writing and information on all of the above books over on her blog. Reading her answers was so incredibly encouraging, especially number 5, you fellow mothers of many small ones will understand why when you read it. So good! 

1: You have said you never saw yourself as a homeschooling mother and homeschooling was not initially a part of your family's plan. What changed in your heart?

I'll try to make a long story short! When we got married, I was an atheist and Tom was agnostic. We promised each other we would never have children, but after my conversion to "mere Christianity," I broke that promise -- I wanted children. Eventually Tom did, too. After two heartbreaking miscarriages, we had Emily and when she was 18 months old, I was received into the Catholic Church. By that time, Tom was a public school teacher, and we both just assumed our daughter's education would follow the same traditional path that Tom's and mine had. Obviously our child would go to school. That's what normal people did, right? :) 

When Emily was in preschool, I was still operating under that assumption, but two things were happening: I was learning more about my faith (and had met people who talked about homeschooling), and I was observing the beginning of my daughter's formal education. What I heard about homeschooling intrigued me. I began imagining what it might be like (though I knew Tom would never agree to it) mainly because, as I watched our daughter progress through preschool and Kindergarten, I saw things that concerned me. School was putting a damper on her love of learning. I began to picture what our days would be like if we homeschooled, and I worked on ways to keep her interest in learning alive. I'll sum up the last part of the story with what I can only call a miracle: by the end of Emily's Kindergarten year, and after lots of prayer, Tom, miraculously, came into the Catholic Church and he agreed to start homeschooling. That started us down a path we've never regretted. 

2: What are some tips and tricks to unschooling while still having some structure to the day?

I usually call us "Unschoolish" with an emphasis on the "-ish." I started out homeschooling with a more traditional approach, but I quickly learned that my idea of "what school at home looks like" conflicted with the reality of "how my daughter best learns." That was when I started experimenting with unschoolish ways. Our homeschooling style developed over the first few years, as I figured out what worked best for my kids. 

Though I definitely think of us as "relaxed" homeschoolers, I've always loved having structure and routine as part of our days. When my (now college-aged) girls were younger, we started most days with a certain routine. They got up, made their beds, did a couple of chores, and came to the breakfast table. Over breakfast, I managed to squeeze in a fair amount of "school." We started off with prayers (a meal prayer, then daily prayers), then I usually read a story about a saint, or a Bible story, then a chapter or two from the book that was our current read-aloud. Breakfast time might also include something like a bit of read-aloud history or science. Lots of lively discussion is always a part of reading aloud, and I have often said that, "Talking is most of our curriculum." This approach has continued with our youngest daughter (I call her Ramona on the blog), and it's still working great for us. It allows for a wonderful combination of following my daughters' interests and living sane, balanced lives in which beds do get made. 

And I think it's always important to note, when bandying that "unschooling" term around, that being unschoolish has never meant being "unparentish." Sometimes, radical unschoolers seem to take a hands-off approach to everything in the home. But, approaching education in a non-traditional way doesn't mean we abdicate parental responsibilities. I have never been uncomfortable about imposing routines, requirements, and responsibilities on my children, or about teaching them self-discipline. We all have to learn the lesson that certain things will be required of us in life, whether by our parents, teachers in college, bosses in the workforce, by our own children, or, ultimately, by our Lord. Teaching my children about responsibility and self-discipline has always gone hand in hand with teaching them about their faith. Being non-traditional, or unschoolish, in the rest of their education has never conflicted with that. In many ways, actually complements it. 

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?

1. God
2. My husband 
3. Other homeschooling moms 

That's seriously my answer, but, okay, okay, on a practical level, I'll add: 

1. Solid literature -- Read-alouds are a huge part of our homeschool. Booklists are my best friends, and the library is the first place I shop. Choice of books will vary for every family, but building a "living education" around "living books" and discussing everything we read has been at the core of our homeschool. 
2. Catholic Heritage Curricula (gentle curricula for the times I am a little more textbook-y). 
3. "Living is Learning" curriculum guides from Plent Publications. (You can find most of them here -- the page is a little hard to navigate. Scroll down to almost-the-bottom of that page to find the curriculum guides.) These were helpful in putting together a basic plan (from which we often strayed) every year. 

And, sneaking in #4: Favorite quotes, like this one: 

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life become a beautiful success, in spite of poverty.”   ~~ Little Women

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling? 

Oooh, good question! For the most part, I can't say I have any serious regrets because everything we've done has led us to where we are now, and even my mistakes were an important part of the trip. 

For example, I could say I regret starting with such a rigid view of what a homeschool should look like, but that's where I was at the time -- I was operating with the best knowledge I had. It was only through getting to know Emily and Lizzy's learning styles that I opened up to other possibilities about how to educate. 

On a practical level, I can say this: I wish I hadn't tried as many different math programs as I did. I looked for "the perfect math program" for a long time but the reality is that there's no perfect math program (at least, not for my family of math haters.) All we really need is a consistent program and the dedication to slog through it, because math and problem-solving are just parts of life. I can unschool just about everything but math, so we need curriculum for that (when the kids are older, anyway -- I'm still an advocate of teaching very young children math through hands-on learning and life, and delaying more complicated math until they are older. And I love this TED talk by math teacher John Bennett. He basically sums up my beliefs about math education and what is and isn't necessary. 

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked?

This is such an important issue! Yes, it's vital for your marriage to come first, and for both husband and wife to make it a priority. A couple of things come to mind. 

Tom and I have had a weekly date night for years. It's incredibly important to us, and we both look forward to it. Over the years, it was often a date night at home, and it still is most weeks, though we sometimes go out. When the girls were little, we fed them dinner, put them to bed, and had the rest of the night to ourselves. When they got older, we shooed them away and told them to figure out something to do so that Tom and I could spend some time together.

Date night (and other couple time, but also just mom-recharge time) is so important. 

We homeschooling moms are with our kids a lot, and that's great -- it makes for a great relationship, but it can also set us up for guilt because when we're used to being with our kids all the time, we can feel a bit guilty when we're not with them, or if we're in the same house but not fully "present" to them. So, I maintain that a bit of "masterly inactivity" (to quote Charlotte Mason) and benign neglect are a good thing.

Making time for yourself and your husband isn't selfish, it's necessary refueling time. We need it, and our children will be fine. Learning to entertain oneself without a plan, a schedule, or structure is a necessary life skill, and we're actually doing our kids a disservice if we are their constant companion and entertainer. So, send your kids away regularly so that you and your husband can have a date and your kids can exercise some creative playtime skills. You can jot it down in your record-keeping of homeschooling accomplishments, in your best educationese:

"This week, the children continued learning the value of independently chosen and executed pursuits." (And you got to open a bottle of wine and revel in time with your beloved husband.) 
Thank you so much, Karen!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy Birthday To Lu, and maybe YOU! {giveaway!!}

Lucy turned 3 over a week ago, and in keeping with the fact that she is my third born, her birthday recap is happening roughly 10 days late.

It needs a recap because, of all the birthdays that I have tried to make special, hers had the most epic fails as a result of my attempts. All except one. Read on for the unfolding of the tale.

Lucy was really hard to figure out leading up to her birthday, we asked her every other day or so what she wanted and all she said was a yellow cake with a green "happy birthday star" (because there is a little birthday marker on our school calendar with that identical cake pictured). Whether she wanted chocolate cake or vanilla could not be surmised and since she is extremely shoe-obsessed right now, the only thing she would tell us she wanted toy-wise was "pink shoes".

Let me give you a little idea of how the cake turned out...

Not yellow. No green star. Most horrific looking cake ever. First fail.

And now for fail number 2. Here's a picture of what happened while I was attempting to make the yellow icing with some weird stove-top method:

Turned the wrong burner on. Had a glass baking dish full of fresh baked banana bread on the burner I accidentally turned on. It shattered into thousands and thousands of pieces. I only cried a little and Lucy was completely clueless.

Soooo moving on to better, less failed things PLUS a giveaway for you!!

The morning of the birthday came with presents and donuts (per the usual) and I was super DUUUUPER thrilled when the new-to-me company Ashton-Drake sent us their So Truly Mine baby doll, because we were in quite a bind about what we should get her and what she would like and it was a SERIOUS hit.

It is hand-crafted vinyl with hand-painted features, which are insanely real-looking.

Also it is weighted and feels the most like holding a new born of any baby doll I've held. It comes with a cloth diaper and adorable pink sleeper, which the girls were entirely thrilled about.

I have had girls for 6-and-a-half years now, we have seen our fair share of baby dolls flow in and out of this house, and this one takes the cake -- even the yellow birthday cake with the green "happy birthday" star.  It is definitely a win of a doll and would make a very extra-special Christmas gift, from parents or better yet-- grandparents.

And the best part is.... they are giving one away to a luck duck reader!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

worth the wait

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, when I was newly married and newly transported to South Bend, Indiana (a mere 2 hour drive from Chicago land) I had dreams of a romantic getaway with my husband, just the 2 of us-- lots of eating, lots of drinking, lots of sight seeing and walking hand-in-hand along Lake Michigan. It was a nice dream, but then a mere week after we moved here, morning sickness from our honeymoon conception kicked in and by the time it was gone the high-pressure intensity of Mike's new academic program made it something we needed to wait on. Fast forward a year or so and another pregnancy and more morning sickness and less money because, more babies. Then another year and a move and another academic program and more babies and I think you're getting the picture that my dream of the Chicago getaway faded and was replaced by sweet, more reasonably priced getaways to places where Mike was going for work, or to another Lake Michigan hot spot, but not Chicago.

I didn't let the dream die entirely though, and after 8 years of life so close to the windy city, I finally prevailed on Mike to take me (plus 4 kids) for a day and while the plans of romantic wandering were replaced by plans of big parks, pizza and zoo trips, Chicago happened. And it was great.

We hit up Saint Mary of the Angels church to start and the girls were pretty in awe. It was definitely one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen.

Bernadette begged me to take a picture of this statue that she particularly loved and since I'm not evil, I obliged.

Then to the giant bean on our way to eat, because it's what you do:

We went for Chicago-style stuffed pizza next, and while they advertised on their menu that it takes 45 minutes to cook (a tidbit I would have liked to have advertised nice and big on a sign outside the restaurant) the kids were great and the pizza was greater.

Then we headed to the giant, incredible, amusement park-like playground at Millenium park and I really don't know how the girls will ever abide a normal park again. It was something else.

Lastly we trotted off to the Brookfield zoo, and again, I am not doing poor South Bend zoo any favors by exposing my children to the likes of Brookfield, it was incredible.

All in all, it was a beautiful day. I saw lots of different couples eating uninterrupted meals together without any other mouths to feed, or walking the city hand in hand with no little bodies to look after lest they plunge themselves into crazy Chicago traffic. I saw all the pretty hotels downtown that I used to daydream about and lots of fancy restaurants but there honestly wasn't even a twinge of disappointment about being there with kids in tow, regardless of the monumetal amount of work that it was. Obviously getaways are really important for husbands and wives, and we've had our fair share, but it just so happened that Chicago is something we did all together and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

If we had gone before Naomi was born, we wouldn't have heard her giddy excitement over "how huge the sky scrapers are!!". If we had gone before Bernadette was born, we couldn't have watched her face light up at the sight of the dolphins at the zoo or heard her various exclaimations that this was the "best day ever!!". If we had gone before Lucy was born, we couldn't have seen her fly down the most giant slide she will likely ever see as a 3-year-old or heard her little made up diddies about Chicago. If we had gone before we had Joe we couldn't have heard his enthusiastic grunts at the awesome grisly bear and enthusiastic grunts at the fake animals in millennium park and so on.

You get the picture. Life without kids is easier, and trips without kids are WAY easier, but life with kids is full of love and a self giving that is ultimately more fulfilling that anything I've ever experienced and trips with kids are full of a type of wonder and excitement at the newness and hugeness of everything that I don't experience as adult anymore. 

In summation, I am really, really glad we waited to go. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Hello and welcome back to:

If you've missed the first 2 installments, head HERE for the first with Kendra of Catholic All Year and HERE for the second with Lindsay of My Child, I love you

Today's guest is not only a friend from the interwebs, but a friend I've met for real, in real life. And she is just as amazing in person as she is online: sweet, wonderfully funny Dwija of House Unseen. I have loved to read everything Dwija writes since the beginning of my blog perusing years ago, and part of this is because I can really identify with her personality, and go figure, we got long great when we met a couple years ago. She immediately came to mind as I was thinking of woman to beg to let me pick their brains about home schooling. Each woman I have asked about how they do their schooling at home has had their own flavor and I especially love Dwija's approach because in some ways I feel like it is exactly what I will be saying in 5 years, I also love how light hearted and funny she can be when talking about it, it makes it all much less daunting. Without further ado, I give you Dwija on home schooling:

1: How do you keep some structure in your days while still tending to unpredictable little ones? 

This is a tricky question, or rather a tricky question to answer, because I think there is something deeper here than just a how-to. I think for some of us (meaning me!) the idea of structure and routine and schedule and predictability is so appealing that in the back of our minds we are constantly striving and wishing for that. If only these children would cooperate, I could get so much ACCOMPLISHED! And for people like us (me) I'm starting to think that maybe the task God has set before us isn't to keep searching for that perfect structure formula despite the little children surrounding us, but perhaps instead He is asking us to let go of that imagined ideal and allow them to BE the project during this season. Because maybe I'm already good at controlling stuff but not so good at leeeeeeetting goooooo, leeeeeeeting gooooooo....

BUT! But an easier, more direct answer is that I try to have a general timeline in my mind of what comes first and what comes next during a day, and what must be done today vs what would be nice to do today and then I just sort of go from one necessary thing to the next with all the interruptions in between and do my best to hit the "musts" while trying, trying not to get discouraged if we don't get to any of the "nice to dos."

 2: How do you handle the push back of "I don't want to do _______" during school time?

     With the checklist method that I use, there are certain things that need to be done during the week and none of them is any more or less important than any other. So we are brushing our teeth before bed and saying our prayers before meals and reading a story out loud and helping our sister when she can't do the buckle on her shoe and all of these things are necessary and expected. So we can deal with the arguments in the same way for each of them- that these things are things God calls us to do, that they make us stronger and healthier and better, and so let's do them so we can be the best version of ourselves that we can! So basically I think it's important for us to redefine the entire idea of "school time" vs "non-school time."  We are really conditioned to think of "doing school" as a separate and probably tedious necessity of life and we expect complaints and just try to get through it to the fun parts of life, and I wonder if there's a way to assume learning as a regular part of every day as opposed to having a clear separation between boring school time and fun non-school time. 

BUT! But the short version, in a pinch, is bribery. Hah! Not kidding. Because that's what I use for all other undesired tasks, so why not with our bookwork when we're not quite in the mood?

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?

Ah. This changes so frequently I'm almost not able to answer it! This is only our fifth year of homeschooling so I'm guessing in another 5 years I will look back and be like "oh silly, baby Dwija. You were so clueless" or somesuch, but I will do my best. First of all, you gotta have a globe. A flat wall map is nice but really the globe is where it's at. We use it for geography (duh) but when talking about history and science as well. Even in our reading selections different cities and countries will be mentioned and we keep the globe handy so we can see where those places are. We also use it when we're talking about our Saint of the week to see where he or she was born, where they traveled, which countries they are the patron of, etc. I am a huge proponent of holistic learning, where all things that are intertwined remain intertwined and are learned intertwined so that those connections help their little brains, and mine, to make sense of and retain that information. 

Okay, that makes one. Hah! I talk too much. 

My second fave resource are any and all of the books by Dr. Stanley Schmidt, more commonly known as the Life of Fred books. He started by writing highly accessible upper level math books because he loves and understands math as it relates to the world and knew that so many kids were still saying "but why? When would a person EVER use this in real life?"  So the math books are set as stories where Fred is using all this math in real life and then there are practice questions that allow the kids to try the math themselves in "real life" scenarios. 

Anyway, the books were so well received that he wrote more and more so that now you can do an entire first grade through honors high school math program using Fred stories. My kids love them and so do I. Sometimes if I feel someone needs more drill or a change of pace, we hop onto Kahn Academy online or a site called xtramath (both free!) and they spend some time there as well. But overall, Fred is where it's at for me again because of the holistic, intertwined with real life approach. 

Incidentally, there is now a set of Fred early readers called the Eden series which are quirky and weird just like the math books, and I wasn't even going to try them but Paul saw a pdf sample of one of the books online and was so dang excited that I had to see what they were like. You guys- he read every single book cover to cover the first day they arrived. It was such an encouragement for him AND for me. He has excellent reading skills but little motivation and those silly stories with crazy illustrations were just what he needed. 

Alright, what is my number three resource? Right now I would say the suggested book and reading lists on a site called Mater Amabilis, which is devoted to Charlotte Mason style Catholic homeschooling. It is my jam. The only downside is that our bank account has suffered since I discovered all these books that we simply MUST have, but it is so nice to have suggestions like that all in one place rather than scouring a hundred sites and trying to weed through all the junk that's marketed to kids these days. I just got so tired of reading kids books that were boring or didn't even make sense, you know? No more, my friend. No more!

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling? 

In a way, I think I am still in my first years of homeschooling- God bless my eldest guinea pig children- so I will just focus on our very first year. In our first year, I wanted so badly to do it right and make it good and show the world how excellent homeschooling was for us that I tried too hard to create a school-at-home atmosphere. I wanted us to all start schooling at the exact same time in the morning, all together, all having finished xyz tasks, all working quietly until the first break at a specific time, etc etc etc. Now I know this method works for some families but it absolutely did not work for ours. One of the reasons that homeschooling is so good for my kids is that they have VASTLY different temperaments and learning styles. Why would I take them out of a one size fits all environment only to try to create my own one size fits all environment? It was honestly really silly. So once I started to meditate on and understand this notion of an integrated life, where all things are interconnected and different people thrive under different circumstances, the kids really started to blossom. 

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked?

Oh boy, this is so important and so difficult for me! Especially being in the first trimester right now, it is extremely hard, basically impossible, to find a balance. This is what many people like to call a survival season, where I just have to let go of thriving and focus on just getting everyone through each day alive. I try to thank my husband a LOT these days, apologize profusely when I go off the deep end, and pray that God gives me the grace to be merciful to myself. The expectation on women to be all things all the time is a little ridiculous I think because sometimes we are physically totally on top of things and sometimes we are barfing 6 times a day. Does it really make sense for us to create peace and perfection and accomplish all the same things under all those circumstances? I don't believe so. But it's hard for a results oriented, people pleaser with perfectionist tendencies (me!) to admit that. But I guess this is one of the ways that God is helping me to learn to rely and trust in him and that my own human efforts are just not enough to make all this work. 

Thank you so much, Dwija!