Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pray and Play

What do you get when you gather nine families with a total of 32 children in your home on a rainy Monday morning?


Yes, that's how many people we hosted here for a Pray and Play Date on Monday. Our Little Saints' Club (which is part of our homeschooling group) is gathering for these Pray and Play Dates every Monday for the rest of the Summer.

This week's theme was the story of the two builders - the wise man who built his house on rock and the foolish man who built his house on sand (Luke 6:46-49). I volunteered to host it at my home since we have an awesome giant sandbox in our backyard. Of course it poured rain several times during the weekend and the entire yard was drenched. So we kept everyone inside.

We read the Scripture passage, gave every child a coloring sheet, and sang a song with motions that went with the story. ("The Wise Man Built His House Upon a Rock"). We said the Guardian Angel Prayer together. (At each Pray and Play Date the children receive a prayer card. We pray together and they take the cards home and put them in their pocket-size photo album prayer books.) The big highlight of this play date (besides snacks) was sand art. That's right.... 32 children doing sand art in my kitchen eating area.

It was great! All of the children were very well-behaved. We had a few children at a time at the sand art table. I had toy stations set up all over the main floor, on the screened-in porch, and in the basement. The moms were able to visit. The children played and loved doing a messy, fun art project. The rainy morning flew by quickly.

Unfortunately, I was too busy to get many pictures. Here are a few glimpses from the sand art table:

I loved hosting this play date. It was so fun to see all of the vans lined up out front. (I wonder what the neighbors think is going on here!) The moms helped clean up and Ray even mopped the kitchen floor for me! These are the kinds of experiences I hope my children will treasure and remember. I know I will!

Thank you God for the opportunity to spend time praying and playing.... with so many wonderful friends. I am so thankful to be part of this awesome community of your followers. Amen.

***FYI.... I made TONS of colored sand for very little money. I took regular play sand and mixed in powdered tempera paint (which I had stashed in my basement, left over from my teaching days). The children were able to make a small cross necklace AND fill large pop/water bottles. It was so much fun and not as messy as I had feared.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Embracing Imperfection

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I always thought God would give me daughters.... nice, well-behaved, cute little girls. Yet in His hilarious sense of humor he has gifted me with two very active, sometimes wild boys. (Yes,.... I love them to the moon and back... wouldn't change it for the world, etc...) It's just not the way I would have done it if I had been "in charge." Obviously God knows what He's doing. For one thing, by giving me these boys he's teaching me a lot about humility, patience, unrealistic expectations, perseverance, letting go of control, looking at the world differently (the list goes on and on).

I know they're not perfect, but I want them to be.... especially with other people. So it's sometimes very difficult for me to leave them in the care of other people. I feel nervous about how they will behave. I know they are active and can be rambunctious. I don't want them to be "bad boys" and I don't want people to think I'm a bad parent. It's shocking to me how little they care about what other people think. (I know it's my personality type... all of those personality test things always tell me I'm concerned about image and what other people think.)

So this week was difficult as Ray attended Safety Town and both boys went to Bible School. When I picked Ray up from Safety Town one morning I heard the teacher repeatedly telling him to go back to his seat. I cringed. The worst moment came on Thursday when Jon and I arrived to pick up the boys from Bible School. I was horrified when I walked into the room and saw all of the children singing and dancing in a circle and MY boys wildly running around the middle, with several teachers trying to get them to settle and participate appropriately. I literally had to leave the room to keep from losing my cool. I brought them home and way-too-dramatically expressed my disapproval and embarrassment. I spent the whole night obsessing about what's wrong with them and what we've done wrong and what we need to do to make them behave. (Yes, my friends and my mom will tell you I spend lots of time and energy doing this.)

I really prayed about it though.... and I talked to my mom of course. I think there are two things I really need to embrace and remember. First, God made them. They are who they are. They are awesome, but they are not perfect. I need to nurture them, discipline and guide them, and let them be who they are. Second, I have always had VERY high expectations of myself. Now I seem to be placing those expectations on my children. I can't assume that others are judging them as harshly as I am. I can't care about that. I need to let go of such high expectations, choose what's important, work on one thing at a time, and sit down and breathe once in a while.

So, we all learned a lot this week. The boys really had fun and learned a ton. I went through a gamut of thoughts and emotions and learned a lot about myself as a person and as a parent.

Last night I read a great quote by Elizabeth Foss in her book, "Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home." She says, "Again and again we see the truth that each child is created to reflect God's image in a unique way. A child's personality and personhood is God-given. We can't and shouldn't try to make a child into 'our own image' or into what we think he should be, or what some curriculum designer things he should be. It is the role of parent and educator to help a child become more like the 'ideal image' that God has in mind for him." (page 21)

And so my prayer is that God gives me the grace to grow into the ideal image that He has in mind for me AND that God helps me not get in the way too much as my boys discover and grow into the ideal images God has in mind for them. Together we continue to journey toward heaven, helping each other along the way. I again commit to my own jouney in holiness, for my example will teach the boys far more than my words or punishments.

This long story has a happy ending! Ray was so proud and so well-behaved at Safety Town graduation. AND Ray and Adam both were wonderful at the Bible School program on Friday evening. Ray especially enjoyed singing and doing the motions to the songs. Adam held it together very well also, even though he tells me singing and dancing aren't his best talents. They weren't perfect and I was ok with that. We enjoyed the culminations of these programs and we're thankful for all we learned.

(You may soon see a new button in my sidebar for collecting money for my counseling fund! :) Just kidding!)

Here are some pictures from Friday....

I want to frame this one and keep this moment frozen in time forever!
Here are the boys having fun at the Bible School Ice Cream Social with their friend Ella.

Check out these cuties.... Ella and my precious God-daughter Lucy! Love the t-shirts!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Celebrating the Birthday of John the Baptist

We had great fun celebrating the birthday of John the Baptist today!

Our Little Saints' Club had a "John the Baptist Water Day." The children splashed in baby pools, threw water balloons, washed and scrubbed toy vehicles, played on the slip and slide, ate popsicles, and tried to free small toys that were frozen in giant cubes of ice. Most importantly, we talked about John the Baptist and the Sacrament of Baptism. We even had a mock Baptism in the baby pool.... complete with a "priest" and "godparents" and "parents" and a baby doll! Each child received a John the Baptist prayer card. (We are making prayer books this summer. At each play date the children will receive a new card for their books.) Miraculously, the ominous skies never produced the storms that were forecast. Thank you God.... and thank you Fouts family for hosting. What a great morning!

At dinner tonight we talked with the boys about how John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and ate locusts and wild honey. We enjoyed honey on our rolls. For dessert we had delicious grasshopper parfaits (inspired by the ladies at Catholic Cuisine and by my friends at this morning's playdate). What a yummy way to celebrate!

Did you know that we only celebrate the birthdays of two saints? They are Mary, the Mother of God and John the Baptist. For all of the other saints we commemorate a feast day, which is the day they died.

We are really enjoying celebrating the liturgical year as a family and with our friends! This is what being Church is all about!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Busy Bees

We are having quite a busy week!

In the mornings Ray is participating in Safety Town at the local elementary school. This is a weeklong program for students going into Kindergarten. The local fire and police departments sponsor the program. The children learn every imaginable safety rule --- fire, stranger, traffic, bike, water, gun, emergency, poison.... Ray is loving these classes. So far he has enjoyed a presentation by a magician firefighter, sprayed a fire hose, gotten inside fire and police vehicles, driven a little bike/car through a "town" which included traffic signs he had to obey, and completed some activity sheets and crafts. Later in the week he will get to go into a fire safety "house" and practice getting out of a fire safely. He will get to ride a school bus. He will even have a graduation on Friday!

In the evenings Ray and Adam are both participating in Vacation Bible School at our parish. They are loving their experience at "Planet Zoom" which is the bumblebee-themed title of the program. Each evening includes a Bible story, games, a craft, a snack, and music. When we pick them up at the end they both talk at the same time a mile-a-minute. They are very proud of their crafts (a bee magnet last night and a beaded necklace tonight). Each night they get a charm card with a prayer on it that they add to their bracelet/key chain.

I am so happy that the boys have these great learning opportunities. I only wish they weren't scheduled during the same week. Ray had to take a nap today! Adam will also attend his gym class tomorrow and a playdate on Thursday. So we really are busier than during the school year!

It's quite strange for me to drop them off! I am so used to having them with me all the me. Jon and I could really get used to having two hours free every evening! Tomorrow we are going out to dinner with some friends. Having the boys get involved in these outside activities makes me realize how quickly they are growing up. I am trying to savor these days and teach the boys to embrace and enjoy each opportunity and each day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Another Michigan Adventure

We returned this evening from a five-day visit with Jon's mom in Michigan. We really love the time we get to spend with Jon's family up North. Each trip is a different adventure.

This time we had a special project to complete. Along with one of Jon's sisters, we offered to paint their mom's living room. She has wanted this done for a long time and we were very happy to be able to help out in this way. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful and the boys had a blast playing outside for most of the day. The painting went quickly and smoothly and now Jon's mom is enjoying a fresh, clean living room. Yay! What a feeling of accomplishment. (I should have taken before and after pictures, but I was too busy!)

Usually when we go to Michigan the whole family gathers and there is no room for all of us to stay in their family home. (Jon has five sisters!) So we've always stayed in a nearby hotel. This time we stayed at the house. We had such a nice time. It was great for the boys (and us) to have more one-on-one time with Grandma and to hang out more at the house. Grandma had been preparing for our arrival and had beds made up and new books and toys for the boys and all of our favorite things to eat.

(I apologize for not taking more pictures on this trip! Somehow I have no pictures of the boys with Grandma and no pictures of our paint job!)

For a while now the boys have been asking us to take them camping. I've been camping only a few times.... way back in Girl Scouts and in college. I am definitely a city girl (and Jon's family likes to tease me about that). So, I had the crazy idea to camp in Grandma's back yard. She lives in the city limits, but it seems like country to me. She has a lot of land and it borders a golf course. We borrowed a tent from some friends. (Thanks a million Fouts family!) On Thursday we set it up in the yard. We borrowed a fire pit thing (?) from one of Jon's sisters. (Thanks so much Nancy!) The boys were thrilled to have their first bonfire and campout!

Of course we had to start the fire WAY before dark since Ray rarely stays awake past 8:30. The boys were fascinated by the whole process. Ray loved roasting marshmallows and making s'mores. He kept making them, taking one bite, and setting them down or giving them away. Adam, on the other hand, was gorging himself on marshmallows and s'mores. We had to cut him off. I can't believe he didn't end up getting sick!

Ray really enjoyed sitting around the fire and making up "scary" (mostly silly) stories. Around 9:00 he kept asking when we were going to "turn the fire off." He decided to go inside and go to sleep. He told me, "That tent thing just seems a little scary." Adam stayed up until around 10:00. He was waiting for it to get dark so he could use the flashlights. Since the tent was small (and since I'm a scaredy-cat), Jon ended up roughing it in the tent with Adam for the night. I went inside, but hardly slept because I was imagining all the things that could happen to them out there "in the wild!" In the morning, Adam was well-rested and proud. Jon was sore from sleeping on a gradually-deflating air mattress, and I was just exhausted.

On Friday Jon and I went to Lansing for a homeschooling conference. Jon's mom and his sister Susan were so generous to watch the boys so we could enjoy this special opportunity. We were able to learn a lot at the conference and spend some time together away from the children! It was awesome! We attended the conference Friday evening, spent the night in a hotel, went to the rest of the conference on Saturday, and returned home to Midland on Saturday evening. Meanwhile, the boys had so much fun going to a farmer's market, garage sales, and a park. They made Father's Day cards for Daddy. They had a lot of fun and were (thankfully) very good boys.

Other highlights from the trip included visiting with some of the boys' older cousins, checking out a Lego exhibit at the Midland Center for the Arts, and eating trout freshly caught and prepared by Aunt Susan. Adam REALLY enjoyed drawing elaborate pictures with chalk on Grandma's long driveway.

We celebrated Father's Day with some special gifts for Jon. (The picture below shows Jon and the boys testing out Daddy's new toy - a remote-control helicopter!) We took him out to his favorite breakfast place and to Mass before packing up the car and heading back to Ohio.

It's always difficult to leave Jon's family and return home. We don't like living so far away from them, but we definitely love the fun times we have on our visits!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New "Neighbor"

Look who's been hanging around our yard lately! It's an albino squirrel! We've been watching him come and go for the last few weeks, but haven't been able to get a better picture than this. Adam has tried to "stake him out" by waiting for him quietly in the yard. He thinks he's going to catch him and keep him for a pet. This morning Jon and Ray watched a mama bird dive bomb him in our tree when he got too close to her nest. I just hope he doesn't try to dig himself into the awning of our house like some other pesky squirrels did the last few springs!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Backyard Activities

Last week I had one of those brilliant mom triumphs..... one of those moments when a simple idea bought me more than two minutes of time to sit down, read a book, and breathe while the children happily and creatively played together. It was magical.

The boys were playing in the backyard, but beginning to pester each other and whine about everything. Inspired by some saint or angel or other heavenly being (it truly wasn't my own brilliant idea), I walked in the house and pulled out a package of pipe cleaners (called chenille stems these days I guess). I split them in two, handed each boy his share, grabbed my book, and sat down on the porch.

Wonder of wonders.... they were enthralled by all of the possibilities. All I can say is that whatever money was spent on those pipe cleaners (I think my sister-in-law actually gave them to me) was WELL-SPENT MONEY! Pipe cleaners were twisted around every possible crevice on the swing set. THEN, they became art as they decorated our fence. Adam made a bunch of "caterpillars" on the gate.

Ray made a sculpture on the fence.

They even decorated the fence behind the garden in an effort to attract the bees! (There's some Science for the day!)

Those pipe cleaners have survived several days and several rain showers and they're still being played with in the back yard. My niece came over yesterday and made some very cute pictures with them on the fence!

So, I just thought I'd share that little trick that worked for me. Our neighbors probably think we're totally crazy, but I don't care. I think maybe I'll try teaching the boys to weave some ribbons or streamers through the fence on some other boring summer day. A friend also suggested we put Dixie or Solo cups in the fence in interesting patterns. Who knew our fence could provide such entertainment!

Some other simple activities that keep little ones busy in the yard:

"Painting" with water (the sidewalk, the house...)

Collecting bugs in a jar

Having a "car wash" (if not washing the real car, then scrubbing all of the yard toys with soap and water - This one keeps my boys busy for an entire afternoon)

I think my dad used to pay us per dandelion for every weed we dug out of the yard

Peanut hunt (or any other kind of hunt.... I've been known to get out the plastic Easter eggs at any time of the year... they enjoying hiding them as much as finding them)

Book picnic (Spread out a blanket and bring out a basket of books to read together)

Bubbles (of course)

For a Halloween party I once spray-painted a giant spider web on the grass. We played several games on it. I'm thinking of doing a maze at some point.

Chalk isn't just for sidewalks. Our boys use it on the wooden swing set all the time. It washes right off in the rain or with the hose or course.

Running in the sprinkler

Scavenger hunt

Painting rocks... or just bringing the easel outside and doing some painting on it

OK... that's all I can think of for now. Do you have any ideas? Please comment and share! We all need some "tricks" in our pockets to keep our children active and happy outside this Summer season!

Mud Magnet

Three days.
Twelve outfits.
Five baths.
So much fun!
Adam is all boy and he LOVES to play in the mud!
I've stopped fighting it for now.
But I am praying for a drought.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


One of the main arguments many people give against homeschooling is about socialization. As Jon and I have thought, discussed, studied, prayed and discerned about our decision to homeschool, the socialization factor has been significant. Yes, we do want our children to be functioning, social, upstanding members of society. Yes, we want them to learn to behave appropriately, courteously, and morally. We feel that for our family those things will best be taught at home, through the Church, in the community, through sports programs and classes, and through various activities with other homeschool families rather than in a traditional classroom setting. Obviously this is not true for every family and we do not judge or look down on families who choose traditional schooling. There are definitely pros and cons to each different educational model. Interestingly, some homeschool families cite socialization as a primary reason FOR homeschooling. I could discuss that at length with anyone who is interested, but I'll refrain from pontificating here.

There is no way I could homeschool our boys if that meant sitting at home with them all day every day. Yes, there will be much time sitting in our little school room reading, writing, counting, and studying. But, fortunately, there are SO MANY wonderful opportunities for us to be with other families for learning, praying, playing, and celebrating. We are so blessed to be part of an awesome group of Catholic homeschooling families.

Today our group had an end-of-the-year picnic. We met at a local park and shared a pot-luck lunch. Each family got up and talked about the accomplishments their children have made during this academic year and the children received a small treat. Then one of the dads (who is an elementary school gym teacher) led the children in field games while the moms had a chance to visit with one another. It was a wonderful afternoon!

We tried to get a group shot of all the children, but it was quite a challenge! Notice Adam and his friend Ryan way over to the right, in their own world. (Ray is on the far left.)

We tried to squeeze even more children into the picture and get a better group shot. By the time that happened, check out where Adam and Ryan were..... REALLY in their own little world, where they pretended to be pigs and roll in the ONE puddle of mud that was in the whole park!

And here are some of the greatest moms I've ever met! (This group was much easier to photograph, although many of the moms boycotted the picture, not wanting to be photographed at the end of a long day at the park I guess.)

Thank you, God, for the awesome gift of friends with whom we walk on our journey to you! May we build one another up, sharing our love for you with one another and with all whom we meet each day. May we model for one another, for our children, and for others what true Christian community is meant to be. May we recognize you at work among us, binding our hearts together and empowering us to grow in virtue and zeal. Amen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tale of Two Boys

Same picture.
Same directions: "Color it in as nicely as you can."
Very different results, not so much in skill level as in style.
Ray colored each item in carefully.

Adam turned his into a story.

There are wires holding up the kite and laser beams and hot lava coming out of the sun and strings connecting the fish and the birds.

Adam is very into his imaginative world, including role playing and story telling and picture drawing. It's fascinating to hear what he comes up with each day.

It is so interesting to see how different they are. Thank you God for these two amazing unique boys. Help me celebrate and nurture their individuality. Help me recognize your beauty and glory in and through each of them and their distinct points of view. Amen.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bye Bye Preschool... Hello Summer!

Today we had our last official day of homeschool preschool for this school year. Really what that means is that we won't have weekly themes and we won't gather for circle time and work time at the table during the summer. We will continue to read a lot and count and do projects, especially some science experiments.

We did make a big deal today, though, of it being Ray's last day of preschool. He is proud to tell everyone that he is now a Kindergarten student!

Here's a shot of the boys doing one of our first lessons last Fall. They were so proud of these alphabet palm trees. They are still hanging on their bedroom doors.

Today Ray and I looked through all of the written work and art work and projects that I have saved from this year of preschool. He was very proud of himself and surprised at how much work he did and how significantly he improved his coloring and drawing and writing skills. I was impressed too!

Here's the writing page he did today:Here's a picture that he drew of himself today:
Compare that to one that he drew in the Fall:
This is the project Ray picked out from his stack of work and asked me to put on the blog:
It's a good choice! We're moving through the seasons, learning together. The days can be long and tedious, but it's so awesome to see them learn and develop. I am so happy to be on this homeschool journey with them. I'm already busy planning for our next school year.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Summer Reading Program

One of the greatest resources we have here in Central Ohio is our fantastic library system. The Columbus Metropolitan Library has been named top libary in the country numerous times in recent years. We visit the library, attend library porgrams, and of course check out lots of books regularly. I know I couldn't homeschool without the help of the library.

I also have very fond memories of going to the library often as a child. My mother always took us because my dad said he had already read all of the books in the library. We always brought home his "favorites" - like Amelia Bedelia - so he could read them to us over and over again. I am so happy that my boys love the library the way I always have. Ever since they were very small we have made weekly trips to the library.

Today the library kicked off its annual summer reading program, which gives people of all ages prizes for meeting reading goals. We decided to head to the main library downtown to take part in their kick-off party. It was a great experience!

We signed up for the reading program, listened to fun music in the lobby, met Curious George, made an ice cream cone craft, checked out lots of great books, enjoyed a trail mix snack, decorated dinosaur banks, played a bean bag game, went on a little scavenger hunt, and watched a juggler. And we didn't even get to half of the activities! It was such a fun family event.

We plan to participate not only in the reading program, but also in many of the fun story times and activities being offered this summer! Let's hear it for the library!

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I've been pondering a quote by Sally Clarkson (from Seasons of a Mother's Heart). It refers specifically to homeschooling, but I think that you could fill in any number of things (like "marriage" or "your job" or "parenting") and get the same conclusion.

Here's the quote: "The only way to make it in this homeschooling life 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."

At first this quote didn't set well with me. I am an optimist and a perfectionist. I want to get things perfectly planned. I want to celebrate every occasion, complete every task, have things neat and orderly, bring to fruition every crazy idea (of which I have many). With these drives always churning in me, contentedness does not come easily.

This quote doesn't sit well with me because it challenges me. I don't want to adjust my expectations to life's limitations. I want things to work out as I plan and envision them, the way they "should be." I am learning that there is great opportunity for growth in holiness and grace and virtue every time I face life's expectations. Adjusting my expectations doesn't necessarily mean changing them. It means recognizing God's presence and plans and conforming my own plans and will to his.

I'm sure I have missed many glimpses of beauty, moments of amazement, and opportunities to learn and love by not accepting each day as God gives me.... but rather focusing fully on my own agendas. Again, this is something I am learning from my children... being present in the moment, exploring the world around me, sometimes letting go of the task or schedule at hand to experience something different that God has in store.

I do love the first sentence of the quote. I wholeheartedly believe that we must reach for God rather than happiness. We are surrounded by so many temptations and pressures to pursue "happiness." Most of them are really veiled temptations to selfishness. The key is... when you reach for God you do get happiness.... real, true, lasting happiness.... in this life as well as in the next. And reaching for God does not always/only have to do with spending lots of time doing "religious activities." It's reaching for what's true and good and pure and loving and joyful....

And so I keep extending my hand in faith to God who meets me at every crossroads, helps me take each next step. I do have doubts. I do have grand ideas and plans and agendas. But I am growing in contentedness as I place my trust in Him. Interestingly, as Jon and I have taken this "leap" into homeschooling our boys, I do feel a contentedness that I haven't felt in so long (if ever). I get nervous and worried and busy with plans, but I feel a deep contentedness knowing that we are doing what we feel is best for our boys to help them grow in wisdom, knowledge, virtue, and faith. I know that it will be difficult and sacrifices will be involved. I know that Jon and I will learn as much as we teach the boys (or more). I know that God is with us every step of the way. I feel a deep peace and contentedness for which I give thanks to God every day.

P.S. In addition to reaching for God, I also often reach for chocolate! ;) The Dove chocolate wrapper that I opened tonight had this quote inside: "It's OK to not do it all." OK God (and mom)... I hear you! Don't let anyone ever tell you God can't speak through chocolate!