Letting Go

I am currently sitting in the Library on St. Gregory’s campus in Oklahoma acting like I have nothing pressing to do.  Since Lauren was busy walking across the United States of America this summer raising awareness for life from conception to natural death, we only had a few days to see her.  My Dad was coming up to Oklahoma to meet with the Abbott, so I hitched a ride and am hanging out until Lauren finishes with classes and work tomorrow.  I got a quick lunch with her today, will be able to grab dinner with her this evening, and tomorrow  I’ll have a 4-5 hour car ride back home with her.  Just to be with her is a blessing for this momma.  And I am enjoying the quiet, AC, and am surrounded with books—what better place is there?  Since I have all this free time and my mind is all about Lauren, I thought that I should blog about my first biological offspring.  Good idea, right?

Lauren will probably be the least happy to see that I have written a blog post about her.  She is my humble, introverted, little Lauren.  My first biological child, therefore my first guinea pig.  I can still recall the overwhelming feeling of love the first moment I laid eyes on her.   I knew I had been endowed with a precious gift from God and was terrified of the prospect, overwhelmed by the responsibility, and overcome with a love so deep that I wanted to protect her from all evil.  image  So within weeks of bringing her home I insisted that we sell the car and get a van.  I just knew that the car would be hi-jacked sometime between strapping her into her carseat and my climbing into the driver’s seat.  With a van, I could get inside and lock the doors and then get the seat belts fastened.  You’re laughing, but I am dead serious.  Just ask my blessed husband.   After the hormones calmed down, I let go a little more; but I know that I’m not the only mother who can identify with that feeling of ferocious protection of our offspring.

Lauren is incredibly gifted with knowledge and has the ability to learn things easily and quickly, as well as being fiercely independent.  She is also incredibly creative with a unique ability to think outside the box.  I, on the other hand, only know the box and what’s in it so this ability intrigues me.   I’m not sure what God has planned for her, but I have no doubt that He will do great things with her if she subverts to His divine will.  Lauren displayed these traits from a very early age.  I, being a first-time mom, thought it was typical for a child to speak in sentences at age one, count to 20 by 15 months, and know all of her colors and shapes (including her favorite shape, cylinder) by 18 months.  So, when she gives me a hard time now about the fact that I made her write her own thank you notes after her second birthday party, please take into consideration that she began writing her name at 14 months of age and I thought this was what every two-year old could do!  Don’t ask me why Ben is not potty trained at 3 ½.  

Don't talk about it!

Don’t talk about it!

We are talking about Lauren here.  We will get to Benjamin another time.  Probably after he’s potty trained.

Anyway, in addition to her intelligence Lauren has a keen sense of humor and loves to play practical jokes.  She has had a knack for the witty for as long as I can remember.  Maybe sarcasm and snarky are not the best traits to have, but I can at least take some credit for those.  Is that a good thing?  Well, it is something.  It still brings a smile to my face when I think of her as 20 month old toddler, telling knock knock jokes and getting the timing right.  Or her sarcastic reply to my exasperated question, “Where did all this laundry come from?”  “The store,” she said and walked away laughing.

Besides her beautiful face, I miss the laughter she brings to our family while she has been away at college and walking across the country this summer for Pro Life Crossroads.  I mentioned that she is fiercely independent, right?  Her first summer in college she worked in Oklahoma for Totus Tuus spreading the Gospel and catechizing the youth.  We had a couple of weeks with her at the beginning, middle and end of summer in 2013.  It was NOT what this mama had envisioned for Lauren’s first summer in college.  I thought she would come home, get a job, spend time with us . . . But, when she told me that she would be working as a Catachesis, how could I say no?  This summer we had 3 days in May, one in June and 3 hours on Saturday evening with her before she returned to school on Sunday.  But who’s counting?  Me.  That’s who.  I am very grateful for Skype and Google Hangouts; but, it isn’t the same as seeing my baby face-to-face.  Although it is true that we missed her, I am in awe of the experience that she gained in walking across the country.  Seriously.  Can you even imagine?  Her team started in San Francisco by walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Then she went through the mountains, across the dessert, through the heartlands and into the places that saw the birth of our nation!  In addition to this tactile experience of our great country, she was the face of Pro Life along the way—a witness for the unborn, the vulnerable among us, the elderly, the dignity of each individual human life created uniquely and equally in the image of God.  image image Sure, she has some funky tan lines; but, what an adventure!  During our short reunion, I soaked up every moment and asked her what she learned.  I was anticipating a deep and thoughtful response, or even a witty one.  She replied, “Did you know that other families don’t require their kids to submit a budget to get their allowance and that most three year old’s don’t do chores?”  Yes. Yes, I did.  Although her answer doesn’t appear monumental or particularly deep on the service, it is a marker that she has become more independent from her father and me.  She is realizing in a tangible way that her childhood experiences are remarkably different from others.  This inevitably leads to making life choices that are more her own and less what Mom and Dad would do.  And that is a very healthy and mature outcome.

When we began to homeschool Lauren at age 6 after having enrolled her in a private Catholic school for PreK and Kindergarten, many people thought we were trying to protect and shelter her.  We just felt that it was the best environment for her to learn and grow at her own pace.  She thrived.  Lauren left for college shortly after her 17th birthday.  Many people wondered how I could let her go so young.  When she announced her plans with Crossroads this spring, several people expressed concern for her safety and wondered how we could let her go.  The fact is that Lauren has been my lesson in letting go from the day she was born.   My experience serves to remind me that our children are only on loan to us from God.  It is our duty to instill in them faith and morals, to educate their minds, bodies and souls, and then to let them go and live the Gospel fully and completely, always seeking God’s will.  Am I scared?  Sometimes.  But, unlike those first years peppered with irrational fears of being hi-jacked or watching her fall to her death from the park slide, I too have matured and grown.  I know God loves her more than I ever could.  I know that if He is calling her to task, it is my duty to step aside and let her go.  And I know that He will give us all the graces and strength to persevere.  In the meantime, I am going to continue to soak up every minute I can.  How long until dinner?

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To read about some of Lauren and Crossroads Central Walkers’ experiences, go to their blog at www.crossroadsprolife@wordpress.com.

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Weekly Workbooks

As I’m preparing for my highest school enrollment so far, I thought I could share a few of the organizing tips that have worked well for us in our homeschooling adventures. This year I will have 7 students. 1 in Pre-K, 2 in Kindergarten, 2 in Third/Fourth Grade, 1 in Fifth Grade and 1 in High School. My tips are for the elementary grades and have not been tested for Junior High or High School 😉

 

I do not use one set curriculum. Every year I change up the books that I am using and the sources to best meet the needs of my students, my self and our family for that particular time in our life. Although I love, love, love the Classical style, Montessori, and Charlotte Mason methods I have not always been able to utilize them due to their teacher intensive nature. I have no formal background, so it could just be that I am not properly trained or just simply doing it all wrong. In any case, this year I have my High School student enrolled in MODG with LS classes (live internet-based classes with grading) and TS (teacher directed through phone calls with grading). This is reassuring to me that she will not fall through the cracks. My 5th grader is enrolled with Seton. My ¾ graders are doing just the basics with Total Language Plus covering the language arts and Math, Religion, and Historical Literature to round them out. My Kindergartners are going to learn to read this year (using AVKO’s Reading from Square One), so my focus is on them. Once they can read, independent work becomes much, much easier. As you can see, these curricula choices are workbook intensive, which leads me to the following organizational system.  It is a weekly workbook system that puts all of the assignments for a week in one, nice, neat package.

 

This is not my original idea. I read about it years ago, and implemented it and tweaked it to make it my own. First, I found these folders by Pendaflex.

The only difference is that this one has 10 tabs, ours have 6 tabs.

The only difference is that this one has 10 tabs, ours have 6 tabs.

Because Kindergarten isn't complete without Stickers

Because Kindergarten isn’t complete without Stickers

 They are a heavy duty plastic and the first set of 3 have been in use for five years now. So, although they may seem pricey for a folder, they will pay for themselves in due time. And they are so easy to use! Label each tab for a subject. Tear out one week’s worth of papers for that subject and slide into place. Repeat for each subject. Other than the occasional text book or reader, this is all your student will need to get to work. It is easy to transport from room-to-room, or for on the go. It also gives the student a tangible grasp on the expectations for the week. Once they finish the pages in the folder, their work for the week is complete. Here is an example of everything needed to “get ‘er done” by student.  Fifth grade:

fifthThird/Fourth Grade:

 

 

4th

Kindergarten

Kindergarten

You may have noticed the notebook labeled “Book of Centuries.”  This is an incredible tool for teaching History and giving a visual context for when things happened. It is a timeline contained in one notebook with 1/2 a century per page.  It is easy to personalize and a life-long learning tool and keepsake.  You can download your own copy here for only $2!  Catholic Icing is one of my favorite resources!

My older students have their own shelf for their books and supplies.  3:4 books

For my Kindergarten and Pre-schoolers, I found these cool colored bins at Costco. All of their books fit nicely in the bin and they are easy for the kids to open, carry and store. kid bin

 

This isn’t exactly on topic, but since I mentioned Costco, I found these large magnetic maps of the US and World. Store them up high though or you will learn more about Geography in one week than you will have ever desired to know.  I’m speaking from experience here.  I purchased these one week ago.worldmap

 

Blessings on your new school year! Don’t hesitate to share your tips with me! I am always open to learning new and improved ways of doing things.

Movie Review

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Oops!  I totally missed July’s book review and now we are two weeks into August.  Sorry.  I attended the IHM Conference (Immaculate Heart of Mary) in July and had a very difficult time choosing which Catholic movies to pick within my $100 budget.  With the assistance of the owner of the bookstore, I was able to pick 5 movies and have watched nearly all of them already.  Instead of a book review for July/August, I will give you my very humble opinion on the flicks that I have enjoyed thus far.

The Footprints of God Series by Dr. Stephen Ray (Ignatius Press)

This is a collection of 6 separate movies including: Abraham, Moses, David/Solomon, Mary, Jesus and Peter.  Each comes with a study guide making it a great Bible study or apologetics tool as well as being entertaining.  Dr. Ray (Patrick always calls him George because he looks like the Seinfeld character George–no offense, Dr. Ray) walks us through the Bible on location in the Holy Land.  It is really an incredible experience for those of us who cannot travel to the Holy Land, but it also makes the Bible come to life as we see the places where these events took place.  It is a great way to teach Salvation History to your children or just expand your own understanding of the these historical people and their stories.

Solanus Casey: Priest, Porter, Prophet  (Ignatius Press)

This was a personal pick for me.  My father was a novice at the monastery in Detroit where Fr. Solanus lived at the time (1950’s).  My grandfather, believing that Fr. Solanus was a saint, instructed my father to save a lock of hair.  You see, my father was assigned to the barber shop during his novitiate.  My father did as he was told and I remember that lock of hair sitting on his dresser for all of my childhood and hearing the story of Fr. Solanus.  My father sent the hair with documentation of how it was obtained to Rome.  Fr. Solanus is currently referred to as Venerable Solanus Casey as we await one more miracle and pray for his canonization.  This documentary includes actual photographs and video footage of Venerable Casey.  It is always good to read and learn about the saints and other holy people who serve as role models for our own lives, but this was especially meaningful knowing that he lived in America in recent time.

Please join me in praying for the beatification of Venerable Solanus Casey

Please join me in praying for the beatification of Venerable Solanus Casey

 

St. Guiseppe Moscati: Doctor for the Poor (Ignatius Press)

Very entertaining and inspiring, this movie chronicles the career of Dr. Moscati as he lived and practiced in Italy.  Some theatrical additions were added to the story for entertainment purposes, but the essence of his story remains true to life.  A small booklet is included with the film that discloses the added literary features.  This a movie vs. documentary which will grab your attention and hold it throughout the film.  The original format is in Italian, so you have the choice of subtitles or an English version.  We found the English version to be entertaining all on its own as the lips and words don’t quite match up.  I was so inspired by St. Moscati’s story that I mailed the movie to my godson who is a doctor in Nebraska.

 

Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth (Ignatius Press)

Also a movie version vs. documentary, this film kept my attention for the duration.  It also captured the attention of my teens and ten-year old son who were in the room with me.  It is a two-part film and I had to wait to watch part two until the other three were available to watch it with me!  Like Venerable Solanus, Padre Pio was also a Capuchin monk living at the same time but at a monastery in Italy.  This movie was originally filmed in Italian as well.  The English translation is off in some places as well as the pronunciation.  I found the subtitles to be more accurate, but they did not match the spoken words.  This could prove to be a distraction, but not so great as to not learn and benefit from viewing the movie.

 

Ocean of Mercy

I have this one out on loan, so I am not certain of its publisher.  Is that what you call it for movies?  Anyway, this is my absolute favorite, all time Catholic movie and I learn something new each time I view it.  Ocean of Mercy was filmed while Pope John Paul II was the current Pope and, obviously, still living.  Since then, he has become St. Pope John Paul II and that makes this film that much more amazing when you view it.  It is a three-for-one punch as it covers the lives of three saints:  St. Faustina, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and St. Pope John Paul II.  Their lives overlapped physically and spiritually during the 20th century just prior to and during the Second World War.  You will be inspired by the heroic acts and divine intervention in these Saints lives during an incredibly dark time in human history.  If you only watch one movie, it should be this one.  You will not walk away untouched.

 

I’ll keep you posted on more great movies!  Remember, my friends, family and fellow CATH members all have access to my movies and are welcome to borrow them at any time.  These are wonderful entertainment pieces, but they also speak to our hearts and souls calling us to our higher purpose.  And don’t forget the popcorn!

Pray Always

“Pray without ceasing.” 1Thes 5:17

Our home altar

Our home altar

It was put on my heart to share with you how our family incorporates prayer into our daily life. Words cannot express how inadequate I feel to be writing on this topic. I just googled the verse above in order to know its source. I did read all of 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, however and was struck by how applicable it is to my life, our lives, today. So, grab your Bible, google the verse or search it on the Bible app on your smart phone; but, definitely read the entire verse.

I have the greatest ambitions for incorporating prayer into my daily life and into our school days. I have printed morning prayers and put them on the front of binders. I have set alarms on my phone with bells chiming to call us to prayer at noon and 3pm. I have made resolution after resolution that we would say prayers as a family every night before putting kids in bed. I have even planned on reading a chapter of the Bible with my husband every evening, envisioning deep spiritual discussions and renewed hope. Did these plans work? Sometimes. And often, when I am successful I succumb to spiritual pride. “Look how well I did,” I would tell myself. When I fail, which is often, I berate myself for how much self control I lack, how lowly my spiritual life is, or what a weakling I truly am. I compare myself to other families that—in my mind–manage to attend daily Mass, pray the rosary in the car to and from Mass, pray the Angelus three times a day, and then say another family Rosary before bedtime.

The truth of the matter is that I have been approaching prayer all wrong. It is not an item on my “to do” list, something simply to complete and check off. Prayer should be a continuous process, like breathing. It is conversing with God! Imagine this. You call your husband (or other significant person in your life) during the day to check in on how their day is going. As he shares his story with you, you only half-way pay attention and keep thinking that you just need to get through this phone conversation so that you can get back to your life’s tasks. You finish the conversation, tell him “I love you. Bye.” And then say to yourself, “What a good person I am for checking in with him today. Gosh, we have such a great relationship.” It doesn’t really jive, does it? So, I have to work on this. I need to approach my conversation with God with my full heart and mind in it. When my bells chime, I need to think of it as God calling me—that’s His special ring tone. I should answer with all the excitement and joy that I would if it were my husband, my best friend, or even the Pope on the other end. And then I need to listen. He speaks so softly that I have to listen carefully. I should also remember what a great listener and counselor He is and share my heart with Him. He is never in a rush or distracted so I can just go on-and-on –and-on until my heart’s content sharing my woes, joys, and frustrations.

My pastor recommended a book during a homily a while back. It is called Practicing the Presence of God  by Br. Lawrence. I believe it is available as a free e-book on Amazon. It is a simple read where Br. Lawrence is telling us how to be present to God in every moment of our lives. This is truly praying without ceasing. It has been a great resource and encouragement for me. Along these same lines, I have found it extremely helpful to have images and statues throughout my home. They serve as constant reminders of God’s presence in my life. I know that many Protestants think that we worship these statues, but it is truly a complete misunderstanding. Just like I have family photos hanging in every room of my home, or placed on a shelf; I have images of Jesus and His earthly family (Mary, Joseph and the Saints) throughout my home as well. A few years ago, I even made a home altar. I have a basket of prayer cards, some statues, and other sacramentals placed on it. It serves as a focal point for family prayer. It is both a logical and useful place to store all of those prayer cards that we don’t want to stuff in drawer or throw in the trash. In addition, it is my opinion that every Catholic family should have a crucifix in every. room. of their home. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is central to our faith. When we fix our eyes upon the cross and see Christ in His most vulnerable state, we are reminded of our own weakness. We are reminded of our own sinfulness that caused His suffering. We are reminded that we are not alone in our suffering, our persecution, or in undergoing any trials of injustice or affliction. We are reminded to forgive the sinners at our sides. We are reminded that death has no hold on us and that we were made for Heaven. The cross without Christ is still a reminder, but the crucifix tells us the whole story.

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

My cross above a pew from the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (cherished gift from my parents)

To be successful in practicing the presence of God, we must desire to do so, incorporate ways to remind us and call us back to God, and never grow weary of starting anew when we fail. Soldier on, my brothers and sisters! Pray without ceasing, or at least fail to cease trying. Come along with me on this journey. We will stumble along and find our way together as we continue to cry out to our Lord and Savior. I will continue to lift you in prayer. I beg your prayers for my family and myself.

Team Mach

Our chore list with color coded assignments

Our chore list with color coded assignments

I was dining with a friend recently and she posed the questions: How do you get your children to do chores?  And What do you do when they don’t follow through?  Since the same topic came up with another friend today, I thought it might be good to share our experiences with you as well.  First, we (my husband and I) have always agreed that children should have chores that fit their ability according to age and maturity.  Likewise, they have privileges that also meet their ability according to age and maturity.  Responsibility and Freedom go hand-in-hand and this is how we pass that knowledge on to our children.   We are a family and as a family we have to work together as a team.  When someone gets sick or is unable to fulfill his/her duty, the rest of us jump in to take care of that member of the family and cover their chores.  Everyone will be in a position of needing family support and every person will also be in a position to offer service to benefit the other members.  The family is the Domestic Church.  That means it is a place to experience God’s love through our parents, offer service to others, receive the support we need, as well as put into practice being virtuous, while pruning our vices.

Living out our vocation as parents is always a work in progress.  As Karen has told me, “We get to get up and make our bed again every day.”  I think that is a wise and merciful insight to the old saying, “You made your bed, now you can lie in it.”  Once we realize that we are all humans who make mistakes, we can begin to be more patient with ourselves, our spouses and our children.  Having realistic expectations is a concept that I am continuously working towards.  So, how do we get our children to do chores?  We begin when they are little. Toddlers naturally want to help us.  Capitalize on that natural desire by letting them help.  Yes, it will take longer to complete the task in the short term, but we are working towards a long term goal of raising independent adults.  A three year old can easily sort silverware into the drawer, or set napkins at each place at the table.

If, like my friend, your children are past the toddler stage, it is not too late to make them a team player!  In order to be a team player, they will need to know the rules of the game, who is on the team, and how you win the game.  Everyone wants to be on a winning team.   Every August, just before we start back to school, we have a family meeting.  This is a natural time to come together and review how we are doing as a team and what changes we can make to improve.  Our children are growing and so are their abilities to serve and their need for more independence.    Here are some guidelines for the meeting:

DO

  1. Have a husband and wife meeting to get on the same page before presenting ideas to the kids
  2. Acknowledge each person’s contributions to the family over the past year
  3. Ask what kind of family everyone would like to have (do we need to spend more time together, less fighting, more family meals, etc)
  4. Guide the discussion towards positive solutions to make your dream family a reality
  5. Allow the children to choose the service they wish to provide (this can be done in a very structured format with gentle parental guidance)

DON’T

  1. Make this a time for berating or discipline.  If there are issues they should be done in private with the particular child.
  2. Undermine the other parent in front of the children.
  3. Announce what chores each child will do without allowing their input in the discussion
  4. Be negative

After a short discussion on the kind of family you want to be, explain how each person’s contributions to the family are critical to making that dream come true.  This is where I post all the chores and allow the children to begin volunteering.  This is a guided exercise and some chores are “assigned” if there is only one child who is truly able to complete the task, or only one task a child is capable of doing.  The point of the exercise is for the children to feel empowered, to feel that he or she is a part of the team.  After this, state your expectations clearly.  For example, “I will post the new chore assignments on the board.  I will remind you one time to complete your task.  There will be no play time, video games, going out with friends, etc. until your chores are completed.”

Our August 2, 2014 meeting in progress

Our August 2, 2014 meeting in progress

In my post last year, I explained in detail how our positive incentive system works.  I stand by this system 100% and we still continue to utilize it with much success.  In fact, it has had the added bonus of teaching fiscal responsibility (ie. purchasing quality items for the long term vs. cheap toys that last less than a day).  The combination of allowing the children to be a part of the process and acknowledging their contributions and effort is the HOW in getting our children to do their chores.  Now, what do we do when that isn’t enough?  Well, I have screamed, threatened, grounded, fought, pleaded, whined, and cried.  None of that worked with much success.  Then my logical, even-keeled husband reminded me that we already established consequences.  I ask once, maybe give another gentle reminder of the consequences, but when that  fails to get the job done, I simply and calmly say, “I’m sorry.  You can’t do ________ because you didn’t do “x”.”  If the child continues to argue, I simply and calmly state, “This is not up for debate.  We agreed that you would do “x” before you could do “z”.”  Then you have to learn how to allow them to be upset with you.  In fact, they are not really upset with your, they are really upset at themselves for not holding up their end of the bargain, but it is easier to take it out on you.  The reality is that you have just earned their respect.  You set a boundary.  You set clear, realistic expectations and you followed through.  You were honest and just.  If you are consistent it won’t take long before your kids will be team players and you WILL have a winning team.  Now get out there and win, win, WIN!