Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Assistant Teacher

Last night, we came in from a family walk and headed upstairs to get the children ready for bed.

Mary (all of 5-1/2) informed me, "Mama, I'll be up in a few minutes. I have to finish something."

When she joined us for bath time, she let me know breezily--as one teacher to another--"I have Margaret's school ready for tomorrow."

I found this worksheet waiting for me in the kitchen this morning. Mary has been making such worksheets to learn letters, shapes, and numbers for weeks now, and Margaret (3) completes them with her dutifully. The preschooler is really getting actual teaching from the Kindergartener!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sewing Children's Renaissance Costumes

If I were going back to school and were asked to write an essay, "What I Did This Summer," the project I would describe is the sewing of these two Renaissance costumes for the children's production of "The Taming of the Shrew."

This summer I had desired to do a lot of sewing, although I hadn't anticipated that all my sewing time would be taken up by two costumes. This production certainly does not require such well-constructed costumes, but I desired to grab this opportunity to stretch myself in an effort to learn how to sew dress (fancy) clothing. Someday I hope to have the ability to sew a baptismal gown, prom dress, wedding gown, or priest's vestments, but I will achieve that skill only by practicing on projects that aren't as important.

Mary (5) as a Wedding Guest

Mary's dress is the example shown here in pink.
For the Wedding Guest gown, I used McCall's Costumes pattern number M6141. I purchased satin (polyester, not silk), not knowing that satin is an incredibly challenging fabric with which to work. I cut my pieces, began sewing, and promptly ruined fabric. Lessons learned: satin both puckers and runs very easily.

Quickly, I called the seamstresses with expertise at Sew Much Fun to ask what I was doing wrong. I was informed that I required a Teflon-coated foot for my sewing machine, as well as Teflon-coated needles. This required packing up the four children and taking them into a fabric store, giving a stern talk about behavior standards, and then attempting to talk to a seamstress about my troubles. My serger doesn't come with a Teflon foot, so the woman taught me the trick of sewing two pieces of satin together with tissue paper, which is what I ended up doing for all my serger work.

The sleeves have a "drape"
which will either swish beautifully during Mary's wedding dance or will get in her way.

Making this gown was my first experience with a fully lined garment. Now I understand why lined garments are so expensive: let me tell you, they are worth all the added cost. Making a lined gown is akin to making not one gown, but two, and having the two fit like a glove with each other.

I sewed Mary's sleeves too long. This was not an immediately obvious 'fix' because the sleeves are lined, so I could not simple cut them shorter and hem them again. I decided to roll the cuffs to the inside and use double-sided tape to hold them in place: I hope this holds for the performance. By not sewing the repair, Mary can grow larger and I can let out the sleeves. (See above how the drapes hang longer than her arms: technically, they are supposed to fall to just covering her hands.)

All the seams are covered with lace, which I ended up hand sewing onto the gown.

The bodice presented a difficulty for me: I created it only to discover that it was far too low cut for Mary. I think I placed the white inset too low. What could I do now when all the seams were already covered with lace? I ended up creating a v-neck insert of several rolls of white silk, which I hand-sewed into place.

The back of the dress provided me with such a steep learning curve and many opportunities to replace my flaming temper with quiet patience. First of all, the back called for "black flaps" and I debated skipping those. The back flaps turned out to be important because they provide modesty for the girl: if the laces went straight into the gown itself, the girl's skin would show through the holes.

Second, the back flaps called for using grommets. This was my first experience with grommets and it went so badly that I gave up halfway through. I sewed new back flaps and used my machine's feature for sewing button holes instead of grommets.

When I had sewn my back flaps with their lovely button holes onto the back of the gown, I began lacing the gown together and discovered that I had created an uneven number of button holes. A little imperfection that cannot be fixed!

Then I discovered that the bodice was too large for Mary by about four inches' circumference. I did not want to cut the garment, so I ended up creating something like darts, folding the bodice and hiding the fold under the back flaps. I adhered the back flaps down with double-sided tape, then sewed them down with a basting stitch only to the lining, not to the satin. As Mary grows, I can easily take out that stitching.

Mary's headpiece I made according to the instructions of a fellow seamstress who is helping tremendously with the costumes for this play. She had us take a hand towel, wrap it tightly like a snake, sew two ends together to fit on the child's head, and then wrap it in a decorative fabric.

John's costume as a tailor took some creativity. Also, I wanted him to coordinate well with his fellow tailor.

John as Tailor No. 1

I created John's britches out of a pattern for pajama pants. I shortened the pants, then added in a triangular panel on the sides of each leg to create the "poof." The waist and legs are cinched with elastic.

The blousy shirt is on loan to me: it is actually a petite woman's blouse.

White tights and his black Mass shoes

The jacket is also from the pajama pattern. I added decorative cuffs with some some scraps of stiff, ivory-colored satin, which I edged with a gold-toned lace. When I finished the jacket, I discovered that the sleeves were noticeably too long. I ended up folding the sleeves into the cuffs, then using a basting stitch to hold it in place: later when John grows, I can take out the basting stitches to lengthen the sleeves.

I created John's hat using the flat cap pattern from The Renaissance Tailor. I used a shimmery green velvet with two layers of felt for stiffness and a dull green velvet (former draperies!) for the lining, attaching a peacock feather for the finishing touch.

Creating the hat was so interesting. I never before would have known how a hat is constructed, but now I feel like I understand the rudiments. My first attempt turned out way too big. My second attempt turned out way too small. When that happened, my patience was pushed to the limit, let me tell you! That night I just had to walk away from the project and tell myself--uncharacteristically!--that it would all work out, although I couldn't see how. I had no more fabric, a deadline fast approaching, and not much heart left. But the next day I ripped all the seams out of the too-small hat, did more measurements, cut the hole bigger, and sewed the third hat: which fits!

I am so pleased with how these costumes turned out. I learned so many skills that place me a lot closer to being able to sew a 'real' fancy garment. I went into this project knowing that the sewing had to be for my own enjoyment of the process, as the kids certainly couldn't be grateful enough for how many hours went into this.

It is hard for me to believe that it was about eight years ago when--pregnant with John--I visited my friend Sarah who taught me my first sewing project: an elementary baby bib and nursing cover. I encourage anyone who wants to learn to sew (or learn anything new) to give it a go because even we old dogs can learn new skills. (As an aside, I remember that Sarah had two girls and one crawling baby and was pregnant with Number Four. I was so unaccustomed to being around children that I was completely overwhelmed, couldn't keep track of All Those Kids, and felt like they were here, there, and everywhere. Now I look back and laugh: there were only two kids and one easy baby who crawled at our feet!)

I have wished that I could be helping the other mothers sew costumes the way that one mother has done for several rehearsal days, dragging in her sewing machine and supplies into the theater. I expressed to her my feelings of regret and wondering how on earth she could sew for all these women while watching her children to which she laughed and explained that she can't! Her mother-in-law came three Wednesdays in a row to babysit her young children, which freed up this woman to help. Hearing that made me feel so much more normal, as I cannot sew with my youngest tots around. Virtually all the sewing required for these costumes this summer has been done late at nights for almost three months. Chris can attest: he even dragged a chair into my sewing room so he could keep me company there at nights!

Starting tomorrow, all the actors need to wear their costumes for all rehearsals. We shall see if any adjustments need to be made. We shall see if Mary can dance in such a voluminous dress!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Andrew Pudewa on Boys

I would like to share my discover that Andrew Pudewa's excellent talk about educating boys is available for free online by clicking here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, which saves the listener ten dollars from buying the similar talk at the IEW website.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the talks stand independent of each other, Part 1 being about sex differences in boys and girls that affect how we educate them and Part 2 being about how to motivate people. While Part 2 springs from the question, 'so how should we motivate those boys?', Mr. Pudewa points out that he is giving advice on how to motivate all human beings. I strongly recommend listening to Part 2, as I found it so interesting. He spends 45 minutes expanding on the basic premise that humans:

  1. love to do what we know we can do,
  2. are willing to try to do what we think we can do,
  3. and hate to do what we think we can't do.

Much of Mr. Pudewa's talk is based on his own twenty years of teaching experience as well as the two books by Dr. Leonard Sax on sex differences:

I've read both and recommend them for parents of boys.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Serving John's First Sunday Mass

Today our firstborn served his first Sunday Mass in a parish, not a Mass in our home or at an altar boy camp. It's a milestone that happens only once and we were so pleased for him.

The whole thing came about quite suddenly and unexpectedly: We had other plans today, they got changed, the baby was taking an oddly timed nap, so we simply decided to go to the four o'clock Mass at another parish an hour away from us. Only later did we realize that John might be able to serve Mass there, so we showed up, asked the priest, and he welcomed our boy.

I was quite nervous watching John holding a very wobbly candle for so long: how long is that stretch? Twenty minutes? This candle kept wobbling this way and that, clearly not firmly seated. Once it swayed and some hot wax flew out and landed on John's neck! But he was brave and held still. I thought our boy must have been doing something wrong, but later a mom of another experienced altar server told me that it is a problem with the two candle sticks that they experience weekly.

Can I just ask: How is it that getting a seven-year-old boy to kneel at home during daily Rosary on carpet is an agonizing task, akin to some form of torture for the poor child . . . but vest him and put him in solemn surroundings and he can kneel for nearly half an hour on the thinnest of a so-called pad over marble? I asked him how that part went and he gave me a thumbs up and a broad smile: 'Excellent, Mama!' A mother can feel so proud and so irritated all at the same time . . .

I promise I won't document his future Masses like this! But a Catholic Mama only has one firstborn son and he serves only one Very First Sunday Mass, so I hope my readers identify with my delight!

Parish Patron Saint Day

On Saturday, our family so much enjoyed celebrating the feast day of our parish patron saint: St. Ann (and St. Joachim)! Our pastor always celebrates the high feast days with solemn high (Latin) Masses and, for this one, the bishop himself has sat in choir, which is such an honor. 

The bishop blessing the altar boys after Mass

After the Mass, the bishop processed to the street-side of our church where we have installed a new statue of the Jesus' Divine Mercy. This statue is in honor and memory of a seminarian from our very own parish who died suddenly and unexpectedly last Divine Mercy Sunday. His parents were there for the blessing of the statue in memory of their son--a poignant honor that no parent ever wants to receive.

Then we all retired from the heat to a festive celebration: the Men's Club had done a hot dog cookout, people had provided loads of sides, drinks, and desserts, and fun was had by all.

Joseph Seeks Water

The sound of whooshing water . . . 

Joseph, oh Joseph!

Joseph is 18 months old and he learned to open doors about two months ago, I think because of his noticeably large hands. He's got big mitts!

Now this punkin' enters bathrooms, opening the door when necessary, climbs onto the counter, and turns on the water to brush his teeth or wash his feet many,


times per day!

I'm so frustrated and unsure of what to do. I know he could hurt himself in several ways by this feat. It's been some years since I stopped using baby gates and doorknob locks because they quite hamper life at home when one has children of varying ages. I need to be able to tell my children to go wash their hands without me going with them to open the bathroom door. I need my three-year-old to be able to rush herself to the potty. And baby gates simply get knocked over because all the kids who can climb them just climb them till they fall, scratch paint, and break--and, frankly, our kids have been doing that by about 18 months old, so what's the point of using gates?

Thankfully, all the children are usually in my close vicinity, and the baby is usually at my ankles, so he goes to the bathroom adjacent to the room I'm in for his mischief. I hear the water, I go get him yet again . . . 

But let's all give a big thanks to Joseph's guardian angel for protecting him thus far!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Altar Boy Camp Day 3


Orate fratres

John said the third day of altar boy camp was the best ever. I'm just glad to have the gentlemen home--I missed them!

Apparently I wasn't the only one. Despite the very frequent bickering in day-to-day life, John and his sister Mary sent each other various love notes, passed through me with instructions to hide them here or there for later discovery.

"Deer Mary, I miss you Mary. See you on Friday."

"I love you John Lauer. Can I have your friendship"

"I love you John. Can you be my friend and can you also be my brother? I love you."


Friday, July 25, 2014

Altar Boy Camp Day 2

After a second day of altar server training and group sports, Chris took John back to the hotel for swimming . . .

. . . dinner at a restaurant, then an hour and a half meandering about the giant outdoors store Cabela's . . .

. . . before retiring with an episode of the (original) Lone Ranger in bed.

I can already tell that my dear son is going to have some adjustments from all this wholesome but much-more-than-normal fun when he comes back to his ol' mom and her school work and chores.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"What's the Mall?"

Last week, I discovered I had a list of rapidly approaching, time-sensitive specific clothing needs for the children being in the Shakespeare play, the Latin choir concert, and for one homeschool uniform, plus one child suddenly outgrew all her shoes.  I made a list of each item by child with sizes.

Armed with my list, I took all the children to two different consignment shops one day. The next day we went to the Goodwill. Without time to order items online, I was discussing out loud that I might takes us to the mall to buy some items new.

Our five-year-old pricked up her ears and asked:

"What's the mall?"


I'm pleased she has no need to have experienced the mall. When I must venture into that labyrinth once a year (or less), I come storming out determined not to go back. (Ultimately, she still didn't visit the mall because I found enough of what I needed at used clothing stores and was able to sew and modify a couple of items.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Altar Boy Camp (Again!) Day 1

To our great surprise and delight, John had a second opportunity this summer to attend a Latin Mass Altar Boy camp, so we decided this was worth the investment of time.

John ready to enter the church

The boys have server instruction all morning before attending Mass.

The uniform: white button down shirts, black pants, black belt, black socks, black shoes

Working up a good sweat from sports

Then the boys have lunch together before playing sports.

John has two same-aged pals there who also traveled with their parents from Charlotte, so he is enjoying spending time with them. After the first day of camp ended for the afternoon, Daddy took John swimming and then out to dinner with some of our friends.

"I love you, Mom" from John