Thursday, March 31, 2011

"In like a lion....

...out like a polar bear!" Adam came up with that one this morning! Although the snow is white and fluffy, it is definitely NOT "like a lamb." Farewell March! Brrrr!!!!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ahhhh.... Springtime!

Good grief!
We made it to spring, but will it ever FEEL like Spring?

Lessons "Behind the Scenes"

 Check out these really cool Roman soldier helmets!

Wouldn't they have looked awesome on the soldiers' heads in our Living Stations of the Cross presentation on Monday? That was the plan.... but that's not how it happened. I ordered these lovely soldier helmets in what I thought was plenty of time for them to arrive before the Stations presentation. As the big day drew near I began praying for the UPS man to come down our street. Is there a patron saint of package delivery? If so, he/she did not come through for me on this one. As we left for class on Monday we did indeed spot a UPS truck in our neighborhood. We looped around and prayed and waited.... but to no avail. We ended up presenting the Stations of the Cross with helmetless soldiers. And of course.... one day later.... the helmets arrived. I wore one as I cooked and ate dinner last night. I'm going to get as much use out of these things as possible!

The actors were disappointed about the helmets, but graciously accepted the fact that it really didn't matter all that much if the soldiers had helmets. They were excited to present the story of Jesus and they knew that the power of the story did not lie in the costumes, but in God.

But then we met an even bigger challenge. We arrived at the hall, set up the chairs, and prepared to practice one last time. I sent some of the students to get the cross from the storage closet where we had left it. (We hold our co-op in a Lutheran church and they allow us to store a bin there.) Well..... the cross was GONE! (Jon had made the cross and "Jesus" and his dad had painted it.) It was gone. We searched every room. We got help from the secretary, youth pastor, and even the pastor of the church. They all felt so bad. Who would take a cross? It was a pretty important part of the presentation.

The end of the story is that we found another cross in the sacristy. It worked perfectly. It was just a little bit smaller than the one we had made. The pastor eventually found our cross..... in the dumpster, broken into two pieces. I think the maintenance man went on a cleaning spree or something.

I believe that the devil was working against our efforts to present this story. But more importantly I believe that God used these mishaps to teach and inspire us. I could not have been more proud of the students. They remained calm and accepted the circumstances. They recognized that costumes and props.... and getting their lines perfect and remembering every stage direction.... were not the most important part of what they were doing. We discussed all this and prayed together before the presentation. I was touched by their sincere expressions of their love for Jesus and their gratitude for his suffering. I was inspired by their enthusiasm for this project. I think the mishaps kept them from getting more nervous and from focusing on themselves and their "performances."

The script that we used for the Living Stations came from my former work as a pastoral associate. We used to put on this presentation with 8th graders. The children in this presentation were 3rd through 8th graders and they were phenomenal! The boy who played Jesus is only in third grade. He is not a child who would normally want to be in front of an audience or draw attention to himself. But when I introduced this project he really wanted to be Jesus. He (and the others) worked hard to learn their parts and to re-enact Jesus' journey to Calvary.

In all the years that I have worked with children, I have been continually inspired by them. My own faith is enriched and challenged when I experience theirs. Each year the journey to Calvary has different twists and turns, different lessons to be learned. Thank you, Jesus, for suffering and dying for us... for giving us such amazing opportunities to walk with you on the road to Calvary... for giving us companions on this journey... for the deep and real faith of your little children. Amen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Living Stations of the Cross

Over the past month I've had the real privilege of working with these fine young people to prepare a presentation of the Living Stations of the Cross. These are the older children who participate in our Monday afternoon co-op. They are a really awesome bunch of young people! We had only a few rehearsals, yet they managed to do a very good job presenting the Stations for several homeschool families yesterday. I am so proud of them!
Our narrators told the story and led prayers after each station.
Pilate, the soldiers, and Jesus

Christian did a wonderful job as Jesus!
Simon helps Jesus carry the cross

Tanya actually played FIVE different roles! She was spot-on... knew her lines and where she should be every time!
 It was very inspiring for me to work with these young people. They were enthusiastic about bringing the story of Jesus' death to life, especially for their younger brothers, sisters, and friends. They worked diligently. I hope they'll always remember this experience. I know I will!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lenten Pretzels

Pretzels are a really great Lenten snack. Some people claim that they were originally baked by monks and distributed as reminders to pray during Lent. (A common prayer posture used to be arms crossed over the chest, which forms a shape like a pretzel.) These simple breads made of water, flour, and salt (without dairy products) remind us of the call to simplicity and fasting. The features of a pretzel can also be symbolic. There are three holes, representing the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Salt is a reminder that we are called to be "salt of the earth and light of the world."

We made pretzels as part of our Lenten observances last year, but this year we've discovered a new and very yummy recipe! It's a modified version of Alton Brown's recipe. (Thanks Emily!)

1 1/2 cups warm (110-115 degrees) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
Approximately 4 1/2 cups flour (You can make 1.5 cups of it whole wheat and the rest white)
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (or kosher salt)


Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to faom. Add the flour and butter and mix until well combined. Knead until the dough is smooth, approximately 5 to 8 minutes. Wipe out the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surgace and divide it into 8 or 16 equal pieces (depending on the size of pretzels you want to make). Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope (or 12-inch rope if you're making the smaller ones). Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel.

Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels ino the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds.

Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving. 

Note: These freeze very well and can be reheated in a toaster oven or regular oven.


Circus Fun!

Lots of days feel like the circus around here.... but on Sunday we got to spend some fun family time at an actual circus. For the second year in a row, Jon's boss generously gave us tickets as well as spending money. We had a great time! This year the boys knew what to expect and they were so excited.

We rode carnival rides and played games.

We enjoyed the crazy circus acts. One of our favorites was the "Pork Chop Revue."

Check out this guy! He was one of a group of fantastic, fun-to-watch gymnasts. This picture shows him diving over a bunch of clowns!

Jon and Adam rode an elephant!

The boys got the coolest prizes ever.... light up swords with swirling crystal balls on the end. The balls make lights on the ceiling or floor. Very fun!

 A good time was had by all! Adam was sound asleep by the time we got on the freeway.  He's been clutching the tiger he won ever since.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Preparing for Easter

It seems that I'm always posting ideas for crafts and projects AFTER we celebrate/complete them. I thought I'd post a glimpse at a few things I have planned for Easter.... in case you may want to use them with your family.

After looking at it for several years online, I finally ordered a Resurrection set. It's like a Nativity set, but for Easter. I got mine for $19.99 at, but I couldn't find it there tonight. I know it's also available at for $24.99.  It's a great deal for something that is sure to become a treasured part of our Easter celebration for many years to come. I'm very happy with the look and quality of the set. I haven't shown it to the boys. It will just APPEAR on Easter morning! ;)

I got three bags of these sparkly foam egg ornaments at Dollar Tree. At Easter our Jesus Tree ornaments will be replaced by these! I hope to also have the branch painted white.

Last year I posted all about our Good Shepherd Garden Parties, which we celebrated weekly throughout the Easter Season. Jessica at Shower of Roses has a good overview of the Garden of the Good Shepherd project here. It is a poster kit designed by Tomie dePaola with coordinating readings and stickers for each day of the Easter Season. I think we will probably do this again this year. I see that the story/sticker set is available here if you'd like to order one. Also, Charlotte at Waltzing Matilda has a really great printable version of the kit here.

I am also considering making a display of 50 Easter eggs... one for each day of the Easter Season. Perhaps I'll do this along with our Alleluia banner on the mantel in our family room. I got this idea here. Some families  put little treats or special activity "coupons" inside each egg. They open one each day, thus really extending the celebration throughout the 50 days. One family I know put the stickers for the Garden of the Good Shepherd poster in their eggs and put all the eggs in a basket. Each day the sticker was taken out and the egg was hung in a display. That might be a good way for us to do it!

So what fun things are you planning for Easter? Leave a comment to share your ideas.

Feast of the Annunciation

Today we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation.... the great FIAT of Mary when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced the conception of Jesus. Mary said "YES" ... "Be it done unto me according to your word." She said "YES" and our whole world was changed.

 I talked with the boys about saying YES to God by following His commandments and living a life of love.... by saying YES to Mommy and Daddy especially.

At Jon's suggestion, we had ANGEL food cake as a special dessert.

What is God asking you to say YES to today?

"DCAA" - Diet Coke Addicts Anonymous

A little update on last month's post about giving up Diet Coke....

I am THILLED to report that I have been Diet-Coke-Free for well over a month now! I haven't had a drop of that chemical concoction that used to be the elixir of life for me. It took almost three weeks for me to really go through the withdrawal. But now I don't even think about the stuff or want it at all. There was one day last week when I was really dragging in the afternoon and suffering from the dreaded PMS. I knew a Diet Coke would help tremendously. I finally compromised and I drank a can of regular Coke (which I really never liked before). It tasted good. It did the trick. But that was it. I haven't wanted another one at all.

At this point I'm really focusing on staying away from aspartame. I am drinking water, iced tea, sparkling water, and some Sobe and Vitamin Waters. It feels like a whole new life!

My sister Reenie has also gone through the withdrawal and is with me in the recovery process. ;) We bought each other keychains to commemorate our one-month victories! We're planning to get spa treatments when we hit six months!

And so now we consider ourselves part of DCAA - "Diet Coke Addicts Anonymous".... except for the anonymous part I guess. ;) I don't mean to make light of AA and the monumental challenges that alcoholics face. But this has been a big victory for us and a very positive change in our lives. And someone did recently tell me that research has shown that the addiction to Diet Coke involves the same parts of the brain as the addiction to cocaine. Yikes! I'm just glad to have support and encouragement as I try to take steps toward better health.

And I love my purple keychain that flashes my name in lights! Very fancy! Thanks Reen!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It Happens Every Year

Every year around this time our family goes into "survival mode." Jon is working beastly hours doing taxes. The boys and I get into our own routine. We get along fine, but at around this time the stress seems to mount for both Jon and I and we "hit a wall."

Despite working very, very hard every day, Jon's pile of work just keeps getting bigger. The phone keeps ringing. He ends up having to revise returns that he thought were already done. He is tired. He can no longer sleep well because of everything running through his head. I try to tell him that the end is in sight, but that just stresses him out more because of all the things he needs to get done. I feel so sad and frustrated when I can't do much to help him. I make sure he's got good food and clean clothes and I send him out the door.

Despite working very, very hard every day, my chores never end. Laundry. Cooking. Shopping. Dishes. Cleaning. School. The weather is fickle... the boys can be outside one day, but not the next. All of us are getting tired of the school routine. The boys seem to find new things to fight about every day. I can't get away with friends or go to meetings or go to the store without the boys or just take time out for myself. I miss Jon. We can't really even talk much these days.

Meanwhile, the kids have more energy than ever.

That's just where we are right now. It's not the end of the world. I have friends who are single moms and friends whose husbands travel a lot. They certainly juggle more than I do. But I just feel out of balance at this point. My homeschool friends are all talking and blogging about plans for next year. I'm daydreaming about sending the boys to boarding school so I can go to a spa or something. (Just kidding... I think!)

So (Reenie and others!) that's why I haven't been blogging much lately. By the time I get the kids to bed I just want to watch some mindless TV, but I'm usually folding laundry and preparing for school first.

I've been thinking for the past few days about how difficult, but appropriate it is that tax season coincides with Lent. This is SUPPOSED to be a time for sacrifice. We make lots of sacrifices in our personal and family lives for Jon's job. But we are so blessed that he has this job. This is the time when he earns the money to support our family and to allow me to be home with the boys. The real challenge is for us to walk through  each day without complaining.

I've noticed that I'm not really "plugged in" to Lent, spiritually. I haven't been for the past several years. I think I just get mentally/spiritually/emotionally numb when I'm in this "tax season mode." And so I'm praying about that. I'm trying to just be OK with where I am.... trying not to heap more and more expectations on myself (as I'm so apt to do).  But then I wonder if I'm not really embracing the spirit of this liturgical season.

Last night I couldn't sleep. At around 12:30 I turned on my book light and reached for One Thousand Gifts, which I still love but haven't been reading lately. I opened to the page where I had left off.... and I had one of those "Holy-Spirit-staring-me-right-in-the-face" moments. It began with the Gospel passage of Jesus washing the disciples' feet on the night before he died. The author (Ann Voskamp) then describes her own process of trying to offer each mundane task in her daily life - dishes, laundry, cleaning - as a song of thanks to God. She quotes Mother Teresa: "The work we do is only our love for Jesus in action. If we pray the work... if we do it to Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, if we do it with Jesus.... that's what makes us content." I wash feet, literally and figuratively, every day. Because of Jesus' example and boundless grace, I can become a gift/blessing in and through all of those mundane tasks. This is where I am right now and this is what I'm called to do. I'm called not only to "get through it" but to find joy in it and to be a blessing in and through it.

There are a lot of things that my family puts off until "after tax season." But prayer and sacrifice and love and joy can't be managed like that.

What a blessing it is that we have the liturgical year. Again and again we commemorate the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior. We learn and re-learn what it means to walk with Him, to carry our crosses, to become Love. We fall. A lot. Jesus is so very patient.

It happens every year. Tax season. But more important than that is what happens every day.... the opportunity to serve and to be a blessing. So I'm grabbing my basin and towel and bending low to receive the graces that God sends via dirty smelly toes.

** Note: Please don't feel too sorry for me. :) Jon and I have a date planned for Saturday with some dear friends AND I am escaping next weekend on a moms getaway to a homeschool conference. Also, please don't be in awe of my holy endeavors. Although I did offer quite a few unseemly tasks to Jesus today, I also pretty much threw a tantrum after dinner when the boys were goofing off rather than following some simple directions. So, tomorrow is another day. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Continent Study

Throughout this school year the boys and I have been learning about one continent each month. I must admit that this study has not been as extensive as I had planned. The boys have just not been that into it. But for each continent we have managed to color a map, learn about major climates and landforms, read fiction and nonfiction, and look at pictures of the land and native peoples and animals. It's been a pretty good basic introduction.

We've been putting the boys' maps and other continent work in their portfolios. In addition to that, I've been adding items (mostly pictures) to our continent study box. I think (hope!) that the continent box will be a good resource for us as we go into more in-depth studies over the years to come. I know that Catholic Heritage Curriculum (which we are using so far) does a more in-depth continent study in second grade. And as we read stories and follow news from around the world, we'll be able to refer to the box AND continually add more items.

Here's how it works. I attached a basic map of the continents to the inside of the lid of a big cloth bin. As we study each continent, I gather maps and pictures and back them with construction paper that is the same color as the continent on the map. All of those pictures (which have come from google, old books, calendars, and a set of world landmark flashcards) go into the bin. I also put continent books and other artifacts in the bin, making sure to color code them with a sticker or piece of tape.

Honestly, the boys haven't paid much attention to the bin yet, but I think they will come to appreciate it. I think it will be fun for them to use it for reference and to explore the contents. It's a way to keep our resources organized and accessible.... and it gives me such a "sense of well-being" along the way. :)

It's hard to believe that we're rounding the corner toward the end of the school year. We're working hard this month as always. We've been studying South America, emphasizing the rain forest and dabbling in a little bit of Spanish. We've been having a great time reading lots of fairy tales. This week we're moving on to conservation studies.

Both boys are making steady progress in their core studies. We just ordered a Kindergarten Math book for Adam and he is eager to get started. His handwriting is really looking good. Ray has recently completed the Kindergarten reading material (as outlined by Catholic Heritage Curriculum). He's going to begin the first grade Hooked on Phonics set. His Math and Phonics books are nearly completed as well. It's so fun to see the progress they're making.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

We enjoyed learning about Saint Patrick this week and celebrating his feast day today. I apologize for not taking pictures, but we've colored pictures of Saint Patrick and read about him. We made shamrock crafts and painted rainbows. We also read several storybooks about Ireland and leprechauns. I showed the boys my photo album from the trip I took to Ireland (in my former life before children). They each received very nice Saint Patrick's Day cards with window clings and $5.00 from their Polish grandma in Michigan!

This morning our breakfast table was all decked out... a rainbow, gold coins, mini-pots of gold, and even a magically delicious (but usually not allowed in our house) cereal.

After completing our schoolwork, we packed a lunch and headed downtown for the Saint Patrick's Day parade.

We had a wonderful time.... except for being very cold! It was supposed to be 67 degrees and sunny today, but the clouds and the wind made it feel much colder! (Fortunately, it did warm up in the afternoon.)

We came home and played in the yard and rested a bit, but there was more fun to come.

Here's Adam waiting for his dad to get home:

 Yes, he's in Jon's hockey jersey again! Jon, Adam, and Adam's best buddy Ryan and his dad went to a *Blue Jac*kets hockey game tonight. It was great for Jon to take an evening away from taxes and spend some special time with Adam.

Ray went out on a "date" with Mamaw and me. We went to Calif*ornia Pizza Kitchen* and walked around *Eas*ton, stopping at the Lego Store and the train display. We did a little bit of clothes shopping and Ray discovered some very stylish hats.

This picture doesn't show it well, but he ended up getting a very dapper plaid hat. I think it's a golf hat really.

As soon as he put the hat on he began to dance. He danced all through the mall to the parking garage, stopping every once in a while to remove the hat and bow dramatically. It was really hilarious. He told my mom this would be his special hat that he will wear whenever he goes out. This should be interesting.

Saint Patrick, pray for us.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Just Another Crazy Saturday Night at Our Place!

On Saturday my family celebrated the 90th birthday of my Aunt Loretta, who is a Dominican Sister of Peace. We are so thankful for the inspiration she is to us.  We gathered at the Motherhouse for a party. Here she is with my boys and their cousins:

After the party, lots of us came back to our house for a pizza party. We called some of our homeschool friends to come over and join us.

What do you think could possibly have held the attention of all these kids? We've NEVER seen them this focused and this quiet!

They were watching and listening to......


You may remember my mom's cousin Marge, the Bubble Lady, from this post. Well, she (and her awesome brother Jerry) came all the way from Maryland for Aunt Loretta's birthday party. She brought her bubble stuff, of course, and she put on a great show for us! Unfortunately, because it was so windy outside, she had to do bubbles in my living room. But that didn't slow her down much at all! And, amazingly, there wasn't even much mess on my carpet. (It's probably cleaner now from the soap, right?)

After "sliming" a few kids with giant bubbles popping on their heads, she taught us all some Science lessons. Margie is a former teacher and she loves weaving lessons in with crazy fun. (I guess we can check Science off the lesson plan list for this week!) The lessons were mainly about chemical reactions.  She put dry ice in a jar and then put a tube coming from the jar into her bubble solution. The result..... smoke bubbles! The kids (and adults) were absolutely mesmerized. I loved watching the kids' reactions to each different experiment.

Here's a SQUARE smoke bubble!

Here's Ray holding a smoke bubble in his hands!

I wish I had gotten a picture of the older boys (and Jon) at the kitchen sink after the bubble show. They had a BLAST watching the dry ice make cascades of "smoke" pour out of the sink. None of us could believe how long it lasted.

I was laughing as I lay in bed last night thinking of the crazy chaos of the evening. We had 34 people here. 9 pizzas. Toys strewn everywhere around the house. We had a GREAT time! No electronics! No TV. Just fun. The boys collapsed into bed and were asleep in an instant. It's awesome to have family and friends to play and learn with like this. Thank you, God, for crazy chaos... for friends and family... for good old-fashioned fun!