Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Resurrection Joy!! Easter highlights 2014

Happy Easter!!
Oh, the JOY of the Resurrection!!

I have really enjoyed reading so many of your Easter stories (ye who blog) and seeing fun photos of your family all dapper and grinning from ear to ear.  I've also been greatly consoled knowing I'm not the only mama out there who devoured a ghastly amount of chocolate on Sunday.  The feeling of solidarity is much appreciated!! I love you for that!!

I cannot explain just how much I treasure Easter morning, the beginning of a new day, a day when we rise up out of the trenches of Lent, out of our scars and bruising, out of our sorrows and tears, (out of the depths of chocolate deprivation, no??) allowing the glory of Christ's Resurrection to envelope us, to transform us into something brilliant, something more alive, happy and beautiful!  Gloria Deo!!

My alarm chimed early Sunday morning, and for the first time in months, I was happy to rise in eager anticipation of the day. Tiptoeing around the house, there was just enough time for me to assemble breakfast (Pioneer Woman's baked french toast prepped the night before was baked up all yummy - yummy with a side of bacon yummy), and touch up the boys' duds with a sweep of the iron before they came rambling up the stairs.

Is to day the day we've been waiting for?? Is today finally Easter?? Henry questions.
YES!! I proclaim with a ha-uge smile!
He hugs me, hugs the baby and says, This is going to be a great day, Mama!!

The rush-around begins.  Steve cranks up some of our favorite praise songs and an energy of anticipation bubbles over in forms of laughter, teasing and squirming into ties and sport coats. While I pull myself together, the boys saunter in and out of the bathroom, waiting for my thumbs up approval of their ensembles.  I always tell them they look very handsome, just like their dad. Bending down to straighten ties and paste down wild hairs, I see their boyhood wild all scrubbed up fresh, and my heart is pressed with joy.


Everyone always complains about never getting a good family photo at the holidays, but really, my favorite ones are the un-posed and imperfect, so much so, that I wonder why I ever even shout, "Okay, get together, straighten up, stop picking, look heeeeere and smile!"

This is living proof that all of the men in our family ignore pretty much everything I say unless I'm holding a plate of food under their nose or am in labor, and even then.....well, we'll see.
Since there's an overflow of dressy attire from holidays past in the boys' closets, I decided to recycle this year and pull from the stash of old favorites.  With the exception of Charlie, because every baby needs something sweet and newish to wear for Easter, everyone managed to find something that they were content to wear. 
Thank you, Granny, for my new duds.  My mama says I look very handsome!!

At Mass, families poured into the pews, and I couldn't help but steal away from the cross for just a moment to catch a glimpse of all the pastel ruffles, shiny shoes and hair bedecked with braids and bows marching in. Sweetness surrounded me!

I love our parish.  There are so many wonderful families there, families with lots of little ones like ours, who squirm and squeal and bang their heads on the pew during mass. We never feel alone! Steve and I have received so much support and encouragement throughout this pregnancy from all of the moms and dads, especially those of "big" families, who share in our experience.

During the ordinary days of the week, as I weather the typical comments about family size, the sideways disconcerted glances from strangers as my outstretched belly bounces along behind five boys, and the questions concerning whether the life inside of me was a choice or not (surely not, surely that baby is a surprise, because six? Really? Who wants six, let alone 2 or 3 or 4??), it's easy for me to feel alone on the motherhood journey, except on Sundays.  On Sunday my spirit is renewed, thanks to the dear people of our parish who have nothing but excitement to offer.  They are the best support group ever!

Sometimes, I'm tempted to think that people feel the need to ask the list of tactless questions, because being given an answer will help justify the preconceived definition they've already assigned to me, my family, my life.  We live in a society of definitions.  People must be labeled, coded, defined in order for us to know what and how to think of them.  As a mom I sense deeply this disordered habit of labeling and it doesn't sit well with me. 

Which category do you and I fall into?  There's supermom moms, the Martha Stewart moms, overachieving moms and underachieving moms, moms who have traded their careers for diaper duty and story time, mom's who only know how to have babies or moms who are too selfish or broken to have babies.  There's the spoilers who give too much and the selfish ones who don't give enough.  At the end of the day it often feels like too many in this world want to know which one you are, not caring who you are, so that they can slap a label over your heart and call it good.

Jesus never labeled.  He never categorized.  He doesn't now, and he never will.  He calls us only by name, a name that is precious to Him.

Isn't that good news?

More than that, He longs to free us from the old stubborn habit of categorizing our neighbor and instead, give us eyes that see others from a place of real, disinterested love. 
The kind of love that said yes to death in exchange for life, love that hung on the cross by choice - not by circumstance or force. Love that knows nothing for itself, but longs to be everything to and for everyone else.

That's what I'm treasuring this Easter.

I suppose that it is hoping in that very Love that compels one's heart and will to see love multiplied.  For us, the multiplication of love is in family life.  I never thought I would be the mother of six children! But, love can free us from the fear of being stretched by the power of grace in ways we could never imagine.  When we freely choose to live our lives...to give our lives, to make choices and to act every day, as Christ has shown us - from that grace-filled font of pure, disinterested love - the fruits of choosing give of ourselves overflows into our own souls, and into the lives of others in an abundance of inexpressible joy. It's the mystery: in giving we receive!

Christ didn't just conquer sin and capture salvation for all of us by the cross, He won for us the opportunity to be conquerors as well, and to share in His freedom to love as He loves, unlabeled, and undefined. We see one another first and foremost (and desire to be known by others) as children of the King of Love.

Whoops! Didn't mean to pontificate there....!


Shall we par-tay talk instead, yes??
After Mass, we all headed over to Steve's parents for the festivities.  We were spoiled with an incredible meal and delicious wine all served at the most beautiful table set with linens, china and flowers.  Hospitality x 1000!!

And, dessert.  Dessert is really the main course of any holiday, right? See the nest down there? I was head of quality control when it came to the eggs.  Approximately 3/4 of the bag failed to meet Easter cake standards (it was one cracked shell after another) and had to be consumed. By me.  {Visualize cheerleading jump here.}
Since our family fasted from desserts during Lent, the boys requested that I bake something sweet for Easter.  A couple of years ago, I started the tradition of making a special Easter cake, and this year, I found a really beautiful recipe on Pinterest.  It's probably not the best idea to select an overly ambitious project for any holiday, say a picture-perfect confection made by a professional baker...but ya know I've always been a bit delusional when it comes to culinary possibilities in my kitchen.  Many of my attempts at pin-worthy creations end up being eaten by the trash can or substituted with Little Debbie's and ice-cream, but this one, this one is being chalked up as an Easter miracle (cue the angels).

Speaking of sweets, just before lunch, we suddenly realized that Charlie was no where to be found.  And, that's because the had struck gold.  Overwhelmed with delight, Moby was rendered mute with joy...I mean chocolate...by his delectable findings....

Catching him in the action was the best part of our afternoon.  We laughed ourselves to tears!

Steve's mom had stashed away a sack of candy for a scavenger hunt later that afternoon.  By the time we narrowed in on Charlie's location, it was too late, the giant chocolate bunny was already decapitated.  Doesn't he look so innocent?? It's okay, Moby, mama loves a little chocolate appetizer once in a while too.  The stealthful silence, may also be my special contribution to your genetic code, but I don't want to brag about it.
After lunch, the children gathered around the table for a little Christ-centered activity that Steve's mom had prepared, called Resurrection Eggs.  I highly recommend it! Each egg contains an object that is symbolic of an even that took place during Christ's journey to Calvary and leading up to the resurrection.  Included in the kit is a booklet with special readings for families to ponder and discuss.

While rain was in the forecast, the clouds kept the sprinkles contained, and we were all able to enjoy the afternoon hours outside, first with a scavenger hunt prepared by Steve's mom...
She left giant Easter eggs hidden around the yard, and each egg contained clues that the kids had to piece together in order to discover the final prize.  The letters spelled out, FAMILY FUN AT THE ZOO! Bob and Kathy then gave each family tickets to the local zoo as a gift.  Wahoo!! We can't wait to go!
Guess who found the most eggs at the egg hung?? 
Me, a hoarder? I think that's a little harsh. I prefer collector, yeah I'm a collector.

And while the kiddos collected eggs, the adults broke out the golf clubs for a little putting around the back yard.

I have a little abdominal impediment that makes swinging a golf club a sheer impossibility (not to mention that it just looks like that type of strenuous activity might send me into labor), so I took up spectating, with my feet up and my (water) koozie close.  Actually, I'm not a big fan of golf, but had fun watching Steve give his sister, Jen, a few lessons.

Henry discovered that smacking the grass in giant swaths is the most fun thing you can do with a club, and that kept him entertained for a while....
Until he got tired and collapsed into the grass for a little rest before walking the grueling 29 yards back to the house.
What a blessing to share and enjoy such a beautiful day with family!

I hope your day was filled with sweet memories, too!














































Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rose Returns From the Farm!! And, The Hope For Things to Come...

Last week, during a normal school day out in our classroom, the boys and I received a wonderful surprise.  Steve brought our golden retriever, Rose, back from his parents' farm!  When we moved last fall, we decided to keep her back at the farm until we had acquired enough acreage to build our own homestead on, a place where she would have room to roam. 
Needless to say, we were all bursting with delight!! The boys bailed out of their studies, running all smiles outside to reconnect with their long lost friend.  She was the happiest dog on the planet...until she saw the backyard fences, fences that she tries every day to wiggle under, over and through, poor girl!  

I'll confess, seeing Rose brought me to tears. Not so much because I'm that attached to our family friend, but because seeing her again brought back to life a part of me that has been a bit overwhelmed lately by doubt and discouragement.

Living in town while we wait for the opportunity to buy or rent land to farm, land upon which we might build a homestead has been more difficult than we anticipated.  The waiting presses upon us, and at times causes us to be restless, as we are fully aware of the passage of time with our boys, especially our oldest son, Ben.  Every moment confined to a city lot, to us, feels like an eternity when the ache for open spaces is nothing near subtle. 

Steve and I were born to live in the country and to raise our family on a farm.  Outside of our Catholic faith, the desire for farm life is the #1 dream that drew our hearts together when we first met. Sometimes your dreams become so much a part of who you are, you can't really imagine your life, or your children's lives, apart from them.  

The waiting on and wondering about the Lord's plans for our family has not been easy.  It's a challenge to be present to daily callings currently played out from day to day, to stay focused on what's in front of us when our hearts really long to be somewhere else....
Like here.  Does this look familiar? 
Yep, it's a photo from the Zuckerman's farm from the movie Charlotte's Webb.  I thank you, Pinterest for keeping my dreams alive!
I dream of this place and all of these too...

{Sigh.}
{Dream Home - Gotta Dream!}
{Oh, and chickens, mustn't forget the chickens.}
And, a herd of these.  Yes, these.

With all of these deeply nestled dreams waiting to be realized, I am reminded today, Holy Thursday, that while it's possible that such hopes will never be known, in the end, all joy in the letting go of such things must come from knowing, from truly believing that a farm, any farm on this earth is not and will never be my real home.  A greater hunger for heaven is the blessed fruit born from detachment, born from the absence of what we believe will make us happy.  That hunger for heaven anchors our souls ever deeper into the ONE THING, the only thing, that can truly fill us up, and that is a life in Christ.  

Oh, how thankful I am for that, that difficult, but beautiful consolation: 
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
- 2 Corinthians 4:17



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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Darby Does It! - The Sweet Rewards of Learning to Read

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Teaching our sons to read has been one of the greatest pleasures, for me, as a homeschool parent. Each boy has learned at a different pace, some taking an interest in reading and accelerating faster than others, and that's okay with us, as long as they each just keep trying. Instilling in them a life-long passion and joy for great literature is a top homeschooling goal, and so far - thankfully - the older three love to read. The absence of video games and limits on television in the home have naturally helped discovering great books to become the leisure of choice.
Henry, however, is not so fond of school, and not so fond of reading.  Like most boys he would much rather be lassoing the table legs in the kitchen (or a human's legs, whichever is closer) with anything that resembles a rope, or trying to ride Rose, our wonderfully docile retriever, around the yard than pursuing academics. School-schmool.  I'm going to write to those Baby Einstein people and ask for a refund.

After months of applying various methods (begging, threatening and faking supreme disappointment are amongst my favorite) to get him to read, I finally gave in to incentives.

I really dislike incentives very, very much. Mostly because, in this case, I had to climb down off of my idealistic motivational, inspirational high horse and submit to the reality that Darby's just not buying into my joy of reading campaign speeches, and that sometimes dangling a prize, in this case a bag of sugar, in front of my son's nose is the only way to get him to march on.

Henry has quite a sweet tooth, and since I'm known as the sugar Nazi around here, promising anything sweet was one sure-fire way to motivate a child who's had to settle for raisins as a sub for candy his entire six years of life.
Sometime back in February, I promised Henry that he and I would walk to the local gas station, Country Acres, and he could pick out a snack and a drink IF he finished reading the first box of Bob Books.  I saw his eyes glaze over like frosting on donuts fresh from the oven.  And, that was all it took to get his reading wheels spinning!

Unfortunately, the wheels of progress were brought to a screeching halt when the Bob Books mysteriously went missing for about a month.  And, thanks to my bright idea to incentivize, he refused to read anything else. No Bobbo, no reado.  Uugh.  Miraculously, the little blue box reappeared and Henry zipped through all twelve books like lightening.
When the day came for us to make our trip to Country Acres, Henry was giddy with delight.  He went straight to the candy isle, where there were several teenagers who were tickled at the way Henry kept asking me what every little confection and candy bar was, what it tasted like.  "Will I like it?" he would ask innocently while holding up a giant box of Mike 'n Ike's for me to see.
After a couple of minutes of contemplating all of the options, his focus narrowed in on a huge package of sour gummy worms.  I agreed to buy them, but only if he promised to share them with his brothers (who would be thrilled to pieces after being doubly dessert deprived this Lent).
Just in case the bag of hyperactivity induction wasn't enough of a reward, I went ahead and threw a fountain drink on top of it (why not go from raisins to insanity in less than three minutes?).  Let me tell you, it might as well have been Christmas for this boy. The whole experience made me feel a bit like Santa in more ways than one - Oi, zee belly!!

His happy little grin and thankful heart were so endearing, I think I'll remember that afternoon for as long as I live.
Last night, in honor of the reoccurring cold temps, all of the boys found a spot around the fireplace and spent some time reading after supper.  I was so happy to see Henry right in there with his Dick and Jane book, sliding his little finger across the lines on the pages sounding out each word quietly to himself.  Every once in a while he would look up, with a twinkle of pride in his eyes, to see if anyone happened to notice that he was reading too. Such a sweet moment!!












Sunday, April 13, 2014

Poking, Picking, Tickling Palm Swords ~ What I Wore {Palm} Sunday

Speeding down the road to get to Palm Sunday Mass today, I rattled off my list of reminders, and like an airline stewardess, everyone pretty much ignored everything I pronounced important (Moms, you know the drill):


The palms are blessed, the are a sacramental, they are not meant for
poking
picking
tickling
waving like a flag
swinging like a sword
peeling into tiny pieces
or
tying up prisoners

Charlie y Henry no comprendo. Yeah, between my widening baby bottom and Steve's death grip, we did our ever-lovin' best to keep those palms pinned down until the final blessing.  Despite the momentary distraction of the palm smacking, I really was able to settle into a place of peace and anticipation for the upcoming celebration of Holy Week, thanks to a little early morning prayer time.

I've found it difficult to sleep past 6 a.m. these past couple of weeks, and have embraced the good that has come from third trimester discomfort in the form of a quiet home, a cup of coffee and time to pray. This morning, I came across a portion of a homily written by St. Andrew of Crete, and found it to be quite inspiring:  

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany 
and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the 
mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin,
to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and 
power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make 
his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: 
He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek 
and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.


Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who 
met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by 
doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live 
as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, 
whom no limits can contain, will be within us.     ~ St. Andrew Andrew of Crete


May your Holy Week be beautiful and blessed!

 Maxi Dress: Target
Cardigan:  Old Navy
Black Patent Wedge Sandals: Payless
Accessories: Bling



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Meet the Masters ~ An Art Program for Homeschooling That You'll Actually Use!


When it comes to the topic of homeschooling, one of the questions I'm often asked is how I choose the curriculum materials for our school, and which resources are my favorite.  I always hesitate to give a direct answer to that question, because I've used so many different resources over the years, some with success and some without.  Another reason for my hesitation is because when it comes to selecting a curriculum for your kiddos, it really boils down to a matter of personal preference, your style and method of teaching, and the educational goals you have set for your students.

There are a few books, however, that I have enjoyed using consistently for several years, with great results and I'm always happy to suggest the use of those.  I like to be sure that whatever text I recommend is well-tested and successfully applied before I sing it's praises to others.  
Today I'm excited to share a curriculum for art that I came across last fall and have thoroughly enjoyed implementing in our classroom this year, and will use for years to come.  It's called Meet the Masters.  

In the past, I've relied upon the Child Size Masterpieces as the basis of the art portion of our curriculum, and while the boys have gained a good perspective on the various periods of art, names of artists and can recognize a number of famous works, the application, the tactile, the "fun" part of the lesson was always missing.  I would try to come up with my own little art projects from time to time, but consistency was always a difficult discipline for me with our full schedule of activities, and thus, art was often sidelined from week to week.

Thankfully, the discovery and implementation of the the Meet the Masters program into our curriculum has brought the beauty of art back into our weekly lessons in a way that we all look forward to and enjoy very much!
The reasons why I have become so fond of the Meet the Masters series is: 
1.  It is simple and very easy to implement in your classroom (just gather your supplies!*).
2.  The depth of biographical detail of each artist is perfect - informative, but not overwhelming.
3.  The lessons can be subscribed to via the internet, and that is the medium through which all lessons are accessed (no more cumbersome books!).
4.  Lessons can be subscribed to based on age/grade (however, since we have multiple grades, I selected the advanced level and modified it for the younger ones).
5.  At the end of the computer tutorial, a complete application with detailed instructions are ready to be printed out and applied in the classroom, focusing on the form and technique of the artist you've just studied.

This semester, we've enjoyed learning about Mary Cassatt, Pier Mondrian, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso, just 5 of the 35 artists that can be studied in the program!
To enrich the lesson, I have the boys research the following:
1.  Famous musical artists who composed and performed at the time of the art master we're studying.
2.  Major historical events (here in the U.S. and in the country of the artists origin as well) that took place during the period in which the artist was working .

Finally, the boys assemble their notes into a brief biographical report on the artist, along with photocopies of a few of his/her most famous works. Their artist portfolios are then placed in in a three ring binder that we have designated just for art.  I like to print out a few photos of the boys enjoying their own art creations that they may tuck inside their notebooks as well.  The notebooks make a nice representation of what the boys have learned over the year and can be easily filed away in case you ever have to prove that you actually did educate your children while they were at home *wink*!

* If you don't live near a major art supply store, many of the materials can be found on Amazon or Rainbow Resources.