Thursday, April 13, 2017

April in Photos

Flora is one year old, and finally starting to pull up to standing.  The other kids are engrossed in the Elmo's Potty Time video their Grammy sent, the latest in a string of unsuccessful ploys to convince Linus to potty train...

Flora in my favorite old-fashioned type of little girl dress

my sweet girls :-)

Just an unecessary photo of my kitchen, because I'm so happy with how bright and cheery it is

Stella's art is just too cute for words

The kids have been bringing me and our Mary statues bunches of spring flowers every day

We identified these ones growing in our yard as periwinkles, and grape hyacinths

Sly had to spend an afternoon in the hospital, after whacking his face on a chair and cutting open his eyelid.  His vision is fine, but he needed four stitches - which required him to be fully sedated.

After years of working on Tom to allow us to get a pet for the kids, he agreed to let the kids pool their money for a pair of hmasters + cage that someone was selling for a really good price on Craigslist.  They are over the moon, and just loving their new pets.  Here, Sly is holding "Mr. Woodchip" (the kids picked the names)

Linus holding "Mr. Fluff"

Flora pulling up once again.  At the midwife's office....where we have been going for prenatal appointments.  We are expecting another baby in September! :-D

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December Photo Dump

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

I took a photo  of Stella with a fluffy little toy alpaca she found in her shoe this morning, and realized that I have a bunch of photos in my phone that I needed to transfer over to the computer.  Here are just a few, to give a glimpse of what we've been up to recently.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, we had dinner with three other families we are friends with, all of whom live in Maryland.  Two of us are homeschooling the kids, and two of us send the kids to a Catholic classical school.  Needless to say, our children have all been made to memorize poetry.  So it was the most heartwarming and encouraging moment for me when, after we had finished eating, the children voluntarily took turns going up to recite poems for the whole group!  At one point, there was even a little scuffle as several of them began shoving each other, wanting to have the stage.  With the exception of that little episode, though, the whole experience so completely fit my ideal of the type of education I'm trying to give my kids.  A wonderful time.

Sweet sleeping baby shot.

While driving from Maryland to the Philly area to stay with the in-laws, we stopped at a tiny middle-of-nowhere diner that was a total throwback to the 50s.  They still had a functioning jukebox that played 45rpm records for a nickel a song!  The kids were fascinated by it, and loved watching the automatic arm put down the record and start to play.

My brother-in-law and my husband dressed super fashionably (they were in vacation mode, I guess) a couple days before Thanksgiving.  And yes, they did go out in public like this!

My quilting group meets on Monday nights, which is trash night around here.  Several times on my way home, I have pulled over to save some treasure from someone's trash.  One of my recent finds was this cute little children's rocking chair.  The wood wasn't in the best shape, so I didn't want to spend time refinishing it with stain.  Here it is primed and ready for painting.  Stay tuned for a future post to see what color it became!

The big kids put some reindeer antlers on Flora.  She is not crawling yet, but seems so so close.

Babies with anything on their heads are just the cutest.  Maybe I'll have her wear these when we visit "Santa" this year.

Someone posted this on Facebook, and I liked it.  I feel like I should have this posted up somewhere in the house, as a reminder to myself.

I'm very slowly starting the decorating process around here, trying to keep the spirit of Advent, and not go "full Christmas" too soon.  I pulled out some of my special paper snowflakes I made in college, and hung them up around the bottom floor.  The kids thought they were so neat, and wanted to make some of their own. It turns out that Sly is currently the only one with enough hand strength and control to cut through all the layers of paper....which means the younger two were alternately crying in frustration/whining at me for help, just wasn't that fun for anyone.  Maybe in a few years we will try again!

Linus fell asleep for a late afternoon nap, and our cat was willing to go the closest she's ever gone to him!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nature Walks with Young'uns

As part of our Charlotte Mason homeschooling approach this year, I've scheduled in some regular nature walks with the kids.  It's just every-other-Friday right now, alternating with our homeschool co-op's meetings.

So far - with the exception of one ill-fated trip through some uncharted and very hilly woods the day after a huge rainstorm wherein all my kids became truly convinced that we were utterly and irrevokably lost and all four of them began bawling in terror - it's been quite lovely.

After the aforementioned incident, I've learned to keep it small, and keep it simple.  So far, I've picked little patches of forest that I'm already familiar with near our home.  I live in Pennsylvania, afterall, so *all* the nature is forest.  And it's quite hilly around here, which means most of these forests also have a creek running through the bottom, which is awesome for exploration.

Each of the kids carries a backpack containing a nature journal, a pencil, a water bottle, and one piece of fruit to snack on.  I usually sneak a few tree or bird identification guides into the big kids' backpacks as well.  I wear the baby in the Ergo, outfit myself in what my husband calls my "combat boots," and off we go.

We just take a leisurely stroll down the paths we find, and I encourage the kids to notice certain little things I might see or hear.  But for the most part, they are much more observant than me.  It must come from being so close to the ground!  On even the most seemingly ordinary stretch of path, the kids can find plenty of things to keep them interested - spiky seed pods from a sweetgum tree, a decaying log, some ever-pervasive shelf fungus...

It takes a little while for me to get in the "mood" of the nature walk, so to speak.  But after twenty minutes or so in the woods, I feel myself starting to calm down.  To breathe more easily, and loosen upand just let go of my tensions.  It's truly rejuvenating for my soul, and I find myself longing suddenly to move out of the city and live a simple quiet life surrounded by the outdoors.

I've found it best to keep the length of the walk pretty quick.  Maybe forty-five minutes total.  That's short enough that the kids aren't too tired, and their curiosity hasn't been burned up.  At some point aferwards - though not always the same day, as I'd prefer - I have the kids draw a picture of something we saw in their nature journals, and then they dictate a little description that I write for them.

For all my talk of wanting my kids to approach science firstly through a love of nature and by using personal observations of the world, I know never would have built in the time for this in our schedule had I not been trying to give Charlotte Mason's education approach a fair trial.  It seems like such a simple thing - a short walk in the woods every now and then.  But I've been so amazed at the things the kids have noticed and learned, and the spark it has ignited in their minds.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reconsidering Liturgical Celebrations

A blessed Advent to all!  This is one of my favorite times of year, and I'm so glad it has come around again.

We just got back to town after a long Thanksgiving trip, so I haven't yet dug out the Advent wreath or Jesse Tree, or all the other great little treasures packed away in my Advent box.

But I did pull out my huge stack of children's picture books for the season.  I know some families like to wrap all their Christmas books in wrapping paper, and have the kids pick one to read each day of Advent.  Sounds like a nice way to space them out and build up anticipation and all that, but...."Aint's nobody got time for that" (as they say) around here.  Instead, they'll just sit in a stack in the basement and the kids will be able to choose what to read each day.  I counted up our books, and we have over forty!  Yikes.  Too many books for just one per day, so I'll be letting each kid take a turn to pick two books to read each day until we run out.

I've been doing some thinking about how our family should observe the Church's feast days.  It seems like a lot of the Catholic moms on the internet these days observe so many of the days in the Liturgical calendar with a special craft or fun treat for the kids.  You can find online for observing  ideas for even the most obscure of holydays.  For awhile, I felt like I needed to do that too.

I think it's great that there is a renewed interest in the observation of the Church year.  Based on the publication dates of some of the "classic" books on this topic (Maria Von Trapp's. Mary Reed Newland's, Fr. F. X. Weiser's), I suspect there was a similar cultural movement like this back in the 50s.

But after trying - and failing - many times to come up with and remember to do fun activities with the kids for each major feast day that came up, I realized it wasn't exactly what I wanted for our family.  Something about it all seemed forced, artificial.

This year's chocolate chip Rosaries on the feast of O.L. of the Rosary.  We don't let them eat the chips while we actually pray the Rosary, because that seems irreverent.  Tom keeps asking what's the point of having them do this.  I guess...because it's fun? [buzz cuts on the boys are thanks to the *lice* infestation we battled earlier this Fall]
The truth is, I was not personally handed on any family or cultural traditions for celebrating most of the the days in the Church calendar (the only exceptions are Christmas and Easter).  I'm not opposed to us forming our own family traditions or trying to recreate older ones which have largely fallen out of use for certain holydays.  But I think this needs to happen both gradually and somewhat organically.  I think we should concentrate on observing the feasts that are most important for the Church, then adding in a few that are important and for our family in particular.

And anyways, the best and most traditional way to celebrate the feasts is to attend Mass on that day, and pray the special prayers that the Church has chosen (as well as participating in the prayers of the Divine Office).

Conclusion: attending Mass with your family to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is better than eating tacos on that day just because she appeared in Mexico.  Or, baking a cake for the feast of St. Linus (a rather obscure Saint) because you have a son named for him is better than saying, "oh, tomorrow is the feast of St. Benedict!" (who you admittedly don't much much about, and have never had a personal devotion to) and scrambling to find  an excerpt about him to read the kids from one of their Saint books, and researching the various traditional ways different countries/monasteries have celebrated the day, and trying to throw a special dish together at the last minute with food items you already have in your pantry.  You know what I mean?  (though let me be clear - eating tacos as a way to observe a feast is not bad)

At Mass yesterday, the first day of Advent, the priest said some things in his homily that struck me.  Firstly, he was talking about our daily family prayers, and how we needed to ramp them up during Advent.  He mentioned a daily Rosary, referring to it as "the basics", that it was what we should all already be doing.  How many Catholic families are making the time and effort to fit in a Rosary every single day?  Are you?  How can you make it happen this Advent?

Father suggested, if families aren't already, to add in the prayer of the Angelus each day this Advent - saying it once morning morning, noon, and 6pm, if you're able.

Father also talked about the penitential nature of Advent, and how we should consider a way to make it more penitential in our homes. It got me to thinking about how rarely I offer any personal penances, or observe any fasts.  With the exception of the bare minimum required by the Church - fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstaining from meat every Friday - I don't have a good habit of offering sacrifices.  (if you are Catholic, and are not consistently abstaining every Friday of the year, please be aware that this is required.  If you live in the US, you have permission to substitue a personal penance instead of abstaining from meat. We prefer to follow the traditional course.  I have heard it argued that there is greater virtue in performing a penance not chosen by yourself, one that is accepted from above out of obedience)

All this started me thinking of the Liturgical year again, and how there used to be so many more days on which fasting/abstinence were required - more stringent fasting rules for Lent, the Ember days, fasting on the eve of many major feast days, and so on.  We are not required to observe many of these fasts anymore, just as we are not required to observe most of the feast days on the calendar.  But if I want to try to revive the celebration of some of our favorite feasts in our home - Assumption, Our Lady of the Rosary, Epiphany, etc. - then I feel we should really be taking on more of the penitential days as well.

It just suddenly feels wrong to enjoy celebrating all the feasts without also sacrificing during the fasts.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A New Room for the Girls!

Popular decorating trends and countless searches of Pinterest and Google had almost convinced me that there was no way to have historically-accurate dark-stained wooden trim in a bedroom and still make it look fresh and feminine.  But I think we pulled it off!


This project took us ages and ages to complete.  We began in May of 2015, when this was just "Stella's room."  Flora didn't even exist yet, and it would be awhile more before we knew she was a girl and would be moving in with her big sister eventually.  So then it began to be called "the Girls' room," and as there were now two people sleeping elsewhere in the house and waiting for their room to be ready, I was feeling more and more stressed about its lack of completion.  But it's finally done, thank goodness, and we did it all by ourselves, and I'm very satisfied with the outcome.

The finish on the trim and doors was in rough shape.  The shellac varnish had darkened so much over time that it was almost black.  It had a lot of crazing and drips, and whoever had last painted the room had splattered drips of paint all over the baseboards which had then been absorbed in by the old shellac.

The walls and ceiling were both painted a very pale blue-gray color that didn't work at all with the warm wood tones, and made the room feel quite depressing.  The carpet was a similar blue-gray and covered in stains.

The ceiling fan/light fixture held only one bulb and just added to the dull dreariness of the whole room, and there were several areas of plaster in need of patching.

In Progress

Tom spent countless hours of his life removing the shellac with alcohol and rags.  Honestly, it would have been easier to just replace the trim completely, or perhaps to sand it instead.  But he wanted to preserve the original features as much as possible.

"before" on the left, "after" shellac removal on the right
Once the shellac layer was off, we were able to add some stain to darken the wood to a deep brown, and then we added many coats of polyurethane on top.  This whole process probably took up the majority of our time spent on this room.

While Tom was working on trim, I kept myself busy refinishing a lot of furniture.  We bought two similar dressers on Craigslist.  Tom sanded them down and cut off the silly country-style decorative elements from the bottoms.  I then painted the "bottoms", and stained and poly'd the tops.  I painted a lovely ornate (plastic!) mirror I picked up at a flea market and have had sitting around for a few years.  I also acquired (on Craigslist, of course) a nightstand which I repainted and put new drawer pulls on, and a bedframe for Stella which I repainted.  And we're super bad about remembering to take "before" photos of anything,'ll just have to trust me that what we did made a huge improvement!

I also asked Tom to add some decorative elements to a bookcase we already owned - he put a case and a crown, and some piping along the sides.  Then I re-painted it a girly pink-and-white.



We ripped up the carpet to find some nice hardwood underneath.  As you can see, it needed to be refinished.

We decided to do it ourselves - so we rented the huge sander with all the sanding disks, bought the fancy floor polyurethane and applicators, and spent a couple weeks working on that at night after the kids were in bed.

My verdict on DIY floor refinishing: a lot more expensive than I expected, and WAY more work than I wanted to do.  I definitely want to hire a professional to do it if we ever refinish another room (the trick will be convincing Tom to agree!).

applying polyurethane on a hot and sticky summer night

Tom replaced the ceiling fan with a nicer one that holds more lightbulbs.  He also switched out all the off-white outlets and lightswitches for brown ones, and I stained some wooden outlet/lightswitch plates to match the trim.

I patched up the walls extensively, repainted the ceiling in a flat white, and after much deliberating over the appropriate wall color, chose to paint them lavender.  I bought some pretty white floral fabric from Jo-Anns and sewed some curtains for the windows.


Stella's bed

Flora's crib

Flora's dresser

Stella's dresser

Stella's nightstand

the rug whose finding and deciding-upon required hours of my life to be wated away in internet searches, and threatened the peace of the spousal relationship in our household

done at last!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Our Thrifted Kids' Mass Set

For years, I've been wanting to get a nice little Mass set for the kids.  I have long had dreams of my boys, in particular, playing priest, and asking me to sew them some sweet child-sized vestments like Pope Benedict did.  So far, neither of the boys have shown much interest or inclination, to be honest.  But maybe if Tom shows them how all the vessels are used and what everything means, they'll get a little excited about it?

For a long time, I had my eye on the gorgeous set at My Father's House  (it says it's not available for sale now, but you can still see the photos.)  I can't recall the exact price, but I know it was way out of the budget.  Maybe $160?  I had to give up on it, because it was just sooooo much money for something I wasn't even sure my kids were going to use.

I decided instead to activate my thrift-shopping superpowers, and start the long slow hunt for items that would work in a kids' Mass set.  I wanted the bare minimum needed for a Traditional Low Mass.  So I wasn't holding out for the incense implements, etc. which would be required for a High Mass.  I've been keeping an eye out for items for about two years now.

The one item - though not a strictly necessary one, I believe - that's been holding me up for the past year from finally completing the set (by my estimation) was a ciborium (a vessal which holds the Eucharist).  I needed something metal, roughly cup-shaped, with a lid.  Not many non-liturgical items look like that!  Finally, at Goodwill last night, I FOUND one.  It's some Paul Revere reproduction piece, according to the etching in the bottom.  I was thrilled, Tom and I high-fived in the aisle, and there was much rejoicing!

We have: a crucifix, two candlesticks, a chalice, a ciborium, a paten, two cruets, a bell, and also a shell-shaped dish in case the kids want to play "baptism" - haha.

The one part I still don't have are all the necessary altar linens.  Never having served at the altar myself (a fact I am now, in retrospect, very happy about), I have never actually seen any of those linens up close,.  All I've seen are my little line drawings in my missal.  So I'm going to have to get some clear descriptions from Tom, and then I can start trying to acquire what I'll need.  I'm sure a lot of them can be made from re-purposed thrift store finds as well, and any that can't be, I will sew.

Is there anything else I forgot??

I know having a Mass set is not a guaranteed way to encourage my boys to consider the priesthood, but at the least, I'm hoping all my kids will get a clearer knowledge of what the priest is actually doing up at the altar during Mass, and the meaning behind it all.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Our Homeschool Year

I haven't paid a visit to my blog in quite a while.  My best excuse for it is because we've started up our homeschooling year, and I've found myself with much less time.

"back to school" 2016
Sly is in "first grade" this year, so I wanted to get a bit more serious about his schooling.  After spending the early summer in an excited frenzy of reading and listening to anything I could get my hands on about Charlotte Mason, I decided to give her approach a whirl this year.  We're almost perfectly following Mater Amabilis, which is a free Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculm.

Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that a CM approach was pretty light and fluffy, and not as rigorous an education as I was looking for.  But how wrong I was!  Many of the books we're reading are ones which I would have thought too advanced for my kids' ages, but I've been pleasantly surprised by how much they are picking up and understanding.

Last year, I pieced together my own curriculum, and as the year went on, I just kind of dropped things here and there as I was developing the classic "homeschool burnout."  Since I had no one to answer to but myself, I had no trouble just ditching parts that took too much out of me.  I think (hope) this year will be a little different.  Because I'm following a plan put together by someone else, I feel more obligation to stick to it (though I think I may drop some of the geography lessons...because that part feels really thrown together to me).  Sticking with this curriculum also forces me to incorporate some subjects which, while worthwhile, I may not have made time for otherwise - things like artist study, poetry memorization, or nature walks.

Our actual school time is close to two hours per day.  That gets stretched out, though, because I try to shoo the kids outside for short breaks in between some of our lessons.  The past few days, Sly has been insisting that he keep working right through with no breaks at all.  He says he prefers to save up all his playtime for one solid chunk at the end.  But I've noticed that his focus has been really slipping.  His brain needs to take those little breaks.  So I'm going to start insisting on it, even if I have to push him out the door whining and crying.

I set things up so that we only do our normal lessons Monday through Thursday.  Fridays alternate between going to our homeschool co-op, or taking a nature walk.  And we've already fit in a couple additional "field trip" days to a special Divine Liturgy at an Eastern church, and a visit to a fort from the French and Indian War.

Stella is only four, so I'm mostly just casually trying to get her to learn her letters and the sounds they make.  Linus is almost two-and-a-half, which I have found to be the magical age for potty training.  So when the big kids started school, Linus began "potty school."  I'm just taking a very slow and gradual approach to it.  Having him sit on his potty a few times a day, and seeing if anything happens.  And reading our all-time favorite book for potty training, Ian's New Potty.  And Flora is six months old, so she mostly fusses during school time until she's ready for her morning nap, and then Mommy rushes to try to finish up the rest of the school lessons so that maybe she'll have a tiny bit of time left to fit in some baby-free chores before naptime ends.

It's been an adjustment for us all.  It's been hard on the kids to realize that they can no longer play with their good across-the-street friend during the mornings, and that Mommy is likely going to turn down most offers for morning playdates and outings because she really needs to get serious and make sure "school" happens most days.

And it's been tough on me to have to give those things up as well.  We're just not morning people in this family.  We can't get up early enough to get lessons out of the way and still have time to go anywhere in the morning.  So hanging out with friends, trips to the supermarket and other errands have to get pushed to other time slots.

It's kind of like I've taken on a part-time job in addition to my already full-time job of mothering and housekeeping.  I need to remind myself constantly to be responsible and just get it done, and not be tempted by every possible excuse to push lessons aside until the next day.  I figure, if the kids were in public school, they'd have to show up every day, and they'd stay there until mid-afternoon.  At least we have more flexibility and free time than that!