Monday, July 16, 2018

Thomas' 3rd Birthday: Part 1

Thomas Vincent turns three this week! Happy Birthday!

Our darling Thomas is still a treasure trove of joy, having not yet begun showing defiance very much, so I'm enjoying this time. He has been potty trained day and night and sleeping in a big boy bed for six months. He is a sturdy boy of about 35 pounds and climbs anything and everything, his latest specialty being climbing at least ten feet up in our trees numerous times per day. He glides about at high speeds on his Strider bike and I think will be riding a pedal bike within about six months (I highly recommend Striders!). Thomas' speech is still delayed, but I mostly see the big picture of how he went from saying about five words--really most of them sounds, like 'meow' for cat--twelve months ago to now narrating everything in his day. However, he is still markedly delayed, which I notice only when we're around other three-year-olds talking to me so clearly. Thomas still has his pronouns all mixed-up, but one day I will miss his quaint habit of saying "Me climbed up rock!"

When we go on our early morning walks--with Thomas in his pajamas to save me time!--we pass this special rock, onto which all the children can climb themselves except for Thomas, who always needed a boost. The week before turning three, Thomas was able to climb up by himself and he felt jubilant.

In that same week, he spontaneously drew his first stick figure, whom he told us is Fireman Sam. For any fellow rock dwellers like myself, I will share that Fireman Sam is a children's show that has been running in one form or another for 31 years and which we discovered perhaps six months ago. All our children enjoy this wholesome show--really, my only criticism is the female firefighter because I really am that square--and Thomas is a fan par excellence. He plays Fireman Sam all day, has elaborate imaginative adventures, and rescues Penny, Norman, and any other characters in dire straights. The Fireman Sam theme song is basically the background music to our lives these days due to Thomas singing it. Thus, I did a theme birthday celebration, which I've never done before.

In the morning, Thomas helped me bake his cake. I used a mix, which is more 'homemade' than my typical purchased cakes.

Chris' parents came for a visit and we went to Five Guys for dinner.

Then we bustled home for cake and gifts. Below is my creation, with which I was delighted, even though it is not anything close to the cake masterpieces I see made by my friends. I had purchased Fireman Sam figures, which served as cake toppers but are true sturdy toys, not throw-away things. Yes, I really should have put one of our matchbox firetrucks on the cake.

I adore birthdays of three-year-olds because they really can hardly believe all this attention is for them. I had forgotten to be preparing Thomas for his upcoming birthday, so on the morning I knew his grandparents were arriving to celebrate (which was not his actual birthday), I realized my oversight and began telling him all about turning three. He was astonished!

Thomas' siblings had made him cards of colored-in Fireman Sam sheets, and one sibling made him an elaborate stand-up firetruck out of construction paper.

Mary replaced his copy of "Blue Ribbon Puppies," which is a book Thomas loved to death when he was two.

Grandpa gave him a Fireman Sam backpack . . . and you know how three-year-olds love having their own packs! (He has slept with it, and then come downstairs wearing it in the mornings for 48 hours.)

We gave him a junior set of fire truck Legos, and Thomas proceeded to carry around the carry case the rest of the evening, even opening his other gifts one-handed, and then tucking the case into bed with himself.

His godparents gave him a beautiful rain slicker (not a flimsy costume) designed as a fireman's jacket which--you can guess-Thomas wore till bedtime and then laid it on his bed while he slept.

His grandparents gave him a riding toy, which is going to be grand fun on the driveway.

Reading his old-new book to him

We have a special play date scheduled for Thomas' actual birthday later in the week, which I hope to share in Thomas' 3rd Birthday: Part 2.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

{SQT} Getting Back to Regular Summer Routine

1. Sanctification at the Pool

I was at the poolside last Saturday, and with David contentedly in his stroller for the time being, I could actually read a book. I was struck by the below passage and thought about a meditation not for the first time.

I spend too much time thinking about the future and how it will be easier (and more sad for me) when all the children are out of the house. But then it strikes me: Any spiritual progress I have made has been due to being crushed like grapes into wine by my duties at home, so what will happen when my duties lesson to nearly nothing? The only thing that keeps me off of the computer and social media for hours every day is that I don't have that much free time and I know it sets a terrible example for my children. The only thing getting me to grit my teeth and refrain from yelling (when I manage to refrain) is that I know it is so damaging for my children's emotions and souls. I could go on and on with examples.

God knows I am a weak and fragile vessel, apparently, and sends me these many "interruptions" (which are really the actual entire purpose of my day) to help form my soul. Will I develop enough inner fortitude by the time they are gone to retain whatever sanctification I will have developed?

2. Big Helpers

I relied so much on my children helping me with my other children during Chris' long absence at camp.

Putting my preschooler in bed with a sibling helps keep him asleep all night

Entertaining the baby

Margaret reading to Joseph while I lay the baby down for the night

Click here to read about my helpers in the kitchen these days.

3. Home from Camp!

My boy and my husband came home from camp! Click here to read of John's adventures!

4. David James Turns 11 Months Old!

Click here to see this month's highlights!

5. On My Kitchen Table Currently

For the CCE Middle School program, it was recommended we buy Education in Virtue cards (sets 1 and 2) to help the students study examples or opportunities for virtue in the 24 historical fiction books they will read. It turns out these cards are so inspiring that I've moved them from John's desk straight to our kitchen table, and we are enjoying reading aloud and discussing one at dinner most nights.

Each card names a virtue and defines it, shows a saint who exemplified it, gives a prayer asking for the virtue, and cites Scripture for further reading.

These cards have led to fantastic discussions at our table! (And anything is better than bickering or guffawing at food misbehavior, right?)

6. The Brown Scapular

Given that the feast of Our Lady of Carmel is this coming Monday, I got out our three books on the brown scapular, put out an enticing snack for the children, and led a read-aloud and discussion. I try to review teachings about the brown scapular about once a year. The conversation was animated and fruitful among all the ages, and our five-year-old is now determined to wear a brown scapular: I ordered him one and he's been asking me since, "Has it arrived yet?"

7. Miscellaneous

We just noticed, a year late, that the composer of Chaplin's Cane, Phil Hamm himself, complimented John on his playing the piece, as posted to YouTube. Congrats, John! Praise well earned.

Deep Roots at Home offers a useful list of audio books for the car: click here. I wouldn't use all of them, but there were some gems on here that I added to our Amazon wish list. We bought many audio books maybe five years ago but we haven't in a number of years and I feel we could use a refresh these days.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Cooking Dinner These Days

I have come to realize that I truly cannot get dinner on the table without a bunch of helpers anymore.

I remember enough years ago that I had only young tots that a more experienced mother lamented, "Everyone thinks I have it easier in the kitchen now because I have older kids now, but I still have to cook for eight people three times a day!" At the time, I didn't quite get it because I echoed in my mind, "Yeah, but you've got helpers, so it's got to be easy!"

Each phase of cooking dinner for a family is a different kind of challenge. 

For so long, I had only "littles," and I was utterly exhausted by dinner time, so it was easier to let the TV babysit and give myself that hour in the kitchen in peace and quiet.

Right now, my challenge is from having a big bunch of ages (needs). There are still a baby and toddler who needs supervising, there are still children who will fight if left to their own devices, and now there are older children who could be helpful, who need to learn how to cook competently, and also who could fight if left to their own devices.

Five-year-old can cook his own eggs except for lighting the gas range

Lately during the dinner hour, I am finding myself newly overwhelmed and cooking my simple meals is taking unreasonably long, so I thought about what I needed and I've been making it happen.

I show up in the kitchen around 4:00 for a 5:30 dinner. You'd think I could prepare something gourmet in that amount of time, but this is just for something simple like Taco Night or Spaghetti Feed.

Step 1. Send all the kids doing their two afternoon chores to pick up the house. In addition, my five-year-old should empty the clean dishwasher, if all goes according to plan, and I'm bustling around the kitchen picking up from the day, or nursing the baby so he will last more contentedly while I cook.

Step 2. Assign my Three Big Helpers for the evening--not one, not two, but three. (This is what is new for me.)

One child is my sous-chef for the evening. I might pick the child because he is cooking one of the dishes he knows how to cook for that night, or just because I want some time with that child.

One child is the dedicated babysitter of the 11-month-old, and no other kids should play in the room they are in.

One child is in charge of setting the table, a chore which also involves clearing any last school supplies or detritus from the table.

That leaves the (almost) 3- and 5-year-olds, and I'm still very willing to pop them in front of the television as an electronic babysitter. (I discovered a few years ago that I really do have the authority to allow the little tykes to sit before the television and disallow the older kids . . . even if they have no chores to do "just because it rots your brain and you are capable of entertaining yourself or reading a book." Yes, many tears ensue, and that develops character.)

Step 3. Cook the meal. Impart lots of cooking instruction to my sous-chef.

Step 4. After the meal, they all have their assigned clean-up chores--if everything goes according to plan! (Which it did not on Taco Tuesday, when, after dinner, Dad and two kids left on a special bike ride, and the two oldest left on a separate bike ride, and I was left with a huge mess, so I just decided to blog instead.) We are still at the stage where I must remain in the kitchen 'directing traffic' for the entire clean-up, or it will not happen.

Who knows what future cooking challenges lie ahead, but for now I'm tackling this one.

Nachos for the family

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

David Is 11 Months Old

David James is 11 months old today! Having entirely missed his 10-month photos, I'm not missing today.

Our little guy weighs almost 22 pounds--making him one of our smaller babies, noting that his next brother up weighed four pounds more than him at this age--but he does sport a 99th percentile head.

He is saying "Mama!" with great purpose, which I think is earlier than my other babies, who babbled it for a long time before saying it intentionally. Also, this week, he has begun growling purposefully to make us laugh.

David began standing for a second and even took his first step (more than once) on July 4th. Within a week, I saw him standing for five seconds in a row. Will he be walking by one year old?

He still isn't actually consuming any solids--remaining exclusively breastfed--but he's making good strides in feeding therapy with Miss Jenn. David squawks at meal times until I serve him and he loves to put food in his own mouth--not allowing himself be fed by spoon or hand--and enjoys textures and flavors. He is starting to move his tongue around with more dexterity, so he moves the bolus of food all around and then deftly pushes it right back out of his mouth. He'll get there yet!

He takes two naps, still solidly at 9:00 and 1:00, but his morning nap is shifting later and being shortened in order to protect the 1:00 nap (because if Mama doesn't have the baby and preschooler napping simultaneously, she might crack up).

David still hasn't really been apart from Mama, although I do sometimes leave him napping at home with Daddy while I dash to the grocery store. But Baby doesn't know I'm gone!

He's so precious to us!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Montfort Boys' Camp 2018


John had the most wonderful and fruitful time at Montfort Boys' Camp this summer, his second time there. His dad went along to New Hampshire to volunteer at camp in the kitchen and as a General Dad Helper--which once involved making habitats for the eight-year-olds who had caught some rust-colored newts!


This year, my heart wasn't in the pit of my stomach all week, both because it was not the first time I'd been apart from my firstborn for such duration, and also because Chris had cell coverage this year! Last summer, I anticipated getting through the lonely week by receiving many text and photo updates of my boy, so was disappointed to discover--through silence--that Chris had virtually no cell coverage. But this year, he happened to have switched his phone and company, and that meant he had good coverage up at camp: yay for Mama!

77 boys, 8 dads, 9 brothers this year

From the website:
Montfort Boys Camp takes its name and spirit from the great Marian apostle, Saint Louis de Montfort. Under the direction of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Brothers, Montfort Boys Camp provides one week of wholesome outdoor activity for young men in a traditional Catholic environment.
At Montfort, the Faith comes first. As an extension of the Brothers’ apostolic efforts, the daily schedule fosters a deeper appreciation of the spiritual life through morning and evening prayers, the Latin Tridentine Mass and the Holy Rosary. The program also includes faith-building religious instruction and an emphasis on the importance of virtue and discipline. 
The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Brothers have directed Montfort Boys Camp for over 20 years. The Brothers live a life of True Devotion to Mary in the Spirit of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, and extend their apostolate to young men each summer during a wholesome week of physical and spiritual activity at Montfort Boys Camp. 
Campers participate in the following activities…
Daily religious instruction • Latin Tridentine Mass • Camping in 8-man cabins • Daily inspections • Sailboating • Hiking • Swimming • Arts and Crafts • Canoeing • Boxing • Fishing • Archery • Sports • Campfires • Achievement & Good Conduct Awards • Guest speakers …and more!

The days at camp are structured with numerous anchor points, such as starting every day with Mass and jogging, the various meals, the mid-day prayers, and the evening catechism around a campfire. In between structured events is a lot of free time during which the boys--77 of them, this year--run around in freedom, spending time at the various stations manned by Brothers and volunteering fathers. John seems to be most passionate about fishing and shooting, and this year discovered the satisfaction of woodworking. He made his mother a small Marian shrine (which she treasures), and made himself a large shrine he intends to hang on the wall by his bed so he has a shelf for religious objects and hooks for hanging rosaries.

Daily Mass

John also bought gifts for his siblings with his own money: treasured rubber lizards for his two littlest brothers, and beautiful rosary purses for his younger sisters. And Chris brought me a book about the "Apostle of the Rocky Mountains"!

The cabin John ended up in was full of good fellow 11-year-olds. They developed a routine of going to bed right away (lights out was between 10:30 and 11:00 after they wear these kids out with routine and recreation), and then choosing to wake up at 5:30 in order to play cards or other games before 7:00 Mass. John organized this daily recreation, dubbed Morning Game Time, and it sounds like the boys really appreciated it.

The shrine John built for his mother

John developed a poison ivy rash mid-way through the week, but it turns out he did not encounter the enemy plant at camp. Instead, he touched the plant the Saturday prior when he and friends went to a dairy in Massachusetts for ice cream and there were tearing up and feeding poison ivy to the friendly local goats. Most of the kids in our friends' family, as well as John, developed the terrible rash. Let's just say I thank God for the modern medicine of internal prednisone!

Daily catechism

Now I'm up to my eyeballs, so to speak--please, don't let me catch poison ivy on my eyeballs--in laundering and cleaning everything that came  home from camp. I had no prior experience with poison ivy, so have learned that the rash can take up to three days to develop and, in the meanwhile, the ignorant victim is touching everything and spreading the persistent oil. By the time the rash develops, it is too late and the oil has been spread over all his belongings. Poison ivy oil can last on clothing and fabric for up to two years, still potent enough to cause the rash. (The rash itself is not contagious.)

When the fellows arrived home, I had them leave all their belongings in the garage and I'm going through it today according to the best directions I can find, while garbed in long sleeves, long skirt, long leggings, and wearing disposable gloves.

I'll know in about three days if I've gotten through this process without developing the rash myself!

Back at Montfort . . . there were too few acts for a Talent Show this year--so disappointing out of 77 boys!--so the Brothers organized instead a Montfort's Got Talent night, in which kids just got up and entertained the others, without judging and prizes. John had been acting in a play, written by one of the Brothers, all week, but, for a reason unknown, it got cancelled, so he played piano instead. Still, he got the enjoyment of acting, which is right up his alley, in a holy but fun production!

Practicing on the piano one night

Fellow moms, let me encourage you: our children are listening! This is for good or for ill, depending on what we parents are saying and showing by example, but in this case: good! I think this particular child is not listening to me with my schedules and routines, charts and lists. Yet, while he traveled, he did such things as make a Shoe Area at the home he stayed at last Saturday--my family knows that when we show up at a hotel, the first words out of my mouth are, "This is the shoe area! Put all your shoes here!" He got to his cabin and made a welcome sign for fellow boys, "Welcome to MBC" (Montfort Boys' Camp). And, my favorite, he made a schedule for daily cleaning duties for himself and his cabin mates, to be completed before daily inspection by the brothers. Be still, my mother's heart!

The cleaning schedule made by my son!

Having my husband and oldest helper gone for 11 days was a real sacrifice--but, hey, at least I wasn't eight months pregnant like last year!--and I would wonder at times if this were really worthy any character development and holy growth in John. I can say yes. I am hearing so many stories from both John and his Dad about events that happened that make my mother's heart soar as I can see the lessons we've been imparting for years starting to bear fruit in new, more mature ways. I wish I could share such stories, to give encouragement to mothers along the path, but it feels to me that sharing stories of my son evangelizing, or making the right choice in adversity, or resisting bad peer pressure, or reaching out to another child, or admonishing a sinner in a gentle, loving way, or bringing the light of Christ to someone is somehow more private than, say, sharing a piano video of his playing. Yet, it is these character developments that are the best and more important accomplishments, more so than a name appearing in lights or a prize earned.

Now I'm getting to enjoy my son talking my ear off at every opportunity, telling me stories, adventures, and starting to ask questions as he is being exposed in slow and safe ways to other ways of life outside of our bubble. I love listening to him!

Volunteer dads