Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signs of summer

When we were planning our summer vacation to Pennsylvania, one of the things I was most looking forward to was catching lightning bugs with my children.  We don’t have lightning bugs in Florida.  We have lovebugs, which look a lot like lightning bugs but where their light should be, there is another bug attached at the end.    Love bugs and lightning bugs are similar, except that love bugs are extremely annoying.   Lightning bugs, on the other hand, are  amazing, enchanting, and astonishing!
My children have never had the joy of watching those bright glowing insects flying around the yard and blinking their little lights on and off, on warm summer evenings.  My children have never had the fun of chasing fireflies around and catching them to put in jars and bring into their rooms at night for special live nightlights.  They have never held those magical little bugs on their hands feeling the tickle of their tiny legs.  They have never experienced the awe of summer nights while the stars flicker overhead and lightening bugs flicker all around them.  

My childhood summers always included lightning bugs.  They were a sign of freedom from school and long late nights playing outside and of cook-outs and fun with friends and the magic that was summer itself.  It makes me sad that my children have never even seen them, let alone played amongst them.  

I told my children all about lightning bugs and about how we would see them on our vacation and about how we would catch them and save them in jars for a while and watch their lights blink on and off before letting them go and watching them fly off blinking away into the night.  Then, our trip was cancelled and our chance to see lightning bugs was gone.  

But then, I got an e-mail from “School Express” about a unit study on fireflies!  It is not the same as really getting to play with them but the kids and I went through the unit study together and read all about fireflies (which are also known as lightning bugs and glow worms).  Then we printed off a few coloring sheets from the website and put our pictures into construction paper “jars” to hang them up and try to recreate a little of the summer fun we are missing out on.

Its obviously not the same as real lightning bugs but we are making the best of things!  

Hope your summer is magical and special 
and filled with wonder!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So much for our plans!

            We woke this morning to the sound of pouring rain hammering our roof and the wind whipping the trees in our backyard. Tropical storm Debby is churning up the Gulf waters and growing stronger and stronger near our central Florida home.   

As of today, my family is supposed to be on vacation.  For six months we were planning it.  It was to be an epic family road trip from Clearwater, FL to Cook Forest, PA.  About 20 hours of driving, with all seven of us crammed into the mini-van, along with a week’s worth of stuff packed into suitcases in the back.  

We were all anxiously anticipating it—road trip and all.  We had planned out where we would stop along the way and what fun things we would do when we arrived.  My aunt and uncle own a spacious cabin up there and they had invited us, and the rest of the extended family, to come and stay in their cabin for a family reunion and week-long vacation.   My aunt had written us and told us about the tubing and the fishing and the exploring we could do.   She had sent the kids postcards from the area showing them just what the gorgeous scenery looked like.  The kids have spent the last year exchanging letters with her and building a wonderful pen pal relationship and the trip was as much about meeting their beloved great aunt and pen pal as it was about the woods and the cabin.  

Then Tim lost his teaching contract.  He found his new job and our plans for two months of uninterrupted family time crumbled.  Our plans for our vacation fell apart as well.  It would not have been right to accept a new job and then ask for a week off, just two weeks after starting.  Besides that, the rest of the family had had their own problems.  It seemed no one could find the time or money to invest in a week in the forests of Pennsylvania.  So, we called the whole thing off just about three weeks ago.  

The kids took the news pretty well.  We decided to plan a much smaller road trip for later in the summer, just our family, for just a few days to St. Augustine.  It will not be the same but will still be fun, I’m sure. So this week finds us not on a fun filled family vacation but at home experiencing a rain filled tropical storm.  

            We have all heard the phrase “we plan, God laughs”.  That has been the theme of our life the last few weeks.  First, Tim’s job, then this.  I know God must be laughing up there in heaven right now.  You see, we had planned to visit and vacation with Aunt Debbie in Pennsylvania but we ended up being stuck at home in Florida with an unanticipated visit from Tropical Storm Debby instead!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Almost an announcement

This is not an official announcement exactly- but I thought I would share the news on my novel and the journey to get to this point (of not quite publishing…… yet).  

It has been an interesting process starting almost a year ago.  Last August, I stumbled upon a brief reference to novel writing and “NaNoWriMo” while reading a home school blog that I have never since visited and cannot even remember the name of.  Nevertheless, my interest was piqued.  I went straight to the website for NaNo and was intrigued by the idea of writing a novel in a month.  

It was summertime though, months away from November, national novel writing month, (which, if you have not figured out is what NaNoWriMo refers to). I thought about it, and prayed about it and mulled the idea over in my mind.  Could I write a novel?  Could I do it in four short weeks?  And more importantly could I write a novel in a month and still manage my home, care for my 5 children, home school them -- you know, maintain a relative amount of real life responsibility at the same time?  

The whole idea sounded completely crazy!  But, I decided, now that I knew about it, there was no way I could not at least try.  And, I actually did have a story idea.  An idea I felt God had sent me.  I prayed and promised God this would be His project, not mine, and I let Him know He would have to guide it all.  

So for months I thought about plot lines, character names, and how to fit in novel writing between cooking dinner and folding laundry.  Over and over, I reminded God I would need His help if this was to be and asked again and again for His guidance and reassurance.  

I did not write down one single word of my story before November lest I break a NaNo rule and render my novel illegitimate.  But very early on the 1st of November, I finally sat down to write, competing with my two oldest children for computer time because they, too, chose to participate in NaNoWriMo and had stories to compose as well.

Three weeks into the month, I reached the goal of 50,000 words.  By month’s end, I finished the entire story- beginning, middle, and end.  

Then, the real work began….editing, editing, editing.  Rewriting, reworking, revising.  But, God answered my prayers and so many things fell into place.  Along the way, I have been blessed with the support and assistance of many wonderful professionals and friends.  Through the grace of God (and the help of a friend), I was put in touch with a professional copy editor who agreed to edit my story free of charge.  Later, a friend who is a brilliant graphic designer, generously designed my cover, also for free.  Perhaps the most valuable thing I received, though, was the support of my wonderful family who allowed me the time to work, believed in me even when I doubted myself, and enthusiastically cheered me on every step of the way.  

Today we ordered the “proof copy” of my completed work of fine literature.  Assuming the proof copy contains no major errors or problems, the book will then be ready for publishing.  Hopefully, by June 30th it will be available through Amazon for purchase.  I will keep you all posted……

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Just the summer we wanted....

            I thought summer time would afford me hours and hours to read blogs and write blogs and surf the ‘net to my heart’s content.  As it turns out, summer has somehow been both busy and relaxing, so far.  The kids and I are keeping busy with books and crafts and friends and fun.  There is no strict schedule to keep to, no big to-do list to work through, no real agenda dictating our every day.  Still, there has been little time for blogging and even when I have had the time it seems there is so much I could write about I am slightly overwhelmed by it all. 

            So for now, just a quick update to assure you we are doing well-- 

            Tim is well into his second week at his new job and he is really enjoying.  He is much, much busier than he ever expected and is working late some nights to try to get on top of all the projects they have for him.  The work is definitely in his chosen field and is giving him valuable experience and interesting challenges.  Just as I should have known all along, God knew what He was doing sending Tim there.

            I have some very exciting news concerning my novel but I think I will hold off on any official announcements for another day or two…suffice to say publication is coming SOON!!!!

            The kids are all keeping themselves busy playing amazingly imaginative games and making amazingly imaginative messes all over my house.  They are getting along pretty well, and are thoroughly enjoying their summer break from formal school work.  

            Overall, we are having just the kind of summer we were hoping for....  one where the bills are paid :), the kids are happy and healthy, and Tim and I are, for the most part, content with life.....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A search for St. Anthony of Padua

            Today is the feast day of St.Anthony of Padua.  I am excited because for our celebration of this feast I have put together a scavenger hunt for my children.  St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things, so I thought a game of searching for things would be appropriate.  He also happens to be a very popular intercessor at our house.  Also, the kids love scavenger hunts, of any kind, for any occasion.   This one includes a few commonly lost items at our house, a few odds and ends, and some things that will teach them a little more about St. Anthony.  Here is a copy of the hunt they'll do:
Lost Things Scavenger Hunt
1.    Plastic toy with the colors orange, yellow, and green on it
2.   Two different size Tupperware dishes- each with its matching lid
3.   A prayer book
4.   A pair of nice church shoes that fit you (or almost fit you)
5.   A picture of a key (in a book or magazine)
6.   A sharpened pencil with a yellow eraser
7.   3 Lego pieces, not found in a bedroom (where they belong!)
8.   A photograph of you as a baby
9.   Something with the number 7 on it
10.A copy of a prayer you love
11.  A cell phone- new or old, real or toy
12. A star
13.  A boat
14. A hammer
15.     3 facts about St. Anthony of Padua
After our hunt we will have a special snack.  As I was doing my research to come up with a snack idea all I could find was to eat tongue for dinner.  Now, this would tie perfectly in with St. Anthony since he had an amazing gift for preaching.  And I found out that though his body is not incorrupt like many other saints, his tongue and vocal cords are!   Cool, huh?  But….. at my house, we do not eat tongue.  So, instead I have decided we will make smiley face cookies, with strawberry tongues sticking out-- a little more appetizing to my palate.  

I will post pictures later......

**UPDATE**--  Our celebration was a loads of fun!  Here are a couple pictures:

Monday, June 11, 2012

From unemployment to peace

            A story of misunderstanding and misinterpreting God's plan and almost missed opportunity….. 

             Tim stood outside the principal’s office.  He was sure he knew what was going to happen at the upcoming meeting.  The meeting had been set up four days ago, then postponed from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.  The waiting had been slightly nerve-wracking, to say the least.  But, finally he was going to find out, would he have a job for next year or not?  Just minutes before the principal called him in, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket.  He glanced at it but did not recognize the incoming number and obviously that was not the time for a phone conversation anyway.

            Later in the car, after having his fears confirmed and finding out his teaching contract would NOT be renewed, he listened to his phone message.   He had applied a few weeks before for a new job and the company wanted to interview him.  He took this as a sign- God had a plan. He had it all worked out and we were going to be fine.

            The interview was a few days later and it seemed to go very well.  Tim was qualified for the position, he had experience that would benefit the company perfectly, the interviewer was even Catholic and the two of them discussed their shared faith briefly.  Again, Tim felt at peace and confident.  Things were going to work out for the best.

            Another interview, with another company, came a few days later and that one included an offer on the spot.  Tim agreed to consider it and promised to get back with an answer soon.  But, in his mind, he felt sure the first job was the right one.  After all, God had sent it at the perfect time.

            So, we waited and waited and waited to hear back with an offer from the first job, the one we were sure was the perfect fit and, obviously, God’s choice for our family.  We reminded ourselves that if need-be the other job was there, but it felt like a last resort for us, a sort of plan B if job #1 for some strange reason did not work out.

            We waited and waited some more.  Tim called to follow up a few times but never got through to anyone.  His messages went unanswered.

            It did not make any sense but eventually it became increasingly obvious his phone call and offer were not coming.  We were confused, upset, disappointed.  How could we have interpreted God’s messages so wrong?  How could He have allowed our hopes to get up, only to be dashed in disappointment?

            And yet, the phone was not ringing and time was ticking ….

            Tim called the second company back and accepted that position.  Thankfully, they had been patient with his indecision and they did still want him.  The job is an entry level position.  Not exactly Tim's dream job, and not great money.  On the plus side, it is in the industry he wants to be in.   It may have great potential for advancement.  And, best of all, it is a Christian company.  

            This morning, Tim set off for his new job, without any gap in employment at all.  A little part of him (and me) still wondered about that first job though.  How could we not?  It had seemed God sent it to us Himself.  

I did not see Tim before he left the house this morning, so I called him on his way.  He shared with me that he had called the first company one last time before he left for work and today, FINALLY, he got through.  They had offered what we had been convinced was his perfect job to someone else some time ago.   We spoke a few more minutes then, Tim said, “I have to let you go.  I am here.”

   “Right where God wants you to be, I guess,” I said.

   “Yes.  It seems, I'm right where God wants me to be,” he answered confidently.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review-- The School of the Family

As I read The School of the Family I found I agreed with all that author, Chantal R. Howard, had to say about home schooling, the current culture of our country, and the importance of strong families.  Her insights and observations were right on.  She shared many reasons for building and maintaining homes that foster strong, counter-cultural, Catholic relationships, attitudes, and values.  Her reasons were fabulous.   Her spiritual advice was solid, founded on a deep respect for, and understanding of, the Catholic Church and its teachings.   

The book, though full of wisdom and insight, was first and foremost a personal memoir.  Howard wove the message of the importance of strong families and solid catechesis into the story of her own family and her own experiences.  The practical and spiritual advice came, always, through a personal reflection or memory of her growing up years.  And though I could not have agreed more with the results of her upbringing, I found I was unable to truly relate to the family she wrote about.  Howard did not deny the struggles her family faced over the years.  Yet the picture she painted of her life growing up, even with the struggles and challenges, seemed a little too idyllic.  I do not doubt that her stories were completely true.  I just felt, at times, the presentation came across a little too sugar-coated, and a little sickeningly sweet.

For example, she shared about her discernment, at the age of ten, to leave home and pursue a dream to become an Olympic gymnast.  Her story was intriguing but the mature spirituality and understanding she recounted from that tender age seemed to rival that of the greatest sage and wisest saint.  Perhaps she really was that wise and that mature at ten years old, but, I had trouble relating.   

So, in all honesty, I must admit, I did not love the book.  However, because Howard’s message is one that is so sorely needed in this world, I still consider it worth reading.  The “school of the family” is lacking in far too many homes and Howard truly understands and communicates the importance of restoring it.  She writes eloquently about the ways that we, as Catholic parents, can create a truly Catholic culture in our homes and how we can raise our children to promote the values we believe in.  She encourages strong marriages.  She promotes reliance on the Church and, ultimately, on God and His mercy.   

            Her message is one of my most valued beliefs.  Strong faith and strong families are the key to building strong foundations for our children.  

You can purchase this book here.  I wrote this review for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, your source for Baptism Gifts and First Communion Gifts. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.
I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What we learned from teaching

Today is Tim's last full day of teaching.  Teaching religion in a Catholic school has been an interesting experience.  His career will be going in a different direction very soon (more on this to come....).  We are not sure we fully understand why God brought Tim to teaching or why his teaching career was so short.  Perhaps it was only to provide an opportunity to hopefully pass our beautiful faith onto others, or maybe it was to teach us a few things ourselves.  Here is a little of what we learned from Tim's one year as a classroom teacher....

1.       Teaching is truly a calling and those who have dedicated their lives to it deserve our utmost respect and support.  Going into the classroom every day and trying to impart wisdom and knowledge to a room full of children from varied backgrounds, with varied learning styles, and varied interests is really hard.  

2.      Our Catholic schools are not always as Catholic as they should be.  Catholic schools may strive to provide an authentically Catholic education but often the teachers and administrators are un-catechized themselves.  We, as Catholic parents, need to demand authentically Catholic curriculum, ongoing catechesis for the teachers, and policies that build up and support Catholic teachings on every level.  It would be great if our schools could be run by religious sisters again.  There was discipline then, there was respect then, there was solid catechesis then, there was an example of lives lived for Christ back then…..

3.      The best thing parents can do to make sure their children are truly educated in things of our faith is to practice it at home.  Even the very best of Catholic schools can only do so much.  It is in the home where children learn to either follow God and respect His Church or do their own thing and maybe show up to Mass a few times a year.  Parents are the greatest influence in their children lives, whether they want to be or not!  If they want their children to be Catholic, they must be faithfully Catholic themselves.

4.      The best thing parents can do, to facilitate a good educational experience for their children in general, is to support their teachers.    This means parents should not criticize teachers.  They should not contradict teachers.  They should not attempt to override teachers’ decisions.  If parents were more supportive, teachers would be empowered to provide a better environment for all students.  Students would learn, not only their academics, but also respect for authority and the concept of taking responsibility for their actions- lessons that are sorely missing on our schools today.

5.      Teachers are WAY underpaid for the time and energy they put into their jobs.  We probably knew that, we certainly had heard that, yet we were still surprised by how true it really is.

6.      Our family was definitely called to home schooling.  We knew this too, of course.  But a year in the schools has given Tim a greater appreciation for all I do and for the MANY benefits that home schooling has afforded our children, both academically and socially.

7.      And the lesson that might be most important and that I am trying to fully embrace--  God’s plan is always surprising.  He answers prayers in the most unexpected of ways, at times.  Obedience and trust are never easy, yet God will bless us if we are obedient to Him, trust in Him, and let Him work in our lives.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The difference between the saints and me

            For everything that happens to us in life we have a choice.  We can look at things in light of eternity or in light of today.  We can choose to have a worldly perspective or a spiritual perspective.

            When it comes to unemployment, I can choose to worry about how long our meager savings will last or the bills that may mount up or the debt we may have to accrue.  I can drive myself crazy thinking about the clogged kitchen sink that we cannot afford to call a plumber about or the worn out tires on our minivan that desperately need to be replaced or the dental work my daughter needs that will require insurance as well as a sizable out of pocket expense.  I can stress about the horrible job market, the struggling economy and the hundreds of other people fighting for every opportunity that does present itself.

            None of these choices solve any problems.

None of them bring my family peace.

My other choice is to look at my life from a different perspective.  I can trust God even when there seems to be no real reason to do so.  I can be grateful that for now we have all that we really need.   I can even <try> to appreciate that we have been given a chance to face suffering (once again!) that will hopefully bring us closer to Christ.  I can offer each frustration, fear, and disappointment up to God or I can live a life of overwhelming frustration, fear, and disappointment for no good reason.  I can dwell on  all the unfair things that happen to me and sit around feeling sorry for myself.  Or, I can remember all the unfair things that happened to Jesus and be humbled.  And accept my little crosses with grace.

I think the difference between me and the saints is that they always made the right choice.  They chose what is so obviously the right way, and trusted in God always.  They accepted all their crosses with grace.  I do not always.  

              I look at the two choices- bitterness or peace and sometimes I am stupid and go for bitterness.  It is a hard choice for me, a really hard choice some days.  My frustrations, fears, and disappointments do overwhelm me at times.  They eat away at me, rob me of my peace, and attempt to strangle my faith..... but wallowing does me no good.  

Tim once told me he heard a quote from Bl. John Paul II.  According to Tim, John Paul the Great once said that the real difference between the saints and all the rest of the world is that the saints kept getting up after they fell.  If that is indeed true, maybe there is still a little chance for me.  Yesterday, I fell.  

But today, I am trying to get back up.  Today, I am trying to choose to trust Christ as best I can…..

I have linked this post up to:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer of stories

            As I contemplated our summer plans this year, I thought about all the fun things we have done in the past.  One year, the children and I learned all about the states.  We studied one state per day and did hands-on activities and crafts to go along with our lessons.   The next summer we learned about the presidents, again one per day.  That year, we put together a scrapbook of all the fun facts we learned.  One year, we went on nature adventures with other families from our home school group, learning about the native flora and fauna of our own home town.  Last year, we took a tour of all the local libraries, checking out what each one had to offer, and perusing their book shelves for unique selections.  I could not come up with any fun ideas for this year though. 

I thought about crafts and started collecting ideas on Pinterest but crafting can get expensive, and messy.  And my children are so crafty, I was not sure they would learn anything new.    

            So, then I thought about working on virtues- we could use always use a little practice in kindness, generosity, and selflessness.  The more I thought about how I could encourage those values, the more I thought about stories.  I thought about the short but sweet, and very meaningful, parables Jesus used for teaching.  “That is what we need,” I thought, “not, big, long chapter books like we usually read for literature but short little stories with lots of meaning.”   We can learn so much through books that have bright colorful illustrations and sweet little stories because they so often possess big, inspiring messages hidden deep within their childish appeal.   

            Years and years ago, I knew a woman who had a child just about the same age as my oldest child.  One day, I ran into my old acquaintance and the two of us got to talking.  We discovered both our daughters had grown to love reading.  She told me she had heard, that even after our children are capable of reading chapter books on their own, we should still read them their old picture books upon occasion.   At the time, she still had just one child and I had three, with another on the way.  I remember thinking, “I will probably be reading picture books for the rest of my life.  Of course, I will continue to read them to all my children.”  I was right about the first part, but not so right about the second.  Though I still read picture books regularly, I have not read one with my oldest child for a very long time. 

Anyway......all my scattered thoughts have finally come together.  This summer we will learn about the world and about the importance of the virtues through stories.  Some of the best picture books we’ve ever read we heard about through the old Five in a Row volume 1 curriculum I ordered the very first year I home schooled.  This summer, I have ordered volume 2 so together, my children and I can be introduced to a whole new set of wonderful stories.  Hopefully our summer of stories will inspire us to greatness and infuse our days with fun, meaningful lessons.

Linking this post up to A Slice of Summer at Heart of the Matter

Friday, June 1, 2012

We are finished!

We are finished!  Our 2011-2012 school year is officially behind us!  And though we were all quite anxious for this moment, it is not because it was a difficult year.  It was actually,  probably, our best year of home schooling yet.  But it was a long year and we worked hard.  Not only did we work hard, we learned lots and in the process, we wore ourselves out a bit. But as of NOW we can look forward to the lazy, days of summer.

Our last day started with 1St Friday Mass. After Mass, we came home and, because it is National Donut Day, we made homemade donuts for breakfast.    My mom used to make homemade donuts every once in a while when I was a kid.  I still remember how much fun it was to watch her make them and then, of course, to eat them still warm from her old "FryDaddy".  Making donuts with my own children is just as much fun.....

We start with refrigerator biscuits and then cut  little holes (I used an apple corer)
The children watch, anxious to taste the final products.
Next, fry them in boiling vegetable oil
Sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar or leave them plain
and there you have it, warm, delicious, and oh so stylish as glasses!

Then the children each wrote one last progress report of the year and together we read over all their progress reports from way back in August to today, reminiscing about all we learned and all we did and all we experienced.  They each cleaned out their school drawers.    

We finished up The Old Man and The Sea, our current last read aloud, and that was all.   The school year came to an end. 

Next week, I will put together their portfolios from the year and work on report cards but for now….we are just relaxing and basking in the freedom of summer break! 


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