Friday, January 18, 2019

March for Life 2019

Chris took our 10- and 12-year-olds to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life. They all had a great time and we were pleased to contribute to the cause of life.

(Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY )
Click here to watch a one-minute time lapse of the marching crowd, which might have reached a half million people.

{SQT} Joseph's Birthday Edition

1. Exercising in the Mornings

In case you were wondering whether it was a pipe dream or a realistic hope that I could exercise in the mornings with my new scheduling scheme described two weeks ago, the answer is pipe dream. We will add it to the pile of rubble of ideas I have tried.

2. Saturday

Saturday was typically busy plus we threw in my taking down all the interior Christmas decorations--and maybe we'll get to the exterior decorations by Candlemas!--as well as the girls playing violin at a music recital.

Mary and Margaret are preparing to play these songs at Federation later this month.

3. New Pets: Finches!

Click here to read about Mary's new pet finches! We are enamored with them!

We bought the hanging nest typical of finches, but the girlies wouldn't sleep in it, so we went back and bought a wee cup nest . . .

. . . which they snuggle in and share! I could just eat them up!

4. Joseph's birthday

On Tuesday, our city's hockey team, the Checkers, was having its 1950s night for which tickets were about $2, food prices were rolled back, too, and the cheerleaders wore poodle skirts covering the knees and sweaters, making this the perfect excuse to take Joseph for a father-son date near his birthday. Some friends and their dad were also going, so the whole group of fellas joined together for fun.

Joseph turned six years old on Wednesday: click here to read all about it!

5. Miscellaneous

After Chris finished assembling out new kitchen chairs, there were leftover screws, nuts, bolts, and thingamajigs, which Chris presented with ceremony to three-year-old Thomas. Let me tell you, this was the best gift possible for all involved, and Thomas spent numerous cumulative silent hours sitting at the table "building things" this week.

"Me want to play with my tools."

I spotted my sturdy and chubby Thomas one day and was struck that he's still so little, but he's big enough to pick his own CD (here, "Casey at the Bat"), put it in, perch on the couch, and listen to it during Quiet Time.

Mary completed a weaving project on her homemade loom and sewed a new dress for her corn husk doll this week.

Margaret took it upon herself to start writing a fiction story, which I think is her first typed story. She was passionate about it and skittered off to work on it every spare moment she was allowed, plus plenty of moments she was not allowed! It's more than two pages long and going strong.

6. Youngest Four

When Chris was gone Thursday and Friday taking the oldest two to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, I was left with the youngest four all to myself. Boy, was this a joyful and meditative experience for me.

Going on errands in the morning on a school day . . . because we could!

1. My 7-year-old was transformed and absolutely shined getting to be the oldest. I must figure out how to let her step out of the shadow more often.

2. I was reminded just how hard it has been to go from teaching two grades among four kids to teaching four grades among six kids. Although it's only about a four years' difference (and shouldn't I be a more skilled mother now?), it is a difference that is pulling me to my knees (hopefully in prayer, but often in despair). With only two grades to teach, we enjoyed doing school in our pajamas like the old days! I did not have to keep us on any kind of precise time schedule (in contrast to the militant schedule that is dictated by the half hour I use now) and we happily finished all our work and music well before lunch.

3. And because we actually finished, I napped during Quiet Time, which I have not done probably in two years. I live on extremely little sleep and I get no daytime rest, which makes me A Growling Bear. This experience of RESTING and FEELING HUMAN reminded me of where I used to be, where I am now, and what I could maybe change, possibly, but I don't know how.

4. Similarly, because I did not have to manage schoolwork every single second (while breaking up fights all day) from 8:00 a.m. till 4:00 without respite, I could actually be a housewife during the afternoon. Those housewife's chores really do not disappear, even when one is homeschooling. For example, one afternoon while the children played peacefully around me, I emptied out the four bottom cupboards, which were a black pit of unknown appliances, cleaned it all out, separated out twenty-five percent for donation away, and put it all back in a very orderly fashion. I've been wanting to get to that chore for months and now I will be able to prepare meals more easily.

5. There were only two, really short fights all day. 'Nuff said.

6. And I managed all this with four children seven years old and younger without hardly turning on the television to babysit them. I let them watch a half hour while I cooked dinner and then we had a family movie night of watching the first half of George Balanchine's 1993 "The Nutcracker" (our preferred version) in the evening.

7. I went to bed with my heart cheerfully relaxed (!) and reflected that not one person yelled in anger all day--not the kids, not me. How can I care for all six of my children and add in those two other grades with a husband who regularly travels for his career while maintaining any of this peace? Is the problem my expectations? But the workload of fourth and sixth graders is real (and we do serious music and Latin pursuits), it's not just unschooling I can ignore. More experienced mamas of families as large or larger than mine . . . would you like to offer your experiences?

7. March for Life,Washington D.C.

An official report will be issued later about Chris and our two oldest who are at the March for Life in Washington D.C. as of this publishing!

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Joseph Turns Six!

Happy birthday to Joseph Anthony, my only baby ever to have golden curls, who is now six years old!

Now We Are Six
By A. A. Milne

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

Joseph at four days old--five pounds and twice the size of my paperback

Joseph was my littlest baby, even falling below six pounds after his delivery, but he's certainly been one of my most energetic kids!

I want to encourage any mothers earlier on the path to keep instilling your family traditions because your oldest children, young though they may be, are watching you. My 7-, 10-, and 12-year-old kids ("older" in this household) stood in for me in so many ways for Joseph's birthday when they saw me stretched so thin, forgetting our very own traditions, and unable to fulfill them anyway. Without my asking, the day before the children found Joe's stack of gifts and wrapped them for me. The night before, when I was running a difficult bedtime routine alone, my two big girls remembered to decorate the birthday boy's chair . . . and look at his beaming face at their simple decorations made of colored Post-It Notes and white printer paper cut into paper chains with blue painter's tape because we were out of regular Scotch tape! I am so grateful I taught my children what traditions I could when I did because now they step in for me.

It was a bustling school day and Chris had to leave on a business trip, so we had a birthday breakfast celebration. I could not have added in to my regular morning housekeeping chores, caring for three little boys, and making of the regular breakfast an extra 45 minutes to bake something special, so Mary requested to wake up at six to make Joseph a breakfast applesauce cake. This year, the children insisted we adopt a new tradition we borrowed from the Bates' family TV show: we "gave praises before presents," which means that each family member praised the birthday child. I had all of us write down the praises ahead of time and read them aloud, so now Joseph can keep those and remember the kindnesses. And after all that, he got to open his gifts.

Sister Margaret wrote a private joke into her card to him . . .

For years, I have gathered the children a couple of weeks ahead of every birthday and every Christmas to have them go in together on a gift for each sibling (and the other parent). This takes actual brain cells that work and remember, of which I am in increasingly short supply. This year, I simply did not remember . . . but all three older siblings remembered ahead of time to buy birthday gifts for Joseph, which they managed on their own. Mamas, I encourage you to keep instilling your traditions because those children are watching and learning! It brings tears to my eyes.

Joseph is halfway through his Kindergarten year and is learning how to read very well. He enjoys learning phonics, math, and catechism from me, while he does penmanship and listens to any read-alouds I assign with his sister Mary each day, and he does his daily piano practice with his brother John. Joseph is a boy of great passions: he feels big, whether good or bad, and he's a peacemaker who tries to bring fighting siblings together.

Josey's faith has begun blossoming these last months, I've noticed, as he asks me the Big Questions about God. He has assembled in the boys' bedroom a little "holy collection" which he guards carefully.

And I noted this week at Confession how carefully he occupied his little brother, putting Thomas' head on his lap, and whispering to him about the meaning of the various stained glass windows in the church.

Josey talks regularly now about his hopes to receive his First Holy Communion in about a year and a half.

Happy birthday, dear boy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Introducing the Finches!

A dad who works from home, a mom who runs a bustling homeschool, six children, four pet fish, one house plant, and a property run amok with squirrels, chipmunks, and deer is not enough for us . . . Mary is now the proud owner of pet finches!

We briefly forayed into having pet turtles in an outdoor enclosure years ago, when we did not know it was illegal to keep wild-caught turtles, but mostly we have focused on raising kiddos, not animals.

Then, John bought fish a year and a half ago, during the fall when he was ten (a trip down memory lane here) and has been an exemplary fish owner. He has since increased his tank size, navigated losing fish, buying new fish, branching out into owning snails (and losing snails, too), replacing all his plastic plants with live plants and learning how to care for those, testing his waters, cleaning his tank, and so forth, all on his own dime. He has been an exemplary pet owner.

Ten seems like a great age for first pets.

So, now Mary is ten and she fell in love with the idea of finches . . . and then read up on them and compiled a 25-page typed document of research for us. We did not even research other types of birds because finches seemed like such a good fit for our family: they are small, not big; they live five years, not ten, twenty, or eighty; they have a tiny, unobtrusive bird song, not a racket; and they are birds to watch and not hold.

Next time we buy finches, we intend to go through a real finch specialist seller, but this time (somewhat regrettably) we ended up at a big box pet store where Mary purchased one zebra finch and one society finch.

Just a little bit excited

We've set up their aviary in our den and it's just the perfect place for stopping to watch them and enjoy their flutterings and quiet chirping.

I did not think to cut our school goals in half this first week to account for the fact that every time I would turn around, the kids would all be crowded around and fawning over the birds instead of doing their work.

Look at that dreamy smile!

Introducing . . . Heidi (the zebra finch--orange cheeks) and Clara (the society finch--white)! They are named such from the classic Heidi (1880) by Johanna Spyri, Heidi being the healthy country girl who befriends Clara, the refined and wealthy crippled girl in a wheelchair. In our case, little Clara has a broken foot--so the pet store let us adopt her for free instead of buy her for money--she having caught her foot in the bars about a month ago. She has been cleared by the vet and her foot is as healed as it will ever be, but she does not put weight on it and needs some special accommodations in her cage to function. Of course, this makes Mary feel even more tenderly toward her.

(As an aside, I strongly recommend "Heidi" as a book to read aloud to children or have them read themselves, as young as they're able. It contains enough male and female characters to appeal to both boys and girls. "Heidi" offers a deep theme of Christian sacrifice and suffering that is important for the Catholic of any age to come to understand. And our favorite movie version by far, actually authentic to the book, is the 2005 version here.

It turns out that the finch girls love to mimic music, so they begin singing when children play piano, violin, sing songs, or make the computer beep.

Mary serenading the birds

They are so tiny that the finches just plump right down inside of their seed tray to eat.

Clara does not like her typical hanging nest, so we went back and bought her a little cup nest, where she cozied right in minutes before we covered her cage that night. Note the St. Francis medal Mary affixed to the cage (as John did to the fish tank, too).

Clara going night-night
Caring for birds is somewhat complex. What we know so far involves feeding them formulated bird food, with seeds and other things only as occasional treats, plus making timothy hay and millet spray always available to eat, feeding and watering twice daily, putting out cuttlebone, covering the cage for a regular 12 hours of sleep nightly, and cleaning the cage weekly. We have full confidence in Mary running the whole show!