Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Like a Snow Day with No Snow

Today - at two days beyond my due date with my third child - I have reached a peak in the emotional ups and downs which characterize the feelings of awaiting a childbirth. I mean, really, these days are total freebies. It is like a snow day - you thought you had assignments due and meetings to attend, but then everything got canceled and you are home with 24 free hours. That is kind of how it is around here. This was "supposed" to be the early days of sleeping and nursing and getting to smell the new baby, but instead we are just waiting. There are no more clothes to be washed or car seats to be assembled. Tonight we even threw away our homemade October calendar, with the words "due date" scribbled on last Thursday. Before us stretches the great unknown. Yet I am now trying to think of these blank November days as freed up calendar days in our "box-it-all-in" human mentality and enjoying every unexpected free day with my mother, husband and two (out of utero) great kids.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lowering The Bar

When the kids are sick and mom doesn't feel so hot either...

The laundry can wait.
Clean floors will happen another day.
Frozen pizza will do for dinner.
Martha Stewart will be a continual dream.
The TV will be our friend.

Every tear will be accounted for.
Every request will be nurtured.
Every hot cheek will be soothed.

I will nap with my little one because he needs me.

The computer will rest.
And we will all, eventually, be well...

and probably better off than before.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Candy Math -- A Halloween Tradition

If you are going to be trick or treating this year, I wanted to post this now so that you can gather some supplies if you like.

I make myself feel better about all that candy consumption by turning Halloween into an extended, hands on, math lesson for my children. This can take on a number of forms. In the past, we have counted, sorted and graphed our candy. We have used bar graphs and line graphs and venn diagrams. You can do addition and subtraction, and even division as the candy is shared. Since Halloween falls on the weekend this year, I may have Dad sit down with the oldest and do a little Excel lesson to expand our candy graphing, too.

We are not quite un-schoolers, but often I find that our homeschooling works best when we can take what we are doing in real life and make it fit our curriculum. We will wind up skipping many of the graphing lessons in Saxon Math because we have already covered the material with candy math.
Last year, B-Mama discussed Halloween etiquette, and I will surely be talking to my children before hand about kindness, respecting lawns, and thank yous. I will also take Red's advice and give my kids a real meal before trick or treating and tell them how candy on an empty stomach can make you feel. I think our "Health, Safety and Manners" course will come to real life as well!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Must Read!

We are all so busy trying to figure out how to fit it all in, but maybe if we put first things first...

two recent blog posts to consider, first, simple but deep time management advice at Fallible Blogma

and, in order to follow that advice, we may have to let go of some things...or everything? Ponder what Laura has to say about being a quitter.

One more Phanatic!

While I am from New York City (and don't you forget it!), this is one area where I have allowed, over time, my husband's loyalties to win out. Up until now, this has been friendly, as we graciously congratulated the Giants on the Super Bowl will and my family expressed joy that PT got to be a little boy watching his team win the World Series. This year, though, I don't quite know how to feel. I have never had to root against the Yankees to support the Phillies, but I don't like the idea of a house divided. My husband is like a kid about it, no team is really established until they have beaten the Yankees, he spent $15 on a World Series Program at a newstand this week, oh, and do you all know about the poetry?

Go Phils!

World Series Game 1 begins tonight. Even baby Claire is ready with her first Phillies tee.

Go Phils !

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Disaster Strikes...

...Sometimes the kids step up to the plate and help mom out!

Last week was just one of those weeks that I'm glad is behind us. We didn't have the flu but we did have a nasty case of the stomach bug, and combined with Dad being out of town and Mom having too many outside commitments (that were eventually canceled), we were a bit overwhelmed!

Since the reason of this post is to share one of the lessons learned from last week's debacle, I will spare you the gory details of our situation. Let's just say that "it" all started on Tuesday evening around dinnertime, when a rather yucky occurrence (perhaps the worst in my mommy history thus far) called for emergency measures - the yuckiness was, unfortunately, NOT self-contained, the house had to be cleaned thoroughly, and there was no question about it. The dilemma was that I was on my own and the kids were ready for bedtime to begin - but I could not wait on vacuuming, mopping, and laundry, it all had to be done immediately.

Much to my surprise, Christopher stepped up to the plate and engaged his little sister in building and playing in a fort in the dining room. Chairs were moved and toys were strewn everywhere, but the children were entertained and I was able to complete a whirlwind cleaning project in record time. Maria loved the attention and love from her older brother, and Christopher enjoyed spending some quality time with his sister.

Lesson learned: Sometimes, it's good for Mom to step out of the picture for a short period of time so that the children can rely on each other. This doesn't work all of the time, but it's nice to know that it can work once in a while!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Second Annual Tone, Trash Talk, and Thanksgiving Turkey

Since everyone from my son's neuropsychologist to my spiritual director has encouraged me to exercise recently given the stress of taking care of our son, I took it as a sign that I needed to get back in the saddle.

Last year at this time there was a builders race in the works. I was given a bye since I lived several thousand miles away and had just had an emergency appendectomy and a baby. Well, this year Red has a newborn, AWOL is getting into the zone for a foreign natural birth and we are praying for Kat's back.

But that still leaves 4 of us. I know B-Mama is always on board for a good work-out, Juris Mater would probably rather give up wine and chocolate than her elliptical and Mary Alice mentioned something about needing a little kick in the pants.

I've been back at running for about 2 months now. It feels good. Not great, but good. Oh, sure, there is that little voice in my head that, as I am wheezing after 4 miles, asks me if I am indeed the same person who ran 22 more miles than this for fun. So it's humbling to say the least. And that precious hour when all the kids are down simultaneously is spent on the treadmill and taking a shower (which explains much of my absence from this blog). I do not have marathon or IronMan aspirations. I just need to be able to stay one step ahead of my boys and maintain my sanity.

My family's Thanksgiving Day begins bright and early with a Turkey Day run and we are heading home this year. The last time I was home for Thanksgiving I was 7 months pregnant pushing a one year old in a stroller. This year, it is just me versus the cold. I am totally a fair weather runner since my critical bodily functions such as circulation shut down in the cold. I may be able to run at a good clip on a flat treadmill at a balmy 74 degrees, but I may just curl up in a ball on Thanksgiving morning and refuse to go outside. Except now I have all you readers to hold me accountable.

So that's it ladies. Get in a workout routine now before the holidays start. You know you are going to eat most of the cute holiday treats you make with the kids when they are napping! We can do is so very important for us to take good care of ourselves for the sake of our families. Pick a race...a turkey trot, a reindeer run...set a goal, and start sweating!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thwarting H1N1

If your community is anything like ours, there is mass chaos ensuing over the microscopic H1N1 tyrant. Schools are on alert, parents are abuzz with talk, and the pediatricians are working plenty of overtime. As of Wednesday, our ped had 15 new cases in her small town practice!

I just received an email with the following info from a Dr. Vinay Goyal, an MBBS,DRM,DNB (Intensivist and Thyroid specialist). While I can't validate the source (Snopes had no info on him), the information transmitted appears to be very sound.

*The only portals of entry are the nostrils and mouth/throat. In a global epidemic of this nature, it's almost impossible not coming into contact with H1N1 in spite of all precautions. Contact with H1N1 is not so much of a problem as proliferation is.

While you are still healthy and not showing any symptoms of H1N1 infection, in order to prevent proliferation, aggravation of symptoms and development of secondary infections, some very simple steps, not fully highlighted in most official communications, can be practiced (instead of focusing on how to stock N95 or Tamiflu):

1. Frequent hand-washing (well highlighted in all official communications).

2. "Hands-off-the-face" approach. Resist all temptations to touch any part of face (unless you want to eat, bathe or slap).

3. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water (use Listerine if you don't trust salt). H1N1 takes 2-3 days after initial infection in the throat/nasal cavity to proliferate and show characteristic symptoms. Simple gargling prevents proliferation. In a way, gargling with salt water has the same effect on a healthy individual that Tamiflu has on an infected one. Don't underestimate this simple, inexpensive and powerful preventative method.

4. Similar to 3 above, clean your nostrils at least once every day with warm salt water. Not everybody may be good at Jala Neti or Sutra Neti (very good Yoga asanas to clean nasal cavities), but blowing the nose hard once a day and swabbing both nostrils with cotton buds dipped in warm salt water is very effective in bringing down viral population.

5. Boost your natural immunity with foods that are rich in Vitamin C (Amla and other citrus fruits). If you have to supplement with Vitamin C tablets, make sure that it also has Zinc to boost absorption.

6. Drink as much of warm liquids as you can. Drinking warm liquids has the same effect as gargling, but in the reverse direction. They wash off proliferating viruses from the throat into the stomach where they cannot survive, proliferate or do any harm.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Natural Childbirth and National Pride

The stakes are high.

AWOL Mommy, brave and adventurous military wife and mom, is due to welcome AWOL Baby #3 next Thursday, October 29 in a German hospital.

In her own words: "in Germany it is assumed that you will have a natural delivery. That means that my wanting an epidural would reflect poorly on all American women. I have to do this not only for myself, but also for diplomacy."

AWOL Mommy, we're here for you. Thank you for doing this for us, the Birthing Women of America.

Friends, please post your patriotic sentiments, natural childbirth cheers, and birthdate and weight guesses. AWOL is a slow-cooker, with her babies normally arriving well after the due date.

"Natural-birthing AWOL Mommy" (sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle)

Marching toward the 29th,
A baby in her tummy.
Sassy in her army boots,
Natural-birthing AWOL Mommy.

AWOL Mommy, you're a soldier,
Who needs pain medication?
With jacuzzis, focal points, breathing exercises,
Massage and relaxation.

For her due date, I guess November 1, All Saint's Day, baby weighing 7lbs, 7oz (or 41 grammes or 1.5 kilometres or whatever form of Euro Metric you're using). AWOL, I'll talk to you on October 31 about how to lace your Halloween candy with castor oil.

The most accurate guesser will receive a Ritter Sport (German-made) candy bar. I'll get your mailing address after the results are in. What better advances international relations than sharing national chocolate? We've got your back, AWOL. Good luck and God bless, friend!

May I Recommend...

Sprout Baby Food.

For years I have used a mix of homemade and store bought baby food. Jarred food is convenient, especially when you are short on time or going to be away from home. Except, the glass jars are tough to keep in your purse and the plastic boxes explode when you open them! Plus, the food is so nasty that my older kids refuse to clear the baby's plate! So, I mash my own bananas and sweet potatoes, but my baby's culinary adventures have been very limited.

And then, in to my life came Tyler Florence, sigh...with his organic baby food in convenient pouches which, by the way, have a very low environmental impact. Have you tried these? Jimmy cannot get enough, he is loving the flavor of this food. Finally, convenient baby food that you can feel good about, and I hope that you can find it at a store near you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Good Habits and Education

In lieu of leaving a comment on MaryAlice's post, I thought I'd temporarily come out of my babymoon (because I'm watching the Phillies game and have time to kill during commercials) and redirect the conversation a bit.

First, let me say that it should be obvious to all our readers that MaryAlice generously accentuated the virtues of my children! You are so kind MaryAlice, and I really do appreciate the sentiment behind your statements, but I think your strong emphasis on the "wonderful" habits of my children has caused the conversation to go in a different direction than what you had planned.

I think the comments to her post were very accurate when they said it is dangerous to compare our children to the children of others. My eldest daughter Gianna was given, by the grace of God, a very polite and thoughtful disposition. As a result, she comes off very well in public, and often times her 3.5 year old brother just follows her lead. MaryAlice would not have written the same things if my 3rd child, whom I LOVE dearly, happened to be born first! Likewise, MaryAlice has two older children who are also VERY naturally polite and come off very well in public. But I digress a bit here, because I don't think this really gets at the point of MaryAlice's post.

I believe her point, and the point of my follow-up post, is that the most important "skill" we can instill in our young children are good habits, which are essentially virtues. Good habits are a prerequisite to other types of learning. If the habits of order, obedience, organization, and the like are not in place, it is very difficult for a child to learn. (As an aside, I also think these habits are essential to enjoying life with young children.) Often, early learning focuses on drilling facts and jamming our children's absorbent little brains with all kinds of information. While many children can learn and memorize all kinds of things, it is far more important to teach good learning habits. These habits will allow a child to learn easily and quickly when the time comes to teach them academic subjects.

And this is why I think it is important that we take habit formation seriously, and work to fix our childrens' poor habits with patient persistence. While I don't think there is a catch-all approach here, as each parent has their own unique style of parenting and each child has their own unique personality, there is one essential element to good habit formation--persistence. As many of our readers have already commented, this area is more about our own discipline than that of our children. And this is what makes it so challenging! How often I see my own poor habits practiced by my children.

And speaking of my own poor habits, I'm not the best at immediately putting my things away where they belong. Unfortunately, when you have a toddler in the house, this can have disastrous consequences. My daughter, like many 5 year old children, also has the poor habit of taking her things off, such as her shoes, and leaving them in the middle of the playroom. In the past few months, she has lost one or both of her shoes more times that I care to count. Initially, I was patient, reminding her that she had to put her shoes away where they belong. When a sandal was lost for days, I was forced to go to the store and buy her a new pair--at which point I began to yell and lose my temper when one of her shoes was missing. But week after week, we were regularly looking for her shoes.

Just last week, Mr. Red and I finally sat down and discussed what we were going to do about this problem. We decided to replace Gianna's bad habit with a good habit. We let her know that there were only 2 appropriate places for her shoes--on her feet or in the closet. We then let her know a firm consequence if we saw her shoes anywhere other than those two places. Instead of yelling or punishing after the shoes were lost, we chose to form the good habit of putting her shoes away. Unfortunately this good habit requires a lot more attention from us, and if we do not approach this issue with patient persistence, I guarantee Gianna will go back to losing her shoes!

These sorts of practical approaches to habit forming, are, I think, the sorts of suggestions and comments that MaryAlice was looking for in her original post. I'd love to hear your thoughts here. How do you approach habit forming with your young ones? What habits do you think are essential for a young child (pre-school or early school age) and how did you approach instilling these habits?

What mother doesn't long for "smooth and easy days"?

Charlotte Mason wrote:

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children
(Vol. 1, p. 136).

Now, here are the habits she had in mind:

  • Accuracy
  • Attention
  • Candor
  • Cleanliness
  • Courtesy
  • Even Temper
  • Gentleness
  • Kindness
  • Modesty
  • Neatness
  • Obedience
  • Order
  • Perfect Execution
  • Punctuality
  • Regularity
  • Remembering
  • Respect
  • Thoroughness
  • Truthfulness*
*all of the above is quoted from Simply Charlotte Mason.

It all sounds wonderful, but how do we train our children in these habits? I don't know, which is why I have hesitated to post further on the subject of habits. I will tell you this, Red excels at building good habits in her very young children. I think that this is because she has tremendous self-discipline. She keeps her expectations fairly simple, she has confidence in her role as parent, she gives consequences calmly and consistently. Treats and special outings are just that, so the routine in nourishing food and proper nap and bedtimes, and exceptions are carefully considered.

What I see from Red's example is that educating children who already have the habits of orderliness and obedience, cheerfulness and attention is much, much easier. They can continue to practice these habits and virtues while learning practical and academic skills because school begins just when you call them, they work until they are finished and then go off to play nicely in the yard or at the Lego table. They eat the healthy food you serve, take a little rest in bed and then go off to sports or classes, after which they thank you for taking them. They greet father cheerfully when he arrives, help clean the baby's hands after dinner, dress themselves for bed and enjoy their story and prayer time. Are these dream children? Red's kids are like this. They are not smothered by authority, and they have their struggles in areas of virtue and vice, but they are delightfully child-like, gracious and grateful.

My children lack some of these good habits, and our life is a daily struggle as a result. I have tried to help them to be self sufficient, and they want to be, but it is tough to do this when you can't find your shoe (pencil, notebook, hairbrush...). Sometimes we have misplaced things, and other times they have been stolen by a wandering toddler, but either way it is defeating.

When I have to go on a search for paper before we start a watercolor project, the thing often falls apart before it even begins. They may have wanted to practice the habit of attention, along with the watercoloring, but it is too hard when mom is hopping in and out of the room, there are too many temptations to fall off your chair and make everyone laugh, or someone goes to get a glass of water and spills it, or they fight over who has the red brush.

They do have the habit of obedience to my verbal commands, which is a really good start. I learned from Baby Wise to require "Yes, Mom" after all commands, and this, together with the confidence that they will obey, works amazingly well. I have made an excuse of the fact that we have babies and toddlers around, which makes it hard to do anything without interruption, and that we have spent so much time in survival mode. However, it would be to everyone's benefit, especially if more babies are in our future, if we all learn better habits. I say all because the truth is that I have struggled to teach many of these habits because I do not myself possess them.

While still enforcing the habit of obedience, I also need to transition them to doing the right thing on their own, something as simple as continuing with brushing your teeth if mom has to step out to change the baby, rather than picking up a bottle and spraying water all over the bathroom the moment her back is turned. This is not too much to ask of a 5 year old.

However, Red is in her babymoon, and while I am hoping that she will join a conversation, she may not have time to write all I need to know about habit training. We have lost one too many shoes this weekend and I am at my wits end. Also, I have concluded that good health habits are crucial to getting through cold and flu season in a large family with small children. So, I have been doing some looking on one of my favorite homeschooling websites and I have found wonderful resource, it is a series of blog posts on Charlotte Mason-style habit training at Simply Charlotte Mason. Go and read, and let's discuss it. I need your help, because home-educating my brood is going to be impossible if they do not have these habits!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Future Theologian

Dash, our 4 year old, has been wrestling with understanding the infinite and the Holy Trinity. At the most surprising moments he'll ask a question that I need the Summa to answer. I was not aware one needed a degree in theology to be a mom!

"If Jesus is God, how was Jesus born?"

"Why didn't it take God infinity days to create the world?"

"How could Jesus create the universe if he was born from the Virgin Mary?"

"How could God create the sun without getting burned?"

It is amazing to watch these little minds at work!

Monday, October 19, 2009

More newborn pics

Because you asked.

And because I can't resist.

Claire Marie, 2 weeks old.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Football Fanatics

On a cold, overcast, rainy, thank-goodness-it's-Friday 5 o'clock, me and my men are *of course* perched in front of the computer, listening to college football fight songs. Because dinner doesn't matter and neither does the time... but football definitely DOES.

7 Quick Takes

Okay, I'll give this a try"

1. Natural Consequences: If you get toothpaste in someone's hair, you have to keep them company while they shower.

2. Multi-Tasking: We will make constuction paper mosaics as a hands on history lesson. We are reading "The Story of the World 2" and have just read about the mosaics in the Hagia Sophia. I was unsure of a subject for the simple mosaics, and then it came to me: PUMPKINS. Now, this fits our fall theme as well!

3. Book Baskets: I just realized that in my Ancient Times book basket I have a book on St Valentine that is illustrated with mosaics. I will pull it out for some inspiration.

4. How quickly they forget: I tried to get the kids to talk about the (amazing) mosaics at my parents parish in Manhattan, but they had no idea. Peter even visited it with his kindergarten class and "studied" the mosaics. I have had a few other incidents lately that make me realize that my children remember very little of what happened before age 6. Another example was when the twins asked me "what is water color." I almost cried. We did a montessori water color work almost every day when we lived in the city. This makes me realize (again) that THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION IS HABITS.

5. Natural Consequences 2: So tired, these playoffs are killing our routine! I asked Peter why he didn't set the breakfast table this morning and he said "I'm just so tired!" I felt the same way, so I couldn't hold it against him.

6. Natural Consequences 3: AWOL Mommy tells us that she is ready to go for a military-hippie childbirth, in a German hospital which is more friendly to going natural. I can't wait to hear all about it. Red had her baby at a birthing center, K had hers at home, B-Mama went natural by accident because the hospital didn't have a room for her! Once AWOL has her son (goodbye Tummy, hello Mummy -- I saw that on a shower cake, how awful!), there will still be one pregnant builder, so the rest of us can relax for a while.

7. Is only one more than the number of children I have, which is probably why my writing is so disjointed. Sometimes it seems so normal, and then sometimes I sit back and think -- six children! We haven't left the house for three days, runny noses and rainy weather, and we are all a bit crazy, but I feel so blessed. When they read to me, or call me to come and see the train tracks they have built, or smother the babies with hugs, I am so glad, especially for the luxury-- and it is a luxury -- of being home with them all day. I don't want to miss a thing!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Family Book Baskets

I often tell people that I consider myself home-educated. I went to school every day, but most of the best learning happened at home with my family, in conversation and during evening story time. Once we were all bathed and in our pajamas, we were allowed to gather in the formal living room where my mother read poetry, picture books and great literature aloud.

These days, my greatest joy as a mother is to select books and to read to my children. One of the best tricks that I have learned from other homeschooling families is to have themed book baskets. Ours are in the living room and they are part of our school curriculum, but this idea would also work well for a family whose children are going out to school. My book baskets follow the seasons, the liturgical year and also certain topic areas of our studies.

It is amazing what children of all ages can learn from the themed read alouds. This fall, Leo has learned to say "apple" and "pumpkin," and yesterday when we read the wonderful "Ox Cart Man," Holly sighed deeply and said "what a wonderful, simple life!" An added benefit of the book baskets is that the books get put away when their season is over. I stick the whole stack into a big rubbermaid box in the basement, they are in order, a bit like a filing system. This keeps our bookshelves from being too full, and it also means that there is great novelty and excitement as new books and old favorites come out to the baskets.

Our book collection has grown over the eight years that we have been parents, and each year I pick one area to expand as part of my school book shopping. This year we have purchased lots of new books about the middle ages, for example, but no new books about fall. Our local library also does some seasonal displays, so each year we find new favorites there, too.

I wanted to share our fall book list with our readers, and in looking for a good way to organize the list I decided to open up an Amazon store for Building Cathedrals. You can visit there to see the books in my Fall Book Basket, and over time all of the Builders will be adding to the categories there. Amazon has a referral program, so if you decide to buy any books or products through our store we will earn a small commission. For now, the commissions will be saved to be used for growing and redesigning our website. In the future, I hope to be able to donate these commissions to pro-life causes.

Please feel free, though, to use the list to browse and not buy, to make a list to bring to your library, or just to get ideas. Go through your own shelves and see what "themed" books you can pull out and put into a basket. Books about bunnies, favorite fairy tales, and theme can get you started. If you have some favorite picture books, you might look for one or two non-fiction books at the library to support your theme, or google for a little craft project that would go along with it. Think about the basic skills your child needs to be working on and tie them into your theme.

Last year, we did a huge fall curriculum, even an apple themed birthday party. You can:

Paint apple bags and go apple picking (we used small canvas bags from the craft store, and a homemade stencil. We store these with our fall books and reuse them each year!)

Paint trick or treat bags (same as above)

Cut out leaves or apples and paint a big tree. Number them and do lots of counting games

Download the free life cycle of a pumpkin cards from Montessori For Everyone

Go on a leaf walk, and try to identify the trees in your yard or neighborhood

Make crayon leaf rubbings

Bake apple crisp -- peel the apples and cut them off the core, then the children can use plastic knives to cut them into small pieces. Even a three year old can do this! Count together as you measure and mix the crisp topping. Use smaller measuring cups if it allows you to involve more children (we often get one cup of flour into a recipe in quarter cups so that each has a chance to scoop, level off and pour some flour!). An older child can learn to make a simple crisp all by themselves. My 6 and 8 year old have learned enough over the years that I can get out of the way and let them do it themselves, and they love this!

Make apple prints, carve pumpkins, count seeds and glue them to index cards with that number written on it

Just a few ideas to get you started, so now go check out the book list, and happy fall!

Happy Feast of St. Teresa of Avila!

St. Teresa, pray for us.

By nature, impulsive, easily-distracted, passionate, and strong-willed...

She became, by her cooperation with God's grace, by her devotion to Jesus, and by the fire of the Holy Spirit...

Nun, mystic, reformer, doctor of the Church, mental prayer expert, and saint.
Dearest St. Teresa, pray for us!

* The sculpture pictured is Bernini's The Ecstacy of St. Teresa located in Santa Maria della Vittoria church in Rome. Stop in and linger and expect a profound conversion of heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cold Front!

There's a "cold front" coming through southeast TX on Friday, and we're all very excited! You see, for us that means that the temperatures will drop into the low 70's from the 90 degree temperatures that we have been experiencing. I love the fall for many reasons, but it has been hard to get into the Harvest Festivals and Fall Carnivals when we've been sweating in 100% humidity (I kid you not) and swatting away mosquitos. I'm sure that those in the northeast who are experiencing winter squalls are also having a hard time getting into the Fall spirit! In any case, I had to laugh when I heard about our "cold front" on the news this evening - when we lived in the north, a cold front indicated below freezing temperatures!
Blessings to all of you on this almost Thursday, which means that it is almost Friday and almost the weekend!

For Tex, and other (former) Sigg Fans

Kleen Kanteens are the Steal of the day, get yours here!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Petition for Princeton Abstinence and Chastity Center

Dear Alumni and Friends:

Would you please consider signing this petition to help Princeton undergrads start a new Center for Abstinence and Chastity on Princeton's campus? For many years, there has been a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center staffed and funded by the university with a prominent office in the student center. Many students feel that this misses the mark of addressing some major problems with the campus hook up culture.

Go to the Anscombe Society blog and the petition will pop up. It takes 1 minute. You can read much more there.

Thank you!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Welcome baby!

Please join me in congratulating our reader (and my Princeton roomie) Kate E on the birth of her baby girl. She has sympathized with Red throughout these last nine months, and I can't wait to hear all about the HOME BIRTH! Congratulations K! Praise God for these two daughters, they will be meeting up at the Reunions bounce castles before long!

Baby N, your present is pictured here, completed just in time, and posted on the assumption that mom is staying off the 'net tonight...
Posted by Picasa

Crayons, Yum???

Experienced parents, please look at the picture on the right and tell me, Why does my 2 year-old do this? Just this morning, Maria sat down to color with a perfectly good red and green flip crayon - those of you who have used Handwriting without Tears materials will recognize these. I returned 2 minutes later and found half of the crayon in her mouth - she had bitten sizable chunks off either end and was rolling them around in her mouth.

So what's going on here? Does Maria have some sort of vitamin deficiency that she is unconsciously trying to compensate for? Perhaps she is teething and the crayon's texture actually feels great on her gums? Does the crayon secretly taste delicious? Or is she just being a naughty toddler? By the way, she has recently done the same thing several other times.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reason #168 to hire 13-year-old babysitters

When she comes down with 101 degree fever the morning she's supposed to babysit, as she lies shivering on her sickbed, she will text her 13-year-old best friend. Her 13-year-old best friend has no plans, because she's 13, so she will happily say yes. Oktoberfest plans for tonight are still on!

Some other reasons to hire 13-year-old sitters?
Reason #137: She will call you Mrs. [Last Name], even if you live in the urban northeast where teenagers typically call adults by their first names at best.
Reason #89: Because she's only 10 years older than your kids, your introverted and mom-attached 3 year old son will develop a crush on her, making mom and dad's departure very easy.
Reason #174: Her own mother is still protective, since she's only 13, which means mom will drop her off, come in to say hello, and be home nearby and on-call throughout the night. Effectively, I have an energetic 13 year old PLUS her mother who has already raised 3 good children.
Reason #2: Because babysitting is one of a few jobs she's old enough for, she's more than delighted to have a job and will approach it seriously, with zeal, freshness, and respect. She plays with our children better than any sitter we've had.
Reason #1: She costs at least 30% less than late-teenagers... it's like buy 2 hours get 1 free.

God bless you, Sarah, and all the other dear young sitters out there. Thank you for your sweetness, and for helping us keep the fun and flame in our marriage.

Now go call your 13-year-old sitter today!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Staying at Home

My husband sent me a link to this article at EPPC, "A Skewed View of Stay-At-Home Motherhood." I found it interesting because I think that all the of the builders at one time or another would not have been considered stay-at-home moms by the census standards. I did a couple of hours of research a week for a DC based think tank while my baby napped, so I would not be considered a stay-at-home mom.

I remember taking a class called "Introduction to Population Problems" at Princeton and the professor asked the women in the class who would consider putting their careers on hold and staying at home while their children were young to raise their hands. I was very single at the time, but was still the only one to raise her hand. After class, several classmates who were just acquaintances came up to me to justify themselves, as if by the mere fact that my hand went up I had necessarily put them on the defensive. It just made me sad. There are so many options when it comes to working and child raising that I fear putting these artificial statistics in black and white can have a negative impact on young mothers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Open for Debate -- Halloween

In my typical big sister fashion, I was all set to write an authoritarian post on the subject of Halloween, but the more I turned over the words in my head, the more I realized that I am conflicted about this issue, that there is merit on both sides, and that the answer may be different by family or neighborhood. So, let me lay out some of the pros and cons that I see about celebrating Halloween, and I hope that you will answer them. Tell us whether you participate and why (or why not). Give me counter arguments for the concerns that I may have, or introduce concerns that I may not have noticed.

Please remember to use a name for your comments, even if it is something silly, so that others can respond to what you have said, and please keep it kind, we are all doing the best we can here.

First of all, as you can see above, we do celebrate Halloween at our house. Here is how I see it:


1. When it is kept positive, Halloween builds community. Last Halloween I met my neighbors, spent time with my children's friends, my kids practiced being polite to strangers, and we all wound up at one house where the children and adults got to know each other better.

2. Halloween is universal. Secular holidays give us a chance to share something with those in our community who are not Christian. The kids get just as excited about what their friends are doing as what they are going to wear themselves, and asking "what are you going to be for Halloween?" is an easy way to make friends with any child in your life. We are already telling our children some of the important, moral ways in which they must be different from their peers, but sometimes it is really nice to fit in, too.

3. Halloween is fun. Christ was part of his community and celebrated meals and traditions, and I think that it is a mistake for Christians to be killjoys all the time. Also, Halloween is cute. Really, see above. It is a nice chance for you and your children to get creative, to see what interests and excites them. I think it is especially fun for boys to have an excuse to dress up, as creative play can be more limited for boys. In our house, Halloween costumes are recycled into dress ups for the rest of the year, and both boys and girls love having costume parades.


1. Halloween can be a celebration of the occult. This is the strongest argument against, as far as I'm concerned. I don't like scary window displays, and I don't think that there is anything funny about dressing up as the grim reaper, the devil, or anything evil. Witches, superstition, calling out ghosts, these things may seem innocent but we tread a very fine line. Is it dangerous to assume that we can innocently participate in Halloween when it has pagan undertones?

2. Halloween is overly commercial. This is a close second, for me. I have a real problem with the culture of consumption and the way that it ruins what would otherwise be a lot of fun. You could spend tons of money on costumes and treats for Halloween. There are several Halloween stores opening up in my town, many of which emphasize the very worst of Halloween. People have huge displays of blow up ghosts and pumpkins on their lawns. It is all a bit odd, frankly.

Many of the costumes are of licensed, media created characters.

Along with this, there can be the temptation to live life "from one party to the next." In our house, we have just caught our breath from September birthdays, and others have had the big excitement (and shopping) for "back to school." When we really do up Halloween and Thanksgiving, I'm exhausted and broke by the time we get to Christmas!

3. Halloween is slutty. In addition to the occult costumes, there are the sex/prostitute costumes. Halloween becomes an excuse for older people to dress and act the way they might not act at any other time. Unfortunately, while this can be liberating in a fun and silly way, instead we see the very worst of human nature. It reminds me a bit of the pagan festivals in Ancient Rome, or the disturbing concept "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." A day, or a place, in which morality and ethics do not apply is seriously disturbing.

4. Celebrating secular holidays distracts us from celebrating the liturgical year. There are the feasts of All Souls and All Saints. I think that learning about a saint, or offering mass for family members who have died, are important ways that we can celebrate these feasts.

In some communities they have kids dressing up as saints in lieu of Halloween. I have never gotten the sense that this can be done without it being forced and odd, even for the kids, but if it goes over well in your community, please tell us about it.

As you can see, in this, as in many areas, including homeschooling, I am torn between my desire to protect my children from the worst of secular culture and the real need to be a part of a community, for the sake of friendship and apostolic work. I think of the children's book "Benedict and Scholastica" in which St. Benedict realizes that Rome is a dangerous place for his soul and decides to become a hermit, and eventually founds a community. His sister, Scholastica, stays at home rather than going away for a formal education, and she, too, decides to give her life over to cloistered prayer.

Some friends use the phrase "in the world, but not of it." Is this possible? How much should we be withdrawing from the world? Is the world really worse or different then it was when we were kids, or are we just over thinking everything, or being overly pessimistic? Is it overly optimistic to think that we, and our children, can use something like Halloween for good? Just because something is not "bad", might we be missing out on something more important, something truly Godly? And, what about friends and extended family? We have to lay down moral lines and not participate in evil, but is it sort of a Christian snobbishness to be "too holy" for Halloween?

All right, let's hear what you have to say! I'm really asking for it here...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

From the home of a Catholic Biology Teacher

One Great Thing About Being Pregnant...

...Is that when someone asks you, "What did you do today," and you really got none of your very-important-tasks done, at least you can still say, "I was growing my baby." :) So, on this Wednesday afternoon, I will try not to pay attention to the un-vacuumed, un-mopped floor or the fact that I have not pre-prepared the carrot soup for dinner, and focus on this wonderful reality :)

Monday, October 5, 2009


For the healthy arrival of Claire Marie.
Born on the Feast of St. Francis, Sunday, October 4th at 11:37 pm, as predicted over 1 month ago by her elder sister Gianna!
She was the perfect weight and by far my smallest baby--8 pounds 3 ounces, 20 inches long.
We are all home, recovering, and enjoying our first day together as a family.

Joanne, congrats to you on your near perfect weight guess!

Simple Maintenance

I cannot believe how much time I spend on the very simple maintenance of my children's growing protein appendages. That's right, I am talking hair and nails here, People. It is crazy.

I think it is the 20-month old boy that is putting me over the edge. He has to be held down bodily for finger nail cutting and he wigs out every time he hears the sound of our home clippers coming within an inch of his head. Seriously, it is so bad that I actually took him to our Army barbershop a few weeks ago to see if things would be any better there. You must understand what a drastic move this is for us. We have the reputation amongst all of our friends and family of being the most thrifty family around, and I was willing to pay $9.50 for someone else to cut this hair.

Things looked good when we got there, they had little booster seats, Spiderman covers, lollipops. I even went to the effort of going down there with our 2-year-old neighbor boy to show Seth how it is done. Futile, awful, humiliating, ridiculous and totally insane are the words I must use to describe the next 12 minutes in that barbershop. My little man writhed, spit 3 lollipops on the floor and tried to swipe the scissors and clippers out of the barber's hands. When we were done, I paid $20 and told the man to keep the change -- that is how bad it was. Unreal.

So, anyhow, I am not looking for advice here, I am back to home haircuts for the little man, and my near 5-year old daughter has cute curly hair that is much more forgiving with my shears. I just want to say, holy cow. We talk about the importance of how we educate, discipline and love our children, but what about this simple maintenance?! I definitely took something for granted for the first eleven years of my life, holy cow. Maybe I just need to stop feeding them their ubernatural gummy vitamins? Let their little bodies atrophy and then I can avoid the drama of these bi-monthly protein cuts? Hmm..

Friday, October 2, 2009

Builder Buddies

My family got to spend a wonderful afternoon picking apples with the (very pregnant) Red and her children last week. Like B-Mama, this is one of my favorite activities, and it is great fun to share it with good friends. The funniest part was these two little guys, born three weeks apart, both of whom toddled through the orchard without complaint and happily munched on apples.

I suspect that they were having a (non-verbal) man-to-man chat -- Leo attempted to prepare his friend for being "not quiet the baby." It is not so bad -- once mom is distracted with nursing, you can sneak into the pantry and eat brown sugar to your heart's content. Also, since the first bite of the apple is the best, just eat that, and put it back in the bowl. She won't catch on for a few days. You can demand juice at all times. Once there is another baby in the house, she will give you anything just to get you to be quiet for a few minutes. The best part, though, is that if you hug and kiss the baby they will think you are the cutest thing going. This is a much better way to get their attention than hitting, which will wind you right back in your crib alone. If you can, try to have the baby's name be one of your first words, or better yet, garble the name, and the little one will be saddled with that nickname for life. Most of all, don't worry about a thing: when it comes to family, the love only gets bigger and better.
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7 Quick Takes at BC

It's been awhile since we've done one of these over here at Building Cathedrals, so I thought I'd give it a go again. Here are the top 7 quick bits in my life on this beautiful fall Friday morning:

1) Autumn is officially here. Tomorrow promises great fun as our family heads to a nearby apple orchard to participate in their annual Apple Harvest Festival. We'll be taking in our loot of apples, donuts, hayrides, and folk music. Way back when on my college application to Princeton, I put my favorite activity as "apple-picking". I was totally serious. I cannot think of much else I'd rather do but climb trees and eat fresh apples. And now with my kids and husband (aka. my favorite people in the world) in tow? Just heavenly.

2) Halloween is in full swing at our house. Forgive me, I know, it's a dark, secular holiday, but you have to admit that a Halloween done right is beyond fun and creates great memories. So away we go!

This year the boys have latched onto a NASCAR theme for their costumes. We're not quite sure how that happened seeing as none of us follow car racing, but hey! We're getting into it for the sake of the boys. I am blessed to have my seamstress mother-in-law, waiting in the wings to create the perfect costumes. Though this year, we found official car racing suits at Tar.get and even our Mimi assented to the purchase. In the works is a "finish line" costume for our sweetest baby J. Note: He will be checkered and scrumptious.

3. If you want a good laugh, play the game "Telephone" with a 3 and 4-year-old. Today as my hubby and I groggily arose to the start of a new day, we were joined by two little blonde boys, who couldn't have been happier to crawl in our bed to snuggle. Such bliss. We all giggled and tickled. The boys started whispering secret messages in our ears, which then led into our first go 'round of the game "telephone". My husband whispered a message into the 3yo's ear, who then passed it to our 4yo, who then whispered it into mine. "The apple orchard is in the mountains" became "All aboard the apple mountain" and we lost ourselves in laughter. "Puff the Magic Dragon lives by the sea" became "All aboard the apple mountain" (again) because the 4yo thought the first one was so funny, why not just repeat it? We haven't laughed that hard in awhile.

4. If you happen to run into this guy, run the other direction.

He's fierce. He's fast. He's four.
And he's wearing Lightning McQueen socks inside-out on his hands. Beware of this fighting machine.

5. All's quiet on the homefront. I would say that life, in general, lately has been very peaceful. That is, as peaceful as life with three boys under 4.5 can be. We are all sleeping well and enough, our physical and emotional needs are being met, the boys are growing, learning, and maturing. I can honestly say that we are well. This makes a mama happy.

But all this serenity has me really only thinking one thing... when's the next baby? :)

Isn't being open to life the best? Some might look at it as a hindrance, but I really only see freedom. God is good.

6. I'm thinking of entering another half-marathon. Considering the above quick take, I may just have enough of a window left to squeeze in a November race. It's in town, its about 6 weeks away, I already have a training base. I really think it would be silly not to enter the race. Don't you think?! Most of my brain is echoing, "Why not?" especially while in the midst of a base-pumping, heart-thudding, iPod-influenced 5-miler. Really, though, why not? Carpe diem.

7. We need to start taking guesses on the arrival of Red's baby!
As you know, Red is very close to delivering her new little wee red one! Her due date is a week from today, Friday, October 9th. She is prone to having bigger babies and going past her due date, so that may affect how her midwives decide to "encourage" things along. I'm going to start off the predictions now: Tuesday, October 6th at 7:30pm, weighing in nicely at 9lbs. 4oz. Red, doesn't that make you feel good?! When making your guesses, please enter date, time, and weight in the comments section and doubling up on dates is aok since we're also guessing time. Good luck and have a great Friday!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prayer Request

Please join me in praying a Memorare right now for a special mother and baby.

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.