College Expectations, Festivals, and End of July Travels

Greetings from sunny, and insanely hot Florida! This blog post is brought to you by all the free time I have thanks to MDA camp! Although I’m constantly afriad of getting a call from camp that cuts our week short, Tony and I are enjoying ‘Mama Papa Week 2022’ with all the joy that comes from getting 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep at night.

July was a busy month. It was supposed to be when I caught up on all. the things. and got back into a regular groove post fostering Todd. In many way, I did. I thought perhaps I’d use this week to catch up on other things, but so far, relaxation has been the primary focus, which hasn’t been a bad thing. But, for posterity, lets run down the rest of July.

I took Byron to Kutztown for his college orientation way back on July 6. While he sat in an auditorium with hundreds of incoming freshman, I spent the day at the Kutztown Folk Fest. I’d never been to the event, as most summers I was either home from college, or working and taking classes at the college (and I probably didn’t think it would be “cool” to go at the time). But older, wiser me loved the opportunity to walk the stands, view the crafts, try the food and drinks, and sit in the beer garden and make small talk with strangers. I tried local wine and spirits and had a delicious piece of shoo-fly pie. When I told the kids later how good it was, they were like, “What’s shoo-fly pie?” and I realized how I’d failed to teach them about one of the best parts of their PA Dutch heritage.

So, so good. Even better than the roasted ox sandwich Byron ordered.

Byron joined me after his orientation and when I asked how it went all he said was, “That could’ve been an email.” Poor kid. They gave all the students a calendar that listed all the important dates for dropping/ adding classes, paying bills, etc. and I thought “Oh, this is really helpful.” before noticing that at the bottom of each month was a tip written for parents on how to basically stop interfering in their child’s life. So, they gave this calendar to students with the understanding that they were just going to give it to their parents, and that the parents would be nagging the kids about all the dates on the calendar rather than letting them take responsibility for everything. The best pieces of advice talked about how to acclimate to living together again after your child has been away at school and how parents may need to “adjust their expectations”. Uh-huh. I don’t think I’m the one that needs to adjust to living in my own home. I don’t know if I feel insulted by this calendar, of if I feel sorry for the college administrators who deal with parents who need this level of support.

According to the first tip, I’m supposed to create a folder of documents *I’ll* be referring to; financial aid, tuition, academics, residence life, bookstore, etc. We do keep track of when to pay tuition and info on financial aid but info on the bookstore??? How about my kids keeps track of his own stuff? That will send a real message of “support and belief in their abilities” (see the second tip).
“Help your student by referring them to camps resources and letting them find solutions to problems when appropriate. Let your student know you trust them to make good choices and decisions.” – I just don’t understand who needs reminded of this. Who can micromanage a child who’s away at college????
“Visits, especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners out are appreciated greatly, even when a student pretends not to care.” – This is a funny one, because the rest of the calendar is like, LEARN TO LET GO-EMPOWER YOUR CHILD, and this one is like, VISIT AND CONTINUE TO SPOIL YOUR CHILD.

Tony and I decided to list our old home for sale. We’d been renting it out for the last three years, and as I previously mentioned our tenants didn’t leave it in the best shape. As we tried to figure out what to do, we realized that in the current market, our home is actually worth more than we ever thought we could get for it. We bought it right before the housing market crashed in 2008 and we wound up needing to sink a ton of money into it through the years. We didn’t think we’d ever be able to recoup what we spent, but apparently we might be able to. I have a lot of sentimental attachment to the home, but that’s not really reason enough to hold onto it at this point. I’m optimistic we can find a new owner who will love the property as much as we did.

Our town celebrated its 147th Our Lady of Mount Carmel festival from the 11 – 16. Last year’s week of camp coincided with the festival, so we missed everything. And we couldn’t attend much in 2020 due to COVID. It was great to be able to walk down to the festival several evenings with just Tony, as well as treat the kids to carnival food, and attend the procession.

The XL mozzarella stick was a big hit.
Picking up some new scapulars during the procession.

When I wasn’t repainting kitchen cabinets or sneaking off to eat funnel cake, I was preparing for the Catholic Marketing Network’s trade-show in Chicago. I was hoping to promote my book, my ministry, and enjoy some of the Catholic Writers Guild talks.

But right before I left, I also had to make sure everything was ready for us to drive 16 hours to Florida the day after my return. We’d finally gotten confirmation that the MDA camp had enough volunteers and that Teddy and Fulton would get to attend summer camp! The boys and I compromised; we would stay in a “fancy” hotel on the drive down (ie no cockroaches) and stay at South of the Border on the drive home (ie risk of cockroaches).

I flew to Chicago with no problems and fortunately, I got to stay with Tony’s aunt for the duration of my stay. She arranged for other family to come over on the day of my arrival and we had a great family dinner and time together. During the trade-show I was interviewed for the Catholic Mom podcast by Lisa Hendey and Alison Gringas (which was so much fun!) plus I was interviewed for CMax TV, a new streaming service. I saw my book on display at the OSV booth and finally met my editor Rebecca in person.

Letting everyone know about this AWESOME title in OSV’s catalogue with my editor.

The only downside was my return flight for early Thursday morning was cancelled. I was automatically rebooked on a later flight but, seeing as I had to get home early to pack, I changed my flight to one that left late Wednesday evening. It meant leaving a swanky dinner early, but ultimately I was glad I had all day Thursday to get things ready.

Friday we left just after 6 a.m. The weather was oppressively hot early on and never let up as we moved down the coast. Thankfully, we avoided traffic around Baltimore and Washington D.C. (if you drive 95 you know how much of a miracle that is!) As we stopped for gas, I got a call from our hotel saying that their elevator wasn’t working so we could only use the stairs to access our “accessible” room. I learned that all their accessible rooms were on the second or third floors and that any available room on the first floor would be too small to accommodate our needs.

We had just talked to the boys about how being ADA compliant doesn’t equal wheelchair accessibility and this really drove the point home. Ultimately we got a room at another hotel with two elevators and all the accessible rooms on the upper floors. Tony noticed that by the stairwell on our floor there was an area for disabled people to wait “in the event of an emergency”. Good to know that if a fire breaks out, wheelchair users can huddle in a stairwell, hoping that the local fire department will be able to rescue them and their mobility device.

The moral of the story is, even 32 years after the ADA was signed into law, businesses are still constructing buildings that, while meeting the letter of the law, do not have the safety of the disabled in mind.

But let’s move on to happier, more accessible place – the Elks youth camp in Umatilla, Florida, host to MDA summer camp! We went over Sunday afternoon and all got swabbed for COVID. I was terrified (and had been for the last two weeks) that someone would test positive at check-in. Thankfully, we were all negative and we set to work unpacking and overwhelming the staff with instructions. I print out directions for all the staff, and Tony and I demonstrate proper lifting technique. It took awhile, but the staff seemed experienced and after a family photo Tony and I drove off. We’ve filled our time with a mixture of activities and relaxation I’ll document later. It was a blessed end to July and hopefully it recharges us for the month ahead.

How to Support a Friend Whose Life Sucks Right Now

My own life has finally calmed down after a challenging few months. During that time, I was blessed to have good friends I could reach out to when I felt overwhelmed with our decision to foster a child. Some friends could offer tangible advice based on their family’s own personal experiences. Others knew how to simply listen and provide prayers.

Of course, not everyone knows how to walk beside someone undergoing a trying situation. I know I myself have been guilty of dismissing someone’s feelings, offering advice rather that a listening ear, or passing judgement on a situation I only partially understood. Thankfully, with age has come the realization that I don’t know everything, and that there are better ways to be a friend to someone who is hurting. Especially as of late when it seems several of my friends have been given enormous crosses I cannot fathom. I am trying to be the friend they need right now and set aside all judgement, opinions, and personal feelings about their situation. So here are a few things I’m working on that I’ve picked up from personal experience (both as a suffering person and as someone supporting a suffering person). I am not claiming expertise! so please leave your advice in the comments below.

Listen

This is easier said than done, but is by far the most important thing. Just listen. Don’t wait for a pause in the conversation to jump in; just let there be a pause. Keep your responses short: “That sounds tough.” “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” “I’m sorry.” Chances are the person just needs to unload their feelings. She’s not looking for answers, she just need someone to hear what she’s saying. Give her your undivided attention and allow her the freedom to speak about whatever is weighing her down.

Validate your friend’s feelings, even when you don’t understand them.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with your friend’s feelings or not, you don’t get to say she’s over-reacting, or being irrational. You don’t get to say she shouldn’t feel that way. If you’re concerned that your friend is a danger to herself or her family, you can tell her to seek professional help. “You sound really upset/ depressed. Have you considered talking to a therapist about this?” The point is, even if you’ve gone through the exact same situation, you can’t expect your friend to react/ behave in the exact same way. All you can do is help her accept and work through her feelings so she can move forward towards a solution and/ or acceptance. Dismissing her feelings will probably make her feel like you don’t truly understand or care about what she’s going through.

No: “Don’t be sad about the past! You can’t change anything! Focus on the future! Get over it.”

Yes: “You feel upset about what happened in the past. That makes sense. You need time to grieve what happened before you can more forward.”

(For the record, the ‘No’ reaction is my default and I need to work very hard to allow my friends to work through how they feel. The ‘Yes’ responses don’t come easy for me so I understand the difficulty if you’re the offer advice / cheerleader type.)

Don’t immediately offer advice.

Even when she asks for it, at least in the beginning. “What do you think you should do?” And listen to her talk through her options. This is still hard for me. I always want to help and find solutions so I right away offer them. I often have strong feelings on the best course of action. But I’m working on holding off. (My friends can attest to my failure rate.) Often your friend knows what she needs to do and will arrive at the correct course of action without any input on your part. If you are a close friend, she may ask you for advice or suggestions. You can give some, however, don’t get upset if she chooses not to follow it. Once her mind is made up, try to support her unless doing so compromises your beliefs or is dangerous to herself or her family.

Don’t expect her to get over anything quickly.

Chances are, whatever she’s going through is not going to be resolved quickly. There might be grief, regret, or anger that persists for a long time, even once the initial problem seems to be over. Long after you think she might be doing better, check in with her ( three months, six, months, or longer) and let her know its okay to admit to you if she’s still struggling. Maybe she’ll be fine, and you can celebrate that! But be prepared to support her in the long haul too.

Don’t try to “relate”.

Unless you have gone through the exact same thing, like, exactly. the. same. thing. don’t try to compare your experience to her experience. And even if you did go through the same thing, it doesn’t mean she will process the experience the same way. Things may be the complete opposite for her, and that’s okay! because it’s not about you. If you can’t untangle your feelings from your friend’s situation due to your own experiences, be honest with your friend and point her towards another companion who can listen without the baggage getting in the way.

Don’t gossip about her or break confidence.

Keep what shared with you in confidence, even if some asks what’s going on “out of concern”. Trust that if she wants that person to know, she will tell them herself. I am guilty of blathering on about someone’s private business with someone else assuming they know what I’m talking about. Check yourself before you wreck yourself- and your friendship!!

Don’t be offended if she doesn’t want to confide in you.

Remember, it’s not about you. She’s not required to share information with anyone. She has a good reason for turning to the people she is turning to instead of you. If you’re afraid she’s not getting any support and struggling in solitude (to maybe “spare” people) you can certainly offer help, but you can’t force her to take it. Occasionally check in with her and remind her you’re always there to listen, but then back off and let other closer friends and family step in.

Pray

It goes without saying that you should pray for your friend. Let her know you’re praying and ask for specific intentions and then follow up on them. If she seems stressed in the moment ask to pray with her right then and there if she wants. Her faith may be struggling. I know first hand how much the prayers of others will sustain you during dark times. If you can do nothing else- pray, and know that it’s worth so much.

You might not be able to help if your own life is a mess and that’s okay.

And your friend should understand that. I was completely unavailable to my friends while fostering Todd. I tried to keep up with rosary and prayer intentions but I didn’t have anything extra to offer. Be a supportive shoulder when you can, but keep your priorities in order; your family needs to come first.

So those are my thoughts on helping a friend who is carrying a heavy cross. Let me know your tips below!

Todd Moves On, and the Rest of June

Lots has happened in the last month, but I’m only catching my breath now because Todd, our foster son, was placed with a family member last Monday. In New Jersey, reunification with the child’s parents is the top priority, but placement with a family member or close family friend is the next goal, so when a family member expressed interest in Todd, the plan became to move him there. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t want to share too many details, but I can say that it was honestly a relief to us and I think it will be a good home for Todd. Since his departure, we are adjusting back to our normal routine and just enjoying our usual summer activities.

We will need to take a break before deciding how we can foster again. I’m not willing to say, “Well, this was harder than expected so I don’t want to foster again.” I know that not every child will present the same challenges as Todd, but we definitely need to tweak our criteria for what types of children we can accept in order to hopefully avoid some of the problems we faced. Ultimately we may not be able to foster in the way I originally envisioned, but I’m glad we’ve given it a try, and we’ll see where it all leads.

We wrapped up our homeschool year, and Byron is officially a high school graduate! He begrudgingly allowed me to get official senior portraits taken and announcements made. Enjoy!

During the week the boys should’ve been at MDA camp, I took Fulton, Teddy and Addie to Lancaster for a quick overnight. We did the Turkey Hill Experience and the National Civil War Museum (which is actually in Harrisburg). I’ll definitely go back to the Turkey Hill Experience (all the ice cream and iced tea samples you can handle!) but NOT the Civil War museum. The boys love history, but the museum was like a dry textbook. I’d go to Gettysburg again instead.

Holy cow that was a fun visit!!

We had our usual Nativity of St. John the Baptist party on the 25th and while it was on the small side (71 people), I was honestly relieved. Some years, when turnout is small, I take it personally, like, “Don’t people like me and my parties anymore????”. But I was grateful for the smaller crowd as it allowed to me to sit down and visit with more people, and the mess was less to deal with the next day. It was the first time since holding the party at our new house that it didn’t rain for at least some of the festivities. And while there was a light breeze, we were able to set up our tents on our new(er) patio and create a really great space to relax and eat.

So much shade! And no more need to clean the garage to set up tables!
Thankfully, we still have space to do our sack race.

We struggled with cold bugs throughout the month of June yet still managed to avoid COVID until one hour after Todd left our house when Edie tested positive. We had no idea as she’d had the same drippy nose and cough for weeks that we’d all struggled to get rid of, but when one of her coworkers tested positive she took a test and surprise! Thankfully, no one else in the house tested positive and her symptoms remained mild. Todd’s caseworker and family members were understanding and not concerned.

The day after Edie tested positive, Fulton turned FOURTEEN! and got his nose swabbed at the local Walgreen’s drive-thru. We delayed his extended family celebration a bit, but Addie still made him a cake, and he opened all his presents.

From our beach trip yesterday. Getting some 14 year old side eye to my friendly photo request.

As the month wrapped up, I felt like I was actually catching up on my To-Do list (except for the cleaning and grading) and we celebrated the 4th of July by attending our local, small town parade, and visiting with my parents and a couple close friends. Yesterday, we finally, took a trip to the beach. It finally feels like summer is here and that we can enjoy it. I hope to get back into a weekly blogging routine (I even created a beautiful new spreadsheet to help me!).

Waiting for the parade to begin with our BIG BAG OF SNACKS…because the first time we went to a parade I packed snacks so now, it’s mandatory.

I hope your summer is off and running and going well!

Searching For Camp Once Again

Don’t worry, Fulton isn’t still in the hospital. If you don’t follow me on Instagram or my page on Facebook, you might have missed the happy discharge photo. Thankfully, he’s been feeling back to normal here at home since Friday May, 27. We took him in to CHOP after only a few days of being sick at home, hoping it’d be a short stay. Unfortunately, he needed almost two weeks of care. (Teddy had a couple rough days with the same bug, but thankfully, he overcame it at home and saved us another ER visit.) We were so blessed to have friends and family make donations that allowed us to cover the cost of hospital meals, gas, parking, childcare for Todd, and getting a few special meals for the kids at home. Thank you everyone for supporting us financially and with prayer as always!

I missed my sister’s baby shower but still managed to take care of the menu thanks to ordering catering trays that family picked up for me, delegating other side dishes, and emailing a few games that didn’t require anyone to provide props like onesies or miniature plastic babies. It was the one event I unfortunately couldn’t reschedule and had to miss, but thankfully Addie and Edie got to attend. We’re all getting very excited to meet our new niece, my sister’s first child, in August!

Tony and I each took a few nights at a time during Fulton’s admission. After hardly seeing each other between Fulton’s hospital stay, my time in Cleveland and self-imposed bedroom quarantine, we finally managed to get a couple hours together on Sunday over wine slushies at the winery that’s only a short walk from our home. We’ve also been able to bring on some additional childcare to help with Todd, so hopefully more date nights are on the horizon.

Congested and runny on very little sleep but all that is forgotten with wine slushies!

Our first full week at home post discharge was spent trying to play catch up with mixed results. And in the midst of emergency room visits (PLURAL) for Todd last Wednesday, and my cold returning with a vengeance by weeks end (still testing negative for COVID), we got word that the Philadelphia MDA Camp, which was only two weeks away, would be cancelled due to lack of volunteers. This was a bitter pill to swallow on top of so much other craziness. We had respite care lined up for Todd (he’d be getting a fun week at the shore), the older three would be busy working, Fulton and Teddy would get a fun week of camp and Tony and I would get a break after a very challenging couple of months. Of course I immediately began researching other MDA camps that might accept Fulton and Teddy. Things are still uncertain on this front, so please say a prayer we can work something out because they really have their hearts set on attending an MDA camp this summer.

Meanwhile, we continue to fix up our old house. A pleasant surprise is how well our fruit trees have grown in our absence; Edie and I harvested several peaches and it looks like a bumper crop of blueberries is coming in on our two remaining bushes. I finally got Byron’s graduation announcements and will hopefully send them out before he leaves for college. Last week’s visits led to me scheduling even more appointments for the following weeks, so June is already starting to look rather full but hopefully we can squeeze in some fun around all the medical stuff. Fulton’s main wheelchair is still out of commission and we’ve got NO IDEA when it will be fixed. So for now he’s still using his old chair, which is supposed to be his beach chair, to get around, albeit with great effort.

The disturbances to our routine over the last couple weeks have meant that Todd has struggled a bit more lately. After seeing some improvements, we’ve moved, not back to square one, but a couple steps back. Hopefully as things settle down, we’ll start seeing more progress again.

Half of this picture is Edie’s hat. This was before they brought me my, also liturgically correct, margarita.

We celebrated Pentecost with a liturgically correct dinner at Applebee’s. (The logo is red right?) It’s the first time we’ve all been out to dinner since an early feast of St. Joseph celebration, and our first big meal out with Todd. And today I took four kids to the Cape May Zoo because the weather was nice and Tony and I both thought Teddy needed to get out of the house. He’s taken the news of the camp cancellation the hardest and I’m going to try to plan a few more field trips for the next couple weeks just to give him something else to look forward to besides bonus schoolwork. So anyway, it’s not all stress and strife and thankfully I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

Feeding Jilly the holstein at the zoo. Her tongue and teeth are much scarier than I expected for an herbivore.
Goats influencers.
Zoo trip in 2012 for Teddy’s 2nd birthday (back when Fulton’s yellow chair when it fit him properly.)
Zoo trip in 2022 when Edie is the only one I can convince to take a picture with in front of the bear.

Another Hospital Post

Since I’m sitting in the hospital, I feel obligated to write a blog post. One, so I can update everyone who wants to know how Fulton is doing, and two, it gives me something to do between trips to the cafeteria. Not that I’m bored! But, typing out a post is usually easier to do here than at home. Especially since home life remains unceasingly overwhelming. I know my life must always seem “busy” to those who read my blog, and I know I often use words like “overwhelmed”, “harried”, “crazy”, and the like, but I really, really mean it this time. We’re at peak crazy go nuts.

So why am I at CHOP with Fulton? It started with a runny nose late last week, and by Saturday, we knew it was developing into something more serious. He tested negative for COVID, and we tried doing all the methods of breathing support we can do at home. By Monday, he was not improving and after speaking with a pulmonary doctor, Tony brought him to the Emergency Room. He was admitted and since then has been under the watchful eye of the staff at CHOP. I came into the hospital on Wednesday.

Fulton has a “typical” rhinovirus. Just like the “typical” stomch bug brought Teddy to the ER in February, a common cold (which our foster son Todd also has and it hasn’t slowed him down a bit) has once again landed Fulton in the hospital. He thankfully doesn’t have pnemonia, but it’s still a risk so he’s getting constant breathing support and monitoring. He just needs to ride out the bug, which is of the persistant variety. Fulton is still spiking fevers, producing tons of mucus, and struggling to keep his heartrate and oxygen levels in normal range. He’s comfortable, in good spirits, and his numbers aren’t terrible, but we need to get him back to his baseline.

There’s never a good time for a hospital admission. It’s somewhat easier when they’re planned in advance (like for back surgery), but right now we would much rather be enjoying the warm spring weather which has finally arrived, spending time together with Addie who just came home from college, and planning for upcoming family events.

May is always a crazy month; I know I write similar proclamations every May. So it’s tough to squeeze illness into an otherwise packed calendar. April is historically our month for spring hospitilzations and so when we entered May, I rejoiced at dodging that bullet once again. What a fool I was!!! Let me bring everyone up to speed on everything we’ve managed to do in the last few weeks.

I started the month by speaking at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. If you Google the prison, you’ll see it’s gotten some pretty bad national press. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but I’m so happy I agreed to speak. It was an ecumenical spiritual retreat for any of the women in minimum security that wanted to attend. I was the Catholic speaker, and there was a female rabbi, a Buddhist, a Muslim, and three Protestant ministers. It was hard to match the energy and enthusiasm of the Protestant ministers, but my talk was well received and afterwards the organizer of the event told the ladies in attendance they would all receive a copy of my book, which was a nice surprise! I spoke with some of the attendees afterwards. It was a diverse group of women. There were some who, I would say, looked like what I envisioned a stereotypical “female prisoner” to look like, but then there was one young woman who looked the same age as Addie and another who looked like a librarian from my local library. I don’t know what anyone’s story was, but even though they were minimum security women, I knew some would still be there in seven years. One women got up and led everyone in soulful spiritual so heartfelt you wondered how she made her way from the church choir into the prison system. And while I wondered about the inmates’ stories, I was so impressed with the organizers, who all worked for the prison in various capacities. All were so devoted to helping these women, but none of them coddled the attendees. The focus of the event was very much about inspiring and empowering women to make the changes in their life, spiritually, mentally, and physically, that would help them succeed outside Edna Mahan. I can see now how prison ministry is really a special calling, and why it’s also a necessary corporal work of mercy. Unless you know someone in the system, it can be hard to know how to reach out to the prison population, and I think the unfamiliarity can make us resort to our stereotypes when thinking of these men and women rather than viewing them as individuals with very unique stories.

On Thursday, May 5, Fulton was confirmed. Newsletter subscribers got the early photo and my reflections on the special occasion. (You can read it HERE, and sign up for my newsletter HERE so you don’t miss future editions.) We had a small reception afterwards in our church hall. All we had to do was bring water and chip in for the food and, honestly, it felt like an extra blessing to not need to plan an event on my own, even though normally hosting parties is my love language.

Fulton and his grandparents.

Two days later, I was sick in bed. I tested negative for COVID, but was laid up for days. The nights were the worst as I woke up coughing constantly and couldn’t sleep. I tried moving to the basement so I wouldn’t wake up everyone else. We’ve been short on nursing, so it was a lot on Tony to manage. I tried to medicate myself enough to get some school done, get an online grocery order placed and picked up, and otherwise help out in ways that didn’t require me to interact with Fulton and Teddy too much. I had to reschedule approximately 3,429 appointments. Byron finished up his classes for the year and is now a high school graduate! He did great with his community college classes with a B in Biology and A in Public Speaking this spring; both credits will hopefully transfer to Kutztown.

On Friday, I drove to Cleveland to pick up Addie from college. I wasn’t feeling great, but driving alone for 8 hours seemed easier than staying home and trying to run the house and care for everyone. Addie and I spent a couple hours together before I went to bed. We were up early and packed up the van by 10 a.m. It was an uneventful drive home but upon arriving at the house I learned that Fulton’s drippy nose had become a full on cold with a wet cough, and elevated heart rate. He and I both tested negative for COVID that night, and we started him on our usual every four hour breathing treatment schedule.

Addie shows off the fencing gym.

That brings us back to where this post started. Also going on in the background is planning for an upcoming baby shower, Byron recovering from getting his wisdom teeth removed on Monday, and trying to get our old house ready to rent again after our tenants managed to leave it in a bigger mess than I thought possible for four adults who only lived there for three years. And Edie got a boat. I also got those Accepting the Gift projects done –check them out!

Thank you Facebook Marketplace! Edie is ready to set sail.

Thank you for all your prayers everyone. I will try to give more updates on Fulton via social media, and in future posts. Please pray especially that Teddy does not get sick as we don’t want to wind up right back here at CHOP once Fulton is discharged.

Documenting April

It was not my intent to stop blogging for the entire month of April. I’ve been mentally writing an Easter post since Good Friday, but made no success at actually putting those thoughts down. If you could see the calendar in my kitchen, and stopped by any time outside school hours, you’d quickly understand why blogging, along with many other items have fallen by the wayside.

I’d mentioned in my last post that becoming foster parents had forced us into a different type of survival mode. I can say that, now that we’re a month post placement, things have improved, but things are still challenging and caring for Todd remains more time consuming than I think either Tony or I anticipated.

For me personally, I feel like where I was the year before I put Fulton and Teddy in school. I’m just overwhelmed all the time. It means that after almost a year of maintaining an exercise routine (weight lifting 3 x a week + 30 min. walks 2-3x a week) I have temporarily had to give up leaving the house extra early to work out. I’ve done a couple walks, but the risk of waking Todd up early, plus just more general exhaustion, means I’m getting up at the same time as everyone else. I’m trying to go easy on myself; it’s only temporary. I really miss working out and I know that as soon as I can get back to it, I will, but I keep feeling like I’m losing all the progress I’ve made over the last 11 months. It’s a little discouraging. I also liked being able to shower at the gym and come home ready to go for the day. Now, I’m back to wearing my old 2013 homeschooling mom uniform of PJs and a bathrobe.

We’re also eating a lot more convenience food and take out to simplify meal prep and dinner time, after an otherwise pretty healthy early Lent. I’d also got into the habit of meal prepping some healthy lunches for myself, but that’s also fallen by the wayside. I’ve tried to stick to some of healthy food goals I instituted last year for the family, but I just can’t make as much from scratch right now. I know this is only a temporary season we’re in, but I guess it makes me see how much I was accomplishing pre-placement, and how little wiggle room we really did have.

I’m still trying to fit so much into the hours when Todd is at school that it’s impossible to get everything done. And because I’m “on” so much when he’s home, I’ve slipped into the bad habit of staying up late watching YouTube or reading just so I can have some quiet time when no one needs me. Tony and I also have been spending many nights talking and decompressing. It’s nice to spend time together and unwind, but I ultimately stay up later than I used to. Thankfully I’m not dealing with insomnia the way I was in the first couple weeks, but man, my dreams are all over the place right now.

We’ve had some additional stress with our tenants (we’ve been renting out our old house since we moved three years ago), and Fulton’s powerchair is broken so he’s had to continue using his old powerchair, which I’d thankfully got working again last summer in the anticipation of outfitting it as a beach wheelchair. It works fine, but it’s not as easy for him to drive so he constantly needs assistance. It means it’s not feasable to take any field trips or mental health day trips to the beach right now. Plus, Fulton is getting Confirmed next week and getting up to the altar is one of tricky things he needs help with so, I’m not sure how things are going to work out.

But it’s not all stress and strife. We did have a wonderful Easter. Tony’s parents were with us, and a friend of mine joined us for dinner as well. We had delicious lamb dinner and our usual family egg hunt. It was strange to not have Addie with us, but she had cooked her own Easter feast for her friends and had a good day.

Byron has made the decision to attend Tony’s and my alma mater Kutztown University. It’s also where my mom graduated from so, he’ll be a third generation KU student. I think he liked the idea of being a little closer to home (we’d be able to pick him up easily whenever he wants to visit vs flying or long road trips) and KU is larger than the University of Maine and offered more activities and classes/ minors he was interested in. I finally got some senior pictures taken of him and the photographer also snapped updated headshots of the rest of the crew (sans Addie who’s still at school). Everyone looks great and I’m thankful to have outsourced the homeschool photos.

Byron, his friend Leo, Fulton, and Teddy also created an entry for this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. If you’re not a fan of stabbing and fake blood, it’s probably not the movie for you, otherwise, enjoy.

I’m giving a talk at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for women tomorrow. I’ve never been in a prison before so I’m looking forward to speaking and meeting with the women there. I’m feeling less prepared than usual (see the above distractions) so say a prayer the holy spirit can carry this for me? Speaking of the Holy Ghost, we’ve also got Fulton’s Confirmation on Thursday. Byron and Edie were both chosen as sponsors by other students in Fulton’s class so, it’ll be a big celebration for everyone.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things. There’s been a lot I’ve wanted to document, but I just don’t have the space in my head to hold onto much for very long. Hopefully, after I’ve given my talk, and finished up a few projects for Accepting the Gift, I will be able to use my free time to write more. If you have any specific questions about our fostering experience, let me know. I’m not going to share much about Todd, but I’ll try to answer your questions. Until next time, enjoy this final moments of April because…

A New Parenting Level Is Unlocked

As we approach Passiontide, I thought it was time to update everyone on the big news around these parts (if you didn’t already see it on social media). We got our first foster placement on Thursday, March 24 around dinner time. I got the call on Tuesday and this child, who I’ll call Todd Flanders (in keeping with my use of Simpsons aliases), seemed to be a good fit for us. Obviously, I’m limited as to what I can share online but a week later I can say that it’s not too different from how I imagined. That’s not to say all is going well. There have been some very challenging times for Todd, and everyone in the family. Even though Tony and I knew we were signing up for something hard, it’s difficult to picture how much your life will be upended until you finally welcome that first foster child into your home.

Welcome Todd!

The behaviors he’s exhibiting are what I expected. I feel like Tony and I know how to manage behaviors. I just didn’t realize how forcing myself to remain calm and collected in the face of these behaviors for extended periods of time would cause me to be more irritable with my other children, lead to insomnia, and create feelings of pent up anger and anxiety that leave me tense to my core – like I might burst if I’m asked to do one more thing. So, I’m learning to manage my own behaviors and big feelings as much as I’m trying to help Todd. Sounds perfect for Lent right???

I also didn’t expect how some of the older kids would react (Todd is the youngest in our home). Some have really impressed me, and some are struggling with the changes more than I anticipated. We all know (and are all old enough to understand) that this transitional period is the hardest part. Even though it’s only been a week, Tony and I are seeing improvements and while we know it’s more likely to be a roller coaster ride rather than a straight climb to the top, we’re encouraged.

Biggest change: screen time. Todd is young and Tony and I agree he doesn’t need tons of tablet or XBox time. So we’re trying to rearrange our day so the older kids can have some screen time, or play certain XBox games while Todd’s in school, so in the evenings we can do other activities, or play XBox games he’s interested in or watch movies geared to his age level (and basically keep all tablets out of sight). Weekends are the hardest because screens are the one thing Teddy and Fulton can do for themselves (and they enjoy doing it together), so we allow them to do more screen time than the older kids did at those ages. But, we’re cutting back for the benefit of Todd, and it’s an adjustment. I think this situation will improve in time, but right now, it’s a sacrifice, and one that we didn’t initially anticipate as we prepared to foster younger children.

No Guts of War II for awhile.

This whole experience has also really driven home the importance of sincerely praising your children. We have to focus on a lot of positive reinforcement and praise in helping Todd. We could spend all our time trying to correct his myriad of bad behaviors, but then all we’d be doing is focusing on the negative. And while I’m not a fan of the “participation trophies to boost self-esteem” school of thinking, kids really do need to hear on a daily basis that they are inherently good, enjoyable to be around, lovable, and more than just a collection of behaviors. It’s about sincerely pointing out the effort that goes into trying to do better, be better, and remind our child that even when he is angry and out of control, that we still like him and want him with us. You’d be surprised what a young child can come to believe about himself when he never hears praise and kind words.

And since I’m trying to praise our foster son more, I’m making more of an effort to praise everyone else too. It’s equal parts apologies, praise, attention, and affection to help offset my increased testiness. Being a homeschool mom, I can look back and really see how hard it was for me to praise my kids while I was trying to be their teacher and mom when they were younger. I think I really struggled with how to get my kids to fix their mistakes and do their work, and praise them for their gifts and abilities. It’s a lot easier to be frustrated and make demands than be thoughtful, patient, and able to remain calm in the face of a child’s negative behaviors or poor choices. Doing so now is exhausting, and it’s turning my brain to mush. I’m in a new kind of survival mode.

The other observation I’ve made is that I can’t imagine fostering a child in my twenties. Being 43 with kids ranging in age from 11-19, I can look at what I’ve done and say, this worked, this didn’t. I can look at my kids, their gifts, their faults, and how I influenced them, or didn’t do enough and learn from it. I’m a much better parent now than when I became a mom at 24. I can’t imagine trying to parent a foster child, and mange all their needs, while trying to figure out parenting. I won’t go so far as to say I’m now a “parenting expert” and that I didn’t make mistakes, but I think this whole experience would be 100 times harder if I was second guessing my parenting decisions the whole time. At least now, even if Tony and I are not perfect, we’re united; we know what we need to do, we do it and 99 percent of the time we get the results we want because experience has taught us what works. Don’t get me wrong, the foster parent training offered to us was helpful, but only served to reinforce what we already knew through first-hand experience and observation. (I know there are wonderful foster parents in their twenties-I just don’t think I personally could’ve done it.)

I’m not sure how long Todd will be with us, but no, adoption is NOT on the table right now. It’s not even in the same room as the table, not even the same building. The goal of foster care is reunification and we are here to do our part as long as we’re needed.

Does this mean I’m now a foster care blogger?? I can’t imagine this blog needs any more topics or categories, and I’d hate for people to think I have anything other than my own stories to share. Maybe in ten years I’ll feel qualified to offer advice.

Please keep Todd, and our whole family in prayer. Thank you!

2022 Lent Documentation

We’ve passed the second Sunday of Lent so probably a good time to share some Lenten thoughts and goals and admit I’ve already gone to Confession for failing at the one thing Fulton and Teddy asked me to give up. I used to not like sharing my Lenten practices, then I overshared and did crazy things, now I’m just documenting another Lent for the blog so I can come back to it next year for planning purposes.

It’s a blog post but you get the idea. Is anyone else still writing blog posts???

It felt weird to go through February and not observe Lent. The long, cold, dark and dreary days naturally lend themselves to the quiet whining and longing of Lent. A late Easter, and Lent, means beautiful spring weather peeking through the clouds, more activities, and generally more temptation to do all the things I’ve given up.

On Tuesday we went to Ocean City for the first time this year (Spring Break!!) and it was tough for all of us to only purchase salt water taffy and not devour two thirds of it immediately upon exiting the store. Plus, the frozen custard stand was open, which hardly seemed fair.

I’m SUPER holy for Ash Wednesday and then its a struggle for the next 39 days.

So as you can guess, we’ve all given up sweets (which we do every year as a family). I did wonder how Addie would fair off at college, but at least while she’s home, she’s following our family tradition of pretending fruit is an acceptable dessert. I used this page with Fulton and Teddy to help them come up with some Lenten practices of their own. I can’t read Teddy’s handwriting all that well, so I just have to trust he’s taking things seriously. Edie is sleeping on the floor of her room which means it’s even harder than usual to walk through there, and I think there’s somehow less incentive to pick up her laundry. She did make room for Addie so that was kind of her.

I am once again turning to the Church to just tell me what to do for Lent and following the traditional Lenten fast (which was in place until 1962) Two small meals a day, one regular meal, and only meat with my regular meal. No Coke or alcohol except on Sundays (though I’m doing very bad at the no Coke thing. Some years that’s harder than others.) I’m also trying to plan meatless suppers for Wednesday since we eat meatless on Friday year round, but I’m allowing myself wiggle room there in case I have one of those days. I’m still not as hardcore as our Orthodox brothers and sisters though-maybe one day! To make things easier on myself, I’m prepping lunch salads for the week for Tony and I, and every morning for breakfast I’m having a fruit smoothie with protein powder. Easy, healthy, small meals I don’t need to think about has made fasting easier, though I usually start eating supper the minute I begin prepping food at 4 p.m. “Oh, does this meal call for shredded cheese? Better take that out first and consume two fist fulls to make sure it’s fresh.”

I’m trying to limit social media between the hours of 9-6p.m. and keep my phone either on my desk or in my bedroom rather than keeping it on me at all times.

I’ve got a devotional book I’m reading at night and really trying my darnedest to stick to that daily rosary habit. I’ve written down all my prayer intentions, so now when I pray I just say “For my Lenten intentions” with quiet relief that I don’t need to think of everything. God knows what’s on my list.

Fulton and Teddy suggested I give up cursing during Lent, which I agreed to, but then we had clarify that I was not to say the f-word or the s-word but damn, hell, and a$$, while not ideal, do not break my Lenten commitment. So yes, I already had to confess cursing because both boys are outgrowing their ankle braces and getting them on poses challenges that I sometimes react to with inappropriate words. But I’ve been better since Sunday; fingers crossed.

Or let it get run over by a wheelchair.

I’m not doing any special book or salt dough crown of thorns or beans in a jar thing with the kids. I just didn’t feel like adding one more thing to our daily religion routine this year. Maybe we’ll watch some extra religious movies during Holy Week. …just kicking that can down the road.

Sure, I want us all to suffer and grow in holiness this Lent, but I want it to be simple and straight forward. I’ve had a tendency to over complicate things in the path, for myself and the kids, and I’ve reached a point in my life where I just don’t have brain cells for much outside what I’m already doing. Especially when I know I’ll be fasting. Experience has taught me I’ll be more run down during Lent, and I can’t expect myself to have the energy to be super liturgical Catholic mom!!!! It’s best if I can just be not grumpy, not angry, and not exhausted Catholic mom. (Just a reminder that I gave up caffeine last Lent so I’m doing life on decaf which already puts me behind the eight ball, and probably explains my deep seated desire for Coke at all hours. )

As for almsgiving, I’ve identified a few organizations donating to families with disabled children in Ukraine and one organization helping SMA families in Ukraine or those who’ve left for Poland. Kids with SMA in Ukraine had been receiving the same medicine that Fulton and Teddy take and you just don’t stop taking it. SMA groups and drug manufactures are trying to track down families to make sure these kids can continue receiving the medicine they need to stay strong. If you’re interested I’m updating my Instagram stories with any and all charity organizations helping orphans, or disabled children and adults, including but not limited to those with SMA in Ukraine. Please let me know of any others either on IG or in the comments.

How is your Lent going?

February In A Blur

I recently hit my ten year blogging milestone here at This Ain’t the Lyceum. I toyed with the idea of a special post but I’ve done enough reflecting on the past in previous years, so instead, I will summarize February – the month that started with a big, empty calendar and quickly descended into chaos. (For the record, I started this post in February. It just took longer than expected to finish it up.)

To everyone who keeps asking, Teddy is doing much better (and yes even now in March people are still asking- sorry for the delay in updating y’all!!) We were in the hospital for less than 36 hours which may be an overnight emergency admissions record. We’ve learned that Teddy just can’t ride out a stomach bug at home once its been 48 hours of throwing up. He also doesn’t respond to anti-nausea meds (orally or via IV) so he needs the IV fluids until he stops throwing up. We were admitted on a Thursday, home on a Friday night and I still manged to grocery shop Saturday, food prep, and host a small Superbowl party on Sunday.

There were cupcakes and root beer floats for dessert.

Monday we drove to Upstate New York for a family funeral. Tony’s aunt died after a long and courageous battle against pancreatic cancer. Despite being diagnosed at stage 4, she fought for almost five years before passing away. Although we had not seen her, or that side of the family for many years, we really wanted to be there. Tony and I lived in Syracuse after our college graduation until right after Byron was born, and we visited the Upstate region at least yearly until about 2009, with our last visit in 2011 for Tony’s grandmother’s funeral. So even though none of the kids really remembered anyone, it was nice to see that side of the family again despite the somber circumstances. We even made a side trip to an art museum in the time between family events. Leave it to homeschoolers to find any reason to make a trip educational. But really, it was either that or sit in the hotel and listen to the kids get really caught up in the Olympics (i.e. lots of yelling about athletes they’ve cared about for all of two minutes.)

Coming home after almost two weeks of sudden upheaval was….mildly stressful. I spent the rest of the week and weekend trying to play catch up. I told myself that the last full week of February would be fine and we’d do all the school work we hadn’t completed over the last multipledaysallmuddledtogether. Even with a couple dentist appointments thrown in there.

But only until Friday, because I’d planned, rescheduled and then tried to regain my enthusiasm for another field trip. This time in my hometown of Lancaster, PA. We were going to have lunch with my parents and grandmother, visit the Lancaster History museum, tour President James Buchanan’s house, and then have dinner with my parents before driving home. It would just be me and the younger three.

The museum was smaller than expected, and we were all dismayed to see more parking by the front door given to “low emissions vehicles” than handicap spaces, but we enjoyed the exhibit about Lancaster through the 60’s (1660-1960), perusing the gift shop (museum gift shops are a weakness of mine- it’s all educational right?!?), and watching the introductory video on James Buchanan, whose sexuality they address right out of the starting gate. Fulton was like, “How many times are they going to talk about this??” two minutes into the film.

But thankfully, the film quickly pivoted to how lousy of a president he was. I mean, you can’t place the full blame of the Civil War on his shoulders but, his inaction and proslavery views certainly didn’t help keep the country together. I hadn’t been to his home, called Wheatland, since elementary school. (It’s a rite of passage for anyone who grows up in the area.) The first floor was wheelchair accessible, and when Edie and my mom went with our costumed guide to the second floor, a separate guide came inside and explained the upstairs layout with pictures to Fulton, Teddy, and I, and answered all our questions. It was really neat.

Yay history!!!

The next day Tony and I went to a small wedding at church. It was a beautiful Mass and a fun reception. There was a photo booth, so there might be evidence of middle aged craziness….maybe.

But you’ll have to settle for this tame selfie.

Throughout the month we dealt with nursing shortages. Two long time nurses left at the beginning of the month, and no sooner did a few of those days get picked up, then another nurse left. It’s been hard at times, but not impossible. I feel SO GRATEFUL we got the ceiling lift when we did, and that Tony works from home. I know there’s nursing shortages across the board and it’s easier for our family than for others so I’m trying to take it in stride and be grateful for the help we do have.

I still managed to get a lot of work down for my ministry Accepting the Gift (part of which was finally hiring a graphic designer). Check out the new Shop to see some of the new resources and curriculum we’ve got listed.

As I wiped clean my giant calendar and filled in squares for March, all I could wonder was how quickly the empty blocks would fill up. Now to take a breath and get to work on a belated Lent post!!

2021-22 Homeschool Midyear Review

I’m sitting in the hospital with Teddy while he recovers from a stomach bug (he’s doing much better), so why not a mid-year homeschool review to make me feel good about all the learning we’ve managed to do up to this point? (With the obligatory affiliate links dropped in at a few spots.)

UPDATE: As of 3:30 p.m. Friday, we’re getting discharged!

The last time a hospital stay interrupted our school year was November 2019, which was also the last time Teddy had a stomach bug. It’s been a good run, but this year after getting in 12 weeks, we took a few weeks off as Teddy underwent and started his recovery from back surgery. We got a few “light” weeks in just before Christmas, but only really got back in our groove after Epiphany. I was thinking about scheduling a break at the end of February, but decided we should plow through until Addie and Byron are both on spring break. I’ve planned numerous field trips to break up the long, cold month of February, but despite still masking in crowds, washing hands, and generally not being around a ton of people, Teddy caught a stomach bug and threw a wrench in my plans. It’s slightly more stressful than usual because Fulton has not been getting all his nursing hours covered, so we don’t reliably have an extra set of hands around to help with his care.

It’s another reminder that we are never in control and there is never a “normal” homeschooling week. And with that lengthy introduction…

Mood.

Byron

His fall classes at the community college went well. He’s only taking two more this spring, and he’s also taking an online financial literacy course that Addie also took. (It’s free and very thorough; I highly recommend it.) He got his first college acceptance letter from John Paul the Great Catholic University. He’s waiting to hear from a few others before making a final decision.

Edith

Edie got to take one Time4Writing Course before the platform discontinued its program. So, for this semester, she’s taking a similar course from Write At Home.

Everything else is actually still going according to plan except for her restarting guitar and taking art classes. But she’s now the bosun for her Sea Scouts troop and she finished sewing a regency style dress (with matching bonnet!) so, it’s not like she’s wasting time. I continue to rely on Google Classroom for collecting and grading work and it remains a godsend for me. (Plug for my ebook that can teach anyone how to use Google Classroom in their homeschool.)

Fulton

Through the app Speechify, Fulton has been reading a bunch of great history books tied to the Middle Ages. We’ve been doing narrations but found that speech to text on his iPad doesn’t work well when Teddy keeps talking loudly in the background…on purpose. So I type up his narrations instead.

The new math program I purchased lasted only a few weeks before I got too frustrated with it. Had I started using it from the beginning it might have worked, but it assumed I understood it’s unique way of presenting topics (which I didn’t because I was started a few levels in) and it also assumed the student could work through problems with it’s special manipulatives on his or her own, which obviously wasn’t the case for us. I tried to work through problems with Fulton but ultimately, I went back old reliable Abeka math. Instead of hands-on manipulatives, I’m using online Montessori tools that allow Fulton to visualize and work through the problems independently on his tablet. Montessori tools can be used to work on pretty high level math problems so it’s worth checking out if you have a student who needs a new way to see a problem. Just Google “Montessori” and the math concept you need help with and see what comes up. I’ve found lots of great videos and posts.

I’ve also created a curated collection of educational videos for him that he enjoys watching. They relate to history more than anything as his current interests include the Byzantine Empire and the Spanish American War, but really anything war related is fair game.

Teddy

No changes from my original plan except that he never choses to do Mind Benders. I consider them optional, so I don’t push, but it may be something I make him do over the summer instead.

Family Subjects: From Morning Meeting to Afternoon Tea

We’ve kept all the same subjects (Shakespeare, Latin prayers, art appreciation, music appreciation, geography, and Bible) but we switched to the Michael Kurek site for music (highly recommended). None of the kids would recommend Shakespeare’s play King John (you’ve been warned). We also moved our meeting time from the morning to the afternoon a couple weeks back and so far so good. Tea, hot cocoa, and biscotti make everything better apparently…but not King John. Seriously, spare yourself.

Wednesday’s have become our science, history, and art project day for Fulton and Teddy. We don’t always get an art project done (simply because it’s challenging to find projects for the boys to do to their satisfaction), but we’ve been making progress through the Middle Ages (as evidenced by our growing timeline) and our Geology unit.

I did stop using the grammar program I’d selected (because I just hate studying grammar), and instead of listening to more historically based stories during afternoon stretches, we’ve been working through the Harry Potter series (which Teddy has read, but Fulton has not). Although we’re currently wrapping up Across Five Aprils which is a good Civil War story and free with my Audible account.

So school is going “according to plan” for the most part, and I’m not feeling the same level of burnout I did back in October, but I am frustrated by the lack of time I have for anything else during the day, especially with constant nursing shortages. I am already exploring different options for the next school year.

How is your school year going and how are you making it through the cold, dark month of February? (And if you live where it’s not cold and dark, your comments aren’t necessary.)

Winter Happenings

It’s been a minute, so I thought I should post an update so 1. everyone knows our home is COVID free now and 2. I can document all the usual things that have happened. Otherwise, I’m gonna start forgetting things.

Byron tested negative for COVID on Wednesday, January 19. He still had a bit of a cough, but I knew that could linger for awhile so I had him retest and it was negative! What a relief! No one else in the house ever got any symptoms, and those of us that tested were all negative. I don’t know how we managed to be so lucky.

I know other special needs families who worked harder than us and still had COVID invade their homes and infect everyone. It’s so discouraging. Illness makes caregiving harder. An illness, no matter how mild often sets our children back for weeks or months; long after typical kids are “back to normal”. We’re already faced with our child’s mortality more often than other parents, and whenever things slip outside our careful routine, we immediately slip into defensive mode. We know what it’s like to see our children fight for their lives and there’s trauma in having to go through that process over and over again. Please pray for my friends fighting COVID in their homes right now, and those adapting to the lingering affects on their families.

Addie tested negative on the same day as Byron and was happy to head back to classes (which started on the same day due to the MLK holiday and then a snow day on Tuesday). However- PLOT TWIST! – the school required her to take another COVID test on Friday and it was positive! Since she’d had the negative test on Wednesday, they told her she needed to quarantine until the following Thursday. So, after 36 hours of freedom, it was back to quarantine. On Monday morning she got a call that she actually needed to quarantine in a different, private room, in another dorm (I think to protect her one roommate who’d never had COVID). So she rode out the rest of her quarantine elsewhere. Thank goodness she was actually healthy enough to move all her stuff across the street and up to the 18th floor of another dorm. We assumed that since she would be released on Thursday, she would be able to compete over the weekend at Notre Dame with her fencing team but no! of course the NCAA has a very lengthy “back to play” process for athletes coming off of COVID quarantine. (Which I think was a surprise to her coaches since they used her photo on promotional images and had already booked her hotel room for the event.) So while she got to travel along to the competition, she didn’t get to fence. The athletic trainer expects her to be cleared in time for the competition this coming weekend at Northwestern. Hopefully, the rest of her semester is uneventful going forward.

We celebrated not having germs by going to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton last Tuesday. It was fabulous. We were the only patrons in the museum until after lunch, which meant I let the boys drive all over yelling at each other with very little interference on my part.

Dinosaur skeletons fighting? Yes please! Every other natural history museum take note.
“MAMA! Take my picture with these paintings! They’re so ugly!!”
Edie matching the exhibits. (If you can’t tell, her vest and earrings are Egyptian inspired.)
Bully!
The only time Teddy wouldn’t smile for a photo. Large chunks of ice on the Delaware river behind us.

Tony and I have been working on small home projects on the weekends and I’ve spent the rest of my time working on the second month of the Accepting the Gift Religious Education Curriculum. Check it out HERE! I have two more projects I need to layout and launch before the March curriculum release so you’ll understand if blogging remains light. Eventually, I do want to hire more people to help with editing and layout, but until I get my taxes done and know how much money Uncle Sam is leaving me for the coming months, I’m still trying to DIY a huge chunk myself.

Edie is busy planning Sea Scout meetings, and is already getting information from every Maritime college in the country (or at least it feels like it). She’s also baking a lot which makes Addie’s absence easier to deal with.

We’ve moved our homeschool ‘morning meeting’ to the afternoon and are now trying afternoon tea time, which is a big hit because snacks. It means even Byron is trying to join us to steal some biscotti. Teddy is also happier because then he can get all his schoolwork done in the morning. Fulton is the only dissenting voice to the new routine because it required change. I’ve got some more field trips planned for the next few weeks to help me through winter. It’s been too cold for the boys to be outside, and now we’ve got about a foot of snow on the ground which is too deep to even slide around on the patio. At least the wheelchair repair guy finally made it out, albeit without the correct batteries for Fulton’s chair. Also, daylight is lasting later and later everyday and I’m clinging to that brief glimpse of spring with all my might.

Have a great week!

COVID In Da House

The inevitable has happened; COVID has entered our home. On Tuesday, after a couple days of mild congestion and coughing, Byron took a COVID test (we had several at home thanks to Fulton’s nursing agency) and it gave a positive result pretty quickly. We assume he picked it up at work. Tuesday was also the day Teddy got his second COVID shot. I guess I knew that someone in the house would eventually get COVID, I’d just hoped that Teddy would be further out from his second shot before we had to test everyone’s immunity.

Addie took a test and was negative. She headed back to school on a Greyhound early Wednesday morning (like, 3 a.m. early). Initially, she needed to get back early for a fencing tournament, but she got word on Tuesday that it was cancelled due to COVID. She elected to head back early anyway, and I don’t blame her. I think she wanted to get back to her private room and life of relative silence. Unfortunately, she started feeling sick on Saturday. Is it COVID? The flu? Did she get it at home, on the bus, or from a roommate? Who knows. The soonest she can get a test is today so long as the campus testing center isn’t closed for the holiday. I was so happy she was able to head back for in-person classes for the spring semester, but it looks like she may miss some classes anyway. She had a bad cold in the fall, and I’m bummed she’s already sick again.

Edie also took a test and it was negative. She and the rest of us remain free of symptoms. We’re all staying put, and Byron is quarantining in the basement. Whenever he needs to come upstairs he puts on a N95 and avoids the rest of us. The community college pushed back its start day by a week so at least he’s not going to miss any of his classes. McDonald’s requires him to be symptom free for two days before returning to work.

Since we’re all vaccinated, I’m less worried than I would’ve been a year ago at this time. But even a mild infection could lay up either of the boys for awhile, so hopefully they remain symptom free. One of the biggest downsides is that three of Fulton’s nurses won’t work in our house if there’s a positive family member. I’m not mad at them, but the agency is short staffed, so as long as Byron, or anyone, is positive, I’ll be flying solo for half the week (we usually don’t have coverage on Sundays).

Teddy is now two months out from his spinal fusion surgery and is doing well. His back isn’t bothering him, but he continues to have nerve pain around his right hip, and down his right leg. We started school this week, and resumed our usual stretching routine. I need to take things slower than usual, and he’s stiff, but I’m hopeful that his pain will decrease and his flexibility increase. Fulton dealt with similar pain in both legs and I know it took awhile to completely resolve. Teddy has required some pain meds at bedtime and thankfully, he’s swallowing pills with no problems. We fought for so long over the awful tasting liquid medicines, and I was so afraid of pills being a choking hazard, but Teddy actually swallows pills easier than me so yay for progress in whatever form it takes.

Our back to school week included more take out than expected, but unfortunately, not the scheduled field trip. Repairs to the boys wheelchairs also got delayed for the second week in a row due to the repair guy being sick. But all in all, its all minor inconveniences compared to so many.

We’ll see how this week plays out. Thankfully we don’t have much going on, so staying put isn’t that difficult. But your prayers that everyone else stays healthy, and that Addie and Byron recover are much appreciated! Thank you!

Advent and the 12 Days

I wanted to lump all my Advent/ Christmas/ Epiphany stories and photos in one place, even though it probably would have been easier to write multiple shorter posts throughout the last two weeks. But, after taking the last two days to undecorate and reorganize ALL. THE. THINGS. I’m finally exhausted enough to sit still and write my post.

A big Advent highlight worth mentioning; I entered three of our family’s favorite cookies in our town paper’s Christmas cookie contest and took 3rd place for my bar cookie, and two honorable mentions for my chocolate chip and holiday cookie entries. WOOT! I actually got a medal (which I have yet to pick up, but which will feature prominently in an upcoming photo shoot for sure).

We started decorating on Gaudete Sunday following Tony’s near impossible tree hunt. Even though we buy our tree later than most, we usually are still able to find a really nice tree. However pickings were slim this year. Once all the decorations were on, the tree looked fine, but we only got one candle lighting in this year instead of the usual three to four; it just dried out too fast.

For the last two years I’ve made limoncello as a gift for Fulton’s nurses and the girl’s fencing coaches. This year, I made Kahlua and Irish Cream and got no complaints.

We added two other trees to our home as well. I wanted a vintage looking silver tinsel tree for the basement with some of those bubbly lights. I also added some of our older glass ornaments in gold and pastel colors. It made me so happy every time I saw it. Tony wanted a tree on the screened in porch since he likes to sit outside in the evening, so he got a small flocked tree and added some white lights. My tinsel tree came with some colored plastic balls so Tony added a few to his tree since we didn’t need to worry about the wind blowing them off and breaking them.

Merry Christmas circa 1960.

We traded our purple and pink Advent lights for colored lights on Christmas Eve, and after attending our friends Christmas Eve party, we came home, lit the candles on our tree, and sang carols before Addie and Tony prepared for midnight Mass. I had actually managed to get all the gifts wrapped a few days prior so I didn’t need to stay up too late arranging everyone’s presents around the living room.

Christmas morning started around 7 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. all the presents were open. The big surprise was we bought the boys an XBox. But don’t feel bad for the girls; Addie got a Samsung smartwatch and Edie got a photo printer. What I noticed now that the kids are older is that the piles of gifts were significantly smaller. Only Teddy got a HUGE toy (from grandparents). It was the same amount of stuff, but teens tend to want smaller items. There was less packaging and less mess than previous years and I AM HERE FOR THIS PHASE OF LIFE.

It’s a lot of packaging, but those are the biggest items they got. So portable!
Look at that tiny pile of gifts!! All that will easily fit in his bedroom somewhere.
Meanwhile, here’s Teddy’s new Hot Wheels garage which is actually larger than our own garage. It also takes 4 D batteries or the equivalent of one small coal burning power-plant.

We snacked on panettone before heading to 10:30 a.m. Mass; but not before putting the Turducken in the oven! We came home, had an appetizer spread and I worked on some side dishes. We had our dinner around 3:30 after the John Madden documentary wrapped up. (Did you know he was Catholic?) The Turducken (which is a deboned duck, stuffed in a deboned chicken, stuffed in a deboned turkey with layers of stuffing in between) was good, but we don’t need to eat it every year. We did a Zoom call with my parents and extended family and just enjoyed a relaxing food-coma filled day at home.

Appetizer Menu:

  • Crackers (way too many types) and multiple cheeses (Brie, cheddar, gouda, orange cheese spread, and something Spanish)
  • Italian deli meats (also way too many)
  • Spinach dip with fresh bread
  • Shrimp cocktail

Every year I think, I don’t need to get so many appetizers. It’s only going to ruin our appetite for dinner! But then I worry we won’t have enough snacks to hold us until dinner is ready and I buy a few more items.

Dinner Menu:

  • Turducken
  • Mashed potatoes with gravy
  • Homemade ravioli (I actually forgot to make these on Christmas so we ate them the next day after Mass.)
  • Fruit salad (I forgot to buy the supplies for this so Tony made it for New Year’s Eve.)
  • Roasted green beans with almonds
  • Creamed corn casserole
  • Fresh bread

Desserts (I always bake cookies a few days before Christmas and try to save the bulk for dessert on the day…with limited success.)

  • Creme de Menthe bar cookies
  • Dates stuffed with peanut butter
  • Spiced chai cookies
  • Double Delicious Bars

During the following 12 days we took a day trip to visit my parents in Lancaster. (We were concerned with how Teddy would do, but he did well with the car ride. He is still experiencing some nerve pain in his right leg but it’s at the level we expected for right now and it’s not holding him back from what he wants to do.) We got snow, and with the new patio Fulton and Teddy went out and drove around with minimal slipping, sliding, and sticking. So technically it was a white Christmas, even if it wasn’t on the first day of Christmas.

Of course everyone played lots of XBox games together, and Fulton got Warhammer 40000 so Tony spent much of his week off work assembling figures for the game. I put the finishing touches on the new home-based religion curriculum for Accepting the Gift whenever I got a spare minute.

SO MANY TINY PIECES.
And we made a gingerbread house. We chilled it outside between steps and that seemed to make stick together better. In general our screened in porch becomes a second refrigerator during the holidays.

A friend gave us a traditional Christmas pudding so we lit it on fire (as instructed!) and gave it a try. New Year’s was rainy, so we didn’t walk downtown to see the giant blueberry drop, but we could stream it online. Addie made a king cake for 12th night (Fulton found the hidden “baby” and was king.) Tony and the older four went to Epiphany Mass on the 6th while Teddy and I streamed it at home (due to his leg being sore and sensitive by the end of the day.)

We start school up this week, and Addie heads back to Cleveland early Wednesday morning. It’s been a wonderful break and Christmas season and I found myself sad, for the first time in many years, that it was time to take the decorations down (I did leave up two ceramic light up trees, and the nativity to keep the Christmas feeling going until Candlemas). I got quite a bit of reorganizing done, though I have a few more shelves to hang, and I’m caught up on uploading Edie’s school work, so I’m feeling less overwhelmed with stuff and school than I typically do heading into January. I’ve got several more Accepting the Gift projects to launch in the coming weeks so we’ll see how long I feel “less overwhelmed”.

I hope all my friends and followers had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s! Feel free to drop a link in the comments if you posted your holiday memories anywhere.