Wednesday, August 26, 2015

18 Months

Our sweet baby girl turned 18 months last week. One and a half. Now closer to 2 than 1. Starting to talk. Starting to have her own strong opinions. Starting to be loud and friendly like our entire bunch! My baby is growing up too fast!

I took some photos of her on Sunday evening. She wore this sweet smocked dress to mass, with little ruffled socks and white Mary Janes. I can't get enough.

I love the little tuft of hair that's always scraggly at the back of her head. The constant bruise on her forehead from when she trips and falls (last week she had a bad one). I love her sweet little hands, and her near-constant grin. The way she says Mama and Dada and shakes her head yes or no. The way her feelings get hurt when we correct her and she covers her mouth with her hands and cries. And even those loud grunts or the pushing away she does when she doesn't like something. I love how she wants my mom or my friend Leanne more than me sometimes. She yells Mama and runs to them. I love that one front tooth that kind of sticks out, probably because of that pacifier. I love her few little sweet words...BAH (ball, book, the sheep sound), DAH (dog), NUMMY (food). 

I'd like to freeze time right now. I just think of how quickly the babyhood and little-girlhood of the older ones went by. I know I'm going to blink and she'll no longer be my nursing baby, but my talking toddler. It's fun to watch them grow up, but there's just also something about a baby that makes me never want to give them up. So sweet and precious and scrumptious. I am so grateful for our Katie Grace.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Puzzle Pieces

It was the spring of 2014 and we were starting to make plans to move back to our hometown. At that time we'd lived away for about 2 1/2 years and had recently spent about 6 weeks back home for the birth of our 5th baby. I had started searching the real estate website, one of my favorite hobbies! We looked at a true fixer-upper, which wasn't going to be the right fit for our family, but it was exciting to start the process of planning to move back to home.

There began a long series of house hunts and plans for the future. It was like a box of puzzle pieces had been spilled out, and we didn't know quite how to put them together or how long it would take. We looked at old homes, new homes, homes on acreage, and homes with guest apartments. In the end, when we finally moved back last October, we actually moved back to our old home (after the tenants left)! It was our best option at that point since our other house hadn't sold, and we figured we'd revisit our plans after settling in. 

As the months went by and our other house finally sold, we started to lean towards renovations of this older home. It was built in the 1970s and needs many updates. It's a bit smaller than we'd prefer for our large family, but I aimed to find contentment in this space and make it into our dream home. The location can't be beat.  But still there was a nagging that this wasn't quite the right way to fit these puzzle pieces together. My parents wanted to move near us and needed to downsize from their large home. Then my dad had a health crisis this summer. We were just starting the repairs on our home and weren't quite ready to make another big moving decision. 

We replaced the siding, we ordered all new windows, and we got a new roof. We went to a model home neighborhood and started working on a plan with our contractor. And then one Sunday morning before church we started thinking about that puzzle again in a new light. We spent a few days at the beach and considered it some more, letting the options wash over us with the waves and the sunshine while I worked some literal puzzles on the kitchen table with the kids.

We came home and decided we were serious about revisiting this different way to fit the puzzle pieces together. We were finally at a time when it would be possible for us financially to buy a bigger and newer home in our little city. We had looked at this house before, but at that point it was newly listed, and we knew that price negotiating wouldn't get us far. Now the sellers had moved out and were ready to negotiate.  It wasn't exactly what we had been looking for in a house, but it had exactly the right location. We made an offer the next day and finished negotiations by the next morning. At this point, it's looking likely that it'll go through, barring something unexpected!

I'll share some photos once we close, but for now I'll share a little more about this little "puzzle" as the pieces are mostly fitting together.  We love our little city. It's surrounded by a bigger suburb and has lots of great amenities. We also love our old home. It feels cozy and homey and we're excited to continue fixing it up. But now, we will actually be fixing it up for its new residents, my parents! It'll be a great size for them, and most importantly, it'll be just a few minutes away from our new home in the next neighborhood!

From our new home we can walk or bike over to the old home; the park and pool are about halfway between us. Our new home is only about five years old and is a very nice two-story with a rustic/traditional feel. It only has about 400 more square feet than our current house, but the space is utilized well and the layout is ideal for our family. It'll be similar to our home when we lived in Corpus Christi, with a nice dining room with french doors downstairs for homeschooling and the master bedroom downstairs too (with a great bathroom and a JACUZZI BATHTUB!). There are three bedrooms for the kids upstairs, two full bathrooms and a large gameroom.  Going from 2 to 3 1/2 bathrooms will be wonderful! There's an awesome covered porch that even has the hardware for our hanging swing! The yard is nice and green, but not very big. We do have a greenbelt behind us so there are lots of nice trees to look at!

We are getting really excited and should be closing on the new house in about a month. During that time we'll be getting new windows, new shutters, a new front door, and a renovated hall bathroom in the old house. After we move out, we'll be updating the master bath and kitchen so that my parents can move in.  I'll share photos along the way. We'll also be starting our homeschool lessons, ballet classes, baseball teams, and all the other excitement that happens this time of the year! It's time to gear up, because this is going to be a very eventful few months!

We're all so happy that the puzzle pieces appear to be fitting together and hopefully we'll have a whole completed puzzle of two beautiful homes to share with you soon!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Beach Trip August 2015

With the help of Steven's sister Jill and his dad, we were able to spend a few days at the family beach house. Steven had to drive in for work each day, but the rest of us had a nice relaxing time by the seashore! Here are a "few" of my favorite photos...

So many thanks to Aunt Jill, BopBop, and my hardworking hubby for making this happen and sharing this trip with us. We had a great time and can't wait to go back again soon.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Homeschool Year in Review 2014-2015

This was a different year for our family. We started off with the knowledge that we'd be moving shortly. I decided that in the midst of the move and in starting off our middle school years, it was time to enroll with an accredited program that offers personal consulting, custom lesson plans, online classes, and grading help. We chose Mother of Divine Grace School (MODG), because I was already familiar with the program, had followed it loosely over the years, appreciate their classical methodology, and they are the only program that offers the kind of support I was looking for. Many of my local friends also use this program, so it was the obvious choice for our family.

In previous years we'd tried various co-ops and I knew there would be a lot of options going back to a large city with various programs throughout. We could participate in a 2 day/week part time school, a weekly co-op, or even a biweekly co-op all within a pretty close distance to our home. And those are just the Catholic options. There are also various protestant and secular co-ops offering a variety of classes nearby. But I've realized that co-ops can be quite a challenge for large families. They pretty much take up a full day even if it's a half-day program, due to all the preparation and exhaustion levels afterwards! I decided to try to rein things in, keeping our family mostly at home on weekdays, and getting the extra support we needed through MODG. It proved to be a good choice.

It was a productive year. We had lesson plans with daily checklists to follow, work to be turned in to a grader, report cards to complete, and online classes to keep their interest. It was nice to have this structure as we were living in and out of a hotel for about 6 weeks at the beginning of the year! The kids had their checklists, their baskets of books, their online classes, and they knew what was required of them. It was so easy for me to keep up with it in a small hotel suite! As the year went by, we had a few challenges with children not completing work that had been checked off their lists, and others getting behind in some subjects. Sometimes letting them work independently in their rooms can add this other dimension of accountability that we are still learning.

It was an adjustment for me to follow along with a set program, keep track of the weeks we were on, and most especially to grade their work! This is something I haven't done much over the years, so grading has become a big stress for this teacher/mom! We had to keep track of the monthly phone calls that the 6th grader had with her grader, and finding assessment assignments to turn in at the end of the year was also tricky. It was nice that our MODG consultant was also our grader, so she could keep up with our family in this extra way. I could also email her whenever I had a question or needed assistance with anything. This next year we'll be adding one more online course, a "lab" for another course, and the same two courses for grading as we did last year. I'll describe it all below...


Language Arts
We followed the MODG Language Arts program pretty closely, aside from the 1st grader's Reading/Phonics and the 4th/6th graders' Spelling. All of the children learned poetry from the Harp and the Laurel Wreath, as suggested by MODG, the 4th and 6th graders had 45mins a day of required reading, and the 1st and 4th graders used Seton Handwriting.

Specifically, for 1st grade with Steven Joseph, we used All About Reading Level One with Seton Phonics workbooks, and then switched to the Seton Faith & Freedom Readers with Explode the Code Phonics workbooks later on in the year. He is still struggling with Reading, as my girls did. I hope that this 2nd grade year we see a big "click" for him as it comes together. I plan to continue with these programs this coming year, and move into All About Spelling whenever he is ready for a little more.

For 4th grade we used Intermediate Language Lessons and All About Spelling. These were a good fit for Ellie and will continue next year.

For 6th grade, Mary Clare used Easy Grammar, which wasn't so easy for her. She doesn't like working with me, or coming to me with questions, which makes subjects like this difficult. We will repeat it this year in a MODG Adobe "Lab," which is like a weekly one-on-one tutoring session. I hope it will be just what she needs to master this material. She also did All About Spelling (I did this with both girls together; I think we are on book 5), and a daily editing book. Next year she is supposed to move into Vocabulary instead of Spelling, but I think we will still continue with AAS, and she'll do editing and Vocabulary as well.

Steven Joseph is using Math U See and is a grade ahead and doing very well! He will move into MUS Gamma this coming year. Ellie moved from Math U See to Saxon Math this year, completing their 5/4 book. The transition wasn't too hard and she was good about coming to me with questions. She'll move into 6/5 next year. Mary Clare was in her 2nd year of Saxon, completing 7/6. She did a good job, but also struggled with coming to me for questions, bringing her work for grading, and I wasn't as consistent as I needed to be with grading (for both of the girls). She will do Saxon 8/7 this year as a Learning Support Online class. They will do some quizzes and tests online, so there will be some more accountability. I'm happy with the way things have worked doing Math U See in the younger grades, and moving to Saxon in 4th grade. 5th grade was a harder transition into Saxon for Mary Clare, so I wouldn't do that again.

This year we followed the MODG Religion program with the First Communion Catechism and St. Joseph Baltimore Catechisms 1 and 2. There were also some bible and saint story assignments for the younger ones and scripture study and summaries for the 6th grader. We will continue with this next year, but Ellie will also be using a Faith & Life Religion book for 5th, and Mary Clare will study the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Gospels this year (which will be Teacher-Assisted with grading and phone calls). She will also use the Friendly Defender apologetics flashcards, which should be fun!

The girls enjoyed online classes for the MODG Beginning Latin I and II classes. They will move into II and III next year. I don't really follow along with their Latin, so I'm just hoping they're retaining something from this! I'm definitely grateful to have the online classes so that we can continue with Latin, which is an important aspect of their classical education.

There is no History in 1st grade with MODG, but Steven will start that this coming year with some States and Capitals Flashcards, and a State-by-State Guide book. Ellie will move from Abeka History to the Pioneers and Patriots History book, and she will have a list of historical novels she will read. She always does a Map Skills book too. Mary Clare will continue with The Old World and America (World History), and has a book list for Greek and Roman History literature which she will be required to read for her online History Book Club. She will also do maps and this class will be Teacher-Assisted for grading and phone calls. This past year the girls worked through their textbooks well, but they struggled to complete the historical novels that were assigned. Hopefully we can stay on track with this next year.

For 2nd grade, Steven will start Science this year with Usborne's Science with Plants and a book called Seasons and Living Things. Ellie and Mary Clare will be using MODG's Concepts and Challenges in Science books I and II. These are books that require short answer problems at the end of the chapters, so it is a writing exercise as well. Ellie used the Abeka Science last year and enjoyed doing some of the experiments on her own. Mary Clare did alright with the C&C book 1; it may have been a bit boring, but working through the questions kept her challenged. They usually do their Science work independently.

Ellie and Steven Joseph both started piano with a teacher here in January. Ellie had been taking for awhile in Corpus Christi, but has really progressed since starting with their wonderful Suzuki teacher here who I've known for many years because her children went to school with me. Steven is powering through although he doesn't like it much. Mary Clare's music appreciation book was lost during the move, which I know she was very sad about (sarcasm), and I'm not sure if she will do it this year or try to get back into choir or a musical instrument.

The children are all supposed to be doing activities with the Child-Sized Masterpieces Art Cards, but we haven't been very consistent with that. Ellie had a how-to-draw book in her Art syllabus this year, and Mary Clare had a calligraphy and a Seton Art book. I need to do better with following through on their Art this coming year. They do a lot of handicrafts with their homeschool clubs, and they are always doing arts and crafts at home!

The girls have been and will continue with their ballet training. This year they will both have about 4 1/2 hours of ballet each week, plus any other modern/tap/conditioning classes we are considering. The boys played Little League baseball this spring, which was a huge commitment and I'm not sure if they will do Fall Ball this year. We are considering some different options for their baseball and sports this year. Steven also did the swim team starting in April, but it was really too much for our family since it was happening in the midst of ballet and baseball activities. Regardless, they all get a lot of Physical Education!


And so that is our year in a nutshell! This coming year we'll probably do a light kindergarten program with Thomas, who just misses the official kindergarten date due to a September birthday. I'll be spending August pulling together our books, and we will probably start on August 31st, so as to be on the same schedule as their online classes. It has been a whirlwind of a summer, so hopefully we'll have some good rest during August, so that we can start our school year off on a good foot. I'm really grateful for the MODG program and hope that it continues to give us the academic support we need in the coming years.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments if there's anything else I can help with! I'm thankful to have had moms to help me along the way, and glad to be of help to others!

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