Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 year in review

angel at "Mary, Queen of the Universe shrine"

            2011 started out a little rough for me.  In January, my grandfather died.  I attended his funeral on a bitterly cold day in Pennsylvania.  I came home from that trip and found out a good friend’s husband who had been suffering from cancer was quickly losing his battle.  I attended his funeral in early February.  Then in March, I was shocked by the news of another friend’s husband’s untimely death, and attended a third funeral in as many months.  I was terrified of what the rest of the year might hold……

            Thankfully, things got better after that.  April brought the beauty and hope of Easter, my birthday, and a wonderful retreat with my husband and our “Teams of our Lady” friends.   In May, the children had their annual testing and did well.  Our middle daughter made her First Holy Communion.  We finished up our school year, and Tim found out his full time job in youth ministry was ending.  June was full of worry until Tim was offered a new job teaching middle school religion.   Then, a few weeks later my whole family came into town to celebrate my mom’s birthday and, except for a nasty bout of stomach flu, we had a nice visit with my sisters and brother, and their families.  We spent July moving our youngest daughter into her sister’s bedroom, and moving our oldest daughter out of the shared room and into her very own room for the first time in 8 years.  In August,  we started back to school, and this time so did Tim, both at his teaching job and taking online courses towards  a Master’s degree, a decision we came to during our weeks of uncertainty concerning his career. September we celebrated our oldest becoming a teenager!  October was busy, busy, busy but we did find time to go camping as a family, and Tim and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary.  November was all about writing novels with NaNoWriMo.  And in December, we were blessed to spend Christmas with extended family and lots of joy!  

            Other highlights include-- A day at "Mary, Queen of the Universe" shrine in Orlando, home-made butterbeer, an impromptu trip to an old fashioned ice cream parlor, watching our all-time favorite family movie and laughing and quoting and laughing and quoting and laughing some more, a surprising e-mail and resulting three week visit from a box turtle, summer library visits all over town, postcrossing, Winter the Dolphin, trips to the zoo and science center, a special meal seat of juice pouches and nachos, meteor showers, star gazing, seeing the moons of Jupiter, Cub Scouts, Little Flowers, chocolate, chocolate,chocolate, gymnastics, art class, wood carving, our oldest son’s “weekend with daddy trip”, learning about British foods and slang terms and customs, new blogging friends, renewing our marriage vows, making movies, sunsets at the beach, catching fish and exotic sea creatures, math class, field trips, Starbucks book club, saying good-bye forever to Facebook, doll house fun with Chuck, Kia and friends, pen pal letters to Aunt Debbie, Great Expectations that left us cynical, “go away baggie”, swash-buckling and air bending, a different Jesse Tree snack for each day of Advent…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

This morning we woke up to a few very special "gifts" under the Christmas tree.  No, Santa had not come a day early.  My children had decided, after hearing one of my favorite Christmas memories of sleeping under the Christmas tree with my sister and brother one year, that they had to do it too.  We had to talk Tim into it, but at his slight smile and nod, they all grabbed their sleeping bags and pillows and snuggled up beneath the festive branches.  He and I heard them talking and giggling for hours after we had gone to bed.  What a special treat it was for them.  

The last-night-of-Advent slumber party was only the beginning of the excitement and joy...
Today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow Christmas Day, of course.  The children are giddy with anticipation and I can practically see the visions of sugar plums dancing in their little heads.

May your holy-day be joyful and special and full of the love of God and family! 

From our house to yours....Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Can Catholic families survive public high school?

  This morning- I wrote this:
 When we first started home schooling and joined our Catholic home school support group we were invited to an opening school year Mass and pot luck dinner at the home of one of the families.   We showed up, with our four young children, not sure what to expect and probably looking a little shell-shocked, because after entering the house we found ourselves wall-to-wall with a ton of other people.  There were lots of families there, and it being a Catholic home schooling group, many of the families had lots of children.  There were people of all ages: babies, toddlers, elementary-aged children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults, crammed into every ounce of empty space in the average sized house, and spilling out into the backyard. 
If we had had any doubts, or been at all unsure about our decision to home school, that night put all our fears to rest. 
We celebrated Mass in the living room, again packed tight together with people we barely knew, who helped us with our kids and illustrated beautiful reverence even in that over-stuffed room.  Then we shared a huge meal with them and met so many kind, welcoming faces.  The older children doted on and helped out with the younger, the younger children played happily and safely together.  It was truly beautiful. 
I knew, in that evening, this was where I wanted to raise my children, as a part of this community, among these families.
            There were several other family events that year- hoedowns, an All Saint’s party, a Christmas caroling party- all just as well attended, all just as family-friendly and fun.
            Fast forward seven years.  My children are no longer the little toddlers at the home schooling events.  I am now thinking about how I will approach home schooling a high schooler (in only a year and a half!) and we now have 5 children in tow when we show up at events like the Christmas caroling party (like we did last night).  Lots of other things are different as well.  Those parties that used to be wall-to-wall people—have now dwindled to two or three families.  Last night’s party, an annual event which used to draw a crowd of close to 100 people, literally ended up being only 3 home schooling families- and one of them was the host family!  This happened at the All Saint’s party this year, as well.  And our opening school year Mass is no longer even planned as a family affair on the weekend, but a mom and kids event on a weekday morning. 
            “What has happened?” I can’t help but wonder.  Where are all those wonderful families I felt so blessed to be raising my children with?  Of course there is a simple answer to the question- I could easily list the families who have moved away, or the ones whose children have graduated and are no longer home, but what I really wonder is how the face of Catholic home schooling has changed in such a short time.  We still have lots of families on the list for our group, just as many as before, but now, like the rest of the world around us, they are pulled in so many different directions that attending family events seems to be a luxury they cannot find time for.  These fun family events used to be the priority and something everyone in the group looked forward to, but now these events are just another thing on everyone’s calendar and very susceptible to be rejected in favor of something else. 
I fear this is a symptom of not just busyness but a different attitude towards Catholic home schooling altogether, and a whole different reason behind it.  Now, instead of home schooling being a conscious decision made in an effort to raise children in a Christ-centered, family-focused environment, where they will grow up practicing their faith in all they do and sharing the beauty of it with others, home schooling seems to be just another educational choice.  It has become, I think, a somewhat trendy choice of late, at least in this area.  Lots of people jump into the home school ring for a few years and then jump back out when their children get to a certain age.  In fact, it is highly likely that in a year and a half when my oldest begins high school (at home with me) she will be the only high schooler in the home school group.  Home schooling, for many families, seems to be more about flexibility and educational freedom (really great things), but less about faith and family (even better things). 
             For Tim and me- it is still about God and about family and about raising our children to be strong Catholics, living lives that are counter-cultural and Christ-centered.  It is hard to do that, and especially because we no longer have a large group of families supporting us in this journey, but though it saddens and upsets me, it does not deter me.  We will march on, with the few families who feel the way that we do, and trust in God to lead us, and our children, closer to Him through the experience… 

Then, I debated whether or not to post it.  I was afraid it might come across as negative, or judgmental, or unsupportive of the other families in our home schooling group.  I do not want to hurt anyone, or judge anyone else's heart-felt decisions for what is best for their families but then I read this (please, please, please take the time to click and read, it is so important for us as parents to be aware of, no matter how sickening, disturbing, and disgusting we find it) about some of the things happening in the public schools in this country.  

So, to make a long, agonizing, discernment short, I am risking offending my friends because I believe so strongly in the importance of strong families and in the importance of protecting our children from the horrors of this culture we live in.   We have only one chance to raise our children, only a few short years to teach them right from wrong and give them a strong foundation.  I believe, without a doubt that the best way to do that, maybe the only way, is in strong families!  Clearly the state run educational system is doing nothing to build up families, and EVERYTHING possible to break them down.  So, I wonder.....why would anyone want to risk their children's salvation by throwing them to the wolves of public education?!?!?!?! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Searching the skies

            Back in August we heard about the Perseids meteor shower.  We had just started our science book for the year, Exploring Creation with Astronomy from Apologia.  We were in the very beginning of the book and had not learned about meteors yet but a meteor shower still sounded very cool.  My son and I were so excited, we vowed we would not miss it, even though the best time to view the meteors was about 2 am.  So, in the wee hours of the morning, on a humid summer night he and I sat out in our front yard watching the skies hoping for meteors.  We had to be very patient, the stars overhead were silent and blinking, and for the first twenty minutes or so, alone in the heavens.  Then all of the sudden, my son pointed excitedly, he had seen a bright line appear, then quickly disappear in the sky.  His first meteor sighting!  A while later we both saw another one, and before the wall of clouds rolled in, at about 3:30 am, we were both treated to one more.

            When we heard about Geminids, another meteor shower that sounded worth catching on December 14, all the kids were interested.  I told them we would go to their grandparent’s house for it (they live practically on the beach and the beach seemed the best place for star gazing).  

            As it turned out, the trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s (known around our house as Mama and Papa) did not work out.  Still, I had promised the kids a trip to the beach for star gazing, and since this meteor shower could be seen as early as 9 pm, it was an easy promise to keep.  I put the little one down to bed (daddy stayed home with her) then we piled into the minivan with blanket and beach towels and drove to a little stretch of beach to scan the skies.  

            We parked the van right on the sand, laid our blanket out and saw our first meteor of the night almost immediately .  A big white streak of light appeared, stretching over our heads across the clear night sky.  We only stayed a little while, less than an hour, but in that time we saw more than 10 meteors.  It was so much fun to be there, lying on the beach in the dark with my giggling, talkative children watching our science lessons come alive before our very eyes.  

It is in these moments I most love the flexibility and family-centeredness of home schooling.  What could be better than learning together all about God’s wonderful, beautiful world, all while lying on the beach on a warm December night?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"The Wreath Game"

            We have a lot of special Advent and Christmas traditions.  Most of them, Tim and I thought about and planned, thinking about the true meaning of the season and ways we could prepare for and celebrate the birth of Jesus. 

     One of my children’s favorite traditions this time of year, however, did not arise from calculated forethought.  Somehow, all on their own, they decided several years ago it would be fun to count wreaths.  They watched out the windows of the car as I drove around during December and started noticing all the festive decorations around town.  I do not know why it was the wreaths they decided to focus their efforts on but as I said, somehow a tradition was born.  It is known affectionately as "The Wreath Game" around my house.

This is probably the fourth year of wreath counting, and so far, it is off to a great start.  The tallies, marked on pieces of scrap paper retrieved from the floor of the minivan, are rising quickly.  “I have seen 24,” one child will shout and the others will chime in with their latest numbers.  I must remind them repeatedly that our wreath counting is just for fun, not a competition.  Yet, they seem to be trying to top each other’s numbers constantly.  We have, thankfully, had no real fights over wreath numbers though there have been a few claims that have been disputed.  “You did not see seven more wreaths in the last two minutes!”  So far, we have been able to handle all disputes peacefully, mostly by my reminding them again, that wreath counting is for fun and not a competition.  


 Anyway,  this morning alone, as we drove to math class and back, the children saw upwards of 140 wreaths adorning the doors and windows of our friends and neighbors houses.  We took the long way around two different neighborhoods to give them an opportunity to look for even more wreaths.    It is such a silly meaningless little thing, but they all get into it and enjoy it every year.  From the 13 year old to the 2 year old (who cannot really count at all) it is fun for all.  I’m hoping that people will keep their wreaths up long enough that the 2 year old will start counting properly any day now and maybe by next year she’ll be ready for adding and subtracting, maybe multiplying and dividing, maybe algebraic equations …. 


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Celebrating Mary

            December 8- the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which means today is the day we, as Catholics celebrate Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, being conceived without sin.   Today we honor Our Lady mindful of her peace, her meekness, her holiness, and her obedience.  

The morning found my house looking anything but peaceful, meek, holy, or obedient.  Mass was at 8 am and I had the job of rousing the children and getting them all ready- dressed, hair brushed, shoes on, and out the door in time.  My children, much like their mother, are not morning people.  I started the process of waking them at about 7:20.  “We have to leave for Mass in half an hour,” I warned pulling up the shades in their dim bedrooms and tugging at their covers to awaken them.  It was a frigid Florida morning with temperatures topping out at 43 degrees, so surely stripping them of their comforters would get them moving.  Yet, my oldest uttered not a sound, she simply pulled the blankets back up to her chin and went right back to sleep.  My second child yelled from his bed, “It does not take a half hour to get ready for church!” and also lay back down to slumber.  The 8 and 6 year olds did get up but for a few minutes wandered drowsily around looking lost, and the little one, my two year old, blinked her eyes in a daze as I took her out of her cozy crib and to the bathroom to fix her wild hair.  Two little ponytails, a bag of oyster crackers to take along for nibbling during Mass, ruffle bottom tights to go with her long sleeved shirt and green plaid jumper, little shoes buckled on her little feet and my toddler was all ready to go.  By that time, the three middle children had also found their way and gotten themselves ready.  It took three more tries and, I admit, a bit of yelling, to finally get my oldest up though.  She dragged herself out of bed threw on some clothes and yanked the hairbrush through her hair, presenting herself in the family room just minutes before we really had to leave.  The scowl never left her face, even as I thanked her for finally obeying.  

Mass of course, was beautiful- peaceful and holy and a true celebration to honor both Mary, and her son Our Lord, Jesus.   “Peace be with you,” the priest said (and with your spirit)..... and for an hour it was.

Back home to rush and get the children fed so we could get the oldest to her math co-op by 9:30.  Everyone needed hot chocolate to combat the “freezing” weather and everyone was staaaaaarving for breakfast,  so we tripped over each other in the kitchen to get something in our bellies before jumping back in the car and setting off for math.  We set off, steaming to-go cups in our hands, toast crumbs on our chins, to fight the traffic on the way to get one child to class, then back home for the rest of us for an hour or so of our own work before going back out to get their sister from her class.  

As I was contemplating the chaos of life, in light of the beauty of the Feast we celebrate today, it occurred to me how blessed we are to have the Queen of Heaven watching over us.  How, like Mass was a moment of peace and tranquility in the craziness of my busy morning, Mary is a beacon of peace in the world.  She is, for me, the perfect example of meekness and obedience.  Whenever I turn to her she always offers me a bit of peace and serenity.  When I go to her in prayer, she gives me rest and quiet stillness and her intercession, always leading me closer to her Son, the Prince of Peace.  When I pray the Holy Rosary, honoring her and remembering her in the prayers, she fills my heart with overwhelming peace.  

God knew we would need a mother interceding for us from Heaven, He knew we would need her example of holiness, He knew we would need her peace, especially in the madness of preparing for Christmas.   This feast celebrating Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is so perfectly timed-- a little reminder of peace and of what matters most, in the midst of the busiest (sometimes craziest) time of the year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

St. Nicholas visited our house!   The children were thrilled with their little treats today. 

After checking out all the goodies left in their shoes they all had a chocolate coin for with breakfast and tried out their new things.  The girls got the "toe socks" they had always wanted!

Then we colored in the beautiful St. Nicholas paper dolls I had downloaded from Paper Dali for the occasion.

They did a great job with their coloring.  

Feast Days are such fun! 

St. Nicholas, pray for us, that we may live our lives with as much generosity, humility, and faith as you did.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Tending the Temple- a book review by my husband

The following was taken from my husband Tim's blog (Salvation is an Adventure).   My thoughts about this wonderful book mirror his almost exactly, so I thought it was worth sharing here as well.

When I found out about my good friend Shane Kapler writing a new book I was very excited! I had read Shane's first book, The God Who Is Love, when it came out. Tending the Temple: 365 Days of Spiritual and Physical Devotions is a devotional put together by Shane, Kevin Vost (Fit for Eternal Life), and Peggy Bowes (The Rosary Workout). This book provides a spiritual devotion for every day of the year. What is amazing about this devotional is that the authors were able to find a saint or a feast for every single day of the year! I have never seen a saint devotional before that had an entry for every day of the year. The well known and popular saints, like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Rose of Lima are represented as well as lesser known saints, like Blessed Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and his wife Blessed Maria Corsini-Quattrocchi, who in 2001 became the first married couple to be beatified together! Our Catholic faith is rich with wonderful saints, feasts, and holy men and women and this book provides an opportunity to learn more about them and discover new ones that we may have never heard of before.

In addition to providing us with spiritual food to enrich our lives, the book provides a unique second set of devotions--physical devotions. Each day the authors give the readers advice and suggestions to take what was learned about the saints and carry it out in some sort of action. It may be an exercise to assist the reader in becoming physically fit or it may be advice on how to live a life of holiness.

Learning about the saints of our Church means nothing unless you carry what you learn out in action. Tending the Temple provides us with an opportunity to not only learn about the saints but also gives us advice on how to take what we learn and carry out into some sort of action in our lives.


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