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...

{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
waving like a flag
swinging like a sword
peeling into tiny pieces
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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

He Ain't No Gap Baby.....Charlie's Pajama Passion

For the longest time our little Charlie has had quite a very persistent preference for pajamas, especially the fleecy footie type.  I think it all started with these, back when he was about one:
Oh, those cheeks!!! We've all grown quite accustomed to jammies being the code of dress on a daily basis for him.  I realized a few days ago, as I was scrolling through pictures of him, that in almost every photo he's wearing jammies!

His older brothers should be so jealous.  If they only knew how I wiggled and tugged them in and out of my latest yard sale scores every single day, just so I could adore them in all their Gappyiness.  I was so in my 20's.

Five babies later, I've chilled, I've #5 was the magic conversion number.
I confess to contributing to Moby's pajama passion (the boys' newest nickname for Charlie - Moby Dick - not sure how they came up with that one!).  Every time we go to Sam's Club I can't resist swinging by the tables piled high with all the colorful comfort.  For $6.98 it's an entire outfit, day or night.  Can you say bargain?? One glance at the options and Charlie's eyes glaze over in admiration. He's a portrait of me at a discount shoe rack.

Mea Culpa.

Domine Adiuva Me.
The goods in his grip don't stand a chance of being put back.

The biggest perk of having a pajama loving son is that jammies are easy to wash and easy to fold. Those one piece wonders infinitely reduce my time in the laundry room. Thanks to Moby, I actually have time to shave both legs on the day I can miraculously take that 3 minute shower.

Considering all the benefits, I think there's really no need to play fashion police here.  What's good for Charlie is also good for mama - no trying to matchy-match every single day.  It's one and done 'till tub time.
{I love you Rose, I love pajamas, I love everyone and everything!!}
Polar bears, moose, dinosaurs, bulldogs, Santa x2, monkeys, and construction trucks stuffed in the top of his dresser drawers take turns being pulled out by picky fingers.  He always knows exactly which one will win favor for the day.
Getting him to peel out of his pj's for any occasion - church, trips to town, or even just to go outside and play is a bit of a game of strategy, wrestling and sometimes bribery.
{Classy Moby}
The boys get so tickled when, after announcing that we're going to town, Charlie will run into his room, dig out a pair of shoes (it doesn't matter what kind - dress shoes, crocks, slippers, anything works), thinking shoes are a good enough "change-up" to go on our outings.
Yesterday, I left the back door open to let the fresh air in and minutes later found Charlie sneaking out across the yard into the garden to his jammies of course.  
In Charlie's world, there's nothing that can be accomplished in jeans and t's that can't be accomplished in jammies:
{Afternoon refreshments}
{Do these bread pans make me look taller?}
{Scholarly pursuits.}
{Hammin' it up with my bros.}

 I can see it now.  Charlie will run for Student Council President, and this will be his one and only campain promise:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I Love Being a Wrestling Mom & Andrew's State Tournament Story

Last weekend, our family traveled to Topeka, Kansas for the Kansas State Wrestling Tournament. The trip was an anxious one.  Even though Andrew was to enter the tournament with a fantastic 30-5 record, none of us knew if he'd even be able to compete...
The previous week, he was supposed to be perfecting his moves at practice, and capitalizing on all of the conditioning exercises in preparation for what is usually an exhausting weekend, but instead, he was confined to the couch, unable to eat, covered from head to toe in a paleness that overshadowed even his most pronounced freckles.

For 4 days he did not eat.  There's a place inside of every mother that wilts with worry when her child can't eat.  All I thought about for those four days was food.  There must be something he can eat. I thought that thought a million times. In wrestling, every ounce against your opponent counts.  I knew he was a little worried about losing weight, but I didn't want him to go anywhere near a scale.  I knew my heart couldn't handle it, couldn't handle his disappointment in facing the possibility that the season might very well be over.

On Thursday afternoon, he turned a corner, began to eat a little, and by that evening he asked if he could walk to the track with me for my daily run.  Sure, whatever you think is best. I'm here for you, whether you wrestle or not.

On the way to the track we chatted about other things...I wanted to avoid him having to talk about the obvious.  That's when he brought up the subject of balance.  As much as our family loves sports, we don't allow our boys to play any sport year-round, to be a part of traveling teams, or to practice excessively.  Family life comes first.  Childhood comes first.

With that in mind, and in heart, Andrew asked:
Mom, I know that you and dad always talk about balance when it comes to sports.  And, I know that whatever decision I make, you will support me. But, how will I know if I'm supposed to stay home this weekend, or or push through all of this and just go and try my best?

That's when I knew that the essence of wrestling had found a seat in his soul.  He didn't talk about winning or losing, about medals and trophies or notoriety.  He talked about trying, and what that effort would mean to him personally and to our family...

I know what wrestling looks like from the outside.

It looks like boys with crazy haircuts competing against one another in gyms that smell worse than a windowless locker room in August.  It looks like all of them, big and little, who signed up for this gig have no idea that they've been given the single most unattractive uniform in the arena of sports - the singlet (only slightly less awkward than that of a sumo wrestler's diaper-looking ensemble). Wrestling looks painful. It looks like it could make you cry.  It looks like only the parents who don't know the game of basketball let their kids wrestle.

After watching my brothers wrestle year after year in high school, I still felt like an outsider looking in.  There was nothing about wrestling that I understood or even appreciated back then. And, certainly nothing that would make me say, "someday I want my boys to wrestle too." Not even close.

Then there was this day, four years ago, when my husband somehow managed to convince me that wrestling would be a good thing for our boys to get involved in (that was about the time I started appreciating wine).

Uugghh.  Really??

He didn't didn't know what I had been through, giving up days of my adolescence in exchange for hours in bleachers filled with screaming people just to watch my brothers contort themselves for 3 minutes. I was supposed to be curling my hair.  I was supposed to be talking with my girlfriends on the phone, not hanging out at big fat stinky wrestling meets.

NO, thank you, honey.  My cup hath already overfloweth with wrestling.

Four years post wine-wrestling conversation, I'll be the first to admit to admit conversion status on the matter, to finding a completely new perspective on the sport.  Trust me, I'm not dedicated enough to get into the fundamentals of the sport itself - the technical moves, the physical endurance, the scoring, the coaching etc., etc.

What has turned my heart around is what wrestling has done for my sons, one son in particular. And, it's really what sports, any sport, are meant to do for athletes in the first place: help them discover the very best in themselves, to obtain and exercise particular virtues through the rigors of training, the beauty of winning, and the disappointment of losing and even the obstacle of illness.

Go to any tournament and you will see parents and coaches screaming unnecessarily at kids, unsportsmanlike conduct on and off of the mat, parents yelling at parents, kids crying, moms crying....I suppose those unfortunate behaviors can be observed in just about any sport.  

Somehow, we've been able to insulate ourselves from the negativity, focusing only on the positive. Andrew has been a bright light in every gym he's entered, in attitude and action, and other parents have approached us with gratitude for that. I have gratitude for that.  He's wise beyond his years.  I was no where near his equal at that age.

We arrived in Topeka Friday night for weigh in.  Those of us who waited anxiously in the car for Andrew's return sat quietly, no music or videos could distract us from the wondering.  88 pounds.  He had only lost 2 pounds.  None of us could believe it.  We expected the loss to be so much greater.  Now, we would could only wait and see if there was any strength left in that 88 pound body.
After finding our seats in the arena Saturday morning, we waited patiently to see Andrew process in during the parade of Athletes.  While the other boys on his team bounced around with ornery enthusiasm, waving at all of the fans, posing for pictures, Andrew marched in quietly, clutching his water bottle, and I wondered if even this, would wear him out.

The time came for his first match.  It's hard to describe the feelings I had inside.  They couldn't just be reduced to nerves.  They felt like so very much more.  My camera was set, prayers were said.  Deep breath, here we go.  I barely had a chance to shout out encouragement - in 20 seconds his opponent was pinned! 
All of us, brothers, parents, grandparents, cousins, aunt and uncle looked at each other in disbelief, then erupted in cheer! Before getting sick, Andrew's goal was to make it to the championship round and to defeat the young man who had won 1st place for the past 4 seasons. He knew he could end that kid's winning streak. But after being so sick for so long, his only goal was to wrestle strong, taking each match one at a time. 

One down.
Match #2, a victory by points, but only by a close margin.  After the win, he sat down hard against a cold wall, head down, exhausted.  We all knew the sickness had washed over him again. I wanted to know everything he was thinking, wanted to pack him up and take him home, that's what mamas do.  We rescue.  We bandage.  We soothe.  But, not today. Stifling my worry, my overwhelming need to console, I lent him only a hug, and left him to the quiet.  It was in the quiet that he decided to keep going.
Match #3 - his toughest opponent yet, the one his father and I knew could possibly send him to the losing bracket.  Not a chance.  He mustered some kind of super-natural strength and completely dominated the competition.  That singular victory ensured his place in the championship match on Sunday!

In many ways, thoughts of Andrew wrestling on Sunday for the championship had faded to the back of our minds. For his father and I, Andrew had already won the tournament. His quiet, graceful resolution to fight to the finish with such humility exemplified everything we could ever hope for in a son.  
Before heading back to the bunker for a little r & r, I gathered the boys together for a father-son photo.  I love the way Henry affectionately placed his hand on the top of Andrew's head.  Such a sweet sign of his great admiration for his older brother!

That night, as Steve went to check in on Andrew, he found him laying quietly in bed, hands folded in prayer.  Not wanting to disturb him, he slipped away quietly, and returned a while later only to find him in the exact same place.

Are you talking with God, buddy?
Yeah.  I just wanted to thank Him for the day, thank Him for everything, he confessed with a humble grin.

Steve returned to our room, sat down on the edge of the bed, hunched over, head down, hands folded.  Between tears he shared the story with me.  We held hands in the quiet.  It was our turn to give thanks.
Following Mass and a quick lunch, we gathered again at the arena, waiting anxiously to watch Andrew wrestle his final match of the season.  Charlie was a champ....all of the kids were, really. There's always so much waiting around for the next match, and very little for kids to do during that time, but somehow we all managed to muster up the some patience.
Those tired eyes.  Behind that gentle smile he tried to hide his nerves, and any doubt that his condition might not allow any advantages during the match, but I could see through it.  And, my heart could not contain all of the emotion I felt, and so it rose, once again up to my eyes.  Thank goodness I had a hiding place behind my camera.
The meeting was intense, to say the least.  Down by points, at the last second, Andrew gained advantage and had is opponent on his back...just a few more seconds and a pin would secure a title. But, as the official blew her whistle, we all knew time was not on our side.  
A reassuring embrace from a loving father after a difficult defeat. 
Steve is the best coach to all of our boys.  I am so blessed to call him mine.  Our boys need him so much.  I need him so much!
Andrew accepted a second place finish, and though he must have been filled with disappointment, not one of us could have hoped for more!
Like it or not, he was covered in hugs that afternoon.  Hugs for his consolation and for ours. Hugs of congratulations and affirmation from brothers, parents, grandparents, friends, cousins, Aunts and Uncles.
All these boys.  I wonder every day what God has in store for them, for their brotherhood.  I hope they stand beside each other always.
Our boys are truly blessed to have grandparents who love and support them in everything that they do.  Their presence in our lives is a great joy to Steve and me and to our boys as well.  They share a particular wisdom and support that only a grandparent can offer.
This is us, balancing life, one child at a time, one sport at a time, one season at a time, one adventure at a time.  While Andrew could easily continue to compete, could wrestle year round, fill his summer with camps and his evenings with coaching, he has packed away his singlet for another season. 

It's time for baseball now, he says.  Time to help dad on the farm, and mow the grass and pull the weeds.  Time to go swimming with brothers at the pool.  Time for fishing and camping and exploring and savoring life...just as an 11 year old boy should.

The verse on Andrew's singlet?
Praise be to the LORD my God, 
who trains my hands for war, 
my fingers for battle.
~ Psalm 144:1