Lent is Penitential

I really struggle with Lent. This is one of those unfortunate years that I can’t use the ‘I’m nursing/pregnant’ excuse to skip out. The previous Lents in which I’ve attempted to go ‘hard core’ and give up something like soda or snacking between meals or sweets have usually ended with me devouring at least half a bag of semi-sweet morsels in a dark pantry. “I’m just looking for the lentils sweetie!”…nom, nom, nom.  Or there was the year I attempted to give up Coke and then my in-laws showed up for a weekend visit with a 12 pack and by Saturday night, six cans were gone.

Maybe it’s because growing up, Lent wasn’t anything but 40 days to shop around for a new spring dress and shoes. The idea of sacrifice being a worthwhile part of Easter prep didn’t really get introduced to me until I converted to Catholicism and started attending the Extraordinary form. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment. I spent the first 20+ years of my life ignoring Lent. Now, around here, it’s all Lent, all the time. If I even think about de-frosting those brownies  or indulging in a late night snack, I got the Lenten police all up in my face. “Mama, mama, mama, we gave those up!” or “Honey, do you really need that? Didn’t you eat enough lentils at dinner? Where did those marshmallows come from? Why are you in the pantry?”

I try to go about my Lenten duty with a smile but, more often than not, I’m that dirty faced hypocrite. If anyone asks me how I’m doing,  I quickly wind up deluging them with all the details of my fasting and try to gain as much earthly reward and sympathy as possible. I might of actually claimed to have worn sackcloth at one point, I can’t be sure…that was the year I tried to give up coffee.

This year, God has either granted my prayers, or those of my husband, and given me the grace I’ve needed to fast with a little more joy than usual. And He’s made my kids more receptive to Lenten sacrifices too. Don’t be mistaken; none of them are running around saying the Divine Office between episodes of self flagellation. They’re just complaining a lot less about what they’ve given up. Maybe it’s because their Mama isn’t spending so much time in the pantry with that forgotten bag of Halloween candy. Or getting absurdly angry about that backward letter ‘b’ in handwriting, then bursting into tears…followed by running into the pantry.

My husband, who loves Lent (I know, right?), has been very impressed with my efforts but has succeeded in keeping me from getting a big head by his managing to  subsist on honey and locust thus far. And I had a friend tell me to read accounts of some early Church martyrs which kind of makes everything in my day much easier to deal with. Just knowing the greatest trial I will face tomorrow will be getting my kids to eat their veggies at dinner without a dessert bribe compared to say, being the main course of some wild animal, is wonderful perspective.

However, Lent isn’t over. I still have four-weeks to go, and anything could happen. I think the return of Christ would be welcome, since any time I leave the house I’m continually reminded, sometimes most painfully, that the world is against me in  my Lenten struggle. For example, at my local grocer, it was surely Satan himself who placed the Cadbury Creme Egg display right next to the apple juice aisle.  Somehow, I managed not to give in to temptation and perservere. Could it have been my guardian angel who guided me to the rice cakes?

The countdown continues.

Homeschooling Secret Weapon!

I’m going to let you in on a secret about homeschooling. There’s one, just one thing you need to successfully homeschool all your children. You won’t find it at any homeschool fair or convention, and it can’t be purchased used. It’s cheaper than the $150 musical phonics program you tried three years ago and does not require training, DVDs or a separate 17lb spiral bound teachers manual to understand.

It’s a sense of humor. Surprise! After that introduction, if you don’t have a sense of humor you’re feeling misled and angry, and that’s not going to help you. My kids are always long-winded and vague and if it wasn’t for my sense of humor, I’d be perpetually hoarse.  The ability to laugh at your kids, yourself and your cat after it jumps on your keyboard and deletes all your grades for the last quarter is what will keep you sane and on the homeschooling bandwagon for more than a year.

After the honeymoon period of homeschooling has faded (you know, that magical month of doing pre-school with one enthusiastic 4-year-old) it quickly becomes apparent that coffee, smiles and M&M bribes aren’t going to cut it forever. You can either throw in the towel early, or learn to laugh at whatever comes your way. Admittedly, it may take time to see the humor in some situations. A broken arm sustained during math that ultimately disrupts everyone’s day may not be funny at first, but boy, won’t that help round out junior’s homeschool commencement speech? Don’t stop looking for that silver lining as you’re in the ER triage waiting for the x-ray results.

There’s always that brief period at the beginning of a school year where I feel all proud and teacher-y over my Trapper filled with neat lesson plans and goals. Then we’re midway through week one and someone gets a stomach bug, someone else insists they’ve forgotten how to tell time, and then, what do you know? grandma and grandpa decide to stop in for a surprise morning visit-with chocolate bars! I can either be a grump about it or laugh that they caught me in my robe, (again!, what are the odds?), eat some chocolate and jump into it all fresh later.

I usually find that silliness on my part helps lighten everyone’s mood too, like back when sass mouth was becoming a bit of an issue during the school day. (I think they get it from their father.) I simply took to dancing and twirling around while addressing the kids in my best sing-song fairy princess voice. Sassy equaled sappy and I’m happy to say that within two days we had much less of each. Hopefully that memory will stick with my kids longer than the morning I simply banished them all to the basement to work while I cried in my coffee.


As I flesh out this blog, I hope to make you laugh a bit more at homeschooling, because being home all day with kids is funny! (Don’t worry I’ll keep reminding you, lest you forget.)  How many times have you had someone say to you, “I could never homeschool because I don’t have the patience.” Neither do I sister! Neither do I! But what I do have is the ability to see the fun and humor in most situations. If laughter is the best medicine, than I hope my observations can provide some relief from the symptoms of homeschooling. Side effects may include snorts, snickers, coffee spits and flatulence. You’ve been warned.

E-Books Save Me Gas

One of the best things we incorporated into homeschooling this year was e-books. Namely, lots and lots of free e-books. Once I realized I could download books faster than my daughter and I could read them I knew I needed an e-reader. (One weekly trip to the library would actually be enough to satisfy everyone!) Even without a specific e-reader device, books can be read online or on tablets and phones with e-reader aps. I don’t enjoy reading on a backlit screen which is why I ultimately went with a Kindle.That’s why if you look through my ‘Year 4 History Book List’ you’ll see lots of books marked with a K.  I’ve also downloaded several literature books for my oldest two. When the younger three are ready for them, these books won’t be all dog-eared  and full of peanut butter fingerprints (unlike my series of CHC Devotional Stories books.) And thankfully, now when we go on a field trip or any car ride, we can pack a whole library worth of books in one slim case. The only downside so far is trying to share the device with my daughter.  Once she’s taken it into her room, I need Dr. Livingston to lead a search and rescue to retrieve it.

I did a lot of whining…I mean ‘negotiating,’ with my husband to convince him that an e-reader was worth it’s price tag. My nagging, oops, “perseverance”, was rewarded last Mothering Sunday and, so far, our curriculum has rounded itself out quite nicely this year with just library books and e-books. It’s a substantial savings from our second year when I bought tons of hard to find books about the Middle Ages. (I was astounded to learn our library system did not have a children’s adaptation of Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ or ‘Tales of Roland. Unbelievable!!’)  I’m looking forward to our second time through the cycle, and updating each Book List with free titles.

I’m compiling a new downloadable file under ‘Public Domain Favorites’ that will list some of my favorite free books and where you can find them. I prefer Project Gutenburg, Amazon and Google Books, in that order, but I’ve been checking out Nook’s site too and had some luck. Many well-known classics are in the public domain (Austin, Bronte, Dickinson, etc); I’m going to try to recommend some authors and stories you may be less familiar with. Check back often, as I’ll be updating the list as I discover new books. Contact me with your suggestions.




Things I Love; Old School Trapper Keepers

Old school, 1980’s original, puppy dog adorned Trapper Keeper; you were the one cool and trendy thing my parents bought for me as a child. ( Okay you and a Cabbage Patch doll.) No kid screamed “socially awkward” more than me until highschool, but everyone respected the Trapper. I doodled on your crisp white inside, hid from the teacher’s glances behind your propped up walls and stretched your binding to the max with wads of folded notes and a bulging inner flap full of colorful Bic mechanical pencils.

Years later, when your popularity faded, I often thought of you as I carried my neon single-subject binder down the halls of my high school. Really, I did. My attachment to you was as strong as the Velcro on your closing flap.

Fast forward to the future, when back to school shopping included lesson plans, texts, paper, pencils and music tutors I found myself distracted by memories of a simpler time when a new Trapper, a couple #2 pencils and a new pair of jeans were all I needed to start September with.  Before I knew it, I was on eBay, bidding on a Trapper Keeper (complete with folders!) much to the delight of my Facebook friends, who encouraged me to bid higher and higher… until once again, you were mine Trapper Keeper.  Mine forever.

Despite the jealous glances of my husband, and other homeschooling moms, you have never wavered in your unfailing service to me. We’ve shared quite a few laughs haven’t we over spilled coffee and cereal? Well, at least it’s funny now. Trapper Keeper, you really are the most radical part of my day.

Lesson Plans I Can Live With

Is it just me or does it seem that most lesson plans are written for the homeschooling mom with only one attentive student? These plans assume that you and your child can sit undisturbed for at least 8 minutes. Lately, it seems like I do most of my schooling in a semi-Quasimodo hunch over the dining table, just dragging myself around in circles from one child to the next.  Even when the older children grasp the idea of holding their questions until a designated “one on one” time, the baby or toddler or both  simply takes to screaming. I need real life lesson plans. I imagine something like this;

“Tell the student to open their student workbook to page 48. Stop the baby from smearing banana in his hair. Wipe banana from baby and front of your pajamas. Read instructions at the top of the workbook page while pointing out examples from the sample given below the instructions. Tell student to take pencil out of his nose,  and repeat instructions. Have student complete the first sentence while you run after the baby who somehow made it to the top of the basement steps. Tell student that they’d better complete that first sentence or else, in a threatening tone that implies you mean business. Ignore the cries of your child who is fed up with math. Check over first sentence. Dig red pen out of your robe pocket or hair  or settle for the red crayon on the table. Make corrections. Ask student to complete the remaining exercises and redo the first sentence. State that, yes you are serious. Tell them if they absolutely must, they can go to the bathroom, but no stalling. Once all the sentences are completed, go over using the answer key at the back of the manual. If you laid this manual down in a pool of cereal milk, the answers are also available online through our website.Now go bang on the bathroom door. “

Random thoughts on something I love: Aprons

I love aprons because I always decide to make homemade pizza on a day when I’m wearing black. Halloween or Easter candy opens silently in an apron pocket.  I love aprons because worn over a denim jumper and stained t-shirt I can still pull off  a ‘put together’ June Cleaver look  if I brush my hair and tie the waist of the apron tight. Aprons scream “I’ve got a handle on this domestic diva thing!” even if the cookies, or pizza, come out burnt.  An apron is a craft I can make and not feel bad about soiling. And if I remember half way through crafting one that I hate sewing, it’s a simple enough project for my daughter to finish. (Guess what grandma’s getting for Christmas?) I love aprons because funny sayings look good on an apron but you don’t need to worry about being committed to that saying all day and accidentally offending someone; “Don’t touch the buns!” or “Hot stuff coming through!” are two of my favorites.  The UPS man and pizza boy will call you Ma’am and tip their hats when you wear an apron. (Unless you are wearing the one about the “…buns.”) If you get caught chasing your kids down the street with a rolling pin in hand while you’re wearing an apron, it looks better than when the same thing happens and you’re not.  Just try saying “But officer, those ragamuffins were getting into my pie safe!” without an apron. Aprons have so many uses besides the ones I’ve mentioned, hankie, dishtowel, pot holder and hiding spot for an exceptionally clingy toddler, that it’s a wonder they ever went out of fashion. If you want to upset a feminist, next time you’re pregnant, gather all your kids in the kitchen, put on an apron, take off your shoes and take a smiling picture. (Rejected ’05 Christmas card photo.)  My husband finds me extra attractive in my apron, even when I’m not holding a homemade apple pie, cinching the waist or barefoot. Flattering, functional and fun, aprons are something I love.

On freedom and schedules

Creating this blog, and compiling all my history lessons into book lists that anyone could understand and use has only served to remind me that I’m really not as organized as I try to be.
I enjoy writing, and I hope this blog serves as a useful, if only virtual, escape from the confines of my home. But in getting it going, it has been easy for me to allow ‘me time’ to encroach on school time or bed time or time that could easily be used for something more “productive.”

I have written up all sorts of schedules detailing how accomplish everything around the house, school work, exercise etc and not stuck with one more than a day or so. The only set times we’ve managed to adopt in our daily routine are meal and snack times. Woe to the child who dares ask for food outside the appointed hour, lest the hand of Mama smack them down.

I keep thinking the perfect schedule is out there, if I can just write it up and post it somewhere in the house visible to all, one day we’ll just all start following it without a second thought. There will be no stomach bugs, or explosive diapers, or uncooperative children to throw a monkey wrench in the works. On really wild days, I try to tell myself that actually I love the “flexibility” of homeschooling; the “freedom” to adapt our schedule to suit our needs.  I’m not locked into a schedule that might “stifle our creativity.”

But by the end of the week, somehow despite an overwhelming amount of  freedom and creativity, no one has starved, we have clean clothes and our lessons (except for map work, somehow we always forget map work) are completed.

Perhaps this post is my way of saying, I hope to post a lot, on a regular basis, when in reality I’m going to post whenever I can sneak off with the laptop and write something before the battery dies or the baby has an explosive diaper. If I mange to create,  and stick to, a perfect schedule that includes uninterrupted Mama time, I’ll let you know.


It’s all history

There are quite a few books out there that expound classical home education. When my oldest was 3.5, I read most of them, and together my husband and I decided to embark on the adventure of homeschooling. It hasn’t always been easy…in fact, I can’t think of any school day when I’ve settled down in bed at night and related to my husband how easy things went…but I digress.
We have continued on this journey, and with only a few stumbles, namely that one month I wanted to embrace unschooling, have stuck with methods most closely aligned to classical thinking.
Much of the writing, copywork, dictation, reading, art and geography, is tied into history (or Latin.) I have based our history program loosely on The Well Trained Mind model and “Story of the World” series. Namely we follow a 4 year, consecutive history cycle beginning with Creation and ending at around 1989.
I’m boring you with all the details because over the years, I hear a lot from Mom’s who don’t do history because they hate history or who don’t won’t to bore their kids with typical textbook history. The second reason for this blog is to have a place where families can access my history materials to use.
Now don’t be thinking this is some grandiose lesson plan laden with internet linked activities, colorful printables and suggestions for field trips.(See the title of my blog). It’s a bare bones timeline and list of reading suggestions that can hopefully make history a, dare I suggest, FUN part of schooling, even if you hated history growing up. Or maybe just less of a chore?
My husband and I love history, and so far our kid’s seem to be picking up on the enthusiasm. I can’t always get a daily shower, but with a little effort and planning my kids can do something related to history at least 4 days a week.
I should mention we all enjoy reading history and visiting historic sites; we’re not historic reenactors or volunteer museum tour guides. It’s a healthy love, not an all encompassing passion. You won’t catch me sewing up authentic pantaloons for our trip to Gettysburg anytime soon.
So keep your eyes on the downloads page for links to my timelines and  book lists. I’m hoping to get some sort of store display up too. (Yeah, I’m looking to monetize.I have five hungry kids you know.) Shoot me an email if you have any questions or suggestions. Want to argue over a date? Bring it! And just one note; my family is Catholic, so we’ve included many saints and Catholic sources. Please don’t let that deter you. The history of the Church is the history of Western Civilization.

Getting started…or avoiding the important stuff

I’ve gone and done it. Committed myself to another project with no end in sight. History diorama? No, a homeschool blog. Why? That’s what the ‘about’ page is for. But I will add, even homeschooling moms need a little socialization. This blog is for all of us dedicated HSM who need a laugh and a little boost when we feel down. So what if your laundry is in piles? So what if that science project from last spring is still “incubating” in the back of your fridge? So what if Junior didn’t bake hard tack during the unit on sea exploration?
If you’re in it for the long haul, or just trying to stay focused through the end of the week, I feel your pain. Having a sense of humor keeps me sane and will hopefully put a smile on your face as well.
Around here, it ain’t the Lyceum, but it’s home education that works for us.