Happy Easter! I hope everyone had a penitential 40 days and is reveling in the Easter octave (every day this week is a first class feast)! After a Lent sans sweets, meat, dairy, wine, olive oil, and the ever popular fish with backbones my digestive system is in an uproar with the introduction of so. much. cheese.
Several things of note happened since my last post. The biggest was my trip to Kansas City, MO and Des Moines, IA to speak. (For the record, since I knew my hosts would be treating me to some lunches and dinners, I did not strictly follow my Lenten fast. But if anyone wants to know a good place to get a tofu teriyaki bowl in Overland Park, KS I can hook you up.) I flew into Kansas City on Monday, March 6 and was immediately confused because the city’s new airport had just opened up that week and I had no idea where I was meeting my Uber. I kept walking through the terminal thinking, “I don’t remember any of this at all!”, but thankfully my Uber driver messaged me where I needed to go, and explained that, no I wasn’t crazy. The old airport (which I immediately recognized as we drove past) was over there, and I was indeed in somewhere completely new.
I have a cousin in Kansas City, and I was able to meet up with him and his family for dinner which was nice. I also had some down time to finish working on my talks for the week. Fulton’s nurse had COVID the week before I left, so all the time I assumed I’d have to work on things evaporated as I focused on his schoolwork during the day (since there’s no replacement nurses and he can’t go to school without a nurse). My first talk was Tuesday evening for special needs parents (after being treated to a dinner of Kansas City BBQ). It was such a great experience (the speaking and meal). I really enjoy connecting with other parents. Wednesday morning I spoke to students at an all girls Catholic high school about abelism and inspiration porn. It was my first time doing a classroom presentation (with Powerpoint slides!) and I was nervous, and of course there were technical issues (“Our school’s smart-boards don’t work with Macs.”) but we had some great discussions and I really appreciated the feedback from the students. I would happily give the talk again. After that I drove to Des Moines and met with the event organizers for dinner Wednesday evening. A snow storm moved through the area on Thursday, so my morning presentation was moved online. I went to the diocesan offices downtown and gave a talk to catechists via Zoom about how to work with special needs parents to create more inclusive parishes and religious education programs. We did break out session with questions and I learned so much from the catechists. It was a great back and forth exchange of information. Thursday evening, I spoke at a parish to another group of parents, both in-person and online. Despite the weather, there was a good turnout of parents, and again, it was such a grace filled experience. I sold and signed books, and was always flattered when someone had already purchased and read my book and had kind words to say about it. My book will never be a best seller, but its already done so much more than I could ever have hoped; I’m so glad I sent it out into the world. Now, if everyone could please stop asking me when I’m going to write another one…
I came home hoping to catch up, which is sort of comical because I don’t think I’ve ever been “caught up” in my life. A monkey wrench was thrown in our family plans when the wheelchair lift on our van broke, and took three weeks to get fixed. Then a week after we got it back, our drive train broke on our way home from the movies (the same problem that stranded us on our return from FL.) Once again we were reminded why the location of our new home is so ideal. We were able to walk to Mass every Sunday, and the boys didn’t need to miss any appointments at CHOP because we could walk to the train station and take it into Philadelphia. Everything is working now, and hopefully continues to do so. Our goal is to try to make the van last another year before purchasing a replacement.
As for Lent, the Orthodox style fast went better than expected. I found it easier to adhere to then a Whole 30, and it was even easier than a traditional Roman Catholic fast. When I can eat meat for only one meal a day, it means I need to plan meatless lunches and often, dinner leftovers go to waste. But eating the same foods all Lent meant we could eat dinner leftovers at lunch and I didn’t need to plan anything additional. I think also in the past, I tried to use Lent as a way to EAT ALL THE VEGETABLES, which usually just meant lots of salads. But salads aren’t very filling. Using the Fasting as a Family Cookbook, I created filling meals based on grains, beans, and lentils that stuck to my ribs and helped me refrain from snacking. Everything we made in that book turned out much better than I expected. But that doesn’t mean I want to go vegan or anything. While the food was good, there were many times that, while I was full, I wasn’t satisfied. My lentil taco was tasty, but, I really wanted one with ground beef. The cashew cheese sauce went really well on noodles, but I missed the cheese. So, eating this way was still a sacrifice, even if it wasn’t quite the struggle I anticipated.
However, God has a way of “customizing” your Lent for you. I went into this year, and this Lent, wanting to focus on my spiritual health, and try to view any eating habits in terms of how they could benefit me spiritually, where as previously, it’s been easy for me to focus solely on the health or weight loss benefits, evening during Lent. However, I had some “older woman’s issues” pop up unexpectedly that caused me to focus on my physical body more than I intended. I reached a point where I had to consider whether it was healthy for me to keep the fast. I felt bloated and nauseous and had to force myself to eat anything. I was unable to stick to my usual exercise routine due to fatigue and discomfort. I spent lots of time worrying, and also realizing I *am* getting older and accepting the changes that come with that. It was/ is a small cross to bear in the grand scheme of things, but it was not on my radar at all when Lent started. I think having a better prayer life in place has helped me remember to offer it all up and not be caught up in things as much as I might have been otherwise.
We had a nice Easter. Addie was not able to come home for spring break or Easter, but we’ve done video calls and I look forward to having her home for the summer. Byron was home, and I planned and Italian inspired Easter feast, which wasn’t too different from what we’ve done previously, except I had more pasta, a savory Easter pie, and roasted artichokes (which were a big hit), in addition to our usual lamb, mashed potatoes, lamb gravy with brandy, fruit salad, homemade cannolis, and Colomba cake. My friend joined us again this year, but we didn’t have any other family with us. I was glad our van was fixed so we could attend Easter mass at our parish.
That’s probably enough of an update for now! Hopefully the weather is as beautiful where you are, as it is here in NJ! A trip to Ocean City is in the works for tomorrow, and the windows are open in the house! I finally got a lounge chair for our patio and I’m like a cat in the sun every afternoon waiting for the boys’ bus to get home (plus, it’s the perfect place to say a rosary).
Someone asked me recently if I was still updating the blog so I took it as a subtle hint that I should post something. Thankfully, it’s time for my annual Lent post! Four times a year I love to over-analyze my life and create lofty goals: beginning of the year, Lent, beginning of the school year, and Advent. So if you were hoping for cute family photos and funny stories, prepare to be disappointed!
Since I made spiritual growth the keystone of my New Year’s resolutions, I figured I would just tweak what I was already doing, but then Tony asked if we should do something “hard-core”, like another St. Hildegarde Fast or Whole 30 or Exodus 90. “Maybe an Exodus 90 on top of a St. Hildegard Fast???” Everyone within five miles of our house heard me exclaim, “HELL NO”, before I clarified that while I didn’t want to do anything gimmicky, I would consider doing an Orthodox fast with him, as it’s something I’ve looked into previous years, but ran away from screaming because of the absence of cheese. He was game, so I did a bit more research.
For the last few years, I didn’t want to “create” some unique Lenten experience. I just wanted to be told ” do this” by the Church, and do it. Following the fasting requirements of the Orthodox is in the same vein. I’m not creating something from scratch, or following a trendy diet. Tony and I will just fast the way the Orthodox church recommends, with a few tweaks. From what I’ve read, it seems like the strictest fast requirements are only followed by monks, while lay Orthodox Christians are advised to modify the fast with spiritual guidance, or follow the guidelines to the best of their ability. I’m not sure how much of the guidelines are binding under the pain of sin. (In Roman Catholic tradition, Catholics must fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat all Fridays in Lent under pain of sin [with exceptions for age, health, etc.].)
Unlike the Orthodox, our fast will start on Ash Wednesday, and we won’t fast on Sundays or first class feasts in Lent. But otherwise, we’ll be giving up meat, fish with backbones, eggs, dairy, olive oil, and wine. We will try to stick to the two small meals and one regular sized meal, but if I’m feeling hangry, weak or too tired, I will probably increase the amount or frequency of my meals. We’re not making the kids follow the same fast, but we’re all giving up sweets together as usual. I will keep drinking my morning coffee with dairy free creamer and my afternoon Coke Zero because everyone has limits; I drew the line at caffeine.
I’m not taking this on because last year Lent was so easy. I fully expect to slip up, make excuses, and binge on sweets and/ or wine while hiding in my bedroom at some point after a rough day. But you don’t get stronger by lifting the same weight or decreasing it; you need to add more weight to the bar. As part of my New Year’s resolutions, I wanted to do a little bit more fasting year round and so far I’ve totally sucked in that regard. I’m hoping Lent will help me develop the willpower to fast and deny myself things even after Easter. To help plan meals I’m relying on Fasting As A Family: Planning and Preparing Delicious Lenten Meals, by Melissa Naasko. It’s been super helpful from a practical and spiritual perspective.
In the prayer realm, I’m just going to work at the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. I’ve made some progress, and I just want to keep heading in the right direction. I’m also hoping to finish The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila on Libra Vox.
I don’t have any specific goals for almsgiving. We are going to give up shopping on Sundays (this could wind up being harder than the fasting); not sure if we could somehow figure out how much time and money we save by doing this and putting it towards something worthwhile? We’ll see.
I’m not making any social media goals, as I don’t feel like I need to cut it out of my life more than I have, and I also don’t see blogging increasing any time soon either. Sorry! My nightly journaling seems to scratch the itch for sharing information about my life, even though the small notebook can provide me with zero likes, comments, and shares. I’m also working on three talks for upcoming trips to Kansas City and Des Moines in March, so all my free time for the next few weeks is spoken for unfortunately.
But January and February have been pretty quiet anyway, so you’re not missing out on too much here. Have a penitential Lent everyone!
Well, I’ve had plenty of time to overthink about my New Year’s resolutions. Seems like it’s time to actually write a post about them, and see how I did on last year’s resolutions. First, the review! What did I hope to accomplish in 2022?
Continue to work on building a habit of daily prayer and incorporating more silent prayer and time in Adoration. – No real change on this front. I had blocks of time where I did better, probably larger blocks that in previous years, but there were definitely gaps. I did spend more time in Adoration, than the year previously, but not as much as I originally envisioned.
Continue with the changes I’ve made to our family’s diet while always striving to do better, specifically through including a wider variety of whole foods at each meal. – This all went out the window when we started fostering at the end of March. I relied on so much convenience food and take out during that stretch. And I don’t regret doing what I needed to do to during that time, but it was hard to recover.
Continue with my exercise routine and try to increase in strength. – I have kept up with my exercise routine, and I don’t beat myself up when circumstances arise that keep me from getting to the gym. I’m so much stronger now, and its definitely helped with my caregiving tasks.
Not take on any new projects!!!!!! I have a list of projects to work on for Accepting the Gift, and I’m compiling a list of home and crafting projects to focus on finishing. At the end of the year, hopefully I’ll have a list of accomplishments to be proud of. – I think I did good here. I really did focus on Accepting the Gift (ATG) projects, and some specific home projects. I didn’t complete as many home projects as I wanted, but they’ll just carry over into the new year.
I would like to get off social media entirely and deactivate my accounts, however, that might become a big project if I try to move groups or save information from various platforms. So, I need to think about this a bit more, but maybe just figuring out logistics should actually be the resolution. – I did not deactivate any accounts, and I went through periods of outsourcing my ATG social media and taking apps off my phone, and then other periods of incessantly checking things way too much. Right now, I’m not posting much on social media, and I’ve taken the apps off my phone. I’m definitely checking things less overall. I did explore options for moving different groups and services off social media and onto the ATG website and it’s aprocess. Maybe this is the year I carve out time to do that.
So, I don’t think I did too terrible. You won’t be surprised then to find that this year’s resolutions simply build on last years. Hopefully that doesn’t make me too boring. On to 2023!
1.Be focused on spiritual improvement this year. I have a detailed list of specifics, like how many times a month I want to get to daily mass, confession, adoration, etc., but overall I can sum it up by saying I just want to put more emphasis on growing spiritually in a way I’ve never felt called to do in the past. I’ve always had resolutions (at the beginning of each year and during Lent) to “pray more” or what have you, but this year, it’s more than that. I want to spent more of my life focused on what really matters so I can hopefully better discern God’s plan for my life.
I think I often pray in haste, asking or thanking God for whatever without ever listening for a response. I sit in Mass with my mind somewhere else, running through my to do list. I go through the motions of a Catholic life, but am I actually engaged with God? I think its common for me to assume that because something I’m doing, or writing, or pursuing is “the will of God for me” because the project is “good”, but really- how do I know it’s what I should be doing? Is it because I want it to be important enough to take up my time, or because it is actually worthy of my time? Is my faith one more item on a list to squeeze into my day, or am I living a faithful life while I go about my day?
More than ever it seems to me that if I put more time and effort into spiritual growth, everything else will fall into place. And if I put myself in God’s presence, and remove more worldly distractions, I will be able to more clearly discern what I should be focused on in my life.
So much of the world is fighting for my attention. Everything from billboards, ads, sponsored posts, and the pop ups in the app in front of me. And how often do I give my attention willingly to these apps, videos, articles, etc. that offer little in return and fill in what quiet space in my day the Lord may be trying to use to reach me. I’ve been wondering lately if part of the reason we have a vocations crisis (among many other reasons) is that young people are so distracted by our modern world, they can’t even hear God’s call. They might have a vocation but because their focus is always on something else, the thought can’t ever cross their mind. Think about distractions 100 years ago and now. People can always find ways to fill their time, and avoid God if they’d like, but now I think it’s harder to get away from everything actively fighting for our attention. It requires a much more concerted effort.
The world around us is never silent long enough for us to think. And even when we find a quiet moment, our minds are racing. I don’t think many of us even know how to silence the thoughts that are one part catchy songs, one part rumination on a previous online post, and one third worry about mundane items. And if we find ourselves in an environment that is not actively seeking out our attention, like nature, are we even able to recognize the true, good and beautiful things that are worthy of our attention without them smacking us on the head? So much ugliness is forcing its way into our lives and something has to move out of the way for that to happen. What are we losing?
I can’t lock myself in a convent. I can’t become a hermit, nor do I want to. But I want to remove distractions that keep me from a deeper spiritual life. I want a closer relationship with Christ and I need to remove the obstacles that not only keep me from Him but keep Him from reaching me. I don’t have a perfect solution, or resolution, but when I say “spiritual improvement in 2023”, know that this is what I’m trying to tackle. And if I successfully deactivate my social media accounts, you’ll know why.
2.Otherwise, in the health realm, I want to keep up with my exercise routine and instead of a food based resolution that focuses on physical health, I’m going to move towards a way of eating that reinforces my spiritual health as well; which mean avoiding gluttony, depriving myself of certain foods/drinks or portion sizes, not wasting food, and fasting. But always making sure that I am strong and energetic enough to properly care for my family.
So, some pretty lofty spiritual goals. I must be a glutton for punishment, because I truly believe when you say stuff like, ‘Hey God, I want to get closer to you.’ He finds really uncomfortable ways to make that happen. But I’m hoping it’s also going to be a year of joy and fruitfulness. Please God, emphasis on the JOY AND FRUITFULNESS.
I’m not a fan of the random word of the year, but I did pick a saint this year (not randomly, I just felt called to “adopt” her): St. Rita. And of course, I spun the wheel and got a mermaid as my beast. She’s a whole lot less hairy than 2022’s Big Foot and hopefully is an indication of many more beach trips to come! (Make sure to try the Random Beast Spinner and get your own beast of the year! Share it in the comments below.)
And if you’re interested, all previous resolution posts HERE. Happy 2023 y’all!
Probably time to give an update to round out 2022. If you just want to know what I’ve been up to for the last two months (since my last post), just skip to the bottom. I won’t judge you for it. Most pictures are at the end. Also – affiliate links! So if you click I will get some $$$ to put towards all the books I didn’t get for Christmas.
We started the year with COVID, but thankfully only Byron and Addie tested positive. Teddy continued to recover from his November 2021 back surgery, and we eased back into a regular homeschooling routine.
We had our first emergency admission since November 2019 this month due to Teddy catching a stomach bug. We remained short on nursing as three nurses left, so many of Fulton’s hours went uncovered. I did a mid-year homeschool post, and things were going okay, but in the background I’d already reached out to the local school district about enrolling the boys for the next school year. Teddy came home from the hospital in time for our family Super Bowl Party, but then early the next week we travelled to Upstate New York for a funeral. The rest of the month was spent catching up and squeezing in a rescheduled field trip.
In March we got our first foster placement and things got 100x harder. We thought we knew what we signed up for, but it was a much more challenging situation than anything we could’ve imagined. I quickly entered “survival mode”: a place I hadn’t been in for a few years. I resumed drinking regular coffee after switching to decaf for Lent in 2020.
It was such a hard month. Things never really got easier for us or our foster son Todd. I brought in babysitters just for him so we could all get a break now and then and home schooling suffered as I tried to fit in everything while Todd was in school. We had a nice Easter, which was a highlight during an otherwise stressful time. On top of everything else, Fulton’s wheelchair stopped working and we had to resort to using his old powerchair which isn’t sized well for him anymore. This meant he struggled to drive around and be independent.
I started the month by speaking at a prison, and then Fulton got confirmed. A couple days later I got sick for the first time in a long while and struggled to help care for everyone. We remained short on nursing and Tony (who still works from home) tried to manage everything on his own. I picked up Addie at college (despite still feeling like garbage) and came home to learn Fulton had developed a serious cold himself. He ultimately required a hospitalization of almost two weeks.Our foster son also had a cold but it didn’t seem to slow him down at all. Teddy got sick, but successfully recovered at home. Caring for a foster child while one of our own was in the hospital was my “worst case scenario” and here we were, only a couple months into our first placement trying to make it work. Thankfully friends and family generously donated to help us cover the cost of parking, hospital food and meals for home.
Ultimately, I would miss my sisters baby shower, and my illness would linger and return with a vengeance. The tenants at our old house would move out and we’d be left with a bigger mess than we thought possible for four people to create in such a short time. We also got the news that MDA camp would be cancelled again (third year in a row) due to lack of volunteers. We were all feeling pretty defeated by this point.
We finished our school year and St. Bruno the Great Homeschool graduated it’s second student! Byron ended his high school career and planned to attend Kutztown University in the fall to study writing. Although the boys didn’t get to go to MDA camp, I did take them and Addie on a trip to Lancaster for a few nights. I officially enrolled the boys in the local public school district and the process of testing was kick started. After a really rough end to the school year, I was ready to pass the torch for at least one year. We got word that Todd was going to be placed with a family member and honestly, we all heaved a sigh of relief. Edie tested positive for COVID an hour after Todd left our house, but thankfully the rest of our family remained COVID free, as did Todd, and his caseworker and new family were very understanding. We had our usual Nativity of St. John the Baptist party and Fulton turned 14 on the 28th. It finally felt like summer had arrived.
I attended the Kutztown Folk festival while Byron attended orientation. (“That could’ve been an email.” was his takeaway from the event.) We listed our old home for sale after renting it for the last three years. We fully enjoyed the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel festival in our town after a few years of conflicts and quarantine prevented us from attending. I flew to Chicago for the Catholic Marketing Network Tradeshow to promote my book and ministry and returned home with a little over 24 hours to pack and prepare for our drive to Florida. After our local MDA camp was cancelled I looked for those that still had openings; of course the boys wanted to attend a camp in Florida. Luckily there was an MDA camp above Orlando that could take them so we got our week of respite, and they had a fun week of camp! We didn’t get any calls from camp during the week, which was unusual, but it allowed Tony and I to fully relax and enjoy ourselves. My niece was born (my sister’s first child!) while we were in Florida too. On our return home, we’d no sooner unpacked the van than we were repacking it for Addie’s return to college.
Addie and I drove to Cleveland early in the month so she could get trained to be an RA in her dorm. We knew we wouldn’t see her again until winter break since her work hours would make coming home for shorter breaks not practical. It’s hard to have her gone, but she’s doing so well, we can’t help but also be happy for her. The local school district and I were working out all the details for the boys return to school after Labor Day, and Byron quit his job at McDonalds a bit early so he could enjoy the remainder of his summer. Tony drove him to Kutztown on the 27th. Both he and Addie began classes on Monday the 29th. I text my big kids a lot, and thankfully they text me back…sometimes they even send me actual text and not memes.
Back to school! Fulton is in 9th grade at the high school, and Teddy is in 6th grade at the middle school. Edie is a junior and is homeschooled. Our calendar quickly fills with activities, clubs, high school football games, and Back to School Nights. I turned 44 and Addie turned 20!!! I’m still not used to celebrating birthdays (or any special event) without all my kids present. And we finally got Fulton’s powerchair fixed after five months of me calling and the harassing the wheelchair repair company.
The month of IEP meetings as we work out all the kinks! But thankfully, school is going well for both boys. I spent the first half of the month working on a talk for a presentation I was to give at the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities Conference so I could be focused on squeezing the fat cheeks of my new niece for the week prior. Tony and I celebrated 21 years of marriage on the 13th and the next day I flew to Los Angeles- my first time on the West Coast! I spent five days with my sister and niece and savored the warm weather. Then I flew to Houston for the NCPD conference for the weekend. I landed just as the Astros game was wrapping up so it took me a while to get an Uber. It was an inspiring conference- on the days I feel like I’m the only one writing about these issues (for my ministry) or trying to spread awareness, this event reminded me I wasn’t alone and that there are other Catholics out there working to make the Church a more inclusive and welcoming place. I got home just in time to carve pumpkins and help with Halloween costumes. Byron turned 19 off at college, but thankfully he came home the next weekend to celebrate.
And why was Byron home? To bartend our 80s themed party of course! (He also got a family birthday party, don’t worry.) It was a radical time featuring 80s cocktails and food and lots of makeup.
But here’s where I need to consult my planner because my last blog post was on November 7. What have I been up to since then? A big part of it has been that I’ve been throwing as much time as I can into creating resources for my ministry. After spending most of my day on my computer either writing, editing, or laying out books, posts and videos, sitting down and writing a blog post is really the last way I want to spend my free time. And even though I’ve allocated a specific time to writing personal blog posts, I often spend that time on “work” for the ministry instead. But other things have been happening.
I was privileged to pray a rosary with Kristen from Many Hail Marys on Instagram and talk about my book and ministry. That was probably the most social media exposure I’d had in a long while! Such a great community.
I traveled to Lancaster to spend time with an family friend whose husband was in hospice care at home. When her kids put out a call on social media for caregiver help, I was like, that’s something I could do! I enjoyed visiting with her and also helping out. (Her husband, who was only 54, passed away on November 26. Please pray for his soul and keep his whole family in your prayers.)
Edie got to visit her first maritime school in Massachusetts with Tony and during a demonstration steering their virtual ship around the NY Harbor, Edie got to proudly declare that she’d already piloted an actual boat around the NY Harbor. Her Sea Scout experience is definitely giving her an advantage.
Byron came home again for Thanksgiving and we celebrated with my family in Lancaster. We did a video call with Addie who was celebrating with her boyfriend’s family. Since he is from the Cleveland area, I’m glad she has somewhere to go for special occasions and family dinners when she can’t be with us.
We entered Advent and I started journaling daily. Most nights before bed now, I write down the day’s happenings, along with any pressing thoughts weighing on my mind in a small Moleskin notebook. My goal is just one page of notes, and since it’s such a small notebook, it doesn’t seem like an overwhelming task. So I have been keeping track of things, even if I’m not sharing them on the blog. Now that I’m sitting down and writing another post, I can’t imagine not continuing to do so regularly, but if another month passes, having an offline journal keeps all those same thoughts saved for posterity. I’m not quite sure why I feel the need to save all this info for the ages: For my kids? For some random archeologist in the future? I’m not sure, but if anyone wants to study the life of a 21st century Catholic homeschooler and special needs mom, I will have plenty of source material for him or her.
Edie and I returned to Lancaster (my third week in a row) to attend a Christmas show with my dad while my mom visited my sister in LA.
I got to visit with other family members in attendance and the next morning, we went to breakfast with a friend of mine I’ve known since I was Teddy’s age. We sat for hours catching up before Edie and I finally headed back to Jersey. That night, Tony and I went to his company’s holiday party in downtown Philadelphia thanks to one of Fulton’s nurses taking an evening shift. The last holiday party I attended with Tony was one in which all our kids were invited…I think in 2011? This party was formal and on the 53 floor of a skyscraper. I wore a vintage sequined-covered dress, managed to pull my hair back in a Pinterest inspired up-do and hoped I wouldn’t be over the top. But I was not the only one in a sequin covered gown! That’s how fancy it was!! There was an open bar, and tons of delicious food, a photo booth and casino games. I was killing it at roulette and the dealer said I should probably head to Atlantic City. Tony and I both learned to play Texas Hold ‘Em poker. It was a fun night.
I felt pretty busy this month, mostly with self-impossed deadline (unreasonable self-impossed deadlines). Decorating and shopping and preparing for Christmas felt like chores, or one more thing that needed to get done rather than joyful anticipation. But Edie turned 17 and earned the Apprentice rank in Sea Scouts.
Byron came home on Edie’s birthday, and Addie’s boyfriend drove her home on the 19th. He stayed with our family a few days before heading home. While Addie did manage to take him to Ocean City, we were limited in what else we could do thanks to both Fulton and Teddy getting sick with what we soon would learn, was the flu.
Both boys missed the last week of school before break, and as of this post, are still recovering. Teddy has gone to the ER twice due to dehydration, but so far has been able to come home. Their stats (temperature, heart rate, and oxygen levels) are stable, but usually as soon as I think we might be getting over this, someone’s progress backslides a bit. So, we had a nice Christmas day, but we couldn’t all attend Mass as a family. My parents, sister and niece visited with us on the 26th. I’m glad we haven’t had to go to the hospital, but we’re providing hospital level care here round the clock, and that’s exhausting at times.
In other injury news, Edie got roller skates for Christmas and fell on our patio hurting her elbow. She’s in a brace and sling until I can find a orthopedic doctor who takes her insurance and has openings. Thankfully, the ER doctor said it wasn’t dislocated or broken…unless there’s a hidden fracture. Also, our one cat is sick and needs approximately 3,539 medicines to recover from his cat infections. I’m not even sure how I will give him all these medicines without him killing me, but we’ll see!
I guess that’s 2022 in a nutshell. I am going to work on a New Year’s resolution post (because we all need a new beast of the year) so hopefully it won’t be too long until you see me in this space again. As more and more people jump on the Substack bandwagon, let me remind you that I have a email newsletter if you want to get my posts and other thoughts sent to you about once a month. You can also just sign up through WordPress to have all my posts delivered to your inbox as soon as I post them. You could also subscribe on a service like Feedly to check all your favorite blogs at once. And since I won’t put any of these posts behind a paywall or membership, if you want to give me money for my writing you’ll have to do it through Ko-Fi. Thank you everyone for continuing to visit my home on the internet! Merry Christmas and a blessed 2023 to you all!
Happy Month of the Holy Souls! Is it too late for a Halloween costume round up?
This year I went around the neighborhood with the kids vs staying home and handing out candy. We don’t get too many trick or treaters at our house, so I figured I’d head out in my luchadore mask and cape. The weather was warm for the end of October, which means Edie was really hot in her costume, but otherwise it was perfect for being outside. One block near us had all the residents in their driveways with bonfires, any very generous candy policies…except the one women who thought she was being super benevolent by giving each boy two Hershey’s miniatures. She also stiffed Edie. That’s the thing with trick or treating as a teenager; it’s hit or miss with how many people will give you candy vs a side eye. I’m trying to make the case that next year we also just have a party in our driveway, but not sure everyone is on board with the idea, even if I purchase lots of candy.
It’s a good thing trick or treating is always held on Halloween in our town. Growing up in Lancaster, it was always moved to the closest Friday or Saturday. I needed all day Saturday the 29th to make the costumes. We only carved pumpkins on Friday night the 28th, but that worked out for the best since warm temps meant most Jack O’Lanterns were black and disgusting within a few days around here. Addie went to a party in Cleveland as a Minecraft villager and I checked with her if she was a “sexy villager” and she sent a photo of her very non-sexy villager costume, so that was a relief. Unfortunately the winner of the costume contest was, I kid you not, a sexy Eye of Sauron.
In the midst of the Halloween prep, Byron turned 19!! We chatted on his birthday, and he came home the following weekend and collected presents and goodies. However, the main reason for his trip home was so he could bartend our 80s party. He did so well at our 40th birthday party FOUR YEARS AGO (!!!) I jokingly asked him if he’d come home and do the same and he agreed. I think his success in receiving tips the last time was his primary motivation.
Friends of our were the instigators for an 80s party, but Tony and I offered to host since it’s easier for us. Despite picking the date months ago, I only started really planning the Monday prior, though I had already picked up my Cyndi Lauper inspired skirt at Goodwill while shopping for Halloween costume pieces. I had a good time researching 80s food and cocktails and Tony focused on creating the ultimate playlist. Snacks consisted of lots of processed foods; this was the pre-Snackwells era after all! Cocktail wienies, pizza bites, sloppy joes on Wonder Bread rolls, chili cheese dip featuring lots of Velvetta, and a Jello poke cake for dessert (but only because they no longer sell Jello Pudding Pops at the store.) The party was a lot of fun, with karaoke being the highlight of the evening. It was the first time we hosted a party in our basement, so I was scrambling to get things cleaned up, but it was nice to finally put the space to use again. With the older two off at college, the basement pub and library are empty now as Edie prefers to work at a desk in her room. It’s definitely the perfect place for a small gathering, and I’m already trying to figure out who we can invite over for a Christmas cocktail party.
Between all the fun, seasonal activities and parties, I’ve continued working on Accepting the Gift. We now have a YouTube channel, and I’ve set a goal of releasing one new video a week. We’ve also got new, custom merch in our Shop (the art was done by a Catholic artist just for Accepting the Gift- I love it!), plus our curriculum is being repackaged and re-released December 1. Check it out and download free samples of the curriculum and saints program. Be sure to share with any families you know who might be looking to supplement, or exclusively provide their child’s religious education at home. We’re also doing an devotional Advent series for special needs parents – sign up here! Black Friday and Giving Tuesday are coming and my ministry could really benefit from your holiday shopping and donations! We are not a 501c3 nonprofit (yet- currently working on it), so donations are not tax deductible, but in order to continue to create content and provide support to special needs parents across the country we need financial support. Please consider helping us out this Christmas season! Thank you!
Up next, Thanksgiving then Advent! I can’t believe 2023 is almost here. I’ve been surprisingly on top of checking Edie’s school work, so let’s hope I can maintain my streak as Christmas break rapidly approaches.
I’ve been writing this post over the course of a week…or two. The hardest part has been continually going back and changing all the present tense to past tense as it takes me longer to finish writing everything. I mean, maybe that means I should do more frequent shorter posts, but why do the thing that makes the most sense when I can do what takes twice as long and is more complicated???? Anyway, lots of paragraphs ahead, and plenty of cute baby photos past the half way point.
Since turning 44, and sharing my last post, we celebrated a few other notable events. Addie turned 20 on the 27th and on October 8th, Teddy turned 12.
One of Teddy’s “things” right now is themed cookbooks. We have a Red Wall cookbook (that’s technically Addie’s) he enjoys trying recipes from, and we picked up an unofficial Harry Potter cookbook a little while back too. For his birthday, he got the NFL Family cookbook which combines his love of football and the recent interest in cookbooks. The funny thing is, it was printed in the late nineties, so some of the featured players have long since faded into obscurity, having never quite lived up to the hype of their first couple years. But some big names are in there (we made John Elway’s hamburger soup) and it includes some fun football information too. Teddy and Fulton are already making plans for our next Super Bowl party and I think it includes some of Archie Manning’s Cajun Shrimp and Howie Long’s Apple Pie.
There was also a recent school book fair and Teddy acquired the Star Wars Baking Cookbook. He quickly picked out a couple items as special birthday foods and thankfully I didn’t find either difficult. One highlight is that this cookbook features a recipe inspired by the awful Star Wars Christmas special (which you can find on YouTube but I DON’T recommend it at all- I actually recommend you STAY AS FAR AWAY FROM IT AS POSSIBLE.)
We celebrated his birthday and mine with my parents on the 8th. He got a lovingly crafted Chiefs birthday cake made by my mom and I got an Amish made shoofly pie. After my trip to the Kutztown Folk Fest I’d been swearing I’d make one myself, but of course never got around to it. Thankfully the one my parents picked up for me from a local Amish farm was the best shoofly pie ever!! Even Tony, who’d had it before but wasn’t a huge fan, really enjoyed the pie- as did Fulton. Now I just have to get more of the family on board with red beet eggs.
Our family is in the throes of a heated family fantasy football league. Really, all the “heat” belongs to Fulton and Teddy…mostly Teddy….but we don’t let the smack talk get too out of hand. It’s a mostly fun experience even for me, the participant with the least knowledge. Probably one of the best parts are just the names the boys gave their teams. Byron is Approximately 37 Horses, Fulton’s team is the Lazy Hippos, and Teddy is the proud owner of the Fat Moose. Hopefully they will be consulted if there’s ever another NFL expansion.
There’s been quite a few IEP type meetings in the last couple weeks as the schools finalize what accommodations the boys need. The middle school where Teddy attends has been very communicative and I thought things were settled until I realized some teachers were modifying his work, assuming a cognitive need, when in actuality, he only needs modifications for his physical disabilities (more time to write or type answers because his hands get tired, etc.). I’d read all his modifications in that light, as did his case manager, so we were both surprised to realize a couple teachers were reading them in a completely different way. Teddy and I had both wondered why certain teachers “hovered” so much and why his work was “different” from that of his classmates. Thankfully, we caught these mistakes early in the year and everyone is on the same page going forward.
Fulton enjoys high school. He’s already missed two days due to a nurse calling out, but I knew that would be an ongoing problem. There’s been a couple “hiccups” but overall, I’m happy with how things are going. I hesitate to put the details of any concerns I have on the blog because a link to this site is included in the signature of every email I send. I really don’t want anyone from the district clicking through and reading a rant about something school related on here. I’m going to focus on the positive aspects, knowing that there will be issues at times, but that those issues should be addressed directly to the school rather than shared online. (I mean yes, I’m venting to my in-person friends, so if you’re really curious, you’ll need to come visit me in New Jersey.)
When I wasn’t in school meetings, I was planning for my trip to California. Traveling to Los Angeles to see my new niece in person didn’t really require any prep (though I did send a few books in advance), but because I was planning to fly from there directly to the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities conference in Houston,Texas I was busier than usual the week prior. The conference ran from Friday October 21-Saturday October 22 and I was fortunate enough to speak on ‘How Parishes Can Work with Parents of Children with Disabilities’. I knew that I’d be focused on baby snuggles and cleaning spit up while in LA, and there’d be little to no time to rehearse my talk. So in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was working on my presentation, updating resources and printing samples of my ministry’s resources to share. Plus staring into my closet and wondering what professional women wear these days.
Tony and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary on the 13th, and I left on the 14th. Don’t worry- we got in a date night on the 12th. Thankfully, all my flights were uneventful, and throughout my trip I had the best Uber drivers. (One called me a glowing goddess in a not creepy way and I’m just going to savor that for awhile.) I spent five full days with my sister and her new baby. While I would’ve loved to do more sight seeing, the focus of my trip was just enjoying the baby and washing bottles. I did jog around Long Beach, and walk to mass at the beautiful St. Anthony’s church (the mosaics!!) and on my flight to Houston I even had a celebrity sighting – Martin Short!!! so, even though I didn’t do all the touristy things, it was a wonderful visit and time passed too quickly.
I left behind sunny weather in the 90s, for sunny weather in the 80s. I WAS LOVING IT. Once again, my online friends stepped up and provided me with a place to stay. My sister was surprised I was staying with someone I’d never met in person, but I assured her, I do this all the time. In Houston, I had the pleasure of staying with Amanda and her family. She is the writer behind the Accepting the Gift Home-Based Religious Education Curriculum. We’ve talked online frequently, so it was great to finally met her in the flesh. She was even kind enough to feed me homemade coffee cake, margaritas, and take me to Whataburger (at different times, NOT all at once just to be clear).
The NCPD Conference, ‘One Lord, One Faith, One Family; Disability Ministry in a Synodal Church’ was enlightening and inspiring. I’ve been trying to attend a bunch of Catholic events to spread the word about my ministry Accepting the Gift, and while people are always excited about the work I’m doing and understand the need, it was edifying to attend an event where everyone is working to make the Church more inclusive and accessible. On one hand, it feels like we still have such a long way to go, which is sad since we should be leading the way, but on the other, I have so much hope and I feel like I’m really at the forefront of a movement that is breaking down barriers and creating a better Church for disabled people and their families.
My talk went well, despite the power going out during the previous keynote talk. I felt justified in not having PowerPoint slides (because there’s ALWAYS technical issues….and I hate making slides). I had a microphone for the first ten minutes, then the battery died and I had to project, which anyone who knows me personally knows was not an issue at all. Thankfully the power did come back on, I got a new mic, and I think all the talks were successfully live-streamed and recorded.
The other thing I noticed was that, when I’m talking about topics related to parenting a child with disabilities I can go on endlessly. One of my biggest problems when speaking is I tend to fall short of the allotted time. I often forget a story or point I wanted to make, even with notes. But with this talk, when I practiced, I went way over on time. It was a relief because, of course, when I gave the talk, I forgot a few things, but I still came in on time. It helped to drive home to me that this is something I’m supposed to be doing; I really have a passion for it. It’s not that I don’t like speaking about homeschooling, or at general women’s conferences, but speaking about disability issues seems to come much easier for me. At lunch, people were able to sit and talk with me about working with special needs parents and I had two great discussions both days. I never wanted to be a “special needs blogger” or make writing about related topics my niche, but I can see how God led me in this direction anyway and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to do this work.
Pretty sure this is long enough. I’ll definitely be back next week with Halloween costumes and probably some other stuff too…like everything I didn’t remember to include in this post.
Happy Birthday to me, I’m 44! Ten years ago I wrote my first blog birthday post, but since Addie’s birthday is the day after mine, it was largely focused on her. Ten years ago, she turned ten; tomorrow she turns 20!
In 2012 I shared that she got Lego sets and Barbie hair extensions. Tomorrow she will spend the day at class, and then fencing practice, before going out for dinner with her boyfriend. It’s the second year I won’t get to see her on her birthday.
In 2012 I learned, on my birthday, that I would be losing nursing care for Fulton. I was an overwhelmed mom whose oldest was ten, whose youngest was almost two, with a four, six, and eight year old in the middle. We didn’t have a lot of money and my hobbies were blogging, scrolling Facebook, and attending homeschooling socials and playdates. Tony worked in Philadelphia, and we hardly ever went on dates. But there was a lot of playfulness, joy, silliness, and exuberant joy amongst all the chaos, even if their weren’t elaborate birthday gifts.
In 2022, I woke up before the sun to get my two youngest ready and on the school bus at 7 a.m., with a nurse in tow. I get texts from my two oldest wishing me a happy birthday, and Edie kisses me on the cheek as I head out for a run, and she dashes off to work. Her gift to me was a game of mini golf and ice cream yesterday. I get my hair cut, take a walk with Tony and get a protein shake downtown. I had a massage scheduled for lunch.
I know longer get the hand-drawn birthday cards, or paper crafts. It’s memes, GIFs, gummy candy, and sushi I will pick up myself at the local grocery store. We’re headed to Five Below tonight to pick up a couple fun gifts to mail to Addie from Fulton and Teddy, and I think Fulton said he’s getting me some perfume while we’re there. Can’t wait!
It’s hard when you’re so focused on raising little kids, your birthday is pushed to the back burner. It would almost be more work, to take time to do something for yourself. And while things are so much easier for me now in many ways, it’s a different kind of hard when there’s fewer kids in the house, and you have all the time in the world to treat yourself, but there’s no way you can have all your kids with you for your big day.
So you can focus on the hard of each stage, or you can enjoy what each stage brings, acknowledging that no age is perfect and not the gold standard of which to compare all life events.
Do I want to go back to the days of everyone hanging on me on my birthday in a huge pile on the couch? No. But I’m also not going to say I want every birthday to be like today, even if it includes a massage.
Sorry if too many of my posts are reflective nowadays. I guess as a young mom, all I could do was compare my life to what things were like before children. Now, my pre-children days are so far behind me, that all I can do is reflect on my life through the ages and stages of my children. But now my future is starting to come full circle as my home empties and my life is less focused on their daily needs. I won’t ever be “childless” again, but the window of time in which I marked my days through my children is winding down. And with more space in my days, I guess I have more time to write about it. But I guess a birthday is a good day for nostalgia
Honestly, I don’t feel like there’s been anything exciting to write about since my last post -but I’m not complaining! If you want something else to read, check out my past birthday posts. I read through them all and some are funny, some have some more deep thoughts and one (#35) details my final wishes. Definitely a benefit to having a blog is being able to look back and compare where I was each year on this date.
No 43rd birthday post (too busy preparing for my book launch)
Since I’m only homeschooling one child this year, I figured I would just combine my usual curriculum post with whatever else I was writing about. So come for the curriculum, stay for the family photos! Or vice versa.
Edith, Grade 11
Unlike Addie and Byron, Edie has no desire to take classes at the local community college. She’s been dragging her feet on getting her driver’s license (she does have her boating license though!) , and I’m not too eager to spend my free time driving her there either. However, I’m pushing for her to take her foreign language classes there her senior year at the latest, but until then, all work is completed at home and chosen by me (but thankfully in some cases, taught by others).
History – Story of the Renaissance World: Edie reads two to three chapters a week and then submits her answers to review questions to me through Google Classroom. She also submits regular, longer essays and does some map work. We use both the text and the teacher’s guide (that contains a whole removable section of student workbook pages).
Science – Chemistry with Lab: Homeschool Connections pre-recorded class. Parents have access to the answer keys through HC, so I’m planning to grade all her work that isn’t auto-graded through their learning portal, but there is an option to tack on teacher grading if needed.
Literature – She’s going to be reading Don Quixote, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Gulliver’s Travels, and a Jane Austin novel of her choosing. She’ll take weekly review quizzes via the SparkNotes website, and submit quarterly essays to me through Google Classroom.
Writing – Homeschool Connections Aquinas Writing Program, Grade 11 Creative Writing, pre-recorded classes. I’m going to try grading everything myself, but teacher grading is an option here too. All her assignments are submitted to me (for now) through Google Classroom.
Math – Algebra II, Live class taught through Homeschool Connections. Edie didn’t want to continue with Teaching Textbooks, and I was not teaching Algebra II so we compromised. This class uses Saxon, which I’ve never used before in my homeschool so, I’m hoping she does well in the class.
Logic/ Religion – An Introduction to the Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas: Homeschool Connections pre-recorded class. Assignments that aren’t autocorrected through the HC learning portal are submitted to me through Google Classroom.
Art – Drawing with Art Theory: Homeschool Connections pre-recorded class.
Extracurriculars – Edie will continue to stay busy with Sea Scouts, her part-time job, and her and I workout at Planet Fitness three times a week. She’s taking a break from fencing, but may resume it if she thinks her schedule can handle it.
(If you want any specific info on homeschool a high schooler, or on using a Learning Management System (LMS) like Google Classroom, I’ve already written about it HERE and HERE respectively. All other curriculum posts HERE.)
Edie officially started school back up the day after Labor Day, same as Fulton and Teddy. We couldn’t start a new school year at our local public schools without some transportation “issues”. I had not been given a pick up time, but I knew that both boys were to ride the same bus. However, when the bus arrived, the driver had not been informed he was picking up two wheelchairs as the bus only had space for one. So, Teddy waited at home while Fulton was dropped off, and then Teddy got picked up and was on his way to the middle school with only a slight delay. For the afternoon, they removed a row of seats to accommodate both chairs, so thankfully, it was a quick fix.
There were a couple other snafus and I wound up stopping by both schools during the first week to help educate and ease transitions, but overall, it wasn’t a bad start at all. Teddy has joined a fantasy football club, and Fulton is hoping to join the chess and video game clubs. The hardest part for the boys is the early wake up time of 5:30 a.m. (which is honestly hard on all of us).
Tony dropped Byron off at Kutztown University on August 27, and he’s adjusting to college life just fine. We text less often than Addie and I, but I’m still in regular communication with Byron and he patiently answers all my questions related to him making friends and “getting involved”.
It’s been weird having two kids off at college. I think about them a lot and wonder what they’re up to and try to make mental notes about everything I want to tell them. And I think I’m more aware of how quickly Edie’s departure is coming. Sure I’ve got two years until that happens but it’s a more tangible reality and feeling – if that makes sense.
I’m adjusting to having free time during the day now. It’s wonderful, but I quickly felt overwhelmed with all the things I could be doing. I’ve tried to create a schedule to help me hit all the important tasks and remind me that, yes, I will get to that particular thing, s0 I don’t need to stress about it right now. I’m also trying to be more “fully present” when the boys are home and save my home and ministry tasks for school time. Even when ultimately all we do is watch a show or movie together, at least I can now just enjoy watching something rather than think that I’m losing time I could be spending on something else.
Lastly, I need to mention my outing to see Jennifer Fulwiler on her nationwide comedy tour. I’d seen her previously in NYC, but I was relieved to see she was able to add a stop in the Philly suburbs which is a much shorter trip for me. If you enjoyed Jen’s blog, or her Sirius radio show, or currently listen to her podcast, it’s safe to say, you’ll find her live comedy set hilarious. And I’ve always enjoyed her opening acts too. I don’t get any kickbacks, but be sure to see if she’s coming to your area a snag a ticket ASAP – and tell her Kelly Mantoan sent ya!
On my schedule is time for weekly blogging- let me know if there’s some topic you’d like me to write about (or do a video about, I’m looking to expand my repertoire). I’m hoping to start writing about more than just “family happenings” again.
So I left y’all with a bit of a cliff hanger last week: Fulton and Teddy are going back to school! I thought I would write a post to explain the decision so it can jog my own memory down the road, and also to explain to those who remember the original enthusiasm with which I pulled Fulton out after the 2019-20 school year.
I’m going to try not too get to long-winded, but lets review the last few years of educational decisions.
2017-18 – The boys start their first year in public school. Teddy’s at the local elementary while Fulton commutes more than an hour to a special school out of the district. He has nursing for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week (though we usually opted out of Sunday hours).
2018-19 – Fulton switches to a new school and gets spinal fusion surgery in September. He gets homebound instruction for a bit. We move in January and Teddy switches to the new, local elementary and Fulton remains at the same school. Testing by our new local district at the of the year confirms our belief that the school is not a good fit for him. It was a rough homeschooling year too due to the surgery and moving.
2019-20 – The local elementary is a great fit for Teddy. Fulton is now in a self-contained class at the local middle school. Both the boys’ teachers are great. Teddy’s aide is wonderful. Fulton and I are not a fan of his one-on-one aide, but he has a good team of nurses. COVID hits in March and both boys’ classes move online. I’m not thrilled with the work being offered to Fulton. I supplement with a reading program and at the end of the year, withdraw him from the district with the intent to homeschool. At this point, I was thinking I might just homeschool him from now on. My goal was initially to have Teddy return in the fall, but once I learned about the COVID precautions/ remote learning options, I decided for the boys health and safety to keep them both home.
2020-21 – Everyone is home. I’m homeschooling the younger four, and Addie attends the local community college for her freshman year. It was by all accounts, a good year. As the year wrapped up, I committed to homeschooling Fulton, and I considered re-enrolling Teddy. However, once we realized he would need spinal fusion, I decided to continue homeschooling him as well. In order to be cleared by the surgeon to attend summer camp in 2022, Teddy would need to get surgery by the end of 2021. Knowing how the risk of picking up a cold (say nothing of a COVID exposure) could delay his surgery and jeopordize his chance to attend camp, I thought the safest bet was homeschooling and a lot of pre-op quarantining. It would also allow us to work his schoolwork around his recovery.
2021-22 – I started this year already burnt out. The six week OSV Challenge business accelerator had completely sucked the life out of me. We started school a week later than planned because I simply wasn’t ready. I was also trying to work on promoting my book which was set to release in early October. We’d also started losing nurses, and the agency couldn’t fill Fulton’s open shifts so we were going weeks with only two or three days filled. If Fulton would’ve been in public school he would’ve missed half the year due to unfilled nursing shifts. In order to keep everyone healthy, we had to avoid a lot of indoor group gatherings. Fulton and Teddy hadn’t been involved in any social clubs or activities since their schools closed because most homeschool clubs or meet ups were held without precautions which was just too risky for our family. Then Teddy had surgery the week before Thanksgiving and his recovery ran into Christmas and before I knew it, it was the middle of January. We were just getting back in a groove when Teddy was hospitalized again with a stomach bug. I had a bad case of February burnout, but had to plod along because of all the unexpected missed days. And then in March we started fostering and things became extremely hard. May was two weeks of hospitalization for Fulton, and the start of a string of illnesses that hit everyone else. While we kept up with some subjects through June, it was one of the hardest years I’ve had since probably the year before I enrolled them in school for the first time. I knew very early in 2022 that I would be enrolling them both for the 2022-23 school year.
I simply need a break. Homeschooling Fulton and Teddy is harder than homeschooling my other three children for a variety of reasons and frankly, because of that, I don’t enjoy homeschooling them nearly as much. There are things I do like doing with them, but I need a little more breathing room in my day to be able to appreciate doing those activities with them, rather than viewing them as one more item on an endless to-do list. By enrolling them both in school I can take back a large chunk of my day that for the last two and half years has been completely absorbed by their care.
Neither was happy when I told them, and it was hard for me to admit to them that homeschooling them is hard and I’m not enjoying homeschooling anymore. Both are hoping this is a one year reprieve for me. I honestly have no idea.
As I spent time last night taking last years school books into the basement to put them in our library, I looked at all the curriculum I’ve aquired through the years and it hit me, I don’t need most of it anymore. No one is in elementary school, and I had to admit to myself that even if we fostered and adopted a school age child, I don’t know if I’d want to homeschool them. This last year has left me feeling ready to be done, and I’ve never felt that way before. I have two more years with Edie, and that could be it, and in some ways, I think I would be fine with having only exclusively homeschooled three of my children and outsourcing Fulton and Teddy to the local public school.
As I reflected back, I remembered how hard homeschooling was some years. And I don’t think I could’ve done anything different; I honestly think I did the best I could- I just had five little kids for a long time and that’s just hard whether you homeschool or not! (Not to mention the whole physical disability thing.) We had so many wonderful moments, and there’s so much I would never change, but I’ve dedicated 16 years of my life to homeschooling. It’s been a large part of who I am, and I think I’m just ready to move onto something else.
I don’t worry about the negative influence of the public school on Fulton and Teddy. Honestly, it’s been a long and isolated two years. I hope the boys can find clubs they enjoy and friends to invite to our home. I want as much peer interaction as they can get! I truly believe that our strong Catholic family culture can counteract whatever peer pressure or anti-Christian bias they will encounter.
I’ve expressed my concerns to the high school and middle school about what wasn’t working previously when the boys were enrolled and I like that, in Fulton’s case, we’re going to reevaluate in 30 days and make changes as necessary. I know I will face frustrations and things won’t make me 100 percent happy, but I’m willing to tackle public school challenges this year vs homeschool ones.
So, for 2022-23, I’m happy with the decision to enroll the boys in school. But like I always say, one year at a time. No matter how much relief I feel right now, I can’t say for certain what we’ll decide for future school years.
And let this be a reminder, you don’t need to keep homeschooling if it’s not working. If its extremely hard, it might be a sign its time to try something else for a bit. That something else may be a brick and mortar school (though it could also be a co-op, a break, a change in curriculum- I’m not saying enrolling your kids in school is the logical next step for everyone!) I think some parents are so scared of the influence of public school (or poor Catholic schools) on their children that they stick with homeschooling long after its killed the love of learning in their homes. Some parents can homeschool all 28 of their kids, but some cannot and that’s okay! When I started homeschooling, I thought it was something, once you committed to it, that was what you did-period. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve seen how many families, especially large families, eventually transition to online schools, private schools, or public schools. While I do know moms who manage everything from high school classes down to Pre-K on their own, it is definitely a smaller number that all those who started with me years ago. I don’t share this to discourage anyone, but to let you know that if you chose to take a break from homeschooling, you’re not the only one, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Don’t compare your homeschool to some influencer online or underestimate how your loving, and positive influence, can carry your children (and their souls) safely through a public or private school education.
St. Bruno the Great, patron of our homeschool, pray for us!
It’s time to recap MDA camp / Mama Papa week 2022! It’s the best week of the year as far as Tony and I are concerned. Thankfully, the boys had a good week too. But in all honesty, I sincerely hope that the MDA camp outside Philadelphia takes place next year as neither Tony or I want to do a drive to Florida three years in a row.
We did not get any calls from camp which was unusual. Usually I get at least one call with a question. Tony and I front-loaded our week with activities since I had a fear that someone would get sick and need to leave early. I’d been hoping to see manatees but the best locations for that were too far of a drive for us. After two 8 hour days of driving, we don’t like to travel more than 30 minutes in any direction. Thankfully, there was a great location for kayaking, and we spent Monday swimming, paddling, and anticipating muscle soreness in the days to come.
Tuesday we got German food at the Bavarian Haus in Mt. Dora. Most of the shops were closed that evening, so we went back the next day to walk around and eat gourmet chocolates and ice cream. I even managed to score a homeschooling Christmas tree ornament at St. Nick’s Holiday Shop – my first!
We spent the rest of the week relaxing, reading, watching movies, trying local restaurants and going for walks as the heat allowed. I learned that when I get uninterrupted sleep, and aren’t caring for others or doing household tasks non-stop I actually have lots of energy. I could only sit and read or type for so long before I had to get up and move around. It was a good reminder that when I’m tired and sit down to take a break on a regular day, it’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because I’m actually worn out from everything on my plate. I’m definitely one of those who wants to make even my resting “efficient and productive” so being in an environment when I can truly relax and rest proved how valuable taking a break actually is to my physical health and mental well-being. Had we been at home I would’ve not only got some rest but probably also finished all the home projects that have been sitting half completed for the last three years. I had so much energy!
We picked the boys up Friday morning after attending daily Mass, and both admitted to having a good week. We didn’t get many pictures from the camp, so unfortunately I have none to share with you but Fulton brought home a squid hat and Teddy a water gun he can shoot independently so those were the only souvenirs that mattered.
We also got a surprising text from my sister early Friday that she was being induced a couple weeks early due to high blood pressure and by Friday evening, my niece Sade was born! Both mom and baby were doing well from the get go. I’m so excited to make my first trip to the west coast to visit them in October.
On the way home we stopped at South of the Border and yes, in case you’re wondering there was a cockroach in our room again. Thankfully, I didn’t step on it with my bare foot. The giant sombrero was closed, but we did tour the reptile house which was actually really good, even though most of the alligators laid so still we thought they were stuffed. Fulton, a Slytherin, loved their collection of venomous and deadly snakes. Teddy made me take a picture of him with the pig-nosed turtle.
Once again we got home and I had barely unpacked and got the house in order when I was pulling out the driveway again with Addie on the road to Cleveland. We did manage to squeeze in a fireworks send-off / Feast of St. Lawrence celebration with some South of the Border fireworks the night before we left.
Addie’s an RA this year and needed to arrive a couple of weeks before the rest of the students. She gets her own room and it’s HUGE and much nicer than anywhere I lived as a student. It was easier saying goodbye this time, not because I won’t miss her, but because she loves CSU and is really thriving there. I’m not sure when she’ll be home again, but she’s humoring me by replying to all my texts in a pretty timely manner.
Now I’ve got a little less than two weeks until Byron leaves, and three weeks until we start back to school. And that will be a major change because Fulton and Teddy are heading back into our local public school district; Teddy at the middle school and Fulton as the high school as a freshman!! I will only be homeschooling Edie (a junior), and outsourcing quite a few of her classes to Homeschool Connections. But those details will be in another post entitled something like ‘No One Is Hanging On Me Anymore’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!).
I hope your summer is off and running and going well!