Friday, July 22, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday


We celebrated Thomas' first birthday on Tuesday night. John insisted on making the whole meal himself, which he mostly did! I was on hand simply giving verbal guidance. The menu was chicken, fettuccine Alfredo (homemade sauce), and sauteed Portobello mushrooms.

After dinner, we opened Thomas' gifts. All the other children acted as if they'd never received a toy before: there was body-tackling to play with the baby toys!

Meanwhile, the actual birthday baby wandered off to play delightedly with the wrapping paper.

But Thomas really does enjoy his toys! Once all the kids went upstairs and he could be alone with his toys, he had a great time with them.

We sang Happy Birthday . . .


. . . and served chocolate cake and ice cream. He didn't much like it on the first bite!

But then he fell in love with the flavor. Yum!


The First Week Back to School!

For the 2016-2017 year, I am teaching preschool, Kindergarten, second grade, and fourth grade.

Teacher, students, and baby mascot--with with the principal behind the camera

Our first week went well overall, with us trying to figure out our new routine, and three new curricula choices.

I am trying to bring Joseph (3) alongside me while I teach Margaret so he is (1) emotionally fed, (2) supervised, and (3) being taught a bit of preschool.

Listening to Margaret read for phonics
After I taught Margaret her lesson in Right Start Math, I had her teach it to Joseph.

Margaret teaching Joseph math

Margaret teaching Joseph math

While Margaret did her penmanship, I taught Joseph the letter 'A,' after I felt bad when he said he didn't know his letters like the other children at Library Story Time.

Both doing penmanship

So far this week, bringing Joseph alongside me (1) works extremely well for Joseph, who is finally having some attention paid him and is supervised so he's not getting into mischief, and (2) does not work well for Margaret, whose feelings are hurt and wants to be all alone in the Kindergarten for which she's waited so long and so eagerly. I'm in between a rock and a hard place, I'm squeezing blood out of the stone that is me, I'm tearing my hair out, and I'm out of metaphors.

Joseph said he was trying "a really bad storm."

I love how my neatnik Margaret says while during Music Theory, "Mama, please hand me a ruler to draw my corresponding lines." I neither taught her to say "corresponding lines," nor that she should use a ruler, so it must have been her theory teacher!

Drawing corresponding lines

As is traditional around here, we had doughnuts (thanks, Daddy) on the first day of school: served during Morning Basket time.

Thomas' first doughnut

The children and I really enjoyed our first lesson of Beautiful Feet's Geography Through Literature, which is using the same four Holling C. Holling books as the IEW composition course we've begun. We read the chapters, read some discussion points, then color and label the high-quality, elegant maps.

All week, it went fairly well to assign Mary an hour of occupying two younger siblings, and John an hour to do the same. I am giving many lessons about how the child is not to be a "brother" or a "sister" right now ("get out of my way, it's my turn on the swing!"), but more like a mommy or daddy, guiding younger siblings taking turns, coming up with ideas to occupy them, and helping them with food and water. This slows down how long it takes for school to be completed each day (because that older children could be doing book work for that hour), but it leads to more supervision and calm, so I'm hoping it will work for now. For Mary's shifts, she likes to plan out ahead of time that day's special activity, such as Tuesday being Sidewalk Chalk Day.

During one session outdoors, the children found a monstrous beetle in the back yard. I thought it was remarkable, but my dad (who owns a pest control company) told me that beetles are all around us and that the weight of beetles on earth is more than the weight of human beings.


Family Books of the Week (in progress or completed)

I discerned it would be prudent--and enjoyable--during our first week back for me to read again "Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit" by Teri Maxwell. I highly recommend it.


Meals of the Week 

. . . shared to show that "My career is homeschool mother, not gourmet chef!"

  • Saturday (still just me and the baby boys)
    • hot dogs, mac & cheese, cooked cabbage
  • Sunday
  • Monday
    • hamburgers, (frozen) sweet potato fries, cheese tortellini
  • Tuesday: Joseph turns one!
    • homemade Alfredo sauce with fancy striped bow tie pasta, chicken strips, sauteed Portobello mushrooms, Chocolate Cream Cake (that we eye at Aldi's every week and finally had a reason to buy) with vanilla ice cream
  • Wednesday
    • Fast food on the drive home from a swim play date
  • Thursday
    • Assemble-your-own Pizza, green salad
  • Friday
    • Grilled cheese sandwiches


Little Moments

Mary found a little New Testament of mine and was delighted on her own to search out some Scripture in it that she recognized from our daily Scripture at meal time (see here). The first week of learning more Scripture has gone so well: the children often ask to do the four Scripture readings twice per day, and Mary is now walking around with this little Bible. It was neat to read the inscription inside the Bible saying that I took it to a papal audience to be blessed on May 18, 2005, which means I met my husband 13 days following.

Thomas is decidedly a climber, like his siblings. I don't have many pictures because I'm usually running to take him down. He climbs onto the train table, onto chairs, onto the stepstool . . .

Yesterday, I heard some quiet minutes during what should have been piano practice, so I investigated: Mary had retrieved Pink Monkey and set her up with her own booster to practice alongside.


After listening to Andrew Pudewa's three-part podcast on Pen and Paper, I am experimenting with letting my children write with pen in school. This flies in the face of the hard-and-fast rule of my generation's youth: "You may write only in pencil! Use a pen only for your final draft!" (And pen really was reserved for older ages, maybe not in elementary school at all.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Pudewa's observations of some difficulties of using pencil match what I've seen: children sharpen them way too often, they grip them too tight, while children are irresistibly drawn to pen. He was able to offer what I think are solid reasons to let children simply write with pens (he requires it, and snaps pencils in half), and they may cross out a word they misspell and write it again.

The Pen and Paper podcast is in three parts (start here) and, while most of the series is discussing the pros and cons of e-readers versus paper books, Part 3 discusses writing with pencils versus pens.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Thomas Vincent Turns One!

Today Thomas Vincent, our fifth born child and third born son, turns one year old! He is the joy of our family.

Biggest and littlest brothers

Thomas was born weighing an unremarkable 8 lbs 3 oz and 21" long (see here for a trip down memory lane) but has proven to be our biggest baby yet--by nine months old, consistently outweighing his siblings by about four pounds. At his last well-baby check at 25 pounds, he was in the 95th percentile for weight and 94th for height, so I will update this post when I have the new numbers from his one-year well-check!

Walk softly, carry a big stick.

Thomas had a tongue tie at birth and, like his brother Joseph, couldn't transfer milk, so I exclusively pumped and bottle-fed for weeks. Thomas couldn't take over nursing till nine weeks old (and I was able to wean off pumping about a month after that), so our beginning time together was quite rocky and disruptive to the family. (Read here for the full journey of Thomas being exclusively bottle fed to exclusively nursing.)

Now, a year later, Thomas remains a champion nursing baby, getting a big amount of his calories from Mama, and he can eat solids splendidly! He has eight teeth and currently enjoys just about all the table foods I give him: various meats diced small, fruit, some vegetables, crackers, shredded cheese, and so forth.

Enjoying a muffin

Thomas loves his siblings and being part of the gang. At this age and mobility, he toddles after them all day long.

Ready to co-opt Joseph's 'motorcycle'

Thomas began walking at 10 months--just like his four siblings! Such interesting consistency in one family. He is now a steady walker who prefers walking to crawling, and who doesn't cruise on furniture even if he is walking by it. He can squat up and down, turn on a dime, and is starting to walk fast (like a baby 'run'). As seen in the below video, he doesn't mind walking far away from me!

Thomas walking in the hallway after Mass

Because gates don't work well with our stairs, the layout of our house, and having a large family, our babies tend to learn the stairs really early. By 11 months, Thomas can navigate up and down the stairs just fine, although I still shadow him (unless he sneaks by me) just for safety's sake. One day I was in the school room working with just the baby toddling around. Suddenly, I noticed it was way too quiet, even for one baby, so I looked up and he was gone. He had pried the baby gate away (the only one we have in the house), crawled all the way downstairs carrying a tub of Play-dough, and had climbed half way back up the stairs to me when I ran to rescue him.

Creeping up ahead of me

Master Thomas' typical cosleeping baby bad habits have been more and more problematic, now that we are a larger family and I have more duties that don't involve, say, two-and-a-half cumulative hours each day attempting to get an exhausted baby to be willing to fall asleep. So, this last week, Thomas went through a bit of a Baby Sleeping Boot Camp, and can now fall asleep by himself in two to five minutes. I hope we will all be a lot happier and Thomas will be more rested. (Still cosleeping, just being able to fall asleep when it is time to sleep and by himself--yay!)

Sleeping in his high chair
after Mama had tried three times to get him to sleep in his bed

Thomas is so interactive at this age. He plays baby games with people, such as peek-a-boo, chase and runaway, or little 'baby jokes,' causing peals of laughter.

Thomas playing Peek-a-Boo with Joseph

Thomas gets into mischief, such as unfurling the entire toilet paper roll.

I have a gift for you, Mama!

Look, it's all the toilet paper!

He has begun bringing me board books to read to him! I've begun reading to him at nap and bedtime, instead of just nursing him, and he taps every page, pointing out pictures to me.

Thomas is doing early babbling, in which he makes so many various sounds and it sounds almost like he is talking. I love listening to it. (He's not yet doing that older toddler habit of babbling, with expectant pauses in between while he waits for the other speaker to have his turn.)

In other communication skills, Thomas now screams and throws tantrums just like a Toddler. If he doesn't get what he wants, he sits down hard, throws himself down on his back (often pausing slightly to check behind him for anything in his way), then kicks and screams. He concludes his display by flipping over on his tummy, curling up in a ball, and getting quiet . . . before he peeks around to see if I am watching.

In summary, Thomas is one precious gift to our family. The children all fight over who gets to retrieve him from nap time first, or babysit him this time, or hold him the most.

Happy first birthday, Thomas!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Virginia Creeper Trail

Rather spontaneously (with about five days' notice), our family accepted an invitation to bicycle the VA Creeper Trail with friends on Saturday. Chris and I looked at the situation every which way, and what ended up making pragmatic sense this time was for him to take the three olders only this time while I stayed home with the two littles. We considered it a 'recon mission' for the whole family to go, perhaps in the fall.

Chris had free hotel points enough to go up the night before, thus avoiding the three-hour drive each way on Saturday, which is such a long, tiring day trip.

Hotels are always fun.

Margaret writing

I want my children to have good wholesome experiences, which is why I encouraged some of us to go on the trip (rather than none of us going at all), but still I cried when half my family left for that fun without me, and then I cried that night when Chris emailed me the photo Mary (7) wrote me on her own.

The weather was supposed to be a high of the upper 70s, and the 17-mile ride is reportedly bucolic and easy, even for old, fluffy mamas and little children. Even the other family's grandmother went along for the ride, so that is promising for me joining them next time.

We just weren't sure about Margaret, who rides a two-wheeler like an expert at five years old, but complains about duration on our regular 1.5-mile neighborhood loop, so we rented a trailer in which she could ride.

Checkers and ice cream cones at a wayside restaurant

Meanwhile, back in Charlotte, it was like a flash back in time to an earlier era of sleep deprivation and being unable to get any other work done than directly monitoring tiny children because 1- and 3-year-olds (mine anyway) aren't independent at all.

On Friday night, after Joseph woke me up six times, I gave up and brought him into bed with me, but that means he woke up me and the baby at 5:00 a.m., depriving Thomas of a good two more hours of sleep, which messed up the whole rest of the day: lots of crabbiness and random, ill-timed naps, and Mama was falling asleep herself but had no other adult or big kid to help her. 

Nonetheless, I proceeded ahead with my plan to occupy the little boys with something fun I rarely do: Story Time at the Library! Joseph was very excited at the news.

There was a special Mr. Potato Head exhibit visiting at the library, which was loads of fun: assemble your own Potato Head, various Potato Heads in the Ocean activities, as well as Potato Heads in Space. It was a little weird, but, I'm telling you, it worked.

Potato Heads in Space were the most popular

Blowing raspberries at his big brother on the other side of the wall

We showed up at the right area of the library for Story Time and Joseph was wary, having been taken to Story Time maybe only once prior in his life (a year ago?). He wouldn't sit crisscross applesauce when all the other children were told to sit, and he wouldn't stand when the other children were told to stand. (He lay on his back, kicking his legs up in the air in a nonchalant, cheerful way.) Joseph wouldn't sing songs (including the ABCs, making me wonder if I'd never taught it to him), and he wouldn't dance, even though I did all the motions in order to encourage good spirit. When the librarian was reading a book, he vocalized that he wanted to go sit in the front row to see better (logical for a child at home reading with his mom), and then couldn't understand the concept of 'this is your seat, we aren't supposed to move around.'

Twenty minutes into Story Time, Joseph told me he really preferred to go back to the Potato Head exhibit, which we did.

I left feeling glum, like a Loser Homeschooling Mother who hasn't done preschooler with her three-year-old, so he doesn't sit, stand, dance, and sing when he is "supposed" to (which, I admit, sounds kind of like I want him to be a trained puppy). Back at home, I tested whether he knew how to sing his ABCs . . . he does but he said he was shy and had me look in the other direction. Joseph is shy?!

Given that I couldn't have any computer time (can't turn my back on these guys for a second), couldn't watch any of my TV, and putting on kid's TV wouldn't occupy the 11-month-old (so why bother putting it on for the three-year-old?), nor could I leave the two little boys to play together, even in the same room as me (because the three-year-old is exuberantly way too rough with his younger brother), I gave up and decided we would all prepare one of Daddy's favorite desserts: an apple pie to bake on Sunday.

The best laid plans of mice and men . . .

About to bake pie together

I have  used store-bought pie crust for years, but didn't happen to have any in the house, so I even make the crust from scratch. I even mastered fluting the edges, and they were so beautiful!

I carried the masterpiece pie to the refrigerator in the garage (to save till the next day to bake), when I somehow fumbled and dropped it on the floor of the garage. I was Betty Crocker with butter fingers!

All I did was exclaim, "Oh no!" but my inside spirit was a broiling mess, way too many emotions over a stupid dessert. I felt so far from being a saint or even a good example. I kept telling myself, "the process of making the pie was what was important, not the result of having a pie to eat," but it didn't feel that way.

I cleaned up the mess in what I thought was an effective manner but learned later was not, as a huge swarm of ants took over our garage. I just hoped they wouldn't make off with the kids' bicycles in the night.

Given the very long day, and the two bicycling families eating leisurely at a restaurant afterward, Chris found he couldn't drive the children all the home safely, so called me 90 minutes shy of our house and said he had checked them into a hotel instead of pushing forward. I was glad for their safety, but sure missed them.

Chris says that exhausted Mary crept out of bed around ten at night to write me another note. Melt my heart!