Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweet Tooth

Today Ray was saying he wants to work on a farm when he grows up. My mom and I then began talking with the boys about what kind of crops they would grow if they were farmers. Adam, in quite a dramatic and excited voice, declared, "CANDY!" The look on his face was priceless.... pure bliss at the thought of a field full of candy.

And the Easter Bunny hasn't even arrived yet. Sigh.

I know where he gets that sweet tooth though. I need mine extracted!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Trip to the Circus!

One of the great things about Jon's job is the fun family activities that his firm provides for us. We have joined Jon's co-workers and their families for bowling parties, train rides, fun at *Magic Mountain* and now a trip to the circus.

This was a first for our boys. Ray was really scared that it would be too loud and overwhelming, but once we got there we all had a great time. We rode rides, ate cotton candy, bought cool souvenirs, and saw a fun show. Jon and Adam even rode on an elephant!

The boys really liked the acrobats and the motorcycle riders the best. My favorite part was watching their faces. When the show started Adam said, "Now this is what I call a circus!" He belly-laughed a lot and shrieked with delight. Ray was studying everything, trying to figure out how it all worked and trying to anticipate what would happen next.

As I watched the entertaining, but less than spectacular show my thoughts wandered from, "What are these shriners all about anyway and is it really a good moral thing for me to be here?" to "I am so happy and so blessed." It doesn't get much better than a fun night with your family. I loved experiencing the wonder and joy with the boys (and Jon too of course). And so, as a lady swung from a swing way up above our heads and some dogs were dancing and climbing up ladders, I was caught up in a true prayer of joy and gratitude. There I was.... praying at the circus. Awesome!

I often comment that my life is like a circus. Maybe I could develop that analogy in another post, but for now I'm just so thankful for fun family adventures. It's these times I want to savor and remember.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Scrapbooking - Part Two

I really like the way I scrapbook now. It is realistic, do-able, and fun for me.

When Ray's "first year calendar" came to an end I didn't want to stop recording something about him each day. So, I purchased a blank calendar and turned it into "Ray's Second Year Calendar." I continued the practice of writing something about him or something he did each day. Then, I used the top part of the page as a scrapbook page for that month. I attached my favorite pictures from that month to the calendar and I put the rest of the pictures in a photo album.

I've continued this process (with both boys) ever since and I'm thrilled with the results. It's easy and fun to flip through the calendars and see the best pictures of the boys and the highlights of each year.

On the cover of each calendar I put a picture from the beginning of the year and the end of the year.

There are always a few extra pages at the end of the calendars. I add a few pieces of their artwork and writing from the year and I make some pages about their birthday celebration.

On the back of each calendar I put professional photos that were taken that year.

The best parts of this system are that it's relatively easy --- one page per month --- and it makes nice keepsakes each year. I don't feel bad for not scrapbooking every detail or making big fancy books. (I do keep other mementos in a big plastic bin for each boy.) Another great feature of this system is that we have an "archive" of sorts. We often check the calendars when trying to remember when things happened.

The drawbacks are that it's hard to find a way to preserve the calendars to last over time and I still have trouble keeping up with the months. (I am several months behind right now... trying to catch up.) I have to be disciplined about writing something every day. Often, I fill in a week at a time. I just write the highlights of what we do each day and/or special accomplishments or developments.

I think that when the boys are old enough to receive their First Communion I will also start a religious/Sacramental scrapbook for them. For now, however, I like the system I have and I hope I can continue it long term. Ideally, as the boys get older, they could fill in their own calendars and post pictures each month as well. I just have to find a way to get them to do it without realizing it's scrapbooking!

Here are some pictures of some of the calendars:

Scrapbooking - Part One

Yes, I am a scrapbooker.... one of those crazy, anal-retentive collectors of mementos, photos, stickers, paper, and various other doo-dads.

I have binders and scrapbooks full of my memories from high school, college, and beyond.

I made a wedding scrapbook and I keep an anniversary scrapbook in which I put an annual picture of Jon and me as well as a list of special events and memories from each year.

Then, when Ray came along, it got really serious. I kept a baby book AND a first year calendar (in which I wrote something about Ray or what he did every day) AND photo albums AND I made a scrapbook of his first year that is over 100 pages long!

Yes, I have been ridiculed about this. (I won't mention your names!) I've been told that neither Ray nor anyone else will ever really care about all of this stuff.

I know, it was really thorough. BUT - when he becomes a bishop or the pope, his life will be very well-documented.

Really, I know that the scrapbooks and the whole process of making them are for me. I don't have a great memory. By making the books and keeping them and looking at them, I preserve the memories of the things I don't want to forget. They are treasures to me.

What about Adam? Well, I found out I was pregnant when Ray was nine months old. I spent the whole pregnancy working on finishing up Ray's first year scrapbook so I could start on Adam's when he was born. And I did. I felt like I had to do everything for Adam that I did for Ray. So, yes, now I have two sets of baby books, first year calendars, photo albums, and 100+page first year scrapbooks on a shelf in my upstairs hallway. (Feel free to come visit this "museum of Ray and Adam" anytime!) ;)

I have to admit that I am not going to win any awards for these scrapbooks. Serious scrapbookers spend hours and hours and lots of money on each page and they make it look just right. I have my own style. I like to use colorful paper, lots of photos, stickers, etc. I also like to write my own captions. They are simple, but special reminders of special moments in life.

So, now that the boys are both well past their first year of life, what kind of scrapbooks do I keep? The answer to that.... in my next post!

Happy Weekend!

Saint Francis Prayer

I can totally relate to this new version of the Saint Francis Prayer.... and I know so many of my mom friends will too. It comes from the incredible, awesome, talented Danielle Bean. She is the editor of my FAVORITE magazine and website, *Faith and Family Live* (see the link in my sidebar).

St. Francis Prayer (stomach virus version)

Lord,Make me an instrument of Your healing love;
Where there is vomit let me bring Lysol;
Where there are boogers, Kleenex;
Where there is fever, Tylenol;
Where there is boredom, library books;
Where there are chills, warm blankets;
And where there is whininess, Scooby Doo.

O Divine Master,Grant that I may not so much seek
To be well-rested as to provide clean sheets,
To be appreciated as to disinfect the house,
To be showered as to give warm baths,
For it is in scrubbing out the bathroom that we are cleansed,
It is in sharing laps that we find comfort,
And it is after resting that we will return
To a normal life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dueling Pray-ers

I guess it's natural for two boys - 17 months apart in age - to turn everything into a competition. That is totally the dynamic we're facing right now. Everything is a competition. Today's "competitions" included... who could get dressed the fastest, who could do the most pages of school work, who had the most legos, who could swim the fastest in the pool at the Y, who could count the highest and fastest, who got the bigger bowl of snacks, who could jump the farthest, and who could pray the loudest.

That's right.... who could pray the loudest.

We have a series of prayers we pray together at bedtime. I told them I wanted them to say their prayers really nicely and then we could read one more book. When I said "nicely" they somehow translated that into "loudly." They were both sitting very still, with their hands folded, trying to look very holy.... and practically screaming the words. They were also very expressive. It was ridiculous. I was angry at their irreverence, but I was also trying not to laugh. I wish I had it on video tape. Thankfully, we did manage to calm down and complete our prayers reverently.

As I reflect on it I must admit that I have fostered this competitive spirit. So often I tell them things like, "Whoever gets in the car first gets to choose the music" or "Whoever cleans up the most legos gets to pick a snack first." Maybe my incentives and strategies are having detrimental side effects. This parenting thing is a constantly evolving challenge!

Speaking of prayers, please say some for Jon. Until yesterday he seemed to be rolling with the tax season craziness remarkably well. Things are really piling up and wearing him down now. He is working MONSTER hours and feeling the effects of the stress. He has three more weeks until our favorite day of the year, April 15th. I find it so hard not to be able to help him more. Please pray for him. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Bullies" and Imaginary Friends

Well, the talk about the "Chick-Fil-A Bully" continued today. In my last post I failed to mention that the kid was dressed like *Batman.* The boys have been calling him "that bad Batman bully." I also forgot to mention the most hilarious quote of the evening. As I was having a very serious conversation with the boys about following Jesus and treating people with respect, I told them I never want them to be bullies. Ray reminded me that he DOES want to be a "bully" when he grows up and he wants to play for the *Blue Jackets." It took me a minute to realize he thought I was talking about goalies. So, who knows how much of my wonderful speech made any sense in their beady little heads. Meanwhile, I will continue to pray that they don't become bullies. I'm not even thrilled with the thought of them becoming goalies. I don't want anyone shooting anything at them! (Some of you know my track record with flying hockey pucks!) I'm praying for "that bad Batman bully" too, but the boys were quite half-hearted about that prayer tonight.

The other thing I want to share today is Adam's new t-shirt....

It says, "Some of my best friends are imaginary." It is so perfect for him! He will even tell me, "Mommy, I'm in my imaginary world right now. I am a mouse and you are a platypus. Ok?" My responses vary from, "Ok, whatever" to "You've got to be kidding me" to "You better run little mouse or I'm going to eat you!" I can't even tell you how many times he's asked me, "Mommy, who do you want to be?" Then I have to come up with some character or animal that meets his approval. Fun.

I am so glad that the child has an imagination. (Ray, like his father, is very literal and serious.) I want to nurture it, but I'm beginning to wonder where to draw the line. Adam loves to role play and pretend and he also now spends lots of time drawing things that he imagines. It's interesting to get a glimpse of what he's thinking. Perhaps he will continue on a creative path. Meanwhile, I just wish I could get a picture of him without his tongue sticking out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

(Almost - Not Quite) "Totally Terrific Tuesday"

Today was a pretty good day --- for a Tuesday.

We did a good amount of schoolwork this morning. We read Spring poems. The boys drew pictures of Spring and narrated to me some of their favorite things about Spring.

Then we took a quick shopping trip and purchased rain boots. I am so tired of washing the mud off the boys' shoes! Adam seems to be quite the mud magnet! Here's a picture of his BRAND NEW boots after just ten minutes in the yard today. (Let me just say that the boots actually look better than the snot and mud mixture that coated his face!)

We have really been enjoying watching the very hungry birds DEVOUR the bird seed in the feeder that hangs right outside our kitchen window. However, when we sat down to lunch today, we noticed that the bird feeder was GONE! Here's what we saw when we looked out the window---

It was very funny to hear the boys hypothesize about how the bird feeder ended up smashed and broken on the ground. The theories involved big flocks of hungry birds, squirrels, geese, and *Scooby Doo*. Needless to say, we need a new bird feeder.

This evening we went to *Chick-Fil-A* for a special *Veggie Tales* Family Night. We had a really good time. Jon took a break from work to join us. My sisters and their children were there. Our favorite balloon guy was there. (Really, we have a "balloon guy." Randy from Ballooniacs came to Ray's birthday party and did an AWESOME job!) The boys got balloon sculptures and had their faces painted. They got *Veggie Tales* coloring booklets and they watched some of the newest *Veggie Tales* video. They also ate some dinner and played in the play area.

It was such a fun time, even despite the fact that Adam ended the evening by hitting a boy who was "being mean to him and hitting him first" in the play area. How humbling it is to carry a screaming three year old out of a crowded restaurant! When the screaming ended (MANY minutes later), we actually had a very good lesson about Jesus' model of relating to other people. It's really difficult for three and five year olds to grasp that not only is it hard to use self-control and ALWAYS treat other people with respect, but also that not every family has the same rules and beliefs. The boys were really mad that the "mean boy" was still playing and not getting in trouble.

Anyway, I'm trying to forget that part of the evening. It was a typical Tuesday.... a little bit terrible and a little bit terrific. Thank you, God, for all of the moments and opportunities you give us each day.... moments to praise you, to enjoy life, to love one another, to teach and learn important lessons, to ponder, to relax, to play and to pray.

I'm looking forward to Wonderful Wednesday!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Little Saints' Club

Don't these children look like saints to you? We are so blessed to belong to a group of Catholic homeschool families. The families with young children have formed a subgroup called "The Little Saints' Club." We gather once a month and participate in fun activities which mostly focus on the liturgical year. We've had an All Saints' Day party, a bithday party for Baby Jesus, a Saint Patrick's Day gathering, and several other outings and events. The children and the mothers love getting together to play and visit each month.

Yesterday we gathered with some of the Little Saints families and we put together "Stations of the Cross kits." Each child decorated a bag with some cross stickers and their name. They each received a set of Stations cards. Then, as we talked about each station, the children received an object to place in their kits. The objects corresponded with the stations.

(This basic idea has been posted on many blogs, including --- here and here.)
The children were really wowed by the objects and thrilled that they got to keep them. It was sweet to see how much they treasured these holy things. I especially loved hearing them talk about the stations as we went along. They truly love Jesus and they are struggling to understand why he had to die. It was challenging and inspiring for me to talk with them about it.

Here are the objects we used in the kits ----

(leather cord, wooden cross, bandaids - for each time Jesus fell, statue of Mary, hand with heart - symbolizing Simon helping Jesus, picture of Jesus on a cloth, Kleenex - for the women of Jerusalem, felt robe, three nails, a crucifix, a picture of the Pieta, and a rock)

This was the first activity Ray chose to do when we went downstairs at 6:15 this morning! Here you can see how he laid out the cards and matched up the objects that went with them.

I'm sure that these Stations kits will be treasures for years to come!

What a blessing it is to have friends to share our faith - and these kinds of projects - with as we teach our children and learn and grow in our own lives of faith! Praise God!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Praying for Fathers

On this feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary and patron of fathers, please join me in praying for all fathers.

At Good Shepherd today my friends and I were talking about our husbands and each of us was asking for prayers for our husbands for different reasons. Our husbands currently face job stresses, job searches, illnesses, and other struggles. We each promised to lift all of our husbands, the fathers of our children, up in prayer in a special way today.

Dads have it tough. They carry a lot of responsibility. They don't deal with stress in the same ways that women do and often they don't have the support systems that women do. Today my friends and I were thanking God for each other, for the way we can talk and support each other. We talked about ways we can better support our hard-working husbands. We all sheepishly admitted that we tend to bombard our husbands when they get home from work with a million "to-do's " and complaints and problems.
We resolved to try to limit that and be more appreciative and supportive of our guys.

We also talked today about how proud we are of our husbands. I know I am so proud of Jon. He works so very hard and doesn't complain. He takes care of all of our financial stuff, yard work, lots of chores around the house. He truly enjoys playnig with the boys and teaching them new things. He honors me and is always thankful for what I do for him and the children. He is truly a good and honorable man. I know that he teaches our boys so much, especially by his example as father and husband. I remember how happy he was the day he became a father. Even though there are very tough days and he gets frustrated with the boys, I know he loves them so much and he is learning and growing as a father every day.

Obviously, dads need our support and God's grace to bear their responsibilities. Joseph is a great role model and intercessor for them and for all of us.

Let us pray today for our own fathers, living and deceased.
Let us pray for the fathers of our children.
Let us pray for all fathers, especially for those who are particularly struggling at this time and for those men who have not stepped up to be the fathers they should be to their children.

Prayer to Saint Joseph for Fathers
Saint Joseph, guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, you passed your life in loving fulfillment of duty. You supported the holy family of Nazareth with the work of your hands. Kindly protect those who trustingly come to you. You know their aspirations, their hardships, their hopes. They look to you because they know you will understand and protect them. You too knew trial, labor and weariness. But amid the worries of material life, your soul was full of deep peace and sang out in true joy through intimacy with God's Son entrusted to you and with Mary, his tender Mother. Assure those you protect that they do not labor alone. Teach them to find Jesus near them and to watch over Him faithfully as you have done. Amen.
(Pope John XXIII)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Life is like a box of chocolates...

We had the privilege today of touring the *Anthony Thomas* Chocolate Factory with our friends from the Saint Matthew playgroup. It was really neat to see the factory with all the assembly lines and machinery. The boys kept comparing what they saw to the book "Curious George Visits the Chocolate Factory" (which I ended up reading THREE times before bed tonight). We saw huge chocolate bunnies that the boys now believe the Easter Bunny will bring them. We even got a free sample --- a chocolate Buckeye! Of course we also had to shop in their store and get a few treats, including a chocolate calculator for Daddy!

As I watched the ladies working in the factory, sorting and packaging the chocolates, it seemed like a pretty good job to me. There was such order to it. I thought it would really be good for my perpetually-sought-after senses of accomplishment and well-being. Then I thought about having to smell the chocolate every day and how much I'd probably want to buy it and eat it and how much I would weigh if I actually worked there..... and I figured it probably isn't my true calling.

I couldn't resist thinking about *Forest Gump* and his famous quote --- "Life is like a box of chocolates.... you never know what you're going to get." How true it is! Forget the senses of well-being, accomplishment, and clarity that I have spent so many years pursuing. I think I'm finally old enough to accept that those things aren't my ultimate goals and focusing on them is futile anyway.

Our tour guide today was telling us a bit about how they mark the different kinds of chocolates, but I think it's best just to pick one, be surprised, and really savor and enjoy it. The children must be teaching me to embrace a new lifestyle.... probably teaching me the lessons God's been trying to get me to learn for a long time. I can't control everything. I'm not supposed to. I need to savor each moment and be ok with some chaos and surprises.

Thank God for chocolate!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

It was a beautiful day today so we decided to head downtown for the Saint Patrick's Day parade. We met some friends, had a picnic lunch, and really enjoyed the parade.

It was fun to teach the boys all about Saint Patrick. They thought is was cool that "everyone in the world" was celebrating a Catholic saint today. They decided there should be more saint parades. I agreed.

They worked really hard on these coloring pages ---

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

I bind myself to the strong virtue of love.
in the obedience of angels,
in the prediction of prophets,
in the preaching of the apostles,
in the faith of confessors.

I bind myself to the power of heaven,
the light of the sun,
the brightness of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the flashing of lightning,
the swiftness of wind,
the depth of the sea,
the stability of earth,
and the compactness of rocks.

I bind myself today,
God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's power to teach me,
God's eye to watch over me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech.

Christ with me and before me.
Christ behind me and within me.
Christ to the right of me.
Christ to the left of me.
Christ above me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me.
Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me.

I bind myself today to the strong virtue of Christ.


Rainbow Activities

We've spent the days leading up to Saint Patrick's Day doing several rainbow activities. We've been learning the colors of the rainbow and how to mix the primary colors to make all of the rainbow colors. We've been reading rainbow stories, including Noah's Ark (in which God sends a rainbow as a sign of his covenant). We've talked about leprechauns hiding their pots of gold at the end of rainbows.

Here are some of our projects:

I thought it was interesting to see what shapes their rainbows took. And yes, I did have them paint "topless" since they both had been wearing new t-shirts that day.

I saw the idea for these rainbow cupcakes in *Family Fun* magazine. We especially had fun mixing all of the colors into the cake batter.

We got white carnations and put them in rainbow colored water. It's been a few days and they are just starting to show some of the colors in the flowers. Hopefully, I'll post an "after" picture soon!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marriage Proposals

One of the best things about being a mom to preschool age boys is the almost daily marriage proposals that I receive. It seems like just yesterday I was wondering if I would ever find a man to marry. Now I am so blessed to have a wonderful husband AND two adorable little men who swear to me that they will never find another girl they want to marry. They only want to marry me.

Today the boys actually had a little fight about which one of them is going to marry me first. It is so sweet (their love for me - not the fighting). I am awed by how much they love me... especially because I know I'm not the most beautiful, loving, perfect mom in the world. But I am their mom and I do love them with all my heart.

When the boys talk about marrying me, I try to do several things. First, I celebrate with them how much we love each other. Then I try to plant seeds in their minds and hearts about marriage. I just make simple statements about how beautiful and wonderful marriage is and how it's such a gift from God and how I thank God every day for giving me their daddy for a husband. I tell them to pray for their future wife, whoever she may be. (Of course many of you know that MY plan - ha ha - is that Ray will be a bishop someday!)

The other thing I do is say a quick prayer asking God to help me be a good wife and mother AND to help me love myself as he does, as Jon does, as the boys do.... to accept that I am beautiful enough and good enough to receive such love.

Every Friday we drive through downtown Columbus on the way to *Good Shepherd* and we pass the *Renaissance Hotel* (formerly the "Adam's Mark"). One week I told the boys that we had our wedding party (reception) there. I told them it was such a happy day. Now, without fail, one of them always points it out and says, "That's where mommy and daddy got weddinged. It was such a happy day!" Usually one of them will ask, "Mommy, when are we gonna get weddinged?" And so, every week I try to say some little thing to witness to them about the beauty of the holy Sacrament of Marriage.

Of course the bigger challenge that Jon and I face is to model each day what married love can and should be like. It is humbling and awesome to know that the boys learn about marriage by watching us love one another every day.

God of Love, thank you for the gift of Marriage. Please strengthen the bond between Jon and I --- and between all married couples --- so that we may grow in love and mirror for others, especially our children, the beauty and power of true love. Be our strength and our guide today and always. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

God Knows What He's Doing!

On a recent trip to the *Kingdom of Bounce* - as my boys and their friend flipped down a slide, pounced on each other, shrieked, and leaped up the stairs to do it all again - I overhead a lady say to her friend, "God really knew what he was doing when he gave me girls!"

My immediate unspoken-aloud sarcastic response was, "Yeah, thanks a lot God!" I always pictured myself having cute, well-behaved girly-girls. Jon has five sisters and I have two. Neither of us has any brothers. We just assumed we'd have girls.

So many times -like when the boys are flipping, pouncing, shrieking, and leaping - I question why God gave me boys. There are so many things they do that I just don't "get." I am amazed at the things they do (wrestling, getting really dirty, jumping off furniture) and the things they like (trucks, trains, mud, monsters)... amazed at how "boyish" they are even though we didn't "try" to instill those things in them.

Honestly, I would never have chosen to have boys... but they are the greatest gifts God has given me - so much better than what I would have chosen for myself - and I thank God for them everyday. He really does know what he's doing. Thank you, God, for not always giving us what we think we want or need.

Truly, I have already learned so much from these little boys. I never knew or cared AT ALL about trains. Now I am practically a walking encyclopedia of train trivia. More seriously, though, it is fascinating to see the world along with them. My perspectives are broadened and deepened everyday. I'd be missing out on so much if I wasn't their mom.

I am humbled, challenged and stretched in this sacred "job" that I do. There are great parts and really hard parts. But I know God put me right where I am with these two cute, active, intelligent, energetic, amazing boys. Thank you God!

Of course I'm not saying that boys are better than girls. My heart still longs for a daughter. I actually started to cry at *Target* this weekend when I saw the PERFECT little Easter dress. I briefly entertained the idea of forcing Adam to wear it.... but instead I took a deep breath and told God that I trust him. I know he knows what he's doing and he's with me every step of the way.

I'll close with some pictures of today's very BOYISH Science activity.... which the boys totally loved. I can't believe I actually spent my day doing this! We made "worm habitats." This week we are learning about birds. Today's lesson included talking about what birds eat and this was a suggested activity. Not only did we get dirt and sand all over my kitchen table and floor..... we also went out digging for worms in the mud. AND now the "habitats" are nestled in the boys' closets so we can observe them every day this week. (I can hardly wait!) If I wake up with a worm crawling on me, you'll hear me scream wherever you are!

*This is NOT a dinner salad! ;)

*They look like they are wincing, but I think I just took the picture at the wrong moment. They had NO PROBLEM touching the worms and adding them to their habitats. Adam already told me he will never set his worms free. They are his pets and he loves them.

*In this shot Adam is pretending to be a bird about to eat the worm! Yum!

What a CPA does on his day off....

With tax season in full swing, Jon has been working LOTS of hours.... leaving early in the morning, coming home for a quick dinner, and then going back to the office until late at night. It's just the way his job is. We are so blessed to have him leave at 8:25am and return at 5:05pm most of the year, so I try not to complain too much.

Right now, however, he's totally swamped at work. He did take all of yesterday off. I did some work upstairs in the afternoon. When I came downstairs, Jon and the boys were having a great time.... shredding. He was using his scarce time off to go through old paperwork here at home. The boys thought shredding was so fun! They even asked me if we could shred papers today.

As you can see, shredding became quite an "event" to say the least!

Now that gives a whole new meaning to being "buried in paperwork!"

At least they cleaned it all up!

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Breath of Fresh Air

It's amazing how much better we all feel when we can get outside and breathe some fresh air and run around a bit! We've had a hint of spring the past few days and it has really helped our spirits.

After *Good Shepherd* today we took a bike ride and went down to our neighborhood park. (Yes - they were riding their bikes. That's why they're wearing their helmets. I don't make them wear helmets to play at the park --- usually.) Then the boys enjoyed playing in the muddy backyard. (The loads of laundry were worth it today.)

Jon took a break from taxes and came home for dinner. He was playing with the boys and this is what I saw when I came in the room.....

Yes, the taxes ARE getting to his head.... but here he was actually playing this game...

It's one of our favorites for an after-dinner active game. We also really like *Hullabaloo* and *Dr. Suess' Super Stretchy ABC Game* as well as marching around the house with *OSU* marching band music blaring! It's amazing the things we'll do to entertain active young boys. These are the things we didn't think about before we had children.... when we could sit and relax and watch the news after dinner! Fortunately, we'll soon be able to take after-dinner walks and bike rides and even swims! Come on Spring - we're ready!

Have a great weekend and don't forget to change your clocks!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Almsgiving for Little Ones

Almsgiving is an important spiritual practice that we are trying to foster in our boys, especially during this holy season of Lent. I incorporated several "almsgiving activities" in our Lenten journey calendar. Since the boys don't yet have much understanding of money, we are focusing on giving in other ways.

During the first week of Lent we sorted through their toys and chose some things to donate to children who don't have as many toys to enjoy. We donated them to Goodwill.

Last week we went through clothes and found things that didn't fit anymore or we didn't need. We donated these to a local food pantry that also distributes clothing to their clients.

This week we've been reading about the Woman at the Well, the Feeding of the 5000, and Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse. We've talked about the corporal works of mercy, especially feeding the hungry. And so today, when we went to the grocery store, I had the boys each choose a few items for us to purchase for those who are hungry and not able to purchase the food they need. We decided not to buy some of the "treats" we usually purchase so that we would have money to buy the items to donate.

It was very interesting to hear their comments and observe their decision-making processes. Ray immediately wanted to buy the things that HE likes --- Life cereal, mac and cheese, canned carrots. Adam said he thought the people would really rather have toys. Then he wanted to buy eggplant. (Not that we've ever eaten eggplant.) When push came to shove, I told him to pick out four cans of vegetables. He threw some in the cart and that was that.

When we got home we bagged up our donations and added some other items from our pantry. I made a big deal about taking a trip to a local food pantry to donate the items. On the way there, we had to detour around a big traffic accident. The errand seemed to take forever and the boys just wanted to be outside playing in the sunshine. When we arrived at the pantry, it was closed and no one was there to accept the donations. I was frustrated. Adam was oblivious. Ray was worried that "now the hungry people will have nothing to eat."

And so, we will make the actual donation another day. I think it's important for the children to actually bag the donations up and deliver them. That makes it more real for them.

The remaining two "almsgiving activities" I have planned include:

1. Donating some money from their piggy banks to a charity. We will give them some choices about that. (Unfortunately, our parish did not distribute rice bowls or anything like that. Those are really great "almsgiving projects" for children.)

2. Helping a friend or neighbor with a project. We want them to begin to experience the sacrificial joy or helping others. Any ideas or volunteers? Anyone looking for help from a 3 and 5 year old? :)

Hopefully these activities - as well as our ongoing efforts - will begin to foster hearts of service, generous Christian sharing and giving.

Lent is already halfway over! May we all continue to grow in holiness these days and always.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sink or Float?

Our homeschool theme this week is "By Sea and By Sky." Basically, we're reading and learning about boats and planes. We did a little bit of science this afternoon. I had collected several items and we tested them in a big tub of water to see if they would sink or float. I figured this would be a very easy, but fun activity for the boys. It was, indeed, very easy for Ray. I was pleasantly surprised by the accurate explanations he had for why things sank or floated. He became quite the little teacher, helping Adam make predictions and explaining why each item sank or floated. The challenging part for him was learning how to correctly mark the chart we made.

Then, after the official lesson, they played for quite a while in the water. They tested lots of other items, turned the water green with food coloring, added shaving cream, scrubbed things. It was fun and not too messy.

Continuing the Theme

The quick overnight trip to Cincinnati certainly continued my recent theme of ups/downs, highlights/lowlights..... It was lots of fun, two days filled with adventure. It also taught the boys (and reminded me) about life's disappointments and priorities.

The trip can definitely be divided into two parts: the great day and the day of disappointments. (I should have known better than to go on a "Totally Terrible Tuesday!")

Monday was the great day. Mom, Carter (my nephew), the boys, and I had a nice (sunny!) ride to Cincinnati. We went to *Entertrainment Junction* and had a very fun time. Carter and Adam loved running around the play area and going through the fun house mazes. Ray, of course, loved the model trains.

After that we headed to *Great Wolf Lodge.* It is AWESOME! I hightly recommend it! We stayed in a really cool room that included a "cub den" for the boys - bunk beds with their own tv. We enjoyed a nice dinner and then headed to the water park. We had a blast! (The only down part is that I forgot to take my camera to the waterpark.) The boys loved whooshing down the "medium sized" water slides, floating through the lazy river, swimming in the big pool, and hopping across lily pads while holding onto ropes. We left the water park right before it closed, got our pajamas on, and went to story time in the lobby. After that everyone (especially mom and I) plopped into bed, happy but exhausted.

Then came Tuesday - all too soon. Ray woke up at his usual 5:15am time. Mom and I tried to keep him quiet, but I ended up taking him to hang out in the lobby around 6:00. Ray was "starving" by 6:40 so we headed to McDonald's for breakfast. When everyone was up, around 7:30, we headed BACK to McDonald's to get them some breakfast. I was joking that you know it's a bad day when you're at McDonald's TWICE before 8:00am.

Then Carter fell off of a high stool and cut his chin wide open. So, we went to the ER for stitches. Carter was very brave and the hospital staff were wonderful. My mom was also very brave as she held him through the stitches and then called Colleen (Carter's mom) with the news. Meanwhile, the boys and I went back to the lodge and packed up our room. The boys were very worried about Carter. They decided to buy him a souvenir from the lodge to cheer him up. They picked out a small stuffed wolf.

The very worst part of the day was when we told the boys we could not go back to the water park because of Carter's stitches. The wailing was impressive! When everyone stopped sobbing, we told them what a great time they would soon be having in the play area at *IKEA*. Of course, we got to *IKEA* and the play area was full. The boys were very well behaved as we picked out the things we wanted from *IKEA* and ate some lunch there. They were all very exhausted though, so we headed home.

As we pulled off the exit to my mom's house two hours later, Ray said "Are we back at the water park yet?" He's never one to give up easily! It was only 2:00, but I was ready for bed!

Fortunately, the rest of the day went pretty well. The boys played out in the backyard for a long time and Jon came home for dinner. At dinner we had a good talk with the boys about life's disappointments and about taking care of one another, especially when someone is hurt. I really think it was a good life lesson for them.

The final straw for me came last night. I stayed up later than I wanted to and typed out a lovely post. (My sister Reenie really gets on my case when I don't post for a few days!) I thought I hit "publish" --- but ended up losing the whole thing. So, I turned off the computer and gave up for the day. It took about two minutes for me to fall asleep.

Fortunately, today is a new day. Already we are remembering the good and laughing about the disappointments. Carter seems to be doing fine. We are very thankful to my mom for taking us on this trip.

I apologize for the long chatty post. The main point --- the thing I'm reflecting on today --- can be summed up in this quote I read on another blog last night:

"The only way to make it in this homeschooling life..." (I have to add - in life in general) "... is to reach for God instead of for happiness... Contentedness will not come from being more organized, sleeping longer, being a better wife, keeping a nicer home, using higher-quality materials, taking more time for yourself, or whatever it is you think might help. Contentedness is learned by accepting life each day as God gives it to you, and adjusting your expectations to life's limitations." (from Seasons of a Mother's Heart by Sally Clarkson)

And so, let's embrace the situation God has put us in today, with all its blessings and challenges... all the ups and downs.... let's live contetedly in the present moment for and with God.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Weekend Highlights and Lowlights

Friday Highlights ---

A great day for the boys at Good Shepherd

Fun at the fish fry with friends

Friday Lowlights ---

A "festival of puking" - Ray this time - between 8:45pm and 10:30pm. Remember when I posted about our lucky streak--- five plus years of children with no vomitting? Some powerful being in the universe heard of my boasting and struck me with an evil curse! Ray was fine all day, complained of a stomach ache at bedtime, then proceeded to vomit in his bed, in our bed, and in his bed again.... each time soaking every layer of bedding. I had to call Jon home from late night tax preps to help with the madness. Adam slept through it all. Ray then stayed up until 11:00 watching Project Runway with us and enthusiastically offering his opinions on the fashions.

Saturday Highlights ---

Celebrating Jon's birthday. I won't say how old he is, but next year is a BIG ONE... for both of us! We enjoyed a great spaghetti dinner and Wii party at my mom's.

Thankfully, Ray was fine! Must have been something he ate?!?!?

Sunshine! A strange, warm, glowing thing in the sky!

Saturday Lowlights ---

SEVEN loads of laundry... mostly all the bed linens from Friday night's extravaganza of craziness! (Looking on the bright side - as my mom reminded me - thank God I have a washing machine.)

Muddy Children... Seeing the strange warm light in the sky, the boys wanted to go to the playground, ride bikes, do ANYTHING outside. The problems: melting snow and mud! I did let them out in the back yard, but paid for it big time.... ANOTHER load of laundry.

Sunday Highlights ---

More sunshine!

Adam was AWESOME in Mass today! He has just recently graduated from the nursery to "big boy church." He was full of wonder today. After Communion, he pointed to the crucifix above the altar and asked me, "Mommy, is that really God up there?" On the way out of Mass I was telling him how proud I was of him and he told me, "I deserve a great big chocolate!" Precious.

ALSO, today Jon and I got to go out for a fabulous afternoon meal at *Brio.* Besides spending time with Jon and enjoying great food, the three best things about this were:
1. We spent no money! (Thanks Mike, Reenie, and Colleen for the gift card!)
2. We got free dessert because our food took a long time to come out. (We weren't in a hurry anyway!)
3. We saw Sylvester Stallone outside the restaurant. Yes, that's right --- a great big entourage of vehicles and bodyguards and Sylvester Stallone. We were told that Arnold was near by as well, but we didn't see him.

THANKFULLY, no lowlights today!

Tomorrow my mom and I are taking the boys and their cousin Carter to Cincinnati. We will be visiting *Entertrainment Junction* (, *IKEA* (Yeah!), and *Great Wolf* Lodge and Water Park! It should be a fun little adventure. We'll be back on Tuesday night and hopefully I'll post some great pictures and details of our trip.

This week I also hope to post some more ideas for observing Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross with Children, and plans for Easter.

I hope you had a great weekend!
May this week be blessed and productive for all of us.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Up Days and Down Days

Well, after such a great day of learning on Wednesday and my long post about what we do for preschool.... we didn't do much to write about on Thursday. I was very low-energy and we just had an off day. It wasn't horrible. It's not that we didn't do any learning or playing. It was just blah.

I really struggle with those kind of days and feelings. It's hard for me to just be ok with not doing much. I want to be going and doing all the time and I get really frustrated when I don't live up to my own expectations and I'm not crossing things off of my to-do list.

I know that God wants to speak to me and work in me and through me during these down days just as much as in the up days (probably even more). But I'm so hard on myself that I tend to shut him out. So, I tried to offer myself to him and just relax a bit. Tried.

One of the greatest lessons children teach us is to live in the moment. It's a lesson I'm always trying to learn and embrace. I'm often so busy planning and doing that I miss what's happening or could be happening right now.

Today was better. The boys and I had a great day at Good Shepherd. We're getting ready to celebrate Jon's birthday tomorrow.

I hope that you have a great weekend... and that you'll remember, especially during these "desert days" of Lent, that God is with us on the up days and the down days, when we're feeling great and doing well AND when we're not feeling and functioning the way we want to or think we should be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What We Do For Homeschool Preschool

Picture 1 - Our learning room
Picture 2 - An alphabet train activity, where the boys match objects with their starting letter
Picture 3 - The boys playing a "Saint Joseph" matching game.
Picture 4 - Bedtime stories, an important part of our learning each day!

Today we had a very productive and happy learning day, so I thought I'd post about what exactly it is that we do for "homeschool preschool." I know that most of you who are reading my blog aren't really familiar with the nuts and bolts of homeschooling, so maybe this post will help you understand more about what we do each day/week. (Grab something to drink.... this is a long post!)

First of all, there is no one right way to homeschool. Each family does it differently according to what works best for them. Especially when it comes to preschool, there are many differing theories about how structured or unstructured homeschooling should be. I try to keep a balance --- doing specific themes and lessons, but not overly-planning for every minute of our day. I try to leave lots of time for play and spontaneous projects and outings, etc.

The most important thing we do is live the liturgical year in our home. We celebrate the seasons and feast days of the Church. We begin and end our days with prayer. We learn about the saints and the traditions of the Church. We go to Mass and are involved in our parish. We have lots of books, cd's, videos, games, etc. that are helping us grow in faith each day. Our faith is always part of what we do.

Last year we did "Letter of the Week" - using a variety of websites and worksheets and ideas from books. We learned the letter sounds, made our own alphabet book which included pictures of our family members, posted words and pictures on a learning board each week, and did lots of activities and cooking to go with each letter.

This year we have a theme for our learning each week. I have taken the themes from a Catholic preschool homeschool curriculum called Little Saints by Cynthia Blum. The curriculum seems a bit young for my two at this point and many of the activities suggested require lots of preparation and materials. However, I really like the themes and the book lists. I pick and choose from the activities and add my own. Some of the themes have included: weather, pets, colors, outer space, plants, forest animals, nutrition..... We do stories, poems, songs, crafts, cooking, field trips, experiments, and other activities based on these themes.

As far as our schedule goes.... most days (Monday through Thursday), once we are dressed and ready to begin our day, we pray and talk about the calendar and the weather and any special holidays or feast days or saint days. Then we do some work at the table (more on that in a minute). From there we usually do a more active project/craft and then some reading. After that, our days really vary. Sometimes we have a play date or go shopping or on some other outing. Sometimes it's just play time or we go outside. After lunch we usually come back to some kind of theme-related school activity and/or finish up work from the morning. Then I try to make sure we do some active play or exercise. Sometimes the day looks totally different than this, though. If we have other plans or just don't get around to school in the morning, we do things in the afternoon and/or evening. That's part of the beauty of homeschooling! Basically, I make a list of projects/lessons/activities for the week and we check them off as we go. Sometimes we cover them all. Many times we choose to do activities that aren't officially planned.

It's great to have our "learning room" in the dining room. It has become the center of most activity in our house. My dad's cousin gave us these great shelves that hold all of our books, learning games and activities, craft supplies, etc. The boys know that they can choose these things to do anytime. They spent lots of time there playing, drawing, and working on projects.

At this point, besides participating in our themed activities each week, Adam is doing a lot of coloring and drawing. He is playing learning games, doing puzzles, learning his letters and numbers. He listens to lots of stories.

Ray, however, is doing more structured work with me. If you ask him, he is already in Kindergarten. That's fine with me. We are working and learning each day, using lots of kindergarten level materials. It's awesome to be able to go at his pace and give him so much individual attention. When we work at the table each day, the first thing he does is write his first and last name in a writing tablet. It's been really neat to see how much his writing has improved already. He also works in a Math book by Modern Curriculum Press. He does writing worksheets, mostly from Catholic Heritage Curricula's "Little Folks' Letter Practice." Ray received a "Hooked on Phonics" reading kit from my mom for Christmas. It is an awesome program! Each day we complete the drills and lessons and read from his own little books. He has made really great progress and he is very proud of himself. When we finish this kit in a few months, we will begin a Modern Curriculum Press Phonics book.

It may sound like a lot, but each thing only takes a few minutes. We also play lots of games, listen to various kinds of music, sing, read, do science experiments, go to the library, swim and play at the Y, go to sports classes at the Y, attend Metroparks programs, go to the zoo and COSI.....

On Fridays the boys participate in a program with other homeschoolers. It has two parts: Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and Montessori. They do lots of hands-on learning there and they learn how to function in a group and learn from teachers besides me.

One other thing that we are thrilled to be part of is our "Little Saints' Club" -- a group of Catholic homeschool families with young children. We gather each month for activities and projects. The boys are making good friends there and so am I!

So, that's what we do.... in case you were wondering.

Right now Jon and I are in the process of making final decisions for next year. It looks like we really aren't going to enroll Ray in Kindergarten. That is scary and exciting at the same time! We are looking at all of our curriculum options (from very structured "packaged" programs to do-it-yourself "combination" resources). There are also some co-op opportunities for things like music, gym, and art. We hope to be part of those programs as well.

Thanks so much for your interest and support in our homeschool adventure. We really appreciate your assistance and prayers as we try to give our boys the best education possible.