Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family fun

This has been such an incredibly wonderful weekend! Darren's mom and aunt drove all the way from Amarillo yesterday for an overnight visit, and since the kids so seldom get to see their Nana, she brought with her not only Dylan's birthday present but ones for each of the girls to open early, too. What fun! After presents, we went out to eat at La Posta (our favorite!), and since there was about a fifteen minute wait, we had plenty of time to admire the birds and fish...and to make wishes in the fountain!

Before leaving town again this morning, Darren's mom and aunt were able to join us at Gym Magic to watch Caitlyn and Dylan in their dance and gymnastics classes. This was such a special treat for the kids! We really enjoyed having them there, and they appreciated the opportunity to see our little darlings in action! With hugs and fond farewells, we parted ways at the gym and Darren and the kids and I headed home.

We all chatted happily on the way home about what a great morning it had been, and then, as we slowed to turn into our neighborhood, we noticed a mom and her young son sitting in lawn chairs in the median of the main street of our subdivision. "Strange," Darren and I thought out loud. "I wonder what they're doing?" A second glance back in the rear view mirror revealed a box that said "FREE", and being the ever curious sorts we are, we just couldn't resist turning around to see what, exactly, was free. "I think it's kittens", Dylan said excitedly from the back seat. "I see some long skinny tails!"

Oh, no. Kittens? Too late. We had already stopped. Darren got out to chat for a bit with the friendly lady, (figuring it the polite thing to do, as we had stopped at the curb), and inside the van, as we watched hopefully through the windows, Dylan was talking about what good care he would take of his brand new pet. Our hearts fell when Darren returned to the van empty handed, but after a brief discussion (very brief, because my husband is such a big softie!) we decided that one little kitten would indeed make a very nice addition to our family. Oh, the joy! The glee! The loud and happy squeals of delight! I have never seen my kids more excited. Ever. About anything! And from the moment we walked through the front door with him, they have been so loving and gentle and patient with their new little kitten. Not long after arriving home, I loaded the kids back up into the van with me for a quick shopping expedition, and I was so touched and amused by the mental shopping list Dylan recited all the way to the store. ("Let's see, we'll need food, of course, and litter, and toys, and what else? Oh, and ....") Dylan and Caitlyn were so proud to pick out all the necessary supplies for their new pet, and even Meghan seemed excited to be helping! I am so happy with the impromptu decision we made today. Our home is filled with such joyful exuberance! And isn't he just the cutest little thing you've ever seen?!

Finally, as if this hadn't been enough excitement for one day, I had been planning all along to attend the 5:30 Mass tonight because that seemed to really work well when we tried it a couple of weeks ago. But I had forgotten until late this afternoon that the music was to be provided by special guest Josh Blakesley and his band, who were performing in concert on the back lawn immediately afterward. I didn't have tickets to the concert (nor did I have the time to stay), but hearing him sing during Mass was treat enough for me!
And, because Caitlyn wasn't feeling well and Meghan was in meltdown mode from lack of naps these past two days, I had only Dylan with me so we were able to sit right up front. I had forgotten how much more awesome Mass is when experienced from the first pew! And I love that Dylan was able to see everything so much better tonight, particularly during the consecration. He really seemed to enjoy the experience more, too.

Tomorrow promises to be another beautiful day. Dylan has CCD in the morning, Darren will attend Mass, and after lunch, we'll get to visit with my aunt and uncle, who are here visiting this weekend! I am so tired tonight, but happy. My heart is filled with quiet joy. The rest of my family is sleeping, and I, too, will soon climb into bed. But I'll be up just a little longer, counting my blessings and offering silent thanks and praise for days like these.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Living and learning this week

After receiving such positive feedback from so many of you well loved, respected, and admired homeschooling mommies out there, I've decided that I really do need to relax a little more when it comes to teaching Dylan. This week I've been much less rigid with our schedule and lessons and I think that he and I have both been happier with this approach. He told me that he really does not like doing his math workbook, and hearing the way he complains every time I get it out, I tend to believe him! So, I'm shelving it for the time being. We'll approach math differently for a while to let him work out the basic concepts, then reevaluate his position on workbooks in another month or two. Yesterday I brought out one of my favorite childhood games (Magic Mosaic) and let him practice replicating geometric patterns from the accompanying booklet.

Yesterday we also had the opportunity to celebrate one of the silly occasions I had penciled into our school calendar: Johnny Appleseed's birthday! We had a lot of fun reading more about him, particularly since we've been studying apples this month. My kids were most thrilled, though, with the lunch time treats I allowed in honor of the lovable, legendary figure: sparkling apple cider and Blue Bunny Birthday Party ice cream! (And, let me just mention that it's no coincidence that my kids were still in their pajamas at lunch. It was actually all part of my Grand Master Plan, you see. That which involved changing them into nice clothes after lunch, thereby eliminating the possibility of them wearing the remains of their midday meal to dinner with Darren's parents last night!) Oh, and of course, once Dylan had heard and learned so much about Johnny Appleseed, he just had to make a book about him, too. :)

We enjoyed a beautiful evening out in our backyard yesterday, visiting with Darren's dad and step-mom, who were in town for the night. I took this picture of the kids just before we left for the restaurant, and then noticed the brilliantly beautiful moon rising on the horizon behind them. (Naturally, I snapped a few photos of that, too!)

Today we got off to I think the latest start we've had all week, but by now I'm not too worried about keeping a timed schedule. (Of course, I still worry a little. But I'm getting better!) I decided to let Dylan dictate most of what we did today, so his handwriting and spelling practice consisted of a two page letter to Santa, which generously included requests for both of sisters as well as for Darren and me! For math we went back to the linking cubes he enjoys so much, and after a while he was making up his own complex math problems! I had never really planned much in the way of history lessons for his Kindergarten year (we've been enjoying the Little House books as our introductory peek into history), but lately Dylan has developed quite a fascination with Ancient Egypt, and pyramids and mummies in particular. So he was very excited this afternoon to rediscover an old National Geographic mummy toy that's been buried for ages at the bottom of one of our toy boxes! We got out his building blocks and he constructed a pyramid to house his mummy. We're reading books like Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile, Tutankhamun: His Tomb and its Treasures, Ancient Egypt, and Pyramid.

I am still just amazed every day at how enlightening this homeschooling experience has been for me. I feel more confident every day that this was definitely the right decision for our family. I would really hate to miss out on any of these precious moments of learning with Dylan, or with my girls. I love watching them play together, or just being together. This just feels so right. I wake up every morning (much later now than usual, I have to admit!) and just think to myself how lucky I am that I get to do this every day. I am so very blessed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Is it Monday already?

I remember a time in the not so distant past when our weekends were considered restful interludes. Peaceful divisions, if you will, of our typically busier weekdays. That doesn't seem to be the case so much anymore! I welcome--in fact, embrace--the busyness, but I feel utterly exhausted by the time Monday rolls around each week. A brief recap of this weekend may better illustrate my point:

By a turn of fortunate events, one of Darren's alternating Friday's off fell last week, perfectly coinciding with Dylan's birthday, which meant we had the entire day to celebrate! We were up at the crack of dawn that day, whipping up a batch of yummy chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and going non-stop for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful birthday! But our weekend was just getting started.

Saturday morning, as is typical now, found us rising early once again to ready the kids (and the diaper bag!) for Gym Magic. Since Caitlyn's class is at 10:00, and Dylan's follows immediately after at 11:00, we are there until noon, after which it's time for grocery shopping and a few miscellaneous errands. When we finally returned home Saturday afternoon (having completely missed Meghan's nap), we decided to play outside in the backyard and Darren got to work on a scrumptious pot of homemade chicken soup. I had planned to take Dylan and Caitlyn with me to the 5:30 Mass again that night, but was feeling very tired and slightly sick, so we opted to wait until Sunday morning. We ate late that night and fell into bed, exhausted, somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00.

Sunday mornings, once spent so lazily, have brought about an entirely new routine, one which we still haven't worked out entirely but hope to do so soon. Dylan's CCD class time is from 9:30-11:00, and since we overslept and missed 8:00 Mass and 9:45 wasn't an option for Dylan, we devised a plan that worked well enough for us but which meant that it was, again, a very busy morning! Rather than making several trips back and forth, Darren attended the 9:45 Mass after dropping Dylan off at class. After picking him up again at 11:00, they drove home to get the girls and I, and we all went back to church to attend the 11:45 Mass together. (Since it was the second time for Darren, he was the default parent to walk Meghan in the back of the church!) After a quick stop at the grocery store, we came home to enjoy heaping bowls of reheated chicken soup with fresh bread and sliced cheese, and the kids and I (because I was determined to celebrate the first day of Fall!) made a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies! (Celeste, I love that you did the same thing!) I tried to rest for a bit after eating and cleaning up the kitchen, and then it was time for me to leave for work.

While I was gone last night, Darren had the pleasure of enjoying a little tea party with the kids, reading the Fall story from Tomie dePaola's Four Stories for Four Seasons, eating cookies, and making fall pictures with foam leaf stickers, markers, and construction paper. I am so glad he had the opportunity to enjoy this sort of evening with the kids! They all had a really great time and left their pictures out on the kitchen counter for me to see when I returned home from work last night. The sight of them brought happy tears to my eyes! I think I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow at around 2 a.m., and then I was up again by 7:30 this morning!

I'm tired now. Exhausted. But happy. Happy for another new day of learning with my kiddos, although I'm thinking that, by necessity, these Monday's may start to see a sort of unschooly approach to our learning. There is a mountain of laundry waiting for me. I am always so careful to have it completely caught up by the time the weekend arrives, (in an effort to minimize pesky extra chores during our time off together), but I am always astounded on Mondays at the amount of laundry that our little family of five is able to generate over the weekend! It's going to be another busy day, but I welcome it. I love what Celeste had to say recently about the busyness of family life. This is life! And oh, how I love it. But I have to admit...I'm keeping a watchful eye on the clock this morning, counting the hours until lunchtime...because after that, it's time for naps!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Birthday Boy

Six years of living, learning, laughing, and loving have brought us to this day. And what a joy it has been to watch you grow from a darling baby into such an incredible boy! I thank God every day for the gift of you, my sweet, precious child. Happy birthday, son. I love you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Beautiful late summer mornings

I walked into the living room early this morning, after Darren had already left for work and while my kids were still sleeping, and was struck by the beauty of the soft golden sunlight flooding over the houses out beyond our back wall. I ran to grab my camera, hoping to capture the moment, and gasped as I stepped onto the back porch. Audibly. And then I held my breath, because the sky, the clouds, were such an indescribable, perfectly amazing sight to behold. I have never seen anything like it. I stood transfixed, watching it evolve before my upturned face from a brilliant pink to bright gold, before finally fading to an unremarkable sky scattered with common white clouds. It was such an awe inspiring start to my day! While I was outside, I checked the vegetable garden and smiled to see my familiar beauties: fat, ripe tomatoes hanging low to the ground, brilliant Morning Glories scattered here and there along the perimeter of the bed, and this beautiful carrot flower, a striking white against all that green.There have, in recent weeks, been so many other little unexpected moments of joy and beauty in our mornings, and I thought I'd share them here, too. One of my favorites is this darling little Desert Cottontail, found by Darren just a few days ago in his cactus garden, on a morning when he (thankfully!) was going in to work late. All the kids got to see and pet this precious little critter before we turned him loose and watched him hop away! Too, too cute.I love the way the sunlight is streaming through our hummingbird feeder in this next picture, illuminating the praying mantis perched daintily there on it's side. We have had quite an abundance of these fascinating little visitors over the past month or so, and we just love them. My kids are always so excited to see them clinging to the window screens, often several at a time.And, this next picture is not very clear, but I was so happy and surprised several days ago to see a White Lined Sphinx Moth (also known as a Hummingbird Moth) in flight, right in our flower bed! I had seen them resting on our window screens a few times, but had yet to experience the pleasure of watching one fly. I am so glad I happened to see this one!I can sense a subtle shift in the look and feel of our mornings, and I know that fall is just around the corner. I could not be more thrilled! There is much I'll miss about the summer, but I have been waiting all year for the return of fall. It is, without a doubt, my absolute favorite season of all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Things I'm wondering.

If every morning, after our bible story read-aloud, Dylan wants to type up his own narration and then illustrate it on the reverse side, can that double as our language arts lesson for the day? Or should I still be making him complete a lesson in his language workbook? Here is today's work:

If Dylan dresses Caitlyn up as Cinderella and then reads her several fairy tales, does that count as "school"? (Here they had just switched to a nativity story after completing Cinderella.)

If yesterday we spent a great deal of time discussing weather, (conducting, even, two experiments to measure air pressure), does it matter so much if we didn't really cover science today?

If Dylan flies through math problems with his linking cubes but only half-heartedly and distractedly completes his workbook pages (acting as though he can't even subtract 2 from 3), does this mean I should just put the workbook away for a while? Or should I be spending extra time working on these written problems with him?

Am I the only homeschooling mom who questions every little detail?

I just want this to be fun. I'm worried that I'm not actually as relaxed as I had hoped I would be when it comes to teaching the fundamentals. I've also noticed that the things I really enjoy doing most with the kids are the things which require so little effort: our Little House read-alouds (which always include further discussion), simple demonstrations (yesterday, as part of our map studies, we all piled together into my closet with Dylan's globe and flashlight and learned about how the sun makes day and night), and Tuesday Tea Time (yesterday we had cheesecake and milk and read a lovely poem, "September", by Helen Hunt Jackson, and then we all drew our own interpretations with colored pencils.)

I guess I'm just unsure of how much structure we need, or whether I should be doing more (or less). Darren thinks I'm doing a great job, but I still worry. How do you decide how much or how little structure your days should have? Am I sweating the small stuff? Will this all fall into place if I just give it a little longer? Will I ever stop second guessing myself?

Oh, the questions. I know there can be no clear answers to some of these, but I feel better already for having asked them.

Finally (but most importantly) I just want to say, on behalf of my family, THANK YOU all for the love, support, and prayers you've offered in response to our happy announcement. We feel so loved!

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Okay, so I know I said that my next template would probably include apples or pumpkins...but I really think this new look more perfectly reflects the current season of our lives.

Wouldn't you agree? :)

I realize that we are still very much at the beginning of this journey, be we are just so thrilled to have been blessed once again! I'm resting often, taking vitamins every morning, and praising God for the gift of this new life! But after suffering such a painful loss back in May, we'd really appreciate any extra prayers you might offer for the health and safety of our new little one. And I know that you, my friends, are among the best prayer warriors I could ever hope to find!


This morning, while listening to today's readings at Mass, and just a little while ago, as I read a lovely reflection to go along with them, I was reminded of a video that my sister-in-law e-mailed me last week. It is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that I cried through two consecutive viewings of it. I thought I'd share it here today because I know it's message certainly touched me, and I thought some of you might appreciate it, too. (But just a note of caution: it does contain some pretty disturbing scenes, so you might not want to watch it while little ones are around.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall Fun

I mentioned last Sunday that we were planning to attend a Harvest Festival later that afternoon, but then never had a chance to share here about the wonderful and educational time we had! Actually, we almost didn't go, because I was feeling pretty tired by the time Darren and Dylan got home from church and we finally had lunch, and I still had to work later that night. But we went anyway, and I am so glad we did!

It was set outdoors, and beautiful storm clouds were building. The wind stirred things up a bit, but we didn't let that deter us. However, we did spend some time indoors, in the hands-on, farm themed kids room, and this was so much fun. They have kid sized tractors, a seesaw with saddle seats, rocking horses, a book nook, learning kids can't wait to go back just to spend some more time in this room!

But outside, there were so many cute craft stations set up for kids, and Dylan, Caitlyn, and Meghan participated eagerly and cooperatively. First they colored fall leaf pictures, cut them out, and pasted them to a black background. I was so proud of how well Caitlyn did with this particular craft! I've never let her practice much with scissors, but my worries for her safety have apparently been unfounded. She did great! Meghan's enthusiasm was particularly cute; she loves to color!

Dylan and I were both so thrilled to discover that, set up right next to the fall leaf station, there was an antique apple cider press demonstration in progress! Just like we had read about in our book! (Later we also visited the young apple orchard located on the grounds of the museum, and it was so neat for Dylan and Caitlyn to be able to see, up close, the way apples grow on trees and to be able to identify the different parts.)

We all really loved the scarecrow face craft, too, which involved more cutting and pasting! When we got home, Dylan really wanted to make a full scarecrow, but we just didn't have time. Yesterday morning, though, I remembered how excited he had been, so I surprised him and Caitlyn by attaching their scarecrow faces to their over sized Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls! They are so cute, stationed at our schoolroom desk (that is, when they're not too busy being danced about the living room by Caitlyn!)

I'm so glad we had this oppportunity for such rich, hands on learning. I'm still learning as we go, but experiences like this make me feel like this whole homeschooling thing might actually work! :)