Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thankfulness Times Ten

 Today's Thankfulness theme is what is going on in my life this day.....

( when I originally wrote it two weeks ago..... :)  )

Thankfulness Times Ten

Here are the guidelines I have for this thankfulness theme……

Just find ten things I am thankful for, in the moment. I have no rules...I may go over ten, if I cannot help myself......I may repeat myself.....and, I will write in no particular order of importance. If you feel inspired to do the link yourself here in the comment section.  All of these will go toward my own 1,000 Gifts.

As I go through my days, I keep thinking of my gratitude in, ten items of gratefulness for each member of my family, when I look out my window, while I am on my exercise walk.......etc., etc., etc. 

I am thankful for......

61.........for finding a new "Happy Place"   My boys talked me into going to The River with them. I can't believe I have lived here 25 years and this was the first time I have been here! Actually, I am writing this blog post from my beach chair. :) It is so nice and beautiful here. I love it! 


This is elephant palm

The only flower I saw that day.

This is The Sacramento River.  One of the two most important rivers on California. Well, the other is "just" an aqueduct. So this is the most important river in California. And it's headwaters are in my little town. 

My oldest boy and my youngest boy and a college friend of the oldest.

62. ........a warm summer. Finally. Even if we are in the midst of one of the longest heatwaves we have ever had here. Think 88*-101*, but mostly high nineties. And while our humidity usually runs around 21%, we have been challenged by humidity higher than 60%. And while that may be laughable to our friends in the East or South...... It is a lot more than what we are used to! 

The boys swimming in the river....a much needed cooling off.


My personal rule to never complain about the heat of summer is because I have "Fear of The Lord".......I worry that if I complain about the heat, He will cheerfully lengthen our winters. And I want no part of that!! ;)


63. ........the wonderful sounds of Nature! At this moment in time there are only two sounds:  excessive cricket buzzing and the mild rapids of the river. Simply wonderful. 


64. ........meeting an author this weekend while I was working. She just finished her third book. There is a bit of story about how I came to learn about her first book (hoping for a blog post about it).......but I will suffice it to say that she gave me a copy of that book for my local library.....but I get to read it first!  I am 45 pages in already......having an opportunity to read here on the river in my beach chair. Hooked. It's a memoir. 



65. ..........the lovely flower bed my friend Louise gifted to me for my birthday last year.  It has been a wonderful and colorful blessing to watch the colors appear from spring through summer. And the bees are so happy and the hummingbird comes in for frequent treats throughout the day.


66.  ...........the chance to feel FIT at age fifty. Getting my daily walks in has been wonderful. Wish I had taken the time when my kids were younger...... Not just with them. I did that. But I mean for my health. Young mothers......take.  the.  time. 

67. offspring who are so amazing in the kitchen. Such excellent cooks. Makes up for my lack of excitement or desire there. 

My oldest boy led the way in creating a delicious four-course meal after our river outing.
As it was just the four of us home for five days,
he made a comment that it was so quiet on those five days,
none of the melancholics were home.  :)
It was so true. Just a sanguine and her phlegmatic boys.  :)


68. .........that my kids made it through the perils of young childhood. All that worry is gone. Of course, they are replaced by bigger and scarier fears.......but I don't expect them to choke on a penny anymore. 

69. ............the internet friends who came by for visits this summer. 

Theresa, whom I have linked on this blog before.......came by from Alaska.   

My Malachy and her J-Bug, both almost 13, got along quite well.
They enjoyed our hike out to the meadow.


And JoAnn, who also has six kids, about the same age as mine, but only one girl.....came by from Colorado. 

Chari & JoAnn about to sit down for a tea party.

JoAnn and four of her our meadow.
My home is on the other side of those low trees in the background.

I may live in the country, but only minutes away is the most important highway in the west, goes from Mexico to Canada. It means I am on people's' way from Point A to Point B. :)

Like I said on Facebook recently.......Blessed are those who live near I-5, for they shall see many visitors.  :)

70. opportunity to sit here by the river in the cooling air, writing a blog post on my iPhone, surrounded by the sounds of nature, in a very, very peaceful setting. So. Nice. 


So. Good. For. My. Soul. 


I need to do this more often. :)


P.S.  Research shows that folks who use journaling to write what they are thankful for...instead of just a place to vent, find their lives are more happy, more satisfying.  Let's go there!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Colored Dots in the Pantry, and Other Things LIke That

 On Household Things --  I am still loosely following Motivated Moms and Flylady, but I found a way to make progress on the house that is even simpler.   It is something like Brandy's Cleaning Loop Schedule.   I simply spend 5 minutes a day in several different areas of my house.   We have a fairly large house built on an open plan and when I add up all the different rooms and areas I come up with somewhere between 15 and 20.   I couldn't visit all of them every day without spending a couple of hours on housekeeping, but I visit the high traffic zones and then usually a couple of other areas.    I just do whatever seems to most need doing in that particular room.  For example, in the bathrooms (the cleaning of which I need to revisit 3 or more times during the week) I can quickly tidy a basket, swish the toilet and wipe the counter.   It's surprising how much better an area can look after those five minutes.  

Something that I am just starting to work through is having a project going in different parts of the house based on Flylady's zones.   For example, last week was the kitchen.    My husband has been mentioning that when the kids put away the groceries in the walk-in pantry, they are out of order -- mostly because my younger two now help with the unloading and they weren't taught, like the older ones, what areas to put things in.

So last week I organized the pantry and used the labeling dots you can buy at the dollar store to mark all the cans by expiration date.    Now we can see at a glance which pantry food items to use first.    This is the kind of thing I sort of enjoy doing but rarely get around to because there are more urgent things to get done.  That's why I like the "ongoing project" idea because it's not time-dependent and I can fit it into little pockets of the day -- like while waiting for the water to boil in a pot, times like that.

You will notice that I haven't mentioned the kids in this description of daily cleaning.   That is because we are in transition (which seems to have been the case for a few years now as kids grow up, move out etc).    Only 2 of my kids are under 18 now.    One of them, Aidan, loves to take on new household responsibilities.   He collects all the trash and recyclables, brings the bins out to the curb, brings them back to the garage, etc.   He does most of the laundry except for putting in the detergent and putting clothes away.      There are quite a few other things he does either assisting me or on his own.   He's retained that preschool trait of wanting to be involved in every project that's happening, but since he is a teenager and quite tall and strong now, he can actually help with the fun things like making coffee and chopping vegetables and building shelves.

Paddy is the other adolescent in the house and as the youngest child of seven and 16 years younger than his oldest brother, he never quite got phased into the chore system the way the others did.   He is also more conceptual and less hands-on than Aidan is.  This summer I am focusing on getting him in the habit of doing more around the house.   He has a few responsibilities but they aren't quite as extensive as those the older kids had at his age, partly because I often end up more or less cleaning as I go so it's harder to plan specific jobs for him to do, and when I do need help, I often call on one of the big kids because they are taller and stronger and know how to do more already.   But very soon they are going to be gone and Paddy needs to have the opportunity to do more.      I say opportunity because even though he probably won't exactly jump for joy when called upon to sweep or unload the dishwasher or troubleshoot the computer or lug laundry baskets, he will probably enjoy having the experience under his belt, because right now his older brothers give him a hard time for being responsible for less than they were at his age (though their memories are sort of biased....)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Building Shrines and Moving Cabinets

I spent the day rearranging the house.   Spring cleaning fever sometimes comes late but when it does come, I try to take advantage of it!      The master bedroom, the master bathroom, the art closet, and the coat closet look totally different (the coat closet in a bad way -- piles of things everywhere waiting to be sorted -- and I will have to acquire a new set of shelves.  But the rest is all better!)

My local Catholic study group has started doing a retreat called 33 Days to Morning Glory.    Today was the second day and the reflection was about Louis Marie de Montfort -- apparently he and the peasants in his parish worked very hard to build a shrine to the Passion of our Lord Jesus.   But his enemies reported it to the government, saying it was a rebel fortress, and he was ordered to tear it down.   He told the people of the village that if they could not have the shrine to the Passion on their land, they could have it in their hearts.

Fr Gaitley, who runs the video retreat and wrote the book, makes the daily readings short so that they can be read even by very busy people, but he tells us to try to "ponder in our hearts" as we go about the day.   In my effort to continue musing on the reflection,  I started thinking that a lot of a homemaker's work is much like that shrine.    The dinner that was prepared gets consumed (in 15 minutes!).  Then there are a lot of dirty dishes.  The clean floor is soon dirty, etc.    I spend several hours with a child -- sometimes several dozen -- helping him work through some issue.    At the end there isn't necessarily any mark left of how that time was spent (though sometimes I am astonished years later how this or that conversation has left its mark).  Certainly I can't check it off my task list.    Yet that time is not really gone.  It remains somehow.

Yesterday I was going to get the chance to be alone in the house for the first time in 28 + years (or at least, as far as I could remember).   My husband was going to take one of the grown boys to the train station and then take the other 4 boys still at home to a baseball game.     Though I love my family and prefer "quantity time" to "quality time" all things considered (that is, I like having my loved ones around, but I get sort of tired out when I am interacting actively for too long -- so basically "parallel play" ), I was looking forward to this once in a quarter century milestone.  Alone!  No one within shouting distance but me!  Maybe I would dance, or just hang out on the computer!   Or sing?   Or something!

But at the last moment, it became clear that Aidan was very unhappy about going somewhere without me (he is not a clinging young man -- he has gone on several week-long journeys with his Dad  by his own choice and quite happily -- but he knows that I am going to Virginia to be with his sister next month, and I think he is feeling a little ambivalent knowing that he will miss me).     Anyway, at the last moment plans were changed.     My husband bought an extra ticket to the Grizzlies game.    Fortunately there was an empty seat still next to their group.   I went with the guys to see Brendan off at Amtrak and then watch baseball in 100 degree Central Valley heat.

Did I have regrets?  NO!  I had fun spending time with my family, I liked the baseball ambience,  and I know that time alone in the house will come someday -- maybe more days than I want!  (I know that I always feel sad when one of the kids departs, even a grown one as happened yesterday, and I wish they could stay here all the time, or at least in the same neighborhood).

Do I regret all the days spent cooking meals that quickly got demolished, moving furniture that will get moved again next year when I am again in a reorganizing mood?  NO!  Though my teenagers asked me if the gigantic chest of drawers could stay put for longer this time -- they were quite astonished at having to move it AGAIN in only 14 months!  I guess I will have to tell them the Louis de Montfort story!

Louis de Montfort was not the only saint to face disappointment in a holy endeavour he had set his heart upon -- Alphonsus Liguori also had to face the possibility of his order being disbanded.    I am no saint -- but I do think that God gives mothers opportunities quite equivalent to those that the consecrated religious receive.    Those crosses may be littler or humbler than the destruction of a shrine or the disbandment of an order, but as far as what goes on in the heart, they probably feel somewhat the same.    We ought to pray for each other as we deal with the little heartaches, the little deprivations, that may be exactly what God needs from us to sanctify that particular situation and make it bear abundant fruit.

BTW -- Chari's daughter is back at home from a year in Slovakia !   (see Item 6.).    I am sure you will hear more soon, if Chari gets a chance to share pictures : )).      WELCOME BACK MADDELYN! !!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On Literature Based Education

As we approach the mid-summer mark (yikes, really?) I am pondering literature-based education.     After all, the idea is embedded in our blog statement of purpose.     Chari has written about the literature based life, and I have written about literature based learning:  Literature Themes, more on literature theme approach, some questions about literary learning.

I just recently rediscovered that almost any aspect of life goes way better if there is a book involved.    What KIND of book, depends on what aspect of life and how I am approaching it.

Though as I mentioned our homeschool is moving along fairly well right now, I feel like we're skimping a bit on the literature part of it.   There is no doubt that Paddy reads a lot --  there is a pile of books wherever he habitually spends quiet time -- but it's separate from our regular homeschooling time, and that makes our lifestyle feel less literature-based to me.

The problem is with priorities and the fact that I have more than one set of them : ).    I want Paddy to have the basics down well enough so that he isn't dragged backwards by lack of them.     This means mostly math and formal English and the like.   I want him to have general cultural literacy -- a sense of the flow of history and the basic topics of science.    This means non-fiction books and some reviewing and follow-up type activities to make sure it stays in his mind.

Perhaps above all,  I want him to love reading and remember his childhood as literature-soaked.   When I was a child, I practically lived in literature-land (as much as I could, at least).  Though sometimes I wish I had developed more practical skills and paid more attention to formal academics,  I wouldn't trade this early ticket into our cultural heritage for anything.    It was also an early gateway into religious devotion (though I didn't realize it at the time), a lifelong sense of wonder and curiosity, and an appetite for the good.    And paradoxically, literature gives you a sense of reality, of balance in complexity, of the ring of the genuine, that you can't easily get anywhere else.

Literature, just because it has this potential, is like life -- it can't easily be packaged into compartments.    It takes leisure time, an attitude of openness and freedom.     A study guide can be helpful, but it can also close doors before you even know they could have been open.    Narration is better.  The best of all, in our family, is discussion and  spin-off creations -- a homemade form of what Jesuit educators called "imitation" or "synthesis".      But great discussions and creativity don't just come when they are called, though they are more likely to show up if you have already showed up -- that is, if I have made room for them in our homeschool day, and provided lots of literary soil for them to grow in.

So I think I am going to be touring our shelves during these mid-summer days.
Also, since a book is the road to almost everything to me, including positive habit changes, I am going to be scanning my shelves for books that focus on the importance of literature in a child's formation.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Parents, the Domestic Shrine and the Life of the Soul

In general, children taught by their own parents do not suffer so much from these misrepresentations of God, as those who have been left with servants and ignorant teachers, themselves warped by a wrong early training. Fathers and mothers must have within themselves too much intuition of the Fatherhood of God not to give another tone to their teaching, and probably it is from fathers and mothers, as they are in themselves symbols of God's almighty power and unmeasured love, that the first ideas of Him can best reach the minds of little children.
But it is rare that circumstances admit the continuance of this best instruction. For one reason or another children pass on to other teachers and, except for what can be given directly by the clergy, must depend on them for further religious instruction.   From The Education of Catholic GIrls, by Sr Janet Erskine Stuart

Interesting to compare with Charlotte Mason in Home Education
Again, what child has not heard from his nurse this, delivered with much energy, 'God does not love you, you naughty boy! He will send you to the bad place!' And these two thoughts of God, as an exactor and a punisher, make up, often enough, all the idea the poor child gets of his Father in heaven. What fruit can come of this but aversion, the turning away of the child from the face of his Father? What if, instead, were given to him the thought well expressed in the words, "The all-forgiving gentleness of God"? 
These are but two of many deterrent thoughts of God commonly presented to the tender soul; and the mother, who realises that the heart of her child may be irrevocabley turned against God by the ideas of Him imbibed in the nursery, will feel the necessity for grave and careful thought, and definite resolve, as to what teaching her child shall receive on this momentous subject. She will most likely forbid any mention of the Divine Name to the children, except by their parents, explaining at the same time that she does so because she cares so much that her children should get none but right thoughts on this great matter. It is better that children should receive a few vital ideas that their souls may grow than a great deal of indefinite teaching.

Janet Erskine Stuart goes on to say:

 We speak as we believe, there is an accent of sincerity that carries conviction if we speak of God as we believe, and if we believe truly, we shall speak of Him largely, trustfully, and happily, whether in the dogmas of our faith, or as we find His traces and glorious attributes in the world around us, as we consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, or as we track with reverent and unprecipitate following the line of His providential government in the history of the world.
The need of right thoughts of God is also deeply felt on the side of our relations to Him, and that especially in our democratic times when sovereignty is losing its meaning. There are free and easy ideas of God, as if man might criticize and question and call Him to account, and have his say on the doings of the Creator. It is not explanation or apology that answer these, but a right thought of God makes them impossible, and this right thought can only be given if we have it ourselves. The Fatherhood of God and the Sovereignty of God are foundations of belief which complete one another, and bear up all the superstructure of a child's understanding of Christian life.
To be well grounded in the elements of faith, and to have been so taught that the practice of religion has become the atmosphere of a happy life, to have the habit of sanctifying daily duties, joys, and trials by the thought of God, and a firm resolve that nothing shall be allowed to draw the soul away from Him, such is, broadly speaking, the aim we may set before ourselves for the end of the years of childhood, after which must follow the more difficult years of the training of youth. 

 And here is more from Charlotte Mason

How to select these few quickening thoughts of the infinite God? The selection is not so difficult to make as would appear at first sight. In the first place, we must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them––this person, these; that person, those; some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another. ... Let the parent who only knows one thing from above teach his child that one; more will come to him by the time the child is ready for more.

I guess with these hints (both authors give a few more specifics within the chapters I have linked to), it is easy to see why parents have such a key role.

Charlotte Mason said:

I once peeped in at an open cottage door in a moorland village, and saw a little child in its nightgown kneeling in its mother's lap and saying its evening prayer. The spot has ever since remained to me a sort of shrine. Charlotte Mason, First Approaches to God

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Of Planners and Habits and Loops

I am intermittently blogging about systems updates this summer, because it's the main focus of my daily life right now.   I've posted on housekeeping routines and on health and fitness habits.

Third Topic:  Homeschooling 

As far as what we are actually doing in the homeschool, we are in a good holding pattern for the summer.  

In my lesson planner I write down enough work for 3 days and then we just try to have the bulk of it done by the end of the week.   That means that there is room for summer projects, for appointments (I am trying to catch up on doctor's appointments and that kind of thing) and for field trips/ life experiences and for the general open time that one associates with summer.  

I guess it's a kind of loop schedule, come to think of it.   As with Brandy's loop schedule for cleaning, some subjects need to be more "high traffic" than others.   Mostly math, since that seems to be the least likely to be done naturally around here, and the children don't seem to progress as fast with math as with some other things.

I am trying to work with Paddy, my 11 year old, on the habit of using a planner.    His planner is basically a set of weekly checklists with the names of the books/ materials which we are using.    I write notes on the checklist about what we actually did so I know if we need to revisit the topic again.  

Aidan's checklist is mental.   I hear him at night sometimes saying, "Tomorrow for school -- we'll do some reading, and I'll write my story, and do the adding game online, and some dot to dots...."    Even though he is cognitively delayed, in many ways he is right on developmental track or even ahead, in his ideas of personal responsibility.   He has his own internal list of duties --many of which he takes on for himself, like collecting the trash around the house and bringing the bin out to the curb, and now bringing it back to the garage again.

Kieron has graduated, so now it is just the two -- Aidan and Paddy -- that I am directing daily.

As always when things are going pretty well with homeschooling logistics, I feel like the spark is gone.  In connection with that phenomenon, I am reading a book called Mini-Habits which had an interesting take on the relation between habits and the emotional feeling of motivation -- basically, he says that the relationship is inverse.  You start off, say, with a highly motivated feeling that inspires you to make changes.   Then you come to a point in about 3-5 weeks where you actually have somewhat established the habits, but your initial inspiration is basically gone.     You are doing better but it doesn't feel like you are.   He points out that habit is automaticity, which by its very definition is rather emotionless.    The whole idea of fluency is that it is second nature, so you no longer notice how wonderful it is that you can drive a car, or diaper a struggling infant, or make a dinner where all the parts are done at the same time, whereas once those things were very difficult.

One of my grown sons told me he feels like he has gotten stupider in the past couple of years.   This is at the same time as he is getting A+s in college and being asked to join honor societies.    I think this is part of the same picture.   A lot of times, as you get further into the nitty gritty of some habit, skill or area of knowledge, you feel like you are doing worse than you were originally, because the learning curve starts leveling off.   You have a more acute sense of your relative lack of skill and knowledge, and less of the naive ignorant kind of enthusiasm that you started with (one notices this in the spiritual life, as well).

This seems to have gotten rather far from the topic of homeschooling systems, but I wanted to remember that whereas once the lack of "spark" as we go about our homeschool day would have scared me into thinking we were being too mechanical, which would have driven me back to the drawing board to reinvent the homeschooling wheel (strange confusion of metaphors there) -- now I have a better sense of how these things operate.   Sure, my homeschool WILL become mechanical if I simply rest on "systems",  rather as my prayer life or my relationship with my family will become too pedestrian if I let them run on autopilot.  But at the same time, the habits are like the underweave or as Charlotte Mason says the "rails" on which the good things run.

So all in all, I think I want to keep the "loop" idea even when summer is over, though I may go about it differently as the seasons change.

Friday, July 4, 2014

7 Quick Takes, Volume SIx

July 4th, 2014     Silly me.  I started this post 5-6 weeks ago....thinking that I could at least blog once a week.  I can see that is so not going to happen.  As the cheerful, Pollyanna-type, I will still keep believing that I might.  Perhaps if I aim for one-sentence Quick Takes I could possibly pull it off.  As if........I could stay that minimalist with my writing.  Oh, this goes......

The below was started in May.......and completed today.


Even though Willa has blogged since I started number one........I will keep the following thoughts anyway:

 Well, I am sure that Willa and I have some good explanation as to why the last time either of us published a blog post, it was 2/15 for me and 4/13 for Willa.  The last time that I wrote, I finished by saying that until I had written a memorial blog post for my friend Micki who had just passed away, I would hold off on writing any blog posts at all.  I was trying to make that memorial a priority.  It did not work very well.  Not only have I not written anything for the blog, but I have not written that memorial. Sigh.  I am not going to beat myself up……but I sure wish that I had accomplished all.

And now…….I believe that both of us have just hit that time when we just cannot get to writing here…..for whatever the reason.

For me personally, I have not been able to keep up enough in life, to spend time on a hobby: writing, for instance. Since I wrote my last post, I have been working full-time……recovering from my long work days……helping one daughter get herself accepted and choose her college……..figure out the financial aid of four college students……study for a required course for work…….visit family in Reno twice… 92 year old grandmother on the coast……..a week for spring break with my boys in San Francisco……..and the usual stuff…… like watching my boys play lots of sports (both boys were on championship basketball teams), chauffeuring, laundry and what have you.

I still have so much on my plate right now, I just do not seeing me doing lots of writing….maybe any writing….though as Willa knows….sometimes when I state that……I end up on a writing roll.  Still….probably not this time.  I may aim for doing these Seven QuickTakes……just as a minimum.  It will be one way of keeping up a journal of our present moments….more for my own sake than for the blog’s sake.

I currently have four of the six kids at home….the two little boys (ha! 12 and 17 now) and two of the college students.  My exchange student will be home from her 11 months abroad in about 5 weeks or so. That will make five home……and then another college student will come home for two weeks in July.  This very well could possibly be the last time all of them are under the same roof for a long while.  Christmas vacation could be a possibility.  Hey…maybe even Thanksgiving.


Well, this First Take is taking long enough……and is possibly worth three takes as it is…….  J


 I am so sorry that I have not kept up with The Short Story Club.  Really???  How hard could it be? I already know what stories I was using for most of the year.  I will try to pick that up, too as well…….if I remember.  ;)


And now, some literature talk, on our literature-based blog:

I finally finished a book that I started over a year ago. Or is it over two years??? Either way, it is an audiobook, from  I was alerted to purchase 20 free books one day….and I got all of them, even though I had read about half of them.  I figured it was better than listening to those Librivox versions with so many different readers.......which I still would prefer over nothing, but these free professionally-read books are a serious treat.  :)

So in my effort to tackle more Dickens, I decided to listen to David Copperfield.  Do you know how long that book is???? It is 34 hours of listening time! And because I only listened for 5-15 minutes only a few times a week, it did take over a year.  Anyway, it is done.  Finally and phew.

I needed something short, next.  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton made the cut.  Interesting turn of events at the end, that novella.

And now I have already started listening to A Tale of Two Cities.......endorsed highly by my eldest daughter and Willa. I had avoided listening to Dickens all these years.....knowing that I would prefer it in hard copy......and I cannot help, but think that I was right.  I feel like I am missing out on seeing the lovely vocabulary and details in his words. Oh, well.  At least I will have the storyline.  :)

And.......I am still trying to read Our Mutual Friend on my iPhone.  Slower going than David Copperfield........

--- 4 ---

Today is the 4th of July.  The nation-over celebrates the birth of our country. As is appropriate.

But in my father's family.........we have a veil of sadness hanging over our festivities. 

My dad's family at his first wedding......left to right:
someone I cannot recognize with half a face, my grandmother and grandfather,
my great-grandfather with my cousin Claudia behind him,
my great-grandmother Charlotte, for whom I am named, my Aunt Nancy and lastly, Aunt Joanie.

In 1966, just a month before my sister was born, and I was a little over two years old, my Aunt Joanie, one of my dad's younger sisters was killed by a drunk driver on the 4th of July. She left behind her parents, an older and younger sister, a brother (my father) and her significant other and her 10 month old baby girl, my cousin Julie.  She was only 18 years old. :(

My Aunt Joanie
Aged 15

It was a strange turn of events that led her to be driving where she was........

Anyway, I have heard enough stories of my Aunt Joanie to feel like I knew her......and so I do miss her.  And my heart always broke for my cousin, losing her mama at such a young age.
And for my dad who loved his sister.

May the faithful departed rest in Peace,,,,,,,,

North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
My soul is having muscle memory flashbacks:  one year ago tonight, after the fireworks, my youngest sister and I left for almost three weeks in Hawaii, visiting the middle sister.

My soul aches to return to my favorite places on Oahu.

Above is a photo that reflects one of the best days ever in my sister Teresa and I went kayaking here, a mile up a beautiful and peaceful river with green sea turtles.  Heavenly.

--- 6 ---

Only five days.......and Miss Maddelyn, who has been living in Slovakia for the last eleven months as a Rotary Exchange Student, will be home in our arms.  Tuesday night, just before midnight.
Blessed are we.

Saints Christopher and the Three Holy Kings,
Patron Saints of Travelers, Pray For Us!

--- 7 ---

Today is the 4th of July!
Since we all stayed up was a sleeping-in-till-nine kind of morning.
They listened to American Favorites music.......then 1776, the musical......and all have now scattered.  That is what happens when they get old enough to drive themselves......
One will go to Castle Lake with a friend.......after hanging out in downtown Mount Shasta around parade time.......three boys are watching the World Cup game this am at a friend's house (she has cable & Tivo) .......the youngest is with my best friend and her young family, doing the parade, hanging out and then to the lake. The oldest is relaxing........and might be talked into joining me.  :)
I am spending the morning writing this piece.....and then I will put together our annual 4th picnic food for dinner, take a nap if there is time (the 4th is always a late night here), go visit a close friend and her young family (where they have an ice cream cone waiting for me) and then head to the lake where I expect my kids will join me (because I have the food :) ) for that picnic dinner and fireworks over the lake.  Thinking about going to the lake early enough to walk the trail around it for my daily exercise.  It seems the day will have a nice breeze to counter the heat.


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


Independence Day Blessings,


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Collecting and Recollecting

When I first started blogging, I didn't like it nearly so much as e-group conversations.   After a while, I started appreciating it more, mostly because of the way you can use photos and talk about things in your life that would be sort of off-topic in an e-group.     And it's so easy to go back in time and see what was going on in life and thoughts at a particular season in life.   Even paper journals don't have that advantage, unless perhaps you organize them better than I ever did.   My dad kept a journal starting in medical school and all the way up till the last decade of his life.    At some point, he transcribed them all from bound handwritten books to word processor, printed them out and had them comb-bound, and then gave a copy of the set to each of his children.   He was a natural archivist and historian.   But my paper journals aren't like that, and lots of times I throw them away because they are such a mess.   Blogging has helped keep me to a format, so I appreciate it for that reason alone.  And it's easy to delete a post without messing up the whole thing (though I rarely do delete, in fact -- I guess I'm a bit of an archivist, too, one of the packrat variety).

Though I would like to be able to plan out my blog posts ahead of time, when I try to do that it just doesn't work.  The organized part of my mind is not the writer/blogger part.    It works better to sit down at a given time in the day and -- well, recollect -- which is a term used in the practice of mental prayer, but to me it seems that a lot of prayer terms are analogous to writing and study and life practice in general.

Etymologically, recollection means "to collect again" and thus to "remember, recover knowledge of".    Maybe I should drop the prefix and just say "collect", because it seems that it's only when I am praying or writing (or sometimes, reading or involved in a really good conversation) that all the elements in my life seem to come together into some sort of pattern that I can almost glimpse.  

It's probably both collecting and recollecting, in a way, since they are related.   When I sit down and think about what to blog, a bunch of things come to mind (collecting) and then I sort through them and try to decide where to start.    Sometimes I am surprised that I was thinking about something and didn't even know it (which is weird, and I'm guessing it's an introvert thing --  a retrieval issue).

I am not saying my life is complete chaos when I am not praying or writing.    Usually I'm doing something that makes sense at the time.   I am teaching my kids, or doing household work, or playing the piano, or exercising, or conversing.   Things I have on my list of "duties of state".  But those are like pieces of the puzzle and the collection/recollection times are when you lean back and see the pieces fitting together, or when you sort pieces by type (edges here, sky pieces there, etc) to make future piece-fitting easier and more orderly.      Putting together the pieces, the daily part of life, is indispensable for having a complete puzzle.  But it's hard to put together a puzzle without those pauses for sorting, thinking, looking at the colors, glancing over at the picture on the box, even getting up and walking around a bit to give your mind a break.

So the "planning" part of blogging comes down to making a time in the day for sitting down with my blog.  I usually find morning best, before everyone else wakes up.   If I am writing while everyone else is awake, I'm usually studiously trying to focus on the writing instead of keeping my tendrils of attention open to the people around me, and though I do this too often, I don't like it, and try to avoid it.  So morning works best.

Now Aidan is awake and asking what is on the agenda for today (it's going to be a quiet homebound day, as opposed to a few recent busy days with appointments and so on -- I can't tell whether Aidan is relieved or disappointed about the homebound aspect, since he likes a busy schedule but gets stressed about it too).   Back to the daily part of the day.  

By the way, you can make photos into online jigsaw puzzles at Jigsaw Planet.    Aidan likes to solve favorite photos of cars and family memories, and I have also used the app for interactive picture study for Paddy, and interactive map study as well.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Strawberries and Habits

"The strawberry in medieval art was seen, because of its many seeds, as a symbol of the fruitfulness of good works. Just as the generous seeds of a strawberry cannot be counted easily, so too would be the generous acts of the fruitful Christian."   Father James M Sullivan, OP, in July 2014 Magnificat.  
This struck me today in my morning devotional reading, partly because we have a lot of strawberries in our house right now and I just cut up and froze a batch of them for future smoothies for the kids .  I looked it up online, but typing in "strawberry medieval art" brought up some weird results.    I did find this Signs and Symbols site which looks traditional and solid -- it has this to say:

The strawberry is the symbol of perfect righteousness, or the emblem of the righteous man whose fruits are good works. When shown with other fruits and flowers, it represents the good works of the righteous or the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is in line with this meaning that the Virgin is sometimes shown clad in a dress decorated with clusters of strawberries because is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. The strawberry is occasionally shown accompanied by violets to suggest that the truly spiritual are always humble.

One of the reasons that this struck me besides our present abundance of them, was that I have been reading a lot of books about habits.  

In The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits, which can set up chain reactions that can make a huge difference even on a wide level.   A couple of other books I am reading, Mini-Habits and Habit Stacking, build on this idea that even very small changes can add up to a real shift in momentum.   The idea of the strawberry with all its small seeds in the devotional seemed to me to correspond to the idea of keystone or mini-habits and their power.  

This article talks about 3 keystone habits that Jesus set, customarily remembered during the readings of early Lent.    This article talks about keystone habits in evangelism and catechesis.    When I think about it, many papal exhortations, not to mention the pastor's homilies at weekly mass, contain some take-away message or advice that could add up to one of the small seeds on a strawberry's surface -- that is, if you took it seriously and tried to apply it during the week, just one or two could be a life-changer.

(I tend to forget what the homily was about the moment it is over, I admit in shame -- I don't do well remembering things I've heard especially in a crowd of people -- too many distractions).

I think perhaps the resolutions we are supposed to formulate at the end of mental prayer add up to cultivating the symbolic seeds on the surface of the strawberry, as well.   This article How to Practice Mental Prayer says of resolutions:

before concluding the meditation, we should make some specified good resolution, appropriate as far as possible to the subject of our meditation. This resolution should be directed to the shunning of some sin, or of some occasion of sin, to the correction of some defect, or to the practice of some act of virtue during the day.
I always have trouble making resolutions that correspond with the topic of my prayers, but perhaps thinking of them as small but key habits -- even mini-habits , which are modest and doable but open the door to bigger things --  would be a good start.

As far as specifics go, recently canonized Pope John XXIII has a daily decalogue which adds up to a sort of litany of mini-habits.     They could be thought of as a few seeds on the strawberry which with the increase provided by the Holy Spirit could potentially grow into a whole orchard of good fruit.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Memento-Box Version of a Blog Post

I can't capture my thoughts enough to pull together a real post -- too much to think about, scattered everywhere, a bit like the junk drawer in my closet I was trying to sort out this weekend!  So I am just going to spill a few pieces out on the type-screen and see what happens.

First of all, I haven't been reading blogs for most of the summer -- I even took down all my feedly subscriptions in order to simplify my life -- but I started browsing through our sidebar blog feed last weekend and found Melissa Wiley's recent post Facebugged.   Lissa is the best meta-social-media-commentator I know of, and this post is thought-provoking in so many ways.  Make sure and take a look at the comments as well.

I have been reading a lot about habits recently because of my summer systems-tuneup habit and found this interesting blog:  Develop Good Habits.   I am presently reading the book Habit Stacking:   97 Small Life Changes that Take Five Minutes or Less.    Interesting ideas -- maybe I will blog more about it sometime.

Also found this post:  10 Creative Ways to Declutter Your Home.  (I need to declutter -- but am not motivated -- so was looking for fun ways to tackle the problem).    I like the idea of "one object per day" -- it is #2 on the list.   I may do some version of that because what is needed at the present season isn't so much getting rid of things -- I did a lot of that last year -- but getting myself back in touch with what we have around the house.   It seems that when you are out of touch with your things, they become clutter since they are not accessible to your mind.   So I thought maybe going through one box or drawer a day and choosing one focal object might help me interact with our household inventory.

What I've been reading:   mostly non-fiction, self-help type books.    Quite a few of them are diet books because the best way I have to keep the momentum up with a plan is to read and write and think about it a lot.   Also some on habits and on OCD (I don't have OCD but some of the cognitive behaviorial strategies useful for that condition also help me with my issues).

Aidan had his yearly GI/ liver clinic yesterday.   The doctor who sees him at our regional center was actually one of the team who cared for him at San Francisco pre- and post-liver-transplant.   He told me about this pilot study of liver transplant recipients who have been phased altogether off anti-rejection meds.     Aidan is on "mono-therapy" meaning only one anti-rejection med and is on a very small dose, but the med does have long term carcinogen and other effects and it would be cool to get him off completely.    Another advantage would be that we would be that much less dependent on insurance to cover his costs, since the med is pricey, and that would be a good thing in several ways in today's shaky health -provision climate.

I can't remember if I mentioned this before on the blog, but I am a grandma of an unborn child!  My daughter is expecting her first child in August, so I get to go across country and be with her.   Very exciting.       I keep picturing this fantasy neighborhood that looks something like Avonlea or perhaps Nazareth, where I could just walk over and visit my adult children -- right now two are in Oregon and one is in Virginia and it is one of the hardest things I've encountered during my 28 years of being a mom.     Two of the ladies that attend our Bible study are like that -- a mom and grown daughter (the latter with grandchildren of her own) -- who live in the same tiny mountain town and can walk over to each others' houses.  Sigh...

I guess that is all for now... time to start the day.   Here is a picture of Aidan in front of his grandma's condo yesterday down in town in the boiling (106 degree) heat.   Fifteen years ago almost to this day he "crashed" (code blue) at the regional hospital and was rushed to San Francisco.     Now he's a great young man who has taken over lots of the household chores and likes to write funny stories on his laptop and design scrapbook pages.    And he loves his grandma and grandpa and their house, where he gets to play with grandma's collection of tops.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Cutting Up and Rebinding Workbooks

Something I hesitated to do for a long time, but finally decided to try, is rebinding my 6th grader's workbooks.  

I really like the Avilian Method of putting worksheets and papers into a binder organized by day.   You can see another take on the binder-assignment method here.

Much as I like the idea in theory, I am not generally successful at handling loose papers.   Even if I have them in a folder, they get reshuffled and I can't find the ones I need when I need them.  

Also most of my kids seem to do better with a stack of books to supplement their checklist -- a physical and visual reminder of what needs to be done.

Rebinding seemed like a good compromise.    From what I understand, you can have it done at an office store, but I wanted to do it at home.   Part of the reason I wanted to rebind is that perfect-bound workbooks are somewhat difficult to write in.    But another reason for rebinding is that I can add, subtract, multiply and divide pages within the workbook.

 If I use an editable format for binding -- either comb-binding (which is what I have already) or pro-click type spiral binding -- then I don't have to plan ahead what I *might* want in the book.   I can just add things or take things away as I go.   For example, I added an assignment checklist to my son's Christian Studies book.

It was hard to rip up books, even workbooks.   Not mechanically hard, since I love messing around with paper, and can hardly think of a more fun way to spend a quiet Friday afternoon than with my comb-binding machine and some cardstock and labels.   Hard in the same way that I have trouble marking up books even though this is what you are supposed to do.   Viscerally hard, as in "you are ruining this book".  But it has worked out well.     After all, workbooks are supposed to be marked up and some of them even come with detachable pages.  

 Apparently, though I don't know quite what I think of this, you aren't supposed to reuse or sell a consumable except in certain circumstances -- hmph, that set of laws is probably rarely regarded to the letter, though personally, purely by happenstance, I don't remember breaking even the more stringent rules stated in the article.      OK, I can think of a couple of cases where I had the child write in a notebook and then reused the blank workbook with a different child.     But usually only when the workbook was out of print so I knew I probably wouldn't be able to acquire another copy.

This may be a good reason to buy PDFs of workbooks when possible, because the rights usually extend to whole-family use.    Or textbooks, which can legally be reused through several people and resold.   Or, of course, living books, but if you are reading this blog you probably use a lot of real books in your homeschool for many other reasons besides copyright laws.

A couple more articles on rebinding workbooks:

You can see some of my homemade planners and planning form over on my homeschool log site.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Audacity and Iteration and Field Testing

My life reminds me of a big ship.   It takes a little while for the momentum to shift when I try to change something.    And as with a voyage, you need a destination and a map, but you also need to act in the moment, to adjust to the inevitable things that come up.   Your plan or map can never be perfect on its own -- it's a tool among others for a successful voyage.  

A few months ago I reread a book called Getting Results the Agile Way and something that the book called "iteration"    When you are developing something you plan it and then field-test it.  The field-testing shows you where you need to make adjustments, so back to the drawing board with the new information, then back to field-testing again.

I've always had trouble getting from plans to daily life, and part of this is because my plans never work out the way I intended them to.     I thought this was because I was bad either at planning or at implementing, or both.  This is why the iteration cycle idea made an impression on me.  Basically it is saying that this disparity between the "best laid plans of mice and men" and the reality is a totally natural one and a healthy one, as well.     It is simply part of the process.    

Maximilian Kolbe says it another way:  "Preparation -- Action  -- Conclusion."  

This has had a good effect on my homeschooling, because it makes field-testing into an experiment rather than a performance evaluation.   In other words, the planning isn't the main event -- teaching is.    My planning doesn't have to be perfect -- it's a preliminary -- it's meant to be just the first step in a cycle that will involve replanning and flexing.     That probably seems really obvious to a lot of people, but it has been helpful to me because it rebalances my perfectionism.  

Every art or science or skill development involves a series of mistakes from which you learn.     My husband and I (and Paddy) are watching a series of lectures on the Hubble telescope.     You see again and again that the errors or incomplete discoveries of the earlier stages lay the groundwork for and advance the possibility of the next discovery.    It's like a series of doors, or like one of those quest type stories or computer games.

You even see this in the lives of the saints, especially the ones that have a conversion experience.   They road-test various things (under the guidance of grace, of course) and they emerge into what they are to become.     It reminds me of that story of the men given the talents by their master.   An element of risk-taking, of laying down something for a purpose, seems to be worthy, while playing it utterly safe and preserving what you have doesn't seem to be recommended by the parable.

Audacity has traditionally been considered a human virtue in this regard, defined as:

the habit of reaching out with prudence and great passion to attain a genuine good.
So it's not recklessness or impulsiveness, it assumes a sensible attitude and approach, but it takes your whole self and it's for something important.   I like that definition.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Of Health Habits and Food and Fitness in Mid-Life

I am blogging about systems updates in different areas of my life.    Summer seems like a good time to do that, especially since that's one of the major things on my mind and in my daily life right now.   The first topic was Housekeeping Routines.

Second Topic:    Weight Loss and Maintenance

So, in spite of sporadic attempts to lose a few pounds from time to time, I have managed to gain almost 35 pounds in just about 4 years.    That's an average of close to ten pounds per year, though the graph wouldn't be nearly that smooth (see starting clause about sporadic attempts to go the other way).   I guess I should be glad it isn't more than that.  But exceeding my former all-time maximum non-pregnancy weight by 5 pounds this May was a wake-up call, and kind of scary.    I decided that I really needed to put the whole food & fitness  issue on the front burner for a while and pick up some lastingly better habits that will hopefully last to menopause and beyond.

It helps that my husband, too, wants to lose a few pounds and increase his fitness level.   So we have made a daily habit of walking to the post office -- it's only 2.5 miles for the round trip, but since we live in the mountains,  it's more like a cross-country hike than a stroll, with plenty of up and down hills and granite upcrops on the trail that will trip you if you don't pick up your feet (I didn't and they did, the other day, so that's how I know).

Since it's summer and I have a little more time (we school year round now, but the summer is lighter and more review/consolidation oriented) I usually try to add in some other kind of exercise several days a week besides or instead of the post office walk.   X Box Kinect has been a pretty good supplement.   There are a few fitness programs you can use -- my husband uses Nike + Kinect Fitness.   I have tried it but the regular program is kind of hard for me (here you may visualize T Rex push-up fail).    I like Fitness Evolved 2012.    There aren't compulsory push-ups in that.   We have a stationary bike that I use sometimes when reading or watching something, though it kind of hurts my knees if I use it for more than a few minutes.  

My friend Chari has managed to lose and keep off a significant amount of weight during the past couple of years mostly just by being somewhat careful with portions and (the key, I think) exercising vigorously -- walking 4 miles most days and taking a fitness class here and there when she gets the chance.    That's my primary goal, to become stronger and more fit, so the take-away point for me was that I have to put exercise high enough on my priority list so that I get to it almost every day.     Having my husband on board helps a lot with that.

I think I mentioned it, the last time I talked about weight back in January:  my favorite place for weight loss inspiration and sensible strategies is bearing blog.   She is Catholic and takes a cognitive behavioral or engineering approach.     Though the details are different, the general approach is the one that works best for me, and so I've been reading through her archives for about the third time since I found them a few years ago.  

Back then, in January, I said I was going to try Whole30 plus No-S, but that was too loose a strategy for me.  It might work for a maintenance tune-up, but not for real progress on the scale.   I resent it, but to make real changes in ANY area, I have to (1) research (2) plan my own customized strategy with specific strategies and contingency plans and mini-goals  (3) keep a journal and record book.    In other words, I have to focus.... put the whole thing on the front burner, go through a whole small-scale conversion process, basically obsess a little.    And journaling, record-keeping, researching and planning are my tried and true ways of putting things on the front burner.  

After all the hours of all that, I ended up with... basically something like I started with.  In other words, I am eating modified low-carb,  maximizing vegetables and minimizing other things, putting my mealtime servings on a small plate, avoiding junk foods, except on special occasions, and staying away from trigger food and behaviors.    So pretty much exactly as I described in January, except that I had to do all the other stuff to internalize it and make it mine and actually carry it out.  Sigh.   This is the same thing that happens to me with homeschooling and organizing and housecleaning and my devotional life and almost everything.      I am not sure if this is a temperamental thing, where melancholic-phlegmatics who are short on energy and internal motivation have to summon it up by doing all these incubation rituals, OR if it's just basic slacking.     But either way, right now it is the only way I can carry out a long term purpose.

On the bright side, once I pull together that kind of energy and focus, I can generally do what I set out to do.   I have lost about 9 pounds so far, which at least brings me down to my ordinary heavy-side weight.    And I feel way more fit (though that's partly just summer -- easier to be active and resolute when it's not snowing and dark all the time).

So that's the systems update for health and fitness.