Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ramblings, Part I

The nun habits the girls got for their dolls for Christmas... so cute
So, this will be a rambling post... and every time I sit down to try to put an update here, I feel like I have so much to say, and then... nothing comes.  So I will add lots of pictures from the past month and see if that gets my brain moving as I comment on them and also hopefully follow the tracks of my brain to where they actually want to go.  If that makes any sense at all.

So, this was a fun thing... I am very sentimental, so this piece of wrapping paper is still on my desk.  My constant battle between minimalism and sentimentality rages on within me.  I am really hoping to work on minimizing things in my house this year... kind of a New Year's resolution.  I don't know where it all comes from, but if it doesn't have a use or it makes my children bicker, out it goes.  If it holds sentimental value to me, well... hard to let go of some things.  I have thrown out stuff in the past and then regretted it later based on the sentiment attached to it.

Back to the wrapping paper... this was a roll of wrapping paper that I hadn't seen used to wrap presents since I was much younger and still living with my parents.  I assumed it all got used up like in 1994 or something.  well, apparently it did - all but this scrap of it.  You know the scrap that you had to cut off and then saved because it might be able to wrap a box of earrings or a baseball card one day?  Don't scoff, I am not being random here; I used to get my brother a baseball card of his favorite Braves player every year for Christmas and then wrap the card about ten times, and this scrap would have been perfect for that.  Well, maybe for half the card.  Apparently this year, my dad decided to use these last scraps.  He wrapped them around the handles of gift bags with a tag attached to them (creating mass confusion in the large family gift opening department, as the previous years' tags on the bags themselves did not get covered up, and he had to explain,"No, look at the wrapping paper scrap wrapped around the handles; that is who it's for!").  And I gleefully announced, "Oh, I remember that wrapping paper - I loved it (alternately, "It was so ugly; I guess it is still around because nobody wants to use it!" - although the pineapple paper has not made an appearance in well over a decade, perhaps two)!  I'm so excited that we still have some!"  Er, had some, as my dad burst my bubble by saying this was the last of it.  So I rescued two of the last of the old wrapping papers, and now, hmm, maybe I will make them into laminated bookmarks or something?  Again, usefulness and minimalizing!  But these philosophies must also intersect with my style of reused/reclaimed/handmade decor.  See exhibit A, my license plate collection which adorns the walls of the sunroom (and contains a few sentimental pieces with stories behind them, of course), and exhibit B, my search for a farmhouse-style dining table (either antique or made from reclaimed wood if new) for our hopefully still-growing family.

So that is another resolution I have for this year.  Find us my ideal table.  I already found a few on Craigslist and they already sold.  To other people.  I am the kind of person who needs to look at ads for tables the day before I could actually drive two hours to buy one.  If I look at them and save them for later, they will be gone before I go look at them.  It doesn't help that the tables are all a few hours away from me.  Chris and I need a date day, a table-looking date day.  This is one thought that kept popping into my head a week or two after the miscarriage: I just want a day all alone with only my husband.  We will go to Mass and go table-shopping.  That is all I want to do.  It was strange how strong the urge was at that time... but yeah, I do still want to go find a table. 

O Come Let the dollhouse families Adore Him
 I found this setup a couple of times during the Christmas season... various toddler dollhouse people gathered 'round the nativity.  This is a child-friendly nativity that my mom started us one, adding a few new figures each year.  The wise men and camels were this year.  Lucy liked to have all her dollhouse people come to join in the Nativity of the Lord.  I don't know what happened to Cloth Dollhouse Daddy there; it looks like his wife pushed him over.  He was one too many for the crowd, apparently.  The plastic brown-haired people... those came from a teacher supply store marketed as dollhouse people for toddlers (because they are chunky and easy to hold, don't have hinged appendages that can pinch tiny fingers, etc)... but the description on the box was unfortunate.  They were labeled as the "safe, soft, white family."  Sold alongside the Hispanic, Asian, and black dollhouse families.  Many a joke was made that Christmas, and seeing as Caroline could read that year, they are still referred to as "Lucy's safe white family."  Thanks, Mom. ;)

See, I told you this would ramble.  It's even uglier than I thought, ha!  And all that from a wrapping paper scrap.  Sometimes it is exhausting to be in my own brain.  So with that, I will take a break and come back later to add more... I think I will post this in parts.  Otherwise, it will just sit and I will keep adding to it slowly and then it will be quite long.  Small dose rambling is probably easier on the brain anyway.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Soul Gardening Journal

I started getting this wonderful little magazine this past fall... it is written by Catholic mothers and is mailed out, in print, for free.  They exist solely on donations.  And I was so impressed with it after reading half of one issue that I sent a donation myself as past of our charitable giving at the end of December.  It seems to be speaking directly to me - giving me the comfort that there are others out there like me and that maybe I am not alone in my craziness, ha ha.  Homeschooling, chickens, photography... all covered in this one issue.  An excellent encouragement for mothers of young children!

Here is an example of one of the articles (see, they are short, on small pages, perfect for a busy mom with her hands full of toddlers and babies to read in short snatches here and there)... you'll have to click to see it large enough to read:

I need to update more here, maybe eventually get around to sharing the Christmas photos, reflections on miscarriage, and sharing some of the girls' artwork and other things we have been up to... eventually...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Family Geography Studies

Some fellow homeschoolers recently asked me to share our Family Geography studies here on the blog.  This is something we do in the first grade as a way to learn some geography and history that is relevant to the children's own background.  It is a suggested topic of study in the plans from Mater Amabilis, a free online "curriculum" of sorts.  I use the quotation marks because it is more a set of suggested resources and guidelines rather than a boxed curriculum of texts.  If you click on Level 1B, you will find the guidelines and suggestions for Family Geography.  Below are some photos of how we have implemented this study in our own family.

Three things that have been very helpful to us for Family Geography:

1. Use of Google Maps.  We have looked up addresses of where parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents have lived.  Using the satellite and street view shots, we can look at the houses, the yards, and nearby landmarks such as rivers and oceans.  My mom and I even "drove" around on the street view for a small town in Ohio where she lived for about six months in the 50s as a toddler, armed with only a photo of the house... and we identified it after about an hour of looking!

2. Obtaining old family photos.  I particularly have pulled out photos that show the houses where people have lived with the family members outside of them or of other geography of the area.  There is one old photo of a great-grandparent at a major river in his hometown, and then we visited that same spot and took a photo of our children standing there.  The old photos have been scanned so I can print them, and then the girls have glued these photos into their Family Geography books. 

3. Visiting the old homes of grandparents and great-grandparents when possible.  If they don't live there any more, we have driven by and taken photos as we pointed them out to the kids.

I have done this with my oldest daughter and am currently doing it with my second one.  So at the beginning of the first grade school year, I have given the child a blank book which we put all of our maps, photos, and information in.  The following photos are of some of the pages from these books.

We printed a family tree template found online and filled in the child, parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.  We also included the birth and death dates and birthplaces of each.

Map page showing locations of each family member's birthplace

We tied in landform study... Georgia, our home state, has almost all the major landforms and bodies of water.  One relative grew up in a town on Lake Superior; one alongside the St. John's River... I had these state sheets from an old teacher workbook and made copies of some of the states that were relevant.  We also visited major landforms in some of the states... my husband grew up in Tennessee, so we went to the highest point in the state, Clingman's Dome, and spent time in the Smoky Mountains.

Page on how my parents came to Georgia and where I was born, as well as my own children's birthplace

My parents were both born in Florida... this page shows where they were born, how they met, and shows some photos of them in front of their homes.  We compared a bay to a gulf since my dad grew up on the St. Petersburg peninsula, in between the Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

More Florida photos... my mom as a baby on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville

We made some recipes that had to do with states or family members... this is peanut butter balls for Georgia.  My daughter narrated the steps and I typed them for her to make this page along with prints of photos of her making the recipe.

Recipes related to my grandmother

Map of Tennessee to show the towns where my husband and his relatives were born

My daughters standing in the same place by the Cumberland River as the old photo of their great grandfather

Another suggestion was to learn about saints from any of the states with a family history... my mom's father was from Pennsylvania, so we made pages on St. Katherine Drexel and St. John Neuman.  We have also visited the site of the first Mass in St. Augustine, FL, and this would make another interesting page or pages for those with relatives in Florida.

There are so many little tidbits they can pick up through this... my grandfather's family owned a slate mine in Pennsylvania, so we found the possible site of it on Google Maps, the house where he lived, how far it was to the university he attended... they could see the mountainous landscape of that region and learn that slate is mined there.  We have a piece of a chalkboard that came from the slate there.  It is neat to tie all these things together!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent 2014

It has been awhile since I posted any updates on what is going on here.  We have had a very difficult past two weeks.  I had a miscarriage at 9-10 weeks into my fourth pregnancy, and now we are all battling bad colds.  It is the worst feeling when you feel like crying over the loss of your baby but making yourself hold back because of the intense sinus pain that you know would only be made worse by tears.

We named the baby Mary Karol.  I had a dream that the baby had been a girl.  We found out that there was no heartbeat on December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mary) after an ultrasound I got in the ER, knowing something was not right.  Then the miscarriage began on December 15, the feast day of St. Mary di Rosa.  So the name Mary seemed very fitting when put with my dream.  I still don't have a definitive feeling on the gender of the baby, and the middle name Karol sounds feminine in our culture but is actually a male name in Poland and was the name of Pope Saint John Paul II.  My family has Polish Catholic heritage, and he was the Pope when I was born.

I am so grateful to the people who have helped us... this is already a busy and complicated time of the year, so we have needed the support.  My mom came to stay with the girls when I had to be hospitalized overnight after passing out during the miscarriage.  Our friends from church took the girls both times when I had to go to the ER and fed them dinner.  Another friend took care of the girls and drove them to their dance classes for me as well as bringing us dinner, and one of our neighbors offered to bring us a meal this past weekend.  Having meals made for us has been truly the best thing... it has been one less thing we have had to manage.  My wonderful husband has been holding us together otherwise, being the only one not struck down by this cold.  He has been doing Christmas baking and keeping everyone fed on the days he has been home from work.  My brother who is a transitional deacon has also been very helpful in looking into how to best go about with burial of the remains of the baby... we want to respectfully do something that is in line with our faith.  Other than the specific things people have offered to do for us, having other moms tell me about their own miscarriages has been so helpful.  It seems that almost all of my friends have been through this at least once.  I am sad that any of us have to go through this, yet it makes us all feel less alone when we realize how common this situation really is.

Please pray for peace for our family at this time.  I took several photos of how our Advent was going before this all began, so I am going to share some of those now... as I sit under the influence of this cold while my kids watch yet another movie, ha.  Movies have been helping to get us through the sadness and sickness.

Our advent wreath before lighting it on the first Sunday of Advent... and Mary and an angel.  We put our main nativity set figures around the room and have them travel gradually to the stable.

Our three kings wait to make their move after Christmas, so they will arrive on the Epiphany, January 6th.

Our baby Jesus stash... they hang out in a sugar bowl until Christmas day, when they are placed in their corresponding nativities.  We also have two play nativity sets, and those already have their baby Jesuses and kings so the kids could play out the whole story of the nativity.

My mom started this Fontanini kid-friendly nativity last year... it looks very nice, but the figures are a durable resin type material.  They are constantly being rearranged, and the grass stuff is all over the floor, ha.

Cecilia and Lucy enjoying the play nativity sets

Some of our Advent and Christmas books... we have been reading at least one each day

The sacrifice manger has been getting filled with straws to make baby Jesus a nice soft bed... each time one of the girls does a good deed or makes a sacrifice, she can place a straw in the manger.

Each day we have been doing a reading from the Old Testament on one of Jesus's ancestors and adding an ornament to our Jesse Tree (Jesse was Jesus's 24-greats grandfather).  Last year another mom hosted a Jesse Tree ornament swap online, so we made 30 of one ornament and then mailed them to her, and she sent everyone a complete set!  I love that we have a handmade set of these to use each year!

The girls made St. Nicholas cookies for his feast day on December 6 and we shared them at our homeschool group as well as with some neighbors.

Lucy loves wearing the Christmas Snoopy apron

The girls got up on St. Nicholas morning to find treats in their shoes... holy cards, clementines, chocolate coins, and a few new Christmas books.

Then we had our traditional St. Nicholas breakfast: bread shaped like a bishop's crozier filled with cream cheese and jam, clementines, and hot chocolate stirred with mini candy canes (croziers!).

Our priest has been wearing purple vestments most of December... Lucy is learning to put the vestments on according to the liturgical calendar.

St. Lucy day was on December 13, and since it is Lucy's name day, we always do something special to celebrate... the girls wear their St. Lucy crowns, which is a custom on this day in Sweden, and we bake Santa Lucia bread in a wreath shape like the crowns.  They have fun blowing out the candles afterward.  Chris and I were sort of glad to be able to come home from that ultrasound and make the traditional St. Lucy bread, to do something normal for our kids and our family, while waiting for the miscarriage to begin.

The girls decorated a gingerbread house recently... I always buy one of those kits on clearance after Christmas and then save it until next year.  That way I can tell them not to eat it because it is too old, ha.  They usually decorate it on one of the days getting close to Christmas on which the O Antiphons are prayed... one day the prayer is, "O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens; Come and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death."  So they build a house to represent this antiphon.  Yesterday's antiphon was O Rising Dawn, which speaks of light... we typically go out on a drive to look at Christmas lights on that evening, but with everyone feeling so awful with colds, we put it off and are hoping to go maybe tomorrow night instead, if we are feeling up to it.  Chris and the older two might be well enough, but I know Lucy and I wouldn't last long.  I am praying we are mostly over this by Christmas eve.

 Cecilia decorated some gift bags that we will fill with some treats to give to friends and neighbors for Christmas.  I have a huge stack of old Christmas cards for crafts... some were given to me randomly and are from unknown people.  Funny thing, one card was a musical one from 1995, according to the date in it, and it started playing when I opened it... and it wouldn't stop.  It played on and on for days.  I was very impressed with its battery life, and it was almost sad when it finally stopped (after sounding quite pathetic as it died down) because it had become part of the background in our house, ha.

I hope everyone has a merry Christmas season and that you have some time of rest with family and friends.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

All Saints Celebrations

This year, Halloween fell on a Friday.  We went to the vigil Mass of the Feast of All Saints Day, where the children are invited to dress as saints or figures from the Bible.  There is a "trunk-or-treat" in the parking lot after Mass, so we did about six cars there and then went home so they could trick-or-treat in the neighborhood as well.

On our front porch after trick-or-treating
The vigil Mass has always been a mostly-Hispanic Mass; however, it is advertised as being bilingual (which it is) and everyone is welcome to both the Mass and the trunk-or-treating in saint costumes afterward.  Yet in the two times we have gone, we have pretty much been the only non-Hispanic family there, which is a shame that there is such a divide within the parish that families see it and just assume to themselves that it's a Hispanic thing.  This year, since All Saints was on a Saturday and the US Bishops decided to abrogate the feast, there was no All Saints Mass on Saturday at all.  So the vigil was the only option if we wanted to attend an All Saints Mass, and we did!  We love this feast day!

Something we did for the first time this year, in addition to carving a jack-o-lantern, was to carve "Saint-o-lanterns."  There are ideas of symbols to carve in a book that I won in an online giveaway a few years ago, A Year with God, and our neighbors had given us three little pumpkins, one for each of the girls.  So they drew the designs they wanted, and I carved three of them - Caroline carved her own with the Swiss army knife that her uncle gave her when she found it in my parents' house.

Lucy's monstance pumpkin - a symbol of St. Clare, since she held the Eucharist up as the convent was about to be attacked by an invading army, and they turned and fled!

Cecilia's crown pumpkin - a symbol of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, who was a queen
Caroline's pumpkin shows a palm branch surrounded by three drops of blood - her saint, St. Joan of Arc, was a martyr
Lucy with two of the jack-o-lanterns, holding up my vintage McDonald's Happy Meal pumpkin bucket that I got when I was in college, just because.
Lucy as St. Clare

~All Saints Homeschool Party!~

On the Friday after All Saints Day, we had our annual All Saints homeschool party!  The kids can all dress as saints and then they play saint-themed games, have saint-themed snacks, and try to guess each others' saint costumes.  We have done this in the parish hall for the past two years, and it has worked out really well there.  We have plenty of space and tables there.

Caroline was Joan of Arc again, but this year, she dressed as her as a soldier - last year, she dressed as Joan of Arc as a shepherdess, before she led the French army.  Her blue dress is a cheapy costume from Oriental Trading or some awful place like that, ha, and then I made her "armor."  The top part is a shiny silver fabric that cut into a rough shape and then sewed up the sides, leaving arm openings which I cut slits in to look like armored sleeves... we used this photo of St. Therese the Little Flower, who once dressed as Joan of Arc in a play, and that is what we modeled the costume after:

The skirt part is some skirt material from the craft store, again cut to look like St. Therese's costume.  I did no hemming; I used Fray Check!  I thought it would be practically impossible to hem both these types of fabric anyway, and I was going for function and not for them to be able to be worn daily or anything like that.  So, I hope it will hold up for other kids to wear in the future!  The fleur-de-lis is supposed to be an iron-on from the craft store, but again, finicky fabric... so I had to stitch it on after it came loose after being ironed on.  Her sword is just a scrap of wood that Chris cut out from the leftovers from the Winnie-the-Pooh tree.  We didn't have paint for it, but maybe one day we can improve it with some silver and gold paint.  Caroline made her flag herself by drawing it to look as described in a novel she has about Joan of Arc, and then I went over her drawing with gold puffy paint.  I love that she copied the flag from her book's description!  I taped it to part of her shepherd's crook from last year. 

Cecilia chose to be Saint Elizabeth of Hungary - she wore most of Caroline's costume from a few years ago when she was St. Elizabeth.  We got lucky when our neighbors gave us this royal-looking dress up costume in a bag of hand-me-down clothes several years ago.  Her veil is a white piece of fabric I hemmed years ago for them to play with as a doll sling, and the crown is something I made for them last year - they each get a little handmade something for Epiphany.  The crowns are easy to make: you just need felt, fabric glue, and elastic and can then decorate it with stick-on jewels or puffy paint or even embroidery.  I used this tutorial to make them.  She is holding some fake roses because of the story that when St. Elizabeth of Hungary was feeding bread to the poor of her country, her husband the king stopped her because he didn't think a queen should be going among the poor that way, and when she opened her cloak, the bread was gone and roses were there instead!

Lucy, dressed as St. Clare in her Poor Clares habit, certainly looks poor with that scraggly hair, ha ha!  She kept pushing it back and rumpling up her hair and then having to try to tuck it back in!  This costume was also used previously by Cecilia.  The brown tunic is an inside-out brown shirt of Daddy's, tied at the waist with a piece of knotted rope.  She has a simple wooden rosary hanging from her belt.  The part around her face (i think it is technically called the wimple?) is a white shirt of Daddy's with her head partway through the neckhole, which I pinned to make it tighter.  This works better with a white turtleneck just a few sizes bigger than the child actually wears, but I didn't have time to rummage and see if I had one in a bin of clothing, so this worked fine too.  The veil is two pieces of hemmed fabric: one white, one black, pinned to the top of the t-shirt.  It also works better to pin the excess t-shirt in the back behind the neck - I had tied the sleeves together behind her neck, but it didn't stay.

Our snack table with our Happy Feast of All Saints banner
The kids all got snacks first
Some of the snacks were Juan Diego's tortilla chips and salsa, St. Francis's animal crackers, St. Bernadette's "firewood" (pretzel sticks), and Saint Halos (pineapple rings), St. Isidore the Farmer's Veggie Patch, and Archangel Trumpets (Bugles chips)...

...and I brought deviled eggs, or St. Lucy's eyes!  She is the patroness of eyesight and was supposedly blinded during her martyrdom.  Her name means "light," which we know is essential for sight. 

The games were set up in stations that the kids could go back and forth between.  This one is Crown Mary the Queen of heaven, where they toss the cown ring-toss style over the statue of Mary that I brought from my garden.

The Guess How Many jars are so fun to put together... and to see what the kids guess.  We had guesses as low as ten and as high as 100,001!  This year we had a jar of caramel candies (Rolos) for Our Lady of Mount Carmel, star-shaped cereal for the Our Lady of Guadalupe, candy corn and pumpkins for St. Isidore the Farmer, Goldfish crackers for St. Andrew, patron of fishermen, marshmallows for the Holy Souls, and animal crackers for St. Francis.

Chris got to come to the party because he took a half day off work to make up for the four hours he'd worked the previous Sunday (because sometimes IT guys have to work at crazy times)!
Here are two of our group playing the St. Juan Diego Rose Toss game.  It works like an egg toss except it is less messy!  The goal is to keep trying to catch the roses in the cloak.  Juan Diego was a man who lived in Mexico, where Mary appeared to him and gave him fresh roses in winter as a sign to show the bishop.  He gathered them in his cactus-fiber cloak called a tilma, which can still be seen in Mexico over 500 years later with Mary's image still on it.  The fact that it has not deteriorated based on what it is made of is incredible!

I came up with a new game station this year, mostly for the older kids who knew more about the saints.  We had some trivia sheets, a saint memory game, the Church Windows card game about the four evangelists, and Saint Guess Who.  I printed the images off; I can't remember exactly where, but this is an example.  Anyway, I made a set of saint sheets for our own Guess Who game and then the kids could play it!

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of this year's St. Isidore's Pumpkin Patch Race, which is lots of fun to watch!  I did take several photos at last year's party.

The kids played saint bingo as a large group and then did a mini cupcake walk where the child who was standing on the saint that was called out got to go pick a cupcake.  While they played bingo, I figured out the winners of the Guess How Many jars... both Caroline and Cecilia won something this year.  Lucy didn't make any guesses, but if she had, they all would have been 41.  For some reason that is her favorite number right now!

Just before the cupcake walk, the children all played Guess My Saint.  Each child who dressed as a saint went up to the front and the others tried to guess what saint they were based on their costume and on any clues they gave.

Group shot!

All Saints in Heaven, Pray for Us!