Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Oh, God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry,

When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;

When I have a warm home,
help me to remember the homeless;

When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer;

And remembering, help me
to destroy my complacency
and bestir my compassion.

Make me concerned enough
to help, by word and deed,
those who cry out
for what we take for granted.

Samuel F. Pugh

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Story of a Name

In yesterday's general audience the Pope spoke of St. Juliana and her contribution to the Feast of Corpus Christi. It reminded me of a beautiful saint, and it made me glad we had chosen Juliana as Juju's given name.

The naming of children is a wonderful privilege for parents. It seems immediately after finding out about a pregnancy the next question is, "Do you have a name?" and there are often beautiful stories behind why a certain name was chosen for a child. My very young girls already discuss what they will name their children, and even though I know this will change over and over again, it demonstrates how important giving our children the right name can be. For our family, we wanted a connection to our heavenly family so all of our children are named after Saints.

While naming children is a privilege, it can be quite a perplexing task. For some of our children we knew from the beginning what was the perfect name. For our last, we couldn't decide on a name until entering the delivery room and even then we were still debating. For other children, we had names picked out, only to change our mind at the end. There were times when the name we picked just didn't seem to be the right name for that particular child.

Juliana was one of the latter. During our long (over 3 years) adoption process, we had called the little girl we were waiting for in China, Therese. We prayed many times to St. Therese to watch over our little girl. We counted this child as a rose from heaven and we knew St. Therese had prayed for a priest in China. We called her Therese for so long, we had even decided on a nickname, Tess. We referred to Tess quite frequently in our family conversations throughout the adoption journey.

Then referral day came. We were sent a beautiful picture of our new daughter. After experiencing the birth of my three daughters, I was amazed at the emotions a picture on a computer monitor could elicit. I knew instantly she was an integral part of our family. I also, after recovering from the emotions of finally seeing our baby, knew Tess wasn't the right name.

Juliana's Chinese name was Xiu Lian meaning beautiful or delicate Lotus, and is pronounced shoo leon. At some point it hit me that it sounded quite a bit like Juliana. Unlike our other children, named for cherished family saints, I didn't know of a Saint Juliana, I just liked the name. So I started doing a little research on any saints named Juliana not wanting to cross it off the list. I came across St. Juliana of Cornillon. When I read of her involvement with the establishment of the Feast of Corpus Christi, I knew we had found the right name. While Saint Juliana may have been unknown to me, Corpus Christi has always been a favorite family feast day. St. Juliana was even an orphan!

Two years later, Juliana is definitely suited to her name and I am thankful I learned, and am still learning more, about this beautiful saint. I hope that our dear daughter Juliana can, like her namesake, help answer the Pope's call to "renew our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist."

A friend once said to me that sometimes we don't find patrons for our children, their patrons find them. This certainly seems to be the case with our little Juliana.

P.S. We couldn't forget our beloved St. Therese, Juliana is blessed to have her for a patron as well and thus bears her name as her middle name.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Memorizing The Ten Commandments

A few years ago, when Banana was a third grader, dh began teaching third grade CCD at our parish. I wasn't sure how this would go, but I constantly have parents telling me what a great teacher he is. This happens so much I wonder if he shouldn't be schooling our children, but alas, he won't quit his day job. I guess that's a good thing.

The first year he taught, his assistant introduced a method for memorizing the ten commandments which he has modified and continued to teach. A friend was asking about this method, so I thought I'd share it here.

1. Hold up one finger- God should be first-- No other gods before him.
2. Hold up two fingers- This forms a V for vain-- Don't use the Lord's name in vain.
3. Hold up three fingers- This forms a W for worship-- Sundays are for worship and rest.
4. Use four fingers to salute- Honor your Father and Mother.
5. Use five fingers to make a fist- Don't kill.
6. Use three fingers on each hand to form a heart- Don't commit adultery.
7. Hold up two fingers on one hand, use all five fingers on the other to grab the two fingers- Don't steal.
8. Use four fingers on each hand to form binoculars over your eyes- Don't bear false witness. This also forms the number 8 when you take them off your eyes and turn them sideways.
9. Hold up the ring finger (other nine are down)- Don't covet neighbor's wife.
10. Use all ten fingers to cover your eyes- Don't covet neighbor's goods.

I hope he doesn't mind me sharing his trade secrets. He claims this works so well that he can ask any of his kids to tell him any commandment and they answer correctly and promptly. Now, if only he could find a method for teaching fractions :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gabe's New Motto

Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down, never stay awake when you can sleep.
Anonymous from the Army and the Fire Service

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mid-Semester Progress Report II

Subtitled: Homeschooling with Little Ones, or perhaps Barriers and Baskets

As previously mentioned, each year of homeschooling has brought new challenges. While I have had to entertain little ones in years past, this year new strategies were needed to corral four young children eager to play and interrupt me or their older siblings while we attempt to learn new grammatical concepts or pursue mathematical endeavors. In order to succeed this year, I desperately needed a solution to the question, "What do I do with these rug rats?" (I do mean that very affectionately)
Our newest challenge is under the weather. Poor guy has his first cold.

I have tried many solutions. Fancy toys, play doh, moon sand, switching out toys, playing with the little ones first, finding crafts for them to do. In the end, these strategies left me exhausted and further behind in schooling the older children. The fancy toys lost their luster, the crafts left me with more mess than I could handle, the little ones still cried for my attention when I left, and, honestly, who has time to switch out toys on a schedule? I was still left with a messy house and not enough time to devote to schooling my older students (who, btw, are steadily becoming more independent learners), and an overwhelming sense that I was failing everyone.
Bophie is my ultimate Little People town builder. These toys keep her imagination busy for hours.

My solutions:

1. My philosophy has been simple-- to contain. Contain the little ones and the havoc they seem to wreak on every room they entered. I put up a barrier that corrals them in the family room. They are free to play with whatever they like in that room, but they must stay in the room. I put up gates that block them from escaping to other areas in the house. Yes, they are capable of climbing my barriers. The barriers are placed as a visual reminder to them not to leave the room. They know there are consequences to moving outside their humble confines. I use a Super Play Yard to accomplish this in my house. I pull it out after breakfast and place it between my kitchen and living room. A smaller gate blocks off the other entrance to the room. Both are easily placed and easily taken down so that at the end of the school day my house returns to normal.
Please ignore the laundry on the couch. I wanted to quickly show my gate, no time for cleaning :)

No, I am not suggesting you cage the little ones, but rather find one area in which they can play. Our living room suits this purpose for me. There are enough toys in that room for twelve preschoolers. They may play with all of them to their heart's content. Since school mostly occurs in the kitchen and our first floor school room, I am able to attend to any other need they may have. I just can't have them all over the house. Since employing this system, I have found it much easier to maintain a basic level of order in most of the house. The living room may be a disaster, but I can handle one room.
Before corralling the kids, this room was a disaster every single day. Now I can snap a picture without picking up first.

2. Baskets, buckets, containers, and more baskets. The truth is, the living room being the primary play area on a school day is a necessity not a preference. In my ideal world, the living room would be a picture perfect room to relax, grab a good book, play a board game, or converse with a loved one; not an obstacle course of dolls, rocking horses, balls, and puzzle pieces. This compromise has been accomplished through fancy baskets and containers. Basically any toy that has multiple parts is stored in some type of container, even if it is just a ziplock bag. Experience has shown me that kids are more interested in playing if there is some organization. If everything is just thrown together, they lose interest quickly.

My living room can be quickly returned to an orderly "lived in" but not "ransacked" state in a few minutes using the basket system. In my living room there are bins for Little People (a favorite staple in this house), baskets for Leapster equipment, a basket for books, another basket for baby toys, a bin for the tea set, and a rather large bin for the extra toys that seem to accumulate. Just to name a few. There is even a shoebox in a cupboard for diapers so I have them on hand when needed. I also have one corner dedicated to the few toys that won't fit in the bins, the doll stroller and rocking horse. Each morning the little ones destroy that room, but as I am making lunch, I challenge the older girls. If they can pick up the room before lunch is made, they may have a piece of candy after lunch. It works.
They all delight in a bin of old toys.

3. Some rotation and special toys. I have enough going on in my day that I do not want to put the demands of a toy schedule on my plate. However, there is some benefit to new toys. It is amazing how something new or special will keep the attention of toddlers. The basket and bin system really helps me with this. Even the toys in our basement are organized into bins or baskets or even bags. This allows me to occasionally pull something new out to be played with on a rough day. I may not want to put all the puzzle pieces away on a daily basis, but bringing up the bin of puzzles on a day I need some extra time to teach long division to a Math-despising fifth grader may give me the time necessary. It might be worth picking up all those pieces.

Every house needs a high shelf or closet to store toys that are painful to repeatedly pick up. Toddlers like nothing more than to dump out any nicely organized bin of toys, and so it is necessary to keep them out of reach. Otherwise, countless hours will be spent sorting toys into their appropriate bins. I am fortunate to have a closet in our basement play room and a well-placed high shelf in the play room (it was one of the first updates we made to this house). In the closet and on the shelf I have bins of building blocks, a box of alphabet blocks, a container of stringing beads, a box of counter pegs, giant floor puzzles in bags, you get the idea. These are things that I don't want to pick up all the time. I keep them out of reach and pull them out one at a time on particularly rough days. The kids get a kick out of a toy they haven't seen in awhile, I get a few extra minutes. Pulled out one at a time, these things aren't the chore to pick up.
The shelving in our basement playroom.

4. Lastly, every little one craves a schedule. This one requires you find a balance that works for you. I am not able to follow a minute by minute guide to what should be done. I don't even want to be bothered with an hour by hour guide. I simply need an order or flow to my day. We have breakfast around 8, the girls help tidy the kitchen then begin their schoolwork, the gates are put up and the little ones play through the morning, we pick up before lunch around noon, after lunch I put little ones down for a nap and we finish school, then after 3:30 or so, the girls have some free time and I try to tackle housework. It doesn't go this smoothly everyday, but it is what we strive toward. If I tried to add more, I would be overwhelmed. However, the kids need at least this much to be comfortable. They know what comes next. They know what to do and when to do it. It works for us.
Banana diligently working on Math.

It isn't just my toddlers who needed this. This year is the first year as a homeschooler that I put into place a specific start and end time to our school days. It has been wonderful. In the past, we schooled until Dad was on his way home, or until I felt we accomplished enough, or until one of the girls folded under the workload. None of this was good, dh comes home at a different time each day, some days early others late. I quite rarely was able to accomplish all I wanted to finish any day, and I had a tendency to demand more and more out of the girls. With a set end time, we do what we can, but at the end of the day we're done. The girls work harder knowing they will have some free time. I have some time to recover and finish some housework. We all are much happier. I tend to want to cover more and more material, and this system has put balance back into our schooling.

Balance. That's what it's about for me. Striking the right balance and again reminding myself to do the best I can right now and offering that, and the rest that isn't done, to God.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mid-Semester Progress Reports

Which has now become a late mid-semester report, and an insanely long blog post...

The beginning of this school year was much like last year. After about two hours of the first day, I was ready to call it quits. I remember that last year (when I only had four children), I felt as though there was too much on my plate. Dh called around lunch time and I was practically in tears. Now, here I am with two more-- boys no less, and four little toddler munchkins. I certainly have moments of chaos, and plenty of moments where I wonder if I can really do it all. After day one this year, I seriously was ready to call it quits. Certainly any alternative was better than me losing my mind and causing those around me to deal with my sharp tongue and frazzled attitude. The more overwhelmed I feel, the more sharply I speak, and then I simply shut down.
That being said, we plodded through, we survived that first week. I gained some perspective on why we chose to homeschool. We put some new boundaries in place (those are a separate post), and plodded on in our education endeavor. Those who look in on homeschoolers often wonder how we do it. Truth is, I wonder how we do it. Looking back at where we started this year and how things are progressing now, I know there has been quite a bit of divine intervention. A friend once told me we have to be empty in order for God to fill us. If we think we are doing a great job, we probably aren't letting God do His job. These first weeks of school reminded me that only by relying on Him will I be successful in any education of our children.

That isn't to say that this has been a stellar semester for us. I am still struggling to get it all done. The housework is suffering, the girls are still playing catch-up, the little ones need more direction. However, we are moving forward and gaining ground each day. I end each day wishing I had more time, but I am learning to number the accomplishments and worry less about the unfinished tasks.

My motto this year has been simple. I try to focus on what I can do in each moment. There are times when there is so much going on at one time that I fear I will lose all control of this house and my children, not to mention my sanity. I try to stave off those overwhelming feelings of inadequacy by saying a quick prayer (I always like, "Jesus, Son of the Living God, Have mercy on me, a sinner." as I breathe in and out), then I focus on tackling one thing at a time. I realize there is only so much I can do, as long as I set about doing what I can, I shouldn't worry about doing what I can't. When I employ this method, I typically find that within a few minutes order is restored.

It hasn't always been easy to do this. The only way I can let go of all of the tasks I leave unfinished, is if I am confident I have done all that I could do. That means that I have to constantly be asking myself, is this the best thing I can do right now to live out my vocation as a wife and mother? Is this what God is asking me to do right now? I have to make sure that I am giving each moment in service to God.

This, by no means, implies that I am working all the time, or that I have to be going each moment. In fact, there are many moments I am serving God better by letting go of work and being attentive to my own need for respite, for prayer, or my children's needs for my attention. Yesterday, I had to let go of the dishes in the sink to sit and rock two little boys who weren't feeling well. This may be easy for some, but I have a difficult time when the house is not orderly especially when dh comes home. I also recently picked up crocheting again. While this seems like the most difficult time in life to pick up a hobby, it is important I get time to myself to unwind. Crocheting is a nice hobby for me, because I like to add prayers to my stitches, so I am multi-tasking-- prayer time in my down time.

On the flip-side, I have also become aware of time-killers. For me this is often computer time. I have had to offer up computer games that tend to suck me in and eat up countless hours. I have to try to save social media until after school hours. I have also had to settle for good enough on housework I have typically done more thoroughly. I am also finding myself spending a little more on convenience items. I opted to purchase this year's saint costumes rather than make them. While I enjoy the creative outlet, at this stage I need projects without deadlines. Again and again I find myself asking, is this best for my family right now? Is this the best thing I can do with this minute?

If I offer up to God each moment, each minute, and I focus on what I can do right now, I find myself less overwhelmed with all that I need to accomplish in a given day. My To-Do list is never ending, I am never going to finish the laundry, there are always going to be more dishes to wash. There is always going to be another subject I would like to delve into with the girls, more to teach them, or more to explore with them. However, if I give them each moment, if I work hard right now, I am amazed at how much I can accomplish (or more accurately, what God accomplishes through me).

All I have to offer to my children, my husband, my family, God, is right now. I can offer this moment. I must chose right now, each moment, how best to serve them. If I am doing this, I shouldn't be worried about what I couldn't do.

"Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible."
Francis Of Assisi

Monday, November 1, 2010

What the World Needs Now

Is definitely NOT this...

I have blogged before about my feelings on girls' clothing. In many ways, having four girls has been a real blessing and joy. I enjoy their tea parties, their love of Little House and Anne of Green Gables. I love buying them hair clips and bows, cute tights and socks, purses and beads.

That being said, I DREAD clothes shopping for these girls after they pass the 4T size. In particular, I loathe casual clothes shopping for anyone over 5 when I am forced to purchase smaller-sized street walker clothing, or pay a small fortune for more appropriately styled clothing.

The article reads, "Little kids are so status-conscious about clothing now, more than ever," said Eli Portnoy, a branding strategist based here. "It was a natural evolution for young college, teenage brands: 'Why not go after them younger and get them hooked into our brands?' "

Status-conscious? Really? My Banana is 10, smack-dab in the horribly titled tween years. She is just starting to match her clothing, you know stripes can't be worn with plaids kind of thing. Her clothing choices revolve more around her interests. Her favorite shirt? It's the purple one with the soccer ball on it, certainly not because of the status it represents, but rather the fact she enjoys playing soccer. She spends more time trying to turn her clothing into outfits that resemble those of whatever books she is reading than deciding what sort of status it displays. Perhaps if we, as a society, were busier trying to market good books and activities, we would have less time to worry about making sure our 8 year olds were brand-conscious.

Both of my older girls are certainly entering new stages of their lives. Each day I am reminded they aren't the little girls they were, and I wonder how they grew so fast. Banana is starting to ask if her hair looks ok. Rather than six randomly placed clips, she has mastered pony tails and headbands. Bear is almost 8 and is a little more advanced in these areas because she has Banana as an example. They both have started to express clothing preferences and have started raiding my jewelry box. They get a real kick out of using my cucumber bath spray, pale pink nail polish, and clear lip gloss. I can't think of anything more harmful to their development than to have them more inundated with societal views of fashion.

Why can't we let them be kids? Why push teenage angst on 7-year olds? Marketing specifically to them shows how much materialism has permeated into every aspect of our society. My goal is to raise girls who can see beyond silly "status-conscious" clothing to see real beauty. I do hope to teach my girls to present themselves as the young women they want to become, but for now I am content to have them learn multiplication tables and the rules of soccer.

I also thought this quote was particularly interesting: "They've been dressing their penguins on Club Penguin or their Webkinz online," she said. "You put them in a shopping mall, they've got that behavior of 'I love to shop.'"

For a long time, dh was vehemently opposed to the Webkinz fad. I relented to them thinking that as long as we monitored their activity and did not allow our children to spend too much time with them, they were relatively harmless. Now I am beginning to wish I had listened a little more to his objections. He quickly saw the materialism and disliked how the whole Webkinz page was more an advertisement to buy more and less a child's game. He was more aware of the ploy to get kids to be consumers, teach them early the temporary happiness of materialism, real or virtual. I am not saying that Webkinz are evil, but I do wish I had thought a little more about the materialism I was introducing to my very young children.

Happy Feast of All Saints

"Today, my dear Christians, is a day on which, more than on any other, the faithful look up to heaven and reflect, how supremely happy the saints are who enjoy the bliss of heaven at the throne of God; a day on which, by meditating on the never-ending happiness of the saints, an ardent longing is stirred in our hearts that we may one day take part in this happiness."

"Dear Christians! We all have to-day the desire—yes, even the ardent longing—to enjoy one day with the saints in heaven their glory and their happiness. But let us consider well that the Christian whose thoughts and actions are only directed toward transitory treasures, honors, and pleasures is not on the path where the joys of heaven are found. Christians must not desire what is earthly, but what is heavenly; not what is false, but what is true; not what is temporary and fleeting, but what is eternal and never-ending. Therefore our hearts must not be set upon the treasures, honors, and pleasures of this world, so that we may not miss the end for which we were created—heaven. "For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Matt. xvi. 26). Our Saviour calls to us Christians and exhorts us to strive after the happiness of heaven with these words: "Seek first the kingdom of God" (Matt. vi. 33). "The fool," says St. Ambrose, "holds with them who are of the world; the wise man prefers the eternal glory of heaven" (Serm. 37)."

-- Cure de Ars, excerpts from Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Happy All Saints Day!