Sunday, August 27, 2006

Something Fly Lady Forgot to Mention

It is my observation that sticky rice and noodles are far, far easier to clean off a high chair (not to mention a tile floor) when they have had a few hours to dry out. When dry, they simply sweep up. Not so when they are gluey wet.

Knowing this, do you think I always rush to clean them right up so my kitchen shines each night before bed? Sometimes.

Sometimes not.

Sorry, Fly Lady. I still love you!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

"Five People" Meme

Michelle, the author of one of my favorite Catholic mom blogs called Rosetta Stone, has "tagged" me to complete the following meme. So, here I go!

"If you could meet and have a deep conversation with any five people on earth, living or dead, from any time period, who would they be?" (Explaining why is optional.)

Name five people from each of the following categories: Saints, Those in the Process of Being Canonized, Heroes from your native country, Authors/Writers, celebrities.

Five Saints:

1. Mary, Mother of God
2. St. Josemaria Escriva
3. St. Anthony of Padua
4. St. Joseph
5. St. Paul the Apostle

Those in the Process of Being Canonized:

1. Pope John Paul II
2. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
3. Blessed Junipero Serra
4. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
5. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Five U.S. Heroes:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. Anyone on Titanic who gave up their place on a lifeboat to save someone else
3. The firefighters and police officers who gave their lives saving others, especially on 9/11
4. Parents who adopt troubled or special needs children, like Barbara Curtis
5. Joe Montana

Five Authors/Writers:

1. Kimberly Hahn
2. Michael Cumbie (granted, a speaker more than a writer)
3. Danielle Bean
4. James Stenson
5. Marla Cilley (Fly Lady)

Five Celebrities:

1. Dr. Laura
2. Ronn Owens (KGO Radio, San Francisco)
3. Mel Gibson (even and especially now)
4. Bill Clinton (clearly not in the "American Heroes" section, but fascinating nonetheless!)
5. Simon Cowell (can he really be that grumpy and cynical all the time?)

There you are: my answers, for what they're worth. This was actually educational for me as I learned a lot about some of the "blesseds" that I did not know. I had to do some reasearch to answer that one!

This was a lot harder than it seemed, as many of the celebrities and authors I enjoy watching/reading I would not actually want to meet nor have a conversation with! Which should probably tell me something about how I spend my "entertainment" time...but I'll think about that later.

If anyone would like to fill this meme out for themselves, please do so either in the comments section here or on your own blog. I would love to see your answers too!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Appreciating My Husband

I have been consumed of late with appreciation for the husband I have in Jay. With every year of our marriage I become more aware of just how amazing he is and how lucky I am that he chose me too. Now, I am not trying to make anyone nauseous here, but I just can't help waxing poetic for a few minutes. So, consider yourself warned and proceed with caution!

For the first time in our married life, Jay is looking for a job. For more than 10 years he was with the same company (although it was acquired multiple times during his employ), and we became used to that stability. His industry was software/professional services and he was very good at what he did.

Last year we embarked upon an adventure and Jay joined a family business as a real estate broker. Although there were many wonderful things about being part of this business, he realized after about a year that he really missed his former career and wanted to go back to it. Hence the job search.

For several weeks now, Jay has been pounding the pavement, so to speak, looking for the right opportunity. I know this is very stressful for him, as he has a lot of pressure being the sole provider of our large and ever-growing family. But only rarely have I seen the toll this must be taking on him. He has been playing with the kids, taking advantage of his time around the house to make repairs and generally help me with meals and the children, all the while maintaining an active and professional job search.

I know that I am witnessing the actions of a man who truly has the peace of Christ. At no time, even when seemingly excellent job prospects have disintegrated and disappointed, has his faith wavered. He carries on with the absolute certainty that God will provide in accordance with His will. And his calmness and trust is contagious. I, too, know that everything will be fine, whatever the future holds for us.

This summer could have been awful. No one would have blamed Jay if he had been grumpy and withdrawn, stressed and secluded. But instead he was the opposite of all of these things. He helped me through the worst of my nausea, changed Tony's diaper more frequently than I did, was happy to lifeguard the children while working on his internet job search so I could go grocery shopping. He was with us more this summer than he has been in years, and we have all blossomed as a result of his presence.

There is a book that describes The Five Love Languages that people speak. My love language is "Acts of Service" which means that I feel most loved when Jay does things to help me. Things like filling up my car with gas when he's out, watching the kids so I can go to Costco alone, hanging shelves or unloading the dishwasher tell me he loves me more than words or gifts ever could. He has been speaking my love language all summer long and this must be why my heart is overflowing.

We are hopeful that Jay's job search is nearing its end (prayers are requested and appreciated!), and we will be grateful when our future is secured and known once again. But I will never regret this summer, this summer that could have been the worst summer ever, because it ended up being priceless for our family. There is no amount of money I would rather have than this time we had with Jay.

Father Tom, our priest, has a homily about a child who described the saints (whom he knew from their images on the stained glass windows in the church) as "people who let the light shine through them." This is how I think of Jay. He lets the light of Christ shine right through him to illuminate the lives of those around him.

Thank you, God, for my husband.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Middle-of-the-Week Family Movie Night: Back to the Future

In celebration of the last week of summer, we have been going a little crazy around here. That means that we have had pizza (gasp!) on days other than Friday and family movie night (brace yourself!) more than once a week.

School next week is going to be a shock for all of us, I think.

That being said, Joey and I really enjoyed our movie tonight. The classic Back to the Future, starring a very young Michael J. Fox, was thoroughly enjoyable for us both. The younger kids fell asleep 15 minutes in, which was fine because they wouldn't have grasped the concept of time travel and altering the future anyway. But Joey did, and it was really fun for me to see him get his head around this sometimes complicated idea.

Aside from a bad word here and there (WHY do they ruin otherwise perfectly good movies in this way?!) and an event in a parked car that was suggestive more than explicit, there was nothing I found offensive in this film. The kids knew Christopher Lloyd as the voice of "Hacker" in Cyberchase and got a kick out of seeing him in the flesh. Plus, there was plenty of physical comedy mixed in with the plot to delight kids of all ages.

We may be watching this one again in the morning before it goes back to Blockbuster. Because, after all, it is the last week of summer.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Back to School

I've decided that school is far more work for the parents than it is for the students. And I'm not taking about homeschooling, either (that's another story entirely). Right now, I'm talking about regular school.

A few years ago Staples (or Office Depot, I forget which) had a commercial that they ran in August and September with the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" playing throughout. Parents were skipping through the store throwing school supplies in the basket while the kids were walking sulkily behind. Jay and I used to think that was so funny. What parent wouldn't be excited about sending the kids back to school after a long summer of too much together time? Well, that was before I had school aged kids, and I'm not laughing anymore.

School is, for parents, a marathon that begins with a sprint. This week and last, I have been doing my sprint. I have taken the kids to the doctor, held them down for their rounds of vaccines and badgered the doctors to fill out the proper heath forms. I have beaten my way through the crowds at Target to a picked-over school supplies area, clutching my list of teacher-requested items and checking each off as I toss the things in the basket. I have cleaned out closets and resized clothes, taking stock of what is salvageable. I have purchased new uniform items, mended old ones, and tried pair after pair of shoes on the kids, making sure that they can put them on by themselves and that there are absolutely no "sharp things" or "itchy spots" to bring trouble down the road. I have assembled earthquake kits with loving notes and books to keep the kids occupied until I can reach them in case of emergency. I have negotiated with the children over which themed backpacks and lunch boxes are appropriate for kindergarten (or any grade, for that matter). And you know what? I am ready for summer again.

I am definitely not marathon-ready. Yet, that is what is in front of me. Nine months of field trip forms, homework packets, lunches and more lunches, keeping track of credits left on milk cards and which teacher allows which items at snack time. Then there are the special events. Halloween costumes and parties, valentines (oh, the dreaded valentines), teacher gifts at Christmas time, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Not to mention the waking at the crack of dawn to get everyone fed and in uniform by 7:30.

All this is not worth the few hours of relative peace that the emptier house provides. Bring back summer! Bring back lazy days of hanging around the house, swimming and doing basically nothing. Would it be wrong to allow my children to grow up to be uneducated sloths because their mother was too lazy to send them back to school? OK, so maybe that is taking it too far. But I'm just saying it sounds pretty good right about now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Full House is a Happy House

I am stunned to see that it has been nearly a week since I have posted anything. The days are passing in a blur; I am simply marking time until I feel better. Cleaning the kitchen counter, processing a single load of laundry, preparing a meal seem to be, for now, Herculean tasks for someone who once multitasked with ease.

I have found myself wondering of late if Mary felt sick during her pregnancy. It is clear in the book of Genesis that pain during childbirth is a direct result of original sin. Since Mary was free of original sin, did she suffer the pains of labor, the nausea of early pregnancy, the varicose veins and sciatic pain? I hope, for her sake, that she did not. She had enough to deal with simply knowing that she was carrying the Christ child. Can you imagine? And I worry about eating enough vegetables!

Anyway, this blurry week has been full of the delightful diversion of friends and family. This past weekend we had 14 people in our house overnight, even more during daytime, and I couldn't have been happier. Although I mostly observed the goings on from my perma-post on the couch, I watched with pleasure while many of the people I love the most interacted with each other, prepared and enjoyed good food, swam (and swam and swam) and even folded my laundry (this was quite a bonus for me as you can imagine!).

Our good friends and former neighbors were in town to visit and it was a wonderful excuse to bring everyone within driving distance together for a reunion of sorts on the occasion of their son's 7th birthday. At one point we had the godparents of 3 of our 5 children in the same room, which generally only happens at baptisms. We are so very blessed with friends and family nearby (and not so nearby, sniff-sniff).

Here's to good friends and family that love and support you even when you are a pathetic, complaining couch lump (for the 6th time in 9 years, I might add). I love and appreciate you all so very much, both those who were here with us this weekend and those who we spoke lovingly of in their absence.

Monday, August 07, 2006

How Much is Too Much?

I am preparing to homeschool Joey. This is a daunting prospect, to say the least. Joey is very smart yet very determined to dislike schooling of all kinds. I was reminded of this today as I attempted, completely unsuccessfully, to administer a standardized test.

The reason we decided to homeschool Joey is that he has trouble completing his work at school. Some of this work ends up coming home, in addition to his homework load, to be completed at night when he is least able to focus. The nightmare that this became for our family (parents, siblings and most of all Joey himself) was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It was my thought that if I had him fresh in the morning, I could get him through his coursework before his afternoon slump and avoid the late afternoon homework situation completely. In addition, I figured I could work with his natural tendency toward good and bad days, laying off when needed and making it up when possible.

This all sounds great in theory, but in reality, can I get him to do his work at all?
Granted, I was not wise in my testing today. He had an earache and was overtired; I should know better. However, I am finding myself, just 3 weeks before school is to begin, questioning my curriculum and considering changing things around completely. In order to get the new curriculum in time, I had to get him through the placement test quickly. Turns out, that wasn't such a good idea. Smart boy that he is, he is quite aware that he has already taken one such placement exam (for the old curriculum) and, very much like his mother, does not like to do things over.

To further complicate the matter is the reason I am considering new curriculum in the first place. My original enrollment has been with Seton. I like the daily lesson plan, the all-in-one ease of the program and the cohesiveness of it all. It truly seems to be "Homeschool for Dummies" (no offense intended, I just mean it is like is hard to mess up if you follow the instructions). I think this is a good place for me to start.

However, when Joey was recently skimming his textbooks he pointed out to me just how religious they are and took offense to this. "Can't just one book not have God in it?" he asked. I thought good and hard about this before responding.

While I absolutely believe that all life should center around God, do I also believe that anything secular is bad? Not at all. I am not choosing to homeschool so that Joey will never be exposed to a secular viewpoint. It is my job as his parent and teacher to be sure that he learns Christian values in the context of our secular world. As Joey rightly pointed out to me, the only overtly religious textbook he had last year in his wonderful parochial school was his religion book. The rest were just math, just science, just handwriting. And I couldn't be more pleased with his spiritual development to date.

As I went through the Seton books again, I was amazed to see that every sentence in the handwriting book had something to do with religion. Every book report was about a saint (again, these have their place but isn't a boy entitled to read Captain Underpants occasionally, especially if he is a very reluctant reader?). Even the math word problems were about counting holy cards and rosaries. It is too much.

If I cram religion down his throat instead of letting him witness it through our daily lives, is he not more likely to turn away from it? In saying this, I must clarify that I in no way wish to curtail his religious education. I want him to thoroughly know and understand the beauty of our faith, because I believe it is not always evident without education. But is his soul going to be damaged if he practices handwriting with the absence of religion? To the contrary, I think it will be kept more intact in the long run.

To make a long story short, on the advice of a friend of Jay's from Opus Dei, we have investigated the California Virtual Academy. It is a public school curriculum that we will supplement with religion. So far I like what I see. Now, I know to be careful of seeming innocent secular materials slanting historical events in a way unflattering to the church. And I know how prevalent our cultural horrors can be in secular textbooks. But am I not the one in charge here? Can I not present the material in any way I like? Plus, in 3rd grade I am not concerned that a subliminal message he receives on Christopher Columbus' voyage is going to overrun all that he learns from his family about the church.

So, here I am at a crossroads. New textbooks? I think so. Can I get him through another placement test? We'll see. Will I fail miserably and send him back to Sacred Heart before Christmas? Perhaps. But I hope not.

All I know is that I desperately want to do what is best for Joey. Ultimately, I care far less about his academic development than I do his spirituality and overall happiness. However, I am keenly aware of my responsibility to educate him solidly academically as well.

I know that many of you who read this blog homeschool already. I welcome your comments on this topic as I am admittedly naive. Anything sounds different before you actually do it. Any tips on getting a reluctant learner through his work? Any thoughts on secular versus Catholic textbooks? Help please! This mom needs input and encouragement.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

You Know It Was A Good Party When...

...the birthday boy falls apart toward the end because dad stole his turn with the stomp rocket.

Happy 5th Birthday, Sam. You are such a light in our family. Ever joyful, optimistic and full of sunshine. Curious, smart and eager, enthusiastic beyond measure. I thank God for you and the joy you bring us all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Oasis in the Desert

Four months ago we dug a hole in our backyard with hopes that it would someday become a swimming pool. Week after week we watched through the back windows as it progressed, far too slowly for our taste. Some weeks we celebrated the changes but others we simply stared, hoping that work would resume soon.

Yesterday, after months of anticipation, a dream came true for our family and we swam, for the first time, in our very own swimming pool. Although many would say that a swimming pool is a necessity for those living in the desert, we know that it is actually a great luxury, no matter where you live.

We are grateful, humbled and filled with joy to have this shimmering gem in our yard and look forward to many happy hours of family time within it.

Here are the children just before splashing in for the first time (socks on because the plaster is not fully cured). That was yesterday afternoon at 4pm. The pool has hardly been empty during daylight since. I hope they understand the gift they have. Here's to healthy activity...and safety always!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Growing Up

Tonight I went on a fun night with Lindsey. We went to the Mulligan Family Fun Center where, thanks to a coupon book Jay purchased months ago from a door-to-door salesperson, our entire evening there was free. What could be better?!

First we went to dinner, though, just the two of us. It had been far too long since I had sat across a table from Lindsey and devoted a whole hour to just talking with and listening to her. I was completely taken with the charming person she is growing to be! We worked through the kids book she got with her meal, played tic-tac-toe, and giggled about silly things. When did she get so good at reading that she could play a word matching game with very little help? When did she become actually able to beat me at tic-tac-toe, even when I was trying to win? How could I be surprised by how sharp her wit and sense of humor has become? She is growing up in front of me and many days I have been too busy to notice.

At the Fun Center Lindsey rode a go-cart, all by herself, for the first time. The last time I checked she was too shy to do something like that alone. Then, to my astonishment, she cleanly beat me at miniature golf. She scored not one, but two holes in one. How did she do that? What is going on here?

Lindsey is growing up. Because she is my second child, I am finding this to be a bit of a sneak attack. I notice when Joey grows because his firsts are mine as well. When Lindsey comes on strong with a new skill it is surprising because I can't believe it is her turn for it so soon. But it is her turn. And not just for "seconds". She is her own person, so many of her firsts are unique to her. Special because they are difficult (or easy) for her alone.

How lucky I am to be mother to this exquisite person, this kind and loving girl. Thank you, God, for Lindsey, and for the moments I slow down enough to truly appreciate what I have, not just in her, but in each of the five uniquely amazing individuals I get to call my children. I am truly blessed.