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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How to Study Shakespeare At Home

One of the few things I’ve been able to consistently stick with in our homeschool is the study of Shakespeare. The whole thing started on a whim during the 2014-15 school year. I’d tried reading poetry once a week during our “family subjects” time and the kids were ‘meh’. So I decided to introduce Shakespeare at the beginning of our second trimester. Makes perfect sense right? If I recall correctly, we’d watched part of the Hollow Crown Series earlier in the year when I was desperately trying to find a video that lined up to the history period we were studying. I believe my train of thought was that since everyone loved the live action Henry V adaption, they’d love whatever other Shakespeare play I threw at them. Plus, it’d give me an excuse to put on another movie every few weeks. And I’d feel less guilty for ditching poetry. So while I knew I definitely wanted my highs schoolers to study Shakespeare, I didn’t give a whole ton of thought to how to study Shakespeare at home with my kids in grades PreK through 7th.

We started with Comedy of Errors, and I quickly found a system that worked for us, and I’ve stuck with it ever since. My kids’ enthusiasm has grown through the years, and I think it helps that I truly love reading and watching Shakespeare with them. Plus, there are no grades or projects tied to our study of the Bard. We read, discuss, watch, discuss, and after a steady diet of comedies and tragedies we start making connections between the plays, and other forms of entertainment as well. I had no experience with Shakespeare, save for studying Romeo and Juliet in high school, and it was really my lack of expertise in pretty much all great British and American literature that motivated me to introduce as many good books and authors to my kids as soon as possible.

So if you’re interested in exposing your kids to Shakespeare, don’t be intimidated! You can learn how to study Shakespeare at home with your kids! But also know that, if you give it a try and it doesn’t work for your family or homeschool, it’s not the end of the world.

For elementary age kids, I recommend Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit (which you can listen to for free on LibriVox), or any good children’s adaption of Shakepeares’ plays. Usborne Books has several good looking versions (including a fun sticker book I bought just for myself). When we started, I would have the younger kids listen to a children’s version of the play I was reading aloud to the older kids. Then we would all watch the play together (with numerous pauses to explain what was going on). When we started, we focused on the comedies Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing, etc. Most of the plays we watched were free either through Amazon Prime or our local library. Only a few times when I found the free options to be absolutely awful did I consider purchasing/ renting a different version.

For my upper elementary, middle school aged kids, I read the plays in modern English, usually from the No Fear Shakespeare series. We’d cover about one scene at a time (or a few if they were short). I’ve done some dramatic reading, but typically, I would simply mention something like “And then Malvoleo said…” if it wasn’t overtly clear who was speaking. I’d also pause and review the scene as necessary to make sure everyone understood what was going on. I’ve also made drawings to explain connections and relations when needed.

We also talk about William Shakespeare when we study Elizabethan England, so the kids learn about his personal life, the Globe theater, etc. during history.

In high school, both Addie and Byron read and studied plays for various literature courses. Addie through Queen of Heaven Academy, and Byron took a great course through Tan Books: Shakespeare’s Catholicism: A Critical Analysis of the Bard’s Life and Plays, led by Joseph Pearce. (So don’t worry, when deciding how to study Shakespeare, you can always consider outsourcing some of the work.) He gained a lot of insight from that class and led us in discussions of Romeo and Juliet and the Merchant of Venice. Edie studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 8th grade and should I continue to plan Edie’s high school curricula, I will definitely have her read several plays as part of a course on British Literature and/ or with his plays tied to different historic periods. The difference between high school and earlier study is I do expect my kids to be reading the original versions (not modern English adaptions) and writing in-depth literary analysis papers. But because they have experience with Shakespeare, it’s no more intimidating than any other book. (So just to be sure- there’s still complaining, but it’s no worse than usual.) The creators of the No Fear series are also the people behind Spark Notes, so their website is also helpful for older students who need help understanding the plays and writing papers about them.

Right now I read Shakespeare every day during our morning meeting time which includes the younger three. Because Edie is studying other plays for literature, I don’t have her doing any additional writing on the plays I’m reading aloud.

My favorite video adaptions are as follows (some affiliate links below):

*These BBC productions are very good, and are usually free on Amazon Prime or we had most available at our local library on DVD. You usually can’t go wrong with this series- except for Macbeth which I thought was awful.

Just a reminder that Shakespeares plays were written for adults. There’s lots of sexual jokes, violence, and words you might not want your kids repeating (I feel like every other word in King Lear is either whore or bastard). If you have young children, some of the language and innuendo might go over there heads, but if you’re concerned, choose a video adaptation made for kids.

As you can see, there’s plenty of plays we haven’t covered yet. We’re currently reading King Lear, after which we’ll review a comedy the boys probably don’t remember well because we studied it years ago. As of yet, the kids have not performed Shakespeare, nor read parts aloud. I wouldn’t mind organizing something for our kids and others, but it never materialized and since none of my kids were clamoring for the opportunity to recite Shakespeare, it never happened. We’ve also never memorized soliloquies, quotes, or stanzas. I have tried to highlight famous passages when I read them, but memorization has never been my strong suit. I feel like what we’re doing is fun, enjoyable, and exposes my kids to great literature so I don’t usually feel guilty for not doing even more… until I see some other homeschoolers creating lavish sets and costumes for their 15th annual Shakespearean Festival of the Arts in which everyone speaks in Elizabethan English all day for authenticity. The rest of the time I’m fine. How you decide to study Shakespeare at home can look completely different from what I’ve outlined here.

If you want to take your study of Shakespeare a step further, I recommend Ken Ludwig’s book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, plus a quick search on Amazon will turn up several adaptions of Shakespeare’s plays suitable for a children’s performances.

(Lastly, thank you for your prayers everyone- we get to keep 12 hours of nursing care! We went through several appeals, but finally an external appeal agency agreed with us and overturned the insurance company’s decision to reduce our hours. )

So that’s how to study Shakespeare at home, Mantoan style. Any questions? 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, plus information or teaching their kids about Shakespeare they didn’t even know they needed. I look forward to reading your posts!

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Arise From Darkness: The Book to Read Following A Difficult Diagnosis

Shortly after the diagnosis of my son with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, I feel into a deep depression and state of spiritual despair. I was angry with God and unable to pray most days, and while I thought I should consider professional counseling, I couldn’t imagine fitting one more appointment into days already packed with homeschooling, therapy visits, specialist appointments, and more. I needed something to help me make sense of the hopelessness I was feeling, and amazingly enough, I found it on a random visit to our local library.

As I wandered the shelves, looking for some form of distraction, a title jumped out at me; Arise From Darkness. I pulled the book from the shelf and read the subtitle and author’s name on the cover; “What to do when life doesn’t make sense, ” Benedict J. Groeschel, CFR. I was amazed at how I seemed to stumble upon a book that so accurately described my current state, and was written by a well-known Catholic. I took it home and finished it within a couple days. It marked a turning point in my life, and from the moment I set the finished book down I knew I would be okay and that I was taking my first step out of the sadness and darkness that had consumed me.

Read more at Accepting the Gift.

{SQT} Come Holy Spirit!

Edie got the sacrament of Confirmation! Welcome to spiritual adulthood Edith Kateri! (One guess who she chose as her Confirmation saint. I had fun spelling it to the cake decorator.)

It was a beautiful ceremony and Edie looked beautiful in her dress, which also happened to be my mother-in-law’s wedding dress. It fit Edie perfectly and despite my daughters using it as a dress up gown many years ago, we only needed to make a few repairs. We hadn’t told Tony’s mom that Edie would be wearing the dress so it was a pleasant surprise for her.

We had a small gathering at our house afterwards for grandparents and Edie’s sponsor’s family. It wasn’t the big party I wanted to throw, but at this point, I was just so happy she got Confirmed, I didn’t care (that much). At least I didn’t need to spend all day Thursday cleaning up the yard and house.

Insurance concerns are still up in the air, but I expect a resolution to the nursing issue early next week. Honestly, my hopes are not high. I’m going to try to not think about it while we’re in Gettysburg this weekend. Last time we went was:

March 2012

Since Fulton and Teddy are our two big military history buffs, we thougth another trip was in order. Both are excited to spend tonight (Friday the 13th) in a hotel that overlooks the National Cemetery. If we don’t see wounded Civil War ghosts walking around I think the whole trip will be a bust.

A reminder that I’ve started a ministry for Catholic special needs parents. (Our relaunched website is now a year old!) You can find us at acceptingthegift.org and join our Facebook group HERE. We’ve started online support group meetings, I’ve been leading live stream prayers and talks, and members can watch all the presenters from the 2019 conference. Join us, or spread the word to your friends who might be looking for support! And of course there’s also a monthly newsletter- sign up here.

Sorry for the short takes. I honestly don’t even know where all my time went this week. I mean, I sort of do, but I feel like I couldn’t have possibly filled all my time but yet here I am hammering out takes on a Thursday night unable to recall anything else. Maybe I’m just old.

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 Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!

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{SQT} Costume Deets, A Sudden Sacrament, and Book Disappointments

Welcome to November- go pray for some souls!

Edie, who wants to live in any decade but this one, decided to make her own jester costume based on this historical photo.

She took liberties with the hat since she wanted a less “Yoda ears” look.

We purchased two green and two purple shirts at Goodwill, plus a pair of purple scrubs. From them she was able to create the whole shebang! I was super impressed with the finished product and overjoyed I didn’t need to help, except to offer a few pointers.

Oh, and this was what she decided to create because she “didn’t know what else to make”.

I finished Fulton and Teddy’s Halloween costumes with time to spare. If they ever decide to wear these costumes to a local comic con, I’ll probably add more pieces, but I figured they had the most important components, and it would save me time in getting them ready.

Fulton is Solider 76 from Overwatch. I found a free mask template (which I had to alter only slightly) with this YouTube tutorial.
This shot shows the volleyball jacket I purchased at Goodwill and then transformed into S76’s jacket with colored duct tape.
Teddy is Reaper from Overwatch. I purchased a template for the mask off Etsy and followed the creators video tutorials (link to Etsy shop in the description). The armor is from Dollar Tree and was spray painted black. The shotgun shells across his chest are altered toilet paper tubes. The cape is a costume staple we’ve recycled for many years.
The masks are made of 5mm EVA foam and held together with hot glue. I used the heat gun for shaping. I added elastic straps with hot glue as well. Color was added with spray paint and high quality acrylic paint ( i.e. NOT the washable acrylic paint from Dollar Tree). Teddy wore a black ski mask under his mask which was perfect given the cold weather.

I actually had time to craft a quick mask for myself out of leftover foam. Knowing it’d be a chilly night, and that I’d be outside in my long black coat, plus we’re still in a pandemic, so why not a plague doctor mask? I found a great free template with a video tutorial.

The only problem was, the mask was a bit intimidating to some of the younger trick or treaters. Plus, it didn’t really match my bubbly Halloween personality. We didn’t get a ton of kids, so when I saw some, I was all “Happy Halloween! Come take some treats off the table! I LoVE YoUr COStuME!!!!” Kids and parents didn’t quite know what to make of a plague doctor gushing about the joys of the season. Plus, Byron was dressed as a scarecrow next to our table with the hope of startling some youngsters. So I guess the sight of us together didn’t really set anyone at ease. But ultimately everyone had a fun evening and we wrapped up the night watching old Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episodes.

That scarecrow is TOTALLY a decoration. Not a mischievous teenager…just treats at this house!

We got a date for Edie’s Confirmation: November 11. Thankfully, even with the short notice, both sets of grandparents can attend. It will be a small, short ceremony, and we’ll just do a small dinner back at the house, but more than anything else, we’re glad that Edie will finally get the Sacrament.

My editor let me know my new book release date is October 2021. Sigh. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. But, I don’t want to talk about it. Everything in God’s time I guess.

Thank you for your prayers regarding my request last week. Basically, we’re appealing to keep 12 hours of nursing care for Fulton, as well adjusting to the news that our preferred children’s hospital will no longer be accepting the boys insurance December 1st. I’m not sure how the nursing appeal will play out, but I *think* the second insurance issue is just about resolved. More phone calls on the agenda for today!

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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Costumed Quick Takes

Short takes this week because HALLOWEEN COSTUMES. Even though I’m only actively making costumes for Fulton and Teddy, I make things hard on myself by trying to create Comic Con worthy costumes within a week….or less than a week. Every year I try to give myself more time, I really do, but somehow it always comes down to the wire. I have until 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and I’m pretty sure I’ll be putting costumes with damp paint on them both if things are going WELL.

We’re off school this week and I spent Monday cleaning because I knew if I didn’t do it then, I wouldn’t get to it. Then Tuesday my parents came early to celebrate Byron’s birthday. Wednesday I went with Fulton to Shriner’s hospital and lost most of the day. Yesterday was Byron’s 17th (!!!!) birthday and he requested fondue for dinner. We gave him a year’s subscription to Disney + so now we’re all getting caught up on The Mandalorian. I’m also excited we have access to all The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials.

One prayer request- we’re having “insurance issues” on a couple major fronts so please say a prayer that we can get everything straightened out without a change to any of the boy’s care. Nothing like tons of insurance related calls and emails when I’m already on a deadline!

I guess that’s it for now. Write down you takes and 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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