Bodacious Costumes, a Radical Party, and a Totally Tubular Solicitation

Happy Month of the Holy Souls! Is it too late for a Halloween costume round up?

Edie as a deep sea diver, Fulton as King Sized Homer, and Teddy as Mysterio. Fulton’s costume is from Episode 7, Season 7 of the Simpsons and Teddy’s character can be seen in Spider Man: Far From Home.
Felt cute. Might delete later.

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.

The kids were surprised we “only” carved three pumpkins. Like, was I supposed to carve two extra to make up for the absence of Addie and Byron???? I don’t think so.

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.

Byron whipped up Amaretto Sours, B52 shots, Blue Lagoons, and Long Island Iced Tea (which was premixed). I wanted to offer the Slippery Nipple, but Byron insisted that he couldn’t say that to his parent’s friends so we dropped it.
When my mom saw this picture, she didn’t even recognize me. I’m the one on the left. Tony is on the right wearing a Dungeons & Dragons t-shirt. His costume prep <5 min. My costume prep, 30+ minutes. And it took twice as long to wash off the makeup and colored hair spray.
I wasn’t the only one to go ALL IN on the 80s look!

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.

Cookbooks, Travels, And Speaking At Length

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.

A snuggly distraction.

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.

Not a bad way to get in some cardio.
Getting smiles!
Trapped under a sleeping baby and binge watching The Watcher (awful!), Hoarders and cheesy comedies.
Having a very serious conversation while Darla the dog considers doing something to get our attention.

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.

44 Rotations Around the Sun

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.

2022-23 Curriculum and Back to School Adjustments

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 and I at “PE class”.

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.

Rainy first day, but Fulton happily forced a huge grin for me.

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).

Sums up Teddy’s feelings about the return to school.
Teddy has been much happier at the home high school football games that we started attending. It helps that our school is undefeated so far.

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!

My hair looked especially flat and lifeless next to Jen’s perfect blowout so I did some subtle photo editing to give my locks some life.

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.

Back to School: Brick and Mortar Explanation

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.
Outside our Florida AirB&B

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!

Florida and Cleveland

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 also found this game store packed with Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer stuff; two games Tony has been playing with all the boys recently. I just sat and stared at my phone for an hour while he enjoyed himself like a kid in a candy store.

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.

Mandatory stop at the Cleveland Hofbräuhaus for dinner….and beer.

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’.

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!