Thursday, December 30, 2010

teaching another child to quilt

One of the benefits of homeschooling is having free time to work with each child on subjects that are dear to us. Tim has been able to instill in the boys an interest in antique cars and the space program, and both boys love building model cars and airplanes without fear of being taunted by peers for being "weird." Both older girls have developed an desire to run in road races with me, especially ones that offer prizes (their mother is super-competitive in such things). Both Will and Mary have helped me piece quilts in the past and made each other gifts from my scrap bag and now it seems that it is 8 year old Maggie's turn to learn to follow Mommy's footsteps.

This week with no school on the schedule for the little ones, we have had plenty of opportunity to sew and press blocks on a new top I am making for our bed. I really like the lap quilt I made last year with a flannel backing, it is incredibly warm and fuzzy, but certainly not big enough to cover a king-size bed. This new project is very ambitious with 81 stars of various blue fabrics on a white muslin backgroud. In just a few days we have gone from a smattering of 6" squares on the carpet to 32 pieced stars because of Maggie's help.

Yes, I have to stand beside her and lay the pieces under the presser foot exactly to ensure a 1/4" seam and it does take time to pick out some of her seams, but she is learning. In time perhaps she will make this her hobby for life, one in which she can express herself artistically and keep her family warm at the same time.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

carnival of homeschooling

Janice Cambell is hosting the carnival this week with a Making Time For Things That Matter theme.

Carnival of Homeschooling

wintery weather

Yet again I am so grateful for the purchase I made last year about 2 weeks before the DC Blizzard of '10. Our 40" of snow was easy to shovel off the driveway (I had to do it alone as Tim and the children were sick with the stomach crud) with my brand new, super-duper yellow snow shovel. I only bought the thing to have my purchases qualify for free shipping, but it has been a blessing, not only to our family, but to several of the neighbors here who borrowed it to clear off their own driveways.

It started snowing Christmas night and by the time St. Stephen's feast day was coming to an end we had about 11" of snow on the ground. Tim had to venture out in the Jeep to the storage unit to retrieve the children's snowsuits (who would have thought?) so they could get out and explore. Other than a trip to the grocery, we haven't gone anywhere. Now the roads are are combination of slick ice and dry patches our van is still safely parked in front of the house. I did go running yesterday for the first time in 4 days, but I should have waited until today, worrying I'm going to be hit by a skidding car at the same time trying to avoid ice patches is not much fun, though it did get my heart rate up. The kids did have fun as these pictures can attest.

Monday, December 27, 2010

another milestone reached

Yesterday morning I stepped onto the scale and found that after many long months of running faithfully, I have finally gotten back down to my pre-Timmy weight. My size 6 jeans I had stored in the closet fit well in the morning, but are a little too tight by 6pm. It was such a lovely feeling to see those magic numbers on the scale that I let out a huge, "Whooooo!" and scared Tim so much that he came running. "What's wrong??"

What a lovely Christmas present to be able to fit in some of the clothes I have had packed away for 5 years. Luckily grey and black wool never go out of style.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

are parents of large families selfish?

My grandmother is the youngest of 5 siblings born between 1910 and 1922. The brothers and sisters have all lived in the same small city for most of their lives and have been best friends for 60+ years. Genealogy has been a hobby of many an ancestor so we were all steeped in family lore and family charts dating back to the first family member to step foot in Virginia around 1632. Every Christmas season for 35 years the clan has hosted traditions such as decorating graves at the cemetery, taking bags of gifts to each other's homes in a sort of moving open house party and culminating with a party at noon on Christmas Day. I have group family photos of every Christmas since I was 8 and it is amusing to see various hair and fashion styles as well as remember great aunties and uncles who have passed away.

This is a very educated bunch, every person over the age of 20 has a college degree so they can all count and use logic. Each of the 5 "greatest generation" siblings had 2 or 3 children and about 1/2 of the baby boomers had children, none more than 2. So far there are 13 children in the 4th generation and 6 of them are mine. One of the reasons I wanted a large family of my own was due to a desire to emulate my grandmother's close familial bonds. So it seemed that this was the last place I would hear grief about my family size. 

Yesterday, at the annual party, while Tim was holding a sleeping baby and resting his eyes he overheard some unidentified boomer say, "It is selfish to have more than 2 children." That statement has filled me with hurt in a way that no stranger's rude comment could. After all, if their grandparents had limited their offspring to 2 more than half the people at the gathering yesterday would not exist (including myself) or not be included. It is very likely that the deceased in the graveyard would not have their annual gift of beer or cookie, and the other traditions that gave given us all such a sense of continuity and pride would not exist.

I also find that logic seems to escape this person's thought. If Tim and were selfish we would have limited our family size and been able to have free time and more toys. I don't "lunch" with the ladies, I teach my children at home. Tim doesn't have a sailboat like he used to, instead he spends his time teaching Will his math and taking the boys to Scouts. Our disposable cash is spent on piano and dance lessons, not the latest electronic gizmo. I'm sure the last time either of us slept past 7 am was over 10 years ago. So, I would not describe anyone who has 3 or more children as focusing on their own comfort. I might be selfish for wanting a Christmas filled with a plethora of family members, all grateful for each other but I wouldn't consider it a sin worthy of public chastizement.       

Thursday, December 23, 2010

what's wrong with dessert?

I think I would keel over dead in a day or so if I didn't have sugar to prop me up: hot cocoa (chai tea did horrible things to my tummy) in the morning to get me going, a Coca-cola after my run to cool me down and not let me take a nap, and a mid afternoon snack to propel me through until dinner. But the powers that be in St. Paul, MN; a panel of parents, teachers, school nurses and administrators have taken it on themselves to deem the city's public schools "sweet free zones." Dessert and salty treats are banned from the buildings in much the same way we saw school declared drug free and gun free areas in the 1980's and '90's. (Did that work so well? Say, at my alma mater, Virginia Tech?)

I think the student quoted has a much more clear concept of personal freedom than the grownups who have restricted their own food intake to somehow reduce the number of fat children.

"All my friends say, 'This really sucks,'" said Misky Salad, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Chelsea Heights Elementary. "A lot of us feel it should be up to us to determine what we should do with our bodies."

Superintendent Valeria Silva, who was hired a year ago, decided to take action after a study determined 40 percent of St. Paul's fourth-graders, most of whom are poor and minority, are obese. That's 11 percent higher than the national rate. Star Tribune

My vote is to have the 1st graders go to Superintendent Silva's home, as well as everyone on the wellness panel who thought this up and raid their fridges and pantries. Take out everything that could possibly be "dangerous" food items such as coffee (stunts your growth), sugar, oil, chocolate, chips, soda, liquor, cigarettes, matches, white flour, soy, salt... and give those who deem it "responsible" to dictate what goes in the mouth of others a taste of their own medicine. 

As I have written many times on this blog, there seem to be very few fat homeschoolers. I don't know why, but perhaps it is because those who want the best for their children take on the responsibility for both their education and health, rather than foist it off on some government entity or that homeschoolers spend more time doing active things than sitting in a desk all day. One reason is not that homeschoolers are denied the opportunity to eat a little something sweet after their lunch.  

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The last few days before Christmas are so empty of activities it seems unreal, no piano, no violin, no Scouts, no dance. If it wasn't for the strange feeling I have of being behind then I could actually relax and appreciate the fact that all the gifts are bought, most are wrapped, and the only things on the schedule are a trip to the cemetery to decorate graves on Christmas Eve and Mass followed by the family party on Christmas Day.

Of course the little children are ahead in their studies, Charlie is finished with 1st grade history and 1/2 way through religion, even though he isn't even officially enrolled in 1st grade yet. Mary has 1 more paragraph to write for her last 5th grade book report, and Maggie is so far ahead in her studies that she is likely to graduate at the age of 14 at this rate.

Will, on the other hand, has only written a vague outline for his book report that I need finished by January 3 and he has wiggled out of a complicated English assignment 2 days in a row. So, if I could put all the other children on ice for a week or so and work with my 12 year old 8 hours a day I would allow myself to feel sufficiently ahead enough to take a little eggnog break. But since that isn't going to happen, I better go downstairs, turn off the electric train, and march my crew up to the schoolroom to get to work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Homeschoolers 12 days of Christmas

Welcome to the Carnival of Homeschooling! With only a few days left before Christmas, I thought I would take the opportunity to help share what our family and many others are doing to prepare for December 25th. There is on youtube a large family 12 days of Christmas and a public school 12 days of winter version (thanks CMR!).

On the 12th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is reading books together...
because homeschoolers do this every day! On the first Sunday of Advent I gather all our Christmas books and put them on the coffee table so we can read a few every day

nak presents an in depth post featuring the songs and books about Good King Wenceslas posted at Sage Parnassus.

Karen presents some tips on teaching your children to read aloud in A Lost Art and Why It Matters posted at Candid Diversions.

Jenn at Home Is Where You Start From branched out from the Sonlight history curriculum with books and websites in Knights and Medieval History-Learning Without School.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word shares some great Christmas books and crafts in Christmas around the World: Mexico posted at Hope Is the Word.

Annie Kate presents a common homeschool problem in Too Many Books and a Lot of Learning posted at Tea Time with Annie Kate. (with our 10 bookcases of children's books, I can relate!)

On the 11th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is building snowmen...
because homeschoolers don't have snow days, just recess. This is the earliest snow here in Virginia that I can recall (though I remember many a Christmas Eve wearing short sleeves) so the children have already made snow forts in both the front and back yards.

Steven gives a response to parents who think bullying in public school builds character in Are we depriving our homeschooled children? posted at Hudson Valley Geologist. Hey, what do you think happened after the boys built that snow fort? Snowball fight!

ChristineMM's son combined dry ice and LEGOS to learn in Son's Self-Initiated Science Experiment posted at The Thinking Mother.

Annette teaches her son about animals, such as arctic hares changing their winter fur white in Creation Camouflage - DNG Review and Contest posted at A Net in Time.

On the 10th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is shopping with mom... 
because homeschooling moms don't have the luxury of being able to shop without some of the kids in tow. Luckily mine can keep secrets so they don't tell what the other ones are getting.

Barbara writes about job skills that really matter in our homeschool graduates (just today I saw the cashier at KMart texting while ringing up purchases) in Our kid's competition for future jobs at Barbara Frank Online.

Alejandra presents The Best Christmas Gift posted at A Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Janine at Why Homeschool shares her family's struggle with how to squeeze in exercise in We have a new PE program.

On the 9th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is singing carols...
I try to play our holiday CDs in the car all of December. I found some very nice Christmas music on piano CDs at the dollar store last week. 

Cheryl at Chrysalis Academy shares with us her lovely story of their homeschool journey in Why Homeschooling?

Mrs. White gives us a glimpse of  her home in The Little School at Home posted at The Legacy of Home.

On the 8th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is cleaning the house...
So we can host family and friends without them calling child protective services. (just kidding since I vacuum almost every day)

Michelle is cleaning up the carpet after one of her 6 kids spill juice in My work is never done at Rosetta Stone

On the 7th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is lighting the advent wreath...
Our family's tradition is that the children take turns lighting the candles and blowing them out each evening when we say prayers. It is so sweet to see Mary holding her baby sister and letting Julia Ellen blow some out.

Maureen gives us a lesson in the gifts from the Wise Men in Studying Frankincense and Myrrh posted at Homeschool Mo.

On the 6th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is wrapping presents...
It is so sweet to see the older children buying (with their own money) and carefully wrapping gifts for their siblings. I think they have as much fun picking them out and cutting ribbon as they do opening their own presents.

Jessica helps us to think about presents to those less fortunate than ourselves in The Gift of Giving posted at Teachable Moments.

On the 5th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is working math problems...
I take the days between Christmas and New Years to help the children get some of the more time consuming assignments completed, such as book reports. Yeah, all the public school kids have 2 weeks off, but I tell them, "some homeschoolers do school year-round, so stop complaining!" 

Marlis presents a great and cheap way to teach little ones their numbers in Early Childhood Math Concept posted at The Itchy Homeschooler.

Alasandra tell us that homeschoolers are unique in the reasons they teach at home in Homeschool is not religious undertaking it is an educational choice at Alesandra's Homeschool Blog.

Linda shares her family's homeschool journey in You Can Help Your Child Learn: The Learning Coach Approach posted at PARENT AT THE HELM.

Jamie presents her reasons for homeschooling in Changing the Game - Blogs - Parent Community and Forum posted at Homeschool Online.

On the 4th day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is making crafts...
Paper snowflakes, cotton ball ornaments to really elaborate sculpted clay creches (I'm not saying we do any of these crafts, but I do know that other homeschoolers do).

Shay shares Homeschooling Revisited, her take on what homeschooling is really like as opposed to what she expected at Wonderfully Chaotic.

Carletta gives us some fun ideas with little ones in Last-Minute Christmas Crafts at Successful Homeschooling.

Phyllis Bergenholtz shares an art lesson with her boys in All Things Beautiful: Flexibility or Connecting to the Now posted at All Things Beautiful.

On the 3rd day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is baking cookies...
Our family takes several days off from school and bakes many kinds of cookies to send to relatives. Of course there are plenty left over for us.

Pamela turns baking bread into a homeschool lesson in Flour, Water, Salt, and Yeast posted at Blah, Blah, Blog.

Jennifer in OR was successful in organizing a group craft in Gingerbread...hut? posted at Diary of 1. (we actually attempted graham cracker houses this summer in Maine, our efforts without the proper kind of "glue" were not pretty... but tasty.)

On the 2nd day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is decorating the tree...
Perhaps with all those ornaments the children made during craft time?

Alejandra shows us how to get along better with those family members in Seeing The Good in Others: a necessary daily struggle posted at A Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Cristina gives us a glimpse of what her tree decorating (and ours to be honest) is really like in Home Spun reprints #296-8: Christmas Decorating 2008 posted at Home Spun Juggling.

Rachel Lynette presents Christmas Analogy Fun posted at Minds in Bloom.

On the 1st day of Christmas, our homeschooling family is setting up the nativity scene...
Tradition has it that Mary and Joseph take one step each day during Advent toward the stable and that the youngest child puts the baby Jesus in the manger late on Christmas Eve.

On a very sad note I regret to share the loss of Mattias, Dana's at Rosecommon Acres little boy. Our hearts grieve and our prayers go out to her family.

Merry Christmas from our homeschooling family to yours!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

carnival of homeschooling coming up

I am hosting the carnival next Tuesday so please submit any posts you have about homeschooling, Christmas, and what your family is doing this week to prepare would be appreciated. You can email me directly (see sidebar)or use the carnival submission form here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

baking days

In order to have a variety of cookies to send to all the aunties (and one lucky blog reader to whom I owe a certain item) for their Christmas gift, we have taken several days to put aside most of our schoolwork and mix and bake. This year we stuck with some old favorites and added some new ones, with mixed results. The almond macaroon recipe called for way too much egg white so we had to send Tim to the store to buy another 2lbs of confectioners sugar to absorb all the extra liquid. After 4 batches that spread out too much and stuck to the cookie sheet, I used that parchment paper that was waaaay back in the pantry and then we finally experienced success. The kitchen was covered in flour and powdered sugar, but with a little help from my 6 elves, we had the place spic and span before their daddy got home.  

 A selection of our sweet treats for your enjoyment:

In case you are one of the lucky recipients of our efforts, please note that these are NOT prepackaged cookies that someone in our family passed off as homemade, but the product of 3 days of work. All the children helped, some more than others, and all of them washed their grubby little paws beforehand.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas pagent

The Saints come to the Manger pageant was a phenomenal success, especially the portrayal of St. Nicholas by Father Burne. Even Timmy caught the gist, "Be good for your parents and don't beat up your brothers and sisters, follow the Commandments and you shall receive toys and cookies." The boys were very convincing shepherds with Timmy cradling a stuffed puppy and a lamb, while the girls made very beautiful Saints. After Benediction the children were rewarded with candy canes, which the boys flipped over and over all the way home, "J for Jesus, and a shepherds cane, J for Jesus and..." I am so grateful that our family has the opportunity to participate in such a lovely pageant again after a 3 year hiatus and learn about their Catholic history at the same time.

Let me add that I'm glad that the pageant was yesterday, I looked out the window and found that it is snowing. Today is baking day when we made Christmas cookies until the scent of sugar and spice permeates out all the doors and windows.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

what a long, long day

I work the girls up at 6:45am so we could be up and downtown before their 1 mile race began and my 5K race started. It was very cold, especially with the wind coming off the water, but Maggie insisted on running in just a long sleeve shirt, no jacket. The chill must have made her run faster and she finished 5th with a time of 7:35. Her older sister crossed the finish line 15 seconds later. They then cheered me on as I claimed a personal adult best with a chip time of 22:54 (2nd place age group finish). (I got an email 2 days later that there was a chip error and I actually placed 1st) We stopped by the library before swinging by home to pick up the checkbook and measure our ceiling, and then picked out the first Christmas tree we saw at the lot. 

But everything hit the brakes when after putting the tree up, fighting the shopping hordes while going to the store for functioning lights, and decorating the entire thing, the tree fell over, breaking ornaments and spilling over a gallon of water on the carpet. Two hours later the tree is back up with the stand screws in much deeper and tied to the wall- that sucker is not going anywhere now. I still had to sew and glue costumes, but the children are finally all ready for the Christmas pagent tomorrow. Mary is Saint Adelaide, Maggie is Saint Margaret of Scotland, and the little boys are shepherds.

I'm about as tired as one can be while still able to stand so while the children and their father watch A Christmas Carol, I'm likely to read for about 3 minutes before crashing for the night.     

Thursday, December 09, 2010

baby Houdini

Julia Ellen has taken to propelling herself out of her crib and wandering about the house in the middle of the night. We haven't gotten a good night's sleep in weeks. The only thing that worked to get her to take a nap yesterday was putting the babygate across her door frame so she couldn't escape the room, after 30 minutes of frustrated crying she fell asleep on the floor in front of her crib. I have never had a child this agile or determined not to sleep, all the rest were in toddler beds by now and stayed in it for naps and night. My first plan of attack is the babyproof door knob cover so she will stay in the room and if that fails (waking up Mary and Maggie or destroying their things) then I guess I will have to get a tent that traps her in the crib like a wild animal in a cage.

Is this a cruel practical joke, 5 children you can't get out of bed with a crowbar and 1 very loud and squirmy night owl? 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

it's beginning to look like a Walmart-free Christmas

I don't like crowds so I don't take the children to events like parades (except in Maine, there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a crowd there) or amusement parks. We certainly avoid going anywhere that sells retail on the day after Thanksgiving. Perhaps it is because I'm getting older or the fact that Walmart contributes 8% to our trade deficit with China, but I just don't have any desire to even look for a parking spot in front of America's largest retailer. Now I have an even bigger reason after reading the headlines on Drudge:

WASHINGTON -- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano today announced the expansion of the Department’s national “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to hundreds of Walmart stores across the country—launching a new partnership between DHS and Walmart to help the American public play an active role in ensuring the safety and security of our nation.

While we were living just outside of DC I always had the feeling that Big Brother was constantly watching due to the preponderance of police, multiple cameras watching our every move, and nanny-state types ready to call the cops if the children play in the front yard unsupervised seems to be spreading across our country. Big Sis wants us to spy on our neighbors and report any "suspicious activity" to the authorities. I keep thinking that one day the American people are going to realize that our government has crossed the line and put a stop to this sort of intrusiveness in our lives, but it hasn't happened yet. Instead of figuring out who the bad guys are by profiling, the Obama regime wants to treat all citizens like criminals who need to have a close eye on them.   

Monday, December 06, 2010

all God's children are unique

Yesterday afternoon the three older children were in their music school's Christmas recital. It seems that every day someone tells me, "Your children all look so much alike," but it struck me during the performance how emotionally they are so different. Maggie eagerly practiced The Mermaid by Faber over and over from the time we got home from Mass to the moment we got in the van. I was thoroughly sick of listening to it, but she performed it flawlessly and sported a huge grin before practically skipping back down the aisle. Mary practiced The Queen's Harpsichord by George as few times as possible beforehand and was so nervous before she walked up to the grand piano that she refused to sit with us and had a blotchy face from a sudden crying nervous spell. She only hesitated one time during her performance and escaped from the sight of strangers as soon as possible. Will practiced Jingle Bells by Pierpont enough to know he could play it at a normal speed (his teacher constantly has to urge him to slow down from warp speed) and played it flawlessly, but I was disappointed by the slight scowl on his face during the walk back to his seat.

Of course the other three children are each different in personality as well, keeping me on my toes to encourage and discipline each one in a way that is effective. This is the biggest challenge in raising and homeschooling a large brood, what works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another and each requires an intimate knowledge to attempt to help them grow into saints. Our efforts sometimes are lacking, but in realizing that each child is a unique soul is the first step in achieving success.  

Thursday, December 02, 2010

wanting to give is a gift

This is the first Advent that I can recall every child clamoring (well, except for the baby) to buy each other presents with their own money. Maggie gently cradled her piggy bank in her arms as we walked into Michael's where she refused my crafty idea of buying large letters and painting them for her sister's wall, but instead used a 40% off coupon (we keep a stash of them in the van) to purchase a black velvet coloring poster with unicorns. Mary bought all her siblings enormous bars of chocolate, and Will found army men at the dollar store for his little brothers. But Charlie was the sweetest of them all when he wrapped up one of his stuffed animals and enclosed $1 on top for his oldest sister.

This spirit of loving and selflessness is one I treasure and what I hope will bloom into many acts of love and mercy for one another their entire lives. Sisters helping sisters with new babies, brothers giving each other a hand in friendship. A tiny glimpse of perfection in the daily grind of changing nasty nappies and correcting children is sometimes all that is needed to give one the purpose to continue on.