Sunday, September 21, 2014

Clothing Management: Planning for Winter

Season changes sneak up on me such that I'll find the weather suddenly chilly and haven't filled my children's closets with warm weather yet. This year, I have tried to plan ahead a little better.

Step 1. Carve Out Time

In mid-September (cool weather coming!), last week I made a Clothing Planning Chart and took one hour per afternoon to organize each child's clothing.

Step 2. Analyze in an Organized Way

My chart lists the child's name and sizes of all clothing. The two columns show what we have and what we need in categories such as Tops (shirts), Bottoms (pants, skirts), Dresses, Pajamas, Shoes/Socks/Tights, and Miscellaneous. 

I did not log any summer clothing because that doesn't count or matter toward the needs of winter-weather clothing.

Then I gathered up the child in question (while the others played nearby) and first checked the current clothing closet for any winter clothing. Then we walked over to the children's storage closet and "went shopping" for any winter clothing in the needed size.

Now, it's still too warm for the children actually to be wearing the winter clothing. Because I do not overstuff their closets, there is plenty of room, so I hung up their winter clothing in a spare corner of their closets to wait for them till however many weeks from now we wake up and it is suddenly chilly. Then I will put away (and donate) their summer clothing.

3. Donate What Isn't Worth Saving

Having searched through their summer closets, some clothing was discovered simply no longer to fit. Then I had to face some painful spiritual detachment, especially concerning the boys' clothing. I still want to save (cling to) everything, especially "good" clothing. So I'd ask myself, "You're going to store clothing for six years until these fit the next boy? You're going to deprive other children of having decent and good clothing during those six years? You're going to take up space in our closets and attic to store these like a miser?" And then I'd have to donate away basically everything that John no longer fits!

4. Go Shopping

The last step will be for me to go shopping. I love organizing, but the only thing that isn't fun about being so organized is that I can see clearly that I need to buy hardly anything for the children this fall! Shopping is fun too, but no family wants to waste money. I will visit the thrift stores for some items. Then there are some items about which I'm very particular (hard for any of my readers to imagine me being particular, right?) which I will order online.

Because I'm organized, I can order off-season and save money as well. For example, we try to keep our kids' shirts simple and free of writing. It's very hard to find darling plain white blouses for girls, but Land's End tends to carry them. Of course, Land's End is pricey, so I buy their shirts off-season most of the time, which is why yesterday I opened up our bins and found brand new Land's End winter blouses, still in plastic, which I had bought during the heat of summer clearance sale.  Now is the time to buy next summer's blouses!

I hope these tips are inspiring to some and I always love to hear new ideas to help me in this process as well.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Eucharistic Congress 2014

The Children's Latin Choir performed at the Eucharistic Congress again this year for about 10,000 fellow Catholics. We have few photos and no video of the event, but it went beautifully this year.

The choir in the rehearsal room

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall Swim Lessons

Better late than never, the children began swim classes today! We missed the first several in the series due to this and that. 

Packing our lunch since lessons let out at noon

Extremely happy girl who can finally swim without a 'floaty pack'

Playing Sharks and Minnows

Enjoying our picnic lunch afterward

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hollywood, Here We Come

Not really!

But our family did enjoy taking the girls for a movie audition!

That sounds so very unlike us, but I was willing to do it because the movie is a two-minute short with a pro-life message scheduled to be shown in front of something like 1,500 priests at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. this year (read about it here). I got to know the manager of Angelic Films over our summer Shakespeare performance and she asked if we would come to the auditions, so Chris and I figured it would be an unusual, interesting experience, if nothing else.

The role is for a girl aged three to seven years, so we had both girls audition. It was neat to go through the process in a relaxed way, but while getting glimpses of the professional process. We were instructed to bring head shots, then we got there and filled out the casting paperwork, which included noting height, weight, hair and eye color, age, and clothing sizes.

Then the girls went in to meet the director and the camera man . . . and I discovered what exactly would cause my little girl in the classic three-year-old loquacious stage--the little girl who hasn't stopped talking during her waking hours for several months--to go completely silent. At least she was cute!

And that was likely "a wrap" on our family's career in movies!

"The Bear and the Kid"

Enjoy the "e-book edition" of . . . 

The Bear and the Kid

by Mary G. Lauer (almost 6)

Once upon a time there was a girl and [she was] namde Mary. And she saw a baer and ran. She was scared. And wenn she was far away the baer ran after her. And did he get her? No. She was hiding in a bush. And the baer went away. Into his den.

He was tired indeed. And it was niht and so he went to sleep. And wen it was morning he awoke and went to catch his breakfast. It was wen the girl had awoke and she went to eat her breakfast. And wen she was done she went to play. She was scared a bit but she had told her mother and her mother went with her. And they playd. It was fun. And they took a hour playing.

The End.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recipe: Kid-Friendly Quiche

Some families have Picky Kid Problems to varying degrees and, without getting into details about our particular children, I am delighted to share this recipe for a kid-friendly quiche!

Quiche is a great source of protein and a good family dish because slices can be reheated during the week for breakfast or lunch too. Also, quiches freeze beautifully, so it's always useful to make two at once, freezing one for a quick dinner night. Quiche also travels well when making meals for a new mother or ill family.

In our family, I make quiche every week or two . . . but none of our kids eat it, which means making something else they will eat (taking a Picky Kid Problem to a Poor Parenting Problem). Chris and I are working very hard these days to rectify that situation, so I thought about quiche:

  • Are there any kid-friendly quiches? 
  • What qualities would make a kid-friendly quiche?
  • And what if I stripped out all vegetables and meat just to get the kids accustomed to plain quiche?

A blogger named Mrs. Karpiuk has published a kid-friendly quiche recipe at her blog. The key seems to be using fewer eggs and incorporating a baking mix (flour) to make the texture more bready and less eggy. I believe therein lies the key!

Also, I made the quiche into muffins (using foil muffin 'papers'). I intended to take a photo of the pretty display of steaming muffins stacked on a serving platter at the table, but the family devoured them all so quickly, the moment was lost.

Since our children already "know" they dislike quiche, I called these "gougeres muffins," being inspired by their flavor to remember how much I adored gougeres (French cheese puffs) that some very sophisticated friends of our used to make every time they had us over for a dinner party.

My goal with this quiche would be to slowly increase the eggs and decrease the baking mix, and ultimately add in vegetables and meat.

Bon appetit!

Special note: Because I did not add the vegetables or meat, I used only half the milk in the recipe.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Young Chamber Musicians' Competition

Daddy and his children

Attending a performance of fine music usually costs a pretty penny, so we leapt at the opportunity to buy tickets at ten dollars apiece for Chris to take John and Mary to the Young Chamber Musicians' Competition held at Davidson College.

This contest began with something like 300 video entries, which were narrowed down to two final contestants for ages 14-17 and two for ages 18-23. The performance would be each group (e.g., a trio) playing two pieces.

Picturesque Davidson College

Their balcony seats

The view from their seats

I think this is how Mary listens to music--the vibrations (see here too!)

Mary rapturous
The children arrived home at eleven at night, talking a mile-a-minute about all they had heard. It was a wonderful experience we hope to repeat next year!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Graces in the Wonky Weeks

They say that the way to get God to laugh is to tell Him your plans and this week was emblematic of that.

All I wanted was to get back to school full-time on my nicely designed routine  . . .

. . . but kids always have a tough emotional time transitioning back to routines and chores after having been on vacation, and

. . . Chris was out of town on business for four days, and

. . . illness began wending its way through our home.

A Type A mother struggle with irritation during a week like this. 'My school log books, my beautiful log books! All the daily work we're supposed to be doing that isn't getting done.' An article was published this week showing that, in our state of North Carolina, there are now more children schooled at home than schooled in private schools, and I always presume (unfairly) that they must all have it more together than do I.

When we struggle, we can more clearly see God's graces at work. Each time I heard that inner voice lamenting that I was failing, I'd force myself to think of a grace from the week.

This week, as long as I was holding and nursing the baby, he was content, but if I couldn't do both he was mostly wailing in feverish, snotty misery all day. As much as I try--in my tiny way--to imitate Mother Teresa in her room full of wailing lepers during those moments, the baby's tears would drive me to the edge and my inner voice would say that 'As long as one has babies around, you'll never be able to homeschool! Babies are such a difficult burden!'

Then I'd force myself to say . . . Siblings teach siblings when Mama is too busy.

Mary (5-1/2) drew a picture of a black bear next to a tree with a bee hive and bees flying nearby.

So Margaret (3-1/2 drew a picture of the same!

One day I walked in on the five- and seven-year-olds taking turns reading Aesop's fables to each other. The children teach Margaret her letters and patiently spell words at her request. And this week, Margaret learned by sheer observation how to play the beginning of Ode to Joy on the piano. I really need to relax, right?

The baby's sleep was wretched which means Mama's sleep was wretched. One night he woke every 30 minutes and I didn't get more than four hours' sleep any night this week. Sure, I could have pushed us through like a General to do our academic list, get through that math lesson, but I've finally learned what is a very dangerous combination that allows Anger into our home:

Husband away on business + Mama very short on sleep + Mama remaining inflexible

Since I could not fix the first two elements, I try hard to force myself to be flexible. And if pushing through the math lesson is going to make a Loud and Angry Mama come to visit, I try to make us do something more lighthearted instead.

Then I'd remind myself . . . Outdoor play is worthwhile often.

When we couldn't manage anything else this week, sometimes we could go outside for even fifteen to thirty minutes, which would refresh everyone's lagging spirits. This reminded me of the early years with everyone five and under when Going Outside was a frequent Big Adventure.

Watching a tree be felled across the street . . . and standing atop the fence, where else?

This week, my engines were running so slowly in the mornings, I skipped daily housekeeping chores (gasp!) or did them quickly myself instead of requiring the children to work alongside me because my doing it alone requires so much less energy. And I'd criticize myself badly for setting a bad example to the children.

But then I'd witness a gem of a moment . . . Morning Time teaches more than just the identifiable subject.

I continued to try to implement the start of Morning Time, rotating through some lovely subjects like reading aloud (especially to the younger ones, who are a bit ignored), art appreciation, science stories, composer studies, and poetry memorization. (No, we did not manage to hit each of those this rough week.)

One day we got out our Child-Sized Masterpieces and it was such a fruitful hour, my low spirits soared!

First the children matched the paintings, then we talked through the subject matter, titles, names of the painters, their country of origins, and the years they were living. The conversation went off on delightful 'rabbit trails' I did not foresee and which were worth all our time.

Then Mary said, as if we were all thinking it, "I'm going to draw the hare!" I was caught off guard and thought, 'Oh yes, that is what a Good Homeschooling Mother would do. We'd be drawing the pictures.' "Well, yes, Mary, we're each going to draw a painting!"

I really enjoyed watching one reluctant artist who didn't even want to participate let me walk the child through a guided drawing, see the picture start to come together, and see the child's enthusiasm dawn and grow, and then the child's passion for colors (picking the perfect ones) take over the process.

Mary drew Durer's 'The Hare'

John drew Van Gogh's 'Vincent's Chair and His Pipe'

Margaret drew red geraniums by Matisse

I discovered this week that the Morning Prayers we've established are so robust that I actually can't do them when my husband isn't here to help. Add in that the children are still not adjusted from West Coast Time and I was severely underslept and, truth be told, most days our morning prayers consisted of nothing more than grace before breakfast. I felt like such a loser of a Catholic mother.

But then I noticed . . . Pious practices are grown slowly over years and do not disappear overnight.

When my husband got home Friday night, my son fairly quickly announced, "We didn't pray the rosary today. Shouldn't we pray the rosary?" 'Tattle tale!' I thought childishly. It's hard for a parent to say that 'no, we shouldn't pray the rosary,' but I think my husband saw the dark circles under my eyes, my brain cells actually frying out of my skull, and the three-year-old with a 104-fever and the mood to match it. He declared we would pray only one decade, and then the children began begging also to play the Stations of the Cross. No, no, we would not be doing that as a family tonight, but he welcomed the five- and seven-year-olds to feel free to pray it themselves after our rosary.

And they did! They prayed the Stations of the Cross together without any adults to help because they wanted to. And if that isn't a glorious moment to assuage a mother's struggling heart, I don't know what is.

And music education is so wonderful! But I have so much to say about that, I'm going to give it its own post soon.

So, I thank God for a week full of challenges so I could see his many graces poured in through the broken cracks.

And I also thank God for getting my husband home safely, that he will be here this week, and I still look forward to this illness ending and my getting even six hours of sleep!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Writing

I very much enjoyed a little writing opportunity when I was asked to write an article about the homeschoolers' Fine Arts Festival for our diocesan newspaper. I wish I could figure out how to capture a screenshot to be more artistic on this blog--ALT + Print Screen isn't working for me--so I will just direct you to click here.

I wrote a long-enough piece to be a full two-page spread so the editors could cut it down to fill any size they wanted. They did end up cutting it a lot, but I understand space limitations!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Getting Back to Full-Time School

This weekend, Chris took the children away for a bit so I could roll up my sleeves and do some thoughtful school-planning. Each weekend I plan the week's goals, but sometimes I have to do more thoughtful planning at times such as this when we are transitioning from half-time school during Shakespeare and Latin choir season to full-time school.

I am making some shifts to routine and hope they work well.

First, I'm re-introducing Morning Time (aka Circle Time) to start our day.

  • This helps the Little Ones (mainly Margaret, 3-1/2) feel included instead of ignored.
  • This ensures we don't do just the three Rs, but that we appreciate the finer things in life. Making and having the time to teach fine culture and wonderful traditions is one of the reasons we homeschool our children, yet it is so easy "not to have time" for those things.
  • The author of "Teaching from a State of Rest"* did a series of radio interviews, one of which is with Cindy Rollins, mother of 9, who makes it her focus to talk about the high value of doing Morning Time with all the children, something she has continued to maintain for nearly two decades of homeschooling. (Interestingly, I searched Google  for Cindy's name and found her blog whose whole focus is Morning Time: her latest Morning Time routine is listed most recently. See how lengthy it is? Click here.)
*I find I can't recommend enough the purchase and reading of "Teaching from a State of Rest"! I want every homeschooling mother I know to have it. Therefore, I hope to write my own series of posts, one per chapter, in order to inspire everyone to go buy this gem (which costs about ten dollars).

Second, I'm waving the white flag and increasing our school hours. If I were schooling only a compliant Kindergartener and Second Grader, I could be done with it by lunch time. But doing so while meeting the needs of a three- and one-year-old is proving very difficult for this mama-teacher. So, my plan is to do schoolwork from 9:30-11:30, take a lunch and play break, then put the little ones down for nap or Quiet Time so we can do school from 1:00-3:00. That looks so reasonable in black-and-white but it represents a big change for us, so I pray it goes well.

This should be our routine Monday through Thursday with Fridays set aside as our Going-Out Day with homeschoolers' swim lessons at the YMCA and Homeschool Afternoon Co-op at our parish.

I'm hoping this will be a restful schedule for us, with four days when we don't intend to leave the house. Fridays I have to leave with all the kids by myself. Then Saturday and Sunday we have outings, but I have my husband's help as well. One more thing I enjoy about this routine is that only Friday and Saturday mornings are rushed, so we have five mornings per week when I can cook a hot breakfast for the family, which I think starts the day on nice footing.

Morning Time topics (to be rotated, not done all in one morning)

  • Reading picture books (as poor Margaret doesn't get read age-appropriate books to her nearly as often as did the older ones! I don't even know if Joseph at 19 months knows what to do with a board book . . .)
  • Memorizing poetry (trying to get back to this worthwhile practice!
  • Art appreciation (e.g., Child-Sized Masterpieces)
  • Composer studies
  • Reading about science (e.g., nature stories, as we probably won't start formal science till third grade)
John's Weekly Log Book

Remaining Morning Schoolwork (to be rotated)

Then I envision that John and Mary will alternate their piano practice in the den while the other sits with me at the kitchen table. Studies I envision would be acceptable in the morning when two tiny tots are running riot are:
Mary's Weekly Log Book

Afternoon Schoolwork (to be rotated)

While I pray that the baby naps and the preschooler stays in her room for Quiet Time (still working on learning that one), I intend to supervise Mary's violin practice (which requires my total focus). Studies I envision are best for this focused time are:

Lastly, I have just been introduced to the concept of looping one's to-do list, whether that be school curricula or housework. The concept is that one intends to do schoolwork each morning. Instead of listing precisely the 12 topics one will teach each day, one lists them in a looping order, then proceeds along the list. If one gets through Item 6 today, one resumes with Item 7 tomorrow. If studying Phonics is twice as important as studying Geography, Phonics gets listed twice in the list and Geography once. If one's day is spent caring for a sick baby, one isn't "behind," one hasn't "failed" at teaching school that day: one is living life. And when schoolwork can resume, the mama-teacher just gets right back to her loop.

You can read a wonderful description of looping here and here. I'm that Type A mama she's talking about, so I hope looping will help me feel productive without adding the stress of performance to myself and the children.