God’s Faithfulness–Part I

shrine olghIt was mid-July and I was feeling especially fearful about the prospect of homeschooling again in the fall.  My husband and I had agreed that we would divide our duties differently.  Since we were working together in our home-based business, we would work together to get the household chores and homeschooling tasks accomplished as well.  Still, my heart raced and my stomach flip-flopped at the thought of it.  So, I prayed.  I prayed for wisdom, for God’s will and for a friend.  For the first time in many years, I prayed for a friend.  It seemed silly, really since God has blessed me with so many faithful friends I am rich beyond belief (Sirach 6:14-16)!  But, my original tribe, The Hens, are in a very different phase of their lives—almost empty nesters—while I am still years away from an empty nest.   I prayed for a friend that could help me get through the loneliness and redundancy that one finds as a homeschooling mother: long days without adult interaction, math facts, grading, laundry, meals, etc.

The week had been a rough one.  Sick kids and stresses in our family life and marriage were taking its toll on my mental well-being.  Friday rolled around and our weekend plans had to be cancelled.  Then, I remembered the Catholic Homeschooling Conference was being held that very day.  Yes!  Yes, I could still make it and even sneak in the social dinner gathering that Jenny had organized.  I remembered seeing her post on Facebook and quickly replied that I would attend after all.  It was only out of desperation for socialization that I was attending this conference.  I still was not convinced that homeschooling was the right fit.

I arrived at the conference around 2 o’clock.  The first observation I made was how many women I knew.  Their faces made my heart fill with joy. “God has blessed me,” I thought to myself.  I must have seen, visited and hugged at least twenty women in that first hour!  As I was catching up with one mother, Ginny Seufert walked by.  She has spoken at almost every homeschool conference I’ve attended for the past 16 years.  She caught my eye because she looked particularly youthful and beautiful this day.  I told her just as much.  She was just on her way in to give a talk.  My friend asked me if I wanted to hear Ginny speak.  I wasn’t going to attend the talks.  I still was not sure that I was going to homeschool.  I was almost certain that I had heard it all before.  This would be my 18th year of homeschooling IF we were to homeschool, that is.  Still, I agreed to go in and listen.  Ginny is always good for straight talk and hearty laughter.

I was not prepared for her talk this time around.  Her topic was something to the effect of “Why You Should Persevere in Homeschooling No Matter What.”  She pointed out all of the confusion in the world, the opposition to natural law and its infiltration into the educational system of even the youngest students.  She then went on to discuss the Peshtigo Fire in 1871 in Northern Wisconsin and the miracle at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  Fascinating topics on their own accord, but especially relevant to me.  You see, I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin almost 100 years after that horrific fire.  My ancestors were Belgium immigrants living in the area at the time of the Fire. Adele Brise is a relative by marriage in my family tree and I had heard the stories of the fire and the miracles for many years.  But, even more relevant because my own father was healed through the intercession of Mary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on August 15, 1937.  If not for that miraculous healing I would not be here today.  My second observation for the day was that my life has a particular and unique purpose.  Like Adele Brise, I heard the words in my head, “Teach the children the way to salvation…I will help you.”  Moved to tears, I knew I would and I could return to homeschooling.  Mary would help me as well.  It was time for us to formally consecrate ourselves and our children to her.  Mary always leads us to her Son, Jesus Christ; intercedes in begging grace for us; and protects us and guards us as she protected and guarded her own Son, Our Lord.

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Brave New World

Seven weeks into the new school year a new groove has formed.  Life follows this new path revealing once unseen landscapes and vastly different views.  Yet, I can’t help but seek out the old and familiar sights.  Longing for the companionship of other adult women and seeking for social outlets for my remaining lone-homeschooled child, the Bible Study sounded like a perfect blend of opportunities for us. “Bring along your children, your Bible, your journal and pens,” the Facebook post beckoned to me.  It sounded like the superb opportunity beginning with the Holy Mass, ending in fellowship centered on the Word of God, and coming to a church in my neighborhood this Friday.

Daniel ran fever all day on Thursday, which meant no school on Friday and my plans for Bible Study seemed lost.  I crawled out of bed earlier than usual this Friday morning at 7:45.  Angela met me in the hall with bright eyes and excitement.  “Sorry,” I said, “we can’t go because Daniel is sick.”  She quickly offered a rebuttal that Dad was working from home today.  We could still make it if we hurried.  I glanced at the clock and dismissed morning Mass quickly.  I was barely out of bed and my regular routine takes 40 minutes.  But, I conceded that we could still make it to the Bible Study for 9:30.

We arrived to the welcoming greeting of one mother with her lively three boys and waited for the others.  After some time, we discovered that we were in the wrong room and a group of women and children could be found down the hall, already finished with the kids’ craft and Bible story.  Beautiful women, beautiful children and such a great opportunity being offered; yet, as I sat there I could hardly contain the anxiety welling up within me.  My own two children were calm and at ease with the coloring pages, but the activity in the room was proving too much for me to handle.  I tried to listen as one mother explained the hope for what the new group could become.  Something about rotating responsibility for overseeing the children while the other mothers met for discussion in an adjacent room.  All I could think was (and pardon my expression), “hell no!”  My energy was completely drained in a matter of minutes from the simple, normal activity of young children.  I attempted  to explain why I couldn’t/wouldn’t be able to oversee the children, but just felt completely awful about not being able to take a shift every other month.  After all, we only would be meeting every two weeks.  I politely thanked them all and truly enjoyed making their company, but I desperately needed to head home.  By the time I walked out of the room, I could barely walk.  This was not where I needed to be.  Not any more.

God has a way of stripping away our false identity in order to reveal our true selves–the self He created and wills.  My identity has been so closely tied to young children and mothering for so many years and now it is not.  I have a heart for mothers with young children because I know the struggles and joys so well.  But, for some reason God is blocking this path at this time in my life.  He seems to continue to refocus my energy to self awareness, self love and self care.  He knows that if I am in a room where others are struggling or children are in need, that I will pour my energy out to them and leave nothing for myself.  I know it too.  That is why my energy drained so quickly.  My body sensed it, and like a frustrated spouse throwing up his arms in exasperation, my body let the energy drain from itself as if to say, “Your going to give it away anyway, so what’s the point?”  But, I’m not.  I won’t be going back.  I will pray for the success of the group for the other mothers and their children.  It is a beautiful apostolate and truly needed, especially for homeschooling mothers.  I will, however, continue this journey of self discovery and for the opportunity for Angela to socialize while her siblings are at school.  While I will fondly remember the beautiful landscape of roads once traveled, I will try to embrace the ever changing landscape before me in each and every moment.  Part of me grieves for my old, familiar self: always a baby in the arms or a toddler on the hip (or both).  But, I know that I am called to serve another purpose now, to serve in a different capacity for the sake of God.  In the proper time, He will show it to me.

Off to School we Go!

God always, ALWAYS, is with us.  He provided me an opportunity to go on a private retreat the first weekend of August.  At this point, only Benjamin was accepted into school.  The others were on the waitlist in positions ranging from 10-27, which didn’t look too hopeful.  I struggled with grabbing back the familiar and the control.  It’s my default move to just take it all back and not trust in the bigger plan.  But, God patiently and lovingly spoke to me: to my heart in adoration and through the books I read.  I called Patrick and was so confident in God’s will for us that I was able to speak my need clearly and succinctly.  We had to enroll the kids in school and UME was the right school for us.  If they didn’t get in at first, then Patrick agreed to oversee the daily checklist and grading the Math and I would oversee the school during the day.  Our intermediate plan was to homeschool until they were accepted.  The next week a friend alerted me that the kids may not be listed as Benjamin’s siblings, which would affect the waitlist status.  Sure enough, when I called the school we discovered that a change in the computer system had left them detached from Benjamin.  When this error was corrected all the kids were moved up to positions ranging from 1 to 10.  It was a little sliver of hope and encouragement.

Benjamin started school on August 17.  I took all six kids with me to the Open House, so that in the event they were admitted they would be familiar with the school and some of the teachers.  Patrick was supposed to go with us, but his dentist appointment ran long and he could no longer meet up with us.  This event alone would have put me into a full panic attack just a mere 6 months ago.  But, God equips us to do His will.  There was no anxiety within me.  We saw a few families that we knew, but mostly it felt as if we just floated from room to room in a bubble, met the teachers we needed to meet and I left feeling excited and at peace about the new possibilities.  This is God’s grace in action.

By Friday, Daniel, Samuel and Sophia were enrolled.  One week later Joshua began his first day of 7th grade.  It only took 10 days for five of the six kids to be fully enrolled!  While I was on retreat, it looked like it could be the next semester or not at all; but, God was just giving me the opportunity to put my trust in Him.  He is such a loving, gentle and patient teacher.

So, we happily pack our lunches and backpacks, the kids cheerily skip off to school each morning and I sit drinking my coffee and lay by the pool soaking in the quiet.  Not a all.  The early mornings are a definite struggle.  Patrick oversees breakfast, getting the kids awake and dressed, and takes them to Shelly’s. (We carpool with a friend, but our car is the only one big enough to carry everyone, so it’s quite the system of exchanging vehicles in order to get the kids from point A to point B; but, it is also quite a blessing).  I haven’t slept well since school started, so my rising and my movement is very slow and limited.  I manage to get a few tasks accomplished and then I go to pick the kids up.  It is a 25 minute drive one direction.  We arrive home and dig into homework, which leads directly into dinner preparation and clean up, family reading time, prayers and bedtime.  This six-hour period of constant activity leaves me feeling like a wrung out washrag.  At the same time, Patrick is finishing a fourteen-hour work day and isn’t in much better shape.  After a week, the kids excitement and fascination with going to school has worn off and it takes a little more effort to get everyone motivated and moving.  Homeschooling was actually much easier and more efficient.  I won’t lie, I’ve already thought about throwing in the towel.

I was actually contemplating if we had made a huge mistake by putting them in school when I saw a video that my doctor posted on Facebook.  He spoke about walking through the fire.  He said things like “we always have something to learn” and “maybe it’s not about us, but about what other people see in our journey.” BAM!  God lead us to this path.  We are here at this moment, in this place for a reason.  It is hard, brutally difficult and challenging.  It is especially a struggle because I know that the hardships we are facing to make this school thing happen can be relieved by just going back to homeschooling.  But, I can not–must not–look back.  No, comparison and “what ifs” are the handy  work of the enemy.  God is calling us to go forward, to trust in Him completely.  He has a plan for us and the lesson in it is not only for me.  God wants to use our family and our story to show His goodness.  I will not stand in His way.

I beg your prayers for us during this time of transition.  We really are feeling the physical effects of this effort.  Pray for strength for us, for perseverance for all, and for all to learn the lesson that God is teaching us through the experience.  Thank you for journeying with me.

UPDATE:  In the midst of this transition, we have a new granddaughter!  Savannah Grace made her appearance at 5 am this morning.  And this Saturday we will gain a son when our daughter, Lauren celebrates the Sacrament of Matrimony with Matthew Perrier.  Such blessings in our lives!!  All Praise and Glory to God be given.

First Things First

Years ago I read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families by Steven Covey.  I took away lots of great insight and advice from the book, but one analogy has stood out the strongest over all these years.  In short its message was “Put first things, first.”  I have tried to continually put it into practice and to pass this important lesson along to my kids.  Then, the opportunity presented itself for a tangible lesson and teaching opportunity.  And because of that teaching opportunity, I also gained material for a blog post.  So, win–win, right?

My kids have lots of toys and I try to organize them in a way that we can maintain a clean home, have space to play, and have access to games and toys without complete chaos in the wake.  One of the recent favorite toys to pull out and play with for hours and hours are the Playmobile sets, known as Mo-mobile sets in our home because that is how Daniel heard it called and it stuck.  image The problem with mo-mobile is there are lots, and I mean LOTS, of tiny pieces.  The best way to keep up with it all is to have one large storage bin for all three sets.  Everything is in one place and we don’t go insane trying to match up parts to specific sets.  (DISCLAIMER:  this does not include Samuel’s set.  All the pieces are in their precise designated location, kept in the original box in the top of his closet, off limits to all siblings.)  But, for the not-so-OCD-Mach children, the remaining sets are fit very well in one large bin–IF you put them in the bin in the proper order.  And here is where the teachable moment fits in.

My children, including Samuel, want to get the toys picked up with the least amount of effort.  Good.  Efficiency is good.  They will toss the pieces into the bin in no particular order, and finding that the lid will not fit on the bin, begin to push and cram the pieces hoping to get the desired results.  It never works.   Stephen Covey tells us in 7 Habits that we have to put the “big” stuff in first.  We have to put important things like prayer, marriage and parenting into life before we can add in the activities, the parties, or even work at times.  If we put the big things in first, all the little stuff will fit in much more easily.  The other night it was Joshua who was assigned to clean up the mo-mobiles.  In his rush he tossed the items into the bin, but couldn’t get the lid on.  With frustration and irritation in my voice, I said, “You’ve got to put the big stuff in first, Bud.”  He tried to scoop the small items to one side and slip in the largest house.  He even figured out how some pieces nested together to save space, but still the lid would not shut.  So, I got down on the floor and showed him how to do it.  image image image I removed the large pieces and set them to the side.  Then, I dumped all the pieces out onto the lid with only a few spilling onto the carpet.  I replaced the large pieces and lifting the lid, I carefully dumped all the little pieces into the bin.  In less than one minute they were all neatly in the bin, lid on, and slid into their home on the shelf.  His eyes were wide with amazement.  Not only did everything fit, it was easier and faster to do it that way.

The analogy was not lost on me and I hope it rooted deeply into Joshua’s heart as well.  It sometimes seems for me that time for prayer, relaxation, or any activity apart from hearth and home will not fit into my busy day.  I try stuffing it all in, but like toys that get lost or broken in the process, I too can become lost and broken.  I get in a hurry to get it all done and in the end nothing gets done well, if at all.  I put it off because the thought of fitting it all in is just overwhelming, but then I realize that I just need to focus on the big things first and take them one at a time.  When I finally set all the little things in my life to one side, I can see more clearly where the big things can fit in.  If I start my day with prayer, work on my relationship with my husband and kids, and focus on my main job of teaching; somehow I have a little time here to read a blog or two, a little time there to play a game, and another spot of time to work on growing my business (new venture, I’ll post details soon).  It all fits and it is easier and less stressful to boot.

Now, I just need to remember to put it into practice daily.  Old habits die hard.

Magnetic Months

I am a planner.  Organizing is a hobby for me and gives me energy.  So, with the start of school came the excuse to organize and plan for the school year.  I have younger children that still are trying to understand the days of the weeks and months of the years.  They still confuse “yesterday” with any day before the current one, and “tomorrow” as any day that follows.  It just made sense to give them a visual understanding of when events will take place:  when Lauren will be home, when a birthday will be celebrated, when we go to church, etc.  I pulled out the trustworthy Melissa and Doug magnetic calendar only to discover that many of the numbers were missing and the magnets for activities did not cover our personal needs.

But, have no fear, I have a large magnetic dry erase board that serves as a command and teaching center for our entire home.  I decided that I would post one week at a time and label the month and year at the top.  In addition to our weekly activities, I like to plan the meals out as well.  This makes grocery shopping more efficient and it eliminates the end of day decision making for “What are we going to have for dinner?”  I didn’t want to waste the M&D magnets, so I reused them by putting stickers on top. aweek pic Sophia enjoyed putting small round stickers over the numbers and these became our new “marks” for our reward system.  amark pic We customized the other magnets by printing 1×1 pictures our favorite foods on labels.  I cut the labels to size and the kids covered the magnets.  I also just use blank labels and write in activities that seem to re-occur on a regular basis.

My older children are each responsible for planning and making a meal or snack.  The magnet system has worked well in helping them plan the meals out for the week and takes all the guess work out of meal times.  Another addition I have made is to incorporate the Liturgical Calendar.  I bought these stickers of feast days several years ago.  It took a little bit of work, but I placed the stickers onto magnetic paper and then cut them out.  Someone should really produce these as magnets! It really helps to tie our days together with the days of the Church and is another way to remind us why we are really here and where our journey is headed. afeast day pic Learning about the saints encourages us in our own journey and continually reminds us that God is an awesome God!

One last suggestion is to buy the magnetic paper and print directly to the magnetic paper.  I used labels and the wooden magnets from Melissa and Doug only because I already had them on hand.  Although, the thicker wooden magnets are easier to grip; the magnetic paper would eliminate several steps and is relatively inexpensive.

Happy organizing!

June Book Review

I am no expert on literature, but I am a lover of books, reading, and the written word. As volunteer librarian for our home school support group, I have learned to categorize and organize our 600+ books and videos in a reasonable fashion. I even catalogued the books on http://www.LibrayThing.com so that members can see our titles from the comfort of their own internet connections. One area that has been severely lacking is access to the physical library due to my health and the general busy-ness of homeschoolers in general. It is a most underused asset to be certain.
I am hoping to change that. Each month I will spotlight a book or video that we have in our Library. I decided that I should be more familiar with the books that I am recommending, so I will also add in a short review to the spotlight. This got me to thinking. If I am going to review a book for my support group, why not share my knowledge with my blog readers as well? So, here are my recommendations and reviews for June and handy links to Amazon should you want to purchase them for your own benefit as well. If you use my links, you will also help to support our home school and that will be very much appreciated!

One of my favorite bloggers, Simcha Fisher, inspired me with this photo on her post today.

photo by Simcha Fisher

Anyone with children knows that summertime will inevitably bring about the phrase, “I’m Bored.” If you have teenagers in the house, then I have some reading recommendations for them and you!

Regina Doman has written a series of fairy tales retold. This Catholic author takes traditional fairy tales and sets them in modern times with fascinating characters and story lines that will captivate the reader. Hot summer afternoons are sure to pass by quickly as you devour these novels. These include The Shadow of the Bear: A Fairy Tale Retold, Black as Night: A Fairy Tale Retold, Waking Rose: A Fairy Tale Retold, The Midnight Dancers: A Fairy Tale Retold, and the latest release Rapunzel Let Down: A Fairy Tale Retold.

For a slightly more serious read, your high school boys may enjoy Fr. Larry Richard’s book, Be A Man!: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be. Fr. Richards doesn’t mince words and will capture your son’s attention with his honesty and his gift of storytelling. This book is written to encourage deep thought about what it means to be a Catholic man in today’s world. Rather than telling the reader what to think, Fr. Richards asks them questions that will guide them into a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationship with God. Each chapter ends with goals and reflection questions.

Happy Reading!

Lesson Planning 101

I may be an anomaly, but one of my favorite things to do is to write lesson plans.  I enjoy looking over my book selections, dreaming about added activities or hands-on projects to reinforce the lesson, and bask in putting it in a simplified order to meet my goals for the year.  Even when I purchase lesson plans or enroll with a homeschool program, I change the format to meet my own expectations and desires based on the particular needs of my children or family.  For the first few years I enrolled my daughter in Seton Home Study School and followed their lesson plans.  I would pencil in the plans each week for my daughter and I to follow and make the necessary adjustments for sick days, field trips, or spur-of-the-moment outings.  Pencils are my favorite.  I can make changes without throwing my OCD tendencies out of control.  After adding in a few more students, however, hand writing a weekly lesson plan quickly became a burdensome task.

Excel worksheets became my new best friend.  I have written detailed daily lesson plans in an Excel workbook.  Each week became its own new worksheet within the workbook.  I saved them from one year to the next and may adjustments for the new student fairly easily.  I would like to note that some programs allow you to purchase their lesson plans, like Mother of Divine Grace; while others only allow you use of the lesson plans for the current student, like Seton Home Study School.  I only save and reuse those plans that I purchased or wrote on my own.  Seton actually has an excellent lesson plan printer for currently enrolled students.  I import the days and weeks I want into Word and then cut and paste to get it to one or two pages.  I must say this option alone makes it worth enrolling in their program!  Just remember to delete them at the end of the year so you do not violate copywrite laws, and be sure to return or destroy any printed lesson plan material.

So, if you aren’t enrolled in a program that provides lesson plans how do you go about writing them?  For me, simple is better.  Let’s take Math because it is one of the easiest subjects to break down.  Math is typically done five days each week for 32 or 36 weeks depending on your school year.  36 week school years usually include one week of review for each quarter, technically making it a 32 week school year with study time and make-up days built in.  So, I guess the first thing you have to decide is what determines your school year.  I use 32 week plans and we finish the year, when the plans are complete for all core subjects.  If we get it done in 24 weeks, we are finished.  If we have to take 40 weeks to complete it, so be it.  The school year ends when our goals are met.  This is another reason to keep the lesson plans simple.  It is easy to add in assignments and activities in order to master a concept, it is much harder to skip assignments and risk missing a critical building block of knowledge.

Back to Math.  Most Math books contain more lessons than can be completed in a single school year.  Also, in elementary grades the first part of the book will review basics at the beginning of each year.  If your student does not need this review, then adjust the plans accordingly.  Sometimes, I will give them the first or second test just to get a feel for their placement.  If they score 90% or higher, that is where we begin the year.  Let’s use Johnny as an example.  He tests well on Test 2.  Math 101 typically gives ten lessons and then a test.  So Week 1, Day 1 of Johnny’s Math lesson will begin with Lesson 21.  Everyone following me, here?  He will do a Math lesson each day of the week, so his lesson plan in simplified format may look like this:

                   
Mon    Tue    Wed    Thur  Fri

Week 1  L 21       L 22        L 23       L 24     L 25

Week 2  L 26       L 27        L 28       L 29     L 30

Week 3  Test 3     L 31        L 32       L 33     L 34

 Sorry. The formatting isn’t cooperating. It is one lesson or test per day of week 😉

You will continue to write this out until you have 32 weeks of lessons filled in.  Now, you can get even more tailored with these plans and go through the book page by page, eliminating some lessons or adding supplemental lessons as needed.  Some kids grasp concepts quickly and too much repetition will just make the subject less interesting.  I teach to mastery of concepts, so once they have complete mastery of the idea, we move on to the next concept.  If the concept is still escaping them, most programs will have supplemental material that can be added in for additional practice.  I have one student that is very advanced in Math, so one year he only did workbook pages three days each week.  The other days he worked with Cuisenairre rods or other manipulative materials where he could explore Math on his own.  There are even Lego math sheets on-line that teach math concepts while playing with legos.  My point is that you can do whatever your little heart desires and have fun!  If you feel you may have to make lots of adjustments during the school year, keep your lesson plan as simple as stating a goal:  Math 4 will end at Test 12.

image

 Writing lesson plans for other subjects is similar.  It does take time to look at each book and think of each child as you write the plans.  Just remember to set a goal for each subject and then break it down into weeks and then days per week for that subject.  Typically, elementary students will do four-day weeks, leaving one day each week open for appointments, make-up work or field trips.  Subjects like History, Science and Art may only be done one or two days each week as well.  I cannot write out each subject for you because that would be a book instead of a blog post.  If you have a specific question, just leave it in the comments section and I will be happy to share my opinion and advice.  Happy planning!