Monday, November 30, 2009

Celebrating Advent Repost

Last year I wrote a series of posts on how our family keeps Advent a holy season of penance and preparation before the arrival of Christmas. Throughout the next few weeks I'll be reposting some or all of these ideas, not only for the newer readers of this blog, but as a reminder for our own family to keep our Advent traditions alive so that we may more fully understand and celebrate Christmas.

Advent is just around the corner and I have been deep in thought, considering how to make Advent more meaningful for myself and my family. Advent is a period of waiting, anticipation, and penance for Catholics. Those who observe Advent faithfully, do not allow Christmas to encroach upon this season of waiting too quickly. Our family has many traditions for Advent we've developed throughout the years and I thought we might share some of these ideas and traditions with you throughout Advent this year.

Here is Celebrating Advent Idea #1:

Do your Christmas shopping BEFORE Advent. I try very hard to do this. I want our focus to be on preparing for the arrival of the Christ Child, not on the arrival of gifts. If I'm stressing over what to get this person or the next I'm not able to focus on preparing my own heart. This takes some planning to accomplish and we have simplified much of our Christmas buying in order to manage doing this each year, but it is well worth the effort. As of this post, I have 90% of the Christmas shopping finished and I will be completely finished by the end of the this first week of Advent. You cannot imagine how much having this piece in place eases my mind and my heart.

May you and yours have a Holy and Blessed Advent!
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Ballet Notes

So far, we are truly enjoying our Nutcracker experience again this year. I had the privilege of chaperoning in the dressing room for Wednesday evenings performance and I was allowed to take the gorgeous photos displayed here today.

Tuesday, Oleander and I had tickets to the dress rehearsal, and if you don't mind bearing with me, I'd like to turn ballet critic for the remainder of this post. I seen several different versions and danced in the Nutcracker and in my humble opinion, this version, choreographed by George Balanchine, is the absolute best. Most versions of the ballet use the Variations to showcase their incredibly talented principal dancers. Audiences are wowed by the unique strengths of these individual dancers, usually featuring spectacular leaps, dazzling turns, or amazing flexibility. This version of the ballet also features the Variations, and the dancers are very talented and put on a wonderful show, but the Variations are truly secondary in comparison to the beautiful choreography of the Corps de Ballet, and even secondary to the parts choreographed for the 70 plus children in the production.

I think most folks familiar to the Nutcracker Ballet would agree The Waltz of the Flowers is most likely their least favorite variation, not so with Balanchine's choreography. Pennsylvania Ballet's Corps pulled off the intricate unison needed for The Waltz to be successful. It was incredibly beautiful and the choreography truly made the Corps appear to bloom like flowers.

By far, the most enjoyable aspect of this particular production are the child dancers. They figure front and center in the party scene, as expected, but then children feature prominently again as toy soldiers, menacing mice, breathtaking angels, foils for the Chinese Tea principal, talented Candy Cane Hoops, and adorable Polychinelles. I am so thrilled to have one of my dancers involved in this show. I'm really looking forward to seeing another performance on Saturday night.
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I'm posting this photo of our Thanksgiving pies as an entry into a contest hosted by Faith & Family Live. You can enter too, just follow the link! Shown here are two pumpkin, cherry lattice(my very first attempt!), pecan, and Dutch apple. Print Friendly and PDF

Monday, November 23, 2009

On Tap for Today

1) Grocery shopping in the morning

2) Kids will be working on deep cleaning their rooms this week. Today they tackled their closets.

3) I'm making pie dough for three single crust and one double crust pie. We have been invited to friend's for Thanksgiving dinner--Hooray! I only need to take dessert, cranberries, and sweet potato casserole.

4) Turkey Harvest Salad for dinner

5) Tech rehearsal at the Kennedy Center from 7 to 10:30 pm.

6) I should workout, but I'm just not in the mood. It's grey and rainy and I can't go for a run. Nothing else sounds appealing.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Time has Come

Nutcracker performance week is upon us. Skoshi A has several rehearsals in the coming days before the first performance on Tuesday night. I'm going to be busy chauffeuring her to and from rehearsals, chaperoning at the Kennedy Center, and making tasty food for Thanksgiving, so I may not be posting much in the coming days.

I'm incredibly excited to chaperone this year, as this means I will definitely get photos of her in her gorgeous, handmade, soldiers costume. I'll be posting those along with any interesting happenings before the experience is finished.

Merde*, Skoshi A! We're so proud of you!

*In the theater and dance worlds one would never wish a performer "good luck", as it is considered bad luck. Obviously, one would not wish a dancer to "break a leg," either. Dancers wish each other "merde", a French word for "dung".

Prior to the invention of the automobile, Parisian streets were filled with horse drawn carriages and therefore filled with a good deal of horse doo-doo. Pedestrians needed to step gingerly and would caution each other to "not step in the merde". For evening performances it was considered to be a good thing to have masses of merde outside the theater as that meant an abundance of audience in attendance for a performance. Dancers began wishing each other "merde" before going onstage as a way of saying, "Watch your step."
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thankful for the Small Stuff

Small Successes for Thursday, November 20, 2009

1) We were in the bathroom this week if you fly with the Flylady. I tackled the very scary shower this week. I missed cleaning it last month, and we really cannot miss a month without a good chemical clean! It truly was frightening, and I'd been putting it off, telling myself, "I'll get to it when bathroom week finally arrives." Thank heaven for Tilex!

2) I did a great job staying on top of the laundry this week. I know I post this success frequently, but it has been a goal for me this school year to not let the laundry become so overwhelming. Everything has been washed, dried, folded, and put away. Hooray for me!

3) I am nearly done with the Christmas shopping. I will be completely finished before Advent. This was an important goal for me this year. If you followed my blog last year you know I had a series of posts on observing Advent to the fullest before celebrating Christmas. We really try to avoid the Christmas shopping frenzy during Advent as we truly believe it detracts from our spiritual preparation.

What are your successes this week? Post your link over at Faith & Family Live.
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Artist in Our Backyard

Friday was one of those days most moms have from time to time. I was throwing myself a pity party over the bad day I'd had. I couldn't even get dinner on the table for the kids, so we headed to our favorite pizza parlor for fried calamari, sodas, and cheese pizzas.

The kids claimed two tables near the back and next to an elderly couple enjoying their dinner. I especially noticed this couple as the man appeared to have a story to tell. He was crusty in appearance, mustached and wrinkled, dressed all in black, wearing a captains cap on his head and huge turquoise rings on his fingers. I wondered what kind of life he had lived. I imagined he was a formerly a sailor or a fisherman. He just struck me as having come from a life at sea.

We had our pizza in the relative peace and quiet. We enjoyed each other's company and took our time gathering our trash and dirty dishes. As we headed out the door, our crusty sailor stopped us to have a word. He wanted to compliment me on my patience with my children and how wonderfully behaved they were. He was particularly impressed having observed they had each made the sign of the cross and said grace before even taking a sip of their sodas. He went on to proclaim his favorite person in the world was John Paul II. He then went on to describe exhibits of his work throughout the DC and Annapolis area. Come to find out, our sailor was no sailor at all, but a celebrated American folk artist. His works of art have been selected to decorate embassies, statehouses, etc., but for Sy Mohr, his crowning achievement was to have his work The Pope of Life Today selected to be exhibited at the John Paul II Cultural Center.

Anyhoo, Mr. Mohr lives in our hometown just a couple of miles from us. He gave us his business card and invited us to visit him in his home. After perusing the internet for some of his paintings, he has me intrigued. I think we'll take him up on his offer, if only to see some of his work up close. I won't send you to his website, due to the malware warnings I received, but you can safely see examples of his work here, here, and here. I'll post again if we have the chance to visit him in the future. I'm sure it should be a fascinating and educational experience.
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

In the world of the three year old male, God is packing heat and He can just shoot the devil in the head. Print Friendly and PDF

Monday, November 16, 2009

Smile Three Times

My blogging buddy, Dawn, is on a mission, and I'm here to help pass the word. Here is her plan for smiling three ways by helping others. Being a military family, ourselves, we are partial to Way to Smile #2. We'll be working on our letters to service members this week.

Way to Smile #1
Catholic Chicks has been trying to get donations of blankets for the homeless in her community. She has had no luck from any of the major retailers. Take a moment to check out her
Operation Comfort.
Way to Smile #2
From a Military Chaplain in Germany:
During the two weeks prior to Christmas, Ramstein Air Base will have thousands of soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors come transit through the terminal into the
hospital, en route to a war zone, en route back to their home station.
Volunteers put together thousands of gift bags. Everyone gets one.
Whether they are here for 30 minutes or a long stay in the hospital.

Whenever we are asked our greatest need, it is letters!

To reach our goal of 10,000 bags this year we will need to collect
more than 30,000 hand-written letters.
Letters CANNOT:
Be Dated
Ask any questions about war, injuries, killing, etc (Believe it
or not 10% of all letters cannot be delivered because of this)
Be politically motivated or mention politicians or political
Be type written or a photocopy
Be in a unsealed envelope (all letters have to reviewed before
being handed out)
Letters CAN:
Express support and appreciation
include a drawing (if from a child)
Tell about the writer's family, life, likes, etc.
Share personal experiences that motivate
include a return address

Send the Letters to:

Father (Capt.) David V. McGuire
PSC 1, Box 4856
APO, AE 09009

Way to Smile #3
Post this info on your blog. Pass it on to your email list.
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Friday, November 13, 2009


Lil' Wingnut is a ladies man. How could he not be, with those big brown eyes and curly long lashes, right? He absolutely loves our little homeschool friend who comes to our house each Thursday and Friday. As soon as she enters the house he totally abandons me for his one true love, a ten year old heartbreaker.

Yesterday Lil' Wingnut was fawning over our friend, batting his lashes at her.

"Will you marry me?" he asked.

"Ewwww!" she responded, "I'm like seven years older than you!"

Poor little guy. His first proposal of marriage and he was turned down flat.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hooray for Mom

Small Successes for Thursday, November 12, 2009

1) We are in the kitchen, if you fly with the Flylady. I cleaned and reorganized several cupboards in the kitchen and gave my Passquini Espresso machine a polish. She is so shiny and clean, I might just have to make myself another cup when I finish this post.

2) I actually got my hiney out the door for a walk twice this week. Once I got walking I felt a little extra spring in my step and I began running. On both occasions I ran a mile. Yes, a whole mile! I haven't run since I was in my early twenties, and I actually enjoyed getting a move on. After my little jogs, I decided I definitely needed to trade in my walking shoes for running shoes. I now have some lovely new Gel Asics for the next time I feel a little spring in my step.

3) Wingnut was actually home for Veteran's Day, yesterday. We loaded up the van and headed downtown to the Basilica for confession and then took the whole crew to the Air and Space Museum for a little exploring. We had a lovely day together.

What are your successes this week? Leave your link at Faith and Family Live.
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Monday, November 9, 2009

The Drs. Sears

Over our many years of parenthood we have come to implement more and more of the advice from the Sears family. Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha were pioneers of the attachment parenting and family bed movements. It took several years for us to adopt the tenets of attachment parenting fully, but by our fourth child we were baby wearing and co-sleeping with great satisfaction and peace.

For many reasons, that will not be listed here, we have decided to delay and even refuse most vaccinations for our children. Over the years we have been approached by concerned young parents seeking our advice on immunizations. As I am not a doctor, nor an absolute expert on vaccinations, I feel very uncomfortable suggesting to other families that they follow our lead and also refuse immunizations for their children. However, I feel completely at ease suggesting The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, written by the son of Dr. and Martha Sears, Dr. Robert Sears. Dr. Sears does a wonderful job laying out the justifications and real concerns of the current vaccination schedule employed in the United States. He neither fully condones, nor fully condemns immunization, but lays out the current research even handedly, allowing parents to make the best decisions for their own children. He even suggests alternate vaccination schedules.

Recently, we discovered that our youngest daughter, Special K, has a sensitivity to artificial ingredients--really chemicals--used in conventional foods. We started her on the Feingold Diet and with a few tweaks here and there, believe we have eliminated the culprit foods from her diet. My mother-in-law, being the wonderfully supportive woman she is, came across another book by Dr. William Sears called the NDD Book, or the Nutritional Deficit Disorder Book. She sent it to me immediately. It was amazing how many of the hallmark behaviors our Special K displayed that Dr. Sears connected to NDD. The book has some wonderful advice on getting children to eat more naturally and healthily, as well as a plan for getting children off the numerous mood altering drugs doctors too often prescribe for ADD and ADHD. For us, the book gave more insight into how important whole, natural foods are to children's brain development and metabolism. We've added to our list of no-no additives and preservatives and I've begun making more of our food from scratch. It's all a work in progress.

Wingnut and I have been parents for 17 years, and I find it funny how we are continuing to grow and learn. The older and more experienced we become, the more we lean toward more natural strategies, foods, etc. in our parenting decisions. I wonder what more we might learn in the years to come.
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When Homeschool Science Goes Horribly Wrong

One of the draw backs I've personally had with homeschooling is many times science experiments do not turn out as they should. This can often be frustrating for me and for my children who want to see science up close and personal. For nearly eight weeks Oleander and I have been trying to grow mold on a slice of Pepperidge Farm Sandwich Bread to no avail. That got me to thinking, what is in this bread that is keeping it from molding? Am I really allowing my children to put whatever that is into their bodies? It's a scary thought when you really get down to it. Today begins a new day in our house. Today I begin making all or at least most of the bread in our house. Whatever is preserving store bought bread can't possibly be natural or healthy! Print Friendly and PDF

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flexibility is the Word. . .

. . . for our first quarter. We finish 1/4 of our school year today, and I am so pleased to write it has gone very smoothly, although we did change up a few things before reaching this point. You can read my original homeschool plan for the year here, here and here.

Karate Kid has done very well, thus far. She is truly enjoying Calculus and the Physics curriculum we chose for her and is doing amazingly well in both. Our co-op is providing some excellent enrichment classes for her as well. The high schoolers will finish up their 2000 years of Church History this year, they are taking a very hands-on rocketry science/engineering class, and they are hard at work on a script for the movie they hope to film this coming spring.

Stat Boy is settling into high school and after a couple little hiccups has gotten the routine down. Wingnut made it a requirement for Stat Boy to show ALL of his work in Algebra II, something I'd been trying to get the boy to do for years, but had had little to no success. Sometimes the order has to come from the principal. The boy is incredibly bright and would do all of his calculations in his head, but if he made tiny errors they would carry and his final answer would then be completely wrong. Writing out his work makes him slow down and work more carefully. We also showed him we can actually give him partial credit for understanding a concept even if the answer is wrong due to small errors. Physical Science began as a challenge for Stat Boy. Kolbe Academy's material is not for the faint of heart, but Wingnut showed Stat Boy a wonderful little flashcard program on the computer, and he's been diligently putting important information for studying into that program ever since. He earned an A on his first exam. What a relief!

Oleander had complained and scoffed at my plan for her for science all summer. She felt using the same science curriculum as her little sisters was beneath her, even though I assured her I would add assignments and expect more from her than her younger sisters. I finally just listened to her and purchased the third book in the Concepts and Challenges series from Emmanuel Books. She is so much happier and doing very well.

Skoshi A has gone with the flow and seems pretty happy with the material she has. She seems to have crossed a threshold in math and is understanding the concepts much better this year. Hooray! Now if we could just do the same with spelling.

Special K begged to begin spelling this year. I haven't the slightest idea why she thought spelling was so much fun, but I went ahead and tested her for readiness, even though the program I use recommends waiting until third grade to begin formal spelling lessons. She tested into the entry level and so we went ahead and added it to her lesson plan. The sweet little thing thinks she should be spelling every word I give her perfectly. I've had a devil of a time trying to get her to understand that she is supposed to be learning to spell and it will take her time to learn words she has never written before. For the first couple weeks our lessons ended with her in tears over missing one or two words. At this point, she is now allowing herself to miss a couple here and there, but I don't think she believes spelling is all that much fun any more. Special K has also made significant progress in reading. She is reading at or above her grade level for the first time. She's even reading on her own just for the enjoyment of it. I love homeschooling!

Another adaptation we had to make was in our history study. We are working our way through ancient world history and I had planned on doing that chronologically. Co-op had other plans. We decided we'd tackle Ancient Greece in the classes for both Oleander and Skoshi A. At home we began with Mesopotamia and then decided we'd head to Greece before Egypt so that our studies at home would be supplemented at the same time with studies in co-op.

If/when you study Ancient Greece, I recommend a very well done video we watched in co-op about ancient Greek weaponry. The History Channel's video Ancient Greece- Weapons of Mass Destruction was a huge hit with the 5th-8th graders. My two high schoolers watched it as well and thought it was incredibly well done, informative, and just what battle junkies love. There are a couple scenes that may be disturbing to younger children, so you might want to preview before showing it to your family.

Lil' Wingnut is much more manageable this year. He entertains himself with drawing on the white board, coloring in his giant Thomas coloring book, or playing educational games on the computer, especially Starfall. The lil' guy is smart as a whip. He's learned to tell digital time, read the compass, and has begun sounding out and reading a few words. Homeschooling him should either be a breeze or an adventure.

We've a great start on the year. Praise the Lord!
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Here's to Success

Small Successes for Thursday, November 5th, where did October go?

1) We've completed our first quarter of homeschooling this year. All in all it is going pretty smoothly. I have a progress report in the works as a post later this week. The kids were pretty stoked to be 1/4 of the way through the year.

2) Sunday I began to feel achy, chilly and pretty miserable. I ended up running a low grade fever for three days, but I tried to take it easy, got plenty of sleep, took my vitamins, and ate a healthy diet. I believe I was able to fight off whatever was attacking me. Karate Kid chalks this "success" up to our superior genetics :-) I think warding off an illness is a small success, don't you?

3) Even feeling under the weather, I was able to keep up with the laundry. I am so thankful to not have piles and piles of dirty clothes waiting for me!

Head on over to Faith and Family Live and herald your Small Successes for the week.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mid-Term Elections are Important. Who Knew?

Confession: I don't always vote in mid-term elections or primaries. Wingnut and I vote absentee in Washington State, and lets face it, it requires spending considerable time in research to place a well thought out vote.

I did know Washington had an important measure on the ballot regarding extending more benefits to domestic partnerships. Wingnut and I wanted to have a say in that, so on Sunday we opened our ballots, did our research, and placed our votes.

There were several initiatives regarding moving city monies around for one thing or another, there was the domestic partnership resolution, and there were several empty judges' seats, city council seats, and school board memberships. Oh, how I love the internets. I was able to find information on nearly every candidate, just by googling their names.

I voted against one candidate for city council because he was endorsed by the State's Democratic Party. That in itself may have been enough, but I also have a wonderful friend, a die-hard-kool-aid-drinking-liberal, who worked feverishly on his campaign. My friend has a heart of gold, but she is on the opposite side, the wrong side, of so many issues. I know I can vote against anyone she supports with an absolutely clear conscience. Sorry, J., I still love ya.

We voted for one school board member because she raised eight children and is a grandmother to many. She had great educational background to boot, but honestly, it was her eight kids that won us over.

Wingnut and I voted for a school board member because she was described as a "lunatic creationist". Ok, that definitely isn't enough to garner a vote, but it was that description that led us to the candidate's website where we were able to read about her many wonderful qualifications and admire her courageous pro-life proclamation. Yep, that's the kind of woman I want on the school board!

After this voting experience, I believe we'll be much more conscientious about voting in mid-terms and primaries. They really can be quite important.

*P.S. As of this morning, it looks like all of our local choices were losers, with the exception of the money issues. Bummer. Thankfully it looks like all the important Governors' races have swung right.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All Hallow's Eve 2009

This year we spent our Halloween with our good friends from Moments of Grace. They have a family tradition of spending some time in Adoration and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the evils that so often occur on All Hallow's Eve. We all headed to a local Perpetual Adoration Chapel. The chapel was beautiful and the experience was enhanced as Crucian Dad opened a little window on the tabernacle to expose the Blessed Sacrament. I think I gasped audibly at the wonderful surprise! We were all thrilled the chapel was empty so that we could pray a family rosary. We were nearly finished when the church's priest poked his head in and very apologetically let us know that the chapel was really meant for silent prayer and reflection only. Oops!

After our spiritual offering the kids put on their costumes and headed out for some "fricker eating" as Lil' Wingnut put it. The two little ones did not last too long. Partly due to short attention spans, and partly due to too many scary houses. Lil' Wingnut decided he only wanted to visit "happy, happy, happy houses." Who can blame him!

The rest of the evening was spent before a small bonfire, roasting marshmallows, drinking Indian tea, and enjoying each other's company. We are so blessed to have such wonderful friends!
Oleander as a Tarheel Fanatic.

Special K as a Japanese Princess. She also wore this costume to the All Saint's Party as Our Lady of Akita.

Skoshi A transformed her Saint Cecilia costume into the Greek goddess, Athena.

Lil' Wingy went as Commander Cody from the Clone Wars. I think we'll glue glow sticks on it next year and he can go as a character from Tron. Does it make me a terrible mom if I just love this photo of Lil' Wingnut? He was picking his nose on purpose while I tried to snap photos of him. It really does suit his personality. As an added bonus, I can use it as fodder when the "pretty, pretty ladies" come to call.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Artistry, Or Lack There Of

Pumpkin carving is a tradition for my kiddos. We've been doing it since Karate Kid was a tyke. It began with the children choosing their own pumpkins each year, and then making a huge scene over having to clean out the goo. So I'd clean out the goo. They'd then choose a pattern for their pumpkin, usually from a Pumpkin Master's kit. I'd hope against hope that they'd choose one of the simpler patterns. Of course they'd choose the most difficult pattern. They'd make a big show out of trying to carve their pumpkins and then I'd end up doing it for them. Several years ago I ended up carving 5 pumpkins. It took hours. I was a glutton for punishment!
This year, they were able to do the work almost completely on their own. I didn't carve a single pumpkin and only had to lend a hand to helping the two youngest with their cleaning and carving. They turned out some real wonderful works of art.

I found a great peg kit for Lil' Wingnut. I helped him clean his pumpkin and I pinned his pattern on the pumpkin for him, but he did the rest of the work. There's nothing more satisfying to a three year old boy than being able to pound pegs with a hammer. He told me so himself.

Special K did all of the work on her pumpkin on her own. I assisted with the carving, but only to help her guide her saw.

Skoshi A chose a fairly difficult pattern. Believe it or not this is an improvement over her pumpkin of last year. It's supposed to be a bat, but she still gets a little confused over what pieces should be removed and which pieces should stay intact. We'll call this our abstract pumpkin.

Oleander did all the work on her skull on her own, with absolutely no guidance. This is her best work to date. She did a wonderful job cleaning her carving to make sure the image was clear and sharp.

Karate Kid found a pattern online for her Boba Fett pumpkin.

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