Category Archives: mothering

Life In a Big Brood: 10 Problems with Living in a Family of 10

When we started out, just the two of us, my husband and I were clueless. He is an only child and my siblings didn’t show up until I was 10 years old. We both were accustomed to the limelight, tranquility and praise, but we’d always longed for the joys of sibling companionship. My husband says he actually referred to himself as a lonely only when he was little.

Our heads in the clouds, we envisioned our own family would be a cross between the Von Trapps and the Bradys. Add twenty-two years and eight kids and our eyes have been opened. Oh, we wouldn’t trade one of our lovelies for the world (most days), but we concede that our initial plans were unrealistic.

In an attempt to set the record straight for starry-eyed newlyweds and lonely-only parents, I compiled a list of 10 big family problems.
1. Timing
Wake up, time to wake up,” I bellow up our two sets of stairs every morning. Yes, my kids own alarm clocks, but apparently my voice is the only sound capable of breaking the sleep barrier. The first countdown (of the day) commences approximately fifteen minutes prior to all planned endeavors. And this (my squawking) repeats in five minute intervals until about five minutes beyond the target time. It goes like this: while brushing my hair, I warn, “fifteen minutes to school.” With toothpaste dripping down my chin, I crow, “ten minutes.” After admonishing a still pajama-ed, bed-headed, stinky breathed child who’s reading a book, I shout, “FIVE MINUTES.” Ah yes, and the post countdown (“we’re LATE”) gears up exactly five minutes after we’ve failed to launch (which in a household of ten occurs more often than not). Because although I’ve educated my bright pupils myself, not one of them can tell time (unless the time involves a party, play date, or a guest’s anticipated arrival).
2. Laundry

I remember eyeing all those bare breasted women and half-naked children on the cover of Time Magazine when I was a kid and wondering why. Why didn’t their culture adopt some semblance of modesty and fashion. Didn’t they see the value in covering up their sensitive parts or donning some designer label jeans with a cute matching top? Now folding mountains of clothes I fantasize about a life without laundry (albeit after nursing eight babies I kinda like camouflaging my drooping bits). As if ten pairs of socks, shorts, t-shirts, underwear, and pj’s weren’t enough to handle daily, there’s also that one sweater that keeps turning up in the middle of the mound (you know, the one that still has the creases in it from the last time you washed and folded it which was yesterday).

3. Memories
With my first precious babies, I carefully documented their little lives in picture albums. From the scrunchy, red-faced newborn photo to the soccer team snapshots, every important moment was captured and neatly organized. With the invention of the cell phone and instagram, in addition to half a dozen more sweeties vying for my attention, I fell behind in my scrapbook endeavors. But in a big family that’s really not a problem (per say) because there’s always someone who will remember your history and exuberantly retell it for you (usually while in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner or when you bring your first real love home to meet your family). The real problem arises when your version of the facts (you know the honest-to-goodness facts that you remember because you always remember correctly) get twisted in a knot by everyone else who shares your surname.
4. Feast or Famine
We keep a small arsenal of snacks and non-perishables in our basement. Not because we are hardcore doomsdayers preparing for the end times, but because we have to keep some back stock to protect against the end-of month famine. Here’s how it goes down in the big family: the children cry out weakly, “Please, Sir, our porridge pot is empty and we’re starving (to death), can’t you please go fetch us some gruel?” At which time we head over to the local discount grocery and proceed to cram two carts filled to overflowing with cans, boxes, slabs and bunches of every kind of nutritious (cookies and marshmallows count, right?) ingredient. The feast begins on the drive home when those malnourished children tear into the first box of cheese crackers and eat all but the crumbs stuck on the inside bottom of the packaging before the van rolls into the driveway twenty minutes later. This jolly feasting continues for the next week until they’ve finished off the other two packages of cheese crackers, a dozen apples, a pound of salami, four sleeves of cookies, two loaves of bread, three varieties of cereal… Hence, how we end up back in a scene from Oliver Twist.
5. Volume
Back in the day (BC- before children), my husband and I laughed when we visited some relatives with kids because they had the TV cranked up to 55 in a 9X9 foot room. It didn’t take long for karma to swing back. We have no clue how anyone ever enjoyed a family movie before the advent of the rewind button. My husband makes feeble attempts to threaten the kids into silence when a race or ball game is on, but they can’t hear him over the barrage of “Who’s winning? Who’s that? What’d he just say?” Years ago we suspected our children must be deaf (especially our second daughter), so we had their hearing tested in the hopes of remedying their busted volume controls. Unfortunately, the doctor told us they all hear just fine.
6. Privacy
Perhaps, their volume control problems are to blame, but most of the time my brood are unable to hear my commands when spoken in a range below screaming. However, when the hubby and I are discussing vacation plans (while hiding in a closet on the opposite side of the house) you can be assured that some little busy-body will overhear us and chime in. Then there’s the bathroom. Precisely eight minutes into my morning shower my six year old must retrieve the only pair of pants he seems to own which (of course) are located in the laundry room that can only be reached through the bathroom. Most of the time, I’ve already got toddler company in there anyway, so what’s another family member, right? My husband freely empties his bowels without any pomp and circumstance, but as for me it is no wonder why all those commercials for fiber aid feature women. If I need to excuse myself, it is a game of distraction wherein I try to slink off unnoticed (tiptoeing down the hall and holding my breath while pulling the door shut in the hopes of masking any squeaks). 10% of the time I succeed in peeing in peace and solitude, 90% of the time someone decides it is of the utmost importance that I be located immediately to answer some burning question like “Can I have a puppy for Christmas?” 
7. Shoes
Summer sandals and sneakers, church shoes and winter boots, shoes that used to fit and the hand-me-downs that are still a size too big for anybody, shoes, shoes and more shoes. The shoe problem is less about the number of shoes around here and more about the fact that they rarely all make it onto the shoe rack (kinda like dirty clothes and the laundry baskets). They make it beside the rack, under it and next to it. We also find lone shoes under the table, behind the couch and strewn about the yard.
8. Seating
Seating in the big family is assigned. Be it in our big, white van or circled around our permanently extended dining room table, every body has his/her respective spot. Hours of discernment and mediation went into mapping the plan-o-grams so as to reduce the chance of conflict between adjoining parties. The schematics work (mostly), until a new person gets added, then it’s back to the drawing board.
9. Somebody to blame
Somebody” is ALWAYS to blame. Of course, “Somebody” is the invisible child who perpetrates every crime that can’t be directly attributed to a known offender. Rest assured, children are quite helpful when it comes to solving crimes (like who wrote on the wall or broke mom’s favorite coffee mug). Their detective work rivals that of Sherlock Holmes when asked, “Who did …?” But if it’s not sister or brother, it typically falls to that annoying Somebody kid (who to date has consistently avoided my capture).
10. Bedtime
And then there’s BEDTIME. We hear that is the time of day when people lay their heads down, close their eyes and drift off to peaceful slumber. We wouldn’t know because (did I mention?) we have eight children. I have vague memories of a time BC when I may have slept through the night without waking to nurse, comfort, redirect, reposition or talk with some family member. Truth be told, I’m so well trained now that even if no one disturbs my rest (which happens close to never) I still arouse long enough to pee (probably because it is the rare time I can be alone) and to double-check that everyone is still breathing. I’ve yet to actually laugh in the face of inquisitors who’ve dared ask, throughout the years, if our newborns are sleeping through the night, but I’d like to. Bedtime would be more aptly named Second-Wind-time since it seems as though our kiddos (who were drifting off to sleep during dinner) suddenly muster enough spare energy to run cackling through the house at warp speed.
Perhaps, if we enlisted a whistle like Captain Von Trapp, our children would report on time and line up in a tidy row. Maybe, I just need an Alice like the Bradys had to contend with Laundry Hill and the case of the missing left shoes. Yes, big families are rife with problems. But if I had it all to do over again, I (honestly) wouldn’t change a thing because along with the challenges come even more blessings. When I’m sitting elbow to elbow at our noisy dinner table, my cheeks aching from laughing too hard at the family story that’s being told for the umpteenth time, all the hard stuff counts for nothing.

We’ve Gone Batty Part 2: Outdoor Decor, Party Food, Pippi hair & a Headless Horseman

Halloween decorations
Our annual family-friendly Halloween bash was last weekend and the big day looms ahead, so we’re in full ghoulish mode around here. If you are just starting to pull together costumes or if you are looking for a few fresh ideas to add to your collection of haunted yard fun, we’ve got lots to share.

Throughout the years we’ve tried a variety of store bought tombstones, but most simply didn’t last. Typically the Styrofoam ones break easily when we attempt to replant them the second year. I’ve decided it is worth the bit of extra effort to cut headstones out of plywood. With a bit of painting and a stake attached they make the transition from yard to storage and back again with less damage.
This year I made an extra large coffin which my kids used in their haunted basement set-up during our party. It only required a large sheet of plywood, two hinges, screws and paint. Here it is next to the grim reaper I made several years ago.
paper towel roll candles
These non-flammable candles appeared in a discussion on Halloween Forum and we liked them so much we made several clusters. You’ll see one below on The Cooked Chef costume. With just some paper towel rolls, hot glue (for securing together and to create the appearance of wax drippings), black spray paint, newspaper (to stuff inside of candles) and battery operated tea lights, we made a frightful display that was safe around children.
We found lots of easy and icky food ideas on the web. Here are the ones we chose. Check out the original sites for instructions on how to make them.

Our Halloweenies were inspired by a Pin fromParty Bluprints

My original inspirations for the Witches’ Brooms came from The Kitchen Magpie. However, we swapped her peanut butter candies for chocolates that only contained caramels because we had invited a guest who had a severe peanut allergy.


Adding some plastic bugs to your dishes is a simple touch that makes even the ordinary look ghastly.

ghost cookies

I used a meringue recipe to create these ghosts and I added mint for flavoring.

Halloween roach snacks

My husband made these roaches by stuffing dates with cream cheese.


Our brain took shape from an idea found HERE

dirt and worms dessert


Who doesn’t love a big pile of dirt and worms? Some chocolate pudding, gummy worms and crushed chocolate cookies are all you need to whip up this tasty treat.
Halloween pumpkin throwing up guacamole
And who could turn down a vomiting pumpkin? We kept ours slightly less revolting than others we eyed online.
Halloween marshmallows
My son’s birthday minions became franken-marshmallows after I saw some on Gleam It Up.
My daughter chose to be Pippi Long-stocking this year, so I used a wire clothes hanger to get Pippi’s famous braids. First, I untwisted the hanger and then I shaped it around my daughter’s head. I used a wire cutter to trim the horizontal side wires to the desired length (the same length as my daughter’s hair when braided).

Pippi Longstocking braids

While she held the wire in place on the top of her head, I braided the hair around the extended wire (making sure to go over twice and under once with each section of braid). Lastly, I sprayed it well with hair spray and used two bobby pins to secure the bit of wire that crossed the top of her head. Other than having to walk sideways in crowds, the hair was a huge success (comfortable and remained intact).

My son wanted to be the Headless Horseman so after perusing some pictures online I brainstormed this get-up. Underneath I used a medium-sized box (cut a face- frame out of one longer side) with a bike helmet taped inside the box (the helmet protruded slightly through the face framing cut I had made in the box). The helmet insures the whole contraption stays in place. 
headless man costume
I hot glued half of a gallon- sized milk jug where the headless neck would be and two more ¼ pieces of another jug to define the shoulders. White cloth was glued on top of all the underpinnings. I chose a see-through cloth to hand down in front of my son’s face and chest. A thrift-store, men’s, button-down shirt was glued over the other fabric and I cut a notch out of the front so that only that see-through portion would hide the costume wearer. I lucked out and found the perfect long pirate jacket at a thrift-store, but you could simply use an old suit coat.
head on a platter costume
Our other daughter crafted her own costume. She used a box, some fabric, hot glue and disposable tableware to make the table scape. After inserting herself, in dad’s old culinary school clothes, she dubbed herself The Cooked Chef.
Be sure to check out my first We’ve Gone Batty post for more indoor decor ideas.

There’s No Room for Envy in a Grateful Heart

The house was buzzing with the usual school morning routines. There was foot traffic up and down the stairs and hallway, dishes being banged and stacked, and water pouring through the faucets. The dog was rubbing against every available leg and a rooster was crowing in the distance as the clock clicked passed 8:30.


In an attempt to corral my students to their assigned seats around the table, I grabbed my wooden beads and began that familiar recitation of the rosary. Like the Pied Piper’s entrancing tune, my rhythmic words drew my children forth one by one.

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A Little Reminder That Life is Good

When my older boys were little I made Halloween costumes (from sewing Buzz Lightyear to creating a bull out of a cardboard box), threw themed birthday parties (Veggie Tales and Sea Creatures), paper-mached a pinata (that turned out to be nearly indestructible), and baked birthday cakes (a school bus). Eight kiddos later and I sometimes feel a bit of guilt because my crafty skills are more often constrained by time.
Lately, I have to admit I feel downright aggravated with myself.

Between juggling home school lessons, tending to baby and coordinating teen work/commitment schedules, all those Pinterest ideas are little more than eye candy. Just when I contemplate reaching for the glue gun or sewing machine, I see the unmade bed, the unbrushed hair, and the fingerprints. A thousand other chores bellow for my attention.

Even finding time to write a post had become a hassle as of late. Inspiration rises to the surface only to be squelched by a cry or a “Mom, I need your help.”
But tonight when I sat down to save pictures from my camera, I discovered all these happy moments that we’ve been wracking up together. And I am reminded that I am my own worst critic because life in this big brood can’t be all that bad if the measure of judgment is metered out in smiles. 


The birthday bonanza lasts from late March through September and everyone gets to wear my homemade birthday hat. Note the sticky papered age tags so I can keep track.
Lilia got to spend her birthday with dogs, lots of dogs. Oh yeah and Aunt Tammy, too!

Nikolai getting help from his baby bro.

This is the 15 year old boy version of a smile. I’ll take it.

Nothing says “We had fun” like dirty, bare feet!
Pierce turned 18 and got his driver’s license. He promptly drove out alone to buy his siblings lunch in celebration.

Okay, so Pinterest does get credit for this idea. I simply had to find the time to give my 6 year old a surprise minion cake.
marshmallow minions

So I didn’t make the pinata, but I don’t think anyone cared where the candy was raining from.

Daddy and the boys at the race.
Indeed LIFE is GOOD!

Did You Hear The Whippoorwill? Protecting Our Senses

Did you hear that bird last night?” The question rolled off the tongues of sleepy, eye rubbing pilgrims as they made their way down the hill toward the breakfast line. Talk of the noisy whippoorwill would not only rattle around the chow line, but it was the hot topic dominating the men’s mid-morning break-out session.
The bridled bird sang away the full-mooned night. Bellowing its repetitive chirps across the old Craig Springs resort, nestled in a Virginia mountain side. Its constant calling broke the country silence and caused more than a couple of travelers to lie wide-eyed in their bunks fantasizing about clever and violent ways to end the bird’s seemingly relentless serenade.

Of course, I had to rely on the accounts of my cabin neighbors because as for me and mine not a single one of us had been roused by the reportedly irritating chatter of that infamous birdie. That’s not to say, I’d spent a peaceful night sleeping. No, I’d been busy wrestling the baby octopus (aka my 10 month old), who’d been wedged beside me in my rock-hard, twin-sized, summer camp bunk. But in all the times (give or take a dozen) I’d awaken to push a foot out of my rib cage, reposition a hand off of my face or stumble to the bathroom, I never once registered a whip or a will within my earshot.
I attributed the good, nocturnal fortune to our resident flocks back home. As keepers of a couple (or three) dutiful roosters, our home-base air is regularly saturated with clucking, cawing and crowing. So much so, that we’ve all learned to turn a deaf ear to it. In case you aren’t farmer savvy, it is a complete myth that roosters make good alarm clock substitutes (unless of course you fancy a buzzer that blares randomly and repeatedly throughout the day). Our familiarity with pre-dawn ranting facilitated a kind of blissful ignorance in our cabin while our friends were hiding under pillow mufflers in an attempt to escape the auditory intrusion.
As Catholics we are destined to live in the world, but not be of it. Nowadays, though, the constant cries of an anything goes (well anything but morality) culture threaten to dull our senses. If we tune in to every fantasy-relationship, reality drama or latest, blockbuster, romantic comedy, we’d come to believe that love is nothing more than a satisfying French kiss finished off with an orgasm on the first date. Sitcoms would have us convinced that the all-American family has morphed from June and Ward Cleaver to Gloria and Jay Pritchett (Modern Family). And no story tugs at the heart-strings or propels your talent show popularity status quite like a good I-came-out-and-my-parents-didn’t-throw-me-a-party story according to this season’s (meaning every season’s) sing-off show. You can’t scan the daily Yahoo news or social media feeds without encountering some LGBTQIDKTCWXYZ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Questioning, I Don’t Know, Totally Confused…) acronym.
Not more than two decades ago, our majority consciences would have been pricked by the in-your-face anti-Christian messages that today barely register a blip on the sensitivity meter. I’ve been accused (along with all Christians or Republicans for that matter) of pinning away for the the bygone days of the 50’s (funny since I never spent a day in that decade). It seems the times they are a-changing I’m told and we all need to keep up (or at least shut up). Tolerance is the vocabulary word best committed to memory, although its definition is something a bit more fluid. This is the current cultural diatribe that floods our senses minute to minute.
While our evenings benefit from my family’s ability to adapt to the noise of outdoor life, becoming deaf to the errors of our culture won’t lead us to peaceful slumber in the long term. We need to be vigilant for that night time thief that seems an inevitable foe circling the perimeter.
It has been a number of years ago now that we canceled our subscription to satellite TV and we only watch a handful of mainstream, free programming (or movies on DVD). As a generally rule we try hard to filter out most inappropriate media messages because we realize how easily desensitized we can become. Occasionally, when I’m particularly bored I grab the remote and surf our twelve channel wave. It astounds and disturbs me to consider the sheer number of sitcoms and nighttime dramas whose central (if not sole) theme is sex.
Having been enticed by Big Bang fans, I gave the show ten minutes of my time, but it lost me seconds into the main character’s nerdy sex jokes in the restaurant scene. Even Bones tries too hard to make viewers comfortable with the notion that an otherwise genius scientist has no health concerns when it comes to bedding random and numerous lovers.
And when did the seven dirty words ban get lifted? Or perhaps, I’m just not cool enough to get the side splitting humor of New Girls’ playful use of the term d (bleep) bag. I’m guessing routine viewers/listeners either enjoy this line of crass humor like a bird aficionado might have relished the whippoorwill’s incessant chirping or they’re ingesting these messages while in a semi-comatose state. My money’s on the latter scenario.
As parents, we have a responsibility to not only guard our hearts and minds from these twisted messages, but to protect our children. Sure we could pretend our kids are wise enough to brush off the constant bombardment, but then no one should be surprised when they encounter a scene like the one played out in A Christmas Story. Little Ralphie’s mother had no idea where he’d picked up the repertoire of cuss words he’d unleashed on the playground bully. Certainly, the stream of curses echoing from his own basement (where his dad was engaged in repairing the water heater again) couldn’t have been to blame.
Just the same, we need to hone our eyes and ears to sense danger. Danger that masks itself in the form of prime time programming, advertising, top forty lyrics and news media headlines. There’s a battle before us and we must prepare by first shielding ourselves from the constant din of errors whose sole purpose is lull our consciences to sleep. When we regain our sensitivity, we’re less attracted to worldliness and better able to hear the still, small voice of Truth.

The Fall, An Accident Inspires Gratitude

Doing the baby jig at the rear of the adoration chapel, I glanced down at the book of thanksgiving. Perusing the list of gratis for health and healing, family and friends, my eyes were drawn to two lines in particular. The familiar scratching of P. I. O. called my attention. Truly this wasn’t the first time my nine month old’s name has been sprawled in childish print in that book, but on this day he was mentioned in two consecutive entries.

Thank you God for protecting Pio.

For keeping Pio safe.
Instantly I jumped back in time to that late morning less than two weeks ago.
Crouching on the family room floor next to the coffee table while attempting to finish grading a lesson, my second eldest son had me stop and proofread his assignment. With my hands baby-free for a few minutes I felt like I was actually making headway in keeping the school day on track so this interruption wasn’t troublesome. It was a good day.
Off in the distance a commotion erupted which I was fully ready to ignore, figuring it was the umpteenth “he did-she did” of the morning. But my son leaped up like a guard dog that’s caught whiff of danger and my internal radar said to follow. The next minute (which was really more like ten seconds) felt like a slow motion scene as my brain tried to clue in to what was happening. Five steps in, I watched that son break into a sprint as he flung the dog/baby gate open. Close behind him, my own movements felt less conscious and more reflexive.
Then my ears registered the words, “THE BABY.” My body stiffened and my head starting spinning like a twister as I instinctively prepared.
My concern-faced,7 year old son rushed at me and thrust the crying infant into my arms, as he explained that the baby had fallen down our basement stairs. Nausea rose up as I scanned little Pio from head to toe. Running my fingers over his hard skull to feel for lumps, I stared into his dark brown eyes to be sure he was fully coherent. Bending and rubbing chubby limbs, I tried to remember not to overlook any part of him.
The kids were talking rapidly, questioning one another. Fear was palpable.
Sweet Pio was simply happy to be in his usual spot, my arms, and so his crying ended quickly. My jarred nerves were not so rapidly soothed as I spent the remainder of the day on watch trying to decide whether a nap was indeed a routine nap or the signal of a concussion.
By the grace of God alone I managed to remain calm in front of the children although internally I was anything but. I was angry and scared, worried and fearful. However, I knew that the children were watching me for a reaction and it would set the tone for theirs. The child who had accidentally allowed the baby to get out of sight was gripped by remorse and anxiety and there was a delicate balance to be struck to prevent the siblings from laying overwhelming blame.
Once the story unfolded and the pieces were fit together it appeared that the baby had only slipped part of the way down the actual stairs before free falling over the open side of the staircase straight to the hard basement floor. Thankfully, he hit a stack of plastic crates which probably slowed his descent. Standing at the bottom of the steps trying to play detective, I had a distinct sense that Padre Pio had been a party to this event. Hard to explain, I just knew he had been there.
Although I’ve offered abundant thanks and praise for the blessing of my sweet youngest, that day reminded me again that life is a precious, fragile gift. Without any advanced notice, everything can be rearranged. For as easily as joy can fill us up, just as swiftly sorrow can rush in. Like the thief that comes in the night, a moment can steal away our well-crafted plans.
Reading those scribbled words in the chapel book, it seemed clear that the gravity of the situation had not been lost on even my young ones. Our family life has exposed them to much of the realities of life and clearly the lessons are sinking in. How beautiful it is too, that even though they fuss and fight, they are able to recognize in small ways that we must be thankful in the moment to moment of life together.
Standing there in the chapel, I looked around at those 8 bowed heads and counted my blessings by name. And I thought, this is the good stuff of family life. The reality checks that keep us grounded. The events which drop us to our knees in petition. The gifts which swell our hearts with gratitude. Countless opportunities to practice patience and forgiveness. And the chance to turn our dirty sock-strewn, toy-riddled, noisy home into a domestic church within which precious souls are formed and made ready.

Good Eats At The Dump: Reevaluating My Standards

Standing in the middle of the kitchen with mayo, mustard, bread and cold cuts spread out before me, my attention was drawn to the front door as it abruptly swung open. 

In swaggered my five year old with a smug smirk asking, “Is it lunchtime?” 

I replied in the affirmative. 

That’s when he flashed his full toothy grin in my direction and informed, “I already had my lunch. I got it at the dump!”

He placed full emphasis on that last word, dump, like it was synonymous with The Russian Tea Room.

EEK!” I thought, “I hope he doesn’t go spreading that around.” Imagine what everyone would think. Images of poor, orphan Oliver (“Please, sir, may I have some more porridge”) sprang to mind. Or perhaps family would conjure up ideas of my young son being hoisted into the dumpster to fetch half-eaten sandwiches to satiate his hunger. Oh, they already have ample material to ponder, considering we are raising 8 children on a single income. I needed to squelch his enthusiasm before he had the chance to scar our reputation. We have an image to uphold, you know.

Okay, rewind, an explanation is in order. We decided long ago that it made far more sense to haul our own trash to the local dump rather than pay the exorbitant fee to have a waste disposal company haul part of it there on our behalf (because they don’t carry recycled materials, yard waste, etc.). So, about once every two weeks or so, my husband loads our tow-behind trailer with the accumulated debris and drives across town.

Our youngest ones seem to find strange enjoyment accompanying daddy for this stinky task, although we’d like to think it has more to do with the privilege of hanging with daddy than the destination. We’ve actually crafted a song to sing while we’re en route (we home schoolers roll like that). But at no point have we ever considered dining at the dump. 

Well, until last Saturday it would seem.

My dutiful husband was making the weekend chore rounds when three of our youngest children begged to keep him company. While watching dad unload the trash bins from the trailer, the children attracted the attention of a Brown Bag Ministry volunteer. This ministry packs brown paper bags with nutritious lunches and distributes them to the homeless. On this particular Saturday, not all of the lunch bags were claimed by the needy so the volunteer had leftovers to discard. I imagine he, like me, hated to see good food go to waste and that’s where my kids fit in.

Seeing them joyfully jostling about (no doubt) in our big, pro-life stickered van, the BB ministry volunteer decided to offer the excess midday meals to the children. They were thrilled by the unexpected gifts and gladly accepted three bags stuffed with sandwiches, bananas, crackers and cookies. I imagine the giver was delighted to have recipients for the extra bounty as well as to have the chance to elicit 3 extra smiles.

All the details were quite irrelevant to my sassy son, who was simply proud to boast of the surprise blessing he’d received. Admittedly, he’d chosen the better part- to find joy from someone’s small act of kindness, nothing more, nothing less. He didn’t have preconceived notions, stereotypes or prejudices attached to his acceptance. Lunch at the dump might as well have been dining at a four star restaurant as far as he was concerned.

My son’s response was an invitation to, as St. Therese of Lisieuxbeckoned, “just be little”. To recall the world as we once did and to allow that gentle simplicity to guide our actions. That’s why spending time in the presence of children is so encouraging because they often have much to teach us.

Home Schooling 101: Hands-On Learning Tools Made from Recycled Stuff

home made educational tools for learning multiplicationWhile I suppose all young learners appreciate some creative, hands-on tools to liven up their task, little boys seem most interested in movable instruments. I can’t lay claim to conjuring these ideas from scratch, but I thought I’d share some things that are working in my home school.

Old computer or DVD discs and their cases make handy reading or math wheels. I simply flipped the discs to their blank sides, drew lines to divide them into quarters and filled each quarter with consonants or numbers. When you snap the disc back into its case (so that it is on the left-side), the child can easily spin the wheel to 
home school DYI math wheel for learning times tableschange the beginning sound or number to be multiplied.
I cut index cards to fit the opposite side of the case (where the album cover would normally be). On these I wrote the simple word endings (at, it, et, ot, in, on, op, ack, ick, etc.) and the second factor. For the multiplication tables, I wrote the whole family of products and taped this to the index card so that it can be folded back (to hide the answers).
how to teach kids times tables
For reading, I simply let my 5 year old sound out all of the words without bothering to correct real from false words. As for the occasional, SH + IT, I just ignore it since my son has no idea this is a “bad” word.

easy inexpensive ways to teach phonics to young childrenphonics toy made from recycled materials
The matching nail board is a work in progress. It consists of a piece of wood (an old shelf board), nails, string and card stock. The idea is to match the two sides or to work back and forth. So far I created the Ten Commandments so my 2nd grader can practice the proper order. He also has to memorize The Act of Contrition so I created a back and forth pattern to help him practice. My daughter hates Latin, but she’s about to start a class in it, so I’ll make vocabulary match-ups for her. There are lots of possibilities for this one from language practice to matching number names and their digits.

making a match up board to teach kids

With years in as a home schooler, I’ve learned not to get too crazy buying every new gadget or book on the market. Limited space and budget helps me rein in my “I’ve gotta try that” temptations. These ideas were made completely out of recycled materials I already had around the house and they were easy to construct. They’ve gotten my boys interested in some self-directed learning masquerading as tactile fun.

Hanging Memories On Our Tree

Too skimpy, too skinny,
too bitty, too bare,
the perfect tree wasn’t found there.

Back in the van we piled across the road we sped
as to Home Depot we fled.

Find the right evergreen we knew we could.
Fat and tall, full and green propped in front it stood.

Alas to home we flew our Christmas memories to renew.

Okay, I’m not a poet, but I suppose my sugarplum daydreams incited me to try. Anyway, this week found the residents of Brelinskyville scouring the remnants of Christmas tree displays. Thankfully our hunt merited success in a relatively prompt manner and the agreeable weather was an added bonus because it’s less than fun to maneuver our family of ten in and out of inclement weather. This year’s score didn’t warrant any crafty negotiating savvy, the price was reasonable and the budget stretched just far enough to cover the cost.

Despite my concerns otherwise, my husband was RIGHT (yes, there honey, I admitted it) and the tree managed to make it home without flying out the back of our trailer. Being as Christmas begins in a little less than two weeks, I opted to set up the tree stand immediately and have the piney fresh aroma lugged inside. The children were ecstatic and began begging post haste for the decorations to be released from their attic hideaway. All things in proper time and order though (meaning I didn’t have three hours to dedicate to that task at the time), so they had to wait.

Well, here we are two days after setting that fat, round evergreen in the center of our family room window and I’ve finally found enough unscheduled time for the whole crew to rummage through the decades worth of balls and smiling angels. Even before our brood began to multiply (or I guess before we began to multiply into a brood), our collection of holiday ornaments started. There was the first Christmas orange to mark our newly wedded bliss in Florida and the “Greg ‘n Tara” key chain (which held the key to my very first car- a Dodge Dart) turned decoration.

Having giving our firstborn back to heaven, we promised to add an angel every year in his memory. Of course, when our next son donned his first Santa hat we added a Big Bird figure to commemorate the stuffed animal that came home with him. And then son number three required his own “Baby’s First” Christmas reminder. Soon, our annual trees, once bare in the back, filled in with year upon year of memories. From the homemade paper cutouts to the felt robins, the decorations increased.

Today, as I was reclining on the couch with a sleepy nursling, one of our eldest son’s assumed my role as ornament distributor because it is only fitting for each child to get the opportunity to caress his/her own mementos of Christmases passed. Keep in mind this role requires a vigilant orchestrator to prevent Jude from hanging Lilia’s favorite puppy dog character from 2008 and stop an over excited Malachi from stepping on Sasha’s pile of delicate resin figures.

After the annual decor rules were recited (no more than 15 weighty decorations per branch, no attempts to stretch-armstrong your reach while standing tiptoed on a chair that’s shoved into the tree, no pushing, no shoving, no reclaiming a sibling’s prize branch in the front and center, etc.) the littles were unleashed. A flurry of arms and busy bodies buzzed in circles around our Douglas fir. Garland glitter flying, its deep green needles took on the camouflage of colored lights and silver hooked keepsakes.

Watching, I was reminded of a conversation I once had with a friend. She’d visited the home of a big family and had been thoroughly unimpressed by their version of a Christmas tree. Her own sense of holiday decor included well-balanced, tasteful glass orbs intermingled with a few lovingly hand-crafted elementary school art pieces. The big family’s fir, she noted, was bottom heavy and lacking in all manner of delicacy with big, clunky spidermans on top and tiny, beaded candy canes three deep on the bottom.

When the mad rush ended in our family room, I considered that conversation. Weighing my friend’s opinions against the finished product before me, I conceded there’d be no Martha Steward award forthcoming. Ours wasn’t a solid color, LED embedded designer tree draped in matching ribbons and bows. Rather, it’s a family memoir we erect each year; and certainly life lived among ten personalities could hardly be depicted as fancy and frilly and perfectly organized.

The hope is that as each child ventures out into the wide world to stake his/her claim, a shoe box will be stashed among their belongings. A box full of childhood memories captured in felt, paper and plastic. Indeed my hope is that my children will cherish these Christmas traditions forever and some day find themselves smiling as they hang their old favorite reminders among their own new set of roughly cut cardboard stars and monogrammed family keepsakes.


Taking the Lower Position: To Be A Mother

Just as I managed to steal away a little free time, hidden away in a quiet room, laptop in hand, my sweet infant awoke squawking for attention.

Scooping him up, I sighed and decided I could at least manage to multi-task the moments away by reading while we nursed. However, just as I set little Pio in the crook of my right arm, with the intent of reaching for my book with my free hand, he grasped it with a strength and intensity that gave me pause.

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