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.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cozy at Home Daybook

I am hearing... The silence of the house when everyone's asleep.

Outside my window... the steamy heat still hangs on through the wee hours. It seems interminable and is really starting to get to me.

Around the house...Things are in pretty good shape but it's time to get into the school room and spruce things up for the fall. It's become a sort of collection area for things that don't have proper "homes" around the house.

In the yard... Everything is still growing but the flowers won't make it if I don't get out there and water more. The rain keeps going around us! This time of year, I start thinking of just letting them go. I know to expect myself to get lazy around August. Is it worth the sweat equity?

From the kitchen... We had an amazing dinner on Sunday, meant for our company whom we had to cancel when the kids got sick. So Jeff and I ate chopped salad, beef tips over basil mashed potatoes, corn pudding and buttered carrots, with rhubarb pie for dessert. It was a feast - we even had a glass of wine since the recipe included Merlot! We get to have the meal again as leftovers this week (sans the Merlot this time.) Otherwise we are on a sandwich kick - chicken salad, BLTs, pastrami, turkey, etc. Easy and cool, and the kitchen doesn't get overheated.

Cultivating beauty... I'm paying attention to my houseplants today. I have 3 philodendrons and a rubber tree, which are almost impossible to kill. I also have a basil plant by the kitchen sink. Having a few green, living things adds so much freshness and life to the house! I wish I had more of a green thumb so that I could branch out a little... but for now, I'm watering and trimming up the plants I have. 

Living the liturgy... I must say that since I am not using a calendar daily for school, I'm out of touch with the feasts this month. I did note the feast of Sts. Ann and Joachim, July 26, which is my sister's name day and a good day to pray for our grandparents! (These saints were Mary's parents, and grandparents to Jesus.) I am thinking ahead to something special we can do for the feast of the Assumption on August 15.

Learning notes... It's Summer Reading program time at the library. We have been going to at least one event there each week - last week it was a puppet show. The previous week was a Rain Forest Adventure. Each time, we leave with a big stack of books and videos. Currently, we are going through the video series "The Way Things Work" - learning about things like gears, electricity, etc. It's animated and kind of clever, so the kids love it and have watched each episode several times. I hope they are learning something!

The kids this week... Molly has been sick with a fever and a bad cough. She has been waking up at night crying, sometimes every 15 minutes. Benjamin also had a fever but no cough. Needless to say, we are staying home and feeling a bit stir crazy, and a little exhausted. We've made some weekend plans, so hopefully everyone will be better by then. My worst fear is that the healthy ones will come down with it later and we'll be doing this again next week!

Last weekend... Saturday morning I took the boys to the "Build and Grow Workshop" at Lowe's. It was a  little more informal than I hoped, just a ton of kids hammering away at a very simple woodcraft (of which their parents did half the work) ...but the boys had fun. It was our first time, so they got work aprons, safety glasses, and a patch to sew on their aprons. We made a wooden "UFO" which was really a flying saucer, with a blinking red light. Next month, they are scheduled to make a bug box, which I think will be infinitely more useful. I hope that, down the road, I can find them some more advanced woodworking classes. Benjamin especially seems both fascinated and gifted in this area. 

Saturday night, Jeff took the kids to the park and wore them out while I cleaned the house, in anticipation of our company who never came. It was nice, but a little frantic, seeing how much I could do before they got home. I would have rather put my feet up to read a book! But at least the house looked pretty good for Sunday. Before they got home I filled 60 water balloons and we had a family water fight out on the patio, to cool everyone off. Then baths and off to bed! Sunday, other than the great meal, was a let-down with the sick kids, canceled plans, etc. 

Some plans for the week... Saturday, I should be getting together with my Mom and sister for some girl time - each July we go out to lunch to celebrate our name days (usually around the feast of St. Ann, for my sister.) Jeff will have some "guy-time" in the evening to hang out with a friend. Next week, if everyone is well, we will visit the library again, and perhaps have some friends over to play. It's also the 3rd anniversary of our twins going to heaven, so I plan to make a cake with the kids. I'm not sure if I can get down to the cemetery or not, but that would be a blessing if it works out.

I am thankful for... the telephone. It's been a lifeline this week as I had plenty of time to catch up with friends while rocking a feverish little one.

A picture to share...  Benjamin building his UFO at Lowe's.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Say What?!

Molly is at that uncomfortable age when toddlers know exactly what they want but may not be as verbal as they would wish. We spend many moments of the day working out communication.

"Mah tar tar!" she complained at lunch today. Then, impatiently, "Mah tar tar!!" My interpretation skills were taxed. It took me a couple of tries and some sign language.

A few minutes later: "Phmmhnn! Mama!! Phmmhnn!!" I have heard that one before. Not sure how I figured it out, but I felt like a genius.

Next:: "Pup pup!"

I'm on it, honey. I got you more carrots, a spoon, and now you need a cup. All your needs are met, right?

"Bwa bwa a tah tah," she just said.

Thank goodness Jeff was home to tell me she wanted help closing the lid of the jack-in-the-box.

I'm so glad I just work here!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summertime Cabin Fever?

Back in January's gloom, it would have been impossible to say or even think something so outrageous... but honestly! These last several weeks have seemed more dull and boring than a winter cold snap. We have been staying inside the house due to the soaring temperatures. If we were ambitious, we would get out early in the morning, but we're not that kind of people! Some days it's been too hot even to pull out the wading pool, because I have to be out there on supervisor duty (what with my gate still not replaced), and that's not happening when it's 96 degrees. Sorry. Even most evenings have been stifling and we stay in yet again. Too much time inside brings out some ugliness, doesn't it!

What to do when there is nothing to do? Well, thank goodness for media... lots of videos and internet time! Unfortunately that sometimes backfires and only causes more pent-up energy. We have read our big stack of 22 library books several times. Time for a new stack. My boys don't like coloring (what's up with that? I love coloring and always expected to do a lot of it when I had kids. Ha.)

But here's a look at some of the things we have tried. (Some older pictures, just to give you the idea.)

Lots of this:

and this:

Always, always Transformers:

Interesting structures appearing:

 Lots and lots and lots of this!

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to live in the era of Legos. And AC. Amen.

I even resorted to this one day. Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

Here are a few other things we have been doing::
  • Making juice pops
  • Bendaroos (I hate those things!!)
  • Waterpainting
  • Completely disassembling a big wheel (Benjamin)
  • Activity books
  • Play-Doh
  • Board games - Candy Land, Guess Who, cards, HiHo Cherrio, Cooties, etc. 
  • Blowing bubbles in the house (gasp)
  • Taking pictures like this with Mom's camera:

So I realized this parenting thing may take some extra work under these conditions. I have come up with some radical ideas to bust the boredom. Well, OK, one radical idea. I am calling it the "Arctic Dig".

I picked out a few of our plastic animals - you all have a bucket of these, right?

I put them in different-sized containers and covered them with water. Don't use too much or you will have aggravated kids!

Then I put them in the freezer overnight. Please note that I did this when the kids weren't around. Otherwise I would have had to fend off their eager attempts to "check" the ice every 20 minutes for 2 days. Counter-productive!

When they were frozen solid, I tied them up in a bag and put them in the deep-freezer to await the perfect moment of insanity that I needed avert. Trust me, it came along fairly quickly.

I gave each kid a couple of blocks of ice, a table knife and random kitchen tools, and let them go to work. They were ecstatic! We used pans with high sides to catch the water as the ice melted. I also gave them each a container of warm water to use strategically for "power-melting".

They hammered away!

Molly got her own block.

When all else fails, try your teeth!

Finally, they freed all of their "fossils".

Oh, what fun! I am pleased to say this kept them occupied for fully.... 45 minutes.

But at least it redirected the craziness a little and they had so much fun that I think I'll fill up the containers again. Little cars and other small toys might be fun to try in the next  batch.

Looks like the summer will continue long and hot, so I need a few more ideas. What creative things do your kids do when the weather keeps them inside for too long? 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One thing I actually like about the humidity...

Patio Pictures

The day after my last patio post, we dragged ourselves out of bed sometime around 7 am to see the cement mixer sitting outside the door:

Beyond exciting for the kids - this is how they were occupied for two straight days!

The guys used wheelbarrows to bring the concrete around behind the house, where they dumped it and spread it smooth. We couldn't believe how fast they worked!

As it was drying, it looked smooth as glass and almost shiny. I was happy enough at the thought, although I suppose it might  have been kind of slippery.

But we were surprised when, an hour or two later, the guys sprayed off the top layer with the hose, and lo and behold... pebble texture underneath! At first it seemed very rough and scratchy, but a few days later, it was glazed and sealed. Now it looks wet and almost sparkly all the time, but it feels very  nice and is not slippery at all. As we discovered last weekend:

Anyway, here's your virtual tour. Beginning at our side door by the parking area, they poured us a sort of landing pad. Nice not to have to walk out right on to blacktop, as we did before.

The gate used to be there, and I hope to heaven they put it back soon! The yard is no longer "fenced" and I have to watch Molly every second as she tries to escape into the driveway, which we share with a business with vans and trucks!. Here's what it looked like before:

Anyway. From the landing pad, walking along the side of the house:

When you turn the corner, the main patio is tucked in behind there:

For reference, here's a rather poor picture of what it used to look like.

And here is the new patio! Isn't it bee-yoo-tiful??

As you can see, the old rails were removed and apparently they're not coming back. While we liked the coziness before, it feels so much bigger now that it's wide open. Not to mention, easier access to the shrubs will make maintenance much more pleasant and probably more frequent!

Such a nice, new area calls for much better furniture and accessories than we have, so we'll have to work on that over time.

Here's the view of our yard from where the patio chairs are. (That is our neighbors' house back there... a little unusual, I know. They have a very big back yard of their own, so this one belongs to our house.)

 Did you notice the spiffy new landscape lighting they added? It is so pretty in the dark.

The company that did the concrete work is called Allgeier Concrete Drive Inc. They did such a first-class job and were the nicest people you could meet. They were especially good to the kids, and even took the time to pour us a stepping stone and help the kids to make their hand prints. While we were gone on errands, the guys engraved the date and decorated the stone with leaf prints for us.

 I just love it so much! Wasn't that the  nicest thing to do?

We will surely be spending even more time out back now, especially when the weather cools off a bit. I'm sure some of you reading this will be out there with us!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Staying Home

I can point to many seasons in my life up until now, and probably could slap a label on most of them. One that has been ongoing, and pretty much simultaneous with my childbearing career, could be labeled Stuck At Home. I know this is not a terribly common problem to have, as many people are more concerned with not being home enough, as I once was.... but bear with me here.

Having been a free spirit from the age of about 16 until said childbearing, which began at age 33, it was quite a reality shift when I brought Brendan home and became responsible for him every moment. The days began to stretch on... and on... They ran together and often, I couldn't even come up with the date if you asked me! Going from two incomes to one meant that we also went down to one car for the majority of the time. With mostly 12 hour shifts and frequent overnights, sometimes even weeks at a time, my dear husband (and the car) were noticeably absent. Are noticeably absent! We further limited our social life by keeping an off-beat schedule (call it 2nd shift) and having 3 kids in 6 years - both more or less intentional. And of course, we chose to homeschool. It added up to lots and lots and lots of time at home for the kids and me.

When Jeff began working 7 days a week earlier this year just to keep a roof over our heads, I did expect to stay home even more. But dear friends took pity on us and lent us a spare car indefinitely. My world suddenly seemed wide open! The possibilities were endless! All 3 kids are old enough to take places with relative ease at this point, and I had a nice list of things I hoped to do with them. I had so many plans... and then the wretched heat set in. There is no AC in the van. We do enjoy going to the store any time of day we need to now, but any longer trips are just too hot for me to strap the kids in the back row with windows that won't open. So... for now, stuck at home it is. (Fortunately, it's a good home to be stuck at, all things considered!)

It must be recorded that, at the beginning of these years, I did not accept my situation gracefully. The four walls closed in relentlessly and, although my choices, our choices, were the cause, I still resented everyone with freedom of movement - including my husband, who, ironically, gets to drive all day and see lots of interesting people and places, sometimes even St. Louis! If you can imagine... (This is not the tone in which he describes his job, however. The grass is always greener...)

The demands of several small children coupled with the isolation and monotony were too much at times. I did try to break it up by having friends over to play, especially the last few years, but that in itself was also demanding. The ability to keep the house together when four or more people are constantly in it is, well, a superpower which I do not possess. But the chaos adds to the dejection and the isolation. I well remember when we lived near my in-laws, the relief I felt when they would sometimes bundle both kids (we had 2 at the time) into the stroller and take them for a walk. A precious hour or two meant that I could get ahead of the rising tide of clutter. Once in a while, I would just nap during that time. What a blessing it was for me, one that many mothers would give their right arms for!

Being alone in my own home is as necessary for me as occasionally getting out. This couldn't happen when I had a tiny infant, of course, but having the older kids go out with my sister or my husband for a few hours was a godsend. It used to be rare indeed. Luckily, in the past year, it has become a regular occurrence and is the source of my sanity! Isolation is a genuine concern for many newer moms, and each family will need to hammer out a solution depending on personalities and circumstances. Eight years in, I have figured out some coping mechanisms for myself. At the same time, my thinking has shifted a little regarding this season of staying home.

Recently I followed a discussion among some homeschooling moms who lamented the over-scheduling, scattering and running that is so prevalent in families with growing children. Every single mom who replied to the discussion advised choosing fewer activities and enjoying more togetherness while it was still possible. Most poignant were the words of older moms whose children had already left - the years were too short and the commitments were too many. I began to look at our extreme togetherness as more of a blessing.

Interestingly, even without many outside obligations, the world comes into our home in so many ways anyway. We finally ditched TV service, but the internet is ever-present and a bigger part of my children's lives than I ever expected. People visit us frequently - hardly a week goes by when we don't have guests, usually a houseful of children. We are now able to participate in some homeschool group functions, church activities and frequent family gatherings. These provide an important social outlet, but truth be told, there were times we didn't have many of these. When the children are very young, I think these are less important than many people believe. The home and family provide a familiar and secure environment in which little souls grow and flourish. It is the moms who really crave companionship, and find creative ways to get it.

Since my children are still young, I don't have experience to go by when envisioning our lives with teens. I like to think we will still have the friends they grew up with, and some group activities based on our interests and church involvement. Co-oping some classes at the high school level sounds like something I would have enjoyed as a young adult. Some mobility is a godsend for providing educational experiences for growing kids. But those words of the experienced moms ring in my ears - never sorry for how little their families had taken on, but for how much. We will need to guard against over-committing in those all-important years as well.

I'm well aware that balance is the key to sanity in any season of life. Clearly, I have sometimes been too isolated, and others mothers I know have been too busy. We all need some quiet, some recreation and some diversion. But for those who have made difficult choices for the sake of the family life they aspire to, the focus need not only be on the sacrifices and the deprivation. These long days at home can be a sort of incubator for the young family to put down its roots, undistracted by tightly-packed schedules and outside expectations. It may take the perspective of years to truly understand that it is so, but meanwhile, choosing to love the season for its very challenges can free us from resentment and bring contentment to our hearts.

What I know right now is that "stuck at home" is where I am supposed to be. I feel sure this is increasingly temporary for our family, so I have tried harder to embrace my season of life. The dawn-to-dusk noise of an energetic brood and the inevitable disarray still makes me crazy, but I am trying not to hide so often from my kids behind a computer screen or in a book. It occurred to me that I could view these years as my "novitiate" - traditionally, the time a young woman becoming a nun would take to separate from the world and even from loved ones, in order to focus on her new life of service to God. My novitiate would be my time to attend the school of my children's hearts, to learn how to serve them and love them, how to teach them and reach them in their own unique ways. It should be a time for turning inward and nurturing in the heart of the family. The outside world will claim them soon enough.

Each family will need to decide at some point how much outside activity is beneficial for its particular needs. For some, circumstances will dictate a path they might not originally have chosen. Others choose to be at home, but find it daunting, especially in the early years of parenting. If being home seems more challenging than expected, we can grit our teeth and offer it up. Or we can wrap our arms around this amazing gift and choose to love it and to use it grow both personally and as a family. In a very few years, we will already see that it was a blessing and a particular grace from God, not to be squandered by thoughts of self-pity and resentment. The family tree deeply rooted in this fertile time of grace will surely bear abundant fruit in the future.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bl. Louis and Zelie Martin, Parents of St. Therese

I was fortunate enough to discover in time that today is the feast of these two blessed parents of a saint. Their story is so endearing - in particular, I love the role model Zelie is for us as mothers, wives, teachers and businesswomen! Here is a little biography, although several wonderful books are available for a more complete story.

We ask the intercession of Louis and Zelie for all families, and especially for us parents!

Friday, July 9, 2010


I guess it's been 2 or 3 weeks since the last drop of rain... but with the unrelenting heat, it seemed like an eternity. What you can't see from these pictures is the acrid smell coming up from the steaming blacktop and parched ground as the water soaked in... the awesome gust of cool breeze that carried in the rain... the giddiness we all felt when we saw those first drops! I had to let the kids get a little wet, but we were getting ready to go out, so it wasn't a soaker this time.

Now to enjoy a few days' relief from the heat! Hope it's nice where you are!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Perfect Summer Day, In Pictures

This last week we had a few blessed days of low humidity and breezy, 80 degree weather. It's the kind of weather that just calls you to come outdoors, not at all typical of a Kentucky mid-summer. Especially this year, we have more than paid for it already in 90+ degree days - something like 35 or 40 so far. I'll be the first to admit that I stay holed up in the AC much of the summer - no heat tolerance here!

So with a weather treat like this, it was a no-brainer for us to pack up our gear and plan a field day last Tuesday. Our neighbors have a huge field with a "grove" of tall trees behind their house, where they allow us to play. If we walk around, it's about 2 blocks from us. (This time we drove.) They have built a gazebo and a picnic shelter back there, and it's just like having a park all to ourselves. Here's a peek at what it's like:

I know. I can't believe how blessed we are here!

So, back to our day...

First we spread our blanket under a shade tree and unloaded the bikes. The sun filtered through the leaves just enough to be pleasant.

I brought a couple of books to read, but truth be told, we didn't read much. Molly and I looked at varieties of corn in The Life and Times of Corn - she loves naming colors right now.

The dogs across the fence were the kids' favorite attraction! Everyone laughed hysterically when the dogs pulled the sticks we offered them through the fence and chewed them up.

We stomped around the field for a while, turning over rocks and collecting big sticks. It got a little hot in the sun, so we came back to home base and had a little scavenger hunt. I gave the kids 4 or 5 objects to find and bring back to me. Very Charlotte Mason of me, don't you think? Here are some of our finds:

Soon we noticed all the insects around us:

The tree trunk swarming with giant ants ...

 A lightning bug, up too early...

Honeybees collecting pollen from clover flowers in the grass...

And even a ladybug hiding in the bark of our shade tree...

(I could really use a camera with better zoom these days!)

Next, we went up the hill to the picnic shelter. Here we sat on the swing and watched the neighborhood.We listened to cicadas in the trees, a lawnmower humming, birds singing, and a lazy airplane droning overhead. The sights, smells and sounds were such a throwback to long, aimless days of my childhood summers! I tried to help the kids notice everything.

View from the swing:

And a double self-portrait since Mommy is always hiding behind the camera! (Oops, I think Molly was crying in this one.)

Pretty soon, the kids were digging in the dirt, which is really the goal of any nature outing, right?

As the shadows grew longer, we played with bikes, balls, and kites which did not fly... a little more wind would have helped!

All in all, we called it a great day, and loaded up our loot for the ride home, where we enjoyed...

sweet cold watermelon! I think one of the best things about summer is finding these for under $3... a perfect treat after a day in the fresh air. Thanks for coming along!