Thursday, December 11, 2014

Birthday Wish

I do not remember if one is supposed to share their birthday wish or not, but I am going to do it anyway. Today I turned 38. It is a little close to 40 for my comfort. In fact, I can barely believe I am this far into my life. It seems only yesterday that I was holding my little newborn girl, adoring the rare moments she was peaceful. That little baby is 12. Time flies when you're having fun.

It hasn't all been fun and games, of course. I battle with a mighty temper, so there have been plenty of ugly days. Since the birth of my little girl, we have moved across the country three times, four if you count our current little expedition. I have delivered three amazing sons and suffered three early miscarriages.

But, as I gazed at the shining faces gathered around our breakfast nook table tonight, when they were finished singing Happy Birthday and I studied the one white candle in the middle of the frosted brownies I had baked (from a mix, don't judge) for my "cake," I had one wish:

Lord, give me more of this.

I want more of the laughing and singing. I want more of the shining eyes and the giggles. I want more of us together as a family at the dinner table. I want to enjoy the deep questions they ask. I want to savor the demands for hugs. I want to hear them beg, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy over and over. I want snuggles and stories and schooltime. And I want my husband to keep looking into my eyes, to keep repeating I love you, to keep pulling me close at random times. Please, God, give me many, many more years of this.

My parents call me every year and sing Happy Birthday, no matter where I am and no matter where they are. They have only missed one year to my recollection, and it was because my Dad had open heart surgery that day (excuses, excuses!). I asked them tonight after they were done singing if they would keep on singing until I was 60. Dad answered, if we're still around! It feels a little silly to be 38 and have my parents singing to me over the phone, but you know what? If they didn't sing, I would miss it. A lot. I look forward to that call, and I want more of those calls, many more.

This life that I have is so richly blessed. I find these days that it is easier to think gratitude than grumbling, and that is my prayer for all of you. I pray that you are able to slow down long enough to look around you and revel in the gift of your unique mother's life.

Bless Your Heart!
Jenny

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Stillness and Joy

It has been a wild and crazy fall, my friends! My husband is taking some coursework for a few months at the University of Virginia, so we have rented a house and are here as a family for a bit. What a tremendous blessing it has been to cancel all of our obligations for a few months, load up the van with clothes and books, and drive halfway across the country for a new adventure! If we were not homeschooling, if I was not a stay-at-home mom, this would not be possible. But, it is!

And, joy! Joy is permeating everything, which is exactly as it should be during Advent, right? Actually, that's not entirely true. I am seeped in joy, a deep settled peace that isn't really wavering with the tween drama, toddler meltdowns, and brotherly battles that have accompanied me these past few months. So, I wonder if perhaps I am the only person in my family who feels this deep down wonder at it all. Truly, it is a gift.

You see, I do not have all of my stuff. I do not know a single soul IRL here in Charlottesville, and I have absolutely no obligations other than to love these people, these precious, perfect people that God has given me! I cook. I clean. I shop. I teach. I bathe. I read. I change. I pray. It is remarkable how every moment has felt like a gift, even on our challenging road trip, which I had to make on my own after dh had already arrived in VA.

There is a lot of talk on these interwebs the past few weeks about finding inner peace and joy and about what it is all supposed to look like on the outside, but I am finally discovering that Advent has nothing to do with what is on the outside. Duh! We do not have our gorgeous nativity set. We do not have our Christmas tree or ornaments. We do have each other. So, I am forced to make the most out of the traditions I was able to bring, and they are not really that important. Being together. Being truly present in the moment to one another is.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by what you have not done (yet) this season, please stop and breathe. Go read the wise, soothing counsel of Elizabeth Foss (she is offering an incredibly inspiring Advent workshop for free titled Comfort & Joy; it is not too late to hop on over and exhale with her) or the poetic, faith-filled words of Ann Voskamp and remember again what this waiting is all about. Focus inward on yourself and the people around you. Just do one thing each day to embrace Advent with your children. Let go of your dreams of doing it all: Advent wreath with prayer and signing, Jesse tree with homemade ornaments, picture books wrapped for each day, etc... and just let it happen.

We are lighting our Advent wreath at dinner but not saying any special prayers. We are reading Ann's gorgeous new book but not making the ornaments. We are reading our picture books, unwrapped, sometimes a few at a time, as we miss days. And Christmas is STILL coming! Jesus is waiting for us to be still with Him, over the kitchen sink as we do dishes, on the floor as we tie a shoe, in bed as we snuggle with our tired, worn-out husbands.

My prayer for each of you is that you can find the stillness and the joy that comes from embracing God's will each moment, even if that moment is not at all how you planned or pictured it to be. Each of you remains in my prayers during this Holy season, and I hope to write more as the days and weeks pass.

Bless Your Heart!
Jenny


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Week in My Life - Friday Success



 
So, today I think I’ll try to do what this whole thing was designed to be in the first place, a glimpse into our days, a snapshot of a typical, average, nothing special but oh-so-beautiful time in our ever-changing lives. Here goes…

6am – I actually got out of bed before the little boys woke me up, y’all! This is huge! I showered and made breakfast by myself before they came down. This involves so much prep the night before, because my brain truly does not function for about an hour after I first get up, regardless of caffeine. I have to lay out clothes, ingredients for breakfast, etc.. Success.

7am – We are all eating breakfast, everyone dressed to shoes except my daughter. I tried a new breakfast cookie recipe this morning. My oldest son has been grumbling about breakfast foods lately, almost never eating what I fix and resorting to cereal without milk. Hello? He needs protein. Enter peanut butter, honey, oatmeal breakfast cookies. They were good but not great. He ate one. I also tried to make hot chocolate with a new all-natural mix I bought, because it is so ridiculously cold here for south Texas. Nobody but me liked the new mix. Even when I add extra sugar. Sigh. Partial success/partial failure.

8am – Mass. We try to make it to daily Mass once a week, because one of our homeschool groups meets right after this Mass. (yes, we are blessed to have more than one homeschool group) I am pleased we were on time, and we managed to all remain in the pew the entire Mass. Although, I was doubtful for a while when the four-year-old got the wiggles. Success.
 9am – Our homeschool group had a celebration for St. Martin de Tours. About once a month, some of the moms lead a craft/activity session for a saint. I didn’t know much about St. Martin, but the children made lanterns out of parchment paper rolled up, decorated with cut-out tissue paper shapes. Since my children are craft-deprived, they were thrilled. Even my oldest son, who tends to be really shy at these gatherings since he hasn’t quite clicked with any of the boys there, enjoyed the project (and the hot cocoa). Success.

12pm – We actually decided to do our Morning Basket before lunch even though it was late in the day. I can honestly say this is the first week that we have done our memory work every single day, and it paid off, y’all! Usually, I spend two weeks on one “week” of material to ensure they retain at least some of it, but this week, they mastered most of it. So, we get to move on next Monday! Success.

2pm – After a later lunch and getting the toddler down for his nap, we went back to the school room. Since it’s Friday, we really didn’t have that much to finish up on their new weekly checklists. We corrected some math pages, did some spelling dictation, worked together on a few other things, and I read the story of Macbeth from Nesbit’s book for our history studies. At first, they expressed amazement and dismay that I would read them such a terrible story, but then, inspired by Deconstructing Penguins, I pressed them to explain why the story was even written. An inspiring conversation ensued about Macbeth’s greed for power and unfortunate reliance on witchcraft. My degree is in English, so this just made my heart soar! Success.

3pm – I had previously planned and explained to the children that after naptime, we needed to go to the library and stop for a few groceries. When the time finally came, my daughter dropped her head and declared she felt too tired and blah to go. My four-year-old declared he wanted to go to sleep, and my nine-year-old flat out wanted to stay home. Being a wiser mommy than I used to be and not looking forward to going out in the unusually cold weather, I declared we were staying home, although I was dismayed to cancel my plan. Partial failure/partial success.
My Miami friends have assured me it is beautiful there!
 5pm – After folding some laundry with me while watching Pioneer Woman again, my daughter decided she wanted to make dinner. The plan was potato soup, so I peeled and diced the potatoes and let her do the rest. That gave me a delightful 30 minutes to answer some email and mostly finish up my blog post from yesterday. Plus, the soup was super yummy! Success.

7pm – When it was chore time, the children ended up playing more than cleaning, to the point that there was some running around the kitchen and up the stairs where the toddler tried to follow and fell (just on the first step, thanks to his Guardian Angel). So, after a few verbal warnings, I got a little drill sergeant on them when they didn’t settle down and issued some significant consequences for tomorrow. I think it sometimes makes me more sad than it makes them when I take away privileges, though.  Everyone finished chores without further incident and all three boys fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillows. Partial success/partial failure.

10pm – Here I sit, writing blog posts, cruising Facebook, catching up on my TV crime dramas for the week (How to Get Away with Murder, Bones, and Castle) as I unwind from a full but wonderful week. I had an earlier snack of chips and guacamole, enjoying these fabulous single serving cups of guacamole I discovered at Costco. They are going to turn out to be dangerous! And, I might have made 5 fresh chocolate chip cookies with some dough I had in the fridge. I ate three, so I probably will have to eat the other two in order for the children not to discover them and fight over them tomorrow! Junk food overload. Partial success/partial failure.

And this. 
This is my first week of blogging, where I totally understand why bloggers almost always post the good stuff. It’s the first time that I have had to examine my days and what I should share. Historically, my posts are not a scrapbook or chronicle of any sort. Noticing the successes, what’s working, the things that touched my heart, the fun moments, and the gifts I found in each day meant that I had to be more aware of these things. And I finally get it. The complaint that bloggers only post the positive and hide the negative is constant, but the reality is that writing a blog helps you see the positive and allow it to overshadow the negative. Kind of like childbirth, maybe?


What successes did you have today?


Read more Week in My Life posts at Team Whitaker here.

 

Bless Your Heart!
 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Week in My Life - Changing School Plans...Again!


This post took a long time to get up, because I had to go back and add all the links!

 
Today I want to focus on our school time and report on how that’s going this particular week. It is actually going really well this year overall, and I feel that we have a good, manageable plan again. After we were sick for two weeks, I decided that I needed to rework our checklists, and the inspiration was to focus on the basics and give the big kids more independence. To make that happen, I changed from daily checklists to weekly checklists. I think that is probably a natural progression as the children get older and gain independence.

I am a firm believer that we have to change up our plans periodically to adapt to the changing seasons of homeschooling. Sometimes that means we can change things once or twice a year; often that means we need to evaluate monthly. That’s why we generally school for 6-8 weeks and then take a week off. It gives me an opportunity to assess where we are and freshen our plans for the next term. Taking two weeks off for sickness was certainly unplanned, and I have yet to figure out how it will affect our entire year. But it gave me  impetus to examine our lessons and tweak my expectations.

Here is what things looks like this week.

My 12 year old, 6th grade daughter does the following independently four days a week (except I do teach the new math lesson when she starts a new concept):

ü  Math U See page

ü  Xtra Math session

ü  Read a Book to a Little Brother (alternating which one)

ü  Play Outside for 30 minutes – yes, I finally put this on their school charts about a month ago, because it’s the bare minimum for me, and I got tired of forcing them outside

ü  Literature Reading – she has a list of novels she’s reading this year, some with study questions


ü  Catechism lesson – usually reading from a book, as we prepare for Confirmation this year!

My 9 year old, 4th grade son does almost the same exact stuff, except he does not do the Writing & Rhetoric on his own. For Literature Reading, he is currently working through The Father Brown Reader and CHC study guide and then will move to his list of literature titles.

Then, they each have to work through the following each week, and I am giving them a lot of freedom as to what they do on which days, as long as they do the prescribed number of lessons/pages/chapters/et al:

ü  Science lesson (3x a week) – currently Exploring Creation Through Land Animals with the Notebooking Journal

ü  World History (on own, 3x a week) – whatever independent reading they are doing for our current Connecting with History unit

ü  Life of Fred chapter (3x a week) – I discovered these only last year, so we are going through the elementary series as a review

ü  Elective lesson (2x a week)– different for each

ü  Spelling dictation (2x a week) – we love Spelling Wisdom

ü  Book of Centuries (1x a week) – they are required to put 5 things in their book each week

ü  Catechism (with Mom, 2x a week) – Confirmation preparation

ü  World History (with Mom, 3x a week) – our Connecting with History read alouds, maps, projects, etc…

ü  Memory Work (with Mom, 3x a week) – we do this in the context of our Morning Basket

My daughter adds to this list a session of the current Online Class she is taking through Homeschool Connections Recorded Courses Unlimited Access (2x a week) and All Things Girl reading (with Mom, 2x a week). My son adds to the above Writing & Rhetoric (with Mom, 3x a week). Her electives are Texas History, Art Appreciation, American History Living Books, and History of Science. His electives are Texas History, Virtue Study (PACE), and History of Science. They choose the order in which they do their electives and follow a checklist of reading and assignments for each.

Our Morning Basket still happens in the morning, but it might be before or after they start their independent work, depending on the little boys. We pray, read the saint of the day, write in our gratitude journals, study our current Scripture verse from Ann Voskamp’s series, practice our Shakespeare passage from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare (I knew I would love this, but I am thrilled the kids do, too!), and review our Classically Catholic Memory work. Sometimes I will move right into the work we do together, but sometimes I need to tend to the little boys, relegating it to later in the day. Oh, and it is our intention to do a Poetry Teatime each Tuesday and an Art/Craft Project each Thursday, but that, quite honestly, is hit or miss.

The four-year-old has taken a keen interest in school. I fill our 10-drawer cart with ten things he can work on each week, and he picks what we do each day. Some days he does nothing. Most days he is working right beside me as I supervise the big kids’ work and is still asking to “do school” long after we are done for the day. I am loosely following a letter of the week plan with some ideas from Twenty Six Letters to Heaven, and he uses a variety of materials. Those include My First School Book (Handwriting Without Tears), Who Am I? (Image of God series), CHC’s I Can Find Numbers and Shapes, CHC’s I Can Find Letter Sounds, Making Music Praying Twice, and Child-Sized Masterpieces.

With this new plan, we have accomplished more learning with more positive attitudes this week than we did for much of October, so I am pleased with the changes. Of course, I am fully aware that I will need to change the plans again, probably for our January start, because that’s how I find we are the most successful. We learn when we are happy, and we are happy when we do what works!
 

How often do you modify your school plans? What is working right now?

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Week In My Life - This Mother's Heart



 

Here are a few things from Wednesday that touched this mother’s heart:

©     My daughter has rarely allowed me to fix her hair. Even from the age of two or three when she finally had enough hair to fix, she was not interested. She has always been ultra-sensitive to things and told me it hurts to fix and feels weird when it’s done. So, when she came to me in the morning fresh out of the shower, while I was scrambling to get little boys dressed and myself ready for the day, and asked me to do a fishtail braid, I immediately said yes. Never mind that I have never done a fishtail braid in my life. Never mind that her father got hooked on Cute Girl Hairstyles a while back and is the master of the house at these things. I’m a quick study, so she told me how to do it. It’s something small, but as she gets older, I will treasure that time.

©     Later in the day, my four-year-old came up to me with a sheet of paper on which he had written various large letters. “For you, Mommy!” I have a special place in my heart for this little guy. He is tiny for his age, not due to any health issues that we’ve found, so I always forget that he is smarter and more mature than he looks. He is so stinkin’ cute that it’s unbearable sometimes, especially when his anger gets the best of him! Anyway, the piece of paper had a couple of letters from his name and two Ms. Right away, I knew he had “written” his name and Mom. Be still my heart.

©     I am in the midst of making some decisions about how I want to give to those outside of my home, including what to do about the San Antonio Catholic Homeschool Conference. This afternoon was full of phone calls regarding the conference, trying to discern what will best serve our local homeschooling community this year, while not overtaxing me or my fellow volunteers. Quite honestly, I was really struggling with what God seems to be asking me to do, and I called a good friend for advice. She knows me, and said exactly the right things to change my heart. It was stunning, actually, how she could help me mentally frame the decisions to temper my passionate emotional attachment to the conference.
 

©     In the evening, my Mom called. She was wanting to discuss some plans for our Thanksgiving visit, hoping to plan some special things to make memories with the grandchildren. Watching my parents love my children has got to be one of the greatest privileges in life, probably close behind actually loving your own grandchildren. Growing up, Mom and I didn’t see eye to eye very often. My personality type is much more like my father’s, so Mom and I weren’t especially close. But, she’s my mom. And as I get older, gain perspective on what motherhood is and isn’t, and see her treasure my kids, I adore her more and more.
 
©     I had a bit too much Sonic sweet tea with pomegranate blueberry flavoring late in the day yesterday, so I was up very late. In fact, I was able to finish Downton Abbey Season 5 online, which was a nice diversion after a mentally exhausting day. But, the reality is that my husband wasn’t home last night, and it’s hard for me to sleep when he’s not here. I want to hear his breathing and feel his warmth beside me. More than that, I revel being in the presence of someone who accepts me and loves me despite myself. Approaching our 15th wedding anniversary has made me reflect on how amazing our relationship is, given our many differences and challenges. There is no explanation for it except the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. I am not sure where we would be without that grace! 

 
Read more Wednesdays over here at Kathryn’s!