Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas cookies

The week before Christmas we scheldule a few days for cookie baking. We give a lot of them as gifts. Most people these days don't have time to bake and the kids have a blast helping measure and sift, as well sprinking all the different kinds of decorations, "Look these are baby Christmas trees!" It does take a long time due to the fact that I get interrupted by pressing things like nursing or putting on fresh nappies so I can't do an all day baking marathon. We have to make lots so we can eat them hot out of the oven and to have plenty for Tim to sample after he gets home from work.
Usually we make sugar cookies, lace cookies, chocolate crinkles, snickerdoodles, and these ginger cookies from Virginia Hospitality Cookbook. The recipe came from Stratford Hall, built by Thomas Lee. I like to say that these cookies were enjoyed both by his grandson, Robert E. Lee and Traveler, Robert's famous horse.
Ginger Cookies
1 1/2 cups butter, melted
1/2 cup molasses
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350 F. Add molasses, sugar, and eggs to the butter. Beat well. Sift together and add to this mixture flour, soda, and spices. Refridgerate the dough for several hours. Make into small balls (one of those mini-scoopers is perfect). Roll in sugar. Put on baking sheet and press down on each with glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Makes 8-9 dozen cookies

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Christmas lights and tinsel

All the neighbors spent the past weekend stringing lights and garland, hanging bows on the doors and putting candles in every window. I counted 8 Christmas trees already decorated on our block. Though the traditional Catholic practice was to put up the tree on Christmas Eve, there is debate over this in many households (we usually put it up on Gaudete Sunday).
According to the talking heads on the radio the "Christmas wars" have already begun in ernest with some retailers refusing to acknowledge the Christian Holy Day, instead making it out to be a pagan feast with presents. I am already starting to feel a little like Scrooge-it's not even Advent yet, for crying out loud! But most people it seems have no clue that Advent even exists, that we are supposed to be waiting for Christ's birth patiently.
God planned his Son's birth perfectly, there was certainly no need for Mary to rush about like most women in their 9th month, "oh, is this it? Let's go back to BabiesRUs for more crib sheets!" We need to imitate Mary's calm attitude in our preparation for Jesus' birth as well.
I like to spend my days in Advent getting ready with one task per day or two. Since my Christmas cards are here, and my list of gifts is complete (I made the list, not that anything is checked off yet), I already have a head start. I have even printed out the directions for our first ever Jesse Tree. My friend Barbara suggested copying the images onto Shrinky Dink sheets for pretty permanent ornaments. I bought the Advent candles, but who knows where they are now.
Christmas will come in the same amount of time whether we act like crazy women, trying to get it all done now, or behave in a calm and soothing manner.

Carnival of Homeschooling

This week's carnival is up. Lots of great articles (including one of mine).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

the time for nightly toothbrushing is at hand

How did it happen that with only 5 children (4 with teeth), there are 8 kid-size toothbrushes in their bathroom? And why is it that I am the only person who happens to know which toothbrush belongs to each child? And how did it happen that each child now insists on using their own particular brand of toothpaste? Will-Crest, Mary-Crest for Kids, Maggie-AquaFresh, Charlie-Little Bear for Toddlers. (you did want to know, didn't you?)
So much for the concept of efficiency of shopping in the large family. At least they all use the same soap. Oh, they don't anymore. Its bar soap for Will, gel and a poof for Mary (she gets shampoo and conditioner too since she is the only one with enough hair for that), and lavender baby gel for all the rest.
Can you imagine the brain power I am exerting keeping all this straight? I haven't even mentioned keep track of which clothes go in each child's laundry stack each day. However, I cheat a bit on that one with the dot system on the socks and the girl's underpants. 1 dot for Will, 2 for Mary, and so on. If an item gets passed down it gets another dot so I can see at a glance who it belongs to. Pretty smart? Maybe I should put dots on the toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. Then someone else (Tim) could lay out the brushes and paste. Now that would be smart.

Monday, November 27, 2006

blocks are better than Baby Einstein

A new study from the University of Washington (Canada) shows that children 18mo-30mo who played with blocks scored significantly higher in language development. The children's parents were given a packs of plain blocks and blocks containing people and cars. They also received suggestions of things to do with them such as sorting and stacking. The parents then kept track of how often the children played with the blocks, played with other toys, and watched TV. On any given day, the study group children were more than 80% less likely to watch TV than the children in the control group. This researcher found in previous studies that TV watching in early childhood leads to language and cognitive delays as well as attention problems.
In our playroom there is a handmade wooden box (made by my father) filled with smooth, ash-colored blocks that I played with as a child. I used to love making tall towers and roads for my brother's matchbox cars. Now, my children build castles and bridges, but find that they have to do so quickly since Charlie, the 2 year old King Kong, knocks them down with amazing speed.
Part of me is glad that this study shows how much better creative play is for children than sitting like a zombie in front of the tube, but we all already knew that, didn't we? However, I don't like the implication that if we ban all electronics and only give kids blocks to play with then they are automatically going to be the smartest toddlers on the block.
I have proof, in my oldest child Will. (note that we had no TV at all and I read to him every day for hours from birth, actually even in utero) He went to (gasp!) daycare while we were stationed in Italy so I could volunteer on base for a few hours a week. The staff had all the children tested by base child development services and found that since Will didn't say more than 5 words and nothing in public at 24 months then he qualified for speech therapy. Hey, I had a newborn and the offer of someone coming to my house and playing with my toddler for an hour for free every week sounded like a pretty good deal, so I said okay. For 6 months, "Miss Karen" came over and blew bubbles, played Pooh house, and chatted with my silent little boy. The week before we packed out to come back to the States, she said, "He doesn't need any more sessions from me since he can use the word xylophone in a sentence. However, you should sign him up for services in Virginia in the school system." (I wisely passed on that suggestion)
I had done everything those child development experts said would make him talk earlier than his peers, but genetics plays a big part in language acquisition too. Will had achieved every milestone a bit later than "the books" say from getting his first tooth at 12 mo to taking his first step at 15 mo. It also turned out that both Tim and I started talking late, so why were we (okay, I) so worried about it with our child? Luckily, with his siblings I have become a lot more mellow about hitting those "should be able to do X by this age" stages and Will now has a ever-expanding vocabulary and is reading at a 5th grade+ level.
Do I think blocks are good and TV is bad for kids? Yes, but while it is nice to encourage our babies and toddlers in an academic sense, it is much more important to keep it up during the elementary years with story time and creative play. That is the time we tend to fall back and let the schools take over and many studies show that children in these grades begin to fall academically. We as a society are overly enthusiastic about teaching our infants and toddlers when their brains are mostly working on automatic pilot. However, we are much less concerned when those children are at a stage when they can actually learn information and skills. We are putting children's work and play in the wrong order. Let babies be babies and focus on academic effort with our older kids.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

reading tag

1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you?
My mother (a reading teacher) taught me to read when I was 4. Funny though, it was during the '70's when whole language was popular, so I never learned phonics until I started teaching it myself.
2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library?
Oh my, I still have laminated copies of some of my favorites: House on Pooh Corner, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Bread and Jam for Francis, Wizard of Oz, Ballet Shoes, Misty of Chincoteague, and Little Black Sambo. I got my first library card at the Portsmouth Public Library, an enormous stone structure that looked more like a town hall than a simple library (these were people who took reading seriously). I would stack my selected tomes up to my chin and check them out before I realized that I had to carry the stack 8 blocks home.
3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money?
I really don't recall, since we got books for gifts in our Easter basket, for Christmas gifts, and for birthday presents. No matter what else we lacked, we always had plenty of good books.
4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often?
I think I re-read Gone With the Wind 16 times by high school. In 6th grade, a friend and I decided to memorize the first page for fun. "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it as caught in her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent and the harsh ones of her florid Irish father." Impressed? I can only imagine what I could have learned during that time instead-quantum physics, molecular biology?
5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it?
If GWTW is considered adult, that that, but otherwise it might have been Pride and Prejudice. It certainly wasn't Silas Marner from my brief foray in "honors" English class. I literally read more than any other person in the school (teachers included, I'm sure), but dreary old Silas kicked me back down to English for average folks in about 1 month. Yuck.
6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones?
Nope, I read most of the books on the children's floor of that library by methodically searching shelf by shelf for anything interesting. My goal was to read every children's book of merit there and I likely did. I did read much twaddle as well which I won't expose my children to, such as all the Sweet Valley High books. I recall getting in big trouble with my math teacher in 6th grade for hiding one of those paperbacks behind my textbook and reading all through class. (no wonder I failed college Calculus the first time around)
If you read this, tag, you are it!

Friday, November 24, 2006

breastfeeding in public

I recently read about the mother who was asked to cover up while nursing her 22 mo old daughter on a Delta flight and then ejected from the plane when she refused to do so. Now there is a nurse-in going on in many airports to protest the airline's likely illegal act. Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states because of past experiences such as this one. Now, some (including my husband) think that the woman should be completely discreet by covering up with a blanket, going into another room, or not going out while nursing at all. However, I have nursed 5 children, some for over a year, giving me a different perspective on the matter.
We left the States for our Naples, Italy tour when Will was 8 weeks old, and over the course of the next 3 years, made many trans-Atlantic flights with nursing babies. I have nursed in Pompeii, on hydrofoil boats (to Capri, oooh, la la!), in churches and cathedrals, in markets, and on-base. It was amusing how many times I was asked by Italians if I was nursing and how they then smiled and enthusiastically wished their daughter or granddaughter had babies and breastfed them. I think the Italian people love babies more than any other and it makes me sad that the young married couples don't have more, but that is a different issue.
Only one time was I asked to stop nursing and that experience stuck with me and makes my blood start to boil even today. Will was 17 mo old when his little sister was born so the days of nursing any-old place came to an end. It had to be somewhere where I could contain a rambunctious toddler for at least 20 minutes, which was not easy to do in crazy Naples. So, one afternoon, I found myself at the airport base and hurried into the nearly empty library to snag a chair in the back to feed fussy Mary. Imagine my surprise when I was interrupted by a American woman on the staff who announced loudly, "you are not allowed to breastfeed your baby in here, please leave." Apparently, they had closed-circuit cameras at the front desk and were watching me for at least 10 minutes. I was livid, to say the least and stormed over to the CO's office to make a complaint. In the end, the woman was forced to admit that she had no place to ask me to leave, but I rarely went back and certainly never nursed in that library again.
It was offensive to be asked to stop doing something that was good (even the Pope says so) and not bothering another soul and therefore I can relate strongly to this woman on the airplane. In fact, the first article mentions that she was nursing in the back of the plane with the only people able to see being her husband and the flight attendant. I'm not asking that Americans become as enthusiastic about babies and breastfeeding as the average Italian grandmother, just that they extend a little sympathy to nursing mothers who are trying to do the best thing for their babies.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

a few links

Tami has the new Carnival of Homeschooling up.
Tim has a lovely post about Thanksgiving at Introibo ad altare Dei.


I stepped on the scale this morning and found the magic number staring back at me (no, I won't tell you what it is). My pre-pregnancy weight goal has been achieved.
Now, to lost those 10 pounds from the previous 4 pregnancies!
Yes, it does seem strange, almost 400 years after those Pilgrims and Jamestown settlers were thankful for having enough to eat, I'm very thankful today for not eating too much food.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I am thankful for:

Faith in God
Hope in eternal life
Love for my fellow man
my family
food to eat
a warm house
being an American

Everyone knows the story of the Pilgrims inviting the Indians for a feast to celebrate the harvest after that first terrible winter in Massachusetts, but did you know that the first Thanksgiving was held in Virginia?
Visit Virginia's Berkeley Plantation, and see where English colonists first held a thanksgiving celebration, one year and 17 days prior to the landing of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts!
Thirty-eight men from Berkeley Parrish in England prayed thanks for their safe arrival to the New World and proclaimed Dec. 4, 1619 as a day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated every year thereafter.
The first Thanksgiving occurred when Captain John Woodlief led the newly arrived English colonists to a grassy slope along the James River and instructed them to drop to their knees and pray in thanks for a safe arrival to the New World.
On this day, Dec. 4, 1619, these 38 men from Berkeley Parish in England were given the instructions:
"Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God."
This saying is now carved on a brick gazebo, where it is believed that Woodlief knelt down beside the James River.

One of my aunties used to rent an apartment in the barnyard at Berkeley Plantation, back before it became a popular tourist site. I always delighted in trips there and have wonderful memories of that historic farm. When our family drove up for a weekend we would spend an hour or so hunting in the corner of one of the fields for long brown beads the settlers used to trade with the Indians. They were scattered around where only sharp eyes could find them, because they were the same color as the dirt they had lain in for 300 years. On the weekend before Thanksgiving we would always be invited to the annual oyster roast near the river, where long grills were covered in gray, bulbous shells ready to be pried open with curving knives. My younger brother and I each would slurp down at least a dozen of the hot oysters during the evening. It was quite a party with music blaring from a boombox, but no matter what the weatherman predicted, it was always neccessary to bundle up against the cold wind coming off the river and stand as close to the roaring bonfire as possible. Early mornings I would go for a run alongside the fields, sucking up every bit of beauty with my eyes and molecule of country air before we had to return to the suburbs. Thanksgiving Day always reminds me of those trips and makes me grateful I had the experience. Hopefully, our summer trips up to Maine give my children similar happy recollections and perhaps one day soon we will go and live on our own farm.

Today is officially baking day so I will be in my element with all the children helping make sweet potato muffins, green bean casserole, pumpkin pies, and lace cookies. I expect lots of messes, including dropped eggs, flour dust covering everything, and messy faces from licking batter, but if I anticipate these things it doesn't seem like such a disaster when it does occur.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

list of accomplishments

Occasionally, I read about strangers in the grocery giving pop quizes to kids once they find out they are homeschooled. This happened to Will today when we went to watch Maggie's preschool class give their Thanksgiving presentation. "Oh, so you are in 3rd grade? What is 9 X 3?" Will said that he hadn't started multiplication yet so the conversation went into a different direction. However, it made me start to worry if he is learning everything he needs to this year. Luckily, I am enrolled in an established program so I feel confident most of the time that both children will exceed what is learned in the public school system. Even so, sometimes it is necessary to stand back and reflect on what our homeschooling has achieved. I tend to get mired in the day-to-day tasks of pages done, books read, and book reviews written and miss out on the bigger picture.

In the past 10 weeks Will has mastered up to 4 digit addition and subtraction, become more comfortable with reading and writing, learned many spelling rules, learned 100 new vocabulary words, learned many new concepts and songs on the piano, started diagramming sentences, and memorized the 10 commandment catechism questions. He has worked hard in swimming and being an altar server, and is slowly becoming a helpful and polite boy.

Mary has mastered 2 digit addition and subtraction, improved her handwriting, made strides in learning spelling rules, learned many parts of speech, memorized the 10 commandment catechism questions, and has developed into a phenomenal reader. She is also working hard at swimming, and is keeping up in her Little Flowers group. She just started riding lessons this week and seems to be enthusiastic about it. She is becoming more helpful to me and is willing to try new things. Her drawing skills and writing have expanded and she loves making gifts for people.
They have learned stuff, become more social creatures, and made the world a little brighter. We will get to the multiplication tables soon enough.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mass can be exhausting

Attending Mass with small children is usually more an effort in crowd control rather than a purely spiritual exercise. I have read magazine articles, books, and Catholic mom web-boards for suggestions in how to keep the children quiet, and involved in church. We sit in the front row, I bring religious coloring books and books, allow a few matchbox cars for Charlie, and retreat to the cry-room with its closed-circuit TV if necessary. The older children can pay attention and read their own missals and Will is usually an altar server so that leaves only 4 children in our pew most Sundays.

This past Sunday's adventures even garnered comments from one of the other moms after Mass. "You certainly had your fill of it today." My fill was right: 3 nappie changes, 1 entire outfit change, 1 squirmy toddler who wouldn't sit still to save his life and had to be taken out, 1 infant who demanded a nursing session, and 1 preschooler who needed to be hunted down after a solo trip to the potty. All was made worse in that an old friend from our days in Italy was sitting with us and the children climbed all over him as well as Tim and I. (sorry again, Tom) It was like a parade in and out of our pew and I cringe when I think of the interruption we must have caused in other people's prayers.

Some Sundays they are so good I barely recognize my own children. "We must have sprinkled them with magic dust this morning," I whisper to Tim over their heads. But there are the Sundays like the one where Charlie threw his empty milk bottle and almost nailed Father Damian in the middle of his homily. Amazingly enough, he only paused a moment and resumed his lovely explanation of the Trinity. Yesterday was one of those Masses I will always remember in vivid color and hopefully one day it will evolve into a family story worthy of many giggles.

That is, after the embarrassment subsides.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

running is stressful?

I ran my 2nd 5k yesterday afternoon and even though I broke through the wall in training, felt fast and good, I ran the same pace and got 25:09. I was 3rd in my age group even though there were probably 200 more runners in this race and found that I could have been 1st if I had run 1 minute faster.
We had several incidents which made it an exciting afternoon, any one would have been sufficient in the stress out Mommy category. I wanted the whole family there to cheer me on so insisted that everyone go. We drove the 30 minutes to the Botanical Garden to find that Maggie had fallen asleep and wet her pants. So, Tim had to drive back home to change her clothes and missed the entire race. I didn't remember until the car was gone that I had left my water and handkerchief in it. Will got lost in the after-race crowd and was found crying in the parking lot. While we were frantically searching for him the DJ announced, "would the parents of William ___ ___, please come forward, we have your son." Then to top the afternoon off, I find that it almost impossible to nurse wearing a sports bra. So, poor Timmy screamed the entire way home because he hadn't eaten for 4 hours.
Next race: 2 weeks, same course.
I think I'll leave the kids at home.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

field trip!

Yesterday we took a field trip with a local homeschool group to the Old Coast Guard Station in Virginia Beach. Despite the 4 traffic jams endured getting there and back, it was a great experience. The museum staff spent over an hour with our group, teaching them about all the surfmen and their lifesaving apparatus, showing them the equipment, and telling stories of shipwrecks and daring rescues. They even have a video cam of the view out to the sea at their website.
I read recently a new children's book out about the experiences of a young boy, who wants to be a surfman on Pea Island in NC called Storm Warriors. Here is a bit of a review of the book:
From Publishers Weekly
Elisa Carbone bases her inspiring and little-known tale on actual rescues during the late 1800s on Pea Island, on the Outer Banks of N.C. The island acted as the base for a division of the United States Life-Saving Service (precursor to the Coast Guard). Twelve-year-old narrator Nathan lives close to the station with his grandfather and widower father, both fishermen who often assist in the rescues. From the outset, Nathan outlines the cause of racial tension between the Pea Island crewmen and the nearby Oregon Inlet crewmen and sets the stage for several incidents that discourage the boy's dream of someday joining Pea Island's Life-Saving crew, the only such crew manned by African-Americans. Yet the determined boy pores over books he finds in the station's library, learning about rescue procedures and first aid, proves himself a competent helper in sea rescues and eventually finds his own calling. Ages 10-up.
Afterwards we went to Mt Trashmore for a picnic and time on the playground. The older kids had to run up to the top of the "mountain" at least one time and several rolled down. The only hill in the city of Va Beach used to be the dump, designed to become a park. The kids were facinated that under the grass and dirt was years worth of garbage. Having run up and down that hill several times in high school cross country meets, let me tell you, it is a lot higher and steeper than it looks.
I'm glad we went on the trip, but one large group activity every month or so is enough for me. It's exhausting trying to keep the little ones quiet, the baby fed, and everyone in a good humor for that many hours. It is easier to go to museums on our own, but I appreciated the presentation and playtime offered by being part of a group.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

math drill can be boring

The teaching of maths in American schools is turning away from child-centred "reform maths" and back towards basic drills and memorisation. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics signalled the change of course in a report issued in September. The Bush administration, has a panel studying the research on teaching maths. Several states, including Washington, Florida and Utah are re-examining their curriculums.
The ferment has been caused by growing awareness that, at a time of increasing globalisation, the math skills of US children simply do not measure up: American eighth-graders lag far behind on an international test.
In part, the maths wars have grown out of a struggle between professional mathematicians, who say too many American students never master basic skills, and maths educators, who say children who construct their own problem-solving strategies retain their math skills better than those who just memorise the algorithm that produces the correct answer. ~ New York Times, November 14
I have a feeling that part of the reason there are "math wars" between what is so obvious a need to master the basic skills of arithmetic and the educators who are supposed to teach those skills is laziness. Laziness on the part of teachers, students, and parents. Sometimes I can see this in myself, when I don't want to drill math facts again, but I know there is an accountability in homeschooling that is just not present in the public school setting. If student Jane Doe does not learn the times tables by heart the teacher can blame student and parents, parents can blame the teacher, and the student can blame parents and the teacher. With all this effort expended in blaming others, there isn't much left for sitting down and learning the material. Therefore, Jane can get all the way to 12th grade having never memorized the 9 times tables. If my children do not learn arithmetic I can only blame myself. So, I am much more likely to drill, make flash cards, and make sure they learn it. In any subject, I am much more likely to search for a solution to a problem than to play the blame game. And while it is a noble thing to learn problem-solving strategies, this argument is a smoke screen, because obviously complex thinking is useless unless basic skills are memorized first.

baking 101

I am certainly no Martha Stewart.
Cooking food like meat and veggies always ends up like a science experiment gone bad. Poor Tim has had to suffer through my attempts to make meatloaf and stuffed flounder. He does eat it which is more than I can say for the kids. "Yuck! Please can I have cereal?" is always heard on those nights I get inspired and try for fancier than tacos and pasta.
However, I love to bake cookies, pies, cakes, and cobblers because they are tasty and easy to make. The kids like "helping" me cook, but only 1 child can at a time, due to a shortage of counter space. My dream kitchen will have a big island so all the children can crowd around on chairs and pour and sift, and stir.
Fall seems be an ideal season to start baking in earnest, with cooler weather and the holidays coming soon. Seeing all the pumpkins parading up people's front steps gives me cravings for rich spices and the tang of winter squash. I made a few batches of pumpkin muffins last week, but they were too light and dry. Yesterday, Charlie helped me with a pumpkin bread recipe that promises to be a long-time favorite. And it will be, especially cool and slathered with cream cheese. It would be perfect to bake in little loaves and give to the neighbors as Christmas gifts, especially if you add some chopped pecans to the batter.
Pumpkin Bread
3 cups sugar
1 cup oil
4 eggs, beaten
1 can pumpkin
3 1/2 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2/3 cup water
Cream sugar and oil. Add eggs and pumpkin, mix well. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and cloves. Add to pumpkin mixture alternately with water. Pour into 2 well greased and floured loaf pans (9x5). Bake at 350 for 80-90 min, checking to see if knife comes out clean from center. Let stand for 10 min. Remove from pans to cool.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What do they do all day?

Maggie, my 4 year old goes to preschool two mornings a week. I figure that it gives me a little more quiet time with the older ones and it gives her a chance to learn songs. You see, my kids hate my singing. They all ask me to stop everytime I try to teach them Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Little Red Caboose. I'm so bad that I was politely asked to leave 6th grade chorus class, "you might be happier working in the library or taking art." I know it was really because the chorus concert was coming up and they did not want me ruining it. Maggie is actually a pretty good singer, at least she can enthusiastically belt out: "Oh, when the leaves start falling down, oh, when the leaves start falling down. Oh, you know it must be autumn, when the leaves start falling down." (to the tune of "When the saints go marching in")
Every week the children in the class are asked to bring an object for the letter they are working on. It really is an exercise for the parents, and some really get into making sure their kid brings something no one else would think of. (I am one of those parents) Maggie got brownie points for E day, she brought in an large, purple, shiny eggplant. Today was H day so I asked Maggie if she wanted to bring a horse or a hammer. When we picked her up a few hours later I asked, "what did everyone else bring?" No response. "What did you do today?" No response. The only time I got an answer is when I asked about snack.
The older two children did the same thing when they went to preschool years before. The only way I knew they did any activities was the plethra of art projects that were sent home in their backpacks. I assume this clamming up about what happened during the school day would continue if they went to public or private school. So, really I have no choice but to homeschool them. I want to know what they are doing all day, other than what they ate for lunch.

homeschool carnival is up

My post about overachieving children is on this week's carnival. Welcome!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

efficiency is not a virtue

Yesterday I sat at the schoolroom table, surrounded by lessons, books, and my planning book trying to get the next 9 weeks organized. It was overwhelming thinking of all the schoolwork that the children and I will have do over the next few months. Writing exercises are the toughest because they involve one-on-one time, a rarity in our house, and there are a lot of these coming up.
Seton recommends doing lesson planning weekly, rather than a whole quarter in one session, but I thought this way was more efficient. Doing it in one session worked for K, 1st, and 2nd grades because most of the instructions for each subject are simple, "pg 35-36". However, in 3rd grade and I'm sure more so later on, the plans are more complex.
So I was getting increasingly crabby and stressed out over something that hasn't even happened yet because I want to be organized to the hilt. My bad mood put a damper on the rest of the evening and then gave me bad dreams. The whole episode helped me realize that I need to focus more on cultivating kindness and gentleness in my own self rather than to simply be efficient.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I did it!

I just got home from running my first 5K in 19 years with 25:07, a pretty respectable time. (I paced myself pretty well, but could have run a little faster the last mile)
My competitive streak is going to come out-my new goal is 24 minutes since there were several other mommy types about 50 feet in front of me that I could have beat. I didn't get to go to the breakfast party afterwards due to thinking I had to come home immediately and nurse Timmy. I walked in and found him perfectly content, cooing and watching the others play.

Friday, November 10, 2006

what a beautiful day!

Part of my job on Fridays is to get the kids out from underfoot so our wonderful cleaning lady, Elizabeth can actually clean. Since Tim had the day off we took them all to the park this morning. It is a great park with plenty of playground equipment, lots of green grass to run, and a little beach overlooking the river. Tim walked off with baby Timmy while I pushed everyone else on the swings. Soon the girls asked to chase the birds and before I knew it we had four children swooping around pretending they were geese, arms flapping, honking like mad. It certainly seemed like mutually beneficial exercise for both parties. After the geese got tired of the whole production and flew off we proceeded down to the tiny beach. The kids made forts, threw rocks, made mud bombs, and the older ones pretended they were trapped on a deserted island with only a few boards to make a raft. What a most wonderful way to spend a warm autumn day!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Happy Birthday to me

Now, birthdays in our household are pretty low-key affairs- a cake, a few gifts, a little off-key singing. But no note left by my dear husband saying how grateful he is that he is married to wonderful me, even if I am now officially old? No little parade of footsteps down the stairs to secretly hang the official Happy Birthday sign?

Oh, its only 6:45am.

You are officially notified that these things are expected today. Even old ladies want recognition on their birthdays.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I have been known to covet. Not anyone's husband, mind you, but perhaps their laundry room. When I look in design magazines and see the perfect laundry room with shelves and a table for folding, and a window to look out while ironing, I get a tad envious. You see, I have a laundry closet. In the front hall of our house. When I bring down the basket of dirty clothes it goes all over the hall floor where anyone walking in would see and wrinkle their nose.
However, this arrangement is perfect for our homeschooling because the washer and dryer are right across the hall from the schoolroom. It only takes 2 minutes to load the dryer and start the washer again-the same amount of time Will and Mary can work quietly without starting to bicker. I can haul the clean clothes upstairs and dump them on my bed and be back before a page of handwriting is finished. (that's my trick, it all has to be folded and put away before I can go to bed, because it is covering the bed)
So, while I gaze at those picture-perfect laundry rooms in design books I am grateful at this stage in my life that I only have my little laundry closet.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

check out Tim's blog

My very smart husband just started his own blog, introibo ad altare dei. It is a weekly essay about ethics and medicine, covering such topics as personhood, abortion, contraception, and end of life issues. He is a gifted writer, having been published in New Oxford Review, Envoy, Angelus, and National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.

worried mama

Yesterday I was convinced Maggie had meningitis. She woke up with a fever and a headache, complained that her tummy hurt and she wanted to throw up. Tim convinced me after talking with her on the phone that she simply had a fever and a cold. (the fever is gone today)

Thank goodness my kids don't get sick very often or I would be a wreck. I am one of those worry-wort mothers who worries as I drive over bridges, "How would I get everyone out if the car went over the rail?" I have actually read the entire military child care manual as well as an old copy of Common Simple Emergencies so that I would know what to do in case something terrible happens.
What have I actually done when something terrible happened?
When Will fell off his bike, I made him walk the block home because I thought he was being babyish. Tim took one look and said, "His arm is broken." When Mary complained of classic bladder infection symptoms I took her to the ER on Christmas Day where it turned out to be diaper rash. In an actual emergency I'm pretty worthless, luckily our children don't injure each other too much. But if anyone needs to know how to get a fishhook out of the eyelid, or a remedy for tear gas exposure I can lend you my book.

Monday, November 06, 2006

our example

"WE are the examples that are inspiring others to jump into it(homeschooling). Look out ladies! Someone is watching you and dreaming of living your life!" -one of the ladies on ora et labora
I feel constantly aware when I am out in public that our family might be the only impression of homeschooling people receive. I worry too much that I look like a put-together, educated mother who has all my little charges under control. I try to have the children clean, well-dressed, and behavied so there are no accusations that I am not doing a fine job. Maybe I am since I haven't had any comments since the crazy lady started screaming at me in the commissary a few months back. So I can relate to the idea that others are watching me and judging homeschooling as a whole by my family's example.
However, the idea that someone is dreaming of living my life gives me the giggles. I instantly think, do they want to be woken for 3am feedings, to wipe runny noses every 10 min, to break up arguments, explain what a direct object is for the 9th time, yell "don't whack your sister," and pick up the living room all day-every day?
Maybe not, but without the sacrifices there are no perks and the perks are really wonderful. (a parallel with the Christian life) Last night the older children were sitting on the sofa with me while I was reading The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgeson Burnett. I was sharing one of my favorite stories with two of my favorite people, trying to replicate the Yorkshire speech prevalent in the book (not well, I might add). I read aloud while thinking, "I am so content and happy with my life. Thank you dear God for giving me this gift of children."
If someone was able to see this lovely moment they might indeed dream of living my life. Since many of the perks of homeschooling in a large family are private moments, they are hard to ever see. This is one of the reasons for this blog- to share some of the struggles and highlights and allow someone to believe they could do it (homeschool) too.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

sleep deprived mommy

My former sleep-12 hours-a-night baby has been waking at 3am every night the past week. Both Maggie and Charlie have been waking up and standing beside my bed demanding water (not conveniently at the same time as any of the others). My brain is such mush that while standing in the shower I couldn't remember if I had just shaved both legs or just one.
I did get in my run this morning and am off to buy shoes that actually fit. I've lost 2 pounds this past week so only 12 to go!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My musical prodigy

While I love being with my children every day and knowing they are getting a good Catholic education, I revel in those precious "eureka, I got it!"moments. I was amazed when my oldest started reading after much struggle and more amazed when my second child started reading a book aloud one day. "Why Mary, I didn't know you could read!"
Today we had one of those moments. Will played "Oh, How I Love Jesus" from memory on the piano. To my ears it sounded better than Chopin, better than Bach, because it was my little boy playing. Somehow, the recessive musical genes were passed on to at least one of my children (the genes I don't have). You see, I can't play a whistle, can't sing, couldn't keep up past lesson #3 in Will's piano book. You could hear the excitement bursting out of him, "Mommy, I did it perfectly!"
I am so proud of all my children's achievements, no matter how small and I am grateful that I am the one to be there, teaching, prodding, encouraging them to do so.

birth control and breast cancer

Contraceptive pills are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in younger women, especially those who have taken the pill before a first full-term pregnancy, new research confirms. Chris Kahlenborn and others at the Mayo Clinic carried out a review of 34 case-control studies of breast cancer. They found that, among women under 50, oral contraceptives were linked with an increased risk of 1.19 over-all. Among women who had given birth, the risk was 1.29, but rose to 1.52 among those who used the pill for four or more years before a first full-term pregnancy. Among those who had not given birth the risk was 1.24.
The authors note that women are more likely today to use the pill before having any children and for longer periods. The higher risk of breast cancer may be "because the glandular tissue of the breast has not yet undergone the further differentiation associated with pregnancy". This differentiation inhibits the cancer-causing potential of artificial female hormones "and may explain the natural protection that pregnancy has been shown to confer." ~ "Oral Contraceptive Use as a Risk Factor for Premenopausal Breast Cancer: A
Meta-analysis," Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Oct 2006
Most people do not know of the link between birth control pills and breast cancer, but it is a topic of conversation at our dinner table not-too-infrequently. You see, part of Tim's job is to "give people cancer", meaning he looks at glass slides of cells from biopsies and determines if they are cancerous or not. He tells me how much more frequently he sees pre-menopausal breast cancer and that more aggressive cancers seem to be hitting younger women.
No matter how much the medical establishment wants to ignore such findings like the study above there is increasing evidence that artificial birth control and abortion dramatically increase a young woman's risk of breast cancer.
On a positive note, the risk for the same pre-menopausal breast cancer is reduced by 10% for every year a woman nurses a baby. I've nursed for over 4 years now. But if I end up with 10 children and breastfeed them all, does that mean I have no risk??

Overachieving children

I just finished reading a facinating book, The Overachievers, by Alexandra Robbins. She goes into a very competitive high school and shows how driven the top-tier of American children have become. They take 6+ AP classes in a year, obsess about the SATs, and participate in so many extracurricular activities it made me sweat just reading about their busy scheldules. The mental and physical trama was mind-boggling, including eating disorders, drinking and drug binges, suicide attempts- all because of the drive to get into the "right" college. This sort of hysteria begins with parents who drill flash cards in front of their babies and subject 3 year olds to preschool entrance exams (some of which are more difficult to get into than Harvard).

The whole book made me so glad we homeschool.

At first glance, it might appear that homeschooling parents are more obsessed than these parents- after all we control almost everything in our children's lives. We don't just hover over them while they do their homework, we sit at the table with them while they learn every subject. We make sure they don't watch TV, listen to popular music, hang out with the "wrong" crowd.

The difference is the motive.

Why do we homeschool? Do we do it to get them into a good college, to get a good job, to impress the neighbors? Or do we do it so our children will get a classic education, to understand the world around them from a Christian perspective, to raise saints?
Miss Robbins gives steps that schools and parents can take to reduce this pressure on our children to be overachievers and I think most homeschoolers can take pride in that most of these suggestions are already incorporated into our lives: drop class rank, deemphasize testing, reinstitute recess, limit young children's activities, scheldule family time, place character above performance, carve an individual path, ignore the neighbor's comments, and reclaim summer vacation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Now is the Time to Make Your Voice Heard

This is an urgent call from Children of God for Life (

The FDA has issued new guidelines for the pharmaceutical industry regarding the use of various types of cell lines that are being used and will be used in the future for the manufacture of vaccines. These cell lines include several ethical sources as well as ABORTED FETAL CELL LINES.
Since the FDA has invited the general public to respond through December 28, 2006, we are urging all concerned citizens, medical professionals, pharmacists and pro-life groups to let your voices be heard! It is imperative that the FDA receives a massive amount of public protest on the use of aborted fetal cell lines as your response may very well dictate the direction pharmaceutical companies will move in the future.
- Your Submission Will Become Part of the Official Public Record - The Pharmaceutical Industry Will See Your CommentsNOW IS THE TIME TO LET THEM KNOW HOW YOU FEEL!
Not sure what to say in your letters or comments? Those that are written from your heart and your pro-life convictions are always best, but here are a few suggestions:

We will promote companies and products that do not use aborted fetal cell lines. We will boycott those that do.
It is in the best interests of our country to provide ethical vaccines that all Americans may use in good conscience!
There are ethical alternatives to aborted fetal material: Use them or we’ll refuse them!
Tim wrote two lengthy articles about this very topic in Angelus Magazine as well as in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. It is a serious problem for all Catholics who are bound not to participate in abortion as well as all Christians who are pro-life.
Please go to the website to register your comments with the FDA.

puzzles and games

I am a jigsaw puzzle addict and I am encouraging my children to be the same.
I realized my problem the other evening while putting several boxes away in the kid's closet. As I tried to stack them on the top shelf (where there are dozens of puzzle boxes), they kept sliding back down onto my head and threatening to spill on the floor. A jigsaw puzzle nightmare flashed through my mind-what if all the puzzle boxes opened as they fell? Would I have the energy or inclination to sort them all out?

Puzzles are good for developing mental capacity. We have wooden puzzles for the toddler set with pictures under the pieces, and 24 piece ones for the preschooler (Maggie is my biggest fellow puzzle enthusiast). Our most challenging ones are the 100 piece ones that even Will and Mary need a little help starting. They always come to the point where they politely ask me to leave so they can finish it "by themselves". By the third time through all I have to do is put the box on the table and miraculously in a few hours it is completed ("did the puzzle fairy do it?").

Games are also great for developing skills. Monopoly is good for learning about money and Scrabble is great for spelling. Card games like UNO teach matching as well as strategy. Usually classic games are better- I don't see much value in fare such as The Dating Game or Shop Til You Drop.
We came across a game recently that I like, but will have to save until Will is a little older called Mad Dash. It is a geography game in which you try to compile the longest road trip from your hand of 25 states. The states have to share a border so, for instance, if you have Maine, then you need New Hampshire (Maine is the only state that has just 1 neighboring state). Then you can add on Mass., Conn., New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland...
I like playing games and putting together jigsaw puzzles. Tim doesn't. That is why I'm priming the children to enjoy such fare as Chess and Checkers now so in the future I have a worthy opponent eager to battle it out for the championship.