Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflections and 9 Quick Takes - Things I Learned In A Year of Home school

Last summer I began working on home school preschool with Alex to test how we liked home school before Alex was school age.  The more I learned about home schooling and the teachings of the church, the more I realized that it is my Christian duty to take responsibility for my children's education.

"The fecundity of conjugal love cannot be reduced solely to the procreation of children, but must extend to their moral education and their spiritual formation. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute."29 The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.30"(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2221).

Some may argue that this statement does not mean the entirety of the children's education.  Or simply put, the intention is that parent's are to provide for their offspring's faith formation. I beg to differ.  One cannot mince the inherent duty to nurture one's young into reading, writing and arithmetic in a public venue and matters of the soul into another venue.  It matters that all be presented by the parent.

In the last year I have learned a lot.  I am sure that this endeavor to home school will be fraught with discovery for everyone involved.  Here are some of the best nuggets of wisdom I have gleaned in the last year:
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1. Lessons should be short and age appropriate.  If you sit down with your child and the material seems to be above him, break it down into shorter age appropriate components, or simply set it aside.

2. If the curriculum requires more cutting and pasting from mom than it does from the student, pitch said curriculum into the garbage. Or let the student cut it up and paste it.

3. In order to get a squirmy young'un to sit still during a reading lesson, sit on the sofa and put a blanket over his lap.  Suddenly, it's a cozy, snuggle with mom and voila he is still.

4. Do not worry if you did not finish everything.  There is always tomorrow.

5. When in doubt glitter glue it.

6. Life is home school as well. Every moment is a teaching moment.

7. Let the child's enthusiasm be your guide.

8. Celebrating the feasts are important lessons.  The traditions bring children to the transcendent; and expose children to aspects of life and death that would otherwise remain mysterious.

9.  Pray, pray, pray. Pray for your kids. Pray with your kids. Pray for yourself. Pray in thanksgiving. Pray to give glory. Pray.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Find Strength in Pain…But, I will Hold on Hope


My sister made a beautiful DVD about the Adam Towler Memorial Race commemorating the death of my brother.  She used "The Cave," by Mumford and Sons as the first soundtrack.  It's really quite moving.  I wish I could share the original movie, but some of the other songs she used have copyright issues.

Lately, I have been listening to this song over and over again.  I shed a few tears and say prayers.  This song really reminds me of who I am and where I came from.  I know to look at me and talk to me you would not think it, but I feel I have suffered in ways that drive a man to write a song like this.

Today, I am thinking about this song and my friends Taylor and Anne who are waiting to adopt a precious baby girl. But, it's complicated and tied up in courts.  So we all wait and pray.  And this post is all to say, "I will hold on hope!" As I imagine we all do.  If you have a moment, say a prayer for them all.  Pray God's will be done.  Pray comfort for all in whatever decision is made.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tricksie Little Hobbits

Annie has learned a couple new tricks.  Pretty much every time Annie sits down on a hard floor, she starts spinning around on her cute little hiney.  Sometimes she sings.

Annie also spends a majority of her days toddling around like this.  We are excited for her.  She looks ridiculous because her head is much bigger than the other kids and she can barely keep it balanced as she walks.

We had a bit of an unschool home school day.  I was not about having lessons today.  We just got creative.  These are all ideas from "The Preschoolers Busy Book."  Everyone played-Mommy, Alex, Kristiana and Annie.

This is the "Pirate Island" game.  One person is the pirate and everyone runs around crazy, from island to island (the pillows and blankets), running away from the pirate in order to not get tagged.  The carpet is the water.  Annie was a mermaid, since I knew she would not stay on the island.  We destroyed the living room for this game.  Score for the kids team.

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This game was followed by splashing.  The kids put on swim suits and got splashy with buckets of water in the backyard.  Then we did scribble pictures.  You make a scribble on a paper and then color in the spaces different colors.

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Then we read stories.  Alex helped me make pizza dough. And later I had Alex clean pennies with vinegar.  It was quite a day.  Some days just need to be unconventional.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Strawberry Stewardship

A lot of Catholic moms I know actively seek out how to be the best Catholic mom they can be.  They ask questions of more experienced Catholic moms what they do to build faith within the family--How to pray with children? How does one teach the tenants of the faith on the level of the children without dumbing it down?  We seek to know and execute the Holy day traditions in order to bring faith to life for the whole family.  As we Catholic moms know, being a Catholic mom means being a leader of faith and morals within the family. "3 By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." Prov. 24:3-4

I wish to talk a little about Catholic stewardship.  How does one teach stewardship to children and why?  Firstly, what is stewardship?  Simply put: It is the prudent management of something entrusted to one's care.  God made man the steward of the earth and all the things within in it.

Let us shrink this down a bit more.  For a Catholic mom and her children, stewardship may look more like everyday life.  We teach the children to care for their things--put their toys away and pick up their dirty clothes;  we teach them to not litter and pick up litter;  we teach them to turn off lights and not waste water, because as my son reminds, "We only have one earth."

But as the Catholic leader within the family, we must show stewardship by example.  We must turn off the lights, pick up litter, use reusable shopping bags and recycle and make prudent choices for our family.  We teach our kids that watching too much T.V. is not good for our minds and bodies.  We teach them how to nourish their bodies properly despite all their whining about the food on the table.  We teach them to share and give to those without.  Most importantly, we teach them to pray.  We teach them that prayer is care for their soul and their relationship with God.  In fact, one could argue that Catholic stewardship filters into every aspect of life.

What is strawberry stewardship?  My kids love strawberry milk.  Someone got into me about the dyes and so forth in manufactured strawberry syrup.  I was willing to overlook this so long as they drank their milk.  But, my kids drink an awful lot of strawberry milk and they could probably do with a few less additives in their lives.  This Catholic mom decided in order to take better care of my children's bodies I ought to make homemade strawberry syrup out of fresh organic strawberries.

I finally got around to making strawberry syrup last night.  It was delicious and beautiful.  I called the kids to the kitchen and sat them down for some fresh strawberry milk.  My son complained that he didn't like the seeds and pulp.  Okay, fair enough. I spent the next half hour straining the syrup.  I saved the pulp for ice cream topping.  Then I called him back to try pulp-less strawberry milk. Nope, yuck. It was too sweet with not enough strawberry flavor and it did not turn his milk bright pink.  You can't get that hyped up strawberry flavor and artificial color with homemade syrup.  Though, the rest of the family liked it.

I asked myself why I had spent all this time working on this syrup when it seemed to be a failure?  Why do I put a table cloth on the table when the kids just pull it off? Well, because of stewardship, of course.  Because it is good for my kids' mind, body and soul to drink, eat and partake of this world in all it's beauty and rightly understood.  That is the chief goal of a Catholic mom.  Because if we take proper care of our families' soul, mind, body and environment this will help us all achieve salvation.

By the way, I heard no complaints from my son about his strawberry milk as he sucked it down this morning. ;-)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Theotokos Bling

How's this for using "so much" glitter:

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The kids wanted to use the glitter glue we bought very badly.  So I came up with this little activity while they watched their morning cartoons.  I drew an image of Blessed Theotokos and photocopied it on our scanner.  I explained, after the Dormition, now that Blessed Theotokos is in Heaven she is Queen of Heaven and earth.  So we made construction paper crowns and blinged them with glitter glue--so much glitter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Number 1, Number 2 and Number 45

Kristiana has an announcement: "I go potty!"  She did it. She is a full time potty user now.  When we arrived home from our summer travels, I started putting Kristiana in training underwear. She wet them constantly for days and I kept taking her to the potty and explaining she needed try to put her business in the potty (in more graphic terms than appropriate to write about).

Then we discovered that there was a treat that she would do anything for, yogurt covered pretzels.  All I would have to do is say, "If you go sit on the potty and try I will give you one yogurt covered pretzel."  She acted like I was handing her hundred dollar bills.  After about five days she started repeating back to me,  "Don't wet un-ner wear. Go in potty."  She started to go to the potty and tell me it was time.  Every time she made herself go on demand I was amazed at her skill.  After months of taking her there and asking her to go and watching blank stares.  The simple skill of peeing on demand was, for me, an amazing thing to behold.

Then she started to hate the feeling of being wet.  It was from one day to the next that she mastered the number one part.  Then yesterday we managed an official number 2.   Now she is in big girl underwear.  I still cannot believe she did it.  She caught on and learned this skill we ease. Amazing.  Number 45 (or more) is how many times she has had success.

100 4999Congratulations sweet Kristiana. We are so proud of you.
(If you cannot tell from the picture, big brother is pretty proud of her too).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Toddling On A Mac

Oh boy, I have never been a Mac person before. But, on our anniversary date this year my husband and I found ourselves wondering into Best Buy. We played on the Macs for a little while and I asked him if he would get me an iPad 2. We have been toying with the idea ever since. Tonight he went out to buy me one, but when the salesman tried to sell him the Android instead of the iPad he took it as his sign to walk away from the tablets. He came home with the MacBook Pro. I was surprised. I really was not sure I wanted to go Mac. I was a little panicked when I discovered that I could not use Windows Live Write on it. But, I bought an app and here goes nothing--scratch that--everything. I am learning a whole new operating system and I feel like a child. I hope I can get up to speed quickly. Move my favorite files over quickly as well.  Say a prayer for me. I feel lost.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Back to School and Fly Games

I never really quit teaching Alex all together.  We love the structure of having lessons here and there.  We got behind when Annie was born any way.  I think Alex is ready to tackle kindergarten material.


Have you seen the new Target commercials advertising the Back to School sales?

Very cute and funny. I love the 2nd Grade Teacher commercial because she loves glitter. I don’t love glitter, but for some reason it does bring learning to life.  I bought some new school supplies for home school today. I bought a lot of glitter glue. “So much glitter.” It didn’t seem like so much at the time. I will have to start thinking up ways to use the glitter glue…


Catching Flies

imageWe have been struggling with out bursts from Alex lately.  We cannot seem to get him to understand how his attitude is disturbing and does not get him very far.  Then it came to me as I drifted off to sleep last night—a game based on the premise, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”  Otherwise known as, “Do unto others as you wish done to you.” 

I took yellow construction paper and divided it into 24 squares.  I wrote on 12 squares vinegar actions and 12 honey actions and cut those squares.  Then I folded orange and blue construction paper fan style and traced a couple of circles, cut them into 10 circles in each color.  I drew flies on the circles.  Then we turned all the squares face down.  I explained the meaning of the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”  Then we took turns turning over the squares.  I asked Alex with if it was honey or vinegar.  If it was honey, then we could put our fly circle on top.  When all the squares were turned over, the player with more tokens on honey actions wins.  I wrote on the action cards actions things like, “please,” “thank you,” smiling, hugging, sharing vs. hitting, kicking, yelling, taking toys, grumpy. 

For the rest of the day, when he showed a bad attitude I said, “Alex, that’s a vinegar attitude. Show me your honey.”  The funny thing is the rest of the day, I caught myself with vinegar attitudes too. So I had to correct myself and show my honey.  I guess I know where his attitude originated.  It is amazing how children end up teaching their parents.

Icon Writing with Kids–Dormition of Blessed Theotokos


Rightly, Easter is my favorite feast of the Church. But my next favorite is the Feast of the Dormition of Blessed Theotokos.  One may ask why the Dormition feast over Christmas?  Like Easter, resurrection of the body and going to Heaven is the great hope of the faithful.  There is so much Beauty in this feast.  The mother of our Church, who sacrificed much, showed us virtue in the Lord, unwavering faith, who continues to nurture us through her prayer, passed from the this earthly life to the promised life—it is the beautiful fruition of what God put in motion with her conception—Christmas is only the middle of the story.

The account of Blessed Theotokos falling asleep and being assumed body and soul into heaven is given to us by tradition.  Archangel Gabriel came to her and told her that her repose would be in three days later.  All the Apostles were mystically transported to her funeral, except for St. Thomas who was delayed.  St. Thomas arrived three days later after her repose and asked to see her entombed body.  But, when they rolled the stone away she was not there and there was a beautiful aroma.

In the icon we see all the apostles surrounding Mary “asleep” on her burial bed.  A candle is burning in the center to represent that her life still burns on in Heaven.  Christ from Heaven holds the soul of Mary, represented by an infant swaddled in white.  There is a seraph at the top.  St. Peter is incensing her body. I omitted some other saints like Heirotheus and Dionysius, who are responsible for handing down the Dormition tradition.  Also, I omitted the communion of saints.  I wanted to keep it simple for the kids.

Alex and Kristiana helped write this icon.  Alex was not too happy about Kristiana’s painting skills. To be honest, neither was I.  But, I told Alex that he needed to let her try so that she could learn and become better.  Alex became more patient with her as time went on.  We did our best.


These are our herbs from our garden that we had blessed at church. 
We blessed on Sunday, because the priest would be away at a mission on the feast.


Last year I began the tradition in our house to stuff our blessed herbs into crepes. 
I made garlic herb cream cheese this time.


Annie liked the crepes too.  At least she liked to grab fistfuls of crepe and fed it to the dog.


Have a blessed feast of the Dormition of Blessed Theotokos.  Remember our hope in resurrection of body and soul and the life to come.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of the Church, salvation and Blessed Theotokos Mother of our Church.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Autos and Airplanes

What a ham? I went to take a picture of Annie playing with the cars and she threw her hands up and smiled like this without my prompting.  I wanted to take this picture because Annie plays with the toy cars a lot.  I find this to be a very mature activity.  She even drives them around the house, which is such a relief to me, because she keeps herself entertained while get things done.


And now, a little flying!



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summer ‘Shroom Addiction


I went to the gym one day this summer and went to the first elliptical that had the TV turned on.  It was just easier to get started without messing with any buttons.  The TV was on the Food Network.  I thought, what a novel idea/bad idea.  Who watches the Food Network while working out?  I mean making yourself hungry while you workout seems to be the antithesis of what you would want.  But, I was short on time and did not want to waste time channel surfing. 

The show of the hour was Giada at Home.  She said that she was going to make her favorite salad that she fell in love with while she lived in Paris.  She went to a local cafĂ© and ate it every day.  The Parisians are notorious for their simple salads.  The salad looked as though it would be a great cool summer salad and my in-laws were on a mushroom kick, so I wanted to try it.  I made a few modifications and now I am addicted.  I can see how Giada could eat it every day of the week. Here is the salad recipe:

Summer ‘Shroom Salad

8 oz or more of white button mushrooms, sliced
3 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb White wine vinegar
2 Tb Extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
a big handful of fresh Italian parsley, minced
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Wash and slice mushrooms (do not use pre-sliced mushrooms-too thick and tough).  Put the mushrooms in a medium bowl. Add vinegar, lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper. Then mince parsely and add it to the bowl.  Finally add parmesan and toss the salad until every mushroom is coated in dressing.  Serve immediately.  The mushrooms will marinate and brown if you keep it over night, but they are still tasty.

Now go get addicted to ‘shrooms.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mommy On-call


Last night was one of those nights, in which one thing happens after another and I felt stretched a little thin.  It was not a bad night per se.  But the mommy job did not end.  After a long day, I usually relish the two to three hours after the kids go to bed and I get to relax and do something I want to do—read, watch TV, check email, paint, knit, play a game with my husband. 

Yesterday, I woke up and hit the ground running; started the laundry made breakfast for the kids; kept the laundry going; went to the grocery store; did home school lessons with Alex; more laundry; made dinner and so forth. 

Annie was really keyed up all day.  She has been a bit of a velcro baby lately.  All the traveling has left her insecure.  She did not nap all day. I was beginning to wonder how she was still awake.  But, while I made dinner at 5:30 p.m., I set her in her high chair with a snack.  She began to fuss and in mid exclamation she fell asleep.  I scooped her up and wiped her off and lay her in bed. We decided to picnic our dinner in the playroom, because Annie was sleeping in the room right next to the dining area and we did not want to wake her.

Alex had a really bad attitude all day.  He was really waering on us.  He was talking back and growling and hurting his sisters.  In short, he was plain ornery. We got so tired of his short temper that every time he lost it we took ten minutes off his bedtime. He ended up going to be an hour earlier. It’s funny though. He managed to stretch out the bedtime routine to his regular bedtime. (He was perfect today, because we played tough love the day before.  Daddy told him that we had given him too many second chances and that was going to change.)

The house was a disaster and the dinner dishes were not cleaned up.  We decided we did not want to wake the baby with the clanging of dishes and pans.  The dishes can always be done in the morning. As soon as we had all the kids in bed and we sat down to watch The Closer.  But, Annie woke up.  She has not been able to sleep well by herself  for the past month while we have been traveling.  She cries and cries for hours, and rocks herself back and forth if I do not sleep with her.  I am sure she will get over this as soon as she settles in.  I decided to lay on the sofa, cradle my baby and watch my TV show.  Then I went to bed.

An hour after I went to bed, Andrew came running into the bedroom. “Renee, Renee, wake up. It’s an emergency! Where is Alex’s inhaler? He can’t breathe.”  It was an asthma attack.  I told him where it was, but I knew that was not going to work.  So I came rushing to the cupboard to pull out the nebulizer and medicine.  He really could not breath. I picked him up, sat him on my lap and put my hand on his chest and told him to calm down and breath in the medicine.  He was very panicked.  I could really feel with my hand on his chest that his lungs were straining and he was not getting much air.  But after only a few breaths of medicine I could feel him relax a bit and by the end of the treatment, he was breathing normally again and went back to bed.  It was a scary moment. Then I went back to Annie, who was crying.

Yesterday, was a long day of Mommy on-call.  From the moment, I wake up in the morning until the kids go to bed are night, I am on-call.  I usually get a few hours off in the evening and then the baby wakes up and I am hers for the rest of the night with all the nursing, tossing and turning that goes with it.  Last night, I was simply on-duty non-stop, which I guess did not end until now when I sat down to work on this blog. 

Parenthood is a very beautiful thing.  It is full of hope and wonder.  Parenthood is my legacy in this world.  I would not do it if it were not rewarding, if there were not love to bind us, if it did not give me the finest sense of purpose and the feeling that my work brings good to the world.  The last few notions is a very romantic vision of parenthood.  But these are the thoughts I hold in my heart as I scrub the feces from the bathtub toys after this evening’s bathtime pooping incident.  I guess for tonight and always, I am Mommy On-call.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Icon Writing with Kids - Transfiguration



Matthew 17:1-7

Well, as our priest said, it’s not just the day that Jesus went up the mountain and His clothes got all sparkly.  It’s the day that the disciples learn from God the Father that Jesus is Christ.  This is meant to fill the disciples with hope in salvation and not despair in Christ’s sacrifice.