Front Porch Update

When we last left off I had ambitiously decided to paint our front door and shutters on the new house within the first 2 weeks of moving in. Smart or dumb, you be the judge ;) 

First, here is my 5 year old's rendition of our house and the neighbor's house. This gives you a pretty good idea of what our driveway looks like, haha! 

Back to the project. 

I removed the storm door and painted our front door almost immediately. Somehow the maroon door was super offensive to me. It's just not my color I suppose and I wanted the house to look like ours as soon as possible to make up for having left our dream home 1 year ago to move out of state. 

So we had a painted front door and we pulled weeds, which helped. Plus we added St. Francis (Frank around here) and a doormat. Plus, apparently, some old muddy rainboots. I guess we're going for a quaint rural vibe. 

But those shutters were still driving me bonkers! They were still that awful, dark maroon color that the door had been and now that the door looked bright and fresh I wanted the rest of the house to match my vision as well. So I got to work and painted the shutters, only to have a storm come up suddenly and wash a good bit of my paint off and down the siding of the house. 


Good weather eventually came back and I was able to finish the shutters, get a second coat on, and remove the worst of the paint that had dripped down the siding. I will be totally honest and admit that there is some faint brown-gray paint smudged on the siding still. We're looking into the best ways to get rid of it without hurting the color of the siding. 

Now the shutters are a dark gray/brown and summer has been good to the bushes out front. We also transplanted the mums we bought last year into a new planter that is not broken. My husband also replaced the doorbell, which had been a dirty almond color and cracked as well. Nothing fancy, but just having a new and totally working doorbell is great! 

Want a good before/after? Cause I think this is a pretty good one. I'm amazed at what a difference a few very small changes and some weeding/mulching/mowing can do. A sunny, rainy summer season also helps of course ;)

When we moved in (May 2016) / Currently (August 2016)

Doing Things Badly

Do you ever have those times when several separate events or conversations all seem to turn around the same theme?

It seems the theme of the past few weeks for me has been that there are plenty of things I do badly.

An encouraging theme, right?

Perhaps not. But then there has also been a flip side to this topic. Over and over it's been affirmed to me that G.K. Chesterton was right when he said:
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Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

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Recently when talking with a friend about marriage and how difficult it can be and how to deal with those rough patches,  I realized something. I realized that somehow as we approach 10 years my own marriage is actually quite good. Like really, truly good. And while we've had good times over the past, we hadn't settled into a marriage that worked seamlessly the way you see with really good, successful couples until recently.

I wish I could say that I finally became the wonderful wife my husband deserves, or that he suddenly became an amazing, mind-reading husband, or that we both found some miracle solution to a happy marriage. But I cannot. There is no such miracle. I'm still not a wonderful wife and my husband isn't a perfect husband. Somehow that's okay now, simply because we've gotten better at being married to each other. Not through some awesome advice or an experience of conversion to self-sacrifice or even an improvement in communication.

The only thing I can attribute our marriage's goodness to is that we kept being married to one another even when we did it badly.

Not that we simply didn't give up and separate or something drastic....that would be a low bar to set indeed! No, what I mean is that we also didn't stop trying. We showed up and kept working together at our common goals even when we were doing a terrible job at it. When we disagreed we got up the next day and instead of running off to friends or work to escape we mentally stayed "in the game" of our family life.

I find that most things are similar.

Motherhood - How many times have I lost patience with the kids before I've learned to take a breath and think before reacting to whatever wall they colored on or object they broke?

Homemaking - How many dinners have I burned before figuring out how to make a few tasty and healthy meals for my family??

Faith - How many times am I back in the confessional with the same old stupid sins???

But I can never get better at those things unless I keep on trying. It is only by being willing to get in the kitchen and throw some food in the oven and try yet again to not forget the timer that I could learn the names of the different spices and eventually put together a decent dinner. It is only by being with my kids almost constantly and dealing with their mistakes and asking forgiveness for mine that I could even begin to understand them and myself enough to cope with those daily annoyances in a better way. And, finally, it is only by dragging my sorry butt to the confessional over and over that I can even begin to overcome those pesky pet sins.

And blogging, writing, taking photos, any art really, is much the same.

I used to think that I shouldn't bother blogging anymore because I was bad at it. In fact, I'd go long stretches without writing because I felt like everything I wrote was crap. And much of it really was! Honestly, it still is.

I didn't blog for about a year. I actually expected to be fine not blogging, and at first it was no big deal since I hadn't been posting frequently anyway. However, soon ideas and thoughts kept coming to me and I felt the need to write them down, to share them. I missed the sense of community that comes from reading and writing blogs. Most of all I felt the lack of a consistent record of our family life. I wanted a place to record and share the joys of the kids' milestones and fun events and outings. I wanted a place to keep track of our homeschooling life and things we'd achieved around the house or with crafting projects. I found that blogging had kept me accountable to myself for growth in my vocation and helped me notice the everyday beauty in my life.

So now, here I am again. Blogging badly. I am trying not to feel frustrated at my bad writing or iPhone photos or lack of direction (hello child-induced-adhd!). I am content to simply be here and write. To keep showing up and see what happens. Worst case I end up with a big collection of lame blog posts. Maybe my kids would find even those amusing and heartening when I get old and senile and can't remember their names (oh wait, that was yesterday!). Ha!

Yesterday I was blessed to spend the day with a whole group of women bloggers. We listened to several inspiring speakers: Kelly Mantoan, Mary Lenaburg, Jenny Ryan, and Elizabeth Foss. Each of their talks hit on different points in the full range from practical (who knew there was a newsfeed eradicator on Facebook??) to the inspiring and encouraging. One message I heard, in line with the conversations I'd been having with others this past month, was to live your own authentic life and write about it in your style and not worry about whether you're 'good' at it or how it to compares to what others are doing. I especially loved the quote Mary brought into her talk, from Mother Angelica:
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Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other Saints. Let us be the kind of Saints we were created to be. 

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Hopefully we're all heading towards sainthood. And if we're not, then what is the point after all? It follows, then, that if that is our direction then any art, any writing or photography or work of any kind that we do must be aligned with our particular call to sainthood. Like anything else, of course, I have a feeling that sainthood is going to require a lot of living out the faith badly before the end! So who knows if writing has any role in what I'm being called to do. But as long as it's not in the way I think I'll just keep doing it badly along with all the other stuff I'm doing badly.

I'll leave you with this excellent, short piece from Ira Glass on creativity and being bad at art. My husband and I were talking about this exact quote in one of the conversations on this topic of doing things badly this month. I hope you find it encouraging or at least interesting.

Is there anything you do badly too? How do you keep motivated to persevere even when it seems your attempts fall short of your goal?

Custom Teacher Planner!

This summer I was fortunate enough to get a position teaching at a local Catholic Co-op/School. It's a hybrid thing, similar to a University Model School, and more involved than your typical homeschool co-op even though technically all students are still homeschooled for legal purposes. However, we did get the distinction this year of having our report cards count as evidence of adequate progress for state homeschool documentation!

Anyway, I'll be teaching and my older kids will be attending, 3 days a week except some holidays. I'm super excited about it! But upon deciding to take the job I realized one HUGE (well, to me) problem...

I had already set up my homeschool planner with full-time homeschooling in mind. Eek! I had already marked out our off-weeks and scheduled science and everything. 

And there are no teacher planners out there for less than $40 that I like. Most are too cheap-looking or have teeny tiny boxes and even my favorite planners would not really be set up for a 3-day-a-week schedule teaching all subjects at the 8th grade level. 

So, like any office-supply-junkie, I decided to make my own!

I really wanted to use the nice metal binding and covers of the 8.5" x 11" Plum Paper Teacher Planner that I had originally gotten. And while I was at it I realized the divider tabs and monthly views, which I had already labeled with Catholic feast days, could be reused as well. Here you can see the monthly view with feast days marked....

First I made a year-at-a-glance page marking all of the school days, holidays, and days when things were due for me as a teacher or as a parent. Each quarter is a different color because we're using Seton Home Study Curriculum and they run on a quarterly grading system. 

{ Speaking of Seton, I'm actually feeling unsure about using it, but I have the freedom to stray a bit from it in my teaching when I want to so it should be fine. At least their math and language arts materials are very solid and rigorous. }

Then I set about drafting a Daily Lesson Plan sheet on Pages (I have a Mac). It's really pretty simple to do. Just make a table and then tweak it to look the way you want. There is no way to do sideways writing on the left hand column though so I just used text boxes over the table and flipped them 90 degrees.

Since we only meet 3x a week for 36 weeks I realized I could easily commit a whole page to each day of lessons. Which is good, because I really wanted to jot down homework assignments so I'd know what the students were assigned in addition to what we'd covered in class. 

On the left hand side you can see I have the subjects and times of the classes, a section blocked out for lunch/recess. In the middle are the boxes with dotted lines for actual planning. On the right hand side are the Homework boxes with due date spots at the bottom. Some assignments will be due the next class period but many will be longer term reports or projects. 

You can see in the picture below the additional perk of keeping the metal spiral's sized to fit Erin Condren accessories, including the bookmark I got awhile back when they were running a coupon deal. 

And I also kept the original Plum Paper pocket in the back, which happens to have an Erin Condren pen-holder attached to it. <3

Back to the real workhorses of the planner.

I made gradebooks to track students' daily and test grades for each subject, aligning it with Seton's grading system which is pretty good and simple.

I printed out the custom daily lesson plan pages, calendar, and grade book pages, as well as a few other little pages I wanted included on 28 lb paper (which seems to be the closest to what Plum Paper uses themselves and their paper feels smooth like butter!).

Then I took all the pages to Staples. They hole punched it for a spiral binding for me for $0.69. I uncoiled my Plum Paper Planner with the help of some needle-nosed pliers and a YouTube instruction video. Then I stacked up the dividers I wanted to keep, added my newly punched pages between them, and binder-clipped the whole thing. Then came the slightly-trickier part of re-coiling everything! I ended up ditching the binder-clips and just moved pages over a few at a time once I had the first 2-3 holes in the metal coil.

I popped on the alternate, more generic, cover which didn't say HOMESCHOOL on it and called it good. I'm very much in love with my new planner and have been enjoying planning out my first week :) I may even see if I can re-use this metal coil next year for a new year's planner. Not sure how often I can bend the coil out and back before the metal snaps on me but it seems like it has a bit more wear left in it after this time at least.

A Summer Staycation 2016

One thing I don't think I've mentioned is that our new home is in a neighborhood with access to two lakes and a river! Before you think they're super impressive, they're more like two nice ponds with docks to fish off of :) But, still! 

I mean, this is my life? I live here???

I wish the kids were older and better swimmers! If so we'd be here every day. As it is we're still at the point where only 1.5 of the kids can swim competently, another can swim well with floaties, and two are in the sink-like-a-rock phase. So basically going to the lake requires both myself and my husband, and a bazillion inflatable things...

For our staycation besides the lake we also took the kids to see the Odd Squad movie at the kids' dollar theatre movies, ate dessert a lot, and attempted a camping trip.....which was a horrible failure because of a fluke thunder storm and then Rose crying basically all night because she couldn't handle sleeping in the tent. It was rough to say the least.

Plan B was camping at home, which it turns out is just as fun and way easier. And, we live on a basically we're camping all the time anyway, right? We made a fire and did smores and my husband slept in the tent with the kids while I and the baby and Maria slept inside. Because Rose apparently hates tents as much as Maria, the diva, does ;) And clearly an adult had to sacrifice and sleep on the soft, comfortable, big bed inside to keep an ear out for the baby. 

Being the self-sacrificing mom I am, I threw myself on that grenade. Haha! 

I swear I used to love camping, but after pregnancies and all my hips hurt terribly sleeping on the ground and so I was not disappointed to sit this one out. 

It was so nice to just have a relaxing week at home though! We got to do those fun local things with the kids we'd been meaning to do for the past two months and most importantly we got to sleep in. We even tackled a couple small house projects on the last two days of the vacation.

And now our lazy vacation days are over and it's back to the grindstone. The Mister is back at work and working harder than ever because it's the busy season. Back at home, I'm preparing for the start of the homeschool year and the start of the school year for our part-time school. Maria is busy crocheting, the middle kids are busy catching imaginary Pokemon outside, and Rose is busy sprouting her top two teeth.

Why My 14 Year-Old Doesn't Do the Dishes

From age 12 on, for about two years, Maria did the dishes each evening after dinner. This seemed logical to us. We'd been encouraged by the social workers when adopting an older child that it'd be wise to set up chores and basic rules from the start so that the child would know what to expect and start adjusting to normal life in a family. And that was very good advice. Our younger boys had chores already. Gregory cleared and washed the table each night, while Isaiah sorted the recycling. 

In general, preteens do the dishes. I did the dishes after dinner in my house. My husband took his turn, then his sister after him for a while in their house growing up. Once when Maria was feeling very put-upon that she had to do the dishes I casually told her to ask her friends if they did after-dinner chores. of her friends, ages 10-14, did the dishes each night as their chore. And some didn't have a dishwasher. She didn't complain so much after discovering that. 

But, as time went on I became increasingly frustrated. Even though I'd shown her *how* to do the dishes, and she was more than physically capable of doing them, it just never got done the way I wanted it to. There was a sigh and a humph every night when I'd remind her to wash them, and if I didn't remind her it would be left totally undone. Then, oftentimes, I'd have to point out dirty dishes left on the counter or dishes that had come out of the dishwasher slightly dirty and had been put in the cabinet anyway.

Then there was the always-dirty counter. See, she didn't see that wiping down the stovetop, microwave, and counters were a natural extension of the dishwashing-thing. That's what I did when I was 12-16 years old and the dishes were my chore. 

Yes, I am a firstborn, why do you ask? ;)

Anyway, and then there were the boys' chores. After dinner while the kids did their chores I would nurse the baby and put her to bed. I'd come back downstairs and find chores undone, kids watching tv, and then I'd yell, they'd argue, and eventually stuff got done but none of us was particularly happy in the process.

Oh, and, because it was my 8 year old's job to clear the table, nobody was in the habit of clearing their own plates. Not a problem, until we went to other people's houses for dinner and my kids popped up and ran off without a thought to clearing their plates or cups. Eek, it looked awfully rude and careless but they just all thought their brother would do it and he didn't do it because it wasn't our house. 

So, with the recent move I decided to change things up. Isaiah, being 5 now, was ready to take over a new chore, while Judith, 3, was ready to learn how to sort the recycling like her brothers had at her age. And this dishes thing had me at my wit's end and I needed a change. 

Here's what we do now:

  • Everyone 3 and up clears their plates and cups. 
  • I do the dishes. Yup, all of them. I also do all those things I wished my daughter would do. I tidy the counters, wipe them down, clean the stovetop, and wipe down the microwave when necessary. 
  • My husband takes out the trash.
  • My 8 year old dries and puts away the dishes. He stands right beside me and I give advice and encouragement and we just chat as we work. I'm laying the groundwork here for two things. First, obviously by keeping him beside me as I wash the dishes I'm training him to take my place in a few years and I will switch to dish dryer-and-put-awayer so I can still be beside him to guide him. Second, he's 8. I know the preteen years are not that far away. Boys talk best in casual, regular situations where they are working and don't have to look at you. I'm hoping this chore keeps those lines of communication open. 
  • My 5 year old washes the table. 
  • My 3 year old sorts the recycling in the basement
  • And finally, my 14 year old, who is no longer on dishes duty, sweeps the kitchen floors. That's it. But, being the tallest she does a great job at it! I showed her how to set all the chairs and such in the other room, sweep to the middle, and put everything back where it was. This takes her 15 minutes in the evenings, freeing her up for more schoolwork during the week. She is also learning how to do her own laundry, which she can do on the weekends when it doesn't interfere with schoolwork and vice versa. 

I've found this new approach to be a vast improvement! Before, even though I was doing many chores (ALL the laundry, ALL the bathrooms, deep cleaning, cooking, meal-planning, schooling, baby-care, etc.) after dinner I was sitting nursing the baby so the kids felt like they were doing all the work. Untrue, but I could see how they got that perception. 

Now, we all work together in the kitchen after dinner until all chores are complete. 

Now, I am present so I can poke and prod everyone to do their chores gently, as they lose focus and not way afterwards when it's bedtime and I lose my temper because nothing is done. 

Now, I am there to answer questions immediately. When Isaiah notices we're out of washcloths I can direct him to the paper towels as a back-up. When Judith needs someone to help her with the door I can help her or ask someone else to immediately because I hear her request. 

Now, all the chores are manageable and get done in a timely manner. What used to take 1-2 hours now takes 20-45 minutes. 

And the baby? Well, she's one now and doesn't mind waiting until bedtime to nurse and snuggle. She has fun with Daddy, maybe gets a bath, he puts her in pajamas, reads her a story, etc. 

P.S. -- don't you love that print?! You can find it at Hatch Prints

It reads: "God walks among the pots and pans" ~ Saint Teresa of Avila

My Sunday Best: In Which I Return to Blogging

Hey everyone! So we're going to pretend that this is not an ugly, in-the-rain, unedited picture of me looking like my usual unphotogenic self. And instead focus on the fact that I'm blogging again (yay!) and that I had time to sew a skirt for myself because Rose is now officially a big, fancy ONE year old who doesn't need me quite *all* day anymore. 

I made this pleated skirt in honor of getting a part-time teaching job at the local homeschool co-op/hybrid school. Also, because I had two Joanns coupons burning a hole in my pocket. It doesn't happen every day that you get ones you can combine......or at least that's how I'm justifying getting this cute gray and floral fabric.

I HIGHLY recommend this pattern. It's the Wide-Waistband Pleated Skirt Pattern.  The link has a tutorial for how to make your measurements and how to sew it. The instructions are good and the skirt shape came out exactly the way I wanted. If I was smart I would have left it an inch or so longer, but otherwise it is pretty much perfection in skirt form. Oh, and I added a fold-over button waistband, mostly because I mis-measured my waist and ended up a few inches short. When faced with losing 3-5lbs immediately or lengthening the waistband I opted to lengthen it. Why on earth would I ruin a perfectly good day with dieting, especially when more fabric can solve my problems. 

Anyway, I've tried at least 3 different pleated skirt tutorials and this is the best one I've tried. I hope to be wearing this skirt a lot in the coming fall months. 

Oh, and the statue behind me, that's Frank, my husband's college-buddy-reincarnated (Frank the First was destroyed by snow and falling over a couple years ago). You might know him as Saint Francis of Assisi. Around our house he's simply Frank, and all the bugs like to die behind him wherever we place him. Not sure if that's morbid or some sort of minor miracle, but it's what happens. Currently Frank is most frequently kept company by Toady, Isaiah's toad-friend who lives on/under our porch. 

So how's that for random? We got from sewing skirts to toads in like 2 minutes flat. 

I hope everyone has a lovely Sunday! It's Saturday night as I write this. It was rainy here at first but then the sun came out for a beautiful evening. Our church had a baptism this evening, a tiny little 5 day old baby boy, so sweet! 

4 Things Catholics Should Know About Protestants

Being in the unique position of having been married to a Protestant pastor while a practicing Catholic, I've gotten really comfortable with Protestant churches and theology. I am confident enough in my own beliefs to view their traditions and beliefs with appreciation and not need to constantly defend my church against theirs. I'm often surprised, though I shouldn't be because I knew very little about certain denominations too, that a lot of Catholics are really not sure what the whole Protestant thing is about. More specifically, I get the sense that many aren't sure how to approach Protestants in the context of their faith.

So here are a few things I think all Catholics should know about Protestants...

1. Not all Protestants are Evangelicals:

I often get the impression in conversations with other Catholics that they assume my husband, when Protestant, had certain beliefs. Things like: believer's baptisms, the sinner's prayer, no Sacraments, no Real Presence in Communion, prayers should be free form, etc.

The thing is, most of these are Evangelical Protestant beliefs. Evangelical Christians tend to be very outgoing and vocal in their beliefs, so I can see where the assumption comes from, but their beliefs are only representative of their own denominations, not other Protestant denominations.

For example, mainline Protestants have baptism and believe in its efficacy, many do regular Communion at church, and many also have First Communion and Confirmation and Marriage and Ordination ceremonies that they consider Sacraments or that they at least hold in form very similar to Catholics. This does not mean these are valid Sacraments for Catholics, but they are considered Sacraments and practiced faithfully in Protestant churches. Also, we're not the only ones to claim a Real Presence in Communion.....all Episcopals and most Lutherans claim the same, though in slightly different terminology.

I have many Evangelical friends and they're great and devout in their theology. But do not assume every Protestant you are talking to follows that same theology. Because, and here's another secret, Protestant denominations disagree with each other's theology at least as much as they disagree with Catholic theology! So if you're chatting with a Protestant Christian or a former-Protestant convert to the Catholic Church, do take the time to ask which denomination they grew up in or belonged to previously.

2. Some Protestants don't think Catholics are Christians:

This one shocked me several years ago when I first truly came across it. I first realized the depth of this assumption when a friend online casually mentioned something about "Christians or Catholics". I was all, "um, Christian OR Catholic? Huh?"

Here's the thing: she was not at all trying to be offensive! SHE didn't know that Catholics considered themselves Christians. She was not trying to make a point about our salvation, simply using the terms she thought were common. So, if you come across this, first, do not assume that ill intent is met, it might just be a lack of knowledge. Also, it can be a difference in terms. For some Protestants, Christian is a term that describes ones' status of salvation. Now, this is strange to us Catholics since we have more of a "I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved" of course nobody within your lifetime could make a definitive judgement on whether you're going to heaven or not. But this is consistent with some Protestant theology. So again you'll want to correct misconceptions, but also understand that they are using the term differently than the technical definition, which is simply "professing Christianity or its teachings."

3. Many Protestants have no problem with the Catholic Church:

Often my husband is approached about his coming into the Church with astonished exclamations of, "Wow, that must have been quite a leap!"

But the truth is, it was and it wasn't.

Socially and logistically, yes it was a huge leap because his entire career was dependent on his denomination! Theologically, though, it just wasn't that big a leap. Not many of my husband's beliefs have changed, they've more grown and refined. As a traditional, mainline Protestant who was a devout Christian and always had an appreciation for the mystical and the high-church stuff, Catholicism isn't so very strange after all.

This Spring, just before officially entering the Byzantine Catholic Church, my husband had to call up his bishop, who happens to also be a close friend, and let him know what was going on. The bishop wasn't in the dark about the fact that he'd been exploring more ancient faiths, but now it was time to officially withdraw from the clergy roster. His bishop, and friend, easily and happily congratulated him. This was in no way seen as a rejection of his former denomination or as a bad thing, simply another stop on the journey.

Protestants are usually people who were raised in their faith. They are not necessarily "protesting" against Catholicism anymore; they are simply living out the faith tradition that was given to them.

4. We have much more in common than you think:

Of course we all hold our beliefs strongly. Why else would we remain Catholic when to be so puts us at a disadvantage in this world that is pretty antagonistic towards even our everyday practices? The differences between Catholicism and other Christian denominations are important!

But equally important are the similarities.

We all profess God's hand in creating the world and us.

We all profess Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

We all acknowledge the Holy Spirit's role in the world, flitting about as He wills fanning the flames of faith and inspiring Christians the world over.

We all hold in esteem and make time to read the Holy Bible (whether some of us keep a few more books that others discard)

Those are some pretty big things. Not the only things, and I personally don't want a faith stripped down to the bare minimum, but the 'merest' parts of Christianity are anything but trivial and certainly worth our focus. We can spend a lot of time encouraging our Protestant brothers and sisters in these first things before discussing the enriching things Catholicism contains, which they may or may not agree with.

In a divided and often overwhelming world we can certainly come together as Christians, unique in our particular Christian beliefs, and worship the Lord, strive to follow Christ's example, grow in humility and virtue, and work for the benefit of the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, and the poor. There is nothing exclusive to Catholicism or Protestantism in that and by working together we can hopefully achieve more in a practical sense, and maintain open dialogues and respect so that someday, hopefully all will be One.