Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Hurricane Florence

Here in Charlotte, we made it through Hurricane Florence unscathed!

We were never going to be hit by a hurricane proper, but the storm was presenting a serious threat of many inches of rain combined with heavy winds causing downed trees and extended power outages. We bought a generator, which we figure is going to be good insurance for the next two decades of still having children at home when we endure power outages. Chris patiently went to the grocery store for me four times that week, buying more supplies and pantry foods. We stocked up on 25 gallons of potable water and we filled a 50-gallon recycling bin with water from the hose to use as utility water. Chris cleared our gutters of clogged leaves and he filled up both cars with gas. He re-organized our garage so that we could park his vehicle in there; our 15-passenger van does not fit in the garage, so we were going to have to leave it outside and hope it wasn't crushed by a towering tree.

John took on some leadership in storm preparations as well, coming up with good ideas, storing extra water, and he asked if he could go around the neighborhood clearing clogged sewers.

So much pantry food, ready to be raided!

The rain and winds finally showed up without as much ferocity as we feared, but with lengthy dreariness and ultimately Charlotte received 5" to 15", depending on the area. At numerous times, children went outside to tromp around in rain boots, play in the water flowing through the gutters, or simply sit on the front porch to watch.

Reading outdoors in the rain

For my part, I cleaned out a closet, which seemed as good idea as any during a big, loud storm. The walk-in closet of the guest room had become a giant dumping ground so high and expansive that I could no longer open the door all the way. Now, one side of it beautifully houses the children's dress-up clothing, and the other side neatly contains things like suitcases and spare blankets.

Saturday overnight turned out to be the highest risk time period for wind and heavy rain. Given that we live on a lot with numerous towering trees and majestic oaks that overhang the house, we decided that it was safest to have the family sleep in the den. We didn't want to scare the littlest children, so we called it a "sleeping bag party" and the mood was festive.

I was delighted to be able to read to all my chickadees in one place, them lying about in their sleeping bags. I've been reading to the younger ones and the older ones in two separate groups for several years now, and this evening tickled this mama's heart! Plus all the olders fell asleep at the same time as the younger ones, and I rather wished we could do this every night!

Reading "Trumpet of the Swan" by E.B. White

Thomas brushing my hair while I read

On Sunday, Charlotte experienced serious flooding, shutting down roads, causing an overnight curfew to be set in place, and the county declared the public schools closed for the third day in a row.

Limb down in our neighborhood

Nearby movie theater parking lot

Nearby golf course

Sugar Creek about to breach its banks

Neither this most concerning leaning tree, nor any others, fell on our home. However, numerous homes in Charlotte were crushed by falling trees, streets collapsed, bridges weakened and were shut down, basements flooded, all while we were a city of North Carolina hit lightly.

Leaning tree stayed rooted

This week we are adding to our chores the clean-up of a patina of small debris everywhere--and with every bending over and sore back I am grateful that none is truly damaging.

Friday, September 14, 2018

{SQT} The Calm Before the Storm

(My Seven Quick Takes are ever anything but quick.)

1. Eucharistic Congress

On Saturday, the feast of Our Lady's birthday, our family attended the Eucharistic Congress, which typically draws about 20,000 Catholics downtown. I don't know if this year we experienced fewer numbers of attendees, due to the horrific month of scandalous revelations, but I do know that there was a higher police presence there, which comforted me.

As this had been Margaret's First Holy Communion year, she had the privilege of marching in the Eucharistic Procession.

This year, I felt more than ever that taking six children to this massive, chaotic event is becoming less and less appealing. Chris and I took separate cars so he could get Margaret there on time, but I was still coming close behind to participate in the procession. I couldn't find parking and got caught in an entire hour of gridlock auto traffic within a block or two of the procession, so I missed seeing it all and then had to park our big van that fits in very few parking garages six-tenths of a mile away (far) and huff it in pushing my double stroller and with heavy baby on my back.

Praying a Hail Mary for every single petal she dropped

Source of photos below lifted from various people on Facebook.

Only photo of my kids that day

After the procession, we viewed the various stalls of items for sale for about an hour and a half, and then took the kids to lunch. Chris held his place in line in a standing-room-only pizzeria lacking air conditioning for an hour while I guarded the pack of kids in said crowded environment until a table became available. But then my two daughters needed to visit the restroom, yet I couldn't leave the table and the little ones, and Chris couldn't leave the line, so I let them go to the restroom (IN DOWNTOWN CHARLOTTE) as a pair . . . moments later (as I watched a homeless man walked down the same hallway as the bathrooms) gripped with anxiety about how stupid I had been. Then another child had an urgent bathroom need and a final child fell backwards in the chair, smacking his head on the cement floor (because my saying 12 times "don't tip your chair" was insufficient), so I (in my rising panic at the situation spiraling out of control) took all the littles to the potty and left just John to guard the table.

Notes for my future self next year:
1. Take one car to the Congress. Husband drives and parks! When I depart toward home early with the young ones, Chris can take an Uber car home.
2. Pack more snacks.
3. Go to lunch farther away from the Convention Center. (I could pack a lunch, but I think it's too much to carry given that I'm already pushing a 30-pound stroller with 80 pounds of children in it with a 25-pound toddler on my back, plus our backpack and various purchases we accumulate.)

(I know plenty of mom-friends who go during the afternoon, leaving their wee ones sleeping at home with Dad, but that doesn't work for us because Chris helps run the table with Latin Mass information. And we don't put our kids in the Kid Track, so that's out too.)

2. Surprise

Our 11-year-old surprised us by baking a coffee cake on Sunday morning, much welcome to us weary adults after the effort required for the Eucharistic Congress the day prior.

Speaking of Sunday, modeling is so powerful, for good or for ill. On Sunday mornings at breakfast, we are trying to read aloud the Mass readings of that day so as to better pay attention during Mass later. We pass the missal around and take turns reading aloud, with Daddy always reading the Gospel. Well, after Thomas (3) saw his siblings reading aloud . . .

. . . he leapt out of his seat, ran away to the den, and came back carrying another black missal from the shelf which he proceeded to "read" (note: the book is upside down). This is a reminder to me to try so hard to model positivity and holiness!

3. A Day in the Life of David: And a Milestone!

On Monday night, I attended a mandatory homeschool planning meeting at church, so David and I experienced the milestone of my leaving him home with Daddy for the first time at 13 months old: click here to read about a whole day in the life of David.

Margaret reading bedtime stories to the boys since I was gone

4. Sports

Tennis on Tuesday . . . Soccer on Wednesday . . . first day back at Scottish Dance on Thursday . . .

Warming up for class at the wall

Playing in the cemetery while siblings were in dance class

5. Scholastic Scenes

This week, Margaret (7) learned how to look up words in a dictionary during Grammar class. She fell in love with it and spent the rest of the week looking up words and telling her siblings their definitions.

Using the dictionary

In our new homeschool year, one of my favorite features is doing holy time with the little boys (3 and 5), and noticing that the 7-year-old often wants to join us: she has feet in both younger and older worlds (and is actually closer in age to Joseph than to big sister Mary) and I see that she likes her independent holy time and older catechetical materials, but she also very much likes joining the littles for coloring and stories.

Coloring Catholic pictures while I read aloud from the Bible and catechism

Thomas (3) coloring inside the lines

I've made it a goal to introduce more vocal music this year into our home. John has joined a boys' choir, and Mary will be auditioning for a girls' choir. Meanwhile, I'm playing songs and teaching lyrics to my younger children during our 8:00 gathering each morning.

Lining up cars

Teaching geography to the group

Geography at all age levels

John is trying out a new private work station, in our laundry room, of all places. I imagine I will have more to write later about his new middle school hybrid program, but for now I will say that both he and I are drowning in schoolwork (before we might be drowning in floods from Hurricane Florence!). Yet John has retained a cheerful attitude while doing school till ten at night!

After two and a half weeks of daily phonics lessons, Joseph (5-1/2) clicked with reading this week! Each day, I would teach him to blend, and he would not seem to be "getting" it. He's my fourth child I've taught to read, so I was accustomed to this phase and was patient with his seeming inability to blend anything on his own day after day. Then, halfway through this week, we sat down for phonics as usual and he simply GOT IT. He immediately blended each word on his first try "mmm-aaa-ddd . . . mad!" Ten words in a row, he blended and read on his first try!

Then he read his very first sentence, which I have found scares children at first. Three whole words in a row! It's too much! In fact, Joseph hid under the table when faced with a sentence to read, but then he did it and was so delighted.

The next morning at breakfast, Joseph realized that if he can read during his phonics lesson, he might be able to read elsewhere and at other times, so he read a word in a book: "unity"! That's three syllables, not one!

Then he read two more full sentences during our phonics lesson, and then during Quiet Time, he copied out the sentences on his own.

I'm just pleased as punch! We have a burgeoning reader!

Joseph drew a picture of "Dad had a ham."

6. Musical Moments

It is difficult to find peace or stillness in a bustling house with six children, so in good weather Mary often prefers to practice her violin on the front porch. I've had neighbors thank me for the free concerts.

Mary accompanying Margaret during practice

7. Miscellaneous

One night, Joseph woke up from a nightmare very scared and weeping. Margaret was so concerned that maybe he was sick that she ran to get the (ear) thermometer and checked him for a fever . . . those two are the best of friends or the worst of enemies, depending on the moment of the day.

David, 13 months this week, is climbing everything! He climbs atop the coffee table and stands on it. He climbs up onto a chair and then onto the kitchen table and stands on that. Below, he pushed a stool to where he wanted to reach a paper on my white board, then climbed atop the stool and stood on it. He reminds me of Mary when she began climbing daringly at 10 months old and never looked back.

Bonus Reading: "The Dangers of Fortnite and Other Video Games"--a 15-minute talk by Dr. Ray Guarendi. Coming across this was excellent timing given that I'm hearing much about kids playing Fortnite, even within our religious, homeschooling bubble. Our family listened to this talk and looked up still images of the video game to show and discuss with the children, and we parents privately watched some of the video game being played as well. Sidelined is the popular Minecraft, which we didn't allow either but at least which was basically about building things, replaced by Fortnite, which is all about hunting and killing zombie-like creatures. This game drew 125 million players within the first year of its release (source): that is more than one-third of the population of the entire United States.

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things arehonest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

A Day in the Life of David

This writing project sprung from brief insecurities that maybe my newly one-year-old baby has a bad life as the sixth child, everything such a hustle-bustle around him, him not receiving the devoted attention my first baby received. As I thought of this in the wee hours of the morning, I thought I should write down everything he does in a day, just to make sure I'm not neglecting him, and then I realized that could turn into an enjoyable creative writing project, so I did it.

Turns out, he doesn't have a bad life after all.

And he has not just a mom and dad doting on him, but five siblings too!

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and made babbling sounds until my Mama came to retrieve me. She often is up by 4:30 or 5:00, doing who knows what.

We went downstairs and I got to toddle around in the kitchen (and nurse with Mama three times!), except for when she locked me in my high chair so she could empty the dishwasher. I always wish she wouldn't do that so that I can climb into the dishwasher the way I like to do!

At 6:45, Mama carried me upstairs like usual so she can get dressed and she can keep an eye on all my big brothers and sisters getting dressed. Sometimes she has me play in my crib while she's dressing, but today John was available to play with me instead. I love that fun guy!

At 7:00, we all marched downstairs and Mama locked me in my highchair while she made breakfast for everyone. This is a pretty loud time of day and I eat food she puts on my tray (today, leftover French toast and sausage) and squawk at her to pick me up.

Someone finished breakfast early today, so I got to get out of my high chair and walk around with her, playing with anything I can lay my hands on, but sometimes it's really frustrating because I'm in my high chair almost a whole 45 minutes!

At 8:00, Mama gathered three of my siblings to the kitchen table for Holy Time, and I walked around investigating the entire downstairs. Mama says that every twelve seconds, she has to go close a baby gate that somebody left open, but I continue constantly checking to see if I can sneak through an open one. I love when I can crawl all the way to the top of the stairs without her!

By 8:55, I was really acting fussy at Mama and wanting to nurse, and Mama said it was right on time for my 9:00 nap. I don't know what "time" is, but she says I "know" it! She took me upstairs, nursed me in the dark, and lay me down for nap in my beloved crib. I slept through her guiding my sixth-grade brother with his assignments for the day and her first session of teaching Kindergarten.

Then she came to get me at 10:00. I want to keep sleeping for a couple of hours, but she says it messes up something called "her schedule." Anyway, I was happy to be put back in my high chair and eat sausage, carrot, and Cheerios while Mama read aloud History to my siblings.

From 10:30-11:00, I walked around in the sun room. I can play in there because I don't yet know how to open the door and escape into the back yard. My 3- and 5-year-old brothers built a fort and I liked creeping in and out of it while I could hear my mama in the kitchen teaching spelling to three kids, then handing out music theory assignments, and washing dishes in between.

At 11:00 on the dot, Mama swept in and took me up to the Bonus Room to play there under her supervision while she taught the last Kindergarten subjects to my brother Joseph and supervised my biggest brother doing his History--and even showed my 3-year-old brother how to trace letters in his laminated preschool book! Mama didn't sit down, but walked back and forth between doing phonics words and penmanship with one and teaching how to look things up in a big fat book called the Catechism of the Catholic Church with the other. (Okay, well, she did sit down twice because I was hungry to nurse.) I contented myself with walking about, pushing matchbox cars, and emptying a box of Kleenex. I'm not as busy as Mama, but I don't sit down either.

Just before noon, while kids went to go run off some energy, Mama brought me back to the kitchen and plunked me in my high chair while she prepared lunch. Then it got really loud because a bunch of fights broke out among various factions of my siblings and for 15 minutes, Mama was just dealing with discipline issues. I didn't mind though, because I was quietly sitting in my high chair snacking on oranges, crackers, and chicken while watching the whole affair. Kids stood in corners, someone got stuck in a bedroom, another kid had to run a block and come back. Excitement!

Then they all ate (and I just kept eating) in required silence (so they couldn't fight) while listening to an Old Time Radio show for kids (click here: https://www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com/kids) until 1:00 when my 11-year-old brother took me upstairs. He babysat me and let me creep about playing while he read for History and Mama tucked in my 3-year-old brother for nap time.

Mama nursed me and tucked me in by 1:30, and I just love a snuggle-down nap in my crib. I assume everyone else is napping too, but apparently Mary was doing piano practice, Margaret read History to Joseph and they had Quiet Time, Mama helped John with more schoolwork until he left for CCE, and then she spent an hour putting many items on our family calendar for the academic year.

I woke up on my own at 3:00, nearly on the dot, because I like to be punctual. All my siblings were just gathering for snack time, but I ended up feeling mortally offended because they were all eating popcorn and Mama wouldn't let me have any! Something about a choking hazard.

For an hour, I crept about and played in whatever room Mama was working in as she did housework till around 4:00. Then my sister Mary took me in a bedroom to play because Mama was mysteriously getting changed and putting on makeup so late in the afternoon. These were rumblings of the terrible deed to come, but I didn't know it yet and I just laughed and giggled at my sister's hilarious games with me.

At 5:00, I was plunked back in my high chair while Mama cooked dinner, but I didn't mind because I'd been walking around the house for two hours. I munched on chicken, green beans, and noodles.
Then everything changed and not for the better. Instead of our typical evening routine, there was rather an urgent flurrying and fluttering around 5:45 and then . . . well, then Mama was just gone.

I didn't even know a Mama could be gone.

At first, I thought she might just be in the other room, but this absence was going on far too long. Maybe she had vanished forever?

Finally, I was fussy for my seven o'clock bedtime and Mama still did not appear. My father--my own father!--put me to bed without me nursing with Mama first! The betrayal! On the very eve of my 13-month-birthday (but who's counting the days?), I had to fall asleep without Mama's special routine with me. Apparently my Daddy told Mama that I cried in the crib for five minutes while my big sister told my Mama it was really twenty minutes, but what does it matter? Nobody knows the depth of my pain.

In the end, Mama was home for my waking at nine, so I went three whole hours without getting to nurse. Thankfully, I plan to wake her up every hour or two all night for more nursing, and I hope she doesn't disappoint.

Friday, September 7, 2018

{SQT} Labor Day Weekend edition

1. Anniversary of Neil's Death

Last Friday, we visited Mom and Neil's grave on the first anniversary of Neil's passing: click here.

2. Buffalo, NY

Then for Labor Day Weekend, Chris spontaneously (with about 24 hours' notice) took the girls on a special Daddy-daughter trip to a mini-family reunion in Buffalo, NY: click here.

3. Gardening Project

Back at home, I had the four boys to myself and I chuckled that cooking for "only" four children and myself meant I had to purposefully scale down.

We did a big gardening project on own and it was successful: click here.

And John wasn't going to let us miss out on Daddy's Sunday morning French toast just because Dad wasn't there: John made it, and even patiently let his three-year-old brother assist.

Making French toast

4. Fishing

On Labor Day, I did still make us do our homeschool day, but I gave us a couple of hours' recess at the nearby pond to take the boys fishing.

4. Braces!

John had been counting down excitedly for six months till Wednesday when he got braces. It's a privilege to gain a wonderful bite and smile!

5. Soccer

This week marked the beginning of soccer at the YMCA for both John (U12) and Joseph (U6). We attended the first practice as a whole family, which was fun and bonding.

That night when I tucked Joseph into bed, he said, "Mama, tomorrow I want you to line up all the children and ask them what kind of Official Player they want to be when they grow up. [dramatic pause] I'm going to answer 'Soccer Player!'"

6. Scholastic Scenes

We are trying our first online classes this year, and the student trying them is our fourth grader! Mary is taking Literature monthly and Composition weekly online.

Pro tip: This year, I'm assigning Margaret to read aloud her independent History reading to Joseph (Kindergarten). Quadruple win: Margaret learns history, Joseph learns history, Margaret practices her reading aloud skills, and Mama can do yet another task.

I have to double- and triple-book all of my time to make homeschool work! Below, I had just finished our family exercise time (so I'm wearing exercise clothing), and I was teaching geography to the children during their snack time (with big sister Mary making food and serving everyone), while David napped.

Teaching IEW Fix-It Grammar to the girls

John started his middle school CCE program on Friday. I can't speak for him, but this is a big transition for this homeschooling mama! I've never handed off my child's education to anyone else, nor have I left him at a regular drop-off event (and this is two half-days per week). He had a great time, thought the first two teachers he met were nice, approachable, and excellent teachers, and, of course, his highlight was playing football with the fellas.

7. Miscellaneous Moments

Margaret lost two teeth and created an easier system with this device taped to her door than the Tooth Fairy extracting the teeth from beneath her pillow.

Thomas so loves this brown mousey which his sisters brought him home from Buffalo that he carries it everywhere.

David also is quite enamored with the butterfly finger puppet the girls gave him.

End-of-summer flowers . . .

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