Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How to Travel with a Large(ish) Family

We planned a stop at Sunday Mass in the middle of a long drive back home, which is why Sly's in a bow tie!

As soon as baby #4 was born, we started encountering a frustrating problem.  Most hotels would no longer allow us all to stay in one room, because it's against the fire codes to fit more than five people.  Booking two rooms for the night was too expensive and seemed like way too much of a hassle.  Not all hotels offer suites, and if they do, they're too expensive as well.

But we had a handful of out-of-town weddings to go to recently (and yes, our kids were invited!), so we started looking around for cheaper alternatives.  We decided to check out Airbnb, which we only had a vague understanding of at the time.  And let me tell you, we are never going back!

We've now stayed at four different Airbnb rentals with the whole family, and even the least nice of those was so much better than staying at a hotel (and I promise, they aren't offering me anything to promote them - this is just me, wanting to sharing some advice).  We've paid between $80-110 per night, which is definitely comparable to the cost of a hotel room.  But the amazing part is that with an Airbnb, you're getting multiple rooms.  I especially recommend looking for a place where you have the entire house or apartment to yourself, to avoid the awkwardness of having to share space with your host.  If there's a kitchen too, you can save a ton of money by not having to eat out for all your meals.

How it used to look when we stayed in hotels: We're all crowded into one room with not much to do besides watch tv, or let the kids jump incessantly from bed to bed.  When the kids' bedtime arrives, we tuck them all together into one of the queen-sized beds, turn out the lights, and pray they won't fight over the covers or mess around for too too long.

All the lights need to be off, and a quiet atmosphere maintained to encourage the kids to actually sleep.  But Tom and I don't want to just sit around silently in the dark, and we're nowhere near tired enough yet for sleeping ourselves.  So we huddle in the bathroom with the door shut.  One of us sits on the toilet lid, and one of us on the edge of the tub.  We might crack some beers, and talk in whispers, occasionally taking turns to go out and yell at the kids to stop messing around, because they aren't used to sharing a bed and the novelty of the experience is just too much for them to handle.  Once or twice, we've done the old cell-phones-as-baby-monitors trick, and sneaked down to the hotel bar for twenty minutes, but I always felt way too paranoid doing that.

Eventually, we get bored and uncomfortable, and force ourselves to go to bed much earlier than we'd like....because there's literally nothing else to do.

How it looks at an Airbnb: Just like at home!  When it's bedtime for the kids, we tuck them into beds - usually individual beds, since there are often multiple bedrooms - turn out the lights, and shut the doors.  And then Tom and I have the run of the house where we can leave all the lights blazing if we want, have normal-volume conversation, watch tv, or just do whatever we like until as late as we want!  And in the morning, we can cook our own breakfast and coffee, or eat cereal at a table with milk from the fridge.


The other great discovery we made in the past year about traveling involves eating meals during long road trips.  Fast food from rest stops gets really tedious - and expensive - after a while.

Also, last summer when we replaced our old mini-van with a slightly nicer old mini-van (which had been kept pristine inside and out by the previous owner), we made a new rule for our kids: absolutely no eating in the car, EVER.  They can have water in an unspillable cup, and that's it.  No exceptions.  It was tough to adjust to in the beginning, but I don't regret it at all.  It's amazing how much cleaner - and less sticky - your car can be when there's no food eaten in it [except for the adults.  We totally still eat food and drink coffee in the front seats :-P].  But it necessitates a little more planning in terms of snacks and meals, when you're going to be in the car for long periods.

We've always been big fans of small independent diners.  Those little places down some quiet road, called So-and-so's Diner where you can get any meal on the menu for a maximum cost of about $6.  So now when we're traveling, we save up our appetites by not snacking, and we wait until mealtime to fill up.  When hunger strikes, I pull out my phone and search Google Maps for the nearest diner that looks appealing.  W follow the directions off the highway to some random country exit, and stop.  We've had mostly great luck with the little places we've found.  There's always plenty of seating, they're very kid-friendly, and so inexpensive.  Often, the entire family is able to eat a huge and satisfying meal for under $30!  It's nice to get a little break out of the car and stretch our legs and be able to talk face-to-face, instead of calling back and forth between the front seat and the back of the van.

I highly recommend you try finding one of America's little gems like this the next time you're on a long trip with your kids.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Summertime Plans

I can't even believe it, but our homeschool year is almost done!  I thought I had mapped out our last term to end mid-June, but I recently checked the schedule I put together, and we just have until the end of the month!

We followed the Mater Amabilis curriculm pretty closely this year for Sly (with just a few changes/deletions).  I think we did admirably well keeping up the pace.  The only thing we went "too slowly" with was the math.  Luckily, it's an easy subject for Sly, and the Saxon program has tons of repetition.  So for these remaining weeks, we're just going to fly through, and concentrate mainly on the new concepts.  Saxon is a strong program, and I am fully confident that it's giving him a good foundation in math.  But....it's just so dry and boring.  I'm going to be talking with other homeschooling families, and doing some research this summer to see if there's something out there that will work better for us.  And that I don't mind spending more money on.

After giving up so much "free time" this year with school, it might be a little strange to have it all back this summer.  But my mind is ever itching to plan and make schedules.  So my loose summer plans - aside from generally just hanging out and enjoying the warm weather are:

1. Lots of reading aloud.  During the school year, I was reading aloud so often for our school curriculum, that most days I didn't have the energy or desire to read other books to the kids "just for fun."  I know compared to the older kids, Linus and Flora have barely been read to specifically.  I hardly ever pull out the baby board books for Flora.  So this summer, I want to set aside a little time each morning to sit out on the porch swing and read some books to everyone just because.

A few chapter books I'd like to work through are: finishing up Winnie-the-Pooh, finishing up the My Father's Dragon stories, and reading all of St. Patrick's Summer.  The first two were both started at "tea time."  A pleasant little ritual I did increasingly less as the schoolyear wore on, and have completely given up at this point.  Perhaps that will come back next Fall!

2. Weekly daily Mass.  I wish I could say we'll plan to go everyday, but it's just not going to happen.  I'll set once a week as my goal for now.

3. Weekly trips to the library. I'll probably combine this with our trip to Mass, since both are in easy walking distance of my house.

4. Continue having Sly practice reading.  He's not coming along as well as I'd like with reading.  But - I keep reminding myself - he's only six.  No one even started teaching me to read until I was seven, and I did fine.  But, in the interest of not losing anything we gained during the schoolyear, I'm going to have him continue to work on his reading a bit every day.  We'll be using easy things like Bob Books, since he actually enjoys those.

5. Light a fire under Tom's bum, so he finishes building the bookcases in our bedroom before this baby comes!!  Once they're constructed, it will be my job to caulk, prime, paint, and stain everything.  I'd really rather get that done before I'm just too enormous to maneuver my body into all the strange positions I'll need for painting.  Then - the most exciting part - I can finally organize all our books onto the shelves!  I've already claimed one entire side for homeschool stuff.

6. Continue planning out next year's curriculum.  We're definitely going to keep on with Mater Amabilis as our base for next year.  The big things will be deciding what to do about a math program (should I switch or not?  I already have all the stuff I'd need for Saxon grade 2), deciding how much - if anything - I will do with Stella next year, and writing out a daily schedule to ensure I can fit everything in.

7. Finish knitting a baby boy blanket. I'm approaching half-way already, so I don't think this will be a problem.

8. Get back in the groove with meal-planning.  I was good about this for a couple years, but I stopped doing it when Linus was born three years ago (my transition to having three kids really threw me off for a while).  I've been getting by all this time by keeping a well-stocked pantry and chest-freezer at all times, and assembling most of our meals from what we already have in the house.  But it's really starting to catch up with me now.  I think I could relieve a fair amount of daily stress if I just had a clear plan about what we're going to eat before the day begins, and the knowledge that every ingredient I will need is definitely in the house.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I Finished My Baby Blanket Just in Time....

...to find out that we are having another BOY!

haha.  Joke's on all of us, I guess.  So this beautiful but very pink blanket will be going into storage for the time being.  And I'll be beginning as soon as possible on knitting a light green blanket for this new little man.

The pattern is called Sleeping Baby's Castle Blanket, and is for sale on Ravelry

Perhaps the next one (God willing) will be a girl.  It would maintain the pattern we've got going on, at any rate: boy - girl - boy - girl - boy.

Now begins the challenging process of deciding on a boy name.  Tom and I are totally deadlocked on this question.  We each have a name we love but the other spouse hates.  And so far, neither of us have wanted to budge :-P

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"Gender Reveal" Tomorrow!

Who will come out in the lead - the boys or the girls?

I have my 20-week ultrasound scheduled for tomorrow, and I'm so excited to find out whether the baby is a boy or girl.  We always find out.  At this point, Tom would prefer to "be surprised" - now that we have one (well, two actually) of each, and have all the gender-appropriate clothes we'll need anyways.  But I just really like to know.  And I guess since I'm the one doing all the work to grow this little person, and carrying him/her around all these months, my opinion wins out.  And I figure, we're still getting surprised, it just happens to be 20 weeks earlier than some people do.

Obviously, we are happy and in love with this baby no matter what.  But right now, most of us are rooting for it being another girl.  All for very different reasons.

Linus: Baby girls are all he really knows, since his only younger sibling is a girl.

Stella: She says she wants the "girls to win" by outnumbering the boys.

Sly: He claims - not without reason - that "baby girls are the cutest".  He's been the sweetest, most doting big brother to Flora, and I think he's hoping for another baby like her.

Mommy: Has been working since before she was pregnant on knitting a baby blanket "for our next baby that's a girl."  I'm 99.9% finished (I just have four rows left to do!), and it's very pink and very girly, so I won't be using it if this baby is a boy.  I have a tradition of knitting each baby a blanket before they are born, and I would very much like *not* to have to start all over tomorrow in a boy color :-P

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, and....it 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.