My dear friend has been gone for 17 days. Unless you live in my head, where simultaneously the grief is so fresh that it feels like he has just passed away, and yet I miss his presence in the world in a way that makes it seem he has been gone far, far longer.
Our lives first crossed in second grade at a little Catholic school in our home town. My life took me to other schools, another city, and then a country half a world away. I made my way back home. I married the love of my life, graduated from college, and started a family in the same place I grew up. In a series of serendipitous events, I found myself working a few hours a week for wonderful place that helps college students with learning disabilities and neurological disorders learn to live independently and attempt secondary education. I’ve never loved a job like I loved working with these students and soon, instead of taking on a few hours as a favor, I was asking to join the team and spend as much time as possible working with this amazing population of kids. Diving into this career coincided with beginning RCIA to enter the Catholic Church. Even more providentially, my friend from so long ago worked at the same place. We didn’t instantly remember each other, apparently a couple of decades can wear away the memory, but I enjoyed talking whenever we crossed paths. He had a kind spirit and easy manner that instantly made you feel comfortable, but even more he seemed genuinely glad to see you, like it truly mattered to someone that you showed up for life that day. This was one of many reasons that he was a favorite of all the students. I could say that I thought him a good person and was drawn into friendship by watching his interaction with those students and his genuine love of others, all others, and that would be true; Honestly, though, it was just as much the fact that he made ME feel accepted and worthy of time and conversation. He lived up to his name. Christopher. Christ-bearer. He brought a quiet joy and humility into every interaction. He offered an unconditional love to those around him, and regardless of his own troubles, was quick to turn the conversation to others.
We quickly discovered our shared love of the Catholic faith, which led us to realize how our paths had crossed much earlier. As I continued through RCIA, he became an invaluable support, mentor, and dear friend. I met his beautiful wife, Myrna, whose heart was every bit as holy, open, and loving as her husband’s. It’s hard to say if we brought them into our family, or they folded us into theirs, but there was no question that it was family. He introduced me to everyone as his sister, and I called him Brother. And he was. No one could have asked for a better brother.
He seemed to have a preternatural sense that allowed him to know when I was struggling with my own darkness. It was uncanny how he would seek me out at work to ask how my journey to the Church was going, or later (when I had left the job due to severe complications with my pregnancy) would send an impeccably timed text, just checking up on me. There was never a single time that he made me feel like talking with me was an inconvenience, or that he had somewhere else to be. During some especially difficult struggles in my own head, he never made me feel like there was something wrong with me for hurting. He never said or even implied that I should snap out of it. He had experience that lent him a credibility and compassion in such matters. But more than all of that, we never ended a conversation without him assuring me of his continued and constant prayers for me. He brought the love of Christ into my life in a way that very few have before or since. Unlike so many casually tossed out “I’ll pray for you”s, when he spoke of interceding on my behalf, there was never a single offer that did not seem to carry with it a heavy consciousness of my soul’s need for compassion and heavenly aid.
He was a constant source of information, support, and brotherly love for my husband when Eric came into the Church the year after me. As musicians, they bonded over music, guitars, and gear. As men, they took joy in planning day long brisket smokes complete with chopping wood and sipping brew, while we, their wives, whipped up salsa fresca or guacamole in the kitchen before bringing out paper plates and folding chairs so we all could share our culinary handiwork and much loved communion with each other. As Catholics, my husband often remarked on the inspiration he drew from our deeply spiritual friend. When Eric and I became pregnant with our youngest daughter, the first of our children to be baptized in the Catholic Church, it was obvious that we would ask our sweet friends to become her godparents. We were thrilled when they accepted. It was more than a family of random chance, it was a spiritual family of choice.
October was such a busy month, though I fail to remember why. It had been several weeks since I’d seen Chris and a week or two since we’d texted. This happened on occasion, with one or both of our families getting busy or (as he and I shared a heavily melancholic temperament) one or both of us becoming overwhelming introverted for a time. It was the last Saturday in October, and I was uncharacteristically alone for the day. My husband was already off setting up gear to play a wedding that afternoon and our girls were spending the weekend with my parents. I had staked out this day to finally get myself back to the confessional, as I rarely had the opportunity to indulge in quiet contemplation after the grace of this sacrament. As it happened, a girlfriend of mine came into town and wanted to meet for brunch. We spent a long, leisurely morning catching up downtown, and as I left, I realized how little time I had to pick up several necessities and get costumed for a friend’s Halloween-themed engagement party that evening. While wrapping up the requisite errands, I realized that I wouldn’t make it back up to our parish in time for confession. I remembered a church nearby, that was happily on the way to the party, and a quick check of their parish website from my phone let me know that I could just make it for their reconciliation hours. I’d never been to the church, but sacraments are sacraments, thank the Lord.
I walked up the path to the church and glanced up to a little prayer garden on my left. Who should be sitting there with their dog enjoying the day but my sweet friends! The expectant mama, stood to show off her beautiful bump, and hugs were shared all around with an extra fur ruffle on the top of the dog’s head. I remarked on the great luck of running into them and asked for directions to the confessional as I had never been in the church itself. When I returned with a skip, feeling that amazing lightness that comes from such grace, they were still waiting for me outside on the bench. I remained standing, as I knew I was up against the clock for the party, but as usual was enticed to stay and enjoy their company. I distinctly recall how happy I felt to see their little family. Mama, Daddy, soon to arrive baby, and perfectly behaved pup. There is always joy in seeing Love lived out. We chatted and laughed a bit, catching up. Out of the blue, Chris apologized for some text or another he had sent several weeks before that I barely remembered. He had asked something and was concerned I took offense. I laughed. I remember specifically laughing and thinking that he was being so odd. Of course, there was no offense! What silliness to even think so! We all chatted a while longer until my conscience pricked me again, reminding me to not be late for my evening commitment, especially when I had promised the hosts that I would bring some of the food. I hugged them both regretfully, as I would very much have liked to joined them for dinner and a longer chat, but I insisted they come over on Halloween and walked about the neighborhood with us as we took the girls trick-or-treating. We’d had so much fun doing that in years past, and I was longing for some uninterrupted time to just enjoy their company. I gave a big hug to the little mama and hugged Chris as well. I thought, He seems… fragile. Which was the exact word I used later that night, when telling my husband about the unexpected meeting. I walked back to my car, my mind already swimming with things that I needed to organize and feeling the pressure of making it to the party. As I drove past the little garden on a hill, I glanced up towards my friends. Chris looked over his shoulder with a gentle smile and raised his hand in farewell. I waved back with a grin. The next day he was gone.
Though I had no knowledge of the tragedy unfolding on Sunday, I feel my body sensed the loss. The evening of that day I became violently ill with what we assumed was a stomach virus. I spent the entire night lying on the bathroom floor. I was nearly delirious between the high fever, dehydration, and complete lack of sleep. It was between 3 and 4 in the morning when I finally attempted to go back upstairs to lay in my bed, which was where my phone was. My phone with a message. A single line:
Chris passed away.
My brain refused to comprehend this. My world tilted sideways, and I found myself stumbling into our bathroom to be sick. I lay on the cold tile trying to wrap my mind around the words. I crawled back to my phone and read those words again. Then re-read them. I texted back trying to clarify. She was wrong. She mixed up her phrases. She must have. I asked what had happened and and whether she and the baby were okay, but it was the middle of the night, so of course no response. I lay there staring at the phone, trying to understand. I didn’t cry. It wasn’t real. A few hours later, my husband awoke and asked how I was feeling. I looked at my phone, at that sentence. I choked on the words as I tried to read them. It became real in the saying of it. He bolted upright and began asking rapid-fire questions. I couldn’t have offered answers even if I’d had any, I sobbed until I thought my heart would break and my lungs collapse. My husband wrapped his arms around me, and I collapsed body and mind at the foot of a reality without our dear friend.
Details slowly emerged from each conversation with his heart-broken wife. I attempted to do as she asked and inform as many of our mutual friends as I possibly could, as my fever climbed ever higher, nearing 103. I’m not sure how much was illness and how much was heartbreak. The fever burned in my joints and bones. My hips ached and my spine felt as if it was in a fiery vise. I thought of Chris’s soul and all the souls in purgatory, and I offered up this burning pain for theirs. When the depth of pain stole my ability to form words, I offered up fevered moans. I begged God to use this pain, in my body, in my heart, in my head.
I was weakened but had been symptom and fever-free for well over 24 hours when we walked into the memorial mass. It had been raining all night and the morning was filled with clouds and drizzle. I was glad for it. I wanted the whole world to mourn. The wet roads ensured terrible traffic and a late arrival. I slipped silently into a pew near the back and sat stiffly, willing myself to gain control as tears flowed down both cheeks and the grief sat tightly balled in my throat.
Chill, damp air filled the cathedral, but at the Consecration of the Eucharist, on my knees with my eyes closed, I felt a warm caress on my hair and looked up to see sunlight streaming through all of the stained glass windows, painting everything in warm color. Red and gold dappled my tightly folded hands. I looked up at the Body and Blood as they were held aloft to the ringing of bells, and for the first time in days, I gave a small smile. Once again, my brother, you are responsible for bringing me to Christ. I walked up and received Him with tears streaming down my face, but the quietest spark of hope settling in my heart.
Over the long days and weeks that have followed, I’ve been so fortunate to spend a lot of time with my sweet friend, his widow, the dearest love of his life. We talk a lot of her husband and of the love he gave and the lessons that he left all of us. He is with us in those words, he is with her in their sweet unborn child and in the sacramental grace of their marriage, he lives on in the hearts of all who were blessed to know him, to feel his love, to hear his wisdom, to have the priceless gift of his unconditional acceptance and friendship. These memories: of his words, of his actions, of his example remind me daily of tangible moments of Christ’s love being brought into my life. He has left a legacy to all of us who were touched by his kindness, a mission to bear Christ into the lives of others as he daily did in the lives of everyone around him. May I love as I was taught by Christ, as was exemplified by my friend, as I desire to be loved.
Keep praying for me, sweet brother, as I will always pray for you. You know more than most, I need all the help I can get.
I’m about to get all dental health on you, so if that’s not your cup of tea, then might I suggest committing your online decompression to perusing my eclectic Pinterest boards?
Last year, we spent a lot of time, tears, and money on our oldest’s mouth. She has a tiny jaw with heaps of large teeth, so quite a few had to be pulled, and she already had to be seen by an orthodontist (IN FIRST GRADE!) Now that the major players have all grown in, we headed back to the orthodontist for a follow up consultation. But let me back up a bit… and make it all about me.
A tooth that has slowly been shifting in my lower jaw, took an angle that made it nearly impossible to eat or speak without chomping down hard inside my lip. I had a huge, painful place inside my mouth that just continued to be subjected to me taking involuntary bites out of it every single time I ate something. I lost my retainer when I was 18, almost half my lifetime ago. Did I go straight in to have it replaced? No, I did not, because I was 18 and a freshman in college and there were ALL THE IMPORTANT THINGS that I did, said, and planned on doing and saying. None of these involved chastisement from mother or orthodontist. I truly felt, in my infinite teenage wisdom, that this would be best for all of us. Bless my heart. Now most of my teeth have played nice despite the absence of a bulky wire controlling them, and even though a few of the lowers have gone rogue, I’m simply not vain enough to have worried about getting them “fixed.” Even after my dentist commented several times about how it might improve ease of flossing and imaging, I wasn’t all that worried. While I don’t really care about getting “purty”, I’m the queen of radical avoidance when it comes to pain and discomfort. So after several weeks of teary-eyed internal curses during meals, I was ready to talk to someone about clearing up this little problem. Am I the first mama to tack on a little question to her kiddo’s visit: "So hypothetically speaking. What might you do for this?" When my daughter’s orthodontist assured me that he could fix me up in 6 months or less, I was swayed. After learning that the more aesthetically pleasing Invisalign were twice the cost of traditional braces, my good Scottish blood reminded me that I’m far cheaper than I am vain. I consented to old fashioned, metallic brace-face, reasoning that no one would really see my lower teeth any way.
In my totally unfair adolescence, I had braces for three YEARS. I had four wisdom teeth yanked out of the far recesses of my sinuses and lower jaw and four permanent teeth removed just to make room for the straightening process. And it was a looooong process. I remember it being uncomfortable, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for braces in adulthood. The first day, I was merely distracted by the novelty of something foreign in my mouth, however I woke up the next morning feeling as if I had been on the losing end of a quick left jab, right hook combo in a bar brawl. My lips were larger than Angelina Jolie, my jaw ached, and the morning headache quickly developed into a debilitating afternoon migraine. I was worried I would feel self-conscious, I should have been worried about base-level functioning. OUCH! Everyone to whom I’ve spoken that has experienced a second round of braces in adulthood agreed that it was much more painful the second time around, and every single person seemed to share some variation on the theory that while teenagers mouths are still growing and therefore still pliable, the mouth of a thirty-something has been firmly cemented for many a moon. Also, I’m probably just a massive wimp. Anything that triggers or threatens to trigger a migraine is more likely than not going to send me into a whimpering fetal position.
I spent days with ice packs on my face, alternating between iced tea, green smoothies, and an occasional milkshake (what? a girl needs to keep her strength up in the face of adversity). I felt somewhat cheered when I noticed a tweet from Jen Hatmaker on the second (and most painful) day of my torture, announcing that she had just had the same procedure done. Because I’m totally selfish, I felt a flash solace not being so alone in the adolescent-torture-visited-upon-adulthood world, but my charity kicked in a few seconds later and I just wanted to reply, “Get out the pliers! Abort mission! Do NOT wait for day two of this for the love of all things good!” But that would have just been overkill. Unlike posting it on my blog. Clearly.
On day five, I attempted my first real food in honor of one of my very favorite people being in town from NYC. (Love you, Mal!) It actually sucked the energy out of me just to eat after five days on a liquid diet, and definitely brought back that unpleasant pressure and throbbing. I ended (a super fun and fantastic day and night) on the couch with a huge ice pack back on my face. After a week, I could actually manage my day on only half the mega-dose of Advil that I was taking before. And I only ice packed in the evenings. Yay, progress?
Now that we’re nearing the end of week two, I’m mostly comfortable and completely off the ibuprofen. I can eat real food, or at least I’m technically able to eat real food, without any physical pain. Unfortunately, that does not even begin to touch upon the discomfort of being UNCLEAN! I have only become more fastidious in my ripe old age and truly cannot stand to have anything touching, much less stuck in my front teeth, lower or no. I break candy bars, so they can be tackled directly by the molars as God intended, y’all. I eat pizza with a knife and fork. I’m a bonafide, OCD hot mess. Heaven help my future therapist. My house maybe fall at one time or another into complete disarray, but when it comes to myself, I just don’t do messy. So, it’s been… an adjustment. (Completely unrelated: one could hypothetically live off of green smoothies for half a year, right?)
I know that six months is just not that long in the grand scheme of things. I’ll be happy to have a healthier, easier to care for mouth, and to no longer maul myself every time I try to eat. For the time being, I’m putting all my energy into preparing for my first tightening visit next month. I'll consider it successful, if it doesn't consist of me immediately throwing myself to his feet and begging him piteously to yank these suckers off. Heaven help me.
I committed to trying out the Paleo diet to see if it would help with my various food allergies, intolerances, and generally sensitive stomach. So here are my first 48 hours of Paleo, hereafter known as my last 48 hours of Paleo. Coconut oil, aminos, flour, & flakes In preparation, I headed to Whole Foods and spent way too much money on coconut in all of its conceivable forms, except the actual drupe itself. The next morning, I lept from the bed with a strong sense of purpose and started the day with a delicious, green smoothie full of kale and coconut water. Nothing new there. I’ve been driving the green smoothie bandwagon for many a moon now. While I was sipping on the veggie goodness, I boiled up a huge pot of eggs and put them in the fridge. One of those became my mid-morning snack. (Well, the white did. The little balls of yellow, sulfurous chalk kinda give me the wiggins.) Tuna and heap of oval foods
For lunch, I had a huge can of ethically fished tuna (that probably would have been cheaper if I chartered a trawler and caught it myself), kalamata and large spanish olives, and another hard boiled egg. I was feeling GREAT!
I can totally do this. I think I have more energy already!
Then came 3 p.m. My daily nemesis. The girls were taking their usual afternoon nap/quiet time. I was sitting next to Li’l E on the couch while she read, and next thing I knew I was waking up checking my chin for drool and trying to blink some moisture back into my contacts. I could hardly sit up. I decided to lie down for a bit longer and ended up sleeping until the baby awoke. The girls and I met my parents for dinner an hour later, at which time I was feeling nauseated and visibly trembling from low blood sugar. We ate TexMex, and I chose survival rather than principles, and smothered my grilled chicken in queso. I’m not kidding y’all-- Queso saved my life.
For lunch, it was rolled slices of ethically raised turkey (someone is making a killing being nice to the animals before they’re slaughtered, y’all) dipped in mustard. There were some olives and kale involved in there somewhere, too. Mid-afternoon I took no chances and went straight for my gallon o’ unsweetened iced tea. At this point I didn’t even feel the hunger any more. It had been replaced by I kind of blind carb-deficient rage.
After my plans to head to martial arts were thwarted (after making it within 300 feet of the door no less), I headed home where my husband had whipped up some meatloaf muffins from the Paleo recipe that I left him (don’t even ask). We all ate them with veggies and went to bed. At this point I went into the pantry and actually deeply inhaled an open cereal box. I put it down, but was firmly convinced that I was on the precipice of being willing to trade a non-vital organ for the least among the carb world. I would have celebrated a 6 month old cinnamon roll made with more preservative chemicals than the plastic wrapper it came in. Seriously. It was bad news.
As I lay in bed with visions of fresh baked french loaves dancing before my eyes, I realized:
I’m using a diet that is gluten-free influenced.
My carb-starved brain slowly rotated the hamster wheel before offering:
Wheat is the only grain to which I didn’t have an allergy or intolerance.
I congratulated my brain for it’s stroke of brilliance and rewarded it with waffles this morning…
but they were totally organic.
Carb Tower of Delight
I have several food allergies. I have a whole lot more food intolerances. I spent my childhood and early adulthood constantly doubled over with severe stomach aches. I hated eating and hated going out in public even more, because I never knew what was going to set my stomach off, but it seemed like just the act of eating was enough. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that a doctor finally asked with a heavy dose of disbelief, “You’ve NEVER been tested for food allergies??” Nope.
So, off I went. For those who have experienced this needle-filled joy, you know that it starts with a bare back. They drip as many things as they care to test in pre-designated spots all over your back, and then scratch each one, to make sure it enters into your body, so they can observe any reactions. The nurse warned me before we started, “Now this might be uncomfortable or itchy, but it shouldn’t hurt.” She applied the allergens and scratched each, then turned back to her chart. I’m not a big wimp at the doctor usually, but mere seconds went by and I asked, “Um, is it supposed to burn?”
“Well, it’s probably itchy is all,” she replied, not looking up from her paperwork.
“Okay,” I waited about thirty more seconds, and then asked a little breathlessly, “Are you sure it’s supposed to do this?”
“Let’s have a look,” she acquiesced in a mildly patronizing tone. I wheezed a little, and she glanced up. Her eyes grew a little wider, and she moved behind me to look. “Oh! Oh my god! Okay! You’re okay!”
You’d think that would be comforting to hear, but not so much when delivered with a healthy dose of anxiety.
Next thing I know she was yelling down the hall and a doctor, his PA, and another nurse all barreled into my room. They poured icy rubbing alcohol down my back to stop the reactions and dose me with a heap of liquid antihistamine. They debated whether to give me a shot of epinephrine.
“No, no,” I wheezed breathlessly. “I’m better already, really. I have to go to work after this.” Clearly I had a very strong work ethic... and an incredibly skewed sense of priorities.
After I started breathing more or less normally again, the nurse asked if I wanted to see my back. I handed her my cell phone and she snapped a picture. I was covered in thick welts as if I’d backed into a beehive, and from mid back up, my skin was blotched purple and black. It was pretty charming.
The doctor informed me that they couldn’t proceed with the test, which would include several shots in both arms, because “It would probably kill you.” Very comforting. A-triple-plus on bedside manner doc.
From this test I confirmed allergies I knew about, discovered a couple that I wasn’t aware of, and also walked away with a list of severe intolerances. Bizarrely some of the only things that I’m NOT allergic to are usually the first culprits: “wheat, dairy, and chocolate.” Praise the Lord! I can still indulge in mocha frappacinos and pastries! Ha!
I purged my house and my diet of all my trigger foods and within a month had put on several pounds and not once had to flee a social gathering or stay in bed curled up in a ball of pain. In recent years, I’ve been a little more lax. Allowing myself what was once verboten here and there “because after all it’s just an intolerance, I’m not going to keel over or anything!” In the past few months, I’ve realized that my belly aches have started up. I begin to wheeze at just the smell of certain things that I once had to eat to illicit reactions. And I’m just feeling a little tired and crummy in general.
Time to get control of my diet again. Not for weight loss, or vanity, or the jumping on of bandwagons, but truly for my own well-being.
As I have recently had some visits with my rheumatologist, I was interested in the claims of the Paleo diet as helping people with both digestive issues and inflammatory/autoimmune diseases. As someone who was very into Clean Eating for a long time, I liked the emphasis on veggies and protein. As someone who had gestational diabetes with her pregnancies, I was interested in a diet that would try to deemphasize carbohydrates.
I did some research, dug through some books, filed recipes in my Evernote, and picked a start date: today.
Thus begins the Paleo experiment.
We have completed our first full month of homeschool. Thus far we’ve avoided tears, yelling, bloodshed, and completely abandoning the idea, so I’d say we’ve done pretty darn well! Li’l E and I are still really enjoying it. Our days are relaxed, but filled with fun and learning. She’s doing well in Language Arts, and I think that we will be done with book one in First Language Lessons, as well as book one of Writing with Ease, by Christmas when we will begin book two for each.
Li’l E is still thrilled about learning cursive. She is now up to the letter T, using the New American Cursive book. We should complete this book in the next week or so, and I’ve already purchased the Copy Book Cursive: Hymns and Prayers book in anticipation of needing additional copy work that will help her continue to improve. This particular book will also intersect with her Latin learning and her catechism as both hymns and prayers are provided in English and Latin for copy.
Reading has actually gone a little slower than I expected, but we’ve still finished quite a few books. This is our official list of books that Li’l E has read and completed during her first month of homeschool (it doesn’t contain the books that she has read/completed during her free time or before bed). Mostly we've focused on the Little House on the Prairie Books (she's completed the first three), but there are additional readings that have supplemented history and world religions, as well as the last two Harry Potters, which we've used as extra vocabulary study as she has finished up the 7 book series.
Just in case you don't read 2nd grade-ese:
Completed reading in Month One of Homeschool
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (652 pp.)
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by Cathy Goldberg Fishman
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (238 pp.)
The Babylonians by Elaine Landau (61 pp.)
The Assyrians by Elaine Landau (64 pp.)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (759 pp.)
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (335 pp.)
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (372 pp.)
Chinese Children’s Favorite Stories by Mingmei Yip (96 pp.)
History is still our favorite subject! We have completed 13 chapters in the first volume of The Story of the World. She has completed a lot of map work and coloring sheets, and we’ve been reading supplemental material both from the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History and various library books. We are also constantly referencing our globe and wall maps. So far we have only done one project for history, but I’m planning to start adding one a week, because as excited as she is to read, I think that it’s good for her to get her nose out of the books once in a while and create with her hands!
We’ve done ten lessons from Song School Latin, and the songs are on constant rotation every time we get in the car. She is really enjoying it, and has been working hard. Now she has started asking if she can learn Hebrew next. Thankfully I have a friend who is not only fluent, but willing to help her in this endeavor. Whew!
I’m so happy to say that math is going extremely well. She has completed the first 70 lessons in Horizon Math Level 1, and is about to start the second book in this level. My hope was to complete Level 1 by Christmas break and start Level 2 (where she should be) by the new year. I think that we are on track to make that happen, thanks to her diligence and enthusiasm! I just rediscovered a book in my personal library that I really love called Mathematics From the Birth of Numbers, and I’m trying to decide if it would be possible to work this into our curriculum. I think my little history buff would really enjoy looking at math from this perspective.
Despite our rocky start with Science, we are enjoying using a plethora of sources to study this topic. Currently we are learning all about classification as well as plant and animal life cycles. I try to use the wealth of resources on the internet to incorporate science videos and interactive sites, as well as plenty of coloring sheets (because who doesn’t love crayons!) My hope is to begin using my collection of Janice VanCleave's science project books soon, and hopefully do one to two major science projects a month.
Overall, our whole family has really benefitted and grown closer and happier thanks to our decision to homeschool. I’m so pleased with the results, academic and beyond, and I’m looking forward to many more months and years of learning and fun with my girls!
Jen recently wrote a post on following your dreams that gave me some much needed perspective on my life at the moment. Throughout the day I jot down 4 or 5 notes to myself thinking, “What a great topic for the blog!” Clearly, very few of these things actually find themselves written up and published. I carry around a constant baseline level of guilt and the lion’s share revolves around not putting up enough posts. However, Jen’s piece gave me some much needed insight into my life right now.
People are so fond of speaking about the “seasons” of life. Since having children, I feel this metaphor resonates quite deeply with me. There are seasons of survival when babies wake every hour on the hour for months. There are seasons of nurturing when toddlers need near constant interaction and play. And there was that brief, sweet season where our oldest was big enough to pour herself cereal and we did not yet have a little one to tend to, so mama got an extra hour of sleep on Saturday morning.
Right now I’m in the season of a full house and homeschooling. My mornings are filled with teaching and playing with my girls. My afternoons are filled with more of the same, plus making sure they get to swim, karate, piano, and catechism class. On a good day, I get a Saturday morning filled with martial arts, which helps me keep my sanity. In the evenings, I take time to enjoy quiet time with my husband and if I don’t collapse into bed after that, I tuck in to a good book. The thing is, though exhausted, I’m wildly busy and deliciously happy. The only exception is that feeling that I’m not doing enough on the writing front.
I constantly battle with the feeling that I am failing, because I don’t seem to do many things which I very much wish I could: read more French, improve my spanish, paint more frequently, run daily, and knit a thousand and one adorable things for all of the babies in my life. But as much as I hate to admit it, there really aren’t enough hours in the day to do each and every thing that I would like. My priority is my family, and because they are my priority, the small amount of time that I can carve out for myself to keep my sanity (which again is for the benefit of my family and everyone else, as much as for myself) I have given to the activities that give me the greatest feelings of accomplishment and joy or most help me relax and recharge. Right now that is martial arts.
While there are so many things that I would love to write about daily, somehow the clock nears midnight before I even have a chance to consider doing that, and the truth is, I like sleep. I like sleep more than food. More than chocolate. More than margaritas. So, right now. I choose family, I choose fitness, I choose sleep. And when there is time, I love sharing all the adventures surrounding each of those things (except maybe sleep, that’s kind of the anti-adventure). Because of this, my new goal is to embrace my vocation, embrace my art, and give myself a break when it comes to not doing ALL the THINGS!
Being kind to myself is not something that comes easily to me, but I’m hoping that acknowledging my priorities and unapologetically giving my energies to a select few things will be a good start in being kinder to myself and allowing myself to enjoy life instead of feeling guilty about it.
I've always been proud to be an ATX native, I've lived and traveled around the world, but there really is no place like home. My favorite thing about my hometown is definitely tacos (for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner), but a close second is being surrounded by music. My handsome husband and quite a few of our friends are musicians, and while I don't get to make it out as often as I did before my kiddos came along, I try to make it to as many of his gigs as possible. Last night, the stars aligned for us, and I was able to check out one of his new bands (a fantastic collaboration with old bandmates. They rocked out, and I got to enjoy awesome live music with wonderful friends. I'll probably be dragging with exhaustion by lunch, but it was so very worth it!
I am wildly obsessed with iced tea. I can't blame my southern roots on this one, because I avoid sweet tea like the plague. Growing up, I was completely enamored with Coca-cola and drank... let's just go with WAY too much every day. Between the desire to be healthier and the experience of gestational diabetes with my pregnancies, I gave sodas the boot long ago. Not being a coffee fanatic, but really missing my caffeine fix, I found a friend in a lovely brew of cold black tea in the summer and hot green teas in the winter. Often I rely on Sonic for my fix, because I never could find a pitcher that would hold my tea and fit in my over-stocked refrigerator. Enter Takeya. I discovered their Flash Chill Iced Tea Maker set at my favorite place for finds: Costco. They had a price that caught my eye, and I'm pleased to say that this set works great! You use hot water in the bpa-free container, placing your tea in the interior insert. After it has steeped, you remove the insert, add ice, and shake to chill. My favorite part about it though is that the container is small enough to fit in the refrigerator door and it really is leak-proof, which means that I can store it on its side when I need to put my Tetris skills to work fitting everything in the fridge. Sonic, I'll miss your ice, but having my own cold, fresh brew on hand is definitely one of my new favorite things!
Homeschool Field Trips
Last Friday, we went on our first field trip organized by one of the homeschool groups to which we belong. Even my handsome husband was excited and took off work for the day to join us. We visited a pioneer farm which is set up like a living history park: Everyone in period costumes, actual pioneer houses rebuilt on site, women and men working at traditional trades such as blacksmithery. (Blacksmithery? You know what I mean.) Li'l E had a blast looking at native Texas Indian artifacts such as arrow heads, spears, bows, arrows, beaded dolls, and dresses. Bear loved interacting with the various animals: chickens, donkeys, and some Longhorn steer. Eric and I enjoyed a (rather warm) walk through the country with our little family as the girls experienced history! I am looking forward to our next field trip to a large organic garden in October. I'd better step it up on our botany lessons!
Song School Latin
Don't ask me why my oldest decided that she had to learn Latin instead of one of the other three languages of which I can actually claim some small knowledge, but who am I to stand in the path of an avid learner! I was working from rather dull and tedious books that we found at the library. (NB: If your book is dull and tedious, please don't market it as a children's book. In fact, maybe just don't market it at all). Thank goodness for me and Li'l E, Kelly posted her fantastic curriculum, and included Song School Latin. You really just have to trust a lady that homeschools her large, lovely family and is consistently hilarious to read in spite of (because of?) it! So, I went right out and found myself a book and cd, and we got to work. Can I reiterate? YAY MUSIC! My oldest goes through her day constantly singing (often without realizing it), so incorporate songs into a subject and she is in her element. As for me, I'd far prefer to dance around and sing in a dead language than sit and read through word endings for recitation. If your kiddos have so random desire to pick up Latin, this book and cd are full of so much win!
How to Talk So Kids Can Learn
Several years ago I read Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk. I enjoyed their take on respectful communication with your children. When I saw How to Talk So Kids Can Learn during a bookstore wander, I thought it would be perfect to read now while things are still going well on the homeschool front, in preparation for the more wintery season when the newness loses its luster. It was as good as I remember the first book being and I liked the teaching specific direction. I'm fairly certain that the ideas from their first book could be easily translated to the learning environment, but as it had been a while since I'd read it, I was quite pleased with the ideas, and I feel prepared for several situations that I hadn't thought to anticipate. This is a quick and worthwhile read for educators and parents.
Linking up with our lovely guest host, Grace, for another volume of favs!
My writing desk is upstairs in a little nook against two windows that look out onto our our street, park, and pond. It has good wooden blinds which keep out the sun when it blazes on that side of the house, but I've been longing for some lovely curtains. It's not a matter of covering, it's a desire to add a little texture to the tiny area and perk things up with some pretty colors. I've been looking for curtains or material for awhile and hadn't found anything to catch my fancy. Then I just so happened to come across THIS curtain, or shower curtain to be exact. It just begged to be brought home, so I had to bring it and a little partner back. This weekend, I will be putting my little sewing machine to work, altering them to the correct size and hopefully getting them hung before a new week begins. I can't wait to see how they change the space!
Ultimate Sherpa Throw
It just sounds exciting doesn't it? I feel like I should have put at least three exclamation points in that title! Well, it lives up to its ultimate hype. I was pushing a cart full of kids through Costco and absent-mindedly brushed this with my hand as I passed. Then I (attempted) to screech to a halt (because the untold mass of all the kidness in there... well, you know, physics). After I backed up from the slow slide to stationary, I touched the blanket again, and then made the girls check out this miracle of tactile delight (they were unimpressed after I told them I had no intention of buying the blanket hugging teddy bear sitting next to it). Y'all. This is the softest. blanket. EVER. It gives me a huge case of the happies. I have dubbed it My NCIS Blanket, because when the Hubs and I decide to get a little crazy after the girls go to bed, we dish up some coffee ice cream, plop on the couch, and fire up the NCIS disc in the DVD player. It is my new official happy place. Super soft, perfect weight, and just big enough to share a snuggle with your sweetie... if you're feeling generous and he promises not to drip ice cream all over it because so help me. I lovvvvve my blankie!
My handsome hubs is a huge Malbec fan. I have to be somewhat cautious around reds because a few have triggered my migraines in the past. I usually stick to well-known Pinot Noirs myself. I picked up this bottle of Lunta 2011 to surprise my hubs when planning an Italian dinner one night, but it sat on our counter untouched. After a couple of weeks, I had an unexpectedly rough day and decided to crack open the bottle myself. Oh, yes. I can't say if my stress levels skewed my data collection, but I can say that I savored that glass. I have a good percentage of French blood running through my veins, but I will be the first to proclaim Argentina an exceptional producer of Malbecs!
Whole Fruit Frozen Margaritas
An even better source that Argentina for delicious adult beverages? My Vitamix blender, manned by my loving hubs. We finally tried out this recipe for whole-fruit frozen margaritas, and I'm not sure I can ever truly love another margarita. These are perfection! With whole pieces of oranges, limes, and lemons blended into the mix, they seemed downright healthy (though tasted deliciously sinful). Before autumn sets in, may I suggest one, last, delicious salute to summer?
I really enjoyed reading this short article which contained several self-contemplative thoughts of a man with high IQ. He was able to quite succinctly describe the pitfalls of high intelligence, low motivation, and a sense of entitlement. In a very secular format, I thought the idea that we should be measured by the fruits of our works was clearly expressed. This article touched on an alienation that I felt in school, a frustration that I felt in young adulthood, and a concern that I feel as a parent for the test-result-heavy focus with which the vast majority of young people are saddled.
Every Sunday, or the rare Saturday night, I find myself once again experiencing the sacrifice of the Mass. Oh, not that sacrifice. One that is not nearly so important, but that I find myself selfishly believing to be above all sacrifices in the history of sacrifice: Mass with toddler. This is my second child, but only my first time trying to survive Mass with a little one. When our first was this small, we had not yet found the church. Our most stressful experiences involved our oldest complaining a little too loudly about her entree at a high end restaurant.
Each Sunday, I again begin wondering why am such a complete failure as a Catholic mother. It’s so disheartening. I see these lovely families full of children, dressed perfectly, sitting all in a row, from oldest to infant. The babies sleeping deeply while swaddled tightly to their mamas, the toddlers quietly content to be passed between parents and siblings. Is this Stepford? Tell me the truth, cradle Catholics. You’re giving those babies Benadryl before you walk in, aren’t you?
My littlest is not yet 18 months, but has a personality three times bigger than she is. She is a ball of sass and sunshine, who is very rarely in a bad mood, and delights in sharing her cheesecake smile with anyone whose attention she can capture. I’m not sure she’s ever actually been ill-tempered at Mass. Her problem is all that joy: she wants to share it! It shall not be contained! She is very content to sit on my lap, as long as she can say my name repeatedly and with increasing volume every time she notices something or someone new, feeling that such novelties should be brought to my immediate attention. A budding bibliophile, she is thrilled to be given a book to keep her occupied during the service, as long as she can “read” aloud, babbling at the top of her voice, so that no one misses a single plot point of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. A couple of weeks ago, we just completely gave up starting in the sanctuary, because let’s be honest, we are clearly card-carrying members of the Narthex Club.
I am trying to understand where I am going wrong. On one level, I think: maybe it’s because we are both converts. We missed the “how to make your kids sit quietly in Mass” upbringing. Never mind that we both did, after all, grow up going to church, regardless of denomination. Or maybe it’s because I’m simply failing at discipling. Never mind that my oldest is constantly complimented on her manners by strangers and friends alike, or that they are both incredibly pleasant to be with, even at adult-heavy meals or parties. Some small part of me thinks: Okay, she’s a year old. She has neither the attention span, nor the will-power to sit completely quiet for an hour, but then I see all of those other perfect families with their ducks in a quiet row, and doubt myself. Deeply.
Honestly, I couldn’t possibly tell you what I’m doing wrong, or what the problem is, but it is incredibly disheartening and we instantly cringe the moment we walk through the doors of the church. The Mass which has, since I discovered it, truly been my sanctuary, my reprieve, and my vital place for restoration before beginning each week, has become a punishment. To walk into a place that should provide community and feel like you aren’t wanted, that your presence is not only irritating to others, but ruining their experience of a peaceful refuge as well, is so painful to me, as an introvert, as a perfectionist, as a person. Add to that the tension it causes for my husband and I as parents and parishioners, and between us, as partners, and I feel like getting my family to Mass is ruining our day and everyone else's.
I know this is simply a season in life and will pass, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to believe that there will be light soon enough at the end of this tunnel. I feel quite lost. I have no answer. Giving up Mass is obviously not an option, but continuing to cause such strife and stress in our lives, does not seem to be an acceptable outcome either.
Toddler mamas, care to share your Mass magic? It would be so deeply appreciated.
I’ve crossed the threshold. I’m like the new mother, whose only two options are exhausted collapse or being up and completely physically, emotionally, mentally, and physiologically attached to this other little being. So that’s all she has to talk about. Seriously. That’s me and homeschool right now. It’s taking pretty much all of my time and energy to organize, plan, and implement, but I’m ridiculously enamored. I've been thinking a lot this week about the things that have happened which I completely didn't expect, so here they are in Seven Quick Takes:
I haven't touched the schedules or daily lesson plans since the first day. I'm an obsessive list maker. I like bullet points and Outlook calendars and a designated place and time for all things. As it turns out, that is not what our little academic endeavors need to run smoothly. With the exception of doing subjects in the same order each day, there is not a hard and fast program to which we adhere. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with only teaching one grade level, but I've found that we are both very happy to simply know that we always start in the same place and always know what will come next. It is nice to be able to add spend additional time on things that she's really interested in or give in to her desire to add the next lesson. And it's also nice to be able to move on when she's finished the assigned work quickly (and well), but isn't interested in spending any more time on it.
Without the bureaucracy of crowd control and the need to wait on 29 other kids to finish working, we finish quickly! I honestly thought that I did my usual overachiever shtick and chose way too many things to do, so it was a little terrifying when I realized that everything we had to get done could be finished by lunch. Um… I know that we are doing it all, but everything in my brain screams to add more to the day. Thankfully, my oldest still sees this all as a game, so she’s usually begging to do more after lunch. Plus, I've realized that afternoons are perfect for fun (read some what messy and time consuming crafts that reinforce our history or science lessons), so we've staked out afternoons our oases of creativity. Conscious assuaged!
We’re going through math far faster than I expected, which is good because we’re still working on grade 1 math. This is because she tested at that level on every single curriculum placement test that I tried. Still grinding my teeth over that little surprise. I’m hoping we get all of this done by December, and we can be in the zone to zoom through grade 2 math. Even if we have to work through the summer, it would be nice to have her back on track and starting grade 3 math work next fall.
It’s taking much longer to read a book than I expected. It turns out that she is a very voracious reader when she picks her own things, but when I assign something, it suddenly becomes "work." I never thought I’d need to encourage her to read. I chose Little House in the Big Woods as our first read for the school year, because it matched up with some of her language arts copy work, and also because I wanted to prepare her for a fun field trip that we plan on attended to a pioneer farm. Amusingly, she finished up the book today, and immediately after it was no longer "assigned work," she asked if she was allowed to re-read it, then proceeded to devour half the book again in one sitting. I throw up my hands! C'est la vie. At least I will know to allot two weeks for each book instead of one.
Li'l E suddenly decided that she wanted to learn Latin. Well that came out of left field! I am certain a lot of her interest comes from attending mass. She is constantly asking about things written in paintings or on the walls of the buildings themselves. Also, simply hearing and reciting the various parts of mass like the Agnus Dei has always interested her. She is intrigued when she sees or hears words that she doesn't know. She immediately wants to know what language they are, where they are spoken, and how to pronounce them. (I had to explain about Latin and the dead-language-ness and the whole best guess deal). She is truly fascinated by all languages, so I supposed this shouldn’t have been such a surprise. I’m trying to look into a couple of options. Recently Kelly mentioned a curriculum that seemed interesting. Of course, everything I’ve looked at so far comes with a price tag, and we've used up all of our allotted moola for this session. Plus, if Li'l E really wants to do a language right now, we have the Rosetta Stone Spanish, which I still want to work on with her. She had a great time with it over the summer, but I haven’t put it into our schedule yet, because I want to keep things light and breezy. So far, we’ve avoided arguing, bickering, cajoling, and/or begging, so I’m thinking: Why cram in extra stuff right now? She’s not only willing, but requesting to do extra math work. She’s always game to do plenty of extra thises and thats, so I want to try and accommodate her. What does she want to learn? What sparks her interest? What does she love? Because what’s the point of homeschooling if you can’t tailor your learnin' to your kiddos?
I’m surprised at how many of my thoughts are consumed by this. Even though I have teaching experience, for some reason I felt like if I had everything well planned, it would be a "set it and forget it" kind of deal. Ha! Not hardly, chickadee! I’m obsessed! I find that almost every new book, article, toy, news report, plant, picture, or song that I come across is automatically scanned by my brain for potential academic usability. It’s wild! Some might use another word...
Finally, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m pretty surprised (perhaps shocked is a more accurate description) about how much I love, truly LOVE, being home with the kids all day. During the babyhood of my first, I was a miserable mess and couldn’t wait to get back to work, but now I’m so thankful that I have this time with them! I’m glad that we don’t get separated for the major part of our day and that our only chance to see her is for a couple hours in the evening. I love that when the baby wakes up and she calls for her sissy, all we have to do is walk downstairs and they get to play. I like breaking up the day with moments of learning and reading and plenty of spontaneous games of ring-around-the-rosey or ninja dance party (yes, we have ninja dance parties; you know you wanna) or walks and bike rides around the 'hood. I like that our home is constantly filled with the laughter of my girls. And Li’l E plays with her friends in the neighborhood every single day after school. It's so fun having the house full of all of those crazy kids. It’s really interesting what they talk about, and how they all tend to like me near by to join in a game or answer their questions (I'm trying to enjoy it while I can; I know that their is a seriously short shelf life on Mom Cool). I’m just happy with the decision we made for our family to an extent that honestly surprises and delights me.
Don't forget to check out more Seven Quick Takes at Jen's newly redesigned Site of Awesomeness!