Thursday, January 5, 2017

Last Year

I bought this little decor item as a post-Christmas gift for myself as a reminder of what I did last year.

Last year, I said goodbye to my husband five times, each time knowing the stretch of time before I saw him again would be longer.

Last year, I said see-you-later to the dearest group of mom friends I have ever had, and fought little by little to make brand new mom friends.

I spent five months living in an apartment with my four kids and no husband, except for the couple of nights he visited before deploying.

I searched for a house, bought a house, moved into a house, and set up a house that my husband has never seen and will not see for several more months.

Last year, I survived my 17th wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, my 40th birthday, Christmas, and New Year's Eve but missed my man every second.

Last year, I learned that fighting doubt and anxiety is exhausting, terrible work and that lowering expectations is a perfectly acceptable, but humbling, coping strategy.

I loved my children through a 2600+ mile road trip, attitude adjustments (before, during, and after), their own anxiety struggles, and plenty of too-big feelings they are ill-equipped to handle.

I found joy and peace in doing the one thing in front of me and putting one foot in front of the other each day, despite my longing to just stop time and stop being in charge of everything for a bit.

You see, I am strong. And I knew that. But I had no idea the kinds of tough emotions and stressful challenges I would face in 2016. I simply had no choice but to love my husband and my children and get through it somehow. I suppose I did have a choice, but no other option was okay with me. I might not have always done it with as much grace or love as I was capable of, but when I woke up on New Year's Day, I realized...

This year is the year my husband comes home.

This year is the year I cultivate my newfound strength into personal growth.

This year is the year that no matter how daunting the day, I know I can face whatever life hands me.

Because that's what we do, and there is no other acceptable path. Whether you deal with deployment, divorce, death, discord, disease, or something else, when life hands you adversity (and only then) God will reveal the hidden depth of the strength He planted deep in our souls.

5 days down, 360 to go! To God be the glory!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Hello again!

Merry Christmas! By now, if you have read my blog for more than a few months, you know that periodically, I stop posting. Eventually, I come back, and I am finally okay with that lack of consistency after years of feeling guilty for not being here during those gaps. Life happens, and this tiny ministry is less a priority than many other things.

These are a few titles of posts I could have written over the past six months or so:

  1. One Federal Employee Changes Payroll Policy and I Cry
  2. Having an Attorney for a Husband Comes in Handy
  3. How to Begin Looking for a House in a Giant Geographic Area
  4. When Life is so Insane You Don't Touch Your Bullet Journal until Thursday, 2 Weeks in a Row
  5. Why People Who Upgrade Older Homes Should Actually Do It Right
  6. Buying a House Without Your Husband (or 12 Steps through the Worst Anxiety of My Life)
  7. The Epitome of Unconditional Support (or Who My Parents Are)
  8. The Perils of Binge Watching Amazon Prime for Stress Relief
  9. Hitting My Head Against a Wall When God Was in Control All Along
  10. Surviving the Holidays by Lowering Expectations

But somehow those do not all seem to go with the focus of my audience here! So, I am planning to polish and publish a few drafts from the summer and then to continue, from time to time, to post about the joys and challenges of being a devoted wife and Catholic homeschooling mother.

Studies for Moms'; Groups

Starting a Moms' Group? If you're not already a part of one, you really should start your own! Just to recap: Here is why you should start one. Here is how to start oneHere are the easiest topic ideas. Here are some inspiring books to read and discuss.

But sometimes mothers really need some meat, more content to take home and chew on. In one city, I found that after leading a group of ladies for a couple of years, we had covered all the basic topics. While repeating them would have been fantastic, we elected to dive into a deeper study. Group studies are a good way to get a new group going strong or to refresh a tired group. Here are the studies I have led or participated in with fellow moms over the years:
  • Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman's Guide to Catholic Motherhood by Danielle Bean --- The book is fantastic, and the DVD really adds a lot of practical experience from a diverse group of moms. We found the DVDs were a bit long for our two-hour sessions, so I often played only a segment of the video to give us more time to discuss the ideas. Our group chose not to use the journal, but I referred to it for conversation starters. All of the materials are well created, but we found it worked well for our group to pick and choose elements.
  • Catholic Conference 4 Moms --- This was a fantastic resource for our group last spring, and it's being offered for free one weekend this month! I signed up to host the Faces of Mercy Conference to purchase the rights to download the presentations. Then we watched one or two presentations each meeting. These are top notch speakers with excellent fodder for discussion! I highly recommend liking their Facebook page to learn about future conferences.
  • Endow Catholic Women Studies --- Their study on John Paul II's Letter to Women is quite inspiring. If you need a very structured, carefully planned study group that focuses on Church documents, this is for you. They even have a feature on their website where you can find an existing group in your diocese.
  • Ignatius Catholic Bible Study Series by Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch --- One group of women wanted to delve into Scripture more, so we picked one of the paperback single-biblical-book volumes from this series. I think we took a semester to study the Letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians with the outstanding footnotes of these Catholic scholars.
  • Blessed is She lectio divina Bible studies --- This group of writers is amazing! Their main ministry is to publish daily Biblical reflections for fellow Catholic women, so sign up there for daily inspiration. But the authors there also have a few short Bible studies, such as Waiting in the Word: Our Vows on marriage and recently released A Couple's Journey on fertility and family planning. These are short studies but are perfect for a small group to discuss with a focus on Scripture and Catholic teaching in a relatable way.
  • Courageous Series Bible Studies for Women by Stacy Mitch --- I believe there are four in this series, now: Love, Women, Virtue, and Generosity. These books do not require a separate study guide, as the questions with space to fill in your answers are already in the books. Again, these are a great way to study Scripture as a group, so you can discuss the passages, the study questions, and personal experiences.
This academic year, my goal includes working through these studies on my own as much as possible to evaluate them for future use.
And then, of course, there are other great studies at these trusted sites:
If you have suggestions on others I should consider, please drop them in the combox below!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Home School Plans 2016 (Year 10)

I had to suspend my blogging routine to get ready for our first day of school, but I am back! Many of my friends IRL ask me each year what materials we are using, so I thought I would post that information here for their benefit. If that is not your thing, just scroll on past this lengthy post!

NOTE: I am too tired for links, but I will come back and insert links for all of the materials listed below soon!

This is our 10th official year of homeschooling. My oldest is beginning 8th grade. We started homeschooling her in Michigan where the cutoff date for school is September 30, and then we moved to Florida and then Texas where the cutoff dates are both August 31. Since she has a September birthday, we chose to have her do a supplemental 3rd grade year in order to be on par with her peers in extracurricular activities and when she heads to college. I went to college at age 17 and feel like that had some disadvantages to my moral compass. So, counting Kindergarten and her repeat of 3rd grade (although we did completely different material), this is our 10th year of homeschooling. Wow.

I feel like that should make me some sort of expert, but it doesn't. At all. So, if you are here to find all the answers, you won't find them here. That's above my pay grade. I just do the best I can to research every single possible material I could use with my kids and choose the ones that best suit us. We have not (yet) followed a set curriculum or enrolled with any full program. We have supplemented with co-ops and recorded online classes, so far.

This is the first year I will be using lesson planning and tracking software to help me stay focused. I decided that with next year being high school we needed to practice tracking lessons and grades. Plus with my husband deployed, any way to make my job easier is worth it. I am using a friend's program called My School Year, and I LOVE it! This is an incredibly affordable tool and is full of so many wonderful options. I was always jealous of my MODG friends who print out their students' lesson plans for the week with a few clicks of the mouse. Now I get to do that, too!

Our primary focus areas for the year are writing and religion, so you will see a heavy emphasis on these subjects. The three boys will attend an enrichment co-op twice a month at a nearby parish to make friends and enjoy a laid-back classroom setting. My daughter will be taking one class at a weekly academic co-op for her to make friends and experience a more formal school environment with high expectations and external deadlines.

My youngest is three. He is tagging along with my first grader for stories and music, for now. I will probably add some preschool materials for him as the year goes on and I determine his interests and abilities. I have used and love Little Saints and 26 Letters from Heaven among other materials. The enrichment co-op class he will attend will study the alphabet, and he already absorbed the song from Starfall. So, I'm not worried about him at all. He's a sponge.

Next is my six-year-old 1st grader. This one needs to keep busy but fights me when I challenge him, so it will be an interesting year. I just read an article where statistically six-year-olds have the hardest time with behavior and academics when a parent is deployed, which is consistent with what I have seen so far. My goals for him are to shower him with love and praise as much as possible to shatter those statistics and set him up for success! I should note that he mostly stopped any formal schooling while we were prepping the house for sale and moving, so some of his work will be finishing what was planned for his Kindergarten year. The materials he will be using (but definitely not all at once) include:

  • Alphabet Path (finishing from last year but in an accelerated/abbreviated format)
  • Five in a Row
  • Catholic Schoolhouse Year 1 (older siblings will teach the art & science)
  • Making Music Praying Twice
  • Handwriting Without Tears
  • Math U See
  • Little Stories for Little Folks Phonics Program
  • Chats with God's Little Ones
  • Upward Sports (soccer fall and spring)
  • Lots of Great Read Alouds
My 6th grader is now 11 and has become quite capable with his schoolwork. I am so excited to see him excel this year! He is definitely my most studious child, and I hope to encourage him to pursue some rabbit trails this year, specifically in his areas of interest. His current lesson plans include:

  • Exploring Creation with Astronomy (minus the whole Young Earth bit)
  • American History: Civil War to Present (literature-based from a variety of sources)
  • Math U See
  • Spelling Wisdom
  • Writing & Rhetoric
  • Teach Catholic Schoolhouse Science/Participate in the Art
  • Homeschool Connections Recorded Courses (writing, history, etc.)
  • Upward Sports (flag football, basketball, and soccer)
  • Lots of Great Literature
As long as my soon to be fourteen year old 8th grader can get out of bed before 10am, she will be thriving this year! I am very excited about what I have selected for her, and we will be spending some time looking at various high school curricula to determine what will be a good fit for her abilities and interests next year. This will be the first year we/she will participate in a live online class and an academic co-op class, so she will have other teachers besides me. Other than that, her plan looks a lot like the 6th grader's:
  • Physical Science (at the co-op, since neither of us are good at science)
  • World History: Civil War to Present (literature-based from a variety of sources)
  • Math U See
  • Spelling Wisdom
  • Writing & Rhetoric
  • Teach Catholic Schoolhouse Art
  • Homeschool Connections Recorded Courses (health, 
  • Landry Academy Live Online Class - Creative Writing
  • Analytical Grammar
  • Apologetics
  • Piano Lessons
  • Electives: Life Works, Thinking Toolbox, etc.
  • Lots of Great Literature
Finally, there's the stuff we are attempting to do all together. Due to planning a week off for house-hunting and another for moving this fall, I am starting our year with a half-term and will not be starting most of these things until our first full term in September. Most will be attached to our Morning Basket time, and we will not be doing all at once:
  • The Bible Tells Me So
  • Friendly Defenders
  • Year of Mercy activities
  • Government & Elections unit studies
  • How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
  • Bravewriter activities
  • Story of the Bible: Old & New Testaments
  • St. Thomas Aquinas for Everyone
Disclaimer: Of course, we won't do all of the above. It just never works out that way, does it? But I do love that we have a great plan and had a fantastic first day! My theory is that if I set our sights high, we will soar.

Have you heard of all of these materials? Are there any you would like to know more about? I am happy to answer any questions!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

First Day of Home School Traditions

We survived! Yesterday was our first day, and despite being unexpectedly rainy (it rains in August in Texas?!?!), I was so pleased with the fun and diligence we enjoyed. Honestly, our first day of school is full of so many traditions that we don't actually get in a full day of academics, but I am okay with that when I see the smiles on my children's faces. Those first day smiles stick in my mind for the many times later in the year when they declare, "I hate school!"

The past several years, at least four years according to my Facebook memory from today, we have started our home school year on the Feast of the Assumption. It is usually a Holy Day of Obligation and therefore forces me to get us to Mass on the first day of school and gives me the chance to beg Our Blessed Mother to ask the Lord to fill in the gaps where I am inadequate to homeschool my children. Today it was not obligatory for us, but we went anyway. I had to meet some ladies from my daughter's co-op at the Cathedral this afternoon, so we chose Mass there. There is no narthex, and it was raining outside. But I hid at the back near the doors for most of the Mass, trying to keep my two youngest boys from making too much noise, enjoying my little purgatory.

But before Mass, we began our day with a run to the local donut shop for a first or second breakfast, depending on age, as is traditional for us. The kids inhaled their sugar and a few sausage rolls for protein and jammed to the upbeat (but occasionally inappropriate) music playing. Unfortunately for me, the sweet lady who worked there kept giving us free donuts and donut holes as we ate. Sigh.

When we arrived back home, I gave the children their schultutes, which I lovingly throw together around 1am the night before each first day of school. These cones from the German tradition (on my dad's side) include treats, school supplies, and small toys. It is always fun to shop all summer long for special gifts to tuck inside. For example, my daughter's favorite gift was a huge set of colored Sharpies. My youngest son loved his Melissa and Doug Water Wow book! I did manage to make adorable Pinterest-worthy candy pencils, but my motivation was to steal my kids' Rolos later (as in after I publish this post!).

This year I only took a group photo before they dove into their cones, although I typically try to get individual shots. Also in their schultutes were the First Day of School interviews I asked them to complete (I used these this year). I interviewed the younger two and asked the older two to fill in their own. A few of my favorite answers:

  • When I grow up I want to: play (3-year-old)
  • My favorite book: Aggie football (3-year-old)
  • Something I want to do this year: flip upside down (6-year-old)
  • My favorite thing about myself: playing with [my younger brother] (6-year-old)
  • When I grow up, I want to: work at an ice cream shop (11-year-old)
  • Something I really don't like: school (11-year-old)
  • My favorite book: too many to list (13-year-old)
  • My favorite thing about myself: I'm irrational (13-year-old)
Our school day almost always begins with Morning Basket. Today's basket only included prayer and read aloud, because I knew we had to get to Mass at noon. I keep prayers with my kids relatively short, so we prayed one decade of the Chaplet. We are now reading aloud our chosen books both in morning basket and after our evening Rosary decade, because we want to finish more quickly. I keep those readings short, too. There will be more Morning Basket on other days, of course!

Then each child went through their new schoolbooks with me and heard a bit about how to complete and submit assignments. This year was super simple thanks to the My School Year reports I had waiting in their crates. The oldest two were eager to get started and dove right in despite some grimaces, and I pulled out some stories to read with the younger two.

We had a pleasant surprise on our way home from Mass when I picked up the mail and discovered that one of the stories my husband had read and recorded a few weeks ago at the USO where he is stationed as a part of the United Through Reading Military Program had arrived. So, Dad read There's a Wocket in My Pocket! by Dr. Seuss to everyone via DVD as an afternoon read aloud.

That last photo in the collage above could be a summary of our first day today, full of fun and grace and kid chaos. Taking inspiration from a dear friend, I decided to buy a small chalkboard and attempt to post a new inspirational quote each week. Not knowing we would enjoy a Seuss story this afternoon, late last night I wrote:
You are off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way! ~ Dr. Seuss
Sometime this morning, my daughter snuck over and added a line to the bottom:
I don't want to climb a mountain today.

If you are a homeschooler, when do you start this year and what are your first day traditions?