Friday, May 26, 2017

{SQT} Boys' Week and Girls' Trip

This was the big week of the Girls' Road Trip to Pennsylvania (with Daddy) and Boys' Week at Home (with Mama)! See below if you missed those blog posts.

1. IHM Conference

This year, it appeared I would be too busy to attend the local homeschooling conference, but with a few hours' notice, Chris and I decided we could make it work for me to jaunt over there for enough time to listen to two wonderful speakers and to shop at the vendors' hall.

I took along Margaret (6) because doing so made it work better for Chris managing musical rehearsal and cooking dinner in my absence. She was a cutie, drew a lot of pictures, and generally enjoyed being my pal.

I had been throwing a bit of a pity party about not being able to go, but then I remembered last year when I ran into a homeschooling veteran friend of mine who had just graduated her first of ten from high-school. She hadn't been to a homeschooling conference since her children were little because her duties had become so many that it was a luxury she couldn't afford. I'm seeing that as the case in my life too, and I'm grateful that I started going to these conferences when my firstborn was an infant in arms. There may come a very many years when I can't be spared from the family and will have to rely on buying the CD of 30 or so talks from the national IHM conference to refresh and educate me. We all have our seasons.

2. Reward Family Day

Saturday was the long-awaited day to take the children for go-karting and miniature golf as a reward for three weeks of hard work.

Piano practice has been a topic of conversation on this blog: it has taken years and various tactics to get my oldest two (8 and 10) to be able to practice piano (and Mary violin as well) 45 minutes per day, following a list. The process has been a long combination of carrots and sticks. I think continual carrots (rewards) is undermining because the child learns only to do the work if he is rewarded. I think continual sticks (consequences) is sad because the child learns to resent and hate practicing.

Every so often, in order to instill a habit of virtue or in order to achieve a new level of hard work, I institute a time-limited reward system, and this I did to prepare for the Guild competition.

  • The two older children were asked to do their increased list of practice work daily without complaint, without long silences, and with true diligence, and they could be scored A, B, or C. 
  • Margaret (6), who has really been struggling to learn to practice piano, was asked to practice using a timer for 20 minutes and without complaining, and could score those same grades. 
  • Little Joseph (4) is not yet in lessons, so he worked on the virtue of getting dressed each morning, putting his pajamas in the drawer, and getting dressed in pajamas each night, and putting his daytime clothing in the dirty hamper, for which he could earn up to four check marks per day.

The various grades and check marks earned varying levels of money in order for the kids to earn their own money to visit the go-kart and mini golf park. All of this required charts and my paying attention, so you can see why I would keep up this system for only three weeks!

In the end, the plan worked. The two oldest children performed well at Guild, the next child has achieved the habit of practicing piano for 20 minutes and dropped the habit of the four-hour behavioral standoffs we were suffering through, and the littlest child has achieved the habit of dressing himself with confidence. Win-win-win!

3. Water Play

Thomas (21 months) has discovered water play in the kitchen sink. He will play there silently for an hour . . . and still throw a tantrum when I tell him he's all done because it's time for such-and-such.

This child loves to do water play. I'm using it to my advantage for now.

4. Reducing TV Again

Television consumption waxes and wanes in a large, homeschooling family, as we navigate through seasons of pregnancy, illness, and good times. For the last two weeks, I've reduced TV again by disallowing the kids six and older to watch TV in the mornings. The two littlest guys still watch TV while I exercise from 6:00 to 7:00, but the olders are left to their own devices: they may do their holy reading and prayer time, exercise, eat cold cereal, read a book, or generally hang out.

This is good and important because that one-hour block, in reality, turns into 90 minutes of TV to start every day . . . and then they watch more while I'm cooking dinner, and that ads up to a lot of detrimental screen time. The very first day without TV in the morning, it bore fruit with siblings I don't normally see playing together getting out a board game on their own initiative and playing together. Another day, a child woke up and prayed a decade of the Rosary . . . just because.

It's not all roses, and we are still adjusting. Pray for us!

5. Girls' Road Trip (with Daddy)

Click here to read about the Girls' Road Trip!

6. Boys' Week at Home (with Mama)

Click here to read about Boys' Week!

7. Bonus Reading

I appreciated this article, "Why Our Family Carries Forth the Homeschool Tradition" by the Seuffert Family, even though I don't use many Seton products. The article could have been titled, "The Benefits of Homeschooling."

  • Homeschooling allows parents to pass down their family's values, which could not otherwise be passed down with children in school all day. This is true of just about everybody, but in this case is from a Catholic perspective (and, yes, that means virtually all Catholic parochial schools do not pass on Catholic values very well).
  • Homeschooling allows a family to be more open to life than if parents were slave to the school system. I can only imagine how astonishingly hard it would be to remain at the beck and call of the school administration through repeated pregnancies, sickness (of pregnant mama or of various children), postpartum periods, just getting a large brood out the door and at school by 8:00. Starting our days at home is so much more peaceful and calm.
  • Homeschooling allows personalized education for all who need it, whether a child has dyslexia, is gifted (in one subject or many), or is bouncing off the walls with energy.
  • Having a schedule is very valuable for homeschool success. Especially for elementary aged students, it is hard for me to imagine success in homeschool without a schedule.
  • Grandparents can be an invaluable help to a homeschool. My personal friends can atest how often I lose heart and say, "Homeschooling is impossible!"

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum (with good ideas for how to celebrate Memorial Day in a more meaningful way than just a barbeque).

Boys' Week (with Mama)

Chris took the two girls on a road trip--subject of its own blog post, of course!--so I advertised the time for those of us at home as Boys' Week (counter-intuitively: with Mama). Our outings were grounded by a deluge of rain on Day 1 (with thunder, lightening, and enhanced tornado watches), and the fact that the toddler was sick on Days 2 and 3; and our at-home indulgences were limited because one of the kids had lost all screen time for three days (thus cancelling out some special family movies we were going to watch), We had to get creative!

What did John want to do as soon as the girls left the driveway? Bake bread! It's his new hobby and he's trying to do it once per week. We made beer bread this time.

Note to self: I cannot have beer bread in the house. Eat a loaf per day by myself? Easy.

Gorgeous, crunchy beer bread

The boys played so much with the Legos that John actually got bored with it. In probably six years with these toys, I've never seen him play Legos long enough to get bored.

We played card and board games together, with some creativity considering I didn't have another adult to occupy the littles.

We also did fix-it projects around the house! A ten-year-old boy is at an age to feel and truly be very useful.

We got out our generic Magic erasers--I highly recommend buying generic "melamine sponges"--and cleaned off wide swaths of dirty, defaced walls.

We did a bunch of pruning around the yard, repaired the kitchen sink when it broke (without even calling my husband for help!), and caught up on random little projects around the house. (Did you know if you just wait long enough ever to make returns of products to Amazon that you may no longer return them and the task is taken off your to-do list?) John also mowed his first neighborhood client's lawn for pay: it is an active goal of this young man to launch his lawn care business, and we are so very proud of him for this first step.

We hung curtain rods so the boys could have draperies in their room again after more than five years!

My dad is a jack-of-all-trades and highly accomplished fix-it man, and he raised me with a solid foundation of how to fix and build things using tools. I lived alone from age 17 to 28, and further developed my independence and confidence with tools. But in our 11 years of marriage, I haven't lifted a finger to use any tools, as that's just how our division of labor has worked out, and I've lost most of my confidence in what to do.

But determination combined with a solid foundation of teaching goes a long way! We got out the curtain rods waiting to be hung, read the directions, gathered all our tools, and set about going step by step.

The whole project took more than an hour, with two-thirds of that spent on the first window where we did make one mistake, but then we learned how to fix it.

For the first window, I did a step, then I'd have John do the next step, back and forth. For the second window, I had my ten-year-old boy do it in the entirety.

Preggo mama with her little helper

It was not all work and no play. At popular request, we got out John's official s'mores roaster and made that camping dessert.

It was Thomas' first time trying s'mores and he was overwhelmed by the sticky mess, so hardly ate anything (his lack of appetite perhaps also indicative of his getting sick for the following two days).

Meanwhile, Joseph (4) tried to pull a fast one on his Mama: He showed me his leftover graham crackers and said convincingly, "All I need is some more chocolate and marshmallows, and then I can finish these." Sorry, buddy, you ate all the insides first and that's all you get!

Girls' Road Trip (with Daddy)

Chris took the girls to Pennsylania for the meaningful and special Clothing Ceremony of Sr. G---- , the eldest daughter of our good friends. Sister has been living in this cloistered Carmelite convent for a year now, and the next step in her discernment process was her Clothing Ceremony.

Some areas of the country have access to and interaction with traditional nuns, but ours is not one of them. We wanted our girls to be able to see this vocation as a wonderful experience and a real option, so we invested in the trip. Lest you think we're nutso to travel so far, at last count there were 57 friends and family traveling from Charlotte to Pennsylvania to be there for Sr. G---- that day!

Complex packing list with separate day bags for the girls to use on Thursday

Chris and the girls made the eight-hour drive successfully on Wednesday. Once checked in to the hotel, Mary promptly completed our little travel ritual of her writing me a letter, Daddy taking a photo of it and emailing it to me, and then my emailing her back.

It hadn't occurred to me that Pennsylvania might be colder than our humid South, but apparently Thursday was a high of 65 and rainy, so Chris took the girls to buy a coat and sweater.

Ascension Thursday was a meaningful and very long day.

Early waking to drive nearly an hour to the convent for the 8:00 a.m. Mass and Clothing Ceremony. (No photos or video allowed in the cloister, so I have none to share.)

9:45 a.m. Coffee reception

10:00-11:30 a.m. Visiting with Sr. G---- and the Mother Superior

12:00 Catered lunch at the convent

After all the official events, most of the group of 57 folks headed over to Knoebels for an afternoon at the amusement park (necessitating a clothing change).

Mary in the first car
In case anyone who hasn't known Mary (8) since she was ten months old was unsure, she has now had the opportunity to ride real roller coasters and her daddy reports that she is absolutely fearless. Here is a video example of The Impulse ride, which she rode (escorted by some teenaged friends) and exited feeling absolutely exhilarated and on top of the world. Chris was willing to take her on the Flying Turns ride (click for video), which he said even he enjoyed. My 10- and 6-year-olds have a more cautious nature about these things, taking after their Mama. But even Chris doesn't like big roller coasters, so Mary stands alone in that.

Chris in the last car

Then the whole group met for a six o'clock dinner (necessitating another outfit change!) at a lovely restaurant for a dinner celebrating Sr. G----'s accomplishment, hosted by her family.

Bloomsburg town square

The gang made it back safe and sound after a 6:00 a.m. hotel departure and in the nick of time for the "Esther" musical rehearsal for which Mary did not have an excused absence.

Friday, May 19, 2017

{SQT} Popsicle Season

1. Wedding

On Saturday, we attended a traditional Latin Mass wedding and enjoyed visiting with old friends at the reception. I was chasing Thomas so much that the only photo I took was this cute moment of Thomas and his little baby-buddy Joseph sitting in a stroller together (for the brief moments when Thomas would still sit in a stroller).

2. Mother's Day

I enjoyed a lovely Mother's Day on Sunday (click here for more).

3. Cast Removal

Mary had her cast removed . . .

. . . and rushed home to try out her handwriting first thing with this love note to me.

We are delighting in her bustling about trying to wash dishes, and play her repertoire of piano and violin again. She's still restricted from climbing (e.g., trees, monkey bars) for three weeks--that's going to be tough for her!

4. Big Boy

When I don't get his early morning cereal poured fast enough, Thomas (21 months) tries to do it himself.

This week, Thomas mastered popping individual keys off of (various) computers and--even though he learned this word a month ago--the full and proper use of declaring "No!"

Right on time.

5. Popsicle Season

We are still chugging along with a full homeschool load, but it's also the season of fun musical rehearsals, lots of outdoor play time, blowing bubbles, eating afternoon Popsicles, and finding friendly snakes!

On Thursday, we allowed John to take off school to join the landscaping crew in spreading 150 bales of pine straw around our property (it's a Southern landscaping thing). This is one of John's favorite annual chores, and he worked for three hours straight, in the humid heat, declining even to come inside for lunch.

6. Modest Exercise Skirt

I share a modest exercise skirt I found for Mary from Kosher Casual.

When clothing five kids, I use a plethora of hand-me-downs and buy everything else at consignment and thrift stores that I can. However, for our daughters, there are some clothing items that are very difficult to find that meet our modesty preferences. This leads me sometimes to invest more money into single items to fill a specific need.

I've been buying uniform-style exercise skirts that are readily available at consignment stores at the start of each year (like this), but, even buying two sizes larger, they don't even reach the top of Mary's knees.

I found this exercise skirt at Kosher Casual, which caters to orthodox Jewish clientele, and Mary and I are so very pleased with it. It moves very comfortably, the cut is elegant, and it covers her knees without obstructing one Very Active Little Girl. For those seeking a similar product, I share this good find!

7. Bonus Reading

The Secret to Raising Honest, Obedient, and Holy Children by Dom Albam Baker (about Bl. Barbara Acarie)

Why Homeschool Moms Need a Sabbath Rest (and How to Get One) by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum (which today is a decidedly humorous story about taking five kids to the beach).

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

What a wonderful Mother's Day this one has been! I've been very much aware that I am in a season during which my Mother's Day are tangible events with little children running around, whispering loudly about their secret plans for me, toddlers and babies fighting for who gets to hug me most in the morning, and all manner of sweetness. During other seasons, I won't have all my babies close around me, or so physically clamoring to love on me. I am very grateful for it now.

In the morning, Chris sent me upstairs with chocolate-covered blueberries and my book to read in peace. Chris was downstairs making breakfast with all five kids helping: bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, and chocolate muffins.

EXCELLENT book--subject of a future blog post by me?

While getting dressed (again, by myself!), I listened to the latest IEW podcast, Episode #93: Mothers and Their Important Role in Education. What a delightful and encouraging episode, and one not just for homeschooling mothers, but all mothers dedicated to their children's educations.

In the podcast, Andrew Pudewa read aloud the below poem and I dare you to read it without moistened eyes, especially if you are a mother like me who has, with very few missed days, read aloud several book chapters per day to her children for ten years.

The Reading Mother
Strickland Gillilan 

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
"Blackbirds" stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings--
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be--
I had a Mother who read to me.

Definitely looking like a round earth mama

Finally summoned downstairs, I got to open my cards and pile of gifties, chosen by the little ones. My ten-year-old documented with the camera, which is why most of the pictures were of just my hands.

Mother's Day breakfast

After Mass, which was an unusually peaceful one spent with my four-year-old spent sleeping on my lap and my six-year-old holding my hand and putting her head on my shoulder, Chris took us to pizza.

We came home to watch "Swiss Family Robinson" (1960) and eat ice cream.

I leave you with an interesting read,  "A Tribute to Mothers" by Rev. John A. O’Brien (who is unknown to me), written in 1953: click here.

One excerpt particularly resonated with me: "When the child is born the mother begins to die—die for the new life dearer than her own, die in service for another, die in dreams of peaceful valleys she shall not enter, die upon battlefields whose shouts of victory she shall not hear."

It is a mystery that motherhood itself, reproduction of the future generations, involves so much spiritual death, but it is my experience that it does. It involves what St. Paul calls "death to self." Every time I thought there was no more death to self I could possibly do, I was proven quite wrong. Ten years into this vocation and I now realize that there are depths unfathomed to how much more death to self I have to do, but at least I can see progress. I rarely have reaction to little ones' night wakings anymore, and I wouldn't know what it means to sleep through the night. I have no expectation of actually participating in the Mass. I know that it is a rare thing when I sit still for more than a minute before I am needed by yet another little soul. Changing diapers doesn't even make me blink. But there is so much more spiritual death to come: death to my ego, death to my hopes and dreams, death to my plans. Thankfully, being crucified to Christ, so to speak, is the way to unifying oneself to God.

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)