A day in the life on a day where nothing’s right



5 AM. Unsure of whether I have actually gone to bed or not at some point, I decide that the brightening window shades and the sounds of our Carolina Wren family singing outside mean that I should probably get up and get started on my homework– I’m headed for a psych degree online.  I check to make sure my nursing baby has gone limp and slowly lower her back into the crib. Then I tiptoe to the kitchen (our floors creak) to make a pot of hot coffee and sit down (again) at the computer. I quickly scan my daily devotional– right now I’m reading St Josemaria Escriva’s “Friends of God,” and I read the accompanying scripture passes in my KJV sitting by the computer. I have this habit that I learned from St Josemaria that has changed my mornings. Before I do anything else, usually as I get out of bed, I get on my knees and make a metany (that’s Eastern Catholic-speak for bowing down low to the ground) and say “Serviam!” (Let’s serve!) before the day begins. Then I get to work on my homework. Used to feel unnatural and silly, now it feels invigorating– like doing a spiritual pushup as I roll out of bed. It’s the little things that get you off to the right start.

5:30 AM. Just as my paper is starting to take shape, I spot a little brown curl or two coming  from behind the wall next to my work station. Minutes later, my three year old daughter is by my side, rubbing my elbow and sucking her thumb. Sighing, I get up and give everybody a hug (the rest of the clan soon follows) and pour chocolate milk into big mugs for them. They settle down at the table behind me to “journal” (read: draw an ibex and santa claus on a spaceship in their allocated composition books) and read books, and I go back to work, second cup in hand. Now don’t get the impression that my kids stay “settled” the entire following hour– but if I only have to tell them to stop taking pencils out of each other’s pencil boxes, to stop and unbutton toddler pants for a trip to the potty or to help reach a book that’s too high on the shelf, or smile and say: “Oh, what a nice looking King! Is that an elephant?” or break up one “stop saying what I’m saying!” fight only a few times, I consider that a success. Today was a success.

6:30 AM The kids are starting to get antsy for a direction change and I can see I’m not going to get anymore homework done. I make breakfast for them (oatmeal) and sit them down at the table. While they eat I start some bacon and eggs for The Drover and myself, and check facebook, turning bacon between posts and prayer requests. When I get to the eggs, I open my bible and try to read through a few proverbs while I wait to flip them. My father in law wakes up. He is in advanced stage IV lung cancer, but he is still very functional. He is blessed with a pretty active life considering his health and he loves to chat in the morning. (I’m not a morning person.) As he pours coffee, he animatedly recounts to me all the morning news he has picked up on his “state of the art” flip phone. I smile and nod as he rants about whatever craziness Obama is up to that week.

6:50 AM My husband rolls out of bed and pours himself some juice. I serve him his eggs and bacon and then join him at the table, where the two of us enjoy a quiet five minutes together. Other couples might discuss the day’s upcoming events, but not us. We talk about the Holy Father’s resignation, what it feels like to have an empty chair in the Vatican, and whether or not Cody Lundin is the undisputed King of Bushcraft. In the middle of this, the baby wakes up and I nurse her while eating. At the end, as he gets up, I smile because I have no idea what he has planned for the day or what he expects of me. It’s the Nesbitt way.

7 AM The whole family gathers at the family altar for morning prayer. We use a format we have gleaned from combining the formats for Liturgy of the Hours in the Roman rite, Safro in the Maronite  rite, and  Jewish morning prayer from the Artscroll Siddur, all of which we have said exclusively at some point in our marriage. It opens with the Shema, goes on to say a bunch of blessings, the trisagion prayers, the breastplate, sing some hymns, read some psalms in rotation, Canticle of Zechariah, and we close by praying for various needs of our community and family. The whole thing takes about fifteen minutes, and is a little complex considering that our kids are so young. However, we have been doing it all their lives, so it becomes second nature to them. It’s also good practice for being quiet at mass when we get the chance to go. All of them participate in the sung parts (they LOVE the Qadishat Aloho and the Shema, which we chant) and my six year old likes to read one of the psalms. The five year old stares off into space and sucks his thumb, until he recognizes one of the parts which he then belts out full force. The three year old will usually dart between our legs but briefly pause with great reverence every so often, holding a “Bible” and singing. During this time, my father in law, who is not Catholic, usually paces the kitchen (which is adjacent to the room our family altar is in) and smirk or make loud clanging noises with dishes and what not. I don’t think they ever prayed in his family growing up, but he’s an evangelical calvinist so he likes prayer. What he dislikes is the scent of what he calls “religion,” so prayer at the family altar where there are icons and such and where we often chant or sing in other languages during morning prayer makes him very nervous. He thinks we do this for the novelty, I’m sure. We think he’s missing out on the roots of his own ancient faith. And so it goes!

7:15 I do the dishes, change the baby, and send the kiddos to their chores and personal hygiene. They will each get dressed, brush teeth, wash faces, put away their PJs, make their beds, clean up their room, and then report back to me for the morning’s chores. (I rotate them out according to what needs to be done. Sometimes they will dust, other times do baseboards or floors or sort laundry.. it just depends. The point is– they are always working!) I get dressed quickly, feed the baby her breakfast, and usually do the bathroom or floors. We all dress in comfortable clothes we can move in easily. I nurse the baby again, change her,  and put her down for a nap.

8:30 Time for Crossfit. We are a Charlotte Mason homeschool. Charlotte taught her students Swedish Drill– the purpose of which was mobility of movement and fitness in every sense of the word, which she believed would cause her students to think better. We take this idea a step further into the modern understanding of physical fitness. Crossfit is hard, but we have been doing it since before we knew what Crossfit was (my husband is a physical fitness fanatic and an innovator in this area) and it fits our family very well. Sometimes he joins us and leads us, other days we just do the day’s WOD as posted on our respective Crossfit sites. Today I’m doing four rounds of a heavy kettlebell routine, which means I need to take it outside because the kids tend to run INTO kettlebells rather than away from them. They are doing a run (they run back and forth across the yard at breakneck speeds) and then some agility stuff (running through an obstacle course I make them consisting of hula hoops and toys they have to jump through and over) and some burpees. Just as I’ve got all our equipment gathered and everyone’s jackets on, he comes through the room and calls out to my two oldest kids to meet him at the car. He wants to them to work on some archery and stop by the library. He requests that I hurry up and brush my oldest’s hair so she doesn’t look so sloppy. I do it quickly, find shoes for my little guy, and then, sighing, I wave goodbye and  turn to my three year old, who joins me outside, rubbing my elbow as I attempt to do my squats. So much for my organized and planned day! BUT…. there is hope. We’ve been here before. ;)

9:45 AM. After about fifteen minutes of trying to work out, I give up and run laps with my gleeful child. Popping my head in the door, I notice that the baby is stirring, so I call beanpod 3 into the house and we sit down for a tall glass of water. I nurse the baby, and put her down in the pack and play for some playtime while I play some phonics and abacus games with the three year old. Then I pull out a box of toys for her and sit down to work at the computer. I answer emails, write a blog post, and take a few minutes to pray for some of the prayer requests in my facebook groups and email. Then it’s time to get back to my schoolwork, I’ve still got a paper to write.

10:45 AM. Beanpod 1 comes rushing through the door- her brother is headed to Lowes with his daddy so I sit her down at the table to take advantage of the moment and get some work done. On a “normal” day (read: when Daddy is on shift) we school from around 9:30 to 12, but today I have a short period of time to squeeze everything in. Lucky for me, Charlotte Mason advocates short lessons, so I set the microwave timer for ten minutes and we start with Life of Fred, a read-aloud math program that my kids LOVE.  I make her finish the exercises to “perfect execution” (meaning I insist that she shapes her numbers to the best of her ability) but there are only three questions to complete. When she finishes her math, she and I leave  the table to snuggle up on the couch and read from her readers. It’s Thursday so she’s doing recitations– she is already familiar with the lesson and now must practice her “public speaking” skills by reading aloud to me with excellent diction, tone, paying attention to the punctuation, and all that fun stuff. She pretends like I am a queen and she is Joan of Arc telling me an important message. I love this kid.

11:05 AM I send her back to the table to do some copywork. Today’s selection is from a poem she loves. It is one line long, and she kinda grumbles when she starts it, making me wish I had made it two lines long. I realize she is probably getting hungry so I don’t push her for a good attitude, but I do remind her with a disapproving look that I’m disappointed in her attitude. She straightens up and finishes it, amazing me with her almost perfect handwriting. She’s doing great. On days like today when my husband is home and his ideas and plans interfere with my own, I try to squeeze things in here and there and usually come out ok. We break to make some lunch and I send her outside to check on a birds’ nest we have been watching. She brings a magnifying glass because she wants to find a certain type of ant she’s been reading about. While I make lunch I check facebook and a couple blogs I’ve been reading.

12 PM We sit down to eat. Just as we sit down, The Drover and Bean Pod 2 come through the door— both asking for food. I had assumed since they were late that they would eat out or something, but you know the saying about assuming. So I rush around the kitchen pulling together some lunch for them as well and we all sit down to eat. While we eat I read to them from their history book, and require a narration of my oldest. My second child gets fussy because he wants to draw what he’s learning instead of eating, but I insist that he eat. Then I realize I never read them their poem of the day, practiced memory work with them or did our morning Catechesis. I decide to compromise by working on Catechism memory work for the next five minutes. We are learning the ten commandments and each of them has a bible memory verse related to particular struggles they have. As I clean up the lunch table, I send them outside to play for a few minutes.

12:30 PM The Drover is upstairs finishing up some homework he has and the kids are ready to come in because I hear them arguing outside. Must be naptime! In our house, we take family naps, so everybody washes up and heads to our bed. There we pray a rosary before falling asleep (although the littlest ones don’t make it through the whole thing) because we are waiting for a new pope. As soon as everyone is asleep, I close my eyes and snuggle close to them, grateful for my family and the opportunity to sleep. About two minutes later, the baby starts to grunt and stir, and I whisk her away from everyone before she wakes them up. I sit down at the computer to work with her in my arms. My father in law comes back from the doctor’s and has some items on the table to discuss, so I take a break to spend some time with him.

3 PM I walk through the house, picking up quickly and wake up the littles and big people. As we are waking up, Grandpa decides he’s going to take a nap and asks everyone to be quiet. So I shuttle everybody into the dining room and serve them gouter, our favorite moment of the day. Most days I make tea and bread with nutella, but today I’m out of bread so I serve a tangerine. While they eat, we talk about an upcoming birthday party and plan a museum trip. I have their classical music piece for music study in the background, and briefly mention it. They listen for a while. Before I let them up, I clear the table and do some quick math drills, as a game. After five minutes, I let them up to do some handicrafts and work on lifeskills. They are building a garden outside. Before long, the neighbors are all in the yard and everyone is playing wildly. Meanwhile, the baby and I get back to work on that paper.

5 PM I call everyone inside and we get to work on our evening chores. Once the house is clean, the laundry is folded, and the table is set, I put out some olives and a little drink for everybody and we put on a historical movie. They watch and play with their dad while I finish dinner. We eat in the living room, in front of the TV, and finish the movie. Most days we eat breakfast and lunch together at the table, and on weekends we eat a fancy dinner at the table on Friday and Saturday night, so though it used to bother me a great deal,  I don’t sweat the TV dinner. It’s actually a fun bonding experience, and that way the kids don’t feel like they are missing out on movies because they go to bed very early.

After dinner and a movie, I do the dishes and send everyone out to get into PJs and do evening personal hygiene and chores. They get caught playing instead of getting ready about twenty times, but its’ OK. The day is over and I’m glad they are unwinding. We sit down to read a bible passage and discuss it. I realize we forgot our family meeting that morning (we call it Concilium) when we forgot to do Catechism, so I check in with everybody. We do a communal examination of conscience, and then gather at the family altar for evening prayer.

7:45 PM I read a story to the younger two while my oldest and the baby hang out with their daddy upstairs. I bless them and tuck them in, and then sit down to nurse the baby and check facebook. I put her down to sleep and finish up my homework. Then I spend a few minutes with my oldest reading her another history reading from the day. I bless her and send her to bed, and spend the rest of the night doing homeschool planning and reading some Charlotte Mason. I fall asleep while reading.

10 PM  My husband calls me upstairs to watch a funny youtube video and we talk for a while. I  tell him I’m going to bed and we pray together before I head down. It’s 11 PM. I read my Bible for a few minutes and collapse in my bed. About a minute later, the baby wakes up to eat.

11:30 PM I put her down and collapse in my bed again. A few minutes later, my husband comes to bed and wakes her up (our floors creak.) I nurse her again and she falls asleep. I fall into a deep sleep.

12:30 AM My Father in law wakes up. Unsure of what is going on, I go out to check on him. He’s in pain and so I sit with him for a while. I tiptoe back to bed. There I find Bean Pod 3, who wants to rub my elbow and have some water. I send her back to bed with a hug. When I put her in bed, I notice her brother has fallen out of his bed. I put him back.

3 AM The baby wakes up to eat. My Father in law is up drinking coffee and reading about Obama in the news,  and has all the lights on, so she wakes up immediately. It takes a while to get her back down to sleep.

4:30 AM I put her down and go back to sleep. As I’m drifting off… I hear my friends, the Carolina Wren family…

Answering Questions about Connecting With History



It’s that time of year again, when homeschooling mothers and fathers are frantically checking out last minute booklists and selecting curriculum for the rapidly approaching school year ahead. It’s an exciting time!

For many Catholic parents, well-founded concerns about teaching history with a view centered on salvation and Church history are being addressed in groups, forums, and on social networking sites, and one of the biggest questions out there is about a relatively new program on the Catholic educational scene called Connecting With History. Having used it for the past year, I feel familiar enough with it to address some of the questions I’ve seen posed on my facebook newsfeed.

Initially, I was less than enamored with the program. I had worked hard to create my own history program (which unbeknownst to me actually ended up being almost identical) using victorian-era educator Charlotte Mason’s methodology and some ideas and booklists swiped from successful protestant or secular educators combined with or substituted by appropriate Catholic texts.

I ordered Volume I of Connecting with History to help me make sure I hadn’t missed any important spots. And found myself amazed– it turned out to be exactly what I had been doing on my own, only all the hard work was done for me. It also included a new perspective that I hadn’t considered— and books I’d never heard of on the protestant scene that really appealed to me for their Catholic content. Needless to say, I hopped on board in a hurry.

What IS Connecting with History?
Unlike other programs, Connecting with History presents a specifically CATHOLIC view of history, which means quite simply that it incorporates world history and salvation history. As a program, it can be used to accomplish history, geography, bible, catechism (to some degree) reading, spelling, composition, comprehension, and even science, math and the arts. You (the parent/user) are free to use it to meet whatever goals you have set for your homeschoolers, be it to do history and geography twice a week or to saturate your homeschool with the fragrance of salvation. ;)

The program is really simple, even though I have heard a lot of people say they bought it, found it too intimidating, and chose a different program. If you want someone else to do the majority of your lesson planning for you— it has done that, but each volume of CWH also shows you HOW the planning was done for you so that you can add, remove, or otherwise alter it to suit your own school. This is one of the main reasons it appeals to me– I’m the kind of homeschooling mother who wants complete control over what my children are learning and who does not appreciate a moment-by-moment lesson plan type of thing which probably won’t work for my home and situation. I like my freedom– and CWH provides that. On the other hand, it is organized in such a way as to keep me on track and also can be used as is with a small minimum of work for those mothers who in fact DO want a ready-made history course with lesson plans already made out. The only work REQUIRED of the parent is to examine the lesson plans to ensure they will work for the family’s needs and also to set dates for the unit deadlines.

HOW does Connecting with History work?

The study of history is broken down into four volumes (each volume covering one year of school) which span the four major periods of history, which is then further broken down into ten or so units, spanning each period, which are further broken down into readings, notebooking activities, projects, discussion questions, and other types of work you do each week. The homeschool teacher picks and chooses how much of the program s/he will use, so it is very adaptable.

The basis of the course, like any other, starts with some textbook readings that DESCRIBE/introduce the period in history. These come from the Bible and from Catholic history and geography textbooks, and are called the Core Readings. If you do nothing else, you will want to do these readings. You can certainly stop there, but the beauty of CWH is that it then reinforces what you have read by literally plunging the student (and parent!) into that particular aspect of history.

What makes it unique?

Because the program is designed for homeschooling families, it acknowledges that most teachers will have students at several different grade levels studying all at once. Instead of creating more work for the teacher, the program’s advantage is that it provides a way for the family to study history TOGETHER, each going at their own pace. Readings and sugggested activities are given for every range of ages. Based on the Classical approach and further on the Charlotte Mason method of bringing subjects to life using living books, the program goes beyond reading ABOUT history to literally surrounding the student with living history so that he can see/hear/feel/taste/imagine/touch the time periods he is studying.

What does it look like on a day to day basis?

It is hard to describe what it will look like because each family is unique and gravitates towards different things. In my house, we do history every single day and each unit takes approximately one month. We add to the suggested book list with lots of books that arent’ mentioned by the program. We do activities that aren’t included as well. We incorporate the study of history into every other subject in some way during the week. In another house it may look COMPLETELY different.

The main thing to understand is that the Program is called Connecting with History because it uses an approach it calls “CONNECT.” No matter what, each family will spend some time connecting.

The six steps of the CONNECT Method™ are:

Consider (asking yourselves questions to prepare you for what you are about to learn)

Overview (getting a brief synopsis of what you are going to learn)

Notebook (written and drawn activities to help you understand it)

Explore (readings, visits, crafts and activities to help you internalize it)

Concentrate (selecting parts of the presented information to focus on)

Tell (telling the story in your own words or using other narrative actions like drawing, performing a play, etc.)

Even if your family opts to do history twice a week for a couple hours, you will do all of these steps using the program.
Because most families combine grade levels, these steps will look different in each family.

How much does Connecting with History Cost?

Each volume of Connecting With History costs around $40 and lasts through the entire schooling experience of your students. You can then purchase all of the books and materials on their reading lists through their website or other places such as amazon, emmanuel books, barnes and noble, etc.
MOST of their suggested reading list is readily available. Occasionally, they recommend a book which is out of print or unavailable. These books will easily be replaced with something you can find in your local library on the same topic.

Although my library doesn’t carry many of the books, I found that by combining grade levels and doing a little research and re-organizing, (and being willing to buy used books!) my book costs stayed under $150 for ALL students in the program last year and this year. (I have four kids, three of whom are “schooling.”) These are books we will use and read again and again and TOTALLY worth the expense. They also have a high resale value and are exactly the kinds of books I WANT my children to be steeped in and surrounded by. It is possible (and easy!) to spend a large amount of money on books– but for the budget conscious family it is certainly not a necessity. ANYONE can use this program.

Additionally, Although I use a similar program for my formal preschool curriculum, using CWH for preschooling is a viable and wonderful way to provide your preschoolers with lots to do without overwhelming them….it is critical in the Preschool years to read, read, read to our children and that’s exactly what we do.

Overall, most families I have spoken with have really enjoyed their experience. In our family, it’s our absolute favorite subject and one which permeates every other subject. It is also the only pre-packaged curriculum choice we use. I couldn’t be happier with it and it has been incredibly rewarding for all of us, parents included. Feel free to let me know if you have specific questions about using it, I will be happy to help support and promote CWH as it has been a true blessing to our family!

Get started homeschooling



When you are a homeschooling mother it is very common to receive questions from interested future-homeschooling families about the practical aspects of homeschooling.

How do you select curriculum?
What did you choose?
What do your days look like?
How do you make sure you are doing enough?
How do you schedule it all?

For me, these answers came from asking questions and from hours and hours of research, first on the pros and cons of homeschooling, next on the legalities in the place we live, then on the types and methods of schooling, then on education as a whole, and eventually, once I had narrowed down some kind of a plan, on the actual details of our own home school– what books, lessons we would study, when, why, and how much.

You can’t plan your schooling experience without a vision, so a vision is the first place to start. You need an idea of what your purpose is.
Vision requires some information– for example, you will need to know what your educational philosophy is and how to mold your family’s schedule to meet with that goal. You will need to know how much time you have to give each day and what you would like those days to look like… who will do the majority of the teaching, when, and for what reason.

Is there a “right” and a “wrong” way to educate? I believe so, absolutely. Some of the resources that have tremendously helped me to understand that are:

The Bible.
The Encyclicals of the Church on parenting, family life and education.
Catholic Homeschooling, by Mary Kay Clark
The website of the Classical Liberal Arts Academy
The website of St Thomas Aquinas College
My husband, whose study of ancient greece and rome have formed our ideas about education.
Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

Once I had immersed myself in those– and that’s not a necessary step, but certainly a step which helped me to develop a vision– I felt equipped to start making decisions about our homeschool. I researched the laws in my state and began to develop an idea of a method I wanted to use.
In our family, we selected Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophies, based on the classical method.

This narrowed down our choices of curriculum for each subject considerably (there is so much out there!) and helped us to select items which we found useful and which fit in our lifestyle and ideas.

At this point I realized that there were simply a ton of wonderful homeschool curriculum companies available out there, and that it was going to be almost impossible to chose just one.
I also realized that they were very expensive. Educating just ONE of my children, and I have several, was going to cost me about as much as an inexpensive private school. And we can’t do that.

So I set to work picking and choosing what I liked from several different sources, using ideas and curriculum from various places and tweaking it so that it worked for us and helped us to meet our goals without breaking the bank.
I checked with my husband at each step along the process. I organized a big picture vision, and then narrowed it down to a year, and then to a term, eventually a weekly schedule, and then to a daily schedule.

Since then, I’ve learned that there are ready-made resources out there to help you do exactly that, regardless of whether you are using the Charlotte Mason method or not. One of them is here:

http://simplycharlottemason.com/

Possibly the most helpful information I’ve gleaned is two-fold.
First, that in the early years, our job is to make learning accessible (to spread a feast before them, so to speak) but also to guide and direct them to develop good HABITS, the habits which will then become key in their academic development.
I’ve learned to emphasize, above all, hard work and hard prayer, anchoring our day in these two things.
I’ve also learned, especially in these early, formative years, to emphasize the core: Grammar, Arithmetic and Religion. Everything else will stem from these.

In order to do that, I selected strong reading, writing, and arithmetic programs, a strong catechetical program, and pared down the rest to interesting reading in what Charlotte Mason calls “living books.” For the early years, this really is all they need. Science is done in their endless hours outdoors on nature study, and history, geography, art, music, etc are picked up very purposefully, but very gently, via good literature and nonfiction that springs the subjects to life.

What about the period before kids are really ready to “start” but when they are definitely ready for something?
Charlotte Mason suggests spending the majority of this time on habit training and outdoor play. She suggested working on the very basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic… teaching them the alphabet song, counting by rote, and tracing shapes with their fingers and eventually a pencil. In no time they will be ready to hit the books hard, and you will have developed healthy habits in them that will spill into their academics later and invariably enrich their lives. Any mother can do these things– even a mother who isn’t planning on homeschooling, or isn’t sure if she will or not.

Because it’s that time of year– the time of year when homeschool moms are winding down the school year and thinking about how they are going to start their planning for the fall, I’m doing it too.
And looking back over the year, I can see where I’ve failed and where I’ve succeeded, which helps me prepare and plan for the year ahead.

It’s important to sit down with the children, too, and ask them how it went, what they liked, and what they want to do differently.
It’s certainly worth taking into consideration.

Do you have any tips and tricks for getting off to a successful start you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment with some ideas below.

Happy planning!

Feasting with the dead– who live!



Today and tomorrow mark the two feasts of the year that deal with our dead… On November 1 the Saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as having abounded in holiness in this life through careful examination, and those who are unknown to us or known only to a few are celebrated on this day. Tomorrow we remember in our prayers all the souls who have been here below, praying especially for the mercy of God on those who may be going through purgative purification.

It’s a time I always begin to reflect on the Communion of Saints.
the Communion of Saints is the name we give to a doctrine we teach that makes most protestants shudder– and yet it is the most glorious thing…. one of the key pieces in the puzzle of Christianity. As a protestant, I was always so frustrated when my friends died– my choices were to believe that they had gone to hell because I hadn’t seen them make visible efforts with their alleged faith in God, in which case, it was horrid, I was helpless, and God didn’t care. Or to believe that they had gone to heaven and were now separate from me, GONE, away, and lost until some magical day in the far off future when we would be united in heaven. Catholicism, however, offers the simplest, and most beautiful doctrine to demonstrate both how GOOD God really is and how interconnected we are… how much relationships DO matter.

The entire Church, called the “Mystical Body of Christ,” has one head: Christ. The Church here on earth is called: “The Church Militant.” We are here below, waging war on sin and evil. The Church above is the Church Triumphant, having succeeded in the spiritual battle, and now interceding for us before the Throne.
The Church Suffering are the souls in purgatory (state of being, not physical place) who did not succeed in the Battle completely, who have not received the graces necessary (because they didn’t ask!) to enter God’s presence, but who died “doing what they thought was right.” Great suffering is theirs. as the Refiner’s Fire purifies them, and we pray for them anticipating their eventual glory, they helping us by their prayers and we helping them. All of us are interconnected. For those in Christ, there truly is no time and space, we are all one.

In the Holy Eucharist, In Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, I am united to all believers past, present and future, militant, suffering, and triumphant. We are all One. When I receive the eucharist I am mystically present with all my loved ones…. family members across the globe whom I love and miss and who, also are fed by the Lamb. Friends and family members who have passed on in Christ. The Saints whose lives inspire me and mold me and help me to be the best Christian I can be. They are all there, in that little tiny host, often described as “dry tasting” by people who simply don’t understand what they are seeing and tasting… the body and soul, mind and divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

If you’re like me and have a lot of friends and family who have passed away, and a lot who live far away and who you simply can’t be with physically, this doctrine is of so much comfort and such a source for rejoicing.

Like a great Tree of Life the branches, representing the Church Triumphant, spread throughout the heavens, praising God and shaking things up for us here below in our necessity, uniting heaven and earth. The trunk (Church Militant), stable and sturdy, healthy, ever growing and building, depends on the connection of the roots (Church Suffering– buried but ever active!) with the rich earth (God) from whom all nourishment comes. The trunk is tall and straight because of the wind in it’s branches, the hope in it’s brightly colored leaves, each different from the next but all similar in their shape, function, and beauty and because of the depth of the roots and their constant presence. We all matter. We all have a place, and a part. We all came from somewhere, and are going somewhere. We’re all connected. We all matter, and no one is simply “gone.” God made the tree, nourishes us in the earth, the air, the wind, the water….. He is in the heavens, and with us in the roots and soil.

Today, Catholics will sing Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones….. reminded of the Communion of Saints. Tomorrow, Catholics will hear mass in a cemetery, reminded of their duty towards the Holy Souls in Purgatory, as much a part of the mystical body as any living person.

The reflections which naturally arise from the observation of these days are dark and triumphant, difficult and beautiful, mysterious and wonderful…..amazing.
As someone involved with the paranormal community, these two days are the most important ways to communicate to non-catholics, and especially people who have been affected by supernatural experiences with the dead (“last phone calls,” “last visits,” “sightings” etc) that these things have a very real purpose, that there are people who need us still and that we can not forget them, that for the dead in Christ, death is only the beginning!

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
- 1 Corinthians 15:55

Today, I thank God for the Saints in heaven, especially my close friends Mary, Joseph, Elijah, Mary Magdalen, St Josemaria, and Blessed Mariam, the Little Arab.

Tomorrow, I remember especially in my prayers all my relatives who have died, especially my Grandpère, who died in the month of November and who I miss very much. I remember also all of my friends who died back home, at least one a year since the year I turned twelve, of various tragedies ranging from car accidents to drug overdoses to suicides and freak illnesses. Death is no stranger to me– but it has lost it’s sting. Alleluia!
I remember also all of your friends and family, and most especially those sweet babies so many of my friends have lost in childbirth or through miscarriage. They are with us! Alleluia!

Eternal rest grant them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Amen!

*note to non-Catholic readers: the Roman Catholic Church teaches the existence of hell. The fact that I didn’t discuss hell in this blog is NOT indicative of the doctrine of universal salvation within Catholic teaching. I wanted here to focus on the things we celebrate and observe these two days… our cause for rejoicing. There is, of course, a time to weep. We’ll talk about that another day. ;)

A conversation



You got my attention today, Lord.

Standing in my pew after communion, swaying gently just to keep the baby calm, I looked up at you looking down at me from the Cross and felt my lips quiver and my eyes wet.
“I mean well,” I whispered. You were swirling around inside me, dancing in my blood stream, moving with my heart…. “It’s not enough,” You said.

It’s not enough. Every excuse has a perfectly good reason for being. They stand, ready to attack, like little soldiers my son leaves lined up on the front porch, waging an imaginary war.

I didn’t have enough time.
It’s too much to ask of me right now.
I was tired.
The kids were too loud.
Your mom came over and it just got too late.
I had to finish last week’s story.

But today You talked to me about stewardship. In a parable you told me: use your talents. Do not bury them– do not cling to them with sweaty, white knuckled fists. Take a risk. Spend one. Make it work for You, and double it.

WHOOOOOSH! The strong Wind of the Holy Spirit burst through my bubble, knocking down those little green army men lined up so neatly, protecting me…. from what? From the pain of knowing that I had buried what was not mine out of fear? From criticism? From disbelief that I can actually accomplish what You have called me to do?

Laying dead and knocked down flat my excuses seem plastic and lifeless. All that remains is the rushing breath of God, reminding me of the oversight He had already given…. a Church to heed and a husband, too.

It’s easy to lead… not so easy to follow.

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips! – Psalm 141:3

A prayer for our husbands



In the name of the Father + and the Son + and the Holy Spirit +

Lord, let my husband be known in the gates , when he sits among the elders of the land (Prov 31:23)
Give him work that allows him to be good and do good, for a little is better with righteousness than vast revenues without justice. (prov 16:8) Blessed shall he be in the city, and blessed shall he be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of his body, the produce of his ground, and the increase of his herds. Blessed shall be his basket and his kneading bowl, for You, Lord, have promised to be the one to go before him, to be with him, and not forsake him– therefore let him not be afraid. (Deut 28:3-6, 31:8)
Your Word says that he must be strong and of good courage. (Joshua 1:9) Give him every place the soul of his foot shall tread, and let him not turn to the right or to the left to deviate from your law, so that he will prosper wherever he goes. (Joshua 1:7)
Lord, send your Holy Spirit to quicken his Spirit, and teach him your ways. Your raise the poor out of the dust and lift the needy out of the ash heap to set them with princes (Psalm 113:7) and so we praise You, O God! The heart of my husband trusts in You, Lord, so deliver him from evil men. Break Satan’s yoke from him and burst his bonds apart. (Nahum 1:13)
Lord, you say to the devil those same words you have reserved for the false prophet: that you are against him, that you will burn his chariots in smoke, that the sword shall devour his young lions and that the voice of his messengers will be heard no more. (Nahum 2:13)
B y the power of your Holy Spirit, God, teach me to pray for my husband and break every curse over him by the blood of Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins. Thank You, Lord! Your glory is from everlasting to everlasting, and we will never cease to sing your praise, O King of heaven!

Teaching reading to children



I compiled this little guide to teaching reading the Charlotte Mason way using Mason’s work herself, plus suggestions I pulled from Ambleside and SCM, because I am interested in Charlotte Mason’s methods and I am interested in schooling, as much as possible, AS the teacher, and not as the FACILITATOR. It also helps that this costs… nothing.

What I love about Charlotte’s Methods is that she has the same goals as I do in the education of my child, and that she provides for me the methods to teach them myself. Since I’ve never taught anyone to read, I lack confidence in myself to do it. But since I love reading myself, and I know my child better than anyone else, I am convinced that I am my child’s best teacher. What remains is for me to learn the tools necessary to teach her reading– which, unlike an art or a science is an act as natural as learning to run or talk.

There are lots of programs out there we can buy to teach a child to read. Books abound. Series and sets. Homeschooling kits. But really, all you need is Charlotte’s method, a set of index cards and markers, and later, a printout of the phonics rules which you can find online if you don’t know them.
Don’t waste your money.

In our family, we are doing Petty School reading from the CLAA because we want our kids to learn to read Latin alongside French and English from the start. But if that is not your goal, this method suffices to give your child the strong start in reading s/he needs in whatever language you choose. I am using this method alongside their work in the CLAA Petty School because my children aren’t connecting to their CLAA lessons since they are very long and my children are very young. For CLAAers who are curious how we are doing it, I am cutting the lessons in half and then doing memory work for about 20 minutes with them. Then we have a big huge nature study or some sort of physical work that distracts them completely, and THEN we do some reading practice using CM methods. (moving the cards around on the floor, building vocabulary)
If you’re wondering if it works, my five year old literally asks if she can write/read with me at every opportunity. In the mornings, she refuses to watch bible shows with the kids and instead asks for reading time with me. It’s working– and it truly is delightful.

I am quite sure that the CLAA would disapprove of my “improving” on their methods using CM. However,as a parent, I can tell you this: If I tell my three year old son to make his bed, he will do it, but he won’t  like it and may grumble under his breath.
If I tell my son to come to me, I put his construction uniform and hat on, give him a  tool belt, and tell him: “Son, I’ve got some work for you. I need you to make your bed.” he will not only make his bed, but execute it with glee, pay close attention to his work, and proudly come and ask me for more work when he is done.
There is great wisdom in speaking the child’s language, I’m discovering. Neither method encourages SILLINESS, which I believe is an early demonstration of the foolishness inherent in human nature. Both encourage serious work. However, one gives the child the sensation of a heavy burden, the other gives him joy. To me, it trains him either way, but one respects his PERSONHOOD… his human dignity…. and his station and place in life.

I find that Charlotte’s insistence on being patient and persistently whetting the child’s appetite for learning but not overloading him/her is brilliant in application. So are her ideas about short lessons and attention. Most importantly, I found that her focus in the early years on habits and time spent out of doors and useful play are critical to the success of the child in his studies.

My kids LOVE school… and that’s because I alternate “drill and kill” memory work with these wonderful, playful methods which feed their interest and curiosity and character. The first word my daughter SPOKE was “Bible” because it was a word she heard and used. The first word my son spoke was “danger.” Again, a word he heard and used. The first word my daughter read and wrote perfectly was “OCEAN.” She was interested in the ocean, seahorses in particular, and couldn’t wait to read and write it. Now she finds PLEASURE in reading and writing, and not just DUTY, and that is critical to us because we want our children to be enthusiastic in their studies.
Remember that in order to teach a child to read, you must read and speak to your child in the early years as much as possible. You must also train them in good habits, which will help them with things like obedience and attention, necessary for the steps to reading.
Both the CLAA and Charlotte Mason will insist on this : slow and steady wins the race. Take your time, don’t pressure the little ones, and enjoy it together. Demand MASTERY before moving on to the next step. And be diligent to practice a little bit each day.

You can download my little guide for free here and get started. At the end, I’ve placed the poem The Violet as a suggested poem for beginning readers at the end all ready to cut up and use. Happy teaching!

Other people’s ideas



They sit, lined up like little soldiers neatly against my bathroom wall, braving the humidity of so many hot showers and children’s little hands.

They are strewn haphazardly around my nightstand, filled with prayers and personality.

They line the shelves, organized by theme, title and size.

They accompany me in the kitchen while I wait for breakfast to cook, during the kids’ bathtime while I wait for ducks to fish and tugboats to kiss trains, and on cold winter days spent snuggling sick children on the couch.

I’ve spent hours immersed in their slightly acid scent, their crinkly pages, and their sharp black lines, rubbing their smooth covers between my hands.

I’ve taught from them, comforted by the thickness of their pages neatly tucked under one arm so as to allow both my hands to talk. I’ve run my fingers along their spine or traced down their spiral bindings as I’ve worked. I’ve folded their pages and run my bright yellow highlighter through their sharp black print.

I love books.

I grew up in a library… a home, yes, but a home that was a library, where books lined virtually every open wall. My father’s office was reserved for thick, leatherbound volumes of the best works from all of time. Their presence was a constant comfort, not only as an escape, but as a source of answers for the questions we had, and as a friend.

A friend? Yes…. like old friends. Because  they have been with me for so long… because I have argued with them, laughed with them, cried with them, and loved them. Because they belong to the human experience and carry human ideas. I love books.

Someone recently suggested to me that I get rid of all my books– that it would be freeing and simple. Easier. I’ve thought about this extensively.

I couldn’t do it. I can’t buy a kindle. I want to hold books in my hands. I can’t empty my bookshelves. I want to have books all around us to remind us that people and ideas are all around us. It’s a physical reminder of so many lessons that were hard to learn… that those we treat well will be with us for a long time, that those we have loved  and spent time with will always be close, that we can share ideas with others and enrich each other, that bad ideas are out there, that bad ideas can have very pretty covers…. I love books.

Yes, I realize that these and all things are passing away– but the ideas they represent, and the joy they give us while we are here, make them faithful companions on the road of life.

Passion and Purity



I have been pulling quotes from this book, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, to a single friend today and pulling it off the shelf for the first time in a while.

For those of you who don’t know who she is, Elisabeth is the famous wife of missionary Jim Elliot who was killed in the amazon river basin by the indigenous people he was called to serve. She is a speaker and author, and to me is and always has been a seeker and finder of Truth with a capital T.

Though she is not a Catholic writer, she is a Catholic thinker as evidenced by her work. From what I understand of her personal life, her brother has converted to the Catholic faith. From what I read that she has written, she writes the truths of the Catholic faith. Because she is revered and well known by non Catholic Christians as a very holy and faithful woman, it would cause a ruckus if she were to convert. Whether or not that is her reasoning for NOT converting is honestly none of our business. All I know is that both protestants and Catholics will LOVE her books. Kind of like a female CS Lewis… exhibiting three of the four marks of the True Church: One, Holy, Catholic… and lacking the “Apostolic.” :)

This particular book is one I would give to any young woman, about dating and preparation for marriage, and the meaning of womanhood. It makes me want to cry just knowing how much wisdom there was in here that I doubted as a single person, and knowing how to the degree that I followed its advice, I received such a blessing in my marriage. If I knew then what I know now! My dear friend Liza gave this book to me when I was first learning what it means to allow Jesus to be Lord of ALL my life. Like most young women, I was pre-occupied with boys, and wanted nothing more than to know with certainty what my future held. Having grown up in the world, I had absolutely no sense of myself as a woman, only shreds and remnants that modern, anti-woman feminism hadn’t yet completely destroyed. I had never really considered words like “meek” and “quiet” and “modest” in relation to my personhood, and it was very hard to peel the layers of that onion. So hard in fact, that though I loved and respected Liza very much and believed in the picture of the spirit-filled life she was painting because I saw the fruit of it in her own life, I struggled to understand and apply the things she was teaching me because they were so different and so… HARD. Of course,. the other way was hard too. I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I wasn’t happy. But I wasn’t weird, either, because I was doing what everyone else was doing to some degree. Now that I had this book in my hands it was like God calling me to stand apart from everyone and watch and trust. I was afraid. But I was intregued. I went through three or four copies of this book. The first one I was given I shredded in a fit of anger. The second, I threw out.

One day, in despair and knowing that I had worn out any possible chance of success at this “love thing,” despite lots of success at finding interested men– at least for a while–I marched over to the bookstore and picked up a new copy. And I tore through it from cover to cover.

I left for the Army determined to apply every principle I had read. I came back married. God’s way works. It was a hard marriage in the beginning, and applying the things I had learned in the book helped. God’s way works. We’ve been married for a long time now, and we love each other very much. Did I mention that God’s way works?

So, what is the radical message of this book? It is simple: trust, develop a relationship with God, and wait. I will never forget the day I read these words on the page:

“My heart was saying:” Lord, take away this longing, or give me that for which I long!” The Lord was answering: “I must teach you to long for something better.”

The book is filled with little pieces of wisdom she has gleaned through her years of devotion to God, reading His Word , and personal experience.

For example, on the topic of what men actually want, she says:

Women are always tempted to be initiators. We like to get things done. We want to talk about situations and feelings, get it out into the open, deal with it. It appears to us that men often ignore and evade issues, sweep things under the rug, forget about them, get on with projects , business, pleasure, sports, eat a big steak, turn on the television, roll over, and go to sleep. Women respond to this tendency by insisting on confrontation, communication, showdown. If we can’t dragoon our men into that, we nag, we plead, we get attention by tears, silence or withholding warmth, intimacy, and attention. We have a large bag of tricks. CS Lewis’ vision of purgatory was a place where milk was always boiling over, crockery smashing, and toast burning. The lesson assigned to men was to do something about it. The lesson assigned to women was to do nothing. That would be purgatory for most of us. Women, especially when it comes to the love life, can hardly stand to do nothing.

And yet… that is what we must do! Wait, and do nothing, maintaining holy friendships with all… and trust, keeping them at arms’ length until there is a declaration of love and intent from a man. Not only is this necessary for the purity and future health of the marriage, it is a treasure for the woman to have and hold the true meaning of womanhood not only in the single or celibate life but in the married life as well.

It helps me TODAY, in my marriage, to know these truths, and when I forget them, my marriage has suffered. What do men want from women?

This list is hers, but I have seen it over and over again through the years in everything from cosmo to psych journals…. always the same.

Femininity.

Affirmation.

Encouragement.

Tenderness.

Sensitivity.

Vulnerability.

And lastly– mystery. that there is much in the inner workings of a woman’s heart that he hasn’t discovered yet.

In my own life, I have witnessed couples who have lived by these rules and seen the fruit of them. I have friends who never kissed another person until their wedding day. I have friends who remained unaffiliated and unattached until their engagement day. They have lives full of joy, even in the midst of trials and difficulties.

I have friends who have done nothing like that and claim that they are very happy with their choices. I know that I have regrets in my own choices NOT to follow her advice and that’s all I can go by.

Buy this book for your daughters, no matter what your religious background. Read it yourselves. It is a powerful testimony of the glory of womanhood fully lived, and a heart-warming relevation of the touch of the Divine Hand in the human experience. I have never read another book which so aptly captures the beautiful experience of womanhood and the sacredness of our calling.

One big girl



She lies there in my arms, looking up at me, her fat little hand holding my chin, eyes searching mine with a look between contentment and delight.

I breathe in.

How can this baby– this baby who isn’t really a baby anymore, be two already?

So many events race through my mind like a filmstrip come unreeled…. pregnant belly, sushi cravings, arguments over who did the dishes last, first kicks…… hands squeezed tight at the signs of first contractions, the serene agony of labor, the bliss of nursing her for the first time.

It all flashes through me as I hold her, wondering where time goes.

I see the look of horror that must have crossed my face when the nurses announced that I couldn’t bring her home. Long nights sitting alone in various hospital waiting rooms. Elation when we proudly wrapped her up in her car seat and heard the gratifying “click” that we knew meant we were on our way home.

I see first crawls, and first steps, and loooooong nights spent rocking her as she teethed or dealt with fevers from her illness.

I see hospital stays and late night trips to the ER. I see surgeries and medications. I see her first fall, blood spilling from her nose. I see her first hug back, tiny arms squeezing my neck so tight.

I see her first smiles, first coos. First words and successes…. the first time she shook her head “no” at me, and the first time she proudly came running when I called her.

I see her sitting in my arms on the plane ride home from France, looking at me for reassurance when the roar of the engines startled her. I see her sandwhiched in a hug between her brothers and sisters, giggling with glee. I see her dancing and singing “ching ching ching!” as she sword fights with her older brother.

The day her soup made it from the bowl to her spoon to her mouth successfully. The day her toothbrush stopped being a chew toy. The day she learned to turn the sink on by herself…

I breathe out.

Tears splash on her cheeks, spilling from my eyes like tender shoots. She’s my baby.

And now she’s my big girl…. getting bigger every day.

How can two years go by so fast? How can so much happen in two short years?

Looking at her perfectly formed features I am wonder and awe. Breathless before His perfect creation I close my eyes and bow my head in thankfulness. Perfect in her weakness. Perfect in my weakness. Perfect for me. Perfect for us.

I remember the things people said to us when they found out we were having her.

Wow, that’s crazy. You already have your hands full!

You know how that happens, right?

How are you going to do it? You can’t.

That’s irresponsible. You guys need to be done now.

And yet… here she is!

Sighing happily, she snuggles deeper into the crook of my arm, rubbing my elbow with her tiny fingers and sucking her thumb. This is life. Life is a gift. She is a gift.

Thank you, Lord…. I feel your presence wrapped around us both. You are here, guiding us…. one day at a time.