Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Joy

First of all I want to send you to this blog, because her post expresses the sentiment that I am reading over and over again about relishing childhood, being a humble and prayerful mother, and trying to say "YES" more than we say "no" to our children each day.  Resolved2Worship is one of my favorite blogs by this Christian mother of 8 and amazing photographer.  Her pictures and words show such a beautiful heart focused on Christ and bringing her children to Him. 

So here are some little moments of joy in the midst of our everyday chaos...

Someone is very attached to the spatula and wants to help with everything!  Here he's trying to flip the tortillas.

And then eating his corn with the spatula!

Mary Clare is always doing some kind of project...whether it's pictures, planning a ballet performance during our book club, making things out of clay, having preschool with Thomas, or taking care of her baby dolls like a real mom.  I have a hard time keeping up with her!

She's been wanting to take pictures of the baby birds every day.

And she had a photo shoot with Thomas holding these twin baby dolls, "Audrey" and "Andrew."  Thomas calls them something like "Haw-zhey" and "Ha-zhew."  He really does like to play with them for short periods of time!

I have several funny videos of Ellie walking around and giving a house tour.  She really enjoys performing.

Our "date night!"  It was an NFP night at a restaurant where a priest and a couple gave a talk.  Thomas started fussing with the babysitters upstairs about halfway through, so it wasn't as much of a date as we would've liked, but we'll take it!  At least we got to eat dinner in peace, visiting with other adults!

One thing I love about our new church community is the way they can come together and put on a laid-back party at the last minute.  After Sunday mass they decided to have this birthday party the next night, and I think there were like 50 people there for a fun potluck birthday party!
 Here are a bunch of the girls playing outside.

So after a full day yesterday of hosting the book club and then this party, today I tried to take it easy today.  But I started going through schoolbooks and bookshelves and have quite a mess to get through.  It's great to start making progress, though!

 Thomas played in the sink for about an hour this afternoon.

My goal for tomorrow is to do some photography research so I can take some good pics at the beach!  I'm going to try to get the kids to model for me tomorrow and use my good camera again!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday Motivation

Another Monday is here again!  And how are we almost to August already?  I kept feeling like our beach week vacation was so, so far away being at the end of summer, but now here we are getting ready for the big B family beach bash of 2012!  So excited to celebrate 50 years of this amazing family.  So I've only got a few days to work on some goals before we leave.  Here goes:

Last week's goals:
1. Laundry, Laundry, Laundry
2. Read for book club and come up with schedule (routines for prayer, chores and piano important!)
3. Meals for the week: Leftovers, quesadillas, pork loin for friend, Skinny Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, Spaghetti
4. Plan an exercise program for August
5. Start curriculum planning and August Olympics unit
6. Water bottles for the beach
7. Invite a family over for dinner
8. Pay bills and update budget

This week's goals:
1. More laundry and packing
2. Last few items for trip (water bottles, hat, snacks, etc)
3. Work on my Mom binder (schedule, prayer, exercise, calendars)
4. Meals for the week: Leftovers, Spaghetti, Pasta bake, skinny chicken broccoli alfredo
5. Adjust our budget on mint.com
6. Finish making curriculum decisions (Math, Science, History, Steven Joseph?, Art)
7. Host book club today!
8. Some discernment about co-ops and other fall activities

Friday, July 27, 2012

Homeschool Year in Review 2011-2012

I'm going to do a brief overview of our curriculum choices and how they worked out for us this year.  Mary Clare finished 3rd grade and Ellie was in 1st.  There were a lot of mid-year changes, so I'll try to explain those.  I'll also write down our plans for curricula for the next school year.  Please excuse the fact that I don't have it in me to put links to everything.  If anyone wants more info and can't find it on Google, let me know and I'll share it with you!  We followed a lot of the recommendations and lesson plans for the Mother of Divine Grace homeschool program, and participated in the Classically Catholic Memory co-op in the fall and the Classical Conversations co-op in the spring.

In case you're interested, HERE is the link to last year's review and HERE is one from 2009.  I'm not sure if I did one in 2010.  No, it doesn't look like I did.  The 2009-2010 school year was the one when Mary Clare was in 1st grade and we attempted the Charlotte Mason approach, using Elizabeth Foss' Along the Alphabet Path program.  It was a fun year, but not a very academically successful one! HERE are all my posts from the Alphabet Path.


Ellie and I read through the Faith & Life 1 book this year. Nearing the end of the year, she was able to read paragraphs herself in the book.  Mary Clare finished up Faith & Life 2 and did some memory work from the New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism.  In the first half of the year, she went through some of the Child's Bible History book, doing narrations, but the second half of the year she worked on the Seton Religion 3 book.

Ellie will be doing First Confession and First Holy Communion preparation this coming year.  We'll work through the First Communion Catechism and the little novels about St. Imelda and the King of the Golden City.  I also have the Faith & Life 2 book and workbook for her to use.  Mary Clare will continue the Seton 3 book she started mid-year, and hopefully get through most of the Seton 4 Religion.  I have some novels on the lives of the saints for her to read, and we'll likely be doing some memory work from the Baltimore and First Communion Catechisms.

Language Arts

Ellie worked through a lot of the online Funnix program for phonics this year.  She also used Handwriting Without Tears during the first half of the year.  Mid-year, we started the MCP Plaid A phonics book, and the Seton English, Handwriting, and Spelling books.  Mary Clare started the year doing Funnix 2 and Primary Language Lessons, along with Handwriting Without Tears and The Writing Road to Reading.  Those books weren't the best fit for us, so mid-year I did a huge book change.  We started MCP Plaid Phonics 3, Wordly Wise A, and Seton English, Handwriting, Reading, Religion, and Spelling.  Both girls showed tremendous reading progress with our new workbook-style approach.  They like doing these self-led lessons, and I could check over their work and help when needed.  We also did some poetry memorization with our co-op and at home using the Harp and Laurel Wreath book. 

This next school year I plan to start Sound Beginnings with Ellie, which should be a good phonics review for Mary Clare, too.  We'll continue where we left off in all the workbooks for both the girls, since we started mid-year.  Hopefully they'll breeze through them and we can order the next level up after a few months.  We'll plan out some poems to memorize this year as well.


Both girls completed the year using Math U See, which we've used from the beginning.  Ellie finished the first grade Alpha book mid-year and has started the Beta book, which she'll finish this year.  Mary Clare finished the 3rd grade Gamma book.  Both girls have done well with math, although I'm at the point where I've planned to move to a new program for 4th grade.  Most homeschool programs seem to recommend Saxon 5/4 in 4th grade, which is what I'd planned to use. But I don't think it's going to be the best fit for Mary Clare, so I'm still deciding if we'll stick with Math U See or try something like Teaching Textbooks.  I'd also like to find some program to work on their math drills this year.  Advice welcomed!


We used the 3rd grade Abeka books for Science, History, and Map Skills this year, adding in the history biography books recommended in Mother of Divine Grace.  Ellie didn't have any set texts in these subjects, but listened in on Mary Clare's lessons.  They both worked on learning the states and capitals, which Mary Clare mastered.  They've learned a lot of the presidents and many history dates through the MODG recommendations and our co-ops.  We raised honeybees this year, which was a wonderful lesson in science for all of us!

I'd like to expand on these subjects a lot more this year.  We'll do a simple Map Skills book (I have listed Map Skills for Today on my to-buy list), and continue memorizing States & Capitals as well as Presidents and History Dates.  For science I'm leaning towards using Apologia Anatomy with the corresponding journals.  For History, I'm considering doing some fun unit studies this year, including one on the Olympics, one on the Election, and doing a Texas History unit in the spring with visits to some of the sites we learn about.  I haven't ordered any of these materials yet, so they are still to be decided upon!  I'm also hoping to coordinate a Nature Club at our local botanical garden, so that will include a bit of science learning, too.  Mary Clare will be a part of the 4-H group at our parish, which will include some great hands-on science lessons if she ends up raising any animals! 

Fine Arts and Foreign Language

This year the girls got some great instruction in the arts with our co-ops and the piano lessons they started in March.  They also continued in their ballet training.  Mary Clare had a music workbook (Let's Learn Music #2), but I don't think she completed it.  We also bought and listened to some of the Music Masters CDs.  In fact, they listened to one about Strauss today!  The girls both learned some prayers and other words in Latin; Mary Clare memorized many of the Latin and Greek root words with her English from the Roots Up Flashcards.

Hopefully the girls will continue with piano and ballet instruction, along with listening to classical music and doing arts and crafts at home.  I plan to do some nature drawing and painting with them during the Nature Club activities, and maybe we'll find or start a little sewing or homemaking club.  I just found a recommendation for some Picture Study Portfolios through Simply Charlotte Mason that look like they may be fun.  I'm going to start the Prima Latina Latin program with both the girls this year, and I'm really looking forward to learning along with them!  I plan to continue to teach and learn some Latin prayers, chants, and Mass parts.


I think that just about covers it!  Now for the shopping.  I still have a lot of books to buy in hopes that we can ease into the new school year in mid to late-August.  I'm actually looking forward to making some charts and lists for the subject areas and how I'm going to work through them during which weeks of the year.  I think it will be good to have it planned out and organized.  Let's see how I do! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

11th Anniversary and Beach Pics (plus goals and relfections)

On Saturday, Steven and I celebrated 11 years of marriage!  We weren't able to get a babysitter, but we ended up having a wonderful family day.  We started off with doughnuts and the city swim meet, then drove around to some garage sales.  I was proud of myself for spending less than $10 at the garage sales.  I got a glass chip & dip set, a paring knife, some dominoes, and some kid books and crafts.  Then I took a trip to the grocery store alone, and bought myself a fun red blender!

Ahhh!  The beachy breeze we all love!

We picked up some BBQ and went out for an evening trip to the beach.  I told Steven that all I wanted for our anniversary were some good pictures on the beach with my new camera!  He was paranoid that I'd ruin it with sand or by falling into the water chasing the baby, but I kept it clean until I got in the car.  Sand had gotten into the bag I've been using, and unfortunately it was covered when I took it out at home!  I meticulously cleaned it and was so glad that I bought the rubber cover and the lens filter and hood.  Now I'm on the hunt for a camera bag.

Thomas was obsessed with the fishing rod and wouldn't let it go.  We had to pry it out of his hands and tell him that the fish went night-night!

Last year, we didn't have a date on our anniversary either.  We spent a long weekend here in town checking things out before he accepted the job offer.  I often think back on that trip and the heartache that started with the announcement of our move.  We told the kids while out to ice cream and they weren't very excited.  We've had quite an 11th year with the big heart surgery and our big move to South Texas.  There have been a lot of ups and downs, but overall I've spent this year in gratitude for God's provision for our family.

They mostly caught seaweed.

After going through a lot of financial hardships over the years, we are finally starting to come to a place of peace in that area of our lives, thanks to some very hard work on Steven's part and the wonderful company and boss he's blessed to work for.  We're starting to consider the option of buying a home here later this year and have been enjoying spending hours each weekend driving around different neighborhoods and surrounding towns to figure out where we'd like to settle.  I have my eye on a total renovation project, but we're waiting to see if that's meant to be.  Either way, it's fun to dream and plan while also just enjoying our rental home here (especially when the toilet or AC breaks and we don't have to pay for it!).

 I love these boys!

We're continuing to find our place in the community here while meeting new friends and trying different activities.  The girls really enjoyed their semester in ballet, and Steven Joseph had fun with t-ball.  We've started with a new piano teacher for Ellie (Mary Clare is choosing to just watch for now), and had a great swim team season.  I'm hosting a weekly book club which usually has about 4-6 moms and 20-30 kids.  I love having people over so it's been a joy to be able to host this book club.  It helps me get the house clean each week, even though we do have a bit of work to clean up after that many people!  We're reading "A Mother's Rule of Life," which should help me to put together a schedule and plan for our new year of homeschooling!

It has been difficult being away from family this year, but I definitely can see the growth our own
family has made in the 8 months we've lived here.  We're enjoying lots of wonderful family experiences and are feeling very grateful to live so close to the beach!  Steven is content with his job, and although it's about 25 minutes away, he still gets to stop in while on work errands during the week.  Last week we met him for lunch one day and then I took the kids on our first outing to Sam's Club!  We're getting to the point of needing to shop at a bulk store these days :-)

I love how MC is making sure he doesn't go too far and get swept away!

It's hard to believe that we've been married 11 years!  And that our oldest will turn TEN this coming year!  Time really does fly and I'm starting to feel more like a middle-aged mom than a young mom these days.  I'm working at organizing my life at home.  In fact, today I bought a binder to start putting together things like our schedule, goals, recipes, prayer intentions, etc.  A homemaking binder was always something I kind of scoffed at, but here I am...ready to take this leap and grow in my vocation a little more each year.  Nothing less than God's grace is helping me to make it through these days; He gives me all that I need to take care of my family, teach my kids, and keep my home.  It's a hard job!

A trail ride coming down the beach!

And as for our married vocation and fostering our own relationship, we'll actually get to go on a date this Friday night for an NFP dinner and presentation by a popular priest in town.  I'm very much looking forward to some couple time, even though all the kids will be upstairs in the restaurant!  I think it's been about 2 years since we've had a date.  And another week until we finally get our big summer vacation...a week at the beach with Steven's side of the family!  We're starting to gear up and get ready for that!

Steven Joseph's big catch!  The only catch of the night!

The past few weeks, I've really been challenged in the area of contentment.  I read a few blogs; one challenging us moms to consider how we portray our children and husband when many of our blog posts and Facebook updates are complaining and joking about our family life.  Later I read a blog entry that was just praising God and sharing a young mom's contentment with this stage in her life.  I do think we can tend to get on the bandwagon of complaining about everything from illness to poopy diapers, husbands who work late, and a lack of alone time.  So I think that it was a good reminder to me to consider how I portray my life as a homeschooling mom of 4 on this blog.  I hope that as the title of my blog suggests, I'm mostly sharing about "Blair's Blessings" and chronicling our day-to-day adventures so that my kids can look back and remember.  They're the ones I'm writing this for anyway.  I mean it's a nice outlet for me and now it's good for family since we've moved away, but most of all I want to have a record of my "foggy years" since I'm certain I won't have much memory of these days otherwise.

One of my children touched a fish!  Wow!

So, this new school year and marriage year I'd like to have some new goals for my blog, celebrating it's 6th year this month!  1) To chronicle the daily blessings of the marriage and family life I've been graced with. 2) To continue to grow in my writing skills and photography. 3) To share more of my faith journey and some reflections on scripture. 4) To find and share more daily joys of homeschooling my children.  "FIND" being one of the key words.  I need to find and have more joy in my daily work at home.  I'm a happy person, generally.  But the past few years, I've become somewhat jaded and crabby, especially with my children.  They deserve to have a happy mom, and to have memories of happy days learning together, crafting together, praying together, and working together.  Staying off the computer and iPhone during the daytime hours will definitely help with this goal.

Crafting and doing artwork and other projects with the kids is something I'd like to plan out a little more this year.  They all love to draw and paint and to make things with their hands.  It brings us all smiles, and can brighten up a gloomy day.  Maybe planning out one of these a week would be a good goal for me.  Reading together is also something that doesn't happen as much when we are crabby and spending time on the internet.  Last week when we kept the computer off, we read so much more together!  I finally have one fluent reader, and hopefully by this time next year, I'll have another one and an almost-kindergartner who will be starting to read, too!

For our homeschooling this year, I'm going to be doing more of my own curriculum planning.  I'm looking forward to adding in Latin and doing some special units on the Olympics, the Election, and Texas History.  I think we're going to try a year studying Anatomy for science, which should be fun for all of us!  They're pretty well-versed in animals and plant life (covered by most elementary science programs), so I think this will be a good change for everyone, especially Mary Clare who is very interested in the medical field.

This was one of my favorite pictures of the day, and I think it was taken by Steven!

As of now, we're not sure if our Classical Conversations co-op is going to happen.  Both the other families are possibly making big changes this year, so I'm considering how I'd like to use those materials on our own, and how we'll do without a weekly meeting with other children.  Steven Joseph might be able to attend a weekly Montessori Faith Formation program, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  I'm thrilled that at least one of my kids will be able to participate in this program as it has been something I've admired for many years.  It looks like it might take place on Friday mornings, so maybe that could be our day of doing some kind of classical memory work while we're there at the church during that time.

I'm hoping to coordinate a nature club at our local botanical gardens for our homeschool group.  I still need to work out the details, but I hope this will be a nice outlet for social and outdoor activities for the kids, especially if we don't continue the co-op.  Maybe we can do some beach trips and other field trips with this group, too.  We miss all the wonderful activities with our homeschool group back home, but it's nice to have less commitments and more family time these days.

The girls will start back to ballet class next month, and are very much looking forward to being in the Nutcracker this year!  I think that will be one of the best parts of this new dance studio.  I absolutely love the Nutcracker and am thrilled that the girls might be able to take part in this production.  We haven't decided if they'll take classes other than ballet; right now their classes are on different days (Mon/Weds, and Tues/Thurs), which will make for very full weekday evenings!  I'm glad that the piano teachers generally like teaching homeschoolers during daytime hours, so an early afternoon slot usually works well for that.  I'm so glad they're getting this music instruction, even though only one of the girls is choosing to participate at the moment.  Mary Clare is just learning by osmosis!  But maybe she'll decide to try it again this fall.

Some more material goals for this new year are to continue the lessons of the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace program by getting out of debt and starting to save for a rainy day and for retirement.  After the next few months, we'll just have a few debts to work on.  I'm hoping we'll find a nice family home here, since it's looking like it will be a longer "stay" than I'd initially hoped.  I'd love to have a home with a nice guest area for all our family and friends to come visit and go to the beach!  I'm also hoping for a large useable yard for the kids, a homeschool room/area, an attractive kitchen, and a large bathtub!  I've only lived in one place with a soaking tub since we've been married, and it's always been one of my dreams.  A safe family neighborhood where we can walk and bike is also a priority and a bit hard to find in this city.  We'll see how many of these dreams come true!  I'm hoping we can go on a nice family vacation next year.  My vote is to Disneyworld in Florida, but we'll see what happens.  I'd love to plan a visit to see my brother's family in the next few years (they're moving to Seattle next month).  But mostly we're grateful to be able to have frequent trips to the beach, our own little vacations during hectic weeks!

Another great photo by Steven!

These next few weeks will include lots of planning and reflecting as we look towards this new year.  I hope to write out a review of last year's homeschooling progress with plans for this next year.  It'll be my last year before I have 3 official homeschoolers!  I smile with joy as I watch the sun set on this last year (like the photos below), and I look forward in hope for the new year to come!  God is good!  Thanks for listening to my rambling...

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

round button chicken
~Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life~
Every Thursday at Like Mother, Like Daughter

A pretty Insta-photo one night last week.

Pretty girls in their new shirts from Sam's :-)

I'm always happy to spend a breezy evening with the baby pool in the driveway.

He was happy doing leaps into the pool, and I was amazed to catch him and his shirt in-flight!

Or not funny when it's bedtime!

Funny to watch him fill every spot in the Battleship board!  Some serious fine motor skills going on!

The girls have been making cakes with clay.  I find my phone camera filled with these pictures each day!  We've got quite a variety, from a gun and deer head to an engagement ring and pea-in-the-pod!

 Hope to be back later today or tomorrow with some lovely photos from the beach on our anniversary!

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