Sunday, July 29, 2007

My existentialist 4 year old

Says N4, age 4, "Mom? How long is forever?"

Me, thinking quickly, "Um...until the end of time..."

N4, "Oh! You mean - never ending?

Me, greatful for his understanding, "Yes! Exactly! Like - I love you forever!"

N4, grinning widely, "Oh! Ok, then!"

Gotta love the insight of those pre-schoolers!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dwelling on what is most important...

I've been super busy thinking about our upcoming school year. Planning, organizing, making lists, buying's been quite the mental whirlwind, if not all that much has actually been completed and accomplished yet. And I realized tonight that I was really getting Caught Up in it all. The planning, the reach for what will Work, the striving toward Perfection. My life-long battle with perfectionism, indeed.

Not that I still don't have a lot to do. Not that thinking about systems to make my life easier isn't valuable. Not that curriculum planning isn't important. But...I'm missing something. Something that I have a tendency to miss, again and again. Something that, until very recently, I didn't even really realize I *was* missing.

This post led me here, which took me here. And it all opened my eyes. About how critically important I am, as the mother of these young boys. "To be a Mother is to be the sacrament--the effective symbol--of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home." How beautiful is that? But it also got me to thinking about how difficult it can be to love without boundaries, difficult even - perhaps especially - to lose yourself in love for the Divine. I can show these boys that Love that transcends all else, in fact I must. Because what else is there than that?

It's not about academics. It's really not. It's not about teaching them "life skills". I hope they are accomplished, academically, and I want them to be able to live independently, sure. But it's not what it's about. It's certainly not about preparing them to be good little worker bees, another cog in the economic machine.

What is most important - what is all that really matters...I want them to Love the Lord.

I really, really want to show them the joy and awe and wonder of knowing the Lord, and loving Him. It is, truly, the *only* Important Thing. I can pick just the right math program, I can push them to excel academically, I can carefully plan out fiction reading to match up with our history spine. But how will I show them Love?

I can certainly demonstrate the love I have for them, their dad, and the Lord. I can live it, every day, and that is most important. But I also think that it is something that must be taught as much as caught.

My husband was a convert in his early 30s, and I was a woefully poorly catechized "revert". There's a lot about our faith that just doesn't come naturally to us, a whole lot we still just don't know. Oh, intellectually, we've got it in spades. My hubby has his bachelors degree in systematic theology. We can talk and and analyze and intellectualize quite well, thank you. But Loving the Lord? Contemplating His majesty? Meditation and prayer? It's difficult for us. But the glimpses we see of this fullness of faith - it's so incredibly awesome. I want to share that with my children. I want to show them. It's all that matters.

So...I'm thinking about how to do that. Suggestions are welcome!

I think instituting nature walks, and nature journaling, is more important than I realized, and I will definitely be adding that in. Studying the wonders of God's creation all around us will help - seeing how much God loves us in the things of this world He left for us is one path to knowing Him.

I think one thing I'd like to try, one thing that will be difficult at first...I want to add some quiet time into our day. Time to just sit and BE, to THINK, to let that "still small voice" speak to's so important, and so lost in our oh so busy world. Definitely lost in the cacophony that is a houseful of boys.

More time for prayer and scripture study - how better to learn to know Him than to talk with Him and study the words He left for us?

I'd like to get more children's books about our faith, some coloring books perhaps, about the Rosary and the Eucharist. I need to speak to them on their level about all of this, and that's not always easy for me.

I have a lot to think about. Don't we all? :-) What an awesome responsibility we parents have!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007 day plans

I'm still working on my kitchen systems, but I'm also starting to mull over how I want to organize our days come formal school time.

I have a general routine that I follow when I think about "schedules". I am a planner, a list maker, by nature, so I *love* making schedules. I can create a schedule down to the very last minute that lists everything I have to do and makes it all look really easy. But, when I try to put it all into practice, I don't even last a day. I wake up late, and feel overwhelmed by the progression of tasks. I end up only discouraged.

So, for the last few months, I have foregone planning all together. I don't make schedules or lists. In a way, it has been freeing. I have come to understand that I am a very intuitive person, and as much as I like to plan, I am actually somewhat spontaneous in that I like to react to situations. I love days like we had several weeks ago. We took an extra 20 minutes at J1's piano lesson, when he asked me about how different notes played together sounded differently. I explained major and minor keys and how different sounds can impact our mood. I pulled out an old copy of Stravinsky's "The Firebird Suite", and we listened and discussed how the music actually tells the story of the Phoenix. We spent a whole morning enjoying ourselves, and we learned SO MUCH. I LOVED it. And so did J1, and I noticed A2 surreptitiously listening in, too. I feel like, because I have embraced a more fluid concept to my days, rather than a rigid schedule, I am more ready to take advantage of these teachable moments, more ready to throw my plans out the window and have fun learning with my kids. And I feel like that is when "Real Learning" happens!

There is, however, a downfall. In these fluid, free-flowing days, I have troubles. I can't keep up with the work of running my household, and there are some school-ish things I wanted to accomplish that I didn't.

So, I am pondering a compromise. I am sure others have done it before me, and much better, and I would like to thank all of you because those of you who have talked about this before have put ideas into my head that have perked for awhile.

My tentative plans for our school days involve using set "pegs" or "hooks" to hang the flow of our days upon. We'll have fairly rigid times for meals and snacks, and we'll try to be done with more formal stuff when dad gets home. (Though I suspect that J1 is going to have enough extra work this year that he might have to resign himself to doing some things in the evenings. Since he doesn't like to start his work much before 10:30am, I don't feel badly about this!) I'll have some things I want to accomplish each day (outdoors play time, for instance) that will usually happen after something else, but is more flexible. We'll have time for doing chores and projects, and we'll have certain days for errands and science experiments, etc. I'm still in the idea phase of this, but so far it goes something like this:

8:30am-9am - breakfast for all

9am-11am - schoolish stuff (I'm thinking we'll start the day together, with prayer and some set routine to get us going)

11am - snack and story, then play outside

12pm - 2pm - more schoolish stuff

2pm - lunch

2:30pm - 3pm - chores and clean up for daddy's homecoming

3pm - dad's home, mostly done for the day

6:30pm - dinner

Younger kids will have freetime after that, J1 may have more work, we may have some time later in the afternoon for more chores. I'm thinking that we'll mix things up a bit on Fridays, run some errands in the morning and make cookies for the weekend. Maybe do our science experiments on Fridays. We'll see. I like having a set time for certain things to give our days rhythms, but also long blocks of unscheduled time to pursue our learning.

More details to follow as I flesh this out some more, and I will definitely let ya'll know how it goes!

Monday, July 23, 2007

My Kitchen Systems - cooking

Awhile ago, I posted about my kitchen binder. I love it, and it has been useful, but it has had some drawbacks. For one thing, it keeps getting bigger! As I add more and more recipes, it is becoming rather unwieldy. This has led me to not use it as I should. In addition, as I consider how to improve my household systems, I realize that this would be a good place to start.

I love to cook! I spend an inordinate amount of time looking up new recipes, shopping, cooking, feeding, and cleaning up after cooking, for my crew. I enjoy it, but it takes up so very much of my time. I have been thinking about how I can simplify this whole process. I also believe I waste a lot of money going to the store 2 and 3 (or more!) times a week. Even when I can stick to one shopping trip per week, it still feels somewhat wasteful to me, both in terms of time and money. I have always thought about trying to do "once a month" cooking, and "once a month" shopping. Never tried it, though, as it seems very daunting to me, but I am revisiting the idea. Basically, I have come to realize that I need to simplify things in the kitchen.

For the month of August, the month before school starts, I am going to try to do a monthly menu, with one large monthly stock-up shopping trip supported by 2-3 short shopping trips for fresh vegetables and dairy products. I am taking our favorite recipes, repeating a few of them over the month, and including variations on them. Basically, I have about 20 recipes to use over the course of 31 days. One day per month we will enjoy a dinner out, and one day I'll use to try out a new recipe. Several of these recipes can be easily made ahead, and several of them have components that can be prepared in advance (browning ground beef, cooking sauces, etc...) I will take one day toward the end of this month and do my shopping, and the next day I will do a lot of cooking ahead and preparation.

In addition, I am going to create breakfast and lunch plans. I will keep these simple as I want to leave as much time as possible for school and housework during the day.

My long-term plan is to have seasonal menus. Right now I am in the summer season, so there is a lot of salads and non-oven baked food. In the fall I'll have more soups and stews, etc. I figure if I change up our menus every few months, we won't get bored, but it won't be as much work for me as creating a new menu each week.

In my binder, I will put my monthly menu plan in the front, followed by all my recipes. After that I will put my breakfast and lunch plans. I will include a master shopping list in the back, and possibly a pantry/freezer inventory. I am planning on having a white board or a bulletin board or something like that, either in my kitchen or dining room. I will list our menus by week there, so that the family knows what to expect.

In the coming days, I will post all my plans. My month-long menu plan, the recipes or links to the recipes, my shopping list, and my "step by step" plan for how to get this all done. The tentative plan is to do a big shopping trip in the afternoon on Monday, 7/30, when dh will come home from work early, and then spend Tuesday, 7/31, cooking all day while dh works from home to help me out with the kids. I don't envision cooking very part of every meal in that day, I've got 2-3 meals where I can do most of it ahead (say, cook a filling type of thing for 3 casseroles, then I'll only have to add the toppings and throw it in the oven, make up a salad, and dinner's done. Also brown ground beef, cook and cube chicken ahead of time for those meals I'm not making ahead, that sort of thing....)I'm still working on the details, but when I'm done, I will post what I come up with and let you know, over the course of the month, how it all goes.


As I think about this fall, and getting back to a more formal style of school, I am a little daunted by how busy I will be teaching 3 (probably 4!) young boys. I think it's a product of having multiple children close in age. When all my guys were very young, it was so overwhelming to have 4 kids under the age of 6. Just mind-bendingly hard work. Lots of rewards, of course, but definitely overwhelming. The last couple of years, as my youngest moved out of toddlerhood (and is now well over 4), with my oldest (now 10 1/2) getting older and becoming a true helper, things have gotten SO much easier I can't even begin to tell you - I've become downright lazy as a result! ;-) But I realize that right now, I have multiple children in a very "needy" part of their learning, with 3 ready to learn to read, and in early math while handwriting isn't a strong point resulting in a lot of hand-holding and direct involvement. In addition, my oldest is going to start some high-school level work this fall, so I will have more record-keeping to do to make sure I have transcripts and such covered in case we need them. I think that this year, and possibly next, will be among my most overwhelming years, school-wise, in a similiar way to how overwhelming it was to have 3 kids in diapers.

So I have been thinking a lot about how I can make the rest of my household run more smoothly so that I can concentrate most of my time and effort on schoolish things. One of the problems I have had in the past is that, when things are going well, school-wise, my house seems to fall to pieces around me. I reach a certain level of frustration, and then tend to drop off my school efforts in an attempt to get my household back together. This start and stop leaves me very unsatisfied, and I don't believe it is efficient or really useful for any of us. I have decided I need better systems.

So, I am going to spend the next several weeks not only reorganizing some of my household spaces, but developing new systems. I will share my ideas and progress with all of you, in the hopes that some of my ideas spark your own ideas.

Menu Plan Monday

So, I've been very busy over here at Aquinas Academy this past week. I think that I'm out of my weeks-long "blue funk" and I'm feeling ambitious again. Look for lots of posts soon on some good stuff I've been working on regarding the household work that so often gets "in the way" of homeschooling (or vice-versa??)

For now, though, here is this week's menu!

Monday: BBQ beef sandwhiches (made from the leftovers of a slow-cooker pot roast we put in on Saturday), chips, coleslaw

Tuesday: Hamburger gravy, egg noodles, peas&carrots

Wednesday: Mom & Dad dinner night! We'll get steak, garlic bread, and salad. The kids will enjoy chicken nuggets, bread and butter, vegies, and a movie while they "picnic" on the floor. Fun for all!

Thursday: Grilled chicken (this recipe is so yummy and easy!), rice, broccoli

Friday: Salmon Patties, creamy noodles (egg noodles in a white sauce), salad

Saturday: Hamburgers, chips, vegies&dip

Sunday: Grilled Chicken salad, biscutis

Hope you have a great week! Head on over to Organizing Junkie for more great ideas!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Menu Plan Monday - Summer break edition!

Ok, we have been enjoying our "summer break" far too much! J1 stays up till after 1am, reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I'm up till all hours myself, and we all wake up sooooo late (think - after double digits in the morning - horrors -- I feel soooo lazy!) It's great fun, but I think another couple weeks of this and we'll all be ready to start back to a more routine-orientated schedule. I sincerely love homeschooling, where we can follow our own inclinations, rather than some outside authority! At any rate, here is this week's menu!

Monday: Cube steak, baked potato, cauliflower and cheese sauce

Tuesday: Grilled chicken, spinach, rice

Wednesday: Crockpot pot roast, homemade bread and butter, salad

Thursday: Lentil chicken curry, brown rice, salad

Friday: Grilled salmon, (fish sticks for the kids), salad, grilled bread

Saturday: Hot dogs and brats, chips, coleslaw

Sunday: Grilled steak, salad, homemade bread and butter

Hope everyone has a great week!!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Menu Plan Monday

Ok, it's that time again - what's for dinner this week? Well, the menu is still ruled by our need for frugality in our food budget, and also how hot it is here in the south right now - crock pot or grill, at most stovetop - no oven foods right now if we can help it!! So, here's the menu this week...

Monday: Mom's night out (horray - a cafe sandwhich for me!) dad will cook the boys hamburger gravy, and hopefully some kind of veggie, though I won't hold my breath! :-)

Tuesday: Using leftover chicken from Sunday's dinner, tonight will be chicken gravy and biscuits. Also a salad.

Wednesday: Happy Fourth of July! With the drought so bad here in Georgia, most fireworks are cancelled, and dh has to work, though he does get to work at home, so it's *sort* of a holiday. We'll try to celebrate with BBQ Beef Ribs, potato salad, corn on the cobb, and a Banana Split Cake for desert. Yum!

Thursday: I think today I'll try Slow Cooker Swiss Steak, serve it with rice and broccoli on the side.

Friday: Grilled Pizzas - I use the "self-rising pizza crust" here, and when I roll it out, I put it on a lightly greased sheet of tin foil, then put the foil on the grill. The foil keeps the bottom of the pizza crust from getting burnt. I usually make a triple batch of dough, divide it into 6 smaller pizzas, one for each of us. We'll use vegetarian toppings since it's Friday.

Saturday: A2 has requested hamburgers, and I've still got a coupon for a free box of Bubba Burgers from when we went with grandma and grandpa to a baseball game, so we'll have hamburgers tonight, with coleslaw and chips.

Sunday: A nice steak ceasar salad with that yummy grilled bread I posted about last week.

Make sure to head on over to Organizing Junkie to get more ideas! Have a great week!