Follow our family's journey as we seek to nourish our souls with music and literature, good company, great cooking, time spent in nature, and always, the love of Christ especially through the sacraments of His Church.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day: Patriotism and Sacrifice

For many of us, this weekend brings a blessed extra day of rest and recreation. Yet while we celebrate, we will be remembering the heroes who bought us this freedom with their lives. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord... and may they rest in peace! May we carry on the quest for freedom in their names.

This well-known poem, written during World War I, reminds us that patriotism is not only for the fallen, but for the living, in our own times.  A blessed day of memorial to you and your families!

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

~John McCrae (1872-1918)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Heaven's Gain

I have been so sad all week, but especially today, for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who surrendered their third tiny saint into the arms of God. Please pray for C and K as they walk this familiar and difficult path of miscarriage and wait for the Lord's will in building their family. I am trying to remember that our life here is brief and that we reap rejoicing for eternity! But the tears still fall in the bitter present. Praise God for His beautiful tiny child, whom we are confident intercedes now for his or her beloved family.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Random Photo

I have so much to share but I'm having camera issues! I am tired of using stock photos for my blog! Hopefully this weekend I can sort it out and be able to get some current photos, thus sharing our latest projects and activities. If things seem a little dry lately, hang in there. I have a lot in my head, just waiting to spill out onto the screen... Meanwhile, enjoy a picture staged by some kid, some time in the past... Alas, my computer was hijacked by grinning Beanies. The boys found it hysterically funny. I'm sure they would like to get my camera back in gear as much as I would.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Family Personality, Learning Styles and Schooling

I've been thinking more about what makes different families favor certain educational methods. It's very much about the background, values and personalities of the parents (often of the mother in particular), but I have seen the course changed by the addition of a child with a particular disposition or need. In fact, many families begin their homeschooling journey due to the unexpected needs of one or more children.

It's interesting to see a family evolve over time, bending and adapting as new little people join the ranks and contribute their unique charisms to the learning journey. I like to think of the resulting dynamic as the "family personality". It's born when a newly-married couple hammers out its new identity as "us" rather than "you and me", and it grows with each new family member. - not just a combination of all the personalities of the family members, but the new dynamic of "this is what's working for all of us" as life unfolds in the family circle.

Like individual personalities, family personalities are very diverse. Some are fun-loving and spontaneous; some are focused and orderly. Maybe some have a little of each! In terms of education, different families will wish to emphasize certain aspects of learning - not just "math and science" or "art and drama",  but the pace and flavor of everything their children experience. The balance evolves for each family as the members grow and discover their natural talents.

No matter what learning path a family takes, some flexibility is essential, as children come with different strengths and challenges. Some families consciously assess these by researching their children's learning styles. It turns out that all people have a predisposition to learning in a particular way - some things just work better for one than for another. Parents are way ahead of the curve if they can determine who is a visual learner, who is a hands-on, kinesthetic student, and who does well with auditory instruction. We all recognize the effects of this distinction when, distressingly, something that worked beautifully for one child turns out to be a disaster for the next one! It is really a great blessing to understand what makes each child tick and why. Even the parents can find new understanding of one another when they discover their own learning (and teaching) styles!

With this information, families are better equipped to decide how schooling should look in their homes. Having the "learning styles" tool makes it easier not to compare one's particular family to other homeschoolers or  to the world at large. It clears the way for decisions based on everyone's best interests - another reason that the primary teacher in the home should also assess his or her own skills and strengths (and difficulties), as these factor strongly into the daily operations of the family.

I've seen multiple recommendations for the book Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Hodson. Yet another must-read to add to my growing list! Just an awareness of the differences in styles has been helpful to me. I feel less frustrated with what I perceived as our shortcomings, now that I understand how what we do is meeting our needs in our family dynamic. At the same time, I am more equipped to fill in what is lacking with carefully chosen elements that I know will work.

If you have used knowledge of learning styles to help you teach your children, I'd love to hear your experience!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Communion Preparation

We are so blessed that our first child will be receiving his First Holy Communion next month. We received permission from our pastor for Brendan to receive for the first time at my parents' wedding vows renewal Mass on June 26th. It promises to be a joyous day of grace! At the moment, we're trying to make the most of our final weeks of preparation. We are using the New St. Joseph First Communion Catechism as our base.
Other materials include some First Communion saint stories and coloring books that were given to me. I found a wonderful list of resources here. If time permits, I may draw on some of the suggestions. One thing we will be doing for certain is a special notebook similar to this. I know the hands-on aspect will really cement the lessons we have been discussing so far.

Please pray for Brendan as he prepares to receive the sacraments of Penance (Reconciliation) and Holy Communion for the first time!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cozy At Home Daybook

I am hearing... the clock ticking. It's very quiet and peaceful this time of day. The kids are asleep. 

Outside my window... it's very, very gray. Not raining anymore, but a good day for sleeping in!

Around the house...everything has been picked up. With so many people at home all the time, stuff is a constant problem. We work relentlessly to keep it just barely under control! I finally cleaned the glass on the entertainment center. It was getting nasty.

In the yard... a jungle has sprung up after all the rain. I have a wisteria and a honeysuckle in the garden just off our patio, and they get positively creepy, reaching their twisting arms out and grabbing on to anything. I bought a pair of pruning shears yesterday. Hee hee.

From the kitchen... Looks like meatloaf, baked potatoes and corn on the cob tonight. Meals here are very, very basic and I don't bake much. Maybe seeing this daybook category once a week will motivate me!

Cultivating beauty... I need to work on my bedroom today. It looks awesome when everything is fresh and tidy, but so easily gets sloppy. We'll do clean sheets, dust and vacuum this afternoon.

Living the liturgy... We learned about the Ascension this past week. Now we will focus on the Holy Spirit as Pentecost approaches. I'll be searching up some dove-type crafts and recipes! We continue to pray our daily Rosary decade during May - a habit we are easing into. The kids are doing very well with it - I really should have done this sooner.

Learning notes... We are deep into First Communion prep now. Brendan's will be part of a special family celebration in June, when my parents renew their wedding vows. Seeing the journey of several other parents of First Communicants (via blogs) has been inspirational for me. I am pulling together resources to make this final month of preparation more about reaching his heart than learning the drill. We'll be creating a book and doing several read-alouds.

The kids this week...have been kept inside by the rain quite a bit. They found their fishing rods and tackle box which they have been tearing apart examining. We really need to take them fishing this summer! Brendan and Benjamin have been keeping a very simple chore chart, and I am finding their small jobs surprisingly helpful. It's nice not to feel like I'm the only one "maintaining". Molly continues to be very independent and is improving at telling us what she thinks. Now if we suggest something she would rather not do, instead of saying "no," she says "Nah nah nah nah nah," like I do - in the tone of "I don't think so, buddy!" She dances and hops and skips everywhere, and loves acting goofy with the boys.

Some plans for the week... we are having dinner with good friends one night, which has had to be postponed numerous times in the last few weeks due to illness. We have been looking forward to this a while now. We're also hoping to go to our monthly homeschool playgroup on Wednesday. 

On my heart... the family of my college classmate Dan Ziglinski, who passed away from lung cancer this past weekend. As hard as this is to accept, its happening during the Easter season and during Ascension week puts all of life into perspective. So much food for thought. Rest in peace, Dan.

I am thankful for... my hard-working husband who goes out there every day, usually without complaining, to earn our daily bread. And boy, does he work for it!

I am praying... for my dear mom, who turns 66 today.

A picture to share...
   Happy birthday, Mom! We love you!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nature-based learning resource

As usual, I can't remember how I originally found this blog. It's chock-full of fun, inventive things to do outdoors (and indoors) with young kids. Although it's meant to be about pre-schoolers, I find it utterly fascinating and thought-provoking even in reference to much older kiddos. I think we all love creative ideas for kids' activities. Even better, when it's laid out in such a lovely, visually-appealing way!

PS: Check out the blog list in her sidebar for more great resources!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Happy day!

Oh my gosh! Look how excited she is! Wouldn't you be, if you were going to meet your baby today? She's a fellow TAC alum who has grown a beautiful family through adoption. Godspeed, Kristen and husband-whose-name-I-can't-remember (sorry)!
Edited to add: Ummm....Patrick. His name is Patrick.

Friday, May 14, 2010

From the sublime to the ridiculous...

Brendan: What does a bee do when something is blocking the road?
Me: (silence...) Huh?
Brendan: He takes a bee-tour. (Detour. Get it?)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What is this unschooling thing, anyway?

Recently ABC News did a piece on an "unschooling" family, creating great controversy with sensationalist reporting. It seems that, not uncharacteristically, the mainstream news sought an extreme example in order to make the world gasp. I thought that the portrayal was rather shocking, but to my mind, the problem was that it failed to paint a broad enough picture for anyone to even understand the subject. Just searching on my own and reading a few blog posts "from the horse's mouth" have given me a much more complete view of this unique type of education.

This past year I've investigated the whole concept of unschooling with curiosity. I find the very term "unschooling"  negative and misleading. Don't you just think "not schooling" when you hear it? As in, "not learning"? That would be a grossly erroneous conclusion (ahem, ABC). Some families have tried to rename the concept, which does in fact have many shades of meaning. Interest-led learning. Relaxed learning. One moniker that I find intriguing is "tidal homeschooling" - meaning the lessons ebb and flow with the seasons, with the liturgical (Church) year, and with the family's natural rhythms of life, birth, growth.

Inside all the terminology is a lifestyle based on natural curiosity and unhindered discovery. Learning stems from life experiences which are not boxed in to age groups or sharply-defined subject boundaries. There's no time of day when you're "in school" or "out of school". To our very limited experience of school, here and now in our culture, it seems alien. But it's really not strange at all. One thinks of Abraham Lincoln reading by the fire, working in the fields, giving speeches to the tree stumps in between his chores. Basically self-educated, he followed his passion all the way to the White House. Learning through apprenticeship was once very common as well. The world is full of wonders, and it's a lucky young person who is given the freedom to explore and pursue them at will. Everything is interesting when a child learns freely. As a parent to a child who resists outside pressure to do anything, including learning, I've discovered for myself the merit of following the natural inclination to discover. In our case, it's freeing for all of us, and I consider it a gift to have had to explore this path.

Importantly, unschooling parents are not lazy. They are often relaxed. But they are always watching for opportunities, seeking to know their child's strengths and interests, cultivating a home atmosphere to nurture the sprouts of genius in each child and to pass on their most cherished values. Those with several children may employ different methods with each child, as one loves to do math workbooks for fun, and one wants to build things with his hands. Many times, different methods are tried and abandoned and tried again later, or cycles of bookwork follow cycles of fieldwork. Over-arching is the peaceful integration of learning with normal life.

One thing I've noticed about the unschooling crowd is the diversity of sources from which they draw learning opportunities. Of course, books are the backbone of learning in many cases, but not often textbooks. Electronic sources are shunned by some and embraced by others. Outside activities are common, from simple nature hikes to community involvement and a broad range of real-life exposure. Sometimes the kids run their own businesses or work with a parent. The one sure thing is that there is no one way to do this education. It's as diverse as the many families who practice it - an estimated 100,000 in the USA.

As I have mulled over the various shades of non-traditional education recently, the metaphor I see in my mind is that of a huge tree. Institutional education is set up for everyone to learn the exact layout of the trunk and where each branch is, and exactly how far it is from the other branches. The alternative educational view is more like the freedom for each child to play among the branches, finding a nest or examining the seeds and flowers, wandering from one branch to another and taking the time to find out more. It's also comparable to driving on a main road according to a map, versus wandering through neighborhoods and exploring. As anyone can see, both have their merits.

I'm still investigating. Like many parent educators, my method is in flux. I see advantages in many kind of learning. I try different things. As a control freak, I'm scared to abandon my textbooks! I worry that my husband will think I'm crazy. But we both watch in awe as our kids learn and flourish and go in directions that they clearly didn't get from either of us. Maybe you'd like to explore, too. I'm posting some links in my sidebar to share what I've been reading. But be careful! Pretty soon you might be finding that institutional schooling feels strange. You might even feel sorry for that kid waiting for the school bus. It's a slippery slope, my friend! I'll keep you posted on how things unfold.

Melissa Wiley on Tidal Homeschooling
Math learned naturally
A relaxed take on learning

(photo credit)

Monday, May 10, 2010

A saint I can relate to...

I put this on my sidebar but it's too small to see any detail. I'm posting it here in case, like me, you want to get a closer look. This came from Leonie's blog, which says it is St. Margaret of Scotland. Unfortunately I have no idea what the original source might be. In any case, other than the crown (and halo!) it looks like we have a lot in common!

St. Margaret was an English princess who fled England, married the Scottish king Malcolm, and raised 6 sons and 2 daughters while inspiring her people with her virtue and generosity. Read a brief biography here.

Edited to add: I'm really not trying to compare myself to a saint, ha! Just saying it's nice to see one looking so domestic!

Comments - oops!

I just realized that my comments had been set for "registered users only". Nice kind of "welcome", eh? VERY sorry! I thought I set it up for anyone to comment. I've just redone my settings to open it up for everyone.

As anyone with a blog knows, comments are the fun part - so come back and share your thoughts with me! Thanks for all the silent visitors so far. Enjoy your week!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Blessings

"The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral - a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share in God’s creative miracle to bring new saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation. . . What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?"

~Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty

(photo credit)

Friday, May 7, 2010

A lesson in hospitality

I have been reading and hearing about hospitality quite often these days. It's always been a favorite subject of mine. Descending from very hospitable ancestors has encouraged me to develop this skill in myself, and it's a passion of mine to make sure others feel welcomed by me.

I wish I could remember where I recently read of the book Radical Hospitality - it's now on my shortlist of must-reads. The book is based on St. Benedict's rule which says "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ." In a nutshell, it turns out there is hospitality, and then there is Christian hospitality! In other words, there is the kind that just makes us feel good about ourselves and raises us in the esteem of people - sort of a mutual ego-stroking, if you will. It's the kind that makes us want to show off our pretty things and wow our guests with the state of our homes. It is the same kind that causes us to hide out when things aren't perfect, to avoid being seen in our less-than-ideal reality.

In this beautiful blog post Elizabeth Foss points out that this is not really even hospitality, but mere entertaining, without any spiritual basis. Entertaining can be done out of love, of course, but pride can have a sneaky way of taking over. 

The other,  not-so-glamorous kind of hospitality is one that requires us to really "die to self". This type puts the needs of others prior to our feelings.  It is focused on the "other" rather than on the "I". If someone is lonely, you ask them in, even if your home doesn't meet your "company standards". You listen and ask questions when a friend calls, before launching into your own list of woes. Perhaps you mail cards to those who are struggling or celebrating, or you double your dinner recipe to bring a meal to someone in need.. More than good manners, it is a concern for the well-being of others and a desire to reach out to them on a spiritual level as well as materially. It is especially perfected in family life, where balancing the needs of others is a continuous challenge. True hospitality asks "What can I do for you?" instead of "What can you do for me?" It's really simple, but so difficult sometimes.

I once had a great opportunity  to see what this distinction looked like in my life. A group of friends was invited over for a children's  party. As others have done before me, I stayed up all night (after the kids were asleep) making the house and the food and everything else look "perfect". The day of the party I was exhausted and still not ready. A friend with a large young family made a huge effort to attend, driving quite a distance and arriving earlier than I expected. Unfortunately, upon opening the door, my first words were of surprise (maybe even consternation) and not of welcome. For all the preparation, in the moment that counted as actual hospitality, I came up less-than-gracious. Surely, had Christ Himself been standing there, I would have acted differently?

This incident troubled me for a long time as I realized that I have a lot of work to do in cultivating the true spirit of hospitality. While I still don't like the idea of flinging the doors open and inviting everyone in when clutter is piled high and the bathroom is scummy, I realize I could be more relaxed and open my home more willingly, without exhausting myself to make everything appear perfect. Even better, I could foster a spirit of hospitality by cultivating better housekeeping habits - making my surroundings more welcoming to my family as well as to those outside. Post-kids, I sure don't have it all together enough to practice the "pseudo hospitality" I used to prize. But genuine welcome can flow from a spiritual place in the midst of daily life, whatever that looks like for each of us. Opening our hearts and homes to assimilate others into life as we know it is more practical and more loving, anyway.

It's not wrong to put forth our best for our guests. The challenge comes when perfectionism derails us from the mission of showing love. It's a simple matter of people being more important than things. Sometimes the Lord sends us situations to help us stretch outside of our comfort zones, to grow in charity and detachment. It's as if He Himself were asking for our hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 says: And hospitality do not forget; for by this some, being not aware of it, have entertained angels.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jump boards?

I think we will have to make one of these. Maybe two or three. Those could burn off some serious energy! Get step-by-step instructions here.

                            (Thank you Kristen for the photo!)

Kitchen Offerings:

Black Bean Salad with Lime Dressing
for Cinco de Mayo

Many thanks to my friend Kelly who originally brought this over to my house for a potluck. I use different veggies than she did, but the dressing recipe is identical to hers. You could put it on cardboard and it would taste great! 

My camera is on the blink so you'll have to enjoy this lovely stock photo of limes, courtesy of Robert Lerich via photoxpress! Trust me though, it's a beautiful dish and you can substitute any fresh raw vegetables for  the tomato and cucumber. Anything that starts out "olive oil, lime juice, fresh cilantro" is going to come out delicious. Molly (age 1) ate a whole bowl of this herself the other night when I made it.

2/3 c. olive oil
4 Tablespoons lime juice
4 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Whisk together all dressing ingredients. Gently fold in:

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups frozen super-sweet corn
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1 large cucumber, diced
1 bell pepper, any color, diced
1 stalk celery, diced

It's best if you can let it sit for a few hours to mingle the flavors. Enjoy!

Boys haven't changed much

I just love this archeological find: kid's drawings from hundreds of years ago in medieval Russia. Brendan and Benjamin would have been great friends with this kid. Just melts my heart to think of that little medieval boy drawing his warrior dad. Or a wild beast. Love it!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Yes, I am a home school mom

Now go read my disclaimer! Kudos to Kris on an excellent post.