Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Celebrating Birthdays and Bringing Back Old Technology

For Sly's birthday, we gave him an old-school Fisher-Price cassette tape player (very similar to the one I had as a kid), and a little box of tapes.  I had been lamenting for a while that there were no good modern ways for kids to listen to their own music.  I wouldn't trust a three year-old with cds.  And he couldn't use an mp3 player without being able to read (right?).  I wanted a way for Sly to play his own music in his bedroom, as I did when I was little.  "There's just no modern equivalent that works as well for kids as tape players!" I remarked in frustration to Tom. Then it dawned on me: we could just get him a tape player.  Who cares that it's not the newest technology?

There were a few failed attempts to snag one on eBay (I wasn't willing to pay more than $20), and then one day - as always happens to us if we just wait long enough - there one was, sitting on the shelf at Goodwill, just waiting for us.  For $5!  I still have some - though certainly not all, and certainly not a few of my favorites - tapes from my own childhood.  We rounded out the collection with a few more we picked up at thrift stores for 25 cents each.  Sly loves it, and has been listening to music at naptime every day.  I can't explain how heartwarming it is to hear him (via the baby monitor) begin to learn and love some of my own childhood favorites.  We also gave him a toolkit which has been a huge hit.

We gave Stella a Rock-a-Stack, which is amazingly one of the only toys we don't already own (or so it feels some days...) and Good Night Pittsburgh - a cute book featuring local places (I think they make them for other cities too).

And of course they got a billion other gifts from friends and family, and we're feeling a little overwhelmed by toys once again, and I think another silent purge is in order soon.


The birthday party went well.  I did a Peter Rabbit/Beatrix Potter theme, mostly because it involved very little work for me.  That's the theme of the kids' bedroom/nursery, so I just kinda raided their room for decor a half hour before the party.

It's not a party without punch!  This is just the traditional pineapple juice+ginger ale+sherbet.  Always a big hit.

Table is still a little bare because Sly's cake was in the fridge.  Stella got Beatrix Potter cupcakes.

Utilizing bookends as a napkin holder.

Sly loved his dirt cake with worms and dinosaur candles.  The plants are real, but edible - it's mint!  I saw the idea in a magazine, and would never have thought to do it, but it makes a nice touch.

This cutie pie kept her party hat on the entire time :-)

There were only two other children as guests, and both of them were with their parents.  We kept the invitees to family and a few close (adult) friends.  But it was still pretty exhausting dealing with my hostess duties as well as a much-too-hyper birthday boy all afternoon.  I am definitely not ready for the type of kids' parties where you invite just other children and then have to keep them entertained for a few hours!!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Few Words on Homeschooling

We still hope to homeschool our kids.  As Sly is just turning three, I still have some time before I need to really start doing anything about it "officially."  Depending on his readiness, I may start sitting down with him intentionally in another year or so to start really learning his letters and their sounds, and practicing counting (he's adorably bad at it right now).  For now, Sly and I are both content with him learning letters slowly and naturally as he happily puts together his alphabet puzzle about ten times a day.

Our parents all know we want to homeschool the kids.  I feel like we've talked about it with them many times.  So I don't know if they genuienely forget about it or if they just aren't taking us seriously, when they say things like, "make sure when you buy a house, you pick a good school district.  You don't want to send your kids to the city schools." or "In a few years, Sly will be in school and ________."  Really?  I don't want to sound like a broken record, constantly reminding them of our alternative plans for the kids' education, but this happens all the time.  I usually just respond with a quick smile, and change the subject.

Perhaps I'm just a pessimist, but I have some concerns about the future of homeschooling in this country.  I just don't like the way the political winds are blowing.  It's times like these I thank God that I have a teaching certificate, because who knows - maybe one day that will be the only thing that allows me to teach my own children.  At any rate, it can't hurt.  And it might lend me some "credibility" in the minds of certain people, and I won't complain about having less people on my back in the future.

Anyways...here's an interesting infographic about homeschooling that's going around, if you haven't seen it yet.

Homeschooled: How American Homeschoolers Measure Up
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com

Friday, August 16, 2013

One Year Old

Our little sweetheart is ONE today! 
The birthday girl today

one year ago

I can't believe how much she's grown, and how fast this past year went.  In many ways, she's still such a baby, though.  Sly started walking and weaned himself at 11 months.  Stella still has no interest in doing either. 

At one year...
Stella is such a doll, always smiling and waving at people.  She's pretty fearless, never acting timid in new situations.  She adores all animals and coos in delight whenever she sees one.  When she's lucky enough to get close to one of our cats, she just buries her whole face into their sides, crooning gleefully.  Stella has an enormous appetite, often eating more then her brother at every meal.  She's still super-snuggly, and has a gentle touch when playing.  She loves the blankie Mommy knit her, and cuddles into it every time she finds it.

Sly loves spending time with his little sister, and has taken to waking her up in the mornings (not something I approve of) just so she can come out and play with him sooner.  I love watching the two of them have fun together (especially when it doesn't end in tears).

Happy birthday, sweet Stella Maris!

(we'll be having a combined birthday party for the kids next weekend.  I'll write about it then!)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Feast of the Assumption Party/Playdate

The Feast of the Assumption celebrates the day Mary was taken into Heaven, body and soul.  It's a Holy Day of obligation for Catholics, and one of the most (the most?) important Marian feasts in the calendar.  It also happens to be my birthday, which means it's a day especially close to my heart.*

I decided to host an Assumption party/playdate for some of the moms from the Catholic moms group I'm in.  Here's a peek at how we celebrated:
I noticed after cleaning everything up and uploading photos that one of my children placed a lovely fingerprint right on the lens.  Excuse all these blurry photos.

According to several of my books, the Assumption has been traditionally a harvest festival, when people would bring fresh fruits, herbs and flowers to the church to be blessed.  This is also connected with a sweet old legend which Maria Von Trapp writes about in her book:

When Mary the Mother of Jesus felt that her end was drawing near, she sent her guardian angel to summon the Apostles, who had gone out into the world to preach the Gospel of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.  When they received the summons, they came in a great hurry and were just in time to witness the happy death of their dear Mother.  Everyone had come except Thomas.  He was three days late.  When he heard that the Blessed Mother had been resting in the tomb for days, he cried bitterly and pled with the Apostles to open the tomb once more and let him glance at the beloved features.  The other Apostles yielded to his plea, but as they opened the tomb, they found it filled with flowers, which gave out a heavenly scent.  On the place where they had laid the body there was only the shroud left – the body had been bourne up to heaven by the angels, where it was joined by the holy soul of the Mother of God.  According to the legend, all the flowers and herbs on earth had lost their scent after Adam and Eve committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden.  On the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, however, the flowers were given back their scent and the herbs their power to heal.
Lavender-lemon cookies, cut into tulip shape (to work in the herbs and flowers theme)
"Heavenly punch" (cheesy, I know)
Cookie dough pretzel bites (just because I saw them on Pinterest and they looked amazing)
Fresh fruit salad (nectarines, strawberries, red grapes, blueberries)

Just a simple shortbread recipe with (blessed) lavender and lemon zest mixed in
It looked more appetizing before the ice cream "clouds" melted all over the place
very yummy!
Dark pink roses (no significance to the color - I just thought they were pretty)
A statue of Mary surrounded by cotton batting "clouds"


Activities for the kids [forgot to get pics]
Assumption coloring page
This cute craft from Catholicmom.com

Favors [forgot to get pics]
I sent the moms home with a few sprigs of blessed lavender tied with a white ribbon


And for dinner tonight, I'm making myself my favorite food ever, "my mom's" chicken pot pie which happens to be loaded with herbs, so it works for the feast day celebrations!  But really, I decided to cook myself my favorite food because it's my birthday.  Is that lame?  That I'm cooking my own birthday dinner? Should I feel bad about this?  (That's the same question I asked myself when had to drive myself - all alone, no one else in the car - to the church on the morning of my wedding, with my hair done and my veil already pinned in.....I got some strange looks from other drivers).

Anyways, if anyone else is celebrating the Assumption today, I'd love to hear what you did!  (and link me up, if you write about it on your blog).  Happy Assumption Day!

*It wasn't always.  When I was a kid, I got SO MAD every year that I was forced  to go to church on my birthday, of all days!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Life in the Tunnel

I've been feeling somewhat bogged down recently with motherly and housekeeping tasks.  I'm sure some of the cause is actually just the oppressively hot weather sapping a lot of my energy.  And surely a part of it is the fact that Stella has become a lot more demanding recently.  She's turning one (!) next week.  She's no longer content to just sit in my lap while I read to Sly, or lie in her baby gym batting at toys while I clean the house or cook dinner.  She wants to be entertained and played with all the time.  She's explored every inch of the house, and is totally bored with it now.  She demands new stimuli all the time, causing me to dig through junk drawers and closets to find anything new and novel to let her play with for a little while (my nail polish collection kept her happily busy for a half hour yesterday). She eats real food, and makes real big messes while she's at it.  Some days, it feels like almost my entire day was spent preparing, serving, eating, and cleaning up from meals.

And the kids are on completely opposite nap schedules, and it's driving me a little crazy.  By the time we're all finally dressed, washed, and fed for the morning, Stella goes down for her first nap.  She wakes up, we eat lunch, and then it's Sly's nap time.  Then Stella goes for a second nap a couple hours later, and I often just...tell Sly he has to stay in his room a little longer, even if he's awake, because I really need the time to get things done!  I used to be able to get chores out of the way when I just had Stella with me, but now she just screams and crawls after me the whole time, grabbing at my skirt.  Sigh.  So it's slow-going.  If we go anywhere during the day - the supermarket, a playdate, etc. - someone is going to miss a nap, and it just makes the rest of their day (and mine too) a bit less pleasant.

And I think to myself, "oh my gosh, I only have two of them!"  What will happen when we have more?  And how on earth will I ever fit homeschooling into our day, when I find it hard just to keep up with caring for the kids and the house?" 

But this is a recent thing, this feeling of not being able to keep up.  So I'm pretty sure that means it's mostly a phase, and things will ease in some ways down the road.  For the first time, I think I'm really starting to feel what is described as The Tunnel of Parenthood.

But I have stumbled upon a few realizations that have helped a bit.

I read somewhere recently that a lot of housekeeping tasks are "never ending" and that if you try to think of them in terms of something to complete and check off your list, then you'll never be satisfied.  Take laundry, for example.  Seriously, does it ever get done?  Almost as soon as a load is started, some new item has been made dirty and added to the pile (especially at our house, where we use cloth diapers, wipes, napkins, etc.).  And once the clothes are all cleaned and dried, you still have to fold things, iron (some) things, and put everything away.  If you look at it just as an ongoing task which you should work at a bit each day, it's easier to deal with.  I've been doing pretty well staying on top of things by throwing in a load or two first thing each morning, folding during Sly's naptime, ironing (once or twice a week) during Stella's second naptime, and putting the folded items away anytime I'm up in the bedrooms.

I also realized that I'm taking the wrong approach to how I tidy the house  Every day, I come downstairs in the morning to a stack of dishes from the evening before, waiting piles of laundry, and various toys and items strewn all around, and it sets off something in my brain.  I spend the first hour of the morning trying to blitz the whole house and get it in order.  It's hard for me to relax until order is mostly restored.  I love how our house looks on the days when I clean right before company comes.  I wish it could look like that everyday.  But I've finally realized that at least at this point in my life, that's not realistic.  Not unless I want to feel as stressed out as I feel the day company is coming every day of my life.  Oh boy.  I don't want that, and my husband definitely does not want that (heh).  So I've been trying to cut myself a little slack.  Not so much by lowering my standards for cleanliness, but mostly by giving myself more time to get it all done.  Why does the house need to be spic-and-span first thing in the morning?  So I've been trying to tackle things a bit at a time throughout the day.  By the time Tom gets home, things are fairly tidy.  Not as tidy, of course, as I would make it when we were expecting guests.  But definitely good enough that I wouldn't be embarrassed due to any surprise visitors (which, unfortunately, we never actually get.  No one just drops by on friends anymore.)

And on a related note, since it would be something to potentially lift my spirits and give me some needed support, I bring up one final good idea.  Kendra mentioned the idea of establishing "standing playdates" on her blog recently.  That idea really struck me.  Almost all of my close female friends have moved out of town in the past few years, and I've been longing to develop a closer friendship with some of my just-acquaintances.  I feel like it's always such a huge production, though, trying to coordinate schedules with people, and get together.  I feel as if I'm just bugging people sometimes, since I'm always the one to call or e-mail and say, "hey - let's get together sometime!"  I am going to propose the idea of a once- or twice-a-month regular hangout to a few friends, and see what happens.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some Recent Second-Hand Treasures

In the past month, we've picked up many little useful items at thrift stores, yard sales, and...people's trash (a second toddler bed, which might come in handy when baby #3 comes along).  Here are a few of the things I grabbed pictures of:

1. A bunch of vintage Christmas ornaments for TEN CENTS EACH (!!).  Tom doesn't know about these yet, because I went on a rare thrift-store trip without him, and stashed them with the Christmas stuff as soon as I got home.  He already thinks we have waaaaay too many ornaments.

2. An old-fashioned wicker carpet-beater ($2).  I got this solely for the quaintness of it, and it's hanging on the wall now.  I'm on the lookout for other old-fashioned household items to join it one day, such as a washboard.

3. This statue of Our Lady of Sorrows from a yard sale (talked down to $25).  It replaced a less-nice Our Lady of Grace statue on a little shelf in the living room.

4. And when the woman at the yardsale saw that I was interested in religious art, she mentioned a larger statue she had in her garage, and was willing to sell me.  I talked her down as much as possible, but I'm not going to tell how much I paid for it, because I'm still feeling a bit of sticker shock over it.  But it's a beautiful statue, and I'm trying not to regret the purchase.  Here's Tom standing next to her, for size comparison.

The main issue is that the statue is made of plaster, and thus very fragile.  Not something that can be left in the open around little kids.  In a future home, we might keep it up on a pedestal of sorts, or maybe behind closet doors (to be opened for family prayer time)....for now, though, she's standing down in the basement next to the washer and dryer.  This will sound completely ridiculous, but when I go down there to do laundry, there's often this tiny fear in the back of my mind that I will encounter some scary person down there who has broken into our house and is about to kill us all.  Since Mary has been down there to greet me, it's made me feel much safer.

5. We picked up this charming solid wood cabinet for $20 at Goodwill.  We both liked the look of it, but weren't sure what the heck we would use it for.  Until Tom carried it into the house, and fortuitously set it down in the kitchen - taking a break from lifting it before bringing it down to the big mess of random stored crap that is our basement.

cabinet before: green
It was standing right next to our cheap and ugly microwave cart that I've had since I moved into my first-ever apartment.  Hmm...perhaps we could switch it out for something nicer, I thought.
old crappy microwave cart
 The coffeemaker and the toaster would need a new home, though.  Tom suggested putting them on the other kitchen cart thing which was storing my cookbooks.

old cookbook storage
We sanded the new cabinet down and painted it aqua to match my kitchen colors.  Then we moved the cookbooks inside of it, as well as some of the random stuff from the old microwave cart.
cabinet after: aqua!  So much better than the previous one from Wal-Mart.
 And now that other cart in the corner has transformed into my little coffee and tea station! (plus the toaster, which I have no better place for). 
I'm liking it!