Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Must be a Jane Austen fanatic to enter...

I'm in a club. An exclusive club. You can join. But there might be a test or initiation. I'm not sure. I think I'll have to call a meeting to discuss that...

You do have to idolize Jane Austen. You have to love more than just Mr. Darcy... you have to read the books (or want to), compare various on-screen versions, and quote Jane Austen lines on demand. Or at least when you feel like it. Or make one up using a few run-on sentences, big words and a British accent...

You have to enjoy sipping tea, dream of fancy desserts and love sitting around late into the night discussing society, religion, shopping, antiques and the best way to distract both husband and children in order to watch the 6 hour version of Pride and Prejudice...

Here are a few photos from our last get-together...
Mary made these amazingly beautiful desserts ~ that actually tasted better than they look!
Nan brought this work of art...
And then, we ate.
Oh, yeah, and we watched the new BBC version "Emma" on Masterpiece Theatre. Perfection.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

Mama vs. the Cadets

Yesterday at Mass, I had one of those moments. You've probably had them before... those (hopefully) rare times when you feel that you just might really lose it, and you don't care who sees or hears you...

We are ambitious. We've moved from the balcony at church down the second row. Not sure how we picked the second row - but it seems to always be empty, so it's been ours for the last several weeks. We are trying to get a bit more out of the Mass and hoping that the closer proximity will help our children understand a bit more of what is going on. And, so far, it seems to be working. Except for a few moments last week when Colleen screamed out "RAISINS!" at the top of her little lungs. Yes, that was us. Anyway, we are trying.

So, yesterday, we arrive early and are all neatly parked, with a few kids on laps so they'll be a bit less squirmy. Apparently it looked like there was a space or two available. Half way through the readings, two Cadets with their heads buzzed so very close, came up next to me. "Ma'am, ya mind if we take those seats?" I looked. I didn't see any seats. I said, "I don't think we can fit two people in there." I didn't think we could fit one in, but I was trying to be nice. And they said, "Oh, thanks!" and wedged themselves right in, stepping over my children and making themselves right at home in the middle of MY pew.

Mama wasn't happy.

My happy vision of a perfect Palm Sunday Mass crumbled. 

Emelie and Jonathan were shoulder to shoulder like grumpy sardines, Katherine was on Curt's lap and Colleen had taken my spot, so I was sitting on the very edge of the pew with her behind me. I kept looking over at those two bald boys hoping to catch their eye so they'd see what discomfort they'd caused me. They didn't look over. I sighed a few times and turned my head this way and that, hoping to garner some sympathy from those behind me. I glanced at one girl and she handed me a hymnal.

So there I sat. Mad. At Mass. On Palm Sunday.

And then Fr. Brian McMaster began his homily. I can't even begin to try to tell you all that he said. Just know that it was profoundly beautiful. He talked about the sacrifices of Jesus for love of us. He talked about Jesus "scandalous love" for us ~ that he can love EACH of us completely and perfectly as if we were the only person on earth. He told us about the 3 great questions from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: "What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What will I do for Jesus?"

He was on fire.

Half way through the homily, I looked over at those two boys, expecting to see their heads lolled back with eyes closed or busying checking their iphones.


There they sat, the invaders of my peaceful family pew. Their elbows on their knees, chins on their fists, eyes locked on my college friend, Fr. Brian.

They listened.

Man. What a jerk I am. These guys needed that second pew more than we did. "What am I doing for Jesus?" Not even sharing my pew, that's what...

So the rest of the Mass, I sat on my little edge of the pew, baby feet kicking me in the back. Took Colleen back when she freaked out. Watched Curt take her back after communion. Sent two kids to the bathroom. Refereed a fight over the last song sheet and caught Colleen crawling under the pew in front of us, heading for the choir. Yeah, we're real shining examples...

It was an amazing Mass. Really. Afterward, we knelt down for our little prayer. We left and those two boys were still on their knees.

Maybe today I can do a little bit more for Jesus than begrudgingly share my seat... We'll see!

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Colleen's birthday ~ the big 2

Colleen's birthday was delightful - she had fun, which was my one and only goal. We celebrated her birthday the day before, on St. Patrick's Day.  The day on which she was supposed to be born... but I digress. It was good! She changed clothes twice during the evening, ate lots of her birthday cake (and is still asking where it went) opened presents and had fun with her friends. Perfect!

Here are a few photos...

Uncle Chris, Aunt Karen and 4 of their boys joined us

I actually made this cake! And it came out of the pan like a dream, didn't crack in half, fall in, taste horrible or drop on the floor - all of which have happened to me before.

This is my Irish flag veggie tray. I was very proud. Curt made me pose... he still can make me crack up!

Colleen: "Ummm... are you mad that I have green icing all over me?" Not at all, dear!

And she really needed to wear Katherine's purple jacket and her "pack pack" while playing outside. Really.

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5 things I love about Colleen...

We celebrated my little Colleen's birthday on March 18th. Her little party was on St. Patrick's day and was delightful - simple and full of sweet friends, playing outside and lots 'a green! It sounds trite, but I really can't believe that my baby is 2. She seems so little and new and yet as if she's been here for decades.

This is for you my little Colleen. Just 5 of the hundreds of things I love about you...

1. Her name
Colleen = Girl
Bernadette = Brave as a bear
She is my girl who is as brave as a bear. I like that, especially as I look at her little whispy blonde head bouncing around the back yard in her big sisters' boots. St. Bernadette is one of my favorite saints as well. She was a simple peasant girl who was faithful enough to stand strong in the face of doubt and disbelief. She stood by her story, because she knew it was true - she was definitely a girl who was as brave as a bear.

2. Her smile.
Colleen smiles with her whole self. There is nothing false about her smile... her whole little chubby face transforms when she is happy and there's no faking a joy like that. I hope that her smile stays like that forever.

3. Colleen is very easy-going. To a point.
Colleen is wise for her years. She already knows to pick her battles. Being the youngest of 4, sometimes things just aren't worth getting upset over. 2nd and 3rd generation hand-me-downs... whatever.  Riding in a carseat for hours almost every day while siblings are shuttled to and from their activities while you eat a ziplock of cheerios... that's life. Sharing just about all of your toys with everyone... nothing new there. Yet, her wise, discerning spirit knows when enough is enough. If you go too far, watch out. I think that by the time she leaves our home, this will somehow serve her well...

4. She adores her brother.
In a house dominated by women, my sweet son, Jonathan, gets picked on from the lower and upper branches of the family tree. Thankfully, their age difference is such that Colleen thinks the boy can do no wrong.

With Emelie bossing him around and Katherine pushing every button she can find, I find comfort in hearing Colleen call out to her big brother and beg him to play "people" (little people) or "go ou-side" to swing. There's no ulterior motive. There's no trick. There's no doubting or double-crossing. Just little kid love. And they both are pretty sure of it.

It may not last forever... but I sure hope it does.

5. She's shown us how to love... again.
It might sound strange unless you've experienced it... but Colleen is the first child we've had where our other children have been old enough to enjoy her fully. Katherine probably won't remember much about Colleen as a baby, but Emelie and Jonathan will.

They get it ~ how utterly delightful a little child can be. They laugh at her funny expressions. They run to tell me something cute she's done. They dress her up in weird clothes and then sit back and show her off. They fight over who gets to wake her up in the morning and who gets to unbuckle her car seat. They brag to their friends about her newest achievement. They teach her new words and read her their favorite books. They run to her when she's hurt and melt when she asks them to "hold you?" They let her go first, she scribbles and they tell her how pretty her picture is, they let her knock down their block towers and don't get angry, and they'll probably let her win at a board game or two someday.

She's taught them unconditional love. And I think they like it. 

Thank you, Colleen, for being a part of our lives. We love you!

Here are some of my favorite photos of Colleen...

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

My 5 Favorite Education/Homeschool Resources...

I can't say enough about this series. Susan Wise Bauer starts with the earliest nomads and ends with the end of the USSR. The books are great read-a-louds and the cds are even better. We listen to them in the car, on road trips or on our extra long drive to piano lessons every Tuesday. And then, after the kids are out of the car, I keep listening... because it is so dang INTERESTING!  She also has tests and activity guides. This is a great resource for any family... homeschooling or not.

2.  History Through the Ages from Homeschool in the Woods

This is an amazing, family-owned business run by a homeschooling mom of 4, Amy Pak. In her former life, she was a professional illustrator. And you can tell!

Way back when, she was unimpressed by the quality of resources available to her when she started her homeschooling journey. So, once life allowed, she began creating her own resources. She has personally illustrated and created all of the products offered on her site. I have the timeline notebook shown above, but you can just purchase the Timeline Figures in either print format or on CD. Her work is just pretty, pretty, pretty! Someday I will wallpaper a room with historical figures...

She also has many other products, including the Time Travelers History Study Series: She has "New World Explorers", "Colonial Life", "The American Revolution", "The Early 19th Century" and "The Civil War".
They are all beautiful, comprehensive and leave you wanting to learn more and more about history!

Then, she also has her "Hands On Activity Paks" that include "Composers", "Artists", "Old Testament" and "New Testament". These are directly downloadable from her site (after payment) or you can get them on cd.

Needless to say, this woman has vision... and I like it!

3. HomeschoolShare.com

If you have an idea, then they have thought it, and done it... 
This is a website with a wealth of information. Last week, I used it to download FREE (everything is free) pre-school projects for Katherine and an entire lapbook project for Jonathan on Lewis and Clark. Materials are contributed by homeschoolers... so you are gleaning wisdom and experience from countless families. GREAT resource!

4. Illustrate & Write
My new friend, Heather, over at ohmystinkinheck.com blogs on the Pioneer Woman site about her homeschooling experiences. Her post about Illustrate & Write changed my method of teaching Jonathan writing.  I just loved the way Heather chronicled her son's journey with Illustrate and Write. She give so much detail... with photos, direct copying of her son's writing and then her "translation". For example:
“puekepolls rea goweng to ther homs bkus tha got in a fit”
(Porcupines are going to their homes because they got in a fight.)
This photo is from her post on www.thepioneerwoman.com

It's Jonathan's favorite part of school and now my 4th grader, Emelie, who is not homeschooled, has her own illustrate and write journal... "because it looks like fun!".

Thanks Heather!  (Did I mentioned that she has a daughter named EMELIE???!!!)

5. Amazing, beautiful, scream-out-to-be read books!...
We are using Sonlight for some of our homeschool curriculum. What I think I love most about Sonlight is their booklists. They're awesome! Jonathan's reading has taken off this year, mostly due to increased reading time and the very interesting books that he gets to read. I found in early February that he had read all of his books for the year... uhhh... that's a good thing, right?

Here are a few examples:
Jonathan's book list from this year

Grade 3 and 4 read aloud list - just another example of Sonlight's great choices of literature. What I like about Sonlight is that they categorize their books by grade level, by read aloud level AND by maturity level. So, if you have a reader who is ahead of her grade level, you can search their list for books that are more advanced, but still appropriate for her maturity level.

I have used the booklists to order straight from the sonlight website, which is often a very good deal, or to check the books out at the library.

I think of myself as a well-read person, but was surprised at how many books on the list that I hadn't heard of ... and they were GOOD!

I also love this series of classics: the Junior Illustrated Library. I received my first one when I was 8 years old from my Grandma. Little Women. The first of many beautiful books I'd read... My mom gave me a few, my sister has lent me a few and this Christmas we received a few as gifts. Talk about inspired reading. I like to use these as read-alouds. Most of them run from $12-15, pretty affordable! You can't help but invest yourself in a story with illustrations, fonts and paper like these classics!  Or maybe I just like taking photos of pretty pages...

Anywho... that's all for now. Hope these gave you a few ideas for things to do with your kiddos. Really, you don't have to be homeschooling to use any of the resources... we may not homeschool next year, but I'll still be all over these great products, because they are well-made, inspiring and make me and my children WANT to learn... and that's what life is all about, right!?

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