Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Crochet Afghan Repair

Remember how last year I made my first crochet blanket?  It was my first large-scale project, and I love that blanket.


Back in March, the unthinkable happened.  One of my children pointed out that it had a hole in it.  A man-made hole.  Who are we kidding... "child-made" is be the appropriate terminology in this case.  Someone struggling with curiosity and self-control snipped my afghan with a pair of child-safe scissors, which, if you were wondering, most certainly are sharp enough to cut yarn.  

I almost cried, but I didn't.  I had already had some other discouraging news that day and didn't feel like crying (or yelling) about something that was done and done.  My face visibly showed my sorrow to my kids though.  I silently folded up the blanket and put it in the first bag I could find - an ALDI bag with handles.  That was probably my first post scissor-disaster mistake.  But I was in shock and wasn't thinking clearly. 

Today I decided two months was long enough for that thing to sit around, damaged, and totally useless.  I missed my blanket, and even though I was nervous to try the repair, I'd certainly never use that afghan again if I didn't at least try.  

I only found one Pinterest item on repairing crochet blankets that suited my needs and I dove in...  I pulled the blanket out of the bag.  UGH!!!  It stunk!  It smelled like urine.  Why did I leave it that bag all those weeks??  Why didn't I sniff the bag before I put my handiwork in there?? (really?? ;) )  Why did that bag smell like urine in the first place??  (that's a stupid question with a mostly obvious answer that is better left unspoken...)


The first thing I did was the scariest part.  I had to make the hole bigger.  I carefully picked out stitches, trying to leave the row above the damaged row as in tact as possible. Once I had pulled out all the loose threads, I pulled out each end of the hole so that the "tails" were long enough for me to work with.  Here's the original hole and then the expanded one...



I tied on a new piece of yarn and tried to figure out the best way to replace the missing row while connecting it to the row above at the same time.  


I'm sure there's a better way to do this than the method I ended up using, but here's what I did...

I inserted my hook in the loop of the last stitch, then before beginning the double crochet I put it through the two loops hanging down from each stitch in the row above.  Hard to explain, but the arrows here point to the loops I'm speaking about.  


Once the hook was through those, I did yarn over, insert hook, pull up a look, yarn over and pull through the first two loops, yarn over and pull through the four loops on the hook (two of which are the bottom of the stitch from the row above.  This completed the row while anchoring it to the row above.  If I were ever to try a repair again, I might try to just crochet the damaged row first and then slip stitch it to the row above as the means of attaching them...  I don't know...

Finally, I made sure to securely tie off the ends and weave them in very well.  


The results aren't pretty, but I really don't care -- my afghan is usable again!! (just as soon as I Febreeze it, or toss it in the dryer with a scented dryer sheet or something...)  I don't know why I didn't do it sooner; it wasn't as scary as I had made it out to be in my head. 

Today's a bit of a chilly day, so my pans to celebrate my first successful repair involve hot tea, a new episode of Gran Hotel, and cuddling up in my first crocheted and first repaired blanket!  


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Pondered All These Things In Her Heart" (Embrace the Ordinary vol. 21??)

It has been so long since I've joined Gina for week of Embrace the Ordinary.  But I'm living my ordinary life every day here, so I might as well celebrate it with a blog post :)

There was a time a few months ago when I stepped away from Facebook for two or three weeks.  I only checked it occasionally, and commented on friends posts and photos, but I didn't post anything myself.  

The things I usually post are the silly things my kids say, the exasperating things that they do, the milestones they reach.  I remember a day when Clare said something out-of-this-world cute, and my first thought was, "I'm putting that on Facebook."  I was about to do it right away but stopped.  When did it become a need in me to remind the world how adorable three year olds are?  And my three year old in particular?  

Why was I so compelled to convince everyone how funny, wonderful, cute, etc... my children are?  Isn't the most important thing that I embrace those things?   The quiet moments at home  - when they flub a word, fall on their bum, or put pencils in the freezer to see what will happen - those don't have to be for everyone.  Those sweet moments, the silly faces, the baby's first words, the bear hugs and tender kisses, the hysterical things they say ----- they're for me.  

I thought immediately of Mary when at the Presentation of our Lord, heard the the words of Simeon and "pondered all these things in her heart."  I spent the next few weeks trying to let go of my need to "share" all the Facebook-worthy childhood moments and instead "ponder them in my heart."  

After a few weeks of intentionally keeping the sweet moments for myself, I started to feel like I held a secret treasure deep in my mother's heart.  I had a renewed appreciation for my children and all their antics and all the life and love and joy and craziness they bring to our home - and it wasn't measured by the number of Facebook "likes."  It was a fullness of my heart and a spirit of gratitude for the gifts that my children are to me.  

So... in a funny twist whereby I end this post about "keeping things to myself" and "pondering them all in my heart," I share with you two sweet moments that happened during those few weeks.  These little videos are perfectly representative of the type of moments that I've been holding dear.   I'm sharing these with you as a glimpse of the ordinary moments of motherhood I've been embracing.  But I still have a treasure trove of ordinary moments that I'm holding close -- they're just for me to ponder and love <3

I was cooking dinner and stepped out of the kitchen and couldn't find James when I came back in...



The house was a disaster, dinner was taking forever to make, and Clare was just drawing and singing Soon and Very Soon...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ten Things of Thankful (my first one, but it's the 100th week!)

I've been reading Christine's blog, A Fly on Our Chicken Coop Wall (doesn't that name just make you want to go see what it's all about?!), for the past few months now and have come to look forward to her Ten Things of Thankful each week.  It's an opportunity to intentionally seek out the good and to be grateful for the blessings that might be otherwise overlooked.  

I'm so happy to join in this week, and even though it's my first time linking up, it's Christine's 100th week of hosting!  So head on over and check out all that she and many other lovely bloggers have to be thankful for!  

[one] I'm so in love with the way spring just explodes so gloriously each year!  And we haven't even had that much rain and mud this year!! -- knock on wood... or laptop... or whatever.)  

[two] I already wrote about this but it's worth mentioning again... I'm so grateful for the joy and privilege of celebrating my oldest son's First Holy Communion last month.  It was a wonderful experience!

[three] I get to go to a blogger's conference next weekend!  It's a tiny, mostly informal affair, but I get to go and meet friends I've only known on-line so far.  Despite my hermit-like introverted tendencies, I'm actually looking forward to it!

[four] It's sort of hard to believe it, but I've been on the Trim Healthy Mama journey for two months now!  I'm so incredibly thankful for my husband who has been so supportive.  He's also been quite the sport when it comes to searching for heretofore unfamiliar food items in the grocery store - like liquid aminos, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil.  Thanks for being awesome, Babe!  

[five] for warm weather and kids being kids outside...

ummm... not sure why this photo looks like this instead of portrait-style and regular proportions...
but you get the idea :)
[six] for friends who, on the not so warm days, have opened the gym at their church for  our kids to run around, be with friends, and expend energy.  Such. a. blessing.


[seven]  for time spent with good friends on a hike, and finding a spot to swing on vines... because vines were meant to be swung on :)  


[eight] for the wonderful employee at JoAnn's who didn't blow off my inquisitive children when they asked about the embroidery machine, and who spent lots of time letting us watch and teaching us how it worked... 


[nine] for my sister who works hard at healing me of the "takes self too seriously" syndrome.

sister.  me.
[ten] for reminders all around that God is good, life is blessed, and it's worth taking the time to really consider the bounty we have been give. 


Ten Things of Thankful

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My *First* First Communicant (How He Received Jesus and I Was Granted a Desire of My Heart)


My oldest child received his First Holy Communion last month!  The best and most important thing about that day was obviously the gift of Jesus himself, given to my son in the Eucharist for the first time.  Obviously.  My heart was overflowing with emotion - joy, pride, humbleness, gratitude -  at the immensity of the intimate moment between my Lord and my son.  But my heart was filled with a different kind of happiness as well, for we were able to celebrate his First Communion in the way that I had long desired.

The story sort of begins several years ago when I had very emphatically urged my husband to agree with me - we had to change parishes.  I had my "serious" reasons for leaving and he had his "serious" reasons for staying.  I couldn't persuade him and eventually made my peace with the fact that this was a decision for him to make as the head of our family.  I would follow his lead in obedience and not pester him about it again.  I had no idea at the time that remaining in our current parish would play a role in having a future prayer of my heart answered...

Because then the story begins again last year when we were given permission, albeit hesitantly, from our parish Director of Lifelong Faith Formation to prepare Aaron ourselves for his First Confession  (as opposed to sending him to religious education at the church.)  At that time I had also asked if there was any chance he could receive his First Communion that year as well - a year earlier than usual, as our parish reserves First Communion for third graders. Sort of selfishly, I suppose, I wanted my children to be able to receive the sacraments when we thought they were reasonably ready, not according to the parish timetable based on age instead of individual readiness.  It seemed to me that my request was evaded for a while and then eventually denied, and I was given the impression that it was a decision that came from our new pastor.  I was disappointed, but didn't pursue it, primarily because Aaron himself didn't seem too eager to jump from one new sacrament into the next, but also because we liked the new pastor, and felt that perhaps we were being called to practice patience and dying to our own desires through deference and obedience to his leadership.
  
While it still nagged at me,  it had become an issue about which I could do nothing.  Within the course of the next year there was a new Director in the Faith Formation Office, and we received the letters reminding us of all the expectations and meeting dates, etc... for the kids receiving First Confession and First Communion in the new year.  I grumbled and rolled my eyes, and grudgingly went to the first scheduled meeting for parents of the First Communicants.  My husband and I had decided, after all, that we would defer to our parish on the matter of the sacraments and would honor the decisions our pastor made on the matter.  In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have been so grumbly about leaving the house for that first meeting - you know, modeling cheerful obedience and all for my kids ;)

To make a long story short (sort of), that meeting proved to be an answer to prayer.  The new Director surprised me with his encouragement, faithfulness, and enthusiasm, but he really got my attention when, toward the end of the meeting he said something like, "And if you're out of town the weekend of the First Communion, that's not a problem at all.  Fr. M__ and I agree wholeheartedly that our parish operates on a "readiness model" and your sons and daughters will be able to receive the sacraments when they're ready.  If that's not the scheduled First Communion weekend, that is fine."  What?!?!?!  Did he just address one of the deepest desires of my heart in a let's-wrap-up-this-meeting off-handed remark?  I introduced myself to him afterward, assured him I'd love to hear more about that "readiness model," and told him I'd be in touch.  I'm pretty sure I went out to my car in the church parking lot singing God's praises out loud that night -- our pastor and I actually wanted the same thing for my children!   

Both Aaron and Dominic have since received sacraments according to their readiness.  Dominic made his First Confession the first weekend of Lent and Aaron received his First Communion the first Sunday after Easter.   Both occasions brought me so much joy, for in addition to being occasions of immeasurable outpouring of grace upon my sons, the sacraments were celebrated just how I believed was perfect for our family.

Since we homeschool and provide our own religious instruction at home, the 40 some other children in the First Communion class were not friends of Aaron's.  I think making his First Communion among a crowd of children he didn't know would have been much less meaningful for him and our whole family, than perhaps for the other boys and girls who were excited about receiving the sacrament with their friends.  I was much happier having Aaron surrounded at his First Communion by the men, women, children, and families we see each weekend at Mass.

That morning before Mass (Divine Mercy Sunday, no less!), our pastor greeted us and told us more than once how much he was in favor of families "presenting their children for the sacraments" before the community and celebrating in this way!  He chatted with Aaron and our other children, congratulated Aaron and fed his excitement a little before Mass began.  Father announced at the beginning Mass that it was Aaron's First Communion and invited our family to go up before the rest of the congregation for Communion.  Aaron received lots of love and congratulations from the community afterwards.  He received a card from our Mass friend, Mrs. Trudy, and even was given some small cash gifts from people we don't know very well!  We took his picture with the pastor and our deacon.  We had a small brunch at home afterward to celebrate, much like we do every Sunday after Mass, but this time there was cake!  And that was it.  As far as I was concerned, it was perfect.  Aaron was ready to receive the sacrament, and he did in a way that suited our family, and was special to him and our community. 

I am still praising and thanking God that it happened this way.  I couldn't have planned it better.  Truly, there was no planning involved; it was an answer to prayer that was a also a lesson in obedience and patience.  






There was no pious prayer-hands posing for this kid ;)





Friday, May 8, 2015

Be it Ever So Random... (Seven Quick Takes)

I don't even have anything significant or cohesive to say today, but Russ took the afternoon off, so I've got some extra time to write some trivial and disjointed things...  sounds like Seven Quick Takes if you ask me.

(1)

Summer Clothes.  All the drama.  The weeks when we switch the clothes - seasons and sizes - are the worst around here.  There are clothes flying everywhere, too-tight wool sweaters are mixed in with strappy sundresses that are two sizes too big, no one can find what they want.  Every year, the first warm day in spring, the kids freak out because they have no short sleeve shirts or sandals to wear.   "Mom!  How could you?!?!?!  How could you not have the right size sandals for me to wear on this very first day above 70 degrees?!?!?!?"   No one ever cares that in these here parts we were just wearing hats and mittens yesterday and it's probably going to snow tomorrow...  All that matters is that today it feels like the dog days of summer and Mom dropped the ball again and we're all stuck wearing wool socks and snow boots until the end of May.

(2)


That being said, this morning I packed my five kids into the car and took them to Payless... for shoes that are not winter boots.  From the very beginning of this little family of ours, Russ and I have left "family planning" up to God.  God really worked it out for us in terms of hand-me-downs.  Each season I really only have to buy shoes for two children - the oldest boy and the oldest girl.  Except I'm starting to find that older boys can decimate a pair of sandals in a summer and all that's left to hand down in the end are rubber and canvas shreds.  But usually, there are some shoes to pass on.  Today I needed five pairs of shoes from Payless.  I confirmed on-line ahead of time that the store had them.  I printed out the list of styles and sizes I needed.  I entered the otherwise empty store and handed my list to the employee, confident that I was doing her a favor by asking for her help locating five specific pairs of shoes, rather than having my horde of children choose their own shoes while I tried to scan the shelves making very distracted, and inevitably regrettable, decisions.  She wasn't thrilled and obviously didn't think my plan was as awesome as I did.  She huffed and puffed and finally helped us, and I ended up getting out of there in record time, with six pairs of shoes, and five well-behaved children.  

(3)

Well-behaved children.  My kids are well-behaved in public 96.333% of the time.  By no means am I bragging about that.  I know that kiddos, especially toddlers, are unpredictable, and can change the tenor of a family outing in a matter of seconds.  But, by the grace of God, and clearly explained and enforced expectations of behavior (at home and in public) we've managed to stay mostly drama free when we head out to run errands.  Today after Payless (where, incidentally, I paid much more for shoes that I thought reasonable) and a quick stop at Old Navy for cheap-o flip-flops, we pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store.  I turned around to face the kids in the van and said my usual bit - "The most important thing I need from you in the store is immediate obedience.  And next are helpfulness and cheerfulness.  So if I ask you to go get a bunch of bananas, you will do it right away.  Do you understand??"  They chorused, "Yesssss!"  Then I said, "So what is the most important thing I need from you in the store??"  Clare's little voice piped up... "Bananas?"  

All went well in the grocery store today, too :)

(4)

I have crochet projects flying everywhere.  My husband is so patient with me.  I bet he never imagined he'd be living with a crazy yarn lady in a house that has several square feet resembling a yarn shop.  I have it in my head to finish an afghan for each child to gift them on the first day of fall.  I don't know if this will actually happen, but it sure would be an awesome way to kick off autumn!  I can't carry these big projects everywhere though, so I've got little projects that I carry here and there - I've started a special little surprise for a friend, and have also been working to stock up on mittens again.  I think my kiddos are set for mittens next year, so perhaps I will consider a mitten sale in the fall :)

(5)

Today I swallowed my pride and did a very humbling thing...  admitted to Facebook that I need a house keeper.  I just can't keep up with cleaning (it's because I use all my down time for crocheting and browsing for kids' shoes on-line, obviously.)  Just admitting this need was a huge step for me, so now it comes down to what I do with all the names and references I've been given.  Will I call a house keeper?  Will I pick up the clutter and then pay someone to come peer into the dusty corners of my home?  Will my house be deep cleaned before summer?  Stay tuned... 

(6)




I recently treated myself to a couple of new bags from a verrrry swanky and high end bag retailer.  Target.  The purse I bought just because it was a big and turquoise-seafoam-ish (the two qualities a purse must have for it to be worth paying full price.  I really hit this point home by the fact that my other summer purse is huge and turquoise...)  The other big bag I bought specifically for toting around all those crochet projects I mentioned.  Now, no matter what the social event or activity, you can be assured I'll be there totally preoccupied with hook and yarn ;)  And the bag is seafoam, so even if it weren't filled with yarn it would still make the perfect accessory.
  
(7)

(the kids that call me "Mom"... because I don't let them call me Theresa ;) )
This weekend is Mother's Day.  Got any plans?  Not too much going on here.  My own mom is out of town visiting her mom, so our celebrating will be small and simple.  (Hi Mom!  I love you!)  I think I'll be making a Trim Healthy Mama approved cheesecake.  And if anyone wants to get me anything, small, simple gifts are always welcome!  I like gerbera daisies and my favorite color is seafoam.   

Happy Friday, friends!  Don't forget to check out more Quick Takes at Kelly's to kick off your weekend!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Healthy "Candy Bar" Smoothie


Candy Bar Smoothie?  Well, that's what I called it and my kids ate it.  They even knew what was in it, so it wasn't like I was trying to hide things from them.  But if you don't want to tell your kids what's in it, no problem.  Maybe they'll think it's actually ground up candy bars!  Cause it kinda tastes like it :)  Mmmmm!

I've been eating the Trim Healthy Mama way for almost 6 weeks now.  In that time I've treated myself to a lot of delicious smoothies.  As you can well imagine, my kids always want my smoothies.  It's been fun tweaking recipes so that they can share a frozen treat with me!  Today was our warmest day yet this spring, so we sipped "Candy Bar" Smoothies with our lunches this afternoon.

I adapted this recipe for my kiddos from this recipe here.


Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. loosely packed fresh baby spinach (you really can't taste it... but it can contribute to a somewhat strange color ;) ) 

1 c. unsweetened coconut milk (could substitute unsweetened almond milk for a slightly lower fat option)

2 Tbsp. plain Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/8 tsp. pure peppermint extract

dash of sea salt

sweetener to taste (I used 1 1/2 of the Trim Healthy Mama Sweet Blend) You could also use sugar (start with between 1/4 c. and 1/2 c., adjust to taste.  You could also use honey or any other preferred sweetener.)  

1/4 c. old fashioned oats to help thicken it (optional.  I left it out.)

ice

Blend all ingredients except for ice in a blender.  Add ice (about 12 cubes?) and blend until smooth.  Sample and adjust to taste, adding more cocoa, peppermint, sweetener, or ice as needed.  

Enjoy!  I know we all did!  It was almost like a York Peppermint Patty in a cup.  So... there's that!  And spinach.  Tasty and healthy.  Yay!  





Monday, May 4, 2015

How Lesson-Planning Checklists Improved Our Homeschool Days and Attitudes

It's Maaaaaaaay!!!!!  We're almost to the end of the school year!  Yes, yes, we do school through the summer, but May is the final month of all the official stuff.  Looking back on this past year, I've been really very happy with some of the changes that I made.  I hoped they would make things better for us, and they did...



This has been our busiest homeschool year yet - it makes sense since more kids equals more needs.  From the beginning, I knew that this would be a bit of a challenging year for me so I made some significant changes to the way we homeschool as compared to the previous two years.  One is that we carry some lessons into the afternoon (not preferable, but necessary), another is that I'm using more technology to assist in lessons and learning. And another is I finally started using a lesson-planning method beyond my former magnet system.   I loved our magnet system, but I knew I needed something more specific for my boys.  I knew I wanted (needed!) the boys to be more independent this year so it was obvious to me that they had to have a lesson plan that said more than "math."  They needed specific instructions that left little question as to what was expected.

Enter, our daily lessons sheets.  They've made such a positive difference in our homeschool - in the day to day operations, in the boys' ability to self start, and in the obvious benefits of planning and evaluating.  It's easy for me to "see" all that was accomplished in the last week and decide what we'll focus on in the upcoming week - all in one place.  I expected that the sheets would help in these areas.  That was the whole idea, after all.

But my new lesson planning system had another unexpected benefit.  It forced me to recognize a mistake I had been making in previous years, helped me to embrace the concept that more work is not necessarily better, and it made it possible for me to ensure my kids were covering the necessary material in short, intentional lessons.

In the past, my weakness has been wanting to do more to be as successful as possible.  When the magnet board said "'math," Aaron would finish a page in his math book and show me.  I'd see he understood the concept and did well on the sheet, so I'd tell him to do the next worksheet as long as he was doing so well with it.  Often, the second worksheet would be a struggle, more answers would be wrong than right, and Aaron would be grumpy and sick of math before he completed it.   The first worksheet didn't make anyone grumpy or upset or frustrated.  The second one did.   But since the magnet just said "math" and I wanted to forge ahead, I'd pile more work onto the good work that had already been done.  Another drawback to my old method was that, given my tendencies to "spring" extra work on the boys, they'd start each lesson never really knowing what was expected or how long it would take, and suspecting that if they finished quickly and did their work well, there was no guarantee that they would be done.  Knowing that I would often ask then to do more, there was no incentive for them to do their work quickly or well.  Mom might think, Done too soon?  Did a great job?  Here, do more!

I can easily look back at the previous years and recognize this problem.  It was a big problem.  For me and for the kids.  But I didn't really "see" it while it was happening. 

This year we've experienced the benefits of planning ahead exactly what and how much work is to be done.  I have a better handle on how much is enough to learn and assess mastery, and how much is appropriate for maintaining positive attitudes toward learning (including new material, practice, review, and assessment.)  By planning out the boys' work one week at a time (each day on its own sheet of paper) I see it all before me in bulk, and am less likely to pile too much on.  I "see" on the papers before me that one math worksheet on Monday is enough because there are more to come throughout the week and soon enough the chapter will be successfully completed.  The boys can look through the work for the day and see what's expected, how much it is, and can be reasonably sure that mom won't be adding to it.  There's no anxiety about what's to come and there is incentive to do their work well and to do it without wasting time.  The incentive is that when it's done, it's done.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but this year, the attitudes surrounding lessons and homeschooling in general have been much more positive.  There are fewer power struggles (you know --- the kid says, "I won't do it!", the mom says, "Yes you will!", repeat...) and fewer meltdowns.  I feel less anxious and worrisome about "all that we're not getting done" because I've already assessed our progress and confidently planned the new week.  

The checklist system is working well for us this year.  I'm guessing that I'll be using it next year as well.  It helps keep me sane and on track (without being being a task master!) And it helps my children be successful self-starters who know what's expected and are motivated to complete their work.  I'm calling it a win!



*   *   *   *   *   *

More info on the how-to and practical application... if you're interested...  

I created a chart for the each of the boys listing all the subjects they have to cover.  There are three columns - "Have to Do it Today?", "Subject," and "Lesson (for the day)"  



At the beginning of each week (preferably on a Sunday, but sometimes I forget :( ) I print out the charts for each child.  I also print out the "homework" assignments they have for the upcoming week in their tutoring classes.  

I gather their workbooks and other materials. I "schedule" one child's lessons at a time.  Each page is dated and marked with what week of the school year it is.  I first fill in the work they'll need to complete for tutoring (history, literature, Latin, and grammar).  Then I move onto the lessons that are daily "regulars" - math, spelling, reading.  Then I fill in the extras (the things that only show up two or three times a week) - science, audio lessons, catechism, art, etc... 



If a particular lesson needs to be done on a given day, I make a small X in the first column, and write the specifics in the last column.  When the lesson is complete, the child puts a big X over my small one so it's easy to look down one column and compare what needs to be done that day, what's been completed, and what's left.  




I store the five sheets for the week in the front pocket of the the child's "Lesson Binder."  In the morning, he takes that day's sheet from the front and puts it in the binder so that it's the first page he opens to for the rest of the day.  The next day, when adding the new sheet, we can easily look and see if we missed anything the day before that still needs to be done.




That's it.  It's not too fancy.  It's simple.  Most importantly, it works for us.  And it makes me a better homeschooling mom to have it this way.  

(And one last photo for a laugh...  for the most part, our checklists help keep our attitudes on track, but once in a while I'll stumble across something like this.  Because no system - or child - is perfect ;0 ......)




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