Saturday, February 18, 2017

Federation 2017: Violin

On Saturday, we participated in our third National Federation of Music Clubs festival, with Mary performing (non-competitively) on violin. (Next Saturday is for non-competition piano.)

Since this year will be Margaret's first time participating, I took her along with Mary so she could see the building, the process, and feel the buzz in the air--getting some of her nerves reduced in advance!

Walking onto Queens University
Mary performed Minuet No. 1 by J.S. Bach and Gavotte by Gossec. Because parents aren't allowed in the performance room, I filmed her during warm-up.

Congratulations to Mary for receiving a wonderful score!

Afterward, we continued our tradition of stopping by Dunkin Donuts for a treat.

Quietly watching out the window at DD

Next Saturday, piano and theory exams!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Seven Quick Takes Friday

1. Bonus Room Re-Do

We acquired some new-to-us used office furniture and revamped the Bonus Room, a project about which I'm very pleased (click here).

2. Sewing Again

Inspired by attending Mary's third sewing lesson, I sewed the same pattern of skirt Mary is working on for her sister Margaret. I haven't sewed in years!

3. Sunday

Sunday breakfast: toast, applesauce quick bread, strawberries, eggs, bacon

When our firstborn was four years old, I doubt we would have let him sleep during Mass, instead trying to teach him the right sit-stand-and-kneel movements, and maybe even the replies.

Fast asleep during Mass

With our Number Four child, my big goal is to get him to nap during Mass. Mass is at 12:30, so I tell him that the way he can have a cookie off the coffee cart after Mass is by laying his head on the pew. The little guy doesn't realize his kryptonite is laying his head still: within a couple of minutes, the previous Wiggle Worm is staring silently into space and soon after sound asleep for the duration of the Mass. (Meanwhile, #1 is serving the altar, #2 likes to sit alone in the front pew, #3 is five years old and sits next to me, and Chris has #5 toddler in the stroller outside.)

4. Learning by Rote: Friend or Foe?

I shared a few thoughts (click here).

5. St. Valentine's Day

Candies and cards ready for the morning

Waffles, pigs in a blanket, strawberries with chocolate

Click here to read an excerpt on St. Valentine's Day by Mary Reed Newland.

6. Better Sleep

We're in the process of night weaning Thomas at 18 months old. Some parents will scoff that that's ridiculously late, and some people will protest a parent weaning a child at all. Anyway, here we are, preparing for Thomas' little sibling.

The first night, he woke 12 times, but the next night only three times, and on the third night his first of two wakings wasn't until 3:30 a.m., which basically feels like a miracle.

Simultaneously, over the last two weeks, I've been able to shift Thomas' solitary nap from morning to the ideal post-lunch time. For at least half a year, Thomas has napped 10:00 to noon, and then not at all until his 7:00 p.m. bedtime, which was one super long stretch. Now he is going down for nap at noon and sleeping two to three hours! Then he is awake happily for four to five more manageable hours before his bedtime.

It is certainly more difficult to have a toddler awake during my entire school morning, but the trade off of having him napping and his four-year-old brother in Quiet Time simultaneously is like a dream come true.

7. Switching Care Providers

This week I interviewed a midwifery practice twelve minutes from my house and that delivers at the hospital two minutes from my house. They really seemed as ideal as a hospital-based midwifery practice can be, and the hospital is certified as a Baby Friendly Hospital, which means things like delayed weighing in order to accommodate skin-to-skin contact for the first hour, there doesn't exist a Nursery, the baby is in Mama's room 24/7, and no supplementation with a nipple will ever be offered: if supplementation is required, the hospital will obtain a pediatrician's order, and then supplement by cup or blunt syringe.

Switching to this provider will in prudence be better for my family overall, rather than my driving 70 miles to my prenatal appointments (which can be a couple of hours each way if traffic is bad), and further to deliver. At least, that's what I think for now.

This journey of risking out of home birth due to my health no longer being the lowest risk required is an emotional one, but I remind myself regularly of the more important things in life.

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Learning by Rote: Friend or Foe?

I have begun planning our lighter school for the summer and our regular school load for Fall 2017, and this has me meditating on educational philosophy.

I used to think drill was practically a dirty word, and that being a Flash Card Mom was a real insult. Then I began trying to educate my kids for a few years--without requiring any memorization--and realized that populating the mind with memorized facts gives the human person information with which to be creative.

A mom whose oldest child is not yet in Kindergarten asked me, "Why would I ever explain something to my child more than once if she understands it the first time? Why on earth would I drill her? What does that even mean?"

I answered that understanding something the first time doesn't mean we've learned it, and most of us have to work to memorize the information. It's one thing for the Kindergartener to be able to count out beans to understand that four beans plus six beans is ten beans, and it's another thing to have memorized that abstract concept that "4 + 6 = 10". The child needs both, not just one. Watching a child try to learn division will convince anyone, I'd imagine, of the necessity of memorizing the multiplication facts!

I've been mulling over how everything in our homeschool curriculum falls into the category of learning the concepts or the category of drilling the facts. Of course, I had to sketch this all out for myself, which I share below in a bulleted list because I don't know how to create a more visually appealing table in Blogger.

    • Learning Concepts: reading Seton Religion daily
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of Baltimore Catechism No. 1
      • daily memorization of Faith Facts for Catholic Classical Enrichment (CCE)
    • Learning Concepts: 
      • Writing one composition for Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) every other week
      • Writing one oral presentation for CCE every other week
      • Weekly lesson in All About Spelling
      • Weekly lesson in IEW's Fix-It Grammar
    • Drill: 
      • spelling dictation daily for All About Spelling
      • daily memorization of poetry using IEW's collection
      • daily writing one corrected sentence from IEW Fix-It Grammar
      • daily memorization of grammar facts for CCE
  • MATH
    • Learning Concepts: daily lesson from Teaching Textbooks
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of skip counting and math formulas for CCE
      • daily drill of addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts using various sources (e.g., Math-It,,, worksheets from
    • Learning Concepts: reading daily from Apologia science books
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson from Beautiful Feet Geography
    • Drill:
      • daily memorization of locations on maps for CCE
      • weekly memorization from or the Stack the States app
    • Learning Concepts: daily reading from "From Sea to Shining Sea" (textbook) and living history (fiction) books selected by Connecting with History
    • Drill: daily memorization of history facts (with names, places, and dates) and of historical timeline events for CCE
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson from First Form Latin
    • Drill: 
      • daily memorization of Latin phrases, prayers, and hymns for CCE
      • daily completion of worksheets and use of flash cards for First Form Latin
    • Learning Concepts: Mama teaches daily class based on Snell books, theory tests, etc.
    • Drill: daily drill using various sources (e.g.,, Music Notes App, paper flash cards)
    • Learning Concepts: weekly lesson with teacher
    • Drill: daily practice for 45 minutes

I guess you could call me a real fan of learning by rote during the elementary grades. My educational philosophy has changed a lot over a decade, and I'm curious where I'll be on this journey another ten years from now.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Bonus Room Re-Do

We recently were blessed to purchase for a very modest price seven pieces of used office furniture from a business closing its office. I'm not ready for Pinterest or Better Homes and Gardens, but I'm so tickled with our new school and play room space!

I wish I knew how to use my camera so I could take those really slick photos I see on some homeschoolers' blogs.

We have a new, larger conference table for a desk, which allowed me to move the black table off to the side. I've got to think we have enough table/desk space for all the children we're going to educate.

Shooting into the sunny window makes for a dark photo
To the right and left of the window are two tall pieces and two short pieces of storage furniture. During my initial reorganization, I'm storing math books and manipulatives on the right, and art books and paint supplies on the left. Just think of what a school day might look like if no small children spread math manipulatives around or got into the paint!

John's desk off to the right side

The left side of the school room
Looking back out of the school room, one can see the six bookshelves that still feel new to me: they were a generous Christmas gift from Grampa Neil just over a year ago.

Much more space on the art table now that I can store the supplies elsewhere

The play side of the room now has two new tall pieces of storage furniture. We had to throw away the totally broken upper half of the armoire, but the bottom half (the drawers) still functions well enough, so we kept it for now to store puzzles.

Note that the bottom cupboards on the four new pieces of storage furniture LOCK! They lock with keys!!!

New storage for toys, and the old train table which stores wooden blocks

This charming old bookshelf doesn't have a new home yet, but won't stay in the play room because it is a tipping hazard.

The new furniture freed up this faithful old cube bookshelf that I proudly acquired as one of the first pieces of furniture I bought in my first apartment when I was 17 years old. I think I bought it at Target and I can remember assembling it myself. Anyway, this old fella is now serving me beautifully in the laundry room, where I can now put into it swimming gear, towels, my purse, and seasonal items.

Bookshelf now in the laundry room

So much more floor space, no more tripping

I know that homeschooling doesn't require all this space and organization. One can do it all at the kitchen table. But having space and some freedom to store items away makes life decidedly calmer, and I'm feeling so very blessed these days. I don't take it for granted.

Friday, February 10, 2017

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. The Circus!

Last Saturday, our children were able to attend the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus during its final touring year, after 145 years of entertaining Americans.

This has fondness for me because my father took us to this circus annually, our missing only about two years in two decades.

On Saturday afternoon, a friend called us and said he had an extra ticket for the showing in two hours, and did John want to accompany their family? Well, we couldn't let just John go to such a fond, historic event, so we quickly hopped online and bought three more tickets--only three could be purchased together in those late moments!

Chris took the two girls, while our friend took John, and I stayed home with the two little boys. I felt badly for Joseph, but Chris pointed out rightly that the overly loud noises and blaring lights can be quite frightening for a child that age (which I remember from my much younger little sister attending the circus when we were children).

A grand time was had by all the children, plus I received a little blessing at home that night.

2. Perseverance in Reading Aloud

As the children rushed in the door, I was upstairs, having put the two little ones to sleep. Bursting into the master bedroom, they said, "We're ready for you to read to us!" I asked first to "hear all about it." Margaret started telling me earnestly about what happened in the last chapter of our current read-aloud ("Skylark" of the "Sarah, Plain and Tall" series). I corrected, "No, no! I meant to tell me about the circus!"

Even though our children were positively dazzled by the circus--they had real horses, Mama! Real!--their first thought upon coming home in the evening was that we would they wanted to have our nightly ritual of reading aloud.

So, we got in PJs and read "Skylark" and "Mr. Bowditch."

3. The Feast of St. Agatha

I baked three loaves of Spiced Applesauce Bread on Saturday in anticipation of an event planned by the Charlotte Latin Mass Community.

We arranged for the Cantate Domino Latin Choir (the girls' choir) to sing on the Feast of St. Agatha and encouraged everyone to bring in bread to be blessed by the priest. People brought in delicious quick breads to share as well as loaves of bread to be blessed and taken home. We served coffee as usual plus hot apple cider.

The festivities resulted in attendance of our 12:30 Latin Mass being one-third bigger than the biggest attendance we ever have!

Fr. Barone blessing the bread

Not only did the girls' choir sing for the Mass, but they led our parishioners in a wassailing song afterward, marking the end of the liturgical Christmas season.

The girls' choir leading a wassailing song

Notes from Chris' short speech to the parishioners:
The ancient tradition of wassailing involved people at the end of Christmastide going door to door singing and offering a drink of warm cider in exchange for gifts. This practice is where the modern practice of caroling comes from.
The word wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon greeting meaning “be thou in good health” for which the response would be “drinc hail” … which means “drink thou to good health”.

An ancient ceremony popular in parts of Spain, France and Germany was known as the “Farewell to the Alleluia”.

As you may recall, starting next week, on Septuagesima Sunday, the Alleluia is suppressed from the Mass until Easter Sunday. The reason is that our lips must be cleansed and purified by the penance of Lent before we dare utter it again on Easter.
The farewell ceremony was enacted just before Septuagesima Sunday in several ways: either by reciting hymns in honor of the alleluia, by solemnly burying a casket that represents the Alleluia, or in the most grand of displays the men of the parish would build a large man made of wood and straw with the words Alleluia across his chest and they would burn the “Alleluia Man” in a large bon fire in the town square.

Back at home, Chris decided to make a quick Alleluia Man out of Popsicle sticks and paper to burn in a back yard bonfire, which the kids thought was great fun.

4. Superbowl 51

After all the St. Agatha festivities, we whisked home, Mary and I attended our music lessons, we ate a classically Americana dinner, and then watched the Super Bowl, turning off the TV during the unappealing halftime show.

I retired to bed during the third quarter, thinking to myself that it is quite a dull Super Bowl game when one team scores all the points and the other team manages nothing. Of course, that is how I missed a historic game and one of the greatest come-backs in football history.

5. New Sneakers

I'm no pro athlete like those in the Super Bowl, but I was so happy that my dad bought me new walking sneakers for my fortieth birthday. I was walking about three brisk miles per day before this pregnancy, and then couldn't hardly move for six weeks, but now, at almost 14 weeks along, I'm back up to a slow one to one-and-a-half miles. I'm hoping the second trimester energy will get me really moving again!

6. Thomas

I installed a baby gate in the Bonus Room, dividing the play half and the school half. Thomas did not like this development because it meant I could actually teach, and he could not turn the printer on and off dozens of times, dump all the pens, pencils, and crayons into a giant, mixed-up pile, color on things that aren't paper, or empty my bookshelves of books.

In an effort not to let me become too efficient at teaching, Thomas spent all week standing at the baby gate, screaming his heart out for as long as I would sit on the other side teaching a sibling. He's almost loud enough that the student and I can't hear each other talking, so Thomas' method of protest is working.


Like most toddlers, Thomas likes to climb atop the piano bench and play a few notes throughout the day. What makes it especially cute is that he often finds a piece of paper and sets it carefully on the music stand to be his "sheet of music" for playing. One day this week, he carried a wrinkled Post-It Note lovingly back and forth between the two pianos to use as his sheet music.

One morning before I'd dressed Thomas in daytime clothing, he retrieved a pair of his four-year-old brother's clean underwear and brought them to me with much enthusiasm and a wordless request--he's still wordless at 18 months old--to wear them. So, I put them on Thomas over his pajamas and that toddler was one happy boy all morning!

So proud of his underwear

7. New-to-Us Furniture

I've been seeking a furniture solution to store toys in the Bonus Room because our old, faithful armoire we used for that purpose has really bitten the dust: over the years, the drawers on the bottom broke so we couldn't open them to retrieve the toys, then the doors broke and wouldn't ever close, and finally this month the shelving collapsed and all the bins of toys came sliding out.

It was surprisingly hard to find a large piece of furniture that would lock and that wasn't above my budget, and I was about to go with a utilitarian Rubbermaid-type of furniture, the kind used to store tools in a garage. However, a friend's business is closing its office and moving to a work-at-home model, so the friend offered that I could look over the used office furniture to purchase. We scored a wonderful deal on seven pieces of furniture! This is going to transform our Bonus Room (both the play side and the school side), and reduce stress for me as I should be able to lock away things like art supplies and toys with small parts.

I'm so excited for Friday afternoon when some strapping young men from our homeschool community come over to help us retrieve and move all the furniture pieces around.

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday, February 3, 2017

7 Quick Takes Friday

1. Epiphany Blessing

We finally got to doing our own Epiphany blessing at the house, although still in plenty of time, given that we were still in the Third Week after Epiphany. (Note to self: start planning, as Lent begins in four weeks!)

2. Anniversary

Chris and the kids returned from the March for Life on Saturday, and I had no meal plan for the week or groceries in the house: thus began our 11th wedding anniversary! It kind of reflects our blessed but busy, zany life at this season. We ended up getting take-out dinner for ourselves (and served frozen pizza to the kids!), then ate the chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert that Chris had sent to me.

3. Sewing Classes

This week, Mary began a series of sewing classes, which we arranged and her grandfather paid for as a Christmas gift. Week 1 was Machine Familiarity. I very much wish I could join her as a mother-daughter thing, but this works because Daddy can take her and he can work on the cell phone and laptop from the car. If I went and left the other four children with him, he couldn't work at all.

Coincidentally, I read an article called "Is it Still Important to Teach Children to Sew?" this week.

4. Morning Prayer Time

We've been attempting to do some morning spiritual reading and prayer for several years now, as I try to inculcate this habit in children that should be a lifetime habit of all Catholic adults. (I've been in the practice since about 2011, and the children began in 2014--read here--and I wrote about their progress one year later here.)

Mary and Margaret in their bunks doing morning spiritual reading, prayer, and writing in their journals

Now it is early 2017 and I made a few adjustments this week, which I hope will help. I still wake up early and exercise, which usually means turning on a babyish cartoon for my two early birds who are one and four years old. If an older child wanders downstairs, he or she is immediately sucked into the TV trash and doesn't do the holy reading or prayer time. The morning starts to slip away. Or I force the holy reading and prayer, and the child is resentful because of missing "Barney" (?!).

I consulted with a mom who has instilled this habit in her large brood for more than a decade. She knew the problem and immediately knew her solution: she moved her children's holy reading time to their beds before they even come downstairs!

So, the new plan:
  • I printed out instruction sheets made individual for each child and taped them by their beds. 
  • I moved their spiritual books onto their beds. 
  • For the 8- and 10-year-olds, I gave them each a blank journal in which to write anything--even just one phrase--documenting anything they got out of prayer that morning, or that they felt God was communicating to them.

One week in, and the new system is showing good fruits. Sometimes I go to wake the children and discover they're already quietly awake and doing their reading or prayer. They're spending this time without complaint now, they're not as distracted by TV or eating cereal, and they accomplish one of their most important goals before even coming downstairs for the day.

The only "problem" we had was on the first day when one particularly enthusiastic child spent an hour in this pursuit, too much time in prayer and too much time writing in a journal about God for this child's station in life. There was nagging and a missed breakfast, plus a late start to school! Later that night we had a gentle talk about having to fit in this worthy pursuits to more like 15-30 minutes, or the child could choose to wake up earlier, but that breakfast is at 7:30 and school is at 8:00. After that, it went more smoothly!

5. "Why Latin?" Class

On Wednesday night, I took John and Mary to a Mass, dinner, and lecture entitled, "Why Latin in the Liturgy?" by Fr. Jason Barone. It is so rare that I go out for evening events, so it was emotionally refreshing to get out, but by 7:30 I was wishing I were getting ready for bed, and it was a couple more hours before I could get home.

6. Mama's Birthday

If you missed it, you may read about my wonderful fortieth birthday by clicking here.

7. Miscellaneous

John had a baby tooth that was fused to the bone and not going anywhere extracted this week. All went well and he was sore only for about a day.

Recess: Eating lunch outdoors in 70-degree weather while reading "Ask" magazine

Belated birthday gift: Joseph's first Nerf gun from Grandpa!

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mama's Milestone Birthday

It's the big 4-0. Happy birthday to me!

I'm now entering the fifth decade of life, and I'm currently ten times older than my Joseph.

I look around me and the facts that I'm married, we own a home, I run a homeschool, and we have five children plus a sixth on the way, and I know that I am blessed far more than I deserve.

Margaret (5), John (10), Mama (40), Thomas (18 months), Mary (8), Joseph (4)

Chris and the children don't return from Scottish dance till about 6:30 on Thursdays, and that's just too late for the youngest of our set to be leaving the house for dinner. Therefore, we opted for a fancy birthday breakfast when everyone would be fresh.

I chose the always lovely, business chic Terrace Cafe, where I ordered the lemon poppyseed cake French toast, drizzled with berries and lemon glaze.

We did a shortened day of school, threw in some outdoor play in this unseasonably gorgeous weather, and then Chris took the older kids to Scottish Dance.

For my birthday dinner, I served pork tenderloin, fettucine Alfredo, and green peas, followed by a peanut butter-and-chocolate ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins.

My evening ended by my reading aloud not one, but two, chapters of "Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" while the girls played "spa" on me with hairbrush and lotions. It's a wonderful life.