Monday, March 30, 2009

Who's Not Materialistic Now?

Did I really say we don't buy much stuff?

In our defense, let me note that
  1. I've wanted a ping pong table since our first Saranac Lake visit two summers ago,
  2. Daniel asked for one for his birthday, and
  3. Len found it on Craig's List.

Are you buying any of this? (groan...)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Love: It's All About the Little Things

Which one of these would you rather carry around in your pocket?My Dusty-walks are early enough that for many months I need a flashlight to fulfill my pick-up duties. I let some boys use my little one at Daniel's birthday party, and it ended up broken. Ever since, I've had the gargantua version sticking out of my pocket, battery clanking as I walk. Obviously NOT a big deal, but not as nice as before.

A few nights ago, my knight handed me a brand new, tiny light. Just because.

Love--it's all about the little things.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small Successes


Some weeks I start noticing and drafting my small successes days in advance, but there are also times when my wheels are spinning and I don't see what's going right. This week has been a spinner! I reflected, though, on the past 24 hours and realized that good things are still happening:
  1. I went to Confession yesterday, I think for the first time since Advent. I had something "new" to confess--actually an old fault I'm finally WILLING to deal with. Father was so helpful, offering encouragement for my change, cautioning me about how to fill the hole left when a fault is excised, and challenging me to make time for another step forward (visits, even short ones, to the Blessed Sacrament).
  2. Late last night I finished writing an article (about Christian Seder celebrations) for a new website. (It's not up yet.)
  3. Even though I was up late (not recommended!), I got out of that cozy bed early enough to take Dusty (and myself) for a good walk AND make a special breakfast for the men who don't stay home (Len, David, Daniel). We homeschoolers have a two week cycle menu for our lunches, and today's selection is egg and bacon sandwich. That's considered a treat here, so I like to offer it for breakfast to those who leave early.
"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that. " Find more encouragement at Faith and Family Live.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Botany Inspiration

We last concentrated on botany three years ago. We used Exploring Creation with Botany as our backbone text.

Our very best project, though, did not come from the book. I decided to follow our cherry tree. What I mean is that the homeschoolers and I observed the tree closely, from the first swellings on the branch to ripe fruit. We drew (and wrote about) the multiple stages, sometimes several days in a row.

I've been trying to write this post since Thursday (the first day of spring), and finally here are pictures and notes from our study. The children were 11, 8, and 5 (plus the one year old!). I did some drawing, too, which was a real treat. Just like teaching makes one learn more thoroughly, so drawing made me more observant.

Our cherry tree is right next to the deck,so we started by choosing a particular branch that hung over the railing. We started drawing when it had only brown swellings.I drew (after the first day) in a small, spiral notebook, but had the children use larger paper that could be punched and stored in a three-ring binder. When the paper is separate, it's so much easier to make another try if a child gets frustrated with an unsatisfactory picture.

We wrote notes with nearly every drawing, explaining our observations, and usually recording the weather, too. Sometimes the children did their own writing, but there were other days when I took dictation, even from the older ones. Time was occasionally a factor, plus mine would often say more if someone else was writing it down. (And my printing fits on the page better!)We observed almost every day, but only drew when the change was significant.
Above and below, two versions of the same bud--different skill levels, but the same details noted.These buds are turning green, but they are not leaves--just the covering of the blossoms.Blossoming time is getting closer...With open blooms to draw the next day:And then the leaves appeared! The reason cherry trees (and others) are so beautiful in the spring is that the blossoms open BEFORE the leaves do. It's one thing to know this, but another to watch day by day by day, and really SEE it. The drawings so far go from March 17 to April 14.The next stage was really cool! The petals fell off, but the carpel and stamens remained. The ovaries of the pollinated flowers began to swell--the beginnning of their fruit.When the cherries were still tiny (see below), we dissected one. The pit was there, but still soft.All along we had noticed that the side of the tree facing the afternoon sun (our house shades the other side from morning sun) progressed more quickly. As the cherries grew, we noticed that not only did one part of the tree ripen more quickly, but the sunny side of each cherry also changed color sooner!Another service I provided my children (besides encouragement and some writing) was color advice. We used Prismacolor pencils, which come in many tints and shades, and also blend well. On some of my pages I recorded colors that were accurate for the current stage. I even tried out (for all our benefit) different combinations/blends to help get just the right green (it changed frequently) or new red highlight. It was fun for me to experiment, and my students appreciated the chance to be accurate without sorting through the big box of 72. (Yes, 72--it was a Christmas present one year!)This long ago, long-term project (June 2 is the last recorded date) is still one of our best ever. We've always had a great affection for our tree and its fruit, but that up-close-and-personal view made the harvest that much sweeter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crazy Busy

Sometimes I don't post because I have nothing to say, but other days I just can't find time to write. That's what's going on lately. I want to show you my nature drawing idea (I've been trying to put it together since Thursday night), and there are lots of recipes I could put on the cooking blog,

This Saturday was another one full of driving for both Len and me. It doesn't sound like so much when I write it down, but most of these activities necessitated two trips (coffeehouse took three!), and several were at least half an hour away. Ah, northern Virginia!
  • tae kwon do
  • Saturday chores (including some carpet cleaning and room sorting/moving)
  • neighborhood business
  • Sea Scouts
  • David's haircut (short! looks good!)
  • nature center activity
  • DC day planning (Len and I are going out for our anniversary, and it took a surprising amount of time to decide where to go, what to see, and where to eat--lots of restaurants are closed on Sunday.)
  • high school coffeehouse
  • play date
  • library
We were on the go until about 9:30 p.m., and up much later. Today will be spent on mass and our anniversary date, which is wonderful, but I have a stack of projects including some "right now" ones, like planning tomorrow's school work and food for our Teams of Our Lady meeting (also tomorrow). I'm not actually frantic, but the fullness of two days in a row is a bit unsettling. I doubt that will keep me from enjoying my date, though.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Small Successes


"It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph. So on Thursday of each week, we do exactly that. " Find more encouragement at Faith and Family Live.

  1. As we were getting ready for Sunday mass, Becca woke up in my bed and requested, "Read me a book." Without any negotiating, I found a (short) library book (there were plenty on the floor to choose from!) and sat down and read it to her. We both enjoyed those snuggly moments.
  2. As a family we've given up sweets for Lent, and we're doing well. My individual "fast" involves decreased blog-reading, but I was only following through vaguely--until now! My small success is that since last Friday I've been setting a timer and enforcing my 20 minute rule. It's not easy, but it's good to feel honest at last.
  3. I married a wonderful man, who, in addition to being a model husband and father, also has plumbing skills! Okay, I'm taking credit for something I did almost 23 years ago, but that's the big bright spot of my recent garbage disposal faux pas. Even one day without a dishwasher and kitchen sink (and kitchen water, for that matter) is an enlightening experience--I take a lot for granted!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Not So Very Organized

In our foyer, next to the stairs, is a triangular cabinet that Len made with some of the boys. It holds a few candles and "I'm going to play Mass" supplies--golden plate, wine glass, etc. A few days ago Becca asked me to help set up the Mass table. No problem--I even cleaned up with her afterwards. That's when I idly picked up the random little box that had been on the cabinet for a while. Before moving it to the basement, I took a look inside and found:

a gift card
for me
from my parents
from Christmas!

Good grief! Doesn't say much (good, anyway) about my housekeeping skills, does it?

Anyway: Mom and Dad, thanks so much for your generous gift. I'm retroactively spending it on the sweater I bought while shopping with David to replace yet another ruined pair of school pants. And since that was in February, and it was on sale, I still have almost half the card left! Love, Barbara
P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Specials

Everyone's got something special going on today:
  • David is taking the SAT for the first time.
  • Daniel is helping out at our parish's First Communion retreat.
  • Joseph is coming back from a sleepover at his cousin's house, and tonight will see the Harlem Globetrotters.
  • Marianna is dancing in a local St. Patrick's Day parade.
  • Becca, Marianna, and I are going to tea at a friend's house.
  • Len and I will have a Teams of Our Lady "sit-down" (kind of a date night) tonight.
Fun, fun, fun!


Peter, the four year old son of my good friend Anne, recently broke his thigh bone. After 24 hours in traction he went under general anesthesia for the installation of a body cast. We're talking from the nipples to his ankle on one leg, to his knee on the other--for 8 weeks!

Becca's purple cast now seems quite dainty. And those first several days of neediness pale in comparison with what my friend's family is dealing with. I know prayers are welcome.

I also know how Anne is handling this--with faith--but I am still amazed by her attitude. Below the signature on her emails is a quote from St. John of the Cross (Daniel's Confirmation saint, BTW), "Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent." Whew!

Go here for more details and a picture of her sweet boy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Did You Know that an Embryo Isn't Fertilized?

Of course you didn't, because you learned long ago that once an egg is FERTILIZED (and has all the genetic material it ever will), it develops into a blastocyst, then an embryo, fetus, and baby*.

Guess who doesn't know (or isn't acknowledging) this basic biology? Former President Bill Clinton! He misstates the simple fact multiple times in this CNN interview.

*And yes, s/he was always a human person. All s/he needs is time.

H/T Elizabeth

P.S. Sorry, Mom. I know this is going to give you a headache!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Small Successes


Some good news this week:
  1. Soup night was Tuesday. Counting "shows" and "to-go's", I estimate 39 people enjoyed the event! I made ~11 quarts of turkey noodle and 6 quarts of black bean soup, and only had 1 quart of each left! This is good news on the leftover front; sometimes it's hard to get through the remains of my soup-making enthusiasm.
  2. I FINALLY put the purple Lenten ribbons on our religious statues and pictures. We also painted some wooden letters to spell "REPENT". I've been inspired to create a mantle display for ages, but due to our limited wall space, the mantle is full of family photos that I wasn't willing to move. Our current motto is leaning in the transom over the French doors of the study. We've also partially painted the "Easter word" (aka the "A word") to hide away for the next few weeks.
  3. We went to daily mass yesterday. Our school year started with a great routine of attending 3-4 days a week, but when Rebecca broke her leg we quit. Even once her mobility improved I just stayed home. Here's hoping we get back on track.
Find more encouraging words at Faith and Family Live.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


On Saturday Daniel was confirmed by the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop of the military. Mass was lovely, and the singing of the litany of the saints during the anointing was especially moving.

We invited family and friends over to celebrate. I thought it was a low-key menu (picked by Dan), but it takes a long time to cook 40 hamburgers--just ask Len!

But Len's biggest role in this sacrament is the preparation. He's handled 7th and 8th grade religious education for all our teens so far. Of course this saves me time, but the biggest benefit is the children's exposure to my husband's thoughtfullness and godliness. He may or may not be smarter than me (why speculate?), but he certainly THINKS more (often and deeply) than I do!

White chocolate rasperry cake on Saturday--yum! And now back to Lent...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Marianna's Felting Project

Have you ever ruined a wool sweater by putting it through the laundry? Felting is doing that on purpose--knitting something with wool, then soaking and agitating it in hot water until it shrinks and thickens.

Last year I made an entrelac (diamond patterned) felted potholder. Now Marianna has joined the club. Remember that yarn she bought without a plan? With a little help (she made almost every stitch) Marianna knit a potholder which we felted just in time for Mimi and Granddad's Confirmation visit.

Before: And after: Isn't the transformation amazing? Here's the change in texture, from open and distinctto thick, merging color.Notes:
  • Marianna used #11 needles and garter stitch (only knit, no purl). Each row has 24 stitches. I would cast on more next time and try to get closer to a square shape.
  • Her wool selection is Lamb's Pride bulky (85% wool/15% mohair) in Prairie Goldenrod. I haven't measured the leftovers yet, but if there's not enough for another potholder (and there may be), she can use the rest for coasters, an eraser, or something we haven't imagined yet.
  • After binding off but before cutting the yarn, I made the corner loop by crocheting a chain and sewing the end of it back onto the potholder.
  • There are lots of resources online and at the library explaining how to felt. We soaked Marianna's project in hot water with just a touch of dishwashing liquid, then agitated it with a heavy towel until it was the right size. We weren't supposed to use a towel because it releases a lot of fuzz of its own, but it was the best light-colored choice available. The characteristics of this yarn plus the towel made for much trimming--a haircut, if you will.
Here is the original fuzziness (see above for the final look):
UPDATED TO ADD: To felt most easily, you'll need a washing machine that fills with water and that can be interrupted many times during agitation. This means most front loaders (especially water savers) won't work. Find a friend with an older model!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Definition of Capricious

According to Webster: tending to change abruptly and without apparent reason; erratic; flighty
According to me: March weather

The proof? Monday: highs in the 20's; Friday: highs in the 60's.

Not that anyone's complaining...

Step by Step

When Rebecca first acquired her cast, I was impressed with her progressive mobility. She seemed to be listening to her body and testing out small improvements bit by bit, with no urging from the rest of us.

She began by lifting her legs, then scooting around, then standing, before walking and even climbing (Did I mention she once climbed over the gate on the stairs before I found out? Yikes!). It seemed to come so naturally.

Fast forward a few weeks to cast removal. At first she didn't even want to unbend her knee and foot, which I understood; it hurt to change that four-week-old position. After a good night's sleep, that issue was resolved, but Becca still spent any upright time balancing on her good leg, dangling the other. On day 2 she hobbled a bit, but decided her foot hurt and made no more attempts. Day after day, she scooted around, unwilling to put her foot down.

This morning Len and I laid down the law: multiple, brief attempts at weight bearing, flexing, and pushing would now be required (with screen time and other privileges as incentives). During her second session this morning I mentioned that all her scooting was going to make BOTH legs weak.

I don't know what finally pushed her, but by mid morning Rebecca was dressed in a princess costume (complete with heels!), walking around supported by the furniture. A few hours later, she was truly walking on her own. The heels may have actually helped by keeping her left foot in the preferred tip-toe position.

I find it interesting that Becca handled two similar situations in such different ways: one by constantly testing herself and progressing, the other with fear and unwillingness to even try. She had to be nudged--hard--to do what needed to be done.

This reminds me of the spiritual life. Some of us are self-motivated and keep plugging away at developing virtue, while others need a push. Different temperaments and personalities tend one way or another, but Becca's situation shows me that now and then we can all use some nudging.

Sharing goals with someone is a good way to be accountable. And maybe Lent can motivate me (us?) to keep going and growing.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Me and My House

Another one of my infrequent family updates:
  • Len went to a veterinary conference in Roanoke last week. He's experimenting with blogging! The head of the house is also the ultimate team player; yesterday, for example, he drove the afternoon carpool (5:00 p.m. in northern VA--ugh!) AND took David to (and from) Sea Scouts.
  • Lauren continues to spend lots of hours on her school work and art projects. Spring break is coming up, so she'll be home for Daniel's Confirmation. We'll see her for a few days as we are just one of the entries on her social calendar.
  • David is looking forward to the spring lacrosse season. Practice has been delayed by SNOW! (We all enjoyed Monday's snow day.) He's become more fun with age. Dave's not my buddy (that would be weird), but we have been sharing some enjoyable experiences: rounds of bananagrams, crossword puzzle cooperation (our team can just keep up with Len), and a new tv show. It's too hard to watch a PG-13 show at 9:00 on a Friday night (noisy siblings who may not watch, bedtime for youngers, etc.), so we've been watching together a few days later on his laptop.
  • Daniel will be playing on the middle school lacrosse team. He's 14 now (NO!), and had a fun party with school and neighborhood friends. They shared pizza, ping pong, and a diabolically difficult treasure hunt (an hour and a half?). Saturday he will be confirmed. We're looking forward to sharing the sacrament and celebration with family and friends.
  • Joseph is happily tearing through the Ranger's Apprentice series. I think they're the Cliff's Notes version of Tolkein, but that's part of what he likes--quicker reading, more action per page. Joe participated in a violin recital last weekend. I thought he was fine, but he specifically asked me to NOT post the video here, so you are out of luck.
  • I think Marianna may be turning into one of our bookworms. She is required to read for 30 minutes a day, but can often be found with a book during her extracurricular time. This is amazing because she is still very sociable, enjoying her time playing with any of the many girls in our neighborhood. Marianna seems to be maturing lately, noticing needs and offering help. She's a wonderful roommate for Rebecca.
  • Rebecca's cast came off last Thursday, but she is still convinced that she can't walk. The doctor told me that some children take 7-10 days to get back up to speed, but I'm surprised with her apparent lack of progress now (day 6). She'll haul herself onto chairs and stools and scooch around the house on her bottom. She'll stand up, too, but without bearing weight on her cast-foot. Becca hobbled on it a bit on day 2, but no more.
  • As for me, I have spurts of productivity, but feel I'm focused mostly on laundry, food, and other basics. (I'm definitely more Martha than Mary!) And by the time the day is winding down and I can start on projects (big or small), I rarely have the focus or energy. Something to strive for, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

And How About This Zinger?

From the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales:

He who is fretted with his own failings will not correct them. All profitable correction comes from a calm, peaceful mind.
- St. Francis de Sales
(See the link on my sidebar for a new quote each day.)

Traditions of Lent: Fast, Pray, Give

Elizabeth and Danielle have been posting daily Lenten reflections at In the Heart of My Home and on Faith and Family Live. If you want a little lift or some food for thought, click on either site (you may need to scroll down a bit).

Here is today's entry:

Lent, Day 6
  • Fast: Compare yourself only to the person you were yesterday, or even just this morning. Make forward progress.
  • Pray: The next time you go out in the car, keep the radio turned off. Listen.
  • Give: Clean your heart. Clean your house. Make both shine.