Monday, February 18, 2008


Wow! We sure did have an awesome thunderstorm yesterday afternoon! And there was no damage (at least in my neighborhood) so that's a good thing. We did end up in our basement for awhile, though.

When I was little (really little) I was terrified of thunder. I could hear thunder far, far off, about 20 minutes before my parents could, lol. Used to drive my mom nuts! Then I had some close encounters with severe weather that made me realize that the thunder was not what was to be feared! For about 5 years, every time I went to summer camp, there was some hideous, horrible storm. The first time was at girl scout camp, it was a severe storm with high winds - it occurred during a meal in the "mess hall", which turned out to be a really good thing, because one of the tent areas (not mine, thank goodness) was completely destroyed. Then there was swim camp, and me and about 50 other girls were crammed into 3 bathroom stalls (safest internal room in the dorm) while a funnel cloud was sighted about a mile away. Last time was at music camp, and it was truly terrifying. It was a woods-y kind of camp, with cabins and no good safe areas. So, when the tornado warning sounded, the director drove through the camp on a golf cart with a bull horn and screamed at us to grab a blanket and run down to the beach. We spent about 40 minutes, huddled together on the shores of the big lake (lowest point of the whole camp area, apparently), blankets over our head that didn't protect us at all. It rained, and hailed, there was wind, thunder and lightening like I've never seen before. At each flash of lightening, I watched the roiling, pea-soup clouds and prayed (even though I didn't consider myself religious at the time!) We all were ok, but there was a tornado about a quarter mile outside the entrance to camp.

Amazingly enough, after that experience, I grew to love storms. After being outside in a storm like that, I came to appreciate watching from a distance and having shelter at my back if I needed it. Plus, the experiences probably reinforced that "invincibility" you feel when you're young. No storm could harm me, obviously (haha) so aren't they cool to watch?

And then I became a mother.

Right after we moved into our very first home up in Minnesota, we got a series of terrible storms. One night, J1 had fallen asleep in the bedroom upstairs. Dh and I were still awake downstairs, watching TV, and a severe t-storm warning came on. We listened to the storm rage outside, and I kept asking, "Should I go get J?" and dh would say, "Nah, he's ok, let him sleep." (because at that time, getting him to sleep was such a rare victory, ya know?) Finally, the winds picked up hard, and I ran up the stairs to grab my baby. And as I'm on the stairway, we hear a sickening crack and a loud "BOOM" - let me tell you, I think I teleported the rest of the way upstairs to grab J and get into the basement - I truly have no memory of scooping J up and going down 2 flights of stairs, I only remember that crack/boom and then suddenly I'm in the basement with my baby! Turns out a very large tree in the neighbor's yard had fallen across the road (the end of it landed just 10 feet or so from our living room) and that's what we heard. Dh and I were both just sick - we had a very large, very old oak tree in our front yard that was about the same size as the tree across the street that fell. If our tree had fallen, rather than the neighbor's, it would have landed right across our stairway (while I was going up to get J). I would have been injured, at best, and J would have been trapped upstairs. And that whole storm was not a tornado, just wicked "straight-line winds" - caused tremendous damage across the entire city.

Needless to say, ever since then - I still love storms, I really, really do. But I have a very healthy respect for severe weather. So yesterday, when the severe t-storm warning popped up on my computer and the warning said there was "no tornado sighted, but some radar indicated rotation" within the storm, my caution senses went on high alert. Then, the kids mentioned that it suddenly got foggy, and we realized no, it was just raining so hard it looked like fog. Dh mentioned that the rain was actually moving sideways, almost parallel to the ground, and I got a bit anxious. Then, J1 and I looked out our back door, at the many large trees in our back yard as they swayed violently in the wind. J1 made the comment, "Look at those trees, mom - could they fall on us?" and I flashed back to about 10 years ago when I almost didn't grab my baby in time, so I made the kids go down the basement - just in case.

The kids freaked out a bit. A2 made the comment, "Will we die? Oh well, if we die we'll all go to heaven, so it's OK." I was so happy to see his faith in action, especially as he approaches his First Confession and First Communion. Ah, the faith of little children!

All turned out just fine for us yesterday, thank goodness, and we got a bunch of much-needed rain. I was glad to have a basement, and very glad we didn't really need it after all!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bluebirds, recovery, and other odds and ends...

Wow! Can't believe I didn't write at all last week! The cold I had just really knocked me down, hard, for almost a full month! I am finally feeling better, though I'm still not 100%. I did manage to keep up my "minimums" in school and housework, but that was about all I could do last week.

This weekend I cut all the boys' hair. We went out to lunch after church, and as we're walking in, a lady who held the door for us glanced at the boys and started to say to her friend, "Wow, do you think they're all hers?" then looked at them again, startled, and said to me, "My word, you can definitely tell they're brothers!" Yeah, you really can! Here's a picture - try to look at those cute smiles and not my falling-apart couch, lol!

School type stuff is going pretty well. A2 is still really struggling with the reading thing, though. I'm frustrated - we were going along quite well in 100EZ Lessons, and then along about L 54, he just ran into a wall. He says there's "too many words", and we both are frustrated. I've tried to use different books with him, step back a little bit. The tough thing is - he's basically functionally literate - he can read enough to get by quite well, it's not that he *can't* read. He's just not fluent enough to read books, and that's obviously where we want to go. He's getting on towards his 9th birthday now, and I'll admit it's starting to be tougher to say "he just needs more time". S3 actually reads a bit better than A2, though he is also not fluent. The frustrating thing about him is I think he *could* read books if he wanted to - but if I have him read out loud to me, after about 2.5 minutes he'll tell me his "mouth is tired." Considering how much he talks throughout the day, I'm definitely not buying *that* excuse! So, reading is a bit of a struggle for my middle two. I'm still really happy with the Math U See math program for them, they're both coming along quite well with their math. Catechism - A2 will have his First Confession in less than a month now, and I'm really not feeling like he's as ready as he could be. His CCD class really focuses on rote memorization, and that's definitely not my teaching style. We're spending so much energy helping him memorize that I feel like his heart is left neglected. Dh thinks I worry too much, though, and says he's doing just fine. Since he has the theology degree and teaches in the CCD program, I suppose I should listen to him, lol! Handwriting is coming along for both of them. I will say that IS a subject where physical maturity has made a big difference for my boys. Believe it or not, though, J1 is still struggling. I'm not entirely sure how to help him - his handwriting is barely legible. Any ideas? J1's doing great, other than handwriting which has pretty much always been the bane of his existence. Oh, and we're still looking for a good grammar program for him. If anyone has any great suggestions, let me know! And I lost my Latin teacher's manual for J1's latin program, which is really irritating me. I have suffered from a decided lack of large-scale organization this year (ie, my lesson planning and binders are great, but the books, bookshelves and desk type stuff is not), and let me tell you - it won't continue into next year!

Speaking of which - I am definitely feeling a wee bit overwhelmed. There is a small, but definite chance we will be moving to Arizona, as soon as 8 weeks from now. The thought of moving cross country in 2 months is daunting. Especially because we won't know for sure for about 5 more weeks (we might know in mid-March, we might not now till the end of June, we'll just have to wait and see...) Thankfully, the relocation package dh would get includes the purchase of our current house and reimbursement for all moving expenses, so we don't have to worry about getting the house ready to sell or anything like that. But, I mentioned my lack of large-scale organization for school? True throughout my entire life! So, I pretty much have (potentially) 8 weeks to figure out what is worth keeping, what would go into long-term storage (we would live in a fully furnished and equipped corporate house while we look for a home to purchase out there) and what we would need right away. I figure it's a good project regardless. If it's not worth keeping if we move, why in the world is it taking up space in my house right now? Especially with our space needs, given our small-ish house and 24/7 presence here. At any rate, we definitely have our work cut out for us. I can't decide if it's good to have a deadline or not - on the one hand, it's a good motivator, but quite honestly, when I think about it, I feel sort of like a deer in headlights!

Oh - and one of the many reasons why I hope we *don't* move? My bluebirds came back! Remember, I saw them about a month ago? Yesterday they hung around our house most of the afternoon, eating the dried mealworms I'd set out, and even visiting the suet. I did get a couple of pictures, but they were through my windows so they didn't turn out well enough to put up here. Dh even said he saw one of them coming out from my bluebird house. Oh, I'm SO hoping they'll decide to nest at my house! At any rate, I'm just happy they're still coming around.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

One of our best weeks ever!

SO, as you all know, this year has been a real struggle for me, school-wise. When dh was unemployed this fall, the stress and lack of routine really negatively impacted our life. My continuing health issues and medications sap my energy and motivation. It's been very difficult, by far the most difficult year yet of homeschooling. For the first time ever, I began to question my abilities to do this at all.

I threw myself upon God's mercy. I prayed with my whole heart and asked for help, admitting that I couldn't do it on my own. I asked my husband and children and good friends to pray for me. Nothing spectacular happened immediately. But over the course of about 3 weeks, I began to feel better. I got new ideas for how to manage everything, and somewhere got the energy to implement some ideas I'd had for years.

God is so good! Last week was probably the best week of school we've ever had.

Sure, I didn't do any wonderful, creative art projects with my kids. No lap books or posters or scrapbooking. Sadly, I didn't read out loud a single book (though that is definitely on my short list of things to add in to my week). We didn't take any productive, exciting field trips or do any of the other fabulous things you read about homeschoolers doing.

But, every single day, we completed my "minimum" list. It's sort of embarassing to put that out there, that I find it such a victory to complete my "minimums". But I think it's important for homeschoolers to see that sometimes, just completing the basics is really great, and is Enough.

J1 did math, handwriting, and catechism every day. He did rather poorly on his first science test, but understands better what is expected of him, which is a good thing. He'll be ready for his second test by Wednesday of next week, and we're on schedule to finish both Saxon pre-algebra and Apologia's Intro to Physical Science by the end of our school year (7/31) - which puts him several grade levels "ahead" in those subjects. He successfully reviewed and got back up to speed in his Latin book, and next week will be ready to move to a new lesson. We discussed grammar and have decided to get a new program as we're both unhappy with what we've got right now. I'd like to do more writing instruction with him, and I need to get him some history books so he can do some independent study in that subject. But, all in all, I feel like he's doing well.

A2 and S3 did math every single day, and got through 5 lessons in Math-U-See "Alpha". The have complete mastery over 2/3rds of their addition facts, and have learned about solving for unknowns and skip-counting. I find Math-U-See to be a difficult program for *me* to use (it's so much easier for me to just pull out a workbook, rather than watch a video and build with blocks, etc.) but I am *very* pleased with how it is increasing my kids' math understanding. Especially with A2, who had already worked through his addition and subtraction facts in another program but didn't seem to have that intuitive understanding of numbers until Math-U-See. So, I feel like even though A2 is working below "grade level", math-wise, he is really getting a good solid foundation in math understanding, and teaching the two of them together (they're only 15 months apart, age-wise) is definitely much easier for me! In addition, all 3 younger kids worked in "100 EZ Lessons" each day this week. A2 is on lesson 53 now, and is definitely reading - but it just hasn't "clicked" with him yet, he hasn't reached fluency. He's working hard, though, and improving, and I'm pretty sure that if I can just work with him consistently, every day, for about 2 more months, he will make great strides. S3 is so funny - he reads so well - but it's only sight-reading words he knows, he can't sound out new words, so I'm starting him at the beginning in "100 EZ Lessons". I will often catch him reading the parent instructions, rather than the sounds and simple words that the student is supposed to read. He definitely isn't going to take long to reach that fluency, he just needs to focus a bit on what things *are*, rather than what he expects or wants them to be. I've started N4, too, though I'm not certain he's ready. He doesn't complain, so I'll just keep going along with him, and who knows what will happen? His biggest problem is going to be he wants to read books like his big brother J1, not "books with pictures", as he calls them. He'll cart around "Mara, Daughter of the Nile" for two days, pretending to read it. Not sure how I'll convince him to read Dr. Suess first, ya know? The younger boys also worked on handwriting 4 days last week, and I'm actually surprised by how well they're doing, considering how little instruction I've given them so far. In another couple of weeks I"ll start some simple copy-work with them, start having them copy words and simple sentences. I find copy-work and dictation to be one of the easiest, most efficient ways of learning handwriting and grammar at a young age! And, of course, we also worked on Catechism, especially with A2, who will be receiving his First Confession in just 6 weeks.

The other really wonderful thing about this week? Not only did we consistently do our minimum schoolwork, but we kept up with the housework! I will describe our chore system in another post, but I am absolutely amazed at how easy it is to keep the house fairly picked up and clean with all of us working together.

We even did all of this with my cold lingering on, so I actually feel worse than I usually do. Once I finally get over this cough, I will add things in, like art and read-a-louds, things I do think are important in our homeschool. But I'm just so pleased, after barely being able to get started for most of this year, that we finally had a really good week where I feel like we really accomplished something. And it didn't overwhelm me, I don't feel like I put all my energy into a few days and now I'm exhausted and unable to continue (yes, that's how most of the year has gone until now!) This slow, steady pace is something I think I can sustain, and that, I believe, will be the key to our success.

So, if you're feeling overwhelmed, go to God. Pour out your heart to Our Lord, who loves us, and ask for help and guidance. Ask your husband, children and friends to pray for you. Figure out what your "minimums" are, and ask older kids what they want to do above your minimums so that they are self-motivated. I really believe that just completing the minimums will be enough for most kids, especially when they are young. Get together a simple chore plan so that everyone works together to maintain the household matters. And pace yourself, so that you don't find yourself exhausted after just one day.

You can come back from "burn-out", overcome obstacles, and get back on track! And it is oh-so worth it! Being with these wonderful kids every day, teaching them - it is such a joy!

I think we need to work on "telling time"!

A2, noticing one afternoon that the clock on the stove said "12:00".

"Look mom! It's midnight in the morning!"