Why I Love My Son’s Feeding Tube

It’s Feeding Tube Awareness Week. When I first heard of it, I didn’t know what kind of awareness I was supposed to spread- is there anyone out there who is afraid of feeding tubes? Are there still people who are ignorant of them? I suppose there must be; I’d never heard of them until 10 years ago. Before then, if you’d have told me someone needed a feeding tube to stay alive, I would’ve assumed the person was old, dying, and had some large tube shoved down their throat to force feed them hospital gruel. Obviously, feeding tubes were only something needed by really sick people who probably had an awful quality of life. Don’t ever give me one! I’d rather die than not be able to eat!!!

If you find yourself reflexively thinking this way (like me for the first 30+ years of my life), let me make you more aware about what a feeding tube means to our family and how it has literally saved my sons life and continues to allow him to be the crazy, fun kid he is. (Hopefully this is the point of Feeding Tube Awareness week and not to raise money to kill wild tubes that roam the streets at night feeding on children. That would be a topic for another post.)

In the spring of 2011, Fulton got a cold which ultimately became pneumonia. His condition necessitated our first long hospital stay and introduced us to a bunch of new medical interventions, including the nasogastric (NG) tube. Because of fatigue and an increased overall weakness due to the stress of his cold, Fulton started aspirating thin liquids, meaning things that should’ve traveled down his throat into his stomach, were making their way into his lungs. We had to stop giving him thin liquids via his mouth, and instead put everything through the thin tube that now ran up his nose and down the back of his throat.

Once he was recovered, he could eat some foods by mouth, but anything like milk or juice, had to be thickened and foods that melted, like ice cream, or “mixed consistency” (liquids and solids) like chicken noodle soup, were forbidden. Fulton hated the taste of thickened liquids and shortly after getting the NG-tube, he stopped drinking by mouth. Even after a swallow study showed he was no longer aspirating thin liquids, he didn’t want to drink as much fluid as his body needed. We’d hoped to be done with the NG-tube at this point, but the side effects of him not drinking enough (ie constipation) meant we kept the tube in far longer than expected. Plus, Fulton had always been on the low end of the growth curve. He struggled to gain weight. Once we had the NG-tube in place, it became an easy way to give him more calories as well.

Although we were happy the NG-tube provided Fulton with all the fluid he needed, and some much needed nourishment, there were many parts of it that were uncomfortable for him. The NG-tube is attached to the cheek by means of several layers of tape and a protective barrier cream. Because it is visible on the face, it immediately drew stares. It was also not uncommon for the tube to get accidentally pulled out part way, which was painful and uncomfortable, and required us to remove the entire tube and reinsert it. Sticking a tube up your child’s nose and down their throat is just as fun as you can imagine for all parties involved. It was easier for us because Fulton’s weakness and limited range of motion meant he couldn’t fight us when we had to reinsert it, and it wasn’t easy for him to pull the tube out himself. (This video explains the whole process.) And despite all the protective layers his skin would get irritated and red at times. Now that he’s older, Fulton can better articulate how the NG-tube felt and he remembers it being uncomfortable and generally disliking it. Plus he had a fear of it accidentally getting pulled out.

Fulton with his NG-tube in place.

The alternative would be a gastrostomy (G) tube. A somewhat permanant port directly into his stomach placed during surgery. It sounded scary and I felt it would reflect poorly on me: that his need for a G-tube was due to my failings as his mother, and not his underlying condition. If I just worked hard enough, I could get him to consume all his nutritional needs by mouth. When I showed up at one of his medical appointments months later, the doctor asked why he still had an NG-tube? Wasn’t his hospitalization with pneumonia more than six months ago? Didn’t the most recent swallow study show he was no longer aspirating thin liquids? When I voiced my concerns about his ongoing low fluid and caloric intake, and asked if it necessitated a G-tube, she informed me that yes, Fulton needed to continue with tube feedings, and that he was long overdo for a G-tube.

Over the next few months we would schedule, and reschedule, Fulton’s surgery numerious times due to illness. Finally in June 2012 his G-tube was placed. I’d built it up into this big thing, but the surgery itself was super fast, and he had no problems. (To understand the medical details of how a G-tube is placed, I recommend this video.) Over the next 48 hours in the hospital, we learned how to hook up his feeding eqipment to the new tube (called a button) and he was monitored to make sure everything was working.

A gravity feed in progress.

In addition to the tube itself, there are extenstions which connect the tube to either a feeding bag or syringe. Feeds can be given with the help of a pump, which pumps a set amount of food into the stomach at a set rate, or a syringe which allows the food to flow in quickly using either gravity (plunger removed) or by depressing the plunger. The G-tube button itself needs to be changed every couple months. Because the site around the tube has healed up (sort of like when your ear heals after getting it pierced), the button can be changed at home, and it’s something I now do myself.

This is the G-tube button Fulton has. The ballon at the ends holds it in place and is inflated after insertion.
This is one type of extension. The L-shaped port connects to the button, and food or medicine can be given at the other end. (Shown smaller than actual size.)
This is the type of feeding pump we use.
This purple and white tips connects to the extension and the blue section of tube goes into the pump which regulates the rate of the feed.

Having a G-tube has been a life saver. I wish we would’ve gotten it sooner. It’s so much less stressful to have the tube in place and be able to make sure he’s properly nourished, vs constantly trying to get him to eat and drink enough by mouth. And for the times when he’s been sick (or especially during his back surgery recovery), it’s sometimes the only nourishment he gets. It’s comforting to know that even when he’s struggling in one sense, he’s not also hungry or thirsty; his body is getting the fuel it needs to get better. He has no fat reserves so anytime he goes without food, it can get serious pretty quick. The G-tube has prevented so many crisis. And of course even when he’s not sick, it keeps him happy and healthy and feeling better. It’s also great for giving medicine, since any liquid is shot into his stomach directly- no complaints about taste! Unlike the NG-tube, the G-tube doesn’t bother Fulton, although there have been a few times in the past when the skin around the button got red, sore, and/or itchy. He doesn’t like getting it changed, although it’s a painless procedure.

Some of the downsides include storing the supplies, making sure enough supplies arrive on time without insurance or vendor issues. The pump can sometimes jam causing it to alarm in the middle of the night, or in the van, or any number of inconvenient locations. Sometimes the extension, or part of the bag will come loose and water or formula will spill onto the floor, wheelchair or bed, sometimes for hours, before we catch the leak. It took us a little while to find the perfect formula and feeding schedule for Fulton. It can be frustrating if your child isn’t tolerating the formula you’re giving him, or if their feeding schedule leaves them with no appetite for meals. Right now we have a good balance. Fulton has a good appetite for three meals a day, and we give him several feeds that keep him hydrated and properly nourished. If he stops eating at meal times, or exhibits new symptoms (losing weight or not gaining, or dehydration) it’s time to reevaluate.

Because Fulton is physically disabled and in a wheelchair, people already stare at him and make assumptions about his quality of life. I’m not sure that having a feeding pump on his chair, or his need for tube feeds really adds any more pity to what some people feel towards him. Other kids will ask about it but our expeirence in this regard is different vs kids and adults with no other visible disablity who require tube feeding, and maybe don’t eat by mouth. I think there can be more challenges with fitting into a typical classroom and managing peer interactions but we don’t have experience in this regard (maybe readers who fit in this category can share in the comments below).

In a short time I went from viewing feeding tubes as a last ditch effort to save someone from the brink of death, to realizing they simply help people who can’t take in enough calories by mouth live a more typical life with less worry and stress. Some people outgrow their feeding tubes, and some require for life. It’s not the way most people eat, but it’s not a bad way to live. People like Fulton are living good lives with the help of a feeding tube, not in spite of it. Our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Other parents are welcome to share their experiences in the comments below. Every family’s story is different

Okay, so that got really long! Sorry about all that awareness! If I didn’t answer your question, you can leave it below and I’ll update the post as necessary. You can also link up your shorter Quick Takes filled with less awareness below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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A Day in the Life: 2021 Edition

As promised, today’s post is a “day in the life”. Last time I did one was in March 2016!! At least, that’s the most recent I can find. It’s entirely possible I wrote another day in the life post more recently and simply lost it in my archives (now (840+ posts deep). Though, this is the last one I remember writing so maybe not, either way, it’s an interesting contrast to how things run around here now.

I tried to pick a “normal” day, but we had a slew of dentist appointments, and bad weather and then it occurred to me how few “normal” days we actually have. Probably between March and June of 2020 we had less interruptions than usual, but even now, there’s nary a week that doesn’t have some interruption in the way of appointments, family visits, holidays, or repair visits (home or wheelchair). So my selected day wound up being a snow day which threw off my usual schedule. But, I think you’ll still get the idea and I’ll have a fun blog post to read in another five years.

So without further ado, here’s a day in the life of the Mantoans: Tony 42, working from home; Addie 18, college freshman (online classes); Byron 17, high school junior; Edith 15, high school freshman; Fulton 12, 7th grade; Teddy 10, 4th grade; and me, Kelly who’s aged 2,492 years since March 2020.

At some point before my alarm goes off, Fulton’s nurse texts me to say she will be late due to the snow. I turn off my 6:15 a.m. alarm because now I don’t need to be up by 7 a.m., which is her usual arrival time. (I have already been up about three times since the day started at midnight to roll and reposition Futon and Teddy in their beds.)

I finally get up at 7:20 a.m. and I start brewing my cup of coffee (decaf) and sit on the couch next to the dog and start my rosary. I get one decade in and Fulton and Teddy decide they want to get up. Tony and I sit them up in bed with books. I finish my rosary with my coffee and then scroll Instagram and read my blogroll on Feedly.

Fulton got me this mug for Christmas several years ago. I use it every year from Dec. 25 until Feb. 2.

The nurse texts at 8:02 a.m. that she’s on her way, but going slow. I head outside to shovel our steps and walkway, and Tony joins me to clear out part of the driveway after we decide it’d be better for her to park in the driveway vs the street. Byron is awake inside and keeps an eye on Fulton and Teddy who are still happily reading in bed. (I consider shoveling to be my workout for the day. If people can die of a heart attack while doing it, it’s a workout.)

I head inside and start Teddy’s morning routine. Tony helps with transfers to and from the toilet, and I use our Hoyer lift to put Teddy in his wheelchair once he’s dressed. Tony and I put Fulton on the toilet and Fulton’s nurse arrives around 9 a.m. Tony goes into his basement office to work. (He’s been upstairs working at the dining table up to this point.)

Now I remember that I promised to make chocolate baked oatmeal because it’s Candlemas. (Not that there’s liturgical significance to oatmeal and Candlemas, it’s just something I don’t make often so it makes the day a bit more special than usual.) I start throwing ingrediants together, and put it in the oven and set the timer for 20 min. I jump in the shower with the goal to be out in time to check the oatmeal.

Success! The oatmeal just needs a few more minutes in the oven but by 10 a.m. Fulton and Teddy are eating breakfast. Byron and Edie have some as well. Sure, this is normally when we start our English lessons, but it’s Candlemas so I try not to stress about being two hours behind our school schedule. I decide we’ll skip ‘morning meeting’ this morning and instead I just read our current Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, aloud during breakfast. Thankfully, everyone eats like savages and we get started with school at 10:20 a.m. (I checked my watch twice to be sure.)

Teddy reads from Minn of the Mississippi, answers questions in his workbook and does a page in his spelling book. I sit with Fulton and assist him with his reader, and then he types up a copywork sentence, making corrections for capitilization and punctuation, on his tablet. While they’re both working independently, I move around laundry in the basement and take meat out of the basement freezer for dinner.

Just after 11 a.m. the boys and I head back to their bedroom. Both boys are transfered to their beds, and Fulton receives stretches from his nurse and I stretch Teddy. They listen to several chapters of Pinnochio on Libra Vox while being stretched. Once stretches are done, they continue to listen to the story and I sit across the hall on my bed and scroll on my phone for ten minutes.

By 12 p.m. both boys are transferred back into their chairs and I begin making lunch. Byron has already made himself a huge grilled sandwhich and I convince Fulton to have one as well. Teddy eats leftover homemade, turkey soup. I make myself a quesadilla. Edie and Tony move in and out of the kitchen making their own food during this time as well. Once we’re done eating, I move around some more laundry, turn on the dishwasher, and correct some of Edie’s school work. I’m SUPER behind in correcting her work. I’ve got weeks of questions, essays, and workbooks to catch up on. At some point before now, Addie has woken up, wished me a good morning and gone into the basement to work. She might also be getting dressed. I can’t be sure. With the schoolroom in the basement, and my own to do list, I never quite know who’s doing what anymore unless they find me to tell me, or ask me something.

Fulton, Teddy and I start math at 1:18 p.m. Teddy works on a double sided workbook page. I’ve taken a photo of Fulton’s workbook pages with his tablet, and he’s uses an app, SnapType, to complete them. I set a timer for 15 minutes to remind myself to keep checking him to make sure he’s making progress and not spending too much time on any one problem. After allowing him to work alone for a bit, I help him complete the pages.

The boys take a short break once math is done and then we move into ‘specials’ time. Today should be art, which is normallly a project tied to history, but we’ve got some mapwork to catch up on, and they both really want to go out into the snow with Edie so we only do the maps and then Fulton’s nurse and I get them ready to go outside. Edie’s plan is to dig a path through the yard, and build a snow fort they can all play in. I’m very skeptical and I suggest they stay at the back of the driveway in the garage. Honestly, I feel a bit sad because Fulton and Teddy are at the perfect age for building forts and snowball battles, and they desperately want to play in the snow, but it’s just not possible. I offer to bring in baking pans filled with snow for them to play in, but they’re not intersted. It makes sense; they’re older and the allure of playing with action figures in the snow is losing its appeal. They head out and Edie starts shoveling. It’s a heavy wet snow and I don’t see how a path in the yard is going to work, or even get finished in a reasonable amount of time, but by 2:35 p.m. I go inside and continue to correct work, leaving the kids, and the nurse, to enjoy the outdoors. (I may also watch some YouTube videos of SNL and Parks and Rec.)

This sounds like a GREAT idea. What could go wrong???

Around 3 or so, (I forgot to check my watch), Edie comes in to tell me Teddy is stuck in the yard in the snow because he couldn’t wait for her to finish the path, and the snow didn’t look that deep so he just drove in and got his chair stuck. I am not happy. I go out and try to push his chair out of the snowy rut his spinning wheels created with no luck. It didn’t help that his batteries are dying and his chair would keep shutting off while I was trying to push all 500 lbs of it out of the snow. I go back inside, grab my coat and gloves, and head back out, being sure to find the hand spade I usually only need for planting. I proceed to chip away at the snow now packed under his chair, and dig out the large piles trapped behind his small wheels. With more pushing, digging, and mild cursing his chair is free and I send him inside and tell him to park his chair in the kitchen where the wheels can drip dry on the old vinyl floor vs our new floors in the dining room. (This whole episode counts as my second workout of the day.)

I do some more laundry before transferring Fulton to his bed, and getting he and Teddy their tablets and headphones for computer time at 4 p.m. Usually I start dinner prep right at 4, but the label on the lamb leads me to believe it won’t take that long to cook, and I’m reheating leftover oven roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes to go with it, so I get back to correcting work until after 4:30. Plus, Tony is making a few crepes to have as dessert so I let him have the kitchen.

Computer time is supposed to be an hour, but I let them stay on until 5:15 p.m. I call for the older kids to set the table. By the time everything is ready (delayed mostly due to my efforts to whip up a gravy from the drippings), and we sit down to eat, its about an hour later. We eat, clear dinner from the table, enjoy crepes and Tony and I still manage to step out for a quick walk around the block before we pull up a live -streamed Mass from our parish at 7:30 p.m.

Tony had hoped to attend and get blessed candles, but even though the roads seemed fine during the day, the temperatures were dropping and I was concerned about the conditions of the roads coming home. (Fulton’s nurse had left early for this very reason.) So we watched Mass as a family from our couches.

Afterwards Tony and I put the boys to bed. He focused on Teddy, I on Fulton. Lights were out by 9:13 p.m., but by 9:30 we’d already both gone back once to roll them each over. I still only roll them each once as they try to fall asleep, so with my work done, I crawl into bed and read (and maybe watch a few more YouTube clips). I believe I turned off my light just after 10 p.m.

If you made it this far- congrats! That’s sort of what my life looks like these days. If you’re so inclined, link up your own day in the life post below, or any other Takes you may prefer. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find this fascinating look into my day, as well as the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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2020-21 Mid-Year Homeschool Review

So I guess last weeks Takes just aren’t happening. Might as well get to this weeks latest, which is a mid-year school progress report! WOOT! (Oh, and of course- AFFILIATE LINKS!)

I can’t believe we’ve made it halfway through our year. Knowing we’re on the downward slope will make it easier as we meander through a slow, cold, home-bound February- my favorite month of the homeschool year!

Overall, things are going well. The hardest thing right now is that the cold weather means we can’t be outside, and other activities are limited (mostly for the younger three). I might be going a bit stir crazy personally, but no one else in the house seems to be complaining.

Family Subjects

We’ve made good progress through all our morning meeting subjects (Prayers, Latin, Shakespeare, Art Appreciation, Music Theory and Appreciation, French, Religion). I’ve started using these art cards for art appreciation (vs simply pulling the paintings up online), and I’m using Curwin Music to help with music theory. We’re currently reading Twelfth Night for Shakespeare and we’ve read/ watched Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, and King Lear.

Byron, 11th Grade

Byron did well with his fall classes. I had him all signed up for three spring courses when I realized that the college was back to offering some in-person classes and of course I’d signed him up for three in person courses. Addie chose all online options, meaning that Byron would need a lift to the college (which is 30 min. away). Given the times of his classes, my homeschooling schedule, Tony’s work schedule, and Addie’s class schedule, there was no way we were getting him there so, he dropped two classes, and transferred another to an online section. There were no more online sections of the writing courses he needed to take, so I enrolled him in Time4Learning and Time4Writing for his junior year English needs. Thankfully, he can start midyear with these programs and a teacher will correct all his writing. We used Time4Writing YEARS ago and it worked well, so thankfully I didn’t need to start from scratch to locate a complete 11th grade English program. French is still going well (he’s got a great Duo streak going, as well as enjoying the Duo French podcast episodes) but I admittedly need to get better with checking work with him. My initial goal was to get together twice a week and review assignments, but it’s usually become once a week or once every other week. The high school level religion class at our parish has not restarted, but thankfully Byron has been able to keep working at McDonald’s, run his scout patrol, and attend classes at a local MMA gym.

Edie, 9th grade

Edie’s classes are all going well and despite some technical glitches with Teaching Textbooks (they’ve been updating their courses now that Flash is no longer supported on most browsers), I’m pleased with how she’s doing. The hardest thing is making sure I have all her assignments uploaded in her Google classes, and that I’m promptly correcting work. In August, I uploaded tons of assignments, quizzes, etc. but once we worked through the first quarter, I didn’t have a large chunk of time to upload lots of assignments all at once again and it became something I was rushing to do every Sunday night (or Monday morning). I got lots of her classes updated over Christmas break, the trick will be to not get behind again. Ideally, all the work I’m putting into these classes will be useful when Teddy is in high school and can retake the same courses. All I’ll need to do is update due dates and correct his work. (For more info on the benefits to using Google Classroom as a homeschooler, check out my e-book.) Edie continues to fence (with Addie) via online classes.

Fulton, 7th grade

We used Reading Horizons until the second quarter when Fulton became pretty frustrated due to technical issues, as well as his desire to review concepts offline. Right now he’s happier, and making progress, without Reading Horizons, but I’m open to restarting it again in the spring. (I still think it’s a great program and highly recommend it for struggling readers, especially older students.) He’s started doing copywork that reviews reading concepts and simple sentence structure based on Writing With Ease, and using the Notebook app on his tablet. He also uses the app to record, or dictate his own stories. We started taking pictures of his math workbook pages so he could work on them independently for 15-20 min. at a time using the SnapType Pro app. I’m happy with how Fulton is doing, and so far I feel like homeschooling him this year has been a good choice.

Teddy, 4th grade

We went with mostly Catholic Heritage Curriculum for Teddy and it’s working out fine. He’s not a fan of some of the literature selections, and I don’t think I’ll use the program in fifth grade, but it’s fine and getting the job done. One of my favorite online sites, SpellingCity.com merged with another learning website and I’m not impressed. Teddy does his spelling tests on their app, but we don’t use any of the other games or activities. Once my paid access on this site runs out, I think I will need to find a new spelling site (if one exists). He continues to do plenty of reading on his own, he still has an interest in chess that he pursues on ChessKids.com, and he and Fulton have followed football with a fiery passion this year (for competing teams which makes things extra fun!). And whenever I get frustrated I just remind myself: It’s fourth grade! It’s no big deal! He’s already mastered long division and he’s working with fractions like a pro; my work is done.

Fulton and Teddy – Specials

We covered the human body in science and made a pretty cool lapbook in the process. We also did get some nature study in by studying birds in our backyard, and through a couple hikes. Nothing too amazing, but it was something and a good excuse to get outside together. For science right now we’re doing Marine Biology from the The Good and the Beautiful. It’s a free unit on their site, but I wound up purchasing a printed copy. Nature study will tie into science since it’s too cold to go out, but we can at least study shells indoors, and maybe on a not freezing day we’ll have an excuse to visit Ocean City.

History is going well, and our timeline is slowly creeping around the dining room walls. We’ve made lots of fun history-based arts and crafts, and even managed to keep up with map work. We also got Disney + and the access to all the National Geographic specials has been a great way to supplement whatever topic we’re covering.

We’ve also managed to keep up with daily stretches and at their last clinic appointment, both boys had good ranges of motion so yay for persistence! Some of the audio books we’ve listened to during stretches were The Illiad for Boys and Girls, The Odyssey for Boys and Girls, The Cat of Bubastes, The Book of Dragons, and we’re currently listening to Pinocchio (all are free on LibriVox). Both boys CCD teachers have been sending work via email for us to complete.

I’ll admit to missing the free time I had during the day when both boys were in school. I felt it most acutely in the few weeks before Christmas, and recently I’ve found myself daydreaming about those few quiet hours between bus pick up and drop off. I miss them, I really do. On the days when it feels like I’ve done nothing but sit and help the boys with school while my personal hygiene and the housework falls by the wayside, I try to remember to be grateful for this opportunity to stay home and educate my kids, and forgive myself for not being as productive as I once was. And while there are challenging days, I still feel like this is the best path for us right now, and frankly, except for a few tweaks here and there, all my planning this summer really paid off. The only area that needs work is making sure I check Edie and Byron’s work more frequently (and that’s always been my Achilles heel).

So that’s an update on schooling here. I hope everyone else’s home education is going as tolerably well as mine. Next week I thought I would do a day in the life post for posterity’s sake. If you need some blogging inspiration, I invite you to do a day in the life post as well and link it up next Friday. Today, you can just link up your regular ol’ Takes below. Don’t forget to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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{SQT} No More Clean Kitchen, Flax Seed Surprise and Speaking

It’s the time of year when you discover which Christmas toys are actually cheap junk, and the kids start clamoring to spend their Christmas money on more toys even though you haven’t found places to store all the stuff they already have. But ITS FINE. REALLY. LET’S GO TO THE MALL FOR FUN.

We’re wrapping up our Christmas break this week and everyone heads back to school on Monday or Tuesday. I’m ready to get back to our usual routine. My mom has been visiting for the last two weeks so I’ve been spoiled with lots of home cooked meals I didn’t have to make, and a clean kitchen filled with shiny dishes I didn’t need to wash. And the kids aren’t complaining about all the fresh baked desserts either. I think we’ll ease our kitchen back into its normal disheveled state gradually over the weekend, before allowing a full blown disaster to erupt sometime late next week necessitating a last minute Chinese take-out dinner. 

The kids are also thrilled because they know I have new ideas about healthy eating I’m excited to really launch into now that Christmas and grandma’s visit are over. I don’t know why they don’t understand that I only care about their well-being and am not embarking on some radical dietary changes just because I “read a book” or “hate them”. Now who’s ready for some sprouted flax seed muffins! WOOT!! 

When I wasn’t updating all of Edie’s assignments in Google Classroom, or studying for our foster parent training classes, I was outlining a new talk I’m giving as part of an upcoming Living Pro Life Conference hosted by Plating Grace and the Catholic Speakers Organization from Jan. 22-29. You can learn more HERE. The conference talks address common reasons people give for seeking an abortion, or supporting abortion. My talk is entitled “What About When the Baby is Diagnosed With a Physical Disability?” and it’s one of many great presentations. You can access the live panel discussions for free, or purchase access to all 50+ talks for only $30. There is also an option for parishes and schools to purchase access to all the talks for faith formation purposes. Check it out and let me know what you think.

On Tuesday Byron took his written permit test and unfortunately failed. I wasn’t too surprised. Addie barely passed herself. (It might be genetic because I also barely passed my written test.) What I’ve learned, and tried to instill unsuccessfully, was that the online practice tests don’t cover near enough material. Even if you consistently pass them, chances are there will be tons of questions on the actual test that you’ve never seen before. There’s no getting around really studying the drivers manual cover to cover. So we’ll go back in another week and hopefully he’ll do better. I only need him to have his license by the time Addie leaves for school in the fall so I’m not too stressed about it yet. He has his bike to get to work, and with COVID cases so high, we’ve had to cancel/ scale back on all social things (i.e. no one is hanging out with friends right now) so there’s nowhere for him to drive to anyway. 

In a few weeks, we’ll be midway through our school year and I’ll probably do a mid-year review post. Planning for it has led me to wonder how all the families who are trying homeschooling for the first time this year are doing. If you’re midway through your first year and have any questions or reflections, shoot me an email or leave a comment. I’m curious to know if it’s going as you expected, what has been most surprising, and do you feel prepared to finish out the year? 

I started work on my manuscript this week as well..I mean I sort of started work on it. I’ve been reading all my editors comments and NOT freaking out at the amount of work I need to do. I mean, anything less than adding tens of thousands of words is going to seem like a cake walk, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it wasn’t all crap. Because really, after years of writing and months of revising you really do start to question everything you put down on the page. I hope COVID is long gone when my book finally drops because I am so excited to travel and meet and speak and hug anyone who reads it. Like, I might just show up at your door unannounced and ask to hug you because I’ll be so thrilled to finally be promoting rather than just talking about it. “Hi are you Amazon purchaser ket93847? Did you purchase my book along with a nose hair trimmer that charges via USB?? I am so thrilled to meet you! Can I come in and meet your family?? Would you like a hug, or for me to sign your book??? Your nose hair looks FABULOUS!”

I suppose that’s enough for this week. Sorry for the delay! Write down your Takes then link them up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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{SQT} Holiday Recap

It’s time for my first random Quick Takes of the year. I’ll back it up and bring you up to date on all the very non-exciting things happening here.

First, I know that you’re all wondering what happened to those chestnuts I mentioned two weeks ago. Well, I didn’t ruin them during the roasting process, but I did need to boil them to make them soft enough to cook into chestnut stuffing. The outcome was pretty good, so I’m game to try it again with a few tweaks next year.

Overall, our Christmas was fun and low stress. We started opening gifts at 8 a.m. which works great when our goal is to still make it to 10:30 a.m. mass, and the teenagers are mostly coherent. The kids all shop for each other at Five Below (a step above Dollar Tree) and even though I’ve tried to introduce the “Secret Santa” idea (i.e. each kid buys for one other kid) they all insist every year on buying gifts for all their siblings. Their gifts are the first to be opened after stockings and they’re always so excited it makes me happy even as I inwardly cringe at all the plastic trinkets. We always snack on panetone for breakfast and after Mass I put out a selection of meats, cheeses, fruit, crackers, etc. that we snack on until dinner. This year we had duck, as we didn’t eat it on Martinmas per our usual custom (Edie was confirmed that evening). It was a relaxing day made special by the fact that Tony’s parents were with us. The kids liked having their grandparents here on the day for a change.

I got a ton of comfy socks and longe wear. My favorite pieces were a pair of joggers with Our Lady of Guadalupe all over them, plus a sweatshirt with the original My Little Ponies across the front. Teddy also got me these epic slipper socks that don’t slide or make my feet sweat. I feel like if I’m still in quarantine for another six months, I’m going to be at my most comfortable.

We visited with my parents on the 28th and 29th and spent the rest of the 12 days at home watching Christmas movies, listening to and singing carols, baking tons of Christmas cookies, and playing games. Since our town cancelled all New Year’s Eve plans (no giant blueberry drop!) we stayed in and enjoyed the tons of fireworks all our neighbors set off. “Teddy come drive to the back door and look out here! Wait, everyone to the front door you can see a few different displays from there! Oh, quick get on the screened in porch our neighbor across the street is shooting off some more rockets!”

At some point, I went ahead and redesigned my blog. I’d planned to update things for the new year, but after a technical issue convinced me I’d need to switch themes, I wound up just redoing the header and various images a bit earlier than planned. I wanted to pick some image that summed up the name and feel of my blog and when I came across the sketch of a classical statue of a women with the top of her head missing, I thought that summed up my brain at the end of most days so I went with it.

Tony created a game and finally put it online for people to try. It’s based on an idea Byron gave him years ago. The goal is to guide your train to the station by laying track in front of it while avoiding stationary obstacles like trees and water, as well as roving, angry beavers. Give it a try!

I’ve created a bunch of different books through the years. Most are on sale right now and many are perfect for helping you with whatever New Year’s resolutions you may have in regards to planning or homeschooling. Check them out in the shop and if you order printed copies of my planners or homeschooling audit workbook, you can take an additional 10% off the sale price by using the code AUTHOR10 (but only until midnight tonight!)

Lastly, we started foster parent training this week (virtually), and I attempted to take Byron to get his driving permit. Despite spending over an hour at the Motor Vehicle Commission, it’ll be another week until he can take his written test. No, we didn’t forget to take any paperwork the first time, they just require you to go in twice just for the permit. Tony and I also spent all day Wednesday at Children’s Hospital with Fulton and Teddy being told they’re doing great in everything. So lots of good time consuming things eating up my holiday vacation.

How was your week? Write it down then link it up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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Reflections on the Magi

Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi at the home of Christ. The feast is often overshadowed by all the celebrations of Christmas and is noted by most as simply the end of the Christmas season. We run the risk of forgetting the Wise Men, their gifts to Jesus, and the message they send to us all.

The Magi are only mentioned in Matthew’s gospel,

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah.These wise men from far lands who studied the stars, recognized that a king had been born in Bethlehem and had been diligently seeking for exactly whom it pointed to. Epiphany is not so much the end of Christmas, but the culmination of so much waiting.

On Christmas, Christ arrived and was announced by the angels, and adored by his parents and simple shepherds. Ephiphany is when Christ’s identity is made known to all outside the stable. The Magi’s adoration of Jesus represents how Christ had been sent to save us all, Gentile and Jew. Three men come from the farthest corners of the known world, and announced to a very surprised Herod that a King has been born. The news that so many had waited for had finally arrived, but it was the last thing Herod wanted to hear.

When I think of waiting, of disappointment, and of unwelcome news I cannot help but pull from my own experiences as a special needs mom. So much time has been spent waiting for answers, appointments, diagnosis, treatments, and so often what I get in return for all my efforts is not at all what I expected.

Read more at Accepting the Gift.

2021 Resolutions

First, let’s just acknowledge that no one was able to stick to his or her resolutions in 2020, and consequently agree to not judge one another. Second, I’m going to share my resolutions as I always do, more from a sense of obligation/tradition rather than the belief that doing so will make me more successful. I’m also acknowledging that I will not beat myself up if another world changing event develops and derails all my plans for this year. #apocalypseclause

First the review. Last year’s resolutions and a brief summary of how I failed at each one:

  1. Say the rosary daily. – For the record, I am REALLY good at this when I’m constantly driving places. However, when I’m at home all the time, I tend to struggle with when to say one. I was saying one in the morning for a bit, but I’ve been out of the habit now for a couple months and it really does make a difference. I wouldn’t feel so awful if I was making time for some, or ANY, other spiritual stuff but, especially since school started, I’m not doing so great.
  2. Work on lowering my blood pressure through diet.  – I was eating pretty good and then COVID hit and I was trying to not go to the store that often, and meal planning became eating whatever was in our freezer or pantry and I just fell into old meal planning/ eating habits. I did mange to give up caffeine and now only drink decaf coffee, and that has helped.
  3. Reduce outside commitments. – Obviously, most outside commitments were reduced for me this year. I did take on one writing project I immediately regretted, but I was proud of the finished project so I guess it was worth it. Would I have succeeded at this resolution had there not been a lockdown? It’s debatable.
  4. Focus on growing the Accepting the Gift apostolate. – After finishing my manuscript revision in February I really expected to use all the daytime hours the boys were at school on writing, promoting, and doing more for my new online ministry, but of course, the boys wound up not being in school all that much and all my blogging and online plans changed.

My beast of the year was a Siren. I kept a picture of a Siren on my desktop all year, and she helped remind me to say no to the sweet Siren call, usually. I purposely didn’t pick a word or saint of the year and that worked out fine for me. I stand by that decision and it was the one thing from my last resolution post I 100% succeeded at! Go me!

My resolutions for 2021 are as follows:

  • Eat healthy as a family. – I’ve given this more thought than previous years, and I’m setting monthly goals, rather than trying to do it all right out of the gate. The older kids are all on board with eating better to help them with their own activities, so hopefully we can all encourage each other rather than the kids snacks/pleas derailing my efforts.
  • Commit to a daily prayer time. – I’m not sure if picking the same time everyday will work, or if I’m going to make a better effort to plan out my day each morning at which point I will schedule a prayer time.
  • Continue to grow Accepting the Gift.
  • Read more books.
  • Engage with my followers in a balanced way to ensure a successful book release, while not tying myself to social media. – The plan is for my book to come out in fall 2021. As much as I don’t want to devote a ton of time to social media, I know that I need to promote and market myself and my ministry so my book can reach the largest group of people. The trick is making sure it doesn’t spill too much into my family time. I’d dropped off most social media earlier this year and loved it, but after my book release was delayed, I became more concerned that without a huge, active online following my release wouldn’t be as successful as it could be, and that it could possibly be delayed again (though that’s strictly my fear rather than anything my publisher has ever implied or said to me.)
  • Catch up on all my own medical appointments. – I was already behind before there was a pandemic.

For my beast, I’m going with the Sphinx. Strong, silent, mysterious, but also deadly, and ready to drop a riddle at a moments notice.

If you want your own beast to take you into the new year, take a spin on my BEAST OF THE YEAR GENERATOR!!! And who says it needs to be random? If you don’t like the beast you’re given, choose a new one. Don’t let chance give you a centaur when you’re pretty damn sure you want a cockatrice by your side. Share your beast with me in the comments below, or tag me @kellymantoan on Instagram or Facebook to let me know.

For the record my previous beasts have been:

  • 2013 – Triple Headed Monster Lady
  • 2014 – Jabberwocky
  • 2015 – Manticore
  • 2016 – Pinchy the Lobster
  • 2017 – The Jersey Devil
  • 2018 – Unicorn
  • 2019 – Hydra
  • 2020 – Siren

What are your resolutions? Write them down then link them up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so all your readers can come and choose a random beast. I look forward to reading your posts!

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! I’m writing this late on Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. This peaceful time before sleep, and a fun, yet crazy morning, is my favorite.

The gifts and stockings are all laid out, and I’m on a high from lighting the candles on our tree and singing carols as a family. I managed to wrap all the presents earlier in the week, thanks to my in-laws being here, so before blogging I prepped food for tomorrow and, I think, ruined the chestnuts I attempted to roast for my first batch of chestnut stuffing.

Earlier today we watched the original Star Wars Holiday Special from 1979 and it was just as awful as we’d heard, if not much, much worse. Instead of cooking up seven fishes, we picked up a sushi platter, boiled some crab legs, and even baked a few fish sticks…close enough to your traditional Italian feast! Typically we spend Christmas Eve with friends, but that was not to be this year. Midnight Mass is also out for those of us who attend as it’s just too many people, even socially distanced and masked, for us to feel comfortable. We usually attend Christmas Day mass as a family anyway and it’s never crowded, so we will stick with that tradition. And maybe even take a family photo; but no promises.

I hope your Christmas is off to a good start. I often get asked, after all the Advent traditions, how does one “celebrate” Christmas for 12 whole days?? Well, I wrote about that HERE, but I will also (try really hard!) to post everyday on Instagram one thing you can do as a family each day of Christmas to continue celebrating, even as the radio stations switch back to pop music and your neighbors take down their lights. Join me won’t you? Next newsletter goes out first thing Monday morning if you’re interested in following me there vs on some social thingy with their weird terms and whatnot.

Share your Christmas photos/ social media posts/ blog posts- whatever! below, and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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2020 Year in Review

And what a year it was right??

Last year I never wrote a year in review post. Instead, it went out as a belated newsletter to subscribers. In fact I hardly posted in December at all, and in reading my January posts, I’m reminded of the high hopes I had for this year. Lots of things would be wrapping up in the first few months and I’d hoped to feel less overwhelmed and frazzled and be more intentional with my time and energy.

So here’s a break down of the last year featuring some of my favorite life events, blog posts, books, and assorted who-ha.

January

Me enjoying Jennifer Fulwiler at her Naughty Corner comedy tour stop in NYC.

I entered this month with a lot of optimism. Except for a stomach bug on the first which we overcame at home, everyone was healthy, and school was going well. Tony created a cool wearable for a challenge at work that he grafted onto Teddy’s plastic Infintiy Gauntlet. His team didn’t win the challenge, but it was the coolest looking wearable by far.

I’m just as proud of Tony’s ability to create this imagine as the actual wearable.

Top Posts From This Month (out of 10)

February

Heading to Detroit!

Addie and I traveled to Detroit to visit a college, which would become her top pick and Byron and I would perform in our church’s dinner theater production over Valentines day weekend. I released the Self-Care for Special Needs Moms Workbook and finally completed the first round of edits to my manuscript for Our Sunday Visitor. After a lot of hard work by Tony, we finally finished our walk up attic and the girls got a new bedroom! We received our first challenge to our daytime nursing hours from Fulton’s insurance company, but thankfully got to keep 12 hours after only the first round of appeals.

March

Here’s everyone taking live-streamed Mass just as seriously as in-person Mass.

With the upstairs now finished, we were able to get our home inspected to begin the process of becoming foster/ adoptive parents. Addie and I traveled to Baltimore for a fencing tournament where people were starting to chat about a virus in China. By the second week of the month, I informed Fulton and Teddy’s schools I would be keeping them home, but ultimately they would close themselves within a few days. Fulton and Teddy rejoiced at being “homeschooled” again. I quickly learned that distance learning and homeschooling were two completely different beasts. Tony started working exclusively from home instead of traveling to Philadelphia. Addie and Byron’s spring break at the community college was extended so classes could be moved online. I followed the numbers on the CDC and WHO websites almost daily.

Top Posts From This Month

April

Intense egg hunt action!

We stayed put in April, and got used to live-streaming Mass from our parish. Thankfully our priest set up socially distant outdoor confession so we were able to receive the sacrament this month. I tried to reduce our trips to the store, and we emptied our freezers and pantries. Edie’s Confirmation was postponed, as was the homeschool high school formal. We learned that MDA summer camp was cancelled for the summer and that cast a gloomy cloud over things for a bit. The girls started fencing classes online and scout meetings were held over Zoom.

Top Posts From This Month

May

Look at those happy kids! Morale boost x100!

We made progress in our basement library by installing recessed lights, painting the walls, and hanging some shelves. Books that had been in boxes since our move were finally up on shelves. We made a last minute decision to head to the Outer Banks to quarantine somewhere different and spent a week in a large home on the sound in Duck that provided all the fun and entertainment we needed by way of kayaks, air hockey, a big screen TV, and of course a hot tub. The change of scenery was a big boost to everyone’s morale.

Top Posts From This Month

June

George and Harold came to wish Fulton a Happy Birthday.

Addie graduated with no pomp and circumstance, but since the YouTube graduation special featured her favorite band BTS, she wasn’t too sad on what would’ve been the day of her graduation ceremony. Everyone wrapped up school and I prayed I would never need to oversee distance learning again. Fulton turned 12 and immediately started counting down the days until he becomes a teenager. We celebrated the Nativity of St. John the Baptist without our usual large gathering of rowdy Catholics for the first time in a decade.

Top Posts From This Month

July

Tony begins his six hour introductory D&D session with the kids.

We attended Mass in person for the first time since early March. I finally finished hanging the remaining shelves in the basement. No more books in boxes! We went to the beach in Atlantic City with friends for the first time this summer. Tony organized his comic book collection and introduced the kids to Dungeons & Dragons. After years of moving this stuff around from house to house, these collections are finally being put to good use! Addie and Byron scored jobs and I was able to worry a little less about future student loan debt. I released my e-book Using Google Classroom in the Homeschool and wrote a series of posts to help new homeschooling parents.

August

Here’s Teddy just being the king of upper and lower Egypt.

Our parish held a small impromptu graduation ceremony for all the homeschooled seniors early in the month. It wasn’t the big homeschool graduation and party I’d wanted for Addie, but ultimately, it was a very special day. Tony turned 42 and I indulged in the one month a year when I can brag about being his younger wife. We took our second and last trip to the beach in Ocean City. After living with exposed sub-flooring in the hallway and younger boys’ bedroom since moving in, we finally got hardwood floors installed. Tony made progress on an app he’s developed and submitted it to PAX Online. I began homeschooling at the end of the month, Fulton having been withdrawn from the public school in June, and Teddy only slightly later once I saw the district’s plan for distance learning in the fall. St. Bruno’s has four enrolled students this year.

September

A celebratory back to school boardwalk trip.

College classes start up remotely for Addie and Bryon after Labor Day. Our church’s scout meetings start back up with outdoor, socially distant meetings and Tony begins his fifth year as a leader. Only Byron is enrolled as a scout. Tony continues to work full-time from home and learned he’ll be home through June 2021. I blink and Addie is now 18, and I’m 42. Throughout all these months Edie has been quietly helping in the background, always available to entertain her younger brothers, not complaining about anything except the state of modern fashion, and being my sweet and dutiful middle child.

Top Posts From This Month

October

That’s not what we meant when we said oral medicine.

Teddy hit double digits and turned ten on the 8th. Tony and I celebrated 19 years of marriage on the 13th. The boys were able to start taking Evrysdi, an oral medication that can possibly stop, or even reverse, the progressive weakness of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. No more Spinraza lumbar punctures! Byron turned 17, and we celebrated Halloween the way we always do- with elaborate homemade costumes! The insurance company once again tried to reduce our daytime nursing hours but thankfully after several appeals, we would learn in November that an outside arbiter determined the insurance company could not cut our hours.

November

Handsome group of gentleman.

After months of waiting, Edie was finally Confirmed. We took the boys on a belated birthday(s) trip to Gettysburg, PA while the older three spent time with my parents. We had a nice, small Thanksgiving and managed to take a good family photo.

Favorite Book

Overkill: When Modern Medicine Goes To Far

I read only 16 books this year. I started several more, but never finished them. I’m hoping to finish The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander for Advent, so then I’ll be up to 17, but worst case, I will finish it within the Christmas season and it will be a good book to kick off my 2021 reading list. While I enjoyed many of the books I read this year, none were earth shattering, which is why I’m only sharing my top pick. You can see some of the other books I’ve read, and what I’ve recommended to my newsletter subscribers HERE.

December

It’s been a month of more homeschooling, online college classes, and working from home. Numbers are back up, and more friends and family are catching COVID. Some are doing okay, some are still struggling weeks later. Edie turned 15 and we celebrated with a mother-daughter trip to Cape May, NJ to tour a Victorian house and do a trolley tour. I’ve managed to keep up with all my Jesse tree ornaments so far, and we’ve gone all out with the Christmas lights this year. We visited Shriners this week and we can now expect Teddy to get back surgery within the next 12-18 months. Thankfully, it’s not urgent, but it’s no longer some far off abstract thing either. This is our last day before we start Christmas break, and I’m looking forward to Christmas baking, finishing my shopping, and bottling the first batch of limoncello I’ve made in a few years.

How was your year? If you feel like sharing, link it up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the the rest of the Quick Takes. (even though this post is not quick in any sense.) I look forward to reading your posts!

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The Caregiver’s Companion; A Book For All Caregivers

As the founder of Accepting the Gift, I’m always on the lookout for resources that speak directly to Catholic special needs parents and the unique struggles they face. When I learned about The Caregiver’s Companion: A Christ Centered Journal to Nourish Your Soul, I was eager to talk to its creators and learn more about the story behind the book, and the ministry that inspired it- Nourish for Caregivers.

Debra Kelsey-Davis and Kelly Johnson met after Kelsey-Davis learned first hand that her training as a nurse did not make caregiving any easier when she cared for her mother-in-law until she passed away from neck cancer.

“Clinically I was able to care for her very well,” Kelsey-Davis said. “What I didn’t expect was the emotional and spiritual depletion. After that journey ended, I went through a spiritual dry spell, and that led me to believe that if I was out there struggling, as a nurse, there had to be so many feeling the same and worse”

Read more at Accepting the Gift.

How to Think Like Shakespeare; A Review

After my last post on Shakespeare, it should come as no surprise that I’ve found another book on dear William that I want to recommend to my readers. I was so happy when Scott Newstok reached out to me and shared a copy of his book How to Think Like Shakespeare, Lessons from a Renaissance Education. I know I’ve got a few readers who might be into books on education AND Shakespeare, so I’m here to share a title you can still order in time for Christmas. And if you are not the literary type, you can scroll right to the bottom for some other posts. No hard feelings! This honest review is a sponsored post. Learn more.

Newstok’s book is broken into 14 small chapters (plus a prologue), each of which focuses on an important aspect of education and how this topic was approached in Shakespeare age and how “modern advancements” have not always improved outcomes for modern students. Many of you are probably well versed on the problems found in modern education, whether you enroll your children in public school, private school or choose to homeschool them. But rather than viewing such problems as issues to be tackled in innovative new ways, Newstok turns back to the methods employed in Shakespeare’s era, in regards to thinking, attention, craft and so forth, and how they helped created individuals like Shakespeare who could entrance generations with his stories and wit. We are left to wonder if we are stifling future generations of gifted craftsmen (and women) by continually changing our approach to education. 

If you’re familiar with a classical education (or especially Charlotte Mason), much of what Newstok writes will sound familiar, though this is not a book about homeschooling or classical education. In fact, one of the things I most enjoyed was how Shakespearean solutions to modern ills are all things we can introduce into our homes and schools, or homeschools. And not only can school age children benefit from a Shakespearean influenced education, but all of us who wish to improve our thinking. 

Unlike other books I’ve read about Shakespeare (which admittedly are not too many), Newstok pulls from many sources when making his arguments. Shakespeare becomes the ideal man, or mind, to aspire to, but the book does not talk about him singularly, His plays and sonnets are quoted extensively, and his characters are as much an inspiration as the playwright himself. This is not a biography or in-depth analysis of Shakespeare’s life and time, or any one play in particular. Shakespeare simply provides the common thread which weaves through each chapter, pulling us along to a satisfactory conclusion.

Thinking like Shakespeare untangles a host of today’s confused-let’s be blunt: just plain wrong– educational binaries. We now act as if work precludes play; imitation impedes creativity; tradition stifles auotnomy; constraint limits innovation; discipline somehow contradicts freedom; engagement with what is past and foreign occludes what is present and native.

Shakespeare’s era delighted in exposing these purported dilemnas as false: play emerges through work, creativity through imitation, autonomy through tradition, innovation through constraints, freedom through discipline.

The chapters are as follows, with a few of my favorite quotes. I know it looks like a lot but no chapter is more than 12 pages.

  • What’s Past is Prologue 
  • Of Thinking – “To think like Shakespeare, we need to reconsider the habit that shaped his mind, including practices as simple as transcribing quotations, or working with tradition.”
  • Of Ends – What is the end of a good education? “I’m worried we’ve titled too much toward the utilitarian end-study as the means to other ends, not for the enlargement of human capacities. The spirit of the times seems instead to be caught up in a joyless urgency, many of us preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own.
  • Of Crafts – “In short, making is thinking. Or, as the editors of the 1623 Folio praised Shakespeare, His mind and hand went together. Don’t you want yours to go together too?”
  • Of Fit – “The word “apt”…derives from the root apere, a verb meaning to fit things together, in the manner of a carpenter, joiner, weaver, bellows mender, tinker, tailor…. Like teaching, like writing, like thinking, these crafts all require pliability, threading things in the right place at the right time, and thereby strengthening them.”
  • Of Place – “Small physical classrooms emerge from a long heritage of “thinking spaces” that provide an anchor in time and space.” – Great chapter in light of all the changes to classroom learning during the pandemic.
  • Of Attention -“Iris Murdoch asked, What should be taught in schools? Her answer’s as simple as it’s daunting: To attend…to learn to desire to learn.”
  • Of Technology – “It’s human to avoid the hard work of thinking, reading and writing. But we all fail when technology becomes a distraction from, or, worse, a substitute for, the interminable yet rewarding task of confronting the object under study…”
  • Of Imitation – “Imitating good models strengthens every human endeavor, from infant sensorimotor development to the grueling practice of Olympic athletes.”
  • Of Exercises – “We all need practice in curiosity, intellectual agility, the determination to analyze, commitment to resourceful communication, historically and culturally situated reflectiveness, the confidence to embrace complexity. In short: the ambition to crate something better, in whatever field.”
  • Of Conversation – “Shakespeare’s era prized conversation’s capacity to rub and polish our brains by contact with those of others.”
  • Of Stock  – “The secret of stock is that it gives you the base to make something else….Knowledge matters. It provides the scaffolding for future inquiry.”
  • Of Constraint- “Sometimes I point out the more obvious ways in which creation emerges because of constraint, not in spite of it: the agreed-upon time limit for a sports game, or the restricted ingredients in a cooking competition; something as banal as a projects’s budget and deadline; something as profound as life’s finitude. There’s an artistry in “making do” with what we’re allotted”
  • Of Making – “It’s telling that the Greek verb for “making” or “doing” was poiein-the same word that gives us “poet”.”
  • Of Freedom – “Baldwin saw that he must move beyond the necessary but early stage of imitation, to the stage that makes that external voice internal, synthesizing it into one’s own…ultimately, an act of freedom.”
  • Kinsman of the Shelf – A chapter containing additional readings for each of the previous chapters. 

If you are a homeschooler looking for a fresh perspective on a classical or liberal arts education, you will enjoy this unique collection of ideas to inspire your own efforts, or perhaps nudge you in a different direction. I’m always hoping to draw out the best in my children (much to their chagrin) and Newstok’s book is a good boost as I prepare to head into our winter break and start planning for the second half of the year. Even non-homeschoolers will begin to think about how they can encourage Shakespearean thinking in their children. Older students working on the Bard could be encouraged to read this book to add context to their studies. If you are a lover of Shakespeare, you will enjoy considering the era and ideas that shaped the mind of such a great writer, and perhaps understand a bit more about the inspiration for, and the the inner workings of, the characters familiar to fans for centuries. Shakespeare’s stories are so timeless, we can sometimes forget how different their world was from ours, beyond just the spoken English. 

My only criticism is that while Newstok shares some wonderful ideas, he relies very heavily (and very unnecessarily I feel) on other people’s words. There are numerous citations and quotes on every page which I sometimes found distracting even though they were all in line with his theme (and he does give fair warning in his preliminary chapter). I would’ve much preferred to read more of just the author’s own writing. 

Click HERE to order Newstok’s book in time for Christmas. What other books are on your Christmas list? Share them in the comments below, and link up your posts. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts.

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Experience Gifts: More Memories, Less Wrapping

It’s the time of year when everyone and their mother is putting out a gift guide. Don’t get me wrong, I love checking them out, I just usually can’t get my act together enough to pull one together.

That being said, my husband and I usually prefer to give experience gifts whenever possible. With two sets of generous grandparents (plus doting aunts, uncles, and a great-grandmother) our kids have never been lacking for presents at Christmas or on their birthdays. Tony and I have always preferred the space saving, and memory making, option of family activities, concerts, day trips, etc. vs. another toy or game.

Today I wanted to share seven ideas for experience gifts for your kids, spouse, and other family members, with some photos of our favorite experience gifts from the past thrown in. One of the best things about experience gifts is they can be very budget friendly. You don’t need to spend tons of money on concert tickets. In fact, during some of our leanest years, the simple experience gifts were the clear favorite. And for most of these gifts, a simple handmade certificate or coupon is all you need to present, which makes wrapping 100 times easier.

  • Camping- This can range from agreeing to sleep in the backyard with your child(ren), to allowing a backyard sleepover, to a weekend at a local campsite. Roasting s’mores, hiking, swimming at a lake, canoeing, star gazing, playing card games by lantern light; there’s lots you can add to this trip to make it fun for everyone.
Early birthday campout in the backyard.
  • Museum memberships- If you have two+ kids, it’s usually cheaper to just buy the membership than pay admission for everyone individually. Plus, having a memberships means you can go for an hour here, and an hour there (perhaps with separate kids) vs. trying to do it all in one long tantrum inducing trip.
Family membership to the Camden Aquarium, Christmas 2013.
  • Day trips to local sights – We live in NJ, so we’ve done a lot of trips to the beach and/or boardwalk, the Cape May Zoo (free!), Historic Smithville, Philadelphia, lighthouses, and Basto Village. Trips to New York City are the 11th birthday tradition. If the day trip is part of a gift for one specific child, we do usually let them pick out a souvenir from wherever we visited and purchase or take along a special snack. Tony and I have gifted each other date nights in a certain small towns where we get dinner, check out local shops, and generally enjoy being alone for a long stretch of time. Wineries, breweries, distilleries are also great local attractions.
Cape May Zoo trip for Byron’s 4th birthday.
Cape May Zoo trip for Teddy’s 2nd birthday.
  • Visit out of town friends and family and do an activity together – Since we have family in Lancaster County, PA, we’ve given (and received) experience gifts for attractions there as well. When visiting out of state relatives, we’ve watched sports games and visited museums or attended fairs or special events.
Trip on the Strasburg Railroad; a 2013 Christmas gift to Fulton and Teddy.
Addie requested a Hobbit themed party with family friends for her 12th birthday.
  • Lessons – Giving a gift of a few lessons is a great way for a child (or adult) to try something. We gave Addie horse lessons for Christmas when she was 8 and it was a huge hit.
  • Tickets – You can spend as much as you want here, but don’t think that you need to “go big or go home”. For concerts, we always make it a one on one event rather than a family event. For sporting events, we stick to small, local teams (not the NFL, NBA, or NBA) so we can get tickets for everyone and still afford to buy food. My grandmother still buys the great-grandkids ride tickets for the amusement park on the boardwalk in Ocean City, and sticks them in their Christmas stockings. Groupon is a great site to check for discount tickets on all sorts of events, shows, and things like axe throwing, golf, escape rooms, or paintball.
Monster truck show for Fulton’s 8th birthday.
Watching BTS for Addie’s 16th birthday.
  • Spa / Beauty Stuff – I love getting massage gift certificates. Maybe you’d like one for a facial or manicure. I know some moms and daughters make pedicures a special treat. Maybe someone in your house actually wants a gym membership, or Botox…I guess those fit in this category, just be really, really, REALLY sure that’s what they want. (Groupon is good for all this stuff too.)

Most of these gift can be given as gifts to the whole family, or to an individual child or family member. Grandparents can give experience gifts for mom and dad to do alone, with the kids, or for activities the grandkids can do with the grandparents; same for aunts, uncle, and everyone else. Experience gifts can also be used whenever. Save the beach trip for a sunny day, plan a trip to visit out of state cousins in the spring- it’s nice to have things to look forward to once all the Christmas decorations are put away.

Godparents can give the gift of having a Mass said for their godchild, and try attending Mass with the child on the day. Or they can take a special trip to a local shrine or pilgrimage site to commemorate a baptismal anniversary or any other special event.

Do you have any experience gifts you would add? Leave a comment below, or write your own post (on your blog or Instagram) and link it up below. Be sure to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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